Monday, June 29, 2015

Guts and generosity

I haven't been doing very well with card packages recently. There just isn't the time there used to be. Two or three years ago I was on a once-a-week schedule for packaging and sending out. But that's become every three weeks or four weeks, or whenever the work gods deem me worthy of free time.

Consequently, packages have been slow to arrive at the home (although I do see three in the mailbox as I write).

I was in this state of card package limbo over the weekend, when I got the mail on Saturday. As a U.S. citizen, you must know by now that nothing but nothing good ever shows up on Saturday.

I shuffled through three flimsy looking envelopes, fully expecting an ad or a bill, and there was one small white envelope, in the shape of a greeting card, that I looked over.

It was from R.C., who has sent me some excellent cards in the past. In fact, on two separate occasions, he has sent the above 1961 Topps Duke Snider card.

But I had to the shake the cobwebs on the who and the what because you know how the brain fogs over when busy days turn into busy months.

I pulled the item out of the PWE. It was a top-loader, wrapped in some orange note paper, which included the following message:

Me, too, R.C. Me, too. I'm always hoping for items of use.

But considering what was obviously one card traveling in a PWE, I didn't expect much more than a forgotten want list item or maybe something a little vintagey.

I forgot this was R.C. I was talking about here.

The one card:

That takes both guts and generosity, my friends.

Guts, because that's a 1963 Sandy Koufax with a single stamp going halfway across the country. Generosity because, well, that's a 1963 Sandy Koufax going halfway across the country!

I don't have to say that made my Saturday.

With this Koufax, I'm one more closer to getting all the vintage Topps Koufaxes. Of course there is still '57, '58 and '59 (as well as '64), but I know I'll get there.

Just call it feeling.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Awesome night card, pt. 238: the history of the All-Star Game trophy

Wow. Now that's a trophy! Talk about face percentage! This might be a contender for trophy percentage.

This trophy grabbed my attention right away and although it might be difficult to find space in the home for something that size, I prefer that to the MVP trophies the All-Star Game is giving out these days.

If you are like me, you were unaware that the look of the MVP trophy has changed over time. It didn't even dawn on me until I saw this card and I automatically recognized that All-Star MVPs of recent years weren't hauling around things like this immediately after the game.

No, the All-Star MVP trophy now looks like this:

It's a glass baseball bat. Sturdy, appropriate and easy to store, but not what I think of when I think of a trophy.

The baseball bat MVP trophy has been around at least since 2009. Here Carl Crawford displays his All-Star award. It's a bit odd that he's showing a bat when he received the award for a leaping catch that kept the Rockies' Brad Hawpe from a home run and saved the game for the American League.

But the bat award looked the strangest a couple of years ago, when a relief pitcher won MVP honors.

Mariano Rivera barely knows what to do with that thing.

I can see why the trophy is a bat though, since the award is called the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award, after one of the best hitters of all-time.

It's more appropriate than what used to be the MVP award that carried his name.

I don't know what that is -- a bunch of triangles glued together, I suppose -- but that's what All-Star Game MVPs were holding up during most of the 2000s. J.D. Drew won the award in 2008, which was the last year for this particular look.

Pedro Martinez kicked off the Award of the Many Triangles in 1999, when he won MVP honors at Fenway Park that year (it's possible the trophy that Martinez holds and the one Drew holds are different, but it's basically the same theme).

The trophy displayed on Sandy Alomar's card lasted just two years -- 1997 and 1998. That means two brothers were the only ones to get that most excellent giant-ass trophy.

Sandy Alomar in 1997 ...

... and Roberto Alomar in 1998.

Prior to that, the All-Star Game trophy looked like this:

That's MVP Mike Piazza displaying the 1996 All-Star Game trophy.

It didn't look that way for long. Jeff Conine in 1995, Fred McGriff in 1994, Kirby Puckett in 1993, Ken Griffey Jr. in 1992, even Julio Franco in 1990, were displaying All-Star Game MVP trophies with a much glassier look:

Here's a little bit better view:

Prior to 1990, the MVP trophy wasn't something you could see through, as evidenced by this Classic card of 1989 MVP Bo Jackson:

The trophy looked like that for just one year, though, because here is 1988 MVP Terry Steinbach with a different trophy:

And in 1986, the trophy had yet another look, as shown in this photo of All-Star Game MVP Roger Clemens:

And in 1985, the trophy looked another way:

This marked a turning point in the All-Star Game Trophy. The trophy was re-named the Arch Ward Trophy in 1985 (LaMarr Hoyt won this particular trophy). Arch Ward was a longtime sportswriter and editor who helped create the All-Star Game, and the trophy for the All-Star MVP was actually named the "Arch Ward Memorial Trophy" from 1962 until 1970 when it was renamed the Commissioner's Trophy.

The reason MLB returned to the Arch Ward Trophy name was because it had renamed the World Series Trophy the Commissioner's Trophy in '85 and there couldn't be two Commissioner's trophies.

But Commissioner's Trophy was the name that I knew for the All-Star trophy when I first started following baseball. And I have fond memories for the trophy that was awarded then (as I have fond memories of everything '70s).

Here is Dave Parker receiving the award as the 1979 All-Star Game MVP. I can tell you, even though the photo is black-and-white, that the background behind the baseball on the trophy is red and blue. I know that award so well (it's so very '70s).

Why here is a color photo to illustrate it:

That is Bill Madlock and Jon Matlack co-accepting the MVP award in 1975 as they shared the All-Star Game honor that year. Of course you need the Commissioner to present the Commissioner's award.

Some of you political historians may be wondering why Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is also in the photo. Well, he threw out the first ball for that All-Star Game.

The odd thing about this whole Commissioner's business is there is a 1972 Topps card of this very same award:

But the back of the card doesn't mention anything about it being affiliated with the All-Star Game:

This particular award seems to be for a particularly outstanding player based on the entire year. Yet the look of the award and the name is almost identical to the All-Star Game trophy they were handing out in the 1970s. Strange.

Before the Commissioner got his paws on the MVP award, it was simply the Arch Ward Memorial Trophy. Here's a look at that trophy:

Isn't that an impressive hunk of wood and metal? There's even a goddess at the top of the trophy!

I think that would even give the Sandy Alomar card a run for most impressive All-Star Game trophy.

Still much more impressive than a see-through bat.


Night Card Binder candidate: Sandy Alomar Jr., 1997 Fleer Sports Illustrated, #34
Does it make the binder?: Yes it does.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Blog bat around: I always get my man

Hey, the Blog Bat Around is back! It's only been four years since I wrote one of these things. I suppose if I actually did anything to jump-start this series on my own maybe four years wouldn't go by between episodes.

Anyway, this latest edition has been started by garveyceyrusselllopes. He discusses cards he used to own and wishes he still did, and wonders if others have similar regrets.

My first response to that was "I know how you feel, but, no, not really."

Then, I thought about it a little, and that's still the way I think. But it took some time to get there. Let me tell you a little story first before I explain why.

Perhaps you've heard, there has been a manhunt for two escaped murderers in the wilds of Adirondack Park.

Yesterday, police found, shot and killed one of the escapees, Richard Matt, the man on the right. The other man, David Sweat, is still on the run as of this writing. But I know they'll get him, too.

For most of you, you've probably never heard of the areas that have been discussed in the news stories covering these events: Dannemora, Lake Titus, Owl's Head, Malone, etc. But these places are between 2 and 3 hours from me. I've been to Malone many times, covered sports events there and even had my car towed there once a long time ago.

Considering that there is nothing but small towns, a few small colleges, farmland and desertion between me and Malone, I might as well live right next to the site of the cabin where the escapee was hiding, and believe me, the news media around here has flipped right out. Our paper has people on the ground and are fielding calls from the BBC and other far-off places.

Until yesterday, some people were questioning whether these guys would ever get caught, whether police were using the right tactics, blah, blah, blah, the usual nonsense that people talk about when they want to talk and say nothing. But I'm confident. Because in collecting, when a card escapes me that I really still want, I will not stop until I find it again.

Most of this concerns cards that disappeared when I was collecting as a child. That's when I didn't know what I was doing, hadn't formed allegiances yet, and just cast aside cards depending on my whims or who was badgering me.

I've mentioned this card several times under the topic of "cards that got away." I pulled the 1975 Topps Hank Aaron card out of a pack that I had shoplifted from a drug store that year. Badgered by a friend who was more aware of who Aaron was and by the relentless guilt of my ill-gotten cards, I traded it to him for a 1975 Ron Cey card.

I regretted the trade not too long afterward and the feeling remained for years.

But I got my man. When I was trying to complete the first set I collected as a child, I acquired the '75 Aaron, for really not much money as I recall, and it was in my collection again.

The most painful memory of that first year of collecting cards had to do with the priciest and probably most famous card in the entire set.

It's difficult to remember exactly, but I know that the Robin Yount rookie card was one the first 50 or so cards that I ever pulled out of packs that I purchased. It's quite possible that it arrived in the first three packs I ever bought.

But it was no matter to me, at the age of 9 anyway. Somehow it escaped my clutches. I must have traded it away. I don't think it was to anybody who knew what a big deal Yount was. We were all still kids and news didn't travel the way it does now. We were pretty clueless about this player except for the .250 batting average on the back of his card.

It didn't take long once I got really serious about collecting to beat myself over the head several times a month with the knowledge that I once owned a Yount rookie card and TRADED IT AWAY. Then, when I was trying to complete the set years later, that knowledge haunted me everyday.

But I eventually did get my man. It was one of the last cards I needed to complete the set. And I set aside a day to actually purchase the card, waiting until I had accumulated the money. Then I marched into that coins, stamps, cards and collectibles store and plunked down my money and walked out with a Yount rookie.

That's mostly the way it's been. The only cards that I no longer owned that really bothered me were cards from my childhood, when my decision-making wasn't the best.

One of the 1956 Topps cards that I nabbed from that large grocery bag of 1950s cards from my father's co-worker as a young collector was a '56 Robin Roberts. And then, suddenly, I didn't have it anymore. I have no idea who got it or how the transaction went down. But it bothered me somewhat that I didn't have it anymore.

Last year, at a card show, I came across the card and threw some money at it to make the demons go away.

I got my man.

But that's where the regret ends. For the most part, I don't regret trades I make as an adult collector. The cards I send to people or trade to people I want to send to them. The moment they leave my possession, they're not mine anymore and really I don't think about them anymore either.

I don't wish I hadn't done that or run right out to buy the card again. I simply didn't think it needed to be in my collection anymore. Better to have someone else own it.

Maybe that's my rationalization for dealing with the loss of a card, but I don't think it is.

I can only think of a couple of types of cards that I traded since the start of this blog that I wished I didn't.

I've dealt a few 1969 cards to a few different people in the early years of the blog, and I really shouldn't have done that. All of those cards are from the first vintage cards I ever owned, acquired in a trade with a friend of mine.

It felt wonderful to own those super-old cards (which, by the way, were probably only 10 years old at the time of the trade), and that's not something I should have traded away.

Since then, I've re-acquired just about all of those cards, through trades or gifts or a card show or two. But there was no hurry in picking them up again. I knew they'd come back to me eventually.

And they have.

I also traded this card away in a blog deal years ago. I didn't really want to part with it, but at the same time I couldn't see the point of hanging onto it. It had stayed in my collection because it was a 1968 card of a superstar and it was in immaculate shape -- fresh out of a pack. That was so rare in my collection.

But I sent it off with only a tinge of remorse, and then it was forgotten.

Years later, and last summer, I was at a card show, going through a bunch of mangled and scrawled-upon cards. This Gibson card -- not immaculate anymore, but still looking wonderful -- appeared in front of me. Not far after that, was a 1968 Topps Denny McLain card.

I took that as a sign. They're both mine now.

So by letting the Gibson free originally, I got the Gibson back and the McLain, too.

There is something mystical, spiritual and wonderful in that. Somehow, if it's a card you really wanted, it just might come back to you.

And these kinds of transactions and discoveries give me confidence -- not regret.

Because I always get my man.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The shoebox is back

I received footwear for Father's Day.

Don't bother to ask about kind or brand names. I don't care about that stuff anymore. I'm a middle-aged man, far beyond the age of obsessing about what you see when you look down. I'm a forward thinker! Who also spends a lot of time looking backward! But at least I'm doing it in an upward fashion.

In fact, just as important as what was inside the box is the box itself.

As I was opening the package, I realized that these shoeboxes were much needed. I have just two shoeboxes that store cards and that has been the way it's been for quite awhile. Most of my cards are in binders or in those long card boxes.

But dupes are starting to pile up, and I have carved out enough space in a closet to fit in two extra shoeboxes. I can't wait to add some cards to them.

It takes me back to when I was a kid. Before binders and hobby-customized boxes, all of my cards were in shoeboxes. That's just what you did with cards, if you wanted to store them. Cards were in three places:

1. Stacked on shelf or desk or nightside table or front step or in the garage.

2. Spread out over the bedroom floor or basement until mom yelled at me.

3. In shoeboxes, where mom wanted the cards in the first place.

I still remember storing my shoeboxes first in the bedroom closet that freaked me out when I was little (the closet had incredible depth -- at least that's the way I remember it -- and you could walk into it for awhile, way back in there, until it got dark and someone shut the door on you). Then later, the shoeboxes went under my bed because I wanted them as close to me when I slept as possible.

It feels good to put cards in shoeboxes. It feels homey. It may not be the most efficient or careful way, but I like getting back to my roots.

The shoebox is back.

And here's a card for your trouble of me rambling about shoeboxes:

This is an autographed card of the Candy Man from Bob Walk The Plank! Isn't that cool? It looks like John had a little trouble writing the first letter in his name. Maybe too many funny cigarettes.

This card won't be going in a shoebox. There's a careful binder prepped and ready to go.

But right now I'm off to put some cards in a shoebox before anyone yells at me.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Maps to the stars

I've never been a star-chaser. I don't stand in lines for autographs or thrust balls at famous people to sign. I don't go to Broadway shows, tour Hollywood homes, or even watch many movies. As for cards, I think I established the kind of collector I am way back when.

I don't need a map to the stars. Star cards are only slightly more interesting than "common" cards, and I'd rather have a card of that forgotten long reliever than a second card of an all-star.

But we don't live in that collecting world anymore and haven't for some time.

I'm going to go ahead and blame Fleer's SuperStar Specials.

OK, that's a little unfair. Fleer didn't activate the star-worshipping that we now know all by itself. It had partners in crime in Donruss, Upper Deck, Topps, Sportflics, Score, etc. And before I get too high on the horse, I'll remind everyone that my beloved Kellogg's 3-D Super Stars was almost nothing but star players.

But this is about Fleer and the SuperStar Special.

The genesis of the SuperStar Special, which from what I can gather ruled from 1983-94, arrived in Fleer's return to the hobby in 1981.

Fleer issued a second photo of certain star players in its set that year. The second card would replace the position designation with some sort of title, such as "Slugger".

There was no label for these cards at the time, just an extra card. As someone who had collected since 1975 with the standard of "one card per player," this was odd and kind of unnecessary.

Fleer didn't have much of a pattern for these initial cards.

Hal McRae's "extra" card contains an orange border, while the other Royals base cards have yellow borders (meanwhile George Foster's extra card has the same border color as his base card).

Reggie Jackson's title is on top of his name instead of below it.


But a pattern had been established, even if no one knew it at the time.

In 1982, Fleer continued with extra cards of certain star players, but then added a few extra cards at the back end of the set.

These look and feel like Super Star Specials, but that name is nowhere in sight. Just random pairings of star players.

Cropping wasn't a priority.

In 1983, Fleer decided to turn these kind of cards into a brand. It was a smart move, because random pairings of players are a bit baffling, but now ...

... there was a theme! And a nifty logo to go with it. Suddenly these cards were collectible. And searchable. And, thanks to the theme, you didn't need to wonder whether the player in your hand was a superstar. Fleer told you! It was your cardboard map to the stars.

In 1984, Fleer's Superstar Special logo changed from yellow to blue, and the lettering from red to yellow. The brand was blooming and for the second straight year, Superstar Specials came with puzzles!

Of course, it helped if the cards were cut the same way.

It was year 3 of the logo in 1985, this time with a red background and yellow lettering. Suddenly McDonald's sounds good and it's not just because of the Ray Kroc uniforms.

Back with your star maps for a fourth year, the Superstar Special logo was in the final year of its reign as a happy, round-faced, neon logo. The lettering was now red-and-black, and the stars shined as bright as ever.

A new season and a new logo for SuperStar Specials in 1987. For the first time, the logo featured a star -- novel concept, right? Also, for the first time, SuperStar Special was now SuperStar Specials -- with an "s". To emphasize the multiple players in these cards, I'm guessing.

Fleer obviously thought the logo was too big in 1987, because it shrank quite a bit in 1988. I can barely read that!

That logo is slightly larger, I believe. 1989 would be the last year that Fleer used that particular logo.

The logo took on a cartoon flavor in 1990 (I like it). It reminds me of the "More You Know" PSA blurbs from the 1980s. By the way, I have no idea whether Boggs or Greenwell are even a part of the rest of the picture.

By year 8 of the SuperStar Special, it was such an established brand that Fleer figured it could cover it up with things like Bo Jackson's head.

In 1991, Fleer did not identify its SuperStar Specials on the front of the card. Apparently banana puke borders were too sophisticated for cartoony graphics.

But if you turn over the card, then you know it's a SuperStar Special! Look at all that type.

Here is Fleer feeling guilty for the way it marginalized the SuperStar Special logo. In 1992, it was bigger than ever! The stars were now all one color.

In 1993, the three stars became an abundance of stars. And the SuperStar Special lettering was now in patriotic colors. And there was no "S" on Special for some strange reason.

In 1994, Fleer drastically revamped the logo. A giant star replaces the multiple stars. And foil replaces color (boo! The worst part of cards from the '90s). For the second straight year, the title for the card is buried on the back. The title for this one is "Batmen" (The title for the '93 card is "Brothers in Blue").

The SuperStar Special disappeared after that. I think inserts became too important at this time, and although I didn't find any Fleer insert called "SuperStar Special," it seems like it would have been a no-brainer.

In later years, Topps picked up the habit with "Classic Combos," but those didn't really work. Too many of those cards were action pictures and that's not in the spirit of the SuperStar Special or the SuperStar Special's ancestor, which is this:

These multi-player cards get better with distance, and I find myself enjoying the SuperStar Special cards -- particularly the ones from the early-to-mid 1980s -- much more now than I did then.

I don't need a map to the stars, but I'll take two dorky poses, an awful title and a glowing neon logo any day.