Friday, February 27, 2015

30 teams, 2015 edition

Welcome again to the Night Owl Cards ranking studios.

This is the seventh annual edition of "30 teams," my rating of each Major League Baseball team from my most favorite to the most unholy spawn of beezlebub.

Once again, I'm always happy when this tradition comes around again because it means that we're not far from baseball, spring, and a world in which I can see grass, sidewalks, roadside curbing, the fence in our yard, the bottom half of sign posts, and the vehicles driving down the street as I crawl inch-by-inch in reverse down the driveway to see out from behind the snowbanks, hoping that this won't be the day when I place a call to the insurance company.

But you just go right on visiting your spring training sites. I'll get you back when it's August.

Anyway, for this list I decided to focus on rookie mojo. For each team, I found a card that features a past rookie sensation from that team. It was pretty easy to find cards for most of the teams. Some, like the Dodgers and the A's in particular, have enjoyed abundant rookie stars. Others, like the Diamondbacks, well, it's just another reason why I'm wondering why they exist.

But I found a card for every team and now it's time to rank them. Once again, I remind you: this is the authoritative list. Make your own list if you wish. But this the original copy.

1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS (highest ranking on this blog: 1st, lowest ranking on this blog: 1st): The benefits of rooting for the Dodgers are never-ending. Last year I mentioned the abundance of gloriously old cards available for the Dodgers. This time it's how many fantastic rookies they've featured. I went with the very latest. Also, this is the only card that will be shown that is not a Topps card. The Dodgers are special.

2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 5th). I could have selected George Brett or Bo Jackson, but The Hammer is more interesting to me. The Royals firmly entrenched themselves in the No. 2 spot by fighting mightily against the evil Giants on the largest stage in baseball. Valiant battle, fellas, but there's only so much you can do against even-year bullshit.

3. PITTSBURGH PIRATES (highest ranking: 3rd, lowest ranking: 4th): This card is sure to get some Pirates supporters stirred up, but I don't care how many stats anyone cites, Steve Sax is still the 1982 Rookie of the Year. I mean, Johnny Ray to some people is the guy in the first line of the Dexys Midnight Runners song. And I'm pretty sure Eileen was a Steve Sax fan.

4. BOSTON RED SOX (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 4th): I've been noting as I look through my 2015 Topps cards, how nameless the Red Sox seem to me. I know so few players on the team. This is vastly different from the mid-to-late '70s when the Red Sox were only slightly less familiar than the Dodgers.

5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 17th): I was tempted to push the Orioles past the Red Sox this year. But the O's and Red Sox are the two teams that my brothers root for and back in those days it was known -- at least by two of us -- that the Red Sox were clearly more legitimate than the Orioles. So shall it be. Eddie or no Eddie.

6. TEXAS RANGERS (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 16th): I sense this team heading down in the rankings next year unless Adrian Beltre can do something to resurrect the entire team. At this rate, they'll be dragging another David Clyde out from the minors to attract some fans.

7. OAKLAND A'S (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 8th): Throwing a bone to the 30-something crowd. Canseco pissed me off in the late '80s.

8. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 9th): Starting to feel sorry for the Phillies. That usually means a plunge down the list. But they did help the Dodgers get Jimmy Rollins.

9. HOUSTON ASTROS (highest ranking: 9th, lowest ranking: 16th): This is the first change in ranking from last year's list. The Astros soar up five spots for no other reason than I want them to win the American League title and then the World Series (provided the Dodgers aren't the other team) so people can talk about how the Astros appeared for both the AL and the NL in the World Series 10 years apart and everyone will see how clearly wrong that is and move Houston back to the National League.

It could happen.

10. CHICAGO WHITE SOX (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 11th): The White Sox drop one place because a certain owl's boss is a White Sox fan. I'm very, very sorry that he is in your camp White Sox fans. My condolences.

11. DETROIT TIGERS (highest ranking: 7th, lowest ranking: 11th): I've been doing a lot of thinking about other fans and the teams they choose as their favorites, trying to put myself in their place and understand why they root for them. I've always had a difficult time with why someone would root for the Tigers outside of growing up in Michigan. They seem almost generic. Mark Fidrych aside, of course. I don't mean to be mean, they just don't do anything for me.

12. MINNESOTA TWINS (highest ranking: 10th, lowest ranking: 13th): The mid-1960s Twins must have been fun. A team that could win without a dome.

13. CINCINNATI REDS (highest ranking: 9th, lowest ranking: 13th): I will never say I miss the Big Red Machine, but I do miss the old National League West of the Dodgers, Reds, Astros, Giants, Braves and Padres. Good times.

14. TORONTO BLUE JAYS (highest ranking: 13th, lowest ranking: 18th): Eric Hinske was the rookie of the year. Really. The Blue Jays don't seem to be known for their rookie star power. There's Dave Stieb and then what? Tony Fernandez? Alfredo Griffin? Jose Cruz Jr.? I've got to be missing someone. Jesse Barfield?

15. CLEVELAND INDIANS (highest ranking: 11th, lowest ranking: 17th): The best thing about Joe Charboneau was it got me to pay attention to the Indians, who were absolutely awful when I first started following baseball.

16. NEW YORK METS (highest ranking: 16th, lowest ranking: 21st): The player on the card has nothing to do with the team ranking, or else the sight of a 1986 Met would send this team plummeting into San Diego Padre territory.

17. MIAMI MARLINS (highest ranking: 13th, lowest ranking: 18th): The Marlins are interesting. I want to see what Dee Gordon does on that team. We'll see if I'm saying the same thing when I'm watching the Mets play the Marlins in that horrible ballpark for the 48th time this summer.

18. TAMPA BAY RAYS (highest ranking: 17th, lowest ranking: 23rd): No Joe Maddon. This team does not compute.

19. SEATTLE MARINERS (highest ranking: 18th, lowest ranking: 20th): Any team that has an immediate shot of doing harm to the Angels is OK with me.

20. ATLANTA BRAVES (highest ranking: 20th, lowest ranking: 24th): With the Phillies and Mets in the division you never know, but it looks like the Braves are gunning for the cellar this year. I'm hopeful, because it'll be like the old days. It'll be as if I saved videotapes of Skip Caray and Joe Simpson lamenting the bumbling late '80s Braves.

21. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (highest ranking: 21st, lowest ranking: 24th): I'll never forgive them for taking away the Expos, or for the back-to-back hobby hysteria of Strasburg and Harper, or for being unable to beat the Giants. But something tells me I'll be leaning on them to defeat some horrific team again next fall.

22. MILWAUKEE BREWERS (highest ranking: 10th, lowest ranking: 23rd): Thank goodness for the Pirates, because the NL Central is a cesspool. We're a long way from Harvey's Wallbangers, Robin.

23. COLORADO ROCKIES (highest ranking: 23rd, lowest ranking: 26th): Can you believe it? The Rockies have pulled away from the rest of the non-Dodger NL West teams! This is a testament to both their nonthreatening nature and the fact that some NL teams have lost what remains of their soul.

24. VINCE COLEMAN (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 24th): To wit. Mike Matheny has officially replaced Angel Pagan in the "Does he ever smile?" category. I don't understand why the Cardinals have such a difficult time hiring likeable managers. Herzog, LaRussa and now Smiley. And I'm only writing about this because I don't want to go on a rant about Adam Wainwright. Also, good heavens, Cardinals, you're only one step ahead of the ...

25. CHICAGO CUBS (highest ranking: 20th; lowest ranking: 25th): I am officially bracing for the Joe Maddon-Cubs lovefest. It's probably already started, but there's going to be a fever-pitch point this season and the Cubs are already filled with so much saccharin that adding media darling Maddon onto the sugar pile will throw me into a coma by July.

26. LOS ANGELES ANGELS (highest ranking: 25th, lowest ranking: 26th): What is it with the fact that two of the Angels' greatest rookie stars of all-time have fish surnames?

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES (highest ranking: 27th, lowest ranking: 27th): I know, you want Benito Santiago here. But I'm not going to do it. Because I don't like the Padres. Do some research on Butch Metzger. The Padres have landed a bunch of star players that ... hmmmmm, several other teams seemed much too eager to let go. But let's get all excited about the revamped Padres. As usual, I hope they are wildly unsuccessful.

28. NEW YORK YANKEES (highest ranking: 28th, lowest ranking: 29th): I know, I know. I could have put Derek Jeter or Thurman Munson here. But I just like reminding Yankees fans that they once really, really, really liked Joba Chamberlain. I should have sold this card for thousands (OK, 20 bucks) while I could.

29. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (highest ranking: 28th, lowest ranking: 29th): It is really difficult finding a rookie star with the Diamondbacks. I almost had to go with Conor Jackson. Arizona seemed to have calmed down a little from all of its nonsense of the last couple of years and then Dave Stewart started spouting about "true baseball teams," solidifying their No. 29 ranking.

30. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (highest ranking: 30th, lowest ranking: 30th): Montefusco is the perfect guy for this spot and this team. He played for nothing but teams I've despised all my life (Giants, Braves, Padres, Yankees) and he couldn't shut up about how much he disliked the Dodgers ("I hate the Dodgers. I'm from New Jersey and I've always been a Yankees fan." Well, that's at least two black marks right on your forehead, sir). But those were the good old days when it was just troll talk because the Giants sucked. Now they keep winning World Series and I'm still baffled as to how they keep doing it. These are dark, dark times for baseball.

Geez, I hated ending on that unhappy point. Maybe next year I'll start with the worst first.

Anyway, there you are, the rankings for 2015. As usual, keep this list next to your TV/viewing device so you know who to root for.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Ginter goods

Long ago, during a year far, far away, Jeff of 2-by-3 Heroes held a "Tis The Season contest in which he was giving away stacks of surplus cards in a variety of categories.

I looked at the cards available and immediately targeted the 2013 and 2014 A&G stack as pretty much the only item I wanted.

In a case of "why can't be life be like this contest", not only was I selected as a winner, but I got to pick my first choice, the Ginter stack. A short month-and-half later, it arrived at my domicile, and a short two weeks after that, I'm showing my winnings. The best part of card blogging is there are no deadlines.

Jeff, was right, the majority of the cards in the stack were 2013 A&G. In fact, since I was fairly close to completing the set even before I won the contest, here are my "extras' of Jeff's "extras":

Those are available to whomever would like to make them theirs. I'd prefer sending someone the whole stack, but if you want to wait like four months for me to get to it, I can select certain cards for you, if they're in the stack.

Now let's see what I'll keep for myself.

These six and the Frank "Red" Robinson at the top have knocked down my 2013 Ginter want list to a mere seven cards. I should man-up and order those seven right now. But instead, I'll just leave this right here ...

#24, #50, #165, #306, #314, #338, #344

... and wait for the wind to gather them at my back door.

Moving on to 2014 Ginter.

Those are the cards I got to cross off the big 2014 want list. Look at Niekro giving A-Rod the "are you kidding me?" eye roll.

I'm fairly certain I'll be trying to complete 2014 Ginter at this time next year so I won't dwell any more on that.

Instead, let's see a few surprises:

Some 2006 and 2007 Ginter, very nice.

I have very few of these, but in a "don't that beat all" moment, I'm fairly certain Willis and Sexson are two I already own.

I wasn't expecting inserts, but there were plenty of those. These are some of the baseball ones I needed.

Those are the non-baseball items. I haven't tried to complete an A&G insert for years, but I take whatever lands my way on the chance that I do finish one, stumble across some history buff, exclaim "I've completed the Martial Mastery set!" and he starts throwing money at me. It could happen.

Jeff added a few extras as he usually does, of the Dodger variety.

Here is a card to add to my never-ending quest to commemorate the 2008 Dodgers season, which really wasn't all that notable. This set works well for the Phillies, the Rays and that's about it.

A shiny, relic card of Hideo Nomo is like someone hammered sunshine into a solid and cut it into 2-by-3 pieces. Regardless of the help with the Ginter set-collecting, this was the highlight of the package.

Speaking of shiny, another envelope arrived from Jeff just the other day. It contained a smattering of Dodgers and night cards and another eye-squinting beauty:

Mike Piazza has enough glitter on him to go clubbing in the '90s.

That was a lot of good stuff for merely typing a few letters that basically said "ME WANT."

It also means I'll forgive him for insisting on putting pictures of my girlfriend in all his contest posts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not-so-short rant on short prints

The checklist for 2015 Topps Heritage came out yesterday and, like always, I search out the Dodgers as well as which ones are short prints.

I'm not too enthused about Heritage this year because the 1966 design is another one of the '60s borefests. The yellow-on-red used with the Dodgers (and the Yankees) makes it seem more of a food-issue card than a Topps card ... hey, wait ... maybe the design isn't so bad after all.

But I'm also not looking forward to chasing another round of Dodgers short prints. For the fourth straight year, the Dodgers have three or more SPs in Heritage. This year, it's four.

I went through the checklist and counted up the SP totals for each team. Here is what I found:

American League

Baltimore Orioles - 1; Boston Red Sox - 4; Chicago White Sox - 3; Cleveland Indians - 3; Detroit Tigers - 6; Houston Astros - 2; Kansas City Royals - 4; Los Angeles Angels - 4; Oakland A's - 1; Seattle Mariners - 5; Tampa Bay Rays - 1; Texas Rangers - 3 ; Toronto Blue Jays - 3

National League

Arizona Diamondbacks - 1; Atlanta Braves - 2; Chicago Cubs - 2, Cincinnati Reds - 3; Colorado Rockies - 3; Los Angeles Dodgers - 4; Miami Marlins - 4; Milwaukee Brewers - 3; New York Mets - 3;  Philadelphia Phillies - 1; Pittsburgh Pirates - 1; St. Louis Cardinals - 1; San Francisco Giants - 1; Washington Nationals - 6

I did that quickly because there's no time, so I may have miscounted. But after reading that, the first thing I feel like doing is sending sympathy cards to Tigers and Nationals collectors. Six cards each is just obnoxious.

Also, there are three teams with no short prints. They are the Twins, the Padres and the Yankees. The Padres kind of get screwed because three of the players they acquired in trades -- Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and James Shields are listed with other teams. Or maybe it's a good thing because two of the three (Upton and Shields) are SPs.

The fact that there are no Yankees SPs is bizarre to me. That's because my theory on the SPs is that they are loaded with teams that possess a large and faithful collecting base, the Dodgers being one of them.

That's why in 2015 there are four Dodgers SPs, in 2014 there were three, in 2013 there were four and in 2012 there were three.

But no Yankees SPs with all the Yankees collectors. That's strange.

The other aspect of Heritage SPs that highlights Topps' cynical side is how much they've gone over to loading the SP portion of the set with desirable players. Since 2013, virtually all of the Heritage SP cards are established stars, hot young players, or veteran notables traded to new teams.

Just look at the Dodgers for contrast:

2011 Heritage Dodgers SPs: Rafael Furcal, Russ Mitchell
2012 Heritage Dodgers SPs: Dee Gordon, Jerry Hairston Jr., Aaron Miles
2013 Heritage Dodgers SPs: Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez
2014 Heritage Dodgers SPs: Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez
2015 Heritage Dodgers SPs: Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Kenley Jansen, Yasiel Puig

A definite cynical shift between 2012 and 2013.

I know why Topps does all this SP crap. Obviously, with all the player collectors out there, they will have no problem paying a little extra money to get an SP of their favorite player. A Heritage SP is nothing compared with some high end hit of that same player.

I also know why Topps loads the SPs with certain teams. All you have to do is look at the blogosphere to know there are a lot of Dodgers collectors (although I think the star power is a lot more a priority with Topps than teams).

The main problem with it is the problem I've had all along and the reason why I stopped attempting to complete Heritage sets over six years ago.

SPs are the antithesis of what Heritage should be. Heritage is a brand that harkens collectors back to the time when there was a set to chase with no wacky gimmicks. Sure, some cards ended up being short-printed, but that was only because Topps thought that collectors weren't going to buy the sixth series late in the summer, not because they're trying to get a collector to chase a Bryce Harper card all over God's green internet.

Heritage should be free of this stuff. Save the SPs for more modern-styles sets if there are now so many collectors who have grown up with them that they need them in sets.

I know it's pointless to say, with SPs being a standby for years now, but SPs in Heritage is just wrong.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Completing the best Dodgers team set of all-time

What would you say is the greatest Dodgers team set?

There are a few that you could name. The 1952 Topps Dodgers set is the Boys Of Summer, a very desirable and almost impossible-to-complete team set. The 1953 Topps Dodgers set also commemorates the Boys Of Summer but in painted form.

The 1955 Topps and Bowman Dodgers team sets came out the year of "Next Year," when the Dodgers finally won the World Series. But neither set is all that it could be because each card company had exclusives with their own players.

The 1964 Topps set shows the Dodgers who swept the Yankees in the Series and also features a tremendous World Series subset to underline the fact. The 1975 Topps set colorfully marks the Dodgers' return to prominence as a World Series team.

The 1978 Topps set is the one I associate with those back-to-back Dodgers World Series teams, the first teams I watched on television. And the 1982 Topps, Donruss and Fleer sets recall the Fernandomania year.

But I think for the majority of people, the greatest Dodgers team set is the 1956 Topps set, issued mere months after the Dodgers' epic Series championship.

Yesterday, I completed that set.

Not more than a week after receiving the 1956 Jackie Robinson card, I received a one-card package from Nearly Mint and in it was this Pee Wee Reese card. The set is finished.

But just to make sure, let's view every card in the team set in order by card number:

#8 - Walter Alston, manager

#30 - Jackie Robinson, third base

#42 - Sandy Amoros, outfield

#58 - Ed Roebuck, pitcher

#63 - Roger Craig, pitcher

#79 - Sandy Koufax, pitcher

#83 - Karl Spooner, pitcher

#99 - Don Zimmer, second base

#101 - Roy Campanella, catcher

#145 - Gil Hodges, first base

#150 - Duke Snider, outfield

#166 - Dodgers team

#173 - Johnny Podres, pitcher

#184 - Don Bessent, pitcher

#190 - Carl Furillo, outfield

#223 - Randy Jackson, third base

#233 - Carl Erskine, pitcher

#235 - Don Newcombe, pitcher

#260 Pee Wee Reese, shortstop

#270 - Billy Loes, pitcher

#280 - Jim Gilliam, outfield

#295 - Clem Labine, pitcher

#299 - Charley Neal, second base

#333 - Rube Walker, catcher

And, just so I'm absolutely sure that the set is finished because I've been burned many, many times and I just know there are people lying in wait to leave a comment that says "you missed one," here is a re-check:

It checks out. I'm done.

Really, I'm done. I'm not going to try to find all of the white backs or any team card variations. As for upgrades, I might try a couple, but it's far down the priority list.

I'm so excited about this that I have to do a break down of the set, but I don't have much time so it won't be as obsessively detailed as usual.

Number of cards in the set: 24
White-back cards that I own: Sandy Amoros, Karl Spooner, team card
Most expensive card in team set: Sandy Koufax
Most I spent on one card: $80, Duke Snider
Least I spent on one card: zero, including several gift cards (Robinson, Reese, Koufax)

First cards I acquired: Dodgers team card, Carl Erskine, Randy Jackson, Don Newcombe, Don Zimmer. All five came out of the large brown grocery store bag that my father's friend at work gave us. I don't remember which card I pulled out first. I'm very pleased that the Dodgers team card was one of those as it's one of the more expensive cards in the set.

Last card I acquired: Pee Wee Reese (thanks, grogg!)
Cards I thought would be the last I acquired: Koufax and Robinson
Cards that were the last I acquired: Reese and Robinson
Cards that I passed up at card shows repeatedly: Alston, Hodges, Reese. I don't know what was wrong with me.

Players who should have been in the set: None. Topps did pretty well. The two '55 Dodgers with the most playing time that weren't in the set were Don Hoak and Russ Meyer and they were traded to the Cubs in December of '55 (for Randy Jackson, who was included in the set). Memorable '55 Dodgers with very little playing time that are not in the set are Tom Lasorda, George "Shotgun" Shuba and Joe Black.

Favorite cartoons: Too many to show, but just a few:

 (That Koufax taking off his head cartoon is awesome).

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the set, and thanks to the dealers who sold me cards (some cheaper than they should have), and thanks to that guy at my dad's work who got this all started.

Now that it's finished, I don't think I can go through this again.

Before, I thought if I completed the 1956 set that I'd have to get a second card of all of the Dodgers so I could still retain a separate team set. But I'm not going to do that.

This is cool enough. I'm not going to get greedy.