Thursday, May 25, 2023

My memory isn't perfect (or, a trip to the flea market)

Sometimes it floors me to know that I've been collecting baseball cards for over 20 years now.

I can remember having one tiny blue binder of cards as a kid, flipping through it so often that I probably had everything inside memorized. I remember when card shows were new, and all the tables were thrilling. And I have fond memories of going to the flea market on Sunday mornings with my parents - which is fitting, since I made my first sojourn of the 2023 flea market season here as a 31-year-old adult (albeit still with my dad in tow!).

Things are a bit different now. I have over 90 binders of cards at last count, and while card shows and flea markets are always exciting, they're by no means new. Card shows and flea markets alike, I know the vast majority of tables won't have anything for me - I can usually tell within ten seconds if I'm gonna find anything good or not. A fair amount of people have cards at my flea market, but very few are anything approaching reasonable - lots of poached retail blasters and/or 1990 Topps factory sets.

Still, I have a few regular flea market vendors who continue to set up year after year - I thought this Robin Roberts for $5 would be the headline of the day until I got home, flipped a binder to my pages of '56 Topps and saw...

...dammit, I already had it.

The fact that I could forget I had a '56 Robin Roberts speaks volumes about how far my collection has come. It also probably says something less flattering about the state of my baseball card memory. I could see accidentally buying a double from a random set like 2011 Bowman (which happens a lot, too) - but for something like this to happen is...telling.

The '56 Roberts I already had (bottom) is a bit sharper than the one I bought, so if anyone wants the one from the flea market, just say the word - it could use a good home, and I don't need such glaring reminders of my memory loss just lying around here!

Thankfully, that same flea market vendor had a smaller box of $1 vintage that netted a few keepers - and no duplicates!

I've taken to scooping up these older coaches cards on the cheap simply because they're fun, and sometimes educational - I had no idea Luke Appling was a Tigers coach in his later years.

This guy also sported a nice little dime box at his table that made for a nice payoff after wandering aisles full of power tools. 

Found a little more vintage in there - how have I never seen that '73 Gene Michael before?! - and a few modern goodies including a tough Griffey Heritage SP.

The best dime boxes are often the ones with no rhyme or reason to them, and this one certainly checked that box.

Carlos Delgado isn't anywhere near the top of my collecting hierarchy, but I'd be crazy to pass up his '92 Bowman rookie for a dime.

I always feel like I'm about to be drawn and quartered when I admit that, while I enjoy '83 Topps, I've never thought of it as a great set - it seems like I want to like it more than I actually do.

But that didn't stop me from flipping through the entire row of '83 Topps I found in this dime box - found a few needs and generally fun cards (alas, I finally own the infamously-airbrushed John Denny!) although my opinion of this set remains the same (sorry).

These hallowed glass case purchases put a nice cap on my trip through this guy's table - the McGwire was $8, and the Posey $5, but he gave 'em both to me for ten bucks.

I grabbed the McGwire purely out of a weird kind of backward nostalgia. I saw that card everywhere during my late '90s/early-2000s card-collecting youth, and I remember it regularly selling for well into the triple figures at the time. I always thought I'd stumble into a copy somewhere, but I never did - and it's not the kind of card I'm gonna pay the present $20ish price tag for since I'm by no means a McGwire fan.

But I figured five bucks was a much easier pill to swallow - while I'm not the type of collector who believes that people should own any specific card, something about not having that one in my binders felt wrong.

My other regular vendors with the 50-cent binders was back in attendance as well - though my luck of finding photo variations and other generally overlooked rare stuff didn't continue this time around.

Nevertheless, those binders helped me cross off a few more recent needs this time around, and better yet, the guy let me have everything at 3/$1 instead of the usual 50-cent price tag.

A few more legendary gems here - I kinda like those "70 Years of Topps" inserts because my brain can't quite process them a lot of the time (what's George Brett doing on the 2006 Topps design??).

I can't say I rue the loss of UD Goudey too often, but I do miss these nifty legend SPs.

I love the fact that I have regular vendors at the flea market who I can usually count on being there any week I have the time to go - but to me the sheer intrigue of finding someone new with good cards keeps me strolling the aisles with my fingers crossed.

I made a brief stop at one table with some quarter vintage on display - nothing too exciting, although I'll certainly take old Senators and catching poses on the cheap any day of the week.

I was just about ready to give up hope of finding anything else noteworthy when I spotted someone with a couple boxes of cards at the tail end of the flea market.

The boxes had a sign that said "WHOLE COLLECTION - $100" and made no mention of individual prices. This type of thing scares me because I've seen a lot of people over the years who refuse to sell in parts and only want the whole thing gone. Although the guy kept nudging me to buy the whole thing (not happening, dude), he did, to his credit, say he'd be willing to sell singles.

In the end, I got a stack of about 100 cards for $15, which was a steal considering there were some tough team issues in there - which is heaven for this collector who's become borderline obsessed with weird team-issued stuff lately.

This table was a small goldmine for mid-aughts cards that seemingly fell off the face of the earth - not nearly enough to make me think of shelling out $100 for (not that I had anything near that on me in the first place), but easily good enough to pick out a nice handful of singles.

Names like Phil Rizzuto and Orel Hershiser are obviously a thrill, but that neat Heritage SP of Obscure Dime Box Favorite Joey Gathright brings me just as much joy.

From what I could tell, this guy opened a few packs of a bunch of different 2000s products and just threw everything in a box, inserts and all - and left them there until I came around all these years later.

(Bring back drivers' license cards!)

My heart skipped a beat when I saw these Topps Pristine singles in there - this is the dangerous intersection of a tough set that has a lot of guys I like.

Goose Gossage with the A's, The Penguin in his college days, and even my first Negro Leagues card of Monte Irvin - does it get any better?

And in the never-ending saga of my memory playing tricks on me, I grabbed this '03 Retired Signature Greg Luzinski thinking I already had it, but could give it a nice home somewhere else in the blogosphere.

That is, until I perused my Phillies binder and found that, wait a minute, I don't have this one at all! How could I forget I had a '56 Robin Roberts and think I already had this Luzinski at the same time? Is this what senility feels like?

Either way, it's comforting to know the flea market hasn't lost any of its luster over the years - although hopefully I keep the duplicates to a minimum the next time around.

Monday, May 8, 2023

I do not regret the decisions I have made

I wish I could sit here and tell you there's a specific story behind the 824 different things I collect, but that'd just be a lie.

As time passes, the reasons for hoarding some of the stuff I chase become fuzzy, and sometimes dissolve all together. Yet the desire to collect them remains, as does the excitement. But once in a while I'll be flipping through a binder and ask myself why DO I collect him?, not having much of an answer. This doesn't make me regret any of the collecting decisions I've made over the years, but it does make me wish I could time travel back to the exact moment I decided that player or theme or whatever was going to join the ranks of my collection.

Because for every Ichiro and Mark Fidrych - guys who have left a substantial footprint on my life - there's a Sonny Gray.

While Gray has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence here in 2023 - he's currently leading the league in ERA - his good-but-never-spectacular career is like dozens of other solid pitchers I don't collect. 

So, then, why Sonny Gray? I...can't tell you, exactly. I remember liking something about his very 19th-century-sounding name when he first came up as a rookie, but that doesn't explain why I still chase his cards almost a full decade later. He's also not the kind of guy who gets major airtime on this blog - I offhandedly mentioned collecting him in a recent post (probably for the first time in "Dime Boxes" history) and, bless his hart, Jim (aka gcrl) of "cards as i see them" fame was paying attention, because a smattering of Sonny Gray cards showed up in my mailbox shortly after.

I love when fellow bloggers note even my most dashed-off sentences, and safe to say my life with 2023 Topps has been off to a very Sonny start (oof, sorry). 

Jim also threw in a few friends for the ride, including a couple Shiny White Sox and more 2023 Topps fun.

Given the state of prospecting these days, I don't expect to ever have a huge Wander Franco collection, but I sure was glad to add that double dip to my binders.

These go along nicely with an earlier PWE I received from Jim that I'm long overdue in showing.

I've only recently learned that "color matching" is a term people use for parallels in card speak these days, and between the red border and the red jersey, I think that Dickey is a color match...yes? Am I using that right, kids?

A few other randoms from Jim - Reggie Jackson oddballs always rule, but man was there any product he didn't appear on in the early '90s?

Unlike the Sonny Grays of the world, I can tell you why I collect both Jody Davis and Dave Winfield.

Given the local connection, I collect almost everyone who made any kind of impact with the Cubs, and Davis was a fan favorite here in the '80s. As far as Dave Winfield goes...are there really people out there who don't want his cards? (If there are, I'll gladly take any cast-offs.)

But even collecting guys doesn't exclude from me from needing incredibly obvious cards of said players - which is why I was overjoyed and relieved to see these two former Dime Box Dozen suspects fall out of a recent PWE from Mr. Shlabotnik of "The Shlabotnik Report."

With the Dime Box Dozen dudes came a few recent inserts from Shlabotnik HQ to cross off the want lists - I still can't quite get used to seeing Juan Soto on the Padres, which, of course, makes me want his Padres cards even more.

I'm so behind in posting that I often have a backlog of multiple mailings from the same people sitting in my trade folder, as is the case here.

I've slowly been draining Mr. Shlabotnik of spare 2005 singles since that year marked a rare hiatus from my baseball card life, and a few more showed up in this PWE - including a rare and much-needed Devil Rays Hideo Nomo sighting!

Between generosity and discount boxes, I've crossed out a huge number of 2023 Topps insert needs at this point, way more than I have for past Flagship releases (thanks, overproduction!).

Surprise Mike Trout cards always do my heart good.

Despite the incessant hype, I just couldn't resist collecting Julio Rodriguez - he's a major part of baseball right now, and the best way I can attempt to explain my binders is that they try to document where the game has been, and is going.

One thing I've always loved about the blogs is that we don't really care about names or value around here - people on Twitter have heart attacks over anything Julio-related, but Mr. Shlabotnik saw this card on my want list and sent it to me, just like that. As is the beauty of the level-headed blogosphere.

So yes, send me your Sonny Gray cards, send me your Jon Garlands, send me those obscure under-the-radar dudes a few of us remember - they'll have a good home here, even if I won't be able to tell you exactly why.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

A card show is never a consolation prize

I had plans to go out of town with a friend this past Sunday, but when those plans fell through, I managed, at the eleventh hour, to find a card show happening that same day.

I don't get many weekend days off work, and I haven't been to a new show in longer than I can remember (it's been at least five or six years). For better or worse, I've fallen into the habit of hitting the same couple shows in the Chicago circuit over and over again. They're safe, they're fun, and they're consistent. But there's something to be said for the allure of a new show. It comes with that sense of mystery, one where you can't help but think maybe it'll be great!

I did get to see my aforementioned friend later on in the day - like my card shows, we have our usual haunts around town - and what could have turned into a rather dull day off truly became the best of both worlds since cards, like friends, are never a consolation prize.

And after all was said and done, my official report is that this card show was...okay.

It was in a village hall about a half-hour from my place, maybe 50-60 tables in all. The place was jam packed, and judging from the sweat I managed to work up, didn't seem to be air-conditioned. I can also say that, probably for the first time in my card-collecting life, the median age was probably right around my own, perhaps even a bit younger.

While I like seeing people closer to my age at shows, there's also a consequence of this - at least half of the tables were nothing but slabs and/or unopened wax. I eavesdropped on a lot of conversations during my couple hours there, and I can honestly say I didn't hear one person discuss their enjoyment or sheer love of collecting. A lot of that's worth a few hundred, easy and that'll grade a 9, but little else. I even saw a kid who couldn't have been older than 10 or 11 pull out his phone and try to comp a card after a dealer quoted him a price on something. It all kind of left me shaking my head.

I also saw a lot of unpriced cards (do I even need to go into my rant about this again???) including these two I eventually came home with for $5 a pop after the dealers seemed dissatisfied when I refused their initial $10 price tags - I suppose I can't get too mad since I did, in fact, buy them, but for god's sake PRICE YOUR CARDS, PEOPLE.

I saw exactly two dime boxes all morning, and bought a whopping 10 cards from each of them.

The first was an unspectacular blend of recent Bowman rookies of guys who probably never made it above AA, although I did find a few Cosmic Chromes speckled into the mix (I admittedly kinda like the set). The second was a mostly dull run of mid-to-late '80s singles that had me wondering how in the heck do I still need cards from '88 Fleer?!

I managed to pad my purchase from the latter with the Ripken SP at the top of this post - I normally wouldn't dream of forking over the $12 I spent on it at a regular show, but I still had a good amount of cash in my pocket and I knew that was a card I'd probably never see again.

I spent a good chunk of the morning at a table I saw minutes after jostling into the village hall (seriously, there were a lot of people).

Obviously, the lack of dime boxes at this show was a disappointment, but this guy put together a pretty darn good quarter box for me to dig through - found lots of legends and even a nifty Hideo Nomo Topps gold parallel!

Keep your slabs, I'll take the cheap shiny stuff.

The quarter-box guy even let me have a couple Cubs oddball sets banished to a corner of his table for a mere $2 each because, in his words, he "f---ing hates the Cubs."

The first was a 2009 Topps Cubs team set that actually features a few alternate-universe photos that differ from the regular Topps cards - I already had a fair amount of these, but for two bucks I'm not gonna complain.

My second purchase was far and away the best deal I got the entire day - a complete 2008 Topps Cubs Gift Set, 55 cards in all.

Best I can tell, these were issued for a handful of teams for a very short time late in 2008 and quickly vanished - the singles are darn near impossible to find, much less the entire set. It's a treasured mix of alternate-universe cards, coach cards(!), and even guys who didn't appear at all in the regular 2008 Topps set, including obscure Dime Box favorites like Scott Eyre and Daryle Ward. (One flaw, however, being that Ryan Theriot is actually pictured on poor Mike Fontenot's card.)

Hate the Cubs all you want if it means you'll give me stuff like this for two bucks.

These were among my final purchases of the day, from the dollar box of a couple kids who had to have been about half my age (I still can't get used to buying cards from collectors that young) and talked about PSA the entire time I was at their table.

I'll buy pretty much any Topps Now card for a buck, and you don't see those yellow Walgreens parallels pop up too often - much less one of Vlad Jr.!

Normally modern singles priced anywhere above a dollar are a hard NO from me at shows - it's not that I won't find stuff I want, it's just that the number of modern cards I'm willing to pay that for is just so small.

But with all the PSAs and wrestling cards I saw from my first lap around the place, I knew I wouldn't be in much of a time or money crunch here, so I spent a good 10-15 minutes at one point digging through a $2 box that resulted in exactly three cards I needed with the Clemente, Ryan, and Pence (camo parallel!).

The '94 Topps Traded Konerko rookie has been a pain in my side for a long time, and although it was priced at $4, I basically got it as a throw-in with the Ripken SP I mentioned earlier.

I don't mean to sound cheap, and maybe I'm just out of touch with how people see their cards these days, but it seemed like very little at this show was priced correctly.

For all the tables I bought stuff from - probably about a half-dozen in all - there were probably five trying to sell 2023 Topps singles for a dollar a pop. I also saw a lot of people trying to hawk "mystery bags" for $5-10 a piece that had halfway-decent card on the front, complete with what you just know is probably junk hiding behind it.

Heck, I even paid 50 cents for that Topps Total Miguel Tejada which is probably more at home in a dime box - but that's what can happen when I see a double play card I don't already have.

For the most part, I'd say the cards I wound up finding made up for any head-shaking I had to do throughout the day - I just had to dig a little harder for them.

Managed to X out a card I've needed for a while with that '75 Kessinger mini, and I think the quarter box guy missed one by tossing the Duke mini (numbered to just 50 copies) in there.

A few cheap recent needs here - I bought most of the 2022 Stadium Club Chromes I needed off Sportlots, but that excellent Kolten Wong managed to slip by me.

Those quarter boxes probably made up about half of the total cards I purchased the entire day, which makes sense considering it had stuff like zero-year Corey Klubers and even a tough GQ photo-variation with the Donaldson.

With everything I've just described, you probably wouldn't think this show had much of anything in the way of vintage - and while you'd mostly be correct, there were a few small islands of older stuff hidden within the village hall.

The distribution of modern-to-vintage was probably something like 90 percent/10 percent, but it took me a while to find out since the Fleer Jimmy Foxx (at $5) was actually the very first card I bought minutes after waking into the place.

Tough to beat anything '76 Kellogg's, much less a HOFer like Joe Morgan, and much less one that was basically free...

...since, thanks to a bit of haggling, I got it as a throw-in with that '58 Frank Robinson All-Star - the guy wanted $15 for the Robinson and $5 for Morgan, but I got both for $15 total.

There was really only one tried-and-true vintage vendor at this show, the (often) older males who have singles and binders and glass cases surrounding every corner of their table and seem like they haven't bought a pack of baseball cards since 1973. His stuff was mostly in good condition and thus north of anything I wanted to pay, and I must admit I put that '64 Aparicio back in the box the first time I saw it and moved on.

But there's something about those darn vintage high-numbers that won't leave you alone - I walked around for a few minutes before I thought better of it and went back for Luis...and I even got the vendor to knock a few bucks off the original $15 price tag (we eventually settled on $13).

That same vendor had exactly three '61 Nu-Scoops tucked into the back of one of his boxes, and I bought all three.

These aren't something I hem and haw over, because if I see one I don't have, and the price is anything near reasonable, I buy it - the Yogi was $8, and the Larsen was a mere buck but wound up being a throw-in with the biggie...

...Teddy Ballgame!

Big-name Nu-Scoops tend to be a bit pricey, but either way I can't really argue about securing a vintage Ted Williams for $15. It proved to be an unexpectedly sweet cherry on top of what was kind of a strange afternoon. Was this show an odd experience? Yes. Did it trigger my misanthropic tendencies? Oh yes. But did I have fun? Yes. And did I find stuff I needed? Also yes. 

For, in the end, card shows are that weird and rare space where all of these questions can be answered in the affirmative.