Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: Independence, Mantle, and Miss Able

Earlier this summer, I swung by Denver's most famous independent bookstore, Tattered Cover, for a book signing. This particular location is just a few streets down from Coors Field, where the author, Jan Sumner, spent several seasons as a batting practice pitcher for the Rockies.

He had plenty of stories to tell about that, and who his favorite players were to throw to. John Vander Wal was mentioned, as well as lots of the inaugural Rockies. But most of the discussion centered around Sumner's new book, Independence, Mantle, and Miss Able, a baseball-focused history of Sumner's birthplace, Independence, Kansas. It's a town of about 10,000 in the southeast corner of the state, and has been responsible for more than its share of baseball history and well-known citizens.

One of two photos on the cover is a shot of a baseball game being played under the lights. The minor league stadium in Independence is where, in 1930, the first night game in organized baseball was played. There are many claims to this innovation, but all of the preceding games, some as early as the 1890s, were either under temporary lights, in an exhibition game, or not considered part of "Organized Baseball."

The Major Leagues followed suit about midway through the decade, but the idea was pioneered in Independence, KS. Of course, nightly attendance shot way up, as you could now catch a ballgame after a long workday.

Sumner was kind enough to pose for a #WalletCard shot along with my signed copy of his book.

The other photo on there is of the 1949 Independence Yankees, a Class-D team in the Yankees farm system, part of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri (KOM) League. You might spot a familiar face on that photo. In the front row on the far right is a young Mickey Mantle, playing in his first season of professional ball.

Yes, The Mick kicked off his legendary career in the sleepy town of Independence, hitting .313 in his first season before a promotion to Class-C Joplin in 1950.

A Class-D team in a regional league isn't exactly the lap of luxury, so players had to live in local residences with a roommate. Bob Mallon (2nd from left in back row), a pitcher who played two seasons for Independence before running into arm trouble and leaving professional baseball, was present at the book signing, and had a few stories of his own. Mallon and Mantle were roommates during that 1949 season, even sharing a bed in another player's home, believe it or not.

These low-level minor league teams still need to be managed, and Independence had some great ones. Burleigh Grimes, the last pitcher that was grandfathered into being allowed to throw a spitball, managed in 1948. Harry Craft took over in 1949 to oversee Mantle's development. Craft had an average playing career, but managed Mantle, Roger Maris about a decade later, and the inaugural Houston Colt .45s in the early 1960s.

As Sumner writes, numerous big leaguers came through Independence, not just Mickey Mantle. Ralph Terry, originally a catcher, pitched for the Independence Indians in 1953. He'd later find success with the Major League-level Yankees playing alongside Mickey Mantle, even winning the World Series MVP award in 1962.

As it is today, minor league baseball was not exactly a lucrative profession. Terry got a job with Sinclair Oil, one of the major local employers. More on that later.

Other players to come through included Harry Bright, who reached his only World Series as a Yankee in 1963. Sandy Koufax struck out Bright for his 15th strikeout in Game 1, which was at that time a single-game World Series record until Bob Gibson broke it with 17 just five years later. As he puts it, "I wait 17 years to get into a World Series, then when I finally get there, 69,000 people are yelling — yelling for me to strike out!"

Forest Glenn Wright isn't a well-known name, but he played for the Class-D Independence Producers way back in 1921. He'd have his best year in 1925 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, becoming one of the very few players to turn an unassisted triple play, and one of only three who did it in the 9th inning. He'd help the Pirates win the World Series that year, the last one they'd win until 1960.

Bill Virdon, an Independence Yankee in 1950, spent several years in their farm system. He was an outfielder, but with Mantle, Gene Woodling, and Hank Bauer in the Yankees outfield, he'd need to find another way to get called up. He was traded to the Cardinals with a few other players for Enos Slaughter (even then, the Yankees were giving up promising minor leaguers for established stars). Virdon was named the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year for St. Louis, only to be traded once again in 1956, this time to the Pirates.

Virdon got his revenge on the Yankees, though. The Pirates were down 7-4 going into the 8th inning of 1960's World Series Game 7. Virdon got on base for his second hit of the day, and scored one of the five runs the Pirates put up that inning to take the lead.

The Yankees always seem to have some postseason magic in the 9th inning, and Mantle and Yogi Berra both plated runners to tie it up facing Harvey Haddix. Yes, that same Harvey Haddix who pitched 12 innings of perfect ball in 1959 but still lost the game in the 13th.

Of course, the Pirates weren't done. Bill Mazeroski, the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the 9th, drilled one off of Ralph Terry over the head of Yogi Berra. Just off-camera in center field was Mickey Mantle, so that game was a real who's who of ex-Independence players. Mazeroski's homer remains the only walkoff home run in any World Series Game 7.

Judging by the play-by-play, that must have been a heck of a game to watch.

That one didn't go his way, but Mickey Mantle was no stranger to home runs. His first professional homer came in Independence. The ball was never found, and legend has it that it landed on Monkey Island, an enclosure at the zoo beyond the center field wall.

That spot has its own claim to fame, as it is the origin of an early group of NASA's rhesus monkey astronauts. Neither NASA nor Russia were quite to the point of human spaceflight in 1958, but there was lots of preparation underway for that eventuality. If, of course, spaceflight was survivable. Some monkeys had seemed to survive the flight above 100 kilometers of altitude, but perished due to mechanical problems. It was still unknown whether a mammal could survive in weightlessness for that long, and whether a rocket could reliably be up to such a task.

In May 1959, Miss Abel, the nickname of the Independence monkey that had "The Right Stuff" was sent up in a rocket with a squirrel monkey from Peru, Miss Baker. The two primates survived the flight, and shot to stardom. Literally, I suppose.

Miss Abel died a few days later due to complications from surgery, but Miss Baker survived to see the space program reach orbital flight, a handful of trips to the moon, and even the space shuttle. Of course, she probably didn't realize any of that was going on, but still. I guess that's why we pick monkeys to do these things first.

Independence, Kansas had its share of famous residents that never left earth or played pro ball, and lots of them are profiled in the book. Laura Ingalls Wilder lived near there in 1870 as a young child. That's alluded to in a pilot episode of Little House on the Prairie, when grizzled old Mr. Edwards drops by the Ingalls' cabin after crossing the Verdigris River on a snowy Christmas after running into Santa Claus in Independence.

Vivian Vance, who played Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy, grew up in Independence, as did Harry Sinclair, the man who gave his name to the Sinclair Oil Corporation, the same company that employed Ralph Terry on non-game days.

If you remember your history class, Harry Sinclair was caught on the wrong side of the Teapot Dome Scandal, where his and other oil companies were given leasing rights to an oil field without a proper bidding process. President Warren G. Harding is named as one of the worst presidents in history for this and other scandals that occurred during his term. Sinclair actually spent six months in jail, though it was for jury tampering, not due to the scandal itself.

Prior to that, Sinclair was one of the founding members of the short-lived Federal League. Though it only existed from 1913-1915, it planted the seed of free agency that took decades to germinate. Its lawsuit against the National League led to an exemption from antitrust law, something that largely exists throughout professional sports today. It also gave us Wrigley Field, then known as Weeghman Park, which was built for the Chicago Whales, the Windy City's entry in the Federal League. It is recognized as a Major League, but wasn't canonized until 1968.

Overall, this was a fun and quick read. It could use a bit more editing and polishing, but still shed lots of light on a surprising amount of history in such a small town. It's only a couple bucks in Kindle format at the moment, if you don't wish to go for a physical copy. But if you happen to meet the author, a signed Kindle just isn't the same.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Many Dingers Are There, Anyway?

I was in Sacramento, California at the beginning of August. The girlfriend had flown out there a few days prior for the International Food Blogger Conference in downtown Sacramento, and after a few busy days at work, I boarded my first Southwest flight to meet her there and spend a couple more days.

We had lots of good food and saw some interesting sights, and while she was wrapping up some conference notes, I caught a Minor League game at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats.

Ever since the Rockies began play in 1993, I had only seen Major League games. Before that, I did see the Denver Zephyrs a couple times in the cavernous Mile High Stadium, gigantic by Minor League standards. In fact, that could be where my first-ever baseball cards came from, now that I think about it.

I made sure to snap a #walletcard shot while enjoying some snacks before the game. Ballpark food in Sacramento wasn't markedly different from any other stadium I've been to, but the slider trio with a side of potato chips and a cold beer really hit the spot on a hot August day.

The River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, squared off against the Salt Lake Bees, part of the Angels farm system (the Salt Lake Bees of Utah?), the same team that Jon Gray faced before his Major League debut.

2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #03 Clayton Blackburn
Clayton Blackburn didn't have quite as many strikeouts as Jon Gray, but he still cruised to a 7-0 win on 7 innings pitched. His fastball hit the low 90s, which is not bad for just returning from the DL. Blackburn has yet to make his Major League debut, but if he keeps that up, he shouldn't be far away.

I did purchase this River Cats team set at the souvenir store, and it was half-price since it's the 2015 set. Progress doesn't always happen that quickly in the Minors, so a lot of the same players could be found, including Blackburn.

2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #23 Jarrett Parker
Right fielder Jarrett Parker also had a good game, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Unlike Blackburn, Parker has spent some time in the Majors, about 70 games since last season. A lot of the players at the Triple-A level are either top prospects, or have spent some time in the Majors, as we'll see.

2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #04 Brett Bochy
That includes Brett Bochy, who is no longer active in professional baseball, but in 2014 became the first player to play for his father. Bruce Bochy has managed the Giants to three World Series championships, and also took the Padres to the 1998 World Series, where they got swept by the Yankees. Ken Griffey, Sr. and Jr. were the first father/son duo to play together, but having your dad as a manager must be a whole different ballgame. Brett only pitched in seven Major League games, and underwent Tommy John surgery as a college junior.

At least he had it out of the way if his Major League career took off.

2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #11 Kevin Correia
Kevin Correia was at the tail end of his professional career in 2015, having pitched with several Major League teams since 2003, including the Giants. He was a National League All-Star in 2011 as a reserve.

The quality control of these cards is not quite up to Topps' level. The stats all seem correct, but the write up shifted dates by about a decade, saying he was picked in the 2012 Amateur Draft, and made his MLB debut in July 2013.

For a moment, I thought this might be an entirely different Kevin Correia, but it all makes a lot more sense when you just subtract ten years from those dates.

2011 Topps #276 Miguel Olivo
A couple other former Major Leaguers, though not found in the 2015 team set, still played well in that August 1st night game. Miguel Olivo, a catcher who spent a year as a Rockie, is presumably in sort of a Crash Davis role, the veteran catcher helping groom the next generation of baseball stars. Olivo was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and made a few excellent defensive plays behind the plate.

Play-by-play stats are rather hard to come by on minor league games, but fortunately the River Cats provided me with a handy scorecard inside the booklet they handed out at the gate. My trusty ballpoint pen recorded the River Cats' side of things, but I didn't track any of the Bees' stats other than their pitchers. It left some time for social media, beer and snack runs, and photos. They also had a fun interactive promo called Baseball Bingo Mondays. Like keeping score, it requires you to pay attention.

At the gate, they handed out bingo cards, and the numbers you can punch out depend on what happens during the game. For example, a home run by the first baseman is G 60. I was not a winner, but it was a fun thing to do on top of keeping score. I imagine that a Minor League crowd would be a bit more into something like that, as I wouldn't expect more casual fans to spend the time showing up to a Triple-A game.

2015 Topps #364A Travis Ishikawa
A few of those bingo squares were punched out by the biggest contributor to the River Cats' win, Travis Ishikawa, a name that is definitely familiar to Giants fans. He easily got the most applause from the roughly 6,000 fans in attendance, and for good reason. Ishikawa sent the Giants to the 2014 World Series with a walkoff home run against the Cardinals.

Leave it to Joe Buck to take all the emotion out of "The Giants win the Pennant!" That's not your line, Joe!

Anyway, the long ball was working for Ishikawa that night in Sacramento as he hit two out for five RBIs. Olivo and Parker were both on base for his second shot in the bottom of the 8th, and the fans loved it, especially the ones catching the game from the grassy area beyond right field. A fan chased down one of those home run balls as fast as a professional outfielder.

2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #34 Brad Lawson
The Minor leagues aren't really all that different from the Majors, at least at the Triple-A level. Just scaled down a bit. The fastballs are a little slower, the stadiums a bit smaller, the crowds more intimate, the tickets significantly less expensive, at least for an equivalent seat. My 16th-row seat at the edge of the screen was a mere $25.

But they're still professional athletes, and trainers and coaches are still needed to keep them in top physical condition. A Minor League team set is just the sort of place for a card of the team Strength and Conditioning Coach. It is a bit underexposed, and they misspelled "New Brunswick" on the back (dropping the c), but I've sure never seen a card of a Major League trainer before.

2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #37 Dinger
The final card in the set is of their lovable mascot, Dinger. Like Topps Opening Day, this minor league set recognizes the existence of these furry critters. Curiously, the River Cats and the Rockies picked the same name for their mascot. Dinger the Rockie is a purple triceratops, and Dinger the River Cat is, well, a predatory cat that looks a bit like a bear.

The back of this card has quite the genesis story, mentioning "strange sounds...echoing through the air at the Raley Field construction site" on a "cold blustery night". Dinger the mascot was discovered on the river bank under the Tower Bridge (that yellow bridge you see in my Wallet Card shot). It turns out that Dinger's "energy and fun personality were a perfect fit for the official mascot of the Sacramento River Cats."

If Topps put out team sets like this for sale at the ballpark instead of just some rehashed cards from Flagship, I'd snap one up in a heartbeat. The kids would probably enjoy it too, because who doesn't love a mascot?

I still say the Rockies have dibs on the Dinger name. But either way, a mascot named Dinger has been leading the fans at nearly every single game I've ever been to. Even in Sacramento.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Buster Posey's Good Friend

Last month, I entered a contest at Red Cardboard, where four others and I came out as winners, giving us the opportunity to draft for about 115 cards. It was an interesting and thoughtful process, once I was kindly informed by the blog owner that I had actually won. Sorry for the delay on that. Anyway, I obviously didn't end up with all my top choices, but still got a nice little stack of cards, mostly of the Reds, but with a few other teams mixed in.

2011 Topps Update Gold #US207 Jay Bruce /2011
I've always liked Topps Gold, and I jumped at the chance for a few serial-numbered Topps cards, including this one from 2011 Update. There are always lots of All Star game cards to be found in Update, and that often means cameos. Behind Jay Bruce, who was recently traded to the Mets, Andrew McCutchen can be seen celebrating with Buster Posey's Good Friend Hunter Pence.

Why would I say it like that? This was from a broadcast blunder by Jon Miller earlier this year, when he misattributed a home run call and then changed it at the last second. It's quite amusing. Pence was on the Astros when this card was printed, but now is palling around with the Giants catcher, who didn't miss a beat on his Instagram.

2014 Topps Opening Day Blue #211 Mat Latos /2014
I miss Opening Day blue parallels that include serial numbers, so I picked one from 2014, the last time Topps did that. I've seen this card a lot, but I never really looked very closely at his tattoos. The first thing that jumps out at me is the baseball stitching on his left wrist. He's pitched with four different teams since then. No word on whether he's added to his tattoo collection.

2014 Topps Gold #277 Mike Leake /2014
Another serial numbered Reds pitcher (now on St. Louis) from 2014, only this one is at the plate! He may have actually put this one in play, judging from his reaction. The back has a fun fact that Leake skipped the minor leagues entirely before reaching the big leagues, and he's in the rare company of Jim Abbott and John Olerud on that count.

2010 Bowman Draft Gold #BDP59 Drew Stubbs
One more gold card, only this one doesn't have a serial number. Drew Stubbs was on the Rockies for about a season and a half, but originally came up with the Reds. He's actually had a few playoff appearances; and he might get another this year if the Rangers keep it up. Bowman Gold cards are always nice and thick, and this has a nice green border signifying it's one of the prospect cards.

1995 Ultra Gold Medallion #367 Hal Morris
In the card draft, I ended up with a few Reds that were contemporaries of the Blake Street Bombers. First baseman Hal Morris played in only 112 games in 1994, according to the back. That might not seem like much, but he only missed two games all season, as the rest got cancelled due to the strike. Fleer Ultra dialed back the gold foil for 1995, although the Gold Medallion seal does clash a little bit with the silver foil on the rest of the card. This parallel set has been popping up a lot lately, and there were two more I chose not to scan.

1997 Score Premium Stock #242 Barry Larkin
Mid-'90s parallels actually made up a significant portion of this contest win, and Score didn't miss out on the fun. It's a bit hard to read, but that seal says it's "Premium Stock", and this card does indeed feel thicker than a regular Score '97 card. I know I say this about a lot of sets, but I am pretty sure that 1997 Score was the last product I added to my collection before stepping away from the hobby. They sold it in a tin that my parents bought for me at an outlet mall, and even though it did have some neat team dividers, it was not a complete set as I had expected, and a dozen or so cards were damaged with that same ruffled pattern I found on the bottom of that miscut Tulo card.

This Score card seems to be a tiny bit off-center, which is more apparent when looking at the back. Not a big deal though, as a Hall of Famer on a premium insert card is nothing to sneeze at.

1994 Pinnacle Museum Collection #322 Jose Rijo 
Jose Rijo often gave the young Rockies fits, and he was sort of an antithesis to Barry Bonds. Rijo was always up to some antics of some kind, and this is reflected on his baseball cards, where he's often found with stethoscopes and Super Soakers (child of the '90s here). It depends on whom you ask, but Rijo underwent Tommy John surgery anywhere between two and five times. Looking at the stress a pitcher's elbow experiences during a game, its a wonder they don't all need it every other year. There's even a growing trend of preemptive TJ surgery, which sounds radical, but makes sense in a twisted way. Better to do it in college or the minors than when it can potentially affect a Major League pennant race or a multi-million dollar contract.

Rijo literally shines on one of Pinnacle's parallels with a Dufex pattern, the beacon of the Pinnacle pyramid illuminating the entire scene. If baseball cards existed during the Renaissance, they'd probably look something like that.

Munnatawket Custom #100 Ichiro Suzuki
One of the items I put pretty high in my draft selection was a small stack of custom Munnatawket Minis. I've received a few of these before, and Nachos Grande is typically involved, another Reds fan.

Card #100 is obviously a recent creation, as Ichiro has only been a Marlin since 2015. There's really no player-specific information on the back, but I continue to be impressed at the quality of these custom minis.

Munnatawket Custom #20 Mr. Met
This set even has mascots. Dinger's probably too obscure to appear in this small set, but Mr. Met gives it two thumbs up. By the way, you've heard the song, right? It's a little surprising he isn't an apple, but I'm sure that decision was made long ago.

Munnatawket Custom #32 Hunter Pence
Buster Posey's Good Friend (tm) even makes an appearance on a custom card, and this time it's as a Giant. That looks like the 2012 Champions patch on his sleeve, so I'm guessing this card came before Ichiro's. But Pence was probably buddies with Posey by then.

Serial numbered cards, 1990s parallels, and custom minis. What could be left?

1962 Topps #46 Jack Baldschun (RC)

The older cards I got weren't of players pictured on the Reds (or even the Redlegs, as old as one of these was), but still some great additions. I must admit that I've never heard of Jack Baldschun. The back of the card says plenty about his performance as a relief pitcher, and his cartoon mentions that he appeared in eight straight games out of the bullpen in 1961. The centering isn't great, but it's in really good shape otherwise, and will go well with my other 1962 cards, which remains my most complete vintage set at about seven cards. So I have a long way to go if I want to get that one out of the way.

At least the Mantle is off the list.

1958 Topps #409 Frank Thomas
Even older is this 1958 card of Frank Thomas. No, not the Hall of Famer that appeared in almost every insert set of the 1990s, but rather the third baseman that played for teams all over the National League, including the inaugural New York Mets. I believe this is my sixth-oldest card, and though it's in pretty rough shape, the thing is almost sixty years old. I might even stick it in a binder, since there's not much point in putting it in a toploader at this point.

In looking this card up on Beckett, the more recent Frank Thomas, aka The Big Hurt, was also given card #409 in the related 2007 Topps Heritage set. Obviously not a coincidence, but a nice nod back to the past set (unlike those infuriating short prints).

1975 Topps #204 Frank Robinson / Roberto Clemente MVP
Finally this is the card I spent my highest draft pick on that I ended up getting. That two-color design is a dead giveaway for the epic 1975 Topps set, and it features each league's MVPs from 1966, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente, both Hall-of-Famers.

We've all seen Topps push their Anniversary cards on us pretty strongly, 40 years in 1991, 50 years in 2001, and the ubiquitous Diamond Anniversary celebration in 2011. 1975 marked Topps' 25th anniversary, and while I never really thought of that before since this was long before my collecting career began, Topps has clearly always been pretty big on their anniversaries. They're really celebrating their 25th set rather than 25th anniversary (depends how you count it, I guess).

This was just a couple years after Clemente's tragic death in 1972, so Topps saw fit to honor his and Robinson's accomplishments with this dual-player card. 1966 marked Robinson's second MVP award, who remains the only player to win it in both leagues. He won the Triple Crown, something only Carl Yastrzemski and Miguel Cabrera have done since. And the Orioles were World Series champs that year.

Clemente had a pretty good year himself, ranking near the top of the leaderboard in RBIs, hits, triples, and average. There is a very slight error on this card, saying that Clemente played in "all" 154 Pirates games. Clemente did indeed play in 154 games in 1966, but MLB moved to a 162-game schedule in the early 1960s as part of expansion. So while the game count is correct, he must have sat out eight games. The 162-game season was still a new development in 1975, about as new as our concept of the All-Star Game winner having home field advantage in the World Series. Especially when viewed through the lens of 1966, it's an understandable mistake.

It's fun to win contests! Especially when there are five winners and you're not shut out when you're randomized to #4. Thanks to Reds Cardboard for running the contest!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mister Three Thousand Eight

The 3,000 hit club is pretty bunched up at the bottom. In the short time since Ichiro Suzuki got his 3,000th MLB hit to tie Roberto Clemente on August 7th (about as long as the Olympics), he's passed Al Kaline, with Wade Boggs and Cap Anson just a few hits ahead.

2016 Topps Now #327-A Ichiro Suzuki /11,550
That's also about how long it takes to get a Topps Now card delivered, but at least the shipping was free.

Card 327-A has become my second card from 2016 Topps Now (I assume they'll start the numbers over next year), and I definitely wanted a copy of the card to go along with the historic moment. This is more of an unusual Topps Now card, as the back doesn't have a write-up. Rather, it has two more photos, one of the scoreboard graphic they put up at Coors Field after the hit, and the other is a shot of his fellow Marlins coming out to congratulate #51.

See for yourself:

2016 Topps Now #327-A Ichiro Suzuki /11,550 (Reverse)
Most Topps Now cards don't have variations associated with them, but the -A on this card number signifies there were a few on offer. Topps printed up five serial-numbered colored relic parallels, all of which went for a pretty penny. The /1 card sold for a thousand bucks. Needless to say, I didn't order that, nor did most fans, instead being happy with the base card. This one had a whopping 11,550 copies printed, by far the most I've seen for a Topps Now card. It's definitely not as exclusive as most Topps Now cards, but it's not a bad way to bring in $160k.

It remains to be seen whether I'll feel the need to order any more Topps Now cards, but the season still has over a month left until the Postseason begins. And an unassisted triple play can happen in the blink of an eye.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Next Year in Wrigleyville

The Chicago Cubs are visiting the Rockies for their annual trip to Denver. They still have two weekend games to play, but the Rockies took the first game at about 1am this morning, following a two-hour rain delay and an 11-inning nail biter. The Rockies rallied to tie it in the 8th by winning a challenge. They couldn't plate a winning run in either the 9th or the 10th against a pair of Cubs rookie pitchers, allowing the Cubs to take the lead in the bottom of the 11th, despite some impressive defense by Gerardo Parra.

The Cubs brought on their shiny new closer, Aroldis Chapman. The Rockies got a baserunner on, who scored on a double by Ryan Raburn. Raburn ended up scoring the winning run on that same play after being awarded home plate when an errant throw ended up in the Cubs dugout. The rules say that all runners get two bases when a ball is thrown out of bounds, making it twice as bad as a balk, especially at the end of a game.

Regardless of how this weekend goes, the Cubs have the biggest division lead of any team in the Majors right now, and have a real shot at doing well in the playoffs this year, perhaps even a chance to Reverse the Curse, something the Red Sox did in 2004 after their own lengthy drought.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #115 Ernie Banks
Many excellent players have gone through Chicago since 1908, the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Even casual fans who might not know the exact year are still aware that, well, it's been a while. "Next Year" has become almost a religious mantra among Cubs fans, a bit like the "Next Year in Jerusalem" phrase that's recited at the end of a Passover Seder.

The Cubs' last World Series appearance predates the creation of Israel, and their last overall victory came before Charles Lindbergh, World War I, and the construction of the Titanic. The "Next Year in Jerusalem" phrase, at least from a geopolitical standpoint, has become more of a tradition than a prayer.

But the Cubs are still waiting.

With Ernie Banks' passing last year, as well as the plot of Back to the Future 2, there was a real buzz in 2015, when the Cubs got to the NLCS. But they couldn't win it for Mr. Cub, who appears on Panini's Cooperstown set from 2012. I got that, as well as a lot of other cards at a show quite some time ago, which I'm just now starting to write about. More to come on that card show haul.

2013 Topps Archives #48 Ryne Sandberg
Ryne Sandberg, one rookie season short of being a lifetime Cub, ended his career without a ring, and he hasn't had much success as a manager either. With 30 teams, a World Series victory is hard to come by, and isn't necessarily the measure of a stellar career. Ryno has quite the resume, from a raft of Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves, to an MVP award and a plaque in Cooperstown.

Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, Carlton Fisk, Ted Williams, and Ty Cobb are all members of that list, indicating that a World Series win is truly a team achievement, and even the best in history can't do it all by themselves.

Those guys all probably have Topps Archives cards too. Sandberg looks good on a 1972 Topps design. I'll go ahead and guess that this photo was taken on the road, seeing as how Wrigley Field didn't even have lights for the earlier part of Sandberg's career. That happened in August 1988, a whopping eighty years since their last championship.

108 years is a long, long time.

2014 Topps Archives #152 Anthony Rizzo
They have a solid group of players now, and Anthony Rizzo is one of the best. 1989 Topps is a familiar design for all of us, and I feel like this photo is period-correct. There were a lot of unexciting posed shots to be found in Topps before that epic 1991 40th-Anniversary set full of Sports Illustrated photos, but 1988 through 1990 left a bit to be desired, opening the door for Upper Deck to shake things up.

2013 Bowman Gold #181 Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler, who was once a Rockie, now patrols the outfield at The Friendly Confines. He hit the third pitch of yesterday's game for a home run, finishing the game 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a walk. Thanks to that shot, the Rockies never actually led the game, only winning after the walkoff error. Fowler was a fan favorite during his six seasons with the Rockies, and his speed was a great asset in the outfield and on the basepaths, as pictured on this Gold parallel Bowman card from...2014? No, 2013. I'm getting better at at least narrowing these Bowman cards down to the right era.

His speed trailed off a bit after this, but the card mentions his four straight seasons with double-digit triples, a stat in which he led the league in 2010. Topps also threw a million-dollar word on here, referring to Fowler as an ebullient personality.

If 2016 turns out to be the year, Fowler is sure to be a reason for it.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #33 Joe Tinker
Joe Tinker, long ago shortstop of the Cubs, was part of the inspiration for the most poetic 6-4-3 double play combination in history. The poem, mentioned on this card, and penned from the perspective of a sorrowful Giants fan, recalls the most recent time when the Cubs were consistently a threat to win the World Series. The Giants were their main rival at the time, and Christy Mathewson never relished having to pitch to Joe Tinker.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #34 Johnny Evers
Johnny Evers, the second man in that historic infield, had extraordinary plate discipline. The tidbits offered on the back of this Panini card tell us that Evers retired with three times as many walks as strikeouts. Even a century-plus ago, and despite all the changes that have occurred since the end of the dead-ball era, being a good hitter still requires not wildly flailing at pitches.

He was also a smart defender, and was the fielder who helped cement the Cubs' 1908 pennant after catching Fred Merkle in a forceout at second to end the first game Merkle ever started for the New York Giants. The Cubs won a make-up game after that disputed game ended in a tie, and in the tight 1908 NL Pennant race, ended up costing the Giants dearly.

2012 Panini Cooperstown #35 Frank Chance
Frank Chance, the player-manager first baseman, still holds the Cubs' career record for stolen bases. That's not something you'd expect from a first baseman, perhaps the least speed-sensitive position on the diamond. It's where they stick you when your knees have been acting up. So that part of the game has clearly changed. If he played today, he might have a different spot in that double play trio, all part of the Hall of Fame class of 1946.

Russell to Baez to Rizzo doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Tinker to Evers to Chance, but the Giants are still (barely) leading the NL West and it's an even-numbered year. It's entirely possible that the Cubs and Giants will be renewing their rivalry a century later.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Trading Post #74: Cards on Cards

I have a ton of Rockies duplicates. When you're the representative for a team on the #SuperTraders list, it's likely that you'll end up with a few extras.

1992 Donruss #350 Ray Lankford
I can safely assume that's the case for my fellow trading partners, judging by the Cardinals extras used as packing material in a trade from Cards on Cards earlier this year. He sent me lots of, um, cards, and even though I've completed 1992 Donruss, a dugout shot of speedster Ray Lankford before I got to the Rockies nestled safely within the team bag is a nice bonus.

2007 Upper Deck #667 Byung-Hyun Kim
Byung-Hyun Kim was a Rockie for a couple seasons, primarily in 2006 and for a handful of games in 2007 before being traded to Florida. His sidearm delivery is pictured well on this 2007 Upper Deck card (one of the few later UD sets I can recognize on sight), and the card mentions his transition from closer to starter.

He always seemed to be on the wrong side of famous home runs, allowing the Yankees to nearly grab the 2001 World Series, and helping Derek Jeter get his "Mr. November" nickname. He also gave up #715 to Barry Bonds as a Rockie, on which Bonds passed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list with only Hank Aaron ahead of him.

Amazing that Bonds hit that shot over ten years ago.

1997 Bowman #349 Shawn Chacon (RC)
That was the only one that Bonds got off Kim, but he did hit three off Shawn Chacon. Chacon, a native of Alaska, began pitching in the Rockies rotation a few seasons after his first Bowman card. He was picked for the All-Star team in 2003, one of the few Rockies pitchers to have that honor. But he went an abysmal 2-16 in his next two seasons for the Rockies, who traded him to the Yankees in 2005.

1997 Bowman #331 Todd Helton
Todd Helton appeared just a few cards prior in that same Bowman set, and 1997 was the exact year Helton kicked off his memorable career. This card was printed before that, so it doesn't have much to talk about beyond a scouting report, listing his success in the Minor Leagues, his "swing to die for", and his three starts at QB at the University of Tennessee.

Though the card doesn't mention it, Helton had to come out of the game in that third start, replaced by a now well-known NFL player named Peyton Manning. No one knew it at the time, but this card had a lot of Denver sports history ahead of it.

2011 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball Highlight Sketches #BHS-22 Ubaldo Jimenez
Allen & Ginter gave Rockies Fans an insert card in 2011 commemorating the first, and so far only no-hitter in Rockies history. The back is sure to point out that this feat wasn't achieved at Coors Field, but he had untouchable stuff on April 17, 2010, even though he walked six batters.

April is a fun time to be a Rockies fan, let me tell you.

Surprisingly, six or more walks in a no-hitter isn't that uncommon. Dock Ellis walked eight in his LSD-fueled gem, A.J. Burnett walked nine earlier this century, and the record is ten in ten innings by Jim Maloney of the Reds in the mid-'60s, of course against the Cubs. Could it be that batters hold back in some of these games expecting to get a free pass?

2008 UD A Piece of History #115 Seth Smith (RC)
I've been sent a couple cards form 2008 A Piece of History via trade, which were printed right after the Rockies' magical 2007 season. this Rookie card, which looks more like a tombstone than 1972 Topps ever did, has Smith listed as a rookie on both the design itself and the logo in the upper right. He was a mid-September call-up in 2007, but did well enough that he got to be a part of the Rockies playoff run, getting a few clutch pinch hits and scoring or driving in some key runs.

You never know what can happen in September. Hopefully you keep yourselves in the pennant race long enough for some star rookie to help push you over the edge.

2016 Topps Spring Fever #SF-33 Jon Gray (RC)
I'm always surprised at how many Spring Fever cards I run across, given how limited their distribution is. I guess there are still a lot of card shops out there. This one has some great color-coding to match Jon Gray's jersey. I've seen him pitch a few times in his short career, including his fourth career start, in which he faced Bartolo Colon but got chased out of the game in the 2nd inning, partially by the first of Yoenis Cespedes' three home runs that day. He's settled down for the most part, but still tends to have a rough first inning.

2015 Topps Toys R Us Purple Border #540 Drew Stubbs
Even though Drew Stubbs isn't a Rockie anymore, he did get this Purple parallel in 2015 Topps, as perfect a colored border as ever there was one. These came from packs exclusively sold at Toys-R-Us, and while I haven't been to a Toys-R-Us in decades, most of my 1991 Score collection came from there.

This isn't just a colored border, there's actually some foil and shininess going on here. The three rows of dots at the bottom are printed in silver foil, as his Stubbs' name. I don't like it quite as much as 2013 Topps Emerald, but I'd love to find more of these.

2015 Topps Chrome Prism Refractors #58 Justin Morneau
Morneau isn't a Rockie any longer either. He's now on the White Sox, who a few days ago reached a 55-60 record after 110 games, precisely as they did in 2015 and 2014. This Chrome card looked like a base card to me at first glance, but it has a pattern in the background of some kind. There doesn't seem to be any sort of colored border, so I'll guess that this is the Prism Refractor. Under the right light, it's pretty striking.

2010 Topps Chrome #93 Carlos Gonzalez
This is definitely CarGo's Chrome base card from 2010, and happily, it's about the flattest 2010 Chrome card I've ever seen. The curl in that set was the worst I've ever seen, but this is a pretty good specimen. You tend not to see umpires on cards very often, but the home plate ump #41 is watching what looks like a walk-off hit by Gonzalez.

2015 Topps Chrome Sepia Refractors #77 Charlie Blackmon
Charlie Blackmon has continued to grow as a baseball player and as a beard-wearer. He hit three home runs in a game against the Phillies last week, though they were in vain in a 10-6 loss. His post-swing pose appears on this Topps Chrome Sepia parallel, one of the more common of the many varieties from that release. It's actually a pretty interesting juxtaposition of a photograph that looks like it could be a century old (especially with that beard) on a card with lots of shininess and gloss. Topps elected not to specify what variety this card is, or even that it's a refractor of any kind.

If they want to print up all these varieties, fine, but I'd find if extremely helpful if they told us which was which, even a little bit.

2015 Topps Update Tape Measure Blasts #TMB-2 Andres Galarraga
In a stack of Rockies this big, there are sure to be plenty of Blake Street Bombers. This is actually a pretty recent card, but fan favorite Andres Galarraga hit such a memorable grand slam one day in Miami that he got honored in this 15-card insert set from 2015 Update. It went halfway up an empty third deck, driving in four (yes, you get your own RBI on a home run), and cementing his place in Rockies highlight reels for years to come. Other players in this set come from the annals of baseball history, including Ted Williams, Josh Gibson, David Ortiz, and Reggie Jackson.

The Marlins had a tarp over the upper sections that day, one of which had the Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary logo on it. That logo patch appears on Galarraga's sleeve...

1998 Score #97 Vinny Castilla
...as well as on a very cold Vinny Castilla's sleeve on this Score card. It's a Coors Field card, with the right-center wall just visible in the background. I don't know when this was taken, but it looks absolutely freezing out there. I don't envy whoever's at the plate. Hitting a ball in cold weather really does a number on your hands and wrists. It could be in April or even May, as wintry weather still tends to hang on a bit into spring around here.

As is common for a late-1990s card, there are a lot of fonts being used. The last name is in an easy-to-read stencil font, the team name in a basic serif font, and the letters of his first name each housed in their own little rounded cylinders, sort of like an old-time cash register. The color-coding is nice, though.

1994 Score Rookie/Traded #RT16 Walt Weiss
Score's Rookie and Traded sets tended to be a bit louder than the base sets, but the front of the card is relatively simple. It's almost like an evolved 1990 Donruss. There's a Pittsburgh Pirates cameo here alongside a young Walt Weiss, and it's fellow middle infielder Carlos Garcia.

When Weiss signed with the Rockies, triggering this late-series update, he became the first player to represent both the expansion Marlins and Rockies. He's currently managing the Rockies, but some question remains as to whether he'll continue that job in 2017 and beyond.

2016 Topps Heritage #166 Tom Murphy (RC) / Jon Gray (RC)
This year's Heritage set, using the 1967 design, has a few multi-player cards to be found in it. Both these rookies have reached the Majors, though Jon Gray seems to have more staying power. Tom Murphy does seem to show up on a lot of Topps cards, though. That same structure is behind Jon Gray as we saw on numerous Heritage cards last year. The back of the card mentions Gray's last Triple-A start before his call-up, where he struck out eight batters on the Salt Lake Bees.

More on why I know that Salt Lake's Triple-A team is called the Bees in an upcoming post.

2011 Topps Update #US2 Ty Wigginton
Ty Wigginton has been coming up a lot around here, previously on some Topps Minis I received from Tony L at Off Hiatus Baseball Cards. This one is from the 2011 Update set, a year before that 2012 card of his was printed for the main set.

Though he's listed as a third baseman, he's stretching with all his might to catch the ball at first before Rickie Weeks (another #23) beats it out. I'll guess this is from May 21st, 2011, a day when Wigginton started at first in place of Todd Helton. Hard to say which exact play it was, or whether Weeks made it to first safely. It's definitely a bang-bang play, and the lower banner mostly obscures what's occurring on the bag itself.

1993 Upper Deck Home Run Heroes #HR20 Ray Lankford
Seeing as these Rockies cards all came sandwiched in team bags between Cardinals, I figured it would be appropriate to do the same on this post. I'll pick another Ray Lankford card, and even though he was a leadoff center fielder, obviously a player you'd expect to have lots of speed, he still got a card in Upper Deck's Homerun Heroes insert set from 1993 UD by leading the Cardinals in home runs for 1992. He was only one behind Ozzie Smith on stolen bases, so Lankford was clearly a well-rounded player.

A fitting bookend to a well-rounded trade package.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Trading Post #73: Texas Rangers Cards

The day after Ichiro's 3,000th hit, I caught another ballgame at Coors Field, this time against the Texas Rangers for the first of a short two-game series. That marks the 22nd of 30 Major League teams I've seen in person, with only a few American League teams (including the Astros) left. I never saw the Astros as an NL squad, nor the Expos before their move to Washington D.C.

2011 Bowman Draft Prospects Gold #BDPP3 Tyler Anderson
Tyler Anderson pitched a quality start, giving up only one run over seven innings. The Rockies took a two-run lead into the ninth, only to have it blown by then-closer Carlos Estevez. The Rockies lost 4-3, prompting me to leave a comment on this post at Texas Rangers Cards. Spiff, the longtime writer of that blog, offered to send a few Rockies to ease the pain of the Rockies losing three out of four games against the Rangers, in all of which they blew a late lead. They managed to rally in the fourth game, but not before going down by 2 in the 7th.

Anderson is one of those rare players on a Bowman card to actually show up in the majors, and he's gone 4-4 in his time as a Rockie so far. The facsimile signature on that Bowman card is about as thick as the card itself. And he's one of a promising batch of young pitchers the Rockies have, along with Jon Gray and top prospect Jeff Hoffman. Veteran Jorge de la Rosa remains an anchor of the pitching staff, which means the Rockies may have finally put together a solid rotation. The lineup has pretty much never been the weak link in the Rockies organization, so the last piece of the puzzle is the bullpen. Clearly, that needs a lot of work, but the Cubs didn't have a great bullpen until quite recently, and look how well they're doing now.

2011 Topps Diamond Duos #DD-GT Carlos Gonzalez / Troy Tulowitzki
When the Rockies can put up a bunch of runs, as they do on a pretty consistent basis, then they don't need to lean on their bullpen quite as much. But in close games, it's a glaring weak point in the armor. Between Trevor Story's season-ending surgery, Carlos Gonzalez sitting out most of the week with an ankle injury (he started that game but was taken out in the 2nd), and Mark Reynolds on the DL, that huge offense isn't putting up enough runs to take the pressure off the bullpen, even with Charlie Blackmon's recent flurry of long balls.

This Diamond Duos Topps insert card shows the Rockies dangerous offense, but with CarGo benched, Tulowitzki up in Toronto, and his replacement out for the year after an incredible first half (he's still tied for 3rd in the NL this year), it seems that the Rockies' annual July implosion has surfaced in August.

Photos are always small on dual-player cards, but I see Todd Helton in the on-deck circle behind Tulo, and both players wearing a memorial "KSM" patch. That patch is a memorial to Keli McGregor, President of the Rockies who died in 2010. His initials can be found at Coors Field above the visitor's bullpen, right alongside Helton's and Jackie Robinson's retired numbers.

2009 Upper Deck Goudey #145 Carlos Gonzalez
Of course, CarGo wasn't always a Rockie. He came over from Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade. Upper Deck has him listed as a Rockie, but still pictured as an Athletic (as an A?). Goudey is a lot like Topps Heritage, but the ubiquitous Upper Deck hologram on the back ruins the antique look a bit. Interestingly, he wore #28 in Oakland, the number that fellow star Nolan Arenado wears now.

2006 Topps #189 Jose Mesa
Jose Mesa became a Rockie in 2006 toward the end of his journeyman career. Topps has him listed with the right team, though he's still pictured as a Pirate. This card is clearly between Topps' days of airbrushing and Photoshop editing, which doesn't bug me as much as this card having the Pirates' color scheme. I would file this card with the listed rather than pictured team, but it does screw up the aesthetic a bit.

1993 Topps #132 Preston Wilson (RC)
Preston Wilson got a draft card in 1993 Topps (just like Derek Jeter), pictured in his high school uniform and swinging an aluminum bat. Wilson did indeed play for the Rockies in the early 2000s, leading the league in RBIs in 2003. But I wouldn't necessarily expect a Rangers fan to remember this, especially on a card that doesn't picture Wilson in a Major League uniform of any kind. The only way you can tell what team drafted him is by checking the tiny black lettering and the color scheme on the back. It wasn't the Marlins, but rather the Mets that picked him.

The back of this card also says that he was the inaugural Baseball America High School Player of the Year, an award that has gone to Bryce Harper, Josh Hamilton, Joe Mauer, and Justin Upton.

2014 Topps Update #US-5 Jair Jurrjens
Here's a great candidate for Nick's Short Term Stops theme. Jair Jurrjens came to the Rockies in 2014, but only appeared in two games. This is from the first of those two games on July 4th, 2014, judging by that patriotic hat. Jurrjens got rocked for eight runs by the Dodgers that day, on his way to an astronomical 10.61 ERA while wearing the purple pinstripes. He started another game about a week later, got a no-decision, and never appeared in another Major League game.

He did pretty well as a Brave, and I actually remember him being a Rockie, but I guess he was in the minors for most of his time with the organization. As a card from Topps Update, it's not one I was likely to run across on my own, so if the Rockies didn't blow that game last Monday, this might never have made it into my collection.

2011 Bowman Chrome Throwbacks #BCT9 Tyler Matzek
Now, it's no secret that I don't know Bowman very well. But I guess I do have a decent general idea of their design history, as this 2011 card of Tyler Matzek really didn't look like the 2011 design to me. I didn't have much faith in that determination, and I sure couldn't place what year it might have been from if I had followed that line of reasoning. It turns out that I was vaguely right, as this Chrome card is from a Throwbacks insert set using the design from 2001.

I probably couldn't describe the 2011 design at all (probably had a black border though); all I know is that it's not this. I do believe it's different from Anderson's card at the top, since the Draft Picks and Prospects cards have a different design than regular Bowman, further adding to the confusion. I guess that's why 2016 Stadium Club's similarity to 1997 Fleer doesn't bother me that much. Those are just two sets, but every Bowman set looks pretty much like every other.

2010 Topps Heritage #301 Ryan Spilborghs
Ryan Spilborghs was one of those under-the-radar players for the Rockies, usually having a decent season at the plate and some solid defensive plays. He's still a familiar face to Rockies fans, as he is a color analyst and postgame anchor on Root Sports, the Rockies' TV network. I snapped this photo of him from the bleachers in 2007 in a blowout win against the Cubs, shortly before the magical month of Rocktober.

1961 Topps isn't a set I know very well, which is the design used on 2010 Topps Heritage. The avocado green color on the back is definitely period-correct, though. And "Spilly" looks just like he does on TV!

2005 Upper Deck #70 Shawn Estes
Along with that Johnny Bench card, Shea Stadium seems to be showing up a lot lately. The Rockies used to wear pinstripes on the road, which is fairly unusual, and can be a little tricky to tell it's a road jersey if the home team isn't in the photo. I'm basing my guess of Shea Stadium on all those orange railings in the first level. I'm not sure why they put those there, but it looks like you had quite the labyrinth to go through to get to your seats.

Shawn Estes went a solid 15-8 for the Rockies in 2004, likely one of the better records in Rockies history. He only spent a year in Denver, so he wasn't able to follow up that performance. Even with that record, he still led the NL in Earned Runs. 

This card is from 2005 Upper Deck, a set I don't recognize and may very well not have any cards from besides this and the rest of what Spiff sent. The color coding is quite nice, and Upper Deck went down the full-bleed path long, long ago, something Topps is finally on board with, continuing with the quasi-3D 2017 design, which was just announced. 

2010 Upper Deck #3 Eric Young Jr. (RC)
By 2010, Upper Deck had run its course. No one really went after it, and they were practically begging for legal trouble by blatantly using team logos in the photograph and team names in the paragraph on the back. They did not, however, use the official Rookie Card logo, instead coming up with this bizarre 2010 Rookie logo, which is rather redundant to the "2010 Star Rookie" label in the bottom banner where the player's photograph typically goes.

1993 Upper Deck #793 Armando Reynoso
Upper Deck had a long way to fall after this legendary 1993 set, and fall they did. But the hobby was still graced with this set, and like Willie Blair's head peeking out in front of the UD lettering on his card, so too does the pitch thrown by pickoff artist Armando Reynoso. He wore #42 during his tenure as a Rockie, which wrapped up in 1996, the year before MLB retired #42 league-wide in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.

1998 Collector's Choice #84 Neifi Perez
We can see evidence of that event on this card, as the Jackie Robinson MLB commemorative patch is visible on Neifi Perez' right sleeve. This UD Collector's Choice card has a lot going on, including Eric Young, Sr. behind the play, and Cubs fan favorite Ryne Sandberg likely out at second. Sandberg, a Hall of Famer and former manager of the Phillies, wore #23 as a Cub. That was a great number in Chicago, as this guy on the Bulls wore it too. Perhaps you've heard of Michael Jordan? 

It must just be coincidence, but there must be other times when sports stars in the same city shared numbers across sports. Larry Walker and Patrick Roy both wore #33 while in Denver, for example. I'm not an expert on uniform numbers, so can you think of any others?

1999 Upper Deck #90 Neifi Perez
1999 Upper Deck's design has always raised some eyebrows. It's been nicknamed "The Salad Tongs set" for obvious reasons, and while I never really minded it that much, it's flaws are quite apparent on this card, as we have absolutely no clue who the cameo is on this double play card. I can barely even venture a guess. Maybe a Dodger, simply based on the higher likelihood of this being a divisional game.

This was 1999, after all, and UD devoted quite a bit of space on the back to their website, encouraging collectors to "Get ONLINE" at www.upperdeck.com (back when browsers weren't quite smart enough to just add all that prefix stuff automatically). I wonder what visitors in 1999 would think of today's website? Would they be more amazed by the LeBron memorabilia for the Cleveland Cavaliers (also #23), by the fact that Officially Licensed NHL cards had top billing and baseball was nowhere to be found, by three of the six banners referencing Marvel Comics products, or maybe by newfangled digital e-Packs and social media links to Twitter and Facebook? It would all be a lot to take in during 1999. I don't think I'd even heard of the Cavaliers then.

2010 Upper Deck Pure Heat #PH15 Troy Tulowitzki
Die-cut cards existed before 1999, and I've seen some strange ones in my day, but this might be the weirdest. The die cut shape at the bottom doesn't seem to represent anything in particular, and I can't quite tell whether the card is supposed to have that ruffling at the bottom. More likely that's some damage from the printing process, as I've seen that pattern on cards before, particularly 1997 Score. But I couldn't really understand why Tulo's photo was cut off at the top of the card. Then I flipped it over and saw that it was from 2010 UD.

At first, I thought UD engaged in a bit of trickery and deliberately cut off the logo on the helmet to avoid running afoul of MLB's licensing rules, perhaps later in the release cycle when their legal troubles became apparent. The card number on the back is just a millimeter or so from the top edge, so it was clear that the upper portion of the card wasn't all here. Still, I couldn't figure out what that oddly-shaped die cut was supposed to represent.

After looking at similar listings on eBay, I realized I was reading too much into it. There is a better-centered die cut pattern on both the top and bottom of other cards, and the bottom doesn't angle back in like it does on mine. So maybe I just have an innocuous miscut. It's highly uncharacteristic of me to jump to conspiracy theory, but the way this one is cut doesn't violate the licensing rules they knew they were breaking.

2011 Topps 60 #T60-93 Carlos Gonzalez
Ahhh, a nice rectangle. How refreshing. This one is part of the 100-card Topps 60 insert set found in Series 1 and 2. Update tacked on another fifty cards. I wouldn't say I'm close to completing it, but I've found quite a few of these. This one documents Carlos Gonzalez and his 2010 NL batting title. All is right with the world when the Rockies have a batting champ.

1992 Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball Team Logo Holograms #NNO Colorado Rockies
This shiny hologram sticker came out a lot bluer than it really is, but I'm impressed my scanner didn't think this was just a dark rectangle. I had a hard time finding anything out about this card. Beckett doesn't seem to list it, nor does BaseballCardPedia. I'm guessing it's an insert from 1992 Upper Deck which seems like the obvious choice. But it might be some sort of promotional card as well.

Holograms are fascinating things. It was basically a UD trademark, and I think they should have done more with them during their early history. I think there were a few insert cards here and there, but mostly it was just team logo stickers. What if they made a set, even just a 100-card set or High Numbers or something in holograms? They might have advanced the hobby even further than they already did. I remember a few National Geographic covers that were holograms, and I spent maybe a bit too much time in one sitting staring into them, trying to see all the detail.

1994 Ultra Hitting Machines #4 Andres Galarraga
1994 Ultra used a lot of gold foil. A lot. The insert cards had to differentiate themselves somehow, so they got silver foil. This Hitting Machines card of Andres Galarraga previewed some of the craziness to come the next year in 1995 Fleer, They were just getting warmed up. I opened a lot of 1994 Ultra, and I know I have a few cards from this 10-card insert set, probably Barry Bonds. The set is full of Hall-of-Famers, as well as a couple more that should be.

Galarraga gave us one of the many highlights of the inaugural 1993 season, winning the first batting title for the Rockies with an average of .370. Before his knee injury that sidelined him for about a month, there was talk of hitting that mythical .400 average. He didn't quite get there, and there was concern that he wouldn't have enough at bats to qualify. 

It also gave me my first baseball research project. My dad bought a copy of the Baseball Weekly newspaper at the local Albertson's in late summer 1993 and had me pore over the NL batting statistics to find potential challengers to Galarraga's run at the batting title. I remember finding someone hitting .429 and alerted my dad immediately, until he pointed out that this particular batter was just hitting 3-for-7 on the season, and had no chance to qualify for the award. I have no idea who that batter was, but I can't imagine having something like Baseball Reference at that time instead of a newspaper that I couldn't do a Ctrl+F on. 

1993 Ultra #360 Jim Tatum (RC)
Fleer Ultra was one of my favorite packs to buy in 1993 at the local Wal-Mart. I spent a lot of time in that card aisle, which was right next to the snack bar, though I had to go past the pharmacy to get to the toy section where all the awesome Legos and Micro Machines were. I haven't been in a Wal-Mart in over six years, and that particular location was vacated and became a mega-church ages ago, but I can still recall the floor plan of that store from memory quite easily. It was located right next to that Albertson's, in fact. I know Galarraga's 1993 batting average by heart, too.

But I have to consult Baseball Reference a lot.

There were a lot of 1993 Fleer Ultra cards in this trade package, and many of them have been in my collection for almost as long as there's been a collection. Vinny Castilla has one where he's facing to the left, reaching out for the ball with his left hand, the ball isn't quite in his glove, his mouth is open as though he's shouting at someone, and there's a little gold rookie logo in the upper left.

1993 Ultra #344 Vinny Castilla
Yeah, that one.

So the logo's in the upper right. Close enough. 

But that Jim Tatum card is brand-new to me. And it might have the best view of a first baseman's mitt in my entire collection. A set you thought you knew can still surprise you even after all these years!