Boyle, a seemingly affable fellow, explained that Topps had received numerous complaints about the havoc the gum wreaked: the ever-present pinkness staining the cards, the sugar eating into and withering the feeble pictures.
Funny, I never seemed to mind these technical difficulties. (And just how does sugar eat into baseball cards, anyway?) It was a small price to pay for a defining scent, an aroma that conferred respectability and did for decades of schoolchildren what Chanel No. 5 did for Marilyn Monroe.
But one person's Mickey Mantle is another person's Bill Buckner, and the thrilling smells of my youth proved anathema to a crucial segment of the baseball card market: professional card dealers. To his credit, Boyle confessed as much. And it's sad. The little kid is deprived of his soul-soothing scent so the big bad capitalist can protect his investment. Ain't that America.
Boyle tried to convince me that Topps has received "overwhelmingly positive" reaction to the gumless cards, but admitted that "anytime you change something you've been doing for 40 years, you're bound to get some complaints."
So what's a poor boy to do?
"There are better economic venues if you want gum."
Yes, but you see, sir, that's not the point. For me and for all of my friends, growing up in the 1970s was a collage of "Free to Be You and Me" songs, Star Wars action figures and treasured Topps depictions of ace Yankee hurler Ron Guidry (1978 stats: 25 wins, 3 losses, 1.74 ERA).
WHENEVER I GET misty thinking about my departed youth, I pull out my shoeboxes crammed with musty baseball cards. And mixed in with the mildew, the smell of ancient bubble gum wafts through the air.
But now a new generation of card collectors will grow up without the olfactory experience to complement the pictures and statistics.
And a new breed of young boys will lack this vital entre‚ into the female world. Offering a stick of ossified gum will no longer spark intergender friendships. Sure, boys can always substitute Bazooka (owned, incidentally, by Topps) or Trident, but it won't be the same. It will lack the cultural connotations, the comforting affiliation with the national pastime.
I bought a few packs of the 1992 cards. I smelled them. They smell like...nothing. And when I'm fat and 50, coming back to Harvard for my own reunions, they'll still smell like nothing.
But when the big 25th comes around and I feel like an old man, I'll just unearth my 1978 Ron Guidry and sniff him for all he's worth. Only time will smell.
Eric R. Columbus '93, an editor of The Crimson, actually had to look up Guidry's 1978 ERA in Lamont Library.