Wednesday, September 20, 2017

G.O.A.T., the '70s, 100-91


It is here.

The moment I've been teasing for two or three years now.

I've compiled what I believe to be the greatest 100 cards of the 1970s.

This is one groovy decade, the decade in which I first became a card collector. The cards from this decade are the ones to which I pledge the greatest allegiance. There is no question in my mind that if I was forced to live inside a cardboard box, I would ditch all other cards except the ones in my '70s binders and then figure out how to jam all those '70s cards inside that box.

Cards from the '70s may be limited in variety, parallels, inserts, shininess, gimmickry and wow factor. I don't give a fig. Don't ever tell me there are better cards than those from the '70s. That's a falsehood. I will never listen.

What '70s cards do contain is the colorfulness of the decade. They feature cards found with food, cards created on the sly, and cards constructed on dingy, gray cardboard. They contain poses inherited from the '50s and '60s, captivating cartoons on the back, and memories of walking to the corner store just hoping that there is enough money in your pocket for two packs.

Most of these cards are in my collection, although I reviewed as many '70s cards that I could find in hopes of unearthing something even I -- someone who wore toughskins and slept next to a bicentennial-themed lamp -- had never seen. I did find a few (surprisingly, most didn't make the list). There will be maybe five or six cards that I do not own yet on this list. But many of them you have seen on this blog before.

Like previous countdowns on this blog, I've broken this into segments of 10 cards apiece. I'll likely space out the countdown with once-a-week posts.

The criteria for making the countdown comes down to really one thing: is this card interesting? I tried to dismiss personal favorites (you won't see the '75 Topps Ron Cey on this countdown). I want cards that have a broad appeal in terms of making an impact. It should be a distinctive card.

So, I think I've given you enough time to dig out your Peter Frampton records, find a few Electric Company episodes on youtube and fix yourself an olive-loaf sandwich.

Dig it! It's the greatest '70s cards, numbers 100 to 91:


100.


 Mets Celebrate, We're Number One, 1970 Topps, #198

Sorry, Mets. You're not No. 1 on this countdown, merely No. 100. But don't pack away those smiles!

Although this card celebrates a feat from the '60s, it cracks the countdown because of its celebratory nature, the rare shot on cardboard of players in the locker room, and most of all, a bare-chested Nolan Ryan.

Think of all those "10 Nolan Ryan cards you must have before you die" lists. How many of them feature Ryan without a shirt? None. That alone makes this card worth owning.

Surrounding Ryan, second from right if you are new to baseball, are Duffy Dyer, Tommie Agee and Wayne Garrett. All four of these players would continue to appear on their own baseball cards through the 1970s. But only one of them shows up again in this countdown.

Ryan can deliver with his uniform on, too.


99.


Glenn Beckert, 1973 Topps, #440

As a kid, I began to notice a rhythm to the batting ritual of walking to the plate.

The batter would remove the batting doughnut, maybe swing the bat low a time or two, step into the batter's box, dig in with a spike just a bit, and then turn casually to the umpire and exchange a quick word or two.

I had no idea what they were saying, but it seemed pleasant. I got the sense that everyone was in this game together when I saw that, that every person on my TV screen, batter, catcher, umpire, really cared about baseball, just like I did.

That's the same feeling that I get when I see this card.

It's not the typical shot you see on a card. (It's also sort of a Dodger card as backup catcher Duke Sims squats in the foreground). And the Wrigley Field outfield of the '70s is on prominent display.

This is a very "baseball" card, which seems odd to say, but I think you know what I mean.


98.


Gary Carter, 1976 SSPC, #334

Gary Carter Expos cards are the best Gary Carter cards. And young Gary Carter Expos cards are even better Gary Carter cards.

Even after reducing it down to that sub-subcategory, which one are you going to pick? 1976 Topps? 1977 Topps? Both are nice. Some rookie mojo collector may even suggest the four-player Carter card from 1975 with Carter in the top left corner, but, of course, that ain't it.

For me, this is the best Young Expo Carter card. It's a nice close-up taken at night (that camera flash is almost blinding). The helmet is so '70s and so apparent that it almost makes my teeth ache.

Carter was known for his youthful exuberance and to me no card says "Kid" like this one.


97.



1971 Rookie Stars Pitchers, 1971 Topps, #664

I am in the middle of charting the sixth and final series of the 1971 Topps set on my '71 Topps blog.

It is very obvious to me from the cards in that series that Topps was running out of subject matter. Some players included in that series would have never shown up had it been a 660-card set.

And then there are cards like this one.

I don't know how many multiple-player rookie cards are in the 1971 set, but it's a lot, and by card No. 664, just about all of the prospects had been documented.

So, there's the Topps team trying to fill out the set, hoping for one more multiple-player rookie card and grasping at straws. One guy pipes up and says, "hey, there are three guys coming up who all have the last name of Reynolds, and they're not related."

It's too good of an idea to pass up. And, so, for the first time ever -- and maybe the last -- Topps puts three rookies on the same card with the same last name who are not related. Then, it doesn't mention anywhere why they are doing this. No acknowledgement that each guy has the same name except the fact that they're all there on the same card and one guy is wearing a train conductor's hat.

This card is so amusing I can't stand it.


96.


Dave Ricketts, 1970 Topps, #626

This is another card that could be considered more 1960s than 1970s, but it's too wonderful not to include.

Dave Ricketts wore his horned-rim glasses on baseball cards throughout his career, and the vast majority of those cards appeared in 1960s sets. He even has his cap turned backward on his 1967 Topps card.

But there is something about the whole ensemble here. The horned rim glasses, the backward cap, the chest protector, the catcher's glove, the catcher's mask, the shin guards. The fans looking through the screened-in barrier as if he's an animal in the zoo.

He is practically an exhibit. Because this is what Jerry Lewis from "The Ladies Man" would look like if he donned catcher's equipment (and then commenced to gallop across the commons of Milltown Junior College).


95.


Dave LaRoche, 1976 SSPC, #510

The beauty of the SSPC set is cards like this. Dave LaRoche would have never been able to get away with wearing his cap sideways on a Topps card. Any photo submitted of this would have met the cutting room floor.

But LaRoche is preserved forever as a Fernando Rodney/Pedro Strop precursor in the SSPC set. The photo is made all the more striking by the Cleveland Indians' blood clot uniforms from the mid-1970s (check out all the Indians from this set).

In baseball-only circles, LaRoche is known for his lob pitch and for fathering two major-league baseball playing sons. But if you're a collector, then you know him for one other thing: he wore a cap sideways on a baseball card and how many other players can say that?


94.


Tony Taylor, 1970 Topps, #324

The bat rack is one of the greatest backdrops in baseball card history. It virtually guarantees a memorable card.

Why that is should be the subject of a psychological study, but I will simply say that this ranks among the best of the "choose your weapon" baseball cards.

Taylor has indeed selected his artillery. He seems quite determined, so it had better be the right bat. The lineup of Phillies helmets in the background adds to the drama. And if you can pull yourself away from the moment for just a second, you'll notice a pay phone in the corner.


93.


Frank Tanana, 1977 Topps, #200

Back in the '70s, cards featuring a double zero in the card number were the most distinguished in the set.

Sometimes, Topps even selected a photo that underlined that double zero in triplicate.

This is one of those examples. Tanana won 19 games in 1976, struck out more than 200 batters for the second straight year, and just to get that point across, Topps found a photo of Tanana in action, having just released a 200-mph fastball toward the batter.

That "empty space" just to the west of Tanana's left hand is not really an empty space. It's smoke, emanating off the trail of fire headed toward the batter.

This is one of the greatest double-zero '70s cards that there is. I admit I have a bit of a bias with this one, but I have the feeling it's the same bias possessed by any kid who pulled this card out of a pack in 1977.


92.


Jim Kaat, 1973 Topps, #530


A card issued the same year that the designated hitter was implemented in the American League.

Never again -- or so seldom that it would be an occasion when it happened -- would an AL batter pitcher come to the plate.

Topps issued a card to commemorate that moment. Or maybe it didn't. Maybe it was just a cool photo. But whatever the case, there aren't a lot of cards of batters booking out of the box prior to the 1990s. This is the only one that rings a bell right now.

Kaat hit .289 in 1972, going 13-for-45. It was his best year at the plate for that many at-bats. He doubled three times and hit two home runs.

This is a good example of an appropriate card representing a noted feat by the player one year earlier. Nice work. And if you look at it for long enough, you might wonder why the DH is a thing anyway.


91.


Jim Grant, 1972 Topps, #111

When I teased to this countdown a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that this card was probably not going to make the list.

I received one comment questioning my decision, but the truth is I was already questioning it when I wrote that post. And the list hadn't been set in stone yet anyway.

One more look at Mudcat's card was all it took to shove this card back into the countdown. I had grossly miscalculated the length of Grant's mutton chops, which have to be the most glorious chops ever featured by a baseball player on a baseball card.

This is Grant's final card from his career and he may own one of the best final cards ever. The '70s was about hair and baseball cards from the '70s need to recognize that.

Grant's finale does.


Hope you enjoyed that first installment!

And put the olive loaf down. That stuff is nasty.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Fleer project in full effect


I seem to be in the middle of a Fleer revival around here.

I am actively trying to complete 1984 Fleer and I'm probably a couple of weeks away from putting up a want list for 1981 Fleer. And then a few weeks ago I announced that if you don't have what I'm looking for in terms of Dodgers or sets, there's always 1981-88 Fleer.

So, even though the last thing I need to do is buy new binders to shove into a room that is screaming, "PLEASE, no more binders!" this is where I am.


Because I'm definitely going to need a binder for this.

This picture is the tell-tale mating call of 1988 Fleer. I'd recognize those red and blue stripes anywhere. And I am hooked.


This is the amount of 1988 Fleer that I was looking at before the big box of the Barbershop Pole Set showed up from Matt of The Summer of '74 blog. That's all I had accumulated over the years.

I collected very few cards in 1988, just a pack of Topps that year and that was it. While card companies churned out cards at a rate never before seen, all of that 1988 Fleer and 1988 Donruss never reached me until repacks years upon years later.

The '88 Fleer set is one of those junk wax sets that gets little respect. Fleer greatly increased the production on their set over 1987. Plus, it was cranking out an update set and a glossy set and bunch of other smaller baseball sets. And Fleer's basketball sets were big news at the time. It was all leading up to a devaluing of the flagship brand.

You can now buy a pack of 1988 Fleer cards for the same price that it cost in 1988, probably for cheaper. That's what we're looking at here in terms of monetary value.


Still, this is one of my favorite looks ever made by Fleer.

I like the crisp, snow-white borders and the patriotic diagonal strips. I like the Fleer logo with the background that changes from blue to red to black to yellow.

Even though there is far less space devoted to the photo than on previous sets like '81, '82 and '84, de-emphasizing some of the quirkiness of '80s Fleer photos, I like the set's presentation.

The box that Matt sent does not contain the entire set, but most of it is there. I haven't had the time to go through to see what I still need to obtain, but the majority of the notable cards were in that box.

The '88 Fleer set is known for the usual: rookies, errors and SuperStar Specials. And I thought I'd show 10 notable cards from that set -- mixing in some of the overlooked aspects. Of course, you'll see more than 10 cards because this set leads me to tangents and other cards.

So join me in the year that the Dodgers won their last World Series, the last year I was in college and the first time I had a newspaper article professionally published. (And you thought 1988 was just the year of the Mark Grace rookie card).


1. Speaking of rookie cards: This is about as exciting as it gets in 1988 Fleer. Like every other set issued in '88, Fleer featured a card of Tom Glavine for the first time. It's worth no more than 50 cents now, but don't tell that to a collector from 1992.


Fleer featured seemingly a ton of prominent rookie cards in 1988. I didn't even show Edgar Martinez, Jack McDowell, Jay Bell, Ken Caminiti, Todd Benzinger or Jeff Blauser. I don't know if it was just the fixation on rookies at the time or whether Fleer actually did pack the set with more first-year players.



2. More rookie cards, sharing space with that other guy: Donruss was the only major brand to feature Mark Grace on his own card in the main set (Topps, Fleer and Score all caught up in their update sets).



3. The Mark Grace obsession: Mark Grace had what all you youngsters would call "An Aaron Judge Season" in 1987. In response, Fleer threw just a few McGwire cards at collectors in 1988. Above is his base card.


Of course another card with his partner in crime.



A random card with Pat Tabler, because that's Fleer for you.



And a separate solo card recognizing his rookie home run record.

I don't know how many cards Topps is planning for Judge in 2018 flagship but I hope they can keep it under a dozen.



4. Errers: The '88 Fleer set has relatively few errors compared with previous and future Fleer sets. The Iorg/Iorq error is the one I've known about the longest. Since I already owned the Iorq error, I was hoping to pull the corrected Iorg out of the box that Matt sent. No luck. Another Iorq.


No luck on the Keith Moreland card either. This is the correct Moreland card, which I already owned. The error Moreland shows a picture of Jody Davis bunting.



5. A favorite for those who collect players in strange uniforms: This is the only card that I know of that shows Steve Carlton wearing a Twins uniform. There is also an odd sight of Doug DeCinces as a Cardinal in this set.


6. SuperStar Specials typically awkward titles: I imagine kids thought some of the SS card titles were cool, but I'm not so sure how pleasant it is to be called The Thief on your baseball card. Some context is needed.



I've taken a few photos with that Gary Carter look.



7. A hint of what's to come: One year later, Fleer would show Bill Ripken holding a bat with a much more scandalous message on the bat knob than "3".



8. I'm a little upset that they couldn't get Sam Horn into this card.



9. Free advertising: Here we see Tom Bolton advertising the new Gillette Atra Plus and Coca-Cola (as well as a hidden Budweiser sign). Two years later, Bolton would graduate to featuring a Ferris wheel on his card.



10. There's the Fleer that I know and love: I was able to dig out a few amusing photos that could not be confined by the shrunken photo space.



Even though 1988 Fleer is a set that has been rehashed in untold collectors' homes it's still a thrill to pull cards of Doc Gooden, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Kevin Mitchell, Barry Larkin and others for the first time.

This made up for never opening a pack of Fleer in 1988, and that's what I'm trying to do with this Fleer project. Although my heart is with 1981, 1982 and 1984 Fleer, sets that I collected in packs, I want to get to know those familiar players in the other Fleer sets that I didn't see that much.

So far this has been a lot of fun.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The good old days weren't that long ago


There are a few guys in my office who don't work in the sports department but are sports fans. Just about every day, early in the shift, they discuss sports loudly.

These guys are adults, some with wives and kids, and because they are adults, they are prone to talk about "the good old days" when it comes to sports.

When I think of the "good old days," I think of the '70s and '80s. I believe everyone who reads this blog knows that by now. But these guys in the office, when they get nostalgic, revert to one particular time period that I don't think of as "good" or "old."

Most of their discussions center on the late 1990s/early 2000s. Players like Scott Brosius are treated like long ago heroes.

What the hell.

For me, that is far too recent a period to start getting nostalgic about it. Besides, what is there worth rumination? Androstenedione? Jeffrey Maier? Big-headed Barry launching home runs like I'm supposed to care?

Obviously, these guys are younger than me.

But these conversations still throw me off, because when you get to a certain point as an adult, you often forget that other adults are quite a bit older or younger than you. This isn't like when you were kids and you kept track of that stuff daily. Adults are just adults. It isn't until they start talking about when they were young that you figure out, "oh, that guy is ancient" or "oh, I have socks older than her."

So when the Cleveland Indians were on their record-breaking win streak, the Oakland A's 20-game win streak inevitably came up. The guys started talking about the A's streak as if it was in the distant past. Moneyball was eons ago. And I was thinking "hell didn't that just happen? Isn't Billy Beane still in the front office in Oakland?"

That's not old enough to be the good old days.

Except, actually, it is. Well, the "old" part anyway.

To demonstrate, I looked back at the Topps flagship set that was issued the same year as the Oakland A's 20-game winning streak.



The 2002 Topps set contains:

Adrian Beltre
Carlos Beltran
Bartolo Colon
Albert Pujols
CC Sabathia
Ichiro Suzuki

They are the only current active players who were in major league uniforms back in 2002. Everyone else in that set has moved on from playing in the majors.

If you include the prospect cards in that set then you can throw in Joe Mauer, but I didn't consider him or any of the other prospects because they weren't active in the majors yet.

So, 2002 Topps flagship can display only a half dozen active major leaguers. The vast majority of players playing 15 years ago are not playing now. Which, of course, makes sense.

For me, 2002 Topps isn't that long ago. But if you think about it for more than five minutes, it actually was quite awhile ago. My daughter was in preschool in 2002. I didn't have an internet connection in 2002. Bobby Bonds, Larry Doby and Warren Spahn were still alive.

None of the above six players have announced plans to retire after the 2017 season and I can see all of them coming back next year.

That's a good thing.

Because if people start talking about 2003 as the good old days, I'm taking my 1970s binders and heading for a cabin in the woods.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

It's electric


Somewhere in the 1990s, card companies started removing the backgrounds from cards and inserting alternate realities.

I admit, it took me awhile to adjust to not seeing fields and dirt and grass and trees on every one of my cards. And I'm still not crazy about a lot of the alternate looks behind the players.

But it's grown on me and sometimes it makes for interesting cards.

This is one such example.

I've gone on record that there needs to be more lightning on cards. I'm not fan of lightning in real life. It's freaky and I'm convinced that those people who go on the porch during a wild thunderstorm secretly want to be burned to a crisp. But lightning images sure make for pretty pictures. It's that "light up the night" effect that I have appreciated since I was a boy on everything from city lights to bedroom nightlights to those colorful bug-zappers in the summertime.

So when this card showed up on Cards On Cards, I stood up straight as if struck by lightning. What on earth was this and how can I get one?

I've learned since that it is part of a five-card set that is only available through an online purchase at Walmart. If you buy a 2017 Allen & Ginter or Stadium Club "bundle" -- which consists of a blaster box and a 12-card fat pack -- the lightning set is thrown in with your purchase.

Officially, I believe this is being called "Topps Walmart Online Exclusive," which is a name that's both vague and boring. But informally, people are calling it "Topps Electricity" and that is much more appropriate, descriptive and interesting.

The other cards in this set are Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Correa and Buster Posey. I have no interest in those other four.

The Kershaw, though, is mine, thanks to Cards On Cards. If I might say so, the card is striking.


The lightning motif is continued on the back of the card. I like this card so much I'm going to ignore that the write-up uses the unnecessary word "amidst" (it's "amid").

Coming along for the ride with Electricity Kershaw was another Kershaw that I've had on my wish list.


It's the simple Heritage Chrome card from last year. This was a pesky little sucker.



Here is a Topps Chrome card of Julio Urias featuring the rookie trophy that didn't show up on his flagship card.



And, finally, a card that doesn't use any shiny effects -- no lightning nor chromium. All of the brightness is achieved by Bill Grief's golden uniform.

This card is off my 1973 Topps want list, a quest that has kind of hit the doldrums since I announced I was collecting it. But I'll get the fever again soon.

I guess it's hard to focus when there are cardboard lightning strikes going off.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Everyone does not get a trophy


I've had a couple of people request that I do this post. I hesitated, most likely because I don't like being told what to do, but also because I just haven't been paying attention.

This concerns 2017 Topps flagship and the set's jaw-dropping inability to adhere to one of its basic features for the majority of time flagship has been around.

But because I wasn't paying attention, and hadn't bought very much flagship this year, I hadn't noticed. I also don't know if this has been addressed by any other blogs (oop, here is one mention now). But onward I go, because I am at my core a base-set collector.

Last fall, Topps announced its all-star rookie team. It's been an annual tradition for decades as far as I know. The players selected for that team show up in the following year's set with a little rookie cup on the front of their card (or if they started in the '60s, a big, honking trophy).

This was the team for 2016:

C - Gary Sanchez, Yankees
1B - Tommy Joseph, Phillies
2B - Ryan Schimpf, Padres
3B - Alex Bregman, Astros
SS - Corey Seager, Dodgers
OF - Trea Turner, Nationals
OF - Nomar Mazara, Rangers
OF - Tyler Naquin, Indians
LHP - Julio Urias, Dodgers
RHP - Kenta Maeda, Dodgers
RP - Seong-Hwan Oh, Cardinals

So those are the guys we expected to display rookie trophies on their cards.

Topps' Series 1 got off to an expected start:






All of the players on the rookie All-Star team featured in Series 1 received their accompanying trophy (the Naquin shot is from his game-winning inside-the-park home run against the Blue Jays in August 2016, by the way).

Then Series 2 came along and disaster:







No cup for any of those guys.

I'm sure the players have gotten over it, but what the hell?

How do you forget something you've been doling out for decades?

This certainly isn't the first time that a Topps rookie all-star didn't feature a cup on his card. I believe it's happened several times. (Brian of Highly Subjective and Complete Arbitrary, if I remember right, documented the instances).

But those were here-and-there blips. It wasn't an entire series!

If you want trophies on those particular rookies in Series 2, almost all of them can be found with the trophies attached in Topps Chrome. Joseph, however, isn't in Chrome. So you'll have settle for the '60s-style trophy on his Heritage card.

There is no other way for me to view the absence of rookie cups on all of the Series 2 cards than a complete disregarded for one of the traditions that Topps collectors have enjoyed for many years. I, personally, don't care much, but I know many focus on those cups.

Topps, which I imagine is enjoying a windfall year, has moved on to other things, online exclusives, pumping up the latest hot rookie, memorabilia and non-sports stuff. I get that they have to focus on what people buy and what makes money.

But an error like this just looks like nobody cares. This is still the flagship brand, right?

Take it from someone in the media business who has made errors in print and been told afterward that we don't care. That's what some collectors are thinking. Even if you really do care -- and I know for a fact that there are those at Topps that do -- you'll never convince some collectors, just like I'll never convince some readers.

It reaffirms what I've thought and heard over the years: card companies aren't the keepers of the hobby's history. Collectors are.


That's what it's supposed to look like.

And I can't do MS Paint for shit.