Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Trading Post #70: The Chronicles of Fuji

If you're a longtime Rockies fan, or even a moderately informed baseball fan, you probably know that Monday night's game in Denver between the Blue Jays and the Rockies was the first time Troy Tulowitzki returned to Coors Field following last year's sudden trade. I had planned on attending that game as soon as the 2016 schedule was released, and got a small group of friends together to go with me at the last minute.

2013 Bowman Platinum Sapphire #69 Troy Tulowitzki
The above parallel is a prophetic card, recycled photo or not. The blue background against Tulo in purple pinstripes predicted where he'd end up within a couple seasons. With as many colored parallels as Topps prints, perhaps that's not so surprising. One of them had to be accurate.

Overall, Monday's game was fairly typical. Hot dogs, a few beers, a seat on the third base side so as not to stare into the sun for half the game, Jon Gray giving up a first-inning home run then largely settling down, Nolan Arenado flashing the leather. But what was different was me. My chosen attire for the game was a Tulowitzki jersey. A Blue Jays one.

Consider it an act of protest.

I found the trade to be quite upsetting. At first I scoffed that it was just business, but the next morning and for some time after I was in a state of disbelief and sadness. My blog archive offers a glimpse into my thoughts at the time.

The Rockies hadn't ever really done anything quite like that before. Sure, they've traded a few guys I liked, and opted not to shell out for various free agents in the offseason. When Matt Holliday was traded I wasn't too fazed. Holliday was a rather subpar outfielder, and Carlos Gonzalez came over in return from the A's. But Tulo, with the Rockies since his debut, being dealt for three pitchers that are still in the minors, and Jose Reyes? It just...hurt. Especially when Jose Reyes' domestic violence incident came to light.

Maybe Jeff Hoffman and the other pitching prospects will turn out to be awesome. And the Rockies made an expensive statement in cutting Jose Reyes, which I think was the right move. Plus, Tulo's untimely departure did clear the way for Trevor Story, which no one saw coming.

2013 Topps Allen & Ginter Across the Years #ATY-TT Troy Tulowitzki
But I was eager to welcome him back to Denver. Prior to his first at bat, the fans (myself included) gave him a standing ovation as he doffed his helmet. We even got the TU-LO chant going a couple times.

Just like in this A&G insert card, Tulowitzki made a nice play or two in the field Monday night. Reyes left a bit to be desired in that department, but Story is coming along nicely, despite a few rookie mistakes. Even Nolan Arenado had a tough time in the field during his first six weeks or so, but he might be the best defensive third baseman in the game right now.

Flipping this card over tells us that Tulo shares an October 10th birthday with all sorts of famous people, from Verdi to Andrew McCutchen. He's not too much younger than me, you know. We even wore pretty much the same jersey on Monday.

2001 Topps Opening Day Stickers #10 Colorado Rockies
Which raises the question: what does it mean to be a Rockies fan?

Despite that standing O, there were more than a few people that heckled and booed him. And he did go 0-4, which I was genuinely disappointed about, though he hit a home run in game 2 of the series following what I'll call a hail delay. I'm still glad the Rockies won the game, but I felt rather conflicted throughout. Does that make me less of a Rockies fan? Does my loyalty to a player mean I support the team less?

I've always had an affinity for ex-Rockies as they traveled around the league. Charlie Hayes, in his first season away from the Rockies as a Pirate, hit a home run on May 20th, 1996. I stood up and cheered for him, even though he was on the other team. I was disappointed when Larry Walker retired without ever winning a World Series. I was happy for Joe Girardi when he helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1996. And I definitely was pulling for the Blue Jays in the 2015 postseason.

I caught a lot of heat from a lot of people for wearing that jersey. Even random strangers. Tulo's stock in Denver has gone down quite a bit, partially for some of the comments he made about management. Which surprises me, because it's nothing that the papers and fans haven't been saying for two-plus decades.

Am I a Rockies fan? Yes. But does that mean that I'll blindly agree with all their decisions and root for whichever players they put on the field? No. If they did an even swap of 25-man rosters with any given team like the Braves or the Rangers, I wouldn't show up the next day and root for the Rockies. The uniform carries a lot of weight, but so do the players that have worn it.

2012 Bowman Chrome Legends In The Making Die Cuts #LIM-CG Carlos Gonzalez
Fortunately, despite trade rumors that circled around him last year, Carlos Gonzalez remains a Rockie, and he's still capable of mashing monster home runs. For that type of consistent performance, he's rewarded with an always-interesting and always-hard-to-scan die cut card from Bowman. In 2012 he was a Legend in the Making. By now he's one of the longest-tenured Rockies and still a fan favorite.

2015 Topps Custom #NNO San Jose Fuji (AU)
In all this talk about Tulowitzki, I've been neglecting the blogger who actually sent these cards. Along with all these Rockies, Fuji of The Chronicles of Fuji included a signed, custom card of his South Park avatar, proclaiming himself as a member of the Oakland Athletics. He chose the 2015 style for this Topps Custom, a bit different from the 2008 design on his blog profile. The Junior Junkie, the other blogger to include a custom as part of a trade package, chose to go with the iconic 1987 design.

I haven't made one of these myself, but if I were to, I'd probably pick 1994. There's something about your first factory set.

1996 Collector's Choice You Crash the Game #CG16 Larry Walker
Back to the shiny. This is a You Crash The Game insert card, a redemption card that became valid only if the pictured player hit a home run during the series listed on the front. But Larry Walker broke his collarbone in June 1996, meaning he was injured for most of the summer and didn't have a chance to make this card pay off for collectors. Sadly, it's destined to remain in this format forever, always offering an optimistic glimmer of hope for something that's no longer possible.

1994 Pinnacle Museum Collection #103 Jerald Clark
You've seen this card on several blogs before, including this one. Well, at least the base version of it. Pinnacle had one of the better parallel sets of the mid-1990s with this fancy starburst finish called Dufex. Lines radiate out from the Pinnacle logo as Jerald Clark scales the outfield wall at Mile High Stadium. It's a bit harder to make out details in the photo than the base card, but then again, that's not the point of this set. There's no serial number, but it had a print run of 6,500. That's a needle in a haystack as 1994 cards go.

2015 Topps Update Chrome #US16 John Axford
John Axford's tenure as a Rockie has already come and gone. I saw him pitch last July, one of those bullpen wins that can only be generated when you blow a save and come back in the bottom of the 9th. Starting pitchers love when that happens, let me tell you.

Anyway, he got a card in 2015 Topps Update, and this is one of those sparkly Chrome parallels that everyone seemed to be buying at Target in late summer 2015. I never ended up getting one of those gift boxes they were sold in, trusting that they'd make their way to me via trade sooner or later.

2015 Topps Update #US29 Ben Paulsen (RC)
Ben Paulsen makes an appearance from time to time. He's played in a couple dozen games this season, but for now is just on the 40-man roster. Fuji threw in a couple copies of this one, which may end up in my Coors Field frankenset. It has a long way to go, and I may already have a card #29, but this is a pretty great night shot either way. And it transitions us into the non-shiny portion of the post.

1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #171 Larry Walker TLU (SP)
Leaf Rookies & Stars isn't a set I run across too often. I was out of the hobby at this point, and while I appreciate a Larry Walker power swing as much as the next guy, the "Team Lineup Card" labeling had me intrigued. Turning the card over did not disappoint.

1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #171 Larry Walker TLU (SP) (Reverse)
It's a team checklist, yes, but it's done a bit differently than usual. Insert cards are included on the right hand side, a unique feature among all the team checklists I've ever run across. The actual Opening Day lineup is listed as well, giving at least a little nod to lesser players that didn't get an actual card in the set. Todd Helton was just getting his career off the ground in 1998, and he bridged the gap between the modern Rockies and a couple of the inaugural players like Bichette and Castilla. You don't need more than a few players to bridge a huge portion of the team's history, sort of like the transfer of power between Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio in 1951.

1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #136 Todd Helton PT (SP)
Here's one of the subset cards referenced on the Lineup Card checklist! This is a Power Tools card, and they're definitely going for the style of a Ford F-150 commercial. The back of the card praises Helton's budding talents, even saying that the Rockies expect him to bring home a batting title. Just a couple years later he did just that, hitting .372 in 2000, his first All-Star season. Other than Larry Walker's .379 the year before, that remains the highest batting average among the numerous batting titles they've brought to Denver. In fact, since their inaugural 1993 season, they've won nine NL batting titles out of a possible twenty-three—about 40%.

Of course, that adds to the frustration of being a Rockies fan, because their pitching is consistently as bad as their hitting is good.

But maybe the loot from the Tulowitzki trade will change that in a couple seasons.

2012 Topps A Cut Above #ACA-25 Troy Tulowitzki
I couldn't really end this post with anyone else, could I? I'm not sure if this asymmetrical die cut is supposed to represent a particular shape, but he is "a cut above". An out-of-focus right field scoreboard is visible in the background as Tulo gets ready to fire an off-balance throw to a fellow infielder. This is always where he excelled, in the field. He was always a threat at the plate, though he surprisingly hasn't ever led the league in any stat. Nolan Arenado has already surpassed Tulo's collection of Gold Gloves, and Trevor Story looks to be an exciting player to fill Tulo's shoes, something Jose Reyes would have had a hard time doing even if he wanted to be here.

He'll always have a place in Denver history, and while I'll never forget the TU-LO chants echoing off the other side of the stadium at a particular 2007 World Series game, now that I got to say my goodbyes, I can better accept that Tulo and the Rockies have parted ways.


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Trading Post #69: Dime Boxes

In case you hadn't heard, Nick is back.

After a hiatus of several months, the writer of one of the best blogs in the community, Dime Boxes, has picked up his digital pen and resumed writing his excellent content.

I, for one, missed him. But his return to the Cardsphere was accompanied by one of his magical trade packages, full of hand-picked cards just for me.

2006 Upper Deck #204 Brad Ausmus
Nick's always had a great eye for the gems to be found in base sets, and knew I'd be jazzed about this one. Though it's technically an Astros card, it's about as close to being a Rockies card as you can get. A very purple Dinger is clearly visible behind Ausmus, which means this is obviously a Coors Field card. And not many fans know it, but Brad Ausmus was briefly part of the Rockies organization. He was selected in the Expansion Draft from the Yankees, and although he played for Triple-A Colorado Springs for the first half of 1993, he was dealt to the Padres along with Andy Ashby for two starting pitchers, at which point he made his Major League debut.

Between Ausmus, Joe Girardi, Eric Wedge, and Danny Sheaffer, the Rockies had a real surplus of catchers their inaugural year. I'll note that three of those four went on to become managers.

The position tends to generate a lot of managers, including Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Mike Matheny, Bob Brenly, and many others. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, or maybe Salvador Perez in that role within the next decade or so.

2016 Donruss '82 #D82-21 Nolan Arenado
Panini is continuing the gradual resurrection of Donruss, offering up a either a 1982 or 1983-themed insert set this year. Please hold while I look up which year, since I can never remember which direction the bat points in those two years.

Okay, it's 1982.

A few collectors out there go for these bat rack cards, and this card is almost enough to make you forget there are no MLB logos on it. But I do like seeing the 1982 design in a modern glossy finish. We'll be seeing a lot of Arenado in this post, but get ready for a few Blake Street Bombers.

1999 Fleer Tradition #15 Dante Bichette
Dante Bichette's had more than a few fun cards over the years, and he sure seems to like to perch on golf carts for his photo shoots. I can't quite tell where this was taken. Perhaps Shea Stadium? Wherever this came from, it has Nick written all over it. All that time he spends digging through discount boxes tend to yield some pretty awesome cards.

1998 Fleer Tradition #153 Ellis Burks
Ellis Burks was nearing the end of his tenure as a Rockie by 1998, but not before a fantastic bat barrel card from Fleer, one of Nick's favorite mini-collections. The gold foil mostly obscures the bat barrel, but the beautiful blue sky makes up for it. I'll guess that's Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, the former spring training home of the Rockies before they moved to a shared facility with the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.

1995 Stadium Club Members Only 50 #18 Andres Galarraga
I know '90s sets were pretty wild and varied, but I thought I at least had a good handle on 1995 Stadium Club. Clearly I have a lot left to learn, as this is the third card I'm just now seeing for the first time. I don't know what to believe anymore.

Stadium Club in its early days was actually a "club" you could join via mail-order. Members Only parallels persist to this day, but this card was from a special 50-card set only for collectors that had joined the club. The entry fee was a bit steep for my eleven-year-old allowance, so I never joined. But I remember plenty of ads at hobby shops and in Beckett. I guess that's why I never saw this card before.

You could almost pass this off as a Draw Four card in Uno with those four colored panels. And if you flip it upside-down, it pretty well approximates the Microsoft Windows logo. Coincidentally, Windows 95 was released right around the same time as this card, and when you think of it that way, this card is positively prehistoric.

2016 Diamond Kings Aficionado #A10 Nolan Arenado
Speaking of playing cards, Arenado makes another appearance on a Diamond Kings insert, which has the same playing card-esque surface that brand has become known for since Panini brought it back. It's an appropriate evolution of a Diamond Kings card, although I can't help but see a little bit of Studio in here. Either way, it's one of the more premium-feeling cards on the market which is sold at a reasonable price point. And Panini is somehow making it less and less obvious that their products lack MLB logos.

2016 Topps Opening Day Heavy Hitters #HH-8 Nolan Arenado
This is one of the insert sets I found in this year's Opening Day Blaster, and while I pulled a Coors Field card from that, it wasn't a Rockie. Nick saw to that, sending another Arenado card along. Judging from the fans' apparel, I'll guess this one was taken in San Francisco. The back of the card talks about Arenado's tie for last year's NL Home Run crown, as both he and Bryce Harper smashed 42. So far in 2016, Nolan has the NL lead all to himself at 19, though a few American Leaguers are right up there with him. Mark Trumbo is the only one to get to 20 so far. Though his pace has slowed considerably from opening week, fellow Rockie Trevor Story is pretty high up the list at 16.

2015 Topps Pro Debut #105 Jon Gray
Minor League cards are always a bit of a rarity, especially when they picture players that have actually made it to the Majors. Though it took a while for him to earn his first Major League win, he was dominant for the Rockies' previous Double-A affiliate, the Tulsa Drillers.

For 2015's Pro Debut set, Topps largely reused the 2015 base design, though they applied a matte finish to the background, leaving only the player's photo and the border glossy. As the trend seems to be toward photos with a shallow depth of field, that's as good a treatment as any to apply to the background.

2014 Topps Saber Stars #SST-12 Michael Cuddyer
Longtime readers might recognize this one of Michael Cuddyer from the Saber Stars insert set. Though I just now became the owner of a physical copy, this one's been in my BUNT collection for some time. The color scheme is a bit different, and they chose to showcase another stat, BABIP instead of WAR.

I'm not opposed to Sabermetrics, but the one block I do have is just that it's usually not so apparent what a "good" statistical value is. For over a century, we've learned that a batting average over .300 is quite good. Over .400, legendary. But I don't really have any frame of reference on whether a .382 BABIP is anything to write home about. I'd assume so, otherwise Topps would just pick another guy for this 25-card insert set. But we'll need more time to wrap our heads around all these stats before they become second nature.

It's sort of like the metric system. I roughly know how fast 80 km/h is, or how warm 20 degrees Celcius is. But I always have to do a little mental math to convert it into something my brain can interpret better. Maybe that's a bit like learning a foreign language - you cognitively know it, but you're always translating it into a format that your deeper brain knows almost instinctively.

Fortunately, based on the back of the card, it turns out that .382 is quite respectable, as only two players in the league did better in 2013.

2015 Finest #75 Carlos Gonzalez
I hadn't yet seen 2015 Finest until now, and it's a beauty! I'm not sure anything will ever live up to 1994, (although 2003 came close). I'm dubbing this one the Tangram set, as most of what I see in the design are a bunch of trapezoids, parallelograms, and triangles. Not that I ever would, but it looks like you could cut this card up and assemble it into a bird or something. This card reminds us of CarGo's injury-shortened 2014 season, a reference to a finger injury that has been plaguing him in one form or another for several seasons.

2016 Donruss Elite Dominators #ED10 Nolan Arenado /999
Nolan Arenado makes one final appearance on this post with a serial-numbered card decked out in lots of sparkly polka dots. The blue border dominates the design, which is appropriate for a set called "Elite Dominators". Numbered to just under a thousand copies, this one is somewhat plentiful as these types of cards go, except when you compare it to the 200,000-plus print run of those Joe DiMaggio cards from last time. Might as well be a needle in a haystack at those rates.

The dots are a bit bigger, but I'm reminded of Topps' 2013 Chasing The Dream insert set, back when Topps was "All Chase, All The Time." They seem to be easing up on the themes a bit, or at least aren't hitting us over the head with them at every turn.

2011 Topps Update Cognac Diamond Anniversary #US82 Mark Ellis
2011, you may recall, was the year of Topps' Diamond Anniversary. So naturally, everything in 2011 had some sort of a diamond theme, including this Cognac parallel, or as Night Owl liked to call them, Liquorfractors. It has a similar look to Atomic Refractors found in 2011 Chrome, except the "shards" are a bit smaller.

Ellis only spent half a season in Colorado, long enough to get a card in Topps Update, but not long enough for me to remember him. I will point out that he's wearing Andres Galarraga's number 14, a number that Josh Rutledge wore up until his trade to Anaheim.

As an aside, how do you properly say the city the Angels play in? Los Angeles of Anaheim? That makes even less sense than The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, everyone's favorite astrophysicist, notes that this translates to "The The Angels Angels". Of Anaheim.

And that's when you use an 8-year old boy's writing style and append, USA, North American continent, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way, etc....

2004 Leaf Certified Materials #43 Clint Barmes
Well, that was a tangent, wasn't it? Let's use a shiny card to get back on track. I was barely aware that Leaf still existed in 2004, so cards like this are always a surprise. I'm not sure I really remember Clint Barmes playing for the Rockies way back in 2003, but he was definitely there for their World Series run in 2007.

The embossed gold seal sticks out quite conspicuously, but I don't know what other color they could use. Silver would blend right into the background and barely be noticeable. It's a minimalist design, and I think they're going for a bit of baseball stitching with those groups of three parallelograms.

My geometry skills are getting a real workout with this trade package. Geometry was never my strong suit. I did a whole lot better in algebra and calculus. But I remember my shapes from Math 102, and don't intuitively get most of the Sabermetric stats. Go figure.

Pun not intended.

2005 Leather and Lumber #LC-171 Ryan Speier (RC) (AU) /256
Prior to Panini taking the brands over in recent years, this was one of the last baseball sets that Leaf would ever produce. This card of Ryan Speier is found in the Rookie Card range of the set, meaning it is serial numbered to 256. He closed lots of games in the minor leagues, but that is a tough, tough job at the Major League level. He never earned a save in his four seasons as a Rockies reliever, a stretch which encompassed his entire Major League career.

I can't tell for sure, but that may be an strip of genuine leather he signed his name on. Say what you will about the various baseball card brands, but I think we can all agree that it beats a sticker autograph.

As usual, this was a great batch of cards from Nick. Great to see him back in the Cardsphere!


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#TheStreak

If you have the MLB At Bat app on your smartphone, you've probably been getting daily notifications about Joe DiMaggio's performance at the plate.

No, we're not stuck in a time warp, where the Yankee Clipper is again patrolling the enormous outfield at Yankee Stadium, but this does happen to be the 75th anniversary of DiMaggio's league-record 56-game hitting streak that he put together in the summer of 1941. As of June 7th, he's up to 22, with plenty more left to go.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #1 An American Hero
The first day or two, it was rather odd to see DiMaggio's name pop up in my notification feed alongside my hometown Rockies and today's latest stars. What's even weirder than seeing DiMaggio's name and the old-time pitchers he faced is seeing defunct team abbreviations, like SLB and PHA. Those franchises are still around, but have long since departed those cities and even changed names.

75 years is quite a long time, and despite all the changes that baseball has gone through since the summer before Pearl Harbor, Joe DiMaggio's record has stood the test of time. Plenty have fallen since then, including the career home run record (twice), career strikeouts, career stolen bases, consecutive games played, number of Red Sox championships, and lots more. A few still remain, like the season RBI record, career doubles, and lowest career ERA.

Because of how the game has changed (or just out of sheer luck), some are likely to outlast the pyramids, like career wins, career losses (same guy), career shutouts, season wins, and I'd wager consecutive no hitters. Even if lightning strikes twice and someone hurls two no-hitters in a row again, no one will ever throw three straight. I expect Johnny Vander Meer's name to come up following every no-hitter remaining in baseball's future.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #9 Classic Swing
But every time a guy gets on base by putting the ball in play, he's challenging DiMaggio's 56-game mark. That classic swing pictured on this special Pinnacle card generated a tremendous amount of power, good enough for 361 career home runs, a stat in which he led the league twice. He also had nine World Series rings to show for his illustrious career, and everyone chasing his 1941 record has their work cut out for them.

To honor his legendary accomplishments, Pinnacle took their black borders that were such a hit the year before, added a bit of gold foil, and printed up a limited-edition 30-card set in 1993. Keep in mind that's limited-edition by 1993 standards, which means a print run of either "just" 209,000 or 200,000 depending on whether you check the Certificate of Authenticity card and Beckett, or the bottom of the black and gold tin containing the set.

They even threw in an Authenticator Lens. Picture a transparent Sportflix or Opening Day Stars card. Using this, you can decipher that little gray square on the back of most Pinnacle cards, transforming it into either a rainbow pattern or a few letters describing the set, depending on whether the lens is oriented horizontally or vertically.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #30 Baseball's Greatest Living Player
The final card in this set billed DiMaggio as "Baseball's Greatest Living Player". Sadly, he passed away in 1999, so this card isn't quite true anymore. But his record still stands and shows no signs of being broken. That colorized shot of his amazing swing is a detail of the image Pinnacle used on the lid of the tin.

It's kind of an accident that I'm posting about this set on the 75th anniversary of #TheStreak. I purchased this set about a year ago from my regular card dealer at one of his monthly card shows. He had two available, a solid .001%  of the total print run. I still haven't blogged about the other cards I got at that show, and I sadly haven't had a chance to go to one since. But just as well, since I wouldn't have a handy hashtag to go along with this set if I did it last year. And I definitely would not have realized the streak's milestone was due in 2016.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #28 The Final Season
Though DiMaggio might be most well known for his hitting streak, he played another ten seasons in The Bronx, just enough time to pass the torch to Mickey Mantle, the next great Yankee center fielder. They played numerous games together in 1951, although Mantle experienced a severe knee injury in his rookie year, coincidentally on a ball hit to the outfield by Willie Mays in the 1951 World Series. 1951...The Giants Win The Pennant!

Anyway, DiMaggio and Mantle both chased it down, but Mantle caught his shoe on an outfield sprinkler and watched the next game from the hospital. Though Mantle managed to put together a first-ballot Hall of Fame career after that, he wasn't so different from Bo Jackson, another player with astronomical potential plagued by injury.

But the Yankees having DiMaggio followed by Mantle in center field for over three decades is a big reason for why the Bronx Bombers are such a storied franchise. And at least one of those two were present for over half of their 27 championships.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #7 Fan Favorite
This set makes no mention of Joltin' Joe's short-lived marriage to Marilyn Monroe, but he was quite the celebrity, surrounded by adoring fans, always willing to sign an autograph. Mini-collection cards turn up in the oddest places, and I don't know of an autograph shot earlier than this.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #22 World War II
He never saw action, but Joe joined up with the army in 1943, as was true for many of his contemporaries. This card mentions a few of them, like Gerry Priddy, Walt Judnich, Myron McCormick, and fellow Yankee Joe Gordon. He played for the Army Air Force team, back when it was a division of the Army. The separate branch of the USAF didn't exist as we know it today until 1947.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #18 Sticks 'n' Bones
Bending the rules a bit is nothing new to baseball, as I mentioned a couple posts ago. Here, Joe is pictured polishing his bat with a soup bone, part of an elaborate process to sturdy the bat and improve its grip, also involving olive oil, rosin, an open flame, and a bit of sandpaper. According to this card, such a bat prepared in this manner went missing for the second game of a doubleheader. Nonetheless, he used a teammate's bat to hit in his 42nd straight game, eclipsing George Sisler, the "modern" record holder when the 1941 season opened. Regardless, Sisler held on to the single-season hits record until Ichiro broke it in 2004.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #24 The Summer of '41
Though the 1941 season is synonymous with a particular 56-game hitting streak, that year also marks the last time someone hit over .400 in a season. Yes, it's been 75 years since Ted Williams set the most recent high-water mark, though that .406 stat doesn't even make the top fifteen. Tony Gwynn came darn close in 1994, though the strike cut short that opportunity, along with the best season the Expos ever had.

As amazing as DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams were, there is a lot of talk about how much better they could have been. Of course, discussion around Mantle's potential center mostly around his perpetually aching knees. But if The Splendid Splinter had been a Yankee, and The Yankee Clipper had been a Red Sock (I can't get enough of these old-timey nicknames), their stats might have been even better.

Why?

DiMaggio was a righty, and Williams was a lefty. Picture Williams with a short right field wall just like Babe Ruth liked, and DiMaggio with a giant green monster in left. Some of those records that stand to this day might have fallen. For that matter, how many Willie Mays home runs did the wind in Candlestick Park knock down into mere fly balls? Four a year, perhaps? If so, Mays would have eclipsed Ruth's career home run record before Hank Aaron.

Surely they'd all be regarded as legends wherever they played, but to think of what their stats would have been like in a more favorable stadium (or with good knees) makes their accomplishments even more amazing.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #26 No. 45
I'll say it again. Fifty-six games. As pictured on this card, Number 5 drilled one out of Yankee Stadium to break the all-time record of 44 just a few days after the bat theft incident on card #18, a record that dated back to Willie Keeler's performance in the late 19th-century.

Every couple years, a player gets about halfway there. Jackie Bradley had a streak going for 29 games earlier this year until Jon Gray and the Rockies rolled into Boston and ended the fun. Nolan Arenado got precisely halfway in 2014, setting the Rockies' team record for longest hitting streak at 28. The Red Sox had another challenger this year, with Xander Bogaerts' streak stopping a few days ago at 26. Boston has put up quite a few challengers over the years, including Joe's own brother Dom, who hit in 34 straight in 1949.

To the question "did he get one?" that was asked all across America in the summer of 1941, you already know the answer, but if you'd like a smartphone app to tell you, download it and watch your notifications before July 17th.

Oh, and DiMaggio still reached base that day. And followed it up with a 16 game streak all the way into early August. He hit safely in 72 of 73, and reached base in 83 consecutive games.

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio #2 San Francisco Seals
Even more amazing is that his 56 game streak wasn't even a personal best. When he was still a minor leaguer for the San Francisco Seals, he hit in 61 straight.

Pete Rose (44) and Paul Molitor (39) are the closest anyone's gotten since then. In the Wild Card era, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Luis Castillo have pushed streaks into the mid-30s. And every day a new streak starts. But few will be surprised if #TheStreak turns out to be truly unbreakable.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

I'll see your war hammer, and I'll raise you an elf!

I've had a lot going on the past couple of weeks. Summer (or at least late spring) has finally arrived in Colorado. On Saturday, I went to my first Rockies game of the year, a 10-5 loss to the Giants. Although the Rockies took the lead in the 7th on a Carlos Gonzalez home run to straightaway center, the Rockies bullpen played their usual role, blowing the lead before even retiring a batter in the 8th.

My Fantasy team seems to have turned a corner, with Greinke working his way to a decent record, and Mookie Betts crushing numerous home runs over a non-numerous series of games.

And oh yeah, I bought a new car. First time I've ever owned a car built in the current decade. A few days before, as part of a birthday present my family chipped in on in March, I got to drive a Ferrari for an hour in the foothills outside Denver. A bit anticlimactic to go buy a Mazda after that, but if anyone in your area offers cars like that for a quick, guided rental, it's well worth it, especially if you can find a Groupon.

With all that new stuff, surprise baseball cards from my girlfriend are still a common fixture, and she brought home a partial box of 2015 Allen & Ginter from a hobby shop that also sells coins and comic books. We had a bit of a pack war, and she definitely saw the appeal in cracking into a sealed pack of cards, especially A&G, a set that is well-known for more than just baseball.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Ancient Armory #AA-8 War Hammer
They pick some quite obscure things for insert sets, including battle gear from the days before mechanized warfare. The war hammer, quite a lethal-looking tool, is perfect for smashing through armor when a sword would likely just bounce off. When I pulled that card from the Ancient Armory insert set and showed it to my girlfriend, she responded with a quip that just had to be the title of this post.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Menagerie of the Mind #MM-2 Elf
And she used this card to do it. Elves can be found in the Menagerie of the Mind insert set, along with other mythological beings like fairies, trolls, centaurs, and a creature called a bunyip.

You learn something new every day.

These particular elves look like something out of a 1970s BBC production, and while the card mentions their current relation to Santa's workshop and the cookie factory, their roots can be found in Norse paganism. Their alleged immortality, found in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, is also alluded to.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Great Scott #GS-7 Continental Drift
This next set uses Doc Brown's catchphrase from Back To The Future to highlight some important scientific discoveries over the past century or so, including X-rays, DNA, and the Polio vaccine, right up to current endeavors like the Large Hadron Collider. It's rather amazing to think of all we've discovered in the last century. Of course we know that the sun's at the center of the solar system, and we figured that out over 400 years ago. But continental drift, the existence of other galaxies, and the discovery of Pluto are surprisingly recent.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter #302 Fall of the Berlin Wall
Even more astonishing are the changes in geopolitics in my lifetime alone. The reunification of Germany had yet to occur when I was born, the USSR hadn't yet fragmented into countless breakaway republics, and the developed European economies each had their own currencies. The invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War are the first newsworthy world events that I can remember, and I would have been about six then.

If you're interested in this era of history, Bridge of Spies is worth seeing, although Tom Hanks is so A-List that it's become hard to see him as anyone besides Tom Hanks. For all I know, he'll be in an A&G set before too long.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini First Ladies #FIRST-23 Edith Roosevelt
The last time I wrote about 2015 Allen & Ginter, I remarked about how underrepresented women are in this set. The First Ladies insert set makes up for that a bit. Yes, that's a mini, but it's not the Mrs. Roosevelt that first comes to mind. Rather, she's Edith Roosevelt, wife of Teddy, serving in the role from 1901 to 1909. Edith was actually Teddy's second wife, as he became a widower in 1884. Perhaps you've seen his diary entry from that day, a day on which both his mother and wife passed away. Tragic, yes, but that didn't stop him from ascending to a two-term presidency, nor from having his likeness carved into Mount Rushmore.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter #143 Mike Zunino
Despite all this scattered randomness found in the inserts, Allen & Ginter is still first and foremost a baseball set. Though he's at the Triple-A level right now after three seasons in the Bigs, all that catcher's gear makes for one of the more interesting photos in the set. And when I say "all that catcher's gear," really I'm just referring to the mask and mitt. He might have shin guards on, but no chest protector, so it's probably just a warm-up shot.

I still can't quite get over how A&G insists on spelling everything out, like writing a check. His slugging percentage is Three Hundred Eighty Three, though he just has Two triples to his name.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter #23 Johnny Cueto
One aspect of baseball that was very, very different in the late 19th-century, when this brand got its start, is how little players moved around. Since this photo of Cueto as a Red just a year ago, he's pitched for the Kansas City Royals (and earned a World Series ring), and in 2016, he has an excellent 8-1 record with the San Francisco Giants, with one of those Ws coming just a few days ago against the Rockies. More on that series later, but the Rockies didn't do much to help their spot in the standings over the holiday weekend.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Starting Points #SP-87 Adrian Beltre
This is from the only Baseball-themed insert set found in 2015 packs, and it's rather astonishing to be reminded that Adrian Beltre is currently in his 19th season. He and Elvis Andrus have been up to all sorts of antics for years, but he was once just a green rookie like everyone else.

His debut came on June 24th, 1998, and as the back of this card tells us, Randy Johnson whiffed a dozen Padres that day, and Jeff Bagwell hit two home runs in a pre-humidor Coors Field. However, the card neglects to mention that those 5 RBIs were not enough to beat the Rockies.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Starting Points #SP-76 Buster Posey
Buster Posey's two home runs on Saturday, however, were indeed enough to sink the Rockies. His start came in 2009, just before the Giants started their every-other-year championship run, and they're up by a nice 4.5 game margin atop the NL West right now. Posey's 6-RBI performance on Saturday was a career high for him, and while the outcome wasn't what I'd hoped, at least I got a great view of Buster's homers, plus lots of quality time with my sister.

Posey hasn't been in the league nearly as long as Beltre, but already he has three World Series rings, plus his broken leg in 2011 is basically the reason why the rules for sliding into home plate changed. He's definitely an influential player, and he can add his name to the long list of San Francisco Giants whom I've seen hit a home run in person.

Plus, he sort of looks like an elf.