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The Bad Baseball Card Tournament: Final Four

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The four worst baseball card designs face off, for the right to be unfairly compared to the fallen Metal Universe.

maybe we should have added that Classic 90 set now that I look at it
maybe we should have added that Classic 90 set now that I look at it
Patrick Dubuque

Where once were 32 (actually, 64, but I saved you guys a week's worth of reading), there are now only four. Battle-hardened, grizzled, these four cards have actually grown stronger as the tournament went on, building momentum toward the last rounds.

By now these cards should feel like old friends. So instead of providing more information about the cards themselves, I'm supplying a little backstory on what would happen if you were to hypothetically give these cards to our Fearless Leader.

bracket4

#4: 1992 Topps Kids vs. #6: 1986 Sportflics

4-1

1992 Topps Kids

Winning percentages so far: 65%, 63%, 76%

What happens when you give this card to Scott Weber:

The nine of you stand on the concourse in a loose circle, like kids at winter Tolo, waiting for someone to look at a cell phone. It was a good game, and the meetup went well, and you’re pleased. Finally, Bishop looks at his cell phone. “Well, I’m heading that way,” he says, nodding vaguely toward a hot dog stand, and wanders off.

The rest of the group begins to scatter, making pleasant noises of dismissal, and you’re about to do the same when your hand reaches in your pocket and feels something. “Wait, Scott,” you say, not really sure why, but feeling like the evening needs punctuation. You pull out a 1992 Topps Kids card of Erik Hanson and hold it out to him. “Here, take this.”

Scott leans forward instinctively, in that way that has allowed pamphleteers to eat for centuries, but then sees the card and stops. His lip twists for a fraction of a second, almost a tic, though his eyes show no emotion. Then slowly, he takes the card out of your hand and slides it into his own pocket without looking. “Where did you hear about this?” he asks, looking past you.

“Hear about what?” you ask.

He nods, scans the crowd a second longer, then puts on his normal face like a sweater vest. “Thanks for coming out. It was good to see you.” Without waiting for you to respond, he marches forward and dives into the crowd. You are dazed, but within minutes the scene is lost among your bigger problems.

A week later, you get a call from an unlisted number. “It’s ready,” the voice says flatly.

“Ready? What’s ready?”

“152nd and Aurora, behind the Goldies. Forty minutes.” He hangs up.

You spend ten of the forty debating this with yourself, imagining all the plot devices in the world that await you. You decide to call a friend and let them know where you’ll be, in case you need backup, but they’re not there and you lamely leave a voice mail. Then you go, making good time, and reach the place with a few minutes to spare. It’s dark, and it smells a little weird, and there’s nothing to see here, nothing except a normal person skulking around the back of a casino for no reason.

Then you see it, an object wrapped in brown paper. Ignoring danger, you approach. It is a large rainbow trout.

You go home, and put the trout in your fridge. There is no second call. You decide to eat the fish, but undercook it, and are sick for the better part of a week.

1986 Sportflics

Winning percentages so far: 65%, 70%, 80%

What happens when you give this card to Scott Weber:

As the group reaches its seats in the left field bleachers, you find yourself seated next to Scott. Suddenly remembering something, you pull a baseball card out of your pocket. Trying not to make it look awkward, which it is, you hand it to him. “Hey,” you mumble. “I found this somewhere and thought you might like it.”

Scott looks at the card for a second, then nods and puts it in his bag. “Hey, thanks,” he says, and nothing more comes of it. Austin Jackson strikes out on a pitch in the dirt.

After the game you walk down the long spiral ramp in the saxophone-filled night. Everyone is walking just a half-pace too slowly, not enough to pass but enough to force you to stutter your feet. You feel claustrophobia building within you. You imagine lowering your shoulder and running over them, sending mothers and bony teenagers clattering to the ground like so much bronze.

Instead you tighten your grip on your significant other, trying to think of something to say that doesn’t vent your frustration. They feel the same way, you suddenly realize. Christ, what has it been, five years? You’re not kids anymore. You know what you should do, what you should say; you should kneel down right now, on the concrete, and end it. But you can’t. It’s not the right time. It’s never the right time, and you will never say it, and someday they'll leave you. You hold their hand even harder, as if that could do anything. The saxophone fades into the crowd as the two of you walk down sixth, quickly, quietly.

Years later you find a 1986 Sportflics card, pressed into a copy of White Noise you bought at a thrift store. You look at the card, you remember. And you weep.

#2: 1999 Thunder Dial "1" vs. #3: 1994 Collector's Choice What's the Call?

4-2

1999 Skybox Thunder Dial "1"

Winning percentages so far: 88%, 92%, 88%

What happens when you give this card to Scott Weber:

The place is a nightmare. Children are running in every direction, knocking each other, driving around in little Flintstones-foot-pedal cars, putting blocks in their mouths, tearing pages out of books. Parents sit in booths disinterestedly, staring at their phones. You and Scott stand in the center of it, each of you close enough to their own child to dive in and prevent a head injury, but not too close – well, probably not too close. It’s hard to let go.

“Oh, hey,” you say suddenly. “It’s not a big deal, but I got you something.” You pull a little envelope out of your coat pocket. He tears it open and peers at the contents inside.

“Dude,” he says, his voice a little thick. His kid is now trying to wrest a plastic ball out of some poor little girl’s hands, but he doesn’t notice. His eyes are fixed on the Dial “1” card in his hands. He looks up at you, a little amazed that you remember, and he talks slowly  to show how much it means to him. “Dude. That’s awesome.”

“Hey, no problem,” you answer, with equal weight, to demonstrate how he’ll always have your back. You clap him on the shoulder. Then a boy slaps a toy out of your kid’s hands, and the moment is over. You wade into the fray to administer some Justice.

1994 Collector's Choice What's the Call

Winning percentages so far: 68%, 73%, 84%

What happens when you give this card to Scott Weber:

As the group reaches its seats in the left field bleachers, you find yourself seated next to Scott. Suddenly remembering something, you pull a baseball card out of your pocket. Trying not to make it look awkward, which it is, you hand it to him. “Hey,” you mumble. “I found this somewhere and thought you might like it.”

Scott looks at the card for a second, then nods and puts it in his bag. “Hey, thanks,” he says, and nothing more comes of it. Dustin Ackley rolls one over to second.

The game continues, and you feel a sudden, confused pang. It takes a few moments to find its source: the plastic cup of Red Hook in the cup holder in front of him. It’s been so long, you think to yourself. You hate how you have to hide your poverty; you had to laugh off your Jose Vidro jersey as irony, and not the symbol of the impulsive decisions made from a better time. The way you drank water at the brewery, claimed to have already eaten while trying not to eye everyone else’s burgers, and the temptation to pick the fries off of Colin’s plate. Your whole life is a lie, if a noble one.

But that beer. The ticket alone was a luxury, and there’s no way you could donate forty packets worth of ramen for one beer, eight packages of hot dogs for ten minutes of beer. But suddenly you’ve never wanted anything so badly in your life. You feel the spite rise in you, the culmination of years of guilt and shame. You gave him a card, didn’t you? The least he could do is offer you a sip of beer. A sip! The asshole. You know how unreasonable your thoughts are, how ugly, but you can’t stop them now. The turmoil continues until your right hand curls into a fist, but you stand up just in time and curtly excuse yourself, mentioning the restroom.

You do not return. Instead you flee the stadium and its lights and warmth and roars of happiness and fellowship, and walk down the dark streets to your apartment alone, the mist settling on your bare arms, your gaze fixed on the orange-tinged pavement.

Tomorrow: the return of the king.