brewers baseball and things

maybe down the hall from picasso


Jefferson Burdick’s tombstone reads “one of the greatest card collectors of all time,” and yet the grand poobah of baseball cards never even liked baseball. He was into history and pictures at a time when no one had a TV or radio. Movies were silent and newspapers were just a bunch of words.

I’d like to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and see the Jefferson Burdick collection on display. According to the Museum’s website, “The Burdick exhibit is the most comprehensive collection of baseball cards outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

burdock graffiti

But then there’s George Vrechek. He’s written six articles about Burdick and says, “He donated his entire collection of 30,000 baseball cards and some 300,000 other card types to the Museum in 1947. The collection is still there today. You may have heard that it is possible to arrange a visit. Don’t believe it!”

Well, the exhibit ran from October 10 to December 16, 2012 so maybe it’s still there, but tucked away behind some Russian Matryoshka dolls. If I’m ever in NYC, I’ll pick up a phone and ask.

On January 10, 1963, Burdock walked away from that very museum and apparently said,  “I shan’t never go back.” Two months later he died. But before that happened, he not only mounted all those cards into binders. He completed a classification system that included Tobacco cards from the late 19th and early 20th century. Burdock is the one who gave them a name-T-206 , T-207 and so on. The  bible he left behind goes by the name America Card Catalogue or ACC.acc

Burdick spent over 15 years on that Museum project right up until his death in 63. He suffered from arthritis, never married and had no kids. Sounds like a winning formula for an obsessive collector of American relics.

I love the fact that he didn’t preserve the cards in protective glass or wear surgical gloves when handling them. He simply stuffed them into albums. It might seem strange that a man so enraptured by baseball cards and so aware of their precious cultural value would run the risk of them getting moldy or smudged from human hands. I think he did it on purpose, sort of a quiet statement against his biggest fear-baseball cards turning into a business.

Of course that’s exactly what happened, but I don’t think Burdick is rolling over in his grave or whatever. Yeh, there are more card sets issued than ever before and yeh, it can get confusing at times and there’s no more satisfaction at having collected all the 2013 cards because there’s too many of them and yeh, buying cards bleeds a wallet, but an etymologist struggles with the same diversity. There are close to 400,000 species of beetles on the planet and I bet there’s some high-priced ones among the lot.burdok baseball card

There’s even a card of Burdock himself these days. It was issued in 2010 by Tristar Obak. It’s only a pose, but an action photo of a baseball card cataloger would be a challenge. “Oh, look at the way he slides that Goudey 1933 Hack Wilson card into the upper left hand corner. Get a picture of that.”


Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

13 thoughts on “maybe down the hall from picasso

  1. I read about this guy in a book called “Mint Condition.” The premise of the book was how the baseball card companies fooled people into thinking that something so common was valuable. i am such a fool.

    • That’s a great book. Of course I say that about just about any book I manage to finish, but that one weaved together a comprehensive look at the hobby and if I remember right, there were even some killer pictures of space alien cards.

      There’s nothing quite like common cards, for me anyway. But I was a willing sucker for almost a decade. I made out ok too by buying a Ryan rookie and a Bench rookie for 10 bucks each, but then I sold them both for like 700 bucks to pay off some debts. Oh well, it’s all about the pictures and facial expressions and history of the player and the team and the time nowadays when I slide some cards through my hands.

      Good to hear from you Gary. I think Burdock would dig the websites that wax on over specific cards.

  2. I think I read an article on him in the New York Times perhaps a year ago. What an odd person. Kind of what I might have become if my wife hadn’t saved me. I’m looking at nearly two dozen of those long, white cardboard boxes full of baseball cards right now next to my desk, as well as four or five other sorts of boxes full as well. I’ve begun giving some of them away to local kids and others. I definitely don’t have the time to sort them the way Burdock did.
    Good stuff,

    • Hey Bill. Yeh, there was an article in the NYT, a really good one about Burdick. It’s an ongoing challenge to find ways or places to display baseball cards, but well worth it I think. They evoke something only baseball cards can evoke.

    • “What an odd person. Kind of what I might have become if my wife hadn’t saved me.”

      What is the meaning of “odd”? What is the meaning of “normal”? If you act like everyone else and you are a conformist and you do everything that every other person does, right?


      He was a most peculiar man.
      That’s what Mrs. Riordan said,
      And she should know;
      She lived upstairs from him
      She said he was a most peculiar man.

      He was a most peculiar man.
      He lived all alone within a house,
      Within a room, within himself,
      A most peculiar man.

      He had no friends, he seldom spoke
      And no one in turn ever spoke to him,
      ‘Cause he wasn’t friendly and he didn’t care
      And he wasn’t like them.
      Oh, no, he was a most peculiar man.

      He died last Saturday.
      He turned on the gas and he went to sleep
      With the windows closed so he’d never wake up
      To his silent world and his tiny room;
      And Mrs. Riordan says he has a brother somewhere
      Who should be notified soon.

      And all the people said, “What a shame that he’s dead,
      But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?”

      Those words were written by Paul Simon.

      Do you think that he would have agreed with you?

      I personally don’t.

      In fact, I think that the undiagnosed mentally ill are the strange ones, not the ones who are on their medication and seek help.

      I hang around almost exclusively with fellow people who have been pigeonholed into the classification of “mentally ill.” I’ve been pigeonholed into that classification, myself, and while I think that the shrink is correct and I take my medication because it helps me, I don’t think of myself or any of my friends, some of whom have paranoid schizophrenia and/or a bipolar disorder, as being “odd”. Most of them never married. They have suffered a lot in their life. But you would never guess that they have a “mental illness.”

      Be careful of what you say, because it could happen to someone in your own family. It often does. It happened to me when I was barely 17. I am now 53. It has managed to destroy much of my life. The stigma only makes it that much worse. I have been diagnosed with severe anxiety, severe clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and severe learning disabilities. I am on Medicare and Medicaid. I live below poverty level because I depend on Social Security Disability checks; because of the Social Security, working full-time is a risk; I can lose everything and end up on the streets. I already have been homeless, in fact.

      An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. If that previous sentence doesn’t sound like my words, it’s because they’re not. I copy/pasted that statistic from the National Institute for Mental Health website.

      Here are some more statistics from the National Institute for Mental Health website that might surprise you……..

      And do you know what? When I’m walking down the street and I feel threatened, it’s generally by the “normal” people. It’s the “normal” people, the people who have been PROVEN to commit VASTLY more crimes than those with mental illness, INCLUDING those with schizophrenia, who tend to be afraid of people, and tend not to be the aggressor, although Hollywood would have you believing otherwise, and so would the local newscasts, who only mention those with mental illness in those rare cases when a mentally ill person DOES commit a violent crime. That’s because they never fail to mention that they are mentally ill. In the majority of violent crimes that you hear about on the news, they don’t mention that the perpetrator DOESN’T have a history of mental illness, but the news media never fails to mention it when they DO.

      “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
      All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

      – John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Elanor Rigby”


      • I just want to correct something that I wrote that was completely carelessly written and thus incorrect. I’m often too lazy to proofread things that I read!!!!! I’m only correcting it because it’s important. At least it is to me, and to my pride.

        I wrote……….

        “It’s the ‘normal’ people, the people who have been PROVEN to commit VASTLY more crimes than those with mental illness, INCLUDING those with schizophrenia, who tend to be afraid of people, and tend not to be the aggressor……”

        What I MEANT to write in the first part of that last paragraph was this-

        It’s the “normal” people who scare me, much more than the “odd” ones. The so-called “normal” people have been PROVEN to commit a VASTLY higher percentage of violent crimes than those with mental illness, and that includes those with schizophrenia. In fact, people who have schizophrenia tend to be MORE afraid of being physically hurt, and tend to be more vulnerable. The so-called “normal” people, (many of whom should be on medication but wouldn’t go through the “shame” of seeking help because, hey, what would their “friends” think?) tend to be more aggressive than the “odd” ones who are BRAVE enough to get help and medication for their problems.

        I hope and pray that nothing like what happened to me, of which I had no power, happens to your family. Mental illness most often hits in the late teens through the early 30s. I was hit in my late teens. I wouldn’t wish this on ANYONE. Not to sound complaining, but it has been a real day-to-day struggle in the last 37 years for me, just as it’s a struggle for those with cancer or heart disease or Parkinson’s Disease or all other devastating diseases.

        To keep this on a baseball theme, all I can say is God bless the Alex Johnsons of this world. I don’t have nearly as much empathy for the pitchers or batters that get pulled muscles or what have you. They are not nearly as brave as the “odd” baseball player Alex Johnson was, in my opinion.


      • Hey Glen, I don’t want to answer for Bill, but based on his fine writing and understanding of all things, I perceived his use of the word “odd” to mean eccentric and unique or as you said, “a non conformist.” In other words, I think Bill was providing praise and honor to one of the baseball card hobby’s biggest contributors.

        By saying, “if my wife hadn’t saved me” I get the sense that Bill is not only praising his wife, but recognizing what a heroic thing Mr. Burdick did. “Saved” in the sense of Mr. Burdick died while cataloging baseball cards. He devoted close to 20 years of his life to the Museum project. It took a lot out of him. Most people would not be willing to make such a sacrifice. That’s how I understood Bill’s words. Thank you for the Paul Simon lyrics. Good stuff. Cheers!

      • Glen, I simply meant that it was odd for someone who didn’t even like baseball to devote his life to baseball cards. Odd doesn’t necessarily mean mentally ill.

  3. I don’t mean to belittle your previous posts, but this is perhaps the most fascinating one yet.

  4. Maybe so, Steve, and enough of that sensitivity and all that eloquence and fancy little songs by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon all put aside, there ARE times when I just feel like taking off my gloves and fight bare-knuckle. I’ve been through a lot of crap, man; when I first got ill, I wasn’t even shaving yet, I had no hair on chest or legs, I was a good-looking young man with dark hair who wore his hair in bangs, yet no senior prom for me because the friggin’ shrink was trying to find the right medication. I am now balding, grey-haired, have a tough, heavy beard that is a consternation for razor blades, and I’ve got more hair on my chest and legs than a friggin’ gorilla. But I’m still the same person; in some ways, I’m still a 17 year old in a 53 year old man’s body, because I never got to experience life in the healthy way that I should have; I didn’t go through the rites of passage that they talk so much about. I’m sorry. Sometimes, after hearing enough shit over a lifetime, you just get tired of the bullshit that well-meaning people think. I get tired sometimes of giving people the benefit of the doubt. So do all of the people who have been through the same thing, and there have been A LOT. I don’t HAVE any woman to pick up after me or cook for me; I’m gonna have to do that myself for the rest of my life, and I’m just gonna have to accept that. But me and so many others who have been through what I’ve been through, SO many others that your so-called “average, well-meaning person” will never understand because they don’t have the time to educate themselves about this crap, well, it kind of gets to you after a while and you want to do a little shouting. Tired of overcompensating and being nicey nicey all the time. Any time you get a little bit angry, it’s “a ha, see, I TOLD you he was sick”, but if Mr. and Mrs. Normal have the same occasional healthy anger, well, that’s okay, he’s the president of the chamber of commerce and and she’s an upstanding citizen.

    I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I have screwed up a lot of things and opportunities on my own OUTSIDE of my illness, as everyone else has, but just am tired of always giving people the benefit of the doubt all the time. I’m one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet once you’ve met me, but societal “norms” and all that crap are keeping you and him and her from me.

    Man, I’ve achieved stuff WHILE DEPRESSED AS HELL and feeling like I want to die that most of the friends I had who never got “sick in the head” could EVER achieve. I was well-loved as a radio disc jockey in Portland, Maine. I was funny, and people called me on the request line to tell me so. I am luckier than a lot of my mentally ill brethren; EVERY CENT of my Social Security Disability payments CAME OUT OF MY HARD WORK; THEY CAME OUT OF MY PAYCHECKS, just as they deduct it from EVERYBODY’S paychecks. I haven’t been sitting around feeling sorry for myself, my friend; I’ve been working and working and TRYING since I was barely 16 years old and fresh-faced, acne-prone and naive, so I can be proud of SOMETHING, my good man. I was what the girls would have whispered to each other, “Oh, he’s kind of cute!”

    Now I’m seventeen years from being a septegenarian, but I never sat there crying because of lack of luck. I had enough work credits, and that’s how they figure out who gets Social Security, through how much he paid into the system, how much was deducted out of his paychecks that added up. I am not on the Federal dole; nobody’s taxes are supporting ME. I worked enough that I was already Social Security when I was 26 years old, and probably even sooner because I worked so hard. KEEPING a job, well, THAT’S been my difficulty, but it’s never been for lack of trying. I’ve worked at restaurants, warehouses, security guard work, parking ticket enforcercemnent (“meter maid”, if you will), radio stations, newspapers, everything from cleaning toilets to writing sports reports for fairly prestigious newspapers.

    The fact is, though, that the illness DID get in my way, and I have to figure out how to balance work and losing my benefits. In this inflated economy, full-time work is a luxury that I don’t usually have. Yeah, America. The ol’ Catch-22. With all that I’ve accomplished while being sick, I can only fathom, I’ll never know for sure, what I would have accomplished while being, um, well, you know, “WELL.” If you figure out what I and “people like me” (and there are multitudes of people like me), have had to put up with, I might have been as successful as friggin’ ANYBODY. But we’re not as successful; that was taken away from us, and it was no fault of our own. Mental illness is the “mysterious disease”, and that’s why people distance themselves from people who have it. You can look at the heart, the arteries, the kidney, and do what has to be done, and I know this because I had a heart attack and a stent holding one of my major arteries open to show for it, and I had kidney cancer, and I have only half of my left kidney to show for THAT. But the HEAD, the BRAIN? That’s another story. Nobody knows what’s going on there, and frauds like Freud set the scientific ability of scientists to explore the brain about a hundred years with his frivolous bullshit. The brain is part of the human body just as the heart and the kidney and the bladder are, but somehow, we separate “psychiatrists” from “MD’s.” Psychiatrists ARE MD’s.

    Sure, I’ll give benefit of the doubt, but it doesn’t make me feel any more kindly to the person who said the ignorant stuff; I’m 53 now; I don’t have TIME to be an idealist anymore.

    Am I making any sense here? Do you see what interstate I’m driving down here?


    • I see where you’re coming from and sympathize with what you’ve had to endure Glen. Having said that, this was about the word “odd.” In the dictionary, it’s defined as “Departing from a recognized, conventional, or established norm or pattern.”

      The irony in this discussion is that you yourself said and I quote, “What is the meaning of “odd”? What is the meaning of “normal”? If you act like everyone else and you are a conformist and you do everything that every other person does, right?”

      Odd as in not conventional. I think you may have misinterpreted what Bill said because as we see from his reply, he was implying odd as in eccentric as in not conventional. It’s the right word to describe an amazing individual-Jefferson Burdick….in my opinion.

      It’s perfectly ok to misinterpret what someone says. It happens to everyone.

  5. While I was typing all that, you commented, Bill, and I understand your explanation. But I think you are smart enough to see where I’m coming from.

    Maybe a little oversensitive, but when you get slapped around a lot by this stuff for a longer period of time than when you WEREN’T getting slapped around by this stuff (such as when I was under 17 years old) you tend to stop giving the benefit of the doubt very easily. But I’ll try.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean anything. As George Costanza would say, “It’s not YOU, it’s ME.”


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