Tuesday, October 30, 2012
A collection of odd
In baseball, I've always had an interest in the "odd".
It could be something simple, like Craig Counsell's old batting stance or Chad Bradford's funky submarine delivery.
On the other side of the coin, some aspects of baseball history have become legendary because of how much they stand out. Take the Wrigley Field ivy, for instance.
Because of all this, it's only natural that I'd do the same with cardboard.
I'm talking about those crazy things we call "oddballs", of course.
So, what are "oddballs", exactly?
I couldn't tell you for sure.
I just know 'em when I see 'em.
Year-in, year-out sets like Topps flagship or Heritage have kept me going as a collector. In the past, the base releases of Upper Deck and Fleer did the same. I probably wouldn't be in this hobby without that consistency.
At the same time, I don't know that I'd still be collecting today if it weren't for "oddballs".
Although they're not as plentiful in this day in age, they never cease to amaze. I can't help but stop and stare whenever I find one in a dime box, or whenever I'm simply flipping through my collection.
They're hard to ignore.
My former-Devil Rays-turned-Rays binder is home to quite a few cards of the "oddball" variety.
When I was in 4th grade, one of our class projects was to write a letter to some sort of celebrity, company, or franchise. The primary focus of it was to practice our writing skills.
Actually getting something back was just icing on the cake.
I must've been on a Devil Rays kick at the time, because I chose to send a nice letter to Tampa Bay as my "project".
A short while later, I received a large mailer back, courtesy of the Devil Rays. My memories of actually opening the package are a bit hazy, but I'd bet I was one happy camper as a young baseball fan.
While the mailer did consist of a nice return letter and a cool D'Rays program, my absolute favorite part of it was the team-exclusive set of baseball cards they sent.
Although the set included stars such as Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff, my favorite of the bunch has to be the "educational" Quinton McCracken card at the top of the post. (On a side note, I actually have the book that he's holding in that photo.)
It's certainly not your everyday baseball card.
The Rays have always been one of my favorite clubs, something that was probably a direct result of that great "fan package" they put together for me.
I've never had a chance to thank them until now.
Another major part of my early collecting days were these paper-thin "Sports Illustrated for Kids" cards.
Each issue came with nine different cards, featuring athletes from all different sports.
Of course, the only ones I ever cared about were the baseball players.
I couldn't wait until the next issue arrived on my doorstep, mainly so I could see which new "cards" I could add to my collection, all of which still reside with me to this day.
Personally, I can't remember a better "set" than these "Athletes of the Decade", which consisted of legends such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Jackie Robinson.
Okay, I'll admit it. I even stole a few of these from the "public" SI for Kids issues that my school's library had in 5th and 6th grade.
Such neat "oddballs" will make you do crazy things, I guess.
It's not often that I'll make an "in the dark" purchase when it comes to cardboard.
However, that's precisely what I did with this 1995 Old Judge series.
Even though I knew absolutely nothing about them, I still pounced when a member of my trading forum was offering the complete 36-card set at the bargain-basement price of one dollar.
While a few future stars such as Derek Lowe and Bobby Abreu were included, I'd never heard of most of the guys in the set.
Still, I couldn't help but like them.
For better or worse, most recent oddballs aren't licensed by MLB. As a result, they have to omit any mention of team names or logos.
I still don't know what that "P" is supposed to represent, given that Derek Lowe was drafted by the Seattle Mariners.
Such mysteries are part of the fun of "oddballs", though.
Given my "vintage bias", it's no surprise that many of my favorite "oddballs" come from the distant past.
Perhaps the oldest of the odd in my collection are the few '69 Topps "Deckle Edge" cards I've purchased over the years.
I've always had a special interest in older photographs, especially when it comes to baseball.
These make me feel like I'm holding a true piece of Americana, given their photo album-like quality.
Plus, this one features Dick Allen.
What more could I want?
As far as 3-D cards go, the "oddball" Kellogg's issues are the cream of the crop.
Topps experimented with three-dimensional cardboard before Kellogg's came around. Many other companies have used the concept since then as well.
However, none of those even come close to the sugary greatness of these.
I had the good fortune to come across a nice stack of these in a flea market dime box a couple years ago, one that netted me awesome 3-D issues of Jay Johnstone and the above Rollie Fingers.
Not bad for some loose change.
As far as my taste in "oddballs" goes, nothing can top these.
The famous Hostess cards, featured on the bottoms of sugary snacks in the 1970's and early '80s.
From my experience, these seem to be one of the few "universal" aspects of the card community. I've never seen anyone who doesn't enjoy a cool Hostess card here or there.
My dad has often rehashed how he'd go through every box of Twinkies on the shelf in order to find one with cards he needed, so they have a little bit of personal history to me.
I'd probably put on a few pounds if they tried something like that today.
Perhaps the best thing about Hostess cards is that there certainly doesn't seem to be a shortage of them. I usually come back with at least a couple from every card show I attend.
Like the Kellogg's Rollie Fingers, this '75 Hostess Gaylord Perry is also a former dime box find of mine.
One of my better ones, if I do say so myself.
The six types of "oddballs" I've shown in this post only begin to scratch the surface.
Believe me, I could go on for hours with this topic. To me, they're one of the best sources for pure enjoyment in this hobby.
They don't have to be shiny, serial-numbered, or flashy in any way. If that Derek Lowe card is any indication, they don't even have to be that pretty.
All they have to do is stand out.
That's what an "oddball" is, after all.