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.


  1. A free agent card? How did I miss that in 2020? Weird.
    I think my favorite you list is the Brock Holt rain card. That's really cool.

  2. I've grown to like the Red Sox Heritage hedges in a weird "why are they doing this so consistently" sort of way. If I ever get back to their Spring Training site, I want to find this spot and have my picture taken with the hedges.