Thursday, August 30, 2012

The inbetweeners

For a lot of people, collections revolve mostly on the basis that the baseball card world is black and white.

Some can say, "I only collect this player" or "I'm only building these two sets right now". There's not a lot of wiggle room when it comes their version of card collecting.

I'm the complete opposite.

There's a lot of gray area when it comes to my collection.

Maybe there's a part of me that envies the type of collector who can only collect one or two sets or players.

Ah, who am I kidding? It's so much fun to just collect whatever my heart desires! If I only chose a couple players to collect, what the heck would I come back with from card shows? A card or two?

This is the way I was meant to collect.

Sure, I can definitively say "I collect Prince Fielder" and "I don't collect Nate McLouth". (My apologies to any McLouth fans out there.)

While my collection might seem a bit scattered to some of my readers, I promise you that there is a rhyme and reason to it, and it's all nicely categorized. (Don't worry, you'll never see me on that Hoarders show.)

But for whatever reason, there's a few guys that make up the small percentage of "gray area" amongst my player collections.

They're what I like to call "The Inbetweeners". (At least since I started watching the show off Netflix last week.)

And "inbetweener" number one is Mr. Miguel Cabrera.

It's odd that I've placed one of the best hitters of my generation into this category.

So what exactly makes Cabrera a part of this club?

Well, I've never specifically sought out any of his cards. I don't usually trade for anything of his. For whatever reason, he's just not that high on my priority list.

However, should I come across any of his cards in dime boxes, I'll gladly buy them. They're responsible for about 90 percent of my Cabrera collection at the moment.

Dime boxes are perfect for "the inbetweeners" because of their low cost.

Perhaps I'll upgrade Cabrera to one of my "all-out" player collections in the future. Only time will tell.

For now, he'll have to live with being an inbetweener.

Considering that I own almost 100 different Jose Reyes cards, he's a questionable pick for this category.

I've specifically sought out his 2012 issues of him in a Marlins uniform. I guess technically, Reyes is only part "inbetweener".

Still, I've never gotten to excited over any of his Mets cards. (This one being an exception.)

The only reason I've accumulated so many of his cards is that he's one of the more common dime box guests known to man. (I purchased about 20 Reyes cards from a single dime box last year.)

That's not to say that I don't treasure my Reyes cards, because I do. It's doesn't get much better than the awesome Turkey Red issue you see above these words.

Heck, I used to not collect Reyes at all.

He's working his way up the ladder in my collection.

I guess you could say he's at the "middle management" phase right now.

The time has come to showcase my favorite "inbetweener" card.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised that this is its first appearance on this blog.

It was the centerpiece of one of the craziest packs of baseball cards I've ever opened.

I used to buy packs from my local K-Mart on a fairly regular basis, back when they actually had new releases on the shelves. (Nowadays, I feel like I'm trapped in 2009 whenever I find myself in their card aisle.)

Most fans probably remember the huge buzz surrounding "Dice-K" when he first entered the big leagues back in '07. I especially remember the hype in the cardboard industry.

One innocent K-Mart pack of 2007 Topps Series 2 capitalized on that "hype" more than I could ever imagine. That one pack netted me both the base rookie and Japanese-variation rookie of Matsuzaka.

That was the highest point of my "Dice-K" collection. It's all been pretty much downhill for the last five years. (I guess the same could be said of Matsuzaka himself.)

Jose Reyes managed to work his way up to being an inbetweener.

Daisuke Matsuzaka has been the opposite. He's fallen down the "corporate ladder".

In a lot of ways, these "inbetweeners" are what make collecting so much fun for me. They're like a "side project", which never hurt when it comes to collecting baseball cards. After all, I'm sure most of us have a few "projects" on the horizon.

They're also a great reminder that only one person can decide what I want to collect.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Into the Sunset, Pt. 4: John Olerud

It's hard to say when I first became a John Olerud fan.

It seems like I've been one since...forever.

Best I can remember, he was one of the first players I specifically collected as a kid.

I, like many other baseball fans at the time, noticed something peculiar every time Olerud took his position at first base.

He wore a helmet.

As a nine year-old kid, I thought that was so cool. I can remember wanting to wear one anytime I had to play first base in Little League. He was one of my idols. (Only later did I learn exactly why Olerud wore the helmet, the result of a brain aneurysm during his college days.)

Of course, being the stat geek I was at the time (an attribute that stays with me to this day), I also found out that Mr. Olerud was a pretty darn good hitter as well.

He hovered near the hallowed .400 mark in '93. Although he tailed off near the end of the season, he still captured the AL batting title with a fantastic .363 average that year.

My Olerud collection is nearing the 150-card mark these days. As I took a look through them in preparation for this post, I noticed that Topps never really gave him that one "spectacular" card that most name players seem to get during their careers.

Surprisingly, it was the overlooked Collector's Choice brand that produced Olerud's "peak card" during his career, this one coming from their 1998 release.

This is about as close to a "perfect baseball card" as it gets. Just look at that beautiful landscape shot paired with the fluffy clouds in the background.

Plus, he's even wearing that quirky helmet.

I own four different final cards of Olerud from his final cardboard season in 2005.

So who did the greatest job of sending him "into the sunset"?

Let's find out.

Like many other players that came before, Olerud finished up his career wearing a couple of unfamiliar uniforms.

He spent his second-to-last big league season with the Yankees in '04, appearing in just 49 games for the Bronx Bombers that year.

None of Olerud's final cards are subpar, which is something I can't honestly say about the three players I've already featured in this theme. Each of them had at least one that wasn't exactly a "masterpiece".

In my book, Donruss ranks last out of the quartet of Olerud's "sunset" issues.

However, this isn't a bad one, by any means. A fine shot of the expert hitter at the plate.

In the end, I had to give the number three spot to...

...a card of Olerud in "fielding mode".

Any issues of him wearing that helmet is a favorite in my book.

2005 Fleer Tradition has always been kind of a wild card for me. It's one of those "middling" sets that I can't seem to decide whether I like or not.

I wish Fleer was still around nowadays. I've always felt that they'd be a nice compliment to all the Topps products on the shelves these days.

For now, I'll just have to relive Fleer's glory through their past heroics.

Like this one.

The "silver medal" for Olerud's send-off goes to Topps Heritage.

Topps' 2005 Heritage release pays homage to the classic 1956 Topps design, one of the best vintage sets ever made.

I could never get sick of the dual-image theme of these cards. The portait/action shot combo is one of the most simple, yet fantastic, ideas ever conceived in the world of baseball cards.

The only problem I have with this one is that the black/yellow nameplates in the top-right corner seem more appropriate for a team like the Pirates. I'm not sure how well it works for the Bronx Bombers.

Still, that's only a minor detail, one that doesn't even come close to taking away from the overall greatness of this card.

But Olerud's best "sunset" issue stands out in a big way.

Had this card not been released, there'd be a gaping hole in the cardboard legacy of John Olerud.

A few of my favorite players never received actual cards picturing them with their final teams. Topps never released a card of Orlando Cepeda as a Kansas City Royal. The same can also be said of George Foster's short stay with the White Sox.

I'm glad that Olerud wasn't relegated to that category.

Thankfully, Topps Update came along and saved the day.

He finished his career with the Red Sox in 2005, posting a .289 average in 87 games for Boston that year.

Although I can't tell you exactly why, I recently ranked 2005 Topps as my favorite Topps set of the 2000's. I've always had a soft spot for the general look of these cards.

It might also have something to do with this card.

After all, it was the only set to give John Olerud the goodbye he deserved.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's a gamble

A quick disclaimer before I start.

This is not a post about Oscar Gamble. I repeat, this post will not have anything to do with Gamble and his huge 'fro.

Sorry, folks.

If you're still reading, I thank you.

In this post, the word "gamble" will simply carry its normal meaning.

After all, the world of baseball cards has become like a casino to quite a few "collectors", especially in recent years. (Emphasis on the quotation marks there.)

I guess you could say the card companies are the "dealers". Pack searchers are those underhanded people that "count cards". (Almost literally.)

The stories I've heard still amaze me to this day. People walking into card shops, ripping open one of the "high-end" packs on the shelves, dropping hundreds of dollars in search of that one "mojo" hit. If they don't get it in the first pack, they'll move on and drop a few more hundred bucks on another. And another...

The part that leaves me a bit queasy is that some of those people simply leave the "insignificant" base cards on the card shop counter and walk out, acting like they don't even matter.

Look, I'm not one to tell people how to spend their money. If they want to do that, they're free to do what they wish.

Just know that with cards, as with a casino, the house always wins. If you really want to gamble, why not just try a sports betting site or something?

Leave cardboard out of it.

If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that I'll never, ever become a "high-end" aficionado. Even if I win the lottery one day or hit it big on a casino slot machine, I wouldn't change a thing with how I collect. I'd just have more money for low-end cards.

Okay, that might not be a hundred percent true. I'd definitely treat myself to a few cardboard luxuries.

But until my days of winning the lottery come, I'm perfectly happy with the type of collector I am now.

That's part of the reason I love the blogosphere so much. That type of mindset is basically the norm here.

In fact, I just completed a trade with another like-minded collector. Josh, author of the great blog "Royals and Randoms", sent me a bunch of extra Mike Sweeney cards he had lying around in exchange for most of my extra Sweeney cards and a few other Royals.

My first ever Sweeney-themed swap. I love it.

I already recounted the backstory behind my Mike Sweeney collection in a recent flea market post. It's one of my most sentimental player collections because of the fact that one of my friends was the one who initially peaked my interest in Sweeney.

I know we both would've gone crazy for this awesome Collector's Choice issue of his, back when he still handled catching duties for the Royals.

It's great to reflect on a time when I had a card-collecting friend.

Every Sweeney card I own is almost like my own personal "flashback".

Although I don't like to admit it, I am one of those collectors who checks the "odds" on the back of every pack of baseball cards I purchase.

I don't know why. By now, I just assume it's some sort of unwanted habit.

No matter what type of collector you are, buying a pack of baseball cards is indeed a "gamble". Even though I'm not looking for the gigantic mondo-hit, there's a chance that I won't pull anything I want.

Being the "glass half-full" type of person I am, I can usually try and find something I like in every pack, though.

Occasionally, collectors do hit the "jackpot". Take a look at this if you don't believe me.

I wouldn't count on me pulling anything like that in the near future. Then again, you just never know. While I am a low-end collector, having a card like that pop out of an innocent retail pack would be quite a rush, I'll admit.

But in the meantime, trading with fellow bloggers helps me quash any of my "gambling" thoughts.

The odds are pretty much 100 percent that you'll get a few great new pieces to your collection with a blogosphere swap. Am I right?

You could say that every new Sweeney card I acquire is like a low-end "jackpot". And Josh sent me over twenty of them.

Jackpot, times twenty.

A "royal flush", perhaps?

I'm not going to lie to you.

I'm definitely looking forward to my twenty-first birthday next year, the day when I can finally legally step foot into a casino. (Although I'll need money first.)

If I wanted to, there's plenty of ways I could've gambled before then, though.

In fact, I've been noticing that the legalization of sports betting is gaining more and more steam these days.

Trouble is, that's already been around for a while now in this hobby. The only difference is that you're betting on individual players, not teams.

Also known as "prospecting".

I already described my lone attempt at it, way back when I was still a stupid kid.

Long story short, it's not for me. And in many ways, it represents everything that I don't like about the current hobby.

I'll stick with guys that I genuinely watching and enjoy collecting cards of, not some "prospect" who might make me a few bucks down the road.

Mike Sweeney always has been and always will be one of those select players, especially when we're talking about these rare circular-style cards.

I was excited to receive a disc-shaped card of Barry Bonds a few days ago, easily one of my least favorite ballplayers in the history of the game.

You can imagine how ecstatic I was to receive not one, but two circular cards of one of my all-time favorites, Mike Sweeney.

Thanks to the generosity of fellow blogger Josh, I definitely hit the "jackpot" here.

No casino needed.

No three-hundred dollar packs of baseball cards necessary.

Although I'd still like to win the lottery one day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mondays with Hoyt, Episode 14

1962 Topps #423 Elroy Face/Hoyt Wilhelm "Relief Aces"

I literally have hundreds of different player collections, a fact that has already been pretty well-documented on this blog.

Yes, there is a specific reason as to why I collect each individual player. It's not just a random group of names that I picked out of a hat one day.

It's safe to say that each of my many collections holds a special significance to me.

However, none of them could ever come close to the admiration I have towards my Hoyt Wilhelm collection.

As I'd imagine is the case with most player collections, it's not always about the quantity.

Although my Vladimir Guerrero collection is about six times the size of my Hoyt collection, the latter will always win out.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love my cards of Vlad, and I wouldn't give them up for anything.

It's just that my Hoyt collection is in a league of its own. In many ways, it's unique from almost all my other groups of cards.

For one thing, Wilhelm is the only player that gets a special binder in my collection. Although he takes up about a quarter of my Expos binder, Guerrero is still sandwiched in between my north-of-the-border issues of Graig Nettles and Brad Wilkerson.

Hoyt is the only player that gets a whole binder to himself.

He's spoiled.

Although there aren't many, Hoyt is the only collection of mine in which I actively seek out multi-player cards.

If someone sends me a card that features a guy like Marlon Byrd with another player, I'll gladly take it. But, in almost every case, for whatever the reason, multi-player cards just don't do it for me. 

I don't know what the majority says on the topic, but I'm just not a big fan of two or three-player cards.

There are exceptions to that rule, though.

I own a grand total of two cards in which Wilhelm shares the spotlight.

Even though it's a multi-player issue, this is one of my favorite Hoyt cards.

The player he shares the card with, then-Pirate reliever Elroy Face, is also a prominent "binder inductee". The 18-1 record he posted in 1959 (a .947 winning percentage) is simply staggering.

Nevertheless, Face still plays second fiddle to Hoyt on this one.

This is just another in the never-ending saga of Wilhelm cards that feature his knuckleball grip.

Some of these "combo" cards are absolute failures. Then again, some are resounding successes. 

I think we can put this one into the latter category.

So don't feel bad, Elroy Face. You're not the only one that's been overshadowed in my collection by the great Hoyt Wilhelm.

That's for sure.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Are the kids all right?

Apparently, 2012 Panini Triple Play is gearing up to be a pretty popular set amongst the blogosphere.

My thoughts on the topic received amongst the most views and comments of any post in this blog's history, I'm proud to say.

Incidentally, it's just another reason why I've come to love the blogs so much. I haven't heard a single peep about the set on my trading forum yet. Although I guess that's fitting, since "book value" wouldn't begin to tell the story of how groundbreaking Triple Play could potentially be.

That's for another post, though.

As I'm sure is the case with most other collectors, my favorite part of the local Target is the card aisle, located right next to the cash registers. (At least at my Target.)

My dad and I have walked through there on quite a few occasions this year. It's where I go when I have a little extra cash in my pocket. It's where all the new "treasures" of the card year await.

And it's almost always empty.

At my local Target, the Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, etc. cards are located right next to the sports cards. If I do happen to see anyone frequenting the card aisle, it's little kids hoping to "score" the next great Yu-gi-oh card for their "deck".

I've seen older folks digging through the sports cards on a few occasions, but not often enough to really notice. (No pack searchers from what I've seen...yet. I'm sure one will pop up sooner or later.)

But a funny thing happened when my dad and I walked into the card aisle at the local Target last week, hoping to get our first look at the anticipated Triple Play set.

There were actually kids in the sports card aisle.

I couldn't tell you the last time I'd seen that. It felt great to know that there were at least a couple kids in the neighborhood who were still interested in the hobby.

After they left, my dad and I had the card aisle to ourselves, as usual. The first thing that caught my eye was the brand spankin' new Triple Play packs, of course.

When we find ourselves in the card aisle, my dad likes to browse around for a few minutes before making the final selection. I always have my eye on the prize, that one new set on the shelves. (Triple Play, in this case.)

This time, I followed my dad's eye around the card shelves.

A fairly obvious realization came into my mind at that point.

The kids we saw last week couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen years old. When I was that age, I got ten bucks' allowance per week. I was free to do whatever I wanted with it.

Even at that time, I wanted the most bang for my buck.

Looking across all the prices in the present day, it's easy to see why I'd never seen kids in the card aisle at Target before.

A six-card pack of A&G sets you back three bucks. A four-card pack of Bowman Chrome is three bucks. A rack pack of Topps flagship sets you back another five smackers.

Most of those are out of the young collector's price ranges.

It's obvious from the cartoonish images and low price per pack that Panini had the younger collector in mind when the idea was conceived.

In the end, adults will probably end up representing most of the consumer market for Triple Play, which is fine considering adults well outweigh the younger members of the hobby nowadays.

Looking back, I guess it was bound to happen.

The hobby has gone through a dramatic shift since the "glory days" of the 1970's market.

In fact, it's pretty much the polar opposite.

While I'm sure there had to have been a few adults who collected cards back in the day, the hobby was almost entirely focused upon the younger generation.

I especially enjoy this 1973 Topps "highlight" card because it's the very representation of that fact. Topps cleverly referenced the old children's cartoon "Dennis the Menace" in a card that featured the World Series heroics of then-unknown A's backup catcher Gene Tenace.

No one collected because they thought the cards would have any "value".

They collected because it was fun.

Of course, all of us pretty much know the rest.

The overproduction era "boom" enters the hobby, prices rise, the kids are pretty much priced out, the card market crashes.

And now we're left with the "dying" hobby.

While I don't agree with that last part at all (despite what some news outlets would have you believe), it's no secret that kids aren't a large part of the card market anymore.

As a result, there haven't been a whole lot of sets geared towards the younger collector in recent years.

One of the few I can remember is the 2004 Upper Deck Power Up! set. It involves something where you enter a code somewhere and something happens that no kid could ever care about.

Much like the whole "Topps Town" deal from recent flagship sets.

Given that Power Up! is the best recent kid-themed set I could think of, I can't say I blame much of the younger generation for being dismissive towards the hobby these days.

Just look at that monstrosity.

Before Triple Play came around, Topps Opening Day was pretty much the last non-flagship set designed for the younger collector.

Until this year, Opening Day packs were also priced at just 99 cents a piece. (They rose to a whopping $1.09 in 2012.)

While I've always been a supporter of Opening Day, I'll admit that it's basically a less-glorified version of every single flagship set. Even the photos are the same, in most cases.

You have to admit that this year's 3-D inserts were actually pretty nifty, no matter what age you are.

Still, Topps had tried and failed with the kid-themed inserts in past years.

Although Topps challenged kids to "spot the error" last year, I'm sure few had trouble with it. I don't know that Jose Bautista stepped up to the plate without a bat in his hands on many occasions.

Personally, I think the time to get kids back into the hobby is dwindling.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part. The time might already be up.

If the hobby is going to survive in the future, we need the younger generation to be a part of it now.

I put it to you, Topps. Take a hint from Panini.

Even if it's not a "cash cow", try to put some real time and effort to a set that kids will genuinely enjoy, not a four-card pack of Topps Chrome that sucks away what little money kids already have.

A low-budget set could pay huge dividends in the future.

Sure, adults will probably always represent the majority in the card market. There's no denying that. But through it all, I still have one question.

Why can't there be room for both?

Winning isn't everything

Winning is one of the greatest feelings in life.

No, I'm not talking about the Charlie Sheen version of "winning".

I'm talking about pretty much everything besides that.

They tried to tell me that winning didn't matter in Little League. Now, I didn't become one of those uber-competetive kids that I'm sure we all knew growing up, but it sure felt good to come out with a victory every now and again.

I played a few years of floor hockey during my pre-teen years as well. The team I played for during my final "season" finished with a record of 0-8-1. It was a lot of fun just being able to run around like a madman a couple times a week (that's the best way I can describe a game of floor hockey), but the fact that we couldn't even win one measly game still stays with me to this day.

Then there was the time I won the Ryne Sandberg autographed ball at a Cubs game. Seeing the phrase "You are a winner!" plastered across that scratch-off contest ticket felt pretty good.

Yes, I've won my share of card-related contests over the years, something which I've already chronicled on this blog.

But in that regard, the blogosphere has taught me another important lesson.

Winning isn't everything.

I'm by no means a selfish person. Quite the opposite, I think.

Still, in my years of collecting, I'd never thought to hold a contest of my own. I'd never thought to bring the feel of a "contest" to someone else for a change.

After my first few glorious months of basking in the generosity of fellow bloggers, I decided to pull the trigger on my first-ever contest.

It was the least I could do.

The winner was blogger TTG, author of the terrific Padres-themed blog "Friars on Cardboard".

It turns out that those "winnings" I sent him have really gone a long way.

Ever since then, he's been nice enough to send random packages to me from time to time, as a little "thanks" for the cards I sent him after that fateful contest.

In an odd paradoxical turn of events, that contest has netted me some great cards for my own collection, as the cards TTG sends me never cease to surprise me.

Another spectacular group of cards (and other items) arrived on my doorstep a couple afternoons ago, the work of none other than TTG.

He always seems to find some more odd cards to send my way, like the above Triple Play Felix Jose. (Unintentional group of rhymes there.)

I've gone the first twenty years of my life without wearing eyeblack, and I intend for it to stay that way in the future.

That has to be the first time I've seen the process of applying eyeblack on a baseball card.

Although Felix Jose isn't a part of my "binders", this one still fits perfectly into my collection of wild and crazy cards.

That wasn't the only one, though.

As much as I tried, I couldn't get this one to scan straight.

I have a little thing with getting my scans properly lined up, but I'll have to live with this for now. (Much thanks to Paul from "Wrigley Wax" for sending me a more straightened picture of this one!)

I did a post a few weeks ago on what exactly defines a baseball card. The hobby has provided us with cards of all shapes and sizes over the years, but can you really classify all of them as "baseball cards"?

My answer is a definitive yes.

TTG's most recent surprise group of cards included just the third circular issue I own with the above "King B" Barry Bonds oddball.

I have TTG's generosity to than for two-thirds of my circular card collection, as he also sent me the peanut butter-themed Derek Jeter I showcased in my "defining a baseball card" post.

In fact, it's probably the first time I've been happy to see a Barry Bonds card.

Even amongst all the wackiness, TTG still manages to include a little bit of normalcy in the cards he sends me with a few adds to my various player collections.

He managed to add about six or seven new pieces to my budding Darryl Kile collection, including one from the underrated 1991 Leaf set.

Ever since I announced him as one of my new binder "inductees", my Mike/Giancarlo Stanton collection has improved by leaps and bounds.

At the time I made this post, I believe my Stanton card count sat at a whopping two different issues.

With the latest "Gold Futures" addition, courtesy of TTG, I now own 18 different cards of Stanton.

I've come a long way.

Let it be known that this was the first time I'd ever received an actual ticket from a fellow blogger.

One of my life's dreams is to visit all 30 major league ballparks. In that regard, I'm probably similar to a lot of other baseball fans out there.

If that never happens, at least I can say I have a ticket from PNC Park, thanks to a pleasant surprise from TTG.

Incidentally, should my dreams of the ultimate "baseball road trip" ever come to fruition, Pittsburgh would be one of my first stops.

If I were to update my post detailing what I've learned during my time as a blogger, I'd instantly add "pay it forward" to that list.

It felt great sending out the "winnings" after I held my contest, knowing that the recipient would cherish those cards a whole lot more than I ever could.

Never did I think that he'd wind up sending me such great pieces to my collection after the fact.

Once I hit the 100 followers mark on this blog, I'm planning on holding another contest.

Again, it's the least I can do for everything the blogosphere has done for me.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Unfamiliarity is key

My collection is like one big puzzle.

Each little thing is a piece that leads into something else. Then that leads you into another path into what I collect. And so on, and so on.

Sure, there's my (literally) hundreds of different player collections. Getting the "good" cards of the players I like was what initially sucked me into the hobby.

While my numerous player collections have been with me for what seems like forever, the dozens of little, themed "mini-collections" that I've built up over the years have been just as much fun to look for in bargain bins.

In that regard, my "short term stops" collection is responsible for everything else I've accumulated.

Ever since I can remember, I've always had a deep fascination for guys that only wore a certain uniform for a year or "half-year".

I've been in this hobby for about twelve years now. Although a lot has changed, my interest in those types of cards has stood the test of time.

I'll always get a kick out of Dale Murphy in a Rockies uniform. The same goes for Harmon Killebrew in a Royals uniform, as well as countless others.

Still, just because a guy wore a certain uniform for more than a year or so doesn't mean that he automatically looks "right" in that jersey.

One of my first big vintage pickups after my re-entry into the hobby was this '64 Topps Lou Brock.

Before he became part of the infamous "Brock for Broglio" swap, Lou Brock spent two-and-a-half full seasons with the Cubs organizations, as well as a brief call-up in 1961.

I wish that Lou Brock would've spent his prime days in the Windy City, although that's always easy to say in hindsight.

Instead, I'll always have a hard time picturing Brock in the famous Cubbie blue.

It's a shame.

Lou Brock is an exception to this rule.

In most cases, it's the end of a hallowed career that brings about some odd uniform changes.

The past has brought us examples like Babe Ruth as a Boston Brave, Willie Mays as a New York Met, and Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brewer.

I can't imagine how hard it would be for a once-great player to hang up their spikes for good. Through no fault of their own, some tend to hang around the game for a few years too long, often bouncing around from team to team.

Baseball history has given us tons of examples of these, and it doesn't appear to be letting up anytime soon.

In that regard, Trevor Hoffman is a rarity.

He fits into both the "beginning" and "end" categories.

Before being dealt to the Padres in mid-season of 1993, Hoffman played the first 28 games with the neon-green Florida Marlins that year.

He'd go on to become arguably the most dominant closer the game had ever seen during the next fifteen years of his career in San Diego.

Then, he found himself in Milwaukee, where he'd play the final two years of his tenure in the big leagues.

Although he did have an All-Star season with them, I just can't get accustomed to seeing Hoffman in the navy blue Brew Crew jerseys.

Still, the words "Milwaukee, N.L. 2009-2010" will appear on his Hall of Fame plaque when that time comes.

I'm guessing it'll be in 2015.

While I'm probably a bit younger than most baseball fans and collectors out there, my age does still show in a few cases.

Younger fans probably know Mark Grace as an Arizona Diamondback. After all, he won his only World Series title with the franchise in 2001.

Not to mention that he's one of my favorite announcers in the game, as he currently does the color commentary down in the desert. (Editor's note: Looks like I haven't been paying close enough attention to the news lately, so disregard that last part of that sentence.)

Trouble is, I've never been able to get used to my cards of him as a D'Back. (Not to mention those odd pajama-like uniforms they used to wear.)

I'm old enough to remember Grace taking his position at first at Wrigley, day-in and day-out. He was a staple of the franchise.

He's probably the most iconic person of my lifetime to don a Chicago Cubs uniform, even though he spent three years of his illustrious career outside of the Windy City.

Although I don't blame him one bit for leaving, he'll always be a Cub to me.

Nothing could ever change that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cardboard Masterpieces, Pt. 18

1982 Donruss #74 Carl Yastrzemski

I can't tell you how many times I've heard the term "Baseball Gods" in my life.

As in, "You'll anger the 'Baseball Gods' by selling postseason tickets before you've clinched a spot." 

Or, "He's paid his dues in the game, the 'Baseball Gods' will take care of him now."

It's a way to explain all the unexplainable occurrences in the game of baseball. Plus, it doesn't always have to be rational.

In fact, it's often not.

So here's my theory:

If the "Baseball Gods" do indeed exist, then there has to be some type of "Baseball Card Gods" looking out for all the good-hearted collectors out there. 

My acquisition of this '82 Donruss Yaz has made me a believer.

Some of you might have noticed that this card had been a part of my "Dime Box Nine" list for the last couple weeks.

Even though I already own about 80 different cards of "Yaz", there's still a lot more out there that hadn't found their way into my grasp yet.

Up until a few days ago, this one was at the top of the list.

The one major factor that forced this one into my "Most Wanted" list was a post by everyone's favorite blogger from a couple years ago. 

The simple fact that "Yaz" is laying down a bunt would've been enough to mark this one as a "cornerstone" of my collection of his. It's certainly a unique shot. Even more surprising is the fact that it comes from an early Donruss set. (After all, they weren't exactly known for using high-quality shots back in the day.)

No, the real story of this card is when the photo was taken.

In most cases, card companies use a recent shot of the player, rarely more than a year old or so. (At least to my knowledge.)

According to Night Owl, the shot that Donruss used for this one is from 1978, a whole four years prior.

That's almost "ancient" when it comes to baseball cards.

The red helmet, the striped socks, and the pullover uniform were all "clues" that something wasn't quite right. From what Night Owl said, the Red Sox hadn't worn any of those since the late '70s.

Taking all that into account, it's easy to see why a "quirky" collector such as myself had to have it.

Trouble was, I just couldn't find it. No matter how hard I looked, I came up empty each time.

But that's where the "Baseball Card Gods" come into the story.

A week ago, I saw that a member of my trading forum was offering up an extra-special deal on some of his cards, presumably to clear some space.

Once I saw the '82 Donruss "Yaz" on his list, I jumped on it. I sent him the payment and it was on my doorstep within the next few days.

It's hard to describe the feeling of acquiring a long-wanted card for your collection. That first time you can actually say "I own this card" is something else.

So, just how much did this card cost me in the end?

One penny.

And that's not one penny, plus shipping. 

Just one penny. (Don't ask me how the guy made any money on his "extra-special" deal.)

A card I've wanted for so long falls into my hands for a single penny. I guess "Baseball Card Gods" do exist.

There's no doubting that now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A lost art

Normally, I try to knock out at least one post a day on this blog.

It keeps me fresh, it keeps me thinking, and it keeps me writing, which might prove especially important given that school is back in session.

If I take a day off from blogging, I try to make them count. (Much like Ferris Bueller.)

That was indeed the case yesterday.

What started out as a pretty dismal day turned into an unquestioned highlight of the summer.

I went to a baseball game.

But it wasn't your ordinary baseball game. It was a nighttime White Sox-Yankees contest at good ol' Comiskey Park. (I refuse to acknowledge the stadium as "U.S. Cellular Field".)

Not only that, but my friends and I got the best parking in the house. One might refer to it as "rock star" parking, right across the street from the stadium entrance.

I'd never realized how important a good parking spot at a ballgame could be.

In addition to great parking, we also had fantastic seats, at 17 rows back from the dugout along the first base line. (Still no foul balls in the vicinity, though.)

I'm neither a Yankee fan nor a Yankee hater. If there's a middle ground with the Bronx Bombers, that's where I'm at as a baseball fan.

Still, despite my overall indifference towards the franchise, I'd always wanted to see a Yankees game in person, although I wasn't rooting for them in this one. Quite the contrary, actually.

In what turned out to be a surprisingly quick game (especially since the Yankees were involved), the Sox bested the Bombers 2-1, thanks to spectacular pitching from Chris Sale and a go-ahead homer by Alex Rios in the sixth.

Plus, I got to see Ichiro in the flesh for the second time, although he went 0-3 with three K's. (I attended a White Sox-Mariners game last season.)

It was a great day at the ballpark.

While the simple joy of going to a baseball game could never wear off, I've noticed something the last few times that's disappointed me.

It seems like less and less people keep score at games these days.

Out of the entire section of fans by our seats, exactly one of them had a scorecard. (I'll admit that I skipped keeping score this time around, specifically because I wanted to save what little cash I had for a famous ballpark hot dog.)

It does involve a decent amount of work on the scorer's part, but it keeps you in focus with the game, noticing every little thing that goes on throughout the course of it. That's why I love to keep score, anyways.

Some of my favorite baseball cards involve little statistical highlights or box score themes.

It's a huge reason why the "Official Box Score" inserts from the obscure 2005 Classic Clippings set are some of my favorites in the history of this hobby.

Not only that, but each is individually numbered to the year the specific game took place. (The Mazeroski is numbered to 1,960 copies, for example.)

There might be another explanation for this, though.

When it comes to baseball stats, maybe I'm just a huge dork.

If that's true, then I've always been a dork, I guess.

Surprisingly, I don't remember when my first baseball game was. Nor do I remember the first time I kept score.

But judging from this scorecard specimen, I was already a regular stat geek by the time I was in eighth grade.

This particular game is especially ingrained into my memory.

Back in my middle school days, I was a member of a "peer leading" group. Looking back on it, I couldn't tell you what we actually did in the group.

All I remember is that we got to go to a Cubs game at the end of the school year. Not only that, but we got to miss an entire day of school for it.

I ask you, what could be better?

As usual, I kept a scorecard. I specifically remember getting a couple odd looks from a few of my friends when I bought it.

Although the Cubs got demolished 8-0 by the lowly Pirates that afternoon, I kept score right up until the end. (At least in my eighth grade style of scoring, which I've since refined.)

Perhaps the best part about keeping a score is that it stays with you for the long haul. I know I've kept all my scorecards from over the years.

When I flipped through this one after I scanned it for this post, I was immediately taken back to that seemingly insignificant Cubs-Pirates game.

I'd forgotten that Zach Duke twirled a complete-game shutout against the Cubbies that afternoon. (His only one of the '06 season.)

It also got me thinking about guys that I hadn't thought about in ages. Michael Barrett, Roberto Novoa, Angel Guzman...the names just kept on coming.

And, of course, who could forget the Cubs' lone pinch-hitter that afternoon, Michael Restovich? (For what it's worth, he struck out to end the eighth inning.)

The greatest part of keeping a scorecard is that it doesn't matter how you do it. It's not like a homework assignment, something that comes with a "grade".

You can keep score however you want. As I always say, no two scorecards are the same.

For that reason, keeping score is indeed a work of art.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The little things

There's a lot of things that separate true baseball fans from the rest of the pack.

I don't watch a whole lot of sports in the baseball offseason, but I can still appreciate the significance of a big go-ahead touchdown in football or a clutch, game-winning jump shot in the NBA.

Conversely, I'm sure the serious football or basketball fan (or any other sports) can at least note the awesomeness of a heroic walk-off home run in baseball.

Still, I've found that one major difference exists between fans of baseball and those of any other sport.

From personal experience, baseball fanatics tend to hold the "little things" in higher regard.

Things that are insignificant to the casual sports fan, but not to most of the baseball fans I've met over the years.

A pitcher stroking a solid base hit into left field. The perfectly-placed bunt. Batting helmets smeared with pine tar.

As far as those go, I have my favorites.

Unfortunately, it's one that's been slowly dying out as of late, thanks to the "suits of armor" that guys like Barry Bonds and Andres Galarraga have sported over the years. Arm guards, elbow guards, the whole production.

While I don't have anything personal against any ballplayer who wants to do that, I'll take the guys that are the polar opposite.

Guys from the "no batting gloves" school of hitting.

I'm talking about players like Doug Mientkiewicz.

From what I've seen from his cards in my collection, "Eye Chart" (as he was affectionately nicknamed in Minnesota) almost never wore batting gloves during his long career.

He's gone "gloveless" from his days as a Twins rookie to his twilight stint with the Dodgers.

During my little league days, I went in and out of a few different batting glove stages.

Even during those days, I thought the whole "no batting gloves" thing was cool. Naturally, as most of us probably tried doing at some point in our Little League careers, I tried to mimic some of my idols.

Jason Kendall was one of the first guys I can remember seeing gloveless at the plate. So, of course, I'd try hitting without gloves from time to time. My little way of being "cool" in Little League.

Then, I'd hit a fastball off the handle of the bat, and I'd run down to first base with my hands in a world of pain. So back to the batting gloves I went for my next at-bat.

I can't imagine how much it hurts to take a 90-MPH big league fastball off the handle, especially considering the usage of wooden bats in "The Show". (We always used aluminum in Little League.)

Needless to say, I have the utmost respect for guys who choose not to wear batting gloves.

Kudos to you, Jason Kendall.

Unlike my other mini-collections, such as "pitchers at the plate", I've never specifically set out to acquire these types of cards.

There's probably a ton of other great ones out there that I haven't yet seen.

Still, it's no coincidence that a few of my favorite players also prefer the "old style" way of hitting.

Take Mark Grace, for instance.

Save for a few rare instances, almost all of my cards of "Gracie" feature him without batting gloves, the above being one of my personal favorites.

However, there's one guy that stands above all others in the "no batting gloves" club.

I own more baseball cards of Vladimir Guerrero than any other player in my collection.

It's fitting, since he's easily my personal favorite player of my generation. A true "icon" of the more recent influx of ballyard talent.

As far as his hitting shots go, the guy just doesn't have a bad baseball card.

With the lack of batting gloves, how could he?

Like I said, I've got no problem with guys going the extra mile in terms of protection at the plate. Heck, it's a smart idea to at least bring a shin guard, like the one Vlad is sporting on the above card.

Still, I've always found that I tend to gravitate towards things that give me glimpses into what baseball was like in the past, a past that I never got to witness.

The whole "no batting gloves" thing is just an extension of that.

I've seen a few gloveless big leaguers this year. Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals is the first one that comes to mind. Not to mention that Bryce Harper seems to go gloveless from time to time.

It's part of why I still love to watch baseball almost every day, all these years later.

After all, those little things are what make baseball so great.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Panini Triple Play: Miles away from different

I have literally been staring at my computer for the last five minutes, thinking of some way to kick off this post.

With such an odd group of cards, there's just no good way to do it.

After surviving my first day back at school, my dad and I took a trip to the local Target to look for a few things. As is probably the case with a lot of other collectors, the trek inevitably found us standing in one specific portion of the store.

The card aisle.

Although I wasn't necessarily planning on buying any, I wanted to see if they had the newly-released Panini Triple Play set on the shelves.

They did.

I'd told my dad about them when I first saw the product info, which had to have been about a month ago. What initially peaked my interest was the budget-friendly price of a dollar per pack.

Being the generous man he is, my dad offered to buy me a few of the seven-card packs, since he was also interested in seeing what they had in store.

What those five packs yielded was perhaps the most interesting group of cards in recent memory.

I knew the set was going to be a bit different, but the simple term "different" doesn't even begin to describe them.

Once this card fell out of the first pack, I knew this set was inching towards uncharted territory.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

I must admit, these are the first Panini-brand cards in my collection.

And if the saying is right, first impressions really can go a long ways.

Since the almighty Topps is the only licensed card manufacturer these days, Panini had to come up with some way to make their set interesting without having access to any of the team names or logos.

Saying they accomplished that in an "unorthodox" way is the understatement of the year.

Some of the CGI-like pictures on the fronts of these are just downright horrifying. That Stanton belongs in a horror flick.

Amazingly enough, the base cards proved to me the most normal part of this insane set.

Every pack comes with a couple "puzzle" cards.

Each subject has nine different pieces. If you're lucky enough to get all nine of the Orlando Hudson pieces, for instance, the backs make up a giant-sized rendition of the picture featured on the fronts of each card.

At first gaze, I originally thought the packs had some sort of collation problem, since I pulled three Jose Reyes cards and two of the "O-Dog".

But they are indeed different, judging from the numbers on the front of each card.

Taking a brief break from the unabashed craziness of this set, I'll give credit to Panini for producing the first cards of Orlando Hudson as a member of the White Sox.

More accurately, congrats to Panini for producing the first nine cards of Hudson on the White Sox.

After staring at this card for a minute or two, I noticed something awesome.

The backdrops for many of the cards are relevant towards the city or franchise of each individual player.

The Brian Wilson card I showed earlier has little Golden Gate Bridge drawings over an orange background, while this Ichiro "puzzle piece" has a blue backdrop, with little anchors lining the space.

Although I'm still not sure what exactly a "Mariner" is.

These will probably start showing up in my nightmares at some point.

Each pack also comes with a special sticker "insert", although not all of them feature actual ballplayers. (Like this one.)

I've never been huge on "sticker cards" in this hobby.

Especially ones as creepy as these.


A little bit of normalcy.

Airbrushed logos aside, these are actually pretty nice, although it was the only one from the "Hall of Fame" subset that I pulled from my five packs.

But Triple Play wasn't going to let me bask in "normalcy" for long, because what I pulled from my fifth and final pack is a milestone achievement in my collecting career.

Without a doubt, it is the craziest, most confusing card I've ever received.

I've never had great luck pulling any sort of memorabilia cards from packs, given that most of my buys are of the retail variety.

Not that it matters, though.

However, I was surprised to see that familiar-looking piece of fabric staring up at me a few cards into my final pack of the day.

There was just one problem.

I couldn't find any clues as to who wore this "authentic" piece of baseball garb.

Looking for answers, I turned to the back.




All the back is good for is giving me a brief lesson on the history behind baseball jerseys.

On I went to "Baseball Card Pedia", my go-to source for baseball card info. Here's what they had to say on the topic:

"Each Reel Feel card features a piece of game-used material. However, unlike traditional game-used cards, there is no image of a player on the card, nor is there any mention of which player's piece of material is on the card."

That didn't help much.

So what the heck is it?

Well, your guess is as good as mine.

For all I know, Panini could've snuck into my house, pilfered one of my Little League jerseys, chopped it up, and smacked an "authentic" label on it.

I honestly have no idea what I'm going to do with it.

As it stands, I couldn't really tell you what my overall opinion of the set is.

When I first pulled them out of each individual pack, I wasn't a fan. The quirkiness of each one made me wonder if they were even binder-worthy.

But after flipping through my five packs' worth of Triple Play, it's started to grow on me.

I won't say that I'm a huge fan of the set, but I've found that I don't really hate it, either. And, in case you're wondering, they will indeed take their respective places in my binders.

At the least, I applaud Panini for trying something different. Most of all, I appreciate that they're mainly marketed towards kids, as the odd designs and 99-cent price tag would suggest.

Topps should really try something like that these days. (Ahem...Topps Total.)

I don't know how to close this post.

Such a crazy set of baseball cards will do that to you.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The last hurrah

It's official.

Today is the last day of my summer vacation.

I'll be back to the "grind" tomorrow, although I'll admit that my schedule for this coming semester is a pretty light one.

Nevertheless, I'm sure we all know how much of a sinking feeling that last day of vacation can be.

While I had a great last "night out" with my friends last night, I still felt that I needed another "pick-me-up" to effectively end my summer vacation with a bang.

As a result, my last "hurrah" of the summer was a sunny Sunday afternoon at the local flea market, digging through baseball cards for a couple precious hours.

I couldn't have asked for much more.

Although my "main guy" at the flea market wasn't there this weekend, there was still a plentiful amount cardboard goodness to keep me happy.

Last year, there used to be a little cluster of about three card vendors in one of the aisles, including my "main guy". Until today, only the "main guy" had set up shop each weekend. The other two were MIA.

As luck would have it, the other two formerly-missing vendors made an unexpected reappearance this week, much to my delight.

I got to know the first vendor a bit last summer, since I'd always buy something from him each week. Although he didn't get much new stuff in on a week-to-week basis, I made an effort to at least pick out a couple bucks' worth of cards each time last year, especially since he always cuts me a deal.

A majority of the cards he had on display this time around were indeed the same "stock" as last year's. Yet it was a sight that I was happy to see, for one simple reason.

My collection has changed since the last time I dug through those boxes, and I was interested to see what gems my pre-blogger self had formerly passed up.

As a result, a lot of the cards I bought were just ones that simply had "cool" photos on them. I didn't look for that at all last year. All I was concerned about was whether I collected the player or not. If I did, a cool shot was purely a bonus.

One of the rows of the first 3200-count box I dug through was comprised of entirely 2010 Topps base cards. I barely even touched those last year. After all, I figured I'd traded for all the "good" ones already.


Topps did an absolutely fantastic job with the "team cards" in 2010, easily the best in their long, illustrious history.

Although I'm pretty much indifferent towards the Padres, I pounced on this team celebration shot for a dime.

After all, a card like this deserves to be recognized in my collection.

You could argue that these "Franchise History" cards are even better.

Both of these are things of beauty, especially that old-time shot of Ebbets Field, the stomping grounds of the affectionately-labeled "Bums".

I'm pretty sure that I actually had both of these at one point in time, but I traded them because they just didn't "fit" in my collection.

I don't know what I was thinking.

A lot of the individual player cards in 2010 Topps are absolute gems as well.

Juan Pierre is an example of a player that I collect on one team, but not another. I collect his White Sox and current Phillies cards, but not so much his Dodgers or Marlins issues. (Don't ask why. I'm not so sure myself.)

Still, I couldn't bring myself to pass this one up, no matter what uniform he might be wearing. (It gives collectors a bonus shot of the "Kung Fu Panda" as well.)

This card has probably been in those boxes for a couple years by now.

I'm glad I was finally able to "save" it this afternoon.

Perhaps the biggest reason I was excited to see the old boxes on display is the fact that I've "inducted" a few new guys into my binder since last year.

I figured a table like this would be a terrific place to add a couple new pieces to some of those new collections on the cheap.

Correct I was.

Heath Bell was welcomed into "the binders" right around the time I started this blog. I just started collecting Stanton a couple months ago.

And now for something completely different...dime cards of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

The vendor had a small box of non-sports cards off to the side, and these were sitting in the front of the row.

I've always thought a guy like Tesla deserved a card. Turns out there was already one out there.

Although I'm not sure what exactly these are, I welcome them into my "historical" collection with open arms.

These dime boxes also yielded one of the finer "pitcher at the plate" specimens that I've seen during my time in this hobby.

First off, it's a horizontal issue, which isn't something you see a whole lot from these types of cards.

Secondly, Myers is now a member of the hometown White Sox, which is always a plus for me.

But the thing I love most about it is that Topps managed to snap a shot of the split-second before the ball met Brett Myers's bat. (Looks like Myers has his bunting form down pat.)

It pains me to think how long this amazing card has been sitting in those dime boxes, right beneath my nose.

The important thing is that it finally found a good home this afternoon.

One of the few new additions to the vendor's dime boxes this year was an entire row of 2004 Upper Deck singles.

Given from what I'd already seen from the set, I knew I was in for a treat. (The set lays claim to one of my favorite "Cardboard Masterpieces".)

I nabbed a great mixture of guys I collect and more fantastic photos. Some one, some the other, and some both.

Mike Hampton isn't exactly high on the priority list for my binders, but there was no way I was going home without this one.

You just don't see too many shots of pitchers fielding nowadays. This is the first I've seen of a pitcher covering home on either a wild pitch or a passed ball.

I'd say the runner is out on that play.

Here's a couple that belong to the "both" category.

Brad Ausmus and Mike Sweeney are both guys that I've been collecting since my early days in the hobby.

My Sweeney collection has a bit of an interesting backstory.

As I've mentioned before, I got one of my friends into collecting during eighth grade or so.

For some reason, he instantly became a huge Mike Sweeney fan, although I'm still not sure why. Up to that point, Sweeney was basically just another one of "those guys" to me.

After I found out my friend collected him, I started picking up cards of Sweeney to trade to him, mainly through deals on my trading forum. Soon enough, I found myself becoming more and more interested in Mike Sweeney cards as well.

So I decided to start my own little collection of his.

My friend lost interest in collecting after about a year. Although I've drifted in and out of different card "phases" since then, I've always collected in some way since then.

And as it stands now (including this afternoon's pickup), my Mike Sweeney collection consists of no less than 158 different issues.

I have my eighth grade friend to thank for that.

Even with all the great shots and neat additions to my new and old player collections, I'd say this was the most interesting of all my dime finds from the first vendor of the day.

Ironically, it's a card of a player who hasn't played a game in the majors yet.

Thanks to the awful usage of foil lettering on Bowman's part, it might be a little tough to tell who this card pictures. So let me clear it up for you.

This is a 2009 Bowman "prospect" card of young Reds farmhand Billy Hamilton, a name that should be familiar to a lot of baseball fans.

In a year split between Single-A and Double-A, Hamilton has stolen an amazing 143 bases in just 118 games, two shy of the professional record set by Vince Coleman in 1983.

With all the publicity Hamilton's been receiving lately, even I'm a little surprised that I found his first official card in a dime box.

If I wanted to, I could probably make some profit on this card. But it's staying with me.

Hamilton has already earned a spot in my binders.

All in all, I walked away with about 140 cards from this vendor. He gave them all to me for just twelve bucks.

As I always say, it pays to be a regular customer.

On I went to the other formerly-MIA flea market vendor.

Most of the dime cards he had available were of the football and hockey variety. Terrific for some, but unfortunately not for me.

One box did catch my eye though.

It was about half the size of a 3200-count box, with a little label saying "Baseball--10 cents each" on it. But that wasn't even the best part.

It wasn't just any ordinary dime box.

It was a dime box that had...vintage. And as a lot of you probably know, I love me some vintage. (Which begs the question: Who doesn't?)

The first stack I pulled was comprised of 1978 Topps singles. I found a few I needed, but nothing spectacular.

My eyes lit up when I saw what awaited me in the back reaches of the box. A rather large stack of 1979 Topps, free for the taking.

For whatever reason, my collection is almost devoid of anything from '79 Topps, and I've had a hard time tracking any of them down over the years.

I couldn't wait to dig through them.

One of the first cards I found was a huge "victory", as far as my collection is concerned.

I just comprised an "Into the Sunset" post about "The Mad Hungarian" himself, Al Hrabosky. In that write-up, I briefly mentioned that I'd probably rate Hrabosky's "peak year" of cardboard to be his '79 Topps issue. There was only one problem.

I didn't have it.

Sure enough, the card (and the beard) slipped out of the innocent-looking pile of cards.

I threw it into my "purchase pile" with glee.

Here's a couple more of my "'79 finds", this time showcasing a couple of my favorite Mets from the '70s.

Back when I was younger, I couldn't get enough of my "blooper tapes". I must've had a dozen or so VHS tapes, all packed with hour-long footage of nothing but baseball bloopers.

A few "classic" bloopers managed to show up on every single one of them. (The ball going off Jose Canseco's head and over the fence is my personal favorite.)

One of those was the famous clip of Lenny Randle literally blowing the ball foul during his time with the Mariners. With that play, he single-handedly changed the baseball rule book.

Oddly enough, my inspiration to collect cards of Randle goes all the way back to those silly "blooper" tapes.

My collection has hit a "mini-milestone" with that Manny Sanguillen issue.

I now own every single Topps card of Manny Sanguillen, from his 1968 rookie card to his "sunset" issue in '81.

Stuff like this matters to us low-end collectors.

It's something the high-dollar card industry wouldn't understand.

Next to the fantastic vintage dime box was another couple boxes of cards that carried the price of a quarter each, or five for a dollar.

I scooped up the Garvey as soon as I saw it, my first card from the '81 Drake's set.

For twenty cents, you can't beat that.

These Action Packed cards are among my favorite "legend" sets ever produced.

They feel different than almost every other card I own. It's hard to describe in words, but anyone who has one of these in their collection probably knows what I'm talking about.

Plus, almost all the ones I've seen feature action shots, something that isn't all that common amongst cards of 1960's or '70s stars.

These made for a few of my better buys of the day.

Here's a couple more from the five-for-a-dollar bin.

The Carter isn't an actual copy of his '76 Topps issue, although I would like to own one at some point down the road.

It's actually a reprint from the 2005 Topps Rookie Cup set, one of my favorites in recent memory.

After all, rookie cups are something that deserve to be celebrated in this hobby.

This is one of the strangest cards I've ever seen.

Naturally, I had to have it.

For one thing, the front of the card tells us that it was "limited" to just 45,000 copies. It makes me wonder what the print run was on the regular part of this set.

But that's not all...

Notice anything strange here?

Take a look at the card number at the top. Yes, the one in Roman numerals.

I don't know about you, but that's the first time I've ever seen that on a baseball card. (I don't know why I know this, but "XCIV" is 94 in regular numbers.)

I'll add this one to the "mysterious" file.

Next to the five-for-a-dollar boxes were a few stacks of Cubs and White Sox cards, all individually priced.

Normally, I don't dive into these types of cards too often. As you might think, cards of hometown guys can often be a little overpriced.

I did manage to find a few "gems", though.

This Darwin Barney rookie set me back a buck, but you'll have a hard time finding it for much cheaper than that around these parks.

This was the unquestioned "find" of the Cubs bin.

I feel that this year's '87 Topps Mini inserts are the best thing that Topps has done in a long, long time. I simply can't get enough of them.

While I knew of their existence, I'd never seen an actual '87 mini in person until today.

From what I can tell, this was a "box-topper" from the 1987 O-Pee-Chee set. You'd have to actually cut them off of the box, much like Hostess cards of the '70s.

Whoever did the trimming on this one had a couple of slip-ups, but it's still not that bad of a job overall.

As if the fact that it's an actual '87 mini wasn't enough, it features one of my favorite players of the '70s with Ron Cey.

All things considered, I'd rank this as one of my all-time favorite quarter finds.

My finds from this table should've amounted to about eight or nine bucks, but the vendor charged me just six bucks for the lot.

It just kept getting better.

As I strolled deeper into the flea market, I happened upon another vendor who had some more dime cards on display.

Unlike the first two, I'd never seen this guy before.

While it's always great to see the same vendors you know week after week at card shows, flea markets, etc., it's always exciting to come across a new guy, with a bunch of cards just waiting to be picked through.

It was just one box, but there sure had a lot of variety to it. Some newer issues, some overproduction era stuff, and even a small stack of vintage tucked into one of the corners. (Sadly, the vintage didn't yield much.)

Still, I was absolutely awestruck when I saw this Dave Roberts card.

Although I can't tell you exactly why, I'm a big Roberts fan. Early cards of him during his Indians days are pretty tough to come by, as I've found.

Much less one with such an awesome action shot.

About half of the box was grouped by teams, while the other half was pretty much all over the place.

I saw what had to have been the entire '93 Stadium Club team set under the Phillies' section, which included Mitch Williams and his mullet.

Although I collect cards of Andre Dawson during his Florida days, I just can't get used to seeing him in those teal Marlins uniforms of the '90s. It just doesn't look right.

He'll always be a Cub to me.

Neither of these guys are in my binders, but that's beside the point when dealing with such goofy "masterpieces".

Turk Wendell had a habit of brushing his teeth in between every inning he pitched. It's awesome that Upper Deck chose to use an unorthodox shot of him "in-action".

I have no idea what's going on with Doug Drabek in that photo. Maybe I don't want to know.

To Score and Upper Deck,

Thanks for keeping the hobby fun.

I managed to snag thirty-five cards from this table for a paltry three bucks.

But the deals weren't over yet.

As luck would have it, I came across yet another dime box in the next aisle.

Only this one was even better. The increasingly rare fifteen-for-a-dollar box.

Like the previous one, the intrigue of this discount box was built on pure randomness. Some new, some old. I didn't know what to expect.

But that's what made it so much fun.

All in all, I've always thought that 1998 Topps was pretty boring. Yet there was one card from the set that I always wanted, although I could never manage to track it down.

That quest ended today.

This card represents the baseball/football combo of possibly the last multi-sport player in history, Brian Jordan. (He played defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons in the '90s, if memory serves me right.)

A card I've wanted for years becomes mine for about eight cents.

It's those types of surprises that keep this hobby fun.

The Wal-Mart black-bordered cards that Topps issued a couple years ago have their ups and downs.

"Darkness" works well with some, but not others. From my experience, it doesn't fit in with most of the landscape shots.

But am I the only one who thinks this card is absolutely amazing?

I can't tell you how pleased I am that this card is now in my possession.

There's still quite a few cards that I need from Upper Deck's early years.

Luckily, the first pile of cards saw from this vendor was a big stack of 1992 Upper Deck. I guess any set from '92 has special meaning to me, since it's the year I was born and all.

Even on a day where I tried to get away from the thoughts of school, Jim Abbott had to go and remind me about it.

That card is basically one of those "Be Cool, Stay in School" ads.

I still bought it because, well...I'll buy almost anything of Jim Abbott.

Having a little knowledge about short-prints can go a long way when it comes to discount boxes.

SPs are almost always in high demand.

For example, I know that all cards with a number of 426 and above in 2011 Topps Heritage are indeed SPs. Because of that, I managed to pick up two different short-prints that were mixed in with a bunch of the base cards from the set.

Even better than a "tradebait" short-print is a "keeper" one, as is the case with the Torii Hunter.

Jeff Baker isn't in my binders, but I felt that I had to own that card since I'm a Cubs fan. (Albeit a hopeless one at this time of year.)

Although he's since been dealt to the Tigers, I'll always remember Jeff Baker as a Chicago Cub, at least as far as my cards are concerned.

The vendor also had a small pile of individually-priced cards in another box off to the side.

Most of them were a bit overpriced, but I managed to find a few to my liking.

Mark Trumbo is another one of my brand-new "binder inductees".

I paid two bucks for a copy of his Topps Chrome rookie from last year. Rarely do I ever spend more than a buck or so on a recent card, so that should tell you how big a fan of his I am.

Two bucks well spent, I think.

But the last of my "finds" for the day was most likely my best one. It's a card I've had my eye on for a long time, and I'd never seen it cheaper before today.

I couldn't resist...

It's my first actual Topps card of Nolan Ryan as a California Angel.

For whatever reason, I've noticed that a lot of Ryan's stuff tends to be overpriced. (And he never even played for a Chicago sports team. Although he did put a beating on Robin Ventura, for what it's worth.)

When I saw this one with a four-dollar price tag, I immediately jumped at the chance to add it to my collection.

Like I said, I'd never seen it cheaper.

My new oldest card of the "Ryan Express".

I'm still in awe.

I spent the last ten bucks I had in my wallet on about eighty 15/$1 cards, a couple quarter cards, and the few individually priced ones.

I'd say I got a tremendous deal, wouldn't you?

While it might seem like a bit of a paradox, a day without having to think about school was just what I needed to get myself ready for its inevitable occurrence.

In that regard, a terrific card-filled afternoon at the flea market was just what the doctor ordered.

Now, I'm finally ready to deal with the fact that I actually have to sit a desk and listen to lectures and do homework and...

...Okay, maybe I'm not quite ready yet. But I'll get there.

So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go re-examine all my cardboard finds from a spectacular summer afternoon.

That's all the "homework" I want to do right now.