Thursday, September 30, 2010

The mystery of Fernando

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first victory of Fernando Valenzuela's career. I remember the game well, which is difficult for me to do at my semi-advancing age.

The Dodgers were involved in a pennant race with the Astros, and it was six games from the end of the season. The Giants were attempting to knock L.A. out of the race. But boosted by a couple of young hopefuls, Valenzuela and Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers beat the Giants 6-3 on the strength of Valenzuela's two hitless innings pitched and Guerrero's home run in the top of the 10th inning.

Valenzuela would gain another win before the season was through. Although the Dodgers would end up losing to the Astros in a one-game playoff, I sensed the beginnings of Fernandomania. Valenzuela would become a national sensation the following season and remain insanely popular the rest of his career. He's popular to this day, working for the Dodgers as a broadcaster on L.A.'s Spanish-language station.

But even though Valenzuela remains in the public eye, I am confused as to why he isn't featured on more cards these days. I almost fell over when I pulled this Fleer Greats of the Game card from a package not too long ago. You just don't see Fernando that much in sets that cater to the "those were the days" crowd. The legends sets, etc.

I think there might be few reasons for that.

1. Valenzuela isn't in the Hall of Fame. He may have been more popular than some Hall of Famers -- Hall of Famers who played during the same time period as he did -- but he just didn't have the numbers.
2. Valenzuela's career ended not so long ago. Card companies, especially Topps, like to put old-timey figures in their legends sets. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson. Valenzuela's career is still relatively fresh, not enough time for a lot of people to get the warm fuzzies about it.
3. Valenzuela might not be allowing his image to be used. I think this is the big one, if it's actually true. The only evidence I have on that is this:

Valenzuela crossed out the Topps logo when he signed my card through the mail. This is far from the only case of this. A number of collectors have received cards from Valenzuela with the Topps logo crossed out. But others have received his signature with no markings on the logo.

Obviously, Valenzuela had an unpleasant dealing with Topps in the past. Whether that is still going on or not, whether that had to do with image licensing or not, I'll bet it's the key reason why Fernando hasn't been in that many modern-day sets.

I think the fact that he's not in the Hall plays a big part, too. Although before Andre Dawson was in the Hall, you had no trouble finding current Dawson cards.

I'd like to see more current Fernando cards. His legend deserves to continue on in cardboard. (I've just added a Retired Signatures Fernando and another Greats of the Game Fernando to my online queue).

But even if there are no more new Fernando cards, I'll still have trouble landing all of them. Those Star Sticker things from the late '80s don't seem to end.

Happy anniversary, Fernando!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nobody puts '63 Fleer in a corner

I am taking a brief break from the card back countdown to address a question brought up by Andy of the blog. Andy has invited me to provide a few "Card of the Week" posts for the B-R blog. I hope to eventually get to creating one soon. I even have an idea and everything. But life really hates that I write about cards on a computer. I mean it really REALLY hates it.

Anyway ...

When I did the card back countdown post for 1963 Fleer, Andy wondered if there had been any other examples of the card number being featured so far from the corners of the card.

The center-positioned card number is what makes the 1963 Fleer set unique (the card back displayed here is from 2003 Fleer Tradition, which is a homage to '63 Fleer). I decided to do some research and see whether there was another example like this. I didn't expect to find another one. And I didn't.

This isn't the definitive report on card number positioning. Although, I'm sure no one else is crazy enough to do a more thorough examination of this topic. But I mention it because I didn't look at the card backs for every set ever created. There are a ton of old cards that I don't have or have never seen. Also there are way too many insert sets to examine. I glanced briefly at some tobacco-era samples, but mostly I stuck with the cards in my collection to get an idea of where card companies positioned their card number.

What I found was that card companies may be more conservative in where they place the card number than in any other aspect of manufacturing the card. It's almost if they fear there would be an uprising if they tried something too funky.

That means, for the vast majority of card sets, the card number is featured in the upper left corner:

From practically the beginning of the modern card era, the card number was positioned up and to the left.

The number remained in the upper left hand corner even for upstart card companies (virtually all of Upper Deck's flagship offerings place the card number in the left hand corner).

You find the number in the left corner on mom-and-pop minor league cards.

And in the left corner for obnoxiously large sets of obnoxiously rich sports teams.

Even when a card also features the player's uniform number on the back of the card, the card number is displayed in the left-hand corner so as to avoid confusion. Although I still get confused.

Here is another example. Card number on the left, uniform number on the right.

By the 1990s, photos on the backs of cards started to get in the way of the card number. But card companies still attempted to put the number as far to the left corner as it could.

The second-most popular spot for the card number is the right-hand corner. I don't know what the ratio of right-hand corner to left-hand corner is, but I know the left side far outnumbers the right.

The majority of "right-corner" numbers are on modern sets of the last 20 years.

That includes the last five Topps flagship sets. The right corner is a little more inconvenient for collectors who store their cards back-to-back in pages (like me), but it takes only a slight adjustment.

Here is an example of the photo taking the place of the customary number spot. But like with the left-corner, Fleer just moved the card number to as close to the right corner as possible, without overlapping the photo.

Those are some examples of the number being on the right side, but not necessarily in the corner. The designer did try to get the card number as close to the edge of the card as possible, so collectors could find it.

And just to be fair, there are a couple examples of the number being on the left side, but not in the corner. Still the number is at the edge of the card so it stands out.

Some card sets position the card number at the top center of the card. This is used most often for insert sets, or card sets that convey a "retro" or "premium" feel. You see the number at the top center a lot for special-issue sets, like this National Trading Card Day set.

There's an example of a retro card set displaying the number at the top center. The best example of this is Allen & Ginter.

And that's an insert set with the top-center positioning. I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of insert sets have the card number in that spot.

Periodically, card sets travel to the bottom right corner for the card number. This happens a lot with card sets issued by gas stations, cereal companies, groceries, etc. I don't know why, but a lot of them seem to have the number in the bottom right corner.

This is the first example of bottom-right-corner card number positioning that I ever saw, on the Kellogg's 3-D cards. You can barely see the number because it's so tiny and the light blue print makes it impossible to read. But it's there in the right corner.

Here's a mass-produced set, Stadium Club, getting all espn2 on us, with its number in the bottom right corner, sort of.

I guess you could consider this card number in the bottom right corner. The copyright logos get in the way.

Out of all the corners on a card, the one that is used the least is the bottom left-hand corner. I don't know why that is. I have gone to newspaper editor workshops in which they show you studies that illustrate where a reader's eye looks first (answer: top right). I don't know if card companies use these studies for card numbers. Somehow I doubt it.

Here is another position that is not used too often. The bottom center. You see it most often on special cards like this one from 1991 Score.

Here is a card number that avoids categorization. Top center? Top right? It's set off away from the rest of the design so you can find it easily.

That brings me to the four strangest positions for a card number that I found. None of them are as out there as the 1963 Fleer set, but I don't think such an example exists.

Here they are:

2008 Upper Deck Spectrum: The card number is traveling toward the center of the card, but not quite there. It's in the top half of the card so you can find it easily.

1998 Pacific: Pacific liked to put its card number in the bottom right corner. But it took a couple of glances to find this card number. There it is next to Glavine's glove. It's part of the jumble of copyright logos in the bottom right-ish section of the card.

2007 Bowman Heritage insert set: The card number for this set is in the black box. In terms of card number centering, it's the closet I've found so far. ...

... if I didn't find this card, which is a 1999 Skybox E-X Century something-or-other. It's partly transparent. Only a card set this funky would dare to position the card number that close to the center of the card.

So there you are. 1963 Fleer remains a trend-setter after all these years.

Still with me?

I didn't think so.

But for the few that are, I think you can see that collectors like their card numbers where they can find them. And card companies think about that. Or maybe they don't think about it at all. I don't know.

Cardboard appreciation: 1995 Pinnacle Delino DeShields

(As I write this, the plumber is here. I love house issues, don't you? It's time for Cardboard Appreciation. Because I can find a lot more to appreciate in cardboard than my house right now. This is the 83rd in a series):

I need a laugh right now, and this card is up to the task. I pulled it from a card package from Smed's Baseball Card Blog.

It made me laugh when I took it out of the package. It made me laugh when I looked at it a week later as I realized I had to post the cards. And it's still killing me now.

I've said a lot of unkind things about Delino DeShields in the past. When you're a Dodger fan and your team trades Pedro Martinez for this guy, and you know, in the pit of your stomach that it's not a good deal, and then it turns out to be perhaps the worst deal the Dodgers have ever made, then you are not a fan of Delino DeShields. At. All.

Have I mentioned 124 strikeouts while hitting .224 in 1996? Yes I have.

But somehow this card makes all the anger go away.

DeShields looks childlike, goofy, and clueless all at the same time. The chaw makes the entire photo. If there's no chaw, there's no laughter.

So, the next time I get cranky about that trade in 1993, or anything else, I'll dig out my '95 Pinnacle DeShields card.

Thanks for the good times, Delino, even if they were only on cardboard.

Here are some other cool cards from smed's cards:

The Pee Wee Reese short-print card from last year. Just have the Jackie to go.

A 2010 Finest of Manny. Ramirez has a Dodger Triple Threads card. But I'm so over collecting Manny cards.

This guy is not listed as a Dodger as he was a free agent signing by the Rockies. It's one of those cards that is so elusive for a team collector.

Ron Cey, as a pointless parallel. Oh, Penguin, what have they done to you?

The mystical, magical 1990 Leaf. These cards are a wee bit elusive.

A couple of Kemps. The respective photos tell the story of Kemp's 2009 and 2010 seasons. At the top, he looks like the Kemp we all love. At the bottom, he's wondering what hit him.

I still can't believe someone thought using the phrase "game-worn pants" would be a selling point to collectors. Still creeped out.

Just some more cards I needed. That's what it's all about, right?

OK, now that I've finished the post, the plumber's gone. And I just spent my whole card show budget on him.


Where's that Delino card?


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Team colors: Orioles

I have this card in my Million Card Giveaway portfolio. Someone just offered a 1969 Leon Wagner card for it. Normally, I'd make a deal for "Daddy Wags" in a second. But I have the '69 Wagner already.

I've heard that the Million Card Giveaway site will be disappearing after a year of operation. I'm not surprised by that. I didn't think Topps would be giving away cards forever, although I hoped it would. But I do hope they keep the site functional as a database. I have used it already hundreds of times while researching posts. Taking away a resource like this would be counterproductive, in my opinion.

One area where it's been valuable to me already is in these team colors posts. This is only the second one I've done so far and it would have taken me a lot longer to look up all the colors used with a particular team if the MCG site didn't exist.

Tonight, I'm examining the colors Topps used with the Orioles next because of a comment O's fan Kevin left. He said the Orioles had a lot better luck with the color schemes used on Topps cards than the Dodgers.

I don't doubt that, just based on my memory of Orioles cards of the past. But I needed to get it down in writing ... er, virtual writing anyway.

So, did Topps use the proper team colors with the Orioles -- orange and black -- over the years? Or did they prefer to use the sickly green color it used with 1969 Orioles cards?

Again, I'm only citing the years for which Topps attributed certain colors to specific teams. Here is the rundown:

1964: light blue
1965: gray and orange
1966: light green and black
1967: yellow
1968: light green and black
1969: light green and black
1971: light blue and orange
1972: blue, light blue and yellow
1974: black and orange
1976: green, orange and yellow
1977: yellow and green
1978: red and purple
1979: yellow and green
1980: orange, black and red
1981: blue, black, orange and red
1982: orange and red
1983: orange, brown and yellow
1984: orange and light blue
1985: orange and black
1986: orange
1987: orange and black
1988: orange and brown
1989: orange and black
1991: orange, black and yellow
1992: black, orange and red
1993: orange and gray
1994: gray and orange
1998: black and orange
2000: orange
2002: black and orange
2003: orange
2004: orange and black
2005: orange and gray
2006: orange and brown
2007: orange and gray
2008: orange and gray
2009: orange
2010: blue, black and orange

A couple of notes:

-- After almost completely ignoring orange through the 1960s and '70s, Topps dedicated the color to the Orioles for 25 straight years between 1980 and 2010 (although only the O's logo on the 2010 set keeps the orange color streak alive).
-- I sort of identify the color yellow with the Orioles, mostly because Topps used it so often with the team in the late 1970s.

OK, time for the verdict:

Orioles team colors: Orange and black.
What Topps thinks are the Orioles team colors: Orange and black!

Smile, Eddie! Topps is right again!

(The tally: Orange-29, Black-15, Yellow-7, Gray-6, Red-5, Light Blue-4, Light Green-3, Blue-3, Green-3, Brown-3, Purple-1)

Brush with greatness: Bob Shaw

I had been saving this particular "Brush With Greatness" for the anniversary of my conversation with Bob Shaw.

I talked to him five years ago in late October. In 2005, the White Sox, the team for which Shaw had the most success during his 11-season career, were in the World Series for the first time since 1959. Shaw was the last pitcher to win a World Series game for the White Sox prior to '05, and since he was a graduate of a college in our coverage area, I thought it'd be a good idea to talk to him.

So I did, and like any conversation with a major leaguer of the past, I found it fascinating.

Shaw talked about being roommates with Early Wynn, the standout pitcher known as much for his crankiness and drinking as his talent. Shaw said he'd go out late with Wynn and Wynn would berate him for his pitching habits. But Shaw listened to Wynn and credited him for his new-found success. Shaw enjoyed the best season of his career in 1959, going 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA and finishing third in the Cy Young Award voting.

Shaw's biggest game was Game 5 of the 1959 World Series against the Dodgers. He helped the White Sox win the game 1-0. The opposing pitcher was Sandy Koufax. The game took place in the L.A. Coliseum. Shaw pitched in front of 92,706 fans, the largest crowd to ever watch a World Series game.

Shaw pitched in front of 92,706 fans, against Koufax, and won the game 1-0.


"I would have to say because Koufax is in the Hall of Fame and it was in the World Series, that was the highlight (of my career)," Shaw said to me. "I don't like to brag; I'm not a big ego guy. But I do feel good about that. In every profession you're in, if you have a chance to do good, it makes you feel good."

Shaw would pitch in the All-Star Game while with the Braves in 1962, and he won 16 games with the Giants in 1965. He was particularly proud of winning the final game of the Caribbean World Series in Cuba in the late 1950s.

After his baseball career, Shaw became a great success in real estate, developing shopping plazas along Florida's southeastern coast. He lived in Florida for nearly 50 years after being born and raised on Long Island.

Shaw admitted to not following the White Sox much, but he did say he hoped they would win the 2005 Series. They did win the Series, and Shaw was no longer the last White Sox pitcher to win a World Series game.

This was to be my World Series Brush With Greatness story, saved for when the World Series began.

But I found out on Sunday that Bob Shaw died last week. He was 77.

So I'm telling the story now.

I thank him for being so accommodating with me when I talked to him. He was instantly likeable.

There was a card show less than a week after I talked to Shaw. I searched out cards of Shaw when I went to the show. I decided that day that I would try to collect cards of every player I had interviewed. I bought this 1961 Topps card of Shaw and I also have a 1963 Topps card of Shaw as a Milwaukee Brave. It felt weird to buy vintage cards of non-Dodgers. I had never done that up to that point.

But now I have a card of almost every player that I have interviewed. The conversation with Shaw was the catalyst for that.

Thank you, sir.

Rest in peace.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back by popular demand ...

... it's every card blogger's favorite game show:


That's right! They tried to keep us away!!!!! But the masses were too insistent! "BRING BACK 'BEST CARD'!" they cried. "BRING BACK 'BEST CARD'!"

So, we're here and we're BACK! This is your host Night Owl, ready to deliver to you another episode of What's the Best Card in the Package!! You know the rules by now!!! We select 16 key cards from one card package and determine The Best Card!!!

It's fun! It's zany! It's only boring to those who DON'T MATTER!

All right! All right! Thank you folks for joining us!

Tonight, we have a crazy card package from Too Many Grandersons! Judging from what we received here tonight, he has too many of every other kind of card, too! But we're not complaining at WTBCITP! It makes for another classic edition of the game show that's sweeping the nation!!!!

Is everyone ready??!!! All right!

But first we're going to leave you dangling with this commercial break ...

HEY! We're back!

OK! It's time to play -- say it together with me now -- WHAT'S THE BEST CARD IN THE PACKAGE!!!!

Woooooo! Everyone's ready to go TONIGHT!!!

Show us the first card, Jim!

All right! It's a Rickey Henderson Dodger card! Great way to start! There aren't many Rickey-in-Dodger-blue cards out there!

Let's see who dares to take on Rickey!

Fan-tastic!!! It's a die-cut Raul Mondesi from '96 Bowman's Prime Cuts! What a great card! Even if the scan sucks!

So, the question is, who gets to advance?

It's the Mondesi card!!!! Because he's a cut above! Get it? Hey! It's very impolite to boo at a game show!

Let's get right to the next matchup, Jim!

Wow! It's one of those four-player stand-up cards from Pinnacle! Crazy card! Crazy card. And we're showing the Mike Piazza side because none of the other jokers on the card have a chance at advancing!

Who will take on the Piazza card??!!!

It's a shiny, chromy version of a Tom Lasorda Fan Favorite card! Wow, what a matchup! Mike Piazza against his godfather!!!

Who wins this thing?

Keep running, Piazza! You get to advance!!! Lasorda appeared on one too many Slim-fast commercials!

OK, Jim, put another one on the board!

Oooh, a Konerko card! That's always a worthy contender! What's with the "Little Dawgs" nickname, you're asking? Well, according to the back, it's the name Barry Larkin gave to spring training invitees because he couldn't remember their names! How annoying of Barry!!!

Konerko's foe for this round is ...

A Mike Piazza Sweet Strokes insert from Topps! This card is shinier than the lights here in the studio!! In fact, I've got to put some sunglasses on here!!!!

Ha, ha!

Alright, the shades are on, and I'm even cooler than I was before!! So, Jim, what's the best card here?!!!

Piazza! Shiny is everything in game show world! All right! All right. Piazza's card advances for the second straight time!

Let's move things along! Our next contender ...

Awesome! Hideo Nomo and the Human Torch! From the Skybox Dugout Access Superheroes series! I love the Human Torch! I love Nomo! Not that the host gets to decide anything here! It's all done by an independent panel! Really! I'm not kidding! I have nothing to do with this!

But let's see the loser ... um, I mean, the card that will go up against this awesome Nomo card!

It's a numbered (/1500) Donruss generations card of Steve Garvey and Shawn Green! Normally, this card would do quite well on our show! But not tonight!

You've got a spot in the next round Torchy!!! And you, too, Nomo!

We're still a long way from finishing the first round! But you're all still excited, right??!!! I said, YOU'RE ALL STILL EXCITED, RIGHT???!!!

That's better! Nobody boos and nobody sleeps at a game show! Got it?

All right, all right!

Jim, show us another card!

My goodness, what a terrific card! One would even call it Epix! Except that's not a word!!!!

Let's see which card doesn't have a chance against this card! Once again, I remind you, "independent panel"!!!

Oooh, sorry, strange looking man who claims to be Eric Gagne, but you're not going to win this round!

Step right this way, Murray Epix! You're the winner!

We have three more matchups to go in this initial round, let's see what we have!!!

Ooooooh! It's a very fine bat-jersey card of Shawn Green from '02 Studio! It's numbered and fancy and everything! Very nice!

Its contender is:

A Bowman gold rookie card of Kaz Ishii! Back in the day -- when "the day" was 2002 -- this card was worth quite a bit! But we all know what happened to Kaz! Actually we don't, because he's been out of baseball since 2006!!!

Anyway, here is your winner!

A jersey-bat card always beats rookie hype! Good job Green relic card!!!

Time for another showdown!

Let's go to the cards!

Terrific! It's the program cover for the 1963 World Series! What a great card!

Here we have its competitor:

It's another impressive die-cut card!!! This time it's a Bowman's Best Future Foundations Adrian Beltre item! Wow, what a tough matchup we have here!

Who will be the winner?

Oh, it's an UPSET! But we value history around here! And there's nothing we're more proud of at WTBCITP than the Dodgers' World Series sweep of the Yankees!

All right, one last matchup and we're on to the next exciting round!

Awesome! Awesome, awesome! The Jennie Finch Fans of the Game card is finally in Night Owl's clutches! I've tried to get this card for months!!!

Who dares to go up against Finch's fastball?

Oooh, it's Manny! This is another card that took awhile to land!

But the winner is:

Finch! I need a card to balance out those Fans of the Game cards of Gene Shalit and Jonathan Silverman! Way to go, Finch!!!

And that's a rap of round 1!! On to Round 2!!!!!

But first, this ...

HEY!!!!! WE'RE BACK!!!!

Ready for more excitement? The production people tell me putting on this show takes forever and, quite frankly is a pain in the ass! But we don't care, do we? Because we love WHAT'S THE BEST CARD IN THE PACKAGE!!

All right! All right. It's time for the thrilling second round. We had some great cards there, but now we have to make some tough decisions. Let's do it!

Here is our first card!

The tremendous die-cut Mondesi card! This will be difficult to knock off! Let's see who's going to try:

It's one of two Piazzas still remaining in the contest! Let's see how this one fares!

Jim, let's get a look at the winner!

Yes, it's Mondesi!!! I just couldn't ignore that Piazza was sharing a card with Charles Johnson and Javy Lopez!!!

All right, let's see who is next!

It's the other Piazza card! Will this one do any better?! It's got the shininess going for it! Let me put my shades back on!

Well, now there's a worthy challenger!! And without showing the Nomo card again, I'm going to say this card is the winner!

Piazza may have the shininess, but Nomo's got the cartoon goodness! Nomo advances!

All right!

The competition is getting fierce, ladies and gentlemen! Hold on for what's next!

Jim, what do we have?

It's that terrific Murray card! It's Epix!

Murray will take on:

The Shawn Green jersey-bat card! What a great matchup! It's Epix against Masterstrokes! Who will win? Who will win? Oh, the tension!!

Well, let's see!

We've gone bat and jersey crazy!!!! What a great card! It HAD to win!

OK, time for the final matchup in the quarterfinals of the latest episode of this great game show!!!!

It's the only card that doesn't show a person! How did this card get to this point?!!!

Someone, please, eliminate this contender!

Thank you, Jennie! You are a worthy semifinalist!

We have our FINAL FOUR! It's a great group! And we'll determine who will meet in the grand finale, right after THIS ...


Can you feel the tension?!!! Can you feel the excitement!!! We have four great cards remaining, so let's get going!!!! Can you see the sweat dripping off my face!!! Makeup! I need makeup!!

OK, let's go!! ...

Die-cut Mondesi has been a force. But will he be able to beat ...

.... the dynamic duo of Nomo and the Human Torch? Well, will he??????

NO!!!! The duo burns its way into the final!!!

In the other round, we have:

The Masterstrokes Shawn Green relic card, which will take on ...

Die-hard Dodgers fan Jennie Finch! Wow this is an excruciatingly difficult decision!!!!

Sadly, even though Jennie is a big Dodger fan, she never competed for the Dodgers, so I have to go with ...

Jennie!!!!! Who am I kidding! Did I mention I've tried to get this card for months???? Onto the finals with Miss Finch, or Mrs. Daigle, or whatever I should call her!!!!

So this is it, we're at the final showdown.

Friends, I couldn't come up with two greater cards!!!!! Well, I could, but nobody is sending me a 1954 Bowman Ted Williams!!!!!

Here are the two excellent finalists:

And the winner is ....

Oh, the suspense!!! The suspense!!!!

Jim, let's kill the suspense!!!!

But, first, this message!!!!!


That was cruel of me, but we need to pay the bills!!!

OK, now the moment you've been waiting for. The winner of the Too Many Granderson's Best Card in the Package is ....

Nomo and the Human Torch!!!!!


Sorry, Jennie. Maybe if I got your card autographed, it would be the winner.

Ha, ha!

But there are no do-overs here on WTBCITP!!!!

That's it for tonight!!!! Will there be another episode of What's the Best Card in the Package??? I don't know!!! Did I mention how long it takes to put this together?!!!

That's all for now!!! GOOD NIGHT!