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!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Braves

My trip to the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall in Denver happened almost a year ago. I got lots of good material out of it, so much that I'm still doing posts a year later. Including this one, there are three left, and we'll continue this long-running series with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.

First off, a little trivia question. Who is the only player to play as a Boston Brave, Milwaukee Brave, and Atlanta Brave?

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #141 Joe Jay
I'll let you mull that one over for a while, but first, how about some 1954 Archives? This is easily my favorite Archives set, but I've yet to add anything from the actual '54 set to my collection. Joe Jay (who usually goes by Joey) was just a rookie in 1953, and had just a single start. It was a gem, though, a three-hit shutout against the Reds. He did most of his work out of the bullpen for his first four seasons, and didn't get much playing time until 1958.

Besides that excellent first start, Jay holds another claim to fame. He's the first Little Leaguer to make it to the major leagues, and "he shows amazing skill!" He was not actually in the Little League World Series, so he didn't make Night Owl's recent post, but he gave hope to millions of little kids across America, myself included.

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #176 Bob Keely
Coaches got cards in 1954 Topps, and Robert William Keely (full names on the back decades before Donruss did it) served as a coach and bullpen catcher for the Braves for twelve seasons. His Major League experience consisted of two lone games, one each in 1944 and 1945, when a lot of the league was away at war.

Coaches in those days wore a lot of hats, but he'd probably be considered a bullpen coach by today's definition. He served on the coaching staff in 1957 (his final year), which is the only time a World Series trophy has been brought home to Milwaukee. The Brewers haven't done it yet.

Last chance for guesses on that trivia question!

2003 Fleer Tradition #76 Eddie Mathews ML SP
Eddie Mathews, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978, was the only player to call Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta home as a Brave.

This is a quasi-reprint card, which is based on Fleer's 1963 set. It commemorates the 40th anniversary of that iconic set, just like 1954 Archives did in 1994. Mathews didn't actually appear in that set, getting this "Missing Link" subset card forty years later. I wonder if Upper Deck will manage to pull anything off in 2029. Unlikely. Also, 40 years really isn't that long, is it?

Mathews was part of that 1957 Championship team, beating, well, I'll give you one guess on who they beat. And the card refers to him as a nine-time All Star, which was as correct in 1963 as it is today. His last appearance in the Midsummer Classic was in 1962.

You might think Mathews was a career Brave, seeing as he stuck with them long enough to call three cities home. But his production trailed off in the mid-1960s, and the Braves traded him to Houston in 1966, along with a guy named Arnold Umbach, plus Sandy Alomar, Sr., who was the Player To Be Named Later in that particular transaction. Both players the Braves got in return were out of the Majors by the end of 1967.

Mathews may have been past his prime, but he still had some baseball left in him. He passed the 500 home run milestone as an Astro in 1967 (hitting #500 off of Juan Marichal), then wrapped up his career in Detroit with his second World Series ring in 1968.

1995 Collector's Choice SE Silver Signature #142 Greg Maddux STL
The Braves have consistently fielded some truly amazing players, from Mathews and Aaron, to Maddux and Chipper. But the championships have always been hard to come by. The franchise has three, one in each city they called home. But despite dominating their division fourteen straight times from 1991-2005 (except for 1994, sorry Expos), they only had one World Series win to show for it.

Greg Maddux had a lot do to with that dominance. He was such an efficient pitcher that he now has an unofficial baseball stat named after him. When you pitch a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches, you have thrown a Maddux.

Flip this Silver Signature parallel over and see for yourself. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, the best pitchers in baseball had an ERA of about 2.70. Bret Saberhagen was slightly above that, Steve Ontiveros a little below. Maddux blew them all out of the water with a 1.56 ERA, earning his third of four straight Cy Young awards in the process. Only Randy Johnson has matched that streak.

This was one of my favorite parallel sets in my early collecting days. I was always chasing a Gold Signature parallel, but didn't find one until many years later. I was also quite the fan of Topps Gold.

1994 Topps Gold #735 Terry Pendleton
Speaking of Topps Gold, I found one of those too! Like the Yankees pack, most of these Braves were actually in a binder page where I knew what I was getting. 1994s are a little tough to find (and even to see, if the light isn't right), but I have an eagle eye for these things.

Terry Pendleton, who appeared in one of my earliest posts, wasn't quite as dominant as Greg Maddux, but he did win the batting title and the NL MVP award in 1991, the first year of the Braves long run of division wins. And winning an NL batting title in the era of Tony Gwynn is no small feat.

1962 Topps #58 NL Win Leaders Warren Spahn / Joe Jay / Jim O'Toole
Finally, I'm still very, very slowly adding to my 1962 Topps collection. Warren Spahn, another Hall of Famer, tied for the NL lead in wins in 1961. As much as the game has changed since then, 20 wins in a season is still darn good. No Rockie has ever done it, but Ubaldo Jimenez missed the mark by just one in 2010.

Spahn gets the largest head on the front of this League Leaders card, even though Joe Jay is just as deserving. Yes, that's the same Joe(y) Jay we saw at the top of this post. He was traded to the Reds in 1960, a year before the Reds faced the Yankees (who else?) in the 1961 World Series. That Series was Jay's only appearance in the postseason, but perhaps as some consolation to losing to the Yankees and having a smaller head on this card than Spahn, Jay got listed first as a league leader on the card back.

The card looks a lot like a checklist, listing about fifty guys all the way down to just six wins. A lot of familiar names are on it, like Drysdale, Burdette, Podres, Koufax, Haddix, and Marichal. Even some lesser known players like Roy Face and Tony Cloninger appear in the second column.

The corners are a little beat up, but the printing itself is fine, front and back. It looks no worse than some of my 1987 Topps cards, and only set me back a couple dollars, if I'm remembering correctly. Not bad at all for my favorite vintage set.

Oh, and one last note on that trivia question. Warren Spahn came pretty close to being a correct answer, but his contract was sold to the Mets after the 1964 season. He retired in 1965 as a Giant, just a year before the Braves moved to Atlanta.

Good guess, though.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Trading Post #75: The Lost Collector

Even though the #SuperTraders group seems to be winding down a bit, I'm still seeing a few trades pop up in my mailbox. This Labor Day weekend gave me a chance to finally sort the 5,000-count box that these 75 trades (and more) have been going into for the past couple years. Feels great to have that organized and ready to put into binders. I'm sure more are on the way, as I'm pretty sure Night Owl just sent me something, based on USPS tracking data. By the way, if you haven't registered your address with My USPS, which sends you an email whenever you have a package on its way to your address, it's a great little service. UPS and FedEx have something similar.

Anyway, the latest arrival was from The Lost Collector, the Yankees representative in our little group.

2016 Topps Chrome Refractors #9 Nolan Arenado
This marks the third time he's sent me cards, and he wasted no time in getting to the good stuff. The rookies have been the Story this year (pun intended) in Denver, with Trevor Story, Jeff Hoffman, David Dahl, and others making an impact already. Stephen Cardullo, who at one time was the longest of long shots to make the Majors has already hit two home runs, and Raimel Tapia, another young Rockies prospect, got his first big-league hit on Friday night. Meanwhile, Nolan Arenado has been quietly doing his thing, brilliantly playing third base and going stroke-for-stroke in the NL home run race with Kris Bryant, a fellow player covering the hot corner.

This is my first look at 2016 Chrome, and right away one of the first things I noticed is the "refractor" label on the back. 2016 is an on-year for that helpful labeling, and even though it still has that great rainbow appearance under the right light, I'm not forced to check it to know what I have.

There's also a bit of extra design in the lower left area, which is just plain white in the base set. There are a bunch of little bars and hexagonal grids and dots, plus "2016 Topps" running vertically, almost like the security strip in a banknote. It's a bit like the Blue parallels in Opening Day. The curl is a little bit uneven, but it's a great-looking card! It could pass for a Finest card if it didn't reuse the design from Topps Base.

2012 Topps Update #US259A Carlos Gonzalez
If it's from an All-Star game, it's probably from Topps Update. Carlos Gonzalez does look like a Royal here, but rest assured, he's still a Rockie. The Kansas City Royals hosted the All-Star Game in 2012, and Gonzalez made his first of two appearances in the Home Run Derby that year. He didn't progress past the first round, hitting only four out of Kaufman Stadium. He did quite a bit better this year, hitting a beer-destroying 12, but still didn't make it past the first round.

2012 Topps Opening Day Fantasy Squad #FS-20 Carlos Gonzalez
Still, anyone good enough to appear in the Home Run Derby is definitely someone to target in a fantasy baseball draft. This insert set from 2012 Opening Day (of course) has CarGo as one of 30 cards, and even offers a rare bit of foil. The surfboard design in the lower left matches the base design of that year, just a bit smaller. The surfboard on his Update card is about as big as they come, as the "National League" text under his name forced it to grow.

2015 Topps Update Chrome #US291 Eddie Butler
Knowing what we know about Rockies pitching, putting a "Future Stars" label on a Rockies pitcher card is a risky proposition. Topps did it anyway, but Eddie Butler lost his roster spot over the summer and has been toiling away for Triple-A Albuquerque since then. He might get called back up now that rosters have expanded for September, but he has a long way to go before he lives up to that label.

This is Butler's Chrome parallel from 2015 Update, which means it has that extra-sparkly background that was all the rage last fall. Fuji sent me one too, and I'm glad my trading buddies are looking out for me. It's almost a cross between glitter and pointillism, without the risk of glitter getting all over everything.

2016 Topps Bunt Platinum #140 DJ LeMahieu /99
DJ LeMahieu is the NL batting average leader, just ahead of Daniel Murphy. Jose Altuve is a few points ahead, but the Astros switched leagues a few seasons ago, possibly clearing the way for a Rockie to win yet another batting title. His average isn't quite as good as what this serial number would suggest, but it's clear that the Rockies came out ahead in their 2011 trade with the Cubs.

I didn't pull one this rare from my Bunt pack at Target, nor any Rockie for that matter. The Lost Collector gave me five base cards plus this parallel, and DJ's defensive skills are apparent, as he's intently watching the ball arrive into his glove, and hoping it doesn't collide with that pesky Bunt logo.

1997 Collector's Choice #102 John Vander Wal
Pinch hitter extraordinaire John Vander Wal did so well at the plate in 1996 that Upper Deck did most of the write-up on the back of this 1997 Collector's Choice card about his record-setting performance. He still holds the Major League record for most pinch-hit, um, hits in a season, with 28 in 1996. Four of those were home runs, including a walkoff shot on May 18th as noted on the card (off of Dennis Eckersley), and a go-ahead homer on June 30th, one of the greatest games in Rockies history. He only started about 20 games that year, so this photo of him on the basepaths (probably about to round third) is likely from one of his many pinch-hit appearances.

1997 Leaf #385 Larry Walker GM
Larry Walker made his claim to fame on a more regular basis, and he darn near won the Triple Crown the year this card was printed. It's shinier than it looks in the scan. Copper foil was all the rage in 1997, as was Walker himself. He led the league in home runs, was only a few behind teammate Andres Galarraga in RBIs, and was edged out on batting average by the great Tony Gwynn. Still, his performance in '97 (the same year as this photo, judging by that Jackie Robinson patch) earned him the NL MVP award, so far the only time a Rockie has won it.

1998 SkyBox Dugout Axcess #120 Todd Helton
Todd Helton was just breaking into the big leagues at that point, and he had a long way to go before becoming a legendary figure in Denver sports history. He was still a green rookie in 1998, earning a spot in this "Little Dawgs" subset of Skybox Dugout Axcess. All those deliberate misspellings are strange, but it's explained on the back of this card. According to Barry Larkin, who has a tiny cameo on the back, Larkin "simply refers to the players he doesn't recognize [in Spring Training] as 'Little Dawgs."'

Makes sense. But spelling "Axcess" with an X just to use two crossed bats in the logo is stretching it. I've never seen this card before. And I doubt I could have even imagined it.

1997 Donruss Signature Autographs #79 Neifi Perez /3900
Our final traded card of today, a Donruss autograph card of Neifi Perez, came in the same penny sleeve as that LeMahieu card, which I missed the first time. I always like when the special cards are separated somehow in the package, whether with a handwritten note, a penny sleeve, or put in the stack backwards and/or upside-down (one of my favorite strategies), and this Perez card was clearly set apart. The red background is very striking, and a color not often seen so boldly on a Rockies card.

Beckett claims this is card #79, but I can't find a card number anywhere. There's also supposedly a serial-numbered print run of 3,900, and while the print run may be accurate, there is definitely no serial number here.

Believe it or not, I actually had a card from this set already. Andy Ashby signed one of these, and it's been in my collection for a dozen years at least. I'm pretty sure I got it from one of my first visits to Christian, my primary local card dealer.

1997 Donruss Signature Autographs #8 Andy Ashby /3900
But sure enough, there's no card number on Ashby's card either, nor a serial number. I guess there's a master reference checklist somewhere, and it sort of makes sense when you think about it. This is not a sticker autograph, it's on-card. So it earns a point in that department. But as autograph issues often fall through in production, it's hard for a card company to put together a numbered checklist when it's so far beyond their control. That's why Topps does that alphabet soup on their relic and autograph card numbers.

If I had to take something like DSS-NP over no card number at all, I'd pick the alphabet soup every time. I bet most of us would.

So maybe we stop griping about letter-only card numbers now, yes?