This 1981 Mike Easler card, the last gasp of my baseball card collection, the enfeebled limping night janitor of the Cardboard Gods who flicked off the lights of heaven’s emptied hall, came in a package of cards produced by a company other than Topps. In 1981, both Fleer and another company, Donruss, won a long-fought legal battle to topple the monopoly Topps had on producing the cards of major league baseball players. While I applaud this in retrospect from an economic and political standpoint, at the time I hated that such a foundational element of what had been the most stable aspect of my life was changing. I guess I was probably going to be through collecting cards in 1981 anyway, but I do vaguely remember the feeling of disorientation that came with the news that there were now three complete sets to collect cards from. It was as if I had been going to the same church for years and all of the sudden one morning I arrive to find three churches instead of one, each one promising ease and comfort and rejuvenation and a place in the afterlife, but imbedded in each of the promises was the threat that if I chose wrong I’d be isolated and alone in a spiritually impotent unsanctified shack disconnected from even the illusion of community.
Besides the sheer fact that there was such a thing as Fleer cards, the thing I liked least about Fleer cards was that the backs of them were upside down. On Topps cards, the top of the back corresponded to the left side of the front. For six years, I had been looking at the photo on the front of Topps cards, and then flipping and turning the Topps cards so that the front left became the top of the back. Fleer decided they could improve on that system, matching the top of the back to the right
side of the front. This may not sound like a big deal but consider this: it’s now twenty-five years later and I’m still flipping over this Mike Easler card in such a way that his statistics are upside down. This has become merely annoying but it was downright anomic when I first tried to see who the hell this Mike Easler character was.
And that’s another thing. When I finally did get the statistics on the back of the card in a readable position, I discovered that Mike Easler had been in and out of the major leagues for as long as I’d been collecting cards, and he’d been in professional baseball almost as long as I’d been alive. I can see now that for all his major league seasons previous to 1980 he was a little-used late season call-up, but I’m sure at first glance the long-time presence in the majors of a guy I’d never heard of must have added to the existential dizziness of my initial moments with the card. At that time, the spring of 1981, I was in 8th grade and had learned that I was terrible at school, that I no longer had close friends, that my brother was going away to some boarding school the next year, that I sucked at basketball and baseball, and that the focus of my new all-encompassing interest, girls with breasts, was as hopelessly untouchable to me as a distant alien planet populated entirely by girls with breasts. And now Mike Easler and his stunning .338 batting average was here to inform me that I no longer even knew anything about baseball cards.