Thursday, July 9, 2020

Problems on the Back

Black Lives Matter.

I said in my previous post that I'd be keeping this blog's focus on baseball. And I am. But we need to talk about how racism applies to baseball cards. Systemic racism is a real thing, and the baseball card industry isn't immune. Nothing really is in America, which is what makes it systemic.

1988 Topps Big #110 Ken Griffey Sr.
There's always plenty of debate about where sets rank among all-time favorites. 1993 Upper Deck comes up a lot. Some like 1965 Topps, others think that 1975 Topps was the high-water mark. 1973 Topps is underappreciated outside this community. Some can enjoy 1991 Fleer despite its retina-searing yellow borders. There are even some 1995 Fleer fans out there. Me, I'm a Stadium Club guy.

But no one ever seems to wax poetic about Topps Big.

It existed for three years, from 1988-1990. Topps cut it to the same dimensions as their early-'50s sets, 3 3/4" x 2 5/8". Non-vintage collectors can find their 1989 Bowman to get an idea of the size. It is too big for 9-pocket pages, so most of us just threw them in a box somewhere until Ultra Pro got around to manufacturing specially-sized 8-pocket pages.

That's Ken Griffey, Sr. on this card from the inaugural Topps Big set. This was a year before his son appeared in the first Upper Deck set and changed the hobby forever. Note that his nameplate just says "Ken Griffey", as his son had yet to surpass his dad's own excellent career, let alone even make his Major League debut.

Please also note that Ken Griffey is Black.

1988 Topps Big #110 Ken Griffey Sr. (Reverse)
I call attention to that because when you look at the card back, none of the cartoons show him as Black. Not Ken pinch hitting in the first panel, not Ken reminding us that he's from the same Pennsylvania town as Stan Musial, and definitely not his son Ken, Jr. holding a trident, although they did get Junior's handedness correct.

It's not an oversight on this one card, nor even an oversight in the 1988 Topps Big set as a whole. It was this way for all three years of Topps Big, the entire run. Everyone is a white guy on the card back. Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Alomar, everyone. Which is, at the very least, inaccurate.

I mentioned this to my girlfriend earlier this week, and she asked, "Was it like that in the 1950s?" I'm not a vintage expert, so I had to think for a moment, but no, it wasn't.

1954 Topps #3 Monte Irvin (Reverse)
This is the back of a 1954 Topps Monte Irvin card, the same card I got at a card show a few years ago from one of my favorite vintage dealers. The dimensions are the same as Topps Big, but even though printing technology was decades behind what was available in the late-'80s, Topps clearly made the effort to show Monte Irvin as a Black man on the back of his own baseball card. It's most obvious in the first and third panels of the Inside Baseball cartoon, and it's clear in the first panel which of these characters is meant to be Irvin and which is meant to be the Indians' third baseman, likely Al Rosen.

Incidentally, the exhibition game in which Monte Irvin injured his ankle as shown in this cartoon was a Spring Training game in Denver. It might have even taken place at Bears Stadium, later known as Mile High Stadium. Spring Training stats from the early 1950s are tricky to come by.

But there he is, right there on the back of a 1954 Topps card. Monte Irvin was just the tenth Black man to play Major League Baseball, and numerous teams had still yet to integrate. Yet 1954 Topps, ten years before the Civil Rights Act, got it right, much more right (infinitely more right?) than the whole run of Topps Big.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.

I had been aware of the racial insensitivity associated with Topps Big for a few years, but it wasn't until I saw a tweet the other day that I was made aware of a pretty glaring problem with 1993 Leaf.

1993 Leaf #387 Terry Pendleton
1993 Leaf is another well-liked set from later in the overproduction era. It was the first Leaf set to include Rockies and Marlins, had a nice amount of gold foil, full-bleed printing, and a design that could reasonably be confused with both 1992 and 1993 Fleer Ultra, now that I think about it. Here's a good photo of another Brave, Terry Pendleton in Wrigley Field, with just the tiniest sliver of a catcher's mitt on the left side.

The card backs on '93 Leaf take a unique approach, including a photo of the player in front of a landmark that's relevant to the team's city. Usually it's the skyline, but there are some alternate backdrops for each team. Bridges, piers, beaches, that sort of thing. The Rockies have a glorious mountain range. The Astros got an oil well. The alternate photo on the Braves' card backs is, well, take a look.

1993 Leaf #387 Terry Pendleton (Reverse)
All these years I never really knew what I was looking at, but this photo behind Pendleton is Stone Mountain in Georgia. As briefly as possible, it's basically a Confederate version of Mount Rushmore, which officially opened 100 years to the day after Lincoln's assassination. Think for a moment about what message that sends. And it also happens to be the backdrop for a Black player's baseball card.

It's not just Pendleton; it's also on Otis Nixon's card, and likely a few others throughout Series 1 and Update, which I haven't completed. I assume no one at Leaf thought much of it, since it's also on Tom Glavine's card. They likely just decided that this was what the Atlanta area had going for it other than the skyline, and peppered it throughout the Braves checklist at random.

But that's the whole problem. It's unlikely that either of these design choices were done maliciously, but that doesn't really matter. They were made nonetheless, whether out of malice or neglect or ignorance. That's the distinction we need to learn to make, between individual acts of bigotry such as John Rocker opening his mouth, and deeper, more systemic instances of racism, such as a Confederate monument on display in Georgia for all to see appearing on a baseball card in the same fashion as a cluster of office buildings or a bridge.

That's how deep it goes. Racism is just so woven into the fabric of the USA that it's literally a backdrop. A landmark. A tourist attraction. And it's so easy to just, not pick up on it. I certainly didn't all these years until it was brought to my attention. The designers at Topps or Leaf certainly didn't. And that's telling, because for far too long we've gotten away with thinking that as long as we're not acting like John Rocker, we're doing OK. We're not. Bigotry and systemic racism are not the same thing, but we've been taught that they are. Thinking they are is what leads to racially insensitive blunders like these cards, and far worse.

It's a lot to take in, I know. I will share a resource that's helped me navigate these waters in recent weeks, and that's season 2 of the Scene on Radio podcast, titled Seeing White. I hope you find it useful.

In any case, maybe think twice before mailing this card off to Terry Pendleton for an autograph.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Trading Post #143: Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer (Part 2: Topps)

My previous post was on May 25th. Turns out that was a pretty big day in U.S. history. For obvious reasons, I haven't been focused on baseball or my collection, as my attention has turned to much more important matters. I've learned so much these past few weeks, and there's so much left to learn. While Infield Fly Rule will be keeping its baseball focus, feel free to head over to my personal Twitter account if you'd like to continue the conversation.

In the meantime, I owe a lot of fellow bloggers trade posts, and Nick just added himself to that list again with a PWE that arrived yesterday. I still have plenty of cards from Rod at Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer to cover, so here's Part Two, the non-Stadium Club Topps products that caught my eye.

2019 Topps Franchise Feats #FF-10 Todd Helton
Part one of this three-part series was something of a love letter to Coors Field, a place that is still sitting idle. But it has been home to the Rockies since 1995, and many of the events documented on this card took place, in part, at Coors. Franchise Feats is a 30-card insert set, one for each team. Topps picked some really big names for the well-known teams, players like Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron. Todd Helton got the nod for the Rockies entry in this insert set, and he was responsible for one of the eleven batting titles mentioned on the front.

What other claims to fame do the Rockies have? Well, they've made the playoffs five times, always via the Wild Card, which is the nice way to say that they've never won their division, but boy did they come close in 2018. They're a high-scoring NL team, which everyone already knew. They have won eleven total batting titles, but what might be surprising is how many different players have contributed to that haul. Most of the big names are there: Galarraga, Holliday, Blackmon, González. But the only one to win multiple batting titles as a Rockie was Larry Walker.

Also, they're the first team in the Mountain Time Zone. One could put the Diamondbacks in that category, kind of, but during the long summer months, most of Daylight Saving Time-resistant Arizona is on Pacific Time.

Of course, there are more feats on the back, mainly the Rockies improbable Pennant-winning run in 2007, of which Todd Helton was a big part. Helton wrapped up the Part One post, and I had intended for this card to be a transition into the rest of the Topps cards, but that post would have been five thousand words.

2019 Topps Total #49 Chad Bettis
In 2019, Topps Total made a comeback. I skipped it entirely. It bore little resemblance to the first Topps Total sets of the early 2000s. Yes, it was a huge 900 cards like the early sets, but rather than being an affordable and easy-to-build set like what Topps Total originally was, it was an online-exclusive print-on-demand offering at $10 per 10-card pack, more or less putting the Topps Now distribution model into pack form.

They released it in nine waves, an explanation of which is half the write-up on the card back. Not much room is left for player statistics or anything like that. Worse, these waves all had varying print runs, so completing a set like this would be an exercise in frustration. And even if you did, you'd get to read the same blurb about how the set features "a wide range of superstars, rookies, rising youngsters, and veterans" 900 times over.

Bring back Score.

To be fair, Chad Bettis didn't get many cards in 2019, although he was in Topps Series 1. A lifetime Rockie, which the card back also tells us, this card from Wave 1 has a print run of 584, according to Beckett. Scarcity has its place, but not with Topps Total. The whole idea of Total is to ensure middle relievers and bench players get cards too, but when they get a print run that makes Heritage short prints look downright plentiful, it defeats the purpose.

2019 Topps Total #159 Chris Iannetta
And another thing. At a buck a card, spell the guy's name right. It's Iannetta with two Ns.

Topps certainly expected these to have an element of scarcity, and I'm basing that on the fact that they decided to put some microprint under the Topps logo on the back. It's way tinier than the Pinnacle Authenticator rectangle you used to see in the 1990s, and you need a powerful magnifying glass to read the repeating word "TOPPS" in all capital letters.

I'm guessing this photo is from Spring Training. Looking at the team name on the dugout railing, they're playing the Oakland Athletics. But unless Topps dug very deep in the photo archives back to Iannetta's first stint with the Rockies, circa 2009, this would have to be from a Cactus League game.

2019 Topps Pro Debut Ben's Biz #BBB-BE BenEverywhere
I at least had an awareness that Topps Total was a product again, but a five-card insert set from Topps Pro Debut? This is brand new to me, as is Ben Hill, a sportswriter who covers Minor League Baseball. That number one on the back of Hill's jersey represents the number of Minor League parks I've visited, but he's been to all 159, wrapping up with Suplizio Field, home of the Pioneer League Grand Junction Rockies. That's the subject of this card, along with the hashtag #BenEverywhere. You can even see the interlocking "GJ" on the baseball in his right hand, which matches the style of the "CR" Rockies logo you're more likely to be familiar with.

I can't say I've ever seen the GJ Rockies in action, and it's been a while before I've been that far west in Colorado. It and Fruita are the last large-ish cities in Western Colorado before you reach the vast expanse of the Utah desert. Definitely top off your tank before proceeding.

Sadly, things don't look good for the state of Minor League Baseball, and it's likely that over a quarter of those 159 parks and their associated teams and players will suffer from the proposed contraction. Even the Majors are having a hard time getting a plan together right now, and Minor Leaguers are criminally underpaid even in the best of times.

2018 Topps Archives #129 DJ LeMahieu
Finally arriving at something I'm more familiar with, here's 2018 Topps Archives. I did a fairly deep dive of some recent Archives sets a few months ago, but I didn't run across many Rockies then. Now-Yankee DJ LeMahieu, yet another NL batting champion (mentioned on the card back), appeared on the 1977 Topps design, unfortunately without much purple. I suppose I don't mind the red color used for the Rockies team name, but the white-on-yellow text in the pennant is nearly unreadable. I had to look pretty closely to see that it has him listed as a second baseman.

What grabbed my attention the most is that he's not holding his own bat in this posed shot. He wore #9 for the Rockies, clearly visible behind his thick facsimile signature. But he's holding Trevor Story's bat, #27.

Retro card backs mean cartoons, and this one shows us a comic-book version of Fred Lynn hitting the first Grand Slam in an All-Star Game. We're not given a date for that, but it happened in 1983.

By the way, DJ had to give up #9 when he joined the Yankees, as that number was worn by Roger Maris and retired in 1984.

2018 Topps Gallery #117 Trevor Story
In Topps Gallery from the same year, Trevor Story has his own bat back and is even holding it so the label on the knob isn't upside-down. I haven't seen many of the recent Topps Gallery sets, although the brand was resurrected back in 2017. The earlier sets simply used photographs, but later on Topps channeled their inner Diamond King and went with painted images. This artwork was created by artist Dan Bergren.

I know even less about Project 2020 than Topps Total, but apparently this idea of artwork cards has gone completely crazy. I've seen enough on Twitter to know that some of the artist proof versions of Project 2020 are going for truly insane prices. That Michael Jordan documentary coupled with COVID-19 have teamed up to have done some wild things to the card market. Am I supposed to dig up all my 1987 Topps and sell them on eBay now? And I saw that Nachos Grande flipped an ungraded Trout Rookie Card for almost a grand?

I don't know. I'm probably just going to enjoy this Topps Gallery. It has gold foil, you know.

2019 Topps Gallery #79 Kyle Freeland
Gallery looked even more elegant in 2019. That script lettering at the bottom looks great, perhaps like one of the first Flair sets, and the urge to display it in something other than a 9-pocket page isn't something that crosses my mind for most sets. The very fine texture lines on the border are one of the most beautiful and precise features I can remember seeing on a card.

Neither Kyle Freeland nor Trevor Story are veterans yet, which means that the "Gallery Notes" sections on both their card backs mention some Minor League accolades, as well as some key events so far in their young careers. One of Story's is of course his barrage of seven home runs in his first six Major League games, and Freeland's is his near-no hitter in 2017, one of several major Rockies events that I missed by a day, another being Troy Tulowitzki's unassisted triple play.

We have Carlos Cabaleiro to thank for this artwork.

2019 Topps Gypsy Queen #89 Ian Desmond
I was sent a green parallel of 2019 Gypsy Queen last year, but this and a few others in the stack represent my first normal base cards from the 2019 release. As I said then, it's a busy design. Maybe it's me, but I feel like recent GQ sets are just trying a little too hard. Just above the position in the lower right is a tiny label that says "slated at". I definitely did not notice that when I first saw the set last year.

I'm not sure how much helmet flinging Ian Desmond does, but this looks like a happy occasion since all the fans are up on their feet. My first instinct was that the disappointed player in the visitor's dugout was a Padre, and sure enough, that's the very team that Ian Desmond hit a walkoff 2-run homer against on August 23rd, 2018. If I have the right moment, I missed this by two days.

I'm not sure exactly how Topps adjusts photos for Gypsy Queen, but whatever they do, it really makes shadows and dark areas stand out, especially pinstripes. This photograph would have a much different look if it were in the 2020 set, because last year the Rockies decided not to wear pinstripes with this alternate jersey anymore. I haven't yet seen many cards showing this new uniform, although a few have trickled into the market. I was expecting to have seen more 2020 Rockies cards by now with the new look, and I've been curious about how it will come across on baseball cards, but 2020 has had other plans.

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Missing Blackplate #83 Mark Reynolds
It doesn't seem that long ago that Mark Reynolds was getting regular playing time with the Rockies. He was a frequent starter in 2016 and 2017, and while this Gypsy Queen card is from 2018, he was with the Washington Nationals that year. He came back to the Rockies for 2019 and even had a pitching appearance, but decided to retire a couple months ago.

The card back of this sepia-look parallel, which deliberately didn't use the black printing plate, says that the power-hitting Reynolds was only 19 homers away from hitting the 300 milestone. Sadly, he didn't quite reach that level, retiring with 298.

It might be obvious in retrospect, but he was on the leading edge of the three true outcome game we have today, putting up truly atrocious batting averages (below .200 multiple times), leading the league in strikeouts four years running (fantastic, if you're a pitcher), yet still finding himself among the top-150 home run hitters of all time when all was said and done.

2019 Topps Heritage #248 Gerardo Parra
Like Mark Reynolds, Gerardo Parra also spent some time with the Washington Nationals and even had a pitching appearance with them. But he electrified the nation during the World Series last year, and everyone's favorite Baby Shark-loving hugger became a true fan favorite. He signed a one year deal in Japan, and he's likely the only Washington National from 2019 who is actually playing games right now.

I opened plenty of 2019 Heritage last year, but Parra was not among them. I did see enough to recognize that we're probably seeing the same dusting of snow by the fence as we saw on Ian Desmond's 2019 Heritage card, although Parra looks significantly warmer, and he's also giving us our best look yet at the team's 25th Anniversary patch.

2018 Topps Heritage #200 Pat Neshek
Pat Neshek was a Rockie only briefly in 2017, but he still got a card in 2018 Topps Heritage, which was based on the 1969 set. He famously recreated the 1970 Lowell Palmer card in 2019 Topps Heritage, a card that has still evaded my grasp, but he got a hero card number of 200 in the 2018 set. The pose doesn't really match, but he shares a card number with the game-changing Bob Gibson, fresh off his record-setting 1968 season.

There's a little cartoon on this one too, documenting Neshek's two All-Star appearances in 2014 and 2017.

2019 Topps Chrome Refractors #183 Trevor Story
There have been a lot of retro cards so far in this post, but I can't resist a shiny object. This one of Trevor Story, using a different bat than he posed with for his Topps Gallery portrait, is a refractor, and Topps helpfully labeled it as such under the card number. It's one of the least-curled chrome cards I've seen in a while, and I really like how the 2019 design looks when given the shiny treatment.

2018 Topps #534 Germán Márquez
I didn't like the 2018 design quite as much as 2019, but I'll be honest, going down a waterslide sounds completely awesome right about now.

For his 2018 Topps base card, Germán Márquez was honored with the Topps Rookie Cup, and had a very similar shot appear in one of his 2018 Topps Now cards. It's a good high-number candidate for my Coors Field frankenset. But you might notice that this one is rather miscut. There's nowhere near enough overlap to tell what card was next to him on the sheet, but it's somewhat of a rare sight these days. It's more noticeable on the back, and that's probably because this is a full-bleed card. With no true border, it's pretty hard to figure out centering unless you have a literal slice of another card encroaching on the photograph.

That does make me wonder about how PSA and BGS and so forth come up with a centering grade on a full-bleed card.

2019 Topps Walmart Holiday #HW188 David Dahl
We'll close with one of the festive Holiday parallels from Wal-Mart. This one is cut accurately, or at least I think so. There's a nice border of holly and ivy, the accent colors are changed to red and green throughout (even on the back), and there's a stencil-like border surrounding the photograph itself. I rarely see these, but somehow they're always a little more interesting than the usual colored borders that Topps inundates us with. It's a fun stocking stuffer, and an opportunity to experience a little baseball in the dead of winter when these are released.

Of course, we have just as much of a lack of baseball right now as we do on Christmas Day, yet we're a week away from the longest day of the year. It's staying somewhat light until after 9pm right now. And I have tickets for June 22nd to see a game that will not happen.

2020 is one for the history books, and who can possibly imagine what will happen by this year's holiday season? To paraphrase Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams, America continues to roll by like an army of steamrollers, although Major League Baseball isn't marking the time so far in 2020, at least not on the field. And in the grand scheme of things, perhaps that's best. I've written about Mike Hampton at least three times in the history of this blog, a pitcher who spent just two seasons with the Rockies. But it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I learned the name Fred Hampton. I learned neither of those names in school. Point being, it's up to us to educate ourselves.


Monday, May 25, 2020

The Trading Post #142: Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer (Part 1: Stadium Club)

Right around the time pitchers and catchers reported to spring training 2020 (the first one, that is), Rod at Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer reached out and said he had a stack of Rockies cards to send my way. This was Rod's first time sending me cards, thus his first appearance in The Trading Post theme. His blog vastly predates mine, and he has a pretty sweet custom logo in his header. I just today noticed that the Swinging Friar is holding a Sharpie.

His niche is collecting autographs from all Padres who ever appeared on the team's active roster. In over a half-century, that's got to be quite a few players, but only a dozen have eluded Rod's collection. Despite that dedication, Rod still found more than enough Rockies to send my way, enough that I'm turning this into a three-parter.

2016 Stadium Club #23 Nolan Arenado
We'll kick things off with what might be the greatest Coors Field card of all time, possibly even eclipsing my 2016 Card of the Year. This being Memorial Day, I'm sure I would have been to a game or two by now. But not this year, for painfully obvious reasons. I'm missing Coors Field something fierce, so this card is a perfect addition to my collection.

I mentioned in that Card of the Year post that a Tornadough pretzel from the stand under the left field scoreboard is one of my favorite ballpark snacks. That's the red and yellow stand you see under the Coca-Cola sign. There's lots more to explore on the concourse. Flanking the Tornadough stand, I see what might be a cash-only beer stand on the right, and the #17 Helton Burger Shack on the left, which is partially obscured by the Stadium Club logo.

Trevor Story hits home runs up there sometimes, by the way.

Funny story about the cash-only beer stands. Throughout MLB, they cut off alcohol sales at the end of the 7th inning. I was running dry right around that time during a night game up on the third deck. The lines at the main concession stands looked long, so I tried one of the cash-only spots. It became clear that the 7th inning was rapidly drawing to a close, so the vendor told the few of us in line to put our money down on the table, thus completing the sale. Judging by the sound of the crowd, the inning abruptly came to an end, but the vendor had already "sold" his last few of the night, and he finished pouring those beers for us who had the quick reflexes to ante up without violating the letter of the law.

Back down on the left field concourse, if you walked a little further toward center field, you'd pass a small apparel outlet, the center field camera platform, the outdoor studio overlooking the concourse where the TV crew does the postgame recap (that's where you can get on TV!), and a walkway underneath the Rockpile, one side of which is adorned with plaques of all the construction firms that built Coors Field. I can't recall which, but my dad knew a couple of those companies back from his environmental remediation days. A few more steps and you'll come to the bullpens and a spectacular view of the Coors Field forest.

On the other hand, if you walked toward left field, you'd find the frozen yogurt stand, behind which is a small seating area and the perfect spot to see into the players' parking lot. There are always a lot of lifted Jeeps and pickups and such in there, but you'll see the occasional Porsche or Ferrari. One of the guys was driving a black Lamborghini Urus last time I looked. Returning to the concourse, you'll find an apparel shop, the Famous Dave's barbecue stand which occasionally obscures the scoreboard with smoke, and a playground. I'm too old for that now, but I was eleven when Coors Field opened. Maybe even then I was a little too old for a playground, but my nephew seemed to enjoy it last summer.

Yes, I know how much it shows that I miss going to games there.

Back to the card. Checking the scoreboard, this game against the Dodgers is just getting underway. There's no score yet, but the Rockies already have three hits in the bottom of the first. That means Nolan Arenado is likely batting with the bases loaded. The Dodgers visit Denver all the time, so it might be tricky to pinpoint this play, but we have one helpful clue. The clock on the scoreboard shows 6:27, and I've been to enough games to know that this is likely a Saturday game with a 6:10 start time. Unless it's very early in the season, weeknight games usually begin at 6:40. Checking the 2015 schedule, there was only one Saturday home game against the Dodgers, and that was September 26th.

Sure enough, Arenado was batting with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning. Following his buddies getting on base with three singles, A.J. Ellis called for a pitch and Arenado blasted it over the center field wall for a grand slam, his 40th homer of the season. The Rockies would close the game in similar fashion, with Carlos Gonzalez hitting a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 9th, just a little bit to the right of where Nolan's landed.

This could be a post of its own, that's how much I could say about this card. But let's carry on.

2019 Stadium Club #5 David Dahl
David Dahl, a lefty, lets us see the other side of Coors Field. He's taking a warm-up swing as he prepares to step into the box. We don't have quite as much detail in this photo, but we can see the far edge of the Rockies dugout and the camera well on the first-base side. Above the seats beyond, you can see the bottom edge of the Mountain Ranch Club, a full-service open-air restaurant that overlooks the field. It's one of the very few places in Coors Field I haven't managed to set foot in.

Below that on the main concourse is the Sandlot Brewery, which I've mentioned before as the birthplace of Blue Moon. It's my favorite spot in the whole ballpark to grab a beer, and they have a much better selection than the few macrobrew options available at most of the concession stands. Although if that's what you're after, they sell $3 Coors Lights in The Rooftop area prior to first pitch.

Just below the Stadium Club logo is the start of the right field mezzanine. It's not my favorite spot to sit, as you can't really see anything that happens at the right field wall. It's pretty far away from the plate, too. But that's roughly where I sat for my first game at Coors, and it's a good spot for moms who want to take little kids to the game without worrying about incoming home run balls.

Let's be honest, there really isn't anywhere in Coors Field that a ball can't reach. but halfway up the second deck in right field is a pretty safe and somewhat shady area if you're there for a day game.

The last story I have for that part of the park happened just below the green beam at the base of the mezzanine, right about where I took this picture before the NLDS game in 2018. I mentioned it once before but in less detail. I was twelve, my second game ever at Coors, the Rockies were playing the Pirates. Former Rockie Charlie Hayes hit a home run to left field, though not as far as Trevor Story.

Anyway, before the game, my family and I were standing on the main concourse just below that beam. A batting practice ball came screaming in and bounced off it right toward where I was standing. I valiantly jumped up and tried to barehand it, but the next thing I knew, I was picking myself up off the concrete and looking up at two men high-fiving after making the catch.

It would have been a tough catch no matter what, but as best I can remember it I was basically body-slammed away from that ball by a couple of grown men. It probably wasn't as dramatic as that, but long story short, it would be another eighteen years before I finally snagged a foul ball. Christian Yelich fouled that one off, back when he was a Marlin and long before he reached MVP caliber.

2019 Stadium Club Power Zone #PZ-13 Todd Helton
Like Yelich and Dahl, Todd Helton was another lefty. There isn't much of Coors Field to see here, but it's a Stadium Club insert nonetheless. Power Zone inserts pop up quite frequently, but the wild design was toned down a bit in 2019, at least the foil portion. This background wouldn't be entirely out of place in Topps Fire.

The card back tells us all about Helton's heat map. He liked them up-and-in, and had an .879 slugging percentage on pitches in that part of the zone. Me, I liked them low and away, but I showed a little bit of opposite field power once or twice on pitches up in the zone. If only I had enough speed to leg out a home run. Those types of hits usually ended up just being triples for me in Little League and high school gym glass.

Helton remains the only Rockie with a retired number, although Larry Walker's retirement ceremony for #33 was supposed to happen over a month ago. I even had tickets. But if Helton gets his own burger shack, surely one of the many concession stands in Coors Field could bear Walker's name. Maybe one out in right field behind where he used to play, near where I almost caught a foul ball in 1996. But it would be tucked away under the stands and unlikely to ever make an appearance on a card.

I originally intended for these three to be part of a post with the rest of the Topps cards I picked for the blog, but this got way out of hand. I'll save those cards for another post, and bask in the memories of the 87 games I've attended at Coors Field, jogged just a bit by Topps Stadium Club.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Trading Post #141: A Cracked Bat

As I was scrolling through my blog feed this morning, I saw a few posts about one of my most frequent trading partners, Julie from A Cracked Bat, including a post on her own blog from yesterday. That inspired me to put this post together, covering some cards she sent as part of her generous Pick Pockets page. There are still a few items left there, so head over and make some selections before it's all picked over (pun intended).

2019 Stadium Club #252 Dee Gordon
Starting things off is Dee Gordon of the Seattle Mariners on his 2019 Stadium Club base card. Last time Julie sent a shipment, she included another Dee Gordon card from Stadium Club, back from his time on the Marlins. This time, he's on the most geographically isolated team in the Majors, and is giving us one of the greatest displays of athleticism ever captured on a baseball card. At first glance, you might think the speedy center fielder is diving for a ball here, but this is actually his follow-through on a throw back to the infield (or maybe across three or four parking lots) in which he's using every ounce of effort he can muster. In all two seasons of my little league career, I never inverted myself in this fashion to complete an outfield assist, but somehow Gordon makes it possible, with video evidence to prove it.

Not only that, but Gordon is even sporting a throwback Mariners uniform.

His outfield assists are something to behold, but since he arrived in Seattle, his once-stratospheric stolen base count has dropped significantly, which also means that his string of five straight seasons of at least 30 SBs mentioned on the card back came to an end in 2019.

2019 Stadium Club #185 Jose Canseco
Here's another from 2019 Stadium Club, a well-composed shot of Jose Canseco heading down the tunnel into a well-lit atmosphere, perhaps to fulfill some sort of destiny. If they ever make a Jose Canseco biopic, this would make a great closing shot.

I'm all about tiny details. So here's the tiny detail I'm noticing on this card. There's no MLB logo on the back of Canseco's cap.

When I was a kid, the holy grail of sports apparel at the top of my list, even more than a Starter jacket, was a fitted hat. I had plenty of hats at that age, but they all had the snap-back adjustable plastic strap that I eventually outgrew. Former Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes even signed one of them. But it didn't make sense to get me a fitted hat when I was growing like a weed, so it wasn't until I reached adulthood that I got one of the official New Era hats, size 7 1/2.

My dad often wore a Yankees hat, and I remember the little MLB logo on the back at the seam. We all know that logo from any non-action photo you've ever seen of Ken Griffey, Jr. wearing his cap backwards. And come to think of it, it wouldn't surprise me at all if MLB added that logo in direct response to Griffey's then-unique style. Griffey's rookie year was in 1989, and Canseco's best years were just slightly before that. This photo might even be from the '89 World Series itself. But it shows a time before the cool kids wanted to be like Griffey.

2019 Topps Archives #212 Robin Roberts
And way, way before that, Robin Roberts was a Philadelphia Phillie. Topps chose him for their 2019 Archives set and put him on the 1993 Topps design. 1993 Topps is one of those designs I know quite well, and this reproduction isn't quite perfect. The typeface is a little different, and more noticeably, the Phillies team name should be in red, not blue. But overall, it's a pretty nice card.

I don't want to turn this into a "here are all the barely-noticeable ways the reproduction isn't exactly accurate" post, but I will point out that Topps wasn't able to squeeze in Roberts's complete career record on the vertically-oriented card back. His career began in 1948, and these stats only go back to 1954. That's a shame, because some of his career-highs happened in the early '50s. 198 strikeouts and 28 wins in 1952, for example, and a whopping 346.2 innings pitched in 1953. Over half his All-Star appearances occurred in that part of the decade, too.

For comparison, 2019's IP leader was Justin Verlander, with 223. I don't know, I just think if you're going to create all these Archives cards, it makes sense to include full statistics, because they can give collectors a great insight into how the game has changed over the decades. Just because Baseball-Reference exists doesn't mean I don't want full stats on my card backs.

I guess I'll have to find my real 1959 Roberts card to see those prior years.

1992 Pinnacle Team 2000 #37 Jim Thome
Following a retro 1993 card, here's an actual card from that era, a 1992 Jim Thome insert from the Pinnacle brand. It's from the same Team 2000 set as a Larry Walker card I found at an LCS last year, and Hall-of-Famer-elect Walker will soon be joining Thome in Cooperstown.

I probably didn't have any of these cards when I was a kid, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite insert sets of the era. I now have three cards from it, and along with John Smoltz, all three are Hall-of-Famers.

77 cards to go to complete this one. A young Jim Thome is card number #37 of 80, one of the few elements on the card back that doesn't use gold foil. Pinnacle correctly picked Thome to be a superstar, but they had him projected as the Indians third baseman for years to come. He did play the hot corner through 1996, but shifted over to first base in 1997 to make room for Matt Williams.

2000 Topps Hands of Gold #HG6 Omar Vizquel
Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel spent quite a few years together in the same infield, sometimes even on the left side during Thome's early years. Thome was more of a power hitter, smashing over 600 home runs by the time his career was over, but Vizquel was the defensive star, racking up eleven gold gloves.

Vizquel was about halfway through his career when this die-cut card was printed (and cut), and the card back says he has the highest career fielding percentage in history. That held true for the rest of his career, and his .9847 mark as a shortstop has never been beaten, and certainly not over nearly a quarter-century of playing time. Troy Tulowitzki came close, but with nearly a decade less service time. We'll see him later on in this post.

The card back lists Vizquel's six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1993-98, and he'd add on three more to that streak through 2001. He won two more in 2005 and 2006 for a total of eleven, and that isn't even the most in this small seven-card insert set. He has many of his contemporaries in this set beat, but not Iván Rodríguez's thirteen nor Greg Maddux's eighteen.

In case you're wondering about the patch Vizquel is wearing, I believe it's the "AL Central Champs" patch the Indians wore in 1999, documenting their first-place finish in their division the previous year. They made it as far as Game 6 of the ALCS before succumbing to the buzzsaw that was the late-'90s New York Yankees.

Anyway, I found Tony Gwynn's card from this insert set at that very same LCS last year, and it's a pleasing coincidence to have Team 2000 and Hands of Gold back-to-back in a post from an entirely different source.

2000 Crown Royale #107 Doug Glanville
Pacific gives us more die-cut fun from the turn of the millennium. I've run across the base gold variety before, but this and most of the other 2000 Crown Royale in my collection is of the red variety. Few besides Pacific were using red foil on anything, let alone a die-cut with a design like this.

Doug Glanville, now a sportscaster, put together a nine-season career, mostly as a center fielder. The card back tells us that 1999 was his best statistical year in many categories, and even had a five-hit extra-innings game against the then-NL Astros on September 15th, 1999. That was toward the very end of the Astrodome's life as an MLB stadium, and Glanville's performance that night helped end a 12-game winning streak the Astros had been on.

2019 Panini Prizm Illumination #I-5 Charlie Blackmon
Our first Rockie of the post is Charlie Blackmon on a colorful and kaleidoscopic Panini card. This is a 12-card insert set from Prizm, and while I know very little about Prizm, I know it's shiny. The same photo is used on both sides, but between Blackmon's arm position and wizardly beard, you almost don't notice that this is an unlicensed photo.

Almost.

This is my first time seeing this insert set, and I don't know about you, but I can't read this set's name without thinking of the Minions doing a movie production logo intro.

The card back tells us where Panini was going with this theme, in that "The scoreboard in Denver is always well lit thanks in large part to Blackmon." It's true, and especially so after the Rockies invested in a new mountain-shaped scoreboard for the 2018 season.

2019 Topps Rainbow Foil #460 Trevor Story
During these strange times, along with Blackmon's beard and Arenado's defensive prowess, I am definitely missing watching Trevor Story hit monster home runs at Coors Field. This photo from 2019 Topps may be just such a card. It's actually the rainbow foil parallel, or at least that's the most likely candidate in the truly insane list of parallels Topps makes for even the simplest base cards now. Regardless, it looks pretty good in this sunlit room I'm writing in.

This card also gives us a really clear look at the Rockies 25th Anniversary patch from 2018, which we've seen before. I assume they have a Coors Field 25th Anniversary patch ready to go for the 2020 season, should it actually happen. If there is a season without fans, I wonder how much media coverage and photography will be allowed. 2021 cards might be very strange and might have to repurpose a lot of old photographs, just like they used to do in the early days of the hobby.

2019 Diamond Kings Artist Proof Blue #53 Kyle Freeland
Speaking of Coors Field, I ran across a stat the other day that there's only one pitcher who has more than five starts at Coors Field while keeping his ERA there under 3.00. That pitcher is Adam Wainwright.

I bring this up because the back of this 2019 Diamond Kings card says that Kyle Freeland was just the second Rockies pitcher, after Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010, to make at least 30 starts and post an ERA under 3.00. Of course, many of those great starts were on the road. Even Ubaldo's no-hitter in 2010 happened in Atlanta. But it's really a sign of excellence for any pitcher associated with the Rockies.

This is an Artist Proof parallel, and even though I'm not a Diamond Kings expert, I'm assuming this is the Blue version of that parallel. Again, Panini is relying on the player's arm position to distract you from the fact that they still do not have an MLB license.

Freeland's card is the last of the nine I picked from Julie's Pick Pockets page, but she didn't stop there. She found three more higher-end Rockies cards to include, and they all have serial numbers!

2012 Topps Museum Collection Blue #28 Carlos González /99
I have no idea where she gets them all, but it seems like every time she sends me something, there's invariably something from an ultra-expensive set like Triple Threads or something. This time was no different, as she found this Museum Collection parallel of Carlos González from the 2012 set. This is the Blue parallel, numbered to /99. On "base cards", such as they are in Museum Collection, the area behind the team logo and "National League" is a dark gray. This elegant blue color signifies it as the second-rarest parallel in the set, other than the 1-of-1 Red parallel.

I'm sure most Museum Collection buyers aren't reading the card backs, but this mentions that CarGo was involved in trades for a couple stars before finding a more permanent home. He was originally part of the Diamondbacks organization, but went to Oakland as part of a trade for Dan Haren. Less than a year later, the Rockies picked him and a couple others up in exchange for Matt Holliday, and the rest is history.

Three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, a batting title, and ten seasons later, and he earned a heartfelt cheer from the home crowd upon his return to Denver as a Cub last June. I was there that day, and have had the good fortune to see both Troy Tulowitzki and CarGo play their first games back in Denver after they wound up on another team.

2013 Topps Triple Threads Sapphire #97 Carlos González /25
A year later, CarGo appeared in Topps Triple Threads. If you know the set, you'll know the base cards have silver foil. Clearly, this is a parallel, but no, it's not blue. That's far too pedestrian for a set like this. No, this is Sapphire. And it's numbered to just 25 copies. It does looks like there's a little printing dot on the photo, but this is a beautiful card. Even the back has a nice sky blue background, and it mentions his "fluid, picturesque swing".

I always loved González's swing. If you have a moment to spare, take a look at this walk-off, cycle-completing home run from 2010, which is one of the classic games that the Rockies TV network has been playing to keep fans entertained.

2007 Topps Co-Signers Silver Gold #102 Troy Tulowitzki /100 (AU)
Troy Tulowitzki was on deck when that happened, and here he is on our final card of the day, a sticker autograph from Topps Co-Signers. I have a few base cards from this set, and even one with a pair of facsimile signatures that came from Wes, but this is my first actual autograph from a set that sounds like it should be all about autographs. Julie pointed out in her note that this isn't in perfect shape since there are some noticeable creases on the back, but she said she only paid $2 for it! Sounds like a bargain to me!

When checking Beckett, I assumed this was the Gold parallel, which has a print run of 200. On that slightly damaged card back, this one clearly has a /100 print run, so it's not the Gold. I scrolled down a bit further until I ran across something called the Silver Gold parallel, which does indeed have a print run of /100. Even for parallel-happy Topps, that's stretching it.

There's one other thing I'll point out, inspired by one of Nick's posts last week about unfamiliar uniform numbers. Tulo is wearing #63 on this card. Fans who follow him know that he always admired Derek Jeter, which is why he wore #2 throughout his career (until he joined the Yankees, of course). He wore #12 as a Yankee in his final five games.

Interestingly, this isn't even the first card in my collection with Tulowitzki wearing an unfamiliar number. In a 2015 Topps insert set, he's shown wearing #14, which was his official uniform number for his rookie call-up at the end of 2006.

Thanks, as always, to Julie for this awesome selection of cards. I definitely got more than I bargained for (which is to say, more than I picked for free), and she's one of my favorite people in this whole community. If you don't have a trading relationship with her, start one!


Monday, April 6, 2020

Mr. Tiger

The last time I did a single-card post from 1962 Topps, it was a much happier occasion. That was the day I acquired a real Mickey Mantle card, and I couldn't wait to share my find with the community. Today, however, we mourn the passing of Al Kaline, one of the all-time greats in Detroit Tigers history. He was 85.

1962 Topps #150 Al Kaline
Prior to that Mantle, the most money I'd ever spent on a single baseball card was this, Al Kaline's card from 1962 Topps. It was $40 at Jerry's Sportscards, which once stood on a nearby street corner that is now occupied by a Walgreens. It's no longer there, of course, but if it were, it would be within walking distance of my front door.

How times have changed.

Judging by how much I've spent on 1962 cards, one could easily make the argument that this is my all-time favorite set. This particular example is in pretty good shape, and though it's ungraded, it's probably about a sharp as that Mantle. And even on a vintage card like this, I can't help but notice the slight oddities in the photo, like the fact that Kaline is "swinging" someone else's bat. Kaline clearly wore #6, which was retired by the Tigers in 1980, the same year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But the bat appears to have #24 on the knob, belonging to rookie Frank Kostro.

Speaking of that retired uniform number, he was so beloved by Detroit that he was the first Tiger to ever be honored in such a fashion. Greenberg's and Gehringer's numbers were both still in circulation until 1983.

On the card back, Topps has a cartoon showing a left-handed batter ready to step up to the plate, framed by a pitcher holding a ball. Kaline was a righty, so clearly the cartoon isn't truly personalized, unless they're trying to show him in the on-deck circle or something. Under that, we're told that Kaline had played in ten All-Star games. He was at that magical age of 27 in 1962, right in the prime of his career and a year after leading the AL in doubles. He'd go on to play in a whopping eighteen All-Star games before calling it quits in 1974.

We've lost a few baseball stars in the past couple weeks. Jimmy Winn. Ed Farmer. And now Al Kaline. Under normal circumstances, I'd probably think that was a group of three, and we'd get a reprieve for a little while. But given the current state of the world, these kinds of posts might sadly become a bit more common in the months ahead.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Tiger.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Happy Birthday dear Phi-il

We're all desperate for a sense of community right now. The state of the world has really thrown a giant monkey wrench into everything, to say the least.

I participate in Blog Bat-Arounds only infrequently, but I think now is a good time to let everyone know I'm still alive and kicking. Well, not kicking that much. Because the kickboxing gym I've been going to since 2017 is currently closed. But that's a different story.

To join the April Fools' Day activity that Matt at Diamond Jesters kicked off, let me take this opportunity to wish a happy 81st birthday to legend Phil Niekro.

If you ever doubted how out of hand things got during the overproduction era, one lone blogger basically said, "everyone find your stash of 1988 Score and post the Phil Niekro card today". And many, many of us had no trouble doing just that, myself included.

Which is basically how viruses spread. But that, too, is a different story.

1988 Score #555 Phil Niekro
Number 83 on Joe Posnanski's The Baseball 100 list, Niekro is a Hall-of-Fame knuckleballer. This being a Score set, I expected to see the lengthy paragraph on the card back that early Score cards are known for. But that's not what you'll find here. Rather, flip it over to see Niekro's complete career statistics, twenty-four years starting way back in 1964. Curiously, that year is closer to the 1918 flu pandemic than it is to today.

On this card back, you'll find 318 wins, 3,342 strikeouts, and a whopping 5,403.2 innings pitched, good for 4th all time, and the most in the live-ball era. Baseball-Reference has that innings count at an even 5,404, finding an extra out somewhere in 1981.

Google launched Gmail on this day in 2004 with a then-gigantic 1 GB of free storage. That was in a time when Yahoo was offering four entire megabytes. The scan of this Niekro card alone is a quarter of that. But other than that historic product launch, I'm not much of a fan of April Fools' Day. It's been a lot of deception and satire since then. That's the last thing we need more of. Of all the things we're missing right now, April Fools' Day pranks are not something I'm mourning.

My sister isn't a big fan of it, either. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Monday, her second, and expressed relief that the little one didn't arrive on April 1st. If she had, she would have shared a birthday with Phil Niekro and two current Rockies. On March 30th she instead gets Chris Sale and a couple players from the 2017 Astros. My nephew, nearing the age of three, shares a birthday with one of my favorite catchers, Salvador Pérez.

We may not have any baseball right now, but a Blog Bat-Around and wishing an old player a happy birthday seems like a nice change of pace.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Another Trip Around the Sun

My birthday was a few days ago, but it feels like I've aged quite a bit more than that since then. I'm sure we all have. Before the upcoming baseball season was postponed, though, I went over to see my mom for a little birthday celebration.

As expected, she went hunting for baseball cards and found a good one to add to my collection. This time, she ventured off the beaten path of my Eight Men Out list and found something I was rather unfamiliar with.

2005 Topps Cracker Jack Take Me Out to the Ballgame Mini Relics #TO-AR Alex Rodriguez Bat (MEM)
Topps released a couple Cracker Jack-branded sets in the mid-2000s, and this mini relic of Alex Rodriguez is from the final 2005 set. I do have a couple base cards from this set in my 2005 binder, but this design didn't jog any memories when I pulled it out of my birthday card. It has the faux-vintage card stock you'd expect of a set like this, a lot like Allen & Ginter sets we've become familiar with. This isn't as tiny as some other Cracker Jack cards, but rather it's the size of the 1975 Topps Minis.

The two vertical ovals on each side of the card bring 2017 Allen & Ginter to mind, with a portrait of A-Rod occupying one, and his bat relic the other. Since this is a bat relic as opposed to a jersey swatch, it makes the "infield" of the diamond design look a bit like a tiny softball field, the kind without grass that I played on in little league. The bases in this design aren't quite anatomically correct, if you will, and the shape at the bottom is just another square, rather than a home plate shape. But it certainly gets the point across.

There were two relic sets in 2005 Topps Cracker Jack. The first is just six cards, and was called "1-2-3 Strikes You're Out", an obvious mention of the baseball anthem that features a technically vegetarian meal of peanuts and Cracker Jacks. This Rodriguez card is from the second relic set, clearly called "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", with a helpful "relic card" note inside the banner, just in case you weren't sure what you were holding.

There is lots of tiny print on this card, including "Authentic game-used bat", part of the relic set name itself, and of course Alex Rodriguez's name and team. I wouldn't go quite so far to call it a busy or crowded design, but it's tiptoeing into that territory.

The card back has the usual congratulatory note that you pulled a relic card, a little context around the Topps Cracker Jack set itself, and Rodriguez's position, which at this point in his career was third base. His recent entry in Joe Posnanski's The Baseball 100 list mentions that he began his career as a shortstop, but moved to third to ensure Derek Jeter kept his spot in the infield. That essay also points out that Rodriguez is arguably the greatest five-tool player of all time who didn't play the outfield.

Whether Mom checks the Eight Men Out list or not, she always finds good stuff. I'm already looking forward to my next birthday.

To all my readers, be safe and healthy.