Saturday, August 22, 2015

Not Mickey Mantle (Part 2: Topps)

As promised in my previous post, here's Part 2 from my recent trip to Mike's Stadium Sportscards, the same trip in which I picked up that '62 Mantle. We had a look at some non-Topps products last time, so here are some of my favorites from the hobby's only remaining MLB-licensed brand.

2000 Finest #57 Paul Konerko
This was the only Topps product I picked out of the bargain table area, a complete Series 1 short set from 2000 Finest (cards 1-100). Konerko is one of the more recently-retired members of that set, although a few are still active, like Bartolo Colon, whom I saw pitch last night in a classic Coors Field slugfest. The Mets won it 14-9, helped out by Yoenis Cespedes and his three home runs.

I'm not sure whether I'll ever find that many Topps Finest cards for less than a dime apiece again. That gigantic baseball (there, on the left) dominates the design, making 2000 Finest a distinctive product. I never really noticed the motion streaks on the right before now. I guess giant shiny silver baseballs are kind of distracting.

1996 Stadium Club #280 Jeff Conine
Most of the products from the $1 foil pack area were from Score, Fleer, etc, although I did find two or three packs of 1996 Stadium Club. Jeff Conine in his turquoise Marlins uniform wielding a tennis racket is a textbook example of what we all know and love about Stadium Club.

1996 Stadium Club Power Packed #PP3 Jose Canseco
1996 Stadium Club was one of the last products I purchased as a card-collecting kid before falling out of touch with the hobby for several years. I know the base design well, but I never ran across anything from this insert set. Confessed (and obvious) steroid user Jose Canseco appears on an eye-catching burst of color, almost as though he's playing with a Lite-Brite as a backdrop.

Maybe if I pulled this card in 1996 I would have stayed with the hobby longer.

1996 Stadium Club Mantle #MM15 Mickey Mantle, 1964
I know this is the "Not Mickey Mantle" post, but given my primary goal of the trip, this was such an appropriate pull from another $1 pack that I couldn't leave it out. There were Mantle tributes all over the place in 1996, especially from Topps. They released chrome reprints of all his base cards, and created this 19-card insert set to commemorate perhaps the most important player in postwar card collecting.

Sy Berger, the father of modern cards, said as much on the back of this Mantle card, admitting, "In no small measure did Mickey's cards help to put the company on the map."

2015 Topps First Pitch #FP-02 Jack White
2015 Topps First Pitch #FP-04 Eddie Vedder
A half-century or so later, Sy Berger's product has now evolved into something quite different, offering a little something for everyone. In wandering around the card shop, I found a 5,000 count box of 2015 Topps, from which I picked out a few cards from the well-received First Pitch insert set. I still say Bill Murray should be in here, but a couple music legends will do.

2015 Topps Gold #438 DJ LeMahieu /2015
Though the Rockies got clobbered last night, Nolan Arenado and his infield counterpart DJ LeMahieu made a few great infield plays, which takes the sting out of it a little bit. So did wearing my Arenado jersey to the park, especially when Nolan crushed one out to left center. Until this year, I hadn't gotten much into team apparel beyond hats, although I am seriously considering getting a Toronto Blue Jays jersey of Tulowitzki. That would get a few comments, for sure.

I do miss the gold serial numbers on the gold Topps parallels, a practice they ended several years ago, opting to just go with a plain black. But a double play card of DJ with an Alex Gordon interleague cameo is a winner in almost anyone's book.

2015 Topps Framed #72 Jordan Lyles /20
I've seen the metal framed parallels from 2015 Topps on numerous blogs, but this is the first one I've seen in person. Unlike Leaf Steel, it is not magnetic, although I'll bet not as fragile either. It's a hefty card, and almost has the dimensions of an early iPhone. Serial numbered to just 20, it's one of the rarest cards in my collection.

And after this trip, I now have a new oldest card.

1953 Topps #77 Johnny Mize (DP)
I picked up four 1955 Bowman cards at a card show last year, but this one beats it by a couple years. This is from 1953, incidentally the year that Mize won the last of his five consecutive World Series with the Yankees. Clearly Mantle was not the only vintage Yankee card I'd pick up that day, nor the only Hall-of-Famer.

I never knew this about Mize, but he went by the "Big Cat" nickname long before Andres Galarraga was even born. He didn't get a card in 1954, so this is his "sunset" card, to borrow Nick's term.  And he's now the oldest in my small but growing collection of vintage Yankees cards.

All in all, I'd say it was a successful shopping trip.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Not Mickey Mantle (Part 1: Not Topps)

Even when I make a special trip to my local card shop to pick up the new centerpiece of my collection, I'm always up for some low-priced goodies. The beauty of a well-stocked LCS or card show is that there's something for everyone, so in addition to a half-century old Mickey Mantle card, I was sure to pick out some $1 foil packs from the mid 1990s.

1994 Leaf #395 Paul Molitor
I know most people probably think of Paul Molitor as a Brewer, but he was a member of the 1993 champion Toronto Blue Jays, which was the first World Series I watched (or at least remember watching). I saw so many cards of him that year in a Toronto uniform, so it doesn't seem that unusual to me. The same goes for Bob Welch as an Oakland A.

If I've learned anything about this hobby from all my fellow bloggers, it's that the first cards you were exposed to seem to set a pretty strong benchmark by which other eras are judged. Night Owl is a huge fan of the mid-1970s, but some strike-era glossy, full bleed cards with more than a little gold foil is right up my alley.

Especially for a buck a pack.

1994 Leaf #269 Kent Hrbek
I only knew Kent Hrbek and many of the not-quite-superstar AL players only from their baseball cards. 1994 was long before the days of MLB.TV, and even a few years before my family ponied up for cable television. I saw Matt F. mention Hrbek's Twitter account not long ago, when the slugging first baseman followed him, so why not throw him in here?

By the way, if you're a fan of podcasts, Matt from Heartbreaking Cards of Staggering Genius and Dave from Card Junk get together once a month or so and discuss the latest in the card collecting hobby. I'd say it's worth a listen if you want to branch out from the blogs or Twitter for some card discussion. And Dave's movie reviews always leave me chuckling.

1996 Rockies Fleer #3 Ellis Burks
Of course, podcasts lack the benefit of the visuals we can include on our blogs and in our tweets, so I'll stick to writing for now. How else would you get a look at one of the Rockies' three 30/30 club members, and his 1995 commemorative Coors Field patch?

This card of Ellis Burks came from a 1996 Fleer Rockies team pack, an item I see quite frequently in the Denver area. It's a 20-card team set, and the cards come 10 to a pack. What's unusual about them is that they have a glossy finish, unlike Fleer's 1996 and 1997 base sets, which had a delicate but distinctive matte finish. These have a plain silver foil, unlike the parallel Tiffany cards, which had a rainbow foil. I had these misfiled for quite some time until I took a closer look.

1994 Score Rookie/Traded #RT32 Brian Harper
The giant rack of dollar packs was pretty full of football, so I had to dig pretty deep to find a dozen packs to my liking. Three were from Score's 1994 Rookie/Traded set, one that I think reminds us all of 1990 Donruss. And few of us want to be reminded of 1990 Donruss. To be honest, I thought these were of the 1994 base set until I opened them. I chose one of the traded veterans to scan, because the names on the rookies are almost completely unreadable. That's quite a trick without using any foil.

1994 Score Rookie/Traded #RT131 Norberto Martin
See what I mean?

1997 Score #7 Ryan Klesko
By contrast, 1997 Score doesn't really struggle with readability problems. Other than a widely spaced, all lower-case, sans-serif font that really stretches itself out on horizontal cards, it's fine. What isn't so fine is that in just ten cards, I got two duplicates and two checklists. So if you want a card of Ryan Klesko at the bat rack, let me know. I can spare it.

Overall, these non-Topps packs were about 50/50. I'll open mid-1990s Leaf all day long, but the Score products were scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit.

Let's move on to a more interesting section of Mike's Stadium Sportscards, the unnamed center table bargain area with 4/$30 pricing. Which happens to decrease to 4/$25 when you're in the store for 1962 vintage.

This LCS is absolutely packed to the gills with cards and memorabilia. Mike, myself, and three other customers were practically climbing over each other for 45 minutes trying to move to different sections of the store. The bargain area has quite an assortment, ranging from stacks of junk wax to plaques to hardcover books. I found a copy of Harry Caray's Holy Cow! for a Cubs fan coworker. But what I really went for in this area were the complete sets.

1994 Sportflics #146 Will Clark
It's no secret that lenticular cards don't scan well, but Sportflics did an interesting take on a traded player here, depicting Will Clark with a Giants cap, then a Rangers cap following an off-season trade. They don't line up perfectly, but it's a clever idea, and Clark has the same half-grin in each photo.

Mr. Clark came along with 192 other Sportflics cards, a complete 1994 set that I found in the large plastic bins underneath the bargain table.

2004 Upper Deck #549 Paul Lo Duca
I also found a few sub-100 card small sets, and I had to consult my Completed Sets page in-store to check whether I already had various Fleer Update and Topps Traded sets.

This Paul Lo Duca, in another unfamiliar uniform, is from the 2004 Upper Deck Update set. Unlike most other brands, UD numbered these 50 cards consecutively with the 270-card series 1 and 2, something I wish Topps would do. But then that would mess with their card #661 gimmick.

1992 Pinnacle Rookies #14 Monty Fariss
Even smaller, coming in at just 30 cards, was 1992 Pinnacle Rookies. Though they don't have the same cult-classic design as the 1992 base set, I believe they mark Pinnacle's first foray into gold foil. It's unusual that they left the logo alone in the upper right. Usually that was the first thing to get the gold treatment. There's also a bit of gold foil on the back, which may have been an industry first.

I really couldn't tell you much about Monty Fariss, but I do appreciate a good broken bat card on a set that's new to me. It was even packaged in its original box with that same card-sized styrofoam padding Pinnacle liked to include.

1992 Donruss #153 Kevin Maas
For a mere $6.25, part of my haul was a complete 1992 Donruss set. Especially on the card backs, Donruss had been giving us pretty much the same card ever since their inception in the early 1980s. By 1992 at least they saw fit to shift the elements around a bit to make room for a headshot.

1994 Donruss #436 Reggie Sanders
Gold foil made its inevitable appearance by 1994, and they finally did away with the practice of including the player's full name on the back. After a dozen years of "Ronald Maurice Darling, Jr.", it was long overdue. I found the complete series 2 in the bargain area, a perfect complement to the series 1 already in my collection. We're going to need a bigger box.

1992 Upper Deck Gold Hologram #183 Chris Hoiles
Last of all for the non-Topps portion of this two-post series is another factory set, 1992 Upper Deck. Kevin Maas makes another appearance just a couple cards down (I swear that was an accident), but this time he's sporting Yankee pinstripes in a cameo on Chris Hoiles' card in a great play at the plate shot.

Preceding Upper Deck SP by one year, the 1992 UD factory set cards are slightly differentiated from their pack-based cousins. Flip these over, and you'll find a gold hologram on each one of the 800 cards. I've run across these a few times before, but they do take a bit of an eagle eye to spot on their own.

It's definitely not counterfeit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The card I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule!

I'm paraphrasing Lester Burnham only slightly.

At the end of yesterday's post, I alluded to a special purchase I was about to make at my local card shop. To be honest, it's a bit of a drive, so it's my "most local card shop", but the trip down was well worth it.

I follow Mike's Stadium Sportscards on Facebook, and when he put a particular card on offer Monday night at a not-completely-crazy-price, one that's been on my wishlist for many years, I asked him to hold it for me and promised I'd be by within 48 hours.

So, you ask, just what is this mystery card?

I won't keep you in suspense any longer.

1962 Topps #200 Mickey Mantle (PSA 3)
I got a chill down my spine captioning that scan.

I've mentioned my desire for this card to several dealers over many years, including my regular vendors at my monthly card show. It even occupied a special section of my Eight Men Out want list that I called the Cloud Nine card.

I've always had a soft spot for 1962 Topps. Before today, my biggest cash outlay for a single card was from that same set, Al Kaline's #150. I'm not much of a vintage collector, but I have four cards each from both it and 1955 Bowman.

You'll notice that those are both woodgrain sets. 

For the first decade of Topps Heritage, I was counting down the years until 2011, when the '62 design was due up. And there's plenty of that in my collection.

But I'm sure the reason I love woodgrain sets so much is because my first pack ever was 1987 Topps. When you're three years old and baseball cards have a woodgrain look, then darn it, that's how baseball cards should look. Topps disappointed us with yet another white border in 2012, breaking the 25-year cycle I hoped would continue.

The card back is pretty great, too. The write-up mentions both Mantle's 1956 Triple Crown and his role in the 1961 home run race, and we get a little cartoon showing The Mick in his legendary post-swing pose.

1996 Topps Mantle Finest #12 Mickey Mantle 1962 Topps (Reverse)
That's from a reprint (of course I have reprints of this card), since the real thing doesn't scan so well inside the slab.

I can't imagine that I'll make a thing of buying cards like this. In fact, it's the only graded card in my entire collection. But it's a real Mickey Mantle card, a name so synonymous with the hobby that Topps retired his number 7, my dad's favorite player when he was growing up in Queens, and a design that looks how I think a baseball card should look. How could I not have wanted it all these years?

Of course, this was a trip to the card shop, so I was sure to pick out some other stuff from the more affordable areas of the store, everything from mid-1990s $1 packs, to a few parallels and First Pitch inserts from 2015 Topps, and even a book for a friend. But all that I'll save for another post.

This card is special enough to stand alone.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Trading Post #40: 2x3 Heroes

I'm still catching up on trade packages received long ago. This is the third time Jeff from 2x3 Heroes has sent me cards, and I am definitely in a debt, as he's sent me football cards, hockey cards, and lots of Rockies without me having returned the favor yet. That'll soon change, but in the meantime, let's get into the cards.

1993 Pinnacle #239 Eric Wedge (RC)
Eric Wedge had a much better career as a manager of the Indians and Mariners than he ever had as a player. Over four seasons, he appeared in just a few dozen games for three different teams. He probably has more cards as a manager than as a player. However, he's fairly well known to me, since he appeared in most of the inaugural Rockies sets in 1993, my first serious year as a collector.

Joe Girardi was the face of Rockies catching those first few years, but puffy clouds and blue skies do little to diminish the hope of an MLB rookie, making his mark on a 1993 league with 50 new roster spots to occupy.

1998 Topps Stars Bronze #4 Ellis Burks /9799
Like Wedge, Ellis Burks spent most of his pre-Rockies career on the Boston Red Sox. After playing a few seasons in Coors Field, he was recognized in the Topps Stars set. This particular iteration has plenty of texture, almost giving it the look and feel of linen paper. Even better, this card is serial numbered to an ultra-rare 9,799.

Get them before they're gone, kids.

2008 Bowman Blue #119 Jeff Francis /500
This blue parallel of Jeff Francis' 2008 Bowman card is just a bit scarcer, numbered to 500. The blue border sets this apart from the vast ocean of black borders found in Bowman sets, and the fact that his name is outlined in foil makes it a whole lot more scanner-friendly.

2008 Upper Deck Star Quest #7 Matt Holliday
You've seen this card before, but in a slightly different variant. That green one, which came from The Angels, In Order, was from the First Edition set, while this is the base common in silver. The bag of sunflower seeds in Holliday's back pocket really sticks out like a sore thumb without all the rest of that green to hide in.

2008 Upper Deck #746 Matt Holliday SH
Though his fielding has always left something to be desired, Holliday achieved what might be the pinnacle in Rockies history, NLCS MVP. Sure, there have been lots of batting titles, a near triple-crown winner in Larry Walker, a Rookie of the Year, and even an unassisted triple play, but no other Rockie has ever been named MVP of a postseason series.

You can see on his face that he knows it's something special.

2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Sliding Stars #SS-CG Carlos Gonzalez
Though Tulo has moved on to the Great White North, our other star, Carlos Gonzalez (who was obtained when the Rockies traded Holliday to Oakland), remains in the Rockies' deep outfield. I'm not just talking about the walls; the Rox have quite a bit of roster depth in the outfield.

Gonzalez is great on the basepaths, good enough to earn a spot in the well-liked Sliding Stars insert set, by far my favorite part of Gypsy Queen. It's a Coors Field card, showing the field-level suites below the right field out-of-town scoreboard. I'm not sure whether CarGo successfully stole second on this attempt, but he's clearly giving the Reds' Zack Cozart (?) some trouble.
Though he's already doing lots of winning in Toronto, at least you'll continue to see Troy Tulowitzki appear on this blog.

2011 Topps Lineage 3-D #T3D22 Troy Tulowitzki
Especially when he's on awesome cards like this.

I'm only a few cards away from completing the 2011 Topps Lineage base set, but this 3D insert of Tulowitzki turning two is easily one of my favorite cards from that year. I'm not sure who they're playing here—maybe the Rays—but the 3D effect is so good that I almost thought I could see deeper past the edges, like one of those portraits in Hogwarts.

I discussed pinstripes at length yesterday, so I'll simply show one of two relic cards that Jeff included in this shipment.

2008 Upper Deck UD Game Materials #UDJ-GA Garrett Atkins S.2
This Garrett Atkins relic was the specific card I claimed in a giveaway Jeff ran for his 'Tis The Season theme late last year, the rest was just a generous bonus. What I particularly like about this card is that maybe, just maybe, the swatch is from the same photo as the action. I realize that's the longest of long shots, but many relic cards don't even match the photograph.

It's good to be getting back into the swing of things in the hobby. Not to give anything away, but I'm making a trip to my LCS tomorrow to pick up a card I've had my eye on for some time.

You'll know it when you see it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Trading Post #39: Bob Walk the Plank

I don't know where he gets them all, but Matt from Bob Walk the Plank seems to have an endless supply of relics and autographs to send for a trade. His previous trade included the most unusual manufactured relic I've ever seen, a miniature batting helmet. There was nothing quite like that in this shipment, but I still got to add to my rapidly growing collection of Rockies autographs.

2009 Upper Deck Inkredible #JB Jeff Baker (AU)
I'm woefully behind on this blog, as I'm pretty sure this package showed up sometime in March. Still, like many of you, I have dutifully set my incoming trades aside to ensure I give them proper credit, even if it's a bit overdue.

With the recent trade of Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins to Toronto, none of the players who were on the Rockies for their historic and memorable 2007 playoff run remain in Denver. Jeff Baker was on that team, and while he came through with a few key hits, you don't see too many cards of him, let alone autographs.

This is a dreaded sticker autograph, but this is the first one I've really seen an issue with. The sticker was affixed at a slight angle (perhaps to ensure the actual signature was on straight), and there's a little bit of wrinkling on one of the sticker's corners, which I only noticed upon removing it from its top-loader to scan. Regardless, it's one of only a few Jeff Baker cards I own, and certainly the first autograph.

2005 Throwback Threads Throwback Collection Material #33 Larry Walker /500 (MEM)
Pinstripes are a bit of a rarity in baseball uniforms these days, particularly among expansion teams, and especially on a road jersey. I don't go crazy for swatch relics, but when I do, I always enjoy pinstripes. One of my first relic purchases was a Josh Beckett uniform swatch, which had a turquoise pinstripe.

2002 Sweet Spot Swatches #S-JBe Josh Beckett (MEM)
The (Florida) Marlins of the time kept just bit of turquoise in their uniform, but thankfully dialed it way down from the retina-searing batting helmets of their inaugural year.

1993 Stadium Club #554 Orestes Destrade
They were a strange team, those early Marlins. They used an odd red clay or something in the warning track at Joe Robbie Stadium, and their grounds crew gave us perhaps the most entertaining rain delay in baseball history. But hey, they have two more World Series titles than their fraternal twin Rockies, so what do I know?

2002 E-X Behind the Numbers Game Jersey #9 Todd Helton (MEM)
Longtime hometown favorite Todd Helton was well-represented in this trade, and I quite like the design of this relic card. There's a healthy amount of Rockies purple, not too much foil, and a taken-quite-literally theme of "Behind The Numbers", as they framed a swatch of alternate purple jersey behind Helton's now-retired #17.

2002 Playoff Piece of the Game Materials Bronze #POG-82 Todd Helton Bat /250 (MEM)
Matt threw in a Helton bat relic, as well. Design-wise, I like the jersey card more, but this one has some interesting stuff on the back. For one, a serial number, but this Donruss brand took authenticity quite seriously, including a photo of the actual relic used to create the card.

2002 Playoff Piece of the Game Materials Bronze #POG-82 Todd Helton Bat /250 (MEM) (Reverse)
Though it doesn't really prove anything, at least they saw a decade down the road when collectors seriously started questioning the authenticity of their relic cards. And it's more than Topps gives us these days, as their lawyers happily assure us that the relic "is not from any particular game, event, or season."

Collectors that buy enough product always seem to have a knack for pulling one particular player. When it comes to autographs and relics, for me that player is...

2003 SPx Young Stars Autograph Jersey #YS-JA Jason Jennings /1295 (MEM) (AU)
This is at least third time that I've gotten a Jason Jennings autograph or relic in trade, though it's the first with both types of "hit" on one card (and a serial number that I only noticed after scanning).

Jennings wasn't even a Rockie for all that long, which is a shame, because it's no secret that our pitching is pretty atrocious. A gem like Jennings or Ubaldo Jimenez only seems to come along once or twice a decade.

Speaking of that, the Rockies best hope for a decent young pitcher in the next 3-4 years is expected to make his MLB debut tomorrow.

2015 Bowman Chrome Bowman Scouts Top 100 #BTP-19 Jon Gray
Help us, Jon Gray. You're our only hope.