Monday, November 11, 2019

A more local LCS (Part 3)

We come to the end of our three-part series on my trip to Colorado Sports Cards, the newest and closest-to-me LCS in the Denver area. Part 1 saw all the affordable goodies you'd expect to find at a card shop, and Part 2 a bunch of Topps Archives from a consignment box in the center of the store. Part 3 will wrap things up, containing everything other than Topps Archives I pulled from the consignment box.

2017 Topps Gallery #90 Eric Thames
Topps Gallery was one of the high-end brands Topps released in the late-'90s, and I regained a bit of familiarity with it in a recent organization project. Cards with artist-painted artwork as the primary image might seem recent, or perhaps a holdover from the overproduction era (read: Diamond Kings), but card artwork goes back to the very earliest days of not only Topps, but also to the very concept of a baseball card. Topps Gallery carries on that tradition, with this particular card of Eric Thames featuring artwork by Mayumi Seto.

Eric Thames is wearing a throwback Brewers jersey on this card, but once the 2020 season arrives, we'll see the classic "MB" return to the field as the primary logo. Whether slugger Thames will return to the Brewers is an open question, but as the club declined their option on him, he'll likely suit up elsewhere in the league next season.

Thames is perhaps best known for his amazing flurry of eleven home runs in April 2017, which is mentioned on the card back and remains a Brewers record. He honed his swing in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) and upon his return to the Major Leagues, was swatting balls out of Miller Park left and right, taking the April home run title away from Trevor Story.

2008 UD Masterpieces #64 Joba Chamberlain
Upper Deck joined in on the artwork card trend, giving us two of their best-ever sets, 2007 and 2008 Upper Deck Masterpieces. If there was ever a reason to advocate for UD getting an MLB license again, Masterpieces is it. They were only 90 cards, making them easier to complete than some recent Topps insert sets, and they were also some of the most beautiful sets to ever come out of the Upper Deck factory.

This was the only Masterpieces card I found that day, depicting Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain. He played in the shadow of Mariano Rivera, but was a member of the Yankees when they won the World Series in 2009, and is perhaps best-known for being attacked by a swarm of midges in Cleveland during the 2007 ALDS. This card doesn't say anything about that, but does tell us that he delivered a 0.38 ERA in his rookie year of 2007.

2018 Topps Chrome Prism Refractors #28 Gregory Polanco
Artwork cards require a certain deliberate appreciation, but reflective cards like Topps Chrome quite literally have that "shiny object" attraction. I'm happy to have both in my collection. This Gregory Polanco card is more than just shiny. Rather, it's what I think is a Prism Refractor. It's shiny, sure, and the background pattern looks like what you'd get if a hummingbird's feathers got stuck in a baseball card. It's more subtle than in past years, with more obvious patterns like 2011 "liquorfractors" coming to mind, but it works pretty well with the recent borderless Topps designs.

2018 Topps Chrome #51 Ian Happ
Ian Happ's card is just of the normal Chrome variety, which makes the bottom banner shiny and the Wrigley Field ivy alarmingly dark. It's hard to tell exactly which position Happ is playing in this action photo, because he plays all over the field. His home run count has declined since his rookie total of 24, however he's a valuable utility player who appears to be filling Ben Zobrist's shoes on the Cubs roster. Managers might be willing to accept a bit less power at the plate if they know they can slot you in anywhere. And with Kyle Schwarber in left field, who singlehandedly makes a case for the NL adopting the Designated Hitter rule, Happ may one day have even more opportunities to cover left field in Wrigley.

And as we all know, strange things happen in Wrigley's left field.

2018 Donruss Variations #225 Anthony Rizzo RETRO
Happ's teammate, Anthony Rizzo, appeared in the same retro 2018 Donruss subset as Nolan Arenado from about a month ago. Like Topps, the Donruss brand has been around long enough to repurpose many of their classic designs for reprints. The 1984 set is a great choice, but I doubt they'll get the same appreciation if they reuse the 1991 design.

As the card back tells us, Anthony Rizzo, who just won his third Gold Glove, is heavily involved in philanthropic activities. He's a cancer survivor, and his foundation has raised millions of dollars for cancer research and healthcare. Panini may not be able to use MLB team names and logos, but a close look at Rizzo's right batting glove lets us see the ribbon logo of his foundation.

2019 Donruss Variations #181 Blake Snell
Sometimes Panini looks back at classic Donruss sets, and sometimes they give us easy-to-spot variations. Like Topps, some of the variations just use a different photo, so you either have to be an expert or have good reference material on hand. Apparently that is the case with Rizzo's card, which is a variation I had no idea about until I looked it up on Beckett. But other variations use the player's nickname in addition to an alternate photograph to differentiate, like this Blake "Zilla" Snell card.

I prefer the latter. Who has time to be checking their cards for little sparkles or wondering whether the photo on the front is anything out of the ordinary?

Panini has been doing the nickname variation for a few years with the Donruss brand, and I once received a variation of Daniel Murphy's card from the 2017 set, courtesy of Nick. I had no idea at the time that "Murph" would one day become a Rockie.

Blake Snell, one of the few players in this day and age with a nickname that isn't simply a slight alteration of his actual name (i.e. "Murph"), won the AL Cy Young Award in 2018. He regressed significantly this year, so he isn't a finalist for the 2019 award, but his teammate Charlie Morton is.

2018 Finest #39 Wil Myers
Back to shiny, this time in the form of 2018 Topps Finest. The mirror finish is nice, and reminds me of something like Fleer Brilliants or Pinnacle Certified, but that's an awfully busy background design. The card back is a little more interesting in this case, as we get a complete history of cycles hit by the San Diego Padres.

After close to a half-century of games, Matt Kemp finally hit for the cycle for the first time in Padres history. That happened on August 14th, 2015. Not long after that, on April 10th, 2017, Wil Myers hit for the second Padres cycle. Careful observers will note that both those feats were accomplished at Coors Field.

That leaves the Miami Marlins as the only remaining team without a cycle.

They will be visiting Denver from July 20th-23rd, 2020.

Interestingly, the Padres are still on the hunt for their first franchise no-hitter. Their chances of finally crossing that off the list will likely depend on whether they sign one of the free agent ace pitchers this offseason.

2008 SPx #57 Johan Santana
For the longest time, the Mets were the team who had gone the longest without a no-hitter following their inception. They had played just over eight thousand games before Johan Santana managed to finally throw one in June 2012. There is debate about whether that feat put an end to Santana's career, but the Mets finally got that elusive performance. The Padres didn't start until 1969, so it took them until this past spring to surpass the Mets' no-hitter drought.

I can't resist the die-cut pattern of 2008 SPx. I'll buy this every time I come across it. In fact, it's the third time I've had it on the blog.

This card is yet another example of how these posts practically write themselves. I did not know that Wil Myers hit for the cycle in Coors Field, let alone that his 2018 Topps Finest card mentioned it. Nor did I have a deliberate plan to follow it up with the pitcher who threw the only no-hitter in Mets history. But that's how it worked out. And while this SPx card pictures Santana with the Twins, the logo and team name clearly indicate this is a Mets card. It was printed right around the time the Twins traded the two-time Cy Young winner to the Mets for a bunch of prospects, including Philip Humber, who would somehow toss a perfect game before Santana would break that minor curse for the Mets.

In case you were curious, the only player still active as part of that 2008 trade is Carlos Gómez.

2008 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini #262 Mark Spitz
As much as I don't want to admit it, we are in the offseason. I suppose that makes it appropriate to have a non-baseball sports card. Minis, and especially these cigarette-card-sized minis, can be hard to find in a five-row card box. They have a tendency to slip out of stacks, especially when the curly 2010 Chrome is anywhere to be found in said stack. Even so, this mini of swimming legend Mark Spitz survived the journey.

2008 Allen & Ginter was released just weeks before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Games at which Michael Phelps broke Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Olympics, winning a whopping eight. Phelps may have come away from Beijing with a little more hardware than Spitz had when he left Munich in 1972, although technically they tied each other by setting seven world records. One of Phelps's eight races wasn't quite done in world record time.

Olympic Games are four years apart, so depending on the sport, you do see repeat participants and winners over the years. Certain sports like gymnastics and figure skating don't lend themselves quite as well to dynastic domination as swimming or snowboarding. Spitz is known for his 1972 Olympics, but this card back informed me that he also won four medals in Mexico City in 1968, including two golds.

Tokyo 2020 will mark the first Olympics in two decades that won't feature Michael Phelps in the pool. He didn't medal, but his Olympic career began way back in 2000 in Sydney, just a few months after Johan Santana began his Major League career.

No-hitters and cycles are impressive, of course. But one of the most amazing sports moments I can remember was when Michael Phelps edged out his opponent by a hundredth of a second to win one of those eight golds.

I guess the offseason isn't so bad, especially when there are Winter Olympics every four years. The next Winter Games will next take place in 2022, also in Beijing.

Maybe the Padres will finally have their no-hitter by then. Or at least the Marlins might have a cycle.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A more local LCS (Part 2: Topps Archives)

Depending on the World Series schedule and duration, November may be one of the dark months without a single game of Major League Baseball. This just happens to be one of those months, as Game 7 of the World Series occurred on Wednesday, October 30th.

2018 Topps Archives #233 Trea Turner
When all was said and done, Trea Turner and his fellow Washington Nationals were World Champions. Turner was involved in a highly controversial interference call in Game 6. His speed carried him up the first base line at a rapid clip, knocking the glove off of first baseman Yuli Gurriel's hand before the bad throw arrived. Just two batters after that, Anthony Rendon, who led off the post a few days ago, crushed a home run into the Crawford Boxes past Houston's left field, giving an ever-so-slight shrug to the umpire as he crossed the plate.

One thing led to another, and Dave Martinez ended up being the only manager in World Series history to be ejected (during the 7th inning stretch, no less) yet still win the game.

This whole situation was partly caused by Trea Turner's speed, which is the subject of one of the cartoons on this card back. In 2018, Topps selected the 1981 set as one of the designs for that year's Archives, and it's a pretty faithful reproduction of the original, right down to the lack of an official Topps logo on the front. The only issue is that the Nats have never worn the curly W on a white-fronted hat like the ballcap has on this card, nor does it match the red cap Turner is wearing in this posed shot.

The card back is about right, other than squeezing the team name into the top banner in a practically microscopic font size. There are even two cartoons, just like the originals, and the second one mentions the time Turner hit for the cycle against the Rockies on April 25th, 2017. That was during a four game series the Nationals played in Denver, winning three. In fact, they scored in the double digits in all three of their wins, raining on the usual April parade the Rockies celebrate. Colorado had just swept the Giants and were in first place. By the time the Nationals left, they were 14-9 and a half-game back.

I distinctly remember the TV announcers referring to the Nationals and that series as a "buzzsaw".

2018 Topps Archives #69 Gary Carter
That and all the Topps Archives cards in this post came out of a discount box at Colorado Sports Cards. Part 1 showed the goodies that CSC stocked for themselves, and parts 2 and 3 will show cards from the consignment boxes they have set up in the center of the store. Upon checkout, the owner mentioned the particular boxes I thumbed through were set up by Adam, one of my favorite dealers at the local card shows.

1959 Topps was another design selected for 2018 Archives, which we've seen before, courtesy of Julie. I picked plenty more of these out of the discount box. Due to Washington's championship, I thought it fitting to feature a card from the previous iteration of their franchise, the 1994 World Series Champions Montreal Expos.

Specifically, I picked the late Gary Carter, pictured here as a smiling Expo. He was the first player to enter Cooperstown with the Expos on his plaque. He played with a few NL teams during his career, but he started off in Montreal, spent a decade there, and played his sunset season back north of the border in 1992.

2018 Topps Archives #143 Carson Fulmer
1977 Topps was the third set design used in 2018 Archives. I don't know the original set that well, and I haven't really seen it since those Antique Mall Mystery Packs from several years ago. It does contain a cartoon, and this one tells us that Lefty Grove (correctly depicted as a southpaw) once won 20 straight decisions at Fenway. Most likely, that was when he was a member of the Red Sox rather than during his earlier days with the Philadelphia Athletics. He was the AL MVP in 1931, and there are a whole lot of bold numbers on his Baseball Reference page.

I don't have anything in particular to say about Carson Fulmer, nor can I see any particular connection he has to Lefty Grove. Fulmer's not even a lefty. But this photograph caught my eye. At first glance, it looks like Fulmer is standing in front of a distant, snowy mountain. I have a pretty good idea what those look like, since I can see them by looking west from anywhere in Denver. A closer look reveals it to just be some wintry tree branches.

I was further confused by the orange dots in the lower right. I'm assuming that's an orange tree, so this might be a Spring Training shot. The thing is, the White Sox play their Spring Training games in Arizona, not Florida. We certainly associate citrus fruits more with Florida than Arizona. Heck, it's even in the name, "Grapefruit League". But further research shows that Arizona has quite a citrus industry all its own.

I'm just more used to seeing cacti on the Cactus League cards.

2016 Topps Archives #169 Jorge Soler
It's been a while since I've seen 2016 Archives. I bought a pack when it was still in stores, but it's been rather dry ever since. Compared to other Archives sets in this discount box alone, it was pretty scarce. I only found this one Jorge Soler card which used the 1979 design.

Finding so many Archives cards not long after opening those thrift store bags gives me a rare opportunity to examine these older sets back to back. And the 1979 set looks great here, right down to the retro Topps logo. I'm not nearly familiar enough with these sets to get picky about color combinations or font sizes, but I do notice some slight differences when newer sets are picked for Archives.

Jorge Soler, who is now on the Royals, somewhat quietly led the AL in home runs in 2019, with 48. I'm sure the highlights were there; he just seemed to fly under the radar this year. In any case, back then he was a Cub, preparing to break the longest curse in pro sports, and honoring Ernie Banks with a #14 memorial patch.

2012 Topps Archives #160 Prince Fielder
I didn't realize Soler was a home run leader, but at least I knew which team he was on. But for Prince Fielder, unless you're a Rangers fan, his departure from the big leagues seemed not to really register. I've had several people ask me what happened to him, and when I looked him up, I was surprised to see he hadn't played since 2016. He signed a massive free agent contract with the Tigers in 2012, was traded to the Rangers after the 2013 season, and "retired" in 2016 following a career-ending neck surgery.

The Rangers had to keep him on the 40-man roster through 2017 while they got an arrangement worked out with an insurer for the rest of his contract. That contract was supposed to run through 2020, and Prince was quite upset when it became clear he wouldn't be able to finish it.

But in 2012, when Topps Archives became what we know today, they featured the big slugger on the 1984 design, all ready to go in his new Tigers uniform. I'm sure that most fans, and especially the Tigers, expected Prince Fielder's career to at least keep pace with the annual releases of Topps Archives.

2012 Topps Archives #92 Jordan Walden
I found a few other 2012 Archives in these boxes, the most eye-catching of which was the black-bordered 1971 design. It's reprinted on occasion, and not just in Archives. Even the originals have been showing up here since the early days of this blog.

I'm sure this card will hold up better than real '71s, but this one is already showing some signs of wear on the right edge. Black borders are as fragile as they are beautiful.

Topps probably expected Jordan Walden to be more of a star during his career than he ended up being. The 2011 season, which this card focuses on, was by far his best. He earned 32 saves for the Angels, got some Rookie of the Year votes, and even an All-Star appearance. The Angels traded him away for Tommy Hanson, who ended up being one of many Angels players to pass away long before their time.

Walden last played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015 but never returned to his former glory, nor did he earn more than a handful saves here and there.

2015 Topps Archives #75 George Brett
As you can see, I found lots of assorted years of Topps Archives, but the main one was 2015 Archives. That year, Topps expanded the set to 330 cards (including SPs), while reducing the number of reprinted set designs from four to three. 1957 was one of those sets, and the original is one of several 1950s issues that are entirely absent from my collection. Those early years of Topps are pretty spotty. I thought I had the Elmer Valo card, but I guess I've just seen it across the Cardsphere so many times that it's embedded itself in my memory.

Consequently, I don't have much to say on the design, other than it's quite sparse. It was groundbreaking at the time, being the first set to use a color photograph, as well as giving us the standard 2.5" x 3.5" dimensions we know today.

George Brett has a bit of a goofy look in this photograph, posing with a completed swing. It's a strange shot regardless of his expression. I never hit lefty like Brett, but the way the bat is positioned relative to his body just looks a little off to me.

Another thing that irks me a bit is that Topps omitted five years of Brett's statistics, ending in 1988. He played for the Royals through 1993, and even earned a batting title in 1990.

2015 Topps Archives #214 Orlando Cepeda
There's nothing wrong with posed shots, and I realize that action shots were few and far between for a long time in the hobby. They were so rare as to be worthy of a subset in 1972. Maybe it's just because I grew up in the era of action shots, but when posed shots are visibly wrong relative to the background, it bugs me a little. It's not even that Orlando Cepeda isn't displaying the usual stretch we see from a first baseman. It's just that when we look where he's standing in Wrigley Field, he'd be taking this throw from Row 17 behind the dugout. He's not even playing catch along the foul line.

I like seeing Wrigley Field on cards, and this is probably my first of Cepeda. It just sort of breaks the illusion that this is what he looks like in the field when you realize that a real throw like this would hit him square in the back.

The same issue dings Cepeda's card as happened with George Brett's. The final few seasons of Cepeda's career are gone, stopping in 1970. He played through 1974, and this clearly carries across designs, since we're on 1983 Topps now.

At least his 1967 MVP season is on here, the same year he won his only World Series ring with the Cardinals.

2015 Topps Archives #219 Kurt Suzuki
And after Wednesday's game, Kurt Suzuki can now count himself in the rare company of players who have won a World Series ring. The entire World Series roster of the Nationals all put themselves on that list for the first time, by the way. Even journeyman Fernando Rodney hadn't found himself on a championship team before.

I bet Kurt Suzuki is even happier now than he looks in that inset photo in the lower left as a Twin. He even hit a home run off the great Justin Verlander in Game 2, his first postseason home run, and the first World Series home run hit by a Hawaiian-born player.

2015 Topps Archives '90 Topps #1 Draft Picks #90DPIMS Max Scherzer
In what must be an agonizing statistic for Detroit Tigers fans, following the 2019 World Series, every member of the 2014 Tigers rotation has now won a World Series. Just not with the Tigers. Verlander did in 2017, David Price and Rick Porcello did last year, and Aníbal Sánchez and Max Scherzer got their rings last week.

Max Scherzer was a first-round draft pick in 2006, and Topps put him in a 1990-themed insert set with a little #1 Draft Pick logo up in the corner, just like Frank Thomas's rookie card. First-round picks aren't always successful, but sometimes they're unbelievably dominant. There were a few insert sets designed in the 1990 Topps style, and joining the heterochromatic Scherzer in that set are Buster Posey, Kolten Wong, Jay Bruce, and Mike Trout.

2015 Topps Archives '90 Topps All Star Rookies #90ASIMT Michael Taylor
Topps reused the 1990 design again in a slightly different insert set, this time replacing the #1 Draft Pick logo with the Topps Rookie Cup. There are far fewer big names in this set, so I was able to pull quite a few out of the discount box. Michael A. Taylor, who includes his middle initial that was omitted from this card, is the center fielder who made a great diving grab to help his team advance past the NLDS round.

Yes, I know this is a Nationals-heavy post. They just won the World Series!

2015 Topps Archives #151 David Wright
Like Prince Fielder, David Wright is another player whose career was cut short by health problems. 2015, the year of this card, marked the only time Wright made it to the World Series, and they lost in five games to the Kansas City Royals. Interestingly, half the World Series this decade went the full seven games.

1976 Topps is the third and final design used in the main set of 2015 Topps Archives, and I'd put this one down as my favorite of the three. That Sparky Lyle card already buttered me up a bit, and the positional variation of the design element in the lower left only gets better with age.

2015 Topps Archives #104 Kolten Wong
Speaking of Kolten Wong, he just won his first career Gold Glove. DJ LeMahieu shifting over to the American League opened that door a bit, but Wong earned every bit of it. You can tell from the little player icon in the lower left. Second basemen in this set got this awesome depiction of turning a double play. The shortstop icon is nearly as great, which shows a stolen base attempt.

By the way, Wong played in the 2013 World Series, quite an experience for a rookie with little more than a late-season call-up under his belt. He went 1-for-1, but since it was not a home run, he left the door open for Kurt Suzuki to get that Hawaiian-born player record.

2015 Topps Archives #134 Duke Snider
Archives always has a great mix of current players and retired legends. I don't think Topps expected David Wright to switch groups so suddenly, but either way, Duke Snider is a great player to share the 1976 design with. The outfielder icon in 1976 might not be as exciting as some of the others, but we get a Brooklyn Dodgers cap in the photo to make up for it.

Snider has the same sort of odd-looking posed lefty swing as George Brett. Maybe it's that a real swing doesn't normally end up that high behind your head. And unlike Brett, there's no indication of twisting the torso. I can't quite put my finger on it. It almost reminds me of that pantomime grand slam that Michael Morse "hit", one of the great moments in pre-Championship Nationals history.

2015 Topps Archives #172 Corey Dickerson
It's been a few posts since I showed an actual Rockies card. That's uncharacteristic of me, I know. Many of the recent sets I've shown predated the Rockies, and a set focusing on retired stars doesn't really leave a whole lot of room for Rockies greats. In fact, the team is still waiting to send a delegate to Cooperstown. Vinny Castilla appeared in this set as a short print, but that's a whole different story.

Corey Dickerson isn't even a Rockie anymore anyway, but rest assured, there are plenty of Rockies cards yet to come in future posts. But not in part 3. That will be shorter than this marathon post, and will have the non-Archives goodies I pulled from this great discount box.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A more local LCS (Part 1)

Tonight, Justin Verlander's World Series record dropped to 0-6. This is his fourth World Series, and half of those decisions came with the Detroit Tigers, a 114-loss team that was a Postseason contender not too long ago.

2010 Topps Chrome #134 Justin Verlander
Even before most of those appearances, he was established as a top-notch strikeout pitcher, putting his name on the list with other Detroit greats like Hal Newhouser, Virgil Trucks, and Mickey Lolich, as mentioned on the card back. That dominance has continued in Houston, as he whiffed 300 batters in 2019 for the first time in his career.

Accordingly, Topps selected him for their 2010 Chrome set. The giant Tigers logo in the corner is as shiny as ever, but I've yet to see a card from this set that didn't have at least some rather serious curling. At least this one is curled along the x-axis, which is slightly less annoying than how most of the other 2010 Chrome cards in my collection are curled. It's not even straight on a couple of them.

This and the rest of the cards in this post came from Colorado Sports Cards, a newly-established card shop just a few miles from where I live. It's only a couple years old, so it isn't packed to the brim with Zephyrs-vintage memorabilia like Bill's. I'm sure that will come with time, though. And even if the pickings are a little slimmer, at least it's a much shorter drive.

Clearly they're not that much slimmer, as I found more than enough there to turn into two posts. Have a look at what else came out of the dollar box.

1992 Topps McDonald's #3 Rickey Henderson
In 1992, even McDonald's saw that gold foil was about to sweep across the card industry, so they partnered with Topps for a 44-card Baseball's Best promo set, putting "Limited Edition", the player's name, and the Golden Arches in a very appropriate gold foil. These were distributed at McDonald's in 1992 as an add-on purchase with a meal.

Happy Meal, indeed.

The black borders have held up well over time, and there don't seem to be any grease stains or lingering salt crystals anywhere. The McDonald's colors carry over to the back, with lots of red and yellow to be found. Stats-wise, it's pretty standard for a Topps card of the era, and it does mention Rickey's 1990 AL MVP award.

1992 Pinnacle Team 2000 #21 Larry Walker
Pinnacle took the gold foil trend even further, putting about as much on the back as on the front. "Team 2000" is in gold on both sides, as is Larry Walker's name. Pinnacle reserved their gold foil logo only for those who flipped the card over. They didn't overpower the photograph and just left "Pinnacle" in white on the card front.

Pinnacle thought Larry Walker would be a star in the year 2000, and were they ever right! He put up some truly amazing numbers throughout the '90s, even winning the NL MVP award in 1997. This card talks a lot about his defense, saying he has "sure hands, good range, and a rocket arm." He had a cannon in right field, inspiring Skybox to put a cartoon flame on one of his cards. Walker won seven Gold Gloves in his career, definitely earning all the gold foil Pinnacle gave him.

2000 Topps Hands of Gold #HG5 Tony Gwynn
By the time the year 2000 actually arrived (and what a party it was!), gold had blanketed the industry with a King Midas touch. Everything but Tony Gwynn on this die-cut card is either gold foil, gold colored, or the actual word gold itself. Hands of Gold is a seven-card insert set highlighting players with at least five Gold Gloves. I'm not sure why Larry Walker was skipped, as he had earned five of his seven by the time this card was printed.

Besides Gwynn, other defensive wizards can be found in this small set, including Roberto Alomar, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Omar Vizquel, who still has it in his early fifties.

I haven't run across a card like this in a while. Die cuts don't seem to be all that common anymore, especially ones with curved edges and an embossed design.

2018 Topps Gold Label Class 3 #65 Mike Piazza
Gold wasn't reserved just for insert sets back then, either. In the late-'90s, Topps gave a full set the same name as one of the higher-end Johnnie Walker products, Gold Label. Mike Piazza appeared in those early Gold Label sets, but this is actually from a much more recent set that resurrected the name.

Unlike in past years, there doesn't seem to be any particular pattern in the three different Classes of this fractured set. Class 1 was a hitting photo, Class 3 a baseruning photo, that sort of thing. From what I can find about 2018 Gold Label, I can't figure out a theme that weaves the three Classes together.

Regardless, the primary photo shows a clean-shaven Piazza at the plate, and there's an All-Star Game patch on his right sleeve. The Mets didn't host the Midsummer classic during his career, so this must be from an actual All-Star Game. That looks like the 2005 logo to me, held at Comerica Park in Detroit. That happened to be Justin Verlander's debut year, by the way. But more importantly to Piazza, that was his last of a dozen All-Star appearances, including 1996 in which he won MVP honors.

2000 E-X #49 Jose Canseco
E-X from Fleer/Skybox was a contemporary of the original Gold Label, but they abandoned the use of acetate for the 2000 set. Jose Canseco and everyone else in the 90-card set got plenty of shininess, regardless of the actual card material. It's a set that's color-coded by team, and the colors Skybox used for Tampa Bay reminds me of the EPA logo. The (Devil) Rays were still trying to figure out their identity a couple years in.

The card back includes a mirror image of Canseco's photo on the front, trying to maintain the illusion that E-X was still a transparent card set. Back on the front, the position is spelled out vertically in the lower left, which escaped my attention many times before I looked more closely. I was quite distracted by the vaguely shark-looking curved area in the center.

1997 Topps Screenplays #8 Tony Gwynn
After finishing up at the dollar box, I checked a shelf of unusual items toward the back of the store. There were some lapel pins back there, a Rockies team magazine from the early days, and a few of these Topps Screenplays cards, each packaged in a player-specific round tin. Inside the tin was a single card, safely tucked inside a foam protective case. They had three on offer. I passed over Juan Gonzalez and Mark McGwire in favor of another Tony Gwynn.

I've never seen one of these before, and it's awesome.

Picture a horizontal Sportflics card with the usual lenticular surface, but with a clear back. Hold it up to the light, give it a little tilt, and be amazed at how they managed to pack a couple dozen smooth frames into this surface. As cool as we always thought Sportflics cards were, they were basically just two frames. Sure, they figured out some smoother transitions for the 1994 set in the nameplate area, but nothing like this. Not even close. Thanks to Kodak's Kodamotion patent, it's like a tiny highlight reel.

Tony Gwynn's name even appears and disappears inside a blue filmstrip element, and the Topps Screenplays logo alternates with the Padres logo in the lower left. Whatever my scanner decides this looks like, trust me, it is better in person.

The tin itself was a little beat up and showing signs of rust, but I might have to go back and see if they have any of these left. You'll definitely want to show this off next time you are highlighting some favorite pieces of your collection; it's that cool.

2014 Topps #378 Ryan Zimmerman
Elsewhere around the store, I found a box of unopened packs. Nothing earth-shattering, so I simply picked a five-card pack of 2014 Topps Series 2, hoping for an insert card. I only found five base cards, but the one on top was Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals veteran who went deep in his first-ever World Series at bat. It was also the first World Series home run in franchise history. Gerrit Cole was none too happy about giving that up, but it went a long way (no pun intended) in getting the Nationals to seven games.

I started this blog in 2014, and that year of Topps flagship is the recent design I find most familiar. I was collecting a lot in 2014, and I played a lot of Topps Bunt that year, too. Odds are it will go down as the last Topps base set with a traditional white border.

1991 Score Rookies #33 Mickey Morandini
My final stop (before finding the dime boxes for Part 2) was at the glass cases along the side. They had a bunch of small sets for sale for just a dollar each. Topps Traded, Donruss Rookies, that sort of thing. The newest one I found was 1991 Score Rookies, not to be confused with the larger Score Rookie & Traded set. This one is 40 cards, and the cardboard inside is much glossier than anything Score would do for a few more years.

Mickey Morandini, a September 1990 call-up, was described as "gung-ho and hard-nosed" on the card back, and was the top Phillies prospect at the time. He was on the 1993 Phillies World Series roster, and made it to the All Star team in 1995, but he's known for one particular play in 1992.

On September 20th, 1992 at Pittsburgh, Morandini found himself playing close to the second base bag with nobody out and runners on first and second. Normally, that situation is ripe for an Infield Fly Rule to be called, but every so often, the stars align and a fielder spears a liner with runners in motion.

Yes, Morandini turned an unassisted triple play, catching the liner off of Jeff King's bat, stepping on second base to double up Andy Van Slyke, and finally tagging out Barry Bonds to suddenly get the Phillies out of the inning.

This play is so rare that there's usually some confusion when it happens. This particular announcer was telling Morandini to throw to first, which he didn't need to do. Troy Tulowitzki did exactly that when he turned his, throwing to Todd Helton at first just to be on the safe side after stepping on second base a second time. The announcers in Fenway had no idea what was going on when John Valentin got his until they watched the slow-motion replay.

Sadly, despite that amazing feat, the Phillies would lose anyway.

1986 Fleer Sluggers/Pitchers #33 Mike Schmidt
The next set I found was one of Fleer's 44-card Sluggers/Pitchers sets, this one from 1986. It featured 22 cards of each, with Sluggers in red and Pitchers in blue. Mike Schmidt has almost exactly the same pose as Rickey Henderson's McDonalds card, right down to the bat doughnut. Also like the McDonalds card, "Baseball's Best" appears on the card front without being part of the set name.

The card back has the usual look of mid-'80s Fleer, except it's horizontal. It's strange to see that orientation, although they did keep the colored columns for easy reading.

The career Phillie would retire in 1989, so Mickey Morandini never got the privilege to play with the Hall of Famer.

1986 Fleer Sluggers/Pitchers #39 Rick Sutcliffe
The other side of the perennial pitcher-hitter battle takes the form of Rick Sutcliffe. He was the 1979 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1984 NL Cy Young winner, so he's clearly worthy of the title "Baseball's Best", not just the title "Pitcher".

Clearly this is a posed shot of Sutcliffe on the mound at Wrigley Field, as you'll never see a pitcher begin his windup without a hat. I know they call it the Windy City, but it can't be that windy on a sunny summer day like this.

1987 Fleer Limited Edition #7 Joe Carter
The last small set I found was a year newer, 1987 Fleer Limited Edition. They reoriented the 44 card backs to the usual vertical position this time around, and used a festive-looking colorful design on the front. They call it Limited Edition, with a fancy cursive font front and back, but seeing as this was 1987, I question just how "Limited" this Edition was.

Tonight was Game 6 of the World Series, and Joe Carter knows all about Game 6. The most important hit of his career came in Game 6 of the 1993 Series, a walkoff home run that gave the Blue Jays their second straight championship. Tonight's Game 6 saw its share of home runs, including one by Anthony Rendon after a questionable interference call.

1987 Fleer Team Stickers #20 Houston Astros/Logo
The Nationals existed only as the Montreal Expos in 1987, so I wouldn't have found a sticker of them. I did pull this one of the Houston Astros. It contains their old logo, their old stadium, and their old league. Since then they've used several different logos, moved to a new park that was once called Enron Field, and switched leagues in 2013. They won their first World Series title in 2017, and they certainly have their hands full trying to win a second.

The Washington Baby Sharks have made a heck of a run. I'll be pulling for them in Game 7.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Thrifted

I'm not sure how far you are from your nearest Local Card Shop, but odds are you aren't too far from a thrift store. There can be some real gems out there if you don't mind sorting through a whole bunch of overproduction-era cardboard. Sometimes it's 1992 Donruss, sometimes it's a random mix with the yellow beacon of 1991 Fleer peeking out, and sometimes it's a grab bag that's just a bit older than usual.

1984 Topps #676 Brian Giles
The way cards are often packaged at Arc Thrift Stores found throughout Colorado make it fairly easy to see what you're getting. They usually come in clear plastic bags, not great for maintaining good condition and sharp corners, but ideal if you want to ensure you're not simply adding to your duplicates pile. My collection of 1984 Topps is on the small side, and two large bags of cards my girlfriend found added to that count significantly, along with many other sets.

I'm pretty confident in my knowledge of baseball history, but if I look through a set produced on or before my birth year, I'm surrounded by common cards of players I've never heard of. I always knew there was a Brian Giles who played for the Pirates, Padres, and Indians. He had a cameo on a Mike Lansing card. He was even teammates with his brother Marcus in 2007.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the same name pop up in 1984 Topps. The senior Brian Giles manged to keep his big league career going until 1990, despite a several-year gap in his late twenties. Unfortunately for him, he was no longer a Met by the time they won the World Series in 1986. He actually didn't appear in the Majors at all in 1984, but I still like this photo of him with the classic cap-under-the-helmet look.

Sometimes I wonder if MLB has a safety-minded rule in place about that now, since I haven't seen anybody sport this look in years.

1984 Topps #138 Al Holland / Dan Quisenberry LL
You're least likely to find cards of relief pitchers in your typical baseball card set, but there's an exception for the all-important closer role. "Closer" is still an unofficial position, despite how frequently the term is used. I always thought the term "Fireman" was more of a casual phrase to refer to a closer, but here it is on a League Leader card from 1984. There's a whole points system on the back that counts more than just Saves; relief wins and relief losses are also part of the calculation. There was even an unofficial Sporting News award from 1960-2000, the Fireman of the Year award. It was briefly called the Reliever of the Year award before being discontinued in 2010.

MLB finally started recognizing this position with an official award in 2005, which has evolved into the current awards named after Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

Al Holland and his muttonchops took the NL Fireman award in 1983, and Dan Quisenberry took home the award in five out of six years in the early '80s, winning his final award in 1985, the same year the Royals won the World Series. Lots of other firemen can be found on the back, such as Rich "Goose" Gossage, Lee Smith, and Bruce Sutter.

1984 Topps #415 Tommy John
Tommy John earned a grand total of three saves in his 26-year career. He was a starter through and through, falling just 12 wins short of the magical 300-win mark. He was 41 years old in 1984 with several seasons yet to play. His tiny stats on the card back go all the way back to 1963, but it's the blank line that speaks to his biggest impact. Those many lines of statistics show a gap in 1975, simply noted with "On Disabled List".

1975, of course, was the year in which he recovered from the elbow surgery that now bears his name. It's a procedure that extended not only his career, but also the careers of hundreds of other Major Leaguers. It has even crossed over to position players, as Aaron Hicks of the Yankees is set to go under the knife any day now.

You just don't get that context with only five years of stats on the card back, as we saw with 1988 Donruss the last time Tommy John appeared on the blog. I'm glad Topps ended that little experiment for 2019.

1981 Topps #370 Dave Winfield
Drifting back a few more years into the Topps archives, we come to 1981, the year of the little ballcap in the lower left. It was also the final year of the old Topps logo, the one with the large arc under the T, which is visible only on the back. This card has a great bat rack shot in the background, but I'm not sure who's in the on-deck circle.

It goes without saying that I enjoy getting cards of Hall of Famers, especially from earlier in their careers. Even by 1981, Winfield was in the middle of a lengthy streak of consecutive All-Star selections, although he signed with the Yankees to begin the 1981 season. This print run was a bit behind, so collectors had to wait for the Traded set to see Winfield exchange his mustard-and-brown uniform for pinstripes.

Topps did a pretty good job replicating the team colors on the ballcap design element, even getting the yellow stripe on the front roughly accurate. The yellow area on the real cap was just a bit larger than pictured.

1984 Donruss #284 Tim Lollar
Of all the baseball uniforms, the early Padres jerseys are the ones that scream 1970s the most. Even the Pirates didn't fully adopt the strange color palette of that decade. You can expect the Padres to return to using brown in 2020. The 2016 Home Run Derby was just a taste.

Donruss gave us a good look at the Padres colors on this 1984 card, which shows how the hat design differs a little from the Topps ballcap. It's a thin card, but actually has some of the sharpest corners of the entire haul.

Obviously I know who Dave Winfield is, but as with the first Brian Giles, Tim Lollar is a name I am unfamiliar with. Sometimes I wonder about these older sets and who was kind of a nobody versus who was something of a minor star of the day. If I were following baseball then, would I know Tim Lollar's name as well as I remember, say, Morgan Ensberg?

1980 Topps #518 Nelson Norman (RC)
Nelson Norman is another unfamiliar player, but I couldn't resist showing this action shot from 1980 Topps. It looks like the Rangers shortstop is turning a double play, but the baserunner is diving headfirst into the base, making it look more like a steal. Interestingly, the Topps logo appears nowhere on this card, front or back. There's just the copyright notice below the cartoon.

1979 was Norman's best year, and he's another player who had a massive gap between seasons, wrapping up his career in 1987 without a home run to his name.

1980 Topps #285 Don Baylor
Fresh off his MVP award in 1979, Don Baylor joins his Kellogg's card from the same year in my collection. The photo Topps used overexposed his helmet a bit, but maybe they were trying to give him a halo of sorts to match the Angels. The card back mentions his three-homer game as an Oriole on July 2nd, 1975.

Little did he know that he'd one day be managing the Colorado Rockies. Little did he know that there would even be a baseball team called the Colorado Rockies. If he was following hockey, he'd know that there was briefly an NHL team called the Colorado Rockies during most of his tenure with the Angels, but I'm guessing that wasn't on his radar while he was leading the league in hit-by-pitches a whopping eight times.

1980 Topps #289 Bruce Bochy
Bruce Bochy, the most famous French-born baseball player, began his playing career with the Houston Astros. One of many catchers to eventually become a manager, he's been at the helm of either the Padres or the Giants for most of my baseball-watching life. He "retired" from his managerial position with the Giants this year, but is already talking about coming back in 2021 or later after taking some time off.

1979 Topps #82 New York Mets CL / Joe Torre MG
Our manager theme continues with Joe Torre as the skipper of the 1979 New York Mets. Clearly, there was a good mix of early-'80s and late-'70s cards in this thrifting adventure, but I have to admit that realizing Joe Torre's managerial career began in the '70s came as a surprise. He spent a bunch of years as a catcher, starting with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. He acted as a player/manager in 1977 for the Mets, led the Yankees to four titles during their years of dominance, and managed the Dodgers as recently as 2010. He's still active in the MLB, currently serving as the Chief Baseball Officer.

If ever there were a job title I'd want on my business card, that would be it.

1979 Topps #136 Jim Kaat
I recently showed a Jim Kaat card from much earlier in his career, and by the time 1979 rolled around, he had plenty of service time to squeeze onto the card's green back, flanked by a trivia question about what happened on June 5th, 1911. On that day, "Smoky" Joe Wood of the Red Sox struck out three pinch hitters in the 9th inning, preserving a one-run lead and earning the win.

At the age of 40, Kaat still had two team changes left in his career, joining the Yankees later in 1979, then retiring with the Cardinals in 1983.

I haven't run across much 1979 Topps in my travels, but this design really appeals to me. I already mentioned the green back, they used the chevron/pennant banner as they did several other times in the '70s and early '80s, and that happy-looking Topps logo appears right on the front inside a little baseball. I'm sure the 1970s experts will disagree, but I think this is a great design.

1976 Topps #545 Sparky Lyle
1976 marked the deepest layer I was able to dig to in this batch of cards. The condition of this Sparky Lyle card left a bit to be desired, but it's certainly an upgrade over not having one at all. The 1976 design clearly influenced the 1979 set, carrying over the green back and two-banner design on the bottom. 1976 had just a bit more color, no Topps logo, and a little player graphic that varies with the player's position.

Lyle served his entire career out of the bullpen. He never started a game, not once. When this was printed, he was the all-time leader in saves, with 136. His career total of 238 is still enough to keep him in the Top-40 list. And speaking of The Sporting News Fireman award, he won it in 1972, according to the card back. He'd even win the Cy Young award a year after this card, just the second reliever to do so, and first in the American League.

1984 Fleer #566 Mickey Hatcher
That was about it for Topps, but you can't get a complete look at the early 1980s in card collecting without seeing more of the competing brands.

Come to think of it, you can't get a complete look at all when you run across cards miscut this badly. It makes the already poorly-cropped photo look even worse, and several things are cut off on the card back, including one numeral in the card number, the years of each stat line, and even part of the team name, though "dgers" is more than enough to go on. It was only because the years on the adjoining card's stat lines made it on to the card back that I knew what year this was from. I'm not that good with the early Fleer sets.

Mickey Hatcher bookended his time on the Minnesota Twins with the L.A. Dodgers, starting there in 1979 and retiring in 1990. His Dodgers card in 1991 Topps entered my collection early, and what an amazing set in which to have your sunset card!

1988 Donruss #546 Mike Devereaux (RC)
1991 was a bit too new to make it into these grab bags. 1988 Donruss was the newest set I found. I've yet to merge this stack with the rest in my collection, but I hope I'll finally be able to put a dent in that set that seems to resist completion more than any other.

In choosing a card for the blog, I had a large stack to pick from, but I selected Mike Devereaux, who had just begun his career with the Dodgers. Mickey Hatcher surely showed him the ropes for a couple years, and Devereaux followed in his old teammate's footsteps, as his career was also bookended by two stints on the Dodgers. His nine games in early '98 were his last.

I mentioned him a month or so ago in the context of Cal Ripken Jr.'s record-breaking game in September 1995, and I could have sworn up and down that Mike Devereaux was still an Oriole then.

He was not.

Mike Devereaux returned to the Orioles in 1996, but in late 1995, when I started 6th grade, he was an Atlanta Brave. That would mean my memory of my 6th grade teacher correcting a student's pronunciation of Devereaux's surname was off a bit. It couldn't have happened when multiple students brought a newspaper article of Ripken's feat, so it must have been a month or so later when he won his first and only World Series with the Braves. The Braves beat the Rockies in the NLDS that year, likely the correct explanation, meaning that nearly quarter-century-old memory has been shifted in my timeline ever since.

The baseball record does not lie, but memory is fallible. I was so sure about that memory that I'd have testified to it in court had the situation called for it, but the reality is that I would have been off by at least a month.

1987 Cubs David Berg #23 Ryne Sandberg
I even found a few oddballs in here. The Cubs cards had been pretty well picked over, but this slightly oversized Ryne Sandberg card survived long enough to make it to me. It's 4 1/4" x 2 7/8", certainly an odd size. The card back contains Ryno's Major and Minor League stats, a count of his Game-Winning RBI, a stat that is no longer tracked, and most importantly, a delicious-looking Chicago dog on a poppy seed bun, courtesy of David Berg Pure Beef Hot Dogs.

Beckett says this promo set was given out on July 29th, 1987. It's a 26-card set, one for each member of the roster, plus one more card for the coaching staff. Obviously that was a day game, as Wrigley Field was still a year away from being retrofitted with lights. Sadly, if that Beckett date is accurate, the Cubbies suffered an 11-3 blowout at the hands of the Montreal Expos.

1987 Topps #637 Bip Roberts (RC)
Frankly, it's impossible not to find 1987 Topps in an assortment of cards like this. There were hundreds, probably accounting for almost half of the entire haul. Bip Roberts's Topps Rookie Card, complete with a gum stain on the back, is a particularly good selection. We can see the evolution of the Padres uniform colors, as they finally abandoned the yellow by this time. He did have a Topps card in 1986 Topps Traded, but according to Beckett, this one gets the "RC" label.

This card reminds me of one of my favorite commercials, one where Roberts is in the dugout showing off his nondescript rookie card while Tony Gwynn sits nearby with a price guide. Bip mistakenly thinks his card is worth hundreds, when it turns out he's actually seeing a price for a Robin Roberts card. Tony corrects him, causing Bip to look at the camera in disbelief.

The actual card Bip is holding in the ad doesn't appear to be anything real, unless it's maybe some oddball or Minor League issue. But Tony got it right; this card is probably only worth about four cents. The gum stain on this one absolutely destroys the possibility of this being worth a dime.

The commercial as a whole is a great illustration of baseball card mania. Even during Bip's playing days, vintage cards commanded a pretty penny, but modern cards of regular guys weren't worth much of anything at all. Still, we all thought we'd be taking our 1987 Topps to the bank rather than the thrift store.

I referred to this '87 Topps as "collateral damage" a few weeks ago. There's a lot of it, but it's totally worth it if it means I get to add to my vintage collection for an extremely reasonable price. And what collector isn't up to their necks in 1987 Topps? Just about everyone except the ones who just dropped cards off at the thrift store.