Saturday, November 6, 2021

Two Years of Change

Two years and two days ago, I spent $28 at a Local Card Shop in Aurora, Colo. It was my first visit to All C's Collectibles, one of the few LCS survivors that had somehow flown under my radar all these years. They also specialize in comics, but as a lifelong baseball fan, I stayed on the periphery of the store where most of the MLB-related goodies were to be found.

I spent most of my time and money going through a discount box, picking out anything shiny or Stadium Club that I could find, including a pair of cards of a player who has stolen the spotlight the past couple days.

2016 Stadium Club Contact Sheet #CS-8 Buster Posey

As you have likely heard by now, Buster Posey announced his retirement. Spending his entire career as a catcher for San Francisco, he won three World Series with the Giants, as well as a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award, and seven All-Star selections. Twelve seasons might seem like a relatively short career, but catcher is a grueling position, and the broken leg he suffered in 2011 led to the current rules we have around blocking the plate and the sliding lane.

Still, at just 34, he's not the only one to step away from his sport when he probably had some good years left. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts comes to mind, and there's speculation that Posey just made a tremendous amount of money as an early investor in BodyArmor, a sports drink brand that Coca-Cola just acquired for $5.6 billion.

Back in 2016, Posey found himself in numerous Stadium Club insert sets. I picked up this one from the 10-card photography-themed Contact Sheet set, which I've seen before (I'm at 50% completion!). One of the filmstrip photos of Posey shows the "LON" memorial patch the Giants wore in 2015 for Lon Simmons, the team's longtime broadcaster. The card back mentions his two grand slams in late June 2015, and if you're curious whether he hit either of those against the Rockies, he did not. They were divisional, though, as they came against the Dodgers and then the Padres.

Now is probably a good time to share the highlight of his final MLB hit, a two-out double in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.

2016 Stadium Club ISOmetrics #I-24 Buster Posey

Elsewhere in the 2016 Stadium Club master set, Posey was included in the 25-card ISOmetrics insert set, heavily color coded for a Giants player. I've seen this set a couple times too, although I'm far from completing it. 

The season-specific stats Topps highlighted on the card front here are pretty representative of his overall career. His batting average dipped a bit since 2015, as is true for the entire league. 74 runs scored isn't even a career high for him, but is quite excellent for a catcher. And 6.1 WAR in a season is also excellent, although neither Fangraphs nor Baseball-Reference list 6.1 for his 2015 WAR. That complex calculation has evolved over time, and varies depending on whom you ask, so I won't say it's an error. For all I know, Topps has their own WAR calculation.

Posey's fWAR for 2021 was 4.9, ranking among the highest WARs any player has ever put up in the final season of their career, and many players near the top of that list were involved in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

2019 Stadium Club #178 Bo Jackson

Moving forward a few years in the history of Stadium Club, I found a couple base cards from 2019. First was a relaxed Bo Jackson at the height of his baseball career with the Royals, casually blowing a bubble in the dugout.

Bo Jackson's career will always be one of the great what-ifs in baseball lore. Without getting into the gory details, a freak injury he suffered in an NFL game led to the need for a hip replacement, ending his football career and impacting his MLB career. He attempted a comeback, but it was not to be. It's a real shame, because he could have been one of the all-time greats.

Buck O'Neil used to tell a story about a particular sound he heard once in a great while, a crack of the bat unlike any other. "Like a stick of dynamite going off," he said. In a lifetime around the game of baseball, he said he heard it three times. First from Babe Ruth. Second from Josh Gibson. And finally from Bo Jackson.

Joe Posnanski tells it better than I could ever dream to.

2019 Stadium Club #54 Hank Aaron

The last Stadium Club card I picked was of Braves legend Hank Aaron, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The Atlanta Braves were able to win the 2021 World Series in six games over the Astros, a fitting tribute to one of the greatest players of all time. The Braves won 88 regular season games this year, 44 before the All-Star Break, and 44 after. We also find ourselves in the 44th week of the year, which Vin Scully pointed out on Twitter.

And of course, Hammerin' Hank's uniform number was 44, which we saw mowed into the outfield grass at Truist Park.

This particular photo was from when the Braves were playing in Milwaukee, as you can tell by the letter M on Aaron's cap. That narrows this down to some point between 1954 and 1965, before the Braves departed for Atlanta in 1966. It would be another 20 years past that before they finally got rid of that logo on Aaron's left sleeve.

1990 Bowman #121 Dave Martinez

We'll come back to the discount box in a bit, but first I wanted to cover a few other affordable collectibles I found scattered throughout the store. First was a factory set of 1990 Bowman, priced at around $5 or $6. I'll never turn down a complete set for those prices. 

1990 was the year Bowman mercifully decided to get with the times and go with standard card dimensions, abandoning the 1950s-era size that won't fit in 9-pocket pages. It's a simple design, not deviating much from the 1989 design other than adding the player's name and team at the bottom in lieu of a facsimile signature.

It wasn't a particularly remarkable purchase otherwise except for one thing. This shopping trip was less than a week after the Nationals won Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. Then, as now, the team was managed by Dave Martinez, who once played for the Montreal Expos. The Nationals franchise, of course, was once known as the Expos, but that wasn't the weird part. The weird part was that there was one particular card facing the other direction inside the box. As best I could tell the set was still factory sealed, but somehow, after all those years, I found one card in the middle facing the wrong way, against the slight curl of the rest of the cards.

Dave Martinez.

2019 Topps Opening Day #31 Nolan Arenado

I found some current packs toward the front of the store, and I selected one from 2019 Opening Day. I always enjoy the set no matter how far we are from the actual occasion. And I've enjoyed several variations of this well-cropped horizontal photo of Nolan Arenado the past couple years, even though it is significantly less festive than last time I saw it.

Little did I know at the time Nolan wasn't going to be playing for the Rockies by the time I got this post up. It's basically a foregone conclusion that Trevor Story won't be coming back, and the latest news is that Jon Gray isn't likely to reach a deal either, even though he's the only one of the three who actually wants to remain with the team.

At least Charlie Blackmon will be around for another year.

1998 Pinnacle Inside #109 Tony Clark

Although none of that may end up mattering much anyway, because MLB is hurtling headlong towards another labor dispute. I only mention it here because former Tiger Tony Clark is now the executive director of the MLB Player's Association, so his name will likely be in the news plenty this offseason.

Shortly before their bankruptcy, Pinnacle released the Inside brand for a second year. This slightly blurry photo of Tony Clark is flanked by a few of his 1997 stats, much in the same style as Buster Posey's ISOmetrics card. I got a whole pack of these, and I still have the can they came in.

Yes, the can. Like a can of tomatoes.

Pinnacle was out there. So was Pacific. The hobby is poorer without them around.

Now, back to the discount box.

2001 Topps Archives #245 Al Kaline 54

By now, we've probably had our fill of Topps reprints, but in 2001, Topps Archives was pretty exciting. This isn't quite as alluring as the refractor-finish Archives Reserve set that year, but it's printed on actual cardboard and is surprisingly thick. In other words, it's a reprint that has the general look and feel of the original card, gold foil seal notwithstanding. Also the '54s were slightly larger than the standard size we know today. Just like '89 Bowman and Topps Big, which were my first exposure to the 3 3/4" x 2 5/8" size.

Sadly, like Henry Aaron, Al Kaline is no longer with us. He passed away on April 6th, 2020, and I wrote a tribute post at the time. But back in 1954, he was a young rookie, destined for great things. He didn't make it into the 1953 set, so this '54 is his Rookie Card. It would definitely cost a few hundred bucks to get a relatively nice original, so I'm happy with a $1 reprint.

For now.

2019 Topps '84 Topps #T84-30 Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas didn't get a ton of Postseason playing time during his Hall of Fame career, but he's a regular fixture on the broadcast team now, right next to David Ortiz and Álex Rodríguez. Topps gave him a card in their 1984-themed 35th Anniversary set in 2019, and this time The Big Hurt is holding an actual baseball bat, not that famed piece of rebar.

2017 Topps Update All Rookie Cup #ARC-21 Anthony Rizzo

But as an example of reprints getting a bit out of hand, here's a 2017 card of Anthony Rizzo, a mere four years after the original came out. The gold foil clearly differentiates it from the actual 2013 base card it replicates, but Topps still saw fit to include the word "REPRINT" on the card back to avoid any confusion.

The card itself is from a 50-card insert set found in 2017 Topps Update, which focused on the history of the Topps Rookie Cup. Rizzo did get one on his card in 2013, and he shares the checklist with players new and old. Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, Lou Brock, and many more. The card back has large images of the two Topps Rookie Cup versions found on cards throughout the years, and an explanation of Rizzo's 2012 season that earned him one.

I'm sure this is the 1990s kid in me talking, but I have to say I like the gold foil on the 2013 design more than the silver foil Topps originally used. Not that you could tell either way from the scan.

2010 Topps Cards Your Mom Threw Out #CMT-11 Mickey Mantle

Reprints do have their place, and for the longest time I relied on them to learn the vintage designs and keep some of my dad's idols in my collection. I eventually remedied that, but I still enjoy the 1962 Mickey Mantle in whatever form it takes. 

This one is from the famous 2010 "Cards Your Mom Threw Out" insert set, something Topps put out with absolute confidence during the first year of their monopoly. It spanned 174 cards across three series, and features some of the most iconic Topps cards of all time, starting with the '52 Mantle at card #CMT-1.

2008 Upper Deck First Edition StarQuest #SQ-9 Derek Jeter

Even as we get further away from a time where Upper Deck had a presence on the baseball side of the Hobby, I still can't get enough of these green Starquest cards. It's such a pleasing shade of emerald and they will practically jump out of any discount box right into my hand.

Derek Jeter was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame just a couple months ago, but the actual vote that put him there was about to get underway a mere two weeks after I visited All C's. No one was surprised that he was a first-ballot member, but the identity of the lone voter who left him off their ballot remains a mystery, and ensured that his longtime teammate Mariano Rivera would be the only unanimous inductee for the foreseeable future.

By the way, Derek Jeter has another connection to this post. He is the star player depicted on my can of 1998 Pinnacle Inside. I opened it on the bottom for display purposes, and a smiling Jeter in a warm-up jacket is pictured on the front.

I mean, it's a cylinder, so there technically isn't a "front" of the can, so to speak, but nearer the seam on the "back", there's a nutrition facts-looking label called "Product Facts". The serving size is 10 cards, and there is 1 serving per container. The pack odds are given, and we are promised that we're getting 100% of our % Daily Value of Collectability (sic), Top Players, Inside Info, and Cool Inserts.

Pinnacle very accurately and loudly proclaims that the Inside '98 set is "THE ONLY BASEBALL CARD IN A CAN!" It really was unique but it takes up so much space to package, ship, and store cards that way. It isn't particularly kid-friendly, either. Pinnacle was sure to stamp on the top of the can to "Open with adult supervision". I managed to do it without leaving a sharp edge, but this product was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

2001 Stadium Club Diamond Pearls #DP6 Vladimir Guerrero

After his son wrapped up his rookie season in 2019, I found a card of Vladimir Guerrero, Sr. He was part of the 20-card Diamond Pearls insert set from 2001 Stadium Club, the set that tends to have stickier cards than perhaps any other. This one doesn't seem too bad, but the surface does look a little bumpy to me. Maybe even slightly blistered.

In any case, this card became accidentally relevant during the 2021 Postseason, thanks to Joc Pederson's unique fashion choice of a string of pearls. He's quite the character, and he now finds himself on a short list of players who won the World Series in two consecutive years with different teams.

2019 Finest Blue Refractors #57 Mitch Haniger /150

I've never opened a box of Topps Finest, but I seem to have no trouble finding the occasional gem from the expensive set, like this beautiful Blue Refractor numbered to /150.

Alas, despite all this talk of the Postseason and the World Series, the Mariners haven't quite been able to sneak in for twenty years, though they got tantalizingly close this year. Outfielder Mitch Haniger has been one of their stars, and even has an All-Star appearance to his name. 

The card back tells us about his highlights on June 12th, 2018 against the Angels. Topps got the details...sort of accurate? Haniger did have a home run and an outfield assist that day, but they got the innings all wrong and they incorrectly imply that Haniger's homer was of the walkoff variety.

Incidentally, if you've ever been curious about how to pronounce my last name, it's pretty similar to Haniger. I have a couple extra consonants in there, but that's the general sound. It rhymes with Gallagher.

1991 Leaf Gold Rookies #BC26 Rickey Henderson DP

Finally, I couldn't pass up any early '90s insert with this much gold foil. Leaf really pulled out all the stops for this bonus card. Believe it or not, it's actually the final card of a 26-card insert set called Gold Rookies. Lots of prospects fill out that checklist, like Ryan Klesko, Mike Mussina, and Mo Vaughn.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that Rickey Henderson, was not, in fact, a rookie in 1991. Nor was Nolan Ryan, who is also in this checklist. But Leaf decided that honoring Rickey Henderson's record-breaking 939th stolen base and Nolan Ryan's 7th no-hitter were worth disrupting the overall theme of a Rookies set. I can't say I disagree.

A well-stocked LCS, especially one that's been in town for so long, always has surprises. Including some fresh, sealed 1998 air.


  1. Cantastic! I had a few of those cans. They'd been sealed until just a few years ago to 'preserve' their value. Expiration date long passed, I decided to crack them open. I enjoyed the base cards but must've been unimpressed. I can't recall any significant card found therein. I kept Piazza and Ripken cans and tossed the others into my recycling bin. Pinnacle now, is nothing as it was in the 90s. It was one of my favorites. I bought a case of that stuff in 94. "Museum" is still among my fave parallels of all time. I still tinker with the idea of owning a set. Outright purchase mind you. I don't have enough days left in my life to build it.

  2. A. Gonna miss looking up Posey in the box scores. He's been my favorite Giant ever since Mad Bum left town.

    B. Miss the days of walking around the flea market and finding $5/$6 complete factory sets. That 1990 Bowman set was a nice find.

    C. That Rickey insert was such a huge pull in my neck of the woods back in the day. Every now and then, I'll find a copy in a dime or quarter bin. I pick up every copy I can at that price.