Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mood swings and a box of A&G


Oh, hi, there. Just wanted to get your attention.

I endured a very schizoid day today. Up one nano-second, down the next. Fortunately, you will see only the good parts, which include some random thoughts on my freshly opened box of 2010 Allen & Ginter.

But even while opening the Ginter goodies, I found myself ooing over one card and frowning over the next. I don't know if it was the mood I was in or if that is the state of this year's A&G. I hope to buy another box to find out. But at the price of boxes these days, I'll probably wait a good long time to come up with my final answer (yes, I pulled the Regis Philbin card).

This is the box that I will use for Gint-a-Cuffs II. So, I can't reveal everything here. But I'll show you just enough to reveal some of what I was thinking during the course of opening the box. I'll even post a running scale of my mood, so you can see how spastic I was during the whole thing.

OK, here we go:

Progress: Box just opened
Mood level: +10

Progress: Pack 2 of 24
Mood level: +10
Observation: Out of all of the base cards I wanted to pull in the box, this was the card. There is nothing more desperate than seeing someone beg for a card of their favorite player, having done that a few times and having to look myself in the mirror afterward. Kershaw looks borderline yokel-ish. Or he could be borderline psychotic. It's a fine line.

Status: Pack 3
Mood level: +7
Observation: At this point, I had a general idea of what A&G was offering this year. I have to admit, I need to get used to some of it. The pale blue background isn't doing it for me. It reminds me of the color on Champs hockey and that color reminded me of the color once used to paint hospital walls. It's not a happy color. Maybe that's my own hang-up, but it's there. Secondly, all of the people look like they're wearing rouge. Thirdly, that rookie card logo sure looks odd on a card that's supposed to appear like it's more than 100 years old. Finally, the feel of the front of the card is a little too slick for me.

Status: Pack 4
Mood level: +8
Observation: This national animals insert set is pretty cool. I liked all three that came out of the box, but this one was the best.

Status: Pack 5
Mood level: +2
Observation: I saw this card and let out an audible tone of disgust. I'm sure you've all seen this picture before. It was in just about every other pack of 2008 Stadium Club. Later in the box I pulled this card:

Yes, it's the disturbing Pujols photo. I haven't checked to see if this is the exact same picture that appeared in the 2009 Topps base set, but if it is, that's real shoddy work by Topps. If you're going to repeat a photo in multiple sets, do it in Opening Day. Don't do it in this set. Especially for someone like Pujols.

But there's more. As you'll see in a minute.

Status: Pack 10
Mood level: +3
Observation: In the category of the card that made me jump off the couch the highest, this card would have won, if not for second-to-last pack, when I pulled this:

Normally being surrounded by flames is a bad thing. I guess this guy, um, Wawra, has made it work for him. That and red-tinted contact lenses.

Status: Pack 17
Mood level: +5
Observation: This guy bears a faint resemblance to a man named Andre Ethier. I had to stare at it for a good while to make sure it was him.

Status: Pack 17
Mood level: -1
Observation: I know the majority of the A&G cards are posed shots, so maybe Topps thinks it can get away with things like this. But there are obsessive, squirrely people in this hobby who go back into the recesses of their collecting mind and turn up this:


But, wait, there's more! If you act now, you can pull this Jorge Posada card:

That looks like THIS Jorge Posada card:

Tartar sauce, Topps! What are you doing? All of this Strasburg short-print smokescreen stuff may be distracting other collectors, but it's not fooling me. FIND NEW PHOTOS. IT'S NOT THE 1960s ANYMORE!!!!!

See what you're doing? You're making the A&G apologist rag on his favorite product.

Status: Pack 19
Mood level: -3
Observation: One thing that bothered me the last couple of years with A&G is how small the image is with the horizontal cards. It's extremely noticeable this year, especially on the minis. Hawpe's head on this mini card is about the size of a pebble. Some people of limited visual ability are going to have to hold it either 2 inches from their face or a foot-and-a-half away in order to see the image.

Status: Pack 21
Mood level: -1
Observation: The "This Day in History" insert series totally rocks. I love "This date ..." stuff, and to marry it with a player's birthdate is an awesome idea. With one card in every pack, the design gets a little repetitive, but overall it's quite cool.

Status: Pack 22
Mood level: +2
Observation: Coolest card in the set? Maybe. The only thing holding it back is that the team Gonzalez plays for is annoying the hell out of me.

Status: Pack 24
Mood level: +1
Observation: At one point, I thought A&G had finally come around on the musician front and issued a card of honky-tonk country & western/southern rock pioneer Gary Stewart. I should have known better. This Gary Stewart bounced up and down on a pogo stick the most times in a row. I am not impressed. I don't watch "America's Got Talent" either.

A&G does a great job of recognizing authors and explorers, inventors and record-breakers, as it should. But musicians get semi-ignored. It would be totally cool if there was an A&G card of Johnny Cash or B.B. King or Robert Plant or Ann Wilson. Instead we get Jordin Sparks.

Final mood level: +2

Couldn't meet the hype, I guess.

As you may have noticed, I left out a number of key cards. Those will be revealed when I kick off my end of Gint-a-Cuffs in the next day or so. I've got to get the scoring system down. Maybe I'll take the day off from work to figure it out.

But it will take me longer to figure out where I rate this season of A&G with past years. We shall see.

Happy A-G day!

The biggest day of the card-collecting season has arrived. My box of 2010 Allen & Ginter has been delivered into my greedy, giddy hands.

I've decided that this day is even bigger than the day when the first cards of the 2010 season come out. A&G is much more special than your average base card set. It comes with more anticipation and the promise of something special -- even if it doesn't always deliver.

But enough with the philosophy. You all know how I feel. I'm a two-time Gint-a-Cuffs participant, after all.

I'm not going to begin the proceedings right now, though. In fact I haven't ripped a pack yet.

But I have opened the box.

Oooh, pretty blue packs. Fire that ball to first, Minty Beans.

I also opened the cabinet card that came with the box. It's one of 10 cabinet box-loaders. This year's theme is engineering achievements. Of course, there are baseball players mixed in, too. So you could receive an engineering feat, or a cabinet boxloader that features Lance Berkman, Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Lee; or CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter; or Jacoby Ellsbury, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada (there's a combo); or Joe Mauer. Yep, Mauer gets a cabinet all to himself.

But here is what I got:

Brooklyn Bridge. Well, that's not too bad. I like the look of the cabinet cards this year. Nicer than last year.

That's a look at the base set checklist. Hopefully, you can read it all if you click on the images. The set is 350 cards as usual. One thing I noticed is that cards 301-350, which are usually the short-prints, are all ballplayers this time. No need to look under every rock for a card of Old Faithful, like last year.

Obviously, part of the charm of A&G is the non-baseball players and finding out what unusual people/places are in the set. I did a little quick research on some of them. Others I knew already. Others, even with research, I still have no idea who they are.

Here are some of them that I know:

#9 - Kelly Kulick - pro bowler
#20 - Sacagawea - famed female Native American
#54 - Tony Hawk - richest skateboarder ever
#68 - Betelgeuse - basically your Milky Way for this year's set
#78 - Leonardo da Vinci - he painted some stuff you might know
#103 - Niccolo Machiavelli - I had to read "The Prince" in school. I was very confused
#105 and #118 - Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Gallei - astronomers are big this year
#110 - Sherlock Holmes - Not sure why it's not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#129 - Johannes Gutenberg - My profession owes a lot to this guy
#130 - Area 51 - A nice place to visit
#144 - Stuart Scott - I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS GUY IS IN THE SET. Why? WHY? At least it's not Berman
#148 - Anne Donovan - She could play some mean basketball
#152 - The Parthenon - This year's Alamo, except much, much, MUCH older
#165 - Nick Jacoby - Otherwise known as one of the two card bloggers who cracked some code
#185 - X-Rays - Funny. I was at the dentist today
#199 - Summer Sanders - The appearance of female athletes is one of the big reasons why I like Ginter. I get sick of looking at grubby guys
#203 - Sig Hansen - Deadliest Catch fans know who he is
#205 - Meb Keflezighi - Marathon man
#216 - Jordin Sparks - random American Idol winner. At least it's not Clay Aiken
#236 - Shawn Johnson - U.S. gymnast/Dancing With the Stars contestant
#242 - Jules Verne - Pioneering sci-fi author
#255 - Robert Scott - Antarctic explorer
#264 - Captain Nemo - famous Jules Verne character
#271 - King Tut - Steve Martin sang about him. Us eighth graders thought he was funny
#272 - David Blaine - He does mean stuff to himself and somehow survives. Crazy magicians
#277 - Regis Philbin - His show is on too early for me. And he likes teams I don't like
#286 - Revolving Door - I'm intrigued as to how this card will look
#287 - Drew Brees - This is a cool card for the set

Here are a couple I looked up:

#10 - Gary Stewart - I think it's the country singer from the 1970s
#38 - Tiago Della Vega - Brazilian guitar player, supposedly the fastest player ever
#59 - Ivory Crockett - once the fastest man ever
#73 - Avery Jenkins - disc golf champ. I love playing disc golf on the Wii
#99 - Anthony Gatto - famed juggler
#104 - Mahlon Duckett - there are several more Negro League players in the set, which is great. Here is one of them.
#193 - Rory/Tony Hoard - disc dog champ and handler
#232 - Hubertus "Master of Hellfire" Wawra - fire eater. Better him than me

And here are a few that stumped me:

#22 - Lucy - Is this Lucille Ball? Lucy from Peanuts?
#95 - Judson Laipply - Some dancing guy. Sometimes I suck at knowing pop culture
#211 - Johnny Strange - I think it's that wacky teen who does all the crazy mountain climbing
#270 - Max Poser - All I know is it has something to do with computers

There are a few others that I don't know as well. I suppose I should open a few packs and start knowledging!

Oh, and don't worry. There are plenty of baseball players included, too.

(A couple of updates: Lucy IS the skeleton mentioned in the comments. Max Poser is a dominoes guy. Meanwhile, Gary Stewart is not the country musician. It's a dude who holds the record for bouncing on a pogo stick the most times. Silly me).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Card back countdown: The near-misses

Finding the 50 best card backs of all-time was more difficult than I thought it would be. For a little while, I thought I'd have to cut it down to the 27 best card backs of all-time.

But with diligent persistence (is that as bad as saying "completely destroyed"?), I came up with 50 candidates, and a couple more.

For those who might still be confused about what's going on here, I am doing a countdown of the 50 best card backs put out in a certain year, by a certain set-maker, during our grand baseball card history. For example, if 1988 Donruss produced one of the top 50 best card backs (and we can all agree it did not), then I would do a review of the 1988 Donruss card back during the countdown.

Most of the sets in this countdown come from the last 60 years. In fact, I believe all of them do. I like early 20th century cards as much as the next person, but let's face it, a block of text or an advertisement that says "the country's best 10-cent cigar" just isn't that riveting of a card back.

That's bad news for sets like Goudey or 1950s Bowman, which slapped a 17-line bio on the back of the card and walked away. But we have standards here.

In fact, I've even developed a point system to rank the best card backs. The point system features categories with points rewarded for each category and some of the categories even have sub-categories, and other categories feature a sliding scale.

Good god, I'm a nerd.

I'm not going to reveal the point system here, because I don't want to get into it and you'd probably be bored to pieces. But to give you an idea of what I am looking for, here is the back of the 1995 Score Mike Piazza card:

And here is the Piazza card marked up after I graded the 1995 Score card back:

Click on the image if you want to read the fascinating commentary. It's not too interesting, but it gives you an idea of what us newspaper editors do when we're critiquing newspaper layouts.

In short, what I am looking for are card backs that are interesting, readable, full of information, fun and unique. Some elements that will help a card back make the top 50 are: photos, cartoons, complete statistics, personal player information, and interesting elements.

But even after all that, I hold the power to throw a card back on the list just because I like the way it looks. This falls under the "my list, my rules" category.

I will save starting the actual countdown for the next countdown post, but here are a couple of cards that just missed making the top 50:

2010 Topps: Yup, this year's base set almost made the top 50. It has all the elements. The only problem is they're all too squashed together. That's a lot to absorb in a tiny little space. Maybe if Topps toned down the team logo, it'd have a little more room.

1960 Topps: I crossed this off the list, scribbled it back on and crossed it off again. I like the "season's highlights" element a lot. It's an element that put a couple of other card sets on the list. But the whole muddy brown scheme doesn't do it for me. The total package is too dull.

1975 Topps: I had to face facts and realize that the only reason I had this set on the list is because it's my all-time favorite. But the backs for the set are sub-par. Green-on-red type must have launched a legion of future glasses-wearing adults. And, strangely, I'm not fond of vertical backs. I like the horizontal backs much more.

OK, them's the ground rules. If you'd like me to consider any other factors, please let me know. The next card back countdown post will feature No. 50 in the countdown. When you see it, you'll think I've lost my head (again). But remember, my countdown, my rules.

Cardboard appreciation: 1954 Topps Junior Gilliam

(My favorite month of the year is two days away. Weeeeeee! Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 70th in a series):

I love baseball!

The Dodgers beat the Giants! Joe Torre didn't screw up the game! Interleague play is over!

I love baseball!

The All-Star Game is next month! I get to see a game in person next month! I'll get something baseball-y for my birthday next month!

I love baseball!

My box of 2010 Allen & Ginter is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday! I am scheduled to turn my Strasburg refractor winnings into vintage goodness on Wednesday!

I love baseball!

I have two days off! There's a full slate of games on the tube! There's beer in the fridge! And the Don himself sent me this 1954 Topps card of Junior "1953 N.L. Rookie of the Year" Gilliam!

Did I mention that I love baseball?

It should be like the national pastime or something.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Lowe down

I can't talk about the current state of the Dodgers without throwing just about everyone under the bus. (Clayton, however, you're excused). So I am moving on.

The Dodgers are beginning a series in San Francisco tonight. It's part of their glorious recent schedule that has included the Red Sox, the Angels, the Yankees and now the Giants. To kick off the series against the ultra-despised Giants in the house that Barry built (you must be so proud), I thought I'd show something that's near and dear to my judgemental heart.

Wicked Ortega sent me another crazy package a couple of weeks ago. I'll display some of the other cards in the next post, but here is the Derek Lowe jersey card from 2008 Upper Deck that he sent me. Note that Mr. Lowe happens to be pitching in San Francisco.

If you have been reading this blog at all the last couple of years, you know that I like to bring up the fact that photos of Lowe pitching in San Francisco pop up constantly. So I thought I would document on this post the cards that I have that show Lowe in that city.

When I get another Lowe-in-San-Fran card, I'll add it to the post. And everyone can see exactly how repetitive card companies can be.

Here they are:

I swear these aren't all the same card.

The question though is: is it the same pitch?

More to come ...

Insert awkward word play here

Perhaps because I write headlines for a living, I am sensitive to the titles that are selected for insert series in card sets.

The mission for the writer of sports headlines and the thinker-upper of titles for insert series is rather similar. You're trying to come up with something that sums up an idea or theme and you're trying to make it snappy and memorable. If you can make it fun, well then, you're living right.

It's not easy. Writers are constantly complaining about the headlines slapped on their stories, but headline writing is honestly one of the most difficult tasks in the journalism profession. I guess that causes me to wonder whether writing titles for insert series is one of the most difficult jobs in the card-producing profession. Because, given some of the titles that I've seen, a few folks aren't taking their job all that seriously.

While leafing through my Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, the thought came to me: "good gracious, there have been some agonzingly painful titles for insert series." Yes, there have been some clever ones, too. But the painful ones really jumped out.

So much so that I compiled a top 10 of the most awkwardly painful. I just couldn't resist.

Before I get to that, a few things:

1. Stop using the name "Power Brokers" for the title of an insert series. It's been done several times already.
2. Topps and Upper Deck have done very well naming their inserts. The names make sense and don't make you wince. Fleer, meanwhile, has major issues in this category, as you'll see. They have been very naughty.
3. I had to steal virtually all the images for this post because, sadly, I don't have any of these agonzingly named insert sets. Hopefully, I'll rectify that soon.

There is one set name that would have made the top 10 but I couldn't find an image for it. It is "Hot Hispanics" from 1995 Pacific. That title is uncomfortable in myriad ways, the least of which is that I don't want to collect any set called "Hot Hispanics" unless there are bikinis involved. Women wearing bikinis, for you slow ones out there.

OK, on to the top 10. Get ready to groan:

10. Insert Series Name: Ticket Studs
Set Name: 2003 Fleer Authentix
Reaction: Some folks probably like this name. I can see that. Fleer seemed to like it as they used it a few other times. But all I can think of when I see the name is a radio advertisement for an all-male burlesque review. "Ladies, this Saturday night come on down to see our Ticket Studs!" OK, now I've placed that image in everyone's head and they can't get rid of it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Truly.

9. Insert series name: Cardfrontations
Set name: 1997 Pinnacle
Reaction: I have a philosophical problem with cards that feature one player on one side of the card and a different player on the other side. It is rather irritating to team and player collectors. This insert series has that problem and compounds it by adding the dorky "cardfrontations" heading. I'd like to "card-front" the person who named this set in a dark alley and smack him silly with a Mike Piazza/Greg Maddux cardfrontations card. He won't know which one hit him.

8. Insert series name: Hall or Nothing
Set name: 1997 SkyBox E-X 2000
Reaction: OK, I get it. You're saying that these players are so determined in their goals, so focused, so narrow-minded, that they are going to make the Hall of Fame or, um, or what? Not have a career at all? "Hall or Nothing" is a play on "All or Nothing," right? Well, I'm pretty sure the folks in the series, A-Rod, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds, etc., have either made the Hall or at the very least have had a damn fine career. They didn't blow their entire profession in a poker game.

7. Insert series name: Bidding for the Call
Set name: 2000 Bowman Chrome
Reaction: The title for this series reminds me of headlines that I write when I'm exhausted and my brain can't come up with one more coherent thought, so I simply type out "bidding for the call" and yell "print!" "Bidding for the Call" is as awkward as a first date.

6. Insert series name: Before There Was Topps
Set name: 2001 Topps
Reaction: OK, we go from awkward to pretentious. Leave it to Topps to be self-referential in as smug a way possible. This series featured players who became stars before Topps came down from the heavens and graced us with its regal presence. How on earth did these players ever become known to the masses without Topps' all-powerful publicity? Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb never got to realize how truly fantastic Topps is. Thank Topps for putting these players on a Topps card. And hope that Topps, in its wonderful awesomeness, somehow accepts your thanks.

5. Insert series name: Cal to Greatness
Set name: 2000 Fleer Gamers
Reaction: Poor Cal Ripken. He has an entire insert set to himself and each of his cards has the incredibly cheesy "Cal to Greatness" plastered on it. I can't even say it without the words getting caught in my throat: CAL to Greatness. CAL to Greatness. It makes zero sense AND it sounds stupid at the same time. Nicely done.

4. Insert series name: Brother Wood
Set name: 2001 Fleer Premium
Reaction: All right, if this insert series had anything to do with brothers at all, I'd let it slide. Maybe Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero or Aaron and Bret Boone. That'd be cool. But this particular theme, that they are all "Brothers in wood," as in a "brotherhood of wood," makes me want to scream until I can't scream no more. It makes me feel as if I have ants crawling up and down my spine. Make it stop!

3. Insert series name: Awe Pairs
Set name: 2003 Fleer Mystique
Reaction: Fleer has used this "Awe Pairs" disaster several times. It's beyond stupid. The name is a play on the term "au pair," which is a young foreigner who comes to a country to live with a family in exchange for doing housework. In what galaxy does this have anything to do with baseball? Dontrelle Willis may very well end up being a housekeeper at the rate his career is going, but right now the two aren't connected in the least.

2. Insert series name: Hall's Well
Set name: 2000 Fleer Tradition
Reaction: This is four in a row for Fleer. Perhaps they shouldn't have issued so many sets in the early part of this century. Here we have a play on the title of the Shakespearian play, "All's Well That Ends Well." But Fleer has changed "all" to "Hall" and cut off the second half of the saying, so all that we're left with is the indecipherable and nonsensical "Hall's Well." Perhaps Fleer was really telling us about a guy named Hall and his well. That's about the only thing that'd make sense with this current construction. But apparently the well has dried up, along with Fleer's creativity. By the way, I wonder if "Hall's Well" for Roger Clemens?

1. Insert series name: Boyz With the Wood
Set name: 1999 Metal Universe
Reaction: OK, children of the late 1990s and all you gangsta pretenders, you knew this was coming. Maybe when you were 10, you thought the name was cool. But reality says that when someone mentioned this title in the production meeting, someone should have yelled, "No! NO! Get out now! Get OUT! OUT! OUT!" But they didn't, because it was Metal, and they were too busy figuring out how many spiders they could fit on a card. And that's how "Boyz With the Wood" slipped through and caused years of pain to those who are sensitive to the sounds that words can make. They make sounds, people! Respect the sounds!

I apologize if I insulted your favorite insert series name. But really, you should have better taste. There are much better ones out there. Maybe I'll mention those someday.