Wednesday, July 9, 2008

1953 Red Man NL #5, Roy Campanella

My dad collected baseball cards as a young Yooper in Iron Mountain, Michigan. No doubt it passed the time between local "gang activity," where kids from the Italian families would hunt the Norwegians (including him) through the alleys one day and be hunted the next. Plenty of his childhood stories include the game one way or the other, growing up in a house that backed up to a ball field. We drove by there about 15 years ago and things seem little changed, even as the area's mining economy sputtered and eventually withered away during the 20th century.

Card front

A few of dad's cards survived into adulthood, usually because they were crammed into old books or other deposits of ephemera. During the 90s, I'd get an envelope every couple of years with a re-found card. What temptations they represented, a 1962 Musial one year and 1956 Duke Snider the next! Dad and grandma disagree about what happened to the bulk of his cards, with flood damage and swiping by childhood "friends" the top suspects. Whatever their fate, those discoveries seeded my own vintage collection, which now stretches back into grandpa's time and beyond.

Early in the re-discovery process, a 1953 Red Man Campy came in the mail. Its over-sized artistic beauty loomed over my mid-1980s Topps cards. They stacked neatly into 2 ½-x-3 ½ inch piles, but Big Roy got his own space at almost twice the size. He stands posed and poised on the card, slight halo outlining kinetic, powerful shoulders. It's unclear why they put a ball in his hand sans catching gear, though it might explain his bemused expression. ("What, hold it like I'm throwing? To who, the press agent?")

Despite closer geographic connections to Detroit and Milwaukee, Brooklyn's bums (and Duke Snider specifically) grabbed my dad's attention in the early 50s. He's a Dodger fan to this day, so it makes sense a Campy card would linger in some forgotten hiding spot. (I picture it as a dusty bookmark for The Crying of Lot 49 or The Fountainhead, titles set aside to check a box score and eventually sifted onto a disused shelf.)

The 1955 Dodgers, and their only Brooklyn-based title, remain a high point for my dad uneclipsed by later champions. Something about their move to L.A., where cornerstones like Jackie Robinson and Campy would never play, etched a line between two teams, the one he loved as a boy and who he follows as a man. My own Seattle Mariners know nothing from championships, so a piece of me remains fixed to Brooklyn and 1955 until their time comes. (Chicago Cubs fans can probably sketch out my golden years with a few broad strokes.)

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