Sunday, February 4, 2018

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

OK, I cheated. I could not show you my First Card of 2018. I like these cards. But I just can't lead off a way-too-rare post on this blog with a downer card like this one:
What a bummer. Seems like the right omen for the upcoming baseball season I am expecting, for my team. Though I always feel bad for various baseball card people I know who root for the Orioles, and will never forget working in Maryland one spring right on Opening Day - impressive fans in that state - my thought on the Orioles this year is that it will be a matchup with the Tigers that I will pay extra attention to, because it might be a rare series they could actually win. Sorry, Baltimore.

So, the 2018 Topps Baseball Cards. I like them. I read a key review last night and I agree, the best of the Full Bleed Era so far. Still not as perfect as could be, but we do have some color. Sometimes, an excellent amount of color - 
I have really come to prefer baseball cards showing a teams "alternate" uniforms. I wish we could get a whole set of cards with just the 'alt' unis, home or away, since Topps is so parsimonious with handing out color lately. That Semien card there came along early in the pack and was the perfect flash-back anti-dote to last year's cards - where Semien was my First Card, and his alt-Yellow uniform really helped that one, too. It was a weird pack - 2 Oakland Shortstops in the same pack (Chad Pinder). I can never keep track of the Oakland A's roster, even when listening to their broadcasts  a couple times a month. Baseball cards certainly help, but only some.

So, the ... Water Slide? The thingie there that supplies most of the color on the card, or at least the bright color. Is it 2014 all over again? That swooshy device on the cards that year was nice, but the regrettable 'File Folder' team names and the use of foil for the swoosh made everyone forget it's pleasing roll across the bottom of the card. Well, maybe not so pleasing if you are the type that easily gets car sick riding in the mountains. So the Water Slide seems like a hey-let's-not-let-that-otherwise-solid-idea-go-to-waste revival on the part of Topps here. I like it. But the other main thing that pops into my head whenever I see it is:

I don't know why, but there it is. I'm pretty sure I will be the only person that thinks of this set as The Rolling Stones set, but there you go. Maybe these cards will motivate me to check out their new release of early 60s BBC Broadcasts. I loved that era when they were pretending they were cutting sides for Chess Records just like their heroes.

And now the baseball cards are scrolling away, let's see what else is in my 'pack'...
A perfect baseball card. Very well lit. The image flows right on to the Water Slide, and your eye rolls right back to the slugger's bat. For an instant here on-screen you might think Schwarber swung and missed because his eyes look closed, but that's just an on-screen thing. In-hand, these cards are great and you can see his eyes just fine.

I mostly pulled that card to scan for you because of something else - the back. The card fell just a few cards in to the pack and it was the first one I turned over for an update on the ups and downs as Schwarber's career has been a bit of a water slide ride at times. Let's take a ride down to the bottom:
Ugh. Another year without complete stats. I just don't like that. Perhaps, yeah, it "changes things up" and that has some odd sort of value. But I am already looking forward to the day when things change up right back to complete stats. I use my baseball cards to understand the game, and the players.

Maybe you are reading this on a mobile OS. If so, pinch and zoom in on those underlines up there now. They report "3 Years" of MLB service. At first glance, that matches the 3 lines of stats - but one of those is for his trip back to AAA last year. The Home Run total, which doesn't match the tater numbers listed above it, reminds the card back reader that Schwarber came up in 2015. But for Topps, that is just "whatevs" to the card back writer who managed to dredge up the pointless fastest to 40 Homers stat. I don't begrudge the task of writing the back of a baseball card. But I just want to read the player's stats on the back - even if just the last five years. This card gives me a feeling I will be similarly disappointed in other random cards in the coming months; I just don't see any good reason to randomly delete a year of stats when all the other cards carry 5 lines of them. Sure, I could order Siri to bring up Baseball Reference for me. But that is why I buy baseball cards - to take a break from the screen, the screen.

But here I am on the screen and these pretty baseball cards are slipping away again. Here was a nice one, my First Card from My Team:
And the only Tiger in the pack. This year, I now need pretty much only 2 other Tiger cards - Miggy, and that new third baseman who's name I forget every time - so I need his new baseball card. My gut feeling is he will carry the Tigers effort in Series Two however. But those 3 cards are probably the only 3 cards that will have any relevance to the 2020 Detroit Tigers. Overall, I expect to find the lowest # of Tigers cards in S1/S2 in a long time as it's play-the-Rookies-time in Detroit, and that is hard to get excited about, and most of our promising Rookies will be up late in the year and most likely just a few will show up in Update. 

It is that bad in Motown - the likely starting roster was recently ranked #30 of 30 by some baseball ranker guy somewhere. I don't think the Tigers will finish 30th in MLB this year as they are so widely expected to finish last, and that will take most pressure off the players, for an a), and b) usually some other team will spectacularly implode quite surprisingly. And, c), the Royals are in the same boat with the Tigers, just in our own division, so there's that.

It was a big pack of cards to only have one Tiger - a "hanger box" of 72 cards. Those are my Go-To for collecting these days, although more and more Wal-Marts are offering single loose packs, the one and only Big Box store in my town does not. I would prefer the classic single pack of 10 cards or however Topps deigns to hand out for handing over two bucks these days, but my nearest Target is 65 miles away right now, unfortunately.

Picking up 72 cards at once does always guarantee plenty of baseball card pleasure. Topps can never screw up all 72 of them. This next one is now quite possibly my favorite card ever of this famous player:
However, the screen does not do this card justice, even though my new WiFi-enabled scanner is darn sweet, and will make scanning cards easier than ever. This card, though, has to be enjoyed In Hand, the way baseball cards are meant To Be. I like the use of the classic old-timey National League logo, rarely seen on cards outside of the special not-quite-accurate "All Star" blister pack sets that come out in June or so, for each league. The fairly pointless dab of lightening on the logos take a lot away from the 19th Century graphic design here; they vary in that effect on all of the other 31 logos on these cards. This set would be a lot better without that weird wash-out on the prime icons of the game.

Otherwise, this card is a little unremarkable. Clayton's arm just happens to also make this card look like a Panini effort (boo, hiss). So why is this a new fave of mine? I do like the darkness, darkness background. Is it a Night Card? Probably, but it might just also be an Indoor Card. Or both. Milwaukee, would be my guess for venue here.

When I reached this card in the pack, however, the feature I like about it jumped right out at me - this can only be seen in-hand, and I expect will disappear completely on any cards "slabbed" inside vanity plastic cases. The 2018 world of digital photography and high quality full color printing of bright glossy images is great - and on this card something happened to leave a glow around Mr. Kershaw here. It almost looks a photographic capture of his aura. My guess is it is some sort of reflection from the bright portion of the image, on either the original digital 'film' (memory card) the photographer used, or a similar such effect created by the printing process. But as soon as I had this card in my hand, I saw it, and I liked it.

Or, of course, when I next pull a copy of this card, which is inevitable when you attempt to build a set of Topps Baseball Cards by purchasing one of their packages with one's groceries, it will turn out that only this copy has that cool looking aura and all I have is a very minor printing error card. But then I will finally own a Clayton Kershaw 1/1.

So, yeah, I know, I type talk too much. There were some other cards I really liked in the 'pack' too:
One of those players who just always gets Good Cards. I'm glad he was on a World Series winning team before he had to live through a rebuild, like my team is doing now too. I have a feeling this one will make the cut of my eventual 9 best Salvador Perez cards. It also foreshadows another fave pull -
What a perfect way to show off the very nice "Ace 30" memorial patch for Paul Splittorff that the Royals wore last year (also way better, in-hand). Nice work, Topps. The Water Slide works very well with a Pitcher-in-Motion card, which are often good photos with lines revealing imminent motion.

EDIT, 11 months later: I am kind of glad no one noticed that terrible Error there. I even already have a nice card showing the "SPLITT" patch the Royals wore for Splittorff - some six years prior to this. Doh! That patch is for Yordano Ventura of course. On the other hand I am kinda bummed no one noticed it, either. Too long of a post, probably largely composed too late at night, ahh well, better luck, next time. I hope.

Another Pitcher In Action shot I found will also likely remain a 2018 favorite, and I only have 72 or so of the eventual 1,500 or so cards I will likely end up owning from this year's sets.
Eh, don't mind me, I'll just float here while I wait for the Umpire to call it a ball or strike. An excellent photo purchase. I think this card will likely end up on my Favorite 9 page for this set.

So I found plenty to like, and am all recovered from my anger at the back of the Schwarber card. The hoizontal cards are nice this year -

One thing I like about these two cards is that I think people will complain about them. I can't remember very many other oh-so-desired "RC"® logo cards being horizontal cards. 'They won't look right in my PSA holder' will be the charge. And since only PSA 10 RC qualify as actual desirable baseball cards to own (the other 99% of the set to be simply thrown away), these two cards will have a healthy population report, eventually. I did not pull the Rafael Devers RC that seems to be the most desired card in Series One, so far, but these two should not be far behind, considering how many teams wanted the Nationals and the Dodgers to offer these two players up for trade last year.

I also like that these two cards are not just floating torsos, which frequently wasted the horizontal format the last few years. I have long disliked the all-torso, all-the-time editing/cropping/zooming of recent sets. I really think someone else took over the mouse for this set, and we don't just see the players from the belt up, in a live action shot, but with all other traces of live baseball removed.

There remains the common complaint of what happened to the fans. I'm not sure this is deliberate by Topps. The clarity of the player image, which we like, I presume, might depend on shooting the photo and running it through the necessary software and then result in a loss of resolution in the background.

Or it might be deliberate, to help keep Topps out of compaints in the Social Media age, as with a fan on this card -
I'm certain this is not the first Smartphone Card. I'm also certain that fan is not snapping a picture right then, either. It might be kind of interesting to assemble all of the cards that have this kind of fan shown, but that would be straight depressing. As are pop-ups for the easily distressed Josh Reddick.

It wasn't all that long ago that we could see the In Action baseball players, and the fans, just as clearly:

In the years since 2013, seeing fans has been a moot point as the cards were so often so tight on just the player from the knees or belt up, like this new card:

But what is going on with that card? Did it escape from a Vladimir Putin kompromat operation? No, that is an example of this year's Topps Gold card. I know Topps has been making a set of Gold cards for a long long time now, and many collectors assemble it. So they have to print one, and they always will. And normally I like the Gold cards. But hopefully, this pitiful example of a parallel will help finally lead Topps back out of the Full Bleed Era. I have mostly been avoiding peeking at the other parallels this year, in hopes of wandering past a Toys R Us that is actually still open, and actually pulling one of the Pink, Black, or especially the Independence Day version, one of which did scroll past me on eBay the other day. Mostly though I don't plan on really taking a deliberate look at those until I am probably 3-4 hanger packs into Series Two, round about July. 

Of course it wouldn't be a pack of baseball cards any more without Inserts, for better or worse, mostly worse, in my opinion. I always like a few Insert sets in the Opening Day release, but Flagship inserts rarely fail to disappoint, me, at least:
This first one is like a cross between the various recent "Fire" cards, and some sort of homage to the work of Ralph Stedman. Ralph Stedman and photographically based baseball cards should probably not be mixed. I'll bet he could make some wicked cool Sketch Cards however, even though I don't really care for those anyway. As for re-using Insert ideas -

I swear I've seen more than a few "starry" graphical takes on the word "star" on a superfluously worthless baseball card. This latest retread of the idea seems to be missing a cat riding a Unicorn while shooting laser beams and eating a Taco, for hipsters to wear on Cat Shirt Friday. It's that Cheshire grin Bryce is sporting which tipped me off I guess.

Another standard component of Insert-ness is Topps mining it's past with retro issues. I like those. I like these. I figured they would fall one per hanger box, as per usual, and that was correct. (2 per Blaster, I would wager plenty on that being true). Let that Mullet Flag fly, deGrom - Bronson Arroyo won't be on any more baseball cards, so...

83 was the year where collecting started slowing down for the kid version of Base Set - the first year I did not complete the Base Set after a pretty good run from 78 onwards. So I have some guilt issues with this card and I won't be surprised if I pull the trigger on some random 29 card lots of 83s on eBay at some point this year. If I can ever escape from the boat anchor around my free time that is the reality of not being able to afford doing your own self-employment taxes, I might could hope to get back in to trading to help complete such a set. But that seems unlikely, especially given how much time I still spend working on really remote Forestry jobsites. But I love baseball cards, so that could still happen. Stay tuned.

The final insert, also surely to be found one per box, is from the "Topps Salute" set. The "Salute" part means whatever Topps wants it to mean. I liked most of the pulls I had from it last year, though not enough to get anywhere close to a desire to build the set. The Throwback Uniform cards which failed to show off the cool retro-ness features of the uniform turned me off the most, a common problem with Topps' frequently lazy attempts to make thematic baseball cards. I can do that in my sleep, buying random piles of "repack" cards and collating them in ways no baseball card set designer ever dreamed of. Why can't Topps?

Anyhow, my first Salute did feature one of those nice Alternate Uniforms I like so much on a baseball card - 
If this kid can hit the ball anywhere at Above Replacement levels, he is destined for baseball card greatness. I am still bummed that I pulled an autographed card in 2013 Pro Debut from one "Rock Shoulders", and he never made the Major Leagues.

I gotta say though, it was a little weird pulling two of those send-the-grandkids-to-college-with Rookie Cards of the same player, in the same 'pack'
It's all about that RC logo now, we all know that. There were strings of the things in this pack, 3-4 cards in a row, but I won't bore you with too many Bowman card escapees, like this 'Major Leaguer'
This kid should change the spelling of his first name to Rowdy and crack jokes about being all out of bubble gum. Or might need to wait a few years to pull that off.

One of the new Rooks is the clear front-runner for Best Socks In The Set though:
I was also mostly mollified, after my way-too-long-gone blog post previous to this one, that Topps didn't screw up the Rookie Cup this time. Those 83s are part of their "Continuity Program," whatever that is (the "silver packs"), but their real long-time continuity effort in the #1 set of baseball cards in America is their own Rookie Cup. And here one was in this pack:
And 'Future Stars' are back in the main set, after being relegated to the 87 inserts last year. I'm not excited or upset about the disintegration of the graphic stripes supporting the player and team name, just kind of whatevs about that myself. But on the Future Stars here, it seems like someone missed their Windows 95 Graphic Design software, as with those horrible "Perspectives" inserts a couple years back. We all know what happened to baseball and baseball cards in the 1990s. With those Perspectives cards, this Future Stars card, and the new wound-too-tight Gopher Ball MLB is using these days to make sure the utility infielder guy can hit Home Runs, too, I'm getting a little worried.

At least I got The Cup back. And now I have a new card to look for - a triple header RC Logo, Rookie Cup, and a Future Star. Does one exist? I don't think so, yet. But it could happen. My binder page is ready.

Despite that minor Future Star setback, I persisted with these cards, and with the scanner, all for you, Dear Reader. I pulled an OK pair of these cards - a nod to a long-time tradition of Duals, and another long-time tradition - these are again the Checklist cards. I pulled two of them on this go, am I detecting a theme here?
Are the Checklist cards all shot at First Base? I will be watching for the rest of these. I also enjoyed discovering an actual "Who's On First?" baseball card; perhaps it's been done before as it seems a perfect, and obvious, theme for a baseball card. But to really get this one right, it should have sported a photo of Rizzo, and, say Paul Goldschmidt. So close, Topps, so close.

I did find just one more theme running through this set, for now. In fact, I sort of used it for the title of this post. Early in the "on-line" breaking process we all peek at these days, I saw this image
(but no, I didn't luck pull that Super Short Print card, unfortunately), and I heard that it was indicative of the theme of the Short Print Photo Variations this year - "something going on with the hands". And that description does hold partially true, when I gaze at all the variants posted in yet another  Gallery-of-Cards-I-Will-Never-Own, where I conveniently downloaded that Trout to share with you.

But I think there is something going on in the mind of the Chief Photo Buyer For 2018 Topps Series One, regarding baseball players, and their hands:

I just kept being drawn to what the player is doing with their hand in these photos. These all make for a good baseball card. Did the Topps Curator do this consciously? Who knows. Am I just imagining this, and really most sets of 330-ish cards might have plenty of cards like this? The only way to find out, will be to buy more baseball cards.

Now, elsewhere online from the nice cozy baseball card blog-o-sphere, most of these cards would be total snoozers, except the Robles and Verdugo RCs, and then only if I had surgically placed them in pack fresh toploaders right in the parking lot of the Big Box store for a maximum chance at PSA 10ness. All most people care about in a 'break' is The Hits, man, did you get any Hits? It might be a good baseball card season, despited that dud Trumbo Opening Card, because I did hit something, at least, as the $ collectors might say -
which is a Short Print Photo Variation. Not terribly difficult to hit, 1-in-8 of these hanger boxes, but not as simple as with the deluge of these amongst my last baseball card purchases in 2017 Update, nor as insanely greatly difficult to pull as in 2016 Update, either. I also set aside Chris Sale cards, another one of those Good Card players, but this one won't make that cut. It is not even the first time Topps has shown him on an SP with a warm-up jacket and a towel - is Topps putting the juju on him, since he throws for an-enemy-of-New-York team? Are they trying to foreshadow an injury for this perennial Cy Young candidate? Is Chris' arm getting tired and sore? This card seems to say so. 

But maybe this card does too, and Topps is trying hard to be Fair and Balanced, unlike so many in "Media" these days -
I never like a card where I can see individual parts of a Pitcher's musculo-skeletal system; probably more noticeable, in-hand - you should collect these cards yourself, silly. And what is going on with Dellin's leg there? Does that light swooshy deal on the team logo get resentful of the white NY and commences to start growing on other parts of the card? Or did the intern in charge of blurring out the fans in every photo have a slight mouse accident here? Betances has been a workhorse the last many years running, as has Sale...what will 2018 hold for them? Sometimes, my baseball cards are pretty smart.

Other times, Series One is a nod to the past, not the future. As with probably a sunset card for Joey Bats this go-round, and probably others I have yet to discover. I also try, and frequently fail, to remember what was my Last Card of my first baseball card purchase of the year. This one, I think I will remember. I like this player, and I like baseball cards, and I like blogging, and I like all of y'alls, and I will be back. And this, was just about the perfect Last Card in the mini box of Baseball Cards, for this Baseball Card Season Opener


  1. I hadn't thought about the Rolling Stones comparison. Many are referring to this as the water slide set, but I think I like yours better. Good call.

  2. Really like the Trout, Wong, Molina and Perez cards. I like these cards as well. The "no complete stats" is a letdown for me too but I don't think we'll ever see those coming back. I like the water slide description - I could never ocme up with a good way of describing that thing. Great post.

    1. Thanks for reading!

      Keep in mind that the Trout card is an SSP, inserted at about 1:30 compared to just the SPs. They will go for a pretty penny, kind of bums me out for such a great photo. (And I didn't pull that one, just wanted to riff on the "look, hands" theme to a lot of them.)

      I am more optimistic on the complete stats returning. Doing that would certainly make the set easier for Topps to create...

      But if I had to pick I would simply request a card with a defined border once again.