Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Like a kid in a toy store

I grew up watching a lot of Nickelodeon as a kid -- Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, and many others were must-see TV -- but one particular program sticks in my mind to this day.

Every once in a while, Nickelodeon would air a segment where they'd let one lucky kid loose in a toy store, allow him/her to run through the aisles and grab anything they wanted from the shelves, and -- here's the kicker -- they could keep everything they'd picked long as they made it back to the finish line before their allotted time was up.

I'm headed to the National this coming Saturday, and best I can describe it, that Nickelodeon show kinda sums up how it can feel pacing through that giant convention hall with all that stuff on either side of you (though the items I pick out will most assuredly NOT be on the house).

But a while back now, my buddy Robert of "$30 A Week Habit" granted me a kind of virtual toy store run, thanks to a super generous contest he held on his blog.

I was one of two winners of Robert's contest, and the prize just about made me salivate: all for leaving a comment on his blog, I won myself $20 in COMC credit on Robert's dime(!).

I've personally never ordered from COMC, but I've gone through their site enough to know that they have virtually every card on the planet over there. Hence, the kid-in-a-toy-store comparison.

So with twenty free bucks and COMC's inventory at the ready, where does one even start? Personally: I began the journey with a trip through '70s-oddball-land. The above Manny Sanguillen is a Hostess card I can't believe I'd never seen before, as it's one of the few to document his brief stint with the A's.

This Kellogg's quartet became mine for pennies on the dollar, and I can even look past the non-3-D designs if it means adding names like Tug and Billy and Kong to my collection on the cheap.

The more contained '70s oddball run gave way to a frantic search for just about any oddball from any doggone era, and that's how I wound up with these two TCMA gems.

The slightly oversized and rather young-looking Diz is part of a set that honors one of my favorite clubs in baseball history, the '34 Cardinals -- better known as The Gashouse Gang.

The Mathewson is simply a great card that caught my eye during a random search, as is the beauty of uncontrolled scrolls through the COMC inventory.

From there, I chose to veer from the beaten path of baseball and become a deserter.

I had the zany idea of adding a new card to my Beatles collection with Robert's twenty-spot, and this was the cheapest one I could find -- Ringo in the moments before he became a troublemaker in A Hard Day's Night.

But then one thing led to another, and the cheapest Monkees card in the COMC inventory soon wound up in my cart as well.

After that brief interlude, it was back to baseball cards, and specifically to two Mets you don't often associate with being Mets.

That's Duke Snider on the left, pictured on (yet another) TCMA oddball during his lone season with the Mets in 1963. Jim Piersall was also briefly a Met in '63, a 40-game stint that was sandwiched between time with the Senators and Angels that same year.

And here I was thinking I had all the Swell cards I needed by now.

Oddballs, as you can see, were pretty much the name of the game here.

I stumbled into becoming somewhat of a Milt Pappas supercollector -- I realized not too long ago that I'd unwittingly accumulated all of his Topps cards. Nowadays, I'm on the hunt for other oddities from his playing career, including that '60 Leaf issue which I snagged for loose change.

The SSPC Gary Carter was actually the very first item I added to my cart after I learned I'd won Robert's contest: I'd been admiring that one from afar for far too long now.

Everything I've shown thus far accounted for about half of the $20 total I won from Robert -- the other half of the order consisted of just two cards (a "splurge," if you will).

I'd put 1961 Nu-Card Scoops up against just about any other oddball set ever, in no small part because the checklist features many of the more curious and obscure feats in baseball history. Like the time an umpire ejected 14 (yes, 14) White Sox in a single game in 1946.

Fed up with frequent razzing that day -- yet unable to pinpoint the responsible party -- ump Red Jones jumped to the logical conclusion of throwing out every single person in the Sox dugout other than the manager and trainer, fourteen players in all. Trouble was, it was only the 5th inning, so the nine White Sox in the field at the time were forced to finish the rest of the game without substitution.

Now, if that's a curious feat...

...then I don't know what to call the time Bill Veeck sent a three-foot, seven-inch man to the plate to take an at-bat for the St. Louis Browns.

You probably know the tale of Eddie Gaedel by now, and even if not, you've probably seen this photograph at some point. It's one of the more unexpectedly memorable snapshots of Baseball Americana, and this is actually the first baseball card I own that features it. Not surprisingly, it's been on my bucket list for a long, long time, and I figured I'd end all the longing with the house money Robert let me play with.

So that's what happens when you let me run wild through the virtual aisles of COMC, a journey of sheer bliss made possible by a little luck on my part and an insane amount of generosity from Robert.

I wasn't in front of a mirror at the time, but I have to imagine I looked a little like this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Rockies Team

I truly believe baseball is a better sport when the Colorado Rockies are playing well.

The 2017 season has wrecked havoc on most of my preseason predictions thus far, but one of the few guesses which has held up to this point has been the emergence of the Rockies. While they've struggled as of late, they're still 58-43 and primed for a postseason run.

This is a rare occurrence in Colorado: the Rockies have only made the playoffs three times in their 25-year history, and have only topped 90 wins twice. Sadly, I've become used to thinking of the Rockies as a second-division club over the years. But while I don't get many chances to see them on live TV here in Chicago, I can tell they're a fun team to watch here in 2017, and I'll most definitely be rooting for them the rest of the way.

And hey, even though they're still a relatively new franchise in the MLB ranks, the Rockies have still managed to put together a solid Short Term Stops roster, so let's get to it.


1996 Pacific #63 Bret Saberhagen

"Short Term Stops" Rockies Accolades:

Bret Saberhagen (1995 Rockies, 9 games, half-year stint)

The Rockies made their first run at the playoffs in 1995, and acquired star pitcher Bret Saberhagen at the trade deadline that year to help bolster their pitching staff.

But baseball fans know what happens to pitchers once they get to Colorado: it usually doesn't end well. Saberhagen went 2-1 with a bloated 6.28 ERA in nine starts with the club and got shelled in his lone NLDS start against the Braves. (Atlanta would take the series in four games.)

The one-time Cy Young winner missed all of 1996 with a shoulder injury before latching on with the Red Sox, where he'd pitch until his retirement in 2001, leaving the Rockies as easily the shortest and most unfamiliar stint in his prolific career.

2012 Topps Update #US-46 Jamie Moyer

Jamie Moyer (2012 Rockies, 10 games, sunset season)

Jamie Moyer pitched his 25th and final season in the bigs with the 2012 Rockies at the age of 49...I repeat: at the age of 49.

The ageless Moyer shocked a lot of people by making the Rockies' roster out of Spring Training that year -- a feat doubly impressive considering he missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery -- and probably shocked a few more by lasting 10 starts with the club, going 2-5 with a 5.70 ERA and becoming the oldest pitcher in baseball history to win a game.

To put it in perspective, 263 guys who played in the big leagues in 2011 hadn't yet been born when Moyer debuted with the Cubs way back in 1986(!).

2013 Topps Update #US-76 Roy Oswalt

Roy Oswalt (2013 Rockies, 9 games, sunset season)

But not everyone's last hurrah can become as much of a feel-good story as Jamie Moyer's was.

Take Roy Oswalt, for example. The once-standout Astros hurler signed with the Rockies in 2013, and would go 0-6 in nine games (six starts) with an awful 8.63 ERA with the club before calling it a career.

Some players fade ceremoniously into the sunset, but Roy Oswalt's is the more common tale.


2002 Topps Chrome Traded #T-68 Sandy Alomar Jr.

Sandy Alomar Jr. (2002 Rockies, 38 games, half-year stint)

Sandy Alomar Jr. seemed to play forever and for every team on the planet, so it's no surprise that he was a Colorado Rockie at one point.

While Alomar mainly saw action as a backup during his post-Cleveland career, Colorado valued his services so much that they picked him up from the White Sox at the trade deadline in 2002. 

He toiled in 38 forgettable games with the Rockies, hitting .267 to end the season before I bet many realized he was even with the team in the first place.

First Base

2009 Topps Heritage High Numbers #593 Jason Giambi

Jason Giambi (2009-12 Rockies, 230 games)

Jason Giambi's tenure in Colorado wasn't exactly short -- he lasted three-and-a-half seasons with the Rockies -- but I'll be darned if it wasn't unfamiliar.

The aging slugger was on his last legs by the time he wound up in Colorado. He never appeared in more than 87 games in any of his four seasons with the Rockies, though he did hit 22 of his 440 career homers with the club.

You can add Giambi to the ageless wonder category, too: following his years with the Rockies, he hooked on with the Indians, where he'd play his final game in 2014 at the age of 43.

Second Base

2004 Fleer Tradition #117 Ron Belliard

Ron Belliard (2003 Rockies, 116 games)

I don't have much to say about Ron Belliard: a relatively forgotten infielder who had a few good years in the mid-2000s, and a guy who I kinda collect for some reason.

This card, however, is notable, in that it's the only one I own of Belliard as a Rockie. He hit .277 in 116 games in Colorado in 2003 before jumping to the Indians (sure are a lot of Cleveland connections in this post) and becoming an All-Star in 2004. Wait...Ron Belliard was an All-Star? 

I sure don't remember that.


2016 Topps Bunt #151 Jose Reyes

Jose Reyes (2015 Rockies, 47 games, half-year stint)

Normally, the sheer passage of time is a key factor in the making of a notable Short Term Stop. 

But there are exceptions, like Jose Reyes, who looks pretty darn strange in a Rockies uniform despite the fact that it hasn't even been two years since he last played for them. Traded to cellar-dwelling Colorado in the blockbuster deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays in 2015, Reyes never registered on my radar as a Rockie, hitting just .259 in 47 games to close out the season.

Two seasons and one domestic violence suspension later, the once-great shortstop (and one of my favorite players in the game at one point) is currently toiling with the Mets in the uniform most baseball fans probably associate with him.

Third Base

2003 Fleer Platinum #5 Todd Zeile 

Todd Zeile (2002 Rockies, 144 games)

Todd Zeile always struck me as something like that B-level actor you see in ten thousand different movies: never a star, but good enough to hang around.

Zeile played for a whopping eleven different clubs during his 16-year career, and the Rockies were the ninth of those eleven teams. The third baseman hit .273 with 18 homers in 144 games during his lone season in Colorado. 

Zeile would stick in the bigs for a couple more years before retiring in 2004, ending the career of one of the more prolific members of my Short Term Stops collection.


1993 Ultra #353 Dale Murphy

Dale Murphy (1993 Rockies, 26 games, sunset season)

For my money, Dale Murphy as a Rockie is one of the Ultimate Short Term Stops in baseball history. 

Hoping to score a big name to put butts in the seats, the expansion Rockies signed an aging Murphy as a free agent prior to their inaugural 1993 season. It didn't take long to realize that the move was a giant mistake: the 37-year-old Murph hit a paltry .143 with zero homers and exactly one run scored in 26 games before being unceremoniously released.

It was, however, long enough of a stint to allow a few cards of him as a Rockie to sneak out onto the market, and the few that do exist are amongst the most treasured pieces of my collection.

2003 Topps Traded #T-4 Greg Vaughn

Greg Vaughn (2003 Rockies, 22 games, sunset season)

Greg Vaughn's sunset stint in Colorado was shorter than Dale Murphy's and every bit as unspectacular.

Just five years removed from his 50-homer campaign in 1998, Vaughn signed with the Rockies for the 2003 season, yet another aging veteran who sought to take advantage of the thin air in Colorado. Needless to say, it didn't work: Vaughn batted a miserable .189 in 22 games with the Rockies -- hitting the final three of his 355 career homers -- before being granted his release. 

Greg Vaughn's time as a Rockie was so quick and forgettable that I probably wouldn't believe it ever happened had the cards not existed for proof.

2007 Upper Deck #674 Steve Finley

Steve Finley (2007 Rockies, 43 games, sunset season)

And Steve Finley closes out the Rockies' outfield sunset trio.

Finley is one of those fun expansion-era cases who ended his career with a team that didn't even exist when he first broke into the bigs. The Rockies were four years away from becoming a franchise when Finley debuted with the Orioles in 1989. Eighteen years and six teams later -- including stints with all five clubs in the NL West -- Finley closed things out in Colorado, hitting a slim .181 in 43 games in what would be his final big league season.

Though the 2007 Rockies would go on to reach the World Series for what remains the only time in their history, Finley had long been a footnote at that point: he'd been released way back in June of that year.

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

Thanks for tuning in.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Frankenset Redux, Page 9: Numbers 73-81

(My busy Saturday didn't leave any time for blogging, so here's a frankenset post that you'll likely be reading while I'm fighting the doldrums at work here on Sunday.)

Page #9 (Numbers 73-81):

Completion Status: 9/9

Numbers Needed: None.

The Players

1994 Topps #73 Billy Spiers

The rare fauxback/double dip combo. 

2011 Topps Update #US-74 Henry Blanco

A true piece of cardboard art.

1992 Donruss Triple Play #75 Felix Jose

That eyeblack isn't going to apply itself. 

2004 Upper Deck #76 Jay Gibbons

The only thing better than a throwback is a throwback to a defunct team, as we have here with the Orioles honoring their St. Louis Browns heritage.

1986 Fleer Star Stickers #77 Donnie Moore

Another rare mini-collection combo, this time with a speech/award pairing. 

2014 Gypsy Queen #78 Marcus Semien

Throwing it back to the days of the beer-league Sox uniforms.

2009 Topps Update #UH-79 Robert Andino


2013 Topps Pro Debut #80 Rock Shoulders

Rock Shoulders? 

1962 Post #81 Ryne Duren

Long live Coke-bottle shades! Long live Ryne Duren!


Cards By Decade:

1960's -- 1 (Running total: 1)
1980's -- 1 (Running total: 7)
1990's -- 2 (Running total: 42)
2000's -- 2 (Running total: 6)
2010's -- 3 (Running total: 18)

Mini-collection Hits:

Throwbacks -- 3 (Running total: 9)
Plays at the Plate -- 2 (Running total: 5)
Double Dips -- 1 (Running total: 15)
Interviews/Speeches -- 1 (Running total: 2)
Award Show -- 1 (Running total: 2)

Best Cameo

Not many notable cameos this week, so I'm forced to go with perhaps the most disgraced member of the steroid era: Rafael Palmeiro, seen here sliding into second.

This Magic Moment

Henry Blanco only appeared in two of the three games the D'Backs played against the Reds in 2011, and since one of those was as a late-inning replacement where he saw little action, it's a good bet that this particular shot comes from the D'Backs-Reds contest on April 10, 2011.

The way Blanco is positioning himself leads me to believe that we're seeing a forceout at home here, and if that's the case, then this bird's-eye shot was likely snapped in the top of the 3rd inning of that contest when Edgar Renteria was forced at home on an infield grounder by Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake.

Though this run was quickly cut down, not many others were that afternoon --  the D'Backs rode a late-game rally to win what turned out to be a 10-8 slugfest.

Kick Out the Jams

The movement you need is on your (Rock) shoulder(s)

Lessons in Card Backs

I've seen Rougned Odor on enough highlight films to confirm his existence, but I refuse to believe someone named Caleb Bushyhead once played professional baseball (though I'd tend to agree that Rock Shoulders is still a better name).

Best of the Rest

1998 Fleer Tradition #74 Jorge Fabregas

A seemingly innocuous action shot...until you notice the plastic bag hovering at Fabregas's feet -- a sight which continues to fascinate me even after dozens and dozes of viewings of this particular card.

Come on, people: recycle!

Toughest Draw

1966 Topps #74 Don Mossi

Though the Blanco comes pretty darn close, it'd take something like Herculean heroics to knock Don Mossi out of my Inaugural Frankenset (you can probably tell why).

Second Guessing

1995 Topps Cyberstats #80 Brent Gates

I love me some clairvoyant '90s technology -- the backs of '95 Topps Cyberstats cards use computer projections to predict full-season stats in an attempt to dull the blow of the '94 strike -- but the more I think about it, the more I think I wronged Rock Shoulders.

Favorite Card

Even with the appearance of Ryne Duren and his Coke-bottle shades on a vintage Post oddball, it's still an easy pick for me this week: Henry Blanco takes the crown.

I don't think I'm exaggerating in saying that it's one of the more breathtaking cards of this decade, what with the shadows and cleated footprints acting as brushstrokes atop the canvas of home plate.

That's another frankenset page in the books.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Penny pinching (more from the flea market)

So where was I?

Oh, right. I left you with this cliffhanger from yesterday's post. finish the story, one of the very last tables in the entire flea market was loaded with boxes and boxes of loose singles. But again, remember: I was fresh out of money at this point and didn't want to run to the ATM unless it was an absolute emergency.

When I arrived, the vendor was talking to a guy who had a large stack of cards in his purchase pile, and it seemed like the two were friends. Both of them greeted me warmly when I walked up to the table. I casually poked around the boxes and saw quite a few things I needed. Only problem was I didn't see a price on any of it.

Naturally, I asked: How much are these?

It was actually the customer who answered me first -- he said, and I quote: Can you believe it? ONLY A PENNY EACH (emphasis mine).

It took all the willpower in the world for me to calmly reply: I'll be right back.

And I just about ran to the ATM and withdrew a $20 bill, my head spinning the entire way.

The words rang through my head: A PENNY EACH. A PENNY EACH! A PENNY EACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've seen penny cards maybe three times in the nearly two decades I've been collecting, and almost all of those were late '80s/early '90s cardboard.

These boxes, on the other hand, were...well let me just put it this way: if I could custom-build a giant assortment of cards to sift through, it'd probably look a lot like the ones I found on Sunday.

I'm talking stacks and stacks of late '90s singles that I almost never see anywhere else, including -- again -- Pacific!

As I mentioned yesterday with the Pacific Online box I'd found at an earlier table, Pacific was famous for their exceptionally large checklists, and you know what that means: get the obscure players and/or unfamiliar uniforms ready! In addition to the short-term sight of the Big Unit as an Astro seen above, this scan features another legendary hit with Ozzie Guillen as a Brave.

And, as a longtime fan of journeyman relievers, I was psyched to find my very first cards of Miguel Batista as a Marlin and Jose Mesa as a Giant: all for a penny each!

But perhaps none of the short-term penny-box sights were better than this one of John Kruk as a member of the Chicago White Sox.

This was a doubly exciting find because I'd actually purchased this same card (for 50 cents) as part of a Just Commons order a while ago, but it went missing from the package and never did arrive.

It took a bit of patience, but I ended up finding a copy for one-fiftieth of the original price.

It's impossible to convey the sheer rapture I felt while digging through all those boxes...I mean, I would've paid a dime or quarter for most of these in a heartbeat, and here they were FOR A PENNY.

At such a bargain price (and I don't know that the word bargain is strong enough here), I threw anything and everything that caught my eye into my purchase pile: online cards, steel cards, cards with a lot of balls (sorry), cards with cornea-scratching amounts of teal.

Few '90s sets give me the warm fuzzies as much as '97 Ultra does.

I'm not exactly sure why -- I didn't own a lot of these at the time -- but something about the ribboned font and fresh photography takes me right back to my youth.

Shiny baseball cards were still a new fad in the mid '90s, and here's a couple earlier examples.

(RIP, Doug Million.)

Almost as fulfilling as the cards themselves were the conversations I had with the vendor and other customer during the hour-plus it took to sift through all those penny boxes.

The two obviously knew their baseball, and the customer was picking out cards of obscure '90s Cubs -- think Manny Alexander, Tyler Houston, etc. -- and sharing stories of his trips to Wrigley and Sox Park, like the time he got hit with an Ozzie Guillen foul ball and the night he almost got into a fight with one of Cliff Floyd's relatives.

When you put all of it together, you get what is definitely in the running as my all-time best Discount Box Experience.

Penny cards and great conversation? And did I mention penny cards? I mean: penny cards. PENNY CARDS. And GOOD penny cards. Penny cards of minor leaguers like Terry Mulholland (who was perpetually 40 years old, from the looks of it) and Dave Roberts during his brief stay in the Tigers' organization.

I can say it over and over again -- PENNY CARDS, PENNY CARDS, PENNY CARDS -- but it's been three days since this happened, and I still don't quite believe it.

Penny box oddballs: yup, that's a thing (apparently).

One of my favorite sets of the '90s is 1999 Fleer Tradition, and this guy had scores of these rare red-foiled Warning Track parallels in his penny boxes.

What's more, the Hollandsworth and Beltran are both mini-collection hits for me, which reminds me...

...holy hell did my themes take a pounding at this table.

The mid-to-late '90s is the unquestioned king of mini-collection production: I'd say nearly half of my themed cards in total come from the era, if I had to guess.

And yet, all told, I still scored probably around 100 new ones from these penny boxes, only a tiny fraction of which are seen in this nine-pocket page here.

Many of my favorite guys played during the late '90s, which means that collecting them is both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because they have a lot of cards to chase, and a curse because OH MY GOD do they have a lot of cards to chase. As is the dilemma of a late '90s player collector, I'll tell you.

That's why these boxes were such a gift from the heavens: I could've easily gone the rest of my collecting life without finding cards like that Pacific Mark Grace or the Darryl Kile silver signature parallel, yet here they were for a penny.

Even with the aforementioned frustrations of late '90s player collecting -- and apparently because I'm crazy -- I recently decided to add a couple more guys from the era into my binders with Lima Time and Shooter here.

Seriously, does it get any better than a Rod Beck card for a copper Lincoln?

Believe me, I could go on for hours and hours and hours about how much I loved digging through all those penny cards, but then this blog post would just about turn into a personal memoir.

So many sets I rarely see, so many players I rarely see, so much joy I rarely experience: and yet here all of it was at one of the very last tables at my local flea market...for a gosh darn penny a piece.

Seriously: here's what my purchase pile (if you can call it that) looked like after all was said and done.

That's a grand total of 540 cards right there, and they all became mine for five bucks. I'm no math major, but that's less than a penny per card! Anything and everything made it in there: cards for my binders, frankenset hits, and yes, quite a few goodies to send out to fellow bloggers.

Funny thing is, even an hour and over half-a-thousand cards later, I still didn't get through everything the guy had on display. That's how much he had. He told me he'd be back at the flea market a few more times throughout the rest of the summer and, needless to say, here's hoping I can catch him another Sunday in the near future.

When you're done reading this post, do me a favor and wake me up from this dream I'm apparently living.