Thursday, January 23, 2020

Hall Bound

For the first time ever, a Rockie is headed to Cooperstown. In his final year on the ballot, Larry Walker earned 76.6% of the vote, just squeaking past the 75% threshold.

I watched the announcement live, and must admit that my heart skipped a beat when his name came up. For too long my hometown team has been denied a presence in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I can't wait to finally make a trip there and see a Rockies cap on a plaque.

I certainly can't think of a better reason for a one-card post than a Hall of Fame election. But which card to use? He's had some great ones over the years. As I was making my selection, I thought something from 1997 would be most appropriate. That was his MVP year, which remains the only time a Rockie has won the award. Night Owl's recent “Best MVP-year cards” post omitted Walker's 1997 Topps card, as he came out on the wrong end of a split hair, to paraphrase.

As one of the few Rockies fans in this community, I'm glad I have the chance to put a candidate forward for that list. Here's what I came up with:

1997 Bowman International Best #BBI7 Larry Walker
This one checks all my usual boxes. Rockies card. Shiny card. Topps card, the brand that leads off every one of my annual binders. Granted, Bowman falls toward the back of the pack in the Topps section, mainly because I've never been able to keep the designs straight, and because the numbering system is far too counterintiutive.

Bowman's Best, on the other hand, gave us designs that I consistently enjoyed and can recall from memory better than the base Bowman sets. And in 1997, both the base and Best sets included the inaugural version of International parallels, where the card background was modified in some way to match the player's country of origin. The 1999 set channeled the card backs from 1993 Leaf by including photographs of local landmarks. But in 1997, International cards simply had the flag of the player's home country. I have the normal version of this card, but because Walker is just the second-ever Canadian to reach the Hall of Fame, after Fergie Jenkins, choosing the parallel containing the flag seemed especially appropriate.

We strongly associate this red maple leaf on a white background with our neighbors to the north, but it's really a relatively recent creation. Prior to 1965, the Canadian flag included the Union Jack with a red field, as well as a coat of arms. Quite a Canadian form of rebellion against the British Empire, if you ask me. No wars, no riots, just a polite, "we'd like a new flag, please."

Anyway, on the card back, underneath a United Nations-esque banner of various flags, there's a small paragraph featuring Walker's best season, for which they selected 1995. He hit 36 home runs and had 101 RBI, stole 16 bases, and slugged .607. He also led the NL in outfield assists, and his arm was truly something to behold. Just ask Metal Universe. Those 36 homers were also a record for a Canadian-born player.

Of course, he'd break his own record just a couple years later. Bowman couldn't have known it yet, but 1997 was undoubtedly his best year. As I mentioned before, he won the NL MVP, and led the Majors in home runs, on-base percentage, total bases, and slugging percentage. He was second in batting average behind the great Tony Gwynn, and third in RBI behind Jeff Bagwell and Andres Galarraga, his own teammate who took the league lead.

Like his shirt said, he ain't no ordinary sponge.

As amazing as that season was, if he had managed to eke out just a dozen or so more hits, he might have won the Triple Crown, which would have completely changed the conversation about his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Congratulations are of course in order for Derek Jeter as well, a nearly unanimous inductee and one of the many greats to wear the Yankee pinstripes. Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller will join them, thanks to the Veterans Committee.

I doubt I'll be able to witness Walker's induction speech in late July, but I do plan on seeing the Rockies retire his uniform number 33 prior to the game on April 19th. Todd Helton blazed that trail in Rockies history, and here's hoping he'll also get the call before too long.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Gift Cards

At least once a year, and twice if I'm lucky and get a birthday bonus, I can count on my mom to check my Eight Men Out list and gift me a few cards around the holidays. This year a trio of cards slipped out of an envelope on Christmas morning, and fortunately they were not blown away by the whirlwind of gift-opening that my two-year-old nephew led.

2016 Topps Chasing 3000 #3000-60 Ichiro Suzuki
In 2016 Topps Update, Topps managed to squeeze in the final half of a 60-card insert set counting down Ichiro Suzuki's progress toward the 3,000 hit milestone. It led off with card # 3000-1 in 2016 Topps Series 2, culminating with this card #3000-60 in Topps Update. That final card does indeed commemorate hit number 3,000, which he hit on August 7th, 2016 at Coors Field, and which I had the great fortune to witness.

I purchased the Topps Now card documenting the event, but I also wanted this insert card in my collection, because it's not every day you can collect a card from a game you attended, let alone one about such a milestone.

Keep in mind, that was 3,000 Major League hits. He had well over a thousand more in the NPB before arriving in America, putting him well beyond Pete Rose in all-time professional hits.

By the way, if you're a subscriber to The Athletic, you should be reading Joe Posnanski's series, "The Baseball 100". It's a well-written countdown of the 100 best players in history, one player a day until Opening Day. The series began with Ichiro at #100.

1993 Topps Gold #396 Rich Sauveur
The Eight Men Out list has allowed me to finally complete a six-card subset I've been chasing for a really long time. It's not truly a subset in the strictest sense of the word, but it's as good a term as any. As you may have realized, you've never seen a Topps Gold checklist from 1992-1994. That's because Topps replaced those with cards of players that had been snubbed from the main set. Six each in 1992 and 1993, and four in 1994. This card of Royals pitcher Rich Sauveur completes the 1993 subset. It was a real team effort over the years. I pulled two myself, two came from gcrl, and two from mom.

As best I can tell, this is absolutely the only Major League card that Rich Sauveur ever had. There are some minor league cards, and he spent a little time on big league rosters for several teams throughout the years, pitching a grand total of 46 innings, but no one besides Topps ever gave him a card. He gave it a valiant effort, appearing in his final MLB game at age 36, but his career sadly never panned out. He is currently a pitching coach in the Diamondbacks organization, and can be found on the short list of Strike-era "replacement players".

Next, on to 1994!

1992 Upper Deck #HH2 Ted Williams Hologram
Do you remember that shiny Hank Aaron Upper Deck card from a few months ago? The one that was entirely a hologram and basically a one-card insert set advertising Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball exhibition games? Well, turns out Upper Deck brought it back in 1992, unbeknownst to me. It's numbered "HH2", clearly in sequence with that Hank Aaron card, but from one year later. I still have no idea whether the Heroes of Baseball games ever actually happened.

The card back gives a quick overview of Ted Williams's great career, mentioning his two Triple Crowns, his .406 batting average in 1941 (the year two "unbreakable" records were set), and his 521st and final home run in 1960. He remains the all-time career leader in On-Base Percentage, with a staggering .482. That's as close to half as this game will ever see. Even Babe Ruth was a few points behind, at .474. One interesting note on that statistic is that eight of the top nine are lefties, as are most of the top 30.

Ted Williams will unquestionably be on The Baseball 100 list. Probably even in the top ten.

Kudos to mom for unearthing this gem. I might never have known it existed otherwise.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The First Update of the Decade (Part 2: Inserts)

When I was born, the 1984 Topps set was on shelves. It's famous for Rookie Cards of Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry. Topps brought it back for one of their Anniversary insert sets, which happens to coincide with with my age-35 year. The 1987 Anniversary cards have appeared around here with regularity, and the following year's 1983 Anniversary cards have a place, too. Topps kept the theme going for 2019, and in Update, I found a quasi-Rookie Card of Will Smith.

2019 Topps Update '84 Topps #84-37 Will Smith
Not that Will Smith, the one with an award-winning TV, film, and music career. Not the other Will Smith, either, the All-Star Giants closer. This is Will Smith, the young Dodgers catcher who already has Postseason experience under his belt and is a divisional rival of Closer Will Smith.

This Anniversary insert has the Rookie Card logo, but isn't considered by Beckett as a true RC. I really don't know what the rules are on the use of that logo. It does have a nice silver seal in the upper right, and it's consistent with Anniversary cards of the past few years. The card back is pretty accurate to the original 1984 design, just more vibrant since 1984 cards were still printed on cardboard. Just picture a Traded card and you'll get the idea. There is a "Dateline" paragraph, mentioning that Smith debuted on May 28th, 2019, and just a few days later hit a walk-off home run in Dodger Stadium.

Lots of players go their whole careers without a walk-off homer. Smith did it in his first week.

2019 Topps Update Gold #US252 Austin Riley RD /2019
Home runs are more a part of the game than ever, so it should be no surprise that the rookies emerging into the league are great at hitting them. Aaron Judge's rookie home run record didn't last but two years before Pete Alonso broke it. And Austin Riley of the Braves came pretty close to challenging Trevor Story's 2016 debut performance. Riley launched nine homers in the first eighteen games of his career, including a home run for his first big-league hit. His Rookie Card is one of many in the 2019 Update set, and you might notice this one is of the Gold variety.

For all I know, he's hitting one right in this photo.

2019 Topps Update 150th Anniversary #US16 Martin Maldonado
To go along with the "MLB 150" patch that I keep pointing out, Topps made a special parallel set to match. This one has gold foil instead of the usual silver, plus a "150 Years" logo inside a home plate shape. No serial number on this one, but it takes me back to the days of the original Topps Gold. Come to think of it, why hasn't Topps been using gold foil on the actual Gold cards these past several years? Austin Riley's card would be that much better, and in this era where the border is taking more and more of a back seat in Topps designs, it would go a long way in signifying what you're actually holding in your hands.

Martin Maldonado has been on a whirlwind journey since mid-2018, and Topps Update can't come close to keeping up. He was traded to the Astros in July 2018, just in time to help them to the Postseason. He signed with Kansas City during the offseason, giving us this Royals card. That didn't last long, as he was traded to the Cubs straight-up for Mike Montgomery. Just a couple weeks later, he found himself right back in Houston for another Postseason run as part of another 1-for-1 trade deadline deal.

If Topps had just given him an Astros card in 2019 Series 1, it would have ended up being correct. He re-upped with the Astros shortly before Christmas, so look for actual Astros cards of Maldonado in 2020.

2019 Topps Update Perennial All-Stars #PAS-43 Yadier Molina
Unlike Maldonado and many other of his Major League colleagues, Yadier Molina has stuck with the same team his whole career. He's profiled here in the 50-card Perennial All-Stars set, one of the most patriotic-looking sets ever to come out of Topps. He's been to nine Midsummer Classics, although was not picked in 2019. Not precisely "Perennial", but still a regular participant.

This particular photo is from his 8th All-Star Game (check the service star!), held in Miami. The colorful logo can be seen on Yadi's right sleeve, a Marlins-themed logo that already doesn't match their current color scheme just a couple years later.

2019 Topps Update Perennial All-Stars #PAS-40 Roy Halladay
The All-Star patch isn't visible enough on this card to tell which of Roy Halladay's eight All-Star selections this is from. He spent most of his career with Toronto, so it's clearly from one of his first six.

It's a nice set, and I always enjoy the All-Star Game, but it's quite soon after Halladay's tragic death to really enjoy this card.

2019 Topps Update 150 Years of Baseball #150-40 Thurman Munson
Not that a tragic death really ever becomes any less tragic; it just fades from memory as time passes. Like Halladay, Thurman Munson perished in an aircraft accident. It's a tragedy that's affected the Yankees organization multiple times, most recently with Cory Lidle.

I suppose this is also a good place to mention the passing of Don Larsen, the famous Yankee who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He was 90. He and Roy Halladay stand as the only two players with a Postseason no-hitter, and Larsen the only one to do so in Perfect fashion. I expect the Yankees to honor him with a black armband that seems to so frequently accompany the pinstripes.

Returning to this insert card, it's in the same vein as the 150th Anniversary parallels, this one known as 150 Years of Baseball. Even though they've given us some enormous insert sets in recent years, Topps decided to cap this one at 100. Of all the 150-card insert sets they've produced, this one seems like it would be the best candidate.

Munson didn't appear in the Perennial All-Stars set, but he easily could have, as he was elected seven times in just eleven seasons.

Topps Update has existed as a de facto Series 3 for quite some time, but it still maintains its own identity to a degree. As each successive baseball season winds down, I may look for this brand more often than I have in past years. There are enough exciting rookies these days to warrant a regular look, and as much as I like Opening Day inserts, no one is ever going to call something from that set a true Rookie Card.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The First Update of the Decade (Part 1: Base Cards)

2020 brings us to a new decade. The Roaring Twenties are back. But first, I have some 2019 Topps Update to review. I purchased a hanger box at Target last year, and while I was confident it hadn't been searched, the way it was packaged deprived me of the pleasure of opening individual packs. The whole stack of cards emerged from the box tightly wrapped in a single layer of clear plastic. In all honestly, that's marginally better from an environmental perspective, because I do find myself a bit horrified at the waste generated by a box of packs.

And if the new decade has anything to teach us, this is the decade where we need to rapidly figure that sort of thing out.

2019 Topps Update #US5 CC Sabathia HL CL
The horizontal cards in this set are a beauty, and they all came grouped together in that single brick, sort of how the factory sets are packaged. And for this checklist card of CC Sabathia's 3,000th career strikeout, we see him on the mound with the expanse of a big league ballpark before him. I spent far too long trying to determine which stadium this photo depicts, squinting at all the banners. I thought I made out an ad for Gila River Casino on the upper deck, placing this in one of the western stadiums like Arizona or Anaheim.

That was before I glanced down and saw the Diamondbacks logo painted on the back slope of the mound, staring me right in the face, plain as day.

Chase Field. There, I solved it.

That day back in April, Carsten Charles Sabathia became just the third lefty in baseball history to reach that illustrious milestone, fanning John Ryan Murphy of the Arizona Diamondbacks and earning a spot on the first checklist card of 2019 Topps Update. I didn't pull Vladimir Guererro, Jr's Rookie Card, but at least I pulled the checklist referencing it.

2019 Topps Update #US47 Pete Alonso AS
Topps Update has long been known for All-Star Game cards, and 2019 is no exception. One day after winning the Home Run Derby in Cleveland, Pete Alonso came to the plate in the actual game, much better protected against an errant pitch. You can even see his "Polar Bear" nickname on the upper segment of his elbow guard.

Alonso had two at-bats in the exhibition game, so it's unclear exactly when this was taken. He struck out his first time up, then hit a two-RBI single in the 8th inning, driving in David Dahl and bringing the National League to within one run. It wouldn't be quite enough, as the American League prevailed yet again, just as they've done in all but four of the last twenty-three. And that's counting that ridiculous tie in 2002.

2019 Topps Update #US128 Gio Urshela
CC Sabathia was on the road when he got his 3,000th strikeout, so here's a look at a Yankee in full pinstripes.

You know I have an eye for commemorative and memorial patches on uniforms, but the Yankees rarely play that game. Instead, they usually just wear a black band on their sleeve, this one in memory of Mel Stottlemyre.

There were a few Yankees in this pack, but I picked third baseman Gio Urshela for the blog. The Yankees hit a ton of home runs last year (well, most years), and I've become quite fond of announcer John Sterling's clever home run calls. "That Gary is scary!" "Like a good Gleyber, Torres is there!" And, perhaps my favorite of all, "Gio Urshela, the most happy fella!"

2019 Topps Update #US181 Scott Oberg
In just his second appearance on Infield Fly Rule, reliever Scott Oberg was the only Rockie in the box. His first card here was an early Bowman prospects card, but he now has plenty of Major League experience under his belt. He signed a three-year extension with the Rockies, pretty much the only significant move the team has made all offseason.

Please don't trade Nolan Arenado.

Update comes out so late in the season that Topps often has time to use a photo from the same year the set is released. CC Sabathia's card would be one example, from late April 2019. But judging ("All Rise! Here comes the Judge!" Ok I'll stop) by this photo, it's from 2018, as we can see the Rockies 25th Anniversary patch on Oberg's hat and a sliver of it on his right sleeve. On that same hand, Oberg is about to fire in a four-seamer through the thin Denver air.

2019 Topps Update #US33 Josh Harrison
More horizontal goodness comes to us with Josh Harrison's card, who's now a member of the Detroit Tigers. This is a Stadium-Club worthy card, showing Harrison sliding headfirst into home plate, framed between the legs of a Tiger teammate. It might even be Jordy Mercer, his former Pirates squadmate, who both signed as free agents with Detroit prior to the 2019 season.

I didn't know that off the top of my head. It's on the card back.

Whoever he is, he's doing his job of temporary home plate coach, guiding his trail runner what to do when he arrives at the plate. You don't see many headfirst slides, so I doubt there's a signal for that. I'm sure speedster Josh Harrison decided to do that all on his own.

2019 Topps Update #US22 Ian Kinsler
I wasn't overly amazed by this particular photo, although I can spot Petco Park somewhat easily now that I've visited it. I selected this card in honor of Ian Kinsler's career, the veteran second baseman who recently announced his retirement. He finished with four All-Star selections, two Gold Gloves, a World Series trophy with the 2018 Red Sox, one inning pitched, and 1,999 hits.

Congratulations to Ian Kinsler on a great career!

2019 Topps Update #US29 Tommy La Stella
Action shots aren't reserved for horizontal cards. Double-play cards lend themselves quite well to either orientation, with Walt Weiss's 1991 Topps card coming to mind. This time, it's an AL West showdown between Tommy La Stella and Marcus Semien of the Oakland A's. Semien played the full 162-game schedule last season, and led the AL with a whopping 747 plate appearances.

The card back says that La Stella made a tweak to his batting stance upon his arrival in Anaheim, and was quickly rewarded with a flurry of home runs, more than he'd hit in his career up to that point. That improvement led to his first All-Star selection.

2019 Topps Update #US245 Mike Yastrzemski (RC)
With longtime fan favorites like CC Sabathia and Ian Kinsler retiring, the literal next generation of baseball players are taking center stage. We saw a Carl Yastrzemski card a few months ago. Now here's Mike, his grandson. Mike was far behind Pete Alonso's record-breaking rookie home run count, but still swatted 21 in just 107 games last year. With Madison Bumgarner moving to the Arizona desert, Yaz could be the bright spot in the Giants lineup in 2020.

He's displaying good form running the bases, and that dirty uniform shows that he plays hard. The cleaner parts of his uniform show a pair of memorial patches, honoring #44 Willie McCovey and Peter McGowan, a former Giants executive. Add to that the MLB 150 logo, and the right sleeve of the Giants uniform was a crowded piece of real estate last season. Which is quite appropriate for San Francisco.

2019 Topps Update #US39 Cavan Biggio (RC)
With the demise of every other card company, Topps Update has become the place to go for rookie cards. Mike Trout's 2011 Update card commands exorbitant prices, and Charlie Blackmon's rookie card can be found in that set as well. 2013 gave us RCs of Nolan Arenado, Christian Yelich, Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon. I believe I have all but Rendon. 2017 had Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger as the main attractions. Vlad Jr. is card #1 in this year's set, and Yaz and Cavan Biggio could also become coveted cards in the coming years.

Cavan, of course, is the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, and along with Vlad, Jr. and Bo Bichette, is part of an exciting young Blue Jays team with plenty of familiar names. If their careers blossom the way their fathers' did, we're sure to see them follow up these Rookie Cards with plenty of All-Star Game cards in Update sets yet to come.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Trading Post #139: Big Shep's Cards (Part 3: Other Brands)

I promised Pacific, so here's some Pacific.

1999 Pacific Omega #157 Robin Ventura
Compared to 1998, Pacific didn't change the design much for the Omega brand in 1999. The major difference is that there are no baseball seams separating the various design elements. A less major change is that the area on the right now uses the left photograph in shiny form, rather than the central action shot as in 1998. It's still pretty hard to see but the scanner picks it up reasonably well.

In short, this is definitely a Pacific card.

What it's not is a Rockies card. There were White Sox in my two previous posts covering a shipment from Big Shep's Cards, and I chalked it up to the similar uniforms worn by the Rockies and White Sox. I don't have an explanation for why Robin Ventura as a Met ended up in this package, other than that he began his career with the White Sox. Famously so, in fact, as he was with Chicago when that infamous brawl with Nolan Ryan took place.

2002 Upper Deck Victory #93 Jeff Cirillo
Not-quite-Rockies-cards have been a theme these past few posts. Just last time, when talking about Jeff Cirillo's Fleer Premium card, I pointed out how it was a true Rockies card, unlike his card in the follow up set the next year. For such a briefly-tenured Rockie, he actually ended up with some pretty great cards. But it didn't last long, as he was traded to the Seattle Mariners after just two seasons, part of the trade that sent Brian Fuentes to the Rockies.

Upper Deck noted this transaction in the 2002 release of their no-frills Victory set, a 660-card beast unencumbered by things like relics, autographs, and even insert sets. The photography isn't quite as good, but the set kept the spirit of Collector's Choice alive for a few more years beyond 1999.

The card back clearly lists Cirillo as a Mariner, and mentions his 11-game hitting streak as a Rockie toward the end of the 2001 season, a post-9/11 homestand during which I saw two games. We all had other things on our mind at that time, and I hadn't given much thought to Jeff Cirillo's hitting streak. In the September 29th game, the penultimate home game of the year and a classic 14-12 pre-humidor Coors Field slugfest, I recall Denny Neagle hitting a grand slam, and my sister dropping her Dippin' Dots spoon down to the level below us.

The card back mentions that Cirillo had a trio of three-hit games during that stretch. That was one of them. The game I saw a few days prior on September 26th was another, which was one of Tony Gwynn's final games.

1993 Donruss #790 Jerald Clark
Speaking of Gwynn, expansion draftee Jerald Clark got to play with him for several years before becoming an inaugural Rockie. 1993 Donruss included lots of Rockies and Marlins in their Series 2 release, just like Topps, but didn't have a chance to actually obtain photos of any expansion players in their new uniforms. They used the retro Rockies logo before it underwent slight revisions, which I've written about before. Basically, the colors on the upper arch were changed from purple-on-gray to gray-on-black, and the baseball's motion lines were lengthened.

1993 Topps didn't do much with official team logos, except for the back of the Rockies and Marlins dual-player prospect cards. There's a tiny team logo in the upper right, which is a weird mash-up of the longer motion lines but the old color scheme. Have a look:

1993 Topps #537 Jason Hutchins (RC) / Ryan Turner (Reverse)
Ryan Turner, by the way, is the first Rockie to appear on a baseball card, sneaking into both 1992 Upper Deck and 1992 Bowman.

Getting back to Jerald Clark, sharing the outfield with an all-time great like Gwynn must have been a fantastic experience. Clark never got to go to an All-Star game, although his team hosted the Midsummer Classic in 1992, documented by a large home plate-themed patch on his left sleeve. Flip the card over and you'll get an even better look at it.

That game was held at what was then known as Jack Murphy Stadium, the home of the Padres from their inception in 1969 until the beautiful Petco Park opened until 2004, just the fourth Major League stadium I've had a chance to visit. During the tech boom of the late 1990s, The Murph, as it's still locally known, was renamed Qualcomm Stadium, and remained the home of the San Diego Chargers until they moved northward to Los Angeles in 2017. Qualcomm Stadium was also the place where the Broncos finally won a Super Bowl, XXXII in early 1998. It remains standing, and is the home of the SDSU Aztecs, who once played a basketball game atop the deck of the USS Midway.

1994 Score #197 Danny Sheaffer
Everyone was in their proper uniforms and logos when the 1994 sets hit shelves, but we aren't quite done with San Diego yet. Just a year after they hosted the All-Star Game (and long before the mustard yellow and brown of 2016), the Padres celebrated their 25th Anniversary with another patch, which we can see on the sleeve of a sliding Guillermo Velasquez, who is making a cameo on Danny Sheaffer's card.

Velasquez played part of two seasons with the Padres, mainly off the bench. He appeared in relatively few games, allowing me to pinpoint this photo with complete confidence. It happened on August 8th, 1993 in the bottom of the 4th. Velasquez walked with two outs, advanced to second on a Mo Sanford balk, then was thrown out at home while testing the arm of Dante Bichette, who cleanly fielded a hit by Archi Cianfrocco and fired the ball back in to Sheaffer. That series of events allowed Score to snap a great action shot for the 1994 set, and gave Danny Sheaffer his Infield Fly Rule debut.

This is the first three-part post to appear in The Trading Post theme, and it's covered all the major brands that operated in the baseball card world during the Rockies' existence. Score isn't the most stellar representative of Pinnacle Brands, but it certainly counts and gave us better sets than a lot of people give them credit for.

1998 Score Rookie/Traded #RT78 Vinny Castilla
Years later, in 1998, Score was still snapping some fun photographs shortly before their bankruptcy. Mario wrote an excellent post about the fall of Pinnacle a few days ago, which chronicles a dark period in card collecting. That insolvency also meant the end of the Score brand as we knew it, a real shame.

This Vinny Castilla card looks a lot like a normal 1998 Score card, but the inverted blacks and grays (just like the old Rockies logo!) signify this is actually from the 1998 Rookie/Traded set, even though Castilla was neither a rookie nor traded. The card back has the lengthy write-up typical of Score, which mentions how well he hit lefties in 1997, and the statistics offered a very early hint at the Sabermetrics movement, including columns for Total Bases, On Base Percentage, and Slugging Percentage. They were still in the realm of traditional statistics, but were at least digging a little more deeply than just the usual stats found on baseball cards for decades.

This card would fit well into many mini-collections, thanks to Castilla being shown signing autographs. Even under magnification, I can't tell what set he is signing, but if I had to venture a guess, I think it's one of those perforated sheets of kid-oriented police safety cards. You know, the oddballs that have a color photo on one side and things like "Don't Do Drugs" and "Never Swim Alone" on the back, that sort of thing. I'm pretty sure I had a set like that when I was a kid, but it's likely one of the few parts of my collection that hasn't survived the years.

Not that I am spending a lot of time swimming with no lifeguard on duty anyway, no siree, not me.

1997 Collector's Choice Teams #CR Colorado Rockies Logo CL
You knew it was coming. We have arrived at the shiny section of the post.

Part of this stack included a large quantity of 1997 Collector's Choice. I see that set in trade packages often. However, flipping these over greeted me with some unusual card numbers. "CR 2", "CR 10", and so on. Clearly, they were from a team set, and this shiny card with a fully-fledged Rockies logo on the front is actually the team checklist. Not counting this one, there are thirteen cards, and it includes all the big Blake Street Bomber names of the day. Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, and more. The card says that the 1996 Rockies were the first-ever team with both 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases, as well as a mention of the game in which they put up an 11-spot on July 12th against the Padres.

I have a vague recollection of that game. I wasn't there, but I remember watching a couple wild ones before going away to Boy Scout camp for a week that summer.

2004 Upper Deck Power Up #74 Preston Wilson
Caricature cards have never been my favorite. The subset from 1993 Score is as good as it needs to be. They look cartoony enough to be sort of fun, but they're not my cup of tea.

So when Upper Deck comes along and comically enlarges a player's head on a photograph, the results are downright terrifying. This card looks like a genetic lab experiment gone wrong. right down to the radioactive green sludge on the background. There's also a 9-character code on the right side, presumably for some type of online game. Confusingly, I happen to have another copy of this card in my collection already, and the code is exactly the same, so I have no idea what's going on here.

Preston Wilson did have quite a few RBI by the 2003 All-Star break, if you can read the strange font, that is. At least there's a shiny area.

1999 SP Top Prospects #103 Ben Petrick
On a much more serious note, MLB has its sights set on contracting Minor League Baseball. Night Owl wrote a great post about the minors last week, and if you're on Twitter, you're surely no stranger to the recent debate. I'll say what I'd say about any multi-billion dollar organization who isn't paying employees a living wage. Share the wealth. If Scott Boras can line up almost a billion dollars in the space of a week for a half-dozen or so of his top guys, then surely there's funding to ensure that playing professional baseball is a suitable career path, even if you don't make the Majors.

Remember that time Andrew McCutchen's paystub was leaked? Here's the Minor League equivalent.

Anyway, as far as this card goes, it's a sturdy, black-and-gold beauty from SP Top Prospects, showing Ben Petrick as a member of the New Haven Ravens, once a Rockies Double-A affiliate. They have since moved to become the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Flip the card over and you'll see that Petrick began his Single-A career with Salem, then known as the Avalanche. They're still in Salem, now called the Salem Red Sox.

Maybe Petrick was just that good of a prospect before he ran into health issues, but it seems like I have more minor league cards of Petrick than anyone.

1995 SP Silver #15 Juan Acevedo
A few years prior, Juan Acevedo made it into the main release of Upper Deck's SP brand. This die-cut is actually the Silver parallel from the Premier Prospects subset. He had yet to reach the big leagues, but UD still has him pictured in a real Rockies road uniform, certainly from the same photo shoot as his base 1995 Upper Deck card.

As a bonus, the card back has a photo of him bunting! It's another mini-collection hit!

1994 Upper Deck #270 Andres Galarraga HFA
We just went through quite a few Upper Deck cards without seeing any copper, and now that we're seeing the 1994 base set, we finally get some, although it's ink instead of foil. I don't think I've ever shown it on the blog, but this might be my most commonly-seen card in all of 1994 Upper Deck. I've seen base versions of it numerous times, but Shep managed to find the Electric Diamond parallel for me, printed near the dimensions of Mile High Stadium, roughly where I sat for most of my trips to the defunct ballpark.

What we're seeing is the Home Field Advantage subset from 1994 Upper Deck, featuring Andres Galarraga. This subset wrapped up Series 1 with National League teams, and continued in Series 2 with the American League teams. On the back, there are plenty of fun facts about the stadium, including the obvious difference between the left- and right-field distances down the line, the fact that fly balls travel farther, and even a brief mention of Coors Field.

We're told that at the time, the Rockies were one of eight teams to share a home with an NFL team. Now, following the conclusion of the Oakland A's season, there are no more shared stadiums across baseball and football, as the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas.

In addition to all that, there are also home and road splits for both Galarraga and the Rockies as a whole. They crammed a lot in on the back, partially because the front is pretty sparse. Go find the base card and you won't even see that sparkly Electric Diamond text.

2001 Upper Deck MVP #323 Ron Gant
2002 Upper Deck MVP is one of my favorite black-bordered sets ever. 2001 had a bit more gray in there, actually quite similar to 1998 Score. There's a little bit of silver foil, too. Other than the MVP logo itself, it's done up in tasteful thin silver lines. Less is more with a design like this.

This is a double-debut post, as Ron Gant is joining Danny Sheaffer as members of the Infield Fly Rule club. I definitely remember Sheaffer, but Ron Gant as a Rockie is a lot fuzzier in my mind. He played here for less than sixty games in 2001. I remember him much more clearly as a Brave.

Upper Deck made a prediction on this card, expecting him to reach the 300-homer mark in 2001. When the Rockies traded him in July, he had precisely 300 home runs, adding two more on with Oakland to close the season. His career ended two years later, finishing up with 321, just two less than this card number.

I'm sure he wasn't chasing his card number.

If you celebrate it, enjoy your Hanukkah, which begins tonight. Otherwise, have a great Christmas or any other holiday you choose. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Trading Post #138: Big Shep's Cards (Part 2: Fleer)

After Topps, Fleer was my second favorite baseball card brand growing up. The local big-box store carried a lot of Fleer product, which was both easy to find and affordable. In fact, 1993 Fleer was the first set I completed from scratch, rather than just buying the factory set or a hand-collated set at the card shop. So when I was sorting through a large box from Big Shep's Cards, there were plenty of great Fleer cards to put together a post with.
1997 Ultra #189 Kevin Ritz
And Fleer Ultra, commonly known as just "Ultra" despite the gold foil branding Fleer put on every card, leads things off with a duo of Rockies. Kevin Ritz and Todd Hollandsworth were NL West rivals in the 1997 Ultra set, but both spent time with the Rockies, though they were never teammates. This photo of Ritz is probably from 1996, meaning that Todd Hollandsworth's cameo is from his Rookie of the Year season. There are two more photos of Ritz on the back, and he has the same snarling expression on each one.

I got his autograph on a hat during one of my earliest trips to Coors Field, which has since been lost to time. My sister got one too, on a scrap of paper my dad helpfully produced from a pocket memo pad, which ended up in my collection. Dad's hyper-preparedness is sort of a running joke in my family, but he's had the last laugh every time it counts.

Kevin Ritz's actual autograph looks a bit different from the script typeface used on this card, but it's clear what Fleer was going for with the nameplate. They even blended the team banner into the Z at the end of Ritz's surname. All the 1997 Ultra cards have that blending, which works nearly perfectly with Zs and Gs and such, but quite poorly with Rs and Ss. It's definitely an ancestor of 2017 Stadium Club.

2001 Ultra Tomorrow's Legends #4 Todd Helton
I always enjoy looking through the checklists of insert sets that proclaim young players as "Tomorrow's Legends" or "Hall Bound" to see how accurately the card companies selected star players. Is it full of flashes in the pan, or is it more like a visit to Cooperstown? Tomorrow's Legends from 2001 Ultra is a bit of a mix, as usual. You've got your Derek Jeters and Vladimir Guererros in this 15-card set, but also a few who never even had an All-Star selection, like Pat Burrell and Rick Ankiel.

Todd Helton is still in the early stages of his Hall of Fame candidacy, but in 2001, he was fresh off the best season he'd ever have. As with most of his early cards, the card back tells us that he was teammates with Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee. That was before he became the face of the Rockies, and long before his uniform number in Denver would be retired.

1993 Ultra Performers #7 David Nied
A pair of cards showing Todd Helton and David Nied will give you a complete history of everyone who ever wore #17 for the Rockies. You can see Nied's previous stewardship of that number in the lower right quadrant, the yellow one.

This colorful card is from a 1993 set known as Ultra Performers, and while I purchased plenty of product from Fleer in 1993, I've never seen this one. That's because it's not actually an insert set, but rather it's more of a redemption, only orderable directly from Fleer in exchange for about $10 and some pack wrappers.

Fleer took the trouble to serial number this set, printing the set number in a little white box on the card back, right below the Ultra Performer logo. That same gold foil logo with the blue baseball trail appears both front and back, and the card number is also in gold foil. This one is #34,547 out of 200,000 sets printed. And if Fleer's marketing department took the stance that one of 200,000 was exclusive, just think of how many millions upon millions of cards were printed for the main releases.

2001 Fleer Premium #172 Jeff Cirillo
Fleer Premium only existed for two years, just like Jeff Cirillo's tenure with the Rockies. I've shown his 2002 Premium card, which is a Rockies card in photograph only. Really, it's more of a Mariners card. But in the inaugural 2001 Fleer Premium set, Cirillo has a true Rockies card. It's sturdy, shiny, black bordered, and really quite beautiful. The card back doesn't have many frills either, mainly just statistics, vitals, and a small color photo. He was a real workhorse, playing in over 150 games in each of the five seasons Fleer provided stats for.

If it wasn't buried under an avalanche of other Fleer products, I could see this one doing quite well. Perhaps if Fleer (now part of Upper Deck) ever makes a comeback, a design like this could one day grace packs again.

2001 Fleer Game Time #88 Magglio Ordóñez
As in the Topps post, another Chicago White Sock snuck into the Rockies pile. This one is of Magglio Ordóñez, a longtime American League outfielder hailing from Venezuela. I'm not an expert on Maggs by any means, but I certainly knew of him. Six All-Star selections and a batting title is certainly good enough to appear in a set like Tomorrow's Legends.

Or at least in a smallish Fleer set like Game Time. Not counting short prints, the main set is just 90 cards.

For some reason, this has always looked to me like it should be a hockey set. Maybe it's the small inset photo in the lower left with the grid over it, which reminds me of the tight weave of a hockey net. The background photo, which matches the main photo, transitions to a pixelated look as it moves from top to bottom. There's also a grainy element in the upper left, which I think is meant to represent TV "snow", the noisy static you used to get in the pre-digital rabbit ear days of broadcast television.

2002 E-X #50 Todd Helton
Long ago, I was sent a Todd Helton relic card from 2002 E-X, and now here's the base card. It's a translucent acetate, with a pale gold color making up the non-purple parts of the design. Interestingly, the gold color completely disappears when you hold it up to the light (also when you scan it), looking more like frosted glass. If you look really closely at the design, there's a little bit of texture in the purple area, which is supposed to be baseball stitches. It's very subtle.

All these designs are nice to look at, but none of these past three have any sort of player-specific paragraph on the card back. Maybe no one really reads them anyway (I've certainly never read all my 1991 Score cards), but if there's anything I find lacking in all these Fleer sets, it's that.

1997 Fleer Rookie Sensations #17 Neifi Pérez
Several years ago, there was a Topps Update insert set called Rookie Sensations. The particular card I have from that set is of Troy Tulowitzki. But long before that, Fleer used the same name for a 20-card insert set. The background encapsulates the late-'90s, and the swirly patterns look either like magnetic field lines or a wind speed map, depending on which scientific field you're an expert in. There were a lot of weird designs to be found throughout the late-'90s, and many of them came from Fleer.

That strange, blocky typeface on the front is also used on the back for the write-up, and it's a little tricky to read. The black letters don't stand out very well against this pink-and-green vortex. In it, Neifi Pérez is compared to Rey Ordóñez, no relation to Magglio.

Joining Pérez in the Rookie Sensations set were Rey Ordóñez, Derek Jeter, Todd Hollandsworth, Bobby Abreu, and quite a few players from that Tomorrow's Legends Ultra insert set.

2003 Fleer Tradition #421 Jason Jennings AW
On his card, Neifi Pérez was listed as a "'97 Rookie of the Year Hopeful". Scott Rolen was the winner that year, the player who finally broke the Dodgers's streak of five straight Rookies of the Year. Before that run, Jeff Bagwell won in 1991.

It would take five more years before a Rockie would win Rookie of the Year honors in 2002, documented on this Fleer Tradition card. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2002 was the year the famous humidor was installed at Coors Field. The card back says that Jennings wasn't intimidated by the thin air at Coors Field, but really it's the dry air that poses a problem. You should see my hands in the winter months. I never really think to wear lotion (and certainly not when handling cards), but they dry out nearly as badly as the baseballs when the days get short.

In any case, Jason Jennings took home the only Rookie of the Year award a Rockie has ever won, and he did it the same year he got to wear a 10th Anniversary patch on his right sleeve, about as clearly visible as any collector can hope for.

Our third and final post will cover the remaining brands. Maybe even Pacific.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Trading Post #137: Big Shep's Cards (Part 1: Topps)

For my 300th post(!), I'm kicking off a three-part series of cards I purchased from Big Shep's Cards nearly a year ago. It was a giant stack of several hundred cards, and it took a while to organize, let alone pick a small handful to feature on the blog. Most were from the 1990s and early 2000s across all brands. We'll start Part 1 with Topps, my favorite card company ever since the beginning of my collecting career.

1994 Stadium Club Team #110 Nelson Liriano
I rarely see them on the blogs, but the early-'90s Stadium Club team sets show up in my travels surprisingly often. I see them at card shows, I see them at local card shops, and I've seen them in many trades. The 1994 set is maybe a little less common than 1993, and by now I've added the complete Rockies team sets from both years.

Not every team was represented in these team sets, and Topps trimmed the number of teams from sixteen in 1993 to twelve in 1994, but the Rockies were found in both years. As a Rockies fan, I am normally shut out of a whole slew of sets, especially inserts, simply by virtue of being a fan of a less-adored team. Dodgers and Yankees collectors have little idea what this is like. Rockies fans, on the other hand....

Anyway, sorry, Astros fans. You'll have to settle for a cameo this time. This one is Steve Finley, trying to break up a double play inside Mile High Stadium against middle infielder Nelson Liriano. I remember Liriano quite well from the early days of the Rockies. However, I missed his second and final stint with the Rockies in 1998, where he played a dozen games before retiring for good.

Steve Finley would also conclude his career with the Rockies, though much later, in 2007. He managed to play for every NL West team during his long career.

1994 Stadium Club Team #243 Bruce Hurst
One could not be faulted for thinking this is a Rockies card. It shows Bruce Hurst in a Rockies uniform, complete with the 1993 Inaugural Season patch on his right sleeve. Hurst, making his Infield Fly Rule debut 300 posts in, pitched very briefly for the Rockies in 1993. He started three games, pitched 8.2 innings, posted an ERA of 5.19, and then re-entered free agency.

The longtime Red Sox veteran didn't have a fantastic end to his career. His ERA with the Padres in early 1993 was even worse than it was with the Rockies later that year, a whopping 12.46. The Padres sent him and Greg Harris to the Rockies, in exchange for Brad Ausmus, Doug Bochtler, and PTBNL Andy Ashby.


Hurst decided he had enough of the NL West, and signed with the Texas Rangers. Looking closely at the vertical gold foil in the upper right tells us that this is indeed a Rangers card. He went 2-1 in 8 games, and didn't return to playing baseball once the strike was settled.

With the increase in Topps's use of Photoshop, cards like this have become a thing of the past. They make our collector's OCD go a little crazy, but it's kind of fun to see other uniforms in your team set, sometimes with a little note on the card front. "NOW WITH RANGERS", or something to that effect.

1993 Bowman #147 Johnny Ruffin
It was a similar story with 1993 Bowman. Johnny Ruffin never played for the Rockies. For that matter, he never played for the White Sox either, the team he's actually pictured with. Before purple took more of a center stage, the White Sox and Rockies often wore very similar uniforms. They still do on occasion, when they both suit up with pinstriped home whites. In fact, the one time I saw the White Sox play in Denver, it wasn't that easy to tell a Rockies fan and a White Sox fan apart.

I knew which one I was, though.

Coincidentally, the Rockies had a player named Bruce Ruffin, though no relation to Johnny. Perhaps that and the similar uniform led this card to migrate into the wrong team stack.

The younger Ruffin signed with Chicago at the young age of 16, but was one of many prospects that ended up not living up to the hype. Unfortunately, he ended up running into some legal trouble as well. I did see him play once, as he came on in relief for the Reds during the final Rockies home game of 1993, the same game that Upper Deck snapped Joe Girardi's photo for the 1994 set.

2002 Topps Opening Day #17 Juan Pierre
Once upon a time, Opening Day was more than the foil-less downmarket set it is today. Nearer its inception, there was a colored border that was arguably prettier than the actual base set, not to mention a large foil seal. I like this copper color way more than the mustard yellow found in 2002 flagship. The border has shown a chip or two, but it looks just as good on the back. And those color-coded ribbons on the top and bottom have that chevron on the end, a throwback to many of the 1970s Topps designs.

Speaking of the Reds, I am fairly certain those are some Reds coaches in the third base dugout behind a sliding Juan Pierre at Coors Field. Not many teams had those red-on-black caps, but a few had red-on-dark blue.

No one will mistake this one for a White Sox card, that's for sure.

2014 Topps Trajectory Relics #TR-TT Troy Tulowitzki (MEM)
Our final two cards are of the "hit" variety, starting with a familiar-looking relic card of Troy Tulowitzki. This is from the Topps Trajectory insert set, which came in both relic and autograph flavors. I blogged about one of the autographs just over five years ago, but I never realized that the large circular area on the left would be a perfect spot for a relic. There's no autograph sticker to cover up the photograph, which makes this design a little more well-balanced in relic form.

It also took me five years to notice that the player's uniform number can be found on this busy design, toward the bottom.

Unlike Johnny Ruffin, who took over five years to make it from the minors to the Big Leagues (although he started at age 16), Tulowitzki accomplished that in just fourteen months, according to the card back.

2012 Bowman Chrome Rookie Autographs #218 Wilin Rosario (AU)
Concluding the Topps portion of this series is another "hit', this time an on-card autograph of catcher Wilin Rosario. It will go nicely with a mini relic I already had of his. There are a whole bunch of Wilin Rosario cards in my collection, and now I have an autograph to go with it.

I was inundated with so much 2012 Bowman at various card shows that it's one of the few recent Bowman sets I can recognize and assign to the correct year. I think that may be because it looks like an upside-down version of the "notch" found at the top of the newer iPhone devices, especially in the prospect set. It doesn't pop as much with a black border, and is muted further still when it's a Chrome card. I'm just happy I can pick out at least one Bowman set from the past decade.

I have a couple more stacks ready to go. The next one will be Fleer, although with as busy as December gets, I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to write that one up for post #301.

By the way, congratulations to Nick on hitting his eight-year anniversary yesterday!