Friday, September 23, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Wrap-up

A good chunk of my posts over the last year came from cards I purchased at the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall in Denver. I took a trip there with my girlfriend about a year ago, and this post will cover the last of my haul from that visit. In this series, you've seen team-focused posts of the Mets, Pirates, Blue Jays, Astros, Giants, Marlins, Twins, Expos, Yankees, Braves, and Brewers.

A few of the cards in this post came from teams I already covered, but since these came from a different vendor, I had them set aside in a different stack. And they range from the early 1970s through to current players that are still on the same team.

2013 Topps Emerald #587 Matt Cain
Matt Cain of the Giants was often known as one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball, often turning in great pitching performances with minimal run support. This was certainly the case whenever he was on my fantasy team. But 2012 turned things around for him. In addition to the Giants' even-year magic, which could still happen in 2016, Cain threw a perfect game. There were three that year, but haven't been any since. Cain and Felix Hernandez threw the second and third in 2012, and they're both still pitching for the same teams. Philip Humber threw the first that April, but was released at the end of 2012. He went an appalling 0-8 for the Astros in 2013, kicked around the minors for a few years, and announced his retirement in March.

It goes without saying that perfect games are a rare beast. Max Scherzer almost had one last year until he hit the 27th batter (who really kind of leaned into it). Yu Darvish lost his bid on Opening Day 2013 when a single went right up the middle through his legs. And Rich Hill was pulled after seven perfect innings just a couple weeks ago due to injury concerns.

This Emerald parallel of Cain is not from his Perfect outing, as that came at home in AT&T Park. Cain is wearing his road jersey on this 2013 card, one that I can add to my collection of 2013 Emerald parallels. This is my favorite parallel set of at least the last ten years, even if the Giants' orange color clashes a little bit.

1977 Topps #201 Ed Kranepool
Rolling it back about 35 years, here's a 1977 card of the Mets' first franchise player, Ed Kranepool. He still holds the Mets team records for games played and singles. He was a key player for the 1969 Miracle Mets championship team, and never suited up for anyone else.

The back of his '77 card, coincidentally, contains a cartoon about the Seattle Pilots. They "were in existence for only the 1969 season." There's a drawing of some stadium gates with a sign in front that says "Home For Sale". The Pilots, you'll recall from a previous post, became the Milwaukee Brewers a year later. I'm guessing that Topps chose that bit of trivia to coincide with Kranepool's only World Series championship, which also came in 1969.

1972 Topps #164 Tug McGraw IA
Digging a few years further back in Topps' archives takes us to 1972, Giving us an action shot of Tug McGraw. 1972 was an All-Star year for him, but he'd only have a few years left as a Met before he was traded to the Phillies, where he finished his career.

Action shots were quite a new thing in 1972, and so novel that they can stand on their own without much other fanfare. The back of the card is basically just an ad for Series 3 and 4, promising the chance to "See your favorite stars when they were kids!", "Headline Higlights of 1971!", "Test your knowledge of the game's rules!", plus "12 of your favorite stars on special action cards." That last one actually omitted an exclamation mark, unlike most of the other taglines.

1995 Topps Embossed #89 Jeff Montgomery
By 1995, action shots were old hat. For that year and that year only, Topps released the Embossed set, stylized as tMB. I can't help but think of this as a kid-focused set, as MB means Milton Bradley in my mind. And I mean the company that made Battleship and Connect Four, not the retired MLB outfielder with a volcanic temper.

These cards have a raised surface on both sides, and it may have been a pioneering product. Upper Deck released a ton of cards like this in the 2000s (Ovation comes to mind) but I don't know of one that predates 1995. If there's a silver lining to the Strike, at least baseball card companies got extra-creative.

2015 Topps Gold #587 Daniel Descalso /587
I'll always like gold parallels, and I think the colored border works surprisingly well on the 2015 design. Daniel Decalso remains a Rockie into 2016, and even got a few hits last weekend against the Padres. Jon Gray's pitching performance last Saturday was one of the best in Rockies history, as he struck out a team-record 16 batters on his way to an 8-0 complete game shutout. Descalso was 2-4 that day, and it looks like he put one in play on this card, too.

1994 Score Gold Rush #445 Sandy Alomar Jr.
Score Gold Rush parallels popped up pretty frequently in these mystery packs. They're as eye-catching as anything out there, but in my experience are pretty fragile. I've had a Willie McGee Gold Rush card in my collection since I was a boy, and the lower right corner has been gradually peeling off the card stock for most of that time. You can see a bit of damage to the center of this card, probably because it was stuck to another card. And now that I look at it side-by-side with 2015 Topps, they both have three similar rows of dots on the bottom of the design. I'm pretty good with details, but I probably never would have picked up on that if I hadn't seen one right after the other.

We even get a bonus cameo of Paul Molitor on this card, a guy who's been showing up around here a lot lately.

2013 Topps Cut To The Chase #CTC-15 Dustin Pedroia
This isn't what anyone would expect to find in an antique mall. Die cut cards with a bit of shine from a Red Sox Championship year are pretty new. For all I know, it was the newest object in the entire building. Dustin Pedroia was the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and has been a part of two Boston championships. As this card tells us, he tied Ichiro for the most hits in the league in 2008, with 213. That remains a career high for Pedroia, but was actually kind of a down year for Ichiro.

I really enjoyed this trip to the antique mall. Despite not knowing a lot of what I was getting, I significantly added to my vintage collection, relived some of my favorite sets from childhood, got a ton of material for blog posts, a bit of trade material, and got the opportunity to expand my baseball knowledge, primarily around that whole Seattle Pilots business.

It would be fun to go back.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Trading Post #76: Night Owl Cards

Night Owl took pity on me.

The Dodgers were visiting Coors Field a few weeks ago, and the Rockies came darn close to pulling off a sweep. Stephen Cardullo, the 29-year old rookie, clubbed his first career home run in Game 1 of a split doubleheader. He ended up with a two-home-run day (though not a two-home-run game), as he hit a grand slam in Game 2, but it wasn't enough to complete the sweep. Later on in that game, the Dodgers got a grand slam of their own, hit by Andrew Toles.

That shot ended up being the game winner for Los Angeles, and it did put a little damper on Stephen Cardullo's breakout performance. But Night Owl took the sting out by sending a package of Rockies, specifically referencing Toles' grand salami.

Mmmm, salami.

2015 Stadium Club #232 Corey Dickerson
Corey Dickerson has hit a grand slam of his own, but it only came after he departed the Rockies for Tampa Bay. The lefty got off to a slow start this year, but he's picked up a bit. His home run count is about what it was in 2014, but his average this year is a dismal .243. It's no secret that Stadium Club is my favorite set these days, and Night Owl took the opportunity to add to my fairly sparse 2015 collection.

2016 Stadium Club Contact Sheet #CS-10 Nolan Arenado
Including the above Arenado card and Miggy's that I got from a Target pack, I now have 20% of this photography-themed insert set from 2016 Stadium Club. It's pretty amazing how quickly new cards find their way to me. Bunt, Stadium Club, Chrome, all have shown up in my mailbox without much of a delay at all. About the only thing I haven't seen is something from Topps Marketside, the ones that came inside Wal-Mart pizza boxes. The Rockies got one lone card in that 50-card set, and I'm not about to start patronizing Wal-Mart again to try to find it.

2011 Topps Opening Day Stadium Lights #UL-2 Troy Tulowitzki
We all know that Night Owl has an affinity for night cards, so it's quite fitting that he included a card from 2011's Stadium Lights insert set. I've seen this card before, and another from the set, giving me a 20% completion rate on this one, too. These glow-in-the-dark beauties are one of the best insert sets in a long line of stellar Opening Day insert sets, and I particularly like this one since it shows the area of Coors Field where I usually sit.

Third deck on the third base side. Tickets aren't too expensive, you get a great view of all the action, and you're pretty much always in the shade, or at least not staring directly into the sun. I'm going to one last game this season tonight, and while I don't know the exact section, I know my Cardinals fan friend bought tickets on the left-field side.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini #175 DJ LeMahieu
In addition to night cards, we all know that Night Owl loves Minis. He sent three tiny minis from this 2015 parallel set, including another young Rockies star, DJ LeMahieu.

That name is getting easier and easier to spell.

DJ is tied for the lead in the NL batting average race, currently sitting at .348. Daniel Murphy is right there with him, but the Nationals have no games left against the Mets, and Murphy got a hit in every single game he played against his former New York team this season. Maybe the end of that streak is just what DJ needs to regain his grasp on the batting crown.

As far as 2015 A&G, I know that set pretty well, as I won the whole full-size base set in a Nachos Grande group break by virtue of the Rockies being mostly a bust in that particular break. The girlfriend also brought home half a box that yielded some great insert cards. A&G is printed on thick card stock, so these minis are pretty sturdy for their size.

2011 Topps Update Cognac Diamond Anniversary #US171 Matt Lindstrom
I don't really remember Matt Lindstrom. He only played for the Rockies in 2010 2011, but as Huston Street was an effective closer, Lindstrom never needed to be called upon other than in set-up and late-relief roles. Even still, he got a card in Topps Update, and thus the availability of Cognac parallels, or as they're more commonly known in this community, "liquorfractors".

I wasn't really paying much attention to the Cardsphere in 2011, but I think Night Owl may have even coined that term.

2015 National League All-Stars Topps #NL-7 Troy Tulowitzki
At first glance, this looks just like Troy Tulowitzki's base card from 2015 Topps.

But it's not.

It's actually from a 17-card team set released to commemorate the National League's All-Star team. It's packaged much like the team sets you see at souvenir stands at the ballpark, and it's not available in packs. Other than the card number and the National League logo in the lower left, it's no different from his base card, but it is a little something extra that I never knew existed until now.

2000 Topps Own the Game #OTG10 Larry Walker
This post wraps up with a couple shiny cards. Larry Walker can be found in 2000 Topps Own The Game surrounded by an absolute swarm of letters. Good thing the guy can hit, otherwise I don't know how anyone could keep all those letters at bay. Helton won the batting title in 2000, but Walker won three out of four from 1998-2001. The back of this card talks mostly about his batting average, but stopped short of predicting his third and final crown in 2001.

2012 Topps Chrome #85 Carlos Gonzalez
Finally, this Chrome card of Carlos Gonzalez is plenty shiny, but more importantly it doesn't have too bad of a curl. As much as I like this brand, that production quirk does turn me off a bit. He's a great hitter, but also plays the outfield very well. As this card says, he led the NL in outfield assists with 12, while committing just one error. 

Matt Holliday left a bit to be desired in that department, but nothing like this blunder that Justin Upton pulled on Saturday. I've never seen a ball bounce that high. And Mike Napoli seems to make the blooper reels more than most. One particularly vivid memory of Napoli was him darting off the field following a nearby lightning strike while playing for the Rangers. I'll be in that neck of the woods on business later this week. Hopefully the weather cooperates.

Topps Now ought to make cards of goofy plays like that. Pitchers these days take no-hitters into the 6th or 7th innings pretty regularly. But you don't see plays like that every day.

Thanks to Night Owl for looking out for my well-being after that loss at the end of August!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Brewers

We're nearing the end of the Mystery Packs that came from my trip to the antique mall last year. Like the Yankees, this one consists of 1970s cards that were sold in a binder page. I didn't get any ninja Orioles, but the interesting history of the Brewers does have shades of another team.

1971 Topps #516 Ted Kubiak
1969 saw more expansion in Major League Baseball. The Montreal Expos began play that year, as did their National League counterparts, the San Diego Padres. In the American League, the Kansas City Royals started, along with a team called the Seattle Pilots that few people other than hardcore baseball fans have heard of.

The Pilots experienced the usual expansion team woes in their only 1969 season, and a lot more. Their repurposed Minor League stadium wasn't nearly up to par for a big league setting, and the team quickly fell into bankruptcy after poor attendance and high ticket prices. Recently retired Commissioner Bud Selig bought the team and moved them to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.

The City of Seattle didn't like this one bit, and ended up suing the American League. Everyone was happy by 1977 when the Mariners brought Major League Baseball back to Seattle. That was also the first year of the Blue Jays, ensuring there remained an even number of teams.

Anyway, in the midst of all that drama, the now-Brewers didn't really have time to come up with their own branding. The move wasn't made official until just before the 1970 season, and their uniforms hastily had "Brewers" sewn over where "Pilots" used to be. What you see here is essentially a Seattle Pilots jersey and helmet, which is given away by that unique striping on the sleeve, meant to resemble an airline captain's uniform.

Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four, and perhaps the only reason anybody at all remembers the Seattle Pilots ever existed, hated the uniforms. With all the stripes, colors, braid on the caps, and little ship's wheel logos, his feeling was that "We look like goddamn clowns."

1978 Topps #595 Sixto Lezcano
By the late 1970s, the Brewers, though they kept the blue and yellow of the Pilots, at least toned down the uniforms a bit. Lezcano had a more-or-less average 12-year career, though he does hold quite a specific record. He is the only player in Major League history to hit a grand slam on Opening Day more than once. It happened in 1978 and 1980, the seasons that sandwiched his only gold glove award.

He was part of the trade that sent Ozzie Smith from San Diego to St. Louis, and like many of Topps' 1970s American League cards, this photo was taken in Yankee Stadium. That black armband on Lezcano's sleeve was worn as a memorial to the death of teammate Danny Frisella, who died in a dune buggy accident in 1977. It was worn throughout the Brewers' 1977 season.

1979 Topps #24 Paul Molitor
This isn't Paul Molitor's rookie card. That goes to a four-player card in the 1978 set. This is, however, his first solo Topps card, and it also marks a change in the Brewers uniforms. They still kept the blue and yellow colors, but with a fancy new logo. Cleverly, though it just looks like a ball in a baseball glove, it is actually made up of the letters "M" and "B". This was a fan-submitted design, and is one of those things you can't unsee. Like the arrow in the FedEx logo. Or the little arrow going from A to Z in the Amazon logo.

But the Expos logo still looks like a JB to me.

This 1979 card is the newest one from the whole page, and the only Brewers jersey that looks familiar to me. The 1979 set didn't have cartoons, but there are on-this-date trivia questions. Try this Baseball Dates question out: What happened on October 15th, 1960?

Coincidentally, it was something I wrote about just a couple weeks ago in a book review. Taken verbatim from the card, "Bill Mazeroski's 9th-inning Homer gave Pirates the World Series championship over Yankees."

Paul Molitor was present for another World Series-ending home run, as he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. Joe Carter won it for the Jays with a Game 6 walkoff. Molitor won his only World Series that day, and was named Series MVP. He'd continue to play through 1998, finishing up as a member of the 3,000-hit club, and being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

1975 Topps #337 Kevin Kobel
Another 1970s card, another Yankee Stadium photo. I still have trouble telling the 1970s sets apart, but 1975 I can recognize. The telltale two-tone design (say that ten times fast) can be spotted a mile away, even if it's a player I've never heard of.

1977 Topps #406 Tim Johnson
The remainder of these cards are from 1977, which is primarily what I found in these pages. There are quite a few batting cage shots in that set, but at least it's a different backdrop than the left field seats at Yankee Stadium.

1977 Topps has cartoons! Tim Johnson's card has one depicting Cookie Rojas, and a note that Rojas has hit two extra-inning grand slams in his career for the Royals. Between this post and that doubleheader with the Dodgers last month, there's been a lot of talk about grand slams lately. The cartoon is slightly incorrect, as the line score shows the 12th inning on the scoreboard, but Rojas' grand slams were in the 10th and 11th.

1977 Topps #498 Sal Bando
Sal Bando came over from the A's for the 1977 season, and is welcomed onto his Brewers card with a very airbrushed photo. Bando played for Oakland when they dominated baseball in the early 1970s, winning three consecutive World Series from 1972-1974. No one besides the Yankees have put together such a streak.

Topps reached way, way back into the history books for Bando's cartoon. We're informed that Claude Elliott of the Giants earned a whopping six saves in 1905. That's a few weeks' work for a modern closer, but it led both leagues by far in 1905. The next player down only had three, and no one in the AL managed more than two.

If you told someone in 1905 that we'd have such a thing as a Closer in today's game, and that the all-time leaders have over six hundred, they'd probably stare in a state of amazement at how close games must be in the future.

Also they'd probably be surprised about the whole Cubs thing. But the Postseason is fast approaching, and this year could get interesting, especially with the Indians in the mix, who haven't won since 1948.

1977 Topps #159 Bernie Carbo
Bernie Carbo knows World Series droughts about as well as the Cubs and Indians. He was a key player for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1975 Series, tying it up with a three-run shot, and setting the stage for Carlton Fisk's 12th inning heroics. Still, the Red Sox couldn't get it done in Game 7, and would have to wait another 29 years and for a lunar eclipse to break the curse.

The Brewers haven't reached the Fall Classic within my lifetime, and this year definitely won't be it. But for an expansion club, they've seen a lot of great players and have one of the most interesting genesis stories in the entire league. These cards from their early days were a great find!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Braves

My trip to the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall in Denver happened almost a year ago. I got lots of good material out of it, so much that I'm still doing posts a year later. Including this one, there are three left, and we'll continue this long-running series with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.

First off, a little trivia question. Who is the only player to play as a Boston Brave, Milwaukee Brave, and Atlanta Brave?

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #141 Joe Jay
I'll let you mull that one over for a while, but first, how about some 1954 Archives? This is easily my favorite Archives set, but I've yet to add anything from the actual '54 set to my collection. Joe Jay (who usually goes by Joey) was just a rookie in 1953, and had just a single start. It was a gem, though, a three-hit shutout against the Reds. He did most of his work out of the bullpen for his first four seasons, and didn't get much playing time until 1958.

Besides that excellent first start, Jay holds another claim to fame. He's the first Little Leaguer to make it to the major leagues, and "he shows amazing skill!" He was not actually in the Little League World Series, so he didn't make Night Owl's recent post, but he gave hope to millions of little kids across America, myself included.

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #176 Bob Keely
Coaches got cards in 1954 Topps, and Robert William Keely (full names on the back decades before Donruss did it) served as a coach and bullpen catcher for the Braves for twelve seasons. His Major League experience consisted of two lone games, one each in 1944 and 1945, when a lot of the league was away at war.

Coaches in those days wore a lot of hats, but he'd probably be considered a bullpen coach by today's definition. He served on the coaching staff in 1957 (his final year), which is the only time a World Series trophy has been brought home to Milwaukee. The Brewers haven't done it yet.

Last chance for guesses on that trivia question!

2003 Fleer Tradition #76 Eddie Mathews ML SP
Eddie Mathews, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978, was the only player to call Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta home as a Brave.

This is a quasi-reprint card, which is based on Fleer's 1963 set. It commemorates the 40th anniversary of that iconic set, just like 1954 Archives did in 1994. Mathews didn't actually appear in that set, getting this "Missing Link" subset card forty years later. I wonder if Upper Deck will manage to pull anything off in 2029. Unlikely. Also, 40 years really isn't that long, is it?

Mathews was part of that 1957 Championship team, beating, well, I'll give you one guess on who they beat. And the card refers to him as a nine-time All Star, which was as correct in 1963 as it is today. His last appearance in the Midsummer Classic was in 1962.

You might think Mathews was a career Brave, seeing as he stuck with them long enough to call three cities home. But his production trailed off in the mid-1960s, and the Braves traded him to Houston in 1966, along with a guy named Arnold Umbach, plus Sandy Alomar, Sr., who was the Player To Be Named Later in that particular transaction. Both players the Braves got in return were out of the Majors by the end of 1967.

Mathews may have been past his prime, but he still had some baseball left in him. He passed the 500 home run milestone as an Astro in 1967 (hitting #500 off of Juan Marichal), then wrapped up his career in Detroit with his second World Series ring in 1968.

1995 Collector's Choice SE Silver Signature #142 Greg Maddux STL
The Braves have consistently fielded some truly amazing players, from Mathews and Aaron, to Maddux and Chipper. But the championships have always been hard to come by. The franchise has three, one in each city they called home. But despite dominating their division fourteen straight times from 1991-2005 (except for 1994, sorry Expos), they only had one World Series win to show for it.

Greg Maddux had a lot do to with that dominance. He was such an efficient pitcher that he now has an unofficial baseball stat named after him. When you pitch a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches, you have thrown a Maddux.

Flip this Silver Signature parallel over and see for yourself. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, the best pitchers in baseball had an ERA of about 2.70. Bret Saberhagen was slightly above that, Steve Ontiveros a little below. Maddux blew them all out of the water with a 1.56 ERA, earning his third of four straight Cy Young awards in the process. Only Randy Johnson has matched that streak.

This was one of my favorite parallel sets in my early collecting days. I was always chasing a Gold Signature parallel, but didn't find one until many years later. I was also quite the fan of Topps Gold.

1994 Topps Gold #735 Terry Pendleton
Speaking of Topps Gold, I found one of those too! Like the Yankees pack, most of these Braves were actually in a binder page where I knew what I was getting. 1994s are a little tough to find (and even to see, if the light isn't right), but I have an eagle eye for these things.

Terry Pendleton, who appeared in one of my earliest posts, wasn't quite as dominant as Greg Maddux, but he did win the batting title and the NL MVP award in 1991, the first year of the Braves long run of division wins. And winning an NL batting title in the era of Tony Gwynn is no small feat.

1962 Topps #58 NL Win Leaders Warren Spahn / Joe Jay / Jim O'Toole
Finally, I'm still very, very slowly adding to my 1962 Topps collection. Warren Spahn, another Hall of Famer, tied for the NL lead in wins in 1961. As much as the game has changed since then, 20 wins in a season is still darn good. No Rockie has ever done it, but Ubaldo Jimenez missed the mark by just one in 2010.

Spahn gets the largest head on the front of this League Leaders card, even though Joe Jay is just as deserving. Yes, that's the same Joe(y) Jay we saw at the top of this post. He was traded to the Reds in 1960, a year before the Reds faced the Yankees (who else?) in the 1961 World Series. That Series was Jay's only appearance in the postseason, but perhaps as some consolation to losing to the Yankees and having a smaller head on this card than Spahn, Jay got listed first as a league leader on the card back.

The card looks a lot like a checklist, listing about fifty guys all the way down to just six wins. A lot of familiar names are on it, like Drysdale, Burdette, Podres, Koufax, Haddix, and Marichal. Even some lesser known players like Roy Face and Tony Cloninger appear in the second column.

The corners are a little beat up, but the printing itself is fine, front and back. It looks no worse than some of my 1987 Topps cards, and only set me back a couple dollars, if I'm remembering correctly. Not bad at all for my favorite vintage set.

Oh, and one last note on that trivia question. Warren Spahn came pretty close to being a correct answer, but his contract was sold to the Mets after the 1964 season. He retired in 1965 as a Giant, just a year before the Braves moved to Atlanta.

Good guess, though.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Trading Post #75: The Lost Collector

Even though the #SuperTraders group seems to be winding down a bit, I'm still seeing a few trades pop up in my mailbox. This Labor Day weekend gave me a chance to finally sort the 5,000-count box that these 75 trades (and more) have been going into for the past couple years. Feels great to have that organized and ready to put into binders. I'm sure more are on the way, as I'm pretty sure Night Owl just sent me something, based on USPS tracking data. By the way, if you haven't registered your address with My USPS, which sends you an email whenever you have a package on its way to your address, it's a great little service. UPS and FedEx have something similar.

Anyway, the latest arrival was from The Lost Collector, the Yankees representative in our little group.

2016 Topps Chrome Refractors #9 Nolan Arenado
This marks the third time he's sent me cards, and he wasted no time in getting to the good stuff. The rookies have been the Story this year (pun intended) in Denver, with Trevor Story, Jeff Hoffman, David Dahl, and others making an impact already. Stephen Cardullo, who at one time was the longest of long shots to make the Majors has already hit two home runs, and Raimel Tapia, another young Rockies prospect, got his first big-league hit on Friday night. Meanwhile, Nolan Arenado has been quietly doing his thing, brilliantly playing third base and going stroke-for-stroke in the NL home run race with Kris Bryant, a fellow player covering the hot corner.

This is my first look at 2016 Chrome, and right away one of the first things I noticed is the "refractor" label on the back. 2016 is an on-year for that helpful labeling, and even though it still has that great rainbow appearance under the right light, I'm not forced to check it to know what I have.

There's also a bit of extra design in the lower left area, which is just plain white in the base set. There are a bunch of little bars and hexagonal grids and dots, plus "2016 Topps" running vertically, almost like the security strip in a banknote. It's a bit like the Blue parallels in Opening Day. The curl is a little bit uneven, but it's a great-looking card! It could pass for a Finest card if it didn't reuse the design from Topps Base.

2012 Topps Update #US259A Carlos Gonzalez
If it's from an All-Star game, it's probably from Topps Update. Carlos Gonzalez does look like a Royal here, but rest assured, he's still a Rockie. The Kansas City Royals hosted the All-Star Game in 2012, and Gonzalez made his first of two appearances in the Home Run Derby that year. He didn't progress past the first round, hitting only four out of Kaufman Stadium. He did quite a bit better this year, hitting a beer-destroying 12, but still didn't make it past the first round.

2012 Topps Opening Day Fantasy Squad #FS-20 Carlos Gonzalez
Still, anyone good enough to appear in the Home Run Derby is definitely someone to target in a fantasy baseball draft. This insert set from 2012 Opening Day (of course) has CarGo as one of 30 cards, and even offers a rare bit of foil. The surfboard design in the lower left matches the base design of that year, just a bit smaller. The surfboard on his Update card is about as big as they come, as the "National League" text under his name forced it to grow.

2015 Topps Update Chrome #US291 Eddie Butler
Knowing what we know about Rockies pitching, putting a "Future Stars" label on a Rockies pitcher card is a risky proposition. Topps did it anyway, but Eddie Butler lost his roster spot over the summer and has been toiling away for Triple-A Albuquerque since then. He might get called back up now that rosters have expanded for September, but he has a long way to go before he lives up to that label.

This is Butler's Chrome parallel from 2015 Update, which means it has that extra-sparkly background that was all the rage last fall. Fuji sent me one too, and I'm glad my trading buddies are looking out for me. It's almost a cross between glitter and pointillism, without the risk of glitter getting all over everything.

2016 Topps Bunt Platinum #140 DJ LeMahieu /99
DJ LeMahieu is the NL batting average leader, just ahead of Daniel Murphy. Jose Altuve is a few points ahead, but the Astros switched leagues a few seasons ago, possibly clearing the way for a Rockie to win yet another batting title. His average isn't quite as good as what this serial number would suggest, but it's clear that the Rockies came out ahead in their 2011 trade with the Cubs.

I didn't pull one this rare from my Bunt pack at Target, nor any Rockie for that matter. The Lost Collector gave me five base cards plus this parallel, and DJ's defensive skills are apparent, as he's intently watching the ball arrive into his glove, and hoping it doesn't collide with that pesky Bunt logo.

1997 Collector's Choice #102 John Vander Wal
Pinch hitter extraordinaire John Vander Wal did so well at the plate in 1996 that Upper Deck did most of the write-up on the back of this 1997 Collector's Choice card about his record-setting performance. He still holds the Major League record for most pinch-hit, um, hits in a season, with 28 in 1996. Four of those were home runs, including a walkoff shot on May 18th as noted on the card (off of Dennis Eckersley), and a go-ahead homer on June 30th, one of the greatest games in Rockies history. He only started about 20 games that year, so this photo of him on the basepaths (probably about to round third) is likely from one of his many pinch-hit appearances.

1997 Leaf #385 Larry Walker GM
Larry Walker made his claim to fame on a more regular basis, and he darn near won the Triple Crown the year this card was printed. It's shinier than it looks in the scan. Copper foil was all the rage in 1997, as was Walker himself. He led the league in home runs, was only a few behind teammate Andres Galarraga in RBIs, and was edged out on batting average by the great Tony Gwynn. Still, his performance in '97 (the same year as this photo, judging by that Jackie Robinson patch) earned him the NL MVP award, so far the only time a Rockie has won it.

1998 SkyBox Dugout Axcess #120 Todd Helton
Todd Helton was just breaking into the big leagues at that point, and he had a long way to go before becoming a legendary figure in Denver sports history. He was still a green rookie in 1998, earning a spot in this "Little Dawgs" subset of Skybox Dugout Axcess. All those deliberate misspellings are strange, but it's explained on the back of this card. According to Barry Larkin, who has a tiny cameo on the back, Larkin "simply refers to the players he doesn't recognize [in Spring Training] as 'Little Dawgs."'

Makes sense. But spelling "Axcess" with an X just to use two crossed bats in the logo is stretching it. I've never seen this card before. And I doubt I could have even imagined it.

1997 Donruss Signature Autographs #79 Neifi Perez /3900
Our final traded card of today, a Donruss autograph card of Neifi Perez, came in the same penny sleeve as that LeMahieu card, which I missed the first time. I always like when the special cards are separated somehow in the package, whether with a handwritten note, a penny sleeve, or put in the stack backwards and/or upside-down (one of my favorite strategies), and this Perez card was clearly set apart. The red background is very striking, and a color not often seen so boldly on a Rockies card.

Beckett claims this is card #79, but I can't find a card number anywhere. There's also supposedly a serial-numbered print run of 3,900, and while the print run may be accurate, there is definitely no serial number here.

Believe it or not, I actually had a card from this set already. Andy Ashby signed one of these, and it's been in my collection for a dozen years at least. I'm pretty sure I got it from one of my first visits to Christian, my primary local card dealer.

1997 Donruss Signature Autographs #8 Andy Ashby /3900
But sure enough, there's no card number on Ashby's card either, nor a serial number. I guess there's a master reference checklist somewhere, and it sort of makes sense when you think about it. This is not a sticker autograph, it's on-card. So it earns a point in that department. But as autograph issues often fall through in production, it's hard for a card company to put together a numbered checklist when it's so far beyond their control. That's why Topps does that alphabet soup on their relic and autograph card numbers.

If I had to take something like DSS-NP over no card number at all, I'd pick the alphabet soup every time. I bet most of us would.

So maybe we stop griping about letter-only card numbers now, yes?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Target Made Me Pay in Dollars

Topps comes out with quite a few baseball products this time of year. Stadium Club, Archives, Chrome, Allen & Ginter, even Bowman Platinum is making a comeback. Update will be out right smack in the middle of the postseason. I haven't purchased packs of many of them, but they're starting to trickle in via trade.

Still, I do like a low price point. And Topps Bunt, a new physical product based on their smartphone app, fit the bill pretty well. A 24-card value pack set me back a mere $3 at Target recently. I haven't looked over the whole 200-card checklist yet, but the pack I got was pretty full of players like this:

2016 Topps Bunt #179 Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco was one of the first cards to fall out of this pack. Canseco, of course, was baseball's steroid poster child, and the first of only four players in the 40-40 club (three of which are tainted by steroid scandal). The back of this card has a paragraph about his 1988 season in which he set that mark, but nothing about how "clean" he is. Nor his hilarious Twitter account, which would be perfect for a digital-themed set like this. 

2016 Topps Bunt #138 Nomar Garciaparra
Nomah (sorry, Boston) was in here too, and this turned out to be a bit of a Red Sox hot pack. He's on the Dodgers broadcasting team now, and I heard a bit of him earlier this week as the Rockies regular channel didn't televise either game of Wednesday's split doubleheader. The Rockies and Dodgers were rained out on Tuesday night, and the Rockies came darn close to sweeping L.A., if not for a 9th-inning grand slam.

There were two grand salamis in that game (way better than calling it a Papa Slam), the first from rookie Stephen Cardullo, who recently broke into the majors at the ripe old age of 28, turning 29 the same day he hit his first Major League home run in Game 1. And as I write this, Nick Hundley just hit one to left-center for his first Major League grand slam, helping the Rockies trounce the Diamondbacks to begin the holiday weekend!

If you want Papa John's at a discount today, don't miss out.

2016 Topps Bunt #83 Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens, a 300-game winner, doesn't pop up in sets too frequently anymore. He's definitely not as well-liked a guy as Ken Griffey, Jr., who still gets more cards than most active players. For multiple-team stars like these past three, Topps is definitely using their most well-known team for the photo and logo. You probably won't find too many unfamiliar uniforms in Bunt, but the product could continue to evolve if Topps decides they like the physical/virtual crossover.

2016 Topps Bunt #139 Stan Musial
Stan Musial was always a Cardinal, winning a whopping seven batting titles during his career. As you'd expect, Ty Cobb holds that career record with an amazing twelve, exactly what you'd expect from the all-time batting average leader. Musial won three World Series in his career, and even threw a pitch in 1952 in what amounted to a publicity stunt.

I like the action shot, but I'd put his Archives card from this year above it. The design of 2016 Bunt, which is now starting to show up in the app itself, is pretty plain and logo-dominated. It's been compared to 2011 Topps Lineage, and minus the foil, I can see the similarity. It even has the same 45-degree bend in the bottom design element.

2011 Topps Lineage #33 Tony Perez
Topps was a few years ahead of putting accent marks on player's names, something the MLB is finally taking seriously on uniforms. Tony Pérez, a key member of the Big Red Machine, got a great batting cage shot in 2011 Lineage. I'm fairly close to completing Lineage, but I still need to go through the checklist and figure out which ones I'm missing. It can't be more than a dozen.

Lineage has another similarity to Bunt, and that's the team logos. Logos in Bunt are a dominating element in the design, but Topps was careful to use period-correct logos, just like they did in Lineage.

2016 Topps Bunt #166 Carl Yastrzemski
In a set with all these legendary retired players (which aren't too common in Bunt outside of the insert sets), I think it's the least they could do. No one wants to see Jackie Robinson with a big "LA" logo behind him.

2016 Topps Bunt #180 Robin Yount
So far, it's been a lot of the same players as I pulled in those packs of Archives and Stadium Club. This shot of a young Robin Yount isn't quite as interesting as his dirt bike card, but those 1980s Milwaukee jerseys are pretty cool, back from their American League days. This photo would fit well in one of the insert sets, as we'll see soon.

2016 Topps Bunt #48 Dwight Gooden
Dwight "Doc" Gooden has been in the news lately following his 30 for 30 episode, along with Darryl Strawberry, the darlings of the 1986 Mets. Strawberry's name is even burned into my little league baseball bat. And I love those 1980s Mets uniforms. This pack is worth it for the throwbacks alone.

2016 Topps Bunt #23 Xander Bogaerts
Yes, I actually did pull a few active players, too. The Red Sox streak continues, this time with the third different logo in four cards. Bogaerts is from Aruba, one of only five Major Leaguers to hail from the island nation. The only other one I've heard of is Sydney Ponson. Xander is only in his fourth year, but he's becoming a fan favorite in Boston, and earned his first All-Star selection this year.

2016 Topps Bunt #62 Starlin Castro
Ex-Cub Starlin Castro is now in the same division as Bogaerts, and though the Yankees are in a rebuilding year, they're going all-in on the youth movement. It's been working for the Cubs, and it's good to see the Yankees turning an eye toward the future instead of clinging to aging players. Of course, the Yankees still honor their past, as we can see the memorial #8 patch of Castro's sleeve in honor of the great Yogi Berra.

A lot of bloggers have been suggesting that Topps Bunt could possibly replace Topps Opening Day. Personally, I think just because they're both on the lower-end of the pricing spectrum doesn't mean they don't both have a place in the market. Sure, Opening Day could be better differentiated from Topps Base, but if the market can support numerous high-end products like Museum Collection, Triple Threads, and Tier One, then why not more than one set for the low-end crowd and kids without money to burn on "hits"? Opening Day has all those awesome insert sets, and doesn't focus on retired players the way Bunt does.

At a buck or two a pack, I don't see a problem with keeping them both around.

2016 Topps Bunt #144 Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig has gone through some transaction drama in the last month, first being demoted to Triple-A, then placed on waivers, then claimed by the Brewers, only to end up right back on the Dodgers after the transaction fell through. Not many players in this small set have spent recent time in the minors, but the back of this card has it right—Puig has a "flamboyant style".

The back of each card also reminds us how this set blurs the lines between physical and digital. It's physical enough that I couldn't buy it with digital coins at the Target checkout lane, but Topps was sure to print "Collect and Trade this card in the Topps Bunt app today!" on the back of every card. Below that are logos for both the Apple and Google Play App Stores.

It would be cool if I could actually add this card to my digital Bunt collection just by virtue of owning a physical copy, but that's not the case (yet). At least they gave me a scratch-off code for a digital pack, and I won another code in a recent contest at Sport Card Collectors.

I'd also love to see Topps develop a web app for Bunt, as the mobile apps are a bit clunky and hard to navigate, especially when your collection grows.

2016 Topps Bunt Unique Unis #UU-3 Shin-Soo Choo
And now we come to the inserts. I only found two, so I can't quite say whether these are up to par with the awesomeness found in Opening Day, but I find them pretty appealing. Fans of throwback uniforms are sure to like this one, Shin-Soo Choo is sporting some 1970s-era Rangers gear, and Topps even gave us the date of this card for us! I always appreciate that. It's a hint of 1997 Upper Deck, and also their Topps Now product.

2016 Topps Bunt Programs #33,924 / #P-30 Carlos Gonzalez
Using that code I won from Sport Card Collectors, I was lucky enough to pull Carlos Gonzalez' card from the Programs insert set, which even has the same card number on the virtual back. It also has a Digital card number up in the 30,000 range (amazing how many digital cards they've released). The base cards of retired players have the same backs as their printed counterparts, but active players that can score points in the app's fantasy scoring system get the same card back as normal Bunt digital cards. Last time I posted a Bunt card, I was on an iPhone 4S with a different aspect ratio, and Topps was about 30,000 cards from designing this one.

I'm sure this makes a lot more sense if you've actually used the app. My collection of digital Pokémon is coming along nicely, too. 

2016 Topps Bunt Light Force #LF-8 Luis Gonzalez
The final (physical) insert card from the pack is dubbed "Lightforce", and I must admit that I don't really get the theme here. It definitely has sort of a spacey galaxy thing going on, and it seems to be color coded to the old Diamondbacks uniforms. Which is nice, because it looks like it could actually be a shot from the Hubble Space Telescope. 

After looking at eBay, it seems like all the cards from this insert set have the same color scheme, it just happened to coincide perfectly with Arizona's old colors. Which by the way, are light years (sorry) better than their current dark gray monstrosities. That link opens a PDF, by the way, in case you are still running Acrobat 6 on Windows 98 and are worried about program startup times.

I guess that tongue-in-cheek sentence above really does indicate that maybe, just maybe, digital cards aren't so crazy after all. It wasn't so long ago that it was quite a lengthy ordeal to open a PDF on an underpowered computer over a dial-up connection. But now I can go walk around outside and collect Pokémon, open PDFs in multiple tabs in barely more than the blink of an eye, have my car read me a text message, deposit a check through my phone, and now carry around on that phone the same cards that I put in my 9-pocket pages.

Welcome to the future.