How the Backs of Baseball Cards Made Me Good at Math

This article was contributed by Gerald Henley, an avid baseball fan for many years from Indianapolis, Indiana.

The backs of baseball cards in the late ’70s and early ’80s helped me hone my math skills. The other day my wife and I were figuring out some bills. My wife always uses a calculator to figure out the math. I typically do those figures rather quickly in my head. I thank the backs of baseball cards for allowing me to be so darn quick and accurate.

Why were the backs of baseball cards so important? There was everything you needed to know statistically about a player on the back of a baseball card. Let’s take a 1990 Fleer Bo Jackson for instance. The statistics on the back of this baseball card show one minor league season and four official pro seasons with the Kansas City Royals.

Within each season on the back of this 1990’s baseball card, you can look at how many at bats Bo Jackson had. If you take his number of hits that season and divide it by his number of at bats then you get his average. As a baseball fan as a youngster, I was always intrigued at what my favorite players hit for average. It astounded me that someone could hit such a low number and still be regarded as an incredible player. That’s a different story for a different day.

The math lessons continued if you added up his career home runs. It might seem like simple math to add 2, 22, 25 and 32 to come up with 81. But for a kid learning different skills, adding up those figures quickly in my head and seeing the resulted total helped me become a very quick mathematician. You could add up the number of games played-or even subtract in your head from the major league total games possible of 162. That would provide you a good idea of how many games Bo Jackson missed. The guy was playing football with the Oakland Raiders at the same time. Yet, Bo knew football.

The backs of baseball cards allowed me to also figure out how many hits a guy would have needed to reach another plateau along the way. Bo Jackson needed 5 homers and just 3 stolen bases to join the 30/30 club in 1988. Can you even believe this multi-talented guy could achieve so much without being dedicated to baseball full time?

The idea that the backs of baseball cards aren’t as important to young kids these days kind of gets me down. I hope my son will be able to achieve the same math related skills by checking out the backs of baseball cards. Baseball cards are much more expensive these days than the bargains my mom and I must have picked up in the late 70’s and 80’s. Not only that, baseball cards are bought in hopes of some type of return investment along the way. It’s unfortunate that many kids won’t see the return investment the backs of baseball cards gave me in the world of math. There are computers that will help do the math these days. You can have a calculator on your cell phone, computer or watch. The days of learning math by studying baseball cards is probably long since gone. Still, it’s fun to reminisce and flip through cards and figure out the average before looking at it. And my wife still gets a little mad that I figure out those numbers for the bills before she can even finish punching in the same numbers on her calculator.

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