Uncle Bill, The Mick and Me
Uncle Bill was born in 1948, youngest of four, son to a housewife and bus driver. His bedroom, replete with Hopalong Cassidy flooring, was a converted bathroom of a small house resting blocks from DePauw University. By my mother’s account, Uncle Bill was a magician of mathematics, a seer of statistics, so it is no wonder he was drawn to baseball.
Coming from a small town situated amidst St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati, he eschewed the regional teams, and cheered for those damn Yankees. Even though I never met my grandfather, I am sure this rancorously irritated him, as he was a life long White Sox fan. To make matters worse, like many boys of his era, Uncle Bill was a die hard Mantle fan.
I have heard countless stories of Uncle Bill, sitting on the family room floor, playing with his baseball cards, nearly all of them Yankees, and mostly those were Mantles. I first heard this legend from my grandmother when I was a 12 year old budding collector; for she saw my similar fascination, thus saw Uncle Bill in me. I listened intently and my ears burned with the mere whisper of the word “Mantle.” I immediately inquired as to the whereabouts of Uncle Bill’s collection.
My grandmother shrugged to my mother, turned to me and said she knew not their location. Sadly, no one knew where the cards were because not long after The Mick hung up his cleats, Uncle Bill was killed in a car accident.
For the next four years, I spent countless summer days searching the house from the cellar to the rafters. I looked in crawlspaces, opened every box I found, searched the rickety detached garage and went as far as looking in the air registers. Fruitless, I’d sit at night in my Uncle’s room, gazing out the window at the nearby street lamp, wondering where his cards had gone. Then one night, I looked across the room at Uncle Bill’s chest of drawers.
In all my searching, I had never looked there because it felt like I would be invading his privacy or would awaken his ghost. It felt taboo. Then one day, I mustered the courage, opened the drawers and found his clothes still neatly folded, waiting for him to come home. The final drawer I opened contained no cards, but only a plastic bag which held his possessions from the night he was killed. A wallet, some pocket change and a watch.
Holding Uncle Bill's watch in my hands, I knew that my quest was over, and frankly, it didn’t matter anymore because I realized it never was about the cards. It was about trying to put my fingers on something tangible from an uncle I had been so close to, yet had never met.
Two decades later, I sat in my own bedroom, holding a small box of cards I had received in trade. I flipped through the glossy, black bordered cards and then I stopped, frozen. For the first time in ages, I felt emotion from a baseball card. In my hands was the first Topps Mantle card I had ever held, a 2007 Topps #7 Mantle. I immediately flipped the card over and poured through the statistics, relishing the red italics and reading the biographical information. The Mick’s height, weight, date of birth was listed, but no date of death. I grinned, then mouthed, “It’s like he’s still playing.” I believe Uncle Bill would have liked that.
I know Greg put those 2007 Topps cards in the box, but I’d like to think Uncle Bill slipped the Mantle in just for me. That card now sits in my dresser drawer, next to my Uncle Bill’s watch.