Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Feds

In case you've been hiding under a rock, today is Wrigley Field's 100th birthday.

On this date a century ago, the first game in Wrigley (then known as Weeghman Park) took place. The Cubs and Diamondbacks tried to recreate the event as much as possible this afternoon, sporting some wicked throwbacks in the process.

The Cubs even somehow managed to sum up a hundred years of futility in one day, blowing a three-run lead in the 9th and eventually losing 7-5.

Even with the Cubs' usual woeful ways, I'll always be a devoted fan. I attended my first game and Wrigley and have been in love with the place ever since. If the card you see above is any indication, it's the most beautiful inanimate object in the world.

What I find interesting, though, is the fact that it wasn't even built for the Cubs in the first place. Today may be the park's 100th anniversary, but the Cubbies didn't move into Wrigley until 1916.

Nope, it was originally home to the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. On April 23rd, 1914, the Whales bested the Kansas City Packers in the very first game at Weeghman Park, 9-1.

The Federal League lasted all of two years, yet Wrigley Field is still standing a century later.

I find that amazing.

That's why I've been going a bit crazy with Federal League research this afternoon.

Started in 1914 as a challenge to the superior American and National Leagues, the "Feds" offered higher salaries and a new innovation called free agency to any player who joined.

Future Hall of Famers such as Chief Bender and Joe Tinker were among a select number who jumped ship to the eight-team league.

Having accepted a contract from the Chicago Whales, Walter Johnson very nearly changed the course of baseball history by joining the Federal League. However, the Senators quickly swooped in and offered "The Big Train" more money, cementing his career-long stay in Washington.

With all the big contracts being thrown around, it's no surprise that the Federal League collapsed after just two years.

It remains the last serious challenge to the American and National Leagues.

Before today, I never considered what happened with Federal League statistics.

Did they end up counting as "official" major league stats for those who had already accrued years in the American and/or National Leagues? Or were they treated as an entirely different commodity?

As it turns out, it's the former.

Cooperstown inductee Eddie Plank actually won his 300th career big league game in the Federal League, doing so with the St. Louis Terriers in 1915. However, Major League Baseball didn't recognize the achievement until 1968, as a matter of fact.

It's those types of quirks that make me such a huge fan of baseball history.

Unfortunately, there isn't a wide variety of Federal League cardboard out there.

The few I do have, however, are nothing short of fascinating. That's definitely true with the card you see above.

Though he was a terrific hitter, Hal Chase is better remembered for his gambling habits that eventually got him kicked out of baseball in 1919. He was also one of the players who jumped to the Federal League in 1914, suiting up for the Buffalo Buffeds. (That was their name. No joke.)

A few years ago, I landed this card from my local flea market as part of an awesome reprint lot I purchased.

You may notice the giant black line running through where the team name should be on it. That's actually part of the original reprint, as I'm guessing Chase jumped ship just before these Butter Nut Bread cards were set to be released.

Nowadays, we have sets like Update for things like that.

Back in the day, though, a simple permanent marker sufficed.

Most of the big stars who joined the Federal League were pretty much washed up by 1914.

On the other hand, future Hall of Famer Edd Roush got his first big chance in the rival organization.

After just nine games as a rookie with the 1913 White Sox, the outfielder joined the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Federal League the very next year. He'd stick with the league until its dying days, playing for the hilariously-named Newark Pepper in 1915.

He'd carve out a Cooperstown-worthy career over the next fifteen years with the Giants and Reds.

Although I'm not exactly sure where I got it, this nifty Cracker Jack reprint has been in my possession for a while now. Before it came along, I had no idea the famous set included Federal League players.

As if that weren't enough, Cracker Jack spelled Roush's last name wrong.

The future Hall of Famer deserved better.

In a perfect coincidence, "Three Finger" Brown actually pitched for three different Federal League teams.

He split his 1914 season between the St. Louis Terriers and Brooklyn Tip-Tops (named for the famous bread company at the time) and spent all of 1915 with the Chicago Whales.

As usual, good ol' Conlon Collection had that one covered. The legendary brand produced the only non-reprint Federal League cards I've ever seen. And, although the Whales and Cubs have absolutely no affiliation outside of Wrigley, this one goes into my Cubs collection.

Though I'd love to start one, I don't have nearly enough cards to compose an entirely separate Federal League binder.

By the way, the 1915 Whales club brings about another great piece of Federal League trivia.

Though the league was on its last legs at the time, the pennant race that year was one of the greatest in baseball history. Five of the eight teams were in the running in the last week of the season.

The Whales eventually eked out the pennant by the absolute slimmest of margins, finishing a staggering .001 ahead of the St. Louis Terriers in winning percentage and just .004 in front of the third-place Pittsburgh Rebels.

While the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908, at least another major league club from Chicago can lay claim to some sort of championship since then.

Even if it was the Federal League.

So, in honor of Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary, there's your baseball history lesson for today.

Don't worry, there won't be a quiz later.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Positively '90s

What if I told you the 1990's was the most game-changing decade in the history of baseball cards?

Some of you would probably laugh in my face.

Come on, bro. Seriously? The 1990's? 

Yes, bro. I bought my first packs of baseball cards in the '90s. As you might guess, I have a special bond with the decade. So, just for tonight, I'd like you to actually stop and consider what I said at the beginning of this post.

I just so happen to have a couple '90s-centric trade packages to provide as evidence. The first comes from all-around good guy Mark of the terrific blog "Mark's Ephemera".

I'm not sure you'll find a more '90s card than the Montgomery you see above. The fun "fireman" theme was a grand departure from the rather stoic posed shots Topps went with in the past.

Creative cards like these started to become the norm by the time the '90s came to an end.

It's almost hard to believe that such bland sets like 1990 Topps and 1991 Donruss came from the very same decade.

Had I not joined the blogosphere, I doubt I would've ever come in contact with these beauties.

They hail from the 1995 Phil Rizzuto's National Pastime retro series, a set I've talked about extensively in the past.

Only the '90s could pull of a combination of chrome and turn-of-the-century baseball.

I'd even go out on a limb and say that Collector's Choice was the greatest brand of the 1990's.

To me, it's everything that today's Topps Flagship should be. It's cheap, fun, and satisfying cardboard, without all the unnecessary bells and whistles that Topps seems to think collectors want these days.

These silver signature parallels were about as crazy as the inserts and parallels went in Collector's Choice. Aside from that, the focus was completely on the cards themselves.

While I'm not sure anyone knew it at the time, Collector's Choice may well have brought about a major change in the hobby. For my money, it was the first brand to provide a healthy mix of great action, funny poses, and all-around quality.

I can probably count the numbers of "pitchers at the plate" we've seen in the last five years on one hand. Collector's Choice did that and more by giving Mr. Bowen a horizontal hitting shot here.

I'm not sure we'll ever see another card like this again, sadly.

While I don't like to throw around the term too often, there's no denying that Collector's Choice was indeed unique for its time.

I can't imagine many other cards released in 1994 looked quite like this one. It may be the only potential outfield collision shot in history.

If Upper Deck ever manages to regain its baseball card license, Collector's Choice is the first brand they should revive.

I think it'd be a nice shot in the arm for the hobby.

Without the '90s, I'm not sure I'd even have mini-collections.

In fact, I'd say about a third of the cards in my frankenset binder come from the 1990's.

Autograph shots in particular seemed to take off during the decade. This, and the remainder of the cards you'll see in this post, hailed from a completely unexpected trade package from A.J. of the awesome blog "The Lost Collector".

One of the first things that pops into my mind about the '90s is Stadium Club. Without it, we might still be seeing boring 1990 Donruss-ish photos in today's sets.

For that, we owe Stadium Club a great debt.

Collector's Choice stayed strong until its death in the late '90s.

I still find it hard to believe that such a great brand only stuck around for a mere five years.

It's one of the great tragedies in baseball card history.

If the '90s really was such a game-changing decade, Nick, how come it's basically treated like a lost cause these days?

I think it's because no one was really around to appreciate it at the time. As most collectors know, the hobby lost a great deal of members after the 1994 baseball strike.

The overproduction boom was already trending downward at the time. The strike was pretty much rock bottom for the hobby.

I honestly don't know how many collectors were around to see these great cards of Jose Mesa's headband/short shorts combo or Chris Sabo's fungo bat.

Not many, I'd guess.

I caught the tail end of the decade when I bought my first packs around 1998.

I didn't know just how far the hobby had come in such a short time. I assumed that cards always had shots of guys holding three bats or guys crunching numbers in the dugout.

How wrong I was.

A lot of the cards from my earliest days of collecting have stayed with me to this day. I've acquired loads of secondhand '90s cardboard in the years since.

They've given me a whole new appreciation of the decade that introduced me to this hobby.

The final suspect from A.J.'s loot is the only one in this post that doesn't come from the 1990's.

No, Mr. Jimenez here was the start of a new generation of baseball cards in 2000. Still, I doubt a quirky tarp shot like this would've been possible without the outside-the-box thinking of the '90s.

Similarly, I doubt I'd be collecting today had I not gotten my start during the '90s, either.

I'd get the bulk of my cardboard experience during the "aughts", but my first few years laid the groundwork for the collector you're reading about right now.

Had it not been for the '90s, I might have wound up living a life without baseball cards.

I don't even want to think about how that would've played out.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Organized randomness

The random gods have long had a hold on me.

When it comes to baseball cards, there's a certain beauty in collecting everything from Hall of Famers to pitchers at the plate. That sense of random is part of what has kept me in the hobby for all these years.

And, while it might sound like an oxymoron, I've done my best to organize my randomness. I can tell you where any card in my collection is at this exact moment. I know some of you might picture my room as something out of one of those "hoarder" TV shows, but it's not like that at all.

Part of what keeps me sane is the "set needs" tab on the side of this blog. One ironic part of that is the fact that I'm not a set builder. Nope, those are actually all just random cards disguised as formal needs.

When a new set comes out, I go through the checklist and mark down every base and insert I need from it for my many player collections. That's what you see on my want list after all is said and done.

Thankfully, a lot of fellow collectors have helped me hit some of my faux-set needs lately. It makes taking the time to make all those want lists worth it.

While he hasn't blogged in a while, it's good to see that Paul of "The Baseball Card Snob" is still in the trading market. He did a noticeably unsnobbish deed by taking the time to dig for a few of my needs.

If you haven't figured it out by now, minis are always welcome here in Dime Boxedonia.

Though the 2014 season is well upon us at this point, I still have a ton of leftover 2013 needs.

Paul knocked off a couple huge names with these two.

He even took a trip in the way back machine by hitting a few of my 2002 Leaf Rookies and Stars needs.

I'm not sure why I created a want list for this specific set in the first place, but I'll certainly take any people have lying around.

Though these may only be twelve years old, the sight of guys like Chone Figgins and Marlon Byrd as rookies makes this set feel ancient.

My parallel want lists are a bit less formal.

I'd drive myself absolutely crazy if I tried to chisel out specific needs for the million different variations in Flagship these days. 

Instead, my want list says "I need a lot of these, let me know which ones you have" or something like that.

If people have lists of extra parallels they'd like to unload, I'm more than happy to take a look and pick out ones I need.

That's exactly what happened during a recent trade with Tom of the terrific blog "The Angels, In Order"

I felt like a kid in a very colorful candy store digging through his spare 2013 parallels.

As if that weren't enough, he threw a couple minis into the mix as well.

I guess it's just a coincidence that both of these guys are on my fantasy team this year.

My "Dime Box Dozen" list is probably my most recent method of organized randomness.

If I stumble upon a cool card that I don't already have during an internet search or a blog post, I go ahead and add place it under future "Dime Box Dozen" consideration.

The fact that I had a Fan Favorites Mike Norris card that featured the 1980 design but not an actual '80 Topps Mike Norris drove me nuts. Hence, its appearance on my want list.

Thanks to Tom, this card's "Dime Box Dozen" tenure was short-lived.

I can sleep a little easier now.

Reader Patrick recently helped knock out some so-called "set needs" as well.

Panini has had a stronger and stronger presence in my collection these last couple years, which means they've been popping up on my want lists more and more as a result.

If they keep producing great cards like this Bob Gibson, Panini will always have a special place in my binders.

The real story of Patrick's package, however, was Gypsy Queen.

Sometimes, people do such a great job of hitting needs that they overlap each other. The GQ Babe Ruth in the center of this page arrived just days after Paul's copy.

Having two different people knock out the same wants is one of the prime "first world problems" of collecting.

Gypsy Queen may not know how to make a decent base card, but it's obvious they know their way around inserts.

This terrific "Collisions at the Plate" piece of Mr. Carter has to be one of 2013's better cards.

Plus, you've got to love the Ozzie Smith cameo.

Last up in the organized randomness bandwagon is a package I received from blogging aficionado Robert from the fantastic "$30 A Week Habit".

In a break from my usual tactic of lying low, I specifically requested this "blood rain" Ryan Sweeney parallel from Robert when he featured it on his blog.

It's Sweeney's only card as a Cub to date, and I want as many different variations of it as I can find.

Though the Sweeney would've been enough, Robert also graciously let me pick through a list of extra Wal-Mart Blue parallels he had left over from 2013.

I almost never step foot into Wal-Mart, but it's always nice to pick these up from those that do.

Robert continued the mini bonanza with these two legends.

Long live the pink borders!

Reviving the "Super Veteran" series is the best idea Topps has had so far this year.

I've become so used to seeing Derek Jeter as the grizzled Yankee captain we know and love that I sometimes forget he was just another inexperienced rookie back in the mid '90s.

Thanks for reminding me, Topps.

And thanks to all these wonderful trade partners who helped bring some sanity to my unquestionably random collection.

It's all that keeps me from becoming a straight-up hoarder.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

If I were a supercollector

What is a supercollector?

To put it simply, a supercollector is someone who tries to acquire every single card ever made of a certain player.

Okay, so what makes them any different from a regular collector?

That's a good question. I'd say that your everyday collector basically takes what they can find of their favorite players. A supercollector, on the other hand, specifically goes out and tries to own every single card of their favorite player.

Take me, for instance. I collect hundreds of different guys, but I don't supercollect any of them. For one thing, I don't have the money to go out chasing low-numbered parallels of someone like Ichiro. I don't have the time to check Ebay day after day for new cards, either.

I tried being a Hoyt Wilhelm supercollector for a while. I'd dig through people's trade lists and hunt Ebay for Hoyts I didn't already have. I did a decent job, as my Hoyt collection is currently home to some of his rarer cards.

In the end, though, it just didn't pan out. I take my hat off to anyone that can keep up a supercollection, but it's not for me.

Still, if I were to ever come into a large sum of cash one day, I've composed a short list of future supercollection candidates in my head.

My favorite player of the last ten years or so is definitely Vladimir Guerrero.

Still, even with an unlimited budget, I don't think I could supercollect him. Some of Vlad's prime cardboard came during the late '90s and early 2000's. We all know how crazy those years were for the hobby.

There are literally tens of thousands of Vlads in existence, and I sure wouldn't have the time or energy to try and find them all. If I had the power to hire a collecting secretary, then maybe.

Someone like Ryan Theriot is a more realistic possibility.

For one thing, a personal bond is important when it comes to choosing a supercollection. Theriot is probably my favorite North Sider of the last decade, and he was the shortstop for the last legitimately good Cubs teams I've had a chance to see.

Plus, he's not a huge name, so that'd make things a bit easier on my wallet.

That's always a plus when it comes to this hobby.

Bo Hart is one of the unquestioned icons of this blog.

I've mentioned my appreciation for him many times in the past. The fact that he lasted all of two seasons in the bigs is somewhat sad, but it does make him an ideal supercollecting candidate.

Every single one of my 33 Bo Hart cards was produced in either 2003 or 2004. Though the hobby was drunk on impossible-to-find inserts and parallels at the time, I'd be willing to go through all that craziness for Mr. Hart.

He's worth it.

A good story is always a plus when it comes to supercollecting.

That's why I might just become a Rick Ankiel supercollector at some point in the future.

Few players in baseball history have had success as both a pitcher and a position player. Ankiel is the only one I've ever seen in my lifetime.

He went from a once-promising career as a pitcher in the early 2000's to a 25-homer outfielder in 2008.

I remembered seeing Ankiel on the mound from my early days as a baseball fan. I was in second grade when he debuted as a pitcher in 1999. When he burst back onto the scene as an outfielder, I was in high school. I couldn't believe that it was the very same Rick Ankiel.

Again, the fact that his rookie cards were issued during the peak of cardboard craziness would make a supercollection extremely difficult.

Then again, a story like Rick Ankiel's doesn't come along every day.

The vast majority of my family's heritage can be traced back to Italy.

I take a lot of pride in my background. Starting a supercollection of Alex Liddi would be a great way to show that.


Because he was the first (and, to date, the only) major leaguer to be born and raised in Italy. Liddi was once a hot prospect with the Mariners, but he's unfortunately flamed out in recent years. He's currently in the minors with my hometown White Sox.

Liddi is kind of like Bo Hart, in that the only cards he has were issued within a two or three-year span.

A supercollection of someone like him certainly sounds doable.

As far as supercollecting goes, I think the best bet would be someone from the '60s or '70s.

However, Hall of Famers like Mays or Killebrew would probably be too rich for my blood. Both of those guys made their debut back in the '50s, which means their rookie cards will especially prove costly.

That's why the best option would probably be a fan favorite type of guy. Mark Fidrych and Bill Lee would be obvious supercollecting choices for me, but Wilbur Wood would definitely be an interesting subject as well.

He played for a long time, but none of his cards are all that tough to find. Plus, it's not like '60s and '70s Topps featured a boatload of parallels or anything.

And, although I'd love to see Wilbur Wood pop up in some of today's sets, the fact that he doesn't have many newer issues would make supercollecting a whole lot easier. The most recent cards I have of his are his 2001 UD Decade (seen above) and 2004 Topps Fan Favorites singles.

Should I ever decide to try my and at supercollecting again, Wilbur Wood would definitely be on my radar.

Perhaps the most ambitious supercollecting route would be someone from baseball's early days.

Again, a non-Hall of Famer would be ideal. I'm sure Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth supercollectors exist, but I can't imagine how much money they'd have to make to afford such a conquest.

If I had to supercollect a turn-of-the-century ballplayer, I'd go with Fred Merkle. As many fans know, his failure to touch second base during a crucial Cubs-Giants contest in 1908 made him one of the game's most infamous and intriguing figures.

The fact that he played into the 1920's sometimes gets lost to history, though.

Should I ever have the money to do so, I'd kill for the chance to become a Fred Merkle supercollector.

On the plus side, I wouldn't have to worry about ten thousand different types of parallels. The backs of old tobacco cards may have a few variations, but it's nothing near the madness of today's hobby.

On the other hand, I'm sure I'd have a hell of a time trying to track down all of his cards. There aren't many oddballs from his era, but the few that do exist are darn near impossible to find.

Then again, that's the kind of thing you sign up for when you become a supercollector.

I tip my hat to the existing supercollectors out there, but I'm not ready to do it just yet.

I'll stick to regular old collecting for now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Covering the Bases, Pt. 14: Top 5 Topps sets of the 1970's

For my money, the 1970's remains the absolute best decade for baseball cards.

Admittedly, there were some dark days in my past where I didn't much care about vintage. Even then, though, I realized that the '70s were something special.

I think part of what made the decade so memorable was the sheer variety of the cards. Topps was the only game in town at the time, but they did their best to make each passing set as interesting and unique as possible.

There's no doubting that the 1970's have stood the test of time.

It's funny, then, that the decade came in with such a whimper. Most collectors, including myself, would probably place 1970 near the bottom of the Topps barrel. It'll always earn vintage points, but the majority of the set is painfully drab and doesn't bring much to the table.

The rest of the 1970's, however, was something else. I may not have lived through the decade, but I've definitely come to appreciate '70s cardboard as much as humanly possible during my time in this hobby.

With that in mind, here's my personal list of the Top 5 1970's Topps sets.

#5 -- 1976

My top four was never in much doubt.

The number five slot, however, was up in the air. I was on the brink of putting '77 Topps on this list, but I went with the memorable set from the year prior in the end.

For the most part, '70s Topps was full of color. Their 1976 release was simply a continuation of that trend.

From what I've seen, the set features a nice mix of posed and action shots. This Tiant is a personal favorite from the checklist.

Perhaps the most lasting feature of '76 Topps, however, is the little shadow figure that accompanies each card. Topps had done something similar in the past (as you'll soon see), but I think the '76 Topps version has better stood the test of time.

In any other decade, a set like this could've taken the #1 slot.

But not the 1970's.

#4 -- 1971

I've never been huge on black-bordered designs.

One enormous exception to that rule, however, has always been 1971 Topps. I've been fond of this set for what seems like forever.

The hobby had never seen such a dark design before '71 Topps came along. Though the set was among the first to feature a wide range of action shots, the black borders are definitely responsible for making this such a well-remembered release.

Although I'm not quite sure why, the usage of all lowercase letters for the player name and position is a little quirk I've always enjoyed. That's something I wouldn't mind seeing in one of today's sets.

After a trio of fairly boring releases in 1968, '69, and '70, 1971 Topps suggested that something new and exciting was on the horizon.

#3 -- 1973

This is probably the only set on this list without an above-average design.

The player and team names aren't anything out of the ordinary. The shadow shots were certainly new, but, as I said, I think the ones Topps used in 1976 were slightly better.

No, what makes 1973 Topps so legendary, of course, is the photography. If you've dabbled into the vintage market at all, you probably know what I'm talking about.

I can't imagine how collectors reacted when this set hit the shelves. Between used car lot backdrops and painful plays at the plate, '73 Topps was unlike anything the hobby had ever seen at that point in time, and unlike anything it'd see for a long time afterwards.

In any other year, Topps might've gone with a standard posed shot of Chris Chambliss. In 1973, however, they used an action image of him holding on pitcher Jim Kaat at first base.

Oh, and did I mention that '73 Topps features perhaps the first shot of a pitcher at the plate? That pitcher, incidentally, was Jim Kaat.

You crazy, 1973 Topps.

#2 -- 1972

Much like '73 Topps is remembered for being ahead of its time with photography, '72 Topps went into uncharted territory with its LSD-inspired design.

This was one of the few times where the looks of a baseball card set seemed to be in tune with the rest of the nation.

Flower power may have been on its way out by the time '72 Topps came around, but it's hard to argue that American culture at the time didn't have at least a little impact on the year's design.

As I've found, I have a soft spot for sets that use a wide variety of color. One of the kings in that department is undoubtedly '72 Topps.

This is the set that ushered in such loud colors that dominated cardboard for the rest of the '70s and beyond.

For that, I'll always be thankful.

#1 -- 1975 

If you've read this blog carefully, this shouldn't be much of a surprise.

I grew up hearing my dad's stories about 1975 Topps. He dabbled with cards in '73 and '74, but '75 was the year he became a devout collector.

As a result, I've always been drawn to '75 Topps. Many of the first vintage cards I ever acquired came from the set.

I'm not sure what I can say about it that hasn't already been said. Great colors, great design, great photography. Great everything.

If you were to poll the attendees of any given card show, I'd bet the majority would tell you that 1975 Topps is the most iconic set ever released.

I tend to agree with them.

I don't think we'll ever see another set quite like '75 Topps.

The same goes for the 1970's as a whole, now that I think of it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The dark side of collecting

By now, you probably know that today is Jackie Robinson Day.

Though he would mainly play second base throughout his career, Robinson made his big-league debut at first base for the Dodgers 67 years ago.

As one of the most important figures in American history, he won the first-ever NL Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and paved the way for future African-American greats throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Today, every single player will be wearing Robinson's retired #42 in honor of his legacy.

One of the ways I like to pay tribute to my favorite players is through my collection. I've made it my duty to obtain as many Jackie Robinson cards as possible throughout my lifetime.

Though anything Robinson-related can command a pretty penny, I'm proud to say that I own 105 different cards of his as of this writing. I took a look through all of them this afternoon.

One in particular that caught my eye was the SI for Kids issue you see above. It's probably one of the rarer Robinson cards in my catalog, and you rarely ever see them mentioned anywhere these days.

So, then, how did I come into possession of my copy?

Let's see if I can put this lightly...

I stole it.

And it wasn't just Jackie Robinson, either. I stole all of the SI for Kids cards I currently have in my collection, including this neat Mickey Mantle.

Part of me feels guilty about stealing cards of such noble ballplayers. Then again, I'm sure glad to have them in my binders.

One thing they don't tell you about baseball cards is that there is indeed a dark side to collecting. For me, that involved stealing. I'd be willing to bet that most collectors have their own dark stories when it comes to cardboard as well.

I stayed out of trouble more than most kids when I was younger, but I'll be the first to admit that I stole a few baseball cards in my day.

You see, the library in my grammar school always seemed to have issues of SI for Kids on the racks. I'd read through them every now and again, but I usually just had my eye on the panel of cards that came with each magazine.

So, whenever my class would take a trip down to the library for reading time, I subtly ripped out the cards and stashed them in my pocket.

Thankfully, no one ever caught me in the act. I did feel a bit guilty about it at the time, but the possibility of owning these oddballs made the risk worth it.

Baseball cards can make you do crazy things.

Though one panel featured all legends like Robinson and Mantle, most of the SI cards featured current athletes.

They ranged across all sports, even into strange ones like skiing and bowling. The only ones I ever cared about, of course, were the ballplayers.

Guys like David Wells called to me when I'd open up these magazines in my school library. Guys like David Wells forced me to steal. Besides, I have yet to find one of these in a dime box, so I would've left quite a goldmine behind had I not taken them.

That's what I like to tell myself, anyways.

A lot of these aren't your standard oddballs, though.

Some of the issues featured reprints of newly-released cards. SI reissued this version of J.D. Drew's 1999 Fleer Tradition rookie back in the day.

Remembering a time where there was actually a lot of hype around J.D. Drew actually makes me feel a little old, now that I think about it.

Here's a mind-boggler for you.

One of the magazine panels I stole came from a special April Fools Day issue. Hence, the image of Mark McGwire in a Cubs uniform.

The back tells a fabricated tale about Sammy Sosa asking the Cardinal slugger to suit up as a Cub for a day. It goes even further, saying that McGwire hit a homer for the North Siders, "throwing kisses to Sammy's fans" along the way.

Kudos to Sports Illustrated for the fine photoshop job.

Even if they did forget to airbrush McGwire's helmet.

This is easily one of my favorites of the bunch.

One issue featured an odd mishmash of sports stars and youth pop culture. Pokemon was all the rage around 1999, which is when this one was released.

I remember it well. My friends and I used to trade Pokemon cards during recess all the time.

That made this Jason Kendall/Ash Ketchum combo a must-have for me. I guess it makes sense, in a way. Pokemon's famous motto was "Gotta catch 'em all!", and Kendall was, of course, a catcher.

It's still the only appearance of a Pokeball on any baseball card I own.

Despite the fun and innocent vibes this hobby might carry, don't be fooled too much. There's a dark side to this whole business.

Even if I didn't know it at the time, these were some of my first oddballs. And it wouldn't have been possible without my school library.

In fact, I'm glad I stole them.

There. I said it.

Baseball cards can make us do crazy things sometimes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

An interview at Topps

Sometimes, I wonder just how in touch Topps is with their customers.

I've never heard of them doing any kind of market research, and I highly doubt they've ever clicked on one of our blogs.

With the continuous release of expensive sets like Museum Collection, it's obvious that Topps caters more to the high-end customer these days.

Despite what some others may think, though, I think they at least want to please the more everyday collectors as well. Topps know how important their Flagship product is to many customers, and they do a good job with keeping it interesting from year to year.

However, many of today's trends suggest that they are still a bit out of touch with everyday collectors like myself. I think part of the problem is that Topps wants to please us, but doesn't quite know how.

This is why one of my many pipe dreams as a collector is to have a job at Topps. I fantasize about Topps calling me in for an interview and asking...

Nick, what would you do to make this a better hobby?

Well, sir...

I wouldn't change the Flagship product much.

Aside from maybe changing up the photo choices here and there, I think you guys have a pretty good handle on it right now.

What I would do, however, is tweak a couple of the secondary features of Flagship.

Namely, the parallels.

I'm a self-labeled parallel nut. I go bananas for these things because of how great they look in a binder. Still, I'd be the first to admit that there's just too many of them around these days. 

I'm fine with the Target Reds and Wal-Mart Blues. Those are fun. But I don't think pea soup or camo parallels are necessary. 

I don't think I'm out of line saying that we could easily cut those out of the fold.

Also, Topps, let's talk about the inserts.

Way, way, way too many of those, sir.

I grew up during an era where inserts were gaining more and more steam for collectors. They're basically an expected part of the cardboard experience for me.

Though I'm a lower-end kind of guy, there is a certain thrill of discovering that neat insert in a new pack of cards. At least there used to be, anyways.

With the number of different insert series that have popped up lately, the pull of the insert is all but gone. Nearly a quarter of every single pack I open these days is comprised with inserts. That's not how it should be.

It's gotten to the point where finding that insert in a pack barely registers a blip on my radar. I'd assume that many other collectors are suffering from insert apathy these days as well.

We need to find a cure for that.

Topps Update is always one of my favorite releases of the year.

Seeing guys in their new uniforms is always cool. Reminiscing about the year's highlights is a pleasure as well.

Recapping the Midsummer Classic, however, could be a lot more fun. Much like the parallels and inserts, though, Topps continues to water down the All-Stars.

I think I counted something like 75 different All-Stars in last year's Update checklist. That's darn near a quarter of all the cards in the set. Guys who didn't even play in the contest, like Justin Verlander, still got an All-Star card.

That seems like a waste of cardboard, if you ask me. Worse yet, that card could've gone to a deserving middle reliever or bench player that hadn't yet received a card in 2013.

If guys actually play in the All-Star game, then I'd give them a card in Update. If not, then they shouldn't make the cut.

That seems fair to me.

If my love for throwback jerseys is any indication, I'm a fan of retro.

That said, I think you guys have taken the concept too far recently. Between old-time sets like Gypsy Queen, A&G, Archives, and Heritage, many collectors are on retro overload.

It seems lazy and unoriginal to just keep copying old designs. I'd say keep one or two of the retro checklists and come up with a couple exciting new set ideas to replace the others. (I'd gut Gypsy Queen and Archives, but that's just me.)

I think you're underestimating the concept of originality. You're playing too much on past successes and becoming rather one-dimensional as a result.

We need to try something new for a change. If it fails, at least we can say we tried.

And I'm sure a lot of collectors would at least applaud us for the effort.

One retro set that is still bouncing around these days is Turkey Red.

I've always been a big fan of this release. I gobbled up pack after pack of these things in the mid-2000's. Beautiful cards like this Mike Sweeney make for some of the finest centerpieces in my collection.

Although Turkey Red has been back for a few years now, you'd have to go all the way back to 2007 for my most recent card from the brand. Why?

Because it's an online-only release these days.

The shift towards online-exclusive sets is one of the more troubling trends here in 2014. If releases like Turkey Red, Topps Mini, or Heritage High Numbers made their way onto retail shelves, I'd probably pick up a few packs.

But there's no way I'm dropping big bucks buying directly through you guys. The way I see it, it's doing nothing but hurting collectors like myself.

There are plenty of cards I want from today's Turkey Red, but my hopes of ever owning them are slim to none thanks to the online-only trend.

It's just one big scam.

I've gone on record by saying that I like short-prints.

There's something gratifying about finding an SP that the vendor may have missed in a dime box, like I did with this Aaron Hill. It happens more than you might think.

Still, this is another area where you've imply gone too nuts. Every single set these days features short-prints in some way, shape, or form. It's maddening.

Yasiel Puig collectors had to cope with not one, not two, but three different SPs of his in last year's Update. On top of that, you continue to shove all of Heritage's biggest stars into the short-print portion of the checklist. And that's just the beginning.

This is why I'd be in favor of banning the short-print all together.

I'm not a set collector, but I can understand the hell it must unleash on trying to build something like Heritage or Gypsy Queen. I can't imagine player collectors of a guy like Puig have it too easy, either.

So, although I like finding new short-prints, I think it's time they left the yard. SPs have been nothing but a downward spiral these last few years, and I wouldn't mind seeing them go.

It might be a little radical, but I think it could very well work.

I think these changes could lay the groundwork for a better hobby. I'll always be a devoted collector, but I think there's a lot of room for improvement in the card industry today.

That's all I have for you today. I want to thank you for the opportunity.

I'll be awaiting your call.