Thursday, March 25, 2021

Knowledge is power

Maybe it's just me, but I find it hard to enjoy something without knowing at least a little bit of the history and background behind it.

If I'm reading a good book, I look up everything I can about that book's author. If I stumble upon a great song, I instantly want to know everything about the band - its members, its albums, its influences. This is perhaps most true for me with the great game of baseball. I feel like baseball, more than any other sport, relies more on its history to continue its legend, and I've devoted much of my life to absorbing as much of that history as humanly possible. I couldn't imagine enjoying the game without knowing who Lou Brock was, what teams he played for, and what his baseball cards looked like.

One of the reservations I have about the recent influx of new "collectors" is that a lot of them don't seem to know the first thing about baseball, or particularly care. I remember once at a card show, way back in the day when Yasiel Puig was the Next Big Thing (seems like a long time ago, eh?), a guy came up to a table I was at and was trying to hock a few Puig cards for a healthy profit. He pronounced Puig's name in a way that rhymed with "twig," and mentioned that he didn't even like baseball all that much. I sighed to myself and continued flipping through a dime box.

That moment couldn't have lasted more than ten seconds, but it's stuck with me ever since - mainly because it goes against everything I love about baseball cards, and everything I believe about truly enjoying something at all, rather than just wringing it dry to satisfy some other motive.

I don't mean to come off as some elitist saying the only true fans of baseball are those with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and its history, because that's just as bad.

I just can't help but think that a groundswell of baseball card buyers who don't like baseball doesn't exactly bode well for the future, near or distant. Part of the reason I enjoy the blogs so much is that everyone here is well-versed in the game - I can say the name "Zack Greinke" and everyone will know who I'm talking about. Plus it seems like I'm learning something new every time I click on a blog post. And what's more, some of those cool bloggers will just give you stuff for absolutely nothing - including people like Kerry of "Cards on Cards" who's been running Free Stuff Friday giveaways on his blog for a while now.

I was able to snag a few of last year's Topps 206 minis from Kerry's free-for-alls - I admittedly kinda like these, but they didn't seem to stir up much excitement with the higher-end collectors they were marketed towards.

I've never opened a pack of Topps Gold Label in my life, but I've managed to accumulate a fair amount of 'em thanks to dime boxes and such.

Of course, with card shows currently MIA, these three Brewer Gold Labels I claimed from him remain the only three cards I own from last year's checklist (with a Griffey A&G thrown in for good measure!).

Kerry was nice enough to pad the cards I claimed from his giveaways with a few miscellaneous surprises from my want lists - all are much appreciated, though that '85 Winfield is by far my favorite from this bunch.

Seems like so long ago now that people were fighting over Archives in the card aisles, and I doubt many of those people even care who Goose Gossage is.

The Puckett was a Free Stuff Friday claim - I'm always here for Starting Lineup cards - and the Freeman has the special honor of being the first 2021 card I've received via trade.

Two cards of dudes I collect from sets I honestly didn't even know had been released - Topps Mini and something called Topps UK Edition(?) which appear to be Flagship doubles with a Union Jack in the corner(???).

Topps Chrome also qualifies as Flagship Doubles, I suppose, but at least these shiny refractors are a bit flashier - also I think Kerry's subliminally trying to get me to collect a Tim Anderson rainbow.

I really only wanted the baseball cards from this SI for Kids page, but I claimed the whole thing because seeing one of these intact shoots me right back into my childhood days of stealing them from my grammar school's library.

Ah, youth.

I also recently received a surprise stack of cards from Jeff of "2x3 Heroes" fame, one of the few bloggers I've actually had the privilege of meeting in-person - with any luck, hopefully another such blogger meet-up can become a reality again in the somewhat near future.

I am, admittedly, not the biggest cinephile in the world, and I honestly had no clue who Carole Lombard was, but it's a cool off-beat relic nevertheless - sure beats the 842nd different Nolan Arenado jersey card or whatever.

Daniel Palka is one of those weird middling hometown-team guys I've grown a bit attached to for no particular reason, which made an autograph from his pre-White Sox days an unexpected treat.

A quartet of randoms from Jeff - the Ichiro is a photo variation SP, and I begrudgingly counted that Andre Dawson buyback as a "new" card for my Cubs binder.

I don't actively seek out Stadium Club parallels, but I'm happy to have any that fall in my lap - especially whole pagefuls like these from Jeff.

Here's something I never planned on owning - this Nolan Ryan is a photo-variation SP from last year's Stadium Club, and a scarce hit for my mini-collection of guys signing autographs.

Nolan looks to be holding a baseball card here (with a small stack of others at his side waiting to be signed) but for the life of me I can't seem to pin down what card he's signing. Any help on that front would be much appreciated, because I'm always willing to learn everything I can about my baseball cards, and baseball as a whole.

But if someone comes up to me in a Target card aisle and asks me who some old dude named Nolan Ryan is, I'm walking in the other direction.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Keep your crypto, I'll take the real stuff

More and more these days, I'm convinced the world around me has lost its gosh darn mind.

A spot-on example of that happened recently, with stunning results for yours truly, as you'll soon see. I was casually scrolling through Twitter one afternoon during my lunch break at work, and I stumbled upon the news that, apropos of nothing, the Cryptocurrency card from 2018 A&G was suddenly selling for a good amount of cash. The thought instantly hit me: Hey, I have that card! I listed my copy on eBay as soon as I got home that night, and by the time I left for work the next morning, it had sold.

I don't pretend to understand the first thing about card values these days, or anything that goes on in the Bitcoin/cryptocurrency fantasy land. I have no idea why this card suddenly skyrocketed in value. I suppose some Bitcoin Bro decided this was the next goldmine, and his brethren flocked to it. It's been proven time and time again that when non-collectors get involved with baseball cards, up, up, up go the values, into insanity. And this low-end collector is all too happy to take their money.

In the end, I netted no less than $60 for a card I'm pretty sure I found in a dime box three years ago.

It didn't take long for the thought to hit me: what cards could I get for that same sixty bucks?

I sure don't need any excuses to spend money on baseball cards, but at least this way I could write it off as a sort of challenge. So I took that $60 and went on a bit of a shopping spree - starting with this well-loved '59 Topps Harmon Killebrew off my "Keep Dreaming" list. This is the kind of card designed to cost us poor collectors an arm and a leg - a devilish '50s high-number (#515) of a popular HOFer, rolled into one. 

I managed to snag this poor creased Killer for a scant $10 on Sportlots, which was about a third of the price of the next cheapest copy I'd ever seen.

Better yet, that same seller even had a couple Big Red Machine Kellogg's that accompanied the Killebrew for the ride - and at a mere $1.50 a piece, I don't mind the cracks one bit.

Even when I have found money to spend, I can't resist my bargain-hunting (aka cheap) ways.

I generally look for the lowest-grade and most beat-up copies of big cards as I can, which often results in pinch-me deals - this spectacular '57 Topps Pee Wee Reese, for example, cost me all of $10, and it isn't even in terrible shape.

Of course, this strategy can cause problems from time to time.

This '64 Topps Don Larsen has been on my want list for a while now (yet another mugshot that shows his perennial Who farted? baseball card grimace) but I've never been able to find one cheap because it's another dastardly vintage high-number. I thought the stars were aligning, then, when I found a heavily discounted copy of said Larsen on the very same night I sold the crypto card. 

The seller listed it as "acceptable," which is usually good enough for me - though I did find it curious he didn't include any pictures of the back on his listing.

I realized why when the card arrived in the mail - I still can't decide a) what this is, and b) if I want to know what this is.

Even for me, this is a bit much, and while this is a fine placeholder for now, I hope to upgrade to a normal(ish) Larsen one day - hopefully one with a back that doesn't look like it was colonized by aliens.

Smaller $5-10 finds are awesome, but I did want to make one big splash with my newfound crypto cash.

One card I was looking at as a possible nominee was a '56 Topps Luis Aparicio rookie, but all the copies I sifted through were just a bit more than I wanted to pay. I did, however, snag a 1960 Leaf Aparicio (Card #1 in the checklist!) for about $4 - a great card from an underrated set I've always found oddly appealing.

Turns out I was on the right track with '56 Topps as my Big Splash - I just had to cross to the other side of Chicago to find it.

If you're gonna hunt a big card, then I think this is a sufficiently big one to spear.

It ate up just about half of my crpyto earnings, but now I can say I'm the proud owner of a 1956 Topps Ernie Banks, which predates my next-oldest Mr. Cub by a full three years. Just an other-worldly card from one of the most beautiful sets ever made, certainly not anything I planned on adding to my collection in this lifetime. 

I stared at Ernie for a good two or three minutes after I slid him into my binders, next to all his friends from '56 Topps, still not quite believing it only took the sale of a weird card of fantasy money I found in a dime box to reel him in.

If this is what it looks like when the world loses its mind, then bring on the madness. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

The non-sport heroes of A&G

The other day, I was trying to explain Allen & Ginter to a friend of mine who knows almost nothing about baseball or baseball cards, and even I was surprised at how crazy I sounded.

It's these cards they make now, they're based on a set from the 1800s. But it's not all baseball players though. It's got historical people in it, too. Oh and weird current celebrities. Oh AND some inanimate objects. Not surprisingly, I got a quizzical stare in return, and pretty much stopped trying to make any sense out of it. Because, really, when you think about it, the whole thing is a bit insane. Why would anyone who collects baseball cards also want cards of ancient Greeks and movie stars? It's not logical.

While I was thinking about that conversation, I decided to have a sit-down with the non-sport A&Gs I own. All of us probably have cards we don't look at as often as we should - and these are near the top of my list. As I went through the strange stacks of A&Gs I've accumulated over the years, I was reminded of how diverse the selections have been, and how much fun they've been to collect. True, Topps's non-baseball picks have (mostly) ebbed in interest as the brand has gone on, but taken as a whole, there's still a lot of fun stuff in here.

At some point I had the idea to pick my favorite non-sport card from each of A&G's 15-year(!) history - and while I know there's a large community out there who don't care for A&G's non-sport stuff in the slightest, I truly hope there's at least one piece in here that grabs your attention, makes you say hm, never thought I'd see THAT on a baseball card.

2006 - Herman Melville (Card #341)

I actually remember the first time I opened a pack of A&G, way back in 2006. 

Even though I was fully immersed in sports cards by that time, my reaction then was a bit like my friend's was the other day: why am I getting cards of Paul Konerko and Billy the Kid in the same pack? It was weird, and unlike anything I'd ever seen on cards before. But even then I knew I wanted to collect as many of those wacky non-sport heroes as I could. Billy the Kid, Abraham Lincoln, all of them. This was a set for me.

And while it took another decade or so for me to become a full-on book nerd/Lit major/general fiction fanatic (and a huge Melville fan!), it was obvious way back in 2006 that I needed the Herman Melville card, because what the heck is that guy doing in a Topps set?

(Runners-up: Billy the Kid, Takeru Kobayashi, Buffalo Bill)

2007 - Jack the Ripper (#228)

As if authors and hot-dog-eaters weren't enough, A&G hooked me even more by including Jack the Ripper in their sophomore set, and it remains one of the spookiest (and coolest!) baseball cards I own.

(Runners-up: Groundhog Day, Ken Jennings, Mark Twain)

2008 - Pluto (#233)

If I had to choose, 2008 was probably the pinnacle of A&G's non-sport selection - I remember these better than almost anything that was in the standard baseball portion of that year's set.

Tough to pick a single favorite out of such a prestigious lot, but the Pluto card remains a perennial legend.

(Runners-up: Billy Mitchell, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde)

2009 - Sigmund Freud (#158)

A great card, even with the obvious airbrushed cigar.

(Runners-up: Milky Way, Vincent Van Gogh, Beethoven)

2010 - Revolving Door (#286)

I feel like this is the standard by which all non-sport A&Gs are judged - whenever I complain about the lack inspiration in present-day A&G, I always find myself asking where are all the Revolving Door cards??

It's just such a niche and quirky object that I never in a million years would've thought to put on a baseball card, yet here it is.

(Runners-up: Betelgeuse, X-Rays, King Tut)

2011 - Dirk Hayhurst (#32)

I'm cheating a bit here - Dirk Hayhurst was a big-league pitcher for a couple years, and his famous Bullpen Gospels book series documents his climb through the minors.

A&G, however, chose to show him in his "Garfoose" alter-ego rather than a baseball uniform, and so he qualifies for non-sport inclusion on this list.

(Runners-up: Wee Man, Peter Gammons)

2012 - Kate Upton (#232)

I envy Justin Verlander.

(Runner-up: Curly Neal)

2013 - Abe Vigoda (#176)

Probably showing my youth and/or lack of classic TV knowledge here, but I best know Abe Vigoda for his role as an aging fry cook in Good Burger.

(Runners-up: Panama Canal, Death Valley)

2014 - Barbed Wire (#341)

Rehashing the A&G heroes of years past helped remind me of a few cards I'd forgotten about - Barbed Wire is definitely a high-quality Inanimate Objects Card.

(Runners-up: Helen Keller, Kevin Smith, Polar Vortex)

2015 - Mike Mills (#37)

Still waiting for the Michael Stipe card, Topps.

(Runners-up: Apollo Creed, Magna Carta)

2016 - Timothy Busfield (#227)

(Runners-up: Cuban Embassy, Jessica Mendoza)

2017 - Paris Locks (#143)

A&G can be educational, too - apparently for years it was a thing in Paris for lovers to place locks on a bridge as a memento, and over time it turned into a kind of shrine, which is documented on this excellent non-sport A&G card.

(Runners-up: Giant Panda, Harriet Tubman)

2018 - Tommy Wiseau (#228)

(Runners-up: Champ Pederson, Bomb Cyclone, Biz Markie)

2019 - Egg (#213)

A lackluster non-sport selection saved by one of A&G's all-time greatest cards (baseball or non-baseball).

(Yes, I know The Egg is currently going for crazy amounts of cash, but I'm not selling mine.)

(Runner-up: Mike Oz)

2020 - Ken Jeong (#167)

Last year's non-sport selection was by far the worst in A&G history - the only one I have is of an actor I kinda know from a couple movies/shows I kinda liked.

(Runner-up: None)

I've been thinking about it for a good week now, and I've gone through every single non-baseball A&G card I own, but I still can't come up with a sane way to explain this set to someone who doesn't collect baseball cards. If nothing else, maybe the Plutos and Jack the Rippers of the A&G universe show that sometimes there just isn't any logic to hoarding baseball cards.

I guess for now all I can do is tell people Hey, check out this card of a Revolving Door!...and let the confused looks fall where they may.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Please stay home, and shop at the Online Dime Box

Lately it seems like I can't go a single day without seeing a picture of yet another packed card show happening somewhere in suburban USA.

I've heard all the justifications. Everyone wore masks! It wasn't that packed! It's been too long! Et cetera, et cetera. I can't put my feelings any plainer: card shows in the pandemic age are NOT a good idea. Every time I see one of those pictures, I facepalm behind my computer screen. To each their own, I suppose, but I have a hard time ignoring stuff like this when the virus is still going strong, and still every bit as scary. And that's saying nothing about the poor ventilation, grimy fingers, and general lack of space that make card shows a veritable Petri dish of bacteria regardless.

I discussed this when card shows were first opening again last summer, but it seems to have gotten worse, not better, since then - and people wonder why this pandemic isn't over yet.

I miss shows every bit as much as you do, but it's not like there aren't other (safer) card options available in this weird dystopian age.

One particularly pleasing card shrine that rose out of the pandemic muck was a small haven called - aka the Online Dime Box - which I've already posted about a few times around here. The name of this blog should tell you why I've given them so much business over the past year or so. All I can say is that the site simulates the real dime box experience better than any virtual source I've ever seen. The incessant scavenging, the inevitable tedium, and, of course, the joyous victories that make it all worth it.

To me, it's easily worth sifting through those lines and lines of '88 Fleer and '89 Donruss to find that one glorious mini-collection hit I need.

Stickers are a passing interest of mine, at most, but I can't pass up Greg Luzinski cards I need for a dime.

If you've read these posts before, you probably already know what we have here - in case you haven't, however, well...

...surprise! They're OPCs!

I haven't counted, but I imagine I've just about doubled the number of OPCs in my collection over the past year thanks to the Online Dime Box.

I've scavenged a good part of the virtual dime box inventory by now, but somehow I'm still finding stuff I need for my big time player collections.

I think every collection operates on an informal hierarchy, with certain projects and interests looming larger than others.

If Kenny Lofton, John Olerud & Co. are top-tier guys for me, then the four dudes here are just below them - it's not as revolutionary when I find new Mo Vaughn card, but they're still a treat to add to my binders nonetheless.

All four of these (coincidentally?) White Sox stars are guys whose cards I've largely ignored up until now - but thankfully I'm starting to come to my senses, because why was I not already collecting Ozzie Guillen?

I have no clue how or why I still needed these four cards, but I did - and thank goodness for search engines, because god knows I'd shuffle right past a stack of '88 Donruss if I saw one in an actual dime box.

There's a fun little underbelly of oddballs at the Online Dime Box, which continue to be a great source of random joy (I'd never seen a '90s Post Canadian card before!).

I was floored to find a small lot of Fan Favorites in their inventory one night, and I pounced on the ones I needed as quickly as humanly possible.

I'm indifferent towards Walt Jocketty, and most front office suits in general, but how often do you see a baseball card of a GM?

I have a feeling many of you would question my mental health if I listed all the insignificant and/or obscure guys I chase cards of, so you'll have to make do with me revealing them in bits and pieces around here.

So yes, please send me your Felix Pie and Dave Weathers cards.

[insert 745th comment on how much I miss Collector's Choice here]

They're not the most exciting parallels in the world, but the Online Dime Box recently added a near-complete set of these 2002 Topps Home Team Advantage singles to their inventory a while back.

So I bought a few dozen near-duplicates from one of my least-favorite Topps designs just because they had a dumb little stamp on them - yup, we collectors are a totally sane bunch.

The Online Dime Box has a small non-sport section, which I thought was of no interest to me...until I noticed these Pro Set Music Cards up for grabs!

I've seen quite a few non-sport tables at card shows over the years, and I admittedly walk right past them 99 percent of the time. They're more of a novelty for me, as opposed to something I want to spend a good chunk of time and money searching through. But if cards of The Doors and Jimi Hendrix can be mine for as little as a couple dimes and a couple clicks, then of course I'm game.

(Also I make no excuses for liking The Clash and The Go-Go's.)

Famous guys in not-so-famous uniforms.

Cards made out of steel, sets called "Topps Fusion," and other general millennium-era madness.

Sometimes I'm just looking for entertainment out of my baseball cards, and these definitely fit the bill.

(Toby Harrah reminds me of an extroverted person, and Andre Thornton reminds me of me when I'm around that extroverted person.)

Horizontal gems, including a refractor of one of my favorite baseball dudes and a cameo from Kirk Gibson's male-pattern baldness.

Every dime box post has a couple scans of cards that didn't really fit anywhere else, which is what we have here - discovering I didn't already have that Rocky Colavito card was a particularly jaw-dropping moment.

My current job is the first one I've had with a desk and a computer, and I do my best not to distract myself with the many of the Internet's easily accessible card frontiers.

I do, however, check the Online Dime Box from time to time at work (don't tell my boss), and it was during one of those mid-workday peeks that I stumbled upon these spectacular Expos-centric oddballs which rival almost anything you'd find in a regular card show dime box.

I wanted these so badly I pulled out my credit card and made the purchase right at my desk because I was paranoid someone else would swoop in and grab 'em by the time I got home from work that day (please please please don't tell my boss). 

I'm still not sure when I'll feel comfortable attending an in-person card show again.

Last year I was saying sometime in 2021. Still, if things continue the way they're going with card shows and restaurants and entire states opening up again in the middle of a pandemic, I'm wondering if 2022 is the more realistic goal (audible shudder). But it's a comparatively small sacrifice I'm willing to make, and more importantly, one I need to make. And there's more than enough card options out there in the virtual world to tide me over until this nightmare is done and finished. Enough to tide all of us over.

So please stay home, because the Online Dime Box awaits you.