Completed Set – 2017 Topps

I’m a “set” guy.  I like choosing a set and hunting down each piece of the puzzle. Admittedly, I’ve lost interest in completing a few of the recent sets I’ve set out to complete.  The Heritage sets with their high-number cards are just too much of  a challenge for my taste.  I prefer sticking to base sets with the exception of the Topps Gypsy Queen sets which have just the right amount of short-prints and variations to keep me interested.

With each new flagship Topps release, I will hand-collate the base set.  It usually takes me all year but I always manage to get it done before the World Series hits.  This year, as I slid the last card of the Topps Series 2 set into it’s final page sleeve I decided that I should do a blog post featuring my favorite 10 cards in the set.

The problem was, I had more than 10 cards that I wanted to feature.  Topps has come a long way with their flagship sets and the photography.  At one point in time, premium photography and exciting shots seemed to be reserved for the Stadium Club sets.  The 2017 Topps design is awesome and I really enjoyed putting this set together.  Here we will look at my top 15 cards in Series 1 and 2.

Once this post is finished, the cards will be taken back out of their pages, tucked into their respective “row” of a monster-box, labeled and up on the shelf they will go to sit and wait for the day they get broken back out to see the light of day.

The ritual drives my wife crazy.  That’s her problem though.

Without further ado, let’s get to the cards and we will fittingly start with #1 in Series 1.

01011121 (4)#1 – Kris Bryant – The Chicago Cubs World Series Champion and National League Most Valuable Player graces Card No. 1 and joins a long list of great players who have been represented on the first Topps card of the year from Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams to Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter. I’ve always loved the horizontal cards and Bryant was actually chosen by baseballs to get the coveted #1 card in this year’s release.  The one-week online vote occurred in October of last year where fans chose from a list of 16 nominees on Topps.com. Topps started the Vote for Card No. 1 in 2016 when Angels outfielder Mike Trout earned the honor in the inaugural vote.

01011121 (5)#236 – Lucas Duda – As a Met’s fan, we can start here.  I love the throwback Mets uniform in this shot and the fact that it’s not even Lucas Duda on the card.  The first time I pulled this card, I stared at it and knew something was off.  The photo is actually of utility player Eric Campbell who is not even playing in Major League Baseball anymore as he signed with the Hanshin Tigers last year.  The corrected version of the card was released in factory sets and the New York Mets team sets only.  I’ll track the corrected one down on the Bay at some point.

01011121#140 – Jesse Hahn – Here we have a nice crisp shot of the A’s starter.  For some reason,
I feel like cards with daytime photos shot in California always seem to have a “brighter” feel to them.   Check out any older A’s, Dodgers or Angels cards and you’ll see what I mean.  In this particular photo, Topps captured Hahn using one of the warm-up mounds in foul territory at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.  You can also see “Jacob Ellsbury” featured on the ticker tape scoreboard in the background.  This would likely date this photo as May 22, 2016 which was a day game against the New York Yankees.  The Bombers would go on to take that game 5-4 with Ellsbury using the 3rd inning to drop a Hahn fastball over the deep center-right field wall for a home run.

01011121 (6)#6 – Kevin Pillar –   Cards featuring plays at the plate are always popular with me.  I think the first play at the plate card I owned was the 1987 Topps Wally Backman.  Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.  Topps zeroed in on this July 7, 2016, sixth inning play at the plate as Detroit Tiger catcher James McCann tags out Toronto runner Kevin Pillar.  The Jays would go on to beat the Tigers 5-4 behind 3 RBI’s from Troy Tulowitzki.

01011121 (3)#133  -Jace Peterson – This is actually one of three really nice “double-dip” action shots in the set.  The Braves second-sacker has split most of the 2017 season between AAA Gwinnett.  A versatile player who can play all infield positions as well as the outfield, if he can perform at the plate, he will be a key player for Atlanta.

01011120 (7)#36 – Addison Russell – Probably one of the most notable cards of Series 1 due to the fact that this card (along with the Bryce Harper variation) were featured in most of Topps pre-release marketing.  Collectors were seemingly very familiar with it before the set was even released.  Despite that, it’s an awesome card.  The partial full-bleed design of the set works really well with this card.  I love the clarity of Russell and the base-runner against the blurred out background.  Very effective card that captures the moment.

01011120 (8)#443 – Dee Gordon – Here we have a great action shot featuring Gordon turning a graceful double-dip against the Phillies Cesar Hernandez.  This photo was from the September 18, 2016 game between the Marlins and Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park.   The Marlins would take this game from the Phils by a score of 5-4.  In addition to a slick-fielding lead off hitter, Gordon is known also as the son of former Royals and Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon.  I will always remember the emotional lead off home run he hit in his first at bat after the untimely passing of teammate Jose Fernandez.

01011121 (2)#251 – Justin Turner – As Justin Turner played here locally in 2009 & 2010 with the Norfolk Tides; I’ve followed Justin Turner’s career pretty closely over the years.  After being let go by the Mets in 2013 as just one of the many bone-headed moves by Met’s general manager Sandy Alderson (how does that guy still have a job?), Turner rebuilt his swing and overall approach at the plate and is currently an All-Star as well as one of the most feared hitters in the league.  Imagine a Met’s infield with Turner at third and Murphy at second.  I not only love the photography on his 2017 card, but I think it looks great in the sideways landscape format.  This photo is from the June 17, 2016 game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers and features Turner celebrating his walk-off RBI single which won the game in the 10th inning.  He had also tied the game in the 8th with two run homer.

01011119#581 – Brock Holt – Another great landscape shot from Topps.  Featuring Brock Holt warming up between innings or before a game, you see a beautiful sky in the background as well as the telltale signs of the iconic Fenway Park.  I can actually imagine myself sitting in the front row at this game.

01011120 (6)#350 – David Ortiz – As Nick over at the Dime Box baseball card blog would call it, this is Ortiz “sunset card”.  Topps did a fine job of capturing Ortiz’ graceful swing launching of his last home runs into the bleachers at Fenway Park.  This photo was taken on July 26, 2016 in the third inning and happens to be a 3 run homer.  San Francisco Giants catcher   Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also featured in the photo.  An absolute first ballot Hall of Famer, Ortiz has been a fan-favorite for years and will go down as one of the most beloved Red Sox players.  I have to admit, I’m huge Ortiz fan and this card marks the end of a career that was thrilling to watch every step of the way.  I’m still on the hunt for a copy of his 2013 Topps SSP “Boston Strong” card.

01011120 (5)#508 Hanley Ramirez – Topps really outdid themselves with the Red Sox cards this year as their are so many great shots of them.  Here is another great landscape shot featuring Hanley Ramirez watching his 7th inning home run against the Blue Jays on October 2, 2016.  I love how the catcher and the umpire are both featured in this card as well.   Despite the efforts of Ramirez, Toronto would go on to win the game 2-1 and clinch the Wild Card spot.  Coincidentally, this game was also the last home game of Big Papi’s career.

01011120 (4)

#324 Ben Revere – Taking a break from the BoSox, let’s move over to the Washington Nationals and take a look at this great shot of speedy outfielder Ben Revere robbing Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman of a home run during the fourth inning of their August 19, 2016 match up.  You can watch a video clip of the grab HERE.  The Nats would go on to take this one from the Braves 7-6.  This grab was one of the few bright spots in Revere’s season and 2016 would be his only season with the Nationals.  He was picked up by the Los Angeles Angels this past December.

01011120 (2)#520 Andrelton Simmons – Topps took advantage of the flame throwing backdrop of Angels Stadium to capture Simmons celebrating a double.  Simmons was traded to Los Angeles from Atlanta last November so this is his first card in an Angels uniform.

01011119 (6)#669 Corey Kluber – If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to stare down the pipe of a Kluber fastball, this would probably be a pretty accurate example.  This photo was from the 2016 ALDS matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe would go on to take the game from the Jays 2-0.  2017 has seen Kluber be as good as any pitcher in the game could be and the Indians are currently leading their division by 8 games.  This year I put my Cy Young bets on Kluber or Chris Sale.

01011119 (5)#576 Russell Martin – Topps has made a concerted effort to feature key moments from the prior season and this card is exemplary of that effort.  Here we have a a close play at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the explosive 2016 ALDS between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays.  After a lead off double by Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre hit into a fielder’s choice leading to Desmond being tagged out at the plate.  This was the second meeting between the Blue Jays and the Rangers in the postseason, the first being the 2015 American League Division Series in which the Blue Jays defeated the Rangers after losing the first two games at home, which was marked by a controversy-laden deciding Game 5 defined by José Bautista’s bat flip.  It was also the first series between the two teams since May 15, a game which featured multiple bench clearing skirmishes and the infamous Rougned Odor punch of Bautista.

That’s it for the Top 15 cards of the 2017 Topps Series 1 & 2 set.  I’ve just completed a nice 1978 Topps set so I’ll likely get started on a Top 10 list of those cards as well.

Have a great Labor Day everyone.

 

J.C. Martin

As the remnants of tropical storm Hermine were approaching the Hampton Roads area and leaving no doubt that we were going to have a very wet and windy Labor Day weekend, I had anticipated knocking off a handful of tasks from my “to-do list” while we hunkered down.   What I failed to consider was that almost all of those tasks required electricity.  An entire Saturday with no power slowed me down a little bit but I still managed to get most of my chores done for the weekend.  This blog post was the last on the checklist.

Before I get to my latest through-the-mail-autograph success, let me tell you about the time I took my father-in-law to one of our local AAA baseball games.  As the players were warming up, he looked at the first base line and asked me what the chalk line just outside of the first base line was.  I had always just known it as the “runner’s lane”.  I told him from what I had been told, as the runners ran to first base, they were supposed to run between the baseline and the outer line.  Per the official rule (Rule 6.05K actually); if a runner is within the runner’s lane and is struck by a thrown ball (usually by the catcher), he cannot be called out for interference.  As we watched, we saw that very few of the players adhered to the rule and who can blame them really.

02181101 (2)As a batter leaves the batter’s both, he usually runs directly to the bag which is in FAIR TERRITORY.  This makes the most sense as the runner’s lane is in FOUL TERRITORY.  Given the fact that the shortest distance from point “A” to point “B” is a straight line and using the runner’s lane would require the batter to veer off to the right side of the line, why would they use the runner’s lane?  I could see it for a left handed batter who leaves the box on that side of the base line anyways, but had a hard time catching a right-handed batter using the lane at all.

Anyways, we could sit here all night and look at scenarios where the runner either should, or should not be called out for being struck by a thrown ball but I’d rather chat about the Ron Lewis postcard that Mr. Martin was kind enough to sign for me.  After all, it was Mr. Martin that was involved in the play that resulted in the runner’s lane being added to all baseball fields.

After being an integral part of the Chicago White Sox (1959-1967), Martin was traded to the New York Mets in 1968 to serve as a backup catcher to Jerry Grote.  It was in the 1969 NLCS that Martin found himself pinch hitting in the 8th inning for Tom Seaver and driving in Al Weis and Ed Kranepool.  That five-run eighth inning helped the Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves by a score of 9-5.  The Mets went on to sweep the Braves on their way to the World Series.

In game 4 of that series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, with the Mets leading two games to one, Martin was involved in the play that changed the baseball diamond forever.  With the game tied 1–1 in the bottom of the 10th and pinch-runner Rod Gaspar on second base, Martin squared a bunt back to the pitcher’s mound.  Baltimore pitcher Pete Richert scooped up the ball and threw to first base.  The ball struck Martin on the left wrist and caromed towards the dugout.  The errant throw allowed Gaspar to score the winning run.  02181101 (3)

Replays later showed that Martin was running inside the baseline and because of this, could have been called out for inference.   Stating that Martin did not intentionally interfere with the play, the umpires stood by their call.  Martin was awarded first-base, Gaspar scored, and the Mets would later go on to defeat the Orioles in that World Series,

It was this play that resulted in the running lane that extends from halfway down the first-base line to the bag to be added to all major league fields.

I’m excited to add these two Martin signatures to my collection and am always happy to learn interesting facts about players of the past.

 

 

The “Say Hey Kid” comes to Norfolk

01231201Growing up here in the Hampton Roads area, I have always been a fan of our local triple-A baseball team.  Up until 2007, the Tidewater Tides served as the AAA farm team for the New York Mets.  That partnership lasted 38 years.   Dropping the “Tidewater”, the team is now called the Norfolk Tides and is serving as the AAA farm team for the Baltimore Orioles.  As a kid growing up in the 80’s, I attended many games with my parents and grandparents.  I became a Mets fan solely because I could turn on the TV and tune in to the Mets game and see some of the same guys that I had once seen play here locally.  If you look back through the 38 year relationship between the Tides and the Mets, it’s amazing to see just how many players came through this area on their way to the big leagues.

I happened to also love press photos – don’t ask me why.  A few months ago I came across this pretty cool piece of Willie Mays playing an exhibition game against the Tidewater Tides on June 8, 1979 at the old Metropolitan Stadium.  Mays of course had been retired for 6 years at that point and was serving as a coach.  After being brought into town to help boost ticket sales, he was given 2 at bats and stroked a pair of singles to help the Mets to an 8-6 victory over the Tides.  The ’79 Mets team, led by Joe Torre was less than stellar.  Posting a 63-99 record, their efforts were good enough for a 6th place division finish.

In regards to Metropolitan Stadium (or “Met Park” as the locals used to call i
t); it was torn
down in 1991 to make way for a fancy-shmancy USAA Insurance building (my buddy works there).  The Tidewater Tides were moved south to the banks of the Elizabeth River where their new home would be called Harbor Park.  They dropped the “Tidewater” and are now known as just the “Norfolk Tides”. As a little-league player, I had actually attended a few baseball camps at Met Park.  It’s hard to believe I’ve stood in the same batter’s box as the great Willie Mays.

Below are two shots of Met Park.  The shot on the left looks to be from the ’60’s I would guess.  The shot on the right was taken in the winter of ’91 just before it was torn it down.

MET PARKMET PARK LAST DAYS

 

 

 

Gary “The Kid” Carter

01011101I’m finally getting around to another Gary Carter post.  Quite ironic as the original intent of this entire blog was to give me an online spot to showcase and discuss my Carter collection.  I’ve been collecting anything and everything pertaining to Gary Carter since I guess around 1987.  Needless to say, I have quite a collection.

My wife thinks its weird and I think she felt I crossed the line when I bought a polo shirt that Gary had worn at one of his charity golf tournaments.  She wants to know why I’m buying clothes worn by other men.

She clearly doesn’t “get it”.

 

One of my favorite pieces is this post card of Gary.  The painting was done in 1989 by Jeffrey Rubin and was featured in a book containing about 25 other baseball related post cards.  The book was released in 1990 and simply carries the title of “Baseball”.  I received the book as a gift from my parents for Christmas.  I’ve since lost most of the other cards in the book.  This one survived the past 26 framed and displayed proudly on a bookshelf.

Card collectors will instantly recognize the image as it is also featured on Gary’s 1989 Score baseball card.  I may be biased, but I think that card is one of the more iconic cards of that set.

Terry Collins – New York Mets Manager

Let’s wrap up this Friday evening with another Mets post.

Cameron received a great return TTM this afternoon from current New York Mets manager Terry Collins.  The inscription reads – “To Cameron – A real fan – Terry Collins”

I’ve always liked Collins and his managerial style.  01181201
With his old-school attitude, he’s an every-man’s manager and isn’t afraid to stick his neck out for the team.  This is especially important for someone managing in a city where the media can be absolutely ruthless.  Collins has been described as a “working stiff just happy to be working.”  It doesn’t hurt that he’s actually pretty good at it too.  As a respected baseball “lifer” he knows that every decision he makes as the skipper of a big league club is expected to be made with the intent of only one outcome – winning.

Critics will always call into question his 2015 World Series Game 5 decision to leave Matt Harvey in to pitch the 9th.  Harvey went on to give up 2 runs and the Mets lost the game. The logical decision would have been to bring in the closer Familia to toss the 9th.  Would the ending have been any different?  Even with a Mets game 5 win, the series was headed back to Kansas City for a game 6 and 7 anyways.  What were the odds that the Royals would lose those two games at home?  Probably slim to none.  So with that being said, you learn from the past and you move on.  2016 is a new year.  Hopefully we will see the post-season again and the outcome will be different.

I recently read an article in which Collins stated that the game has changed so much over the years and it is now a “young man’s game”.  He was referring to the technology, charts, and advanced statistics  that have taken over the game.  “I’m not sure how much an old-school guy can add to the game today” he said.

Later in the interview, Mr. Collins remarked, “I’m not going to sit there today and look at all of these (expletive) numbers and try to predict this guy is going to be a great player. OPS this. OPS that. GPS. LCSs. DSDs. You know who has good numbers? Good (expletive) players.”

Well said Terry, well said.

 

Bob Friend – Practice Makes Perfect…

My son Cameron just turned 1 last week and what a crazy year it has been!  It’s been fun watching his personality start to develop as he grows into a little person.  I’ve always been a “planner” so I’ve certainly got my eyes on the future for him.  We’ve set up his savings
01081202account already, the college fund is up and running, and I’m debating on whether or not I should just go ahead and start now teaching him to hit from both sides of the plate.  Being a switch hitter may generate more baseball-scholarship dollars one day.  All jokes aside (not really) and without even knowing whether or not he will ever like baseball, I decided to start a little project for him.

I started writing baseball players letters back when I was 9 years old.  My first “success” was a postcard from Johnny Bench with his signature printed on it.  I still have it and even though it’s not a real signature, it’s still one of my favorite pieces.

After looking at a stack of 8×10 photos of baseball players, I decided to mail a few off to some retired players.  My note explained that I planned on giving the photo to my son one day.  I asked the player to personalize the photo and make a short inscription.  Mr Friend was happy to oblige and personalized this photo of him at Shea Stadium in 1966.  He wrote:  “To Cameron – Practice Makes Perfect – NLAS ’56, ’58, ’60 – Good Luck”.  The return is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to give it to Cam one day.   Mr Friend is a great through-the-mail signer.  This request took 5 days to get back to me.

Bob Friend is nicknamed “The Warrior” as he averaged 39 starts per season between ’56 through ’60.  1955 was unique in that Friend posted a 14-9 record for the Pittsburg Pirates and led the National League in ERA with 2.83.  He was the first ever pitcher to do so for a dead-last team.

Being credited with wins in the ’55 and ’56 All Star Games, Friend shares the record for most All Star Games won.  His ’55 start saw him strike out Mantle, Berra, and Williams.

It was an unfortunate turn of events in the ’60 World Series where the Yankees got the best of him in both of his starts as well as a save opportunity.  Game 7 saw Friend being called in from the bullpen to preserve a 9-7 lead in the ninth.  Friend gave up singles to Bobby Richardson and Dale Long when manager Danny Murtaugh replaced him with Harvey Haddix.  Haddix then proceeded to give up a single to Mantle, scoring Richardson and advancing Long.  A grounder by Berra scored Long tying the game 9-9.

Of course, the ending of this game is well-known and regarded by some as “the greatest game ever played.”  It was Bill Mazeroski who faced Ralph Terry in the top of the 10th with the score tied.  It was a 1-2 fastball that Maz sent sailing over the wall in left, crowning the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Champions.  The Series of 1960 would go down as Mantle’s “biggest disappointment in his career.”

One of the most durable pitchers of his time, Friend averaged 232 innings pitched and 13 victories for 15 years.  Had those numbers not been for some of the worst teams in baseball, Friend would likely be in the Hall of Fame.

Top of the First…

Well…here I am.  After spending years poking around other people’s baseball blogs, I have finally decided to dive in and start my own.

I’ve attempted to get this first blog post up and running for 2 days now but have been plagued with a slight case of writer’s-block.  I’ve decided to approach this first post as a lead-off hitter would approach his at-bat.  I’ll step in, work the pitcher a little bit and just poke one through for a base hit.

I can tell you, the blog at this point has no real “theme”.  I assume it will unintentionally gravitate towards the following topics:  The New York Mets, collecting cards and autographs, and baseball history.

MAYSLet’s lead it off by wishing Mr. Willie Mays a very happy 85th birthday.

“They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.” – Ted Williams

Mays was born in Westfield Alabama on May 6, 1931.  At age 16, Mays starred for the Birmingham Barons of the Negro League.  In 1950, the New York Giants placed Mays in their center field and the rest is history.

His rookie season, Mays hit 20 home runs and drove in 68 runs earning NL Rookie of the Year honors.  1952-1953 was spent serving our country with the US Army.  The 1954 season enjoyed watching Mays win the batting title with a .345 average, 41 home runs and 110 runs batted in.  That was also the year the Giants took the NL Pennant and Mays dazzled the world with “the catch.”

Mays finished up his career with a .302 batting average, 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, 24 All Star Game appearances, 2 NL MVP awards, and 12 Gold Gloves.

So there you have it.  The first post is complete.  I guess there was a good reason it took me two days to find the right thing to write about.

I can’t think of a better “lead-off” post than Willie Mays.