Friday, September 22, 2023

In praise of the mail

I get worried that people my age are missing out on the joys of mail.

I've loved getting mail for as long as I can remember - I wanted to be a mailman for a long time as a kid. There's something about that day-in, day-out routine of opening the mailbox, wondering if something, anything, is waiting for me in there (even third-class junk mail addressed to me is, in an odd way, a minor thrill).

Between my forum days and my time here on the blogs, I've been sending cards through the mail for almost 20 years now, and I can't even begin to imagine how different my collection would look if the mail didn't exist. It still boggles my mind that you can jettison a nice chunk of baseball cards to someone across the country of for the cost of a single stamp (or a few bucks for a healthy-sized package).

Though I'm not sending/receiving cards nearly as often as I used to these days, there have still been a few glorious surprises waiting for me in the mail lately, starting with this epic Babe Ruth SP I graciously received upon request from Kevin of "The Diamond King."

Kevin was nice enough to host a little giveaway on his blog recently, one that saw me claim this slaughtered Enos Slaughter that, at the very least, serves as a nice placeholder if/when I decide to splurge on a more intact copy.

Either way, it's hard to beat a free '53!

Also grabbed these two from Kevin's giveaway - I had no idea there were "Topps Gold" parallels in Archives a couple years ago, and from the looks of it, they're kinda tough.

That Rizzo is officially known as an "Aqua RayWave Refractor" from a superfluous set called Topps Chrome Sonic - and of course I had to have it, because that's how I react to shiny things.

Some of these smaller PWEs/packages have been sitting in my trade folder for a good long while now, and for that I apologize to the people who've sent them to me.

Laurens of "Card Buzz" surprised me with a couple tough numbered rookies for my collection of the late Ryan Freel - they're even treasured Short Term Stops to boot, as Freel played all of nine games with the Blue Jays.

A reader named Michael W. has been periodically sending me cards for a while now, and he outdid himself by sending me a few entire unopened oddball sets this time around.

I, like many others (I hope), can't resist a mediocre Tombstone Pizza from time to time - but I mostly associate them with the oddball set they produced in '94 that seems to show up in every single dime box I dig through. (Seems like lots of card collectors were consuming frozen pizzas that year.)

Unbeknownst to me, however, there was also a 1995 Tombstone set that I'd never seen before, and thanks to Michael, I had the whole thing in one fell swoop.

Michael also set a complete run of the aforementioned '94 Tombstones - I was surprised to find that I actually still needed a couple of those.

Couple that with a sealed '93 Post oddball set, and you have one fun trip through an early '90s grocery aisle!

Gregory of "Nine Pockets" is one of the better custom enthusiasts the blogosphere has to offer, and he was nice enough to send me a copy of this up-and-coming trio whose Stonehenge was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

I must've begrudgingly mentioned that I still collect of noted failed Cubs prospect Brett Jackson on the blog at some point, because these showed up in the mail from Jeremy of "Topps Cards That Never Were" shortly after.

It's true: send me ALL your Brett Jackson cards (he said, wincing at the pain of the Cubs farm system circa-2010).

I selfishly took advantage of another "Free Stuff" blog giveaway hosted by longtime friend-of-the-blog Jon of "A Penny Sleeve for Your Thoughts" (one of my favorite blog names ever!).

I have no logical connection to throw between these two cards except for the fact that I needed both of them, which I suppose is the case for most scans on this blog (guess I'm trying to keep the memory of Carl Crawford's dubious Red Sox career alive).

I don't know that I'd call myself a baseball card "expert," but I like to think I have a good understanding of the intricacies of the hobby.

I say that while also admitting that I know almost nothing about these odd strip cards that were issued in the 1920s. I do have a few real ones in my collection, and I have a good amount of reprints thanks to these fun surprises from Jon.

But ask me for specific info on what I have and I'm just gonna give you a blank stare.

Might as well close up shop for the day with a last hurrah from Jon, and the kind of card that's always a banner event here at Dime Box HQ - a new Ichiro!

Just take a look at the cards in this post - or any of the stacks and stacks cards I've received over the years - and answer me this: how could I NOT be romantic about the mail?

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The ballad of Ted Simmons

Against my better judgement, I bought a $30 blaster(!) of 2022 (23?) Topps Chrome Platinum Anniversary last week, and the easy highlight of the lot was this very Ted Simmons card.

That may sound like a fit of buyer's remorse to many, but I mean it sincerely. I nearly went through the roof when Ted fell out of the pack because you can count the number of post-playing days Simmons cards I own on one hand (and I think all of those were Panini). It was a plain fun pull, much better than any other shiny bell and whistle that fell out of that blaster.

It continues one of the rare trends that I've actually liked from Topps in recent years - sneaking dudes who've been largely abandoned by the hobby back into current products. Look, I want any and all cards of legends like Hank Aaron and Ted Williams, but even I get bored seeing them as the "retired guys" in every single set - give me more Ted Simmons!

I'm happy to report that Ted is the newest in what has become a fairly long line of Dime Box Favorites who've started getting some long-overdue pub on cards these days.

For a long time, I would've used my hobby wish to get Topps to start making Dick Allen cards again.

Turns out I didn't need a card-granting genie, because "Crash" has started popping up in quite a few sets these days, and all of this cards are just as wonderful as I dreamed they'd be.

This is on my Card of the Year short list as of this writing because it combines so many awesome into a single, glorious baseball card.

First and foremost, we've seen woefully few Steve Garvey appearances in recent years - but it's also a hit for my Awards mini-collection, and provides a rare cardboard commissioner cameo!

Lately Topps has even surprised me with a few of their retired-guy selections - I was shocked to see Gene Tenace pop up in last year's Platinum checklist, and much less a Padres Gene Tenace card.

I don't know if such a list has ever been made, but this might be in the running for Most Unexpected Cards Ever.

Vida Blue has long been a favorite of mine, and I can't think of many guys who have as many consistently great cards as he does.

Every Vida Blue card I own is a treasure, and it's been nice to have even more of them now that Topps has started giving him the cardboard love he deserves.

Hometown bias speaking here, but Ron Santo doesn't have nearly as many cards out there as he should.

(And yes, I'm still mad the HOF didn't put him in Cooperstown until the year after he died.)

Normally, I don't like when guys I grew up watching show up as "old guys" in modern sets - I'm starting to feel old enough already! - but an exception to that rule is Tim Lincecum.

He's easily one of my favorite ballplayers I've watched in my lifetime and has always been something like a cult hero to me (if a "cult hero" can be someone who won two Cy Young Awards). It still hurts that his career flamed out as fast as it did, and it never felt like he got quite the amount of fandom he deserved, but it's been nice to see him sneak back into the hobby these days.

Part of the reason I want more Dick Allens, Vida Blues, etc. is that I see baseball cards as a kind of document for the history of baseball as we know it. Sure, legends like Mays and Ruth are at the top of that mountain, but other guys are down there helping to keep it standing. Guys like Ron Santo and Ted Simmons.

So kudos to you, Topps - and I'll be looking for my Mark Fidrych cards come 2024.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Collecting in my 30s

I'm 31 years old as of this writing, which means that yours truly is coming up on 25 years of collecting (where does the time go?).

I don't recall when I got my first pack of cards, but I'm pretty sure I was probably around six or seven. Unlike most collectors, I've never taken a break from hoarding cards since then - I collected all through my pre-teens and high school - and you better believe it's still going strong today. Collecting is still the most powerful addiction I've had the pleasure of coming across in my time on this earth.

But that's not to say I haven't noticed a shift in my attitudes as I've gotten older, and specifically since I've edged into my early 30s. There was a time not that long ago where I could almost literally devote an entire day to organizing my cards, looking at my cards, blogging about my cards, etc. etc. I simply don't have the energy, time, or brain space to do that anymore (I haven't blogged in three weeks, ugh!). I got a little foggy after putting away cards for 45 minutes last night.

Certain things that would've sounded weird to a younger version of my collecting self suddenly don't seem so far-fetched.

Case in point: upgrading!

I never used to upgrade cards - why would I need another copy when I already have this one? It didn't matter if I came across a better-looking version later - the original was my copy, and that was that. But while I don't specifically seek out upgrades these days, I'm not altogether averse to the idea, and I've found myself doing it more than I ever thought I would.

An excellent package I received from blogging extraordinaire Greg of "Night Owl Cards" illustrates that. It's not every day someone sends you a surprise '67 Topps Joe Morgan - bad news was, I already had it. But the good news is - and don't tell this to my younger self - Greg actually upgraded my copy (on the right) which was woefully miscut.

I think most of us would agree that my new properly-centered Morgan just looks better, and while I was by no means disappointed with my old copy it's a general upshoot for my collection.

But I'm still nowhere near picky about condition, and that's a good thing when it comes to Kellogg's cards because a good amount of the ones I have are cracked.

I seem to mind the trademark Kellogg's Cracks less than just about every collector out there (makes them exponentially cheaper), but once again, I'm not averse to upgrading should the time come.

The Perez & Fergie (my Perez had even more cracks!) were both better than the ones I currently had sitting in my binders, and the Sutter & Clark aren't upgrades because they're new to me, woo-hoo!

I, like Greg, am fascinated by the world of alternate-universe '77 OPCs where the cards are completely different than what appeared in '77 Topps.

Greg dropped a few into this trade package, and while none of these four dudes are Binder Guys, they're worth keeping for curiosity's sake.

Greg is a more focused collector than I could ever hope to be, but he's long been a pro at sprinkling some treasured randomness into his trade packages.

(Send me all your Gabby Hartnett cards!)

Snazzy Cubs parallels are always welcome here.

I'll forever have a soft spot for Turkey Red - I bought so, so many packs of it as a teenage collector - they're just neat old-timey cards and man do those black parallels pop.

Have refractors gotten a little out of hand these days? Yes.

Do I still want them? Also yes. This grand finale from Greg's wonderful trade package is liable to blind you - it's officially called (checks notes) a Magenta Speckle Refractor - but it's still a whopping addition to my binders, and a pretty good indicator that certain things haven't changed for me in this hobby, and never will. 

I loved shiny baseball cards when I was eight, I loved them in high school, and of course I love them now!

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Consider the Kool-Aid (or, a day at The National)

I never know quite what to say about The National.

Sometimes I feel like I have enough material for a book about this thing. Then the next minute I find myself lost for words. Either way, I'll try to give a somewhat sane version of the day Dad and I spent at The National this year. For starters I'll echo a picture that may have already been painted if you followed the National talk this year - the air conditioning broke, and with temperatures nearing 100 degrees outside (coupled with an already, let's say, unhygienic card show crowd) you better believe the place was absolutely sweltering. 

I pride myself on being able to cover a lot of ground at shows, but even I'll admit there's just no way someone could see the entirety of The National in one day. This year's show was the biggest yet. It seemed like I'd walk ten steps and end up in an entirely new room. While overwhelming at times, it wasn't really a bad thing - unlike past gatherings, I felt like the breaker-bro fraternities and general corporate madness was better confined into its own crannies and less apt to leak into my own world where I just want to be left alone to dig through this dime box, okay? 

This, in the end, is all I ask, and in a way it was the most endearing part of this year's National. I admittedly roll my eyes every time I see someone hauling around a magnetic case or livestreaming a box break or waving wads of $100 bills around (yes, I saw a lot of all these things). But as long I have room to do my thing away from all those people to do theirs, I'm happy. And I'm glad to report that there were a lot of dime boxes at The National, there were a lot of affordable gems, there was a lot of just plain weirdly awesome stuff that easily gets buried beneath the PSA 10 headlines. 

And I can't think of any better way to show that to you better than the card I bought of...The Kool-Aid Man!

I will admit that at times The National can feel like a cult, with all the conversations I heard seeming to follow a script and everyone pouring money into the same things (god the amount of tables with Nothing But Slabs!).

This made me feel even more solidarity with the people I sat next to at dime boxes throughout the day. I'm not much for conversation or making card friends at a show (I can appreciate all the "Look who I met!" pictures I saw on Twitter, but I'm there for the cards) but it's endearing to know there's other people like me out there in a National world where I so often seem like the guppy in a pond of sharks.

I'm also glad there were dealers at this show who seemed to understand this as well, and carried the kind of quirky cardboard that makes The National the stuff of legend to me. 

See: cheap unopened oddball sets!

There's The Kool-Aid Man himself free from the wrapper (RELIEF PITCHER!) as well as a couple stars from Kahn's Mets sets (good luck finding those way out here in Chicago ever again). 

Sadly, the Nomo is a prime example of a downside to the world of older packs - over time the wax can literally fuse itself to the front card (seriously, I can't get it off). 

I'm happy when I find a random Star oddball in a dime box every now and then - much less a sealed set of personal favorite Keith Hernandez! (Still not driving him to the airport.)

I'm having trouble finding much info at all on those weird 3-D Mets cards, but I'm guessing they're a stadium giveaway of some kind & they have a very Sportflics feel to them (pictured are Lance Johnson and John Franco). 

I was a bit scared when I first walked into The National on that Thursday morning - the general admission spot took you through a room where there was literally nothing but slabs, wax, and stuff generally in the hundreds of dollars (probably not by accident). 

But after penetrating the exterior a bit (forgive the war metaphor, for that's what The National can feel like at times) I stumbled into more than enough cheap madness to throw any worries I had out the window.

One of the first good tables I found was a guy selling cards at 25 cents each or 100/$15 - and with this many minis available, of course I found enough for the latter deal (including a new Dude!).

At first glance, a lone 3200-count dime box I saw tucked into the corner of a dealer's table about halfway through the show didn't look like much of anything.

A short while later, I'd pulled over 400 cards from that same dime box - all inserts from the last five years or so that wreaked absolute havoc on my want lists. Even the dealer seemed a bit confused about how I'd managed to find that many cards from a single, solitary box.

This is the kind of stuff you probably won't see anywhere but The National.

The National may be other-worldly at times, but in the end it's just another card show, and I'm still looking for the same mini- and player-collection hits there.

In case you thought The National didn't have any Dime Box Shiny.

(Also love that I found a card from a past National in a 2023 National dime box with that Happ.)

As always, I revel in cheapie oddballs like Negro League stars and Bill Mazerowskis (sic). 

The Gibson was a rare Topps Tiffany dime box appearance - also, dunno if Tiffany is making a comeback, but I saw a lot of it behind glass cases at The National (I'll take the ten-cent ones, thank you).

Found a near-complete set of that Futures Game oddball set in a dime box, which was given out to attendees of the 2003 Futures Game in Chicago (talk about something I'll never see again). 

I'll always take BBM cards for a dime, and the Bryant and Griffey appear to be ads of some sort - my dad still thinks I'm crazy for considering ad cards to be tried-and-true binder-worthy cardboard.

But that's nothing compared to the look he gave me after I told him clothing tags were baseball cards!

I paid 50 cents each for these, and please tell me I'm not crazy for doing that.

Dime boxes are cool (Denny McLain!), funny (sour-mouth ump!), and sometimes educational (what the hell is Topps Chrome Black?).

I rarely have trouble finding good dime boxes around here, but there's a noticeable uptick to the quality of ones at The National - can't say I've found many numbered Vlads or Topps Now cards for a dime.

Also absolutely staggered I found a new Phillies Ryno for ten cents, and that Ichiro was actually given away at some kind of Topps VIP party and goes for a healthy amount of change if I chose to sell it (not that I ever would, of course).

Horizontal heroes here (yes, phone cards are baseball cards, too!).

Money and time restraints forced me to repeatedly do something I really, really hate doing at card shows - leave dime boxes unturned.

A couple dealers literally had dozens and dozens of dime boxes at their table, assortments that I easily could've spent the entire day going through without a second thought. In the end I had to make due with digging through a small fraction of their inventory, or completely skipping some dime box tables all together if the initial couple handfuls I pulled out didn't excite me. 

Pains me to do it, but after all was said and done I wanted to say I saw The National - not one-eighth of the National.

Similarly, I have to cut the dime box real estate in this post short because I haven't even gotten to the vintage yet!

In my last post, I made a little noise about wanting to add more Topps Venezuelans to my binders. I asked a couple vendors if they had any for sale - none did, but one near the end of the day told me a guy at the next table had just bought an entire collection of them. I asked this adjacent vendor if he'd be willing to sell any of his newly-acquired prizes even though he hadn't priced any of them yet (admissible in this case, since it sounded like he'd literally just bought them minutes before).

He graciously let me rifle though the box he'd bought, and I asked how much he'd want for this '64 Zimmer - he said $20, I countered at $15, he said sure and just like that, there it was...a new Venezuelan!

Modern or vintage doesn't really matter - I just want oddballs!

I believe the Staub is my first '66 OPC, and I know the Podres is my first card from the obscure '61 Bell Brand Dodgers set. 

Tiny vintage rules!

The Carty and McCovey were a mere two bucks each, which is noticeably less than I've ever seen Bazooka cards before. The Aparicio is another OPC (note the less-deckled edges), and I have no idea what the Torre is (anyone?), but I figured it was worth throwing a couple bucks at.

Also I don't usually get excited over those late '60s/early '70s stamps, but when you put names like Bill Buckner and Dock Ellis out there for loose change, of course I want them!

Kellogg's seem to be going up in price ever so slightly at shows lately, but that didn't stop me from getting deals on these biggies (still can't believe that Mays was only $6). 

One of the first vendors I saw was a guy who had what looked like an otherwise lackluster $2 box - at least until I noticed a few taller stacks poking from the back of one of the rows and found a whole stack of '53 Bowman Color(!!!).

That box alone very nearly doubled my Bowman Color collection in one fell swoop (including my first real vintage Joe Garagiola!), and there were even a couple other goodies hidden in there - including a mysterious Lou Gehrig playing card and a new get for my Am I Really Doing This? quest to have all the '74 "Washington" variations. 

Maris and Friend (my first '52 Topps St. Louis Brown!) came from that same $2 box, and the other two were cards I also coincidentally found for $2 at various tables later on.

I never thought I'd have one of those black-and-white Laughlins, and if I did, I thought it'd cost me a hell of a lot more than two bucks.

There's certainly a lot of drool-worthy vintage at The National, but I've never really understood the allure of going to card show to look at things.

I don't want to stare at cards in cases with my hands in my pockets. I wanna see the ones I can buy! It's true that you have to dig a little harder to find affordable vintage at The National, but it's there. Admittedly, I doubt many other people could stomach the, er, off-condition of that '59 Brooks Robinson, but when I saw it in the aforementioned $2 box I almost jumped in the air.

Nabbed the Skowron & Elston Howard for a couple bucks each, and the Snider was a bit pricier (around $15, I think) but worth every penny since that's a tough high-number.

I spent more money at this year's National than I ever have at a show - while we're confessing such things I'll also admit that I actually ran out of cash at one point and had to run to an ATM (also a first).

But when you throw this stellar double play combo at me for less than the cost of a blaster, what choice do I have?

One of my goals of the day was to find a '53 Topps card of Dime Boxedonia favorite Bobo Newsom - but I knew it was bad news when a vendor pulled out a Beckett to price the first one I saw (why are we still doing this, people?!).

I respectfully passed when he quoted me $25 - but the good thing about The National is that if you don't get a card at one table, you're bound to see it at another. Lo and behold, I saw Bobo again later in the day with a much saner $4 price tag. (Up yours, Beckett.)

In other news, don't adjust your monitor, the '63 Killebrew is a bit blurry - some spotty color separation is the reason I was able to get that scary SP/high-number combo for $20.

I bought a Play Ball Red Ruffing for $15 because I knew there was a very small chance I'd see a Play Ball Red Ruffing for $15 ever again.

And while I don't usually go too crazy about early '50s Bowman, I forked over $7 for the Kluszewski because there's something inherently funny about seeing Big Klu on such a tiny card.

For many, The National is about flexing your muscles and showing your "grails" or things of that ilk.

In the end, I didn't really buy anything "big," at least not money-wise. At $25, that '64 Mays ended up being my most expensive purchase of the day. Clocking in just under that was the '70 Topps Willie I bought for $20 (yet another scary high-number, to continue that theme). 

Hey, give me your cheap beater vintage stars over exorbitant grail cards any day of the week.

One of my pipe dreams had to remain exactly that - I was crossing my fingers in hopes of finding a somewhat affordable '64 Topps Pete Rose, but the cheapest one I saw was $150 (frown). 

The other card on my list was one that I thought would be easier to find than it actually was: a '62 Brooks Robinson. I asked about it at a few vintage-heavy tables throughout the day, only to be turned away empty-handed. Finally I spotted one at a table later in the afternoon for $20, fished the bill from my pocket, and there it was - The National wins!

Well, that's about it. Kind of a long post (thanks to those of you who've read this far!) but believe me when I say it's only a fraction of the overall sensory overload you're sure to find at The National. It can get crazy at times, and might give introverts like myself a slight headache...and it's something I wholeheartedly believe every collector should do once, if possible. It's revelatory.

I can throw all kinds of words and phrases at you, but in the end I'll just say there's nothing quite like The National - just ask the Kool-Aid Man.