Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nifty Nine #1

In the deluge that is 21st Century baseball cards, I know I can't collect everything I like. Even with cheap 'low end' cards produced in mass quantities and assembled somewhat affordably, I can't keep 'em all, even if they were free.

Perhaps if I were a little more content with completing a project and filing it away in a dark closet in a long skinny cardboard box, very rarely to be ever seen again, I could keep more cards.

I collect cards largely on the visual appeal -- so I want to see these delightful little pieces of cardboard now and again, and a bit more often than is realistically possible once the cards are all entombed in those long skinny graves.

Which is of course where binder pages come in. Aside from dramatically improving the eye appeal of the horizontal cards, as I was babbling about just yesterday, they obviously greatly facilitate actually gazing upon all of one's baseball cards. Which is much better than just admiring the latest calculation of RC quantities held cross-indexed with hourly eBay bid results to give an update of the current value of a bunch of cards all stashed away in a long skinny column on a spreadsheet.

So today I am finally launching a series of posts for a collecting effort that stops at the nice curvy 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, as those nifty lads from Liverpool sort-of sang, once upon a time.

Seems apropos for the 200th post on this blog.

I have a lot of these all half-ready to go, lined up in a long skinny cardboard box, where a Bubble Gum Card rests comfortably next to a Salvador Perez card next to a So.....Thirsty card next to a The Pitcher Is Smiling At Me card next to an eventual Nifty Nine - Donruss 88 next to a Honus Wagner.

Yes, I have slowly come around to the idea of Player Collecting. But rather than obsessively accumulate 999 baseball cards of the same player over and over again, my baseball cards will perpetually be starring on Survivor: Ultra•Pro. If a card doesn't make the cut as one of the 9 best ever made (or, OK, sometimes 18), it will be voted out of the baseball card binder, by a single judge - Me. This will also work for sets - even 1988 Donruss has 9 most excellent baseball cards, I am quite sure. And for whatever goofy themes come out of my warped mind.

Some Nifty 9 efforts in that long skinny cardboard box only have 1 card designated for the final checklist, so far. Others are already overdue for a bit of curating action. I could probably survive being shut-in by a solid month of Arctic blasts if someone would just give me 25 pounds of Junk Wax ahead of time. Actually, I think I already have a whole month's worth of playing with worth-less baseball cards, all ready to go, if someone would just give me a month's worth of the most expensive thing on our collectively hallucinated planet - Time.

Speaking of which, it has been a long time now since you have seen any baseball cards on this here baseball card blog. Let's get wax crackin'
I like 1983. I would like to collect all the 1983 style cards Topps made this year. Just the basic version pictured above would include 250 cards. But would exclude hundreds more created for the "Silver Packs" cards given out with purchases of boxes and cases of Hobby/Jumbo boxes, printed with the "Mojo" refractor pattern on a checklist running to 150 cards. I just wrote 'hundreds' more because I don't know how many players might be on several Autograph checklists with yet another 1983 style card, but possibly a different image than the other 2 checklists, or are not on either of the 2 checklists to start with but do hang out on the Autograph checklist. And then there are a set of these style cards in 2018 Topps Chrome on a short 25 card checklist, with an even shorter autograph checklist, possibly with yet more unique varieties to be discovered, dunno.

That would be a fun collecting project, chasing all of those down. But it would not come all that cheap; though some cards might be had for 50¢, a handful of them trend north of $5 because we now live in the age of Rookie Card cards - why collect just one Rookie Card when you can acquire dozens of Rookie Cards all of the same Rookie? Plus, Hall-of-Famers & famous Veterans beloved by baseball card collectors can also be hard to track down. Player collectors who focus on a retired player only get a new card every now and again, so when they appear on a checklist like this, those singles sell pretty well and supplies dwindle quickly.

I did just read a thought from one of the biggest case breakers in the 'business', who mentioned that the recent 100 card 'retro' checklists can sell for up toward almost $1/card in a complete set. If I were to assemble these fun little cards via that route, I would probably not have been able to buy any other baseball cards at all this year.

And what I would really, really enjoy doing is collecting the black-bordered versions of these cards, which have a print run of /299. Those look sharp, from what I have seen of them online. Oh, to have 9 of _those_. I did not pull any in my random retail efforts this year, though I did pull a nice /50 Gold version of Anthony Rizzo; already on its way to COMC as I type however. Maybe that can turn into 9 of the black cards, from the inevitable RCs who become a FAIL because they didn't finish in the top 3 of the MVP vote for each of their first 3 seasons, or from amongst all the other washed up has-beens nobody cares about in the world of baseball cards. Those /299 cards will eventually be available for a fair bit less than $2.99, if you let some dust build up on them first and shop carefully. I think I can already see Nifty Nine #99 on the horizon, now that I think about it.

So I am left with picking my favorite 9 of the pert-near 2 dozen that I started with. I am happy with how it worked out. I've got a Rookie, 2 1980s stars, 2 recent Cy Young winners, some 2018 MLB regulars, some sluggers, some Aces. About similar to how Topps puts together one of these checklists. If I had a big pile of them it would be fun to assemble a colorful starting 9 team, one player for each position. Alas.

My favorite is probably the Canseco card - Pink always looks good on a baseball card as it reminds me of the bubble gum. But Jose basically disappears in the action portion of his card, so on other glances at this Nifty Nine, the De Grom card is my favorite, with his cheerful profile shot just before his excellent 2018 season. The next time I flip to this page in the binder, maybe the Schwarber card will be my favorite cuz it somehow reminds me of that kid Big Al, who likes to hit dingers - why doesn't he have a baseball card yet? Anyhow, such is the nifty-ness of cherry picking 9 cards to enjoy, rather than mixing them in with cards you enjoy a bit less.

You may notice one subset style I did not include in my permanent exhibit of 2018 1983 Topps - the All-Star cards. That design has been used at least twice already in the 2010s decadal run of 'Archives' look-back checklists of varying lengths from Topps. I didn't keep any of those, either. Though I like big stars on my baseball cards, the 83 is a bit too big for my taste, I prefer the inset profile photo, and I would rather just have the real 1983 All-Stars assembled all together, some day, in my unlimited time and money baseball card fantasies. 

I also noticed that many of the '83 All-Star versions, 75 of which are included only in Series 2, were in short supply on COMC. Which is more common for cards from Series 2 on a long checklist, and also for most retired players in a general sense, when considering inserts in brand new sets. S2 is the release in the S1/S2/Update Topps Trinity line every year which has the lowest print run. Even the Trouts and Harpers from S1 and Chrome insert checklists can barely be given away, something a bit less of a problem for S2 inserts and parallels. This is making me like the partially 'whatevered' Series 2 product a little more all the time. The half-dozen S2 '83 AS cards of 70s-90s stars I pulled will probably turn into a similar # of retail parallels I need for my 2013 project - thanks, Topps (& COMC, too). Or maybe some of those black cards I was just dream-blogging about, we'll see.

There was also one problem card I found on that '18 '83 All-Star checklist, which I lucked into pulling twice. If I kept all of them in their glossy binder page zoo cages for all eternity, I would have to look at this card whenever I flipped those pages -
Now, before you click away to some other favorite corner of the Internet, scroll back up to the first Nifty 9 I brought you and make that your take-away image from this post, and be glad you have a thoroughly professional baseball card curator looking out for you, always.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

For some cards, Bindered is better

I have been looking forward to this day since I first saw these cards.

But I didn't expect this action would become quite so physically imperative.

I knew I would want to see this little set of cards all together on a binder page. But today I was working on my 2017 Archives collecting effort, and this little stack of cards was obviously in need of plastic confinement - despite their quite hardy card stock each one was considerably bowed, inside of it's penny sleeve.

Their compatriots in the base '17 Archives set largely weren't; for the '60 and '82 styles at least. Such a pity Topps had to go cheap-skate on the '92 cards and issue them on junkier stock, just because 1992 already had weakened stock compared to decades earlier. Probably inevitable with a company run by a hedge fund, with customers who buy the products regardless of all their little complaints about it. The Aaron Judge Rookie Card wasn't in the '92 set, and that's what sold a big majority of the product. Not that it wouldn't have sold if the Judge RC _was_ on the thin '92 style cards.

I managed to complete this little set via the simplest method - purchasing retail 'packs' - in this case, mostly the hanger packs, which came with one each of this insert, guaranteed. Luckily I pulled the one key card, which is still a $10 card today. I think collectors are largely happy to have multiple Rookie Card cards to own. The singularity RC proved to be totally wasteful of potential collector cash, in a hobby awash with money looking to be spent. 

If I hadn't pulled the Judge on my own, the following binder page wouldn't exist, in my collection. I doubt if it does in very many other collections, because who would display a 40¢ card right next to an actually valuable baseball card?

I have always admired the Sport Magazine 1960 Rookie Star cards and would like to own some of them. 9 of them even. And particularly the Yastrezemski card, who was a favorite player when I was a little kid just discovering baseball. But I never spend money on vintage, even cheap vintage. I always feel like I will get more enjoyment for my spare 5 bucks added to my grocery bill, with a moderately sized pile of brand new baseball cards, than I will spending 5 bucks on a couple vintage singles, as much as I like those.

So 'retro' sets like Archives and some years of Heritage (I'm picky) are right up my alley. I particularly enjoyed 2017 Archives, except for the way it all disappeared from the stores nearly instantly, thanks to the Judge Effect. I know I will never find any discounted, that is for sure. Ultimately, just today, I decided to complete the 1982 and 1992 style checklists.

But not the 1960 checklist, though I have always enjoyed seeing images of one of the most colorful sets Topps ever made. The hefty card-stock in '17 Archives is completely pleasing to 'collect', at least for the '60s and the '82s. But something happened on the way to the printing plant with the 1960 style cards. Whatever special effects software Topps used to create the faux-painted effect the '60 style cards displays gave many of the players a terrible set of Raccoon Eyes, seen fairly clearly on young Alex up there, as well as the other Alex - Reyes - in this insert set. And also on the Judge card, which is so lit-up wrong I fail to see why his Archives Rookie Card cards are held in such regard. Such is the delight with 1960 Topps, I guess. But the Raccoon Eyes are such a routine occurrence in the #1-100 checklist that I just decided to pick a Nifty Nine from those cards and call it good. I never did pull the Judge base RC anyway, just this insert.

Meanwhile, it is such a pity that Topps will probably never switch to 9 cards x 9 cards printing sheets and make their insert sets in multiples of 9. Sigh. Alex Bregman will just have to be exiled from his checklist mates here, with all the other card #10s, #19s, and #20s I end up with on the Binder Page of Orphaned Inserts that I will fill up, some day.

It is always interesting to me to see Topps' efforts at rounding up a herd of Rookies and corraling them onto a little checklist together, particularly years later. These 10 'rooks are a mix of traditional draft picks from the USA and foreign born 'signings', and all have plentiful MLB service time at this point. My favorite is probably Orlando Arcia, who had that classic, scrappy Infielder ability to occasionally come up with a big game for Milwaukee in 2018, generally when least expected.

Given the design of these cards and how the generally disliked horizontal cards actually work, I knew when I saw the first one 2 summers ago now that this would be how I would want to enjoy them for the long haul in my collection:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Favorite '18 Is-it-a-Parallel-or-is-it-an-Insert?

I dunno what it is, technically. I just know that I like 'em. So my plan is simple - collect 'em, trade 'em, just as Topps has advised all my life.

I am talkin' here 'bout some cards from the brand new for 2018 Topps product "Big League", which I enjoyed. Particularly these, uhh, baseball cards:
The reason I waffle on what to call them is the back:
Which contrasts with the back of Beltre's regular base card in the checklist -
err, uhh, or mostly not. It does have the same card #, so the easy way to 'catalog' this card is as a parallel. But what about the front ?
Just another pretty nice red, white, & blue baseball card of a player playin' baseball. But clearly a different card than the El Koja card up there.

Call it what you will. It is not part of a subset, that I can tell you. Or can I? Call it what you will. Variations?

I like nicknames in baseball. Is there anyone that doesn't? C'mon now. The Nickname parallel-insert are also called the "Player's Weekend" insert-parallel. Oh dear, now we have 2 names for the same subset. Wait, I thought we ruled that out.

Anyhow, these weren't the only Nickname parallel-inserts Topps produced this year. The other day I stumbled across these scans of some 2018 baseball cards:
How much did those baseball cards cost? I went with the tried and true concept of - if you have to ask, you probably can't afford them. (Full disclosure - kind collector allowed me to share the results of his well done collecting effort with us, here).

Although those probably share the nicknames with my kid-price Big League cards, they are not from Player's Weekend, nor do they sport unique images - just alternate (wait, I thought we settled this already) names on the front.

And my allowance-friendly Big League insert-parallel cards are not the only Player's Weekend cards this year; Topps also made a run of special Commemorative MLB Player's Weekend Patch Cards issued in blasters with 2018 Series One, commonly called a 'Manufactured Patch' or a 'Manu-Patch', which always sounds faintly disgusting, but at least we don't have to argue about whether it is an insert or a parallel. Do we? Is it part of any "set" at all? Let's not go down that rabbit hole, I'm already confused enough.

It's not easy to feature the Player's Weekend nicknames on a card. The nickname is on the back of the uniform of course. Do we want a 'set' of cards like this one
I don't. (Full disclosure - not my card; image stolen from online sale site somewhere.) But hey, look, it's "Freddie" Freeman's butt. And Freddie Freeman's nickname is "Freddie" - who knew? Do we need a special card for such an exciting nickname, when most every player in MLB had a 'nick on their uniform, but we only get 25 or so cards in a special checklist for them?

And the Player's Weekend featured special uniforms for the 3 game set - who doesn't like seeing a special uniform on a baseball card? I mean, besides Chris Sale.

But that "Freddie" card doesn't accomplish that very well, now does it? Of course, that never stops Topps from making a Special Uniform card that doesn't really show the Special Uniform. Don't make me show off quite rare and expensive Heritage parallel-insert-variations that I don't actually own, once again.

To show the special uniform, we pretty much need to see the front of the player. But then we don't get to see the nickname on the back, and Topps can't be bothered to print it on the card for us. You already bought the blaster and paid extra for the Special Commemorative Card - what do they care, now?

So naturally, since they already have your money, they can go right ahead and give you a Special Uniform + Nickname card and show you exactly neither one:
And I just wanted to note that I don't really care for the Player's Weekend patch, to start with. Not just the pointless little plastic thing Topps 'manus' for us, but even the actual patch player's wear on their right sleeve, as modeled by Manny here. I just don't get the patch, really. Are we supposed to remember back to the way humans evolved from some other kind of hominid? Why does the player swing backwards as he evolved? Will this be on the test? Did baseball players evolve differently? But then given the model shown here, there might be something to that last question. Is he about to flip the bird to the photog? (Full disclosure: I don't purposely collect Manny Machado cards, except when I want to Complete The Set, and I am left with little choice in the matter. So that last image also came from, somewhere. How about if Topps trades out Manny for Madison Bumgarner? Do we have any objections?)

Fortunately, for big fans of cool baseball cards everywhere, kids are far more discerning customers than high end baseball card collectors. If you promise a kid a special nickname card in his pack of baseball cards, you had better show them the nickname.

And so here in Big League, Topps delivers:
Though probably the kids don't care if they get to see Mr. Miami's special uniform. They already know it's dirty, too. That's what happens when the players splash around in mud puddles, like on these cards.

So yah, eh, I liked these cards when I first found dem, way up dere in da U.P., eh. Even in the back backwoods Topps makes sure the children, the children can get some fun new baseball cards to collect - and trade - I've got just one double so far - the Jansen card shown here. "Kenley" - who knew that one?

Those are the only 6 I have so far; 24 more insert-parallels to go. But fortunately, there seem to be several dozen copies of each for sale online, for just spare nickels, dimes, and quarters from my allowance, but none of them cost an actual paper George Washington. Which for my love of fun little baseball cards, is just exactly perfect.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

and then I found an Umpire on a 2018 Baseball Card

You don't see cards like this very often, any more. Oh, sure, we all love a Play @ The Plate card. And with each passing year, it seems like we get a few more, and they get better and better. I mean, could Stadium Club even be printed these days, without several such cards? Not that there is anything wrong with that!
And this is a really good card, which proves to be from Taylor Davis' actual first MLB start behind the plate on Sept. 14, 2017. A First Start Rookie Card. That's Jose Reyes coming in to score on a Double by Brandom Nimmo as Asdrubal Cabrera, the on-deck batter, gives some sort of heads-up sign about what's going on with the defense, probably a throw coming in to the Catcher, imminently. Which, unfortunately for the ultimate charm of this Rookie Card, Davis proceeds to drop, as Reyes remains Safe and Nimmo advances to 3rd.

In the 4th inning, veteran Alex Avila trotted out to replace Davis, an easy call for Maddon to make in a September game with 3 Catchers on his roster and the divisional standings to consider. As I write, there is very little chatter on the MLB blogs about Davis' future; he had only 5 At Bats in 2018, all in September as this card was being printed, and the entire business of Baseball doesn't much care for MLB debuts at 28 years old. His road to The Show started with being signed while playing in the independent Cape Cod League - you don't see players like that very often, any more.

His tiny footnote in Baseball history will also include a minor 'viral' video made in the minor leagues while with the Cubs AAA affiliate in Iowa, which is not that super exciting but probably didn't hurt the process of making the Topps RC checklist, either, when he had only 8 games and 13 AB (his 2017 totals) in MLB at the time final 2018 Update checklist cuts were made this year. Unless he once again gets The Call to Chicago as a 30 year old back-up Catcher with very little MLB experience, in the 2019 season, there is a very good chance this card will be a One-and-Done. At least for the S1+S2+Update Topps Set, as he was also on a 3-player Rookie Card in Heritage this year, and 21st Century 1&Done cards might need a fair bit of special rules to delineate.

And though all of that was basically interesting for me to figure out starting with just a baseball card of a player I have never heard of, and might also never hear of, ever again, none of that is why I am posting this card, as you already know from the title up there.

This post is because of this guy on the card:
Who I am quite sure is (in) famous Umpire Joe West, who has been an MLB Umpire for almost as long as I have loved baseball cards, and that's a pretty long time. He is 2nd All-Time in games "Umped", through 40 still Active seasons. I barely ever see MLB on the TV and I still know his face.

I wouldn't be totally surprised if Joe West has appeared on a baseball card before this one, though I mean that in the 'Cameo' sense, as here. He does have his own card in a couple oddball sets, and also in 2004 Bowman Heritage, the return of the TV Set, which included Umpires in the original 1955 edition. I don't own any of those cards, and have no plans to pick one up; you will have to click on over to see them somewhere on your own time. I like Umpires strictly as occasional cameos on my live action baseball cards, and have no wish to collect trading cards for them.

Finding any such cameos of any specific Ump would be a bit of random luck, and would be exceptionally unlikely in the 21st century and especially again in the 2010s, when Umpires have all but virtually disappeared from baseball cards.

Now a question is - Why?

It is speculated at times that Topps blurs out parts of the cards now, on purpose. Maybe they are afraid of making an individual fan completely recognizable, maybe they don't have a special side contract with the Managers, maybe they don't have a special side contract with the Umpires. Hold those theories, while we re-visit this Taylor Davis 2018 Topps Update #US229 RC
But I am not so sure those ideas are correct. I don't know what year the source photos that Topps uses switched from 20th century 'analog' to 21st century 'digital', but I think as time has passed both the photographer and also possibly the Topps baseball card constructor have a great deal of control over which parts of an image are in the most focus.

On this card, the Umpire's face is quite blurry, and he is not all that far from the well focused portion of the image, Taylor Davis's face inside his Catcher's mask. But Asdrubal Cabrera just beyond Home Plate is also fairly blurry, too. Did you know that was 12 year MLB veteran A. Cabrera in that picture, after his probably semi-regular semi-annual appearances in all your stacks of baseball cards? I didn't. I had to use the wonderful cheat sheet tools available on Baseball Reference to sort it out, using his Uniform #.

Topps can print images of Asdrubal Cabrera whenever and however it wants, on any card. The unfocused portion of this card does not totally seem deliberate to me, yet.

Nevertheless, that could still be true for Cowboy Joe's face there.

I have been leaning away from that theory, of Topps deliberately adding blurriness to get around extra contract hassles. There is also a chance that all those confusing blurs on cards these days is simply a side effect of how the source photo is made. Even if I had the free time to do it, I know I will never learn the intricacies of creating high quality photographs; I am strictly a pointer&shooter. My first digital camera, purchased well before my 'phone' included one, had a robust instruction manual that was a just about guaranteed sleep aid whenever I tried to absorb it.

So perhaps the original photographer (who turns out to be Jon Durr, with Getty Images) made his lenses spin just so, until he could see the whites of Taylor's eyes just exactly perfectly, and Click!

Or perhaps not.
In this closer-to-the-original digital image, Joe West is much easier to identify. Though I still doubt anyone not really, really well acquainted with 2017 New York Mets uniform #s and/or likely batting orders could have correctly ID'd Asdrubal Cabrera back there near the wall.

However -- Topps chose to crop this card down some, giving it their best shot to make it possible for us to recognize brand new Cubs back-up Catcher Taylor Davis, while also giving us a dramatic action Play @ The Plate baseball card.

Yet I am left with a continuing wonder if perhaps that cropping process inside Topps HQ, done to the digital image well after it was first recorded on an ultra high-end sports photographer's camera, might inevitably reduce the resolution on the other parts of the image that Topps doesn't really need, anyway. When after all what they do need is the visage of an MLB player for their own individual baseball card, not other players, fans, or an Umpire.

Here is another wrench in the zoom crops - reconsider the Rajai Davis card I posted yesterday -
-which is from a day game.
The Taylor Davis card, also from 2018 Update, is from a night game. I have noticed over the last couple years that the night cards arrive with a little more blur to everything beyond the player. Perhaps it is easier for the camera to keep good resolution of the objects farther and farther from the center of the focus point, in bright sunshine. On the other hand, Rajai's card is probably shot from much closer to Rajai than the distance to Taylor on that card. But in general, to me, the night cards have a little less resolution beyond the central player image. I think.

And I wonder how the printing process itself interacts with the possible sharpness around the edges of the card, as Jose Reyes's compression sleeve goes from a distinct Mets Orange in the original Getty Image, to a far less vivid kinda-reddish, sorta, color on the resulting baseball card.

However the digi-stuff is all working in practice, I still know Joe West is on my baseball card; and that is yet another reason for me to think there is no particular contractual proscription on that.

Although I still can't answer this basic Baseball Card Theory question definitively either way as Topps never seems to ask me to just come hang out at Topps HQ with my jaw agape while I ask trivial questions all day, I do hope to see more cards like this. The Umpire is a pretty key part of the game after all. And I also know there will be only one way for me to continue trying to answer it. I'll just have to keep collecting baseball cards.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I found a Manager on a 2018 Baseball Card

Where have you gone, Joe Maddon? Do I have to buy a Topps Now card that I don't really want to see a Manager on one of my baseball cards, ever again?

Or do I have to buy a couple cases of Archives to eventually tease one of the Fan Favorite autographs out of the 2018 release?

Yes, there were some actual Topps Manager cards produced in 2018, via those 2 products. Both active, and retired. But not very many.

So I was quite pleased when I noticed something on this particular baseball card that I set aside, destined for a date with the scanner.

I took note of that one for a really long running side-collection type project I am always working on, and you will see here, someday, I hope. But no, it is not for a collection of cards shot in Detroit, as much as I like those. And I like that card, a nice horizontal of an only very occasional Action Image baseball card motif - Returning to the Dugout After Scoring a Run. Well, most likely, thought it might have been a successful Sacrifice perhaps too.

And pondering that idea, I noticed just who was congratulating Rajai there - one Terry 'Tito' Francona, Cleveland's Manager.

On a 2018 Topps baseball card. It's not, of course, "his" baseball card. And the few examples of Managers on a Topps Now card or the 2018 Archives cards were probably produced with a contract just for that card - because they all had Autograph versions. So those cards don't quite answer one of the miscellaneous questions about current, up-to-the-season baseball cards that I always have about them: 

Does Topps need a special contract with the 30 MLB Managers, apart from their contracts with MLB and the Major League Baseball Player's Association, to include them on baseball cards?

I have no idea. 

Sorting some cards the other day in my often one-season-behind approach after always working too many Away Jobs, I noticed a Terry Francona card in 2017, too:
Which of course came with a matching card for the winner of this award in the National League -

And as far as I can tell, these 2 cards did not appear with any autographed version, though of course they definitely have a Red parallel, and a Blue parallel, and maybe a Silver parallel, or maybe no one can tell the dumb Silver parallels apart from the regular version, and nobody cares, because I doubt even obsessed Super Collectors really want a parallel of an insert card, even though they probably track them down and buy them for some reason that the rest of us will never understand (do they themselves?), anyway.

So without the de rigueur "Auto" edition of these, there probably wouldn't be a singular contract between Topps and Francona or Roberts for those 2 cards either.

And again as far as I can tell, those were the only 2 Active Manager cards Topps produced last year, too, except also for a scattered amount of Topps Now cards as in 2018, and a couple Retired Managers in 2017 Archives, with normal base set cards even, and some Fan Favorite Autographs checklist entries for the Managers, which also had some Umpires on it. Wait, what? Yup, some Umps on a Topps baseball card, too ... stay tuned ....

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Card That Really Confuses Me

I am only partially sure that this is a card from a Canada Day game in Toronto. That would perhaps explain the rarely seen, on-card, red Alternate Cap. One of the only other cards to show one this year is .... J.A. Happ, on his Series One card. But that card shows the red cap more as I would expect on Canada Day,  paired with the red Alternate Home Uniform. ? 

And possibly, the Jays allow their American players to display an American flag patch on that day. ?

But why is the flag flying wrong? Sure, lately our country is pretty much the biggest example ever conceived of what is called a "Black Comedy" - is J.A. Happ trying to signal his distress? He didn't want to be traded back to The States, once again?

Or is this a super rare Reverse Negative card, a nearly impossible pull that accidentally slipped out of the Topps printing plant during a secret test run, unknown to everyone until an eagle eye collector pulled it from a pack? No, that never happens these days - there is a special checklist for such things, now.

Later this year, the Rookie Card Flood is sure to wash up upon our card stacks a deluge of cards from some kid named Vlad, Jr., playing in Toronto. What flag will he have on his sleeve? Russia?

Wait a minute, it's coming to me - I should have saved this post for June 14th. Flag Day! That must be what day this card is from. Oh, wait. Does Canada have a Flag Day? I suspect possibly not; I mean, they eat Maple flavored everything all day, every day - why would they need a special day to remember their really cool flag?

Not all that long ago, at least in terms of posts on this sadly neglected blog, I wondered how another set of baseball cards would handle the conundrum of using a national flag icon amidst America's national pastime, for a team technically from a foreign country. Bitch and ye shall receive, is one of my mottoes, and in my very next re-pack my question on a now basically obscure 16 year old set was answered.

Now I will have to find a 2002 Fleer Traditions card for a native born Canadian player, playing for Montreal or Toronto, to see if the set designer was as nit-picky about baseball card details as I am (seems highly unlikely). Jose Cruz Jr. is from Puerto Rico, so probably he is entitled to an American flag on his Canadian baseball card, I mean, I guess. But really I will need a card from these cats on the Expos back then, with names like Colon, Galarraga, or Guerrero - what flag will they get?

I think that might take awhile, but then I have been feeling the itch to buy some $1 packs of recycled baseball cards. Ah well, let's get back to the year 2018...

More Favorite 2018s

Best Classic Baseball Card

I should have mentioned in my Card of the Year Post preceding this one, I picked a card somewhat the way Time Magazine picks the Person of the Year. That Angels Future Stars blast from the past Ohtani rookie is not my favorite card of 2018, not even close. I enjoyed pulling it and the thoughts it lead me to, in the 2018 baseball card hobby. But I enjoyed many 2018 baseball cards, as I always do. So here comes a whole bunch of them, and since I picked a Big League card to start, I'll roll some other faves from there first. I haven't finished that set (nor, with the abysmal state of retail collation, am I closer than about 85% on S1/S2/Update) yet, so I still might luck into some more choice ones if I can luck into some discounted packs as 2019 rolls along. I also didn't finish a set of the green bordered parallels that one could cut from the blaster boxes, so I might end up buying one online and ponying up for larger item shipping, which I hate - but I also appreciate, cuz it helps keep my baseball card spending under control, bigly. So here we go ->

Best Socks

Favorite Celebration Card

Normally, 'celebration' cards feature a bunch of team-mates on the card. They were a steady running insert set in Opening Day for several years as well. There is also no shortage of 'main set' (I will never warm to the term 'Flagship') Topps cards featuring a Pitcher celebrating a Win, usually a Closer, often with his Catcher.

This card is more of a brief, in-game vignette, most likely of Velasquez celebrating a single out as he returns to the top of the mound. This may or may not even be seen while watching a TV broadcast of a game. Since I rarely have a chance to do that, I depend on my baseball cards to help me "watch" baseball, and this card comes through for me.

Best Frame Break

It's a 'pizza cake', as my Spanglish speaking friends say, to have the bat break the frame. I like more creative efforts at such.

Favorite Bubble Gum Card

Salvy is one of those players who always seems to get good cards. And one of those players I probably follow and root for a little bit more largely because of that. Each passing window of likely trading in MLB, I am increasingly amazed that the Royals don't join the Rebuild Parade and flip him for 3 cards just released in Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects. I somewhat hope they do, largely because he has already achieved what he can achieve in Kansas City, as a perpetual All-Star and the 1-1 record in the World Series, with the heartbreaking loss and the perfect, there's-always-next-year redemption victory. Though perhaps his final achievement will be as a beloved, single franchise player that is so incredibly rare in the 21st century MLB. Let's just hope that if that becomes true, and it does seem likely sometimes, he doesn't fall off the cliff as sadly as his teammate out there in left field.

I think I have now probably definitely accumulated a permanent set of 9 Salvador Perez cards to keep in a binder page, if I could only find time to assemble them altogether (y'all will be the first to know). But this card makes me feel like it might have to be the first such true "Player Collection" page that will have to feature 2 cards in every slot, for a more robust 18 cards. And I was darn glad to find this card, because the only other Bubble Gum Card I can recall this year was for Manny Machado, who will make it onto the Bubble Gum Card binder page, again, but I hardly want one of his cards to make a 'Best Of' anything.

Favorite Card From Another Sport

You didn't think I would really stray from my love of baseball cards, did you?

Other Most Hated Card

No, I really do love that Mookie Betts card up there - 'Other' is cuz I also had to go negative in that Rookies post just previous to this one. There are probably other cards I really really didn't like this year, but not too many. And I would hardly want to rank them.

But this card seriously made me mad. I like 1977 Topps. That was the first year I started to pay attention to cards from the Detroit Tigers, because that was the first summer I lived in Michigan. This should be the perfect combo of retro design and team fandom, just for ... me.

And not only had I never even seen _any_ Hal Newhouser card before, nor even knew any even existed, this is a pretty darn good color photograph of a 1940s baseball player - you don't see those very much.

I will be keeping this card, and putting it in my Tigers binder. I might even pick up extra copies of it, given that any random "base" card now is considered to have essentially zero value, and nearly only one cost, really - shipping. And with those extra copies I will practice and practice my horrifying baseball card altering skills and color in that insanely stupid use of the color white in that yellow pennant, where we are supposed to read the word "Pitcher", but of course, we can't. And eventually some certain pen and some certain careful bit of penmanship will fix this card right up to be just exactly perfect, and the original, un-altered white-on-yellow FAIL of a baseball card will go straight into the circular file.

Most Puzzling Photo Selection

Maybe it is a good thing that A.J. Minter has a couple other 'base' RC logo cards to call his "Rookie" home later in his career, which looks promising. And maybe his seeming antagonistic pose on his '18 Heritage High Numbers RC explains this photo selection - perhaps he fought with the Topps photog that day in late February last year.

But I can't recall a live MLB action photo baseball card quite like this one. I never care for a picture of a player's butt, save for _maybe_some of the most dramatic action shots. This shot, snapped near the end of A.J.'s delivery of a pitch, somehow conveys the opposite of impending baseball action motion. It is weirdly sleepy. 

At least we do get to see his face in profile, not totally uncommon on an action shot from live baseball. And I do think there has probably been a baseball card printed in the past featuring a player with his eyes closed. But I can't say I can specifically recall one.

Ahh well, I'll knock off the negative waves now. Let's dig how beautiful these Rolling Stones water slide baseball cards can be, and check out some righteous and hopeful ones...

Best Home Run Card
We always gets lots of Home Run cards. Hitters admiring their latest moon shot is common. Hitters clearly on a Home Run trot can be seen on baseball cards. Hitters mobbed at Home Plate after a walk-off Homer are not unknown. Topps even immortalized one of the more immortal Bat Flips of all-time in 2016 Series One. I'm not sure if that one was previously against the Unwritten Rules of Baseball Cards. And this card makes me wonder along those lines too. Is this against the Unwritten Rules? I know if this particular bit of live game action was shown on replay, I would be cracking up. And maybe if Brian McCann played on the other team, trouble would be a-brewing by the time Khris rounded 3rd base. I mean, it's like you can almost hear him thinking here - "Man, did I hit that thing a mile, or what?"

Light, Camera, Action
This card speaks to me to. It sounds just like one of the sound effects on the near-30 year old Pinball machine 'Comet' - except it says "Ride the Water Slide" instead of the ferris wheel. That's because all the lines on this dramatic (to me) card lead me to a quick trip down the slide with my inflated Blue Jay water toy and it's sidekick the Canadian maple leaf. Or something.

Normally I would prefer lines that all converge up to the top of the card, or the side. But this card is not a downer. It is a Twilight card, from a late afternoon game, with the crowd now in shadow but the players still lit up. I always like those, though some sets never even cough one up these days. And nearly every strong line in the image is parallel, or close to it. The uniform leg stripe, the shadow line on the cap, Louie Saints' arms, a key bit of the RC logo, even what we can see of the overly lit player behind Mr. Saints ... all those lines lead us right to the iconic slide with it's pleasing cool blue on a warm sunny day, down the little dip, and boop, on to the next one -

Favorite Team Card
Favorite Team Card? Who does that? This card is, lighting wise, the near opposite of the previous card, even though they both include a section of the stadium now fading into shadow. I don't know who the main player is who seems to have just done some kind of Walk-Off magic. Nor do I care.

But somehow, the photographer managed to make this look like a live action shot from the 1960s, with a basic warmth captured even while the players are well-lit. It looks Analog, rather than Digital, like so many cards do these days; almost painterly-esque, even. 

And you can tell the Real Fans, the ones who come see a losing team, anyway, and sit in a sea of empty seats, like on so many cards these days - the Real Fans came to the game that day, and they are standing, and cheering, even way up there in the cheap seats! Baseball!

Favorite Yankees Card
Favorite Yankees Card? Who does _that_? I don't even like the Yankees. But I like this card. It probably looks best, in-hand, if you can bring yourself to hold onto something that has no monetary value, and is connected to the New York Yankees. Maybe I should have called it my Favorite Pinstripes Card. Oh dear, I feel a new side-collection trope coming, we'd best move along.

Favorite Tigers Card
Perhaps baseball cards are a touch less fun when your team is going for the League Lead in losses, lately. Or, perhaps they actually help ameliorate all the blah-blahs that come with losing 4 days a week. This year there were only a handful of cards of Tigers who will actually still be around the next time they have a chance at posting a winning season, which definitely is highly unlikely for 2019. I will be taking a look, right here with you, at the Tigers Topps results for 2018 soon. Jeimer Candelario will probably never be an All-Star, but it does look like at least there will be one corner on the field with a little continuity for a couple seasons, unlike most of the other 7 fielding positions.

Best Card Back
Now, another endearing Tigers blog selected this card as their 2018 Card of the Year, so you can check out the front over there. Hicks hadn't even reached 100 AB in MLB and was back in the minors  in July of 2017, so it wasn't surprising he didn't make the cut for '17 Update. But this year, he did.

And though I often think Topps is barely paying attention to the Detroit Tigers, this card back shows me they were. Because in a long long season of lowlights for my favorite team, John Hicks supplied my favorite Tigers play of 2018. Oh, Kevin Cash, you want to play some Nu Baseball and shift hard against this sluggish Catcher/FirstBaseman? Ok, says Ron Gardenhire, hold my iPad and watch this. Here is a Fan Shot view of the action, from the stands:

And here is a full game re-cap with the key details leading off to this fun play from Fox Sports Detroit, with the radio call from Dan Dickerson and Jim Price nicely subbed in for the critical moment (the way I heard it live); 1:25 is a good starting point for the tl;dw generation:

Apologies on the blockage there, though it can be watched on any other webpage, but not this one. Brilliant customer relations here, MLB. :(

Favorite Unknown Rookie to root for in 2019
In baseball, everyone likes the players with 3 names. Usually. And in baseball cards, everyone likes the players with 3 positions. Because you just don't see that on baseball cards. So this was a no-brainer selection. Now if only there was anywhere within an hour's drive that would fix me some falafel for dinner. Sorry, Isiah, I just couldn't resist. Bring your promising 1.6 Rookie WAR on out of spring training this year, and make us some glorious new 3B/2B/C baseball cards.

Best Rookie Card
Though I am nowhere close to owning all of the "Key Rookie Cards" of 2018, as if an entire season of baseball cards revolved around just 10 cards, nor will I ever be, most likely, I knew when I pulled this one it would be the Best of 2018. And everyone likes a Pitcher who can hit a Home Run. In the playoffs.

I like the Woodruff card because of the photo used on this object -

which obviously was the gensis of this iconic part of my life -

So whenever I pull a card that comes pretty darn close to this image, it's a keeper. I set them aside, and someday I will run a little side-by-side comparison on which card comes the closest to it. Brandon Woodruff 2018 Topps #179 RC could well be among the leaders, at this point.

Look Ma, No Feet!
Ahh, just chillin' after servin' up my latest meatball. Nah, I don't need the pitching mound, I'ma goin' for a ride on the water slide here.

Most Focused Card
I first pulled this card in Opening Day, and liked it then. It stayed the same in Series 2, but Thames appears ready to slug another Homer in Topps Chrome.

Thames is not looking at the photographer. He is not looking at you. He is focused on the incoming ball, which just landed in his glove - but before he has been able to re-focus his eyes to his next body motions needed to play the game of baseball. There are probably lots of cards in the 2010s that well capture a baseball player intent on his craft. But few of them can match this intriguing photo of a split second that has only just now flown past us.

Best Stadium Card

Best Stadium Lights Card
Only Stadium Lights card? Possibly. Probably.

Whoever shoots photos from the field in Atlanta, well, Topps needs to buy more photos from them. It's the 70s now Topps, it's time. Put the Stadium back on the baseball cards. Pretty please?

Most Revealing Card
You try plying your trade outdoors nearly year-round all your life. You carry a franchise on your back and generate most of it's All-Time leader statistics, all while all the retired people you live amidst would rather root for their old team, back up north, and paid attendance makes the construction of a 2nd level of seating in your stadium nearly superfluous. You try fighting the 2 titans of the AL East for your whole career, watching any talented teammate inevitably leave your clubhouse in hopes that they bring back in exchange a perfect combo of hot young players who can knock one of the titans off the top spot, someday, but inevitably also have to be traded to just try, try again. You gaze into the future of five more years of the baseball standings equivalent of Groundhog Day, and wonder if your career will always be this way. You, too, would end up with some well earned Crows Feet around your eyes, and the first hints of grey in your hair, in your early 30s.

Topps could have easily made this decidedly non-action shot another one of their unique short, or super-short printed 'Photo Variations'. The vast bulk of these sets are composed of true action shots, snapped during live baseball play. But some of the photos are not. Only some, in a given set, and I think a few more of them may have crept in to my 2018 baseball cards than normal. And I think they are mainly given to long-time Veterans, and in the Complete Set now, a bit of a true Topps salute in solid baseball card tradition, rather than yet another insert card not everyone really wants. 

The last card I set aside from 2018, which will surely make my annual Nicest Nine for 2018 Topps, or whatever I finally nickname the series for blog posting use, well this card and player needs no introduction, once again, as in a previous post.

Pawing through a stack of 2018 Topps Series One, any true baseball fan will stop, and reflect a little, and remember, when they see all the action on every card suddenly come to a stop, on this card. And that is what baseball cards are all about.