Are you smiling? (cardboard links 3.29.10)

March 29, 2010

According to psychological researchers, if you aren’t smiling on your baseball card, you are closer to the grave than those who smile. (I haven’t had time yet to test these results against the data in my own shoebox, but the grim visage of mid-1970s Braves hurler Carl Morton, who died when he was 39, seems to offer at least an anecdotal corroboration.)

The psychologists didn’t have any research about the baseball cards that make us smile, and what those smiles might mean to our longevity, but the baseball card blog Baseball Cards Come to Life, which has been featuring interviews about baseball cards with former major leaguers, sheds some light on how some of the silly, inexplicable cards most likely to make a kid smile came to be. For example, in a recent installment, the pitcher Jim Beattie explained how he ended up on a card decked out as a catcher. 

I often wonder if baseball cards make people smile as much as they did when I was a kid. The signs seem to be pointing toward no on that question. One of the more striking of these signs was posted at Sons of Steve Garvey in a recent feature that presented a portrait of the baseball card collector as a grim, unsmiling technician, on his knees with a scale in the baseball card aisle at Target. (Thanks to Eric at Pitchers and Poets for the link.)

Dave Jamieson, who has a book coming out on the history of baseball cards, posted a recent article at Slate that suggests that the whole industry of baseball cards is that of a smile that grew so wide and eerily vibrant that it shattered.

Of course, Jamieson’s book, Mint Condition (which is great—I’ll post a full review soon), is not the only gum-scented tome to be hitting the shelves soon. It’ll be a couple weeks before a certain other book is available, but a bit of chatter from the press box has started up. Time Out Chicago has a review of Cardboard Gods posted by Jonathan Messinger (author of the great short story collection Hiding Out), and there is an interview with me up now at Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf. In the interview I was asked why I started to write about baseball cards in the first place. It turns out that it was to try to keep smiling: “I needed to find a way to play.”


  1. Those 1972-73 Braves had several pitchers who died young. Jim Hardin, Danny Frisella, and Morton are 3 that I can think of off the top of my head.

  2. Thanks for the mention! (You might enjoy today’s interview too – Kent Tekulve.) I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long time.

  3. borosny:
    Thanks for the heads-up on the new Tekulve post. The first card he mentions certainly does offer a textbook version of (as Tekulve himself puts it) a “shit-eating grin”:


  4. That “Mint Condition” book looks interesting.

    I have tons of cards from the late 80’s-early 90’s that aren’t worth much anymore. It’ kind of depressing because there are some really nice cards of HOF players that are worth less than the 10 cent plastic holder.

    It’s odd too because there’s a vending machine at the A&P by my house that sells packs of unopened cards from ’87-93 for about 75 cents a pack.

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