Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Card hearted

Perfectly imperfect, or, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!
The ideal symbol of childhood — captivating frustration.

I give you: The Major League Baseball Card Locker from Lakeside Toys of Minneapolis, Minn., copyright 1968 (teeny tiny embossed print at the bottom). I must have received it a year or so later, when baseball first arose on my horizon and it was right and just to covet a piece of cardboard with Brooks Robinson's photograph on it, with his oddly shortened batting helmet visor (by his own hand, with a hacksaw, because the bill obscured his view of the pitcher!).

Where did I get the locker? I'm not sure. Faulty memory tells me mom bought it for me at the BX (Air Force base exchange, the military predecessor to a Target store), but I can't picture the base having carried these. Santa, maybe.

It's a tiny plastic two-door gym locker. For baseball cards! National League cards went into the left compartment, organized by team, American League on the right. Mine is green with bas-relief images painted yellow on the front. Each door has little fake handles and fake locker vents. Little knobs at the top of each door let little fingers open the doors.

The green plastic shelves that slid into slots and tabs like an IKEA bookcase are gone, an early casualty of childhood frustration. I'm sure they got mixed in with all my other childhood junk, became unrecognizable out of context, and got thrown away. I remember cutting my own dividers out of cereal boxes; those are long gone too.

Three thoughts remain with me from the day I received it:

(1) Pretty dang cool! I mean, shoebox be damned! (which isn't really how I spoke or talked at eight or nine, but you get the idea.)

The Puritan hunter of American lore, conquering
the elusive pentagon …
(2) How could this thing possibly hold a kid's card collection? It's a damn sight less practical than a shoebox. Even the casual Little League collector with a dollar weekly allowance could exceed this plastic coffin's capacity within one three-month season (the ballpark snack bar was my main supplier). Clones of Cookie Rojas, Jerry Grote and Manny Sanguillen alone were more than enough to bust this box at the seams. (By the way, need cards to fill the gaps in your 1969-70 Topps collections? My son, the heir, may have something.)

What happened when you collected too many Cardinals cards to fit the designated three-quarter-inch-thick shelf space? Was it right for some of them to room with the Padres? And just try pulling out your passel of Twins for a reunion: the box was soon so packed that two other teams came tumbling after, along with the dividers. So ensued a half hour of putting everything back in order.

See? Frustration.

(3) What's with the graphics? Even as a new kid on the baseball block, I knew something was wrong with the batter pictured on the American League locker door. He's wearing some kind of quilted hunter's cap, and his shoes came off a pilgrim I saw in my first-grade social studies book. He's got his weight over his bent front foot. No way he's going to get a good swing from that stance. At least home plate is pointing in the right direction; that's a common error in baseball illustrations.

Back then the National League included the Montreal Expos, a brand-new team with one of the worst logos ever (a future post, perhaps?). The Expos became the Washington Nationals four years ago to assuage the capitol's loss of the Washington Senators (which became the Texas Rangers in 1972).

You can't tell the names without a scorecard.
In addition to the morphed Senators, the American League included the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or Angels Angels of Anaheim!! How is that an improvement?) and the Seattle Pilots, which lasted one year before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers to make up for that city's loss of the Braves, which went to Atlanta. Seattle got a new team, the Mariners, eight years later, not that the city is all that happy about it.

Are you following all of this?

The left locker door has an embossed rectangle of plastic with space to write your name and address. I wrote my name and then must have petered out after writing the number of our house.

A quick check of the Internet shows this toy is a subminor darling of the eBay/junk collector circuit. One picture showed the locker in red and white. Another had the doors on different sides, which is not surprising; they're interchangeable, and I'm sure I moved the doors back and forth a few times. A little plastic post on the National League door sheared off long ago, and the door is tricky to open. Something like fingernail polish remover has melted some of the paint on the baseball graphic, and the plastic base is chipped and broken in two places.

It's useless and worthless. And priceless. Back it goes on my shelf, reminding me to marvel at imperfection.


  1. Wow, wish I had one of those, instead of an old shoebox...
    I was only able to get a decent set in 1972, then we moved to South Dakota, and seemed like every pack of gum had Andy Etchebarren(the ugliest catcher of all time)


    1. just as every pitcher seems to have a hitter he can't get out, every kid card collector is beset by some player, usually not a rookie or mvp or all-star, he can't escape, huh?