Monday, February 5, 2018

The Trading Post #116: ARPSmith’s Sportscard Obsession

Other than a Mike Piazza Ultra Pro oddball, which had a stated print run of a whopping 100,000, the first time I saw a reference to a limited print run on an actual card was when I pulled Matt Williams' 1995 Donruss Press Proof. There's no serial number per se, but there's a gold-colored (not foil) banner at the top on the back that states "1st 2,000 Printed". Donruss followed what Topps was doing with Stadium Club First Day Issues, though Donruss actually put that 2,000 limit on the card itself rather than just the sell sheets.

1995 Donruss Press Proofs #533 Curt Leskanic /2000
This Press Proof of Curt Leskanic is just the second one to find its way into my collection after that Matt Williams card I pulled long ago, thanks to the one of the other Adams in the Cardsphere (or am I the other Adam?), the one of ARPSmith’s Sportscard Obsession. Many of you have been receiving similar shipments from him, and his is the last trade package before I'm caught up! Well, other than some old, old card shows. But that's a different story, and one I may save until after the Winter Olympics.

Curt Leskanic has proven to be quite a character, but sometimes he's just a normal pitcher. When these 2,000 copies were printed (as well as the rest of the silver-foiled base cards), he had a 2-6 record and 5.45 ERA in his first two years as a Rockie. He'd start turning that around once Coors Field opened, appearing in a league-leading 76 games in 1995 and even earning 10 saves.

I never saw this mentioned on a card, but apparently his cousin is Katrina Leskanich, lead singer of Katrina and the Waves, whose 1985 hit "Walking on Sunshine" might go down as the most infectious, upbeat pop song of all time.

1999 SkyBox Premium #44 Darryl Kile
It's actually a bit tough to mention the late Darryl Kile while listening to that song, but carry on we must. The rainbow gold foil certainly caught my eye, but Skybox overdid it a bit with the vignette border and what looks like an apparition of Dinger behind him. The card back is a bit strange too, listing his last name on top, as in "Kile Darryl". Also, his uniform number of 57 is directly above the card number, meaning if you don't know who he was and what number he wore, there are plenty of things that could confuse you, especially if it's a guy who had two first names.

Design gripes aside, if you glance at his pitching hand, you'll find about the best look at a circle changeup grip I can ever remember seeing on a baseball card. Picture the A-OK sign (which has taken on some unfortunate cultural meanings in recent years) with three fingers wrapped around the baseball, and you have a tough pitch to hit. Perhaps it's not great that we can see the pitch grip from the batter's perspective, but it's still one with a lot of movement.

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFX Longball Legacy #LL15 Larry Walker
Like we saw in the previous post, Larry Walker was known for hitting tape-measure home runs, and I'm sure at least a few of his 383 came on the circle change. Upper Deck HoloGrFX (alphabet soup of a name worse than a lettered card number) gave him and fourteen other players a card in the Longball Legacy insert set. Those three innocent little baseballs on the left were sent quite a long distance, as the card back documents Walker's three longest home runs of 1999. It's basically a bar graph (and perhaps educational for someone studying math and statistics in school), but it confusingly looks a bit like the trajectory they could have taken. Walker's three longest in 1999 were 470', 465', and 460', and the longest of those got a small write-up.

It came on June 22nd, 1999 off of Scott Sanders in the sixth inning. Darryl Kile started that game against the Cubbies, and Sammy Sosa even hit a home run in the 13-12 slugfest. There's just one teensy problem with this Upper Deck card.

Contrary to what this card tells us, it most definitely did not take place at Wrigley Field. Rather, it was at Coors Field, and I'll fight UD on that one if I have to, since I was there. Unfortunately, the Rockies came out on the losing end of this one, but my dad and I did move down to the lower deck to see the last couple innings.

It seems as though I'm developing a reputation for Chief Fact Checker in this community. There are a lot of errors out there.

1998 Pinnacle #190 Larry Walker GJ
Still, Larry Walker did hit homers all around the league, including at Wrigley, and also at Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, where the 1997 All Star Game was held. During that MVP season of his, Walker reached the final round of the Home Run Derby, losing to Tino Martinez of the Yankees. He's also remembered (and mentioned on the card) for some on-field antics during the exhibition game itself while facing Randy Johnson.

Now, I'm no Indians expert, but "Goin' Jake" is not a term I have ever heard anyone use to describe a home run hit at Jacobs Field. I guess if you're on the verge of bankruptcy, as Pinnacle was in 1998, then you can just invent all the terms you want. But I have a feeling I'd get some pretty weird looks if I were to shout that in downtown Cleveland, especially since it's not even called that anymore. I do wonder if Indians fans still colloquially call it Jacobs Field, even though it's now officially known as Progressive Field.

I can assure you we do that in Denver, where the home of the Broncos is still generally known as "Mile High", regardless of whichever bankrupt sporting goods company currently owns the naming rights.

2003 Upper Deck Standing O #S-26 Larry Walker
Look, there goes one of those baseballs now!

Surprisingly, despite its odd appearance and insert-esque card number, what you see above is not actually an insert card. Upper Deck released a full, 126-card main set in this mini-baseball style, complete with raised laces and a subtle leather-like texture. It's rather small, about as big around as a racquetball, leaving room for just three seasons of statistics on the back.

It would make a suitable Frisbee in a pinch, or perhaps a shot glass coaster. And the best part is that there are no corners to ding, thanks to it's circular nature, which is good, because it does have a tendency to fall out of card stacks, much like minis.

2004 Bazooka Red Chunks #89 Shawn Chacon
Cards got pretty thick for a while in this shipment, starting with red parallels from 2004 Bazooka. Tom sent cards from this set once, as have a few others, but I'm always surprised at how thick they are. The red and white rounded banners at the bottom remind me of a rail logo, perhaps a blend of the London Underground and the old Amtrak logo.

I remember Shawn Chacon being one of the Rockies' better pitchers in the mid-2000s, even earning a spot on the 2003 All-Star roster, just the second Rockies pitcher to do so, after Mike Hampton. He moved to the bullpen in 2004, amassing a dismal 1-9 record with an ERA over 7.00, but still managed to earn 35 saves. The Alaska native is probably tossing a few warm-up pitches in [checking telecom merger history] Pacific Bell Park, because I really hope the outfielder isn't paying that little attention during a live at-bat.

2000 Topps HD #9 Vinny Castilla
Back home at 20th & Blake, we can see Vinny Castilla, with a Lou Brock Speed rating of three baseballs, rounding second and holding on for dear life to his batting gloves. It's not quite as thick as the Bazooka card above, but it is noticeably heavier, thanks to the two layers of plastic that make up the front and back.

Topps HD is a new-to-me set released in 2000, and it definitely does have a sharpness and smoothness advantage over its paper counterparts. It's one of those rare cards where the card number matches the player's uniform number (frankenset idea?). As early as 1999, Vinny Castilla already held the career home run record for Mexican-born players, a record he tacked onto for another several seasons. His final career total of 320 is more than double Jorge Orta's count in second place. As this card relates, the Rockies began their 1999 season in Monterrey, Mexico, beating the Padres by a score of 8-2. Castilla had four hits in that game, though none of them left the yard.

This brand has eluded my collection, and even my knowledge, for close to two decades, so thanks to Adam for sending it my way.

2001 Topps HD Game Defined #GD5 Todd Helton
He even threw in an insert card from the following (and final) year of Topps HD. The Game Defined (HD, High Definition, get it?) was a 10-card set containing lots of Hall of Famers, such as recent inductees Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones. Like many early Helton cards, this one mentions his football career at the University of Tennessee. It also calls him a "dependable, at times dominant, offensive player". He was no slouch in the field, either.

The design is a bit interesting. On the left, the photo is grainy and pixelated, but then on the right, it becomes colorized and sharper. I guess what they're going for is that the player pictured in the center is literally bringing the game into sharper definition.

I didn't have an HDTV until 2008, so this may have been lost on me at the time.

2002 Stadium Club Reel Time #RT11 Todd Helton
Topps kept the moving picture theme going in Stadium Club the following year. We're back on paper and away from plastic, but the card hasn't gotten any thinner. The filmstrip theme Topps used on both the front and back reminds me of the Contact Sheet insert set from more recent Stadium Club releases.

Topps certainly recognized Helton's greatness on the card back. He was called out as a "batting title favorite" and potential .400 hitter. Todd only won the batting title once, with a .372 average in 2000. He came very close in 2003, hitting an impressive .358, but Albert Pujols edged him out by a point. They also compared him to a pair of baseball legends, George Brett and Stan Musial, the latter being the only player besides Helton with at least 2500 hits, 350 homers, 550 doubles, and a .315 average.

He's one of the best combinations of power hitting and contact hitting to ever play the game.

2001 Upper Deck e-Card #E4 Todd Helton
We'll continue the Todd Helton love fest with a similarly pixelated Upper Deck insert, an e-Card insert that is forever destined to remain in the physical world. Upper Deck's digital site is no more, so this special code is just a jumble of random letters, and isn't even long enough to be a useful password in this day and age. Nine characters with only one letter would be cakewalk for a talented hacker to break.

You know the story by now. "He can hit for both power and average and is also a fine defensive player."

2005 Reflections #3 Todd Helton
By 2005, Helton had the beginnings of his trademark goatee, something that would endure much longer than the single-year Upper Deck Reflections set. Nothing besides the Reflections logo in particular looks quote like a reflection to me, but UD did use an oddly squarish font on the back.

Shiny and Rainbowy with gold foil just wasn't enough to firmly establish a set by 2005, even with Donruss and Fleer about to exit the market.

2001 Donruss Class of 2001 Yearbook #YB-7 Todd Helton
Speaking of Donruss, yet another Todd Helton insert card was packed into this envelope. Helton supercollectors have their work cut out for them. I honestly haven't seen any of these.

You might think Donruss Class of 2001 was an insert set all its own, but no, it was a 301-card main set (there are two card #252s, apparently), of course with its own group of short prints and inserts. Now, I was a high school junior in 2001, and I only have the official yearbook from my senior year. This is a tiny bit too early to coincide with my own yearbook, but it didn't really have this scrapbook look anyway.

However, I did check this one for texture, as the layering and framing of each component did look like it could have been raised. It even reminded me of Pacific's highly underrated Card-Supials inserts, which are just the cleverest things.

2003 Playoff Prestige #138 Jose Hernandez
Adam had an eagle eye on this one, sorting a 2003 Playoff Prestige card into my pile. Jose Hernandez certainly looks like he's on Milwaukee here, and the way the lettering lines up, it almost appears like the "Colorado Brewers" is the team. Not that such a team would be inaccurate by any stretch.

Happy Stout Month, by the way.

Anyway, now that we've concluded the Todd Helton portion of this post, Hernandez was signed to cover the other side of the infield over at shortstop. Hernandez, whom both Fleer and Topps managed to picture in a Rockies uniform on their 2003 cards, spent just a half-season in Denver before being traded to the Cubs for Mark Bellhorn.

1996 Topps #428 Bartolo Colon / Doug Million / Rafael Orellano / Ray Ricken
We'll wrap up with a couple horizontal Topps cards. A few posts ago, I mentioned the quandary I often found myself in with multi-player cards. In my 1996 Topps set, I have this one filed as a Rockie, under the late Doug Million, though normally the player on the far left would decide where this one would be filed. As you can see, that player is none other than Bartolo Colon, who, at 44, is still getting minor league contracts. Sadly, none of the other players on this card ever made it to the Major Leagues, but Colon has had one of the longest careers in recent memory.

Million, by the way, really did earn the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in 1994, something that Bowman said Michael Cuddyer won, when it was actually the State award in Virginia. That makes Million's passing at the age of 21 even more tragic.

Prospects will always be a guessing game. Three other Rockies had prospect cards in '96 Topps, Angel Echevarria, Derrick Gibson, and the most successful, Neifi Perez. Some of their cardmates include Shane Spencer, Rey Ordoñez, interleague Rockie-slayer and 1998 AL Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve, and 2005 World Series MVP Jermaine Dye.

1999 Topps Opening Day #105 Vinny Castilla
The late 1990s marked the rare period where you had Blake Street Bombers playing alongside then-newcomer Todd Helton. Here, he's congratulating Vinny Castilla via high-five, while Dante Bichette looks on in appreciation of whatever Vinny just did. It's an unbroken chain right back to the inaugural days. Castilla played with Helton, Helton played with Nolan Arenado in his final season (though I can't recall any cards of them together), and here we are 25 years later.

On the card back, Topps tells us about Vinny's walk-off homer on June 3rd, 1998 against the Diamondbacks. At the time, that shot ended the shortest game in Coors Field history, at just two hours and eleven minutes. Amazingly, that record only lasted about a decade, as Aaron Cook twirled a masterful gem on July 1st, 2008, shutting out the Padres in just an hour and fifty-eight minutes.

That's way less time than it took me to write this post.

I wouldn't be quite sure what to do with myself if Coors Field emptied out just after 9:00 pm, but I'm sure I'd be dazzled.

By the way, Cook only needed 79 pitches to do that, easily earning himself a "Maddux", a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches. Out of curiosity, I did learn that one of Greg Maddux's own "Maddux" performances came in at an even shorter game time, just one hour and fifty minutes. A lot of that depends on what your offense does, but that is one quick game.

Thanks again to Adam for this great stack of cards and all the Todd Helton inserts!


  1. Great stuff! I always love reading your commentary

  2. You may be interested to know that there is an outfit called Naming Wrongs which sells t-shirts such as "I Still Call It Mile High" and, yes, "I Still Call It The Jake".