Friday, October 18, 2019

Nearing Closing Day (Part 2: Base)

Following up Part 1, in which I found a nice stack of Coors Field cards in a blaster of 2019 Topps Opening Day, there were several other cards that I wanted to showcase. The photography in 2019 Topps Opening Day perhaps isn't all that different from past years, but there are still some gems to be found, even though it's dramatically reduced in size compared to the full Topps flagship set.

2019 Topps Opening Day #182 Anthony Rendon
Our first player has already punched his ticket to the 2019 World Series, Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals. There's a lot of debate about whether Rendon or Nolan Arenado is the better player, and sure enough, the Rockies third baseman is mentioned on the back, the only player to match Rendon's three-year totals for home runs, doubles, and RBI. A quick check of Baseball Reference shows that Arenado was actually slightly behind in doubles, but significantly ahead in both RBI and home runs. Either way, they're both fantastic players, although Rendon is the first one to appear in a World Series.

The All-Star Game was held in Washington, D.C. in 2018, and the patch on Rendon's right sleeve confirms that. As you'd expect, the patch itself contains lots of stars and stripes, as well as the dome of the Capitol building. Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby in his home park that year, although he won't be joining his former team in the Fall Classic, despite his Spring Training slip-up.

2019 Topps Opening Day #118 Dereck Rodriguez
Dereck Rodriguez came up the other day. I mentioned him as the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan from that Toys 'R' Us set, and here he is continuing his father's Major League legacy. He's also continuing Tim Lincecum's long hair legacy for the Giants.

Rodriguez has a commemorative patch, too. There were a lot of them in 2018. This one marks the 60th Anniversary of the Giants' arrival in the Bay Area, a simple black and orange diamond with one tower from the Golden Gate Bridge above the "60". In about a decade, they'll have been in San Francisco longer than they were in New York. They're about as far away as you can get from their old crosstown rivals, or more accurately, cross-river rivals. The Polo Grounds were in Upper Manhattan, right across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium.

2019 Topps Opening Day #142 Eddie Rosario
With the Washington Nationals finally having some Postseason success, their predecessors, the Washington Senators, have been getting some airtime recently. The 1933 World Series, Walter Johnson, that sort of thing. Neither participant from '33 remains in their original city. The New York Giants won that in five games over the Senators, and that initial iteration of the Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961. Oddly, the second Washington Senators began play that same year as an expansion team, and have since become the Texas Rangers.

The decision of the Dodgers and Giants to move to the West Coast kicked off some real chaos in the Major Leagues. It was clear there was a market for expansion, and New York wanted to bring the National League back to the city quickly. There were attempts to move an existing NL team to New York, but those efforts didn't bear fruit. The next idea, courtesy of New York attorney William Shea, was to form a third major league, the Continental League.

The Continental League rapidly made plans to start their own eight-team league, matching both the NL and AL of the time. I knew even less about this proposed league than the dead-ball era Federal League, but apparently numerous cities that now have a team were on the list. Atlanta, Dallas, Toronto, and even Denver. Of those eight, only Buffalo remains without a team today. Obviously, the Continental League never got off the ground, and once the NL agreed to form the New York Mets, William Shea was satisfied. The Mets even named Shea Stadium after him.

Meanwhile, Denver remained without a team, and Bob Howsam, the Denver Bears owner who was due to get Denver's CL franchise, was left in the lurch. He had a massively-expanded Bears Stadium on his hands and suddenly no major league team to put there. His solution? Use the lessons learned in forming the failed Continental League to join the American Football League (AFL) and bring the Denver Broncos to life.

The Rockies history books mention the Continental League only in passing, but Denver's favorite pro team, the Broncos, can trace their roots to early attempts to make it a Major League Baseball city.

Anyway, all that to point out that Eddie Rosario is on the Twins, who used to be the Senators. And he got a great Tatooine card in 2019 Topps Opening Day.

2019 Topps Opening Day #50 Mike Clevinger
Unlike the rest of the teams thus far, the Cleveland Indians have stayed put for much longer. Their franchise briefly played in Grand Rapids, Michigan before moving to Cleveland for good in 1900. They've undergone a few name changes, and more recently, logo changes, but they've been part of Cleveland history for well over a century.

Mike Clevinger, who also carries on Tim Lincecum's long-haired tradition, has been a solid part of the Indians rotation for a few years now. The main thing that caught my eye on this card wasn't his hair, nor was it his tattoos. Actually, it's the pitch grip. Even with all the pitcher close-ups we've been getting on cards for most of this decade, a clear view of the pitch grip isn't terribly common. I remember a Darryl Kile card from a while ago which shows his circle change quite well. This one of Clevinger shows the old classic, the four-seam fastball.

2019 Topps Opening Day #154 Sean Doolittle
Joining Anthony Rendon in the World Series this year will be relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, with an appropriately high relief pitcher uniform number. His unique pitching stance hides any commemorative patch we might otherwise see, so good thing Rendon has it on his card. No pitch grip to see here, but it looks a lot like he's letting the Opening Day logo dangle out of his hand.

2019 Topps Opening Day #46 Clayton Kershaw
Surely you've seen this Clayton Kershaw card by now. Looks like another four-seamer, but the main feature on this card, unfortunately, is that Kershaw's fly is down. They fixed this in post by the time Chrome was released, but that's an embarrassing oversight. It's not quite as bad as Billy Ripken's infamous 1989 Fleer card, of course.

After so many Postseason disappointments, Clayton Kershaw is developing quite the reputation for having the yips in the month of October. He's thrown some gems, but has been the goat more than a few times, and that's a lower-case goat, if you get my drift. Most recently, he surrendered two solo home runs and the lead late in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals, setting them up to take the series in extra innings. Looking at it more closely, he seems to be the victim of poor managerial decisions more often than not, and has been thrown out there on short rest quite often. People already seem to have forgotten that he got a key strikeout to end the prior inning, and if a different member of the Dodgers bullpen had been brought in, the narrative could be a lot different.

2019 Topps Opening Day #49 Willson Contreras
Like Eddie Rosario's card above, the horizontal cards in this set look great. They work well with the design, i.e. not too much of the card design encroaches on the photo. The photographer managed to capture Willson Contreras at just the right angle not to include the umpire or the batter. Just a catcher behind the plate, all alone in Wrigley, pacing his pitcher for the next throw.

On the card back, flanked by a lovely coral color scheme, we're told that Contreras erupted for an offensive onslaught against the Cubs' South Side rivals, the White Sox. That was last May during a weekend series at Wrigley, which happened to be the best two-game hitting performance by a Cub since Billy Williams in 1968.

2019 Topps Opening Day #132 Kevin Pillar
If you watch the baseball highlight reel regularly, then seeing Kevin Pillar in a position like this is quite normal. He's one of the most fun outfielders to watch in the whole league, and frequently makes catches you wouldn't think are possible. Though he's pictured with the Blue Jays, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants just days after the 2019 season began. That means I got the chance to see him play at Coors Field this year, and while I don't remember any great catches in particular, he did hit a two-run home run that chilly evening of May 7th. It should be right there on my mom's scorecard.

Year after year, Opening Day is known for its insert sets. We got a taste of the Mascots set a few posts ago, and part 3, the final one of this series, will feature the usual insert goodies from this inexpensive Topps brand.


  1. Lots to comment on here...

    A. That Contreras is sweet!

    B. When everything is said and done... I hope baseball fans remember Kershaw for the good things he did, instead of the bad. The guy is a class act and one of the most dominating pitchers of his generation.

    C. Rendon is a beast! I like Arenado too... but it's time that Rendon climbs out of Nolan's shadow. Bringing home the 2019 WS MVP would be a nice start ;)

    1. I'm definitely pulling for someone in Washington to win it!