Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Trading Post #105: I Need New Hobbies (Part 1: Shiny)

I'm a fan of whisky. And a good (but not absolute) rule of thumb is that the longer it's aged, the better it is. That rule held true for a recent trade I did with Scott, who writes at I Need New Hobbies. I first reached out in late 2014, offering up some 1992 Fleer Ultra. We exchanged an email or two, but nothing came to fruition at the time. It wasn't until just a few months ago when he dug up our old email thread and got the gears moving again, something he did with other bloggers as well.

As I'm known to do lately, I split this well-aged trade up into two parts. There was a lot of good stuff in here, and it proves that patience is a virtue. In fact, I've never spent as much time negotiating a trade as I did with this one. Most of my transactions are pretty open-ended. What teams do you like, any sets you're working on, are you building any mini collections, stuff like that. But this time was a different sort of swap. Want lists were carefully reviewed. Images were sent for review and approval. And at the end of the day, we hammered out a deal, even though the 1992 Fleer Ultra I originally offered was long gone.

Put your shades on; it's about to get shiny. Unless you're a flatbed scanner.

1995 Topps Opening Day #2 Dante Bichette
Before Topps Opening Day became the standalone product it is today, it was once an insert set found in factory sets of 1995 Topps. It's as shiny as you'd expect for a mid-'90s insert card, and reminds me a bit of some Topps Stars sets from the same period. Lots of little five-pointed stars in the background, and a bit of texture.

I've told my story about the night I stayed up to listen to the end of the inaugural game at Coors Field, the one where Dante Bichette hit a no-doubter in the 14th inning to win it for the home team. I don't really need a card to remember that, but Topps made one anyway, documenting his 2-for-4 performance, including four very important RBIs.

That opening day occurred a bit later in April 1995, on the 26th to be exact, thanks to some lingering fallout from the strike. I do wonder what the folks running the city of Denver thought at the time about having to open their shiny new baseball stadium a month late, but fast forward to today and it's become a great neighborhood to spend time in. Google Maps can barely keep up with the development around the ballpark and nearby Union Station.

Perhaps that memorable 14th-inning home run had something to do with what Denver is today.

1999 E-X Century #43 Dante Bichette
Clear cards like this present a bit of a dilemma. They're practically their own toploaders, but if you like to keep them in a binder, the card behind it disrupts the theme quite a bit. Still, the parts of this Skybox acetate card that aren't clear are pretty shiny, and even the clear areas have some nice purple coloring in the shadowy areas when you hold it up to the light, or even better, to a white background, like a computer screen or an X-ray illuminator (for example). It's a lot like a Topps Tek card, only without the ridiculous fractured numbering. In other words, it's a set you could actually complete.

There's not much in the way of stats or tidbits on the card back, just his 1998 stats, career totals, and the usual birthdate, height, that sort of stuff. But there's enough to notice that Dante Bichette celebrated a birthday on Saturday, and he wasn't much older when this card was printed than I am now.

Time flies.

2000 Upper Deck Hitter's Club Inserts #HC9 Larry Walker
In fact, quite a bit has happened since my last post. The baseball world experienced a tragic rule of threes, the end-of-season awards have been handed out, and next year's spring training schedule (and hats!) was just announced.

2018's Hall of Fame ballot just hit the newswire, and Larry Walker is still on it. Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero are my guesses for this year, but you never know when Barry Bonds will get enough of the vote to make it in. Having steroid-using superstars like Bonds and Clemens clogging up the ballot all these years really makes it difficult on the newcomers, leaving more debatable cases like Hideki Matsui and Omar Vizquel with a tough hill to climb.

And if Walker doesn't make it in, I don't think Helton will, which leaves us looking at guys like Arenado and Blackmon for the first Rockie inductee, assuming they keep up their current pace for another decade or so.

You'd think that an MVP award, three batting titles (one of which is documented on this Upper Deck insert), and darn near a Triple Crown would be sufficient. But Coors Field is about as much a kiss of death as steroids, apparently.

1998 Metal Universe #217 Larry Walker HG
Walker had quite the arm, too. He hit from the left side of the plate, but his right arm was an absolute cannon. The ball didn't quite get up to re-entry speeds during his numerous outfield assists, as pictured on this Metal Universe subset card, but he was dangerous to run against. To quote the card, "baserunners know they are in trouble when they see Walker wind up and a colorful flame trail, otherwise known as the baseball, heads toward the base of their choice."

Fleer laid it on a little thick with the outer space theme of this set as a whole, but 1998 was an odd time in the hobby. And Men In Black had just dominated the previous summer's box office, so I can't really fault them for it. It's a lot like Fleer's Pro-Visions cards, with a bit of added shininess befitting a "metal" set. It's not literally metal like the rust-prone Leaf Steel, but at least it's lighter and won't oxidize, like the surface of Mars does.

2013 Topps Opening Day Blue #219 Troy Tulowitzki /2013
It took a while for the Rockies to actually wear purple jerseys in the field. That happened quite a while ago, but it was a familiar sight by the time 2013 rolled around. This was back when Topps was still putting actual serial numbers on Opening Day Blue parallels, a feature I quite miss. I haven't seen these for a while, but they were showing up left and right a couple years ago. Also note the date of April 1st, 2013, a more proper date to begin a baseball season than April 26th.

Us collectors were chasing things all over the place in 2013, and Troy Tulowitzki was busy chasing down Barry Bonds' all-time Home Run record, about 632 short at the time. He's tacked on about another hundred since then, but all the records featured in the "chase" theme seem safe. It would have been a lot more interesting if Topps picked milestones (see this reddit post) that were reachable for some of these players, rather than Cy Young's 511 Wins, a record that will outlast the pyramids.

2013 Topps Heritage Chrome #HC45 Troy Tulowitzki /999
Out of curiosity, do the scratch-off areas of these 2013 Heritage cards actually work like the 1964s did? I haven't tried, and I'm not about to take a coin to this serial-numbered chrome parallel, numbered to just under a thousand. Neither a nickel nor a dime will come anywhere near this card, and especially not a quarter.

Coin buffs out there are likely to know that 1964 marked the end of the line for silver quarters, changing to the copper-nickel alloy we know today. There's no way kids in 1964 could have known that the silver quarter in their pockets and the cards in wax packs would appreciate so much in value a half-century later. But that's a long time to hold an investment, and in that time, the cards got shinier, and the coins duller.

1998 SPx Finite #269 Darryl Kile /9000
Speaking of copper, how about some Upper Deck? They embossed the SPx cards in 1998 with a copper seal, and serial numbered the most common of three varieties to 9,000 copies. The seal is surprisingly detailed; you can even make out "1998" at the top when looking closely. Further inspection with a magnifying glass lets you spot "USWest Sports Complex" below Kile's gloved left hand, set against a deep blue sky, locating this photo to the Rockies' former spring training facilities in Tucson. USWest was one of the "Baby Bells" created after the breakup of AT&T that has since evolved into CenturyLink, taking a similar corporate path that led the Giants' home park to be renamed so many times.

2006 Bowman Chrome Refractors #53 Kazuo Matsui
The first infielder from the Japanese leagues to play in the Majors, Kazuo Matsui, more frequently known as "Kaz", was a former pitcher in his native Japan. Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has been back in the news, with star Shohei Otani looking to make the transition to MLB. The trail has been blazed by now, thanks to numerous players like Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui (also on this year's Hall of Fame ballot), Ichiro Suzuki, and many others.

Kaz was a Rockie during their World Series run in 2007, shortly after this ghostly-looking refractor was printed. Bowman always gives us a decent scouting report, and tells us that Matsui (no relation to potential Hall-of-Famer Hideki) used to play for the Seibu Lions. Curiously, just a few days ago, Kazuo re-signed with the Lions as a player/coach, proving his longevity along with fellow countryman Ichiro.

It remains to be seen where Otani will land. Naturally, the Yankees are a favorite, but if it ends up being the Cincinnati Reds, that will mean that every team in the MLB has fielded a Japanese player. The Reds are the lone holdout, something that's sure to be a trivia question someday.

1995 Stadium Club Crystal Ball #CB7 Jason Bates
Jason Bates held the second base position a decade or so before Matsui, performing well as he progressed up the Rockies farm system. That progression earned him a spot in yet another card from 1995 Stadium Club that I've never seen before.

Seriously, was there something wrong with the collation that year? I swear I collected 1995 Stadium Club, and I found heaps of Virtual Reality cards, but it seems like every time I look, there's something else from that set that's escaped my attention for two decades.

Despite the Crystal Ball theme, Topps did about as well as most insert sets of rookie stars, offering up a couple Hall of Famers like Derek Jeter and (soon) Chipper Jones, a few well-known names like Shawn Green, LaTroy Hawkins, and Phil Nevin, plus several others that didn't really amount to much. Prospects are notoriously hard to predict. No one selected first overall besides Ken Griffey, Jr. has made it to the Hall of Fame, but Chipper will likely become the second. A-Rod has a case, and younger players like Bryce Harper are certainly on track. But 2013's first selection, Mark Appel, was DFA'd by the Phillies earlier this week, so it's anyone's guess.

2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Refractors #56 D.J. LeMahieu
Two-time Gold Glover DJ LeMahieu currently holds down the second base position for the Rockies, even though he's pictured here as a Cub. Bowman refractors can always be counted on for a bit of shininess, and every once in a while, they depict a player who has actually made an impact in the Major Leagues. The Rockies were lucky to get him, a player who "plays the game the right way", according to Bowman.

That little green accent on 2011 Bowman prospect cards is a nice touch, especially when it's in the lower part of the card to blend in with the field a bit. Though he's shown in the field where he was recognized with an award this year, his scouting report also tells us that he "usually hits for high average". Little did Bowman know that DJ would one day win a batting title with the Rockies, and award that's become as synonymous with the Rockies as Rookie of the Year is with the Dodgers.

2008 SPx #31 Todd Helton
I've seen cards from this die-cut SPx set before, and while it's not serial-numbered like Kile's, it will fit well with a Matt Holliday card sent by another trader. It's still one of my favorite die-cut designs ever, and this was included in the batch of scans that Scott sent to me for approval that really caught my eye. UD's clever use of shadows really makes this card pop, almost making it look like a secret compartment should slide out from somewhere.

1996 SPx #25 Andres Galarraga
SPx hit the market in 1996 with this design. Their trademark hologram, found on the back of nearly every UD card printed since 1989, inspired them to develop a whole brand around it. They had played around with it in 1994's Holoviews insert set, and they decided to scale it up to occupy most of the card, along with a rounded die-cut design. The only demerit is a practically illegible nameplate on the back, which looks like a rectangle of silver foil unless you look at it just right. We've seen a lot of SPx in this post, but this is the one that got the brand started. And it makes me miss Upper Deck quite a bit.

This is the first card from the '96 SPx base set in my collection, besides the Larry Walker card that Scott also included. I do have Fred McGriff's gold parallel from this color-coded set, which is obviously a lot more red. Coincidentally, those three cards offer a pretty good look at the 1995 NLDS playoff series between the Rockies and the eventual champions, the Atlanta Braves. McGriff whacked two homers in that series, more than both Walker and Galarraga combined.

2000 Bowman's Best Franchise 2000 #F17 Larry Walker
They don't get much shinier than this. Scanners really just don't do it justice. It's a shiny, mesmerising, textured insert card from Bowman's Best, as black on the reverse as it is shiny on the front. The back mentions Walker's home/road splits, a common criticism of Coors Field, and perhaps why he's not been able to make it into the Hall of Fame. But the card is right for the time, "No one puts on a better show for the home folks".

It actually takes a while to notice that the front is actually monochrome. The whole rest of the thing looks like a hundred little prisms, so you don't realize that Walker's image itself doesn't contain any color. That's how shiny it is. And if you ask how much shinier it could be? The answer is none. None more shiny.

Thanks Scott, and I'm glad this trade finally worked out!


  1. The Heritage scratch-offs do indeed work. I tried it once -- although if you hold the scratch-off part up to a light at just the right angle, you can see right through it anyways.