Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Feeling outnumbered at the card show

Dad and I made our semi-annual trek to the big convention hall show last week, and for the first time in the many years we've been going to this thing, I can honestly admit I felt outnumbered.

This show has long been a hub for the higher-end types who I regularly see pull wads of cash from their pockets. But despite the massive size of the place, I've always felt at heart that the majority of the people were there for pure enjoyment - not PSA registries or recouping expenses. I can't say for certain that's the case anymore: I have no substantial proof to back it up, but it just felt like I kept seeing unopened wax and slabs where dime boxes used to be. Kept seeing the same rookie cards under glass cases in every aisle. 

While I can't imagine this show will ever be completely overrun by high-dollar stuff, I think I finally felt the teeter-totter tip to the other side of the hobby - the sheer variety of the card show experience I've come to love seemed to take a hit.

Early returns, however, were good: a table in the very first aisle had a dime box!

But little did I know that'd be the only dime box of any substance I'd find in the entire place. Still, if I was only gonna see one dime box, this wasn't a bad one to stumble across - the guy had a lot of those strange '80s Broder oddballs that I find oddly lovable, and even had a few treasured cards of local heroes Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Doolittle.

Gorzelanny attended a community college about five minutes from my house, and Sean Doolittle's a noted book lover who shops at the bookstore I currently work at (though, sadly, I have yet to run into him) - you can even see a couple pictures of him in our bookstore in this SI article.

I saw a lot of 50-cent and dollar boxes that were quite obviously dime boxes in disguise - is anyone seriously buying 1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryans for a buck? 

This, I think, is my main fear of the changing hobby - that cheap cards won't be cheap any more, that inflation will hit the lowest reaches of the totem pole. People buying $500 graded cards doesn't affect me because that's not anything I cared about in the first place. But seeing people asking a buck a piece for regular base cards I saw a year ago for a dime is disheartening.

This blog may be called "Dime Boxes," but I love quarter boxes if the cards inside warrant a quarter each, and thankfully I found a few such boxes on display at this show - including an excellent Johnny Cueto that has to be one of the shiniest cards on the Shiny Card Spectrum.

I was over the moon about landing a gross of these "150 Years" inserts from a few years back for a quarter a pop - I think Topps did a fantastic job with this set, but for whatever reason I've had a hard time finding them in the wild.

Believe me, I don't mean to say this was a bad or disappointing evening in the slightest - few things in this world will ever beat a day at the card show, and as you'll see in this post, I still came home with a fine haul.

The general flux of vendors at shows these days makes it even nicer to see some of the same guys I've been buying from for years - a lot of them even recognize me and my dad by now. One vendor I love has a table that perpetually looks to be in the eye of a hurricane, and all of his stuff is 50 cents a pop - an inventory that includes everything from single cards to unopened oddball sets.

For 50 cents, I'll grab pretty much any minor league set I can get my hands on - finding a few names I recognized was icing on the cake.

Your standard helping of card show minis - I have no idea what that Tim Keefe card is, but I love it.

Our first stop at this show is always a guy right near the entrance with a big 50-cent tub full of random cardboard that seems to have no rhyme or reason to it.

And few things my scratch randomness itch more than treasured '80s oddballs.

One of the vintage vendors I usually buy from didn't have a whole lot of great stuff this time around, but he did have a nice helping of these Reggie oddballs for 50 cents each.

(I'm still not sure why, but finding these weird '80s Star cards excites me more than it probably should.)

A vendor near the end of the hall had a whole box full of loose O'Connell & Son singles, which was a surprise since I don't think I've even seen one of these at a show before.

Though the art sometimes freaks me out (why does Enos Slaughter look like a Neanderthal in a museum exhibit?), I couldn't resist buying a few. They weren't really priced to move - these were $2 each, and the cheapest ones the guy had - so I eventually settled on this quartet because they feature guys I eagerly collect and rarely find new cards of (can't remember the last time I added a new Wes Parker to my binders!).

And while I can take or leave the art on most of these cards, I must admit that Roush is just plain fantastic.

The discount-box randomness may have been down at this show, but it wasn't completely KO'ed.

Some general '90s/early-2000s wackiness, including a nice surprise with that tough Platinum Medallion parallel from what was an otherwise lackluster dime box dig near the end of the evening.

A few more quarter box gets here - my dad tried to argue that phone cards aren't baseball cards, but we all know he's wrong.

Point: as much as I love '70s oddballs, I don't often take the plunge on these food-issue discs - they're a bit clunky to store and I never really know what to do with them.

Counterpoint: I bought about 40 of them at this show. A vendor had a box of cards that were 50 cents each or 50/$20 - with the promise of a deal like that, I just couldn't let these go. The star power was there (Yaz! Stargell!) as well as your '70s fan favorites (Tiant! Hrabosky!) - as fun of a collection of names as you're ever gonna see from an oddball set.

I still don't know how I'm gonna store these, but I think you'll agree that I would've been crazy to pass 'em up.

There's a lot of high-end vintage at this show, but even though I'm (obviously) not in the market for it, it's at least fun to fawn over a T206 Ty Cobb or Goudey Babe Ruth rather than some graded autograph that looks like trash.

Better yet, there's still a good amount of low-end oldies to tide me over - I didn't know I needed the Yost until I started cataloging my cards of his recently (more on my TCDB adventures in a future post), and the Colbert brings me one step closer to having all the '74 "Washington" variations, a quest that once seemed other-worldly but is actually now within reason.

Some smaller-than-your-average vintage here - shelled out $5 a piece for those Milk Duds cards, but knowing me, I would've been kicking myself all day if I left them behind.

Raggedy vintage time!

The Yaz was a card I was specifically targeting at this show, and even though the copy I found has a mysterious blob on it, the 50 cents(!) it cost me is at least good enough to warrant placeholder status until I can find a cleaner one.

I don't know if it was my imagination or what, but it seemed like every vintage table had rows and rows of '60s Post for sale - of course, I couldn't help but buy a few.

From the looks of it, a young collector whittled those '50s Red Man cards down to standard baseball-card size at some point - those were certainly fun grabs for 50 cents a pop.

These four superstars came out of a single handful of cards I randomly grabbed from a box at a vintage table, and they ran about the cost of a blaster combined.

If that doesn't describe the madness of a card show, I don't know what does.

With a little scouring, it's incredible how cheap some vintage star power can be - I think the Killebrew was the most expensive card of this lot, and even that was only seven bucks.

Also, "First Base-Catcher" is a weird position designation in the first place, but why the heck did Topps list that for Gil Hodges in 1961?!

My memory isn't what it used to be, and neither is my collection - I wasn't 100 percent sure I needed that '59 Aparacio when I snagged it for a song early on in the day, and being unsure about a card that huge would've been unheard of as a young collector (happy ending: needed it!).

One could argue that the '63 Drysdale I found near the end of the show was my most satisfying purchase - at about $15, it was the last card I needed to complete my complete 1957-69 Topps run, which is a major accomplishment for this low-end collector!

In adding to the general wackiness of this card show, I'd have to say my biggest purchase of the day - both financially and emotionally - was a card of...Sandy Alomar? A middling infielder best known for fathering two future greats?

Few things elicit more fear in a collector like myself than the term "vintage high-number," because that, of course, means MONEY. And as fate would have it, here we have a key card I needed for the Short Term Stops archives colliding with the dreaded "vintage high-number" train - Alomar played just 10 games for the Mets, and outside of a few later oddballs, this is the only documentation of that brief stint. 

Some of you probably know that '67 highs are especially icky - which is why I was overjoyed that a vendor took my $20 offer on this one near the end of the evening, and thus put to rest the growing fear that I'd never find one at a reasonable price. It's probably the most I've spent on a card I specifically wanted for my Short Term Stops collection, and not anything I thought would end up being a "big buy" at a card show, but as they say, times are a'changing.

Card shows may change, as will the masses that attend them, but to me they'll never stop being pure joy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Nothing new

This is one of those posts I've been wanting to write for a while now, and I figure the mysterious teaser for oh my god ANOTHER '52-related set from Topps the other day is as good of an excuse as ever to finally do it.

It's no secret that the current hobby is bogged down by a regurgitation of old designs. The dead horse has long been beaten, and the remains are scattered about the countryside. Tipping your cap to vintage cardboard is completely fine in my book - I still get a kick out of seeing modern dudes on designs from before they were born. I still collect Heritage and the like.

The real problem, to me, is that these "reprint" sets are used in lieu of producing anything new. Still, a claim like that tends to get lost in abstraction. I've always wanted to know exactly how rampant this phenomenon has been. I wanted to see how much of this was my imagination, and how much of it proved me right. I wanted to put a number to it.

So I decided to take to my binders and collect the data - gathering a percentage of how many of a given player's cards show original designs, and how many harken back to the golden oldies.

In choosing players for this, I tried to come up with a few names who've had time to accumulate a fair amount of cards from a number of different brands over the years - I also chose guys who've only played for one team so I didn't have to scramble through a bunch of different binders (see: laziness).

The first ballplayer to pop into my head was Joey Votto - which is good because he's long been a Dime Boxedonia favorite who rarely gets mentioned on the blog for some reason. His rookies are from way back in 2002, which means he's had cards in both the pre- and post-Topps monopoly. It seemed like as good of a place as any to start.

To lay some ground rules: any card, whether base or insert, that falls under a rehashed brand name (A&G, Gypsy Queen, Heritage, etc.) counts as an "old design" card. Straight reprints and the like also count as "oldies." A few cards and brands blur the line a bit, but for the most part, anything else qualifies as falling on a "new design."

So, for starters - I own a grand total of 362 different Joey Votto cards - of that number, 109 (30 percent) feature him on old designs.

The remaining 253 cards (70 percent) in my collection show him on original designs.

The "oldies" number wasn't quite as big as I thought it'd be, but digging deeper, I remembered a few qualifiers. "Vintage" sets like A&G & Heritage tend not to have as many obtainable inserts and parallels as modern brands like Flagship - I own 6 different variations of this 2013 Topps Votto alone - I might own a A&G or GQ Votto mini here and there, but the rainbows are much more flushed out with Topps's basic brands.

And heck, 30 percent is still a pretty big number when you stop and think about it - using my collection as a sample size, three out of every 10 Votto cards are outsourced.

Clayton Kershaw seemed like another promising candidate - like Votto, he's had cards both before and after the Topps Monopoly era, which is important because you won't find as many rehashings in the archives of Upper Deck or Fleer.

The numbers show that I own 374 different Kershaws - 130 of which (35%) use old designs.

The other 244 (65%) feature modern stuff.

With a little wiggle room, the numbers between Votto and Kershaw just about line up - so I figured it was time to shift the focus a bit.

And who better to look to than the overwhelming hobby darling Mike Trout?

Trout's cards, unlike Votto and Kershaw, have almost all come post-Topps monopoly. I also remembered that, while they're not nearly as guilty as Topps, Donruss has a brief history of co-opting old designs as well, which added to the numbers a bit.

The stats: I own 243 Trouts, and 71 of those (29%) use old designs.

The other 172 (71%) are fresh looks - like this wonderful Stadium Club card that always makes me smile.

The numbers here didn't quite add up to what I believed - I thought a newer guy like Trout would have way more of a "vintage percentage" than Votto or Kershaw who caught the tail end of the UD/Fleer era - but 71 cards is still an ample amount of recycled designs.

From there, I decided to look at the true legends - the guys who played when parallels weren't a glimmer in anyone's eye.

Mr. Cub seemed like a viable candidate, and I never need an excuse to show more of his cards around here - of my 235 total Ernie Banks cards, 75 of them (32%) use old designs.

Which leaves the remaining 166 cards (68%) on original looks.

Some of this can be accounted for by the number of reprints I own (way more than I probably should), but the numbers here pretty much match what we've already seen.

And to finally try and prove my point, I opened my Padres binder to the calming hub of Tony Gwynn cards I own.

Gwynn, unlike the players we've already looked at, played smack dab in the middle of an era where there was a proliferation of brands on the market - a clutter of cards that didn't end well, but at least forced companies to be as original as humanly possible. He's also received a fair amount of cards as a legend in current sets as well. I knew he wouldn't have as much "vintage" stuff out there, but I wanted to get the exact totals.

Counting the totals, I was shocked to discover I own 747 different Gwynns(!), only 60 of which (8%) show him on old designs - including this neat Baseball Card Magazine insert that was among the first to do it.

The remaining 687 cards (92 percent!) show Mr. Padre on original looks.

I had a feeling the numbers would bear me out, but I didn't think it'd be such a monumental difference. I'm interested to look at other players of Gwynn's ilk - Ryne Sandberg, George Brett, etc. - though I have a feeling they'd all show similar results.

What does any of this prove? I don't know. Maybe, if nothing else, it shows I wasn't just imagining things. There's no denying that old designs are more prevalent in today's hobby - and I don't even have a problem with the use of most of those designs - but I think it's just the rewrapping of the already-reprinted-to-death '52 Topps package with the hey look, here's something NEW! branding that bothers me.

I'd hate to see Topps make us sick of what is a prominent and admirable history.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022


It's about that time of year where I have to start saying goodbyes to yet another baseball season.

While 2022 had its fair share of highlights (Judge, Ohtani, et al), it was actually kind of a bust for my personal baseball tastes. One hometown team was exactly as bad as I thought they'd be (Cubs), the other was a high-octane club that turned out to be a train wreck (White Sox), and it all culminated with a World Series between one team I actively dislike (Astros) versus another I'm perfectly apathetic about (Phillies). (Though I'll admit Dusty Baker made me root for the Astros ever so slightly.)

Normally, I'd be bidding adieu to another baseball card season as well, but since Topps pushed so many sets back this year, there's actually a lot we're still waiting for here in 2022. I'm still not sure how I feel about it - gonna be weird seeing sets like A&G and Stadium Club pop up when I'm wearing winter coats - but at the very least it'll help spice up a normally dry part of the card calendar.

Thankfully, Kerry of the "Cards on Cards" blog was nice enough to send me a healthy assortment of cardboard from the (seemingly) precious few sets we have seen thus far in 2022 - only in the blogosphere would someone send me a Wander Franco rookie as a surprise.

My want lists are more for my own reference than anything, but I'm always grateful when people like Kerry actually comb through them to find cards I need.

One reason I've never been a set collector is that checking cards off a list has never seemed like much fun to me - but as the years have gone on, I've gotten more and more pleasure out of packages like this that allow me to delete a healthy chunk of cards off my wants.

More want list hits I can kiss goodbye.

(No Big League scheduled this year, which, alas, leads me to believe Topps has officially killed it.)

Kerry sent a few hits from past years as well, which is nice since these seem to get whisked away into closets the moment the calendar flips to a new card season.

I kinda remember there being a minor hubbub about Luis Robert "investing" a while back - no idea if that's still a thing - but I'm happy to finally get his Heritage rookie here two years later.

A few random player collection hits from Kerry - the Hendricks A&G is one of those foil parallels, and the Vlad is from a separate (and probably uneccessary) A&G X set that I have to admit looks spiffy with black borders.

The same can't be said about those Negative Chrome refractors though - they just freak me out.

Black border minis, stickers, and HARK, A DUDE!

(Note to self: buy more dudes!)

I've never been super vigilant about chasing down A&G needs after I open however many packs of the stuff I find, which makes them especially nice to tick off my lists.

Kerry closed with another rookie that was going for way too much on the secondary market - and one I only wanted because it's a play at the plate shot, of course!

I often think of the old Rogers Hornsby quote around this time of year, about looking out the window all winter and waiting for spring. Obviously, the lack of baseball on TV leaves a huge gap in my day-to-day winter life. But part of the reason I love collecting baseball cards is that it's a year-round activity, keeping baseball at the forefront whether there's snow on the ground or not.

As long as I've got my baseball cards, the goodbyes are never too much.


(On a more somber personal note, however, we had to say goodbye to another one of our furry friends last week. RIP, Marmalade.)