Friday, April 8, 2022

The best Ho-Hum Baseball Cards in quite a while

 Happy Opening Day!

I scored a pack of brand new baseball cards the other day - just in time!

This one greeted me to the year two thousand, twenty two:

Alrighty then. A brand new player on a team I am always barely conscious of, since they tend to play baseball while I am falling asleep. But that is quite specifically why I purchase brand new baseball cards. Things seem quite intriguing for the Diamondbacks with this particular player. Spring, hope, eternal, etc., etc.

I quite like this 2022 Topps Baseball design. All those flowing curves — soothing. White border returns after a long absence — classic. Team logo — check. Clearly readable player name — let's just forget all about 2021 Topps Baseball, shall we?

Sadly, try as it might, Topps can just never seem to throw a perfect card no matter how hard (?) it tries. What is up with that little dog ear tab on the bottom right of the image frame? Is it a button you push to reveal a secret about the player? I mean, a baseball was already used, quite nicely, over there on the other side of the card, so it can't be a baseball, I think.

Ahh yes, I forgot, Topps always seems to make this Old Man trying to enjoy a memory of Youth to instead remember that I am, indeed, Old, now, by forcing me to squint a little bit. This time to figure out what is going on in that little tab thing-a-ma-jig there: the player's Position. Why couldn't they have used a nice simple black capital letter there: P - for Pitcher. See how easy that was?

I can tell already that I will enjoy collecting this brand new set of clean, well framed Topps Baseball cards. But that positional goof-up requires that I can only hand out an A- here.

Each year now, I try strenuously to not see the incoming Topps Baseball card design before the simple pleasure of opening a pack of the cards, starting the year before of course. It is always a challenge. This year was only a partial success; I have failed in this goal in several ways and each year brings a new FAIL point. In 2022, it was a nefarious eBay lister, who decided to randomly package up one of these new cards with one my beloved Sea Turtle cards from 2013 in an offering that got included in one of my saved searches on the ole 'Bay. I looked away quickly, but the damage was done. I guess with my annual desire to just experience a pack of Topps Baseball cards just like I did each spring in my youth - with zero foreknowledge - well, there's always next year.

As soon as I finish fully absorbing the front of a brand new card each year, I am also still quite looking forward to seeing the back, too. No one ever bothers ruining that for me:

Here the front image frame nearly repeats completely; perhaps one of the closest such repetitions I can remember. But then it has been more years than I can quickly remember since Topps Baseball cards had a white border, so ... this works, I guess. That white space above the write-up seems kinda wasteful however. The always interesting (to me) write-ups would have looked a bit more Pro there if they had been centered on the vertical in that space, in my cranky opinion.

I'm not sure stats really need an enclosing frame like this, but everything seems to be in order, with no real changes from past efforts. I always hope Topps will pick up an old Donruss card back feature of listing contract status, but that seems increasingly unlikely as MLB players have ever shorter careers with ever quicker pinballing from team to team, it seems.

And even the fronts of the cards frequently remind me of that:
This is a great card. Dynamic. Best player on his team. You are the Pitcher having just completed your follow through; Mullins is looking right at you, you think, initially. No, he is looking towards Home as he is about to zoom out of your visual frame towards 2nd Base. 

It's the start of a brand new baseball season. O's fans will have Cedric Mullins, at least. Thanks, Topps. 

Now, which team will I see him on in Update, I think, just before I paw past him on to the next card. Oh, wait, Update doesn't show traded players any more. Still, these great cards of great players on bad teams with little chance in the brand new baseball season - yet again, the reason I purchase Topps Baseball cards.

Not just for the Stars of MLB, like this one:
Another great "pull," for me, because although the doings in the NL East are nearly as famous as the AL East given the media concentration around its cities — and I am thus less dependent on Topps for my baseball news — I just happen to enjoy the story of Zack Wheeler's career. Cut loose by the Mets only to sign with a divisional rival and start racking up Cy Young votes, annually now. And Topps comes through for me with no less than 4 League Leader in Italics on the back, though amazingly his solid 1.01 WHIP was not one of them. I guess I will have to flip over more baseball cards to figure out who led that one.

But one thing is almost always for sure in a pack of Topps Baseball cards - you won't hang out in the stars for long -
Though being the first player in MLB history to record their first 5 hits as Home Runs should always earn you a Topps Baseball card. As should having 3 sequential letter "O"s in your name too, I guess?

I could only catch a few brief minutes of Bob Walk and Joe Black discussing the Pirates this Spring Training, but I believe I heard them say 2nd Base was one of the probable open spots on the team, so this card is quite mysterious to me. I had a tough Spring Training, myself. I worked 29 days in March, and those 2 "off" days were just a blur of being tired, or one day, sick; after that 2nd day I worked through a strong cold. No, not THE virus - I took my first Covid test of this whole 2 year pandemic, and it was negative. Just, a cold. Like in the old days. That bout of illness was both a PITA, and really cool, too. Just, a cold.

But thoughts of baseball were just hard to cozy up to, particularly before the lock-out finally ended. I knew cards were in some stores, at least - but I didn't go buy any. They weren't in my local grocery store, just a mile away, yet, and I couldn't be bothered to wheel in elsewhere and pursue new cards like I normally would. 

Compounding my what, baseball? thoughts was/is the war in Ukraine. Reading military history has been another life-long hobby of mine; now I have the chance to read military history in the daily news, as it happens. I have been far too hooked on that.

And yet I would faithfully check the card section when I scrounged up the time to buy groceries; the new 2022 Topps Baseball cards just would not appear, in my brand of Big Box (Meijers). Then, the weirdest thing happened - Opening Day cards appeared there, -before- Series One. The world gets stranger every day.

I love Opening Day, at least a little bit, and always try to open some on Opening Day. But for me, following the Tigers, that is tomorrow. So the Opening Day cards are still in their Topps shrinkwrap for a little while longer.

When Series One did finally appear at Meijers a few days ago, I snatched up the last 3 single pack blister packs on offer. And then, an even stranger thing happened: I didn't open any of them. For a whole 24 hours. Tired, working, checking the Ukraine headlines while falling asleep. Baseball cards? Ho-hum.

Fortunately, Topps has come through for me, with nice bright baseball cards:
You love to see it. We can beat fearsome diseases and go back to hitting Home Runs. Another Thanks, Topps.

Of course, baseball isn't always played on perfect summer afternoons -
Last year I thought I finally figured out where all the Night Cards come from lately - Arizona. But these are their road grey uniforms, it appears - I am wrong. 

That nice baseball card has no demerits on the front. The back though, bummed me right out - it is flipped, compared to all the other vertical cards I just examined. This maddening habit by Topps has been running for a few years now. Make it stop. Please.

Bitch, and ye shall receive, perhaps:
I had to quit crying about flipped backs when the fronts switch to the now annually required horizontal cards. I quite like horizontal baseball cards and am glad to see the design works well here, too. And am pleased to see that Arenado got to keep his #28 in St. Louis. And see some actual baseball fans, not blurs, on a baseball card.

Though I will have to wait for final judgement on this year's horizontals when I see an actual player card
Personally, if I must receive an Astros Team Card annually, I truly wish I could get one with Dusty Baker on it. But I don't see Fanatics coughing up a little money to the Managers to ever make that happen any time soon. There's always next year?

There are still 28 teams to go of course
There's that stadium again. The one where all the teams play while I sleep. Although the West teams are mysteries to me, I did know the basics of the Padres season last year. What a battle that Division was. Just don't ask me what the heck is going on with the player on the right's bicep back-side. These team cards do a nice job of summarizing things, though I am starting to suspect all the cellar dweller teams will get cards in Series 2 maybe and I will have to wait a bit to commiserate with Topps Card Back Writer when assigned to say something about, well, you pick which challenging text you will flip over to read.

Still waiting for a horizontal player card though:
Another nice dynamic baseball card here. Your eyes move with Darvish to the glove back to the ball he is about to throw and back off towards Home with Darvish's eyes again. Don't forget your seasick pills.

Anyone else remember when the Padres "team color" was blue for a while? I'm starting to miss that. This pack of cards can't seem to gin up a blue team for me. 
This card has an issue - Martin is sadly a bit blurry, there - I never like that on a baseball card.

But I always hope to pull a Red Sox card in my first pack every year. I want to see if they will once again get a special exception from Topps, as when they use the pair of red socks for the graphic image, which is their shoulder patch, not their cap logo - and thus unlike the other 29 teams in the set, usually. This year, Boston gets the cap logo, like everyone else. 

This card, by the way, basically repeats the observations about Perez on the back of the card as delivered just a few months ago in the Update set. This time labeling him "distinctive." I hope to see how his secondary data stats, the ones rarely ever brought up on the backs of baseball cards, might fit in with the rather distinctive ball park he will pitch half of his games in. But I will probably have to depend on Topps to help me with that, in some future set, I hope.

I think I might like these red team cards the best, so far. And I always like seeing a solid color "Alternate" uniform.
Which is good, cuz the Road Alternate here saves this card. These yellow team cards (only 2 teams? I forget) aren't getting-r-done in this design. That team color needs to be at least double in width to really work, imo. Although the colors used so far in this pack - Red, Orange, & Yellow - don't suffer from an all too easy fade towards a pastel tint that always drives me nuts, the thin line does evidence a bit of continuing residual fear of bright primary colors by Topps - the ones that make for the most memorable baseball cards. Last seen in 2019 really, and in less than half of the 2010s sets.

One long time Topps Baseball set tradition continues, after seeming to disappear in recent Update sets -
A checklist card.

Though of course not apparent on the front. But I quite like it. I always like seeing the logos for the 2 Leagues in MLB - a touch of 19th century graphic design subtly whispers 'baseball history' to me. And this card has a cool factoid in the subtext: "Hometown friends catch up during pregame" - that I would have never learned otherwise. And a bit surprisingly, the card doesn't hit you over the head to blare the player names at you. An understated thing, from Topps? Nice.

At least I got to see a blue team card, sorta. The back of the card has a few quirks. For one, it is card #329, but covers cards #67 through #99. No, I am not going to be checking the little boxes (still included). But 8 year old me would get mad that I have to check the box for a checklist card on a different checklist card altogether.

This card also revealed something else to me. Card #3 in this pack, for a likely footnote Rookie player for the Pirates, does not feature Rooolfo Castro as the card seems to read. His name is actually Rodolfo Castro, which the font used in the checklist clearly reveals. At first I thought the font used for player names on the front of these cards was a straight use of the font used back in my favorite set, 2013, but now I am not sure. And I will have to go back and see how well "D" vs "O" gets kerned in 2013, too. That will be pleasant, though also a sad reminder of my limited time to work on that special 2013 project, and that set blog - which shall return, some day.

Now I always like 'racing stripe' cards, like this one
But I also dislike Topps steady habit of just printing Series One cards regardless of contract status. Cut the day after the World Series - here you go. In this case Galvis signed in Japan in early December. So perhaps we will see him again some day, and he probably won't make it in to the 2022 Phillies team set blister pack, at least.

I guess, like baseball, things may change, but things stay the same, too, in packs of Topps Baseball cards. Which must mean it's time for - the inserts:
I believe this will be the main insert in Series One this year. By 'main' I mean the one that will appear one per pack in the hard-to-find classical single packs that I prefer (16 cards, this year) as well as in guaranteed quantities in all the other formats, rather than just 1:3 or whatever.

I truly like these. I'm not super excited that there must be a Chrome version and a regular version, though these are nice Chromes. There is 'frame break' going on in all sorts of directions; a bit unfortunately here where Jose Ramirez is just a "Tar of MLB" - it's the little things, Topps. I quite admire Jose Ramirez, who just soldiers on every year for an ownership group that ... does anyone like Cleveland's owners? Or Baltimore's? Or Pittsburgh's? This pack sure seemed to want to keep me on the sad side of MLB, it seemed. Perhaps not pulling any Tigers in my first pack is a good sign, this year.

But that Ramirez insert is only card #15, so -

Now the stars are out, though I don't really like this particular star. I think I will really like pulling more of these inserts though. Pizazz. There is no rule that I have to put this exact card in the binder with the other ones, is there?

I did mention that my local Big Box store, which perhaps wisely kept Series One off the shelf until I was finally ready for a baseball card pick-me-up, is Meijers - home of the purple parallels. 

This year, only one per blister pack, which means only one scratch off box in the big Wander lottery this Series:
Hey look, a hot RC!

No, wait, that was last year at this time. I think recall listings for actual old time 100 lot Rookie Card cards of Cristian Pache, just about a year ago. I can never decide if it is nice of Topps to continue their Rookie optimism with the Future Stars designation, the next year, or a cruel twist.

A nice enough parallel, I guess. Adding a bit of graphic-y-ness probably helps; can't decide. At least I got to see a horizontal player card. But probably not enough color banging going on here to want to chase these.

Except, of course, for that always tantalizing lottery action in the deal. There's always next pack.












Friday, January 28, 2022

Yeah, I Read the Backs

One of my life's simplest pleasures is 'ripping' a single pack of baseball cards. The now sometimes hard to find single 'wax' pack is, for me, the simplest way to absorb some baseball. A prime reason for that is the small quantity of cards contained within, compared to all other packaging formats, particularly lately as Topps has (temporarily?) discontinued rack/hanger/fat packs after production problems with such early last year.

Obtaining just 16 (the current count in such packs) brand new baseball cards at one time leads me to spend more time with each card; that time per card is directly related to how many cards I buy on the same day. And that time is not spent obsessing over the visual cues on the front of the card, but rather is spent reading the backs of the cards. Give me a blaster and I will read a couple-three card backs most likely. Give me a single pack and I will read the whole pack.

So I thought I would again detour from one last new 2021 product I picked up recently and just share a pack of cards with you. First up -

J.B. Bukauskas

I always like a good seating rails card. Perhaps this card has finally clued me to which stadium tends to produce these; I have a few favorites over the years and as I puff on a few cobwebs of memory on those, which are not of Diamondbacks, they do tend to feature players in their road uniforms, hmmmm. It is a bit of a pity that the stadium designer in Arizona couldn't sync their efforts with the 2021 Topps Baseball design though.

Meanwhile I don't care for a card where you can't see the player's eyes, though that is only partially true on this card; it does give this Rookie a somewhat shifty/sinister vibe that leans right into wearing a black uniform with a rattlesnake on it. Should we be gazing upon the next Aroldis Chapman, this will become a classic Rookie Card, perhaps.

But this post is about the back of this still new baseball card:

I know the blogs are mostly read on mobile devices now, and on those you just generally can't read what's happening on the scan of the back of a card - or the player's name on the front of the card, come to think of it. So I will type them in for you. Sorry-not-sorry, there won't be a "just watch the video" option here:

"Landed in the 2019 trade that sent Zack Greinke to Houston, J.B. fired 7 2/3 scoreless innings in 2021 Spring Training to position himself for an early season call-up. When the hard-throwing right-hander debuted on April 20, he retired the lone Reds batter he faced to earn a victory. That was the first of four straight scoreless appearances for Bukauskas."

This workman like effort by Topps Card Back Writer (use the Beatles for a mental soundtrack to this post, would be my advice) pleased me. If I were a Diamondbacks fan, that is how I would like to remember a new addition to the team - oh, yeah, a guy we got for flipping the Greinke contract. The text continues the career arc history quite nicely from there. A bit of luck to get a "W" for facing just one batter, an inclusion that oh-so-subtly helps point out how the "W" stat is near useless for relievers in particular. 2021 then rolls on nicely with J.B. putting four more zeroes up on the board — if you could read this card back in isolation, this gives away that it is a card back written for the Update set; Topps Card Back Writer often discusses specific early, current season accomplishments in Update lately.

How'd it all turn out for ole J.B.? ehh, he went on to pitch 17.1 innings in 2021 but before long the opponents had done their oppo-research / written the book on him and he was tagged for 15 Earned Runs. He remains on the Diamondbacks roster as I type however so perhaps we will see more J.B. Bukauskas baseball cards. I know you will be keeping your eyes peeled for them.

Now don't be afraid that I will be putting you to sleep with nothing but card back texts. The pack quickly woke me up with a more pleasant afternoon game card, a standard advantage for Cubs cards over a Diamondbacks card -

Zach Davies

I do also quite like an empty seats card; this one features a few minor constellations of such. Always more and more of these appearing in packs the last few years. The back:

"Zach landed in Chicago in 2021 by way of the Yu Darvish trade to San Diego. He's a touch-and-feel type whose 41.3% change-up usage - a pitch that limited batters to a .174 AVG in 2020 - led MLB."

Topps again comes through with the deets on how Davies reached the Cubs beyond the absolute bare minimum in the "ACQ: TRADE WITH PADRES 12-29-20" line just above the true card back text. But more interesting is a clear example of how the sabermetrics era is a great aid to the production of baseball cards, and of course particularly their backs, and is a reason I decided to write this post as I think card backs have been improving lately. Here in the blogosphere it is easy to slag on Topps for their occasional boo-boos on the fronts of the cards and any perceived bit of laziness with those, however meanwhile Topps is still putting in the work on the backs of the cards in their premiere product, usually, if you turn them over. 

It is often missed by the folks who complain about compound stats - "WAR is such garbage! I hates it!" - that a much bigger element to stats and the game today has nothing at all to do with complex new formula-stats, but rather is the incredible access to pure basic data that all fans have in the 21st century. Previously, no one outside the offices of a Major League team could possibly know that a given Pitcher threw a change-up 41% of the time. So this is a nice step-up from straight trivia in terms of understanding a player.

These days, Update (and all Topps products, I guess) is all about those Rookies -

Justin Wiliams

Yes, we are happy to see you too, Justin. That yellow armband though, what's up with that? Let's see if Topps explains:

"Justin has been traded twice in his career, with the latest bringing him to St. Louis from Tampa Bay in 2018. A tough out who produces high exit velocities and unforced power, he got his first extensive Major League playing time in early 2021. Williams hit his initial Cardinals home run on April 16, then drilled his second just three days later."

Question: does any prospect traded _away_ from Tampa Bay ever go on to be a star? I have my doubts on that. I doubt Topps Card Back Writer will ever answer that one for me, because as we all know, It's Always Sunny in Brooklyn or, err, on the back of a Topps Baseball card.

This does quite well explain how Justin made it to The Show early this year, and I'm sure Composition 102 TAs everywhere would delight in seeing a student lead their reader right into the facts that prove their exposition a mere one sentence later. There's probably a term for such writing trickery, but it eludes me. At least if I were a student of the St. Louis Cardinals or even just the NL Central in general, I would understand what the Redbirds front office was hoping with their line-ups the first 1/3 of the season. Too bad Update comes out after the season is over, and this particular 4th OF experiment had already ended.

Some players, well, their names are just too common sounding -

Martin Perez

I really thought this guy had somehow been playing for the Indians lately. Which is why I flip the cards over:

"Satisfied with his 2020 performance - which included an MLB-leading 45.7% of his strikeouts looking, and an AL-high rate of 1.45 GIDPs induced per nine innings - the Red Sox re-signed Martin for 2021."

Sometimes I wonder if Topps Card Back Writer moonlights for Scott Boras in their spare-time, secretly shilling players in text messages to 5th-Assistant-GMs still stuck in a cubicle in the Back Office deep in the bowels of Major League stadiums. Because despite their perpetually (and required) Sunny nature, Topps Card Back Writer has here once again perfectly explained a Major League Baseball transaction. If I were assembling a pitching staff for hitter friendly Fenway Park, yeah, I sure would want a guy who gets lots of swinging 3rd strikes and balls hit straight in to Double Plays. Some facts that explain a whole lot more than a rather plain 4.50 ERA does.

Quite often, a pack of baseball cards will explain a Where-He'd-Go question in my mind, multiple times per pack -

Michael Wacha

Ahh, Tampa now. Thanks, Topps. I can't say this display of Pitcher Face bodes well for what I am going to find on the back:

"Michael showed signs in 2021 of recovering earlier form, when he was an NLCS MVP at 22, and a 17-game winner at 24. His first victory for the Rays was a scoreless, six-inning, one-hit gem against the Yankees."

Well if anyone can fix a former young star now mid-career and slipping some, it would be the Rays.  That Always Sunny history comes out quickly here before a quick segue to a positive factoid from April. Alas, not even the promo power of Topps Card Back Writer could get Wacha on to the post-season roster this year, if memory serves. His next card back will be more of a challenge, I suspect.

Next in the pack was a card front I found particularly pleasing, and one that will become a part of the Permanent Collection (how do you un-abbreviate the card collecting term "PC" ?) -

Brad Miller

That's because Brad Miller is well known for not using batting gloves, something I learned on the back of his Rookie Card some 8 years ago in a previous Update set - which then managed to crop his hands right out of the picture on the front of his card. So when Topps occasionally manages to get this player depicted while batting, I just like to see this. How well does he bat?

"When Brad went deep for the Phillies on May 4, 2021, he became just the second active player (joining Kiké Hernandez of the Red Sox) to have hit a home run while playing seven different positions."

Now this somewhat explains how Miller has joined an MLB team seven different times (this being his second time in the Phillies clubhouse) - he's a versatile Utility player who can hit enough to claim a roster spot, basically. Seems like a classic baseball card back trivia nugget, but does have a deeper implication with a little thought.

Sometimes I really get up-to-speed on a team when their cards appear sequentially in a pack, though I thought this guy was a Diamondback:

Archie Bradley

Here Topps skips a forgettable stop in a forgettable year, when Bradley threw 7 innings for the Reds in 2020, and gets straight into roster 'splainin'

"Burned by a battered bullpen in 2020, the Phillies added Archie to the mix for the new season. He brings a robust resumé as both a set-up man (NL-high 34 holds in '18) and closer (14 straight saves in '19)."

Hmm, maybe it's not Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That's a rarely seen minor slip by Topps Card Back Writer - criticizing an MLB team result! I guess that's OK, it wasn't the Front Office's fault, as they get the "battered" adjective for cover, implying Injury could be blamed, maybe. Though I suspect many Phillies fans would secretly grin/frown/sigh at that word for a bullpen that, yes, gets battered a lot — by the batters. Topps Card Back Writer can be more devious than it first appears. Remembering to add the ´ to the é in resumé is the perfect touch of professional class that reveals Topps Card Back Writer always stays above the fray, too.

Lately Topps has gone a bit historical on many Topps Baseball checklists, with a return and steady use of a quite old baseball card trope, the "Dual" -

Duo Dials Up The "D"

Though on this one my distaste for Faceless Men on my cards quickly forms my impression of the card, even before I turn it over:

"Balls struck up the middle by Mariners opponents often find their way into the glove of one of these two defensive wizards. In his second start for Seattle on April 2, 2021, Taylor made a sensational diving catch in center field to rob the Giants of a run. J.P. secured his first fielding award at shortstop last season, after amassing 0.9 Defensive WAR."

Hmmm, this one just makes me suspicious because above all that text under the name Taylor Trammel, his position just says "OF" which is a sensible enough approach vs. defining a usually dynamic outfield roster spot. But still it made me head off to baseball-reference.com, which is not something I want my baseball cards to do. Why did I not hear the name Taylor Trammel during the season? Don't I have his Rookie Card laying around somewhere? Does he really play Center Field?

Sort of, mostly; he started in Center 37 times and over in Left 14 more times, but then he became completely faceless - off the 25-man roster. So this is a nice effort for Seattle fans on the part of Topps Checklist Creator, but it is a bit of a stretch to merge a CF and a SS on a card, methinks, and overall this just makes me look forward to uncovering my next J.P. Crawford card in a pack. Duals are always a hit-or-miss for me, with more misses than hits.

Now it's time for the exciting part of the pack - the center of the pack - which holds the special cards -

Charlie Morton

Ahh the man of the Fall, or one of them, with his memorable headlines in the World Series and shown here on a foil parallel. Topps lucked out a bit with this card appearing in Update and the Braves in the Fall Classic. Let's go to the tape, err, the back:

MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHING RECORD

I actually like these cards, the ones with no contribution at all from Topps Card Back Writer. If this had been a set with a condensed career record showing just the previous 5 years of statistics + some text, I would not have discovered that Morton actually began his career with the Braves back in 2008. And that bit of pure trivia is actually more pleasing, and a welcomed break from reading sentences full of trivia.

Special cards continue; these new 16 card packs are kind of built that way, which is good -

Mookie Betts

This represents a new thing this year - the All-Star Game cards are neither from the ASG itself, in terms of imagery, nor are a regular entry on the set checklist. But rather, are an insert. One thing that stayed the same, from some previous years (but not others as some years it has been possible to include the player's actual game activity in the ASG) is an attempt at explaining the accomplishments that landed the player on the All-Star Team:

"2021 MLB® ALL-STAR GAME® CREDS: Selected for fifth MLB All-Star Game... Opened schedule with seven-game hitting streak over which he batted .323 with 1.028 OPS, six walks, and a couple of clouts... Reached base in first 21 contests...Belted four home runs in 10-game span, June 10-21... Had four RBI despite no XBHs on May 8...Notched 250th double of career on May 14."

Here you kind of have to have some sympathy for Topps Card Back Writer. Of course any All-Star should have something to positive to remark on from early in a season, but sometimes All-Stars are just All-Stars because they are All-Stars in spite of a lackluster first half of a season. That's not a problem here, but still this seems a bit of a tougher assignment than trying to be Always Sunny about journeymen baseball players, perhaps. Maybe that's what drew out the somewhat rare term "clouts" and makes one think if you read a few more of these you might find some "taters." I expect so. There is a lot of white space on the back of an ASG card and someone has to write something.

I thought it was odd that MLB® can appear in a sentence as just MLB, but not a header text, but whatevs. Somewhat telling is that a stat reaching into June 21st can be included in Topps Card Back Writer's arsenal; deadline for these must have been some time between 6-21 and the ASG itself, which was on 7-13, this year.

I guess the single packs this year are actually 13 card + 3 special cards. I'm surprised Topps doesn't trumpet it that way on the front of the pack. But I was happy to pull this one:

That's particularly true because early on in collecting 2021 Update, I really wanted these nice pleasing 1992 cardboard flashbacks, so I purchased a blaster, obtaining 7 of them, and then a couple "hanger box" efforts, which include 4 of them. And was rewarded for that by receiving the same sequence of 4 of the 1992 cards three times each! Another key reason I switched back to single packs when they became available a few weeks after the first two package formats. You don't 'hit' cards in packages of baseball cards, you hit sequences of cards as the cutting machines have to work that way. Buy 3 blasters to get 300 cards and I think you will end up with more duplicates than via purchasing 19 single packs to get 304 cards - which would also be $8.50 cheaper, where I buy Topps Baseball cards.

Now back in 1992, card backs were quite succinct, and Topps stays 100% authentic to those when they do a re-issue, because card backs like these were super easy to write:

"Stroked his first Major League Home Run with three-run blast: 7-24-11 at Orioles."

A bit of a pity that along the way, near 30 years later, card back Home Runs have become just home runs these days.

Now sometimes I can forgive the appearance of Faceless Player on a card; this is probably one of those times:

Franchy Cordero

Here again I was at a "he plays there now?" moment on the front of this card. Has every young player in MLB been part of the wheeler dealer action going on in San Diego the last few years? It sometimes seems that way, so I quickly flipped this one over:

"Franchy grew up in the Dominican Republic as a Red Sox fan who idolized the likes of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez, and he called it a "dream come true" when he was dealt to Boston this past February. Cordero played a key role in the team's first victory of 2021 on April 5, by going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI in an 11-2 win over the Rays."

This at first hit me with a curve at the mention of the Rays, the other young player merry-go-round recently, but overall I like these endearing memories of the youth of a future baseball player. That's something I will remember the next time I pull a Franchy Cordero baseball card from a pack - if there is a next time. Everyone thinks about Update and all the Rookie Cards in it - it is actually the set with by far the most "sunset" cards for all those RC players just a couple-three seasons later.

But Update does still occasionally Update, believe it or not:

Nolan Arenado

It does always interest me to see what Topps Card Back Writer has to say about the bona-fide stars of the game, and I always turn over their cards even from the middle of a blaster:

"Nolan arrived in St. Louis in 2021 with eight fielding awards and three home run crowns on his resume. His nine-game hitting streak to start his stint there topped Roger Maris' record of eight, set in 1967."

This effort leads in many directions. Baseball cards can only impart fielding information there in the short text on the card backs, so the tip of the keyboard there is a nice touch. Here perhaps we notice that there could be more than one Topps Card Back Writer, maybe, with the lack of ´ on the e in resume, an oopsie though kind of balanced out with getting the apostrophe usage correct on Roger Maris' name, something rarely seen in lazy writing here there and everywhere today. And - Roger Maris eventually played in St. Louis? I'ma gonna need some more baseball cards, is the conclusion from this baseball card back. Well done, Topps Card Back Writer.

Now, quite effectively, baseball cards are a great way for a fan to keep up with just what is happening on those mysterious last place teams in other divisions, as with the ongoing tragic results in Baltimore:

Bruce Zimmerman

Could the O's be sneaking another John Means on to their eventual trade block? There's only one way to find out:

"Bruce earned a berth in the Orioles rotation to open the 2021 campaign. The team's 11th and latest Baltimore-born player, he cracked the Major League win column in his first start, on April 4 in Boston."

Here we have another reminder that many of these cards are possibly composed fairly early on in the season, for one, and this is a nice memorable tidbit to include for Orioles fans in particular. I'd bet Topps Card Back Writer was quite happy to stumble across that one somehow, for this assignment.

Meanwhile even for veterans, Update can be a common spot to see their swan song in baseball -

Josh Reddick

A 13 year, 24.7 career WAR will tend to give Topps Card Back Writer another quick break:

MAJOR LEAGUE BATTING RECORD

Sometimes it is surprising just how many mystery players play on mystery teams, when opening some Update in particular, and you just never know with packs of Topps Baseball when you may have fallen into a Diamondbacks hot pack -

Josh Rojas

On this card I kept looking for the RC logo but that must have been last year, or the one before. I never know what's happening in the West divisions of MLB, so I have to keep flipping over baseball cards to find out:

"Pop, patience, and positional versatility define Josh's value. He grew up a Diamondbacks fan — a self-described "small, scrappy player" whose favorites were infielders Orlando Hudson and Tony Clark."

There's young Diamondbacks fans out in Arizona? I thought only retired people lived out there. And the Diamondbacks have been around enough for their young fans to again become a player for their favorite local MLB team? (A bit of a theme of this particular pack of baseball cards - well done, Topps).

And there at the beginning of that one we finally read Topps Card Back Writer letting their hair down a little bit and having a bit of alliterative fun. I can never decide if those happen at the beginning of their day, when the coffee is still warm next to the keyboard, or at the end of the day, when the first sips of a bit of a day-drink cold brew are just starting to hit the synapses before Topps Card Back Writer gets to leave the baseball card mines after a long shift.

Sadly, I have exactly zero memory of Orlando Hudson, so, once again, I guess I'ma gonna need more baseball cards. Well played, Topps Card Back Writer.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The baseball card year's final product...

...naturally arrived in the next calendar year, from this past year: Topps Gallery. Blasters of such managed to squeeze themselves onto the shelf over at the Big Box, a bit of a feat considering how many cards of every brand, every sport, every box size, and every price are on offer there now.

I have some other nice new baseball cards to share with you from that momentous day back around Pearl Harbor Day when I found 3 new card products on the same day, but I am going to jump the order here a bit to try (& prolly fail) to be at least a little more "current" with our favorite brand new baseball cards.

First card, not best card:

This card is just really a bummer. It's clearly not a nice new illustration created by a living artist; it's just a blurry photograph of Randy Johnson. What do I need that for? I must confess though that the weird softness to the image did make me check the back of the card for the possibility of seeing an actual Illustrator's name there, just in case.

It also didn't compare favorably to this card, which I randomly purchased as a single a year (or 2? years blurring together now) ago -
I picked up that 2018 Gallery card because of the artist named on the back of the card: Mayumi Seto.

She is now famous in the baseball card world for her work on the Topps Living Set, which is a beautiful set of baseball cards that I just basically can't afford to collect. Her contributions to Gallery before-hand are much cheaper cards to track down.

This year however it appears Gallery will be just another set of baseball picture cards created from photographs, and lots and lots of (or not much at all? as on that Big Unit card) computer processing, not human artwork. Sigh.

An unspoken thematic conceit of Gallery is that the cards should look like they are hanging on a wall - so the frame is a bigger deal than on most releases. I like this year's essentially double-frame approach, with the white border surrounding a complete grey&gold frame inside. It's like the double opposite of "full bleed" style cards and the minimal elements are quite a contrast to so many recent Topps designs that just can't help themselves but to add little graphic flourishes here, there, and all over the card. 

I like the name-plate approach. RANDY JOHNSON. Classy, but not loud, despite the all-caps, as the font is size balanced well enough. Simple white element bed for the text. Clean font. Readable. Was that so hard, Topps?

Those weird little gold objects in the corners, though? Snow cannons at the ski hill came to mind, this time of year, but after a while I decided they must represent small floodlights. You know, like the ones used in an art gallery. I guess.

The back? 

Same as ever, for this product. Why print the career stats at a readable size when we have all this white space that can be wasted? The stat trivia text above it is also so gymnastically abbreviated it doesn't quite seem worth the mental trouble of parsing each tidbit out. Ho hum. 

Let's try card #2 in the first pack

Uggh. Not a player I go looking for in packs of baseball cards. But hey I get to see him in his new uniform that he will be wearing for some time to come. This is a foil parallel. The base design already has sufficient shiny stuff in the gold foil that I'm not sure I really need a more foiled-up version of same. A somewhat odd thing about this card in particular is the way the foil manages to add to the overall blue-ness of the card, like all the blue in the image is somehow reflected in the foil, which is technically a "rainbow foil" effort. A possible contender in a None More Blue battle with some 1998 Donruss, perhaps.

That photography image is particularly crisp, however, a sudden contrast to that weird Randy Johnson card above it. As for the change in the frame design, which differentiates the current players from the retired players, i.e. those 2 thingies on the side of each card, well, I have no clue what those are. Robot needles, my brain conjures/conjects. I definitely like the snow cannons better.

Next up I found a mysterious card:

I think, if I recall correctly, a card like this is supposed to be called an ... "insert" ? After 10 months of pulling every Topps design ever made from my packs of cards, this was a bit striking. I suspect a run of these might look nice together, with that genuine art there on the card. Fascinating, captain.

So far in my first 4 card pack I have one base card, one parallel, and one insert. The regrettable Randy Johnson card is card #160 which in past years would have indicated a short print in the final 25% of the 200 card checklist, but this year there are instead 10 probably very, very short printed image variation cards instead. So an easier, yes, base set to complete this time. But the base cards better start appearing if I'm going to make it to 200 of these -

Ahh yes, I almost forgot that Topps can no longer make a set of baseball cards without these weird horizontal torso view creations. Which are absolutely perfect for wasting space or filling empty space with incredibly distracting random things like another player's foot. 

So much for pack #1. I really start to wonder, in these moderately more expensive sets than my usual "low end" delights, do I truly need a wrapper around every four cards? Is there anyone who can possibly ration out a set of blaster packs and open just one per day or something? Do the 7 wrappers inside this blaster serve any purpose at all? No, they do not. In my ever so humble opinion.

Then pack #2 crushed my hopes for 2021 Gallery all over again, because this happened


yes, sequentially. STUPID TOPPS. These particularly useless parallels recall the same level of futility found in most Stadium Club parallels. Does anyone seriously want that 2nd card there, for anything? A whole set effort of such? Hell no. A cool looking card to add a bit of color to a player collection effort? Nope. Just, stupid.

And how did this card manage to make Barry Larkin look grim? Not my memory of the player, at all. And and do I really ever want to remember the era of "baseball vest" uniforms? More, nope. I couldn't paw my way past those 2 cards fast enough; when I did, I landed back in foil-land


 and horizontal-torso land, at that. It took me more than a bit to even recognize the classic MLB logo in it's official Rookie Card role there in the corner, all gilded up now without the classic red, white & blue color combo. And somehow the Rookies get the classiest frame of the whole set, with no oddities poking out of it aside from there in RC corner. So you have little choice but to focus on the image of a Rookie Major League Baseball player - which is why I buy baseball cards - to see what the players look like. 

This Trevor Rogers card is a Mission Accomplished, in that regard. The foil on this one casts an overall gold effect, in-hand at least, which works well. The one weekend "City Connect" jersey makes for a good Marlins card here, too, simply memorable for a team that just can't seem to settle on a regular uniform for more than a couple-three seasons anyway. I might start to like these horizontal torsos if the card is clean enough, like this next one -

Solid.

This is my new favorite Jackie Robinson card in a bit. I feel like I have seen this photograph before, but only perhaps. And, if so, not with this degree of crisp focus on Jackie's face, while he is in turn focusing on the coming baseball. The double frame and simple card elements, even the snow cannons, all work together to make you remember _exactly_ what Jackie Robinson looked like. The only question here is - why wasn't this same PhotoShop filter used on that terrible Randy Johnson card?

These horizontal torsos, with the solid framing job implicit in "Gallery" are somehow reminding me of seeing the player on a modern, fourth wall High-Definition TeleVision, which after all are usually a pronounced horizontal rectangle these days. This in turn reminds me of a classic baseball card set I have never collected - 1955 Bowman.

Pack #3 picked right up where pack #2 left off, without changing the channel:

Though unfortunately the robot needles return when I get to watch a current player playing baseball there on my new baseball card. Who will the TV camera pick up next?

More class action from the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week producer here. Don't touch that dial.


Durn, I bumped the remote back to that dumb PRINTER PROOF channel. Ooops. Kinda weird that the printer would want to declare a PROOF of their work on a card that off-centered, don'tcha think? I actually kinda liked all the random off-centering of the cards in this blaster, which came and went on the different parallels, base, etc., though it got to be a little much on that Scherzer card. It was not noticeably severe as on many Archives cards recently, and just reminds me of 20th Century, imperfect baseball cards, which were perfectly fine.

I was glad to see that card in a general sense, however, as I expect there will be very few Dodger cards for Max Scherzer, a player I have always liked. Knowing it exists and that I can probably quite easily obtain a regular ole non-PROOF version is at least a bit of a consolation prize here.

The Scherzer card marked a return to the traditional vertical design, and current players.



I quite liked both of those cards although I am back to looking at portraits on the wall rather than a 70" ultra-HD TV that I don't actually have. The light on the Abreu card is well captured and it is always nice to see a Pitcher not in the process of creating Pitcher Face on his live action baseball card. Two just plain good base cards must mean it's time to get away from such a boring idea and pull a special card, like this one

Art By Josh Trout

Bazinga, or Bazooka, or something.

Here I find a card image created by the artist that inspired me to buy this blaster in the first place: Josh Trout. Some art cards at last. And with a subtle, just subtle, not garish, nod to the oldest Topps Baseball card design as well with no Anniversary declaration getting all up in your grill. 

I had been realizing as I absorbed the first baker's dozen cards in the box that probably a reason Gallery is photo-based this year was quite likely the large amount of coordination work Topps had already put in hiring actual artists for other art card products this year & last - Project 2020 and Project 70. Which are also beautiful sets that I can't afford to collect. I know most collectors just love having a /xyz stamped on their cards, or even just having xyz known to all purchasers as with the 'Project' release, so they can carefully obtain the ones where xyz = a low number, all so they will be worth more later. I can only dream of collecting cards like that, someday, maybe.

So this Josh Trout insert was a very happy discovery, and what Gallery should be all about, in my opinion. 

That card marked the half-way point of the blaster; I have been showing the cards sequentially. What did I find in the 2nd half? Card #1 is always an interesting pull in a baseball card product:

I feel like I may have seen this Neon Deion picture before but the clean frame lowlights the basically un-lit image in a decidedly not-neon way -- I have no wish to see a parallel of this one and quite like it the way it is. As with the other retired / HoF players I found



Just pleasant baseball picture cards to absorb, & ones which will make it to my own personal hall of fame - a binder full of baseball cards. These basically very old photographs must have had some processing, but that seems to work out just fine. Though they again make you wonder what happened on the Randy Johnson card.

Along the way I saw the Sonny Gray card, again; the 2nd copy was ruint by more of that PRINTER PROOF stupidity, though the hard feelings were instantly alleviated by this pull -


Good thing I already liked this card I guess. It's particularly pleasing, and entirely rare, to find a legible autograph on a baseball card any more. I steer well away from collecting pointless squiggles on my cards, but I totally love this one. I will be checking in on "Trev's" career this coming season, to be sure. That is also a serial numbered ( /50 ) parallel, the 'blue' version subtly indicated by the blue stripe in the frame. 

I don't think I have ever purchased a package of Topps baseball cards with this many sort-of duplicate cards as this blaster. The sorta dupe-ing continued with another up-close TV-like zoom, this time in Philly



That 2nd one is again a s/n card, a parallel, and again the 'blue' version as there is an even thinner blue stripe in the frame though again the foil (& the scanner) seems to pick that up and run with it and the word subtle doesn't quite describe that stripe, in-hand. This time however for some reason blue = /75, go figure - Topps didn't. However I will likely more remember this card as the Grey Fan Blob card.

Quite the little blaster of cards, to cough up a /50 and a /75. I definitely do my level best to give Topps Chewing Gum Corporation as much of my spare change as I possibly can, so it feels nice to pull a few "hits" after a while.

Another find in this intriguing blaster does not trace to perhaps a definitive example of a hot-Rookie-cold-Rookie-bye-Rookie phenom:

This card has one of the more memorable stat line totals on the back of any baseball card I can ever remember as it informs me that Yermin Mercedes played Major League Baseball in the year 2020, and recorded exactly One At Bat. 1 AB. There are also some zeroes involved, in all other categories except G, which also = 1. And then there's a whole bunch of white space surrounding all those zeroes so they are easier to remember.

But the really just, weird, thing about this card is on the front of the card, where the baseball bat, just, well, I dunno what's going on here

More virus quality control madness I guess.

Overall I couldn't decide if I like the players on the big screen better, or the ones with their portrait hanging on the wall. Some of which were just so endearingly cheerful, a decidedly good thing in year 2 of a pandemic:

Arg, the PROOF stupidity strikes again. I can't leave you with that one and will have to hope for a boring old regular copy in my next blaster of this, which I sure didn't expect to be purchasing based on the 1st & 2nd cards in this one. These cards definitely snuck up on my taste buds as I went along in this blaster even as their centering wandered around all over the place; maybe the Miami Marlins will do that this year, too: