Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The underrated joy of upgrading


One thing that almost never gets discussed on the blogs is upgrading cards.

I wrote a couple of short posts back in the early years of the blog titled "the joy of an upgraded card." They didn't get a lot of attention. In fact, I felt like a contrarian when I was writing them.

I got the sense that most bloggers didn't care much for upgrading. They liked their cards manhandled. They liked them to "have a story." I never understood that. If I acquire a card with a story, it's someone else's story. I don't want that. It's my collection. I want my stories.

So, I quietly dropped the series. But I've still gotten a thrill out of upgrading my cards all of these years.

I'm not a serious upgrader. (If I was, I'd be a plain "grader," and send my cards to get slabbed, so nobody could touch them. I may not want my cards to be dingy, but I certainly don't want them sitting encased in plastic). I don't think about upgrading much. The two times I do think about it is when I'm at a card show or when I get card doubles in a trade. Then I think "what can I upgrade?"

Today, I went to that flea market building that features the one station with baseball cards and memorabilia. My intent was to buy the one-50 card box with 1970 Topps showing on the front that I passed up last time. Unfortunately it wasn't there.

All that remained were packs and packs and packs of junk wax, a few mildly interesting items (a bunch of the 1983 Donruss All-Stars cards) and another 50-card box with '73 Vida Blue showing on the top.

I thought about whether I should buy it. I know the order of these boxes. If there's a '73 Blue on the top and a '79 Rusty Staub on the bottom, then all of the cards are between 1973-79. I have virtually every Topps card from 73-79. Is this a wise purchase?

Ah, hell, I've been buying 2019 Topps for two months. What do I know about wise purchases? I'm buying it.

As suspected, all of the cards were from 1973 through 1979 Topps. My only hope for pulling a card that I needed was if the box happened to contain one of the 30 or so 1973 Topps still on my want list.

I got a little excited when I saw a '73 Frank Howard card fall out. But, nope, I have that one.

I had them all. 1974 Boog Powell. 1975 Roy White. 1977 Ken Griffey. 1979 Darrell Evans. Why did I buy this?

Then my eyes settled on another Vida Blue card, this one from 1979. It was in immaculate shape. Shiny. Super-sharp corners. Pack fresh. I made the connection: "I can upgrade!"


I started comparing and contrasting. Out of the 50 cards purchased, I was able to upgrade with 25 of them. Including the '79 Ron Cey!


Most of the upgrade cards came from 1978 or 1979 Topps and there's a reason for that.

When I collected cards as a kid, they were from 1974 through 1979. My return to the hobby, around 2004, began with trying to finish what I started as a kid and complete the 1974 and 1975 Topps sets. While I completed the set, I also upgraded it because -- well, you've seen the 1975 cards I kept from when I was a kid -- they desperately needed help.

During the life of this blog I've also completed the 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979 Topps sets. With 1976 and 1977, I also focused on upgrades because I was still a wee lad during those years and flung my cards around the room like a frisbee. But I didn't do so much upgrading with '78 and '79 because -- well, the cards looked OK. I had gotten a little older and a bit more protective of my stuff.

However, if you look at my '78s and '79s closely, you can see some remnants from childhood. That's why I was so happy to be able to upgrade with these flea market cards!


The upgrades didn't improve on any major flaws. Most of the replacements were for rounded or dinged corners, and while I was at it, I looked for centering issues, too (although centering is waaaay down on the list when it comes to upgrades. I'd drive myself crazy if I tried to find a perfectly centered example of every '70s card).

The biggest upgrade was probably my 1978 Jim Kaat card.


That's the original. Well-worn.

This is the upgrade.

I can hear some collectors now: don't you want to hang on to that well-loved '78 Kaat? Doesn't it contain memories? Doesn't it tell some stories?

No, to all three questions.

I hang on to my 1975 Topps originals because those cards tell stories. In the years that followed, all I see when I look at those cards is "there's a kid who didn't know how to take care of his stuff." I have room for only one kind of that story and those are the '75 Topps originals.

The replaced cards will go in a box. If they're in decent enough condition, they'll be included in trades. Every once in awhile I come across a collector who doesn't care about condition at all and I'll offload a bunch of my kiddie cards to them. Those cards tell my story, but the recipient doesn't seem to mind.

So, yeah, I like upgrading cards sometimes.

It's kind of like cleaning out the refrigerator. I feel good when it's done. And things are lot less smelly.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Getting into the spring of things


Thank you for all the kind comments and well-wishes and prayers on the last post. Even though this blog is as much me working out personal stuff as it is discussing baseball cards, I often hesitate before placing full-fledged personal issues here.

I decided to go ahead this time just because you never know who can be helped. I'm glad I did. I probably won't need to take any of you up on your offers of assistance (well, except for you, Angus, I'm going to that card show next month no matter what!), but it means a lot that people care.

Meanwhile, I've got cards to tend to among everything else going on, so I'm going to do that now.

It's a couple of days before the start of spring and I love spring training. I love a lazy day of watching a lazy broadcast of teams lazily playing a spring training game on my TV.

The only problem is, I almost never watch spring training games on TV. I'd love to -- so much. But they always occur during the busiest time of the year for me. Usually, the month is two-thirds over and I realize, hey, I can watch a spring training game on TV! Then, something very March happens and I forget all about it.

So, here we are, March 18th, and I've watched an inning of a spring training game. I was at a restaurant a week-and-half ago. It was a sports bar with the required TVs tuned to different sports events. I was staring at a rugby match. My wife was staring at a spring training game between the Dodgers and White Sox. We switched seats immediately. (No, my wife doesn't like rugby).

The game was in the ninth inning, so I didn't see much and that's the last of spring training I saw. The Dodgers are on again tonight, and if nothing March happens maybe I'll catch part of that game.

To get myself into the spirit of spring, I have some autographed cards of Dodgers of the past from Alex. He contacted me last month and mentioned that he used to live in Albuquerque and go to the old Dukes games and get autographs. He had a bunch of Dodgers from that time period and graciously offered them to me!


I'm assuming that Alex obtained these signatures during the course of the season -- not necessarily during spring training (especially since the Dodgers played spring training games in Florida back then). But nothing says spring training to me more than players signing autographs.



I've never been to a spring training game. And I've never been one to go up to a player and ask for an autograph. However, I think that if it was around 1990 and I was at a spring game, I might be tempted.



The late 1980s and the dawn of a new decade were a pretty special time for the Dodgers. They had just won a World Series in 1988 and the years that followed immediately after were full of hope ... a dynasty in the making!



Of course, that never happened. The prospects on the Dodgers in the late 1980s -- many featured on the cards Alex sent me -- didn't amount to a lot. The Dodgers had to wait until the early '90s, the Piazza and Karros years, for prospects to mean something again.



But I think it's pretty cool I have my first autographed cards of '80s prospects Ralph Bryant and Jose Gonzalez, both on individual cards and a shared card!



Here is a card with scribbles on the proper side.



And here is a card in which you can tell that Mike Huff made sure you could see that signature.



Out of the cards that Alex sent, I had only two players' signatures already. One is Jose Offerman. This is my third Jose Offerman signed card.



The other is Reggie Williams. In fact, I already own this very 1987 Fleer card signed by Williams.


That's the other one. Signature looks pretty authentic to me!


Since Alex helped me add Mike Huff, Ralph Bryant, Jose Gonzalez, Mike Munoz, Mike Devereaux, Dave Hansen and Jeff Hamilton to the Dodger autograph collection, I thought this would be a good time to update my list of all the Dodgers for which I have autographs, on cards.

Don Aase
Victor Alvarez
Chris Anderson
Dave Anderson
Andy Ashby
Billy Ashley
Kym Ashworth
Pedro Astacio
Pedro Baez
Dusty Baker
Daniel Batz
Adrian Beltre
Josh Bell
Chad Billingsley
Mike Blowers
Bobby Bragan
Ralph Branca
Yhency Brazoban
Rocky Bridges
Ralph Bryant
Bill Buckner
Walker Buehler
Brett Butler
John Candelaria
Tom Candiotti
Roger Cedeno
Ron Cey
Alex Cora
Rubby De La Rosa
Rick Dempsey
Mike Devereaux
Blake DeWitt
Victor Diaz
Al Downing
Darren Dreifort
Don Drysdale
Cory Dunlap
Scott Elbert
John Ely
Carl Erskine
Andre Ethier
Joey Eischen
Kyle Farmer
Chad Fonville
Eric Gagne
Greg Gagne
Yimi Garcia
Steve Garvey
Jose Gonzalez
Dave Goltz
Dee Gordon
Kevin Gross
Alex Guerrero
Pedro Guerrero
Wilton Guerrero
Mark Guthrie
Jeff Hamilton
Tim Hamulack
Dave Hansen
Mickey Hatcher
Carlos Hernandez
Kirby Higbe
Koyie Hill
Todd Hollandsworth
Burt Hooton
Charlie Hough
Ken Howell
Chin-Lung Hu
Mike Huff
Kaz Ishii
Kenley Jansen
Stan Javier
Blake Johnson
Von Joshua
Eric Karros
Matt Kemp
Clayton Kershaw
Jay Kirkpatrick
Mike Kinkade
Sandy Koufax
Hong-Chih Kuo
Ken Landreaux
Andy LaRoche
Zach Lee
Josh Lindblom
Jon Link
Matt Magill
Mike Marshall
Russell Martin
Pratt Maynard
James McDonald
Andy Messersmith
Aaron Miller
Rick Monday
Wally Moon
Danny Mota
Manny Mota
Mike Munoz
Tom Niedenfuer
Ricky Nolasco
Hideo Nomo
Jose Offerman
Justin Orenduff
Claude Osteen
Antonio Osuna
Chan Ho Park
Joc Pederson
Alejandro Pena
Angel Pena
Antonio Perez
Joe Pignatano
Johnny Podres
Luke Prokopec
John Ragliani
Gary Rath
Jeremy Rathjen
Jerry Reuss
Adam Riggs
Eric Riggs
Dave Roberts
Orlando Rodriguez
Paco Rodriguez
Ricardo Rodriguez
Preacher Roe
Bill Russell
Kyle Russell
Juan Samuel
Dennis Santana
Steve Sax
Scott Schebler
Rob Segedin
Jeff Shaw
John Shelby
Duke Snider
Cory Snyder
Ross Stripling
Franklin Stubbs
Eric Stults
Ramon Troncoso
Derrel Thomas
John Tudor
Ismael Valdes
Jesmuel Valentin
Fernando Valenzuela
Alex Verdugo
Cory Wade
Tim Wallach
Allen Webster
Bob Welch
Mitchell White
Reggie Williams
Maury Wills
Tom Windle
Chris Withrow
Todd Williams
Steve Yeager
Delwyn Young
Matt Young

That's a healthy list, but committed Dodger autograph collectors will notice some gaps. There's no Davey Lopes autograph or Reggie Smith or Mike Piazza or several other notable names. Sometimes I think about adding some of those guys, and then I forget about it because that's not really why I'm collecting.

However ...

If I actually do watch some of that spring training game tonight, you can bet that a Lopes autograph card will find its way into my online cart by the end of the night.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

ALS


We received the diagnosis on my mom last Wednesday.

She has ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Lou Gehrig's Disease.

We already knew that she had it. We've known since January. Before that we thought she might have Alzheimer's, or a nerve disease, whose complicated name I once had memorized but so much has transpired since that there's only room for knowledge of what can help my mom right now.

It's taken so long to get to this diagnosis because for so many years, my mom was in perfect health, a literal walking example of how to behave physically and mentally when you're in your 70s. My siblings and I now believe -- with the benefit of hindsight -- that she probably had this disease for two or three years already and either didn't realize it or kept it hid (we have found indications that she knew something was wrong).

So, even though it feels like it took forever for a diagnosis to be made, many others have said, "it happened so quickly."

And, yes, it's been a whirlwind since last April. And the weeks and days are now whipping by because we don't know how long we have left with her. Meanwhile, my dad, who is several years older than my mom, I don't know what to make of him. He's confused, bitter and who knows how much he's absorbed of what my mom has, even though he's completely capable of thinking for himself.

The good part -- and that's what this disease does, makes you think that there's a "good part" in all of this -- is that hospice will take over soon and we won't have to go through the financial/government dance with nursing homes. Some people diagnosed with ALS have five, seven, 10 years left to live. My mom doesn't have that kind of time, barring a miracle. She's also dealing with advanced dementia, because some people with ALS get that, too.

I'm over the shock. That probably came last summer and the endless trips home and to doctors appointments have placed me firmly into the land of reality. That's not saying that it's not tough for me and for others in my family. It's just that meltdowns don't do any good. Everyone has their problems. I just happen to have a problem that when I say what it is, everyone else stops talking about their problems.

For years -- decades -- the only person I knew with Lou Gehrig's Disease was Lou Gehrig. Then I read about another person or two. There was Tim Green, the former Syracuse and NFL player who recently made his ALS announcement. And here and there I'd hear about somebody that a friend of a friend of a friend knew.

Now my mom -- with absolutely no appreciation for baseball, not that she can absorb concepts like this anymore -- has Lou Gehrig's Disease.

I'm going to miss her.

Friday, March 15, 2019

How Upper Deck did the '70s


I said several posts ago that now that I've completed the 2001 Upper Deck Decade '70s set that I'd conduct a full examination of the set that covered the time period when I first became aware of baseball, first watched games on TV and attended them in stadiums, and first collected baseball cards.

I like this set a lot because of its colorful tribute to the '70s. It had to be something special to grab my attention during a period when I had no idea what was going on in card collecting. But, like I said a few times before, I spotted it while shopping for something else in a drug store and became fascinated with the cards.

One of the things I find most interesting about them is that it is Upper Deck paying tribute to the '70s. That was amusing to me. It's still amusing to me. I always thought of Upper Deck as believing that baseball started when they put Ken Griffey Jr. on a card and that anything before that was not important.

And if you look closely at this set, you will realize that, yeah, that is kind of the case. This is actually a deeply flawed set.

How deep?

Here are some of the players who are not featured in this 179-card tribute to the '70s:

George Brett, Rod Carew, Sparky Lyle, Mark Fidrych, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Vida Blue, Lou Whitaker, Bill Buckner, Larry Bowa, Jim Rice and Dick Allen.

That is a lot of the '70s to leave out.

I didn't realize that this was the case before examining this set for this post. I was kind of aware that Brett was nowhere to be found and also Fidrych. But I became appalled when I discovered that Carlton and Palmer and Rice were missing. As someone who grew up reading about those guys during the '70s, I can safely say that they were everywhere that decade and actually were the '70s.

But this explains a lot about the set. For anyone who has collected it, they know that several players are repeated throughout the set. Some players have 3 or 4 different cards. But I'll get into that in a little bit. Let's take a look at some of the set's basics.


The base set is 90 cards, the first 90 cards of the set. As you can see, it is numbered in alphabetical order according to team name. It is also ordered with the American League teams first, followed by the National League. This organization decision reveals what I consider another indicator that Upper Deck doesn't know the '70s so well.

Here is a page that shows some of the National League order:


Catch Upper Deck's goof?

The Brewers are grouped with the National League teams. Yes, the Brewers were a National League team in 2001, when the set was issued. But they were NOT a National League team in the '70s. They were as American League an American League team as you could get back then. It's bizarre seeing Gorman Thomas and Robin Yount grouped with notable National League players. Upper Deck just didn't have a firm handle on the '70s.

It did try though.

The set is an obvious tribute to my favorite set of all-time, 1975 Topps. It riffs off of '75 Topps' two-tone border design and offers up several border combinations just as '75 Topps did.

There are six with this set.


Green-blue


Green-purple


Yellow-orange


Yellow-green


Orange-blue


Orange-purple

Many of these are well-known '70s colors. As I write this, I can see that orange, yellow and lime-green flower-printed wallpaper in my parents' kitchen back on Chadwick Road in 1974.

I also enjoy that Upper Deck -- although missing several stars of the '70s -- did not forget some of the notable players that often get overlooked when people discuss '70s baseball.


These are all '70s standouts who rarely get credit for their '70s abilities. So, thank you Decade '70s for getting these guys in here.



The set also included several of the top rookies from that decade, even if Fidrych and Blue and Whitaker are missing.

Upper Deck covers every team that existed in the '70s in its base set. Here is the card-total breakdown according to the divisions that existed at the time:

AL East

Blue Jays - 2
Indians - 4
Orioles - 4
Red Sox - 5
Tigers  - 2
Yankees - 6
Brewers - 3

AL West

Angels - 3
A's - 6
Mariners - 1
Rangers - 3
Royals - 2
Twins - 3
White Sox - 2

NL East

Cardinals - 4
Cubs - 4
Expos - 4
Mets - 5
Phillies - 4
Pirates - 3

NL West

Astros - 2
Braves - 2
Dodgers - 5
Giants - 3
Padres - 2
Reds - 4



The set makes sure to note that baseball added two teams during the 1970s with two respective players for the Blue Jays and Mariners.

As you can see, I've shown a couple of cards with black-and-white photos. This is a drawback to the set that I noticed right away when buying those first cards. It's obvious that Upper Deck had a limited supply of photos for this set. It wasn't used to digging into the history files for its cards and it definitely didn't have the experience that Topps had.


So you got some black-and-white shots on your very colorful border design. I do like that Aparicio card, though.

Some of the set seems a bit tilted toward the early part of the '70s, although that may be my personal biased view. I didn't start following baseball until the middle of the decade, so that early '70s stuff doesn't really seem "70s" to me. But I suppose it belongs. It's just disturbing that there is no card of Cesar Cedeno or Darrell Porter or Dave Winfield.


Then there are photos that I don't even know if they're from the '70s. Especially that Seaver shot. He looks waaaay too young for the '70s.



That's more like it. Don Baylor was the 1979 MVP with the Angels. It's interesting the choices UD made because Baylor spent a lot of the decade as a member of the Orioles. He also played for the Yankees and the A's during those 10 years.

The more I examined the cards the more I noticed the missing players and the repeated photos and that Upper Deck was probably hampered by licensing.


These are the Dodgers in the base set. Where is Davey Lopes? Where is Don Sutton? Reggie Smith? Dusty Baker? Bill Buckner? Tommy John? I could do without Maury Wills, he was gone from the Dodgers by 1972. But how about Bob Welch or Joe Ferguson? (I'd ask about Mike Marshall, but he was notorious for not allowing his photo to be shown).



Then there are the Reds, the "Big Red Machine". Outside of the A's and the Yankees, they were the biggest deal in the '70s. But there are just four base cards. There is no Pete Rose (probably for MLB-legal reasons). No Davey Concepcion. No Tony Perez.

Also please note that Ken Griffey is referred to as "Ken Griffey Sr." even though nobody called him that in the '70s. That is very Upper Deck, indirectly referring to Griffey Jr.

The Griffey Sr. card is the last of the base cards. Then we get into subsets.


First there is the Rookie subset, which is 20 cards. It's mostly a regurgitation of some of the cards in the base set, but there are several new photos, like this fun one.

There are also several repeated photos. This is where you notice that UD ran out of material.


Sheesh. At least the Ron Cey image used in this subset is different from his base card.



The next subset is the "Decade Dateline" subset, which is 30 cards and my favorite of the subsets.

I like this group because it lists a bunch of notable moments from the '70s, events that I remember well and that were larger-than-life to my 11- and 12-year-old brain.


Here are several of them. All of these were BIG, BIG, NEWS.

But Decade Dateline doesn't dodge the repetitive photos.


You can see that some of the photos were recropped in a bid to give the same photo a different look.

This is especially useful when you need to use the same player three times and have only one photo:


Oh, brother.



The Award Winners subset is also 30 cards strong and recognizes '70s awards for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and in one bizarre case, a Gold Glove.

Most years from the decade get 3 different cards. For example, the 1970 awards are recognized with cards for NL MVP (Johnny Bench), AL MVP (Boog Powell) and AL Cy Young Award (Jim Perry). But there is no NL Cy Young Award card, so there is no Bob Gibson card (he does show up in the base set).

And so it goes for the rest of the years. Three awards cards for 1971 but no Vida Blue. Two awards cards for 1972 but no Dick Allen or Steve Carlton.

The 1973 awards are especially amusing as the AL MVP gets a card (Reggie Jackson) and the NL Cy Young winner gets a card (Tom Seaver), but nothing for NL MVP (Rose) or AL Cy Young Award (Palmer) or the Rookies of the Year (Gary Mathews and Al Bumbry). Instead we get this:


Out of nowhere, a card for Thurman Munson's 1973 Gold Glove, the only Gold Glove mention in the set.

Also, that is a repeated photo:


The final subset recognizes the World Series of the 1970s. It is my other favorite subset because it's another moment-in-time subset.


Also, the black border pinstripes are so cool.

There is one card for each World Series of the decade (save for one) and Upper Deck does a good job recognizing the notable moments and players for each Series.


I do not understand why there is no card for the 1979 World Series, though. This is upsetting as it's the first World Series I watched from start to finish. Also, there are several Willie Stargell cards in the set and I don't believe any of the photos were repeated so it's not like UD couldn't have come up with one more ... or, just recropped one, given its habits in the set.

The '70s Decade set also contains four different insert sets. I am attempting to complete those, too.


I have completed my favorites, the Bellbottomed Bashers and the Disco Era Dandies. But I still have a couple needs for both the Arms Race and Decade Dynasties.

Many of the insert photos are different than those for players who appear in the base set and subset. Then there is stuff like this:


However, I've always known about this with this set and I've been willing to give it a pass.

Yeah, some of the photos aren't great, and yeah, there's black-and-white pictures, and, yeah, there's a lot of guys missing, and, yeah, there's a lot of photos repeated, but ... it's THE '70s, MAN!!!!

I can spot new stuff every time I look at these cards because that's what the '70s were like.


Three different Indians uniforms, because it's the '70s.



Guys with the same team from opposite ends of the decade that might as well seem like they're opposite ends of the century because that's how long the '70s were to me.

I hope I'm not coming off too critical of the set because even though it is wildly inconsistent with a lot of inperfections and very Upper Deck, it's still one of my all-time favorite sets.

That's what happens when you focus on the '70s. You have my gratitude.

And one super-long post. That could've been much, much longer.

Peace.