Author’s note: I am dedicating this piece to my paternal grandmother Simone (RIP, 1922-2008) for reasons that should be clear by the end. And yes, I’m cracking up a bit at some of the dudes whose “stealth mode” Google search might have brought them here!

Summer 1977

What crazy memories this tweet from Todd (aka @CardsTB) brought back to me, even if they weren’t good ones!

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This was the summer of 1977, I knew nothing about baseball or even sports in general, and I was all packed up for my first summer camp. As my only interests at the time were dinosaurs and whales, it was unclear what there would be for me to enjoy at camp, but that was soon made clear when all campers received $2 in vouchers for the Canteen, an onsite mini-mart that sold Kleenex, batteries, and candy. I didn’t bring a flashlight, so there was no need for batteries, and as long as I had sleeves you can sure as hell bet I wasn’t wasting any vouchers on Kleenex!

Aside from Tootsie Rolls, which I’ve always hated, and gum, Sugar Daddies at five cents apiece were the cheapest candies at the Canteen. I’d never had one before, but the price was right. Plus, Sugar Daddy had sugar in the name. Perfect win-win.

When I opened the wrapper, which worked similar to the wrapper on a lollipop–no tearing required, just some untwisting–I was surprised/annoyed to find a strip of cardboard stuck to the candy. Whatever non-stick technologies had emerged in the 1970s none were employed here. When I say “stuck to the candy,” I mean get ready to eat some paper with your caramel.

The strip of course was no blank piece of cardboard but a long thin card from a set now known as 1976 Sugar Daddy Sports World. I mentioned already that this was 1977, so assume this was either a multiyear release or the Canteen didn’t quite sell out their supply the previous summer. But back to the card, the front side had a color picture of a bunch of guys running, and the back told you a bit more about their sport.

Picture something like the card shown below, only imagine significant paper lost from its near welding to the caramel.

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I could have thrown the thing away, but for some reason I didn’t. The card spoke to me in a way I never knew was possible. In microscopic letters I could read back then, the back assured me there were 25 of these mothers–I mean “daddies”–to be had, and dammit I needed every last one! This and this alone would be my purpose at summer camp. By evening I had more than a quarter of the set.

There was a buzz in the air when the week of camp ended and it was finally time to get picked up. One of the kids at camp was Daron Sutton, and there was intense speculation as to whether his mom or dad was coming to pick him up. His dad was of course Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, at that time the ace of the Dodger rotation. I was more familiar with Tom Hatten than Don Sutton back then, but I’ll admit to being caught up in the frenzy simply because the other alternative was to be trampled by it.

If you want to know the way my life went as a kid that year, let’s just say the one time my mom was ever early or even on time was when she picked me up from Griffith Park Boys Camp. We may have crossed paths with the Sutton-mobile on our way down the hill–and I did check every car–but I actually had no idea at the time what Don Sutton even looked like. I just imagined he would look about the opposite of my family–in other words he’d look normal.

Fall 1977

Though my obsession with the Sports World set was all-consuming during my week at camp, it largely fell by the wayside once I got home. I kept the cards, of course, all 40 of them, which amounted to 20 or so singles and about the same number of doubles. It wasn’t until third grade started up that I re-engaged.

Due to my mom’s work schedule, I spent a lot of time before and after school at my grandma’s house. Though she knew English, she mainly spoke French with the exception of a bunch of swear words she’d pronounce just badly enough to make them acceptable in public. Her go-to was shit but she’d say it more like shut. One of the worst words, or so I was told, was beem (sometimes beemo), which I understood–right or wrong–to be Arabic for stupid asshole. (She grew up in French Tunisia, so the bits of Arabic made good sense.)

Though people left seven-year-old kids home alone all the time back in the 70s, my grandma was always scared my sister or I would break something in her house if she ever left us alone. Nearly everything she owned came from a garage sale or a neighbor’s trash can, but that only made them even more precious since they were such incredible bargains.

These days families head to Costco and buy six months worth of ketchup at a time, but this was more than 40 years ago and my grandma was from the Old World. That meant she went grocery shopping every damn day, which initially was annoying as hell, but ultimately proved awesome. It turns out Vicente Foods (still there!) had Sugar Daddy and I had a nickel in my pocket (or maybe five pennies).

As a grown man and an experienced collector I now understand hobby etiquette. Pack searching is wrong. You don’t do it. But let’s just say I wasn’t there yet when I was seven. When the cops arrived (not even store security, ACTUAL COPS!) I was huddled over a box of Sugar Daddy, EVERY bar unwrapped and exposed save a handful. There was no way in hell I was spending my hard earned five cents to get doubles.

I had some serious concentration back then, so as the police and store manager stood there behind me I just kept ripping packs. It took a policeman tapping me on the shoulder for me to even notice the crowd that by now had assembled.

“What the fuck is this kid doing?” was likely the prevailing thought among police, employees, and customers alike. And seriously, what would you think if you watched a kid open Sugar Daddy after Sugar Daddy and not even eat one?

The officer asked me where my parents were, and I told him I came with my my grandma. He told me he needed to talk to her and asked if I could help find her. By the way, I was at this point ZERO onto the game of what was happening here. I did not for even an instant assume this “talk to grandma” request had anything to do with me or the pile of opened up Sugar Daddies on the store floor.

My grandma was visibly horrified to see me with a policeman. Before he could say anything she was yell-asking me what I did wrong. As that was the one question I was unprepared to answer, the policeman took over and told her I was caught shoplifting. It was kind of funny because neither my grandma nor I knew what the word meant. We just sensed it was something bad.

Fortunately, among all customers who paid for their groceries in pennies, nickels, and dimes, my grandma must have been the store’s best customer, and this came in handy when the store manager interceded on our behalf. As confused as the rest of us he muttered something over and over about how it surely was all just a misunderstanding and that he was certain it would never happen again.

An agreement was brokered in which I was never to go near the store’s Sugar Daddy supply in return for no further actions on the part of management or law enforcement. Rather than feeling any relief, I was actually quite pissed about the terms of the deal, but nobody really wanted my opinion.

So Todd, I wish I had that set, but I’m afraid I don’t. Karma for pack searchers is a bitch, and nobody knows that lesson better than a guy who was caught red-handed (or would it be brown-handed) just 3-4 cards from completion.

Maybe try eBay.

PS. One card in the Sugar Daddy set has (pardon the pun) suckered in more than a few Pete Rose collectors. Don’t bite on it!

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