By JOE McFARLAND
Old Man Winter’s refusal to leave Alberta this spring has left many to ponder if they will ever get to see a sunny sky, green grass and a ballpark beer and hotdog again.
As they wait for the snow to melt, baseball fans have been relegated to the bench, finding solace in watching games from the comfort of their own home or the neighbourhood bar. They might be staying in for some house cleaning or avoiding that by going out to the movie theatre to catch a flick.
Stu Stone might have found a reason to combine the two. The Donnie Darko actor joined Harv Glazer to co-direct a new documentary that will likely beg baseball fans to dust off their old boxes and see what kind of collectibles are hiding in their basements. Jack Of All Trades dives into the boom years of baseball card collecting.
“I just remember it being such a big thing,” Stone told Alberta Dugout Stories. “There’s a lot of nostalgia (with documentaries being released today) that is a big draw with audiences and I thought this would be a nice hook to get people excited and relive their youth by looking at these old cards and finding out what happened.”
Stone’s initial mission was to figure out what happened to the hobby which went from stud to dud in a short amount of time. His father owned a number of card shops and he remembers his own life being consumed by collecting as a kid. But then it just went away.
The film explores the mindset of companies like Topps and Upper Deck in the 1980s and 1990s and how over-production devalued the cards to the point that they no longer held value. It was a shocking revelation for Stone, who was always told, like many others, to hold onto the cards because “one day they will be worth something.”
He took the cards to a show in hopes of cashing in. Instead, he was met with resistant buyers who already had a lot of the boxes and sets he was trying to sell. It made him quickly learn a lesson about collecting in general.
“There are parallels to anything that’s collectible, including stamps, beanie babies, comic books and even now with Bitcoin,” Stone said. “As soon as people start collecting something and it becomes popular and you’re educating people to collect something, everyone is putting that same item in a plastic sleeve. It’s not rare anymore.”
“It’s different than the Mickey Mantle rookie card that was rare because it didn’t exist,” he continued. “As a kid, you don’t think about that kind of stuff and, at the time, nobody really did.”
On his quest to figure out what exactly happened to the industry, Stone interviewed baseball card executives, collectors and players like Jose Canseco. But his own past in collecting threw him a curveball while creating the film.
THE EMOTIONAL ROUND-TRIPPER
“The really great documentaries are the ones that take those left turns and just get crazy.”
Stone, 37, has been involved in the movie industry for years. The former child star is best known for his role as Ralphie Tennelli in The Magic School Bus. He has acted and voiced dozens of roles, but admits he wasn’t quite ready for what was to come in filming Jack Of All Trades.
“This, by far, is the craziest thing I’ve ever been involved in, for sure,” Stone proclaimed.
While visiting the site of one of his father’s first baseball card stores, Stone got into an argument with his sister and Glazer.
“That fight that took place, we were probably out there for 90 minutes,” Stone admitted. “You edit it into a six-minute piece, but the fight was even heavier than what was in the movie. It got pretty intense.”
It was about his father’s abandonment of the family and the memories that were hurled back in Stone’s face just by being at the site.
“That was my first inkling that the people working on the movie weren’t necessarily on the same page as me,” Stone said. “I sort of felt uncomfortable that they were even doing that.”
In hindsight, he has come to accept how it all turned out, as he questions whether the film would have turned out the way it did if he had been filming it with strangers instead of with family and old friends. The cameras then go along for Stone’s expedition to find his estranged father and captures their meeting.
“When I’m with my father, I don’t even know how that conversation would have gone without cameras,” Stone laughs. “Because part of you is there talking to him and then he starts crying and half of me is engaged in the moment and the other half is thinking ‘are they getting this?'”
The Thornhill, Ontario native then realized he would not only have to re-live the memories of his baseball card adventure, but also the emotions of that chase, through the editing, screening and other aspects of film-making.
“There’s definitely anxiety on my part about putting this out there and showing a side of me that I have never really talked about,” Stone said. “It’s gone from me never talking about something to always talking about it.”
One thing Stone isn’t shy about talking about is baseball cards. He’s learned a lot through this process and he’s hopeful that will shine through for audiences.
“I’m rooting for the hobby for sure,” Stone said. “I didn’t set out to make a smear piece on the hobby that I loved as a kid. I learned what happened and what went wrong.”
He believes the industry has learned its lesson and the greed has faded away. Production runs are no longer what they used to be, with some extremely limited cards and the addition of autographs and other memorabilia. It allows for some cards and players to be collectible for the masses, but also keeps the chase alive for those wanting the rare cards.
“Something is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it,” Stone said. “So as much as a 1987 Tops set isn’t worth anything, if you didn’t know that and you walked into a gift shop and the guy is selling the set and that’s something that strikes a chord with your childhood, you’d pay a hundred bucks for it if you didn’t know better.”
Stone is also optimistic about the future of the hobby. While his parents’ generation was out chasing Mickey Mantle’s rookie card, he was going after Ken Griffey, Jr.‘s rookie card. And now, with the current crop of young star athletes, he has no doubt that present-day parents chasing relics from their era will lead to their kids going after the Bryce Harpers, Mike Trouts and Shohei Ohtanis.
“When Jose Bautista hit that home run and tossed his bat, baseball was back in Canada and kids started liking baseball again,” Stone said, noticing that his nephews are collecting cards now. “There is a chance lightning could strike twice.”
For now, Stone is enjoying his own ride down memory lane. He’s able to take the film for what it’s worth, both when it comes to baseball cards and when it comes to his own family, in stride. The only tough thing to swallow might be the gum that remains in those unopened packs of ’87 Topps, which he still has. He’s hoping a few people will join him in eating a piece or two at the screenings.
“It’s not the same as it was,” Stone giggled. “The taste doesn’t hold up after 30 years but it’s definitely entertaining to watch people try it.”
He believes movie-goers will take something away from the family element, while baseball fans will be able to escape the cold to take something else away.
“The number one thing that will likely happen is that people will feel nostalgic for their youth and they are going back home to look in their basements and look for their cards,” Stone hoped. “There’s nothing better than opening an ’87 Topps pack and I think they’ll remember that and maybe it will spark their interest in the hobby again.”
Stone will be in Calgary on Thursday for the 9 p.m. screening of Jack Of All Trades during the Calgary Underground Film Festival at the Globe Cinema.