Today is my brother's birthday and I got him the exact same thing this year as I did last year (don't say I am not consistent). I did get him a book as well to break up the monotony because nothing says excitement like a big thick encyclopedia full of statistics - this is not sarcasm, we are nerds after all. But I also got him one of those odd piece-of-mind type gifts that might be a physical item for me but it is a grand affirmation for him and that is where our story begins.
Let's jump into the WABAC machine to 1987. The Mets were reigning World Series champs and a man we call The Franchise had just retired. I was 12 years old and deep into my obsession with collecting baseball cards and my brother had just gotten his drivers license. It was a good time to alive in the suburbs of New Jersey. If you know anything about Jersey, North Jersey especially, you know that kids hang out in the mall because there are like 7000 of them. One of the late great stores of that era was called The Wiz (and that little article told me that it still exists online, oh the power of the internets). Now, The Wiz was one of those all in one electronics stores, it sold video games, small appliances, stereo equipment, records, the works. It was quirky as hell (though not even the quirkiest of local stores) and those not from around here might know it from Seinfeld (and Mets cards) and hell, fucking Joe Namath was their spokesman for a while.
And the jingle, oh my god the jingle. Frozen in time in 1987 but still so damn catchy that I will hum it at the weirdest times and basically at the mere mention of the word Wiz. I am going to embed the video to share the earworm.
So now you have the background of how my brother, The Wiz, Tom Seaver, and my Mets all come together. I don't remember where I heard it, but sometime in the summer of 1987, Tom Seaver was going to sign free autographs at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus. This was a big deal. The word was all over the place and I wanted to go. Oh dear god did I want to go. My memory is a little fuzzy as to why, but my mother would not take me. I am going to go out on a limb and guess I was grounded for something (I was a tad rebellious at the age of 12). I was crestfallen, crushed. But there was hope - hope in the shape of my brother and his drivers license. He could get me my Tom Seaver autograph. Remember, this was before the internet and 1000 insert cards and before every kind of player went to card shows to sign; Seaver being recently retired meant he was not part of the old timers brigade like Mickey Mantle that dominated the shows of the time. In my mind, this was my only chance to ever get a Tom Seaver autograph ever. So I turned to my brother...now, he was 17 and could go anywhere and do anything he wanted with
his new found freedom, so doing a favor for his pain in the ass little
brother that did not involve girls and/or beer was not high on his list of priorities. I begged, pleaded, cajoled, and several other synonyms of nagged my poor brother until I wore him down. He did not collect sports memorabilia with the fervor that I did but he was a huge Mets fan and I think in the end the notion of getting to meet Tom Seaver, if ever so briefly, changed his mind. So he went to The Wiz in Paramus on a Sunday afternoon and it was an absolute mob scene. Apparently every little Mets fan around had somehow convinced his mother to go. My brother parked liked a million miles away and waited on line for over two hours and his interaction with Tom Seaver was a nanosecond of recognition and hardly a glance. But he got me my autograph. He got it on a 1987 Topps Tom Seaver card that I had just gotten. An odd choice, yes, but I was a kid and really, all I wanted was Seaver's autograph on something, anything. I remember every square inch of that card. The day game shadows on Tom's Boston away uniform. The blue sharpie that kind of tilted ever so slightly on the signature. It was a great autograph. And my brother got it for me. And believe me, he didn't let me forget it. I had that card very prominently displayed among my things and for weeks and months afterward, my brother would guilt me about going through the throngs of barbarian hoards to get me my Tom Seaver autograph. And I was grateful. Really, I was. So damned grateful that a year later I traded it to my friend Jared.
Let's tilt the lever of the WABAC ahead a smidgen to a year later. I was hanging out with my friend Jared at his apartment and I had brought my baseball binder full of all my favorite cards. Now, Jared was a bigger Mets fan than I was. Hell, Jared might be the biggest Mets fan of all time. When he turned 13, he didn't have a bar mitzvah, he had a bar Metsvah, that should tell you all you need to know. When Jared heard that I had Tom Seaver autograph, he wanted it. I told him I would never trade it. I spent the entire day in his house that day and we just talked about baseball cards and how much he wanted that card. Eventually, he wore me down.
He laid out all his cards and let me pick out whichever ones I wanted. He talked up all his cards. He talked down the Seaver autograph - heck it wasn't even on a Mets card, why would I want it? He was a master manipulator; he knew what he wanted. And eventually he got it. And sadly, I don't remember most of the cards I traded for it. I do remember a 1975 Harmon Killebrew being involved because that is an awesome card. I remember maybe some Pete Rose cards involved and some Mets doubles he had. The point was, I just traded a dollar for 10 nickles. I was weak or perhaps Jared was just strong. He was a smart kid and I somehow imagine him a high profile lawyer or something now. We lost touch not long after this trade and I wouldn't blame the trade, per se, but I had moved away from the town he lived in and that's just how friendship works when you are 13. Out of sight, out of mind.
What was not out of mind was the fact that I had just traded away what was the cornerstone of my collection. I regretted the decision immediately. Oh, and my brother. My brother has NEVER let me forget it. You did what??!?!??!? He was mad then and he is still pretty miffed now if the subject comes up. What was probably the nicest thing my brother had done for me up to that point and I had just given that away. And what's worse, I gave it away for stuff I cannot even remember.
I think my brother has reason to be kinda pissed. Though that Killer is pretty sweet.
Let's fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I was searching Listia aimlessly and I stumbled upon this listing. To end the suspense, it was this:
It couldn't possibly be. I emailed the seller as to how he obtained this card. I asked him about 100 other questions about it. He didn't have a lot of answers. He did have many other signed raw cards online. I compared this card to a few other Seaver autographs. It's not perfect, but then again, when Seaver was scribbling a bazillion autographs at The Wiz in 1987, his autograph wasn't perfect then either. The odds that this is the same card are practically nil as I still imagine Jared somewhere clutching and loving that card more than his family. I didn't care. I decided it was fate, I must have it. And I won it. And earlier in the week, I opened an envelope and there it was, after 26 years in the desert. Now, like I said, I am quite certain that this is not the same card my brother got me but to me, it is a symbol. A representation of a small but very specific kind of redemption and affirmation. I have had it sitting on top of a pile of cards that I see every day when I wake up and seeing it never doesn't make me smile. I hope my brother can forgive me my impetuous nature at the age of 13. I hope my brother knows how much I appreciate not only the fact that he got this card for me, but about a million other things he has done in time as my big brother that have gone above and beyond the call of duty. I hope somewhere Jared is happy with his card, but for me, this card is much better...I re-earned a piece of my soul by obtaining this card. Happy Birthday, bro