Friday, July 23, 2021

My LCS says these cards are worth eight cents

Does this look like an eight-cent card to you?

It shouldn't. That is, after all a '75 Topps Jim Rice rookie card (and three other dudes who had the misfortune of appearing on a Jim Rice rookie card). But if you ask the guy in charge of pricing cards at my local card shop, well, then I guess he'd tell you this is an eight-cent card, because I found it in a 15/$1 box during a rare trip to the LCS a few weeks ago.

I've talked about this card shop before - they certainly have a monstrous inventory of cards, but the problem is 99 percent of them are behind the counter, and the guys working there always seem to be busy with something. I don't love having to ask for cards in the first place, and that goes doubly so if I feel like I'm interrupting someone's work - the last thing I ever want to be is that person who inevitably asks six questions while I'm obviously in the middle of three different things (it's happened at every retail job I've ever had).

The 15/$1 cards are literally the only singles open for public browsing in the whole store - but I guess if you're gonna put Jim Rice rookies in said 15/$1 box I can't really complain much.

I had some time to kill after work a while ago (back when I still had a job) and decided to take a trip to the LCS - I found the Rice rookie within about two minutes of walking into the place.

That alone would've been enough of a surprise, and things got even further out of hand when I found a Bert Campaneris rookie and one of the few Pilots cards I didn't already have in there as well - I already own a copy of that Campy, but I just couldn't leave that one behind for eight cents.

This isn't an LCS I see myself frequenting much now or ever - they had marked-up 2021 blasters on proud display in the window, which should say enough - but it's the closest one to where I live so it's good for a trip every year or two.

Condition seems to be a make-or-break basis on how they price their cards, which the Rice and Campy RCs obviously show. The 15/$1 boxes were mostly stuffed with off-condition and/or no-name '70s commons, which is terrific for me since I'm constantly working on gathering some of the quirkier icons of that decade for my frankenset.

I'm always a sucker for a good catching pose, and are we sure Rick Jones wasn't just a comic-book drawing that somehow snuck onto a baseball card?

It's probably an oversight on my part, but neither Glenn Beckert nor Bill Freehan are "binder guys" for me - but again I can't pass up Topps Supers for eight cents (please inquire within if I can find these a good home somewhere).

Multi-player cards have never really been my thing, which explains why I didn't already have the aforementioned Jim Rice rookie, or the Mike Scioscia(!)/Fernando Valenzuela(!)/Jack Perconte(?) RC you see above.

For eight cents, though...GIMME.

A few newer items from the 15/$1 boxes - I think someone spilled a soda or something while sorting those Boggs and Ozzie Smith inserts, because there's an ever-so-slight bit of goo at the top edges.

Your accident, my gain.

One of the things I love about baseball cards is that there is almost literally nothing else in the world you could actually buy with eight cents in your pocket.

But in this hobby, if you're lucky, you might find some neat oddballs for that nickel and three pennies.

The last of the eight-cent randoms - the Smoltz is a neat Dufex paralle, and the Reese is actually a reprint of his '92 Topps rookie, which that has to be the only Pokey Reese reprint ever created.

As I said, most of this store's inventory is behind the counter - I swallowed my anxiety and flagged down the guy working there to dig through a few of the random boxes of HOFers they keep under the glass case.

I did this because, from what I've seen in my couple trips here, the prices on their cards are actually pretty fair - almost everything you'll see in the rest of this post cost between 50 cents and a dollar, which isn't bad at all given some of the prices I've seen at other LCS's in the past. 

I didn't have a ton of money to spend, so I kept my purchases to more of the off-kilter stuff I'm not likely to find out of the blue - not every day I get to add Bill Dickey or Yankees Phil Niekro cards to my binders.

A few more 50-cent HOFers, and a reminder that that one-off UD Legends of New York set sure produced some nice-looking cards.

If you go by sheer value, a buck a piece for these Pee Wee Reeses wasn't a giant steal or anything.

But if you go by pure enjoyment, it was sure a bargain, because there aren't many double play and/or play at the plate Pee Wees in existence.

Three 50-centers, and a buck for the Joe Morgan - I think someone made a blunder on the latter because I doubt a HOF card numbered to 17 copies(!) should be priced that low.

Marlins cards of Andre Dawson make me cringe, and yet I can't stop myself from buying them - as is the paradox of being a weird-uniform collector.

You can probably count the number of '90s Finest refractors I own on one hand, which is why I had to jump at these for 50 cents a pop - and yes, that's another Marlins Andre Dawson sighting, as well as an equally jarring look at Eddie Murray's brief Angels career.

The big purchase of the day was this Willie McCovey legend variation, which I plunked down five whole dollars for. 

Two reasons: 1) McCovey on the Padres is, again, another weird combination that I've never gotten used to seeing, and 2) I'm begrudgingly infatuated with Flagship short-print variations. It's a card that would've been easy to pass on if I saw it for five bucks online, but once I had it in my hands I knew I couldn't let it go. A fitting end to a strange and productive trip to the local card shop.

I can only hope the guy who owns my LCS doesn't read this post and come to his senses.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Here comes The National

"Well a person can work up a mean, mean thirst / after a hard day of nothing much at all..." - The Replacements, "Here Comes A Regular"

I'm still jobless as of this writing, and next week I might well become the first and only unemployed person to ever attend The National.

Even without a job, I've managed to bolster my savings a bit by selling off a few unneeded childhood treasures (people still buy Game Boys?) and dabbling in the book re-selling business. Honestly for the last month or so it's been refreshing to take a brief sabbatical from the dull work-a-day world. Another job no doubt awaits me, but for now I'm content to reset and not jump into anything. 

And after weighing the financial pros and cons I've decided that, yes, a trip to The National is indeed in the cards (pun intended) - I'll most likely be there next Thursday to try to beat some of the weekend crowd.

I've talked about this a few times before, but despite my excitement, I have mixed feelings about The National and what it represents about card collecting - and that goes about tenfold this year, smack dab in the middle of a Hobby Boom.

It's a strange feeling to critique and/or be disgusted with a community that I myself am a part of. I've worked up a mean, mean thirst for The National ever since it was cancelled last year - you can't argue that it's not the best card show around. It just is. But I'm fully ready to see dudes with plutonium-locked briefcases opening boxes of cards with gloves and NFT bros and whatever other godforsaken get-rich-quick schemes are being peddled this year. 

The sad part is that this is all that seems to get advertised about The National. No one mentions the unbelievable dime boxes and discount vintage that make this so fun for collectors like myself who represent about 0.0001 percent of the show's income. The sheer fun of The National for the collector often gets lost in the convention halls, tucked away into the corner.

It's always interesting to see what the cheap stuff is like at such a cash-fueled show like The National - and I'm wondering if it'll look anything like the excellent package I received from a loyal reader named Wes W. who's been shoveling stacks of cards on me for years now.

Wes always seems to send me the kind of stuff I rarely see in dime boxes - like Fleer Stickers and minor league cards, for instance.

The only bad thing about receiving minor league cards is that it gets me thinking about the millions of other minor league cards out there I still need, which let's just push that out of my mind for now, thank you.

Minor league cards are great for a lot of reasons, not the least of which because of how wacky and entertaining they can be.

(You can't convince me Stan Johnston & Walt Vanderbush weren't in Witness Protection.)

Like dudes in their early 20s need any excuse to flash their guns.

A few other randoms from Wes, including an Ozzie Smith that has me wondering how long it's been since I've had a slice of Wonder Bread (at least a decade).

Wes also sent me a handful of scrawled-upon cardboard, and while I don't specifically seek these out, I'll take any people are sitting on because I find them immensely entertaining.

They're also liable to open a Pandora's Box of mysteries - such as why that faux-Hal Jeffcoat signature is etched so deeply into that card, or what kind of cataloging was going on with that Geiger.

I try to be thorough with every trade package I receive - which why, for curiosity's sake, I flipped this '71 Milt Pappas over to take a look even though I already had a copy.

I'm glad I did, because staring out at me from the other side was... 

...some other guy!

I have a few of these mismatched vintage cards, and like the written-on ones, I find them fascinating. For comparison's sake, I once found a beaten-up '59 Topps card under a bench at the train station after a day at The National. It wasn't even worth someone's time to put it in a garbage can. Think about that. (Oh, and I still have that '59 Topps card.)

To me, collecting isn't only about hoarding stuff I need. It's about learning to enjoy the hobby as much as possible, seeing where it's come from and where it's been. I think some of that is gonna be lost in the crowd I'm bound to see next week - like the latest-and-greatest wrapper redemption booths that seem to run on money and mob mentality. There's a ton of tables at The National that I have no problem passing up...but there's also a whole heckuva lot of fun stuff I wouldn't miss for the world (job or no job).

Because as hard as it might be to believe, there's actually more to The National than what gets advertised - you just have to look a little harder to find it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Let's form a club, 2021 edition

Ever since Target stopped carrying cards, I've realized how closely opening packs made me feel attached to the goings-on of the present hobby.

Over and over again during the past few months, I've had multiple Oh, THIS set is out? or That's out already? moments. I have almost no idea what's going on as far as upcoming releases and other card events. 2021 has just felt like so much of a non-year for current card collecting. I've been buying most of the newer stuff I need on Sportlots because I'm not refreshing Target's card page every two minutes or paying for an overpriced blaster online.

There's a compelling argument to be made that this is all a blessing in disguise. Buying singles online is the smarter financial choice, and something I should've been doing long ago. And there aren't many sets around now that I feel any real need to be attached to - I had absolutely no misgivings about cherry-picking all my Series 2 needs, for example. 

But Stadium Club is different.

I've always felt a certain camaraderie with Stadium Club - it's one of a dying breed of sets that I truly believe Topps designs with actual collectors in mind.

I've also bought way too many packs of SC over the years, especially when you consider I got a good 75 percent of the 2021s I needed for 18 cents a piece on Sportlots without buying a single three-dollar pack with 5 cards inside. 

But while I would end up picking most SC singles at card shows and wherever else, the packs were what ignited that perennial fuel for this lovely set - seeing all those cards for the first time is a thrill like no other, and it's gone now.

So maybe all this is gaslighting me into thinking Stadium Club has lost a step this year. But I'm not as into 2021 SC as much as I've been in seasons past. The easy explanation for this is the huge cutback in baseball photography thanks to the pandemic, which thus means not as many exciting and noteworthy shots at Topps's disposal. A lot of the cards in this year's set have that kind of Flagship-ish repetitive feel to them.

Of course, not all 300 cards can be museum pieces, but the ratio between great images like these vs. ordinary action shots just seems way down this year. 

It's still weird to me that Stadium Club, of all sets, also provided me with my first cards of quite a few guys in their new (albeit airbrushed) jerseys.

Even the legend cards seem a bit phoned-in - that Jackie Robinson has to be a bad colorization job, because I don't think the Dodgers ever had red numbers on their jerseys.

But this isn't to say that 2021 Stadium Club is a dud, by any means - it still skies leaps and bounds above most of what's out there these days, and as per my yearly tradition, I've assembled my ten favorites from the fun stack of 18-cent masterpieces I bought online.

#10 -- 2021 Stadium Club #100 Mookie Betts

Mookie at his most electrifying.

#9 -- 2021 Stadium Club #57 Ronald Acuna Jr.

I really hate that this guy tore his ACL, because baseball's sure gonna miss his talent and his obvious love for the game while he's on the shelf.

#8 -- 2021 Stadium Club #210 Randy Arozarena

I tend to gravitate towards cards that can be immediately placed to a specific moment in time, and thus this card is a fitting monument to Randy Arozarena's stumble and slow crawl to home plate in one of the greatest World Series games we'll ever see.

#7 -- 2021 Stadium Club #2 Giancarlo Stanton

Enjoying another 937-foot home run.

#6 -- 2021 Stadium Club #71 Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw has long been a Stadium Club darling, and it's nice to see his long-awaited championship run documented in this year's set.

#5 -- 2021 Stadium Club #189 Bob Gibson

Seeing Bob Gibson's 1981 HOF enshrinement in black-and-white is a bit jarring - and a curious choice by Topps - but everything else about this card is perfect.

#4 -- 2021 Stadium Club #144 Wil Myers

Me: I hate the constant assault of advertisements in today's sports - one can only stomach so many Honda Game Breaks™ or State Farm Calls to the Pen™ or other sponsored drivel in a three-hour baseball game.

Also me: I am hopelessly in love with this perfectly-framed and immaculately-timed baseball card, sponsored by MasterCard™.

#3 -- 2021 Stadium Club #87 Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro at his most heroic.

#2 -- 2021 Stadium Club #253 Robin Yount

You don't get a lot of glimpses of legends in the field on baseball cards these days - how many of Babe Ruth's card show him with a glove? - which makes this Robin Yount double dip so pleasing.

#1 -- 2021 Stadium Club #197 Johnny Bench

I realize now what's missing in 2021 Stadium Club - there's not a whole lot of goofy here.

Granted, there weren't a lot of chances to be goofy in 2020. No weird pregame ceremonies or wild celebrations. But still, this is the only genuinely wacky card in this year's Stadium Club, the only one that made me sit and laugh softly to myself. And I love every last bit of it. 

Putting these top-10 lists is often an agonizing affair, but Johnny Bench and his everyday balloons are the easy #1 here in 2021, the far-and-away king of what, for many reasons, was a curious year for my relationship with Stadium Club.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

All we are saying is give Sportlots a chance

Everybody's talking about wax and packs and cash, and I'm over here buying weird oddballs for 18 cents on Sportlots and wondering why I never gave this site much of a chance before. 

I've purchased cards from Sportlots in the past, but they were mostly small orders, a few cards here and there purchased maybe two or three times a year. It was never my go-to place for card shopping. Trying to find cards from individual sellers instead of having one wide umbrella to choose from (a la COMC or Card Barrel) required a cluster of time I didn't want to devote. I'd heard about the new "box" option on Sportlots, where I could basically have a bunch of different orders shipped to a third location and sent to me all together, but I'm too impatient for that - I need my cards now, dammit. 

In a time where the card shows and card sites around me seemed endless, Sportlots was kind of the odd man out.

Enter our evil villain COVID.

All my local card sources obviously evaporated last year, which, when paired with COMC's year-long wait times, made my infinite card sources suddenly seem smaller. I decided to give ol' Sportlots another shot - and I'm happy to say that it's flown up the list and become my #1 card site so far in 2021. It's a great place to find cheap singles from new sets I'm never gonna find (RIP Target card aisles), but also a dreamland for unhinged randomness.

Sure, finding individual sellers with wide inventories and fair shipping costs does take a bit of time, but that payoff is sure sweet when you stumble upon one of those lucky few. I've made a handful of purchases this year that rivaled anything I could've gotten on any other card site, one of which arrived in the mail recently.

Call me a Sportlots convert, because where else am I gonna find these excellent Orioles team issues for 18-30 cents a piece? (Including, HOYT and, yes, a new ORIOLES REGGIE!)

I'm thinking this particular seller had some kind of Baltimore connection, because I found these Orioles-centric oddities as well, which were issued as part of some kind of Maryland Lottery program.

Talk about cards I'd never have a prayer of finding here in sleepy Illinois.

One thing I've learned over the years is that team-centric sets are the best places to find the unheralded and forgotten greats who are all but ignored by today's companies.

I certainly don't see Topps putting out any Tony Conigliaro or Bernie Carbo cards in the near future, which made these singles from the 2001 Fleer Red Sox checklist fun to get.

This batch of cards was similar to my other card site orders, in that I honestly can't remember what started it or the specific trails that led me to the cards I eventually bought.

I probably searched "Fan Favorites" at some point - I'll always take those at 18 cents a pop - and the Blyleven is a nice score since you don't see too many cards of him with the Pirates.

If all high-end sets looked as good as Topps Tribute, I might have a harder time ignoring them.

Two questions: is it weird that I'm already nostalgic for Panini Golden Age?

And: do I need to point out the irony of a mini Eddie Gaedel?

As you've seen, most of my purchases revolved around older legends, but I jumped at these from the 2003 UD MVP Update series because I actually don't think I've ever seen 'em in the wild - they were exclusive to factory sets at the time.

This seller didn't have the Greg Vaughn from this set that's been sitting on my Dime Box Dozen list for eternity, but he did help me out with a few others I needed, including a card that reminded me how good Kenny Lofton looked in Cubbie blue.

A few other random oddballs - I returned to baseball cards in 2005, but I never saw those Pack Wars cards at the time, and I still have no idea what one was supposed to do with them.

My favorite Sportlots sellers are the ones with incredibly large and varied inventories - this guy had something like 10,000 pages of cards to sift through(!), which of course means I only scraped the tip of the iceberg here.

Fun discovery: I had no idea Obscure Player I Collect (OPIC?) Mike Remlinger was once in the Seattle system, and that card's a fun addition to my Mariners binders even though he never played in the big leagues with them.

Some random inserts and such - I think my favorite Dennis Eckersley cards might be his Indians ones.

I have a good chunk of what I need from the '90s Conlon sets, but most of the scarcer '80s stuff continues to elude me.

My only complaint with these is that there's no names on the front, but the dead-ball photography and lesser-known player selection (clockwise, from left: Bill Wambsganss, Greasy Neale, Carl Mays, Hal Chase) make these every bit as top-notch as the more well-known Conlons.

I'm one of the few remaining reprint fans out there - but I'll admit that while they're nice surprises in dime boxes, I usually don't shell out the cash to buy specific ones online.

I did, however, have to make an exception for these fantastic Play Ball reprints, because unlike the '52 Mantle and such that we've seen a thousand times already, you don't see these reprinted a whole lot. And to me a reprint I've never seen before is just as fun as getting a "new" card.

Here, we've got Paul "Daffy" Dean, Zeke Bonura, Hank Greenberg, and my first-ever reprint of Ted Williams's rookie card, which seems strange given how often his other cards have been reproduced to death.

And also "The Clown Prince of Baseball" himself, Al Schacht - and how great is this baseball card?!

When I look back on it now, this order alone rivals anything else I've bought on other card sites, and shame on me for never really giving Sportlots the time of day, not seeing all the jewels it had to offer. 

I'm just sad it took a worldwide pandemic for me to finally realize that.