Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Baseball Freaking Birthday

So I reached into one of the file boxes holding the entire history of the Handful O’Landfill era in press releases and sell sheets and pulled out a folder with a Sharpie scrawl that read “Misc. Non-Card Baseball.”

O frabjous day calloo callay. It couldn’t have been better if I had answered the doorbell and found Tim Tebow on my stoop, in the arms of Lindsey Vonn. And Newt Gingrich.
The folder was surprisingly thin. It did contain a press release from demi-legendary semi-legit cardmaker Little Sun touting its first set of high-school all-stars, the set that put Little Sun on the map, albeit somewhere in southwestern Oklahoma. This was the first card that showed Manny before Manny was Manny being Manny, even though technically Manny couldn’t be anything besides Manny being Manny without running afoul of immigration or the Social Security Administration or or something.
That’s a topic for a different column, Manny and Little Sun and the first card of big-league malcontent Tyler Houston, sporting a sneer that put to shame even the twisted lips of James Thurber’s great dysfunctional national hero, Pal Smurch. This column is about some of the other stuff in the folder.
In addition to an embarrassingly self-congratulatory press release from the U.S. Playing Card Company, makers of a set of big-leaguer playing cards I was all prepared to like in a future column (how’s this for self-congratulatory: “Sales for the first edition were extraordinary. Over 600 customers eager to receive the new deck called during the first week of the 1990 All-Star playing card release in April.” Six hundred customers? In a week? A hundred customers a day, in a business where press runs of under a million were considered scarce, and collectors rang the phones like Quasimodo on speed? Oh, mur-der), there was this press release, from the legitimately high-falutin’ firm of Silverman, Warren/Kremer (their punctuation, not mine) in New York:
Many Top Baseball Stars To Be Featured In Unique Gift Idea;
‘A Happy Baseball Birthday’ To Reach Retailers In April
A Happy Baseball Birthday. And what goes into a Happy Baseball Birthday, you may well ask?
How about: a cassette tape. Hoo doggie.
Lest we forget, there was a time when a cassette was on top of the high-tech ziggurat, when the idea that you could record a whopping 45 minutes of music on a piece of iron-oxide-coated plastic only slightly more expansive than the hook to a Black-Eyed Peas song (but much deeper) had the stupendous import of a French nail treatment done in iPads.
We were discussing this the other day in the context of car CD changers. Cars these days have six-disc changers the way they have engines, but when in-car CD changers came out it was like the day they quit putting whalebone in corsets. You mean I can put six CDs in my car? At once? And I can listen to music five hours straight and not have to do anything else? And at this point most people fainted dead away and had to wait until their cars smashed head-on into telephone poles to be revived. Or not.
Of all the defunct audio technologies I've tried to explain to my kids, they get cassettes least. Phonograph albums they get, in a prop-driven sort of way. Eight-tracks even make more sense to them, probably because they've never heard an eight-track. But they have the idea that the cassette tape and cassette-tape players, especially portable ones like the Walkman, were invented by Playskool and sold to three-year-olds whose parents couldn't afford iPods.
Anyhow, enough about the technology. Think of the execution. The Happy Baseball Birthday card carried an MSRP of $7.99. Now, imagine you're a seven-year-old in 1991 and you're having a birthday party. Your mom has told all the invited guests not to spend more than $10 on you – a reasonable amount in those days. (Heck, a reasonable amount in these days.)
So it comes time for gift opening, and you get the usual hodgepodge: Some G.I. Joe figurines, a couple of LEGO sets, a Furby ("From Tyler" – figures; I never liked the little dweeb anyway) and then a thin package with a couple of lumps and bumps.
"Oh, boy – Sega Game Gear," you think. Just what you'd wanted, forever and ever and EVER! So you tear open the package with trembling fingers and discover (switching back to Silverman, Warren/Kremer mode here), "a high-quality audio cassette with a two-minute birthday greeting from a Major League Baseball star [Kevin Maas, in this case], as well as a special photograph collectible card with the player's autograph printed on the back." And three packs of strawberry Bubble Yum.
You seek out the offender and find him buck-toothed and smiling in the corner, smeared with Rocky Road from ear to ear.
"Get out of my party!" you scream at him, pounding him with tiny fists of rage and shattering his genuine gold-plated-plastic Screaming Siren Sound Effect, imported from China at $15 the gross. "I never want to see you again! You're not my friend any more EVER!" And so on.
Don't be thinking it was just the fact that little C.J. chose as his gift a card of an ineffectual though good-looking slugger with more holes in his swing than in an average Dancing With The Stars costume. The Happy Baseball Birthday thing came in many other flavors, including Tony Gwynn, Dennis Eckersley, John Smoltz, Mark Grace, the Ken Griffeys, Kevin McReynolds, John Franco, Kevin Mitchell, and – look, chicos! – Ruben Sierra, reading his special birthday greeting in Spanish (because if he read it in English you'd think the wow and flutter was all out of whack again). It's just that on the bang-for-the-buck scale it's no Kim Kardashian, if you catch my drift.
It should be obvious from the fact that no one has wished their buddy a Happy Baseball Birthday for a good 20 years that this particular attempt to scoop a ladle off of the gravy train went a-glimmering, and it's probably for the best. Think of what the 2011 model of a Happy Baseball Birthday would look like:
It's Wyoming's seventh birthday and all his friends are there: Cheyenne, Cody, Sheridan, Casper, Douglas, Laramie, Powell, Rock Springs, and Utah, the little neighbor boy.  His mom has told all the invited guests not to spend more than $15 on Wyoming – a more-than-reasonable amount these days.
So it comes time for gift opening, and Wyoming gets the usual hodgepodge: a couple of Bakugans, two LEGO sets, a Wimpy Kid book, a Webkinz ("From Lander," the little dweeb) and then a thin package with a couple of lumps and bumps.
"Oh, boy – Pokemon," you think. Just what you'd wanted, forever and ever and EVER! So you tear open the package with trembling fingers and discover ... nothing.
"It's actually a high-quality mp3 with a two-minute birthday greeting from a Major League Baseball star [Brennan Boesch, in this case]," little Torrington in the corner pipes up, his face smeared with dirt-and-worm cup, "and a special virtual collectible card with the player's autograph printed on the back. Oh, but it's all in the cloud."
Wyoming's little lower lip starts to tremble. "So you got me ... nothing?" he says, as visions of a full-scale evacuation dance through his mother's head.
Well, I also got you this," Torrington says, and reaches into his pocket and produces three packs of strawberry Bubble Yum.

You can take it from here.


  1. This might be my favorite one yet.

  2. this was funny. Found it with search terms "happy baseball birthday kevin maas". Good memory.