Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Trading Post #149: Dime Boxes

Mystery PWEs usually contain a little bit of everything. They're fun to get, but it can be difficult to weave all the cards in a post together. I told a friend once that I felt like what I wrote were little more than "glorified captions". But every so often, the contents of a PWE can be easily sorted into categories and pairings. A shipment from Brian some years ago (post #90) came to mind as I started putting this post together.

This PWE in particular came from Nick at Dime Boxes, and his Free Card Friday offerings earlier this year lead us to our first category. I mean, I guess these were all free. But I only selected two in particular. The rest were graciously included at no extra charge.

Category 1: Free Card Friday Oakland A's

2017 Topps Throwback Thursday #96 Yoenis Cespedes /1118

Of all the numerous cards that Nick offered, this is the one that caught my eye. It's modeled after a 1996 Topps subset called Star Power, which I could have sworn I've had on the blog before. I can't seem to find such a post, but it pretty much looks like this. The original is glossy on white card stock, while this is thicker and printed on actual cardboard. I think the typeface on the right side is a little different here, too.

The set itself is an online exclusive called Throwback Thursday, where Topps released one themed set a week using various past Topps designs. According to Beckett, this has a print run of 1,118. There isn't much on the card back about Yoenis Cespedes himself, but there are a couple paragraphs explaining what the Throwback Thursday set is, which design they picked for this weekly set, and yes, #TBT is there too.

This is from the sixteenth weekly set, featuring top Home Run Derby performers, and the card design changes the words "Star Power" to "Derby Legends". Also in this weekly set are names you might expect: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Mark McGwire, and more, Home Run Derby winners all. This photo is from Cespedes's second of two consecutive Derby wins, 2014's contest in Minnesota. The team logo and photo on the back have him as an Oakland Athletic, but he was traded to Boston mere weeks after becoming just the third repeat winner in Derby history, and only the second besides Griffey, Jr. to do it consecutively.

2006 Topps Chrome X-Fractors #155 Eric Chavez

The other Free Card Friday selection I made in those early days of the theme was another Athletic, Eric Chavez in shiny X-Fractor form. This one certainly looks like a proper Oakland card, containing plenty of yellow and green on the border and in the photo.

The first time I ever saw an X-Fractor was in the 2003 Chrome set. I found a couple at a card show still in their uncirculated Topps case, and they were numbered to a little over 50 copies. That's pretty much what got me back into the hobby. Just a few years later, the background pattern remained, but it simply evolved into yet another parallel without any particular scarcity. 

Serial numbered or not, I've continued to collect these, and a glance at some past posts led me to a rookie year Nolan Arenado X-Fractor sent by The Junior Junkie (post #30). It's certainly not one of the bank vault-worthy Griffey specials he has in his collection, but five years on, I should probably consider getting that one graded. Or at least put it in a toploader.

Though he spent most of his Gold Glove-caliber career in Oakland, Eric Chavez later became a Yankee, and it was there that he found himself involved in an all-time great blooper. I speak, of course, of the noggin incident, which gave us one of the best-ever baseball gifs. Just a simple groundout followed by an around-the-horn toss, after which Chavez accidentally hit pitcher Cody Eppley in the head with his toss back.

Category 2: Shiny

2016 Bowman's Best '96 Bowman's Best #96BB-NA Nolan Arenado

Speaking of Nolan Arenado, as I often do, here's a shiny card of him on the 1996 Bowman's Best design. Topps has quite the archive of past designs to use in reprints and reproductions, and that archive exploded in the mid-90s. Post #90 from Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary shows us what the contemporary 2016 set looked like, and this 1996 throwback was an insert set that year. It's faithful to the original, perhaps even a bit thicker, which is never a bad thing.

Even the stat categories on the back haven't changed. In an early attempt at advanced statistics, Topps included analytics like At Bats per Extra Base Hit, Games per RBI, and others. These aren't true Sabermetrics like we know them today, but certainly an attempt at trying to measure actual production beyond just counting. Interestingly, Games per Stolen Base is still on here as it was in 1996, and Nolan's rate is up in the mid-sixties. The game has certainly changed since that was a meaningful statistic for most players. Few players are still swiping bags these days. Nolan has more career triples than stolen bases, and triples are still somewhat rare even in the hitter's paradise that is Coors Field.

Below the Bowman Best Stat-Scan, as the analytics are officially called, the card back mentions Arenado's defensive wizardry, as cards usually do, stating that his Super Skills are his "astonishing reactions and short-area quickness at 3rd base".

2018 Topps Allen & Ginter Glossy Silver #36 Trevor Story

Compared to X-Fractors and Bowman's Best, Allen & Ginter really doesn't play in the shiny space. But this is a glossy parallel, so for A&G, this is about as shiny as it gets.

Specifically, this Trevor Story card is a Glossy Silver parallel, not to be confused with just the Glossy parallel, which Beckett has listed as a 1/1. I'm not sure how you'd tell the difference between those two, especially since I once saw an A&G mini (also from Nick, post #22) that was simply serial numbered with a blue ballpoint pen.

Cards like these were found in certain "hot boxes", Hobby boxes where all the base cards looked like this instead of the usual matte finish. A&G did something similar in 2017 with foil parallels, and Nick found those for me too.

As usual with Allen & Ginter, there isn't much on the back other than statistics verbosely spelled out. Batting average of Two Hundred Fifty Three, Drafted in June Two Thousand Eleven, and so on.

Category 3: My Friday Night

2019 Topps Utz #86 Charlie Blackmon

I'm breaking my own rules already by putting just a single card in this category. But follow my lead.

Last year, I searched high and low for Topps Utz cards, an oddball food issue set found in packages of Utz potato chips. I was never able to find any, though I did end up with numerous bags of delicious, crunchy potato chips as a consolation prize. I may have been looking in the wrong place, as even though the Utz bags I found last year had MLB team logos all over them, these cards were only offered in the mini snack-sized multi-packs, or so I've read.

I still don't know what I did wrong. The 10-ounce bags are basically a snack size for me.

It's true. I'm not making that up. I'm not proud to admit it, but once a bag of chips enters my kitchen, its lifespan is usually measured in minutes. Hours if I can tap into a supply of willpower.

I did a grocery run on Friday and got a bag, but they weren't Utz. I managed to make it last all the way until 10pm, about nine hours.

Anyway, I finally have an Utz card in my collection.

And as far as Friday goes, Charlie Blackmon was the hero for the Rockies that night. The Rockies were losing by a run in the bottom of the 9th. Ryan McMahon tied it up with a solo shot, saddling the Angels bullpen with yet another blown save. After a double and a pair of walks, Charlie Blackmon hit a 3-1 pitch over the wall for the second-ever walkoff grand slam in Rockies history. Ryan Spilborghs had the first, a 14th inning sprint around the basepaths back in 2009. The broadcast crew has been talking about little else the past couple of days, seeing as how Spilly has been on the TV team for years.

And all this happened around the time I finished that bag of chips.

Category 4: Infielder Parallels with Outfield Wall Banners

2017 Topps Gypsy Queen Green #245 DJ LeMahieu

This might seem like an oddly specific category, but I promise it will work out. First up is DJ LeMahieu, who has taken over a top-3 spot in 2020's batting average category now that Charlie Blackmon's .400 run is long gone. A well-rounded player, DJ is equally comfortable at the plate and in the field. He's just about to catch an incoming ball in this photo as a Pepsi banner looms behind him. 

This is the Green parallel from 2017 Gypsy Queen, which have arrived from all over the Cardsphere ever since. It's grown to be one of my favorite GQ designs so far. Curiously, more than a few of these parallels seem to have some centering issues. I haven't really noticed that on the base cards. Perhaps that's widely known among GQ aficionados, but this isn't a brand I follow too closely. I don't think I've ever bought it at retail.

2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary #286 Melvin Mora

Back in 2011, Melvin Mora got a curiously similar shot during his brief time as a Rockie. The incoming ball perfectly obscures his uniform number 6, which is currently worn by catcher Drew Butera. And just like DJ's card, Mora is in front of an outfield banner, which I believe is a Sony ad.

This is only Mora's second appearance on the blog, and by far the shiniest. This is one of the sparkly Diamond Anniversary parallels from the 60th year of Topps. They're not terribly uncommon, but they're certainly eye-catching. And the equivalent Mike Trout rookie card in 2011 Topps Update is worth many thousands of dollars, depending on the grade.

I haven't looked too closely at the 2021 Topps sell sheets, but by this count, they're up to their Platinum anniversary, the 70th. 2001 gave us untold levels of gold foil, 2011 has all this diamond shininess, but it remains to be seen just how much platinum will work its way into the Topps offerings next year.

Category 5: Jon Gray Parallels

2018 Topps Big League Rainbow Foil #239 Jon Gray /100

As a low-end set, I see Topps Big League arrive here frequently. The base cards I see a lot, and same with the gold parallels, which are really just a border color. There's no special foil involved there. But this is the first truly rare Big League card I've seen, the Rainbow Foil parallel. It's numbered to 100 right on the front, directly in Jon Gray's line of sight. He's probably used to that sort of thing, as I imagine having hair that long gets in your eyes at least once in a while. Between him and Blackmon, the Rockies don't mess around when it comes to long hair. That Utz card, by the way, tells us that Blackmon calls his mullet a "mu-LAY".

The card back has a fun "Did You Know?" fact about Gray, mentioning that one of his hobbies is ghost hunting.

It's really a shame that the league doesn't let these guys be themselves as much as some other sports do. Gray has his ghost hunting, Mike Trout has his meteorology, Charlie Blackmon is into fly fishing, CJ Wilson has quite a few varied interests. Sadly, fans don't really get to know about much of this unless they happen to see the occasional tweet or Cut4 post. Baseball card collecting is already a pretty niche hobby, and I'm sure that I'm one of the very few who actually still reads card backs. Major League Baseball might be able to have a player show up on the list of most famous athletes if they let them express themselves more. 

Although I have to hand it to Trevor Bauer. He's certainly trying his hardest.

2017 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini A&G Back #227 Jon Gray

All I'm saying is that card backs are a gold mine. In fact, you'd never even know this was a parallel if you didn't flip it over. Obviously, this is the mini-sized parallel already, but beyond that, this happens to be one of the back variations. It's the A&G back, just like Nick sent once before from the 2017 A&G mini set. He's filling out that 15-card page nicely, pretty much singlehandedly. My collection would be so much poorer without everything Nick has added to it over the years.

I've seen these twice now, so I'll flip this one over for you. It's only fair for me to scan the card backs once in a while if I keep stressing how important they are.

2017 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini A&G Back #227 Jon Gray (Reverse)

Category 6: Game Cards

2007 MLB Trade-Up #NNO Brian Fuentes

This is our final category, and I am pretty much in the dark about what this card is. This category will need a lot of research. That will be particularly difficult because Beckett has precisely nothing about this Brian Fuentes card. There's a giant comic-book exploding 1, a giant team logo, and not much else besides a quick note that Fuentes was the first Rockies reliever to make it to an All-Star game. That was in 2006, during a game held in Pittsburgh.

That and the 2007 copyright date help me narrow this down a little, and the card back on this playing-card-esque product has an MLB Trade Up logo. Still nothing on Beckett, but this does show up on a board game site. I've never heard of it, let alone played it. And I don't see a checklist other than a 52-card deck. If this is truly a deck that small, Fuentes might very well be the only Rockie in it.

I do know that Nick has always been into baseball card games, and has written a lot about MLB Showdown over the years. He's quite the collector of oddballs, and it's appropriate that he sent me something Beckett doesn't know about.

2011 Topps Sega Card Gen #257 Seth Smith

Unlike MLB Trade Up, I do see Sega Card Gen at least mentioned from time to time, primarily from the small handful of card bloggers residing in Japan. This doesn't quite feel like a playing card, but it does have rounded corners, despite what my scanner decided. It's a set that ties in to an actual arcade game, blending two of Japan's big entertainment industries. There's a spot on the arcade cabinet for your cards, along with a touchscreen where the game is actually played. I don't know if the cabinet can actually read which cards are inserted, or if that's more for display purposes and you have to enter your deck into the screen manually. I'd expect to see a QR code or something on the card back if it's the former, but the card number is pretty detailed, specifying "J11-257/410". So maybe that's what the system looks for.

2011 Topps Sega Card Gen #257 Seth Smith (Reverse)

In any case, the card back is nearly all in Japanese, so I have little idea what's going on here. Seth Smith is listed as a Power-hitting corner outfielder, his birthdate is there in YYYY/MM/DD format, and his height and weight are included in metric measurements. Beyond that, there are some numerals and bars which I assume relate to his skill in power and contact and fielding and so forth, but a lot of it is a mystery.

And apparently it's a Topps product, just like the Utz card. So I guess this isn't entirely an oddball after all.

Is it?

I guess each collector can decide for themselves.


  1. Glad I could help supply a dose of shiny! The backs of the Throwback Thursday cards are awful but the fronts are good enough to cancel that out. I accidentally bought the Cespedes twice on COMC, so thanks for giving the extra one a good home!

    I think I received that MLB Trade Up game as a Christmas gift when I was a kid. I might've played it once or twice, I don't really remember so it couldn't have been that exciting. I was going through my closet last year and found the game again -- I'd forgotten there were baseball cards inside! I've also never seen any information about them anywhere else, but they count as real, actual baseball cards to me.

  2. Cool Cespedes! The Chavez is nice too.

  3. You can always count on Nick to bring the variety!