Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Card back countdown: #37 - 1992 Topps

In 1992, Topps began to wake up to the changing trading card world around them. After a few years of continuing to issue the same cardboard product that it had always produced -- just because it was TOPPS and Topps didn't NEED to change -- it realized it needed to change.

Upper Deck was attracting a whole new kind of collector, and it was receiving all kinds of praise for the look of its cards. Even Fleer, Donruss and Score were attempting to keep up with the changing collecting habits. And Topps was left alone in the corner, sniveling all over it's gray cardboard stock.

So in 1992, Topps changed. A little.

The most drastic change was the disappearance of the gray card stock. Topps went with a brighter, cleaner white cardboard. The other change was on the back. Topps went with pictures on the back for the first time since 1971.

The pictures weren't of players, like other card companies had done, and they weren't sharp and candid, like Upper Deck's. But, hey, Topps was trying, so it came up with this:

 (Yes, I picked this particular card because "Greg enjoys listening to the music of Huey Lewis." Who doesn't enjoy a rousing karaoke session of "Hip To Be Square"?)

I love stadium pictures. I know I'm not the only one. And there is at least one other set on this countdown that uses stadium photos.

Topps' use of stadium pictures isn't perfect. The photos aren't all that clear. They're rather tiny. They don't appear on every card. But the concept is cool. Match up a player's team with the stadium in which they work? And make the photos panoramic? That's a nice idea.

I'm not sure where Topps obtained the photos. This was before wikipedia, so it's not like it could be lazy and steal it from a website. But there isn't consistency in the types of pictures. Some feature the inside of the stadium, like the Astrodome.

And some feature the outside of the stadium, sometimes from about 3 miles away, as it appears in this photo of Olympic Stadium.

But all in all, I think it's a nice idea, and at least it showed that Topps was trying to keep with the times. Was it a case of Joe Morgan acknowledging the benefits of OPS? No, nothing that huge. But it was certainly something different.

Some people wish we never turned away from gray cardboard stock. I feel like that periodically. But before I start getting cranky, how about a look at all of the stadium photos from that set?

It doesn't seem like 1992 was that long ago, but out of those 26 stadiums only seven are still used for MLB games, if they even exist at all. Also, there are four more teams in MLB now -- five if you count the Expos' conversion to the Nationals.

You can't stop change. Isn't that right, Topps? Now, fix your website.

Best of the set:

I'll take any card that features Dodger Stadium.

(Previous card back countdown selections):

50. 1978 SSPC Yankee Yearbook
49. 1993 Score
48. 1999 Skybox Thunder
47. 2000 Upper Deck
46. 1999 Skybox Premium
45. 1953 Johnston Cookies Braves
44. 1995 Topps
43. 1997 Fleer
42. 1992 Pinnacle
41. 1989 Bowman
40. 1977 Kellogg's
39. 2004 Topps
38. 2004 Topps Total

Cardboard appreciation: 1979 Burger King Tommy John

(Today is National Trail Mix day. Really. It's actually appropriate because we are camping today. And by "we" I mean, not "me" but "people that I am close to." I need my air-conditioned comfort. It's Cardboard Appreciation time. This is the 79th in a series):

With all the talk about Stephen Strasburg and Tommy John last week, I started thinking about my Tommy John cards.

Yes, it's taken me a week to get to this. I'm always behind. I prefer it that way. How are those capless 206 cards coming?

John is an interesting player in my collection. First, he is on the first card that I ever owned. Second, he was a Dodger from my childhood who was a bit of a mystery man. When I first followed the team, he was off recovering from revolutionary surgery and not part of the team.

Third, he left the Dodgers after 1978 to become a member of the hated enemy. And I still think it's funny that he didn't win a title with them, yet his old team beat his new team to win the Series three years after he left his old team.

Finally, he is on what I consider my first "traded" card.

Traded cards have been around since the 1972 Topps set (If you expand the definition, I suppose you could consider some of those high series cards from the 1960s, with the players airbrushed into their new caps, traded cards). But I wasn't collecting then.

I vaguely recall having a few 1974 Topps Traded cards, but, of course, I threw those out at the end of the season.

Later, Topps issued Traded sets in the early 1980s, and I thought they were awesome.

But there was a period in the late 1970s where I began to see cards that looked like Topps, right down to that year's design, but depicted some players in their brand new uniforms.

These were cards from Burger King and I wanted these cards very, very badly. Unfortunately, they weren't anywhere around me. Burger King was still a fairly new concept in my area in the 1970s. I still remember the first Burger King going up in my town. McDonald's ruled the landscape back then. But even with the new Burger King, I couldn't figure how to get the cards.

I saw them in mail-order catalogues. Then, a friend or two ended up with some cards. Of course, they were Burger King Yankees, because of where I lived. But even though they were Yankees, I still wanted them. Seeing a player on a design you knew but with a completely different uniform was mind-blowing.

That was in 1978 and another year went by before I finally got my hands on a Burger King card.

I don't even know how I ended up with the 1979 Burger King Tommy John card. You'd think someone who wanted a card like that so badly would have the memory etched in their brain. Unfortunately, that memory is gone so that I might continue to memorize all the words to the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter.

But I do remember that once I had obtained the card, that I would keep it a secret from anyone else who collected cards. I didn't want Yankees fans to know I had this card, or they would hound me until I didn't have it anymore.

I marveled at the sameness and the differences between the two cards -- the regular Topps issue and the Burger King issue.

That is the regular Topps issue. The photo is different, obviously (although the situation is basically the same). The team name is different. The ribbon is a different color. But everything else is wonderfully the same.

I didn't scan the backs, but the only changes in the back are, first, the card number. The Topps regular issue is #255 and the Burger King card is #9. The second change is the "acquired" line. The Dodgers card says "Trade ChiSox 12-2-71." The Yankees card says "Free Agent 11-21-78."

Later I found out that there were Burger King cards for other teams -- the Tigers, the Phillies, etc. (I sort of knew the Phillies part, because the 1979 Burger King Pete Rose card was always displayed in the Larry Fritsch catalog).

These cards were the only way to get a select few of the players in their up-to-date uniforms. And we thought it was the coolest thing that a card company could do.

I believe the John card is the only Burger King card I have to this day (I need to check my Dodgers). It takes away a bit of the sting of him going to the Yankees.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Goodbye Manny, hello gritty-gutty

I have such a difficult time expressing my feelings when it comes to the operations of my favorite team. I'm not a general manager, and given my experience with fantasy baseball, I'm fairly certain if the opportunity arose to run a team, that I would fail miserably. In fact, while the inner workings of a major league team fascinate some people, I find it a bit sleep-inducing.

I also live 3,000 miles away from my team, so the daily drumbeat of "how did the Dodgers do?" and "can you believe the Dodgers did this?" is completely lacking in my life (I know there are websites and fan forums. But it's just not the same as daily discussions in person). I feel out of touch.

Still. I am a Dodger fan, which means I should say whatever I have to say about the departure of Manny Ramirez.

So, here it is: I'll miss Manny.

Ramirez was the best hitter the Dodgers have had on their team in a long, long time. You can cite all his absences, a number of which were due simply to the fact that he's getting old. But half of a Manny is better than a whole Podsednik or Pierre or whatever gritty-gutty Bowa-esque player the Dodgers want in the outfield.

Before Ramirez's departure to the White Sox, Joe Torre said he couldn't give an explanation as to why Ramirez wasn't starting over the weekend "that will make sense. A lot of what I do is a feel thing."

OK, that seems disturbingly cavalier to me, but I can relate. A lot of what I do on this blog is a feel thing -- minus all the controlling of players' careers part. Here is what I feel:

I want Torre gone. I want Bowa gone. I want Honeycutt gone. But most of all, for the love of all that is good and pure and Dodger blue, I want McCourt gone.

Ramirez will be a boost to the White Sox. It may not last long. It may last for an even shorter period of time than it did for the Dodgers, given his age and injury issues. But at least the White Sox are getting something. The Dodgers, after giving away several prospects during the trade deadline, got nothing except some cash for McCourt to pay a lawyer.

And in Ramirez's place, we get gritty and gutty, and we'll decide whether gritty or gutty plays based on how the manager "feels."

I'm not one of those people who thinks we should have kept Ramirez because the Dodgers still had a chance to make the playoffs. The Dodgers' chance has been gone for awhile now. But it's just the principle of thing: look like you care as an organization. At least go through the motions.

You want Matt Kemp to care 162 games a year? You want Manny to care? You want the people considering buying a ticket to care? Then act like you care as an organization. Get a prospect -- somebody -- to convince fans that they should come out and watch Ryan Theriot dirty up his uniform.

The Dodgers will not win with this lineup: Podsednik, Theriot, Ethier, Kemp, Loney, Blake, Carroll, Ausmus. I don't expect all those players to be back next season, but even with changes -- and who knows what kind of changes can be made given how restricted everything is while McCourt vs. McCourt rolls on -- I don't expect them to win next year either.

This is a pathetic turn of affairs for an organization that was filled with the best group of prospects in baseball barely five years ago. But since that time, the team has been horribly mismanaged and I wouldn't doubt that all of the Dodgers' best players -- the few that remain -- are scarred in some way.

It will be a painful offseason, but I hope there will be signs of moves in the right direction. If those moves include the departure of Torre and news that McCourt is selling, then the offseason will be a smashing success.

As for Manny, no, he's not perfect. He's got issues. But some of his issues are overblown and there is no dispute in my mind that he is still a terrific talent that shouldn't be discarded for nothing.

Ramirez helped the Dodgers get to consecutive postseasons, which is something that hadn't happened for my team in over a decade.

I will miss the success that Ramirez brought.

Oh, and I'll miss not having anymore new Ramirez Dodger cards to chase:

It's been wild. It's been frustrating. It's been exhilarating. It's been strange.

But it was a blast.

That's how I feel.

Lies, damn lies and cartoons

In my feeble attempt to catch up on trade posts, I thought I'd show some cards that I got from the operator of For Card's Sake.

He shares his name with a former Dodgers player (I wonder if he knows this?). But I'm not here to reveal people's names. Everyone knows him as longlivethewho, and that's good enough for me.

Longlive happened to mention that he had three 1975 mini cards and wondered if I'd like them.

Well, considering that time stops every time anyone mentions '75 minis around me, I certainly WOULD like them. And so I have them.

Unfortunately, the one side effect of getting '75 minis is that you then have to dig out your corresponding regular-sized '75 card to scan in order to prove that you in fact did receive '75 minis and aren't just making up a convoluted tale of '75 mini love just to have something to write on the ol' blog.

So I have done the dirty deed and here they all are, freshly undug:

That Beckert regular-sized card is the very definition of miscut.

One thing I noticed when reviewing these cards was the cartoon on the back of the Popovich card.

The cartoon wonders if anyone knows the name of a Dodger baseball player who actually -- now get this -- blows bubbles with chewing gum during games!

Amazing, huh?

I don't know in which direction to aim my derisive laughter.

Are we to believe that this Dodger baseball player actually BLOWS BUBBLES?

No way.

And on top of that, you're telling me that he does this WITH CHEWING GUM?


And if that's not enough, he also does these pioneering feats DURING GAMES?

OK, mister, you've gone too far.

There isn't anyone who can do all three of those things together. All at the same time. Simultaneously. In unison.

But the cartoon continues on with its stubborn, wild-eyed assertion. It insists, in its obstinate, upside-down printing way, that there is in fact a Dodger player who does the impossible. And that player who dares to blow bubbles, nay, blow all our minds, is Dave Lopes.

And I respond with a one-word answer: "lies."

No way does Dave Lopes blow bubbles. With chewing gum. During games.

Look at him.

Does he look like he has ever enjoyed a piece of gum in his life?


And a bubble? That would convey a sense of fun. Frivolity, even. Lopes does not enjoy frivolity. He does not frivol.

Besides, with that mustache, it would be physically impossible. He'd have to push the upper edge of the bubble past that massive '70s tribute to grooming. How do you suppose he's going to do that?

And imagine if he did get the bubble out of mustache range. What if it popped? Who's going to clean up that mess?

Surely, not Davey.

He was a smart guy. Lots of stolen bases. He had pick-off moves to study. He didn't have time to pick gum bits out of his 'stache.

Here, I'll provide you with more evidence:

That's the results of the 1975 bubble gum blowing championship. The Dodgers' champion is Rick Rhoden. If Lopes was so worthy of a special cartoon about his bubble gum exploits, then how is it possible that he didn't win the team championship?

Lies I tell you.

So, Topps, I'm calling you on that cartoon. Yes, 35 years later, I am saying that cartoon is complete and utter nonsense.

Dave Lopes did not blow bubbles with chewing gum during games. I feel ridiculous even repeating your cartoon of lies.

How dare you pull a fast one on the youth of America. They may have been wearing corduroy, but that's no reason to take advantage of them.

For shame.

Now, where was I?

Oh, yeah, cards from For Card's Sake.

Here they are:

(*tsk*) Bubble gum. During games. The nerve of some card companies....