In the glorious Jose Canseco Scarface The World Is Yours Mansion of goofball baseball fandom, there are many rooms. Caring is the thing, and caring comes in a lot of weird, hand-gnarled forms. There are grown-ass men boxing out tweens for autograph position despite the evident dismay of the quad-A plugger whose signature they're seeking. There are people creating bespoke statistical metrics on their own home computers and then ranking players by xKEVIN or BURT+ and people who spend hours a day honing Rick Sutcliffe imitations. As Emma Span discovered, in what stands as one of the true recent low points for humanity on earth, there are people writing extremely explicit Doug Mirabelli and Kyle Farnsworth slashfic and putting it on the internet, where someone might actually, like, find it.
This is all pretty benign, except for the elbowing-kids-for-Bryan-LaHair's-autograph thing. Baseball is a thing, and we all bring to it what we have and get from it what we need. It helps us find a shape for our wants, and then offers a sort of fulfillment for them. So, in a sense, it wasn't that surprising when I discovered, thanks to a tweet from Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, that there is a man in New Mexico named J. Corey Stackhouse who is making it his mission to collect every card ever made for former Montreal Expos All-Star and current Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach.
Stackhouse does not want one of each Wallach card. He wants every single one of each card, and he is appealing to the general public to help him corner the Wallach Market by sending him all of their Tim Wallach cards. You can learn more about it at the site Stackhouse has set up at timwallach.blogspot.com, and if you have any spare Wallach cards of your own -- which is to say, if you have any Wallach cards of your own -- you might as well send them to him. He is asking politely, after all. For now. He was nice enough to talk to me about his quest.
First, the obvious two-parter: 1) Why Tim Wallach instead of, say, Kelly Gruber or some other deserving Canada-related third baseman? and 2) If Tim Wallach, then why EVERY Tim Wallach?
Why Wallach? It was completely random. I have no family connection to him, Cal State-Fullerton or the Montreal Expos. More or less from the time I was born, whenever my family would visit my grandmother in Rome, N.Y., a friend of my father's who owned a tobacco distribution shop would give me a box of baseball cards. So even though I was far too young to really know much about them, I would sit on my grandmother's floor and rip open packs with my father. He would set aside the stars, and let me rip, tear, drool, etc. on the rest.
In 1983 I was 4 years old, and it was the first box I really paid much attention to. He happened to show me a Wallach and said, "This guy has the same name as your brother." I asked if he was good, and the stats on the back for the '82 season showed Wallach to be a young player coming off of a great year. I liked the [Expos] uniforms, and declared him my favorite player. Obviously I don't remember everything word for word, but I'm pretty sure my father had been pointing out his favorite players as we opened packs and I felt the need to have one too.
In any event, Wallach was set aside with Tom Seaver, George Brett, and the like, and I probably forgot about it until our next visit. But the next time we came, I remembered and tore into the packs with the goal of getting another Wallach. It was probably around that time that I started buying (or asking for) packs on my own and trading with my friends. We all had favorite players, and I liked that mine was sort of unique. But I also took a lot grief from the kids who liked Mattingly, Strawberry, Boggs, Eric Davis, Sandberg, and the other stars. An older kid up the street from me who collected Mattingly was particularly condescending, and became my card collecting rival.
We were competitive in everything, all the kids on the block were. Be it home run derby, Zelda video games, bike racing, or whatever the particular challenge of the day was. Baseball card collecting wasn't going to be any different. I wanted to have more Wallach's than he had Mattingly's. He had an advantage in that in the late-'80s there were a lot more Mattingly's being made. Wallach wasn't included in every subset that was being put out, or being given "Wallach in Action" [cards] in Fleer sets or things like that. But I had an advantage in that when I went to the card shop there weren't 50 other kids trying to buy Wallach cards, and obviously they were much cheaper. But I still couldn't compete with card value or the number of different cards. This kid could boast of his $80 1984 Donruss Mattingly and mock my $2 1982 Wallach.
So I turned to mass quantities to compete. Sure the Wallach was only $2, but I had 20 of them. Hoarding all the Wallachs just became my thing. Long after I moved from Phoenix to Cooperstown, I just kept trying to amass as many as I could. In a sense I felt like I was carrying the flag for this grossly underrated superstar who played in relative anonymity in Montreal. In Cooperstown I was surrounded by Mets fans who thought Howard Johnson was the greatest third baseman since Mike Schmidt. If I could be a big enough Wallach fan, it might make up for the lack of Wallach fans there were in numbers compared to scrubs like Chris Sabo, Matt Williams and Hojo who got all the attention.
Describe, if you would, how this idea came to be -- how and when you knew this was something you not just wanted to do, but felt you needed to do.
As a baseball fan, and baseball card collector, I love numbers. Numbers are part of the draw of baseball. Amidst all the chaos of the game, everything gets broken down into neat and tidy statistical lines. Literally every pitch is accounted for, tallied, and recorded forever. Baseball cards, or at least they used to, served as a sort of annual almanac of this information, and likewise collectors like myself like to organize them by year/set/number. I wanted some way to catalog my Wallach collection beyond an Excel spread sheet, so I decided to start a "blog." The format was more out of convenience than anything, I didn't really expect anyone to notice. Then about a year into it, an envelope showed up out of the blue with cards inside. Then another, it's really taken off from there.
The baseball card economy is driven by scarcity -- the harder a card is to find and the fewer of those cards that exist, the more they're worth. It follows that if all the world's Tim Wallach cards fell into the hands of one person -- even a well-intentioned one -- their scarcity in the general marketplace would drive up their value. I guess what I'm asking you is how rich you plan to get by doing this, as well as how much you're willing to do -- because the last few Wallach cards not yet in your hands could get kind of steep -- to get all the world's Tim Wallach cards?
This operation is completely in the red, and likely always will be. I have no intention of ever getting rich selling off Wallachs that suddenly have value because I've corned the market. All I really hope to do is continue getting cards for free or at a discounted price. The blog has also created opportunities to buy large lots of Wallach cards from sellers who wouldn't otherwise have ever thought to bother sifting through their collections and pulling Wallachs to post for sale. That said, I do get a kick at the idea of somewhere down the road some collector trying to piece together a set of 1985 Topps and being completely baffled at their inability to locate a Tim Wallach.
Do you have any sense of how many Tim Wallach cards there are out there? He played during a time when multiple baseball card companies were printing huge numbers of cards for every player, after all. Where will you keep all your Tim Wallach cards? And where are you keeping the ones that you have now? If you'd feel more comfortable just saying "in a secure location," I understand.
How many Wallach cards are out there? A lot. For the most part the card companies didn't release production run numbers. However in 1993 Donruss did, and they ran off somewhere around 500,000 sets. That's probably at the high end for production numbers, but even at half that number, it easily puts the number into the millions. Wallach had at least one card in the Topps, Fleer, and Donruss sets every year from 1982-95. Then there's all the other sets that started popping up from 1988 onwards.
In all reality "collecting them all," is not possible. I'd have to lease a warehouse. But putting a dent in the online availability of them is certainly something I'm trying to do. For now, storage isn't too much of a problem. A guest room closet in my house still holds them all. I have downsized my own collection of cards significantly to make room, but it's a trade-off I'm more than willing to make.