Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Trading Post #81: Bob Walk the Plank

Anytime something shows up from Matthew of Bob Walk The Plank, there are sure to be some hits inside. Autographs, relics, patches, mini batting helmets, there's really no telling just what surprises await.

Matt and I aren't engaged in an ever-escalating battle of tailor-made trade packages like he is with Jaybarkerfan, but we have exchanged cards a few times. My autograph collection wouldn't be what it is today without him, and the hits just keep on coming.

2015 Topps Tier One Acclaimed Autographs #AA-VC Vinny Castilla /399 (AU)

Topps Tier One is normally way out of my price range. It's comprised entirely of relics and autographs, not even offering a traditional "base" set. It's a set that's entirely meant for player and team collectors, leaving set collectors to select one of Topps' many other fine products. There isn't even an actual card "number" to be found, as they're all lettered.

This looks more like something Panini would put out, or maybe Pinnacle ages ago. There's lots of gold foil here, a serial number right on the front, and even a tiny spot in the lower left where Topps managed to squeeze his position. Castilla's autograph matches other examples in my collection, and also a 5x7 photo that I got at my local library as a kid. Rockies memorabilia was a great incentive to get kids like me to read, especially when Pizza Hut's Book It promotion was idle. Pizza Hut was smart. They managed to instill a lifetime love of both reading and pizza.

2007 Topps Highlights Autographs #HA-MH Matt Holliday (AU)
This Matt Holliday card is pretty clearly from 2007. The black border matches the general theme of the base set that year, even though the little filmstrip squares are missing from the corners. It's definitely thinner than Castilla's card, the autograph is on a sticker, and there's no mention of the print run. It's definitely aimed at a different market segment than Topps Tier One, but pulling this out of a box of 2007 Topps would be pretty surprising. You expect a card like Castilla's when you spend so much on a box of Tier One. Pulling a card like this when it's unexpected offers quite a thrill on its own. Just see that Dee Gordon printing plate I found in a blaster of Opening Day, or the David Wright autograph from a hobby box.

Or when it shows up in the mailbox with a bunch of Costco flyers, for that matter.

2016 Topps Strata Autographs Blue #SA-TM Tom Murphy /99 (AU)
We're back to the world of on-card autographs for this final card, and it's from Topps Strata, another high-end set that I'll never pay full price for. It has completely transcended the use of cardboard; like Topps High Tek, it's printed on a thick acetate.

Each part of the design has a varying level of transparency. The autograph square is completely clear, the various banners and lines are a bit darker, and Murphy's image itself is nearly opaque. For $80 a box, I'd hope it looks like this. And that's a pretty low print run, the scarcest card in this whole post, and among the scarcer in my whole collection.

Murphy is one of the exciting young Rockies that has already shown flashes of brilliance in the Majors. Late this season, he crushed a 482-foot home run to left field, one of the longest in Coors Field history. The Rockies have good depth behind the plate, and Murphy's presence on the roster likely means that will be the case for several years to come.

Bud Black, the new Rockies manager, has an interesting group of young players to work with. Hopefully he can lead a few more of them to being worthy of inclusion in a high-end set like Topps Strata or Tier One.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Trading Post #80: Baseball Every Night

Even though he's a newcomer to the Cardsphere, Peter at Baseball Every Night already has close to a hundred posts under his belt. He's had a running theme since last month called "A Shoebox of Baseball Cards", which he's broken up into posts by individual teams. Adam at Cardboard Clubhouse recommended me as a potential trading partner for the Rockies, and thus a new trading partnership was born.

Shoeboxes were a terrific way to store cards when I was younger. Between my parents, my sister, and myself, shoeboxes seemed to be in abundant supply. Binders and 9-pocket pages were pricey things for a kid on an allowance, and hobby supplies were lower on the list than the cards themselves. So into the shoeboxes they went, biding their time until a box of 250 pages appeared under the tree.

Anyway, I'm clearly not the only one that stored cards in shoeboxes circa 1995, and while these will end up in pages soon, a few of them deserve a spot on the blog first.

1995 Donruss #476 Bruce Ruffin
About a year ago, I wrote that Steve Reed still holds a top-ten spot in career wins for the Rockies. A season later, and that's still true. But to further illustrate the kind of turnover the pitching staff in Denver has experienced, the guy pictured above is #4 all-time in saves for the Rockies, with 60. And most of those came in strike-shortened years. Ruffin retired as a Rockie, but even then, closers didn't have quite the importance as they do now, so his name isn't nearly as recognizable as one of the Blake Street Bombers.

1995 Donruss obviously went too far with the foil, as this card is barely legible unless it's under just the right light, Even the Donruss logo itself is pretty tough to read. But I do like how he's specified as a left-handed pitcher. Most card companies just stick a "P" on there and call it a day. They could go with LHRP if they wanted to be really accurate, but that would turn into alphabet soup pretty quickly.

1994 Upper Deck #105 Roberto Mejia
Upper Deck began their long fascination with copper in 1994, and gave us a much more readable design than 1995 Donruss. Roberto Mejia filled in at second base on occasion from 1993 to 1995, and might not have made it to the big leagues at all without expansion. Two new teams means fifty new roster spots, or even eighty once you factor in the September roster expansions.

What I'll most remember him for is colliding with Andres Galarraga while chasing down a foul pop in July 1993. Galarraga ended up missing about a month after suffering a knee injury on that collision, putting his run at the batting title and a possible .400 average in jeopardy. Galarraga ended up winning with a season average of .370, beating none other than Tony Gwynn, the second place finisher.

I don't know whether this photo was taken before or after that incident, but he's clearly calling off another fielder here. Statistically speaking, it's probably afterwards, as the collision happened just a couple weeks after Mejia's debut. It's also possible to see that he wears his batting glove under his glove, which is exactly what I did in little league, just to be like the big boys.

1994 Score #229 Freddie Benavides
So did Freddie Benavides, who played shortstop for the Rockies in 1993 before Walt Weiss left the Marlins to become the first player to suit up for both expansion teams. Benavides is putting the tag down on an unknown base-stealing Cub, and that looks like a caught stealing to me! We have a stadium, an infrequent starter, an action play, and a season. Time to do some sleuthing.

Vinny Castilla was the regular shortstop in 1993, and Benavides appeared in relatively few games that year. He only played in Chicago three times, and only one of those games featured a runner caught stealing. That happened in the bottom of the 5th on July 17th, 1993. With Armando Reynoso on the mound, Cubs left fielder Derrick May tried stealing second on the first pitch of Rick Wilkins' at-bat. He was caught by Danny Sheaffer, which is just as well, since Wilkins smashed a home run later that at bat.

The Rockies still lost that game, but this play was definitely a success and prevented them from going deeper in the hole. And backing up Benavides (as is the 2B's job on this type of play), is none other than Roberto Mejia, appearing in only his third Major League game.

It was a Saturday game right in the middle of summer break. There's a fairly strong chance I saw this play unfold on TV. I should have kept a few of my scorecards from back then.

1993 Topps #774 Curtis Leskanic (RC)
Curtis Leskanic, one of the bigger characters to ever grace the Rockies pitcher's mound, broke into the majors in 1993 as part of the rotation. He was shifted to a bullpen role in later years, even closing for the Brewers for a couple seasons. But non-Rockies fans will probably remember him for his 1995 Collector's Choice card.

1993 Topps did a good job with horizontal cards, and he was one of many Rockies and Marlins to appear in posed shots in their new uniforms. Not that anyone really cares, but this is Leskanic's Rookie Card, and we only get his minor league stats and school history on the back. It turns out that he went to LSU, a school that many of us got a good look at on Thanksgiving night, as they squared off against Texas A&M concurrently with the Steelers and Colts.

Always good to have another game to flip to during commercials. My brother-in-law did an admirable job with the remote.

1993 Stadium Club #652 Armando Reynoso
Armando Reynoso has already been mentioned in this post, and here's his card from 1993 Stadium Club. I've seen this set more times than I can remember, and even opened a few boxes, but I don't recognize this card. It was a poorly-collated set, so while I may have a copy of this already, if I run across John Johnstone's or Domingo Martinez' cards again, I might scream.

1995 Fleer #324 Luis Aquino
The Rockies and Florida Marlins will always be inextricably linked. There are some obvious differences, like Florida's two World Series championships, but they came into the league at the same time, have unusual team colors, and their genesis coincided with the later days of the overproduction bubble. Peter thought the same, and combined the Rockies and Marlins in his post. I offered to take the extra Marlins off his hands when we set up the trade, primarily to get one card.

I can't help but wonder if Fleer's crazy 1995 set was somehow influenced by the purples and turquoises that suddenly burst onto the scene in Major League Baseball. This thermal camera design for the NL East they came up with naturally seems to have colors similar to Luis Aquino's hat. Plus they threw some of his personal stats on the front for good measure. Much more than that and it would be tough to tell the front from the back.

1994 Upper Deck Electric Diamond #233 Darrell Whitmore
This was the card I was after when I offered to take the Marlins. After Topps Gold, UD Electric Diamond parallels were high on my favorites list in 1994. A Giants catcher, probably Kirt Manwaring, makes a cameo, along with an umpire in a light blue shirt. Those shirts always make them look like mail carriers. That sparkly foil may have been an industry first, or perhaps right around the same time as red foil hit Diamond Kings cards.

On the back, the card offers an excellent view of the Marlins' inaugural 1993 logo. I've seen it countless times, but only now noticed a small "Carl" at the bottom of the logo.

1994 Upper Deck Electric Diamond #233 Darrell Whitmore (Reverse)
I did some research on this, and it was worn in honor of the late Carl Barger, President of the Marlins who died in 1992, just days after the expansion draft. The Marlins retired number 5 for Barger's favorite player, Joe DiMaggio, only to "unretire" it a few years ago when they became the Miami Marlins. Sure enough, that's on all the Marlins inaugural patches that year, including the John Johnstone card that I thought I knew so well.

1993 Stadium Club #734 John Johnstone (RC)
I know the Rockies' history pretty well, and quite a bit about storied franchises like the Yankees, but there are lots of surprises to be found in these expansion clubs. The Seattle Pilots' brief existence, for example, or this fairly obvious lettering on a patch that had eluded my attention up until twenty minutes ago.

Is there still no one in the Cardsphere interested in Marlins cards?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Trading Post #79: Waiting 'til Next Year

The Chicago Cubs are World Champions.

I think we're all finally at a point where that's starting to sink in after their historic roller coaster of a Game 7. I caught the first half of that game at my local Buffalo Wild Wings, and there were plenty of Cubs fans there. I headed home around the 6th inning just in time to see the Indians chip away at the lead, capped off by Rajai Davis' game-tying home run. He was flying out of the box, so it might have been a triple even if it were off the wall. But that game suddenly became an instant nail-biter after the Cubs had taken a lead in the first at-bat.

We all questioned how early and for how long Aroldis Chapman was on the mound, as most fans had for the final few games of the Series. But after a rain delay and some last-minute team building in the Cubs' clubhouse, the Cubs plated two runs in the 10th. Pinch runner Albert Almora Jr. had the presence of mind to put together some brilliant baserunning, Miguel Montero and eventual MVP Ben Zobrist both drove in runs, and even though Rajai Davis smacked an RBI in the bottom of the 10th to terrify Cubs fans again, it wasn't quite enough. The look on Kris Bryant's face said it all.

So I guess that means that my fellow Supertrader Tom at Waiting 'til Next Year can finally change his blog name.

Tom sent a bunch of trade packages out in October hoping to build up some good karma for his Cubbies. I was on the receiving end, and I guess it was enough for the Baseball Gods to smile on the Cubs in 2016.

2012 Topps Opening Day #39 Michael Cuddyer
There were a ton of great cards in here; as usual I had trouble narrowing it down. But it starts off with a bit of unfamiliarity.

I always enjoy Topps Opening Day, but somehow I largely missed it in 2012. It's certainly the one in the last five years I have the least familiarity with. The surfboard design scans much better than cards from the flagship set, as the foil used for the player's last name usually ends up disappearing against that black background. But it shows up fine here, and gives us one of the first looks at Michael Cuddyer in a Rockies uniform. He had just left the Twins at the end of 2011, and began a three-year stay in Denver. He'd go on to win the batting title in 2013, and he made his second All-Star appearance that same year.

He became a well-liked player in Denver, and he got to play with his old teammate Justin Morneau for one of those seasons.

2002 Select Rookies and Prospects #42 Jason Romano (AU)
Continuing the theme of unfamiliar, here's a sticker autograph of a player I've never heard of on a set I've never seen. The card is embossed with an "authentic signature" stamp, and not only is it authentic, but it's more or less legible.

He played a handful of games for the Rockies in 2002, and with four other teams in his short career. He didn't make much of an impact in his career, and this set was lost in the glut of sets that existed in the later days of Pinnacle, Leaf, and Fleer.

2012 Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP73 Will Swanner (AU)
Here's another player that never made in to my internal baseball encyclopedia. Will Swanner, a catcher, briefly progressed as high as Triple-A in 2016, but suddenly was demoted all the way to single-A then released by the Rockies' organization. Sadly, that's true for many players that appear on Bowman cards, though it does look like he took a few moments out of his development schedule to sign this card for a fan. Not sure whether Tom snagged this autograph himself, but it will go in the ever-growing collection of autograph cards.

2001 Topps Fusion #109 Ben Petrick GL
Like that Bowman Chrome card above, Tom threw in a bunch of shiny cards in this package. At first glance, this one of catcher Ben Petrick looks like a Topps Gold Label card, but it's actually from a very strange 2001 release called Topps Fusion. These always confuse me a bit. The set used five designs from Topps' portfolio at the time, including Finest, Stadium Club, Gold Label as you see here, and a couple others. They put a Topps Fusion stamp on them so they wouldn't be confused with the actual sets from those brands. I guess it was a cheap way for collectors to get a look at those higher-end sets without buying a box of each, but fifteen years later they're little more than a red herring.

Needless to say, this concept only lasted a year.

1996 Topps Gallery Players Private Issue #3 Dante Bichette /999
Topps Gallery was one of the sets included in 2001 Topps Fusion, and Gallery itself got its start in 1996. I have a few Gallery cards in my collection, including from that inaugural year. This one of Dante Bichette rounding the bases at Wrigley (that brick wall is easy as pie to spot) is actually a Players Private Issue parallel. This has a gold serial number on the back, but the print run is not given as part of the number. So it's #860 out of something. It's 999 according to Beckett, but the execution of serial numbered cards had not quite matured by 1996.

2000 SP Authentic United Nations #UN6 Larry Walker
Shortly after Bowman introduced their International parallels, where the flag or a skyline from the player's home country is displayed in the card background, Upper Deck did something similar for this 10-card United Nations insert set. Walker was the representative from Canada, selected for this set due to his consistently high batting average, and because he was the first native Canadian to bring home an MVP trophy. You can even see a faint Canadian flag in the background. By the way, that's the post-1965 flag, as the previous flag was a Union Jack on a red background, along with a coat of arms.

Rockies or ex-Rockies made up 30% of the small set, and which highlighted players from all over the world, from the USA to Curaçao, and across the ocean to Japan and Korea.

1998 Topps Gold Label Class 2 Black Label #69 Vinny Castilla
Castilla was Mexico's player in that UD set, but here he's on a Topps Gold Label card, this one of the Class 2 Black Label variety. His name at the bottom is just a bit more sparkly than usual. The Todd Helton card I got via trade from Play at the Plate now has a mate, even from the same Class 2 (out of 3).

1998 was a terrific year for the Blake Street Bomber, as he made it onto his second All-Star team, which happened to be at Coors Field that year. He also hit a career high 46 homers and won a Silver Slugger award.

1996 Pinnacle Aficionado #81 Vinny Castilla
A couple years before that, Pinnacle gave him a card in their Aficionado set. This has raised black printing on the right that makes for a pretty unique-feeling card. It's similar to an insert card from this set that I showed long ago, but it also reminds me a bit of 1998 Pacific Omega.

1996 was the only year for Pinnacle Aficionado, which is too bad. I think it had way more legs than Topps Fusion. Probably was pretty expensive to print, though.

2002 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #65 Jeff Cirillo
We're in the middle of a run of horizontal cards within all these shiny cards, and here's a player you don't run across too often. Jeff Cirillo came over to Denver from the Brewers for a couple seasons. He's holding on to a "snow cone" at third base here, which stands out just a bit better than usual on this Gold Medallion parallel. He was a good guy to have at third base, but nowhere near as good as Nolan Arenado's been since 2013, who convincingly won a Gold Glove in each of his four seasons so far.

Tom really found some good stuff for me!

1996 Leaf All-Star Game MVP Contenders #9 Dante Bichette
Horizontal shininess continues with another Bichette card, this one from a 1996 Leaf insert set. This is what I'll call a conditional redemption card, much like Upper Deck's You Crash The Game cards. In other words, it only becomes a redemption card if the player depicted does what he's supposed to do when he's supposed to do it. In this case, Bichette was one of 20 players selected by Leaf as one of the possible MVP winners in the 1996 All-Star Game. If Bichette got the honors, then this card could be redeemed for a full 20-card gold set of MVP Contenders, with a stated print run of 5,000.

Bichette did end up with a double and a run scored in the 1996 Midsummer Classic, but the MVP ended up being Mike Piazza, thanks to this early home run. I'm about 20 years too late on the redemption anyway, but maybe someday I can find a gold parallel of this card. Piazza, by the way, won that award in his hometown of Philadelphia. He never played for the Phillies, but won a pretty impressive award in their old park.

1998 Topps Gallery #107 Larry Walker
The frame was always an important part of Topps Gallery, sort of a non-retro precursor to Gypsy Queen. This is an exceptionally sturdy card, and has a slight texture on the front that's trying to go for an oil painting, I think. It looks a bit more like paint that's bubbled due to a fire, but it's still a neat card. Mets shortstop Rey Ordóñez makes a cameo wearing a white hat as Walker slides into second in the very blue Shea Stadium. It's not quite as obvious as the brick walls at Wrigley, but pretty much everything at Shea looked like that.

2000 Topps Chrome New Millennium Stars #NMS5 Todd Helton
Todd Helton shows up in a lot of discount boxes around here, but I'm pretty sure I've never run across this shiny number before. "Millennium" was quite the buzzword in 1999 and 2000, and Topps didn't miss a chance to give Helton and that word the shiny treatment. The background reminds me of an Art Deco style, and amazingly for a Chrome card, isn't curled!

2000 Black Diamond Rookie Edition #88 Todd Helton
I am not sure if I have this card, but it's one of the few sets so far that I clearly recognize. 2000 Black Diamond Rookie Edition, with its distinctive red and black colors, has appeared here before. The colors are so striking that I never really noticed the gold pattern in the background, which looks like a chain link fence with giant sections cut out of it. Or maybe a hockey net. They have a weave about like that.

2000 Topps 21st Century #C10 Todd Helton
Here's another millennium-themed card of Helton, who was not far removed from his rookie season when these were all printed. He was clearly recognized as a budding star, having led NL rookies in all three Triple Crown categories. Kerry Wood ended up with the Rookie of the Year award in 1998, edging out Helton by a few votes. It's been an elusive award for the Rockies, Jason Jennings being the only one to win it in 2002. Tulowitzki wasn't far behind in 2007, and Trevor Story was a strong contender this year until injury sidelined him shortly after the All-Star break.

This is a mesmerizing card. The grid has thick, bold lines, but that big baseball toward the top (see it?) is the focal point. If you tilt the card back and forth along the horizontal axis, a circular rainbow pattern appears to expand and contract, like you're travelling through a wormhole.

Not that I know what that looks like. But it might look something like this card.

1999 Upper Deck Century Legends #77 Andres Galarraga
Upper Deck got into the Y2K celebration too. Before Upper Deck Legends, the short-lived set was called Upper Deck Century Legends. I have maybe 15 cards from this set, one of the first to combine retired legends with current stars. Though he was a Brave at this time, and is pictured as one on the back, the front shows him as a Rockie (again at Wrigley), the team on which he became a genuine star. Upper Deck still had a fascination with copper foil in 1999, which became a real signature for them. With all the sets out there in the late 1990s, it was probably a good idea to have a recognizable feature, which they moved further and further away from as casualties started mounting in the card industry.

2016 Stadium Club #251 Jon Gray
Yes, a current player or two did make it in here. After all this past Rockies greatness, I figured I'd end with one of the bright stars of the Rockies rotation. This is one of the best Coors Field shots I've ever seen on a card, as we get a great look at some full sections on the third base side (right where I like to sit), and a glimpse of a sunny Colorado sunset through the concourse. I've waited out a rain delay in that exact spot, and can point you to a couple excellent pre- or post-game spots just beyond.

Baseball season has only been over for a couple weeks, but already I'm hungry to head back to Coors Field, especially when I see it on a Stadium Club card.

Bud Black was just announced as the new manager, the rotation and lineup remain strong, and the Rockies are reportedly talking to Mark Melancon, who could provide an invaluable boost to a perennially weak bullpen.

That Cuddyer card at the beginning ended up being the dullest one of the whole post. I almost had to wear sunglasses to look at these. And if this kind of a generous trade package helped the Cubs finally win it all, then I'm fully on board.