Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dad chips in

One of the recurring themes over this blog's history has been the repeated generosity of my dad.

As I've mentioned before, he was one of the many kids who collected cards in the '70s. His love for the hobby and baseball in general was passed down to me during my upbringing.

I'm honestly not sure if I'd still be in the world of cardboard today without his support. Since I haven't had any card-collecting friends since about 8th grade, my dad has always been the one I've gone to whenever I feel like showing off a new find or two.

Of course, he's helped me out a great deal in terms of finances as well. I wouldn't own many of the cards I have without his support in that regard. Even after I finally landed myself a job, my dad is still quick to treat me to some cardboard.

He generously bought a few packs of 2013 Panini Cooperstown during one of our recent Target runs.

As I've mentioned before, I think $4 for these six-card packs is a bit high. That doesn't mean there aren't goodies to be had, though. Quite the contrary, actually.

The neat Honus Wagner "Lumberjacks" insert you see above was probably the best pull of the day. 

Its wood-like finish is more than appropriate for an insert set with a name like that.

As another blogger has noted, you don't see too many cards of Bert Blyleven in Pirates gear these days.

That, coupled with the terrific design of Cooperstown's "International Play" series, made this one a nice surprise.

It's still hard to believe that any big leaguers have come from such a non-baseball country like the Netherlands.

Much less one of Blyleven's caliber.

There were some nifty base cards to be had as well.

Continuing with the inadvertent Pirate theme of this post, that piece of spitballer Burleigh Grimes is just my second card of him with the Bucs. (The other, unsurprisingly, hails from the Conlon brand.)

Edd Roush is one of baseball's more forgotten Hall of Famers, if such a thing is possible. Perhaps his most infamous feat was getting tossed out of a game for falling asleep.

Cap Anson was the first big leaguer to collect 3,000 career hits.

He also sported one mean mustache back in the day, I must say.

While Cooperstown is more based on big names than anything, there are a few nice photos in the checklist.

I love the overhead shot they went with on Mickey Cochrane's card.

As you might already know, each retail pack of Panini Cooperstown includes one of these "Colgan's Chips" inserts.

The original version of this series was released from 1909 to 1913, packaged with round pieces of bubble gum.

It's certainly an odd set to honor in 2013. I'd never even heard of them before Cooperstown came around. That's what makes these things so darn cool, though.

The chips I pulled from my dad's surprise purchase were Eddie Plank, Rollie Fingers, and Johnny Bench, who you see above.

As neat as these are, though, I couldn't help but wonder how awesome it would be to own one of the real things. I said as much in an offhand comment while I was ripping these packs open.

Of course, something like that would be way out of the price ranges of both my dad and I.

Or so I thought.

Just a couple weeks after he treated me to those Cooperstown packs, my dad proved to have an even bigger surprise up his sleeve.

He actually found an original Colgan's Chips card for me.

I was speechless.

I'd never even seen one of these things in person before, so the thought of actually owning one was way beyond comprehension.

Apparently, my dad found the beautiful piece you see above off an online seller for around ten bucks. It was a deal he couldn't pass up. According to pops, all the other Colgan's Chips he'd seen were priced at around $75 a piece, at the lowest.

Why this one was so cheap, I'll never know.

The originals are considerably smaller in comparison to this year's reprints. They're only a tad bigger than a standard quarter, and are quite flimsy to the touch.

In case you're wondering, the player featured on this century-old piece is former Boston infielder Gus Getz. Wonderfully nicknamed "Gee-Gee", he hit .238 in seven big league seasons.

It's been about a week since my dad bestowed this amazing piece onto me.

I'm still at a loss for words.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013 Topps Update: The end is near (Pt. 2)

There used to be a time when inserts and parallels were a major force behind my pack-busting habits.

Base cards have almost always been my main focus, but inserts and the like were held in the same regard for a while. Even if I'd had nearly all the base from a given set, I'd still buy more packs in hopes of pulling a sweet parallel or something.

Things have changed these days. I can still fall in love with an insert here and there, but base cards are pretty much what drive my current collection.

To some, splurging on a box of cardboard for merely base isn't worth the money. To me, though, they're the sole reason I've continued my tradition of busting a box of Update for seven years now. (I hope that came across in my last post.)

Admittedly, I did pull a few inserts and parallels that made me do a double-take.

While Kole Calhoun is one of the few players I don't collect, this is the very first camo parallel I've held thus far in 2013, limited to just 99 copies. I normally don't like the camouflage (ahem, Padres), but it works well on cardboard.

That said, it's for trade if anyone wants to give Mr. Calhoun a good home.

Numbered to just 25 copies, this sapphire foil Jesus Guzman parallel is one of the rarest cards I've ever pulled.

As I found out, this is actually a card from Series 2. But, with Topps being Topps, they decided to throw all 990 cards into their Update sapphire checklist.

Around five years ago, I would've flipped over this pull because of its sheer rarity. In the present day, though, it's barely a blip on my radar.

Besides, I know a Padre fan who might like to have this one.

Believe it or not, I did end up pulling a few parallels of guys I actually collect.

Brandon Inge was one of the more surprising Update inclusions. The Buccos released him back in August, yet Topps granted him what'll probably be his only card as a Pirate.

Although he played only 50 games in 2013, Inge has received two Flagship issues this year.

The other, as you might recall, is one of my personal favorites of the year.

Much like inserts and parallels, there was a time where I'd froth at the mouth in hopes of pulling a jersey card.

Again, though, times have changed. Here's a recollection of my thoughts upon pulling this Pedroia.

"Need it. Don't need it. Don't need it. Dustin Pedroia jersey card. Meh. Need it. Need it. PAT NESHEK?! Cool!"

I was way more excited to get a base card of a guy like Neshek than an "event-worn" swatch (whatever that means) of the All-Star second baseman.

I'm a big Dustin Pedroia fan, don't get me wrong. But jersey cards just aren't my scene anymore.

And, yes, it's up for grabs.

I'm glad to see Johnny Podres get a little recognition in today's hobby.

It almost makes these "Chasing History" inserts collectible.

While I'm still not big on these new "Postseason History" inserts, I'm quite fond of these two.

I'll always have a special attachment to what I like to call "The David Freese Game".

Closing up shop for my insert recap are a couple precious '71 minis.

As far as vintage goes, I like '72 Topps a tad better than '71. However, I think the 1971 design translates a little better into mini form. I'm not quite sure why.

With '75 aside, one Flagship set I'd like to see minified is 1973.

I think something like that would be fun.

Speaking of fun, let's get back to the base cards.

Yesterday, I talked about "The Three Hallmarks of Update". All-Stars, rookies, and guys in new uniforms.

Over the last couple years, though, a fourth hallmark may be wedging its way into the set.

Great photography.

Throughout my break, I found myself constantly awed by the photo selection on Topps's part. I stared at each of the cards in this post for a good amount of time during my bust. It probably took me longer to open this box than any other because of that very fact.

Yan Gomes here was definitely a "stop-and-stare" piece of cardboard. Walk-off shots are quickly becoming a go-to thing with Topps. I'm a big fan of this one in particular because it looks like Gomes's Indian teammates are about to hoist him onto their shoulders.

Just like in the movies.

Thanks to the star-studded outfield wall at Sox Park, Minnie Minoso makes a rare cameo on Dewayne Wise's base card.

And, yes, I still call it Sox Park.

None of this U.S. Cellular Field BS.

Speaking of cameos, "Mo" makes a nice one there on Austin Romine's Update issue.

It took until a second or third viewing to notice the gold ball on the Alvarez. I don't know much about the Home Run Derby, admittedly.

do remember that the gold ball only makes an appearance when a player has nine outs agains him. Any homers hit after that trigger a nice donation to charity.

Now that's a concept I can get behind.

I'm sure you've seen the Amarista on other blogs by now.

Topps poked a little fun at the infielder's short stature. At just 5'8" and 150 pounds, Amarista carries about the same proportions as I have.

Only he's a big leaguer. And I'm not.

I've always been fascinated by guys who choose to wear #0. Al Oliver is probably the most famous of the group. Current Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino is the first person to wear #0 since Kerry Robinson did so in 2003.

I'm sure Rockie fans are glad to see a card of his on the market.

As of right now, both of these are precious "zero-year" cards.

I sure hope the Olt doesn't stay that way. I was a little shocked to see him included in the Update checklist, as he didn't make an appearance with the Cubs in 2013. I'd count on that changing next year, though.

The "Dice-K", though, will most likely be a permanent "zero-year" inductee. He was released by the Indians before ever pitching for the big club. Matsuzaka would later latch on with the Mets for his only seven appearances in 2013.

I'm not quite sure why Topps decided to grant "Dice-K" a spot in 2013 Update. It just doesn't make much sense.

If it results in a "zero-year" card, though, I can't complain.

Here's a glimpse of a couple nice "double dip" shots.

Aside from a dreaded super short-print last year, that's Nick Punto's first card since 2011.

I'm glad to see him back.

One of these throwbacks is real.

The other is not.

Want to take a guess at which is which?

Sure, the fake '70s throwback promotion by the Rays may be a bit gimmicky. But I love the goofy jerseys nonetheless. I've been wondering when we'd finally get to see one on a baseball card.

While the Mariners didn't become a big league club until 1977, Brad Miller is actually wearing a throwback that dates all the way back to 1909. It's an homage to the old Seattle Turks minor league franchise.

In fact, I'm almost positive it was taken during the same game...

...of what is quickly becoming one of my favorite "throwback" cards ever.

Both the Cubs and Mariners featured 1909 retros during a FOX Saturday afternoon game on June 29th of this year. I remember Starlin Castro hitting a first-inning home run, which is a feat in and of itself given his performance in 2013.

As seen here, Blake Parker got the save in the 5-3 Cub victory. I remember it well.

Parker probably isn't a name many non-Cub fans know. But, thanks to this card, it's nice to see him get a little attention around the card community.

Flanked by Welington Castillo and Anthony Rizzo, he's featured here in some of the best retro duds I've ever seen. This card is definitely one of the new kings of my "throwbacks" mini-collection.

No doubt about it.

All things considered, I couldn't have asked for more out of this product. Just like in years past, my box of 2013 Topps Update left absolutely nothing to be desired.

Each and every pack was a thrill.

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 Topps Update: The end is near (Pt. 1)

Someone once asked Rogers Hornsby what he did during the offseason.

His response?

"I stare out the window and wait for spring."

That's kind of how I am during the winter months when baseball is away. I have a passing interest in football and hockey, and basketball doesn't much register on my radar these days.

The day the World Series ends is the day I start looking forward to the next season. The light at the end of the tunnel, though, is the fact that I'll always have my baseball cards. This is a year-round hobby for me.

In a lot of ways, it helps me cope with the inevitable close of each season. I think that's why I'm such a big Topps Update fan.

I've bought a hobby box of Update each and every passing season since I started getting back into the baseball card game in 2007. It's a seven-year tradition that continued in 2013, as my box arrived early last week.

For the first time, though, this year's box of Update was the only one I broke all year. It's kind of the last big "hoorah" of the card season for me, something that definitely continued here in 2013.

As far as I'm concerned, there are three major draws to each year's Update checklist.

First, we have the All-Star cards. If it wasn't for "Mo", this year's Midsummer Classic would've been a downright snoozer. However, such a grand tribute to the game's greatest closer was easily one of the greatest things I've ever seen in baseball.

Other bloggers have said that his 2013 Update All-Star issue would be a cardboard goodbye for Rivera. I agree with that.

I'd still like to see him get a true "sunset" card in 2014, though.

Many other bloggers have said that Topps features way too many All-Star cards within their Update checklist.

Once again, I agree. However, I'm not sure that's entirely Topps's fault. I'd argue that there are simply too many All-Stars these days. With all these crazy new rules for what should be an exhibition game, a total of 79 players were chosen to participate in this year's Midsummer Classic.

Topps could cut down on the amount of those players they feature in Update's All-Star subset. At the same time, though, I get the fact that they want to showcase as many as possible.

That said, quite a few were to my liking. While not an official All-Star card, that "Mo" is a terrific shot of the game's MVP. Not to mention a nice add to my "Award Show" mini-collection.

Although Bartolo Colon didn't even pitch in this year's contest, he easily received my favorite All-Star issue of anyone not named Mariano Rivera.

Topps pulled no punches in noting that the surprising ace is indeed 40 years young.

Here, we have a great shot of this year's Home Run Derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes.

I'm not much for the Derby these days, but I do find it interesting that Cespedes won it in 2013.

After all, the guy wasn't even an All-Star.

For many, the second major feature of Topps Update is probably the most important.

The rookies.

Over the years, Update has always been a fantastic source for some of the game's greatest prospects. That trend continued in 2013.

I'm nearly the polar opposite of a "prospector", as you might guess by the title of this blog. That said, I do look forward to seeing many of the rookies in each passing Update checklist. In fact, I've been inducting more and more into my binders over the course of the past few years.

The lumberjack-like Evan Gattis received the binder nod earlier this year.

All things considered, he was the basis for my favorite rookie storyline from 2013.

These are another couple prospects I'll be adding to my binders.

Sonny Gray really impressed me with his couple starts in this year's ALDS. That, and the fact that his name comes right out of turn-of-the-century baseball, convinced me to add him to my player collection catalog. (The fact that I pulled the gold parallel of his card didn't hurt, either.)

I'm banking on Mike Zunino to have a breakout season in 2014. Because he plays for the small-market Mariners, I think he's been flying under the radar.

This year's Update provided me with my first card of the Seattle catcher.

For what it's worth, I'm rooting for the Red Sox in this year's World Series.

However, both of these young St. Louis hurlers have been nothing short of spectacular in 2013. Again, both will be added to my binders.

Plus, that's a pretty mean throwback on Shelby Miller there.

Yes, in case you were wondering, Puig-mania did hit my box of Update.

I pulled all three (three?!) of the cards he received in the checklist, a predictable form of overkill on the part of Topps.

His "true" rookie card, however, was actually a dupe for me. I'd pulled it a from a few retail packs a couple days prior.

I hope to surprise one of my fellow Dodger bloggers with my extra Puig soon.

If they haven't all gotten a copy by then, that is.

All-Stars and rookies are great.

My favorite part of Update, however, is the fact that it's among the first time we get to see players in their new duds with each passing year.

For the most part, Topps has been on the ball when it comes to Trade Deadline deals and/or Series 1 and 2 no-shows with Update. While there's bound to be a few oversights, Topps has generally been good giving most guys their time in the spotlight.

This year's Update features the first card of Alfonso Soriano as a Yankee in almost a decade. He came up as a standout second baseman with the Bronx Bombers before famously being dealt to Texas in the A-Rod deal.

After a short stop with the Nationals and quite a few underwhelming years with the Cubs, he was dealt back to New York at this year's deadline.

I love that Topps gave Derek Jeter a cameo here, as both he and Soriano were Yankee teammates a decade ago.

It's almost like nothing has changed.

As evidenced by the Soriano and this one, a few of my cards had minor foil chipping on the nameplates.

Do I care?

Not in the slightest.

Besides, the nameplate is the last thing I see with this fantastic celebratory shot of Michael Young.

While both Eric Hinske and Jeff Francoeur are binder guys of mine, I was a little surprised to see them featured in 2013 Update.

Happy, but surprised.

Hinske's defining moment this year was being wrongly accused in this year's massive Dodgers-Diamondbacks brawl, eventually getting his suspension cut down from five games to one.

Arizona released Hinske in July.

Jeff Francoeur received a similar fate, as he was also received his walking papers in July. However, the Giants quickly scooped up the former Royal. "Frenchy" only appeared in 22 games with San Francisco, though, hitting under .200 in the process.

I certainly wasn't counting on seeing him in 2013 Update.

But I'll take it.

I hope I'm wrong, but these may well be "sunset" cards by the time 2014 rolls around.

Even at 42, though, someone may be willing to give Jason Giambi a look next year. If not, there's no doubt in my mind that he has a future as a big league coach or manager.

If he doesn't come back in 2014, Roy Oswalt's tenure with the Rockies may be considered one of the all-time unfamiliar "sunsets". The 36 year-old racked up an 8.63 ERA in nine starts for the franchise.

I'm sure a lot of fans didn't even know he was still in the big leagues.

I was glad to see these guys honored in 2013 Update.

After a surprising appearance in this year's Heritage, Topps doubled the fun by including Pat Neshek in this year's Update checklist is well. The back tells of the hurler's collecting ties, noting that he's around 40 cards short of having a complete autographed 1985 Topps set.

That's an insanely big feat, considering that the '85 Topps checklist features 792 cards. The guy even has a website devoted to his project.

Tom Gorzelanny's local ties have been documented on this blog before. I was glad to see him included in this year's Update, as it's his first card as a Brewer.

That sweet throwback is just icing on the cake.

I still can't believe Scott Kazmir went from playing independent ball to the big leagues in less than a year.

But, alas, he did. Kazmir emerged as a serviceable starter for the Indians, just a couple years removed from a massive collapse with the Angels.

Thanks to such an amazing story, Kazmir's first card here in 2013 ranks up there among my favorites of the year.

Ending things tonight is this terrific "play at the plate" shot of Marlon Byrd, the man behind one of my biggest and longest-running player collections.

After a dismal 2012, the outfielder surprisingly made the Mets roster out of Spring Training. Even more surprising were the numbers he put up. At age 36, his 24 homers are a new career high. Byrd's success made me one happy camper.

In fact, this card's only major flaw is the fact that he isn't even a Met anymore. They dealt Byrd to the (then) pennant-contending Pirates in late August.

In a strange way, though, that makes this piece even better. After all, it'll probably go down in history as Byrd's only card as a Met.

Of course, there's a bit more to Topps Update. Inserts, parallels, and others are all something we'll be covering in the second part of my box review.

In the end, though, the base cards are what still make the set such a great tradition for me.

They're what get me through the winter.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The dime box frankenset, Page 9: Numbers 73-81

In case you forgot, I'm in the process of building my very first frankenset.

I haven't exactly advertised it on the blog as much as I'd originally hoped, as my last frankenset post was featured over a month ago.

However, despite the lack of promotion, this little project of mine is quickly becoming a ravaging success. After starting with a great deal of holes, I'm currently just three cards short of having every slot from numbers 1-100 filled.

This page features one of those remaining gaps.

Aside from that, though, I think we have a great array here. It's a nice combination of mini-collection hits and simple "cool" cardboard, which was really the point of this frankenset to begin with.

Completion status: 8/9

Numbers needed: #79

The card: 1997 Stadium Club #73 Brian Hunter

Why it made the cut...

I think that's pretty obvious.

Few players have been featured doing better Spiderman impressions than Mr. Hunter here.

The card: 1997 Topps #74 Brian McRae

Why it made the cut...

While my apathy towards 1997 Topps has been documented in the past, I'll admit that this is one fantastic baseball card.

Shots of guys leading off first or second are fairly common in this hobby. But only a select few feature baserunners at third.

With the Wrigley Field side wall as a backdrop, Brian McRae appears to be in motion on this particular play. Perhaps he's in the process of stealing home.

Now that would be neat.

The card: 1993 Score Select #75 John Smiley

Why it made the cut...

It's a little surprising to see one of these multiple-exposure shots pop up in a relatively obscure set like '93 Score Select.

For the most part, such grand works of photography were limited to the "big guys" at Upper Deck and Topps.

It's nice to see other companies joined in on the fun.

The card: 1991 Topps #76 Jerry Browne

Why it made the cut...

Double dip!

As you'll see in later frankenset posts, Topps scattered quite a few of these throughout their 1991 checklist.

The card: 1993 Topps #77 Junior Felix

Why it made the cut...

This isn't the first time I've shown this card around here.

As I mentioned here, I picked it up purely by accident. It was a throw-in with one of my past Listia buys. (Remember that place?)

Junior Felix was indeed safe on this "play at the plate". Gary Gaetti's card in the '93 checklist features another PATP from the very next play in this game. (He, on the other hand, was gunned down at home.)

And, since the catcher in this particular shot is former Indian Junior Ortiz, we have a "Double Junior" sighting on our hands.

Such a neat piece of cardboard is a perfect centerpiece for this page.

The card: 1999 Topps Opening Day #78 A.J. Hinch

Why it made the cut...

A.J. Hinch was the victim of a Topps screw-up.

While it may be a bit difficult to tell at first glance, this is actually a reverse-negative. (The flipped sleeve patch is probably the best indicator.)

Due to my error-loving ways, I have both the base and Opening Day versions of it in my collection. While both have different numbers, only one can occupy a slot in this frankenset. It's one of the few rules I have with this project.

In this case, Opening Day won.

The card: 1995 Topps Cyberstats #80 Brent Gates

Why it made the cut...

Kind of like the Hinch, I have two versions of this card in my collection.

While it may be hard to see here, Brent Gates was granted a nice "double dip" shot for his '95 Topps issue. I own both the base and Cyberstats variations of it.

In the end, the Cyberstats version went into my frankenset due to fairly weak competition at the #80 slot.

Even all these years later, I still can't decide whether I love or hate these parallels.

Due to rather abbreviated stat lines in the aftermath of the 1994 strike, Topps ran some computer simulations to see what select players might have done if the season had run its regular course.

That's the basis for the Cyberstats subset. They don't even feature real statistics on the back. Then again, it was quite an innovative concept.

I'm still torn.

The card: 1993 Topps #81 Lloyd McClendon

Why it made the cut...

Coupled with the aforementioned Felix, this page features two of the greatest cards 1993 Topps had to offer.

I've long been awestruck with this amazing piece. According to the scoreboard, McClendon (who is listed with the rare C-1B-OF designation on the back) appears to be in the process of scoring the go-ahead run in the 10th inning of this particular contest.

While I doubt I'm the first to do it in correspondence with this card, I'm feeling a little detective-y today.

I'm no stadium expert, but that's obviously the famous Shea Stadium in the backdrop here. (Along with a perfectly centered Diet Coke ad.)

The records show that the Pirates beat the Mets, 7-6, in a 10-inning contest on August 12th, 1992. After slapping a pinch-hit single, McClendon would wind up scoring the game-winning run in the 10th on a two-out, RBI triple by Jay Bell.

Finding out the history behind a particular baseball card is rather thrilling.

It's a great way to close out this frankenset page, if you ask me.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 66: 1993 Upper Deck #1 Tim Salmon SR

Closing out today's "Gems of Junk Wax" party is the #1 card from arguably the greatest set of the overproduction era.

I actually inducted the entire 1993 Upper Deck checklist into this theme a while back. However, in a move that's long overdue, I've decided to start nominating individual cards from the legendary set.

Thanks to some guy named Griffey, Tim Salmon is an afterthought when discussing UD's early "number ones".

But I'll be darned if this isn't one of the more beautiful pieces of cardboard I've ever seen. (I found my copy right around the time I started this blog.)

The famous Angel Stadium scoreboard halo has served as a prop for many cards over the years. Perhaps the most famous example is featured on Billy Cowan's 1972 Topps issue.

As great and vintagey as the Cowan is, though, I think Mr. Salmon here trumps it a million times over. Upper Deck pulls no punches in noting that the former outfielder was viewed as a sort of "savior" for the Angels franchise. I'd say he lived up to that label fairly well.

Like so many other "number ones", Tim Salmon was definitely a sign of things to come with 1993 Upper Deck. I'm sure you've heard many others rave about how awesome the set is, so I probably don't need to go into it now.

If you ask me, I think it's quite a heavenly way to end my self-proclaimed "Gems of Junk Wax Day".

Get ready to unearth a few more treasures next time.

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 65: 1992 Pinnacle #1 Frank Thomas

Looking back into my archives, I noticed that I'd never inducted anything from 1992 Pinnacle into my "Gems of Junk Wax" annals.

Please, folks. Forgive me for such a massive oversight on my part. I'm not exactly sure how such a thing happened, as I've always ranked '92 Pinnacle as one of the greatest sets of the overproduction era. (Not to mention the best inaugural checklist ever.)

It all started with a man they called "The Big Hurt".

As mentioned earlier, Don Mattingly was featured on the first card in Score's history. Four years later, Frank Thomas would become card #1 in Pinnacle's first effort in 1992.

The overall "darkness" theme of the set works absolutely perfectly with the color scheme of the hometown White Sox.

On top of that, there's just so much else to love about 1992 Pinnacle. I'm sure you'll see something from the "Sidelines" subset pop in this theme once all is said and done.

I'm glad Panini tried to resurrect the Pinnacle brand this year, but I think most of us could agree that it didn't quite have an actual Pinnacle "feel" to it.

What we need is a return to 1992.

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 64: 1991 Topps #1 Nolan Ryan

Moving into the '90s, we have what just may be my favorite "number one" of the overproduction era.

Nolan Ryan was no stranger to kicking off Topps checklists, doing so every year from 1990 to '92. In what is probably an unparalleled feat, he even received the first five cards in the 1990 Topps catalog. (A feat bested by Pete Rose in 1986, as I was reminded.)

For me, the best Topps set of the overproduction era is a constant battle between '87 and '91. While I love the classic 1987 wood grain borders, I tend to lean towards their 1991 effort.

It was probably one of the more revolutionary sets in Topps history, as it featured the first horizontal Flagship cards the hobby had seen since 1973.

I guess it's appropriate, then, that this "Ryan Express" would kick things off. It's a fantastic action shot, of course, but it also marked the grand return of something the hobby had sorely missed for nearly twenty years prior.

I'd bet most of us can agree that horizontal cards are almost always a huge plus.

Without 1991 Topps, we might still be in an all-vertical world.

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 63: 1989 Fleer #1 Don Baylor

Don Baylor here saved Fleer from being left out of today's "number one" theme entirely.

Because the checklists were basically alphabetical, many of the brand's overproduction-era sets had fairly obscure ballplayers occupy the #1 slot.

I mean, the initial card in Fleer's 1991 offering is a rookie of someone named Troy Afenir. (For what it's worth, Afenir racked up a grand total of 45 career games over four seasons.)

While it wasn't the flashiest set around, 1989 Fleer easily had the best "number one" in the brand's early history. As its worn corners and soft edges might imply, this Baylor can be traced back to my childhood, a time which I didn't take great care of my cardboard.

Even back then, I had a passion for "sunset" cards. That's exactly what we have here, in fact. Baylor closed out his illustrious career with the 1988 A's, playing in 92 games in Oakland that year.

In fact, the feared slugger wound up playing for three different teams during the final three seasons of his career. And, in an odd twist of fate, all three of those squads would go on to appear in the World Series.

The 1986 Red Sox did it, infamously coming up just short of winning the Fall Classic that year. A late 1987 swap sent Baylor to the Twins, a team which would win it all in a four-games-to-three World Series victory over the Cardinals.

And, in his final season, Baylor would help lead the 1988 A's to the Series, although they'd eventually lose to the Dodgers, four games to one.

It was actually Baylor's second stint in Oakland. To my knowledge, though, he never had a card issued during his initial tenure with the franchise in 1976.

Although it came thirteen years later, I'm glad he finally got a card as an A.

In the end, the close of Don Baylor's career made for a great opening to the '89 Fleer checklist.

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 62: 1988 Score #1 Don Mattingly

Kicking off today's "Gems of Junk Wax" festivities is a card that's #1 in more ways than one.

True, Mr. Mattingly here is the initial card in Score's 1988 release, which makes him a viable candidate for today's theme.

However, what sets this one apart from many other standard "number ones" is the fact that what you see above is the very first card in the history of Score.

If you ask me, Score is one of the more underrated brands of all-time. Their initial checklist was a sign of things to come in that regard. The set's ever-changing colored borders is something that has always appealed to me.

After all, I can't say I've seen many other magenta-themed cards. (I see a hint of pink in there, too.)

Plus, getting off the topic of design for a moment, '88 Score granted a much-needed true "sunset" card for Steve Garvey, something none of the other major brands did that year.

At the time, "Donnie Baseball" was a perfect fit for the brand's first foray into the cardboard market.

Even twenty-five years later, it's safe to say that Score made a terrific choice in that regard.

It's "Gems of Junk Wax" Day!

If you look back through this blog's archives, you might find that posting three times a day was the norm for me.

Nearly two years later, though, one post per day is the standard protocol.

Due to school/work/other things, two-post days are unfortunately becoming a thing of the past. That's a shame, because I often based my "Gems of Junk Wax" theme around those "double days".

As a result, my GOJW posting has slowed to a menacing crawl ever since that uber-fun tournament came to a close.

To help rectify that, I've decided to hold a "Gems of Junk Wax Day" every now and again. Today is going to be the grand debut of my new little concept.

During this event, I'll be reverting back to my early blogger career by adding a handful of new cards to the GOJW theme in one day through multiple posts. Each "Gems of Junk Wax Day" will have a running theme to it.

Today's concept...

We're #1!

We'll be taking a look at some of the best card #1's from a few overproduction era checklists. (Spoiler alert: I don't own a copy of perhaps the most famous #1 ever...yet.)

My hope is to get a little steam back underneath my GOJW theme, one I've loved writing about ever since the early days of this blog.

I hope you're ready to see some gems!