Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the suburbs of baseball-mad St. Louis, Beau and Bryan Abbott learned from their older brothers that the best way to blow all of their allowance money was to turn every last cent of it into baseball cards. This became a rule that extended to any and all capital acquired from birthday gifts, visits from their Nana, or any invented scheme to generate income (including Bryan’s ingenious idea of telling all adults he came in contact with that he was “collecting current U.S. coins”—what kind of adult would deny this adorable kid the jangling change in their pockets?)
As for saving money for something that cost more than $5 or was made out of something besides cardboard or that was actually functional—whatever. They wanted the thrill of opening the pack, the curatorial satisfaction of sorting the “good” from the “bad”, the naked idolatry of putting a Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card in a “plastic” to display and adore and protect as if it were the key to their salvation, the prestige of having an awe-inspiring yet somehow never comprehensive collection of Rickey Hendersons (Beau) or Darryl Strawberrys (Bryan). For these two, money meant baseball cards. Actual dollars and cents were simply the tools necessary to acquire their shared, sacred currency: Topps, Fleer, Donruss, and Score (and later Upper Deck, Stadium Club, Ultra, Bowman, Pinnacle and even, shamefully, Triple Play). Baseball was religion, and baseball cards had actual photos of the gods on the front and hymns written in numeric code on the back.
Now, this behavior was unquestionably obsessive and addictive, but good god was it beautiful. For Beau and Bryan, the joys of baseball card collecting were true and plentiful. They believe to this day, without any proof whatsoever, that their collections helped them build their unique identity and concept of selfhood, and that the design, photography and graphics on cards helped to foster in them an aesthetic sensibility that led to their lifelong interest in art. Their obsessive collecting, however, also created two distinct and lasting negative by-products: 1) It taught them that saving their money was stupid, because acquiring no new cards for longer than a week was about as much fun as being given no food or water for the same amount of time, and 2) They became hoarders of baseball cards, with boxes and binders filling their closets and the space under their beds and most of the floor in their shared room, the majority of which were the “bad” cards, or “commons”, sorted away from the charmed and magnificent “good” ones which went straight to “plastics” and binders and Eternal Glory.
Well, unfortunately there was nothing that could be done about their programmed inability to save money. They were able, however, to use the countless unsupervised hours that kids with working, divorced parents get when they’re not in school to put their mountainous piles of commons to creative use: they picked up Sharpies and scribbled crude jokes all over them in endless attempts at making each other laugh. Thus, during those lazy days of sitting around surrounded by stacks of worthless cards and permanent markers, with Saved by the Bell and Family Matters flickering their noisy nonsense in the background, with the Ken Griffey, Jr.’s and Frank Thomas’s sheathed in plastic and safely tucked away in their Right Place, and with nothing to do that sounded any better, two brothers with no prior criminal records became Baseball Card Vandals.