Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Trading Post #115: Nachos Grande (Part 2: Rockies)

Let's say you're me and you run across a mid-1990s insert set that is completely new to you. Knowing my history, which master set do you think it might be from?

1995 Stadium Club Ring Leaders #9 Howard Johnson
If you guessed 1995 Stadium Club, you'd be correct.

I've written at length about how I keep running across various insert sets and subsets from 1995 Stadium Club, and apparently there's still more out there, because my initial spoken reaction to seeing this card was, "what the hell is this thing?"

I don't quite know where to begin, but the giant eagle grasping a baseball in its talons is as good a place as any. Even with the starburst, the championship rings, the stained glass look, and oh yeah, the baseball player, it manages to stand out in this crazy design. 1995 Fleer would be a footnote if someone made this a base set instead of just an insert set.

There are a whopping 40 cards to be found in this insert set, and this, obviously, is the first one I've seen. It's just as well, because I'd be concerned about some sort of chain reaction if I had them all in one place at the same time.

If you can break the spell this card holds over you and flip it over, you'll learn that Howard Johnson collected a few rings throughout his career, which began as a Tiger in 1982. I wasn't aware (and am not sure Topps didn't just make this up) that players earned rings for All-Star appearances and leading the league in various statistics. Howard Johnson, a Rockie only in the strike-shortened 1994 season, was a two-time All Star, and had a pretty solid 1991 season, leading the NL in RBIs and home runs, the latter stat with just 38. What this card neglects to mention, and what you certainly do earn rings for, is that Johnson was a member of two World Series-winning teams, the '84 Tigers, and the '86 Mets.

But I guess the eagle snatched those two rings away.

1999 Upper Deck MVP #69 Kirt Manwaring
As jarring as that card was, it's a bit jarring just to return to a bit of normalcy, provided by Nachos Grande in part 2 of his Season of Giving shipment. Granted, this Upper Deck card is missing their trademark hologram, but that's a minor thing compared to large birds of prey. It looks to me like catcher Kirt Manwaring (who had a cameo on a 1994 Dante Bichette card) got under this one a little bit, making it unlikely that it's the home run mentioned on the card back. That shot, his first one of the 1998 season, came on July 12th against his former team, the San Francisco Giants.

The photo is clearly from the 1998 season, based on that All-Star Game commemorative patch. In fact, that very All-Star Break took place less than a week before Manwaring's first of only two homers that year. But that was a night game, and Coors field looks far too sunny, even for a mid-July night game.

1998 Sports Illustrated Then and Now #70 Vinny Castilla
Turn back the clock another year to 1997, and you'll find the league-wide Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary patch on Vinny Castilla's uniform. This one is from the same Sports Illustrated set that we saw with Larry Walker a few posts ago. However, Vinny Castilla didn't fare as well on the Killebrew-Brock-Robinson ratings as Walker did. Castilla earned four baseballs out of a possible five on Power and Fielding, classified as "Above Average". On Speed, he just got a middling three baseballs, only worth "Average". Castilla only stole two bags in 1997, so perhaps even that is generous.

I still don't have many from this set, but at least now I know they're not all horizontal.

1999 Private Stock #75 Edgard Clemente
The Giants and Rockies were at it again at Coors Field on September 25th, 1998, a game whose box score is on the back of this rarely-seen and slightly shiny Pacific card. Edgard Clemente, who had three partial seasons as a Major Leaguer, got his first career extra-base hit in that game, an RBI triple off of future Rockie Shawn Estes. The Rockies would go on to lose this game, but that early fall date in 1998 caught my eye.

I'm pretty sure I was in California when this game happened, possibly even watching it during dinner at a Northern California restaurant with my dad. Shortly after I started high school, he took me on a trip up the West Coast, starting in L.A., going north up the coast to the redwoods and wine country, and departing from San Francisco. I recall watching a Rockies/Giants game among a handful of Giants fans one evening, which must have been this game, since the other two in that series, which concluded the 1998 season, were day games. I recall a couple sitting behind us throwing up their hands in frustration at a particular play, and that very well could have been this RBI triple from Mr. Clemente.

Some say the sense of smell is the best sense at triggering old memories. For me, it's my sense of baseball.

1999 Fleer Tradition Warning Track #353W Mark Brownson
However, I have no memory of this Mark Brownson guy. The red foil tells us that he made his MLB debut in 1998. The red foil, in conjunction with the "W" in the card number and the "Warning Track Collection" seal in the bottom right, identifies this as a parallel, which I've seen only once before.

That debut game, interestingly, was a complete game four-hit shutout against the Astros. Unfortunately, lightning only struck once, as he appeared in just 11 games during the rest of this three-season career. At least he had some solid defense to back him up, as he never had to suffer watching an unearned run cross the plate.

1998 Topps Rookie Class #R3 Todd Helton
Moving along to rookie cards of Guys You've Heard Of, Todd Helton was appearing left and right in the Hobby during 1998. Topps gave him a card in 1998's Rookie Class insert set, a 10-card affair that looks very familiar to me, thanks to Travis Lee's card that I pulled long ago, one of the first Diamondbacks cards to make its way into my collection. Topps did a decent job selecting those ten players, also giving us Derrek Lee and Paul Konerko.

1998 Flair Showcase Row 3 #12 Todd Helton
Fleer went even shinier than Topps in 1998 Flair Showcase, a fractured set that I'll elaborate little more on other than to say this is the most common of four varieties. The redundantly named Flair Showcase Flair (Row 3) cards are easier to find than the even more redundantly named Flair Showcase Showcase (Row 0) cards.

When players are in the dugout, does that mean they're sitting in Row 0?

While pondering that deep thought, I read the back, which mentions Helton's time as a quarterback at the University of Tennessee, along with Peyton Manning and a guy named Branndon Stewart, who made his name at Texas A&M, though didn't go into the pros.

1998 Pinnacle Performers Swing for the Fences #30 Ellis Burks
If ever there were a perfect time to do a home run leader promotion, it was 1998. Following up their Swing for the Fences promotion in 1997, Pinnacle brought it back for '98, but unfortunately went out of business before McGwire and Sosa finished their record-setting season with 70 and 66, respectively.

If you can't keep the lights on while running a home run promotion in 1998, then perhaps the industry just isn't for you.

Ellis Burks, one of fifty players found in this contest, did not come close to McGwire or Sosa, hitting just 21 for the Rockies and later the Giants.

2013 Pinnacle #65 Carlos Gonzalez
After their disastrous 1998, it would take a long time before Panini would bring the Pinnacle name back from the dead, though that was just for 2013. Panini has focused most of its efforts on bringing back Donruss since then, but I wouldn't mind seeing this black-bordered set around a bit more often. Besides, batting helmets these days have so many vents and contours it's not as blatantly obvious as it used to be that it's an unlicensed set.

The longtime Rockie still doesn't have a place to land in this year's strange offseason, and the word "strike" is already being thrown around thanks to the extreme lack of free-agent signings. I'm just going to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend I didn't hear any of that. But on the bright side, bullpen carts are possibly going to make a comeback.

2003 Topps Heritage #270 Aaron Cook
Pretty much every trade package has something retro in it, usually Topps Heritage. However, 2003 Heritage isn't one I run across very often, despite the '54 design being one of my favorites ever. It's surprisingly tough to find, and I only have about two pages' worth. The black-and-white action shot is tiny, but you can still see a glimpse of the Rockies' 10th Anniversary patch on Aaron Cook's pitching arm.

I'm curious if the green-and-white backs on 1954 Topps contributed significantly to my love of green cards, because they're great. Even the cartoons have such a distinctive art style that I hesitate to call them cartoons. Really, they're more like comics. The 1930s Superman style is quite visibly different from the cartoony look that was common in the '70s and on (perish the thought) Topps Big.

2007 Upper Deck Goudey Red Backs #199 Brad Hawpe
Speaking of comics, what we now recognize as the first modern comic book was published in 1933, the same year as the original Goudey set. Upper Deck followed Topps' lead with the Allen & Ginter brand and brought back the famed 1933 set, right down to the accurate 2-3/8" x 2-7/8" dimensions. The hologram was of course new when UD brought it back, as were the Rockies and about half the other big league ballclubs.

Brad Hawpe doesn't make it to the blog very often, which is surprising, since he was a key player in the 2007-2009 era when the Rockies were doing well in the playoffs. He spent seven seasons in Colorado before keeping his career going with a few other teams and retiring in 2013. The right fielder was a fan favorite, and the PA announcer at Coors Field somehow managed to make his name sound like a single syllable when it was his turn to bat.

2003 Fleer Box Score #87 Larry Walker
Here's another new-to-me set, 2003 Fleer Box Score. Fleer was cranking out whatever they could in 2003, and not giving a whole lot of thought to the design. This card of Larry Walker is nice enough, but you have to flip the card over to get the actual box score highlighting Walker and his three-homer, eight-RBI day in St. Louis (note to BBWAA: that's a road game) on April 28th, 1999, although we don't get the equivalent box score for the Cardinals.

The front is graced by a random box score between the Pirates and the Brewers, neither of whom Walker ever played for. I assume that appeared on everyone's card, much like how the 2003 Fleer Authentix set had a section map of Yankee Stadium on every card. It's probably the first and last time you'll see Rob Mackowiak's, Scott Sauerbeck's, and Brian Boehringer's names on this blog. Josh Fogg was here once before, though, and he was a Rockie for three seasons, so he may yet appear again.

1998 Fleer Tradition #340 Larry Walker TT
Larry Walker had more than enough multi-homer games to give Fleer plenty of material, such as Tale of the Tape, a sparkly subset from 1998 Fleer Tradition. The Fleer logo has a similar look to Electric Foil parallels from 2014 Stadium Club, and it would be just as hard to spot if not for the same sparkly finish on the giant white banner.

The multi-homer game in question is from August 31st, 1997, during Walker's MVP season. It was just their second interleague game at home against the Oakland A's, one of five teams I still haven't seen, though I plan on remedying that at the end of July. Walker took Mike Oquist deep twice, chasing him from the game before he recorded an out in the 5th inning. Fleer tells us that the longer of the two went a whopping 493 feet, which remains one of the longest ever hit at Coors Field, and the first one to end up in the upper deck (odd not to capitalize that).

2012 Bowman Chrome #156 Michael Cuddyer
Chris threw in quite a bit of Bowman in this package, but it took a star rather than a prospect to really capture my attention. That and the shiny Chrome brand. Michael Cuddyer is listed as an outfielder, but he played quite a few games in Colorado as a first baseman, paving the way for Justin Morneau and Mark Reynolds in future seasons. And even for an established veteran who had just made his first All-Star appearance, Bowman, in true form, reached way back to his high school days for one of the tidbits on the back. We're told that he was Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, which, upon further research, is not quite correct. Cuddyer did indeed win such an award, but it was the Gatorade award for the state of Virginia, not the National award.

2015 Topps Rainbow Foil #208 Wilin Rosario
We'll wrap up this year's Season of Giving with Baby Bull, aka Wilin Rosario. You can't tell from the scan, but this is a shiny card. It's not a Chrome card, so it can't be a refractor, but it looks like one. That means it must be the Rainbow Foil parallel, which I haven't seen in a while, and frankly, I sort of forgot about them.

I've yet to pick up any 2018 Topps, but I've seen plenty on the blogs. Point being, it's a bit strange to see a Topps base card with borders, as Topps is on their third straight year of embracing full bleed. I wouldn't say the design looks dated; in fact, it's continuing to grow on me. It's just noticeably not the latest and greatest.

I'm still recovering from that Howard Johnson card, but I appreciate Chris taking the time to grow my collection and further expand my knowledge of the enigma that is 1995 Stadium Club.

Perhaps the eagle and all those championship rings are foreshadowing of the upcoming Super Bowl.

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