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Bill Hands

November 17, 2006

Here’s the closest I ever got to Cardboard God nirvana. In 1975, my first year of baseball card obsession, I nearly gathered every player for an entire team. From Bibby, Jim to Tovar, Cesar, I slowly but steadily accrued every Texas Ranger except one.

Topps card number 412. Hands, Bill/P

My brother owned this card. I can’t remember clearly, but he may have even had doubles. However, it was not at all customary to simply hand over surplus cards. I understood this and was in a strange way even glad about it. The game had rules, and rules helped create a world with meaning. He proposed to trade me Bill Hands for my one and only 1975 Carl Yastrzemski. I was tempted, but somehow even at age seven I knew that if I made such a deal I’d feel as if I’d been punched in the stomach for months afterward.

I gripped tight to Yaz and decided to take my chances with the random gatherings within each new pack of cards. Probably the first time I ever prayed was in my silent pack-opening pleas for Bill Hands. Bill Hands never did show up, obviously. At some point I did get doubles of Yaz but by then my brother had Yaz, too, so that deal was no longer on the table. Eventually the general store in town stopped carrying the 1975 cards.

Hands, a former 20-game winner, went 6–7 for the Rangers that year and was traded in the offseason to the Mets for George Stone. Neither he nor Stone ever appeared in another major league game or on another baseball card. Many years later my brother sold his Bill Hands or Bill Handses along with all his other cards for money to buy a used pair of downhill skis. He was in his mid-twenties, broke, fleeing the wreckage of a failed relationship. He staved off starvation by getting a job selling lift tickets at a ski area and in his off hours either partied with others in the migrant ski area work force or flung himself at great speeds down the mountain on his baseball card skis.

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