Flipping Over Baseball

As a kid I wasn’t much of a ballplayer, but when it came to collecting baseball cards I was an All-Star.  As a matter of fact, over half a century later, I still collect them.  Of course, the “hobby” has changed a bit over the years.

For a five year period, from 1954-58, baseball cards were the most important thing in my life.  As winter turned to spring training, I, along with most of my friends, would bug our parents to take us to the candy store, to see if the Topps cards for the upcoming season had arrived.  Each year, those first cards, sealed in that season’s unique wax pack wrapper, were objects of unbearable anticipation.  What would they look like?  How would their design differ from last year?  What info would Topps place on the backs of the cards?

Back then I basically had two sources of income.  My weekly allowance of twenty-five cents and the occasional handout from my grandparents, neither of which placed me in a taxable income bracket.  Then again, I didn’t have a lot of expenses.  At a nickel a pack, baseball cards fit within my means.  But my parents were a problem.  Not that they minded me collecting baseball cards.  It was just that I would have spent all my money on cards and they wouldn’t let me do that.  My mother established a limit of five packs, twenty-five cents, on any one visit to the candy store.  This wasn’t a big deal mid-season, and ceased to be a problem at all when she finally allowed me to bike to the candy store with my buddies.  But, each year, when the new cards first came out, it was totally inadequate.  I needed to build inventory and needed to do it quickly.  Only a dollar’s worth, twenty packs, would do.  So, each Spring I had to resort to chicanery and outright lies to build up my supply at the beginning of each season.  As in, “These aren’t all for me, Mom.  Marty, Tommy, and Mark each gave me twenty-five cents to get five packs for them, too.”  I was a little kid and my mother believed me.

There was no more thrilling moment when, in the privacy of my room, I tore open each pack of new cards, placing the gum in one pile and the cards in another.  The cards had a unique aroma that I still remember – it was a smell that was half cardboard and half the sweetness of bubble gum.  It was a new card smell that faded over time as the gum fragrance dwindled away.

I would arrange my new stack of cards in numerical order, tossing the duplicates into a separate pile.  A few minutes admiring the pictures of the players, a rubber band wound tightly around them to secure my precious items, and off I went to catch up with my friends to compare, trade from my pile of duplicates, and flip. As the baseball season progressed, our piles got large enough that we employed shoe boxes to store our cache.  Flipping got serious.

Flipping is a lost art but, in my youth, it was a skill every kid worked on.  In retrospect, if I had spent as much time on homework as I did on honing my flipping technique, I would have gotten better grades.  But frankly, flipping was more important to me than school.  What is flipping?  It’s gambling with baseball cards.  Like poker, there were different versions of flipping, including heads/tails, nearest-to-the-wall, and toppers, to name three.  Our favorite, and the one that required the most skill, was heads/tails.  Here’s how it worked.  First, you and your opponent would agree on the size of the pot – five cards, ten cards.  One person, “the flipper”, would go first, his goal being to make it as difficult as possible for his opponent, “the matcher”, to exactly match what he had just flipped.  The ideal flip: perfection, defined as all heads (the picture side) or tails (the reverse side) thus making your opponent’s margin of error non-existent.  After the first pot was completed, the two would reverse positions with the “matcher” now going first and the “flipper” having to match.

As Spring turned to Summer, our prowess increased and so did the size of our pots.  By August of each summer, we all had plenty of inventory and it wasn’t unusual to conduct “fifty-potters”.  That meant putting one hundred cards on the line, since there were always two pots whenever you bet, each person getting the chance to be the flipper and the matcher.  We became proficient enough that a typical fifty-potter meant having to match forty-nine tails and one head.  Sometimes we achieved perfection.  For a bunch of nine and ten-year-olds, it was high stakes competition because we loved our cards dearly.  I remember the thrill of winning and the despair of losing.  Looking back, it’s a miracle we all didn’t become addicted gamblers.

Did you flip cards as a kid?  Have a favorite story?



  1. Lee Edelstein says

    Hi Lee,

    You have a great blog here! I look forward to reading future posts!


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