Monday, July 6, 2020

Three days on the front lines of Series 2 (Guest post from Dad!)

As Nick has mentioned,I supplement my income doing vendor work at big box of my gigs is stocking cards...usually the biggest hassle is little kids destroying the Pokemon and Magic displays...

But as you will see (and I don't know what's with these Series 2,it was never as bad as you will now see) the BIG kids took the biscuit this week!!

Day 1 - medium-sized store, one aisle of cards

Most of the stores I visited this week had a sign in the card section saying they reserve the right to limit the amount of cards you could as I'm opening the boxes, a "bro" (i'll describe him,because they ALL look the same...backwards cap,t-shirt advertising beer or a resort,cargo shorts, flip-flops or sandals,wraparound sunglasses) saunters up...

"Do you know about baseball cards?" he asks (haha,I say "yeah, I know a little...")...of course he's looking for Series he starts crowding and peeking while I'm going through everything, finally I hear him mutter "come on" I say "first, back up...second,STAY backed up..."

He took ALL the Series 2,threw it in a cart,and basically ran to one said much for the sign!

So far,not too bad...

Day 2 - giant store with card sections upstairs and downstairs

FOUR bros lying in wait as I pull up the cart..."what's these?" "do you have those!?" "dude,I was here first!" etc...

I guess there's a new basketball set out,too...i happened to open that first,and the feeding frenzy was on...grabbing, the time I got to the Series 2,they were full-on top it off,this location had no sign...

I finally had to (again) say STEP BACK!...then I just opened all the boxes,left them on the floor,and said "have at it,boys" so bad the security guy had to come over and break it up,haha!

Funny coda - I had left a big box of Series 2 in the storeroom so I could get Nick a couple packs! The guy you see in the picture at the top of the post is one of the ones who came BACK...I just waited until he left,and put the rest out!

Day 3 - tiny store, 1 shelf of cards

I thought "well, no problem here"...right? WRONG! As I'm finishing up,yet another bro is there in a flash and proceeds to start loading up ALL the new stuff in a cart...

The employee in charge (super nice guy,but not exactly a bruiser-looking dude) comes over,points to the sign and says "we have a limit,sir"...guy goes NUTS!..."are these for sale or WHAT!?...get outta my way, (insert homophobic slur here)!!"...

Well,that tore that...i stood next to my pal,staring daggers at brohinski,and asked him "how many can he have"...employee says "let him have half"...he folded and put half back...

I told the guy I was going to be there a little while,so he huffed and puffed but left the store...the employee said "I really appreciate that" so that made the 3-day ordeal worthwhile!

And just to end on a high note,I'm so pleased Nick has this card community of good folks who do nice things for each other...the REAL card enthusiasts! Thank you all...

Friday, July 3, 2020

The apocalypse is (kind of) over, but the Cardpocalypse is here

Thought I'd share some good news: as of next week, I'll have a job again!

My manager at the bookstore called me yesterday and asked if I wanted to come back to work this coming Monday. While I still think it's way too early for non-essential places to open back up, fact is the bookstore is open (complete with masks and proper sanitation, of course), and I kinda sorta need a job. This is also the first job I've had that I can actually say I like. So for that, it'll be good to be back -- even though I admit it's been nice to be generally slothful over the last couple months.

While my own personal apocalypse/quarantine may be winding down for now, there's a whole new one starting up again on the blogs, spawned by Tim over at the newly-christened "Cardpocalypse" blog (formerly "I Love the Smell of Cardboard in the Morning"). This year has felt like a bad dream for many reasons -- some of which have spilled over into the card world -- but despite the name, Tim's "Cardpocalypse" has been one of the better developments. He even held a series of contests to celebrate the return of his blog, and I was lucky enough to win this neat Gleyber Torres insert from Finest (a brand I've still never opened a pack of after all these years) in one of the giveaways.

It's a bit painful to collect Torres -- he was once a Cubs prospect, after all -- but I do, and thus I was thrilled to add this one to my binders.

I thought that would be the extent of my contest winnings, but Tim had other things in mind -- I knew something was up when a huge yellow mailer ended up on my doorstep which obviously held more than one card.

Turns out Tim went to town on my wantlists, plugging a Dime Box Dozen need with the Reggie (I miss UD Masterpieces) and finding one of those goofy SPs from last year's Topps Holiday Bregman.

Tim also participated in a small massacre of my 2020 want lists.

I get excited when people send me stuff off my 2019 Archives lists -- I still need quite a few of 'em because the collation was awful in the packs I bought at the time (a common tale these days).

The Cardpocalypse also came in the form of a couple mini-collection hits here -- the Stephenson feeds my begrudging love for photo variations.

Some excellent randoms here, including Joe Morgan as a minor-leaguer, Billy Wagner as a (real) fireman, and the first card I've ever seen in the shape of an outfield wall.

Here's a couple cool ones -- the base version of that Rizzo is actually vertical, but Topps switched the Chrome parallel to horizontal for whatever reason.

Me, I think it actually works better horizontally.

It still boggles my mind that people like Tim just give Deckle Egde and Hostess cards away for free, out of the goodness of their heart.

I had the Mays already, but this copy is a huge upgrade over the one I had (which I gave away in a Free Card Friday post), and I actually collect Dave Rader because I got him confused with his brother Doug once when I was younger, and I remember it taking a while to realize I'd been buying cards of the wrong guy.

Closing out the Cardpocalypse was this fantastic Baseball Talk insert of big Bob Gibson.

These strange pieces of Overproduction Era excellence feature actual acetate records on the back -- which I believe contain spoken bios and highlights of the player on the front -- and one of these days I'll have to bring one over to Dad and see if they'll play on his turntable. If the dawn of the Cardpocalypse means things like these falling into my collection, then I welcome it with open arms.

Even though it might take me a while to adapt back into the working world, it's nice to know I have a job again in these strange times -- but for now I wish all of you safety and good tidings during this Cardpocalypse season.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The OPC Award Show

Happy Canada Day!

Okay, truth is I've never been to Canada, though I've long wanted to visit our friends up north (at times I've even entertained the thought of moving there). The border isn't terribly far from where I live -- maybe a five-hour drive -- but there's something about Canada that has always seemed somewhat exotic to me, way more different than two countries so close in proximity should be.

Nothing symbolizes my Canadian fancy better than my lifelong fascination with O-Pee-Chee baseball cards. To the unbiased eye, there's not much of a reason to go nuts over these -- by and large, they're almost exact replicas of Topps cards with minor changes. But don't say that to a card collector, or at least not me, because I'll tell you again and again: OPC RULES! As an American, I'll always get a wild joy out of owning cards that were printed in Canada, issued there, and have French on the front(!). There's so many reasons to love these sometimes offbeat and always excellent pieces of baseball history.

And as a tribute to our northern neighbors on this fine Canada Day, I've assembled the best of the best from OPCs long history into the First Annual OPC Award Show.

Best French baseball term I've learned from OPC: Lanceur (pitcher)

I never took French in school -- it was never offered -- and so about 98 percent of my limited French vocabulary has come from OPC baseball cards.

My favorite of the many baseball terms I've picked up from OPC has to be lanceur, the French word for "pitcher" -- it makes me think of a swordsman ready to do battle, which, in some weird way, is fitting for a pitcher.

Best "lost" OPC cards: 1992 OPC Gary Carter tribute set

For the most part, OPC has been little more than a direct reprint set for Canadians, featuring French text alongside the same players and pictures we see here in American Topps.

Sometimes, though, OPC has strayed from the herd and made their own "lost" Topps cards, and this is where I think OPC is at its best. There's been a handful of examples of this over the years (some of which we'll see in a bit) but my favorite OPC concept has to be the special five-card Gary Carter tribute set in '92. Carter is featured in '92 Topps and Topps Traded, but the tributes are exclusive to the OPC checklist and devote a card to each of the five stops he made in his long career (including both of his stints with the Expos!).

Gary Carter's one of my all-time favorite ballplayers, and this is the tribute he deserved.

Best OPC card back: 1971 OPC (of course)

This isn't just the best OPC card back -- it's one of the best card backs EVER, dammit.

Best vintage OPC set: 1977 OPC

There's one reason and one reason only I consider 1977 to be my favorite OPC set: the "alternate universe" cards.

These are pretty much exclusive to '77 OPC -- I cant think of any other vintage OPCs that feature completely different teams and/or photos than their Topps companions. The '77 OPC substitutes -- like this Tony Perez -- mostly consist of new and/or updated cards for the Expos and (expansion) Blue Jays, but there's a few other stray changes in the checklist (notably, Bobby Grich).

In the weird, wide world of "alternate universe" cards, these are easily the kings.

Best modern OPC set: 2009 Upper Deck OPC

OPC has had a few modern offshoots since their vintage days -- the OPC Premier sets of the early '90s come to mind -- but my favorite is by far the one-and-done 2009 Upper Deck OPC brand.

I loved these when they came out, and I still love 'em now (I'd once again like to note that I see a lot of 2020 Big League here). I think I read somewhere that Upper Deck acquired the OPC trademark at some point, which would explain why this set exists under the UD umbrella, but unfortunately this fantastic set came about right at the demise of UD's baseball years. Everything I love about baseball cards is right here in 2009 OPC: low-end, terrific design, great photography. Just a brilliant effort overall.

I'm still sad we never got to see more of it.

Oldest OPC cards I own: 1965 OPC Luis Tiant & Jim Kaat

A brief internet search this morning showed me that OPC was printing baseball cards as far back as 1934, but since I don't have a chance in hell of ever owning one of those, my oldest OPCs will have to be this pair of '65s.

The Katt (sic) was a Christmas gift from Dad many years ago, and Brian was generous enough to pass the Tiant along to me during a blogger meetup at the National a while ago.

Most morbid OPC card: 1972 OPC Gil Hodges ("Deceased")

I, admittedly, have a morbid love for this card -- I picked it up surprisingly cheap (three dollars!) at a card show recently.

Best I can tell, OPC cards went to print a short while after their Topps counterparts, and in at least one unfortunate case, that presented the dilemma of how to document a death -- notably with the "deceased" designation on the '72 OPC of Gil Hodges, who suddenly passed in April of that year.

Best "updated" OPC card: 1987 OPC Vida Blue

OPC has a long history of updating the cards of their Topps counterparts -- with the exceptions of the '77 alternates, they're usually documented with a logo update alongside a "Traded To" or "Now With" note in small text atop the original photos.

In this case, however, OPC updated something that never actually wound up happening, which probably led to some confusion. This is the same photo that appears on Vida Blue's 1987 Topps card, only he's labeled as "Now With A's" and fitted with the appropriate logo/color changes. But Vida Blue never played for the A's a second time -- he signed with them in January of '87 but retired a month later.

Thus began this card's wild foray into the bizarro world of baseball cards.

Best OPC card: 1977 OPC John Lowenstein

Why is this my favorite OPC card?

Let me count the ways...first off, it earns points for just being an OPC, of course. Second, it's one of those precious alternate-universe cards from '77 OPC. Third, and most importantly, it's a zero-year card, but unlike the aforementioned Vida Blue, it doesn't just note the change that never ended up happening -- it actually shows Lowenstein in full Blue Jays garb. 

What's even weirder is that, on a stats sheet, it doesn't even look like John Lowenstein switched teams in 1977 -- he went from Cleveland to Toronto to Cleveland again in the span of a few months before the '77 season started. But that didn't stop OPC from slipping out this card of him as a Blue Jay in the interim. It was something of a white whale of mine for a while before a cheap copy popped up on COMC last year. OPC itself will always be something of a novelty to me, and no better card shows its strange, electric beauty than this one.

C'est manifique!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Old faces in old places

It seems kinda weird to say, but I've been blogging long enough to where I sometimes start thinking about the "good ol' days" of the cardsphere.

While it feels like close to an eternity ago, there was a time when I was a bright-eyed new blogger discovering people who'd been writing about cards years before I ever found the blogs. Sadly, many of those early bloggers I admired have since hung up their blogging cleats and have disappeared from the card community without a trace. A few of those older voices, however, have started to pop up again in various places around the blogs -- whether thanks to the quarantine or whatever else, I'm sure glad to see.

One of those early bloggers who recently put in an out-of-the-blue appearance was Dustin, who ran/runs "Coot Veal and the Vealtones," which is seriously a HOF-caliber blog name (he's also a published author, and that instantly earns brownie points from me). Dustin's blog was a staple for me in those early days, and I fondly remember trading with him a few times when I was first getting into the community -- he sent me my prized 1950 Bowman Enos Slaughter! -- and he recently reached out via email for another trade, all these years later.

And when his package finally arrived, it quickly became apparent that Dustin's trading game hadn't lost a step.

In addition to that strange gigantic Mark Prior relic at the top of the post -- I seem to remember those coming out of repacks many moons ago -- came these two jersey cards of dudes I collect.

It's true that I'm not the biggest jersey-card collector these days, but that doesn't mean I throw them in the air and run screaming from the room whenever I get one -- they're still worth collecting when done right, but I just kinda treat 'em like any other insert.

Here's some other more conventional inserts from Dustin, including one of those "150 Years of Baseball" cards from 2019 Topps which I'm thinking will take several lifetimes for me to get all the ones I need.

Seeing Pacific Online in a trade package warms my heart, and that goes double for Pacific Online double dips!

A couple neat '80s cards here -- the Ripken was actually a Dime Box Dozen need that Dustin gleefully took down.

Admittedly, it might be a stretch to label an '83 Topps Ripken as a dime box card, but hey, stranger things have happened.

I still have a weird interest in odd-shaped baseball cards.

I've been getting a lot of Cubs stuff lately, and while I say all the time that I'm not a team collector, fact is that there's a much higher percentage of me needing random Cubs cards than of any other team.

I remain a sucker for parallels.

In addition to everything I've already shown, Dustin even managed to do some major damage to my top-tier player collection dudes, including this spectacular quartet of shiny.

More biggies from rarely-seen sets like early Finest, and long forgotten brands like Topps HD.

I'd also like to note that I don't think Donruss Originals gets mentioned enough these days -- it's basically Donruss's version of Topps Heritage except, unlike Topps, they didn't reprint their designs to death.

What's more, Dustin pulled off a masterful feat by finding not one, but TWO Hoyts I needed!

And finally, here's a gosh darn fantastic insert design I've never seen before (which I get the feeling my dad and other record collectors will like) of Big Mo Vaughn, a dude I've recently introduced to my top tier of player collections.

While the cards Dustin sent were obviously awesome, this trade meant a lot to me in terms of just knowing that some of the people I got to know when I was a blogging rookie are still here, still prowling around the blogs. Maybe some things don't have to change.

I love blogging now every bit as much as I did then, but if you're like me and prone to nostalgia anyways, it was awesome to be shot back into the webs of time and trade with someone from the "good ol' days."

Friday, June 26, 2020

Big League will save us all

In case you haven't noticed, I've been somewhat down on the hobby lately.

I've just kinda had it up to here with the people milling around Targets/Walmarts, waiting for the vendor to show up so they can clear out the inventory. I've had it with people treating cards as a capitalistic venture. I've had it with people acting like Billy Badass because they pulled a card of some rookie no one'll know in three years. And sure, these misguided souls have always been out there, but it seems to me that they're coming in bigger droves now. I've long been an advocate of the collect-how-you-wanna-collect theory, but I can only take so much greed and idiocy (and let's face it, none of those people are collectors).

But what I've really had it with, perhaps most of all, is Topps pandering to these people who see cards as nothing but profit modes. All the online-only exclusives and high-end products are clear evidence of that. And yet somewhere, way out in the distance, I saw a glimmer of hope through the storm of dollar signs. I saw it earlier in this year when Topps released their planned product lines for the 2020 card season, and that light has gotten closer and closer and closer with each passing day until, finally, last week, it arrived, and blinded us with its power.

That jewel in the sky, of course, was Topps Big League.

I fell in love with Big League months before it ever actually existed, back when it was nothing more than mock-ups on a virtual sheet.

I loved it so much that I pre-ordered a box of it way back in March, back before this whole pandemic thing put a halt on most new card product. I'd also like to make a special note of the fact that I paid exactly $30 for an 18-pack box of Big League, which is a price point I think way more sets should have. And while it took three long months of waiting, I was absolutely thrilled when it finally, against all odds, showed up yesterday.

I suppose a small part of me was worried that Big League wouldn't live up to my massive expectations, that the glow in the sky I'd seen long ago would turn out to be an illusion -- but I'm happy to report no such thing happened, because, and I'll say this forever, OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SET.

Perhaps the only thing I don't like about Big League is that it shines a big gigantic light on all the things Topps could be doing, but most of the time, just doesn't, whether out of scorn for the low-end collector or pure apathy (or both).

Topps can, for instance, make an absolutely fantastic card back when they put their minds to it -- because this, my friends, is what the back of a baseball card should look like.

Big League also reminded me how much I miss sets with borders, mostly evidenced by how well these parallels pop.

Even inserts, which are designed to be somewhat of a jolt from base cards, have gotten kind of bland lately.

Not so with Big League, which features insert sets that range from bat flips and cartoons -- the big background logos give those "Star Caricatures" a bit of a '90s Studio feel to them, which I like.

Those "Roll Call" cards don't grab me much, but they're certainly distinct, which is basically all I can ask out of an insert set.

And it's weird: I don't read comic books, and I find superhero movies dull, but I really like when companies add a little superhuman flair to their baseball cards (see: Metal Universe).

But let's be honest here: you're here for the base cards, and so am I.

The 2020 Big League design alone is enough to win my heart -- it reminds me a lot of the excellent 2009 Upper Deck OPC layout, with a little '81 Fleer mixed in for good measure. It's the best design I've seen from Topps in longer than I can remember, and right now I'd have to call it my favorite of all three Big League sets thus far (and I know that's not just the new-release rose-colored glasses speaking).

But along with the design comes absolutely stunning photography, with a few Dudes on New Teams mixed in for good measure!

And the subsets are just as good as the base design.

Perhaps I'm a little biased since cards featuring awards are a mini-collection of mine, but even though it's somewhat jarring to see ballplayers in suits and ties, it's kinda nice seeing some cards with the actual hardware displayed on the front.

Baseball in 2020 is gonna be weird, but hopefully 2019's cornucopia of memorable moments will make up for whatever's lacking this year.

I guess what I like most about Big League is that every single card feels like the end result of real, actual effort.

Over and over again, I've gotten the opposite feeling in today's hobby, the feeling that cards are absentmindedly churned out on an assembly line. Too many times, I've even asked the question: do the people at Topps even LIKE baseball? I still often wonder about that, but the fact that something like Big League exists, with designs and photos that appear to be selected by people who do like baseball (and baseball cards!), gives me hope. It sounds simple, but I mean every word of it: this is what baseball cards should look like. This thrill, the excitement I've tried to communicate in this post, is what I should feel about baseball cards all the time.

Even with all the casualties and imperfections of the current hobby, a set like Big League makes me proud to collect baseball cards, plain and simple.

So go ahead and take a bow, Topps Big League.

You're gonna save us all.


(Also, on a more somber note, we had to put our oldest cat, Latte, to sleep this afternoon. If you have a pet in your life, please give him/her an extra hug for me tonight.)