Thursday, July 28, 2016

Christmas in July

One of my favorite aspects of this wonderful community is all the mini-collections people go for. I'm not just talking about team or player collectors, I mean the guys who focus parts of their collection on really specific things, like night cards, for example. Some collectors like memorial and commemorative patches. Others prefer all-dirt cards. A few have too many to count, ranging from kids on cards to photographic equipment, and from broken bats to the act of signing autographs. Myself, I like Coors Field cards. It's just something that gives us each our own personality.

Of course, one of the favorite mini-collections throughout the Cardsphere also happens to be my girlfriend's least-favorite aspect of baseball.

1995 Collector's Choice SE #163 Trevor Hoffman

Usually you're trying to advance a runner. Maybe you can get up the line like a speeding bullet. Perhaps you just plain can't hit. On rare occasions, your guy on third is trying to nab home plate if you can just put the ball just barely in play.

But whatever the reason, it makes for a relatively unusual card. And us baseball card bloggers seem to go nuts for them.

JediJeff, over at 2x3 Heroes, offered cards from a few of his mini collections as part of his 'Tis The Season annual giveaway last year. As in 2015, it's taken me more than a few months to get the related post up, but at least there are lots of great cards to pick from.

Trevor Hoffman's career was just getting off the ground in 1995, on his way to 601 career saves. He was the all-time leader for a few years until Mariano Rivera caught up. He was just a few votes shy of being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer this year, but he should make it after another vote or two.

His legendary performance as a closer makes it all the more unusual to see him bunting on this 1995 UD Collector's Choice Special Edition card, as usually only the starters have to suffer through a couple plate appearances. Unless a starter is chased from a game early, or the game has dragged far into the double-digit innings, most managers just stick a pinch hitter in there when a reliever is due up, maybe coinciding with a double switch.

I collected this set as a kid, and it was right up there with 1994 Fleer Ultra and Topps Gold parallels as one of my favorite sets. Even with all the colored borders that Topps uses, I can't recall one quite this shade of blue, other than maybe the 2003 Topps base set. But that didn't have a fancy blue foil stamp on it.

1995 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #60 Brian McRae
Brian McRae, son of fellow Royal player and manager Hal McRae, doesn't have quite the right bunting form. The photographer probably captured a split second in which Brian was repositioning his hands. But this card has a fancy foil stamp too, signifying that it's a Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion parallel. These have shown up here before, and as I didn't buy much 1995 Ultra, the Gold Medallion cards might be coming close to rivaling the count of base cards I have from that set.

1999 UD Ionix #60 Jose Cruz Jr.
Along with 1996 Stadium Club, 1995 Ultra was one of the last products I remember buying before getting away from baseball cards for a while. Had I stayed with it longer, cards like UD Ionix might not seem so alien to me. There is a lot going on with this design, and some of the elements are raised. The dot pattern in the background reminds me of...something. Maybe 2013 Finest? And if you look closely enough you might even spot the player's name and team.

I never liked this look of Blue Jays uniforms. I'm glad they decided to return to their more traditional logo and lettering. Then again, the regular Jays jerseys on a card like this wouldn't work either. So it's all for the best, I suppose.

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #34 Jim Rivera
1954 Topps Archives took a classic and gave it a more modern treatment. It has a glossy coating, as nearly everything had in 1994. But they also scaled it down to a standard size, as the original '54s were slightly larger, roughly as big as a 1989 Bowman card, or one from the Topps Big series. They also added a top border, something not found on the originals due the way they were laid out on the sheet.

According to the back, it turns out that Jim Rivera was quite the base stealer and a "speedster", so it makes sense that he'd be pictured bunting on the first Topps set containing action photos. I don't know the pre-war sets very well, but I'd wager that the original is the first card to contain an actual photograph of a player bunting. It might be posed, but this very card could have kicked off one of the top mini-collection subjects in the hobby today.

1993 Fleer Ultra #310 Otis Nixon
Otis Nixon, the Braves' main leadoff guy in the early '90s, shows up a lot on these bunting cards. He's clearly a switch hitter because of the helmet with ear flaps on both sides. Juan Pierre used to wear one, but you don't really see these much any more at the Major League level. I guess teams are starting to spring for two batting helmets with a single ear flap for their switch hitters. After all, what's a few hundred bucks when the player is probably making seven figures?

I used to buy packs of 1993 Ultra when it was on the shelves, even though it was a bit pricey. Still, thanks to that early exposure, I'm one of those rare types that can tell 1993 Ultra apart from 1992. And I always liked the way Fleer's card numbers matched each team's players alphabetically. It makes for quick organizing after you've ensured the set is complete.

1993 Donruss #262 Otis Nixon
Another Nixon card, this time in his home jersey, further illustrates his versatility. He's hitting from the right side of the plate in this one, and even though he's a step further away from first base, it looks like he's already got a running start.

1991 Upper Deck #91 Tom Pagnozzi
I don't know exactly what's happening here, but this is one of the most awkward bunts I've ever seen. It might be a situation where he must put the ball in play because there's a suicide squeeze on. But that's an extraordinarily rare play, and it looks like he just fouled it off anyway. Why you wouldn't let this one go for a ball instead of chasing it like a hockey face-off is beyond me. But this is why we like these bunting cards, isn't it?

2002 Donruss Originals #276 Bernie Williams 86
Bunting is more of a National League thing, at least in the designated-hitter era. So it's odd to see a consistent contact hitter in the AL square up to bunt. And even though Williams is a switch hitter (and a fine musician), the Yankees clearly have separate helmets for left-handed and right-handed hitting. Winning four World Series in five years will get you that kind of a perk.

For this 2002 set, Donruss took some of their most well-known sets from the '80s and reused the designs for a 425-card set. I have a few of these, including Todd Helton's card, but I don't see them too often. I'm sure that they get mixed in with cards from the actual year, and you have to have an eagle eye to spot them if you're leafing through a discount box with other Donruss cards you've seen countless times. They feel a little different, and the print quality is significantly better, but if you don't know what you're looking for, you might just flip right past it.

2008 Upper Deck #118 Omar Vizquel
Finally, Jeff threw in a single card from another of his mini-collection offerings, the double play. As a middle infielder myself during my two short years of little league, I have a certain appreciation for these cards. And like we saw with Tulowitzki's 2012 Topps Mini, they offer a great opportunity for cameos (also a mini-collection topic). Orlando Hudson of the Diamondbacks is trying to take out veteran Omar Vizquel, a real NL West showdown.

Vizquel played until the age of 45, and though you wouldn't expect it, he got over 2,800 hits in his long career. If his production hadn't trailed off in his later years, this unassuming middle infielder could have been a member of the exclusive 3,000-hit club, a club which Ichiro is only days away from joining. I guess it's partially because Vizquel played for so long, but he could still hit. I looked up Jamie Moyer's career stats, and he got 269 wins in his 25-year career, a bit short of that magic 300 mark. So these milestones are within reach if you just keep plugging away.

One last thing I'll point out is that Vizquel has a commemorative patch on his right sleeve, marking the year that San Francisco hosted the All-Star Game. He has eye black on, there is an advertisement on the outfield wall, and the cameo is of a division rival.

Any of those topics can start a mini collection, if you're willing to look hard enough. Hoffman's wearing a commemorative patch, Cruz, Nixon, and maybe Hudson have double-eared batting helmets, Nixon's Fleer Ultra card is in Wrigley Field. He has flip-down sunglasses on the back of the Donruss card, and Pagnozzi is wearing his catcher's gear on the back of his.

The possibilities are endless.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Trading Post #72: Off Hiatus Baseball Cards

This marks the second time that Tony at Off Hiatus Baseball Cards has sent me a trade (supertrade?), and based on what I got from him last time, he clearly has a fondness for Topps Minis.

2012 Topps Mini #219 Jordan Pacheco (RC)
I got a few 2013s in our previous trade, and now I get to add to my 2012 collection. Jordan Pacheco, one of the Rockies' homegrown players, was one of a crop of exciting young stars the Rockies had a few years ago. He was released in 2014 and is now with the Reds, but as Todd Helton's retirement neared, Pacheco and Josh Rutledge were both candidates to take over at first base.

The Rockies are on the road in this one. Possibly they're in San Francisco, based on the spot of orange on the fan's hat. But his runny eye black indicates this is later in the game on a hot day, and a good illustration of Pacheco's hustle.

2012 Topps Mini #154 Ty Wigginton
Ty Wigginton only spent a year with the Rockies, holding down the hot corner until Arenado could take over a couple years later. Wigginton was a journeyman, playing with eight teams in his twelve-year career. He played for Tampa Bay when they were still known as the Devil Rays in 2006 and 2007. A year after Wigginton's departure, they dropped the "Devil" and just became the Rays, launching themselves into the World Series that very same season. They lost to the Phillies, but it marked the second straight season in which an expansion team won their first and so far only pennant. Of course, the Rockies were the team do to it the year prior. But both the Rays and Rockies are still chasing their first championship.

Also, whenever I see "TBD" as the team abbreviation on Baseball Reference, I'm always thrown off for a second until I remember they're referring to the "Devil Rays," and not that his stats from a decade ago are "To Be Determined."

2012 Topps Mini #140 Troy Tulowitzki
Troy Tulowitzki is a common fixture around here, and he got a great Coors Field card in 2012 Topps, acrobatically turning two, and we even get a Mark Kotsay cameo, who was then on the Milwaukee Brewers. Like Pacheco, Tulowitzki is sporting some eye black, but his is in pristine shape.

I tried dating this card, likely to a four-game set just after the 2011 All-Star Break. But Mark Kotsay mostly came off the bench in that series, and the only possible candidate seems to be a weird fielder's choice on July 14th, 2011. The play doesn't seem to describe this photograph just right, but I can't find any other candidate play that places Mark Kotsay anywhere near second.

2012 Topps Mini Gold #431 Guillermo Moscoso /61
I have precisely zero recollection of Guillermo Moscoso. He was a Rockie for 2012 only, mostly in middle relief, though he did start three games. He was out of baseball a year later, but he was around long enough to get a card in a Topps base set, impressive for a Rockies pitcher with minimal name recognition.

Topps Mini parallels the main set, and that means he gets a gold parallel, numbered to just 61 copies in this fairly scarce set. This Venezuelan originally came up in the Tigers organization, but only appeared in the Majors for teams in either the AL West or NL West. He managed to get two hits in his career, both as a Rockie. One of them was even a double.

I guess he was inspired by Todd Helton.

2014 Donruss #55 Michael Cuddyer
That brings us to the second set included in this trade, 2014 Donruss. Former Twin Michael Cuddyer looks to be playing in San Francisco as well, judging again by the orange logo on a spectator's cap. Technically that's a logo, Panini. I guess it's so out of focus that it's not easily recognizable, or could potentially be confused with an Orioles cap.

Cuddyer spent three years as a Rockie from 2012-2014, before playing one final year as a Met. "Cuddy", as the Rockies TV guys liked to call him, had some of his best seasons as a Rockie, even winning the NL batting title in 2013, the same year he had his second of two All-Star appearances. I can't quite recall, but it's very likely that I sent my 35 votes his way that year.

2014 Donruss #29 Troy Tulowitzki DK
If it's Donruss, that means Diamond Kings are likely to be lurking nearby. The 2014 set pops up here on occasion, but this is the first time I've used a Rockie from that set for a post. Diamond Kings from 2014 are part of the base set, although they're short-printed. Perhaps no one really cares, since Panini's resurrection of Donruss doesn't seem to be high on anyone's favorite list, but they're common enough where I've gotten at least two via trade.

Two I've blogged about, that is. All these trades throughout my blogging career have just been going into a nearly-full 5,000-count box with little organization. There are probably more in there.

Today's Diamond Kings are a bit different from the overproduction era. Other than the short-print thing, they aren't painted anymore, though they still have sort of a painted look. Early Diamond King subsets were 26 cards at the beginning of the set (plus a checklist for card #27), but the subset has ballooned to 30 cards to coincide with two rounds of expansion.

I wouldn't be opposed to a couple more teams, perhaps to match the 32 teams in the NFL. The NHL and NBA, like Major League Baseball, also have 30 teams, albeit with a much different playoff and division structure.

Where else would such a team go? I can think of a few candidates. Maybe a booming tech hub like San Jose, Portland, or Austin. I wouldn't be opposed to Canada getting a team back. Maybe a return to Montreal, or even another team in the west in Vancouver. As diverse as baseball is, it might even make sense to expand into Latin America, such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, or even (gasp!) Cuba.

Wouldn't that be something?

2009 O-Pee-Chee #354 Manny Corpas
Panama, where Manny Corpas hails from (along with countryman Mariano Rivera), is probably a bit far away to be a realistic candidate for expansion. But players from all over the world come to play in the Majors, including this occasional closer, who is looking quite alone out there on the mound. Unlike Moscoso, I do remember Manny Corpas, who spent almost his whole career with the Rockies, other than a one-year stint with the Cubbies.

The Cubs bullpen is certainly in the news today, as they traded a handful of prospects to the Yankees for fire-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman's fastballs regularly push 105 mph, and MLB had to install a "Chapman Filter" on the fastest-pitches-of-the-season page just to be able to show anyone besides him on the list. Turning that filter on pretty much just displays pitches from a Braves rookie named Mauricio Cabrera, who has appeared in all of twelve games in the Majors.

Amazingly, Chapman has avoided Tommy John surgery, despite his superhuman fastball. And according to an interesting thought experiment, he could theoretically throw a baseball fourteen giraffes high.

Corpas never threw that hard, but he played at the right time to get a card in one of Upper Deck's final throwback efforts, the well-loved 2009 O-Pee-Chee.

2009 O-Pee-Chee Black #596 Dexter Fowler
So did Dexter Fowler, then a rookie, now a Cub who has a real shot at a World Series championship this year, especially with Mr. 105-mph now closing out games in the Windy City. This is a one-per-pack Black parallel, and I definitely prefer these to the white-bordered base cards.

The Black parallels have quite a history, as UD's original idea for the one-per-pack parallel was a card styled nearly identically to 1971 Topps. Topps didn't like that one bit, and successfully sued for an injunction. UD complied and just printed up these black parallels, still a nod to 1971 Topps, but not a direct copy. It was the beginning of the end for Upper Deck, who lost their MLB license the following year and ended up in more legal hot water.

It's an interesting set to get from Tony, who happens to be a lawyer. But he's also a SuperTrader, finding some sets you don't see every day.

I'll note that none of the players in this post are currently with the Rockies. Most are retired by now, but a few are still swinging bats around the league. They've cleared the way for the farm system, as longtime prospect David Dahl finally got the call-up tonight at Baltimore, getting a hit and scoring a run in his first Major League game. When you add that to Jon Gray, who settles down very well after the first inning, star rookie Trevor Story who currently leads the NL in home runs, and a talented prospect or two from the Tulowitzki trade, it looks like the Rockies have some promising years ahead.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Now or Never

Topps has taken Upper Deck's 2008 Documentary set to a whole new level. That 5,000-card set (almost) contains two cards for every game that occurred that season, one for each team. I went to a few games that season, and I'm sort of on the lookout for UD Documentary cards from at least one of those games. I always thought it would be cool to have a baseball card from a game I attended. Other than maybe a handful of 2007 World Series Game 3 highlight cards, I don't know for a fact that I have any.

Fortunately, Topps debuted a new concept this year called Topps Now. While it doesn't cover every single game, Topps is selecting three or four highlights from the previous day's games and offering them up on a print-to-order basis. I've been seeing them all over the Cardsphere throughout the season, but I just recently ordered my first one.

I caught a couple games when the Phillies were in town just before the All-Star Break, which I mentioned two posts ago. The highlight of the first game was Trevor Story and his two home runs, a highlight that showed up on a Topps Now card the next day. Still wanting to fill that gap of a card of a game I attended, I plunked down my electronic $10 and ordered one up.

2016 Topps Now #226 Trevor Story /1041
Though it's not serial numbered, the Topps website lists a stated print run of 1,041, which seems to be on the high end for Topps Now. Most of these cards just have a few hundred copies. And yes, $10 is a bit steep for a single card, but at least there's free shipping. In fact, it's probably one of the more expensive single cards in my entire collection.

And it's definitely the newest.

Trevor Story is quickly earning his place in the hearts of Rockies fans, including his performance last night, where he mashed another two home runs, good enough for another Topps Now card, which is for sale as I write this.

I missed that game, but I did go to two others in the past week in which Story added to his home run count, now up to 26. Tuesday night was against the Rays, and the only run the Rockies managed to put on the board after a two-hour rain delay was Story's solo shot in the bottom of the 9th. He got another one on Friday night against the Braves, which ended up being the game-winning RBI after the Rockies held on in a very shaky save situation.

Trevor's storybook season (pun intended) shows no signs of letting up. He's still got darn near half the season left, and has already eclipsed Troy Tulowitzki's previous record of 24 for an NL rookie shortstop. Five four more and he'll pass Nomar. A total of 39 will get him the NL rookie record all by himself regardless of position, and if he has another week like he did when the season opened, he could challenge Mark McGwire for the all-time rookie HR record.

I like this Topps Now concept quite a bit. The cards look and feel great, and they're fully glossy on both sides. The shipping time is a bit of a drawback, but the marketing opportunity here is huge. They could start running ads at the stadium as the game progresses and offer up a coupon code if you scan your ticket stub or something. Or hand out little redemption cards to fans as they exit the stadium. Just imagine if they started putting relics on these. I think the Topps Now concept is just in its infancy!

Another recent addition to my collection came from my mom when we entertained my family for the Home Run Derby, an annual tradition. She was at a local thrift store and remembered my 1988 Donruss post, the one where I wrapped up with Stan Musial's puzzle cards.

1988 Donruss #PUZ Stan Musial (Puzzle Card)
Well, she didn't find any of the full-size pieces, but she did run across a half-dozen examples of his card-sized 15-piece puzzle found in Donruss' Baseball's Best and The Rookies sets from 1988. It's in the same style as that Roberto Clemente puzzle that Julie from A Cracked Bat sent from my Eight Men Out wishlist.

Even though this is a standard-sized 2.5"x3.5" card, I'd go so far as to call this a mini. It's scaled way down from the full-sized Stan Musial puzzle, and contains less than a quarter the pieces. It's still big enough to read his key career stats, including his .331 lifetime batting average, 3 MVP awards, and an astonishing 24 All-Star games.

I do have a few extra copies of this card now, so if you'd like me to set one aside for you, let me know!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Trading Post #71: garvey cey russell lopes

Regular baseball games have gotten back underway following the All-Star Break, and the Rockies have already won their first series in the second half. Last night they completed their first win while trailing after seven innings this year, thanks to lots of heads-up baserunning by Trevor Story, and even more defensive blunders by the worst-record-in-baseball Braves.

Perhaps not an incredible accomplishment, but still, these are games the Rockies should be winning. They dropped Sunday afternoon's contest 1-0, but still won the series.

2000 Fleer Tradition Update #U7 Brent Mayne SH
Of course, those 1-0 games have a high potential to go to extra innings, especially when the lone run comes on a walkoff hit. Brent Mayne, a catcher, once found himself called upon to pitch in an extra-innings game, and even earned the win, thus getting a place in this Fleer Tradition Season Highlights subset. The game is still talked about in Rockies fan circles, and is occasionally aired in condensed form on the Rockies' cable channel.

It goes to show how low the bar is to be remembered on the mound for the Rockies. Jamie Moyer and Brent Mayne are among the more famous Rockies pitchers, the former being the oldest pitcher to earn a win in baseball history, the latter not even being a pitcher.

Anyway, this was from a stack of cards sent by garvey cey russell lopes (gcrl), the well-known Dodger blog titled and written in the broken-shift-key style of e.e. cummings. He sent over a nice variety of cards earlier this year, and not just Rockies, as you'll see later.

2016 Bowman Prospects #BP121 Jeff Hoffman
With all this talk of Troy Tulowitzki, it's only right that I examine the other side of the trade a bit more. I've talked plenty about Jose Reyes, who is now back with the Mets. But the Rockies also got a few pitching prospects, the most promising being Jeff Hoffman, pictured on this 2016 Bowman card. Hoffman is still in the minors, but appeared in the All Star Futures game last week and performed well.

2016 Bowman #31 Charlie Blackmon
Bowman's still keeping the same practice of making the base and prospect cards just a bit different. That's part of why I almost never know what year of Bowman I'm looking at—there are basically twice as many sets as there are years. Still, Bowman Prospects is technically an insert set, so I guess it sort of makes sense in that twisted form of Bowman logic.

At least it doesn't have a random "Chrome" logo like David Dahl's card did last year. What it does have is center fielder Charlie Blackmon underneath a fly ball in left-center at Coors, the deepest part of the ballpark. The design of this card looks a lot like a graphic you'd see on MLB Network or ESPN, so if that's what they were going for, I'd say they nailed it.

1998 Pacific Omega #80 Ellis Burks
Pacific, that rascally sort-of-oddball company, was definitely going for a baseball theme here. There are supposed to be three photos, but I wonder if this card may have been misprinted a bit, since the foil area on the right has very little detail, at least when you look at it. It's hard to say, though, since the few other cards I have from this set look about the same. It's just that the scan shows more detail, and we all know how hard it is to scan shiny cards.

2002 UD Piece of History #89 Todd Helton
A bit more horizontal goodness, this time from Upper Deck. 2016 is the third season since Todd Helton's retirement, and his cards are starting to become fewer and further between as newer product hits the market. There are lots of exciting young players to carry the torch, but Helton is still missed, as is his prodigious production of doubles. At least I can get a Helton Burger at his eponymous burger stand behind the left field bleachers.

In a few years, we'll start to hear some Hall of Fame talk around Helton. His 592 career doubles, good for 18th all time, should help his case. With very few exceptions, virtually everyone above him is in the Hall of Fame, save for a couple active players, Luis Gonzalez, and the obvious snubs of Pete Rose and Barry Bonds.

The Rockies have yet to send someone to the Hall, or even sign someone who ended up going. Whether they used steroids or not, both Larry Walker and Todd Helton are linked to rumors of steroid use, though nothing definitive like Bonds and McGwire. Plus they have the "Coors Field effect" to contend with, even though Walker played nearly half of his career elsewhere. With the deliberate exclusion of known and even rumored PED users from Cooperstown, it may still be a while before a Rockie gets in, though Mike Piazza's nearing induction is a promising step in the right direction.

2007 Donruss Elite Extra Edition Signature Turn of the Century #9 Brian Rike /500
Of course, for every Hall-of-Famer, there are countless players who never make it to the big leagues. Lots of them can be found in sets like Bowman and Donruss Elite, sometimes even with an autograph attached. That's the case for Brian Rike, a Rockies draft pick that didn't progress past Double-A. He went in the 2007 draft, just a few spots above a guy named Giancarlo Stanton. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he just hit a Roger Maris worth of home runs on his way to winning Monday's Home Run Derby.

Can't win them all.

2003 Sweet Spot #230 Clint Barmes SB P2 (RC) /1200
Clint Barmes had a few good seasons with the Rockies, and played for various NL teams until his retirement last year. For his rookie season, he got this manufactured patch relic, serial numbered to 1,200. This is in the running for the thickest card in my collection, and it's got quite a bit of heft to it. Coincidentally, Barmes played in just short of 1,200 career games, and game number 333 would have been right in the middle of the 2008 season. A bit of Baseball Referencing pinpoints his 333rd game to July 29th, 2008 against the Pirates, the team he'd spend the second-longest with after the Rockies.

2001 Topps Gold #761 Colorado Rockies TC /2001
gcrl was kind enough to throw in a Rockies team card from 2001 Topps Gold, back when the serial numbers were gold instead of the black they use now. Commemorating the 2000 season, this card also mentions Brent Mayne's win from the dugout, plus Todd Helton taking a .400 batting average into late August. The team barely squeaked over .500, winning 82 games but still finishing in fourth place.

1993 Topps Gold #825 Mike Walker (UER)
That about does it for the Rockies cards, but the fun doesn't stop there! gcrl took a look at my Eight Men Out list and sent a record-setting three cards from it! Now, I'll be honest. I know pretty much nothing about Mike Walker, other than that he played for the Mariners. He was very briefly in the rotation for Seattle, and in fact didn't play in the Majors beyond 1992. In fact, this card has a slight error on it, as the last row of stats on the back say his time with the Mariners was in 1993, rather than the correct year of 1992.

But what is really interesting about this card is that it only exists as a Topps Gold card. If you happen to recall the size of the 1993 Topps set, it's a huge 825 cards, the largest in Topps Flagship history, except when they numbered the 1981 Traded set sequentially, rather than starting back at 1 and adding a T.

Anyway, I busted a fair bit of 1993 Topps in my younger days, and I always wondered why I never found a Topps Gold checklist. As it turns out, Topps picked six players that didn't make it into that giant set and gave them Gold cards, rather than printing gold-parallel checklists. Mike Walker had one of those cards.

1993 Topps Gold #394 Bernardo Brito
And Bernardo Brito had another. Brito also had a brief time in the Majors, then bounced around the minors and Japanese leagues for a while. Keith Brown of the Reds was yet another checklist substitution, a card I pulled in around 1993, which first made me aware of these non-checklists.  As it turns out, Topps did the same thing in both 1992 and 1994, though I didn't realize it until I saw a '94 card on Wrigley Roster Jenga just a few days ago. Topps printed Gold sets from 1992 through 1994, so I'm not sure why I thought the practice was exclusive to 1993. Current Topps sets don't make these changes; we just have a dozen colored parallels of checklists now, but at least they're also season highlight cards.

Walker and Brito were both on my Eight Men Out list in an effort to snag a few more of these relatively rare cards, but that wasn't the last from gcrl!

1994 Fleer Update #U110 Karl Rhodes
Several years ago, I bought a couple medium-sized Priority Mail boxes on eBay full of assorted cards. I got gobs of duplicates from 2005 Topps Update in one, which is why so many of my trading partners see cards from that set as filler. Another yielded a complete set of 1993 Topps Traded, minus the Helton Rookie, a card I later purchased from my favorite card show dealer. And in one of those boxes came a near-complete set of 1994 Fleer Update, missing only this card of Karl Rhodes, another Eight Men Out need.

The Helton rookie I can understand. In fact, the star rookies are often missing from various Traded and Rookies sets I've purchased as new from various sources. Griffeys, Madduxes, Palmieros have all been missing. But why Karl Rhodes (aka Tuffy) would be the lone card missing is beyond me. Perhaps a young Cubs fan set it aside for an autograph session, or it just got lost in the shuffle somewhere. But that's another complete set I can put on my blog tab, the last thing Fleer would do before they all dropped acid and gave us the 1995 set.

Hey, what else is there to do when there's no World Series?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Break Time!

The All-Star Break is upon us.

It's billed as the halfway point of the season, but in reality it's about a week or so past that. The Rockies have predictably begun their July slide, winning only three of their last seven, though somehow they've managed to hold onto third place. They're an even .500 in the four games I've attended this year, and I witnessed them trade blowouts with the Phillies this weekend, stopping by Coors Field twice over a four-game set to enter the Break. Thursday's 11-2 win was plenty of fun to watch, with Trevor Story hitting two home runs, including one monster to deep left field, almost to the concourse.

Sunday's game was much more in the Phillies' favor. The Rox dropped the contest 10-3, despite Carlos Gonzalez crushing one to the third deck in right-center. I've seen him hit more than a few that direction this year, though none quite as far as that. I hope it bodes well for his appearance in tonight's Home Run Derby, where he's matched against the defending champion, Todd Frazier. Like Cincinnati last year, this year's home crowd in San Diego also has a hometown participant to root for in Wil Myers.

This year's field is heavily weighted toward the NL West, which is sending three participantsMyers, CarGo, and Corey Seager. The other five divisions have one representative each. Fortunately for the Derby, Petco Park is less of a pitcher's park than it used to be, which may not matter much anyway with batting practice pitches.

2016 Topps Archives #104 Evan Longoria
In addition to the Home Run Derby selection, the All-Star Final Vote has been completed. Evan Longoria finished fifth out of five in the American League final balloting. Personally, I gave my AL votes to Ian Kinsler, though he finished third to Michael Saunders. Of course, my NL votes went to Trevor Story, not only because he's a Rockie, but because he had quite a day on Thursday when Final Vote balloting was underway. Sadly, he finished third to Brandon Belt, but if his rookie season is any indication, he'll have plenty of other chances to play in the Midsummer Classic.

2016 Topps Archives #57 Charlie Blackmon
Charlie Blackmon appeared in 2014's All-Star Game, going 0-for-2. Arenado and CarGo are the lone Rockie representatives this year, but Blackmon's made enough of a name for himself (or has a good enough beard) to earn representation in 2016 Topps Archives.

Usually it doesn't take this long for me to start talking about the cards, but I've seen a lot of baseball in person this weekend, which is my idea of a great summer. Blackmon gets the 1953 Topps treatment, one of three classic designs found in 2016 Archives, along with the 1979 design used for Longoria's card, and another you'll see later.

Longoria, by the way, was one of the players the Rockies passed over in the 2006 Draft, along with Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and a few other now-obvious selections. The Rockies did draft Blackmon two years later, though this 1953-style card doesn't provide that level of detail.

2016 Topps Archives #130 Tom Seaver
I haven't bought much 2016 product yet, and when I took this trip to Target, I was on the hunt for the recently released Stadium Club set. There was none to be found, so I ended up with this pack of Topps Archives instead. It wasn't my first choice, but I consistently gravitate toward this set, and the distinctive matte finish on the cards still remains.

This card of Tom Seaver represents a common gripe about Topps Archives. From 1977 through 1982, Tom Terrific pitched for the Reds, yet he is shown as a Met on this 1979 design. There are lots of factors going on here, since he played for several teams throughout his career, and Topps only chose three set designs for the base set this year. He's probably most well-remembered as a Met, the team he played for when he won his only World Series championship in 1969.

I suppose we're a fickle bunch, us card collectors. But let's be honest here; Evan Longoria wasn't even born in 1979. And Charlie Blackmon certainly wasn't born in 1953. His parents might not even have been. But here we are, complaining about Tom Seaver appearing as a Met on the '79 design instead of as a Red. Which is fine with me. Isn't the whole point of this set to see players as they weren't pictured?

2016 Topps Archives #12 Robin Yount
I guess franchise players like Robin Yount take that debate out of the equation. He earned his way into the 3,000 hit club with one team, and though he never won a World Series, he was the face of the Brewers from almost their inception until 1993, a few years before they switched leagues.

Like Yount, quite a few players now in the Hall of Fame hung up the spikes in 1993, including Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, and George Brett. Other than the inaugural ballot in 1936, 1999 marked the first time that at least three players were elected on their first ballot in the same year. Fisk needed a second ballot to get in, but Yount, Ryan, and Brett all got in during their first year of eligibility. That's becoming less rare, as both 2014 and 2015 each saw three first-ballot players enshrined in Cooperstown, primarily the Braves' 1990s rotation.

2016 Topps Archives '85 Father/Son #FS-GG Ken Griffey Jr. / Ken Griffey Sr.
Ken Griffey, Jr., along with Mike Piazza, are the newest members of the Hall of Fame. Junior outshined his dad in that department, but still got a nice 1985-themed Father/Son card in this seven-card insert set. Both Griffeys hail from Donora, Penn., which is worth keeping in mind for a later card in this post. This card is new enough to reference Ken Jr.'s induction to the Hall, while also serving as a checklist of sorts, providing the card number of each man's rookie card.

2016 Topps Archives #279 Josh Donaldson
After 1953 and 1979, the third set represented in Archives this year is 1991, one of the first sets I ever collected. They only made minor changes to the design, just slightly modifying the team logos in the lower right (never really noticed that chevron before), and changing the anniversary counter in the upper left from 40 to 65. The watermark logo on the back is changed in the same way, but they got the brick red color just about perfect.

Twenty-five years really zips by. Seeing a set you collected as a kid in an Archives set is the baseball card equivalent of hearing songs you listened to in high school on the Oldies station. Still, these 1991 cards might be my favorite ones yet to appear in any Archives set.

2016 Topps Archives #271 Ted Williams
Ted Williams, the last player to hit over .400, gets a card in the 1991 style as well. These are sort of like sunset cards, in that we get complete career statistics on the back. Williams played from 1939-1960, and that .406 mark appeared in only his third season. It is pretty cool to see a stat like that on such a recent card, especially since the industry hasn't ever had the opportunity to feature a current .400 season on the back of a post-war card.

In case you were wondering, Williams went 185-for-456 in 1941. Interestingly, he had exactly one more hit in the following season, but somehow worked in 66 more at-bats, good for a still-awesome .356. Those early-'40s years helped him on his way to a .344 lifetime average, which stands as sixth-best in baseball history.

I find it interesting that Topps chose the 1991 design for The Splendid Splinter, as Williams started up his own card company in 1993, though he was a bit late to the party, closing up shop during the strike of 1994 after just two sets.

2016 Topps Archives #282 Lou Brock
I pulled a couple other 1991 cards, and though you wouldn't know it so far, this turned out to be a bit of a Cardinals hot pack. Lou Brock joins a long list of Hall-of-Famers, and while I have few cards from his era, this photograph is new to me.

2016 Topps Archives Blue #61 Kolten Wong /199
This is the only parallel I pulled from the 18-card pack, and while I like Kolten Wong as much as the next guy, he hasn't made as much of a name for himself yet as most others in this pack. Granted, there are some real superstars here, but a blue-bordered parallel numbered to 199 is a hit no matter how you slice it.

2016 Topps Archives #141 Stan Musial
The Cardinals hits wrap up with this Stan Musial. It's just a base card, but it might be my favorite one in the whole pack. I absolutely love that Popeye expression he's wearing, as the legendary lefty is definitely staring something down. The old Topps logo appears, like it does on the rest of the '79s, and the back of the card even has a trivia question on it.

Your category is Baseball Dates. The question is, "What happened on June 2nd, 1925?"

Nothing in particular jumps out at me, but the upside-down answer gives almost any baseball fan more than enough information. That was the day "Lou Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp—and the rest is history."

Lou Gehrig appeared in last year's Archives set on a 1983 design, and he's in 2016's set on the same 1979 design as Musial. Not sure if there's a connection there in how Topps chose its trivia questions, but a reference to Gehrig's amazing streak of 2,130 consecutive games played on a card of the 1988 Donruss Puzzle guy from Donora, Penn. shows how awesome this set is. When you look closely at a pack like this, it's not even a disappointment that Target was out of Stadium Club.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Most Overproduced Set Ever. Probably.

When you hear the word "overproduction", or its more derogatory cousin "junk wax", what do you think of?

Those words probably conjure up images of sets like 1991 Donruss, maybe 1990 Topps, or perhaps one of the earlier Upper Deck sets. It could be one of the color bombs like 1991 Fleer. 1987 Topps is a strong candidate, but it's just too iconic to be lumped in with some of the others. Maybe you know the sets from that era so well that the only one it doesn't make you think of is 1990 Leaf.

But for me, I think the best example is 1988 Donruss, also one of the worst-collated sets ever. Maybe one day I'll break down and buy the factory set, but I feel like I've been on a perpetual quest to complete it since I was a kid.

On the same day I drove that Ferrari, I stopped by the Colorado Mills mall afterwards. Inside a sports memorabilia shop filled with autographed bats, jerseys, and other things of that nature, I found a box partially filled with sealed packs priced at a buck apiece. I selected the five packs from 1988 Donruss, swiped my card, and instantly added to my collection.

As an aside, what's the proper slang equivalent for "swiping" a chip card? "Inserting?" Too technical. "Chipping?" Maybe. We'll probably still be "swiping" our chip cards in much the same way we "dial" an iPhone or "roll down" a power window. Or even "text" over iMessage, which isn't entirely correct.

Let's get to the cards.

1988 Donruss #309 Darren Daulton
If nothing else, opening up some overproduction packs gives you a look at some minor stars that haven't had cards in ages. Darren Daulton participated in the 1993 World Series, and had a pretty good season in 1992, earning a spot on the All-Star team and finishing sixth in MVP voting. "Dutch" was one of the Wild Bunch 1993 Phillies, coming up just a bit short that year, thanks to Joe Carter's walkoff home run in Game 6.

1988 Donruss #238 Bobby Bonilla
Bobby Bonilla, a six-time All-Star and near-MVP (second only to teammate Barry Bonds) ended up being a journeyman player later in his career, though he was a Marlin in 1997, winning his first and only World Series ring. But in recent years, he might be most famous for the financial deal he worked out with the Mets. As part of a deferred payment plan, the Mets will pay him about $1.2 million annually (every July 1st, in fact) until 2035, when Bonilla will be 72. The contract makes the Mets an annual laughingstock, but much has been written about how it's not as bad a deal as everyone makes it out to be.

And yes, Bernie Madoff indirectly had a hand in all that. Sort of isn't that surprising that the Mets re-signed Jose Reyes to a minor-league deal after the Rockies waived him.

1988 Donruss Bonus MVPs #BC-15 Kirby Puckett (SP)
Sadly, Kirby Puckett passed away about ten years ago. But he won two World Series, was elected to the All Star team every season besides his first two, and was a fan favorite in Minneapolis for quite a while. The MVP logo in the upper left signifies that this is an insert card, or what Donruss that year called "Bonus Cards". According to BaseballCardPedia, this card, from the second half of the Bonus Cards insert set, is very slightly harder to find than the first half. I'd have never thought a phrase like that would be said about 1988 Donruss, but apparently there are a handful of short prints out there.

Maybe those go for two cents instead of one.

Despite its alleged scarcity, this card is an example of the primary gripe I have with 1988 Donruss. It's dark. And yes, I do realize that Mr. Puckett is African American, but many of the photos in this set are quite underexposed.

1988 Donruss Bonus MVPs #BC-24 Will Clark (SP)
Camera flashes can only do so much. Depending on their power and a few other factors, they're pretty much useless beyond about thirty feet. And action shots in sports are not done with a flash. But photographing a guy under a helmet in direct sunlight just doesn't give you the best results. Another Bonus Card, this one of Will Clark, demonstrates this.

I didn't pull his card in these five packs, but one of the worst underexposures in the whole set can be found on Nelson Liriano's card #32. Flip through your stacks of '88; you'll see what I mean. And who doesn't have stacks of 1988 Donruss?

1988 Donruss #324 Rafael Palmeiro
Perhaps the most glaringly obvious thing about 1988 Donruss (and most 1988-ish sets) is that steroid use hadn't taken over the league. Maybe Jose Canseco, but that sort of goes without saying. Rafael Palmiero, one of the asteriskiest players with an asterisk, was a bit more on the Regular Human end of the athletic spectrum when this photo was taken, in sharp contrast to cards from later in his career.

1988 Donruss #1 Mark McGwire DK
Same goes for this Diamond Kings card of Mark McGwire. He looked a lot different during his home run chase of 1998, and not just because of the facial hair. But his rookie year was good enough to earn Card #1.

Dick Perez did what he could, but this still looks a touch dark to me. When it comes to Diamond Kings cards, the painting always looked creepy enough that I never really noticed the tiny action shot in the lower area. Even on a set like this you can still spot new things.

1988 Donruss #326 Barry Bonds
One can't bring up steroid use without mentioning Barry Bonds. For the longest time, he was my least favorite player in the league, but I did start warming up to him a little bit once his greatness became undeniable. And say what you will about his steroid use, he stood head and shoulders above the league when almost everyone else was using PEDs, too.

1988 Donruss #34 Roberto Alomar (RC)
1988 was almost 30 years ago. Players that are now in the Hall of Fame were once baby-faced rookies, or Rated Rookies if Donruss thought particularly highly of you. Alomar had no major league experience at this point, but went on to have a stellar career, even leading the league in sacrifice flies in 1999. Plus a slew of stolen bases, and even a couple hundred home runs.

Of course, the back of the card is sure to mention the rest of the Alomar family, father Sandy and brother Sandy, Jr.

1988 Donruss #657 Gregg Jefferies (RC)
Looking even younger is Gregg Jefferies, who had one of the hottest cards in the whole set. The 1988 price of this card could have paid for these packs twice over. It's slightly disappointing to know that it's worth pennies today, but there is something about having cards that were totally out of reach back then.

I still need to find a Griffey rookie, though. It's a glaring omission in my collection.

1988 Donruss #88 Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed is probably the least recognizable player thus far. It's been a lot of Hall of Famers, and a few more that should be in the Hall. But Expos cards are few and far between these days, plus Jeff Reed played behind the plate as a Rockie for several seasons in the late 1990s.

Still, pretty underexposed.

1988 Donruss #638 Bob Melvin
Mostly I've been featuring younger players, but in 1988 there were lots from the old guard still in the league. Melvin has spent the last decade or so as a manager for a few Western teams, including his current tenure as skipper of the A's. Melvin actually only had a few years' experience by 1988, but he had a relatively short career, and didn't play past 1994. He was one of numerous players whose career was ended by the strike.

1988 Donruss #401 Tommy John
Tommy John had been in the league since 1963, and was nearing the end of his career at the not-quite-Jamie-Moyer age of 45. He never won a World Series, as he always seemed to be on the wrong side of the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But of course he is known for the surgical procedure he underwent on his elbow in 1975 that now bears his name, and lesser known for the dubious distinction of being the only player to commit three errors on one play. Still, he came pretty close to 300 wins, and was an All Star in three different decades.

1988 Donruss #305 Bob Boone
Tommy John's career predated the Designated Hitter by quite a bit. I'm sure he got plenty of plate appearances, but I doubt he was the type to wear batting gloves. Melvin and Bob Boone above also don't use any fancy batting gloves, and it didn't seem to hurt anything. In addition to lots of underexposed shots, there are plenty of "bats resting on shoulders" shots. He might be in the on deck circle, but that's one of the most casual postures I've ever seen on a card.

Like the Alomars, the Boones are a longtime baseball family, in fact one of only four to have three generations in the Big Leagues. Ray Boone played as postwar baseball cards were becoming what we know today, Bob you see here, and sons Bret and Aaron played until quite recently. Aaron, of course, won the 2003 ALCS for the Yankees with a dramatic extra innings walkoff home run.

1988 Donruss #249 Paul Molitor
Even the great Paul Molitor can't escape 1988 Donruss. But he's a batting glove guy, apparently.

1988 Donruss #641 Stan Musial Puzzle
Donruss' big selling point were all the puzzle pieces. Every year, they'd pick another baseball legend and create a 27-card puzzle. Technically it's 63 pieces but I've heard of no one that's ever split each card up into its constituent three pieces. At least, I never have. They make enough of a mess of tiny paper shreds just taking them out of the border.

So we'd know what the final product looked like, Donruss always included a card showing the completely assembled puzzle. I've completed a few of them, but I'm still a few short on Stan Musial's 1988 puzzle, even after these five packs. I've seen this card a few times, but didn't quite notice the old-style black and red Cardinals logo before yellow crept its way in.

I have a bit of sorting to do on this set. I just have too many to keep it in binder pages anymore, so I'll probably be moving it to a box soon. But don't be surprised if a few 1988 puzzle pieces make it onto my Eight Men Out list so I can complete this beauty of Stan the Man.

And all that for a mere five bucks. I even found a few commons.