Friday, November 27, 2020

Pen marks and mustaches (or, writing on baseball cards)

It's almost hard to believe that baseball cards were once regarded as items with no value further than the beauty in the eye of their beholders.

The cliche is, admittedly, true: the vintage era was a simpler time to collect baseball cards. Kids then would probably be as aghast about grading and toploaders as present-day investors would about flipping prized cards against brick walls. There's a reason most of the vintage I own is creased, battered, and generally look like they're 50, 60, 70 years old. Okay, yeah, they're cheaper (and I'm notably cheap) but it goes a little further than that -- they tell stories. So few places in life offer windows into a time well before one was born, and nothing does it quite the way cardboard does.

But I admit that even I have a tough time imagining a time when baseball cards were seen as so historically insignificant, so overlooked as heirlooms future generations might enjoy, that people actually wrote on them.

I have vague memories of writing on a few of my football and basketball cards as a kid -- mostly little talk bubbles filled with things an eight-year-old thought funny -- but even as lax as I am with condition, I wouldn't dream of writing on any of my cards now.

Even in terms of vintage, writing is something of a paradox for me: if I'm gonna buy a "damaged" card, I much prefer soft corners, creasing, pinholes, etc. to writing. But in terms of general allure, I find writing to be by far the most fascinating "defect" of all. I own quite a few cards with writing on them, and while I'd be open to having other copies, I've never really sought that hard to upgrade them. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm so enthralled by the glimpses I get into their past owners.

The most common form of writing, I've found, is the transactional sort -- the collectors who, like me, find a certain pleasure in keeping up with the travels of their favorite players. Back then, though, kids had to manually update their cards, because it'd be years before any kind of Traded set came into existence.

These are a couple personal favorites in my collection -- especially the Frank Robinson, which was updated to reflect his later managerial stint with the Indians a full ten years after this card was issued (you can also notice scratched-out "LA" and "Cal." notations documenting his previous stops with the Dodgers and Angels).

Some collectors went the extra mile and tried to eliminate any possible evidence of the past -- though in the case of Fergie Jenkins, I suppose it could've simply been an example of someone really not liking the Cubs.

A few of my cards provided impromptu 2x3 canvases for future MAD Magazine artists.

Many collectors, it seems, were obsessed with facial hair.

I see a lot of older books come through my job with people's names stamped inside, or, in some cases, even lavish specially-made bookplates affixed to the front page.

A few of my baseball cards feature those same kinds of custom touches, and I can't help but wonder when and why we stopped having stamps and stickers made with our names on them, because I know I'd sure like to have one.

Often times, the collector took his pen to the other side of his baseball cards -- Post was a prime candidate since the backs are completely blank.

The front of this Post Sandy Koufax is obviously wounded enough, but that's before you flip it over and find the number "1,000,000" scrawled in a way that has always puzzled me -- is it an appraisal of future value? an aspiration? a secret code, etc., etc...

Some cards obviously belonged to devout baseball fans, including one who thought to pencil Home Run Baker's date of death onto this '61 Fleer Greats card issued a couple years prior.

Some pen marks tell a simple story.

Others are more difficult to figure out -- I've owned this particular '72 Milt Pappas for as long as I can remember, and I've never bothered to upgrade it because I've never been able to pin down with absolute certainty why someone wrote REPRESENTATIVE along the top of it.

I've long assumed it's because Pappas was (possibly?) the Cubs' player rep in the early '70s, and if you want to go all Occam's Razor it seems like the most logical reason, but for some reason there's still something telling me that might not be right.

Unless I missed a major chapter of baseball history, Carl Yastrzemski isn't and was never affiliated with the A's organization.

So why, then, does my copy of his '73 Topps card have the Red Sox team notation scratched out, and the words "On Ais(A's?)" written in the middle of it? I have no idea, and the only one who does is that lone person somewhere out there in the universe, the person who once owned this card, wrote on it, and then left me to decipher their mystery. And didn't even leave a note.

These are the mysteries that permeate the weird corner of the baseball card universe that I find endlessly fascinating. It's hard to envision a time where cards relapse in significance and value so much that we'd start writing on them again. But in some ways I find a certain comfort in seeing pen marks on a few of the baseball cards in my binders. They're fun reminders that this hobby wasn't always taken so seriously, that cards were once seen as possessions with no future to speak of outside of the lives of their owners. It's nice to imagine.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sell all these eBay 1/1s.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

You're reading the words of a bad blogger

I can't tell you the exact moment I became a bad blogger, but I know I'm a bad blogger.

Why? Let's see: in 2020, I've averaged about one post a week, sent out a record-low number of trade packages, and have proceeded to be painfully slow to thank the people who have sent me cards. Add that up, and you have a very unworthy member of the blogging community. Needless to say, I'm quite thankful anyone still reads this blog since I've been MIA so often.

Not that I don't have my excuses. With card shows defunct for now, I haven't been able to build up my trade boxes as quickly as usual. But that's still isn't a cop-out for the extremely slim number of trade packages I've mailed out in 2020. Nevertheless, I'm building stacks for many of my regular trade partners and/or people who've sent me cards recently, that, with any luck, I'll have out before the year is up.

It's the least I could do for being a bad blogger.

I've managed to accumulate a scary number of scans in my trade folder with cards I'm long overdue in doling out thanks for.

I'm ashamed to specifically note how long a lot of these cards have been sitting there, but let's just say that these -- which came from longtime friend of the blog Tom of "Waiting 'til Next Year" fame -- hit my doorstep not long after 2020 Big League came out (remember that?). Tom helped me out with a bunch of needs from the possible Set of the Year, including a messy thing of beauty with that Schwarber there.

Tom also sent along the Trout box-bottom at the top of this post, which was a real coup since the five or six blasters left at my Target at the time all had the Aristides Aquino cut-out card (guess he's not popular with the flippers).

A couple Big League inserts from Tom, and a reminder of how great those Defensive Wizards inserts are.

Tom also included this fun little throw-in -- not sure what set this comes from, but the backs of these cards make up a fine portrait of a few notable Senior League stars.

I'd swear that Topps prints Ronald Acuna cards in lesser quantities, because he always seems to be one of the last guys standing on a lot of my want lists.

As it was with my 2020 Big League needs, at least, until Mr. "Joe Shlabotnik" of "The Shlabotnik Report" was nice enough to pass this elusive Acuna on to me.

Against all odds, I actually bought a blaster of Diamond Kings earlier this year -- I don't regret the decision, but in the future I think I'll stick to getting them from secondhand sources, like these generous gifts from Mr. Shlabotnik.

I am, however, indebted to Diamond Kings for producing the only Negro League card I've seen all year with that excellent Mule Suttles.

A few other 2020 cards from Mr. Shlabotnik -- and if your Target is anything like mine, there's still boxes and boxes of Topps Stickers left for the taking!

I also took "Joe" up on an offer to give a good home to some of his spare mid-2000s singles, since these are smack dab in the middle of when I started to get back into baseball cards as a teenager.

I don't collect all these guys, and I didn't even experience some of these sets in real time -- don't think I ever opened a pack of Donruss Team Heroes -- but seeing anything from those magical mid-aughts years always gives me the warm fuzzies.

Zippy Zappy of "Torren' Up Cards" sent me a PWE a while back, and he made a convincing case for this being the "ultimate zero-year" card -- Conor Biggio (son of HOFer Craig) somehow managed to get a baseball card without ever signing a pro contract!

I understand part of Bowman's allure is to try and jump the gun on big prospects...but that still seems a tad extreme.

Mike Scioscia isn't high on my player-collection totem pole, but I couldn't resist claiming that one from a giveaway held by Chris of "The Collector" a while back -- I'm always a sucker for lenticular technology.

Plus he even threw in a few bonuses, like that excellent Starting Lineup oddball of player-turned-poet Dan Quisenberry which is just a tad too wide to slip into a standard nine-pocket page (rats!).

Our friend Mr. Fuji over at "The Chronicles of Fuji" recently offered up some free Cubs cards on his blog, and even though I've been a bad blogger, that apparently hasn't stopped me from claiming free stuff (*ducks under tomatoes thrown from audience*).

I get new Mark Grace cards often enough, but I can't remember the last time I added a Darwin Barney card to my binders -- part of the joy of collecting obscure dudes, I guess.

Jim of "cards as i see them" also dropped a PWE on me in the last few months -- sadly, I already had that Justice, but somehow I don't think I've ever shown it on the blog before, which seems egregious and in need of rectifying.

Greg of "The Collective Mind" was nice enough to knock out a bunch of my 2020 A&G needs, which'll save me a whole lot of money on packs (not that there's any left at any of the Targets around here anyways).

I understand it's probably not a popular opinion, but I want to see more Devil Rays Wade Boggs cards!

The same doesn't necessarily go for Diamondbacks Mark Grace cards, but nonetheless I couldn't help but request these spare minis Greg offered up.

A nice thing happened one day after work a few weeks ago -- I found a package in the mail from someone I'd never once interacted with, someone I didn't know was secretly socking away cards for me.

A reader named Stuart (whose generosity I've since seen mentioned on a couple other blogs) sent me a whole bunch of cards off my various Topps Archives want lists -- including a Tatis rookie from last year's set, completely free of charge, which good luck convincing most collectors to do that.

Specifically, Stuart whittled my 2020 Archives needs down to a select few -- he even sent along a few of those masterful nickname SPs, and a new CC Sabathia Brewers card(!).

With the rookie bonanza abound in the hobby today, I didn't expect to see any of these 2020 Archives inserts to show up in my mailbox anytime soon -- the blogs never fail to surprise me.

If I were to make a list of sets I never see in trade packages, Upper Deck 40-Man would be right near the top -- I don't think many people bought these at the time, and those who did probably locked them in their garage a long time ago.

So you an imagine how excited I was when Josh of "Royals and Randoms" fame sent me an entire stack of 40-Mans (40-Men?) not too long ago -- filled with weird guys I collect like Corky Miller and David Weathers who were otherwise all but ignored by the rest of the card industry.

And what's this -- a new Marlins card of Tim Raines?!?! 

Thank god Josh came along, because there's a good chance I could've gone the rest of my life without knowing this existed. Same goes for the vast majority of cards I've received during my time here. Josh and everyone else in this post are far better bloggers and/or readers than I am, because I haven't much taken the opportunity to spread the joy that so many of you have brought to me.

In this time of thanks, I thank you for reading, even if I'm not sure why you're still reading the words of yours truly, bad blogger extraordinaire.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Topps Update is...weird, man

My deepest sympathies are with the unfortunate souls who were put in charge of piecing together Topps Update this year.

When I picture the process in my head, I see absolute insanity at Topps HQ: papers flying, people scrambling, voices screaming. Maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic, but I have to imagine it was a panic from the get-go. Making 2020 Update was, in many ways, an impossible task. How do you truly "update" a season that didn't start until late July? How can you make All-Star cards without an All-Star game? And if there's nothing to update, and no All-Star cards, how can you make Topps Update?

In short: how can you properly document the three-month insanity that we agreed to call a baseball season?

The solution, at least in part, isn't much of a stretch from a lot of what Topps does these days -- ruthlessly bloat the checklist.

As I've said before, Topps Update Release Day is always circled on my calendar, even if, admittedly, the set has isn't really what it once was. I still like Update, and even with all the craziness this year, I was still thrilled to open some late last week. Between a few spare packs Dad found for me, and a freshly-stocked display that somehow went untouched by the pack hoarders at my local Target, I got my fill of 2020 Update.

But while the packs were fun, as Update always is for me, I couldn't help wondering what the point of this set truly was. Update seems to go to press sometime around mid-summer...and there wasn't even a baseball season going on then in 2020. With nothing to update, Topps just seemed to shove as many cards as possible into this year's set without any thought as to whether they should exist or not. 

Case in point: my packs yielded three of the four Mike Trout base cards in the 300-card checklist, and two of the FIVE(!) Albert Pujols cards -- why in god's name does Albert Pujols (or anyone) have five cards in the same set?!

I understand a lot of these weird decisions had to be made at the eleventh hour, and contrary to what I've heard from most other collectors, I actually think these "replacement" All-Star cards were a good idea in a pinch.

It's a bit jarring to see past greats on the 2020 base design, but I kinda like the concept of reflecting on past All-Star Games in the absence of a true Midsummer Classic this year -- granted, they feature the same crop of a dozen legends we see in every set these days (Jeter, Griffey, et al), but I'll never turn down a new Ichiro card!

But a lot of what made it into Topps Update this year is just...weird.

David Price and Billy Hamilton both have zero-year cards, and while I love them for that, I'll be the first to admit they probably shouldn't have been included in the first place. If Topps had time to make substitutes for the All-Star cards, then I have to imagine these could've been scrapped. David Price opted out of the 2020 season and never played for the Dodgers. Billy Hamilton, on the other hand, actually played for two other teams this year (Mets, Cubs), but is still featured with the Giants, who traded him before the season started.

Yasmany Tomas appeared in four games with the Diamondbacks in 2019, and exactly zero in 2020...yet here he is in Topps Update --  and the coup de grace of Update zaniness has to be that Bartolo Colon, the first card I've ever seen that lists a player as a free agent (not to mention that calling him "active" is a bit of a stretch).

There's only a handful of cards that genuinely feel like they belong in an Update set -- I'm talking guys like Jason Kipnis and Derek Holland who've changed teams since their last appearance in a Flagship checklist, and thus in need of updating.

In hindsight, I wouldn't have minded if Topps made this an online-only release and/or issued it as a smaller 100ish-card box set or something, similar to what they did in the late '80s/early '90s -- seems like a better option than making five Albert Pujols cards.

Despite the insanity, Topps did manage to sneak a few fine shots into 2020 Update, as evidenced here.

Topps was also forced to use a fair amount of posed shots here (gasp!), which I'm having trouble remembering the last time I saw those in a Flagship set.

It's never a good thing when the inserts are more exciting than the base cards in the packs I buy, but I guess that's bound to happen when Topps lets Mark Grace and Ron Santo make rare cameos in a modern set(!).

More miscellaneous inserts -- including a Luis Robert from Dad's packs I was sure happy to get, because I don't even wanna look at what his cards are going for right now (thanks, flippers!).

Dad managed to snag an Update blaster for me, and as luck would have it, he pulled probably the only one of these weird blaster-exclusive coin cards I'd actually care about owning with this Rizzo here.

I guess I expected 2020 Update was going to be a strange state of affairs, but I just didn't think it was gonna be this weird -- which, now that I think of it, is kinda how I'd describe 2020 as a whole.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Another lockdown, another trip to the Online Dime Box

Word on the street is Chicago's heading for another lockdown, effective starting Monday.

I can't say I'm surprised by this -- last I checked, Illinois is right near the top (or bottom?) of the list as far as new COVID cases go. It's felt inevitable for a long time, and I guess the inevitable's here. Funny how that happens when massive amounts of people pretend a pandemic isn't happening. I'm feeling an awful amount of deja vu right about now, but for better or worse I suppose I'm better off for this second shutdown than I was for the first one.

I don't know exactly what the process is gonna be with my warehouse job, but I'm thankful my workplace doesn't deal directly with the general public -- unlike the bookstore I was working at when the last shutdown hit -- and thus not as prone to a complete blackout. I doubt I'll be seeing much family for the holidays, though, which is gonna suck. Safe to say yours truly is already bundling up and preparing for a COVID winter. But in the end I think I've got enough books and baseball cards to tide me over for a while.

And with the impending lockdown and everything, it really was perfect timing that my latest order from the Online Dime Box showed up earlier this week, a massive order of almost 600 cards(!) that even arrived in a super-cool box to boot.

Of course, I'm miffed that I haven't gotten to attend card shows for the majority of the year, and thus have lost the lifeblood of this blog -- dime boxes!

But that painful gap has made the emergence of the Online Dime Box so much more of a godsend. Real dime boxes are always preferred, but this virtual one that's come into my life this year is the next best thing, and it simulates everything you'd want in a true dime box.

With the amount of random and just plain cool baseball cards I'll be showing tonight, I think you'll agree with me that this could've substituted for any other dime box post I've written in the history of the blog.

Better yet, the people at the Online Dime Box recently introduced a layaway program a la COMC where you can build up a cart of purchased cards for a period of time and have them all shipped to you at once.

Hence, the reason I had almost 600 cards show up my doorstep -- this was an accumulation of several different orders, and having them all show up together had all the fun and decadence of a real dime box dig.

I've missed being able to knock out current-year base cards on the cheap at card shows, especially given the tumbleweed-filled retail card shelves I've been looking at for most of 2020.

But while they're not super plentiful, you can find a few latest-and-greatest singles hidden in the Online Dime Box -- in a weird way I was glad to find a few Prizm singles over there since it's not like I'm ever buying a pack of that stuff.

At first I kinda lamented the layout of the dime box website, but given the 600 cards I received this time around I guess you could say I've gotten the hang of it.

I still don't have a whole lot of specific tips for navigating the place -- I will say that, much like a regular dime box, it takes a bit of weeding through not-so-great stuff to find the real treasures beneath. I think there's something like 5,000 pages of baseball cards listed over there, which can obviously be daunting. One thing I've tried doing is simply jumping to a random one of those 5,000 pages and seeing what pops up, because more often than not, something I see triggers a thought, which turns into a search, which turns into a rabbit hole, which turns into another rabbit hole...and so on.

That's how I ended up finding a lot of what you'll see in this post, because god knows these four cards don't have a single thing in common besides the fact that I deemed them well worth a dime.

Your more standard dime box thrills were certainly still present, like these precious new hits for some of my biggest player collections.

There aren't a ton of photos of the cards available on the Online Dime Box, so I often have COMC and/or TCDB open while I'm searching to cross-check for any potential mini-collection hits.

It's a bit more work than your standard dime box experience, but if this page is any indication, I'd say it was worth it.

Dime box shiny loses none of its luster in the virtual world.

Like any good dime box, there was plenty of oddball fun to be had.

I feel young saying this, but I had to ask my mom what Woolworths was as I was scanning these cards.

All I really knew about them was that they were some kind of storefront that made cool oddballs in the late '80s/early '90s that I owned shockingly few of before placing this order.

Proving the '90s was quite the era for loud baseball cards.

This time on Things I Shouldn't Be Finding in Dime Boxes -- rookie cards of Hall of Famers!

HOFers or not, it still feels strange that I'm able to find pre-fame and/or rookie cards of fairly well-known names in dime boxes -- not that I'm complaining or anything.

Do me a favor and don't tell anyone I somehow still needed cards from these painfully overproduced sets, okay?

One of the benefits of virtual dime boxing is being able to search for specific things I might want.

Among the many rabbit holes I fell into this time around was '89 Upper Deck, and the discovery of how much stuff I still needed from this set -- specifically, how did I not have that Ron Guidry sunset card?!

In a weird way, it's more exciting to add cards to my obscure player collections than the ones of established dudes like Jim Abbott or Mark Grace, because it's not like Todd Pratts I need are pouring out of dime boxes.

Me: You know, I've never been a huge fan of baseball card stickers.

Also me: [buys all the baseball card stickers]

I was over the moon to find a huge stash of these Donruss Baseball's Best singles for a dime, mostly since they're fun alternate-universe versions of dull designs we've seen a million times before.

(I also -- dare I say -- like 1990 Donruss with blue borders.)

If you've been paying attention to my past Online Dime Box posts, you probably already know what these are...


Building my French baseball vocabulary one word at a time.

At some point during one of my nightly strolls through the Online Dime Box, it occurred to me that my great fandom of Bartolo Colon didn't match up with my otherwise lackluster baseball card collection of him.

The virtual dime boxes changed that awfully quickly -- I was able to add almost 40(!) new Bartolos to my binders with a quick series of clicks.

Dime boxes are usually good for a few just plain strange cards, and so here we are -- I thought that Bob Wickman was something made by present-day Panini for a second there.

The Orosco is particularly baffling since that's clearly a more contemporary shot of him in a Mets jersey, but the last time he actually played for them was in 1987(?) -- with a little digging I found out he was a Met again for a few months in the '99 offseason, and for some reason a photo (assumedly) from that non-stint showed up in an UD set three years later(???).

So there's my latest run through the Online Dime Box -- a whole lot of victories and general fun that ought to keep the sorting/organizing part of my brain occupied for the coming lockdown.

It's gonna be a strange winter, one that's hard to even fathom as I think about it now, but at least I know I'll still have my dime boxes -- and hey, in the virtual dime box world, there aren't any card show dudes sneezing or throwing elbows at me!