Friday, January 26, 2024

I've moved since you last saw me

I know the last thing I need is yet another cardboard obsession, but here I am about to post about a new one.

It began rather morbidly, following the far-too-soon passing of knuckleball legend Tim Wakefield. I knew Wake had started his professional career as a position player, and had a few cards issued as such, but I thought they were unattainable. That is, until I checked Ebay and found a rather fairly-priced regional issue from Wakefield's minor-league days that listed him as a third baseman(!). 

I couldn't hit BUY IT NOW fast enough, and before I knew it, an obsession was born.

That set off a chain of events that led to me wanting to discover other notable names who made odd and/or forgotten position switches early in their careers - and specifically ones that were documented on cardboard.

Like Wakefield, I knew dominant closer Troy Percival began his career as a position player, but I didn't know he had any cards issued as such until this obsession came about. Best I can tell, this is the one and only card of his lone season as a catcher in the Angels' system, and I was thrilled to snag a copy for a song recently.

As is the case with most of the dudes you'll see here, Percival probably had the right idea in switching positions since he hit a whopping .203 in Low-A ball in 1990.

Guillermo Mota is a trademark Dime Box Favorite - but he's unlike Wakefield and Percival given that I had absolutely no clue he started his career as an infielder in the Mets organization.

Switching positions isn't that uncommon of a tale - Kenley Jansen and Trevor Hoffman are a few others who come to mind that I don't yet own cards of as position players (though I have a bead on a minor-league Hoffman) - but seeing it on baseball cards kinda causes my brain to short out (in a good way!).

Sean Doolittle is another collection favorite who made the switch - an injury caused him to try his hand at pitching after a few middling years as a position player in the A's system.

I'd say it worked out well for him, given that Doolittle just retired following a fine 11-year career as a dominant closer.

But these shifts go farther than the position-player-to-pitcher phenomenon I've shown thus far.

Catchers are known to switch positions at various points in their career - the body can only take so much wear and tear - but I'm particularly fascinated by the guys like Dale Murphy who gave up catching earlier rather than later.

I've never seen a card that actually depicts Murphy as a catcher - he caught sparsely in his first few seasons with the Braves - but look closely and you'll find that weird "C-1B" designation on his early cards.

Recent memory may recall that Bryce Harper was drafted as a catcher, though I think it was always a given that he'd find stardom elsewhere on the diamond.

From what I understand, though, HOFer Jimmie Foxx was thought to be a legitimate catching prospect, so much so that his earlier cards show him in the tools of ignorance (this is obviously a reprint). A good amount of the earlier photos of Double-X on baseball cards show him as a backstop.

Foxx was never a regular catcher, but he did catch more often than I knew before I wrote this post - he was appearing in a game or two at catcher as late as 1944.

As I so often say, baseball cards are fun, but they can also be educational - I didn't know Stan Musial was signed as a pitcher until I unearthed this Pro Debut insert from a few years back.

Musial had a few successes on the mound - he actually won 18 games in Class-D ball 1940, his final season as a pitcher - but he obviously never would've become the "Stan the Man" we know and love had he stayed on the bump.

Of course, no discussion of this ilk is complete without mentioning The Great Bambino, a guy who gave up a career as a world-class pitcher to become an equally world-class slugger.

I love (and want) all Babe Ruth cards, but ones that show him during his earlier Red Sox pitching days are still ever-so extra special to me. They're a great reminder of how strange the trajectory of certain baseball careers can be. But Ruth is obviously the rarity in this field - most position switches, like the Wakefields and Percivals of the world, are born out of dubiousness or downright failure.

So I guess if you're wrestling with the Mendoza Line in the low minors, perhaps your destiny lies elsewhere on the diamond.

Friday, January 12, 2024

I can't change how I collect

I've been collecting for so long now that I can't envision a life without it.

I'm fascinated by the way my pre-teen self managed to come up with my fairly intricate binder system, a method that's remained largely unchanged as of now. But lately I'll admit that I've started running into a few roadblocks - some of said system simply isn't feasible anymore as I get on in years. 

The crazy way I sort my cards often means that it takes a lot of time to file them away, a lot of moving cards from one slot to another and such. For a while, that was okay - I was able to devote a sizeable chunk of my waking hours to my collection. 

Problem is, as I sit here typing these words at the age of 31 (going-on-32), I simply don't have the time and/or energy to do that anymore.

The easiest (and perhaps most obvious) solution to this quandary is to simply COLLECT FEWER CARDS and not the 8,623 different players and themes I insist on chasing.

But could I ever do that? Of course not! I admire those who can stop collecting one thing and seamlessly pivot to another. But it's just not me. I can turn the volume knobs of different things I collect up and down sometimes, but I can never completely shut them off.

For what it's worth, I've devised a slight revision to my binder system that should cut my filing time down by a good margin and keep the collecting part of my brain balanced. In the meantime, I can take comfort in other collectors I know who are just as crazy (I mean, widely curious) as I am, like longtime friend of the blog John of "Johnny's Trading Spot."

John is particularly good at shoveling heaps and heaps of cards onto people - what you'll see here come from a few different packages I'm woefully overdue in posting - and he knows I always want shiny Cubs.

John also produced a rare first for my collection - behold, the first of these curious '30s matchbooks I own!

They're are a prime example of something I'm not really interested enough to chase down and buy, but was over the moon to see fall out of a trade package as a surprise.

Nifty Cubs will always have a home with me.

I've been collecting for long enough now to grow nostalgic for players of my youth - that's the only explanation I have as to why I've been hoarding Mark Prior cards with more vigor lately.

More local love here, including those cool Jason Kipnis & Billy Hamilton parallels - a couple Dime Box Favorites who gleefully became short-term Cubs.

Cubs were the meat of John's mailings, but they weren't the whole feast.

A couple pitchers-at-the-plate came along for the ride - and while I don't specifically count flip-side hitting pitchers towards my mini-collection, I'll always take ones people happen to spot (especially of big names like Trevor Hoffman!). 

I find it endearing that an oddball set documenting the hapless '62 Mets actually exists, and John sent along a few of those gems as well.

I had a couple cards from this set in my binders already (do nicknames get any better than "Vinegar Bend" Mizell?), but these two familiar names were new to me - nor did I know either of them were inaugural Mets.

Here's a card I never knew I needed - a '62 Mets team photo!

Come to think of it, this one's a prime example of why I can't collect any other way than I do right now. Team cards have never been a huge priority for me, nor does this one fit snugly into any of the nebulous players/themes/guidelines I collect. But did I get wide-eyed at the sight of it in a trade package? Of course!

In the end, even though the circumstances surrounding the collector might change, I truly believe that basic instinct to collect how and what we want never truly fades.