Thursday, April 18, 2024

Not so common after all

Here's a card I finally welcomed into my collection after damn near (I kid you not) a decade of searching.

One has big ideas for cards they've been wanting for a healthy portion of their adult lives. But this isn't a Roberto Clemente rookie. It's not a '53 Satchel Paige. It's a...1995 Upper Deck Willie McGee? Look it up in your Beckett (if you must) and you'll find it books for a whopping $1.50. I secured my copy on Sportlots for a quarter - I just happened to log on one day and notice that oh my god someone listed one!

It's been a chase card for me because it's one of the extreme few to feature McGee's brief stint with the Red Sox (the only other I know of is from '96 Donruss). This was part of a mail-in exchange program from '95 UD that redeemed a special "Update" set that year. The '90s were filled with such redemption offers, and I own a healthy amount of trade-in cards from other similar sets. So why was this one so impossible?

I don't have an answer for you - all I can say it's a fascinating card that really clouds our notions of "rarity" and "worth."

I think it's an interesting phenomenon that's worth delving into a bit further - though I should warn you, I have few answers for the questions I'm about to ask.

Example: I have yet to hear a good explanation as to why '66 and '67 Topps high-numbers cost an arm and a leg, but '68 and '69 high-numbers, for instance, are pretty easily attainable. There's an aura around a few of those extra-tough high series ('67 especially) that elicits a visible wince from most vintage collectors. I regularly see even no-name '67 high-numbers in the $30-40 range at shows (when vendors have any at all, that is).

Like the Willie McGee, vintage high-numbers at the time were never meant to be "rare" - but thanks to some unexpected glitch over the years, that's exactly what they've become.

In an attempt to mimic this high-number madness, Topps Heritage regularly sprinkles short-prints into their checklist, much to the bane of our communal existences.

I've been able to find a good amount of the Heritage SPs I need over the last 5-10 years without too much of a hassle. But it seems like all the short-prints from before then simply dropped off the face of the earth at some point. Maybe there's a recency bias here - I bet a lot of older Heritage SPs are currently abandoned in garages all over the country - but earlier Heritage short-prints are a real pain.

Paying a whole $2 for this Tony Batista SP from 2005 Heritage - my first card of him on the Nationals - felt like a steal because that's a fraction of what most other short-prints from the era seem to go for.

Call this one the Mike Trout Effect, but I rarely see anything from 2011 Topps Update in the wild.

I bought a good amount of these at the time and luckily had most of what I needed from this set before the Trout-mania started (I even owned a Trout liquorfractor way back when!), but at some point people seemed to squirrel away the rest of their Update in search of the almighty dollar, and specifically the rookies.

It took a long time after I started collecting local hero Jason Kipnis to land his 2011 Update rookie, purely because he had the misfortune to have his first Topps land in the same checklist as the Godly Mike Trout.

Comb through a Hostess checklist and you'll find some SPs - I remember reading that were offered on the backs of less-popular Hostess products (a quick search shows treats such as Big Wheels and Pudding Pies that don't sound too appetizing to this '90s kid).

But even some of the non-SP Hostess have been surprisingly hard to track down for me over the years. I specifically remember searching for this '78 Hostess Len Randle at card show after card show, and no one seemed to have one. It drove me up the wall.

Maybe I was just looking in the wrong places - I eventually bought a copy for something like $1.50 - but the experience left me convinced that some Hostess cards aren't as common as we'd like to think.

I don't have any official data, but I think this '93 Pacific Dale Murphy earns the dubious crown of the card that sat the longest on my "Dime Box Dozen" list, clocking in at about two years!

'93 Pacific as a whole seems to be a tough go - I don't know that the set was widely purchased at the time and I almost never see them now.

I think the ultimate in this why are these so rare? discussion is probably the SP portion of 2002 Topps Traded.

Some genius at Topps decided to short-print the first 100 cards of that '02 Traded, and if I didn't know any better I'd say these were SP'ed to a number you can count on one hand because wow these things are maddening.

This Nomo is actually the only one I own - I stumbled into a copy in a dime box years ago, well before I knew how tough these monstrosities were. The cheapest copies of any 2002 Traded SPs I can find anywhere online are $4-5 each, mostly of guys I've barely heard of. Thankfully, for the sake of all our sanities, it was the first and last time Topps decided to SP a whole chunk of an Flagship checklist.

It's stuff like this that makes me glad I'm not much of a set-builder, because sometimes even the stuff we're told is common turns out to be not so common after all.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

I'll help you downsize

I used to wonder why in heavens anyone would ever downsize their collection.

As I've grown older, and started to realize the very real concerns of finding space for all these pieces of cardboard, I get it. I'm not really in a place now where I could imagine downsizing my own collection, but every once in a while I'll look around my room and go where did all this stuff come from? And I never have a great answer.

A lot of you probably know by now that our longtime friend Kenny (aka "Zippy Zappy") of "Torren' Up Cards" drastically slashed the scope of his collection recently, and he's bombarded a lucky few of us with the remnants of his task.

Unannounced packages & PWEs from Kenny have been regularly showing up in my mailbox for the last few months, so this post will be a catch-all for those generous mailings. The first package I received had a particularly thrilling item inside - an unopened pack of Sega Card-Gen! 

Kenny asks: Do you open this or leave this sealed? You probably know what my answer was...OF COURSE I'M OPENING IT!

And somehow, I managed to pull this Jason Giambi - one of the extreme few Sega Card-Gens I already had.

Even weirder is the fact that our resident Night Owl pulled the very same card from his Card-Gen pack from Kenny - is this a Deep State conspiracy to flood the American market with Jason Giambi cards?

I have Kenny to thank for the overwhelming majority of Japanese cards in my collection, and selfishly I'm glad he's downsizing because that means I get more!

I don't know if I'd even be aware of Sega Card-Gens without him, but I'm sure glad I do because they're wonderful cards - also always happy to welcome "gaijins" like Ryan Glynn into my collection.

Kenny also provided a rare first for Dime Boxedonia - my first superfractor!

Superfractors have never been anywhere near a top priority, but I've often entertained the idea of owning one. And while I've never heard of Austin Kubitza (he never made it above Double-A) I'm glad I can check this off my collecting to-do list.

Couple that with a rare Topps Now position-player-pitching card of Luis Torrens - the legend himself! - and you already have a wow-worthy assortment of cards here.

But Kenny couldn't stop there - he sent me yet another unopened pack of Japanese cards(!), this time from the 2023 Bowman NPB set that I must admit I had no idea existed in the first place.

I was fully ready to pull a mix of cool cards of guys I'd sadly never heard of here in America...and then our old friend Masahiro Tanaka appeared!

Tanaka kinda fell off my radar a few years ago, and I was wondering what'd happened to him - I once again show my lack of non-MLB knowledge here by admitting I didn't even know he went back to play in Japan.

One of the packages Kenny sent had a bit of weight to it, which confused me until a couple books fell out.

I take it as a point of pride to be the unofficial "book guy" here on the blogs - I've often said that reading and baseball are my two passions in life. Sadly, the bookstore I currently work at doesn't have a huge sports section (though I've convinced my bosses to bring in a few more baseball books) so I hadn't seen this David Cone autobiography before.

I'm not a huge reader of baseball biographies/autobiographies - I tend to gravitate toward books that deal with broader subjects and time periods - but from what I know about Cone I'm sure he has quite a story to tell.

A quick flip to the title page revealed another surprise - the book was signed by Cone and co-author Jack Curry!

Here's a rare example of a book I can't read but feel proud to own - as per Kenny's note, this is Hiroki Kuroda's autobiography (in Japanese, obviously).

Coupled with the books was this massively neat cabinet card of Masanori Murakami, the man who was notably the first Japanese player to play in the MLB when he broke in with the Giants in 1964.

Believe me when I tell you the goodies just kept coming and coming out of these packages.

I've discussed my love affair with MLB Showdown cards as a kid many times on this blog, but I'd never seen a signed one before Kenny sent that Cone my way (I'm thinking Cone must be a fairly prolific signer?).

Kenny's always good for a few random Japanese cards - I love these for many reasons, perhaps the simple of which is that there's something irresistible about hoarding cards that crossed a continent to get here.

(That's former White Sox prospect Dayan Viciedo at top-left, which talk about a guy I hadn't thought about in a long time.)

MLB needs more stuffed animals.

Japanese cards really do come in all shapes and sizes - and we're really going all over the world with that Team Italia WBC card of fellow "paisan" Francisco Cervelli!

Even with all the other wonderful randomness, I admit that every time something shows up from Kenny, my first thought is Ooh, I hope there's some Sega Card-Gen in here!

Thankfully, that prayer always seems to be answered.

Kenny's Jack Chesbro collection appears to have gotten the axe in his downsizing, and I was lucky enough to collect a few of the scraps.

I actually was the one who sent Kenny that Highlanders oddball in the bottom-left - it was a small concession given that he sent me a gosh-darn T206 Hal Chase! - but the selfish collector in me is once again happy to have that card back in my binders.

And so this tour of superfractors, books, Japanese issues and other insanity somehow comes to its similarly insane end - with a Wee Willie Keeler printing plate!

You can count the number of printing plates I own on one hand, and while they're not a huge priority in my collection, a plate of a dead-ball star has to be one of the cooler examples you'll see.

I can't even begin to thank Kenny for thinking of me with all these cast-offs from his own collection - selfishly, I have to say that if this is the kind of stuff that needs a home, then by all means let me help you downsize.