Saturday, April 22, 2017

Top Five: Babe Ruth

In a backwards way, Babe Ruth is so popular and well-known that he doesn't seem to get talked about much when it comes to baseball cards.

You don't really hear about people collecting The Great Bambino. It's just assumed that if you happen to obtain a card of Ruth, you're going to keep it.

He's always been a top-tier guy for me, but I haven't mentioned him on the blog a whole lot because how much more can you possibly say about a guy like Ruth? In baseball's rich history of larger-than-life characters, the Sultan of Swat was -- both literally and figuratively -- the largest. He was not only a game-changing player, but also a historical figure who (like Jackie Robinson) necessitated entire sections of history textbooks I read as a student.

I don't own any real Bambinos (obviously), but he has plenty of great cardboard out there, and I'm breaking my Ruthian silence by showing off my personal Top Five Babes this afternoon.

#5 -- 2001 Upper Deck Legends #42 Babe Ruth

Though he (surprisingly) never won a Triple Crown, Babe Ruth was, by all accounts, the King of Baseball, and no card shows that better than this one.

#4 -- 2011 Topps "CMG Reprints" #CMGR-1 Babe Ruth

You don't hear about the one-and-done "CMG Reprints" insert set much these days, but I thought it was one of Topps' better recent innovations.

I am a self-confessed reprint nut, but even I get tired of seeing the same cards being reprinted eighty times over (enough with the '52 Mantles!). In 2011, Topps came up with the brilliant idea of featuring lesser-known oddballs from the game's earlier days.

Card #1 in the set is this 1914 Baltimore News reprint of a 19-year-old Ruth, often considered his rookie card. It features Ruth's brief stint with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League before being purchased by the Red Sox, and no more than 11 copies are known to exist.

If you have north of a half-million dollars to play around with, then you're in luck: you can shove the reprint aside and have your very own Babe Ruth rookie card!

#3 -- 2009 Topps Update "Legends of the Game Updates" #LGU-18 Babe Ruth

A post about Babe Ruth would be remiss if I didn't mention his ultimate Short Term Stop with the Boston Braves.

With promises to eventually become the team's manager, Ruth joined the perennial cellar-dwelling Braves for what would turn out to be his final season in 1935. The 40-year-old slugger appeared in 28 contests that year and hit just .181 with six homers (though three of them did come in a single game).

Babe never did get to manage the Braves -- or any other big-league team -- and his time with the franchise became one of the more fascinating footnotes in baseball history.

#2 -- 2014 Stadium Club #3 Babe Ruth

This gem was recently sent to me as part of Matt's siege on my Dime Box Dozen list.

As I said then, Ruth falls victim to having the same few images repeatedly recycled on his cards, but this one features a terrific outside-the-box shot that I probably would've never seen had it not been for Stadium Club.

#1 -- 2007 UD Masterpieces #2 Babe Ruth

It's no coincidence that my favorite Babe Ruth card features a Masterpiece rendition of one of America's most iconic photographs.

The shot captures the final appearance Ruth ever made at Yankee Stadium, coming on June 13th, 1948, as part of a 25th anniversary celebration of "The House That Ruth Built." The Babe was ill and frail, needing the aid of a bat to walk up the dugout steps and onto the field. He'd pass away of cancer just two months later at the age of 53.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Upper Deck's baseball card licensing loss was the demise of their Masterpieces brand. It only lasted two years, but I'll be darned if it didn't feature some of the best, most elegant cards I've ever seen -- of both legends and current stars alike -- during my time in the hobby.

As he did throughout his life and career, however, Babe Ruth stands at the top, because this is, to me, the most masterful of all the Masterpieces.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The good part of people knowing you collect cards

When I tell people I collect baseball cards, I get a few different types of responses.

It's usually a) Oh, that's nice, b) I have these cards sitting in my basement/attic, would you mind looking through them and seeing if they're worth anything?, c) I've got this OLD Cal Ripken card, like from the '90s, that's GOT to be worth some money!, or d) Want this box of cards I've had sitting in my attic/basement for the last twenty years?

None of these options are very appealing to me. I've gotten better about sharing my love of collecting with my inner circle of family/friends, but it's still something I generally keep under wraps. Most people -- through no fault of their own -- just don't know that most stuff from the '80s and '90s isn't worth dollar one, and it's hard to have the heart to tell them that.

For these reasons, I wasn't particularly hopeful when my dad told me a buddy of his had found a box of baseball cards in his attic and was willing to let me pick out whatever I wanted. He wanted to clear space. It's a common tale. My dad flipped through them beforehand -- reporting that most of it was indeed filled with stuff from the early '90s -- and brought them over for me to dig through this afternoon.

At surface level, there was a decent amount of please-God-no-more-of-these 1989 Topps and 1990 Fleer, though not as much as I thought there'd be.

The top part of the box was filled with scattered miscellaneous singles, and I found a few things to salvage.

I certainly won't turn HOF rookies away from my collection.

Also present was a complete or near-complete set of these 1993 Toys' R' Us oddballs, and I was surprised to find I needed quite a few of them.

I can't say I've stepped foot in a Toys 'R' Us in, oh, probably at least fifteen years, but like most kids who grew up in the suburbs, I have fond memories of the place.

From the looks of it, my dad's friend was a Mike Piazza collector/investor/speculator at some point, because I found more than a dozen new Piazzas for my budding collection of his in that box.

Most of the big box my dad's friend brought for me was comprised of two smaller boxes, the first of which was filled with nothing but 1993 UD Fun Pack singles.

This surprised me. A lot of people probably have late '80s Upper Deck and Score leftover from their collecting/investing days, and maybe a few spare oddballs for good measure, but I can't imagine many have whole boxes of 1993 UD Fun Pack lying around.

It was then that I started to believe this dig might be worth remembering.

I've always thought 1993 UD Fun Pack was one of the few sets to live up to its name: this set is indeed fun.

Trouble is, not many remember it these days, which makes singles kinda tough to come by. Granted, the Saved by the Bell borders do date the design a bit, but come on, does it get any more '90s than this?

I don't think so.

The subsets/inserts in this set are fantastic, too, and there were a whole lot of those in this box as well.

Foldouts, mascots, glow-in-the-dark stickers: like I said, Fun Pack is a blast. This is a set clearly marketed towards kids, and even a non-collector could see that.

And in case you were wondering, those two young lads in the top-left of this page are Roberto Alomar and Nolan Ryan.

The second of the two boxes-within-a-box was nothing but 1993 SP, and here's where I began to get unnaturally giddy, for a few reasons.

Like UD Fun Pack, this is a set you rarely see pop up these days. Unlike UD Fun Pack, this was considered a high-end set in its day. I'm not sure how popular SP was at the time, but I'm guessing that high-end categorization might have something to do with its relative invisibility now.

Unlike most present-day high-end sets, the photography in SP is top-notch, and that includes this awesome shot of Carlos Martinez gesturing wildly towards (what I imagine is) a pitcher while seeming to have a certain four-letter word on his lips.

Like the Martinez, I couldn't believe I'd never seen most of these cards before given how well they fit into my craving for left-of-center cardboard.

Mini-collection hits are abound in SP, and from the looks of it, Brian McRae takes after his dad pretty well.

More outstanding photography, more player collection hits, more awesomeness from SP.

The only bad part was a lot of the cards were stuck together, which is a good indication they'd been sitting in that box for years, perhaps even since 1993.

Now that you mention it, there was one other reason I was so thrilled to see a whole box of SP, and particularly cards from the 1993 release.

Lots of times, when someone gives you a box of cards that might have some promise -- or when you find one at a card show -- any hint of that promise is taken away. You might find a complete set of 1984 Topps...without the Mattingly rookie. A complete set of 1989 Upper Deck...without the Griffey rookie. Etc., etc., etc.

I figured that'd be the case with this box of 1993 SP. There's one very notable rookie in this set that a lot of collectors probably know about, and probably some non-collectors, too. I figured there'd be no chance in heck of me finding it in there.

But when I saw that some of the other big-name rookies hadn't been cherry picked -- like Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon -- I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel, and yes, that light was...


This is otherwise known as Derek Jeter's most famous and desired rookie card. A card that routinely sells in the triple-figures. A card that, now that I think of it, I've never actually seen in-person. A card I never thought I'd own, not in a million trillion years.

I was, quite literally, at a loss for words when I saw Jeets staring back at me out of that box, because wouldn't you be? This is the dream, the fantasy for collectors like myself when people pull "junk wax" cards out of their attic. This is the very card from that era most people are after.

And now it's mine, and yes, I'm keeping it, because the story of how it ended up in my hands is worth more to me than whatever an online auction could bring.

Sometimes, I guess it helps when other people know you collect baseball cards.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Rangers Team

Much like the last Short Term Stops franchise I featured -- the Phillies -- I have almost no feelings towards the Texas Rangers whatsoever.

I don't root for the Rangers. I don't root against them. They don't seem to have many players who I feel strongly about one way or another (save my adoration of Adrian Beltre). For the most part, I don't keep up with the general goings-on in Arlington.

With 30 big-league clubs, a few are bound to fall into that pit of apathy, and the Rangers are one of those franchises for me.

They do, however, have a solid Short Term Stops roster filled with stars and fan favorites alike, so let's get to it.


1986 Donruss #300 Burt Hooton

"Short Term Stops" Rangers Accolades:

Burt Hooton (1985 Rangers, 29 games, sunset season)

We begin with the man they called "Happy," a man whose lone season in Texas was anything but.

After several successful years with the Dodgers, Hooton signed as a free agent with the Rangers for the 1985 season. In what would turn out to be his swan song, Happy limped to a 5-8 record with a 5.23 ERA in his 29 Texas appearances.

Hooton was released by the Rangers at the end of spring training the following year and, seeing the writing on the wall, decided to call it a career.

1991 Studio #125 Goose Gossage 

Goose Gossage (1991 Rangers, 44 games)

After spending the 1990 season with Japan's Fukuoka Daiei Hawks -- a stint I didn't know about until recently -- Goose Gossage returned to America as a Texas Ranger.

Gossage's lone season in Texas was a fairly bland one: he posted a 3.57 ERA in 44 games with the club before moving onto the A's and eventually the Mariners over the final three seasons of his career.

If nothing else, Goose's brief tenure as a Ranger produced this odd '91 Studio card, which will start to probe your soul if you stare at it for too long.

2007 Upper Deck #979 Eric Gagne

Eric Gagne (2007 Rangers, 34 games, half-year stint)

Eric Gagne might've been the most feared pitcher in the game for a few years there: I mean, the guy's nickname was "Game Over."

By the time 2007 came around, however, Gagne was an injury-prone reliever looking for a job, and the Rangers gave him one by signing him as a free agent prior to the '07 season. He briefly put himself back on the map by posting a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves in Texas, stellar numbers that earned him a trade to the contending Red Sox that July.

Unfortunately, Gagne crashed and burned during his brief stint in Boston, and would do the same as a Brewer the following year before fading into an afterthought...that is, until he announced his desire to make a comeback in 2017. It's easy to write off that kind of talk from an over-the-hill 41-year-old reliever, but then again, who knows? Maybe a team will take a chance on him.

I'm kind of hoping someone does. 


2005 Topps Total #326 Sandy Alomar Jr.

Sandy Alomar Jr. (2005 Rangers, 46 games)

A one-time superstar in Cleveland, Sandy Alomar Jr. jumped around quite a bit in the later stages of his career. 

The 2005 season saw him suit up as a backup catcher with the Rangers, where he'd hit a respectable .273 in 46 games with the club. He'd latch on with the Dodgers and White Sox the following year and retire after a quick eight-game stint with the 2007 Mets.

This is, as far as I know, the only card depicting Alomar as a Ranger, and it comes from -- who else? -- Topps Total.

First Base

1981 Fleer #629 Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub (1980 Rangers, 109 games)

This is a messy card when it comes to my sorting system.

My cards are filed by position within my individual team binders, and while it usually keeps things organized for me, it can backfire from time to time. Take this card, for instance: Rusty Staub is listed here as an outfielder...and a DH...while clearly featuring a photo of him playing first base. Thanks, Fleer. Thanks a lot.

So where does it go? I defer to the photo, which gives the nod to first base. Rusty did play first during the majority of his short time in Texas, which saw him hit an even .300 in 109 games. (He also took 39 walks while striking out just 18 times, a stat line we'll probably never see the likes of again.)

Despite the confusion, Rusty Staub deserves to man first base for this Rangers squad.

Second Base

2011 Topps #327 Cristian Guzman

Cristian Guzman (2010 Rangers, 15 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Here's a semi-obscure one because I didn't have anyone better to fill the second base slot.

Cristian Guzman posted some decent seasons with the Twins and Nationals (though I'm shocked to now discover he was a two-time All-Star) before being dealt to the Rangers in 2010, where he'd hit an anemic .152 in the final 15 games of his career.

It wasn't a memorable stint, but Topps rewarded Guzman with a fine double play shot to send him into the sunset.


2010 Topps #143 Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel (2009 Rangers, 62 games)

Omar Vizquel will be a Hall of Famer one day, and that Cooperstown plaque will forever document Vizquel's brief time in Texas.

The perennial Gold Glover appeared in just 62 games during his lone season as a Ranger, hitting .266 while holding down the fort at shortstop.

Though he was 42 at the time, Vizquel looks mighty spry on this terrific double dip from 2010 Topps, easily his best card as a Ranger.

Third Base

2001 Upper Deck #336 Ken Caminiti

Ken Caminiti (2001 Rangers, 54 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

The tale of Ken Caminiti is a sad one.

An All-Star third sacker with the Astros and Padres, Caminiti split his final season between the Rangers and Braves in 2001. He hit just .232 with nine homers in 54 games in Texas before being released and picked up by Atlanta.

Caminiti, however, is better remembered for being one of the game's first stars to acknowledge his steroid use -- which he admitted was in large part responsible for his 1996 NL MVP campaign. Worse yet, Caminiti died of a drug overdose in 2004 at the age of 41, just three years after his playing career came to an end.

Sad, sad.


1973 Topps #435 Rico Carty

Rico Carty (1973 Rangers, 86 games, third-of-a-year stint)

I've heard several baseball people say that Rico Carty could've been one of baseball's all-time greats had he not been so prone to injury.

Carty routinely hit in the mid-.300s during his time in Atlanta before injuries started to take their toll (including losing the entire 1968 campaign to tuberculosis and all of '71 to a torn knee). The Rangers took a chance on Rico by acquiring him from the Braves prior to the '73 season.

Carty hit just .232 in 86 games with the Rangers before being purchased by the Cubs. He'd spend 22 games in Chicago before being purchased once again, this time by the A's, to cap off the rare feat of playing for three teams in one year.

It was such a crazy season that Carty didn't appear at all in the '74 Topps checklist, and while injuries continued to play a role in his career, he hung around in the bigs until 1979.

1990 Topps Debut #120 Sammy Sosa

Sammy Sosa (1989, '07 Rangers, 139 games, half-year stint in '89, sunset season in '07)

I usually go out of my way to omit Sammy Sosa from this blog, but he deserves mention here. 

As a young collector, it was a huge deal to find a card of Sammy Sosa as a Ranger, a stint which almost seemed like a fable. Sosa would hit the first of his 609 career homers in Texas before the Rangers infamously shipped the (then) toothpick-sized outfielder to the White Sox after just 25 games in Arlington. Sosa would, of course, soon become a Chicago icon, albeit on the North Side of the city.

Though Sosa kind of ruined his prime Short Term Stop status by returning to the Rangers for his final season in 2007, I still look back on that initial stint with a begrudging amount of nostalgia for my early collecting days.

2010 Topps Allen & Ginter #134 Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero (2010 Rangers, 152 games)

Let's move from one of my least favorite players in baseball history to one of the coolest.

Vlad Guerrero signed with the Rangers as somewhat of an afterthought prior to the 2010 season, and I think he surprised a lot of people by becoming an All-Star in what would be his only season in Texas, posting a .300-29-115 line in 152 games for the playoff-bound club. Vlad wasn't a Ranger for very long, but he certainly left a mark on the franchise.

He parlayed his success into a contract with the Orioles the following offseason, and he'd call it quits after a single year in Baltimore, putting an end to the career of a man who -- gosh darn it, baseball writers -- deserves to be in Cooperstown.

Designated Hitter

2013 Topps #480 Lance Berkman

Lance Berkman (2013 Rangers, 73 games, sunset season)

The Rangers are an American League club, so they get a bonus slot on this Short Term Stops roster (although I'm still in favor of abolishing the DH).

Once a member of the "Killer B's" in Houston, Lance Berkman was plagued by injuries by the time he arrived in Texas for the 2013 season. He hit just .242 in 73 games as a Ranger, smacking the final six of his 366 lifetime homers in the process.

Like so many others before him, Berkman's once-great career went out with a whimper, although it does earn him prominence in the glorious world of Short Term Stops.

That about does it for this edition.

Thanks for tuning in.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Top Five: Jackie Robinson

Today, as you probably already know, is Jackie Robinson Day.

All 750 players in uniform across the league are wearing #42 on this, the 70th anniversary of Robinson's first major league game. As the first modern African-American to play in the bigs, Jackie's impact as both a player and a person continues to leave a profound impact on baseball and society as a whole here in 2017.

When I think of Jackie Robinson, I think of the history courses I took during my school career. I've always been a history nut but, as a student, I admittedly grew tired of the repeated number of lessons on this battle or that war or that president. I looked forward to our Civil Rights units because, among other things, we got to talk about Jackie Robinson. We got to talk about class. What more could a young baseball fan want?

I've yet to find a real Jackie card within my budget -- though I'm constantly on the lookout -- but I've accumulated enough modern Robinson treasures to compile a Top Five list in honor of Jackie Robinson Day.

#5 -- 1994 UD Ken Burns Baseball #50 Jackie Robinson

We start with one of the more educational baseball sets I've found: the 1994 UD Ken Burns Baseball series, which accompanied the phenomenal nine-part PBS documentary released that same year.

I received the set from my parents for Christmas when I was first getting into baseball cards, and I've treasured it ever since. It features many fantastic shots -- including this hard-nosed image of Jackie -- while also providing as complete of a history lesson about baseball as one could ever hope for.

I'd highly recommend picking up a set if you haven't already.

#4 -- 2013 Panini Cooperstown #42 Jackie Robinson

Here's a gem from the (sadly) defunct Panini Cooperstown brand.

Instead of producing another bland, logo-less shot of Jackie, Panini made a brilliant move by creating a rare card of Robinson as a Kansas City Monarch. It's a left-of-center Short Term Stop, as Robinson spent just a single season in the Negro Leagues (1945) before he famously signed with Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

See? Panini can be creative when it wants to be.

#3 -- 2016 Stadium Club #294 Jackie Robinson

I've said much about this one already: it showed up in my Cards of the Year countdown for 2016.

When you couple a terrific action shot of Robinson and my fascination with old-time advertisements, you have something I'm sure to love.

#2 -- 1997 Denny's #29 Jackie Robinson

A staple of suburbs everywhere, Denny's earns the distinction of being the most unlikely candidate to crack this list.

But it's true: this is one of the greatest pieces of cardboard ever produced of Jackie Robinson, and it came courtesy of what is little more than a glorified fast-food chain. You don't often see black-and-white/3-D combos, and the 3-D effect gives the appearance that Robinson's cap is about to fly out and into your hands when you hold this card.

Denny's will never be one of my favorite eateries, but they sure hit a Grand Slam here (apologies for the wordplay).

#1 -- 2014 Stadium Club #42 Jackie Robinson

Stadium Club earns the honor of producing my far-and-away favorite Jackie Robinson card.

The photo pretty much speaks for itself, but what I love most about it is that I'd never before seen this shot prior to purchasing it. Robinson, more than just about any other player I can think of, suffers from the indignity of having the same three or four photos of his plastered on the majority of his baseball cards.

Not so with this one, an image that perfectly sums up the immense impact Robinson had on the game and the people who saw him play it: baseball became Baseball the moment Jackie first stepped onto Ebbets Field on April 15th, 1947.

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Finally, a Donruss set that matters (sort of)

I've lost track of the number of times I've insulted Panini's revived version of Donruss on this blog.

Donruss has brought up the rear on my Sets of the Year countdowns for, long as it's been around. If memory serves, I've never devoted an entire post to Donruss, because I've never had anywhere near enough words to fill a whole write-up about what had been a sorry excuse for a brand.

Since its rebirth a few years back, Panini's Donruss has been a) repetitive, b) unlike anything related to the original version of Donruss, and c) horrible.

But not this year.

Or at least not as much.

Based on what I'd been seeing around the blogs for the past week or so, I took the leisurely stroll down to Target and picked up a couple rack packs of 2017 Donruss, the first time I'd bought any retail of this stuff in at least a couple years.

By now, you generally know what to expect from Donruss: generally well-known players featured on generic action photos without logos.

This year is certainly no exception to that rule.

But you might notice something familiar with 2017 Donruss: it's an obvious rehashing of the original brand's 1990 design.

Thought I'm not a fan of 1990 Donruss (is anybody?), this, I think, is what Panini should do if they ever want to make this set distinct. The designs they'd been trotting out in the past didn't look like anything related to the good ol' days of Donruss...they didn't look like much of anything at all, for that matter.

Donruss had a long history, and I always thought part of the job of Panini's revival should've been to honor that past. Between the cursive player name and dotted borders, this year's Donruss does that, albeit without the distinct red borders of 1990 Donruss.

I'm not saying I love 2017 Donruss by any means -- 1990 Donruss is still yucky and the photos are still woefully uninspired. I'm not saying I'll be rushing out to the store and stocking my cart full of rack packs of the stuff. No.

All I'm saying is that Donruss, for the first time in its history, has taken a step in the right direction.

Before, you had to go to the inserts to find any kind of tribute to Original Donruss.

Last year featured an insert set that honored the ball-and-bat '82 design, so it makes sense that 2017 would include a nod to the bat-and-glove '83 template. Better yet, these come five per rack pack, so you certainly get your fill with even the smallest purchase.

Here's hoping 2018 Donruss has an '84 tribute, because that's far and away my favorite design in the long history of the brand.

I'll close things out with an insert of La Potencia whose beauty transcends all bounds, Donruss haters and fans alike.

I certainly never wanted Panini's Donruss to continue to crash and burn every year. I like that Panini revived it, because outside of Topps and Upper Deck, I'd say Donruss is the most impactful brand ever. It didn't deserve to go out the way it did. But Panini wasn't doing it any favors with the forgettable, plain designs they'd been churning out.

It took a few years, but I'm glad to be able to say that, for the first time, Panini has finally -- finally -- produced a Donruss set that matters.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Top Five: Gary Carter

Gary Carter would have been 63 years old today.

I say would have been because, sadly, Carter passed away of a brain tumor in 2012. The Hall of Famer -- affectionately known as "The Kid" for his sunny personality and million-dollar smile -- was just 57.

His death -- as death often does -- caused me to reevaluate some things, specifically in my own collection. I'd never been more than a surface-level Carter collector prior to the backstop's passing. I'd pick up cards of his here and there with little vigor or urgency. In the past few years, however, The Kid has quickly catapulted his way into the top tier of my collection, as I've found his cardboard is surprisingly easy (and fun) to hoard on the cheap.

In honor of Carter's birthday, it gives me great honor to showcase my most treasured cards of The Kid in this week's edition of Top Five.

#5 -- 1987 Topps #20 Gary Carter

As far as mainstream media goes, Carter is probably best known for his behind-the-plate presence on the colorful Mets teams of the mid-to-late '80s.

He's seen here gunning down a baserunner in what I've always personally considered one of the shiniest gems of the overproduction era.

#4 -- 1993 Upper Deck #219 Gary Carter

Most tenured baseball fans probably know Carter as the first great homegrown Montreal Expo and a man who would eventually make his way to Cooperstown.

Sometimes lost to history is The Kid's brief return to Montreal for his final season in 1992. Though he was 38 at the time, Carter certainly didn't pull any punches during his swan song, as a whopping three different sunset cards of his feature him in the process of being bowled over at the plate.

My favorite of the PATP trio comes courtesy of '93 Upper Deck, thanks in part to the action shot on the back which features an image snapped just a split-second before the one gracing the front.

#3 -- 1992 Bowman #385 Gary Carter

Bowman, of all brands, produced what is my favorite modern card of The Kid.

Carter was certainly an intense, Hall of Fame-level player (I'm sad I never got to see him play since I was born the year he retired), but most of what I hear about him these days is how kind of a man he was.

No card, I feel, shows that better than this autograph shot, one that features that infectious smile and just about every piece of baseball memorabilia you could imagine.

#2 -- 1976 Topps #441 Gary Carter

Between the iconic '76 Topps design, the hallowed Topps Rookie Cup, and the beautiful Wrigley Field backdrop, this is and will always be one of my favorite cards of The Kid.

But I'll be darned if Carter doesn't seem a bit unsure of himself here on his first solo Topps card. His expression is wary, somewhat nervous. He's wearing the unfamiliar #57, which he only wore during his rookie campaign in 1974, which means this image was a whole two years old by the time it finally made its way into a Topps set.

It's not how I picture Gary Carter when I picture Gary Carter.

#1 -- 1977 Topps #295 Gary Carter

There's the guy we all know and love.

Joyous, confident, and wearing his famous #8: this is when Gary Carter became The Kid. It's one of those select few pieces of cardboard that has always spoken to me because of the sheer perfection of it, and while there are many cards to love from the legendary '77 Topps checklist, this is easily one of the best.

This, above all else, is how I picture Gary Carter when I picture Gary Carter.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Mint: Dime box edition

Has it finally happened? Has the self-professed "low-end collector" crossed over into the dark side of high-end collecting?

I wouldn't blame you for thinking so. I mean, I certainly never thought I'd own any sort of packaging from a set like Topps The Mint, a product which retails for prices in the quadruple figures.

No: truth is, this came from Gavin of the famous "Baseball Card Breakdown" blog. Gavin's always been one of the premier creative forces around the blogosphere, and that power even extends to the way he packages his cards. He wrapped a recent batch of cards in the high-end bags and boxes leftover from his (successful) Mint break (because you know your cards are high-end when they're presented in a coin purse).

Sorry, high-end chasers and patch card enthusiasts: there will be no Mike Trout autographs in this post.

There will, however, be plenty of low-end gems and other goodies, as is par for the course with a trade package from Gavin.

This Wil Myers is the first "Firebrand" insert in my collection, and while I'm a fan of the die-cut design, I'm not sure how much my nine-pocket pages are going to like it.

Gavin's a big Padres fan, so it makes sense that there'd be a few Friars in this batch.

The Meadows is a coveted "pitcher at the plate," while the golden Kimbrel is already making me nostalgic for 2015 Topps (if it's possible to have nostalgia for a two-year-old design).

The Kotchman -- from the uber-high-end Topps Pristine brand -- was about as close as Gavin got to Mint-like levels with this package.

The Toddfather seems like such a grizzled veteran these days that it's hard for me to believe he was once a fresh-faced minor leaguer.

A mess of glorious Cubs, all needed for the binder.

Brett Jackson was once the highest-rated prospect in the Cubs' chain during the early days of their "rebuild"...which is why it was obvious that the Cubs needed a massive overhaul in the front office.

Ah, but what would a package from Gavin be without customs?

I don't care what kind of high-end stuff you'd try to throw at me, but I can almost guarantee you that none of it would best the pure awesomeness of this Hostess-style Stanton.

Those low-end cards in high-end clothing helped supplement another mailer Gavin had sent me a while back, spearheaded by this Will Ferrell I believe I'd requested from him at some point.

I'm still a long, long aways from completing this Archives insert set, but at least I now have what is likely the most entertaining card of the bunch.

A couple recent Cubs inserts for old and young fans alike.

More customs!

Gavin did himself one better by including both pristine and "well-loved" versions of this custom Goudey-style Kris Bryant.

The latter seems most fitting for my collection, since it comes closer to resembling the ragged condition of the few actual Goudey cards I own.

We'll close things out with yet another brilliant custom from Gavin: my very first Vin Scully card.

Sometimes I wonder why broadcasters don't get more love in this hobby. You can probably count the number of Scully cards on one hand, which is insane considering the profound impact he's had on the history of the game. It's hard for me to imagine baseball without broadcasters, and sometimes they're just as important as the ballplayers themselves.

Also, for no particular reason, here's a fun fact I read on the 'net the other day: baseball opened for business in 2017 without Connie Mack or Vin Scully working somewhere within its capacity, the first time that's happened since 1885. (!!!)

Just one of the many reasons I will forever be a fan of baseball history, much of which I've learned through the low-end baseball cards I've been able to accumulate over the years.

No Mint for me, thanks.