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.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Completist memories from the non-completist

I freely admit that I'm not much of a completist.

Set building has never really been my thing. I can't bring myself to deem a certain collection "complete" and call it a day. I don't gauge my player collections by the hopes of any sort of finality. I own over 1,000 Vladimir Guerrero cards, for instance, but I have no idea how many that is out of Vlad's total number of cards in the universe (I'm guessing it's a tiny fraction). It's never been my goal to have them all. I gather whatever I can, and that's good enough for me.

Perhaps my only semi-completist collecting mode is my informal goal of having every Topps card of guys I collect, with an obvious emphasis on the older dudes because vintage Topps is the most fun to chase, of course. I call them "Topps sets." Some of these are never gonna happen (Mantle, Aaron, etc.), some are incomplete but in somewhat fathomable reach (Yaz, McCovey), and a handful, I'm happy to say, are indeed complete.

My complete run of Hoyt Wilhelms is probably my proudest "Topps set" - I was flipping through my Hoyts the other day, in fact, and I found myself remembering a few notable milestones along the way.

Oddly, I'm about 99 percent sure my first Topps Hoyt was the tough '72 high number you see at the top of the post - I can't remember why I targeted that one first, but I must've gotten it somewhat cheap because I bought it with my weekly allowance budget when I was 14 years old.

The last Hoyt I needed to complete the run was, as expected, the dreaded '52 Topps rookie that my dad joyously found a few years ago after years and years of us scouring the market for anything near an affordable copy.

If we're talking money spent out of my own pocket, my most expensive Hoyt was this '61 Topps high-number, which I bought for a little over $30 at a card show.

(It's one of four high-numbered Hoyts in his catalog - consider that a fair warning for any prospective Hoyt collectors out there.)

A card I thought would be tough but actually wasn't was this '53 Topps Hoyt - a generous forum member generously sent me a free copy back during my days on the trading forums.

But my favorite Hoyt? That's tough.

It probably should be the '52 Topps monster - but when you take away the mystique, it's not that visually pleasing of a card. Hoyt's eyes are half-closed, and he looks to be in mid-sentence, like a bad Polaroid taken at a family picnic. 

No, I'd have to go with our '61 Topps high-number friend again - the knuckleball grip, slightly cocked head, and generally excellent vintage pose embody everything I love about the guy.

With those memories abound, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at similar milestones from other notable Topps sets I've completed & get those nostalgic cardboard juices flowing again.

Roger Maris is another Topps set I'm proud to say I've completed, and I'm pretty sure it all started with this '65 Topps beauty I acquired during my forum days.

Last card: 1960 Topps

Most expensive card: 1958 Topps

A card that looks like it was used as a coaster at one point, but at about $40, it's also the only Maris rookie I'd ever be able to afford in a million years.

A surprisingly easy card: 1968 Topps

I went to a card show a few years ago all geared up and ready to scour the aisles for Maris's 1968 sunset card, fully expecting to have to pass on a few expensive ones and hem and haw until I found one just right.

Turns out the very first table I stopped at that day had this copy for $12, and that was that.

Favorite card: 1958 Topps

It's hard not to pick this one - I love the orange background and the perpetually strange sight of Roger Maris on the Indians.

To this day, it's one of those cards I don't quite believe I own - I'm holding it in my hands right now, and it's right in front of my eyes, but to think that my collection has something as gargantuan as a Roger Maris rookie is still foreign to me.

First Curt Flood card: 1967 Topps

I'm not in the business of telling people how or what to collect, but come on, I think everyone should own at least one Curt Flood card - it's good for the soul.

I'm not altogether certain what my first Flood was, but I tend to think it was this raggedy '67 Topps copy because I've had it for longer than I can remember & don't know where I got it, which are two signs that I've had a card for a while.

Last card: 1962 Topps

Another dastardly high-number (#590), which tends to be a common tale for cards I need to complete my Topps sets.

Most expensive card: 1962 Topps

A whole $15, which is more than triple the amount I've paid for any of Flood's other cards.

A surprisingly easy card: 1964 Topps

There's a guy trying to hoard every single '64 Topps Flood on the face of the earth, so this card is a little scarcer/pricier than you'd think.

But I didn't know about any of that when I found it in a 3/$1 box at a card show many moons ago.

Favorite card: 1958 Topps

Flood's rookie card is far from his most appealing, but I guess I'm guilty of falling victim to the rookie craze here, because this has long been my favorite.

First Reggie Jackson card: 1981 Topps

Again, I'm not 100 percent sure on this, but one of my earliest card memories is buying a whole box full of 1981 Topps at a garage sale when I was a kid, and I have to assume that's where my first Reggie came from.

Last card: 1972 Topps

Probably not the last card you'd imagine one would need to complete Reggie's run, but it was for me.

Most expensive card: 1969 Topps

Most expensive Reggie, yes, but not a budget-breaker my any means - I paid all of $20(!) for this Reggie rookie, thanks to a small hole punch in the bottom-right corner. 

A surprisingly easy card: 1969 Topps

I thought I'd have to fork over at least $100 to even get a beater copy of Reggie's rookie.

I threw out an eBay bid on this one a while ago, kinda forgot about it, and then was shocked to find out I'd actually won it a few days later for the cost of a blaster - a definite victory for this low-end/cheap collector.

Favorite card: 1976 Topps

A tough choice, since Reggie has quite a few excellent cards, but for me nothing can take down this heroic image from '76 Topps.

First Nolan Ryan card: 1991 Topps

I bought a near-complete set of '91 Topps as a kid - might've even been from that same aforementioned garage sale with the '81 Topps - so I'm guessing this was my first of Nolan Ryan's seemingly eternal run of Topps cards.

Last card: 1969 Topps

One of the caveats of my Topps sets is that I don't count multi-player rookies, League Leader cards, etc. - to me, a true Nolan Ryan card features Nolan Ryan and no one else.

So yes, I consider my Ryan run complete even though I don't own the '68 Topps rookie he shares with Jerry Koosman - which means I finished it when my dad found this '69 Topps in a lot he bought from an antique mall dealer who obviously didn't know much about cards.

Most expensive card: 1972 Topps

Paid $15 for this notably tough '72 Ryan, airburshed Angels cap and all.

A surprisingly easy card: 1970 Topps

Sometimes the cardboard gods curse you, and sometimes they smile down on you, and the latter is true with my Nolan Ryan collection because I've had incredibly good luck with finding his cards.

I bought a rough '71 Topps Ryan for $5 on COMC not long ago. Oh, and there was that time I found his '78 Topps for a penny. But I think the biggest coup has to be this impossible '70 Topps uber-high number (#712) at a card show a couple years ago, which I paid all of $10 for.

I've seen copies in way worse shape priced many times higher than that, which makes this all the more joyous, and all the more mystifying.

Favorite card: 1980 Topps

For me, Nolan Ryan doesn't have a card you point to and say, that's his best card, no argument.

He's got a few great ones, some okay ones, and a bunch of others that just kind of run together. In my mind it's a close heat between 1980 and '91 - I sway back and forth, but I tend to give the nod to 1980 because everything about this card just works. The colors, the All-Star banner, and the excellent night photo. It's 1980 Topps at its finest, and Nolan Ryan at his finest, all in one baseball card.

While these are far from the only Topps sets I've finished, they're among the ones I'm the most proud of, and it's been fun to stroll down memory lane here tonight and remember there are some joys to be had out of being a completist.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Even Twitter has its day

One of the many paradoxes of living in the technological world is that I have a Twitter account without really knowing why I have a Twitter account.

I don't tweet very often - when I do it's mostly to broadcast the rare event of me actually writing a new blog post - and scrolling through my Twitter feed at any given time just seems to give me more anxiety and heartburn. I get a little tired of seeing 937 different arguments about things like PSA grading that are already pointless to me. If you're acquainted with the cardsphere and don't already have a Twitter account, I can't say I'd recommend starting one. The similarities are few, and I personally much prefer it here.

But every once in a blue moon, a prolific and generous Twitterer like @Raiderjoe_FO reaches out and says Hey, I'd like to send you a big box of cards I think you'll enjoy.

What's even crazier is that this isn't the first time he's done this.

I didn't count, but there had to have been about a thousand cards in the box I received this time around. I honestly felt sorry for the poor postal worker who had to carry this thing up to my doorstep. The fact that people out there are so quick to pick out an insane number of cards for me is nothing short of heartwarming, and proof that there are reasons for a curmudgeon like me to use Twitter.

One of the surefire stars of the lot was this Kellogg's Manny Sanguillen I somehow didn't already have - although Mr. Raiderjoe mainly included it because someone decided to draw little pillbox lines on Manny's Pirates cap.

I don't specifically collect written-on cards, but I do think they're a consistently thrilling form of entertainment and wonder.

Same goes for "beaters," or generally worn and torn vintage treasures - not anything I've earmarked an entire binder for or anything, but still good for laughs.

That Walt Williams is a real curiosity - a kid cut out the frame of an Indians player and taped it over Walt's regular '72 Topps card to reflect his trade to Cleveland (a pre-Update update!).

But this box wasn't just beaters and cards with novel past lives - there was a ton of just plain great cardboard in here, too.

I believe these two gems come from an oddball Goudeys That Never Were-ish set - and they're every bit as beautiful as the originals.

More oddballs, including a Negro Leagues Judy Johnson card which reminds me I just finished reading Only the Ball Was White by Robert Peterson last night - a fantastic chronicle of pre-integration black baseball for anyone who's interested in the topic.

Hitting on all my oddball loves here - (love the) Drake's, box-bottoms, OPCs, and weird team issues.

Scavenged quite a few mini-collection hits out of those thousand cards.


Minor league cards of big-name stars are always a thrill.

More fun on the farms - that obviously isn't Keith Comstock's best minor league card, but those outfield wall ads are still glorious.

This box might've been good for zany written-on cards and weird oddballs and a lot of other kooky stuff, but that doesn't mean it was lacking in bonafide star power. 

(Never realized Don Sutton wore #27 with the Angels.)

Some late '70s/early '80s fun - love all the automobile sightings on the Jorgensen.

A smattering of other randoms - UD Power Up has to be one of the strangest sets ever made, and I'm still not sure what the point of it ever was.

Give me all your colorful and odd-shaped cards.

Never bad to send me Senior League cards or Big League parallels - which reminds me, is 2021 Big League ever gonna come out?!

Oh yeah, did I mention this box had a near-complete run of these excellent Laughlin World Series stickers??

I've always felt these deserve way more airplay than they tend to get in the card community - they're fun, colorful, and you can tell there was just a lot of pure joy put into this set.

Might as well close with this '61 Topps Moose Skowron if for no other reason than I'd never seen it before, and a quick consult of my big baseball card book showed why - it's actually a scarce SP from the '61 set!

It doesn't happen often, and you might have to scroll through thousands and thousands of what do you think this'll grade posts, but if you stick with it you might just find good folks like Mr. Raiderjoe who remind you that, against all odds, even Twitter has its day.