Saturday, June 24, 2017

Frankenset Redux, Page 5: Numbers 37-45


Page #5 (Numbers 37-45):

Completion Status: 9/9

Numbers Needed: None.



The Players

1995 Upper Deck #37 Pat Hentgen

The elusive American League pitcher at the plate. 



1973 Topps #38 Mike Epstein

Another brick in the wall of off-kilter action photos from '73 Topps. 



1995 Upper Deck #39 Matt Brunson

A minor league double dip. 



1972 Topps #40 Bob Barton IA

Not much action to speak of here despite the title of the subset.



2016 Topps #41 Josh Harrison

Celebrating in the Sunday throwbacks. 



1972 Topps #42 Tommy Davis IA

That's more like it. 



1999 Stadium Club #43 Rico Brogna

I always think of Pigpen from Peanuts whenever I see this card. 



2010 Upper Deck #44 Augie Ojeda

Safe at home. 



1986 Fleer #45 Darrell Porter

Red jersey, red undershirt red batting gloves, red glasses: talk about color coordination. 



Stats

Cards By Decade:

1970's -- 3 (Running total: 5)
1980's -- 1 (Running total: 4)
1990's -- 3 (Running total: 21)
2010's -- 2 (Running total: 11)

Mini-collection Hits:

Double Dips -- 1 (Running total: 7)
Throwbacks -- 1 (Running total: 4)
Plays at the Plate -- 1 (Running total: 2)
Pitchers at the Plate -- 1 (Running total: 1)



Best Cameo


Have to give it to the distracted cop on the other side of Mr. Barton.



This Magic Moment


Augie Ojeda played in just two of the four games the Diamondbacks played at Shea Stadium (edit: actually Citi Field) in 2009, and only one of those was a day game, which means that this shot most likely comes from a D'Backs-Mets matchup on August 2, 2009.

The tricky part is determining which of the two runs Ojeda scored that afternoon is depicted here. I'm going to go with the run he scored on a Gerardo Parra single in the top of the 6th, a play in which Parra was thrown out at second after the throw home was cut off. That would explain why the attention of the Mets catcher (Brian Schneider) and the crowd seems to be elsewhere.

For the record, the Diamondbacks would beat the Mets that day, 5-2.



Kick Out the Jams


Introducing a new sub-category this week in which I showcase a song that, for whatever reason, reminds me of a card from the week's frankenset page (or vice versa).

I'll leave John Sebastian here because I instantly think of Welcome Back, Kotter whenever I see the last name "Epstein."





Lessons in Card Backs


Ah, the days when ballplayers had to get offseason jobs.



Best of the Rest

1991 Classic Draft Picks #43 Buck McNabb

The moment when your Little League photo winds up on your first professional baseball card.



Toughest Draw


1996 Score #38 Bip Roberts

Not even '73 Topps can take down Sombrero Bip.



Second Guessing


2012 Topps Chrome #43 Desmond Jennings

It's tough to go against a play at the plate (especially one of the chrome variety), but perhaps Rico "Pigpen" Brogna warranted a longer look for inclusion in the Inaugural Frankenset.



Favorite Card


Lots of good ones to choose from this week, but it was still an easy call for me: Bob Barton takes the crown.

There's not much action going on at all here, but the image is pure gold. Barton looks to be a desperate convict in a prison cell behind the wiring of the backstop, a metaphor only further enhanced by the blue-shirted policeman in the crowd.

I suppose a shot like this foreshadowed the craziness that was to come for Topps the following year.

Another frankenset page in the books.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Red Sox Team


I feel like I should have more of an opinion on the Red Sox than I actually do.

True, between the generations-long futility and their uncanny ability to break hearts in ways no other team could, the Sox are kind of like an American League brother to the Cubs (or were, as both teams have since shattered their curses). And aside from possibly the Yankees, no team has been shoved down my throat more than the Red Sox with the endless national coverage they receive.

While the Sox have more history and tradition than just about any other franchise in sports, I've never found myself actively rooting for or against them. They're another team that I might've followed a lot more closely had I grown up in a different generation, as many of my favorite players (Yaz, Spaceman, Pudge) had their prime years in Boston.

Still, for every Yastrzemski, there's a hundred guys who have been long forgotten as Red Sox, several of whom earned a spot on tonight's Short Term Stops roster.



Pitchers

2002 Topps American Pie #28 Juan Marichal

Red Sox "Short Term Stops" Accolades:

Juan Marichal (1974 Red Sox, 11 games)

Heading the star-studded staff of the Red Sox is Juan Marichal, who ended up in Boston after a number of stellar seasons with the Giants.

The Dominican Dandy was on the downslope of his Hall of Fame career by the time he hooked up with the Red Sox in 1974. The then-37-year-old pitcher posted an unspectacular 4.87 ERA in 11 games (9 starts) with Boston, collecting the final five of his 243 career wins in the process.

Marichal would sign with the Dodgers in 1975 -- the team he literally clubbed at one point -- but retired after getting shelled in his two starts in Los Angeles.



1987 Fleer #45 Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver (1986 Red Sox, 16 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Like Marichal, Tom Seaver was another legendary pitcher who briefly surfaced with the Sox near the end of his career.

Sent to Boston by the White Sox for Steve "Psycho" Lyons in midseason, Seaver provided experience to a World Series-bound Boston club in 1986. The numbers, however, were mediocre -- a 5-7 record with a 3.80 ERA in 16 games -- and Tom Terrific didn't pitch in a single postseason game for the Red Sox during the club's doomed trip to the Fall Classic that year.

Seaver retired after an aborted comeback attempt with the Mets the following season, leaving the Sox as the team with which he'd finish up his Hall of Fame career.



2009 Upper Deck OPC #456 John Smoltz

John Smoltz (2009 Red Sox, 8 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Though it wasn't intentional on my part, John Smoltz makes it official: all three pitchers on this Red Sox roster eventually made it to Cooperstown.

Smoltz, a 2015 HOFer, spent the first 20 years of his career as a Brave before signing with the Sox in 2009 for his age-42 season. It wasn't a stint to write home about: Smoltz was lit up in Boston, going 2-5 with an awful 8.33 ERA in eight starts before being released in August.

He'd finish his career in St. Louis after the Cardinals picked him up off the scrap heap, meaning that Smoltz earned the unlikely distinction of pitching for two teams in his final season after having spent the previous two decades with just one.



Catcher

1968 Topps #167 Elston Howard

Elston Howard (1967-68 Red Sox, 113 games, sunset season in '68)

I have a handful of catchers in my binders who appeared in less games than Elston Howard did in Boston, but none of them can match the massive unfamiliarity of seeing the former Yankee catcher as a member of the Red Sox.  

It's always jarring when a player jumps from one side of a rivalry to the other (a recent example would be Jim Edmonds as a Chicago Cub), and Howard is no exception. The backstop spent part of 1967 and all of '68 in Boston, hitting just .207 with six homers in what would be the final 113 games of his illustrious career.

I remember thinking there was some sort of mistake when I first discovered Howard's sunset card from '68 Topps -- no way did he ever play for the Red Sox! -- but alas, it's true.



First Base

2005 Topps Update #UH35 John Olerud

John Olerud (2005 Red Sox, 87 games, sunset season)

John Olerud has long been a top-tier player collection of mine, and though I don't necessarily equate him with a single team (he's almost equally a Blue Jay, Met, and Mariner in my mind), the sight of him with the Red Sox has never seemed quite right to me.

Olerud was thrust into the Boston spotlight in 2005, hitting .289 in 87 games while receiving limited playing time at first base in what would be the sunset season of what seems to me to be an often overshadowed career.



Second Base

2003 Topps #45 Carlos Baerga

Carlos Baerga (2002 Red Sox, 73 games)

Speaking of underrated hitters of my youth, here's Carlos Baerga, a one-time star who was among the most dangerous members of those monster Cleveland clubs of the 1990s. 

By the time the new millennium came around, however, things looked tough for Carlos. He was completely out of the game in 2000 and split his 2001 season between the Korean League and independent ball. The Red Sox took a shot with Baerga in 2002, and he rewarded them with a solid comeback season, hitting .286 in 73 games as a part-time player that year.

Baerga would hang around the bigs until 2005, and he owes much of his twilight years to the Red Sox, a team that breathed life into a career that looked to be left for dead.



Shortstop

 2005 Fleer Tradition #184 Orlando Cabrera

Orlando Cabrera (2004 Red Sox, 58 games, half-year stint)

The Red Sox finally Broke The Curse in 2004, and their pickup of Orlando Cabrera at the deadline that year was one of the moves that advanced the club further down their hallowed path.

Cabrera was dealt to Boston as part of a controversial three-team deal that saw fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra sent to the Cubs. The move, in hindsight, was likely the right one: Nomar was never again a star, and though his time in Boston was brief, Cabrera proved to be a key cog in the World Series club in '04.

He hit .294 in 58 games to close out the year -- and, more importantly, posted a .379 clip in Boston's legendary three-games-to-oh comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS -- to cement his place in Red Sox lore.



Third Base

2010 Topps Allen & Ginter #308 Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre (2010 Red Sox, 154 games)

It seems almost hard to believe now, but Adrian Beltre was thought to be on the downswing of his career when he hooked up with the Red Sox.

After failing to live up to a massive contract with the Mariners, Adrian signed with the Red Sox as somewhat of an afterthought in 2010. That change of scenery put him back on the map, as he posted a stellar .321-28-102 line in an All-Star season with Boston. 

He parlayed that success into another big contract with the Rangers the following offseason, and I think we'd all agree that he's lived up to that one: if you look at the numbers, the guy's a future Hall of Famer.



Outfield

1996 Donruss #521 Willie McGee

Willie McGee (1995 Red Sox, 67 games)

In a case where the hobby informed my knowledge of the game (instead of vice versa), I had no idea Willie McGee played for the Red Sox until I stumbled upon his 1996 Donruss card.

McGee spent just a single mediocre season in Boston, hitting .285 with just five stolen bases in 67 games with the '95 Sox. There's not much more to say about it apart from that.

Things did get better for Willie following his forgotten stint with the Red Sox, however, as he spent the next four years with the Cardinals in St. Louis -- the city where his career began -- posting a couple more .300 seasons before retiring in 1999.



2002 Donruss Originals #379 Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson (2002 Red Sox, 72 games)

Rickey Henderson was well on his way to Cooperstown when he showed up in the actual 1988 Donruss checklist (as a Yankee), yet his career was on its last legs by the time he appeared on this tribute to '88 Donruss a whole 14 years later. 

Rickey latched on with the Red Sox in 2002, the eighth of nine teams he'd play for during his legendary 25 seasons in the bigs. The 43-year-old Henderson hit just .223 with eight steals in 72 games in Boston, though he did walk at his usual clip as his .369 OBP for the year would indicate.

He'd join the Dodgers for what would be his final season in 2003, although I'm sure Rickey would tell you that he could come out of retirement and help a big league club right now.



2004 Upper Deck #550 Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts (2004 Red Sox, 45 games, half-year stint)

Though he stole the most important base in franchise history, Dave Roberts' Boston career is criminally underrepresented on cardboard: in fact, this is the only card I own of him as a member of the Sox. 

Like Orlando Cabrera, Roberts was another of the under-the-radar deals that helped catapult Boston to its eventual World Series victory in 2004. The Sox got him for peanuts from the Dodgers at the deadline, and he became a valuable piece off the bench, hitting .253 in 45 regular-season games before his immortal stolen base against the Yankees in the ALCS.

While he's quickly become one of the better managers in the game with the Dodgers these days, I'm sure a lot of fans remember him, first and foremost, for The Steal.



Designated Hitter

1974 Topps #83 Orlando Cepeda

Orlando Cepeda (1973 Red Sox, 142 games)

Orlando Cepeda assumes his role as the fifth and final (current) Hall of Famer on this stellar Red Sox squad.

Cepeda's lone season in Boston was a solid one, as he posted a .289-20-86 line in 142 games while playing some newfangled position they called Designated Hitter in 1973. Cepeda was one of the first to reap the benefits of the DH rule: he couldn't much play the field during the later stages of his career, but he could still hit with the best of them.

While this is Cepeda's sunset card, '73 wasn't his sunset season, nor were the Red Sox the final team he'd play for: the future HOFer appeared in 33 games with the 1974 Royals before being released in September of that year, a stint that (to my knowledge) has sadly never been immortalized on a baseball card (which makes it prime fodder for the Cards That Never Were category).

That just about does it for this edition of Short Term Stops.

Thanks for tuning in.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

2017 Topps Series 2: Just like old times


It's risky to walk into a Target at three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon.

Against my better judgment, however, I did just that over the weekend, running the risk of people coughing on me (which happened), screaming kids running in circles around me (also happened), and having carts from impatient customers bump into my backside while waiting in the checkout line (also happened).

And to think I did all this in search of Series 2, generally the most boring of the three Flagship series in what has already been a pretty boring year for Topps. Lo and behold, my Target had them in stock. I grabbed a blaster and a couple rack packs and counted the seconds to when my turn came at the cash register.

But then something else happened, something I wasn't expecting.




I bumped into an old friend from school, someone I hadn't seen in years.

This friend is significant to me and the hobby because, in my 25 years on this earth, he's the only person I've been able to single-handedly convert to card collecting. He and I collected together for about a year during 8th grade and early high school before he eventually lost interest to the usual adolescent distractions.

After the usual How's it going and Been a long time and How's work greetings that usually color the brief rekindling of past friendships, he noticed the Series 2 packs in my hand, and we got to talking about our old times the hobby.




He told me with pride that he still had some of the better cards from his collecting days -- notably, a Scott Podsednik printing plate and a Jermaine Dye jersey card (he's a Sox fan, if you can't tell) -- and considered the possibility of digging them out of his closet one of these days.

At some point, I mentioned that Topps was the only game left in town. He was floored when I said this. Topps was the far-away #1 in the hobby when we were collecting, but I have fond memories of us buying packs of other products at the time.

Really? Yes: I had to tell him. No Upper Deck? Nope. Fleer? No.




In an odd way, sometimes it takes a conversation like the one I had on Saturday to truly realize how much things can change while generally staying the same.

There I was in a Target checkout aisle holding a bunch of baseball cards in my hand while my friend picked a Monster energy drink from a nearby cooler, unaware of the news that Fleer had gone out of business. How different things might've been had I given up the hobby all those years ago.I was thinking about my old friend the entire time it took to open my first packs of Series 2.

Despite this year's underwhelming design, Series 2 did manage to provide the pack-busting thrill I still treasure to this day, with a few unexpected surprises: notably that the Dodgers team card you see above, which is now and forever the king of my "tip of the cap" mini-collection.




One of the fringe benefits of Series 2 is that it's the only set around nowadays that's able to provide scarce high-numbers in the 400-600 range for my frankenset.

Three of these (Cotton, Gordon, Saladino) fit nicely into my mini-collections, but John Jaso and his white-guy dreads are frankenset-worthy since they're kind of like a car accident: you don't want to look, but you just can't help yourself.




I think the 2017 Topps design works best with the horizontals, and all of these are sure to warrant strong consideration for the frankenset.




This, however, was probably the best of the base cards I pulled on Saturday.

On the surface, it doesn't look like anything special. A card of an aging veteran who hasn't cracked a big league roster in 2017. Though it's a decent airbrush job on the part of Topps, I know with 100 percent certainty that James Loney's Rangers jersey is, in fact, a creation out of Photoshop.

Why? Because Loney never played a game with the Rangers. Indeed, he signed with Texas prior to this season before being released at the end of Spring Training. He's currently jobless after a brief stint in the Braves' system.

That makes this -- say it with me, now -- a zero-year card!




The theme of Series 2 seems to be an all-uppercase AMERICA.

These commemorative flag patches fall one per blaster, and though it's not a terrible card (notably thinner than a lot of past manu-relics), I have no intentions of keeping it.




These are exclusive to retail packs, including a special Salute-style set dedicated to Independence Day jerseys...because AMERICA.




Not sure if these are retail-only or not, and I don't really care because they're painfully boring.




Believe it or not, I actually pulled a semi-interesting overproduction-era buyback: one of my packs allowed me to REDISCOVER the final card Graig Nettles would ever receive from Topps.

I've said this before, but my dad is (and has always been) of the mindset that advertisements aren't baseball cards.

I couldn't disagree more: you can bet your behind I'll be adding that MLB The Show ad to the rest of my Griffeys.




Chet Steadman aside, I have no real interest in any of the First Pitch inserts from Series 2, and that included the only two I pulled from my Series 2 packs: a pair of golfers I'd never heard of.

Obviously, I am not a golfer.




Inserts revolving around the All-Star Game are always good with me, especially when companies use photos that, you know, actually come from All-Star Games, which both of these appear to do.




But my favorite pull of the afternoon had to be the card you see above, one that documents perhaps the most memorable of all the All-Star moments our National Pastime has had to offer.

The design, like most of the inserts I've shown thus far, is crap (gray does not work on a card design, Topps!), and to top it off, the copy I pulled is oddly miscut.

But despite all the efforts to the contrary, nothing can prevent my affection for this card. Shockingly, it's the first one I've ever seen featuring Teddy Ballgame's touching farewell to the game he loved so much.

Cards -- like hobbies, like friends, like myself -- change as the years go by. But part of the reason I think I've stuck with collecting is that I simply haven't found anything else that thrills me as much as the gratifying snap I hear when I open a pack of baseball cards. No, Series 2 isn't going to have me rushing back to Target for more and more helpings of it.

But it's good to know that -- despite the fluidity our lives often have -- they're there, waiting for me whenever I need them again.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Frankenset Redux, Page 4: Numbers 28-36


Page #3 (Numbers 28-36):

Completion Status: 9/9

Numbers Needed: None.



The Players

1995 Pinnacle #28 Derrick May

A leaping grab at the ivy. 



2000 Just Minors #29 Brian Daubach

Brian Daubach celebrating with...whatever the heck that mascot is supposed to be. 



1993 Classic #T30 Junior Felix

Baseball card ballet. 



2016 Topps Update #US-31 Eduardo Nunez

Turning two at the Midsummer Classic. 



1973 Topps #32 Fred Norman

One of the shiniest gems from the legendary '73 Topps checklist. 



1973 Topps #33 Jim Breazeale

Jim Breazeale and his curious frames completes the '73 Topps one-two punch. 



2013 Topps Update #US-34 AJ Pollock

For the win! 



1995 Topps #35 Ricky Bones

Either Ricky Bones's hand is really big, or that water bottle is really small. 



1994 Collector's Choice #36 Wilson Alvarez

Wilson Alvarez giving some tips to a young Sox fan.



Stats

Cards By Decade:

1970's -- 2 (Running total: 2)
1990's -- 4 (Running total: 18)
2000's -- 1 (Running total: 4)
2010's -- 2 (Running total: 9)

Mini-collection Hits:

Double Dips -- 1 (Running total: 6)
At the Wall -- 1 (Running total: 4)
Cards with Kids -- 1 (Running total: 3)
Play at the Plate -- 1 (Running total: 1)



Best Cameo


Paul Goldschmidt makes a special appearance on this All-Star Game double dip.



This Magic Moment


I could've taken the easy way out and decided to date the aforementioned Eduardo Nunez double play, which was turned at the 2016 All-Star Game (of course).

But that's not how we do things here: instead, I sought out to find the exact moment this celebratory shot of AJ Pollock was taken. The D-Backs players spilling out of the dugout would seem to indicate a walk-off win taking place, which makes this task a whole lot easier.

It seems certain this photo was snapped as Pollock was in the process of scoring the winning run in a game against the Dodgers on April 14th, 2013, early enough in the season for the shot to appear in a late-calendar release like Topps Update. 

Pollock scored the only run of the game on a single by Paul Goldschmidt (again!) to complete the Diamondbacks' 1-0 win that afternoon.



Funniest Card


I don't want to know where Jim Breazeale shopped for glasses.



Lessons in Card Backs


I couldn't find any record as to whether or not former Padre pitcher Fred Norman is still a bachelor, but thanks to the cartoon on the back of this card, we know he was fighting off the ladies as of 1973.



Best of the Rest

2008 UD Masterpieces #33 Asdrubal Cabrera

You'd think an unassisted triple play -- like the one Asdrubal Cabrera turned in 2008 -- would warrant a spot in this frankenset...until you realize you have to go up against Jim Breazeale's glasses.



Toughest Draw


1999 Stadium Club #34 Turner Ward

Pollock's dramatic walk-off win is a fantastic card from a great year of Topps, but the card-numbering gods unfortunately put him up against a picturesque shot of Turner Ward almost literally making a pitcher eat his dust.

Sorry, AJ.



Second Guessing


1997 Upper Deck #33 Scott Servais

I'll be second-guessing this one for as long as I live: I keep switching these two cards in and out of the Inaugural Frankenset.

For now, Scott Servais and his masterful point-of-impact PATP from 1997 Upper Deck wins over Breazeale's goofy shades at slot #33, but check back with me tomorrow because I may well have a different answer.



Favorite Card


No contest here: between the off-kilter mound shot, those god-awful McDonald's-mustard Padres jerseys, and the attendance of exactly zero in the background, Fred Norman is the unquestioned king of this frankenset page.

Another nine in the books.

Thanks for reading!