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.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought that Pagnozzi was bizarre. You can tell by the bat position there was no way he should be making contact with the pitch. It was shin high at best. But he did make contact with the ball.

    I wonder if the ball was really inside and it was more a defensive move to keep from getting plunked.