Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Trading Post #78: Blog Reader Chris

As I write this, I am watching the Chicago Cubs play in a World Series game.

It's quite a momentous occasion. The last time that happened, I couldn't have used much beyond a typewriter to write that sentence.

This has been quite an interesting postseason. There have been lots of surprises, including both eventual pennant winners. And of course the San Francisco Giants had a little bit of even-year magic left in the tank, but not quite enough to keep that pattern alive. My blogging activity has been pretty quiet this month, but I've made a bit of a dent in some card organization projects. I even went to a card show a couple weekends ago.

And there are still trades coming in. Blog Reader Chris, who does not have a blog of his own to my knowledge, sent a few Rockies earlier this month, as well as a couple non-Rockies, which I'll get to later. Chris is a Cubs fan, so I figured that tonight would be an appropriate night to pen this post. In case you hadn't heard, it's the first time since 1945 they've played in a World Series, and while they still have four wins to go to break the truly long drought, a Cubs pennant is something very few of us have seen.

2006 Topps Update #UH173 Cory Sullivan SH
There's been very little of the Rockies in the news lately, besides who will take over for Walt Weiss as Manager. But I'm still a fan, and compared to the Cubs, it wasn't really that long ago when the Rockies last played in the Fall Classic. Cory Sullivan was a member of that team, which was his only trip to the Postseason. He's part of the Rockies TV crew now, along with his former teammate Ryan Spilborghs.

Sullivan pulled off an exceptionally rare feat in 2006, as shown on this Updates & Highlights card. You know, the set that used to be called Traded and is now called Update? Anyway, Sullivan made it to third base on his own batted ball twice in the 5th inning of an away game early in 2006, something that happened on occasion back in the 1880s. Sullivan was the first to do it in 80 years, and it was previously done in 1926. So it's a pretty rare feat.

Almost as rare as a Cubs pennant.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. I am rooting for them!

2004 Topps Opening Day #12 Jay Payton
Opening Day used to look quite a bit different from the base set. The border color is different than the plain white that year, and there's even a bit of foil to be found. Compare that to now, where there's barely any foil even on the flagship set. Opening Day is having a hard time differentiating itself, except for the consistently great insert sets. 2004 is of course known for that tiny foil outline of the player in the lower left corner. It's a bit like 1973 Topps, just more meta since it matches the actual photograph. You can even see the tiny "24" in the corner, and I don't just mean the numerals to the left of the outline. The outline itself even has his uniform number that you can make out surprisingly well.

2007 Upper Deck First Edition Leading Off #LO-WT Willy Taveras
Willy Taveras, clearly pictured as an Astro here, had signed with the Rockies in 2007. Between the Astros and Rockies, the poor guy lost two World Series in three seasons, but at least he led the majors in Stolen Bases in 2008.

This 2007 UD card is from the Leading Off insert set, and there has been some good talent in that spot for the Rockies. Eric Young, Dexter Fowler (now a Cub), Charlie Blackmon, and Willy Taveras.

2007 Topps Update Red Back #UH143 Jeff Baker
This trade was a real throwback to that 2007 World Series, as many of those players didn't spend a ton of time in Denver. Jeff Baker played off the bench in the 2007 Postseason, and got an RBI hit in the NLDS against the Phillies. He looks quite chilly while playing the Mets in Shea Stadium, a few seasons before that park closed. Chris put this one in a penny sleeve, and that's because its a rare (though not necessarily sought-after) red back parallel. I've run across a few of these, but only in the first two series, if my memory serves.

2007 Topps Update Red Back #UH143 Jeff Baker (Reverse)
Baker was a young player at this time, and the card has his Minor League stats on it. It's a reminder of some of the past teams in the Rockies farm system, which changed just a couple seasons ago. Tulsa and Colorado Springs are affiliated with other clubs now, but Asheville remains the Single-A team. Also interesting to note is that Baker was born on a U.S. Military base in Germany.

2015 Topps #366 Jhoulys Chacin
A bit more recent in Rockies history is Jhoulys Chacin. He's officially the Rockie with a name more difficult to spell than LeMahieu. This card is from the recent 2015 Series Two base set, but by then he'd already been released by the Rockies in an effort to fix up their rotation. I found the move fairly surprising at the time, as Chacin had been a reasonably reliable Rockies starter. Topps incorrectly predicted that "he's likely to return to the heart of Colorado's rotation." He played for Los Angeles of Anaheim (I guess that's how you say it without the team name) this season, but other than his 2013 season, he usually ended up with a losing record.

It seems like a good move now that the Rockies have significantly improved their rotation, but I could conceivably see them bringing him back as a bullpen guy.

2006 Ultra RBI Kings #RBI12 Todd Helton
Fleer Ultra was looking pretty plain by the time Upper Deck took over the brand, a far cry from its gold-laden glory days of the early 1990s. This has the look of a relic card, and there could very well be relic versions of this card out there, but it doesn't scream "Ultra" to me.

They got the statistics right, though. A clean-shaven Helton had already become the Rockies career RBI leader with 915 at the time of printing, about 65 more than Larry Walker, and well on his way to his final tally of 1,406. The 147 pictured on the card refers to his 2000 season, in which he led the majors, edging out Edgar Martinez by two.

I'm sure I'll find a few Cubs in the duplicates box to send in return for all these Rockies. They always turn up when you do a big organization.

That wasn't quite it, though. Around the All-Star Break, I blogged about the 1988 Donruss Stan Musial puzzle. My mom found a few examples of the 15-piece mini puzzle, but the full 63-piece puzzle has eluded me.

1988 Donruss Stan Musial Puzzle #58 Musial Puzzle 58-60
Until now, that is. I put up the eight or nine puzzle cards I needed to finish the set on my new Wish List page (it needs work, I know), and Chris sent them over shortly thereafter. I did end up with a paper shower taking those pieces out of their standard-sized frames, as is common with those perforated puzzle cards, but they fit together just fine and are now in an 8.5"x"11" sheet protector, along with several other Donruss puzzles I've acquired over the years. This was the first time I assembled one piecemeal, though, and the colors and alignment aren't quite perfect. But that's just a reminder of the years-long "chase" I've been on to assemble the puzzle, and also of the great group of trading partners I've found, whether they have a blog or not.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Trading Post #77: Sportscards from the Dollar Store

To coincide with the beginning of Postseason baseball, I've received a small flurry of #Supertrader packages. This one came from the Great White North, sent by Sportscards from the Dollar Store. He's one of the few Supertraders that I still need to send something to. Shipping to Canada is always a bit of a challenge, but I'll find something for him soon.

1995 Bowman's Best #B88 Doug Million
The shiniest card in the package was this Bowman's Best card of former Rockies prospect pitcher Doug Million. Sadly, this card might have been better suited to my previous post on Jose Fernandez, as Million died at the young age of 21 from an asthma attack before he ever made a Major League appearance. Whether he'd have found success as a pitcher in Coors Field will forever be an unknown, but if that tragedy hadn't occurred, pitching in the Mile High City might have a different reputation.

2016 Stadium Club #117 Charlie Blackmon
Hitters have always done better at Coors Field than pitchers, and Charlie Blackmon is no exception. This is a fantastic close-up of his beard on 2016 Stadium Club, and leads off a selection of horizontal cards in this post. I wouldn't expect anything less from Stadium Club. Blackmon has been great in the leadoff role for the Rockies, offering a great mix of power and speed. Center field is a good spot for him, which gives Dexter Fowler an opportunity to shine in the Postseason for the Cubs.

There are ex-Rockies on most of the teams that qualified for the playoffs. So far, I've seen Fowler, Drew Pomeranz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Charlie Culberson, Jose Reyes, and of course Troy Tulowitzki. They've all been doing well, except for Jimenez, who gave up the season-ending home run to the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card game.

Though he's yet to appear in a Postseason game, I do wonder why Blackmon doesn't seal the Velcro on his batting gloves. But he went 6-for-6 on Opening Day 2014, and I never hit a home run in little league, so what do I know? But I did go 4-for-4 a time or two.

I didn't pull any Rockies in my Stadium Club value pack from Target, but fortunately I have a great group of traders to fill in the gaps.

2016 Bowman Prospects #BP90 Raimel Tapia
Raimel Tapia was one of the many late-season call-ups for the Rockies, and he looked quite promising, validating his rating as a top-ten prospect in the Rockies organization, right up there with David Dahl. If he becomes a star, I don't know what the Rockies will do with all those outfielders, but it's a nice problem to have.

That's the second look I've had at 2016 Bowman, and for once, I might actually remember this design. And yes, I'll admit that the strength of the Rockies farm system and my recall of recent Bowman designs may be related.

2012 Topps Golden Moments Series 2 #GM-16 Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez, in eight seasons with the Rockies, has had his share of walkoff hits. Topps picked one for this 2012 Golden Moments insert set, in keeping with their gold theme that year. This card features a contest between the Cubs and Rockies at the end of July 2010. The Cubs rallied to tie it late in the game, but Carlos Gonzalez took care of that on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th, earning a Rockies win and a Topps insert card in the process. This card says nothing about it, but that walkoff homer right to a Cubs fan in the third deck meant CarGo hit for the cycle that day, the only time he's done so in his career.

Based on the video highlights, this photo is clearly from a different game. Probably a Mother's Day game judging from all that pink. Still, it was a great performance, one that Topps called "Better Luck Next Time" for the Cubs, which is something the Cubs and their fans are painfully familiar with. But the Cubs won over 100 games this season, and are doing well in the Postseason so far, winning both games at Wrigley to begin their NLDS.

2007 Upper Deck #314 Aaron Cook
Aaron Cook, second overall in career wins for the Rockies, was the steward of #28 before Nolan Arenado got to wear it. One of the between-innings entertainment options at Coors Field this season was a uniform number challenge, where a fan on the scoreboard was presented with a series of five uniform numbers, and had to come up with any Rockie, past or present, who wore those numbers. There was often an easy one, #17 or #10 maybe, then usually one of the players who had just trotted off the field. But the last two or three were darn tough, and I did pretty poorly in playing along with that activity.

I did finally start getting the little three-card monte graphic they do around the third inning correct, but I had an abysmal streak of getting fooled by those in seasons prior. Lots to do between innings at Coors Field, once you're set on snacks and beers.

Aaron Cook is pitching in Coors Field in this 2007 Upper Deck card, with the Coca-Cola Front Row Seats visible past first base. That's another early-innings scoreboard diversion that can be found at the ballpark, where lucky fans in the first or second inning get to move into those field-level seats you see in the background. With a lefty on the hill, it'd be an even better deal.

2007 Upper Deck #307 Yorvit Torrealba
Both Cook and Yorvit Torreabla were members of the 2007 and 2009 Rockies, the last time they made successful runs at playoff spots. They both got horizontal cards in 2007 Upper Deck, a design that does well when rotated 90 degrees. The two columns on each long edge of the card make vertical shots feel "squeezed", or so goes the complaint about this design. It's a bit like the "salad tongs" 1999 Upper Deck set.

Torrealba, like his teammate Carlos Gonzalez, hails from Venezuela. There are a few hundred Major Leaguers in history that came from Venezuela, but ever since fan favorite Andres Galarraga, the Rockies seem to have fielded more than most.

1995 Leaf Great Gloves #5 Andres Galarraga
Speaking of the Big Cat, this insert from 1995 Leaf was my favorite of the whole package. The number is a bit weird, mixing numerals and words ("5 of sixteen") but that's a minor issue on a great card. the glove theme is obvious on the left, and Galarraga definitely had a Great Glove on the field for the Rockies. This card mentions the two Gold Gloves he won in Montreal. Surprisingly, he never won one with the Rockies or later in his career, despite his astonishing ability to dig short hops out of the dirt and stretch out just enough to get a runner speeding up the baseline.

Along with seeing the Rockies rack up a healthy collection of NL batting titles, which DJ LeMahieu did end up winning this year, watching the defensive abilities of the Rockies has been something that has kept my interest throughout my fandom. Galarraga was my favorite back then for his performance at first base. They've had some cannons in the outfield, including unexpected names like Jeromy Burnitz nestled among the obvious ones. Tulowitzki was brilliant at shortstop during his time in Denver, and yes, he took the same glove with him to Toronto. I'm sure I don't need to say much about Nolan Arenado and his magic at the hot corner. And the relative lack of defensive skill from Matt Holliday always drove me a little crazy.

In short, this is a very appropriate card for a Colorado Rockie. Batting titles and Gold Gloves are in abundance around here, and Galarraga has both awards to his name, as do numerous Rockies. In fact, other than the ex-Twins Cuddyer and Morneau, every Rockie to win a batting title has also won a Gold Glove, except, you guessed it, Matt Holliday.

Now if they could just get the pitching to click a bit more, I won't have to resort to watching ex-Rockies once the Postseason rolls around.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Cut Short

"Fernandez's statistical possibilities boggle the imagination."

2014 Topps Spring Fever #SF-20 Jose Fernandez
So said Topps in 2014 about Jose Fernandez, the Marlins ace who lost his life Sunday morning in a boating accident. He was just 24 years old, but already had a Rookie of the Year award and two All-Star appearances under his belt.

This card has appeared here before, marking the Baseball Solstice in the 2014-2015 offseason. No one could know that it would make another appearance under much worse circumstances. Fatal boating accidents have struck active Major Leaguers before, as you may recall the 1993 incident that claimed the lives of Tim Crews and Steve Olin. Even outside the baseball world, 2016 has seen its share of untimely celebrity deaths, including Prince and David Bowie, to lesser-known figures like Anton Yelchin and Christina Grimmie.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of Jose Fernandez, as well as the Miami Marlins organization.

I've had a post in mind for a while that's a bit of a downer, and I feel like today might be an appropriate day to share it. Of course, this is not to take away from what happened with Jose Fernandez, who was one of the most promising young pitchers in the game.

A little over a month ago, I did a Cubs-focused post with cards I had obtained at a card show in early 2015. Those cards, and others from that post, have been sitting on my card table for quite some time. As I went through them recently, a theme started emerging that really wasn't all sunshine and roses, like it usually is on this blog, various lamentations about Rockies' losses aside.

1994 Fleer Golden Moments #5 Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson, a multi-sport star, was poised for all-time greatness, but experienced a hip injury on an innocent-looking tackle in 1991 that put an end to his NFL career. The Royals didn't expect him to return to baseball, either, but the White Sox gave him a chance, as depicted on this Fleer insert card that mentions the injury. "Bo's Back", according to the back of this Golden Moments card, long before Topps made an insert set of the same name. Jackson helped the White Sox reach the playoffs in 1993, which was the first postseason that I remember watching. Wilson Alvarez, Tim Raines, and Bo Jackson were some of the first American Leaguers I ever watched on TV in the 1993 ALCS.

He played for the Angels the following year, but decided to retire from baseball after that strike-shortened 1994 season, yet another player whose career was ended by the strike.

2011 Topps Opening Day Blue #106 Todd Helton /2011
Todd Helton had a stellar career for the Rockies, and he was my answer when I was asked the other night during a business trip to the Dallas area who the best-ever Rockies player was. All those doubles and a World Series appearance count for a lot. He was loved in Denver (though there was that DUI incident), but you can't play this game forever. Helton retired in 2013, leaving a bit of a vacuum at first base, even if he does have a burger stand named after him at the ballpark. And he played in the era in which Topps Opening Day Blue parallels still had serial numbers. In gold, no less.

1982 Topps #781 Pete Rose IA
Ten years after Topps debuted the In Action subset, they used it again in the 1982 set. All-time MLB hits leader Pete Rose got a card that likely depicts one of his 4,256 hits. Like Rickey Henderson, Rose is the career leader in several statistics, which are games played, plate appearances, at-bats, and of course hits. Rickey leads not only in stolen bases, but also runs scored, and times caught stealing.

Rickey, of course, is in the Hall of Fame, but Pete Rose is not, despite his accomplishments. His gambling scandal landed him on the list of players permanently ineligible from baseball, which has kept him out of the Hall.

There are a lot of names on that list, including the names you might expect like Joe Jackson and other Black Sox players, along with players, umpires, and managers from long ago that were involved with throwing games. Clearly, baseball does not look kindly on gambling. If you're in a position to affect the outcome of the game, that's one thing, but even Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were briefly banned in the mid-1980s for the mere sin of representing a casino in a promotional capacity long after their careers ended.

The Hall of Fame can choose to keep out the all-time hits leader (other than Ichiro, sort of), but if they keep that up, as well as snubbing pretty much any steroid user, enforcing their own sense of morality risks cheapening the value of the Hall itself. A baseball Hall of Fame that doesn't include Pete Rose, Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, etc... really doesn't give you a complete list, does it?

2013 Topps Chrome 1972 Chrome #72C-RB Ryan Braun
Unless that policy changes drastically, here's another guy that won't be in Cooperstown anytime soon, Ryan Braun. He was suspended for about half of the 2013 season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Whatever accomplishments remain in his career, he's unlikely to get full recognition for them, even if he happens to lead the Brewers to their first-ever championship someday.

Topps is still happy to print nice, shiny cards of Braun in the great 1972 design, so at least Topps knows what the fans want.

2010 Topps Chrome Refractors #209 Daniel McCutchen
It's not just the superstars that used steroids, even players you've never heard of did too. That's why I think steroid use wasn't such a big deal in and of itself. Bonds stood head-and-shoulders above the league even when a large portion of his competitors were using the same compounds. But Daniel McCutchen tested positive as a Minor Leaguer in 2013, and was slapped with a 50-game suspension. He has no relation to the other McCutchen on the Pirates, Andrew, but believe me when I say I experienced a moment of panic when I saw "McCutchen suspended 50 games for positive drug test" on the ESPN ticker just a couple weeks after I selected Andrew as my Fantasy team's first pick.

Daniel McCutchen, despite his use of PEDs, didn't have his performance enhanced that much. He was almost 27 before his Major League debut, and even then, finished with an 8-11 career record over five seasons. He even had an infinite ERA in 2012, giving up two earned runs in one appearance without recording an out. The old divide by zero error doesn't strike many pitchers, so clearly PEDs help some more than others.

All that aside, at least Topps gave him a nice bunting card in 2010.

2014 Topps Archives #175 Yogi Berra
If you've watched any Yankees games this year, you've probably seen a little numeral 8 on their uniform sleeves. That's a memorial for Yogi Berra, the Yankee great who passed away about a year ago. There aren't many players whose count of World Series rings exceeds his uniform number. He was a comedic genius, too, so he'd probably say something along the lines of "I guess I beat the spread" if he were presented with that statistic.

Yogi does look good on the 1989 design in 2014 Archives. I'd say this photo is better than most of what was found in the actual '89 set.

2012 Bowman Sterling Refractors #47 Jordan Pacheco
Even the normal course of baseball transactions leaves some disappointment in its wake. Jordan Pacheco, who appears on a very shiny, serial-numbered Bowman Sterling card, is no longer with the Rockies. He's bounced around the NL for the last few years, but he was one of my favorite young Rockies who came of age as Helton's career was wrapping up.

This card pretty much feels like a Topps Chrome card, maybe a tiny bit thicker. I can't remember if I got it from Christian, my usual dealer at card shows, or from the new guy who bought all of Adam's inventory, the other dealer at the monthly show that I liked to visit. Adam bowed out of the hobby, and as I haven't been to a show since then, I don't know if the new dealer is still active.

2012 Finest #90 Jose Reyes
Jose Reyes was briefly a Rockie following the blockbuster Troy Tulowitzki trade. The Rockies cut him following a domestic violence incident, and he's now back on the Mets where his career began. If the Mets don't choke like they did in 2007, Reyes should make the playoffs again with last year's NL pennant winners. They're tied with the Giants for the NL Wild Card spots, but the always-dangerous Cardinals are definitely in the hunt.

The Marlins, where Reyes played for one season as shown on this color-coded Topps Finest card, are a bit further out, but they've been a factor in the Wild Card race for some time. To lose their ace in such a tragic accident marks a bitter end to the 2016 season. They cancelled their game against the Braves today, and the league observed a moment of silence before each of today's games.

2014 Topps Gold #25 Troy Tulowitzki /2014
More than Pacheco, I really liked Troy Tulowitzki. I've seen this photo numerous times before, and it's a reminder of the days when the Tulo chant echoed throughout Coors Field. Now they do the chant in the Skydome, but he might make the playoffs two straight years if the Blue Jays hold on to a wild card spot in the tight AL East. That's definitely not what would have happened if he stayed in Denver.

CarGo was quoted on the back of Tulo's card, right under the serial number. He says, "When [Tulowitzki]'s not playing, we are a completely different team." Players like Arenado, Story, Blackmon, Gray, and Dahl have helped the Rockies forge a new identity following the trade, but somehow it'll never be quite the same.

Of course, the same goes for the Marlins, and for a much worse reason. It puts things in perspective. When they trade your favorite player, it never feels good. But when an accident like that happens to a 24-year old who made his mark in America after defecting from Cuba, it's a whole different story.

2012 Topps A Cut Above #ACA-17 Tim Lincecum
I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't be writing any of this today. Maybe every one of these words is inappropriate given the situation. But it helps, just remembering that even if things didn't end up that great, there are always good memories to look back on.

Tim Lincecum's career has gone through some tough times recently. He has three World Series rings, but a competitor like that always wants to do the best he can. The two-time Cy Young winner's statistics have been consistently trailing off for years, but he keeps setting his sights on a comeback. The Angels gave him a chance, but he went 2-6 this season. As we saw with Bo Jackson over twenty years ago, hip surgeries aren't easy to come back from.

This die-cut card is from the same set as a Troy Tulowitzki card I got via trade recently, and it shows Lincecum's trademark wild hair. He had a lot to do with the Giants' even-year magic, and without his presence, the streak might come to an end.

2014 Topps The Future is Now #FN-3 Shelby Miller
Shelby Miller has also had a rough go of it. He's back in Arizona's rotation, but he was demoted to Triple-A for a month or so this summer. He's getting things back on track, but went 2-9 in the first half. Zach Greinke hasn't had a great first season in Arizona either. And the trade that brought Miller to Arizona was so heavily in the Braves' favor that plenty of sportswriters could hardly believe it. I was expecting a better season out of Arizona, but maybe that will wait until next year.

2012 Topps Opening Day #189 Mariano Rivera
Lots of iconic players that have been the faces of baseball for the past couple decades finally decided to call it a career. The Yankees are having a tough time succeeding in, let alone making the playoffs since Rivera's retirement in 2013. Rivera set the all-time high-water mark for saves, with 652. And that's not even counting the 42 postseason saves he had in his storied career. Five World Series rings (and oh-so-close to a sixth), a World Series MVP award, and the last player to wear the number 42, the same as his postseason save count.

He appears on this foil-free Topps Opening Day card, but Rivera will always be associated with the last game of the season much more than the first.

2007 UD Masterpieces #14 David Ortiz
Ortiz has been just as important to Boston's recent string of championships as Rivera was to the Yankees. He's up to 37 home runs on the year, which is his final season, or so he says. The Red Sox will be in the 2016 Postseason, so Ortiz still has room for a little more. No one has ever hit more home runs in his final season than Ortiz has now, and there's still a week left in the regular season.

Like Rivera's saves, Ortiz's 17 postseason home runs carry more importance than his 540 in the regular season. He's certainly worthy of an Upper Deck Masterpieces card, and he still had two rings yet to earn when this was printed, one against my beloved Rockies.

2012 Bowman Gold #63 Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod isn't as well-liked as Ortiz or Rivera, but he's still one of the greats. And will probably be in line behind Ryan Braun in the Not-in-the-Hall-of-Fame club. He entered the majors at just eighteen years of age. I knew he was a young rookie, but I checked Baseball Reference to be exactly sure. I thought I had heard seventeen at one point. His first game was on July 8th, 1994. That date looked very familiar, and I collected enough cards back then to remember seeing that date on John Valentin's 1995 cards as the date he turned an unassisted triple play for the Red Sox.

Even weirder, guess who the Red Sox were playing that day? Yes, Seattle. A-Rod was in the hole when it happened, but A-Rod got to witness an unassisted triple play in his very first Major League game. You can even see him in the dugout during that clip. I remember hearing about it on the radio, but I had no idea that a rookie in that game would go on to be such an important figure in the baseball world. Who would know that? The announcers barely realized what happened during the play.

He's known for one of the most valuable contracts in baseball history, and there was talk of him hitting 900 home runs before his career ended. However, he was suspended for the entire 2014 season over his involvement with PEDs. He retired earlier this season with 696 career home runs. He probably wouldn't have caught Bonds or Aaron, but if he played in 2014, I bet he'd have passed Babe Ruth.

1998 Topps HallBound #HB2 Tony Gwynn
Topps was spot-on with this 1998 card of Tony Gwynn, predicting that he was on his way to being voted into Cooperstown. That prediction came true in 2007 on his first ballot. Topps did a pretty good job with these. They picked fifteen players for this die-cut insert set, and all are indeed in the Hall of Fame, or at least they should be. Most who aren't I've already mentioned, which are McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens. The only arguably borderline case in the set was Juan Gonzalez, who did have two MVP seasons, but was one of the main faces of the steroid scandal, which torpedoed his already unclear chances.

Tony Gwynn won eight batting titles in his career, and he was rightly awarded with a plaque in Cooperstown. His career average was .338, and that's the highest any recent player has attained by quite a bit. Come on, he's the only guy in the top-20 with a color photograph.

Sadly, he only got to enjoy that Hall of Fame status for less than a decade. He passed away in 2014 from what he attributed to a tobacco-caused cancer.

2013 Topps Chasing History #CH-55 Ken Griffey, Jr.
Like Gwynn before him, Ken Griffey, Jr. is now a member of the Hall of Fame. He's the highest draft pick to ever make it, and Mike Piazza, his counterpart in the class of 2016, was the lowest draft pick to ever make it. This Chasing History card, one of my favorite insert sets from 2013, told us that Griffey could consistently be relied on for at least 20 home runs a season. Sometimes a lot more. In 1998, while McGwire and Sosa were battling to break Roger Maris' record, Griffey quietly finished in third place with 56, the same count he had in 1997.

Plus he was the guy to collect back in the 1990s, along with Frank Thomas. Those two guys were the blue chips of pre-strike Beckett values.

2007 UD Masterpieces #65 Alex Gordon (RC)
I guess at the end of the day, despite tragedy, misfortune, illness, disappointment, and the simple passage of time, the game carries on. Sometimes it's as simple as this: you get to win a World Series, and your biggest problem is being dropped from the 2006 Topps base set. Cory Lidle, on the other hand, made it into the 2006 Topps Update set, but for a sad reason.

Baseball has been there for this country in hard times. It helped distract people from the depression as soon as they figured out how to light a field. It helped normalize relations with Japan after World War II. And it helped America start healing after the world-changing events of 9/11. It just becomes a little paradoxical when it occurs within the baseball world itself.

And we won't get to hear the legendary Vin Scully guide us through the game after this season, as we have since 1950.

I'm sure we'll see the Marlins wear a memorial patch next week and for the duration of next season. But they lost more than their ace pitcher with amazing reflexes. They lost a bright young athlete who loved the game and who loved life.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Wrap-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be fun to go back.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Trading Post #76: Night Owl Cards

Night Owl took pity on me.

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

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

Mmmm, salami.

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

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

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

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

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

That name is getting easier and easier to spell.

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

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

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

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

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

But it's not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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