Sunday, March 1, 2020

Backs in the day

Well I have certainly been looking forward to ripping this particular 'pack' of cards, that is for sure.

1971 marked a bit of a turning point for baseball cards; most any one interested enough in baseball cards to be reading an obscure baseball card blog already knows all that. The Munson card, etc., etc.

This then begged a certain question - where would Topps put the 'historically correct' cards in the Heritage version of the set? Clearly there would be a take on the Munson card; the Lowell Palmer / Pat Neshek card in 1970 / 2019 Heritage made that plain enough.

But for some time now, Topps has been adding the "value" that the Lottery Ticket Scratchers, err, "collectors" demand in their boxes of baseball cards by including a certain totally a-historical card in Heritage sets: the super short printed / photo variation "Action" cards.

Would the historical styled cards just be issued as deliberately super short printed cards? Or might they be just issued as part of the 100 card "short print" portion of the checklist, which no longer has any correlation to the issue sequence &/or basic quantity made of the historical sets, only some of which had exceptionally scarce cards usually referred to as "high numbers."

So....let's rip the pack.

First card, best card? Well, this was the first bit of baseball card I could see as I opened the pack. Given the current news in MLB, I thought it was pretty cool to see this particular card, first, sorta. And this was quite surprising to me, because although I own very few 1971 Topps Baseball cards, the relatively sparse info backs weren't ones that particularly made me think - yeah, I'm gonna buy some 2020 Heritage and read all those dark card backs.

And what's that I see down in the left corner? A fleck of white? My uber-valuable baseball card is already ruint, before I even get to take it to the bank. Thanks, Topps.

This particular card back is a bit of a classic effort by Topps - talk up something that can be seen in a picture of a baseball player, and then no way, no how, use such a picture on a baseball picture card that might match the text. Oh, well.

But this was a nice surprise, and an initial answer to my key question: this certainly appears to be a picture from a Major League Baseball game. You won't see a back wall like that on a spring training field. There is no way to be sure on all that, but this is a nice portrait card that is probably also a live action shot, and this is not from the Short Print portion of the checklist, nor is this a special value added 'Action' card; those have a printed text notation of that word right on the back of the card now. Topps 1, Card Cynic 0.

But let's move on to the card that was on the 'top' of the stack of baseball cards, i.e. the one facing right-side up:

These particular cards make me so mad I want to fling them away from me like a frisbee, which is why I will hold that Fiers card in my thoughts of First Card in this product. I think we are up to about 5 years of seeing Red Sox players standing on this exact same spot on so many of their baseball cards. We all know that 1960s sets, and large portions of 1970s sets, were created with photos taken at Spring Training. But those original sets didn't feature entire teams of players all standing on the same spot to have their picture taken, and definitively did not feature that photo composition strategy for years on end. The Red Sox + the bushes has been running for some time now; I actually preferred the run of years when their players stood by a chain link fence, which made for a more menacing card. But some other teams, such as the Tigers, have had repeat backdrops running on for quite a few more years than these (in)famous Red Sox shrubs. And don't even get me started on the summation of the 2019 Eddie Rosario card and the 2020 Eddie Rosario card, which I have seen elsewhere already. Topps 1, Card Cynic -1.

This card creates an instant baseball question: how good will the White Sox be this year? This is what I want from a pack of baseball cards. I particularly like the back of this card:

Now that is how to do a Leaders card. Don't mess around, just give me the top 50 players for that stat. Simple, to the point, very, very informative. I would very much like to see this straight up copied in a Topps Baseball set in the 2020s; Top 10 is nice, but Top 50 is nicer. Topps 2, Card Cynic -1.

You can always tell, in a Topps Baseball set, which teams are down in the cellars of the Leagues. Simply by how many of their cards you pull featuring players you have never heard of. It seems like just yesterday I was adding yet another Chance Cisco card to my pile of "should I save this?" baseball cards. I think, for those Cisco cards, Topps just answered the question for me. Plus, I like a good old fashioned blurry empty seats card, an image that can pretty much only be seen on Topps baseball cards, and is also one that I don't associate with 59 other Orioles Heritage/Archives cards from the last oh so many years. This card also makes me look forward to finding a Giants, O's, Marlins, or Pirates player wearing their Home Alternate uniform. Topps 3, Card Cynic -1.

Meh. But, actually, not really. This card will help me quite a bit in considering the Houston Astros, going forward - none of these players could have been involved in the recent cheating, for one, so they will give me some tiny bit of bright spot to look forward to in Astros box scores. I also had a good friend named Rogelio, once upon a time, though he was from Mexico. That makes me always root for the Mexican players in MLB, so it is a bit of bummer that Señor Armenteros there is from Cuba. But I will root for him anyway. Also of note on this card is the home of that imposing looking young third baseman there, but I will leave that for you to discover on the back of your own baseball card. Maybe, he will end up on your team soon enough, considering that a Rookie has little chance of taking a spot from a young almost-MVP, even a young, now hated almost-MVP. Topps 4, Card Cynic -1.

I have pretty much already pulled this card in a previous pack of Topps Baseball cards, and that made me mad.

This is where the laziness of the Topps Photo Day shots really wear out collectors - when you also collect Archives. Which is unfortunate, because players with a big smile always make for good baseball cards, so I like this particular player for that reason and I do want to collect his baseball cards. This particular back drop for Braves cards goes back a solid ten years or so. Topps 4, Card Cynic -3.

Plenty of Giants cards from their "spot." Topps 4, Card Cynic -4. I am going to quit posting these cards. Note that is just a white team name, not a deliberate artificial scarcity value added card, which feature team names printed in silver, for you to chase and give away your money for not much, really.

Now we are starting to cook with some gas. A nice bright live action baseball card, with some really strong lines to the image, too, though only the best we can get for a rare Ball Boy cameo in the ever blurrier 21st century. And my first Tigers, card, sort of, though Cron only has a one year deal with the Tigers, who are fielding 5 such veterans this year all on one year deals, which makes rooting for their results about completely pointless.

On the Cron card I don't quite understand the off-set placement of the facsimile signature; one of the historical-set-mimic-deliberate-errors this year features a poorly placed sig like this one, on the Yordan Alvarez Rookie Cup card. But there is no magic word 'error' in the official spot just above the player picture on the back of the card, so this card is worth essentially 0¢. But, this is the kind of card I was hoping to pull from this pack, and indeed, will be keeping in a binder page prison for all eternity, just to look at some contemporary players on a vintage design.

I will update the score methodology in the pack now - Pose 4, Action 2 (recall Fiers card).

mmmm, so thirsty. I bought this pack of baseball cards instead of a six pack, but I do like King of Beers cards, even though I hardly ever drink that beer, or even buy beer any more, as currently I would have to choose between beer and baseball cards in life due to a # of swings and misses at work, so I am starting to have a love/hate relationship going with this card. But it will have a binder page slot some day too, though not with other 2020 Heritage cards. Pose 4, Action 3.

I think this card is probably a night card. What is also nice about this card is that Allard was traded to Texas last summer. But Topps didn't mess around with simply photoshopping Kolby into a T-for-Texas ball cap and a road grey uni. Or maybe they have updated their PhotoShop license and are now much, much better at such efforts. Still, another type of card I am looking for in my Topps Baseball sets. New team, new uniform (Road Alternate, no less - very nice on vintage designs), new bit of player bio on the back. +1 in the Topps score above. That Greek symbology on the bottom of the card though - what's up with that? Pose 4, Action 4.

I like this posed card quite a bit. A good smile makes a good baseball card. It has a familiar Spring Training vibe to it, but I haven't seen this photo spot 592 times before, neither. And I like those nice perfectly landscaped small trees showing off their Spring colors, too - a perfect card to pull this time of year, writing a blog post and listening to a Spring Training broadcast (I recommend absorbing a bunch of those this week, just in case). I also particularly like that Topps oh so carefully placed the signature reproduction; maybe that is a good sign for other cards in other sets, going forward, as otherwise Topps semi-routinely has players sign their names on cards right over dark uniform, etc., spots in the image, and they didn't exactly ace this detail on that C.J. Cron card. On this card, someone deep in the Topps baseball card mines showed they still care about the final result, on-card. So another +1 for Topps vs. Cynic, though I skipped over 3 other posed cards. Pose 8, Action 4.

Normally, a cap-less baseball card indicates a 1960s Topps Baseball card and they are a bit on the rare side outside of that decade, 'cepting of course their Heritage repros. But also normally, a cap-less baseball card indicates a posed card. Not so here. Also probably a night card - night cards and 1971 Topps Baseball - an interesting combo. I will be watching (my baseball cards).

That particular image of the card amuses me a little; mine is far more well centered but I could not get it to scan straight without the instant cupping of brand new Topps Baseball cards making for crooked scans. Finally I gave up and borrowed someone else's scan from eBay. But that particular copy certainly has more authentic vintage appearance than mine does, though none of my vintage cards have ever curled up and refused to lay flat on a scanner bed the way so many of my brand new baseball cards do lately.

I don't know much about Josh VanMeter, but the Reds are expected to possibly 'make some noise,' as they say, in the NL Central this year, so seeing their new baseball players is why I buy baseball cards. One intriguing little factoid about VanMeter I did just learn is this: he has exactly zero Bowman baseball cards already created. Must be a walk-on. Perhaps, future baseball cards will enlighten me. Pose 8, Action 5.

I am thinking this might be the first baseball card that says "Mad Max" on it, so straight into my little Nifty Nine collection of Max Scherzer cards this will go; and I expect it might stay there over time as though I like Max, I don't really need more than 9 of his nifty baseball cards to keep for all-time.

I am guessing Topps is having one of their mis-adventures with filters here, trying to give a vintage feel for how early 1970s Topps was able to handle cards photographed at night, or something. So perhaps a newer, better, stronger 'Mad Max' card will some day displace this one. I pulled one other NLCS card in this pack and it looks just like this one; I think on balance I would rather just have an un-processed image, whether that matches up to the vintage set or not. Because the image processing is rather obvious, and deliberate here.

But what I really like about this card is once again on the back:

Again I like the simple, old school take on the results of a baseball game, although this almost-complete box score gives the Pitchers exactly bupkis here, outside of their At Bats at least. I was writing about a 2013 Postseason card on the Sea Turtle blog the other day; this vintage Topps approach is far superior. Given how many cards Topps makes these days, what I would like to see in a future Topps Baseball set for a post-season card is simply a nice, detailed box score, as they are created today. There is plenty of room on the back of a 2.5" x 3.5" baseball card for that, particularly with 21st century printing technology and an ability to handle any font at any size. Such an effort _could_ fit, and this card back does have a lot of wasted space. But overall, I will quite a bit look forward to pulling some World Series cards from 2020 Heritage and reading those, rather than the ones I have yet to see in 2020 Series One.

No score update for that card; I pulled 5 cards of the 20 that were either Leaders, multi-Rookies, or PostSeason cards which aren't relative to the pose/action mix. The actual final was Pose 10, Action 5, Tattoos 6 — a bit of a Tattoo hot pack, this one.

And I did not pull any Inserts or Short Prints or Super Short Print "Action" cards - just 20 base cards - when was the last time you purchased a Topps package of some sort and found Zero inserts?

So that basic mix of cards is some pretty good news for me, and I will kind of collect some 2020 Topps Heritage. The basic news on the product remains the same: 400 base cards, 100 short prints. Which is something created by Topps changing to 100 card sheets in about 2015; having 100 short prints probably makes production quite a bit easier than 425 base + 75 sp.

But that makes for one heckuva expensive set of baseball cards, for this decidedly non-professional collector. So I already know I just don't have an option to attempt to collect this entire set, really, given how much it would cost to track down 100 short prints. I would say Heritage is perhaps a "mid-end" baseball card product, rather than a "low end" product which I normally collect due to cost. Though I have always liked 1971 Topps Baseball cards, the actual result of the creation of the 2020 Topps Heritage set finds me just, kind of complacent, I guess.

Ultimately, the repetitive nature of a large portion of the cards kind of helps me out - I don't really need page after page of the same card, over and over again, so I am not particularly disappointed that I can't actually collect this set. But at the same time, the amount of action cards sprinkled through the checklist - (the Munson card is indeed recreated, though I have yet to see who has the Topps Rookie Cup for a Catcher this year) - well, I will have something to look forward to when I casually add a pack of this to my grocery cart over the next year or so. And perhaps as I look to collect a little more carefully in my future, prioritizing cards based on how many binders of baseball cards I really want to own, the crazy nature of 'added value' and manufactured scarcity and the way so many of my fellow hobbyists really collect $$ signs, not baseball cards, well perhaps in Heritage now that works to my advantage. I can take what I need from a few nice memory making cards, and leave the rest. Which should probably work fine for the Psychedelic Tombstones next year, too, particularly as all the live baseball action will be corralled in a subset.

But I only have four years to save up for the Heritage set I really, really want...

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

falling out on the 2nd date

I really liked the brand new Topps Big League in it's Rookie Year, 2018. I never did get much of a chance to show off many favorites from it, but perhaps I will try and work it into the Nifty Nine series as it starts making its way into some binder pages. It is easily my favorite 'grey' set I have ever collected.

This past year, I thought it hit a sophomore slump a fair bit. I am trying hard to quit writing about 2019 as "this year." Maybe the start of some live baseball games in a few more days will help that along.

Actually, I liked most things about 2019 Big League. The Nickname / Player's Weekend cards returned, but I am working on that set and will throw those up on a brag blog post, someday.

The design was basically nice too. I like diagonals on cards; 2020 will be a good year for me re-living all those 1985 Topps cards. I don't quite get the need for that extra little triangle of photograph, or the fairly superfluous section/row/seat ticket stub conceit. We use barcodes on our 'phones' to get in the big league game these days, Topps.

I liked the wood grain framing quite a bit - really, I wished there was a little bit more space to show it off on the front. On the back, it made for one of the purdiest card backs I have seen in quite a while:

Here the lumber really looks just exactly perfect, and the random Did You Know? feature returned. Those mostly useless random little factoids appear at the price of Full Stats, but how many people just collect one small set of baseball cards these days? Full Stats appear on plenty of other cards, and though if I were in charge, the regulation Topps Baseball set would have them every year, as they do re-appear in 2020 Series One. But how else could Bo Diddley, Aristotle, and Twilight movies make it on to the back of a baseball card?

Another nice feature on the back is the nifty team logo/graphic you just kind of expect to see on a baseball card. But seeing it all nice and crisp on the back informs probably the biggest reason I'm not collecting this release hardly at all:

After who knows how many years, we finally get a pennant on a baseball card again, but I don't like it. Too dark. That simple. Ironically, as I move now into a stack of cards from this set I do like, the pennant on that one is too 'royal' blue - dark; the portion of the pennant around the logo has to be purposely lightened to make the logo more visible, a process which fails for many other teams.  And the just exactly perfect light and shading, as if the sun was shining on the pennant and then casting a shadow on the baseball player photo below - overkill. Just ditch all that dark on baseball card design; leave that to the cards shot on a twi-night double header, or at night - and then they look real, real, nice with some nice bright baseball card graphics, like this card could have, without that odd area of dark graphics down in the low left corner dragging everything else into it's darkness.

Salvy's batting helmet there isn't that dark. Big league teams don't use dark shaded colors all that much in uniform and logo choices; Milwaukee just ditched their dark navy blue uniforms for this year for example. I think only Minnesota and San Diego persist with the navy these days, and maybe road alternates for the Yankees.

Ahh, well, I will try to stick to what I did like for the most part. I like bubble gum cards:

Those last 2 cards were the 'Gold' parallel. I like them well enough, though I wish I could pull only the Golds for the cards I like, or only the base version. Having to mix them together later will make me crabby.
I especially like "In Action" bubble gum cards. 

Now if only this pack of baseball cards had bubble gum in it, too — considering the price point, and some of the design themes of the inserts, and even some of the photo choices, like these bubble gum cards (2018 had several as well, but I can't recall any in S1/S2 for a couple years now), well in theory this set is aimed at kids. So it would seem to be the perfect place for Topps to return to issuing bubble gum with their baseball cards. Instead in the 2020 set, some packaging format will come with an MLB toy of some sort. I have been avoiding looking at the details - so ripping that first pack this summer will be so much more enjoyable.

One checklist feature Big League has that has been missing from Topps Baseball for many years now are Leaders cards:
After lo these many years, Joey Votto finally got his due in the 2018 set, though I wasn't able to pull that card this year. Big League really likes the Leader, err, Stat Kings, cards, and issues many for categories never seen in the history of baseball cards, like that one.

But I like some of the throwback Stat Kings cards, for categories that have existed on Leader cards in previous decades, but not consistently:
Of course, only us old-timers would even know what trying to use the word "Fireman" about this card would mean; let's not confuse the 21st Century kids too much now. But when I was a kid, I always looked forward to pulling this card -
Though any more in MLB 'action', the idea of a Stolen Base might start to confuse the kids. And how does Trea Turner steal a base with a bat in his hand? Is the game turning violent now?

Leader cards are a subset of course, and a traditional one. 

I mentioned the inserts - me likey, mostly, this year:

These somehow again make me want to chew some bubble gum, perhaps because I'm just barely smart enough to stay away from the cotton candy level of sugary stuff these days. But I like the simplistic stuff, sometimes; on that Trout card I like the Catcher's mitt now captured in a graphic bubble. I don't need 25x copies of simple, so when this little pile of cards reaches 9, that will be nifty.

I will finish that one out, however. Perhaps more for the photo effect laying over the outfield wall advertising? I like these kinds of cards mixed into my base sets, but I like them here, all gathered together in one place, too. 

In general, the photo selection in Big League is not all that different from the Topps Baseball set each year, and that's OK. Pictures of baseball players playing baseball are why I buy baseball cards. Big League does have one big advantage in that approach, seen on this card:
What I mean here is something that flows from Big League's mid-summer release date - the players who changed teams since the previous season now appear in their new duds, no Photoshopping required. Though of course fancy software was needed to first make a grey pennant so that it could then be artsy-fartsied into making it look like a fluttering pennant and have differing levels of shade and sunshine on it. And then somehow the team with the darkest secondary team color - black - now has the lightest of all the pennants in the set; go figure. A straight black pennant with the Sox logo would look far more striking, especially with the nice colorful Sox Throwback uniform on this card.

And I always like a nice Throwback card, like this one:

Which does make me look forward to seeing some video from Maryville here in a week or so. Let's hope 2020 Big League realizes how just exactly perfect the logo there on Chacin's cap really is and skips the busybody approach to it taken by 2020 Series One.

The Chacin photograph there was probably created at home in Miller Park; the bright powder blue & yellow popping out all over the card probably save it from my other more-than-just-nagging problem with this set - washed out photos:

That one has a good chance to have originated in a photo in Miller Park too (Yadi is wearing his road greys under the catcher gear), on a day when the roof was closed perhaps. 
(another Miller Park card)

I'm not sure what got into the baseball card creation system at Topps in 2019, but it sure seemed to churn out too high a % of these odd washed out baseball cards, sometimes even on the nice sunny baseball day cards.

Once more, another oh well - too many of those as you paw through a pack of baseball cards and you will look at all the other options on the baseball card shelf the next time you are standing in front of it. I do look forward to seeing Big League on the shelf again 4-5 months from now; I think it has a higher chance than most sets of including a playful card, like this one:

Which unfortunately is not my card, but considering the talk of MLB as Spring Training begins, I thought you might enjoy knowing it is in the set. I got a kick out of seeing in in some listings the other day, but am not that invested in the whole affair generating all the buzz. But if I had pulled that card, I would be keeping one.

I did keep this card, nearly 45 years after I first pulled a card featuring this All-Time Great from a pack -

Perhaps Hammerin' Hank has appeared on other cards that honor the recipient of the award named after him; I'm not sure. But to see him just on a base card rather than some fancy insert, etc., is just a nice touch in this set.

I just never know, opening a pack of baseball cards, what random live action baseball photo will translate into a keeper card for me, like this base-running card:

A more well known baseball card trope is becoming a pretty rare thing in MLB these days, but Big League almost seems to sometimes have a theme of keeping tradition alive -
Or even purposely trying to illustrate technique for it's (theoretical) young audience:

Here at the end of my little off-season resolution of what to do with a stack of cards from 2 blasters of 2019 Big League, I had less cards I really wanted to keep than I did with 2018 Big League. Probably, I will just make a final cut of 9 from the cards seen in this post, 9 'Blast Off' cards, and fill out the Wall Climbers set and probably just the nine niftiest Nicknames cards. 

One card though, will stay with me well into my twilight years, probably, as it is probably the greatest 'cooler dump' card I have ever picked up, though that little trope/sub-genre needs a much better name than that. I haven't found a 'Stadium Lights' card in quite a while now. It also somehow gives me nice warm fuzzy memories of Flaming Lips concerts, too, and some boring day late in the 2020s when blogs filled with all those wordy words are just another what-were-those-geezers-thinking idea like stealing a base or bunting the baseball, I think I will show off this card once again as my

2019 Psychedelic Card of the Year

Saturday, February 15, 2020

falling for a new one

Art by Josh Trout

Recently, I started in to collecting a totally new, for me, set of baseball cards: Gallery.

This is the 3rd time-around for the "re-booted" product. In 2018, I tried just one pack; in 2017 I think I basically missed it's existence entirely as a devouring horde of locusts desperate for more Aaron Judge Rookie Cards kept my local baseball card shelves picked to the bone, routinely.

As you can probably tell from my Google Photo Profile, I take an interest in "Art," not just baseball cards. But what you can't tell is that I have only a passing interest in Art, really. I don't spend money on it or follow it all that closely; I just like what I like. I spend my money on baseball cards and follow those closely instead.

When Art and baseball cards intersect though, I generally check things out. I am still kinda surprised I never did try a sample pack of '17 Gallery; a regret, now, that I will return to later in this post. In 2018, I did check out a pack amidst an adventuresome White Halloween fall working season up near Lake Superior. I thumbed through the cards and put them in a little box and sometime later that winter, I sent off the "hits" - a Mookie Betts 'Heritage' insert and a couple Wood Canvas parallels, whatever those are/were. I think I received about 43¢ a card or some such figure for each of them, I forget. The rest of the base cards I just stuck in one of those to-be-?-later stacks of cards we all end up with.

This year, I tried another sample pack.

And I liked it much better. I quickly realized that when it comes to the intersection of Art and baseball cards, results are going to be extremely variable, based on one collector's response to the work of one artist. I also realized that I am not going to like every artist who creates baseball card Art, and probably not even every last creation they hand to Topps, and Topps hands to me.

But I definitely found enough things I like that I will be collecting most of this set. The 2019 cards featured artists I liked better than some who submitted for the 2018 set. I also liked the new card design quite a bit. The complete gold frame works much better than the 3-sided frame in the '18 set. The card edge is a more stately set of slightly raised parallel lines all around the outside of the gold frame, classier than the circular pattern on the '18 cards, though those gave a nice baseball bat-esque pattern one would see in tree rings. The classy gold script of the player's first and last names is a nice touch; I like the way it gives equal heft to the first and last name, rather than just the last name dominating the card as in '18. The whole design just cleanly emphasizes the artwork in the center of the card, with zero distractions, though some might be a touch distracted by a certain little red, white, & blue logo on many cards, as on the beautiful card you have already gazed upon at the top of this post.

The card stock is also quite nice. The clean white-ness of it and the whole design is just elegant. So elegant that my collecting effort took a little time to get going, as I wanted to treat these like Chrome cards - taking them straight from a pack, and into a penny sleeve, before sorting, etc. I wanted to touch them strictly as little as possible. But lately, my local baseball card distributor rep hasn't deigned to offer to sell me packs of penny sleeves for some several years running now. I'm not the type to just solve that problem by "just order some." Far too much PITA for a $1 product.

But penny sleeves finally returned and I have been able to assemble the results of buying a couple blasters and a few more hanger packs. Before we dive into checking out some cards from this new set I really like, I want to return to the '18 set for a moment. Last fall, I felt something felt a bit too familiar about this card:
Art by Kris Penix

But I couldn't place that feeling on it until I got home from the Superior country and get back to my completely buried baseball card desk, which helped me realize that 2018 Gallery card seemed familiar because -
Baseball: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Ian Kinsler (3) in action, fielding vs San Francisco Giants during spring training game at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Tempe, AZ 3/10/2018 CREDIT: Robert Beck (Photo by Robert Beck /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (Set Number: X161783 TK1 )

Which at first feels kind of cheap. But ultimately as I thought about this a little bit more - exactly how is an artist going to draw/sketch/paint a representation of a Major League Baseball player? The player isn't going to appear at their studio and patiently pose for the artist, after all; for that to happen, well, we wouldn't be able to afford the resulting cards.

So while pondering that question some I turned to Google. Which led me to this photo:

I really like her work and will return to that once again yet later in this post.

Once I somewhat 'got over' knowing how Gallery cards are created (something a bit nicer than the famous Bismarck quote about laws & sausages), I began to be more drawn into my new Gallery cards.

After scrounging around for those pack left-overs from the '18 set, I noticed this card, and immediately loved it:
Art by John Giancaspro

First, it formed this image in my mind:
Clipped from still from movie "Swingers"

Which is Jon Favreau some 20-ish years ago now, in a great comedy I have always enjoyed. And that makes me chuckle; others may not see it, but now I want to see the movie again, and probably the movie "Made" once again as well.

That Soto 'art card' also did an amazing job of making the viewer think about real life in that Juan Soto has the same "how old is, he, really" questions swirling around him as Albert Pujols did when he was a rookie, as have a few other Latin American born players over the years.

So, good job 2018 Gallery, Topps, and artist John Giancaspro; that particular Juan Soto RC will be my go-to Soto card for many years to come and will probably lead me to create a 9 card player page for him over time. Though I must confess most other collectors don't care for the card and the way it ages him a little. Also I can note that one little $6 pack of 2018 Gallery also held a Rookie Card of some kid named Ronald Acuña - how many packs did you buy last year that held both Soto _and_ Acuña RCs?

Now with all that background out of the way, I can show off some of the many cards I like from 2019 Gallery, which quite quickly hooked me up with another entry for my nascent Juan Soto collection:
Art by Kevin Graham

I mean if ever there was a card that arrives with an automatic soundtrack, it would be this one, which clearly says: "I'll be back." I'm starting to like this Soto 'kid' more and more all the time. Thanks, Topps.

But I am jumping the story just a touch. I also became intrigued by 2019 Gallery via a blog post @ the Mint Condition blog; just a basic box break post, though of one of the large $80 boxes I am still only dreaming about purchasing. I can't thank Jordan enough for posting that, as it piqued my interest in this set because of the "1965 Heritage" inserts shown in the post. 1965?, I thought. I like those cards. I could see quite enjoying some hand-drawn versions. I never did finish the 2014 Heritage set after all, as no matter how much I enjoy the graphic design of the set, the endlessly repetitive photos Topps dumps into a Heritage product always end up boring me out of completing it. Although I have never made a serious attempt at collecting any original set re-created in Heritage, my memories of the originals are that the variety factor was several times higher in them than in the Heritage versions.

Now, I finally have 4 of these cards to judge, in-hand:
Art by Louise Draper

The Votto is my favorite; another 2 (McCutchen, Benintendi) are a little 'on the bubble' for me and the Altuve needs to go somewhere else, pronto. Which reminds me of another key point - these cards don't necessarily come off well in scans. To really judge them, one should consider them in 3D real life, not via what you might see on any computer screen. Ultimately with these "65s" I think they will be a little hit or miss with me and I will likely just stick to whichever 9 I like best that I can manage to acquire the easiest.

That '65 Votto has a perfectly authentic 1965 card back too, quite well done. As I start to get into the meat of any baseball card set, the base cards, I should demonstrate a sample card back:
composition by unknown Topps baseball card miner

Not much to write home about here, but functional enough. Month-by-month stats aren't unknown on the backs of baseball cards, but aren't that common any more. Only sometimes are those very illustrative of just what happened the previous season.

As I have been collecting these I have been liking that Alonso RC more and more all the time. I don't think it will lead to an Alonso PC page for me; so many of his cards so far are way too same-same. But that gaze up, up, and away following the Home Run ball and off into the future up there at the top of the post - that's a Rookie Card to remember, in my opinion.

That's probably because I have realized I am drawn to the work of that artist - Josh Trout - more than the other contributors. I received the following card in an early pack:
Art by Josh Trout

It proceeded to spend a fair bit of time as a display card keeping me company looking back at me from the card desk, which probably explains some of the chipping now present in the gold frame, as I didn't yet have those penny sleeves I always run out of. But I'm not worried about pulling a duplicate eventually, another I'll-get-back-to-that.

That card spent some time in this little doo-hickey, which I can definitely recommend as a handy card desk accessory:
I like the little not-gizmo so much for use with baseball cards that I want to buy a couple more (business card holders, a buck or two at any office supply store).

Here is another fine horizontal card in the set:
Art by Josh Trout

and another -
Art by Josh Trout

I was particularly pleased to pull this one:
Art by Josh Trout

Seeing as how Willie is the 'cover player' for this set, though this image is not the one used on the wrappers and boxes. Still I think it illustrates how much Topps likes Josh Trout's work, to give him this checklist assignment; he is new to the roster of Gallery artists this year.

Those last 2 cards, with the 'Masters' & 'Apprentices' tagline, are an unfortunate part of this set: Short Prints. I'm not sure I will ever finish this set, and that is disappointing. I have obtained 5 so far in-hand, but the SP checklist is 50 cards long.

They fall 1 per blaster, or 1:3 hanger packs. So either way, a collector is going to spend about $20 just to get one Short Print. If one were to attempt to build this set via regular old collect 'em, trade 'em strategies that Topps has been advising me to pursue for my whole life, the base set (150 cards) would be completed many times over as one chased these Short Prints, and the total cost to obtain 50 of them would be about $1,000! & some would be dups :(

That is just not going to happen, for this collector. Of course in the 21st century we don't have to buy our cards only straight off the shelf at full retail; other options are easier than ever. I do have a few of these already waiting for me at COMC, but I'm still not sure I will end up completing the Short Prints. I definitely will pick up all of the Josh Trout SPs, and a few select others; that is probably realistically affordable for me. Though I often accept this economic limitation on collecting dreams, it is not one I am ever happy about, & here, there is no particularly good reason I can afford 150 of these somewhat premium baseball cards, but not a different 50 of them.

Of course, that is how baseball cards work now. Everyone really wants $20 bills in their packs of cards as much as they want new baseball cards. So this product is as loaded with random gimcrack as every other Topps product, though with a notable exception of no "relics."

Fortunately, I have been able to get in to the gimcrack, too, and one such piece was another from the artist I am chasing the most:
Art by Josh Trout

The autograph checklist in this product is long and diverse, though features the dreaded 'sticker autos'  that I am not so particular about. Still, I think changing this set to on-card autos would really start to make for some hot little single baseball cards - imagine that Alonso card way up there now,  as an RC on-card auto. However I think the premium card stock wouldn't really support shipping the cards back and forth to the players as easily as some other sets might. And then if you really want that Alonso card signed by Pete Alonso, Topps will probably soon oblige you by issuing a copy in the Archives Signature Series.

I was happy to pull this one in particular as it will fit in with collecting this by artist as much as checklist, it has a uni # inscription, and now I have a random Rookie Cardinal Pitcher to follow a little more closely; Hudson could well be yet another gem uncovered in "The Cardinal Way" minor league system that just keeps churning out relieable MLB starters, so unlike my favorite team's system, which mostly seems to churn out DFA candidates.

My other only real "hit" so far is this card -
Art by John Giancaspro

This is the orange parallel #/'d to /25. These cards work perfectly on their own; parallels add very little to them and I expect on some a colored frame would actually detract from the experience. But everyone wants "value" in their packs, so "value" has to be created.

I did like getting my share of the "value" for similar reasons as with the Dakota Hudson autograph - I learned about an interesting new Rookie. Reynolds is still under the radar for most, perhaps largely because he fell just a few At Bats short of being 'qualified' to appear on MLB leader boards for hitting stats. A 3.9 WAR rookie campaign is pretty darn good; I always remember with young outfielders now that Christian Yelich had just a league average-ish OPS for his first 3 years in the majors. Yet another card it would be silly to sell for just a couple bucks now vs. selling for just a couple bucks five years from now if Reynolds turns out to be merely Very Good.

As you start collecting these cards, sometimes each artist's work becomes quickly recognizable; other times the name on the back surprises when you flip the card over:
Art by Dan Bergren

I thought that would be another Josh Trout card, based on the similar background as the Alonso card. I have yet to see an online resource grouping the cards by artist name rather than player name.

Bergren has supplied artwork to all 3 years of the new Gallery; in the 2019 set he also does the artwork for the Hall of Fame inserts:
Art by Dan Bergren

That card will be a nice addition to my still small Christy Mathewson collection; I might finish out this insert set as well but am still undecided until I see a few more of them, but probably so. I will not be completing the Masterpiece inserts or the Master & Apprentice duals. I have yet to pull one of the 'Impressionists' inserts but look forward to seeing one.

I also know that none of the artists will bat 1.000 with my personal appreciation of these cards, just as every set has photos that just fall flat no matter how much you might like the set design.
Art by Josh Trout

One card that particularly didn't connect with me was one for a player for whom I hope to assemble 9 nifty baseball cards, who is by all accounts one of the happier young players in MLB:
Art by John Giancaspro

Now if Astudillo goes on to become a long-tenured star in MLB (seems a little improbable), perhaps a Rookie Card showing this much gravitas will become a nice piece of his baseball card oeuvre, as it were. But from what I hear about Willians on broadcasts, this card just doesn't match up though otherwise it is an excellent piece of realistic artwork and my expectations here probably have more to do with the source photo selection. A little more unfortunate is that this is card #1 in the set.

Another unfortunate result is the following card
Art by Todd Aaron Smith

This card just doesn't say "Nicholas Castellanos" to me even though that is what the text on it says; I have been looking at Castellanos cards for a pretty long time. What is a bit of a downer in particular for Cubs and/or Castellanos fans is that this looks to be the only Topps card featuring Nick on the Cubs as they declined to put one in Series One with all the other players on expired contracts now wearing new uniforms in real life, but not in Series One. Fortunately, they did come through with a Cubs issue in the Bowman Heritage set, as discovered on the Wrigley Field Roster Jenga blog.

Now we only sometimes will know which photograph a particular artist is re-creating. Perhaps, they are using photos from the future, as it were:
Art by Carlos Cabaleiro

Amaze your friends by predicting the appearance of the semi-regular baseball card trope of Scherzer casually flipping a baseball in the air on his soon-to-be-released 2020 Heritage baseball card:
A little taste, for ya. 

Which reminds me of a definite dream of mine as the 1970s, err, the 2020s start to roll along — more MLB stadiums on my MLB baseball cards, like this one:
Art by John Giancaspro

I mean if an artist hired by Topps can go the extra mile to put a real MLB Stadium in the background of a hand constructed card, surely one of their photogs can shoot a few players inside an MLB stadium, too? A kid can dream, right?

A bit of bad news around this one for fans of amusing baseball cards, however - Hammer was DFA'd recently and will now have to, yes, hammer his way back into MLB as an NRI player just like all the other couple dozen NRIs in every Spring Training camp as I type this one. Good luck, J.D.

One thing that surprised me about these cards was how much the background might make the card:
Art by Carlos Cabaleiro

That one is probably an example of the it's-better-in-3D-reality. It will 'make the team' as I binder these cards up, somehow, some day.

Now perhaps that artist reads the Night Owl Cards blog:
Art by Carlos Cabaleiro

Or at least, maybe his Topps assignment editor does.

One of the pleasant discoveries for me in my discovery of how pleased these cards make me is that back in the 2017 Gallery set, a primary artist featured was Mayumi Seto, as seen in this blog post many hours of your life ago now. I really like her work that I have seen in the Topps Living Set, but I also know I will be lucky to assemble just a single binder page of 9 cards from it, eventually. Collecting a large set of baseball cards at $5 per, or more, is just not a viable deal for me, as with the Short Prints in this set. I so hoped for such a solid take on doing up a new version of the 1953 set that once upon a time I sent a letter to 1 Whitehall St. New York, NY, politely requesting that Topps do up the 1953 set once again, and do it right, with warm analog, artwork, rather than the cold digital crap they have placed on the 1953 design several times now in the 21st Century. Be careful what you wish for.

So I was quite pleased to discover that I can collect a nice portion of Seto's work by traveling back in time and picking up some 2017 Gallery, which is slowly rising to the top of my baseball card To Do list. I was also quite pleased to discover this card in a pack this year:
Art by Mayumi Seto

It was especially nice that this one isn't a Short Print, as seems to be the case with her few contributions to the 2018 Gallery set. (Still hoping to discover an artist based checklist for all 3 years of this re-boot). I love the reflections illustrated into the batting helmet here, but I am not really a Gary Sanchez fan. I do hope that one of the 50 cards made into 'box toppers' in this release might be a Seto card, but I have only seen about half of those online so far, so I have yet to pick one of those to chase. I definitely don't particularly want to put a sweet drawing of The Kraken sticking his tongue out at me, up on my bookshelf with another great box topper from 2011 Lineage.

Nevertheless I have about 40% of this set still to discover; there is lots and lots of it still on the shelves where I live and I am hoping at good chances to pick up more of it at 40% off. So there yet could be some more Art by one of my favorite new artists appearing on my card desk, like this last example of half-pointless gimcrack in the set, the blaster-only (fake) 'Artist Proof' stamped cards:
Art by Mayumi Seto