Cheap Pieces of Cardboard

1957 Don Kaiser Topps card

1957 Don Kaiser Topps card

On another blog site (The On Deck Circle–see blogroll on right) there was a wonderful article on your individual Hall of Fame. It asked who were those guys that made your personal Hall of Fame. They didn’t have to be great players, only players you remembered fondly from your youth. The reason didn’t matter, only the fact that you remembered them. One of my choices was a totally obscure pitcher named Don Kaiser. Why him? Well, simply because his was the first baseball card I ever owned.

In the town where I grew up, the elementary school was six or seven blocks from home and I would walk to school daily. Yep, I’m one of those geezers who walked eight miles a day to school in the snow in July, uphill both ways. Well, maybe not quite like that. Back then, most small towns in my part of the world, at least those with which I was familiar, had a small neighborhood store located either across the street from the elementary school or at the corner of the same block. You might remember these. They were mom and pop operations with a store in the front, a few rooms in the back where the family that ran it (usually an older couple) lived. The place sold all manner of items, from soap to motor oil to candy. They were the convenience stores of their day and they were quite popular with a community where the automobile was just catching on. By my time they were fading, but the one near my school still operated. It was universally called “The little store” to set it off from “the big store”, the large franchise grocery stores that were just then invading the landscape. Because they were bigger and nationally backed, they were cheaper and the day of “the little store” waned quickly in my part of the world.

I had an allowance and was not a great financier. In other words, I spent the money. One habit was to stop in “the little store” once a week and pick up some candy or bubble gum with a nickel (you could actually buy something with a nickel back then). In April of 1957 I stopped in looking to feed my face with something sweet, sugary, and totally decadent. The candy was up by the main counter where they kept the comic books, the aspirin, and all the tiny things that were easy to steal. There was this big, old-time cash register where the guy had to ring up each item by hitting keys with numbers on them. Beside it was this box of shiny packets that said “Topps” and “baseball cards.” I’d never heard of such, but it sounded interesting. So on a whim I bought a pack, expending my entire nickel on this new and maybe dubious item.

I got outside, and being a methodical sort, I looked the packet over carefully before opening it. The pack had a ballplayer sliding on the top, said “Topps Baseball Gum” and 5 cents. There were five cards in the pack (you could feel them though the waxed paper) and a piece of gum. Now that meant six items and I’d just put out five cents, so I was getting five cards and a stick of gum for less than a penny each. So I turned the pack over, opened it carefully. The gum was on the bottom so I took it out, stuck it in my mouth, and after a couple of chews realized I’d overvalued the gum.

The cards were facedown in the package. I could make out the gray background with red lettering. There was a cartoon up in the corner and a line of statistics, most of which meant nothing to me. Then I turned over the card and there was Don Kaiser, my first ever baseball card (see the picture above). I’d never heard of him but it didn’t matter, there he was and I could make out his face and see the “Chicago” on his uniform. He never did much, lasting three years in the Majors and a handful in the Minors, but I always watched for him on the TV, listened for him on the radio, looked for his name in the box scores in the paper. Because I picked him up first, I’ve always considered him my first card.

I looked at the others. To this day I remember which players were in the pack: 

1957 Foster Catsleman Topps baseball card

1957 Foster Catsleman Topps baseball card

Foster Castleman was next. He was another journeyman that I’d never heard about. As with Kaiser I watched, listened, and searched the box scores for him. OK, he played for the Giants, which was bad, but he was still suddenly a real person to me.

Gil McDougald 1957 Topps card

Gil McDougald 1957 Topps card

Gil McDougald was in the middle of the pack. I’d heard of him and hated him. Actually I didn’t particularly hate McDougald, but he played for the hated Yankees and here he was in my packet of cards. What the heck were the baseball Gods thinking giving me a Yankee? I wasn’t sure what to do, but I kept him anyway and quickly he became a favorite of mine, even if he did play for the evil, awful Yankees.

1957 Stan Lopata Topps baseball card

1957 Stan Lopata Topps baseball card

Next came catcher Stan Lopata. I think I vaguely knew who he was, but I wouldn’t want to swear to it. The Phils were OK by me, but nothing special and for some reason I never followed Lopata much.

Carl Furillo 1957 Topps baseball card

Carl Furillo 1957 Topps baseball card

And then I turned over the final card and there he was: Carl Furillo. I knew in that moment that I was in love with these cheap pieces of cardboard. Here was one of my heroes. He played for the Dodgers (my team), he was good and now I could actually see what he looked like. Back then the TV cameras seldom zeroed in on a player close enough you could see his face, but now I knew what Furillo looked like and, well, the day just couldn’t get any better. Well, maybe, but there was no Duke Snider in the pack.

I went home, pulled out the cards, showed my grandfather, and watched him look them over carefully. He congratulated me on the purchase, hoped I’d find a few Cardinals next time, and didn’t raise my allowance.  He did begin to explain to me some of the stats on the back of the card and that meant quality time with him and it also meant I was learning something new about the sport.

Well, even without a raise in allowance, next week I’d have another nickel and another package of cards. The store was still going to be there and surely there were enough packs that at least one would be left. There was. I have no idea who was in the next pack.


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14 Responses to “Cheap Pieces of Cardboard”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Wow! You have some memory, V! I don’t remember the cards of the first pack of the baseball cards that I ever bought! (That was in 1969.) And you remember ALL of them? That’s pretty amazing.

    I also don’t recall there being five cards per pack. By the time 1969 came along, was it increased to ten? I could swear that it was ten cards. But maybe my memory is failing me.

    I like the name of the second card that you remember. Foster Castleman. Now, THAT’S a great name!

    As far as Don Kaiser is concerned, I just did some research on him, and you’ll be interested to know that he was born in Byng, Oklahoma. I don’t know how far that is from you. Also, he East Central University in Ada.

    One more thing. Do you realize that if Don Kaiser faced off against Hoyt Wilhelm, it would be “Kaiser versus Wilhelm”????

    I enjoyed your article.


    • verdun2 Says:

      Didn’t realize Kaiser was an Okie.And the Kaiser Wilhelm joke is so bad it’s absolutely wonderful. Thank you for that bit of great nonsense. 🙂

  2. William Miller Says:

    Hi, Thanks so much for mentioning my blog. So glad my post inspired you to write yours, which was far more interesting than my own.
    Man, you have a great memory. I, too, remember my very first baseball card, Montreal Expos outfielder Clyde Mashore, card #401 in the 1973 Topps series, but I don’t remember any of the other cards from that first pack.
    Foster Castleman? I’m quite sure I’ve never heard of him. Great name, though. Sounds like the millionaire philanderer in a day-time soap opera.
    Carl Furilo would have been one of my favorites, too, if I had been of that generation.
    Finally, I remember the mom and pop corner stores very well. We actually had three of them within a block of the public elementary school that I attended in Bridgeport. My favorite was the A&G Market (owned by Anne and Gus). That’s where I bought my first pack of cards (they were a dime a pack at that point.)
    Great job, and thanks again,

    • verdun2 Says:

      Glad to help promote your blog. It’s worth reading.
      I guess the cards were so special that I remember who they were and the order. By the next pack I couldn’t tell you who was in it. Funny how the mind works. My guess is that the comment about quality time with my grandfather explains a great deal about why I remember these specific cards.

    • Glen Russell Slater Says:

      I just read that Foster Castleman, millionaire philanderer, did have one very good year for the Giants; he hit 14 homers in 1956.

      And as for Clyde Mashore, I can still hear that nutty and quirky bi-lingual public address announcer announce Clyde Mashore’s name as he came up to bat at Jarry Park!


  3. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    I DO remember ONE special card. I was nine years old in the summer of 1970. I was at a picnic, and some kid dropped a 1970 Jim Kaat card on the ground, and I decided to commit the crime of the century. I kicked it over to where I was sitting, making sure that no one was looking (this was high crimes and misdemeanors here), and then took off my sneaker (I wore black keds just like all the other kids, naturally) and put it in there and then put the sneaker on again. I forgot that it was in my sneaker (which I wore every day during that very hot summer) for about three weeks, and one night when I was taking them off, I noticed it; by this time, it was practically part of my left sneaker. I pealed it off as carefully as I could, trying my best not to rip Jim Kaat’s head off. When I successfully got it out of my sneaker, it smelled pretty bad. I kept it for years; it stayed in the top drawer of my dresser well through the 1980s. It was the most soggy, ruined baseball card that ever was, but I kept it. It remained a reminder of my childhood, specifically of the wonderful summer of 1970. I guess it got lost somewhere along the way, unfortunately.


    • William Miller Says:

      I’ve had the same, beat up Topps 1971 Danny Frisella baseball card in the glove compartment of each of my last five vehicles since the late 1980’s. It’s my very own baseball version of St. Christopher.

      • verdun2 Says:


      • Glen Russell Slater Says:

        Poor Dan Frisella. He died in, of all things, a dune buggy accident in 1977. At the time, he was a relief pitcher for the Brewers.

        Frisella and outfielder Dave Marshall were my two favorite Mets in 1970. Dave Marshall had come to the Mets in a trade with Frisco; in that same deal, the Mets also got Ray Sadecki.


      • William Miller Says:

        Man, you have a good memory. I don’t even remember Dave Marshall, but then again, I didn’t start following the Mets until 1974.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Great story. Glad you didn’t turn into Willie Sutton, Glen. 🙂

      • Glen Russell Slater Says:

        Ha! Yeah, me too! Although I didn’t become a criminal, I did have two cousins in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn who were very active with Murder Incorporated. Seriously! They were the brothers of Bummy Davis (real last name Davidoff), who, as I mentioned in my blog, was one of the greatest welterweights in the history of boxing (65 wins, only 10 losses, and 46 of his wins were KO’s). He really SHOULD be in the Boxing Hall of Fame (located in Canastota, New York), but THAT’S another story. (I love talking about Bummy, who I’m very proud to have had as a cousin.)

        Anyway, going back to baseball-related stuff, when I read your mention of Willie Sutton, it reminded me of something that Jimmy Breslin had written in his book about the ’62 Mets (which came out in ’63) “Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?”

        “Having Marv Throneberry play for your team is like having Willie Sutton guard your bank.”


  4. verdun2 Says:

    For anyone interested, the penny Kaiser I bought in 1957 I found on ebay for $9.95. How value changes.

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