Monday, June 29, 2015

Disappointment at the flea market

I've come to expect greatness out of my local flea market.

Much of this greatness, as you might remember from my past posts, revolves around one particular vendor named Ron that sets up shop there. So, on a rare week where I actually had a little extra cash (and despite my inner brain's pleas to save said cash for the National), I decided to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon rolling in cardboard at the flea market yesterday.

My regular vendors are located in about the fourth or fifth aisle, but I actually found a guy with cards at one of the very first tables upon entering yesterday's gathering. One of the boxes was all relics, and the other was a dollar box. Trouble was, most of the dollar cards were more dime box material, if that.

But, after a little digging, I did manage to salvage one card that I deemed worthy of a wrinkled Washington. Baseball cards and magazine covers are always a good combo, and this Joltin' Joe oddball further proves that point. It's a magazine cover that pictures Joe DiMaggio signing autographs on baseball cards...on a baseball card.

Very meta.

With my first purchase out of the way, I skipped down a few aisles to where my regular guys usually are, already visualizing the big stacks of cards I'd soon be bringing home.

When I got there, I found a woman selling a bunch of children's toys in the place where Ron's table is always located. For a second, I thought my brain was to blame. Wrong aisle? It's bound to happen in a gigantic flea market.

I weaved between people, in and out of aisles and found that my brain was right the first time. And that's when I realized that Ron wasn't in attendance yesterday. I know he occasionally sets up at the card show that siphons my birthday money (which was occurring yesterday), so I'm hoping this was a mere one-week hiatus.

So, yes, that was disappointing. But at least my other regular vendor was in attendance. He doesn't usually get many new cards in his dime boxes on a week-to-week basis, but I knew I hadn't seen this Triple Threads Jered Weaver before.

It's not every day you find such high-end material in a dime box.

These are most definitely dime-worthy.

The '90s seemed to see a lot of insert designs with random colors and dots, and that Gonzalez was no exception. I've seen that Topps Total Franco during many past flea market trips, but, before yesterday, I hadn't noticed the captain's "C" on his uniform.

Save for Jason Varitek, I'd never seen that on a baseball card before.

There were a healthy helping of 2013 Opening Day singles in this guy's dime box on Sunday.

While I'm set with most of the base cards, I couldn't resist dropping a few dimes on these mascot inserts.

Maybe this'll finally give me the push I need to really start advancing my mascot collection.

Here's a random sample of another nine singles I bought from this table.

The cards here aren't as important as the page itself. I say this because the big score of the day was getting my hands on over 80 Ultra-Pro pages from this guy for a mere eight bucks (or about half of the day's total purchases). I don't much care if pages are new or used, but these were basically top quality material.

At the start of last week, I was fresh out of pages. But, after this find and a generous gift of over 50 nine-pockets from Steve of "The Card Chop" earlier in the week, I'm set for a while now.

Pages, like so much else in this hobby, seem to come in droves.

I did manage to stumble upon one new card vendor on Sunday.

The guy's box was simply labeled REPRINTS $1.00 EACH. Inside were a few dozen pages of old-time reproductions, about half of which threw it back to the days of Goudey.

Now, a buck per card is a little steep, and, had I had less self-control, things could've easily gotten out of hand. But, in an oddly good example of checking my emotions when it comes to reprints, I gave myself a five-dollar limit that I almost, almost stuck to. I ended up with six total, but, in the end, the guy only charged my five bucks anyways.

Yes, there were a fair amount of fairly big names up for grabs (Ruth, Gehrig, etc.), but I took a little different route with my selections. The way I see it, you can find Ruths and Gehrigs anywhere.

But how often do you find a card of Moe Berg, the famous WWII spy?

Or Burliegh Grimes?

Or Jack Quinn?

In a seemingly backwards way, I'd much rather drop a dollar on guys like these over the Ruths and Gehrigs of the world.

The other half of the reprints on display were all tributes to '52 Topps.

Again, I passed on the bigger names and chose to go with the more obscure guys. I think that's just my third Pete Reiser card, and only my second Eddie Waitkus.

Maybe I'll own the real ones someday.

And speaking of wanting to own the real thing, here's a card I've had on my radar for a long time.

I haven't been lucky enough to track down an authentic '52 Topps Gus Zernial (yet), but I'll settle for the reprint for now. In a collection like mine where craziness reigns king, the A-OK Zernial might be the forefather.

I think I read somewhere that the six baseballs taped to his bat are a nod to Zernial's streak of hitting six homers in three games in '51.

But that still doesn't explain the pink undershirt.

The last vendor of the day actually tracked me down as I was perusing the aforementioned reprints, urging me to come over to his table whenever I was finished.

I've bought from the guy a few times before, and I guess I made an impression. I headed over once I walked away with my fill of reprints.

When I got there, I saw a fairly big box sitting on the table. Trouble was, it was about 98 percent empty. There were maybe three dozen cards left in the thing, like it was ransacked or something. The guy informed me that whatever was left for 5/$1, and, yes, I did manage to salvage five good ones.

I can't pass on '90s inserts of the Big Hurt.

Somehow, I still need cards from '87 Donruss.

I was shocked to find out such a thing.

The Collect-A-Books Clemente was indeed a 5/$1 find.

The Ballstreet oddball, however, was located in a glass case (again, it looked like it'd been ransacked) at the other end of the guy's table.

It was originally priced at $3, but he gave it to me for a buck.

Same goes for this one, mine for a mere dollar.

And that just about did it for Sunday's haul. Without Ron there, I didn't exactly drive home with the usual giddy feeling I get after an afternoon in the flea market sun. Nothing too Earth-shattering. Still, after looking at these cards again, maybe I'm just spoiled.

When you add it all up, even a disappointing day at the flea market beats whatever the heck most people do on Sundays.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The dime box frankenset, Page 70: Numbers 622-630

Let's take a look at how last week's frankenset voting played out.

Win -- 1986 Topps #616 Glenn Brummer (11 votes)

Place (tie) -- 2013 Topps #617 Fernando Rodney, 1989 Score #619 Kirt Manwaring (5 votes each)

Show (tie) -- 1993 Donruss #613 Pete O'Brien, 1991 Topps #614 Luis Salazar, 2002 Upper Deck #620 Rocky Biddle (4 votes each)

Glenn Brummer took the lead from the start and didn't let go, garnering 11 total votes (including my own) and capturing last week's frankenset crown. I wouldn't say that 1986 Topps is much known for its photography, which, in some ways, makes such an unexpectedly fantastic shot even better.

I came close to voting for Frankenset MVP Kirt Manwaring after a couple people noticed that the runner on his card is actually a pitcher in a warmup jacket, something that I'd somehow missed the first, oh, dozen times I looked at it.

But, in the end, I couldn't go against Mr. Brummer.

We're starting to near the end of the frankenset binder, and this might be the best overall page of the #600-and-up class.

Let's meet the newest nominees.

1994 Collector's Choice #622 Mike Jackson

Throwing it back to the days of the San Francisco Seals. 

1991 Upper Deck #623 Melido Perez

Another pitcher trying (and failing) to look menacing with a bat in his hands. 

2013 Topps #624 Justin Ruggiano

The exact moment Justin Ruggiano felt the icy pain. 

1993 Topps #625 Rick Aguilera

Under the Metrodome roof. 

1975 Topps #626 Larry Haney UER

A rare screw-up from the near-perfect '75 Topps, as former A's catcher (and future Cardinals pitching coach) Dave Duncan is actually pictured here, not Larry Haney.

1973 Topps #627 Luis Alvarado

The immortal used car lot baseball card.

1993 Topps #628 Kelly Gruber

Pondering in the on-deck circle. 

1993 Fleer #629 Scott Fletcher

Turning two with '93 Fleer.

1974 Topps Traded #630T Tommie Agee

We close with a coveted zero-year card, as Tommie Agee was actually released by the Dodgers before ever suiting up in a game for them.

The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I don't know...third base

If you looked on the back of my Little League baseball card, you'd see quite the numbers of a classic good-field, no-hit ballplayer.

I wouldn't say I was terrible at the plate, but I was more of a slap hitter than anything. Mostly singles with the occasional double or triple mixed in. I don't believe I hit a single homer during my five years of Little League. (I'd probably remember if I did.)

My skills more or less came on the defensive side of the game. I was usually one of the best fielders on my teams, and, while I probably played every position at least once (including exactly one inning each as a pitcher and catcher), I was mostly a second baseman and outfielder.

Looking back, the one spot I wish I'd had more experience with is third base. It's not called the "hot corner" for nothing, and, even in a game of ten and eleven-year-olds, third did seem to see the most action.

In case the card up there didn't give it way, all this Little League reminiscing came courtesy of Pat of the great blog "Hot Corner Cards," a man who decided to drop a surprise flat-rate box of cardboard on me recently.

I'm not normally an advocate of scribbling on your cards, but, then again, how else are you going to spice up a 1989 Topps Scott Lusader?

Pat hoped that there'd be some gems in this batch, and, if this massive bubble of bubble gum is any indication, the masterpieces were indeed plentiful.

Flat-rate boxes are always, always a pleasure to dig through.

The mini-collection train took off right away.

Double dips and throwbacks kicked off the fun, although I apologize for the sight of Jose Canseco on that Huson turning two shot.

Pitchers at the plate and interviews abound.

Seeing Topps Total a trade package makes me all giddy.

Pat veered off into the world of quirky and flat out strange with the next part of this box.

The Chavez is one of the many gems from 2009 Topps that I missed the first time around. I love everything about it. The odd camera angle, the hustle from Mark Ellis, the rare runner-fielder collision, the hill in center field. All of it.

The Banks...not so much. Upper Deck managed to make Mr. Cub look like either a) an umpire from the 1920s, b) a skin-tinting Sammy Sosa type, or c) both.

It just plain scares me.

I'd like to get onto some less freakish cards, if that's okay with you.

From the looks of it, Pat knows that 1980s oddballs are one way to win my heart.

First Edition versions of two of the best cards Upper Deck ever produced.

The Inge has to be one of the finest "hot corner" shots out there.

These two inserts were exclusive to hobby shops, which means that I didn't see them until much, much after their original release dates.

Maybe I'll open my own card shop one day to make sure that kids don't have to wait 5-10 years to get cards like these.

One of the team bags Pat included was almost exclusively stuffed with late-2000s Topps inserts.

I wasn't exactly a pro at creating want lists at that time, so a lot of cards I needed from that era passed me right by. These "Ring of Honor" inserts included. The design isn't anything special, but the player selection is gloriously diverse for an insert set.

You've got the big stars like Mariano Rivera and Reggie Jackson, but you'll also find the likes of Aaron Rowand and David Eckstein in the mix. And, after seeing that Bobby Cox, I'm left to wonder how many manager insert cards I own.

It can't be many.

This is where I really start to get angry at my ignorance as an adolescent collector.

Like the "Ring of Honor" inserts, I almost completely ignored Topps's "Trading Card History" series when they originally hit the shelf. Why, I'll never know. This isn't your standard new-players-on-old-Topps-designs thing.

While a few of these cards do indeed pay tribute to older Topps sets (like the Josh Beckett), the vast majority honor old oddball designs, quite a few of which I've never even seen before. And, yet, somehow this set flew right over my head back in 2007.

I'd like to go punch my fifteen-year-old self right about now.

Though I don't think he knew it, Pat wound up sending me a card that'd been high on my want list for a long, long time.

Upper Deck released this Tom Selleck insert to coincide with the release of his (then) upcoming film, Mr. Baseball. It's a movie I've seen several times, and, while I wouldn't put it in my Top 10 list of baseball films, it's still worth a watch if you haven't already.

Selleck is shown as an over-the-hill Yankee first baseman early on in the film, one who eventually gets sold to Japan when an up-and-coming rookie takes his job. That rookie, as seen on this card, is played by none other than Frank Thomas.

Baseball cards and cinema don't cross paths very often, but, when they do, they're nothing short of fantastic.

Now, if only someone would get going on that Henry Rowengartner card (or whatever his name is).

Friday, June 26, 2015

MLB Showdown 101

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned my interest in reading a novel called The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover.

I finished said book earlier this week, and it was undoubtedly fantastic. The premise, to put it simply, is about a man who, while engrossed in his insanely detailed and personalized baseball dice game, is forced to deal with a tragedy that befalls his "league." It's not necessarily a baseball book, but I'd definitely recommend it either way.

One of the unexpected side benefits to reading the novel, as I found, was the fact that it inspired me to bust out the box of MLB Showdown cards under my bed. I've said this before, but I used to play the game daily when I was a kid. Joe Morgan is not unlike the rest of his MLB Showdown peers, used, played with, loved so often that the paper is physically peeling off his card.

Although I've gone through bursts of interest since those adolescent days, my cards have mostly stayed untouched in my room for the past year or two, more or less. But, thanks to Coover's novel, I'm back to square one, in a good way.

Here I am, a reborn, 23-year-old MLB Showdown fanatic all over again.

I rarely see MLB Showdown mentioned on the blogs (or anywhere else, for that matter), and, if I do, it's usually something along the lines of What the heck are these? NEXT!! or something to that extent.

I can't say I blame people for such reactions. MLB Showdown, while fairly popular at one point, only appealed to a small circle of gamers. Now, I'm about the furthest from a "gamer," but I lived and died with MLB Showdown, because...well, it's a baseball game with all of my favorite players.

But, sadly, the fact of the matter is that almost no one today remembers much about MLB Showdown. This may end up being one of those posts that appeals to maybe one or two other people besides myself, but, tonight, I thought I'd teach a little MLB Showdown 101.

The game itself might look quite complicated with all the numbers and letters in tiny text. But, if you play it in basic form, it's really not all that difficult. The game is played with a 20-sided die, which the defense rolls first. Let's say Ellis Burks is at the plate with Roy Halladay on the mound. 

On defense, you add the die roll to the pitcher's control rating. If the control + roll adds up to more than the batter's On-Base rating, then the advantage goes to the defense and the offense rolls off of Halladay's chart. So, if the defense were to roll a 10, that'd be 5 + 10 = 15, which is higher than Burks's 13 On-Base rating. If the roll ties or falls short of the batter's On-Base (with, say, a 6), then the batter gets the advantage. 

It is far, far easier to get on base when the hitter gets the advantage, as you might be able to tell from the charts of the hitters vs. those of the pitchers.

Though you don't necessarily need them to enjoy the game, more advanced game play involves the use of these strategy cards to make the game more than the simple luck of a die roll.

These consisted of three categories. Offense (red), defense (blue), and utility (white). Strategy cards, when used at the right time, could give select advantages or disadvantages to teams in crucial situations. 

They can also make the game a little more realistic, as everything from ejections to beanballs to home runs could occur with proper usage of a strategy card.

MLB Showdown was produced by Wizards of the Coast (the same company that made the Pokemon cards) and survived from 2000 to 2005.

For all of those years (save for '05), it was released in three different series. Base (which usually hit the shelves around Opening Day), Trading Deadline (midseason), and Pennant Run (usually around September). I'd rather not know the amount of money I spent on packs of MLB Showdown cards, hoping for that next great All-Star.

Just like with my standard card collection, there were definitely "white whales" when it came to MLB Showdown, and I had the good fortune to eventually track most of them down. The hallowed 2003 Barry Bonds, in particular, stands out, as it is probably the best MLB Showdown card ever created.

Pitchers' ratings only go up to +6 (which explains why I needed the Palmer), and, aside from Mr. Bonds, the hitters' On-Base numbers hit a ceiling at 14. Bonds is the only card to have a 16 rating, which meant he got the advantage more than half the time.

Then again, I guess that's to be expected, considering the guy repeatedly posted on-base percentages of over .500.

One of the beauties of MLB Showdown was the fact that you could play it any way you wanted, and it would almost always simulate real baseball.

Every card, as you'll notice, has a listed point value. Larry Walker here is 650 points. Under the "proper" rules, a 25-man roster cannot exceed 5,000 points. That, I guess, does simulate real roster construction in baseball. A few stars surrounded by average or below-average talents.

But, personally, I decided to do away with the 5,000-point rule from Day One and made every game an All-Star Game. No point limits whatsoever. After all, what fun is pulling a great card like Larry Walker if you can't use it?

The games I play without point limits may be a little higher scoring (more 6-5 ballgames than, say, 3-2 contests), but they're still close, competitive, and, most of all, fun.

To my knowledge, I don't think the people at MLB Showdown ever released their formulas for determining each player's ratings.

Yes, there were quite a few head-scratchers over the years. Relatively obscure hurlers like Travis Harper and Tim Spooneybarger became some of the best bullpen aces the game would ever see. Craig Wilson is one of the best hitters in MLB Showdown history, and Gerald Laird, of all people, is one of the few catchers to have a 13 On-Base rating.

These guys, the seemingly mediocre players who somehow received top-tier cards, are familiar names to me because of this game. I collect each of these guys' real baseball cards thanks to MLB Showdown. I may have the largest Tim Spooneybarger collection in the world.

Even if their real careers were somewhat middling, they're legends in this little card game.

I wouldn't say I ever collected MLB Showdown cards, but I can see a lot of parallels between them and my standard pieces of cardboard.

More specifically, I see ways in which the structure of MLB Showdown, from a collector's standpoint, was better than some of what Topps is doing these days. For one thing, MLB Showdown included the likes of obscure guys like Travis Harper and Gerald Laird, but that's another Topps Total-esque rant that you don't want to hear again.

One other thing that I enjoyed about MLB Showdown is that the creators cut us some slack, dammit. Topps has become infamous for backloading many of today's stars into insert sets or the short-print portions of base sets.

The MLB Showdown cards I've shown in this post are among the best I own. You might notice that, while some are of the rare "foil" variety, many others aren't. This Griffey (always a premier home run threat) was just as common as a career minor leaguer with an 8 On-Base rating.

Lots of MLB Showdown fanatics such as myself were able to add the likes of Junior to our teams because of how accessible he was in a given pack of cards. The foils in MLB Showdown gave it the thrill of the chase, but a budding fan of the game could easily thrive on the commons, the cards available to everyone.

In that way, MLB Showdown might be the greatest game of them all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cool to me, cool to you

Sometimes, I feel a little bad for people trading with me for the first time.

My more frequent trade partners know how easygoing I am with what cards I enjoy. But I often get emails from new collectors wanting to set up a swap, and a lot of them ask what I collect. I wish I could tell them I collect this team or this set or this player, collection isn't nearly that tidy.

So I often tell people to just send me whatever cards they find cool, and I fear that such a task might be a little intimidating because what might be interesting to one person might not be to the other. But fear not, prospective traders, because my perception of cool has matched up to pretty much everyone I've ever dealt with.

I mention this because Shane of the awesome blog "Shoebox Legends" recently sent me a package full of randomness, followed by a small PWE about a week after that. Though we've both been in the blogging business for a while, we somehow hadn't traded or talked much before. But it quickly became obvious that Shane fell right into step with the usual randomness we see around here.

The PWE he sent resulted in my very first card of Pumpsie Green, who, upon signing with the Red Sox in 1959, became the first black player on the last team to integrate.

The initial package Shane sent included a hearty amount of singles from the Fleer Red Sox 100th Anniversary set, released in 2001.

I'd owned a few prior to this, but not nearly enough. The checklist covers a lot of names, big and small, from the long, long history of the Red Sox. The way I look at it, it's kind of the Topps Total of Sox history.

I can't say I've seen many cards of George Kell as a Sawk.

Here's a rare appearance of the Green Monster on a piece of cardboard.

It's not often I get excited over cards of inanimate objects, but this is definitely one of the exceptions to the rule.

Shane strayed away from his Red Sox roots with the rest of this package.

Topps became a little obsessed with producing milestone-based insert sets for a while there in the late 2000s. You might remember checklists such as Mantle Home Run History, Josh Gibson Home Run History, DiMaggio's Streak, and, as seen in this scan, DiMaggio's Minor League Streak.

Most of those sets are flat-out boring, but I have to give a little props to this one, commemorating Joltin' Joe's 61-game hitting streak as a minor leaguer in 1933.

It's not every day you see DiMaggio in a San Francisco Seals uniform.

These two qualify as "cool" in my book.

There's yet another gem from the '93 Upper Deck checklist that had previously flown under my radar. That may be the single dirtiest uniform I've ever seen on a baseball card, and it looks perfect on John Kruk.

And, I don't think Shane knew it at the time, but the Varitek fulfilled a longtime "zero-year" need of mine as a collector. Until this package, I hadn't been able to nab a card of the future Red Sox catcher during his time in the Mariners system.

Another "zero-year" suspect down.

Shane moved onto a couple of my favorite players from there.

I've collected Ichiro for about a decade longer than Anthony Rizzo, but Rizzo is starting to move up into the first tier of my player collections as of late.

He's all set to join guys like Ichiro at the top.

These look stunning next to one another, showing just how good of a job Topps did with Heritage in 2008.

I've started plucking out legendary moments in vintage history from bargain bins over the last few years. I'm talking Don Mossi and his freakishly large ears, Wally Moon and his dubious unibrow, etc., etc.

Thanks to Shane, you can add Ryne Duren's Coke-bottle shades to the fold.

I'm not usually huge on art-exclusive base designs, but this Topps Gallery set is a beauty.

The cards are extremely well-done, and the foil parallels add a spark to what is already a stunning design.

Still, if we're talking '70s legends, one card Shane sent blew them all out of the water.

Here, we have something that I didn't even know existed in the first place.

A Wilbur Wood certified autograph...wait. Let me rephrase that a bit. A WILBUR WOOD CERTIFIED AUTOGRAPH?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

I talk a lot about how much I appreciate the more colorful stars of the '70s (Fidrych, Spaceman, Dock Ellis, etc.), but, while I'm not sure he had the personality of those guys, Wilbur Wood has always been side-by-side with the Dick Allens and Jose Cardenals of the '70s baseball universe to me.

Here's just a few reasons why:

1) His name sounds like something that belonged in the 1870s, not the 1970s. (His middle name, by the way? Forrester.)

2) He was a knuckleballer who played for the hometown White Sox.

3) He routinely led the world in games started and innings pitched for much of the early-to-mid '70s, which meant that he finished with crazy records like 24-17, 24-20, 20-19, and 16-20. (He averaged north of 350 innings from 1971-73.)

4) The man is a legend, plain and simple.

I can assure you that this is probably the best autograph I have ever received. The card is a masterpiece within itself, but the sheer surprise of it took things to a whole other level, since I had no idea that Shane was going to send anything like this my way.

First trade or not, these cards knocked it out of the park.