The story behind the picture

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I was a big fan of baseball cards, until I was about 11. But as big a sports fan as I am — and that goes double for baseball — I don’t understand why cards, autographs and memorabilia are worth four, five, six or seven figures.

Obviously, they are very valuable to some people, so good for them. But as cool as it to see such items first-hand, I don’t get it, and wouldn’t even if I had $300,000 to spend.

But I am always interested in sports and history. When the two subjects combine, I’m fascinated.

On Monday, my day took an unexpected turn when I got a chance to hold what Ray Ciccone rightly calls the “Holy Grail” of sports memorabilia. Or at least, I held the thick plastic case containing it. As I looked at the Honus Wagner baseball card — a little bit of American history — my imagination was sparked.

The Wagner card, worth somewhere in the six-figure range, demands to be admired. I was surprised Ciccone and Keith Horton allowed me to hold it. I asked permission before taking photos of it for fear it would spontaneously vaporize.

My daydreaming wasn’t limited to the Wagner card, though. Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Ed Walsh and Sam Crawford are all in the collection I got to see Monday.

Joe Tinker, John Evers and Frank Chance are together again, and they still possess the last Chicago Cub world title.

Combining the portraits and assuming a 6-4-3 couldn’t have changed that much, no matter when it was turned, it’s pretty easy to envision “Tinker to Evers to Chance” and “making a Giant hit into a double (play).” – Franklin Pearce Adams, 1910.

One card I’d like on my nightstand — although the nightstand might wind up next to me in my cardboard box — would be Eddie Plank.

”Gettysburg Eddie” wasn’t a grad, or even a student, at Gettysburg College, my alma mater, but he’s the college’s most famous athlete 109 years after his last time on the mound as a Bullet.

During the springs of 1900 and 1901, while already a pro (imagine the NCAA violations), although not in the majors (I know — the American League formed in 1901, so in 1900 there was no such thing as “major leagues” yet), Plank, who grew up a bit north of Gettysburg, pitched when he could for the college team. I don’t have his stats versus Dickinson, Ursinus or Franklin and Marshall, but it’s a safe assumption they were good.

Plank pitched mostly for the Philadelphia A’s in his majors career from 1901-1917. He was the first left-hander to win 300 games. With Connie Mack’s A’s, Plank helped win the 1910, 1911 and 1913 World Series. After leaving baseball, he returned to Gettysburg and opened an automobile repair garage.

The cards are at Dominion Coins in Chesapeake until Monday, when they’ll go to the auction company. If you’re a baseball fan, go see them for a few minutes and let your imagination run loose.