Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 Topps is here, and so are the pack searchers

My dad has recently started working as a Target vendor on the side in order to get a few extra bucks, and one of his tasks this afternoon was to bring the new glorious season of cards to us collectors by stocking 2018 Topps.

And in his words, it took no more than 30 seconds for the First Pack Searcher of 2018 to present himself. Button-down shirt guy seen above started feeling at the loose packs almost immediately after my dad put them on the shelves. He even followed my dad upstairs and felt at those packs, too. Thus began the 2018 card season at my dad's Target.

So, congratulations -- the award for World's Fastest Pack Searcher officially goes to This Asshole.

But thankfully my dad set aside some of said 2018 Topps for me before Pack Searcher Neanderthal showed up: I busted a blaster and a handful of loose/fat packs to kick off my season.

And now that I've finally seen the cards in hand, I have to say that while it's probably nothing more than a middling Flagship set in the grand scheme of things, 2018 Topps simply feels a lot fresher after the bland misery that was foisted upon us in both 2016 and '17 Flagship.

This year's design has that odd TV-graphic element to it (which I still don't like), but to me, it seems like the cards themselves are a bit more colorful and vivid than most of what we've seen lately.

The backs remain superb as well, stocked with color-coordinated headers and the ever-polarizing social media tags, which I've kind of accepted at this point (though I'd still much rather have complete career stats).

The photography is up a tick in 2018 Topps as well -- there's still an overload of boring action photos, but Topps snuck a few more stop-and-look shots into the set this year.

Horizontal greatness, including the team cards which continue to be a pleasure in this year's Topps.

It seems like now, more than ever, I have a tough time keeping up with all the big rookies, but I know these two guys (and into the binders they'll go!).

Here's another 2018 Topps joy (though we wouldn't have had to wait this long if 2017 Update didn't suck so badly): guys on new teams!

I can give Topps a pass on late-season waiver trades like Upton and Phillips, but there's really no reason Trade Deadline deals along the lines of Kendrick and Frazier shouldn't already have had cards in their new duds.

But the past is the past: I have them now, and I'm happy for that.

This is the part where I start to laugh in that stupid pack searcher's face.

I don't much care about these blaster-exclusive Players' Weekend manu-relics, but pulling a Judge was a joy, and it'd easily recoup the cost of the blaster alone should I decide to sell it.

I've started to simply accept the fact that with every year of Topps comes a mind-numbing array of pointless insert sets which serve no real purpose apart from granting (still) more cards to the game's biggest stars.

Sure, it's always fun to pull a new Anthony Rizzo, but one wonders how many better ways that piece of cardboard could've been spent.

Apparently insert parallels are a thing again...

And talk about self-aggrandizing: here's cards that honor the best-selling cards from 2017 Topps Now.

No, you don't get the actual Topps Now Judge pictured, mind you, just a card telling you that this card sold over 8,000 copies last year because Topps is just ever so shrewd and popular.


Let's move on to a couple inserts I actually like.

Last year's Salutes make a return in 2018, and I might be the only person who's actually happy about that. They look a bit better than last year's design and continue to feature celebratory days from 2017 (including Jackie Robinson Day, which is a mini-collection of mine).

The '83 inserts don't have the vintage-stock feel of last year's '87s. And while there are a few other '80s designs I'd rather see honored (1981, hello?!) retro-themed sets are still fun to collect.

And by the way...'s one of the best damn cards I've ever pulled from a pack of cards.

That, friends, is an '83 Topps red parallel insert, which are limited to just 10 copies and, according to the wrapper, fall at a rate of 1:12,162 packs(!!!). And while I could've pulled one of any Joe Schmo...I got a Mike Trout! A pull for the ages, and proof that Dad's pack-picking talents are back and better than ever this year.

Hope you enjoy your two-dollar jersey cards, Pack Searcher Loser -- I'll just be over here with my shiny new Trout enjoying the rest of the 2018 card season.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Top Five: Vladimir Guerrero

I've been waiting my entire adult life to say the words I'm about to say, so here goes nothing: VLADIMIR GUERRERO IS A HALL OF FAMER!

It's hard to explain what I felt when I received the news that Vlad (along with other well-deserving greats in Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, and Jim Thome) would be enshrined in Cooperstown this year. I mean, the guy's my favorite player of my baseball lifetime, and now he's in the Hall of Fame -- how do you even begin to put that into words?

I suppose I could start with my cards, because it seems like I've been collecting Vlad my entire life. As of this writing, I own 986 different Vlads, far and away the most of any single player in my binders. With a number like that, you can only imagine how difficult it was to narrow down my five favorites, because, after all, that's about a half-of-a-percent of everything I have.

But somehow I did it, and here's my Top Five favorites of the Hall of Famer himself, Vladimir Guerrero.

#5 -- 2001 Upper Deck Vintage #190 Vladimir Guerrero

Any player would look stunning in front of the industrial backdrop of Camden Yards, but it seems to suit Vlad especially.

#4 -- 2008 Upper Deck #9 Vladimir Guerrero

I will say that I'm a bit disappointed that Vlad is going into the Hall of Fame as an Angel.

Don't get me wrong: Vlad spent six terrific seasons in Anaheim (including an MVP award in 2004), and he'll receive the great honor of becoming the first player to be wearing an Angels cap on his HOF plaque. And this, one of his finest cards, features him in the full red-and-white glory of his Angels years.

But Vlad, to me, is first and foremost a Montreal Expo, and Cooperstown needs all the Expos it can get at this point.

#3 -- 1995 Upper Deck Minors #127 Vladimir Guerrero

This is one of those rare cards that instantly transports me to a specific time and place: it takes me back to a wet and otherwise uninspiring afternoon at the flea market many years ago.

Nothing much was happening that day in the way of cards until the very last aisle, when I stumbled across a seemingly innocent nickel box. And then, WHAM, this precious Vlad fell out of it, one of his earliest cardboard sightings, and the first big card I added to what was then still a fairly modest collection of his. And for a nickel!

That had to have been about a decade ago, and while I've acquired several hundred more Vlads in the interim, this one remains a special treasure for the memory alone.

#2 -- 1995 Bowman #90 Vladimir Guerrero RC

Best I can tell, Vlad has only two true rookie cards to his name, and for a long time I thought my collection would have to make due without either of them.

The first continues to elude me, and the one you see above probably would've suffered the same fate had a Cardboard God named Wes not stepped in and gifted me Vlad's 1995 Bowman rookie out of the blue a few years back.

Proof that blogger generosity knows no bounds, because I seriously doubt I'd own this card today without the help of Wes's kind soul.

#1 -- 1998 Topps #5 Vladimir Guerrero

When I picture Vladimir Guerrero, this is the image that comes to mind, and it's is a bit jarring since '98 Topps has long been one of my least-favorite Topps sets.

But the Expos pinstripes, the clouds at his back, the wide smile: everything here is Vlad to a T -- simply a gregarious man willing to have a little daytime fun with a Topps photographer. And I, for one, can't wait to see the man behind that contagious grin earn his rightful place in Cooperstown this summer.

Congrats, Vlad.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sets of the Year: 2017

I guess 2017 was an okay year for cards, but what best sums it up is probably this: here we are, just days before 2018 is slated to come out, and yet I completely forgot I hadn't done a Sets of the Year countdown until a couple days ago.

After all was said and done, 2017 really didn't leave much of an imprint on me. Sure, there were some fine cards and sets released throughout the year, but I don't think I'll remember a whole lot about it down the line. (Heck, I've forgotten most of it already.)

But in keeping with tradition on this blog, I've decided to rank each of the major sets that came out in 2017. The rules are in line with years past: I must have bought at least one pack of any product and/or acquired a fair amount of said product through other sources, which means a lot of offshoot brands (Gold Label, Bowman Platinum, etc.) won't appear on this list.

And so here they are: the sets of 2017.

#10 -- Bowman (2016 ranking: #9)

The only thing I have to say about Bowman is that I really don't have anything to say about Bowman.

#9 -- Donruss (2016 ranking: #10)

Well, the impossible has happened: for the first time since I started these Sets of the Year countdowns, Donruss doesn't bring up the rear!

2017 Donruss was still ugly, don't get me wrong, but to me it finally accomplished what I've long wanted from Panini's version of the brand, in that it paid tribute to Original Donruss. Oh sure, they picked an odd mashup of just about the two worst Donruss designs out there -- 1990 & 1991 -- but still, it's a step in the right direction.

For the first time ever, a small part of me is actually kinda looking forward to what Donruss has in store this year.

#8 -- Gypsy Queen (2016 ranking: #8)

Gypsy Queen remains in the exact same spot as last year for the sheer fact that the brand continues to have little to no effect on me.

And this year's version didn't even have basic minis, which was really the only thing I liked about opening packs of GQ in the first place.

#7 -- Topps Flagship/Opening Day/Chrome, etc. (2016 ranking: #5)

This is by far the lowest I've ever ranked a Flagship set since I started these lists a few years back.

It's just a basic fact that 2017 Topps simply had no personality. No borders, very little color (though the backs were a treat), an overly-modern design, very little photo variety. Combine all this and you have a Flagship set that was pretty much stillborn off the presses.

Though 2018 Topps is still about a week away, 2017 Topps already feels like a distant memory.

#6 -- Topps Fire (2016 rating: N/A)

The lone debut brand to crack this list, Topps Fire was good for a big injection of color into what was a bland year for Flagship Topps.

A Target-only brand, Fire consisted of a few different designs within its base checklist. And while some of them may have been over-the-top (though this lightning one is probably my favorite), I commend Topps for at least trying something different with a new brand that did actually seem to grab people's attention when it first came out.

I wouldn't mind seeing Topps Fire again in 2018.

#5 -- A&G (2016 ranking: #6)

A&G is supposed to feel like a tobacco-era set, and this year's edition certainly accomplished that.

The picture-frame design was a fine touch, I thought: it made flipping through a pile of base cards feel a little like walking past the mantle shelf of a great-grandparent. And, of course, the Dude inserts alone probably knocked A&G up a notch or two on this list. All in all, a solid showing for one of the hobby's stalwarts.

It wasn't long ago that I was ready to completely write off A&G for dead, but now I can honestly say that a Card Year wouldn't quite feel like a Card Year without it.

#4 -- Topps Bunt (2016 ranking: #4)

Topps Bunt followed up its surprisingly nice 2016 debut with a solid sophomore showing last year.

If anything, the colorful design actually made 2017 a bit better overall. And while the brand strayed a bit from the cornerstones that made its inaugural-year formula such a treat -- I didn't get a complete base set from the box I bought due to the increase in colored parallels and insert sets -- Bunt is still the kind of set that makes low-end collectors like myself rejoice.

An entire box of Bunt costs just a few dollars more than a blaster of most brands these days, and the cards are nice enough to make you feel like you're getting a bargain.

#3 -- Topps Heritage/High Numbers (2016 ranking: #3)

Once again, the card market basically boiled down to The Big Three in 2017.

Heritage remains the longest-running offshoot brand in the hobby today, and they paid tribute to the infamous burlaps of 1968 this year. I'd say that '68 is arguably my least favorite vintage Topps design, but that's not what I really judge Heritage by. The main thing for me is replication of the original -- no matter my feelings for that original -- and I thought Topps did that quite well this time around.

Furthermore, they cut it out with that weird grainy-photo thing that's been afflicting Heritage for the last few years now: 2017 Heritage is full of fresh, clean photographs, and that made the burlaps a lot of fun to collect.

#2 -- Archives (2016 ranking: #2)

Oh, how I wanted to make Archives #1 this year, because, once again, Topps did an immaculate job with the brand in 2017.

Topps decided to pay tribute to the 1960, 1982, and 1992 designs in this year's Archives, but like 2016, it was the '90s tribute won me over. The '60 and '82 reproductions were fine, but they seemed a bit like clutter: 1960 Topps has been honored many times before, and '82 Topps had already been featured Archives a few years earlier.

But if the '91 Topps tributes stole the show in 2016 Archives, the '92s did the same this year. You almost never see '92 Topps (my birth-year set, no less) mentioned anywhere these days, which was why it was so refreshing to see it pop up -- resplendent with much of its original '90s glory -- in 2017.

All I can say is this: here's hoping 1993 Topps gets the nod in 2018 Archives.

#1 -- Stadium Club (2016 ranking: #1)

But in the end, I couldn't go against what is now the four-time reigning Set of the Year: Stadium Club.

When you get down to it, it's simply the most entertaining brand in the hobby today. No set quite gets the warm fuzzies going in me quite like Stadium Club. And year in and year out, Stadium Club continues to deliver on its promise with a mix of terrific (not to mention sometimes just plain funny) photography and that's sure to have something for any collector out there.

This revival version of Stadium Club has been going for long enough now that it's hard for me to have a clear memory of what the hobby was like without it, but, honestly, I don't think I want to remember what a Card Year looked like without Stadium Club at the heart of it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I like to live dangerously

Is there anything more '90s than an Austin Powers-themed baseball card?

I doubt it. It hurts me a bit to admit that this UD Ionix "Awesome Powers" Scott Rolen was actually issued in 2000, but make no mistake about it, this about as '90s as the '90s get. Austin Powers was one of the first movies I remember really enjoying as a young lad (even if I didn't get all the jokes at the time), and until recently, I had no idea these groovy inserts existed.

So when I saw it pop up on the prestigious "Baseball Card Breakdown" a while back, the natural reaction was to say GIMME! to Gavin. 

As I've mentioned before, however, I get a bit insecure when requesting cards off other people's blogs -- I guess I feel bad about commenting with the sole intention of wanting something.

But sometimes certain cards are just too awesome to let minor insecurities stand in the way of adding them to my collection, so I let myself live dangerously and asked for the Rolen from Gavin, later adding these two trade bait gems to the request pile.

But Gavin, like the great person he is, sent them to me without a second thought.

And darn if Gavin doesn't offer up some great trade bait on his blog -- the McCutchen was another request of mine, and the first of Topps's specially made New Era inserts I've added to my archives (because I personally haven't worn a baseball cap in about fifteen years).

The Trout is a much appreciated 2017 Archives need because it's almost impossible getting anything of his if I don't pull it from a pack.

But here's something I didn't request from Gavin, and was thus a complete surprise for me -- a zero-year Hoyt custom!

'Tis correct: Hoyt was, very briefly, a Kansas City Royal for about two months in 1968. The then-expansion Royals drafted him from the White Sox in October of that year before dealing him to the Angels in December before he ever played a game in Kansas City.

Hoyt's non-stint as a Royal has long been a cardboard fantasy of mine, and Gavin singlehandedly made that dream come true.

But that wasn't all from Gavin because, on the very day the calendars shifted from 2017 to 2018, I was lucky enough to win a New Year's contest on his blog.

Not a bad way to ring in the new year if I do say so myself, not the least of which was because the flashiest item of the lot was this fantastic Don Larsen auto which earns bonus points for featuring his obscure stints (1954 and, eleven years later, 1965) as an Oriole.

As expected, a handful of Gavin's awesome customs were part of the contest haul, including this dual-ROY riff on 1990 Fleer.

A couple custom zero-year Blue Jays, including another dream card from another major player collection with (2018 HALL OF FAMER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Vlad, who played briefly in the minors with Toronto before retiring in 2012.

More miscellaneous winnings, including a scarce parallel of the late Jose Fernandez and a sweet Topps Retired Killebrew.

Part of Gavin's prize included a few 2009 Topps Legend SPs I'd, once again, previously claimed off his blog.

I felt those same insecurities I described earlier, but you can't throw cards like these at me and not expect a response.

Especially when one of them features something I'd never before seen on a baseball card: Honus Wagner as a Louisville Colonel.

Though it often gets lost to history, "The Flying Dutchman" began his career in the late-1800's with the now-defunct Colonels. While the franchise folded after the 1899 season, the team's owner bought the Pirates and transferred most of Louisville's best players (including Wagner) to Pittsburgh.

This one'll go in my Pirates binder for now (mostly because I can't have a Louisville Colonels binder with one card in it), but I'll forever be grateful that Topps decided to document such a forgotten bit of baseball history. And not to mention Gavin for adding it -- and all the other gems in this post -- to my collection.

As Austin Powers would say: this kind of thing is my

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The evolution of a card show mind

My buddy Robert over at "$30 A Week Habit" mentioned something in a post the other day that got me thinking, and it couldn't have come at a better time because I'm long overdue in showing some cards he sent me a while back.

I'll just quote him directly: "For the longest time while attending card shows, it seemed as if I was going for cards/dealers that were selling cards for dollar/two dollar amounts...there were times I came home with a bit of an empty feeling. I'd spend 50-60 bucks, and end up with 20-30 cards."

Robert's words struck me because I was the exact same way for a while in the days before I started this blog. Much of my card show experience back then was comprised of pillaging dollar/two-dollar boxes for cheap jersey cards, which I was big into at the time. I'd spend a good deal of money, but come back with only a small stack of cards to show for the effort, and I doubt I still own much (if anything) from those digs.

I'm certainly not opposed to dropping a good chunk of change on a card every now and then -- I forked over $30 for a real copy of this '58 Clemente last year (now supplemented by a reprint of it from Robert) -- but my days of heavy dollar-box digging are all but over.

But I've gone completely the other way on the spectrum as well, and I can say that was every bit as unsatisfying.

There was a brief time in my youth when -- still fresh from the relative emptiness of those dollar-box jersey card days -- I refused to spend more than a buck or two on anything I purchased at a show.

This strategy quickly became problematic because, while I'd come home with piles and piles of dime box finds, the number of cards I came home with seemed to be more important than simply enjoying what I'd actually found.

It's never a good sign when quantity starts to overtake quality in this hobby, and thankfully, I quickly managed to catch myself from falling too far down into that rabbit hole.

These days, I think I've managed to strike a good balance between the two ends of the spectrum.

The bulk of my finds usually come from dime/quarter boxes, but I'm always open to dropping a bit more cash on a card if I feel the price is right. I don't always come home with '58 Clementes, but I do usually have a few big WOW items mixed into my bag on the return trip from most shows.

It's an overused cliche, but it applies here: my card show mind as it stands now really does provide me with the best of both worlds.

And if people like Robert send me cards that could well save me dimes and quarters at future shows, well of course I'm all for that.

Everything you've seen in this post thus far came from Robert, including these two hometown inserts and an awesome Negro League throwback, to boot.

Rainbow foil parallels of a couple dudes I collect.

And some more dudes/objects I needed from 2017 A&G, including a Westinghouse Tower insert from the "World's Fair" insert series which I've since completed.


Conductor Dude, Lumberjack Dude...

...Fisherman Dude!

I've had surprisingly little luck locating such Dudes at my local card shows, so these were much, much appreciated, as was everything else Robert sent over.

I suppose, for much of my youth and adolescence, card shows almost became something like all-or-nothing events. At various times, I was intent on making swatches of fabric mean everything, making "value" mean everything, making sheer quantity mean everything.

And I guess if I've ingrained one thing into my card show mind over the years, it's that one thing should never mean everything.