Wednesday, September 27, 2023

What’s All This NOW?

Once upon a time, I did more posts during a single Hanukkah than I've done in all of 2023. There has been so little time for things like blogging during a busy year like this. So many of you read my previous post and offered condolences about the passing of my father, and I thank you all. 

But beyond that, there are some big life changes in the works which will be coming to fruition over the next couple weeks. My fiancée and I are planning on buying a house together (so yes, I will have a new address), and that should be happening very soon. I just don't want to jinx anything because it's not a done deal quite yet. 

And shortly after that, yes, I said fiancée! We are getting married in early October.

So in other words, house hunting and wedding planning has been my focus this year, sadly coming along with quite a bit of grief. It has been a bittersweet year. My baseball card intake has slowed dramatically, but there have been enough to build a nice little blog post full of Rockies and one very personal oddball.

2010 Bowman 1992 Bowman Throwbacks #BT14 Troy Tulowitzki

Long ago, in the days before the Rockies never lost 100 games in a season (a record spoiled yesterday), Troy Tulowitzki was the starting shortstop for Colorado. He was quite the fan favorite, earning a spot not only in the Bowman base set, but also in this 1992-themed Throwback set. This huge 110-card insert set is a very accurate reproduction of the original '92 design. The only major change is that the team-by-team opponent stat breakdown is a much more crowded table than in 1992, simply because interleague play had not yet arrived. There are 20 teams crammed onto this 2010 card back, but it's still mostly readable. We've been squinting at card backs since long before I was born.

Interestingly, with the new MLB schedule design, where each team plays at least one series against every other team each year, they'd need 29 rows on this table, as well as the season and career totals. I don't know how feasible that really is.

2010 Bowman #123 Troy Tulowitzki

Here's that base card I mentioned earlier. A typical black-bordered Bowman card that I'd never be able to pick out of a lineup. It does have a nice action shot of Tulo in what was then called AT&T Park. That's an easy stadium identification, partly because I see NL West parks on TV constantly, and partly because the Chevron banner with the happy-looking cars was quite distinctive.

Chevron does still have a banner out there in left field at Oracle Park, but it's not quite as cartoony as it was back then.

2007 Fleer #338 Troy Tulowitzki (RC)

All these Tulo cards came from an assortment of Rockies my fiancée found in a clear bag at the local thrift store. 

Why do you think I'm marrying her?

It was mostly duplicates, but these three are new to my collection, and she only spent a dollar or so on the bag, so really it's much the same as if I found these in a quarter box. I haven't been to a card show since long before the hobby exploded, and I don't know if dime boxes are even around anymore.

This card is from the very last days of Fleer, the 2007 set. An extremely young Tulowitzki, who at that point had only played in the Majors as a late-season callup in 2006, is wearing the highly unusual uniform number 63, presumably a spring-training shot. Dexter Fowler is the most famous Rockie to wear that number.

Despite his young career, the card back still had good things to say about him, specifically his two-RBI, two-run performance on September 23rd, 2006.

2023 Topps Now Card of the Month #M-JUL Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

I did order a couple of Topps NOW cards this year. The first was July's Card of the Month, which ended up being of Vlad, Jr. who won the 2023 Home Run Derby in Seattle. He's happily hoisting the trophy after hitting 25 home runs in the final round of the Derby. The card back points out that he is part of the only father-son duo to win the Home Run Derby. Longtime fans might remember that his Hall of Famer dad won his Derby back in 2007.

I ended up getting this card for free. Somehow I had enough Topps loyalty points to get a code for a 100% discount. I actually redeemed that prize a couple years ago, but had a pretty tough time figuring out how to actually use it. It was not obvious at all and it took me numerous tries. But I ended up figuring it out, and now have a nice reminder of another All-Star Weekend.

2023 Topps Now #564 Elias Diaz /943

The other Topps NOW card I picked up, and paid full price for, was this one of All-Star Game MVP Elias Díaz, the catcher who is the first-ever Rockie to win the award. He must have been inspired by all those power hitters the night before, leading to his 8th-inning home run finally giving the National League a win at the All-Star Game.

He was beaming as he hoisted the Ted Williams MVP trophy in Seattle, and 943 collectors thought this was a worthy moment to immortalize on cardboard. It was also the highlight of the Rockies season, which, as I mentioned, is the first 100-loss season in team history.

2023 Topps Chrome Rookie Autographs #RA-BS Brian Serven (AU)

Even though I haven't been very active in the baseball card hobby this year, I'm still known for it. My fiancée's friend's husband has recently gotten into card collecting, and when we went to visit over the summer, we had a great chance to connect over cards. He's more into football cards, which I know very little about, but still it was fun to find a fellow collector. He even gave me this Rockies autograph card of Brian Serven, another of the team's catchers.

Serven, 28, has spent about a half-season of time in the big leagues since 2022, but in that time he has accumulated a negative bWAR, and he's not getting much playing time in Triple-A Albuquerque either. Players can always turn it around but we might not be seeing much more of him as a Rockie. Still, it's always nice to add an autograph to the Rockies collection, especially an on-card one.

1945 Roto-Panel Johnny McIntosh

Our final card is an eBay pickup, that oddball I mentioned at the beginning. I'm not too sure what this truly is. It's advertised on eBay as a "Roto-Panel" from 1945. It's certainly not in Beckett, and there is no card number. It's only about as thick as a magazine page.

But I do know who it is. Johnny McIntosh (coincidentally wearing #63) goes by "John" now, but to me he's always been "Granddad".

He played football for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (not the "honeybees" - an oft-repeated family story), and even made it as far as the 1945 Orange Bowl, where he had a receiving touchdown. He was teammates with Frank Broyles, who ended up coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks for two decades.

Granddad lives in Tennessee now, where he retired after a long career with Union Carbide. He's about to turn 100 at the end of November. It's been several years since I last saw him, but I'm glad to be able to have him occupy a very unique spot in my collection.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Joel Kaningher (1947-2023)

My dad passed away earlier this year.

It happened just a few weeks after I penned this post about four new cards I found for my collection amongst the belongings he left behind here in Colorado. It has been a difficult several months to say the least, and is certainly part of why you haven't seen me write anything since then. 

In mid-March, I flew down to Florida to settle his estate. My sister had already planned a trip down there to visit him, so I just tagged along on what we all expected would be a different kind of vacation. An old friend of mine who lives nearby helped me clean out his office and bedroom, and I flew back to Colorado a few days later with a few of his prized possessions. Watches, books, photo albums, things like that. A few fountain pens, which has turned into quite the little addiction, let me tell you.

And yes, baseball cards.

It wasn't much. His card collection from when he was a boy was long gone before I was even born. And most of the few hundred cards he kept from my duplicates box stayed behind in Colorado. But I did find three or four pages of his favorites from recent years.

2010 Yankees Topps 27 World Championships #YC2 Lou Gehrig

Over half of the cards I found came from this complete 27-card set that Topps released in 2010, documenting each of the 27 World Series the Yankees have won in their illustrious history. I remember giving this set to him as a gift, probably for Father's Day. I'm glad he liked it so much that he kept it nearby all this time.

Lou Gehrig was before Dad's time, as was much of the team's success that began with Babe Ruth. The Iron Horse also predated Topps itself, so for all the 1920s, '30s, and '40s guys, Topps simply added their photos to the 1952 design. Later on in the set they did true reprints of actual Topps cards, which you'll see later.

DiMaggio is actually not in this set, surely a rights issue that Topps couldn't resolve.

2010 Yankees Topps 27 World Championships #YC15 Mickey Mantle

But Mickey Mantle is. Three times, actually. 

A reprint of Mantle's mythical 1952 Topps rookie card is #15 in this checklist, already over halfway through the set before The Commerce Comet even makes an appearance. 

Even a casual collector knows this card front very well. But this particular reprint set is a bit different. The back is a dark blue with pinstripes, and it contains a decently long paragraph describing the Series (more or less like the lenticular mini cards found in 1991 Score), along with the overall World Series outcome, and the special championship logo unique to that year.

The 1952 World Series went the distance, with the Bronx Bombers taking the full seven games to defeat their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. My dad was actually born in Brooklyn, but moved to Queens as a child, a decade or so before the Mets came into existence.

It should be obvious by now that my dad was a Yankees fan, through and through. And none other than The Mick was his favorite player.

2010 Yankees Topps 27 World Championships #YC19 Roger Maris

He spoke fondly of Roger Maris, too. Dad would have been fourteen years old during the home run chase of 1961, exactly as old as I was when McGwire and Sosa had their own chase in 1998. I think he felt bad for Maris when remembering how much the media pressure got to him when he hit 61 in '61.

The Yankees did win the World Series that year, a year after their heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh at the hands of Bill Mazeroski. Topps reprinted Maris's 1961 card, and noted on the card back that the new home run champion hit a World Series home run in Game 3 against the Reds.

2010 Yankees Topps 27 World Championships #YC24 Derek Jeter

I don't think Dad really followed the Yankees that much in the 1970s or '80s, although I did find a picture of him wearing the classic "NY" hat circa 1983. But when the dynasty re-established itself in the late 1990s, he and I were both excited to watch it. Derek Jeter was of course a huge part of that, reprinted here on his 1998 card. It's not quite a perfect reprint, but the only major difference is that the foil is silver instead of gold.

2002 New York Yankees Pocket Schedule

He took my sister and I to Maine and New York City for a vacation in 2002, and he picked up this Yankees pocket schedule somewhere during that trip. One of these games in mid-June says the Yankees played in Colorado. June 19th, to be exact. He splurged on two Club Level tickets for that game, and we got to see the Yankees rout the Rockies in a 20-10 victory. Until last Saturday, that was the most runs I had ever seen an opposing team score against the Rockies.

You'll notice the schedule documents 26 World Championships. The 27th was in 2009, and coincidentally my dad and I went to see them play in Anaheim that year. He lived all over the country, and telling his story through a few baseball games barely scratches the surface of who he was. But, as Terence Mann says in Field of Dreams, baseball marks the time.

2016 Topps #93 Charlie Blackmon

The rest of the cards I found were more stowaways from my duplicates box, like this 2016 base card of Charlie Blackmon. Dad retired to Florida in early 2016, so I'm not quite sure how he got this card. I don't remember mailing it to him, but maybe it was a duplicate I gave him from my very first pack or two of 2016 Topps Series 1. If that's what it was, he moved to Florida very soon after.

In any case, he enjoyed the local teams here, and we watched plenty of Rockies games both on TV and in person together. He knew how much of a baseball fan he raised. He taught me how to keep score, he (and my mom) drove me to little league games and practices, they bought me cards for holidays and birthdays, they took me and my sister to the ballpark.

I remember he got home from work early one summer afternoon, and he said, "I drove by Mile High Stadium on the way home and the seats were starting to fill up. There's probably a game on." And I immediately turned on the stereo to find that he was right. And surely, surely he knew that I stayed up past my bedtime listening to the Rockies on my little clock radio.

2014 Stadium Club #17 Michael Cuddyer

After all he gave me, I'm glad I at least got to share my love of Stadium Club with him. He picked this one out, and while he was never a Rockies die-hard like me, he knew a good card when he saw it.

I noticed the 20th Anniversary patch on Michael Cuddyer's sleeve on this 2014 Stadium Club card, the year the brand returned from a long hiatus. And this year the Rockies are wearing a 30th Anniversary patch

Which means that memory I have of turning on the radio is either 29 or 30 years old. Not sure how I feel about that.

2015 Topps First Pitch #FP-01 Jeff Bridges

Dad picked out a fun card or two, such as this well-liked First Pitch insert card of Jeff Bridges. Along with baseball, my dad liked movies. And chess, and physics, and cooking, and a thousand other topics. But during those years when our interest in baseball waned a little bit, he introduced me to plenty of movies. Blade Runner, Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, other movies with and without Dustin Hoffman. Later in his life, he just enjoyed watching his favorites over and over again. Charlie Wilson's War was a particular favorite of his, and I think I remember him mentioning Crazy Heart, which would explain why he liked this Jeff Bridges card.

1993 Yankees Team Stadium Club #5 Wade Boggs

But it always came back to the Yankees. That was his team no matter what. I asked him once who he would root for if it ever came down to Rockies vs. Yankees in the World Series. Without much hesitation, he told me the Yankees. I like them too, thanks to him, but I'd have to say the opposite. Mainly I grew to like New York because I wanted a horse in the race when the Postseason came around, and the Rockies, as we all know, are usually wrapped up by the end of September.

Losing 25-1 like they did on Saturday doesn't bode well for this year, either.

But those pinstripes are timeless, and they look good on this Wade Boggs Team Stadium Club card.

2011 Topps Lost Cards #60YOTLC-6 Whitey Ford

It's sad that 2009 was the last Yankees championship Dad got to see. But being alive for seventeen of them is pretty cool. He was still keeping an eye on them in these Aaron Judge years, and I think he would have liked Joe Posnanski's recent feature in Esquire about the new Captain of the Yankees.

I'm wrapping up with this insert card of Whitey Ford, from "The Lost Cards" Topps insert set. Due to rights issues, Ford was never actually in the 1955 set, but this is what it would have looked like.

Whitey Ford, it so happens, is one of the later Yankees connections I had to my dad. During that awful year of 2020, Whitey Ford was one of the many Hall of Famers we lost. I talked to my dad not long after that, asking about more of his old baseball memories. The main thing I remember was him repeatedly using Ford's nickname, "The Chairman of the Board", and I'm sure he saw him pitch at the old Yankee Stadium. 

Dad went to many Yankees games when he was young (somehow nearly always against the White Sox, he told me), and he idolized Mickey Mantle. I can't imagine how special it must have been for him to watch such a legendary superstar play just up the street. It's sad though, because we all know how much knee pain Mantle endured during his career, how "it about killed him", my dad said, when Mantle finished with a .298 lifetime batting average, how even though he's undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time, the knee injury The Mick suffered as a rookie made his career a what-if.

And my dad watched his childhood hero go through that, and the aftermath. I hardly ever saw him upset or bothered by anything he saw in the news, especially over something as inevitable as a celebrity death. But one of the few times I saw him shaken up was in 1995, when the newspaper came one morning and he learned of Mickey Mantle's death. It got to him.

I'll never know what it was really like to watch Mickey Mantle play, but I think at least maybe a little of how much time and effort my dad put into cultivating a love of baseball in his only son was to try to share some of that magic that he (and my grandfather) got to witness all those decades ago in the Bronx.

Thanks, Dad.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Trading Post #173: Dime Boxes (Part 2: Nick’s Picks)

Picking up where I left off in August, here's a continued look at the stack of cards Nick at Dime Boxes sent for his 10th Anniversary. I picked a solid stack of cards from his giveaway pages, but being the guy he is, Nick included an even larger stack of hand-selected Rockies cards that have been keeping me company on one corner of my desk for quite some time now.

Seeing as how I'm still working my way through this shipment, I didn't think it right to make a claim during his 11th Anniversary giveaway in December. I simply made a congratulatory comment and left the spoils of that giveaway to my fellow bloggers (mostly because I didn't see it for five days).

True to his blog's name, getting a stack of cards from Nick is basically like having him look through a ten-cent box at a card show on your behalf. Which, I'm sure, is pretty much exactly how the magic happens.

2017 Topps Gallery #16 Trevor Story

I've seen some gorgeous cards from Topps Gallery over the years, and if it were more available and affordable, I'm sure I'd chase some of it down myself. It carries on the spirit of the UD Masterpieces brand, something that remained in the hobby for far too short a time.

The artwork on this Trevor Story card is done by Mayumi Seto, who only recently withdrew from her post as the artist on nearly 500 cards of the long-running Topps Living Set. As with this Topps Gallery card, her artwork graced Topps products prior to the introduction of the Living Set, a set which remains absent from my collection.

Maybe one of those would be a good candidate for my Eight Men Out list.

Though Trevor Story has had a solid career, he made his biggest splash during his first week in the Majors, hitting seven home runs in his first six games. His pace trailed off significantly as April 2016 wore on, but he still hit a total of 10 that month. The card back tells us that was one better than Albert Pujols's mark for an NL Rookie.

2016 Topps Heritage Rookie Performers #RP-TS Trevor Story

I was personally pretty impressed with Story that month. In fact, I have a very specific memory of watching a couple of those homers from a Buffalo Wild Wings near the office. I snuck away for a quick snack as the Rockies home opener was getting underway, and watched Story launch one to left field. It was probably this highlight.

That B-Dubs location is closed now, but I saw plenty of games there, including the start of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and most of the 2007 Game 163 tiebreaker.

Topps was also impressed, as they included him in multiple insert sets in 2016 Topps Heritage, which went to print not terribly long after Story's Rookie of the Month-worthy performance. He appeared in the Rookie Performers insert set, looking ready to crush another home run. I saw more than a few of his homers in person over the years, and as far as Coors Field home runs go, his always somehow had just a little extra. And I'm not even talking about the 2021 Home Run Derby.

2016 Topps Heritage Now and Then #NT-1 Trevor Story

Trevor Story's second insert set appearance came in the Now and Then set. 2016 Topps Heritage took us back 49 years to the 1967 set, and while insert cards weren't really a thing in 1967, this insert fits with the retro theme nicely. 

The card back again documents Story's sizzling-hot April 2016 while somewhat awkwardly tying it into Mel Stottlemyre's Opening Day 1967 two-hit shutout of the Washington Senators.

He may be long gone from 20th & Blake, but I'm still rooting for him. Sadly, he'll miss most if not all of the 2023 season while recovering from elbow surgery.

2017 Topps Golden Glove Awards #GG-10 Nolan Arenado

Another Rockie that has departed for greener pastures is my favorite active player, Nolan Arenado. No matter where he lands, he's the best defensive player around. He already had four Gold Gloves to his name by the time this card was printed in 2017, earning a spot in the Golden Glove Awards insert set along with seventeen other players.

Apparently, due to trademark issues, Topps couldn't officially use the term "Gold Glove" anywhere on the card, but they did manage to sneak it into the card number, giving this one a prefix of "GG".

Call it whatever you like, but Nolan somehow took his game to an even higher level after this. In 2017, he won his first of what is now an active streak of six consecutive Platinum Glove awards, which is given to the best defender in each league, not merely the best defender at each position. The Platinum award hasn't been around that long, but Arenado's streak is truly unprecedented.

Incidentally, most of the other NL Platinum Gloves since its inception in 2011 went to Yadier Molina, Arenado's now-retired Cardinals teammate. There have been a variety of winners on the AL side, but only Anthony Rizzo and Andrelton Simmons have managed to crowd out the elite masters of Molina and Arenado on the NL side.

2018 Topps Salute Series 2 #S-94 Nolan Arenado

One year later, Topps decided to tell us all about Arenado's continued defensive prowess, including him in Series 2 of the Topps Salute insert set. The card back of course talks about his "fielding award" and being "honored as the top overall defender in the Senior Circuit", a roundabout, lawyer-friendly way of saying he won the National League Platinum Glove.

Don't miss The Big Game in a few weeks.

An insert set of this size (an absurd 250 cards across three series) requires some repetition, and Arenado also made an appearance in Series 1. That one showed Nolan at the plate, while this one has Arenado reaching into the crowd for a foul pop in front of a bunch of smiling Padres fans, presumably at Petco Park.

2020 Topps Big League Defensive Wizards #DW-15 Nolan Arenado

A couple more years of this allowed Arenado to reach Wizardly status, showing up in a horizontal insert card from 2020 Topps Big League. This is a set I bought a blaster of back in 2020, and it's been on my card shelf awaiting a blog post ever since. But this card jumped the line, thanks to the purple orb of arcane magic, as befitting a Defensive Wizard.

While I realize this card is color-coded to the Colorado Rockies, the color palette on this card looks like it's straight out of the Wizard class of Diablo III. And, not to torture the metaphor, but there's a "Slow Time" skill in that video game, which simply has to be how Nolan can make some of these plays.

Seriously, watch the play described on the card back from September 4th, 2019. Corey Seager didn't stand a chance, and Nolan barely looked like he was trying.

2015 Topps Gypsy Queen Walk-Off Winners #GWO-18 Carlos González

He might not have the superstar cachet of Story or Arenado, but Carlos González was certainly a well-liked Rockie during the ten seasons he spent here. Perhaps his most famous Rockies moment made it into a 2015 Gypsy Queen insert set called Walk-Off Winners, which should need no explanation. It's a 25-card set filled with players like Bill Mazeroski, David Freese, and Mookie Wilson, not unlike the Historic Hits insert set from 2021 Allen & Ginter.

CarGo, who last appeared in a Major League game in 2019, had a great day on July 31st, 2010. Not only did he win the game with a solo shot in the bottom of the 9th, but he also completed the cycle with that swing. There was only one pitch thrown that inning, and that was all he needed. Topps also highlighted this achievement in one of their many "Golden" insert sets from 2012.

Look closely at his follow-through on that home run swing (hit to a pre-Rooftop upper deck at Coors Field), and you might notice something familiar.

2017 Topps '87 Topps #87-4 Carlos González

According to the card back on this 1987 throwback 30th Anniversary card, González said that he modeled his swing and bat drop after Ken Griffey, Jr.

Being a power-hitting lefty with a clear love for the game has been a recipe for success nearly as long as this game has existed, and CarGo turned it into a solid career.

I'm not sure why Topps had to omit all but two seasons of CarGo's stat lines to squeeze that tidbit onto the card back, but that's okay. We have enough 1987 reprints not to need total stylistic accuracy on each one of them.

2017 Topps Update Salute #USS-49 Kyle Freeland

Going back to the Salute insert set (well, a year prior), here's Kyle Freeland joining another member of the Rockies rotation in the massive checklist. Freeland pitched the home opener in 2017, an honor he has been given multiple times in his career, including 2022 which I had the good fortune of attending.

This one is actually from 2017 Update, giving Topps enough time to mention Freeland's home opener from the same season, as well as his first career home run a couple months later. Now that we've seen the last of pitchers batting, that one home run in Cincinnati is likely to be the only one of Freeland's career.

2014 Topps Toys 'R' Us Purple Border #290 Chad Bettis (RC)

That's one more than Chad Bettis ever hit, though.

I received the base version of his rookie card several years ago, but I liked the 2014 set and this Toys 'R' Us exclusive colored border so much I thought I'd show it again. I started this blog in 2014 (wow, I just passed my own 9th anniversary), and I also got into Topps Bunt that year. I find it to be a familiar, almost comforting design, even though the base version of this card isn't brand-new to the blog.

I actually put in quite a bit of effort to avoid repeating myself, which is hard to do with what is apparently approaching a decade of blogging. I don't like using the same card multiple times (except in rare cases like this), nor do I enjoy repeating my own written phrases, which comes across like I'm plagiarizing myself. But then again, when we have AI tools confidently declaring total falsehoods, maybe a little human error isn't such a terrible thing.

2002 Topps 206 Piedmont Black #267 Chin-Hui Tsao (PROS)

To make up for the repeat photo, here's a Rockies player that is making his first appearance on Infield Fly Rule. Chin-hui Tsao played part of three seasons for the Rockies, then jumped over to the Dodgers. He was in and out of independent and overseas leagues for many years, then returned to the Dodgers after an eight-year hiatus, finally retiring in 2016.

Tsao is the only Taiwanese player to suit up for the Rockies, and he was included in mini form as a parallel of the 2002 Topps 206 checklist. Specifically, this is a Piedmont-back parallel, reproducing the logo of one of the many early 20th-century tobacco brands that were marketed along with the first baseball cards.

Come to think of it, it's actually a little uncomfortable in this day and age when you think about how the history of baseball cards is inextricably linked to tobacco products. The actual brands in question have been defunct for well over a century by now, but it's not too far removed from having a Marlboro logo appear on one of these things. And we all recall how much effort Fleer put in to scrubbing Randy Johnson's card of any tobacco advertising.

Just a thought.

Anyway, the World Baseball Classic is coming up soon! Tsao's home country of Taiwan is hosting one of the round-robin sites in the first round, and will be competing as Chinese Taipei. This ambiguous name mirrors the country's identity in the Olympics and other international events, which is done this way due to ever-present geopolitical tensions with mainland China, far beyond the scope of this blog.

2003 Fleer Platinum #5 Todd Zeile

One of the lesser-known Todds to play for the Rockies, third baseman Todd Zeile is seen here having some fun at Spring Training outside the batting cages.

Rather than use an exact reproduction of a legacy set, Fleer went in a slightly different direction for 2003 Platinum. It still has the unmistakable look and feel of an '80s Fleer card, right down to the card back with the vertical orientation and two-colored columns. The thick pinstripes on the front remind me of the unintentionally famous 1989 set, but it's not an exact match like the two prior years of Platinum. Of course, I had to look all that up.

Fleer's names for their retro sets always threw me off, anyway. To me, "Platinum" implies not an '80s style design and card stock, but more of an extremely shiny and thick card laden with gold foil and lots of refractory rainbows. Something like Topps Finest. I suppose it is similar to Topps Archives, but it just never made sense to me. I was further confused by the company calling its true flagship set Fleer Tradition for a couple years, which itself evolved into a Topps Heritage competitor, going so far as to resurrect the 1961 Fleer set in 2003.

Frankly, I struggle with any changes the hobby made after about 1996.

2012 Topps Opening Day #101 Todd Helton

Which is right around the time Todd Helton burst onto the scene. He debuted in 1997, nearing the end of his career when this Opening Day card came out in 2012. He's by far the most famous Todd to ever play for the Rockies, and one of only two players with a retired number, the other being Larry Walker.

It remains to be seen whether Helton will one day join Walker in Cooperstown, but his chances are still looking somewhat promising. I hear Scott Rolen has the best chance this year, but it's far from a sure thing. We'll find out in less than 48 hours whether the BBWAA will be adding anyone to the Class of 2023 to join Fred McGriff.

Partly because Nick sends more great cards at one time than I could possibly fit into one post, and partly because I can't edit myself, there will be a part 3 of this post. All the shiny cards needed their own space.

If you've ever traded with Nick, then you know.


Wednesday, January 18, 2023

1993 is not yet complete

The Colorado Rockies joined Major League Baseball in 1993. I was nine years old, and I was growing up in a city that finally had a big league team.

Everyone was excited. There was memorabilia everywhere. Pennants, souvenir guidebooks, apparel, lapel pins, pocket schedules, and of course baseball cards.

I embraced it fully and without reservation.

There was another wave of enthusiasm when Coors Field opened two years later, another round of pennants and guidebooks and card sets and clipboards and little metal pails, mostly with the Coors Field logo.

The thing is, the novelty has worn off quite a bit, at least according to my fellow citizens. The Avalanche and the Broncos were the ones who won the championships, and the Rockies descended into mediocrity. Other than some brief periods of excitement, like the magical World Series run in 2007 and a pair of All-Star Games, the Rockies are more or less an afterthought in this city. The joke is that Coors Field is one of the best sports bars in Denver.

Be that as it may, what it does mean is that a majority of the Rockies memorabilia I see to this day dates back to that early period. I'm one of the few who still follows the Rockies, and my friends, family, and acquaintances know this. So when they run across some old Rockies object in their travels, they know I'm the guy who would appreciate it. And I do. But it's been a lot of seeing the same guidebooks, the same lapel pins, and very often the same baseball cards over the years. Not to say I don't enjoy it. I do. Nostalgia is a powerful force, no matter how many times you experience it.

Which makes it all the more curious when something new comes my way.

Most weeks, my fiancée and her dad will go to an overflow site for Arc Thrift Stores, a local thrift chain. They're mainly on the lookout for surplus books to share with underserved communities and Little Free Libraries, but once in a while they unearth a gem or two I'd like. A birding guidebook, a vintage Apollo-era book about space, etc.... Recently, she found a small white baseball card album hiding in one of the crates and snagged it for my collection.

You may have seen albums like this. It's significantly smaller than a binder; about 6" x 8", with eight or ten pages inside. Each page only has room for four cards, arranged in a square.

This particular album had a cover printed with the Rockies logo, the 1993 Donruss and Leaf logos, and the Rocky Mountain News logo, a defunct Denver-area daily newspaper. I had seen similar albums, but never one with that exact combination of promotional logos. The album itself was beyond saving, as the clear plastic pages (really more of a vinyl) had started to yellow. 

It did have about forty cards inside from three sets. 1993 Rockies Team Stadium Club, which is one of the more common relics from that era, 1991 Topps, which had no particular connection to the Rockies, and 1993 Donruss, matching the album cover.

As luck would have it, two of the Donruss cards are new to my collection.

1993 Donruss #38 Daryl Boston

Collectors in 1993 had to wait for Series 2 before they got Rockies and Marlins cards. But lots of players that were selected in the expansion draft appeared in Series 1 with their pre-draft teams. That went for Daryl Boston, selected by the Rockies from the New York Mets. He played a single season on the inaugural Rockies as a platoon outfielder, but before that he was a member of the White Sox and then the Mets. He was one of many players whose career ended with the Strike.

As a Met in 1992, he wore a black "S" memorial patch on his left sleeve, which we can see here. This was for the 1991 death of William Shea, the New York lawyer who tried to form a third Major League in the late 1950s. The Continental League was over before it began, ultimately leading to MLB expansion and the formation of the New York Mets. Shea Stadium was named for him.

1993 Donruss #341 Jim Tatum (RC)

The other new quasi-Rockies card in the album was of Jim Tatum, another expansion draftee from the Milwaukee Brewers, who were then in the American League. His position is listed as "IF", as he was a journeyman corner infielder during his career. He'd probably be a guy I wouldn't remember too well, except that he played on the inaugural Rockies, a team I watched and listened to as much as possible.

Tatum was no stranger to Mile High Stadium upon his arrival in 1993, as the Denver Zephyrs were the Triple-A affiliate of the Brewers. Other than his five-game call-up in September, he spent his 1992 season as one of the last Minor League players in Denver. He was a promising enough prospect to earn the coveted Rated Rookie logo on his Donruss card.

Also tucked away in a clear pocket on the inside cover were a pair of ticket stubs. These were for July 8th, 1993, a day game against the Florida Marlins, the expansion brethren of the Rockies. The holders of these season tickets got to sit in the rows behind the Rockies dugout on the first base side, watching the Rockies win 3-2. Dante Bichette had all three RBIs that game, putting on a winning performance in front of 56,807 fans.

Yes, 56,807 fans for a Thursday afternoon game. That's how you get to nearly 4.5 million fans in a season.

You're going to pay a lot more than $14 for a ticket like this today, but there is a coupon on the back for a $9.99 large 1-topping pizza at Domino's.

Not everything goes up in price.

It's getting more and more difficult to find cards new to my collection, especially from the overproduction era. I reached a point of diminishing returns a while ago, but it's not approaching zero just yet!

Sunday, January 15, 2023

This is all because of my Dad

As much as I've written about baseball cards over the years, I have to admit that my interest in collecting didn't start out of nowhere. It was something that was introduced to me and nurtured by my parents, particularly my dad. While mom is continuing to carry the torch these past few years, my dad is the one who kindled it.

It began when I was quite little. I got a pack of 1987 Topps, which lived in a prominent corner of my desk drawer for years. A few years later, a pack of 1990 Fleer went right on top of them. It wasn't much, but it was enough to forge some strong connections in my young brain. My collection exponentially grew when the Rockies began play in 1993, and I haven't looked back since.

All this to say that it should come as no surprise that my dad collected cards when he was a kid, too. He remembers the TV cabinet design of 1955 Bowman in particular, and also tells a story of flipping (and losing) some cards with cars on them, which I assume came from the 1961 Topps Sports Cars set. 

I can afford blasters and visits to the LCS on my own now, but in those early days of my collection, he was usually the one to drive me around to various card stores and mall card shows. My little sister often came along, and I remember one time we were given a few piles of cards by another card show attendee (mostly hockey and football, as I recall), who had no interest in "commons" and only was looking for the special "hits".

At the time, this was a truly inexplicable turn of events. Why would someone just...not want cards they had paid for? It made no sense.

In any case, my dad would occasionally take the opportunity to buy a few cards for himself. He stocked up on 1994 Topps Archives (based on the '54 set), and some nice shiny ones of his favorite Yankees here and there.

Anyway, that was all a long time ago. He has since retired and moved to Florida, but he did leave behind some possessions in a self-storage unit here in Colorado. He decided to let the contents go recently, and I cleaned it out last fall. Among many other family heirlooms, I found a binder full of baseball cards, as well as a couple other stacks tucked away in toploaders for safe keeping.

Despite being mere meters away from total incineration in the Marshall Fire, they all survived in fine condition. As I looked through the piles and pages, I recognized nearly all of them as coming from my perpetually overflowing duplicates box, which I invited him to raid many years ago to build his own collection.

Emphasis on "nearly".

I found close to five hundred cards, and I was virtually certain that all of them were already in my collection. But I did check just to be sure.

Four slipped through.

2003 Topps Opening Day Stickers #5 Josh Beckett

First up is a very young Josh Beckett, who had recently begun his career as a Florida Marlin. This card is a miniature, measuring a neat 3" x 2". The photo matches the full-size version in the main 2003 Opening Day set, but the card back is actually a scratch-off contest thing, which expired May 30th, 2003. I don't often keep that sort of stuff in my collection, especially when it's just an advertisement card on both sides. This one is a bit more like a real card, but I'm not surprised I tossed this one into the duplicates box. I guess my dad liked the mini size.

Beckett (the price guide, not to be confused with this player himself) says this is a sticker, part of a 72-card partial parallel set. It's unnumbered, so I have no idea how Beckett decided it is card #5. Maybe that comes from a long-forgotten sell sheet somewhere.

The back remains unscratched, and will perpetually live in a superposition of maybe once being a winning card and having much of its original value eroded by the passage of time.

2003 Topps Opening Day Stickers #11 Eric Chávez

Here's another card from the same set, featuring Eric Chávez of the Oakland A's. He's a player that shows up around here surprisingly often for a non-Rockie. His card back also remains unscratched.

I used to have quite a few of those early-'90s Panini stickers that were about this size. I let them go a long time ago, and can't say I really miss them. I'm not really a sticker guy. Despite what Beckett says, I'm not convinced these are actually stickers anyway, and I'd prefer not to wreck the paperboard to find out. But I'm glad these survived, especially now that I have binder pages that fit them.

1996 Select #124 Wally Joyner

This one's presence is far more baffling. Despite all the baseball we watched together in my childhood, I don't think my dad ever once uttered Wally Joyner's name. I doubt he had an affinity for this particular player. I have no choice but to assume he liked the gold foil mixed with the woodgrain look on the left-hand side of the card, perhaps a reminder of that '55 Bowman set he liked so much.

Fair enough, but where did he get it? I only have a page or two of 1996 Select in my own binders, and this card isn't among them, nor is any other Padre. I suppose he might have bought it on his own at a card show while he was keeping me company, but if so, why just this one? More likely this was a stowaway into my duplicates box. Maybe it stuck to another card.

I'm glad to have a new addition to my collection, but I find this disconcerting.

1997 Pinnacle Inside Club Edition #122 Mike Mussina

Even more curious is this Pinnacle parallel of Mike Mussina. The former Oriole later joined the Yankees, which is my dad's favorite team. So the player selection makes a little more sense to me, but I still don't know the provenance of the card itself. 

Well, since it's the Pinnacle Inside set, we know it came from a steel can. But I still don't know how Dad got hold of it.

Pinnacle was nearing the end in 1997 (probably at least in part because of canning baseball cards), but they were still printing shiny cards like this a year before their bankruptcy. I'm no expert on this set, but the foilboard finish did stand out to me. I have very little in my collection to compare it to, but the base cards just had a normal front. This one is the shiny Club Edition parallel, noted in vertical lettering on the card back.

This design actually reminds me a bit of 1994 Upper Deck. It doesn't show up well in the scan, but the proportions are about the same, and the one narrow monochrome photo squeezed onto the left size certainly has similarities to that UD set. Of course, there's no copper foil, something that UD seemingly cornered the market on.

So we know it's a parallel, but that only raises the question of why it was in my duplicates box at all? I don't have Mussina's base card from this set, so I don't see how I would have made that mistake of thinking this was a second base card. And of course I didn't have the Club Edition already (who would have two of these, anyway?), nor the die-cut Diamond Edition parallel.

Again, maybe he bought it on his own, but this project ultimately raised more questions than answers. 

In fact, finding these four cards that almost certainly came from my duplicates box makes me wonder whether absolutely everything in that 5,000-count box is truly a duplicate.

Only one way to find out.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Another Year, Another Hanukkah

Sometimes I wonder how I used to have time to write forty posts a year. 2022 was by far my lowest post total since the inception of Infield Fly Rule, where I managed to get a mere nine posts done. I’m not even sure I can play the “quality over quantity” card, but I'll let you be the judge of that. It's not for lack of material, I assure you, as there are piles of cards continuing to grow, including a recent blaster of 2022 Stadium Club that had some nice parallels inside. 

I also see that Beckett has changed their site significantly since my last post.

In any case, I still have that Eight Men Out wishlist on my blog header, and it continues to pay dividends each holiday season, thanks to Mom. This year, she picked a couple going back to the very early days of the Colorado Rockies franchise.

1993 Triple Play #127 Mile High Stadium

When the Rockies joined Major League Baseball for the 1993 season, they didn't quite have a permanent home yet, though Coors Field was already under construction. They played their first two seasons at Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, just a few exits down I-25. It has since been replaced by what is now known as Empower Field at Mile High, but while it was still standing, it saw millions and millions of fans filter through to see the first MLB team in the Mountain Time Zone.

Officially, 4,483,350 fans attended home Rockies games in the inaugural 1993 season, filling the cavernous Mile High Stadium to the brim. I counted for two of those. In fact, the team's per-game attendance was averaging even higher in 1994, but the strike had other ideas, cutting short our fan base's chance at beating its own record. The 1993 count still remains the single-season record across the big leagues.

Triple Play included a nighttime panorama shot of Mile High in the 1993 set, mentioning the stadium's past role as home to various Denver-area Minor League teams on the card back. The stadium was built in 1948, and the Denver Bears and later the Denver Zephyrs called it home.

I don't know the actual release date of 1993 Triple Play, but unless it was toward the end of the 1993 season, I would guess this photo is actually from a 1992 or earlier Zephyrs game. The individual player Rockies cards in this set used the old team logo, which tells me they produced it in the narrow window between the expansion draft and the start of the 1993 season.

Still, the place is pretty packed for a Minor League game. I did go to a couple Zephyrs games as a young child, and I don't remember it being so full. It might be that this is a fireworks game, as you can see the right field seats (also known as the "South Stands" in Broncos parlance) are empty, which was done for safety on the few fireworks nights the Rockies put on for their fans. I'm just guessing, though. There isn't enough detail in this print job to really tell.

In case you were curious, the Florida Marlins got a similar card in the 1993 Triple Play checklist, a very orange card of what was then called Joe Robbie Stadium. Though it has since been renamed many times over, the structure currently known as Hard Rock Stadium remains standing, and still plays host to Miami Dolphins home games.

Longtime Colorado residents still lament the loss of old Mile High, and the orange and blue seats that used to fill the stadium are now scattered across various basements and man caves throughout the Denver area. It's a bygone relic.

1998 Pacific Platinum Blue #425 John Flaherty /67

So, too, is the idea of pitchers running the bases. With the arrival of the Designated Hitter in both leagues, the opportunity for a pitcher to be involved in a play at the plate is now as rare as hen's teeth. That makes this 1998 Pacific card of Padres catcher John Flaherty all the more special, as Rockies starting pitcher Roger Bailey got a cameo while sliding into home. 

Even in 1998 when the DH was strictly an American League thing, that was a pretty rare play. Rare enough that it should be reasonably easy to pinpoint this card to an exact date.

In the 1997 season, Roger Bailey started two games in San Diego. That would have been at Qualcomm Stadium, as long as we're bringing up defunct ballparks. The first of those was on June 19th, 1997. After building a 5-3 lead, Bailey led off the 5th inning with a full-count walk. He advanced to second on an Eric Young sacrifice bunt, then tried to score on an Ellis Burks single. That's this play.

Out at the plate! Bailey was cut down by Greg Vaughn via an outfield assist, a four-time All-Star who concluded his career with a very short 22-game stint with the Colorado Rockies in 2003.

At first the result of this play struck me as an odd photo selection, then I remembered this is actually John Flaherty's card, not Bailey's. It's too bad he didn't stop at third, because the next batter was Hall of Famer Larry Walker, who easily drove in Burks with a double to right. In another universe, Pacific would have had to pick another photo for this card.

Roger Bailey's story is actually quite a sad one. He was a top prospect for the early Rockies, and appeared in many 1992 and 1993 Minor League sets as an amateur draftee. Most other card companies ignored him for a few years, but Topps put him in multiple sets as a Rockie during 1993. 

He debuted in 1995, appearing in the second-ever game at Coors Field. Over time, he worked his way into the rotation, and actually put up a respectable ERA in pre-humidor Coors. His 1997 season was his best yet, finishing with a 9-10 record, including two complete game shutouts. He was on track to be a key member of the Rockies rotation. 

Sadly, during spring training in 1998, Bailey was a riding in a car with fellow Rockies pitcher Mike Munoz when it was rear-ended. Just like that, his back was injured and he never recovered well enough to pitch again.

Pacific, ever the unappreciated innovator, was known for lots of colored foil parallels in their time. I have little idea which one is which, but there were lots of golds and silvers and blues and reds out there. In the 1998 base set, gold foil was the base variety, and then some of the parallels were silver. That seems backwards to me. But anyway, the foil on this one is a pale blue color, sort of the color of aquamarine.

I only had the base card on my list, which would have been fine. I knew upon first looking at this that the blue foil made this some kind of parallel, which is also fine, as my primary desire for this card was for the Roger Bailey cameo. But, not being an expert in 1998 Pacific, I had no idea until sitting down to write that this is actually the Platinum Blue variety, which had a stated print run of just 67 copies. 67! Way back in 1998!

There's no serial number on the card, so I had to find out about this by checking Beckett.

Yes, indeed it does make me wonder whether I have any other hidden gems in my few Pacific pages that are far more rare than I thought.

1998 was a weird year for cards.

It was also 25 years ago, which is deeply unsettling.

Happy New Year!