Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Start of a Strange Season (Part 2: Inserts)

It wasn't that long ago that I was regularly pulling three or four Blue Foil parallels out of a single blaster of Opening Day. Unless my luck has changed, I'm more likely to just find one with today's level of production. 

2021 Topps Opening Day Blue Foil #177 Gleyber Torres

And here it is.

No need to hit the panic button just yet. We're still far away from the days of 1991 Donruss Elite, an insert set which you'd be lucky to find within four cases, despite a 10,000 print run. But still, it's getting harder and harder to find what you're looking for. And I'm not even sure these have a limited print run anymore.

In much the same way, the Yankees are having a hard time finding wins this season. They're in a tough division (and they usually are the ones making it a tough division), so their 31-28 record is only good enough for fourth place. The twice-no-hit Mariners have scored more runs this year. 

Gleyber Torres isn't really to blame for that, since he missed some time due to COVID protocols, but he has since returned and I'm sure he's just aching to play a few games against Baltimore to get his bat going. The card back shows his full professional statistics, so there's no room for a fun paragraph, but it would be a perfect spot to mention his 13 home runs against the Orioles in 2019.

For the first time in a while, the date listed on the front of these Blue Foil parallels was truly Opening Day, league-wide. No overseas exhibition games a week early, no big-market rivalry matchup the day before. Everyone simply began April 1st at the starting gate, as it should be.

2021 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-3 Mr. Met

The actual Opening Day has been in flux for a while, as have the insert sets found in the set itself, but Mascots are always there to delight us. This insert set is a big reason why I keep coming back to the brand.

For 2020, mascots didn't have fans to entertain nor many games to work, so most of these card backs mention their efforts in the community, such as working with MLB's Play Ball program or area nonprofits. All while properly masked, of course. Seeing mascots wearing masks reminds me a little of the airplanes that did too.

2021 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-7 Sluggerrr

Sluggerrr of the Royals also masked up, and he looks a lot like I looked for most of last year. Wearing a mask, shielding his eyes to see into the distance (part of my new birding hobby), and holding a sign that says "Food". This mascot is reaching right out to me.

He's also surrounded by cardboard cutouts, and my single favorite mascot moment from the strange 2020 season was Blooper of the Braves pumping up the cutouts, motioning for them to get on their feet. 

Yes, Blooper fully embraced his role last year.

I showed these cards to my girlfriend, and she remarked at how strange it was that Sluggerrr's crown is a fully-formed structural part of his head. In truth, these aren't that different from a giraffe's actual horns. But Sluggerrr is supposed to be a lion. King of the Jungle and all that. He shares uniform #00 with Mr. Met, Dinger, and Carmelo Anthony of the Portland Trailblazers, who we watched a lot last week during the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Nuggets, whose mascot is a similar-looking mountain lion named Rocky, advanced to the second round.

2021 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-16 Mariner Moose

As usual, Mariner Moose popped up for me as well. Seriously, I have an uncanny gift for pulling Mariner Moose cards. Someday I'd like to convert that into seeing a real one in the wild.

Mr. Moose looks exceptionally casual in this shot, throwing out the first pitch while wearing a pair of board shorts. Interestingly, I had a dream last night where I was on my way to throw the first pitch at a Rockies game. Somehow, I was identified as the one millionth fan at the gate, and was led as a VIP all over the stadium. I woke up before the actual ceremonial moment, but I'm pretty sure that's what they had in mind.

Somehow, I had the presence of mind while in the dream to question what the big deal was about being the one millionth fan. Even the lowest-attended teams pull in more than that during a season, Marlins excluded.

2021 Topps Opening Day Legends of Baseball #LOB-2 Roberto Clemente

Next up and new to the Opening Day insert family is the Legends of Baseball set. I'm pretty familiar with these from seeing them in the Bunt app, but it's nice to also have a physical copy. Each one has their place, and I'm starting to view it a bit like the physical book/e-book debate. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but electronic cards save you the trouble of having to buy sleeves and pages and binders. I can carry lots of "cards" around in my pocket that would otherwise require expensive and hard-to-find supplies to store. 

So I effectively have two copies of this Roberto Clemente card. Say what you will about digital cards, but no one will argue that he's a Legend of Baseball. A frequent Gold Glove winner, an even more frequent All-Star, and a beloved figure in Pittsburgh. He's an undisputed legend, and we'll sadly never know how much more legendary his numbers could have been if not for his tragic death in 1972.

2021 Topps Opening Day Legends of Baseball #LOB-23 Rickey Henderson

On the other hand, unlike Clemente's 3,000 hits, we can be reasonably certain that Rickey Henderson's 1,406 stolen bases was about as high as that number could go. Rickey played well into his forties for any team that would take him, and he added just three steals to that number in his final season.

A career that long will bridge different eras of baseball, from the speedy early '80s into the power-heavy early 2000s. As we know, stolen bases are an endangered species these days, but Rickey was on the cutting edge of the latest movement to disregard the old unwritten rules. Rickey would often bolt for second (or third) regardless of the count or the score. And judging by how White Sox manager Tony La Russa is (publicly) handling his own players swinging away on a 3-0 count, I have to wonder how he and Henderson ever got along all those years in Oakland.

2021 Topps Opening Day Legends of Baseball #LOB-10 Derek Jeter

With all the Yankee greats we've seen over the years, including Lou Gehrig who now has his own special day in the MLB calendar, it's surprising that they had a single-digit number left to give to Derek Jeter, another obvious legend. With Jeter's number retirement in 2017, not to mention his imminent Hall of Fame induction, every number from 1-10, and many others, have been retired in the Bronx.

Each of these card backs picks a few key statistics that confirms their legendary status, and of course there's enough for each of these players to fill volumes. Jeter's card tells us that he reached the Hall of Fame in 2020 with 99.7% of the vote, without quite saying that he was one vote shy of unanimity.

2021 Topps Opening Day Opening Day #OD-1 New York Mets

Across town, the New York Mets have a lot more of these numbers still in circulation. This Mets outfield crew celebrating a win on Opening Day 2020 are Brandon Nimmo, Jake Marisnick, and Michael Conforto. Nimmo's #9 is no longer worn in the Bronx thanks to Roger Maris, and Marisnick's #16 (obscured by his glove) was retired for Whitey Ford. Only Conforto's #30 is still available in both boroughs.

All three of these guys look really happy to be in the Win column, a feeling they hadn't known for a long time due to the shortened season. As expected, staff ace Jacob deGrom pitched the season opener, and as expected, the Mets gave him next to no run support, relying on a solo shot by Yoenis C├ęspedes to win the game 1-0. That's still continuing this year, despite deGrom's sub-1.00 ERA putting him in the conversation with 1968 Bob Gibson. I just looked up his WHIP and it is 0.569. His ERA+, an advanced stat based on the league-average ERA, is a statistics-breaking 624, with the league average defined as 100.

I mean, this guy's WHIP looks more like a slugging percentage. This is all unheard of, yet he has a 5-2 record with two no-decisions.

Typical Mets.

2021 Topps Opening Day Outstanding Opening Days #OOD-4 Bryce Harper

There are a few other insert sets with long odds that I didn't pull, but I had good enough luck with the rest. Outstanding Opening Days is the last of the plentiful sets, and a young Bryce Harper is the lone representative I found from this 10-card insert set.

You might think this is from Harper's debut game in 2012, but his career didn't begin until late April that year. His first taste of a true Opening Day came during this game in 2013, where he hit two home runs against Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins. Those two solo shots were the only runs scored all day, during a game that barely cracked the two-hour mark.

We're well into June by now, with the season a bit beyond one-third over. In fact, this is about as long as the regular season lasted in the shortened 2020 year. The season is still pretty young, and the Rockies are planning on taking Coors Field to full capacity on June 28th for a day they are calling "Opening Day 2.0". 

Perhaps I'll blog about my 2020 Opening Day blaster by then.


4 comments:

  1. Nice! I was hoping you would pull the moose.

    ReplyDelete
  2. By the way, deGrom's slugging percentage is .435, so it's not that far behind his WHIP! After four starts it was .545, but I'm not sure whether it ever got better than that.

    His OPS+ is a muscular 136, and his ERA+ is an unheard of 624. 624!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love the masked mascots! I just added the complete set to my saved ebay searches.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The moose is the best mascot to pull. Always! FWIW, seeing a moose in the wild is on my bucket list.
    I really like the legends of baseball insert design. It's clean and a bit retro. I can get behind that.

    ReplyDelete