Friday, September 29, 2023

Leader of the pack

To my complete and utter surprise, I actually found a blaster of 2023 Allen & Ginter on the shelves of my (usually card-barren) local Target the other day.

I feel like I get a bit wistful every time A&G comes out now, and rue the plain fact that the brand is a shadow of what it once was. A&G was the set for a couple years there in the late-aughts, and a prime factor in helping me get back into baseball cards around 2006-07. I don't know that any set could ever continue to live up to such a treasured past over a decade later, but alas, A&G ain't what it used to be.

Still, I do still get that slight pang of anticipation whenever I hear A&G is out. As watered-down as it's become, I do still think it fills a niche in the hobby, which is more than I can say about the 238 other unnecessary sets that Topps seems to come out with each year.

So, in honor of A&G's 18th(!!!) year on the shelves - and in tribute to the sheer shock of actually finding a blaster of it - I thought I'd show you each and every card that fell out of my blaster, along with a "Leader of the Pack" for each of the eight packs in there.

Pack 1:

#207 Ari Chambers
#98 Byron Buxton
#84 Bobby Witt Jr.
#209 Casey Webb
#ROV-14 Ezequiel Tovar (Rookie Variation mini)
#TT-17 Condor, "TALON-ted"

Of course the first pack was pretty much a snoozer.

Not to sound like a broken record here, but the main downfall of A&G has been the complete lack of fun in the non-baseball subjects. Long gone are the days of Pluto and Revolving Doors - now we're forced to swallow any celebrities Topps could get a contract with (most of whom I've never heard of, including the two in this pack).

Now that we've got that out of my system, time to pick a Leader of the Pack here.

Personal favorite has to be uber-phenom Bobby Witt Jr., who's already earned my devoted fandom.

I suppose now is a good time to mention that I actually really like how A&G looks this time around - it's never been a set whose design needs to be deconstructed year-in and year-out, but it's a good, clean look here in 2023.

Pack 2:

#114 Yu Darvish
#150 Buster Posey
#37 Ronald Acuna Jr.
#400 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (SP)
#OI-21 Citizens Bank Park, "Only In..."
#SS-12 Francisco Rodriguez, "Spotless Spans"

That's more like it - a pack where ALL SIX cards are needs!

Another strike, however: Topps decided to screw with the checklist a la Big League where a bunch of guys have standard base cards AND higher-numbered SPs in the same base checklist. I still can't figure out why this is becoming a thing, but I've already used enough air time complaining about that, so we'll move on.

Again, on a good note, I needed all six cards in this pack, and although the coolest card here is probably that Phillies Liberty Bell insert... favorite is this K-Rod insert - a prime member of the fun Angels teams I followed as a kid, and a guy who hasn't had a card in a while.

Pack 3:

#257 Kodai Senga
#49 Manny Machado
#262 Zion Clark
#104 Derek Jeter
#138 Rickey Henderson (mini)
#FITS-6 Surfing, "Fun in the Sun"

Not as thrilling of a pack this time around, but I'm excited to get a new Kodai Senga card - a guy who's having a great season that no one's talking about thanks to the Mets being a nightmare.

But still can't beat a mini Rickey!

(Even with A&G's present shortcomings, I can honestly say that I've always loved the minis, and always will.)

Pack 4:

#199 Taj Bradley
#45 Kyle Stowers
#258 Julio Urias
#358 Justin Verlander (SP)
#236 John DiMaggio (A&G back mini)
#SS-25 Reggie Jackson, "Spotless Spans"

Bad: another "celebrity" I've never heard of, a couple rookies I barely know, and a despicable human being I hope never pitches in the majors ever again.

Good: in a few years time, I wonder if anyone'll remember Justin Verlander was on the Mets - it's already a prime Short Term Stop!

Best: "Spotless Spans" Reggie - looks to be the newest in the long line of big star-studded A&G insert sets. 

(Also, I tried a Reggie Bar for the first time a couple weeks ago - it was...kinda gross.)

Pack 5:

#118 Logan O'Hoppe
#85 Babe Ruth
#MFR-CK Clayton Kershaw, mini relic
#62 Oneil Cruz (Black mini)
#MTYE-10 Bodhran, "Music to Your Ears"

Given that I don't really care about memorabilia stuff, I just feel shorted whenever I pull a jersey card because it usually means I get one fewer card in said pack.

Still, even though it won't be staying with me at Dime Box HQ, it's hard to pick anything other than Kershaw as the best of this pack.

Pack 6:

#291 Seth Brown
#225 Adam Ray
#159 Austin Meadows
#368 Corbin Carroll (SP)
#334 Matt Holiday (mini SP)
#SS-33 Joey Votto, "Spotless Spans"

Very little to say about this pack...

...except that it's cool to get my first card of bigtime rookie Corbin Carroll.

Topps probably wants me to be excited over the fact that I actually pulled the SP version, but all I can think of is still needing the regular base card...

Pack 7:

#70 Joey Votto
#177 Starling Marte
#14 Cole Ragans
#227 Jon Berti
#MROD-1 20 Strikeout Game, "Rarest of the Diamond"
#TT-1 Osprey, "TALON-ted"

Not every non-sport A&G insert set is a winner for me - I don't care much about birding, and it seems like there's been an infinite number of animal inserts in the last few years of A&G.

Another pretty dull pack was saved by this nifty (and, from the looks of it, kinda tough) mini insert documenting some of the game's rarest occurrences.

(Also don't see umpire cards much these days!)

Pack 8:

#266 Nina O'Brien
#137 Zack Thompson
#53 Mike Trout
#378 David Ortiz (SP)
#7 Alex Rodriguez (A&G back mini)
#SS-28 Rickey Henderson, "Spotless Spans"

Final pack of the blaster provided a nice burst of star power (although why are we still putting Alex Rodriguez in modern sets?).

Was tempted to tap Rickey as a repeat "Leader of the Pack," but I'll go with smiling Big Papi here (even if it's another SP...). 

I probably didn't pick the most exciting blaster off the shelf, and it's by no means a perfect set this time around, but in the end I'll always treasure that A&G is just good plain fun.

I think the fact that it's still here 18 years later is a testament to that.

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.