Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Trading Post #101: Baseball Cards Come To Life! (Part 2: Not Topps)

There's always plenty of digging out to do whenever Bo sends a shipment. The writer of Baseball Cards Come To Life! sent me so much great stuff that I had to split it up into two posts, and it easily could have been three. You already saw the Topps cards, but between Upper Deck, Fleer, and others, I was in Mini Collection heaven.

2008 Upper Deck #483 Matt Holliday
At Coors Field on Friday, the Rockies held a ten-year reunion of 2007's Rocktober team, and Matt Holliday was a key part of that playoff run. He's less remembered for his performance in the 2007 Home Run Derby than for a few other plays, but he's very clearly in AT&T Park representing the National League on this 2008 UD base card, on his way to finishing tied for third with Albert Pujols. In fact, there's so much black and orange on this card that I didn't initially spot the glimpse of the catcher's mitt in the corner.

I don't know the UD designs well enough to recognize this set off the bat (pun not intended), but they moved back to a full-bleed design after the slightly cramped 2007 design, which is one I can recognize on sight. The shutter speed used for this photograph is just a touch too slow to truly capture the moment of impact, but we can see this was one of his first nine outs, since they were using the Gold Ball for the tenth out at that time. The Home Run Derby format has changed since then, and the league uniforms have gotten a bit wilder, but it's still a great event.

2000 Fleer Focus #205 Dante Bichette
Dante Bichette was a fan favorite and a key member of the Blake Street Bombers, but his storied Rockies career was winding down at the turn of the millennium. He was traded to the Reds after the 1999 season, allowing Fleer enough time to update the team logo and colors in 2000 Focus, but not to obtain a new photograph. It's not quite an unfamiliar uniform card, but it's one that kind of screws up your binder organization methods. If we're being truly honest here, I'd file this as a Reds card, despite how important Bichette was to the early days of the Rockies.

2000 Fleer Focus #110 Darryl Kile
The same situation affected Darryl Kile, who ended up on the Cardinals a couple weeks after the Bichette trade. Jose Jimenez was the key piece of that swap, a player who ended up being a rather successful Rockies closer for four seasons.

Fleer ever-so-slightly raised the surface of the player's photograph, applying a matte backdrop on the rest of the card. At least, I think it's raised. The texture is so dramatically different between the foreground and background that it's hard to tell whether it's raised or just has a little more friction when you run your finger across it. I also noticed the plus sign Fleer used as a delimiter between the team and the position, making it look like Kile is a "+Pitcher". It's still better than a comma, in my opinion, since any text that actually contains a grammatical comma screws up CSV files and comma-delimited data.

I'm guessing this is a spring training shot. There are an awful lot of billboards in the background, and your primary pitchers don't generally throw BP. They have guys specifically for that job. Based on the net in front of Kile, that's probably what's going on here, unless it's the Home Run Derby.

2000 Upper Deck Victory #66 Henry Blanco
This isn't as much an unfamiliar uniform as it is an unfamiliar player. I've heard of Henry Blanco before, a Venezuelan who played into his early forties, but I don't recall the one year he spent as a Rockie in 1999. He was a journeyman backup catcher, and he played for every NL West team besides the Giants.

The Rockies continued to clean house in the 1999 offseason, trading Blanco to the Brewers as part of a circuitous three-team trade, netting Jeff Cirillo in the process. That transaction caught even Upper Deck off-guard, who listed him as a Brewer but still pictured him as a Rockie in Coors Field. Obviously this is from the 1999 season, not only because that was Blanco's only season in Denver, but also because the Rockies wore a "CHS" memorial patch on their right sleeves that year, in memory of the tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School.

2003 Upper Deck Vintage #181 Preston Wilson
Wrapping up the uniform/team set mismatch foursome is Preston Wilson, who's listed as a Rockie after a trade in the 2002 offseason. The Marlins got Juan Pierre, who ended up with a World Series ring in 2003 when all was said and done, and also Mike Hampton, whom the Marlins flipped to the Braves a couple days later.

After completely ripping off 1971 Topps with their 2002 Vintage product, in 2003 Upper Deck pretty much Xeroxed 1965 Topps the following year, complete with the little pennant in the lower left.

The thing is, I have no clue what helmet Wilson is wearing here. He had been a Major Leaguer for five seasons, so I doubt they'd have dug up a Minor League shot. And those aren't Marlins colors. It looks like a University of Michigan helmet, but the colors aren't quite right. After a bit of research, it's apparently a throwback to the minor league Miami Marlins, who played a few Triple-A seasons in the late 1950s.

2002 Upper Deck Vintage #270 Larry Walker TC
Speaking of UD Vintage, this is indeed a dead ringer for 1971 Topps, although that set never showed such an, um, intimate-looking moment at second base. In Dodger Stadium, Larry Walker is being tagged out by a Dodgers middle infielder. No idea who that cameo is, so perhaps a Dodger blogger can help out.

This is one of those meta-checklists, one whose own card number appears on the list. Only nine Rockies appear on this checklist, which is about right for a 300-card set. That doesn't come close to covering even a majority of a team's roster, but is just enough for a starting lineup. The top 300 players in the league generally get the most attention in fantasy baseball, assuming a 12-team league with a full lineup, rotation, bullpen, and a few bench spots.

2002 SP Authentic #90 Mike Hampton
I mentioned Mike Hampton a bit earlier, and he showed up in this trade box with a bunting card, always another favorite mini-collection, especially when it's a pitcher. The Rockies spent big bucks to bring him on board, and his 2001 season was pretty good, good enough to become the first pitcher the Rockies would send to an All-Star Game. He even pitched a complete game shutout that year, a night game against the Mets on May 9th, 2001. I remember that one in particular, since my dad and I were watching one of my sister's softball games. My dad had it on the radio and was keeping some of the other parents in the loop about how the Rockies' new ace was doing.

Despite his textbook bunting form, 2002 brought less success, dropping him to a 7-15 record, which led to the Preston Wilson trade mentioned above.

2002 Upper Deck #721 Denny Neagle
The Rockies also spent big on ex-Pirate Denny Neagle before the 2001 season, fresh off a World Series win with the Yankees. He and Hampton were both billed as huge additions to the Rockies rotation, but it didn't quite pan out that way. Neagle actually pitched his last game in 2003 as a Rockie after his third season, despite signing a five-year contract. He missed 2004 due to injury, then started running afoul of the law, causing the Rockies to cancel the remainder of his contract. I don't remember hearing about that one, but he ended up as a cautionary tale to other free agent pitchers on the market.

I do like how this bunting card is basically a mirror image of Hampton's (possibly even from the same photo shoot), but his backwards batting helmet makes it a bit more whimsical. You can even see the Rockies' 10th Anniversary patch on his right sleeve, which was really quite a while ago. They'll be wearing a 25th Anniversary patch next year, and we're sure to see that all over their cards in 2019, the same year Game of Thrones wraps up.

That seems like quite a long time away. Hopefully the Rockies have some more success in the Postseason by then.

2003 Fleer Tradition #165 Juan Pierre
Juan Pierre's Fleer Tradition card from 2003 checks two of the Mini Collection categories. Obviously he's showing the two pitchers above how bunting is done outside a batting practice setting, but he also has a Traded card, listing him as a Marlin (the same trade that sent Preston Wilson to the Rockies), yet they still have him pictured as a Rockie.

Pierre is also sporting the Helmet-over-Cap look, which is exactly what I used to do in Little League. Night Owl wrote a post about this recently as it applied to George Hendrick.

Of course, this is the 1963 Fleer design, but it's OK to plagiarize when it's your own product.

2000 Ultra #44 Neifi Perez
Here's the double play entry into the Mini Collection parade, a high-altitude shot of shortstop Neifi Perez on a Fleer Ultra design that hasn't yet drawn comparisons to recent Stadium Club sets. Rico Brogna gets a cameo, kicking up quite a cloud of dust onto the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium. As it always does on turf, the dirt just weirdly sits there until someone sweeps it up.

I do not miss the days of Astroturf. Only the Rays and Jays still use it, and the Rockies play in those parks so infrequently that I almost never have to see it. Usually it's just on Blue Jays highlights, and that last-place team hasn't had many this year, so that highlight reel usually involves Kevin Pillar, complete with warning track-colored Astroturf.

2002 Fleer Maximum #61 Juan Uribe
Elsewhere around the stadiums of the National League, Juan Uribe practices his short game in Dodger Stadium during batting practice. There's even a bat donut, so I hope Daniel has a copy of this one to feature on his newly-redesigned site. Pretty much everyone who has played the game has putted a baseball at some point in their lives. Definitely an activity in Little League for when we're waiting for our parents to pick us up after practice.

I think modern cards could use a few more shots of BP, if only to illustrate how much these guys have to practice honing their trade. It's almost becoming its own Mini Collection.

I've written about Fleer Maximum before, and this one is in noticeably better condition than I've seen before. This one didn't fall victim to being stuck to the card on top of it, but one of the corners has a slight ding, and the purple area near the top is getting a tiny bit chipped. It surprises me how fragile this set is, despite the thick card stock.

1995 Ultra Gold Medallion #159 Eric Young
As tough as Gold Medallion parallels are to pull in mid-'90s Fleer Ultra, the generosity of my fellow bloggers has me pretty well on the way to completing the Rockies team set. Young might have skied one here, but it looks awfully similar to his leadoff home run in the first-ever Rockies home game.

It's really quite fitting, isn't it? After 25 seasons of Rockies baseball and the reputation the stadium has, it makes perfect sense that a contact-hitting second baseman launched one out to left-center in their first at-bat in Denver. Lesser known is the fact that he also hit two in their final home game that season. Those two, plus the famous Opening Day shot, marked the only three homers he had all season.

By the way, that final game was just the second major league game I attended. We sat in the movable left field stands at Mile High Stadium on a sunny fall day, and even though I was just 9, I remember it like it was yesterday. I still have one of those miniature bats my parents bought as a souvenir, and you can count me twice in the record-setting attendance of 4,483,350, which stands to this day.

And I helped.

1993 SP #221 Joe Girardi
Joe Girardi caught that game, and he practically looks like a kid in this shot, quite different from how he appears as the current skipper of the New York Yankees. Usually when I see him these days, the veins are bulging out of his neck as he reads some umpire the riot act.

Also, if MLB really wants to shorten the time of games, they really ought to just automate the calling of balls and strikes. I guarantee the time that pitchers, catchers, batters, and managers have spent this season arguing balls and strikes drastically offsets any time saved from the automatic intentional walk.

Anyway, the blue nametag that Girardi is wearing reminds me of a particular Curtis Leskanic card that Bo sent in our previous trade. Rather than a series of numbers, Joe actually wrote his name on the sticker. This was to help out Bryn Smith, who handed out the nametags in spring training, according to the back of the card. Yes, Bryn Smith was briefly a Rockie at the end of his career, joining Dale Murphy and Charlie Hough as they lent veteran expertise to the MLB's shiny new expansion clubs. Smith even started the famous home opener, and earned the first "W" in Rockies history.

In looking at that Leskanic card, I'm betting that Upper Deck dug into the archives for their 1995 Collector's Choice set. It's probably from the same photo shoot as Girardi's. The design of the name tag is precisely the same, so unless the Rockies kept a Costco-sized pack of them at Hi Corbett Field throughout the early '90s, I bet we're looking at the same day on cards two years apart.

1995 Studio #149 Joe Girardi
I've mentioned the 1995 Studio set before, and even shown later Studio cards that were likely influenced by it, but I think this is the first time I've actually featured this credit card-themed set on the blog before.

Studio did a great job with this one. Naturally, the facsimile signature on the back goes right where you'd expect it to, and some of the lettering on the front is raised. It's probably not enough relief to get an imprint with one of the old ka-chunk machines, but the hologram and "MLB Member since" features pretty accurately represent what we carry in our wallets.

Of course, the parallels are gold, but that was also when a "gold" credit card was the top of the pile. Now we have diamond, platinum, sapphire, etc.... From there, who knows where it will go? Black Opal? Meteorite? Maybe the banks should reach out to the Topps Colored Border Parallel team for ideas. Because I'd totally carry a Snow Camo credit card.

1997 Cracker Jack #10 Gary Sheffield
As with the Topps stack, there were some unlicensed and Fleer minis as well. This tiny Cracker Jack card features Gary Sheffield, and is just a hair wider than the Cracker Jack Ballplayers reproduction set from a few years earlier. Obviously there is no logo on Sheffield's cap, and the Marlins had moved away from the radioactive turquoise color of their first couple seasons. He's just listed as a player for "Florida".

It's really a small card, and a bit difficult for adult hands to work with. I collected all three years of Topps Micro once upon a time, but I find them rather tricky to sort through now. I imagine collecting postage stamps would be like this, and you have to be careful not to let your hand cramp up. Fortunately, it's just a 20-card set, so it can't cause too much strain.

2003 Fleer Double Header #219-#220 Eric Chavez / Miguel Tejada
2003 Fleer Double Header #219-#220 Eric Chavez / Miguel Tejada (Unfolded)

I doubt I've seen even half of the sets that were released in the early 2000s. There were a ton, and it would have been a lot to keep up with even if I had been regularly collecting at the time. Apparently, I had a base card from 2003 Fleer Double Header in my collection already, but I had never seen these "Flip Cards" from higher up in the checklist. Eric Chavez is the main subject here, but if you flip it up at the fold (right about at belt level), you'll reveal Miguel Tejada leaning to his right to catch a popup.

Interestingly, both Chavez and Tejada have separate card numbers, even though this is just one piece of paper. That's something I've never seen before. Bo sent a few others from this set, and it seems like it's hit-or-miss whether the photographs line up perfectly. On the Rangers' card, even the pinstripes are just off a hair. But Chavez' body proportions on this one look a bit strange.

2002 Fleer Authentix #115 Todd Hollandsworth
Todd Hollandsworth, the last of the Dodgers' five consecutive Rookies of the Year, doesn't show up as a Rockie very often. But he was a capable outfielder, spending more time in purple than for any team besides those Dodgers. Fleer Authentix, a new brand in 2002, made the most of his Rockies tenure with this color-coded card patterned after a ticket stub. The border is raised, or really more like embossed, since you can see the imprint on the back.

This "ticket" is for the Rockies' 2002 home opener against the Houston Astros, a game they lost with Denny Neagle on the mound, facing off against Roy Oswalt, who would later join the Rockies to close out his career with a dismal 0-6 record in 2013. The game did take place at Coors Field, but some of the seat information Fleer came up with on this card makes me laugh.

I'm supposed to enter at Gate 27, which sounds like an awful lot of entry points to monitor. Coors Field really just has five. Once inside, I need to navigate to the nosebleed row of 115. Where is this game being played, the Pentagon? Not even the Big House in Ann Arbor has that many rows. Once I've ascended into the stratosphere, I only need to climb across a few people to seat 6. I'm unlikely to spill any beer on those people, since I probably either dropped it or drank most of it on that trek to row 115. Perhaps I'll have to send my Sherpa back to the Gate 27 concession stand for another one.

I suppose the row number does match the card number, meaning there are another 20 rows behind me full of exhausted fans, thanks to Andy Pettitte's card. Mercifully, from that point on, Fleer just marked the ticket area with "Future Star" for the final 15 cards.

2003 Fleer Authentix #59 Jeff Bagwell
Fleer got their act together for the following year's set, sending me to the much more plausible location of Section 291, Row 12, Seat 5 inside the newly-renamed Minute Maid park. That stadium had previously been called Astros Field in 2002, after Enron returned its naming rights to the park following their well-publicized collapse for the bargain price of $2.1 million. Fortunately, that transaction took place early enough for the Enron name not to disgrace the inaugural 2002 Authentix set. Having to trudge up 95 rows in a place named Enron Field would just be too much to bear.

At first, I wasn't sure why Bo included this card. Maybe he just needed to offload a few Astros, like that Colin McHugh card in part 1. But then I noticed the Astros opened their 2003 season against the Rockies, as noted in the lower right, just above the quasi-perforation on the "ticket stub". The Rockies lost that one too, with Bagwell himself launching two homers off of Jason Jennings.

1998 UD3 #166 Dante Bichette EE
This has been a long post written over two sittings, and I just don't have it in me right now to figure out a fractured set I've never seen before. Upper Deck. Copper. That's about it.

1993 Score #428 Dante Bichette
I'll wrap up this 115-row marathon with Dante Bichette, who appears on this 1993 Score card with a picturesque Colorado mountain, similar to the card backs of 1993 Leaf and the Rock Solid Foundation card from 1993 Upper Deck.

The newly created Rockies and Marlins didn't make it into every 1993 main set, especially not wearing their actual uniforms. Fleer and Donruss both had the new logos but used their previous uniforms, although Fleer remedied that with Final Edition. Upper Deck had them in uniform in the main set, as did Topps Series 2, but all this time I thought Score missed the party.

I should have known better, since I do have a Marlins card of Dave Magadan in my binders. And this set has been in my collection for a very long time. I remember getting a pack of it for Hanukkah that winter. But after all this time, I finally know there are 1993 Score cards depicting Rockies. It's amazing I've never seen one until now, and I'm interested to see what else is out there.

Anyone know where I can score some Score?


Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Trading Post #100: Baseball Cards Come To Life! (Part 1: Topps)

Any time a trade comes in from Bo at Baseball Cards Come To Life!, you'll probably need to split it up into two posts. This isn't the first time Bo and I have swapped cards, and it's quite fitting that such a prolific trader ended up as my 100th trade. I was wondering who would end up with that frankly amazing number, and he packed a 400-count box to the gills which will earn him The Trading Post #101 as well.

2001 Topps Gold Label Class 1 #67 Larry Walker
I've consistently found that the best way to split posts is grouping Topps and then all the other brands. Starting with Topps, here's an exceptionally shiny card of Larry Walker from the Gold Label set, a brand that's fairly well-represented in my collection, except for the recent 2016 and 2017 releases, which I've yet to run across.

The 2001 set has just a tad more gold than I remember from past years, and Topps color-coded it with a deep purple at the bottom, a purple that amazingly scans better than it looks. It's much darker than the actual Rockies colors, especially after this year, when they changed the official hue to a lighter purple. That was just back in spring, but already I'm pretty set on official Rockies swag in the new color, thanks to a gift bag I won at Coors Field a couple weeks ago when I saw the Detroit Tigers visit.

I've been checking in with the MLB Ballpark app for years now, and I was lucky enough to be one of just ten fans to win. I got a notification and an email, and all I had to do was stop by a kiosk on the first level, which I combined with a beer and snack run my friend and I made. My Michigander buddy got a Tornadough pretzel, and I went back to my seat with a hat, t-shirt, water bottle, and limited-edition Nolan Arenado bobblehead, which now resides on my cubicle shelf at work. It contained no cards, but Bo more than made up for that.

By the way, after this year's round of interleague games, I'm down to only five teams I've never seen before. I wonder who I'll be able to see next year.

2001 Bowman Heritage #67 Larry Walker
In sharp contrast to the shininess of Gold Label (though with the same card number), Bowman went with a black-and-white scheme for their inaugural Heritage set. Patterned after 1948 Bowman, there's no name, team, logo, position, or anything. Just a rather striking white-bordered portrait and a little Bowman logo off in the corner. Like your typical Heritage card, it's printed on cardboard, making it just about as thick as Walker's Gold Label card from the same year, if a bit more flexible. The vertical back of the card discusses his usual accolades of batting titles, Gold Gloves, All-Star selections, etc.... But the card also mentions his childhood in Canada, where he played youth hockey with Cam Neely, the former Canuck who is now the president of the Boston Bruins.

2005 Topps Turkey Red #19 Jeff Francis
After a few years of Heritage, Topps decided to go even further with retro cards, designing a set based on the 1911 Turkey Red set, one that predated Topps itself by decades. Turkey Red as a Topps product waffled between being a main set and an insert set for several years, and they seemed to be everywhere around 2010. There's an interesting texture on the front, which I can best describe as an old book cover, maybe even what you might call pebbled. Think of UD Masterpiece, but more of a random pattern.

Like Larry Walker, Jeff Francis is also Canadian, even hailing from the same province of British Columbia. Of course, the back mentions hockey, telling us that the baby-faced Francis was nicknamed "Boomer", after old-time hockey player Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion.

Hockey's a big deal in Canada.

2002 Topps 206 #231 Ben Petrick
Preceding the revival of Turkey Red was Topps' take on the famed T206 set, when Topps realized they really had something on their hands with this retro thing. It looks more or less like the 1909-1911 originals, except for being cut in a standard 2.5" x 3.5" size. This is also when Topps started going a bit crazy with back variations, but this one is just the regular variety. By this point in his career, as the card states, Petrick had homered in six ballparks. That most of those came in a particular pre-humidor park in Denver shouldn't be terribly surprising.

2002 Topps Ten #26 Juan Pierre 3B
Who has heard of Topps Ten before? I sure hadn't. In fact, I thought this was just an insert card from 2002 Topps, which I'm rather unfamiliar with to begin with, but apparently this 200 card set was a one-year wonder released in retail channels. Judging by the checklist, it appears as though Topps decided to make a full set out of what we see today as league leader cards. The top ten performers in each statistical category (hits, slugging percentage, ERA, wins, and so forth) were each given a card. Get it? Topps Ten?

Anyway, finding speed demon Juan Pierre near the top of the triples list is rather expected. He played less than two and a half seasons as a Rockie, but still is among the top-20 Rockies in that category. In fact, he'd go on to tie for the National League lead with a dozen in 2004 as a Marlin, fresh off a World Series win.

Charlie Blackmon is literally running away with that statistic in 2017, with 14 so far and still a few weeks left to play. Nicholas Castellanos, of all players, is in second place across the Majors, with 10.

1997 Topps Stars #69 Ellis Burks
It's interesting seeing the first year of all these brands that I've become so familiar with. Many of them have staying power and went through a few iterations, but somehow the inaugural years seem to be a bit tougher to find. Maybe collectors are more inclined to hang on to them, or maybe the manufacturer goes easy on the print run until they have proof of concept1993 Finest Refractors, anyone?

Topps Stars lives up to its name on this Ellis Burks card, as I count 95 between the front and the back. Many are partially obscured, but Topps really wanted to make sure you knew what this was about. The back is more focused on actual All-Star performances than subsequent years of this brand, telling us all about Burks' selection in 1990 that he missed due to injury, his late-inning triple in the NL's 1996 shutout of the AL, and even his balloting positions in 1996 and 1997.

Not sure if I'd pick a photograph of a pretty bad swinging strike, assuming this wasn't fouled back off the plate. Perhaps an even 100 stars on this card would have distracted me from where the ball is in this picture, but you know what they teach you in Little League.

Never take your eye off the ball.

2016 Stadium Club #242 Collin McHugh
Bo was kind enough to throw in a couple cards from 2016 Stadium Club, a set that I'd love to one day complete (really any of the recent Stadium Club sets), even tossing in another team! The Astros are doing quite well this year, leading the AL West by a healthy margin and are basically a lock to win their division this year. Collin McHugh didn't have a huge role to play in that, as he missed the first half with elbow problems. He's gone 2-2 this year, but left his last start early due to a rather painful-sounding torn fingernail.

I actually had no idea about this, but he's the guy the Rockies got for trading Eric Young, Jr. to the Mets back in 2013. About a month after that, Young was involved in a rather serious collision with Tim Hudson at first base. Meanwhile, McHugh would continue to put up some astronomically high ERA numbers until the Astros claimed him in the 2013 offseason. After that, it was off to the races, as he matched Jake Arrieta in Wins between August 2014 and when this card was printed.

You might notice the "MH" patch on McHugh's jersey. That's for longtime Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton, who passed away in September 2015, just before the Astros found a bit of success in the postseason. They shut out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game, and lost a 5-game ALDS to the eventual World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals.

2016 was a down year, but we'll get to see the Astros make another run this year, and they'll be playing for a battered and decimated city of Houston, following the events of Hurricane Harvey.

1997 Stadium Club #187 Todd Helton 2000 SP
Todd Helton is shown on this confusingly-named 1997 Stadium Club card wearing uniform number 11, with faint "TSC 2000" lettering going up the right side. The bottom has a layout similar to Larry Walker's Gold Label card, but this one makes me do a double take for a few reasons.

The back talks about his performance in high school, college, and Double-A, so this is clearly from way before Helton made his mark on the Big Leagues. I guess it took a while for him to settle in to uniform #17. I've seen a few cards from this short-printed subset, and the TSC 2000 always threw me off. Granted, everyone was getting pretty excited for the new millennium back then, including in branding and marketing. Who remembers Gateway 2000, for example?

At least he's batting lefty.

2010 Bowman Draft Prospects #BDPP24 Chad Bettis
There was quite a bit of Bowman in this trade package, but one that stood out is this early card of Chad Bettis, who just picked up his first win of the season against the reeling Dodgers, a team that is 1-14 in their last 15 games, including their current 9-game slide. They probably have enough of a cushion to still win the division, but this is not the time to be cooling off, especially because teams like the Indians and more importantly the Diamondbacks have been doing the exact opposite lately. The Indians have won 17 in a row, the longest streak in the Majors since the A's 20-game Moneyball run in 2002.

According to this card, Bettis is a baseball card collector, like his now-teammate Pat Neshek. He pitched well tonight, and returning to the hill after his much-discussed battle with cancer, he's performing admirably. On the postgame show interview with Nolan Arenado, the interviewer asked about the letters "RTTW" that are written on Bettis' gloveRun Through The Wall. After being swept by the Diamondbacks at home, the Rockies have the chance to do the same to the Dodgers tomorrow. In L.A., no less. That's certainly the level of grit you need to succeed in this sport, and the Rockies have shown it more than once this season, including dusting themselves off after a 3-game stretch back in April in which they were massively outscored by the Nationals. A "buzzsaw", as one of the TV guys put it. It will be an interesting few weeks as we see how all the tight Wild Card races play out.

Anyway, Bowman was still printing facsimile signatures in 2010, and Bettis' reminds me a bit of Chris Reed's signature, who signed a few for the custom Munnatawket Mini cards that made the Cardsphere rounds a couple years ago. I haven't seen anyone write about those in ages, but I still have a handful in my collection.

1988 Topps UK Minis #67 Mike Schmidt
Speaking of minis, Bo included several from Topps and others, some of which you'll see in part 2. Topps hadn't gone crazy with the stars yet, as there are only 12 front and back. I originally assumed this was a insert in 1988 Topps packs, but apparently Topps released a whole set for the UK market, advertised as "American Baseball" cards. That would explain the rather rudimentary "Talkin' Baseball" feature on the card backs. Mike Schmidt's card, the third card #67 in this post, discusses the Squeeze Play, which is admittedly an advanced maneuver, but the card directs you to card #29 to learn about the Bunt, and card #45 to see the definition of a Runner.

There's no indication of where these were printed, but I'd guess they came from the same Ireland facility that produced the Topps Traded and Tiffany sets back then. If nothing else, they're a great example of the fact that there is always more to learn about this hobby.

2010 Topps Pro Debut #104 Jordan Pacheco
There were even a handful of Minor League cards, such as this 2010 Asheville Tourists card of Jordan Pacheco. He had a solid rookie season in 2012, but gradually faded, ended up playing for the Diamondbacks and Reds for a spell, and is now playing in an independent league for the Long Island Ducks. I glanced at their roster, and recognized a few other former Major Leaguers, such as Alfredo Simon and David Aardsma.

The 2010 design with its huge logos is easily recognizable whether it's a Major or Minor league card. The team logo might not be familiar, but as someone who has followed the Rockies for years, Pacheco is a pretty recognizable name, despite his mostly uneventful career in Denver.

2001 Finest #61 Todd Helton
We'll end where we began, with a shiny card from 2001. Did anyone ever call this one the Doppler effect set? Because that's what it should be called. Perhaps it's not as strongly themed as the 2003 hexagon set (which I was just reminded of by a hexagon-heavy transition graphic on MLB Network), but still fits right in as a Topps Finest card. The purple even comes across better than on the Gold Label design, where it's a bit too dark to really tell what's going on. At least, it does in person. The scanner has a mind of its own tonight.

A pre-goatee Helton had just put up what would be the best season of his career. In the year 2000, he won the batting title, and led the league in hits, slugging percentage, RBIs, and of course doubles. As this card points out, he was only 8 home runs short of winning the Triple Crown. Sammy Sosa was still doing his thing at the turn of the millennium, but Helton fell short of a few others, including Bonds, Bagwell, Vlad, Gary Sheffield, and even Richard Hidalgo.

Just a few more dingers in 2000 would probably have made Helton's Hall of Fame case a lot stronger than it is. I guess we'll have to see what 2019 brings, but sooner or later, a Rockie really should be in Cooperstown.

This would have been a great trade on its own, but don't forget that there's a part 2 to all this, meaning we won't linger long on the 100th trade post milestone.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Mom Goes to the Card Show

While I was busy digging through the vintage bin, my mom, who accompanied me to this particular card show earlier this year, surreptitiously took a stab at selecting a few singles for me. I know she reads my blog, and by now she surely has a pretty good idea of what would fit in my collection. The surprise stack of cards that were wrapped for my birthday alongside the vintage beauties I picked out really hit the mark. Just see for yourself.

2002 Topps All-World Team #AW-5 Larry Walker
Larry Walker is one of the best to ever wear a Rockies uniform, thanks to his MVP and near-Triple Crown season in 1997, a slew of batting titles, and even a few Gold Gloves. This card, however, highlights that performance not as a Rockie, but as a Canadian. Topps' All-World Team insert set from 2002 contains 25 players from all around the globe. The USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Venezuela, Panama, and plenty more. Larry Walker holds the career record among Canadians for Home Runs, RBIs, and more, but fellow Canuck Joey Votto is making his mark and keeps getting mentioned as the best player not named Mike Trout.

In case you were wondering, yes, this surprisingly thick card mentions hockey. It also has lots of gold foil all over the front, about what you'd expect for an early-millennium insert card. Topps used an all-caps font on the back that is slightly difficult to read, but the world maps found in the background and in the globe are rather interesting. The globe primarily shows the Indian Ocean, flanked by Africa and the Arabian Peninsula on the left...er, West side of the card, and bits of Australia and Southeast Asia to the East. The background shows quite a bit more, and you can tell they're using the projection that makes Greenland and the Arctic areas of Canada look about as big as Africa.

2014 Topps Museum Collection Momentous Material Jumbo Relics #MMJR-CA Chris Archer /50 (MEM)
Following that, we have the Mercator projection example of a relic card. I promise I won't get further into cartography here, but this this is huge. Frankly, I'd expect nothing less from Topps Museum Collection. This giant swatch steals the show, but hiding off to the right is a serial number, #10 of just 50 printed. This is probably the first relic card I have of a Ray, and it makes sense that it would be Chris Archer. I've been running into him a lot this year.

There's an $8 price tag on the back of this one, but it probably came out of one of the discount relic boxes that most dealers put out on their table. 2 for $5 or something like that.

2002 Fleer Premium On Base! Game Used #11 Todd Helton /100 (MEM)
In fact, it was probably purchased with this Todd Helton relic, the easiest player to find at any Denver-area card show. The serial number is much less noticeable on this one, as it appears on the back in black, blending in with the rest of the printing.

Fleer was putting out some very boring white sets in their later years, but they jazzed up this Fleer Premium card by adding a piece of a base, a first in my collection. The vast majority of my relic collection is made up of uniform swatches, with a handful of wooden bat slivers and the occasional baseball leather. But to have a piece of an actual base is certainly unique, and Fleer even states that this is from an official game at Coors Field. You might think it was smoother, like the back of a golf glove, but it's actually more like the soft rubber grip on a kitchen utensil.

Amazingly, in all that white space, Fleer somehow forgot to add a card number. Beckett says it's number 11 in the 30-card memorabilia set, so we'll go with that. The aforementioned serial number is out of 100 copies, but even the base version of this is limited. In keeping with the "On Base!" theme, the insert cards without relics were given a print run equal to the player's 2001 on-base percentage. At least in the base set, the higher the card number, the higher the print run. Helton is on the upper end of that with 432 base card copies, topping out at 515 with none other than on-base machine Barry Bonds.

2013 Bowman Platinum Prospect Autographs Green Refractors #BPAP-WS Will Swanner /399 (AU)
Maybe my mom has a preference for negative space in the cards she picks out. Bowman Platinum left plenty of space for then-prospect Will Swanner to sign in blue Sharpie without even covering up the /399 serial number. It's not quite as empty as a specific Jeff Francis card in my collection, but the autograph is clearly the star of the show here, even with that green background behind the photo.

As we all know, Bowman is a prospecting set. But for every Stephen Strasburg, you have a flotilla of players that never get the big call-up, even during September when rosters expand. Swanner was billed as a power-hitting catcher, but he topped out at the Double-A level. He hit 17 homers in 2015 for the New Britain Rock Cats, and progressed up to Triple-A Albuquerque in 2016. There, in just ten games, he managed one homer on a .194 batting average, was sent back down the farm system, and was released in June of 2016. That's the last line on his stats page, so it looks like his baseball career is over. The Rockies are pretty well set on catchers these days anyway, having just traded for Jonathan Lucroy, and with young guys like Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters looking promising.

2013 Topps Update Franchise Forerunners #FF-9 Rickey Henderson / Yoenis Cespedes
Mom must know I like green cards. This one makes me wonder why I don't collect more Oakland A's cards, so I'll have to give that some thought. But she picked an insert card from 2013 Topps Update's Franchise Forerunners set, one of the few that year that didn't hit us over the head with the "Chase" theme. All ten cards are combo cards, with this one showing the all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson taking a lead, pictured below the now-Met Yoenis Cespedes.

If he's now a Met, you might be thinking that means he's had some injury problems this season. And you'd be correct. Cespedes recently injured his (other) hamstring, the same injury that kept him out for the first couple months of 2017. And as I write this, I'm reading the ticker on MLB Network all about Michael Conforto, who injured his shoulder on a swing (yes, really) late last month. Both Conforto and Cespedes will miss the rest of the Mets season.

2013 Select Skills #SK39 Ozzie Smith
Just because you can't use logos doesn't mean you can't make a card shiny. Select was relaunched for a one-year run in 2013, making us all remember the mid-range set that Pinnacle put out year after year in the 1990s. I don't remember it ever being quite this shiny, but I'll take it. The "Skills" word at the top indicates this is another insert card, which is from a rather huge 45-card set. We get a zoomed-in version of the same photo on the back, along with a well-written paragraph describing Smith's unmistakable flair in the field, and that he "always recorded outs in style."

Even without calling him The Wizard or mentioning his signature backflip, Panini put out a great card of Ozzie Smith.

1994 Flair #36 Frank Thomas
Finally, the only main set card in this stack is also the oldest. Frank Thomas was a cardboard god in 1994, strike or no. And his card from a premium brand like Flair probably could have paid for lunch. The stats on the back are a little hard to read since they're superimposed over another full-bleed photo of Thomas in his pinstripes, but it's clear enough to spot his 41 home runs in 1993, along with an average that was well over .300 for each year thus far in the big leagues. He had a few down years, but his lifetime average just squeaked over the line at .301. Fleer doesn't list it as the batting average but rather the percentage, abbreviated "Pct." We can all assume that's the batting average, as there's nothing like an on-base percentage, slugging percentage, or fielding percentage included, let alone a modern Sabermetrics stat like OPS or BABIP.

Obviously, Thomas's initial is given the royal treatment, framed in a gold banner like medieval heraldry. Hard to miss that. In my early collecting days, I found more 1993 Flair than 1994, but the overall theme is more or less the same. 1994 gave us more gold foil and a bit less soft focus. This might be found in the discount bin today, but it still has a little essence left of the prestige it carried during the tail end of the baseball card boom.

This was an awesome surprise to receive as a gift earlier in the year, and I think any non-collector would be hard-pressed to do a better job at picking seven assorted cards for someone else's collection. Well done, Mom, and thanks.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

At least the cards are getting older, too.

I celebrated a birthday some months ago, and I'm just now getting around to writing about what I unwrapped that day, mostly cards I picked out at a card show in late February. A lot has gone on since then, including my recent overnight trip up to Nebraska to see a particular celestial event.

I'm not sure how many of you had the good fortune to see the mind-blowing spectacle that is a total solar eclipse, but it is a wondrous sight to behold. I'm glad the stars aligned (pun not intended) on Monday, offering me cloudless skies and an opportunity to stay with some wonderful hosts not far from Chimney Rock, right along the Oregon Trail.

Rather than brave the apocalyptic traffic back to Denver right away, I elected to explore a few more sights in Western Nebraska, still close enough to my home state that most everyone is a Rockies and Broncos fan. Before I headed back, I stopped in a local bar for a bite to eat, and ended up chatting with a regular who used to know Richie Ashburn. He also mentioned the name Zane Smith, who went to North Platte High School, just a bit north of there. Eclipses and baseball are the great unifiers, offering two total strangers plenty of conversation material in a mostly empty agricultural downtown.

1965 Topps #510 Ernie Banks
One of those Nebraskans shares some space in Cooperstown with Ernie Banks, depicted on this beautiful 1965 Topps card. Mr. Cub's career was winding down a bit by this point, but he still had a few All-Star selections left. A cute cartoon of a bear on the back is holding a sign with Banks' then-total of 376 career home runs, on his way to 512.

This card has a little ding along the left edge, but it's from perhaps the most iconic Topps set of the 1960s, offering us an interesting profile shot of Banks.

1962 Topps #139A2 Babe Ruth Special 5 (No Pole variant)
All the cards in this post came from the same vintage dealer as these cards, a nice older gentleman named Roy (Ray?), whose table has become one of my favorite stops at the monthly card show. He has a terrific selection of vintage at all price points, and if any of you are in the Denver area on the last Saturday of a month, I urge you to take a look. You won't be disappointed, especially when you can pull Babe Ruth retrospectives from the famous woodgrain set of 1962 Topps for just a couple bucks. Over a half-century after this card was printed, and darn near a hundred years later, Babe Ruth is still revered as one of the best home-run hitters of all time. The 60 home runs he famously hit in 1927 (while earning a whopping $70,000 salary), remains, in the eyes of many, the asterisk-free home run record.

Aaron Judge has cooled off significantly, instead striking out in a near-record 37 consecutive games, but Giancarlo Stanton has been going on an absolute tear after the Derby, getting his season total up to 49 with over a month left to play. Maybe, just maybe, Stanton will give us fans the asterisk-free home run record we've all been waiting 90 years to see broken.

I didn't know this until I looked it up on Beckett, but apparently there is a version of this card out there that doesn't show any dirt in the home plate area, and also shows a pole in the left-hand area of the image. Not sure which is more scarce, but even in the early 1960s, Topps had some work to do after the printing process started.

1955 Topps #85 Don Mossi (RC)
It wasn't just Hall of Famers in the vintage bin, each one safely tucked in a toploader. I managed to find one of Don Mossi, one of the Cardsphere's favorite mid-century players. This one is my first-ever from the 1955 Topps set, and it's really surprising how sharp and vibrant this card still looks after all these years, especially the back. That card back mentions that Mossi moved to the bullpen for his 1954 rookie season, after pitching as a starter during his previous seasons in the Minors. Mossi and his Cleveland Indians even won the AL pennant in 1954, which is where he made his only postseason appearance. The New York Giants won that Series, a team that Monte Irvin played on, whose card I also purchased from the same dealer.

This one and its 1955 Bowman counterpart are considered Mossi's rookie cards, and I couldn't have paid more than a couple bucks for this one either. It's a great choice to finally give 1955 Topps a home in my collection.

1956 Topps #99 Don Zimmer
Same goes for 1956 Topps, again setting me back just $2.00. '56, of course, marks the first appearance of action artwork on a Topps card, and it really makes it come to life. That famous blue "B" of the Brooklyn Dodgers appears in a couple spots, and let's not forget that this card was printed the year after the Dodgers finally won a World Series, the only time they'd do so in Brooklyn, thanks in part to Don Zimmer's "timely hitting". They won it all again in 1959, giving Zimmer his second ring as a player, but that was after the team moved to Los Angeles and found lots more success on the West Coast. The way things are looking for them this year, there's a strong possibility they'll bring home another title.

Topps, of course, was founded in Brooklyn, and to have the team ripped away just a few years into the company's unbroken run of baseball card sets must have been traumatic. Yet they helped bring baseball to a new generation of Americans, and I can picture buying a pack of these for a nickel in the drugstore that surely once occupied the dusty main street in Nebraska I recently found myself on. 

1954 Topps #9 Harvey Haddix
Going back another year to the three-border 1954 set, we have a card of Harvey Haddix, right in the middle of his three consecutive All-Star appearances. This one was a bit pricier at $5, but I couldn't pass up the player who famously pitched 12 perfect innings yet lost the game in the 13th. Anyone who saw Rich Hill's last outing must surely understand how frustrating a lack of run support is.

As you can see, these are all a little off-center, the corners are all a little fuzzy, and there's a touch of paper loss here and there. But all in all, none of these were used in bicycle spokes, and that's good enough for me.

1955 Bowman #160 Bill Skowron
I added to my 1955 Bowman collection by acquiring a card of Bill "Moose" Skowron, the longtime first baseman of the New York Yankees. Like most players in this post, Skowron's career was just getting started when this card was printed. He had yet to win his five World Series rings (four as a Yankee), but already turned in an impressive .340 batting average in his rookie year of 1954, continuing the sharp Minor League hitting this card tells us about. 

That's two woodgrain cards added to the collection, and at an extremely affordable price.

I can't help but chuckle a little bit at the "Color TV" label underneath the painting. This card was prophetic, as Skowron and his Yankees faced off against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1955 World Series, which was the first World Series broadcast in color. Now it seems like a given, of course in color, but also in ultra-sharp high definition. We're all pretty much surrounded by screens now, TVs, phones, tablets, and of course the screens on which we type out these blogs (except for the occasional handwritten post).

My mom generously purchased all the above cards I picked out as a birthday present, but I did drop a little extra cash on one more 1954 card.

1954 Topps #239 Bill Skowron (RC)
Continuing the Yankee show, Roy offered me Skowron's rookie card for $40, which I accepted. 1954 is my favorite set from the 1950s, and the general design gave me my first quasi-exposure to vintage, thanks to the 1994 Topps Archives 54 set. My local Wal-Mart carried packs of that set, out of which came my greatest pull ever, and my dad had an interest in the same set, often leafing through cards on display when he took me to the baseball card store. But I still have a hard time spending that much on a single card. Only the 1962 Al Kaline and the famous 1962 Mantle in my collection cost more. But it's still in great shape, and who knows, my dad may have had a card just like this.

And it's still way cheaper than those Griffey Gold Medallion parallels that occupy space in The Junior Junkie's vault.

Incidentally, having purchased two cards of a single player, I noticed that at least one of these had an error. This 1954 card lists Skowron's birthdate as December 30th, 1928, but the Bowman card says December 18th, 1930. Babe Ruth's 1927 single-season home run record was in place regardless, but Bowman is the one who got it right.

Sadly, of all the players in this post, only Don Mossi is still with us. These cards are pretty old, but as I look back on my 33rd birthday, it's a good reminder that time does pass by quickly, and, unlike when I first started collecting, the feeling that I have my whole life ahead of me is in the rear-view mirror.

All the more reason I had no intention of missing the solar eclipse, that rarest, most fleeting, and most amazing of events.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

BUNTing into the shift

It was a successful shopping trip to Target when I checked the shelves a second time for Topps Bunt 2017. This purchase was actually made prior to my blaster of 2017 Stadium Club, a set I chose to feature first, partially to keep my content more relevant, and partially because it pretty much blows any other Topps product out of the water.

2017 Topps Bunt #51 Chris Archer
Regardless of whether I buy Stadium Club or Bunt, I've been pulling plenty of Chris Archer cards this year. Archer, a strikeout master who earned his second All-Star selection this year, is still hovering around a .500 win percentage, about the same as when I last wrote about him.

I've been much less active in the Topps Bunt mobile app than in past years, but I still log in from time to time. I even got a 5-card pack of National Baseball Card Day virtual cards, which share the same design with the cards that were handed out at card shops across the country yesterday. But as they did last year, the Bunt base cards inside the app vary a little bit from this printed product.

2017 Topps Bunt #96 Marcus Stroman
Marcus Stroman, one of my fantasy team members this year, took a no-hitter into the 7th inning during the World Baseball Classic final this spring, where he teamed up with Chris Archer to bring the title home for Team USA. This card says he has a "sunny future", and based on this day-game image, the photo selection for this card ties right in. Even that double stripe in the background seems to evoke some sun rays, shining down on Toronto's ace.

I don't know if we're giving names to non-flagship Topps sets these days, but I'm offering up "the racing stripes set" for 2017 Bunt, which looks just like what you'll find on the fender of a Corvette Grand Sport.

Yes, I'm a car guy, in case you couldn't tell from that and yesterday's Jaguar reference.

2017 Topps Bunt #41 Jason Heyward
Jason Heyward, or J-Hey, as he'll be known on his Player's Weekend jersey, is decked out in Cubbie Blue at the plate. This color-coded set matches his jersey very well, and we get a glimpse of the jaw extension on Heyward's batting helmet, which he started wearing after suffering a broken jaw in 2013. Giancarlo Stanton, Keon Broxton, and many others throughout the league have been opting to wear a bit of extra protection when coming to the plate, and rightly so.

I took a little league pitch off the elbow once, and it remains some of the worst pain I've ever experienced. Taking a Major League fastball off the face, or worse, a line drive back at your head, is easily the scariest moment that can occur in a ballgame. Helicoptering broken bats are dangerous, but you usually have lots of time to get out of the way. It's dangerous enough out there, with a slippery base nearly destroying Bryce Harper's knee last night, to a hit-by-pitch today that caused Nolan Arenado to immediately remove himself from the game for a hand x-ray. Baseball should do all it can to avoid potentially life-threatening head injuries.

2017 Topps Bunt #155 Noah Syndergaard
Noah Syndergaard, aka "Thor", perhaps overdid it a bit with his training and conditioning, by his own admission. He's been out for most of the season with a torn muscle, adding to the Mets' injury woes that have plagued them for much of the past couple seasons. Somehow, they're still in third place, despite having one of the best rotations in the league stuck on the disabled list. But there are still long, flowing, blond locks everywhere you turn, accented by the Topps BUNT Racing Stripes.

By the way, Mets, you can't have Jon Gray.

Game of Thrones spoilers to follow.

Despite his injury (well, likely long before it), Syndergaard still found time for a cameo appearance in last week's Game of Thrones episode. In a medieval world where baseball does not exist, I'd probably pick a fireballer like Thor to be my chief spear-thrower. All seemed to be going well in the battle until a dragon showed up and char-broiled everyone to ash. That's not an injury you're likely to recover from, and even if there are dangerous flying objects, I vote for living in a time where competition on an open field is done with bats and balls rather than swords and spears.

2017 Topps Bunt Blue #194 Mike Moustakas
I pulled a few of the Blue parallels in this value pack of Bunt, but this one of Mike Moustakas looked the best. The Royals have so much blue in their logo and uniform, you can hardly tell this is a monochrome card. It almost looks like a cyan printing plate. In this insert set, I also pulled now-Rockie Jonathan Lucroy, and Thor's long-haired rotation mate, Jacob deGrom. Moustakas was the pick, partially because I wanted to throw his awesome Instagram handle out there again, @MooseTacos8.

This third baseman has two All-Star selections and a World Series ring to his name, and he needs just a few more long balls to take the Royals' season record, which currently stands at a surprisingly low 36. Even the great George Brett never had more than 30 in a season. They are an expansion team, and the winner of the only World Series ever between two expansion teams, but they've played almost fifty seasons. You'd expect someone to at least have passed 40 by now.

2017 Topps Bunt #195 Jorge Alfaro (RC)
Blue, blue, blue, blue, and a blue parallel. That's a lot of blue, so I felt the need to throw in a random Phillie I've never heard of, just to break up the monotony. Alfaro, apparently a top prospect in the Phillies organization, joined the farm system as part of the Cole Hamels trade. He hails from Colombia, a somewhat rare origin for a Major Leaguer, compared to Venezuela, which borders it on the west. I'm not sure whether this is a posed shot, or perhaps from batting practice, but I find it surprising that Alfaro is just wearing a backwards cap here, as I'm pretty sure catchers are required to wear a helmet when behind the plate.

2017 Topps Bunt Infinite #I-KM Kenta Maeda
I got a nice variety of insert cards in this value pack, starting off with another mostly-blue card, this one of Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, who hails from Japan. According to the card, Maeda idolized Ichiro as a boy, which Vin Scully had a bit to say about last year. In their first meeting, Maeda retired Ichiro three times, holding his idol hitless, which is all the more impressive when you remember that Ichiro has amassed thousands and thousands of hits in his career, helping pave the way for more guys like Maeda to even play in the MLB in the first place.

There's a faint photograph of Dodger Stadium layered over Maeda's bust, bringing to mind the card backs of 1992 Topps. I don't really know what makes this "Infinite", unlike the very obvious Power Zone insert card from this year's Stadium Club. But it's a nice enough card.

2017 Topps Bunt Perspectives #P-RK Ralph Kiner
I'm definitely not liking that this year's insert cards aren't getting numeric card numbers, as that pendulum seems to be swinging the wrong way again. But this yellow Pirates card gives us another color to look at, and the only horizontal card in the whole pack.

I hate to admit this, but I don't really know that much about this Hall-of-Famer. Thanks to this card, I now know that he was an avid golfer, and frequently played with celebrities like James Garner and Jack Lemmon. Thanks to my other research, I discovered that he was a Navy pilot in WW2, led the National League in home runs during several consecutive postwar years, and even hit 54 home runs in 1949, the highest mark seen in the National League between Hack Wilson and Mark McGwire.

Kiner had to retire at 32 due to a back injury, but not long after that, he began a long career as a broadcaster for the New York Mets. Other than his final season in 1955 as a Cleveland Indian, Kiner didn't have much to do with the American League during his long life. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 91. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975, making it in by the skin of his teeth, thanks to a single vote in his favor on his final ballot. He never missed an induction ceremony after that.

2017 Topps Bunt Programs #PR-OS Ozzie Smith
Unlike Kiner, this Hall-of-Famer isn't so far before my time. I saw him in person on August 26th, 1995, during my first-ever visit to Coors Field. Ozzie went 0-4 that day, but the Cardinals rallied in the 9th to scratch out a win at 20th and Blake. I don't remember if The Wizard dazzled us with one of his trademark backflips, but he was one of many players now in the Hall of Fame that I got to see as a boy. And a few more that should be.

Bunt Programs are pretty much the same as last year, giving us a close-up action shot on the front, and some cleverly worded story titles on the back, complete with fake page numbers. Ozzie gets gems like "Conjuring up 'The Wizard'", "Ace in the Hole," and from his 1985 NLCS walkoff highlight, "Go Crazy, Folks, Go Crazy."

I doubt that Topps has the editorial staff to actually build articles behind these tantalizing headlines, but I'd love a QR code or something where I can quickly find out what these features are referring to, especially for other colorful characters found in this insert set, like Goose Gossage, George Brett, Johnny Cueto, and Bartolo Colon.

This pack couldn't have cost me more than $3, and even if it's not quite as awesome as Stadium Club, I think Bunt has a real place in the market. I hope they keep it around, even if it's just so I can open current product at a low price point when the urge arises.