Putting Away the Wallet Cards: Griffey Edition

Every year I place a handful of themed baseball cards in my wallet, carrying them around wherever I go for the course of the next 12 months. The cards get banged up in this process, but accompanying each and every crease and corner ding is a memory.

The idea of slowly decomposing one’s baseball cards in a wallet has been around in some form or another for decades, though it was Gavin at Baseball Card Breakdown that seems to have crystalized the idea with a post almost ten years ago. I love the idea but discovered it only at the beginning of 2021. I can’t do anything halfway, so I modified the idea a bit and began carrying multiple cards instead of just one. As long as there is a connecting theme between the selections I am considering it all good.

Having started the process after the year began, I synchronized my wallet card “anniversary” with my birthday rather than New Year’s Day. With the big day now having come and gone, I can celebrate the fact that I have outlived the lifespan of Jane Austen by retiring the trio of Ken Griffey, Jr. cards that have accompanied me for the past year.

Damage Assessment: 1995 Pinnacle

This is the first time I used a borderless wallet card. As it collected wear on the corners and edges, the damage began to be highlighted by the newly exposed layers of underlying white backing. With a more modern cardstock than the late 1980s selections I have previously used, this card behaved more like a wallet-sized photo than a baseball card. The cardboard just lost its rigidity and softened along the edges. The foil nameplate at the bottom of the card held up better from a tactile standpoint but still exhibits the same encroaching white creases seen elsewhere.

Damage Assessment: 1989 Upper Deck

Some apologies are due to The Junior Junkie, as he has already used an ’89 Upper Deck Griffey rookie as a wallet card in the past. Piggybacking off his selection was worth it.

The Upper Deck Griffey card was perfect for this project. The cardstock wore down much easier than more modern cards, such as the Pinnacle card just reviewed. The physical construction of Upper Deck’s debut issue was better than peers, but still maintained the fragility of the decade’s cheaply produced cards. The white borders collected all manner of damage and generated a nice dirty patina that only further highlighted the wear. The upper right corner began to erode a little, eating into the foul line design. 1989 Upper Deck, it turns out, is a good place to look if you are seeking a satisfying wallet card.

Damage Assessment? 1993 Finest

Holy moly, this was a surprise. I had long assumed my Topps Finest cards were among the most fragile in my collection. These are, after all, cards so condition sensitive that they prompted Topps to add protective layers of film to each card to prevent damage from taking place inside sealed packs. The 1993 Topps Finest Griffey I selected for this project already had a big crease running across the back, further enhancing the impression of fragility.

I put the card in my wallet and then nothing happened. My cardboard based cards began to show wear just like a compostable drinking straw while this monstrosity sat as unchanging as a McDonald’s french fry lodged under a kid’s car seat. I knew the plastic and foil layers used in the card’s construction would yield a different rate of cardboard decomposition, but was totally taken by surprise with how fresh this thing looked throughout the year.

Very small corner dings showed up, but were so minor that I could still see the possibility of a papercut if running a finger across a corner. The edges of the card bent somewhat as the card molded itself around the size of my smaller driver’s license and credit cards. These bends did not seem to really affect the card at all and it was easily pressed back into shape with little residual effect. Eventually the card picked up trace amounts of damage in the same areas that produced creases in my other cards, but even these did little other than modestly changing the angle at which light reflected from the chrome surface of the card. A few surface scratches appeared, but nothing like what I imagined would have happened after all this time. After a year in my wallet, the most serious piece of damage was the crease already present on the back.

The Year in Pictures

I was in a car accident one day after sliding these cards into my wallet. My wife and I had just dropped off our other vehicle for some maintenance and were driving back home on the interstate. A work truck full of construction signage lost its load, sending folded up “construction zone” diamonds bouncing across multiple lanes of 70 mph traffic. Several hit our car, including one that virtually exploded when our wheels went over it. Nobody was injured and we safely made our way to the emergency lane. That night we put the car on a lift and inspected the damage. One of the mechanics laughed as we pulled out one of the construction sign support legs that was wedged into the undercarriage. I kept it as a souvenir and used a Griffey card for scale when taking photos.

Automotive issues were solved within a week and I hit the road for a work conference in Las Vegas. Our events were based in the MGM Park, a hotel that I last visited in 2015 when it was the Monte Carlo. One night I had dinner at the NoMad Library, a leather upholstery and book-themed restaurant in the building. Can you guess what book on the shelf I noticed when settling into my seat?

While the Griffey cards didn’t emerge from my pocket during dinner, I made a point to take them out during an early morning run on the Strip. The card had been in my wallet for a month by this point and only had one small crease working its way into the photo.

Two months later my family took several long-planned personal trips. We typically go on short road trips for family vacations, opting to keep expenses low and save for a bigger trip every few years. 2020 was supposed to be one of those big travel years. The pandemic intervened and the cruise we had booked with our Titanic-obsessed kids was canceled. Once travel became fun again we cashed in our credits and set sail for a week in the Bahamas.

2023 was also a big wedding anniversary. A month after returning from Nassau we deposited the kids with Grandma and took off for Seattle and points further North. Knowing where we intended to go, there was no way 2023’s wallet card could have been anything different.

Seattle was great. We stayed in a hotel that had once been an engineering school for the Ford Motor Company and hit up the usual tourist spots. The Starbucks Roastery took the title of best smelling place in Seattle, while the Pike Place Market was the most fun. There was even a baseball card shop tucked deep inside, though I recommend skipping it. I saw $5 per pack price tags on 1989 Donruss and noped right out of there.

After a few days we set out on the next leg of the journey, a cruise through the Alaskan Inside Passage. The inspiration for visiting this area came from reading Howard Blum’s The Floor of Heaven, a book chronicling the intersection of several well known figures of the Old West and a gold theft that brought them all into contact in this part of Alaska. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to visit the area.

Traveling by water afforded some interesting sights. One of these was a submarine transiting on the surface on its way out of Kitsap. My dad was a nuclear engineer in one of the two shipyards that built the submarine fleet, so there is a chance he helped build the ship we saw.

The Griffey cards stayed tucked away for much of the rest of the trip, though I did manage to bring it out for a quick photo session on Castle Hill in Sitka. The city was the seat of power when Alaska was a Russian fur trading colony. The now empty hill was at various times the site of fighting between local forces and the Russians, as well as location in which visiting traders would be drunk under the table before negotiations were allowed to begin for furs. Visible from Sitka is Mt. Edgecumbe, a volcano that last erupted 4,000 years ago. The volcano was the subject of an absolutely hilarious April Fool’s prank that saw a local resident construct a monster tire fire in the crater and trick the city’s inhabitants into believing a new eruption was underway.

After returning to the East Coast we stayed pretty close to home, leaving Virginia for only one night through the end of the year. That doesn’t mean it was a slow time, as there is plenty to do here.

I took Griffey on a tour of Colonial Williamsburg.

I ran into a bewildered Chris Sewall at the summer Chantilly card show. Though he didn’t seem to understand the wallet card, he graciously took a moment to pose with my card.

The Griffey card went to an air show at Langley Air Force Base.

The air show sparked an interest in flight for my son and for his birthday we took an air tour in a Cessna flown by a former fighter pilot.

Theme parks have found new life outside the traditionally busy summer season by focusing on highly themed holidays. We visited Kings Dominion for Halloween and had a blast.

The year wasn’t completely spent at play. After much procrastination I finally got around to replacing the sorely neglected deck at my house. My son eagerly helped with the demolition. Check out the condition of the wood railing below after he hit it with a hammer.

The deck getting much closer to completion…

This was a big year for travel, moving 34,011 miles through three countries in 12 months. That’s 93 miles per day, giving the Griffey-themed cardboard an average speed of 3.9 mph.

With the Seattle trip on 2023’s calendar the choice of Griffey as a wallet card subject was a no-brainer. 2024 has no such travel planned, so I will be dialing things back a bit with the next wallet card trio. I’m going to step back a few years to a time when cards fell apart a bit more easily. Stay tuned for 2024’s selection…