Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My white whale has been speared

There's no sense dragging this out, so I'll just say it: after well over a decade of frantically combing the waters, MY WHITE WHALE HAS BEEN SPEARED!!!!!!!

This white whale in question, as I've said many times on the blog before, is a 1952 Topps high-number rookie of Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm (all the buzzwords that basically say this is a really, REALLY expensive card). Hoyt, of course, is the man behind my most prominent player collection, and his '52 rookie has stood at the very top of my want list for years.

The Hoyt (like many of the high points of my collection) was gifted to me this afternoon out of the blue from my dad -- The Greatest Dad Ever -- and I think this'll go on record as The Greatest Surprise in the Entire History of Surprises for as long as I live.

The copy he bought was graded, and you know what I do with graded cards...

...I immediately bust them out of those horrid plastic cases, because baseball cards are meant to be touched and experienced, not observed.

And all I can say is: my god, it's every bit as beautiful as I thought it'd be.

I'd like to say I always knew that I'd eventually own a '52 Hoyt, but I honestly don't know if that's true. Beat-up copies don't come on the market very often, and even those go for north of $500 in most cases. I long ago resigned any hope of owning one in good shape -- they routinely sell for four-figure sums. My dad, like me, has constantly scoured the internet over the years, looking for a worn copy of the white whale without much luck.

That is, until last week, when he stumbled upon a copy with a fairly well-conditioned front...

...and a written-on back.

For my money, I'll take writing on the back over just about any condition flaw in the hobby. While I love card backs, my collection is displayed front side-up in my binders, and that's really the selling point for me. 

The day has been such a whirlwind so far, and even as I type this, I'm still not quite convinced that my dad gave me a '52 Hoyt this afternoon, that there's a '52 Hoyt sitting in my binder right now, that there's a '52 Hoyt in my house at this very moment. I can say and type it all I want, but it still feels like a far-off fantasy.

At this point, there's really one thing left to do: the thing I've wanted to do each and every second of the last twelve years of my life...

...and that's to show off what is now a COMPLETE TOPPS SET OF HOYT WILHELM, from 1952 all the way up to '72 (though Topps completely left him out of their '55 checklist, for some reason).

From the Giants to the Cardinals to the Indians to the Orioles to the White Sox to the Angels to the Braves to the Cubs to the Dodgers, I have them all -- all the Hoyts are mine.

'52 included.

After he'd given me the Hoyt, my dad asked me what my next white whale was going to be. And I honestly had no answer, because Hoyt had been the only white whale I've ever known: I don't remember a time when it didn't represent the ultimate chase in this hobby, when it hadn't sat at the cloudy mountaintop of my ideal collection.

So, for posterity, I'd like to let it be known that on September 20th, 2017, I officially speared what was and always will be my ultimate white whale: a 1952 Topps Hoyt Wilhelm rookie card.

I love you, Dad -- and who the heck knows what I'd be doing without you and this wonderful hobby you've passed down to me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Build-a-box! (More from the flea market)

First off, my apologies: I meant to throw a cliffhanger into the end of my last post, but I certainly didn't intend to make you wait a week for the outcome (it's been a busy week here at Dime Boxedonia HQ).

So anyways, I teased this image to close out my previous flea market recap. As I said, time was running out after having scoped out all the finds I already posted about last week. Even with much of the aisles still unexplored, I had to get a move on or risk being late to work that morning.

As I walked past (what I told myself were) the final vendors of the day, however, I noticed three huge cardboard boxes tucked underneath one guy's table, and I wasn't sure I saw what I thought I saw when I first glanced at them. But my eyes were right: those boxes were absolutely loaded with wax from the late '90s/early 2000s, many of which hailed from sets with cards I almost never see -- let alone unopened packs.

I asked the vendor how much they were, and figuring he'd say something like a buck or two a piece, I prepared myself to pick out maybe 5-10 of the best packs I could find.

But to my complete and utter surprise the guy said: those are three for a dollar.

I suddenly didn't care about being late for work, because oh my god these packs were THREE FOR A DOLLAR!

I rubbed my hands together, took a knee on the concrete, and dove in. Even with one eye still (kind of) on the clock, I managed to sift through most of what was in those boxes. And after all was said and done, I'd basically built my own box of unopened nineties/aughts wax from my childhood -- though I never actually saw a lot of these packs/sets during my youth.

I bought 33 packs in all -- seen here ganging up on the poor '96 Bazooka box I also purchased last week. At 3/$1, my total bill for the effort amounted to all of eleven dollars. For comparison's sake, that's how much a 15-card rack pack of Topps Chrome costs these days after tax, about half of which I might need (if I'm lucky).

So if you'll allow me, I'd like to take you on a journey through the glorious custom box I built during my waning minutes at the flea market last week.

1995 Collector's Choice

We might as well run through these things chronologically: 1995 Collector's Choice represented the oldest cards in those boxes, and I bought about five or six packs of the stuff, more than any other brand from my custom-made box.

It's appropriate that this checklist features a subset called "Best of the '90s," because, for my money, '95 Collector's Choice has always been one of my personal favorite sets of the decade.

Collector's Choice as a whole is one of the greatest brands ever, and '95 has always represented its peak for me.

I'm not sure exactly why, but the design has always struck me as kid-centric. And between signature parallels, traded cards, and final tributes (as well as your standard old base cards), there's enough variation in this set to make anyone happy.

My build-a-box was up and running.

1997 Collector's Choice

More Collector's Choice(!), this time a pack from the not-to-be-ignored 1997 design.

I could've bought a lot more of these than I did -- the guy seemed to have a whole box worth of loose packs -- and I'm kicking myself for not buying more than the single pack I took home, because this is a fine set that I (apparently) still need quite a few cards from.

If I ever see this guy at the flea market again, I'm buying them all.

1998 Donruss & 1998 Upper Deck

Donruss and Upper Deck were in the hobby for a long time, but neither of their '98 designs are particularly memorable -- though my packs did result in these two horizontal beauties.

1998 Pinnacle Performers & 1998 Pinnacle Plus

One pack a piece from a couple of Pinnacle's alliterative death-rattle brands -- '98 would be their final year in the hobby -- and though these designs might not be their finest, Pinnacle did make the collecting world a better place.

Sadly, I don't think I ever realized how much I enjoyed Pinnacle until well after they'd gone out of business.

2002 Greats of the Game

My build-a-box skipped a few years before resuming in 2002 with a single pack of Greats of the Game.

If there was one brand I wished I would've found more of in those cardboard boxes, it's this one, because -- like most legend-based sets of the era -- this set is absolutely staggering.

2002 Donruss Fan Club & 2002 Leaf

Though the base cards were more than enough for me, it certainly didn't hurt that I pulled a few parallels from my custom-made box -- notably a Press Proof parallel of The Big Hurt himself.

That aside, I don't have a ton to say here other than the fact that I scanned these two cards together before remembering that both Bagwell and Thomas share the same exact birthday (5-27-68).

2002 Stadium Club & 2002 Studio

The lone pack of 2002 Stadium Club was oddly the only Topps-brand set I included in my custom box, while Studio provided me with a nice Jeets sighting.

2002 Fleer

As I've kind of hinted at already, one of the things I enjoyed most about this guy's packs was that he had loads of the lesser-remembered editions of famous brands.

When I think of Fleer, I think of classic designs like 1981, '84, '88, and so on. I almost never think of 2002, and it takes a while for me to even be able to conjure up the look of it in my head. Most would agree that it wasn't one of Fleer's better efforts, though the backs do provide some interesting factoids.

But as oxymoronic as it might sound, it's even more fun to open cards from the forgotten years of famous brands, because when am I ever going to see another pack of 2002 Fleer again?!

2002 Upper Deck & 2003 Upper Deck

In keeping with the forgotten-years-of-big-brands theme, I probably see cards from these two sets less often than any other years of Upper Deck (especially '02).

2003 Upper Deck MVP & 2003 Upper Deck Honor Roll

A single pack each of Upper Deck brands nobody remembers -- and god why does it seem like an eternity since Adam Dunn played for the Reds?

2003 Fleer Platinum

This pack provided the most unexpected fun of the box: I couldn't even remember what they looked like prior to last week.

Platinum was among the thousands of offshoot brands Fleer launched during its dying days, but unlike most of the others, this one is actually a whole lot of fun -- as sets based off of obscure oddball designs tend to be.

The big bonus was the Jermaine Dye, a hit for my throwback mini-collection which I'd never seen before.

2003 Upper Deck 40-Man

This was probably the most anticipated pack of the lot: 40-Man was Upper Deck's shot at creating a huge base-oriented Topps Total-esque set.

The brand flamed out after just two years -- largely due to its $2.99-per-pack tag which couldn't hold a candle to Total's 99-cent price point (I don't think I ever opened a pack of 40-Man in my youth). Like Total, however, the set does feature its share of backups and benchwarmers which didn't get many moments in the cardboard sun.

Sadly, I didn't pull any of those obscure heroes from my lone pack of 40-Man, but it was a blast nonetheless.

2003 Donruss Team Heroes

I have to say that the two packs of 2003 Donruss Team Heroes were the most fun to open out of any from my build-a-box, and talk about cards you never, ever see these days.

This was, to a lesser extent, Donruss's attempt at a Topps Total or 40-Man set. It doesn't feature quite as many cards, but the obscure names are still there, such as then-unknown rookies Orlando Hudson and Oliver Perez.

Team Heroes does have something Total and 40-Man don't, however: legends -- often themselves fairly ignored in terms of cardboard recognition (Harold Reynolds?!).

After the dust had settled, Team Heroes provided me with what was my single favorite pull of my custom box in the form of a beautiful new Ronnie for my binders.

For me, though, these packs weren't so much about pulling cards I actually needed as much as they were about enjoying the sheer experience of it all. As has become the refrain throughout this post, you just never singles from these sets anywhere -- forget unopened packs of them.

Better yet, most of these brands were released right in the heart of my card-collecting childhood, but I doubt I opened very much (if any) of them at the time. So, in a way, this custom-made box was a way to relive a part of my youth I never got to live in the first place.

And by the way, I did end up making it to work on time after all.

Not that I much cared after all this.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Good news, bad news at the flea market (again)

The local flea market can be -- and often is -- a prime example of your classic good news, bad news scenario.

My trip there with my dad this past Sunday kept with the pattern. The good news was that I got to go in the first place, as time walking through those aisles is always a good way to clear the mind. The bad news was that I had to sneak it in before a long shift at work, which meant repeated glances at the clock to make sure I wasn't running late.

This was a shame, because there actually quite a few people with cards at their tables on Sunday. Of course, some were the standard late '80s/early '90s rubble, while others were okay cards that were woefully overpriced. Bad news: one guy -- who repeatedly bragged about the quality of the cards at his table -- wanted ten bucks for a standard Topps insert of Yoan Moncada. (I would've paid 50 cents for it, at most.)

Good news: that same vendor also had an unopened 36-pack box of 1996 Bazooka, which he let me have for the fair price of $15.

Semi-bad news: I'd be lying if I didn't say I felt a teensy bit of buyer's remorse after the fact.

Not so much because of the cards themselves, which are a lot of fun and tough to find anywhere else. Almost everything I pulled was new to me, and the checklist features its fair share of stars.

No, my trepidation wound up involving the mechanics of the set more than anything. It's all base cards: no inserts, no parallels, nothing. And that would be fine if this was a 900-card Topps Total-esque set, but it's not: 1996 Bazooka features a small 132-card checklist, which meant that I was pulling doubles and triples of some cards by the end of it all (though I did somehow fall a few shy of a complete set).

I started to think that maybe that $15 could've been better spent elsewhere.

But if I had to do it all over again, I think I'd still buy the box: I mean, it's a whole lot of fun to open 36 packs of almost any product, much less one as obscure as '96 Bazooka.

And like most other kid-centric sets of the era, the backs of these are awesome (though they feature some kind of card game that I doubt many kids actually played).

What's more, there are quite a few great cards in the set, a few of my personal favorites seen above.

Between this and the box of Pacific Online I unearthed a couple months ago, the flea market has certainly been a haven for cheap wax this year.

While it's not card-related, I figured I might as well show off this dusty old novel (which I'd never heard of) I found for a buck early on in the day, one that combines my loves of books and baseball.

Worth every penny for the cover art alone.

That same paperback vendor had a few cards at his table, and although there wasn't much of note, I did manage to dig up this nifty Hallmark oddball of Hammerin' Hank for a buck.

The Oddball Paradise guy was back, and I took it upon myself to go ahead and purchase a couple cards I passed on during my initial dive into his inventory.

Five bucks netted me this pair of sweet-toothed Hall of Famers.

Good news: I stumbled upon a new guy with cards about midway through the day, and his boxes were about as joyously random as it gets.

Bad news (and this is a common tale at the flea market): none of his cards were priced.

I picked out a couple dozen cards from his wildly unorganized box, and I was quoted $12 for the lot. I balked, and he lowered it to $10. Though it was a bit more than I wanted to pay -- nothing I picked up is much more than quarter box material at most card shows -- I accepted because, after all, you can't always expect to find card show prices at flea markets.

Try as I might, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to add a Hideo Nomo phone card and a quartet of new Clementes (among others) to my collection.

Good news: after a few weeks of being completely sapped of inventory, my regular card guy had cards again!

Bad news: his stock had been mostly ransacked by the time I arrived, though I did manage to salvage a handful of goodies with a stack of cards from his 5/$1 bins.

Originally priced at $3, the guy let me have this Gehrig from his glass case for just two bucks.

I'd have to check to make sure, but I think this and the Babe Ruth were the last cards I needed from the mid-'70s Topps Sporting News All-Stars.

With the Iron Horse out of the way, look for The Babe to be a prime target at my next card show.

I got another insider's deal on my second and final glass case purchase of the day: this '69 Kaline became mine for a mere five-spot (marked down from $7).

For me, Al Kaline has always been a good in-between guy to chase. He's a pretty big name, but his cards don't tend to run as much as other stars from his era, which is why I get so excited whenever I can score another of his vintage beauties on the cheap.

I don't consider myself a glass-case collector, but they do pay dividends sometimes.


Bad news: he didn't have the penny cards (audible sigh). He told me he'd been running late on Sunday and simply didn't have time to pack all those penny boxes for the trip, which is quite understandable because did you see how much he had?

He did, however, bring a few small stacks of cards with him on Sunday: I picked up about a dozen singles for a mere three bucks, including this glorious Hal McRae which I somehow didn't already own.

Better news: weather permitting, he said he'd bring the penny boxes for me this coming Sunday.

This set off a rapid series of events that ended with me switching shifts at work in order to have Sunday off, because those are the lengths I'll go to in order to have another crack at those penny boxes. Needless to say, I'm already counting down the days...but in the meantime, I still have my finds from last week to tide me over until then.

While they might not have been a penny each, I couldn't much complain with the end result: notably a nifty Tony Perez oddball and the final card I needed to complete my run of Thurman Munson's Hostess cards.

Much, much better news: HOLY #&%#$U#%, that's a 1954 Topps Billy Martin!

This is just about the last thing I'd expect to find at a flea market -- even one as great as my local haunts -- but against all odds, there it is: a real-live '54 Billy Martin, which predates the oldest card I'd had of his before Sunday by a whole five years.

The penny-card guy is also, as I learned, a big vintage collector, which explains all the older stuff (including a lot of higher-end material) he had on display this weekend. The Martin was originally priced at $40, but he sliced the price in half for me. And to make the good news even better, my dad (against my insistence) decided to front me the $20 for Billy, since my dad grew up idolizing Billy Ball in the '70s.

It was a truly memorable day at the flea market, but I had to face the facts: my time was up, and as much as I would've liked to have spent the whole day roaming those aisles, it was time to go to work.

That is, until the wax pack gods decided they had one little surprise left in store for me.

But that's another story all together (insert cliffhanger).