Monday, July 16, 2018

My day, my way

Today happens to be my birthday.

As I get older, the best aspect of my birthday is not the gifts or the cake or the party or the fawning. The best part is doing what I want to do and doing only what I want to do. There's really only two days like this on the whole calendar -- Father's Day and my birthday.

Most of the time, when someone asks me what I want to do, the word "baseball" is part of my response. Most often it's something like this: "watch baseball," or "go to a baseball game." That will take care of what I want to do.

But today -- on my birthday -- there is no baseball.

Oh, MLB thinks they have a dandy set up for my birthday: the made-for-TV Home Run Derby. But that, to me, is not baseball. It's a gimmick. If I'm bored, I'll switch it on. But this is my birthday. It's not a day for being bored. And if baseball isn't going to cooperate, then I'll take care of it myself.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the 1991 ProSet MusiCards. I had obtained about two-thirds of the set and I am intent on completing it. I also mentioned that there was a different version of this set issued in the United Kingdom. After getting a look at the checklist for the U.K. set and noting quite a few variations, I knew I had to obtain those cards, too.

I found a box of the stuff online for like 10 bucks and it arrived on my porch last week. Inside are 35 packs of music stars from the early 1990s -- U.K. style. (You know what that means: Cards of EMF! Unbelievable!).

Look at that! Isn't that wonderful? Thirty-five packs to open, filled with music stars from my youth, but with British accents.

So, since there is no baseball on TV for my birthday, I decided that I would open this wonderful box of UK cards tonight and see if I can complete the set of 150 cards (the U.S. version is 340 cards). While batters are launching their fake home runs, I'll be searching for the likes of George Michael, A-Ha and Cliff Richard.

I actually couldn't wait to get started (I have no ability to leave packs unopened in my home). So I've opened four packs already and I have to say I couldn't be more pleased with what I found. There are quite a bit of differences between the U.S. and U.K. versions, and I don't just mean the subject matter.

Let's go through the first pack to get an idea:

The first card is of Neneh Cherry of "Buffalo Stance" fame (and brother of Eagle-Eye). I don't believe she's in the U.S. set, so the U.K. set is an automatic win with the first card.

The next two cards are cards that can be found in the U.S. MusiCards set as well, except they're not quite the same.

The U.S. version is on the top. You can see that the Pro Set logo is in the top left for the U.S. set and the bottom right for the U.K. set, that's the way it is for all the cards I've seen so far. Also, you'll note that the photos are cropped differently.

The two Belinda Carlisle cards are also cropped differently but a bit less so, and you can see the U.K. card (on the left) has the Pro Set logo in the bottom right.

But the real differences come on the backs of the cards:

The U.S. card on the top features a yellow-spotted background while the U.K. cards go with a clean white background. The U.S. card adds a second photo while the U.K. set is spare. But the big difference for me is in the writing. This underlines the differences between music PR in the U.S. and the U.K. The U.S. tries to put the artist in the most favorable light possible, while the U.K. script is full of bad jokes and cheeky writing.

I found this fascinating as the difference appears on virtually every card I've pulled so far.

Let's see more from the pack:

Oh, boy, lots of goodies here.

I've added the U.S. Extreme card above the U.K. Extreme card. You'll note different photos as well as the switched logo. But that's not the most interesting difference (as the U.K. photo may also be in the U.S. set -- like I said I don't have all the U.S. cards).

The big thing for me is the change in border colors.

In the U.S. set, the border colors signify a different genre. The gold-framed cards are legends, the lime green-and-pink cards are pop stars, the green-and-purple cards are rap and soul singers, and the black-and-pink cards are rock singers and bands.

In the U.K. set, there is none of that segregation. Every card gets a lime green-and-pink border. That is awesome because that's what I know about the British music scene (or at least the way it was then, who knows what's going on now). The U.S. was/is heavily programmed. You have your rock stations, country stations, pop stations, urban stations, etc. But I remember listening to British radio back in the 1980s and there was none of that. Everybody partied together.

So Vanilla Ice may be programmed into the green-and-purple rap category in the U.S. set, but he's just a regular lime-and-pink Pro Set SuperStar, just like Madonna and Michael Jackson in the U.K. set.

Oh, and did I mention, you can't find Michael Jackson in the U.S. set?

The final four cards in the first pack are John Lennon's son, the creators of "get on, get on, get on, get on, get on my Groovy Train," some British TV personality, and the singer who invited you to Touch (Her) All Night Long in her sherbet-colored clothing.

That was tremendous fun to open and it was just the first pack.

Pack 2 yielded a card of the Divinyls, which is awesome considering that alternative acts are virtually ignored in the American set (Edit: that Divinyls card  is also in the U.S. set).

It also produced a Public Enemy card and this interesting British-styled write-up:

Ah, the days when cursing was an exception in music.

Here is another difference between "similar" cards:

No mention of yogurt or dippy-hippy times on the American card!

The fourth-and-final pack I opened featured the greatest star power thus far. Check out this run of cards:

There's no way a baseball pack can match that star power (Also the above four are not in the American set).

Plus, the U.K. set is very helpful:

Just in case you ran into Prince back in 1991, there's a spot for his autograph!

Many of the U.K. cards feature an autograph line on the back but I don't think any of the U.S. cards do.

Also in the fourth pack, I pulled my first card of Kylie!

I hope there's many more.

So, yes, during my birthday today, I opened gifts. I ate cake. I partied just a very small amount. And I'm getting ready to open a whole bunch of music stars from before the scourge of autotune and Pro Tools (Is a glitzed-up home run derby baseball's version of autotuning? Discuss).

Baseball isn't helping much today, but I'm still doing things my way. On my day.

(Unfortunately there's no card of Frank Sinatra in either set).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Back to basics

Back in January, I received a monster package from Adam of ARPSmith's Sports Obsession.

It was filled with all kinds of Dodger memorabilia, and in the following months I've found a place for just about all of it. The books are on the book shelf (waiting patiently to be read), the baseball is sitting on my roll-top desk, the children's Yasiel Puig uniform is currently in research and development as I ponder framing it and hanging it wherever I can find space.

But the stars of the package were the baseball cards, a whole bunch of early '80s Donruss and Fleer and a healthy box of Series 1 of 2004 Topps. It took me months to file all those cards, but I just finished the last batch of '04 Topps and it's ready to go next to my '05 Topps cards.

This seems like the appropriate time to address another package from Adam sent more recently. This one is much smaller and much more current. It's all Dodger needs from Series 2 of 2018 Topps flagship.

I know everyone is tired of seeing Series 2 cards, but just ponder this for a minute:

How different are these cards than, say, Stadium Club?

People flip out over the images in Stadium Club, but can't you see the Toles card in Stadium Club? The Dodgers team card in Stadium Club? Even the Justin Turner card in Stadium Club?

I can.

They are all Stadium Club-esque images and as the quality of flagship photos has improved, and the borders have disappeared, flagship is looking more and more like Stadium Club. (Some of this was addressed in the comments of my previous post, but I wrote this post before those comments were made).

So when people say -- "why can't flagship be like Stadium Club?" -- I think it's more like Stadium Club than it's ever been. Hell, all the pictures come from the same place, Getty Images. The only differences between the two are a little more gloss and a bit higher quality cardboard.

I think flagship has recovered fairly well from the dark years of 2016 and 2017. I'll even admit that the pictures are better than 2013-15, when the obsession with focusing on players' nostrils began.

So while people may be bored with Series 2 already, it feels good to me to go back to basics when I look at the cards in that light -- that flagship is now Stadium Club lite (so, why am I paying so much for a 5-card pack of Stadium Club?).

Adam also sent several of the Target-exclusive Cody Bellinger 2017 retrospective insert cards.

As I discovered a little while ago, this is a 30-card insert set, so I have a little ways to go on these.

Also, even though I'm talking about flagship here, this is not 1985 flagship. Take a look at the card on the top right.

That's right.

Every insert set has parallels now.

This appears to be a black parallel (note the black background at the top with the extra "highlights" word).

Doing a little bit of research on Trading Card Database, I found this set features blue, gold, platinum and red parallels. I didn't see black listed. And it's not numbered on the back, because why the heck would a collector want to know what they have?

Five different parallels of a store-exclusive insert in a flagship set is about the most modern thing about modern collecting. There is no way in the world I will be chasing all or any of those. And you can scratch that thing I said about getting back to basics.

I guess flagship  is "basic-er" than some other current sets. But there is nothing basic about modern cards.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Buzz kill

For two weeks now, you've been reading about the greatness of Stadium Club. The cards are beautiful, striking and breath-taking. Why the heck can't flagship do this? Let's declare this the set of the year right now. And, on and on and on.

And everyone is right. Some of the photos are amazing, mesmerizing and captivating. It's annually one of my favorite products because I know I'm going to see an astonishing card.

But despite all the accolades it's not a perfect set. There are small things, gnawing little things that explain why I have grown less and less interested in Stadium Club every year. This is not to say SC isn't a terrific set. I'm just saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, fan boys, do I have to be the only one that points out some obvious semi-negatives in this year's set? Am I the only one that sees it? Will I be accused of being a buzz kill? Screw it, I don't care. I waited two weeks for this set to come to my backyard and it's not everything that everyone has said it is and I'm going to explain why.

First of all, let's see a card from each of the previous three years of Stadium Club:

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, nobody had any problem reading the name of the player on the card. Sure, Stadium Club insists on using foil (it kind of wouldn't be SC if there was no foil), but the first three years made damn sure you could read it by making that foil, big, bold and bad. Kevin KIERMAIER. Nobody's going to miss that. And I appreciated it.

This is what we have this year. Large-ass position designation (perhaps the largest one to ever appear on a baseball card). Large-ass team name. And somewhere in that mess is the name "Don Mattingly". If I stare at it for awhile, I can make out all the letters. Then I have to close my eyes for a couple minutes.

Sure, some of the muddling of the name is due to the scanner image. You can spot the name a little easier when the card is in your hand ... sometimes. It's one of those tilting things. Tilt it this way and you can see the name no problem. Tilt it that way and you can catch maybe 50 percent of the letters.

The design is an issue. We've gone through innumerable foil-readability issues since the early 1990s and somehow card design still hasn't perfected it. I thought Stadium Club had gotten the hang of it with 2015 through 2017, but I guess not.

The second sign that maybe everything is not unicorns and puppy dogs in Stadium Club world is the feeling in my gut that I'm actually getting tired of some of the sameness of SC.

I know that sound weird what with all the marvelous images. But trust me, there is some sameness.

The above Dexter Fowler card (this a copy of an online image) is quite similar to a Stadium Club Cardinals card from two years ago.

Yes, the Fowler card emphasizes the scoreboard and shows the third base coach, but really, the majesty of the photo is the same. The iconic Gateway Arch and the familiar Coca-Cola sign is in both photos. And so is a guy rounding third.

When I saw the Randal Grichuk card for the first time, it was one of the greatest pieces of new cardboard. But now with the Fowler card, I don't get that feeling. I've kind of seen it before.

And, so it is with several cards in 2018 Stadium Club. They look a lot like something I saw earlier.

And, yes, there are only so many images and poses that a photographer can take. I get that. I work with photographers daily in my job. I understand. But it's only natural to grow a bit immune to those pictures when you see them repeatedly. I can't hit reset every year. I can't act like something is amazing when I just saw it last year.

Fortunately Stadium Club has enough unique shots (I'm thinking of the Zac Godley plunge into the pool) that it's worth buying. And if you're not going for the entire set and just hand-selecting cool photos, than, yeah, Stadium Club is amazing each year. I think my slight disappointment might be because I take a set as a whole while others are looking at individual cards.

I happened to get a dud blaster in terms of the photo images. Almost none of the key ones that everyone has shown. No Ted Williams. No Mariano Rivera.

Here are some of the notables:

And here are the Dodgers that I pulled because I must show those (they're in first place you know):

That last one is pretty good.

A number of years ago, there was this one blogger who didn't last very long. He used to get on the comments once in awhile and hassle me because I dared have a contrary thought. Why couldn't I be relentlessly positive all the time?

Well, it's the same reason why the Topps Twitter account stopped following me years ago but follows a bunch of other collectors who don't churn out 5-6 blog posts a week.

I say what I like and I say what I don't like.

I will never be a relentless cheerleader. I will never be a perpetual wet blanket.

The glass is both half full and half empty ... for everything.

That includes you Stadium Club.

You're still really good. But if I'm being honest, you've been better.