Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Archives, finally

It seems like every time I look up another Topps set is getting pushed further and further back into the calendar, which I suppose explains why I was more excited than usual to see that 2021 Archives did the impossible and actually came out recently.

Archives, for me, is in that weird middle ground of sets that probably don't have much reason to exist, but one I'm still glad exists anyways. Topps has lived on its own designs for several lifetimes by now, and Archives is nothing but a "Topps's Greatest Hits" remix. And it's even more pronounced this year - Topps decided to cram a whopping eight designs into this year's 300-card checklist (one from all seven decades + 1 weird one I'll get to later). 

All this seems like a recipe for disaster, but the truth is I think I kinda like 2021 Archives a little more than usual - if nothing else, the rash of different designs provided for a more interesting set this year. No, I haven't seen any on retail shelves (shocker), but I did manage to scoop up a good 95 percent of the base I needed on Sportlots recently for under the cost of two blasters (why wasn't I doing this years ago?).

And to further feed my addiction to ranking things, I've decided to rank the eight(!) designs Topps used in 2021 Archives based on the very arbitrary factors of how well I think Topps pulled off the look and/or how much the cards grabbed me.

#8 -- 1983 Topps

I always feel like I'm about to be banished to blogger purgatory for saying that while I've always liked '83 Topps, I don't love it.

It's probably a Top 20 Topps design for me, but it wouldn't sniff my Top 10. The fact that Topps has used it to death in the years since hasn't helped the cause - it already showed up in Archives a few years ago, as well as about a million other insert sets, and yet here it is again in 2021. 

I don't know whether it's the endless regurgitation or simply a dull group of cards, or a little of both, but for me the '83 portion of this year's Archives doesn't bring a whole lot to the table.

Favorite card -- Ron Santo

Seeing Ron Santo in a 2021 set warms my heart.

#7 -- 1957 Topps

Conversely with '83, 1957 Topps is a set I absolutely admire that almost always gets pushed to the sidelines in favor of other '50s Topps stalwarts.

The problem here is that the beauty of the original '57s is a tough thing to replicate, and that's shown in the times Topps has tried to attack it. The '57s in this year's Archives are almost all close-up mugshots that blend together after the fourth or fifth one. That Reggie is cool, and I like the Buxton in a weird quirky way, but overall there's very little of the true spirit of '57 Topps here.

(But I'm not a good enough writer to put whatever that true spirit is into words.)

Favorite card -- Anthony Rizzo

In another chapter of the Topps bizarro world, it's obvious that Archives had a later printing-press deadline than Update, because a lot of Update's glaring omissions are prominently displayed in Archives.

See: Anthony Rizzo on the Yankees.

#6 -- 2091 Topps(?!)

The reason there's eight designs in 2021 Archives instead of seven is the weird decision to cram a futuristic 2091 Topps series into the very end of this year's checklist ("140 Years of Topps Baseball").

The Fanatics takeover is definitely an elephant in the room with these, but I won't talk about that for now. What I will talk about is that, while I don't like the look of these at all (yes, let's make the player names EVEN SMALLER!) I admire Topps's to try something out of left field here. So much of what we're seeing these days is spoon-fed rehashings and "safe" generic designs that impress no one.

Here's a rare case of Topps going a bit off the rails, and although the look isn't great, I love the effort.

Favorite card -- Don Drysdale

Because the world needs more Don Drysdale cards.

#5 -- 1973 Topps

Here's the surprise inclusion in 2021 Archives, because '73 Topps is slated to be featured in Archives next year.

And if these are a preview of what's gonna come in 2022 Heritage, I'm fully prepared to be disappointed - there's almost none of the strange action photos or general roguishness that make '73 Topps so special.

Favorite card -- Ken Griffey Jr.

A nice candid shot that reminds me a lot of the '73 Jimmy Wynn, one of my favorites.

#4 -- 2001 Topps

A paradox: I don't like 2001 Topps at all (does anybody?) but in a weird way, I'm glad to see it in 2021 Archives because of how how little it's remembered these days.

I still get a kick out of seeing legends on designs that span generations into the future, and don't sleep on my first card of Dime Boxedonia favorite Kyle Schwarber on the Red Sox. Add it all up, and the 2001 portion of this year's Archives is an unexpected source of joy within so many better designs.

This begs the question: what's better, an endless rehashing of a great design, or a rare nod to a forgotten look?

Favorite card(s) - Vida Blue & Dick Allen

These are by far my favorite cards in this year's Archives & please don't make me pick between them.

#3 -- 1962 Topps

This is the case of me excited about a design I've always been kind of meh about, sheerly because of how well Topps managed to pull off a proper homage.

I could see a lot of these cards popping up in the original '62 checklist, and for a set like Archives that's really the ultimate compliment.

Favorite card -- Max Scherzer

My first Dodger card of Mad Max + an excellent photo = one of my favorite cards of the year.

#2 -- 2011 Topps

It's scary to think 2011 Topps is already being treated as a "classic" design - I vividly remember opening packs of these, for god's sake.

And while I think at least some of this is due to the hallowed Trout Rookie, a lot of it is because it's just a fabulous baseball card look, easily one of the best of my lifetime. I think Topps did a fine job here, and they're darn near indistinguishable from the originals - I imagine reprinting contemporary designs is a lot easier than going back into the '50s and '60s.

Sure, it pains me to think of something from ten years ago as "classic," but Topps did in preserving the  aura of this "classic" (ugh) design here.

Favorite card -- George Springer

All the Archives 2011s are solid baseball cards, but this one speaks to me for some reason.

#1 -- 1991 Topps

At this exact moment, 1991 Topps exists in the perfect storm: it's a design I love that Topps executes shockingly well and hasn't shoved down our throats (yet).

We saw it in Archives a few years ago, but apart from that there aren't a lot of '91 Topps homages out there, which makes any nod to it even more exciting. Someone at Topps must know this set backwards and front, because they've done a great job reproducing it on those rare occasions - the photos breaking into the "fourth wall" outside the border is especially well done.

It's been a few years since I did a comprehensive ranking of Topps designs, and I think '91 Topps came in at around #15 last time - my gut tells me it might creep into the Top 5 if I ever do an update of that list.

Favorite card - Ichiro

I love all Ichiro cards, so maybe I'm a bit biased, but to me this is just a wonderful card of a perennial favorite.

There's a lot to unpack in 2021 Archives, and I can see the arguments for and against shoving eight different looks into a single checklist. It's a lot. Does a design buffet like this one make a set feel more fractured, or more virtuous? Normally, I'd say the former - but in this case I'm leaning towards the latter.

I will say this: over the years, I've come to think the overall quality of a set can be gauged by how fun of a blog post it makes for the writer - and at least as far as I can remember I've never enjoyed writing an Archives post more.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Blog Readers of the underground

I've long been fascinated by the life of the Blog Reader.

Blog Readers lurk in the shadows of the cardsphere, constantly reading what we write and occasionally popping up for a comment or two. Blog Readers have somehow staved off the burning desire to start a blog of their own. And if you're as lucky as I am, a Blog Reader will even sometimes reach out and send you a "I Have Cards For You" email, like the ones I've been getting from a Reader named Dave over the past few months.

Which leads me to another crucial point that I seem to come back to time and time again: from my experience, Blog Readers often put together some of the best trade packages ever.

Dave has, in fact, sent me so many PWEs and packages over the last handful of months that I don't remember which cards in this post came from what particular mailing - so you're gonna see 'em all in one jumbled, glorious mess here.

I like to think I'm a generous person, but when someone like Dave comes around and just volunteers to send me some cards apropos of nothing, I start to wonder if I'm as much of a mensch as I think I am. Because it really is incredible what the mysterious Blog Reader world seems to consistently dig up from their virtual caves.

To start with, Dave sent me a few of these Marketside oddballs that I never did see in real time - they were issued with pizzas at Wal-Mart, if I remember correctly...and it takes a lot more than that to get me to step foot in a Wal-Mart.

Bigtime player collection hits here - I don't own nearly as much early-'90s Finest as I probably should.

A couple 2021 insert needs here, including my first baseball card of an Atari(!).

I love minis, but I have to admit I've mostly ignored those '80s Fleer/Topps stickers because they've never really felt like cards to me.

Nevertheless, I can't help but smile at a new Bill Buckner card, or an "interview" shot I've never seen before.

I'll always provide a home for unsheltered Cubs.

Sweet Lou, Big Mo, Senior Leaguers, and the Phillie Phanatic - I have no way to tie any of that together.

Dave came into a nice little treasure trove of 2021 singles, which is nice since I've been staring down empty card aisles all year.

I never did see any retail A&G at my local Targets, which I suppose isn't a huge tragedy - although I'll admit those Murads are excellent and about 100 times better than the actual A&G base design.

As much as I love randomness, oddballs, etc., it's kinda peaceful to delete a big chunk of specific cards off my want lists, like Dave helped me do with this flurry of Opening Day needs.

Other random recent needs from Dave - doubt you'll find someone sending me a "just because" Luis Robert rookie insert anywhere else but the blogging world.

Retro Topps insert needs (extra points for the powder-blue Phillies throwback).

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a lot of the inserts we've seen so far in 2021 have grossly outperformed the regular base cards.

GQ's Tarot inserts are among the best things going in the hobby these days, and those Captain minis make for some fun (though oddly-shaped) binder additions.

More big player needs from two sets that left about a 0 percent imprint on the hobby.

I love any Cubs cards people wanna send me, but Rod Beck Cubs cards really put a smile on my face.

Always appreciate people picking out random cards for me with the thought of maybe he'll like some of these - because chances are you're right, and I will!

We'll close out Dave's opus with this snazzy A&G mini of ex-Cub (sigh) and binder-guy extraordinaire Anthony Rizzo.

It's true that I don't blog nearly as much as I used to, but I still haven't ceased operations altogether and joined the Blog Readers of the underground. I like blogging too much, the pleasures it brings, the comfort of having a space to write about any cards I want for any reason. I can't give that up.

But if I've learned any lesson from people like Dave, it's that Blog Readers have their own bustling underbelly of the cardsphere, one that offers the same joys and victories we bloggers have come to take for granted.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Frankenset stats

This is one of those posts I've been wanting to write for years, but didn't think anyone besides myself would be interested here goes nothing.

You may already know that one of the endless corners of my collection is my treasured Dime Box Frankenset binder - filled with hand-picked cards numbered 1 to 666 that speak to me for one reason or another. The only real rule for entry is that the players on said cards cannot be "binder guys" of mine - ones I like/collect who are already featured in my standard team binders. Other than that, any mini-collection hit, any nifty photo, any otherwise cool card is fair game. It's found a use for literally thousands of cards I would've otherwise cast off, which is why I'm in full support of everyone starting some kind of frankenset.

Anyways, as much as I love the randomness of my Original Frankenset (we'll leave the second one for another day), I've always been interested to compile some stats on the cards in it, number-crunching baseball fan that I am. So, a few nights ago, I plugged all 666 cards into a sortable spreadsheet, revved up the statistical engines, and pored over the results.

There were some confirmations of long-held suspicions, some wacky surprises, and just a whole lot of fun for this nerdy card collector.

Most cards (set) -- 1973 Topps (24)

I long assumed 1993 Upper Deck was the most-featured set in my frankenset, but of course I was overlooking a monster with '73 Topps.

'93 UD is indeed the runner-up here (20 cards), and probably has more frankenset-worthy cards on the whole, but the great cards in '73 Topps are really great, and thus more apt to be featured prominently throughout these pages of craziness.

Most cards (year) -- 1995 (42)

With 42 total cards in my frankenset, 1995 just eked out 1993 & 1994 (41 cards each) as the most featured year.

At first, I was a bit surprised, but it makes sense - the '90s are by far the heaviest decade of frankenset nominees, and 1995 was pretty much the peak of the fun/madness since there were about 735 different brands going at the time, a lot of whom were trying different things.

Most cards (brand) -- Topps (224)

Your standard basic Topps is the easy branding king here - its 224 total cards occupy just over a third of my entire frankenset (this doesn't even count Stadium Club since I entered them as a separate brand altogether), and more than double its next closest competitor in Upper Deck (100).

For all my oohing and aahing over this one-off set or this oddball, a lot of the time you just can't beat a good ol' Topps base card.

Oldest card(s) -- 1958 (x2)

These stylish backstops with one-bar masks and oven-mitt gloves represent the oldest cards in my frankenset, and further proof that I'm a sucker for a good catching pose from any era of cardboard.

Hal Smith in particular probably has an eternal place in my frankenset - the card he beat out for the #273 slot went on to win the whole shebang in my Second Frankenset voting, so if that couldn't take him down I don't know what could.

Newest card(s) -- 2021 (x5)

I think most of us can agree that 2021 has been a pretty dull year for cardboard, but even in the midst of that despair it's managed to add five new cards to my frankenset!

Most cards (team) -- Pirates (35)

This is probably more just dumb luck than anything, but the Pirates are the most-represented team in my frankenset, just beating out the Giants (34).

I think this is because the Pirates have been around for a long time, and have thus had more cards produced than a club like the Diamondbacks, but that's my only guess.

Most cards (mini-collection) -- Plays at the Plate (67)

The vast majority of cards in my frankenset don't belong to any specific theme of mine, but as far as mini-collection representation goes, Plays at the Plate is the most ubiquitous one here, besting Throwbacks and Double Dips (56 each) by a fair margin.

I tend to think this is because PATPs create so many moments of impact and various other terrific photo opportunities, not running together as much as double plays or guys jumping at the wall tend to.

Most cards (player) -- Kirt Manwaring (6)

One long-assumed suspicion turned out to be correct - Kirt Manwaring is indeed the Lord of the Frankenset with six total cards in the binder, just edging out Mickey Morandini & Jose Rijo (5 each).

I don't think any otherwise obscure player has had as many consistently great cards as Manwaring - he's got a few more in my Second Frankenset, too - and I'm at a loss to explain why. My only guess is that card companies secretly made a bet as to who could make the best cards of a random dude, and picked Manwaring's name out of a hat...or something. I don't know. 

All I know is that I probably wouldn't care who Kirt Manwaring was if I hadn't started this frankenset, and when you get down to it, that's really the best thing I can say about this strange little corner of my collection. I find out things about baseball cards I would've never discovered otherwise.

And in the end, I hope you learned something from this offbeat obsession of mine, one I didn't think would interest a single soul besides myself.