Saturday, March 28, 2015

Putting yourself out there

I still get emails from people periodically asking me for advice on how to run a blog. No, not Hope Solo, although she could learn a think or two from me, but from regular card-collecting people.

Some want to know how to get started, or how to get trades going, or how to get some interaction.

My advice is simple and nothing no one else hasn't said already: you just have to be yourself, write about what you like, and maybe most of all: get out there.

How does one "get out there"? Well, like I said, you have to be yourself and write what you like. Don't write things on your blog that you don't believe or don't interest you. There is a temptation to do that if all you're looking for are readers or comments. But it won't end well.

Write often. Yes, that takes time and none of us have time. But like anything in life, you get what you put in. Writing often not only attracts readers and keeps you in their very active and busy lives, but it makes you a better writer. That is basic advice for any writer -- whether they're publishing novels or hunting down stories for a daily paper -- write, write, write. It will make you better.

As far as getting cards and trading? My advice is: don't make this the sole objective. I've seen some blogs where the only reason they existed was so they could obtain cards. The only time they commented was when someone ran a contest, the only time they posted was when loot was gained or could be gained. A lot of those blogs have short lifespans or operate on life support. A blog needs more than "transactions"; it needs you. It needs an invested you.

But if you want cards and can keep a blog going that at least entertains a handful of people, then you're going to get cards. It also helps to read other blogs because every once in awhile someone is offering cards you might like, and since you're "out there," you'll land some of those cards once in awhile.

An example:

This card from Cardboard Collections. Colbey opened a little bit of Heritage, showed this snazzy Walmart exclusive Koufax Series card, proclaimed that the set wasn't for him, and I pounced. Because I try to keep up with what people are posting -- even during this very busy month -- I was ready.

See, it's not just about people interacting with you, it's about you interacting with others.

Once you've posted enough and drawn some followers, people will start inquiring about trading. When I first began a blog, I had no real thoughts about acquiring new cards through the blog. I just wanted to write about my love for baseball picture cards. But the funny thing about putting yourself out there is that the more you say you like cards, the more relationships you form and the more cards -- that you want -- will come your way.

After doing this for more than six years, I've developed relationships with collectors of just about every team (although some relationships -- like the Rays and Marlins -- are dormant). They know me and I know them.

Recently, Brewers fan Tony L. of Off-Hiatus Baseball Cards sent me some cards out-of-the-blue-like because that's what happens when you've put yourself out there.

He helped me get closer to finishing my Dodgers 2014 Allen & Ginter team set since I did such a miserable job on 2014 sets myself.

And he filled in a spot in the 1981 Donruss set quest. Just eight cards left to complete the set (you'll see a bunch of '81 Donruss in the near future).

And here's a weird little 1984 7-Up Cubs Ron Cey card that I just discovered a week or so ago. When you've put yourself out there, stuff like that happens quite a bit. You see a card and sometimes it magically appears in your mailbox. (I believe that's the famed Marla Collins in the background).

The Cey card is about one-third smaller than your standard card, which seems about right for a Cey-as-a-Cub card.

So these are the kinds of cards you get when you broadcast your interests over your blog. You'll notice that they're very specific: team-oriented, set-oriented, player-oriented. But you've got to get out there and let people know what you like. Write it on your blog. Be your own advertiser. But don't make it read like an advertisement.

If you're lucky and get enough of a following, people will automatically think of you or your blog when they pull certain cards. I consider that an honor. One person on Twitter who also has a blog once said that when he thinks of the Dodgers, he thinks of Jackie Robinson and Night Owl.

You can't have a better blog impact than that.

So, this is what happened a week or two ago, when Zach of Autographed Cards pulled a couple of Dodgers. He thought of me because I've been yammering about my appreciation for Dodgers cards for, oh, 5 or 6 times a week for the last six-plus years.

This is what he sent:

A Heritage Chrome refractor of the Dodgers' hit machine.

And purple refractors of the last two Topps flagship wrapper cover boys.

I daresay Zach hit the Dodger motherlode.

These three cards I believe exceed the total number of base Dodger Heritage cards I have for the 2015 set. That's the kind of craziness that can happen when you're writing a blog almost every day and at least a few people are reading it.

You got to put yourself out there. Sometimes it's easy to do, but other times it isn't. It's almost like building a relationship with someone you like. If you want it to grow and see interest from that other person and get something out of it, you gotta do. You've got to get out there. Hopefully -- and there are no guarantees -- you will have success.

And, if not, well, at least you won't be buried in cardboard.

There are benefits to that, too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Night owl's all-time Topps set countdown (56-53)

"Can't you say something NICE?"

I get that a lot.

Yes, I can say something "nice". I do it all the time. Even right here on this blog. I think what clouds the issue for some people is that I'm not afraid to point out something wrong -- in life or on the blog. I refuse to be sugar and sunshine all the time.

I'm actually a very happy person who likes to laugh, enjoys people of all kinds and has a wide variety of tastes and interests. But I won't run a blog where it's "golly gee" every moment and every comment is "Nice Cards!" Yes, sometimes the cards are very nice. Other times, they're crap. I'm not too shy to point to a pile of stink and say "THERE'S CRAP THERE! HEY, EVERYBODY, DON'T STEP IN THE CRAP!"

I don't look at that as being negative. I'm trying to be helpful.

Strong opinions is how readers came to Night Owl Cards ... well, that and some bitchin' cards. And I promise I won't ever pull punches when writing about trading cards. I calls them as I sees them. I tell it like it is. I say a cliche is a cliche, and I've just written two of them.

And that leads into episode 3 of Night Owl's All-Time Topps Set Countdown.

These are sets ranked No. 56 through No. 53. They are sets that I don't really like, but can probably find something NICE to say about them.

Truthfully, I can find something nice to say about all of Topps' sets. But that isn't the objective here. Every Topps set isn't going home with a ribbon and a popsicle. I'm not taking all the Topps sets out for Capri-Suns after this countdown. I'm ranking sets from worst to best.

So, let's look at a few sets where I've actually got something nice to say -- that is after I tell you not to step into that crap set.

56. 2002 Topps

This might be the first set where a significant number of collectors ranked it even lower.

I've heard a lot of remarks about the color of this set. The most-often used noun/verb in these remarks is "vomit."

Yes, the color of the border is bizarre and could be nauseating. It was an era of strange borders for Topps. I'm not a fan, but I do like it better than the more traditional gold sets from 1998 and 1999. I like brighter colors, whether it reminds collectors of vomit or not.

The design features two positives. First, the set mentions what it is: "2002 Topps". It's featured on every player's card. That is appreciated, especially during a time when copyright dates grew smaller and smaller. There are precious few Topps flagship sets that mention the set year on the front. This is one of them.

Second, 2002 Topps displays a tried-and-true design technique: ribbons. Topps has used ribbons or pennants or flags, as design elements for several sets -- 1965, 1974, 1979 -- and it almost always works. Present the ribbons in a couple of different colors, and I'm not going to get mad. 2002 Topps is a colorful set, I'll give it that.

The back blares that same off-puke color. At least the card number is nice-and-large, even if the stats aren't.

In the end, large set or not, colorful set or not, the border color choice solidified 2002 Topps' ranking near the bottom. It was just too strange of a decision for me to take it seriously, especially during a time when I wasn't collecting. Maybe if I accumulated several hundred of the cards, I would have a more favorable impression.

Then again, maybe I would have had to run screaming to the toilet and you never would have seen me again.

55. 1997 Topps

If you've been paying fairly close to attention to this countdown -- and really why would you want to do that? -- you'll notice that this is yet another set from the late '90s/early '00s that has settled near the bottom.

There is now not a single Topps set between 1996-2002 that has made the top 54 Topps sets of all-time.

I am officially prepared to say that this is the darkest period for Topps flagship. This is the era of bad feeling. Topps at its worst. I can blame some of this on the fact that I didn't collect cards during this time, but I'm trying to look at these sets fairly objectively and none of them cut it.

In fact, the only reason that 1997 Topps is rated this high is because the set accommodated my synesthesia.

As I've mentioned many times, I am one of those people who attaches a color to each word or letter. It's something I was born with, some weird set-up in my brain. Ever since childhood I've categorized words and ideas by color and that goes for sports, too.

As a kid, and into adult life, the American League and the National League have always been associated with a color. The American League always -- always, always, always -- has been red. The National League always has been blue.

This has been a truth in my world since the mid-1970s, since I was sucking on Space Food Sticks.

So, let's see what Topps did in 1997:

It made every American League player's card red.

And it made every National League player's card green.

OK, green isn't blue. But close enough. My brain adjusts and green is on the blue/purple side of the rainbow, so yes, this makes sense to my brain. If the red cards were orange or yellow I'd think the same thing.

So, looking at 1997 Topps, I can't help but think how sensible this set is. All the American League teams and players are the same color and all the National League teams and players are the same color! Yes! It all makes sense! All right, maybe it isn't the thing to do the year after interleague play began and Major League Baseball started blending the American and National Leagues together, but that just means there was a subversive in the Topps office, right? Someone said "screw that interleague garbage, all the American League teams are going to be RED."

That's probably not what happened, but it does make me like the set a little more.

Why, once, I was going to attempt to collect this set. But then I realized it wasn't even 500 cards and probably filled with Yankees and Braves players I didn't like and I scrapped that.

The backs are as garish as any non-70s set could be. They're not easy on the eyes and definitely not easy to read.

Still, I have a soft spot for 1997 Topps.

For a late 1990's set, it's as good as it gets.

54. 2007 Topps

In another time, in another era, in another period with less addiction to foil, this set would be rated much higher and possibly be considered a classic, or at least a cult favorite.

But, unfortunately for a set as sleek as 2007 Topps, it arrived during a time of cynicism and excess. I would not be surprised if 2007 Topps is the most plentiful set created since the junk wax era ended. How can a set be special when you can find it growing out of the cracks in the pavement?

Topps also didn't do the set any favors by drenching it in gimmicks. The famed Mantle-Bush Derek Jeter card will be the lasting image of 2007 Topps. There were variations that few collectors knew about. There were stupid red-letter backs and cards with no facsimile signatures. The inserts offered with this set are some of the worst ever. By the time 2007 was half over, collectors couldn't wait to be done with set, myself included.

Sleekness aside -- this set looks great in a stack -- there are confusing aspects to 2007 Topps.

For example, the four sets of four tiny squares are quirky enough and happily color-coded to go with each team's colors, but why are they there? I like to think it was to convey the idea that each card is film negative and together they form a film strip. But I don't think that was the plan.

Then there is the back:

The grass-and-dirt backgrounds are interesting and fun and did catch me off guard the first time I turned over a 2007 Topps card. But it's all offset by the strange floating head shot at the left.

Why is it so small? Why is there so much extra space just floating in ... um ... space? And why is the image duplicated from the front?

Except in some cases when it's not duplicated from the front? Why?

And just when you think it's because not much of Jack Wilson's face is showing on the front of the card and that's why they went with a head shot of Wilson (a tiny, tiny, tiny head shot of Wilson), then there is a card like this:

... where the head shot is different, but it didn't have to be different because of this:


And that's how it is with 2007 Topps. There are so many head-scratching elements, from the design to the decisions made in the set (two Elizardo Ramirez cards? Why?), to an obvious corporate decision to start gimmicking-up flagship.

The 2007 set was Topps' first full black-border set since the 1971 set. The '71 set is universally revered among card collectors, and truthfully, 2007 Topps in a lot of ways isn't that far from the 1971 Topps set.

But it doesn't come even close to matching the respect that 1971 Topps has.

That's a lot of people's fault. Including collectors.

And why 2007 Topps is set No. 54.

53. 1968 Topps

I'm trying to envision a kid in 1968 -- a kid who had collected cards for maybe the previous four or five years -- coming home from the store after buying his first cards of the year.

He tears open the wax wrapper and comes face-to-face with the design for the year.

And it looks like burlap.

Suddenly, I imagine, collecting didn't seem as fun anymore.

This is another one of those wild design decisions where I wonder how it got out the door. Maybe there was just one guy making designs in the 1960s and that same guy is the one who OK'd them. That's the only way this one makes sense. We're talking about a collecting world that was 100 percent kids at the time. What kid could appreciate a card that looked like that? It looks like something I'd be forced to make with yarn in art class.

I also saw 1968 Topps for the first time when I was a kid. It was when my friend inherited a bunch of cards from his older brother. I wrinkled my nose at the '68s. What was up with those? These aren't fun. I think I hear my mom calling me to do chores.

Another aspect that bothered me is the design doesn't even look the same through the entire set. The lower-numbered cards feature wider-spaced "burlap" like the yellow-lettered Ed Brinkman card here. It almost looks like a leopard print.

But most of the cards in the set display finer dots, making the border look more yellow and giving it that burlap look.

These cards look worn and dated, even more so than other vintage cards. I've often compared the look to the wallpaper in my grandmother's kitchen, which was also worn and dated. The cards look yellowed right out of the wrappers and that's not something you want with new cards.

The photos in this set are nothing special, which is par for the course in the '60s. But late '60s sets also suffer because of some photos that are a couple of years old. I believe (unless I'm missing some from '67), the blacked-out cap trend began in 1968, which is never a good thing.

More yellow on the back. The second straight year of vertical backs had to have collectors thinking this was the wave of the future (but it was back to horizontals in 1969).

There is a cartoon on the back, which is always worth a few extra ranking points, but I never liked placing the cartoon on the bottom of the card (bad news for 1981 Topps).

I give vintage sets more credit than current sets so it pains me a little to rank this set the lowest of any vintage set. There are some who look at this set nostalgically, comparing it to the TV sets of that time period. And the last couple of years I've grown to respect '68 Topps just a little more.

But that doesn't mean there aren't so many other better vintage sets available.

Up next: Sets #51-48. There are brighter days ahead. And that's not just a load of crap.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

From hope to despair

A couple of years ago, I joined a card draft at Scott Crawford on Cards! I enjoyed it quite a bit and also snagged some random cards that were interesting but I don't really collect.

One of them was this 2011 Topps Andrew Bailey hope diamond parallel. I grabbed it because I wanted a hope diamond parallel in the collection. That's the only reason.

Well, since then, I've acquired a couple more hope parallels, of the more appropriate Dodger variety. And, more to the point, Scott sent a collector my way who apparently is trying to complete the entire set -- base and update -- of hope diamond cards. He needed the Andrew Bailey card as one of three cards left to completing the whole thing, and he said he'd pay me $25.


I got the cash, and I happily sent the card off, and I hope he finds that Alex Avila and Frank Robinson to finish the full set.

And that's enough about current cards.

Time to see what I got for my $25.

I went the oddball route in an effort to stretch my money as much as possible.

The most recent card was this 1987 Burger King Fernando Valenzuela, last card of the 20-card set. If you look closely, you can see the ghost of an L.A. logo on the cap. That, no doubt, would get Burger King sued in 2015.

These two cards are from the 1976 SSPC set. It turns out I had the Burt Hooton card already, but it doesn't matter because my Dodgers '76 SSPC set is now complete!


That is a collection of the Dodgers from when I first realized there were Dodgers and baseball. Special, special people in that set, plus a few that I had no knowledge of, like Paul Powell and Charlie Manuel and coach Mickey Vernon.

This set is cherished not only because of what I just mentioned and the fact that it's a terrific-looking throwback to the '70s, but because it is the very first set that I ever saw that was Unobtainable.

The first time I saw an SSPC set was not in a store -- you couldn't find it in a store -- it was in either a Baseball Digest or Sporting News. It was the first cards that I couldn't get by asking my mom or dad to drive to the store. If I wanted them, I had to order them through the mail. What devilry was this????

And now I have the Dodgers. On to the rest of the set.

But that's a tangent. More on what I received for hope diamond Bailey:

It's time to get cracking on the Hostess Dodgers. It's shocking how many I still need. This here is light-hitting Steve from the 1978 Hostess set. He batted  all the way up to .256 in 1977. He's very proud.

Here is Dave(y) Lopes from the very patriotic 1976 Hostess set, the year that Lopes' mustache was in full fury. Lopes never smiled in '76 because is mustache wouldn't let him.

And here is Andy Messersmith from the first Hostess set in 1975. I enjoy Messersmith pitching with his batting glove, and the Dodgers congregating in the background (No. 49 for the Dodgers at that time was Charlie Hough), and that it looks like spring training was held at one of the state parks near where I live.

The Messersmith card is a short-print, and during my first real tour through Hostess checklists, I found out how many SPs there are in those sets.

That will make obtaining the cards that I want from those sets a slight challenge.

I'm finding out now how much of a challenge.

The other card that I ordered with my hope diamond Bailey money was the one that I wanted the most. It's the one I mentioned here.

Yup, it's the 1979 Hostess Ron Cey card, an SP.

After I made that post, Mark Hoyle contacted me and showed me that the card was available for a reasonable price on a vintage site that he deals with all the time. He kindly offered to order the card for me, but I was so eager to finally get the card that I had ordered it myself before Mark even made the offer.

And here I still wait without my card.

I paid my cash and paypal let me know that I paid and that's the last I heard. No confirmation from the site that I made an order or that they received my money or that they're shipping out the card. A couple weeks later, I sent an email inquiring about the status. I received no response.

Mark says he hasn't had issues with the place and has suggested calling them. I think that will be the next step when I have a moment. But I'm not very happy right now.

So, that's almost all of the goodies that I got for one meaningless parallel.

Didn't quite get all I hoped for (heh), but it'll work out eventually.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tired of being treated like a common criminal

Can you see that? You probably know what it is, even if it's difficult to see. That's a security tag. You can find them in random packs of baseball cards. They're about the worst kind of "hit" ever created.

One of these was in a pack of Heritage that I bought last week. It caused the security alarm to go off as I exited Target.

I hate that, because even though I don't bother to stop and turn around after the bell goes off, and no security guard comes running after me, and everyone seems to know that those things ring for random, innocuous reasons, I still feel like someone, somewhere thinks I'm getting away with something, like I'm shoplifting, like I'm a common criminal.

Security devices are familiar instruments used by department stores in loss prevention, and employees are forever removing them from clothes, etc. But I don't know why they're still in baseball card packs. The majority of baseball card packs cost between $2 and $6. Are we attaching security tags to candy, toothpaste, lipstick, pencils? They're just as costly as a baseball card pack.

The fact that they show up in relatively inexpensive baseball card packs leads me down a path of reasons that I don't want to travel:

1. People still believe that retail packs of cards are valuable
2. Topps and other companies are still experiencing significant "loss" in the baseball card aisles and taking measures to counter that.
3. I'm involved in a hobby filled with hoods.

I don't like that because I'm not a "hood". Not once -- not since I was 9 anyway -- have I felt the desire to walk off with a pack of baseball cards. I work hard -- way, way, way too hard -- in order to buy a stupid $4 pack of Heritage to shoplift it, or to have that blasted beeper go off even after I spent my cash.

But perhaps this is still a problem for Topps, I don't know.

When I go to the card aisle, 98.9 percent of the time, I'm the only one there. I'm sure part of the reason is because I'm usually there during "off hours" -- lunch time, overnight hours -- I'm not there when people traditionally do their shopping.

But, still, the card aisle can't possibly be a hot-bed of activity, teeming with so many people that cards are disappearing constantly, can it?

But look at all the measures that are in place to battle us hoodlum card collectors. There are the security tags, there is the fact that the card aisle is near the front of the store, by the registers, where most of the employees are; there are almost always carts full of stuff blocking the card aisle so you must weave in and out of aisles to get to the cards that you want. I still don't know what the jammed cart is supposed to deter -- a quick getaway?

And then there is my sweet, helpful Walmart. The sports section of the card aisle has grown smaller and smaller so that baseball cards now take up about an eighth of the entire aisle devoted to trading cards and their ilk.

But guess what is directly over the baseball card portion -- the whole three tiny rows?

It's not that sign exactly, but the message is the same. "Be on guard, card stealer, we're watching YOU."

It's hung right over the hanging baseball card racks. When I move to take a pack from the rack, I hit the sign with my hand. It is so close and so near what I'm trying to buy that I can't help but feel it's directed at me.

I don't like feeling like that when all I'm doing is buying picture cards.

I know that there are pack searchers -- if people still care about relics, that is -- but, again, is it that much of a problem in comparison to other store items?

Here is a list of the most shoplifted items at stores according to a survey by the National Retail Federation in 2012:

Cigarettes, energy drinks, high-end liquor, baby formula, pain relievers, weight-loss pills, allergy medicine, diabetic testing strips, electric toothbrushes, lotions and creams, pregnancy tests, jeans, designer clothing, handbags, cellphones, digital cameras, digital recorders, laptops, GPS devices, LCD televisions, high-end vacuums, Kitchen-Aid mixers.

Nothing in that list resembles a baseball card to me.

But I'm willing to bet that some of those things don't feature a security tag.

Perhaps my problem is affiliating myself with the ne'er-do-wells in Walmart and Target. But you know my thoughts with a lot of hobby shops. It's as if they think there's going to be a crime at all times. That's why cards are under glass and way up high behind the register.

I just want to say to them -- and to the folks at Target and Walmart, too -- that I'm just a guy who likes baseball cards. I like them so much that I will pay money for them. And I'll give you the money and be on my way. No funny business. I'll even come back and do the whole thing again.

Maybe I'm a rare breed. I'd like to think I'm not, but with all the alarms and angry watchdog signs going off in my face, I'm wondering if I am.

It's enough to make me want to buy all my cards online.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Someone has time to go through my want lists

As I stumble upon another week of March, realizing it will be just as busy as the week before, I am reminded again that there are people skipping happily through the month, breaking for spring, and ... get this, looking through collectors' want lists.

How do you people do it?

I received a bunch of cards a week or so ago from The Great Sports Name Hall Of Fame. The SpastikMooss seems to deal primarily in football cards these days, but somehow managed to comb my list of baseball cards and unearth several key items. Again, I repeat: who has the time?

Let's start with a Nebulous 9 need.

Good ol' Eric Riggs was the last card I needed to complete the 2003 Topps Traded Dodgers set. It's been an elusive annoyance for some time.

But The Mooss didn't leave it at that.

That's the gold version of 2003 Riggs.

And that's the Chrome version of Riggs, both refractor and original flavor.

How someone has so many different cards of a player that I only know because he was on a baseball card in 2003, I don't know, but I'm ecstatic about the whole thing.

Let's go to another Nebulous 9 need:

This 1993 Topps gold card of Henry Rodriguez now allows me to do this:

That's all the Dodger goldies from 1993, plus a random Hal McRae, Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, etc.

But we're not done completing team sets:

2007 Upper Deck is finally done now that the dastardly "listed as a Padre but shown as a Dodger" Greg Maddux is in my possession.

Still not done completing team sets:

2000 Bowman Chrome is finished. Do you know how long it would have taken me to making a Bowman Chrome set from the turn of the century a priority? Scientists would have had to lengthen the average life expectancy to 170. This is why I'm glad somebody has time in March.

There's some more shiny from that period. Another prospect -- this time with a very familiar name -- that didn't make it. But don't you feel more patriotic now?

Not every card I received was on my want lists. But that's only because I don't dare put stuff like this on my want lists:

That's a Shoe-Cap-Jersey (Prime, whatever the hell that means) card of Adrian Beltre numbered to /25.

I ignore relics when I'm looking for cards to buy for myself, but I don't know how you can ignore something like that.

It looks a lot like another Beltre relic card I have:

No, I don't know why Playoff was making multiple Beltre Shoe-Cap-Jersey cards in different sets. I'm not going to question it. I'm just going with the flow.

The last card from SpastikMooss features just one kind of relic. But when you see the player featured, you'll understand why:

Isn't that beauteous?

I don't know how players from the '50s played in those things, but I am now glad they did.

Many thanks to The Great Sports Name Hall of Fame for carving out some time to look through my want lists.

I'll let you in on a little secret: I actually had time to look through a couple of people's want lists on Saturday.

I'm going to try to do that again sometime.

April is only nine days away.