Horning: It all began with baseball cards

Clay Horning / The Transcript

The spoils of a Transcript's sports writer's well-spent youth.

Editor's note: This week, The Transcript staff is writing columns about anything in their lives that served as an entryway to sports.

There are a few things I know without looking.

I know that before Miguel Cabrera won the AL triple crown in 2011 the most dominant offensive season of my lifetime, the one in my head by which all others were measured, belonged to Cincinnati’s George Foster (.320, 52 HRs, 149 RBIs) in 1977.

The .320 that let him down, putting him behind two Pirates, Dave Parker (.338) and Rennie Stennett (.336), and one Cardinal, Gary Templeton (.322).

Nobody else hit more than 41 home runs (Jeff Burroughs, Atlanta) and nobody else drove in more than 130 (Greg Luzinski, Philadelphia).

I had to look up the '77 NL batting race, and who finished behind Foster in the other categories, but the actual numbers — .320, 52, 149 — I knew without looking.

I read them on the back of a baseball card 40 years ago.

I know Tim McCarver and Jim Kaat began their Major League careers in 1959 and that meant, still playing in 1980, they’d played in four decades. It was hard to see, because the stats on the back of their cards appeared smaller, to accommodate their years, than all the others. Still, if you looked closely, you could make “1959.”

I know Pete Rose, in 1978, the year he hit in 48 straight games, only hit .302, not even his lifetime batting average. I even know the aforementioned Stennett once went 7 for 7 in a nine-inning game.

I learned both on baseball cards.

I lived on the corner of 18th and Land in Oklahoma City and there was a Circle K at 23rd and Land that I’d ride my bike to and probably buy 10 packs a week. I want to say it cost 40 cents for a stick of gum you could put an eye out with and 14 cards.

It was 1978 and I’d quit being a kid who occasionally picked up some cards — I began accumulating in ’74; though I’ve traded for some older ones — and began being a kid who lived in them, couldn’t get enough of them.

You could mail order for a complete set, but you’d only have one of each. What good is one Joe Morgan when you can have six, one Reggie Jackson when you can have four?

We belonged to the Sportsman’s Club — just swimming and tennis, we weren't real country club people — and at the time, Hostess turned the bottom of each box of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into a three-card panel and we got the snack bar folks to save the boxes.

Had I known the cards would be more valuable remaining in their panel, I wouldn't have cut them out. Oh, well. I still have about six 1977 Hostess Luis Tiants.

That was how I landed my first Reggie Smith card, too. When I realized Smith had a thing for homering from both sides of the plate — he did it six times in a single game over his career — he became my favorite player. Or maybe just my favorite player other than Johnny Bench and Rose; or maybe just Rose. Man, the way he slid into third base.

I played T-ball or baseball from 5 to 13. I pitched and caught. Basketball became my favorite sport in the sixth grade. But my card collection is 90 percent baseball and my appetite for sports history is 90 percent baseball

I'd rather play golf and watch hockey, but baseball highlights are better than both, it's the best game on the radio and the best reading.

Is it the game?

Is it the cards?

Does it matter?

I collected into the 1990s, still have all of them, and just today, riffling through loose cards I was supposed to put into sheets 20 years ago, I found a Pedro Martinez with the Expos, a Derek Jeter prospect and an “All-Star Rookie” Pudge Rodriguez I didn’t know I had.

Big day.

Didn’t have to ride my bike anywhere.

I found a rookie Brett Favre, too.

But who cares.

It’s just a football card.

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