Saturday, April 22, 2017

The strangest subset ever made

It's difficult to shift gears so quickly after completing a set with so much meaning to me and one known for its challenges.

So after yesterday's post, I'm going to remain stay on 1972 Topps and discuss the strangest subset ever made.

I've written about the "awards subset" before and mentioned it in passing several other times. But I've never devoted an entire post to it and shown all the cards. So get ready for the only subset that I know of that features no people.

The Strangest Subset begins in the fifth series (cards 526-656) with card No. 621 and the Commissioner's Award, misspelled as "Commissioners" Award on the front of the card.

The Commissioner's Award at the time went to "the player who best typifies the game of baseball on and off the field," according to the back of this card.

This is the only card in the six-card subset that includes all text and no list. As you can see, it was such a new award that only two players had received it, Willie Mays and Brooks Robinson. And, this write-up shows how late in the season the fifth series hit stores. The 1972 Commissioner's Award had already been issued.

The Commissioner's Award was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award after Clemente's death in 1973 (this bit of information answers my question in a previous post). And the name "Commissioner's Award" was attached to the All-Star Game MVP trophy (later renamed the Arch Ward Memorial Trophy and now named the Ted Williams Award).

Card No. 622 displays the Most Valuable Player Award (and a bitchin' crease). The award looks almost exactly the same today.

The award was first handed out, one each for the American and National leagues, in 1931. And 40 years of awards was just enough for Topps to squeeze them all onto the back of this card.

The creepy Cy Young Award appears on card No. 623. By 1972 standards, the award was relatively new, having been handed out for only 15 years.

You can see there is only five years of awarding two pitchers each year as it was a combined award through 1966.

The Minor League Player of the Year Award appears on card No. 624. It was presented by The Sporting News from 1936-2005. Baseball America and USA Today now issue their own separate Minor League Player of the Year Award. I don't know if MLB sanctions either one as the official award.

The two trophies are familiar to anyone who has collected baseball cards. The trophy on the left appeared on cards of players named to Topps' all-rookie team prior to 1973. The trophy on the right has appeared on cards of Topps all-rookie team members since '73. I'd be interested to know whether the trophy on the right had any meaning to collectors in 1972 since it hadn't appeared on any cards prior to then.

The back doesn't explain the two trophies. It also terms each minor league player of the year as the Topps' minor league player of the year, although these names correspond with the names selected by The Sporting News each year. Perhaps Topps joined The Sporting News in the selection in 1960.

Card No. 625 shows the Rookie of the Year Award. The award is now known as the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award, renamed after Robinson the 40th anniversary of his first major league game in 1987. The award was originally named the J. Louis Comiskey Award in the 1930s. But it appears to have become the Ford Frick Award at some point because on the plaque above is a likeness of Frick, the former baseball commissioner, with "Ford C. Frick Award" written above it.

The Ford Frick Award is now presented by the Baseball Hall of Fame each year to a broadcaster and has been a tradition since 1978. The Rookie of the Year award now looks like this.

The first two Rookie of the Year Awards went to just one player (Robinson in 1947 and Alvin Dark in 1948). In 1949, it was opened up to both leagues. The AL winner in 1949, Roy Sievers, just died a couple of weeks ago, and I heard way too little news about it.

The final card in the subset, at No. 626, is the Babe Ruth Award. It goes to the World Series MVP and has not changed since 1972.

The award didn't start until 1949, the year after Ruth's death.

Any time I saw one of these cards as a young collector I'd almost laugh at the sight. A picture of a plaque? Really? The awards floated in front of dayglo background. I had never witnessed stranger cards in my life. They were both laughable and fascinating.

Many years later, I still don't know if I've seen anything stranger on cardboard. It is, without a doubt, the strangest subset ever made.

But at least I learned something from this post.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Nine-year-old me is standing and applauding

On Thursday, I completed the 1972 Topps baseball set.

This is tremendous news. It is tremendous news in particular for a 9-year-old kid from Upstate New York who had just wandered into a world of baseball and the picture cards that display that sport. He is awe-struck, astonished and, frankly, a blithering idiot. His mind has been blown.

The '72 set -- I've said it before -- is the one set that I think of when someone says "baseball cards". To someone younger, the cards may look rooted in the past, wild and crazy, and almost primitive. But that's only because they did not stumble into this hobby during one golden, sun-splashed day in the early 1970s.

I saw 1972 Topps cards only in the hands of older kids. And I probably first saw them before I even started collecting. To me, those cards -- that design -- said Baseball Cards. That's what trading cards were supposed to be. That has stayed with me for so long that now when I look at my binder of 1972 Topps, it will transport me to those days of gazing at '72 Topps and thinking "so, that's a baseball card."

That binder of 1972 Topps is now complete because I added the final card to its pages today.

That final card -- the Tim Foli In Action card -- arrived in the mail Thursday twice. Two different envelopes each produced the elusive Foli.

The first one I opened came from Commish Bob at The Five Tool Collector. I wasn't expecting that. It arrived with a well-grooved crease through Foli's kneecaps and Bob said it would make a good space filler.

That it would ... if I didn't get another Foli In Action from Scott Crawford of I Need New Hobbies from that same trip to the mailbox.

I knew Scott was sending me the card. We arranged that he would mail me "The Last Card I Need To Complete My 1972 Topps Set" last week, and he graciously used some COMC credit to produce the card as part of trade we were wrapping up.

So, I had two Foli In Actions, except now I don't. Scott is also attempting to complete the '72 set and I just sent that creased Foli IA to him in the mail. See how it all works out? That's some righteous trading there if I do say so myself.

Before including Foli IA in my binder -- and announcing to the world that my 1972 Topps set was complete -- I did the gremlin check that is now required before a set is officially complete. Gremlins -- i.e. missing cards you thought you had -- have burned me in set completion tasks too many times. But I'm happy to say no gremlins were found. The complete set is intact.

My love for the '72 set -- the Psychedelic Tombstone Set -- is well-known. I've dedicated a number of posts to it (128 according to my blog stats). The very first post devoted to it was published on May 18, 2009.

In that post I said I had completed about one-third of the set and expected my attempt to complete it to last the rest of my lifetime. But I'm happy to say, unless my demise is scheduled for this evening, that '72 Topps is completed with plenty of time to spare!

Also in that post, I counted down 12 favorites from the '72 set based on the modest collection of cards I had at the time.

I'd like to do that for you again now, but with owning the entire set. I'm also going to attempt to show no cards that I've mentioned before in previous posts, nor the usual cards that everyone has seen before (the Clemente, Billy Cowan, Billy Martin, Hoyt Wilhelm, etc.).

No, here, simply, are 12 cards from the 1972 set that I like and why.

1. Carl Yastrzemski, In Action: Many of the 1972 In Action cards look amateurish compared with today's action photography. But this is one I'd put with at least what I saw in the 1980s. A nice, centered shot of Yaz at work.

2. Roger Metzger: I have a love affair with the 1972 Topps Astros cards. I think the brightness of the Astros' uniforms of that time goes well with the the yellow-blue-and-orange theme chosen for their cards. Every color in the rainbow is displayed here, and Metzger's unique pose, along with the interesting crop, makes for a memorable card.

3. Mark Belanger: For many baseball hitters in the 1970s, this is how you held the bat. There was no need to squeeze the life out of the bat knob. Try to picture a player today holding a bat five inches off the end.

4. Sal Bando: To the left of Sal Bando, on card No. 650, is teammate Steve Hovley, who wore No. 28 for the A's at the time. But 33 cards later in the set ...

... Steve's been traded to the Royals!

5. Willie Stargell, Boyhood Photos of the Stars: Is there a better example of a baseball card with a photo that illustrates the promise that awaits with one swing?

6. Denny Doyle: If you know the Phillies cards in the '72 set, you know that many of them are a disaster. Equipment strewn everywhere. People milling about. This one is probably the best example. My favorite part is that if this photo were to be extended to the right, you might see a series of Phillies players performing a baseball task to infinity.

7. Fred Gladding: Remember those novelty glasses with the eyes on them? I'm sure Fred Gladding is wearing a pair.

8. Bobby Murcer, In Action: The last couple of times that I've mentioned to my favorite vintage card show dealer that I needed only a handful of a cards to complete the set, he guesses the Bobby Murcer In Action card. I've begun to think that this is the scarcest card in the set. Or that the dealer is hoarding this card.

9. Pat Jarvis: I've lived in the Northeast all my life. I've never seen an orange tree in person. To me, they are exotic and spotting them on a baseball card is a trip. If that's not an orange tree behind the fence, I don't want to know.

10. Tito Fuentes, In Action: If it weren't for the balletic moves illustrated by the runner and fielder, they would fade into the very busy background.

11. Wilbur Wood, Boyhood Photos of the Stars: You guys, I may have completed the 1972 Topps set, but young Wilbur Wood has caught himself a fish. And he's standing in the garden so he can tell you about it.

12. Bill Mazeroski: This is Mazeroski's final card. He'd show up in the 1973 Topps set as a Pirates coach on the manager card. This card speaks to me. There's Bill. He's ready to hang it up. His jacket is on. His job is done. It's time to go home.

And my job is done here. I will never have to moan about short-prints or look for the Bobby Bonds In Action card or count my cash to see whether I can afford a bleepin' team card ever again. The set is done and it was A Process.

Many thanks to Scott Crawford and anyone else who sent me cards for this set. Many thanks to Brian at Play at the Plate for holding a contest a few years ago that allowed me to land the Nolan Ryan card in this set.

I may upgrade some of the cards, but basically I'm done fretting over what I've always considered The Baseball Card Set.

That 9-year-old still can't believe it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blaster power rankings: 2017 Topps Opening Day

Anyone who follows sports is probably familiar with the various media outlets' fondness for something called "power rankings".

This is where CBS or USA Today or whatever fly-by-night online site ranks all of the teams in a league, from strongest to weakest, under some highly suspect criteria. Some of the rankings are based on a statistical formula but I believe many of them are not. They are based either on a voting panel or often-times strictly on the whim of whoever is writing the power rankings story.

In some ways this matches the process that is used to rank the top college football and basketball teams each year. The AP rankings/coaches rankings is one of my biggest of many pet peeves with college football. The whole ranking is based on virtually nothing -- just on the opinion of the people who watch the games -- and yet people babble about them constantly as if they have meaning.

I admit, looking at power rankings -- even if I know it's rated according to the "feelings" of the writer -- is interesting to me. It's sports mind-candy. There's nothing to absorb, but I'll always look because LISTS! RANKINGS! YAY!

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to apply the power rankings tradition to the blaster of Opening Day I received for Easter. I don't buy a lot of blasters of current product anymore, but I think every time I do buy one, I'll perform my own power rankings, and then average them all up and figure out which team I'm pulling the most often in a given year.

That's how I will rate the power rankings for this blaster: by the number of cards I pull of each team. To break ties, I'll weight inserts as being more important than base cards (normally, I'd never do this, but let's face it, the only reason to buy Opening Day is for inserts). Parallels -- although they suck now that there are no borders -- will also be key. And, finally, there is no better insert than a mascot insert.

So those are the rules. It may not be much, but I'm willing to bet it's more criteria than is used for many of the power rankings you see.

Blaster Power Rankings: 2017 Opening Day

1. DETROIT TIGERS (6 cards): Tied for the most cards, including a mascot card. Cabrera, Upton and Kinsler all came out of the same seven-card pack. That's impressive.

2. TORONTO BLUE JAYS (6 cards): Same number of cards as the Tigers and a mascot, too. The Tigers are rated higher based on that one three-Tiger pack.

3. MILWAUKEE BREWERS (4 cards): I can picture the stunned look on Tony L.'s face. Yup, I pulled four Brewers from one blaster, including an insert and a parallel. Maybe he can ease up on Topps just this once.

4. PITTSBURGH PIRATES (4 cards): Not one Superstar Celebration insert, but two of them! That is pretty impressive. Topps seems to be shying away from the mass team celebrations this year.

5. CINCINNATI REDS (4 cards): The small-market, Central Division teams fared very well in this blaster, just about the opposite of how they do in the usual media power rankings.

6. KANSAS CITY ROYALS (4 cards): Blue borders look so much better than stained glass shards impaling players. Bring back borders!

7. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (4 cards): See? That's a fairly muted celebration.

8. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (4 cards): I was watching the MLB Network yuck-yucks discuss Bumgarner's "unfriendliness" on the mound, discussing how he never smiles and always looks mad. But instead of coming out saying, "he's kind of a jerk," they said the reason for it is, "he's a true competitor". Yeah, that's it.

9. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (4 cards): Being on vacation means you get to see stuff like Matt Carpenter's bloody hand after fielding a ball at first base LIVE.

10. CHICAGO CUBS (3 cards): Seeing greasy food cooking gives me flashbacks to when I worked the hamburger joint in college. I smelled of grease at all times. It was not fun, girls didn't want to come near me, and I lasted three months.

11. BOSTON RED SOX (3 cards): I'm told that what the vendor is selling in this photo is popcorn and not cotton candy. Not being a regular at Fenway Park, I can't tell the difference from the picture but I'll defer to the guy who lives in Section 36.

12. MIAMI MARLINS (3 cards): That's a pretty good trio.

13. HOUSTON ASTROS (3 cards): The little rookie card logo is getting ready for a ride to home plate.

14. NEW YORK YANKEES (3 cards): The famed Lightning Butt card.

15. LOS ANGELES DODGERS (3 cards): The Dodgers are ranked lower than other three-card teams only because I have the Gonzalez already.

16. SAN DIEGO PADRES (2 cards): The Padres' Opening Day card my be my favorite card from 2017 Opening Day. It shows opening day festivities before the Padres' game against the Dodgers on April 6, 2016. The Dodgers proceeded to win 15-0, handing the Padres the worst opening day shutout defeat in major league history. I love this damn card.

17. ATLANTA BRAVES (2 cards): The green scoreboard glow behind Freeman is fantastic.

18. TEXAS RANGERS (2 cards): Can't argue with pulling Darvish and Beltre.

19. NEW YORK METS (2 cards): Is it time to stop making David Wright cards?

20. BALTIMORE ORIOLES (2 cards): Finally, two cards oriented the same way.

21. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (2 cards): The gray uniforms with the blue lettering the Diamondbacks wore over the weekend may be the worst baseball uniforms I have ever seen.

22. TAMPA BAY RAYS (2 cards): I don't envy any photographer who has to shoot in Tropicana Field.

23. CHICAGO WHITE SOX (2 cards): Two wildly different uniforms.

24. OAKLAND ATHLETICS (1 card): If you're gonna make it one card, make it a mascot.

25. COLORADO ROCKIES (1 card): The one Rockies card is a hot dog, which means it's my all-time favorite Rockies card.

26. MINNESOTA TWINS (1 card): I pay more attention to Dozier since he wasn't traded to the Dodgers.

27. SEATTLE MARINERS (0 cards): Nor do I expect to get any Mariner cards.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (0 cards): I watched them for the first time this season yesterday. They're sloppy.

29. LOS ANGELES ANGELS (0 cards): I'm stunned. There's almost always a Trout in every box.

30. CLEVELAND INDIANS (0 cards): The defending AL champs go missing.

That was a lot of scanning. I did that so my fellow traders could see the cards they were going to get. I don't plan to hang on to any of these besides the Dodgers (and probably that Padres Opening Day card).

So those are the Blaster Power Rankings to start it off. I know I'll be buying a Heritage blaster (ahem, "value box") soon, so that will probably be my next series of power rankings.

Power rankings may be mindless, but that only means it's ideal for a guy writing a card blog. I can't think of a more mindless pursuit than that.