Sunday, June 24, 2018

'56 of the Month: Rance Pless

This card has lived in my scan folder for several months. It turns out it was waiting for the right time. It's now going to serve as the jumping off point for two posts.

You'll see the other one later this week. It has to do with Rance Pless' position in the 1956 Topps set. At card No. 339, it is the penultimate card in the set.

But Pless is also part of a group of cards in the 1956 Topps set that has long fascinated me.

When my brothers and I received that treasure trove of mid-1950s cards -- the vast majority being 1956 Topps -- from my father's co-worker when we were kids, I began to notice when first going through the '56 cards that there were precious few cards numbered in the 300s.

I had looked up the set in one of those early '80s Sport Americana baseball card price guides (by Dr. James Beckett and Dennis W. Eckes) and discovered that it totaled 340 cards. I didn't know anything much about sets being issued in series at the time, but why so few cards from No. 300 forward?

(As I write this I am discovering that I covered this territory already. But it's too late to quit now).

I assumed for years that this was a case of nasty high numbers and that the 300s in 1956 were more difficult to obtain. But that actually isn't the case. It was more likely a case of a kid getting bored of collecting baseball cards late in the summer and not being interested when the 4th series, cards No. 261-340 arrived in corner stores.

Or it's possible that kids were just bored with what was in the 4th series.

Have you seen who is in that 4th series?

Guys like Rance Pless.

If we break down the 1956 set by series, you will see that it is front-loaded with stars.

Cards 1-100, or series 1, contain Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Ted Klusewski, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Al Rosen and Sandy Koufax (who was certainly not a star at the time).

The first series falls off on stars after card No. 35, but it peaks with the second series, which is cards 101-180.

In that second series is: Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews, Enos Slaughter, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Nellie Fox, Richie Ashburn, Minnie Minoso, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Herb Score, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew, Red Schoendienst, the Dodgers team card, Hank Bauer and Robin Roberts.

Cards in the third series are considered slightly more difficult to obtain than others in the set. But it's not as top-heavy with stars as the first two series.

Between cards 181-250 are: Early Wynn, Carl Furillo, Monte Irvin, George Kell, Bob Feller, Lew Burdette, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Whitey Ford and Larry Doby.

That brings us to the fourth and final series. It starts off fairly well with basically the same star power as the third series. Before the series hits card No. 300, there is the Yankees team card, Bob Lemon, Pee Wee Reese, Jim Gilliam and Luis Aparicio's rookie card.

Then card 300 -- Vic Wertz -- hits and the rest of the set is a litany of WHO?

The only notable is Hoyt Wilhelm at No. 307. Sure there are recognizable names on the downslope of their careers like Andy Pafko (312) and Jim Konstanty (321), but the majority are guys like Lou Berberet, Al Aber, Jack Crimian and Karl Olson.

For me, it's the only disappointing thing about such a wonderful set. It goes out with a whimper.

Pless, as one of those 1956 no-names, received his only Topps card in 1956. He hadn't even played a game in the majors before 1956 and his only big league season was that year when he recorded 85 at-bats and hit .271.

Pless, who died last November, served in the Navy during World War II and toiled in the Giants' minor league system for nine years before getting a major league shot. Later, after his career, he scouted for the Braves.

I will never complain about guys with just 85 at-bats getting a card. They should get a card. Always.

But if you want people to buy the cards, perhaps don't issue an entire series of guys like that. I think Topps found that out with 1956 Topps, Series 4.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Not serious about Series 2

I think everyone can relate to the fatigue that sets in shortly after Topps releases Series 2:

More of the same. Didn't like it much the first time. Let's just get this over with, shall we?

I'm even having a difficult time getting myself to the level of indifference, although that's mostly because there's been no time to do anything in the hobby recently.

I am definitely committed to finishing out the Dodgers team set for flagship, indifference or not, time issues or not. It's just part of who I am. If I didn't make even a half-hearted attempted, well, then I have become a different person. I'm no longer night owl who collects for a living, but some other guy, some other bird.

So let's cast aside my funk, push aside those mounting deadlines for just 10 minutes and see some truly welcome Series 2 Dodgers just sent to me by Rod of Padrographs. They arrived today, in a tidy envelope made for busy schedules like mine.

Well, here are three cards that explain Series 2 malaise perfectly.

The three players here have combined to appear in 26 games for the Dodgers in 2018. That's it.

Tom Koehler has been injured, he hasn't played a single game for the Dodgers. In fact, I don't know where he got that Dodgers uniform. Trayce Thompson played for the Dodgers THREE TEAMS AGO. And Corey Seager accounts for all 26 games for the trio but he is now done for the season.

Series 2 is full of happy moments like this.

Rod also sent three cards from the Cody Bellinger Target insert set. I don't know how many cards are in this insert set because --- psssh, checklists are for people who have days off -- but it's got to be at least 17 cards because that last Bellinger that I showed is card No. 17.

I'm not going to complain about these cards. It's nice to have some cards to recall Bellinger's 2017 season without having to pay Topps Now prices. I look forward to getting all of these. But then, I'm a Dodgers fan.

These cards from Rod could force me to get a checklist started for the Dodgers in Series 2, although I may have to wait while the month of June is deciding whether it offs me.

By next month, I will appreciate these cards more. And want the rest of them.

But I'm not going to go too far in my enthusiasm. Because this is Series 2.

(P.S.: Dodgers Blue Heaven has just informed me the Bellinger set is 30 cards. THIRTY! OK, I definitely don't have time to type in all those numbers).

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Evaluating '50s vintage

I'm not interested in graded cards or grading my cards.

But I sometimes wonder whether I would be if I grew up collecting cards in the late 1980s or after that. There was a certain emphasis placed on card condition that began in the '80s and hasn't let up since then.

Before that, collectors didn't care as much about condition. We loved those cards fresh out of a pack, sure, and we tried to keep our very favorites protected however we could in that pre-binder page, pre-top loader era. But, man, rubber bands were all over the place in our hobby back then.

Still as a kid, in the back of my mind, I wanted my cards to look nice. I didn't put cards in my wheel spokes. I played "closest to the wall" (when you literally threw cards at the wall) with only commons or players I didn't like. I played with my cards, but not as vigorously as others and I wonder if that's what might've sucked me into grading if I grew up during the Investment Era.

To this day, I have an informal evaluating system for cards from post-1970. If I get a dupe of a card, I'm keeping the card in better condition. Both cards get the once-over. Are there any creases, dings, discoloration, centering issues? The card with fewer of those things (preferably none of those things) gets kept.

I think this is customary procedure among a lot of collectors.

But for me, when it comes to cards from earlier, especially the 1950s, it gets a bit more difficult.

Cards from the '50s are almost always going to contain some sort of flaw. That goes for just about anything that's 60 years old. Stumbling across a '50s card that is as flawless as a modern card is almost never going to happen to me and would probably freak me out. I don't live in that rarefied air. So during the occasional time I end up with a double of a '50s card, I am now comparing two cards with flaws. How do I make the determination?

How do I evaluate?

Now, I know some people are saying "keep them both! They're cards from the '50s!" And I get that. I do keep them both often. But you never know when someone is going to want your stray '50s card. You can't keep everything.

So, fairly recently I received a second 1953 Topps Don Hoak card from Stackhouse. (I'm linking to his 1952 Topps blog because I am drawing a blank on the name for his more recent '53 Topps blog).

The second card is on the left. The one card I owned already is on the right.

So if I'm evaluating and picking between the two, how do I do that?

Well, let's list the strengths and weaknesses of both:

Stackhouse Hoak


-- Freakishly sharp corners for a 65-year-old card
-- Relatively little wear on the black-border edges
-- Decent color for a '53 Topps card


-- Card is way off-center, so much so that the left edge is almost ragged
-- There's a printing flaw in the logo.

Original Hoak


-- This is what a 1950s card in good condition -- something that I am accustomed to seeing from 1950s cards -- looks like. Rounded corners make sense to me for '50s cards.
-- The card is well-centered
-- There is more color to this card than the Stackhouse Hoak


-- If you're comparing corner sharpness, the Original Hoak will never win.
-- There is some paper loss in the upper left area that travels into the left side of Hoak's cap.

I think you noticed that both cards have the same number of strengths and weaknesses. So how do I choose?

Well, in this case, I will go with the original, mostly because it is the original. I've grown attached to it, and that's a difficult thing to overcome for a newbie dupe. I'm comfortable with Hoak's rounded corners and even the paper loss (which isn't as easy to see in person).

So, I have a free '53 Hoak if anyone wants it.

I don't get to do that kind of evaluating often, because like I said, I don't have a lot of '50s dupes.

I received several much more modern cards from Mr. Stackhouse.

These are all 1983-themed inserts from 2018 Topps, all needs for me.

And this is some chromed-up parallel with a hieroglyphics pattern because I have no idea. But I'm happy to own it.

Needed this card, too.

None of the more modern cards will go through an evaluation process. Most modern cards look the same with relatively few appearing miscut or with dings. It's such a rarity now that collectors go into outrage if they spot a card with a flaw. It's instantly called "damaged."

This card didn't win the evaluation process. But I would never consider it "damaged."

Monday, June 18, 2018

The good in Twitter

If you look at my Twitter profile page, you will see that Twitter says I joined the social media site in September 2012.

Like almost everything on Twitter, that's only partially accurate.

I actually joined Twitter in 2010. Then after just over a year of viewing non-stop angst, constant self-promotion and a relentless stream of topics that I didn't sign up for at all, I scrapped my Twitter account.

But several months later I decided to give it another try. Twitter had tweaked itself enough so that you could streamline what you wanted to see a little better. The mute button -- what I think is possibly the greatest creation of the social media age -- ensured that I could remain a part of the electronic Tower of Babble without going insane from daily inanity spewing from my timeline.

These days, what I view on Twitter is mostly information about trading cards and baseball. That's really all I care about when it comes to screen time. Oh, people try to pollute my timeline with wrestling or soccer or the latest fantasy film money-making scheme, but that's easy enough to avoid without having to block a soul.

What I still dislike about Twitter are three things:

1. Shilling: My Twitter is still rampant with shilling, mostly because that's what makes the hobby go 'round. I purposely don't follow a lot of box breakers because all they do is shill and I'd like to preserve my sanity. But mostly, I put up with shilling because I know it's a necessary evil  when following the Twitter trading card world.

2. People using their keyboard as an excuse to do nasty things. A female collector, relatively new to the hobby, revealed that she had received several unwanted online advances through direct messaging in Twitter purely because she was a woman in the hobby. I can't believe the amount of gross things that guys do online because they think they're anonymous, but to attempt to suck someone innocent into your warped world is quite possibly the worst abuse of Twitter. It's pure evil. Sad, sad, sad, creatures.

3. Politics. I can barely tolerate politics in any medium, but it's without a doubt at its worst on Twitter. Political subjects are incredibly complex, it doesn't matter what the topic. Yet, Twitter is notorious for its inability to handle complex topics. Does this stop people? Nope. Just about every political tweet, no matter what side, contains untruths, or, at best, incomplete information. These are topics that not even a 40-inch story in a newspaper each day of the week can fully address, and there are thousands upon thousands who think a series of tweets can handle it. I won't even get into how insidious political twitter is.

But, yet, there I remain, tweeting away (although less often lately because there is no time). Because, if you really look -- and sometimes you really have to look -- there is good in Twitter.

Sure, there is fun Twitter and informative Twitter and "well, I learned something new" Twitter. There is charitable Twitter and world-joining Twitter and nostalgic Twitter, and my goodness, historical Twitter might be the greatest thing.

And then there is small gestures Twitter.

Thank goodness for small gestures Twitter.

This is where the baseball card at the top of the post comes in.

The card is from the 1990 Topps Career Batting Leaders set. The Career Batting Leaders set was issued in 1989 and 1990. The 1989 cards display red borders and the 1990 cards display green borders. They are 22-card sets that feature a distinctive illustration of a pair of disembodied hands holding a bat alongside the left or right border.

Those are the rather spare backs, although Topps makes the limited factoids exciting, doesn't it?

The cards were issued one per blister pack only at Kmart, and, man, are they a bitch to find, or at least at a reasonable price.

I think they might be one of the trickiest sets of the junk wax era to complete. Most of the cards sell in double figures. Right now, on COMC, you can find only eight cards from the '89 and '90 set for less than six bucks a pop. The lowest price is just over 2 bucks (Julio Franco gets no love). The majority sell for more than 10 dollars.

And, then, there are all those cards in the set that are perpetually sold out. That's what makes completing the 22-card sets difficult.

One of those cards that is always sold out is Eddie Murray.

Murray appears in both the 1989 and 1990 sets as a Dodger. Murray is the only card I care about in the sets, but I've never been able to land one, mostly because I can rarely find one. When I do find one, it's at a price I don't want to play.

This is where Twitter shows the goodness of its heart.

There was a collector I followed on Twitter a year or two ago. Some of you know who he is. His name is Matt. He is an Orioles fan. He's also a big Eddie Murray collector.

Matt quit Twitter some time ago. It's probably been a couple years now. I don't know why he quit. Maybe it was all the shilling, creepiness and political know-it-alls. But, whatever the reason, I know he's still collecting. And I know he's still looking out for his former Twitter collecting buddies.

Matt and I used to chat on Twitter about Eddie Murray cards occasionally. A little over a year ago, I received a private message from a mutual Twitter friend, Shane. Shane said Matt wanted to let me know an Eddie Murray box bottom card was available online. I told Shane to thank Matt and I found and bought the card.

Last month, I received another message from Shane. This time Matt wanted to let me know there was a 1990 Topps Career Batting Leaders Eddie Murray card for sale on COMC.

Oh, boy, that's one I really wanted!

The price was steep for a card from 1990, but I had realized I'd have to pay if I wanted that card. So I was able to get the dealer to cut a couple dollars off the price and the Murray card with the disembodied batting hands was now mine!

Thanks, Matt, from the Twitter beyond!

There's still the matter of getting the 1989 Career Batting Leaders Murray (the one with the airbrushed Dodgers cap). But I'll get it. Maybe Matt will find it for me again.

That is if Twitter hasn't driven me away so I've joined Matt in the Twitter beyond.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stuck in traffic with Series 2

In the whirlwind that has been my life this month, I found myself going absolutely nowhere for a portion of Thursday afternoon.

I was in the middle of yet another road trip, the third one this week. This one was for work, and because it was job-related, it became quickly apparent that it would be a waste of time. The only thing that could save it was a side visit to the nearby Walmart to see if I could spot some Topps Series 2.

I found it right away, which was shocking as I was pretty much in the middle of the country, where SUVs share the road with tractors and buggies. Who knew that the Amish wanted Series 2, too?

The problem was getting back into civilization to open the contents of the 72-card hanger box I bought. The neighboring village is undergoing a summer construction project smack in the middle of downtown. It's not much of a downtown, but the main road happens to be the main artery in the entire county. Everyone -- and by everyone I mean every tractor trailer hauling anything from Plattsburgh to Syracuse -- is driving that road through that tiny downtown.

And I had to drive that road, too.

I encountered the back of the traffic line way back near the golf course. I wasn't anywhere near downtown. And that's where I sat. I felt really sorry for the dog sitting in a portable kennel in the back of the pickup in front of me. We stared and stared at each other as the minutes passed, until I realized -- HEY! I have Series 2 in the car!

And so I opened it. There in a supposedly moving vehicle that wasn't moving at all, Series 2 made its debut in the middle of a traffic snarl.

Believe me, I had time to examine every card from behind the wheel. If I had set up that scanner app on my phone, I probably could have published this entire blog post while waiting for anything with wheels to move.

So let's take a look at what I found while stranded in that bucolic-yet-orange-cone-infested village:

#523 - Matt Bush, Rangers

Matt Bush's wild-and-crazy career stats line has been reduced to an uninteresting three lines on the back of this card. Gotta save room for #TOPPSBASEBALL, I guess.

#656 - Brian Goodwin, Nationals

Brian Goodwin appears to be looking for a second fly ball.

#671 - Tyler Clippard, Astros

#543 - Luis Castillo, Reds

This card is appropriate because every time I see a Reds game on TV, there is no one in the stands. It's one empty red seat after another.

#462 - Paul DeJong, Cardinals

#422 - Victor Caratini, Cubs

#698 - Ryan Sherriff, Cardinals

Are you counting rookie cards? Normally this is something I do with Update, but we've got two already, plus a future star/rookie cup.

#655 - Andre Ethier, Dodgers

OK, I can stop showing every card now, I finally pulled a Dodger.

Ethier's appearance is interesting as it was pretty obvious he wasn't going to play in 2018. With just 22 games in 2017 (and 16 in 2016), I wonder why Topps decided on the final tribute?

#683 - Adam Eaton, Nationals
#512 - Mike Napoli, Rangers
#513 - Mike Zunino, Mariners

#592 - Gorkys Hernandez, Giants

Much too nice of a card for a filthy, dirty Giant. Each player should have flies hovering around them. I wish bad things for this team this weekend.

#673 - Adam Frazier, Pirates
#572 - Dillon Maples, Cubs (3rd RC)

#503 - Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

I'm starting to become mildly surprised when I pull veterans. That's not a good sign.

#699 - Drew Smyly, Cubs
#521 - Jose Osuna, Pirates

#393 - Corey Kluber, Indians

Time for the horizontal portion of our show.

#595 - Addison Reed, Twins

#407 - Pat Neshek, Phillies

#447 - Carlos Gomez, Rangers

Please allow me an insensitive rant.

I am growing tired of the increasing number of hitters wearing the protective helmet guard across the side of their face. I understand some started wearing it after getting hit in the face, I get that. But have all these players had cheekbones shattered? I feel weird even saying this since it's a safety thing, but I don't like the look. It detracts from the personality of the game, and makes it more anonymous, like football. I get that the pitcher is throwing 100 but with all the arm armor already, does anyone have guts enough to step inside the batter's box as they are?

#551 - Yacksel Rios, Phillies (4th RC)

#564 - Mets team card

This card shares a card number with Joey Rickard but it is not one of the dozens of variations in the set. It's just a flat-out error. There is no card #565, just two #564 cards. "Oh what a tangled web we weave ..."

#365 - Dynamic Dodgers (checklist)

And here's the other card number out-and-out error. This card shares #365 with Mallex Smith. There is no card #364. It's like we traveled back to the 1950s when skip-numbers were a regular thing, except we've added a pile of variation cards, confusing the crap out set collectors again.

#567 - Felix Hernandez, Mariners

#403 - Luis Torrens, Padres

I think Zip-Zap should collect every Luis Torrens card, Tim Wallach style. I'm more than happy to give up a Padres card.

#494 - Adalberto Mejia, Twins

#578 - Melky Cabrera, Royals

The horizontal cards are much more interesting than the vertical cards. I think it's time for that all-horizontal set.

#620 - Chris Young, Angels

There is some photoshopping funny stuff going on with this card. Young does not wear No. 20 with the Angels. He wears No. 24. He did not wear No. 20 with the Red Sox, his previous team, either. He wore No. 30.

#644 - Carlos Perez, Angels

#367 - Liam Hendriks, A's

#622 - Ryan Rua, Rangers
#525 - Johan Camargo, Braves

#659 - Diamondbacks team card

Pretty card. The photo happens to have been taken in Dodger Stadium. It's also the first game of last year's NLDS against the Dodgers. The Dodgers won this game (and the series). Perhaps it should feature the Dodgers lined up instead.

#S-55 - Dillon Maples, Cubs, Topps Salute (5th rookie card)

This is the second Dillon Maples rookie card that I've pulled in this box. Try explaining this to the collector from 1983.

#351 - Bryce Harper, Nationals, gold parallel

Harper's presence on the front of the box is so powerful, it created a gold parallel inside.

#83AS-54 - Greg Maddux, Braves, 1983 All-Star insert

#579 - Carson Fulmer, White Sox, foil parallel

#585 - Brandon Crawford, Giants, image variation

My heart sank when I saw this. I knew it was an SP instantly and it had to be another dirty Giant. This will be packaged up for Adam as soon as I possibly can (which means it'll be in my house like a month too long). I hate that I even scanned it.

#II-13 - Mark McGwire, A's, Instant Impact insert

The scanner cut off the bottom of the card, but you get the idea. This is a new insert series for Series 2. It appears to be a rookie-retro theme?

#AJ-16 & AJ-6 - Aaron Judge Walmart series cards

These cards don't deserve their own individual scans. I clearly went to the wrong big box store, because the Target exclusives are Cody Bellinger cards. But I would rather collect colored border parallels than a bunch more Bellinger cards.

#LITM-12 - Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals, Legends in the Making insert
#LITM-5 - Kyle Schwarber, Cubs, Legends in the Making insert

I just know this is making some Cardinals and Cubs fans all itchy.

#568 - J. C. Ramirez, Angels
#664 - Gregor Blanco, Giants

#556 - Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox

#483 - Drew Pomeranz, Red Sox
#648 - Derek Holland, Giants
#371 - Cole Hamels, Rangers
#457 - Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox
#359 - Wade Miley, Brewers
#464 - Travis Jankowski, Padres
#598 - David Robertson, Yankees
#677 - Brandon Moss, A's
#499 - Justin Bour, Marlins
#385 - Jason Hammel, Royals
#449 - D.J. LeMahieu, Rockies
#687 - Blake Treinen, A's
#695 - Matt Davidson, White Sox

#582 - Albert Pujols, Angels

Wooo! I got a little bored there!

#541 - Dwight Smith Jr., Blue Jays
#496 - Leury Garcia, White Sox
#637 - Manny Pina, Brewers
#647 - Jose Urena, Marlins

#484 - Kenta Maeda, Dodgers

Yay! Just in time for his return to the starting rotation! The Dodgers are proving that you can have zero idea of where your next starting pitcher is coming from and still be in contention.

#373 - Jorge Bonifacio, Royals
#545 - Nicholas Castellanos, Tigers
#472 - Matt Garza, Brewers
#508 - Ryon Healy, Mariners
#617 - Doug Fister, Rangers
#507 - Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks

All right, as you can see toward the back half of the package I was getting as bored with the cards as I was bored sitting in backed up traffic.

But it did make for a nice distraction.

I have to say, I don't understand how commuters in major cities deal with traffic like this on a daily basis. I remember a cousin of mine mentioning -- when he lived in New Jersey -- that he spent four hours of his day driving to and from work. No thank you.

Not even if it allows for opening baseball card packs on the Thruway.