Friday, October 18, 2019

Nearing Closing Day (Part 2: Base)

Following up Part 1, in which I found a nice stack of Coors Field cards in a blaster of 2019 Topps Opening Day, there were several other cards that I wanted to showcase. The photography in 2019 Topps Opening Day perhaps isn't all that different from past years, but there are still some gems to be found, even though it's dramatically reduced in size compared to the full Topps flagship set.

2019 Topps Opening Day #182 Anthony Rendon
Our first player has already punched his ticket to the 2019 World Series, Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals. There's a lot of debate about whether Rendon or Nolan Arenado is the better player, and sure enough, the Rockies third baseman is mentioned on the back, the only player to match Rendon's three-year totals for home runs, doubles, and RBI. A quick check of Baseball Reference shows that Arenado was actually slightly behind in doubles, but significantly ahead in both RBI and home runs. Either way, they're both fantastic players, although Rendon is the first one to appear in a World Series.

The All-Star Game was held in Washington, D.C. in 2018, and the patch on Rendon's right sleeve confirms that. As you'd expect, the patch itself contains lots of stars and stripes, as well as the dome of the Capitol building. Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby in his home park that year, although he won't be joining his former team in the Fall Classic, despite his Spring Training slip-up.

2019 Topps Opening Day #118 Dereck Rodriguez
Dereck Rodriguez came up the other day. I mentioned him as the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan from that Toys 'R' Us set, and here he is continuing his father's Major League legacy. He's also continuing Tim Lincecum's long hair legacy for the Giants.

Rodriguez has a commemorative patch, too. There were a lot of them in 2018. This one marks the 60th Anniversary of the Giants' arrival in the Bay Area, a simple black and orange diamond with one tower from the Golden Gate Bridge above the "60". In about a decade, they'll have been in San Francisco longer than they were in New York. They're about as far away as you can get from their old crosstown rivals, or more accurately, cross-river rivals. The Polo Grounds were in Upper Manhattan, right across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium.

2019 Topps Opening Day #142 Eddie Rosario
With the Washington Nationals finally having some Postseason success, their predecessors, the Washington Senators, have been getting some airtime recently. The 1933 World Series, Walter Johnson, that sort of thing. Neither participant from '33 remains in their original city. The New York Giants won that in five games over the Senators, and that initial iteration of the Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961. Oddly, the second Washington Senators began play that same year as an expansion team, and have since become the Texas Rangers.

The decision of the Dodgers and Giants to move to the West Coast kicked off some real chaos in the Major Leagues. It was clear there was a market for expansion, and New York wanted to bring the National League back to the city quickly. There were attempts to move an existing NL team to New York, but those efforts didn't bear fruit. The next idea, courtesy of New York attorney William Shea, was to form a third major league, the Continental League.

The Continental League rapidly made plans to start their own eight-team league, matching both the NL and AL of the time. I knew even less about this proposed league than the dead-ball era Federal League, but apparently numerous cities that now have a team were on the list. Atlanta, Dallas, Toronto, and even Denver. Of those eight, only Buffalo remains without a team today. Obviously, the Continental League never got off the ground, and once the NL agreed to form the New York Mets, William Shea was satisfied. The Mets even named Shea Stadium after him.

Meanwhile, Denver remained without a team, and Bob Howsam, the Denver Bears owner who was due to get Denver's CL franchise, was left in the lurch. He had a massively-expanded Bears Stadium on his hands and suddenly no major league team to put there. His solution? Use the lessons learned in forming the failed Continental League to join the American Football League (AFL) and bring the Denver Broncos to life.

The Rockies history books mention the Continental League only in passing, but Denver's favorite pro team, the Broncos, can trace their roots to early attempts to make it a Major League Baseball city.

Anyway, all that to point out that Eddie Rosario is on the Twins, who used to be the Senators. And he got a great Tatooine card in 2019 Topps Opening Day.

2019 Topps Opening Day #50 Mike Clevinger
Unlike the rest of the teams thus far, the Cleveland Indians have stayed put for much longer. Their franchise briefly played in Grand Rapids, Michigan before moving to Cleveland for good in 1900. They've undergone a few name changes, and more recently, logo changes, but they've been part of Cleveland history for well over a century.

Mike Clevinger, who also carries on Tim Lincecum's long-haired tradition, has been a solid part of the Indians rotation for a few years now. The main thing that caught my eye on this card wasn't his hair, nor was it his tattoos. Actually, it's the pitch grip. Even with all the pitcher close-ups we've been getting on cards for most of this decade, a clear view of the pitch grip isn't terribly common. I remember a Darryl Kile card from a while ago which shows his circle change quite well. This one of Clevinger shows the old classic, the four-seam fastball.

2019 Topps Opening Day #154 Sean Doolittle
Joining Anthony Rendon in the World Series this year will be relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, with an appropriately high relief pitcher uniform number. His unique pitching stance hides any commemorative patch we might otherwise see, so good thing Rendon has it on his card. No pitch grip to see here, but it looks a lot like he's letting the Opening Day logo dangle out of his hand.

2019 Topps Opening Day #46 Clayton Kershaw
Surely you've seen this Clayton Kershaw card by now. Looks like another four-seamer, but the main feature on this card, unfortunately, is that Kershaw's fly is down. They fixed this in post by the time Chrome was released, but that's an embarrassing oversight. It's not quite as bad as Billy Ripken's infamous 1989 Fleer card, of course.

After so many Postseason disappointments, Clayton Kershaw is developing quite the reputation for having the yips in the month of October. He's thrown some gems, but has been the goat more than a few times, and that's a lower-case goat, if you get my drift. Most recently, he surrendered two solo home runs and the lead late in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals, setting them up to take the series in extra innings. Looking at it more closely, he seems to be the victim of poor managerial decisions more often than not, and has been thrown out there on short rest quite often. People already seem to have forgotten that he got a key strikeout to end the prior inning, and if a different member of the Dodgers bullpen had been brought in, the narrative could be a lot different.

2019 Topps Opening Day #49 Willson Contreras
Like Eddie Rosario's card above, the horizontal cards in this set look great. They work well with the design, i.e. not too much of the card design encroaches on the photo. The photographer managed to capture Willson Contreras at just the right angle not to include the umpire or the batter. Just a catcher behind the plate, all alone in Wrigley, pacing his pitcher for the next throw.

On the card back, flanked by a lovely coral color scheme, we're told that Contreras erupted for an offensive onslaught against the Cubs' South Side rivals, the White Sox. That was last May during a weekend series at Wrigley, which happened to be the best two-game hitting performance by a Cub since Billy Williams in 1968.

2019 Topps Opening Day #132 Kevin Pillar
If you watch the baseball highlight reel regularly, then seeing Kevin Pillar in a position like this is quite normal. He's one of the most fun outfielders to watch in the whole league, and frequently makes catches you wouldn't think are possible. Though he's pictured with the Blue Jays, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants just days after the 2019 season began. That means I got the chance to see him play at Coors Field this year, and while I don't remember any great catches in particular, he did hit a two-run home run that chilly evening of May 7th. It should be right there on my mom's scorecard.

Year after year, Opening Day is known for its insert sets. We got a taste of the Mascots set a few posts ago, and part 3, the final one of this series, will feature the usual insert goodies from this inexpensive Topps brand.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Nearing Closing Day (Part 1: Coors Field)

As the 2019 Postseason continues, so does my flurry of blogging. I kept up my annual tradition of buying a blaster of Topps Opening Day, and as we near the final game of the season, I have time for my first real deep dive into the 2019 Topps design. This is actually going to be a three-part series, starting with some base cards.

As I leafed through these cards, I noticed that Topps picked a lot of photos that were taken in Coors Field this year. Continuing with Dinger's Mascot card from yesterday, I found over 10% of this whole blaster was shot inside my hometown ballpark.

2019 Topps Opening Day #26 Zack Godley
I'm sure most stadiums have some features that are easily recognizable to fans who have been there dozens of times. Several others, like the ivy walls at Wrigley or the Green Monster at Fenway are known even to casual fans. Coors Field has a few things that make it easy to spot on cards, starting with the forest and water feature behind the center field wall.

The visitor's bullpen is open to this area, giving travelling players a look at some flora native to Colorado. The most noticeable tree is a Colorado Blue Spruce, the official state tree. It's the blue-gray one above Zack Godley's calf, and it looks like a younger one is growing further toward right center. As a fan, you can get a great view of this area just around the corner from the batter's eye, right near where Dinger signs autographs.

On the card back, which returns to including complete career statistics instead of just the most recent five years, Topps mentions Godley's win in Colorado on June 10th, 2018, a Sunday day game. I went to the Friday game of that series, which the Rockies also lost. I am pretty sure, however, that Topps matched the photo to the paragraph on this card, making it sort of an unofficial Topps Now card. After taking a swim in 2018 Stadium Club, Zack Godley started in Denver twice in 2018, but only once during a day game. This is clearly from an afternoon game, so I'm confident in my detective work on this one.

2018 was the 20th anniversary of the Diamondbacks, and on Godley's right sleeve, we can see the patch commemorating that occasion. Most of the patch is the dark red found in the current colors of the D-Backs, but the "1998" on one side of the patch is done in the bluish-purple hue found in the early Arizona uniforms.

2019 Topps Opening Day #108 José Martínez
Other than a Rockies home jersey, the most common telltale sign that you have a Coors Field card is the purple front edge on the roof of the dugout. Like most parks, Coors puts the visitors on the third base side, and that's definitely not a Rockies logo on the cap of the player or coach in the dugout.

José Martínez of the Cardinals has seen a bit of playing time this Postseason, but unless the Cardinals can pull off a miracle, their road likely ends at the NLCS. His uniform number 38 appears on each piece of his protective gear, but there's also a #2 patch on his left sleeve. That is a memorial patch the Cardinals wore in 2018 following the passing of Red Schoendienst, the Hall of Famer who played for and later managed the team. That would place this photo between August 24th-26th, 2018.

2019 Topps Opening Day #159 Nick Martini (RC)
I'm nearing the end of a quest to see every team play at Coors Field. Only a few teams remain, as I crossed both the Astros and A's off the list in late July last year. Nick Martini was in the leadoff spot for the final two games in that weekend series, and pinch hit in the first, so I can't narrow this down any further than July 27th-29th, 2018. I went to the Saturday game on the 28th, which also happened to be Star Wars night. I may or may not have a card from the exact game I attended (part of why these cards interest me so much), but at least I have a souvenir Chewbacca beer koozie.

The Athletics celebrated an anniversary of their own in 2018, as we can see by yet another patch on rookie Nick Martini's sleeve. The A's completed their westward journey from Philadelphia in 1968, with a brief stop in Kansas City from 1955-1967. The patch features both a large "50" and the Tribune Tower, one of the taller old buildings in Oakland.

2019 Topps Opening Day #185 Khris Davis
Khris Davis, Mr. .247, has been showing up a lot around here lately. He was photographed inside Coors Field for his 2019 card, if not during the same game as Martini, then at least during the same series. This particular card doesn't mention his consistent .247 average like his Stadium Club card did, but it's more impressive to see each of those line by line in the usual Topps statistics format.

What the card does tell us is that he's only the third A's player to have three 40-HR seasons, the others being Jimmie Foxx and Mark McGwire. And McGwire didn't manage to do so consecutively, unlike Davis and Foxx.

2019 Topps Opening Day #143 Sean Manaea
With pitchers, it's much easier to narrow down a specific date. Sean Manaea started the Friday game of that series, July 27th, 2018. Easy. He took the loss that game, the opener in a series that the Rockies ended up sweeping.

There's not nearly as good a view of the forest on this card, but there is a blurred view of the "415" in straightaway center. Perhaps surprisingly, that is not the deepest center field wall in the league. That honor would go to The Polo Grounds Minute Maid Park at 436 feet.

Sean Manaea may not have won this game, nor the AL Wild Card game a couple weeks ago, but the card back does highlight his no-hitter on April 21st, 2018 against the Red Sox, the first of three League-wide that year. The card even gives us a quote from the catcher that day, Jonathan Lucroy, about how masterful it was.

2019 Topps Opening Day #85 Germán Márquez
The way the photographer captured Germán Márquez's pitching motion doesn't allow us to see the Rockies 25th anniversary patch, but it's still visible on the side of his hat. The card back mentions that he threw an immaculate inning in 2018—three strikeouts on nine pitches—and even took home the Silver Slugger award for pitchers. Depending on whether the NL one day adopts the Designated Hitter, he could be one of the last pitchers to ever win the award.

Obviously, any Rockies home card is a Coors Field card, or perhaps a Mile High Stadium card if we're talking about the early days. This Márquez card was the only Rockie in the blaster, which would be a slight disappointment if not for all these other Coors Field cards.

Even without the pinstripes, which were removed from the team's 2019 uniform when paired with the purple jersey, there's just enough purple among the fans in the seats to confirm that those are all Rockies fans back there.

2019 Topps Opening Day #12 Zack Greinke
Which is what I am using to place this Zack Greinke card in Coors Field. It's by far the most tenuous evidence, but there are so few other pro teams that wear purple that I think it's a reasonably safe bet. That is, unless there are a bunch of Minnesota Vikings and throwback Toronto Raptors fans that decided to show up that day.

Zack Greinke is a figure in the 2019 Postseason, but not with the Diamondbacks and their unappealing dark gray road uniforms. He's with Houston now, his first return to the AL since 2012. See, I remembered the Astros switched leagues! Partly because they are up to bat in the ALCS as I write this!

It's become apparent that Greinke is no fan of giving postgame interviews. He battles social anxiety, and getting up in front of a bunch of reporters before and after every start, especially in the postseason, can't be fun at all. It can be hard to put yourself in another man's shoes, but I wonder if he feels a nagging sense of dread every time his start comes to a close and he knows he'll have to face the media. If so, it's a feeling I can identify with; just one of those things you know has to be done but remains a pretty unpleasant feeling until you get through it one more time. Which is pretty much how I feel any time my office phone rings with an unknown number.

Whether you make five figures or eight, public speaking, or even human interaction in general, just doesn't come naturally for some of us.

2019 Topps Opening Day #56 Justin Upton
The last Coors Field feature commonly seen on a card is the manually-operated out-of-town scoreboard in right field. This is my favorite feature to find. Depending on the angle, it's likely that you'll be able to find the exact date of the photo, or if you're lucky, the exact play. Let's try with Justin Upton.

Even without looking, I know this is from the Angels' visit to Denver in early May of 2018. I know that because I was in London at the time, and prioritized getting $600 round-trip airfare over seeing Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. I'll catch them next time.

Specifically, the dates were May 8th and 9th, a quick two-game set that the teams split. May 8th was the day the Yankees-Red Sox London Series was announced, which I learned about from the nightly London newspaper.

Anyway, let's see which game this was from. The key piece of info is the 6-5 score, Pirates over White Sox. That was their final score on May 9th, and while that was the score for a very brief two-batter window during the May 8th game, odds are this is from the 9th. This is almost certainly from the top of the 8th inning, where Albert Pujols doubled Upton in, after Upton doubled his own way aboard to lead off the inning. Upton did go second-to-third again in the 9th inning, but that was on a bases-loaded walk, and I wouldn't expect any player to be kicking up dirt on a leisurely play like that.

Incidentally, if MLB chooses to add another couple teams, this feature will need a little work. It has seven columns and two rows, room enough for the maximum of fourteen out of town games that can take place on any given day. But if there's a fifteenth in Portland or Nashville or wherever, they'll have to find a way to extend this under the right field foul pole, or perhaps encroach onto the warning track party suites that can be seen below it. That, or just overhaul the whole thing so each column is narrower, but that would make it even harder to read from my preferred seats on the third base side.

There are some other Coors Field views to be spotted, like the left field bleachers and the upper decks, but they're quite rare. And you'll basically never see them all in one set like in 2019 Topps Opening Day.

I found a few more base cards with photos from some of the other twenty-nine ballparks, which I'll have for Part Two of this miniseries.


Monday, October 14, 2019

The Trading Post #135: Bump and Run Football Card Blog

I'm finally at a point where I can get trade posts up in a reasonable amount of time. Blasters and Card Shop hauls, not so much, but a PWE hit my mailbox from Trevor at Bump and Run Football Card Blog just a few days ago. This marks the second time Trevor has sent me cards, although this time it was baseball-only.

2019 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-17 Dinger
2019 Opening Day remains in my pile of unwritten-about blasters, as does some Big League. Trevor made sure that this set got a place on the blog before the season ended by sending Dinger's Mascot insert card. The Rockies mascot has been a fixture on this blog since the early days, thanks to Opening Day's long-running Mascots insert set.

On this card, an angry-looking Dinger is practicing his high leg kick, something that's not exactly baseball-related unless you're Paul O'Neill. This card-filling photograph obscures the out-of-town scoreboard, so it's not possible to find an exact date, but he (she?) is there every day. Dinger signs autographs for fans behind the batter's eye, but that's not where I obtained my Dinger autograph.

In case you are unaware of why Dinger is a triceratops and not one of the many other non-extinct species found in the State of Colorado, such as a mountain lion, elk, prairie dog, or perhaps someday the wolf once again, this card tells us that a dinosaur skull was unearthed at the Coors Field construction site. It's a tale that has grown in the telling over the years, ranging anywhere from a fossil to an egg to a multi-ton dinosaur skull. Tall tales like that lead some to believe that it's simply an urban legend.

It's true that Dinger was "hatched" at Mile High Stadium early in the 1994 season; the card gets that right. But as far as a skull being discovered? That's not entirely accurate. There have been some pretty significant archaeological finds in Colorado and even within the Denver area, but not exactly at the corner of 20th and Blake. A recent Colorado Public Radio news article shed some light on the real story. It wasn't a skull, but only a few fragments of what is likely a rib bone from some type of plant-eating dinosaur, potentially a triceratops. They're kept in a little box by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, part of their vast archive of prehistoric fossils.

In short, Dinger is about as historically accurate as a purple triceratops mascot can be, but the archaeological importance of Coors Field has been a bit overblown.

2019 Topps Big League Gold #142 Chris Iannetta
2019 Topps Big League made up most of this PWE, such as this Gold parallel of catcher Chris Iannetta. Part of the Rockies' 2007 pennant-winning team, he returned to Colorado in 2018 for a second stint. They released him in August, the latest former Rockie after Matt Holliday to potentially wrap his career up back in Denver.

A lot of collectors, myself included, enjoy seeing catchers in full gear. It's a punishing position, and I have huge respect for athletes who spend most of their career behind the plate. It's not an accident that so many of them become managers. Iannetta clearly prefers Nike gear, as we can see the famous swoosh on both his mask and his chest protector, the latter with his name tag helpfully sewn in. There's also a look at the Rockies 25th Anniversary patch on Iannetta's right sleeve, dating this photo to 2018.

The card back tells us that Iannetta "has a knack for the big hit", hitting eight walk-off RBI in his career. I went to the game on August 21st, 2018, and though Iannetta hit a home run that game, his long fly ball in the ninth inning that could have tied the game fell just a little bit short, and was instead gloved by Hunter Renfroe for the final out.

2019 Topps Big League #152 Charlie Blackmon
Charlie Blackmon has his share of walk-off hits, too. His first homer of 2019 was of the walk-off variety. This horizontal Big League card shows him laying out to make a great catch in front of an outfield banner. The Big League design works a little better in this orientation, as we can see that the bottom banner is meant to be a ticket stub. We're sitting in Section 2019, Row BB, seat 1.

That's one heck of a big stadium if I have to go up at least 20 decks to find my seat.

The card back goes for sort of a Studio vibe, giving us a "Did you know?" fact about the player's life off the field. This card tells us that "Charlie is married to 2014 Summer Games bronze medalist figure skater Ashley Wagner."

That was news to her, let me tell you.

Charlie's actual spouse is named Ashley Cook. Also, on a much more minor note, since when has there been figure skating at the Summer Olympics?

Errors happen, I get it. Maybe a typo in the batting average, a transposed birthdate, something like that I can understand. But to miss that badly on the one and only fun fact is pretty bad. I certainly hope Topps is doing more robust fact-checking than just glancing at Wikipedia. I'm not sure whether that's worse than the Justin Bieber mix-up on Shane Bieber's 2019 Stadium Club card.

2019 Topps Big League Star Caricature Reproductions #SCR-CB Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon was one of many stars to be featured in the Caricatures insert set, which carries over the pennant theme from the base set. There's not much on the card back besides a congratulatory note that is usually reserved for relics and redemptions. Apparently, the original artwork for each of the caricature cards is randomly inserted in Topps Big League as a 1/1, which is what makes the normal card a "Reproduction".

These remind me a lot of 1993 Score All-Star cards, which had a similar plain white background and perhaps a bit better artwork.

1993 Score #530 Ryne Sandberg AS
Remember these? This subset was one of the highlights of 1993 Score. There's a plain white background, some comic-esque artwork, the position, and absolutely no doubt that this subset relates to All-Stars.

Ryne Sandberg was a ten-time All-Star and the 1984 NL MVP. The Hall of Famer earned a spot in the National League's staring lineup at the 1992 Midsummer Classic in San Diego. Score helpfully included the full All-Star lineup on the card back, where we get to see names like Ozzie Smith, Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Tony Gwynn, and more.

2019 Topps Gypsy Queen Green #11 Charlie Blackmon
Returning to the PWE, our final card is another one of Charlie Blackmon. Trevor sent me some green cards last time, and remembered that it's my favorite color on a card. This is my first look at 2019 Gypsy Queen, and the design looks a lot busier than it did last year. I don't recall seeing this brand in the card aisle at Target, and it's not a set I like enough to make a trip to a card shop to find. Still, it reliably shows up via trade year after year, so I appreciate my fellow bloggers keeping me in the loop on the various retro sets that Topps releases.

One of these days I'll crack open that blaster of 2019 Big League I've had sitting on the card table, but not until I get a few more posts written. I just hope I don't find any more glaring errors like figure skating being a summer sport.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

An LCS Survivor: Bill's Sports Collectibles (Part 2)

After digging through the dollar box, my attention turned to the packed shelves and tables inside Bill's Sports Collectibles in Denver. Go back and have a look at Part 1 if you want a refresher. I was surprised by a few things in there, but what I found elsewhere in the store was even more unexpected.

1988 Denver Zephyrs CMC #24 Darryl Hamilton
Denver had long had its eyes on a Major League Baseball franchise, but from the mid-'50s until 1993, the highest level was only a Triple-A team. First known as the Bears, then later the Zephyrs, they shared Mile High Stadium with the Broncos.

Bill's was in business way back when the team was still known as the Bears, so that they still have Denver Zephyrs team sets lying around shouldn't surprise anyone. This 25-card 1988 set from a company called CMC is actually quite scarce. According to Beckett, there were only 10,000 sets produced.

At the time, the Zephyrs were an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Darryl Hamilton made his debut with the Brewers the very same year as this card. Without digging too deeply, I believe he is one of just two players in this set to later return to Denver as a Colorado Rockie, which he did in the late-90s. Sadly, he passed away in 2015.

The card back doesn't specify Hamilton's birthdate or birthplace. Rather, it says: "Born: Age 23".

Just one of those goofy errors you probably won't see outside of an oddball set like this.

1988 Denver Zephyrs CMC #1 Mark Knudson
Mark Knudson got card #1 and it has taken a beating over the years. He had some Major League experience by 1988 but spent much of his career getting called up and being sent down. Most of his time in the big leagues was spent with the Brewers, but he did wrap his career up with the inaugural 1993 Rockies.

Knudson. a Denver native, only appeared in a few games with the early Rockies, but he does have the distinction of being the first Coloradan to play for Denver's big league club, paving the way for Kyle Freeland. He's still active in Denver-area sports, and he did some sports radio work as well. In fact, I recall him as the analyst who interviewed Joe Girardi on the radio after an autograph signing at the Rockies Dugout Store in Boulder.

1988 Denver Zephyrs CMC #15 Charlie O'Brien
Charlie O'Brien and Mark Knudson were certainly a battery for the Denver Zephyrs, and O'Brien had some big league experience under his belt by 1988, too. I remember him more as a Met, but he spent about as much time with the Brewers. He came back to Denver, in a sense, as a member of the 1995 Atlanta Braves. The Braves, of course, beat the Rockies in the 1995 NLDS, which partially took place just a few exits away from Mile High Stadium on the other side of Downtown Denver.

1988 Denver Zephyrs CMC #5 Paul Mirabella
I'm not familiar with Paul Mirabella, but I picked this card because it was the only card in the set that showed a slightly different angle of Mile High Stadium. He has his back to right-center field, and we can see the edge of the stands with more of the second level in view. The seats in that level were blue in the lower rows and orange in the upper rows, which of course are Broncos colors. The camera isn't panned far enough right to see the Ring of Fame, a feature that has been carried over to the new Broncos stadium, which most people in Denver still just call Mile High anyway. Partially that's because of tradition, and partially it's because fans can't keep track of which company is the latest one to buy the naming rights.

As of September, the new Broncos stadium is now officially known as Empower Field at Mile High, which precisely no one is going to use.

Those are the highlights of the Denver Zephyrs team set. I made one other purchase that day, and I think I may have unearthed an overproduction-era surprise.

1993 Toys 'R' Us #42 Mike Timlin
I became a baseball fan in 1993. Other than two packs when I was younger, I became a baseball card collector in 1993, as well. I thought I had a pretty good handle on things that year. Fleer, Topps, Upper Deck, I know them all. 1993 takes up two binders in my collection, not to mention all the factory sets. Even the lesser-known sets like Triple Play, Studio, and more have a place. It's not like the late-'90s when there was far too much to keep track of. I can even tell 1993 Ultra from 1992 Ultra. I knew it all, or so I thought.

So what the heck is this thing? Do you recognize this set? Have you ever seen it? Because I had absolutely no idea it existed.

What we're seeing is a card from 1993 Toys 'R' Us, a one hundred card set that was co-branded with Topps Stadium Club and packaged in a little 3D plastic case that was meant to look like a Toys 'R' Us store. It also came with a few 5" x 7"-sized "Master Photos".

Ringing any bells?

I've been on the blogs a long time and this is completely new for me. Granted, this set is pre-Rockies and pre-Marlins, so it makes some sense that it's not in my collection, but I've never even seen anything from it. Not the Toys 'R' Us logo on the blogs of the oddball collectors. Not this backwards-hat autograph-signing shot of Mike Timlin, which is just begging to be in a mini-collection. Not the Piazza, the hot rookie that year. Not even the Griffey.

1993 Toys 'R' Us #23 Larry Walker
This Expos-era Larry Walker card is about the closest thing to a Rockies card as you'll find in this set. Pedro Astacio is in it as well. Gary Sheffield is too, if you're looking for a Marlins proxy.

So now that there's yet another Stadium Club set out there that's eluded my knowledge for over a quarter century, what are we looking at here? Well, this is broken up into three subsets: Young Stars, Future Stars, and Rookie Stars. You can tell which is which in gold foil above the nameplate and the signature backwards "R" of the Toys 'R' Us logo. Most of the players you've heard of fall into the "Young Stars" category.

1993 Toys 'R' Us #33 Iván Rodríguez
Players like, oh, I don't know, Iván Rodríguez? Whose son Dereck is now pitching for the Giants, teammates with Carl Yastrzemski's grandson. It's a great action shot, watching a young Pudge waiting for a foul ball to return to Earth. We also learn that the colorful Toys 'R' Us logo can appear in either upper corner.

On the card back, each card has a date for a key milestone in the player's career. His first home run was on August 30th, 1991. His first four hit game was on July 2nd, 1991. Larry Walker's first double was on April 10th, 1990.

1993 Toys 'R' Us #17 Ryan Thompson
Here's one of the Future Star cards, which is really not different design-wise. It's just a subset with fewer players who actually did turn into stars. This card does look pretty familiar, but that's probably because it's similar to both his 1993 Topps and 1993 Stadium Club cards, showing him leading off of first base with a Pittsburgh Pirate in the background. This is probably from his same trip to first base in Shea Stadium.

1993 Toys 'R' Us #11 Pat Mahomes
Rookie Stars is the third and final subset, and this card caught my eye. Any current NFL fan will recognize the name Pat Mahomes, because his son, Patrick, is the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs and last year's NFL MVP. Pat, the dad, didn't have nearly as much success in Major League Baseball as is son is having in pro football, although his career did span eleven years.

So there are a hundred cards like that in a little black box, but I also mentioned something called a Master Photo. What's that?

1993 Toys 'R' Us Master Photos #3 Carlos Baerga
Inside the packaging, you'll find about a dozen of these 5" x 7" prints, effectively a partial parallel set. All of the Master Photos are from the "Young Stars" subset. They're unnumbered with a plain back, but the photos match the actual cards in the set. Beckett did assign a card number for each, but there's no sign of one anywhere. The photo itself is slightly larger than a standard 2.5" x 3.5" card, and the inner gold border approximately matches the dimensions of a standard card, giving you the impression that that's where you cut it. Both rectangular borders, the stripes at the top, and all the gold foil take on a rainbow foil appearance in the Master Photo series.

Carlos Baerga had one of the better photos to pick from, a great double-play shot over a sliding Sam Horn of the Orioles.

1993 Toys 'R' Us Master Photos #12 Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas, one of the darlings of 1993 baseball card collecting, got a Master Photo too. The Hall of Famer is wrapping up the ALCS postgame show with a few other retired stars as I write this, but back then, he and Griffey were the key players in any baseball card set.

And I don't remember seeing this in Beckett back then, either. But according to their website, there were 7,500 cases of this product produced. It's just a little unsettling, knowing I have three cards from the 1993 Milk Bone set, for example, yet in all my travels have never glimpsed this thing. Like it's a snow leopard or something.

Don't get me wrong, I like discovering new things. I just worry I'll be drummed out of the ranks for not knowing about a set this big from my first year of collecting, especially given how much 1991 Score I bought with my allowance at Toys 'R' Us that was probably sold right alongside this set.

Anyway, they're like eight bucks plus shipping on eBay right now if you want one. And if you find yourself in Denver, Bill's probably has a few in the back.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

An LCS Survivor: Bill's Sports Collectibles (Part 1)

Playoff baseball affords such a great opportunity to get a bunch of posts hammered out. In past years I've gotten some big organization projects done, but this year is a writing year. On tap for today, this two-game LCS day (that's League Championship Series, not Local Card Shop as in the title), I'm diving into my dollar box finds from what might be the oldest card shop in the Denver area, Bill's Sports Collectibles on South Broadway.

This trip was actually quite some time ago, and I found a great variety in both the dollar box and on their shelves, so be sure to come back for Part 2!

1992 Triple Play Gallery #GS-3 Jack Morris
Last time I saw a card from 1992 Triple Play Gallery was when Wes was still regularly blogging. He sent me the Cal Ripken, Jr. card from the lone insert set found in packs of '92 Triple Play. Jack Morris, who had just joined the Blue Jays following his MVP performance with the Twins in the 1991 World Series, also appeared in the 12-card set. Gallery obviously featured the artwork of Dick Perez and a healthy amount of silver foil.

Morris reached three World Series with three different teams, and won them all. At the time this card was printed, he had a 4-0 record in his World Series starts. He'd drop a couple games in the 1992 Series with the Jays, spoiling that perfect record, but still came out on top. Some years later, he found himself in Cooperstown, but not everyone in the set was so lucky. Sharing this small checklist with Ripken and Morris were some lesser stars, guys like Ryan Klesko, Frank Viola, and Bobby Bonilla. They're still in the conversation after their retirements, but are more likely to be found in the proverbial Hall of the Very Good.

2011 Topps Update Diamond Anniversary #US80 José Bautista
2011 really doesn't seem that long ago, but most of the participants in the 2011 Home Run Derby have since retired. That seems to include José Bautista, who did not play during the 2019 season. He is unlikely to make it to Cooperstown, but he made quite a name for himself as a power hitter in the early 2010s, punctuated with the Greatest Bat Flip of All Time. Any time the subject of either bat flips or Division Series Game 5s come up, he's sure to be mentioned.

He didn't advance past the first round in the 2011 Derby held in Phoenix, but his participation earned him a Topps Update card and all the sparkly, shiny variants that go with it. Not quite a Liquorfractor, but still cool. Regardless, the hunt for Mike Trout's Rookie Card makes this a tough set to unearth, at least cheaply. Although, Charlie Blackmon's Rookie Card finds its way to me surprisingly often.

2017 Topps '87 Topps #87-52 Jose Canseco
One thing that's decidedly easier to unearth is 1987 Topps and its various reprint offshoots. I have a giant stack of it sitting near my duplicates box that was basically collateral damage in a recent thrift store find. I was more interested in the 1984 and older Topps, plus (gasp) 1988 Donruss.

Anyway, back in 2017, Topps took advantage of the 30th anniversary of the iconic set, and this reprint set grew to a cavernous 200 cards across the two flagship series that year. I've seen it at least three times, and I clearly can't stop myself.

The A's logo was a bit different on the originals, and Jose Canseco actually had a Topps Rookie Cup on his real 1987 card. The Jackie Robinson patch on his right sleeve dates this photograph to 1997 during his second brief stint with the A's. The Red Sox traded him back to Oakland that year for a real pitcher, John Wasdin.

John Wasdin, of all people, joined the Rockies as part of a trade-deadline deal in 2000 for Mike Lansing, the headliner from a couple posts ago. There are a few guys in that trade who I never knew were Rockies.

1991 Upper Deck #HH1 Hank Aaron Hologram
Upper Deck was still sort of feeling things out in 1991, which led to things like a single-card insert set. It seems a little bit like cheating to put this Heroes of Baseball card on my "Completed Sets" list, but it really is the only one with this type of card number. Beckett lists it as part of the 1991 UD main set, but I am choosing to ignore that.

I'm glad it scanned reasonably well, because it's a full hologram of a later-career Hank Aaron, complete with a Heroes of Baseball logo in the lower right. It's quite stunning, as full hologram cards tend to be. The card was created as a promo for the Heroes of Baseball series, basically an Old-Timer's game that Upper Deck sponsored. They made quite a big deal about it on the card back, which feels almost like a sticker. Supposedly, these Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball games were played in Major League stadiums prior to actual games, but I can find very little information about them. If they did happen, they may have been lost to history.

There are a small handful of similar non-hologram cards out there, but it seems that the Heroes of Baseball series was much less of a big deal than Upper Deck wanted it to be. Does anyone know more about these games, or better yet, did you see one in person?

1993 Bowman #27 Shawn Green
While you're very unlikely to find a Mike Trout rookie card in a dollar box (or 12-for-$10, whatever this was), finding early cards of players who went on to become big stars isn't too difficult. Most of us remember Shawn Green as a Dodger or maybe a Met, but he began his career with the Blue Jays. He wore the number 15 for most of his career, but he appeared in three games with Toronto in 1993 wearing #56, which we can see on the card back. It looks like he has that number written on the knob of his bat, but a closer look reveals that it's actually his initials, the similar-looking "SG".

When Bowman told us "he owns plenty of power potential", I doubt even they knew he would one day put himself on the very short list of players who hit four home runs in a game. That feat is roughly the hitter's equivalent of pitching a perfect game, and the list of perfect games is actually slightly longer. On the 4-HR list, you'll find a wide variety of players who had lightning strike four times. Hall of Famers like Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays, bigger stars of their day like Bob Horner and Carlos Delgado, and complete surprises like Scooter Gennett and Mark Whiten. Whiten, for example, hit around 4% of his career home runs just in that one game.

The Perfect Game list reads pretty much the same way. There aren't too many lists you'll find that contain both Randy Johnson and Philip Humber.

2003 Topps Traded #T181 Hanley Ramírez FY (RC)
I noticed Topps' 1st Year Card logo the other day on a Clint Barmes card, and here it is again on Hanley Ramírez's Rookie Card. Most of us remember the splash he made with the Florida Marlins (pun not intended), winning the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year. He made headlines more recently after signing a massive and ill-fated contract with the Boston Red Sox. But few realize that was technically his second stint with the Red Sox, as he debuted as a substitute in a pair of blowout wins for Boston late in the 2005 season. He struck out twice.

His performance fell off a cliff, and while he did get some playing time with Cleveland this year, his future as a big-leaguer remains uncertain.

1990 Fleer #644 Tom Drees (RC) (AU) / Dann Howitt (RC)
With all these players so far being at least in the Hall of the Very Good, you might wonder why I picked a random prospects card from 1990 Fleer. I usually do go for on-card autographs when I find them in a discount box, but this one is special.

I've talked a lot over the years about my first pack being from 1987 Topps (there it is again), and that I can recall the couple dozen cards in it from memory. Well, my second-ever pack was 1990 Fleer, and this prospect card was in it. I don't have quite the same recollection of that 1990 pack, but I just thumbed through that factory set and recognized around a dozen with 100% certainty, including former Rockies Joe Girardi and Gary Wayne.

On the left, and whose signature graces this card, is Tom Drees. Drees appeared in a grand total of four games with the White Sox at the age of 28. He retired with a career ERA of 12.27, and that was that. His cardmate, Dann Howitt, spent a few years as a utility player in the American League, but didn't play past 1994. Both players had a career WAR of -0.3, but unfortunately Drees got there much more quickly.

I knew nothing about either player all this time until looking them up, but I love the sense of nostalgia I get from seeing this card enter my collection a second time.

2017 Topps Allen & Ginter Sport Fish and Fishing Lures #SFL-4 Bass
Departing the world of baseball entirely, we find ourselves in the land of Allen & Ginter insert sets. They've done some real oddballs over the years, and you might think that a set about fishing lures would take the cake. But this has a real connection to the early A&G tobacco cards from the 19th Century. They released a set in 1889 entitled "Fish from American Waters", so this pays homage to what an A&G set really looked like long ago.

I don't know much about fishing, but I do have a few good friends who tie their own flies and fish the high waters of the Rocky Mountains. I haven't done much beyond casting off a dock with live bait and a red and white bobber when I was about ten. I totally get the appeal of being outside and potentially catching your dinner, though. I've never been bass fishing, but this card is quite educational.

All fishermen have tales, and here's the closest one I can relate. At my previous job, I took a call from a prospective customer in New York. Interestingly, he was calling from Altenkirch, a sport fishing rod company that once counted none other than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as customers. I'm unsure if they're still in business, but that was certainly one of the most memorable calls I took in over seven years at that job.

2008 Topps Allen & Ginter #92 Dan Jansen
2008 was fairly early in the life of the resurrected Allen & Ginter brand, and many of the non-sport cards were still fairly well-known figures. Think more Harriet Tubman and Albert Einstein than Guy Fieri. 2008 was the year of the Beijing Olympics, and Topps included a few former Olympians in the set that year. I found the card of Dan Jansen, the speed skater who finally won his gold medal in Norway in 1994.

Jansen was always a favorite, but despite competing in Olympic Games since 1984, he didn't have a single Olympic medal to his name. As the card back states, he competed in the 1988 Calgary games shortly after learning that his sister had died of leukemia. His string of bad luck in competition carried through 1992 and right into 1994, where he finally won a medal in his last race, and it was gold.

It would make an excellent 30 for 30 episode.

1971 Topps #210 Rod Carew
The final few cards are going to slot in nicely with my rather limited vintage collection. First up is Rod Carew's 1971 Topps card. Condition-wise, it's seen better days, and the black borders of 1971 are such that most cards don't hold up so well over the years. But still, a Rod Carew card for a buck? Yes, please.

Carew was an All-Star in every year of his career except the last. He won the AL MVP award in 1977, and held the Stolen Base record before Rickey Henderson demolished it in 1991. I haven't found great stats yet for how many times these players stole a base other than second, but this card says that Carew stole home a whopping seven times in 1969. You'd surely have to count back quite a few seasons to find seven recent steals of home.

The patch Carew is wearing isn't a memorial patch, rather it's the standard patch worn by the Twins for much of their early existence. It depicts the two twins, Minnie and Paul, shaking hands across the river with a large baseball in the background.

I had always assumed that Topps didn't include any player photos on the card back until 1993, but buying a little vintage corrected my thinking on that, as that design element was first used way back in 1971.

1961 Topps #63 Jim Kaat
Backing things up a full decade, here's the oldest one I found that day, from 1961. This is the first 1961 card in my whole collection, but actually my second Jim Kaat card. I don't know why the sudden influx of vintage Twins cards, but that's what came out of the discount box.

Kaat pitched well into his forties, and finally got his ring with the 1982 Cardinals, but his career began in 1959 with the original Washington Senators. 1961 was actually the first year of the Twins, so this card is a lot like like a 1993 Rockies or Marlins card. There's no team logo to be found, but this card may have been the first-ever look a 1961 collector got at the Twins. They weren't an expansion team, so maybe it would be better to compare it to a 2005 Nationals card.

Other than a little paper loss on the back (thankfully not over the cartoons), this is in surprisingly good condition for being almost sixty years old.

1967 Topps #355 Carl Yastrzemski
In conclusion, here is Carl Yastrzemski's 1967 Topps card.

The end.

No seriously, I can say a few words. Mainly that this is a Carl Yastrzemski card! And it's from his Triple Crown year, no less! Who cares that it's creased and looks like someone took a bite out of it? It's a Carl Yastrzemski card!

Before Miguel Cabrera in 2012, no one had won the Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967. It's not officially recognized, but some say he won the Quadruple Crown that year, because he also led the league in hits, on top of the usual Home Runs, RBI, and batting average statistics. He's the only Triple Crown winner in MLB history to do so.

We're even getting extra practice in how to spell his last name, because his grandson, Mike, currently plays for the San Francisco Giants.

The card back is a wealth of vertically-oriented mid-century goodness. There are a couple cartoons, a mention of his two batting titles, and even a bit about what Yastrzemski was up to in the offseason—a job with a Boston printing firm. Which blows my mind. We're in the $400 million contract era now, and one of not that many players who are still ahead of Mike Trout in career WAR worked for a printing firm in the offseason. In the Sixties!

You never know what you'll find in the dollar box.

And you also never know what you'll find on the shelves of a card store that's been in business since 1981. That'll be Part 2.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Annual Stadium Club Appreciation Post

Year after year, I keep coming back to the most beautiful set on the market, Topps Stadium Club. I didn't go with a blaster or a box this year, just a 12-card pack off the rack at Target. But what a great pack it was.

2019 Stadium Club #112 Michael Conforto
I wrote myself a little note about this card, as I pulled it right around the same time Michael Conforto smashed a walkoff hit over the head of Adam Eaton on August 9th. I wanted to be sure to include that highlight, because it looks an awful lot like Conforto is celebrating another key hit on this card. It can't be a walkoff due to that road uniform, but road teams can certainly find some magic in visiting ballparks.

Anyone who watched either NLDS game yesterday can attest to that. And Adam Eaton, though Michael Conforto got the better of him on August 9th, celebrated the Nationals' first-ever playoff series win yesterday, not counting the Wild Card game a week prior.

The Mets were pretty close to having a turn in the postseason this year, and were in the mix right up until the final few days. They were three games out of a wild card spot. Disappointing, but great to build on. And it certainly helps to have Pete Alonso, who just set the all-time rookie home run record.

2019 Stadium Club #159 Noah Syndergaard
Noah Syndergaard is another key part of a well-rounded Mets team, a talented righty who threw his first career shutout to close out the 2018 season.

Stadium Club for 2019 is another full-bleed design, and the lettering this year is somewhat similar to the 2017 design. The font is quite readable, and the only demerit is the drop shadow, which looks a little amateurish on such a light background like this pristine pitching mound.

My eyes are drawn to the white number 10 on the back of the Citi Field mound, and I believe that is a memorial to Rusty Staub, a Hall of Famer and fan favorite who passed away on Opening Day 2018. Staub spent nine seasons as a Met across two stints and was one of the first stars of the newly formed Montreal Expos.

2019 Stadium Club #43 Carlos Santana
Shifting over to the American League, here's Carlos Santana giving us a posed bat barrel shot. Like the Mets, the Cleveland Indians finished three games out of the second Wild Card spot, despite winning a whopping 93 games. They shared a division with two of the four worst teams in the Majors this year, so that probably padded their win count a bit, but that's still a disappointing outcome, and one more win than any Rockies team has ever amassed.

Santana signed with the Phillies for the 2018 season, but found himself right back in Cleveland for 2019, earning his first All-Star selection in the process.

2019 Stadium Club #37 Carlos Carrasco
One of the bigger stories to come out of Cleveland this year was Carlos Carrasco's sudden trip to the Injured List, after which it was revealed he was battling leukemia. Fortunately, he responded well to treatment and pitched out of the bullpen throughout the month of September.

It is fortunate that these players are surrounded by such talented medical staff. Micah Bowie has been battling serious medical challenges for quite some time, and has found relief thanks to B.A.T., the Baseball Assistance Team. Danny Farquhar suffered a brain aneurysm in the White Sox dugout, a scary and potentially lethal situation, but recovered well enough to briefly appear in the Yankees organization before announcing his retirement this summer.

These guys are tough.

As far as Carrasco, I wish him a continued strong recovery, and hope to see him appear in lots of Stadium Club sets yet to come.

2019 Stadium Club #132 Rickey Henderson
This year's Oakland A's team did better than the Mets and Indians, but didn't manage to win the Wild Card game against the Rays. As a Rockies fan, I've been on both sides of that, watching the team lose in 2017 and win in 2018. But the poor Oakland A's have lost three of them, one of just two teams to lose more than one, and the only one without at least a win in another year.

Needless to say, Oakland is not a fan of the Wild Card game.

But when Rickey was there? Well, he played plenty of postseason games with the A's, won the ALCS MVP in 1989, and helped bring home a trophy to Oakland that year, the year of the earthquake.

Rickey Henderson appears on his 2019 Stadium Card with fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who is fielding a throw from a very wise pitcher trying to check the runner. I'd surely try the same against the best base stealer in the history of the game.

Lots of collectors, myself included, notice and occasionally complain about recycled photos on baseball cards. I don't recall seeing this one before, but how would you feel if Topps were to use this on an Eddie Murray card at some point in the future? It's a great picture and I don't think there are nearly enough Eddie Murray cards out there.

2019 Stadium Club #86 Johnny Bench
This isn't a recycled photo, but it is extremely similar to Johnny Bench's card in 2017 Stadium Club. It's still a great image, and looking at the two side-by-side gives you a great look at the evolution of the catcher's mask.

As the card back tells us, of all the members of the Hall of Fame, only 18 were catchers. I won't go into ranking them, but Johnny Bench finds himself toward the top of a very short list.

2019 Stadium Club #245 Lou Gehrig
By many measures, Babe Ruth is the best baseball player of all-time. But his teammate Lou Gehrig is right up there in a number of statistics. If his life had not been tragically cut short, he would have unquestionably been in the 500 home run club and reached 2,000 RBI, very likely would have been the first Yankee with 3,000 hits, long before Derek Jeter, and would have made it that much harder on Cal Ripken to break the consecutive games played streak. When Gehrig removed himself from the game with his streak at 2,130, that was the very last time he'd play.

Despite all that, he is third all-time in slugging percentage, seventh all-time in RBI (and Barry Bonds edged him by one), and is in the top-10 in a slew of modern Sabermetric stats, like Win Probability Added and OPS.

And one more thing. He was the first baseball player to have his uniform number retired.

There's just no way you can't be excited by pulling a Lou Gehrig card out of a pack.

2019 Stadium Club #257 Ken Griffey Jr.
With all this talk of Division Series Game 5s (which I am watching as I write this), it's worth remembering the first-ever Game 5 in the current Postseason format. That was in 1995 (it should have been 1994, but that's another story), when the Mariners beat the Yankees in extra innings. SBNation recently did a great video about that ALDS, and just how important that win was to the Mariners as a whole.

Spoiler alert, none other than Ken Griffey, Jr scored the winning run in the 11th inning, thanks to a double off the bat of fellow Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez.

This card shows The Kid looking pensively out of the dugout, likely on the visitor's side, as you're unlikely to need eye black and flip-down shades inside the Kingdome. And we get enough of a close-up here to see that those ubiquitous flip-down sunglasses we've seen for decades are made by a company called Gargoyles.

You learn something new every day.

2019 Stadium Club Red Foil #109 Khris Davis
For a simple pack, this one was one of the better ones. I found a Red Foil parallel of another Oakland Athletic, Khris Davis. I mentioned him yesterday in the context of extreme consistency when talking about Vinny Castilla's mid-'90s stats. Khris Davis's streak ended this year, but he hit .247 four seasons in a row. It got to be a running joke for a while on Reddit, especially as it became clear that streak was coming to an end. "If he goes 28 for his next 31 he'll keep the streak alive" or something to that effect.

It's right there on the card back in his 2018 stats, .247, right below the paragraph that Topps included about this odd feat of consistency. The only thing they missed was making that the card number. According to Beckett, a Khris Davis card #247 does not exist yet.

Topps, please make that happen.

2019 Stadium Club Power Zone #PZ-5 Mark McGwire
This turned into an Oakland A's hot pack, didn't it? The Power Zone insert set makes another return, this year with a background that looks straight out of an iPhone ad. Mark McGwire gives us his philosophy on hitting on the card back: "I don't know of anybody that makes a big living hitting pitches that are off the plate."

And that's how you hit 70 home runs in a season.

McGwire once held the record for most home runs by a rookie, but Aaron Judge beat that record two years ago, and Pete Alonso beat that record just weeks ago, with 53. Interestingly, both Judge and Alonso won the Home Run Derby in their Rookie years. McGwire participated in the '87 Derby, his rookie year, but only hit [checks notes] one?

Must have been a different format.

2019 Stadium Club Chrome #SCC-21 Chipper Jones
And that brings us to our final card, Chipper Jones on a Chrome parallel. The switch hitter stepped in from the left side for this particular plate appearance, and the card has the usual look of what we expect from the Chrome brand. The card back compares him to another switch hitter, Mickey Mantle. We're told that Chipper is the son of an avid Mickey Mantle fan. I, too, am the son of an avid Mickey Mantle fan.

While the NLDS didn't go Atlanta's way this year, Chipper Jones managed to cleanly snag a foul ball as a fan during Game 1. He has come a long way since that high school Rookie Card in 1991 Topps. I've never been much of a Braves fan, but I have plenty of respect for great switch hitters and franchise players.

Not a bad pack when you pull 50% Hall of Famers. Yes, I am counting Mark McGwire, because he should be.