The Topps’ “Variation Nation”

I recently read an article where the writer was talking about “Topps variation nation.” He was of course referring to those collectors that chase “short print” cards with secondary images of top players along with retired legends who aren’t part of the primary base set. I’m definitely a citizen of “variation nation.” For years I’ve collected Topps’ flagship set but to be honest, the excitement is short-lived. Some years I simply grab the whole set and tuck it away where it won’t get pulled out for years. All in an effort to avoid missing a year.

The variations on the other hand, excite me. I keep them close because I love looking at them. Not only do I love the photography on the variation cards (usually way more interesting than the base card), but I love seeing retired baseball legends featured on the new designs. Seeing what a talented “photo-shopper” can do with an old black and white photo always impresses me. An added bonus is that the stats on the back tell the player’s entire story.

As I’ve been reorganizing and inventorying my collection, I’ve found many of these variations and legend short-prints floating around. Let’s take a look at a few.

I love this overhead of shot of Frank Robinson sliding into third base as the umpire and Sal Bando look on. This photo is from 1971. The Orioles would lose to Pittsburgh in the World Series that year. This is one of the FEW 2010 Topps cards where that stupid curved border doesn’t distract from an otherwise great photo.

Here are the only other variations from 2010 that I have. I picked up the Rickey’s for my “Rickey binder” and the Yount was actually pulled from a retail pack which I was pretty surprised at.

2011 was a design that works great to me. A prominent team logo at the bottom and a tasteful name banner and position at the bottom. This leaves the rest of the card wide open for the photo. I’m usually a “full-bleed” fan but in this case, I actually like the white border.

Here are three examples of how colorization can give an amazing makeover to vintage black and white images. These are some of my most favorite variations.

I’ve featured this card before on this blog and I absolutely love it. If you look at the Frank Robinson above, you will notice that there is no team logo – rather, a diamond logo of sorts. Rickey’s card features the A’s logo. I have no idea why the difference. If any of you have an idea, let me know. I’ve been on the lookout for the non-diamond version of this Rickey but can’t seem to find one in my price range.

Topps created a beauty with these Darryl Strawberry’s. I’ve had the cognac diamond parallel in my Ebay shopping cart for quite some time. One day I’ll pull the trigger on it.

I’ve always loved this landscape shot of the late Tom Seaver. I have tons of cards featuring him in Mets and Reds jerseys but not so many in White Sox jerseys. I’d love to get some variations of him in his Red Sox jersey. He did appear in 16 games for them in 1987 so there should be enough photos out there of him. We’ve all seen (and probably loved) the 1987 Topps card of him. Conversely, we’ve all seen (and probably hated) the 1986 Topps Traded card of him…due largely in part to the horrific airbrush hack job that Topps did.

Topps however made sure to get this Nolan Ryan SP right for 2011. What an amazing card.

If you were to ask me if I collected “parallels,” I’m not sure if I can say that I do. There are some cards that I do intentionally seek out the other variations. This Koufax was one of them. I love the silver diamond variation. It’s crazy to me how much less expensive the diamond variations are than the plain base versions.

2012-2016 Topps was light on legends variations. 2013 Topps did feature this shot of Bo Jackson from the 1989 All Star game. This is my sole legends variation from that set. The game is noted for being the first in All-Star Game history to include the designated hitter. The game resulted in the American League defeating the National League 5-3. The game is also remembered for Bo Jackson’s monstrous lead-off home run to center field. Jackson was named the game’s MVP.

The variation game was strong for the 2017 Topps set. While I’ve got quite a few, here are a few of my favorites. I’m a huge fan of cards featuring the player signing autographs. It’s just a wholesome part of the game and I’m sure those kids all still have their Donnie Ballgame signatures somewhere.

For some reason my scanner does NOT like these 2018 SP variations so I’ll apologize for the vertical lines. The two Rickey’s went straight to the PC and I knew once I saw the two Koufax’ that I had to have them.

This 2017 Topps Series 2 SP of Hammerin’ Hank is a great example of a unique photograph being used. I often wonder just how many photos are out there that we have yet to see.

2018 Topps was chock full of legend SP’s which made me very happy. I did see some chatter on some of the other blogs that some collectors may be growing annoyed with the inclusion of so many past players.

2019 Topps featured some amazing SP’s in both Series 1 and 2. The Pee Wee Reese is one of my favorite cards in my whole collection. The Mays is pretty spectacular too.

Topps did a nice job with the Mike Mussina SP. I always love when they can crop a compelling scoreboard shot into the picture. We also have a unique shot of Darryl Strawberry relaxing in the clubhouse. You can also see Frank Robinson holding court in his clubhouse.

Here we have another fantastic use of the scoreboard as the late great Lou Brock shows his ability to defy gravity.

We will close out 2019 with two great shots of current players and a Hall of Famer. We don’t see a lot of bullpen shots but Topps created a beautiful card for Michael Kopech. I attended a baseball clinic here in Norfolk Virginia back in 1989. Dave Winfield was the “keynote instructor.” He was a great guy. I remember shaking his hand and it was the biggest hand I had ever shaken before.

While 2020 Topps is not my favorite design, I do love this shot of Seaver warming up with the Shea Stadium bleachers in the background. The photography in this set is spectacular and the fact that most of the card is borderless is nice. The nameplate on the left hand side of the card can be too prominent on some cards and can really cut tightly into the cropping. Topps did perfectly capture Reggie Jackson’s play at the plate from the 1974 World Series. The A’s would beat the Dodgers 4 games to 1. The Oakland A’s were a dynasty in the early 1970s. They won three World Series in a row, five American League West Division titles, and they did it with two different managers. Wade Boggs with a bat in his hand can be compared to Picasso with a brush in his. That said, I can never have too many Wade Boggs cards. I don’t really collect Paul Goldschmidt but how can anyone refuse a grab like this?

Four Hall of Famers on three different cards with these. At some point, I really need to inventory my Gary Carter collection. I’ll save that for another day though. The colorization on the Eddie Matthews breathes new life into the photo and it looks like Sandberg ended up taking a walk back to the dugout after this Biggio double dip.

My last Frank Robinson. Here he is featured in his red pinstripes probably around 1964.

The Astros scandal and the way in which the Commissioner has handled it has left such a bad taste in my mouth that I try to avoid player cards of that 2017 team altogether. Fortunately, Kyle Tucker spend 2017 in the minors so he can go on the “approved” list for me. I love this landscape shot of him ripping a line drive out of the batter’s box. What a card.

That wraps up most of my SP variations. As you can see, I am a proud citizen of “Variation Nation.”

Have you ever pulled an SSP? Are there any SP’s out there that you are chasing? If so, let me know!

Topps 2014 Stadium Club (Closing in)

I’d like to say that I’ve done a pretty good job of “taming” my collection over the past few months.  With the uncertainty of a shaky economy, I felt that it would be better for the family if we chose to spend any extra money more conservatively.  That means that the steady stream of envelopes being delivered every day would be coming to an abrupt halt.

Instead of adding lots of new cards, I’ve spent a lot of time organizing some cards that have been sitting around for quite a while and getting a handle on some set needs.  I did celebrate a birthday last month, so I used that as an excuse to pick up a few singles here and there. 

I was hoping to knock out the 2014 Topps Stadium Club set by the end of August but couldn’t quite get it wrapped up. While it is the smallest of the Stadium Club releases, it’s taken me years to complete. Most of the reason is that I simply get distracted with other card projects and before I know it, time flies by. The other reason is that I know to complete the set, I’ll have to shell out a bit more money than I typically like for singles. I love the eBay auctions featuring a listing of cards and you can pick “20” or whatever. Even if I don’t “need” 20 cards from the list, the few that I do need are often cheap enough that I don’t mind.

Topps put a halt to Stadium Club after the 2008 release. I’m not sure why Topps stopped making Stadium Club. If anyone knows, I’d love to hear why.

The want-list of cards for this set is slowly getting smaller. These are the cards left. I’m not looking forward to having to shell out for the Betts rookie. I’ll have to wait until I have an extra $50 floating around. The others shouldn’t be a problem to pick up fairly cheap.

$50 is ordinarily not something that I would even consider spending in an effort to complete a set…for one card. In this case, I really don’t mind. I love the set and I think Betts is a tremendous player. He’s worth the money. I’ve always been a fan of Stadium Club’s mix of present and past players. The photography is also always on point and seems to be getting better each year. Technology has allowed artists to “colorize” old black and white photos in ways that make it hard to imagine we ever lived in a world without color film. The Musial is a magnificent example. I also really enjoy any photo featuring an overhead perspective.

What sets have you all been working on during the past few months? With the release of new cards slowing down to a mere trickle, I’ve enjoyed seeing how many of you have found other ways to enjoy your collections.

Ty Cobb’s father is murdered

I follow a fantastic artist named Graig Kreindler on Instagram. He is an American painter and illustrator. He is best known for his oil paintings depicting vintage, historical baseball scenes. Many of you have probably already seen his work. For those of you that haven’t, I highly recommend checking him out. You can find his work here.

Today his Instagram post pointed out that on this day in 1905, Ty Cobb received a telegram from Joe Cunningham, his longtime friend from home. The telegram read: COME AT ONCE STOP VERY SORRY STOP YOUR FATHER DEAD IN A SHOOTING ACCIDENT STOP HURRY. It was Cobb’s mother that had pulled the trigger. She would later be acquitted of murder as she claimed that she thought her husband was an intruder in the house. He was to have been out of town that day but had returned early.

Cobb was only 18 years old in 1905 when he joined the Detroit Tigers. He was as rare as a buffalo head penny on that Detroit team. A true southerner on a team of primarily northern teammates, he was just a kid and had never been outside of the state of Georgia. With his father gone and now having to financially support his mother after a lengthy and expensive trial, Cobb would stop at nothing to prove himself as a valuable member of the Tigers. The pressure was on.

His ambition would not go over well with many of his teammates. Veterans typically did not take kindly to rookies and why should they, it was the rookies who were after their jobs. The hazing that Cobb would endure during the 1905 and 1906 seasons was especially brutal and he took it particularly badly, which prompted even worse treatment.

The ringleader of this hazing was star center fielder Matty McIntyre. McIntyre resented the young Cobb and the excitement surrounding the rookie. With Cobb in left field and McIntyre in center, McIntyre would call for fly balls hit between the two and then at the last-minute stop and let the ball fall in for a hit. He would chastise Cobb right there on the field in an attempt to make him look bad to the other players and fans. Detroit pitcher Ed Siever bought into it and after one such play, attacked Cobb in the team’s hotel, accusing him of having lost the game. Having none of it, Cobb knocked down Siever and kept punching him until teammates intervened.

In one game, Cobb and McIntyre were both convening on a ground ball hit into the gap.  As they approached each other, they both stopped, locked eyes and stared each other down as the ball rolled all the way to the outfield wall. 

While Cobb was on deck, he would often swing three bats to warm up.  He felt that once he dropped the two extra bats and stepped in the box with his bat of choice, the lighter weight would give him better bat speed.  The veterans thought that swinging three bats was a brash and unnecessary display.  To put him in his place, they sawed several of Cobb’s home made ash bats in half. 

Other hazing included hitting Cobb in the back of the head with wet newspaper wads, nailing Cobb’s cleats to the clubhouse floor, calling the end to batting practice before Cobb had a chance to hit, and locking him out of hotel washrooms.  The more his teammates pressed, the more pissed Cobb got.  Things eventually deteriorated to the point where Cobb slept with a pistol under his pillow. 

It never got better between Cobb and McIntyre.  McIntyre begged management to trade Cobb but they refused.  Instead, management made their position clear as they would start trading away those players that could not get along with Cobb.  After a poor 1909 season, McIntyre would find himself on the bench and soon, traded to the White Sox.  He would play only one more year before returning home to Detroit and finding himself running a local pool hall.

Cobb would go on to play 16 seasons with the Tigers and subsequently, would have the best two seasons of his career in the first years after McIntyre left.

He batted .420 in 1911, and .409 in 1912.

42 years of the BEST Mets cards (Part 2)

It’s hard to believe that we’re already seeing the start of August. This has been the fastest but longest year of my life…if that makes sense? While I am happy to see baseball return this year, I’ll be honest, I rather enjoyed watching the classic game reruns on MLB Network and ESPN. While I’ve watched quite a bit of the 2020 live games, I find myself wishing they were still playing reruns. I’m probably the only one that feels that way. My cable network does show a ton of Yankee games and I’ve realized how much I enjoy Alex Rodriguez as an announcer. Again, I’m probably one of the only ones that feels that way.

I wanted to circle back to an earlier post called “42 Years of the BEST Mets Cards.” The idea was simple. I would highlight each year of the Mets and choose the “best” Topps card from that year. When I say “best”, I don’t necessarily mean the most popular card or even the best player of each year. These are simply cards that when I look at the team set, they stick out to me. Given that I’m 42 years old, I thought that 42 would be a good number to work with. To keep the post from being too long, I broke it up into 2 parts. Let’s wrap up the remaining 19 of the 42 years.

Part 1 left off with Rey Ordonez’ 2001 Topps card and as I went back to check out what I wrote, I found a gasp…typo. Next time you catch one…let me know!

We will kick off Part 2 with 2002. 2002 also marks the beginning of three straight sub .500 Mets’ seasons. I remember those days. It was awful to be a Met’s fan. Can’t wait to write about these dumpster fires. *sigh*

2002 – 2003 – 2004

Many sports writers considered the 2002 Mets to be like a bad traffic accident on an interstate highway – they were an awful sight to see, but for some reason, many just couldn’t turn away.  With a payroll of $102 million, the 2002 Mets were expected to give the Atlanta Braves a run for their money.  Instead, they would finish 5th in the NL East.

Mike Piazza gets the best card award that year as we see him standing guard over home plate with cross-town rival Jorge Posada approaching.  Piazza was coming off of an All-Star 2001 season where he became one of only eight major leaguers in baseball history to have 5 consecutive seasons hitting better than .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.  2002 was also Piazza’s ninth straight 30+ home run season. He would be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal team performance.

Hoping for something different in 2003, the Mets would fire Bobby Valentine at the close of 2002 and bring in Art Howe from Oakland.  They would get nothing different.  2003 would be another last place finish for the disastrous Mets and in 2004, the Mets would only manage a fourth-place finish.  Scrappy utility player Joe McEwing gets the best card award for 2003 and 2004.  A fan favorite in New York during his time there, he was also David Wright’s first mentor.  Topps chose two similar shots of McEwing for his ’03 and ’04 cards.  The only difference really being that one features him at Wrigley and the other features him at Turner Field.  I’ve never cared for the 2004 design that Topps chose.  The silver foil lettering is tough to read at first glance, but I actually just realized tonight that they used the actual photo and incorporated it into the border design in the bottom left hand corner.  Look at that little guy down there!   

2005 – 2006 – 2007

2005 would see Willie Randolph leading the ball club and they would improve by going 83-79 and finishing 3rd in the NL East.  He would become the first African American manager of a MLB team in New York.  Matt Lindstrom gets the top card in the 2005 Topps set despite spending the entire year with the AA Binghamton Mets.  Topps chose a sharp “batter’s eye view” shot of Lindstrom that was likely taken at a practice or Spring Training game.  If I had to guess, I would say that this is a curveball.  As unremarkable as this card is should tell you a little something about how unremarkable the OTHER Mets cards were in the 2005 Topps set. The 2006 best Topps card goes to none other than The Captain David Wright.  As a local guy that grew up right around the corner from me, I’ve always been a Wright fan.  He would make the first of seven All Star game appearances in 2006 and finish the year with 26 home runs.  While the Topps design that year was a bit busy for me, this is a great shot of Wright in the batter’s box during a home game.  Wright would help propel the Mets into first place that year but they would eventually fall to the Cardinals in the NLCS.  2007 would see another successful year for the Mets despite not seeing the post season.  The top card goes to the speedy Jose Reyes as he is pictured sliding headfirst into third.  He would steal 78 bases that year as well.  In June of 2006, he would lead off seven consecutive games with a hit, a feat only his manager Willie Randolph had ever accomplished. 

2008 – 2009 – 2010

After three good years at the helm of the Mets, Randolph’s fourth season would begin with a slow start, poor play in the field and at the plate, and a record barely above .500, the Mets would replace Willie Randolph with bench coach Jerry Manuel.  The Mets would finish with 89 wins in 2008 and once again miss the playoffs. It would be their final season at Shea Stadium and their last winning season until 2015.  Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Johan Santana has the best card that year.  Another down the barrel shot of him on the mound, Santana would be coming off of an All Star 2007 season with Minnesota and would finish 2008 with a a 16-7 record and a 2.56% ERA.  As a birthday present, my wife took me to New York to see the Mets play the Astros on August 22.  Santana would get his 13th win of the season.  2009 would not be kind to the Mets as they finished 4th in their division and sent 20 players to the disabled list throughout the year. At the beginning of the season, many Mets fans were excited to experience Mets baseball in their brand new Citi Field. The $600 million stadium provided not only a beautiful atmosphere, but also an opportunity to move on from the collapses of the previous two seasons. Three time All Star Luis Castillo would be the starting second baseman for most of the year, while he gets the top card of 2009 for this great shot of him sliding headfirst into second, he would go down in infamy for refusing to participate in a charity event at Walter Reed Medical Center where the Mets visited wounded military personnel.  He would say that he didn’t want to be “horrified at the sight of US soldiers without any arms or legs.”  Mets management and the fans were not impressed and let him know it anytime he stepped out onto the field.  To be fair, he wasn’t the only one who skipped out on the event. Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez also stated that they had “other commitments” which didn’t sit well with team management. It would be more of the same in 2010 for the Mets as they hobbled to another disappointing fourth place finish.  They would be an embarrassment both on and off the field and rightfully earned the nickname the “New York Mess.”  All Star David Wright comes out on top with the best card of the year.  I’ll be honest, I had a hard time between the Wright card and Jose Reyes.  Both had great cards that year but this shot of Wright leaping for a line drive is just awesome. 

2011 – 2012 – 2013

2011 would be the 50th anniversary for the New York Mets. What a great time that would have been for them to do anything noteworthy. If only that that had been the case. To the surprise of no one, the Mets would finish fourth in their division and miss the post season for the fifth straight season as injuries and an inflated payroll plagued the team. As Mets ownership found itself wrapped up in the Bernie Madoff scandal, there was no money to sign any high priced free agents to help turn the team around. One bright spot that season would be Jose Reyes winning the batting title – the first in Mets history. Carlos Beltran gets the best card award for the season. While the aerial shot is fantastic, you can tell the photo was taken through the home plate netting. 2012 would be as you can probably guess by now, another disappointment. Despite Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the first in Mets history and R.A. Dickey winning the Cy Young award; the Mets would finish fourth in their division and suffer the loss of Hall of Fame catcher and fan-favorite Gary Carter. He would die of brain cancer in February. On June 27 against the Chicago Cubs, the Mets would become the first major league team to hit a home run cycle. Daniel Murphy began with a two-run home run, his run in 352 at-bats, then in the fourth, then Ike Davis hit a three-run home run followed by Murphy’s solo home run off of Casey Coleman, who had replaced starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. In the sixth inning, Scott Hairston, who was typically a utility outfielder throughout the first half of the season, hit the cycle ending grand slam off of Coleman. The Mets won the game, 17–1. Murphy gets the top card of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season. He gets the top card in 2013 as Topps captured him making a flying throw. 2013 saw the Mets break their streak of five years worth of fourth place finishes. They would finish third.

2014 – 2015 – 2016

Daniel Murphy continues his “best card” streak as he is my pick three years in a row. I’d like to imagine that he’s rounding the bases after a home run you can tell it was a home run because of the red background which means the Citi Field “home run apple” was in motion. The Home Run Apple was originally installed at Shea Stadium in 1980 as a way to improve the atmosphere at New York Mets games, and an apple was chosen as a play on New York City’s nickname of the “Big Apple.” The Mets continued the tradition at Citi Field and doubled the size of the apple. The Mets would tie for second place in 2014 only to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. 2015 was a stellar year for the Mets as they finally reached the World Series and the best card of the season goes to rookie Noah Syndergaard. Noah actually had two cards in the 2015 Update set but I prefer this horizontal card detailing his rookie debut over the vertical base card. I remember when these cards were first released – a buddy of mine loved them. I on the other hand hated them at the time. Today, after looking at the Tops designs before them, they aren’t that bad. The Mets made their fifth appearance in the World Series after sweeping the Cubs 4–0 in the NLCS that year and would go on to meet the Kansas City Royals. The Royals would win the World Series 4 games to 1. It would be the 2016 design that really grew on me as it ushered in the next three years of “full bleed design” for Topps. Some collectors hated the lack of borders and the “fogginess” of the 2016 cards. Admittedly with some of the cards, the fog is distracting bu in the case of this Neil Walker card, it fits perfectly. This card is beautiful. You can see him rounding the bases as the fans in the background cheer on. The Mets would play to a second place finish in the division and lose to the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card game. I remember watching Conor Gillaspie hit a go-ahead 3-run homer in the top of the 9th off of Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia, placing the Mets in a three-run deficit that would eventually cost them the game. That was a tough night to be a Met or a Mets fan.

2017 – 2018 – 2019

As we head into the tail end of the post, we also see the Mets return to the tail end of their division in 2017 with a fourth place finish. They would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and equaled their worst record since 2009. Injuries to key players, poor performances from players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey, and Robert Gsellman, and by controversy within the organization and around players led to manager Terry Collins announcing his retirement following the final game of the season. (As of this writing today (8/2/20), Cespedes continues to be a Grade-A “a-hole” as he apparently no showed for the game today and when questioned, said that he was “opting out” of the season. He’s “opted out” since he was signed by the Mets if you ask me.) Third baseman Matt Reynolds gets the best card of the 2017 set with this “Jeter-esque” throw from third base. Anyone who knows me should not be surprised that catcher Travis D’Arnaud would get the top card of the 2018 set. I love catcher cards and this is a great shot of him reaching into the stands attempting to snag a pop up foul. 2018 would be another fourth place finish for the Mets despite bringing in a new manager (Mickey Callaway) and getting off to a red hot 11-1 start to the season. They would be eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth time in ten seasons. The biggest storyline of the season for the Mets did not emerge until the final month of the season as David Wright battled back from spinal-stenosis for one final home game. He would retire that evening. The top card of 2019 goes to…Citi Field. There were a few really good player cards that year but one has to agree, this is just a magnificent card. The Mets would finish third in the division and would miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.


With Amed Rosario’s sweet 2020 card, we will wrap up Part 2 of “42 Years of the Best Mets Cards.” I love the close up shot of Rosario going deep in the hole and coiling up to shoot a bullet to first. The pressure to perform is on Rosario this year after two pretty unimpressive seasons on the field and at the plate. Regardless of how his career ends up, this will remain my favorite card of the 2020 New York Mets set.

Well, I hope you enjoyed Part 2 of this post. Have a great week out there and stay safe!

10 things that some of you may like…but I don’t

A few weeks ago I saw some of you posting about things that “you like but other’s don’t.” Dime Box Nick had some great thoughts and so did the fine folks over at Sport Card Collectors (Ummm…he has a card with ECTOPLASM in it! *adds to my want list*)

This kind of post is right up my alley because when it comes to my collection, it’s well… pretty unorthodox. I don’t tend to like a lot of the things that others do…and judging from the stats on this blog, the opposite applies as well. I think that’s what makes it so hard for me to get into “trading” with other collectors online. I just have a hard time finding collectors who “get me.” I can’t blame you. Half of the time, I don’t even “get me.” With the exception of set completion attempts, I’m kind of a free bird when it comes to what I acquire.

After reading some of your posts, I believe a few of you went the other way with it and posted about things that “10 things that OTHERS like… but YOU don’t.”  I find that direction a bit easier to write about.

I will however, change the title just bit more. Let’s face it, I have no idea if YOU as the reader like any of the things listed below. You may like them and you may not. Let’s just call it “Things that SOME of you may like…but I don’t.

#10 – Super high end product

No matter how beautiful the cards, exclusive the signatures, or how rare and “close to the game” the relics are; I just can’t stomach an almost $1,500 price tag for 8 cards. I’ve never been a gambler so I’ve never enjoyed the “chase.” I’ve also seen far too many anti-climactic breaks of product like this at my local card shop or local card shows to even give product like this a second look.

#9 – Digital Cards

What in the .jpeg is this world coming to?! features an article on digital cards where they say, “There’s a whole new type of collector out there with more than a million users and 75 million sports cards that you simply won’t find in the best of hobby shops or in any retail store aisle — unless you’re on a smartphone.”

Some are saying that digital cards are the wave of the future, much like streaming music has started to replace consumer purchases of music CD’s.

I’m a very savvy guy. I fully embrace the innovation and evolution of brands and concepts…but this, is seriously never going to be something that I “get.” If you are a digital card collector, I’d love to hear why you enjoy it. Leave a comment.

#8 – Relic Cards “Not From Any Specific Game or Event”

Can we all just agree the “relics” have run their course? When they hit the hobby in the 90’s I thought it was a fantastic “innovation.” Within a decade, the concept was bastardized 100 times over. Along the way the manufacturer “guarantee” claimed less and less. I have Gary Carter relics from the late 90’s that clearly state “You have just received a bat relic from a bat used in an official Major League game by Gary Carter!” Today, there is absolutely no telling what you have. Most “guarantees” state: “The relic contained in this card is not from any specific game, event, or season.” The following Babe Ruth relic could have been shaved off of a wooden train set for all we know. Yet, it’s currently selling on Ebay for $164. The “guarantee” SHOULD say: “We guarantee that Babe Ruth nor anyone he knew has ever had anything to do with this piece of wood.”

#7 – Corporate naming rights

Admittedly, I have a somewhat weak argument here but nothing gives me that “nostalgic ballgame feel” like saying “Guaranteed Rate Field.” I can give “Coors Field” as pass and would probably give “Citizen’s Bank Park” a pass if they omitted the “Bank” in the name. “Tiger Stadium” was sold off and replaced with “Comerica Park.” As iconic baseball field names such as “Yankee Stadium”, “Dodger Stadium”, “Fenway”, and “Oriole Park at Camden Yards” continue to tie us to baseball’s wonderful history, they a quickly being outnumbered by baseball spaces such as “PNC Park”, “Minute Maid Field”, “Target Field”, “Globe Life Field.” I absolutely hate them all and one thing is for certain, when the corporation’s contract is up, the name will be replaced with something equally as preposterous.

#6 – The MLB Draft

Bless MLB’s little heart. They work so hard to hype something so boring and in the case of probably 7 out of 10 drafts, completely useless. 40 rounds of drafting teenagers. The MLB draft will never be an “event” worth watching to me and while I don’t watch the NFL or NBA draft, I can see why others would. Those players are drafted and can make an immediate impact. In the case of baseball, most draftees will toil for years in the minors and never see a major league batter’s box.

#5 – Instant Replay

Get rid of it. It sucks.

We need to stop trying to “perfect” the human officiation of the game. We are humans. We make mistakes. Sometimes a team benefits from that and sometimes they don’t. With instant replay, the “rules” are too ambiguous, teams have far too long after the play to challenge the call, it takes too long, and frankly; it cuts down on the ass-chewings that managers and umpires could be giving each other. Having to stop the game after an exciting play to allow the umpires to go watch the replay and phone New York brings the excitement of the game to a screeching halt almost as bad as stopping the dancing at the wedding so the bridesmaid can ramble through a drunken toast to the bride. If ANYTHING, umpires need standardized (re)training of the strike zone. I’m sick of seeing 5 umpires have 5 different strike zones.

#4 – Plain Clothes Player Cards

Okay so two of these cards DO feature players in jerseys…but, they have plain clothes on underneath. I detest the Rivera card so bad that I have given 3 copies away for free, while others clamored for the Ohtani, I turned my nose up to it, and has their ever been a worse example of a baseball card than Manny Machado’s Topps NOW card?

I will however make an exception in some cases. Like this one.

#3 – Sloppy autographs

Let’s move past the soap-box answer of “beggars can’t be choosers.” I’m not talking about those signatures that end up sloppy because the player was walking to the team bus or maybe that blue sharpie signature ended up with a smudge on it. I’m talking about those autographs that clearly show that the player simply doesn’t care to take the time to produce a good product — and yes, their autograph is a product of their personal “brand.” In most cases today, they are sitting at a table and signing the cards/stickers for the manufacturer. It is evident that penmanship is not taught in schools (or at home) anymore. Because of that, current players tend to have signatures that I have no desire in owning — regardless of how popular/good the player is or what the value is. Trout, Freeman, Harper all have lackluster signatures that I don’t want.

There is an anecdote out there about Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew signing autographs at Twins Fest one year. He was joined at the table by Mike Cuddyer and Tori Hunter who were both rookies at the time. Killebrew who has one of the most beautiful signatures in the game, saw the two players slapping quick signatures on cards, photos, and balls to keep the line flowing quickly. He stopped them both and remarked that these people are here to meet their role models and will be proudly displaying these autographs for years to come. The worst thing they could do was to give the fans something that they put no effort into. The two players remembered that and actually produce some very nice signatures.

Someone needs to have that conversation with Harper. If you make a commitment to sign for someone, make it a good one. If you don’t have it in you that day, just don’t sign.

#2 – Signature Stickers

I’ll rail on signatures a bit more. I have no use for signature stickers. Would you ever stick a sticker on a baseball card? No you would not.

Upper Deck had no problem with Stan “The Man” Musial signing stickers up until his last breath. You can see the result of that greedy move here. I’m sure Musial consented to signing these stickers but to me; it is still in bad taste. These cards just hurt my heart when I see them.

#1 – Fantasy Baseball

I love baseball. I really do. But, I don’t LOVE baseball enough to track third-string shortstops and analyze the DL every second of every day. I’ve played fantasy baseball a few times and I never do well despite taking the time to doing my homework and evaluating the projections. I hate the projections. Using past performance of a player along with the upcoming schedule to predict an outcome is 50/50 common sense and guess work. I might be able to be a professional “projector.” After all, I’m a real good guesser AND I have some common sense. The last time I listened to a fantasy projection, I started Mike Leake against the White Sox and he got shelled for eight runs on 12 hits. Didn’t help that DeGrom got injured too. I can’t say that I enjoyed it or that it was fun. If I could, I’d leave fantasy baseball one star on yelp. “Do not recommend.”

7 Day Trading Card Challenge (3 Weeks Later)

I ran across a pretty cool card “challenge” a few weeks ago from Hall of Fame blogger “Cardpocalypse.”  I knew I wanted to participate and I even have “7 Day Trading Card Challenge” written on my work “task list” which tells you that I have no shame mixing work and pleasure – shhhh, don’t tell my boss.  Now that I think about it, I doubt he would mind.  He fully endorses ANYTHING that helps his employees stay sane and focused – even if it means breaking from work for a bit to “reset.” That to me, is cool.

Life is pretty unorthodox right now which I know you all can understand.  I have a list of things that I’ve been meaning to get to but it either seems that other things get bumped up on the priority list or time simply slips away.  Then there are the evenings where I have the time…but not the energy.  I guess the added stress of navigating the world live in can take a toll.

First it was the coronavirus…then social unrest due to the unfortunate event in Minneapolis…and now apparently, anti-fascist groups can just move right in and decide they now own 6 blocks of public city space.  And, whatever happened with the murder hornets?!  They promised us MURDER HORNETS!!!

SO anyways – you can imagine how excited I was to find out that one of my favorite bloggers added me to his blogroll.  I read his blog several times a week and consider it a “Hall of Fame” baseball card blog.  Thanks Night Owl Cards!  I’m seriously “fan-girling” over here!

He posted up his card challenge selections tonight – all at once.  Which honestly is more my style too.  I’d rather knock it all out at once.  After all, it’s been on my “to do” list since the end of March.    

Ok so let’s get to it. 

Favorite Card Acquired During Quarantine

About three weeks into this government imposed house arrest, uhhh…I mean, “quarantine even though I’m not sick” a good friend of mine called me and said, “So how is the quarantine going? You’re in heaven aren’t you!” Of course, she was making light of the fact that despite what some may thing, I’m a pretty introverted homebody. I have no problem staying home – I just take issue with the government mandating that I do pretty much anything that I don’t want to do. So anyways, best card that I’ve acquired over the past few months? Gotta be this Gary Carter art card. I’m not a huge collector of art cards but I do collect Gary Carter and I have always loved Carter’s 1977 Topps card. When I was about 10 years old, my Uncle Tom bought me this card at a card show.

Card from Current Year with a Unique Photo

While there are certainly more EXCITING photos out there, I don’t think I have ever seen a card committed to featuring someone such as Nolan Ryan taking a lead off of first base.

Favorite Football Card in Your Collection

I’m a baseball guy through and through so I would say that 98% of my collection is focused on baseball cards. I do have many of the key rookies from 1980 through the late 90’s though. One of my favorites is the 1986 Topps Jerry Rice. It’s a classic card and I will never forget how I got it. In 4th grade, a kid in my class asked if I wanted to buy a binder of cards. He showed me the binder and it was the complete 1986 Topps football set. He said he wanted $10 for it. The next day, he had $10 and I had the cards. My favorite card in my collection is far from the most valuable though. DJ Dozier was a local two sport superstar from my area. After being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1983, he would turn down the offer to play baseball and go on to be a Heisman finalist at Penn State and then drafted by the Vikings. He also decided he wanted to play professional baseball. In 1990, the Mets signed him as an undrafted free agent. For a few years he played AAA ball here in Norfolk for the Tides so it was quite a big deal to see him in person. Dozier was a two sport player before Deion made it a big deal.

Favorite Basketball Card in Your Collection

Not a lot of basketball cards to pick from if you were to thumb through my collection. I do have an absurd amount of Jordans and some of them are spectacular as you would imagine. This John Havlicek is probably my favorite though. In the early 2000’s, I was the Food & Beverage Director at a private golf and yacht club here in Virginia Beach and we did a ton of weddings. One summer my team had the privilege of hosting the wedding and reception of John’s son. John was there and was an absolute pleasure to be around. Scott Van Pelt was there too. He was the best man and gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard at a wedding.

Favorite ‘other’ Sport Card in Your Collection

I have an old college roommate that would fight you to the death if you said that wrestling wasn’t a “sport” so I feel comfortable enough featuring this sweet WWF card of the Ultimate Warrior. I was never a fan of the “sport” as a kid which was rare given that it was the 80’s. I did however appreciate the “characters” of the sport. My brother was a big “Hulkamaniac.”

Favorite Non Sport Card in Your Collection

I mean, One-Eyed Willie is only ONE of the MANY great characters in this Spielberg classic but if I had to choose from my very few non-sport cards, it would go to this guy. He gave an eye for it after all. The Goonies is one of my all-time favorite movies as well.

Best Hobby Trend to Emerge This Year

I’m admittedly one of the most unenthusiastic collectors out there. Especially when it comes to new “trends.” A lot of bloggers have said that the Topps Project 2020 is the most exciting trend of the year. Personally, it’s not for me. Like, at ALL. I think the biggest trend that I have seen this year has been the proliferation of collectors showcasing their collections and box breaks on social media. Of course, this is a result of so many card shops being shut down and folks being inside with little else to do. I’ve found myself reading more blogs and following more collectors on Instagram. While I don’t partake in Facebook, I’m sure more and more collectors are connecting on Facebook as well. I think this is good for the hobby.

Well this was fun! Many thanks to Cardpocalypse for putting this challenge together! Have a great week.

42 years of the BEST Mets cards (Part 1)

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes browsing through the posts in this blog would have no doubt that I am a Met’s fan.

How I came to be a Met’s fan is likely attributed to where I am grew up and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with New York.

I grew up in the Tidewater area, which for anyone outside of the “Tidewater” area means nothing.  Another local name for the Tidewater area is “Hampton Roads”, which to anyone not from the area ALSO means nothing.

The Tidewater/Hampton Roads area is what we locals collectively call the areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, and depending on which local you ask; the Virginia/North Carolina border areas.  Local travel and tourism organizations have been debating for years about whether the state should replace the term “Hampton Roads” with something more descriptive and meaningful to where we live.  If you live in Ohio and you tell your family that you’re taking them to “Hampton Roads” for a week of fun probably doesn’t generate very much excitement.  It has been suggested that we rename the area “Coastal Virginia” to reflect our most popular attraction, waterfront views, seafood, and ocean breezes.   

But I digress.

My connection to the New York Mets lies in Norfolk, Virginia.  The longtime home of their AAA minor league affiliate, the Norfolk Tides.  From 1969 to 2006, the Tides would serve as the Mets’ minor league affiliate and call Metropolitan Park or, as the locals called it, simply “Met Park.”  In 1992, the Tidewater Tides would move out of Metropolitan Park into their new home Harbor Park and would change their name to the Norfolk Tides. 

Metropolitan Park – Norfolk, Virginia

From the mid 80’s through today, I have attended many games at both stadiums and have seen many future major leaguers come through the area.  Getting to see former Tides in their Met’s uniforms on TV was a thrill.  I have great childhood memories of attending games at “Met Park” and getting autographs of future stars like Darryl Strawberry, Gregg Jefferies, Clint Hurdle, and Ron Darling.

Here is a list of the Mets cards that I consider the “best” of each Topps flagship set.  These are not necessarily the best player each year, but rather, the card that I like the best.  In some cases, the card may not be that impressive.  There will be some cards that you look at and wonder why it was chosen. It is simply the best of the other bad ones. 

Let’s begin in 1978. One for each year that I’ve been alive – three up, three down.

Leading off the countdown is Jerry Koosman and he comes out on top two years in row with my favorite cards of the 1978 and 1979 sets.  At first glance, one would think that Topps recycled the same photos.  They are slightly different though.  Koosman would have a terrible 1978 as did the rest of the team.  The ’78 Met’s had the worst record in the National League, with a 66-96 mark, coming in 24 games behind first-place Philadelphia.  The Mets would be in rebuilding mode for a few more years with no clue what they were trying to rebuild.  Despite being pictured in his Met’s uniform on his 1979 Topps card, Koosman never played a single game for them.  He had already been traded to Minnesota where he would have a resurgence and go on to win 20 games.  Ed Kranepool has the top card in 1980 and is another featured player that never wore the Mets uniform that year.  He would retire at the end of 1979.  His last at-bat of the season resulted in his 225th career double and would secure one of the many team records he would hold for years to come.  In 1980, he and several other potential investors made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Mets.  I like this card as it features him in the on-deck circle and that’s not something that you see very often.

Topps pretty much summed up John Pacella on his 1981 card.  You can see him unleashing a fastball with such fury that his cap has fallen off.  The Mets’ play-by-play guys would make a big deal about Pacella’s cap falling off and how it was a result of how hard he threw.  The fact of the matter was that it was really his poor mechanics.  On the back of the card, Topps would make mention of impressive or interesting things about the player. For John Pacella, the only interesting thing they could come up with was “John has a unique habit of losing his cap each pitch.” 1981 would be another dismal year for the Mets as they finished 5th in their division.  Mookie Wilson takes the top spot in 1982 which also happens to be one of my favorite Topps designs.  We see a great shot of the Mets center fielder following through on what may have been one of his five home runs that season.  Yes, the Mets were terrible in 1982 and finished in last place. 

1983 would prove to be no different in terms of division standings.  They would come in last place again, BUT 1983 was the beginning of the club’s turning point as it would be the last losing season for the next seven years.  Darryl Strawberry’s 1983 Topps Traded card is the best of the bunch.  I don’t own it but hope to someday.  He was a hometown favorite during his time here with the Tidewater Tides. Strawberry would win the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1983, and go on to make eight consecutive All Star Game appearances and win four World Series titles.

Keith Hernandez takes the top spot for 1984 and 1985.  In 1984 Hernandez would come over from St Louis in a trade for Rick Owneby and Neil Allen.  He would take over first base for the rest of the season and send the aging and strikeout prone Dave Kingman to the bench.  The addition of Hernandez and Strawberry along with George Foster and Rusty Staub both bouncing back with great seasons put the Mets on the path to being a winning club.  They would see a second-place finishes in 1984 and 1985.   The 1985 card of Hernandez resonates so much with me (I think) because it was featured on the top of the 1985 Topps wax boxes.  I remember seeing it every time I would reach for a pack at my local card shop.  As a kid, you always thought that the “best” cards were the ones featured on the boxes. Of course, you can’t call yourself a baseball fan if you’re not familiar with the Met’s magical year of 1986.  I’ve always been a fan of cards featuring catchers and plays at the plate so the top spot for 1986 goes to Ronn Reynolds.  Literally a guy who “couldn’t hit his weight” (career .188 batting average vs 200 lbs), he would be shipped off to Philadelphia at the close of the 1985 season as the newly acquired Gary Carter would take over duties behind the plate for many years to come. 

1987 was the toughest year for me to pick the “best” Met’s card from Topps.  There are several that are some of my all-time favorite cards…of any set for that matter.  You have two cards featuring gritty plays at the plate with Kevin Mitchell and Wally Backman.  Ron Darling is depicted driving off of the mound with his picture-perfect mechanics and newly acquired third baseman Howard Johnson also has a nice card.  The top Mets card for me in 1987 however, is none other than Gary Carter.  This card would make him my favorite player and the set in general would go on to become a favorite of many collectors that grew up in the 80’s.  1988’s top Met’s card goes to Carter again.  It’s a nicely framed action shot from Shea Stadium featuring Carter at the plate.  That year Topps produced 2-pocket folders that replicated their 1988 Topps baseball cards.  My Granny purchased a few for me.  One of which was Gary Carter.  This went right into my Trapper Keeper and I stared at everyday of sixth grade.  The Mets would find themselves back at the top of their division in 1988 only to lose to the LA Dodgers in the NLCS.  Darryl Strawberry takes the top spot for the 1989 Met’s set.  A prolific home run hitter for the Mets, Topps captures Strawberry at the plate and laser focused on the next pitch.  He would make the All-Star Team that year with 29 home runs and the Mets would finish in second place. Topps produced school folders in 1989 as well. They pop up on Ebay from time to time.

 Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have absolutely no use for the 1990 set.  I absolutely hate it and should mean something as it is coming from a collector who really looks for all the good things in a set before I look for the faults.  In this case, the design is terrible, the color scheme is terrible, and the photography is terrible.  It’s literally 791 cards of complete and utter junk.  I do like Howard Johnson’s card though which is why I didn’t say it was “792 cards of complete and utter junk.”  The Met’s weren’t “junk” that year either as they finished in second place, four games behind Pittsburgh.  1991, however marked the start of the toilet bowl spiral for the Mets.  With a weird mix of checked-out former stars from their ’86 World Series squad, free agents that were not really interested in being a part of “rebuilding phase” and prospects that probably had no business being on the big-league club anyways. It’s no wonder that they would finish 20.5 games out of first.  Darryl Strawberry pulls the best card of the Mets that year despite not actually playing for them.  The 1991 Topps design has always been a favorite of mine and other collectors and they gave Strawberry a great card as he closed out his career with New York.  Strawberry signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers in November of 1990, marking the end of his time in blue and orange and inking a lucrative five-year $22.25 million deal.  1992 would get even worse for the Mets despite the owners breaking out the checkbook and signing what they hoped would be major acquisitions that would curb the losing and make everyone stop wishing it was the mid-eighties again.  Despite the talent, the team was an absolute disaster and would go on to lose over 90 games.  Even Topps seemed to have little interest in the “Worst Team Money Could Buy” (according to Bob Klapisch’s book), as nearly every card is unremarkable.  They did feature an aging Hubie Brooks and former Tidewater Tide rounding third base.  He gets the top spot for 1991 but by the time that card hit collector’s hands, he was playing for the California Angels. 

The next three years all go to catchers.  The best thing about the 1993 team set is this Todd Hundley card and it’s not even that great. The photo looks to have captured the aftermath of a passed ball or errant throw from an infielder. I can’t think of any of situation where a catcher would end up like this. Sure, it’s a Mets card of a catcher and it even features the cool rookie cup, but it’s simply the best of an overall very mediocre collection of Mets.  While every Mets’ fan was hoping to forget the disaster that was the season of 1992, the Mets actually got worse in 1993; losing 100 games – the worst season since 1967.  1994’s players strike actually allowed the Mets to hang on to a third place finish in their division.  Charlie O’Brien gets the nod for 1994 and is featured on his Topps card getting ready for a play at the plate with Houston’s Steve Finley.  Coincidentally, it would be Todd Hundley that would replace O’Brien behind the plate.  O’Brien was traded to Atlanta in November of 1993 so he never saw action for the Mets in 1994.  1995 would be a nicer year for the Mets as they finished 2nd in the division.  Third-string backup catcher Kelly Stinnett gets the top card for that season.  Despite the terrible Topps design, he is featured nicely framed and following through at the plate. 

Due to an injury, Bill Pulsipher sat out the entire 1996 season.  It was a return to the Mets losing ways as they finished 4th in the division.  He does get the top card of the 1996 Mets set though.  I’ve always liked this card as it was his first Topps base card that showed him actually on the field playing.  He was a member of the Norfolk Tides for much of the 1995 season and then off and on through 2000.  I saw him play here locally many times.  Another former Norfolk Tide gets the top card of the 1997 Mets set.  This is the year I graduated from high school and Mets would roll to another mediocre 3rd place finish but this season was the start of a turnaround.  Infielder Butch Huskey can be seen on his 1997 Topps card signing autographs for fans at Shea Stadium.  This is something that he did often during his time here in the minor leagues.  The 1998 Mets season was a heart breaker.  They were one of the best Mets teams to come along in a decade and they played splendidly throughout the season.  However, any hope of making the playoffs was dashed as they squandered away the last five games of the season.  John Olerud gets the nod for the top card in the 1998 Topps set.  The design of this set is not particularly my favorite, but I do just love this card.  I love the bright uniform set against the dark background and the gold border works well.  We also get a great shot of Olerud fielding with his signature batting helmet on. 1998 would be the best year of Olerud’s career setting a franchise record for both batting average and on-base percentage, both of which still stand to this day.

I had to go with Mike Piazza for the top card of 1999.  It has a very “1987 Gary Carter” throwback feel to it.  1999 would be Piazza’s first full season with the Mets and he would help them break into the post season and reaching the NLCS before losing to Atlanta.  It would be manager Bobby Valentine’s first taste of the post season in his 30+ year career.  2000 would be another great year for the Mets as they reached the World Series for the first time in 15 years.  The Mets starting rotation featured five men who all finished with a record of .500 or better and while not unheard of, one must remember that this was the height of the steroid era.  Hitters were swatting more home runs further than they ever had before.  Shortstop Rey Ordonez gets the top card of the 2000 set.  Given Ordonez’ athleticism on the field, it’s kind of a boring card.  Nothing more than a routine tag-out of Ellis Burks at second.   He gets the top card of 2001 as well which tells you how bad the OTHER cards in the set are.  The card is unremarkable despite a remarkable year.  2001 was not only the year I graduated from college but also a turning point in American history.  On Tuesday September 11, a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks became the deadliest on American soil in U.S. history.   As New York suffered horrific losses, baseball was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind and with that; Commissioner Bud Selig would cancel all games through the end of the week and announced that the season would resume on Saturday, September 17.  After three games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Mets would return home to a battered New York City to play the Atlanta Braves.  It would be the first baseball game in New York after the attacks and no one was sure how to approach this game.  It would be a Piazza 3 run home run in the eighth that would bring all 41,000 fans in Shea Stadium to their feet…together as one, momentarily forgetting the pain in their hearts.  The Mets would hold on to the lead for the win and baseball would find itself as an integral part of the healing process.

As we wrap up a heavy moment; let’s close out the blog for today – 1978 through 2001 which is 23 years of Mets’ cards and commentary. Stay tuned for Part 2 as we explore 2002 through 2020.

Local Card Show Pickups – March 2020

What a difference a week can make.

The last time things felt even remotely “normal” was one week ago. It was Wednesday night’s (March 11, 2020) news cycle where the news of a potential global pandemic began to ramp up. It was so unbelievable that I had to eventually turn it off. We were being strongly advised to distance ourselves from others and to stay inside our homes if we could do so. This put the weekend’s card show into question. My buddy Matt of Passion 4 Cards fame decided to sit this show out but I decided to drive up there anyways. The show was being held in the cafeteria of a local school and as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw as many cars as I usually do. The show was a go and I was relieved.

I spoke with a handful of vendors and they felt like the attendance was only slightly lower than usual. As I spent a few hours sorting through cards, I could overhear conversations going on around me. Some were concerned, some were not, a few talked as if they were licensed pathologists (they were not).

I was glad that I decided to go. Who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to attend a card show. I have the feeling that life has been forever changed for a lot of people including myself. I’m still processing it all. These will probably be the last cards I buy for a while until things stabilize.

So let’s take a look!

1995 Upper Deck Minors – Matt Brunson

I have a LOT of cards.

Most of which, I just have…because I have them.

Then I have some cards that I have…because I love them. These two cards fall into that category. They don’t feature big names but to me, they are as valued as a Mickey Mantle or a Ken Griffey Jr.

I have seen this Matt Brunson card floating around a few blogs over the years and knew that I needed it. Upper Deck used a beautiful photo and created a card that to me is iconic. Matt Brunson was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1st round (9th) of the 1993 MLB June Amateur Draft. He would never see a major league field but he can say that he has one of the most exciting baseball cards ever made. I also picked up Wonderful Terrific Monds’ card from the same set. The card is…well, wonderful and with a name like that, one should expect nothing less than. He is the son of former NFL defensive back Wonderful Monds and was drafted by the Braves in the 50th round of the 1993 amateur draft. Monds falls into the same category as Brunson. Neither of them would reach the big leagues. When asked about his teammate, outfielder Dwight Smith once said, “He’ll have pressure to be good all of his life, no matter what he does, whether it’s baseball or marriage or his job, whatever,″ Smith said.

“I’m just glad my name is only Dwight.″

1995 Upper Deck Minors – Wonderful Terrific Monds
1987 Fleer Mini’s

I found a vendor that had a dime-box set up especially for the show. As I pulled up a chair he said, “Keep an eye out, I packed this box up with some surprises.”

I like dime-boxes like that.

This box was loaded with low-grade vintage hall of famers from the 70’s and 80’s as well as a wide variety of oddballs. Some of which are relatively hard to find. I was able to pick up three 1987 Fleer mini’s of players that I collect as well as two Starting Lineup Talking Baseball cards of Gary Carter and Rickey Henderson.

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball was an electronic baseball game that Kenner put out in 1988. When you bought the game, you also received cards of the players featured in each game. I never had it but I remember seeing the commercials every Saturday morning. I did collect a few of the Starting Lineup figures. Gary Carter ended up being turned into Christmas tree ornament and we hang him up every year.

1988 Starting Lineup Talking Baseball
1994 Topps Stadium Club

I hated this set when it came out. I loved the full bleed photos but never understood the combo lettering of typewriter and label-maker font. That was the 1990’s though. These all came from a dime-box. I may have the complete set lying around somewhere but for a dime, I can’t pass up a great single. I have the feeling that I’ll have plenty of time over the next month to take an inventory of my collection.

1993 Donruss “Spirit of the Game” & 1993 Upper Deck “Iooss Collection”

Full bleed photos always catch my eye. I had to pick up these six insert cards. In 1993, Donruss featured the 20 card “Spirit of the Game” insert set in packs. Each card features an action shot of the play on the front of the card and then another capture from the same play on the back. Upper Deck teamed up with famed photographer Walter Iooss to produce a 26 card insert set. From 1968 through 1972, Iooss was an in-house photographer for Atlantic Records in New York, where his subjects included performers like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. In 1982 he would leave his position at Sports Illustrated to work exclusively for Fujifilm on a project in which he would document athletes working their way towards the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1997, Fleer would partner with Sports Illustrated to produce a 180 card set. This would be the first set in a three-year partnership between SI and Fleer. The set features photographs taken from the archives of Sports Illustrated magazine. Kevin Brown’s card is one of the better ones in the set. We also see Baltimore Oriole Brady Anderson giving it his best to pull in an obvious home run. I’m not sure which stadium this is but I know it’s not Camden Yards. It’s a great photo as he at the same spot on the outfield wall as the Oriole’s logo. Sandy Alomar Jr has so many great cards out there. Pinnacle did a nice job with this on for their 1994 set.

Let’s take a look at four horizontal cards that I picked up for a buck. Chris Taylor grew up right down the street from me here in Virginia Beach so naturally, I collect his cards. I love this base version of his 2019 Topps Big League card. When I saw this “artist rendition” version in a quarter box, I had to grab it. The next three were picked up for a quarter a piece as well. The 2016 Topps Mark Trumbo is one of the most beautiful cards in that set. Some collectors disliked the “white fog” that Topps used on the card design but I think in this case, it works great. The 2011 Topps set featured some stellar photos and the overhead shot of Henry Blanco is a prime example. I also love the perspective on Clayton Richard’s base card.

I also picked up three relic cards for $3 a piece. Relic cards aren’t really something that I collect anymore. It’s hard to know how legitimate the “relic” actually is these days. I picked these up because I collect the players. I do love the design of the Ryan Zimmerman 2018 Topps Museum Collection. The relic is described as “Game Used Memorabilia” on the front. The back of the card states that the memorabilia is “not from any specific game, season, or event.” That being said, I was happy to find it for $3.

There was a time when Gregg Jeffries was THE next baseball super star. At least that’s what collectors thought in 1987. He played AAA baseball here in Norfolk, Virginia in 1987 and 1988 for the Tidewater Tides. I saw him play quite a few times and he was always great to the fans. I picked up these three oddballs for a quarter. Note the differences in how his name was spelled. The same goes for the Mattingly’s below. All three for a quarter.

One of the last tables I stopped at had a small two-row box simply labeled “VINTAGE – 50% OFF”. I’ve seen deals like this before and even with the 50% off, the price is usually a bit more than I’m willing to spend. Today must have been my lucky day. None of the cards had price tags on them.

I pulled a few cards out and asked the dealer what the damage would be for all of them. He said $20. I gave him $25 because honestly, when you’re sitting there holding cards of Sandy Koufax and Ted Williams, you expect a higher price tag.

All in all, it was a pretty good show for me despite the global pandemic fears just starting to register with everyone. I would expect that I’ll have some more time to spend with my cards over the next month or two. Look for some new updates to this blog.

Stay safe out there folks!

Completed Set – 2009 Topps Gallery

This is one of those sets that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to complete. I had picked up some singles that I absolutely loved from some dime-boxes at my local card show and thought that I might like to collect the rest of the base set. As I got deeper into the set over the years, I realized that while the set had some real standout cards, the majority of the set was fairly boring in terms of compelling photography. Despite that, with only 100 base cards and 50 SP’s to the checklist, I continued to slowly forge ahead.

A few weeks ago I slid the final card into it’s sleeve which completed a near 20 year project. That final card? Greg Maddux.

I was fortunate enough to find this card in a quarter box at a local card show. The card is easily found online and it was on my list to pick up at some point. Fortunately, it was just sitting there in a stack of random Maddux cards. I like a lot of things about this card. For one, it’s a very unique shot of a Hall of Fame pitcher. Maddux was actually a very good hitter in his day. It’s also cool to see him attempting to break up a double play. Most pitchers wouldn’t bother subjecting themselves to such a slide given how risky it would be to injure themselves. I’m also a sucker for cards that frame the shot to show nothing but infield dirt. This one comes awfully close.

I’ll highlight a few of my personal favorites in the set.

Vlad’s card is probably my 2nd favorite card in the set. Just a crisp shot of him rounding second or maybe first base. I love how the black outfield wall serves to really make the image pop. We’ve also got a nice shot of the Captain battling the sun as he tracks an infield fly. I had a pair of those flip-down sunglasses when I was a center fielder. They were more of a pain than anything else. I also like this shot of Javy Lopez adjusting his gear between innings. 1999 would come to a close as the Yankees swept the Braves in the World Series.

I love the way Topps framed this shot of Frank Thomas. The Hall of Famer was a consistent home run hitter for most of his career but 1999 was not his best season. As Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched baseballs out of major league ballparks at an astonishing pace, Thomas managed only 15 home runs in 1999. I love cards featuring players at Wrigley Field. This shot of Mark Grace showcases the brick wall that runs the perimeter of the field. The Cubs would finish dead last in their division in 1999. Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman was known for many things during his career: his leadership, his changeup, and his character. I love this shot featuring his picture perfect mechanics. Hoffman was an All Star in 1999 and put 40 saves in the books for San Diego as the Padres finished fourth in their division.

I always find Wade Boggs in a Tampa Bay Devil Ray uniform a strange sight. He will always be a member of the Red Sox to me. Here we see him watching Mike Heath try to frame an outside pitch. Given Boggs’ talent at the plate, one can pretty confidently assume that this pitch was a ball. Had it been a strike, it would have been in play already. I had picked up this great card of Sandy Alomar at a local card show a few months ago. I always look for great catcher cards to add to my “catcher collection”.

The one thing I remember about the 1999 baseball season was Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire continuing to rack up home runs. I’ve read countless articles, books and heard stories about the 1961 home run chase involving Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. At the time, the country was captivated with the race to break Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs. People were glued to their radios as they listened to see who would put another one out of the park. The morning ritual for many was to first grab the paper and check the box scores. It was a different time that’s for sure. Maris eventually broke the record, hitting his 61st home run on October 1, the season’s final day.

I was a sophomore in college in 1998 and I remember feeling the same excitement as baseball fans in 1961. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had captivated the sports world with their quest to beat the Babe. If the Cardinals or the Cubs happened to have a day game that I could catch, class was usually traded in for the game. At the time, cell phones were still heavy bricks with no internet so I couldn’t get updates every minute of every game like I can today. Instead of checking the box scores in the paper every morning, I had to endure the painful log-on sounds of dial up internet to see which of the two sluggers was leading the race. McGwire would end up beating Sammy with 70 home runs. Sosa ended the season with 66. That was a fun time.

I also wanted to include the second weirdest Ken Griffey Jr. card in my collection. Why would Topps give this photo the green light?

What’s the MOST weird Griffey Jr. card in my collection? Lookin’ at you 1998 Upper Deck…

I’ll close out this post with my favorite card from the set. Topps did a great job of framing Guillen with the lush ivy covering the outfield wall of Wrigley Field. This is easily one of my “Top 50 Favorite Cards”.

COMPLETED SET – 1994 Fleer Ultra

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted. The holidays, a 4 year old, and work has kept me pretty busy over the past few months.

I attended a local card show last weekend and was able to pick up the last remaining cards of the 1994 Fleer Ultra set. I had actually decided to complete this set on a whim. A few years ago I picked a $5 retail box of cards from my local Walgreens. Inside the retail boxes is one pack and 100 loose singles. All of which are complete junk.

I love them though.

In this one particular box was Tom Glavine’s 1994 card. I loved the high quality card stock, the near full-bleed horizontal photo and the gold inlay fonts. Because of this card, I decided to knock out the whole set. Comprised of 2 series with 300 cards each, the Fleer Ultra brand had come a long way from it’s drab 1991 debut. I’ve checked online to see if there might be any interesting information regarding this set and came up empty. 1994 Fleer Ultra seems to be one of those sets that no one cares about. Not even the sports card database Cardboard Connection makes a mention of the set. That’s a shame.

1994 should have been one of the greatest baseball seasons of all time. Sadly, the collective greed of the owners and players resulted in a work stoppage that brought the dream season to an abrupt halt on August 11. Attendance was booming as fans packed brand new stadiums to see stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Barry Bonds. With the season canceled, it would be the first time since 1904 that players and fans would not be witness a World Series.

San Francisco Slugger Matt Williams was on pace to hit nearly 61 home runs. The Montreal Expos played most of the season with best record in baseball. Despite finishing with 74 wins/40 losses and a 6 game lead in the National League East, it would be the last year for baseball in Montreal. Tony Gwynn was on his way to baseball immortality, finishing just shy of .400. He ended his season with a .394 batting average, the highest of any player since Ted Williams in 1941. The strike would also bring to a close the careers of Bo Jackson and Goose Gossage. Neither of which even made any formal announcement. They simply went home.

The abbreviated 1994 season would see Dodger phenom Raul Mondesi and surprise Kansas City standout Bob “Hammer” Hamelin take home Rookie of the Year awards. Mondesi would finish 1994 with a .306 average, 133 hits, 16 home runs and 56 RBIs. Today, Mondesi is enjoying an eight year “stay-cation” in the Domican Republic prison system after being convicted of corruption and mishandling of public funds while serving as mayor of his hometown of San Cristobal. Hamelin would hit .282 with 24 home runs, 65 RBIs and a .987 OPS in 101 games. A mere five years later, while playing for the Toledo Mud Hens in 1999, Hamelin would find himself getting jammed on an inside fastball. After running out a weak infield grounder, Hamelin would walk back to the dugout, grab his glove and tell the manager he was quitting. “For tonight?” the manager said.

“No. For good.” Hamelin replied as he headed for the locker room to collect his things.

The 1994 Cy Young Award would go to Royal pitcher and five-time all star David Cone and Atlanta hurler and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Here are few of my favorite cards from the set. We have Manny Ramirez in his second year with the Indians. He would become a major league regular in 1994 and finish second in Rookie of the Year voting. We also see one of Bo Jackon’s last baseball cards. Finishing 1994 with 141 career home runs, the two sport superstar would quietly walk away from professional sports as the season came to an end. Once the most sought after prospects in baseball, the Atlanta Braves decided that they were going to pick Todd Van Poppel as their first round draft pick in 1990. After hearing that Van Poppel explicitly said he would not sign with Atlanta, they opted for future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones instead. Van Poppel’s career record was 40-52 and he never won more than seven games in a season. We also see a pretty cool shot of Padre second baseman Bip Roberts turning two. In 1994, Roberts recorded an MLB best 24-game hitting streak for the Padres. The strike-shortened season compromised his season as he was hitting .320 with over 20 steals yet again. He was also second in the NL in singles, and broke up Pedro Martínez’s extra inning perfect game in the 10th inning with a double.

Here are four more favorites from the set. Jim Abbott has always been one of my favorites. He was of course, able to overcome the adversity of only having one hand and become a phenomenal major league pitcher. I always appreciate cards that showcase his uniqueness. He would put his glove over his handless arm during windup and delivery and immediately upon releasing the ball would quickly slide it onto his pitching hand. He pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in 1993. We also see a nice horizontal shot of Indians first baseman Paul Konerko with a cameo of base-thief Rickey Henderson. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Henderson was safe. Fleer also chose a great shot of Giants shortstop Royce Clayton diving back to first. After retiring from baseball, Clayton would go on to play small roles in films “Moneyball” and “The Rookie”. We also have a great shot of Ranger first baseman Will Clark attempting to chase down a fly ball on a sunny day.

Fleer Ultra did a great job with the cards of Dennis Eckersley and Rickey Henderson. I always love to see the A’s white and green uniforms shining bright in the California sun. If you notice, it looks like Fleer had original intentions of making the Eckersley card a horizontal photo. They positioned the “Ultra” logo sideways despite the upright photo.

Houston’s Jeff Bagwell and Chicago’s Frank Thomas would both take MVP honors for 1994. As 1994 was Bagwell’s best year, no player was hurt more by the 1994 Major League Baseball strike than Bagwell. In just 110 games, he would hit .368 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI’s. Had the strike not shortened his season, he would likely have hit 57 or more home runs. The strike also cost slugger Frank Thomas a shot at topping Mickey Mantle on the career home run list. He finished his career in a three way tie at 18th with 521. Had the 1994 season allowed him to continue his home run pace, he would have finished with at least 20 more which would have pushed him up to 16th on the all time home run list.

Despite being one game behind the Chicago White Sox when the strike hit, the Cleveland Indians were having their best season since winning the pennant 40 years earlier. In addition to the performance of the team’s three future Hall of Famers, Jim Thome, Jack Morris, and Eddie Murray, Albert Belle was also having a standout season. Belle was hitting .357 and was only two points behind Paul O’Neill in the chase for the AL batting crown. He was leading the league in total bases, tied for the lead in extra-base hits, and among the top three in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, doubles, home runs, and RBI.

Wade Boggs is featured here crouched in position, ready to scoop up anything hit his way. The Yankees were finally playing great baseball in 1994 and were well on their way to the World Series if the winning continued. Boggs and Mattingly served as the elder statesmen of the young team and despite back injuries sapping Mattingly’s power, Boggs provided support with 11 home runs, the second highest total of his career to date.

Barry Larkin had a solid 1994 season and would win another Gold Glove. Here we see him turning two with a cameo from Barry Bonds.

The Dodgers were a disappointing 58-56 at the close of the 1994 season, but would be the only team in the four-team NL West with a winning mark. Fleer chose this photo of a play at the plate during a day game at Wrigley Field. We can’t say for sure if the runner was out or safe. The Cub’s player looks to be outfielder Derrick May. He wore Nike high top cleats around that time. 1994 would be Mike Piazza’s sophomore season and he would hit 24 home runs and knock in 92 RBI’s.

The set also features four future Hall of Famers from the Baltimore Orioles. With 63 wins, the Orioles would finish the 1994 season second in the AL east due to a last minute collapse resulting in the O’s losing 7 of their last 9 games.

The Orioles most recent Hall of Fame inductee is Mike Mussina. He pitched in 18 big-league seasons for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, winning a total of 270 games. He was also first American League pitcher to win 10 or more games in 17 consecutive seasons. He would retire in 2008 as a New York Yankee. After winning his last start of the 2008 season, he would retire making him the oldest player to win 20 games in a season for the first time in his career.

I’ll close out this blog post with this special insert of Greg Maddux. In 1994, Maddux posted an ERA of 1.56, the second lowest since Bob Gibson’s historic 1.12 in 1968. Along with a .222 batting average, Maddux also led the National League in wins (with 16) and innings pitched (202) in his third Cy Young-winning year. Maddux also finished 5th in National League Most Valuable Player voting in 1994.