First off, I’d like to thank P-Town Tom of Eamus Catuli! for starting this particular bat-around!
I consider myself to be a player collector, but I suspect that some of you wouldn’t consider me to be a devoted player collector. I have a bunch of different players I collect to varying levels of commitment. Some players are “add ‘em to the stack when thumbing through a dime box” collections and others are “actively seek out any and all cards which I can fit in my budget” collections. I’m not a parallel guy and not a huge relic guy, so regardless of how hard I go after a player, I’m never going to be the guy who has 3,572 different cards of Kelby Tomlinson.
Nobody wants me to detail each and every player I collect – we’d be here all day – but I thought it would be fun (for both you and me) to share the more interesting stories, or the ones which are more typical of the type of players I collect.
I didn’t grow up an Orioles fan, I married into the team (Mrs. Shlabotnik has been a fan since 1983). If you ask most Orioles fan who their favorite all-time O’s are, you’ll hear about Cal, Eddie, Brooks, Boog or “Cakes” (that’s Jim Palmer for the uninitiated). I love all of those guys, but up there with them is B.J. Surhoff. While he isn’t as accomplished as some of the HOFers that grace the all-time Orioles roster, he is a member of the Orioles Hall Of Fame and was the Most Valuable Oriole in 1999.
It’s not just the numbers he put up or his accomplishments on the field that made B.J. a favorite… a lot of it is the “intangibles”. He was always very serious and kinda old school about what he did. Mrs. Shlabotnik and I both enjoyed watching B.J. after a win… He does not fist bump, he shakes hands. It wasn’t uncommon for a younger player to present fist for bumping, quickly realize their mistake and then shake hands. We used to provide our own dialogue, always in a prepubescent falsetto: “Good game… Good game… Good game — Oh! Sorry, Mr. Surhoff!” (Yeah, we’re easily amused).
When I was a kid and in my second year of collecting (1975), I pulled this card out of a pack…
When I added this card to my collection, I discovered I had THREE cards of Luke Walker… This card, his 1974 Topps card and his 1974 Topps Traded card. Having three different cards of one guy was beyond cool to me, and I also believed him to be an exceptional player because, and I quote my younger self, “I’ve heard of him so he must be good!” Years later, I realized I was probably confusing Luke Walker with Rube Walker, who was a Mets coach at the time.
Childhood confusion aside, Luke Walker is the player I’ve gone after most aggressively over the past couple of years… Largely because there is a defined and relatively low number of cards to chase. Aside from buybacks (which I don’t collect at all), I’m not aware of a Luke Walker card issued since this one, his last Topps card. Guys like Luke don’t generally pop up in Archives or Gypsy Queen… or even “Swell Baseball Greats”. I’ve got his entire 11-card run of Topps base cards, and I’m chasing down the handful of oddballs which exist.
When I go to a minor league game, especially one where I’m not familiar with many of the players, I’ll check out the rosters and see where the players are from. Frank caught my eye because he is from Smithtown, NY, which is right near where I grew up, so I rooted for him during that game, and stuck with him afterwards.
Since nobody from my high school has ever appeared on cardboard, I have to make do with guys who played against my high school.
I had no emotional attachment to an NFL team until I went to college and roomed with a Steelers fan for four years, becoming a fan of the Black And Gold in the process. Tunch Ilkin was an offensive lineman and that’s not normally a position that people pay a huge amount of attention to, much less become fans. My roommate and I thought “Tunch Ilkin” was a cool name and we started rooting for him in the way that you think is amusing when you’re a college student… “Awesome block, Tunch!” The thing is, what started out as semi-ironic cheering turned into genuine cheering.
Tunch would later be named to two Pro Bowls and became one of my all-time favorite Steelers.
One of my good friends from high school went to the University of Vermont during the time that Kirk McCaskill was the hockey team’s captain. Because I was intrigued by college hockey (which didn’t exist where we grew up), he told me about the exploits of “Captain Kirk”.
McCaskill was drafted by both the California Angels and the original Winnipeg Jets, and played the 1982-83 season for the Jets’ AHL team in Sherbrooke. After one season in the AHL, Kirk retired from hockey to focus on baseball, but had he stuck with hockey I likely would’ve had a McCaskill hockey collection instead of a baseball collection.
One of the joys of going to minor league games is seeing someone that you think has a shot to “make it”. I collect a bunch of guys who I saw first in the minors or even college, but Darren Daulton was the first guy I saw in the minor leagues who really “made it”… this despite the fact that he spent most of his career with the rival Phillies.
There are many other players I collect who have similar stories, former favorites from the Mets and O’s, players I took a liking to in the minors, players who have cool names (i.e. Dooley Womack) or players I have some (often tenuous) connection to… but that’s what makes this hobby fun for me, and why I’d much rather pull Kelby Tomlinson or Dooley Womack from a pack of Archives than yet another cards of some HOFer.