Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Trading Post #132: Baseball Every Night

Just a couple weeks ago, the baseball world celebrated National Baseball Card Day, which fell on August 10th. I didn't have a chance to make to any of the few remaining card shops in the Denver area, but I did tune into the Rockies broadcast that evening for the festivities. The TV crew opened some packs of 2019 Topps on-air, and many of the players reminisced in pre-game segments about their history of collecting cards. Scott Oberg said his father worked for Score back at the height of the overproduction era, and the company gave their employees a free factory set every year.

Despite not doing much with cards that day (in fact, I rebuilt one of the more technically challenging Lego sets in my collection), Peter at Baseball Every Night helped me out with a single-card PWE.

2019 Topps National Baseball Card Day #10 Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado was the Rockies' representative in the special 30-card set that Topps released for the occasion, and Peter was nice enough to send it my way. Topps even used a picture from this season, as the Rockies no longer wear pinstripes with their purple or black alternate jerseys, just with the full white uniforms. Nolan has his usual level of intensity on display, and Mike Schmidt has some kind words to say about him on the back, such as "He puts up numbers I never dreamed of."

That's high praise from a Hall-of-Famer like Schmidt. And rightly so, since there are a whole lot of red numbers on the card back.

Design-wise, the two slanted opposing corners reminds me a lot of Panini's 2013 Pinnacle set. I'm not too much of an expert on the legacy Panini brands, but maybe there's a bit of 2019 Donruss in here too?

Speaking of Scott Oberg, he is expected to miss the rest of the 2019 season after being treated for a blood clot. Jon Gray is out for the year too, despite turning in a masterful eight-inning performance against the Marlins last week, which I had the pleasure to witness. The race for second place in the NL West remains fairly tight, although 2019 will likely end up being a disappointing season for the Rockies. After two straight years of Wild Cards, 2019 is shaping up to be pretty typical here in Denver. Things look pretty good in spring, then a horrendous July takes the team out of the running, then by late August everyone's attention starts turning to football.

But I have tickets for Saturday against the Pirates, and you bet I'll be there to cheer my team on.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Trading Post #131: Nachos Grande

You're about to see a rare event on Infield Fly Rule. This is a post with precisely zero Rockies in it. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure that none of these guys ever even suited up for the Rockies. That is surprising, both because the current nature of the game dictates that players are traded almost like stocks, and because this is the largest-ever Trade Stack ever claimed from the recently-redesigned Nachos Grande, at a whopping 35 cards.

I've had Trade Stack #93 on my desk for quite some time, and while everyone's favorite Barry Larkin collector documented his end of the trade in short order, it's taken several months for me to get to it. I've travelled a lot this year, and have seen quite a few MLB games, even one in another city! I had the good fortune to see Billy Joel play at Coors Field on Thursday, who is simply excellent in concert. He even peppered in a couple of Eagles songs.

I haven't been to a Rockies game in a couple months. In fact, my most recent game was the one in San Diego almost a month ago, which is appropriate for our first card.

2017 Topps Heritage #81 Adam Rosales
Adam Rosales is currently in the Cleveland Indians organization, and hasn't played in the big leagues this year. But not long ago, he played a full season with the Padres. That was in 2016, the same year the All Star Game was in San Diego, as noted on Rosales's uniform patch. Topps included him in 2017 Heritage on the '68 design.

Rosales is listed as a third baseman, but he has the versatility to play all over the field. His 13 homers in 2016 was the highest mark of his career, and his signature move is sprinting around the bases after sending one deep. I love seeing hustle like that. He's like the anti-Machado, for a whole bunch of reasons.

One other thing I'll mention about Rosales is that one of my good friends knew him growing up. He's less than a year older than me, and my friend says he and some other buddies "used to take swings in his basement in Park Ridge." How cool would that be for one of your childhood friends to make it in the big leagues? I don't personally know any Major Leaguers, but my sister knows Deck McGuire and his wife. They have kids around the same age, and have all been to storytime at the library together.

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen #130 Michael Fulmer
There were many retro sets represented in this trade, so it's going to take a while to find a glossy card, and even longer to get to the gold foil. Gypsy Queen may be one of the many retro sets out there, but even it is embracing Sabermetrics. The card back tells us that Michael Fulmer had a 0.71 HRA in 2017. I'll admit, I had to look that one up. It stands for Home Runs Allowed (per 9 IP), and Fulmer had the lowest rate in the league that year.

I'm not the type to downplay the importance of advanced statistics, unlike many old-school announcers. This is a game of numbers, and there are some valuable insights to be gained by slicing the numbers a different way. The only trouble I have with them, as I was still raised on batting average and ERA, is that I don't have that innate sense for what a "good" number is. 0.71 HRA sure sounds good, but I'm not at the point where I can, at a glance, know whether that's better or worse than other players. I'm sure it will come with time, but it's a bit like the metric system. I know the math behind what, say 90 km/h represents, but probably couldn't pilot my vehicle to that exact speed without having to convert it in my head. It's a bit like a second language, I suppose.

Even with all this talk of Sabermetrics, I'm reminded of a post I ran across on reddit today. Since the dawn of Major League Baseball there have been nearly precisely as many hits as there have been half-innings. Well over a hundred years of play across hundreds of thousands of games has produced a sport that generates, on average, one hit per every three outs.

2009 Upper Deck Goudey 4-in-1 #35-56 Russell Martin / Brian McCann / Ryan Doumit / Geovany Soto
Upper Deck gave us plenty of entrants into the retro set library, including their brief resurrection of the Goudey brand. The 2009 set offered an insert set modeled on the 1935 design, which featured four players per card. This grouping of four catchers, two of whom are still playing, unintentionally foreshadowed Upper Deck losing their MLB license the following year. These four close-ups of armored catchers doesn't feature a single team logo.

This is actually a fantastic card for fans of catchers on the defensive side of the game. Current sets don't give us many catchers who aren't simply batting, and I'd love to see more cards like this, especially with catchers still wearing their masks, as Ryan Doumit is here. Remember that Johnny Bench card from 2017 Stadium Club? Catcher's gear cards are awesome, and might even be mini-collection worthy.

1999 Upper Deck Retro #90 George Brett
Most catchers on cards just happen to be partially in the frame, like this unknown American Leaguer behind George Brett. The mask is there, along with a left-handed mitt, but there's not much else to go on. Some of the coloration in the background is making me lean Blue Jays, but that's just a guess.

Like in the previous Trade Stack I claimed, there was some Upper Deck Retro. This base card is from 1999, the final year of the set's two-year run, and this is the first base card from the '99 set to enter my collection.

The card back has no picture, but includes about half of his annual stats, a color palette similar to the front, the usual Upper Deck diamond hologram, and a fun fact about this Hall of Famer. You may have heard this before, but we're told that George Brett is the only player to win batting titles in three different decades. One of those years, 1980, also was his MVP year.

Back on the front, in tiny print on the lower left, Upper Deck has the slogan "A Guaranteed Hit". I doubt that meant UD was promising a rare card in every box, and more likely referred to their certainty that this set would be a top seller. As "nineteen 99" (also spelled out in the lower left) was the final year of Upper Deck Retro, that did not come to pass.

1998 Upper Deck Retro #115 Mark Kotsay FUT
I've yet to see a base card from the prior year, 1998 Upper Deck Retro, but Nachos Grande has become my sole supplier for 1998's Futurama subset. This marks my fourth card from that subset, one from very early in Mark Kotsay's career. The journeyman outfielder played for seven teams before retiring, and shifted to first base later in his career.

I didn't really notice the sepia-toned photographs last time I saw these, but when you know Kotsay is wearing the bright teal jersey of the early Florida Marlins, it's slightly jarring to see that taken away.

1991 Topps Archives 1953 #25 Ray Boone
A major part of this trade stack was a batch of Cleveland Indians from the 1953 Archives set. Ray Boone, who took over at shortstop in Cleveland for Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau, would be traded to Detroit partway through the 1953 season, leaving the city where he began his career and earned a World Series ring in his rookie year of 1948. His one and only postseason at-bat was a strikeout in Game 5.

1948, of course, was the last time that the Indians won the World Series. That's 71 years, but that number becomes particularly impactful when you remember that was Ray Boone's rookie year, and his son Bob and grandsons Bret and Aaron have all concluded their MLB careers by now. Aaron Boone is now managing the Yankees, and had to argue against Brett Gardner's completely unwarranted ejection during Friday night's game in Toronto.

2018 Topps Allen & Ginter World's Greatest Beaches #WGB-5 South Beach
Boone's card is the glossiest one we've seen yet, but as retro as this post is, let's include some Allen & Ginter, shall we? Every year around this time, the hobby erupts in either appreciation for the set, or indignation for the so-called quality of non-baseball topics in the set. I still enjoy it, and the History of Flight insert set in 2019 A&G interests me, although I will question the skipping of card numbers 301-350.

Anyway, here's a card of a beach. I made sure to get some beach time in during my trip to San Diego, and even managed to avoid a sunburn. I haven't been to South Beach, the subject of this insert card, or even Miami. My beach visits in Florida have been limited to the Cape Canaveral region. It sure looks enticing, though I doubt you'll find three perfect scallop shells like you see on this card.

1994 Post #30 Orlando Merced
I've hunted for them more carefully than seashells, but try as I might, I have yet to find an Utz potato chips oddball card this year. Fortunately, I love potato chips even when they don't include baseball cards, so that's not a huge disappointment. Perhaps I'll just have to keep searching. However, I'm not really much of a breakfast guy. I'll have an apple for breakfast most days, or perhaps the occasional granola bar. I can't remember the last time I bought a box of cereal, so completing a Post cereal oddball set would be out of the question. Fortunately, I have trading partners looking out for me.

Long before Upper Deck lost their MLB license, companies like Post were putting out sets with the logos airbrushed out. Pirates outfielder Orlando Merced was the final card in the 30-card checklist that year, and this is the third card I have from the set. Andres Galarraga is in my collection, which I thought I posted about once upon a time, but I couldn't find anything in the archives.

There was another logo-less cereal oddball in this stack, the Kirby Puckett card from the 1989 Cap'n Crunch set. Bob Walk the Plank added that to my collection long ago in The Trading Post #4.

1995 Collector's Choice #26 Paul Shuey
I was a big fan of Collector's Choice as a kid, and I bought plenty of this 1995 release. I didn't notice until recently, though, how strange these Rookie Class subset cards are. The bubbly pink background wouldn't be at all out of place in 1995 Fleer. Maybe it's just Paul Shuey's card, because a few others in my collection have a much smoother background in the pink area.

I also question whether this is a true action shot, because that is certainly a strange look on this reliever's face, which goes along with a comically high leg kick.


Incidentally, he is one of the few pitchers to pull off the error-assisted feat of striking out four batters in an inning.

1994 Topps Gold #351 Gary DiSarcina
We're finally at the point of gold foil, and what better way to introduce it than on 1994 Topps Gold? There's an anthem shot on the card back for you mini-collectors, and Gary DiSarcina is wearing the same California Angels uniform that was used in Angels in the Outfield, one of the baseball movies I grew up watching.

DiSarcina spent is whole career with the California/Anaheim Angels, and is now the third base coach for a New York Mets team that is heating up at a good time. Their walkoff win on Friday night saw Rookie of the Year candidate and Home Run Derby winner Pete Alonso (aka Polar Bear) hit his 38th home run of the season.

2001 Topps Gold Label Class 1 #23 Darin Erstad
Gary DiSarcina retired in 2000 without any Postseason experience, but his teammate Darin Erstad was present in 2002 for the first World Series title won by the Angels.

Really, he was more than just "present" in that Series. His leadoff home run in the 8th inning of Game 6 kickstarted a rally that would not only see the Angels stave off elimination, but go on to win the whole thing in Game 7 over the Giants, with Erstad himself catching the final out.

This Topps Gold Label card was printed a year before that, with a photo from 2000, their 40th Season. Erstad is sporting an anniversary patch on his right sleeve documenting that milestone, back when the team was still known as the Anaheim Angels and was laying it on a little thick with the heavenly wings motif.

There's another reason I remember Darin Erstad besides his World Series heroics. He was the subject of a trivia question I missed. One day in high school, my teacher asked a question about her alma mater: "Which Angels player went to the University of Nebraska?" I guessed Chad Curtis, drawing on my encyclopedic knowledge of the 1994 Topps set many years too late. Curtis hadn't been an Angel since then, and the correct answer was, of course, Darin Erstad.

Whether they're a friend of a friend or the answer to a trivia question, these baseball players are more than just athletes.

Thanks to Nachos Grande for the swap!