May 18th is the birthday of 1970's baseball legend Reggie Jackson. Known as "Mr. October" for his consistent post-season performances while playing for the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, he turns 77 today. A documentary film, Reggie, was also recently released this year reigniting interest about the Hall of Famer's life and career.

In our Spring Spiritual Journal, humor writer Alan Marnett shares the following tale about his treasured baseball card collection and the intersecting realities when childhood dreams meet real life economics.

There it was. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

My eyes blinked firmly to refocus and my lungs seized up after a quick inhale.

Pinched delicately between my now shaking 11-year-old thumb and index finger was a winning lottery ticket.

At the time, it was true: I was holding a 1986 Jose Canseco rookie card—a baseball card everyone knew would be worth millions one day.

Of course, my limited understanding of the world could never imagine how this money might impact my life practically—paying for college, avoiding mortgage loans, never worrying about a broken HVAC … There was a lot I didn’t know.

But the one thing I did know was that I’d never have to worry about money again. What a feeling.

Saturday was rainy, which eliminated any excuse to avoid the early spring cleaning on my to-do list. Unlike “regular” spring cleaning, this year was more of a deep purge—tossing or donating many of the objects that had accumulated after years of avoiding the tough emotional calls.

There, in my closet—behind boxes of old cameras, birthday cards and poker chips—it sat. The box that housed my ticket to riches.

For over 35 years, the card resided in an old shoebox with “baseball cards” scribbled on the side.

I grabbed the box with both hands and carefully removed the lid. There, as I had left them decades before, were nearly 2,000 baseball cards neatly organized by team and year from 1986-1990.

Although I can’t pinpoint a particular event, sometime between 1986 and 2023 that happy-go-lucky 11-year-old lottery winner had been snuffed out by the tight squeeze of reality.

I knew that the Jose Canseco rookie card I held in my hands 35 years ago was probably not worth millions. In fact, staring down at this time capsule of my youth brought more stress than joy.

What am I gonna do with these things? Are they even worth anything? Is there someone who can appraise them for me?

Paralysis set in.

I’ll figure it out later, I thought, “when I have more time,” as I reached for the shoebox lid.

I was letting myself down and I knew it.

I paused and, after a little digging, found what appeared to be the holy grail of baseball card valuation websites. Simply enter any player’s name and all of their baseball cards—complete with images—would appear along with specific dollar amounts for each one.

I pulled a stack of about 50 cards out as a sample and figured I’d run a few names through the site. If I had anything of value, I’d probably get a sense relatively quickly.

Card 1: 1986 Topps Dale Murphy. (Who the heck is this? He certainly wasn’t part of the Bash Brothers.)

Value: $23.24.

Wait. WHAT!?

Confused, I tried another.

1986 Darren Daulton. Never heard of him.



Ron Gardenshire.


My pulse quickened. Three cards I’ve never heard of totaled $68.81.

My mind raced—if the average card is worth $20, and I have 2,000 of them, I’m sitting on …$40,000! And I hadn’t even put in the famous guys yet!

I stopped following baseball shortly after I stopped collecting cards, and apparently many of the “nobodies” I was unfamiliar with went on to have amazing careers. Hall of Fame careers. I even had some of their “pre-rookie” cards—where the player is still in their high school or college uniform.


I actually had hit the lottery—in a way I never imagined!

Jose Canseco (1986 Topps), where this all started: $43.95.

Greg Maddux (1987 Topps): $264.10.

Wade Boggs (1987 Topps): $121.05. And I had SIX of them!!


I could not type fast enough.

$82.15. $12.88. $166.21. $21.63.


By the 20th card, I cut myself off. It was time to take the next step. This was getting serious.

It was looking like $40,000 was low at this point.

Forty. Thousand. Dollars.

It’d been right under my nose—and cameras and shoes and sweaters and printer paper—all along.

What would I do with this newfound wealth? Renovate the kitchen? Buy a new car?? Travel the world???

The happy-go-lucky 11-year-old was back—and it was glorious.

Time to move up to the big leagues. With my re-kindled love of baseball cards riding shotgun, I rang a local sports paraphernalia collector, prepared to make his day by dropping some nearly 40-year-old mint condition baseball cards on him out of the blue.

He answered.

“Hi, I have about 2,000 baseball cards from 1986-1990. They’re a mix of Topps, Donruss and Upper Deck.”

“We only collect cards from the 50s and 60s—Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron—those guys.”

“Oh OK, do you know of anyone who might be interested in late 80s cards?”

“No, unfortunately, they’re not worth anything.”

Apparently this guy hasn’t checked values lately.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, they’re not worth anything.”

“But I just looked up a number of my cards—they range from tens to hundreds of dollars each.”

“That’s probably not their actual value.”

“How do I find that?”

“Go to eBay. And type in your most valuable card—name, year and card maker.”

The reality monster was back and the 11-year-old was scared. Gregg Maddux, 1987, Topps.

BOOM! *Hundreds* of dollars each—as expected!

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