Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Card show...Day Two!

As I hinted at in my last card show post, there was one major reason why my experience at the big tri-annual gathering felt quite different this time around.

That's because, for the first time in the near-decade I've been going to this thing, I treated myself to a second day of strolling through the aisles with Dad and making cardboard snow angels in my mind the following Sunday. The show runs Friday-Sunday, but either time, money, or energy (usually a combination of all three) have prevented me from adding a bonus day to the calendar in the past.

At some point over the past month, I came up with the wild scheme of trying for a second day at the card show. And I'll be darned if I didn't make it happen -- with a few extra bucks in my pocket, a shrewdly-used vacation day from work, and a Diet Coke at my side, I had all the ammunition I needed to take on the elusive Day Two at the card show this year.

As you can probably see from my spoils above, Day Two proved to be every bit as plentiful as the first.

As great as my finds have always been at this show, I've often come home afterwards with the mindset of a Monday Morning Quarterback: Oh, maybe I should've bought THAT after all or Aw, maybe I should've spent more time at THAT table instead of THIS one, etc., etc.

With Day Two under my belt, there was absolutely no need for such thoughts. I spent much of Sunday doing recon on the tables I'd only partially sifted through the day before -- and as you might guess, it didn't take long for me to make a beeline back to those glorious early-to-mid-2000s dime boxes I raved about in my first post about this show.

Almost instantly came perhaps my most surprising find of the second day: a 2010 Upper Deck Justin Turner rookie, my first card of his gloriously brief stop as an Oriole (17 games) and a card I actually took down from my Dime Box Dozen list a while ago because I thought there was no chance in heck that any of them were actually sitting in dime boxes.

Shows what I know.

I've gotten a lot better at not feeling the overwhelming need to sift through every single card in any given dime box over the years -- but all that went out the window with dime boxes as varied and phenomenal as these.

I spent about 45 minutes at this table on Day One and over an hour there on Day Two and, yes, I got through every single one of the dozen-ish 3200-count boxes the guy had on display, purchasing over 800 cards combined between the two digs. 

My dad thought I was crazy -- and maybe you do, too -- but with cards as great as these, there was no way I could risk leaving anything behind.

As I stressed in that first post, you just don't see this kind of stuff in dime boxes, and I knew that if I didn't dig through it all then that I'd probably never see it again.

Three of these cards are numbered parallels, and even the one that isn't (Bautista) brings about a great deal of nostalgia for those spectacular Topps Wal-Mart black parallels from what sometimes seems like eons ago.

You ever see a set and wonder why you didn't appreciate it more at the time?

That's basically how I feel about 2009 Topps. It was one of the last Flagship sets with a distinct vibe to it...and I barely gave it a second thought when it was actually on the shelves. I've tried to recoup some of my losses in the years since, but for some reason, they don't seem to pop up too often now, and a lot of the original photography in the set (a stark contrast to today's Topps, one might notice) risks being lost to history.

At least until Sunday, when a whole run of them popped out about halfway through this heavenly dime box dig.

Mini-collections abound!

A quartet of horizontals, all beautiful in their own distinct way -- especially the Etch-A-Sketch Albert Belle, a brilliant insert set I'd seen around the blogs many times before but had never actually added to my own collection before this show.

Dime box legends, including a previously unknown card of Duke Snider's brief stint with the Mets.

At this point, I began to wonder: how could this dig possibly get any better?

The dime boxes answered with a WHOLE ROW of Fan Favorites singles.

And then came the final, crushing blow: a long run of Topps Retired Signature.

I've said many times before that one of my dreams is to find a whole dime box full of Retired Signature cards, and this dig provided the closest thing I've seen to that yet. I absolutely LOVE the design -- trouble is the set was a high-end one, making the base cards tough to find on the cheap now.

All I could do at the end of it all was vehemently thank this dime box vendor for allowing me the privilege to look through the deepest ranks of his insane inventory -- it's a dig I'll remember for many years to come.

My first stop of Day Two was a common face at this show: a husband-and-wife team whose vintage tables take up about half an aisle all on their own.

I'll just put it this way -- if you're looking for a card from about 1952 on, chances are they probably have it. Sure, they have their PSA-10 and glass-case material for those collectors with much deeper pockets than myself, but you know me: I went straight for the boxes marked BARGAINS.

It took only a couple minutes of digging for a long-awaited card to fall out of the discount box with this '73 Topps Dave Johnson, a dreaded high-number which had previously been a glaring hole in my double dip mini-collection.

Proudly hovering over these discount boxes was a sign that said: CUSTOMERS SAY OUR BARGAIN BOXES ARE THE BEST ONES AT THE SHOW.

It's hard to argue with that when you look at the results. These cost just $10 all together -- Minoso and Gibson were two bucks a pop, while the glorious '65s of Eddie and Boog (the latter being a short-print, to boot) set me back three bucks per.

I don't know much about life, but I know this: there are few greater joys than plucking '65 Topps singles out of bargain boxes.

Anything unsleeved within the discount boxes was fifty cents, and believe it or not, these were all among the Unsleeved.

All it took was 50 cents per to knock out a few beautiful vintage singles I've long wanted thanks to their repeated appearances on Night Owl's blog.

It was quite a shock to find these two Roses in the bargain bins for just five dollars each, and I spent a couple minutes trying to decide which one to buy until I decided the effort was futile since the little voice in my head was screaming at me to JUST BUY THEM BOTH!

I suppose the Little Voice in My Head could be telling me worse things to do than buy baseball cards of Pete Rose.

Rounding things out from the customer-recommended discount bins was a well-loved '68 Topps Game single of the man himself, Roberto Clemente -- mine for a whopping two dollars.

Day Two at the card show pretty much centered around three tables, but I did make a couple hit-and-run purchases at various points throughout the afternoon.

These two came from the 90% Off vendor I discussed in my previous vintage post -- though these weren't actually part of the 90% Off deal, I couldn't complain about finding them for a measly two bucks a pop.

This was the final card I purchased on Sunday, and it came from the first guy I've ever seen with an actual cash register behind his table, one that went DING and KER-SHUNK and everything.

I could tell these guys were in it for the business of it all rather than pure enjoyment: most of their cards were woefully overpriced, and they all ended in .99 ($4.99, $10.99, etc.), also something I've never seen before. This '59 Kaline -- now my oldest card of his -- was, for some reason, the lone reasonably-priced item at the table.

I got it for 20% Off its original $5.99 price tag...and yes, the guy charged me exactly $4.80 for it, change and all.

All told, Dad and I were perhaps most eager to return to the vendor with all the random oddballs I'd found at the tail end of Day One.

This time, I picked out absolutely anything and everything that caught my eye. Despite the jaw-dropping deal I'd gotten the day before, I knew I was probably going beyond the $40 limit I'd set for myself at his table (his stuff was unpriced, remember).

In the end, I came up to his table with two separate stacks of cards in my hand -- the guy quoted me $25 on one of the stacks, and I knew I wanted those for reasons you'll see in a bit.

And though the price he quoted me on the first stack was fair, it was still far beyond what I could afford to pay -- so I simply asked him what I could get out of that first stack for $15 to stick to my limit of forty dollars.

While parts of me died inside seeing some of what didn't fall under the $15 umbrella -- many glorious Kellogg's cards were forced to stay within the confines of the convention hall -- I still couldn't much complain about what I was able to get for the price.

In addition to the Dave Kingman seen above -- my first card from the scarce 1975 SSPC set -- came these two Cubs legends from the 3-D-less '73 Kellogg's checklist.

Also thrown into the deal was a large stack of Hostess singles which the guy obviously didn't cherish as much as his Kellogg's stuff -- all these were only part of the total Hostess package I got for my $15.

As I said, I'd been quoted a price of $25 on the second stack of cards I'd brought up to the guy, and I knew I wasn't putting those back.

Along with a few tchotchkes from his oddball box came these '60s Fleer Greats singles, some (but not all) of which are seen in this nine-pocket page here. While the Tinker-Evers-Chance combo and worn Christy Mathewson are indeed terrific, my favorite of the lot has to be the Hack Wilson, the only card I've ever seen that chronicles his quick seven-game stint with the Phillies at the end of his career.

Great cards, yes, but it was something else entirely that convinced me to fork over twenty-five whole dollars for this second stack of oddball heaven.

This was the responsible party.

As the story goes, Maury Wills never forgave Topps for not offering him a contract when he was an unknown minor leaguer. This grudge manifested itself when Wills became one of the game's premier superstars in the early '60s and refused to sign with Topps. Wills did, however, appear to be on better terms with Fleer, appearing in their '63 checklist for what would be his first-ever baseball card.

All this meant that '63 Fleer is technically home to Maury Wills's rookie, this marking probably the only time a guy had a rookie card issued after he'd already won an MVP award. The sheer oddity of it all is what had long made this a desired card for my collection.

But it wasn't a card I ever realistically planned on owning, because, best I can tell, there's a bit of a cult status around it that greatly inflates its price. For comparison's sake, I saw a copy in about the same shape as the one I eventually acquired priced at $45 earlier in the show. And I repeat, this one became mine -- with all those other '60s Fleer Greats singles -- for just $25(!!!).

Certain cards seem to orbit in a world entirely apart from mine, and before Sunday, this was one of those cards.

But if the Wills was part of a different world, than what we have here previously existed in a whole other universe.

And I wasn't even the one who found it. That honor goes to dear old Dad, who, at one point, wandered off during my aforementioned dime box dig and came back with a big smile on his face holding something he deemed Another Early Christmas Present and handed me a small card and what could it be OH MY GOD IT'S A REAL EDDIE CICOTTE AND WHERE IN THE HELL DID YOU FIND THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Dad, as only Dad can do, was apparently absentmindedly perusing what looked to be a mediocre $10 Box when he unearthed what might just be the biggest surprise I've ever seen in my many years of card shows: a real 1920s strip card of Eddie Cicotte, better known as one of the Black Sox. I'll repeat that: a REAL Black Sox card...for ten dollars.

It's long been a dream of mine to own an actual card of one of the Black Sox, and though it seemed in doubt for many years, that dream finally came true in what proved to be a card show haul for the record books.

So yeah...Day Two? Worth it.

Thank you, Dad, for making it through two days of walking and standing around as I embarked on all these lengthy digs (and also for being just about the only person on this earth I'd take a selfie with).

Thank you, readers, for coming along for what I hope was an exciting two-day ride through the card show.

And thank you, O hallowed card show vendors, for allowing your many castoffs to become mine.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Top Five: Keith Hernandez

Logically, I should've been collecting Keith Hernandez a long time ago, and here's just a few reasons why.

1) On the ballfield, the guy was a former MVP and a borderline HOFer. And not to mention an integral part of the '80s Mets, one of the last teams with true character and one I'm sure I would've followed vigorously had I been alive at the time.

2) That said, I, like many baseball fans my age, probably first came to know Keith Hernandez through Seinfeld, one of the best episodes (and a two-parter!) of my all-time favorite TV show.

3) Like many other ex-ballplayers, Hernandez has had a successful post-baseball broadcasting career. Unlike many other ex-ballplayers, he's one of the few -- along with the likes of Jim Deshaies and John Smoltz -- who I genuinely enjoy listening to.

But even with all this, it took until this year for me to really start focusing on Hernandez's cards, and here's the Top Five of what I've accumulated for this long overdue player collection thus far.

#5 -- 1986 Fleer #84 Keith Hernandez

I own hundreds of Plays at the Plate (it's a mini-collection of mine), but the vast majority of those capture the scene just before or as the actual action is happening.

What we have here, however, is a rare Post-Play at the Plate: one of those select few images that capture the moment of collective exhale split-seconds after the mysterious play in question has occurred.

It makes for one of the better cards from the kinda boring '86 Fleer checklist.

#4 -- 1990 Upper Deck #777 Keith Hernandez

A post about Keith Hernandez on this blog would be remiss without mentioning his wildly unfamiliar stint with the Indians at the tail end of his career.

It's sad when former greats limp into the sunset in a uniform no one will remember them wearing -- as Hernandez did with his .200 average in 43 games with Cleveland -- but they sure make for great baseball cards.

#3 -- 1986 Topps #203 Keith Hernandez RB

It's not every day you see a guy literally swinging out of his helmet (and just look at that perfectly quaffed hair hiding underneath!).

#2 -- 1982 Kellogg's #23 Keith Hernandez

If I own a Kellogg's card of a guy I feature in this theme, chances are it's one of the five best cards I have of him.

#1 -- 1978 Topps #143 Keith Hernandez

While my decision to consciously collect Keith Hernandez may have been recent, I've actually had this card for the better part of my life, and there's a story behind it.

Wisconsin Dells is a popular vacation spot for Midwesterners like my family, and we took a trip up there with my cousins one year when I was in grade school. The Dells are known for their many waterparks, but having never been much of a swimmer myself, I let the rest of my family enjoy the water one day while I went to a card shop with my dad.

While I can't recall the name of the place or even much of what it looked like, I remember finding a ton of good stuff there, including this '78 Hernandez which I probably bought because he was, at the time, a Cool Old Guy I knew (probably, again, from Seinfeld).

All these years later, the card shop is the only part of that vacation I remember -- funny how the mind of a collector works sometimes. And even if it may have been a long time in the making, I'm glad I've finally added Keith Hernandez to my cluster of player collections.

But I'm still not driving him to the airport.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Confessions of an old soul (Vintage from the card show)

All throughout my life, I've had many people in both my social and virtual circles call me an old soul.

I'm okay with that. Modernity, for all its bells and whistles, often leaves me wanting. And while feelings and artifacts from decades past may not be perfect, they're often the ones I take the most comfort in. It's been that way for as long as I can remember.

Card shows are a perfect example of this. While it's impossible to compare dime boxes to discount vintage -- it's like apples and oranges -- there's a certain extra something that lingers after a stellar haul of cheap vintage. It's almost like I'm transported to the era of whatever cards I'm looking through, and even after the fact, it takes me a few minutes to remember where I am, living in the here and now of 2017 (for better or worse).

The picture you see above is no lie. A vendor I recognized from past shows was back this weekend with his usual 90% Off box of "Well Loved & Abused" vintage. I've built a good portion of my collection out of Abused Vintage, so in I went. He was, in fact, my very first stop of the day.

A dig like this often has a very noir feel to it: I felt like taking long drags on a cigarette with good jazz playing in the background.

Part of the benefit of blogging is that I can structure my posts however I want: buildups, vague digressions, Saving The Best For Last, etc.

Discount bins, however, follow no such rules. They're liable to shock you at any moment. This abused (yet beautiful) '54 Bowman Billy Martin was actually the very first card I bought from the first table of the day, mine for eight bucks (90% off its $80 Book Value price tag, which is often how these 90% Off tables go).

Never in my life has the first card I've purchased from a show ever packed more of a punch.

Off I went, further and further into the 90% Off depths.

These two HOFers set me back $2 a pop, and the Schoendienst is notable for being the only card I've ever seen of him with the New York Baseball Giants.

Some serious 90% Off star power, mine for just $2.50 each.

I don't go out of my way to chase cards from the '59 Fleer Ted Williams set -- many of them are painfully dull -- but I think you can see why I couldn't pass that one up.

I almost always try to take home at least a couple oversized, pre-1957 Topps vintage from every show, and I succeeded with these elegant pair of '56s.

The Roberts was another 90% Off culprit, mine for the final price of $5, while the Big Klu was one of the better steals of the day at just two bucks.

A question: do managers have rookie cards?

I think so, and I finally own Earl Weaver's -- he and Casey were treasured dollar-box finds, because skippers deserve our love too.

More from the dollar boxes, including Chris Short, who sadly managed to get overshadowed on his own baseball card: that's Pete Rose taking a lead off second base in the background.

The dollar boxes continue their magic, this time serving up a hearty Breakfast of Champions.

These were the cheapest vintage I bought all day, coming from a 6/$1 box I stumbled upon about midway through the show.

Stars like Ryan, Brett, etc. aside, I've scooped up most late-1960s/'70s cards I need for my many player collections by now. Cheap boxes like these, however, have proven useful lately in introducing me to great shots I missed while I was blinded by my Player Collections Only days, even if I've barely heard of/don't know the guys featured on the front.

Because there's always, always something to be said for a simply fantastic photo.

These Nu-Card Scoops oddballs are my kryptonite at card shows: I don't think I've ever passed one up in my life, and the fact that the card on the left was only a buck-fifty made it an especially no-brainer buy.

The card on the left was a bit pricier -- $7.50 (25% off its original $10 price tag) -- but still a no-brainer...because it's Jackie Robinson, of course.

This, a '72 high-number of Rick Monday, was a member of my Elusive Three at this year's National.

I saw it exactly once during that entire show, a low-grade copy priced at $9 which I passed on. Fast-forward a few months to this past weekend, and a guy in just the second aisle with a small-but-shockingly-good discount vintage box had that same Monday waiting for me...for exactly one dollar.


But Mr. Monday was far from the only '72 high-number I'd pluck from that vendor's discount box.

It's always a bit of a pain when guys I collect are assigned Dreaded High Numbers in a vintage set, but I will say that, should I ever be lucky enough to find one in my price range, lassoing those darned high-numbers proves to be all the more sweet.

Dusty here was the priciest of the lot at four dollars, while the others were just a buck or two a piece.

While I was at it, I figured I might as well take down a couple of the most highfalutin of the Dreaded High Numbers.

The Rose is one I never thought I'd see for as cheap as the five dollars I paid for it. The Carew, meanwhile, has long been a Dream Card for me, an iconic shot of one of the game's greatest hitters -- with a little quirk value added by the golfing ballplayer (actually Cesar Tovar) in the background.

At a whopping $12, it ended up being my most expensive purchase of day -- still a small price to pay for making a Dream Card a dream no more.

And now we go way back to the days of Duke and Whitey, superstars who probably should've been priced a lot higher than the $4 (Duke) and $3 (Whitey) I paid for them.

Once again, I came up short in my wild goose chase for an affordable '63 Topps Stan Musial at this show, but Stan the Man didn't remain a complete stranger to the proceedings.

While the '63 might still remain out of my reach, I've managed to find fantastic deals on many of his other cards: I couldn't hand the vendor my money fast enough when I saw this '59 Musial for just nine dollars.

And then there was the final vendor of the afternoon, a mysterious fellow lurking in one of the back corners of the convention hall -- very reminiscent of the overall noir feeling of the discount vintage experience.

This guy had several long white boxes of cards at his table, one of which simply said MISC. ODDBALL and included a cornucopia of vintage oddities rather haphazardly strewn about. It didn't take long for me to find some real good stuff in there, but one major roadblock stood in my way: nothing was priced.

I've mentioned my reservations about vendors who don't price their items in the past but, being an absolute fiend for anything of Manny Sanguillen, I warily plucked this Milk Duds oddity out of the box and continued my journey into the Box of Unpriced Oddballs.

Then came these '60s oddballs of a couple semi-forgotten legends.

Then I noticed what the box next to the MISC. ODDBALL box said: HOSTESS(!!!).

Briefly forgetting the unpriced cloud hanging over my head, I plucked a small stack of Hostess oddballs out of the woodwork. And while there were some bigtime stars to be had, I think my favorite of the lot was, oddly enough, the Tito Fuentes, a card I somehow didn't even know existed until about a month ago. The garish airbrushing and McDonald's colors are just so quintessentially '70s.

And then I found that what I'd feared would happen had, in fact, happened: I'd stupidly fallen victim to the unpriced minefield of Getting My Hopes Up.

And all that was before I saw yet another box sitting next to the Hostess box, this time labeled: KELLOGG'S.

Oh no. Unpriced or not, I just had to rescue a few precious items from that dark box, including the couple HOF hurlers, yet another Pete Rose, and spectacular 3-D Pilots card you see here.

And one more thing...

...a gosh-darn Kellogg's Roberto Clemente.

And so, hands shaking and palms sweating, I brought my stack of unpriced oddities up to the vendor, fully ready to have some kind of knife-sharp number thrown back at me. At the very least, I was expecting to have to put the Clemente back, because his stuff doesn't come cheap, and I didn't have much money left on me at the time.

But then the camera flickered, the lights of the convention hall shone bright, and with a low throaty grumble, the vendor uttered two beautiful words: Fifteen Bucks. Hell! I would've paid that for the Clemente alone! Everything else was a pure bonus as I handed over a ten-and-five to the good man behind the table.

The card show as a whole was great, but the roller-coaster emotion of that last table really put a smile on my face as I exited the convention hall with a sly Philip Marlowe grin -- I mean, A KELLOGG'S CLEMENTE. But as I mentioned briefly in my last post, this weekend was a different experience for a few reasons: deep down, part of the reason I was smiling was because I knew the card show wasn't over just yet.

But that's another story (sorry, cliffhanger).