Friday, December 31, 2010

Drinking a cup of kindness ...

Remember when you would get all tuxed up and paint the town pink to celebrate the new year?

Me neither. But the card seemed appropriate, if unsettling.

It's time to look back at how 2010 treated the Night Owl. You know -- Auld Lang Syne and all that romanticized hooey. Did you know that Auld Lang Syne was an old Scottish tune? I'm more Scottish than anything else, so drinking a cup of kindness (and a few other things) to days gone by is right up my kilted alley.

But I know you're all forward-thinking people. You're obsessed with how we're going to fix that Panini-thingy crisis. So, I'll try to make it quick. Here's a hurried spin through the best of NOC in 2010. I'd say it was rather eventful.


There I was, huddled in my winterized north country home, keeping myself warm by attempting to determine whether Topps was in on Sparky Lyle's plot to make his habit of sitting bare-assed on birthday cakes known to little kiddie collectors and discovering something wonderful called Check Out My F@&%ing Fabulous Cards (OK, it's not really called that), when a former major league baseball pitcher named Jerry Reuss commented on my blog, and suddenly nothing else mattered. I'm really a pathetic, starry-eyed 12-year-old at heart.


Topps unveils something called the Million Card Giveaway and everyone -- and by everyone, I mean all living beings and a few freshwater fish -- freaked the freak out (yes, Victoria Justice, there is a pre-adolescent in the house). It takes three hours to redeem a single 1987 Topps card and when it's finally redeemed, people literally parade through the streets. There are fireworks and wind instruments and free monkeys for everyone. I can just see us 40 years from now, croaking in that familiar old-man stereotype, "In my day, it took five hours to redeem one Kevin Bass card and WE LIKED IT."


While attempting to recover from a 64-card bipping of '90 Donruss Bryn Smith cards, Topps has me back hanging over the bedpan in no time by issuing an achingly boring Heritage set made even more gruesome by endless capless ballplayers killing my will to collect.


The month begins with hope and enthusiasm as I look forward to the start of a new season and a new World Series champion -- heh, I was so stupid back then -- and continues with easily my favorite card show of the year, once they were able to calm me down after I learned my favorite dealer was missing (I still don't know where he is).


National Chicle puts out what turns out to be my favorite set of the year (kind of tells you how the year was for cards), a brilliant card creator sends me the best custom-made card I've ever seen, and I begin a trade map to celebrate the glorious cards I've received from generous collectors in many states. But my mother-in-law tops them all by giving me this book out of the blue. She has no idea.


Did you know the month of June is now called "Strasburg"? In the month formerly known as June, collectors totally lost their minds -- I mean you could actually see brains deposited on the floor of the card aisle -- over a young man named Stephen Strasburg. I contributed to the hype by pulling a purple refractor of Strasburg, high-fiving several Wal-Mart employees, insulting a few customers who weren't man/woman enough to pull the same card, and performing a semi-offensive dance in the parking lot. OK, I did none of that. I just hyperventilated on the blog and eventually sold the card for just south of 100 bucks.

Meanwhile, I opened a box of A&G and discovered that Topps used many of the photos that we've seen before. Apparently, someone in the office took recycling too literally. Just couldn't stop at rinsing out the soup cans.


In the midst of another Gint-a-cuffs, in which I temporarily consider committing Ginter-cide, I have a "eureka" moment as I discover why going to my LCS makes me feel SOL every single time. Meanwhile, my daughter opens a pack of A&G and loses a little respect for daddy when he nearly drives of the road when she pulls a revolving door card.


I complete a set that is older than every single person that I just saw walking in the mall today with this Ferguson Jenkins card and a league leader card. In the best card-acquisition month of the year, finishing off the '76 set is trumped by gaining a 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson card. That Jackie. He always had to be the center of attention.


Blogger's unveiling of a new blog stats feature prompts me to publish cards of scantily clad swimsuit models, not that I need an excuse to do that. I also grab an A&G blaster that is virtually all short-prints and thank Topps for the screw-up. But the biggest mistake of the month is someone puts me on a card.


I take out a hit on the Giants but the gunman turns out to be from San Francisco. I try to drown my sorrows in a card show, but the show decides to take place in the middle of an auto race. Fortunately, my brother-in-law comes through by fleecing some teenager of about 6,000 cards for five bucks and giving them all to me.


Winning the oldest card in my collection helps soften the edges on an ornery month that included Topps setting me off on the top 60 cards of all-time, and Beckett's Chris Olds firing me up by saying 1991 was a worse junk wax year than 1990. Both Topps and Olds are wrong, but never mind that. Let's all look at the 1933 Goudey. Ahhhhhhhhhh. Sweeeeet viiiiinntaaagggeee.


Some idiot decides to become a Jon Link completist. Topps tries to give me a card it already sent me. And I finally get caught up on trade posts after two years of trying. Of course, I'm back to being behind again.

Heh. So much for drinking a cup of kindness.

But really, it's been a swell 12 months. Thanks for reading. Thanks for blogging. May there be much of both in 2011.

And have a Happy New Year and a drink on me. Hope the bartender will take cards as payment.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The best cards of 2010

How was your 2010? Was it better than 2009? For me, it was. It wasn't the greatest year in the world, but it was a whole lot better than what I went through in '09.

As for cards, I think most of us will agree that the opposite was true. The year 2009 was a pretty good one for cards. But 2010 was mediocre.

In separating the best cards of 2010, I found a lot of mediocrity. Much of that is due to the disappearance of Upper Deck early in the year. Looking at Topps card after Topps card gets tedious. I'm sure my eyes glazed over and I missed a cool card or two.

I don't find these cards as inspiring as 2009. My favorite card of 2009, the Topps David Murphy card shown here, is tremendous. But, I'll continue with a 2010 countdown anyway. It's the end of the year and I love my end-of-the-year wrap-up shows. Let's see what I thought was the best of what I pulled/acquired in 2010.

As mentioned before, hits and parallels are eliminated from competition because they're too unusual and can't be compared with your average card. So you won't see any Strasburg purple refractor here.

Like last year, the first few cards are representative of a card innovation that I found cool this year. It's a tribute to the theme or angle, rather than the actual card itself.

Count 'em down, Casey:

20. Upper Deck Ballparks subset: I don't know why it took a card company so long to feature ballparks in a set. I know it's been done here or there, but I don't recall every single ballpark being displayed in a base set before, excluding last year's OPC. Some of the photos are questionable in this set, and the inability of Upper Deck to display the nicknames is a definite drawback. But it is, by far, the highlight of a disappointing "final" set for UD.

19. Topps Series 2 2020 insert set: Anything that reminds me of the Kellogg's 3-D cards of the '70s is awesome. Topps needs to play with its cards a little more like this. Perhaps it's not what people who always want their minds blown had hoped for, but I thought the cards were great.

18. Bowman 1992 Throwback insert set: I didn't collect Bowman in 1992, so seeing these cards of current players on an 18-year-old design made me appreciate just how nice the set was back in '92. The lack of a team name is irksome, but otherwise a very nice-looking insert set.

17. Bowman Topps 100 insert set: Bowman done good with its insert sets in 2010. The best part of this set is that all of the best prospects are right here in a tidy 100 cards. I don't know about you, but I don't have time to collect Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects & Players You'll Never Hear About Again & Oh, By the Way, Here Are Some USA Players That You'll Never Hear About Either. I don't need 200-300 cards that I'll look back on in five years and say, "who the hell was that?" This is much more manageable, and much more fun.

16. Topps Chrome rack pack orange refractors: My collecting tastes are very simple. I keep reading about how Chrome was a bust and that orange refractors and some wrapper redemption thing proves that Topps dropped the ball on Chrome, blah, blah, blah. I don't have the time nor the interest to get into the political workings and business machinations of card companies. What I do know is that Topps put orange refractors in every relatively affordable rack pack of Chrome and I bought a bunch of it even though I had no money. So to me, the orange refractors aren't a sign of desperation or the dilution of the orange refractor. They are a sign that Topps found a way to get me to buy some cards that I wouldn't ordinarily buy.

15. Topps Tales of the Game insert set: My favorite insert set of the year. Baseball is nothing without the stories that make up its history. Good for Topps for creating an insert set with all of baseball's greatest moments. By the way, I still need #2, #5, #17 from Series 1 (there was a mix-up in the Night Owl factory). And I'll also take any Topps Update Tales of the Game cards you want to throw my way.

14. Zach Duke, Topps National Chicle: OK, we're onto the portion of the countdown where I highlight individual cards. Chicle is probably my favorite set from 2010, even though I was very conflicted by it when it came out. Since then, I have seen what the cards look like together in binder form and they are tremendous. Sure, there are several cards that don't capture a player's likeness too well, but that's both an "eye of the beholder" thing and a "painting vs. photo" thing. This is an art gallery card set. You walk into an art gallery and one person's going to hate a painting that someone else loves. I think it's very cool that a card set captures that phenomenon even if it makes the set wildly inconsistent.

Oh, by the way, I love this card.

13. Yadier Molina, Topps National Chicle: Same as above. If I don't stop posting these cards I'm going to end up trying to complete the set, and I don't want to do that.

12. Kevin Youkilis, Topps: I love "face in the crowd" shots. Topps, with it's photo manipulations, has me suspicious that this crowd was photoshopped behind Youkilis. But unless I see proof, it remains one of the best cards of the year.

11. Cody Ross, Topps: I wish I had my way-back machine. I could enter it and prevent the Marlins from dumping Ross and allowing the Giants to pick him up. I just don't get Florida.

10. Carlos Santana, Topps Chrome xrefractor: The regular chrome version of this card looks cool. But adding the tiny shiny squares gets the card on the countdown. That's an accomplishment considering I'm a Dodger fan and the Dodgers gave this guy up to pursue a World Series title that they're still chasing.

9. Juan Pierre, Topps: Pierre has a lot of great cards, as many of the "hustle" ballplayers do. I think this one is the best.

8. David Wright, Topps: Second player on the countdown who is sticking out his tongue.

7. Rickey Henderson, Franchise History, Topps: I really enjoyed the Franchise History subset in Topps this year. The best cards were the ones that featured retired players in the photos. This card and the Perez-Bench Reds card are the two best.

6. Matt Kemp, Topps: Best base set Dodger card of the year. That is a future post, by the way.

5. Jackie Robinson, Topps National Chicle: The only reason this card isn't higher is because it's a short-print. Normally I rule out those cards in a "best of" list like this because they're not as available as other cards. But I like this card too much to exclude it.

4. Revolving Door, Allen & Ginter: Settle yourselves. Yes, it's one of the best cards of the year. Cards like these is what makes Allen & Ginter so great. I smile every time I see this card. If you don't like the card then you probably shouldn't be collecting A&G.

3. Prince Fielder, Topps: The Brewers ended up with a lot of good cards in the Topps base set. The Aclides Escobar card just missed the countdown. I don't condone Prince Fielder's behavior here, and am disturbed by choreography sneaking into baseball, but it was truly a unique moment. Good for Topps to get it on a baseball card.

2. Lou Gehrig, Topps National Chicle: What Chicle could have been. An all black-and-white, illustrated set would be very powerful.

1. Jose Reyes, Topps: I always prefer action shots to posed shots when picking the best. That's because a good action shot is more difficult to get. This is the best action shot I've seen all year, so it gets my vote for best card of the year.

How about that -- a Yankee and  Met finish 1-2? I must be part of the New York bias.

Tomorrow, the year in review. And then we drop-kick 2010 to the curb.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A half-hearted look at the worst cards of 2010

I admit that I put as much effort into finding the worst cards of 2010 as I did in creating this graphic (yes, I design sports sections for a living).

But it's not all my fault. Once Upper Deck left the arena, that left half the amount of cards that existed when I did this the previous time. It just wasn't that fun pitting Topps against itself.

Also, I cut back quite a bit on buying current cards in the past year. There were a number of sets that I just didn't bother with, beyond opening one pack. That means that the candidates for this year's award may not be a fair representation of what was out there.

If my collecting pattern continues, there won't be a "worst card of 2011" -- at least from me anyway -- because I have a feeling I won't be purchasing many 2011 cards at all in comparison to the last four or five years.

I'm such a Bob Bummer.

But before I take all the fun out of being negative, let's get another look at the candidates for this year's big steaming pile of card poo. I've added one more card to the original list of five. So there are six candidates, which is fair seeing as there were about half the cards that there were last year.

1. Topps "Photo Day Fun," Lance Berkman and Mike Hampton.

Is Photo Day supposed to make me want to run away screaming while protecting my genitals?

I didn't think so.

2. Upper Deck Celebrity Predictors, Megan Fox and a guy whose name I can't remember but I know it sounds vaguely feminine.

I know some people will disqualify this because it's technically not a baseball card. But it did come out of a baseball pack, so it's here to be ridiculed.

3. Topps Heritage Lastings Milledge.

If Mr. Milledge isn't insulted by this photograph, I'm insulted for him.

4. Topps National Chicle, Alexei Ramirez

Ramirez is a one-man Gas House Gang in this photograph. Notice there are no people in the background. That's because they've all been overcome by the noxious orange cloud. It's carnage just behind the blue fence.

5. Topps Update "NL East Origins," Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Cabrera.

Is this the new uniform for American Airlines skycaps? If not, you could have fooled me. There is only one word for this card and several similar versions in the Update set: abysmal.

That brings us to the sixth and final candidate. You likely know where I'm going with it. This is a Joba Chamberlain card from 2008 Stadium Club.

6. Allen & Ginter Joba Chamberlain.

And here is that same photo, Allen&Ginterized. I know some folks cite the Albert Pujols shot when complaining about repetition in 2010 A&G, but at least the Pujols shot is a different photo from the similar '09 Topps base picture. This is the identical Joba photo.

Plus, it's not like the original Stadium Club card photo wasn't memorable. It was a great shot. Did Topps think it was fooling anyone? I doubt it. They just didn't care.

That's odd. Topps not caring?

The candidates for the Worst Card are listed in a poll on the sidebar. Yes, that means I have four polls going at once.

That has to be a record, right?

Please tell me it is. I need to feel like I accomplished something tonight.

The best cards of the year are coming up tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Card back countdown: #19 - 1977 Topps

I don't know about you, but by the time I was 11 or 12, I thought I had everything figured out. I knew how the world operated and how I fit into it.

I knew the routine. Get up in the morning, go to school, return home, play baseball with my buds, do a little homework, goof off, and go to sleep. In between there were other constants. Frankenberry and Count Chocula. Happy Days. Kiner's Corner. They were always there.

So it was with card backs.

I knew what card backs should be. They should be horizontal. They should be green. They should have a cartoon on the left and statistics on the right.

For the longest time, this is what I thought was the ultimate template for a card back. The 1977 Topps set was the standard. Any deviation from this formula was to be treated with suspicion.

Of course, looking back at it now, the '77 card back isn't much to see. Most of the 1970s card backs were drab and dark. The '77 back is a little difficult to read. But when I think of the cards I collected as a child and the backs of those cards, the '77 back is the one that springs to mind first. In my mind, that is what a card back should look like.

Again, the best part of this card back is the cartoon. Each player's card featured a cartoon. That's the best part of anchoring the cartoon on the left side of the card. The statistics don't get in the way. By the way, do you think you could get away with drawing a McDonald's arch in a cartoon on the back of a card today?

Nice of Topps to point out Garagiola's failed efforts in the presidential race.

"Joe Morgan is an expert on wines." Morgan? An expert? He told you that, didn't he?

As time went on, I found out I didn't know anything at all. The world was an ever-changing place, and that included card backs. They weren't always green and they didn't even always have a cartoon. But the '77 set gave me a starting point, something that I could match up with other card backs.

It was also the starting point for a few other things.

One thing that a boy verging on puberty noticed with these '77 card backs is how many lovely young ladies made an appearance in these cartoons.

Perhaps the card below was an attempt to balance things out at least a little:

As you can see, I studied the backs of the 1977 set intensely, perhaps more intensely than any other set.

This was the card set in which I first fully appreciated the card back. That's the main reason why it is where it is on this countdown.

Best of the set:

Really, was there any doubt?

Yes, I'm a pig.

(previous card back countdown selections):

50. 1978 SSPC Yankee Yearbook
49. 1993 Score
48. 1999 Skybox Thunder
47. 2000 Upper Deck
46. 1999 Skybox Premium
45. 1953 Johnston Cookies Braves
44. 1995 Topps
43. 1997 Fleer
42. 1992 Pinnacle
41. 1989 Bowman
40. 1977 Kellogg's
39. 2004 Topps
38. 2004 Topps Total
37. 1992 Topps
36. 1992 Donruss
35. 2008 Upper Deck Documentary
34. 1963 Fleer
33. 1955 Bowman
32. 2006 Topps
31. 1961 Topps
30. 1955 Topps
29. 1967 Topps
28. 1970 Topps

27. 1969 Topps
26. 1966 Topps
25. 1963 Topps
24. 1911 T205
23. 1962 Topps
22. 1981 Topps

21. 1981 Donruss
20. 1958 Topps