Friday, September 25, 2020

Big collections, small rooms

Lately I've had the feeling that my room is getting smaller.

This, of course, isn't true: my collections are simply getting bigger, that's all. But as I've gotten older I've felt more and more like my room is basically a storage unit for my baseball cards and books that I happen to sleep in. I had 90(!) binders of cards at last count, and though I've never inventoried my books, I know I own at least a few hundred (certainly doesn't help that I've worked with books for the last five years of my life).

I like to think most of my collections are well-organized, but I've never quite gotten the storage part down. Most of my card binders are crammed into bookshelves (ironically) and with the passage of time, they've started to overflow. There's a few binders sitting on top of both of my bookshelves, another couple binders stashed into a random cranny next to my nightstand, another couple in a gap by my bed, etc., etc. So you can see why I think my room's shrinking.

The logical solution here would be to stop accumulating cards, and really start to focus on a narrower scope of collecting instead of forcing my binders to balloon into oblivion with the inevitable end of my room caving in on itself. 

But is that what I'm really gonna do? HELL NO!

I get too much enjoyment out of watching my collection grow and expand to do such a thing. A point in favor of this recently came in the form of a gargantuan box o' cards I received from reader Michael W., who doesn't have a blog as far as I know but is on Twitter (@ugxtall88). Mike's been sending my stuff for a while now, but I really think he outdid himself here -- it seriously took me an entire night to go through everything he picked out for me. This was easily one of the best trade packages I've gotten in 2020...if not one of the best in my blogging history. I think you'll see why soon enough.

In addition to a stack of new mini-collection hits, Mike even sent me a card...of himself(!), as you might've noticed at the top of this post -- I've checked off many boxes in my blogging days, but I can't say I have a card of myself (yet...).

The binders that contain some of my bigger player collections seem to get bigger and overflow way quicker than the others.

I recently expanded to a fifth Cubs binder -- the first team to receive such an honor -- much thanks in part to the 400+ Mark Grace cards I've somehow managed to hoard.


Mike mentioned in the note that came with this box that he'd opened an entire box of 1999 Skybox Thunder, kept a few of the cards, and generously bequeathed the rest of his pulls to me!

You can thank me later for not showing the pasty-white-guy lyrics on the backs (though cringe if you must), but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how awesome those cereal-box inserts are.

These seem to come up in every trade post I write: random cards that didn't quite fit anywhere else, but can't help but show.

You can probably count the number of those purple Toys 'r' Us parallels I own on one hand, and I miss the days when Topps would make a card like that Carl Everett.

A major turning point in the saga of my room caving in on me was when I discovered the greatness of oddballs -- they're responsible for the growth of my binders just as much as anything else.

Unlike the way I collected in my youth, I don't necessarily have to be actively collecting a player to enjoy and cherish an oddball of said player.

Chipper Jones isn't high on my player collection projects, but I absolutely love that minor league oddball from Mike -- also the Reggie Jackson is the first NASCAR card I've voluntarily welcomed into my collection.

Canadian cards, cereal cards, Coca-Cola cards...

...hologram cards, Mootown Snackers cards, Kraft Cheese cards -- oh the oddball greatness!

Despite what my scanner is trying to tell you, these laminate legends are actually really cool in person and nothing like the B-movie horror villain lookalikes seen here.

National Packtime cards rule for many reasons, perhaps mostly because, although some of the designs mimic actual '95 releases, some of them were never again seen on baseball cards (like that alternate-universe Pinnacle look). 

Later Kellogg's obviously can't light a candle to the legendary '70s sets, but that doesn't mean these aren't cool -- I never bring these up when I mention Kellogg's, and I kinda feel bad about that.

Love the Drake.

I rarely see one Hostess card in trade packages, much less the whole stack Mike sent me.

(Also, how did I not notice the perfection of a Hostess card of a guy named Cookie until now?)

As I said, this wasn't just an ordinary trade package -- it was an entire huge box that arrived on my doorstep one afternoon, and Mike certainly made the most of the space with a few larger items.

The only thing better than box bottoms are box bottoms I get to cut out!

One of the best purchases of my life was buying a stack of uncut Baseball Card Magazine panels at a card show a couple years ago, and Mike gave me a chance to flash back to that joy with, yes, another uncut panel!

These have, of course, since been sliced up and distributed into my overflowing binders, because in the end I just get way more enjoyment out of individual cards than possible display pieces.

Probably the first time I've ever received a newspaper article in a trade package, but it's obvious why Mike threw this in for me -- here's a printed throwback to a weird time in baseball history, the short-lived "Turn Ahead the Clock" days!

The caption mentions that these jerseys were an imagined look at what baseball uniforms might look like in 2021 -- we've still got a year to make that happen.

Whoa, full-panel Burger King oddballs!

(Looks like I'm only about 35 years too late for that sweet Croissanwich deal.)

Much like the aforementioned Burger King cards, I own a few of those '80s Star singles but I'd never seen them still intact in full panels until Mike came along.

I'm always on the hunt for cards from these sets because some of 'em feature stuff you're not gonna see on a baseball card anywhere else -- like Dale Murphy getting bear-hugged by the Phillie Phanatic!

In the end, however, it wasn't your standard stack of binder-inflating baseball cards that delivered the real gut punch from Mike's box -- it was, of course, this real, actual signed photo of HOYT (and friend).

Hoyt and Joltin' Joe's respective careers just missed crossing paths -- DiMaggio's last season was 1951, and Hoyt made his debut in '52 -- but they must've buddied up at some point later in their lives because they look quite friendly here. I've never been a collector of 8x10s or anything of that ilk but Hoyt is certainly gonna have to be one of the exceptions to that rule, because this is the first signed photo of his I own and it's absolutely incredible. It's the kind of thing that makes me regret the years I just kinda shrugged off ever owning one.

As you can probably see, in the battle of Mike vs. my binders, my binders obviously didn't stand a chance -- so I'll just be here waiting for my room to collapse on me, 'cause I'm not giving any of this stuff up.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The year of the online dime box

Obviously, 2020 hasn't been a prolific year for dime boxes.

I was able to make it to a card show back in February (seems like a long time ago) before the pandemic  shut everything down. To date, that's the only real dime boxing I've been able to do this year. Even though a few of the shows in the deeper suburbs around me have opened up again, I've made a pact with myself not to attend any for the remainder of the year. I miss card shows more than ever, but I still don't think we're anywhere near the point where they should be starting again -- and I know I'm not personally comfortable going to one.

All this insanity, of course, has made me all the more thankful for the angelic emergence of the Online Dime Box here in the maddening year of 2020.

The Online Dime Box (aka has been a hit around the blogosphere, and while it took some trials and tribulations to get used to the site itself, I placed my first magical order from them over the summer and was instantly hooked.

It didn't take long for the dime box itch to strike again, and so I recently received my second stack of cards from the Online Dime Box a couple weeks ago, an order that was every bit as fun as the first. Better yet, they've since instituted a program a la COMC where you can build up purchases over time and have them shipped whenever you want, so what you'll see in this post is actually a culmination of a few different trips to the dime box.

As I mentioned the last time, the company itself is based in New York, but the site has a Canadian domain name...

...which I guess explains why they have so much glorious OPC!

These haven't exactly been common fodder in my dime box experiences, so finding a few dozen of 'em in one easy swoop -- including new pieces for top player collections like Jim Abbott and Mark Grace -- is an unexpected treat.

One of the cons of online dime boxing is that it's a lot harder to find mini-collection cards -- most of the cards on the site don't have pictures, which means I have to do a lot of cross-referencing with TCDB and COMC.

Nevertheless, I was able to score at least a few new themed hits this time around (yes, that Whitaker is another OPC).

Cards for some of the newer additions I've made to my player collection pantheon -- with a windup like that, I should've been collecting Dontrelle Willis a long time ago.

I'll take Cards I Can't Believe I Didn't Have Already for $500, Alex.

Cool dudes from sets I miss.

Cool dudes from sets I don't miss and/or never cared about in the first place.

Simply looking up the keyword "mini" in the site's inventory has become an especially prolific search for me.

In the end, I came up with sets from Cracker Jack to Bowman Heritage, and guys from Fernando Valenzuela to Greg Louganis(!).

If you've read this blog at all, you know I always enjoy seeing legends in not-so-legendary uniforms.

I collect all these guys, and while I don't know if I can classify any of them as obscure, the main trajectory of their playing careers have little to do with why they're in my binders.

Micah Owings was a pitcher who hit better than he pitched, Philip Humber sprinkled a perfect game into an otherwise lackluster career, Kevin Millar's probably more known as a TV personality, and Randall Simon, of course, saved himself from an otherwise unremarkable career by disrupting a sausage race in a particularly memorable way.

None of these fit snugly into anything I collect, but that didn't stop me from saving them from dime box obscurity (has it ever?).

There's even a little latest-and-greatest flavor to the Online Dime Box, which has been a treat since card shows are where I used to take care of less-pressing needs from sets like Donruss Optic and Bowman Platinum.

Unbridled randomness is a cornerstone of any good dime box.

Almost enough bells and whistles for you not to notice that none of these cards have logos.


I've never understood why some people don't like horizontal cards.

I enjoy the mixture of verticals and horizontals in my binders, and some photos (like the Hawkins, for example) just wouldn't work as well as plain ol' vertical baseball cards.

I'd say a good 98 percent of the Online Dime Box's inventory is composed of base cards, but I did manage to find a few scarce inserts and parallels in the stacks.

(And no, I don't know what's going on with that Swinging Friar card, either.)

Here's something I can't say about many dime boxes -- I found a card I needed for my Negro Leagues collection!

I think part of the reason this year's been so strange is that, while the pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on the general everyday workings of the world, it's also negated a lot of the pleasures we used to look to when things got a little too crazy or out of control. A lot of the things we used to mark on our calendars just aren't there anymore. Things like card shows. Things like dime boxes. 

But at least I know a nice virtual trip through some dime cards is always waiting for me, which is enough for me to decree 2020 as The Year of the Online Dime Box.

Monday, September 14, 2020

It's not easy watching your favorites get old

I was watching a Rockies-Dodgers game the other night when, to my surprise, Matt Kemp stepped up to the a Rockies uniform.

I've been a fan of Kemp's for a while now -- mostly thanks to a particularly touching interaction he had with a fan few years back -- but I honestly forgot he was even still in baseball. The Rockies picking him up after the Marlins let him go earlier this season. Matt Kemp's 35 now, and even though he came out of nowhere to be an All-Star in 2018, his best days looked way behind him when I saw him hit the other night. He looked less agile, slightly pudgier, and just generally over-the-hill. And even though, in reality, he's only seven years older than I am, Matt Kemp just plain looked old. 

It didn't really affect me at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if this was a marker of something larger.

Kemp struck out in the at-bat I watched, and looked awful doing it.

If there's a silver lining here, it's that Kemp did wind up hitting a game-winning two-run homer against his old team later that game (though I was in bed when it happened). But still, the image of him walking back to the dugout after an easy strikeout, looking older and nothing like the Matt Kemp I remember, has stuck with me in the days since.

It's true -- I guess I'm at the point now where I'm starting to see some of the players I grew up watching get old, chewed up and spit out by the baseball machine.

Part of the beauty of baseball cards is that they offer permanent reminders of the heydays of our favorite players, as is the case with the smattering of prime-era Kemps I recently received from ex-blogger and current Twitterer Michael S. -- you veteran bloggers might remember him as Spiegel from "Nomo's Sushi Platter."

I traded with Michael a lot in my earlier blogging days -- it was great to see him reach out to me on Twitter and, better yet, offer to send me some cards! The two pages I've shown here were just a fraction of all the Kemps he sent me over two separate packages, most of which were new to me.

(Also, I didn't even notice he sent me two different copies of that numbered Triple Threads Kemp -- maybe I should consider cornering the market on those.)

Michael slipped in some side orders with the main course of Kemps -- here's a few adds to my new Mo Vaughn collection.

I've always liked Mo Vaughn, and I vaguely remember his last years with the Mets, but for whatever reason it took until last year for me to really start hoarding his cards.

A bunch of fine adds to some of my more tenured player collections.

Sadly, I have no memories of Tony Gwynn as a player -- I bet people slightly older than myself went through a similar version of my Matt Kemp experience watching Mr. Padre get older.

Gwynn's quickly blossomed into one of my larger player collections, and while I've never put much effort into chasing these '80s Fleer minis, I'm thrilled to add them to the binders.

A fine helping of Cubs -- all-time greats and colossal busts alike.

Michael even found a few new mini-collection hits for me -- I darn near missed the busted bat Juan Samuel's flinging away there.

As the players wander into the past, so does the game itself, in some ways -- given today's rules, I doubt we'll see another card quite as violent as this one ever again.

Being a baseball fan is mostly a joy, but the emotions of the game often wander past the simple limits of watching your favorite team win or lose. Sometimes the game gets tied up in us, tells us something about ourselves. For his sake, I hope Matt Kemp plays as long as he wants to, and as well as he can for whatever team gives him a job. He deserves that.

But it'll never be easy to watch my favorite players get old, because it means I'm not too far behind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Back in the club

I always feel like the arrival of Stadium Club should be accompanied by a flourish of trumpets or something, kinda like when royalty enters a scene in a Shakespeare play.

Stadium Club made its big comeback in 2014, and it's taken the Set of the Year crown on this blog each and every year since then (don't think I ever got around to posting my 2019 list, but Stadium Club was #1). It's gotten some stiff competition from Big League here in 2020, but Stadium Club is (and probably always will be) the set to beat going into each card season. It's just objectively so much better than almost anything else out there these days. I think most of us can agree on that.

Given the state of retail in 2020, however, I was fully expecting to have to simply buy all the singles I needed online without ever seeing a pack. Yes, maybe that's the more rational strategy, but dammit, I like opening packs. Turns out the card gods had a surprise in store for me, because after months upon months of empty card aisles, I actually found a few Stadium Club rack packs at a Target on the way home from work last week. Most of the Targets around here have recently put up the We reserve the right to limit how much you buy... signs on the card shelves, and I guess they're working.

There were six rack packs left on the hanger, and, well...okay, I bought 'em all -- the gravity box was still about half-full with single packs for other collectors, so I don't think it was too selfish on my part (right?).

Pack 1:

#26 Sean Murphy
#125 Sonny Gray
#146 Jose Canseco

As I've done the past couple years, I'll be going card-by-card through my Stadium Club packs because there's just so much to show.

This year's design -- if you can call anything from Stadium Club a "design" -- is nice and minimalist, which is basically all I ask given how dominant the photos are (and should be) in a set like this. I'm on board with any look that supports the cause of lowercase letters -- there's something playful about them I can't quite explain, and they always remind me of '71 Topps.

Of course, it didn't take long for Stadium Club to floor me with a photo, as this Canseco won me over just three cards into the first pack -- a little jarring since I'm not supposed to want Jose Canseco cards.

#159 Roberto Clemente

In a rapid turn of events, we go from perhaps my least-favorite ballplayer to my all-time favorite.

Can't say I've ever seen this photo of Roberto Clemente before, and I love it -- it's beautiful and goofy at the same time.

#9 Jameson Taillon
#285 Shogo Akiyama

#116 Ronald Acuna Jr. (chrome refractor)

Chrome stuff in Stadium Club strikes me as unnecessary, but if you're gonna pull one, this isn't a bad one to get.

#163 Nomar Mazara (sepia)

#136 Zack Greinke (red foil)


#141 Danny Jansen
#94 Masahiro Tanaka
#62 Austin Meadows

Pack 2:

#36 Aristides Aquino
#41 Jonathan Villar
#135 JD Martinez
#98 Sam Hilliard
#172 Jeff Bagwell

Stadium Club is wonderful, but it ain't perfect -- I mean, Topps just used almost this exact same photo for Stadium Club a few years ago.

#240 AJ Puk

#167 Trevor Bauer


You win, Stadium Club.

#PZ-20 Anthony Rizzo, "Power Zone"

Don't really care about the inserts in this set, but I'll always take a new Rizzo!

#223 Matthew Boyd (red foil)
#237 Brendan McKay
#227 Justin Verlander
#25 Yasmani Grandal

Pack 3:

#229 Tim Anderson

Time for the game show that's sweeping the nation: Double Dip or Not A Double Dip?

(I say Double Dip.)

#281 Josh Staumont

#110 Ernie Banks

In case it hasn't become obvious already, the photo quality in 2020 Stadium Club is every bit as fantastic as we've been led to expect over the years -- that got taken care of after the first pack.

Also, cards with old advertisements rule.

#31 John Means
#179 Marcus Semien

#270 Ken Griffey Jr.

The Kid's got a lot of awesome cards out there, but this one has to rank right near the top.

#44 Tommy Edman

#PZ-25 Ken Griffey Jr., "Power Zone"

Griffey hot pack!

#IR-VGJ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., "Instavision"

Kinda cool -- I'd never pulled one of these Instavision inserts before now, and they fall about 1:100 packs, so here's to beating the odds!

#49 Josh VanMeter
#255 Dustin May
#233 Nick Castellanos

Pack 4:

#269 Aaron Civale
#199 David Ortiz
#90 Tommy La Stella
#3 Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth has to be the most photographed ballplayer ever, so I'm always kinda astounded when I see a new picture of him.

#178 Barry Zito

I'm not really liking this trend of greats from my childhood -- like Barry Zito -- appearing as "legends" in modern sets.

This is, however, a fantastic baseball card, and the first one I've seen that documents Zito's brief three-game return to the A's at the end of his career in 2015.

#161 Manny Machado

#A-JV Josh VanMeter, autograph

I kid you not: as I was briefly scanning the autograph checklist for this set, a couple days before I bought these packs, I saw Josh VanMeter's name and said to myself: If I pull an autograph, it's probably gonna be a guy like that.


#127 Miguel Sano (sepia)

Stadium Club doesn't really need parallels, but I'll be the first to admit these sepia ones are gorgeous.

#46 Joey Gallo (red foil)
#55 Lucas Giolito
#275 Bubba Starling

#276 Kyle Schwarber

A question I always ask myself around Stadium Club time: if Topps can make this set look so great, what's stopping them from making everything else look just as good?

There's probably a lot to unpack there, and I don't even begin to know the answer -- so for now we'll just continue to enjoy the Louvre exhibit that is Stadium Club.

Pack 5:

#197 Mike Yastrzemski


#166 Ozzie Smith
#158 Noah Syndergaard
#40 Blake Snell
#3 Babe Ruth (again!)
#178 Barry Zito (again!)
#161 Manny Machado (again!)

#EOZ-3 Lucas Giolito, "Emperors of the Zone"

Ran into some questionable collation with this pack, but it's offset by this nifty insert for my newest player collection.

Lucas Giolito's the new ace in town, and his no-hitter was one of only about two or three I've seen in real time, so I kinda have to collect the guy now.

#140 Willie Mays (red foil)

Bask in the greatness.

#17 JT Realmuto
#282 Sheldon Neuse

#277 Johnny Bench

For some reason I feel like I have to show every Johnny Bench card I get.

Pack 6:

#2 Nelson Cruz
#216 Rhys Hoskins
#155 Joey Lucchesi
#181 Josh Hader
#179 Marcus Semien (again!)
#270 Ken Griffey Jr. (again!)
#44 Tommy Edman (again!)
#BAB-6 Juan Soto, "Bash & Burn"

More collation issues here, and while I think the concept of these "Bash & Burn" inserts are fun, I'm not huge on the look of 'em.

#51 Adbert Alzolay (black foil)
#208 Domingo Leyba
#114 Robbie Ray

#138 Aaron Judge

In case you ever wondered what it being punched by Aaron Judge would look like.

Dad Bonus Pack #1:

#128 Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

As I guess I should've expected, Dad surprised me with a couple more Stadium Club rack packs he managed to secure before the retail hounds got to him, and they came out swinging.

Might not be on the Oscar Gamble or Jose Cardenal level, but this is one of the better "hair cards" around, yes?

#163 Nomar Mazara

#289 Luis Robert

Dad's had incredible luck with the packs he's gotten me this year -- I plan to go more in depth on this in a future post -- and of course the Luis Robert would fall out of his pack.

I'm already a big fan of this guy, and getting a card of his is definitely exciting, but it might be more of a pure relief than anything knowing I won't have to chase one down on the secondary market inferno.

#204 Patrick Sandoval
#81 Randal Grichuk
#111 Luis Severino

#288 Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

A Canadian treasure.

#EOZ-14 Jack Flaherty, "Emperors of the Mound"
#33 Albert Pujols (red foil)
#245 Willi Castro

#71 Carl Yastrzemski

Yaz makes his second Stadium Club appearance, this time on his own merits.

#85 Kyle Hendricks

Dad Bonus Pack #2:

#290 Sandy Koufax

Card. Of. The. Year!

#256 Bryan Reynolds
#274 Felix Hernandez

#112 Bo Bichette

Who does the Canadian skyline better: Vlad or Bo?

I go Bo.

#242 George Brett
#30 Bryce Harper

#A-AA Aristides Aquino, black foil autograph /25

Remember what I said about Dad's luck with cards this year?

These fall about 1:500 packs, which here I was thinking my "Instavision" Vlad beat the odds. I collect Aquino, but I'll probably try and move this one. Bad news is that there's a fairly obvious printing flaw near the bottom of the card where the foil's starting to peeling away. Still, I've been thinking for a long time that I should let Dad open all my packs now, and this further confirms it.

(If any bloggers are interested in this one, please let me know -- I'd love to find it a good home.)

#116 Ronald Acuna Jr. (red foil)
#146 Jose Canseco (sepia)
#271 Logan Allen

#218 Mookie Betts

Topps showed Matt Kemp in his red-carpet duds in 2019 Stadium Club, and from the looks of it they're doing it again this year with Mookie Betts.

I still can't decide whether or not I like these fashion-show photos, but they're certainly jarring to see in a pack of baseball cards, I'll say that.

#203 Chipper Jones

You probably already got the hint, but yes, 2020 Stadium Club's a big hit with me, as it is year after year after year. I guess I'm trained to expect sets I once loved to go a bit stale (cough A&G) but Stadium Club remains fresh and exciting every single time, and once it arrives, all other sets on the card calendar bow to it.

[exeunt, flourish]