Monday, January 30, 2023

Thumb twiddling


This is the time of year where I just kind of sit around twiddling my thumbs.

Baseball still feels far away, the hot stove is cooling off, and since my interest in other sports is minimal (at best), that doesn't leave much excitement. Last year's card releases are pretty much over, and the debut of the new card season is weeks in the waiting. So what's one to do other than twiddle their thumbs?

The good news here is that I still have a good amount of stuff rolling in from my fellow bloggers - card mail is even more of a blessing in these barren winter months. And sometimes said mail isn't even limited to cards. Take this Ryno comic, for instance, a rather unusual item that came from Bob of "The Best Bubble" blog a while ago.

The "FREE TRADING CARDS! FULL COLOR!" were (sadly) nowhere to be found, and although I've never been much of a comic guy, this'll take its place among the oddball joys of my collection.




Bob also threw in a couple other quirky gems - hard to beat an airborne Babe on an old-timey play at the plate.

I know Topps issued special cloth reprints in blasters a few years back, and I'm guessing someone dissected that Ryno from the card frame at some point...maybe? (If it's not that, then I have absolutely no idea what it could be.)




An overlooked benefit to getting cards in the mail is that it can often be educational.

Jeff of "Wax Pack Wonders" was nice enough to send me this Jim Abbott, and even noted that it's a gold Electric Diamond parallel - I don't know about you, but I had no idea those were a thing.




Nor did I ever dream that Puerto Rican League cards existed!

Can't say I've heard of any of these dudes, but there will always be something thrilling about owning cards from an entirely different country.




Sending me new Jim Abbott cards is one of many ways to put a smile on my face.

These Abbotts came courtesy of Tom of "The Angels in Order" blog and I'm smiling right now just looking at them.




A few more goodies from Tom - Livan Hernandez isn't particularly high on my collecting totem pole, but I couldn't resist a card with a massive hole in the middle for no apparent reason.




Tom even sent along a few other needs as a thank you for my 11-year giveaway, which was most welcome but most but definitely not necessary.

(Totally forgot I was trying to build that MLB Network insert set.)




A big box from Kenny of "Torren' Up Cards" came in the mail a couple months ago, and when I finished rubbing my hands together and opened it...this fell out.

From what I've seen, a few other bloggers were Zapped with one of these odd Pete Alonso plushies - it's one of those strange items that manages to simultaneously (and paradoxically) make me think COOL! and ...what am I gonna do with this??




Thankfully, a few more conventional pieces of cardboard came along for the ride in this Zapping, including a few treasured Utz oddballs!

Still never found any of the cards around here, though I buy their potato chips more often than I probably should.




YES! CARD-GENS!!!!

(Bonus points for the weird Giants Carlos Beltran & Rockies Jason Giambi sightings.)




I'm on record on being way more of a cat person, but I'll campaign for bat dogs in baseball forever (especially Golden Retrievers!).




Finally in these thumb-twiddling times comes a couple PWEs from longtime friend-of-the-blog and all-around good guy Joe Shlabotnik of "The Shlabotnik Report" fame.

I'm long overdue in posting an envelope I received from him a while ago, one that included a few early-2022 set needs - and yes, I've been dividing those Opening Day inserts into three separate miniature cards for my binders, because that's why the perforations are there, right?




A couple more recent needs from Shlabotnik HQ, including a Tris Speaker I was thrilled to get since Heritage SPs seem to fade into oblivion from the moment they're released.




Mr. Shlabotnik sent me a second surprise PWE that arrived here in snow-bound Illinois just last week - a fun smattering of cardboard that knocked out a few Heritage High Number insert needs.

Given that I'm not much of a fan of the movie, I feel weird liking the "Field of Dreams" games as much as I do - I mean, I still get the warm fuzzies remembering Tim Anderson's walk-off homer in the first one a couple years ago.




A few more recent needs along with a new Javier Baez from the sadly defunct Topps Stickers brand (bring 'em back, Topps!).




The Topps Debut portion of this year's Archives is absolutely fantastic, and this one in particular is wonderful (is there such thing as a bad Roberto Clemente card?) and a treasured finale to this great PWE from the Land of Shlabotnik.

With cards coming out weekly and a 24-hour channel devoted to the game, it's true that baseball is more of a year-round sport than ever these days - but that doesn't stop me from wanting the snow to melt and the Super Bowl to be over and done with already.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Number one


Might as well not bury the lead here - Dad got me a 1952 Topps Andy Pafko for Christmas this year!

I feel like I've been saying this more and more about the stuff I've been adding to my collection lately, but this is a card I never, ever thought I'd own. It's hard enough finding anything from '52 Topps on the cheap these days, and CARD #1?? Forget it. But once again, Dad comes to the rescue and whacks me over the head with a major boost to the binders. It's been a common tale throughout my collecting life.

It's true that I've gone on record by saying '52 Topps is grossly overrated, but even I can't deny it's an iconic set, and Andy Pafko kicked off what would be a long and fruitful history - baseball cards as we know them might not exist at all these days if Topps hadn't come along.




The back explains how Dad was able to find a copy that fit into the relatively small budgets both he and I have - but back damage doesn't really bother me, and besides, that all-important "#1" is still visible!

Off the top of my head, I can't think of another guy whose (relative) fame is almost solely based on a baseball card. If he wasn't card #1 in '52 Topps, Andy Pafko would've long faded into that miasma of pretty-good-but-never-great '40s and '50s ballplayers whose name might occasionally get mentioned by a diehard fan these days. But thanks to Topps, Pafko's a binder guy, and I want all of his cards - and the card that made that possible is now in my collection!

I found it interesting that you don't often hear about the "Number Ones" of most of the other big companies - so in honor of Andy Pafko, I thought we'd take a look at the guys who got a few of the other card brands we (sometimes) love off and running.





Donruss picked a winner by having (then) future HOFer Ozzie Smith at Card #1 in their inaugural '81 checklist - and it's a darn fine piece of cardboard with those brown-and-gold Padres unis and a sunny Wrigley Field shot.





I honestly had no idea what Card #1 in '81 Fleer was until I looked it up for this post, which seems weird given how monumental the entry of Fleer and Donruss into the marketplace was for the ultimate future of the hobby.

Fleer matched the star power of Donruss by tapping Pete Rose for the #1 slot, though the card itself isn't anywhere near as good as the '81 Donruss Ozzie.





It's not easy to hit a home run on the first try, but I've always thought Score had the best inaugural set of any brand in the history of baseball cards - it's also probably my favorite design in the entire Score catalog.

However, much like Fleer, I didn't know what Score's first card was until I consulted the archives - given the time and place, it makes sense that it'd be Donnie Baseball.





One could argue that, in terms of prestige and general oomph in the hobby, the '89 Upper Deck Griffey has long lapped the '52 Topps Pafko.

Inevitably, I always see this one get mentioned in the "Best Baseball Cards Ever" discussions. Look, I acknowledge the it's a fine card, and I'm proud to own a copy - one that, in true Dime Box fashion has some paper loss along the bottom - but it's nowhere near the best baseball card ever, and probably isn't even in my top five or ten favorite Griffey cards alone.

It's a monumental piece of cardboard, of course - Upper Deck forever changed the trajectory of the hobby, and this is the card that started it all. Take a straw poll of today's collectors, and I'm sure a lot of them would tell you they'd rather have Griffey over Pafko.

Me, though, I'll take Pafko every time. 

(THANKS, DAD!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

It's not Black Friday without COMC


I'm sure the words "Black Friday" alone send shivers up the spines of many retail workers. 

I've been lucky enough to avoid Black Friday madness in my work career - bookstores aren't known for having huge sales - and, as a shopper, I don't go near any kind of retail store on that dreaded day. I don't like crowds, and I feel terrible for the people who have to work at said stores on Black Friday. 

But I must admit that I'm no Black Friday angel, because I did do a good amount of online shopping during COMC's crazy sales in what I imagine was a hectic time for the people who work there - I imagine people with carts running through a warehouse pulling thousands upon thousands of cards. Heavy discounts and free shipping convinced me to have the stack I was rapidly building sent off to me. This order had my usual of smattering of cheap fun, but there were also a select few "bigger" cards (see: anything more than two or three dollars) that I finally decided to pull the trigger on.

Case in point: this strange minor-league Hoyt that makes him look like Zorro (printing press mishap?) is a card I've been eyeing for a while (no pun intended), and at a little north of three bucks I decided the time was right to plop it into my cart.




I stumbled into a lot of neat minor league stuff this time around - including a fun early look at Dime Box Favorite Mike Easler and what I believe is one of Brad Ausmus's first professional cards.

Also, god knows I'm no Curt Schilling fan, but that's the first card I've ever seen of his early years in the Red Sox organization - he was actually drafted by Boston before being traded to the Orioles shortly after.




I regularly plug "TCMA" into COMC's search bar, and every once in a while I'll come across a nice payoff.

(Something about seeing Gaylord Perry in those McTastic Padres uniforms always makes me chuckle.)




Didn't set out to buy a bunch of SSPC Reds, but I can't complain with this quartet of Cincinnati stars - the Bench is a '75 SSPC, and the other three (George Foster, Ray Knight & Ken Griffey) are from the '78 checklist.




As usual, I snagged a bunch of otherwise unattainable Topps exclusives on the cheap - Cobb is from something called Topps Brooklyn(?) and while I'm not a huge fan of most of the Living Set cards I've seen, that Big Sexy is a gem.

I doubt I'd know about those Topps Logofractor things if I wasn't on Twitter - I think they're sold exclusively at the Topps Store in NYC and people were losing their minds about 'em for a little while there - so I was happy to find that Bryant for the princely sum of 80 cents.




Always love finding cheap Topps Now stuff.




Minis of various makes and models - and why am I only now learning there was an '88 Fleer Mini set?




Managed to find a few people selling Topps Retired Signatures at deep discounts, and I snapped up all of these without a second thought.

Topps Retired is fantastic at featuring guys who don't otherwise get a ton of cards (Tito Fuentes!), but once in a while you'll also find a famous dude on a weird team - anything of Ralph Kiner on the Cubs is a rare sight.




I think I managed to get two of the four Wrigley Field stadium giveaway sets back in 2013, which I'm thankful for, but up until now the fact that I'd missed the Jose Cardenal & Andy Pafko cards was a pain in the rear.

The A's cards are reprints of a neat (and scarce) '50s oddball set - before this order, I had no idea Johnny Sain finished his career with a brief A's stint. 




Shiny stuff and general higher-end cardboard that add a bit of glamour to my binders.

That Eddie Grant is a tough SP Legendary Cuts short-print and one of just an extreme few cards of his I've seen - I believe he was the only active major leaguer killed in WWI.




Oddballs remain the name of the game on COMC - I'm trying harder and harder to find affordable stuff from that Jewish Major Leaguers checklist.

(And can we get a round of applause for that Cracker Jack set which actually uses Cracker Jacks as the card border?)




Squirt Steve Garvey, an oddball play at the plate, Negro League founder Rube Foster, and minor-leaguer Rod Carew - all in one, tidy scan.




From Wikipedia: 1990 Score McDonald's is a 25-card set distributed at only eleven McDonald's restaurants in rural Idaho and Oregon during a three-week period in the Spring of 1990.

If you were ever gonna set odds on a set I'd never see, that'd be a massive longshot. But somehow I found one on COMC, and it just so happened the cheapest card for sale was a sweet Ozzie Guillen double dip!

Add oddballs from Remax, Holiday Inn, and west-coast Mother's Cookies giveaways, and you have quite a few cards that probably have no business winding up in my collection here in chilly Illinois.




A few horizontal goodies - I really should just try and build that whole "Nickname Greats" insert set already.




It's not a COMC post without scanning a few cards that have nothing in common together - Tsuyoshi Shinjo is one of those not-uncommon Japanese busts that I still have a soft spot for, and you better believe I needed that card of him discoing on a motorcycle!

("The Babe" is an awful movie, but how could I pass up a baseball card of John Goodman?)




Black Friday sales allowed me to add not one, but TWO(!) new Japanese Ichiros to my collection, now the fourth and fifth such cards in my binders - I remember when it was a pipe dream to get a single one.




Black Friday or not, it seems to be getting harder to find deals on vintage I need these days, but I managed to sneak a few gems into this order.

I searched far and wide for a cheap-ish copy of that '62 Dave Giusti at the card show I attended not long ago - I only recently discovered it even existed, and the walls of ads in the background make it an ideal frankenset nominee. Trouble is, it's a high-number, and I couldn't find one cheaper than $8 at the card show. Thankfully, COMC yet again came to the rescue - I snatched that copy for a shade over three bucks.

Couldn't pass up that second-year McCovey for $8, and finding any Nu-Scoops card for $4 is a coup, much less a big name like Cy Young!




I'd like to take a moment here to immense thanks to Jackie Jensen, a man I've mentioned a few times before, and a longtime friend of the Dime Box binders.

Jackie was a prolific slugger in his day, but his cards cost almost nothing now. I can't touch most '53 Bowman Colors I need, but I was able to get the Jensen from that set and his '57 Topps card for about what a single pack of modern stuff costs.

In short - all hail Jackie Jensen!




But the best and biggest Black Friday buy was an easy choice - none other than a '57 Topps Yogi Berra!

I don't own nearly as many playing-day Yogis as I'd like - they've always seemed to command a premium at shows - and this gloriously beat-up '57 is easily my oldest card of his now. I paid about $20 for it, but even being the cheapskate I am, I didn't flinch to click "BUY" because that's way cheaper than any other copies I'd ever seen. Just like that, another card I long assumed I'd never own somehow fell into my hands.

Whether I want to admit it or not, I think we'll all agree that my collection owes a deep debt to Black Friday.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

A bit of a Scrooge


It's safe to say that working retail for most of my adult life has soured me a bit on the supposed magic of the holiday season.

I still have a soft spot for Christmas itself, but each passing year the lead up to it is met with relief more than anything. The bookstore I work at does the majority of its annual business in December alone, which means far more people and questions and gift wrapping than any other time of the year. I worry sometimes that losing the sentiment of the Christmas has turned me into a bit of a Scrooge. 

Thankfully, I have a number of reminders that there is something to be treasured in the holidays - one being that I was the recipient of a special "Baseball Card Breakdown" Christmas-themed gift from Gavin that have been making the rounds around the blogs.

(Side note: today is my mom's birthday, and Mark Grace happens to be her all-time favorite ballplayer. Happy birthday, Mom!)




The Grace came at a good time since I'm way overdue in posting some other cards I've received from Gavin in the latter half of the year.

I was lucky enough to win a contest on Gavin's blog a while back, and got to cherry-pick a few cards from his trade bait stack as a result. I, like so many fellow bloggers, am immune to the pleasures of Gavin's customs, so of course I had to nab that bubble-blowing bonanza of collection favorite Tony Gwynn.

The Hoffman, however, is very much a real card, and one I've been targeting for a while since it offers a rare glimpse of his zero-year Reds days.




A few other prize claims from Gavin's contest - Reggie is a Burger King oddball, Jenks is an X-fractor (and yet another zero-year card!), and please give me all your Topps Retired Signature cards.




Gavin threw in a few bonuses with my prizes, including these two that get me a couple steps closer to this Pro Cards MusiCards set I'm kinda sorta trying to complete.

(Though I have to admit I've never been a huge Led Zeppelin fan, he says, ducking the fists about to come.)




A separate envelope from Gavin saw a few more excellent customs come my way, including this beautiful Kellogg's-That-Never-Was Dave Winfield rookie.

Winfield ended up wearing a lot of uniforms in his career, but I don't think he looked half as good in any of 'em than he did in the old yellow-and-black Padres jerseys.




A few other customs that are actually reprints of real cards - only technically, however, in the case of that Dick Allen, which was a Topps proof that never officially made it to market.

(Editor's note: I've since acquired the real deal of that Walewander, and the two look great next to one another in my Yankees binder!)




And here's the part where Gavin gave me a heart attack.

Yes, friends, that's indeed a true Ron Santo auto from Topps Retired Signature. It takes a lot for me to get revved up by an autograph card these days, but damn if this card doesn't do it. A beautiful on-card signature of one of the greatest Cubs in history, and longtime favorite of my collection. Hard to believe anyone would send this card free out of the goodness of their heart, but that's Gavin for you.

With friends like these, I really don't have much of a reason to be a Scrooge - please remind me of that this time next year when someone asks me if I can gift wrap 18 different books for them.