Friday, October 24, 2014

Tough stuff


The pursuit of 1956 Topps is a slow one for me. I wouldn't even call it "deliberate". It's more like "plodding".

If I stumble across a '56 card that I need, then I will be happy to add it to the collection. But since '56 Topps cards never pop up during my daily errands, nor do I think to search them out during my very sporadic bouts of online shopping, I often must rely on the kindness of semi-strangers.

Robert of $30 a Week Habit recently sent three '56s my way. They are all very interesting, as each '56 Topps card tells a story that modern day cards can't.

One of my favorite stories from the Bobby Hofman card here is that although it's very interesting that Hofman appears to be washing the baserunner's face with the ball, Hofman didn't have a lot of experience behind the plate. In fact, out of the 341 games he played in the majors, only 26 can be documented with Hofman catching. He was mostly a second baseman.



The other two cards are also interesting for the action portrayed in their respective insets.

The Stobbs card was a '56 of the Month subject (will I ever resume that series?). It is notable for the fact that Stobbs, an American League pitcher, is diving back to first base as a baserunner, an event that has become very rare since the advent of the designated hitter.

The Gomez card shows the pitcher running to first base during an apparent groundout. This isn't something that a pitcher is noted for doing either, but good for '56 Topps showing the unusual.

These cards can be artifacts for when the "Well that doesn't make sense TO ME" crowd finally gets their way and the designated hitter is the rule for all of major league baseball. We can remember the whimsical days -- in what will be a very unwhimsical world -- when pitchers could do things besides "be a pitcher".

But all of that is tangent for what this post was supposed to address.

Have you ever held a 1956 Topps card (or any Topps or Bowman card from 1952-56) in your hand? Not encased in a top loader, but the naked '56 card in your two hands.

What comes to your mind?

I mean beyond the genius and artistry of the set.

Well, for me it's how sturdy the cards are.

They are barely thicker than your average 2014 piece of Topps base slickness, but which one do you think would emerge victorious in a bar fight? Certainly not Topps Update Jackie Bradley Jr.

No, it would be Chuck Diering or Wally Westlake or Toby Atwell.

The cards created in '56 could stand up to your average 10-year-old boy. And it wouldn't squirt out of your hand like every flagship set Topps has made since the mid-1990s.

I feel confident taking one end of a '56 Topps card and whacking it against the end of a desk. I don't worry that I'm going to harm it or alter it. And it makes a satisfying "thwack!"

And while both the '56 Topps card and the 2014 Topps card are easily ripped (probably the '56 card even more so), I am more confident in the real cardboard of 1956. It feels like Something. While the 2014 card -- even though you know that it would never decompose in any landfill -- feels like something that will flit away in the wind and evaporate at 30 feet.

Baseball cards in the '50s, like fathers and TV dinners from that same era, were made solid. Unyielding. Substantial.

That's probably another reason why I want to collect it. I know my '56 Topps will be a cherished part of someone's collection even long after I'm gone.

I'm not nearly as confident about any of the cards that I've collected that were made in the last 10 years.                         

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

C.A.: 1976 Topps Mickey Rivers

(When I was a kid I begged to stay up for the World Series and wished it would last forever. Now I'm required to stay up for the World Series and can't wait for it to end. Life plays tricks, man. Welcome to Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 214th in a series):


This has been one of my favorite cards from the 1976 Topps set since I first saw it in 1976. I'm sure that if you asked me then, "why do you like this card so much?" I wouldn't have been able to explain it.

I still don't know if I can explain it.

But I'm going to make an attempt. I think the reason why I like/liked it is because it was so unusual for its time and that made it stand out to me. Even in 1976, almost four decades ago, the photograph on this card was old-fashioned the moment people pulled the card. Pretending to field a fly ball? Wasn't that something they did on cards from the '60s?

In the years since, the old "pretend" poses have gradually been fazed out because of everyone's addiction to ACTION.

But you can still find some "pretend" hitting poses:


There's Magglio Ordonez nailing a drive from the sidewalk.



And there's Miguel Cabrera conveniently following through so he can show his hand tattoo.



And there's Chris O'Riordan blasting the ball before it hits the brick wall behind him and pelts him in the back of the head.

There are so many more of those kinds of poses, usually reserved for retro sets like Heritage and Allen and Ginter, but also used as a fall-back pose for some rookies still.

There are also plenty of "pretend" pitching poses.


The classic close-up.


Or from a distance.

Amid all of the action, there is still no shortage of cards issued of players pretending to pitch.

As far as "pretend" fielding poses, there are still some. Catchers still squat, and first baseman still put out their mitt like they're waiting for a throw.


The "pretend to field a grounder" shot -- a staple of sets from when I was a kid and featured, oh, maybe 75 times in the 1975 Topps set -- is still around, too. Although, like I said before, it's usually a rookie who is doing the pretending.

But the "pretend to field a fly ball" shot?

I haven't seen a lot of those in my 40 years of collecting. Upper Deck used to play with the "I caught the ball at the wall" shot, staging a player with the ball in his glove and mock surprise on his face.

But this shot?


I know Yaz.



And I know Mickey.

I'm sure I'm missing some others -- probably sitting right  in my own collection -- but there can't be a lot of them, or else I would have stumbled across them during a random shuffling of the cards. Which is what happened when I found the batting and pitching and grounder poses.

It's actually good that's it's been so rare for 40 years.

It makes the Rivers card distinctive. Quaint, even.

But when you're pulling runs like this in 2014:


It's appreciated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Who will hand me my crown?


Several bloggers recently received what turned out to be "farewell" packages from our buddy Jaybarkerfan (I still don't know what that means).

Wes said that he's stepping away from his blog, but still plans to bestow surprise cards on people, which is really his forte anyway. But I know him for something else. He's the guy who crowned me "Blog of the Year" the last three years.

Not that I expect it or anything -- I'm taking a much cavalier approach to blogging than in previous years -- but who's going to hand me crown No. 4? How am I supposed to brag and boast and do touchdown dances at the deli counter like Ickey Woods?

There is serious gloating left to be done. I don't think Wes thought this through.

But I will take my mind off of that fact by opening my own farewell package from Wes. As usual, I don't know how he's sending out all these cards -- didn't he just send me one of these?


I'm starting with the best one first. I repeatedly mention how '80s needs are the most frustrating because I SHOULD HAVE THEM ALL ALREADY.

This '86 Fleer All-Star card of my favorite player in the '80s was one of the most elusive. Now it's not. And if only players created large, cartoonish stars when they connected at the plate.



Brad Penny looks positively skinny in this photo. How'd Donruss do dat?



I believe relic cards started somewhere in the late 1990s and by 2002 the only bats available were from pitchers.



I did not know that there were silver signature parallels on Upper Deck Fun Pack cards and don't anybody tell me how prevalent this was.



Every current Sandy card (this is a mini) is a reminder that I need to do a better job of acquiring Koufax vintage. I think that will be a project for 2015.



It's my first Eric Riggs autograph. This would've been pretty cool around 2002, except I didn't collect then, or even know who Eric Riggs was.



I love these. Didn't know they came blue-bordered. Or maybe this is just the way they look and I'm paralleled out.



Here is a blast from the past. Remember these guys? Remember lame titles like "Teammate Timelines"? Remember Upper Deck?



I shall end with a numbered item of the guy who's already gobbling up offseason awards because he's the greatest pitcher there is especially considering how sucky the Dodgers bullpen is.



Also, everyone is now realizing that Jaybarkerfan is actually the Hamburglar according to this card that he inserted in each package (signed with the same silver marker as the Piazza card ... hmmmmmmm).

So this makes me think that he's stealing hamburgers and then selling them for cards which he then gives away?

That's pretty cool. Kind of like a hamburger/baseball card Robin Hood.

Good luck in your non-blogging endeavors, Wes.

Perhaps you could send that Blog of the Year crown in the mail, too.

Monday, October 20, 2014

That year was next year


I wasn't around for the 1955 Dodgers. I missed the amazement, the astonishment of that day, when before fans' disbelieving eyes, the Dodgers were finally winning a World Series.

"Wait 'Til Next Year" were just words in a book to me, devoted to an event that took place years before I knew what baseball was. "Next Year" -- 1955 -- was something I never experienced.

But I had my own "Next Year". It didn't involve my favorite team, nor was it as long a wait. But it was exhilarating nonetheless.

My attachment to the Kansas City Royals doesn't come from living in the Midwest or because their colors are similar to the Dodgers or because I want the Giants to lose when the World Series starts. It's not even because I remember the Royals' victory in the '85 Series. No, my attachment began in 1976 when the Royals took on the Yankees and were demoralized by Chris Chambliss' home run off of Mark Littell.

The Royals then met the Yankees again in 1977 and 1978, with similar results. The Yankees always won. As a young baseball fan, surrounded by Yankees lovers, many more obnoxious than the last, this was the height of unfair. The Royals wanted nothing more than to get to the World Series. And the boorish Yankees wouldn't let them. And then the Yankees would go on to beat my favorite team just for spite.

Imagine a kid who couldn't go to bed when he wanted, couldn't have cookies when he wanted, couldn't play baseball until he wanted, never being able to root for the winning team. I never got my way. It seemed like the decks were stacked everywhere. You couldn't have what you wanted unless you were big and rich and loud.

And because of this my allegiance to the Royals grew year by year.

In 1979, we all got a breather. The Yankees didn't make the playoffs. The Royals didn't make the playoffs. Heck, even the Dodgers didn't make the playoffs. It was a relief. A kid didn't need that kind of stress year after year.

But then, in 1980, they were back. At least, the Yankees and the Royals anyway (not the Dodgers -- stupid Astros). The Royals featured a lot of the same characters from 1976-78, but they seemed older, a little more world weary.

I didn't expect anything different than what occurred in '76, '77 and '78.

Which is why I was so incredulous when this happened.



George Brett's home run off of Rich Gossage was my Next Year. The Royals were going to the World Series! By beating the Yankees! Wait 'Til Next Year???? This was NEXT YEAR, chumps!

So, yes, I was like all K.C. fans that year. And although the Phillies would win the World Series and it was crushing, at least the Royals did something no one figured they could ever do. They beat the Yankees in the playoffs. Brett's home run signaled the end of the Yankees' reign. The Dodgers would finish them off in the World Series in 1981 and the Yankees wouldn't be the same until the 1990s. This is the reason why I always felt that the Yankees set out to get Brett (highlighted by Billy Martin's moves in the Pine Tar Game). They knew what he had done to their franchise.

The 1980 Royals gave me astonishment and that fairy tale feeling that I had yet to experience in baseball (I have only fleeting memories of Carlton Fisk's home run in the '75 World Series). K.C. was a part of my emerging awareness of the culture of baseball, too. The first hitting coach I was ever aware of came from the Royals. The first groundskeeper, too.

So this is why I root for the Royals this week. Yeah, they're the good guys, but they're also the Next Year guys and so much more. It's more than 1985 or Ned Yost's bunting or Moooose. It's about 1980 and what can happen even though you don't think it can happen.

Here are the Royals cards I was staring at when Kansas City finally advanced past New York:


 


Thanks, Royals, for 1980 and Next Year.




Now, go out and amaze me again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fully completely

 

One of the greatest highs in this hobby, the reason why I think it can be called a drug, is set completion.

For me, nothing in collecting baseball cards will exceed the rush that I receive from finishing a set. Completion, to me, is what elevates this hobby above simple accumulation. The ability to assemble a set by the numbers on the back or the uniforms players are wearing on the front, and actually complete it, is an achievement that I think even collecting outsiders can appreciate.

Completion means that this is no longer just a bunch of cards but the resolution of a pattern. The full puzzle. It's point A to point Z with all of the letters (or numbers) in between. It is an accomplishment -- however easy or difficult.

Let's face it: the loan might not have gone through, or your kids might not have turned out how you wished, or you're off your diet again, but daaaaamn, look at that set in the binder!!! Don't they all match up? Don't they all look like good little soldiers wearing their similar border designs? You did it, bud (or budess). You did it! YOU COMPLETED A SET!

When I first started collecting cards, set completion was the goal. I never achieved it back then because what kind of kid has the money to finish a 660-card set?

For that reason, I think, I tried instead to simply complete sets of my favorite team, the Dodgers. Twenty-five cards was a lot easier than 660. The first one I completed, I believe, was the 1977 Topps Dodgers set. What a great day in my purple plaid pants world that was.

And now, even though I've completed many full sets of 660 cards, 726 cards, 792 cards, etc., etc., I continue to try to complete Dodgers team sets. Because they're just a little bit easier.

And that's why I celebrate when I finish one off, no matter how mundane the set.

For example, Julie of A Cracked Bat sent me the last five Dodgers cards I needed to complete the 1995 Select Dodgers team set.

The Raul Mondesi card at the top is one of them, along with these:




Now, honestly, the '95 Select set doesn't mean much of anything to me. There aren't many mid-1990s sets that do. The design is kind of annoying and some of the players from that era are, too.

But never mind all of that because I got to erase 1995 Select from my want list!!!!

That was a giddy few seconds as I crossed off the last few numbers, I tell ya.

This is why I'm collecting. To cross off the last few numbers, then add those final few cards to the binder, stare at them in admiration, and give myself a high-five. You better know that I'm smiling when I write this. I completed a team set today!

Of course, not all cards I received finish sets. They're just part of the process.

Let's see that process in action:


There's another Mondesi, contributing to the ever elusive 1992 Bowman team set.



There is Pedro Martinez, contributing to the 1994 Pacific completion quest, before he departed for Montreal.


There are four Dodgers pitching in to complete the 2014 Triple Threads Dodgers team set, although one is a numbered purple thing, which is actually detracting from the team set quest, thank you very much parallels.



This one is for the 2013 Triple Threads team set attempt, which has barely begun because, hey, it's not like I buy Triple Threads.


2000 MLB Showdown? Yeah, it's part of the team set try.



And this beauty assures that I don't break up the complete set of '94 Pinnacle Naturals that I once won from a blogger. I've been tempted to separate shiny Piazza from his friends just to put it in my Dodger binder. Now I will never be tempted again. Thanks completion gods! And, of course, Julie.







None of these have anything to do with the completion theme because they're all inserts or parallels. I like them because my team completion ways morphed into an accumulation habit. But at least I'm sensible enough not to try to complete insert or parallel sets. I don't want to put myself into full-on misery while trying to accomplish.

But look:


I completed another Dodger team set!

Julie sent me the Gil Hodges card from the 1995 Upper Deck Sonic Heroes of Baseball set.

Yeah, it's an easy team set to finish. It's the only Dodger in a 20-card set.

But I felt just as grand crossing the last card off of this list as I did 1995 Select or any of the other lists that saw the last number erased.

When I complete a set, no matter how large or small, I do in fact feel complete. Fully. If only for a short period of time.

Completion happens so seldom in life. At least cards are there to give that to us.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I shouldn't be buying new stuff anymore


I don't know what happened with me and Topps Update. Update used to be the most fascinating product outside of the first cards pulled from Topps flagship. But that was back when it was called Topps "Traded" and I don't think there's any going back.

This is probably more about me than the actual product, but let's review why Update and I have had a falling out:

a) I don't find it interesting anymore.
b) I don't know who these people are anymore
c) It seems to be more about new players, rookies and all-stars than what it once was: guys traded to new teams
d) so much extra crap in the set that doesn't need to be there. But I've written about that before.

Still we'll address each in painful detail:

A) Years ago, like during the first few sets of Update/Traded in the 1980s, the Update cards were the most mind-blowing cards ever. I've also written about this before, but here's an example of a card from the glory years of Update/Traded:


Look at that.

For almost the entire year of 1982, if you pulled a Fergie Jenkins card out of a Topps pack, Fergie was a Texas Ranger. He had been a Texas Ranger for four years. He was a Texas Ranger in Donruss and Fleer, too.

There's a good chance that if you collected in 1982 that you pulled the Topps Jenkins Texas Ranger card several times that year, too. And then ... AND THEN ... to find a card that looked just like the one you had been pulling all year, except that Jenkins was now a CUB with the Topps Cub pink and blue colors for 1982, well, that was an excuse to run around and show that card to the entire neighborhood.

And, of course, there was the back:


Every 1982 Topps card back was dark green, so you can imagine how many eyeballs were fried when collectors turned the card around and saw this beauty.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is that the Topps base set and the Update set are too similar in the way they look. Change it up a little! And I don't mean add even more All-Star cards (good gravy there are already too many), I mean make the back different or make the foil logo on the front say "Topps Update" or something. It's too much of the same.

B and C) Who are these guys?

This probably has to do with the fact that I don't pay as close attention to the players as I did in the '80s (the fact that there are more players than ever before doesn't help), but when I opened Traded/Update sets back then, I knew most of the players in the set. There were a lot of established players who had changed teams in the set.

Now we have this:



I don't know who he is.

It turns out he started 10 games for the Pirates this year. But unless he's in the league and pitching regularly for the next four years, he will quickly evaporate into the ether in terms of my "baseball knowledge".

After looking through the cards I pulled in a pack of Update (this is a pack break post, didn't you know?), I realize that -- yes -- this is my issue, not Update's. I just don't follow baseball closely enough to get excited about Update anymore. This is a set for big-time followers, people who check every boxscore each day, who get updates throughout the day, who don't care that there appears to be 1,500 people who play major league baseball each year now, etc.

But I don't do that anymore. No time.

D) Weeeeee, filler!

Nothing irks me quite like filler. Happy talk at the end of the newscast, movie plots with no point other than to pad the length, food packages filled with air when you open them. Filler is giving the viewer or consumer the impression that there is more to something than there actually is.

Welcome to Update.

Why are there Clayton Kershaw cards in Update? He's not a rookie, he wasn't traded, he doesn't need to be there. But he's there because of filler. He's a star, collectors collect him, if Topps wants people to buy Update then they need stars in the product, whether they were traded or not.


I wish I could tell you if there was a Jon Singleton card in Series 1 or Series 2 or another Singleton card in Update. I just don't pay attention enough to know. But I get the impression that there is, because when I turn the card over, there are no rows of stats, just a little write up about his debut.

This, to me, is a card that doesn't need to be here. It's puffery.

We have filler in the newspaper world, it's called "filler ads". I try like hell not to use them. But Update seems to be a product that relies on filler -- heavily.

So, what it comes right down to is Update isn't a product for me anymore. Hasn't been for awhile. Decades even.

So why did I buy a pack?

Got to see what's new I guess.

Here's what's new:


#US-80 - Josh Harrison, Pirates



#US-47 - Steve Tolleson, Blue Jays

#US-265 - Yoervis Medina, Mariners
#US-307 - Santiago Casilla, Giants (blaaaaaaaaargh)
#US-275 - Boone Logan, Rockies
#US-39 - Brock Holt, Red Sox
#US-62 - Adam Eaton, White Sox


#US-108 - Ryan Doumit, Braves

#US-106 - Collin Cowgill, Angels
#US-118 - Collin McHugh, Astros


#US-26 - Mookie Betts, Red Sox

#US-249 - Eduardo Nunez, Twins
#US-189 - Brandon Cumpton, Pirates
#US-71 - Justin Masterson, Cardinals
#US-22 - Kendrys Morales, Mariners
#US-139 - Jason Hammel, Athletics


#PPA-MS (stop it) - Max Scherzer, Tigers, Power Players insert

These look very 2003. And I'm glad I'm pulling Tigers, because suddenly there are a bunch of Tigers collectors.


#FN-JA3 - Jose Abreu, Future Is Now insert


#FF-GB - George Brett, Fond Farewells insert

I PULLED A GEORGE BRETT CARD THE DAY THE ROYALS CLINCHED THEIR FIRST WORLD SERIES BERTH IN 29 YEARS. THIS IS THE GREATEST PULL OF THE YEAR. GEORGE BRETT YOU GUYS GEORGE BRETT!!!! OH PLEASE, GEORGE GET YOUR ROYALS TO SMITE THE GIANTS DEAD! SMITE THEM SO CONVINCINGLY THAT MLB HAS NO OTHER CHOICE BUT TO CONTRACT THE GIANTS LIKE THEY SHOULD HAVE YEARS AGO AND WE NEVER HAVE TO HEAR 'THEY JUST KNOW HOW TO WIN' EVER AGAIN. PLEASE, PLEASE, GEORGE, FOR THE SANITY OF THE GREATER GOOD!



#TM-GSP (it'd be so much easier to type a number) George Springer, Astros, '89-style diecut

#US-88 - Jon Singleton, Astros, rookie debut
#US-110 - Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox


#US-125 - Jason Bartlett, Twins

#US-322 - Drew Pomeranz, Athletics
#US-197 - Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays


#US-259 - Craig Kimbrel, Braves, All-Star

The moment I saw these caps during All-Star festivities was the moment I wished I could unsee them. But of course now they're preserved on cards forever.

#US-247 - Tony Watson, Pirates, All-Star (I've got to figure out who is on the Pirates)


#US-234 - Feliz Hernandez, Mariners, All-Star (microphones!)

#US-253 - Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
#US-290 - Cam Bedrosian, Angels
#US-148 - Kyle Parker, Rockies


#US-50 - Jacob deGrom, Mets

#US-10 - George Springer, Astros
#US-176 - Michael Brantley, Indians, all-star
#US-292 - Chase Utley, Phillies, all-star


#US-315 - Carlos Gomez, Brewers, all-star

Supposedly that was 36 cards. I didn't keep track.

I did notice there were no Dodgers. So that was a waste of whatever I paid for it. Except the George Brett card, of course.

I bought these cards on Wednesday and am showing them on Friday, which is an unheard of delay in me buying new product and it appearing on this blog. That probably tells you where my head (and life) is at more than anything.

To summarize:

a) Update isn't for me anymore
b) I'm old
c) I'm really pissed off that the Giants weaseled their way into the World Series again with their pathetic 88 wins and second-place finish.
d) I'm old
e) I've got to buy some vintage quick
f) I'm too busy for cards and blogs
g) stupid managers are stupid
h) I'm old
i) and cranky, don't forget cranky
j) vintage
k) always
l) vintage
m) that's all, I promise
n) I promise
o) but vintage
p) OK, really, I promise
q) the end