Monday, September 14, 2020

It's not easy watching your favorites get old

I was watching a Rockies-Dodgers game the other night when, to my surprise, Matt Kemp stepped up to the a Rockies uniform.

I've been a fan of Kemp's for a while now -- mostly thanks to a particularly touching interaction he had with a fan few years back -- but I honestly forgot he was even still in baseball. The Rockies picking him up after the Marlins let him go earlier this season. Matt Kemp's 35 now, and even though he came out of nowhere to be an All-Star in 2018, his best days looked way behind him when I saw him hit the other night. He looked less agile, slightly pudgier, and just generally over-the-hill. And even though, in reality, he's only seven years older than I am, Matt Kemp just plain looked old. 

It didn't really affect me at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if this was a marker of something larger.

Kemp struck out in the at-bat I watched, and looked awful doing it.

If there's a silver lining here, it's that Kemp did wind up hitting a game-winning two-run homer against his old team later that game (though I was in bed when it happened). But still, the image of him walking back to the dugout after an easy strikeout, looking older and nothing like the Matt Kemp I remember, has stuck with me in the days since.

It's true -- I guess I'm at the point now where I'm starting to see some of the players I grew up watching get old, chewed up and spit out by the baseball machine.

Part of the beauty of baseball cards is that they offer permanent reminders of the heydays of our favorite players, as is the case with the smattering of prime-era Kemps I recently received from ex-blogger and current Twitterer Michael S. -- you veteran bloggers might remember him as Spiegel from "Nomo's Sushi Platter."

I traded with Michael a lot in my earlier blogging days -- it was great to see him reach out to me on Twitter and, better yet, offer to send me some cards! The two pages I've shown here were just a fraction of all the Kemps he sent me over two separate packages, most of which were new to me.

(Also, I didn't even notice he sent me two different copies of that numbered Triple Threads Kemp -- maybe I should consider cornering the market on those.)

Michael slipped in some side orders with the main course of Kemps -- here's a few adds to my new Mo Vaughn collection.

I've always liked Mo Vaughn, and I vaguely remember his last years with the Mets, but for whatever reason it took until last year for me to really start hoarding his cards.

A bunch of fine adds to some of my more tenured player collections.

Sadly, I have no memories of Tony Gwynn as a player -- I bet people slightly older than myself went through a similar version of my Matt Kemp experience watching Mr. Padre get older.

Gwynn's quickly blossomed into one of my larger player collections, and while I've never put much effort into chasing these '80s Fleer minis, I'm thrilled to add them to the binders.

A fine helping of Cubs -- all-time greats and colossal busts alike.

Michael even found a few new mini-collection hits for me -- I darn near missed the busted bat Juan Samuel's flinging away there.

As the players wander into the past, so does the game itself, in some ways -- given today's rules, I doubt we'll see another card quite as violent as this one ever again.

Being a baseball fan is mostly a joy, but the emotions of the game often wander past the simple limits of watching your favorite team win or lose. Sometimes the game gets tied up in us, tells us something about ourselves. For his sake, I hope Matt Kemp plays as long as he wants to, and as well as he can for whatever team gives him a job. He deserves that.

But it'll never be easy to watch my favorite players get old, because it means I'm not too far behind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Back in the club

I always feel like the arrival of Stadium Club should be accompanied by a flourish of trumpets or something, kinda like when royalty enters a scene in a Shakespeare play.

Stadium Club made its big comeback in 2014, and it's taken the Set of the Year crown on this blog each and every year since then (don't think I ever got around to posting my 2019 list, but Stadium Club was #1). It's gotten some stiff competition from Big League here in 2020, but Stadium Club is (and probably always will be) the set to beat going into each card season. It's just objectively so much better than almost anything else out there these days. I think most of us can agree on that.

Given the state of retail in 2020, however, I was fully expecting to have to simply buy all the singles I needed online without ever seeing a pack. Yes, maybe that's the more rational strategy, but dammit, I like opening packs. Turns out the card gods had a surprise in store for me, because after months upon months of empty card aisles, I actually found a few Stadium Club rack packs at a Target on the way home from work last week. Most of the Targets around here have recently put up the We reserve the right to limit how much you buy... signs on the card shelves, and I guess they're working.

There were six rack packs left on the hanger, and, well...okay, I bought 'em all -- the gravity box was still about half-full with single packs for other collectors, so I don't think it was too selfish on my part (right?).

Pack 1:

#26 Sean Murphy
#125 Sonny Gray
#146 Jose Canseco

As I've done the past couple years, I'll be going card-by-card through my Stadium Club packs because there's just so much to show.

This year's design -- if you can call anything from Stadium Club a "design" -- is nice and minimalist, which is basically all I ask given how dominant the photos are (and should be) in a set like this. I'm on board with any look that supports the cause of lowercase letters -- there's something playful about them I can't quite explain, and they always remind me of '71 Topps.

Of course, it didn't take long for Stadium Club to floor me with a photo, as this Canseco won me over just three cards into the first pack -- a little jarring since I'm not supposed to want Jose Canseco cards.

#159 Roberto Clemente

In a rapid turn of events, we go from perhaps my least-favorite ballplayer to my all-time favorite.

Can't say I've ever seen this photo of Roberto Clemente before, and I love it -- it's beautiful and goofy at the same time.

#9 Jameson Taillon
#285 Shogo Akiyama

#116 Ronald Acuna Jr. (chrome refractor)

Chrome stuff in Stadium Club strikes me as unnecessary, but if you're gonna pull one, this isn't a bad one to get.

#163 Nomar Mazara (sepia)

#136 Zack Greinke (red foil)


#141 Danny Jansen
#94 Masahiro Tanaka
#62 Austin Meadows

Pack 2:

#36 Aristides Aquino
#41 Jonathan Villar
#135 JD Martinez
#98 Sam Hilliard
#172 Jeff Bagwell

Stadium Club is wonderful, but it ain't perfect -- I mean, Topps just used almost this exact same photo for Stadium Club a few years ago.

#240 AJ Puk

#167 Trevor Bauer


You win, Stadium Club.

#PZ-20 Anthony Rizzo, "Power Zone"

Don't really care about the inserts in this set, but I'll always take a new Rizzo!

#223 Matthew Boyd (red foil)
#237 Brendan McKay
#227 Justin Verlander
#25 Yasmani Grandal

Pack 3:

#229 Tim Anderson

Time for the game show that's sweeping the nation: Double Dip or Not A Double Dip?

(I say Double Dip.)

#281 Josh Staumont

#110 Ernie Banks

In case it hasn't become obvious already, the photo quality in 2020 Stadium Club is every bit as fantastic as we've been led to expect over the years -- that got taken care of after the first pack.

Also, cards with old advertisements rule.

#31 John Means
#179 Marcus Semien

#270 Ken Griffey Jr.

The Kid's got a lot of awesome cards out there, but this one has to rank right near the top.

#44 Tommy Edman

#PZ-25 Ken Griffey Jr., "Power Zone"

Griffey hot pack!

#IR-VGJ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., "Instavision"

Kinda cool -- I'd never pulled one of these Instavision inserts before now, and they fall about 1:100 packs, so here's to beating the odds!

#49 Josh VanMeter
#255 Dustin May
#233 Nick Castellanos

Pack 4:

#269 Aaron Civale
#199 David Ortiz
#90 Tommy La Stella
#3 Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth has to be the most photographed ballplayer ever, so I'm always kinda astounded when I see a new picture of him.

#178 Barry Zito

I'm not really liking this trend of greats from my childhood -- like Barry Zito -- appearing as "legends" in modern sets.

This is, however, a fantastic baseball card, and the first one I've seen that documents Zito's brief three-game return to the A's at the end of his career in 2015.

#161 Manny Machado

#A-JV Josh VanMeter, autograph

I kid you not: as I was briefly scanning the autograph checklist for this set, a couple days before I bought these packs, I saw Josh VanMeter's name and said to myself: If I pull an autograph, it's probably gonna be a guy like that.


#127 Miguel Sano (sepia)

Stadium Club doesn't really need parallels, but I'll be the first to admit these sepia ones are gorgeous.

#46 Joey Gallo (red foil)
#55 Lucas Giolito
#275 Bubba Starling

#276 Kyle Schwarber

A question I always ask myself around Stadium Club time: if Topps can make this set look so great, what's stopping them from making everything else look just as good?

There's probably a lot to unpack there, and I don't even begin to know the answer -- so for now we'll just continue to enjoy the Louvre exhibit that is Stadium Club.

Pack 5:

#197 Mike Yastrzemski


#166 Ozzie Smith
#158 Noah Syndergaard
#40 Blake Snell
#3 Babe Ruth (again!)
#178 Barry Zito (again!)
#161 Manny Machado (again!)

#EOZ-3 Lucas Giolito, "Emperors of the Zone"

Ran into some questionable collation with this pack, but it's offset by this nifty insert for my newest player collection.

Lucas Giolito's the new ace in town, and his no-hitter was one of only about two or three I've seen in real time, so I kinda have to collect the guy now.

#140 Willie Mays (red foil)

Bask in the greatness.

#17 JT Realmuto
#282 Sheldon Neuse

#277 Johnny Bench

For some reason I feel like I have to show every Johnny Bench card I get.

Pack 6:

#2 Nelson Cruz
#216 Rhys Hoskins
#155 Joey Lucchesi
#181 Josh Hader
#179 Marcus Semien (again!)
#270 Ken Griffey Jr. (again!)
#44 Tommy Edman (again!)
#BAB-6 Juan Soto, "Bash & Burn"

More collation issues here, and while I think the concept of these "Bash & Burn" inserts are fun, I'm not huge on the look of 'em.

#51 Adbert Alzolay (black foil)
#208 Domingo Leyba
#114 Robbie Ray

#138 Aaron Judge

In case you ever wondered what it being punched by Aaron Judge would look like.

Dad Bonus Pack #1:

#128 Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

As I guess I should've expected, Dad surprised me with a couple more Stadium Club rack packs he managed to secure before the retail hounds got to him, and they came out swinging.

Might not be on the Oscar Gamble or Jose Cardenal level, but this is one of the better "hair cards" around, yes?

#163 Nomar Mazara

#289 Luis Robert

Dad's had incredible luck with the packs he's gotten me this year -- I plan to go more in depth on this in a future post -- and of course the Luis Robert would fall out of his pack.

I'm already a big fan of this guy, and getting a card of his is definitely exciting, but it might be more of a pure relief than anything knowing I won't have to chase one down on the secondary market inferno.

#204 Patrick Sandoval
#81 Randal Grichuk
#111 Luis Severino

#288 Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

A Canadian treasure.

#EOZ-14 Jack Flaherty, "Emperors of the Mound"
#33 Albert Pujols (red foil)
#245 Willi Castro

#71 Carl Yastrzemski

Yaz makes his second Stadium Club appearance, this time on his own merits.

#85 Kyle Hendricks

Dad Bonus Pack #2:

#290 Sandy Koufax

Card. Of. The. Year!

#256 Bryan Reynolds
#274 Felix Hernandez

#112 Bo Bichette

Who does the Canadian skyline better: Vlad or Bo?

I go Bo.

#242 George Brett
#30 Bryce Harper

#A-AA Aristides Aquino, black foil autograph /25

Remember what I said about Dad's luck with cards this year?

These fall about 1:500 packs, which here I was thinking my "Instavision" Vlad beat the odds. I collect Aquino, but I'll probably try and move this one. Bad news is that there's a fairly obvious printing flaw near the bottom of the card where the foil's starting to peeling away. Still, I've been thinking for a long time that I should let Dad open all my packs now, and this further confirms it.

(If any bloggers are interested in this one, please let me know -- I'd love to find it a good home.)

#116 Ronald Acuna Jr. (red foil)
#146 Jose Canseco (sepia)
#271 Logan Allen

#218 Mookie Betts

Topps showed Matt Kemp in his red-carpet duds in 2019 Stadium Club, and from the looks of it they're doing it again this year with Mookie Betts.

I still can't decide whether or not I like these fashion-show photos, but they're certainly jarring to see in a pack of baseball cards, I'll say that.

#203 Chipper Jones

You probably already got the hint, but yes, 2020 Stadium Club's a big hit with me, as it is year after year after year. I guess I'm trained to expect sets I once loved to go a bit stale (cough A&G) but Stadium Club remains fresh and exciting every single time, and once it arrives, all other sets on the card calendar bow to it.

[exeunt, flourish]

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The day I inherited a blogger's collection

It all started with an email.

A couple months ago, Tony, author of "Wrigley Roster Jenga" and a longtime friend of the blog, reached out to me on an otherwise ordinary afternoon asking if I'd be interested in taking some cards off his hands. He wanted to free up some space in his house and asked if I'd be up for meeting somewhere in the suburbs since the two of us actually don't live far from one another. I said something along the lines of Sure, I'd be up for that -- which was a massive understatement considering the excitement already pouring through my head.

The next day, Tony and I met up at a roadside oasis (don't worry, we wore masks!), and he bequeathed everything to me. From what I can understand, this was Tony's entire collection aside from the treasured pieces of his Cubs project(s). And while I knew from the picture in the email that it was a lot of cards, I don't think I realized just how many cards there were until I saw them in person. There were six(!!!) 3200-count boxes and a couple other smaller boxes of random stuff all together. They filled up the entire backseat of my car, and let's put it this way -- I needed a gosh-darn hand truck to get 'em all up the two floors to the apartment. There was that much.

And so I wheeled the hand truck into my room, plopped down on my bed, and dug in.

I'd like to note that, although I did put together a small box of Cubs stuff for him, Tony didn't ask for a single thing in return for this amazing act of generosity.

I should also note that this all took place right in the middle of my quarantine at a time when I was itching for some sort of card project...and this sudden development sure took care of that. I'm somewhat of a sorting fiend: it astounds me that people can get bored organizing their cards. I can do it for hours -- I credit my lifetime of dime box hunting for building up my stamina. Even for me, however, sorting through Tony's cards turned into a two-day project, because I just couldn't get through it all in one night (though I sure as heck tried).

The final numbers are as follows: it took me about a week just to sort the stuff I needed from the stuff I didn't need, and I ended up keeping about two 3200-count boxes' worth of what Tony gave me -- and believe it or not I'm still a long ways away from having everything filed away in my binders even though this fateful day happened over two months ago now.

This is by far the most cards I've ever acquired at once, and it's the first time I've ever inherited someone's collection -- one of the first thoughts that hit me was what if there's a Trout rookie in there?

The answer, of course, is that I'd give it back to Tony, but I was admittedly a bit worried about finding some big ticket item mixed in with everything. Could be kinda awkward. Although perhaps that's just a reflection of my own paranoia, because I'm always worried leaving something I need and/or might one day be able to use in a dusty box under my bed. There weren't any Trout rookies, but I did find a few pre-stardom goodies I'm betting Tony stashed away a while ago.

Good news: I was able to find a fellow local collector to take what I didn't need from Tony's donation, thanks to a Next Door-ish-type app, and he was quite excited about getting them -- bad news: I still have way too many boxes of baseball cards under my bed.

Many of the boxes appeared to be organized by team, and what made this all so fun was that I literally had no idea what I'd find inside each passing stack of cards.

Sometimes a Topps Tribute card would pop out right after a brick of '92 Fleer -- such random surprises were paradise for a dime box fanatic like yours truly.

There were even some oddballs sprinkled in for good measure -- we're talking monumental stuff like sausage-ish mascot renditions of Dick Allen, and cards like the Schwarber that were given away with New Era hats, which is good since I haven't bought a baseball cap in twenty years.

(And yes, that Fathead ad qualifies as a David Wright card in my book.)

According to the backs, these Cuban League greats were giveaways at a card show in Puerto Rico(!!!), which leaves me wondering how they ended up here in suburban Illinois.

I'm not sure where/when Tony got all these reprints, but MAN were there a lot of these things in his boxes.

This was perfect since I'm admittedly one of the last reprint fanboys out there, but these were doubly good since they're not your dead-horse T206 Wagners and '54 Aarons -- these go back to brands like Old Judge and names like Arlie Latham, back to forgotten times when you could get baseball cards with your loaves of bread (like the Waitkus reprint from your friends at Tip Top Bread!).

Unsurprisingly, a sizable chunk of the cards Tony gave to me were Cubs, since he and I share a fondness for the North Siders (though Tony's Cub collection absolutely dwarfs mine).

Looks like Tony was a yearly customer for the retail team sets I see at big box stores almost every year -- though I'll obviously take any new Cubs and/or Rizzos, I'm especially fond of team-set cards like the other three in this scan that feature completely different (and sometimes better) photos than their Flagship counterparts.

I still can't decide whether or not I consider playing cards as actual baseball cards -- I always have to resist the urge to start playing War or Blackjack or something.

But I guess if that David Wright Fathead thing is a card, then these kinda have to be too, right?

A few of Tony's extremely well-done Cub customs slipped into those boxes as well, and I hope he doesn't mind me showing them off here!

I decided against buying this Cubs Old Style set at the flea market a few years ago, and I've been kicking myself for that ever since.

Guess my subconscious knows best though, because apparently it was just making me wait until Tony came along way later and just gave the whole thing to me -- lots of big greats (Ernie Banks) and somewhat forgotten names (Charlie Root!) here, but my favorite of the lot is easily that "Tip of the Cap" Billy Williams centerpiece.

This was one of the first things I plucked out of Tony's boxes when I sat down on my bed, and at first I thought it was just a cool magazine...

...complete with a full page devoted to a whopping 44 different stars of the '70s.

(O if I only had a time machine!)

But toward the end of the magazine I discovered the real hidden treasure -- entire uncut pages of '78 SSPCs!

I guess the "27 Full Color Photo Fact Cards" inset on the front should've given it away, but I honestly didn't even know '78 SSPCs were issued in team-specific magazines like this. The '78 SSPCs seem to be way more scarce than the '76s, and you can probably count how many of the former I previously owned on one hand. To suddenly fall into so many more '78s (and all Cubs at that!) was nothing short of a jackpot.

And while I continue to be an absolute nightmare with a pair of scissors -- I would've been the kid who cut the Hostess cards all wrong in the '70s -- I can't begin to describe how FUN it was to free these gems from that 40-year-old magazine.

And I guess since my mind seems to function in lists...

And since this post as already gone on longer than I intended...

I've decided to undertake the near-impossible task of culling Tony's collection into my ten favorite cards...

And believe it or not, everything you've seen so far was an also-ran on that list -- pretty darn awesome also-rans that deserved a spotlight on the blog, of course, but still also-rans...

And so after that most triumphant offering of cards, it's time to reveal my ten favorites from Tony's collection!

#10 -- 1985 7-Up Cubs Team Set #23 Ryne Sandberg

Ryno double dip on a stadium giveaway card?

Yes, please!

#9a -- 1985 TCMA Iowa Cubs #25 Dick Cummings
#9b -- 1985 TCMA Iowa Cubs #33 Bruce Bielenberg

I'm already cheating here, but I couldn't help acknowledging the fact that the Iowa Cubs made history by hiring Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds and the man with the most unfortunate name in all of humankind in 1985.

#8 -- 1990-91 NBA Hoops #205 Mark Jackson ("Famous" People in Background)

Some of the cards Tony gave me were hockey, football, basketball, etc. -- but as luck would have it, one of the extreme few non-baseball cards I want was in there.

I quote this Mark Jackson as having "famous" people in the background because that's actually how it's listed on COMC right now. For those of you who weren't around for the brief craze, that's none other than the infamous Menendez brothers making a cameo in the crowd, seen here at the far left in the courtside seats they bought after their heinous crime.

I still can't decide what's more fascinating: that the Menendez brothers are on a basketball card, or that someone actually noticed the Menendez brothers are on a basketball card.

#7 -- 2010 Topps Update #US-50 Mike Stanton RC

I'm almost positive I owned (and subsequently traded) this card at one point, which made not having it in my Mike/Giancarlo Stanton collection all the more painful.

Nothing like erasing a ten-year-old mistake.

#6 -- 2015 Topps #20b Madison Bumgarner (Photo Variation)

The only thing better than a photo variation is a photo variation of a pitcher hitting.

#5 -- 1988 Donruss Baseball's Best #4 Mark Grace

I'm as surprised as you that any kind of '88 Donruss offspring would wind up on my list, but I'm pretty sure this was the last rookie-year Mark Grace card I needed, which is a banner day for any top-tier player collection.

#4 -- 2011 Topps Attax #94 Hideki Matsui

I've never played Topps Attax, nor do I ever plan on doing so in this lifetime.

But unbeknownst to me, Topps Attax did do one thing I long assigned to the lost episodes of baseball lore -- they made a card of Hideki Matsui with the A's! Even though he appeared in a healthy 141 games with the 2011 A's, Matsui was basically shunned by every card company that year. This is the only card I've ever seen of him in the uniform, and it's relegated to a strange game-based brand that almost no one remembers. And hell, I didn't even find out about this one until nine years later.

Matsui also played for the Rays in 2012, but no card exists of that stint either...although maybe I shouldn't close the book there quite yet.

#3 -- 1991 Line Drive Pre-Rookie #122 Jim Walewander

Jim Walewander loves the Dead Milkmen, is from my hometown, and went to high school with my mom.

I've never had more reasons to collect a guy. I think I've managed to scrounge up all of Walewander's major-brand cards from his cult-classic Tigers days, but his oddball & minor league cards have remained mostly elusive. I spent so much time torturing myself with all his scarce team-issued minor league cards that I didn't even notice he was in the '91 Line Drive set, which as far as I know was nationally distributed.

Guess I won't have to jump up on a table and shout anarchy now.

#2 -- 1971 Topps #570 Jim Palmer (autographed)

It was the best of times: holy hell, A SIGNED JIM PALMER CARD!

It was the worst of times: wait a minute, I still don't have a REGULAR '71 Topps Jim Palmer!

It was the best of times again: Who cares?! JIM PALMER SIGNED IT!

#1 -- 1985 Donruss Box Bottoms #PC-1 Dwight Gooden

Somehow, out of all those boxes, and everything in them, it was a Mets card that wound up being my favorite of the entire lot...which I received from a Cubs fan, remember.

I suppose that's why I've never quite understood rivalries. A great baseball player is a great baseball player, a great baseball card is a great baseball card. Dwight Gooden here is both of those, and this box bottom has been near the top of my want list for years. I love box bottoms anyways, and this has to be the Box Bottom to Rule Them All. It wasn't even on my mind when I reached in for another stack of Tony's collection that night, and it wasn't on my mind when I flipped past the card before it, but then, all of a sudden -- there it was! -- it instantly became a NEED IT GOT IT! card on my list.

I really don't know what else I can say in thanking Tony for all this. Not only for giving me his cards, but for even thinking of me as a remote possibility of someone who might give them a good home. I seem to say it every day on the blogs, but fact is I don't feel worthy of this. I probably never will.

In the end, I hope I've communicated even a fraction of the fun I had going through Tony's cards, because believe me, what comes through on the virtual page here doesn't even come close to doing this act justice.