- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

The inexplicable baseball card business has gotten loonier than ever this week thanks to two shortstops a century removed from each other — Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter.

Of course, their participation was entirely involuntary — in Wagner’s case because he has been deceased since 1955, and in Jeter’s because he presumably has better things to do.

First, a 1909 card bearing Wagner’s likeness sold for a record $2.3 million, most of it shelled out by a Southern California collector who obviously has money to burn.

The “almost mint condition” pasteboard — and isn’t that like being a little bit pregnant? — has been described as the Mona Lisa of baseball cards, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. In fact, it probably would make the painting’s artist revolve in his grave if “The DaVinci Code” hadn’t already done so.

On top of this idiocy, somebody with the Topps bubblegum company got the not so bright idea of putting out a Jeter card that shows President Bush in the stands and Mickey Mantle in the dugout.

Needless to say, their images were digitally superimposed on the photo. Mantle, like Wagner, is unable to attend games these days (at least bodily) because he no longer resides on this mortal coil.

And although Bush is very much alive — and hopefully will throw out the first ball at the Washington Nationals’ first season opener at RFK Stadium next month — he was nowhere near Yankee Stadium when the picture was snapped.

“We could have axed [the card] when we saw the proof, [but] we thought it was hilarious,” said a misguided Topps spokesman.

Yeah right. Talk about gumming up things.

Sadly, the bogus Jeter card, which will be available until Topps issues a new 2007 set at midseason, probably will become a classic. Collectors seem to love wacky cards, such as a 1969 Aurelio Rodriguez that showed a batboy pretending to be the Senators infielder and a 1989 Billy Ripken that featured an obscenity on the knob of his bat.

It’s all enough to make you pitch your pristine 2007 cards against a wall. Oh wait, people don’t do that anymore.

I know collecting baseball cards is, or used to be, a Grand Old American Tradition, but it always has seemed pretty pointless to me. I mean, the dadgum things simply aren’t that interesting — particularly in an era when kids learn to surf the Internet for stats and stuff almost as soon as they learn the alphabet.

OK, so it can be fun to get your hands on an Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard after you’ve accumulated, say, 25 Robert Ficks, but then what do you do?

I’ll tell you what you do: You stick the cards in plastic sheets in an album or toss ‘em into a closet. (And, of course, somebody — maybe even you — eventually throws them out, thereby ruining your chance to sell a 2006 Ryan Zimmerman rookie card for $50,000 in a decade or two.)

My two sons and I went through childhoods (their first, my second) collecting Orioles cards in the mid-1980s before we decided it was all a waste of time. So far, though, I’ve resisted the temptation to put them out for the trashmen. Who knows — maybe a 1985 Lenn Sakata will be in big demand someday.

With apologies to Babe Waxpak, our syndicated Sunday collectibles guru, the whole memorabilia bit leaves me colder than Anna Nicole Smith. All over the globe, idiots are paying mammoth sums to acquire cards, autographs and apparel related to Jockdom.

The signing scene is particularly obnoxious. Who cares if an athlete (even the saintly Cal Ripken) scrawls his name on a piece of paper? Bill Russell, the old Boston Celtics star, had the right idea. He refused to do autographs because he felt it was demeaning to both parties.

I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, but a pox on those who seek to get rich (or at least richer) at the expense of poor souls who worship every morsel of memorabilia. Let’s remember, folks: It’s the game that counts, not the dribs and drabs.

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