Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I like A&G, but...

The best way I can describe my feelings towards Topps A&G these days is: I like it, but...

I like it, but it used to be a whole lot better. I like it, but not enough to rush out to Target on the day of its release. I like it, but I never feel like I'm getting enough for my money. (It's hard to justify $3 for a six-card pack when almost all the singles wind up being dime box material at shows.)

I like it, but the only reason I even bought a blaster of it last week in the first place was because I stumbled upon some in a Target search for Big League. Still, despite A&G's nearly immediate ubiquity at card shows, I'm always good for a small retail break or two of it each year.

So let's take a look and see how this particular blaster treated me, shall we?

Pack 1:

#7 Aaron Judge

Certainly not a bad way to kick off a blaster -- but Judge aside, part of my relative indifference toward A&G stems from the fact that I just don't have a lot to say about it anymore.

You know what you're getting. The design is good enough (I kinda like the rolled-paper look this year) but it's not enough of a departure from past incarnations to warrant any in-depth commentary. I doubt Topps is swaying anyone at this point. Those who like it still like it, and those who don't still don't.

This is A&G's 13th year (has it really been that long?!), and at this point, I don't think you're getting any converts.

#257 Andrew Stevenson
#35 Robinson Cano
#312 Carlos Santana SP

#MES-8 Cheese Rolling, "Exotic Sports" mini insert

The inserts are what continue to make A&G a fun break, if for no other reason that you simply never know what you're gonna find.

I mean, I pulled a card of Cheese Rolling. Cheese rolling. My Dad, the Anglophile, has told me in the past that there's a tradition in England where people get together and chase a wheel of cheese down a hill. The first person to catch it gets to keep the cheese.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever be immortalized a baseball card, and that's why I'm still glad A&G is around.

#WGB-3 Trunk Bay, "World's Greatest Beaches" insert

I really really really really really really really really dislike beaches, so this isn't an insert set for me.

Pack 2:

#112 Yadier Molina
#45 Dexter Fowler

#200 Sandy Koufax

Young Sandy.

#33 Nicky Delmonico
#278 Paul DeJong, mini A&G back

#FG-34 Johnny Bench, "Fantasy Goldmine" insert

Kind of a dumb insert set, because Johnny Bench would probably tell you to go to hell if you asked him what his career WAR was.

Pack 3:

#154 Raisel Iglesias
#12 Eddie Rosario
#137 Josh Donaldson
#305 Lewis Brinson SP

#MIH-2 Sitting Bull, "Indigenous Heroes" mini insert

Now this is an insert set I'd like to build.

#BEA-3 Modern Glove, "Baseball Equipment of the Ages insert

I admit, I was excited when I saw that there'd be an entire insert set devoted to all things baseball equipment in A&G -- it's a topic of huge interest to me.

But now that I have one, I'm kinda thinking they're better in theory than in-hand. I mean, here's a card of a baseball glove. Okay. What am I supposed to do with a card of a baseball glove?

I still don't know.

Pack 4:

#187 Albert Pujols
#6 Chris Taylor

#9 Kris Bryant

Sparkles at his sparkliest.

#209 Fernando Rodney

#MBS-4 Postseason Beards (Archie Bradley), "Baseball Superstitions" mini insert

This was my favorite pull of the blaster, and a bit of a tough one to get (I think these inserts fall 1:50 packs if I remember right).

Other than the fact that Archie Bradley is a new player collection of mine, baseball superstitions are just a fun idea for an insert set.

#WT-37 Yadier Molina, "World Talent" insert

I still think A&G's yearly gargantuan insert sets are unnecessary, but every year I end up liking the design so I really can't complain too much about them.

Pack 5:

#285 Jackson Stephens

#55 Biz Markie

2018 A&G features a notable uptick in featured celebrities -- less fantasy football bros and bad comedians, more Biz Markies!

Also of interest to me this year is Tommy Wiseau (The Room!), Christopher McDonald (aka Shooter McGavin), and H. Jon Benjamin (Bob's voice on Bob's Burgers), none of which I pulled from this blaster, sadly.

#24 Trey Mancini
#319 Harrison Bader SP
#129 Stephen Piscotty, mini black border

#MM-2 Europa, "Magnificent Moons" insert

Not an insert set I'd seriously build, but still kinda cool.

Pack 6:

#110 Honus Wagner


#158 Yonder Alonso
#54 Carlos Gonzalez
#75 Chrisitan Yelich
#315 Christian Villanueva SP, mini

#FG-11 Roberto Clemente, "Fantasy Goldmine" insert

I have no idea what Zone Runs are, but I'll never turn down a new Clemente.

Pack 7:

#103 Lucas Sims
#53 Mike Zunino
#69 Anthony Banda
#321 Nomar Mazara SP
#231 Michael Brantley, mini A&G back

#WGB-9 Cozumel, "World's Greatest Beaches" insert

Well that pack sucked.

Pack 8:

#236 Luis Castillo

#83 Cryptocurrency

How can I own a card of something that doesn't actually exist?

#120 Cody Bellinger
#61 Randal Grichuk
#145 Genie Bouchard, mini

#WT-23 Masahiro Tanaka, "World Talent" insert

A fine way to close out a blaster: a neat insert of a dude I collect.

Even with all of A&G's ups and downs, I'm glad I at least indulged myself with a blaster (but not enough to buy another one). And while I may be somewhat apathetic towards A&G at this point, and though the set does have its faults, nothing else in the market today provides quite the same experience.

I mean, where else are you gonna find a Cheese Rolling card?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The (Second) Dime Box Frankenset, Page 47: Numbers 415-423

I teased it, you asked for it, and now we've got it: The Dime Box Frankenset is back!

For the time being, I'm bringing back my weekly posting of pages from my second Dime Box Frankenset. I'll be posting a poll on the sidebar with each week's nine nominees (or less if I haven't filled that particular page yet). All you have to do is vote for your favorite, and the card with the most tallies at the end of the week wins that page. (I'm planning another bracket-style tourney with all the winners, but that's way down the line.)

The only major change I'm making this time around is the choosing of which page to display each passing week. Since this a frankenset built on randomness, I figured the way I show them should be random as well. So instead of going in order (because order is boring!), I'm letting a random number generator decide which page will enjoy the spotlight each week.

Page 47 (#s 415-423) gets to do the honor of rebooting the Dime Box Frankenset, and here's your first batch of nine nominees.

1993 Upper Deck #415 Denny Neagle

Deleted scene from Field of Dreams: everyone is disappointed when Denny Neagle pops out of the cornfields. 

1982 Fleer #416 Hal McRae

'82 Fleer doing what '82 Fleer does best: being off-center and just generally weird. 

1993 Upper Deck #417 Willie Wilson

Oh hey. 

1997 Collector's Choice #418 Kevin Stocker

I've looked at this photo closely, and I still can't tell what's in that briefcase. (Also, has there ever been another card with a briefcase on it?) 

2017 Topps #419 Roberto Perez

It's always a treat when World Series moments pop up on standard Flagship base cards, like this shot featuring one of Roberto Perez's two homers in Game 1 of the 2016 Fall Classic (though we all know who went on to win that series). 

1996 Score #420 Stan Javier

Pure cardboard mastery, including a couple rare fan sign sightings. 

1992 Leaf #421 Kim Batiste

Safe our out? 

1997 Score #422 Shane Andrews

A scattered mess of legs and limbs. 

1999 Fleer Tradition #423 Bob Henley

You know what they say about a man and his tools (of ignorance).

There's the nine for this week, and thanks to all of you who convinced me to get this theme back up and going again! The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Purge

I recently received a couple packages from Shane of "Shoebox Legends" fame, a man who I admire.

I admire him because he runs a great blog and puts together awesome trade packages, among other things. But lately I have to say I admire Shane because he's taken it upon himself to start a small purge of his collection, as he made clear in the notes he included with his recent mailers. The cards I received were items that didn't survive The Purge.

Even though this Albert Belle doesn't really fit snugly into anything I collect, I'll still take it because it's simply a zany piece of cardboard (even though the jagged corners and such make it an adventure to stick into a nine-pocket page).

Still, I've often thought about what a purge of my own collection would look like, and what would have to happen for me to undertake one.

These days, I'm more than happy to keep anything that simply catches my interest, like the Belle. But I admit, sometimes I wonder where all this is headed. What would I keep if, for whatever reason, I was really forced to trim down my collection? I think every collector has had this thought (nightmare?) at some point. (And that brings up the question of whether or not collections necessarily need an end goal, which could be a post all on its own.)

Parallels are cool and all, but do I really need different-bordered versions of cards I already own?

My answer right now is: I collect those guys, so OF COURSE I do! 

And for right now I'm satisfied with that response. Despite what it might look like around here sometimes, I've gotten a bit better at reigning things in. There used to be times where I'd come home from a card show and wonder Why in the heck did I buy THAT? with a few of my purchases. That really doesn't happen anymore, and it's a step (no matter how small) in the right direction.

In the meantime, I'm happy that Shane's purge (hopefully) helped ease him of some physical/mental clutter -- these '72 minis castoffs hit a couple longtime insert needs of mine.

More excellent inserts from The Purge.

A handful of randoms my collection absorbed from Shane's.

I collect anything and everything of Tim Wakefield, but for some reason his Pirates cards are especially pleasing to track down.

As I said earlier, Shane actually sent me two different packages with items from The Purge -- what I just showed came from the second of those batches, while this Strasburg and everything you'll see in the remainder of this post came from the first.

I probably own less than a dozen of these Toys 'R' Us parallels, and I don't see many more coming my way since the company sadly fell victim to a completely different kind of purge recently.


Yet another quartet of insert needs from Shane.

I received this package prior to Robinson Cano's PED suspension. I've since stopped collecting him. And while I've found it rather easy to not chase new cards of his, I can't bring myself to get rid of the Canos already in my possession.

If I can't purge a proven cheater from my collection, then what hope is there?

A couple cool Stadium Club needs (the Gray throwback is a black parallel).

I admit, I'm not a huge Pearl Jam fan, but I'll always have a place for music cards in my collection.

Apparently, these were sold in correlation with Pearl Jam's Boston concerts a few years back. And while their music isn't my thing, they did a bang-up job here. (Eddie Vedder's a noted baseball fan, and I can't help but wonder if he collects cards on the side.)

Long live 1991 Topps!

I have absolutely no idea who either of these guys are, but ain't no way I'm turning down Japanese cards.

A couple hard hitters here from Shane, including an autograph of the late Oscar Taveras and a super-spiffy Satch.

Topps Tribute is a rare treat, but wow do they pack a punch when I'm lucky enough to stumble into one.

Lastly, here's something most non-collectors would deem worthy of a purge: a card I already own with a large gold stamp on the front.

But come on: purge a '67 Rusty Staub buyback? NO WAY! No matter how much the rational part of my brain tries to tell me this isn't anything to get excited about, the collector in me will always know that this is an absolutely fantastic item, a treasured new add to my Rusty collection which doesn't see many new items come along these days. (Shane, a noted buyback fanatic, told me this was a double from his own collection.)

Perhaps I might have to undertake a Purge of my own one day. I honestly wouldn't doubt it, and maybe it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, no matter how difficult and painful it might end up being. Still, I shudder at the thought, which makes me respect people like Shane all the more.

But for now I'm lucky enough to have The Purge remain a future worry for future Nick -- bring on the parallels and buybacks!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

That's Big League

You ever open up a pack of baseball cards and almost literally feel the thrill of opening that pack oozing out of you?

That's how I felt about 2018 Topps Big League.

I admit my longing for Big League devolved into something like a wild goose chase last week, and I ate up a lot of time and gas money in the process of trying to find it.

I went to three different Targets and two different Walmarts in search of the stuff, with only a few rack packs to show for my effort (all from that second Walmart). Those rack packs gave me an itch for more and confirmed what I already suspected from what I'd seen online: this was a set for me. So I went ahead and ordered a Big League hobby box later that same day -- which, thanks to its affordable price point, set me back just a hair under $40(!).

But that should all just speak to how much pure, visceral enjoyment I got out of this set: for my money, it's the most intriguing one I've seen in a long time. I've heard others say it's what Flagship should be and I generally agree with that. The borders are a good start -- non-bordered Flagship is no longer edgy and Big League made me remember how great a basic bordered set could be.

And while I won't lie to myself and say that kids are actually buying it (though I love when case breakers on Twitter unironically try to argue to the contrary), Big League does seem to me to be a good entry-level product for people just entering (or re-entering) the hobby.

And can we just take a minute to talk about the backs?

This, to me, is what a card back should be. Color-coded, nice write-ups, and fun facts that are actually fun -- even Nolan Arenado knows The Office wasn't the same without Michael. My only complaint is that the stat lines are exact replicas of the ones seen in Flagship (don't you have any other fonts, Topps?).

I've often lamented the demise of card backs in recent years, but Topps did good with these.

Big League's inserts are cool, even if they feel a bit like afterthoughts amidst my love for the base set.

Parallels are alive and well in Big League (the blues are exclusive to retail blasters), and while I'd kinda rather have an extra base card per pack instead, I still enjoy these.

Even though I'd found those Walmart rack packs and ordered my box, that still wasn't enough for me: I wanted blasters!

Why? Because you get to cut cards out of the box! HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!  It's like Topps knew about my odd-yet-unabashed love for box bottom-esque oddballs. The only other set (of my lifetime, at least) that I can remember having cards embedded inside the box itself was 2009 Upper Deck OPC (which reminds me a lot of Big League, now that I think of it).

My dad secured a couple blasters for me, and I later managed to find one at a local Target a couple days ago (you better believe I specifically scoped out the one with an Ohtani on the back!) -- though my cutting skills definitely need work.

These Players' Weekend cards certainly look like inserts, but they're actually variations within the base checklist.

It's a godsend for me since I was a big fan of the promotion, so much so that I've somewhat started a mini-collection of cardboard featuring Players' Weekend uniforms. (I hesitate to call it a full-blown project since I don't even know if MLB will bring them back again, which let's hope they do.)

I wish Topps used more photos that show the actual nicknames on the backs of the jerseys -- "Chuck Nazty" was the only one I pulled that did -- but nevertheless, it's still a novel idea for a subset.

These "Ballpark Landmarks" are another subset within the base checklist, and they're also a hit with me.

Statues on baseball cards always rule.

Not much deviation from the norm in the legends Topps picked for Big League, but at least they used photos of said legends I'd never seen before.

Card for card, Big League might not wow you in a way that Stadium Club or Archives does.

But don't let that fool you. There might not be any dudes with mascots, nods to old Topps designs, or anything like that here, but Big League is still a just plain solid set, one that I feel Topps did their best to make it as accessible as possible. Only a handful of people might love it as much as I do, but I think that pretty much everyone could find something they like, even if they're only opening a pack or two.

Beauty comes in many forms, and with Big League I think it's a different kind of beauty, a more subdued beauty.

Nothing subdued about the greatness of these, though.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Big League goes ahead and produces something like this (between Big League and Stadium Club, Ichiro has my two favorite cards of the year so far).

I guess the best thing I can say about Topps Big League is this: I had just as much (if not more) fun going through the cards I pulled after the fact than actually opening the packs themselves. I can't say that about many other sets. A lot of times I'll rip a few packs of something and say: well, okay, I've had my fill of that. And even though I've opened a box, three blasters, and four rack packs of Big League, that thrill isn't gone. I still find myself wanting more Big League.

While there's a lot to be said for the consistent, yearly security of Stadium Club, Heritage and the like, having a brand new set, one full of possibilities -- like Topps Big League -- is just as important to me.