Saturday, March 25, 2017

Top Five: Billy Martin

One of the reasons I love my bookseller job is that you just never know who might walk into the store on any given day.

There's a relatively new book out about Billy Martin that I've flipped through on a couple of occasions at work. We hadn't sold a copy of it for three months before last week, and I figured it'd stay on the shelf until inevitably getting returned to the publisher (most books are generally given four months to sell before being sent back).

That is, until the other day, when a customer -- a middle-aged woman, of all people -- came into the store, poked around the biography section for a minute, and walked to the counter with the Billy Martin book. She and I went on to have a nice conversation about Martin, the '50s Yankees, and many other baseball minutiae before she went on her merry way. Those five minutes of baseball talk lit up my entire ten-hour shift that day.

It's in honor of her that I've decided to focus on Billy in this week's edition of Top Five.

#5 -- 2000 UD Yankees Legends #81 Billy Martin

Martin is often remembered for his controversial years as a manager, but a lot of people forget that he was a key cog in those dynastic Yankee teams of the '50s.

He was known to be a favorite of Casey Stengel's, and this great shot of the Casey and his boy is pretty darn near the happiest baseball card you'll ever find.

#4 -- 1982 Donruss #491 Billy Martin

But for better or worse, most fans -- myself included -- best know Billy as the temperamental (yet brilliant) manager he became during his later years.

Here's a particularly hotheaded Martin in the middle of what may or may not be one of his 51 career ejections as a skipper.

#3 -- 1994 Ted Williams #61 Billy Martin

Many of the tired baseball cliches you've heard in the past could probably be attributed to Billy Martin: "scrappy," "hard-nosed," "a grinder," etc., etc., etc.

While I usually cringe when words like that get thrown around these days, I wouldn't be surprised if Martin was the inspiration behind a lot of that terminology. He's the kind of pint-sized, against-all-odds guy that so defines what makes baseball great.

Case in point: this masterpiece, probably one of the top ten double play cards ever made (which wouldn't be a bad list to create one day, now that I think of it).

#2 -- 1957 Topps #62 Billy Martin

This is the only vintage Yankee card I own of Billy Martin, and I bought it at one of the first card shows I ever attended as a young lad.

I got it on the cheap due to the .264 (Martin's 1956 batting average) scrawled across the front by (presumably) another young lad who's probably close to retirement age these days.

My current adoration for '57 Topps was greatly influenced by this beautiful card being housed in my collection at such a young age.

#1 -- 1972 Topps #33 Billy Martin

But my favorite Billy Martin card is, and always will be, the infamous '72 Topps issue.

Baseball cards are a wholesome hobby. No profanity, no violence, no voices raised, no conflict. Kevin Arnold collects baseball cards. They're all-American and all that.

And yet here's Billy Martin not-so-subtly flipping a downward bird to the thousands of kids, teenagers, and adults who have come across this card at some point in the 45 years since its release. That doesn't seem so wholesome to me!

If I could pick one image that perfectly sums up the life of Billy Martin, this would be it, and it's not even close.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Grad School Extravaganza (Vintage from the card show)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I made vintage my primary focus at Friday's card show.

I think that's partly because the couple smaller shows I attended last month weren't all that heavy on the older stuff. In contrast, it's quite easy to overdose on vintage at this huge tri-annual gathering, and I think I did just that this time around. But I'll let you be the judge.

As I've taken to doing lately, I selected a few specific cards to hunt down on Friday in a quest to bring some focus into all the randomness. This trio -- otherwise known as the Elusive Three -- consisted of a 1971 Topps Rusty Staub, a 1975 Topps Nolan Ryan, and a 1976 Topps Tom Seaver. Would the Elusive Three finally become mine on Friday?

You'll find out soon enough, but in the meantime, I actually wound up finding a Nolan Ryan at the very first table of the day (the 50-cent tub I alluded to in my last post), though it wasn't the desired '75 Topps issue.

Still, it's hard to argue with an early Kellogg's card of the Ryan Express for two quarters.

Turns out Kellogg's just wouldn't leave me alone on Friday.

While they're not in the finest shape, I didn't fret at forking over a buck a piece for Cochrane and Grove here since I've had such a tough time tracking down these Kellogg's legends in the past.

These were all between 50 cents and a buck per, and seeing so much Kellogg's star power in one scan  -- Rollie! Bake! Knucksie! -- is enough to make me swoon.

It seems I either find a ton of Kellogg's or a ton of Hostess at this show, never an average amount of both.

Friday, as you can probably see, was heavy on the Kellogg's and light on the Hostess. This Eckersley, in fact, was the only one I picked up from the latter, though it was a massive steal from the aforementioned 50-cent tub.

I'll always love seeing Eck in that Bloody Mary Indians garb.

More oddballs from the 50-cent tub with Boog and the Penguin here.

The Cey is obviously a '77 cloth sticker, but I have absolutely no doggone idea what the Powell is: any help on that front would be much appreciated.

Here's a new oddball to add to the stable.

A guy about halfway through the show had a small stash of '63 Topps Rub-Offs on display. Most of the stars were a bit out of my price range, but for a dollar, I grabbed this one of former Colt .45 Dick Farrell. (Floating head alert!)

A wonderfully odd addition to my Defunct Teams collection.

Most vendors at shows like these seem to have a decent handle on fair asking prices for their cards, but every once in a while you'll find people who painfully overprice everything.

A guy I stumbled upon near the end of the evening was asking nearly double the usual going rates for his cards. I can't imagine he made much money throughout the course of the day. I bought just a single card from him: this OPC version of Brooks Robinson's final Topps card.

The $3 price tag might've still been a bit high, but I guess I don't mind overpaying when it comes to OPC.

I'm absolutely powerless when it comes to these Nu-Scoops oddballs, especially when I find them in a dollar box.

The oddballs alone would've added up to a massively successful evening, but the rest of the card show just about pitched a perfect game when it came to your standard Topps vintage.

This Larsen was another coveted dollar box pickup.

A couple from the 3/$1 bin, including a triple bat barrel shot with, yes, Frank Robinson on the far right.

Heavy artillery indeed at 33 cents a piece.

The discount vintage gods went heavy on the Pirates here: Maz was just a dollar and that early Willie Stargell ran me four bucks.

More than perhaps any other vintage Topps set, '64 Topps seems to grow on me more and more with each passing card show.

Mr. Perry -- who looks like he's about to deliver a very Moe Howard-esque eye poke to the poor Topps photographer -- was part of that immaculate 50-cent tub, while Donny was a steal at three bucks.

Mr. Cub!

For obvious reasons, it's rare to find any affordable cards of Ernie Banks at local shows, but these two somehow slipped through the cracks. The '64 was another three-dollar steal, while that beautiful 1970 Topps single -- and I don't use the word "beautiful" very often when describing '70 Topps -- was a mere buck.

I guess sometimes you just have to get lucky at card shows.

It's funny how quickly Topps went from one of their worst designs (1970) to one of their finest within the span of a year.

I still rank 1971 Topps as one of the five greatest Topps sets ever, and I think these two only go to prove my point. At 50 cents, the McDaniel is a stunning card I somehow never owned before Friday, and the miscut Mercer is a dreaded high-number (#635) I'd been chasing for a while that finally became mine out of the dollar box.

And speaking of '71 Topps...'d that whole Elusive Three thing go?

Well, as you can see here, Rusty Staub is now mine. Le Grand Orange is one of my top-tier player collections, but this semi-high number (#560) had forever eluded me. It's a beautiful card, and I remain a huge fan of those pinwheeled Expos caps even though the team no longer exists.

I forked over five dollars for this one, and though it was a little more than I was hoping to pay, I can't argue with the condition or the fact that it put a long-awaited quest to bed.

And there's Nolan!

I thought $8 was a fair price for one of the game's all-time great hurlers on one of the industry's all-time great designs.

Two down, one to go...

...make that none to go, because I found the hallowed '76 Seaver in the same discount box as the Ryan, literally less than a minute apart from one another.

The Seaver was priced at $3, but the vendor let me have it and the '75 Ryan for a cool ten-spot. Just like that, it was all done. The Elusive Three had once again been taken down!

Surely that had to be the highlight of the card show, yes?

Wellllllllllllllllllllllll...not quite.

You see, about halfway through the show, there was this table. A table with a massive sign above one of the bins that shouted 40% OFF!!! VINTAGE!!! at me. With an incentive like that, well, I just had to take a look.

Believe me when I say that I could've spent my whole day's budget at just this table alone without batting an eye. The thing was absolutely packed with mega-vintage at terrific prices -- I'm talking Mantles, Mayses, Koufaxes, and almost anything else you can dream of.

I wound up making two separate trips to this table, and the very last card I bought the entire evening was one I'd never been able to find at anything approaching an affordable price before Friday. That's right: it gives me great pleasure to say I now own the very 1961 Topps Ron Santo rookie you see above.

With the 40% discount, I ended up paying just ten bucks for a card which, on the lower end of the spectrum, is usually priced for at least double that around here.

Quick sidebar: I recently found out that I was accepted into both of the grad schools I applied to for the Fall.

I only mention this because my dad was in a festive mood and, while I insisted he didn't have to, he offered to fund my first go-round through those 40% Off boxes as a grad school celebration. Seriously, is any dad cooler than my dad?

The Grad School Extravaganza kicked off with the Duke, who, despite actually finishing his career with the Giants, received his Topps finale in 1964 as a Met.

Five bucks later, and the Duke's sunset card found a nice home in my collection.

A couple tough high(ish) numbers of a couple top-tier player collections from '63 Topps, also at about five dollars a piece.

I now only need Flood's '62 Topps issue to own every single Topps card of his, and wow, I think the Rookie Cup may just about have hit its peak in 1963.

Here's a card I never dreamed of owning.

While I'd set my sights on the '75 Nolan Ryan at Friday's show, it was actually his '72 that wound up stealing the spotlight. This is a fairly iconic card (Ryan's first as an Angel) and, as has become a theme in this post, another semi-high number (#595).

Like the Santo, the 40% discount brought the final price down to ten bucks. This is one of those cards that, it seems to me, you just never find well-loved copies of. Every time I see it at shows it's either graded and/or in immaculate shape, and thus priced way north of anything I'd ever be willing to pay.

There was one card left in Dad's Grad School Extravaganza, and if you've read this blog at all, you know the drill: I save the best for last.


As far as Saving the Best for Last goes, I don't know if there's ever been a better card to save for last before this post. This is, yes, a 1958 Topps Roberto Clemente (screw your "Bob," Topps), a masterpiece that predates what had previously been the oldest Clemente in my collection by ten whole years.

You don't see Clementes cheap at card shows. It just doesn't happen. Or at least I didn't think it did before Friday. At $30, it's still a fairly expensive card for the budget of my dad and I, but in the grand scheme of things, that's a steal for a gosh darn 1958 Topps Roberto Clemente.

I literally sleep with cards over my head (remember The Wall?), and I've been waking up in the morning to the sight of this card for the past few days. To tell you the truth, I still don't believe it. It doesn't quite register when I see it within the small confines of my own room.

I don't know what Grad School will hold, but thanks to my dad, one thing's a certainty: there's now a 1958 Topps Roberto Clemente in my own baseball card collection, and I'll never tire of saying that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What's in a card show?

Card show posts are my favorite to write for this blog, but they're also the toughest because it's difficult to sum up the full card show experience with nothing more in my arsenal than words and phrases.

I don't know if it's possible to describe what a show is like to anyone who's never attended one. There's just so much going on at any given moment during Card Show Day, and that goes doubly so for the massive tri-annual gathering in my area which my dad and I had the pleasure to attend this past Friday.

I've shown you what the inside of this behemoth looks like in the past, but here, for the first time, is a glimpse of the convention hall from the outside (yes, that's snow on the ground, all you West Coasters), which dwarfs mere mortals like myself and others walking down the street.

I guess one way I can describe a show as large as this one is this: imagine nearly any card produced in the last 50-60 years, and chances are it's probably tucked somewhere inside one of those countless aisles and tables.

My main hope for Friday was far less ambitious: all I wanted was to find the last singles I needed from 2017 Topps Heritage.

I was able to cross that goal off the list before I got through the first two aisles because, in addition to Big Sexy here...

...I found the vast majority of my remaining Heritage needs from a single vendor who had obviously purchased a couple cases of the stuff.

I overheard him mention that he'd opened so much of it that he'd paid someone $50 to organize the base cards for him, and was thus urging everyone to keep the cards in numerical order. First time I'd ever heard of anything like that before, but I suppose it makes sense for big-dollar collectors high on money and short on time.

I knocked out every single one of my Heritage base needs at a dime a pop, and also brought my Baseball Flashbacks/News Flashbacks insert sets (dig the Yellow Submarine-era Fabs in the center) to near-completion at 3/$1.

This is why I love when case breakers set up at card shows.

Now that Heritage was out of the way, I was able to focus on the little of everything that make these massive card shows so fun.

With 2017 sets hitting the shelves, it's safe to say that 2016 is the latest-and-greatest no more, which means more and more cards from the year prior are being cast away by vendors.

It's no surprise, then, that my 2016 want lists took a major pummeling on Friday with a variety of singles from the dime boxes, base and inserts alike.

It's no accident that dime box shiny winds up in almost all of my card show recaps: it's just too beautiful a thing to ignore.

Sometimes I get to wondering how many more mini-collection hits I could possibly have left to chase, and then a card show comes along and reminds me how much of a never-ending quest it is.

Here's something I haven't done in years: I actually bought a jersey card.

If there's even a pearl of enjoyment left in the memorabilia market for me, it's seeing second-tier stars get included in autograph/jersey checklists, like Sal Bando here. I've been on a Swingin' A's kick lately thanks to a new book we got at my bookstore job, which I've taken to reading during downtimes at work.

Even with the large crease running through the middle of it, I'm happy to welcome this card into my collection...

...even though it played second fiddle to a couple other pickups from that same table.

Near the end of the show, I stumbled upon a small box of miscellany that was priced at $2 each or 3/$5. Inside were a pair of Brewers team-issued sets -- one from 2009 (obviously) and the other which I believe is from 2005. I really only bought the Bando to get the 3/$5 deal.

Though they're usually tough finds, I absolutely love unearthing team sets like these because they often feature players who didn't get a lot of love from card companies such as guys like Jason Kendall and Craig Counsell, who don't have many other cards as Brewers.

It's a joy to have these team sets into my binders, and hey, I didn't even have to make the hour-and-a-half drive up to Milwaukee.

The Brewers sets capped off what had already been a long and glorious day of oddballs.

As I've mentioned in the past, my first stop at these shows is a regular vendor who always has a giant 50-cent tub filled with nearly anything and everything you can imagine. His selection, as usual, was more vintage-heavy, but there were some other gems to be had.

This 3-D Goose was tucked near the bottom of the tub and, although I love it, I'm also a little freaked out by it for reasons I can't quite explain.

More oddballs from the 50-cent tub.

I've read about those Louisville Slugger oddities around the blogs but had never actually seen (much less owned) any before Friday.

I bought this uncut Front Row panel for a quarter near the end of the show.

Is is blasphemous that I cut it up into six individual cards as soon as I got home?

It really was Oddballs Galore on Friday.

Canines, Duracell, Ultra-Pro, and what might well be my all-time favorite Fleer Star Sticker with the magnificent Ozzie in the center of this page all contributed to the oddball madness the dime boxes dumped onto me.

Heat-activated inserts? Players scraping mud off their shoes? Boxing gloves? An insert set called Boyz with the Wood?! 

Only the '90s!

Though I'm sure 99 percent of Friday's attendees walked past it without a second thought, one of my favorite tables of the evening was a guy who had a couple dime boxes full of nothing but early-to-mid '90s singles.

It's almost paradoxical to say, but cards from that era are so common that you never see them at shows. Sure, I've had a lifetime's fill of 1990 Donruss and 1992 Fleer at this point, but there's several other sets from those years -- from long-forgotten brands like UD Fun Pack and Classic -- that I need and am never able to find.

When you put all that together, you have a truly joyous dime box experience that included a minor league Jeets, a Torii Hunter rookie, and a pint-sized Griffey, among about a hundred other gems from the wonderland that is the early-to-mid '90s.

There was only one vendor that had a substantial amount of dime boxes ripe for the picking.

I'm not kidding when I tell you the guy had at least ten 3200-count boxes on display, as well as about a half-dozen more sitting in a stack underneath his table. While I didn't find them until later in the evening -- by which time I was running out of time, energy, and money -- I still made it through a fair amount of what he had up for grabs.

Much of his inventory centered around another largely forgotten era in baseball card history: the 2000s, which made the sightings of Fan Favorites, Super Teams, Fleer's dying years, and (yes!) even Topps Total all the more terrific.

But the unquestioned headline from this particular dime box vendor was the couple dozen SI Greats of the Game singles I grabbed from him.

It's not hyperbole when I say that this is one of the top ten greatest sets ever made, in my opinion. It features awesome, original images of legends and fan favorites alike. (Including the Mad Hungarian himself!)

Better yet, one of the insert sets is devoted to past Sports Illustrated magazine covers, and we all know how awesome magazine/baseball card mashups are, right?

The dime boxes closed things out by hitting a treasured Dime Box Dozen need with this '83 Topps Jim Rice, a card I'd somehow never tracked down in all my years collecting baseball cards.

I can say with absolute certainly that I focused more on the vintage at this show (which you'll see in an upcoming post), and yet...I still came away with all this more modern goodness. My gut reaction after getting home on the night of Card Show Day was that it had been kind of a down showing for the discount bins. Heh.

That, I guess, says more about this particular show better than anything else: that this -- all this -- happened without me even really trying.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Top Five: Tony Gwynn

One thing I hope I've shown throughout the course of this blog's history is how enjoyable it can be to build a collection on the cheap.

I specifically like to player collect because it's fun and not really all that difficult, and perhaps there's no better example of this than my relatively recent quest to hoard cards of the late Tony Gwynn.

When I decided to start collecting him a couple years ago, I owned maybe 50 of Gwynn's cards. Now, at last count, my collection spans a whopping 307 different singles, about 95 percent of which were accumulated via dime boxes with little to no effort on my part.

While there's still thousands of Gwynn's cards left to chase, I think my collection of Mr. Padre is now more than big enough to warrant a legitimate Top Five post dedicated to his honor.

#5 -- 1985 Topps #660 Tony Gwynn

Have there ever been sweeter shades on a baseball card?

#4 -- 1996 Upper Deck "VJ Lovero Showcase" #VJ-19 Tony Gwynn

I hope to be a teacher one day, and this is the only card I've ever seen that combines my hobby and my future career aspirations.

Something about Tony Gwynn's affable demeanor tells me that he would've been a fine professor had he not put together a Hall of Fame baseball career.

#3 -- 1993 SP #167 Tony Gwynn

My binders are filled with strange baseball cards, but this is one of the strangest.

I can't imagine what people thought when they pulled this card from packs. Who is this Sanders fellow and why is he on a Tony Gwynn card? Turns out the Sanders in question is former Padre pitcher Scott Sanders, and Gwynn donned his jersey for a single Spring Training at-bat because he'd apparently forgotten his own famous #19 back at the team's hotel that afternoon.

Isn't it great when innocent oopsie moments wind up on our beloved baseball cards?

#2 -- 1984 Donruss #324 Tony Gwynn

I love specific cards for many reasons.

Some hold fond memories. Some feature splendid action shots. Some document historic moments. And then there are the cards I love for reasons that aren't clear to me. This one does indeed feature my all-time favorite Donruss design, but other than that, it's not much besides a standard close-up photo of a young Mr. Padre.

But despite its simplicity, there's just something about this card that has always captivated me, a special something I can't quite put into words.

#1 -- 1983 Topps #482 Tony Gwynn RC

It took almost two years of searching at card shows to finally find an affordable Tony Gwynn Topps rookie.

This is one of the classic images of the '80s (despite the unfamiliarity of Gwynn wearing #53) and will most likely always be my favorite card of Mr. Padre.

Fleer and Donruss also issued Gwynn rookies in '83 (neither of which I own...yet), but the Topps one has always reigned supreme in the hobby, in no small part due to the fact that it happened to appear on one of the most memorable designs in Topps history.

I often wonder what other Tony Gwynn gems are waiting for me in the dime boxes of the future, but for now, I couldn't be happier with how easy it's been to collect a massive talent like Mr. Padre.