Simply Baseball Notebook: Collector's Corner

An Ode to Olerud

"COLLECTOR'S CORNER": February 2004

An Ode to OLERUD

It draws my attention from the corner of the dealer's showcase. The manufacturer's name in that familiar, classy font, the photo capturing the follow-through of baseball's sweetest swing, and his blue and grey uniform a reminder of the Blue Jays' glory years. Impulsively, I reach for my wallet and purchase the card.  Its a 1990 Leaf John Olerud -- a piece of cardboard that, over the past 13 years, I've stockpiled more than 40 copies of.


Why would anyone accumulate that many copies of one card?  I suspect for the same reasons that some people have a house full of cats -- it's an addiction inspired by beauty, memories, and attachment. Fortunately, my obsession doesnt require a litter box.
Beauty is a concept that people don't normally associate with baseball cards.  And while its true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, hobbyists would be hard-pressed to deny that the 90 Leaf set -- with its high quality stock and dignified design -- is one of the finest products ever produced.  When it was released, having a rookie card from this set was equivalent to a cat-lover owning a purebred Persian.
The Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa cards from this set have garnered the most attention, but its the Olerud that's the apple of my eye.  Photographers will tell you that a great picture must be snapped instinctively at "just the right moment" and should invoke some sort of emotional response.  Using these standards, the Olerud card, in my estimation, is a masterpiece.  The photo captures the follow-through of his graceful swing, while the position of his head tells me that he has probably just lined a double into the left-centre field gap.  It makes me wish the all-star first baseman was still a Blue Jay.
On top of its aesthetic appeal, the card rekindles great memories. The uniform that Olerud is wearing provides a flashback to a Blue Jays team that was on the brink of winning it all.  The card serves as a reminder of an era of unparalleled success for the Jays, a time when, if you were lucky enough to get tickets to a game, you would probably end up in the SkyDome's 500 level.  It also brings back the excitement associated with Olerud during this period -- a time in which the prolific young hitter would win a batting title, making his 90 Leaf rookie a hot commodity.
And the warm recollections don't stop there.  The card also conjures up images of my dad and I heading off to card shows almost every weekend in the early '90s.  It was a time for us to bond and discuss important issues like whether the Jays were going to win the World Series and what rookies we were looking for.  Of course, the 90 Leaf Olerud was always at the top of our list, and finding one represented a special triumph.  After disappearing for a few hours each Sunday, we would return with a stack of new cards.  My mom would look on in disbelief as we coddled the most recent additions to our collection as if we had just brought home a new kitten.
Collecting the same card for 13 years would be an arduous task if you didnt feel some sort of attachment to the player.  Fortunately, Olerud has always impressed me both on and off the field.  Every year, with little fanfare, he hits close to .300, drives in close to 100 runs, and showcases Gold Glove defense.  And despite the pressure that comes with stardom, the Mariners' first baseman seems mild-mannered, approachable, and likeable.  He has also scored points for responding to a letter that my dad and I sent to him asking for an autographed photo.
If you take into account all of these things, maybe you can understand why I obsessively buy this card.  Sure, its an addiction.  But I consider it a harmless, healthy one.  When I attend my next show, I will likely add another Olerud to my collection.  After all, what harm can come out of owning 50, 100, or even 200 copies?  It's not like I have to worry about them ruining the furniture or using the litter box.
-Kevin Glew

Kevin Glew is a freelance writer based in London, Ontario - he can be reached @  kevin.glew@sympatico.ca