Friday, April 5, 2013

Embracing the imperfections

By Dan | @DGood73

What is perfection?

It’s difficult to identify and characterize pure beauty – so instead we highlight perceived flaws and imperfections, focusing on what isn’t perfect. We notice the wrinkles instead of the face. Rain instead of the rainbow. Scuffs and jagged edges catch our eye.

But here’s the thing – the flaws and imperfections provide character, in life and collecting.
“Perfect” cards are exalted for their sharp corners and vibrant colors and clean surfaces, but that “perfection” comes at a price. High-grade cards, especially vintage ones, remain intact because they’ve likely been forgotten, hidden or stored. They’re in such good shape because they avoided childhood wear and tear. No creases. No rounded corners. No tape and glue and pen ink.

Grading companies allow us to quantify perfection, assessing a card’s condition on a 10 or 100 scale. Those grades carry distinct financial advantages. A gem mint 10 is rarer – and thus, more valuable – than the same card graded 9.5 or 9 or 8 or 7. With some cards, one grade change could cost you thousands of dollars.

While grading has brought vital measures of legitimacy to the hobby, it also plays to collectors’ chase for perfection. Anything lower than a 10-grade forces you to wonder what’s wrong with the card, if the grader was too critical about that surface scratch, if another grader might give the card a higher grade … We’re conditioned to wish away the blemishes, to shirk differentiation.

Why not embrace the imperfections?

I’ve been thinking about the topic lately because of the two-inch scar at the base of my neck.

My mother noticed the lump last year. An ultrasound followed. Fine Needle Biopsy. Indeterminate results. Eventually the doctor took away half of my thyroid.

Tests have come back clean … I’m going to be OK.

My scar is only a few weeks old, so I'm still self-conscious about it. It will fade in time. But for now I'm resorting to neckties and scarves, pulling the hoodie strings tight, hiding my newest imperfection.

While the experience rattled me, it leaves me humbled and thankful. My scar represents health and opportunity, the need to make the most of each day. Things could have been much, much worse.

I spent a bulk of my recovery sifting through my card collection, studying the slivers of cardboard normalcy. One of my favorite cards is my 1974 Topps Dave Winfield card, the baseball legend's rookie issue. Winfield started his career with San Diego, and the card features him posing in Padres duds, an amused smirk across his face.
The reverse shows a cartoon of a stork dodging a batted baseball. "Dave was born on same day Bobby Thompson hit his NL Pennant-winning homer," the comic reads, and yes, his birthday is Oct. 3, 1951, the day the Giants stole the pennant.

Winfield was one of the finest prep athletes we've ever seen – he was drafted in three different professional sports. But he chose baseball. And 3,110 hits later, a plaque in Cooperstown features that amused smirk.

Winfield's RC is relatively common, available ungraded in the $5 to $35 range depending on the condition. High-grade versions are worth considerably more, with PSA 9s recently selling online for about $350.
By society's standards, my Winfield rookie card isn't worth anything. The card’s surface, full of ridges and valleys, resembles a raised-relief map. A water stain suggests a previous life as a coaster. The card is off-center, missing the top of its design – and carrying the top of another card along the bottom edge. Roller marks mar the card’s reverse. The corners are frayed and leafed, a well-worn book in cardboard form.
The previous owner thought so highly of the card that they threw it in the trash.

Yes, one of my favorite cards was previously tossed out with the garbage.

I found that card while searching through a box of random cards that my grandfather gave me and my brother years ago. He co-owned a garbage company, and he'd find interesting things on his trash route. Sometimes people would throw away sports cards – and if the elements hadn't already damaged the contents, he'd stow the box aside and pass it along.

I finished my 1992 Donruss Coke Nolan Ryan set through my garbage searches. Padded my football card collection that way, too. I’ve seen more 1990 Pro Set than … well, we’ve all seen a lot of 1990 Pro Set – and this time, it truly was trash. Late 1980s Topps commons were also a popular garbage choice.

You might consider overproduced cards of a certain era "junk wax." But for me, it wasn't truly junk wax until it's been left at the curb, meant for the back of a trash truck.
Most of my childhood cards came from purchases and gifts, but the “relocated” cards provided a collecting supplement. They allowed me to absorb and appreciate the cardboard continuum, to support the search, to embrace the chase.

That chase continues – for a collector, it always continues. I came across another Winfield rookie card at a recent card show, this one without major blemishes or creases. The dealer wanted $10. I looked at the card, the bemused smile, the stork cartoon.

I thought about it, then I put the card back.

No thanks … why bother? After all, I already have the perfect Dave Winfield rookie card.


  1. great post. totally agree with the demand for perfection in the hobby. most of us grew up with beat up and battered cards and they meant everything to us. i had my 84 Topps Rickey Henderson with me at all times back in elementary school...

    also, glad to hear that you are doing well.

  2. Thank you for the kind words! Yes, it's fun to appreciate the "battered and bruised" cards, especially if they hold sentimental value. 1984 Topps Rickey is an awesome card!