Wednesday, February 24, 2021

If the worst should happen

I know it's dark to think about, but I often wonder what would happen to my baseball card collection if I had to leave it all behind.

I've seen videos and read articles about this person finding a long-lost collection in the attic of a random house, or that person inheriting a basement full of binders and boxes from the uncle of a friend's friend. I don't think I'd want anything like that to happen with my cards. I've been collecting for most of my life now, and without meaning to brag, I like to think I've amassed a pretty darn good pile of baseball cards in that time. My collection wouldn't make national headlines -- I'm not sitting on a treasure trove of 1933 Goudey or anything -- but I still wonder where everything would go if I wasn't around to oversee it.

Sure, I own real vintage Sandy Koufaxes and Mickey Mantles, but I hope someone sees the stories behind in my 75 Hideki Okajima cards, too --  specifically, the passion it took to put such a strange and disjointed collection together.

As painful as it is to think about not being surrounded by my collection, it hurts just as much to picture it just sitting there, completely removed from human contact.

This, I think, is what worries me most. My cards are in binders and meant to be enjoyed, not shuffled off to a garage with rakes and shovels. I don't have nearly as much time to devote to my cards now as I did when I was 15, but I still try to sit down with my binders at least a couple times a week, and let my cards remind me why I've devoted so many waking hours to them (not that I ever really need reminding).

And when I shove the darkness aside, I realize I've still got a whole lot of those waking hours to devote to my cards -- many of which were recently spent sorting through an excellent string of trade packages I received from Shoebox Shane recently.

Shane's mentioned he's partaking in a mini-purge of his unwanted/lesser-needed cards -- which is good for me, since my binders are an eternal home for castoff and misfit cardboard.

Ben Zobrist has shot up my player-collection ranks in recent years, so I was happy Shane thought of me with these two.

If you stop and think about it, parallels have absolutely no reason to exist -- there's no reason I need eight different versions of the same card.

That's true, but do I love having red and blue and orange and whatever-other-color parallels all housed together in a binder page? You bet I do!

Here's a selection of early-aughts - particularly shocking because I'm still convinced all the cards from this era fell off the face of the earth at some point.

Fun fact about yours truly: I own a Tony Womack Diamondbacks t-shirt, and I have no idea how or why that happened.

Shane's mailers didn't have a whole lot of rhyme or reason, which, of course, meant they were incredibly fun to sift through.

Case in point: here's a random batch of players and sets you don't see turn up in a whole lot of trade packages (really dig the Sonny Gray Pro Debut card).

I don't specifically chase Stadium Club parallels, but I'm happy to have them because they allow me to enjoy such masterful greatness all over again.

Am I the only one who forgets Stadium Club has inserts?

A rag-tag bunch of parallels here -- '90s Dufex technology, x-fractor blindness, and a pair nifty orange borders from 2020 Big League.

Kinda forgot how much I enjoy these Score stadium shots until Shane decided to remind me.

If anything happens to me, please do me a favor and try to find someone out there who'll appreciate a collection that features Rondell White and Lou Boudreau in equal prominence.

Two things I'll collect forever and ever: defunct-team vintage, and team card vintage.

I scanned these cards a while ago, and for the life of me I can't remember why I grouped these four together.

That's the fun of random trade packages, after all. 

Not to demean the other three cards in this scan, but my god that Reggie Jackson SI cover is marvelous.

A veritable buffet of minis!

(Alas, I mourn the days when A&G included people like P.T. Barnum...)

At some point, I imagine anyone who collects anything wonders what might happen to their collection if the worst should happen.

But I figure that thought is more pronounced with baseball cards because it's such a personal and often arbitrary hobby, packed with years and decades and centuries of history. I (usually) know why I collect the things I do, but I'd have a hard time explaining that to anyone else. I can only imagine how lost someone would be looking through my cards without me around, or without any frame of reference. The painful part is that, given such confusion, I can see how a collection like mine could be abandoned in a room, or thrown in an attic. It's a possible end to a chain of events I don't want to think about.

But with any luck, I've still got years and years of time to spend with my beloved baseball cards, and I won't have to worry about anything I've just talked about for a good long while.

[knocks on wood]

Friday, February 19, 2021

My top five Dave Stewart cards, for our birthday

Yours truly turns 29 years young today.

I share my birthday with a handful of ballplayers I like and collect -- Josh Reddick, Miguel Batista, and Daniel Mengden, to name a few -- and a few non-baseball notables as well (Smokey Robinson, Carson McCullers, and Nicholas Copernicus are an eclectic February 19th trio). But whether within the sport or not, I think the person I'm most proud to share a birthday with is Dave Stewart, who turns 64 today.

I had a bit of a DUH moment recently when I realized I didn't have a ton of Stewart's cards, and had never really made much of an effort to chase them down despite our close personal relationship (or at least that's how it feels when you share a birthday with someone). Over the past few months, I've catapulted him higher on my player-collection hierarchy, and bought up as many of his cards as I could find.

I've finally gotten to the point where I feel like I can piece together a viable Top Five list of Stewart's cards -- so, in honor of our birthday, here's my five favorites.

#5 -- 1995 Collector's Choice #151 Dave Stewart

When I think of Dave Stewart, I think of fear.

Three people ended up in the hospital just looking at this card.

#4 -- 1994 Pinnacle #374 Dave Stewart

While it seems to be a general consensus that Stewart was one of the scariest dudes to ever step on to a pitcher's mound, and despite what the last card might suggest, a lot of companies chose to show his lighter side during his career.

Example: here he is in a cowboy hat, for some reason.

#3 -- 1993 Upper Deck #546 Dave Stewart

You'd be hard-pressed to find a set that features players having more pure, candid fun than 1993 Upper Deck, so it makes sense that they captured the normally intense Dave Stewart in a lighter moment with his teammates here.

#2 -- 1980 TCMA Minor Leagues #174 Dave Stewart

I remember seeing this one on a couple different Dodger blogs during my time here -- namely Night Owl's -- and thinking to myself now THERE'S a great card I'll probably never own.

Imagine my surprise when it fell out of a random 50-cent bin at a card show a couple years ago, which I suppose means I owe those fickle cardboard gods a giant favor.

#1 -- 1991 Topps #580 Dave Stewart

Unlike a lot of the Dave Stewart cards in my collection, I've actually had this one for a long time, and there's never been any question about its beauty.

Photography like this is why '91 Topps seems to be one of the more universally appreciated sets around -- there's something for everyone here. But even the most fantastic sets have a handful of cards that still manage to stand out against the general greatness, and to me, that's exactly what Stewart does in 1991 Topps (I feel sorry for that fuzzy hitter every time I look at this card). No matter how long I keep accumulating more and more cards of fellow birthday dude Dave Stewart, I can't imagine anything topping this one.

So, here on February 19th, I say happy birthday to me, happy birthday to Dave Stewart, and happy birthday to everyone else who came into this world on this otherwise ordinary winter's day.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The end of the beginning (or, finding 2021 Topps)

A minor miracle happened the other day: I actually found 2021 Topps at Target.

Somehow, deep in the flipper-filled forest, I saw six blasters of the stuff staring up at me from those metallic card shelves a couple nights ago. A strange sight, considering those blasters were the only signs 2021 Topps had been there -- I didn't see any other loose packs, rack packs, hanger boxes, etc. I calmly reached past the backwards-hat-wearing male also stalking the card aisle, grabbed two of the blasters, sped into the empty self-checkout line, and made my merry way home.

Given the ritual joy of the new card season, and the general surprise of stumbling upon cards when I really wasn't expecting to find any, you would've been hard-pressed to find a happier soul in that moment than yours truly.

And then I opened the packs.

Look: the first cards of any new card season are always exciting, I don't care who you are. Topps could make a set with dark-brown borders and Comic Sans font and I'd still be smiling when I crack open that first wrapper. That'll never change. Those two blasters were fun to open, and I spent that entire night sorting through what I needed and didn't need, what I liked and didn't like.

But now that I've had a couple days to process everything, and now that the rose-colored glasses are safely tucked away, I can definitively say that 2021 Topps is...not good, just generally a swing and a miss by almost every stretch of the imagination.

I can really only find one positive thing to say about this year's design, but it's admittedly a major point in its favor, and needs but a single word: BORDERS!

A Flagship design without borders -- like everything we've seen since 2016 -- just doesn't feel like a baseball card to me. It seems somehow unfinished, a random photograph just lying there without a frame. I'm thrilled that Topps decided enough was enough and brought borders back in 2021. It's about time.

Other than that, well...there's just not much here. I don't like anything else about this design. I've heard people say it's very Bowman-y, and I agree with that claim. The random slashes and diagonals interrupt most of the pictures and make everyone look like they're being attacked by swordsmen. The photography is okay, but not brilliant by any means. And even for someone like myself who has generally good eyesight, those tiny italicized names are a strain on my eyes. (If card collectors are mostly of the elder generation, then why are we making the fonts smaller?)

Maybe it's too early to start doing this, but I've already started preparing for a whole year's worth of this design, and that feeling is already filling me with loathing.

I continue to be perfectly apathetic about Topps's card backs.

(It's gonna take me a while to get used to all the abbreviated 2020 stats.)

Not sure if it was just the luck of the draw or what, but I seemed to pull considerably less horizontal cards from my packs of 2021 Topps than in years past.

There's a World Series subset in 2021 Topps, but you'd never know it because they look exactly like every other card in the set.

That is, except for Corey Seager, who is the easy favorite of this group.

Mask cards -- thanks, 2020.

New year, new mini-collection hits!

Even a stumbling set like 2021 Topps is gonna produce a few cool cards, and it's weirdly comforting to know a dull design can still spit out stuff I like -- isn't that one of the joys of collecting baseball cards?

(Still can't decide if that Austin Riley is a terrible baseball card, or an awesome baseball card.)

Parallels appear to be way scarcer this year, which, of course, means Topps is upping the production rates -- more cards in an expanding bubble, yahoo.

Those Independence Day parallels don't work too well with this year's borders, but they do fall something like 1:700 packs, so that's a decent pull I guess.

I don't care about manupatch gimmicks, so blasters are probably the lowest on my list of retail purchases -- but as I mentioned, it was either blasters or nothing at my Target.

Technically that George Brett was my first card of 2021, but it was more of a let's-get-this-over-with thing (the first card in the first real pack of the year was the Yadier Molina at the top of this post).

Flagship inserts continue to be somewhat welcome distractions from the base cards -- the '86 tributes continue Topps's slow crawl through their '80s designs.

That Ichiro is a kinda cool "Double Header" insert that shows the featured player's first and last cards front-and-back -- I'm showing the back here because you've probably seen his 2001 Topps rookie enough for several lifetimes by now.

I'm not even sure what these are -- is anyone really crying for more '52 Topps stuff at this point? -- but I pulled one in darn near every pack I opened from my two blasters.

Parallel inserts are a thing, for some reason.

Topps patting itself on the back is not a good look.

It's hard to figure out where our hobby is headed right now, but I get the feeling 2021 is gonna be the breaking point where the bubble either pops or flies away.

For better or worse, seeing 2021 Topps on the shelves a couple nights ago marked the glimpse of that train starting to chug out of the station. I'm on that train, and I'll continue to be that hopeful soul searching the card aisles this year. I've made a pact with myself this year to not get as angry as I sometimes did over repeatedly finding empty shelves in 2020. It's not worth it. I do, however, think it's a good sign that someone like myself, immensely low on the spending-power food chain, was actually able to find 2021 Topps on the day it came out. I wasn't expecting that to happen.

But if cards are going to keep looking like...well, this, then maybe it's time to finally put some effort into my repeatedly unfulfilled goal of spending less on retail and more on cherry-picking what I need from these off-putting Graphic Design 101 final projects. I like to think the passionate collector will eventually win over the money-first culture that's willing to buy anything and everything if it makes them a buck, and that we'll actually start seeing card companies cater to people who collect for how the cards look. We'll see, I guess.

For now I don't know if 2021 Topps is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, but it certainly feels like it's gonna be one of the two.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Into the Sunset: The AL Central Team

It's a little hard to believe that my blog basically ran on theme posts way back in the day.

I guess my themes are still active, at least in the technical sense of the word -- it's been about eight months since my last Sunset post, and that last write-up way back in June itself ended a nearly year-long hiatus. Theme posts were once the lifeblood of this blog, but they've devolved into more of a rare delicacy now.

But there's a part of my blogging heart that still loves theme posts, and enjoys putting them out there -- especially these Sunset squads, since I'm always up for discussing overlooked cardboard finales. Today's roster features the best farewells from the AL Central, a division that's honestly been kinda dull in recent history. But I think it has a chance to erupt into one of the more exciting groups in baseball, mostly because I think the White Sox are gonna be a lot of fun to watch very soon.

But I still don't think it'll be half as fun as the Central's sunset team turned out to be.


1956 Topps #200 Bob Feller

Bob Feller -- 1956 Indians, 19 games, 0-4, 4.97 ERA (sunset season)

We begin with one of the crowning jewels of my sunset collection -- a 1956 Topps Bob Feller!

If the mediocre stat line is any indication, Rapid Robert was definitely on the downslope of his HOF career by the time this card came out. He posted the highest single-season ERA of his life and failed to so much as win a single game. It wasn't the prolific farewell he deserved.

Still, you'd never know any of that from the beauty of his sunset card -- this is '56 Topps at its finest, even giving aging superstars like Bob Feller a proper ride into the night.

1981 Fleer #462 Mark Fidrych

Mark Fidrych -- 1980 Tigers, 9 games, 2-3, 5.68 ERA

Sometimes sunset cards are sad.

Though he didn't know it yet, Mark Fidrych had already pitched his final big-league game by the time this card came out. It's a bit painful to know that "The Bird" was only 27 years old here -- he's got a five o'clock shadow and just looks generally tired, nothing like the youthful phenomenon he'd been just a few seasons before.

Proof that sunset cards aren't always the fond farewells we imagine them to be.

Steve Carlton -- 1988 Twins, 4 games, 0-1, 16.76 ERA

Am I the only one who thinks Steve Carlton looks like he's 84 years old here?

The back tells me Lefty was only 43 in 1988, but I don't really believe that -- kinda like the way I don't really believe he ever played for the Twins.


2018 Topps #231 Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer -- 2018 Twins, 127 games, .282 AVG, 6 HR, 48 RBI

While Joe Mauer didn't get any true sunset cards with full stats on the back in 2019, he's part of a dying breed in today's game -- he spent his entire career with one team, and one team only.

Catching is a tough enough job to begin with, which makes me even more fascinated by guys like Mauer who can actually hit, too -- I can barely imagine just being able to walk after wearing the tools of ignorance day after day, much less trying to hit 98-MPH fastballs.

First Base

2015 Stadium Club #112 Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko -- 2014 White Sox, 81 games, .207 AVG, 5 HR, 22 RBI

Paul Konerko has always been special to me because his career pretty much exactly aligned with my coming of age as a baseball fan.

Konerko broke into the bigs in 1997 -- I was five years old at the time, and just starting to become a baseball fan. He was traded to the White Sox two years later, right around when I started picking teams and players to root for. And the next 16 years on the South Side of Chicago solidified him as a fan favorite you couldn't help but respect, a guy who always seemed to be there at first base every time I turned on a Sox game when I was growing up.

I suppose it all had to end sometime, but few player's goodbyes hit me more than Paul Konerko's -- even though, in true White Sox fashion, his final season was mostly overlooked by some guy named Derek Jeter who decided to retire that same year.

Second Base

1996 Score #487 Lou Whitaker

Lou Whitaker -- 1995 Tigers, 84 games, .293 AVG, 14 HR, 44 RBI

I've never gone through and counted, but Lou Whitaker seems to have more double play cards than any other guy in my collection.

I guess it only make sense, then, that he'd be turning two on one of his sunset cards, looking as spry and agile as ever -- a fitting final tribute to a rare talent up the middle.

(Also, please put him in the HOF already!)


1997 Collector's Choice #105 Alan Trammell

Alan Trammell -- 1996 Tigers, 66 games, .233 AVG, 1 HR, 16 RBI

I don't think we'll ever see a double-play combo like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell again -- two immensely talented infielders who spent their entire careers with the same team, at almost the exact same time.

As a card collector and baseball fan, it only seemed right to reunite them on this roster -- though Trammell gets a few extra points for that excellent "Final Tribute" banner from Collector's Choice that I so dearly miss.

Third Base

1994 Topps #180 George Brett

George Brett -- 1993 Royals, 145 games, 19 HR, 75 RBI

I've heard people say this is a bad baseball card, and not the final tribute a legend like George Brett deserved.

All I'd like to know is if they'd be willing to pass whatever they've been smoking.


1975 Topps #4 Al Kaline HL

Al Kaline -- 1974 Tigers, 147 games, .262 AVG, 13 HR, 64 RBI

Al Kaline's sunset saga is still incredibly strange to me -- Topps included him in the "Highlights" portion of their 1975 checklist, but for some reason neglected to give him a card in the regular base set.

It's kind of a strange way to go out, but to me this qualifies as a true sunset card, even if it doesn't feature a single stat line on the back.

1997 Upper Deck #415 Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett -- 1995 Twins, 137 games, .314 AVG, 23 HR, 99 RBI

Another strange sunset tale here -- Kirby Puckett actually received his final baseball cards two years after he'd played his last game.

Puckett retired due to vision loss in 1996, and his farewell came so suddenly that a few brands chose to dip into the following year's cards to grant him proper finales -- Upper Deck provided a particularly memorable final tribute in their '97 set, a card that tugs on the heart-strings given how Puckett's career (and life) came to an end far too soon.

2008 Upper Deck #129 Kenny Lofton

Kenny Lofton -- 2007 Rangers/Indians, 136 games, .296 AVG, 7 HR, 38 RBI 

There must've been something about Cleveland for Kenny Lofton -- he played there three different times in his career, including his final season in 2007, coming back to his adopted home via a trade with the Rangers earlier in the year.

It was a proper goodbye to one of my all-time favorite players -- and if this excellent sunset card is any indication, he remained the cool dude I know and love right up until the end.

Designated Hitter

1976 SSPC #525 Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson -- 1976 Indians, 36 games, .224 AVG, 3 HR, 10 RBI

I managed to restrain myself from mentioning Harmon Killebrew on the Royals! for the 732nd time in this blog's history and actually give the DH spot on this roster to the more deserving (and historic) nominee with Frank Robinson here.

Robinson, of course, became the first black manager in baseball history when he took over the reigns as Cleveland's player-manager in 1975. General day-to-day concerns aside, I always thought the weirdest thing about being a player-manager would be when the time came for him to insert himself into a game. I always wondered how those decisions went down. 

Robinson did that a handful of times during his two years as the Indians' player-manager, and had a fair amount of success doing it -- he even homered in his first at-bat with the club. Safe to say the game of baseball wouldn't be the same today without Frank Robinson's historic sunset stint in Cleveland.

That's it for this sunset team -- thanks for tuning in, and let's hope it doesn't take me eight more months for me to do another one of these.