Wednesday, May 25, 2022

I don't hate Donruss

My relationship with Donruss has long been a fraught one. 

Every time I look down and see a modern-day Donruss card in one of my binders, my first reaction is usually something along the lines of Good god, what is THIS thing doing in my collection? And I never have a good answer. For a long time, there's been very little to appreciate about the brand aside from the simple novelty of it being a weird alternative to Topps. I've mostly tried to devote as little brain space and cash to Donruss has humanly possible over the years.

I don't hold the lack of logos against Donruss - it's not Panini's fault they don't have a license - but their answer has been to throw the same dull designs at us with little effort to make them the slightest bit entertaining. At the very least, I'd appreciate an attempt to come up with something creative.

But a weird thing happened the other day: I went to Target, and after I took a puff on my inhaler at the shock of seeing a fully-stocked card display, I actually settled on a few rack packs of, you guessed it, Donruss.

And then a weirder thing happened: I went back to buy MORE Donruss the very next night.

This isn't because I'm proclaiming 2022 Donruss The Greatest Set Ever! or even one that makes me urge you to drop everything and buy some. The lack of logos is still obvious and the base cards are mostly redundant, which is par for the course with Panini. But there's a silliness to this year's Donruss design that I find endearing - I'm not quite sure why, but it reminds me of the opening credits of a game show. It's a mildly amusing set, which is way more than I can say about most of what we've gotten from Donruss over the years.

And hey, we kind of get our first cards of guys in new uniforms, like Javier Baez making his debut in my Detroit (AL) binder.

In the past, the thought of writing an entire post about Donruss would never cross my mind for the simple fact that I've never had much to say about it.

But there's a lot of stuff I wanted to show you from the Donruss hanger packs I opened, which doesn't usually happen - like these cool legends, including a Ryno double dip (with a Tony Gwynn cameo, no less!).

I have a theory that 1988 Donruss is the most overproduced set in the history of baseball cards - and yet somehow this subset seems fresh because Panini/Donruss doesn't shove the past down our throats the way Topps does (five more '87 Topps tributes were announced as I typed that sentence).

(Hark, a Madison Bumgarner baseball card sighting!)

Opening Donruss is fun because, unlike the stack of base cards and one mediocre insert you might get from a pack of Topps, there's a massive amount of sheer variety in the Donruss hanger packs I bought.

And while not every part of 2022 Donruss is a hit - I don't like those Diamond Kings cards at all - I can't help but appreciate the sheer wildness inside every pack (though I've never once heard Kyle Schwarber called "Waltham" before?).

Donruss preys on the souls of suckers like me who begrudgingly enjoy parallels, especially shiny ones.

Donruss inserts > Topps inserts, by a longshot - that Trout in particular is magnificent.

My reaction upon pulling this card from a pack: WHOA COOL!

It's not a thought that runs through my head opening modern packs very often. It's the kind of card that will definitely stand out in a binder page. Again, I'm not saying you should be buying Panini stuff over Topps. I don't think we're there yet. But here in 2022, I can say my usual vitriol for Donruss is gone, and there's actually some good stuff in here this year.

Which is why, in the end, what I'm about to say is probably the highest compliment I've ever given to Donruss: I don't hate it.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

All the old dudes, carry the news

I realize now that my entire knowledge of the short-lived Senior League exists almost exclusively through baseball cards.

I've never read an article about it, and I don't believe I've seen any game footage of the players in action (is there any?). No, pretty much all I know about the Senior League - which lasted one full season in 1989 and part of another in 1990 before folding - comes from the few card sets that were issued in conjunction with the ill-fated group of one-time stars. (Which makes sense, since the league existed during the heart of the ill-fated overproduction era.)

But my discoveries about the Senior League are by no means complete - I had no idea this "Elite" Senior League set existed before I saw it featured on Night Owl's blog, and by a strange coincidence, I requested & received a spare copy of that very same set from (a different) Greg of "The Collective Mind" shortly after.

Even just a few cards in, I knew this was my new favorite Senior League set of the lot.

Most of the other SL cards are poses and give off the impression that this is just a group of former stars who got together to recapture old times. This Elite set, however, shows that while you'll see a collection of once-familiar names, this was a league, and these guys actually played.

And even beyond that, judging by flying helmets and double dips - they played to win!

Now, granted, a lot of my enjoyment of Senior League cards stems from seeing familiar names in the newfound twilight of their baseball careers.

Because of the relative lack of information regarding anything about this league, I'd probably never know that Dime Box favorites like Al Oliver and Mike Easler played in the SL later on. While these cards have stats on the back (Mike Easler hit .323 for the Tropics!) they don't show up on their major-league stat sheets, and without these cards I can't help but think they'd have been lost to history all together.

And while there's a lot of great cards in this set, I've chosen ten particular favorites that I'd love to show you in no particular order.

While it was called the "Senior League," quite a few of the guys who appeared in it weren't far removed from their big-league playing days - like Vida Blue, who pitched his last game for the Giants in 1986.

Paul Blair is a criminally underappreciated ballplayer, but what grabbed me here is that very Seattle Pilots-esque cap.

Even in the Senior League, Dave Kingman looks like he's about to hit every ball 900 feet.

Lenny Randle cards make me giddy, and it warms my heart even more to see him trying to lay down a bunt.

Lest you think those Senior Leaguers didn't take these games seriously.

The photography in this set is shockingly nice and actually better than a lot of the big-league cards that were being issued at the same time - these multiple-exposure shots weren't just reserved for Upper Deck!

(Interesting side note: somehow Paul Mirabella actually pitched in both the Senior League and the majors in 1989, and was a big-leaguer again in 1990.)

Unless my memory fails me, I don't recall perpetual Dime Boxedonia favorite Bernie Carbo appearing in any of the other Senior League sets, and without this card I probably would've never known he played for the good ol' Winter Haven Super Sox.

The Senior League did nothing to stop Luis Tiant's facial hair.

Love ya, Dock.

Bill Lee is the definition of a Baseball Lifer, so it only makes sense that he played in the Senior League.

Commercially, the failure of this league is obvious - I can't imagine it was very successful given how quickly it folded. The fact that very little is even known and/or remembered about it all these years later seems to highlight its relative obscurity in the annals of baseball history.

But at the risk of sounding maudlin, I think there's something to be said about guys like Lenny Randle and Dock Ellis getting to play the game that made them beloved one last time, and I feel like this set is the one that most properly documents the forgotten glory that was the Senior League

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

I got a raise, so I bought some Big League

For once, I have some good job-related news: I got a raise at work, and since this seems like a cause for celebration, I went out and bought a box of 2022 2021 Big League.

Big League is among the last affordable sets out there, and it's really the only one of those I like enough to buy a box of. But I wasn't planning on splurging on much of the latest stuff for the simple fact that this set is already a year old! If I remember right, the original release date for 2021 Big League was last spring, and I assumed for a long time that Topps was just going to scrap it all together. I wouldn't have blamed them if they did.

But alas, here I am buying a 2021 product in early 2022 - but with a little extra money in my pocket, I figured I might as well give it a go.

I ranked Big League as the 2020 Set of the Year, so naturally I had high hopes for the encore.

And while it probably would've been impossible to live up to my lofty expectations, I have to admit that 2021 Big League is...a bit of a dud. The design is neat and much more colorful than anything else Topps is putting out, but the set as a whole just doesn't feel exciting. The photos lapse into the general sameness that has plagued Flagship for the last decade & I really don't feel there was any great effort put into trying to continue the momentum I've felt with Big League ever since it first came out in 2018.

It seems weird to say, but even with the year-long delay, this set feels rushed.

The backs continue to be among the most notable in the industry, and still give us facts that are genuinely fun about our favorite big leaguers.

The weirdest part about this set is that the checklist was obviously finalized a ways back, and despite being released here in spring of 2022, the set reflects what baseball looked like a year ago.

That means a lot of guys aren't even with the teams they're pictured with here, and some - like Joc Pederson & Kyle Schwarber - are actually two teams removed from their featured early-2021 duds.

In years past, it seemed like every single pack of Big League would have a few cards that were interesting and just generally made me happy. 

I opened a whole box of 2021 Big League, and only found a few.

This is a quibble with the particular box I ordered, but wow were there a lot of doubles in there - wasn't very entertaining pulling the same cards over and over again.

Adding additional weirdness was the fact that I pulled two autographs in consecutive packs, which was unexpected to say the least since I think autos fall around 1:700 packs or something.

David Bote is a local fan favorite who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, and I actually recouped a good amount of what I spent on this box by selling the Albies (not that I ever plan on recouping any money I spend on baseball cards, but it's nice when it happens).

The orange parallels remain a fun corner of Big League, and most of the inserts are okay but nothing to write home about.

Now these I like, and they're the sum total of what I generally enjoy about Big League: lovingly flashy, sometimes strange, and oddly beautiful.

Sadly, they're an anomaly in this year's last year's mostly dull offering. I admit that Topps had a lot working against them here - very of little which they were likely able to control - which accounts for why so much of the box I opened just felt off. My hope is that this is merely a speed bump onto bigger and better things for Big League. Given the set's track record, I tend to lean towards thinking it will be.

And while I wasn't exactly floored by the box I bought, I think you'll agree with me that there's far worse ways to celebrate a raise, right?