Monday, April 30, 2012

Pilot Episode: Mondays with Hoyt

2004 Sweet Spot #111 Hoyt Wilhelm FF /1952

As I've mentioned again and again on this blog, my main player collection is of Mr. James Hoyt Wilhelm. (Like Lynn Nolan Ryan, his middle name is the more widespread one.)

Of the tens of thousands of cards I own, I take the most collective pride in the 104 different pieces of my Hoyt Wilhelm collection. (I guess it's 105 if you count this one, which involves Wilhelm's famous knuckler.)

It hasn't been easy.

While he is a Hall of Famer, he hasn't had many cards produced in recent years. (I only own one of his from 2008 to the present.)

I figured I'd take a page from a couple other blogs I read and devote one post per week to simply showing off a random Hoyt card from my collection of his. You'll see vintage. You'll see relics. You'll even see a couple autographs.

You'll see it all. So keep an eye out for my "Mondays with Hoyt" series on Monday nights from now on! (Looking through my Hoyt collection helps after coming back from a long day of school on a Monday, as I found out this afternoon.)

The above card is a perfect place to start, as it commemorates an amazing beginning to an eventual Hall of Fame career.

After military service and some less-than-stellar minor league years early in his career, Hoyt Wilhelm finally made his major league debut with the New York Giants in 1952.

By that time, he was already 29 years old.

He went 15-3 in his rookie season without ever starting a game, leading the NL with a 2.43 ERA out of the bullpen.

His trademark knuckleball was with him right from the start, helping him earn his first victory on April 23, 1952.

Something else happened in that April 23 game against the Braves that first endeared me to the now-famous knuckleballer, another "Famous First" in Wilhelm's career.

In his first ever at-bat, Wilhelm hit a solo home run off Braves pitcher Dick Hoover.

Hoyt would go on to have a long HOF career that would end with the Dodgers twenty-one years later, in 1972. However, he would never hit another home run in those 21 years. (He held the record for games pitched at the time of his retirement as well, making that feat even more remarkable.)

Reading that in one of my baseball books as a kid is the first time I can remember hearing about Wilhelm.

It's funny how that one obscure fact led to such a great collection.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Airbrushing: Then and now

I'm not sure when the first instance of "airbrushing" first appeared on a baseball card.

However, I do know that it's been fairly prevalent in the cardboard universe in the last half-century or so. While the way card companies "update" their cards has varied over the years (as you'll soon see), the reasoning behind it has always been the same.

In some cases, a team moves or simply adopts new uniforms. The main reason "airbrushing" is needed, however, is due to an offseason trade or free agent signing.

Since card companies usually don't have the chance to snap a shot of the player in his new duds, they have to resort to "airbrushing" in order to update the everyday collector on the whereabouts of their favorite athletes.

Sounds simple enough, right? Card companies have used many different ways and means of "airbrushing" since its inception.

The following are the ones I'm aware of. Perhaps there's some others that I have yet to see first-hand.

The most common method is actually painting the new hat and uniform on the player. While the famous Yankee cap and pinstripes have been applied well on the above Mickey Rivers card, there are some instances that might end up in a horror movie one of these days.

I always wondered who exactly Topps hired to do these airbrush jobs. Did they hire a professional artist to paint Yankees and Dodgers logos? Or did they just say "draw this" to some random employee at the company?

I still don't have a good answer for that one.

In some cases, the former logo on a player's hat will be blacked out, with nothing airbrushed onto it.

The result is a black blob that ends up sitting on some poor ballplayer's head. I especially enjoy this one, which I recently became aware of thanks to a recent post by everyone's favorite blogger.

I'm still trying to figure out for certain whether or not the sleeves of "Tony C" have been airbrushed on his '71 Topps issue.

If the top of this card didn't say "Angels", I'd have no idea what team Conigliaro played for in 1971.

Isn't that the exact opposite of what airbrushing tries to accomplish?

Then we have the famous "up the nostrils" shot that defined many of the cards of the 1970's.

I always thought that it had to have been disconcerting for a ballplayer to pose for a picture like this. The only reason for a shot like this is if the player would happen to be traded at some point.

I bet the players were aware of that as well.

Minimal airbrushing is needed for cards of this sort. Only Bernie Carbo's uniform needs "fixing" in this case. (Perhaps the brim of his cap as well.)

That is one mean 'stache, though.

The last method of '60s and '70s cardboard doesn't even involve any physical "airbrushing", but it ways a way to "update" collectors on their favorite players.

It's also the one that required the least amount of effort on the part of card companies.

The "no hat" pose.

"If a guy's not wearing a hat, then he could be on any team we want", said Topps. (A paraphrase of something that I'm sure was said at Topps headquarters in the '60s.)

Zoilo Versalles doesn't look to happy about it either.

Airbrushing is still widespread in today's era of baseball cards, although it has taken on a new moniker.


It's not done by hand anymore. Computers do all the work. In some cases, they look decent. Besides the fact that the letters on Cliff Lee's uniform look a bit squished, it's pretty believable.

But then again...

...there's still room for improvement.

Overall, the "photoshopping" on this card isn't too bad. But there is one major flaw, as I noticed after I first pulled this card.

The Dodgers have never had red numbers on the back of their uniforms. You'd think someone at Topps would've caught that. (More on that issue here.)

Maybe photoshop is overrated.

If you're not a fan of either, perhaps you're someone who enjoys the "Now with..." type of update, as shown on the above Jody Davis card.

If you are, then I take it you're probably not a fan of Topps Update nowadays.

Personally, I enjoy the "vintage" way of airbrushing. I like the idea of someone physically painting the logo onto the card. It has a more personal feel to it. Plus, I kind of like the quirkiness behind some of the shots.

So, now for the million-dollar question.

Which do you like better, airbrushing or photoshopping?

Please Mr. Postman (A trade post) -- Fish out of water

Now that I've been around for over four months, I'm not sure if my blog still falls under the category of "new".

But one of the definite better "new" blogs out there is "ARPSmith's Sportscard Obsession", written by former reader-turned-blogger Adam.

I received the above card in the mail the other day, the result of the record fourth trade between Adam and I.

As I've said before, not every trade has to be a "blockbuster". I get a ton of enjoyment out of receiving a simple plain white envelope (or "PWE" in collector speak) with one or two cards inside.

The last couple of trades between Adam and I have been of the PWE variety, and they've both been fantastic.

In exchange for the 2012 Gypsy Queen Green Matt Cain mini I pulled (one of the many cards from last weekend's GQ extravaganza), I received the above "Straight Cut" Heath Bell mini.

A quick side note: I'm questioning whether the short-printed minis (numbers 301 and above) are actually SPs. I pulled six different ones from my blaster and rack pack of GQ, including the Cain. (The Bell is one as well.)

Anyways, Heath Bell is one of the players who have recently been "accepted" into my binders. He's already got a few cards as a Marlin thus far in 2012, but he's struggled in his time with Florida so far this year. (Sorry...Miami.)

I'm sure he'll turn it around, but I'd like it to be sooner rather than later. Bell seems like one of the nicest players in the game right now and, although I don't like to see anyone struggle, it's been especially painful in his case for me to watch.

Struggles or no struggles, I'm glad to be the proud owner of one of my new favorite Heath Bell cards.

Thanks, Adam!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meeting my idols

I'd like to stray away from the topic of baseball for a minute here.

Last night, I was lucky enough to see Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood perform their ridiculously funny "Two Man Group" improv show. I was so close to the stage that I could actually see them spitting. (The tickets were a Christmas gift from my mom. Thanks, Mom!)

The two of them are probably best known for their appearances on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?".

I've always loved "Whose Line". It will always be one of my favorite TV shows. I don't know that we'll ever see another like it.

It's always been a dream of mine to meet members of the "Whose Line" cast.

Yesterday, my dream came true.

After the show, Colin and Brad were outside the theater, signing autographs. I couldn't believe it. I'm usually averse to standing in long lines, but I never thought twice about waiting to meet them.

I bought a copy of their DVD while I was in line. For one thing, I'd been wanting to get it for a while anyways. Plus, I thought that their autographs would look fantastic on the DVD cover.

How right I was.

I thought it was great that they took the time to sign autographs after the show. They must've been there for a good hour or so with the amount of people that were waiting in line. I told them how big of a fan I was and even got a picture with the two of them after they signed the DVD cover (seen above).

They even did the dreaded "mousetraps" game during the show.

Thank you, Colin and Brad. 

Since this is a baseball card blog, after all, there's got to be a tie in. Right?

Over the years, I've had a chance to meet a few ballplayers. While my list may pale in comparison to others who might have a few years on me, I'm definitely satisfied with it.

I went into detail about the story of how I obtained the Kane County Cougars autographs here.

The player I'm most excited to have met is sadly one who is no longer with us.

At one of the first card shows I remember attending, my dad and I got to meet "The Bird", Mark Fidrych.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Fidrych has always been one of my idols. My dad was a huge fan of "The Bird" when he was a kid, a trait that he's passed down to me ever since my love for baseball began.

Meeting one of your idols is an unbelievable feeling, something that doesn't come along too often in life.

Last night was one of those precious few moments.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cardboard Masterpieces, Pt. 6

2010 Topps #409b Richie Ashburn SP

Yesterday, I realized that all five of the "Masterpieces" I've shown so far have come from Upper Deck-produced sets.

I guess that brings up an interesting question. Overall (and card design aside), which company has produced better photography over the years, Topps or Upper Deck? 

I probably couldn't give you an answer right now. (But that's probably for another post...)

Let's change the Upper Deck trend by inducting the first Topps-produced card into the "Cardboard Masterpieces" gallery.

Richie Ashburn has always been one of my favorites. He's arguably the owner of the best "baseball name" in history.

I've had ties to this particular picture of his ever since I was a kid. 

I was an avid MLB Showdown player in my pre-teen and early adolescent years. Ashburn had one of the best MLB Showdown cards ever produced, the leadoff hitter on my best NL team. (My dad had the AL players.)

As with my regular baseball cards, I still have tough time picking my favorite MLB Showdown card. The Ashburn has a strong case. It's one of those rare "foil" cards, and he's good. He was an MLB Showdown triples machine.

But what really made it stand out among all my others was the picture. MLB Showdown cards actually have some decent photography, but nothing comes close to the Ashburn.

MLB Showdown cards were gone after the 2005 edition. While I still played it fairly often, I started to shift my focus to regular baseball cards more after that. I was astounded that no company used the famous MLB Showdown shot of Ashburn for one of their cards.

Thankfully, Topps changed that in 2010. 

After seeing that the shot finally made it onto a baseball card, I desperately went searching to someone who had one on the trading block. In one of the better trades I've ever made, I dealt the "Red Hot Rookie Redemption" I pulled from my box of Series 2 that year for the Ashburn.

I don't own near as many of Topps' "Legend" SPs as I'd like, but I'm sure glad I own the Ashburn. I don't know that there's ever been a better picture of a headfirst slide. I don't know what the deal is with that fence in the background. Where are the Phillies holding practice, on a farm?

Every time I see this card, I automatically think of MLB Showdown. While I don't know that many others in the blogosphere played it, the game was a big part of my younger years.

The "face" of those years was Richie Ashburn.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It happens every day

My collection always seems to amaze me.

Sometimes I'll just be flipping through my binders and see a certain card that I don't even remember buying. Sometimes I'll just hold a certain card in my hand for a good twenty seconds or so because it's just that cool. It takes me a while to actually look through a full one of my binders, because I end up pulling every other card out to get a closer look.

A few hours ago, I decided to take a look through my Indians binder. As the dozens of Kenny Lofton and Grady Sizemore cards stared back at me, I realized something.

I honestly can't remember the last time that I went a full day without doing something related to baseball cards.

Can you?

Whether it's a lazy summer afternoon or a national holiday, I've at least dabbled in my collection each and every day.

I know it's at least been the case since I started this blog in December of last year. I've managed to knock out at least one post per day thus far. In order to make a post, you have to dig through your cards, of course.

But even before that, I'd just look through my cards and see something cool or something that made me think from time to time. (I guess that's what started me down the path of launching this blog.)

It would be weird to go a full day without baseball cards in some way, shape, or form. Maybe I should try it one of these days. (Or maybe not.)

As I've mentioned before, there's nothing more relaxing than simply sitting down and enjoying your cards. Whether that be by organizing, sorting, or simply looking is up to you.

I guess that's why I keep going back to them day after day. It's peaceful. Plus, it's baseball season again, which is even more incentive to celebrate the game's history though the cards.

So, do these seemingly innocent pieces of cardboard have a hold on me? You could say so.

I don't mind, though.

Please Mr. Postman (A trade post) -- "O" Yeah!

I came home from a seemingly-endless math class this afternoon to find a bunch of packages waiting for me.

I couldn't have been happier to see all these glorious pieces of cardboard.

One of the packages was from Ryan, author of "'O' No! Another Orioles Blog". Ryan is a fantastic blogger, and as I found out in our first-ever swap, a great trader as well.

In return for some extra Orioles cards I had, he hit a bunch of wants listed on my "set needs" page.

One of those "hits" was the Geovany Soto card you see above. I feel that Opening Day's "Superstar Celebrations" inserts are criminally underrated.

Every shot is a masterpiece.

Ryan also added a few 2012 Topps "Golden Greats" inserts I needed.

I'm half-hearteadly chasing these down. I can't help that I have a soft spot for any HOFer-related cards. But I really don't need five Jackie Robinson cards from the same insert set. But he's a Hall of Famer.

Therein lies the paradox.

I hope Topps does away with these when Series 2 comes along.

The majority of the cards Ryan sent my way were some Gypsy Queen needs. Our trade got started when he inquired about the Ripken mini I posted in my GQ post.

I've already managed to acquire all the base cards I needed from this year's Gypsy Queen (more on that in a later post). The cards Ryan sent basically put the finishing touches on it.

One thing I did enjoy about this year's GQ set was the inclusion of HOFers like Orlando Cepeda, Eddie Mathews, and Ralph Kiner in the checklist.

I can't even remember the last Eddie Mathews card Topps produced.

While I'm not a fan of the numerous amounts of mini parallels, I'll still grab what I can.

Ryan was nice enough to send along a few GQ minis, including the two above. I have to admit, the black bordered ones are pretty cool.

More Gypsy Queen, this time of the insert variety.

Whether it was on purpose or by accident, the blue border around the "Future Stars" inserts works perfectly with Starlin Castro's "Cubbie Blue" jersey on that card.


I'm still trying to track down the last few inserts I need from last year's Gypsy Queen set. Ryan got me a couple steps closer with the above cards.

I'm all for cards of George Sisler, but a good half of the cards I have of him feature that exact same picture. Surely you've got more than just the one photo of his, Topps.

I can't wait until my next trade with this guy after sifting through the contents of this package.

Thanks, Ryan!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Point of origin

One of the things I love about this hobby is that there's no set way of collecting.

Everyone gets to do their own thing, in a way.

Perhaps the best example of that is seen through player collections. I've seen them range from the great Derek Jeter to the long-since-forgotten Bucky Jacobsen.

The blogosphere has been no exception. Some have even named their blogs after their personal favorite player collection.

Heck, even Coot Veal has a suitor.

I've mentioned before that there are literally hundreds of different guys I collect (although I didn't name my blog after any of them).

However, there are three that stand out above all the others. "The Big Three", if you will.

What makes player collections so great are the stories behind them. In this post, I'll share the reasons why I started collecting these three seemingly unrelated players. I'd love to hear the stories behind your personal collections as well if anyone's got any to share. (Player, team, or set, I love all "origin" stories.)

The first of the "Big Three" is Casey Kotchman, a card of whom you see above.

I became a huge Angels fan back in my grammar school days. Watching their run in the '02 playoffs was responsible for that.

The Angels' big prospect at the time was Kotchman. When I got back into baseball card collecting in the winter of 2005, I remembered Kotchman's name from those glory days.

I also remembered that he was supposed to be the next big thing in Anaheim.

While I don't think he ever quite lived up to his potential, I've collected him throughout the highs and lows of his career. He's always been good with the glove at first base (as you can see on the above card), but the bat hasn't always been there. He had a couple of awful seasons with the Braves, Red Sox, and Mariners between the 2009 and '10 seasons.

To everyone else, he pretty much dropped off the face of the baseball Earth.

Not to me, though. I stuck with him, even though he only had one regular issue in 2010. Thankfully, he had a big season with the Rays last year, which put him back on the baseball map. He's even in the Gypsy Queen set this year, along with the likes of Willie Mays and Albert Pujols.

I can't wait to see Kotchman's first card with the Indians in 2012.

He's come a long way.

The second of the "Big Three" is actually a guy who has been in the news lately.

Marlon Byrd.

When I was in Little League, I subconsciously wanted to play like Marlon Byrd, even though I had no idea who he was at the time. All hustle, all the time.

I did, for the most part. I can remember a couple times where I might not have given it my all. But I have yet to see that with Byrd, and he's been in the league for over ten seasons now.

Once I saw him play, I knew this was a guy I had to collect. Unlike Kotchman, he doesn't really have a ton of cards since he was never a big prospect. (He was a 10th round pick in '99.)

Like Kotchman, however, he had a couple of years where he completely fell off the map, mainly with the Nationals in '05 and '06. He managed to rebound and have some respectable years with Texas, though.

I was ecstatic when the Cubs signed him in 2010. I'll never forget the first card I acquired of Byrd in a Cubs uniform.

It's been a struggle for the Cubs the last few years, to say the least. While it's been hard to watch some of the time, seeing a guy like Byrd has always been a soothing sight.

The Cubs dealt him to the Red Sox last weekend. I'm a little torn with how I feel about it. On the one hand, I'm glad that he's going to a team that at least has a chance to be good this year.

But on the other hand, I'm definitely going to miss seeing his style of baseball around these parks.

I wish everyone played the game like Marlon Byrd does.

However, my absolute favorite player collection is and always will be of Hoyt Wilhelm.

One of my first posts on this blog was all about Hoyt. As I said in that post, Wilhelm is actually my second-favorite player of all-time, after Roberto Clemente.

It didn't take long for me to realize that I'd never be able to afford a Roberto Clemente collection. So I went to the next best thing in Hoyt Wilhelm. While I've assembled some nice Clemente pieces here and there over the years, it will never match my Wilhelm collection.

My first great vintage card of Hoyt was the above '55 Bowman issue of his, which is also card #1 in the set.

It sure is a beauty, isn't it?

I usually don't post game used cards too often on this blog, but this one deserves a mention.

Why? Because it indirectly resulted in my full-fledged return to the baseball card collecting universe.

This was the first card I can remember adding to my Wilhelm collection. At the time, I was still mainly collecting hockey cards, much to the chagrin of my dad. (He could care less who Adam Oates is.)

I'd been thinking about doing a little side project with Hoyt Wilhelm for a few days before I acquired the above card.

I saw that someone was selling this Wilhelm jersey card on one of the trading forums I was on, so I figured that would be a good start. After telling my dad that I was actually about to purchase a baseball card, he got so excited that he wound up buying it for me.

I guess that made me take a step back and really analyze what I was doing. I realized that I didn't really have a good answer to the question, "Why am I collecting hockey cards?"

I've always enjoyed a good hockey game, but I realized that my first and only love has always been baseball. So I quickly ditched the hockey world for baseball.

Don't get me wrong. I still love hockey. It's a toss-up between hockey and football for my second favorite sport.

But my dad's reaction to the Hoyt Wilhelm card made me realize that baseball was the sport that I was meant to collect. When I was into hockey cards, my dad didn't know who 90 percent of the guys I was collecting were. While my dad did certainly go a long ways in helping out my hockey collection at the time, I know he's glad that I'm back in the baseball realm of collecting.

Plus, now I get to enjoy a good dime or vintage box of baseball cards with my dad at all the shows. That's probably the best part.

All thanks to Hoyt Wilhelm.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Erasing history

I've certainly gone through some moments that I wish I could erase from memory.

Sports included. Alex Gonzalez bobbling an easy double play ball in the '03 NLCS. The fact that Milton Bradley was ever a Cub, etc.

I would never go as far as defacing a baseball card, though.

I can't say the same for the previous owner of this piece of cardboard. I can only assume that a kid was responsible for this. Erasing a guy's face off a baseball card just seems especially kid-like.

All I can say is that someone out there must've really hated Steve Carlton. (From a few things I've read about him, I'd assume that the previous owner wasn't the only one.)

I snagged this one from a discount bin at the flea market last year, mainly because I'm always up for a card that's good for a laugh.

This card also fits in with my "condition threshold" post. I'd take an upgrade if I could find a cheap one, but I'm satisfied with this one for the time being.

It certainly stands out from all my other Steve Carlton cards.

While the Carlton might be good for a laugh, this is the type of card that makes me genuinely proud to be a baseball card collector.

For one thing, it's the only card I own of Bob Uecker from his playing days. I plucked it from the same fifty-cent bin that netted me this "beauty".

As many of my readers probably know already, I'm a big fan of the possible "stories" behind some of my cards.

The previous owner of this card was likely a huge baseball fan (or possibly a huge Bob Uecker fan). As you can see, the word "Denver" is partially erased from the top of the card. The Braves sent Uecker down to their AAA affiliate in Denver for part of the '63 season.

Not only that, but you can see the words "St. Louis Cards" scribbled above the smaller picture in the bottom-right corner (along with the scratched-out "Milwaukee Braves" in the bottom-left). Uecker was traded to the Cardinals early in the 1964 season.

While it might not look pretty to some, I see this card as a fantastic piece of baseball history. Once I look past the eraser marks, I see something spectacular. I see the markings of a true baseball fan.

Maybe I'm not so different from the kids that collected cards back in 1963.

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 31: 1989 Upper Deck #452 "Goose" Gossage

In its early days, Upper Deck was the king of baseball card photography.

After all, it didn't take much to beat shots like this.

One thing I've particularly noticed about overproduction era cards is the absence of pitchers hitting, which is one of my favorite mini-collections.

While the above card doesn't actually show him in the batter's box, it qualifies because "Goose" has a batting helmet on. It's also a rare instance of a reliever in my hitting pitchers collection.

I've always found it interesting to think about how menacing pitchers like Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan fared at the plate.

I'm sure they weren't so "menacing" on the other side of the equation. (For the record, "The Big Unit" had a .125 career average with one homer, and "The Ryan Express" was a .110 career hitter with a pair of dingers.)

Perhaps the most intimidating pitcher to ever take the mound was Hall of Famer "Goose" Gossage. (I also love the fact that Upper Deck lists him as "Goose" Gossage instead of Rich.)

He repeatedly clocked in at 100 MPH on the radar gun throughout his career. I only wish the White Sox would've held on to him longer and not tried to convert him into a starter.

"Goose" didn't have much success at the plate in his career. His career average was just .106, collecting two RBIs in 93 career plate appearances.

But in the cases of these cards, I could care less what the guy's career hitting stats were. The fact that they're different is enough. Being "different" in the hobby can go a couple different ways.

In the case of pitchers at the plate, however, "different" is definitely good.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A special day for cards

If anyone out there in the blogosphere has an interest in vinyl records, you might be aware that this past Saturday was "National Record Store Day".

My dad is as much into records as I am with baseball cards. I'm fairly certain I got the "collecting gene" from him.

Naturally, he was ecstatic about the arrival of "Record Store Day" this year. When I met him for lunch on Saturday, he had a big bag of records, his personal "finds" of the day. (It reminds me a lot of the semi-yearly card shows I attend.)

In talking with my dad and simply observing the way he collects records, I've noticed that there's a lot of similarities between the two hobbies. For one thing, there are certainly your high-end record collectors that seem to get all the publicity. But the majority of the record collectors out there are your everyday people who simply collect what they like. (My dad says he'll sometimes buy a single if he simply likes the label.)

Up until a few years ago, I could proudly say that both had special "days" devoted to them, on one special day each year.

I can't say that anymore.

Looking back, "National Baseball Card Day" may have just been a marketing ploy on the part of card companies. But it certainly grabbed my attention at the time.

I'm fairly certain that 2006 was the initial celebration of the card "holiday". That happened to be the first year I collected solely baseball cards, and I was still searching for some local card shops to frequent.

I first became aware of the "day" from an ad in one of my Beckett magazines, which listed the card shops that were participating in the promotion. Luckily, I found that one of them was just a short bus ride from my house, a small shop called "Zeke's Baseball Cards".

Before that ad, I never even knew it existed.

Part of the promotion was that each participating card store would give away special packs that contained specially-made inserts. An example is the David Wright card at the top of this post.

I don't remember exactly what I pulled from that pack.

All I know is that I had found a great new card shop, which was all I could ever really ask for.

In that sense, I came to appreciate "National Baseball Card Day".

Flash-forward a couple years.

While the "day" took a hiatus in 2007, it came back with a vengeance in '08. This time, card shops would again be giving away special packs. Only this time, they'd be filled with random Topps/Upper Deck cards.

Plus, one out of every five packs had an autograph card inside. (I specifically remember that for some reason.)

"Zeke's" was once again participating in the promotion. Since I was a frequent customer by this time, the store owner was nice enough to give me two packs, even though I'm pretty sure they were supposed to be limited to one per customer.

Ironically, the extra pack held one of the greatest cards I've ever pulled.

Had anyone else pulled this Bud Smith autograph, it would probably have just been tossed to the side and forgotten about.

But I was the lucky one that became the proud owner of the above card. Bud Smith just happens to be one of those obscure guys that I collect. He threw a no-hitter as a rookie with the Cardinals in '01, then faded away, going 1-5 with a 6.94 ERA in 2002.

He never pitched in the majors again.

Like Bud Smith, my world of baseball cards rapidly faded after a strong year or two.

Zeke's closed down a couple months later. And "National Baseball Card Day" never returned. Apparently, it wasn't the resounding success that "Record Store Day" is today. (My dad tells me that much of the vinyl collector's world revolves around that "day".)

While it was a good idea, it just didn't work. I don't think there were enough card shops to keep the promotion going. Plus, I don't think something like that could all of a sudden attract new people to the hobby. It takes a lot more than a couple free packs of cards.

But one good thing came out of the failure of the baseball card "holiday" (besides my Bud Smith autograph, of course).

I realized that I didn't need a special day telling me to appreciate baseball cards. I can do that anytime I want, regardless if it's in a Beckett magazine or whatnot. Not a day goes by where I don't appreciate my baseball cards in some way, shape, or form.

In my life, every day is "National Baseball Card Day".

Please Mr. Postman (A trade post) -- All Carew, all the time

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a big collector of pre-overproduction era HOFers.

I recently saw that Kevin, author of the fantastic blog "The Diamond King", was giving away a small lot of Rod Carew cards. (Judging from a couple of the comments he's left on some of my posts, Kevin is also a fan of the dime boxes.)

Naturally, I jumped on them, mainly for two reasons:

1) I love free cards. (Who doesn't?)

2) Rod Carew is one of my favorite HOFers. While seeing the longball is indeed a treat, I've always loved watching singles hitters at the plate.

I'm not old enough to have seen Carew play in person, but I like to think that I'm witnessing a Carew-like hitter in Ichiro in today's game.

I was excited to see that the Carews arrived in the mail today, but Kevin really went above and beyond what I was expecting to see in the package. (You'll see why in a bit.)

Almost all the cards were from Carew's tenure with the Angels in the early and mid '80s.

While Fleer isn't exactly known for their photography (especially in their early days), Carew's '81 Fleer issue is arguably my favorite Angels issue of his.

I love the mountains in the background (along with some hints of snow, I believe) along with the clear blue sky. Probably my favorite card to come out of Fleer's initial set.

I was pleased to find a couple '85 Donruss cards of Carew that I didn't already have out of the package from Kevin.

The one on the left commemorates Carew's 3,000th hit, which he collected on August 4, 1985. It just happened to be the same exact day that Tom Seaver earned his 300th career victory.

I've always liked these 1983 Topps "Super Veteran" cards.

It's neat to see the contrast between a player's rookie photo and a current one. I especially like Joe Morgan's "Super Veteran" issue, which has a picture of him with the Colt .45s on the left.

I have no idea what set this card comes from.

But I like it, headband and all.

Now, let's take a look at the undisputed "crown jewel" of the package. My eyes widened in excitement when I first saw it. I had to double-check and make sure it was the real thing...

...and it was.

An actual 1969 Topps Rod Carew! Just his second-ever solo card. Way back when he was still listed as a second baseman.

I still can't believe that Kevin was gracious enough to include this one. He advertised the lot as mainly "early to mid '80s Topps, Fleer, and Donruss" cards, which I would've been more than happy with.

No mention of anything like this.

So, Kevin, I wholeheartedly thank you for the great Carew cards, especially for this amazing 1969 Topps issue!

It will be a card I cherish for a long time.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dime boxes across the U.S.A.

"Regional" is a term that can be attributed to lots of different areas of life.

Accents, food, music, and many others. Some things are only popular in certain areas, for whatever reason. (My dinner tonight is going to be Italian beef. Good luck finding that anywhere else besides Chicago.)

Sports are a prime example, obviously. Sure, I bet you can find your Nationals fans in Colorado, but an overwhelming majority of them are probably Rockies fans.

Originally, dime boxes were something I thought was found across the country. After all, I'd seen them at almost every show I've ever gone to. In fact, I can't think of a show that hasn't had one offhand. A couple of them have even had cards from the local Cubs/White Sox (including the above Bill Buckner), a rare feat.

Even the smallest of the small had a dime box for me to peruse through.

However, a recent post by Night Owl has led me to believe that the opposite may be true.

Apparently, dime boxes are nowhere to be found on the east coast.

Even quarter boxes are a rare find, I'm told.

But why the absence of dime boxes? I don't really have an answer for that one. Perhaps someone who lives on the east coast could venture a better guess than I ever could.

What about you west coasters?

Do you have dime boxes? It's odd that something as simple as dime boxes would vary from region to region. I would think that vendors from all parts of the country have cheap cards they want to unload.

What better way to do that then with dime boxes?

I've personally never been to any other card shows outside of about an hour radius from where I live. Perhaps shows are a bit different once you stray away from the Chicago area. But as of now, I wouldn't know.

I'm at a loss for a theory on the regional dime box differences. All I can say for anyone that has yet to experience one is to keep looking. I would think that one will turn up sooner or later.

When it does, you won't forget it.

Deja vu all over again

I know I'm not the only blogger to post about this topic, but Philip Humber pitched the 21st perfect game in baseball history yesterday.

He joins Mark Buehrle and Charlie Robertson (a career 49-80 hurler) as the only White Sox pitchers to toss a perfecto.

So just who is this Humber guy, anyways?

I don't want to sound like a hipster or anything, but I was actually collecting cards of Philip Humber before his days with the White Sox, and way before yesterday's perfect game.

Humber was the 3rd overall pick in the 2005 draft. While he made it to the bigs fairly quickly, he never quite panned out. Between 2006-07, he pitched just nine innings for the Mets, with a 6.00 ERA.

Before last year (or perhaps even before yesterday), many people only knew Humber as one of the key players the Mets sent to the Twins in the deal that brought ace Johan Santana to New York.

Humber completely dropped off the radar in his time with Minnesota, pitching in 20 2/3 innings and posting a horrible 6.10 ERA. (I'm fairly certain that the above card was the only one ever produced of him as a Twin.)

It was around this time that I began collecting him. I found dozens and dozens of Humber's cards in dime boxes over the next few years. I currently own ten different Humber rookies, all thanks to dime boxes.

It was apparent that the baseball (and baseball card) community had pretty much given up on him.

I guess I did too, but I went on collecting him anyways, just for fun and a reminder of "what could have been".

I usually keep up with the whereabouts of guys I collect, but even I lost track of Humber after his time with Minnesota was done.

He signed with the Royals in December of '09. He'd go 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 21 2/3 innings with Kansas City in 2010, the most innings he'd pitched in a season up to that point.

The A's selected him off waivers from the Royals after the close of the 2010 season. The White Sox snagged him off waivers from Oakland a month later.

The news of Humber coming to the Sox was the first I'd heard of him in about two years or so.

He came out of nowhere to have an absolutely monstrous first half in 2011. While he didn't make the All-Star team, he was a definite contender. While he fell off a bit in the second half, he still put up a respectable 9-9 record with a modest 3.75 ERA.

The 163 innings he pitched last year more than tripled his previous career total.

He joined the likes of Brandon McCarthy in my "saved from obscurity" club.

And now this Humber has a perfect game to add to his resume. A former waiver-wire pickup, at that. (I wonder if that's ever happened before.)


...I missed it.

It's been nagging me all day. "You missed it. You missed it. You missed it."

I've had terrible luck when it comes to seeing no-hitters and perfect games live. And I've had the chance to see quite a few.

The only full no-hitter I've ever seen live was Roy Halladay's no-no in the 2010 NLDS. That easily ranks among the most amazing feats I've ever witnessed live.

I caught the end of Ervin Santana's no-hitter last year. The MLB Network cut in to its regularly scheduled programming with the last three outs.

And in a trend that continues to haunt me, I was out of the house for the majority of Francisco Liriano's no-hitter against the White Sox last year. At least I got to catch the final few outs of that one.

Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009 came on what seemed like any other lazy summer afternoon. I caught the first inning or so of the Sox game that day, until a couple of my friends called me to toss the football around at the park. So I turned off the game and hung out with them for a while.

One of my friends is a huge White Sox fan, and he has that thing where it sends you a text every time something happens in the Sox game. (As you might be able to tell, I'm not exactly up to snuff on all the features cell phones have to offer.)

Right out of the blue, he shouted, "MARK BUEHRLE THREW A FREAKIN' PERFECT GAME!". (Okay, he used a word other than "freakin'".)

We ditched the football and went over to his house to catch the highlights. I couldn't believe it. There was DeWayne Wise making one of the best catches I'd ever see. And there was Jason Bartlett grounding out to cap off the perfect game.

About an hour later, the biggest thunderstorm I've ever seen swept through our area.

I guess that was a sign.

Ironically, I remember having a discussion about Humber with that same friend last summer.

Yesterday, I was too busy ripping, sorting, scanning, and blogging about my Gypsy Queen breaks to turn on the TV. And then I went to play basketball with some other friends about an hour later.

My friends are huge basketball fans, so we went back to one of their houses to catch the end of the Bulls game. (I could care less about basketball, but I have to admit that I'm more aware of the goings-on in the NBA this year than I've ever been, thanks to my friends.)

While the game was going on, I thought I saw something flash by on ESPN's ticker near the bottom of the screen. I thought I must've read it wrong, so I waited for it to come by again, completely ignoring the basketball game. And then I saw it again:

"Philip Humber throws the 21st perfect game in MLB history."

Right away, I said "A perfect game?!". Which led one of my friends to later ask, "So, Nick, is baseball your favorite sport?" ("Yes", I told him.)

I didn't want to be rude, so I smiled and said "I'll see what happened once I get home." But I really wanted to see those highlights that second. Watching the last three minutes of that dang Bulls game was the longest three minutes of my life. And then the realization that I had missed yet another perfect game set in. And I was one of the very few who had the chance to actually see it. I did eventually get to see the highlights. I did eventually get to see Brendan Ryan strike out to end it.

Oh, well. Another "Diner" moment with my friends happened later that night. A cheeseburger and fries drowned out the fact that I missed another perfecto.

So congratulations, Mr. Humber, on tossing a perfect game.

Hopefully, I'll be there to see the next one.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Another Gypsy Queen post (rack pack + blaster)

By now, I'm sure most of us have seen our fair share of 2012 Topps Gypsy Queen already throughout the blogosphere.

I didn't quite get why this set was so popular last year. I mean, it was okay, but I didn't love it.

But that's part of the greatness of baseball cards. To each their own. (I'm sure a lot of people didn't like Topps Total in its day.)

I had bit of a pack-ripping itch today and it was one of those rare times where I actually had a little bit of extra cash on hand. Put those together and what do you get?

A blaster and a rack pack of Gypsy Queen.

My dad actually treated me to the rack pack, so let's start with that. The only condition was that I had to open it during lunch, as I usually like to wait until I get home to open anything. (Thank you, Dad!)

I opened it before we started eating so I didn't get any barbecue sauce on them.

A single rack pack was all I bought of GQ last year. I didn't have much of a budget for any loose packs last year. I think I only bought two blasters in all of 2011. (I've already gotten four this year.)

The fact that I was broke for pretty much all of last year pained me a little bit. I always enjoy ripping open a good pack every so often. The thrill of it never goes away. Even if it's just a pack of 1991 Donruss or something, I still get a little bit of a tug whenever I split the wrapper open and see that first card.

I've certainly had my fill of pack ripping thus far in 2012, something which I'm very grateful for.

The main draw of the Gypsy Queen rack packs are the framed paper parallels, but we'll get to those in a bit.

I pulled the above card of the late Gary Carter in the first pack of the rack pack. I thought it was a nice touch on the part of Topps to include him. Even though I don't really collect Carter, I think I'll keep this one as a tribute to "The Kid".

At first, I thought I liked this year's base design better, but now I'm not so sure.

The 2012 design is a bit loud for my liking. I didn't realize that until I had the cards in-hand. I think Topps overdid it a bit, so I'll give the advantage in the base design to last year's GQ.

However, any card of Reggie Jackson is cool to me, especially one of him in the "Swingin' A's" jerseys from the '70s.

It pains me to say it, but I have to. I collect Albert Pujols. Cards of him in an Angels uniform, at least. I always enjoy getting cards of guys on their new teams, and this the first time the baseball world has seen Pujols in a non-Cardinals uniform.

The variation SPs are a bit annoying.

I had to go through each card I got and see if it was a short-print. Thankfully, this was extremely helpful.

At least I got one of a guy I collect in Cliff Lee.

Let's just get everything I don't like about the set out of the way first.

Minis are good, in moderation. I think someone forgot to tell Topps that when they released this set.

From just the rack pack and blaster I counted five or six different mini variations. Seriously, do we really need green minis of Matt Cain? (That's what they're called, I looked it up.)

I struck out on the minis in the rack pack. I didn't need any of the three I pulled.

The inserts are okay, although I think there was some wasted potential with the "Moonshots" set. A night sky background or something could've made those fantastic, instead of a plain purple border.

While I might complain about Mickey Mantle cards being in every set of Topps nowadays, I still can't turn down a good ol' card of "The Mick".

The Mantle was actually the first card I saw out of the first pack I opened today. I don't know what it is with me and "The Mick" this year. My first card of 2012 was a Mantle.

Any HOFer insert set is fine with me. So yes, I do like the "Hallmark Heroes" cards, even if another plain border leaves something to be desired.

Now onto the big "draw", the framed paper parallels.

These are great. Topps set the bar high with them last year, but they matched (if not succeeded) it in 2012.

While I went 0-for-3 with the minis, I went 3-for-3 with the framed paper parallels. I'll take that tradeoff all day long. (The one not pictured was of Jacoby Ellsbury.)

I absolutely love the Seaver. It might be the best card I pulled today.

That caps off the rack pack.

Once again, thanks Dad!

Now on to the blaster.

I'll say it now. I didn't pull the Yu Darvish autograph. Apparently, his cards were super short-printed and are going for big bucks.

I'll pull something like that one of these days. When that day comes, I'll never know...

But I don't need a super high-value card to be satisfied with my breaks. All I need is a Willie Stargell card. Or perhaps even a Sandy Koufax.

The fact that I got both of the above cards out of the same pack made the entire blaster worthwhile to me. It was probably the best pack I've opened thus far in 2012.

I'll never get sick of cards like these.

To this day, I don't think I've ever seen a bad picture of Brooks Robinson. Gypsy Queen continued that trend.

Night Owl says that some of these GQ shots make the players' uniforms appear to be dirty. Upon a close examination, I have to agree with him. (Another astute observation.)

But I'm pretty sure Fisk's jersey is actually dirty in that shot. Definitely one of the highlights of the base set.

When I was pulling cards to scan for this post, I had to stop myself and remember to show some current players.

Since I love cards of HOFers so much, I tend to focus on them a little more. But that doesn't mean I don't like cards of current guys.

In fact, the Aramis Ramirez was one of my favorite pulls of the day. I love the fact that Topps photoshopped him into an old-school Brewers uniform. Plus, the spectacular Wrigley Field backdrop still works because the Brewers are an NL Central rival.

I don't know why, but something about that shot of Brian Wilson (and his beard) just fits with this year's Gypsy Queen design.

If I ever figure out exactly what it is, I'll get back to you.

More minis.

From left to right, we have the Straight Cut mini. Then the black border mini. Then the Gypsy Queen back mini.

And, oh yeah, the regular mini, the DiMaggio being one of my better pulls of the day.

Here's a couple other cool minis I pulled.

Just the boring old regular ones. My favorite kind.

Here's the other short-print variations I pulled.

I'm keeping the Pedroia, but I'm sure someone out there will want the Griffey.

In terms of design, these are my favorite inserts in the set.

Perfectly executed on Topps' part. The Gypsy Queen logo is nice and small on these cards, allowing more space for the picture, a fantastic action shot at that.

I just wish I could've pulled one of somebody I collect.

Another card of "The Mick", this time from the "Hallmark Heroes" inserts.

I love that Dave Concepcion is visible in the background of the Johnny Bench shot. (Now there's a guy I'd like to see more cards of, Topps.)

I still think Bench is the greatest catcher ever. I just wish I could've seen him play.

Let's close out this post with a couple more "Moonshots" inserts I've pulled, featuring two guys that Topps hasn't gone overboard with yet with Ralph Kiner and Willie McCovey.

In fact, I'd have to say that the Kiner was indeed my favorite of today's pulls. I can't remember the last time anyone made a card of him.

Overall, I think I liked last year's Gypsy Queen set a little better than this year's (although I'm still not all that high on either one).

But all in all, Gypsy Queen's 2012 offering definitely has its high points. Pulling a card of Ralph Kiner was definitely a pleasant surprise.

I'll have my wants/tradeables from this set posted on my links on the sidebar later tonight for anyone who wants to do some trading. I still need a ton of base and inserts from the set.

While I doubt I'll pick up much more of this set, I still had an absolute blast opening them with my dad this afternoon.

I still maintain that few things beat the simple joy of ripping open a pack of baseball cards.