Monday, April 19, 2021

It's good to be wrong


A while back this year I read an online report that the 2021 Opening Day set wouldn't actually reach retail stores. This turned out to be false - it was simply delayed. A few days ago it arrived in my little ole home town and some 5 hours after the officially designated trading card distribution time of 3pm at my local Big Box© store, some Opening Day was even still for sale on the shelves.

This was quite a relief to me. The idea that the cheapest Topps baseball picture card product was so desired that it couldn't even be sold in stores was basically disturbing. Trading Card Mania couldn't reach all the way into a set full of cards not even worth money, could it?

Instead what is happening is Topps and Panini have to produce far more trading cards than any other year in the 21st Century so far, but with the same amount of production capacity, is my conclusion. And do so amidst this pandemic problem you may have heard about. The result seems simple: trading card products are arriving later than expected.

So a few nights ago I was able to relax and rip some packs while listening to a baseball game. Which included pulling the Colin Moran card shown above while he was At Bat, and once again tearing up the opposition in this young season.

Of course the design of these cards was already known. But one can always hope for a bit of drama in Opening Day, as with the year of the black cards in the Topps Baseball set that became white cards in the Opening Day release. However that is generally very unlikely in this product, and instead we have just a tiny difference this year:

As in most Opening Day sets, any foil is replaced by normal printing. And this year, one tiny part of the parallelogram is accented to a darker shade. Bold, Topps, bold. I do like how the Opening Day logo helps tame that pointlessly excessively long parallelogram on the left side of the card at least. 

The design this year has so many busy elements all over the place that I have a hard time thinking of how to refer to it. I like my thought of calling it the Parallelogram Set, but I hate typing that word out. And really, how long has it been since you have heard a nickname for a Topps Baseball set actually pronounced out loud by someone else? I thought so. Even so, I don't really want to pronounce the Parallelogram Set out loud, either.

Maybe I will just call it the Busy Set. Topps certainly stays busy making sure every Topps Baseball set now includes horizontal cards, too:
One thing that often leaps out at a viewer of Topps Baseball cards is the way textual graphic elements on the cards become fixed in place on every card, regardless of how they work in the image. The Opening Day logo could fit in a plethora of locations on this card, but instead it's automatic placement here basically wrecks the best thing this photo has going for it when used for a baseball picture card.

I usually don't care for any baseball picture card that doesn't help me picture a player's face. Some such cards can certainly be quite dramatic and enjoyable, well worth overruling that rule of mine. But other times, well, sometimes I'm glad I don't have to look at certain players' faces.

Now I was on the lookout for this next card, as I knew it wasn't in Series One this year:
Topps is finally ending it's curious treatment of Castellanos with his first Topps Baseball card not drawing attention to his fielding, on it's 8th try. For a Tigers fan this is a rather unfortunate card though, showing off two potential Top Ten Home Runs leaders in the NL that are both ex-Tigers, with (so far) little to show on the roster back in Detroit.

And ironically it was squinting at this card that revealed to me that Topps slipped back to ignoring Castellanos' official request to be referred to as "Nicholas," which Topps remembered for a couple years before backsliding to "Nick" last year. 

However 2021 Topps Baseball remains a set where I don't recommend attempting to learn how to spell complex multi-syllable last names, like this one:

Though the FUTURE STARS logo certainly does help light up those teeny-tiny names at least a little bit.

And I do like that Karinchak card quite a bit. Perhaps mostly for the Powder Blue lurker back there who looks a bit distraught at probably just having lost that day's game, detectable even in his blurry background status. This card is definitely going in my nascent Powder Blue Collection, coming in more and more packs to you, should you be able to find any 2021 packs of baseball cards. But I can't quite figure out what team that lurker plays for. I want to think it is a rarely seen Powder Blue effort by the Chicago White Sox, but Google isn't backing me up here. Maybe by the time I pull this card in Series Two I will have figured it out.

I did have to turn to other resources than my brand new Topps Baseball card to figure out how to spell Karinchak's last name correctly. Which kind of defeats the purpose of acquiring this brand new baseball card, really. But along the way I just learned on Baseball Reference that as I write this post, Karinchak has a 0.6 WAR for the 2021 season already - after having pitched in only 6 innings so far. He has yet to allow a run in those 6 innings, so does that reveal one of the mysteries of WAR - each inning without a run allowed is worth 0.1 WAR, maybe? I don't know. Does anyone?

This time of year, finding "new" cards in Opening Day means finding cards not yet already seen in Series One, so let's see some more:
The scan really nails this one, showing off the gleam on the batting helmet even better than this basically nice baseball card does. I'm beginning to quite like finding "leading off" type base-running cards like this one.

This card shows off something else all too well - did you know each card in the 2021 Topps Baseball design includes a "team color" element? You probably figured that out with Cincinnati Reds cards, like I did - but it certainly took me a while, in the Busy Set. But it's there, underneath the team's cap logo, or whichever team logo Topps decides to anoint each team with on their baseball cards. This card reveals that the set design got so busy, and the Topps baseball picture card composers got so busy, that they couldn't always quite get that team color design element quite right amidst so much busy-ness all over the card. And why is the one rounded corner under the design mess colored-in with brown, anyway? This design just simply can't answer that question, on any card/team color/photo combination, really.

But I like that Albies card, and somehow the player image disappearing into that design tangle is still OK on it. Which is not always the case:
Other times, the player's body parts simultaneously overlaying and underlaying the design elements just draw the eye into the Busy a bit too much.

The Soler card image at least doesn't make you ponder the design poking into the top of the image overly much. Other times, it's up, up in the air, it's a parallelogram, it's an alien spaceship, it's a 
I don't know either, Chadwick.

And I don't know who this player is, either, though at least I don't have to squint quite so hard when the team color is black, which also controls the ink color of the teeny tiny names. Which would be pretty cool, if it weren't so nearly un-noticeable.

Now I know Topps has to introduce us to the Catchers of the 2020s who will eventually replace Buster Posey in San Francisco. And this card includes a heartwarming tidbit about this player's call-up on the back. But is Opening Day really the set for this type of card? In the 2013 Opening Day set that I like so much, there were only 8 RC logo cards. In 2021, that has multiplied by a factor of 6 - 48 Rookie Card cards on the 220 card checklist. Will Chadwick Tromp play in the Majors this year? Maybe. Should all Topps Baseball sets just be Bowman sets full of Rookie Card cards only? Would anyone even notice? Maybe not.

And the weird thing about loading up this product, too, with Rookie Card cards is - Opening Day RC cards are almost always the cheapest Rookie Card card of a player one can purchase - i.e. the least valuable/desirable.

Oh well, let's get back to those normal baseball picture cards, the vertical ones:
Always nice to see the Twins' red alternate uniform on a card as it always livens them up regardless of design. I think this might be the first Night Card I have noticed this year. A good card, no demerits as the stadium light-up ads supply the non-photo fascination instead of the Busy.

And the Maeda card has a great photo selection, as did the Karinchak card, and as does this card:
These are all rare sights in a Topps Baseball set any more - a Pitcher not actually in the act of pitching the baseball. They are even more noticeable in Opening Day, which includes very few Pitchers at all, though it does manage to now include several Rookie pitchers I have never heard of.

Normally, though, we get the regular Pitcher pitching cards -
More Nationals Moob. What's up with these? Another Bad is Good? No, I don't think I will include these. Not good.

And the Pitcher pitching cards can still work just fine, on any given card:
I should know by now how the Cubs refer to this uniform - a Home Alternate, perhaps? - but I always enjoy seeing it, on-card.

Except Yu Darvish won't be pitching for the Cubs any more of course. He was traded to San Diego on 12-29-20. Is that past the editorial cut-off for the creation of Opening Day?  I don't know. But Darvish does not have a regular Series One player card, just a League Leader card naturally quite similar to this card, given how busy Topps is these days - same uniform, nearly the same image. Mostly this card makes me wonder if this card will also be issued in Series 2.

In years past, players changing teams in December would sometimes find themselves photoshopped into a new uniform on an Opening Day card. It appears Topps dropped that practice, this year. I also found new cards of players on old teams for:

David Dahl, Rockies - signed w/Texas 12-15-20

George Springer, Astros - signed w/Blue Jays 1-23-21

Joc Pederson, Dodgers - signed w/Cubs 2-5-21

Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox - traded to Royals 2-10-21

Just some baseball card trivia for you there, I guess. Overall I don't expect that 2021 Opening Day will include any cards with an image different than a player's S1/S2 card, though one can't be positive of that until Series 2 releases later this year. 2018 increasingly looks like the exception that proves the rule on such possibilities. Perhaps the Darvish, Dahl, and Springer cards will not be included in Series 2, though few but careful team collectors will ever notice, either way.

A few players changing into those casual road grey photoshops is one thing I watch for in Opening Day, along with any card image different than the card in the Topps Baseball set. But there is always much more to the cheap little set, like it's standard blue parallel:
This is one is perhaps a perfect "pull" from this product. A Rookie Card parallel! Oooohh! But is actually a quite nice combo of a blue parallel with a blue Road Alternate uniform. The full blue frame does, however, serve to really accent all the idiosyncratic Busy going on all the way around the design 'frame' of the card as your eyes keep going round and round it, all Busy-like. No two edges the same, or it wouldn't be "Busy" enough, I guess.

Though I can't recall this Pitcher making any "Hot" lists, or even ever having heard of him before - which is a main reason I buy baseball cards.

In total from my purchase of one blaster (77 cards) and one hanger box (35 cards), I pulled 2 of these blue parallels, both from the blaster. My memory of past years is finding about triple that, earlier in the 2010s, but 2/blaster seems about the same as the last couple years. 

I also buy these cards in hopes of finding an enjoyable insert set. What would 2021 Opening Day supply on that front?
This is a bit of a standard insert theme in the Opening Day set, naturally. Though I like this card's use of standard MLB colors (but why does Topps rarely use this normal blue color on any baseball card?), these don't do much for me, this year. The Reds have the longest running Opening Day tradition in Major League Baseball, or did in the past, of being the first game in the National League each year, even if by only an hour or so.

These cards have a nice synopsis of the events of Opening Day, 2020, for each team, but the fronts of these cards do nothing for me aside from the classy bottom frame. I pulled 3, and they each are no different than any other "team card" showing a few players celebrating. One for the Padres shows 2 players not even mentioned in the text on the back, which is also true of the Indians card. For a true Opening Day card, I want to see the classic bunting, and at least feature a player who featured in that OD game the previous season. Eventually though I realized images of 2020 Opening Day probably just weren't worth using, given that no fans could attend.

The Opening Day theme does continue on another insert:
Now we are getting into baseball card insert action. I would want one of these cards if I was a dedicated 'Player Collector' but I am just a lazy player collector - if I find a card I like of a player I really like, it might make it into a binder page for that player. Though I have a basically positive reaction to these, they don't move my needle towards needing all of them. Would the rest of the inserts?
I was glad to find this one to get some OG action in my brand new Powder Blue Collection, but otherwise this feels like a Zoomed-it-in effort here. Other cards pulled from this checklist include Griffey Jr. and Ripken - really going out on a limb there, Topps. I can live without the rest of these, too.

There are a few more inserts in this, technically, though they are deliberately short printed to be rare cards to supply the "value" that entices the customers to buy more. I didn't "hit" any of them, this year, so will likely never see what they look like and thus won't need to collect them, either. Opening Day Stars seems to have been retired, finally; I generally liked that effort in years past.

A final component of an Opening Day set is referred to as an insert, but is also basically a base card - the Mascots:
2020 Represent!

Those are the 2 mascots I most look forward to finding, and Topps came through for me with their packs carefully sent to my little ole home town. These cats are nearing full binder pages now and will probably get double-sided pages soon enough, though the Parrot's card has some amusing stats on the back as Topps did manage to include at least a little baseball card fun on these despite all the grim news going on off of our baseball cards over the last year.

That leaves only wanting to see a new Bernie Brewer card, which I did not pull, however unless he manages to actually be photographed still landing in actual beer in an actual beer barrel, which seems unlikely in his new stadium now named after an insurance company, I doubt there is much Topps can do for me with his image at this point. Which was the general case for 2021 Opening Day; I could not find evidence of the base checklist offering up any variety from Series One, and there were no memorable insert designs like Stadium Lights (2011), Play Hard (2013), or Bubble Trouble (2016), to name a few faves over the years.

I was happy with my pleasant hour of absorbing brand new baseball cards while listening to live baseball. Though I don't feel any need to purchase more packages of this, that will likely soon become a moot point during ongoing Trading Card Mania, anyway. And I was also quite pleased to find one final mascot card to share, a mascot that only sometimes makes it into this set (but has their own binder page, too), who seems to be summing up my feelings on this one:


Monday, April 12, 2021

Imaginary Baseball Cards

 Absorbing baseball cards was a very slow process for me in 2020 and on into 2021. But one card made my brain double clutch, instantly:

Though I was unable to follow Major League Baseball all that closely last year, even I knew that Matt Kemp had suited up in Colorado last year - not Miami.

I liked a few things about this card; it is probably one of my favorites I have pulled from artist Carlos Cabaleiro. But I didn't much care for the 2020 Gallery design after really enjoying the set in 2019 - when the card text was much more understated, letting the illustration do almost ALL of the talking. See how out of place just a few ALL CAPS letters can be? I bought 2 hanger packs of '20 Gallery and considered buying a blaster a few times to get a deeper exam of the inserts, but after a while even the display box of Gallery disappeared completely, too, before I ever got around to trying more of it.

This KEMP card stuck with me though; a Topps baseball card showing a player on a team he never played for, ever. I know, I know, there are probably scores of thousands of Bowman cards that do this with players who often never even reach the Majors at all. But before 2020, I can't recall this ever happening very often on Topps products. Though I feel confident it has, I can't point to any particular specific example for you.

And the way this card happened was partially organic to the baseball card creation process, partially not. Obviously the unique structure of the 2020 season was a dominant factor in how this happened: Matt Kemp signed with the Marlins all the way back in December, 2019. But was then released in June 2020, before signing with the Rockies in early July, 2020.

Players changing teams and appearing on a baseball card on their previous team afterwards is a common occurrence of course. But Gallery is released in early December each year - six months after Kemp signed in Colorado. I think this also illustrates the long lead times for the creation of Gallery cards.

I have to wonder who else might be a bit of an 'imaginary' card in last year's Gallery. But the Kemp card was the only such card from my meager 2 hanger purchase.

As I was trying to spruce up the appearance of my poor neglected baseball card desk recently, I found another brand new baseball card of a player on a team he never played for. My team:
Whatever agent sold Agrazal with Detroit's scouts sure seemed to also sell the idea of him to Topps, who then issued more Rookie Card cards of him than I can even count, including a whole 'nother unique card of him in Stadium Club Chrome, and Topps Chrome, and Heritage, and Gypsy Queen, and Update, and at least one of those on-demand print-to-order dealios that I just ain't got time to even think about, and Gallery, too. And some of those products included autograph cards with a different image than the base card. And maybe a few inserts in there too, somehow.

All for a pitcher who appeared in 15 games to generate a 4.91 ERA for the Pirates in 2019 and then became a waiver claim for Detroit late in that calendar year. You know your baseball team is bad when it is picking up players released by the Pirates - current Tigers experiments include players released by the Marlins and Orioles, so the tragicomedy continues. Last summer, Agrazal developed an arm injury just before the season began (seems to be a common fate for Tigers reclamation projects) and did not inspire the confidence of a new contract with any MLB club since.

Meanwhile I could also only discover 2 hanger packs of Stadium Club last year though I very much wanted more - & this pointless baseball card was one of them. With base cards already at 50¢ each in retail stores, it is a product I have less desire than any other to pay additional mark-up on. And I didn't quite want to pony up for a set of it completed by someone else, though that remains tempting. I often wish I could buy random partial set left-overs of certain releases, but no one sells baseball cards _that_ way.

I have a bunch more of these types of cards to post here, but I doubt any of the players will be able to top Agrazal's count of baseball cards showing him on a team for whom he never appeared in a game. It is truly an amazing run that can all be seen (and purchased quite cheaply) on COMC if you wish. 

Another such card, also for the Tigers, actually piqued my interest on this concept far more than the Agrazal card. It is a card in Update, for a player who never set foot into an MLB game for Detroit. Ironically? Stupidly? Lazily?  -- I can't recall the player's name. But knowing that card existed led me to buy a bit too much 2020 Update, stubbornly trying to acquire the card the dumbest way possible - by ripping packs.

I knew there were multiple other such cards in Update, so I started watching for them:
Bold move, Topps. Issuing a card of a player who hadn't pitched in the Majors for 2 complete seasons. Also a bit bold was using a classic Spring Training "back fields" type portrait card with that batter's eye mausoleum looking thing back there. It took the longest time of staring at baseball cards like this one for me to figure out what that thing shown on so many Topps baseball cards actually is; probably because I only ever listen to Spring Training games on the radio and never watch them on TV. I often wish the Topps Baseball set would use a few more Spring Training photos for diversity, and 2020 Update certainly came through for me on that one. Be careful what you wish for, on baseball cards.

Cotton ended up being released by the Cubs during the 2020 "season," such as it was, without ever pitching for them. My only real memory of him is on a Rookie Card in an Oakland A's uniform, for whom he did appear in 29 games. Over the recent off-season he was given a minor league deal with the Rangers.

Though I still haven't even seen the imaginary Tigers card I have been looking for, figuring out the Cotton card did lure me into hunting up more such cards, like this ex-brief-Tiger's card:
This is also technically a Spring Training card, though without any real confirmation of that in the image. It is also a pretty good baseball card, with vivid colors and a great image flow accenting the card design, or vice versa. The Topps Eye has always liked Josh Harrison, it seems to me. However he ended up playing the 2020 season for the Washington Nationals, who he is with once again in 2021.

Topps has also always seemed to like this next player -
Sometimes the bright spring sunshine reveals a baseball card sourced from Florida or Arizona, as here. However Hamilton would end up a 2020 MLB diamond for 2 other teams - the Cubs & Mets - not the Giants. I think most baseball fans jus wish Hamilton could get on base enough to keep the data analysts happy, so we could all get a break from the Home Run Derby all game, every game. And so, it seems, do baseball's General Managers, who have now connected Hamilton to a fair bit more rosters than Topps has. 2021 finds him back in action after a late spring, post Eloy Jimenez injury signing with the White Sox - so look for him in '21 Update again, or maybe even Series 2 this year.

Players with unpronounceable names -
- are the ones most likely to get you to turn over their baseball card.

There are a lot of team names on the back of a Jhoulys Chacin baseball card by now, but the Minnesota Twins are not one of them. For 2021 he is back with the Colorado Rockies after stops in 6 other MLB cities.

I often think it is only because of Update sets that I ever manage to notice how Catchers move around the Leagues almost as much as back-of-rotation starters and middle relievers do. But I think all Yankees Catchers must receive a Topps Baseball card:
Even when they never appear in the pinstripes, I guess. The Yankees released him early in the summer-only season last year, and he officially retired a week later.

Checking out the career arcs of these players is revealing in the way careers are shorter now, in the data mining age of baseball. 6th-7th year players can now be lauded for their "veteran presence in the clubhouse" for all those Rookie Card cards we find in our packs of baseball cards these days. The next card somehow reminded me of that shopworn baseball concept:
Even when Forsythe appeared in the AL Central for a year, my only knowledge of him was "I have one of his baseball cards." And since I connect that to a Padres card, that probably explains my total ignorance of his career. San Diego is a long ways away from me. Forsythe ended up in the opposite corner of the country in 2020, appearing in a few games for Miami - not Philadelphia. It seems unlikely he will be seen again on cardboard.

So while I continue to hunt for the mystery Tigers baseball card of a non-Tiger, I also have a future problem to solve with these cards. If I find that 2nd Tigers card for this kinda surreal little card collection, I would then have 9 such cards and closure, on this concept, with one complete binder page.

But I expect more of them are out there, waiting for me. Have you found any of these?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Mmm-mmm good Shiny

I know I will never catch up with bloggling about all the fun and not so fun things I find on my beloved baseball cards. Though I have some nice little piles of cards I am looking forward to scanning, sometimes I figure it is better to cut the line.

Today I was happier than usual to find some brand new baseball cards on the shelf. A long crappy day discovering 2 different things to fix on my truck, big-time work scheduling pressure, and the capper was my local pharmacy telling me that I was typing in my own birth date wrong - meaning my vaccination appointment was now invalid.

And I had even missed the official 3 pm distribution of the trading cards at my local Big Box store.

I went on over there after dark, anyway. Shoots, scores! One brand new Heritage "Mega" box. I have 2 blasters of Heritage already and my usual pile of hits & misses to share with you - some day.

But this delightful baseball card eye candy can't wait:

Now this is the way to Psychedelic Tombstone.

These scan a little odd, but that's OK - these things are to be held in your hands, not your devices.

These are the trippiest cards I've seen since late 90s Pacific inserts.

$45 for 3 of 'em, though of course you also get 132 nice regular Heritage cards, too.

But if you happen to pull your most hated baseball player ever and can't stand having their card in your house, well, I'm your huckleberry.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Is bad good?

We all know the concepts around the word "bad" and how that can actually mean "good." Though I often wonder how people learning English as a second language first start grasping this concept. Someone probably tells them "Samuel L. Jackson is a bad ________" and they get it, I usually suspect.

But that isn't quite the "bad" = "good" theme I have had in mind while pawing through my small stack of 2021 Series One cards. I just keep finding these new baseball cards that really are: bad. Sometimes though, that can be good. 

Anyone reading many baseball card blogs is probably familiar with some of the more well-known cards from the 1990s that depart from the photo norms of baseball cards - the card with the snake, the huge wireless telephone, the Budweiser umbrella, etc. Those aren't "bad" cards though, they are just playful photographs which would not really look all that out of place in one of those more recent galleries of short-print / photo variations full of cards we scroll past but know we will never own.

This year though, I am finding some just plain bad baseball cards, and this seems to be a higher # than usual. But some of them are so bad - that I like them. Let's take a look.

This card is not bad at all. What got me thinking about bad baseball cards, in connection to this card, was a card I found two cards later in the pack:
Bad = Good? Not really.

My first reaction to the 2nd deGrom card was a sinking feeling that 2020 and now 2021 had now pushed Topps to the ultimate no-good, very-bad thing that should never ever happen in a single pack of baseball cards: a duplicate card in a pack.

Upon further review that proved not to be the case of course, but the cards are so darn similar the lazy effort from Topps here just made me mad. And then after a while I noticed the baseball kinda disappearing into the card's graphics. Which is bad. But not memorably, endearingly bad.

Bad = Good? Yes. But I'm not all that sure I want to keep looking at this one for too long.

I can't recall seeing much Moob on a baseball card before. And someone be sure and keep Justin Timberlake away from this one cuz the last thing we need in 2021 Baseball is a wardrobe malfunction right here.

Bad = Good? Yes. 

I can hear 10 year old Me laughing at this one all the way through multiple decades. The hockey sticks will take you now, Nolan.

Bad = Good? Yup.

I still have no idea how the word "dab" got attached to anything Baseball. Or what Orlando Arcia and his 3rd Base Coach are doing here, even though the back of the card suggests this is some sort of pandemic-correct, socially distant celebration. But I just keep looking at all that green grass in the center of the card. Eureka! Dabs. Grass. I'm starting to get it. I think. Were there dabs involved during the creation of this baseball card? Hmmm.

Bad = Good? Most definitely.

I kind of wanted to end with this card because it is becoming one of my absolute favorites in '21 S1. That white spot in the red field is just so utterly hypnotizing. I couldn't end with it because then I couldn't ponder my memory of this card:
Did those outfield wall scoreboard indicators for balls and strikes, etc., creep into the new card? They would seem to be the wrong height, as per this 2020 Archives Benintendi card. But could be, could be, some other part of that system at Fenway. Now if I could only figure out the name of the player on that card I would be all set. But since I can't stop staring at the red & white light on there, that hardly matters, either.

Bad = Good? Nope.

I'm not going to let the printing of a player's name on a baseball card inadvertently make me enjoy an otherwise bad baseball card design. But at least on this card I won't forget which player it is.

Bad = Good? Yes.

These horizontal Pitcher torsos get boring, and quick. Except when they don't, sometimes. This isn't quite one of those times, but seeing how Topps feels about the importance of its anniversary vs the importance of photo composition is pretty clear. Since this is a Rookie Card card, I truly hope this player goes on to Hall of Fame Greatness. Whoever he is.

Bad = Good? I'm not sure where I'm supposed to be looking here, so I'll pick Yes.

I had to look this up to determine that is Sox Pitcher Dylan Cease trying to hypnotize the photographer, and us. All while in the midst of a fist bump with an off camera player. Fun Fact: As I write this blog entry, Dylan Cease has a career WAR of exactly 0.0 - which is not easy to do. But overall, I am just hypnotized, again. I'll probably keep this one with my small but growing collection of memorable Yoan Moncada cards.

Bad = Good? No way, no how. This is just a straight up bad baseball card.

I think regardless of how one felt about wearing a mask over the last year, everyone can agree that anyone not wearing it over their nose is just plain stupid. This card will soon leave my collection, permanently, via the round metal circular file next to my card desk. And I hope I never pull another copy. And for Mondesi's sake (I do recognize some players in my team's division), I hope he gets a new photo for his 2021 Topps Chrome card.

Bad = Good? No.

This is another basically acceptable baseball card, though it looks like Aquino (few collectors can forget a rookie anointed by Topps) just missed on a swinging strike, or dribbled a little roller back to the Pitcher. This card is just Topps being stubborn, doubling down on their hot RC designation for Aquino with a "Future Stars" tag that has seemingly very little to do with his on-field results in 2020. Maybe Topps will be proved right in the end. But I just think this is a bad call, here, Topps.

Overall, the best bad baseball cards are those oh so rare ones where we just have no idea what is happening:
Bad = Good? We have a winner.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Was that 2020 Baseball Cards on that shelf there?

Happy post-Opening Day! It was so great to be absorbing baseball action that "counts" -- and both my teams won their first game. There's always this year!

I did have one major downer though - for the first time I can ever recall in my entire life, I could not purchase a pack of baseball cards on Opening Day. I think I will always have trouble getting used to that fact; though I can "wrap my mind around" all the causes, that simple thing is just one that particularly keeps me wondering a certain question. Am I just about to wake up now?

Maybe it is time for another deep absorption of Richard Linklater's masterpiece movie "Waking Life," I dunno. But before I wake up, I have been wanting to share the baseball cards I discovered inside this not-so-great dream of the past year. And it is always way past time for me to deal with those ever-growing stacks of baseball cards. Later on tonight when the dulcet tones of Jon Miller start describing a new Giants season for me, I think I might finally put some 1986 Topps into some binder pages. And maybe keep those near a scanner, for y'all.

But before I enjoy some constructing of a binder full of my baseball card youth, or get on with having fun with brand new baseball cards, let's see what I could far too rarely find on the shelves last year - 2020 Baseball Cards:

Most Now What?
This appeared on the one 'blaster' I was able to purchase of Big League. I don't know why but I like this pleasing purple border, a color with almost no connection to most of MLB, and despite it's flirting with a pastel level of tint. But it is quite a happy card of Miggy and I quite look forward to rescuing it from it's cardboard panel to hang out with the rest of my Miggy cards.

But - I want this card cut out of here, perfectly. The best technique or equipment for this is a bit of a taboo subject in baseball cards, where the thought of a card actually worth money possibly being "trimmed" - well that's just a collecting rabbit hole of thought and controversy I don't really have to consider much, because I have no plans to ever buy any expensive baseball cards. (Though I do really want a-bit-less-than-gem copy of Miggy's first not-Chrome Topps card).

I know I will eventually have to man up and just cut this with a pair of scissors. But I also know I won't get the dotted line and the purple boundary just exactly perfect and straight. So this panel will probably kick around my card desk for a while to come. If Topps hadn't put those unnecessary instructions on there, the whole thing would look quite nice, like a card-within-a-card with a pleasant colorful bottom border. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

First Favorite Insert Run
I quite liked this card when I first pulled it, or a similar one. The simple attention-paid detail of making the left and bottom of the image a staid yellow while the opposite sides are shaded gives a nice 2D illusion of a picture in a 3D frame. Previous takes on Turkey Red omitted that tiny thing, I believe. Meanwhile the background is simple but artsy illustration. Nice.

But eventually I pulled this card -
And I started to think hey, wait. Those nifty illustrations are going to repeat now. I highly doubt the original Turkey Red illustrators ever did that - because they almost surely couldn't. But Topps can:

Which kind of really just puts it in your face that these cards are just specially digitized photographs. Because what 100 years ago Illustrator would show off a Spring Training complex's "Batter's Eye" wall construction as a backdrop for a famous baseball player? (And I only ever pulled the one horizontal - I need 9 horizontals, Topps, to really enjoy them correctly - on a binder page.) Although one would have to reach that conclusion about all the cards if you really thought about it, I would rather the card leave me the illusion of illustration, not just more action photography.

Even though that kind of works well too -
Until you pull another player's card with that same background, cheapening both of them when in close proximity to each other. At one time I wanted to build maybe one of the sets of these from S1, S2, or Update but that desire waned as my little stack of them very slowly grew. I ended up with a couple dozen of them and should be able to distill that down to just a single page of Like.

Favorite Horizontal

OK I confess I'm not positive this will be my totally favorite #1 horizontal card from 2020. But I do know this card will end up on a page with 8 compatriots as a keepsake for 2020 Topps Baseball for me. The set did offer up a lot of nice horizontals.

On that card, I like (as usual) the whole flow of the image working with the card design. Bonus features include a bunch of dedicated fans all powder blued up, and the way Carpenter is pushing off from first base with his foot. Making this sort of a contender for top base running card, but I had to disqualify it because no one actually runs after hitting a Home Run. But powder blue does look good on the base paths:
Best Base-Running Card Runner-Up
That's the way to do it. Powder blue, dirt, Action! I quite liked Big League this year, another product I would have collected more of, if I could without buying from an extra layer of middle man rather than in a store. As great as that card is though, I found another in Big League I liked better:

Best Base-Running Card

I can't recall owning any other baseball cards quite like this one, where Brendan looks to have just rounded First and is focused on gauging a defender's likelihood of throwing him out. Or it could be a unique lead-off stance, but I don't think so. This would make a perfect In Action card in '21 Heritage, if Brendan Rodgers had a bit more checklist pull, me thinks. But I have no real ability to conceive of anything about Brendan Rodgers, so I guess I better get around to reading the back of this card before it gets a coveted binder page slot for all eternity. 

Best Fielding Card Runner-Up
Here again I couldn't pick just one. Though this card is quite grey, the overall bright sunshine makes you forget that, and this photo is just too good to worry about card design around it.

Best Fielding Card
For once the image complements the design.

Most Same As It Ever Was Fielding Card
The Curious Case of Nicholas Castellanos continues; Topps just seems to mock one of the most classic examples (to the tune of $16 Million a year for Nick) of The Bat's Worth It by reminding us all to look up Casty's latest dWAR in a smaller ballpark. Maybe Topps is giving me a hint, dunno. I prefer to read baseball cards as a first choice, not websites -- though one of those informed me today that Winker's "D" is questionable, too. Humph.

Best Tigers Card
I was unable to get many Detroit Tigers cards this past year. I wasn't able to get very many baseball cards at all, and when you are drafting first in MLB every other year, your team isn't getting very many Topps baseball cards to start with. So I know I won't have the energy to do a post on the Tigers cards of 2020. I managed to turn up a majority of the Tigers issued in Series One, Two, and Update though not all of them. I am pretty sure I have all of the ones with much chance to play for the Tigers in '22 and '23, and if not by some miracle I might or might not track them down some day. 

2020 was tough enough without spending any extra time pondering a team playing for nothing, in my opinion. Many very young players appeared in the starting 9, as required to rebuild a Major League baseball club. But 2020 results were clearly not going to "count" for much in terms of making long-term decisions, as the challenging personal environment that 2020 was for all human beings has to make for an automatic pass on baseball results. Poor results could trace to much more than a lack of the very best athletic skills needed to stay on an MLB roster while good results could trace to the unique silent stadium environment, perhaps. Though I think as a team sport 2020 results were fully valid as all teams faced the same challenges, on an individual player level 2020 has to be a bit of a Mulligan if needed in terms of signing contracts, trades, etc. -- in my opinion. And meanwhile the players not ready to place on the 40 Man roster weren't even playing, further devaluing 2020 MLB Tigers games as at least a way to consider how much future to give one of the young players. About the standard calculus - is there a better replacement? - In 2020, the Tigers couldn't even begin to guess, until Spring Training 2021.

So a normal fan-like following of the Tigers quickly felt rather pointless last year as no long-term roster implications were all that much at stake. Baseball cards couldn't even help much.

And, basically, the Tigers card above really is the best one I pulled in 2020, though I can show off one other slightly fun one, from the Tigers Opening Day Starter:

Best Tigers Socks

Best Socks
He still sports multiple flair, too, with a continued use of those team logo 'eye blacks.' They say the kids today want to see more uniform excitement. I know Topps will be into that idea.

Best Night Card
Thanks as always to Night Owl for pointing out the always continuing occasional use of these cards for a game played largely at night, though a fair bit less often depicted on cardboard. This is another largely grey card due again to the road uniform, but captures my attention anyways. And who can't root for a guy named Elvis?

Best Baseball Name

Worst Baseball Name
Complete with print line. Well played Topps, well played. Sorry, Aaron.

Best Football Name

2021 Update will supply a good portion of this post, as that was probably the product I was able to purchase the most of. I never thought Heritage would disappear from shelves as fast as it did, for one.

Anyhow, I think the much maligned Update set will develop a cult-like following starting ten years from now, due to all the random stuff going on in it. Will I see these dudes in more 2020s Topps Baseball sets? One can only hope.

Best Shohei Ohtani Card
As with Ohtani, a pass on 2020 might work out well for baseball card fans if McKay can return in 2021 and really become a Pitching Designated Hitter. What better team than the Rays to have a player like this; it sure seems like they should somehow be able to exploit their Opener© technique especially well with McKay.

But also as with Ohtani, seeing P/DH on the 2 player's cards just makes me wonder - why doesn't a National League team get a hold of a P/DH and put them in the bullpen to really get some double positives with late game line-up moves? Alas, unless Ohtani's new very-team-friendly 2 year extension makes him a desired trade target for a NL team at the trade deadline (my big hope for the 2021 season), we will likely never see what might have been with this concept in no-DH play where one would think it would be the most exciting. Because it does look like this will be the very last year of Pitchers @ the plate in pro baseball. 

Goofiest Parallel
It has been a minute since Topps pulled this one out of their bag of tricks. Though I have some naturally vivid memories of other blazing orange parallels they have created and do collect them, this year's go wasn't quite wacky enough for me. The clean basic design of Big League works too well with the bright orange border, I think. Without much color clash with the design, this colorful uniform and outfield wall is probably the weirdest color salad card of the year and one I will keep. But the rest of these just couldn't crack the so-bad-it's-good bar I will be looking at in a 2021 post soon.

Favorite Parallel
These are so fun, in-hand. (The basic "Prism" parallel). Another 2020 loss that I could only acquire 2 of them from packs. I've already posted the other one, but they are also such a fun scan, so here we go, again

Most Mysterious Desired Insert
I think I saw one more of these on a blog post, and I think I might have one more of these that I can't find again. This is from 2020 Opening Day, which otherwise offered little in terms of unique photos, that I can recall from what seems like far more than just one year ago.

Probably the craziest baseball card news of the ongoing "cardmageddon" is that 2021 Opening Day won't even be delivered to retail stores. The most 'low end' cheap baseball card set supposedly constructed and priced for young collectors to enjoy baseball cards, too - won't even be delivered to retail stores. 2021 Opening Day cards do exist - but were all sold in boxes and cases to breakers and the occasional dedicated collector wanting just a box or two to open with their kids. Demand for cheap retail baseball cards is so high that Topps can't even deliver cheap retail baseball cards to retail stores. Let that sink in.

That card's probably small checklist mates are still a mystery to me because I haven't bothered to look them up on my usual source for such a question and probable insert set collection effort - COMC. And that's because COMC can't even deliver baseball cards to collectors right now all that much better than Topps is able to place them in stores. A package of mostly cheap, nearly value-less baseball cards I requested from them is now a month late on an original 3 month shipping estimate. Which in turn thoroughly sapped motivation to work on my 2013 set blog, as so many cards for that ongoing collection are purchased, but not actually available to me right now.

Meanwhile the collection of baseball cards valued in $20 and $100 bills has once again shouldered aside collecting cheap baseball cards as COMC continues to sell and ship baseball cards on eBay every single day, which feels like them flipping a giant middle finger to their existing customers by instead catering to new customers. Or, they are financially circling the drain and can't admit it to anyone. We all know 2020 and now 2021 is 'interesting times' for all businesses, but my usual source of cheap cards seems to be on shaky ground. And I won't/can't buy fun Opening Day inserts like the above card, one at a time, from eBay... can I wake up now?

Favorite Insert Card
I wish I could write Favorite Insert Checklist, but I also have my doubts I will ever be able to collect these beyond a really small stack of them that would not look good in a just-nine single binder page. These would probably look great together but another recent Topps baseball cards development is more insert sets that are hard to pull - something both good and bad. This particular card, though, will look great on a page of Carlton Fisk cards.

Most Hated Card
I quite like Xander Bogaerts. In any other decade he would be a much bigger star. But when MLB is so Home Run Derby all day, every day, he can't stand out for solid though routine baseball offense and great defense when so many of his fellow Shortstops just simply hit more dingers than he does.

But that's not why I hate his 2020 Heritage card, which traces back to well over a decade of Red Sox cards shot in this exact spot. Which both illustrates a basic Topps laziness, and the way they don't have to think about using interesting photos when such a solid majority of their customers only care about the print run of a given card, not the actual content.

And yes, I already know that 2021 Heritage will supply an example of Most Hated Card for me this year, too.

Best 'Auto'
I like 'facsimile' signatures. Most collectors either don't care for them, or don't notice them at all as just complained about, particularly when they often disappear into the photography anyway, as with the previous card.

That Musgrove card is also the Best Shoulder Patch Card.

Happiest Card Runner-Up
Smiles remain scarce on a majority of baseball cards, so a good one always stands out, and a great smile here seems to be making Dominic an increasingly anticipated player in New York. However the times we are living in with the pandemic make me suspect smiles will be the scarcest ever on 2021 'action' cards and 2022 Spring Training portrait cards.

Happiest Baseball Card

Of course it is probably the unique circumstances of 2020 that led to a plethora of Spring Training portrait cards sneaking into the Topps Baseball set this year despite the official theme of all live MLB action photos, all the time. So that card makes me happy to just see some diversity in the set again, as that random head shot I picked for my 2019 Card of the Year is almost certainly not going to be an ongoing stylistic photo option in the Topps Baseball set. Which will likely be the case with this breath of diverse fresh air in the set on cards like that one.

Best Horizontal Card Runner-Up

This could be a fine selection for Best Horizontal but we all knew it was coming. Still a happy 'pull' from a pack to see Topps got this one right with a Yankees Catcher - though they could have doubled down and done this on the Will Smith card, too.

Most Consistent Topps Error

A bit of a debacle in Topps Baseball Series One was the lack of any Texas Rangers cards, save one. Which felt like something that could have just as easily happened to my team given their similar dearth of famous baseball players that every kid on the block wants a card from. A bit more telling was that the only Rangers card Topps could remember to print on the first half of the checklist was a Rookie Card.

And then when Series Two appeared and all the other Rangers cards had a special inaugural season emblem in some sort of make-up effort by Topps .... naturally Topps managed to go right back to minor Texas Rangers card errors with Solak's Rookie Debut card, which are always basically superfluous cards anyway.

Most Consistent Batting Stance
See, he really does smile out at the opposing pitcher. Smiles during play are even more rare on live action baseball cards than on posed cards. I wonder what happens if he faces this particular Pitcher -

Would they each then smile harder at each other? A pity my baseball cards will never be able to answer that one.

Best '75 Topps Homage, Lefty - Tie
Best '75 Topps Homage, Lefty - Tie

Best '75 Topps Homage, Righty

Always a fan of these. Someday I will assemble them to determine the most authentic/closest one.

Best Look-In Card
Don't always see too many of these. This one will join the Carpenter card on a Best-of-20 Horizontals page. It probably helps this card a lot that Tanaka looks to be pitching in Boston, making it easy to forget the road grey + grey card combo. Lotsa times, that was impossible...

Greyest Card

Whitest Card
Makin' baseball cards is so easy it's like falling off a bike, right? This card would definitely make it past my so-bad-is-good threshold.

Favorite Cameo
There are quite possibly other, greater 2020 "Cameo" cards than this one. But I am selecting keeper cards from a quantity of 2020 baseball cards probably not greater than the # of entries on a Topps Baseball set checklist. And I always like a clear view of an Ump on a card. I haven't tracked down which Umpires worked the 2004 All-Star Game, but I probably will before this card gets sealed into a binder page.

Best Cap
The Rays are always delighting me with the Ray appearing on a baseball card, and with uniform choices in general. I can't recall ever seeing this particular cap before, and hope to see it some more, and maybe on more of a close-up. And maybe on another player as Snell is not a favorite.

I Can't Quite Believe It, Either
This is like an Anti-Base Running card. Because for one - where is the base? And this is neither a glove first nor a bat first player. Full Stop.

Topps' Favorite Hall of Famer This Year?

I guess when this is the broadcaster you hear most @ the get 2 cards in Archives.

Favorite Hall of Famer Card

Most Appropriate Re-Pack Pull

Longest Rookie Card Parade

In case you were wondering where all the A's Rookie Card cards were hiding.
I guess Oakland is re-building, again. 

Favorite Rookie Card
Though I quite like Arozarena's Topps Chrome Rookie Card where Topps has the Cardinals trading with themselves, this card is tough to beat with that bedazzling Spring Training uni the Rays have, one I have also never seen before on cardboard. Live long and prosper, Randy.

Most Irritating Card
I won't miss this guy. And I don't think he deserved a tip-o-the-cap card, either.

Laziest Card Back Effort
I keep finding this on Team Card card backs. If you are squinting too much to make out what's above the red underline, it's "No Qualifier." Topps makes so many baseball cards, they can't be bothered to just look up which Brewers pitcher might have led the team despite not producing one with enough innings for the official MLB rankings of ERA. And this is on a card produced before the crazy 2020 season - which has this phrase all over the 2021 card backs.

Most Perplexing Pack

I pulled these two cards sequentially. Pretty much every baseball fan would wish Brinson could work out for the Marlins, and their poor fans could see something from trading away a future MVP. No one likes seeing a team deliberately torn apart like that. But it's just not working out, Topps. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

Best Team Logo / Best Free Agent Card
Only Free Agent card? Ever?

This card came about because The Great Bartolo was the current Active Leader in Wins last year, on a slight technicality - he hadn't officially retired, yet. And I believe I heard he is pitching in the Mexican League this year. So perhaps this won't be his last active piece of cardboard. But if it is, this card makes a nice capstone to a long and winding career.

Best Rain Card
I'm not sure yet if I will keep this with a very few other rainy cards ever made, or with some other good Brock Holt cards, or on a page of Best 2020 Horizontals. Probably, I just need more copies of this one.

Best Diagonal Card
Even the sideburns are on a diagonal!

And - most prescient card of the next Topps design?

Most Pandemic Prescient Card

Best Dual
I can't say I really root for either of these players. But a fun baseball card is a fun baseball card.

Best Throwback Uniform
Kluszewski Lives!

And now it's time for 

The 2020 Card of the Year

When I first saw this one I immediately thought it should be an entry in my hardly-ever posted How Not To Do It theme. I mean, this card has everything going wrong. Bryant is not looking at the ball. His glove is facing the wrong way. And it's the All-Star Game - so, nobody cares. Personally, I really liked those years of the game where the winning League got home field for the World Series. But I was in the minority on that.

Seems fitting that I am finishing up this post on news that MLB has now dragged the All-Star Game into our country's politics, too. Baseball, and baseball cards, were a welcome relief from the news this past year. I have to wonder how much Baseball will be discussed on News programs, now.

Overall, this card from one of the most non-sensical sets of baseball cards I can recall just seems perfectly emblematic of that set, and the year 2020 in general. Let's hope for a more exciting Card of the Year, next year. Or this year, or, whatever year it is. I forget.