Monday, May 25, 2020

The Trading Post #142: Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer (Part 1: Stadium Club)

Right around the time pitchers and catchers reported to spring training 2020 (the first one, that is), Rod at Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer reached out and said he had a stack of Rockies cards to send my way. This was Rod's first time sending me cards, thus his first appearance in The Trading Post theme. His blog vastly predates mine, and he has a pretty sweet custom logo in his header. I just today noticed that the Swinging Friar is holding a Sharpie.

His niche is collecting autographs from all Padres who ever appeared on the team's active roster. In over a half-century, that's got to be quite a few players, but only a dozen have eluded Rod's collection. Despite that dedication, Rod still found more than enough Rockies to send my way, enough that I'm turning this into a three-parter.

2016 Stadium Club #23 Nolan Arenado
We'll kick things off with what might be the greatest Coors Field card of all time, possibly even eclipsing my 2016 Card of the Year. This being Memorial Day, I'm sure I would have been to a game or two by now. But not this year, for painfully obvious reasons. I'm missing Coors Field something fierce, so this card is a perfect addition to my collection.

I mentioned in that Card of the Year post that a Tornadough pretzel from the stand under the left field scoreboard is one of my favorite ballpark snacks. That's the red and yellow stand you see under the Coca-Cola sign. There's lots more to explore on the concourse. Flanking the Tornadough stand, I see what might be a cash-only beer stand on the right, and the #17 Helton Burger Shack on the left, which is partially obscured by the Stadium Club logo.

Trevor Story hits home runs up there sometimes, by the way.

Funny story about the cash-only beer stands. Throughout MLB, they cut off alcohol sales at the end of the 7th inning. I was running dry right around that time during a night game up on the third deck. The lines at the main concession stands looked long, so I tried one of the cash-only spots. It became clear that the 7th inning was rapidly drawing to a close, so the vendor told the few of us in line to put our money down on the table, thus completing the sale. Judging by the sound of the crowd, the inning abruptly came to an end, but the vendor had already "sold" his last few of the night, and he finished pouring those beers for us who had the quick reflexes to ante up without violating the letter of the law.

Back down on the left field concourse, if you walked a little further toward center field, you'd pass a small apparel outlet, the center field camera platform, the outdoor studio overlooking the concourse where the TV crew does the postgame recap (that's where you can get on TV!), and a walkway underneath the Rockpile, one side of which is adorned with plaques of all the construction firms that built Coors Field. I can't recall which, but my dad knew a couple of those companies back from his environmental remediation days. A few more steps and you'll come to the bullpens and a spectacular view of the Coors Field forest.

On the other hand, if you walked toward left field, you'd find the frozen yogurt stand, behind which is a small seating area and the perfect spot to see into the players' parking lot. There are always a lot of lifted Jeeps and pickups and such in there, but you'll see the occasional Porsche or Ferrari. One of the guys was driving a black Lamborghini Urus last time I looked. Returning to the concourse, you'll find an apparel shop, the Famous Dave's barbecue stand which occasionally obscures the scoreboard with smoke, and a playground. I'm too old for that now, but I was eleven when Coors Field opened. Maybe even then I was a little too old for a playground, but my nephew seemed to enjoy it last summer.

Yes, I know how much it shows that I miss going to games there.

Back to the card. Checking the scoreboard, this game against the Dodgers is just getting underway. There's no score yet, but the Rockies already have three hits in the bottom of the first. That means Nolan Arenado is likely batting with the bases loaded. The Dodgers visit Denver all the time, so it might be tricky to pinpoint this play, but we have one helpful clue. The clock on the scoreboard shows 6:27, and I've been to enough games to know that this is likely a Saturday game with a 6:10 start time. Unless it's very early in the season, weeknight games usually begin at 6:40. Checking the 2015 schedule, there was only one Saturday home game against the Dodgers, and that was September 26th.

Sure enough, Arenado was batting with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning. Following his buddies getting on base with three singles, A.J. Ellis called for a pitch and Arenado blasted it over the center field wall for a grand slam, his 40th homer of the season. The Rockies would close the game in similar fashion, with Carlos Gonzalez hitting a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 9th, just a little bit to the right of where Nolan's landed.

This could be a post of its own, that's how much I could say about this card. But let's carry on.

2019 Stadium Club #5 David Dahl
David Dahl, a lefty, lets us see the other side of Coors Field. He's taking a warm-up swing as he prepares to step into the box. We don't have quite as much detail in this photo, but we can see the far edge of the Rockies dugout and the camera well on the first-base side. Above the seats beyond, you can see the bottom edge of the Mountain Ranch Club, a full-service open-air restaurant that overlooks the field. It's one of the very few places in Coors Field I haven't managed to set foot in.

Below that on the main concourse is the Sandlot Brewery, which I've mentioned before as the birthplace of Blue Moon. It's my favorite spot in the whole ballpark to grab a beer, and they have a much better selection than the few macrobrew options available at most of the concession stands. Although if that's what you're after, they sell $3 Coors Lights in The Rooftop area prior to first pitch.

Just below the Stadium Club logo is the start of the right field mezzanine. It's not my favorite spot to sit, as you can't really see anything that happens at the right field wall. It's pretty far away from the plate, too. But that's roughly where I sat for my first game at Coors, and it's a good spot for moms who want to take little kids to the game without worrying about incoming home run balls.

Let's be honest, there really isn't anywhere in Coors Field that a ball can't reach. but halfway up the second deck in right field is a pretty safe and somewhat shady area if you're there for a day game.

The last story I have for that part of the park happened just below the green beam at the base of the mezzanine, right about where I took this picture before the NLDS game in 2018. I mentioned it once before but in less detail. I was twelve, my second game ever at Coors, the Rockies were playing the Pirates. Former Rockie Charlie Hayes hit a home run to left field, though not as far as Trevor Story.

Anyway, before the game, my family and I were standing on the main concourse just below that beam. A batting practice ball came screaming in and bounced off it right toward where I was standing. I valiantly jumped up and tried to barehand it, but the next thing I knew, I was picking myself up off the concrete and looking up at two men high-fiving after making the catch.

It would have been a tough catch no matter what, but as best I can remember it I was basically body-slammed away from that ball by a couple of grown men. It probably wasn't as dramatic as that, but long story short, it would be another eighteen years before I finally snagged a foul ball. Christian Yelich fouled that one off, back when he was a Marlin and long before he reached MVP caliber.

2019 Stadium Club Power Zone #PZ-13 Todd Helton
Like Yelich and Dahl, Todd Helton was another lefty. There isn't much of Coors Field to see here, but it's a Stadium Club insert nonetheless. Power Zone inserts pop up quite frequently, but the wild design was toned down a bit in 2019, at least the foil portion. This background wouldn't be entirely out of place in Topps Fire.

The card back tells us all about Helton's heat map. He liked them up-and-in, and had an .879 slugging percentage on pitches in that part of the zone. Me, I liked them low and away, but I showed a little bit of opposite field power once or twice on pitches up in the zone. If only I had enough speed to leg out a home run. Those types of hits usually ended up just being triples for me in Little League and high school gym glass.

Helton remains the only Rockie with a retired number, although Larry Walker's retirement ceremony for #33 was supposed to happen over a month ago. I even had tickets. But if Helton gets his own burger shack, surely one of the many concession stands in Coors Field could bear Walker's name. Maybe one out in right field behind where he used to play, near where I almost caught a foul ball in 1996. But it would be tucked away under the stands and unlikely to ever make an appearance on a card.

I originally intended for these three to be part of a post with the rest of the Topps cards I picked for the blog, but this got way out of hand. I'll save those cards for another post, and bask in the memories of the 87 games I've attended at Coors Field, jogged just a bit by Topps Stadium Club.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Trading Post #141: A Cracked Bat

As I was scrolling through my blog feed this morning, I saw a few posts about one of my most frequent trading partners, Julie from A Cracked Bat, including a post on her own blog from yesterday. That inspired me to put this post together, covering some cards she sent as part of her generous Pick Pockets page. There are still a few items left there, so head over and make some selections before it's all picked over (pun intended).

2019 Stadium Club #252 Dee Gordon
Starting things off is Dee Gordon of the Seattle Mariners on his 2019 Stadium Club base card. Last time Julie sent a shipment, she included another Dee Gordon card from Stadium Club, back from his time on the Marlins. This time, he's on the most geographically isolated team in the Majors, and is giving us one of the greatest displays of athleticism ever captured on a baseball card. At first glance, you might think the speedy center fielder is diving for a ball here, but this is actually his follow-through on a throw back to the infield (or maybe across three or four parking lots) in which he's using every ounce of effort he can muster. In all two seasons of my little league career, I never inverted myself in this fashion to complete an outfield assist, but somehow Gordon makes it possible, with video evidence to prove it.

Not only that, but Gordon is even sporting a throwback Mariners uniform.

His outfield assists are something to behold, but since he arrived in Seattle, his once-stratospheric stolen base count has dropped significantly, which also means that his string of five straight seasons of at least 30 SBs mentioned on the card back came to an end in 2019.

2019 Stadium Club #185 Jose Canseco
Here's another from 2019 Stadium Club, a well-composed shot of Jose Canseco heading down the tunnel into a well-lit atmosphere, perhaps to fulfill some sort of destiny. If they ever make a Jose Canseco biopic, this would make a great closing shot.

I'm all about tiny details. So here's the tiny detail I'm noticing on this card. There's no MLB logo on the back of Canseco's cap.

When I was a kid, the holy grail of sports apparel at the top of my list, even more than a Starter jacket, was a fitted hat. I had plenty of hats at that age, but they all had the snap-back adjustable plastic strap that I eventually outgrew. Former Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes even signed one of them. But it didn't make sense to get me a fitted hat when I was growing like a weed, so it wasn't until I reached adulthood that I got one of the official New Era hats, size 7 1/2.

My dad often wore a Yankees hat, and I remember the little MLB logo on the back at the seam. We all know that logo from any non-action photo you've ever seen of Ken Griffey, Jr. wearing his cap backwards. And come to think of it, it wouldn't surprise me at all if MLB added that logo in direct response to Griffey's then-unique style. Griffey's rookie year was in 1989, and Canseco's best years were just slightly before that. This photo might even be from the '89 World Series itself. But it shows a time before the cool kids wanted to be like Griffey.

2019 Topps Archives #212 Robin Roberts
And way, way before that, Robin Roberts was a Philadelphia Phillie. Topps chose him for their 2019 Archives set and put him on the 1993 Topps design. 1993 Topps is one of those designs I know quite well, and this reproduction isn't quite perfect. The typeface is a little different, and more noticeably, the Phillies team name should be in red, not blue. But overall, it's a pretty nice card.

I don't want to turn this into a "here are all the barely-noticeable ways the reproduction isn't exactly accurate" post, but I will point out that Topps wasn't able to squeeze in Roberts's complete career record on the vertically-oriented card back. His career began in 1948, and these stats only go back to 1954. That's a shame, because some of his career-highs happened in the early '50s. 198 strikeouts and 28 wins in 1952, for example, and a whopping 346.2 innings pitched in 1953. Over half his All-Star appearances occurred in that part of the decade, too.

For comparison, 2019's IP leader was Justin Verlander, with 223. I don't know, I just think if you're going to create all these Archives cards, it makes sense to include full statistics, because they can give collectors a great insight into how the game has changed over the decades. Just because Baseball-Reference exists doesn't mean I don't want full stats on my card backs.

I guess I'll have to find my real 1959 Roberts card to see those prior years.

1992 Pinnacle Team 2000 #37 Jim Thome
Following a retro 1993 card, here's an actual card from that era, a 1992 Jim Thome insert from the Pinnacle brand. It's from the same Team 2000 set as a Larry Walker card I found at an LCS last year, and Hall-of-Famer-elect Walker will soon be joining Thome in Cooperstown.

I probably didn't have any of these cards when I was a kid, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite insert sets of the era. I now have three cards from it, and along with John Smoltz, all three are Hall-of-Famers.

77 cards to go to complete this one. A young Jim Thome is card number #37 of 80, one of the few elements on the card back that doesn't use gold foil. Pinnacle correctly picked Thome to be a superstar, but they had him projected as the Indians third baseman for years to come. He did play the hot corner through 1996, but shifted over to first base in 1997 to make room for Matt Williams.

2000 Topps Hands of Gold #HG6 Omar Vizquel
Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel spent quite a few years together in the same infield, sometimes even on the left side during Thome's early years. Thome was more of a power hitter, smashing over 600 home runs by the time his career was over, but Vizquel was the defensive star, racking up eleven gold gloves.

Vizquel was about halfway through his career when this die-cut card was printed (and cut), and the card back says he has the highest career fielding percentage in history. That held true for the rest of his career, and his .9847 mark as a shortstop has never been beaten, and certainly not over nearly a quarter-century of playing time. Troy Tulowitzki came close, but with nearly a decade less service time. We'll see him later on in this post.

The card back lists Vizquel's six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1993-98, and he'd add on three more to that streak through 2001. He won two more in 2005 and 2006 for a total of eleven, and that isn't even the most in this small seven-card insert set. He has many of his contemporaries in this set beat, but not Iván Rodríguez's thirteen nor Greg Maddux's eighteen.

In case you're wondering about the patch Vizquel is wearing, I believe it's the "AL Central Champs" patch the Indians wore in 1999, documenting their first-place finish in their division the previous year. They made it as far as Game 6 of the ALCS before succumbing to the buzzsaw that was the late-'90s New York Yankees.

Anyway, I found Tony Gwynn's card from this insert set at that very same LCS last year, and it's a pleasing coincidence to have Team 2000 and Hands of Gold back-to-back in a post from an entirely different source.

2000 Crown Royale #107 Doug Glanville
Pacific gives us more die-cut fun from the turn of the millennium. I've run across the base gold variety before, but this and most of the other 2000 Crown Royale in my collection is of the red variety. Few besides Pacific were using red foil on anything, let alone a die-cut with a design like this.

Doug Glanville, now a sportscaster, put together a nine-season career, mostly as a center fielder. The card back tells us that 1999 was his best statistical year in many categories, and even had a five-hit extra-innings game against the then-NL Astros on September 15th, 1999. That was toward the very end of the Astrodome's life as an MLB stadium, and Glanville's performance that night helped end a 12-game winning streak the Astros had been on.

2019 Panini Prizm Illumination #I-5 Charlie Blackmon
Our first Rockie of the post is Charlie Blackmon on a colorful and kaleidoscopic Panini card. This is a 12-card insert set from Prizm, and while I know very little about Prizm, I know it's shiny. The same photo is used on both sides, but between Blackmon's arm position and wizardly beard, you almost don't notice that this is an unlicensed photo.

Almost.

This is my first time seeing this insert set, and I don't know about you, but I can't read this set's name without thinking of the Minions doing a movie production logo intro.

The card back tells us where Panini was going with this theme, in that "The scoreboard in Denver is always well lit thanks in large part to Blackmon." It's true, and especially so after the Rockies invested in a new mountain-shaped scoreboard for the 2018 season.

2019 Topps Rainbow Foil #460 Trevor Story
During these strange times, along with Blackmon's beard and Arenado's defensive prowess, I am definitely missing watching Trevor Story hit monster home runs at Coors Field. This photo from 2019 Topps may be just such a card. It's actually the rainbow foil parallel, or at least that's the most likely candidate in the truly insane list of parallels Topps makes for even the simplest base cards now. Regardless, it looks pretty good in this sunlit room I'm writing in.

This card also gives us a really clear look at the Rockies 25th Anniversary patch from 2018, which we've seen before. I assume they have a Coors Field 25th Anniversary patch ready to go for the 2020 season, should it actually happen. If there is a season without fans, I wonder how much media coverage and photography will be allowed. 2021 cards might be very strange and might have to repurpose a lot of old photographs, just like they used to do in the early days of the hobby.

2019 Diamond Kings Artist Proof Blue #53 Kyle Freeland
Speaking of Coors Field, I ran across a stat the other day that there's only one pitcher who has more than five starts at Coors Field while keeping his ERA there under 3.00. That pitcher is Adam Wainwright.

I bring this up because the back of this 2019 Diamond Kings card says that Kyle Freeland was just the second Rockies pitcher, after Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010, to make at least 30 starts and post an ERA under 3.00. Of course, many of those great starts were on the road. Even Ubaldo's no-hitter in 2010 happened in Atlanta. But it's really a sign of excellence for any pitcher associated with the Rockies.

This is an Artist Proof parallel, and even though I'm not a Diamond Kings expert, I'm assuming this is the Blue version of that parallel. Again, Panini is relying on the player's arm position to distract you from the fact that they still do not have an MLB license.

Freeland's card is the last of the nine I picked from Julie's Pick Pockets page, but she didn't stop there. She found three more higher-end Rockies cards to include, and they all have serial numbers!

2012 Topps Museum Collection Blue #28 Carlos González /99
I have no idea where she gets them all, but it seems like every time she sends me something, there's invariably something from an ultra-expensive set like Triple Threads or something. This time was no different, as she found this Museum Collection parallel of Carlos González from the 2012 set. This is the Blue parallel, numbered to /99. On "base cards", such as they are in Museum Collection, the area behind the team logo and "National League" is a dark gray. This elegant blue color signifies it as the second-rarest parallel in the set, other than the 1-of-1 Red parallel.

I'm sure most Museum Collection buyers aren't reading the card backs, but this mentions that CarGo was involved in trades for a couple stars before finding a more permanent home. He was originally part of the Diamondbacks organization, but went to Oakland as part of a trade for Dan Haren. Less than a year later, the Rockies picked him and a couple others up in exchange for Matt Holliday, and the rest is history.

Three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, a batting title, and ten seasons later, and he earned a heartfelt cheer from the home crowd upon his return to Denver as a Cub last June. I was there that day, and have had the good fortune to see both Troy Tulowitzki and CarGo play their first games back in Denver after they wound up on another team.

2013 Topps Triple Threads Sapphire #97 Carlos González /25
A year later, CarGo appeared in Topps Triple Threads. If you know the set, you'll know the base cards have silver foil. Clearly, this is a parallel, but no, it's not blue. That's far too pedestrian for a set like this. No, this is Sapphire. And it's numbered to just 25 copies. It does looks like there's a little printing dot on the photo, but this is a beautiful card. Even the back has a nice sky blue background, and it mentions his "fluid, picturesque swing".

I always loved González's swing. If you have a moment to spare, take a look at this walk-off, cycle-completing home run from 2010, which is one of the classic games that the Rockies TV network has been playing to keep fans entertained.

2007 Topps Co-Signers Silver Gold #102 Troy Tulowitzki /100 (AU)
Troy Tulowitzki was on deck when that happened, and here he is on our final card of the day, a sticker autograph from Topps Co-Signers. I have a few base cards from this set, and even one with a pair of facsimile signatures that came from Wes, but this is my first actual autograph from a set that sounds like it should be all about autographs. Julie pointed out in her note that this isn't in perfect shape since there are some noticeable creases on the back, but she said she only paid $2 for it! Sounds like a bargain to me!

When checking Beckett, I assumed this was the Gold parallel, which has a print run of 200. On that slightly damaged card back, this one clearly has a /100 print run, so it's not the Gold. I scrolled down a bit further until I ran across something called the Silver Gold parallel, which does indeed have a print run of /100. Even for parallel-happy Topps, that's stretching it.

There's one other thing I'll point out, inspired by one of Nick's posts last week about unfamiliar uniform numbers. Tulo is wearing #63 on this card. Fans who follow him know that he always admired Derek Jeter, which is why he wore #2 throughout his career (until he joined the Yankees, of course). He wore #12 as a Yankee in his final five games.

Interestingly, this isn't even the first card in my collection with Tulowitzki wearing an unfamiliar number. In a 2015 Topps insert set, he's shown wearing #14, which was his official uniform number for his rookie call-up at the end of 2006.

Thanks, as always, to Julie for this awesome selection of cards. I definitely got more than I bargained for (which is to say, more than I picked for free), and she's one of my favorite people in this whole community. If you don't have a trading relationship with her, start one!


Monday, April 6, 2020

Mr. Tiger

The last time I did a single-card post from 1962 Topps, it was a much happier occasion. That was the day I acquired a real Mickey Mantle card, and I couldn't wait to share my find with the community. Today, however, we mourn the passing of Al Kaline, one of the all-time greats in Detroit Tigers history. He was 85.

1962 Topps #150 Al Kaline
Prior to that Mantle, the most money I'd ever spent on a single baseball card was this, Al Kaline's card from 1962 Topps. It was $40 at Jerry's Sportscards, which once stood on a nearby street corner that is now occupied by a Walgreens. It's no longer there, of course, but if it were, it would be within walking distance of my front door.

How times have changed.

Judging by how much I've spent on 1962 cards, one could easily make the argument that this is my all-time favorite set. This particular example is in pretty good shape, and though it's ungraded, it's probably about a sharp as that Mantle. And even on a vintage card like this, I can't help but notice the slight oddities in the photo, like the fact that Kaline is "swinging" someone else's bat. Kaline clearly wore #6, which was retired by the Tigers in 1980, the same year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But the bat appears to have #24 on the knob, belonging to rookie Frank Kostro.

Speaking of that retired uniform number, he was so beloved by Detroit that he was the first Tiger to ever be honored in such a fashion. Greenberg's and Gehringer's numbers were both still in circulation until 1983.

On the card back, Topps has a cartoon showing a left-handed batter ready to step up to the plate, framed by a pitcher holding a ball. Kaline was a righty, so clearly the cartoon isn't truly personalized, unless they're trying to show him in the on-deck circle or something. Under that, we're told that Kaline had played in ten All-Star games. He was at that magical age of 27 in 1962, right in the prime of his career and a year after leading the AL in doubles. He'd go on to play in a whopping eighteen All-Star games before calling it quits in 1974.

We've lost a few baseball stars in the past couple weeks. Jimmy Winn. Ed Farmer. And now Al Kaline. Under normal circumstances, I'd probably think that was a group of three, and we'd get a reprieve for a little while. But given the current state of the world, these kinds of posts might sadly become a bit more common in the months ahead.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Tiger.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Happy Birthday dear Phi-il

We're all desperate for a sense of community right now. The state of the world has really thrown a giant monkey wrench into everything, to say the least.

I participate in Blog Bat-Arounds only infrequently, but I think now is a good time to let everyone know I'm still alive and kicking. Well, not kicking that much. Because the kickboxing gym I've been going to since 2017 is currently closed. But that's a different story.

To join the April Fools' Day activity that Matt at Diamond Jesters kicked off, let me take this opportunity to wish a happy 81st birthday to legend Phil Niekro.

If you ever doubted how out of hand things got during the overproduction era, one lone blogger basically said, "everyone find your stash of 1988 Score and post the Phil Niekro card today". And many, many of us had no trouble doing just that, myself included.

Which is basically how viruses spread. But that, too, is a different story.

1988 Score #555 Phil Niekro
Number 83 on Joe Posnanski's The Baseball 100 list, Niekro is a Hall-of-Fame knuckleballer. This being a Score set, I expected to see the lengthy paragraph on the card back that early Score cards are known for. But that's not what you'll find here. Rather, flip it over to see Niekro's complete career statistics, twenty-four years starting way back in 1964. Curiously, that year is closer to the 1918 flu pandemic than it is to today.

On this card back, you'll find 318 wins, 3,342 strikeouts, and a whopping 5,403.2 innings pitched, good for 4th all time, and the most in the live-ball era. Baseball-Reference has that innings count at an even 5,404, finding an extra out somewhere in 1981.

Google launched Gmail on this day in 2004 with a then-gigantic 1 GB of free storage. That was in a time when Yahoo was offering four entire megabytes. The scan of this Niekro card alone is a quarter of that. But other than that historic product launch, I'm not much of a fan of April Fools' Day. It's been a lot of deception and satire since then. That's the last thing we need more of. Of all the things we're missing right now, April Fools' Day pranks are not something I'm mourning.

My sister isn't a big fan of it, either. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Monday, her second, and expressed relief that the little one didn't arrive on April 1st. If she had, she would have shared a birthday with Phil Niekro and two current Rockies. On March 30th she instead gets Chris Sale and a couple players from the 2017 Astros. My nephew, nearing the age of three, shares a birthday with one of my favorite catchers, Salvador Pérez.

We may not have any baseball right now, but a Blog Bat-Around and wishing an old player a happy birthday seems like a nice change of pace.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Another Trip Around the Sun

My birthday was a few days ago, but it feels like I've aged quite a bit more than that since then. I'm sure we all have. Before the upcoming baseball season was postponed, though, I went over to see my mom for a little birthday celebration.

As expected, she went hunting for baseball cards and found a good one to add to my collection. This time, she ventured off the beaten path of my Eight Men Out list and found something I was rather unfamiliar with.

2005 Topps Cracker Jack Take Me Out to the Ballgame Mini Relics #TO-AR Alex Rodriguez Bat (MEM)
Topps released a couple Cracker Jack-branded sets in the mid-2000s, and this mini relic of Alex Rodriguez is from the final 2005 set. I do have a couple base cards from this set in my 2005 binder, but this design didn't jog any memories when I pulled it out of my birthday card. It has the faux-vintage card stock you'd expect of a set like this, a lot like Allen & Ginter sets we've become familiar with. This isn't as tiny as some other Cracker Jack cards, but rather it's the size of the 1975 Topps Minis.

The two vertical ovals on each side of the card bring 2017 Allen & Ginter to mind, with a portrait of A-Rod occupying one, and his bat relic the other. Since this is a bat relic as opposed to a jersey swatch, it makes the "infield" of the diamond design look a bit like a tiny softball field, the kind without grass that I played on in little league. The bases in this design aren't quite anatomically correct, if you will, and the shape at the bottom is just another square, rather than a home plate shape. But it certainly gets the point across.

There were two relic sets in 2005 Topps Cracker Jack. The first is just six cards, and was called "1-2-3 Strikes You're Out", an obvious mention of the baseball anthem that features a technically vegetarian meal of peanuts and Cracker Jacks. This Rodriguez card is from the second relic set, clearly called "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", with a helpful "relic card" note inside the banner, just in case you weren't sure what you were holding.

There is lots of tiny print on this card, including "Authentic game-used bat", part of the relic set name itself, and of course Alex Rodriguez's name and team. I wouldn't go quite so far to call it a busy or crowded design, but it's tiptoeing into that territory.

The card back has the usual congratulatory note that you pulled a relic card, a little context around the Topps Cracker Jack set itself, and Rodriguez's position, which at this point in his career was third base. His recent entry in Joe Posnanski's The Baseball 100 list mentions that he began his career as a shortstop, but moved to third to ensure Derek Jeter kept his spot in the infield. That essay also points out that Rodriguez is arguably the greatest five-tool player of all time who didn't play the outfield.

Whether Mom checks the Eight Men Out list or not, she always finds good stuff. I'm already looking forward to my next birthday.

To all my readers, be safe and healthy.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Trading Post #140: Nachos Grande

One nice thing about being perpetually behind is that I never have to go fishing for post ideas. It's pretty unlikely that you'll ever see me publish something titled, "Top nineteen cards showing the Pirate Parrot".

Here are two, in case that's what you're here for.

But seriously, the incoming stacks of cards are starting to multiply, as my fellow Cardsphere citizens are keeping my mailbox full. Those are the blogging priority, because I'm extremely thankful for all the carefully selected shipments put together by fellow traders like Nachos Grande. That blaster of 2018 Big League will be in a holding pattern for quote some time to come.

Mom gets to skip ahead, though. Hope you understand.

And what's that you say? 2020 Topps Series 1 is already out? Get in line, I guess.

1999 UD Choice Yard Work #Y12 Vinny Castilla
Nachos Grande's "Season of Giving" has happened before. It took me until early February to get the posts up that time too. He's appeared on The Trading Post theme numerous times, and that doesn't even count all the group breaks he's run. In short, he can take credit for a sizable chunk of my recent collection, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

One of the more eye-catching cards in this stack was a copper foil insert from the final year of Collector's Choice, known in 1999 as UD Choice. Just like a shiny little penny, complete with raised "Yardwork" lettering on the right. It's part of a 30-card insert set, and Castilla is one of two power-hitting Rockies to appear in this colorful homer-focused set.

Specifically, this card describes how Vinny Castilla began his 1998 campaign with a bang, smashing two homers in the brand new Bank One Ballpark on Opening Day, spoiling the inaugural game of the Arizona Diamondbacks. I've seen Pacific chronicle that first-ever D-Backs series elsewhere, mentioning Pedro Astacio's first win of 1998 on his Pacific Online card.

The error that Upper Deck made on this card comes toward the end of the paragraph on the back. After the newspaper-style blurb about the game, they go on to include a "Prologue" about how Castilla would finish his 1998 season with 46 home runs, a career high that he never eclipsed. Todd Helton later bumped Castilla's 1998 season down to fourth all-time in franchise history, but the problem is that UD should have called that an "Epilogue", not a "Prologue".

Card backs are so much fun. One of these days I'll dive into early-90s Score sets and read those novellas.

2005 UD All-Star Classics Midsummer Classics #11 Todd Helton
Here's a less-coppery Upper Deck card showing a youthful-looking Todd Helton. The good stuff here is on the back, where we learn that despite all those Blake Street Bomber power hitters, despite the 1998 All-Star Game actually being held at Coors Field, despite the rule that every team must have at least one All-Star representative, no Rockie homered in an All-Star Game until 2003. Blackmon and Story have both done so in the past couple years alone, but Helton set that Rockies first on the South Side of Chicago.

This insert from Upper Deck's 2005 All-Star Classics also mentions that now-defunct rule that the winning league would get home field advantage in the World Series. It was implemented in 2003 following that disastrous tie in Milwaukee in 2002. The TV networks laid it on thick with "This time it counts" promos, but the American League usually ended up with the win, and the rule was finally rescinded in 2017.

Just in time for the Astros to come along.

But that's a different story.

2009 Topps Ticket to Stardom #136 Todd Helton
It's been a few years since we've seen Topps Ticket to Stardom in these parts, not to be confused with the more violently-named Rocket to Stardom, a late-90s Ultra insert.

The card back highlights Helton's evening on June 10th, 2008, where he went 3-for-4 with a three-run home run. He was sporting a goatee later in his career, so I'm guessing this photo is from much earlier than 2008.

It would appear that Topps grouped teams by card number in this set, as Helton's card is just one before the Troy Tulowitzki card I received years ago, but a closer look at the checklist shows that it's as random as ever. Fleer got pretty weird in their later years, but I loved how they set up their checklists alphabetically by team.

1997 Metal Universe #75 Kevin Ritz
Speaking of weird Fleer (and rockets, I suppose), how about some twin-barreled robotic laser cannons on Kevin Ritz's 1997 Metal Universe baseball card?

Somehow, that's a valid sentence.

And yes, that's what's on this card. Nothing in the whole hobby scans worse than Metal Universe.

As weird as you think 1996 Metal Universe might be, trust me, 1997 is weirder still. Part of me wants to complete it just for the sheer insanity of it. Artist Clayton Chambers is credited with the artwork, mentioned on a card back that would fit perfectly in a late-90s video game menu screen.

There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this, in that Fleer was once a subsidiary of Marvel Enterprises, long before their parent company started cranking out billion-dollar box office blockbusters under the Disney umbrella. There are plenty of Marvel Metal cards out there that look a lot like this, just without any sort of baseball tie-in. Blending baseball and comics isn't the craziest idea to ever come out of a boardroom, but they just don't fit together. I've been through enough mergers in Corporate America to recognize this as a collectible manifestation of "our cultures are really similar!"

1999 Fleer Tradition #528 John Thomson
Even after over six years of writing this blog, somehow there are still Rockies making their Infield Fly Rule debut. And it's not like John Thomson was a one-and-done guy. He spent all or part of five seasons with the Rockies. He didn't have a great time as a Rockie; in fact his 1999 record was an abysmal 1-10. He did turn things around a bit elsewhere in the Majors later on.

Players with cameras is a fun mini-collection topic, but this is just the second one to appear on the blog. I'm guessing Thomson wasn't slated to start this game in Dodger Stadium. He's hanging out with the photographers and looking through a surprisingly beat-up telephoto lens that's likely worth more than my first car (and maybe even my second). He just has his warm up jacket on, and it looks like it's late afternoon with the California sun casting long shadows on the seats and the foul pole in right field. It doesn't look like game day for this starter to me.

1999 Pacific #152 Jeff Reed
Think of this: 1997 Metal Universe is so crazy that a Pacific card isn't the craziest card in the post. Instead, this is really a nice, normal design, with a fantastic horizontal shot of catcher Jeff Reed in full extension, not to mention the Coors Field home dugout in the background. Pacific even kept it simple with silver foil. None of that red, green, or copper foil you'd find from them on occasion.

There are lots of specific game performances mentioned on card backs in this post, and this one is no different. Jeff Reed came on as a pinch hitter on July 27th, 1998 (back when I still got summer vacations), and ended up with a walkoff double in the 13th inning. Todd Helton got on base to start the 13th, and Reed came through with two outs to send fans home happy.

1999 Pacific #148 Darryl Kile
Incidentally, one of those two outs in the bottom of the 13th came from pitcher Darryl Kile, who pinch hit for Curtis Leskanic, worked a 3-1 count, and popped out to the catcher. Reed was on deck at the time and settled the matter a few pitches later.

It was one of those kinds of games.

In case you were wondering, that's not the game Pacific chose to profile for Darryl Kile's card. They went with September 20th, 1998, in which he pitched 10 shutout innings on 102 pitches in San Diego.

10 shutout innings; how's that for a lack of run support? Kile would have had a "Maddux" if the Rockies did anything at the plate that day before the 11th inning.

In that 11th, Larry Walker pinch-hit for Kile and singled in the game's only run. Dave Veres got the save, and Kile picked up a well-earned win, his last of the 1998 season, and good enough to earn a spot on a Pacific card.

2000 Pacific Crown Collection #96 Larry Walker TC
Pacific didn't have much baseball life left in 2000. They put a single set out in 2001 and decided to focus on other ventures. But 2000 offered some good Pacific sets, including the primarily Spanish-language Crown Collection. If you're wondering whether this card back thought highly enough of Walker's clutch hit back in 1998 that saved Darryl Kile's shutout, sorry to disappoint. In fact, this card is a team checklist, or rather a listado de jugadores del equipo, helpfully checking in card #96 for us.

I thought I'd point out the CHS memorial patch on this card, which the Rockies wore for most of the 1999 season following the events at Columbine High School.

2000 Topps Own the Game #OTG13 Larry Walker
This Own The Game insert card looked incredibly familiar, but what we have is ever-so-slightly different from a card Night Owl sent a few years ago. That one focused on Walker's batting average, but this one, showing Walker in a home uniform, looks at his slugging percentage instead. Now that I have a couple cards from 2000 Topps Own The Game, I can see that it's basically a league-leader set. And since Walker led the Majors in both average and slugging in 1999, he got two cards in this 30-card set, as did other players like Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and more.

Walker's slugging percentage was a whopping .710 in 1999, and .567 for his career to that point. That stat dipped ever so slightly by the time he retired, finishing at .565. That's currently 12th all-time, and still ahead of Hank Aaron, whom Walker was compared to on the card back.

Now that he's a Hall-of-Famer, you'll probably be seeing a bit more of Larry Walker on the blog. 

1999 Topps #438 Matt Belisle / Matt Roney (RC)
We'll get back to Hall-of-Famers before this post is over, but not before a quick detour to draft picks.

A pair of Matts appear on this 1999 dual-player card, Matt Belisle and Matt Roney. Though he's pictured as a Brave, Belisle is actually the only one of this pair to ever play for the Rockies. He was a Rockie from 2009-2014 and finished an even 32-32 in relief appearances before entering journeyman status. He pitched as recently as 2018.

Roney, on the other hand, accumulated a 1-10 record over two seasons, mainly with the historically bad 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119, the worst mark in the MLB since the 1962 Mets. Even recent Tiger and Oriole teams haven't been that bad.

At first, I thought one of the Matts here was Matt Holliday, whose Rookie Card also appeared in this set.

1999 Topps #442 Matt Holliday / Jeff Winchester (RC)
That's actually this one, a few card numbers away in the same subset. Holliday's career lasted about as long as Belisle's, retiring as a Rockie after the 2018 season. I guess I got to see his final game, which was Game 3 of the 2018 NLDS against the Brewers, in which the Rockies were swept. I crunched the numbers, and Matt Holliday has appeared in five-eighths of all Rockies Postseason games (fifteen out of twenty-four).

Rockies Postseason appearances are truly once in a blue moon, aren't they? Two dozen playoff games in club history, and just ten at home. Blue Moon wheat ale, born at the Sandlot Brewery in Coors Field, has a name that ended up being a little too appropriate.

Holliday's cardmate, the only non-Matt in this pair of cards, is Jeff Winchester, a catcher who never progressed past Double-A.

2007 Bowman Heritage Prospects #BHP15 Greg Reynolds
As long as we're doing Infield Fly Rule debuts, how about pitcher Greg Reynolds? I've mentioned him a time or two, but this is his first card here. He had a forgettable Major League career, finishing with a 6-11 record and a -1.5 WAR. Mostly, he's famous in Denver for being selected second overall by the Rockies in the 2006 draft, ahead of players like Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer.

It's a good retro card, at least. You don't see actual cardboard often anymore.

2018 Donruss #106 Kyle Freeland
Of course, the Greg Reynolds story is just one data point. They've drafted some greats, like Helton, Tulowitzki, Arenado, Blackmon, Holliday, and Story, to name a few. It remains to be seen how Kyle Freeland's career will shape up, but he's another highlight of the Rockies draft history. He grew up a Rockies fan, and came darn close to pitching a no-hitter a couple years ago.

Every so often, Bowman cards pan out. Turns out I was sent a Bowman Chrome Prospects card of Freeland way back in 2015. He's progressed well enough to get a card in 2018 Donruss, an obvious Coors Field card that shows the raised outfield wall in front of the bullpens, with a bright Comfort Dental billboard just beyond.

That section of Coors Field has been a rotating stream of Denver-area businesses over the years, and watching old highlight reels brings back memories of defunct brands that used to do well enough to advertise in a ballpark. Airtouch Cellular, for example, has been showing up on a lot of Larry Walker highlights recently, and that brand has since evolved into Verizon Wireless. US West was another, one of the Baby Bells that is now part of Centurylink.

These phone companies are something else with their mergers and acquisitions. Which is how you end up with bipedal robot battle tanks on baseball cards.

That about does it for the Rockies, but there were a handful of unopened packs thrown in, which are always a joy to open whether you've completed the set or not.

1989 Topps #269 Tom Bolton
1989 Topps was one of the first sets I completed, and by "completed", I mean I bought a hand-collated set at the local card shop when I was a kid for under $10. I should have known then that this would not be a successful retirement strategy. I even kept a sealed pack of 1992 Stadium Club squirreled away for a time until my curiosity got the better of me.

I don't really know much about Tom Bolton. Topps lost interest in him after he was traded in 1992, but Upper Deck kept him in their sets until his retirement in 1994. What really caught my eye on this card is the Ferris wheel in the background. It's one of the last vestiges of random card backgrounds, sort of like that legendary Luis Alvarado parking lot card in 1973 Topps.

And it says more than a little bit about the circus that's been following the Red Sox this offseason, beginning with Alex Cora's connection to the Astros cheating scandal and his subsequent departure from the Red Sox managerial position. And let's not forget the Mookie Betts trade that's been in question for several days, and the media frenzy surrounding it.

1990 Donruss Bonus MVPs #BC-26 Alan Trammell
I've had 1990 Donruss on my Completed Sets list for a really long time. Not quite as long as 1989 Topps, but I definitely obtained it during my first foray into the baseball card hobby as a kid. However, these one-per-team MVP bonus cards have proven surprisingly elusive.

Alan Trammell got the nod for the Tigers that year, and is the final card in the 26-card insert set. It's hard to imagine a 26-team league, especially when it seems like we'll see a 32-team league shortly. Anyway, Trammell, now a Hall-of-Famer, spent his entire career with the Tigers, and is currently part of their front office. A friend of mine who grew up a Tigers fan ran into him at a sports bar outside Coors Field when Trammell was a coach with the Diamondbacks. My friend felt that nagging sense of familiarity, but only realized after the fact who he had been talking to.

There are enough incomplete insert sets in my collection that I'll open packs of anything, and I'm still likely to find something worthwhile. I have a feeling that I'll catch up on my blog posts before I complete 1988 Donruss, unless I just buy the set outright.

2010 Upper Deck #516 Aaron Hill
The final unopened pack Nachos Grande threw in for me was 2010 Upper Deck. I have around five or six pages worth of this set, so I'm likely to find a slew of new cards even in one single pack. This Aaron Hill card is one of them. It shows Hill when he was with the Blue Jays, er, Toronto, and had just led the league with a mind-boggling 682 at bats in 2009, earning a small splash of red text on the largely empty card back.

There's also a small splash of red on the front, that "TED" patch on his sleeve. That was a memorial patch for Ted Rogers, the owner of the Blue Jays who passed away in 2008. That's the same Rogers family that founded the Canadian telecom Rogers Communications, for which the Jays' home park of Rogers Centre is named.

Below that is an official Blue Jays logo that got Upper Deck in a massive amount of legal trouble.

I consistently can't do a Nachos Grande shipment justice without writing 3,000 words. And I didn't even show you Jamey Wright's Metal Universe card with tiny Death Stars floating all over the place.

OK, here.

1997 Metal Universe #78 Jamey Wright
Thanks for reading!


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Hall Bound

For the first time ever, a Rockie is headed to Cooperstown. In his final year on the ballot, Larry Walker earned 76.6% of the vote, just squeaking past the 75% threshold.

I watched the announcement live, and must admit that my heart skipped a beat when his name came up. For too long my hometown team has been denied a presence in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I can't wait to finally make a trip there and see a Rockies cap on a plaque.

I certainly can't think of a better reason for a one-card post than a Hall of Fame election. But which card to use? He's had some great ones over the years. As I was making my selection, I thought something from 1997 would be most appropriate. That was his MVP year, which remains the only time a Rockie has won the award. Night Owl's recent “Best MVP-year cards” post omitted Walker's 1997 Topps card, as he came out on the wrong end of a split hair, to paraphrase.

As one of the few Rockies fans in this community, I'm glad I have the chance to put a candidate forward for that list. Here's what I came up with:

1997 Bowman International Best #BBI7 Larry Walker
This one checks all my usual boxes. Rockies card. Shiny card. Topps card, the brand that leads off every one of my annual binders. Granted, Bowman falls toward the back of the pack in the Topps section, mainly because I've never been able to keep the designs straight, and because the numbering system is far too counterintiutive.

Bowman's Best, on the other hand, gave us designs that I consistently enjoyed and can recall from memory better than the base Bowman sets. And in 1997, both the base and Best sets included the inaugural version of International parallels, where the card background was modified in some way to match the player's country of origin. The 1999 set channeled the card backs from 1993 Leaf by including photographs of local landmarks. But in 1997, International cards simply had the flag of the player's home country. I have the normal version of this card, but because Walker is just the second-ever Canadian to reach the Hall of Fame, after Fergie Jenkins, choosing the parallel containing the flag seemed especially appropriate.

We strongly associate this red maple leaf on a white background with our neighbors to the north, but it's really a relatively recent creation. Prior to 1965, the Canadian flag included the Union Jack with a red field, as well as a coat of arms. Quite a Canadian form of rebellion against the British Empire, if you ask me. No wars, no riots, just a polite, "we'd like a new flag, please."

Anyway, on the card back, underneath a United Nations-esque banner of various flags, there's a small paragraph featuring Walker's best season, for which they selected 1995. He hit 36 home runs and had 101 RBI, stole 16 bases, and slugged .607. He also led the NL in outfield assists, and his arm was truly something to behold. Just ask Metal Universe. Those 36 homers were also a record for a Canadian-born player.

Of course, he'd break his own record just a couple years later. Bowman couldn't have known it yet, but 1997 was undoubtedly his best year. As I mentioned before, he won the NL MVP, and led the Majors in home runs, on-base percentage, total bases, and slugging percentage. He was second in batting average behind the great Tony Gwynn, and third in RBI behind Jeff Bagwell and Andres Galarraga, his own teammate who took the league lead.

Like his shirt said, he ain't no ordinary sponge.

As amazing as that season was, if he had managed to eke out just a dozen or so more hits, he might have won the Triple Crown, which would have completely changed the conversation about his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Congratulations are of course in order for Derek Jeter as well, a nearly unanimous inductee and one of the many greats to wear the Yankee pinstripes. Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller will join them, thanks to the Veterans Committee.

I doubt I'll be able to witness Walker's induction speech in late July, but I do plan on seeing the Rockies retire his uniform number 33 prior to the game on April 19th. Todd Helton blazed that trail in Rockies history, and here's hoping he'll also get the call before too long.