Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Doldrums


I've been in the doldrums lately, baseball cards included.

This isn't anything new. Winter is winter. While it makes sense that the majority of cards are released during the peak of the baseball season, I sometimes wish more sets would come out at right around this point in the year when there's no baseball around.

It'd go a long way in helping with the winter blahs, and it'd certainly keep me more invested in blogging. This is my first post in almost two weeks, and the truth is I haven't had much motivation to blog as of late. Though I should, because I still have a heck of a lot of trades to catch up on, including a pair of envelopes I received from Tony of "Wrigley Roster Jenga" fame during my hiatus.

Tony has shown himself to be a maestro of the PWE, especially when it comes to oddballs. Among the goods from his first batch was this oversized (tobacco reprint?) gem of Mickey Welch, one of baseball's lesser known 300-game winners.

Even more impressive is the fact that Welch's 307 career victories came over the course of just 13 seasons.




Tony's included a few of those Hot Button Baseball singles in his PWEs to me, which I assume to be some sort of mechanized baseball card game that completely flew under the radar of my adolescence.

Also present was a quirky add to my multiple-exposure mini-collection with the Recchia, a card I can say with near 100-percent certainty I would've never seen had it not been for Tony.




I believe I specifically requested both of these from Tony at one point.

I'm guessing the Boggs was designed with the intention of highlighting the star's famous batting eye, but it came out looking like something out of an awful B-level horror flick instead.




Here's another card I'm pretty sure I requested from Tony.

My Mike/Giancarlo Stanton collection is at over 200 unique cards now due to my seemingly uncanny ability to accumulate cards of the Marlins slugger.




More from the oddball files including the Terry Collins, a card that serves as a good reminder that managers too can spend a long time in the minors before getting a shot in the big leagues.

Collins had toiled as a skipper in the minors since the early '80s before being hired to lead the Astros in 1994, and he'd have to wait another couple decades to enjoy the kind of success he's found with the Mets over the past few years.




A couple more less-heralded members of the local Thunderbolts, though the O'Hara wouldn't even be the best bat-retrieving subject of this PWE.





That honor has to go to the Trenton Thunder's Bat Dog, Chase.

I have absolutely no idea how I didn't already know about this card. It's joyous on so many levels, the first being that Topps would even think to include something like this in their Heritage Minor League checklist (though I'm obviously glad they did so). It also doesn't hurt that Golden Retrievers happen to be my personal favorite breed of canine.

The real cherry on top is the "stat line" on the back of the card which can't help but make you smile, including Chase's weight of "Ruff Ruff," his birthplace of "Bark Ruff, Bark" and his N/A "Minor League Ruffs," among others.

If a card like that doesn't help with the doldrums, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How much money do I spend on cards?


As of this writing, I've spent exactly $0 on cards in 2017.

Obviously, that'll change in due time, but a part of me has always wanted to find out what I spend on this hobby in a given year. Although...I've never had the courage to track such a thing, because I'm not altogether sure I want to know the answer. (Not that I'm a big spender or anything, but still.)

One problem is that I've never been much of a budget guy, which sets me apart from Robert of the "$30 A Week Habit" blog. Robert and I have been trading buddies since near the dawn of my blog, and he sent me a couple top-notch PWEs during my hiatus. (I'll be sending something your way shortly, too, Robert.)

This '81 Topps Traded Danny Ainge rookie was a Dime Box Dozen need at the time, and unless there's some wildly obscure oddball out there, I'm almost positive I now own all the baseball cards ever issued of Ainge between 1981 and '82.




I have to say, I'm seriously considering tracking my spending here in 2017, possibly by adding a little ticker to the side of this blog.

One question off the top of my head is whether or not I include shipping costs in the total budget. Should every PWE I send out tack on 49 cents to the yearly number? Or should it only consist of cards I purchase directly?

Retail most definitely counts towards the budget, but hopefully if enough people like Robert hit my various current needs I won't need to buy as much.




Thank God I'm not much of a set builder, because my budget would just about explode if I had to track Heritage SPs like this one down.




In the grand scheme of things, I'm probably on the extreme lower end of the financial collecting spectrum.

I'd guess I spent more on cards in 2016 than ever before, but that's only because last year was the first time I had a steady full-time job.




I hit maybe five or six card shows a year tops, and unlike I've done in the past, I don't buy retail for the sake of buying retail anymore. 

Sure, I'll sample most products that hit the shelves, but once I have most of the base cards covered, I start to let the inserts trickle in through card shows and trades, like these two Wrigley-themed inserts from Robert.




More 2016 inserts from Robert included a hearty batch of last year's "Berger's Best" reprints.

While I'll grant that reprinting cards from less than a decade ago is a bit of a stretch, I do still seem to be one of the few collectors remaining who enjoy reprints.





They're a good way to at least partially feel like I own cards that are, in reality, way above my budget.

I'd bet that a decent copy of Hammerin' Hank's 1954 Topps rookie would set me back more than I spent on cards all of last year.

It can be a conflicting thing sometimes, collecting baseball cards. I usually treat my cardboard purchases as separate events, but tracking and culling them across an entire year could be an interesting -- and perhaps eye-opening -- study.

We'll see if I actually have the wherewithal to do it, but maybe 2017 will finally be the Year I Actually Find Out How Much I Spend On This Hobby.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sets of the Year: 2016


It is time, once again, for me to rank the sets we saw throughout the just-ended card season.

As usual, this was a fun list to create, and the same rules apply as past years. I had to have bought at least one pack and/or elsewhere acquired an ample amount of singles of a given product for it to qualify for this list.

Though I do own cards from sets like 2016 Museum Collection and Gold Label, you won't see them here because I don't really have enough to form any kind of opinion on them. Also (as in the past) I've consolidated each brand and their various offshoots into a single category for the sake of time and space.

Let's begin with the now four-time reigning Worst Set of the Year.





#10 -- Donruss/Optic

The sets near the bottom of this list appear in almost the exact same order as they ranked in 2015, so I'll try to make this as quick as I can.

My opinion about Donruss hasn't changed over the years...just, no.





#9 -- Bowman/Chrome

Bowman produced its first non-foil set in what seemed like forever in 2016, but the design remains a little too TV-graphicy for my taste and will probably never be a favorite of mine.





#8 -- Gypsy Queen

I'm always good for a pack or two of Gypsy Queen every year, but the fact remains that (as far as the base cards go) I just find this set incredibly bland, no matter how Topps tries to tinker with it.

The best way I can put it is this: not once have I bought a pack of GQ and felt as if I've gotten my money's worth.





#7 -- Diamond Kings

The dawn of Diamond Kings created a bit of a stir in 2015, but I didn't hear much about it this year.

I was lukewarm on it last year and the 2016 edition didn't much change my opinion. DK wins points by sometimes including relatively obscure past greats like Jake Daubert in its checklist, but outside of that there's not a whole lot that excites me about this product. Unlike other sets bringing up the rear on this list, however, I do think DK can be tweaked into a set that I enjoy.

What those tweaks are or how they should be applied, though, I don't know.





#6 -- Allen & Ginter

It often feels like I've said everything I need to say about Allen & Ginter.

Topps opted for a more Heritage-esque card stock in 2016 A&G, but I didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about the cards themselves. Nice? Sure. Exciting? Not so much.

I'm fine with A&G being on the shelves year-in and year-out, but at this point I'm not sure if A&G can ever recapture its mid-2000s greatness.





#5 -- Flagship/Opening Day/Chrome

Here's where the list starts to get interesting.

Flagship comes in at #5, which is the lowest I've placed a Flagship set since I started creating these countdowns four years ago. Topps revolutionized their central product by doing the unthinkable and whipping up a Flagship set without borders.

Instead, we got smoke and odd nameplates that look like something you'd see during a FOX telecast. Couple that with uninspired photography and you have what amounted to a boring Flagship release. Buying packs of Flagship this year carried more of an I guess I should than I want to train of thought.

I think a Topps Without Borders set can one day succeed, but for my money, 2016 Topps was a failure.





#4 -- Bunt

Fresh off the heels of Flagship's failure comes the most surprising set of 2016: Topps Bunt.

Bunt was the only debut brand to crack this list, and it was met with raucous applause from many collectors, for good reason.

First, the price point: I bought an entire 36-pack box of the stuff for only a few dollars more than a blaster. Second, the design: giant team logos are almost always a good thing (though the backs kinda suck). Third, the fact that Bunt's success seemed to be somewhat of an accident: I get the feeling Topps was tossing this brand out mainly as a shill for the online Bunt app.

I didn't once try out the Bunt app -- I'm just not an app kind of guy -- but the cards themselves are clean and were, against all odds, simply better than what the almighty Flagship had to offer us in 2016.

Do us all a favor and bring back Bunt in 2017, Topps.





#3 -- Heritage/High Numbers

Heritage, as usual, was a winner in 2016.

No matter how much others have tried to sway me to the contrary, '67 Topps has never been much more than a middle-of-the-pack Topps set to me. But when it comes to Heritage, my feelings regarding the chosen design are almost second nature.

Heritage, for me, is really about how well it stays true to the original, and how much it causes me to go back and maybe reconsider my feelings towards the honored design. I think 2016 Heritage succeeded in both departments.

This year's edition clearly echoed the original design, and at the end of it all, I can honestly say that 2016 Heritage probably kicked '67 Topps up a few notches on my all-time list.





#2 -- Archives

What I just said about Heritage goes double for Archives, which was far and away the most improved brand of 2016.

This year's edition featured the 1953, '79, and '91 Topps designs, and you'd be hard pressed to find a weak card among any of the three. We've seen quite a few '53 reproductions before, but the fact that the 1979 and '91 Topps designs have never gotten much pub in retro sets made 2016 Archives a breath of fresh air.

The '91s in particular were amazingly well done and singlehandedly catapulted '91 Topps -- a design that originally came in at #13 in my countdown a couple years ago -- into my all-time top ten favorite Topps sets.

Needless to say, I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see what designs Topps chooses to honor for 2017 Archives.





#1 -- Stadium Club

Here it is, folks, the now three-time reigning Set of the Year: Stadium Club.

There's just not a better brand out there. Stadium Club has it all. Horizontal, vertical. Old players, new players. Hair-raising action shots, fun candid moments. Every card has the potential to be a masterpiece.

Stadium Club has faced some noble competition over the past few years -- 2014 Heritage and its honoring of '65 Topps, the colorful 2015 Topps, not to mention this year's Archives -- but nothing has yet been able to take it down.

In 2016, as in years past, Stadium Club remains at the very top of the baseball card mountain.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!







Wishing a very happy new year to everyone across the blogosphere!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cards of the year: 2016


The general narrative of the 2016 card season has been one of apathy, for the most part.

A lot of collectors, myself included, saw this year as something like treading water. It often felt like nothing interesting was hitting the shelves, and there didn't seem to be a lot of excitement around the cards being unveiled to us by Topps.

But that's one of the reasons I go back and do these end-of-year lists. Often times, it's good to gain a little distance from things to best judge them. And you know what I found? 2016 really wasn't that bad of a year for cards. (I think it just seemed a lot worse because Flagship was a yawner.)

As I've done every December since I started this blog, I've compiled a list of my ten favorite cards issued throughout the year. It was, at times, a painful task, as I ultimately had to leave off many masterpieces, like the Whitey you see above.

You know it had to be a pretty decent year for cards if a beauty like that one didn't make the cut.




#10 -- 2016 Topps Archives #267 Carlos Gonzalez

I'll be putting together my Sets of the Year countdown (hopefully) next week, and you better believe Archives will be ranking high on that list.

I could've put any number of cards from the checklist on this list, but I went with CarGo here in the end. I salivate over these types of "foul line" shots, and this is one of the finest you'll find. What a stellar angle of a full PNC Park crowd as Gonzalez crosses the plate for a Rockies run.

Kudos, Archives.




#9 -- 2016 Topps Heritage High Numbers #587 Munenori Kawasaki

To some, it might be strange to put some guy who played exactly 14 games in the 2016 season on this list, but Munenori Kawasaki isn't just some guy.

I didn't think Muni would get a card this year, but Topps, in all their glory, decided to insert him into their Heritage High Numbers checklist. Certainly beats all the multiple cards of no-name rookies you see these days.

It's only the second Topps card of Kawasaki -- the funniest man in the big leagues -- and it could well go down as the only card to document Kawasaki's brief tenure as a World Champion Cub.




#8 -- 2016 Topps National Baseball Card Day #43 Ichiro Suzuki

This on isn't on the list so much for the card itself, but rather the promotion that went along with it.

As I posted about at the time, Topps resuscitated its National Baseball Card Day extravaganza back in August, a cardboard holiday that prompted me to give my LCS a little business that afternoon on a day that I would've otherwise been sitting around like a couch potato.

Every customer who walked into the card shop that day got a free pack of exclusive NBD cards, and I was lucky enough to pull an Ichiro (my favorite current ballplayer) out of mine. It was an all-around fantastic day to be a collector.

Let's hope Topps brings National Baseball Card Day back in 2017.




#7 -- 2016 Stadium Club #294 Jackie Robinson

As it has every year since its revival, Stadium Club earned multiple spots on my Cards of the Year countdown.

Jackie Robinson has a tendency to turn any card into pure gold, but the stunning black-and-white action shot -- coupled with the multitude of outfield ads -- made this one a no-brainer for my list.




#6 -- 2016 Topps Heritage High Numbers "Now & Then" #NT-4 Bartolo Colon

In one of the truly great moments in baseball history, Bartolo Colon hit his first major league homer on May 7, 2016, at the spry age of 42.

Topps, of course, issued a Topps Now card of the watershed moment, which is still going for massive amounts of cash. I'll let you in on a little secret, though: there's a card of the same exact event that you can get for loose change. 

It didn't get a lot of pub, but this Heritage insert allowed me to collect all the joy and glory of Bart's homer without having to break the bank.




#5 -- 2016 Stadium Club #13 Sandy Koufax

Here's a card that's grown on me lately.

Sandy placed at just #6 in my 2016 Stadium Club countdown a few months back. Now it's my #5 card of the entire year. I don't know what I was missing before. Was it the neon scoreboard lights? Was it the intense Koufax peering in at his catcher? Was it the (aforementioned) glorious outfield ads?

And according to some research from fellow blogger Douglas, this shot actually comes from Koufax's third no-hitter, which he spun against the Phillies in 1964. Douglas, at the time, asked: Does that move it up the ladder?

I say: Yes. Yes it does.




#4 -- 2016 Stadium Club #126 Roberto Clemente

There may not be a player I enjoy collecting more than Roberto Clemente.

As I've mentioned in the past, he's my all-time favorite ballplayer, and it certainly doesn't hurt that his baseball cards are always pretty darn nice as well. One of my new favorites in the many, many Clemente masterpieces is his 2016 Stadium Club issue, which features him taking time out of his day to sign for some eager young fans.

In many ways, this fantastic shot captures everything I love about Roberto Clemente.




#3 -- 2016 Topps #96 Jose Bautista

I heavily debated on where to put this card on my list.

I picked it as the Card of the Year back when Flagship hit the shelves back in February, but turns out that prediction didn't last. Bautista's famous bat flip was still fresh on the minds of many when this masterpiece arrived -- I remember the card receiving some national news attention at the time -- but I wonder if it's a tad dated now that we're over a year removed from it.

The bat flip itself might be a somewhat distant memory, but there's no denying that this is a brilliant baseball card. 

It captures the pure emotion of the moment more than just about any other I can remember.




#2 -- 2016 Topps Update #US-254 David Ortiz AS

Baseball waved goodbye to one of its icons in 2016.

David Ortiz could be a polarizing figure at times, but overall I think most would agree that baseball was a better game with Big Papi between the lines. The outpouring of respect and honor he received during his 2016 farewell tour reflected that.

Topps paid a stunning tribute to Ortiz with this beautiful image of him tipping his cap to the San Diego crowd following his departure from the 10th and final All-Star game of his hallowed career. 

It's one of those cards that you think should be framed in a museum somewhere instead of a nine-pocket page.




#1 -- 2016 Topps Now #665 Chicago Cubs WS

Come on, how could it not be?

Although I was hoping to save it for the Topps Now post I've been planning (which I still hope to publish soon), there's no denying that this was the Card of the Year as soon as it arrived in my hands.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that the Cubs' first World Series title in 108 years was the defining moment of 2016, and personally, the crowning moment of my entire baseball-watching lifetime. I won't bother trying to put it into words because it's impossible.

So, naturally, I had to own a card of it, because that's the rule when you're a collector. While I'm sure we'll see a handful of World Series highlight cards from the early 2017 sets, I couldn't wait that long and ended up plunking down the cash for this Topps Now single. I have mixed feelings about Topps Now as a whole, but this one was definitely money well spent.

Just those words -- Chicago Cubs celebrate first World Series title since 1908 -- are more than I ever dreamed I'd see on a baseball card in my life, much less as soon as here in 2016.