Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2016 Topps Bunt: Safety squeeze


I have to admit, I just don't get these digital card games.

A big part of collecting, to me, is the physical act of holding the cards in my hands, peeling them one-by-one from packs, feeling the surfaces, flipping them over and reading the backs. That's the main reason I haven't devoted a single second to pursuing the newfangled Topps Bunt app this year. It's just not my thing.

What I didn't know was that Topps was apparently plotting a physical set of Bunt cards all along, releasing a 200-card set that received little fanfare (I first heard about it by accident on Twitter) early last week. I was somewhat intrigued, so I figured I'd take the usual route: hunt down a couple packs and snag the rest I needed on the secondary market.

That is, until I saw the price point, which convinced me to say what the heck and pick up an entire 36-pack box of the stuff. It cost me a hair over $28 (with free shipping), which, for comparison's sake, is only a few dollars more than I would've spent on a blaster of A&G or Topps Chrome or something random from the Target card aisle.

Topps Bunt was something I've wanted from Topps for a while: a cheap, unique set that isn't just a regurgitation of Flagship like Opening Day.





For under $30, it's hard to beat the sheer fun of opening 36 packs of baseball cards on a warm afternoon.

Even better is the fact that this set actually isn't that bad. It's not a standout, by any means. I've seen a couple bloggers compare it to Topps Lineage, and I think that's apt. I'm a little disappointed that, like Lineage, Topps Bunt doesn't feature stats on the back, instead going with small blurbs for each player atop a gluttony of ads.

But the photos are nice and clean, and you sure get a lot of bang for your buck. I didn't check, but I probably got close to a complete base set in this box. And it's hard to not fall in love with those plus-sized team logos lining the background of each card. I enjoy the design a whole lot more than Lineage.

Now that I think of it, I think I actually enjoy the design a bit more than 2016 Flagship, honestly.




The first thing that came to mind when I saw the low price point was, of course, the holy and sacred Topps Total.

But let's not get too excited just yet. The packs may be affordable for every rank of collector -- and I vehemently thank Topps for that -- but the meager 200-card checklist isn't anywhere near Total standards. You won't find backup catchers and middle relievers here, sadly. There aren't many surprises in Topps Bunt's player selection.

All the big stars you see in every other set are in this one, too.




One thing Topps Bunt has going for it is a look at players in their new, unairbrushed 2016 duds.

A lot of these guys have appeared in other 2016 sets like Heritage, Archives, etc., but most feature them in photoshopped unis. Best I can tell, Topps Bunt uses absolutely no airbrushing, which means real, actual photos without retouching.

No funny stuff.




Another thing I like about Topps Bunt are all the cheaper, bigger-name rookies.

Base cards of guys like Schwarber and Story in most other sets will run you a pretty penny, but they're easily obtainable in Topps Bunt.

But I still can't get over the fact that a guy born in 1996 (Urias) now has a place in my binders.




Topps Bunt features a lot of the same legends you'll find in most other sets (Robinson, Clemente, Mays, etc.), but Topps did sneak in a few surprises with the likes of Bo and Vlad.

It's also a joy to see Rod Carew in this set, because -- and maybe this is just my imagination -- he seems to be quite underrepresented in the current hobby.




It's kind of refreshing to see a Topps set without a gluttony of parallels.

Parallels seem to drive prices up (why else should a rack pack of Chrome cost $10?), which is why I don't mind that this platinum Lorenzo Cain /99 was the only parallel I pulled out of the entire box.

Between frugality and parallels, I'll take frugality.




For such a low-end set, the inserts are fairly high-quality.

I enjoy both the "Franchise of the Future" and "Lightforce" series, and even better is the fact that Pops is one of my favorite guys to collect.




Being an old soul at heart, I always like designs that harken back to old-time media -- be it newspapers, magazines, or, in this case, programs.

Front to back, these Bunt Program inserts are done extremely well and are among the best cards Topps has produced all year.

There's a very '70s vibe to them that I just love.




Equally awesome is the Unique Unis set.

It's mostly a throwback-themed series -- which you know I can appreciate -- but Topps threw in some random examples as well, such as Ken Griffey Jr.'s 1999 Home Run Derby garb.




But my favorite of the bunch -- and maybe my favorite of the entire box -- was this one.

Not only is it my first card featuring those cringe-worthy '70s White Sox throwbacks, but, as luck would have it, these just so happen to be the very same style of jerseys that were at the heart of the infamous Chris Sale fiasco last month.

In using the name of the set as a precedent, Topps Bunt strikes me as something of a safety squeeze. There's not a lot of risk here for Topps -- it's not a last-ditch suicide squeeze. It's more of a let's-move-a-runner-over-and-see-what-happens type of move.

With a low price point and a relatively small base set, it seems like Topps is just throwing this set out there and letting us decide what to do with it.

And me personally, I see a whole lot of potential here: Topps Bunt is a legitimately unique set that satisfies both physical and virtual collectors alike.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Short Term Stops: The All-Marlins Team


The Marlins are a weird team.

They've won two World Series despite never having earned a division title. They play in a ballpark that looks more like an amusement park. And these days they insist people call them the Miami Marlins, despite the fact that they're ingrained in the minds of most fans -- myself included -- as the Florida Marlins.

But even though I still hold somewhat of a grudge against the Marlins for knocking out the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, I'll always have an appreciation for the club since they're one of just four expansion teams (along with the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Rays) to have been born during my lifetime. (I was only one year old in 1993, but it still counts.)

And, despite the fact that they've only been around for a little over two decades, the Marlins have a formidable Short Term Stops roster, which makes me happy I'm rebooting this theme with them in the spotlight.



Pitchers

1993 Bowman #390 Trevor Hoffman

"Short Term Stops" Marlins Accolades:

Trevor Hoffman (1993 Marlins, 28 games, half-year stint)

We begin with likely the best closer in baseball history not named Mariano Rivera, and one of my personal favorite short term stops ever.

Selected from the Reds in the 1992 expansion draft (the team with whom he's pictured in his hallowed zero-year rookie card) Trevor Hoffman pitched in just 28 games for the Marlins in '93, collecting the first two of his 601 career saves before being dealt to the Padres in the huge deal that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida.

With Sheffield's credentials, it's hard to argue that it was a bad trade, but you can't help but wonder what Trevor Hoffman might have done in the Florida teal.



2012 Topps Heritage #160 Mark Buehrle

Marlins Accolades:

Mark Buehrle (2012 Marlins, 31 games)

Along with stars Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, the Marlins signed Buehrle as part of their blockbuster offseason in 2011, assembling a star-studded roster that would go on to crash and burn before all our eyes.

The Marlins tumbled to a 69-93 finish in 2012, good for last place in the NL East, though Buehrle was hardly to blame. He turned in another consistent season for the Fish, going 13-13 with a solid 3.74 ERA in his lone season as a Marlin before the great dismantling saw him (and Reyes) dealt to Toronto the very next year.

But God, Mark Buehrle looks wrong in anything other than a White Sox jersey.



2013 Topps #238 Carlos Zambrano

Marlins Accolades:

Carlos Zambrano (2012 Marlins, 35 games, sunset season)

Carlos Zambrano was also a member of that doomed 2012 Marlins squad.

Big Z spent the first 11 years of his career on the North Side of Chicago, becoming perhaps the most polarizing Cub of my lifetime (not named Sammy Sosa). You wanted to hug him when he was going good, and run him out of town when he was going bad. His temper kind of overshadowed the fact that he was a three-time All-Star.

Zambrano nearly sparked a brawl in the last game he ever pitched for the Cubs, who dealt him to the Marlins after the 2011 season.

In what would be his final year in the bigs, Big Z went 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA and became little more than a footnote in Marlins annals.



Catcher

1998 Upper Deck #681a Mike Piazza

Marlins Accolades:

Mike Piazza (1998 Marlins, 5 games, third-of-a-year stint)

Here it is: the most (in)famous short term stop in recent memory, and maybe the best in all of baseball history.

In a shocking turn of events, the Dodgers dealt now-Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to the Marlins in a deal that sent Gary Sheffield (again!) back to LA. In perhaps an even more shocking turn of events, the Marlins turned around and dealt Piazza to the Mets just eight days later. It's rare that any player suits up for three teams in a single season, much less one of Piazza's caliber.

The five games Piazza spent in Florida has become the stuff of legend ever since. I own a handful of cards of him as a Marlin (and it's kind of shocking any exist in the first place, if you think about it). He even hit one of his eight career triples during that quick stint in Florida.

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say short term stops don't get much better than Mike Piazza as a Marlin.



First Base

2005 Topps #432 Carlos Delgado

Marlins Accolades:

Carlos Delgado (2005 Marlins, 144 games)

Carlos Delgado, one of the more underrated players of my baseball lifetime, spent a lone season with the Marlins in 2005.

He posted just another ho-hum .301-33-115 slash line that year, about on par with his many standout seasons in Toronto. As ever a cost-cutting squad, however, Florida dealt him to the Mets the following season, leaving this as Delgado's only Flagship card as a Marlin.

Unfortunately, it looks like the days of posed shots in Topps are long gone.



Second Base

2002 Fleer Tradition Update #U-196 Pablo Ozuna

Marlins Accolades:

Pablo Ozuna (2000, '02 Marlins, 48 games)

I don't have a great second base nominee here, so let's go with one of the more obscure guys in my player collection ranks: Pablo Ozuna.

Ozuna won a place in my heart -- and my collection -- for being a part of the legendary 2005 White Sox championship club, but his career began back in 2000 with the Marlins. He'd move on to the Rockies (and eventually the Sox) after another handful of games with the '02 Marlins.

Sidebar: I seem to be reminded of how criminally underrated Fleer Tradition was more and more every single day.



Shortstop

2014 Topps #506 Rafael Furcal

Marlins Accolades:

Rafael Furcal (2014 Marlins, 9 games, sunset season)

I could've easily selected Jose Reyes for the shortstop position on this roster, but I think I've bagged on that lackluster 2012 Marlins squad enough.

Instead, let's go with Rafael Furcal, longtime Braves shortstop and 2000 NL Rookie of the Year. Furcal seemed to have resurrected his career during his 2012 All-Star campaign with the Cardinals, but wound up missing the entire 2013 season due to injury. He briefly resurfaced with the Marlins in 2014 in an ill-fated comeback attempt, hitting just .171 in nine contests before calling it a career.

Kudos to Topps for commemorating those nine games.



Third Base

1998 SP Authentic #97 Todd Zeile

Marlins Accolades:

Todd Zeile (1998 Marlins, 66 games, third-of-a-year stint)

It kind of gets lost to history now, but the careers of Todd Zeile and Mike Piazza paralleled one another in 1998.

Zeile was the lesser-known piece sent to Florida in the Piazza deal, and Zeile -- like Piazza -- wound up playing for three teams in '98. He hit .291 in 66 games with the Marlins before being traded to Texas for a couple of minor leaguers in July of that season.

The Marlins would be the sixth of the whopping eleven teams Zeile would suit up for during his 16-year career.



Outfield

1997 Ultra #347 Moises Alou

Marlins Accolades:

Moises Alou (1997 Marlins, 150 games)

Moises Alou's stint in Florida may have been short, but it sure was sweet.

The veteran outfielder had an All-Star campaign during his lone season with the Marlins, posting a .292-23-115 slash line for a squad that would go on to win it all. Sadly, Alou was dealt to Houston that offseason in the great dismantling of that '97 championship club.

One wonders what the Marlins might've done had that team stayed together.



2003 Donruss #285 Tim Raines

Marlins Accolades:

Tim Raines (2002 Marlins, 98 games, sunset season)

Tim Raines made his MLB debut in 1979, a full fourteen years before the Marlins became a franchise.

And yet the former Expos speedster wound up closing out his career as a Marlin in 2002, a classic example of a once-great star who simply held on too long. Raines hit just .191 in 98 games during his age-43 sunset season in Florida, hitting the last of his 170 career homers and stealing exactly zero bases.

Raines didn't get a true cardboard farewell from Topps, but thankfully Donruss was there to pick up the slack.



2009 Upper Deck #146 Luis Gonzalez

Marlins Accolades:

Luis Gonzalez (2008 Marlins, 136 games, sunset season)

Like Tim Raines, Luis Gonzalez also spent his sunset season with the Marlins, a team that wasn't even around when he broke into the bigs.

Gonzalez made his MLB debut with the Astros in 1990 and, while he posted some fine numbers in Houston, he'd really make his mark on the game during his monster years with the Diamondbacks in the early 2000s. Gonzo would call it quits after his final season with the 2008 Marlins, hitting .261 and smacking the final eight of his 354 career homers. 

Once again, Topps failed to produce a true finale, but this time Upper Deck was there to take care of that.



Pinch Hitter

2013 Topps #253 Adam Greenberg

Marlins Accolades:

Adam Greenberg (2012 Marlins, 1 game)

I usually don't have pinch-hitter spots on these rosters, but I have to make a special exception for Adam Greenberg.

Seven years after suffering the most frightening hit-by-pitch I've personally ever seen on the first pitch of his very first big-league at-bat, Greenberg was toiling around in independent ball, never having gotten another plate appearance in the majors after that tragic first one.

Enter the One At-Bat campaign, which sought to get Greenberg that hallowed second taste of the majors. And enter the Marlins, who were willing to grant him that wish. On October 2, 2012, in his first major league at-bat since the horrific beaning, Greenberg stepped to the plate against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, pinch-hitting in the 6th inning.

Greenberg struck out on three pitches, but it still made for one of the more emotional baseball moments of my lifetime -- and one of the most treasured baseball cards of my lifetime, to boot.

That just about does it for this edition of "Short Term Stops."

Thanks for tuning in!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Frankenset Bracket: The field of 64 (Pt. 2)


Let's see how the first round of our frankenset bracket played out.

#1 (Page 61) -- 1973 Topps #542 Pat Corrales (29 votes)

def.

#16 (Page 14) -- 1978 Topps #125 George Scott (8 votes)




#9 (Page 20) -- 2012 Topps #172 Reed Johnson (25 votes)

def.

#8 (Page 72) -- 1993 Upper Deck #645 Phil Hiatt (12 votes)




#13 (Page 5) -- 1996 Score #38 Bip Roberts (24 votes)

def.

#4 (Page 19) -- 1972 Topps #166 Chris Speier IA (12 votes)




#5 (Page 74) -- 1991 Topps #659 Oscar Azocar (24 votes)

def.

#12 (Page 55) -- 1995 Stadium Club #495 Turner Ward (12 votes)




#3 (Page 3) -- 1972 Topps #19 Billy Cowan (25 votes)

def.

#14 (Page 32) -- 1992 Stadium Club #282 Lonnie Smith (11 votes)




#11 (Page 30) -- 1992 Upper Deck #268 Mike Benjamin (27 votes)

def.

#6 (Page 54) -- 2008 Upper Deck #454 Garrett Atkins (9 votes)




#7 (Page 21) -- 1984 Fleer #182 Glenn Hubbard (24 votes)

def.

#10 (Page 59) -- 1973 Topps #525 Jim Fregosi (12 votes)




#2 (Page 18) -- 1984 Fleer #158 Roy Lee Jackson (24 votes)

def.

#15 (Page 57) -- 1992 Stadium Club #507 Jay Bell (10 votes)

Like any good bracket, we had some key upsets right from the get-go with 13-seed Bip advancing as well as a dominant victory from 11-seed Mike Benjamin. I agreed with seven of the eight victors here, with Sombrero Bip being the lone discrepancy.

Nevertheless, it warms my heart to see a card that great advancing in this tourney.

--------------------

Now, let's take a look at the next region's set of matchups.





#1 (Page 51) -- 1991 Topps #455 Walt Weiss

vs.

#16 (Page 2) -- 1995 Topps #17 Dave Nilsson





#8 (Page 4) -- 1973 Topps #35 Willie Davis

vs.

#9 (Page 35) -- 1971 Topps #310 Tommie Agee





#4 (Page 34) -- 1973 Topps #302 Terry Crowley

vs.

#13 (Page 16) -- 1991 Stadium Club #138 Eric Show





#5 (Page 39) -- 1991 Ultra #351 Geno Petralli

vs.

#12 (Page 69) -- 1986 Topps #616 Glenn Brummer





#3 (Page 48) -- 1998 Fleer Tradition #424 Jermaine Allensworth

vs.

#14 (Page 46) -- 1971 Topps #407 Joe Rudi





#6 (Page 64) -- 1991 Score #568 Bob Welch

vs.

#11 (Page 40) -- 1992 Leaf #355 Luis Rivera





#7 (Page 23) -- 1993 Upper Deck #204 Mike Perez

vs.

#10 (Page 66) -- 1993 Donruss #586 Joe Oliver





#2 (Page 63) -- 1976 Topps #564 Kurt Bevacqua

vs.

#15 (Page 9) -- 1995 Pinnacle #79 Charlie Hayes

The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Frankenset Bracket: The field of 64 (Pt. 1)


The official Frakenset Bracket is set, but first, let's check out the results of the second round of play-ins.

#6 (Page 22) -- 1995 Collector's Choice SE #197 Jose Rijo (17 votes)

def.

#15 (Page 33) -- 1993 Upper Deck #294 Casey Candaele (12 votes)




#7 (Page 2) -- 1995 Topps #17 Dave Nilsson (17 votes)

def.

#14 (Page 27) -- 1979 Topps #239 Willie Horton Reverse-Negative ERR (13 votes)




#13 (Page 14) -- 1978 Topps #125 George Scott (16 votes)

def.

#8 (Page 6) -- 1981 Fleer #46 John Wathan (14 votes)




#9 (Page 9) -- 1995 Pinnacle #79 Charlie Hayes (19 votes)

def.

#12 (Page 68) -- 1993 Upper Deck #611 Francisco Cabrera (10 votes)




#10 (Page 28) -- 1970 Topps #252 Lowell Palmer (21 votes)

def.

#11 (Page 45) -- 2008 Topps #402 Taylor Buchholz (9 votes)

I agreed with every victor here, save for George Scott, which was the lone upset of the group. The Wathan play at the plate is one of my personal favorite cards in the frankenset, so I'm sad to see it go.

Guess you can't win 'em all.

---------

And now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the first eight head-to-head matchups from our first region of the official Frankenset Bracket.




#1 (Page 61) -- 1973 Topps #542 Pat Corrales

vs.

#16 (Page 14) -- 1978 Topps #125 George Scott





#8 (Page 72) -- 1993 Upper Deck #645 Phil Hiatt

vs.

#9 (Page 20) -- 2012 Topps #172 Reed Johnson





#4 (Page 19) -- 1972 Topps #166 Chris Speier IA

vs.

#13 (Page 5) -- 1996 Score #38 Bip Roberts





#5 (Page 74) -- 1991 Topps #659 Oscar Azocar 

vs.

#12 (Page 55) -- 1995 Stadium Club #495 Turner Ward





#3 (Page 3) -- 1972 Topps #19 Billy Cowan

vs.

#14 (Page 32) -- 1992 Stadium Club #282 Lonnie Smith





#6 (Page 54) -- 2008 Upper Deck #454 Garrett Atkins

vs.

#11 (Page 30) -- 1992 Upper Deck #268 Mike Benjamin





#7 (Page 21) -- 1984 Fleer #182 Glenn Hubbard

vs.

#10 (Page 59) -- 1973 Topps #525 Jim Fregosi





#2 (Page 18) -- 1984 Fleer #158 Roy Lee Jackson

vs.

#15 (Page 57) -- 1992 Stadium Club #507 Jay Bell

The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!