Friday, November 10, 2023

It ain't me

Once a baseball card is released, it's out there forever - there's no taking it back. 

Over the years, it's become obvious that card companies, like us humans, aren't perfect. Error cards are a fun little rabbit hole of this hobby, and the ones I find the most entertaining are the hallowed "player swaps" - i.e., cards that actually feature a different player than whoever was meant to be shown on said card. They range from understandable to bizarre, from laughable to morbid.

You probably know about some of the famous ones already - like the infamous '69 Topps batboy fiasco or the time Gary Pettis had his younger brother sit for a Topps photo - but I thought I'd share some other snafus that don't often get a ton of airtime.

I don't know when I first became aware player swaps existed, but I'm fairly certain this 2006 Bazooka screw-up was the first one I noticed all on my own.

I've been a Francisco Rodriguez fan for a long time now, and although I doubt I knew who was actually featured on this card at the time (it's Ervin Santana), I knew it wasn't my beloved K-Rod.

I suppose I can understand how a company could get a couple no-name dudes mixed up, but can someone please explain how Donruss managed to swap two aces and future HOFers?!

In today's technology-driven world, you'd think this kind of thing wouldn't happen anymore - and you'd be wrong.

I can't say I noticed it when 2017 Topps was first released, but I remember people being quick to point out that fellow Met Eric Campbell is actually pictured on Lucas Duda's card that year.

From what I can gather, not many of these player swaps were ever corrected - they're just kinda left out there to forever float around the universe.

I can see why. I'm sure it takes a lot of money and manpower to completely pull a card from the presses, not to mention create and print a new one to replace it. So I give Topps credit for taking the effort to correct a mix-up in their '88 Topps set where they actually used a picture of one-time prospect Chris George (who never played a major-league game) in place of the correctly-predicted "Future Star" Al Leiter. 

(There's also a corrected version of the aforementioned '90 Donruss Glavine/Smoltz that I don't own...yet.)

My mind was blown more recently than I'd care to admit when I found out that three dudes are featured on this fun '73 Topps card, and none of them are Joe Rudi.

It seems obvious now - that's Gene Tenace at center and I'm not sure who the other two A's are - but I guess that's a lesson for all of us to look more closely at our baseball cards.

I find it incredible that a card company could manage to let a mixed-up Ernie Banks card go to press.

Granted, I don't know who's actually pictured here, but a split-second look tells you it ain't Ernie.

There's a couple notable player swaps in '63 Topps, and better yet, they actually feature a pair of cardboard favorites in Ryne Duren and Ron Santo.

(The fact that Topps seems to have gotten the inset photos right makes these even weirder.)

Aurelio Rodriguez and Gary Pettis get most of the headlines, but for my money they're not even close to being the most disastrous "player swap" in cardboard history.

No, that dubious honor has to go to this '66 Topps Dick Ellsworth, a card that actually features Cub infielder Ken Hubbs (the fielding pose probably should've been a giveaway). What makes this card so strange is that Hubbs died in a plane crash two years earlier. I see no explanation of how something this egregious could've happened, but darn if it doesn't make for a fascinating tidbit of cardboard conversation.

Card companies will forever be under the microscope, and I suppose I'm thankful my life isn't treated the same way - here's hoping a random blogger won't still be pointing out that stack of books I dropped at work 60 years from now.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Requiem for a baseball season

As the season comes to a close - featuring yet another World Series I can't bring myself to care much about - I'm left to grapple with the questions left by another year of baseball.

Since I'm not much of a morning person, I love having a consistent night shift at work - the main consequence, however, being that it doesn't leave much time for catching ballgames. I probably watched less baseball in 2023 than I have in any other year as a fan. I still keep up with the game (watching standings, checking leaderboards, etc.) but my actual viewing kinda went downhill this year.

Part of the beauty of baseball is its consistency - there's almost literally a game going on at any waking hour - but I wonder if this signals some kind of shift in me as a baseball fan. If I should be thankful for the rare Cubs game I get to watch rather than be woeful about all the ones I missed. I don't know.

Which makes for a good transition into this Mookie Betts Topps Now card I graciously received from Jim (aka gcrl) of "cards as i see them" fame - featuring a double dip Mookie turned as a shortstop(!) in one of the rare Cubs games I did actually manage to catch on TV!

The good thing about baseball cards, of course, is that it's a year-round hobby if you want it to be - no staring out the window waiting for spring.

Cards occupy an even warmer place in my heart during the winter months, and while I don't trade nearly as often as I once did, it's always a treat when I see a hallowed envelope or package in my mailbox. 

In addition to becoming a steady supplier of Sonny Gray cards, Jim always seems to send me something I've never seen before - like that excellent Don Baylor from a (regional?) Twins World Series anniversary set.

I can't for the life of me understand why companies make thick cards for no reason - that Giolito is massive, so big that it doesn't even fit into a regular nine-pocket page.

Stadium Club Chrome probably doesn't need to exist, but it features a good amount of interesting shots that keeps it on my radar every year.

Jim's been sending me cards for a long time now, and always selects a first-rate mix of curious cardboard.

(Pink refractors are cool, but they've got nothing on '90s Dufex!)

A more recent PWE from Jim saw yet another trademark stack of cards, including a rare Hoyt appearance in a modern set!

Mike Sweeney doesn't get much airtime on this blog, which is weird since he's one of my bigger player collections - that neat UD Play Ball Promo reminds me I should talk about him more.

It's always Sonny!

Jim closed things out by sending along a treasured Dime Box Dozen need with Dave Parker here, a card I probably should've had a long time ago now (is '86 Donruss the most '80s design ever?).

I'll still watch however much of the World Series I can - I suppose I'll root for the Diamondbacks since I still have a soft spot for the few expansion teams I've seen in my lifetime. At the end of the day, baseball is a passion for me, and while that passion shifts with age, nothing can make it go away.

If nothing else, I'm just happy to have the day off work today, to be able to park squarely on my couch for Game 1 and scoop up the last few sweet bits of a baseball season that so quickly seemed to pass me by.

Friday, October 13, 2023

You can never have it all (a COMC order)

Once in a while, I foolishly wonder if there can really be that many more cards I need floating out there in the universe.

The plain fact is that I do have a lot of baseball cards - I'm at north of 90 binders(!) as we speak, not to mention the boxes of other frankenset/non-sport/miscellaneous stuff I've accumulated scattered around my room. To anyone not involved in the hobby, it'd appear that I am 1) insane, and 2) kinda close to having everything I want by now, right?

Whether I'm insane or not is up for debate (isn't collecting a minor form of insanity?) but as for the second concern, the answer should be obvious - I've barely even scratched the surface of having all the cards I need!

I may take it to the extreme with my 924 different projects, but most card people seem to understand that there is always something else to collect, something that'll make us say Ooh, I need that!

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the COMC orders I seem to regularly post around here, the most recent of which landed on my doorstep earlier this month. I admit that every time I click "send" on a large COMC pile, I have that weird thought of wondering how much is left on the site that I still need. (Spoiler: I've since bought so many more cards on there that I'm almost ready to have another order shipped to me.)

Chasing minor league issues of guys I collect (Mookie Wilson!) is a task that itself could take a lifetime, but that's not even including the weirdly cool cards of people like Frank Verdi whom I've never heard of (could the photographer be any further away?).

While my mini-collections are fairly expansive at this point, I'm constantly finding new ones I need - including Topps Now exclusives and GQ variations that Topps prints just to annoy me.

And while I'm proud of the numbers my bigger player collections have grown to, what I own is a small percentage of all the Konerkos and Gwynns out there (if I'm at 5 percent of either guy's total cards, I'd call it a win).

And all this is to say nothing about oddballs - I try not to think about how many of these I'll never know about.

Instead, I try to focus on the ones I'm somehow lucky enough to discover - like a weird McDonald's oddball of Dime Box favorite Karim Garcia, and my first Don Zimmer Rays card!

A second Zimmer here with that tough (Senators!) Archives SP - I paid a touch over $5 for it, which is almost unheard of for a modern card around here.

Food issues carry an extra special place in my heart, which made stuff like a Domino's Al Kaline and other odd McDonald's oddballs a prime part of this order.

COMC always manages to suck me into the bottomless pit of Topps Throwback Thursday - I've bought so many of these over the years, and yet a big stack seems to wind up in every order.

(How great is that Buck O'Neil?)

Other Topps online exclusives that have me wondering why there isn't more stuff like this in standard pack-issued sets.

Seriously, I'd buy the daylights out of a Negro League set if I saw one at Target.

I've said it many times on the blog: magazine covers on baseball cards are an absolute godsend, and I want them all.

Don't believe me?

...still don't believe me? about now?

I stumbled upon a seller unloading these Topps/Sports Illustrated mashups on the cheap (most of 'em were a buck a pop), and as you can see, I had myself a field day.


I've always liked the Topps 206 brand, and while I hate that these are online-only the cards themselves are neat - can't resist a good Steve Carlton Cardinals sighting.

(And another weird Don Zimmer!)

I continue to be a sucker for cheap photo variations despite thinking said photo variations are wildly unnecessary. 

(RIP, Brooks.)

Even if by some wild fantasy I was able to acquire every US-branded card I ever needed, that would leave the loads of foreign-issue stuff I'll probably never see.

My love for BBM is well-documented, but I also discovered a fun mid '90s "Line Up" Venezuelan Winter League brand with this COMC order that I didn't know about (cool Ozzie Guillen double dip!).

A few neat horizontals here, including a rather intense Venezuelan double dip and my first-ever card featuring all three Alou brothers.

I'm by no means a Manny Ramirez collector, but that photo variation was too fun to pass up.

SSPC only had one major release, and I don't even own all of those I need yet, which should tell you how far I am from conquering the entire baseball card universe.

Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose bring me a couple steps closer to finalizing my '76 SSPC wants, and I tracked down other offshoots with the '75 Gaylord Perry sample and a neat '78 SSPC Don Baylor. 

I acquired my first Dodger Bell Brand card at this year's National, and I liked it so much that I immediately wanted another one.

Thankfully, an affordable Frank Howard presented itself in the COMC archives one afternoon, and I managed to couple it with a weathered '69 OPC Hondo for a song ('69 OPCs seem harder to find for some reason).

These are both bizarro-world cards from the '78 Burger King set and represented gaping holes in my binders.

Fergie was a "Keep Dreaming" need, and a particularly painful one given that the cheapest copy I could find online for a long time was over $20 - but out of the blue, a $4 copy popped up on COMC one day, and here we are.

I have an unspoken agreement with myself to try and track down one "big" card with each passing COMC order, and this '60 Frank Robinson certainly fit the bill this time around.

Like Fergie, this one had been on my "Keep Dreaming" list for a while. Thanks to a little paper residue on the back, I was able to nab this copy for a whopping $10. Another vintage Goliath slain!

As I said earlier, I'm not even two weeks removed from the arrival of this order, and I'm almost ready to have another one sent to me. So, no - I don't think I have to worry about not having any cards to chase. 

Or maybe I'm just insane, I don't know.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Leader of the pack

To my complete and utter surprise, I actually found a blaster of 2023 Allen & Ginter on the shelves of my (usually card-barren) local Target the other day.

I feel like I get a bit wistful every time A&G comes out now, and rue the plain fact that the brand is a shadow of what it once was. A&G was the set for a couple years there in the late-aughts, and a prime factor in helping me get back into baseball cards around 2006-07. I don't know that any set could ever continue to live up to such a treasured past over a decade later, but alas, A&G ain't what it used to be.

Still, I do still get that slight pang of anticipation whenever I hear A&G is out. As watered-down as it's become, I do still think it fills a niche in the hobby, which is more than I can say about the 238 other unnecessary sets that Topps seems to come out with each year.

So, in honor of A&G's 18th(!!!) year on the shelves - and in tribute to the sheer shock of actually finding a blaster of it - I thought I'd show you each and every card that fell out of my blaster, along with a "Leader of the Pack" for each of the eight packs in there.

Pack 1:

#207 Ari Chambers
#98 Byron Buxton
#84 Bobby Witt Jr.
#209 Casey Webb
#ROV-14 Ezequiel Tovar (Rookie Variation mini)
#TT-17 Condor, "TALON-ted"

Of course the first pack was pretty much a snoozer.

Not to sound like a broken record here, but the main downfall of A&G has been the complete lack of fun in the non-baseball subjects. Long gone are the days of Pluto and Revolving Doors - now we're forced to swallow any celebrities Topps could get a contract with (most of whom I've never heard of, including the two in this pack).

Now that we've got that out of my system, time to pick a Leader of the Pack here.

Personal favorite has to be uber-phenom Bobby Witt Jr., who's already earned my devoted fandom.

I suppose now is a good time to mention that I actually really like how A&G looks this time around - it's never been a set whose design needs to be deconstructed year-in and year-out, but it's a good, clean look here in 2023.

Pack 2:

#114 Yu Darvish
#150 Buster Posey
#37 Ronald Acuna Jr.
#400 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (SP)
#OI-21 Citizens Bank Park, "Only In..."
#SS-12 Francisco Rodriguez, "Spotless Spans"

That's more like it - a pack where ALL SIX cards are needs!

Another strike, however: Topps decided to screw with the checklist a la Big League where a bunch of guys have standard base cards AND higher-numbered SPs in the same base checklist. I still can't figure out why this is becoming a thing, but I've already used enough air time complaining about that, so we'll move on.

Again, on a good note, I needed all six cards in this pack, and although the coolest card here is probably that Phillies Liberty Bell insert... favorite is this K-Rod insert - a prime member of the fun Angels teams I followed as a kid, and a guy who hasn't had a card in a while.

Pack 3:

#257 Kodai Senga
#49 Manny Machado
#262 Zion Clark
#104 Derek Jeter
#138 Rickey Henderson (mini)
#FITS-6 Surfing, "Fun in the Sun"

Not as thrilling of a pack this time around, but I'm excited to get a new Kodai Senga card - a guy who's having a great season that no one's talking about thanks to the Mets being a nightmare.

But still can't beat a mini Rickey!

(Even with A&G's present shortcomings, I can honestly say that I've always loved the minis, and always will.)

Pack 4:

#199 Taj Bradley
#45 Kyle Stowers
#258 Julio Urias
#358 Justin Verlander (SP)
#236 John DiMaggio (A&G back mini)
#SS-25 Reggie Jackson, "Spotless Spans"

Bad: another "celebrity" I've never heard of, a couple rookies I barely know, and a despicable human being I hope never pitches in the majors ever again.

Good: in a few years time, I wonder if anyone'll remember Justin Verlander was on the Mets - it's already a prime Short Term Stop!

Best: "Spotless Spans" Reggie - looks to be the newest in the long line of big star-studded A&G insert sets. 

(Also, I tried a Reggie Bar for the first time a couple weeks ago - it was...kinda gross.)

Pack 5:

#118 Logan O'Hoppe
#85 Babe Ruth
#MFR-CK Clayton Kershaw, mini relic
#62 Oneil Cruz (Black mini)
#MTYE-10 Bodhran, "Music to Your Ears"

Given that I don't really care about memorabilia stuff, I just feel shorted whenever I pull a jersey card because it usually means I get one fewer card in said pack.

Still, even though it won't be staying with me at Dime Box HQ, it's hard to pick anything other than Kershaw as the best of this pack.

Pack 6:

#291 Seth Brown
#225 Adam Ray
#159 Austin Meadows
#368 Corbin Carroll (SP)
#334 Matt Holiday (mini SP)
#SS-33 Joey Votto, "Spotless Spans"

Very little to say about this pack...

...except that it's cool to get my first card of bigtime rookie Corbin Carroll.

Topps probably wants me to be excited over the fact that I actually pulled the SP version, but all I can think of is still needing the regular base card...

Pack 7:

#70 Joey Votto
#177 Starling Marte
#14 Cole Ragans
#227 Jon Berti
#MROD-1 20 Strikeout Game, "Rarest of the Diamond"
#TT-1 Osprey, "TALON-ted"

Not every non-sport A&G insert set is a winner for me - I don't care much about birding, and it seems like there's been an infinite number of animal inserts in the last few years of A&G.

Another pretty dull pack was saved by this nifty (and, from the looks of it, kinda tough) mini insert documenting some of the game's rarest occurrences.

(Also don't see umpire cards much these days!)

Pack 8:

#266 Nina O'Brien
#137 Zack Thompson
#53 Mike Trout
#378 David Ortiz (SP)
#7 Alex Rodriguez (A&G back mini)
#SS-28 Rickey Henderson, "Spotless Spans"

Final pack of the blaster provided a nice burst of star power (although why are we still putting Alex Rodriguez in modern sets?).

Was tempted to tap Rickey as a repeat "Leader of the Pack," but I'll go with smiling Big Papi here (even if it's another SP...). 

I probably didn't pick the most exciting blaster off the shelf, and it's by no means a perfect set this time around, but in the end I'll always treasure that A&G is just good plain fun.

I think the fact that it's still here 18 years later is a testament to that.