Monday, February 10, 2020

Ladies & Gentlemen, Your 2019 Topps Tigers

Last year, I was quite surprised to discover that the Detroit Tigers only had 15 cards in the 2018 Topps Baseball set, i.e. the main set of Series 1 + Series 2. And only one RC! How does _that_ even happen in a Topps Baseball set these days? Texas Rangers 2020 Series One you say?

So I eventually wrote up a post to investigate this sad state of affairs, and concluded that Topps was just about perfectly correct in their checklist decisions for the sad sack club in Detroit these days.

But the experience did make me want to do these calculations again; particularly as in 2019, Detroit couldn't even manage to win 63 games to avoid 100 losses (you can only lower your expectational standards but so far in this situation), and indeed finished a definitive 30th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball this year @ 47-114.

For results like this, perhaps 15 cards would be actually generous on the part of Topps.

In 2019, I am, all things considered, happy to report that Topps issued 22 Detroit Tigers cards in the Topps Baseball set of Series 1 + Series 2, a far more comforting total and much closer to an actually complete roster. Cards in Update went down to only 6 however. Now if only the Tigs could have lived up to Topps' expectations here, after that generous promotion from the checklist cellar. As it turned out, the 2019 Texas Rangers only got 20 cards, and then 2020 Series One happened. Which, somehow doesn't surprise me either, as Texas and Detroit are both regularly graced with card #666 by their best friends back in Brooklyn.

OK, Ok, let's get to some cards already, seein' as how I forgot to put one at the top of the post like a normal blogger does.

Best Multiple Tiger Card


I like how this card acknowledges current reality in Detroit by kinda telling you - come on down and walk right on in, no lines! 

Also, I suspect that the pictured announcer there is a young Ernie Harwell, but I can't be sure. I have always wanted to pull a Ernie Harwell card from a pack of baseball cards, so maybe I just did.

Most Accurate Tiger Card
A frown, a bit of side eye - Castellanos was already "not feeling it" at Photo Day in Lakeland, some 50 weeks ago as I write this one. A pity, as I always like pink baseball cards.

As usual, current GM Al Avila had been unable to trade away one of his few chips during the off-season, when, you know, that chip still had at least a year of team control left and theoretically would bring back a better return than waiting till the contract only had 2 months left. Which is how Avila has traded everyone else not named Justin Verlander, who he only half-traded and half-used to purchase surplus prospects from Houston by paying half of JV's salary down there.

Castellanos was probably showing signs of discontent in the 2018 season, when he also could have been traded. But then most writing about him focused on his last-in-league defense, something even Topps seemed to mock over the years. In interviews as the difficult 2019 season grinded towards the trade deadline, Castellanos also began to echo some of the league wide complaints about the owners possibly colluding to hold down salaries, after a contentious Free Agent period ahead of the '19 season, and began to complain that those evil sabermetricians were being mean to him with their fancy new stat #s. 

That last point I found a little ironic, since 'advanced' stats tend to help a player like Castellanos, who has been a really good hitter playing at home in basically a Pitcher's ballpark for his whole career. But that is just a help for his offensive stats. By July of 2019, Casty was among the AL leaders in Doubles, though not most other standard hitting stats such as OPS, which seemed to fit him, again based on how his home ball park plays every day. Eventually, his boss was able to pull the trigger on trading him to Chicago and he basically went on a great growth spurt from that shop-worn, but sometimes accurate cliché: "a change of scenery." Recently, he signed a four year, $64 Million deal with Cincinnati, so I think we might see him smiling on his 2020 Photo Day card when it comes out later this year.

Punniest Tiger Card

This is probably the punniest baseball card of the year, actually, and I should have put it in my total 2019 post.

After 'Nick' carefully convinces everyone he officially wants to be called "Nicholas" now, Player's Weekend rolls around and out he trots out with his 'old' name on the back of his jersey, and what looks like a new prosthetic foot, too. I actually need multiple copies of this card as I like the Big League series of Nickname cards quite a bit and will build that little checklist, and I also always set aside bubble gum cards.

Best Tiger Hitter
A totally perfect 2.000 OPS for this budding young slugger, err, what? Sadly I missed those 2 glorious, and only, At Bats vs the New York Mets, where Soto went 2-for-2. I might have to YouTube that excitement, if I can.

Soto does remind me of a possible piece of good news out of the Tigers camp this year. Many fans of the game these days bemoan the owners of their favorite losing team, ascribing all the losses to an unwillingness to pay high enough salaries to build a winning club. I think that is not really true, and I don't fault the Tigers for not signing Gerritt Cole this past Hot Stove season. To build a winning club in MLB these days, you need a combination of smart draft picks that pay off (read any list of 1st round picks any year to see the odds on those), and some smart international signings, & then you can start putting the icing on top with some smart Free Agent signings, if you have a good young core developed from those draft picks and international scouting.

Gregory Soto was signed by the Tigers outside of the regular draft out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 and while it partly remains to be seen how his MLB career might turn out, his Steamer/ZIPS/common sense projections for the 2020 season aren't all that great. But the reason he, and this baseball card, remind me of brighter days is some news from back in July, when it was announced that Detroit had given 16 year old Cuban Roberto Campos a $3 Million signing bonus. We won't see him in Detroit until 2024 or so and he could become the next Rusney Castillo or Bruce Rondon, but at least it was evidence that the Tigers are trying, and trying hard, in the international teenage baseball player arena, which should be one of Avila's great strengths given his Cuban heritage. We shall see.

Now, I must do a little honest reporting here and reveal that the best Tigers hitter actually was Nicholas Castellanos, who bounced the ball around the spacious Comerica Park enough to put up a not super exciting .790 OPS before he was traded to Chicago. And that is as good as the offensive news got in Detroit; our next best hitter was, not surprisingly, our own version of Albert Pujols but with bad knees instead of bad feet - Miggy, who put up a .744 OPS while mostly hitting Singles this year.

The really bad news? The OPS for all of Major League Baseball in 2019 was .758. In this case, Topps didn't rub it in too bad and of the positional players in 2019 Topps Baseball, they printed 7 Fielding cards, 4 Base Running cards, and only 3 cards of a Detroit Tiger with a bat in their hands, which is probably a team record for positional players in a Topps Baseball set.

Biggest Tiger Card
Topps and Al Kaline, I have little left to say. An Al Kaline card will probably be included in the next post on this blog, too. I am sure I will have something to say about it, then.

Favorite New Tiger Card
I have always wanted a Detroit Tigers George Kell baseball card. I especially like that on this one, probably by random chance, Kell appears on what is about as close as you can get to the 2 Tigers "team colors," although orange just barely appears on a long-running road uniform style similar, but later, than this one.

Kell played for several teams in his career but became closely associated with the Tigers in his post-playing days as one of their regular TV announcers for many decades, much of that along with his fellow Hall of Famer on the card posted just above this one.

This card, like many a good baseball card, makes me particularly wistful for the past, a past where I could come inside, turn on a TV set, and watch a baseball game called by Kell and Kaline, all for just the price of that TV set that was good to go for a good 10 years or so. Now, the best baseball players are expected to earn more than $10,000 per pitch they will throw (Gerrit Cole's new contract), and a decently large portion of the fan base heartily supports that idea. But all that money has to come from somewhere and most specifically, is has to come from me. And you. I feel that the end point of the always rising player contracts (Will Mookie Betts become the first Half Billion Dollar Player next December? Click here to find out...) will be individual pay-per-view pricing of every single game and possibly even paid admission to get into the TV lounge of yer average little bar down on the corner, which will inevitably increasingly just not participate in showing MLB games to the public, as an ever increasing portion of hotel rooms I stay in no longer offer that one sports channel that does show live Major League Baseball. But for $130 a year, I can watch MLB on a tiny little "phone" wherever I go, as long as I don't go too close to the town where the game I want to watch is actually being played. Then I have to pay someone else some other pile of money. I miss you, George Kell.

Sorry for the black little detour there; this card arrived recently in a care package from the Night Owl and it included many other carefully chosen cards, some of which I look forward to sharing with you in another themed post I will put together soon. But best of all, it included lots of Tigers cards...

Best New Tiger Uniform Discovery
This was pretty cool to see. The main Tigers logo on their caps and their baseball cards is called "The Olde English D." Then maybe this one is a new D, back in Cobb's day? I can't recall ever seeing this plain block D on a Tiger uniform before, though I by no means try and collect > 100 year old Tigers ephemera. Probably, this has been on a Ty Cobb card previous to this one; now I will be watching.

I would even go so far as to hope that Topps might just simply re-use this photo on a whole 'nother Ty Cobb baseball card, which seems likely, as they make almost as many Ty Cobb baseball cards as Al Kaline baseball cards. That would free the D from a little necessary graphical imposition by the wonderful 1975 Topps baseball there, which I can hardly get mad at.

2nd Best New Tiger Uniform Discovery
This photo is from a very special Throwback uniform series in September, 2018, when the Tigers celebrated the 50th anniversary of their 1968 World Series victory. Since their home uniform is still the same today, they wore their road uniform style from '68 for the occasion, even though they were playing at home (conveniently enough, vs. the Cardinals). 

Now I haven't exactly been dogmatic about tracking down all 2019 Topps Tigers baseball cards in all of the various 'low end' products I can afford to collect, so I don't know if any other cards feature this uniform. But I pretty much doubt it, as Tigers players aren't exactly putting up numbers worthy of checklist spots in sets of baseball cards. Shane Greene was the Tigers token All-Star this year, which explains his inclusion in Big League, but most Tigers good enough to make a 400 card checklist probably won't be a Tiger for long and indeed Greene was also traded away at the deadline like Castellanos. (I agree with both moves, actually, though I continue to think Avila should pull the trigger on that basic idea in the winter, not in the summer.)

Best Photo Composition on a Tiger Card
Just about very line on this card draws your eye right back to the baseball Candelario is about to fire across the diamond and when you combine that with the frame-breaking glove, I would say this is probably the best Detroit Tigers Baseball Card of 2019. The 'Opening Day Blue' frame of this particular copy nicely jazzes it up, too. This card, like the Kell and Cobb cards, arrived from the Owl's lair full of baseball card binders; we'll see the rest of those soon.

Rarest Tiger Card
Holy Smokes! A Detroit Tigers insert in a pack of Topps Baseball cards. When this card fell out of a pack of Archives I could hardly believe it. I did find one Cabrera insert in the 150th Anniv. "Greatest Player" series and I know the usual trio of Miggy, Kaline, and Cobb graced a few other insert checklists, particularly any built around printing one card for all 30 teams in MLB which require a Face of the Franchise like those 3. (Yes, I need the actual Faces of the Franchise Detroit card from Series 2). So to see any other random 2019 Detroit Tiger on an actual insert...wonders never cease.

Most Exciting Tiger Card

oh, wait
Topps has always liked Josh Harrison, if memory serves. I think one of his cards will be a Psychedelic Card of the Year some day, though one never knows when those will bubble up to the surface of the pile of cards to bloggle about.

Clearly though, Josh Harrison played the game hard. I wish I could have seen more of his efforts for the Tigers, but since he basically lost his battle with the undefeated heavyweight champion known as Father Time this year, he was rarely on base whenever I rarely got to see the Tigers on a TV this year. And it seems unlikely that he will make another MLB club, though the Phillies are going to let him give it one more try on those infamous 'back fields' down in Florida a couple weeks from now. As the Tigers will be doing once again with his regular long-time double play partner back in Pittsburgh, Jordy Mercer, who Topps seems to have almost forgotten now.

But as I was saying, Topps likes Josh Harrison...

So close, Topps, so close
I'm not sure how Topps managed to make a card featuring 2 teams that both play outdoors so completely dark. Actually, Harrison is wearing the road uni here, so this photo was taken in Chicago and as is normally the case, the source photo is not difficult to track down:

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 26: Josh Harrison #1 of the Detroit Tigers leaps over Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox after trying to turn a double play in the 5th inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

How that turned into a such a squinter (my scanner actually lightens it up a fair bit) during the baseball card production process I don't really understand. I think if the card had appeared in the 2018 set somehow it would look fairly different. So though I will miss many features of the 2019 "White Pages" set, as I call it, the darkness, darkness, don't be my pillow of a card here and there, well that I won't miss. Topps Baseball cards shot at night haven't been this odd in the past; I think that as with the 2016 'Smoke & Mirrors' set, applying so much effect around the edges of the image brings in certain other graphical / digital problems that baseball cards just don't need. Design a nice looking frame, drop it over great baseball photo - how hard can it be?

And probably by the time the Update cards were being composed around August or so, the Topps composition team may have been struggling a little to come up with nice things to say about a struggling team like the Tigers and a struggling player like Harrison. It was wonderful of them to create this card, don't get me wrong, but "Parallel Poise" reads like it's from a gymnastics checklist. And this is one more basically great baseball photo that I absolutely don't want to see a 'parallel' of, despite the card's invitation to do so. Sigh.

Time For Another Accurate Tiger Card
Dammit Jim, I'm a Topps Tigers fan, not a Panini clectin' Yankees fan! Now let's try and Win 63 games this year and make a few more checklists this time!

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