Wednesday, August 31, 2016

For the man who basically invented the insert

When The Lost Collector sent out his package a couple of weeks ago, he added this Hideo Nomo insert with a note attached that said it was one of his favorite inserts of the '90s.

High praise, yes.

And it made me think about what my favorite Nomo inserts were -- because I must focus on Nomo, none of this inclusive stuff.

As I was formulating a post plan, my friend Greg from Twitter mentioned that one day I should do a post on the best Mike Piazza inserts from the late '90s. "Hmmm," I said. "I'm already thinking about doing a similar post for one of his teammates." That was two signs now that this apparently was meant to happen.

Today, it's Hideo Nomo's birthday. So now I have to write a post about my favorite Nomo inserts. Everything is pointing me in that direction.

Nomo is a special figure in the hobby. Not only did he become an international sensation at the same time the hobby was exploding with variety, but the man basically invented the insert. Sure, there were other inserts around prior to Nomo, but consider this:

In 1995, the year he arrived in the majors, he had not one, but two five-card insert sets ...

... devoted solely to him.

That's crazy talk. I don't know if that had happened ever before. And, then, the year after his rookie season, inserts went through the roof. 1996 was the year the insert went Hollywood. In fact, we're still paying the price for it today. So maybe we should be dumping all our modern collecting troubles at Nomo's feet.

But, heck, I give this guy a pass. Because collecting his inserts is so much fun.

Here are the 10 inserts of his I like the most. Hopefully I haven't shown every one of these here already:

10. ESPY Award Winners, 2005 Upper Deck ESPN, Card 8 of 20

The most recent insert on the list. The 2005 UD ESPN base set is not attractive in the least. But a number of the inserts look great. This is one of them. This will be the only good thing you will hear me say about the ESPYs.

9. Etch-A-Sketch, 1998 Topps, Card 5 of 9

Seldom does an insert blow your mind, but we're not talking about any ordinary pitcher here. The set salutes the etch-a-sketching talents of Geoge Vlosich in what is probably one of the best ideas for an insert ever.

8. Marquee Matchups Red, 1996 Upper Deck SP Championship, Card 2 of 20

This is the diecut parallel version of the Marquee Matchup blue cards. The cards revive the technique made popular by 1980s Fleer by matching up two cards with each other, this time in a batter vs. pitcher showdown. I don't even know who is paired up with Nomo. I'm guessing it's Ken Griffey Jr., as he's the first card in the set.

7. Showstoppers, 2005 Fleer Authentix, Card 9 of 15

I've never been to Las Vegas. I don't think I'd be too influenced now, but if I was there when I was 20, there's no telling what those flashing lights would do to me. I love the neon. You know that part of "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey is horrified by what his town had become? Every time, I think "look at the flashing lights! Pretty."

6. Express Delivery, 2003 Upper Deck MVP, Card 9 of 15

I probably like this card too much for my own good. It's one of the first Nomo inserts I received upon starting this blog. It's an incredibly well-designed card with a simple and clean concept.

5. Gallery Of Heroes, 1998 Topps, Card 14 of 15

You put a stained-glass effect on a card and you've won me over. This card is outstanding and probably would be the No. 1 card for some people. It's a little too busy for me, especially when a light isn't shining on it, which in the Northeast is all the time.

4. Season Crowns, 1996 Fleer Ultra, Card 7 of 10

Ah, here's AJ's card now. How many insert sets were in '96 Ultra? 750? Anyway, the coat-of-arms theme is always popular and works very well here, especially on some clear acetate. I'm always tempted to devise my own colored parallels with the scanner with these, but I'll refrain here.

3. All-World Team, 2002 Topps, Card 22 of 25

This insert marks Nomo's return to the Dodgers after four years in exile (you will note there are no Mets, Brewers, Tigers or Red Sox inserts on this list). It's quite a fantastic one, too. I love maps, and I love slightly thicker-than-normal cards (note: I said slightly). This has it all.

2. Superheroes, 1998 Skybox Dugout Access, Card 6 of 10

I nearly fell over when this card appeared in a trade envelope. Pairing superheroes with players? Genius! I'm not even 1/15th the comic book fan that half of the hobby is and I love this. I think spin-offs on this theme would be endlessly popular.

1. Stained Glass, 1996 Studio, Card 9 of 10

Stained-glass cards are great, but can get a bit busy for my taste, such as the Gallery of Heroes cards or the Beam Team cards from Stadium Club a few years back. They're nice, but I like big, colorful and simple. With giant monstrous logos that light up. And a pensive ballplayer. This has all that. And you can see through part of it. Sort of.

There are no doubt many, many fascinating Nomo inserts that I do not own or have never seen. But I have too many interest to focus on just one man. As evidence, AJ sent a few other cards that appeal to me:

There is no doubt that pink card would be on the top 10 if Nomo was featured (although I think this is a parallel, not an insert).

Happy 48th birthday to Hideo Nomo!

Where would we be without him?

Yeah, I know, we'd have more money.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Little league, big deal

You probably heard about, or even saw, a team called Maine-Endwell win the Little League World Series Championship on Sunday.

The ESPN announcers did a decent job of explaining that the players on the team come from a community of around 10,000 people just north of the Pennsylvania border. The community is actually a school district. The Maine-Endwell Spartans have been a state power in football for awhile and are now well-known as raising really good 12-year-old baseball players.

But I knew most of that already. From the time I was 13 until I left home, I lived a block from Endwell, N.Y.

I used to watch the Little League World Series championship game every year on ABC. It was fun to see kids my age competing on national television. Even though they always seemed to be from Washington or California. But as the years went on, I stopped paying attention, and began to get annoyed with the amount of time ESPN devoted to it.

That all changed this year. I watched three or four of Maine-Endwell's games, and celebrated when they beat South Korea, 2-1. It had been awhile since a team from the United States won -- I remember what a big deal it was when the team from Washington broke a long non-U.S. streak in 1983 and then again when Connecticut did the same in 1989 -- and it was a team from my hometown area that did it.

This is what Facebook is good for: I have lots of connections to that area still and I know a few people who are friends of those with kids on the team. It was pretty exciting, celebrating with those old friends, and seeing places like Hooper Road and Watson Boulevard on national TV.

In honor of the accomplishment and bringing me back to Little League for a bit, I dug out 20 cards from my collection of major leaguers who played in the Little League World Series. Here, in no particular order, are 20 notable cards of notable Little Leaguers:

1. Michael Conforto

Conforto made news last fall when he became the third player to compete in the Little League World Series, College World Series and the World Series (the others are Jason Varitek and Ed Vosberg). Conforto played for the 2004 regional champs from Redmond, Wash.

2. Jason Marquis

One of the few notable cards of Jason Marquis (They all look the same. I feel sorry for any Jason Marquis player collectors). In 1991, Marquis and his Staten Island, N.Y., teammates finished third in the LLWS. Incidentally, Maine-Endwell joined Staten Island and Schenectady as the only New York State teams to win the LLWS.

3. Jim Barbieri

Speaking of that Little League championship team from Schenectady, here's a player from it now. Barbieri and Schenectady won the LLWS in 1954 after losing in the championship the previous year. His exploits are even mentioned on the back of this card.

Barbieri was the captain of that Little League team and appeared on several TV shows after the team won.

4. Jim Pankovits

Not really a notable player or a notable card (it's his Topps rookie card, but he was the 1985 Donruss set). But Pankovits, the cleanup hitter for the Richmond, Va., team that lost in the title game in 1968, remains the only ex-Little League/MLB player who I have interviewed.

5. Jason Bay

Bay played in the "International bracket" in 1990 as a member of the Trail, British Columbia team. He is the first Little League World Series participant to win Rookie of the Year honors, and no doubt the first LLWS participant to unintentionally encourage you to shop at ebay.

6. Colby Rasmus

During the championship broadcast, ESPN showed a current photo of the last U.S. team to win the LLWS. They were grown up, probably anywhere from 15-18, I'm guessing. I wondered how many of them still played baseball, which is a concern for me for Maine-Endwell, knowing how much lacrosse has its grip on kids in this state.

Rasmus is another indication of how things can change. He was on the 1999 Phenix City, Alabama team (with his brother Cory) that lost in the title game. I'm quite certain he didn't look like he does now. In many ways. And I spared you a card from his Houston Astros days.

7. Dan Wilson

Wilson played for Barrington, Illinois, which finished in third in the LLWS in 1981. He'd go on to a successful career, mostly with the Mariners. But this is one of the few draft pick cards from this period that I like.

8. Lloyd McClendon

McClendon has the coolest Little League story. He became known as "Legendary Lloyd" because during the the Little League World Series in 1971 he homered in five straight at-bats. The opponents intentionally walked him in every other at-bat. McClendon's Gary, Indiana, Little League team was the first African-American team to make the title game.

P.S.: This is one great 1989 Bowman card.

9. Gary Sheffield

Topps couldn't have produced a card like this on one of his 200-plus cards as a Dodger? Anyway, Sheffield played for the Belmont Heights-Tampa, Florida team that lost to Taiwan in the 1980 LLWS.

10. Carney Lansford

I had to go with both Carney Lansford Topps cards from 1981 because he was a popular guy at our house outside of Endwell at that time. Lansford played for the Santa Clara, Calif., team that made the final in 1969 before losing to Taipei.

11. Larvell Blanks

I've always liked this card just because he looks like he's standing next to a giant. Sugar Bear played for Valley Verde from Del Rio, Texas, in the 1962 LLWS.

12. Wilson Alvarez

Alvarez played for Venezuela in the 1982 LLWS, but they were ousted in the first round. I don't know how that was possible with Alvarez throwing all those no-hitters.

13. Michael Saunders

Look! It's a Bunt card five years before Bunt!

Another Canadian Little League participant, Saunders played for Gordon Head out of Victoria, British Columbia in 1999.

14. Bobby Mitchell

You may know Mitchell as a Minnesota Twin, if you know him at all. I remember him as a Dodgers prospect who was going to steal all the bases. Mitchell played in the 1967 LLWS for Northridge, Calif.

15. Randal Grichuk

This is a perfect example of how I wasn't paying attention to the LLWS after about 1985. Grichuk helped Lamar National of Richmond, Texas, make it to the LLWS in 2003 and 2004 and Grichuk hit the snot out of the ball each year. I would've made a note of that and not considered Grichuk another Cardinal WHO? if I had watched.

16. Todd Frazier

Frazier makes great cards. Frazier is one of the few major leaguers to play for a team that won the Little League World Series. Toms River, N.J., completed a celebrated run to the 1998 championship in beating Japan. Frazier hit a home run in the final and struck out the final batter of the game.

17. Charlie Hayes

Also makes great cards. Hayes played in the LLWS for Hub City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1977.

18. Chin-Feng Chen

Chen helped the 1990 Taiwan team capture the Little League World Series. He was the first player born in Taiwan to make the major leagues in 2002. But out of the three guys there, he had by far the least notable career, appearing in just 19 games over four years.

19. Rick Wise

One of the most accomplished pitchers to have played in the Little League World Series, Wise was in the 1958 LLWS for Rose City, Oregon.

20. Boog Powell

BOOOOOOG!!!!!!! Powell played for the Lakeland, Florida team in the 1954 World Series. They got hammered by eventual champion Schenectady, 16-0, in their first game. Powell and Barbieri were the first players to appear in the LLWS and the World Series.

Other notable major leaguers that played in the LLWS include Jeff Clement, Adam Loewen, Lance Lynn, Lastings Milledge, Yusmeiro Petit, Jurickson Profar, Kevin Cash, Sean Burroughs, Christian Bethancourt, Jonathan Schoop, Ruben Tejada, Jason Varitek and Devon Travis. There have also been a number of future pro hockey and football players to play in the LLWS.

Who knows if someone from Maine-Endwell will follow in the path?

But Maine-Endwell to me isn't just a Little League team. It's getting ice cream way out in the country when I was a kid. It's dating a girl who went to Maine-Endwell. It's dropping her off at her house in Endwell and getting into a fender-bender on the way back home (no real damage, fortunately). It's where my 25-year reunion "pregame" was held (the bar bash the day before).

That's why this year's Little League World Series meant so much. Congrats, Maine-Endwell. And all the people back home.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Some cards

Some cards give me money
Some cards buy me clothes
Some cards give me jewelry
That is for someone else to own

Some cards give me zirconia diamonds
Some cards, heart attacks
Some cards I give all my bread to
I don't ever want it back

Some cards show me jewelry
Some cards show me clothes
Some cards are for children
Or at least they used to be

So give me all of your cards
Give me all your gold parallels
They won't buy a house on Zuma beach
But I'll give you some cards for you to own

Some cards take my money
Some cards take my clothes
Some cards get the shirt off my back
And leave me with a lethal dose

Yeah French cards are OPC
Italian cards are futbol
American cards are everything in the world
You can possibly imagine

English cards can be so silly
I can't stand seeing them in my online search
Sometimes I close my browser
I don't want them to show up at all

Topps cards, they're pretty funny
Sometimes they drive me mad
Panini cards just wanna f*** it up all night
I just don't have that much (attention) span

Some cards can be gentle
They're really such a tease
You never know quite what they're cookin'
Inside those cardboard sleeves

Some cards they're so pure
Some cards so corrupt
Some cards are for children
I was one of those once

Give me half your cards
I said, give me half your cards
Give me half of everything
You'll make me the biggest card star


Thank you to Commish Bob, madding and Fuji for supplying the cards for this latest indulgence.

If you recognize the altered lyrics, you're as old as I am, or at least have good taste.

For the rest, gain knowledge.

Oh, yeah, one more thing:


Thanks again Fuji!