Kepner: A salute to Sy Berger, from a card-carrying fan

From Tyler Kepner at the New York Times on December 18, 2014, on longtime SABR member Sy Berger:

When you grow up with a singular focus, whatever it is, you may find yourself relating to Will Ferrell’s character in “Elf.” Explaining his eating habits to his new family, the man-child from the North Pole says he sticks to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.

For me, the diet was baseball, baseball games, baseball cards and pitching. That was my sustenance, and I suppose I should thank Sy Berger for his role as a vendor. I emptied my pockets of quarters and singles, and he filled my soul with baseball, one 3 ½-by-2 ½-inch slice of cardboard at a time.

Berger, the longtime Topps executive considered the father of the modern baseball card, died on Sunday at age 91. I never knew him, but oh, did I know his work. No marketing vice president could ever have devised a better way to sell baseball to the masses, and bring the players closer to the fans.

I saw my first major league game at age 6, in 1981. It was an interesting time to start collecting, with Fleer and Donruss new on the scene as challengers to Topps’s supremacy. You understood that the hobby was becoming an industry and that cards should be handled with care. We were not the generation that flipped them or put them in our bicycle spokes. We would have disowned our mothers had they thrown our cards out with the trash.

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Originally published: December 18, 2014. Last Updated: December 18, 2014.