Saturday, March 31, 2018

Top Five: Rusty Staub

Daniel Joseph "Rusty" Staub passed away earlier this week at the age of 73.

It's always sad when a member of the baseball brethren leaves us, but it hits me especially hard when it's a guy I've followed for much of my life as a baseball fan. Like a lot of other fan favorites of the '70s, Rusty has been near the top of my collecting hierarchy for as long as I can remember, and sadly, he joins a growing list of players from that era who have since left us.

It's in tribute to the late Rusty Staub that I've decided to focus on him in this week's Top Five.

#5 -- 1976 Topps #120 Rusty Staub

Staub was a man of nicknames -- in addition to "Rusty," he was widely known as "Le Grand Orange" during his days in French-speaking Montreal for his dirty-blonde hair, which is shown better here than on any other card I own of his.

Staub has so many nicknames, in fact, that despite my longtime fandom of his, I actually had to look up what his real name was before I started this post (Daniel Staub doesn't have the same ring to it).

#4 -- 1977 Topps #420 Rusty Staub

Few All-Star players have looked more like All-Stars than Rusty Staub does on his 1977 Topps card.

#3 -- 2005 Sweet Spot Classic "Classic Signatures" #ST Rusty Stuab AU

I don't talk a lot about my game-used/autograph collecting days now -- it's somewhat of a skeleton in the closet of my collecting history.

But fact is I still have a lot of the cards I acquired from those years, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a small amount of remaining affection for a handful of them. Rusty here is one of the kings of my meager autograph collection, and from what I can remember, I got it on the cheap during my forum days.

I'm not much in favor of slicing up baseballs and inserting them between pieces of cardboard, but they do make for impressive cards (and unlike a lot of other Sweet Spot horror stories, the autograph hasn't faded...yet).

#2 -- 1971 Bazooka #34 Rusty Staub

This is the one and only vintage Bazooka card in my collection, and it will always stand as one of the greatest items I've ever found at my local flea market (and for only a dollar!).

#1 -- 1964 Topps #109 Rusty Staub

But my favorite Rusty Staub card is the first one I ever owned.

Not long after I returned to the baseball side of the hobby, I set out to acquire a few "big" pieces for my collection. I immediately fell in love with this '64 Rusty and, within minutes, went out and bought a well-loved copy for my archives. That was over a decade ago now, but my affection for this card hasn't waned since.

First off, it's one of the extreme few Colt .45s cards I own, and it's Rusty's first solo Topps issue (after his multi-player high-number rookie in '63 Topps which, if that description doesn't give it away, goes for infinities out of my price range). It's also a terrific rare look at a young Rusty, and OH MY GOD THOSE VINTAGE ROOKIE CUPS. Add that all up and you have what is -- and will always be -- one of the kings of my collection.

RIP, Rusty.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Happy Opening Day!

First off: Happy Opening Day!

It's a time of great excitement in the baseball world, and while the cliches are plenty, they're all true. Every team is in first place, every team has a chance, every player is at the top of the leaderboard, etc. This is part of the allure of Opening Day. It's one of the extreme few days you can consistently check on the calendar, year-in and year-out.

I've long wanted to document the day in some form on my blog, the way a lot of other bloggers already do. I thought about doing predictions, but you probably don't want to read those and they always make me look like an idiot by the end of the year, anyways.

So in the meantime, I went through each team's 40-man roster as it stood on 2018 Opening Day, as well as the number of my "binder guys" each franchise currently employs -- and I'm particularly interested to see how/if these lists change down the line.

Angels -- Mike Trout, OF (Team "binder guys:" 6)

The best player in today's game also happens to be one of my favorites, and I love when it happens that way, because wow was it painful when asshats like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds ruled the baseball world.

A's -- Jonathan Lucroy, C (BGs: 4)

Astros -- Jose Altuve, 2B (BGs: 9)

The defending World Champs have what looks to be the makings of a team that will be dominant for a long, long time.

I'll be rooting for them along the way, because between guys like Justin Verlander, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, they also happen to employ a lot of dudes I like -- none more, however, than Jose Altuve.

Braves -- Brandon McCarthy, P (BGs: 4)
Blue Jays -- Curtis Granderson, OF (BGs: 6)
Brewers -- Eric Thames, 1B (BGs: 3)

Cubs -- Anthony Rizzo, 1B (BGs: 13)

Not surprisingly, the Cubs have the most binder guys of any team in the bigs right now.

I fervently admire and collect most of the Cubs' roster. Javier Baez. Kris Bryant. Kyle Schwarber -- right on down the list. You name them, I probably collect them. It's a likeable team, and I like to think I'm not just saying that because I'm a bit of a biased hometown fan.

But Anthony Rizzo, a man who first won me over by suiting up for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, remains my personal favorite piece of the Cubs' ultra-talented core (and he's currently tied for the league lead in homers!).

Cardinals -- Adam Wainwright, P (BGs: 5)

Dodgers -- Clayton Kershaw, P (BGs: 12)

The Dodgers are second in the league in binder guys, and at the top of that list is Clayton Kershaw, a fun, affable guy who might well go down as the best pitcher of my lifetime.

Diamondbacks -- Paul Goldschmidt. 1B (BGs: 4)

Giants -- Andrew McCutchen, OF (BGs: 9)

With Andrew McCutchen in San Francisco, I have absolutely no reason to pay attention to the Pirates this year, and not to mention a major reason to watch a few more Giants games in 2018.

Indians -- Francisco Lindor, SS (BGs: 5)
Mets -- Noah Syndergaard, P (BGs: 11)

Mariners -- Ichiro Suzuki, OF/DH (BGs: 5)

Ichiro is a Mariner again(!!!) -- need I say more?

Marlins -- Starlin Castro, 2B (BGs: 2)
Nationals -- Adam Eaton, OF (BGs: 6)
Orioles -- Adam Jones, OF (BGs: 4)
Padres -- Eric Hosmer, 1B (BGs: 4)
Pirates -- David Freese, 3B (BGs: 1)
Phillies -- Pat Neshek, P (BGs: 3)

Rangers -- Tim Lincecum, P (BGs: 7)

The Rangers have an awful lot of binder guys for a team I don't claim to much care about -- and it's going to be even harder to maintain that indifference given that Tim Lincecum's now on their roster.

You may have noticed that I've shown exclusively 2018 cards in this post. Lincecum is the lone exception, given that he hasn't appeared in any 2018 sets yet (or any in 2017, for that matter). He's been out of the game since his brief, unmemorable, and wildly unfamiliar stint with the 2016 Angels, and he'll pitch out of the bullpen for the Rangers this year.

While he's starting the year on the DL, I think (or hope) that Timmy can be a valuable arm out of the bullpen in Texas here in 2018.

Rays -- Chris Archer, P (BGs: Zero!)
Reds -- Joey Votto, 1B (BGs: 4)

Red Sox -- Mookie Betts, OF (BGs: 10)

Mookie Betts is an All-Star, bowls perfect games, plays ping-pong, and chats with announcers during games: how could he not be my favorite guy on the Red Sox?

Rockies -- Nolan Arenado (BGs: 3)

Royals -- Salvador Perez, C (BGs: 5)

It hurts when one of my favorite players is forced to miss the first weeks of the season with an injury -- it's even more painful when said injury was sustained whilst tripping over luggage.

Tigers -- Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH (BGs: 5)
Twins -- Joe Mauer, 1B (BGs: 6)
White Sox -- Jose Abreu, 1B (BGs: 3)

Yankees -- Giancarlo Stanton, OF (BGs: 7)

Perhaps the biggest offseason shakeup was Giancarlo Stanton's trade to the Yankees, which means I'm forced to cope with the fact that two of my current favorite big leaguers (with Aaron Judge) now play for the Evil Empire.

So, does that actually make me a Yankees fan? Don't make me answer that right now -- in the meantime, let's just enjoy the comfort of knowing that baseball is back!

Happy Opening Day, everyone!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

It's my dad's birthday, but somehow I got cards

Today's my dad's birthday, yet somehow the afternoon coalesced into him giving me cards over lunch.

Someone should really tell him that birthdays don't work that way. In reality, Dad's had these cards for me for about a week now -- he picked them up during one of his vendor gigs at Target when he stocked the shelves with the newest card releases: Gypsy Queen and Donruss, highlights of the current time of year which Night Owl perfectly deemed "The Dead Zone."

And while I'm not hugely excited for this portion of card calendar, I still think the fact that my dad gets to stock cards at Target is one of the coolest things ever.

Like pretty much all past years of Gypsy Queen, I still remain almost perfectly apathetic about 2018 GQ.

Really, as I sit here before my keyboard, I can't will any words from my fingertips. I have almost nothing to say about GQ other than that the rack pack and couple loose packs my dad gifted me did come with a couple firsts: my first card of Evan Longoria as a Giant and my first card period of Daniel Mendgen, a young handlebar-'stached A's pitcher who happens to share my birthday (I'm a year older than he is).

With qualifications like those, I have to collect the guy, don't I?

This was the only insert I got from my GQ packs and by far the best pull of the lot.

Seriously, why can't all Gypsy Queen cards look like this?

Next up from Dad were a couple hanger packs of Donruss, or as I've taken to calling it lately: The Accumulation Set.

I don't really collect Donruss, I accumulate it. Each year's checklist is filled with guys I collect, and while their designs are usually yawners, they do help me pad the binders a bit. And maybe that's not the greatest reason to buy packs of a set, it'll have to do, because this ain't Stadium Club or Archives.

For that, I'm always good for at least a few packs of Donruss each year.

But while it's become the cool thing to hate on Donruss (and god knows I've done a lot of that in the past), I must admit: the designs of the past couple years have started to give me a tiny amount of hope.

This year's look is about on par with 2017's surprisingly attention-getting design, in that it pays obvious tribute to a past edition of Original Donruss with the shooting stars of '84 (and even includes some guys like Rod Carew who were in the actual '84 set).

Because of that, I don't think it's mere coincidence that this year's inserts are an homage to the '84s, my personal favorite in the long (and often tepid) history of Donruss designs.

And while I don't usually support new brands tinkering with old templates, I have to say that blue borders look pretty darn cool with the shooting stars.

Nothing to say about these, really, but figured they deserved a look.

We seem to be entering an age of endless variations in today's hobby, and Donruss appears to have fallen victim to the madness as well.

But unlike the variations-for-variations'-sake chase cards Topps tries to foist upon us (like the five pages' worth in GQ alone), the Donruss variants at least keep things fun. Donruss is different from most Topps brands in that I don't really buy it for the base cards -- I buy them for the variety they offer (and you certainly get a lot of it, which is more than I can say for the one insert I pulled in five packs of GQ).

So if Nickname variants and Milestone variants add to that variety (including a nod to Mookie Betts's prodigal bowling career), then I'm all for that.

And while I don't judge retail value on sheer quantity, this photo might explain why I feel ripped off every time I open Gypsy Queen.

On the left in this photo is a hanger pack and two loose packs' worth of GQ (retail value: about $16). On the right are two rack packs of Donruss (retail: $10). Which would you rather have? I never thought I'd say this a few years ago when I despised Donruss more than any other collector I knew, but: I'll take Donruss.

Happy birthday, Dad, and thanks for these cards and the thousands of others you've added to my collection over my many years in this hobby -- but really, I'm supposed to give you stuff on your birthday, you hear?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Top Five: Thurman Munson

I love today's brand of baseball, but a large part of me still wishes I got to see the game as it was played in the 1970s.

I admire many things about the decade which I've heard so much about from my dad and others around the blogs, not the least of which are the icons it produced. Perhaps it's impossible to determine such a thing in the present, but I often wonder if any of today's greats will be identified as such -- will Trout, Kershaw, and Co. be remembered as icons or merely excellent baseball players?

Time will tell on that one, but here today there's little doubting the '70s produced as many icons as the game has ever seen -- including Thurman Munson who might arguably the most iconic player of the decade and, at least for now, is the focus of this week's Top Five.

#5 -- 1994 Yoo-Hoo #11 Thurman Munson

Only after scanning this card -- a fun oddball which slots nicely into my anthems mini-collection -- did I realize that I've never actually tried Yoo-Hoo.

#4 -- 1977 Topps #170 Thurman Munson

Happy Thurman.

#3 -- 1979 Hostess #26 Thurman Munson

I actually own Munson's complete run of Hostess cards, but despite its somber overtones (it came out the same year Munson died in a plane crash), this one remains my favorite.

#2 -- 1973 Topps #142 Thurman Munson

This is one of those cards that might not seem like anything different until you really stop and look at it.

For one thing, look at all those gloriously blurred faces in the background. And also the stray bat at Munson's feet. And also I can't think of many cards off the top of my head that feature a catcher all alone in his crouch (without any trace of a batter), or a shot of a backstop as seen from the first-base side of the field.

This isn't one of Munson's more talked about cards -- I rarely, if ever, see it mentioned -- but it's long been near the top of my list.

#1 -- 1971 Topps #5 Thurman Munson

Let's be honest: we both knew what #1 was the moment this post went up.

I've managed to assemble nearly 1,000 different cards for my Play at the Plate mini-collection, and as far as I'm concerned, what you see here is the very best. The horizontal layout, the behemoth Rookie Cup, the sheer action of it all: this is one of those images that comes to mind whenever I hear the words baseball card. And better yet, the A's runner is actually a pitcher (Chuck Dobson), which adds quirk value to an already memorable piece.

It's an iconic card of an iconic player, perhaps as close to perfection as Topps has produced...or will ever produce.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The death of the low-end collector (card show vintage!)

Despite what the title of this blog might suggest, I've been thinking a lot lately about whether I can even still call myself a low-end collector.

There's no doubting I'll always be a low-end guy at heart. Dime boxes and beat-up vintage are my anthems. And I definitely don't aspire to be a high-end guy: I don't have anything near the budget for that kind of thing, and besides, I find "hits" and big-dollar sets boring.

But the fact of the matter is that I definitely spend a lot more on cards these days than I once did (mostly because I didn't have a job when I started this blog...), and I'm not opposed to making big purchases if I feel like they're warranted (as this post will later indicate).

Last weekend's card show perhaps represented the pinnacle of my low-end self-doubt: take this Jimmy Piersall, for instance, which set me back a whole $10 and was the very first thing I bought on Saturday.

And before you go thinking that I've finally lost it by spending $10 on a '62 Topps common, let me just show you the back -- which, as you'll see, shows that this is actually a '62 Topps Venezuelan card, the first of its kind in my collection.

Topps Venezuelans are insanely rare (I'd seen maybe a dozen in-person over my many years of attending shows) and thus quite expensive, which means I'd long written off any possibility of ever owning one.

So when I saw Jimmy Piersall lumped in with a bunch of other obscure commons (one of the reasons I enjoy collecting him: he's a name whose cards often carry no-name prices), I bit -- despite the fact that most low-end collections don't have Topps Venezuelans in them.

From that same box came another foreign-language oddball with this '62 Post Canadian Billy Martin, another first for my collection and a card I couldn't pass up at three bucks.

These and the TCMA Fidrych I showed at the end of yesterday's post set me back $15 all together from the initial table of the day -- and while I was no doubt excited by the purchases, the feeling of spending $15 on just three cards isn't something I'm quite used to yet.

The second table of the day had more vintage, and these were more closely aligned with my low-end methods: a whole binder of 50-cent '75 minis!

I'm fairly certain I need all these, but a couple could well be dupes: '75 minis throw me for a bit of a loop sometimes because I'm not sure if what I'm remembering from my own collection is the regular '75 or the mini '75 of certain cards.

I've said before that one of two things usually happen at this show: I usually find a lot of Hostess or a lot of Kellogg's, never a lot of both.

Well, I'll have to eat my words there, because in addition to these gloriously greasy Hostesses...

...came an equal amount of awesome Kellogg's.

I remain fascinated with the wildly different prices Kellogg's cards can command -- the ones in this scan cost everything from a dime (Otis) to five dollars (Brooks), with the Yaz and Sutton in between (a buck each).

I've fallen hopelessly in love with these Fleer World Series cartoons, so you can imagine how excited I was to find everything in this page for 50 cents a pop.

Same goes for these Nu-Scoops: it's gotten to the point where I specifically try to scope these out at card shows, which has me thinking that a subconscious part of me is trying to build the whole set (even though I'm not a set builder).

These ran a bit more than the World Series cartoons -- the Spahn and Wynn were two bucks apiece, while the Cobb and "DiMag" were $5 per -- but they're prices I'm happy to pay because WOW are these cards nice.

A slew of various vintage oddballs which contented my low-end collector self since this whole scan cost me less than a pack of Gypsy Queen.

Let me give you a visual of one of my consistently favorite sights at this card show: behold what is known to my dad and I simply as...The Tub.

The Tub was back after an unexplained absence at the last convention hall show, and it was as glorious as ever. There's no rhyme or reason to what you'll find in this thing (the cards I sifted through spanned each of the last six or seven decades), and the cards are priced at 3/$2, 20/$10, or 50/$20 (and of course I managed to find 50).

And yes, you're seeing things right: if you look a little to the left of center of this photo... might notice a '52 Topps mixed into all that chaos.

Sure, the borders are cut off, and no, I have no idea who Frank Baumholtz is, but of course I bought it -- it's a '52 Topps card for 40 cents! 

Saturday must've unofficially been Bob Gibson Fire Sale Day, because I paid a grand total of 73 cents for these two (the World Series card from a 3/$1 box, the Gibson Story for 40 cents from The Tub).

It didn't take long to realize that the Dollar Vintage Gods were with me on Saturday.

The Podres has been a thorn in my side for a while now, and the Groat is actually card #1 from the 1961 Topps checklist, which made both of those especially sweet dollar buys.

One of the last tables of the day had a couple large piles of dollar vintage on display, but it was late in the show and I was running on fumes.

So I grabbed a stack somewhat absentmindedly, flipped through it, shook my head, and said to myself...wait, did I just see what I thought I saw? Indeed I had: there, for a dollar, was a '57 Topps Gil Hodges.

But as this scan might tell you, Gil was really only the beginning to all the low-grade big names those stacks held.

As hard as it might be to believe, these also came from those dollar stacks, and better yet, the dealer even let me pick out a couple of freebies -- which I promptly turned into the '55 Joe Black and Dick Groat you see above ('55s for FREE!).

And yes, that's a '55 Topps (Ed) Mathews with what certainly looks like a burnt-off corner -- I initially had second thoughts about buying it, but with a little goading from my dad, I realized I'd be crazy to pass it up.

And here's yet another gift from the Dollar Box Vintage Gods: a '51 Bowman Eddie Waitkus.

Not too long ago, I realized that I had exactly zero cards of Waitkus in my collection. I needed to change that, because he's a fairly significant name in baseball history: he was shot by a deranged fan in 1949, an event which was later dramatized via Roy Hobbs in The Natural.

Waitkus doesn't have a ton of stuff out there (which is both good and bad for a player collector), and this stellar dollar-box buy is my first real vintage card of his.

A couple from my Keep Dreaming list with the '68 Denny McLain (actually found and purchased by my dad) for four bucks, and the '76 Rose for $3.

Though it's your basic low-end common (#40 in the '68 Topps set), the McLain proved oddly elusive: I asked two different vendors with huge amounts of vintage inventory without any luck before my dad found a third who had exactly one copy left (thanks again, Dad!).

And now we've come to the '58s, a set which I may have underrated in the past for the sherr unfortunate fact that it happens to be sandwiched between two of my all-time favorite Topps designs.

This colorful quartet cost about half a blaster all together, the Spahn on the high end at $5 and the Hodges on the low end at a buck (with Klu and Billy Martin -- the latter of which was another Dad Find -- in between at a couple dollars each).

But as it happens, '58 Topps was also the set that caused me to question my true status as a low-end collector on Saturday...why?

Well, here's one reason.

I threw a '58 Topps Roger Maris rookie onto my Keep Dreaming list as a bit of a joke -- hey there, anyone got an extra '58 Maris (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)? So you can imagine my surprise when I actually saw one that was kinda in my price range: this weathered copy had a $43 price tag on it, which is less than a quarter of the price of all the other Maris rookies I saw on Saturday.

Only problem was that I didn't have enough cash on me to buy it at the time. No worries, because I quickly did something else that might cause me to relinquish my low-end status: I bought a card with a credit card. At a card show. The vendor had one of those swipe thingies attached to her phone, and a few seconds later I had the Maris rookie without any cash having changed hands, with a receipt to prove it (a receipt for a card show purchase!).

And as for why I was forced to buy the Maris with plastic instead of cold, hard cash... can blame Teddy Ballgame for that.

One of my other wink-wink, nudge-nudge goals for Saturday was to find a real Topps Ted Williams. Though he retired after the 1960 season, this is Ted's last Topps card -- he signed a Fleer-exclusive contract in 1959 and thus didn't appear in any Topps set from 1959-61. And after seeing the prices on some of his other cards on Saturday, it quickly became apparent that it'd have to be '58 or bust.

This was really the only affordable Splendid Splinter I came across, and I was shocked at how (relatively) cheap it was: even though it's not in terrible shape, the vendor had a rock-bottom $40 price tag on it (the next cheapest copy I saw was $80, and that one was in worse shape).

And so I blew the rest of my remaining cash on a card I never thought I'd own: a real Topps Ted Williams. Plus, if that wasn't glorious enough, the vendor knocked an extra ten percent off the price, which meant I ended up getting it for all of $36.

With Topps Venezuelans, Roger Maris rookies, and vintage Teddy Ballgames now in my collection after Saturday's show, I honestly don't know if I can still call myself a low-end collector -- that's okay, though, because I'd rather have the cards anyways.