Saturday, January 31, 2009

Keeping myself busy

So, apparently Topps 2009 has made an unexpected but welcome appearance at certain Target locations. That should make a lot of bloggers' weekends a lot happier.

I'll be missing out on the party. I'm flat broke this weekend, and the mortage payment is due, so I won't be performing any budget magic in order to free up a few dollars. To top it off, it's a very busy weekend at work (Super Bowl and all, you know), so I probably won't even get near a Target until next week.

So, I'll just have to live vicariously through y'all. You better come through! I want to see EVERY card in the pack. Don't even skip over the Washington Nationals. Because even when I do get to a Target, who knows if they'll even have the cards. The card-mobile will probably get stuck in one of our six-foot snow drifts on the way to the store.

All of this means I'm looking for ways to keep myself entertained. Fortunately dayf came through with a post yesterday on American Heritage. Not that I find American Heritage interesting, but his mention of the back of a card that he found unreadable gave me a thought. He said that one of the cards (the Will Rogers) might be "the hardest to read back I've ever seen."

I've actually reflected a time or two on what the worst card backs were, in terms of readability. So I quickly scanned through my collection and came up with a few. And I think I've got dayf's card beat. I put this list together super quickly, so I know I missed several lousy backs, but that just means I can assemble "Lousy Backs, the Sequel: Back With a Vengeance." I bet you can't wait for that.

On with the list:

7. 1964 Topps. If I had put more thought into this, I would have scanned the back of one of these cards. The orange backs are kind of bizarre. And the orange numbers on the white background are kind of disorienting. It puts me in the mind of creamsicles. Which I love by the way.

6. 1970 Topps. "Readability" doesn't just mean whether you can read the type. It also means whether the design helps you read the back or makes you want to go "Gaaaaa!" I imagine when collectors first saw the bright yellow and blue backs they had to hold the cards at arm's length. It's jarring at first look.

5. 1996 Fleer Ultra. I don't know about you, but I find a card back with three different faces of a player, all in close proximity, slightly alarming. It certainly doesn't make me want to read the stats.

4. 1975 Topps. This is my favorite set of all-time, so I'm not happy it is on this countdown, but I must admit the backs aren't that great. Black type on a dark red background? Green type on a pinkish background? No wonder all the little kids in '70s sitcoms had glasses. They couldn't read the backs of their baseball cards!

3. 1998 Fleer Legends of Today. I'm sure someone who was collecting in 1998 can figure this card back out. But I can't, and that makes it unreadable to me.

This back of Raul Mondesi's card has me confused. There appears to be rankings for power, speed and fielding. The more baseballs that are lit up the better. I get that. And there's a list of top performers in each category (Killebrew, power; Brock, speed; Brooks Robinson, fielding). I get that, too. But why is there a photo of Bob Gibson next to Killebrew's name, Rollie Fingers next to Brock's name and Jim Kaat next to Robinson's name?

This is the Eric Karros back in which the photos match with the names. I'm sure there's a logical reason. But that whole confusion aside, these cards are typical of a lot of 1990s card backs. Stadium Club started something with their pitch charts, etc., and then everything went haywire from there. I really don't want to see line graphs on the back of my baseball card.

2. 1976 Topps. This is kind of the gold standard for unreadable card backs. Stacks of black type on a dark green background. Topps loved dark green for its backs in the '70s. They used it in 1971, 1974, 1976, 1977 and 1979. In fact, 1974 could have made this list. But 1976 was the year in which Topps strained the most eyes.

1. 2004 Topps Fan Favorites. Here is a card that will make you run out for Lasik surgery tomorrow. Wow. You can barely tell who the subject of the card is (it's Sparky Anderson).

Since it's from the Fan Favorites series, it's a repeat of a past card design. This is from the 1985 Topps design, which did, in fact, feature a green background and red type. But they placed the type on a white background in the '85 set. Why they put red on green like this is a mystery. As hard as it is to read here, it's not that much easier to read holding it in your hand.

I think I've caused enough eye strain for one post. It's bad enough that we spend so much time staring at a computer.

Happy 2009 card hunting! Pull a Dodger for me!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Brush with greatness: Eric Gagne

Eric Gagne is the only Dodger player I have interviewed, or at least the only one who was a member of the Dodgers at the time of the interview. And it was quite the crazy scene, from what I recall.

It was August of 2002. The Dodgers were in Montreal for a three-game series. I had tickets to the second game. But I went up for the first game because Gagne has relatives who live in the coverage area of our newspaper, and I thought it would make a good story. So, the first game was business, the second game pleasure. This was Gagne's first year as L.A.'s closer and he was a sensation, piling up saves at a record pace. He had 39 saves at the time, and there was talk of him breaking Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 in 1990 (K-Rod, of course, broke that last year).

Gagne's arrival in Montreal was a big event. Gagne is a native of a town just north of Montreal, and this was just his second appearance in Montreal since he became a major league pitcher. And with all the fanfare over his success, this was a lot bigger deal than his first appearance. The Expos couldn't bribe people to come to their games by that point, so the fact that they averaged 13,000 fans for the three-game series (a huge attendance jump for the team then) could be attributed directly to Gagne.

I was on the field at Olympic Stadium with a bunch of other reporters, waiting for Gagne to speak after pregame workouts. It was a collection of reporters like I've never seen. There were some writers from the U.S., lots of English-speaking Canadian writers and broadcasters, and a ton of French-Canadian writers and broadcasters. When Gagne finally showed up to speak, it was an odd 20 minutes. He would switch between talking in English and French. The French-Canadian press would get annoyed if Gagne spoke too long in English, pleading "en francais!," and Gagne would switch immediately into French. I didn't understand half of what he said. And I was lucky to get in a couple of questions about his family.

Gagne was accommodating and professional. You could see he had come a long way from the kid who couldn't speak any English (if you've read any stories about Gagne's progression from Montreal to Los Angeles, you've come across the tale of Gagne playing ball at a junior college in Oklahoma. He didn't know a word of English and learned the language by watching American sitcoms and the hockey movie classic, "Slapshot," over and over). You could see Gagne's proud dad walking over by home plate, wearing a Gagne Dodgers "Game Over" jersey and fielding a couple of interview requests.

Gagne didn't do too well that first game in Montreal, giving up a home run to Troy O'Leary in the eighth inning and getting the loss. But he saved the next game that I went to, a 5-2 Dodgers win, and he saved the final game, a 1-0 victory.

I always got the feeling that Gagne put too much pressure on himself. You could tell from that series and throughout his career that he is super competitive. I think that's the reason he didn't do very well as a starter. He'd have a bad inning in the fourth or fifth and just fall apart. I think that's why he blew the All-Star Game in 2003, because he tried to overpower Hank Blalock instead of pitch to him, and Blalock took him out for a two-run homer.

I also think that may have led him to being named in the Mitchell Report. He's never talked specifically about it (he issued a vague apology a year or so ago). But he fits the model of a lot of players that were listed on that report -- players who have struggled with injuries or struggled to make their mark, desperate for a way to hold on to their career (I think people like Bonds and McGwire are sort of the exception when it comes to players who are suspected of juicing). I even said in my story, years before the Mitchell Report came out, "Gagne, 6-foot-2, has bulked up from a listed 195 pounds in 2001 to 230 this season."

I felt for his aunt and uncle, when I heard that Gagne was on the list. I talked to both of them, and they are nice, humble French-Canadians and proud of their nephew.

Gagne was the most dominant closer I have ever seen pitch for the Dodgers. Maybe the most dominant I have seen for any team when you take his 2003 Cy Young season into account. Even after his pitching fell apart and bounced from team to team, I still rooted for him. He has had a lot of struggles in his career, starting with learning a completely new language. Yes, being a Mitchell Report guy is not good. I probably should dislike him for that. But somehow, knowing what I do, I still can't root against him.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

If Panini can do it, I can do it

(*measure, measure, measure, trace, trace, trace*)

(*snip, snip, snip, snip*) ...

Oh, hi there. You've caught me in the middle of making my own brand of baseball cards! With the recent news that Panini has acquired the license to produce NBA cards, and the fact that Topps' MLB license expires in a year, I figured, why not? I'll try my hand at some cards. I could win the lottery, um, three times, and buy an exclusive deal, right?

So I have to start planning. I'm going to call my card company "Lower Level," and I'll be starting with the kids' market. We have to get those kids hooked first! My first product is going to be called "Letters." As in, "Lower Level Letters," or "LLL" for short. Catchy, no?

Here is an example of one of the cards:

That's right! All of the cards are die-cuts! This is the "U" card. It is my homage to Upper Deck. Because Upper Deck X was my inspiration.

Here is the "T" card and my tribute to Topps. Even though they didn't produce anything as silly as "X," I didn't want to leave them out. After all, they did create Moments and Milestones. That's got to count for something.

Here is the "F" card or "Fleer" card. I suppose if you're a little bit crass, you could call it something else. But this product is for kids, so let's not muck it up.

The edges on the cards may be a bit rough, like this "C" card, but I think collectors are going to go for the unvarished look. The slick, glossy card is so played out, isn't it?

Every letter of the alphabet will be featured in "Lower Level Letters," but that's not all. I'll be randomly inserting super short-printed "numbers" into "Letters."

Here is the super rare "7" card. (I know what you're thinking: how stupid is including numbers in a product called "Letters"? Well, I'd say it's about as stupid as including cards of Bigfoot and vice presidential candidates in a pack of baseball cards).

I'm also going to include a couple of subsets. One is called "Punctuation Power" (there is an error version of the semi-colon card. It looks like a colon, which causes collectors to confuse it with the actual colon card). The other subset features letters only found in foreign languages. I'd show one here, but I don't speak any of those languages.

There is also a parallel set, called "Lower-case Letters." You can get all of your favorite ballplayers featured on die-cut, lower-case letters like "g" and "p" and "z"! (I'm working on a deal with O-Pee-Chee in which the pronunciation on the back of the "Z" card will read "Zed").

Unfortunately, for the two of you who are actually buying the fact that I'd go through with this, I have to tell you, it's actually a load of:

I don't collect basketball cards. But let's hope Panini does a better job on its cards than I did with these, especially if they have any designs at all on the baseball card market.

That is all.

(Eight Lee Tunnell cards were harmed in the making of this post. If you really need an intact 1985 Topps Lee Tunnell, don't worry. I saved one for you).

Awesome night card, pt. 19

I'm not ashamed to admit it: January has kicked my ass. Between work and finances, and especially the please-god-will-it-ever-stop-snowing weather, it's been a pretty thorough beat down. The only common winter occurrence that hasn't happened this month is illness, and, man, I probably just jinxed myself because there are still three babies left in this 31-day fiasco.

I'm feeling a little bit like the Braves did after Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series. As you may remember, it was an 18-inning ball game that started in the day and ended at night -- a day-night doubleheader folded into a single game. The Braves lost the game, 7-6, and the Astros advanced to the NLCS on Chris Burke's home run in the 18th. It was the longest game in postseason history, at five hours, 50 minutes.

I didn't see very much of the game. I had to work that night, so I caught the first few innings at home, and then tried to watch the rest of the game over my left shoulder (that's where the TV is in the sports department) as I tapped, tapped away on my computer.

Because I didn't get to absorb much of the action, I'm hoping that the MLB Network re-airs this game in its entirety, because I absolutely love watching extremely long games. Every time I attend a game in person, I hope it goes into extra innings. A lot of people bitched and moaned about the length of the All-Star Game last year. I loved it. Fifteen innings of fantastic, suspenseful baseball! Watched it from beginning to end.

In fact, the awesomeness (I hate that I just used that word) of this night card comes from the game it depicts, because it really isn't all that great of a card. There's way too much going on (I guess when a game features two grand slams and a walk-off HR, there's a lot to include). And that brings up the question: what is the record for most players featured on a single card? Excluding team cards, that is. I count 20 players on this card, and I might've missed a couple.

The Astros eventually endured their own "January" against the White Sox in the World Series. There's only one winner, as they say. Almost everyone knows what it feels like to get kicked in the teeth.

But February's just about here. And the month comes with new baseball cards! Here's to that first pack or blaster in which every card you pull is one you need. Now that is a month worth celebrating.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My first TTM try

Even though I don't collect autographs, chase them, or enjoy a lot about that particular aspect of our hobby, I am finding I do make exceptions. Those exceptions have to do with obtaining an autograph of a player that has particularly special meaning.

It can be the player himself, or a certain situation involving the player. For example, the comment left by the daughter of former Oakland pinch-runner extraordinnaire Herb Washington on this post sealed the deal that I must obtain his autograph (since I didn't go to the card show, I'm still looking for an extra '75 card of Washington to send him, which I'll probably just obtain online now. Yeah, I'm going to drag this out for as long as humanly possible). Players that I have talked to for feature stories while working as a sportswriter also fall in that category. Although handing them a card and a pen during the interview is grounds for dismissal, I can make a request in a fan setting, away from my day (er, night) job.

But the No. 1 exception is obtaining an autograph of my all-time favorite player. Living on the east coast, I never got the chance to see Ron Cey play in person for the Dodgers. But I followed as closely as was possible during those days before the Internet or even cable. Cey's poster was on my bedroom wall, and I made sure to collect every Cey card I knew of while growing up (there weren't very many of them back then).

My brother, who lives in California, once attended a Dodger game in L.A. in which Cey was signing before the game. But he didn't get Cey's autograph (he's not into autos and has pretty much lost interest in cards altogether). I was displeased.

But now I have another opportunity. Yesterday, Brian of 30-Year-Old Cardboard received two autographed Cey cards in the mail. As you may know, Brian has been going on a TTM request spree the last few weeks and has had mind-blowing success. I saw the Cey cards and couldn't help but ask for Brian's assistance in getting Cey's address. He graciously sent it and even added some TTM tips for young autograph apprentice Night Owl.

Cey, as you may have noticed by the cards on Brian's blog, or by the facsimile auto on the 1980 Topps card at the top of the post, has one fantastic signature. It's a classic. So I'm not going to send a card that already has a stamped auto on it.

And I'm definitely not sending a card like this:

I may be a newbie, but I do know sending a card in which it appears that Cey has just struck out (although it's more likely that he is looking for a sign from the third base coach), isn't a good idea.

So my only stipulations on card choice are: a) it doesn't already feature a stamped signature; b) it must feature The Penguin in a positive manner; c) I must have duplicates of the card in case our fine U.S. postal system encounters a glitch.

These are the cards I'm sending:

1978 Topps and 1983 Topps. Two fine cards of The Penguin. I'll be including a short hand-written request as well (any other suggestions?) I'll probably send the cards on their way by the end of the week.

Thanks for the big assist, Brian! I'll let you know how it goes.

Manny's rabbit fur coat

"But mostly I'm a hypocrite
I sing songs about the deficit
But when I sell out and leave Omaha, what will I get?
A mansion house and a rabbit fur coat."
-- "Rabbit Fur Coat," Jenny Lewis

When I started thinking about this post, which was basically going to be a rant about how Manny Ramirez should get off his butt and tell the Devil Man that $23 million a year is enough to live on and sign with the Dodgers already, all of a sudden the Jenny Lewis song popped in my head.

And that changed my line of thinking. Listen, there is a lot to get angry about over the Ramirez saga. Manny and I are roughly the same age. But our situations couldn't be farther apart.

In the time that Boras and Manny have danced around with the Dodgers, I read about the announcement Monday that nearly 50,000 employees will lose their jobs at various companies. I have heard about businesses going under. I have learned that wages will be frozen at my job for the next year. I have watched my retirement and my child's college savings begin to evaporate. I have decided more than once that Doritos and a Coke will suffice for dinner because that's all the money I have left for the week. We have less time to spend with our own child because my wife took another job with longer hours that pays more.

Yeah, when I think about that, I wonder how I can follow this game anymore. But as the song says, we're ALL looking to get out of Omaha. And what will happen if we get lucky enough and see that stinkin' town/life in our tail lights? Will we remember the way things used to be? Or will we try to get as much money as we can, because we remember the way things used to be? Because we remember fighting to keep the one thing that had meaning in our former life, that rabbit fur coat.

I don't know what goes through the minds of rich ballplayers. But enough of them jump at the big pay day that I have to think it's a very normal, human thing to do. The fear of the future is as real to them as it is to us. Really, they're not any different than us, except they can play baseball exceptionally well.

Manny will end up with an ungodly amount of money (he probably already has more than he knows what to do with), whether he plays for the Dodgers or not. But living with all that cash is a crazy existence. And I'm sure he carries with him a few reminders of the old days growing up in Washington Heights, knowing very little English. Whatever he valued at that time, whatever his rabbit fur coat was then, is probably still with him today.

If I was in the same situation, I'd like to think I'd do things a little differently. But I probably wouldn't. I'd be a rich man, still worried about the future and still clinging to the past.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Define the design (68T)

I've always been interested in coming up with names to define the look of each of the major sets that Topps, and then later Fleer, Donruss, Score, Upper Deck, etc., issued each year. Some, like 1970 Topps (gray border) and 1971 Topps (black border) are easy.

But some are more difficult, like the 1968 Topps set. I've heard the design of this set described most often one of two ways. The first is the "couch cushion" design. The second is the "old Zenith console TV design."

I always called it the "grandma's kitchen wallpaper" design, because I thought that's what it looked like -- drab, old-style wallpaper that one would only put in a kitchen because the color would best hide splattered food stains.

This is probably one of my least favorite Topps designs. It's got to be in the bottom 5. Probably because I was equating it with old splattered gravy stains. I could never understand why Topps came up with that design. I was barely alive in the '60s, so I don't know what Topps' inspiration was.

I know 1968 is going back a ways, but does anyone else know how Topps came up with the look for these cards? And more importantly, how would you sum up this design? If you had to describe the 1968 Jim "Mudcat" Grant card to someone who had never seen a '68 card before, what would you say?

For me it would be: "You know that wallpaper your grandmother had hanging in the kitchen? ..."

What I didn't get at the card show

It turns out I seriously bollocksed just about everything having to do with Sunday's "card show that never was."

First of all, I should have made an attempt to drive through the lake-effect storm. I talked to someone today who drove the same route, and he said that you couldn't see for maybe 5 miles. He settled behind a tractor trailer for a little bit and before he knew it, the sun was out. I've driven through worse for longer to get to places I didn't even want to be.

Secondly, since I didn't end up going to the show, I should have exhibited a little patience and done some online card buying instead of hitting the card shop and Target. But given my state of agony, I was in the mood for nothing but instant cardification. And I paid for it with a load of dupes.

So, the highlights aren't nearly as numerous as they would be if I reached the card show or went on an eBay spree. And there isn't a vintage card in the lot that I'm about to show, which is very depressing. But there a couple of key items.

I grabbed yet another blaster of Stadium Club because it's the only thing left from '08 that has me hooked, and then I bought a hobby box of Allen & Ginter to go mini chasing. Actually, it was only 20 packs, because that's all they had left. But that basically means I didn't get the box-topper, and I never know what to do with oversized crap like that. I've still got 5-by-7 Topps glossy cards from 1981 somewhere that I never look at because they're cards on steroids.

I'll start with the Stadium Club first:

This is a great card. It's not the Longoria base card, which is a bitch to get for card numbers divisible by three (the Longoria card is No. 108), but it doesn't make me like it any less. And as far as I'm concerned, I have the Longoria card for the set. Player collectors can worry about that other stuff.

This is the non first-day issue card of Max Scherzer. It's one of those variation rookies. Each rookie has cards with two different poses, sharing the same number. And they have a first-day issue card, also sharing the same number. And whoever thought of this idea should be forced to watch the Jonas Brothers on a continuous loop for, oh, infinity.

There's the back. You can see it's short-printed. No. 976/999. I suppose I'm supposed to be elated over this. I'm not.

I do like this card, though. I make exceptions for the Dodgers. This is the rookie variation card of Blake DeWitt, the first-day issue version. His other photo shows him throwing in the infield. I'm really rooting for DeWitt to stick at second base. I want him to do well, and I'm not terribly crazy about this Orlando Hudson talk.

This is the autograph I pulled. Burke Badenhop of the Marlins. It's also a photographer's proof (yeah, there's a lot going on on this card). The card says it's No. 10/50, but I don't know if that means there are 50 autographed Badenhop Stadium Club cards or 50 autographed photographer's proof Badenhop Stadium Club cards. Variation madness strikes again.

About all I know about Badenhop is he came from the Tigers in the Willis-Cabrera deal. I hope he turns out to be good. I've pulled enough of his cards this year.

Moving on to the Allen and Ginter (by the way, I'm hoping these are the last 2008 purchases I am showing since Topps '09 will be out next week. Although who knows how long it will take for it to get to my outpost. First they've got to find enough huskies to hook up to the sled).

Two state flag cards that I needed, including the newest Dodger, Brad Ausmus. I think I still need six or seven of these cards.

A black-bordered mini of the departed Mr. Saito. It's always nice to have a black border card of a Dodger.

Hee-hee. I already HAVE this card. How cool is it that I have two of the Baseball Icon Campanellas?

The first autograph card I've pulled from Allen & Ginter. It took long enough. I'm a little bummed that it's not a baseball player. But it's better than getting the autograph of a hot dog eating champion.

And lastly, a wood mini of Ryan Church. This is the first wood mini I've seen in person. It's not exactly what I thought they would be like. I thought the backs would have the wood finish, too.

But the back looks pretty much like any other mini card. Except for that notation on the bottom.

Yup, you're reading that right. That's my first 1 of 1 card. It's cool. But not cool in a 1971 Topps Gates Brown kind of way. More like a nice consolation prize.

I may have pulled a 1/1, but hindsight is 20/20, and I should've made it to that card show.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cardboard appreciation: 1977 Topps Carlton Fisk

(Usually the word "appreciate" appears in sentences with a happy ring to them. Except when it is preceded by the words "I would." As in, "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't leave your clothes lying on the floor," or "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't curse in front of my grandmother, or "I would appreciate it if you would put those cards away and have a conversation with me." ... Um, not that I've ever heard any of these sentences. Time for another edition of cardboard appreciation. This is the 15th in a series):

I'm in a bit of a ornery mood for some unknown reason. So I might as well feature a card that brings all of my childhood hatred for a certain team to the surface.

My brothers and I have despised the Yankees for a long time. I can't pinpoint the exact moment that this began, but I can relay my first recollection of disliking the Yankees. It came on May 2, 1976. That was the day that the Red Sox and Yankees were involved in a brawl that led to Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee missing much of the season with a shoulder injury.

It was the first baseball brawl my brothers and I had ever experienced. The way we saw it, the Yankees' Lou Piniella came into Carlton Fisk way too hard during a play at the plate. Fisk took exception, and we believed he had every right to do so. We had a subscription to Sports Illustrated at the time, and we absolutely loved this cover. Beat him senseless, Carlton!

Piniella enraged us so much that we heckled the guy for the rest of his Yankee career. We could not stand Piniella. As unlikeable as many of the Yankees were in the '70s -- Reggie, Munson, Billy Martin -- Piniella took the brunt of our abuse. We laughed every time he struck out, we taunted him every time he struggled to catch a fly ball. He was the outlet for whatever schoolboy injustice we were experiencing at the time. My dad, who is a Red Sox fan, even got into the act. To this day, he'll say "Sweet Lou" in a derisive tone.

So when Topps issued this card of Fisk the very next year, we recalled that play with Piniella. Never mind that it's Willie Randolph sliding into home. We saw Piniella. And we wanted Fisk to level the guy again. Add the fact that it was a great action photo for its time (the play is centered, there is nothing obstructing or distracting the main subject), and it was one of our favorite cards.

This, in fact, is the very same card I had as an 11-year-old. One day I'll have to upgrade it, but I won't dispose of this card. It will always remind me of when I learned that some teams are "good" and other teams are "bad."

In a way, it's sad that a lot of fans consider the Red Sox just like the Yankees nowadays: two peas in a diabolical pod. They don't get to direct all their venom toward one single team, like we did.

I do see their point to an extent. The Red Sox spend and spend just like the Yankees have done for years. But I don't see them as the same at all. Partly because I don't think they go about their spending the same way. But mostly because for years, the Red Sox were just like the Indians, Orioles, Royals, Tigers, and especially, the Dodgers. They were all partners in a worthy cause -- taking down the evil empire. I think the Red Sox have decades and decades to go before they can match the level of animosity that the Yankees have crafted in the last 80-plus years.

That's the legacy of the Yankees in many ways -- giving fans a villain to jeer. And that's the legacy of this card, reminding us of conflict, and taking sides, and going to battle. As unpleasant as that sounds, 1977 Topps Carlton Fisk, I appreciate you for all of that.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January is a black, black month

January needs to be erased from the calendar. Eliminated. Eradicated. Expunged. Scrapped. Put out of its misery. Taken out and shot.

I apologize to anyone with birthdays in this month (my grandmother was born in January, as well as a sister-in-law, a niece and a nephew). But I have no use for it. Any month that comes between me and a card show makes it on The List.

As you've probably figured out, I didn't go to the show. It J.T. Snowed all over the place around here. We got a foot of snow last night, and then the lake effect junk moved south and set up shop right between me and the card show. Clear at my place. Clear in Syracuse. A blinding storm of white terror in between. I thought about taking a chance, then read the warning about "major travel problems" on the interstate and decided not to risk it.

Before the weather forecast changed for the worse late Friday, I had gone to the effort to print out multiple lists for the show and had ranked them in order of priority. And here they sit, mocking me.

I decided to drown my sorrows at the nearby hobby shop and at Target. It's not the same as staring at vintage cards from the '60s. To add insult to injury, the card shop owner took a lot of the good stuff with him to the card show (to make myself feel better, I envisioned him in a snow bank somewhere, hobby boxes of Sweet Spot scattered in the ditch).

But I did pull some semi-cool items. I'm not in the mood to show them right now. I'll do it tomorrow.

The main thing I bought was a hobby box of Allen & Ginter, just to chase minis and other cool items. That means I have a lot more base card doubles. I'll be sending them off to those bloggers that I know are still trying to complete the set. But if you're looking for a certain A&G card, let me know in the comments, and I'll see if I've got it. (I'll let you know up front, I don't have dupes of Brad Lidge or Matt Diaz -- two cards that seem to elude everyone).

Meanwhile, I'll try to stay patient until the next card show -- three freakin' months away. Yup, January is a black, black month. As black as Scott Boras' soul. Dipped in dark chocolate.

Topps 2009, where are you?

Oddly inappropriate cartoons, pt. 2

Card set: 1973 Topps
Card: Dick Dietz, Los Angeles Dodgers
Card No.: 442
Inappropriate subject: I don't know if "inappropriate" is the word. "Questionable," maybe? It's generally not a good idea for 17-year-olds to get married.
Level of inappropriateness (scale of 1-10): A 2

This cartoon confuses me. I don't know if they're trying to say Dietz was a dumb ass for getting married so young, or if they're praising him for finding the girl of his dreams so early in life, or if they're poking fun (hey, look at the hick!). Whatever the intent, it seems like an odd kind of fact to put on the back of someone's own baseball card.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dodgers revisited

Sometimes I feel like I'm neglecting my duties as a Dodger fan on this blog. I often drift off into other card collecting topics or baseball in general. But that's not because writing about the Dodgers bores me. It's because I have such an interest in baseball and collecting that I can't help but write about that, too.

In fact, being a Dodger fan is kind of a byproduct of my passion for baseball. Because I enjoy baseball history so much, it's only natural I am a Dodger fan, with the great history the franchise owns. And I greatly respect fans of teams like the Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox, Indians, Reds, White Sox, Pirates, etc. -- teams whose histories go way back.

So sometimes I need someone to steer me back to the Dodgers. Receiving card packages is a good way for me to regain my focus. Recently, I received Dodgers from reader Steve, and Jeffrey of Card Junkie.

Steve sent me about 25 Dodgers. I believe I needed about half. Here are some of the highlights:

Ramon Martinez, 2007 Upper Deck. This card raises a question that I have asked before with night cards. What was the first card to feature a player breaking his bat? If I had to guess, I'd say some early '90s card from Upper Deck. But there's probably an odd example or two that goes back much farther than that. Maybe someday I'll collect broken bat cards.

For some reason, it never dawned on me that Martinez had the same name as the Dodgers' more famous Ramon Martinez, Pedro's older brother. It think it's because I spent so much time obsessing about the fact that Martinez came from the Giants.


Two manager cards, a 2001 Topps Traded card of Jim Tracy and a 2004 SP Legendary Cuts card of Tommy Lasorda. I interviewed Tracy once, very briefly, although it was in a "pack of reporters" setting. I don't think I have a card of Lasorda in which Tommy looks older than on this one.

I also received several other 2007 Upper Deck cards I needed from Steve, a '93 Pinnacle Kevin Gross, a key Eric Karros card and several other goodies.

Steve is Mets fan living in the Southeast. I'll be digging up some Mets and, hopefully, some Stadium Club wants for him. Steve doesn't have a card-centric Mets blog that I know of, but more card bloggers are Mets fans than fans of any other team. Someone might have to do a post on why that is so. Meanwhile, my Mets are quickly vanishing.

On to Card Junkie. Jeff sent me three Dodgers off of my want list. What I like about Jeff and his site, besides the many videos, is the enthusiasm for cards of a period that I once had ignored. By the time the late '80s, early '90s rolled around, I was old enough to become a card critic. I pretty much dismissed Fleer and Donruss of the day, laughing off their designs.

It's good to see that others do appreciate those cards, probably because those were the cards they collected when they were kids. It's made me look at those cards again and find something to like about them.

For example, 1987 Donruss. Here is a Mike Scioscia card Jeff sent. I've commented before that it looks like a kid designed '87 Donruss. But others like the little baseballs on the sides, and the simplistic design. I've learned to appreciate that they only used the team logo on the front, rather than listing the team name, much like '87 Topps (this was something I previously didn't enjoy).

Finally, Jeff sent a '92 Checklist that I needed to complete the '92 Fleer Dodgers team set. Thanks to Fleer's ugly decision to put four teams on one checklist for much of the '80s and '90s, team collectors are forced to pick up cards like this. I don't like the fact that the Dodgers are sharing time with the Expos, Reds and Astros on the card, but I guess I'll live with it (this is actually the back of the card).

Thanks for the cards, Jeff. I'll be sending some cards your way next week.

But first I need to fret about the weather. Because the forecast has changed and they're talking about dreaded lake effect snow for my area tomorrow, the day of the card show. If you've ever driven in heavy lake effect snow, you know there's no kind of terror quite like it. (Great Lakes residents know what I'm talking about). I may do a lot to own cards, but driving in that stuff isn't one of them.

Friday, January 23, 2009

From your comment to Stadium Club's ears

You don't think there are baseball card gods? You doubt that there are baseball card fairies or gremlins or pixies?

OK, then how do you explain this? In the last post, I wrote about the slow deterioration of baseball players' penmanship skills. One MMayes of the 1972 Topps Baseball blog ended his comment on the post by saying:

"For a fun current autograph, check out Johnny Cueto's card. Looks like a kindergartner printing."

About nine hours later, I found myself in Kmart with the family. I was determined to buy something from the store's notoriously poor card selection (don't worry, it didn't cut into the card show budget). The only thing that whispered in my ear was a blaster of Stadium Club (yeah, yeah, I know, I vowed never to buy another SC blaster. Shut up). So I ponied up, and pulled this:

Looks like I get to find out how much Cueto's signature resembles those of the 5-year-olds on my block.

I've seen Cueto's signature before, so I know what MMayes is talking about. But what I have never seen before in person is a redemption card. I am still relatively new to the modern card scene, and I don't spend nearly as much cash on cards as a lot of bloggers, so I lag behind in areas like this.

What I do know is people have had various experiences with redemption cards. Some plain hate them. But I'm operating off a clean slate, so I have faithfully followed the instructions on the back of the card, will allow 12 to 15 weeks for processing, and be aware that substitutions of equal or greater value will be made if the insert is unavailable for any reason.

But also please know, Topps, that I will be keeping track of how many days it takes to get my Cueto autograph in the sidebar at right, so I expect to see the card in 84 to 105 days. And if I get a substitution, I expect it to be truly of equal or greater (ha! to that second part) value. When the card comes everyone will know about it.

Meanwhile, the rest of the blaster was just as I expected -- one card of every five was one I needed. Most were of the rookies, cards 101 to 150. The rest were the divisible-by-three cards, all with the first-day issue stamp on the front.

Carlos Quentin, whose season ended prematurely after he broke his wrist punching out his bat.

Justin Verlander, who has Tigers fans wondering after last season's performance.

And Babe Ruth, whose '76 Topps card I hope to grab at the card show this weekend.

Meanwhile, reader Steve was nice enough to send me several Stadium Club cards that I needed, including Jorge Posada, Chris Young, Justin Masterson and a few others, including two versions of two rookies I was lacking:

I've done a pretty good job of ignoring the fact that there is more than one version of the rookie cards, because I've found my brain hates me when I do start thinking about it. So I simply look at the number on the back, and if it's one I don't have, then I check it off and don't worry about it anymore. If I get a variation, cool. But I'm not chasing.

I'm beginning to think all of us Stadium Club collectors are crazy anyway. Or at least I am. That is until I complete the set. Then I'm at least as sane as the guy who thought up redemption cards.