COLLECT CALL: 1972 Summit Series

June 15, 2012
By Baron Bedesky

Wow… it’s actually been nearly 40 years since the Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union took place. And yes, for me it does seem like 40 years ago. Actually, maybe more like 100 years ago.

So much has been written about the Series, and so much more will be said as this all-important anniversary draws nearer. No doubt, the nostalgia will be thick.

I consider myself very fortunate to have lived the experience as a fan. I know plenty of younger folks – huge hockey fans – all of whom understand the significance of the event and more than likely, all of them regret not having enjoyed the drama of the event first hand. At the age of 11, I was completely enthralled with anything hockey so the Summit Series was a huge deal for my friends and I.

“Esposito’s Speech” by artist Daniel Parry

My recollections are no different than most others. I fully expected Canada to wipe out the Soviet Union in eight straight games. We all know how that turned out. I can also remember how dismayed I was when Canada fell behind three games to one (plus a tie) with three games left in a hostile road environment. It was embarrassing and I have to admit I was disillusioned but I am proud to say I stuck with my team. I also specifically remember how upset I was when I hopped on my school bus one afternoon and heard one older (and bigger) kid proclaim loudly, “I’m going for Russia now.” His voice still rings in my head to this day. I swear, if I didn’t know what was good for me, I would have charged straight for his seat and given him a two-fisted beating. Jerk. Yet that single incident helped teach me how fickle fans can be. The biggest supporters can often be the first to turn.

I remember the teachers in our grade school wheeling those infamous old black-and-white televisions on the tall stands with rollers into our classroom so we could watch the games during class time. Because of the time difference, the games played in the Soviet Union were on in early or mid-afternoon eastern time.

Somehow those teachers knew how important an event this was, and that they could very well become part of Canadian folklore. I remember how embarrassed I was when Phil Esposito (who played for my beloved Boston Bruins) fell on his backside during the player introductions prior to Game Five. My God, did all my buddies razz me for that.

“Henderson Scores” by artist Daniel Parry

In the end, Paul Henderson scored yet another clutch goal (he also notched the game-winners in Games Six and Seven) and I recall myself and all my school mates literally dancing on the school desks. However, the memory is from so long ago, I also wonder if this simply hasn’t evolved into some sort of “big fish” tale. I really don’t

know anymore. I do recall my mother commenting about the event that evening at supper. She had gone into the city of Welland to do some banking and had no idea what was going on when dozens of people started hooting and cheering on the main street while passing cars honked their horns repeatedly. I remember how excited I was to explain what had taken place and why those people responded the way they did. It made me feel good.

Some of the players from the Summit Series are no longer with us. That’s what makes this upcoming 40th anniversary so important. It may be the final opportunity for so many of them to get together and celebrate one more time. Yes, the 50th anniversary sounds more significant but I fear we will lose many more players from both clubs before we reach the milestone. I’ll have a few more observations about the occasion, and the myriad of collectibles associated with it, over the next several months.

Baron Bedesky is a sports card collector, former hobby executive, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Bruins fan, proud father and a huge fan of blues and jazz. Follow Baron on Twitter @BaronBedesky.

COLLECT CALL: Back in the Saddle

May 29, 2012

By Baron Bedesky

Alright, time to get back in the saddle!

First off, a big thank you to my colleagues and friends, Fabio and Paolo Del Rio of CSE Games for providing an opportunity and a forum in which to share my thoughts about the world of sports and collecting. I’m honoured to be a small part of their efforts.

A few of you may know me from my days of being directly involved in the hobby, either through my affiliation with Canadian Sports Collector magazine, or with In The Game, the Toronto-based hockey-card manufacturer. While I have had no direct involvement with the industry since 2008, I do continue to follow it closely. And as a lifelong collector, my passion for the hobby continues to burn… especially the allure of the 2-1/2” by 3-1/2” pieces of cardboard that first caught my attention back in the summer of 1969.

Speaking of which, for some reason, I can still remember opening my first pack of trading cards. I don’t know why. I mean, how many memories remain clear in our heads from over 40 years ago? At that point in my life, my greatest passions were playing in the dirt, building forts and spending time with my collection of Dinky Cars.

Yet for some reason, during a sojourn into the local variety store, a box sitting on the front counter containing colourful little packages caught my attention. Keep in mind that I had little or no concept of professional sports. I was seven years old. Neither of my parents were fans and I had no older brothers or sisters so I had no exposure to games on the television or radio. But I did have a dime in my pocket, enough to invest in two packs of O-Pee-Chee baseball cards. Little did I know how that moment in time would set a course for my life. Sounds clichéd but it is so true.

1969 O-Pee-Chee Jack Billingham #92

At the same time… maybe I did have a clue about the significance of the moment. Why else would I remember the first card I ever pulled from a pack…  card #92 of pitcher Jack Billingham.

Throughout that summer, I continued to buy packs of cards at every opportunity, usually two packs at a time. And I remember intently studying every single card, both front and back. I had little idea of what all the information meant, yet I was relentlessly fascinated by all of it. Looking back, I eventually realized that trading cards were the ultimate marketing tool for every major North American sport. What better way to recruit impressionable youngsters to become lifelong fans? It worked like a charm for me.

I’m glad that Jack Billingham was my first card. Yeah, it might be more impressive if Hank Aaron or Willie Mays were my first-ever card but Billingham represents my fascination with all big-league athletes, not just the stars. He forged an impressive 13-year Major League career winning 145 games and two World Series championships in the process. And, if I am not mistaken, Billingham still holds the Major League record for the lowest career ERA in World Series play, a tidy 0.36 in 25-1/3 innings. He also gave up Hank Aaron’s 714th career homerun (tying Aaron with Babe Ruth for the all-time record at the time)… so there is an Aaron connection.

Oh, and I chewed every single stick of gum in every pack I ever bought. I have the dental records to prove it!

Baron Bedesky is a sports card collector, former hobby executive, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Bruins fan, proud father and a huge fan of blues and jazz. Follow Baron on Twitter @BaronBedesky.

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