Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Trading Post #89: The Chronicles of Fuji

Fuji recently vacated the Athletics' spot in the #supertraders group, but that didn't stop him from sending an awesome trade package in December. He even took the time to put everything in penny sleeves for safe keeping. It was one of those trades where I had to narrow things down quite a bit to keep this from being a 20-card post, as I was dazzled by a lot of what he sent.

1994 SP Holoviews #10 Andres Galarraga
At first glance, this looks like a recent card with a hologram sticker autograph. But it's actually from all the way back in 1994. Upper Deck went all in with the hologram technology for this insert set, though there is no Upper Deck hologram anywhere on the back. The card has a Topps Chrome-esque curl, but the silver area at the bottom shows the Big Cat's 3D face on the right, and a bunch of SP logos coming out of some clouds on the left. They give the design a bit more of a 3D illusion by superimposing Galarraga's photograph over the hologram.

The card number looks like a fraction: 10 over 38. I was wondering if this was some kind of a fractured set, as I haven't seen this one before, Then I thought it might be something to do with the uniform number, but that was clearly not correct, as he wore #14. It's simply card 10 out of 38, the total size of this insert set. Simple.

1997 SPx #SPX24 Andres Galarraga
The Big Cat shows up again on a similar card a few years later, but this one is die-cut. The write up mentions that in early 1997, he became the all-time home runs leader among Venezuelans, with 252. He'd end up with just shy of 400, still a monster number. And he only played five seasons as a Rockie, so he had plenty of power outside of Denver.

There are lots of holograms on this one, even more than in 1994. The areas of the X contain a bunch of SPX logos, and the arc in the middle contains a nearly identical headshot of Galarraga against a backdrop of Rockies logos. It's even got a bit of color to it, both in Galarraga's skin tone and in the purple areas of the team logo. And there's even the familiar Upper Deck hologram on the back, this time in gold. 

Shiny at its best.

2011 Topps 60 #T60-11 Troy Tulowitzki
Topps 60 is one of those giant insert sets that I've been casually chasing for a while now. Coincidentally, I'd estimate that I've completed about sixty percent of it. This one of Tulo in that familiar batting motion documents his slugging percentage as a cleanup hitter. Between 2005 and 2010, Tulo was second overall behind Miguel Cabrera. And Tulowitzki didn't even play in 2005, and was a late-season callup in 2006. So while this doesn't quite give us an apples-to-apples comparison, Tulo was doing exactly what he was supposed to in the #4 slot.

The back of the card gives the top ten players in this stat. There are some familiar names on here, like Bonds, Berkman, Fielder, and others. And tied for 6th was Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg. He had a relatively short-lived career, but put together an all-star season in 2005. I even picked him for my fantasy team one year (probably the year after). He didn't have lasting power, but he was definitely part of the conversation for a while.

2011 Topps Diamond Duos Series 2 #DD-22 Troy Tulowitzki / Ubaldo Jimenez
Tulowitzki's post-swing pose finally made it onto a card, one of the two-player Diamond Duo cards, another large 2011 insert set. He appears with teammate Ubaldo Jimenez, neither of whom are even in the National League right now, let alone on the Rockies. The paragraph on the back talks more about Tulo's defensive performance, so it's a little odd that Topps used a batting shot here, especially given that he appeared in this insert set three times across two series.

The back also offers a statistics comparison between Tulowitzki and Jimenez, except comparing a pitcher's stats to a position player's doesn't seem that relevant. For example, Tulo had 338 RBIs by then, compared to Ubaldo's 655 strikeouts. 

2011 Topps Target Red Diamond #RDT-12 Carlos Gonzalez
2011 marked Topps' first year all by itself in the baseball card marketplace in over 30 years. That pesky Upper Deck wasn't making even unlicensed baseball cards anymore, and Topps took the opportunity of their reinstated monopoly and their 60th anniversary to churn out bunches of insert sets. The previous two I've come reasonably close to completing, but this one I've never seen before. It fits with the rest of 2011's diamond theme, but this is a Target-exclusive insert set. I wasn't buying cards regularly at that time, but I'm a little surprised I've never seen one turn up in a discount box. Usually the red- and blue-bordered ones stand out in discount boxes full of Topps base.

This insert set spanned 30 cards over two series, and contained a pretty even mixture of active players and retired greats. Carlos' two-homer performance on August 29th, 2010 is the subject of the paragraph on the back. That sounded familiar, making me wonder if I was at that game. But I wasn't. He just does that sort of thing a lot.

2008 Upper Deck Heroes Beige #55 Jeff Francis /299
Speaking of Upper Deck, here's a familiar-looking card of 17-game winner Jeff Francis from the well-liked Baseball Heroes set. I've shown the base version of this card before. While the base card is described as a "sand" color, this is the beige parallel, serial numbered to 299. The difference in color between the two is somewhat noticeable when placed side-by-side, but trying to recall it from memory would be a challenge. It would definitely be easy to skip over if you didn't know just what you were looking for.

Like other cards in this set, and that purple Todd Helton card from my previous post, the background has a matte finish, while the photo and logo are glossy. And it's definitely reminiscent of 1959 Topps. More on that later.

2014 Topps Update Power Players #PPA-TT Troy Tulowitzki
I've seen Carlos Gonzalez's card from 2014 Topps Power Players numerous times before, including this very trade package. but this is my first copy of Troy Tulowitzki's card from that set. The "wormhole", as I previously described it, is the same shape but uses different colors. And Tulo gets a real action shot as opposed to CarGo's posed image. There's also a pattern of dots in the background, which reminds me of what you see on Panini Prizm's Pulsar parallels.

Say that ten times fast.

1999 Topps Power Brokers #PB9 Vinny Castilla
I have to wonder if Topps looked through the archives and found inspiration for Power Players in this similar Power Brokers set from 1999. This one is shinier, but the overall color and design is pretty similar. Enough of the blue wall peeks through the distortion to indicate that they're in Shea Stadium, but between the action shot, blocky font, and a pair of electrodes, there's a lot going on here. There's even a rather large nuclear symbol on the back. To be honest, I didn't even realize this was a die-cut until I viewed it several times. It's a clear indication of history repeating itself, which happens more than you'd think in this hobby.

1995 Stadium Club Virtual Reality #204 Marvin Freeman
In 1995, the sport of baseball, and its related card industry, was trying to recover from a disastrous strike that cut the 1994 season short. Topps came up with the idea to include computer-simulated statistics on some 1995 cards, such as Topps Cyberstats, and also this Virtual Reality partial parallel set in Stadium Club. Freeman had 10 wins in 1994 as the Rockies ace, but Topps thought it likely that he'd win another four for a total of 14.

1995 Stadium Club Virtual Reality #204 Marvin Freeman (Reverse)
No one really talks about it, but the the back of 1995 Stadium Club wasn't that different from the thermal camera look that Fleer famously produced in 1995. The hobby went to some strange places that lasted for the rest of the decade.

Virtual Reality, and the Web itself were just getting off the ground in 1994, barely past the concept stage. Over twenty years later, Virtual Reality still isn't quite mainstream, but it's certainly moving that direction, and rapidly. Perhaps in another 20 years, cards (or something like the Bunt app) will have an actual VR component, allowing us to see video highlights at a glance.

Hopefully it's more like that and not another prediction of what might have happened without a labor dispute.

1995 Topps Embossed Golden Idols #112 Walt Weiss
Shiny cards usually look generally silver, like a mirror. It's fairly uncommon for the thing to just be straight, bling-y gold. But that's just what Topps did with the parallels for Embossed, adding to the oddness of 1995. I haven't seen a ton of Topps Embossed in general, and apparently these are one per pack parallels that took Topps Gold to its logical endgame.

It's a very texturey card. Weiss' images are raised from the card surface both front and back, and each of the concentric layers of the border has a different pattern. Furthest out are baseballs, further in are diagonal ridges, horizontal ridges, what looks like ice cream sprinkles, etc.... Lost in all that is some letting at the bottom that reminds us that Weiss was the 1988 Rookie of the Year, and there's a little more detail about that on the non-gold back.

1995 Score Gold Rush #338 Andres Galarraga
Beginning a transition from gold to green, Score's Gold Rush parallel set in 1995 gives us a shot of Andres Galarraga signing autographs. I think. Many ballplayers were sporting shades like this in the mid-1990s, but Galarraga did not go down the goatee route, the 1990s equivalent of the big, bushy beards we commonly see today.

Score also used a different, darker shade of gold on the border than Weiss' card. This one looks less like actual gold and more like a slightly reddish alloy. The foil is a tiny bit dinged up on the edges, as whatever Score used for this product, I've always found to be easy to nick.

2008 Topps Heritage Chrome #C50 Matt Holliday /1959
Moving fully into the green color theme, Matt Holliday's Chrome parallel from 2008 Topps Heritage is serial numbered to 1959, matching the design of that year. Remember that Jeff Francis card? Now it should be pretty obvious where Upper Deck got its idea for Baseball Heroes. Not that a circle is a hugely unusual shape or anything, but the diameter and placement are almost identical.

Being from 2008, this is from the year after the Rockies went to the World Series and Holliday won MVP honors in the NLCS against the Diamondbacks. He also led a bunch of categories in 2007, including two Triple Crown categories. They didn't mention his memorable slide at the end of the 2007 regular season (hi, Padres fans!), but any green card always has a welcome spot in my collection.

1994 Finest Refractors #72 Joe Girardi
1994 Finest is right up there as my all-time favorite green set, with 2013 Topps Emerald close behind. Joe Girardi, now manager of the Yankees, spent a few seasons behind the plate as a Rockie, and even though he missed about half of the 1993 season due to injury, he still earned a spot in the Topps Finest set. Not only that, but this is the refractor version, a term we all know now but weren't so familiar with back then. 

This isn't nearly as rare as refractors from the debut 1993 Finest set, but it's still a great card, and a fairly scarce variation of one of my favorite sets. I have none of the refractors from 1993 in my collection, and only Kevin Stocker's from 1994, besides this. It was a trade package full of shiny cards from start to finish, covering all the great periods of Rockies history.

Thanks, Fuji!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trading Post #88: Johnny's Trading Spot

A surprise #Supertraders PWE arrived recently from John at the aptly named Johnny's Trading Spot. John represents the Braves in the group, and I don't believe I've sent anything to him yet. I'll address that soon enough (no pun intended), but for now, let's take a look at this Bowman-heavy envelope.

2016 Bowman Platinum #95 Jon Gray (RC)
Kicking things off is the young hurler Jon Gray, wearing a cap with an alternate logo. After a year off in 2015, Bowman Platinum returned in 2016, offering no Major League statistics but a very brief write-up alluding to Gray's call-up in late 2015. It's good that we have a pitcher with hair like this, since that seems to be working well for the Mets.

This is instantly recognizable as a Bowman Platinum card, and there is good color-coding to signify that this is a Rockies card. It goes particularly well with Gray's jersey. I also like the little white spot in the lower right that punches through the color and displays Gray's position. The only thing I've always had trouble with is that the cursive "P" in the Bowman Platinum logo looks much more like an "L" to me. I keep wanting to call it Bowman Limited.

2009 Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP58 Wilin Rosario
For as much Bowman as was in this envelope, there were no black borders to be found. I've seen the base version of this card before, but now I have the Chrome version to go with it. Rosario was released by the Rockies after the 2015 season, and played in Korea in 2016. He re-signed with the Hanwha Eagles for 2017, who play in the city of Daejeon.

It's truly become a global game. It's not that big in Europe, but in Eastern Asia and across the Americas, it's a major sport. And with the upcoming World Baseball Classic and the sport's return to the Summer Olympics in 2020, the trend is sure to continue.

2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP27 Raimel Tapia
Raimel Tapia remains a top prospect in the Rockies' farm system, and even played 22 games in September after rosters expanded. He didn't show much power, but did get 10 hits in 38 at-bats. He's just 22, so he still has plenty of time to develop.

He's "only" 22, but what that really means is that he wasn't even born yet when the Rockies began play.

2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP23 Kyle Parker
Parker, on the other hand, seems to already have had his turn in the majors. He was a two-sport star at Clemson, but after a couple seasons of sub-.200 batting averages in 64 games, the Rockies cut him. There's not really much else to say, which is sort of how it goes in Bowman-land. For every Stephen Strasburg, there are dozens of players that don't make a significant dent in the Majors, if they make it at all.

Prospecting for Bowman cards (and running a farm system in general) seems a lot like venture capital. You're throwing resources in a lot of areas, hoping that one will pan out big-time and pay for all the rest. At least the 2010 draft didn't look like a giant blunder for the Rockies. Noah Syndergaard did go lower down, but the Rockies had 26th pick. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, and Chris Sale were long gone by then.

2004 Fleer Tradition Diamond Tributes #13 Todd Helton
The only non-Bowman card in here was this 2004 insert of Todd Helton. Fleer used a mixture of glossy and matte finishes on the front, along with a touch of gold foil. It was clear by then that Helton was going to put a great career together. He had already amassed 1,000 hits and he did it pretty quickly, too. No mention of his doubles, a statistic where he finished in the all-time top-20.

The purple background on this looks a little like woodgrain, I'd say more like woodgrain than the mirror image black lines on the crossed bats. It's definitely something different than Bowman Chrome, and I hope that one day another player in this post has a good enough career going to warrant a spot in a 20-card insert set.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Trading Post #87: cards as i see them

Veterans of the Cardsphere (am I the only one still using that term?) know garvey cey russell lopes as one of the well-known early entrants into our community. Its writer wrapped up that particular blog in 2015, but couldn't stay away blogging for long, starting up a new one in September called cards as i see them. It has his trademark no-capitalization style, though I can confirm that his handwriting doesn't follow the same pattern, based on the PWE I got from him right around Christmas.

2013 Topps Chrome Update #MB-15 Michael Cuddyer
Inside that envelope was another iteration of Michael Cuddyer's 2013 Update card, this one of the Chrome variety. Right around the same time, the Gold version arrived from It's Like Having My Own Card Shop. I can't decide which of the colored borders I like best, but orange with the silver background looks surprisingly good. I had to look up why the card number has "MB" in it, and it's because these cards were sold in "Mega-Boxes" back in 2013. It's pretty much just a blaster, so I'm not sure why that packaging warranted a card number like that, but that's how they did it.

I just don't think I quite get Update.

2013 Topps Update 1971 Topps Minis #14 Troy Tulowitzki
Maybe it's just Chrome, though. Because this mini of Tulowitzki makes much more sense to me. I'm sure anyone who actually collected 1971 Topps will wonder what the heck I'm talking about, but I grew up being able to afford reprints, not the real thing. So current players on old designs seems like quite a good idea.

This is definitely a recycled photo, but it does look good when placed next to Cuddyer's card, as they've both been captured at precisely the same point in the swing from the same angle. Tulo looks a little behind the ball here, but it's a Coors Field shot, and this particular cropping of the photo shows us that they were playing the Padres that day. As we know now, the Padres are the last pro team remaining in San Diego, with the Chargers moving to L.A. next season. I didn't know this, but both the Rockets and Clippers of the NBA originally played in San Diego, before moving to Houston and Los Angeles, respectively.

Good thing Los Angeles already has two pro baseball teams, otherwise San Diego might be without a major league team before long.

2014 Panini Prizm Prizms Red White and Blue Pulsar #100 Jorge De La Rosa
Panini Prism took a page from Topps Chrome and went a little crazy with colored borders. There are more than a handful listed on Beckett, and this one is the particularly odd Red, White, and Blue Pulsar variety. Rotate it 90 degrees clockwise and you have the French flag, which actually looks pretty cool when held at arm's length. And I was so distracted by these colors and the dot pattern in the background that I didn't even notice there were no logos! Well, other than Nike. But I've flogged that dead horse before.

2011 Topps Heritage Black #C94 Ubaldo Jimenez
When 2011 rolled around, it was time for Topps Heritage to use the 1962 design that I so adore. Of course, it got the parallel treatment too, such as this Black variety. The border isn't entirely black, but they gave it this sort of charred wood look which looks great. It's a clever idea to implement on a woodgrain design. I'm interested to see if they do the same thing in 2036 when the 1987 design gets its turn with the Heritage treatment.

Of course, that assumes that Heritage, or even Topps itself will still be around in 2036.

Maybe by 2036 the Rockies will have had a 20-game winner. As it stands now, Ubaldo holds the Rockies single-season record, with 19 wins. This card was printed the year after that, so his 19-8 record is proudly displayed on the back. He finished third in NL in strikeouts, wins, and Cy Young voting. Perhaps the fact that he led the NL in wild pitches and finished second in walks issued hurt his chances at that accolade a bit.

2009 O-Pee-Chee #73 Ian Stewart
I never opened any, but I'm probably getting pretty close to completing the team set from 2009 O-Pee-Chee. It's an understated retro set, although the photos are significantly sharper than they are on Heritage, making it feel just a little bit too modern. I'm sure this was taken in Hi Corbett Field, the former Spring Training home of the Rockies. That scoreboard just visible on the left matches up with photos I've taken of it.

2016 Topps Update #US256a Nolan Arenado AS
Ian Stewart held down the hot corner for several years, but was traded to the Cubs for DJ LeMahieu, and clearing the way for Mr. Arenado and his four straight Gold Gloves.

Arenado was an All-Star in 2016, meaning he had the privilege (?) of wearing the retro yellow and brown All Star jerseys in San Diego. He did better in the field than at the plate, but anytime you're on the All Star team, you're pretty much guaranteed to get a card in Topps Update.

Starting this season, the All-Star Game is just going to be about having fun and putting on a show again, rather than determining the league with home-field advantage. But perhaps that doesn't really matter. In the 14-season period that the All-Star Game "counted", the NL was 3-11, but 8-6 in the World Series. However, in the three seasons the NL did have home field, (2010-2012), they also won the World Series.

I'm sure there's more in-depth analysis out there than that. But either way, if the Midsummer Classic can just be about having fun and wearing oddly-colored jerseys, I am fine with that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Trading Post #86: It's Like Having My Own Card Shop

Daniel from It's Like Having My Own Card Shop and I are kindred spirits, in a sense. We're both fans of the recent expansion teams in the NL West, sort of all by our lonesome among all the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, and Cubs collectors in the Cardsphere. He was one of many bloggers who got a #supertrader mailer from me shortly before Christmas, and he was sure to return the favor with a PWE of his own.

1997 Collector's Choice All-Star Connection #42 Ellis Burks
Once my eyes returned to normal after being blinded by the giant silver star on this Ellis Burks card, I started doing a little research, as I didn't recognize the set. It's an insert from 1997 Collector's Choice, part of a moderately-sized insert set of 45 cards. There's quite a bit of red foil on it, including the 1997 All-Star Game logo, which took place in Cleveland that year. Until recently, the AL and NL did a pretty good job of alternating which league hosted the Midsummer Classic, although we're in the middle of a four-year stretch of NL hosts. Cleveland, of course, is an AL city, and the Rockies would get to host the very next year.

Upper Deck put a unique spin on their usual method of putting five lines of stats on the back. Rather than the five most recent seasons (which always kind of bugged me, and why I preferred Topps and Fleer as a young collector), they put the 1996 season, along with his stats for the All-Star Games and each playoff series he had appeared in. It definitely reads like an early-season line or single-game box score. One triple, one stolen base, six at-bats and so on. He hadn't appeared in a World Series by this point, and would never get the chance. In fact, his team lost each of the six playoff series he appeared in, including the 1995 Rockies.

2003 Upper Deck Classic Portraits #181 Clint Barmes MP /2003 (RC)
Clint Barmes would be an important part of the next Rockies team to make the playoffs, but he hadn't quite made it to The Show yet. This is actually the second time I've seen this set, and it's starting to grow on me. It has a similar look and feel to UD's later A Piece Of History products. The serial number this time around isn't quite as low as Chris Capuano's card, but at 2,003 copies, it's still fairly scarce.

Interestingly, there's a slight error on the back. Even though he didn't have any MLB experience at this point, the column headings are clearly meant for a pitcher, not a position player. I suppose it's not entirely wrong, as he hadn't taken the mound in a MLB game. But he's clearly listed in a couple places as a shortstop. The only other two cards I have from this set are of actual pitchers, and they have the same column headings. So I can't be sure if this error affected all position players or just Barmes. But Capuano's card wasn't quite accurate either, as I pointed out last time, further indicating that this set didn't get a proper quality check.

1996 Collector's Choice Silver Signature #758 Andres Galarraga CL
The run of silver foil continues with an Andres Galarraga checklist parallel. It's from 1996 Collector's Choice, and if you want to see more of that set, Nachos Grande is in the middle of opening a whole Series 1 box pack-by-pack. This one is from Series 2, though. In fact, its the third-to-last card in the whole 760-card checklist, not counting a small update series that came a little later.

Silver Signatures were one-per-pack in this product, and they're pretty plentiful. Unlike Topps, which didn't make Topps Gold checklists, UD had no problem recognizing that checklists are an important part of a set and giving them the parallel treatment. They go pretty in-depth on Galarraga's performance in June 1995, highlighting his 3-for-3 day on June 25th, which included three home runs in three consecutive innings, plus two walks. Coors Field was in its infancy then, but the Rockies were already earning their Blake Street Bombers nickname.

There's an error on this card, too, by the way. The front of the card has the correct date, but the back lists June 15th, 1995, which was an off day. Maybe Night Owl's recent post about error cards has me paying extra attention to these things.

2005 Diamond Kings Framed Red #251 Jeff Francis
The streak of silver foil comes to an end here, but there's still a little red foil and a framed border. With the continued growth of Panini cards, these mid-2000 Donruss cards are starting to look a bit more familiar. Francis is listed as a Rockie, but the painting by artist Dave Kramer has him wearing a Canadian jersey. Francis would represent Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, but that didn't happen until the following year, and their actual jerseys were different. That makes this image basically an artist's concept, one that would become technically correct later on. I especially like the combination of the Rockies' "CR" logo on the hat, paired with the little Canadian flag on the jersey. Not sure about the yellow stripe, though.

2010 Topps 206 Bronze #262 Melvin Mora
Topps 206 Bronze parallels from 2010 look pretty similar to that Diamond Kings set. While they don't have the same playing card finish, they're about the same thickness, and the design of the border frame is strikingly similar. Before the Rockies started signing aging Twins stars like Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, they picked Melvin Mora. Mora, according to this card, played more games at third base for the Baltimore Orioles than anyone besides Brooks Robinson. Mora is Venezuelan, one of many from that nation to play in Denver, including Galarraga, Carlos Gonzalez, and Alexi Amarista, whom the Rockies just signed to a one-year deal today. Mora only stuck around for a year himself, making this a good candidate for an unfamiliar uniform mini-collection.

2013 Topps Update Gold #US226 Michael Cuddyer /2013
Speaking of Michael Cuddyer, here's the newest card that Daniel stuffed into this envelope. Julie from A Cracked Bat sent me the base version once upon a time, but it looks more dramatic with a gold border. Cuddyer did pretty well in the Derby that year, finishing third overall, just barely missing the final.

I'm not sure whether these bright orange jerseys are that much better than the brown and yellow ones worn in San Diego last year. And this year it will be in Miami, so for all I know they'll wear bright green and look like airport gate workers.

2008 Topps 50th Anniversary All Rookie Team #AR85 Aaron Miles
Aaron Miles played second for the Rockies for a couple of seasons. He was traded to the Cardinals at the 2005 Winter Meetings, and would go on to win a World Series ring that year. He was one of those adequate-but-kind-of-invisible infielders, putting up a decent average but not having much power or speed. Sort of like my own career as a second baseman.

This one is part of a 110-card insert set in 2008 Topps, showing various members of the Topps All-Rookie Team. It reuses the design from a subset found in the 1960 set, giving us an early hint at what Topps Archives is today. The same design on different card stock appeared in 2009 Topps Heritage, and it seems so strangely familiar that they may have used it again on a more recent insert set. Not too sure about that, though. Maybe I've just seen this design so often but never knew precisely where it came from.

2003 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #60 Jason Jennings
Finally, something very different from what was on offer in 1960. And not just batting helmets with ear flaps. It's a die-cut card, but not with a zillion odd corners like Topps has been doing these days. It's subtle, and goes well with the angles of the thin gold lines elsewhere in the design. It's just batting practice, but it's still a pitcher at the plate, who's also working on his bunting. He was a righty, but batted from the left side of the plate. It's not that uncommon to have opposite handedness depending on whether you're throwing or hitting, but I can't think of many pitchers that play that way.

It seemed to work for Jennings, one of the best homegrown pitchers to ever come out of the Rockies organization. This gold medallion parallel was my favorite card in the envelope.

I don't expect to see Fleer Ultra again, but perhaps the Rockies will have a young pitcher that's as good as Jennings one of these days.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post-holiday Roundup

Now that we're a few weeks removed from the annual commotion that is Christmas, it seems like a good time to look back at a couple cards I got as a present. I used to put the Topps complete set on my list every year, but lately I've just been buying it at Target when it gets released, roughly around the All-Star Break. But my mom still makes sure to check my Eight Men Out list for the latest parts of my collection that are conspicuous by their absence.

Hanukkah started late this year, with the first night beginning on Christmas Eve. I can never remember it starting that late, but it occasionally overlaps Christmas. My mom marked the annual Festival of Lights with a couple toploaders inside a Hanukkah card.

2008 Upper Deck Documentary #2798 Willy Taveras
We've wrapped up our first year of Topps Now, and there are some pretty strong opinions out there about it. The concept seems to be generally well-liked, but there are some pretty big objections around the delivery time, and more importantly about the $10 price for a single card. Despite those downsides, I still bought two, and others bought way more.

Less than a decade ago, printing on demand like that just wasn't feasible. But Upper Deck still wanted a way to highlight important moments of the 2008 season. So they took a brute-force approach with 2008 Documentary, a set that would just about fill a 5,000-count box. Both the home and away team got a card for each MLB game that year. I have a few cards from the set, but none from any of the three games I attended that season. I put this one on the list, from July 18th, 2008. My dad was a Wells Fargo customer at that time, and they ran a 2-for-1 special on Club Level seats for a while. He got us a pair of tickets, and we got to see a Rockies win from the luxurious 2nd deck.

Willy Taveras is pictured here, I'm guessing from when he stole second in the 2nd inning. He led off the first with a triple, but his pace looks a bit too leisurely here to be legging out a three-bagger. However, a more memorable moment from this game was Seth Smith hitting an inside-the-park home run in the 7th. UD did make mention of that home run on the back of the card, along with Matt Holliday's and Brad Hawpe's, but didn't point out the unusual nature of Smith's.

It's a great reminder of the team the Rockies fielded when they were a playoff contender, and of course of going to the ballpark with my dad.

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini Birds of Prey #BP-3 Great Horned Owl
The other card my mom ordered for me is this Allen & Ginter mini. A&G is well-known for including all sorts of offbeat topics, from space probes to fighter jets. Which are actually pretty similar things, I suppose. But I enjoy nature and wildlife in addition to space exploration and aviation. I usually schlep a heavy DSLR with me when I go hiking in case I spot something like this, but the one time I saw an owl, it was perched on the ridge of the roof of the building across from me. It was well after midnight, and was too dark to snap a picture. But it was a majestic-looking animal.

I happen to be writing this during the Falcons/Seahawks NFL Division Playoff game, and I got to wondering: what is a seahawk, anyway? Is it actually a bird? As a matter of fact, it is. Apparently, it's a more mascot-friendly way to refer to an osprey. The Seattle Ospreys doesn't sound like any team I'd root for. Of course, I don't root for the Seahawks anyway, but still.

Some of the other birds in this set, like the California condor and even the barn owl won't be winning any beauty contests. But these modern-day dinosaurs are as good a subject as any for an A&G insert set.

Thanks, mom!

Monday, January 2, 2017

How fast is fast?

A week or so before the Cubs won the World Series (still can't believe I'm writing that), I went to the local card show for the first time in about a year and a half. I saw my usual dealer (whose father just passed away, sadly), and the haul from his table will be coming in a future post.

But there was a new vendor there I hadn't met before, an older gentleman who had a ton of vintage. He had the usual classic specimens that were way out of my price range, but also a clear plastic bin full of toploaders that contained more...weathered cards. I don't recall seeing him at a show before, but he seemed like he'd been at this a while, and talked about how he could almost always figure out which side of his table a collector would gravitate to after just a few questions.

A lot like our blog community.

There are a few high rollers out there, but a lot of us don't really mind a Hall-of-Famer or something from a legendary set even if it has some banged-up corners or a bit of paper loss.

1953 Topps #135 Al Rosen
I picked out three cards for a pretty fair $10, starting with my second card from 1953 Topps. Al Rosen, who manned the hot corner for the Indians, had his best-ever season in 1953. Collectors wouldn't get stats for that until the following year, but he led the league in home runs, runs scored, RBIs, slugging percentage, and a few other categories. He won the AL MVP award and his second of four All-Star appearances for that performance.

As is somewhat obvious from his surname, Rosen had Jewish heritage, and like Sandy Koufax a decade or so later, refused to play on Jewish holidays. He caught some occasional flak for his religion around the league, but had no trouble standing up for himself. He was an amateur boxer before he was a ballplayer, and served for four years in the Navy during WWII before he began his pro career. Not the guy I'd want to mess with.

1954 Topps #3 Monte Irvin
Continuing chronologically through these cards, here's Monte Irvin's card from 1954. I collected the reprints, but this is my first original card from that set. It's such a simple design, but it's become timeless. Both these cards are a little bit larger than standard cards, but still fit in a toploader if you skip the penny sleeve. 2.5" x 3.5" is what we all know today, but I wonder if things would be any different today if this original size (2.625" x 3.75") was kept.

It's not in perfect shape. All four corners are soft and there is residue from adhesive tape on both the top and bottom of the card. But it's over 60 years old, and it's my first copy of any kind. I don't even have the reprint!

In 1949, at the age of 30, Irvin became the first African-American player to take the field for the New York Giants, along with Hank Thompson, who had played the prior season for the St. Louis Browns. Thus, Irvin was only the fourth black player in the Majors. Along with Thompson, once Willie Mays came up in 1951, they made up the first all-black outfield.

Irvin led the league in RBIs in 1951, and won his only World Series ring in 1954. Even though he was voted onto the All-Star team in 1952 (facing Al Rosen), he had to miss it due to an ankle injury. That injury, which sidelined him for most of 1952, is the subject of the three cartoons on the back. But that injury wouldn't keep him down, he went on to put up a couple more strong seasons until his retirement as a Cub in 1956, and subsequent election to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Irvin, Mays, Doby, and lots more prove how groundbreaking Jackie Robinson really was. Once Robinson was in the league, every other team was at a competitive disadvantage if they didn't follow suit and field the best players period, not just the best white players.

But if guys like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson didn't get to test their skills in the Majors (yes, Paige did, but after the age of 40), it also calls into question the performances of players pre-integration. Chris Rock had some interesting things to say about integration in Ken Burns' follow up to his Baseball documentary, The Tenth Inning. Not only did Babe Ruth not have guys like Torii Hunter patrolling the outfield, but he also points out that "baseball didn't truly get integrated until you had black players who sucked...When we got the black Ed Kranepools, that's when baseball was truly integrated."

1975 Topps #500 Nolan Ryan
Much more recent but no less special is this 1975 beauty of Nolan Ryan. Ryan pitched for the Mets in the late 1960s, but didn't really kick the strikeout machine into afterburner mode until he was traded to the Angels in 1971. He'd go on to have perhaps the best pitching career in modern baseball, striking out a whopping 5,714 batters, winning 324 games, and pitching 222 complete games. Sort of like Rickey Henderson being the career leader in times caught stealing, Nolan Ryan is also the career leader in walks. His early lack of control is what led the Mets to give up on him, but he got his rocketing fastball under control and the rest is history. He finally had to call it quits in 1993 when his elbow gave up at the age of 46.

I have a few cards from 1975, and Night Owl has turned me on to the set quite a bit after years of reading his posts. We can see the Angels' black armband from their 1974 uniforms, worn in memory of Bobbie McMullen, wife of former Angel Ken McMullen. She passed away from breast cancer near the start of the 1974 season.

Nolan Ryan was a major subject in Fastball, a baseball documentary I watched on Netflix last night. Being that it's the dead of winter, I needed something to get my baseball fix, and that movie fit the bill. Obviously, it focuses on the fastball and some of the most famous pitchers who threw them, including Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, and of course Nolan Ryan. Gossage, Gibson, and Ryan were masters of intimidation, just as important a tool for a pitcher as anything they throw. Active pitchers were included as well, like Aroldis Chapman, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Craig Kimbrel.

It also looked at some of the ways that a fastball's speed was measured over the years, as it was something of a mystery until the mid-1970s. There were efforts to scientifically measure pitches from Johnson and Feller, and less scientific publicity stunts like pitching versus a speeding motorcycle. Feller was clocked at 98.6 mph in the late 1930s, and Nolan Ryan at 100.8 mph in the early 1970s with the first-ever radar gun. Walter Johnson's career predated the wide use of automobiles, so his readings were publicized in feet per second rather than mph, an unfamiliar metric a century ago. But those all measured the ball as it crossed the plate, whereas current measurements occur at 50 feet from home plate, just a split second after the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. So those early pitches were likely even faster by today's standards.

Even casual baseball fans have heard of Nolan Ryan, but the film also profiled an early 1960s pitcher named Steve Dalkowski. Like the active pitchers they interviewed, I'd never heard of him. And though Topps featured him on a 4-man card as a "1963 Rookie Star", he never made the majors. He just couldn't get his fastball under control. He was making some progress in the mid 1960s, but suffered an elbow injury and never recovered. He was rumored to throw in excess of 110 mph.

I'm quite surprised that the film didn't have anything to say about Tommy John surgery, as that's become just as much a part of the game as the pitch itself. But if you need a January baseball fix and cards like this aren't readily available for a mere $10, go check out that movie!