For nearly as long as kids, mostly boys, have collected baseball cards, mothers have figured as the culprits in tossing out boxes or drawers full of those pieces of cardboard.
How many grown-up collectors have taken the rap and cleared their moms?
The mother excuse, handy, hardy and sometimes true, is at the heart of a new campaign by the Topps Company to give away a million cards — multiples of all 38,000 it has produced — to revive interest among aging boys, now 30 to 60 years old.
Topps’s slogan: “We’re giving you back the cards your mom threw out.”
In its 2010 baseball series, Topps has created a subset of reprinted cards titled, “The Cards Your Mother Threw Out.”
But on Tuesday, Topps will formally announce its Million Card Giveaway. The card sets in the promotion are already on sale.
Those playing along will find special cards, one placed in every sixth pack in Topps’s sets this year; the cards will have nine-digit computer codes that can be activated at toppsmillion.com. After a person enters the code, a vintage card from 1952 might randomly appear, or perhaps an ordinary one from last year. The cards can be delivered, kept in online Topps accounts to trade for other cards that are unlocked, or used in sweepstakes.
The rules do not prohibit moms from participating.
And sticks of stale chewing gum will not be included in the packs.
Underlying the campaign is the possibility that the code will yield the holiest of Topps cards, the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card. A mint condition card, issued during Topps’s rookie year (and Mantle’s second), sold in 2001 for $275,000.
“We have more than one Mantle rookie card in this,” Warren Friss, vice president and general manager of Topps Sports and Entertainment, said last week in the company’s downtown Manhattan office. Later, in the interview, he said, “We have at least three.”
The giveaway idea was created last year, when Topps became the exclusive card of Major League Baseball, part of its plan to bolster the sagging retail business. In October, it began to acquire and trade for the million-plus cards from dealers, shop owners and collectors. The cache is in a secure, temperature-controlled facility in Delaware; Friss joked that mothers coming within 10 miles of it will be slapped with a restraining order.
“We didn’t tell them exactly what we were doing,” Friss said, referring to dealers and other outlets. “But it’s not unusual for us go out and buy back cards.” It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001 by acquiring one of every card and inserting them in random packs.
Alan Narz, a card shop owner contacted by Topps, said he had dealt with the company in prior buybacks. “This was by far the most in volume,” said Narz, who owns Big League Cards in Casselberry, Fla. He said he had some of what Topps needed in his store and knew where to get the rest. He would not say how much Topps paid him.
He said that he had already seen the impact of the giveaway campaign. Redemption cards with the card codes are already selling on eBay.
“The market clearly cares,” he said. “It’s interested.” He said that people inserting a code in the vague hope of getting a ’52 Mantle will probably be disappointed. “How can they not be?” he said. “But they might be quick to enter another code. The real measure of success is entering the codes.”
Topps has hired Cal Ripken to be the spokesman for the campaign. As a kid, he wanted cards of his favorite Orioles, like Brooks Robinson, but once found himself with two dozen Tom Shopays. “I wanted Brooksie, Boog or Jim Palmer,” he said.
He said he also collected the cards of the Cincinnati Reds, during their Big Red Machine days.
“I was a front-runner,” he said.
Ripken said his collection never got deep-sixed by his mother, Viola. But in describing the Ripken family dynamic, he gave a hint to the relationship between mothers and those little cards with players’ images on them. “In our house, Dad was a hoarder and I’m the same,” he said. “But moms have got to keep things livable.”