Wow, a Royce Ring sighting. That reminds me of a story for an off-day. Be advised that this story has almost nothing to do with actual baseball. In other words….
Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Geek Alarm! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!
We’ve occasionally discussed The Holy Books, my pair of binders collecting baseball cards for all the Mets since 1962: one card for each new Met, ordered by year. (Answer to unasked trivia question: The 1961 draftees lead things off and are represented in order of selection, making Hobie Landrith the first-ever Met and Lee Walls the only non-Met in the book, since he was drafted and escaped before ’62 rolled around.) What hasn’t been discussed is that The Holy Books have an even-more-OCD counterpart: The Unholy Boxes, a repository for every Topps card of every player to ever put on the uniform, regardless of what team they were with at the time. Before anyone thinks “Those must be insanely valuable!”, all the old Mays and Berras and what-not are in really bad shape. Like practically round. The Unholy Boxes are not valuable, just insane.
Anyway, one of the tasks involved in being the custodian of The Unholy Boxes is the need to track down obscure Topps cards as players become Mets. (Please see “OCD,” above.) Did you know McKay Christensen had a draft-pick card? That Braden Looper and Brian Rose share a rookie card, requiring that I have doubles of it? That Brady Clark and Marco Scutaro have now graduated to Topps card status? That Roy McMillan and Jesse Orosco got special/highlights cards in years they didn’t have normal cards? Such are vagaries of Topps. (On a road-not-taken note, Mike Piazza shares his ’93 rookie card with Brook Fordyce and Carlos Delgado: An already-annoying double would have become an expensive triple if not for a certain Joe Cocker-worshipping agent and the chatty Senator Al. The fourth player on the card is someone named Donnie Leshnock. If he’s a Long Island Duck right now, I don’t want to know about it.)
What does this have to do with Royce Ring? Well, he has a Topps card. A really obscure, really annoying Topps card. A few years ago, Topps started making small sets of draft picks that appeared only in the “hobby sets” — the complete boxed sets that appear after both series have been released. Ring was #8 of 10 in the holiday version of the 2002 complete set, which only included #6 of 10 through #10 of #10 — #1 of 10 through #5 of 10 appeared in the non-holiday version of the complete set, in an apparent bid to spark a rash of suicides among hardcore collectors. I wound up shelling out $10 for an ineptly cropped card of Ring pretending to pitch in front of what looks like a junior-high gym, even though there was no guarantee he’d ever be a Met. And now he will be! Take that, Fates!
(By typing that, I of course just condemned Royce Ring to the Hell that is Terrell Hansen status. Sorry Royce.)
Why would I spend that much money on a really obscure, really annoying card of a guy who didn’t seem likely to ever be a Met? Because of what happened a decade ago with Rich Sauveur.
Rich Sauveur, besides forging a cosmically unlikely major-league career (just look at the transactions), is the patron saint of stupid Topps cards. In 1992, Topps started making parallel versions of the regular cards with gold lettering. But they weren’t sure what to do with the checklist cards — who cared about a gold-lettered checklist? So for the Gold set, they replaced the checklist cards with a handful of 26th men from big-league rosters.
I only realized Topps had done this when I stumbled across a 1992 Gold card of Terry McDaniel, the first Met to annoy everyone by wearing #0. (Why didn’t Topps make the Gold cards more interesting by issuing, say, alternates of star players? Good question. I’d like to say the answer is Topps is also a little bit OCD. But really I think it just didn’t occur to them. The only Gold player who ever amounted to anything was Rod Beck.) After discovering the McDaniel card, one of the annual chores of card collecting became tracking down the handful of scrubs who existed only in the Gold set, in case any of them were Mets, had been Mets, or might become Mets.
You’d think this would be easy enough, but it wasn’t, for a few reasons. First off, in the early 1990s baseball cards were considered hot collectables, so all sorts of semi-employed misfits with more greed than sense bought them by the truckload and tried to make a quick buck selling them. This meant that at a card show, some of the dealers were the people who knew the least about baseball cards. Second, very few people cared about the Gold set in the first place. Third, very few of those people cared or even knew about the scrubs who replaced checklist cards in the Gold set. Fourth, in these proto-Internet days, there was no easy way to find out who the replacement Gold cards were. So I spent too many Saturdays hungover and pawing through boxes of Topps Gold, gazing at cards of borderline major-leaguers, turning over the ones I didn’t remember (which was many of them), and seeing if their card number matched one of the checklist numbers.
1993 passed before I managed to track down all of that year’s Topps Gold scrubs. It wasn’t until next year that I was able to consult a mammoth tome of checklists on the sly in the mall and discover that one of the missing cards was Rich Sauveur — the same Rich Sauveur who’d logged 3.3 dismal innings for the Mets in 1991. Well, goddamn it. After some grumbling I got down to it. At every card show I’d look around the depressing hotel half-ballroom in search of tables with lots and lots of cards, hoping someone might have brought a box of 1993 Topps Golds, and having I’ll-want-these-minutes-back-on-my-deathbed conversations like this one:
Me: Got any 1993 Topps Golds?
Dealer: Yeah, right here.
Me: No, these are ’94s.
Dealer: Oh. Huh. Well, what are you looking for?
Me: One of the cards that replaced the checklist cards.
Dealer: I’ve got a holographic insert Barry Bonds for $20.
Me: No thanks, I don’t collect those. I’m looking for a ’93 Topps Gold, one of the cards that replaced the checklist cards.
Dealer: The what? What player you looking for, buddy?
Me: Rich SO-ver. It looks like SAU-vee-UR.
Dealer: Never heard of him. How about $18 on the Bonds?
Me: Oh, forget it.
Week after week after week. Rich Who? Topps What? I’ve got some at my house, but they’re not worth bringing. Why you want to collect that? Never heard of it.
So one Saturday I drop by a motley card show at a Howard Johnson’s in Alexandria, Va. The first table I walk by has about 100 cards, all in plastic protectors, arranged across the face of one of those cases that has black fabric inside and a glass front that can be tilted up. There’s nothing else on the table, which is a clear sign for me to keep going, since I collect dopey common cards that are invariably packed into big boxes with the rest of the chaff. Except something catches my eye: There’s a Topps Gold card in a plastic protector clipped to the tilted-up glass front. I only glance at it, because that area is the exclusive province of Willie Mays and Barry Bonds inserts and other very expensive things. And then I stop. It’s a ’93. And even though this makes no sense, it’s the Rich Sauveur card.
The couple behind the table are utterly unremarkable. I chit-chat with them for a minute, look over their other cards, and casually say, “Hey, Rich Sauveur.”
One important point here: The 1993 Topps Gold Rich Sauveur is not a valuable card. It’s worth anywhere between a dime and a quarter. This, in fact, is why I couldn’t find one: Rare, expensive things actually aren’t hard to find, because everybody wants them, meaning most anyone who gets his hands on one will offer it for sale. On the other hand, obscure, inexpensive things are virtually impossible to find, despite being cheap and plentiful, because nobody wants them and therefore nobody thinks to sell them. I’m sure there’s a fancy economics term for this, but there you have it.
It’s obvious the people at this table have a wildly inflated idea of the value of Rich Sauveur, and I’d rather not pay a huge premium for a basically worthless card. But I’m not too worried about this, since even a phenomenally overpriced Rich Sauveur card can’t possibly cost me more than about $5 — an amount of money I’m more than willing to pay to end this irritating quest.
“Oh, you know Rich? He’s our neighbor! Rich is a great guy!”
OK, that’s quite possible. I banter about Rich Sauveur for a couple of minutes (which isn’t easy to do) to cement our good fellowship before asking, “So how much do you want for the card?”
Suddenly the people behind the table get very serious.
“Oh, it’s not for sale,” the man says.
“What do you mean, it’s not for sale?”
“It’s not for sale,” he says, a bit cross. His wife is now glaring at me like I just asked how much for a…well, never mind.
“I’ve been looking for that one for a while,” I say. “It’d sure be nice to scratch it off the list.” I smile and wave the list inanely.
“I told you, it’s not for sale.”
At this point it’s clear I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. The urge to leap across the table and shake these two until my arms get tired is overpowering. WHAT PART OF COMMERCE DO YOU TWO MORONS NOT UNDERSTAND? WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU PUT A CARD IN YOUR DISPLAY CASE THAT YOU WON’T SELL? THIS IS A GODDAMN BASEBALL-CARD SHOW! THAT MEANS YOU SELL BASEBALL CARDS TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BUY THEM! THAT’S WHY WE’RE ALL HERE! LOOK AROUND YOU! THIS IS NOT A MUSEUM! THIS IS NOT COOPERSTOWN! AND THAT IS NOT A FRIGGIN’ NEAR-MINT T-206 HONUS WAGNER! IT’S RICH SAUVEUR, FOR GOD’S SAKE! RICH SAUVEUR! I MEAN, JESUS! WHAT ON EARTH CAN POSSIBLY BE WRONG WITH YOU?
I don’t say any of these things. I’m too flabbergasted. Instead, I say, “Look, I’ll give you $10” — the equivalent of paying $30 for a can of soda (or $18 million for Roger Cedeno), but what do I care? At which point the guy, now red in the face, unclips the card from the case and tells me he thinks I ought to be going. And that was that.
Of course I found two of the damn card the very next week for a nickel apiece, which somehow irritated me more. Needless to say, when I discovered Royce Ring had a weird Topps card, I went online and bought the first one I could find, no questions asked. Because sometimes when questions get asked, you don’t like the answers.
(By the way, it’s some small comfort to find out Rich Sauveur himself might understand.)