Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cards of the Year: 2015

You know, 2015 was actually a pretty decent year.

I enjoyed continued success at school and met a lot of great people. I had two more short stories published. I received accolades for some of my schoolwork. I finally landed a steady job, at a bookstore, no less. I'm primed to graduate college in May 2016 and, if things work out the way I'm hoping, will begin applying for grad school over the summer.

Baseball wasn't half bad to me, either. I actually remembered what it was like to watch a good Cubs team. The prospect the Cubs' higher-ups have been promising are finally beginning to blossom. And the World Series was entertaining, and a team I actually like won it all. (Beats another indifferent Rangers, Yankees, Cards, Giants, etc. matchup.)

To top it all off, 2015 was a solid showing for cardboard, perhaps more so than any single year in recent memory. Sure, maybe I didn't blog about them as much this year, but that's not the cards' fault. Like each and every year since I've started this blog, I've ranked my Top 10 Cards of the Year for 2015.

A lot of great cards hit the streets this year, and it wasn't an easy list to make, but here goes.

#10 -- 2015 Topps Archives Will Ferrell inserts

I'm cheating already.

This first slot isn't devoted to a single card as much as a single idea. Archives was kind of meh again in 2015, but, like 2014's Major League inserts, Topps hit on a winner with the Will Ferrell series this year.

I like Ferrell, but he's by no means one of my all-time favorite comedians or anything. But I did rather enjoy his ten-teams-in-one-day journey in Spring Training this year. Archives printed a card of him in each of the ten jerseys he wore in March.

The idea was a hit, and I remember seeing it being mentioned on national news outlets for a while back then. (It's always nice when baseball cards get a little nationwide pub now and then, isn't it?)

I've only tracked down two of the ten cards in the set thus far, but here's hoping getting my hands on a few more in 2016.

#9 -- 2015 Topps Heritage High Numbers #560 Pat Venditte RC

Pat Venditte, the famous switch-pitcher, got his first taste of big-league ball in 2015 after eight years in the minors.

Topps rewarded him by granting him a rookie card in this year's High Numbers checklist, and, even better, getting a shot that clearly shows Venditte's quirky six-fingered glove. (He's also in Update, but this card is way better, I think.)

Venditte posted a 4.40 ERA in 26 games with the A's this year before landing on the DL. He was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays in October, so we'll see what he does north of the border in 2016.

Here's hoping this isn't the last glimpse of Pat Venditte on cardboard.

#8 -- 2015 Topps Update "Pride and Perseverance" #PP-9 Pete Gray

There weren't many memorable insert sets this year, but Update's "Pride and Perseverance" series is a huge exception.

The checklist recognizes those who overcame disabilities to play in the majors. Perhaps no single player overcame more than Pete Gray, who made it to the bigs with the Browns in 1945 despite losing his right arm in a childhood accident.

This is only the second card I own of Gray, and by no means did I ever think I'd see him pop up in a standard Topps checklist.

#7 -- 2015 Stadium Club #1 Fernando Valenzuela

Fernando Valenzuela has a lot of great cards out there, but I never thought any of them really summed up Fernando-mania.

This year's Stadium Club made sure to put an end to that.

#6 -- 2015 Stadium Club #298 Larry Doby

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know how great Stadium Club was this year.

SC did everything well in 2015. Modern heroes, past heroes. Hall of Famers, fan favorites. Color photos, black-and-white photos. There is a certain class in black-and-white photography, and that's exactly how I view this excellent Larry Doby/Jackie Robinson combo card. Classy. 

I feel like this image should be hanging in a museum somewhere, and yet I have it stored in one of my trusty nine-pocket pages.

#5 -- 2015 Topps "First Pitch" #FP-1 Jeff Bridges

I usually don't include non-ballplayers in these Cards of the Year lists, but I had to make an exception for The Dude.

It's enough of a baseball card to warrant inclusion here. It's sitting in my Dodgers binder right now, as a matter of fact. Topps struck a goldmine with this year's popular "First Pitch" insert series, and no single card from the set was better than this Jeff Bridges.

Bridges sported his very Dude-esque Hawaiian shirt and jellies as he bowled the baseball to home plate for his first "pitch." 

Obviously, he is not a golfer.

#4 -- 2015 Topps #2 Derek Jeter

This was probably the most talked-about card in the early stages of 2015.

What you see here is the child-like exuberance following Jeter's game-winning single in his final game at Yankee Stadium. Everything about this card is perfect. Perfectly framed, perfectly timed, perfectly executed.

A perfect way to send perhaps the most famous player of my generation into the sunset.

#3 -- 2015 Stadium Club #13 Ernie Banks

Baseball lost more than a Hall of Fame ballplayer upon Ernie Banks's passing in January.

The game lost one of its greatest personalities, one of its loyal ambassadors, and, most importantly, one of its kindest men. Somehow, Stadium Club managed to sum all that up in a single shot, depicting Banks receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom from the Commander in Chief himself.

Hope you're playing two up there, Mr. Cub.

#2 -- 2015 Stadium Club #226 Dennis Eckersley

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I find it interesting that my two favorite cards from 2015 Stadium Club feature former greats as suit-and-tied, post-big league men.

This is one of those cards that seems to be Topps saying Hey, Nick, this card is for YOU. I mean, how better to fit the tone of this blog than a shot of Eck with his giant-headed mascot alter ego?

Baseball cards are not often ha-ha funny, but you better believe this card is ha-ha funny.

#1 -- 2015 Topps #177 Paul Konerko

As I predicted way back when Series 1 hit the shelves, this is the Card of the Year, but it's a lot more than that.

It's the single greatest sunset card of my collecting lifetime.

It's the best card Topps has produced since I started this blog...and probably long before that.

It gives the collector the farewell Paul Konerko deserved, both from a baseball and baseball card standpoint.

It's representative of perhaps the single most fulfilling pull from a pack of baseball cards that I can remember, as far as pure joy goes.

This, and much, much more, is why this was my runaway choice for 2015's Card of the Year. As I've said, it really was a great year for cards, but I can't think of a better way to send out 2015 than with Paulie here.

Happy new year to all, and here's to a heckuva 2016!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Oddball Jenga

One of the last packages I received before my recent hiatus came from the man they call Tony Burbs, a fellow Cubs comrade from the terrific "Wrigley Roster Jenga" blog.

I feel kind of bad that I'm only getting around to posting this three-month-old batch of cards now, because holy cow was this a great trade. It was about as oddball flooded as any package I've ever received.

I was sort of a board game connoisseur as a kid -- I guess I still am -- but Jenga was never one of my favorites, mostly because I sucked eggs at it. In some ways, I kind of felt like I was playing an odd, baseball card version of Jenga while digging through the cards Tony sent.

One by one, I peeled off each card, waiting for the one that would knock everything over. This spiffy Don Larsen (floating head alert!) was a nicely calculated first move that comes from an outstanding St. Louis Browns-exclusive set that Tony posted about a while ago.

Mr. Perfecto was a Brown for exactly one year (1953, his rookie season) before the team moved to Baltimore.

Tony sent copies of these to a few other bloggers, and I'm happy to say that I was one of the lucky recipients.

To the non-collector, these are nothing more than ads for food chains. Strictly recycling bin material. But we collectors know better.

These are baseball cards, and glorious ones, at that.

Tony's next move in this game of oddball Jenga was a strange one.

This is easily the flimsiest baseball card I own. It's acetate, and so transparent that it took me a minute to make out the player -- the Big Hurt -- on the front of it. It's such an odd one that debated on whether or not it was even binder material for a moment. (Of course it is.)

Not surprisingly, it came from Pacific.

Playing cards and magazine inserts made up the next two moves.

I'm not sure that Tony knew it at the time, but Mike Stanton is one of those longtime middle relievers that I love to collect (think Mike Timlin, Arthur Rhodes, etc.).

Middle relief is probably the least represented role as far as baseball cards go, so it was nice to see someone like Stanton get a little pub in the oddball world.

These oddballs are so odd that I don't have a single bit of information on them.

All I know is that Pancho Comibre was a Mexican League star, and Jud Wilson played for the Negro League's Baltimore Black Sox.

The oddball tower was very close to tipping over at this point.

Then came a couple more conventional moves with these food-based oddities.

Food is responsible for the majority of the oddballs out there, and Drake's and Post are some of the better known ones around.

Tony even added a couple pieces to my tiny Japanese card collection with these two.

I don't know who either of these guys are, but that's really irrelevant when you think that these cards traveled across the Pacific to get here.

I'll eventually own these cards when I'm a billionaire.

Until then, I'm happy with the reprints.

Minis are most definitely welcome to play this game.

A&G might not be an oddball set, but I like to think that the minis are among the last oddballs we have left.

The tower wobbles!

Yes, believe it or not, here is a baseball card of Billy Crystal. Crystal's lone spring training at-bat with the Yankees in 2008 (a strikeout, of course) was commemorated with this card from the good people at Tristar.

I remember when it hit the market. I made a push to snag a copy, failed, and then kind of forgot about it until Tony came along seven years later.

I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.

I remember Tony digging up a goldmine of these Sportflix singles from his local thrift store a while back.

I pounced when he asked if anyone wanted them, because, in my world, it's something of a crime to not claim 3-D singles when the opportunity arises.

The potential for sudden disaster seemed to be calming with these two hits to my "anthemic" mini-collection.

The Chamberlain actually comes from the 2008 Topps Yankees team set, and is one of the few that features an (odd) image that differs from his standard 2008 Topps card. I specifically claimed the anthem shot of (ex) Nats manager Matt Williams from Tony because I can't remember the last time I've seen an anthem card in a current product.

Phew, the tower didn't collapse...until...uh-oh...


The pieces hit the table with a thud once this beauty fell out of the package.

I remember Tony posting about finding a small lot of these oddities at his LCS a while ago (though I can't find the exact write-up now), and he was nice enough to shoot this Kirby Higbe my way. It looks to be some sort of playing card (the back features a very playing card-esque design, like this), and the version I own appears to have been trimmed at some point.

I'm guessing this card came out when Higbe was still a Cub, which means that it was released anywhere between 1937 and 1939. Higbe wasn't the greatest human being (he started a petition to have Jackie Robinson barred from playing for the Dodgers in 1947), but I'm still glad to have this pre-war oddball in my collection, no doubt.

Higbe may have sent the tower sprawling, but the good news is that that's a good thing when it comes to this game.

You can't lose at Oddball Jenga.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas in the fall

Before I start, I'd like to wish all my blogging buddies out there a very Merry Christmas!

I'll be working tomorrow (the airport never sleeps), but I wanted to get a post up before the holiday since this blog has been dormant for about a week now.

The other day, I noticed that I still had a few trades to post from my pre-hiatus days. I figured it'd be as good a time as any to run through a few PWEs/small packages I received before my hiatus back in October, when, you know, there were actually leaves on the trees. (My apologies for the delay in posting them.)

The first batch of cardboard comes courtesy of two separate envelopes I received from Shane of "Shoebox Legends" fame. I've found that I've kind of stumbled into a PWE war with Shane as of late, which is nice because I honestly never know when something from him is going to show up in my mailbox.

This first PWE kicked off with an awesome play at the plate of The Wizard (of the Electric Diamond variety) that I'd somehow never seen before.

Shane was also nice enough to add a couple parallels to my blossoming Corey Kluber collection.

Subconsciously, I think I try to collect at least one current guy from every big-league club. My brain must've noticed the lack of current Indians in my binders, and figured the Klu-Bot was a good fit.

Not a bad choice, considering the guy's a former Cy Young winner and all.

Shane's second PWE started with this terrific A&G mini of my favorite current White Sock.

Definitely one of the best bat barrel shots in recent memory.

More player collection hits, new and old.

As a Cubs fan, I feel a little conflicted about my decision to start collecting Matt Carpenter. He's a rival, sure, but I'll be darned if the guy can't hit. 

But seriously, dude, try not to hit so much against the Cubs next year, okay?

Shane capped off the PWE fun with a couple of the most (in)famous throwbacks ever.

These have been rather famously dubbed the "Bloody Mary" and "Technicolor" jerseys of the '70s, and I think both labels, for better or worse, fit rather well.

Here's a first.

I found this sweet Donruss Preferred Vlad tin inside of a package I received from Tom of the terrific "Waiting 'til Next Year" blog.

It's the first time I've ever received a tin via trade, and now I kinda wish companies would package more of their cards in tins nowadays.

This package was stocked with standard-sized Vlads as well from both his Expos and Angels days.

And just when I thought all was right and well with the world...

...Tom went ahead and Biebered me.

I have no words, except, just...why, Tom?


But back to happy, Bieber-less thoughts.

I received this Clayton Kershaw insert as part of a return package from Shane (yes, another shane) from the "Cincinnati Reds Baseball Card Collector" blog. Shane noticed that I'd picked up a Kahn's Pete Rose oddball at the National this year, and asked if I'd be willing to part with it.

I did like the Rose, but when a guy with a blog title like that contacts you, there's a good chance he needs the card more than you do. I didn't mind parting with it. And, hey, did you know Clayton Kershaw shares a birthday with Wyatt Earp?

You do now.

These two leaping legends came from a trade with Bryan of the "Golden Rainbow Cards" blog.

Am I the only one who actually liked the yellow parallels last year?

I don't often make it a point to track down Photo Variation SPs these days, but this one was on my most-wanted list.

I don't know if reader Jeremy T. knew that when he sent it over, but it's a treasured add to my binders either way. The base version of Paulie in 2015 Topps will be ranking very high in my Cards of the Year countdown, and this SP comes very close to matching the base card's beauty.

Just by looking at this shot, even a casual fan would know how much Konerko meant to the South Side of Chicago.

The PWE I received from the Tony of the terrific "Off Hiatus Baseball Cards" was, ironically, the last envelope I received before I went on my hiatus.

Inside, I found a fantastically odd assortment of cardboard, which is par for the course with Tony. First up is this Jeff Reardon, a card that didn't strike me as anything strange until second and third viewings. Only then did the questions start coming.

1) Is that an airbrushed cap?

2) Donruss did airbrushing?

3) Since when did the Expos wear plain purple hats?

Up next are a couple sweet oddballs of Ryno and The Kid.

Tony has probably added more oddballs to my collection than any single blogger I've met.

Case in point.

Harmon Killebrew is one of my all-time favorites, and I like to think I've built up a formidable collection of his over the years. Even so, this '65 Topps Embossed card of The Killer had escaped me until Tony came along.

These Topps Embossed cards were never the best-looking, but, then again, there's no such thing as a bad card of Harmon Killebrew, is there?

Finally, we have a PWE from Jeff of the terrific "Wish They Still Came With Bubblegum" blog.

A&G might not come with bubblegum, but it does come with minis, and Jeff was nice enough to shoot this King Felix my way. Hernandez is one of those guys who I've basically been forced to collect. His cards seem to pop up everywhere I go. I think this mini finally pushed me over the edge.

I can now say the words: I collect Felix Hernandez.

Here's a couple of my favorite Cubs cards of 2015.

The Banks is a gold parallel of his legendary 2015 Stadium Club issue, and the Russell is one of many cards I hope to accumulate of the young Cub second baseman in the years to come.

That Russell-for-Samardzija deal is looking pretty good right about now.

A couple for my Griffey and Freddie Freeman collections.

I was never the biggest fan of stickers as a kid, but I've always liked them on baseball cards.

And how about a neon-yellow George Brett Kellogg's issue to close things out?

The number of cards in my Brett collection has almost tripled in the last year or so, and this will definitely take its place as one of the centerpieces in that fold.

With trade partners like this, it really does seem like Christmas is a year-round phenomenon here in the blogosphere. (Bieber aside.)

Here's hoping Santa fills your stockings with cardboard goodness this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Card show in the snow, Pt. 3: The wasted years

I still agonize over the years I wasted not caring about vintage.

It's not that I didn't like older cards, it's just that, at one point in my life, I valued quantity over quality when it came to card shows. If I happened to run into a few vintage singles in discount boxes, great, but if not, I wasn't about to spend three or four whole dollars on a card when that same amount of money could get me thirty or forty dime cards.

Thankfully, I've since come back to earth, but the fact that I once thought that way still haunts me. I cannot help but wonder how many vintage gems I passed up because I wasn't willing to drop more than a buck or two on single cards.

But the past is the past. All I can do is focus on the present time, a time in which I'm more than willing to go further than loose change and fork over actual paper money for cardboard. This Moose Skowron sunset card was the one card I specifically tried to track down at my latest card show trip, and, at a buck, it wound up being the second-to-last item I bought all day.

Yes, stupid high-school version of Nick, that is better than ten dime cards.

The '68 Billy Williams was the last card I bought at the show, mine for fifty cents.

It came during that weird point in time when I'd gone through every aisle and every table, but didn't quite want to leave just yet. I'm sure most of us know that feeling. Card Show Day can't be over yet, can it?

I scoped out Billy at a table I'd missed the first time around and decided that it was a good way to close out the afternoon. The beautiful '64 Williams fell out of a two-dollar bin earlier in the day.

I like '64 Topps better with each passing day, it seems.

This is a card I've wanted for a while now.

I collect Lew Burdette anyways, but the fact his '56 Topps card (a masterful set in its own right) features a rare shot of a pitcher on the basepaths and a play at the plate made it a must-have for me.

At two bucks, the must-have card finally became mine.

These found a home with me for a dollar a piece, but the more interesting story is why they were priced at a buck each in the first place.

I found each of these six cards in a vendor's glass case about halfway through the show. Every single one was in a toploader that had the word TRIMMED? written on a sticker on the front of it. For whatever reason, I guess the vendor suspected that someone altered these cards at some point.

Hey, trimmed or not, I'll take 'em for a buck.

These were also a buck a pop, and the Brooks nearly became a source of great despair.

I found the Robinson unpriced in a box where every card was supposed to be individually priced. I let the vendor know of my interest in it, and asked him how much it was. Then he let me have those five words...

Let me get my Beckett.

Very rarely does a story involving said words have a happy ending, but this one does. After a couple full minutes of searching through those grayed magazine pages and analyzing the card backwards and front, the guy still let me have it for a dollar.

It all worked out in the end, although that's not usually the case when you involve Beckett in the equation.

Much like the Trout/Puig advertisements I discussed a couple days ago, I grappled with whether to consider checklist cards as actual cards for a long time.

I've come to the conclusion that, yes, those are cards, too. And I'm willing to drop $1.20 on a Roberto Clemente checklist (90% off of its $12 price tag) any day of the week.

The '64 Frank Robinson a four-dollar card, which tied it with...

...the '69 Deckle Edge Clemente as my most expensive purchases of the afternoon.

The inverse of what I discussed at the beginning of this post can be true as well. At times now, I feel like I have to make one big splash at a card show. (Which, with my budget, is basically anything ten bucks or more.)

I didn't do that at this show for the simple reason that I didn't really see anything that warranted splurging. I was more than content to sit back and accumulate $1.20 Pete Roses (again, 90% off of $12) with my card show fund.

Sometimes, the cheapie cards can be the better route.

These were both fifty-centers.

I've discussed the topic of Discount Vintage MVPs on this blog before, and Joe Adcock definitely belongs to that group. The guy was one of the best home-run hitters of his day, but you can find his cardboard for almost nothing now.

Rocky Colavito cards tend to run a bit pricier, so finding him in a fifty-cent bin was a surprise. I'm not big on the '65 Topps Embossed set, but I love this one for the sheer fact that it's only the second card I own of Rocky as a Kansas City A.

It's one of my surefire favorite Short Term Stops stints.

And now for something completely different...


(He was a fifty-center as well.)

The vintage oddballs were out in full force at this show.

The one bummer was that this was the only Hostess single I found all day. I guess that's the baseball card gods' way of playing Even Steven, because I've brought home Hostess cards by the bucketload at the last few shows I've attended.

And, hey, if I'm only going to find one, Jim Palmer isn't a bad one to come away with.

These Post cards are in pretty sad shape.

The upside to that, of course, is that they were quite cheap. The four you see here didn't even cost me five dollars all together. Mr. Cub was $2.50, and I don't think any of the others set me back more than fifty cents or so.

I sometimes like to think of myself as a savior for giving cards like these a home when no one else would.

I keep my eyes peeled for Kellogg's cards at every single show I attend.

I netted about a dozen of them at this most recent gathering, the highlights of which you see here. They cost me anywhere from ten cents (like the Murcer) to a dollar (like the '75 Rollie Fingers).

It hurts me to think that there was also a time in my life when I didn't collect Kellogg's cards...sigh.

I don't think you would've liked me very much if I started this blog when I was in high school.

Now we're starting to get into some serious vintage territory.

These were three of my best finds of the day, and I couldn't believe how well they fit into my budget. Between ink, creases, paper loss, they all obviously have their defects. But when you take into account that they cost me just seven bucks combined (the Feller was three, the DiMaggio/Kiner were two each), I couldn't care less about the condition.

Between these and the Phil Rizzuto I found at the National, I went from owning zero '51 Topps cards to owning four within the span of a few months.

Wait, what's this?

A '72 Topps In-Action Dock Ellis? Great card, yes, but I've owned a copy for years now. Next.

This is what I said to myself as I approached one of the final discount boxes of the day. On the surface, it looked to contain all your run-of-the-mill '70s Topps no-name/minor star singles. I've taken care of most of those I need by now.

That is, until I started flipping some of them over.

Tinted backs?

French text?

That can only mean one thing!




Every single one of these '70s singles are of the OPC variety. This development caught me way, way off-guard because I almost never see any of these anywhere. You could probably count the number of early-to-mid '70s OPCs I owned prior to this show on one hand. You just don't see them.

But there I was digging up thirty of them for a grand sum of five dollars.

But the OPC madness wasn't over just yet.

This same vendor had a two-dollar bin off to the side (the same one that housed the '64 Billy Williams I showed earlier). In there, I found the Canadian version of a card that just missed making my best binder page.

Besides the profile of Ernie Banks on his '65 Topps card, the off-center image of Ted Williams cocking his head back in a hearty chuckle on his '71 Topps issue is probably the one baseball card photo that is most ingrained in my memory. I unearthed my copy of it as a young collector and have cherished it ever since.

Owning the OPC version is a glorious bonus, if for no reason than I get to enjoy the Splendid Splinter's scowling floating head on the back of it.

All things considered, two oversized cards I found at the very first table of the day may have stolen the entire show.

I had no idea what this Bill Lee card was when I found it in a gigantic tub of fifty-cent cards, and I can't come up with much more info on it now. All I could find was an Ebay auction that lists the Spaceman and other fellow Sawx as part of the 1975 Linnett Pee Wee set.

I don't know how or where these were issued, but this is a mighty fine piece of artwork of one of my favorite players in baseball history.

And, at least in my head, one other name goes hand-in-hand with Bill Lee's.

Mark Fidrych.

I knew of this card's existence prior to this latest card show, but always chalked it up under the Oh, that's one of those stupidly rare oddballs that I'll never even come close to seeing, much less owning department.

But there I was at ten in the morning at the first table of the card show staring down a small stack of oversized '70s Sportscasters cards behind a glass case. I don't remember who was on the front of the pile, but I had a funny feeling that The Bird might be somewhere in there.

So I asked the vendor if I could see the stack, and, alas, there he was. Mark Fidrych himself, groundskeeping the mound on one knee under the night sky. It was at that point that my eyes instinctively jumped to the price tag in the top-right corner of the giant toploader this card was housed in.


It may have been the best two dollars I ever spent, and you better believe that I'll get more enjoyment out of this than I would out of twenty dime cards.

I love, love, love dime boxes, but to focus on those -- and only those -- at a card show is to ignore the magic of card shows. I got to window shop at tables that featured rows of pre-war cards. I got to salivate over Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle cards that cost more than one of my paychecks. I got to actually own a few sacred pieces of vintage history that are older than my parents. And, perhaps most importantly, I got to do it all with my dad by my side.

That's why Card Show Days are such sacred events in the life of this collector.