Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Reds Team


I think I would've liked the Reds a lot more had I grown up in the '70s.

I'm a huge fan of the Big Red Machine, despite the fact that I was born almost twenty years after they were at their peak. Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, & Co. has to be one of the best rosters ever assembled, and I imagine they were quite a treat to watch play ball.

These days, the Reds are another one of those teams who I don't much care about one way or the other. They've rarely been relevant during my baseball lifetime, and I don't think I've ever watched a full game the Reds have played against a team other than the Cubs.

With a franchise history dating back to the late 1860s, however, the Reds have quite a stable of Short Term Stops to choose from, so let's get started.



Pitchers

2009 Topps Update "Legends of the Game Updates" #LGU-3 Christy Mathewson 

"Short Term Stops" Reds Accolades:

Christy Mathewson (1916 Reds, 1 game, half-year stint, sunset season)

This roster begins with arguably the best pitcher in baseball history and a rare one-game wonder.

Christy Mathewson was, for a short time, property of the Reds before being traded to the Giants in 1900, never suiting up for Cincinnati. You probably know the rest: in 17 seasons with the Giants, Matty won 372 games with a 2.13 ERA, earning him a place among Cooperstown's first inductees in 1936.

What sometimes gets lost to history is the one game Mathewson pitched for the Reds, the last time he'd take the mound in his career. Acquired by the Reds for the purpose of managing the club, he came out of retirement for one last game, a specially constructed matchup on September 4th, 1916 in which he faced the Cubs' "Three Finger" Brown (also the final game of Brown's career).

Mathewson won the "duel" by a final score of 10-8, giving him the 373rd and final win of his career and cementing his spot on this roster.



1989 Topps Traded #116T Kent Tekulve

Kent Tekulve (1989 Reds, 37 games, sunset season)

I had no idea Teke was ever a Cincinnati Red before I acquired this card.

Though he'll forever look wrong in the jersey, Kent Tekulve was indeed a Red for 37 games in 1989, the final season of his career. It wasn't much of a finish, as Tekulve posted a 5.02 ERA in 52 innings that year.  

And thus the game of baseball entered its sad post-Teke era.



2012 Topps #89 Dontrelle Willis

Dontrelle Willis (2011 Reds, 13 games, sunset season)

I was a big fan of Dontrelle Willis back during his heyday with the Marlins.

Within his first three big-league seasons, Willis had an NL Rookie of the Year Award and two All-Star games under his belt to go along with that famous herky-jerky windup of his. Unfortunately, he was never quite able to recapture the magic of his early seasons and toiled in obscurity before joining the Reds for what would be his final season in 2011.

Like Teke and Matty before him, Willis's final season in Cincinnati wasn't much to write home about, as he went just 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA in 13 starts.

At least in my mind, however, the legend of Dontrelle Willis will live forever.



Catcher

1996 Score #126 Benito Santiago

Benito Santiago (1995, 2000 Reds, 170 games)

I don't have a better nominee for the catcher position than Benito Santiago -- who joined the Reds for a pair of single-season stints in 1995 and 2000 -- so here's a card of him petting Schottzie. 



First Base

1999 Black Diamond #23 Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko (1998 Reds, 26 games, half-year stint)

Some fans might remember when Paul Konerko was a highly-touted prospect with the Dodgers, but I'm sure most remember his legendary years on the South Side of Chicago.

Almost no one, however, remembers the brief time in which Konerko was a Cincinnati Red. Traded to the Reds in midseason in '98, Konerko finished up the year in Cincinnati hitting just .219 with three homers in 26 games. He'd be dealt to the White Sox that offseason for Mike Cameron.

Sixteen seasons, 432 homers, and one statue later, Paulie remains one of the more beloved sports figures in Chicago history.



Second Base

1989 Bowman #308 Manny Trillo

Manny Trillo (1989 Reds, 17 games, sunset season)

Manny Trillo was a solid middle infielder throughout the '70s and '80s before winding up in Cincinnati for his sunset season in 1989.

He'd be released by the Reds after hitting just .205 in 17 games with the club, though it was enough time, apparently, for Bowman to get him into their 1989 checklist and produce the only card I own of Trillo as a Red.

And that's about the only positive thing I can say about '89 Bowman.



Shortstop

1994 Conlon Collection #1164 Joe Tinker

Joe Tinker (1913 Reds, 110 games)

Let's take a ride in the way-back machine and revisit Joe Tinker's brief stint in Cincinnati. 

Part of the famous Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play combo as a Cub, Tinker served as player-manager during his lone season as a Red. Though he hit .310 in 110 games, the club finished with a woeful 64-89 record. Tinker would jump to the doomed Federal League for the next two seasons before finishing his career back with the Cubs in 1916.

Pre-War Short Term Stops can be a hassle to find, so much thanks to Charles Conlon for documenting Joe Tinker's quick stop as a Cincinnati Red.



Third Base

1998 Topps #240 Pete Rose Jr.

Pete Rose Jr. (1997 Reds, 11 games, sunset season)

Here's one of my favorite Topps cards of the '90s.

After having toiled in the minors since 1989, Pete Rose Jr. finally got his shot in the bigs as a late-season call-up with the Reds -- his father's old team -- in 1997. He went 2-for-14 in 16 plate appearances in Cincinnati before going back down to the minors at season's end, never to resurface in the Show.

Though this actually isn't his first appearance on a baseball card, it's the first (and only) major-league issue Rose Jr. would enjoy outside the spotlight of his father.



Outfield

1961 Fleer #77 Al Simmons

Al Simmons (1939 Reds, 9 games, half-year stint)

It's a miracle any card exists of Al Simmons as a Red in the first place, seeing as how his stint in Cincinnati lasted all of 21 at-bats (with three hits) in nine games in Cincinnati.

Though I enjoy them quite a bit anyways, Fleer's early all-legends sets often get extra points for featuring old-time guys in unfamiliar uniforms, something certainly taken to the extreme with HOFer Al Simmons here. 



2007 Upper Deck #630 Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton (2007 Reds, 90 games)

Josh Hamilton's story has been well-documented: a former can't-miss #1 pick who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction before eventually putting it all together and becoming a star more than a decade after he was drafted.

Hamilton became one of the faces of baseball for a few years with the Rangers, but he actually broke in with the Reds in 2007, eight years after being taken #1 overall by the Devil Rays in 1999. (Side note: Hamilton was dealt to the Reds by the Cubs after Chicago had taken him as a Rule 5 pick prior to the '07 season, yet another screw-up in hindsight by the Cubs' front office.)

After turning some heads with a .292-19-47 line in 90 games with the Reds, Hamilton was traded to the Rangers, and while he looks to be on the outs as a big leaguer here in 2017, I think most of us will look back on Hamilton's late-blooming stardom with joy.



2010 Topps Update #US-178 Jim Edmonds

Jim Edmonds (2010 Reds, 13 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

This roster ends with Jim Edmonds, yet another one-time star who dissolved into retirement after an unmemorable stint with the Reds.

After having spent the first 73 games of the 2010 season as a Brewer (a stint of which no cards exist), Edmonds was sent to Cincinnati in a late-season swap to provide some veteran leadership for a playoff-bound Reds club.

Edmonds would spend the final 13 games of his career as a Red, hitting the last three of his 393 lifetime homers in the process, one of which is (presumably) captured on this card from 2010 Topps Update.

Not a bad way to go out: a home run trot into the sunset.

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

Thanks for tuning in.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Player vs. collector


Last night, I got to reminiscing a bit about my Little League days with my mom.

Funny thing is, I found that I don't have a ton of vivid, concrete memories of playing ball. You can probably count them on one hand. Notably: I remember the time I swung and missed in tee-ball, the time I threw out two runners in one game from center field, the time I turned an unassisted triple play (the last of which is my crowning Little League achievement). The remainder of my memories are plentiful, but mostly short, fuzzy images and abstractions.

Memories or not, the fact of the matter is that I was never a star player. I was never more than a .250 hitter (a rough estimate since we didn't keep stats), I never hit for power (I retired with zero career home runs), and I was never the coach's son, which explains why I pitched exactly one inning in five years of Little League.

Though I played a fair amount of second base, Ryno I was not.




I suppose my average athletic ability is part of the reason I was drawn to collecting at an early age.

The fact that I much prefer watching competitive sports as opposed to playing them led to my decision to quit Little League after 5th grade and stick to accumulating pieces of cardboard. I never played a single inning more after that (though I did play slow-pitch softball for my school in 8th grade) and admittedly never attended any of my high school's baseball games.

Collecting is quiet, relaxing, and often done in the comfort of my own room, which is much more my speed.

All these years later, I think I made the right choice.




Here today, I'm still accumulating more than ever, only now I have this thing called the Internet to connect me with fellow card-collecting pals who sometimes send me stuff.

Among those comrades is the famous reader Mark Hoyle, who sent me a PWE a while back that was long overdue for display on the blog. Along with the Ryno and White Sox oddballs above, Mark also included a '93 Cubs pocket schedule (isn't that the year Henry Rowengartner pitched for them?) and a Babe Ruth which, upon flipping it over, was actually revealed to be a business card for a Boston-area memorabilia shop.

Then came the ever-present question: is that a baseball card?

Answer: Yes!




Next up are the spoils from a few different PWEs I received from P-Town Tom of the excellent "Waiting 'til Next Year" "Eamus Catuli!" blog.

One of those envelopes included a card that caught Tom's attention, and one that I may well have passed up without a second thought without his eagle eye. In his note, Tom asked a fair question: just what is that on Pat Burrell's helmet, anyways?

His guess that the item in question is some sort of primitive helmet-camera device is probably the right one, but it's still strange to see on a baseball card.




Here's a couple additions to my JT Snow and Mike Piazza collections that I specifically requested from Tom, though I mainly wanted the Piazza for the autograph mini-collection hit.




I always, always love tracking down these small oddball sets, and I was ecstatic when Tom sent the complete Front Row checklist of Mr. Cub my way.

Oh, and contrary to what I originally thought, those first two aren't doubles: one's a promo, and one's the regular issue...and that, my friends, is why you check the backs of your baseball cards.




Tom capped off the Cubs extravaganza with a gaggle of Dover reprints, also some of my all-time favorite oddballs given the appearances of oft-forgotten names like Dutch Leonard and Heinie Zimmerman.




Here we have the start of a small but sweet PWE I received from Jon of "A Penny Sleeve for Your Thoughts" fame, a blog which I'm happy to see is up and running again.

While it's a nice one, I do already have a copy of Bob Gibson's '73 Topps card, and I was nearly ready to throw it in my doubles pile when I decided to (again) check the back.




The French text and tinted color can only mean one thing: O-PEE-CHEE!

I don't often cross paths with early '70s OPC, and it's even more rare to find big stars like Gibson here, which made this a definite score for my Cardinals binder.




Also included were a couple new game-used issues of the Hoytster, one of the few guys whose jersey (or pants) cards still manage to excite me.

Now that I think about it, I don't remember anyone toying around with or ever wanting to throw a knuckleball in Little League, and that seems just plain wrong: everyone should want to throw a knuckleball!




Lastly, we have a couple envelopes I received from my buddy Shane of the terrific "Shoebox Legends" blog, starting with this purple refractor of Salvador Perez that pairs up perfectly with the colors of the Kansas City Royals.




Shane's a big Red Sox fan, and I appreciate him sending a couple of his dups my way with these shiny Pedroia and Betts gems.




While I love today's refractors, I think parallels may have reached their peak with the Dufex technology of the mid '90s.




If these PWEs are any indication, Shane is all about shiny, as exemplified by Rizzo and Ichiro here, the latter of which was a cereal box promotion back in the day, if I remember right.

I was never a big cereal eater at any stage of my life, but I'm pretty sure I ponied up for a box of Lucky Charms (or whatever product those cards were issued with) at the time.




Let's close things out with this outstanding Goudey short-print of Johnny Bench, which reminds me of another of my fleeting Little League memories.

Most teams I was on had one kid who really wanted to catch, and fifteen others who didn't. I was one of those fifteen, but during one of my first years of Little League, my coach decided that every kid should get a chance to try each position. I understand his logic, but the fact was that I really didn't want to catch, and I couldn't wait for my one inning behind the plate to end. It'd be the only time I'd don the tools of ignorance in my Little League career, thank God.

My five years of Little League were happy times for me, but I've found that I have a lot more specific memories attached to my lifetime of collecting. Even more so now that I have this little thing called a blog where I can document it all.

Inside every kid who ever dreamed of stardom are fond recollections of Little League, and whether you know it or not, inside every baseball card is a precious memory.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Frankenset redux, Page 3: Numbers 19-27


I don't blame you if you don't remember it, but here are the results of the last frankenset page I showed over five long months ago.

Win -- 2016 Stadium Club #17 Raul Mondesi (8 votes)

Place (tie) -- 2000 Topps Gallery #12 Ray Lankford, 1991 Topps #13 Mariano Duncan (6 votes each)

Show -- 1994 Topps #15 Jay Bell (5 votes)

That's right: after a lengthy delay, I've decided to bring back my weekly frankenset posts. With baseball season in full swing, and with enough time having elapsed since the big bracket I held for the Inaugural Dime Box Frankenset, I think the time's right to resume voting on the Frankenset Redux binder.

With Mondesi's victory, that's two pages down and 72 to go.




For those of you who weren't around and/or don't remember how my frankenset posts worked, here's a refresher.

Since completing my first one, I've recently compiled a second Dime Box Frankenset, filled with fun cards from numbers 1-666 with cards featuring players who aren't "binder guys" for me (that is, those who aren't included in my individual team binders). Fun cards are fun for many reasons: they can include mini-collection hits, expert action shots, or just plain quirkiness.

Each week, I'll display a new page from the frankenset. All I ask of you, the reader, is to simply go over the nine cards provided and vote for your favorite on the poll on the sidebar of this blog. I'll announce the prior week's winner each Saturday before introducing the new frankenset page. Each winner will get immortalized in the "Gallery of Frankenset Champions" tab and will be subsequently included in the Frankenset Bracket I'll hold once all 74 pages have been shown (which is, admittedly, a long, long time from now).

Now, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to open the polls once again with Page #3 of the Dime Box Frankenset, Redux.



1992 Stadium Club #19 Tom Foley

The bluest baseball card that ever was. 



1982 TCMA Edmonton Trappers #20 Rusty Kuntz

When Rusty Kuntz was a Trapper (I couldn't say that with a straight face, either). 



1986 TCMA AC Yankees #21 Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt giving some lessons to the local youth on our second consecutive TCMA oddball.



1992 Studio #22 Rob Dibble

Seriously, bro? 



1994 Stadium Club #23 Matt Nokes

High-fives all around (and a batboy cameo!). 



1995 Stadium Club #24 Julian Tavarez

This is why Stadium Club rules. 



2016 Stadium Club #25 Chris Archer

Sup? 



1992 Studio #26 Jose Rijo

Jose Rijo displaying his ticket to the gun show.



1996 Upper Deck #27 Gary DiSarcina

We close with a classic double dip.

There you have it: the frankenset is back! The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Let's go to the mall (again!)


Some of you might remember my excitement over discovering a pair of mall-themed minor league sets last year.

As awesome as those finds were, however, they've left me with a feeling of unfinished business for the last nine months or so. That's because there were actually three Spokane Indians minor league sets released between 1987 and 1989, and I'd only been able to find the '87 and '88 in the moments following my discovery.

The '89 set eluded me at the time and began to fade into the back of my mind...until a couple weeks ago when I pulled out those infamous mall cards for another look and remembered the gap in my collection. I decided to check Ebay to see if the '89s happened to be up for grabs and, lo and behold, someone was selling one for a hair under $10 shipped. I bit, and a few days later, my mall set was officially complete.

The biggest name from the '89 Spokane Indians roster is, no doubt, manager Bruce Bochy, seen here posing in what appears to be a pipe shop decades before he'd go on to become a three-time World Champion skipper with the Giants.





The rest of the set is as strange and glorious as the previous two editions: dimly-lit photographs of minor league ballplayers posing as consumers at Spokane's NorthTown Mall.

The types of shops seen here are numerous: everything from Kay-Bee Toys to an arcade center to a fashion outlet called Sheer Madness. It's about as '80s as '80s baseball cards can get. My local mall, in fact, used to have a great arcade stocked with a ton of great pinball machines, which served me well since I'm a self-labeled pinball nut.

These days, I'm no fan of malls, and I can pretty much trace the very moment I soured on them to the day that arcade was replaced by a Sbarro pizza joint (ick).




Unlike the previous two mall sets, I decided to do a little research to see which players (if any) from the '89 Indians roster wound up becoming big-leaguers this time around.

Besides Bochy, a grand total of three guys made it to the Show from this 26-card checklist. Both Darrell Sherman (37 games) and Kevin Higgins (71 games) made appearances with the 1993 San Diego Padres, the first and last time either of them would ever appear in the bigs.

Higgins is seen posing at Hickory Farms, an establishment which my dad informs me was a staple of malls across the land back in his day.




The only player to last multiple years in the majors was Dave Staton (pictured here flanking a shelf of pharmaceuticals), who appeared in 46 games in parts of the 1993-94 seasons with the Padres.




But other guys who never sniffed the big leagues still managed to have notable cards in this wonderful checklist.

The team set I purchased included a nice bonus with this autographed issue of Dan Deville, a pitcher who never made it above A-ball.




Eddie Zinter (who also never made it out of A-ball) has the most appropriate card in the set: a baseball player posing in a hobby shop.

You can see the glass display case and long white boxes that have comprised most of the real estate in literally every LCS I've ever walked into. 




Cardboard Whitney makes a second appearance in the '89 checklist, this time with outfielder Brian Span, who also never advanced past A-ball and would be out of baseball by the end of the season.




But here's what is easily my favorite card in this third and final mall set, and I think the reason is obvious.

As it happens, 1989 would be Bobby Sheridan's only season as a professional ballplayer and, as luck would have it, it was a season chronicled by a picture with none other than ALF. Many guys can play for years and years, achieve massive stardom and fame, yet never receive a card half as great as this one. Sheridan is a lucky man.

It gives me great honor and joy to say that my Spokane Indians mall set is now complete, and I think my collection has improved by leaps and bounds with the addition of what are easily the craziest minor league cards ever made.

Now: let's go to the mall, everybody!


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

2017 Topps Bunt: Sophomore slump no more


I've been hanging on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the fate of Topps Bunt all year.

After all, I hadn't caught wind of any plans regarding a sophomore rendition of 2016's well-received Bunt brand, and I wasn't planning to for a while. Bunt was, after all, a late-season release that didn't hit the shelves until August of last year.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned via a handful of random Twitter posts that 2017 Topps Bunt was not only alive and well, but actually on the shelves. How could I have missed this? I had to check my calendar to make sure it was still May. Such a dramatic change in release date is nearly unheard of in the hobby, best I can remember.

Like last year, I decided to take full advantage of Bunt's cheap price point: I eschewed the retail route altogether and just purchased an entire 36-pack box online, which wound up on my doorstep just a few days later.

Though the price went up a bit this year (I paid around four bucks more for the box), you still can't argue with the cheap fun Bunt provides at less than a dollar per pack.




We may as well begin my 36-pack extravaganza with the inserts, and specifically the lone carryover from 2016's product with this "Programs" series.

I said it last year and I'll say it again: any design that harkens back to old-time media is a winner in my book.




New to Bunt this year are these "Perspectives" inserts.

They're okay, I guess, though it's a bit saddening that the calm, non-action shot has become such a thing of the past that it has to be relegated as something unique that warrants its own insert series.




Also new to Bunt in 2017 is the "Infinite" series.

Again, they're fine inserts. It certainly beats a lot of what Topps has been putting out these days, and I always enjoy seeing stadiums worked into a baseball card design.

But something about these ghostly images reminds me of something you might see on a slide show at a funeral and I just can't unsee it -- though maybe that's just my morbid self talking.




Enough of that insert talk: we're all here for the base cards, of course.

The standard structure of Bunt hasn't changed a whole lot from last year: a 200-card checklist, seven cards per pack. Yet, as evidenced from the "cover boy" himself -- Kris Bryant -- the similarities pretty much end there.

The large team logos of 2016 have been shrunken and placed in a small bubble in the bottom-left corner. The design, as is commonplace in today's age, does suffer from being a bit heavy on the TV-graphic look. The backgrounds are much more blurred to the point of near nonexistence. These are all strikes against 2017 Bunt.

But a huge plus for me this year is the prevalence of colors in the design. Like the Cubs-centric blue scheme seen here with Mr. Bryant, each card is color-coded based on the team of the featured player.

This change is positively refreshing and a far cry from the dull grays and whites seen in a lot of Topps sets these days.




One of the major changes in 2017 Bunt is the banishment of retired players from the base checklist.

The likes of Mays, Ruth, etc. are only found in the inserts this year. All 200 of the base card subjects (with the exception of David Ortiz) are current MLB'ers, and not many surprises. Like last year, most of them are stars you'll see in every other set.

I'll admit that I'm a little disappointed to see that the legends are no more, but it's not a major problem: after all, I think I'll live without my 219th card of Brooks Robinson.




I usually select a handful of rookies to start collecting every year, and Bunt allows me a cheap and easy opportunity to pick up cards of said rookies.




The biggest tweak in Bunt this year, however, is the influx of parallels, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it.

I didn't check, but I'm pretty sure I got a complete base set out of my box of 2016 Bunt. This year, I probably only got a bit more than three-quarters of the set out of a box with the same number of cards (shameless plug: my wants are listed under my "want list" tab if you have any to spare).

This is due to the fact that each seven-card pack now contains a blue parallel (as seen with the Ichiro), as well as another insert or two, leaving me with only four or five base cards per pack. The black, green, and orange parallels are tougher finds, each falling at a rate of about one per box, though I'm happy to report the three I pulled were all of guys I collect.

For perspective, I pulled exactly one parallel in my 36 packs of Bunt last year. Granted, I am a self-defined parallel fan due to how nice they look next to their base counterparts in nine-pocket pages. But I'm not so sure it works with Bunt. The existing colorfulness of this year's design pretty much eliminates the need for colored parallels.

That's just one man's opinion.




Overall, I can say with utmost certainty that 2017 Bunt does not suffer from the dreaded "sophomore slump," and it's appropriate that Kris Bryant is the face of the packs considering the man won an MVP in his sophomore season last year.

In fact, I think I'll go on record and say I enjoy 2017 Bunt a bit better than its debut release. The colors won me over, as did (in a smaller way) my first card of Brandon Phillips as a Brave.

I don't open many boxes of baseball cards, and I'd nearly forgotten how fun busting 36 packs in one sitting could be before this past Saturday. So many cards piled up in disheveled stacks on my bed, so much sorting, so many mangled pack wrappers, so much need it, need it, don't need it, need it. In short: Paradise.

Bunt gives low-end collectors like myself the chance to experience that euphoric feeling.