Don’t be Ruth-less

See, here’s the thing. I’m not the luckiest guy in the world. Wherever that gold mine is – with riches untold – a scratched instant game card, or row of six numbers leading me to the state lottery office for a multi-million dollar check … I’m not there. One could argue “yet”, and be correct, but after years of haphazardly wishing my way toward that big red X on the map, I’m not holding out much hope. This is o.k. because millions of other treasure seekers are happily leading their destiny donkeys across the barren gambling desert with me. I’m certainly not alone.

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” – so penned the famous American essayist, Ralph Emerson, who lived a good hundred years before Martin Handford asked, “Where’s Waldo?”. This 20th century British illustrator, I’m quite confident, knew all along Waldo was the loosely held middle nomenclature of the aforementioned prolific philosopher. Knowing that, however, didn’t stop Mr. Handford from searching for Waldo, or depositing over $20 million bones to date into his bank account over the years from sales, licensing, and royalty contracts. More to the point, ” … rise early, work late, and strike oil.”, as J. Paul Getty once spewed from his mouth. Martin Handford certainly did that, right? The work he put into creating and developing the character, making the contacts necessary to publish his work, and the long hours – all to his credit. We can’t set aside many others who did – and continue to do – the same, if not more, and have little to no credit with no bones. Yes, the the backbone and drive to continue forward, but no cashola or contracts, licenses or royalties. Still searching for their Waldo.

Luck is such a weird concept. It appears randomly without cause and effect. Unpredictable which, I guess, is the very definition of it. “Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions”, is the pedantic, boring definition when googled. I’ve danced with her countless times and have so many bruised toes as slot machines, instant, and mega-millions tickets slammed down upon my already tired, wanting to be incredible, feet. It’s not wanting to be instantaneously rich that hugs me as we sway, more the process of satisfying my inner need to calm the waters at that moment. This is, as well, the excitement that drives those of us who get up every day to cut a rug with a new sales day – a time where we don’t really know who, or what, will take our hand. Who or what will try to take the lead. The dance, for sure.

If luck be the lady, Mr. Sinatra, I’ll dance. Oh, and I’d sure like to meet the lady who was lucky enough to find this gem in an attic a few months ago:

I’m a sports card collector. An amateur, but I know a bit more than the average Joe Jackson out there. Travel only a few short miles from my house and you’ll end up at the hospital where the woman works as a front line worker. She deserves every bone deposited because of the work done the past nine months. That card above came from Johnstown – a city about 40 minutes’ drive south of here. Rarity drove the price up from a starting bid of $25,000 to almost $350,000 in 16 days. According to the article, she kept 80% and the auction house retained 20%. Two-Hundred eighty thousand dollars for a little piece of cardboard attic find? Not a bad piece of luck … and slice of history either because a picture of the “Babe” – the Sultan of Swat – in a pitching stance is rare – rare, indeed.

She was lucky. Lucky her great-grandfather didn’t toss away that card (or some others in the box) when he could. Lucky they were stored away in a cold, dry place. Lucky that house didn’t burn down or be sold. Lucky, if sold, that the box wasn’t lost in a move. Lucky there wasn’t a water leak in the roof. But, not lucky that rarity drives prices up … and up … and up in the collectibles market. Luck, in the supply/demand curve here, does not have a dance card. Even in the midst of a pandemic, a miserable 2020 during which folks are scratching their collective heads, those who want, … want, and are willing to bone up close to 350G’s for a slab of cardboard with a guy’s picture on it.

Remarkable, but not surprising.

I wasn’t aware of this until it appeared in the local papers. Surprising since I, myself, appear frequently in the local card shop to converse with the locals. We know the vibe about town. There’s always scuttlebutt about the who’s and what’s when it comes down to these cardboard men and ladies in the sports world. To have a really rare, gradable, Ruth card like this around the area … in a collection with other cards from the same set … and none of us know? Hmmm. Or, perhaps, some did know and kept it pleasantly quiet which, by the way, I would have done as well. I certainly would have … most assuredly … without hesitation … wall-flowered the whole process!

This lady, again, was lucky. All of us are genuinely happy for her. To not be shows an out-of-touch reality and a, err … Ruth-less personality. How could anyone not marvel at the odds of someone shuffling through an old box in an attic only to find, months later, $280,000 in their bank account?

Lou Gehrig, a later contemporary of Babe, spoke these words in his “Farewell to Baseball” address: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”. Quoted often, most omit the first word, “Yet”. The sentence before, he says, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.” … Then continues, “Yet …”.

So often there is heartbreak before luck. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We know that, right? It is a disease that destroys the neurons that control voluntary muscles. Lou used “yet” as a conjunction between two worlds, saying, “I’ve been told I’m sick, yet life has been spectacular.” Bad luck, nah. No such thing. The “Iron Horse” died June 2nd, 1941, after 17 seasons with the New York Yankees.

Between 1925 and 1934, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were teammates with the Yankees and were next to each other in the batting order. I would think that’s the best luck in the world, but I’m a simple man. One who has been though his – and his grandfather’s grandfather’s – attics many, many times searching for something – anything – that would bring in skeleton’s bones fortune. Alas, it has not panned out. My grandfather was young when these cards were new, crisp, and white. Not this one in particular, but cards of the same class. Cards he often told me were so expensive, even by today’s prices, if he bought even one, there’d be hell to pay. Besides, most were sold as promotions with cigar, or cigarette packs, so they were off limits to him, anyway. I’d argue the point with him to no end. Oh, there actually was an end. He walked away. If you’re thinking of my dad’s cards from the 50’s – like the ’51 Bowman or ’52 Topps Mantles? Uhm, grandma threw them out. Yeah. Luck be a lady there, too.

So, I didn’t write a best seller or find any real valuable cards around. Most of us won’t. See, here’s the thing. I’m not the luckiest guy in the world and my name isn’t George. Oh, and I have a brother, but his name isn’t Harry, so he can’t claim the quote, “A toast to … The richest man in town.” … Yet.

One day, he may be able to make that toast, however, I’m not changing my name. It is a “Wonderful Life” and our lives are a process whether we have a Clarence, a Ruth, or a Gehrig to remind us of such a fact. It’s not whether we have a remarkable find in our attic. It’s all the little bells that give the angels their wings, I suppose.

I wrote “I’m not holding out much hope” earlier, and that’s true. Nonetheless, I have to be truthful, real, and in that tiny space where our tires are on the road. Luck is rare in the sense that it appears as instant wealth, three cherries, or six numbers and a mega-ball. Luck isn’t so bad in good friends, health, a really cool job, food, family, and a little hope going forward. All of this is unpredictable. Even the friends, health, and jobs as 2020 so frighteningly brought to the plate. We struck out so much this year. With the final innings … yet … to go, we must hope for a grand slam here. Let’s stay in the game, at least, and give our teammates a chance:

Up to the plate steps the Babe, with a bat in hand. Points to the outfield. Here’s the pitch – from Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher who would give up a three-run homer to Babe Ruth in the first inning and a solo shot to Lou Gehrig in the third. The famous “Called Shot”. October 1, 1932.

The Yankees won the World Series 4-0 over the Cubs that year.

If it happened then, it can happen now. Even in empty stadiums, I can hear the cheers of many over the doubts of the few. No bones about it.

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