Wednesday, June 28, 2017

My memory isn't as good as I remember

It's always a joy to add a new blog to the blogroll, and I got a chance to do that recently when I discovered one called "Summer of '74."

It's run by a Brewers collector named Matt, a prolific writer who already had a few published books under his belt before he joined our blogosphere (which makes me an instant admirer of his). Matt opened a box of 2013 Topps on his blog a while back, and pulled a couple Ernie Banks inserts which I admired from afar in the comments section before Matt asked if I wanted them.

You know my response: Do I! I'll never pass up the opportunity to add two Mr. Cubs to the archives. Days later, the pair of Ernies wound up on my doorstep, and when I went to place them into my Cubs binder...I promptly discovered that I already had one of them, the fractured "Cut to the Chase" insert seen above.

This kind of memory slip never used to happen to me, so I had to ask myself (only half-jokingly): am I going senile?

Thankfully, the other Mr. Cub card was all-new to me: in fact, this is the first subject from the 2013 Topps "Elite" insert set I own, period.

It's super thick -- and thus a bit of a pain to slip into a nine-pocket page -- but still a beautiful card I'm proud to have in my collection.

But back to the whole memory thing.

Matt had already sent me a trade package a little while before I received the two Mr. Cubs, and this one wasn't immune to my newfound cardboard senility, either. I pulled this Matt Kemp Heritage insert out of the package and said to myself: alright, cool! A floating head! It'll look great in the Dodger binder.

If the Banks story is any indication, you probably already know what happened next: I already had it. This development was far more troubling to me. How could I forget I had a floating head? I can see mixing up a couple Ernie Bankses, because they use the same three pictures on a lot of his cards. But a floating head?

I've always prided myself on having a fairly good memory when it comes to my baseball cards, but maybe that ship has sailed by now.

My eyesight might be going, too.

I pulled this card from Matt's package, scanned it, and placed it in my Atlanta binder under the impression that this was a gold parallel of Matt Kemp's first card as a Brave (from 2016 Update). Not until a couple days later during an unrelated trip back through my Braves binder did I realize that that wasn't what Matt had sent. That is not what he had sent at all.

No, this is actually a pink parallel from 2016 Update, limited to a far more scarce print run of just 50 copies, making it the rarest card in my Kemp collection by a wide margin. And I almost didn't even know it.

What is happening to me?

My fading memory didn't mix up the rest of what Matt sent, thank God.

The Zobrist comes from the astonishingly dull "Franklin" insert set, but a card I'm happy to add to my growing collection of Zorilla (even though I'm not a huge fan of that nickname). And unlike the aforementioned Kemp, the Ichiro is indeed a gold parallel from 2016 Update I needed.

Speaking of Ichiro...'s a quartet of "Chasing 3K" inserts.

Though quite redundant, I certainly won't refuse any of these that come my way, if for no other reason than that they allow me to pad the numbers of my Ichiro collection.

A couple Archives singles for a couple of my newest player collections.

This is also good reminder that I don't know what the heck Topps was trying to pull by featuring the '82 set in two different Archives sets -- the Frazier is from 2013 -- when there's so many designs they have yet to honor (ahem...1981).

But here was the unquestioned star of Matt's inaugural trade package, a gem chock full of so many new facts for my fading memory that I needed to make a list to remember.

1) I had no idea Warren Spahn was ever affiliated with the Indians' organization, but apparently he served as a pitching coach for the franchise for two years in the mid '70s.

2) I thought the postcard-sized Exhibits brand was solely a product of the '50s and '60s, but as the trademark on this card indicates, the set survived until at least 1980.

3) Warren Spahn still employed his famous high leg kick well after his long playing career was over, a windup that causes me to dislocate a hip just looking at pictures of it.

All in all, a banner couple of packages from Matt, a person I'll definitely be trading with again in the future and someone whose blog you should go follow right now if you haven't already.

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting in the rocking chair on the front porch, praying I don't start accumulating doubles of baseball cards I already own.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ghosts of flea markets past

There comes a time when you just have to accept the fact that certain things are changing from the ways they used to be.

This is true with a few areas of my life right now, but the one most relevant to this blog involves my local flea market. Longtime readers of mine might remember the hauls I'd bring home from the place. My regular vendors had dime boxes as far as the eye could see and offered me discounts I still can't quite believe to this day.

I'm sad to say that the local flea market is probably past its glory days, and perhaps it's time I finally accepted it. I spent a sunny Sunday afternoon there a couple weeks ago, only to find absolutely none of my once-regular vendors in attendance. Ghosts of baby toys and board games occupied the spaces where their tables were usually found, locations I knew by heart.

I did, at one point, stumble upon a vendor with cards amongst his rows of Van Halen CDs, and while it certainly wasn't the greatest deal in the world, I decided to plop down a buck for this rare-present-day "pitcher at the plate" shot of Jake the Snake.

Sure, there were quite a few people with cards during this flea market run: trouble was, the vast majority were civilians who thought their 1989 Topps Jamie Moyers were worth five dollars.

About halfway through, I found a guy who had a handful of minor league sets in a small box at three bucks a pop. I asked him if I could open them to see what kind of guys were included, and he bluntly refused. (They were housed in your standard, unsealed team bags, mind you, so I'm not wrong in being a little peeved at this, am I?)

While I don't much like to make blind purchases, I noticed (then) future star Ian Kinsler on the front of one of the sets and figured there might be a couple more names amongst the rest of the checklist.

I asked the guy if he'd take five bucks for two of the team bags, and he accepted.

Best I can tell, the cards I purchased are from a couple different 2004 Midwest League All-Star sets, and fans of Chicago baseball should recognize the two names above. Carlos Marmol is seen here during the days when only minor league fans had to suffer through his three-walk, three-strikeout saves.

John Danks is pictured during his brief time in the Rangers' system before he came over to the White Sox, where he'd enjoy a few decent seasons before falling off the face of the earth sometime around 2014.

I have no idea who Steve Bondurant is (he never made it past Triple-A), but the Kane County Cougars logo brings back fond memories of games I used to attend with my grandparents as a kid when they lived in the next town over from Kane County, Illinois.

Count me among the many who never knew Fernando Valenzuela had a kid who played professional baseball (he's actually still kicking in the Mexican League at the age of 34).

It doesn't look like much to the casual observer, but this card singlehandedly made the five dollars I spent on these sets worth it.

Dirk Hayhurst never did much on the diamond. He spent a grand total of 25 unspectacular games in the big leagues with the Padres and Blue Jays in 2008-09. Book lovers might recognize the name, however: Hayhurst is the author of a trio of baseball memoirs, most notably The Bullpen Gospels.

I personally think the whole tell-all minor league memoir thing has gotten a bit old by now, but Gospels is terrific and worth reading if you haven't already (as are the other two in the series). What makes this card so special is that -- aside from an appearance as the Garfoose in 2011 A&G -- Hayhurst was never featured on a major-brand baseball card, and this is the first and only one I've been able to add to my team binders.

Just like that, the purchase was justified.

Despite my nostalgia for flea markets past, my recent trip did have one surprise left in store: this 69 (dude) card oddball set featuring the Miracle Mets of 1969, released by a company called Spectrum (beats me) in 1994.

As you can see, the vendor who had this on display wanted ten bucks for it. I wanted the set, but not for a Hamilton. I asked if he'd take five on it, and -- in a rare display of my haggling skills -- he accepted.

One wrinkled Lincoln later, and the Miracle Mets were mine.

The cards were still in the shrinkwrap when I opened the box, so I knew I indeed had the entire un-cherrypicked set intact from the get-go.

The first part of the checklist focuses on single players from the Miracle Mets depicted on a clean design: posed shot in the front, action shot in the back.

The most notable of the bunch is Tom Terrific, the 1969 NL Cy Young winner who was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

A couple of the young Miracle Mets wouldn't achieve stardom until their later years, notably Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan.

I personally tend to picture Tug during his time with the Phillies, and Ryan was infamously dealt to the Angels a few years after the '69 season before he could ever really shine in New York.

While the Seavers and Ryans are great, my favorite part of this set is the inclusion of the more fan-favorite type of guys who don't often get recognized on cardboard.

Koosman, Harrelson, Jones, Swoboda: the Mets wouldn't have performed the miracle without them, plain and simple.

Coach cards!

There's Yogi in the years before he'd take over as skipper for the Mets, and I had no idea former third base star Eddie Yost coached after his playing days.

Then there's the man at the helm of it all: Gil Hodges.

Gil was, by all accounts, a great skipper and an even better man, and when you pair his accomplishments as both a player and manager together, I think he's one of the more glaring Cooperstown snubs.

The second part of the checklist features key moments from the '69 season, with scores of cool photos to boot.

And here's some horizontals.

The World Series shots, oddly enough, are the only ones in color.

Though they stomped on my beloved Cubs on their way to the title, I've always been a big fan of the Miracle Mets.

They're right up there with the "We Are Family" Pirates, the Reds' "Nasty Boys", and Boston's "Idiots" as one of the more fascinating clubs ever assembled, and I'm ecstatic to have a set documenting that magical season in the Big Apple.

Yes, the glory days of the local flea market may be gone. But that's no reason to mope about the past, especially when, with a little digging, there are still a few cardboard gems to be found in all those aisles of knick-knacks. When you take it all together, I certainly can't complain with the haul I came home with a couple Sundays ago.

In the end, I guess you have to make do with what you can.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Frankenset Redux, Page 5: Numbers 37-45

Page #5 (Numbers 37-45):

Completion Status: 9/9

Numbers Needed: None.

The Players

1995 Upper Deck #37 Pat Hentgen

The elusive American League pitcher at the plate. 

1973 Topps #38 Mike Epstein

Another brick in the wall of off-kilter action photos from '73 Topps. 

1995 Upper Deck Minors #39 Matt Brunson

A minor league double dip. 

1972 Topps #40 Bob Barton IA

Not much action to speak of here despite the title of the subset.

2016 Topps #41 Josh Harrison

Celebrating in the Sunday throwbacks. 

1972 Topps #42 Tommy Davis IA

That's more like it. 

1999 Stadium Club #43 Rico Brogna

I always think of Pigpen from Peanuts whenever I see this card. 

2010 Upper Deck #44 Augie Ojeda

Safe at home. 

1986 Fleer #45 Darrell Porter

Red jersey, red undershirt, red batting gloves, red glasses: talk about color coordination. 


Cards By Decade:

1970's -- 3 (Running total: 5)
1980's -- 1 (Running total: 4)
1990's -- 3 (Running total: 21)
2010's -- 2 (Running total: 11)

Mini-collection Hits:

Double Dips -- 1 (Running total: 7)
Throwbacks -- 1 (Running total: 4)
Plays at the Plate -- 1 (Running total: 2)
Pitchers at the Plate -- 1 (Running total: 1)

Best Cameo

Have to give it to the distracted cop on the other side of Mr. Barton.

This Magic Moment

Augie Ojeda appeared in just two of the four games the Diamondbacks played at Shea Stadium (edit: actually Citi Field) in 2009, and only one of those was a day game, which means that this shot most likely comes from a D'Backs-Mets matchup on August 2, 2009.

The tricky part is determining which of the two runs Ojeda scored that afternoon is depicted here. I'm going to go with the run he scored on a Gerardo Parra single in the top of the 6th, a play in which Parra was thrown out at second after the throw home was cut off. That would explain why the attention of the Mets catcher (Brian Schneider) and the crowd seems to be elsewhere.

For the record, the Diamondbacks would beat the Mets that day, 5-2.

Kick Out the Jams

Introducing a new sub-category this week in which I showcase a song that, for whatever reason, reminds me of a card from the week's frankenset page (or vice versa).

I'll leave John Sebastian here because I instantly think of Welcome Back, Kotter whenever I see the last name "Epstein."

Lessons in Card Backs

Ah, the days when ballplayers had to get offseason jobs.

Best of the Rest

1991 Classic Draft Picks #43 Buck McNabb

The moment when your Little League photo winds up on your first professional baseball card.

Toughest Draw

1996 Score #38 Bip Roberts

Not even '73 Topps can take down Sombrero Bip.

Second Guessing

2012 Topps Chrome #43 Desmond Jennings

It's tough to go against a play at the plate (especially one of the chrome variety), but perhaps Rico "Pigpen" Brogna warranted a longer look for inclusion in the Inaugural Frankenset.

Favorite Card

Lots of good ones to choose from this week, but it was still an easy call for me: Bob Barton takes the crown.

There's not much action going on at all here, but the image is pure gold. Barton looks to be a desperate convict in a prison cell behind the wiring of the backstop, a metaphor only further enhanced by the blue-shirted policeman in the crowd.

I suppose a shot like this foreshadowed the craziness that was to come for Topps the following year.

Another frankenset page in the books.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Red Sox Team

I feel like I should have more of an opinion on the Red Sox than I actually do.

True, between the generations-long futility and their uncanny ability to break hearts in ways no other team could, the Sox are kind of like an American League brother to the Cubs (or were, as both teams have since shattered their curses). And aside from possibly the Yankees, no team has been shoved down my throat more than the Red Sox with the endless national coverage they receive.

While the Sox have more history and tradition than just about any other franchise in sports, I've never found myself actively rooting for or against them. They're another team that I might've followed a lot more closely had I grown up in a different generation, as many of my favorite players (Yaz, Spaceman, Pudge) had their prime years in Boston.

Still, for every Yastrzemski, there's a hundred guys who have been long forgotten as Red Sox, several of whom earned a spot on tonight's Short Term Stops roster.


2002 Topps American Pie #28 Juan Marichal

Red Sox "Short Term Stops" Accolades:

Juan Marichal (1974 Red Sox, 11 games)

Heading the star-studded staff of the Red Sox is Juan Marichal, who ended up in Boston after a number of stellar seasons with the Giants.

The Dominican Dandy was on the downslope of his Hall of Fame career by the time he hooked up with the Red Sox in 1974. The then-37-year-old pitcher posted an unspectacular 4.87 ERA in 11 games (9 starts) with Boston, collecting the final five of his 243 career wins in the process.

Marichal would sign with the Dodgers in 1975 -- the team he literally clubbed at one point -- but retired after getting shelled in his two starts in Los Angeles.

1987 Fleer #45 Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver (1986 Red Sox, 16 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Like Marichal, Tom Seaver was another legendary pitcher who briefly surfaced with the Sox near the end of his career.

Sent to Boston by the White Sox for Steve "Psycho" Lyons in midseason, Seaver provided experience to a World Series-bound Boston club in 1986. The numbers, however, were mediocre -- a 5-7 record with a 3.80 ERA in 16 games -- and Tom Terrific didn't pitch in a single postseason game for the Red Sox during the club's doomed trip to the Fall Classic that year.

Seaver retired after an aborted comeback attempt with the Mets the following season, leaving the Sox as the team with which he'd finish up his Hall of Fame career.

2009 Upper Deck OPC #456 John Smoltz

John Smoltz (2009 Red Sox, 8 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Though it wasn't intentional on my part, John Smoltz makes it official: all three pitchers on this Red Sox roster eventually made it to Cooperstown.

Smoltz, a 2015 HOFer, spent the first 20 years of his career as a Brave before signing with the Sox in 2009 for his age-42 season. It wasn't a stint to write home about: Smoltz was lit up in Boston, going 2-5 with an awful 8.33 ERA in eight starts before being released in August.

He'd finish his career in St. Louis after the Cardinals picked him up off the scrap heap, meaning that Smoltz earned the unlikely distinction of pitching for two teams in his final season after having spent the previous two decades with just one.


1968 Topps #167 Elston Howard

Elston Howard (1967-68 Red Sox, 113 games, sunset season in '68)

I have a handful of catchers in my binders who appeared in less games than Elston Howard did in Boston, but none of them can match the massive unfamiliarity of seeing the former Yankee catcher as a member of the Red Sox.  

It's always jarring when a player jumps from one side of a rivalry to the other (a recent example would be Jim Edmonds as a Chicago Cub), and Howard is no exception. The backstop spent part of 1967 and all of '68 in Boston, hitting just .207 with six homers in what would be the final 113 games of his illustrious career.

I remember thinking there was some sort of mistake when I first discovered Howard's sunset card from '68 Topps -- no way did he ever play for the Red Sox! -- but alas, it's true.

First Base

2005 Topps Update #UH35 John Olerud

John Olerud (2005 Red Sox, 87 games, sunset season)

John Olerud has long been a top-tier player collection of mine, and though I don't necessarily equate him with a single team (he's almost equally a Blue Jay, Met, and Mariner in my mind), the sight of him with the Red Sox has never seemed quite right to me.

Olerud was thrust into the Boston spotlight in 2005, hitting .289 in 87 games while receiving limited playing time at first base in what would be the sunset season of what seems to me to be an often overshadowed career.

Second Base

2003 Topps #45 Carlos Baerga

Carlos Baerga (2002 Red Sox, 73 games)

Speaking of underrated hitters of my youth, here's Carlos Baerga, a one-time star who was among the most dangerous members of those monster Cleveland clubs of the 1990s. 

By the time the new millennium came around, however, things looked tough for Carlos. He was completely out of the game in 2000 and split his 2001 season between the Korean League and independent ball. The Red Sox took a shot with Baerga in 2002, and he rewarded them with a solid comeback season, hitting .286 in 73 games as a part-time player that year.

Baerga would hang around the bigs until 2005, and he owes much of his twilight years to the Red Sox, a team that breathed life into a career that looked to be left for dead.


 2005 Fleer Tradition #184 Orlando Cabrera

Orlando Cabrera (2004 Red Sox, 58 games, half-year stint)

The Red Sox finally Broke The Curse in 2004, and their pickup of Orlando Cabrera at the deadline that year was one of the moves that advanced the club further down their hallowed path.

Cabrera was dealt to Boston as part of a controversial three-team deal that saw fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra sent to the Cubs. The move, in hindsight, was likely the right one: Nomar was never again a star, and though his time in Boston was brief, Cabrera proved to be a key cog in the World Series club in '04.

He hit .294 in 58 games to close out the year -- and, more importantly, posted a .379 clip in Boston's legendary three-games-to-oh comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS -- to cement his place in Red Sox lore.

Third Base

2010 Topps Allen & Ginter #308 Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre (2010 Red Sox, 154 games)

It seems almost hard to believe now, but Adrian Beltre was thought to be on the downswing of his career when he hooked up with the Red Sox.

After failing to live up to a massive contract with the Mariners, Adrian signed with the Red Sox as somewhat of an afterthought in 2010. That change of scenery put him back on the map, as he posted a stellar .321-28-102 line in an All-Star season with Boston. 

He parlayed that success into another big contract with the Rangers the following offseason, and I think we'd all agree that he's lived up to that one: if you look at the numbers, the guy's a future Hall of Famer.


1996 Donruss #521 Willie McGee

Willie McGee (1995 Red Sox, 67 games)

In a case where the hobby informed my knowledge of the game (instead of vice versa), I had no idea Willie McGee played for the Red Sox until I stumbled upon his 1996 Donruss card.

McGee spent just a single mediocre season in Boston, hitting .285 with just five stolen bases in 67 games with the '95 Sox. There's not much more to say about it apart from that.

Things did get better for Willie following his forgotten stint with the Red Sox, however, as he spent the next four years with the Cardinals in St. Louis -- the city where his career began -- posting a couple more .300 seasons before retiring in 1999.

2002 Donruss Originals #379 Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson (2002 Red Sox, 72 games)

Rickey Henderson was well on his way to Cooperstown when he showed up in the actual 1988 Donruss checklist (as a Yankee), yet his career was on its last legs by the time he appeared on this tribute to '88 Donruss a whole 14 years later. 

Rickey latched on with the Red Sox in 2002, the eighth of nine teams he'd play for during his legendary 25 seasons in the bigs. The 43-year-old Henderson hit just .223 with eight steals in 72 games in Boston, though he did walk at his usual clip as his .369 OBP for the year would indicate.

He'd join the Dodgers for what would be his final season in 2003, although I'm sure Rickey would tell you that he could come out of retirement and help a big league club right now.

2004 Upper Deck #550 Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts (2004 Red Sox, 45 games, half-year stint)

Though he stole the most important base in franchise history, Dave Roberts' Boston career is criminally underrepresented on cardboard: in fact, this is the only card I own of him as a member of the Sox. 

Like Orlando Cabrera, Roberts was another of the under-the-radar deals that helped catapult Boston to its eventual World Series victory in 2004. The Sox got him for peanuts from the Dodgers at the deadline, and he became a valuable piece off the bench, hitting .253 in 45 regular-season games before his immortal stolen base against the Yankees in the ALCS.

While he's quickly become one of the better managers in the game with the Dodgers these days, I'm sure a lot of fans remember him, first and foremost, for The Steal.

Designated Hitter

1974 Topps #83 Orlando Cepeda

Orlando Cepeda (1973 Red Sox, 142 games)

Orlando Cepeda assumes his role as the fifth and final (current) Hall of Famer on this stellar Red Sox squad.

Cepeda's lone season in Boston was a solid one, as he posted a .289-20-86 line in 142 games while playing some newfangled position they called Designated Hitter in 1973. Cepeda was one of the first to reap the benefits of the DH rule: he couldn't much play the field during the later stages of his career, but he could still hit with the best of them.

While this is Cepeda's sunset card, '73 wasn't his sunset season, nor were the Red Sox the final team he'd play for: the future HOFer appeared in 33 games with the 1974 Royals before being released in September of that year, a stint that (to my knowledge) has sadly never been immortalized on a baseball card (which makes it prime fodder for the Cards That Never Were category).

That just about does it for this edition of Short Term Stops.

Thanks for tuning in.