Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Trading Post #100: Baseball Cards Come To Life! (Part 1: Topps)

Any time a trade comes in from Bo at Baseball Cards Come To Life!, you'll probably need to split it up into two posts. This isn't the first time Bo and I have swapped cards, and it's quite fitting that such a prolific trader ended up as my 100th trade. I was wondering who would end up with that frankly amazing number, and he packed a 400-count box to the gills which will earn him The Trading Post #101 as well.

2001 Topps Gold Label Class 1 #67 Larry Walker
I've consistently found that the best way to split posts is grouping Topps and then all the other brands. Starting with Topps, here's an exceptionally shiny card of Larry Walker from the Gold Label set, a brand that's fairly well-represented in my collection, except for the recent 2016 and 2017 releases, which I've yet to run across.

The 2001 set has just a tad more gold than I remember from past years, and Topps color-coded it with a deep purple at the bottom, a purple that amazingly scans better than it looks. It's much darker than the actual Rockies colors, especially after this year, when they changed the official hue to a lighter purple. That was just back in spring, but already I'm pretty set on official Rockies swag in the new color, thanks to a gift bag I won at Coors Field a couple weeks ago when I saw the Detroit Tigers visit.

I've been checking in with the MLB Ballpark app for years now, and I was lucky enough to be one of just ten fans to win. I got a notification and an email, and all I had to do was stop by a kiosk on the first level, which I combined with a beer and snack run my friend and I made. My Michigander buddy got a Tornadough pretzel, and I went back to my seat with a hat, t-shirt, water bottle, and limited-edition Nolan Arenado bobblehead, which now resides on my cubicle shelf at work. It contained no cards, but Bo more than made up for that.

By the way, after this year's round of interleague games, I'm down to only five teams I've never seen before. I wonder who I'll be able to see next year.

2001 Bowman Heritage #67 Larry Walker
In sharp contrast to the shininess of Gold Label (though with the same card number), Bowman went with a black-and-white scheme for their inaugural Heritage set. Patterned after 1948 Bowman, there's no name, team, logo, position, or anything. Just a rather striking white-bordered portrait and a little Bowman logo off in the corner. Like your typical Heritage card, it's printed on cardboard, making it just about as thick as Walker's Gold Label card from the same year, if a bit more flexible. The vertical back of the card discusses his usual accolades of batting titles, Gold Gloves, All-Star selections, etc.... But the card also mentions his childhood in Canada, where he played youth hockey with Cam Neely, the former Canuck who is now the president of the Boston Bruins.

2005 Topps Turkey Red #19 Jeff Francis
After a few years of Heritage, Topps decided to go even further with retro cards, designing a set based on the 1911 Turkey Red set, one that predated Topps itself by decades. Turkey Red as a Topps product waffled between being a main set and an insert set for several years, and they seemed to be everywhere around 2010. There's an interesting texture on the front, which I can best describe as an old book cover, maybe even what you might call pebbled. Think of UD Masterpiece, but more of a random pattern.

Like Larry Walker, Jeff Francis is also Canadian, even hailing from the same province of British Columbia. Of course, the back mentions hockey, telling us that the baby-faced Francis was nicknamed "Boomer", after old-time hockey player Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion.

Hockey's a big deal in Canada.

2002 Topps 206 #231 Ben Petrick
Preceding the revival of Turkey Red was Topps' take on the famed T206 set, when Topps realized they really had something on their hands with this retro thing. It looks more or less like the 1909-1911 originals, except for being cut in a standard 2.5" x 3.5" size. This is also when Topps started going a bit crazy with back variations, but this one is just the regular variety. By this point in his career, as the card states, Petrick had homered in six ballparks. That most of those came in a particular pre-humidor park in Denver shouldn't be terribly surprising.

2002 Topps Ten #26 Juan Pierre 3B
Who has heard of Topps Ten before? I sure hadn't. In fact, I thought this was just an insert card from 2002 Topps, which I'm rather unfamiliar with to begin with, but apparently this 200 card set was a one-year wonder released in retail channels. Judging by the checklist, it appears as though Topps decided to make a full set out of what we see today as league leader cards. The top ten performers in each statistical category (hits, slugging percentage, ERA, wins, and so forth) were each given a card. Get it? Topps Ten?

Anyway, finding speed demon Juan Pierre near the top of the triples list is rather expected. He played less than two and a half seasons as a Rockie, but still is among the top-20 Rockies in that category. In fact, he'd go on to tie for the National League lead with a dozen in 2004 as a Marlin, fresh off a World Series win.

Charlie Blackmon is literally running away with that statistic in 2017, with 14 so far and still a few weeks left to play. Nicholas Castellanos, of all players, is in second place across the Majors, with 10.

1997 Topps Stars #69 Ellis Burks
It's interesting seeing the first year of all these brands that I've become so familiar with. Many of them have staying power and went through a few iterations, but somehow the inaugural years seem to be a bit tougher to find. Maybe collectors are more inclined to hang on to them, or maybe the manufacturer goes easy on the print run until they have proof of concept1993 Finest Refractors, anyone?

Topps Stars lives up to its name on this Ellis Burks card, as I count 95 between the front and the back. Many are partially obscured, but Topps really wanted to make sure you knew what this was about. The back is more focused on actual All-Star performances than subsequent years of this brand, telling us all about Burks' selection in 1990 that he missed due to injury, his late-inning triple in the NL's 1996 shutout of the AL, and even his balloting positions in 1996 and 1997.

Not sure if I'd pick a photograph of a pretty bad swinging strike, assuming this wasn't fouled back off the plate. Perhaps an even 100 stars on this card would have distracted me from where the ball is in this picture, but you know what they teach you in Little League.

Never take your eye off the ball.

2016 Stadium Club #242 Collin McHugh
Bo was kind enough to throw in a couple cards from 2016 Stadium Club, a set that I'd love to one day complete (really any of the recent Stadium Club sets), even tossing in another team! The Astros are doing quite well this year, leading the AL West by a healthy margin and are basically a lock to win their division this year. Collin McHugh didn't have a huge role to play in that, as he missed the first half with elbow problems. He's gone 2-2 this year, but left his last start early due to a rather painful-sounding torn fingernail.

I actually had no idea about this, but he's the guy the Rockies got for trading Eric Young, Jr. to the Mets back in 2013. About a month after that, Young was involved in a rather serious collision with Tim Hudson at first base. Meanwhile, McHugh would continue to put up some astronomically high ERA numbers until the Astros claimed him in the 2013 offseason. After that, it was off to the races, as he matched Jake Arrieta in Wins between August 2014 and when this card was printed.

You might notice the "MH" patch on McHugh's jersey. That's for longtime Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton, who passed away in September 2015, just before the Astros found a bit of success in the postseason. They shut out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game, and lost a 5-game ALDS to the eventual World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals.

2016 was a down year, but we'll get to see the Astros make another run this year, and they'll be playing for a battered and decimated city of Houston, following the events of Hurricane Harvey.

1997 Stadium Club #187 Todd Helton 2000 SP
Todd Helton is shown on this confusingly-named 1997 Stadium Club card wearing uniform number 11, with faint "TSC 2000" lettering going up the right side. The bottom has a layout similar to Larry Walker's Gold Label card, but this one makes me do a double take for a few reasons.

The back talks about his performance in high school, college, and Double-A, so this is clearly from way before Helton made his mark on the Big Leagues. I guess it took a while for him to settle in to uniform #17. I've seen a few cards from this short-printed subset, and the TSC 2000 always threw me off. Granted, everyone was getting pretty excited for the new millennium back then, including in branding and marketing. Who remembers Gateway 2000, for example?

At least he's batting lefty.

2010 Bowman Draft Prospects #BDPP24 Chad Bettis
There was quite a bit of Bowman in this trade package, but one that stood out is this early card of Chad Bettis, who just picked up his first win of the season against the reeling Dodgers, a team that is 1-14 in their last 15 games, including their current 9-game slide. They probably have enough of a cushion to still win the division, but this is not the time to be cooling off, especially because teams like the Indians and more importantly the Diamondbacks have been doing the exact opposite lately. The Indians have won 17 in a row, the longest streak in the Majors since the A's 20-game Moneyball run in 2002.

According to this card, Bettis is a baseball card collector, like his now-teammate Pat Neshek. He pitched well tonight, and returning to the hill after his much-discussed battle with cancer, he's performing admirably. On the postgame show interview with Nolan Arenado, the interviewer asked about the letters "RTTW" that are written on Bettis' gloveRun Through The Wall. After being swept by the Diamondbacks at home, the Rockies have the chance to do the same to the Dodgers tomorrow. In L.A., no less. That's certainly the level of grit you need to succeed in this sport, and the Rockies have shown it more than once this season, including dusting themselves off after a 3-game stretch back in April in which they were massively outscored by the Nationals. A "buzzsaw", as one of the TV guys put it. It will be an interesting few weeks as we see how all the tight Wild Card races play out.

Anyway, Bowman was still printing facsimile signatures in 2010, and Bettis' reminds me a bit of Chris Reed's signature, who signed a few for the custom Munnatawket Mini cards that made the Cardsphere rounds a couple years ago. I haven't seen anyone write about those in ages, but I still have a handful in my collection.

1988 Topps UK Minis #67 Mike Schmidt
Speaking of minis, Bo included several from Topps and others, some of which you'll see in part 2. Topps hadn't gone crazy with the stars yet, as there are only 12 front and back. I originally assumed this was a insert in 1988 Topps packs, but apparently Topps released a whole set for the UK market, advertised as "American Baseball" cards. That would explain the rather rudimentary "Talkin' Baseball" feature on the card backs. Mike Schmidt's card, the third card #67 in this post, discusses the Squeeze Play, which is admittedly an advanced maneuver, but the card directs you to card #29 to learn about the Bunt, and card #45 to see the definition of a Runner.

There's no indication of where these were printed, but I'd guess they came from the same Ireland facility that produced the Topps Traded and Tiffany sets back then. If nothing else, they're a great example of the fact that there is always more to learn about this hobby.

2010 Topps Pro Debut #104 Jordan Pacheco
There were even a handful of Minor League cards, such as this 2010 Asheville Tourists card of Jordan Pacheco. He had a solid rookie season in 2012, but gradually faded, ended up playing for the Diamondbacks and Reds for a spell, and is now playing in an independent league for the Long Island Ducks. I glanced at their roster, and recognized a few other former Major Leaguers, such as Alfredo Simon and David Aardsma.

The 2010 design with its huge logos is easily recognizable whether it's a Major or Minor league card. The team logo might not be familiar, but as someone who has followed the Rockies for years, Pacheco is a pretty recognizable name, despite his mostly uneventful career in Denver.

2001 Finest #61 Todd Helton
We'll end where we began, with a shiny card from 2001. Did anyone ever call this one the Doppler effect set? Because that's what it should be called. Perhaps it's not as strongly themed as the 2003 hexagon set (which I was just reminded of by a hexagon-heavy transition graphic on MLB Network), but still fits right in as a Topps Finest card. The purple even comes across better than on the Gold Label design, where it's a bit too dark to really tell what's going on. At least, it does in person. The scanner has a mind of its own tonight.

A pre-goatee Helton had just put up what would be the best season of his career. In the year 2000, he won the batting title, and led the league in hits, slugging percentage, RBIs, and of course doubles. As this card points out, he was only 8 home runs short of winning the Triple Crown. Sammy Sosa was still doing his thing at the turn of the millennium, but Helton fell short of a few others, including Bonds, Bagwell, Vlad, Gary Sheffield, and even Richard Hidalgo.

Just a few more dingers in 2000 would probably have made Helton's Hall of Fame case a lot stronger than it is. I guess we'll have to see what 2019 brings, but sooner or later, a Rockie really should be in Cooperstown.

This would have been a great trade on its own, but don't forget that there's a part 2 to all this, meaning we won't linger long on the 100th trade post milestone.

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