November 12, 2011

Part 1 - THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION: A collector who relates everything to baseball memorabilia


"That's it! I've had enough; you hear me? Enough!" My wife's hand slammed down onto the kitchen table and with one quick motion managed to completely reshuffle the 1968 Topps set I had spent the last three hours sorting.

"You spend more time with those pieces of cardboard than you do with me!" Uh-oh. She was really hot now.

"They're not just pieces of cardboard," I muttered, uneasily.

"Aack!" Here came the battle cry. "I'm sick of it. Sick, do you hear? I've been baseballed to death! Cards! Books! Programs! Pete Rose placemats! Those smelly old uniforms you keep in the attic!" She glared at me with venom in her eyes.

“But – but that’s Mickey Lolich's 1968 World Series uniform!" I sputtered.

"I don't care if it’s Mickey Mouse's uniform! You've gone overboard. Too much junk!" I could hear the martyr routine coming a mile away: "I slave away trying to make a nice home for you and the kids. Make your beds each morning. Cook nice meals every night. Clean up around the house, and for what? So you can have more room for all that junk, all those smelly uniforms, and posters, and books, and those dumb baseball cards!"

She had me on the defensive. "Now, just a minute. I collect football cards, too!"

Next thing I knew, I was running for the kitchen door with a six-quart saucepan in hot pursuit. Behind me, I could hear the sounds of impending doom. I could hear her insane cackling as she started stuffing 1968 Topps cards into the food processor and began chopping them up. "Take that, No. 500! How about a nice Brooks Robinson salad for dinner!" Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned in favor of baseball cards.

"Number 500 isn’t Brooks Robinson, it’s Frank Robinson!" I shouted, momentarily forgetting the situation. Another saucepan emerged from the kitchen at 75 miles per hour and crashed through the glass in spectacular fashion.

I glanced out the resulting hole and spotted two pairs of legs retreating down the driveway at top speed. "Hey, kids! It's okay! Come back! Your mom is just a little bit upset, that's all! She'll calm down."

"That’s what you said last time!" my older son yelled back, shedding his baseball glove, schoolbooks and, lunchbox in rapid order. "We'll eat over at Tommy's place tonight! I’ll call you later!" The two boys turned the corner and retreated behind the relative safety of our neighbor's garage.

I paused to consider the situation. My own children, my flesh and blood, were driven away from their home and the delicious meal I had planned of ballpark franks, peanuts, and popcorn. We were even going to watch the Mets game on cable later.

My reverie came to an abrupt halt as another pan buzzed by my ear like an angry hornet. "I'm not done with you yet!" My wife clutched my beloved Mickey Lolich jersey in one hand and a Bernz-o-matic torch in the other.

"Now, honey, let's act like grown adults here.”

“Grown adults. You’re a fine one to talk about grown adults!" She fumbled with the gas nozzle on the torch.

I had to do something, fast. "Wait! Years of deodorant use have left a harmful build-up of flammable chemicals in the armpits of that jersey!" I shouted. What a bluff. "If you light that torch, you'll blow us all to kingdom come!"

It worked. She dropped the jersey and backed away slowly, her eyes open wide in fear.

"That's better. Now, let's sit down and talk this out rationally." I turned to close what was left of the kitchen door, and once again my quick reflexes saved me as the torch came flying over my left shoulder.

"You? Rational? Don't make me laugh." My wife stormed back into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her and breaking what was left of the window, and resumed making her 1968 Topps' salad. Wonder what I could get for a 1968 set in poor to fair condition? I thought.

It was so unfair. Just because a man wants to collect a few hundred thousand cards or so and decorate his house in official American League wallpaper isn't any reason for his wife to go off her rocker.

Perhaps I shouldn't have bought those 1985 All-Star Game souvenir bed sheets. Come to think of it, painting the house Oakland A's green-and-gold probably wasn't too smart, either. I decided to see my family doctor for advice.
• • •
"Hello, Mike. It's been a long time. Did you sprain your ankle sliding into second base again? You really should give up those company picnics at your age." Dr. Wiemeraner grinned at me with a wrinkled old face that resembled Casey Stengel.

"Not exactly, Doc" I muttered as I sat down. "My wife thinks I need psychiatric help. She insists I'm obsessed with baseball and baseball memorabilia to the exclusion of everything else."

"Hmm." He jotted down a few notes while I pondered the wallpaper in his office. It had an interesting blue and red tile pattern that looked just like the Chicago Cubs logo - Yikes! This was really getting out of hand!

"What makes you think you need such help?" he asked intently.

I told him about the paint job on the house and the ashtrays, and books, pennants, wallpaper, and cards. "You know, it's gotten so bad that the first thing I asked my kids when they come home from school is if they made any good trades today."

He stroked his chin. "If I had to guess, I’d say you are suffering from acute mental distress and fatigue caused by this obsession. Professional help would seem appropriate. I can give you a referral." He rummaged through his card file. "Yes, here he is. Dr. Young. Carl Young. Let me give you his card."

My ears perked up. "What team did he play for?"

"Say again?"

"Sorry, Doc. There I go again. I can’t help it." I pocketed the business card.

"I'll call Dr. Young for you and schedule your appointment. When's a good time for you?"

I whipped out my official Tigers schedule and appointment book. Tuesday morning looked okay. "How's about Tuesday, any time after nine o'clock?"

Dr. Wiemeraner chuckled. "You'd better start putting that baseball stuff away, Mike. Looks like it's worse than I thought!" I dejectedly tossed the schedule into the trashcan and left.
• • •
Copyright ©2007 Peter H. Putman. All mechanical and electronic print rights are reserved. This story originally appeared in Baseball Hobby News. He wrote for BHN in the mid to late 1980s. Part 2 will be posted in two days.

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