Sunday, September 24, 2017

C.A.: 1981 Fleer Fernando Valenzuela

(I attended the Paul McCartney concert last night. I won't say it was life-changing, but seeing 35,000-plus people of all ages respond in unison to a 75-year-old playing songs for 3 hours with joy and enthusiasm makes you check your priorities: Life is not about what side you're on. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 263rd in a series):

Every year at this time there is conversation about what baseball should do with September call-ups.

I personally don't have an issue with the call-up ritual and can't remember others having an issue with it until the last five years or so. Like many of these "we have to make this fair" topics that now dominate social media, I'm sure some changes will be made. My only hope is that September call-ups will still be a thing to some degree.

Call-ups add an element of excitement to your team's season, whether that team is in the playoff chase or not. If your team is way out of it, you now have a reason to pay attention. And if your team is still contending, well, that call-up could potentially make a name for himself in those few opportunities he has before the season ends.

The most notable September call-up of my lifetime by the Dodgers is Fernando Valenzuela.

He was brought up to L.A. and played his first major league game on Sept. 15, 1980 at age 19. It was in a 9-0 loss against the Braves in Atlanta. Starter Burt Hooton had lasted only two innings, giving up five runs. Valenzuela came in for his debut to start the seventh. He permitted just one hit over two innings. He allowed two runs but they were unearned thanks to errors by Ron Cey (oops) and Derrel Thomas.

That started a chain of 10 relief appearances through the end of the season. Valenzuela was called in to pitch against the Reds, Giants, Padres and Astros. He gained his first save on Sept. 27 against the Padres and achieved his first win Sept. 30 against the Giants.

Not once did he allow an earned run.

On Sept. 19 against the Reds, he took the mound in the fourth inning and retired Dave Concepcion, George Foster and Johnny Bench in order, striking out Bench. He struck out four in three innings.

The appearances grew progressively better. By the time the Dodgers entered  a one-game playoff with the Astros to decided the NL West title, there was debate over whether Valenzuela should get his first start over the underperforming Dave Goltz. I wanted Valenzuela.

Goltz started. The Dodgers lost. By the time Valenzuela was brought in to pitch two innings of shutout ball, it was too late.

That was Fernando before Fernandomania. And because I was in on the sensation before it ever really started, I've accumulated a decent share of Valenzuela baseball cards. Today, I decided to see which Dodger Valenzuelas I could add to my collection through a quick online shopping tour.

It turns out I need a fair amount still.

That's exciting to me.

So I've made a few September call-ups of my own. I'll be adding these cards to my rotation and I expect them to be instant sensations.

Although there's only one Fernand Valenzuela card.

Friday, September 22, 2017

One odd package

A couple of weeks ago I found some spare money that was just enough to order a few inexpensive cards off of my favorite baseball card marketplace.

It wasn't until I received the package in the mail a few days ago that I realized how many of the cards that I ordered were oddballs. I've always gravitated toward oddballs, but my main missions in collecting usually involve completing major sets. This package appears to signal some shift in my thinking.

I did order some mainstream cards, but they were by far the least interesting to me. Instead I found much more appeal in stuff like the 1976 SSPC Gene Hiser above. I ordered it because the Hiser in my SSPC set contains a rip through it.

So let's get the mainstream stuff out of the way so I can bore you all with my oddball interests.

Cards off the Nebulous 9 list. Every last one sat on that list for a mystifying long time, although none more so than the Swing Man Mondesi (now heading for a dozy cell).

Here is a tepid response to my 10-year-old 2008 Heritage want list. I can't tell you the last time I bought cards for this set. So, two is better than nothing for years, I suppose.

More weak completion action. Instead of finally trying to finish off my 2014 Allen & Ginter set by ordering the final nine cards, I ordered just five. Such enthusiasm.

But now that means the rest of the package is oddballs! Weirdos! Kookies! Misfits! Nutsos! Peculiars! Goofies! Zanies!

Bring 'em on!!!

Here are cards that were once normal but have been converted to oddballs by the mere placement of a stamp.

The 1975 Topps buyback completion mission progresses at a slow and steady rate. These six bring me to 187 buybacks from the set. I believe I have one or two more orders of these buybacks ahead of me before I have to start doing some real digging.

Three Dodgers from the 1990 Baseball Wit set. These cards paid homage to Little League baseball (the logo is in the top right corner of each card).

I had never owned any of these, which puzzles me for a card from 1990. They are exceedingly flimsly cards and the Zack Wheat card arrived with a disappointing crease through it (it's not visible here and it wasn't visible in COMC image).

I still need the Jackie Robinson Wit card, which I snubbed for this package because it was an image I've seen a hundred times.

Three cards for the 1976 Hostess completion project. I went right for some big names from big teams of the mid-1970s.

I also grabbed a Hostess card from three years later. This is the last 1979 Hostess Dodger card that I needed. It's a little surprising that I tracked this down long after the SP Ron Cey card in the same set. I don't think the Lopes card is an SP but it was elusive for a long time.

Here are all six of the '79 Dodgers together:

Some fine players and some fine cutting for the most part.

I ordered up only one card from Hostess' '70s oddball equal, the Kellogg's cards. But I can't show the card because it's on the Greatest 100 Cards of the '70s countdown. I'm very secretive about that list.

I'd like to order another card or two that is on that countdown list, but I don't know if I'll get to doing that in time.

I'm confident this fascinates only me, but I am babbling about it regardless.

This is another one of the black-and-white versions of the 1975 TCMA All-Time Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers set. The first purchase I ever made through a mail-order card catalog was this set, although it arrived all in purple.

Since my jaw-dropping discovery, I've started cherry-picking black-and-white versions. The cards are fairly cheap (Jackie and Koufax are the usual sticklers) so there's no rush.

If you were a regular reader of Larry Fritsch's catalogs through the 1980s and 1990s you may know what these are.

A series of three sets were issued through the Fritsch catalogs called "One-Year Winners" (to my knowledge you can still order them from the Fritsch homestead). They featured cards of players who competed for only a year in the majors. This fascinated me even as a young teenager.

But it's taken me years to obtain any of the cards. Of course I jumped at a couple of Dodgers. Cy Buker was a World War II-era pitcher and John Duffie was a mid-1960s, 6-foot-7 giant.

The card backs are very thorough and look like the TCMA backs from the same period.

There are still a couple of Dodgers I need to obtain -- the Roy Gleason in the set goes for a little more than average -- but for now I'm just happy I made a mark with this set after staring at it for so long in that catalog.

The final card that I'm showing amused me so much that I pulled a shoulder muscle ordering it.

You didn't know the Carpenters ran a minor league team did you?

I love the minor league cards from the late 1970s and will grab all of the Dodgers someday. But for now it's one by one and the one that I pick is whatever grabs my fancy.

I don't know much about the people on this card. Rick Bach was the GM for the Clinton Dodgers for at least 1977 and 1978. I'm not sure what Jan's story is.

The back is filled with glorious typos (the Bachs are converted to "Backs" and the Dodgers are now from "Clinto"). Danville was a Class A Dodgers affilliate in the Midwest League in 1975 and 1976. I assume it was moved to Clinton, Iowa, as that was a Dodgers' Class A affiliate in the late 1970s.

The 1977 Clinton team finished first in its division and contained notable players like Mickey Hatcher, Ron Kittle, Dave Stewart, Mike Scioscia and Ron Roenicke.

So there you are.

Not a lot of stars in that package. Not a lot of rookies. Nothing fancy at all. Some downright commons and people who aren't even baseball players, for crying out loud.

Don't care.

Because these cards make my collection even better. And odder.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

G.O.A.T., the '70s, 100-91

It is here.

The moment I've been teasing for two or three years now.

I've compiled what I believe to be the greatest 100 cards of the 1970s.

This is one groovy decade, the decade in which I first became a card collector. The cards from this decade are the ones to which I pledge the greatest allegiance. There is no question in my mind that if I was forced to live inside a cardboard box, I would ditch all other cards except the ones in my '70s binders and then figure out how to jam all those '70s cards inside that box.

Cards from the '70s may be limited in variety, parallels, inserts, shininess, gimmickry and wow factor. I don't give a fig. Don't ever tell me there are better cards than those from the '70s. That's a falsehood. I will never listen.

What '70s cards do contain is the colorfulness of the decade. They feature cards found with food, cards created on the sly, and cards constructed on dingy, gray cardboard. They contain poses inherited from the '50s and '60s, captivating cartoons on the back, and memories of walking to the corner store just hoping that there is enough money in your pocket for two packs.

Most of these cards are in my collection, although I reviewed as many '70s cards that I could find in hopes of unearthing something even I -- someone who wore toughskins and slept next to a bicentennial-themed lamp -- had never seen. I did find a few (surprisingly, most didn't make the list). There will be maybe five or six cards that I do not own yet on this list. But many of them you have seen on this blog before.

Like previous countdowns on this blog, I've broken this into segments of 10 cards apiece. I'll likely space out the countdown with once-a-week posts.

The criteria for making the countdown comes down to really one thing: is this card interesting? I tried to dismiss personal favorites (you won't see the '75 Topps Ron Cey on this countdown). I want cards that have a broad appeal in terms of making an impact. It should be a distinctive card.

So, I think I've given you enough time to dig out your Peter Frampton records, find a few Electric Company episodes on youtube and fix yourself an olive-loaf sandwich.

Dig it! It's the greatest '70s cards, numbers 100 to 91:


 Mets Celebrate, We're Number One, 1970 Topps, #198

Sorry, Mets. You're not No. 1 on this countdown, merely No. 100. But don't pack away those smiles!

Although this card celebrates a feat from the '60s, it cracks the countdown because of its celebratory nature, the rare shot on cardboard of players in the locker room, and most of all, a bare-chested Nolan Ryan.

Think of all those "10 Nolan Ryan cards you must have before you die" lists. How many of them feature Ryan without a shirt? None. That alone makes this card worth owning.

Surrounding Ryan, second from right if you are new to baseball, are Duffy Dyer, Tommie Agee and Wayne Garrett. All four of these players would continue to appear on their own baseball cards through the 1970s. But only one of them shows up again in this countdown.

Ryan can deliver with his uniform on, too.


Glenn Beckert, 1973 Topps, #440

As a kid, I began to notice a rhythm to the batting ritual of walking to the plate.

The batter would remove the batting doughnut, maybe swing the bat low a time or two, step into the batter's box, dig in with a spike just a bit, and then turn casually to the umpire and exchange a quick word or two.

I had no idea what they were saying, but it seemed pleasant. I got the sense that everyone was in this game together when I saw that, that every person on my TV screen, batter, catcher, umpire, really cared about baseball, just like I did.

That's the same feeling that I get when I see this card.

It's not the typical shot you see on a card. (It's also sort of a Dodger card as backup catcher Duke Sims squats in the foreground). And the Wrigley Field outfield of the '70s is on prominent display.

This is a very "baseball" card, which seems odd to say, but I think you know what I mean.


Gary Carter, 1976 SSPC, #334

Gary Carter Expos cards are the best Gary Carter cards. And young Gary Carter Expos cards are even better Gary Carter cards.

Even after reducing it down to that sub-subcategory, which one are you going to pick? 1976 Topps? 1977 Topps? Both are nice. Some rookie mojo collector may even suggest the four-player Carter card from 1975 with Carter in the top left corner, but, of course, that ain't it.

For me, this is the best Young Expo Carter card. It's a nice close-up taken at night (that camera flash is almost blinding). The helmet is so '70s and so apparent that it almost makes my teeth ache.

Carter was known for his youthful exuberance and to me no card says "Kid" like this one.


1971 Rookie Stars Pitchers, 1971 Topps, #664

I am in the middle of charting the sixth and final series of the 1971 Topps set on my '71 Topps blog.

It is very obvious to me from the cards in that series that Topps was running out of subject matter. Some players included in that series would have never shown up had it been a 660-card set.

And then there are cards like this one.

I don't know how many multiple-player rookie cards are in the 1971 set, but it's a lot, and by card No. 664, just about all of the prospects had been documented.

So, there's the Topps team trying to fill out the set, hoping for one more multiple-player rookie card and grasping at straws. One guy pipes up and says, "hey, there are three guys coming up who all have the last name of Reynolds, and they're not related."

It's too good of an idea to pass up. And, so, for the first time ever -- and maybe the last -- Topps puts three rookies on the same card with the same last name who are not related. Then, it doesn't mention anywhere why they are doing this. No acknowledgement that each guy has the same name except the fact that they're all there on the same card and one guy is wearing a train conductor's hat.

This card is so amusing I can't stand it.


Dave Ricketts, 1970 Topps, #626

This is another card that could be considered more 1960s than 1970s, but it's too wonderful not to include.

Dave Ricketts wore his horned-rim glasses on baseball cards throughout his career, and the vast majority of those cards appeared in 1960s sets. He even has his cap turned backward on his 1967 Topps card.

But there is something about the whole ensemble here. The horned rim glasses, the backward cap, the chest protector, the catcher's glove, the catcher's mask, the shin guards. The fans looking through the screened-in barrier as if he's an animal in the zoo.

He is practically an exhibit. Because this is what Jerry Lewis from "The Ladies Man" would look like if he donned catcher's equipment (and then commenced to gallop across the commons of Milltown Junior College).


Dave LaRoche, 1976 SSPC, #510

The beauty of the SSPC set is cards like this. Dave LaRoche would have never been able to get away with wearing his cap sideways on a Topps card. Any photo submitted of this would have met the cutting room floor.

But LaRoche is preserved forever as a Fernando Rodney/Pedro Strop precursor in the SSPC set. The photo is made all the more striking by the Cleveland Indians' blood clot uniforms from the mid-1970s (check out all the Indians from this set).

In baseball-only circles, LaRoche is known for his lob pitch and for fathering two major-league baseball playing sons. But if you're a collector, then you know him for one other thing: he wore a cap sideways on a baseball card and how many other players can say that?


Tony Taylor, 1970 Topps, #324

The bat rack is one of the greatest backdrops in baseball card history. It virtually guarantees a memorable card.

Why that is should be the subject of a psychological study, but I will simply say that this ranks among the best of the "choose your weapon" baseball cards.

Taylor has indeed selected his artillery. He seems quite determined, so it had better be the right bat. The lineup of Phillies helmets in the background adds to the drama. And if you can pull yourself away from the moment for just a second, you'll notice a pay phone in the corner.


Frank Tanana, 1977 Topps, #200

Back in the '70s, cards featuring a double zero in the card number were the most distinguished in the set.

Sometimes, Topps even selected a photo that underlined that double zero in triplicate.

This is one of those examples. Tanana won 19 games in 1976, struck out more than 200 batters for the second straight year, and just to get that point across, Topps found a photo of Tanana in action, having just released a 200-mph fastball toward the batter.

That "empty space" just to the west of Tanana's left hand is not really an empty space. It's smoke, emanating off the trail of fire headed toward the batter.

This is one of the greatest double-zero '70s cards that there is. I admit I have a bit of a bias with this one, but I have the feeling it's the same bias possessed by any kid who pulled this card out of a pack in 1977.


Jim Kaat, 1973 Topps, #530

A card issued the same year that the designated hitter was implemented in the American League.

Never again -- or so seldom that it would be an occasion when it happened -- would an AL batter pitcher come to the plate.

Topps issued a card to commemorate that moment. Or maybe it didn't. Maybe it was just a cool photo. But whatever the case, there aren't a lot of cards of pitchers bolting out of the box prior to the 1990s. This is the only one that rings a bell right now.

Kaat hit .289 in 1972, going 13-for-45. It was his best year at the plate for that many at-bats. He doubled three times and hit two home runs.

This is a good example of an appropriate card representing a noted feat by the player one year earlier. Nice work. And if you look at it for long enough, you might wonder why the DH is a thing anyway.


Jim Grant, 1972 Topps, #111

When I teased to this countdown a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that this card was probably not going to make the list.

I received one comment questioning my decision, but the truth is I was already questioning it when I wrote that post. And the list hadn't been set in stone yet anyway.

One more look at Mudcat's card was all it took to shove this card back into the countdown. I had grossly miscalculated the length of Grant's mutton chops, which have to be the most glorious chops ever featured by a baseball player on a baseball card.

This is Grant's final card from his career and he may own one of the best final cards ever. The '70s was about hair and baseball cards from the '70s need to recognize that.

Grant's finale does.

Hope you enjoyed that first installment!

And put the olive loaf down. That stuff is nasty.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Fleer project in full effect

I seem to be in the middle of a Fleer revival around here.

I am actively trying to complete 1984 Fleer and I'm probably a couple of weeks away from putting up a want list for 1981 Fleer. And then a few weeks ago I announced that if you don't have what I'm looking for in terms of Dodgers or sets, there's always 1981-88 Fleer.

So, even though the last thing I need to do is buy new binders to shove into a room that is screaming, "PLEASE, no more binders!" this is where I am.

Because I'm definitely going to need a binder for this.

This picture is the tell-tale mating call of 1988 Fleer. I'd recognize those red and blue stripes anywhere. And I am hooked.

This is the amount of 1988 Fleer that I was looking at before the big box of the Barbershop Pole Set showed up from Matt of The Summer of '74 blog. That's all I had accumulated over the years.

I collected very few cards in 1988, just a pack of Topps that year and that was it. While card companies churned out cards at a rate never before seen, all of that 1988 Fleer and 1988 Donruss never reached me until repacks years upon years later.

The '88 Fleer set is one of those junk wax sets that gets little respect. Fleer greatly increased the production on their set over 1987. Plus, it was cranking out an update set and a glossy set and bunch of other smaller baseball sets. And Fleer's basketball sets were big news at the time. It was all leading up to a devaluing of the flagship brand.

You can now buy a pack of 1988 Fleer cards for the same price that it cost in 1988, probably for cheaper. That's what we're looking at here in terms of monetary value.

Still, this is one of my favorite looks ever made by Fleer.

I like the crisp, snow-white borders and the patriotic diagonal strips. I like the Fleer logo with the background that changes from blue to red to black to yellow.

Even though there is far less space devoted to the photo than on previous sets like '81, '82 and '84, de-emphasizing some of the quirkiness of '80s Fleer photos, I like the set's presentation.

The box that Matt sent does not contain the entire set, but most of it is there. I haven't had the time to go through to see what I still need to obtain, but the majority of the notable cards were in that box.

The '88 Fleer set is known for the usual: rookies, errors and SuperStar Specials. And I thought I'd show 10 notable cards from that set -- mixing in some of the overlooked aspects. Of course, you'll see more than 10 cards because this set leads me to tangents and other cards.

So join me in the year that the Dodgers won their last World Series, the last year I was in college and the first time I had a newspaper article professionally published. (And you thought 1988 was just the year of the Mark Grace rookie card).

1. Speaking of rookie cards: This is about as exciting as it gets in 1988 Fleer. Like every other set issued in '88, Fleer featured a card of Tom Glavine for the first time. It's worth no more than 50 cents now, but don't tell that to a collector from 1992.

Fleer featured seemingly a ton of prominent rookie cards in 1988. I didn't even show Edgar Martinez, Jack McDowell, Jay Bell, Ken Caminiti, Todd Benzinger or Jeff Blauser. I don't know if it was just the fixation on rookies at the time or whether Fleer actually did pack the set with more first-year players.

2. More rookie cards, sharing space with that other guy: Donruss was the only major brand to feature Mark Grace on his own card in the main set (Topps, Fleer and Score all caught up in their update sets).

3. The Mark Grace obsession: Mark Grace had what all you youngsters would call "An Aaron Judge Season" in 1987. In response, Fleer threw just a few McGwire cards at collectors in 1988. Above is his base card.

Of course another card with his partner in crime.

A random card with Pat Tabler, because that's Fleer for you.

And a separate solo card recognizing his rookie home run record.

I don't know how many cards Topps is planning for Judge in 2018 flagship but I hope they can keep it under a dozen.

4. Errers: The '88 Fleer set has relatively few errors compared with previous and future Fleer sets. The Iorg/Iorq error is the one I've known about the longest. Since I already owned the Iorq error, I was hoping to pull the corrected Iorg out of the box that Matt sent. No luck. Another Iorq.

No luck on the Keith Moreland card either. This is the correct Moreland card, which I already owned. The error Moreland shows a picture of Jody Davis bunting.

5. A favorite for those who collect players in strange uniforms: This is the only card that I know of that shows Steve Carlton wearing a Twins uniform. There is also an odd sight of Doug DeCinces as a Cardinal in this set.

6. SuperStar Specials typically awkward titles: I imagine kids thought some of the SS card titles were cool, but I'm not so sure how pleasant it is to be called The Thief on your baseball card. Some context is needed.

I've taken a few photos with that Gary Carter look.

7. A hint of what's to come: One year later, Fleer would show Bill Ripken holding a bat with a much more scandalous message on the bat knob than "3".

8. I'm a little upset that they couldn't get Sam Horn into this card.

9. Free advertising: Here we see Tom Bolton advertising the new Gillette Atra Plus and Coca-Cola (as well as a hidden Budweiser sign). Two years later, Bolton would graduate to featuring a Ferris wheel on his card.

10. There's the Fleer that I know and love: I was able to dig out a few amusing photos that could not be confined by the shrunken photo space.

Even though 1988 Fleer is a set that has been rehashed in untold collectors' homes it's still a thrill to pull cards of Doc Gooden, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Kevin Mitchell, Barry Larkin and others for the first time.

This made up for never opening a pack of Fleer in 1988, and that's what I'm trying to do with this Fleer project. Although my heart is with 1981, 1982 and 1984 Fleer, sets that I collected in packs, I want to get to know those familiar players in the other Fleer sets that I didn't see that much.

So far this has been a lot of fun.