Sunday, February 7, 2021

Farewell, Nolan

This is not a post I ever wanted to write. It's a post I've been putting off writing for over a week. Less than two years ago I thought it was a sure thing that Nolan Arenado, my favorite player to ever suit up for the Rockies, would remain in Denver for many years to come. Maybe for not the full eight years of his contract, but at least until his opt-out kicked in.

As we all know by now, it was not to be. Last week, the Rockies traded their generational talent (and around $50 million) to the St. Louis Cardinals for a flotilla of mid-ranked prospects. I had heard of precisely zero of them, and only one, LHP Austin Gomber, has any Major League experience.

Predictably, the Rockies have been getting torn to shreds over this one in the press, with one Athletic sportswriter charitably giving Colorado a grade of "D". And, yeah. This is bad.

Really bad.

Every team makes bad trades; it happens to the best of them. Dodgers fans know it. Yankees fans know it. Red Sox fans know it. Even Cardinals fans know it. But this is more than a bad trade. This is an indication of a systemic problem in the organization. Because in the last half-decade or so under Jeff Bridich, their current General Manager, hardly any transaction has panned out. Corey Dickerson to the Rays for German Márquez has pretty much been the lone highlight.

There's no need to recount the whole thing, but it's been done quite exhaustively by a particular reddit user if you'd like the gory details.

Long story short, Nolan Arenado simply said all along that he wanted to win, either in Colorado or elsewhere, and it became clear that the Rockies were no longer a good fit.

As a longtime fan, that's heartbreaking. I and a lot of fans like me have stuck around for it all, after the Tulowitzki trade, after the failure to ever win the division, after all the free-agent busts, after having to perpetually defend the team and the ballpark which much of the league considers a laughingstock, after learning why Arenado even had an opt-out in the first place.

I stuck around because there was always a glimmer of hope. There was always something to build around, like Todd Helton or the latest batch of young homegrown stars (e.g. Troy Tulowitzki). There was the occasional wild card. More recently, there was a solid rotation, playoff appearances in two straight years, and an infield that was as good as it's ever been. There was always possibility. There was always potential.

But now?

2013 Topps Update #US259 Nolan Arenado (RC)

Now it just seems like Nolan Arenado will just be yet another former Rockie that finds success (or at least more Postseason appearances) elsewhere. Like Larry Walker, Matt Holliday, Tulowitzki, DJ LeMahieu, etc.... And he's taking a huge amount of that potential with him.

It's very likely we'll see Trevor Story add his name to that list. He'll be a free agent after the 2021 season, and he just watched his legendary teammate sixty feet to his right get shipped off. Why would he stick around knowing he'll have to carry the whole left side of the infield?

Once upon a time, Arenado made his own splash as a Major League rookie, documented on his Rookie Card in 2013 Topps Update. It took him a few weeks to find his footing, but he rapidly became known throughout the league as an elite defender and a consistent hitter. 

Watching him play is magical. He's electric to watch. His defense is absolutely jaw-dropping in every single game. He's a great hitter, a perennial MVP candidate, and found himself atop the leaderboards regularly. As you likely know, he's won a Gold Glove every year he's been in the league, and the Platinum Glove four years running. And he plays the game with fierce intensity. 

You might have seen his walk-off, cycle-completing home run on Father's Day 2017, which, looking back, probably marked the high point of Arenado's tenure in Colorado. A month or so before that, I saw him play in a game against the Dodgers, and I remember him lining a rocket to third that Justin Turner managed to spear to end the inning. That was definitely an RBI chance, and everyone in the ballpark could tell that Nolan was pissed. He makes that play on batters day in and day out, but expected of himself that he could beat it from the other side.

That's what I'll miss.

And back in 2013, there was so much hope. Along with Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon, he's one of the key rookie cards in 2013 Topps Update. I honestly don't know where I even got this one. It's easily one of the most sought-after recent cards in my collection, and I probably pulled it out of a commons box at a card show not long after its release. I also found the Yelich, but not the Rendon. That clearly visible number 28 became iconic in Rockies history, and the team really ought to retire it anyway. They should do so to honor the best player they've ever had, and as a reminder of mistakes made.

So where does that leave me as a die-hard Rockies fan? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'll definitely be tuning in to more Cardinals games this year. But I did see a tweet (or Reddit comment, or news quip, who can remember?) from another long-suffering fan of an NFL team who threw in the towel, saying, "I didn't give up on the team. The team gave up on me."

And while that's probably taking one's fandom a bit too personally, I'll say that I'm not expecting to find myself at the ballpark anytime soon. That's largely because of the pandemic, for sure, as I have no desire to add 35,000 people to my bubble, but also because my favorite player very conspicuously won't be there anymore.

I wish him well, and hope he gets to experience the pinnacles of baseball stardom that he's so clearly worthy of.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Trading Post #165: Night Owl Cards

Well, the mail system seems to be stabilizing somewhat. I'm sure it will be a while before it returns to being a thing that just works, but it's working well enough for Night Owl and I to complete a trade in a reasonable amount of time.

Shortly before Christmas, a particular Cody Bellinger card from one of my 2019 Topps Big League posts caught his eye, and I packaged it up along with a couple older Bills and Sabres cards that I happened to have. Mere weeks later, a return arrived in my mailbox with some 2020 needs and a few other goodies. 

2000 Upper Deck Hitter's Club #42 Todd Helton

As the years go by, Upper Deck cards grace the pages of our various blogs less and less frequently. It's been over a decade now since UD lost its license, which really is a shame. They made great cards year after year. Not everything was a masterpiece (pun intended), but you could count on some nice designs. That includes this Hitter's Club card of Todd Helton, part of a small 90-card set. 

The lefty's card has silver foil elements all over the card, including the set name, Helton's position and uniform number, the UD logo, various accent lines, and ".320", representing his prior year's batting average. 

Upper Deck picked well in fleshing out this small set as the millennium changed, as 2000 would be Helton's best season. The card back says that his "offensive potential is unlimited". It also has a tiny graph labeled Career Projection, which is mathematically useless. The Y-axis is unlabeled, the X-axis is scaled unevenly, and the so-called chart of his career (up to the year 2000) is a white line that more or less looks like a square root sign. 

This set would have been fine without it. I can confirm that it's different on each player's card, at least.

Elsewhere in the small checklist, there was a 17-card subset called Hitting The Show, which featured a unique mint-green foil. I've seen it twice over the years, but this is the first time the actual base set has appeared on the blog.

2019 Topps Walmart Holiday Photo Variations #HW165 Nolan Arenado (candy cane bat)

Jumping forward almost two decades into Rockies superstar history, we come to Nolan Arenado. This is one of the holiday parallels that Topps has been doing for a few years now, and looks quite similar to what Nick sent me during the 2020 regular season. Same holly and ivy elements on the 2019 design, same green and red colors, but you might happen to notice that Nolan Arenado's bat is actually a festive candy cane.

Which led me to think that I really should take my wreath down. It's almost February.

2020 Topps Fire #121 Nolan Arenado

We now come to 2020, and since buying cards at retail has pretty much been out of the question for almost a year, I've become much more familiar with their digital equivalents in Topps Bunt. I have this card in Bunt, but I'm glad to have a hard copy of it, too. It just has an extra presence, especially a design-centric set like Topps Fire.

The card back tells us about Nolan's torrid August 2019, in which he hit a dozen home runs. Only Tulowitzki's September 2010 was better among Rockies, who hit fifteen.

Arenado has an amusing pose on this card, likely one of the extra base hit celebrations that players often use when gesturing back toward their teammates in the dugout. We saw lots of that with the Nationals in the 2019 Postseason. They had a Baby Shark gesture for each hit, which varied in intensity and enthusiasm depending on whether it was a single, double, or triple.

2020 Stadium Club #98 Sam Hilliard RC

Sam Hilliard is doing the same thing on his 2020 Stadium Club card, apparently standing on third base I believe inside Oracle Park. I'm not quite sure what this gesture is supposed to be, and I don't recall seeing any Rockies player do this during the 2019 season. I'm guessing it's meant to represent a moose or deer or bighorn sheep. One of the many ruminants that roam the Colorado wilderness which some of these guys probably hunt. What I am sure of is that I didn't pick up on what Arenado was doing until I saw the same thing on Hilliard's Stadium Club card.

Stadium Club is awesome as always, and Topps found a great way to color-code such a minimalist design with a series of colored bars in the lower left. Silver foil nameplate, silver foil Stadium Club logo, add in a Rookie Card logo for Sam Hilliard. It's masterful, frankly.

The color coding is carried over to the back, where the vertical bars migrate to the upper right and serve as the backdrop for the card number. There's a nice posed headshot on the back, one year of stats (Minor League stats for Hilliard), and a short write-up.

Truly, if I could collect only one set a year, it would be Stadium Club. I know Nick just named Big League as his 2020 set of the year, which is reasonable, but I enjoy the photography and design too much to let TSC lose its crown.

2020 Stadium Club #261 Charlie Blackmon

Charlie Blackmon's entry into the 300-card 2020 Stadium Club set reminds us why horizontal cards must always exist. The composition here is just perfect. I particularly like the out-of-focus player in the bullpen just watching Blackmon's heroics in right-center at Coors Field.

This could be a Nike ad, you know. Look how perfectly you can see the Swoosh on the sole of Blackmon's shoe.

The card back gives us a disappointing reminder about the 2020 season, telling us that Blackmon has appeared in three consecutive All-Star games. Technically that streak is still alive, but that was one election that didn't end up happening last year.

2020 Stadium Club #120 Nolan Arenado

When Rockies hit extra base hits and perform defensive heroics, what often follows is a chance for the Coors Field scoreboard operator to flash the "Rockies Win" graphic up on the banner, which is what you can see beyond Arenado's left shoulder. I saw it on September 29th, 2019, the final game of the 2019 regular season, and my most recent trip to Coors Field. Little did I know how much that moment was worth savoring.

One day I'll be back, and might even get to see Arenado get doused with the Powerade cooler after such a win, which is what's being documented here.

2020 Stadium Club Red Foil #12 David Dahl

Of course, there's no guarantee that once I finally get a chance to safely return to Coors Field that Arenado will still be there. David Dahl won't be, as he's moved on to Texas. But he did have four injury-shortened years as a Rockie, giving him the chance to get some great Coors Field cards. He had a similar on-deck shot in 2019, and this one gives us a slightly different angle of right field, right about where Charlie Blackmon would have been when he made the catch in card #261.

I have stories about this part of the park, too. Behind the warning track, those are luxury field-level boxes, offering a more immersive experience than the "normal" suites found above the Club Level deck in foul territory. I've never had the chance to catch a game from the warning track, but somehow I do have a lapel pin from these suites. 

Above them, you'll find the out-of-town scoreboard that I frequently use to pinpoint the date of a photo. I can see that the Yankees were hosting the Diamondbacks that day, and the Mets visited the White Sox. Add in some scores and pitcher uniform numbers (the white numbers to the right of the score), and we come up with July 30th, 2019. The Dodgers were visiting that day, and won 9-4. That would mean that the #28 cameo at first base is Tyler White, who appeared in twelve games that year and scratched out a single hit. He did not play in 2020.

Continuing our tour of Coors Field, we can see the right field seats, which is where I sat during my first trip to Coors in 1995. The concourse behind those seats is part of the continuous path around the stadium, and in that area you'll find one of the funnel cake stations which smells pretty good, the interactive fan area where you can practice your hitting and pitching (or tee-ball, for the little ones), and during part of the 2019 season, a replica of Neil Armstrong's spacesuit, which made the rounds to a handful of ballparks to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the first moon landing.

One deck above that is where my sister likes to sit when she takes her little kids to see the Rockies, as it's relatively distant from flying objects. It's also usually pretty well shaded if you sit high enough. The drawback of sitting in this area is that the height of the out-of-town scoreboard makes it impossible to see any action that happens at the base of the wall.

Finally, out of frame and above where the parallel red foil Stadium Club logo is, you'll find The Rooftop. It's a fun place to visit, offers spectacular views of the mountains and the sunsets, and as my friend discovered a couple seasons ago, happens to be where you can get $3 Coors Lights before first pitch.

Maybe this is why Stadium Club remains my favorite set year after year. No other set reminds you of being at the ballpark quite as much as this, and it can bring me back even in the dead of winter.

Thanks for the trade, Night Owl!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Hammerin' Hank

When Al Kaline died in April 2020, I wrote these words: "Given the current state of the world, these kinds of posts might sadly become a bit more common in the months ahead." 

Sadly, that prediction has continued to prove all too true, and far too many times since then. The number of baseball greats who have passed on since Don Larsen died on New Year's Day 2020 is truly staggering. Kaline, Seaver, Brock, Gibson, Ford, Morgan, Niekro. And those are just the Hall-of-Famers. Jimmy Wynn, Dick Allen, Larsen, Johnny Antonelli, fan favorites at least, and maybe even borderline Hall-of-Famers.

Hell of a lineup, though.

2021 has given us no reprieve, as we've lost Dodger greats Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton, and it's only the third full week of January.

And today, I woke up to the news that Henry Aaron died at 86.

1994 Topps #715 Hank Aaron 715 HR

We know him for much more than his most famous moment, when he hit his 715th home run on April 8th, 1974 off of Al Downing, breaking Babe Ruth's home run record. Vin Scully had the call that day. His 4th inning shot was the culmination of a long marathon of chasing Ruth's record, a period in his career when he both guaranteed his place as an all-time baseball great and suffered awful hatred and racism for doing so.

For the occasion of the 20th anniversary of this feat, Topps gave him card #715 in the 1994 set, which is easily one of my favorite cards released that year. As I've mentioned before, it was the first complete set I ever bought, twenty-seven years ago. And what's really interesting to think about is that only twenty-seven years separated Jackie Robinson's debut and Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run. It really isn't that much time.

Aaron went on to wrap up his career with the Brewers a couple years after this, finishing with 2,297 RBI which remains the best in history, 6,856 total bases which remains the best in history, 755 home runs, and 3,771 hits. A Reddit user today pointed out that even if Aaron never hit a single home run, he'd still have over 3,000 hits, practically guaranteeing a spot in the Hall of Fame. 

A stat like that puts him right up there with an all-time hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky had so many assists in his career that even if he never scored a single goal, he'd still be the all-time NHL points leader. Sure enough, Aaron finds himself as #5 all-time in position player bWAR, with an incredible 143.1.

He truly was a legend.

And he's a legend in my baseball card collection, too.

Let's go back to 1994, shall we? I was ten years old, and frequently found myself in the card aisle at my local Wal-Mart. I had been collecting for a little over a year, and had kind of had my fill of the 1991 Topps, 1992 Fleer, and 1993 Fleer Ultra that seemed to perpetually be available. I had a year of collecting under my belt, plus that fancy 1994 Topps Factory set. Right around then, Topps released the 1994 Archives '54 set, one of my dad's favorites since it took him back to his own childhood. Wal-Mart had this product for sale, and I had enough money from my weekly allowance to buy a pack or two. 

Pack selection was a very important thing when buying a whole box was entirely out of the question. I must admit that I wasn't above the strategy of pressing the translucent cellophane against the top card to try to see what was inside. To this day, I've never tried bending, weighing, or otherwise manhandling a pack, cardinal sins in the card aisle. But I do realize the cellophane trick does stray somewhere into the neighborhood of pack searching.

Judge ten-year-old me as you will, but I was able to discern a card inside one particular pack of Archives '54.

1994 Topps Archives '54 #62 Eddie Robinson

That was this card. Eddie Robinson, a New York Yankee. I didn't really know him, but I could see he was a Yankee, and being the son of a Yankee fan, this was the pack I picked. 

Eddie Robinson, by the way, has outlived all these guys, as he recently celebrated his 100th birthday. He's the oldest living MLB player. A four-time All-Star, he won a World Series with the 1948 Cleveland Indians. He was on site to watch Cleveland play in the 2016 World Series.

I don't remember which other cards were inside this pack, but I did find something special. Really special.

1994 Topps Archives '54 Gold #128 Hank Aaron (AU)

A gold foil parallel of Hank Aaron's 1994 Archives '54 card, signed on-card in the lower right.

It is the crown jewel of my collection.

I've never shown this card on the blog before, but I did share it many years ago as part of Nachos Grande's Better Know a Blogger series, so longtime followers might have seen it once or twice.

I can unequivocally say that this Hank Aaron autograph is the greatest pull of my life. It will never be topped. Pulling a card like this from a pack you bought at Wal-Mart at the age of ten is an amazing experience. This was a Golden Ticket, and I felt just like Charlie Bucket. I can't imagine anything I could realistically pull out of a pack ever again that would dethrone the Home Run King.

A Hank Aaron autograph!

I still have the pack wrapper. 1:1,263 odds.

RIP, Henry Aaron. You'll always be #1 in my collection.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Trading Post #164: Nine Pockets

To celebrate his second blog anniversary, Gregory at Nine Pockets offered numerous goodies in a giveaway. I've seen a few posts from this giveaway across the community, including Night Owl's post on a pair of 1989 Donruss packs. My selection from this generosity was lot #3, which he called "Three Beltres Belting". That phrase, of course, is a play on the lyrics of "The 12 Days of Christmas", which I recently noticed is 50% birds.

While I'm keeping my bird enthusiasm going in other ways, I'm glad I got the chance to obtain these three cards of future Hall-of-Famer Adrián Beltré, a member of the 3,000 hit club who retired in 2018.

2018 Bowman Platinum #69 Adrián Beltré

This first card from Bowman Platinum wastes no time in telling us about that 3,000th hit, which occurred on July 30th, 2017. Here's the video of that double, a rocket down the third-base line, appropriately enough. That's the position Beltré covered throughout his career, and did so well enough to earn five Gold Gloves.

The card back also tells us that only two third basemen before Beltré reached the all-important 3,000-hit milestone, and those were George Brett and Wade Boggs. Beltré was the first native of the Dominican Republic to get there, beating Albert Pujols to the mark by less than a year. Those two were contemporaries offset by just a few seasons, and when the Angels honored Pujols's achievement, none other than Beltré was there to catch the ceremonial first pitch. Read more about this in one of my recent posts on 2019 Topps Big League.

I'm not really a Bowman guy, but I do actually have a tiny spot in my 2018 binder for this Platinum set already. Julie from A Cracked Bat sent me Charlie Blackmon's card a couple years ago, and I'll only need to move a couple cards around in the page to make this one fit.

2017 Panini Chronicles #25 Adrián Beltré

Next up is a Panini set, 2017 Chronicles. Curiously, I have A Cracked Bat to thank again for the only other Panini Chronicles card I've featured on the blog, a 2018 Arenado. 2017, the inaugural set, is definitely new to my collection, and while this has the look of an insert card, this is indeed the main set.

There are small bits of foil to be found, which include Beltré's uniform number 29 in the upper left and the Chronicles logo below that. The same photo is used three times, twice on the front and once on the back. Panini describes him as "A Powerful Corner Man", and indeed he is. 477 of his 3,166 hits were homers, and the card back notes how he spread those pretty evenly across three of the teams he played for. There was one year in Boston, but he spent the rest of his career as a Dodger, Mariner, and Ranger.

And once he got to the Rangers, he hit my radar as one of the most fun-loving players around. There was the on-deck circle incident, the embarrassing strikeout against King Felix, the perpetual good-natured feud he had with Elvis Andrus touching his head, and lots more.

How can you not love this guy?

2018 Donruss #6 Adrián Beltré DK

So that's why this particular giveaway offering caught my eye. He never played for the Rockies, but he was a fan favorite around the league, and is well-deserving of his eventual Hall of Fame honors.

He's a real Diamond King, and earned a spot in that Donruss subset for 2018. Donruss Diamond King cards aren't what they once were, as there's no Dick Perez artwork or special write-up on the back. Quite frankly, there's really not much difference between the front and the back of this DK design, other than the lack of color. There's no write-up, no stats, just the same photo in a slightly different diamond design.

But that's okay. In this trio, Bowman Platinum gives us the colors, Panini Chronicles gives us the write-up, and DK gives us a throwback to the early days of Donruss. 

And I'm left with a smile on my face for having watched all these Adrián Beltré highlights.

Thanks, Gregory, and here's to many more years!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Trading Post #163: Card Hemorrhage (Part 2: Rockies)

I'm doing my best to pull myself away from the news to write this, but it's clear that 2021 is not getting off to a great start. Needless to say, what happened Wednesday in Washington was abhorrent. So as I eagerly await what I hope are swift and harsh consequences for those responsible, allow me to present this, Part 2 of a recent PWE receipt that arrived from Jay at Card Hemorrhage.

1991 Fleer #307 Dante Bichette

None of the cards found in Part 1 involved any Rockies. They're all reserved for this Part 2, starting with one of the original Blake Street Bombers, Dante Bichette.

Now, it's honestly somewhat rare for me to receive unsolicited cards printed prior to 1993. That was the inaugural season for the Rockies and Marlins, and even in 1993, few brands gave us Rockies pictured in their new uniforms. And I'd imagine that collecting one of the four most recent MLB teams cuts down the incoming duplicates considerably, so there is that benefit if anyone out there ever decides to collect the Marlins.

But Jay knew Rockies history well enough to include a card of Dante Bichette in the visible-from-space 1991 Fleer set. He was a Brewer in 1991 and 1992, but he began his career with the California Angels. He was still pretty young then, and the highlights Fleer gives us on the card back mostly highlight his minor league performance. He had yet to emerge as a power-hitting slugger, but he clearly has the stance and forearm strength to be one.

Note the sliver of the catcher's mitt in the lower left, if you can safely look that near to the yellow borders.

2017 Topps Heritage #96 Gerardo Parra

The 1968 Topps design, used for 2017 Heritage, is much more muted. But there is one little flash of color in Gerardo Parra's neon Franklin batting gloves. I miss having this lefty around. He was a great clubhouse presence, as we saw when he won the 2019 World Series with the Nationals. He played in Japan last year, and it remains to be seen where 2021 will take him.

I do still enjoy this Heritage design, and I've shown it so many times that I just might have a complete team set by now. Maybe 2017 Heritage was just a really big deal for some reason? It's come in from all corners of the country.

2019 Topps Heritage #85 Chris Iannetta

A bit less so with 2019 Heritage. We're skipping a year of Heritage, jumping straight into the 1970 design. I did buy a value pack of it, but haven't seen it as frequently. And the colors here are even quieter. Gray borders, no neon sports apparel, just a little yellow and dark red in the lettering.

A stern-looking Chris Iannetta (with his name spelled correctly), looks ready for the most boring game of catch ever. He hung up the catchers mitt after the 2019 season, retiring as a Rockie.

2019 Topps Heritage #256 David Dahl

David Dahl recently signed with the Texas Rangers, but maybe we haven't seen the last of him in Denver. Iannetta played elsewhere in the league before returning to the Rockies, so perhaps Dahl will do the same someday.

The card back has his minor-league stats going all the way back to the Pioneer League in 2012, where he crushed 10 triples and 9 home runs with a .379 average. He clearly rocketed past that step in his minor league development. That's fairly unsurprising, because a lot of these guys who end up in the Majors spent much of their school and minor league careers being the best player around. 

The card back tells us in the little cartoon that Dahl hit his first career grand slam on September 24th, 2018, but it looks like Topps got this wrong. I happened to be there that day, and while Dahl did hit a two-run homer, I don't recall a grand slam. They must have meant his game a couple weeks earlier, September 10th, 2018.

2019 Topps Heritage #253 Kyle Freeland

Our next entrant in the Very Serious Portraits category is the first current Rockie of the post, Kyle Freeland. He was fresh off his stellar 2017 season, in which he earned a 17-7 record with an under-3.00 ERA, the first Rockie to do so. His cartoon on the back shows a batter with a broken bat, as though his fastball is cutting through the wood like a lightsaber. The stat associated with that cartoon is that he only allowed one homer per 50 batters faced, no small feat inside Coors Field.

2020 Topps Heritage #123 Dom Nunez / Sam Hilliard (RC)

This has been a Topps Heritage-heavy post, and the 2020 set will take us across the finish line. It's based on the iconic black-bordered 1971 set, and so far the borders are holding up well. It remains to be seen how much chipping we'll see in the coming years. 2007 Topps hasn't really presented major problems, although the glossy finish of that one might help out. 

This Rookie Stars two-player card features Dom Nunez, who briefly appeared late in the 2019 season, and Sam Hilliard, who has had playing time in 2019 and 2020. This is already Hilliard's third Infield Fly Rule appearance. I'm assuming that this photo was taken at the same shoot as his Turkey Red insert card from 2020 Topps. It might even be the same photo, just edited differently.

As the card back tells us, Dom Nunez became one of the few players to hit a home run in his first Major League at bat. It went into the visitor's bullpen, so the grounds crew should have had no trouble retrieving it for his trophy case. Hilliard showed good power too, putting up an OPS above 1.000 during his debut 2019 partial season.

2020 Topps Heritage #151 Jon Gray

Jon Gray and his flowing locks will wrap this post up. He's pretending to look at the catcher for his signs, much like Chris Iannetta is pretending to prepare to catch a pitch. I believe this, and probably most other photos in this post, were taken at the team's Spring Training site in Arizona. I especially like how you can see the tarp deployed across the field in the lower right.

I'm not sure this post is among my best. That might have something to do with my state of distraction with the deteriorating state of the world, or that I just don't have much to say about these posed photographs. Probably a bit of both. 

In any case, I can't believe that all this came from one single PWE. Thanks, Jay!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Trading Post #162: Card Hemorrhage (Part 1: Assorted Goodies)

I'm all the way up to #162 in The Trading Post theme. That's a lot of trades, and many of them I've split up into two or even three parts. This one will be a two-parter, but the unusual thing this time is that this was all from a single PWE.

Yes, Jay at Card Hemorrhage expertly crafted a bespoke PWE, stuffed two dozen cards inside, affixed three stamps to it, and sent it on its way. According to the postmark, it took a little over two weeks to complete its journey through the mail system, but it was worth the wait. Especially because I had no idea I was even waiting at all. 

2001 Topps Archives Reserve #63 Satchel Paige

Usually I lead off the two-part posts with the Rockies, but I'm flipping it around this time. Mainly because there was an excellent and timely Archives Reserve card in here, but also because I have to admit that I'm getting a little disillusioned with the Rockies. Yet another offseason is going by without much happening, although free agent Trevor Bauer was asking for Denver restaurant recommendations on Twitter the other day, so what do I know? 

Sushi Den, by the way.

In any case, I've gone on record before as saying that Topps Archives Reserve is my favorite reprint set ever. The iconic cards, the wide representation of sets, the shininess. It can't be beat. So Jay took note of that and sent Satchel Paige's card from this 100-card set. I'm not quite sure where Topps got the extra "L" in his name, but on the back, they did acknowledge the travesty of segregation, referring to his Major League career as "long deferred and much interrupted". That's language from 1953, one small step on a very long path. Another thing that was "long overdue" was recognizing the Negro Leagues as a bona fide Major League, something MLB finally decided to do on December 16th. Coincidentally, that's the same day this PWE was postmarked. 

Next comes the long process of including all those years of incomplete record keeping into the official statistics, and I'm waiting for the day when Paige's Baseball-Reference page shows more than the 28 wins he earned after he reached his forties.

Now's a great time to learn more about Paige, and Buck O'Neil, and Cool Papa Bell, and Oscar Charleston, and Martín Dihigo, and many more. Joe Posnanski has taught me quite a bit since last year, such as this tidbit gleaned from O'Neil, that so many Negro League teams were called the Giants as sort of a code word. It was often difficult to get proper press coverage when a Negro League team was in town, but if you heard tell that "the Giants" were playing, those who were clued in would know what was up, and potentially had the opportunity to witness these greats in their prime.

2014 Topps Chrome #14 Alex Guerrero (RC)

A decade or so later, things became much more difficult for Cuban players for an entirely different set of reasons, but that started to change in the early '90s. Today, Cuban-born players are well-represented in MLB, including some of the latest hot rookies like Luis Robert and Randy Arozarena. Álex Guerrero was once among them, and signed with the Dodgers in late 2013. He ended up with playing time in 2014 and 2015, all with the Dodgers. 

He got a card in 2014 Topps Series 2, as well as in this smaller Chrome set, and it's a great photo. It fits into the all-dirt "Tatooine" mini-collection, and I'm guessing this is a spring training shot. The photo is cropped too tightly to identify either his teammate or the opposing runner, but I'm guessing that's an Angel.

1995 Leaf Cornerstones #5 Will Clark / Dean Palmer

This mid-'90s insert isn't quite as shiny as the first two, but it does have that sparkly rainbow look around the border. New to my collection, the Cornerstones insert set features the primary corner infielders from a tiny selection of six teams. Most of us remember Will Clark as a Giant, but he spent most of the later part of his career with the Texas Rangers. Joining him across the diamond was Dean Palmer. 

On both the front and the back, this card shows a nice right-handed/left-handed symmetry, typical for their respective positions. There are defensive stats on the back as well, such as putouts and errors. Maybe I'm spoiled by Nolan Arenado, but Palmer's .912 fielding percentage at the hot corner is really, um, not that great.

It's a nice design, though. The colors and theme work well, and I'd love to see Topps do a current 30-team version of this set. The only odd thing here besides the tiniest crease on the front is the numbering. Leaf was inconsistent in their use of numerals and words, noting this card as "5 of six".

2014 Bowman Chrome Draft Top Prospects #CTP-83 Clayton Blackburn

The last shiny card before we get into more normal-looking cardboard comes from Bowman Chrome. It's from a year. 

Seriously, it's from 2014. I'll never be good at Bowman.

Of the zillions of Bowman Prospect cards out there, this one in particular makes me think that Jay might be an extremely diligent reader of Infield Fly Rule. As I documented in 2016, I've been to one single Minor League game in my life. I saw the Sacramento River Cats host the Salt Lake Bees, and guess who the home team's starter was that day? Yep, Clayton Blackburn.

Like the many prospects who fill Bowman checklists, Blackburn never saw Major League action, although he did spend some brief time on active MLB rosters. He just never had the chance to actually take the mound.

I did enjoy the Minor League experience, and it's nice to keep tabs on these guys as they progress through the farm system. Players you happen to see in person take on a whole new life and you really find yourself rooting for them to make it to The Show. It's just not something that's as easy to keep tabs on when you have a Major League team a short drive away. Maybe that's why I'm so terrible at Bowman.

2020 Topps Heritage Minors #25 Heliot Ramos

Another enjoyable aspect of Minor League Baseball is just how fun the team names are. One level down from the River Cats in the Giants farm system, you'll find the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Just have a look at this logo. Elsewhere in MiLB you'll find the Isotopes, the Yard Goats, the RubberDucks, the Jumbo Shrimp, and best of all, the Trash Pandas.

Heliot Ramos plays for the Flying Squirrels, or at least he did in 2019. Minor League Baseball was entirely shut down in 2020, and I have to wonder how much career development has simply been derailed. To lose a whole season at a young age certainly can't bode well for many Major League hopefuls. But maybe one day, Ramos will make his way through Sacramento and on to San Francisco. At that point, odds are good I'll see him play an NL West game at Coors Field someday. 

That is, assuming the MLB divisions aren't massively realigned. Expect the unexpected.

2015 Topps Gypsy Queen Glove Stories #GS-10 Pablo Sandoval

In case you haven't been caught up with meme culture or Guardians of the Galaxy, a Trash Panda is a humorous name for a raccoon (see also: danger noodle, aka snake). This is not to be confused with Kung Fu Panda, the nickname for third baseman Pablo Sandoval. He was featured in a long-running but defunct Gypsy Queen insert set called Glove Stories. It featured some of the best defensive plays on the diamond, and this one in particular is from the 2014 NL Wild Card game, in which Panda went over the railing (at 1:28 in video) to snag a foul pop. If you leave the field of play as part of a catch, you run the risk of allowing runners to advance one base, but as I understand the rules, there's no danger when there's no one on base. 

Other than falling into the concrete dugout, of course.

1976 Topps #101 Pete LaCock

We'll take a brief foray into vintage before continuing. I don't have much 1976 Topps in my collection, but I am just a little bit closer to filling a complete page in my vintage binder. Pete LaCock retired several years before I was born, and if not for his name that doesn't pass the playground test, he'd probably just be another unknown in the vast expanse of 1970s commons. But he's been embraced by the Cardsphere, so that's why I now have a -1.9 rWAR player in my collection. And it's actually in really nice shape for being 45 years old, even though the centering isn't perfect. It's very 1970s.

So what can we find out about Pete LaCock? Well, he played in Japan in 1981, but his final 1980 season was enough to earn a trifecta of sunset cards all three sets that year. Topps, of course, and the inaugural Donruss and Fleer sets. In more recent years, he coached various Minor League teams like the Blacksnakes and the Saltdogs. And he happens to be the son of the original Hollywood Squares host, Peter Marshall, whose real name is Ralph LaCock.

1994 Stadium Club #109 Gregg Jefferies

On to the wonderful world of Stadium Club, where we see Gregg Jefferies trying to steal second base in Wrigley Field. The cameo here is unclear, but I'm guessing that's a "6" on this Cubs uniform. I'm not entirely confident in this, but my best guess is that it's José Vizcaíno, who wore #16 in Chicago. Oddly enough, Vizcaíno was the cameo player on another Stadium Club card that Jay sent me last time

Cue Twilight Zone Music...

1994 Stadium Club doesn't get enough love. After three years, Topps changed the brand's logo and started using the "TSC" abbreviation. They also changed the card backs from what had been a pretty consistent design since the brand's inception in 1991. Gone was the tiny image of the player's first Topps card, replaced by a second photo and all sorts of different typefaces and colors. 

On the front, the color of the player's first name denotes which division the team is in. The same color coding is also used on the card number. 1994 was the first season where MLB used the six divisions we know now, so Topps decided it would be helpful to guide fans into understanding the new alignments. As we all know, 1995 Fleer took that idea to the extreme. 

Also on the back, Topps gave us a word or two to describe the player or his season, in this case "efficient". Fleer also borrowed that idea for their Emotion brand. Topps did it a year before, though with much less emphasis. And the red foil I never see enough of was something Pacific ran with for years before their demise. It turns out this was a pretty influential set.

Out of curiosity, I glanced through a few of my other '94 Stadium Club cards to see what Topps came up with for the player's phrase. Robin Ventura was "rockin' robin". Barry Larkin was "cin-tillating", pun and hyphen intended. These are all lower-case. Wade Boggs was "better than pie", referencing his lifetime batting average being higher than Pie Traynor's, which held true into retirement.

I was ten when this was all happening. It was fun.

2014 Stadium Club #79 Brandon Phillips

So you can imagine my excitement when Topps brought the brand back in 2014, the same year I started this blog. I'm not saying I caused it, but I'm also not saying I didn't. In those ensuing decades, the brand grew up a lot, developing yet another logo, toning down the card back tremendously and using words like "loquacious", and focusing even more on the photography.

Here, Brandon Phillips has a Brewer caught in a rundown, but I can't see the numbers clearly enough to know who it is. That might be Jonathan Lucroy watching from the safety of second base, which is a wild guess based on the first digit of the uniform number. Whoever the trail runner is, Phillips has good speed, and I definitely wouldn't expect him to win this footrace.

2015 Stadium Club #99 Chase Utley

2015 Stadium Club is just as good, if not better. I only have a page or so of it in my collection, which is odd. Usually I buy at least a blaster of it, but I only have enough to equal a value pack or two. So I'm glad to add this Chase Utley card to the pages. As posed shots go, this is one of the best, showing him in the dugout at Nationals Park, with his reflection in a glass door. 

Utley is wearing the "CB" memorial patch from the 2014 Phillies season, honoring Claire Betz, a part-owner of the team who died earlier that year. You can also see the banners on the structure beyond the left field wall, over Utley's left shoulder. There's a big banner with the Curly W, and under 5x magnification a Nats player is visible on it. It's very hard to say for sure, but I think it's #28, Jayson Werth.

In the reflection, the angles play a little differently, so Utley's bat mostly obscures that banner. But look closely, and you'll be able to see a mirror image of the Geico Gecko in the window, sitting right on Chase Utley's shoulder like a little cartoon angel.

1992 Stadium Club #800 Jose Rijo

José Rijo is trying to get a better look at all that through his goofy sunglasses. Despite all his fun cards, the only other time he's been on the blog was just a normal pitching card. For mini-collections, he's a frequent subject. He fits into the signing autographs mini-collection, the sunglasses mini-collection, and he's pretty much all by himself in the squirt gun mini-collection.

He was also a pretty good pitcher. He was both an All-Star and a World Series MVP, and probably would have put up even better numbers if his elbow didn't give him fits for years on end.

We'll see some Rockies in Part 2. In the meantime, have a Happy New Year and thanks for reading!


Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Trading Post #161: Chavez Ravining

Over the years, I've never really thought to keep track of the rate at which I win giveaways and contests run by my fellow bloggers. I entered a couple today, and I have my fingers crossed. As expected, my luck is best when there are more prizes on offer, which is what happened with a giveaway that Alex at Chavez Ravining ran this summer. 13th place sometimes brings up the rear, but other times, 13th place is a fine place to be.

 2019 Topps Father's Day Blue #131 Mark Trumbo /50

Of the many prizes on offer, I ended up with a couple low-numbered parallels from 2019 Topps Series 1. This Mark Trumbo card is numbered to just 50 copies, and it's from the Father's Day Blue parallel set. It has a pale blue border color, which works well with the hockey stick design of 2019. Maybe blue and orange paired together appeals to the Denver Broncos fan in me. Compared to the angular 2020 set, this is actually pretty nice. It might even be the best design they've done since they got rid of full borders after 2014.

I used to see Mark Trumbo's name a lot. He began his career as an Angel, and then spent some time on the Diamondbacks. I'll admit that long before we all knew how amazingly good Mike Trout was, I got their names mixed up from time to time. Same initials, same team. Of course, that didn't last long once it became clear that we had a future Hall-of-Famer in our midst. After Trumbo's time with Arizona, when I saw him during his frequent matchups with the Rockies, he sort of fell off my radar. He led the Majors with 47 home runs in 2016, earning a Silver Slugger and his second All-Star appearance in the process. After that, he trailed off due to injuries, and wasn't signed to play anywhere in 2020 even before the chaos that ensued this season. It's unclear whether the pandemic will end his career, which certainly could be the case for many players, not unlike what happened after the 1994 strike.

2019 Topps Mother's Day Pink #219 Martin Perez /50

As you might expect when there's a Father's Day Blue parallel set, there's also an equally rare Mother's Day Pink parallel set. This Martín Pérez card is numbered an even 50/50, which looks so appealing. Any one of them is nice, but knowing you have the very last one is just a little extra cool.

It doesn't look quite pink to me, more of a brick red. With a more uniform background than on Trumbo's card, you can see more clearly how Topps shades the card to make a colored parallel. Presumably, Trumbo's photo is just as blue as this is pink, but it just doesn't stand out much when the backdrop is a bunch of fans sitting in the shade. 

This card is pretty recent, but Pérez has already appeared on two other teams not pictured here. He was part of the Twins rotation in 2019, then moved on to Boston for 2020. He started 12 games, which is effectively a full season when a 60-game schedule is in place. He's a free agent once again, and is looking for a spot to land in 2021.

2020 Topps 206 Wave 1 #26 David Dahl

In addition to these two prizes, Alex found a few Rockies for me, mostly from recent retro sets. As I alluded to a couple months ago, Topps brought back the 206 brand once again. I said at the time that I expected to find some "in the next decade", but I had no idea it would take just a couple months. I'm not sure on the print run, but it's one of the print-to-order sets that Topps offers as an online exclusive, like Topps Now. 

The card back of this mini does tell you that it's from the 50-card Wave 1, but annoyingly, there's no card number on any of these. Beckett calls it #26, I guess because of his uniform number, but building this set would be a frustrating endeavor. Good thing there's a pleasing shade of green on the front.

Dahl won't get to wear #26 when he starts playing for the Rangers next year. The team retired it for former manager Johnny Oates, so he'll need to pick another. Yes, that's where he'll land, since the Rockies decided to non-tender him this offseason. Texas didn't waste any time in scooping him up, and he'll get to play in their brand-new park. Interestingly, because the Rockies had their late-July Opening Day against the Rangers, none other than David Dahl got the first-ever hit at Globe Life Field. He also has his name in the record books for the first strikeout and the first double.

I guess the Rangers liked what they saw on the first day MLB played in 2020.

2020 Topps Turkey Red '20 Series 2 #TR-37 Sam Hilliard

Another retro set Topps decided to resurrect in 2020 was Turkey Red. Unbeknownst to me, Topps last produced this in 2013 and 2014 as an online exclusive, but none of those are in my collection. There was a 2007 set, and I do have a few of those. At that time, it was a main set, but this year, Topps made it an insert set as part of 2020 Topps. They also smoothed the front of the card, giving us that front that isn't quite matte and isn't quite glossy, a lot like what you'll find in recent Topps Archives sets.

Somewhat annoyingly again, Topps restarted the checklist numbering in Series 2, producing a 200-card insert set numbered 1-100 twice. Topps, please don't do that. What's the story with weird card numbering in 2020?

In any case, we're back to full-size, looking straight-on at a posing Sam Hilliard, one of the young Rockies prospects. His September call-up in 2019 went pretty well, but he didn't look great in 2020. Perhaps he'll still need time to develop. He got a card in the 2020 Topps Base set, which has the official MLB Rookie Card logo. As you can see, this insert also has the RC logo, and I'm really not going to even pretend to understand how the RC logo works. Shouldn't it just be on one? Or is it everything for the whole year?

2019 Topps Gypsy Queen #146 Kyle Freeland

Drifting back one year to 2019, we come to Gypsy Queen, the retro set I generally know the least about. It's helpful that Topps put the year in the upper corners. I'm not great at telling the years apart, even though I've seen this design twice before

The card back takes note of Freeland being a Colorado native, pointing out that he needed to just two seasons to earn over 75% of all wins and 67% of all strikeouts by a Colorado-born Rockie. Now, there isn't tremendous competition for that number, as I can't think of anyone else who fits the bill besides Mark Knudson, who had zero wins and three strikeouts as a Rockie. Roy Halladay never pitched for the Rockies, so I'm not sure who else they're referring to.

And on the front, Freeland is clearly pitching in Oracle Park, home of the Giants. This photo is from 2018, when it was still known as AT&T Park. And I'm pretty sure I have the date. It's easier with pitchers, especially starters, who only go once every five days. He played a full season in 2018, and a pretty great one, too. But he only pitched twice in San Francisco. 

Like the Rockies, the Giants have their own manually-operated out-of-town scoreboard in right field, and it's really hard to see clearly in this photo since it's so far outside the depth of field, but I'm pretty sure the matchup we can see is Royals at Brewers, and maybe that's a "4" next to Milwaukee's name. If correct, that would date this to June 27th, 2018, when the Royals beat the Brewers 5-4. The Rockies suffered a heartbreaking loss that day, as the Giants won 1-0 via a walkoff solo home run. Freeland went toe-to-toe with Madison Bumgarner for seven innings, only to see the bullpen lose it to Brandon Crawford.

2019 Topps Gypsy Queen Fortune Teller Mini #FTMNA Nolan Arenado

As little Gypsy Queen as collect, something I see even less frequently is a Gypsy Queen insert card. But Alex found just such a thing for me, a mini of Nolan Arenado. It's the height of a normal card, but narrower, coming in at 1 7/8". Arenado's card is from the 20-card Fortune Teller insert set, which is sort of a steampunk version of 1995 Topps Cyberstats. 

We're told to "Gaze into...THE FUTURE!", and on the card back, Topps has done just that. They tell us, correctly, that Nolan Arenado's 2019 season would be his fifth straight with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. We're also told that he was tied at four straight with Chipper Jones and Vinny Castilla among NL third basemen.

Even with the shortened 2020 season, he wasn't on pace for a sixth, so that's about as far into the future as we can look. But what I'd really like to know is whether Nolan Arenado will continue to be a Rockie.

2020 Diamond Kings #149 Nolan Arenado SP

It's a bit of an open question, especially with the opt-out clause he has in his contract coming up at the end of 2021, but for now, he'll continue to get purple cards, with or without an official MLB license, and which may or may not be short-printed. Panini is still making the Diamond Kings set, still making it look like a painting. And I still enjoy how it feels like a playing card.

Panini went a little more in-depth on the back, narrowing Arenado's 2019 season down to several statistics that puts him in a class all by himself. Apparently, Nolan is the first righty to hit .315, score 100 runs, hit 40 home runs, and (of course, since this is Nolan) win a Gold Glove at third base. They didn't specify which lefty has done this, but it's an impressive single-season performance nonetheless.

Thanks to Alex for sending these cards my way! By the rules of his own contest, all I was due were those two 2019 Topps parallels, but he went above and beyond and found all these great retro cards that I was unlikely to otherwise encounter.

Finally, as I finish this post up, I sadly just learned about the death of yet another Hall-of-Famer, Phil Niekro. If he happened to see it earlier this year, I hope he got some joy out of seeing the entire Cardsphere celebrate his birthday using his '88 Score card.