Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anatomy of the Dime Box Dozen

I was lucky enough to win a contest emceed by Matt of "Bob Walk the Plank" fame a while back.

Winning any kind of contest is an unexpected treat for me, as I usually have rotten luck when it comes to those types of things. It's the reason I almost never play any incarnations of the lottery.

But I was especially excited to emerge victorious from one of Matt's contests, because he's famous around the blogosphere for putting together legendary stacks of cards to send to people. I waited eagerly by my mailbox for the winnings to arrive, and boy was I ever excited when the package showed up.

The spoils started out harmfully enough: Matt knocked off a hefty chunk of insert needs from years past, including this terrific "Glove Stories" GQ insert of Bryce Harper.

More various Topps inserts crossed off the various want lists.

Also included was a stack of a few dozen 2013 Gypsy Queen base cards I needed.

Check that, these are actually from 2014 Gypsy Queen: the designs have really started to blend together in my head over the years.

But all that was small potatoes in comparison to the meat of my contest winnings from Matt, because inside the package, I found a grand total of ten cards from my Dime Box Dozen list.

That is, for the mathematically inclined, 83 percent of my DBDs knocked out in one fell swoop, which shattered the record for the most DBD needs crossed off by a single package. I couldn't believe it. I've scanned each of the ten suspects individually -- beginning with Larry Bowa here -- and have included small blurbs about my motivations for acquiring each of them in order to get to the real anatomy of my Dime Box Dozen list.

The Card: 1985 Donruss #361 Larry Bowa

On the Dime Box Dozen because: This was the final card I needed to complete my sunset collection of Mr. Bowa, plus it features a pretty awesome Wrigley Field shot.

The Card: 1986 Donruss #648 Cesar Cedeno

DBD because: Once again, another example of a Donruss card standing of the way in my completion of a sunset collection. Also, bonus points for chronicling Cedeno's short stint as a Cardinal, though he'd actually close his career with a card-less stint with the '86 Dodgers.

The Card: 1989 Upper Deck #667 Orel Hershiser WS

DBD because: Just a cool highlight-themed card I needed to secure for my growing Bulldog collection.

The Card: 1991 Stadium Club #70 Ozzie Guillen

DBD because: Sometimes even overproduction-era cards somehow slip through the cracks, as this terrific throwback shot of Ozzie had for my entire collecting lifetime.

The Card: 1999 Ultra #35 David Wells

DBD because: An all-around masterpiece featuring a heroic, movie-esque shot of Boomer following his legendary perfect game in the Bronx.

The Card: 2003 Topps Fan Favorites #50 Cal Ripken Jr.

DBD because: This was the DBD need I was most excited to receive from Matt, in no small part because it'd been sitting on my list for around a year. It's the only card I've ever seen that features the Orioles' version of MLB's doomed Turn Ahead the Clock promotion.

The Card: 2004 Topps Total #778 Eric Karros

DBD because: Another long-awaited sunset card featuring Eric Karros's brief and wildly unfamiliar stint with the A's.

The Card: 2013 Topps #134 Jake Arrieta

DBD because: A pre-fame image of the Cubs' current ace and an annoying example of a card I'd accumulated several parallels of without owning the regular ol' base card.

The Card: 2014 Stadium Club #3 Babe Ruth

DBD because: More than any other player I can think of, Babe Ruth suffers from having the same three or four photos recycled over and over again on his baseball cards. This SC single features a refreshing new image of the Babe that I'd never seen before, one that shows his popularity among baseball fans everywhere.

The Card: 2015 Topps Update #US-46 David Price

DBD because: I opened a hobby box and several retail packs of 2015 Update, and this was the only card I needed that somehow eluded all that wax. Thanks to Matt, David Price, the pesky straggler, finally became mine.

If you want to talk about a trade package perfectly customized to fit my collecting needs, look no further than this one. And all I had to do was type my name into a comment box, because card contests are a beautiful thing.

Safe to say that it took my Dime Box Dozen list had to take some time to recover after that vicious attack from Matt.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Top Five: Ron Santo

Today would have been Ron Santo's 77th birthday.

Growing up around Chicago my whole life, Santo was an integral part of my baseball upbringing. I can say with certainty that no single player -- with the possible exception of Ernie Banks -- is more closely tied to the Cubs organization than Ronnie.

I'm not sure how well-known Ron Santo is outside of Chicago, but you can't argue with the numbers: the guy was a Hall of Famer. It is one of the great disappointments in the history of Cooperstown that he didn't get to see his own election. Sadly, Santo passed away in 2010, and after decades of dragging their feet, the Hall finally gave him a rightful spot in Cooperstown in 2011, albeit a year too late.

It's in honor of Ronnie's birthday that I've decided to focus on him in this week's edition of Top Five.

#5 -- 1997 Tuff Stuff Sports Classic #NNO Ron Santo

We start with one from the super-oddball files.

I found this in a dime box a number of years ago, and I'm 99 percent sure it was originally issued as a ticket to get Santo's autograph at a card show. It may have even been some kind of VIP pass, judging by the hole punch at the top.

Like many other wacky items I've found in the past, I had to ask myself: is this a baseball card?

And as was the case with the vast majority of those items, I answered: of course it is.

#4 -- 1975 Topps #35 Ron Santo

Nothing about this card is right.

No way did Ron Santo -- forever a '60s ballplayer in my mind -- play until the mid '70s. No way did he play second base. And no way did he ever play for the White Sox. Surely this was some kind of hoax.

Like it or not, though, the proof is in the stats: in what would be his only season as a South Sider (and the final one of his baseball career), Santo appeared in 117 games -- including 39 at second base -- for the '74 White Sox.

Oddly disconcerting? Yes. Great? Also yes.

#3 -- 1962 Topps #170 Ron Santo

This is my oldest Ron Santo card, at least until I can get my hands on an affordable copy of his '61 Topps rookie -- no easy task around Chicago.

Although I've never particularly cared for '62 Topps, this terrific shot of a baby-faced, 22-year-old Santo has long been a sacred piece of my collection.

#2 -- 1965 Topps #110 Ron Santo

Ron Santo on the greatest Topps design ever.

Need I say more?

#1 -- 1974 Topps #270 Ron Santo

As it did with Tom Seaver, '74 Topps owns the distinction of producing my personal favorite Ron Santo card.

Like others on this list, my affinity for it closely linked to its weirdness. This is, for one thing, Santo's final card as a Cub, and the fact that he wasn't a career Cub is strange enough all on its own. But then you have the photo itself, which -- with players and fans dallying about behind a surprised Santo -- looks about as candid as candid can be.

Adding to the zaniness is the presence of (former) Cubs skipper Leo Durocher in the background (whose pose, forgive my immaturity, has always reminded me of someone urinating). Durocher last managed the North Siders in 1972, which means the photo was at least two years old when this card hit the streets. Kind of an oddity for Topps.

When you add it all up, it's the craziest -- but the best -- card of the birthday boy himself, Ron Santo.

Happy birthday, Ronnie.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why I love readers

The other day, I received a panic-inducing comment on my "Top Five" Mark Grace post from none other than Jim (aka GCRL) of the newly christened "Cards As I See Them" blog:

"My favorite Grace card is the UD MVP card that shows him on the mound. If only it showed his Mike Fetters stare."

My initial reaction was OH MY GOD...YOU MEAN THERE'S ACTUALLY A CARD OF MARK GRACE PITCHING?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! This was something I never thought existed. Surely there had to be some mistake, and if there wasn't, I needed to acquire this card immediately.

Turns out Jim was absolutely right, and -- plot twist! -- I'd had the card in question for years already. It's the very 2003 UD MVP issue of Gracie you see above. I'd never really looked closely at it, but sure enough, there it is for all to see: Mark Grace on the mound during what would be his only career pitching appearance.

The card I'd been wanting for as long as I could remember was mine all along.

This is why I love people like Jim who read this blog.

You've taught me way more about cards than I've taught you. I can't tell you how many cherished cards I've discovered thanks to the eagle eyes of others, some of which -- like the Grace -- were right in front of my eyes the whole time.

As fate would have it, Jim's "double dip" and "final tribute" themes (among others) were one of the reasons I started mini-collecting in the first place, and a package I received from him a while back help boost a few of my own themes.

Here's a new hit to my anthemic mini-collection (with bonus appearances from Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick which make me semi-nostalgic for '90s ESPN).

Not surprisingly, Jim's cards were heavy on the Dodgers, and here's a couple pitchers at the plate in the Dodger blue.

The Hershiser is a box bottom, which are always adored here in the Dime Box household.

A couple Ruthian mini-collection hits from Leaf's all-Bambino set last year which, I've discovered, was actually a fun set despite its sole focus on one player.

Looks like I've found an accordion player for the baseball card band I've been putting together, which includes Randy Johnson on drums and Bernie Williams on guitar, among others.

And while I've never declared it an official mini-collection, I've always sought out cards of players wearing green St. Patrick's Day jerseys, and the Alvarez is my newest addition to that chase.

Last up is a card that Jim said every Garvey player collector should own.

This '83 Topps Traded issue of Mr. Clean was a former Dime Box Dozen need of mine for the sheer fact that it was the last one I needed to own every Topps card of Steve Garvey. Somehow I knew Jim -- the most prolific Garvey collector I know -- would be the one to send it to me.

If you think about it, blogging would be a boring job without anyone reading your stuff. Not only for the sheer feedback of it all, but also for the fact that it would be quite a limited life without the perspectives of other people who read blogs all around the country, many of whom have seen a lot more and collected for a lot longer than I have.

I know my collection would look a lot different right now without my readers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A wonderfully odd birthday at the card show

I turned 25 this past Sunday, and for the first time in my quarter of a century on this Earth, I attended a card show on the exact date of my birth.

This was the same village hall show I made it down to a couple weeks ago, and I finally remembered to snap a picture of it amidst the chaos. This image really doesn't do the place justice since I took it near the end of the day when the crowd was thinning out. The hall was brimming with people for most of the afternoon and much more well-attended than the gathering a couple Saturdays ago.

Over time, it's probably become my favorite local show because it's not a quick stop like some three-table mall shows I've attended in the past, but not overwhelming like the massive tri-annual, flood-lighted, convention-hall show in my area. It's the absolute perfect size for a collector -- and somewhat anxious human being -- like myself.

Better yet, not a single cent I spent over the two shows I've attended in the past couple weeks came out of my own pocket. Last Saturday's budget consisted of leftover Christmas cash, and this past Sunday was funded by additional holdover holiday money I didn't spend on Saturday, along with a generous birthday gift donation to the card coffers from Mom.

Granted, I did have one major worry going into Sunday morning: since I'd just attended this show barely a week before, would that mean I'd be seeing the same cards I saw the last time?

In one word: NO.

One of the major factors in my decision to return to this show, in fact, was the presence of a table full of nickel boxes that I didn't have time to dig through during my first trip. The thought of a half-dozen 3200-count boxes of uncombed nickel cards was just too much to bear. I just knew there were scores of gems in there, waiting to find a home with yours truly.

I made a beeline for that table as soon as I stepped into the convention hall Sunday morning. It didn't take long for the first surprise of the day to present itself in the form of the Yoenis Cespedes photo-variation SP you see above which, yes, fell out of the nickel boxes.

And then...

...bam, another short-print!

Unlike the Cespedes, I wasn't 100 percent sure this was a SP at the time. All I knew was that it didn't look familiar to me and that I remembered Topps had short-printed some photos featuring camo jerseys last year. I figured it was worth a shot. Turns out my suspicions were correct: Mr. Hamilton was, amazingly, the second SP gifted to me by the nickel box gods.

Not a bad way to get my birthday up and running.

Last Saturday's show took care of most of my 2017 base needs, but I did some more damage to my Flagship insert/parallel lists on Sunday.

Among my favorites here are the Cubs World Series gold parallel, the pair of MLB Network inserts (which bring me within two cards of completing that set), and the rainbow parallel of Josh Reddick, who celebrated a birthday along with me this past Sunday.

Parallels in general seem to be becoming a bigger and bigger part of my card show experience lately.

The Miller -- the first Toys 'R' Us parallel I've ever found at a card show -- was part of those masterful nickel boxes, while the others came to me via a 5/$1 box about midway through the show.

The purist in me shouldn't like shiny Heritage, but my goodness do they look nice in person.

Nickel box minis!

Like Saturday, my mini-collections were absolutely torn apart by vendors who were gracious enough to stock their nickel/dime boxes with many new themed hits.

This show -- like most I've attended lately -- is heavy on the Cubs stuff.

Literally every table had some sort of Cubs-centric corner to it, most of which was out of my price range. But I did find a couple young guns within my budget: the Bryant came from a 7/$5 box, while the Rizzo was two dollars.

That's more than I usually pay for anything modern, but still a bargain when you consider it's a zero-year rookie card of my favorite current Cub.

Though the South Siders are in the midst of a vast rebuild, most vendors at local shows still stock their inventory with a fair amount of White Sox.

In one of the steals of the afternoon, I scored a stack of three-dozen new Paulies (as well as about 30-40 other miscellaneous cards) from the final vendor of the day with the last three dollars I had in my wallet.

Minis, parallels, and Cubs are all to be expected at a card show, but it didn't take long for things to spiral completely out of my control.

Perhaps the single best vendor of the day presented himself about midway into the village hall. His table didn't look like anything special: a lot of old, discounted overproduction-era wax boxes and a couple small boxes of miscellany.

The vendor informed me that everything in the boxes was a dime...

...and it didn't take long for me to discover that his selection was the stuff of oddball heaven.

Among the first goods I pulled from his boxes were these superb Sotheby's singles, which I'd never seen nor heard of before Sunday. From the looks of it, they're basically ads for auction items related to the events depicted on the front.

All fantastic, but my personal favorite is easily the "Pine Tar Rhubarb" above: it's the first baseball card I've ever seen that features a shot from the infamous moment itself.

Just about all of these glorious oddities came from this vendor's oddball files.

I don't know which I like most -- Ryan for President, SI for Kids Bartolo, tobacco-style Uecker, McDonald's Medwick, etc., etc. -- so I'll just go ahead and say they're all tied for first.

Also among the dime box of oddballs were these fantastic Cubs from the team-sponsored '83 set.

A notable appearance: that's Sweet Swingin' Billy Williams at the center of the coaching staff card.

The dime box was also heavy on the minor league cards, which resulted in a Bernie Williams oddball from way back in '87 becoming mine for a single FDR.

As if the dime cards weren't enough, the vendor had a whole box full of complete minor league sets for 50 cents each. I picked up the '88 Indianapolis Indians set for the sole fact that Randy Johnson was staring back at me through the shrinkwrap.

Turns out I didn't need any of the other cards in the set, but I think we'd all agree that a minor league Big Unit is worth two quarters alone.

Another big get was this entire '91 White Sox team set for a grand total of 50 cents, topped off by an odd shot of the Big Hurt bunting.

One vendor had a big box that said EVERYTHING INSIDE: $5 EACH which I would've passed up without a second thought had I not stumbled upon this strange Black Sox oddball set, produced by a company called Little Sun.

They're not all that well-made, and I'm still not sure how great of a deal five dollars was. I do, however, pride myself on being a collector of anything and everything Black Sox, and I knew that I'd probably never see the set again if I didn't buy it right then and there.

The set is 15 cards deep and features other periphery characters in the Black Sox scandal (like Arnold Rothstein and Abe Attell) as well as the Eight Men Out and, overall, I can't much complain about it for five bucks.

One vendor had a big dime box full of oddly fantastic goodies from late '90s/early 2000s.

When I told the nice gentleman behind the table how great it was to see such a large selection of cardboard from the often-ignored era, he replied that he had a whole garage full of cards from those years. (!!!)

Here's hoping he sets up at future shows.

A couple groovy inserts I'd never seen before: and, yes, that Reggie is in fact shaped like an actual pennant.

But cardboard surprises aren't just relegated to years past.

The Trout is the first card I own from the (seemingly) MLB Showdown-esque Platinum Series card game, and I had no idea Bowman revived their classic Bowman's Best design as an insert set last year.

I don't much pay attention to current minor league sets, but turns out they do the whole oddball thing pretty well, too.

The Benintendi features an always-appreciated floating head, and the card on the left is apparently part of an entire insert set devoted to strange promo uniforms minor league franchises donned the year prior. The one I found (from the nickel box) puts the Brooklyn Cyclones' "Saved By the Bell" jerseys front and center.

All I can say is: how cool is THAT?

It still boggles my mind that I can find fairly big-name rookies for loose change.

These cards cost less than a buck all together, and I vividly remember the days when that Dice-K (which came from a 5/$1 box) was commanding near-triple-digit figures.

A beautiful quartet of legends, and it's not every day I can say I took a Burleigh Grimes home from the card show.

In honor of the recently retired Nick Swisher, I pulled the trigger on my first Heritage Venezuelan parallel from a 6/$5 box I encountered near the end of the afternoon.

These aren't numbered, but everything I've heard seems to indicate that they're quite scarce.

I initially wasn't even going to dig through that 6/$5 box, but discovering the Swisher convinced me to find five more cards to complete the deal.

Whew, am I glad I did. Among the scores were Flagship SPs of a young Ty Cobb and Adam Eaton (which features the highest five I've ever seen on a baseball card), a snow-camo parallel of last year's home run leader, and the first Diamond Anniversary insert I've ever seen/held/owned first-hand, which were only available through redeeming codes online via Topps's website.

I distinctly remember when the Diamond Giveaway promotion was going full throttle, although the influx of "virtual cards" these days makes it seem like so long ago now.

But here's the unquestioned hero of the 6/$5 box...WILBUR!

This beauty was actually still encased when I purchased it, and the first thing I did upon arriving home later that afternoon was bust it out of its unsightly plastic shelter.

It's a basic biological fact: cards, like humans, need to breathe.

The only downside of this show is that it tends to lean more towards the modern than the vintage, though I still managed to salvage a few old-time scraps from the village hall.

At three bucks, the Aparicio ended up being the most expensive card I purchased all day. Worth every penny.

The Perry came from a 7/$5 bin I encountered near the end of the show...

...though it kind of played second fiddle to the gobs of Kellogg's that fell out of that very same box.

Since my budget was dwindling at the time, I initially set a max of seven cards from this table, and I actually had things under control until this 3-D paradise happened.

Even the best-laid plans fall to Kellogg's.

But there was no plan with this one: it fell out of that wonderfully oddball-centric dime box I kept gushing about earlier on in this post.

That's right, a real-live 1970 Kellogg's Boog Powell for a single, solitary dime. I said WOW under my breath when I saw it, because wouldn't you? It so perfectly represented the gloriously odd birthday I spent at the card show.

All told, I've never been a big birthday person. I'm not that someone who goes around telling everyone in sight that it's their birthday. But, darn it, I felt downright giddy knowing that I was at a card show on my exact date of birth. I think it's a good bet that this was the best birthday celebration I've had in a long, long time, and maybe ever.

My thanks goes out to all the vendors who were nice enough to stock the village hall with such thoughtful birthday gifts.