Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top Five: Bob Gibson

In an effort to keep the game even more alive in my mind during the offseason, I've recently started reading the first baseball book I've picked up in a while: Summer of '68 by Tim Wendel.

The book, as you might guess, is about the '68 season, and though it centers around baseball, it provides a wide-ranging look at the year as a whole, everything from Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination to Joe Namath to the Democratic National Convention. These time-and-place books are the non-fiction I most enjoy, and it's been a solid read so far.

But of course, I'm most interested in the baseball aspect of it all. The book's heart is set around the Tigers-Cardinals World Series matchup, and specifically, Bob Gibson, whose mind-boggling 1.12 ERA in '68 is still the lowest in modern history.

For that, I've decided to take a look at my five favorite Gibson cards this afternoon.

#5 -- 2010 Topps National Chicle #216 Bob Gibson

I rather enjoyed the one-and-done National Chicle brand, and though it provided some of both the ugliest and most elegant cards I've ever seen, this one definitely belongs in the latter.

#4 -- 1967 Topps #210 Bob Gibson

This is my oldest standard Topps Bob Gibson card, and I somehow found it for a whopping 75 cents at my otherwise lackluster LCS.

These days, that card shop doesn't seem to have anything priced under fifteen bucks, which made such a score all the more surprising.

#3 -- 1970 Kellogg's #71 Bob Gibson

I don't own a ton of cards from Kellogg's inaugural-year set, but this might well the best one I've been lucky enough to add to my collection.

#2 -- 1968 Topps #100 Bob Gibson

Here it is: Bob Gibson as he looked in the Year of the Pitcher.

Since I've started the aforementioned book, I've become disappointed that such a historic year for baseball was documented on arguably the worst vintage Topps design. For every one person who likes the burlaps, there's probably ten or twenty (like myself) who don't.

That said, I do enjoy this card quite a bit -- I get a bit spooked just looking at that glare here almost 50 years later, and I can't imagine how batters who actually had to face the guy must've felt.

#1 -- 1971 Topps #450 Bob Gibson

But although Gibson's '68 Topps card is probably his most famous, it's actually his '71 issue that remains my favorite.

I thank '71 Topps with every fiber of my being for reintroducing action shots to the hobby, and Gibson was granted one of the classic ones that year (and it'd actually wind up being the only action photo he'd receive on a standard Topps card).

Here, we see Gibson in the quaint moments before presumably uncorking a 150-MPH fastball at some poor hitter. And what's more, we get the elusive fielder-ump-crowd combo in the background.

Put it all together, and you get what is, and will probably always be, the best card of Bob Gibson.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Cards of the Year

With 2017 limping to an end, the time has come to put together my annual Cards of the Year list.

This has been a yearly tradition of mine since I started the blog, though I certainly don't mind getting an entry into P-Town Tom's contest out of it. More than any other year I can remember, it was a bit of a struggle to cobble together a Top 10 list here in 2017 -- there simply weren't many memorable cards to choose from.

I did, however, manage to scrape together a group of ten without any of the nominees feeling like much of a stretch. The only rule I imposed on myself was No Cubs World Series Stuff: one of those was already my Card of the Year for 2016 and the inclusion of any on this list would just feel repetitive (though I'm certainly no stranger to being repetitive on this blog).

So, without further ado, here they are: my Cards of the Year for 2017. 

#10 -- 2017 Topps Archives #255 Reggie Jackson

Because any new card of Reggie as an Oriole is enough to get me unnaturally giddy.

#9 -- 2017 Stadium Club #151 Tim Raines

As usual, Stadium Club plays a leading role in my Cards of the Year list, starting with Tim Raines here.

It's a heroic shot of the new HOFer in old Olympic Stadium, one Raines apparently liked enough to slap it on the cover of his own autobiography (which was also released this year).

#8 -- 2017 Topps Archives #210 Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts juggling on the '92 Topps design?

Mookie Betts juggling on the '92 Topps design.

#7 -- 2017 Topps Now #507 Bartolo Colon

This was one of just two Topps Now cards I bought all year (the other being a Cubs World Series card I promised I wouldn't include on this list), and the only reason I found out about it in the first place was because of a post on Brian's blog.

I mean, it's Bartolo Colon in goofy solar eclipse glasses -- with a picture of said eclipse on the back -- and, if that isn't enough, it's my only card of Big Sexy with the Twins since Topps dropped the ball and didn't include him in their Update checklist this year.

If there was ever a lock to make my Top 10, this was it.

#6 -- 2017 Topps Opening Day "Superstar Celebrations" #SC-21 Giancarlo Stanton

I have absolutely no idea what's going on here, but it makes me smile every time I see it.

#5 -- 2017 Topps #520 Andrelton Simmons

Topps produced a grand total of 1,000 different base cards across their three Flagship sets this year, and this was the only memorable one of the lot.

#4 -- 2017 Stadium Club #53 Anthony Rizzo

Wall catches on baseball cards: as if you needed another reason to be a fan of Anthony Rizzo.

#3 -- A&G Dudes!

I'm cheating a bit here, but let's face it: there's no way I could single out just one Dude from the whole lot of Dudes, so they all make the list.

I usually don't include non-baseball subjects on my Cards of the Year countdown, but 2017's A&G Dudes were just too glorious to ignore. I haven't made much of a dent in the checklist as of yet -- I own just eleven Dudes from the 50-card set -- but they're enough to convince me that this is not only the best insert set of the year, but one of the best insert sets of my collecting lifetime.

Conductor Dude, Artist Dude, Egyptian Sultan Dude: ALL HAIL DUDES!

#2 -- 2017 Stadium Club #277 Billy Hamilton

Every year, there seem to be one or two cards which pretty much everyone agrees are just damn good.

Judging from what I've read on the blogs, this seems to be 2017's version of that consensus pick, and it's easy to see why: card backs can rave all they want about Billy Hamilton's speed, but Stadium Club remains the only one to actually show it to us.

#1 -- 2017 Topps Update #US-223 Sandy Koufax SP

I fell in love with this card the minute I saw it, so much so that I went out and bought a copy just hours after Topps Update was released.

Trouble was, that meant I paid over three times what I could've eventually gotten it for, since it took a few days for everyone to realize how common the photo SPs were in this year's Update.

But you know what? I don't regret it. One bit. What I paid was still, in my mind, a bargain for what turned out to be the pinnacle of 2017 cardboard: a masterful shot of Sandy Koufax pointing out his second no-no in the gloaming for all to see. I'd never seen this particular photo before, and it came as even more of a treat since Koufax, like many retired stars, suffers from the epidemic of having the same images recycled on many of his cards.

I still feel a bit weird about giving a photo-variation SP the top spot on this list, but there's no way around it: this is my Card of the Year for 2017.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

It's not Christmas without Secret Santa

Another Christmas come and gone.

My holiday was a success for the sheer fact that, unlike the past two years, I actually had the day off work. And while the week preceding was kinda hectic, I suppose the holiday spirit first hit me when I received my Secret Santa package in the mail a few days before Christmas from none other than Bert of "Swing and A Pop-Up" fame.

It was a pleasure putting my own Secret Santa package together, but there was a great deal of anticipation on my part of wondering who drew my name in the festivities this year. I was overjoyed to learn that Bert -- a past trade partner of mine and a reader of the blog -- was the one tasked with cobbling together my gift.

The USPS seemed a bit overly enthusiastic to get this oversized Jorge Soler box loader to me, as evidenced by the small crease running through the card, but no matter -- I'm thrilled to have a new display piece for my Cubs binder either way.

Another oversized goodie, this time in the form of a Heritage box-topper with none other than World Series hero Addison Russell front and center.

Cubs relics, manufactured and real.

But Bert didn't just stick to the hometown team.

The Rice marks my first card from the Brigham's brand, and the Hoyt reprint is new to me despite the fact that his real '54 Bowman was one of the first cards I added to my Hoyt collection about a decade ago.

These were perhaps the biggest hit of Bert's Secret Santa gift.

I absolutely LOVE these Laughlin World Series cartoons, and I've had a lot of trouble tracking them down at card shows and such. Bert sent an entire quartet my way, three of which involve century-old Cubs Fall Classics (including two victories).

Such generosity, in fact, inspired to throw a few more of these gems into my COMC cart just hours later.

Bert kept the oddball train running with this excellent pair of Rynos.

The Secret Santa cornucopia came to an end with this Beckett-issued modern oddball of a couple hometown stars.

I'm still trying to decide which side should be displayed front-first in my binders (Schwarber gets the nod for now), but either way this serves further evidence that magazine covers on baseball cards are never not awesome, and a terrific cap on what was a superb Secret Santa gift from Bert.

I've experienced two-and-a-half decades' worth of Christmases at this point, and it's a holiday already jam-packed with tradition. But over the last couple years, another one has joyously sprouted up with the Secret Santa festivities around the blogs.

Whether giving or receiving, it just isn't Christmas without Secret Santa.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Top Five: Rickey Henderson

I always feel bad for people who have a birthday right around a major holiday.

I've seen this first-hand throughout my life with my mom, who has a birthday just three days after Christmas. Her birthday doesn't really get celebrated by anyone besides myself -- it usually just winds up becoming an addendum to the family's holiday festivities.

And I can't even begin to wonder what it must be like for people like Rickey Henderson, whose birthday is actually on Christmas (he'll be turning 59 tomorrow). I'm guessing it's...strange, to say the least.

So in order to give Rickey the proper birthday wishes Rickey deserves, I've decided to grant Rickey the spotlight in this week's all-Rickey holiday edition of my Top Five theme.

#5 -- 1986 Scott Cunningham #NNO Rickey Henderson

I have little information about this card other than that it has a very Broder-like feel and that I found it in a flea market dime box a few years ago.

The back says the photos are by a photographer named Scott Cunningham and are card-sized mockups of larger 8x10 photos available for purchase.

It's definitely one of the oddest of the oddballs in my collection, and, for that, I love it.

#4 -- 1992 Topps #2 Rickey Henderson

Rickey's record-breaking 939th career steal is shockingly well-documented on cardboard -- I own at least a dozen different cards chronicling the achievement -- but this has long been my favorite.

#3 -- 1981 Kellogg's #33 Rickey Henderson

Blinding gold borders surrounding an equally-blinding gold jersey make this one of the greatest Kellogg's cards ever printed.

#2 -- 1982 Topps #610 Rickey Henderson

Rickey was on the cusp of stardom when this card hit the shelves, and Topps could not have done a better job at hinting at the fame soon to come.

All he did in 1982 was set the single-season stolen base record with a mind-bending 130 swipes in 149 games that year -- a year that began, for card collectors, with Rickey in a crouch, ready to run at any second.

#1 -- 1980 Topps #482 Rickey Henderson RC

My favorite card of Rickey Henderson is his first card, and it's not much of a contest.

As great as the sheer fact of owning a Rickey rookie is, it's the story of how I acquired it that has lent it so much meaning to me. I dug it out of the lower reaches of a treasure chest at the flea market many years ago, a big trunk filled with (mostly) junk and only partially baseball cards. I was about to walk away from the table with only a few little trinkets to show for my effort when I unearthed Rickey here.

The price I paid for everything I found basically amounted to 3/$1...which means I somehow bought a Rickey Henderson rookie card for 33 cents. To this day, I still don't know how I managed to get away with that.

So, there: happy (early) birthday, Rickey, and since I won't be around a computer tomorrow, Merry (early) Christmas to all my fellow blogging buddies out there.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

COMC card show!

I've recently developed an addiction to COMC, and there's a few things I can blame for this since I don't really want to hold myself responsible.

1) Secret Santa. COMC seemed like a perfect place to do some shopping for the blogs' Secret Santa festivities this year, and given the site's insanely wide inventory, it provides a ton of different gift-giving routes.

2) Black Friday. COMC offers a great Black Friday sale, complete with free shipping and heavily reduced prices across the board.

3) Pretty much everything else. I see people blog about COMC all the time. I sometimes peruse their inventory when I get bored. They have almost any/every card you could ever dream of. And yet somehow I'd never actually ordered from them.

This year seemed about as good a time as any to end my COMC drought.

Fast-forward to about a week ago when my grand Black Friday COMC order finally arrived at my doorstep.

I was originally trying to take a page from Shane's playbook and make it a COMC blaster. But soon one blaster turned into two. Then two blasters became a hobby box. And soon, there was no doubting it: this had turned into a COMC Card Show.

It's almost blasphemy to say, but things like Post Jim Kaats and vintage Lefty Grove oddballs and Manny Sanguillen OPCs were almost like background music when you consider the sheer power of the rest of my inaugural COMC experience.

The great thing about COMC is that they have pretty much every single type of card that has ever existed ever -- seriously, you can get lost for days going through their inventory.

This includes Mother's Cookies, which rarely show up here in the Midwest but are readily available on COMC for pennies on the dollar (any my god is that Rod Beck glorious!).

These '60s photo stamps aren't the most exciting cards, but for under a buck each, I ain't passing up a chance to add new oddballs to some of my favorite player collections.

I guess one of the reasons I'd become a stranger to COMC over the years was that I had the (wrong) impression that their prices were a bit high.

You can certainly find overpriced stuff on there (which, to be fair, is true with any online card site) but, as I found with this order, there's room to discount dig to your heart's content. And it's just plain fun going through their inventory.

None of these set me back more than 50 cents or so, and the Easler is probably my favorite of the bunch since I never even knew he played in Japan after his MLB career.

And speaking of Japan...this.

I have no idea who Matt Winters is or what the heck is going on here, but I knew from the minute I saw it that I was born to own this card.

I say it daily: I miss Golden Age.

GOD do I miss Golden Age.

These box bottoms just about made my jaw drop, as I'd never known they existed before COMC came along. Better yet, they separate into individual cards (note the perforations), which is cool because, while I love panels, I'd much rather have these displayed in a nine-pocket page.

And as if that Black Sox panel on top isn't beautiful enough, on the far left is the first shot I've ever seen of (pitcher) Eddie Cicotte batting (!!!).

Shiny Hoyt! Minor League Pitching Coach Hoyt! ALL HAIL HOYT!

A couple pieces of miscellany here, including a look at how magazine covers were made in the days of Willie Mays and my first look at the recent Archives Snapshots release with a man who celebrated a birthday yesterday, Oscar Gamble.

Look, if you're going to mark these sparkly legends down to 60 cents a piece, there's just no way I'm not gonna buy them.


More SSPC, though these aren't quite what they seem.

The Frank Robinson is my first card from the lesser-known 1975 SSPC Superstars checklist -- but more importantly, it's one of the extreme few images I've ever seen of Frank with the Angels. The Aaron is indeed from '76 SSPC, but it's actually an advertisement for the product (that features a different image than Hank's standard SSPC issue).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna build a time machine so I can go back to 1976 and get me one of those SSPC sets for $12.99 + $1 postage -- be right back.

Another great thing about SSPC is that once you buy store credit, you can make offers on cards, and from my experience, the majority of those offers get taken.

I managed to snag that '71 Aaron for the sub-$4 offer I made on it, which is a real score because you never see his cards that cheap. The Ryan was an even bigger surprise: my offer of around $5 was taken right away.

Just like that, it finally happened -- I finally had a real, actual Mets card of Nolan Ryan in all its weathered, well-loved glory.

As you've probably been able to tell by now, my first foray into COMC was overwhelmingly oddball-heavy, and we haven't even gotten to the greatest oddballs of them all yet.

There's Hostess, of course...

...and then there's the almighty Kellogg's.

While the Kessinger was the only Hostess card I ended up purchasing, things got a bit out of hand with the Kellogg's. That's mostly because these things were priced to move on COMC -- none of these cost more than a dollar despite the big names you see here.

3-D Paradise.

But this was perhaps the single great coup of my COMC card show, one that's sat near the top of my want list for many years now.

This is the only card I've ever seen of Dick Allen in a full Cardinals uniform -- his '70 Topps issue is an unflattering profile shot in an obviously obscured Phillies cap, and he was already a Dodger in '71 Topps. It's not often that a guy's only appearance in a given uniform comes from an oddball set, but that's exactly what we have here with Allen, one of my all-time favorite players, to boot.

I'd never seen this card cheaper than about ten bucks or so on my many wild goose chases around the 'net. So you can imagine my surprise when my offer of a whopping $3 was accepted on COMC, a cherry on the top of what was a fantastic virtual card show.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I've already placed a second COMC order because, like I said at the beginning of this post: I am addicted, and there's no going back now.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-White Sox Team

As a young Cubs fan, I had it conditioned into me from countless different sources that I should hate the White Sox.

And, for a good part of my youth, I did. I actively rooted against the South Siders for many years until something clicked -- right around the time the Sox traded for Scott Podsednik, one of my favorite players at the time -- and I realized how strange it was that I craved the misfortunes of a team from my very own hometown.

While it's largely frowned upon where I live, I'll admit that I'm a fan of both Chicago clubs these days. And though I still prefer the Cubs, I still want the Sox to be successful too, because the city is at its greatest when both of its baseball teams are near the top of the standings.

Like the Cubs, the White Sox have managed to build a stellar Short Term Stops roster over the years --  I've been looking forward to writing this post for a long time now, and it's a pleasure to finally bring it to you.


1961 Fleer #74 Red Ruffing

Red Ruffing (1947 White Sox, 9 games, sunset season)

I didn't know this card existed until I found it at a card show just this summer -- it's the only one I've ever seen to document Red Ruffing's brief stint in Chicago.

Ruffing spent most of his Hall of Fame career with the Yankees before winding up with the '47 White Sox at the ripe age of 42. He pitched all of nine games with the South Siders, going 3-5 with a 6.11 ERA before being released and subsequently retiring from the game.

Kudos to Fleer for showcasing a stint that could've easily been lost to history.

1983 Topps #693 Sparky Lyle

Sparky Lyle (1982 White Sox, 11 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Purchased by the Sox from the Phillies late in the '82 season, Sparky Lyle's blink-and-you'll-miss-it stint with the White Sox saw him post an even 3.00 ERA in 11 relief appearances.

Topps came to the rescue by being the only company to include Sparky Lyle in their 1983 checklist, thus granting him his only card with the White Sox and a true ride into the sunset.

1987 Donruss #617 Steve Carlton

Steve Carlton (1986 White Sox, 10 games, third-of-a-year stint)

The last few years of Steve Carlton's career were basically one big Short Term Stop.

After having been released by the Phillies and Giants during the course of the 1986 season, Lefty latched on with the White Sox to close his whirlwind of a year. Carlton finished out the string by going 4-3 with a 3.69 in 10 starts with the South Siders. 

Though brief, my dad has told me in the past that Lefty's brief stay with the Sox was actually kind of a big deal in Chicago at the time -- as is the power a future Hall of Famer can have on a city, no matter how washed up he is.


2015 Topps Update #US-228 Geovany Soto

Geovany Soto (2015, '17 White Sox, 91 games)

A one-time NL ROY with the Cubs, Geovany Soto's two separate stints with the Sox have been underwhelming -- he's hit a combined .214 across 91 games -- and I completely forgot he spent 13 forgettable games on the South Side just this past season.

Though Soto's tenure with the White Sox has been dubious (at most), his lone card with the club is definitely anything but.

First Base

1960 Topps #505 Ted Kluszewski

Ted Kluszewski (1959-60 White Sox, 112 games)

Ted Kluszewski brought his big bat and bulging biceps to the South Side for parts of a couple seasons late in his career.

Though he was surely a hulking presence on the famous '59 "Go-Go Sox" club, there wasn't much left in the tank for Klu at that point: he hit just seven homers in 112 total games with the White Sox before the Angels grabbed him in the 1961 expansion draft.

Klu is also notable for being responsible for one of the greatest cards I have yet to add to my collection.

Second Base

2012 Panini Triple Play #69 Orlando Hudson

Orlando Hudson (2012 White Sox, 51 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Kind of a weird one here, but at the end of the day, this comic-bookish cartoon is the only card I own of Orlando Hudson with the White Sox. 

Nobody except Panini chose to take note of Hudson's move to Chicago in 2012, where he'd hit a paltry .197 in what would turn out to be the final 51 games of his career.

I still have a soft spot for these wacky Triple Play cards, and their recognition of this key Short Term Stop is no small part of that.


1978 Topps #672 Don Kessinger

Don Kessinger (1977-79 White Sox, 226 games, sunset season in '79)

I have shortstops in my binder who had quicker stints with the White Sox, but none of them look half as strange in the uniform than Don Kessinger -- a man who spent the bulk of his career on the North Side of town.

Traded to the Sox by the Cardinals in 1977, Kessinger would finish his career on the South Side, even becoming one of a dying breed of player-managers with the club in 1979, his sunset season.

But to me, Don Kessinger in those strange, collared '70s White Sox jerseys has never looked right, and I suppose a lot of that has to do with the fact that he's so ingrained in my mind as a Cub.

Third Base

1975 Topps #35 Ron Santo

Ron Santo (1974 White Sox, 117 games, sunset season)

What we have here is a baseball card that might as well exist in a dystopian sci-fi universe: Ron Santo in a White Sox jersey.

Nothing about this is right. The red '70s Sox cap, the "3B-2B" position listing (Ron Santo? 2B?!), nothing. But facts are facts: Santo did indeed spend the final season of his career with the rival South Siders in 1974, hitting just .221 in 117 games before calling it quits. 

If you're talking Short Term Stops, this is one of the all-timers.


1986 Fleer Update #U-15 Bobby Bonilla

Bobby Bonilla (1986 White Sox, 75 games, half-year stint)

In an inexplicable move, the White Sox let broadcaster Hawk Harrelson basically run the team in 1986, promoting him to the club's GM.

In an even more inexplicable move, one of Hawk's first orders of business was to trade prospect Bobby Bonilla to the Pirates for Jose DeLeon, a pitcher who'd be gone from Chicago less than two years later. Bonilla, of course, became a star with the Pirates and would enjoy a long and successful career.

It feels strange to even have to say this, but: for goodness sake, don't let announcers run your baseball teams, especially if that announcer is Hawk Harrelson. 

2008 Upper Deck Timeline #17 Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. (2008 White Sox, 41 games, half-year stint)

Ken Griffey Jr. is kind of like the Steve Carlton of my generation: a future-HOFer who made a brief, unspectacular stop with the White Sox near the end of his career.

I remember it being big news when the playoff-bound Sox acquired Griffey at the 2008 trade deadline. While it produced one of my personal favorite hometown Short Term Stops, The Kid didn't leave much of an impact in Chicago, hitting just three of his 630 career homers in 41 games on the South Side.

Still, I'm proud to say that Ken Griffey Jr. -- perhaps the greatest player of my baseball lifetime -- was, for a brief, glorious moment, a member of the Chicago White Sox.

2012 Topps #342 Kosuke Fukudome

Kosuke Fukudome (2012 White Sox, 24 games, sunset season)

As Don Kessinger and Ron Santo have showed us, unfamiliar stints are made more unfamiliar if a player established on one side of the city briefly jumps to the other.

Such is the case with Kosuke Fukudome, who was, for better or worse, a fixture in my adolescent Cubs fandom. Fukudome's short and not-at-all-spectacular American career came to an end with a 24-game stint with the 2012 White Sox that I have absolutely no memory of. He was released by the Sox barely two months into the season and returned to his native Japan (where he's still playing at the age of 40).

Again, it's a good thing Topps was there to remember Fukudome's wildly unfamiliar stint with the White Sox, because I sure don't.

Designated Hitter

1996 Collector's Choice #98 John Kruk

John Kruk (1995 White Sox, 45 games, sunset season)

Before I wrote this post, I don't think I'd realized just how often the White Sox had been home to the dying breath of once-great careers.

John Kruk is pretty much the epitome of this syndrome. Kruk's lone season with the Sox actually wasn't bad --  he hit .308 in 45 games with the club -- but injuries and a battle with testicular cancer a couple years prior had pretty much decimated his career by that point. 

Though I'm sure few fans have any memories of John Kruk's time with the White Sox, he's definitely a cornerstone of this roster.

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

Thanks for tuning in.