Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Collecting doubles

Topps Flagship, Topps Opening Day, Topps Holiday, Topps Mini, Topps UK Edition, Topps Chrome, Topps Chrome Sapphire, Topps Chrome Ben Baller, Topps Chrome Update.

That, if my counting and research is correct, is a list of nine different sets issued in 2020 that are basically variations of the same exact cards. And that list doesn't even account for the offshoots of other Topps brands (A&G Chrome, Stadium Club Chrome, etc.), nor the million different parallels included within each of those nine variant sets. This is collecting in the modern day. Overkill, to say the least.

I guess this explains one of my main complaints with today's hobby: it feels like I'm collecting doubles a lot of the time. 

While my goal has never been to consciously collect every single card of, say, Anthony Rizzo that hits the market each year - who can keep up with nine different sets? - fact is I do welcome any and every Rizzo out there, even if it's the same card repeated with minor tweaks five or six different times.

Sure, there is a bit of Stockholm Syndrome here - I've gone on record as saying that I like how a half-dozen variants/parallels of the same card look next to one another in a binder page, and that's still true. But this is another way my collecting brain fights a war against itself: what I like and what is necessary are often two different things, so I live with the double-consciousness of both wanting and refuting such parallel sets.

I think of all this now because I recently received a couple different packages from John of the prolific "Johnny's Trading Spot" blog that included a bunch of 2020 stuff I needed, including a few things from one of those variant sets in Topps Holiday.

John also sent a few Topps UK variants for the binders - the little Union Jack in the corner of these isn't much of a difference, but it's enough to qualify them as "different" and thus needed for the collection.

Here's a bit of non-2020 cardboard from John - I'm so used to Jamie Moyer as a grizzled 40-something veteran that seeing his early Cubs cards still kinda startles me.

Pitcher at the plate and a 2021 Cubs insert need here.

Topps Opening Day has been around so long now that it's become an ingrained part of each card year for me - but even though I'd like to say it's more necessary than whatever that Topps Chrome Ben Baller set was, it probably isn't.

Here's a nifty card for my "interviews/speeches" mini-collection that I'd never seen before John sent it along.

Also I'm thinking it's time to come up with a more catchy name for that mini-collection.

One of the better blogosphere developments of 2021 was seeing the return of (a different) John from the long-defunct "Cards from the Quarry" blog, one I devoutly followed and read way back in my early blogging days.

Coupled with that was the return of his "Sunday Trade Bait" posts, which yielded a handful of great binder additions over the past few months - that Big Hurt is a fine example of how great '85 Topps would've looked with black borders.

Colored parallels are basically glorified doubles, although at least these add a fun splash of pizzazz and not just a small stamp in a corner.

These 2020 A&G SPs came along for the ride with one of my Trade Bait claims - always love a Brewers Rollie Fingers sighting.

A few more inserts and parallels that caught my eye, including a DK insert that I have to admit doesn't look half bad.

Purple refractors and Heritage Chromes and Cubs, oh my!

If you were to look through my binders right now, you'd find a lot of pages that feature three, four, five versions of the same card. 

It comes with the territory in collecting modern cards. While I don't mind the standard Flagship/Opening Day/Chrome triumvirate that's been around for a good 20-plus years now, nine variants seems extreme, and I wouldn't be surprised one bit to see that number go into double-digits in the coming years. It's hard to know who to blame - Topps for pushing all this rehashed product out, or breaker-happy "collectors" for demanding it? Neither? Both? I don't know.

All I can say is I shudder to think of what other variants Topps has up its sleeve for the near future, variants that could be sacrificed for even a small bit of originality.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Not a morning person (except at the flea market)

I don't know about you, but I am not a morning person.

Give me closing shifts, give me sleeping in, give me reading in bed at 1 AM. I just don't feel like myself when I'm up at early dawn, and I find it hard to gather the energy to do much of anything at all the rest of the day. It's a personality trait I've long since accepted. Jobs and other necessities aside, it takes a lot to get me out of bed on a morning where there's nothing forcing me into the real world.

It takes something like the flea market, for example - I woke up way before my usual weekend rising hour to see what cards awaited me there a few Sundays ago.

My flea market actually opens at 6 AM(!), and while I've never gone anywhere near that insane hour, I do like to get there earlier rather than later because a lot of vendors (understandably) start packing up around noon or 1.

I actually arrived a little earlier than usual this time (9 AM or so) because I wanted to give myself plenty of time in case the dude with the dime boxes was back. Bad news: he wasn't. Good news: all my other card guys were, including the vendor with those weirdly fantastic 50-cent binders I've mentioned in past posts.

I still haven't seen the brand new binders this guy keeps threatening to bring every time I talk to him - but for now he did fill some of the binder gaps I left with my last purchases with a few more choice legend SPs (including an excellent old automobile sighting on that Killebrew!).

Throwback Thursdays!

I will, of course, take any and all of these I can find, but I like 'em a lot more when they use non-baseball designs - I admittedly know very little about cards from other sports, but apparently the Bench and Seaver are replicas of an old Topps football design.

Topps Tribute brings a rare breath of fanciness to my card collection built on discount bin and dusty treasures.

Legend-centric SPs are a necessary plague among HOF enthusiasts like myself, but it feels so, so good to track them down when I can.

A few other miscellaneous gems from the 50-cent binders - the Brooks Robinson actually folds out into a full faux-ticket stub, and I can't decide whether that's actually cool or kinda gimmicky (both?).

One of my other card guys usually has a small glass case of various vintage - lots of good stuff, the only real tragedy being that I seem to have almost everything he puts in there from week to week.

This time around, however, I did manage to snag this nifty Walter Alston from the glass case for $5 - not a bad price at all for a dreaded '72 high-number (in darn good shape, too!).

As I've mentioned many times before, this guy also has a 4/$1 box that consistently seems to yield cool stuff.

These won't go in my standard nine-pocket pages - the Allen is too small and the sight of circular cards in a page drives me nuts for some reason - but they were still easy buys at a quarter a pop.

More quarter goodies, from TCMA oddballs to chromed-up inserts - and that Bagwell officially wins the dubious Most Information Crammed into the Front of a Baseball Card award.

My other regular card vendor usually sets up in one of the last aisles, and provides a nice final wake-up call for my typical sleepy-eyed mornings at the flea market.

I found these in a small dollar bin he had on display - the Hilton brings me one step closer to my sometimes-jokey, sometimes-serious quest to get all those '74 Topps "Washington" cards.

I don't usually crave conversation with card vendors, but I've gotten to know this guy a bit over the years, and he always greets me by name and is always up for a good chat about baseball cards or otherwise.

That and finding stars in his dime box makes for a great way to spend a half-hour on a Sunday morning.

He also provided me with what was unquestionably my biggest get from this particular flea market run - a whole Ziploc bag of uncut Baseball Card Magazine panels!

I scooped these up for $10 within seconds of walking up to this guy's table - it's actually the second time I've unearthed a substantial trove of such panels, after a similar find at a card show a couple years ago (which also cost me $10, coincidentally).

I can't really explain why, but I have an extra-special affinity for hand-cut specimens from the wide world of oddballs, and the only thing I like more are hand-cut oddballs that I actually get to cut out!

There was a time in my hobby life that I may have kept these intact as complete panels, but I've come to realize that I get way more pleasure out of the individual cards on these than the uncut sheets (plus uncut stuff is a pain to store). I'm particularly fond of these Baseball Card Magazine inserts because, as far as I can tell, they were some of the first cards to come up with the then-radical concept of placing current players on vintage designs. 

Seems commonplace now (and way overdone), but at the time it must've been an eye-catching novelty.

Though I scanned these as panels for the blog, I spent a good hour of arts & crafts time later on that afternoon with the Cubs game on the television, doing my best to cut the cards out along the little black lines - and I had a whole lot of fun doing it.

And at the end of it all, even in the morning person in me has to admit the stack of cards I brought home from the flea market this particular Sunday were well worth the sacrifice of a few extra hours of sleep.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A free agent, again

Mixed news from Dime Box HQ this week: I quit my job on Monday.

I said it before I started this job, and unfortunately I have to say it again: I'm not thrilled with the pattern my work life has taken as an adult. I've had four different jobs in the past four years and I'm starting to feel like a rubber-armed free-agent reliever who keeps jumping from team to team. But even so, I have no regrets about leaving this place - without going too far into it, I worked for a controlling and poisonous boss who made work miserable. Basically the last thing I thought I'd encounter at a job where all I did was price antiquarian books in a warehouse - yup, it sounded relaxing to me, too.

This is the first time in a while that I've left a job without having anything else lined up, and that's a bit scary, but the weight I feel lifted off my shoulders right now tells me I made the right decision here.

A friend and I are looking fairly seriously into moving up north to Milwaukee very soon, and if that takes a little longer than expected, I've been tentatively offered jobs by a couple of my ex-managers at my old Half Price Books job, which isn't my ideal result of all this but a nice cushion nonetheless.

For the very near future, however, I've got at least a few days off from the work-a-day world, and finally a bit of time to catch up with the piles and piles of baseball cards that have been accumulating in my room. Working a mentally exhausting job really makes me feel like I've neglected my hobbies, which shows from my one-post-a-week schedule and the gads of old scans sitting in my trade folders. For example, I'm far too late in acknowledging a couple PWEs sent me from a reader named Dave who's been mighty generous with me lately.

In addition to the former Dime Box Dozen Eck at the top of this post came a quartet of these neat Marketside oddballs, which I never did see when they were released and haven't appeared with much frequency in the years since.

Blogging stalwart Joe Shlabotnik of "The Shlabotnik Report" helped me cross a few 2021 Opening Day numbers off my want list - this was, for better or worse, the last set I bought off Target shelves before they killed the card aisle.

"Joe" also sent along a couple 2021 insert needs, including about the 474th different '89 Topps Traded Griffey reprint in my binders.

Julie over at "A Cracked Bat" appears to have taken a hopefully temporary blogging sabbatical as of late, but she was nice enough to send over a nice batch of cardboard from her Pick Pockets program before the hiatus.

One rule in this house: I'll never turn down free Andrew McCutchen cards.

Classic sets are weird - some I feel like I've seen ten million times, and others, like these, somehow went completely unnoticed by me all these years later.

I believe these are from the '91 Classic Update series - there's way too many different Classic sets for me to keep track of - and I didn't own a single card from this set before Julie put these up for grabs.

A few more random Pick Pockets from Julie, including one of the seemingly infinite "Decades Best" inserts I still need.

Pick Pocket minis!

Bob of "The Best Bubble" sent a surprise package my way recently, one that included a couple excellent minis for my non-baseball collection.

It's been tough finding those non-sport A&G minis the past few years, which makes me mighty happy when any happen to fall in my lap.

Two things I ignored for a long time: pocket schedules and John Kruk cards.

I'm still not a huge pocket schedule guy (though I'll gladly take any Cubs ones), but Kruk has catapulted to near the top of my player collection hierarchy in short order.

Finally comes the spoils of a couple different PWEs I received from Jeff of "Wax Pack Wonders" in recent months, including a former Dime Box Dozen suspect with that Sandberg.

I somehow had Ryno's box-bottom from '85 Donruss, but not the standard base card.- can you hear the sigh of relief I just heaved?

I love when readers pay attention to some of my quick comments: I mentioned my outdated affinity for Junior Lake cards in a recent post, and not long after Jeff sent me a nifty Lake rainbow!

Slipping a new Shooter into my binders always makes for a banner day, and I'm just sad it took me so long to recognize these terrific cards I've received from a bunch of loyal readers as of late.

Unemployment is always a weird transitory phase of life, but I don't anticipate being in job limbo for too long, and it's been nice to be at home spending time with my baseball cards the last couple days after the mental hula-hoops of the past few months. Sometimes hitting the reset button is all you can do. As I've said before, one of the many reasons I treasure baseball cards is because of the consistency they bring to my life, and that feels true now more than ever.

So here's to bigger and better things!

Monday, June 7, 2021

My favorite players, from A-Z

As you probably know by now, there's a bat-around challenge going on, asking us bloggers to pick our favorite ballplayers from letters A-Z.

The topic was originally thrown out over at "The Diamond King," and it's a fun topic that sent me scurrying to my binders and scanner to partake in. Still, there's a part of me that's wary of making lists like these for two reasons: a) I'm paranoid about forgetting someone obvious, and b) some of the guys I had to choose between for certain letters seemed unfair and made me downright anxious. But anxiety be darned, because after quite a bit of trepidation, the list has finally been finalized.

In the spirit of this blog, I'm trying to show some of my favorite A-Z dudes in their more unfamiliar uniforms (where applicable) - so ready or not, here we go.

A: Jim Abbott

Aaaaaaand of course the very first letter of the alphabet produced one of those aforementioned battles that gave me heartburn - I kinda assumed Hank Aaron would be my "A" guy without much of a fight...until I remembered Jim Abbott. 

Hank has gotten the nod on almost every one of these lists I've read, and rightly so, but I have to go with Abbott here because he's one of just a handful of ballplayers I consider a bona-fide hero.

B: Ernie Banks

With apologies to Johnny Bench, I can't vote down Mr. Cub.

C: Roberto Clemente

My all-time favorite ballplayer, and lightyears ahead of any other "C" despite the presence of stalwarts like Rod Carew and Ty Cobb.

D: Dizzy Dean

One of our cats is named "Dizzy Dean," which should help explain why Diz made my list without much of a fight.

E: Johnny Evers

One of the weaker letters in the baseball alphabet, so I'm taking a ride in the wayback machine and going with Johnny Evers here.

Evers was famously nicknamed "The Crab" for his less-than-jovial personality, and his cards seem to bear that out - this is one of only a couple I own that show him cracking a smile.

F: Mark Fidrych

I could've easily posted one of my Red Sox minor league cards of The Bird, but as far as I know I've never showed this SI cover card on the blog before, which seems obscene.

G: Vladimir Guerrero

The most painful letter of the alphabet for this baseball fan.

Vlad gets the nod - he's long been my favorite player of my baseball lifetime - but it's agonizing to leave off other biggies like Tony Gwynn and Mark Grace.

H: Rickey Henderson

Rickey is the dream for unfamiliar uniform collectors like myself - it almost seems like he wore a jersey for every letter of the alphabet.

I: Monte Irvin

A mediocre cast of "I" players is saved by Monte Irvin, who by all accounts would've been one of MLB's greats had integration come along a few years before it did.

J: Reggie Jackson

As if I needed an excuse to show another Orioles Reggie card.

K: Sandy Koufax

An easy pick, even though I feel bad having to leave Paul Konerko and Clayton Kershaw off the list.

L: Kenny Lofton

One of the rare instances where a hometown uniform is classified in my mind as "wrong" - I remember Lofton's brief stint with the Cubs in 2003, but I have no recollection of his stay with the White Sox the year prior.

M: Willie Mays

Basically a "1a" and "1b" heat between Willie Mays and Stan Musial - I give the ever-so-slight nod to Mays right now, but if I did this list tomorrow it might well be Musial.

N: Hideo Nomo

As I went over my choices one final time, I realized how legend-leaning this list turned out to be, which I suppose makes sense because it takes a while for players to lapse into the annals of the baseball fan's mind as a "past great."

Hideo Nomo's heyday doesn't really seem that long ago to me - I have vague memories of watching him as a young fanatic - but that didn't stop him from cracking this list with relative ease.

O: John Olerud

"O" turned out to be a surprisingly difficult letter - despite strong pushes from Al Oliver and Shohei Ohtani, John Olerud takes the crown.

P: Satchel Paige

If a genie granted me a wish to go back in time and watch one, single baseball player, there's a good chance I'd use that wish to see Satchel Paige pitch.

Q: Dan Quisenberry

Any ballplayer-turned-poet is cool in my book.

R: Jackie Robinson

How could it not be?

S: Ichiro Suzuki

I was tempted to slip Ichiro into the "I" slot, but baseball players aren't like Sting or Cher - they have last names, and I like to use them.

T: Luis Tiant

"T" is a battle between two quirky favorites of mine, with Luis Tiant getting the slight nod over Kent Tekulve.

U: Bob Uecker

See also: "Harry Doyle."

V: Fernando Valenzuela

Of all the Short Term Stops in the world, Fernando Valenzuela on the Cardinals is one I've never quite been able to process.

W: Hoyt Wilhelm

Of course it's Hoyt!

X: N/A

The '90s and aughts produced an inordinate amount of baseball cards shaped like X's, probably to make up for the fact that no big-leaguer has ever had an "X" last name (yet).

Y: Carl Yastrzemski

One of my proudest victories as a baseball fan was the day I learned how to spell Carl Yastrzemski's last name by heart.

Z: Carlos Zambrano

I was a bit lukewarm on Big Z during his playing days, but I've come to appreciate him way more in the years since - I specifically miss watching him hit, which isn't something I can say about most pitchers.

So there's my romp through the baseball alphabet - and I'm fully prepared for that moment I know is gonna come about a week from now when the lightbulb goes off and I say OH CRUD, I FORGOT [insert incredibly obvious name here]!