Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The COMC order I thought would never come

Last week, I woke up to an email that, against all odds, my COMC order had actually been shipped, and a big box arrived on my doorstep a few days later.

Like a lot of other people, I've been waiting on these cards for A LONG TIME. Four months, to be exact. So you can understand why I was starting to think this day would never come. On the one hand, I can only imagine COMC's massive backlog these days, and I get why things would be slowed to a crawl. But on the other hand, I'd probably be fired if I took four months to fulfill an order at my job. As a conscious customer, but also someone who wants all my cards, it's hard to know what to feel.

For what it's worth, I'm still shopping at COMC - I've already added a handful of cards to my next order, whenever that may happen. And, much like my other pandemic COMC package, I'd forgotten about a lot of the cards I bought here, so the long wait time kinda allowed me to experience everything in there like it was fresh and new again. Because in the end, I've yet to come across a card site that offers the variety and sheer fun you'll find at COMC.

The first thing that fell out of the box was my first Project 2020 card with this Koufax, which I got for a song thanks to some unfortunate handling at some point in its life - after all, I'm buying the card, not the case!

My second Project 2020 card slid out shortly after - this one uncracked and just plain beautiful.

I never planned on owning anything from the Project 2020 craze - I don't like most of them, and even the ones I do like aren't worth anything close the $20 retail tag. Their allure to the masses mostly remains a mystery to me. This Gwynn was the only one I saw that checked the "cool" (palm trees!) and "cheap" (three dollars!) boxes. (I'm not particularly enthralled with the art on the Koufax, but it's SANDY KOUFAX and it was way too cheap to ignore.)

I will say these are way thicker than I thought they'd be, and I'm a bit disappointed there - I was planning on cracking these out of their ugly plastic shells and displaying them in my binders, but I don't know if I have any pages flexible enough for their girth. 

One of my main uses for COMC is plucking singles from recent online-only and/or exclusive sets I'll probably never see in the wild.

I'm a big fan of this Super '70s set Topps quietly released last year for many reasons - not the least of which being it finally gave us a card of Goose Gossage in shorts(!).

The tragedy here is that Topps's online stuff is more inspired and just plain better than a lot of their main sets, which is why I'm so keen on tracking them down on the secondary market.

If a regular ol' Topps base set had any of these designs, I'd most certainly buy it in gobs.

More Topps online-only stuff - can't remember the last time Ed Kranepool had a card in a modern set, and those Flagship 3-D cards have no reason to exist but are still mighty neat.

Really the only online offering I've even thought about buying directly from Topps are their Throwback Thursday sets, mainly because I love the odd mashup of baseball players on non-baseball designs.

For now, I'm content with buying cheapies on COMC, but I feel like I'm gonna eventually have to cave and give Topps my money one of these days.

But my COMC shopping isn't all high-and-mighty exclusive stuff - I love finding stuff for my long-standing player collections, too.

That SI for Kids Ichiro catapults me right back into my youth, and I never knew how much I wanted a card of Anthony Rizzo wearing a scarf until I found a card of Anthony Rizzo wearing a scarf.

Mini-collection hits!

(The Phillies really need to wear those throwbacks more often.)

Always here for legends in weird uniforms.

I love cheap photo variations.


Given that most photo SPs are pretty tough pulls, I'm constantly shocked how affordable they are on COMC - I don't think anything from the huge stack of 'em I bought cost more than $1.25 or so.

Cardboard is cool, but have you ever seen cards made of water or silk???

Buying minor league cards I want on COMC is tough - I have to wade through piles and piles of Low-A guys who never sniffed the majors to find dudes I like.

I'm particularly pleased with that early minor league issue of perennial "Obscure Guy I Collect" Todd Pratt, and a card of RECYCLEMAN! - the Marvel superhero we never knew we needed.

COMC's good for a nice mix of miscellany as well - I want all the bubble refractors, and that Torres is my first (painful) card of his zero-year tenure with the Cubs.

These Golden Age box bottoms are absolutely brilliant, and yes, I tore the perforated edges and divvied this up into three individual cards, the way god intended.

Horizontal goodies, including baby Kershaw and another Cubs zero-year card with that Dontrelle Willis.

Digging through this order was really like an early Christmas.

Smaller than your average cardboard, but every bit as great.

Food-issues or otherwise, it's hard not to fall in love with the late '70s/early '80s world of oddballs (Super Joe!).

But don't sleep on the rest of the '80s and '90s, because there's quite a few goldmines there as well - that Mattingly becomes one of the rare full-family shots in my "Cards with Kids" mini-collection.

Greatness aside, oddballs also be educational - without COMC, I would've never known Stouffer's, of all brands, made pull-tab oddballs in the '90s.

Some snappy vintage here - you'll have to take my word that the Palmer & Thornton are OPCs, and the Blair is a treasured alternate-universe Burger King oddball.

But the unquestioned jewel of this particular COMC order was a real, actual '59 Koufax!

Pretty much everything that could go wrong with this particular card has already happened - it's scuffed, taped, off-center, and written on. Add this all up, however, and you get a previously dream-worthy card that was actually in my price range! At a whole $25, it was lightyears ahead of anything in this order, but also quite a bit cheaper than any '59 Koufax I've seen. I highly doubt I'll ever own all of Koufax's Topps cards (might need to sell a kidney to fund a '55 rookie), but each one I manage to find feels like an improbable David-and Goliath-like victory.

After all that, I guess I'll see you in about a year when my next COMC order arrives - which I suppose is okay, because it might well take a year for me to properly admire and salivate over everything that came in this treasure chest.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Wish you were here

There was a time when I wondered why anyone would ever just stop blogging. 

Why not keep doing this? Isn't it fun? Don't you want to? I see now the naivete of this train of thought, spoken like a true teenager with a lot of time and energy on his hands. Of course people want to blog, but there's a little thing called life that gets in the way sometimes. Heck, I stopped blogging for a little while there a few years ago, and these days I'm lucky if I get my customary one post a week up. It happens.

There are, admittedly, a few boarded-up blogs whose absence have left a little bigger gap in my blogging heart - one of those was a blog you fellow veterans might remember named "Playing With My Cards" by a guy who went by EP and enjoyed a lot of the same Random cardboard happenings I did. That blog hasn't been active for (checks notes) seven years now (seven years?!), and it sadly entered into the long line of blogs I once loved that have since gone defunct.

So you can imagine how surprised - and glad! - I was to get an email from EP recently saying Hi Nick, it's been a long time.

The rust of seven years was brushed away in the stroke of a single email - we quickly got to talking about Random cards, general life goings-on, and, yes, sending cards to one another!

It wasn't long after that I received a re-introductory PWE from EP, one that had a Dime Box Dozen need (Nelson), an excellent custom (Sojo), and a goofy minor-league masterpiece (Noce) that gives Keith Comstock a run for his money.

While I selfishly wish every blog in existence would stay active and churn out card content for all of eternity, I realize the blogosphere is a forever-shifting world, with people coming and going every day. 

To be clear: EP wants me to emphasize that he isn't planning to relaunch his blog anytime soon, but still, it's nice to know that people I long since assumed had left the blogs are still out there, still reading and lurking.

He also let me know that he came into a large amount of '71 Topps recently, and asked what I still needed from the set - though I'm sure there's a bunch of frankenset-worthy shots waiting for me, I was surprisingly down to a grand total of two needs for my player collections (zero now, I guess).

Ah, but the world of Random isn't limited to just baseball.

After a few emails back and forth, EP hit upon a fun trading concept/game/strategy - he asked me to send him names of guys I collect, any and all that popped into my mind, and he'd send back photos of extras from his collection that I could choose from.

This, to me, was the best of both worlds - it's like digging through a dime box specifically crafted and curated to fit my tastes.

I started out with some obvious names like Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines, and EP came through with a bunch of new ones (aren't OPC Expos the best?).

The majority of the names that I sent along were '80s guys I didn't start collecting until a bit later, thus leaving a bunch of obvious gaps in my collection - guys like Doc Gooden, for instance.

(Highly recommend the recent "30 for 30" series on the '86 Mets if you haven't seen it yet.)

I feel like a bit of a bandwagoner with my Orel Hershiser collection - EP and numerous other Dodger collectors have been raving about this guy since I've been on the blogs, but only recently have I begun to chase his cards.

The beauty of trading with someone who collects a certain player is getting the hand-me-downs from that person's collection - oddballs, OPCs, and obvious cards alike (how did I not already have that '86 Topps?!).

A collecting rule I've only recently started to follow: you can never have too many Kirby Puckett cards.

Dale Murphy mastering the bat-on-shoulder pose, and a couple Big Hurts that have me further wondering why it took me so long to start collecting him.

South Side legends.

Big names on weird teams.

More stuff to fuel my oddball fandom, including what I believe EP said was a New York magazine insert with that Piazza.

I admire people like EP who can not only keep their collections organized, but their extras as well.

If someone asked me to do something like this, I'd have to go rifling through my closet and search through 15 different boxes of cards to come up with anything, and by then both of us would've lost interest.

But little did I know that our little trading game would only be the beginning of this trade, because nestled next to all the cards I'd selected through our emails was a batch of surprise customs from EP himself!

One of the many things I've been floored with during my time around here is how many people are creative and savvy enough to not only pull off their own customs, but do them well.

I'm not joking when I say the customs I've seen around the blogs are better than about 99 percent of what Topps puts out these days, and EP's are no exception.

I sometimes fantasize about what it would be like if Topps (or Fantatics, in the future) handed the reins of the over to the real, actual collectors out there, and not just a corporate syndicate out to make a quick buck.

My guess is that the card industry would absolutely flourish with not only well-designed cards like these, but cards of players so often ignored in the industry, the Don Newcombes and Ted Kluszewskis of the world.

(I like that Dock Ellis has gotten a couple trippy cards in the "Project 70" set, but the dude did do more than just pitch a no-hitter on acid, you know.)

A couple things I learned from EP's customs: 1) The Mariners used to deliver their relievers to the mound in a giant boat, and 2) Don Newcombe pitched in Japan after his MLB days were over.

I knew that David Ortiz began in the Mariners' system - I like to imagine a timeline where he became a Seattle legend - but to my knowledge no cards were made of his tenure there...until these customs, of course!

Had no idea Chet Lemon started out with the A's organization, though (or that he was originally a third baseman!).

And if the Virdon really is a Topps stock photo, I think they missed out on making a truly legendary baseball card out of it.

There are many alternate realities to explore here - David Ortiz as a Mariner, bloggers getting to make their own mass-produced card sets, and, of course, EP continuing his blogging career all those years ago, and being able to see him pop up my blogroll night in and night out right now.

Alas, things change. I'm grateful to still be blogging, no matter how inconsistently, and that a few of the blogs I've been reading since the beginning are still here. It's a testament to the staying power of the blogosphere.

But it's also gratifying to know that, even if their blogs have gone by the wayside, some of my earliest blogging buddies of mine are still around, reading from the sidelines.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

I'll stick to shopping online, thanks

Not sure if this is breaking news or not, but here goes: according to my dad, Target is carrying cards again.

Dad does part-time work as a vendor - you may remember the horror stories he shared last year - and he told me Target's started to call him back to stock sports cards again after the summer-long embargo. He said he's only put out Gypsy Queen and Series 2 so far, but every indication seems to be that they're planning to roll out upcoming releases on schedule, like before.

Is this good news? Bad news? No news? I don't know. I hemmed and hawed for a few days after the initial NO MORE CARDS! announcement, but I can honestly say I haven't thought about buying retail for a while now. And even when my dad told me about the card comeback, I didn't have much of a reaction at all. 

As fate would have it, I happened to be at my local Target yesterday for an unrelated task, took a cursory peek into the card aisles, and wasn't really disappointed to see they didn't have anything.

That's because the last few months have shown me something I've always known, but never really put into practice - my money is way, WAY better spent online.

I wouldn't say I've ever regretted buying anything retail. I fully knew what I was doing when I bought those middling packs of Donruss or whatever, and there's a certain thrill to opening packs that isn't covered in price tags. But I've certainly had the thought of gee, what ELSE could I have bought with that $20 I just dropped into oblivion?

I've been able to answer that question over and over again over the summer, and the consensus seems to be an overwhelmingly positive array of treasures, rather than that 783th Marlins card I'll never get rid of. I've mentioned that Sportlots has risen a lot higher on my shopping radar over the past year or so, and I recently received another order that came in at well under the cost of a blaster, causing me to further wonder why I wasn't doing this a long time ago.

I was able to snag a few needs from the 2003 UD MVP Update set that's long since dropped off the face of the earth - including Shooter, perennial collection favorite Bo Hart, and a rare glimpse of Greg Vaughn's forgotten Rockies stint that's been sitting on my Dime Box Dozen list for eternity.

This seller had very little inventory from the past 25 years or so - the fact that he had those MVP Updates was just dumb luck - and a lot of his stock came from the wonderful world of oddballs and team issues.

Conlon is a beautiful enough set on its own, but these burgundy parallels make the gruff turn-of-the-century faces pop even more (and I might add burgundy is a woefully underused border color).

It can be hard coming up with enough cards from a single Sportlots seller to make a purchase worthwhile, but once you stumble upon a dude with stuff like is it glorious.

He had a lot of oddballs I'd never even heard of before - Hills made a Pirates-centric set with Tim Wakefield in it? - and, better yet, almost everything was incredibly affordable.

I've lived my life in a lack of Squirt - I don't think I've ever tried the drink and I don't own nearly as many of their cards as I probably should.

You don't see a lot of Eddie Waitkus cards - let me be the 90th different baseball fan to tell you he was the basis for Roy Hobbs in The Natural - and that's the first one I have of him with the Orioles (long live team issues!).

One of the good things to come out of the (first?) baseball card boom of the early '90s was the renaissance of team-issued stadium giveaways, like the seemingly infinite 1990 Target Dodgers set that's darn near a complete compendium of the team's long history.

These are excellent, though I do find it hard to believe they couldn't find a Dodger photo of Dick Allen when they were able to dig up grainy black-and-white stills of dudes who played two games with the Dodgers in 1885.

You don't see them as often, but the Yankees also had a similar stadium giveaway in the '90s, sponsored by The WIZ (nobody beats him!).

I don't know if these go as deep into history as the Target Dodgers set did, but between Bouton and Rivers and Munson, these offer a fun chronicle of Yankees greats.

I'm down to needing a few of the huge names from the ubiquitous 1976 SSPC set (Brett, Ryan, etc.), but I don't have a whole lot of the smaller team-issued SSPCs from around the same time.

The Graig Nettles comes from the 1975 SSPC Yankees checklist, and John Lowenstein is my very first card from the 1978 SSPC Rangers set.

I'm guessing this seller had Philadelphia ties at some point, because he had a whole lot of neat Phillies-centric '70s oddballs up for grabs.

In the wide world of oddballs, nothing quite gets my juices going like the '70s stuff, and that goes doubly so when we're talking someone like Mike Schmidt.

These are actually from the '79 Burger King Phillies set and are basically identical to the standard Topps issues in every way except the card number.

At 18 cents a piece, I wasn't gonna pass these up, but I freely admit that I don't chase the '70s Burger Kings that are essentially Topps reprints with any kind of vigor - mainly because there's way shinier jewels to be found in these Burger King cards... the ones that feature completely different teams and photos!

You'll find a few "updated" cards in the sea of Burger King reprints, and this Pete Rose is one I've had my eye on for a long time. At a whopping $1.99, it was the most expensive piece of the order, but well worth every penny because to me there's nothing quite like the shock of seeing a different on a card you've known for so long. (If I had any kind of artistic ability at all, I could probably draw Pete's regular '79 Topps card from memory.)

So I guess if all the other manics in the card world decide to raid Target aisles again and start fistfights in the parking lot in the chase for that six-figure Ohtani, let them - I'll still be over here buying better cards from the quiet solitude of my room.