Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What is iconic?

On the heels of The Kid's recent induction into Cooperstown, it gives me great pleasure to say that I finally own a copy of the iconic 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

Until recently, it wasn't a card I'd ever seriously planned on obtaining. There was once a time when I felt like I should've tracked one down simply because of how famous it is. But I've since turned on the idea that anyone should or must own specific cards, because all collections are different...and besides, I never actually saw a copy I could afford.

Over the past couple years, however, I've made a push to acquire more Griffeys, and a couple rookie Juniors I picked up during a recent flea market run inspired me to revive my search for the sacred '89 UD issue.

I threw out a small bid on a low-grade copy I stumbled upon on Ebay (as you might expect, all the others I saw were either graded and/or in pristine shape and thus far out of my price range) and, lo and behold, I actually won it for a shade under $10 shipped, far less than I thought I'd have to spend for this iconic piece of cardboard history.

Iconic. That's what it is, no doubt. But hold the phone...what exactly defines an iconic baseball card? Many collectors -- including myself -- throw that term around quite a bit, but what is it, specifically, that earns that iconic label for cards like this Griffey?

I've been thinking about that ever since The Kid showed up in the mail.

#1 -- "Value"

I usually hate when people say one card has "value" and another doesn't, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of iconic baseball cards do carry a substantial amount of monetary value.

The most obvious example of this is the famous T206 Honus Wagner, the holy grail of the hobby. This card has sold in the millions, and it makes national news each and every time it does. Wayne Gretzky has owned it. It's a card for the one-percenters.

Even on a smaller scale, however, most '89 UD Griffeys continually sell for around $25-$30 at the low end. A lot of the ones I saw during my quest were priced at north of a hundred bucks. (My copy was an extreme outlier.)

But that's not to say that all "valuable" cards are iconic, nor that an iconic card can't be a cheap common, because...

#2 -- Time and place

...luckily for us commoners, an iconic piece of cardboard can still be had for as little as a couple bucks.

There are many famous baseball cards out there, but only a select few are widely defined as iconic. I'd say this '77 Topps Mark Fidrych rookie is part of that rare class, simply because the card defines the era in which it was released so perfectly.

Many of today's collectors are in the late 40s/early 50s age range, which means that Bird-mania hit right in the center of their prime youth years of baseball fandom (ask my dad). Upon returning to the hobby as adults, most of those collectors naturally flocked back to the cards they knew so well as kids, perhaps none better than the famous Fidrych.

I'd say it's still the most recognizable card of the '70s.

#3 -- So long, farewell

The prestigious "rookie card" label has always been a bit conflicting to me.

It makes sense that Griffey's 1989 Upper Deck rookie would be such a hallowed baseball card, of course, but why aren't his final cards in 2010 just as recognizable? If you think about it -- I mean really think about it -- there's little reason why a rookie card should hold any more sway than a finale. 

I'm not saying rookies aren't special, but the fact that final cards get swept by the wayside time and time again is why I've devoted so much time to building my "sunset" collection. It sucks that really the only finale widely defined as iconic -- Roberto Clemente's 1973 Topps issue -- was born out of a tragedy.

Sunset cards, to me, are just as worthy of that iconic status as rookies, and I wish more of the cardboard community agreed.

#4 -- Quirks

Sometimes an iconic card can just be quirky.

Even the hallowed T206 Wagner has its roots in an oddity -- the fact that the card was pulled from the printing press because of The Flying Dutchman's alleged opposition to tobacco use (though in reality more likely due to a money dispute). The Griffey, in addition, has quirk value, in that it was the very first card ever issued by Upper Deck (not counting the DeWayne Buice/Wally Joyner promos).

Look no further than the infamous '89 Fleer Bill Ripken F--- Face error for a quirky piece of cardboard history. The obscenity itself makes for one of the most widely talked-about cards out there, but contributing further to its charm are the number of "variations" Fleer unwittingly issued in an attempt to correct its substantial foul-up.

The fact that Black Box and White Out and Scribble Out versions of this card exist (as well as many, many others) just adds to its iconic status.

#5 -- Recognizability

This, I think, might be the most pivotal factor in what defines an iconic baseball card.

There are many cards that we collectors can recall in a heartbeat, yet almost no one outside of our hobby circle knows about. The iconic cards have the ability to transcend this barrier, the ones that even the most casual sports fan would probably recognize at the drop of a hat.

I've seen many articles discussing cards like the Bill Ripken error and Mark Fidrych rookie and '89 UD Griffey that aren't actually garnered towards card-collecting audiences. Lots has been written about the famous '52 Mantle, and if I had a dollar for every time I heard it incorrectly referred to as his rookie card (actually '51 Bowman) I'd probably be able to afford one by now.

The iconics are the ones that can get non-collectors interested in our hobby, even for a second.

And now we're back to my newest Griffey.

I don't know if any card since this one has quite reached iconic status, and maybe none ever will. Even with Topps being the only major licensed brand out there, there are still a lot of sets issued each year, which reduces the chances of one single card separating from the herd. And that's not even mentioning the general apathy that a good percentage of today's collectors have towards base cards in the first place.

But I can't say for sure, because that's another requirement of judging iconic baseball cards: time. Maybe it's the simple fact that not enough time has passed for another card to enter the sacred realm.

Maybe, just maybe, Griffey won't be the last of his iconic kind.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The dime box frankenset, Page 22: Numbers 190-198

Not much of a surprise with last week's frankenset results.

Win -- 1984 Fleer #182 Glenn Hubbard (15 votes)

Place (tie) -- 2010 Bowman #184 Erick Aybar, 1972 Topps #186 Ron Bryant IA (3 votes each)

Show -- 2004 Topps #181 Jason Michaels (2 votes)

As expected, Glenn Hubbard and his boa constrictor took the victory by a considerable margin last week, collecting 15 of the 26 total votes (including mine, of course) to cruise to an easy crown.

It's definitely one of the cornerstones of this frankenset, no doubt.

All right, this is it: it's time to determine our 74th and final frankenset champion.

The winner of this page will be the last card thrown into the big Frankenset Extravaganza, in which we'll be voting bracket-style to determine the single best member of this frankenset. We'll get the play-in rounds underway next week.

But first, let's see who our last and final frankenset champion will be.

2011 Topps Opening Day #190 Elvis Andrus

A double dip from the 2010 Fall Classic. 

1999 Stadium Club #191 Omar Daal

It's hard to go wrong with these bird's-eye mound shots.

2012 Topps Chrome #192 Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Web Gem!

1991 Topps #193 Felix Fermin

Turning two with '91 Topps. 

1993 Upper Deck #194 Omar Olivares

An argument for the DH. 

1995 Pinnacle #195 Ray Lankford

A reverse-angle glimpse of the autograph scene. 

1995 Upper Deck Minors #196 Jayson Peterson

A literal "sunset" card. 

1995 Collector's Choice SE #197 Jose Rijo

Probably the only time you'll find a stethoscope on a baseball card.

1994 Upper Deck #198 Carlos Garcia

Our last nominee is a solid example of the wild, wacky, and sometimes weird themes I've tried to collect with this frankenset.

The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Jammin' with Jeff

It's been a while since I did anything music-related on the blog.

I've noticed more bloggers running with the musical themes as of late, and although it'll always be cards-first around here, I always like working some tunes into my ramblings about baseball cards every now and then. I figure some cards from my buddy Jeff of "2x3 Heroes" fame is as good an opportunity as any since he works songs into nearly all of his posts.

The cards you'll see here are a mashup of quite a few various PWEs and packages Jeff has been gracious enough to send my way over the past few months, led off by a beautiful cracked ice parallel of Negro League legend Buck Leonard.

I still get nostalgic over that feeling I got busting packs of Panini Cooperstown, even though it seems so long ago now...

I still haven't found an efficient way to store these disc-shaped inserts, but I'm always happy to receive them nonetheless.

Because circular baseball cards are just plain fun.

Jeff and I share an affinity for Golden Age, and he was nice enough to send a couple inserts (presumably dupes) from the also-defunct Panini brand my way.

Now enjoy this (NSFW) song from the spectacular Baseball Project about Ted F***ing Williams.

Panini has been known to include turn-of-the-century starts like Dan Brouthers in their checklists, and I commend them for that.

I doubt it'll ever happen, but I'd throw a party if Topps or Panini or whoever would toss an all 19th-century set out there.

Jeff's always been one of the premier set-killers around the blogs, and he certainly filled in some of my 2015 gaps with singles from Opening Day, Heritage, and Flagship here.

Needs no longer.

Jeff really went to town with my 2015 Gypsy Queen lists.

GQ might miss the mark for me, but, much like bands that do great covers, I like the idea of Topps paying homage to old-time baseball card sets.

I've become Jeff's de facto trader when it comes to spare Julio Franco cards, and I'm fine with that because I get a huge kick out of collecting the guy.

In addition to being a hit for my throwback mini-collection, the Lowrie is a Bowman International parallel that honors Jed's Oregon roots. In trying to come up with a song to honor that, I learned that my personal favorite garage rock song ever was done by a band from Oregon.

Who knew.

Jeff kept the mini-collection train moving with this new autograph hit.

And here's the only song I could think of with the word "autograph" in the lyrics.

A couple themed GQ hits here, and the Hosmer is especially welcome since I recently decided to start collecting the recent All-Star Game MVP.

There's little denying the guy's a bonafide star now.

Closing things out is an oversized tip of the cap from the Ryan Express, which pretty much represents my gratitude towards Jeff for hand-picking all these nifty hits for my binders.

Jeff's one of the few bloggers who doesn't live too far from where I'm located, and we've even hit a few card shows together in the past. Here's hoping I can get a weekend off sometime soon to have another little blogger meet-up filled with good times and discount bins.

Until then, we'll just have to live through trade packages and 2x3 heroes on the computer screen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Let's go to the mall

I'd always been of the mindset that malls were decidedly uncool.

I've never been a mall guy, though part of that probably has to do with the fact that I've lived across the street from a megamall for virtually my entire life. I'd stay as far away from it as possible were it not for the fact that my local Target -- and its expansive baseball card aisle -- is housed there. And even then it takes a special effort to will myself into the place.

I've mingled with the mall crowd on many occasions in my life, and every time I go, it's like a tape on an endless loop: the deadpan faces, the exhausted suburban parents, the wandering adolescents, the Hot Topics and Forever 21s, the cleanups in Aisle 4, the vague smell of cinnamon rolls and sweat, the never-ending white walls, the infinite fluorescent lighting.

Malls are just not my habitat.

But then an epiphany recently presented itself: how uncool could malls be if they've been featured on baseball cards?

Allow me to explain. Last week, during one of my aimless scrolls through a Facebook feed filled with cat memes and selfies and presidential debates, I stumbled upon something truly spectacular. One of the handful of baseball pages I follow posted an article about the Spokane Indians team sets of the late '80s (then affiliated with the Padres), which itself linked to another write-up regarding the same topic.

Reading through those articles left me with two questions -- 1) They took photos for baseball cards at THE MALL? and 2) MY GOD, how have I never heard about these before?!

No less than about five minutes and a few clicks later, I'd secured the 1987 and '88 Spokane sets (I couldn't find a copy of the '89s, sadly) for just ten dollars combined.

The story behind these cards is as genius as it is zany.

In an effort to drum up business, the NorthTown Mall in Spokane (who sponsored these sets) had players from the local minor league club pose at various shops around the suburban palace. The result is a masterful mix of grainy photos filled with shopping bags and escalators.

What's more, a few future big-leaguers do indeed pop up in these sets. Dave Hollins and Paul Faries would both enjoy a handful of years in the majors in the '90s, and Jose Valentin -- the lone "binder guy" to appear in either set -- became something of a star with the hometown White Sox in the early 2000s.

I wonder if any of them even remember these cards exist.

One of my favorites from the '87 set is Mike Myers here, not to be confused with the Canadian SNL star or the longtime lefty specialist who seemingly appeared with just about every team in the majors.

No, this Mike Myers would be out of baseball by 1990, but at least he can say he got a card with a plush smoking monkey out of his minor league career.

A couple members of the squad posed in front of DJ's, a local music establishment in the NorthTown Mall.

Dig the Sgt. Pepper-era Fabs behind Mr. Lutticken.

As you'll soon see, mannequins are much more prominent in the 1988 set.

But that didn't stop Saul Soltero from showing off the summer's hottest fashions.

Manager Rob Picciolo took the opportunity to get a photo with his toddler son and, better yet, the flip side of this card features "stats" for the 2'4", 23-pound Dustin Picciolo.

Hard to believe that little tyke celebrated his 30th birthday this year.

I still can't say for certain, but I think this might be my favorite card from the '87 set.

It's awkward enough to have Reggie Farmer pose in front of what appears to be a barbershop, but even more awkward is the fact that, from the look of that dazed individual on the right, they seemed to snap these photos right in the middle of the mall's standard hours of operation. You can just see that customer wondering just what in the heck is going on.

And now his mundane afternoon haircut is forever immortalized on a baseball card.

The 1988 set picked up right where the previous year had left off at Spokane's NorthTown Mall.

Many of the cards feature different stores (The Dog's Ear?), new garments ($8.95 for a T-shirt?!), and slightly crisper photos, which is a plus.

You can almost smell that fresh fabric above the distinct nacho-cheese smell that most malls seem to have.

What I might love most about these sets is how unironic they are.

You'd expect these guys to be flashing sarcastic smiles, rolling their eyes, wanting to be anywhere but where they were at that moment. At least that's how I would react if someone told me they wanted to snap pictures of me at the mall.

But, doggone it, they look like they're having real, legitimate fun here, and it translated into a brilliant hidden gem of baseball card history.

Nikco Riesgo and AJ Sager would both reach the bigs (Riesgo's being a brief 4-game cup of coffee with the '91 Expos), and it's truly a shame that a guy with a name like Squeezer Thompson didn't make it to the show.

This was Riesgo's first baseball card, and he's quoted in one of the articles as saying that he thought all card sets were done this way until he eventually moved on to other franchises.

We wish, Nikco, we wish.

Here's another one with that hilarious Bystander Effect.

What's this guy in a baseball uniform doing in the food court?

Between the mirrored reflection and the quick camera flash, there's an almost surrealist feel to this particular card.

That's not even mentioning the shampoo.

Even grown men can still have a little fun with stuffed animals.

Which reminds me that much of the expansive Beanie Babies collection I amassed as a kid probably came from my local mall.

More mannequins -- both male and female -- courtesy of the NorthTown Mall.

Also present is Greg Conley standing next to a cardboard cutout of pilot Chuck Yeager (a cousin of former Dodger Steve Yeager).

But as far as cardboard cutouts go...

...this one does Chuck Yeager one better, and is far and away my favorite card to fall out of either of these sets.

That's manager Steve Lubratich with an arm around a life-sized cutout of, yes, you're seeing that right...Whitney Houston. I don't really know what I can say about this card other than the fact of how oddly genius it is that they had the skipper pose for this one rather than one of the players.

Despite my conflicting feelings regarding malls, they do indeed speak to me. As I imagine they would for anyone who grew up in the suburbs and window-shopped at every store in the place. I'm still not exactly sure how I went so long without knowing about these sets. They're goofy, unique, awesome, and brilliant all rolled into one. And it's all thanks to a mall.

Maybe I should start giving malls a little more credit.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The dime box frankenset, Page 21: Numbers 181-189

Let's take a look at the results of last week's frankenset page.

Win -- 2012 Topps #172 Reed Johnson (12 votes)

Place -- 2000 Stadium Club Chrome #180 Ed Sprague (8 votes)

Show -- 2015 Stadium Club #175 Drew Stubbs (4 votes)

A handful of late votes pushed Reed Johnson over the top last week, as he collected 12 of the 30 total tallies (including mine) to take the crown.

Between the seagulls and the ivy, it's a quintessential Wrigley card.

I'm starting to get excited, because this is the second-to-last page before the big Frankenset Extravaganza Tournament bracket begins.

But before that, let's meet this week's nine.

2004 Topps #181 Jason Michaels

The classic Paul Bunyan glove.

1984 Fleer #182 Glenn Hubbard

One of those iconic pieces of cardboard, and perhaps the zaniest baseball card ever printed. 

2014 Stadium Club #183 Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez on the verge of making yet another spectacular grab. 

2010 Bowman #184 Erick Aybar

Turning two over A-Rod. 

1993 Upper Deck #185 Tony Pena

What else can be said about 1993 Upper Deck? 

1972 Topps #186 Ron Bryant IA

Vintage action is the best action. 

1997 New Pinnacle #187 Denny Neagle EMW

Spreading a little peace in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

1999 Ultra Gold Medallion #188G Jeff Shaw

Stretching in front of a golden Dodger Stadium backdrop (the parallel is a placeholder if/when I ever track down the base version).

1981 Donruss #189 Pete Vuckovich

We close with a semi-fitting pitcher at the plate, considering Mr. Vuckovich portrayed slugger Clu Haywood in the first Major League film.

The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!