Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Trading Post #125: A Cracked Bat (Part 1: Shiny)

The last time Julie from A Cracked Bat sent a trade package, there was so much to cover that I had to split it up into two parts, Topps and Not Topps. Her latest trade was similar, in that there was a wealth of great cards to pick from, but this time I decided to split it up into Shiny and Not Shiny, another great way to create a two-part post that I've used before. There is a lot of ground to cover, including sets I've never seen before.

2018 Topps Chrome #80 German Marquez
We're going to need to ease into it with some borderless 2018 Chrome, because by the end, you may be seeing stars. German Marquez' base Chrome card doesn't go too over the top, it just whets your appetite a bit for what's to come.

I haven't collected many of the 2018 sets, including Chrome. That's probably why relative newcomer German Marquez is pretty under-represented in my collection outside of Topps Now. He has cemented a solid spot in a talented Rockies rotation, even doing so well in 2017 as to earn a comparison to 2002 Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings on the back of this card.

The waterslide design element pops just a little bit extra when given the Chrome treatment, and for now, this is one of the newest Topps cards around, since I have not yet purchased any of the newly-released 2019 cards. My side table is crowded enough as it is, with lots more trades, an incoming group break, part 2 of this one, as well as two entire blasters unwritten-about, 2018 Opening Day and 2018 First Pitch. Those posts will come in time, with about a 20 percent chance of Marquez being on the hill the day I post.

2016 Topps Update Rainbow Foil #US256 Nolan Arenado AS
I knew this Arenado card from the 2016 All Star Game in San Diego looked familiar. The base version arrived a couple years ago from cards as i see them, but Julie graciously added this rainbow foil version to my collection. The retro Padres colors don't look any more retro, but the background and thin bars surrounding Nolan Arenado's nameplate clearly differentiate it from the base card under the right light.

Night Owl's much-hated smoke area in the upper left remains almost untouched by the effect. The rainbow shininess trails off in that area on a gradient.

What I know for sure is that the "CR" Rockies logo looks really weird on mustard yellow.

2017 Topps Gold Label Class 1 Black #93 Nolan Arenado
Julie clearly knows I like Nolan Arenado, so she added one in from 2017 Topps Gold Label. This one eluded me in Nachos Grande's First Rockin' Retro group break. It's a Class 1 card, meaning that the primary photo of the star third baseman shows him doing what he does best, and that's fielding. This card says nothing about his string of consecutive Gold Gloves, which is now up to six, but it does tell us about his consecutive 40-homer, 130-RBI seasons by the young age of 26. The only other players to accomplish that, we're told, were Chuck Klein and Jimmie Foxx, way back in the 1930s.

The photo shows him standing up, but it still could be a highlight-reel play. Just not the ones where he's thrown out runners from his knees in foul territory, often by several steps.

All three of the Rockies from the earlier group break had white backgrounds on the right side, but Sonny Gray, then of the A's, had a black area instead, just like Nolan's card. Apparently, this is a Black parallel, which led me to go back and revise the caption on Gray's card from a few months ago. I honestly did not put that together until after I scanned the cards for this post, because who knows with fractured sets?

2018 Bowman Platinum #65 Charlie Blackmon
While that revelation settles in, we'll shift to another Rockies star, Charlie Blackmon. Bowman Platinum is something I haven't seen in a while, and that's further reinforced by it being found only in Wal-Mart these days.

Topps took a weird direction with this set. It is a rainbow foil card, although I'm used to lots more shininess with this brand. I like the black border on the right, but this giant pastel-colored swoop thing completely dominates the design. It took multiple looks at this card before I even realized the photo's background is still there, as you can see someone standing on the top step of the dugout.

This set may be too niche to earn its own nickname, but it looks a lot like light trails on a long-exposure photograph. That, or a scene from Speed Racer.

And yes, the swoop is on the back too.

2018 Topps Fire Power Producers Gold Minted #PP-11 Charlie Blackmon
From what little I've seen of Topps Fire, there's a lot less actual depiction of fire than numerous sets have used over the years. Even though it's been on the market for two years, this is the first time it's entered my collection. I don't really have an excuse on why I haven't bought any, since this is a Target exclusive. And it's just the sort of thing that seems to unintentionally wind up in your shopping cart when all you needed was mayonnaise.

This yellowish-gold insert parallel is actually from the 2018 release, but Julie also threw in some 2017, which we'll see in part 2. This design doesn't really scream out to me; maybe that's why I haven't sought it out in two years. Like his Bowman Platinum card, it's also rainbow foil, but this shade of yellow is a massive distraction from that. Julie also threw in the Blue Chip variety, but this one of course caught my eye. Picture a slightly lighter shade of the Topps Bunt blue parallels and you'll get the idea.

I'm not sure where Beckett came up with its listing for this set, which I'm not using in the caption. The card number begins with "PP", consistent with the "Power Producers" name I found in a few places. Beckett declares this and its three colored varieties is part of the "Golden Sledgehammer" insert set. Granted, that is a pretty awesome name, but doesn't seem to match anything about this card.

Whatever its true name, the card back mentions Blackmon's 477-foot home run on July 9th, 2017. As is often my luck, I was at the game a day before. But what this card doesn't mention is that it happened on the same day as Kyle Freeland came within two outs of pitching a no-hitter.

Freeland was [puts on sunglasses] on fire that day.

That's to reinforce the pun, but we might really need those sunglasses soon.

2018 Donruss Optic Shock #89 Charlie Blackmon
Donruss Optic is still going strong in 2018, and they're even starting to get fancy with their shiny parallels. I am pretty sure this is the Shock parallel, but I am even less an expert in Donruss Optic than Topps Gold Label, so feel free to correct me. It's actually pretty mesmerizing, because there appear to be shiny dots that move around when you tilt the card. And unbelievably, it scanned pretty accurately.

This design with hints of 1984 Donruss appears to show the center fielder playing in St. Louis. That's my best guess, since it looks like there's just a tiny bit of the Cardinals logo painted on the back wall of the dugout. It might be a logo that Panini missed, though they did a fine job on Blackmon's uniform.

He had a great year in 2017, becoming the first player to lead the Majors in hits, runs, triples, and total bases in the same year. To put a feather in that cap, he also won the batting title.

2017 Donruss Optic #53 Raimel Tapia RR (RC)
Optic was a little bit more in check the prior year as far as parallels go, and that year the set used the familiar upward-sloping design that appears to carry behind the photograph. This year's design is most like 1991 in that regard, and the 1986 design used a similar angle but narrower lines. Panini has a wealth of designs to use if they keep this brand active in the future. It's only a matter of time before we see little baseball bats at the bottom facing right one year, then left the next. Or is it left, then right? I can never remember.

Raimel Tapia got the Rated Rookie treatment in 2017, and the card back describes his first career hit on September 2, 2016, his first of ten that season at the young age of 22. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be many times that, but Panini did a pretty good job describing that highlight in less than a hundred. They even put the right name to the card, something the broadcast crew flubbed at first.

2016 Bowman Chrome Draft #BDC-63 Garrett Hampson
With the departure of DJ LeMahieu, Garrett Hampson may be in line for some more playing time in 2019, depending on where Daniel Murphy appears on the defensive chart. He's a promising rookie, although he drew the short straw when the Rockies acquired Matt Holliday in late 2018. They sent him down to make room for the fan favorite's return, but called him right back up once rosters expanded in September, and even kept him on the roster for the Postseason. In fact, he scored one of just two runs the Rockies managed to plate during the entire 2018 NLDS.

At this point in his career, he's a perfect Bowman guy, but he just got his first real Rookie Card in 2019 Topps Series 1. Bowman's scouting report on this Chrome Draft card is that he's a "scrappy competitor" who can "leg out infield hits". That may be, but his first MLB hit was a towering RBI double off the wall in Arizona. That didn't miss being a home run by much, and Topps already mentioned the hit on his 2019 card.

Incidentally, his name came up during a recent conversation I had with Big Shep's Cards, whose friend's cousin is Garrett Hampson.

2017 Topps Chrome Prism Refractors #92 Trevor Story
Clearly, Julie has tapped a rich vein of 2017 Chrome cards, because she sent me a slightly different version of this Trevor Story card last year. That was the regular refractor, this one is the slightly rarer Prism Refractor. The "spotlight" design on the normal refractors isn't used here, instead using lots of tiny facets in the background design, while at the same time allowing a clearer image of the dugout in the background.

I spent some time last year gushing that Topps labeled the refractor as a refractor, but this one is missing that note. I guess it's obvious enough that it doesn't need to be differentiated from the normal chrome card. I don't think I noticed the "Chrome" lettering in the banner before, which is a little redundant with the usual Topps Chrome logo.

2018 Topps Fire Green #54 Trevor Story /199
Like me, Topps isn't above using puns. The card back on this trippy 2017 Topps Fire parallel tells us that "Story was en fuego" at the beginning of the 2016 season, having hit seven home runs by the time his career was six games old.

What we're looking at here is the green parallel, and I guess green is the dominant color here, but red is really giving it a run for its money. As are numerous other colors. This wouldn't be out of place in 1995 Fleer, and is probably the closest thing yet to what we'd see if Jackson Pollock designed a baseball card.

There's a /199 serial number on the back, which is also the only place we see Trevor's first name.

2017 Topps Triple Threads #49 Carlos Gonzalez
We're going to take a little break from the contemporary art of Topps Fire parallels and return to a more traditional design with clean lines. Julie has sent me Triple Threads cards of Carlos Gonzalez before, too. I have no idea where she gets all these, but I'm glad she's on my side.

Despite endless trade rumors, Carlos Gonzalez reached free agency after his time with the Rockies, and with the cold state of free agent signings, his place for 2019 has yet to be determined. I'd love to see him return to right field at 20th and Blake, (well, right field is more like 22nd), but the free agent market is weird right now. Things are also weird in his home country of Venezuela right now, although he resides in this beautiful home in Orlando.

We're about to leave the modern era and return to the Blake Street Bomber era. If anything, the cards are just going to get stranger.

1997 Upper Deck Star Attractions #SA14 Larry Walker
I almost forgot about die-cuts. This one really isn't all that shiny compared to some others, but it has a pretty unique look. The background is blurred in a way that looks like a still from a rotoscope movie. You can still see the dugout and the first few rows of fans, but it's a different style of blur than you normally get from a camera.

The die cut itself is fairly simple, although it reminds me that there are relatively few die-cut designs that are so symmetrical. And the photo is cropped perfectly to contain Larry Walker, not omitting any of his batting stance and the power he's generating with his back leg.

Most of Larry Walker's cards from this era mention his stellar MVP 1997 season, although Upper Deck lamented on this insert that "another season went by without a Triple Crown winner". He fell a little short on RBIs, and trailed in batting average to the great Tony Gwynn, but did manage to lead the NL in home runs.

1998 Studio Hit Parade #2 Larry Walker /5000
Studio was no different in 1998. They got a little more in-depth than the usual Triple Crown statistics, pointing out that Walker's .720 slugging percentage was fifth-best in NL history. That number was miles ahead of the AL leader Ken Griffey Jr. at .646, who took home that league's MVP.

Sportflix and Studio both used Hit Parade as an insert set before Topps got around to it some time later, and Donruss even decided this one of Larry Walker was worth limiting to 5,000 copies. I am in possession of #3,886. The surface is what's known as etched foil, and up close, it basically looks like the ridges of a fingerprint.

1996 Ultra Power Plus #11 Larry Walker
Our final card has a very similar etched surface, but lots more color. At first glance, I thought this was yet another mid-90s Stadium Club subset that eluded me all these years, but it's actually from 1996 Fleer Ultra. Those who collected 2014 Topps Power Players should find the colorful concentric circles on this similarly-named Power Plus insert set somewhat familiar.

Baseball terminology has changed a bit over the years. The card back says that Larry Walker is a "strong two-way player", and then proceeds to tell us about his home runs and steals, as well as his outfield arm. That could be taken a couple ways, that he has both speed and power, or that he excels at both offense and defense. Today, of course, with the arrival of Shohei Ohtani, that term has evolved to mean players who can both hit and pitch, perhaps the two most divergent skills in the sport. Matt Davidson's name is coming up frequently in those discussions, and many scouts are looking for it in young players.

I could never see Larry Walker as a pitcher, but the two photo selections of this card give us a glimpse of what that might look like. Maybe, with a design like this, it's from a parallel universe where that did indeed happen.

I always learn a lot from Julie's trade packages, and in part 2, there are still more sets that are making their debut in my collection.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Rockin' Retro Group Break the Second (Part 2: Mets)

Just when I think I'm staying ahead of trade packages from Nachos Grande, he sends another one. Trade Stack 93 arrived in my mailbox yesterday, and I haven't even had a chance to cover Part 2 of the second Rockin' Retro Group Break. So let's waste no time in getting to that. Part 1 covered the Rockies and lots of Larry Walker cards, and in Part 2 we'll meet the New York Mets, starting with the always-shiny Topps Gold Label.

2001 Topps Gold Label Class 1 #86 Todd Zeile
There were a lot of sets in this break, and I figured I might as well show them in the same sequence as Part 1. There is still lots of shininess to come, and this was my favorite from the several Class 1 cards from Gold Label. The Mets color scheme makes the stitching-and-cloth appearance on the lower portion of the card a little easier to see than on the Rockies versions.

Appropriately for this journeyman's career, this is his third appearance on the blog, and with his third team. He first showed up here as a Rockie, then a little while later as a Marlin. That type of career often means you wear whichever uniform number they'll give you, but he did favor #27. He had that number in 2004 as a Met, his final year in baseball, but they gave him #9 during his first stint from 2000-2001, when he also saw his only trip to the World Series.

No awesome relics on the NL East side of things, but that's fine; I already had a "hit" this break.

2002 Topps Total #419 Jay Payton
Next on the list of Mets who were also Rockies is outfielder Jay Payton, lunging into Wrigley Field's ivy in left-center field. There really is no such thing as a bad baseball card featuring the ivy, and there's even a little bonus when you can see the basket above it.

Payton and Zeile were teammates on both the Rockies and Mets in the early 2000s, but I did not know that Payton actually wound his career up as a Rockie with a brief second stint in 2010. No cards exist of that, but there are plenty of him as a Rockie. Maybe even some of him back in Wrigley.

2002 Topps Total #174 Jason Bay (RC)
When 2002 Topps Total was released, Jason Bay was still a prospect, albeit a "legitimate" one, according to the card back. It took another year for him to get to the big leagues, followed in 2004 by Rookie of the Year honors as a Pirate. Many of us remember his big free-agent deal with the Mets that was largely a bust, and I had him as a Fantasy player when he was still a Pirate. But he did briefly spend some time in the Mets' farm system before being traded to San Diego, where he began his career.

I would consider this rookie card a zero-year card, since Bay didn't play for the Mets within many years of this card's printing. But it wasn't entirely wrong. It was just early.

There is a tiny bit of damage on the front of the card, as it must have been stuck to another card after so long in the pack. But that gorgeous woodgrain in his bat makes up for it.

2002 Topps Total Total Topps #TT35 Mike Piazza
When I showed Larry Walker's card in Part 1, the 2019 Hall of Fame class had yet to be announced. Walker ended up with 54.6% of the vote, far below the required 75%, but still trending in the right direction with one year left. He shared a spot in this shiny 50-card Topps Total insert set with Mike Piazza, and I am still holding out hope that they'll soon share a spot in Cooperstown.

The card back heaps praise upon Piazza, calling him "one of the most decorated catchers and feared hitters in history." He put together quite a string of .300 seasons, impressive for a catcher. He was a regular fixture in the All-Star Game, and this card is sure to mention his 1996 All-Star MVP award, which invalidated a particular Dante Bichette redemption card. It was one of many things that led to Piazza's Hall of Fame induction, and he'll soon be joined by Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, and, ah, Harold Baines.

Congratulations to the winners, especially to Mo, the first-ever unanimous selection.

1998 Paramount #208 John Olerud
Pacific clearly had Wrigley Field staked out in 1997, snapping plenty of photos for use in their 1998 sets. Bichette and probably Jeff Reed's cards from Part 1 were taken in Wrigley, as was this one of John Olerud. This is Olerud's third appearance on the blog, and it's always been as a Met, despite his tenure with the Blue Jays, Mariners, and a couple other AL teams. His card from 1998 Collector's Choice is one of my favorite Coors Field cards of all time.

Flip it over and you can see Olerud's trademark batting helmet, the older style without ear flaps or the extra plastic in the back to protect the base of the skull. Olerud always wore a helmet in the field after experiencing a brain hemorrhage and aneurysm during his college career. He had a highly successful Major League career after that, something that should bring comfort to Danny Farquhar, who suffered a similar (and serious) health scare with the White Sox a couple years ago but is ready to make a comeback with the Yankees organization.

1998 Paramount Copper #209 Rey Ordoñez
Olerud's card was the base silver foil, but I also got a copper parallel for the Mets as well as the Rockies. Pacific made the trek out to Shea Stadium for this one of Rey Ordoñez, complete with a tilde on the foil. Don't worry, though, The photo on the back is still in Wrigley. Both photos clearly show his uniform #0, something guys with "O" last names seem to like. Adam Ottavino, for example, is about to become the first player in Yankees history to wear the number 0. But their crosstown rivals checked that box a while ago, actually in 1991 with Terry McDaniel.

1998 Paramount Team Checklists #25 Todd Hundley
Pacific always did die-cuts pretty well, and this Team Checklist insert card is no exception. Olerud and Ordoñez are listed right there on the card back, concluding ten total Mets pleasingly arranged in both alphabetical and numerical order. Fleer used to arrange cards that way too, and I absolutely loved when sets did that. It made sorting so easy.

Blue foil is always pretty cool, especially when it's nice and readable on a black background like this. And that woodgrain in the crossed bats is almost as cool as on Jason Bay's card. A neat little detail is that Todd Hundley's name and position are "embossed" (really just printed) on one of the bats when you flip it to the back. And the photo on the back even shows the two-time All Star catcher holding his own bat.

1995 Score Summit #76 Bobby Bonilla
Moving down the list of sets, we arrive at 1995 Score Summit, the strike-shortened set that breaks out 1994 stats by month. The card back has one of those fun baseball-glove-as-hat photos. And at least Bobby Bonilla got a little playing time in August 1994, unlike Andres Galarraga. But the front is a different story, as he looks like he's grimacing on this card, clearly displeased by whatever ball he just hit.

Regardless of the outcome of that play, he's got to be happy about his annual payment from the Mets every July 1st, also known as Bobby Bonilla Day. The infamous deferred payment structure has ties to the Bernie Madoff scandal and everything.

1995 Score Summit #106 Bret Saberhagen
It's been a while since we've seen Bret Saberhagen around here. but several years ago, he was popping up left and right. He had yet to sign a free-agent deal with the Rockies, and I sometimes wonder what would have happened to guys like him and Hampton and Swift had the humidor been in place earlier in Coors Field's existence. He might not have won a third Cy Young award, but his time in Colorado maybe wouldn't have been a blemish on his career.

I do have to appreciate this design. It works pretty well with the Mets' pinstripes, and it sort of has that 3D effect since he isn't constrained by the photo's background.

1995 Score Summit #135 Edgardo Alfonzo
Another card from the Rookie subset turned up, although the left half of the card makes it a little hard to read the top of the card. A little white outline might have helped, but that could spoil the simplicity of this design. The Venezuelan infielder stayed in the NL nearly his whole career, except for a handful of games in the AL in 2006 before his retirement.

You don't see flip-down sunglasses much anymore, so bonus points to this card for that.

2016 Donruss #170 David Wright
We're skipping over the 1953 Archives set, since there were no Mets to be found, and the only card I landed in the break we saw in Part 1. But don't worry, there were a few in the trade stack that began my weekend, so we'll see more someday.

Returning to the near-present with 2016 Donruss, we can see that David Wright eventually took over uniform #5 from John Olerud. It's even factory-labeled on the bottom of his bat, rather than hastily scrawled on with a sharpie like Ordoñez'. Wright was a career Met, and one of their best-ever, so I expect they'll retire his number one day in Citi Field. His final two games at the end of the 2018 season made for an emotional occasion.

David Allen Wright (come on, Donruss, put that middle name on the back) did his best to stage a comeback in 2015 and 2016, but after being diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, the same ailment that cut Lenny Dykstra's career short, he decided to retire early.

2016 Donruss '82 #D82-39 Jacob deGrom
The Mets haven't dominated the Rookie of the Year list like the Dodgers have, but there are a few, like last year's Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, who won it in 2014. So did Tom Seaver, who is mentioned on the card back. Both deGrom and Seaver struck out 13 batters in a postseason game, Jacob doing so on October 9th, 2015.

Panini gave us some great photo selections on these 1982-themed inserts. Nolan Arenado's card has him at the bat rack, and here we see the lanky pitcher at the plate. He throws right-handed, but bats from the left side. Further investigation of the card back reveals that he hails from DeLand, Fla., the same town as Chipper Jones.

deGrom had an amazing year last year, one of the best pitching seasons of all-time. Yet he only built a 10-9 record off of a microscopic 1.70 ERA and an amazing 24 straight quality starts. Good pitching beats good hitting, but you need at least a shred of run support to get the W.

2016 Donruss Studio #S10 Michael Conforto
Donruss also revived the Studio brand for a small 10-card insert set. They used black-and-white photography as with the first couple years of the brand, but there's no fun interview on the back where we get to learn the player's favorite sports announcer and hobby. We are told, however, that Conforto's mother is Tracie Ruiz, a three-time Olympic medalist in synchronized swimming.

The Studio brand would be a great set for Panini to develop further in this monopolistic era, since there are fewer logos to have to cover up in a non-action shot like this.

1998 Fleer Tradition #492 Carlos Baerga
Carlos Baerga is best known as a Cleveland Indian, but he was involved in a trade for Jeff Kent, joining the Mets in 1996. The card back tells us about his game on June 24th, 1997 against the Braves. He tied the game in the 8th with a two-run shot, then the next time through the order, he drove in Todd Hundley for the game-winning run.

This card photo is not from that game, as that cameo is a Royal, not a Brave. I believe that is Hal Morris, who signed a one-year deal with the Royals before returning to the Reds, his longtime team.

Fleer undoubtedly used photos from the 1998 season in series 2, making me more confident in my guess about Dante Bichette's card in Part 1. At first, I thought this was some early evidence of interleague play, but the Mets and Royals never squared off during the 1998 regular season. It's likely another spring training shot from when the Royals still shook the rust off in Florida. They and the Rangers both moved to Arizona for spring training in 2003.

Spring training box scores are a bit tough to come by, so I'm not sure of the specifics, but this is definitely around March 1998. Regardless, it's also a preview of the 2015 World Series, even earlier in advance than Jason Bay's zero-year card.

1998 Fleer Tradition #537 Bernard Gilkey
The last time I mentioned Bernard Gilkey, it was for a six degrees of Kevin Bacon blog-bat around. Then, he was a Cardinal, which is the team I most associate him with. That's my biggest takeaway of all these late-'90s cards. I doubt players moved around much more than they do now, but their overproduction-era teams are just so cemented in my brain.

Anyway, in case you missed that blog bat-around, Bernard Gilkey was the Mets outfielder who observed a UFO passing over Shea Stadium toward the end of 1997's Men in Black as a fly ball hit him in the head, Jose Canseco-style. An even smaller detail from the movie is that the Braves were the visiting team on that fateful day when galactic war was narrowly averted, maybe even the same day as Baerga's heroics.

It was one moment when Gilkey was not depicted as "an outstanding defensive player", which Fleer tells us on the back. He also had a great arm and was a team leader in outfield assists, one of the most exciting plays in baseball. I haven't found a baseball card that mentions his movie cameo, so Fleer really missed an opportunity on this card.

No word on whether he was ever neuralyzed.

1998 Fleer Tradition Vintage '63 #106 Rey Ordoñez
The '63 parallels also arrived in Mets form, giving us a second look at Rey Ordoñez. We can barely see that the Mets put the tilde on Ordoñez' jersey, but Fleer simply omitted it entirely. MLB has embraced the tilde for a while, but there's been a push by Latino players to also include accent marks. I'll admit that I have been bad about doing that on this blog, but I try to be mindful of the true proper spelling.

The inset player's outline that varies by position (see Darryl Kyle's card in Part 1) is pretty detailed, and while it's something we associate with 1973 and 2004 Topps, it looks like Fleer came up with that idea a decade before Topps.

1998 Fleer Tradition Vintage '63 #97 Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza's outline is different still, and the card back proves what an incredible player he was. We're told that while he was still a Dodger, he accounted for over 30% of all the Dodgers runs in 1997. He also had the Rockies' number with his power stroke, as he hit a home run completely out of Dodger Stadium off of short-time Rockie Frank Castillo. He also once held the record for longest home run at Coors Field, a 496-foot monster (probably longer) hit less than a week later off of current bullpen coach Darren Holmes. Giancarlo Stanton holds that record now, but let's just say that Piazza's trade to the NL East was a good thing for the Rockies.

There's no mention of his five-game stint with the Florida Marlins. For more on that, the 30 for 30 episode on sports radio hosts Mike and the Mad Dog has a segment on it.

1997 Donruss Limited #72 Scott Rolen / Edgardo Alfonzo C (Reverse)
We're down to the final set, 1997 Donruss Limited. I had much better luck on the scarce subsets with the Rockies, but a couple base Mets cards turned up. Edgardo Alfonzo had passed his rookie status by this time, and was a regular fixture in the Mets lineup. As this card tells us, the utilityman started at three different infield positions throughout 1996, which translates to everything but first base. He's primarily listed as a third baseman.

I didn't intentionally pick third basemen in both parts of this post to show Counterparts cards, it just sort of happened that way. But now that we've already seen Vinny Castilla and Matt Williams, any guesses as to who Alfonzo is playing second fiddle to?

1997 Donruss Limited #72 Scott Rolen / Edgardo Alfonzo C
It's Scott Rolen, then a "Rookie Slugger" for Philadelphia. Donruss picked well here, as Rolen went on to win the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year award. The 7-time All Star and 2006 World Series champion was just getting his career off the ground back then, which lasted until 2012. He's in his second year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and he earned a few more votes than Todd Helton. We'll still be hearing his name for a while, but all those guys got their starts somewhere.

Posts with this many sets to cover tend to turn into beasts, but I quite enjoy these trips down memory lane. And despite covering a similar era as the Mystery Packs from years ago, there wasn't a whole lot of player overlap. Nachos Grande, if you have another one of these planned, I'll buy a slot!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Rockin' Retro Group Break the Second (Part 1: Rockies)

Nachos Grande is one of the greats when it comes to putting group breaks together. His first Rockin' Retro group break was quite a hit, and during the 2018 Postseason, he put together a second. There was some really good stuff in here, and seeing this huge variety of old brands is such a refreshing break from the monopolistic market we have today. There's even some Pacific. Topps was then, and remains my favorite brand, but a little variety is nice too.

Of course I picked the Rockies as my primary team, ending up with the New York Mets as my second, randomized team. That selection is unsurprising, but my first card from the box of 2001 Topps Gold Label surprised both myself and Nachos Grande.

2001 Topps Gold Label MLB Award Ceremony Relics #GLR-AG2 Andres Galarraga HR Bat (MEM)
How about that to kick things off? Usually I save the highlights for the end, but this warranted top billing. Andres Galarraga led the NL in home runs in 1996, and he was rewarded with this beautiful bat relic in 2001 Topps Gold Label. Their relic collection was labeled as MLB Award Ceremony, profiling various award-winning years of players' careers.

The Big Cat hit 47 that year, the first season at Coors Field which wasn't strike-shortened. The AL was really heating up that year, as five other players hit 47 or more dingers, led by Mark McGwire with 52. McGwire was included in this relic set, though it's unclear which of his many league leader stats Topps picked to feature. It's also surprising to remember that McGwire retired in 2001. Seems like quite a while ago.

The handwritten note from Nachos Grande that accompanied my cards said that this pull alone made the entire break worth it for him.

2001 Topps Gold Label Class 1 #47 Jeff Cirillo
Clearly, Nachos Grande likes Topps Gold Label. A more recent release of Topps Gold Label was included in the last group break, ensuring that you have lots of thick, shiny cards to show for your buy-in. They even have some raised lettering. Todd Helton and Larry Walker were included in this stack, as was lesser-known third baseman Jeff Cirillo, who is not on the Hall of Fame ballot this year.

Cirillo was a Rockie for two seasons in the early 2000s, being elected to his second of two All-Star appearances in 2000. Like the rest of the Gold Label base cards I received, this is a Class 1 card, the most common of the three in the fractured set. He played for a few more teams as his career drew to a close, and his only taste of Postseason baseball came in 2007 with the Diamondbacks. The Rockies clinched the NL pennant that year, meaning that Jeff Cirillo's final game was Game 4 of the 2007 NLCS, which took place at Coors Field.

2002 Topps Total Total Topps #TT48 Larry Walker
The 2019 Hall of Fame class is just days away from being announced, and it finally seems like Larry Walker is getting the recognition he earned in his 17-year career. 2002 Topps Total included him in this awkwardly-named 50-card Total Topps insert set, mentioning his 1997 MVP award and three batting titles in four years. The elongated red oval that was integral to the Topps Total logo is used heavily in this shiny insert set.

Larger insert sets tend to bug me slightly, but they make a lot of sense in Topps Total, which had 990 cards in the base set.

2002 Topps Total #238 Pete Harnisch
990 cards means you can include guys like Pete Harnisch, a free agent the Rockies signed for 2002, but who never played. That makes this a rare zero-year card, one on which Topps billed him as "a top member of the Rockies rotation when healthy". Unfortunately, that never came to pass.

He got a card in the 2002 Topps flagship set with the same photograph, but other than that and its associated parallels, this is the only evidence that the Rockies once planned to put Pete Harnisch on the hill. I remember him mainly as a member of the Astros, which is who he played for in 1993 at the height of the overproduction era. This is why I think of Charlie Hough as a Marlin, or Dave Winfield as a Twin. 1993 Topps was gospel and those synapses are strong.

2002 Topps Total #204 Terry Shumpert
Just the same, in my mind, Terry Shumpert was a Royal who played for the Rockies, even though he played in quite a few more games as a Rockie. Unlike Harnisch, Shumpert didn't get a card in 2002 Topps, proving the value of an all-encompassing set like Topps Total. It's what allows him to make his debut on Infield Fly Rule five years after its creation, as opposed to being lost to history. Whichever player's left side is on this card is also probably making his debut, too.

Speaking of that, there are numerous players whose names I know from 1993 Topps that never really had much of a career, especially in the Rockies and Marlins team sets. Surely this also goes for years in which I wasn't collecting, and I'm unlikely to ever hear of them just because of the changing nature of the hobby. A fleeting career from 1999-2000 is something I probably missed. Yet I just recalled the name of Travis Buckley off the top of my head, #732 in '93 Topps, a pitcher who never progressed past Triple-A.

At that age, and especially in pre-interleague days, if someone had a card, their name was worth remembering.

2002 Topps Total #700 Mike Hampton
A set including everyone naturally includes the bigger names as well, including a bunting Mike Hampton. Topps Total tells us on the back about his 1999 season with Houston, a 22-4 year which nearly earned him the NL Cy Young Award, finishing second to Randy Johnson. Yes, the Astros were still in the National League back then, and if not for their recent excellence, I'd still probably think of them that way.

Appropriately for this card, Hampton was no slouch at the plate. He walloped seven home runs in 2001, and before you comment with "pre-humidor Coors!", three of those were on the road.

1998 Paramount Copper #152 Ellis Burks
What's more of a liability for an unlicensed set? A lack of logos or a lack of team names? 1998 Pacific Paramount is technically unlicensed, including the fine print of "Pacific baseball player cards are not manufactured, sponsored, or authorized by any team or league." I checked a few other 1998 Pacific sets and some had this disclaimer, others didn't. Research shows that Pacific's license required them to print Spanish-language cards. This was their first English-only set, so by not fulfilling those terms of the license, they couldn't use team names. They didn't do any airbrushing, as the team logos are in full view. It's just like 2010 Upper Deck in that regard, however none of the 1999 Pacific cards I checked had any such licensing issue.

What a difference a decade or so makes. 1998 Pacific skirted the rules and got flexibility in their license a year later, but 2010 Upper Deck landed in legal hot water and remains absent from the baseball side of the hobby.

Anyway, Ellis Burks got a "Colorado" card in Pacific Paramount's inaugural '98 set, and thus all the colored parallels too. This pleasing shade of copper is a one-per-pack parallel, but the design is one of the least-readable foil designs I can recall seeing. Any printing issues and this would be completely illegible. This is not a set I would particularly enjoy sorting.

1998 Paramount #156 Jeff Reed
Catcher Jeff Reed has been showing up a lot around here lately, and by that I mean twice. The silver foil is the base design and somehow seems a touch more legible, maybe since my eye is so trained to see silver foil. It looks like Reed is in Wrigley Field, which must be where Pacific sent their photographers that year. Dante Bichette's card has part of a "WGN Sports" logo on the brick wall behind the plate.

1998 Paramount #151 Dante Bichette
WGN Sports was one of the great places to watch daytime baseball before MLB broadcasting rules got all screwy. The Braves were occasionally on TBS, but the Cubs played lots more day games.

1995 Score Summit #42 Andres Galarraga
Not every card of Andres Galarraga can be a relic, but it's one of just a few I received from 1995 Score Summit. It's surprisingly thick, and a rarely-seen set in these parts. The team logo scans even a little better than it looks in person, an eye-catching gold medallion on a white background.

The card back is unusual. It breaks down his monthly statistics into a grid, which is then overlaid on a baseball diamond. It's a bit hard to decipher, and is a bit depressing, because the months of August and September 1994 are conspicuous strike-impacted columns of zeroes. Of all the years to give out monthly stats, 1994 is a terrible pick. Galarraga experienced a season-ending injury in late July 1994, so his August looks even worse than other players in this set, but in effect, he only lost a couple weeks of playing time.

1995 Score Summit #42 Andres Galarraga (Reverse)
At least the photo on the back is a good one. It shows Galarraga in the dugout holding a "Catch the Fever" pennant, likely an item of fan memorabilia he was asked to sign. He also has those wraparound shades that everyone was sporting in the 1990s.

1995 Score Summit #149 Juan Acevedo (RC)
As was common with Score sets, the Rookies got a little bit of a different design. Check Juan Acevedo's card in 1995 Score Select to see what I mean. In Summit, the gold team logo shifted toward the left, which partially covers a rocky-looking silhouette at the bottom. It looks a little like a canyon wall but it could just be houses.

Both Beckett and much of the hobby seem to have a convention of dropping the main brand from sets like these. It's just listed as "Summit", even though Score's logo is clearly displayed. Same thing goes for Pacific "Paramount", and most famously, Fleer "Ultra". Even Topps "Finest" can't escape that fate, yet Topps Chrome seems to retain its full name. I tend to go back and forth, but I'm not above overriding an official Beckett listing from time to time. Like right now.

1991 Topps Archives 1953 #332 Eleanor Engle
Obviously, the Rockies were nowhere to be found in 1991 Topps Archives, one of Topps' earlier offerings to resurrect an old design, in this case, the 1953 set. Nachos Grande was nice enough to include one anyway, since the Mets are absent, too. It's somewhat rare as overproduction-era sets go. The final grouping of cards in the set are all part of a "The Cards that Never Were" subset, noted as such on the back, and can be differentiated by their strangely-colored backgrounds.

Quite a few huge names that didn't make it into the original '53 release are here, such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Richie Ashburn, Hank Aaron as a prospect, Ted Williams, and Don Newcombe. Also included toward the end of the checklist is Eleanor Engle, the first woman to sign a contract to play pro baseball. She signed with the Harrisburg Senators in June 1952. Unfortunately, that lasted about a day before the powers that be decided it was still 1952.

There are always little glimmers of gender integration in pro sports, such as Manon Rhéaume, who played in a couple exhibition games for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning in the early '90s. But anything more still seems to be a long way off. Perhaps not coincidentally, Larry Doby, the second African-American player in the MLB, and first in the American League is directly after her in the checklist.

Sooz wrote about this card once, and noted Engle's own comments about this card, who said "I look like a skunk at a picnic." It's a shame, because it was reported that she could hit better than some of the guys out there. Time will tell; I just think it would be nice to see more women on the diamond than Jennie Finch once a year in the Celebrity Softball game after the Home Run Derby. Or even in the broadcast booth. Jenny Cavnar called a few games for the Rockies last season, and I was sure to voice my support before NLDS Game 3 back in October.

2016 Donruss #173 DJ LeMahieu
These are mostly older sets, so there are obviously no current players depicted. But even DJ LeMahieu in 2016 Donruss won't be back next year. The paragraph on the back tells us that "If LeMahieu had started the 2015 season any hotter he would have spontaneously combusted." Trevor Story did about the same a year later.

DJ became a Rockie thanks to one of the best trades the team has ever pulled off. He came over from the Cubbies with Tyler Colvin in exchange for prospect Casey Weathers, who did not make it past Double-A, and third baseman Ian Stewart. The New York Yankees see plenty of value in him, signing him to a two-year, $24 million deal. Add in Adam Ottavino, whom they just inked for three years at $27 million, and Troy Tulowitzki, and it looks like the Yankees are stockpiling lots of ex-Rockies talent.

I continue to hope that Nolan Arenado is not among them, because I'd really like to see him stick around. But I'd also like to see him win a World Series, and with top Rockies players heading elsewhere, that's looking less likely to happen in Denver.

1998 Fleer Tradition #443 Pedro Astacio
We still have a couple more sets to go, continuing with 1998 Fleer Tradition. After a couple years of matte finish, Fleer decided to go back to glossy. They also selected an, ah, interesting photo of Astacio leaning in to see a pitch. He's 6'2" but he looks like he'd be taller. Maybe it's just the angle.

Like DJ, Pedro Astacio became a Rockie via a trade, a late-season straight-up swap with the Dodgers for Eric Young. He spent five years as a Rockie, and still stands atop the leaderboard in a few categories, including complete games.

1998 Fleer Tradition #561 Dante Bichette
Dante Bichette was a big guy. He's listed as 6'3", 235 lbs. It became a bit of a running joke in Denver every February how much he had bulked up in the offseason. This article from 1998 says he put on 44 pounds by the time that year's Spring Training began. And since this is Series 2, we might be looking at a card from precisely that time. What really caught my eye, though, is that the bat looks just about ready to stand on end, something Martin Prado once managed to magically do.

1998 Fleer Tradition Vintage '63 #89 Darryl Kile
You might think this is an insert from 1998 Fleer, but it's actually a one-per-pack partial parallel set. The photos are the same as the full-bleed base cards, overlaid with the classic 1963 Fleer design. Unlike Topps, Fleer has far fewer iconic sets in the archives, so they return to this one a lot. In fact, the flagship 2003 Fleer Tradition set just reproduced it entirely, not even bothering to make it a parallel.

The Rockies put a lot of resources into their rotation in 1998, signing Darryl Kile in the offseason. Astacio fared better at elevation than did Kile, who led the Majors in losses his first year as a Rockie, with 17. The card back tells us that he won the NL Pitcher of the month in July 1997, but neglects to mention that was with the Astros. Fleer was serious about this being a parallel set; even the write-up is identical to his base card, which was also included.

1997 Donruss Limited #14 Matt Williams / Vinny Castilla C (Reverse)
This break was a monster. We're down to our final set, which is 1997 Donruss Limited. It's pretty, but it's a strange one. The cards are all two-sided, and there are short-printed subsets, but they're scattered all throughout the checklist instead of grouped.

Counterparts are the primary card type, featuring a star player on the front, and a not-quite-as-good player on the back, with a little statistic at the bottom. Vinny Castilla, whose 113 RBI in 1996 was second among NL third baseman, appears on the card back of a Counterparts card. Andres Galarraga, by the way, led all the Majors that year, with 150.

Castilla is considered the secondary player on this card, so who was the primary player?

1997 Donruss Limited #14 Matt Williams / Vinny Castilla C
It's Matt Williams, who had just become an Indian in a monster offseason trade. His side is much shinier than Castilla's, at least in person, and also color-coded differently. Williams, you'll recall, is the player whom Castilla replaced in the starting lineup of the 1995 All-Star Game.

1997 Donruss Limited #87 Larry Walker / Eric Young D
The Double Team subset consists of 40 cards, and while they're not serial numbered, these have been calculated to consist of 4,400 copies based on the total production run. We get to see Larry Walker on the shiny front side, and rather than an alternate team on the back, Double Team cards are shared with another teammate, in this case Eric Young. The reverse side has the non-shiny appearance, along with the usual card number and logos you'd expect to see on a card back. We're also told how long each player has been with that team at the bottom, instead of a stats-based tidbit.

1997 Donruss Limited #169 Larry Walker S /1100
Our final card of this marathon post is an even rarer subset called Star Factor, also 40 cards large. Again, there is no serial number, but this is one of just 1,100 copies. The same player, in this case Hall of Fame candidate Larry Walker, appears on both sides with more statistics at the bottom. This one happens to mention his six straight extra base hits, precisely the same series of hits documented on his 1998 Fleer Unforgettable Moments card.

So there you have it. Another 3,000-word post about an awesome group break run by Nachos Grande.

And that's just part one.