Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spooky cards

Baseball cards aren't spooky, particularly now that Colby Rasmus isn't in the league.

But I am the night owl and I feel an obligation on this holiday. To find something with a Halloween theme in my collection, I went straight to Allen and Ginter to see if I could unearth something scary.



Bony hands! (This is a jewel of my frankenset mini binder).

Edgar Allan Poe! And The Poe Toaster!


Wooooooo! Haunted graveyards!


Nine-headed serpents that can kill you with their bad breath!

What's a 16-year-old cheerleader doing here? When the 2012 Allen and Ginter code was cracked, she was revealed to be the killer!

However, on this day, for this particular fan, there is no card item that is more spooky, more dastardly, more haunting than a card like this:

Just remember, if you root for the Astros tonight, you are rooting for the end of baseball for a long, long, long time.

And that really is spooky.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What just happened?

When I was in college, the Astros played the Mets in one of the most memorable games in postseason history to that point, an epic 7-6 Mets victory in 16 innings at the Astrodome, which clinched the series for New York.

I worked in the college's cafeteria that evening. A portable radio that stood on a shelf behind the salad bar counter aired the game. And the workers among us who were fans, mostly college kids but also some full-time "grown-ups," would regularly make trips to the radio to catch up on an increasingly wild game.

They would then come back to their stations and gleefully report the news: the Mets just scored three runs in the ninth and they're going to extra innings! ... Backman singled in the 14th, the Mets lead! ... Bass hit a home run off Orosco, it's tied again! ... It's the 16th inning! ... Lopez threw a wild pitch! Mets lead by three! ... No, Hatcher just singled, Astros down two! Davis just singled, Astros down one! ... Orosco struck out Bass, Mets win!

It was wild and added plenty of excitement to my four-hour work shift. Customers would ask what the score was and people who I didn't think cared anything for baseball (my girlfriend at the time worked the salad bar and she showed an interest in the game I didn't know she had) were clamoring to get into this exclusive club called baseball. This was thrilling.

Travel 30 years into the future and Game 6 of that series has stood the test of time. However, there have been plenty of games similar to that one, tumultuous back-and-forth affairs with many twists and turns since then. There seems to have been even more in the last 5-to-10 years. And now we're in the middle of the 2017 World Series and someone please tell me what happened in Game 5.

As wild as the 1986 game was, it kind of made sense. Starters pitched for awhile (Bob Knepper went 8-plus innings) and if they couldn't (Bob Ojeda went five), the relievers lasted for awhile (Rick Aguilera pitched three, Roger McDowell pitched five).

Also, that '86 game started in the afternoon. I don't remember what time, maybe around 1or 2 because by the time I started my shift at 4, the game was in the later innings. And, even though it lasted 16 innings, it was over by the time my shift ended around 8.

Last night's game made almost no sense. Starters yanked before the fifth inning ended. Constant pitcher changes. Batters, especially on the Houston side, confident every time that they walked to the plate that they could hit the ball to the moon. The game ended at 1:37 in the morning and lasted just one extra inning! I woke up today and went about my business for a bit and suddenly remembered Justin Turner being tagged out at third base after a bunt play. I thought I had dreamed it. But, no, that was real. In a game in which the entire planet knew no lead was safe, the Dodgers were bunting for a run ... like it was 1986 again!

Last night I remembered sitting in the office over the summer waiting repeatedly for games between the Astros and the Rangers to end. The games seemed to take longer than any other and end up 12-10 or 15-11. After experiencing Minute Maid Park for an extended period for the first time, I realized why I waited so long.

I've followed baseball for four decades. I don't know if I could explain to an outsider what happened in that game, what it meant beyond "Astros take 3-2 series lead." It barely seems like baseball to me. Batters shouldn't be able to hit home runs seemingly every time they want. Pitchers shouldn't look shell-shocked in every game. If the balls actually are slicker and preventing pitchers from doing their jobs, then shame on MLB.

This could be just someone struggling to deal with the fact that baseball isn't like it was back in the day. Maybe there were college students jumping for joy in the cafeteria during last night's game (although that is some kind of after-hours cafeteria). But there's no doubt that the excitement level is dialed up so high that it's difficult to grasp what's happening.

I don't want to put a damper on an exciting series involving my Dodgers, but ... did that look in the slightest bit normal to you?

Anyway, I promised at the start of this Series that I wouldn't get too wrapped up in it and that's now a complete lie. The least I can do is show some cards.

These are from Henry from the Cardboard Greats blog. Most of them are current Dodgers, trying to move on.

There's Ross Stripling, one of the few Dodger pitchers who didn't get into the game last night.

There's Yasiel Puig, who hit a very Minute Maid Park-like home run to key yet another Dodgers comeback.

There's Clayton Kershaw, who turned into a different pitcher between the third and fourth innings. I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite like it. Do you think Kershaw wishes he could have pitched in the days of Marichal when the ball/players/parks weren't juiced?

A short-printed Sandy Koufax! Yup Kershaw is the best Dodgers pitcher since Koufax, but Koufax never had to pitch in the era of Launch Angle.

Numbered cards of two players who are either jealous they're not playing in this Series or maybe very happy that they aren't.

And if a guy who grew up on '70s and '80s baseball is trying to figure out what's going on, imagine someone who grew up collecting cards in the mid-1950s!

During the bottom of the fifth inning of last night's game, my daughter, who has shed a lifetime of baseball indifference to follow this postseason avidly, got up from her seat after Jose Altuve's three-run home run had tied a game that had just been untied by Cody Bellinger's three-home run, walked past the TV to go upstairs and declared "this game is stupid."

I nodded in agreement. What could I say? It was.

Today at work, a co-worker in his late 30s who is a sports fan, but is more interested in football and basketball, asked me:

"Is this World Series bullshit?"

I thought for a moment and then answered, "Yes, yes it is bullshit."

It's exciting, nerve-wracking and exhilarating as hell. But through it all there seems to be something a bit off.

I'm calling stupid. I'm calling bullshit. And I know I'm not the only one.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

In a World Serious frame of mind

We officially have ourselves a World Series. I was happy the Dodgers won last night for obvious reasons. But I was also happy because five-game World Series make me sad. With the exception of the 1988 Series -- again for obvious reasons -- five-game Series just don't represent the competitive spirit we like to see from baseball's finale. Six- and seven-game Series are usually more memorable. And at least with a four-game sweep, you know that one team really, really cares.

I will be a wreck for the rest of the Series, in a continual state of suspense and agony. It will be Serious business. However, one thing will sustain me, other than the thought of a Dodger championship, and that is the thought of the Dodgers appearing in 2018 Heritage's World Series subset.

I mentioned a few posts ago that the 1969 Topps World Series subset is my favorite WS subset of all-time, by far. And since Heritage next year will pay homage to the '69 set, we'll see the Dodgers and Astros in newspaper layout form. It's very exciting. Please send me any of these cards when you get them.

But, in general, I enjoy all World Series subsets and I am sad when there are no World Series cards the following year. Topps has rectified that in recent seasons in flagship, although I prefer a bit more effort than merely slapping the World Series logo on the front, which has been the way Topps has recognized the World Series for the last several years.

Most of my other favorite World Series subsets showed up many, many years ago -- when cards were done right, dammit. I thought I'd show a few of them.

Here are my favorite Series subsets that aren't the '69 Series subset:

1971: This is the first World Series subset in full color in which the photos didn't look like paintings (there was full color in the early '60s). Combine that with the colorful lettering on a pitch-black background and these are powerful, memorable cards. I knew I loved them the first time I saw them.

1967: It's difficult for me to recognize this subset considering that it is recognizing a sweep of the Dodgers. But you have to hand it to Topps, using a wood-panel television theme to document the Series. There were few bigger TV moments back then than the World Series.

1987: Fleer picked up the slack when Topps dropped the ball on the World Series in the early 1980s. By 1986, Fleer was issuing a multi-card series of the Series. I like the '87 representation of the 1986 World Series with the simplistic stars-and-stripes border. I should get the rest of these cards someday.

1975: These are the first World Series cards I ever saw. Of course, I love the colorful borders. The '75 Topps set chose just the purple-and-pink and pink-and-yellow borders for Series cards, why I don't know.

2001: I received the entire set of this subset from a fellow collector because each of these cards are night cards. I think Fleer Tradition did a great job recognizing the 2000 Subway Series, including Game 1, which if it happened today would have never gotten into our newspaper. There would've been a giant hole where the story should go (OK, not really).

1992: Imagine for a moment that gold foil should have disappeared when the last "Who Let the Dogs Out" record was sold. There was something about foil in the early '90s that classed up a card. Just adding "1991 World Series" in gold foil on these Stadium Club cards added importance. It was almost like footlights on a stage.

1989: During the '60s and the '70s, this subset would have been five cards (funny, this is the third five-game Series subset I'm showing). Fleer found a way to make it 12 cards. Not that I'm complaining. There is nothing all that special about this set except the DODGERS WON.

1974: This subset contains some of my favorite Series night cards. With the bunting banner, these cards scream World Series.

I like Series subsets that display a card for each and every game of the Series. I'm not fond of "one-card-covers the Series" efforts, such as 1978 and 1981 Topps. And I don't like the scattershot treatment today in flagship (I realize that often fans of the Series winner can get a box set of cards from the Series and, of course, there is Topps Now, but I'm a traditional guy who likes spending no more than a buck a card).

There are lots of other kinds of World Series subsets in which moments are selected from various Series and placed on cards. That's fun, too, although for that kind of treatment you'll never top another Series set that came out in the early '70s:

Fleer's Laughlin sets from 1970 and 1971 are unbeatable.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sample example

I've mentioned a time or two that back when we received free samples in the mail at the newspaper, I would periodically land a card or two from baseball or football sets.

This was the late 1990s, and the cards were always Pacific or Pinnacle (brands I knew nothing about, by the way). So the designs were wild and strange to me. And, weirdly, most of the cards featured the word SAMPLE in giant letters traveling across the card.

I was familiar with sample cards and knew they could be "exclusive," but thought it bizarre that they would effectively ruin the picture by stamping SAMPLE across it.

Whatever, it was the '90s, I'm not going to pretend I understand much about cards then. I was just reminded of this by yet another mailing from Stephan of Vintage Twins. In the envelope contained a sealed pack of 1995 Pinnacle Zenith sample cards.

There they are, eight players all trying to do their work with giant letters floating in front of them.

This set of sample cards was sent to dealers in 1995 by Pinnacle, trying to drum up business for its new brand. I felt a bit of privilege by opening these once exclusive items, meant only for dealers, for the first time.

Naturally since they were 20-plus year-old cards from the '90s, opening them wasn't easy. They all stuck together and I had to gently pry them apart. I'm happy to say that the surface of the cards is intact on all of them, although a couple edges and corners were dinged in the prying.

The Nomo card received the worst, as the back is now peeling off, but I have a few extras of that card anyway (I love it, even with the SAMPLE screaming at me).

The rest of the cards in the package covered quite the spectrum.

Shawn Green cards from his Blue Jays days, for example. I was just updating a single Green card in my database a couple days ago and I decided that Green is the most tedious player to update in my collection. So. Many. Cards. So adding these will be fun.

Sakes alive, I recognize this Metal Universe Adrian Beltre card but I can't find it in my collection anywhere. This is a happy discovery.

I appreciate oddball cards even when it's neither a player nor a team I collect. These were the fun Toys R Us days, before it started overcharging for purple cards.

An O-Pee-Chee sticker of the Garv, very nice. Steve Garvey's been making some appearances during the World Series. Brings back a lot of nice memories even if he's calling today's game "Millenial Baseball".

Super pleased about this card. Sure, it's got issues on the Rosen half of the card, but it's in much better shape than the version currently in my Dodger binder, which harkens back to the first cards I ever pulled. I can now put that oldie gem into my binder honoring those first cards and this card in the Dodger binder.

I know nobody read the above paragraph, but I don't care. Too happy over this card.

Lastly, the best card in the entire package.

It's a key addition to my 1975 buyback frankenset! Bill Lee! I wanted this the minute I saw it on Stephan's Twitter feed. Spaceman becomes card No. 189 that I've accumulated so far. I'm in a holding pattern right now during this very cash-conscious time of year. But get ready for a revitalized chase in 2018!

Also, that's how to do it, '90s Sample cards. If you've got to stamp something on the photo (and really I'd prefer you didn't), make it a bit more inconspicuous.

I know that's a difficult concept for '90s cards to grasp.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Call it what it is

Back in 1998, Leaf released a set called "Rookies & Stars".

I wasn't collecting then, but when I found out about the set years later, the title annoyed me. "Rookies and Stars"? That's rather elitist. The No. 3 starter, the fourth outfielder, the set-up reliever isn't good enough for you? As a set collector, there is nothing more distressing to me than a set that ignores the "common" players that are the foundation of baseball.

"Rookies and stars" may put fans in the seats, but they're not what makes the game go 'round. If you don't have nine players on a diamond, 24 dudes on the bench, you're not going to win squat, no matter how many "ooohs" and "aaahs" you get from someone jacking a home run 500 feet that accounts for exactly one run, same as an RBI ground out.

However, it's fairly obvious that many people don't think the way I do or even collect the way I do. Because if there were, there would be a significant outcry over the sorry excuse for a product called "Update" that has been issued here in 2017.

I've already explained my issue with 2017 Update. In short-form it is this: The Dodgers' Chris Taylor isn't f'n in 2017 Topps Update. To me, that nullifies the quality of this product by itself. Taylor made more of an impact on a single team -- a team currently in the World Series -- than any other out-of-nowhere player this year. Yet, he's not in Update.

You know why?

Because he's not a rookie or a star.

This is not 2017 Topps Update. This is 2017 Topps Rookies & Stars. Call it what it is. The part of Update that I loved since the days of "Topps Traded" back in the early '80s was spotting players on cardboard in their brand new uniforms. George Foster as a Met. Reggie Jackson as an Angel. Stuff like that. The rookies were interesting, too, but guys in new uniforms was the big draw (if you have doubts about how I feel about this, just check out this post).

I guess with people regularly spending 10 bucks for a Topps Now card of Yu Darvish, we don't need that now.

There are precious few Update cards in Update. The majority of what I received out of a hanger box (I wanted to buy only a hanger pack, but there wasn't any available) were rookies and stars.

But enough of my crabbing about it, let's let the cards tell the story.

A red R will signify rookie. A gold S will signify a star. In between, you might just catch -- heavens is that a commoner in my pack of cards?????

Bring on the crap:

#US59 - Matt Joyce, Athletics

We actually start off with a card upon which Update was built long ago, a guy who changed uniforms in the offseason. But the shocking part of this is the background is purple. I've seen one other person address this. Why is everyone paying tribute to Prince?

#US10 - Ian Happ, Cubs R

One of the Rookies To Get If That's Your Thing. More purple in the background.

#US188 - Trevor Plouffe, Rays

#US231 - Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox R

#US217 - Howie Kendrick, Phillies

#US50 - Cody Bellinger, Dodgers R

OK, even I'm happy about that rookie. Nice pulling, night owl

#US189 - Chad Bell, Tigers R

#US212 - Jose Quintana, Cubs S

This is why I buy Update, right here. A guy who changed his uniform.

#US115 - "M" Is For "Mashing" (Manny Machado and Mookie Betts) S

These things were tired in 2008.

#US253 - Matt Belisle, Twins

#US21 - Christian Arroyo, Giants R

#US218 - Greg Holland, Rockies, All-Star S

I don't mind the All-Star cards in Update, even though it's a second version of a card you already received in Series 1 or Series 2. But they do contribute to the star-glut in this product.

#US143 - Trevor Cahill, Padres

They can get this dude (who by the way ended up with the Royals) into Update but not Chris Taylor.

#US225 - Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox, Rookie Debut R

He was in flagship and Opening Day. No reason he should be in Update.

#US258 - Francis Martes, Astros R

#US181 - Emilio Pagan, Mariners R

#US62 - Travis Wood, Royals

Andy Pettitte, Yankees, Heroes of Autumn insert S
Albert Pujols, Cardinals, Heroes of Autumn insert S

I don't need more cards of either of these two people. I have plenty. You know what I need more of? CARDS OF CHRIS TAYLOR!

#US140 - Sal Romano, Reds R

#US185 - Birds in the Garden, Cardinals (Dexter Fowler featured S)

Here is another thing I don't understand: Update was trimmed to 300 cards last year. Yet these things still exist. They are filler. I have an excellent suggestion of what could go in its place. Rhymes with Fish Mailer.

#US91 - Jordan Montgomery, Yankees R

#US14 - Blast Off! (Correa and Altuve -- this is prescient labeling given last night's game S).

#US260 - Carlos Correa, Astros, All-Star S

#US196 - Brad Hand, Padres, All-Star S

#US27 - Nolan Arenado, Rockies, All-Star S

#US 254 - Amir Garrett, Reds R

#US46 - Dylan Covey, White Sox R

#US216 - J.P. Howell, Blue Jays

Finally! It's a real, traditional Update guy!

#US133 - Keynan Middleton, Angels R

#US123 - Colby Rasmus, Rays

#US183 - Taylor Motter, Mariners

#US52 - Michael Fulmer, Tigers, All-Star S

#US150 - Alex Bregman, Astros, Rookie Debut R

Already sick of this guy. Also, he was in flagship.

#US274 - Mitch Moreland, Red Sox

#US106 - Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays

#US26 - Steve Pearce, Blue Jays

Three traditional Update guys in a row!

#US171 - Brock Stassi, Phillies R

#US298 - Brett Eibner, Dodgers

Earlier, I mentioned that this was a rookie card. It's not. I was unaware Eibner had played for the Royals and A's last year. But he also played all of 17 games for the Dodgers this year. Have I mentioned that a certain teammate of his who is not in Update played 140 games this year?

#US246 - Marc Rzepczynski, Mariners

#US72 - Joaquin Benoit, Phillies

#US233 Taijuan Walker, Diamondbacks

#US24 - Joe Smith, Blue Jays

#US201 - Nolan Fontana, Angels R

#US94 - Justin Upton, Tigers, All-Star S

#US118 - Bradley Zimmer, Indians, Rookie Debut R

#US240 - Jacob Faria, Rays R

#US28 - Drew Robinson, Rangers R

#US282 - Michael Martinez, Indians

#US108 - Wilson Ramos, Rays

#US158 - Phillip Ervin, Reds, gold parallel R

#USS-46 - Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, Topps Salute insert S

#US200 - Yoan Moncada, White Sox, SP, R

This is a short-print. I'm told these are easier to come by this year. I'm kind of over the novelty of SPs and refuse to spend more than a couple bucks for them. But if someone wants to give me $100 for this, that's another matter.

#U-26 - Rick Porcello, Red Sox, Untouchables insert S

#PC-20 Boston Red Sox, Postseason Celebrations insert

#PC-25 Brooklyn Dodgers, Postseason Celebrations insert

These, I believe, are retail/Target only. They're interesting only in the fact that I saw the Red Sox one first and thought, "everyone's so tiny and faded" and then saw the Dodgers one second and thought "OH COOL!"

#ASR-CBL - Charlie Blackmon, Rockies, All-Star relic S

Really have nothing to say about this.

#US19 - Eric Skoglund, Royals R (pitched 7 whole games for the Royals this year. With a 9.50 ERA. ... What's that? I think Chris Taylor just hit another postseason home run).

#HA-23 - John Smoltz, Braves, Heroes of Autumn insert S
#HA-24 David Ortiz, Red Sox, Heroes of Autumn insert S

Both are now doing work for Fox's World Series broadcast. I normally don't mind Smoltz, but he was annoying the heck out of me last night. Must be Joe Buck rubbing off on him.

#US7 - Adam Engel and Willy Garcia, White Sox, Rookie combos R R

Yes, by all means, let's jam more rookies onto cards!

#US235 - Nick Pivetta, Ricardo Pinto, Phillies, Rookie combos R R

#US112 - Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, All-Star S

#US31 - Danny Santana, Braves

#US153 - Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks, All-Star S

#US144 - Charlie Blackmon, Rockies, All-Star S

#US205 - Zack Cozart, Reds, All-Star S

#US49 - Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Rangers R

#US268 - Miguel Sano, Twins, Home Run Derby S

#US286 - Jeff Hoffman, Rockies, Rookie Debut R

Also in flagship. Chris Taylor is not in flagship.

#US54 - Ronald Torreyes, Yankees

#US271 - Jesse Winker, Reds R

And the whole disaster ends with a rookie.

When I total up the numbers, this is what I see:

Rookies - 29
Stars - 22
Regular update guys - 22 (I counted Quintana in both the stars and regular update categories)

That's a lousy showing for some guys who in many cases played an entire season while several of the rookies barely sniffed a major league locker.

This fascination with rookies and stars has been going on for as long as I've been collecting. It started going overboard in the '80s and really kicked into gear during the period when I wasn't collecting. It is now tarnishing everything I loved about Update. I've liked this product less and less over the years, but now I can't even tell you what it is.

It's not Update. It's not Traded. Heck, it's not even Rookies and Stars.

Maybe it's "Rookies, Stars, Inserts, SPs and a Couple Of Regular Players That Some Cranky Old Guy Seems To Think Belongs In Our Set of Star And Rookie Worshiping".

If you want a pack of RSISAACORPTSCOGSTTBIOSOSARW, they're available in your big box store today.

You can have them all.

I'm not fucking touching it again.