Friday, January 3, 2014

Top 10 pickups of 2013: Modern edition

Just when you thought the countdowns were over, in comes another one.

I've seen a few other bloggers play around with this idea in the past couple weeks. Personally, though, the topic has been on my mind for a while now. My dad suggested I do a post about my best pickups of the year a few months ago.

I finally got around to digging through this blog's archives in search of what my top ten gets of the year were. Now that 2013 is officially over, I'm finally ready to unveil it. (Plus, when readership is down as it is now, I find that making a list is a good antidote.)

I've decided to split these countdowns into modern and vintage editions. Sure, it may be a cop-out, but comparing older and newer cards is like apples and oranges to me a lot of the time. If I were to combine the two, I'm sure about nine out of the ten (if not all ten) would be vintage.

It's only appropriate that the modern cardboard gets its due, because I sure received a ton of good ones in 2013 from a variety of sources. I had a lot of trouble narrowing it down to just ten.

The last card to be cut was the terrific Tony Gwynn insert you see above, one that comes from the terrific "V.J. Lovero" Upper Deck series. I found it in a dime box at my local flea market this summer.

Since I'm looking to pursue a career in education, this card speaks to me in ways that few others can. That earns it an honorable mention on this list.

Still, it just couldn't crack the top ten.

Here, now, are my ten greatest modern pickups of 2013.

#10 -- 1995 Upper Deck #200 Michael Jordan

Courtesy of: My good buddy Nick and his "box from down under".

As you'll probably notice, the majority of the cards on this list hail from the 1990's.

That's probably for a couple different reasons. One, the decade featured a crapton of outside-the-box photography. As you probably know, I'm a sucker for that type of thing.

Perhaps more importantly, though, 2013 was almost like the year of the '90s for me. I was introduced to so many cool cards from the decade that I never knew existed. I have the blogosphere to thank for much of that.

Oddly enough, this list kicks off with perhaps the most famous ballplayer to never play a single game in the big leagues. All 15 of the Michael Jordan singles I own are indeed "zero-year" cards.

This one, though, is by far the best. It's a treasured "interview" shot, one that features a terrific Harry Caray cameo as well as the iconic WGN Sports TV logo.

I've never done research into how Upper Deck utilized the "hero numbers", but I'm sure the fact that "Air Jordan" received one was no coincidence.

#9 -- 1992 Studio "Studio Heritage" #BC-11 Paul Molitor

Courtesy of: Yet another impulse buy.

I've spent years trying to track down as many "throwback" cards as possible.

I can't say I've come across many that could outrank Mr. Molitor here. It's only the second Pilots throwback I've seen on a baseball card, and the first that features an actual photograph. (The other, while one of my favorite cards ever, is a drawing.)

Studio produced their throwback-themed "Heritage" insert series for a few years in the early '90s. This is by far the best specimen I've seen from the set.

Former Brewer infielder Paul Molitor is seen here wearing an authentic 1969 Seattle Pilots jersey, complete with the infamous "scrambled egg" brim on the cap.

The Pilots may have only lasted one year in the bigs, but these jerseys will live on forever.

#8 -- 1997 Bowman #81 R.A. Dickey RC

I'd always had a feeling that I'd find an R.A. Dickey rookie in a dime box.

At this year's National, I finally did. Had it not been for the story that went along with it, though, I'm not sure this one would've even cracked the top ten.

It's amazing how close I came to not owning it at all.

As I was wrapping up a particularly fruitful dime box dig, I found that I had 229 cards in my purchase pile. Since I like to end things with an even number, I dove back in to find one more piece. That piece was the Dickey rookie you see above.

A few hours later, I went back to that same table to scrounge up a few more dime box treasures. Just as I was getting ready for another dig, someone came up and bought all the discount cards the vendor had on display. All of them.

Had I initially ended up with 230 cards instead of my 229, I wouldn't have found my treasured R.A. Dickey rookie card.

Sometimes the smallest things can shape the future.

#7 -- 1995 Score #425 Kenny Rogers

Courtesy of: Nick's aforementioned box o' cardboard.

This is either a card you love or hate.

If I could choose one card that best describes the outside-the-box thinking of the mid '90s, this would probably be it. Some may scratch their heads at the weird scoreboard shot, while others appreciate its sheer quirkiness.

I'm part of the latter. Mr. Rogers (the pitcher, not your friendly neighbor) is seen here giving an interview after his perfect game against the Angels on July 28th, 1994. The box score of the legendary contest is seen on the scoreboard, thanks to a perfectly structured shot.

Sure, Score could've simply taken a standard shot of Rogers during his interview, but I love the fact that they took the Jumbotron route.

I've never seen another card like it.

#6 -- 1996 Upper Deck "V.J. Lovero Showcase" #VJ-17 Mike Piazza

Courtesy of: The same flea market dime box that featured the Gwynn.

I was just a wee blogging lad when I first saw this card on Night Owl's blog.

I've wanted it ever since then, but I always thought I'd have to succumb to an impulse buy to obtain a copy. Little did I know there'd be one waiting for me in a flea market dime box this summer.

As I mentioned, the Gywnn from this insert set came very close to cracking this list. Hideo Nomo's stunning issue wasn't too far off, either.

In the end, this Piazza (with an Eric Karros cameo) was the only Lovero shot to make it. It's easily one of the funniest baseball cards ever produced.

Plain cereal boxes, probably stale donuts, old cell phones, and a gigantic cardboard cutout of Tommy Lasorda, all wrapped into one baseball card. What more do you need?

And does that strangely generic house remind anyone else of the Bluth's crummy model home on Arrested Development?

#5 -- 1997 Upper Deck #52 Kenny Lofton

Courtesy of: An early 2013 impulse buy.

I never noticed how great 1997 Upper Deck was until last year.

This was the card that started me down that peaceful path of realization.

I've collected Kenny Lofton since my early days in the hobby, but I never once saw this tremendous card before "The Junior Junkie" referenced it in a comment on one of my posts in early 2013. I knew then that I had to own a copy.

It didn't take long to track one down, and I used it as an excuse to partake in yet another impulse buy at the time. 

Upper Deck tried to pass it off as a legitimate training drill designed to improve Lofton's speed (which I'm sure it was), but it's almost impossible not to chuckle whenever I see it. He looks like an out-of-control funny car barreling around second base.

Even so, the Lofton wasn't even the greatest 1997 Upper Deck single I received last year.

#4 -- 1997 Upper Deck #53 Orel Hershiser

Courtesy of: Nick's "box from down under". Again.

What are the odds?

Lofton and Orel Hershiser are both featured as Indians in 1997 Upper Deck. Not only that, but they're featured consecutively in that year's UD checklist. And both occupy consecutive spots on this list.

Oh, and this is the third card in this post that came from Nick's amazing box from Australia. He really went to town with that thing.

While the Piazza and Lofton may have cracked this list because of their humor, this "Bulldog" made it because of its sheer beauty.

I don't think a card has made better use of shadows than this one. As Upper Deck notes on the back, it's almost like Hershiser had his own personal spotlight when this shot was taken.

It's photos like these that make baseball the most beautiful game in the world.

#3 -- 1992 Bowman #11 Trevor Hoffman RC

Courtesy of: Another impulse buy.

As many of you know, I collect "zero-year" cards.

In short, a "zero-year" issue is one that features a player in a uniform he never wore in the bigs. As far as those go, this was my white whale.

It's arguably the most famous "zero-year" card in existence. The Reds shipped future Padre superstar Trevor Hoffman to the Marlins before he ever had the chance to play in Cincinnati.

I spent years searching for this card. A couple months ago, I found myself with a little extra cash in my pocket. And, wouldn't you know it, someone was selling a copy on Sportlots for about four bucks, a far cheaper price than I'd ever seen.

I pounced on it, finally adding the ultimate "zero-year" card to my collection.

Tracking down a white whale is a great feeling.

#2 -- 1995 Score #21 Lenny Dykstra

Courtesy of: A PWE from Douglas.

This is a card that has exponentially grown on me ever since it hit my mailbox in June.

Dykstra joins Rogers and Hoffman on the list of former "Dime Box Dozen" needs to crack this countdown.

I've made it a mission to track down every single "argument" card in existence. There aren't many around, and I'm pretty sure this is the greatest one ever produced.

As I mentioned when I first received it, this shot comes from a contest on May 8th, 1994, in which "Nails" (the leadoff hitter) was ejected in the first inning by umpire Angel Hernandez. You can almost feel Dykstra's anger, complete with the large wad of tobacco in his mouth.

The former Phillie was a hard-nosed player in his day, and this particular shot exemplifies that more than any other I've seen.

#1 -- 1987 Classic Yellow #120 Joe Niekro (Who Me?)

Courtesy of: A trade package from blogger buddy Mark.

As soon as I pulled this card from Mark's trade package, I knew it would be the best modern card I'd receive all year.

Never did I think that one of the most infamous moments in baseball history would be featured on a piece of cardboard, much less one from the relatively obscure Classic brand.

I've probably seen the clip of Joe Niekro effortlessly tossing away his emery board in hopes of fooling the men in blue about a few dozen times. I can't help but laugh every time I see it.

Thanks to Classic, we get to see the exact moment the ump on the far right noticed something flutter out of Niekro's back pocket. It's the only card I've seen of a hurler being accused of doctoring the baseball.

To me, the caption pretty much sums up this entire shot perfectly.

Who, me?

With all this cardboard beauty, 2013 was certainly a great year for my collection. Thanks to the blogosphere, I discovered more new cardboard in 2013 than I ever had before.

I'm looking forward to seeing what surprises 2014 has in store for me.

Maybe we'll finally get a shot of Gaylord Perry loading up a Vaseline ball.


P-town Tom said...

I think my favorite is the card with Piazza and Eric Karros eating breakfast with Lasorda. I've never seen those VJ Lovero cards before. Pretty neat!

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

Talk about a perfect shadow, best human likeness on cardboard I've ever seen. Don't get me wrong, I love the weird shaped shadows very much, but Orel totally blows them away.

Matt Pederson said...

I think the point of the Rogers card is to show the scoreboard of a perfect game.

The Junior Junkie said...

That Lofton is a classic, and I rarely see it (or him) get enough credit for being awesome.

Mark Kaz said...

The Jordan/Caray card is amazing!

Also, I'm tickled one of my trade package cards made the No. 1 spot. Go me! (haha!)

Good stuff, as usual, sir.

deal said...

Glad to see the Dykstra card get props here. I remember that game. Hernandez made a bad-well more like horrendous strike call, and Lenny drew a line with his bat thru the RH batters box representing the path of the ball. THat is all it took for Hernandez to toss him.

All around great selection of cards here.

beefman said...

Nick, I'm proud to have made this list just once, but THREE times? Mate that just blows me away. I guess, since we collect essentially the same things, I should have expected it! hehe

Stay tuned for 'Another box from down under'...


Nick J