Wednesday, May 30, 2018

C.A.: 1985 P.R.E. Pete Rose Set #102

(Hello on "Water a Flower Day," subtitled, "Things I Would Do If I Didn't Blog About Baseball Cards". It's time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 270th in a series):

The other day I came across a couple of Dodgers cards from 1988 that I didn't have or even knew existed.

I am always amazed when I find cards from the '80s that are brand new to me. The cards from that decade are so plentiful, so present, even to this day, that it seems I would have each set and card documented and numbered in my brain.

But, no, many years into this, I keep turning up stuff.

Like the P.R.E. Pete Rose set from 1985.

This was a set that the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards guesses was produced by something called Pete Rose Enterprises (the volume puts a question mark after "Enterprises"). It was distributed by the famed NYC dealer Renata Galasso, which is why it's referred to by her name in online listings. Those listings also mention Topps as a manufacturer of the set, possibly because several of the cards in the 120-card set feature puzzle pieces that display Topps Rose cards of the past.

The various Rose images in the set remind me of that all-black-and-white Pete Rose set produced by Leaf a few years ago. After seeing the P.R.E. cards, I'm even less interested in the Leaf cards. The P.R.E. set features many color photos (as well as black and white) and lots of famous moments from his career as well as old home photos. It looks a heck of a lot better than the Leaf set. If I was a Reds fan, I'd track down this one in a heartbeat.

But I stumbled across the cards for the very first time while hunting for items during COMC's spring cleaning sale. Card #102 popped up first and I was charmed instantly.

In this card, Rose has clearly delivered an opposite-field hit before a rapt Wrigley Field crowd that includes famed Cubs ballgirl Marla Collins (MLB's first ballgirl and the one who was fired by the team for posing nude in Playboy). It is a pure mid-1980s card. It practically leapt into my cart.

I don't know a lot of large sets devoted to a single player. I can think of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Nolan Ryan off the top of my head and when you throw in all those Star sets from the late '80s there are probably a bunch more (in 1985 Renata Galasso also put out a set dedicated to Dwight Gooden).

I'm not a Rose fan at all, but given when I grew up with the game, if I had a little less self-control, I'd probably buy many more of these cards and maybe even the whole set. Like many 1980s oddballs, they're very affordable.

I have a feeling I will keep turning up 1980s cards that I didn't know existed for as long as I'm collecting.

That's actually a good thing. Because when it comes to the '70s and '80s, I never want those days to end.

(P.S.: The Greatest 100 Cards of the 1980s countdown will make its debut in August).

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

This is the 2018 Topps National League team set

While I was out getting some cards at Rite Aid yesterday, I also swung by Target and purchased Topps' National League team set that it puts out every year.

There is almost no point to this set -- and the accompanying American League team set -- and it's getting more and more pointless by the year. The only thing that made it stand out each year was the placement of the NL or AL logo on each card so you could distinguish it from the flagship card with the same photo.

Well, there's no NL or AL logo this year. Apparently there wasn't one last year either (I didn't bother getting the set). So to separate these cards in your brain from the other cards that look almost exactly the same, you'll have to turn the card over and check out the card number.

This may seem like a trivial topic for a blog post, but it gets a bit frustrating deciphering the cards available these days. Topps doesn't exactly go to acceptable lengths to get the word out. A couple of weeks ago, I actually confused the AL and NL team sets hanging in my local Target with the "other" team sets, the individual team team sets. I thought I was looking at the Yankees and Nationals team sets, because -- again -- no AL or NL logo.

Then one of those lovely online people who only emerges when it's time to correct someone set me straight. Such an attractive quality, online person. But the point is, it seems like nobody is providing information unless they get to tell someone they're wrong!

I know that's not entirely true. My apologies to Ryan Cracknell and the like, but there just isn't enough information out there about cards sometimes.

So let me give you the obsessive, totally unnecessary lowdown on the 2018 Topps NL team set.

NL-1 - Bryce Harper, Nationals

Have we seen this image before?: Yes, it's Harper's Opening Day photo. Expect to see this in Series 2.

NL-10 - Michael Conforto, Mets

(That's right, "NL-10," I'll get to that).

Have we seen this image before?: Yes, it's Conforto's flagship photo.

NL-3 - Charlie Blackmon, Rockies

Have we seen this image before?: Yes, it's Blackmon's Opening Day photo.

NL-8 - Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Have we seen this image before?: Yup. It's Strasburg's flagship photo.

NL-15 - Justin Turner, Dodgers

Have we seen this image before?: Yup. Opening Day.

NL-12 - Yadier Molina, Cardinals

Have we seen this image before?: Yes. Opening Day.

NL-5 - Daniel Murphy, Nationals

Have we seen this image before?: Yes, Opening Day. It's a different image than his flagship card, which is always nice.

NL-14 - Joey Votto, Reds

Have we seen this image before?: Yes. Opening Day.

NL-7 - Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Have we seen this image before?: It's his Opening Day photo, which is different from his flagship photo.

NL-9 - DJ LeMahieu, Rockies

Have we seen this image before?: Opening Day.

NL-4 - Buster Posey, Giants

Have we seen this image before?: Flagship.

NL-13 - Corey Seager, Dodgers

Have we seen this image before?: Opening Day

NL-2 - Cody Bellinger, Dodgers

Have we seen this image before?: Flagship

NL-16 - Max Scherzer, Nationals

Have we seen this image before?: Opening Day

NL-6 - Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

Have we seen this image before?: Flagship

NL-11 - Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Have we seen this image before?: Opening Day

NL-17 - Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Have we seen this image before?: Flagship

That's the whole team set. It's 17 cards. I showed the cards in order of how they came out of the package. Only cards 1, 3 and 17 were in order. Everything else was scattered throughout.

This set has a "we'll put in whatever players we want to and call it a 'team set'" feel to it, which I'm sure is the way these NL team sets have always been. Outside of every player being named an NL All-Star last year there is no other connection. I believe these were called "all-star team sets" before, I wish they'd go back to that. And back to putting the league logos on the cards.

Outside of getting the Dodgers in this set, because I have the addiction, there is absolutely no reason for me to buy this or for it to be made.

The only reason I can think of why it's made is this:

I actually went to Target to get the American League team set, so I could send the Aaron Judge card to Sports Card Collectors. But the AL team set was sold out, probably because Judge was the first card showing and I live in Yankee land.

So that's the reason why the AL team sets are there: for impulse buyers, some of whom may have no idea what they're buying.

But maybe someone will see this post and figure out what's going on. Someone's got to tell people.

Monday, May 28, 2018

So long, Rite Aid

Several of the Rite Aid chain drug stores in the area are closing, including the two right in town. Walgreens bought Rite Aid a few months ago and it was only a matter of time before the local Rite Aids would be shutting down.

This is not good news. I grew up buying baseball cards at the drug store. Some of the major card-buying moments and acquisitions from the first 20 years of my collecting career came from drug stores. I can see the insides of those various stores right now, where the card boxes were positioned, everything. When it comes to traditional card purchasing, you will never be able to convince me that big-box stores are the better way to go.

So, Rite Aid has carried that nostalgia for me, even though they haven't been an impressive source for cards over the years. A number of years ago, I snagged from Rite Aid some Chrome cards. That may have been the highlight. Much more recently, Rite Aid's been OK for repacks.

Upon hearing the news of Rite Aid's closing (they'll be shuttered by the end of next month), I headed out to find a couple of deals. School supplies were 50 percent off so half-off binders are always key. But mostly, I wanted to grab some cards as a final tribute to the store.

Hanging from the lonely display off to the far end of the front register where nobody goes, were a smattering of various trading cards. The baseball items were 2015 and 2016 Topps (no need for either), and a couple of Fairfield repack boxes.

I bought just the one Fairfield repack, being somewhat concerned that the guaranteed sealed pack inside would be Panini Triple Play.

The box didn't yield anything exciting, but as always it provided some good entertainment and some cards that I needed.

Although a 1984 Topps card marked the oldest item in the box, I found relatively little junk wax in this repack. The overproduction highlights for me were:

A six-pack of 1987 Donruss. One hundred percent of my 1987 Donruss acquisitions have come via repacks. It is one of several sets that if I ever complete it, it will be via repacks.

A Dream Team Kirby Puckett from 1990 Score.

I don't know if this really counts as junk wax, but three 1992 Topps Traded cards, including South Side and North Side managers.

A food-issue oddball from 1992.

And this is a first: an O-Pee-Chee checklist, this from 1988.

I was so excited about it ("Liste de controle!") that I had to break out my 1988 Topps checklist, cards 1-132, to compare.

There are differences everywhere. About the only cards that remain the same between the two are the players whose card numbers end in "0" or "5".

Unless you're counting the 1988 Donruss Paul O'Neill card I pulled -- and why would you unless you were me -- this was the other highlight of the '80s cards from the repack. The glossy all-stars from the '80s are almost guaranteed in each Fairfield repack, but they were pretty special back then and they still retain that feeling of something worthwhile.

But, no, the '80s, nor even the early '90s, were where this repack was at.

It was mostly about the thick of the 1990s, stuff from 1993 onward.

That's a lot of '90s cards that I didn't have before walking into Rite Aid.

A few horizontal '90s specimens.

I'm most pleased about this '90s card. I interviewed Alan Benes back in the late '90s when he was considered a notable pitching talent for the Cardinals. The back of this card even says he was "headed for Cy Young contention" in 1997 before injury hit. I can't say I remember that although that was the same year I talked to him.

Some more recent cards from my very neglected 2008 Topps set.

These are all American League and National League team set cards. I don't know when Topps removed the AL and NL logos from these cards but it sure is confusing when the photos look the same as the flagship cards.

The repack continued along like that as I found a couple of needs from 2013 Topps flagship and a fun card or two from random sets like '87 Fleer and 2000 SPx.

It may be the last purchase I make at Rite Aid, at least where I live. And now within the last two years, I've lost retail options with both Kmart and Rite Aid closing.

I'm not too shattered because as I've documented a few times before, Walgreens also features cards for sale, including these very same repack boxes.

Plus, Rite Aid didn't exactly give me a pleasant going-away gift with the guaranteed sealed pack.

Objectively, 1992 Donruss is much better than Panini Triple Play, I will admit.

However, it happens to be a set that I loathe irrationally.

In fact, rather than sullying this blog with more 1992 Donruss cards, I'll probably open it on A Pack To Be Named Later. I see that Series I hasn't been opened yet on that blog.

So long, Rite Aid. You were good for scratching the pack itch and for reliving my drug store card-buying days.

That's the best compliment I can give you.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What Porky Pig said

Later tonight I will kick off the Traded set portion of the 1985 Topps set over on my 1985 Topps blog.

After completing the 792-card flagship set the other day I realized that I've now written three set blogs from start to finish, with the 1975 Topps set first, followed by the 1971 Topps set and now the 1985 Topps set. I don't think anyone has done that before.

That would impress a few people back when blogs were king and set-blogging was fashionable. Nobody cares much anymore, or a lot less people do anyway.

That's not the reason why I'm going to stop doing set blogs once the '85 Traded set is done though. I'm just tired of running multiple blogs. I've been doing that for more than eight years now and it's time to move on to other interests.

Night Owl Cards isn't going anywhere, don't you worry. The need to write remains strong.

There is always the slight possibility that after I've wrapped up the '85 set and I'm working on one blog and one blog alone that I'll get the itch to do another set blog. I don't think that'll happen but who knows.

If that happens, there are two ways I could go: 1993 Upper Deck or 1981 Topps.

The '93 UD set is a no-brainer. But I've always felt a little sorry for the '81 Topps set. It is just about the only Topps flagship set from that sweet spot (say 1960s to the early 1990s) that has not been covered in set-blog form. Even those set blogs that got maybe 100 or 200 cards into the set before giving up the blog haven't bothered with '81 Topps.

So, I think '81 Topps deserves some chronicling.

I'd much rather it be chronicled by someone else though.

Because right now it's three-and-out for me.

Friday, May 25, 2018

So close I can taste it

One of the great joys of set collecting is the completion of the task. The sense of accomplishment. The reward for a job well done. There aren't a lot of people out there telling you "good job," so set collecting fulfills the need.

As I get closer and closer to completing a set, the thrill and anxiety heightens. When will I finish it? Which card will be the last? How can I get that card and how soon?

I'm at that point with several sets. I need a mere 62 cards to complete the 1973 Topps set. I'm four cards from finishing the 2008 Stadium Club set. And I need to get off my butt and order that one common to complete the 1988 Fleer set.

Recently, Fuji sent me some cards that added to the thrill of completing two more sets, two of my favorites.

Add Wilbur Wood to Thurman, Brock and Reggie and you've got four needed cards from 2001 Upper Deck Decade the 1970s.

Here are four more (those Reggies are always the last ones).

That leaves just four more cards (120, 146, 154, 167) until I put a bow on the whole thing. Exciting! Exhilarating! Anxiety-Inducing!

I NEED those four cards.

But I'll get 'em.

I also need some more of the insert cards to fully finish off the set. When I get done with it, I'll do a whole post about it because it's really a wonderful, wacky set with a bunch of weirdness that Upper Deck threw in there.

Fuji also aided in my quest to complete 1981 Fleer.

These six goodies (there's Reggie again) get me down to needing 11 more cards to finish the first full-sized Fleer set.

I'm so close I can taste it!

Fuji also threw in a few Dodger cards:

Some Tek and some Museum. I don't see much of these sets so I'm pretty sure I need all four.

Fuji also sent a card from a set that's entirely new to me:

It's a graded card of an owl! It's from the 1957 Premiere Birds set. In doing a small amount of research on these cards, they're pretty darn affordable for something that's 60 years old. Birds get no respect.

Anyway, as much as I like the Dodgers and post their cards, I admit I don't get as excited about my team set as much as I do the regular set collecting.

Team-set collecting also features an element of completion, but it doesn't feel as satisfying as wrapping up an entire set, especially when that set is at least 660 cards strong.

That's why I'll always be a set collector, even if I'm the very last one.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Brush with greatness: Donovan McNabb

I love these Press Pass Xs and Os cards from 1999.

When I was looking for a Donovan McNabb card to fill out my collection of Brush With Greatness topics (i.e.: athletes I've interviewed), I wanted just the right card. I don't really collect football so I wanted only one card of him.

Any card of McNabb with the Eagles wouldn't do. I didn't interview him then and that Eagles' color scheme makes for boring cards. I like the helmet with the wings, but all that dark green really dulls down a card. And forget about the Redskins or Vikings when McNabb was on his way out.

No, I wanted something from his Syracuse University days and something snazzy.

I covered McNabb at Syracuse during his first year on the football field (he red-shirted the 1994 season). It may be difficult to believe now, but at the time of McNabb's first spring practice on the roster, he was not a sure thing as the starting quarterback for SU.

The starting job was considered a toss up between McNabb, Kevin Johnson (who would go on to be a receiver for the Cleveland Browns) and the most experienced of the group, Keith Downing. That was the party line given by SU head coach Paul Pasqualoni at the time and nobody at SU was budging from that.

But during the spring game in 1995, it became obvious that they couldn't hide McNabb on the bench. He was the clear star of that game and that was the theme of my story. For the next few months, SU continued to list three possibilities as the starting QB, but I -- and I'm sure many others -- knew that when it came to announce a starter, it would be McNabb.

The 1995 season was a fun one. Not only was it McNabb's breakout year that would lead to four years as a starter and one of SU's all-time greats, but it also included receiver Marvin Harrison, fullback Rob Konrad and safety Donovin Darius. The Orange played in the Gator Bowl that year and annihilated favored Clemson 41-0 as McNabb threw three touchdown passes.

McNabb was on his way.

I've always been happy I covered that particular season -- the only season I covered SU football for the entire year (I covered games here and there afterward). McNabb was fun to write about and a pleasant interview.

Each Monday that season, SU would hold a weekly press conference and luncheon. Reporters would interview the achingly boring Pasqualoni and then two players. The players were different each week, chosen by the sports information department. Sometimes the same player would appear 2, 3 or 4 times during the season. I would always hope McNabb was a repeat appearance.

McNabb, no surprise he was a broadcast major, just got it. He didn't offer anything revealing, but he was always open, personable and gave you good quotes. You could tell he didn't mind being interviewed, which is very much a different attitude when it comes to athletes.

McNabb has encountered a number of issues the last few years, from DWIs to getting fired from his ESPN job because of reports of unwanted sexual advances.

Like I said, I last covered McNabb in the late 1990s and that was long before McNabb experienced the thrill of being a quarterback in the Super Bowl and all the excitement and baggage that comes with it. It's sure to change a man. I hope he gets his act together.

Because way back then, I was just thinking, "Come on. They HAVE to start this guy."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Team MVPs: 1984 Fleer

I'm offering another apology to 1981 Topps.

I've promised twice now that the next set that I would profile in this Team MVPs series would be 1981 Topps. But I'm delaying that yet again, because I keep completing sets!

Since my last '81 Topps promise I have completed 1984 Fleer. Since I'm going back in time with this series I can't continue to go back to the past without taking care of more recent sets! This is my first chance to determine the best card for each team in a Fleer set.

I've noticed a benefit to Fleer right away. The cards are numbered by team, so each team's cards are grouped together. That allows me to review each team all at once instead of the piece-by-piece process I go through with Topps sets.

It's also a lot of fun to determine the "best" card in a mid-1980s Fleer set as many of the photos have so much character. However, you'd be surprised how many photos are also boring as all get-out. Entire teams are boring as all get-out. I wasn't expecting that.

So, here we go, the best card for each team, separated by the MLB division breakdown in 1984:

American League East

Orioles: Rick Dempsey; Red Sox: Mark Clear; Indians: Gorman Thomas; Tigers: Enos Cabell; Brewers: Jerry Augustine; Yankees: Graig Nettles; Blue Jays: Roy Lee Jackson

Team with the best cards: Blue Jays, by a landslide. Nothing in the AL East comes close. Almost nothing in the entire league comes close.

Team with the worst cards: Indians/Tigers tie. Enos Cabell won because he was smiling, that's how tough it was for the Tigers.

Team I should go back and review: Yankees. No, not because I didn't put Mattingly's rookie card here (this is not how we determine "best" on this blog), but because I'm so enamored with the rare appearance of a Graig Nettles mustache.

American League West

Angels: Bobby Grich; White Sox: Julio Cruz; Royals: John Wathan; Twins: Kent Hrbek; A's: Dan Meyer; Mariners: Richie Zisk; Rangers: Larry Biittner

Team with the best cards: Royals, ever so slightly ahead of the Twins and Angels. I may have given the Twins demerits because of this:

Team with the worst cards: Mariners were pretty boring.

Team I should go back and review: White Sox. The Greg Luzinski card is kinda cool and probably should overthrow Cruz and his batting cage.

National League East

Cubs: Jay Johnstone; Expos: Al Oliver; Mets: Jose Oquendo; Phillies: Tony Perez; Pirates: Larry McWilliams; Cardinals: Joaquin Andujar

Team with the best cards: Expos, although there are several classics with other teams.

Team with the worst cards: Probably Cardinals, although every team is pretty strong in this division.

Team I should go back and review: Phillies. I subconsciously omitted the SuperStar Special cards from consideration, which means no "Reds Reunited" card for the Phillies (or the "Pine-Tar Game" for the Royals). This is a faux pas, I admit, but there's no time to rescan cards now.

National League West

Braves: Glenn Hubbard; Reds: Johnny Bench; Astros: Jose Cruz; Dodgers: Steve Howe; Padres: Steve Garvey; Giants: Bob Brenly

Team with the best cards: Braves. Reds are a close runner-up, followed by the Padres. Also, how awesome is that top row, featuring a snake, an ESPN mic and a barbell???

Team with the worst cards: Dodgers. Very nondescript for a team that won the NL West the previous year.

Team I should go back and review: Giants. Jeff Leonard is offering his all-time glower on his card but I went with Brenly just because he appears to have consumed all of the tobacco in the clubhouse and is now regretting it.

So that's the first look at Fleer in the Team MVPs series.

I promise you'll be seeing the 1981 Topps set next, and sooner than later. With Archives using the '81 design this summer, it seems like perfect timing.