Halfway through the first shoebox, it was clear that we owed J. Corey Stackhouse a big “thank you”. There was Jose Canseco and Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff and Ryne Sandberg, Brook Jacoby and Ricky Bones. There were cards made by Topps, Donruss, Fleer, and Pinnacle. And there were six cards with Tim Wallach on the front. This was not one of them:

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Seriously.

Mr. Stackhouse is on an impossible mission: he is trying to “collect them all,” as in, every single Tim Wallach card. Not one of every Tim Wallach card, but every Tim Wallach card that has ever been printed. While he acknowledges this to be impossible, he is aiming high. And why not chase the dragon, even if that dragon is a bunch of baseball cards depicting a guy that has been forgotten by most baseball fans?

Tim Wallach spent 13 seasons playing for the Montreal Expos (1980-1992). The last five seasons he spent in Southern California as a Los Angeles Dodger, mixing in a brief stint with the neighboring Angels. Wallach’s career highlights include (and this is best recited to the tune of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”) five All-Star games, three gold gloves, two silver sluggers and a fourth-place finish in the 1987 MVP race (he slashed .298/.343/.514 with 26 HR, 42 doubles, and 123 RBI).

I learned of Stackhouse’s honorable quest to collect them all via an article on SBNation. The interview, conducted by David Roth, depicts a man with a really great name who is not as crazy as you might imagine. In fact, I dare you to read that interview and not do what my brother and I knew we must: brush off the dust and sift through your baseball card collection, searching for Tim Wallach.

 

It surprised me that we had so many cards. They reside in a corner of my room, inside a large brown box. At first glance, I assumed that a few of the shoeboxes contained something other than baseball cards — Magic cards, football cards, who knows — but I was mistaken. All of the boxes were jam-packed with baseball cards. Some we inherited from our Uncle Pete’s prolific collection, but most we bought at our local card store in White River Junction, back when a store could survive by selling and trading baseball cards. That might be the most amazing thing about baseball cards: not that they are currently devalued beyond what our youthful minds could have predicted, but that they were once valuable. They themselves were a currency. I had a 1969 Topps Nolan Ryan card that was once valued at around 400 dollars (whatever that meant). We assumed that the longer I held on to it, the more valuable it would be. A quick search online would tell you that the card would not sell for more than 100 dollars today. Of course, all of that is a moot point seeing as I left the card in the desk of my freshman year dorm room  before moving out. Maybe there is a lucky janitor somewhere in the Hudson Valley who made some fifty bucks off of my irresponsibility. It seems more likely that it was thrown in the trash, where nearly all baseball cards end up eventually. 

Our search for Tim Wallach got off to a slow start. We each took one shoebox and started flipping through, delving back into our childhood. Each time I came across a noteworthy card there would be an unintentionally misleading remark: “got him!”, or “there he is!” My brother would expect to see Mr. Wallach. Instead he would see Joey “Albert” Belle, or Carlos Baerga. Kenny Lofton as an Astro, or Sandy Alomar Jr. as a Padre. But not Tim Wallach.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that it was my brother who first happened upon the five-time All-Star. He calmly turned the card toward me, betraying what we can safely assume was triumphant adrenaline. It was a photo of Wallach leaning down to field a ground ball:

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1989 Topps.

The celebration was to be short-lived, as we had a long way to go. So we high-fived and moved on.

Only some of the cards were in a vague kind of order. The rest of them were an absolute mess. We would hit pockets of Cleveland Indians that we must have organized for our father years ago — Tom Candiotti, Dion James, Wayne Kirby, Cory Snyder, Felix Fermin — prior to running through a series of cards that dramatically vacillated between team, decade and manufacturer. This meant close attention was most necessary, lest a precious Tim Wallach be unwittingly discarded.

Some were inexplicably in sleeves usually reserved for cards of actual value (Troy Neel, anybody?). There was a Ruben Rivera conglomerate. There were countless “stars of tomorrow” that are still waiting for tomorrow (a special shout-out to you, Kevin Brown the catcher). There was Cal Ripken, followed by Tony Gwynn, followed by Barry Bonds, followed by Randy Milligan.

As the shoeboxes came and went, so too did the memories of what it was like to be a young baseball fan. My brother and I had exactly one television channel at our fingertips until we were in high school, so baseball cards and the sub-par sports section of our local newspaper were our only avenues into the game. We chose our favorite players based on how they appeared on the cards, or what their stats looked like on the back.

My brother had found another. Tim Wallach, ladies and gentlemen!

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1990 Topps.

Excitement was beginning to build, as though we were contributing to an important cause. As though our childhood habit of throwing away dollars at a time for glossy packs of cards was finally paying dividends.

Though we never saw Tim Wallach play as an Expo, my brother and I went to several Montreal Expos games in the late 90s and early 2000s. Montreal is a three or three and a half hour drive from our hometown depending on who is driving, and though Boston is a little bit closer, Boston sucks. As does Fenway Park. If you’re going to see a game at Fenway prepare to overpay for everything: parking, concessions, beers, and especially, tickets for seats that are obstructed by Massholes and large posts that are (for now) holding up the overhang that you will inexplicably find yourself under in an open-air stadium. I recognize that Fenway is hip and vintage. Don’t do it.

Olympic Stadium, on the other hand, was a beautiful experience. One could drive to the big O on any given game-day, park underneath the stadium, walk up to the ticket window and purchase same-day tickets for about five dollars that would allow access to anywhere other than the really, really good seats. Of course, this is exactly why the Montreal Expos were an unsustainable venture, but it made for some great family experiences during my childhood. And those uniforms…

My brother had just found the third Tim Wallach card. I was beginning to get jealous.

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Not only had he found another Tim Wallach, somewhere along the way he had found this gem:

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It’s worth noting that Bill Buckner’s career numbers are not horribly different than those of Tim Wallach:

Buckner: 9397 AB, 2715 hits, .289/.321/.408, 498 doubles, 174 homers, 1208 RBIs.

Wallach: 8099 AB, 2085 hits, .257/.316/.416, 432 doubles, 260 homers, 1125 RBIs.

Buckner played longer and hit for better contact. They got on-base at a similar rate. Wallach had better power numbers. Buckner only made one All-Star game to Wallach’s five. Buckner never finished in the top 9 of the MVP race and certainly never won a gold glove. And I say “certainly” because we will all remember Bill Buckner for his inability to field a ground ball, fair or unfair (the ground ball was definitely fair, though). Tim Wallach will be largely forgotten by my generation because that’s how these things go. Bill Buckner will live on forever as the ultimate goat. Thankfully, we have baseball cards to remind us that Tim Wallach is worth giving a damn about, and that Bill Buckner was a fine player who is remembered for a poor decision that was made by his manager in leaving him in the game. Or perhaps it is the other way around, that Bill Buckner and Tim Wallach make baseball cards worth giving a damn about — the choice is yours.

I finally found one. It was in a series of cards I thought to be poor candidates for producing a glossy picture of our guy — a large stack of “1995 Score”. But there he was, eternally camped underneath a pop-fly:

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I will be damned if I didn’t find another copy of that same card two cards later. Our Tim Wallach collection now totaled five cards, and I was finally on the board. Twice. I felt like I could relate to the rookies who start their careers 0-20 prior to smashing a double into the gap. I called time and brushed off my jersey, like I’d been there a million times.

As our mission began to wind down, the joy was being slowly replaced with something a little darker. Realistically, when was the next time we would look through every one of our baseball cards? We would likely never have another reason to do so. It was akin to that moment when you realize you only have a couple more Christmas presents to open, except we probably wouldn’t do it all over again in a year’s time. We each grabbed one last box and slowed our pace to a crawl. 

His box was labeled “American League,” while mine was labeled “National League,” but, of course, they were just a mess of cards with no sense of order. There were cards from 1998, from 1987, and everywhere in between. Many of the cards stuck to each other. Some of them actually were stickers. As in, you could peel off the back and stick Mike Piazza to your trapper-keeper. As in, you could peel off the back and stick Barry Bonds to a school bus window. And they were intended to be that way. The rest of them just stuck together, inexplicably.

Down to our last dozen cards or so — we’ll call it bottom of the ninth, one out — my brother found the last Tim Wallach card.

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There was Tim, poised and ready for his last season with the Expos, crouching within the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. With the sun on his back, shadows on his front, it was a fitting final card.

We snapped a photo of the six cards. We put them in an envelope addressed to J. Corey Stackhouse. We packed up the rest of the cards, brought them upstairs and placed them back into the corner of my childhood bedroom. Who knows when they will be taken out again?

The next morning, our father took the envelope down to the village store and put it in the mailbox.

Tim Wallach was gone for good. Adulthood is here to stay.

All images are my own or courtesy of http://timwallach.blogspot.com/. You should go there. You should send him your Tim Wallach cards. Don’t act like you have something better to do, because you just read this.