Thursday, April 30, 2015

Team collecting 101

Welcome again, class.

I think by now everyone knows your basic Dodger card. The deep blue caps and helmets. The crisp white uniforms with blue script writing. The hint of red on the torso numbers, but nowhere else. The bright white, interlocking "L" and "A". And the background, history, and everything else that emanates from that card.

A Dodger card stands out, and there is no doubt that it belongs in the collection.

But there are many other cards that are Dodger cards that get mucked up by something else on the card. I see some of you putting those cards in other categories.

For example:

This is a Dodger card.

But this is a Dodger card, too.

There is one player on here with no visible team logo. Doesn't matter. He makes it a Dodger card.

Trout card? Stickers? Wrong and wrong. Dodger CARD.

Three Hall of Famers and a Dodger. Dodger card.

Oh, what's that tiny picture in the corner? Yup! Dodger card.

I see nothing but Dodger there. Dodger card.

Come on, man. Too easy. Dodger card.

DAH-djer card.

Doyer card.

Sadly, this is a Dodger card, too.

Even this one. Dodger card.

Read the fine print. Dodger card.

Oooooooh, Dodgereeness. Beautiful, beautiful Dodger card.

This concludes today's team collector lesson. If you failed to see Dodgerness on any of these cards, go back to the top of the post and repeat as many times as necessary.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Collection-enhanced cardboard

This post was basically written already by high-roller garveyceyrusselllopes, but I've already had the cards scanned for some time and the premise in my head for a few weeks, so there's no going back now. The brain wants what it wants.

I received some Dodger cards from Max of The Starting Nine earlier this month and the star of the package -- no respect to Juan Uribe here -- was the legendary Sandy Koufax.

He is all over Topps Heritage this year:

Add those to the one Then & Now card I had already ...

... and then add a FIFTH Koufax Then & Now card that I don't own yet (it's another Koufax-Price combination), and that's a lot of Koufax. It's also a lot of collection-enhanced cardboard.

Here's what I mean by that.

You've all heard of "performance-enhancing drugs" -- those frowned-upon chemical aids that some players obtain in an effort to artificially inflate their stats, right?

Well, I say these cards here are along the same lines. They're artificially inflating my collection.

This is how:

Pretend you don't know how much Koufax has infiltrated Topps products over the last four years. What would you say to me if I told you I have more than 130 cards of Sandy Koufax?

You'd probably bow to my awesome ability to collect one of the most sought-after players of all-time.

But only 19 of those cards are from when Koufax was playing. And only 19 more are from between 1975-2000. The other 92 are from this century, including 81 that are from the last four years.

I don't consider any of those 81, with the exception of maybe three or four, as crown jewels of my Koufax collection. The vast majority are insert filler and I wouldn't look twice if one of them disappeared. They are merely performance-enhancers for my Koufax player collection. It is as if my Koufax player collection received an injection of Koufax cards right in the gluteus cardboardius. My total of Koufax cards should actually be somewhere around 50 cards, not 130.

So what are you going to do -- you're asking -- toss a bunch of Koufax cards, limit it to only Koufaxes from the 20th century, can't you just enjoy the Topps Koufax love?

No, I'm not going to ostracize Koufax cards. Koufax is one of my favorite players ever, I need to have his cards, no matter how insignificant and hollow some of the cards seem.

But if anyone ever asks to see some of my Koufax cards, I'm going to show the ones that have some purpose behind them. Those are the sign of real collecting effort, no collection-enhancing involved.

Koufax probably won't appear in Heritage sets from next year forward -- since 2015 Heritage recognizes his last year in the majors -- unless Heritage dedicates a card to his Hall of Fame induction. And Topps has scaled back on Koufax in its other sets, focusing on other Dodgers like Fernando Valenzuela.

I have to admit, I won't miss all those new Koufax cards. And it's time to stop concerning myself with the latest Koufax insert, roll up my sleeves and display the collecting talent that I know I have. I'll be saving some pennies to find some of those Koufax cards from 1957, 1958, 1959, 1963 and 1964, as well as a few others.

When I land those, I'll know my mission was completed through old-fashioned collecting effort and ability. No enhancement necessary.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Topps and Javier Baez sittin' in a tree ...

I have a lot to cover today so I hope you've brought your attention span.

I was out of town over the weekend, so I decided to update myself on this certain card shop in Buffalo that I had gone to several years ago. I'm always very busy when I'm in the city and intend to stop by, but never get a chance. Also, when the headquarters of Dave and Adam's Card World is in Buffalo, too, there isn't much time for other card shops.

I had noticed several times while driving by that the shop had been renamed to place less emphasis on cards and more emphasis on comics. OK, no big deal. Yeah, it's a sign of the times, but I've seen comics and cards peacefully coexist in the past.

But when I walked in, all I saw were comic books. Boxes and boxes and boxes of comic books, each box featuring rows and rows of comics. There were tables set up with boxes in the front room, and then in the back room, more tables, more boxes and more comics. On the displays on the walls, more and more and more comics.

I started to panic because I knew the guy behind the counter was going to ask me what I was interested in and I'd have to suppress saying either "nothing" or "I haven't bought a comic since I was 13."

I wandered over back to the front of the store, wondering where the heck the "cards" were that I saw mentioned in big letters on the store front, when I saw them: In a small corner and along a side wall, enclosed in glass, were loose packs in boxes of various product: Heritage, Topps base, and mostly NFL products.

That was it.

I'm still waiting to walk into a card shop that features cards in discount boxes that I read about often on blogs. I don't think I've seen that in a card shop.

Anyway, I was a little irked that people could rifle through thousands of comic books at their leisure while I had to ask to see cards locked in glass doors, and I didn't see much I wanted anyway, so I left.

And then went to Target.

Don't get mad. Yeah, I could have gone to Dave and Adam's, but they cater to box-buying and I didn't have that kind of money. I hadn't been to this Target for a few months so I wanted to see what they had.

It turns out they had enough for three blog posts. That's pretty good. And I don't just buy anything either (OK, I did just buy "just anything," but research, people, research!)

The first thing that caught my eye was something that displayed this on the front:

I had to have it.

As you probably know, this is the Topps National League All-Star team set that is issued fairly frequently. There was an American League All-Star blister, too, but there are no Dodgers in there, so, who cares?

The NL All-Star set is 17 cards strong featuring many star players. The pictures are all the same as the photos in the base set, although I believe there might be one or two who won't show up until Series 2 (I'm sorry, I don't have all my Series 1 cards memorized yet). The only difference is the NL logo in the corner and a different number on the back.

Of course, the stars of the show are the two Dodgers in the set.

There's the other one with the nifty little NL logo.

The rest of the players you all know, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Troy Tulowitzki, etc. It's not a "realistic" all-star team in that the set contains six outfielders and three first basemen, but I'm used to Topps playing with the rules of All-Star teams, even going back to the 1980s.

However, this particularly amused me:

Who the hell is Javier Baez and why under God's blue sky is he displaying a National League all-star logo?

OK, I realize Baez played a little bit last season and he's considered a top prospect. But his stats from last year do not read like any all-star I have ever heard of:

Every other player in the set features impressive numbers, most with bright red lettering that indicates they led the league in something. Kimbrel: 47 saves. Stanton: 37 home runs. Cueto: 242 strikeouts.

Here is Baez's card back:

*Played for Iowa.

Well, now, that's Major League All-Star material, without question.

Until I saw this card, I thought Topps had just gone on a rookie rant like it often does. Topps has done it for years. I've written about its devotion to Chin-lung Hu in 2008 several times. But inclusion in this All-Star set just brings it to another level.

It's rather obvious that Topps is promoting Baez. Here are the mainstream cards he has so far this year:

Topps base
Topps base (1st home run insert)
Topps Heritage (with Jorge Soler)
Topps Heritage DP combo (with Starlin Castro)
Topps Heritage New Age Performers
Topps Opening Day
Topps Tribute
Topps Spring Fever promo
Topps 1st home run medallion
Topps jersey relic, pin relic, stamp and coin relic

And now add the Topps NL All-Star team set.

Topps apparently has a crush on this guy. It can't stop talking about him.

I'm not saying Baez won't be an All-Star or that he won't have a great career some day. I'm just saying he's not an All-Star now and don't tell me that he is.

That's the checklist. He clearly doesn't belong with those other guys.

I understand that second base isn't the most fertile position in the National League right now, but this is just weird.

The Target also featured team sets for the Yankees and Red Sox and maybe the Mets, I don't remember. This is another one of those situations where I feel like I'm living on the wrong coast.

But this NL team set was the only 2015 Topps purchase that I made that day.

Just to linger on 2015 Topps a little longer, I have to finally name this set. It's obvious there's no real consensus after two polls, but I'm naming it what I like anyway.

It's now the Sonar Set.

Congratulations, 2015 Topps, you have a nickname.

Hey, I could have named it the Javier Baez Set.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Here come the Yankees ...

When the 1979 baseball cards hit store shelves, my hatred for the Yankees was as high as it had ever been and perhaps has been since.

The previous season, the Yankees had rallied to surpass my second favorite team and my brother's favorite team, the Red Sox, to make the playoffs, then defeated another favorite, the Royals, for the third straight time to reach the World Series, then beat my favorite team for a second straight time, the Dodgers.

Hated them. Bucky f-ing Dent, Reggie Jackson's hip, Graig Nettles' glove, the smug, self-satisfied classmates. All of them.

That feeling lasts to this day. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy Yankees cards.

Growing up in the Northeast, in Yankee territory, there were just parts of my childhood that are stamped with Yankeeness. The instrumental theme song before every game. The 1978 Yankee yearbook acquired when I saw my first MLB game in person. And, of course, the Yankee Burger King cards.

Ideally, I would have grown up in Michigan or Pennsylvania and longed for Tigers Burger King cards or Phillies Burger King cards. But I grew up in New York, so Yankees it was.

I didn't know the 1977 Burger King Yankees existed, and I was aware of  the 1978 Burger King Yankees but never obtained one. But by 1979, I was both aware, saw them in person and needed to have them.

I eventually acquired a single card that year and I wrote about it a few years ago.

But that didn't stop the needing.

So, not long ago, Mark Hoyle found an entire set of 1979 Burger King Yankees and sent it to me.

In an accompanying note he said he never thought he'd be sending me Yankees.

I understand. It's very weird.

But we were deprived kids in the '70s. The only cards available that were not the Topps flagship set from that year, were cards out of a cereal box (Kellogg's), on the bottom of a twinkie (Hostess) or floating out there in some mail order netherworld (TCMA). Not only were Burger King cards new, but they looked just like Topps cards EXCEPT THAT SOME OF THEM DIDN'T.

Great gracious gimme.

This was the selling point and the reason for my overwhelming interest.

Looking at the 22-card Burger King set now, I noted that there are just four cards that are different than their 1979 Topps counterparts, but I'll get to that in a second.

First, here is the team card:

 It's the same as the Topps Yankees team card, except the back is different.

While the Topps back features a checklist, the Burger King back shows historic team leaders. This is what team cards did in the 1960s and early 1970s. I like this a lot.

Most of the rest of the cards are identical to what you see in the 1979 Topps set with the exception of the card number on the back (there are some subtle cropping differences with some of the Burger King cards).

Reggie Jackson even keeps his All-Star logo in the Burger King set.

But where it gets fascinating is where Burger King ventures out on its own.

There is the Tommy John card, which I've shown before.

And that's what John looked like in the 1979 Topps set.

Luis Tiant was a headline-making acquisition by the Yankees in the offseason of 1978 and by the time this card came out, Tiant was probably already rehearsing his lines for Ballpark Franks.

Here is what Tiant's 1979 Topps card looks like:

This is so much better.

The other card in the set featuring a player who switched uniforms is Juan Beniquez.

That is Beniquez as a Yankee.

And there he is as a Ranger, with much longer hair and positioned between a Pepsi ad and an ad for -- wouldn't you know it? -- Burger King.

The other card in which the photo is different from the '79 Topps set is one that was a surprise to me.

Ron Guidry didn't switch teams. In fact, he was the most celebrated pitcher at the time, winning the Cy Young Award with 25 wins and a 1.74 ERA.

But, for some reason, Burger King's photo is different.

Here is Guidry's Topps card:

I'm not sure why you'd want to change that.

However, the photo used in the Burger King set is not unfamiliar to the 1979 Topps set. It appears in the record breaker subset.

Even though the vast majority of the cards are "repeats", and Yankees at that, I would have cherished this set if I received it in 1979. This was before Traded sets were a thing, so there was no chance of seeing players in their new uniforms that soon. Burger King accomplished what Topps Traded sets wouldn't accomplish -- without airbrushing -- for two more years.

That's how Topps got me to clamor for a Yankee set.

But don't expect it to happen ever again.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Credit where credit is due

Everyone knows this card, I presume. It's a famous card from a period when everyone collected cards. It's probably one of the best cards from the 1993 Topps set, and Topps thought enough of it that it made this card No. 200.

But I have looked at Kirby and his oversized bat repeatedly over the years, and the first thing I think of is not "get a load of that bat" or "what a great card" or anything like that. The thing I think of is the thing I thought of the first time I pulled this card:

"I know I've seen this picture before."

It's actually a picture from a Sports Illustrated shoot -- the 1992 baseball preview edition, to be specific, and the cover photo, to be exact.

My first thought when I noticed the similarity was "how could Topps do that?" I knew the power of Sports Illustrated and how their photos were the most familiar and interesting sports photos in the world. How could Topps just swipe a photo -- a cover photo, at that -- from Sports Illustrated?

Well, as the years went on, I figured out that Topps doesn't exactly produce its own photos, that it makes deals with photographers all the time, and this is probably what happened with the '93 Kirby Puckett photo.

It just seemed so odd to me that it would be a photo that had already appeared all over every living room and doctor's office for more than a year.

But it turns out it's not the only example of the relationship between SI and a card company. Or, make that an SI photographer and a card company.

The person who took the Puckett photo for Sports Illustrated is Ronald C. Modra. Modra is a famous sports photographer who worked for Sports Illustrated for 23 years and his work appeared on more than 70 SI covers. He's photographed just about every sport there is, but he's most famous for his baseball work.

As I was tracking background on the Puckett photo, I noticed that Modra's work has appeared on other baseball cards, too -- ones you know and love.

This card gets a lot of credit for being one of the best photos in the 1991 Topps set. It's a Ronald Modra photo.

It comes from the photo shoot for this cover:

It's not exactly the same photo, but it's from the same shoot. And all you have to do is go to Ronald Modra's site, click on "gallery," click on the "action" tab and go to photo No. 48, and you'll see another Santiago photo in nearly the same pose from that shoot.

Modra put out a book of his photo work, which Sports Illustrated profiled a couple of months ago.

I noticed one of the photos right away.

It's a click away from this card:

And then I saw something familiar in another photo.

It comes from the same shoot as this card:

And this photo, has to be related to this card:

And this photo, connected to this card:

I have to admit, I feel a little bit duped.

I -- and a lot of other collectors -- have been giving Topps (or Donruss) credit for these great photos when we should be crediting the person who took them, Ronald Modra.

How many times have I said "what a great photo -- great job, Topps!" when the picture, or a picture from the same photo shoot, had already appeared in a publication a year or more earlier?

This doesn't mean I wish that these photos didn't appear on cards. Of course, I do. And good for the photographer arranging some sort of deal to get those pictures on cardboard.

But it all goes back to what I thought when I first saw this card:

Aren't you going to explain this?

You just show Kirby Puckett with a giant, Babe Ruth-model, novelty bat and you don't say nothing?

A little blurb on the back would have been so much more helpful. Something like, "This photo was taken during a Sports Illustrated cover photo shoot by photographer Ronald C. Modra."

You know, credit where credit is due.

What I guess I should have been doing all these years is not saying "great photo by Topps (or Donruss)" but "great photo selection by Topps (or Donruss)."

And adding a thank you to Mr. Modra for all those memorable baseball cards.