Did Ty Cobb even have a rookie card?  (AP)

Did Ty Cobb even have a rookie card? (AP)

After I’ve spoken to groups at libraries and elsewhere, I always invite questions and comments, and I often get the same sad story.

It is the story of a man whose shoe box full of baseball cards was thrown out by his mother, or his wife, or some other thoughtless person with access to the shelf in his closet and neatness on her mind.

I have grown tired of smiling through these stories, and at a speaking engagement the other night, I had the opportunity to respond with something other than the phony smile.

“You were lucky,” I told the guy who said he’d lost his Yankees cards to an energetic cleaning lady.

“What?” he yelped.

“Look,” I said, “What did you probably have? A Horace Clark? Doubles of Fritz Peterson? Maybe a Mickey Mantle from late in his career, when everybody had a couple Mickey Mantles?”

His sheepish smile told me that I had his shoebox about right.

“So if you still had that stuff, and you took it all to a memorabilia place, they’d give you 20 bucks for the lot, if you threw in the box.”

“Oh,” the guy said.

“But that shoebox is gone, so it could have had anything in it. A Tris Speaker. A Ty Cobb rookie card.”

“I didn’t have those,” the guy said.

“I know,” I told him, “but don’t you get it? You don’t have your old baseball cards, but the absence of them means you have a story. You can tell everybody you lost millions on account of the cleaning lady.”

How do I know my suggestion made the guy whose baseball cards were gone forever feel better? Simple. As I was leaving the hall that night, I overheard the conversation he was having with another guy he’d collared at the back of the room. Or at least I heard fragments of it…something about Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb.