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”.
One night I was checking out some of the other collector blogs and as a few of the guys were showing off their card show finds, I realized how long it had been since I had been to a card show myself. After a quick google search, I saw that there was a card show in my area that was only a few weeks away. I shot my buddy Matt from Passion for Cards a text and he said he would meet me out there.
I didn’t really have any major cards on my wish list but I knew that he has been working on his 1963 Topps set. You can check out his pickups from the show HERE. Go ahead and subscribe to his channel as well. He never lets me down in showcasing his sweet collection. It’s a MONSTER too!
The show was at a local bingo hall and featured about 25 dealer tables. Lots of vintage cards and autographed memorabilia were mixed in with the usual dime-boxes, quarter boxes, and buck-boxes. I only had a few hours so I pulled a chair out of the corner and posted up at one of the dealer’s dime-box tables. Picked up about 300 cards in total. Here are a few of my favorites.
I recently started a player collection of Rickey Henderson. These cards will help fill some gaps. You can check out a post I did on Rickey a few months ago HERE. In 1995, Topps featured Rickey in their Bazooka set. He hit .300 that year with 9 home runs and 32 stolen bases. I was happy to find the 2001 Topps Traded as it features Rickey in his Padres uniform and books for $12. Not bad for a dime. Lastly, Rickey showed up in 72 games for Boston in 2002. Leaf featured his on the base paths in their relatively uninteresting base set.
I found myself pulling more and more of the Topps Archives out of the boxes. I’ve always thought that Topps Archives was one of the more creative sets out there. Each year, the 300 card set is broken up into three different designs from the past. I’ve always liked the 1991 Topps design and anytime I can find someone from the Mets is always a bonus. Mookie looks great on the 1984 Topps design again as well. Topps really outdid themselves with the photo choice of Xander Bogaerts. This one will go into my “personal favorites” binder.
I’ve already completed my 2014 Topps Gyspsy Queen set but I wanted to add this Johnny Bench to my catcher’s collection. Same goes for the 2000 Fleer Greats card. Despite never being a set that caught my eye, I grabbed it for a dime. Allen & Ginter is a great set for signatures and some years the design strikes my eye, 2012 wasn’t really one of them but Bench looks good on this one.
I decided I would start a mini-collection of cards with the ivy-covered outfield wall in the background. I was able to add three good ones out of the dime-box. The Fleer Ultra Ray Lankford is much more vibrant in person. He is a widely underrated player given that he played most of his career in a lackluster Cardinals era. He came in at the tail end of the Willie McGee/Ozzie Smith era and was traded to San Diego just before the Pujols/Molina era. Even still, his 38 career WAR as a Cardinal is 13 more than McGee, and just 3 behind Lou Brock. Andrew Cashner’s Topps Chrome rookie card features him warming up at Wrigley. Today he can be found at Camden Yards in an Orioles uniform. Predicted to be the worst team in baseball this year, they are off to a hot start with a new GM, new manager and virtually a new 25 man roster. Leaf captured a likely force out at second for Ryne Sandberg’s base card. It’s always been a favorite of mine.
As a nine year old little league player, I volunteered to play catcher at one of the team’s first practices. Mainly because I thought wearing the equipment was cool and because Gary Carter was a catcher. The other reason was because if I didn’t do it, we probably wouldn’t have had a catcher. Our main pitcher threw harder than anyone in the league. I learned to catch the ball at all costs because if I didn’t, it was going to hurt – bad. I love cards of catchers. I love to see the changes in the protective gear and the mitts over the decades.
Three more for the Adrian Beltre player collection. Those 2018 Archives on the 1991 design get me every time. Beltre is one of the greatest third baseman of our generation. With Beltre, you have the big traditional numbers: 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 runs batted in. You have the awards: five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, four top-10 Most Valuable Player Award finishes. And you even have an outrageous advanced statistic: 95.7 career wins above replacement, which trailed only Albert Pujols among active players when Beltre retired last year. He also hates to have his head touched. I love to watch YouTube clips of teammates trying to catch him off guard and touch his head.
The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area has been a hotbed for Major League baseball talent and I try to collect the local guys. Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2005 draft and has played for the entirety of his 15 year career. If he can stay healthy, Ryan may close out his career with 300+ home runs. I picked these up for .30 cents and realized that I had picked up the middle SP card not only once, not twice, but THREE times. Not the first time that’s happened. Ryan’s parents still live here in the Virginia Beach area and his mother used to come into my restaurant pretty frequently. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. You can learn more about the disease and help the cause through Ryan’s “ZiMS Foundation.”
David Wright is another local baseball star that I collect. I always said that I would never collect unlicensed brand cards like Donruss but these Wrights look so good that I had to pick them up. Wright was not on the Captain of the Mets but played 1,585 games across 14 seasons, with 1,777 hits and a .296 batting average. Spinal stenosis took him off of the field for the last two years but he remained firmly at the helm of the team from the dugout.
There is another show in a few weeks. We are getting a new driveway installed soon so the Wife has me on a budget. It’s a good thing I still have $59 in cash left over from this show.
This weekend I was finally able to get some downtime between work, a 3 year old and just life in general. After finding myself on the couch with nothing to do, I took a look at our DVR and saw that I had recorded the ESPN “30 for 30” episode where they explored Deion Sander’s 1992 season where he not only played baseball for the Atlanta Braves and football for the Atlanta Falcons but actually played a game for each on the same day. It was pretty good and there was a lot that I didn’t know about that particular part of his career. I enjoyed watching Deion play football but his petulant arrogance and incessant mouth-running never really generated any admiration from me.
Ironically, I have always been a big fan of Rickey Henderson who is also a character of arrogance and big-talk. I’m not sure why I have that double standard but I’ve always dismissed his antics as “Rickey just being Rickey”. There are many “Rickey stories” out there and none of them are particularly flattering. They are however, pretty entertaining.
Sunday I came across an article online where Rickey Henderson said he was hoping that Oakland’s top draft pick Kyler Murray would have chosen to come play baseball for the A’s instead of opting to play professional football. He said that in 1986, he had gone to the LA Raider’s owner Al Davis and asked him if he could play football. Davis agreed but the Oakland A’s put an end to that idea. Seeing Rickey suit up for the Raiders would have been exciting to watch.
I’ve decided that in 2019, I’m going to focus on a few “player collections”. I’ve had a few going over the years such as Gary Carter, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright. I’ll add Rickey Henderson, Adrian Beltre, Don Mattingly, and Harrison Bader. I also think I’m going to start a collection focused on great action shots of catchers, outfield catches, or maybe acrobatic double plays. I’ll save those ideas for another post in the future.
In the meantime, here are some of my favorite Rickey cards for your viewing pleasure.
1999 Topps Stadium Club – Of course I would pick one of Rickey’s Stadium Club cards to lead off. I’m a sucker for the photography and Stadium Club is just loaded with exceptional photos. This is my favorite of Rickey’s SC issues. I can’t tell if he’s on his way to swiping second or third base but I’m nearly certain, he was called safe. I love this card for so many reasons. First off, it’s Rickey doing what ultimately defined his career, stealing bases. I love the bright white, green, and gold uniform. I love the mid-stride action shot and how he’s only player in sight. The fact that this shot was taken during a sunny Oakland day game also helps. Rickey was a New York Met in 1999 so this shot was likely taken the year before when he was with the Oakland Athletics. Ironically, Rickey hated playing day games. Pitcher Tom Candiotti said, “We had a day game in Oakland, and Rickey struck out. He walked all the way through the dugout talking to himself, he always talked to himself. He was saying, ‘I don’t know who’s inside Rickey’s body, but he better get out because the guy in there doesn’t like day games, he only shows up on day games, so he better get out.'” Candiotti said that the entire dugout was screaming in laughter.
I love collecting the photo variations and short prints of past legends. Topps has done a nice job with doing this. Here are a few of my favorite Gypsy Queen Rickey cards as well as Rickey’s 2011 Topps Update “Legends Variation”.
1981 Fleer – As a kid in the 80’s, I knew Henderson only as a New York Yankee. I started collecting around 1986 and every Rickey card I had featured him in Yankee pinstripes. My grandparents lived next door to a family who had a kid that was a bit older than me and he had a shoe box full of mostly Fleer and Donruss cards from the early 80’s. I remember sorting through them one day and seeing these two cards of the 22 year old Henderson in his green Athletics uniform. I realized then that I would have known he was a former Athletic if I had ever bothered to read the stats on the back. From that point forward, I began looking at both sides of the cards. When you look at his 1981 season stats, you will see that Rickey lead the American League in runs scored (89), stolen bases (56), and hits (136). 89 runs scored and 56 stolen bases may not seem like a lot (he stole 100 bases in 1980) but 1981 was a strike-shortened season. This was also the year that the Athletics accounting department found their books off by about a million bucks. They actually had about 1 million MORE than they should have. They traced it back to Rickey’s million dollar bonus. Instead of cashing it, he framed it and hung it on his wall. Adding to the allure of this story, some sources state is was the Yankees who were missing the million bucks.
1992 Donruss – This set has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. In 1992, Donruss celebrated Rickey’s greatest achievement. On May 1, 1991, he stole his 938th career base; in doing so, he succeeded Lou Brock as baseball’s career stolen base leader. Henderson would end the 1991 season with 994 stolen bases. 1992 saw the Athletics finish first in the American League West with a record of 96-66. Their offense was centered around Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. The bulk of the Athletics’ 1992 accolades, however, went to closer Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley led baseball with 51 saves over the course of the season; in the process, he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.91 ERA. Eckersley’s efforts netted him both the 1992 AL Cy Young Award and the 1992 AL MVP Award. The mighty A’s would eventually fall to Toronto in the ALCS. In 1993 Henderson would find himself in a Toronto uniform and eventually a World Series champion. His Donruss base card puts you about as close as you can get to his record breaking signature head first slide on May 1, 1991. Here he is swiping 3rd against the New York Yankees. Seconds later, he would be called SAFE and as such; the all-time base thief. Now that I look at it, if it had been up to me, I would have used the base card as the “Highlight” card. The lime green and white batting gloves he’s sporting in that photo were a must-have for many little players that year. They were made by Mizuno and featured white leather with a lime green padding on the top. Very flashy and very expensive at the time. I had a pair thanks to Mom and Dad.
1987 Topps – The 1987 Topps set has always been a favorite of collectors. featuring the wood-grain borders and loaded with rookies and future Hall of Famers, there are about 25 cards in the set that have always been my favorites. The Henderson is one of them. I love the symmetrical cropping of the photo. Starting in the top left hand corner of the card, you can follow the Yankees logo right to his head, down his torso and all the way down to the bottom right hand corner of the card. Straight as an arrow. Kind of a weird thing to find appealing in a baseball card you’re probably thinking. Due to injuries and only playing in 95 games, 1987 was a below-average season for Henderson and drew public criticism from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It was the only season from 1980 – 1991 that he did not lead the league in steals. Harold Reynolds lead the league in steals with 60 and tells a funny story about a phone call he received one night from Rickey:
“The phone rings; ‘Henderson here.’ I say, ‘Hey, what’s going on, Rickey?’ (and I think he’s calling to congratulate me,) but he goes, ‘Sixty stolen bases? You ought to be ashamed. Rickey would have had 60 at the break.’ And then click, he hung up.”
1989 Topps & Traded – In 1989, the Yankees; uncertain whether Rickey Henderson was worth a new three-year contract and desperately in need of pitching, decided to send him back home to Oakland in exchange for pitchers Erik Plunk, Greg Caderet, and a speedy outfielder named Luis Polonia. Contractually, the Yankees needed Henderson’s approval prior to any trade and he said that Oakland was the only place he would go. Wasting no time after the mid-season trade, Henderson reasserted himself as one of the game’s greatest players, with a memorable half-season in which his 52 steals and 72 runs scored led the A’s into the postseason. The move back to Oakland proved to be a good one for Henderson as Oakland ended up in the World Series for the first time since 1974. Despite a devastating earthquake at the start of Game 3, the A’s would eventually go on to sweep the San Francisco Giants. Henderson hit .474 with an .895 slugging average (including two triples and a homer), while stealing three bases. Earlier that year on August 22, 1989, he became Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim, but Henderson took an odd delight in the occurrence, saying, “If you haven’t been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you’re nobody.”
1980 Topps (Rookie Card) – Rickey had no problem making a splash into major league baseball. At the age of 21, Rickey led the American League in stolen bases (100), was an All-Star, and helped lead the Athletics to a 2nd place finish. His rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby and it’s easy to see why. As kids, we all emulated his batting stance at one point or another. His signature fits nicely at the bottom of the card and even with a pen, you can tell Rickey was “flashy”. Check out his loopty-loop on the “y”. Ask any of his teammates how “flashy” Rickey is and they will likely tell you the same thing about his pre-game ritual. Since he broke into the league, before every game he plays, he stands completely naked in front of a full-sized mirror, points at himself and says “Rickey, you’re the best…” (over and over…)
1997 Topps Gallery – This 180 card set was released to hobby shops only and as I was heading off to college that year, I didn’t discover it until years later. Here we see Rickey in a Padres uniform. One can only assume he successfully nabbed second base from the New York Mets. That looks like second baseman Edgardo Alfonso in the picture. I believe this is Shea Stadium and after reviewing Alfonso’s 1996 game log, he played second base for the Mets against the Padres in the August 27-29 home stand. Looking at Henderson’s game logs, the only game he was in a situation to steal was the August 29th game. Paul Wilson would walk Rickey Henderson in the top of the 5th. With Tony Gwynn at the plate, Rickey swiped his 35th base of the season as catcher Todd Hundley’s throw comes in late. Gwynn would go on to poke a ground ball through the middle for a base hit, scoring Henderson. That same year, Rickey was caught speeding but not by an opposing catcher. It was actually a San Diego police officer. As he approached Henderson’s sports car, the driver’s side window slips down a few inches and a hand emerges with a $100 bill in it. The officer shook Rickey’s hand and sent him home (with his money) and a gentle warning.
One time, the Padres GM Kevin Towers was trying to contact Rickey at a nearby hotel. Not finding him checked in under his real name, Towers decided to think like Rickey and asked to be transferred to “Richard Pryor’s room”. Rickey picked up the phone.