Christmas was good to me this year.
Although the holiday is less about the gifts for me these days, few joys are much better in life than opening a present on Christmas morning.
For the most part, I leave the gift ideas up to my parents.
Although I might not like to admit it, I'm really not interested in many other hobbies outside of baseball.
I don't play video games. I don't need a new cell phone or iPad or whatever other new technology is out there.
The one constant between most of my holiday gifts over the years has been baseball.
This year was no exception. In fact, I only asked for one specific thing this time around.
One could say it was my "Red Ryder BB Gun" of sorts.
Much to my pleasure, the very first gift I opened on Christmas morning was the very thing I had desperately wanted.
A box of 2012 Panini Cooperstown.
My mom certainly came through with this one.
I am an absolute Hall of Fame nut. This set's entire checklist is comprised of Hall of Famers.
It was really a no-brainer for me.
What you see above is an authentic Christmas morning photo, taken by yours truly moments before my box-busting urges got the better of me.
I should note that if any of my fellow bloggers have any extra cards from this set to spare, I have a wantlist up on the set needs page on my sidebar.
Aside from a one-card sample courtesy of a fellow blogger, this was my very first introduction to anything Cooperstown-related.
After all was said and done, this box certainly made a good first impression.
One of the very first packs I opened held this magnificent Ty Cobb issue.
Although others might understandably argue for Ruth or Williams, I still rate Cobb as the greatest player in baseball history.
He received the most votes of anyone out of the legendary inaugural HOF class of 1936.
Even though he played the majority of his career in Detroit, this shot looks to be from his later Philadelphia A's days, a tenure which is certainly near the top as far as "unfamiliar uniforms" are concerned.
Fittingly, "The Georgia Peach" is card number one in the 170-card checklist.
Although I believe Cobb is the greatest to ever play the game, he's far from my favorite player in baseball history.
That illustrious honor goes to Mr. Clemente.
Both on and off the field, the guy could do it all.
While I'm sure Clemente was proud of his 3,000 career hits and 1966 NL MVP honors, I'd bet that he'd be more proud of his off-field accomplishments if he were still around today.
I doubt we'll ever see a ballplayer quite like Roberto Clemente again.
He's a once-in-a-lifetime type of guy.
Even with the logo-less boundaries, Cooperstown is still littered with tremendous photography.
Although the back of this card lists Comiskey as an "executive", Panini nevertheless chose to showcase a shot from his playing days.
I was enamored with this one as soon as I pulled it from the pack.
Given that "The Old Roman" retired in 1894, this shot is a terrific example of glorious 19th century baseball photography.
Plus, the horizontal issues in this set are absolutely staggering.
I had high expectations for Cooperstown before I busted the box.
Once I saw this card, I knew it was worth the hype.
In the end, what I loved most about Cooperstown was the sheer variety in the checklist.
Given the demise of the all-legend issues in recent years, I'd forgotten what it was like to experience a set like this.
I have only brief recollections of busting packs of Fan Favorites and Archives back in the day.
On top of that, I've started to get sick of the constant revolving door of the same "legends" in recent issues.
Topps leads us to believe that there are only about fifteen guys in Cooperstown these days. And half of them are named Mickey Mantle.
To open a pack and find actual cards of pre-1900 ballplayers like Buck Ewing and King Kelly was something else.
Cooperstown really covered all the bases with this one.
While I love a good Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth card here and there, they aren't the only two pre-WWII players enshrined in Cooperstown.
Legends like Ray Schalk and Zack Wheat are often overlooked in this hobby and in baseball history as a whole.
I only own about five or six other issues of both Schalk and Wheat.
It'll be refreshing to add another piece to their respective places in my binders.
I haven't been able to do that for a long, long time.
While I may be a sucker for any old-timey ballplayers, I have a tremendous admiration for the newer Cooperstown inductees as well.
Thankfully, Panini managed to weave a few of them into their checklist as well.
Plus, any card that lists Rich Gossage as "Goose" is okay in my book.
Just when I thought I thought it couldn't get any better, Cooperstown had another little surprise in store for me.
The checklist included the legendary heroes of Tinker, Evers...
Three of the defining figures of Cubs history.
Granted, Chance is probably the only one who really should be in the Hall of Fame numbers-wise.
But, for better or worse, the three names will forever be intertwined.
Look no further than Cooperstown for proof of that.
I understand that some may have a beef with the logo-less design of these.
The "head-bumping" concern is definitely a legitimate one, and something that I possibly feel could've been avoided by the folks at Panini.
Plus, for some strange reason, Ralph Kiner has two cards in the base checklist.
Even though this particular photo is simply jaw-dropping, I'll never know why Panini gave Kiner two different spots in their set.
In this case, though, I could care less about the design.
I'm just a sucker for anything that deals with the greatest figures in baseball history.
It's that simple.
The last twenty cards of the 170-card checklist comprises of colorized short-prints.
I'm guessing they're fairly rare, given that fact that my 24-pack box only yielded two of these beauties.
It's probably been about a decade since I pulled an Edd Roush card from a pack.
Now these are some awesome parallels.
I understand we all have varying tastes in inserts and colors and whatever, but I can't see how anyone could not like these "crystal collection" parallels.
Limited to just 299 copies a piece, my box yielded three of these shiny masterpieces. (Mike Schmidt was the other.)
Even better, the Plank comes from the colorized short-print series I just mentioned.
I'm just starting to realize exactly why I enjoy these so much. They manage to combine old-time photography with a strictly "new-wave" design.
I love it.
On to the inserts.
I'll get the negatives out of the way first.
A few of the insert sets fail to provide an actual picture of the player on the front.
Some of the ones I pulled simply feature a piece of Cooperstown memorabilia. One of the packs yielded an insert featuring Bill Mazeroski's batting helmet from the 1960 World Series.
Although fairly bland, the above card has a nice wood-grain feel to it.
In the end, I can't really do anything with cards that don't feature a ballplayer on the front. They just wouldn't look right in my binders.
As far as the inserts go, though, the positives far outweighed the negatives.
These "Hall History" inserts are certainly fantastic.
But that's not why I enjoy this one so much.
From what I know, this is the first card in my collection that was made for the sole purpose of showcasing another baseball card.
As depicted here, Cooperstown is famously home to one of the ultra-rare T206 Honus Wagner issues.
A baseball card within a baseball card.
It certainly makes you think.
Normally, I'm not a huge fan of suit-and-tied ballplayers on cardboard.
Still, I think I can make an exception for those "Induction" inserts. Witnessing a shot of a player on induction day is certainly something to cherish.
I've always felt that more Hall of Fame plaques should be featured in this hobby. I only have about a half-dozen examples in my entire collection.
Although I doubt I'll ever complete it, I'll certainly be chasing more issues from the 100-card "Bronze History" insert set, each of which is numbered to 599 copies.
It's like owning a little piece of Cooperstown, in a way.
Which is especially sweet, given that I've never had the good fortune to actually visit the Hall of Fame.
The array of awesome inserts just kept on coming.
Whether it was a series devoted to the best voices in baseball history...
The greatest quotes in baseball history....
Or the greatest catchers in baseball history, these inserts had a little something for everyone.
I can count the amount of Roger Bresnahan cards in my collection on one hand. The Hall of Fame backstop and shin-guard innovator just doesn't get a whole lot of recognition these days.
Between the terrific old-time catcher's mask designs and the split-frame heart of the card, these were easily the runner-up as far as Cooperstown insert sets go.
The "winner" was never in much doubt, though.
These are what convinced me to ask for a box of Cooperstown this Christmas.
I love, love, love old panoramic baseball stadium shots. Trouble was, I'd almost never seen them featured on cardboard.
That is, before Panini came around.
The sheer beauty of these are second-to-none.
Just look at all those fans lined up along the foul lines at old West Side Park.
Look at all those suits and straw hats.
And look at how spacious that outfield is. The lone outfielder on the extreme right of this card could probably grow crops on the amount of space he had to cover that afternoon.
You could look at this photo a thousand times and continue to find something new to love about it.
I'll certainly make it a point to track down the rest of this 10-card insert set.
They're a great indicator of how much this game has changed over the last century.
Although it wasn't the reason I wanted the box, I was interested to see what my "hit" would be.
About halfway through my box-busting extravaganza, this fell out of one of the five-card packs.
A beautiful autograph of legendary manager Dick Williams, numbered to just 49 copies.
Although it's definitely a nice piece, it's available for trade if any of my fellow bloggers would like to own it.
After all was said and done, though, this was probably the best part of my holiday break.
Pulling a real, actual Hoyt Wilhelm card from a pack of baseball cards.
A card of the subject of my prime player collection!
It was an absolute thrill.
I really couldn't have asked for much more this Christmas.