on December 16, 2005
Each of us occasionally has experiences that are so vivid that they make immediate and permanent imprints upon the memory. For example, I can still remember my excited first day of kindergarten, as well as my first glimpse of Three Rivers stadium, as our family car approached it along the jumbled, congested streets of the North Side.
Believe it or not, I can similarly remember my first experiences reading this book, as though they were yesterday. I was in grad school in California, and a friend was visiting me with this book in tow. As he spread out a sleeping bag and nodded off to sleep, I curled up with his magnificent book. I can still picture that entire scene, my old apartment as it was then, and even one particular page on which I lingered in fascination (the Joe Fornieles profile.) The feeling of reading it was that electric, that hyper-engaging.
A book has got to be good if reading it is remembered as a formative experience.
Let me try another way to explain how much I loved this book. When I couldn't find this book anywhere (it being out of print), I directed a nationwide book search to try to find it for me. They did, a flawless hardback edition that I still treasure, and still maintain in carefully guarded, pristine condition. Mind you, I was a starving grad student when I did this, and could hardly afford such luxuries.
As you can see from the other reviews below, this book takes that type of hold on those who love it.
There are three major sections in this book; one covering the sensory atmosphere of a 1950s suburban childhood, one on the baseball card industry as it existed in 1973, and one a series of profiles of players as depicted on samples from the authors' baseball card collection. The first and third of these are the great ones.
I adore the opening chapter, which brought childhood back to me even though I didn't grow up in the same era as the authors. But some things are universal I guess, including the way that childhood memories exist as scraps and floating debris of the odd popular cultures through which we guide our children.
Boyd and Harris's childhood world will be recognizable to anyone who grew up in America -- a world of advertising jingles, cap guns, yo-yos, Pez, and of course, baseball cards. A time cycle in which the kids learn to break down the interminable flow of their school year according to the changing weather, the holidays and favorite activities of each mini-season. And even those of us whose childhoods weren't so innocent nevertheless cling to those small fragments of memory of a time when we had no responsibilities and the world was a fascinating and wondrous place. I once wrote a newspaper review of this book in which I referred to this opening chapter as Marcel Proust in Levittown, and I think it still fits.
But the real core of the book is the "Profiles" section. This is a procession of baseball cards, one after another, two per page, each of which triggers a particular set of memories from the authors. Many of these, if not most, are really funny. But others are poignant.
Not all of the little capsule profiles are about the players themselves. Sometimes the authors take the opportunity to laugh over the baseball card itself -- a goofy pose, a bad airbrushing job, an inexplicable caption, an ill-considered description on the back.
It's an exquisite feeling, thumbing through their card collection with them. You feel the pang of reverence for the Ted Williams card. You snicker over Choo-Choo Coleman and the lousy catchers collected by the New York Mets. You ponder how it could be that Charlie Smith was traded straight up for Roger Maris. You nod knowingly over the author's continual confusion of Mike de la Hoz and Bob del Greco.
The visual design of the book is central to its power, which is why I particularly treasure my hardback edition. One page of umpire cards has a colored backround on which is stamped,simply, "Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo. . ." A page with the cards of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente contains no commentary, just a respectful black background (each had recently passed at the time of the book's original publication.)
Somehow it all seems to mean something, even without seeming to try to mean anything. And therein lies the book's genius.
I know of no other baseball book like this one. It defies categorization, and despite my poor effort above, it really defies description. Buy it, hide it, shut the door and turn out the world, savor it, ponder it, laugh at it, love it.
Have a good time. It's meant to be fun, you know. Let's play two.
on December 30, 2003
This book is a treasure. I think if I had to pack one bag of books for a long stay on a desert island, this would be one of the first ones included. Like one of the other reviewers, I have worn out more than one copy and find myself puzzled why it's been allowed to go out of print.
"The Great American Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Card Book" has three principal sections. The first, "Where Have You Gone VINCE DiMaggio" is a warm and very witty recollection of the co-author's childhoods in the 1950s and the central role that baseball cards played in them. Part two, "This Kid Is Going To Make It," is a look at how the baseball card business operated circa 1973, the date of the book's original publication.
As entertaining as these openers are, the best (and largest) part of the book is the one simply called "Profiles." Reproduced in full color are hundreds of cards from the early 1950s to the late 1960s, accompanied by the author's observations about the players immortalized on them. You'll find greats on these pages, like Richie Ashburn, Stan Musial and Ted Williams...but the real joy is the rediscovery of the men on the fringes of the game's glory...."immortals" like Chris Cannizzaro, Frank Leja, Foster Castleman, Clyde Kluttz and Coot Veal. It's tempting to quote from the book at length, but that would spoil the fun. Just to give you a sense of the flavor though, I opened at random to the page featuring Hector Lopez, poor-fielding third baseman for the Yankees and Kansas City A's. After judging Lopez not to be just a bad fielding third baseman for a baseball player, but for a human being, they declare, he did not "simply field a ground ball, he attacked it. Like a farmer trying to kill a snake with a stick."
This is a wonderful book for any baseball fan, and should especially be treasured on those short, cold winter days when the crack of the bat and the warm blue skies and green grass of summer seem oh-so-far away.--William C. Hall
on April 13, 2004
I received this as a Christmas gift one year and was initially disappointed. I had only heard of a few of the guys that were showed on the cards and I set it aside, figuring on sticking it up on my bookshelf with the other boring books that I had and never bothered with. Several days after Christmas we went on the annual family gift return, a day I truly hated. In desperation I grabbed this book off of my pile and took my accustomed place in the back of the station wagon. For the rest of that day and night the only time I put the book down was to eat, and then only briefly. This is a completely irreverent look at baseball as a whole, and the thing that really sealed the deal for me was the card of Whammy Douglas and the comments made by the author. I tried to get my dad to read it because I figured he would get more out of it than I did, (I'm 41 and consider myself to be on the trailing edge of those who might "get it",) but he wasn't interested. Maybe I'll try again. This book might have a limited range of interest, but if you have fond memories of baseball in the 50's and 60's, I think you'll fall right into that range.
on May 30, 2002
This is a fantastic book! It took me back 40 years! What's actually great about this book is the interview with Sy Berger, the head of the Topps Sports Chewing Gum Department. It gives a brief history of Topps and reveals some information that can not be found today. What's even more precious about this book is that it helped me prove that one of the hobby's self-proclaimed experts doesn't know what he's talking about. A must have book!
on November 16, 2001
I can't imagine what the meeting must have been like between the original publishing agent and the authors of this book. They want to do a book about WHAT? How Bubble Gum and Baseball Cards became intertwined? And then you want to fill the book with sarcastic comments about some of the lesser-known (for the most part) players to make it to the Major Leagues? Oh, yeah, the public will just EAT that up.
Well, they got their book. First in hardcover, and then in Pocket-Book style softcover, which is where I first found it in 1974. I carried this book with me religiously whereever I lived; through college and into married life, always going back to read my favorite parts again and again.
Finally, the book was reprinted a few years ago in "deluxe" paperback style. Just in time, too--my original copy had lost its cover and several pages.
Now I see that the replacement copy is falling apart from overuse, too.
Could somebody please republish this book and keep it available forever as a public service?
Amongst the highlights: Boyd & Harris's recollections of Smokey Burgess, Choo Choo Coleman, Sherm Lollar and many more; their collection of bizarre baseball nicknames, which covers two whole pages of the book; and some of the strangest baseball cards anywhere, with pithy comment to match (the guy with the baseballs nailed to the bat is still one of my favorites).
Spend what you must to get this book and guard it with your life. Oh, and enjoy!
on February 5, 2003
Beautiful, brilliant and witty. Once you have the book, you'll never forget it, and you'll probably keep wanting to show parts of it to fellow fans. However, in the name of humor, the book is a little cruel to some players -- for example, "Hal Griggs was to pitching as Wayne Causey was to hitting -- that is to say, nothing." Even as a kid I was made uncomfortable by things like that. But, some of those things, I just LOVED, like the teasing about how ugly Don Mossi was and about how lousy a hitter Hank Aguirre was ("...I mean to tell you, he couldn't even come close..."). So, where should they have drawn the line? Heck if I know. Also, the book seems to show a bias toward players from Boston and Philadelphia, giving them more space than they deserve, and a lot more kindness. But actually I enjoyed that, since, as a New Yorker, I've always been embarrassed about the disproportionate attention that is usually given to the Yanks and Mets. It's nice to see a couple of other towns getting their turn.
on February 8, 2000
I remember ordering this book when I was in elementary school. The book arrived and I couldn't put it down. The book was so worn from all the flipping through it that it nearly fell apart. I have since found a newer copy to "preserve" with my collection of cards. This book is great in that it provides a neat pictorial look into numerous assorted cards as well as a commentary written in the form of someone who actually loved the collecting! I highly recommend this book to ANYONE who loves to sort through their cards for hours of fun...
Over the years I have read thousands of books, including scores (perhaps hundreds) on baseball. I also collected baseball cards as a youth (primarily 1958-1962, although I had a few dating from as early as 1955, including a second-year Aaron in near-mint condition). In the late 1980s and early 1990s I ran a baseball-card business for a few years. So, a book that melds the National Pastime with trading cards is one that is right up my alley.
As a relatively young adult sometime around 1977 I was perusing the sports section in a B. Dalton Bookstore when I came upon the "Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book." It soundly mildly interesting. So I bought it and brought it home to read. Once I began I could not put it down. This book has to be one of the funniest and at the same time most poignant and memorable books that I have ever read. The authors, Fred Harris and Brendan Boyd, kept me in stitches for hours. This is far more than a book about baseball cards. In fact, it's not even primarily about baseball cards, but rather tells a story of the glory years of Major League Baseball (from the mid-fifties to the late-sixties) through a series of vignettes, using the reproductions of the baseball cards found on just about every page as a jumping off point for those stories.
Interspersed in all this are humorous little comments, such as, "Cal Abrams was the Jewish Gino Cimoli" (a reductio ad absurdum of attempts to compare a star player of one ethnicity or race with a star of another). Or, under the picture of Dave DeBusschere, "Anyone who thinks Dave DeBusschere was a great all-around athlete never saw him play baseball."
Needless to say, since purchasing this book more than 35 years ago, I have read it several times. Each time I find it as funny and wonderful as the first time I read it. If you can locate a copy, buy it. However, you can't have my copy. I'm going to keep it till the day I die.
on October 1, 2012
For years and years, whenever I spotted "The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book" at a bookstore I'd pass it by without really stopping to take a look at it. Can't tell you why, because I started collecting cards as a 10-year-old Seattle Pilots fan (don't get me started) and still have thousands stashed away on spare bedroom shelves, including a lot of the same cards pictured in the book. For whatever reason, and I can't think of a good one, I never got this book until 37 years after it first came out. My loss.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first started reading it, but what I found was an irreverent, witty style of writing about baseball (the cards are mostly props, to be honest, although they're full-color props that add greatly) that Jim Brosnan really started but Jim Bouton took to the next level. The writing here translates well to a style frequently used today. If you've ever wondered what a 1973 version of Bill Simmons might have read like, this is reasonably close.
As other reviewers have mentioned, this book (PLEASE don't ask me to spell out the title every time) is a very personal take on baseball by the authors that touches on several other cultural things, many that already had gone by the wayside when it first came out and even more are gone since. The book is basically broken into three segments: A narrative of the authors' own fandom and card collections, a history of Topps cards and about 200 pages of observations about past players (a few just a couple of sentences long, others going several sentences).
Some of the writing is downright hilarious, like this about Dick Stuart picking up a stray hot dog wrapper on the field: "He received a standing ovation from the crowd. It was the first thing he had managed to pick up all day, and the fans realized that it could very well be the last."
In sum, this is a terrific read, even nearly four decades after its first printing. I'm giving it four stars because a few too many players' names were misspelled, but the overall writing is five-star in quality all the way. I'm glad I bought this one...it's just too bad it took me so long to come around to it.
on June 19, 2010
.....this book is to baseball and baseball cards. Nothing to do? Ballgame rained out? Friends out of town? Start reading this book. It doesn't matter if you haven't heard of any of the players profiled - if you love baseball and all of its attendant baggage, fallacies, and foibles, you will enjoy this book. It perfectly captures that almost forgotten age when baseball cards were more valuable to young boys than, well, just about anything on the planet.
Classic? Controversial? This book became almost NOTORIOUS in its day - something you would almost have to sneak off and read away from parental supervision. While downright tame by today's cut-and-run journalistic standards, the purple prose contained within could only have been dreamed up by a collaboration between HL Mencken, Don Rickles, and Jim Bouton (referred to as a "big mouth" on page 100 - talk about the pot calling the kettle black). The authors do show respect and admiration for some of their personal favorites, but otherwise it's open season on the pious reverence that made up the bulk of sportswriting well into the late 1970s. Without this book, the anger of Bill "If you don't agree with me, you're an idiot and I have the numbers to prove it" James would never have been possible. If, however, you consider two guys who never played professionally having a few laughs at the expense of third-string catchers to be evil and mean-spirited, you might want to pass this one up.
Even though the title of this book is The Great Amercian Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, the cards themselves (mostly Topps, all from the 1950s-60s) serve mostly as illustrations of the players being profiled. There is a perfunctory visit to the Topps factory, and occasionally there is a discussion of design or photography, but otherwise that's it. Before the wheeler-dealer, mini-mogul age (1982-92) when baseball cards became "investments" and part of "portfolios", this was a child's only close and personal insight into the players themselves. There was no 24/7/365 media and statistical saturation that there is today, so it didn't matter whether the cards were of bench-warmers or superstars. They became ICONIC and were better than money, regardless of how ugly or attractive they looked. If you ever wanted to know what the players or stadiums of the 1950s looked like, you couldn't find a better place to start than the beautiful 1952 or 1957 Topps sets. On the other hand, it would take a great effort to come up with more hideous designs than the 1958 or 1964 Topps sets. Then there is the photography: even a great design can't save a close-up shot of a capless player with a crewcut, of which there were all too many during the 1950s-60s (thanks to a heavy crossover between sports and military). Yet all of these cards were intentionally treasured by their grade-school-age consumers for the simple reason of being an "offical" card of a major league baseball player. What could be cooler? My own age-group had the ultimate eyesore set, 1975 Topps (released 2 years after this book), and we couldn't care less how ugly they looked.
As far as the player profiles go, it is at this time that I must point out three major errors: 1) Charlie Smith's profile (page 38) informs us that he was traded for "Roger Maris in 1966, only 2 years after he had broken Babe Ruth's homerun record". Maris broke the record in 1961, over 5 years before the trade on December 8, 1966. 2) Stu Miller's profile (page 59) mentions a game between the Angels and the Red Sox in July 1959. The Angels did not begin major league play until 1961. 3) Sandy Amoros' profile (page 84) reads that he "helped anchor the numerous Dodger pennant winners of the 50s and early 60s". Amoros only appeared in as many as 100 games in 3 seasons, only appeared in 12 games in 3 World Series, and finished his career in 1960 with the Detroit Tigers. Maybe that last one is a little bit nit-picky, but if you're going to be snarky, at least get your facts right!
For the statistically minded, the 1952, 1958, and 1963 Topps sets are pictured the most, while the 1953, 1966, 1967, and 1968 Topps sets are pictured the least. Two lines from the final profile sum up this book best: "Some things are just funny in and of themselves. They require little or no explanation, and are in fact most often beyond analysis." Yes, this book is a prototype for literary snarkiness. Yes, there is an immense quantity of childhood nostalgia. And yes, some of the self-congratulating humor falls flat, but for the most part, this book is outrageous fun and is recommended for those who love (not worship) baseball and are not too easily offended. The real mystery remains: whatever happened to the authors after their 15 minutes of fame writing this book? They dedicated their efforts to their wives (awww, how sweet), who must have been extremely tolerant of the amount of beer consumed during its composition.