Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Here we come...

Music and baseball have been my two loves for as long as I can remember.

While I haven't devoted a ton of time to music in the history of this blog, make no mistake: it's just as big of a passion for me as baseball. And that's why I get all giddy inside when someone like Bert of "Swing and A Pop-Up" fame decides to send me a whole bunch of music-related stuff -- specifically, Monkees cards.

The Monkees are just such a strange story. A group of four strangers -- Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz -- put together for the sole purpose of starring in a TV comedy about a struggling band, only for their show to become wildly successful and leave them unhappy about lack of musical control, which in turn led them to completely break free from the tube and actually become a real band.

It's still a massive shame they aren't in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

The Monkees have long played a starring role in my life.

They were a favorite of mine when I was a wee lad, fell almost completely off my map during my late childhood/adolescence, only to enjoy a massive renaissance in my life in recent years after stumbling upon a few late-night cable reruns not long ago. These days, they receive more air time on my bus/train commutes than almost any other band out there.

In some ways, I guess I was destined to become a Monkees fan: I've mentioned it before, but my dad missed his one chance to see Mike Nesmith in concert because my mom was heavily pregnant with me at the time.

I'd be born just days later.

One of my pipe dreams has been to assemble a master set of Monkees cards.

They were issued in both 1966 and '67 -- printed by a little-known brand called Donruss well before they'd break into the baseball market -- and all the ones Bert sent come from the latter checklist. While I've never put a ton of concerted effort into chasing the set, I scoop them up at card shows when I can (and will always take extras anyone might have lying around).

And now I'll shut up and let the Monkees do the rest of the talking tonight.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tell me how to feel about Topps Fire

Even with my efforts to keep tabs on the current hobby, some juicy developments still manage to completely pass me by.

Last week, I saw a post on Twitter that said something along the lines of Look for 2017 Topps Fire at your Target today! And my first reaction was, honestly: What the hell is Topps Fire?!

Topps Fire is, as I quickly learned, a new Topps set, and the first (as far as I can remember) sold exclusively in Target stores. It's an extension of last year's Topps Update insert series of the same name -- the only example I can recall of an entire brand blossoming from a past insert set -- and carries a $5.99 price tag for a 12-card rack pack.

Despite the hefty price and my relative apathy for images I'd seen around the 'net, I still found myself purchasing a couple rack packs and a blaster of Topps Fire this weekend.

It's a good thing I did, because from the looks of it, Topps Fire seems to have, well...caught fire.

I had to make a Target run today, in fact, and found that they'd completely sold out of the product in the three days since my original purchase. Standard blasters are selling for $10-15 more than their $20 retail price online, and even the standard base/inserts are commanding inflated prices.

All this makes me glad I pulled an Aaron Judge from my packs, because I seriously doubt I'd be able to reel one in at anything near an affordable price otherwise.

It's been three days since I originally bought these packs, flipped through the cards within those packs at least half-dozen times by now -- and I still don't know how I feel about them.

I can't remember having such a back-and-forth feeling with a product before. On the one hand, they are colorful, and the ones I've placed in my binders provide a spectacular pop to a nine-pocket page. I'm not sure the scans do them justice -- it's a design that needs to be seen in-hand to be fully appreciated, I think.

On the other hand, man are these things loud: the photos are yawners, the backgrounds are obliterated, and every card seems to seemingly depict a player trying to escape a natural disaster.

And try as I might, I can't find any kind of cohesion to the subdesigns apart from semi-team coordinated color schemes: the lightning bolts, octagonal frames, bolded names, etc. seem to be thrown around at random.

But although the big-name legends are the same as you'll see in most other sets (though the Tony Perez sighting is a nice change of pace), Topps Fire does provide a different, modern look at some of these overdone stars.

But the backs suck.

But the parallels are so darn awesome!

This, in a nutshell, is how I feel about Topps Fire. This is cool! But I don't like that. But how great is THIS?! But that doesn't seem right. And this, but that.


But seriously, the parallels: wow do they pop and sizzle, and what I said before about the cards needing to be seen in-hand goes double for these.

But again, the negative: there's just so many of them to the point where I don't even know what I have. And that just has the feeling of overkill. The Strasburg (numbered to 199) and Jones (/25) were the only numbered cards I received in my breaks, and I think those are emerald and magenta parallels, respectively.

The Heyward was the only notable name I pulled from my blaster-exclusive pack of four Gold Minted parallels. I'm guessing the Arenado and Abreu are Blue Chip parallels, found only in rack packs. And the Schwarber appears to be your standard Flame parallel.


And then there's the inserts, which themselves have parallel variations.

The theme of the Golden Grabs series pretty much speaks for itself, and my blue parallel of this insert -- does it get more modern than pulling a parallel of an insert? -- makes Andrew Benintendi look vaguely like an evolving Pokemon.

Now these I like: the Monikers series features famous nicknames on a graffitied background, and I pulled two of the greatest with "The Wizard" and "Mr. October."

And better yet, The Spaceman(!) earned a place in this set, and I already went ahead and purchased a copy, of course.

Last but not least are the Walk It Off inserts, another design I like due to the comic-book-esque vibe I seem to get from them.

Though I don't know if Topps Fire is completely necessary -- it almost strikes me as a more expensive version of Topps Bunt -- I do appreciate Topps giving us something new and at least kinda original. And while I'm not sure how I feel about cards being exclusive to certain retail chains in the first place, it makes me feel lucky to have something like this around when I live right across the street from a Target.

And there we go again with the and/but thing -- god, even the peripheral details here make me all conflicted and mixed-up inside. I feel like examining this set any closer will lead down a dark path that ends with me questioning my life choices.

So tell me how to feel about Topps Fire.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Tigers Team

I do my best to keep up with the standings throughout the baseball season, but here and there I'll see a team and say Hold it, since when is THAT their record?!

Case in point: I knew the Tigers were mediocre, but I had no idea just how bad of a year they were having until about a month ago. They finished 64-98, dead last in the AL Central (two games below even the massively rebuilding White Sox) and tied with the Giants for the worst record in all of baseball.

In a way, I guess this makes sense. I've never paid much attention to the Tigers. They're another one of those teams I'm almost perfectly apathetic about. Even though they've had several pennant contenders in the last couple decades, my clearest Tigers memory is probably the year (2003) they finished with a putrid 43-119 record, by far the worst season a team has ever had in my baseball lifetime.

But enough with the negative memories: it's time for the Tigers' Short Term Stops roster, one that features a fun mix of stars and fan favorites alike.


1967 Topps #284 Johnny Podres

"Short Term Stops" Tigers Accolades:

Johnny Podres (1966-67 Tigers, 57 games)

For a long time, I was under the impression that Johnny Podres was a career Dodger.

Not so: Podres spent parts of two seasons with the Tigers after being traded to Detroit by the Dodgers in 1966, and would finish his career as a Padre in '69 (also a member of that Short Term Stops roster). Though the 57 games Podres played in Detroit are more than most Short Term Stop members, the sheer unfamiliarity of it warrants a spot in this post.

It's so unfamiliar that even Topps couldn't get a shot of Podres in the uniform, as this '67 issue -- the only one I've seen of Podres as a Tiger -- most likely features a shot of the pitcher in an obscured Dodger cap.

2000 Pacific Omega #53 Hideo Nomo

Hideo Nomo (1999 Tigers, 32 games)

Hideo Nomo was on the downswing of his career by the time he ended up in Detroit, going 8-12 with an unspectacular 4.74 ERA in his only season as a Tiger.

Though only five years removed from his breakout rookie season at the time, Nomo-mania must've seemed like a distant memory by then.

2007 Upper Deck #686 Jose Mesa

Jose Mesa (2007 Tigers, 16 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

I learned a few things about Jose Mesa while researching this post.

1) Mesa threw at Omar Vizquel every time the two faced off due to some unfavorable things Vizquel had to say about Mesa in his autobiography regarding their time as teammates in Cleveland. 

2) Mesa became the second of just three players to wear #94 in a big-league game when he donned the number for Detroit, joining only Felix Heredia before him and Dalier Hinojosa after him.

3) Mesa really sucked as a Tiger, posting an awful 12.34 ERA in 16 games before being released and hooking on with the Phillies, where he'd finish his long and well-traveled career.


2016 Topps Update #US-261 Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2016 Tigers, 92 games)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the classic hot-shot prospect who enjoyed a fairly long career without ever quite living up to his potential.

Saltalamacchia latched on with the Tigers in 2016 -- his sixth different team -- where he'd hit an anemic .171 with 12 homers in 92 games in Detroit. His 11-year career looks to be over, as the catcher is without a job after spending ten forgettable games with the Blue Jays earlier this year.

Though he likely won't be remembered as a Tiger, Saltalamacchia might be remembered for having the longest last name in baseball history.

First Base

1973 Topps #560 Frank Howard

Frank Howard (1972-73 Tigers, 99 games, sunset season in '73)

The 6'8" Frank Howard was so massive that the Tigers couldn't get a uniform to fit him when he was first acquired by the team. 

Other than that, Hondo had a fairly quiet end to his career, spending part of 1972 and all of '73 with the Tigers and hitting the final 13 of his 382 career homers in Detroit. Interestingly, Howard would also be a prime member of a Japanese Short Term Stops roster should the time ever come to do one of those: following his departure from the majors, Hondo signed with the Taiheiyo Lions of the NPB in 1974.

He wrenched his back in his very first game with the club and promptly retired, bringing his Japanese career to a close after exactly three plate appearances.

Second Base

1978 Topps #385 Tito Fuentes

Tito Fuentes (1977 Tigers, 151 games)

Short Term Stops are usually a place for futility, but not so with Tito Fuentes.

The man who wore his name on his headband hit a sparkling .309 during his only season in Detroit, good for a Topps card ending in 5 the following year -- notable in Topps' caste system of card numbers -- and briefly resurrecting what seemed to be a fading career.

But just like that, Tito was gone again: he retired after being released by the A's just 13 games into the '78 season.


1998 Ultra #318 Billy Ripken

Billy Ripken (1998 Tigers, 27 games, sunset season)

I kinda feel bad for Billy Ripken: after all, he's basically only known for either a) being Cal's brother or b) his infamous '89 Fleer F--- Face card.

What sometimes gets lost to history is the fact that the younger Ripken had a perfectly serviceable 12-year big league career -- though it did, admittedly, come to an unimpressive end after hitting .270 in 27 games with the 1998 Tigers.

Though far from his most notable card, this is an important piece of my collection since it's the only one I own of Billy Ripken as a Tiger.

Third Base

1979 Diamond Greats #400 Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews (1967-68 Tigers, 67 games, sunset season in '68)

Eddie Mathews was on his last legs by the time he wound up in Detroit, hitting just .225 with nine homers in parts of two seasons with the Tigers to close out his Hall of Fame career.

Aside from his bland '68 Topps sunset issue, this is the only card I've ever seen of Mathews as a Tiger, and it's an odd one. These Diamond Greats oddballs are painfully low-rent -- the backs are blank, and note the misspelling of diamond here -- and were produced by a photographer named Jack Wallin in 1979. I doubt I'd even know they exist had I not found a stack of them in a dime box at my local flea market many years ago. 

But generic or not, I'm thankful the set exists, if for no other reason than it produced the only card I've ever seen of Eddie Mathews in an unobscured Tigers uniform.


1959 Topps #455 Larry Doby 

Larry Doby (1959 Tigers, 18 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

These posts are among my favorite to write because of how educational they often are for my baseball-hungry brain.

I've long known that Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League, debuting with the Indians just a few months after Jackie Robinson in 1947. I also knew that Doby briefly played for the Tigers later on, spending just 18 games with the club in 1959 before being sent to the White Sox and providing a veteran presence on the World Series-bound "Go-Go Sox" club that year.

What I didn't know was that Doby was the first former Negro Leaguer in Tiger history, or that he was among the first big-name Americans to travel overseas and play in Japan, suiting up (along with former MLB star Don Newcombe) for the Chunichi Dragons in 1962.

More trivia for the ol' brain box.

1997 Ultra #499 Vince Coleman

Vince Coleman (1997 Tigers, 6 games, sunset season)

The shortest-tenured member of this roster, Vince Coleman hit a pitcher-esque .071 in six games with the '97 Tigers before being released and calling it a career.

Like Billy Ripken before him, I owe a great debt to Ultra for producing the only card I own of Coleman as a Tiger.

2010 Bowman #156 Johnny Damon

Johnny Damon (2010 Tigers, 145 games)

Johnny Damon played for four different teams during the final four years of his career, including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stint with the Tigers in 2010.

Though it was a solid year by all counts (he hit .271 with a robust .355 OBP) I don't much remember Damon as a Tiger, though I am a fan of this card -- which has me nostalgic about days when Bowman actually included half-interesting photos in their product. 

Designated Hitter

1979 Hostess #56 Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub (1976-79 Tigers, 549 games)

I don't have a great nominee for the DH position on this roster in my binders at the moment, so I'll have to give the nod to Rusty here despite the fact that he spent over 500 games with the franchise.

Even so, the sight of Staub as a Tiger has always struck me as still somewhat unfamiliar, and besides, I don't often get the chance to show Hostess cards in these posts.

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

Thanks for tuning in.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I'm not supposed to like these

I've had a recent influx of cards come to my home that, if I lived and died by my "low-end collector" tag, I probably shouldn't like.

Not this Don Mossi, of course -- because no matter how you slice it, Don Mossi is awesome. He makes me feel just a bit better about not being much of a Casanova myself (which I think explains the widespread appeal he's found amongst baseball circles) and this '56 issue captures him at the very height of his zombie looks.

Mossi and a couple other cards I'm not supposed to like came from my buddy Brian of the "Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary" blog. As I mentioned a while back, Brian was responsible for stealing my Topps Retired Tony Oliva autograph prize package in Gavin's Big Fun Game.

Apparently, Brian felt some guilt over taking my goods and offered up a few substitute cards as an apology.

After the Mossi came the first Card I Shouldn't Like with this coin/stamp combo of Javier Baez, which, if I were to see it on the internet, I'd probably dismiss as gimmicky and something I'd never want.

But actually holding and owning a card like this is a different story. It's kinda cool having a baseball card/coin/stamp triad in my collection (I've never actually pulled one), especially one that matches said coin and stamp to the player's birth year. It's like three hobbies rolled into one.

Having Baez as the featured player makes a great card even better, given that he and I share the same birth year: 1992.

And as if the Mossi and Baez alone didn't win me over, Brian included a different version of the very thing he'd stolen from me in the first place: a Tony Oliva autograph!

In all seriousness, I wasn't too disappointed when Brian took my prize. Having an Oliva auto would've been neat, but in the end I got the customs lot I wanted and was content with that. And besides, the Oliva is much, much better in the hands of a diehard Twins collector like Brian.

But I ended up with a Tony Oliva autograph all the same -- definitely a keeper for me -- and now I feel like I got two Big Fun Game prizes for the prize of one.

Apology accepted, Brian.

Another Card I Shouldn't Like came from a reader named Joey M. who contacted me recently about a possible trade.

This A&G Dawson mini wasn't the card in question, more of a throw-in to the real prize Joey had in store for me later on. But the fact is that I probably shouldn't much like minis, either. They roll around in nine-pocket pages like crazed children and never quite stay straight or look right next to their full-sized companions.

And yet I like -- nay, love -- minis as much as anything else in this hobby.

More A&Gs from Joey, including a George Brett from last year's gigantic "Numbers Game" insert set.

A&G is usually good for one bloated insert series a year, and while I want to bemoan and criticize the concept of a 100-card insert set, I just can't -- because when you get down to it, the ideas are original and the inserts themselves are pretty darn nice.

But enough with the insert set pontifications and on to the crown jewel of Joey's gift to me:

I am not, I repeat, not an autograph collector...BUT OH MY GOD WOW THAT'S AN ERNIE BANKS AUTOGRAPH!

I wasn't quite sure what to say when Joey said he wanted to send this to me. Sure, I'll take it, but I don't really have a kidney or soul to spare right now, because surely that's what a fair swap for a Mr. Cub autograph would be.

But no: Joey agreed to send it to me out of the goodness of his own heart, though I know what I sent back wasn't even a fraction as good as this beauty, which (as if the autograph wasn't enough) has a bit of an oddball thing going for it as well.

In what has to be one of the earliest examples of certified autographs being available to collectors, the Canadian Classic Whiskey company offered autograph cards of one of four HOFers (Banks, Brooks Robinson, Willie Stargell, and Billy Williams) with a purchase of grandpa's cough medicine. It is, suffice to say, my first Ernie Banks autograph, something I certainly never thought I'd own.

I don't care what the header of this blog says, because I just plain love everything in this post: coins, stamps, autographs, and all.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Top Five: Carl Yastrzemski

Carl Yastrzemski is what I like to call a "stop-and-look" kind of guy when it comes to my card collection.

If I happen to pull my Red Sox binder off my bookshelf, I always, always have to stop and look at my Yaz cards -- even if the original reasons for retrieving my binder are completely unrelated to Yaz or his ilk. I can't resist spending a few minutes flipping through my Yaz pages, every damn time.

Part of the reason Yaz is such a cornerstone of my collection is the fact that he simply received a ton of fine cardboard during (and after) his hallowed career, and today I'll be featuring the five best of his many stop-and-look cards.

#5 -- 1982 Fleer #633 Carl Yastrzemski

I don't know if there's a more universally loved figure than Yaz in the annals of Red Sox history.

Despite the many empty seats in the background, you really get a sense of how much he meant to the franchise with this gem, a special "tip of the cap" from '82 Fleer highlighting Yaz's 3,000th game with the Sox.

It's also a personal favorite of mine because there aren't many cards that give us a glimpse of Fenway's Pesky Pole territory.

#4 -- 1981 Topps #110 Carl Yastrzemski

I seem to like '81 Topps more than most collectors out there -- it's one of Topps's ten best sets as far as I'm concerned.

Even amongst the many great cards in the checklist, Yaz here might be my very favorite of the lot: a candid shot of the slugger in the twilight of his career, applying pine tar to his trusted lumber while waiting for his turn in the cage.

It seems to me that '81 is among the least honored of Topps's retro designs, which is a shame because it's cards like this one that made me fall in love with the hobby in the first place.

#3 -- 1982 Donruss #74 Carl Yastrzemski

Here's what might well be the most mysterious baseball card ever made, for a few reasons.

1)  Bunting? Since when does the mythical Yaz ever lay down a measly bunt?

2) As described in a Night Owl post I remember reading in my early days of the blogosphere, the red batting helmet, pullover Sox jerseys, and striped socks are dead giveaways that this shot doesn't come from the early '80s at all. In fact, it can be traced all the way back to...1978.

3) So, then, how the heck did a photograph from 1978 -- a full three years before Donruss even existed -- end up on a Donruss card in 1982?

I doubt we'll ever know for sure but, at the very least, the sheer mystery of it all makes it the most interesting Yaz card on the market.

#2 -- 1966 Topps #70 Carl Yastrzemski

Nothing eerie about this one, just a fantastic image of a young, all-smiles Yaz -- which stands out given his largely stoic personality on most of his Topps cards.

#1 -- 1965 Topps #385 Carl Yastrzemski

One of the white whales I've considered in the wake of my '52 Hoyt takedown has been Yaz's 1960 Topps rookie.

But even if I do one day capture that elusive rookie, I'm not sure it'd supplant this one as my very favorite Yaz card, if I'm being completely honest. There's just so much I love about the #1 card on this countdown.

For one thing, it's 1965 Topps, my favorite design in Topps history. And while the common (but great) looking-up-at-the-sky pose isn't anything out of the ordinary, there's something about Yaz doing it that makes it feel different, unique. It's like he's readying himself for the years of glory and stardom yet to come.

It's easily the most stop-and-look card of my beloved stop-and-look collection of Yaz.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Penny boxes, round two

Between white whales and card shows, this has sure been one glorious whirlwind of a week for my collection.

One thing that got a bit lost in the chaos was the fact that the penny boxes were back at the flea market a couple weekends ago. These, as you might remember, took me completely by surprise during an otherwise routine afternoon a while back, and despite purchasing over 500 cards the first time around, I still hadn't finished going through the guy's inventory.

I mentioned that this same vendor was back at the flea market during my last trip a few weeks ago, only without the penny cards. Though I scored a nice '54 Billy Martin from him that day, I basically begged him to bring the penny boxes back the following week, because with cards as great as his, I just had to look through them all.

Flash forward a week later, and there they were: the penny boxes were back!

Any cases of the early-morning yawns were immediately quelled by those glorious 1¢ price tags.

It was all smiles from here on out.

Believe me when I say that I scoured every last penny card this guy had -- even rehashing some of the same ones I dug through the first time around a couple months ago -- because I'm a completist when it comes to this sort of thing.

With a situation like this, I can't bear to think of what I might be leaving behind, and I can sleep a little better at night knowing I didn't abandon this quartet of superstars in those poor penny boxes.

And while big names like Rickey and Mo are great, for me the penny boxes just about hit their peak with the more secondary stars like Shooter and Jim Abbott.

And hey, the penny boxes even inspired me to start a new player collection.

Mo Vaughn has long been one of my favorite players of the '90s, but for whatever reason, I've never chased his cards with much vigor. I'd grab a few here and there if I felt like it, but overall, I'd describe my Vaughn collection as passive, at best. But after seeing Mo after Mo after Mo pass me by in the penny boxes, I wondered: why am I not collecting this guy?

I didn't have a good answer, and thus, a player collection was born.

Mini-collection hits for a penny a pop, and what a feeling that is.

These filled a couple gaping holes in my sunset collection, and I sometimes forget that both Winfield and Murray both played well into the '90s.

Some prime Short Term Stops here, including one of the extreme few cards I've ever seen of Vince Coleman's forgotten stint with the Reds.

I feel a little better about the world knowing that penny-box oddballs actually exist.

Seeing the same optometrist, are we?


And just when I thought I'd seen it all, lo and behold: a Dime Box Dozen need.

Yup, Kenny here was indeed on my DBD list before this second foray through the penny boxes. Before last Sunday, I'd had a Dugout Collection parallel of this one sitting in my Cleveland binder for ages without ever reeling in the standard base card.

All it took was a single penny to put years of frustration to rest.

These penny boxes were overwhelmingly '90s-heavy, so stumbling upon some weird and wacky cards was pretty much inevitable.

I still haven't the slightest clue what I'm seeing on that Skybox Thunder design, and E-X did their best to provide their subjects with an apt adjective in an effort to make their brand stand out (though in the case of Lenny Dykstra, RIPPED = 'ROIDED).

Sometimes '90s cards can be quite left-of-center, just like the train-conductor wardrobe of that usher (I assume?) sharing the spotlight with Dean Palmer there.

Then again, whether they come in vertical...

...or horizontal form, some '90s cards are just objectively beautiful.

Some '90s cards capture the often-ignored beauty of the dugout.

Finally, the penny boxes helped me find greatness in a few '90s sets I'd previously ignored or just plain disliked.

I doubt I'll ever come around on '96 Donruss or '98 Topps, but it's good knowing that with a little effort, there are bright spots to be found in even the darkest corners.

About 45 minutes and one harsh neck sunburn later, I had done it: I'd finally conquered the penny boxes.

The final tally for the day came to a whopping 450 cards, mine for the insane price of four dollars. It boggles my mind to think that, between my two trips to this guy's table, I added right around 1,000 new penny cards to my collection.

From there, the Penny Card Guy and I shook hands -- and would you believe it, he actually thanked me for taking the time to look through everything he had. No, no, sir, thank you!

I am honored to have had the privilege of experiencing your penny box heaven.

(And in perhaps the most noteworthy aside in blog post history, I ended up buying these two '54s from the Penny Card Guy's higher-priced stuff to go along with the 450 penny cards -- as well as the Billy Martin I purchased the last time around.

Talk about the best of both worlds.)