Friday, June 29, 2018

So long, farewell

At times I feel like an aging parent of the blogosphere, in that I've seen a fair amount of my favorite blogs pack up and leave the nest during my years here.

As you've probably heard already, the latest blogger to leave our company is none other than Matt of "Bob Walk the Plank" fame. Like everyone else, I'm sad to see Matt go. His blog was a daily read of mine (and not to mention one of the best blog titles ever), and we'd traded quite a bit since he joined the blogosphere a while back.

And as a final bow on it all, I was lucky enough to win what I believe was the last contest Matt ever held on his blog a couple months ago.

My winnings came in the form of four separate bubble mailers(!) I found stuffed in my mailbox one glorious afternoon, and the cards inside were pretty much a smorgasbord of anything and everything -- so, in other words, the perfect prize package for yours truly.

A&G was well-represented in the spoils, as these minis...

...and the accompanying stacks of other A&G base/inserts I received might indicate.

Some 2015 Stadium Clubs here, including a few inserts and spiffy base cards from what I think is the best SC set Topps has put out since its revival in 2014 (if I had to choose).

These were a real surprise: on-card autos of two dudes who I kinda, sorta collect.

I chase Daniel Norris cards when I can because he's a cancer survivor, and Cliff Floyds when I can because he's a Chicago kid.

Here's a couple scarce parallels (Lilly numbered to 77, Huff to 25) that I would've had about a 0.00001 percent chance of finding on my own had I not won Matt's contest.

Despite the randomness of my winnings, I actually, again, collect both of these guys -- Matt must be psychic or something.

But my favorite portion of Matt's mailers were probably the glut of obscure millennium-era singles he threw in -- I mean does anyone really buy stuff like Skybox Premium or UD Reserve?

I sure didn't, and not many other did either, which means cards from these sets are difficult to track down and thus leave gaps in a fair amount of my player collections, which all four of these filled (including Darryl Kile at the plate!).

I've mentioned my love for UD Victory before, which should explain why I was so excited to see these (from the 2002 edition) fall out of the stacks Matt sent me.

I may be one of the last people on earth who collects guys like Daryle Ward and Ben Davis (don't ask me why), and finding new cards of theirs over the years has become a rare but consistent thrill.

Oh, who am I kidding: this was the greatest thing Matt sent me.

It's Bob Walk, the Greek god himself. Keep your minis and autos and low-numbered parallels, because I'll take this one a million times over. But in all seriousness, Matt, I'm going to miss your daily Bob Walk updates and overall fun presence around the blogs. My blog and collection owe a great debt to you.

It's been a pleasure, my friend.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Pocket schedules and business cards (A flea market report)

I make it a point not to dabble too much into the non-card facets of sports memorabilia.

For starters, I just don't have much interest in hoarding SLU figures, game-used equipment, etc. It's never been my bag. And even if it was, I wouldn't have any room to collect that stuff because my room has already been bursting at the seams with baseball cards for much of my adult life.

That's not to say I don't get urges. In fact, the flea market -- the heavenly place I once again attended this past Sunday -- brings out the crazed collector in me more often than I'd like. Quite often at the flea market, I find myself thinking things like Ooh, look at that Ron Santo bobblehead! or Ooh, look at that Frank Thomas poster! And I always have to tell myself: Nick, you don't collect those things. Remember?

This weekend, however, that voice won out on a couple (albeit) palatable occasions -- I purchased this Cubs schedule, for example, despite my usual apathy towards such items (and yes, it'll count as a card towards my Anthony Rizzo collection).

My regular card guy from years past was back in action yesterday...but someone had bought his entire dime box before I got there (DRAT!).

As a result, I had to be content to pick through his quarter/50-cent/dollar boxes, which included the aforementioned pocket schedule and these more conventional cardboard goodies.

I also picked up a team bag full of these '87 Coca-Cola Tigers, which as you can see didn't separate as well as I'd hoped after over 30 years of being stuck together.

No matter though: I still love oddballs like these and it's not like a paid a fortune for them -- the vendor charged me a whopping two bucks for everything I purchased from him.

My current regular card guy was there on Sunday as well, though he hadn't much replenished his stock following last week's high-number bonanza.

I did manage to pick these up at 3/$1, however, including a couple nice '72 high numbers I somehow missed the last time around.

This vendor's higher-priced stuff featured a few changes from last week, and I plucked these two from the rubble.

I paid a whole $5 for the Versalles (a high-number at #499 in the '62 set), probably not a price I would've paid at a card show or anything but one I figured Why not? when I saw it on Sunday (note the immaculate condition, too).

Sometimes (usually at places like the flea market) people's prices will be so far overboard that I won't even ask about items they have that happen to be unpriced, and I've had few regrets about that.

This happened at a table near the end of Sunday's flea market run. A guy had ordinary base cards priced at something like $2 a pop, and a big part of me figured it wasn't even worth asking about the 2001 Fleer Ripken box set he had that caught my eye (unpriced, of course).

But despite all things pointing to the contrary, I still asked: How much?

And he replied: Oh, uh, two bucks.

Sold! Yes, I fought the urge to ask why this entire set was the same price as many of his ordinary base cards, but I figured I'd quit while I was ahead and just fork over the two dollars, no questions asked.

This 60-card set -- a combo of Fleer reprints and originals -- was a steal at just two Washingtons, and it highlights why I've kinda come to like these one-player checklists: lots of mini-collection hits and otherwise banner photos you wouldn't otherwise see on cardboard.

Lastly, the penny card guy was back, albeit without his penny boxes (not a huge tragedy since I've already seen all his penny cards).

In their place were a few boxes and binders of dollar cards, from which this Pete Rose came -- not something I'd normally pay a buck for, but I like box bottoms (and I cannot lie).

The biggest draw of his table was the large lot of '70s Fleer Laughlin cartoons he'd recently acquired, which I was excited to see because holy hell do I love these.

Cartoons are usually hit or miss on cardboard, but for me these are a resounding hit on all accounts.

They're a bit tough to come by and a buck per is actually a great deal (the guy even threw in a few for free). These Famous Firsts in particular are excellent because they chronicle some lesser-known facets of baseball history: first fine, first spring training, even first baseball cards! (How meta.)

My favorite of the lot is the Jackie Robinson, though a close second has to be that Fatality card (documenting baseball's only on-field death with Ray Chapman), even though it kinda gives me the heebie-jeebies.

But the most out-there item I found from this guy's dollar boxes was, yes, another non-card piece of ephemera: a business card.

But not just any business card: Satchel Paige's business card(!), complete with Satch's famous Rules for the Good Life on the flip side. Apparently Paige was VP of the minor-league Springfield Redbirds for a short time in the early '80s, and from the looks of it he had the business cards to go along with the title.

Business cards and pocket schedules aren't anything I intend on collecting in the long run, but I'm still happy I bought them at the flea market this weekend -- just as long as I take Satch's advice and go very light on such vices.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The All-Inept Team (Cubs edition)

Matt of "Bob Walk the Plank" recently partook in a fascinating exercise by composing a roster of the most inept players in the history of his beloved Pirates.

I loved the idea and earmarked it as a future post to write on the Cubs, who (as many know) have had their fair share of ineptitude over the years. While remembering the worst of the worst of one's favorite team may not be a whole lot of fun, it makes me a lot more thankful for the success the Cubs have had as of late.

I've seen the Cubs win the World Series (which instantly qualifies me as among the all-time luckiest Cubs fans) but I did have to suffer through quite a few awful years there -- so here tonight is the bottom of the barrel, the All-Inept Cubs Team.


LaTroy Hawkins (Played for Cubs: 2004-05)

Part of the reason I was eager to undertake this exercise was to see how true my memory really was of certain guys I always think of as inept.

I remember LaTroy Hawkins being absolutely horrible during his year-and-a-half as the Cubs' closer. But a look at the stats reveals that, at least on the surface, he wasn't bad: he posted a 2.76 ERA and 29 saves in Chicago. Certainly nothing to sneeze at. And could he really have been all bad? I mean, the dude pitched in the bigs until 2015.

But the memories I have of Hawkins's ineptitude with the Cubs mostly involve blown saves, and in that department I'm right: he blew nine saves in just 34 chances during his only full season with the Cubs ('05) -- yikes.

Rich Harden (2008-09)

I remember being really excited when the Cubs traded for Rich Harden in '08, mainly because he was always one of those doomed but talented pitchers, the quintessential if-he-could-only-stay-healthy guy.

Early returns were good on Harden: he went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA after coming to the Cubs at the '08 deadline. But his only full season in Chicago was a letdown: 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA over 26 starts. He stayed healthy and still kinda sucked. Harden walked as a free agent after '09 and was out of baseball two years later.

Joke's on me, I guess.

Kyuji Fujikawa (2013-14)

As will become painfully apparent throughout this post, the Cubs have had little success in scouting foreign talent.

Kyuji Fujikawa is the most recent of those overseas busts (at least as far as I remember). Fujikawa was already 32 years old by the time he came to the States after many successful years in Japan. Injuries shut him down early and often, and he only got into a combined 27 games over two seasons with the Cubs, posting a 5.04 ERA in the process. Here and gone in the blink of an eye.

Fujikawa went back to Japan following an aborted stint with the Rangers in 2015, and is actually still pitching there to this day.


Geovany Soto (2005-12)

Geovany Soto's a bit different than most of the guys on this roster, in that he did actually have some success with the Cubs.

He seemed to be the backstop of the future in Chicago after putting together one of the greatest seasons I've personally ever seen a catcher have in 2008, capturing an All-Star berth and the NL Rookie of the Year award in the process. While he had another decent year in 2010, Soto never really lived up to the long-term potential expected from him and was done as a Cub by 2012.

He did manage to hang around as a backup until 2017, but he never came close to duplicating the success he had in his early years as a Cub.

First Base

Hee Seop Choi (2002-03)

Here's the earliest of the Cubs' many foreign busts in my baseball lifetime: the dreaded Hee Seop Choi.

I vividly remember the hype surrounding Choi when the Cubs signed him out of Korea and developed him through their farm system. But as became a theme with the Cubs in those years, it wasn't to be. The first baseman of the future quickly became the first baseman of the past: Choi hovered around the Mendoza Line in his two years with the Cubs (.210) and was out of the bigs by 2005.

Ineptitude at its finest.

Second Base

Arismendy Alcantara (2014-15)

I don't think Arismendy Alcantara was ever one of the Cubs' top-tier prospects, but he was at least supposed to be a serviceable big-league player.

The guy wasn't even that: after a promising start, Alcantara wound up with a whopping .194 average across two seasons as a Cub (including a hapless .077 mark during a brief trial in 2015).

Needless to say, Alcantara was out of Chicago by the time I learned how to spell his name.


Nomar Garciaparra (2004-05)

I don't think I've ever seen a player go from prime to past-prime quicker than Nomar Garciaparra.

Looking back, Garciaparra's numbers didn't take a huge hit with the Cubs (he was a .289 hitter with the team), but his ability to stay healthy certainly did. My only Cubs memories of Nomar involve him getting hurt -- he only played in 105 total games in his year-and-a-half here -- and the hubbub surrounding his coming to Chicago died out pretty quickly.

He just wasn't NOMAH anymore.

Third Base

Josh Vitters (2012)

I'm convinced Josh Vitters was nothing more than an actor the Cubs hired to perform as a high-level prospect in an time when the team didn't actually have any.

If his .121 career average is any indication, he certainly hit like one.


Corey Patterson (2000-05)

Corey Patterson was the grand Failed Cubs Prospect of My Youth, and might be the worst everyday ballplayer I've ever seen.

He couldn't hit. He didn't walk. He was a horrible fielder. He looked nothing like a 3rd overall draft pick, and he never struck me as a guy who should be anywhere close to the big leagues. And yet he stuck around for six seasons with the Cubs (although maybe that's more of an indictment of the Cubs of that era than Patterson himself).

How he managed to hang around the big leagues for 12 seasons is beyond me.

Kosuke Fukudome (2008-11)

Ah, here's probably the grandest failed foreign experiment of them all: Kosuke Fukudome.

Truth is, I still have a soft spot for Kosuke. But he was a bust in every sense of the word -- and don't let his '08 All-Star appearance fool you: that was on the fan vote. He never hit with much regularity and was out of the bigs by 2012 (though he is still active in the Japanese League).

I'll put it this way: the feat documented on this card was probably the pinnacle of Fukudome's career...and that came in his very first game in the States.

Milton Bradley (2009)

I don't ever aspire to be one of those fans who gets up in arms over every single decision their team of choice makes (I just want to grab those people by the neck most of the time).

But fact is there was a brief period of time in which I was wholly convinced that I could do a better job than the Cubs' front-office. And I probably could have. I know I wouldn't have signed Milton Bradley, for one thing -- much less given him the three-year, $30 million contract he got from the Cubs.

Bradley was one of those instances as a fan where I just knew things were going to go south, and fast. He was never the most popular guy in Chicago and indeed turned out to be a complete bust, so much so that the Cubs ate most of his contract and dealt him to the Mariners the following season.

Between Bradley's performance and the Cubs' decision to sign him in the first place, he may well be the Most Inept Cub of All-Time.


Dale Sveum (2012-13)

The all-inept team needs a manager, and that dubious honor goes to Mr. Dale Sveum.

Sveum is, by all accounts, a good baseball guy. And perhaps he got the short end of the stick here in Chicago. Considering the talent (or lack of) Sveum had to work with, it's hard to hold him accountable for the 127-197 record he posted during his time as the Cubs' skipper (I mean, Josh Vitters was the starting third baseman for a while, for god's sake).

But even during those awful years, it was obvious he wasn't a good fit for a rebuilding team. He made questionable decisions, lost patience with young players rather quickly (really the one thing you can't do under those circumstances), and didn't seem to fit the mold of what the Cubs needed in a manager at the time. So in that sense he's the perfect man to guide this team, right?

And so there you have it: the rich and often painful journey into the Cubs' long history of ineptitude.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


In a paradoxical way, I'd say it's both easier and harder than ever to be a player collector in the current hobby.

The sheer proliferation of cards available these days makes it quite simple to start a player collection, and continually add to that collection. But on the downside, I can really only ever hope to own a tiny percentage of any of the guys I collect, thanks to all the insanely rare parallels and high-end sets I never see. This isn't the old days where kids had one Gates Brown card to chase every year and that was it.

My Kris Bryant collection, for example, is already more than 80 cards strong at last count, a number which was boosted by a couple PWEs I recently received from frequent trader and overall good dude Mr. Shlabotnik of "The Shlabotnik Report."

Bryant debuted in 2015, which means that with about 80 total Bryants in my binders, I've managed to add about 20 new ones to my collection per year, on average -- a pretty steady clip, I think.

But even crazier is the fact that, according to Beckett, Bryant has a grand total of 5,786 cards to his name (no doubt helped by the entire retail-exclusive insert set devoted to his likeness earlier this year). This means I own just over one percent of all the Bryants in existence, and I've been collecting the guy for about four years now.

So which is better: being excited knowing that 99 percent of Bryant's cards are still out there, or getting a headache knowing that all my efforts have amounted to one percent of the guy's total output?

I don't really have an answer to that -- I can see both sides of the equation.

I, for one, enjoy the colored parallels Topps inserted into its products way back when, and would like them to come back if for no other reason that it might help crowd out some of those all-Bellinger/Judge/Bryant insert sets.

Granted, a return to said parallels would mean even more cards of my favorite players to chase, which defeats the purpose in some ways.

To me, though, parallels were (and still are) a joy to track down, which makes me happy Mr. Shlabotnik was nice enough to send this small flood of Target Reds my way.

In years past, Opening Day has basically functioned as a duplicate version of Flagship, but I've noticed Topps finally changed a lot of the photos between OD and Series 1-2 this both Joe and I are pleased to see.

Insert adds for the player collections.

And in the end Joe closed things out with -- you guessed it -- another Bryant!

Only 98.7 percent of his cards to go!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Getting high (numbers) at the flea market

Yesterday, Dad and I braved nearly 100-degree temperatures to spend Father's day at the local flea market.

We're both avid collectors, as I've mentioned many times before (the fact that we willfully subjected ourselves to sweltering heat for hours at a time should prove that). My dad was on the hunt for one thing yesterday: records. I, of course, wanted cards. Dad, unfortunately, was largely shut out on the vinyl front. And while I only found one table with anything good (courtesy of my regular card vendor), what a table it was.

For starters, I paid just $25 for what should've been more than $35 worth of cardboard, which means I got this 2010 Bowman Chrome Altuve -- his first major-brand card and a heckuva tough find these days -- for free, despite its original $5 price tag.

One reason I like my regular card guy is that he has a lot of newer stuff on display, which is a bit shocking since most flea markets don't seem to have anything made after 1970 (and I'm not just talking about cards here).

These Heritage needs were just a buck a piece, an especially sweet deal in the case of the Mookie SP.

Never in my life did I think I'd find Aaron Judge cards at the flea market -- but here these were, a buck a pop.

My card guy also had a fun 4/$1 box on display, mostly stocked with recent cardboard.

Among the gets were these Heavy Metal Snowflake thingies (aka the ones with the glitter).

Both of these are player collection needs, and I was happy to purchase them because of that.

But my god: Ziploc > Foot Locker, a million times over.

More miscellany from the 4/$1 boxes -- that Scherzer (an SP variation) was an especially fun find since I saw it in this same vendor's dollar boxes the last time I attended the flea market, and was kinda kicking myself for not buying it then.

Good things come to those who wait, as they say.

But the biggest surprise waiting for me was the giant box of 2/$1 vintage my card guy had on display.

Cheap vintage is hard enough to find at flea markets, much less vintage of the cheapness and quality of what I found yesterday. Whether at card shows, flea markets, or wherever, discount vintage boxes are usually a wilderness of no-name low-numbers. If you get lucky you might find a minor name or a semi-high number thrown in.

But almost never do you find uber-high numbers like this beautiful '72 Gene Michael In-Action (#714) in cheap vintage boxes.

Getting high (numbers) with a few terrific action shots and/or otherwise masterful vintage I'd never seen before for the frankenset.

The immaculate beauty of these cards almost has me wishing I played catcher for more than one inning in Little League.


Another quartet of excellent 2/$1 finds.

The Joe Schultz was especially exciting: he's the only manager in the history of the Seattle Pilots and one of the last suspects I needed in my quest to acquire all the 1969-70 Topps Pilots cards (I think I'm only four or five away at this point).

Now this is just absurd: it's one thing to find random goodies and frankenset fills at the flea market, but it's quite another to find high-numbers I've been targeting at shows (to no avail) for many years, like these two.

I almost bought a similar-conditioned copy of that '72 Koosman (#697) for $5 at the last show I attended -- the decision to pass on it is looking pretty good right about now.

And so Father's Day at the flea market ended with this '70 Topps Gaylord Perry, originally priced at $5 but basically a freebie with the aforementioned Altuve (at least from how I choose to look at it).

While I really wish things could've turned out a bit better on the vinyl front for my dad, it was still a thrill to patrol the aisles of the local flea market with him yesterday. As it will always be.

Safe to say I had myself a good Father's Day, and I'm not even a father.