Wednesday, February 14, 2024

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is great and all, but if you collect Baseball Cards, then, nomsayn?

Am working out on the road again but fortunately today finds me in a town with a Baseball Card store. And although they had already sold "several cases" of boxes before I arrived earlier this evening, I was the first purchaser of a regular ole pack of Baseball Cards.

I resisted temptation to rip the pack in the store, somehow, for some reason. Maybe I wanted a more comfortable chair before I discovered what random scrub, errr, uhh "common" I would forever connect to the 2024 Topps Baseball set and then have to follow around in my packs of cards for 2-3 more years until their inevitable unknown card in Update, letting you know that their career had fizzled but not before one more try with their 2nd or 3rd team you never knew they had been traded to. I always just hope it is a player from a Central Division team, in either League, so there would be some better than even chance I hear their name called on my old time old guy radio broadcast some random evening this coming summer.

Every year I attempt one singular goal with the Topps Baseball set: I try diligently to not see an image of the cards until — Today. This year was a partial FAIL in that a banner ad on the Internet suggested I would enjoy the "Neon" as seen on the top of the card. So that probably definitive feature was known to me already, but the rest of the card was not, so I had just, some, design anticipation left for First Card, 2024 Topps Baseball:

Heckz Yeahz!!

A memorable set of Baseball Cards to be sure.

One that is rapidly making me forget several recent sets - well done! And I type that after opening just one whole pack of Baseball Cards - 12 cards, this year, at least in Hobby boxes.

I like basically everything, here. Clean, elegant, no frilly stuff thrown on there just because frilly stuff can always be thrown onto a Baseball Card design, whether that is well advised, or not. And usually, it is not. 

The Neon. Yes. 

Team logo, player name, and thankfully a readable Position indicator, all crisp and to the point, but without any pointy bits pointlessly pointing at things. Player Name in Italics, it appears. Nice. A partial black border, so card quality nutz can have their fun hunting up cards with absolutely positively no hint of chipping. But also a mostly white border, so color parallels will look purdy, too. And the image wrapped in a perfectly minimalist inner-frame adding team color to The Neon. 

This pack of Baseball Cards will have to be served up to your eyes via iPhone camera. Best I can do. Hope it works ok for the back, man, we gotta see the back -

Another quality effort. A nice looking stat bar, with a little segmentation-innovation. A nod to the front of the card with the circle element around the team icon. Many elements that are centered - pleasing. 

One demerit on this particular card: Topps can never figure out that white-on-yellow just doesn't usually work, and this one struggles, in-hand, but is improved by taking a picture of it. Nor does yellow-on-white. A topic of a future post. But I don't expect there will be too many cards with yellow on the back, as few teams ever have that selected as their Team Color by Topps.

One amusing feature of this card back: somehow, Topps still knows which side of the plate each Pitcher will bat from. Just in case, I guess, so you can be prepared for the possibility. Devin Williams Bats: Right. Anything can happen, in the game of Baseball.

One sad demerit on this particular card back: Topps quotes "teammate" Corbin Burnes on this one, who will be pitching for the Orioles in 2024. Rebuild time in Milwaukee, which will probably make this extra-memorable First Card yet more memorable at the Trade Deadline in 2025. Probably for the best, methinks, but never a fun process to start, particularly for the fans who are fans every year. Onwards:

A 'dandruff' card. One of those cards where the digital photography capturing on-field dirt flying around makes you wonder if your shampoo is actually working as advertised. 

And how about that compression sleeve? A super early contestant for Most Style on Baseball Card, 2024. 

No yellow on the back of this card, sensibly enough; everything in yellow on the Devin Williams card is blue on this one. And it only took 2 cards to find a classic Topps compound stat: "In 2023, CJ became just the 10th shortstop to post a season with at least 15 homers and 40 steals." I know you can't wait to discover who will become SS #11 to accomplish this, even though you already forgot who the 9th one was. Let's learn more Baseball -

Ahh, only took till my 3rd card of the year to get a Rookie Card card. What a relief. And surprise, surprise, it's another Rookie Middle Infielder for the Pirates. I think Pittsburgh must have a rule lately that only Rookies can play 2B or SS, at least according to my Baseball Cards the last so many years. It also sometimes seems to be a rule that Topps does not like to buy photographs from the dale of Pittsburgh; I think the Pirates might easily lead the leagues in players shown in their road uniforms on Topps products. Topps does, however, still like Throwbacks:

Not the most memorable look at Atlanta's classic 70s garb but quite apropos for 2023's National League Leader in Home Runs; yes League Leaders are still in Italics (and red ink). This is card #350 by the way, the final card in Series One and a first indicator that maybe Hero #s are in use this year. And here comes another Topps like -

If a player has long hair, they will get a base-running card more seasons than not. And what's up with "Reds" not being printed in the color red? Buckle up kids, The Neon is full of surprises:

Blue Phillies? It is their secondary color, usually. This card is just making me want to rip some more packs, cuz this electric blue will look so coool with Philadelphia's Powder Blue uniforms. And that's what Baseball Card design is supposed to do: make you want more Baseball Cards. Like this one -

When these bold prediction cards work out in terms of the player truly becoming a Star, in the Future, these 2024 Future Stars cards will be the Shizzle. And ooooohhh, Shiny might be even more dazzling in 2024 Topps Neon Chrome. They already make pretty darn nice Rookie Cards:

What's not to like? I feel so modern. There could be some dots that could be connected to the font selected for The Neon, and what decade that might bring to mind, but I pretty much can't think of the dots. I am just living in the year 2024 on these cards, not the past. And that's a great thing. Even the players seem happy with The Neon up there, right Andy -

First Tigers Card!

This was a sweet pull - this is also Ibáñez' First Tigers Card after a tough career in Topps Baseball so far. He started out with the Rangers, and in typical Topps Texas coverage, they forgot to grant Andy the coveted RC logo on his First Topps Card in 2022 Series Two. He then moved on to the Tigers, where in typical Topps Detroit coverage, he didn't receive a card despite a 2.0 WAR season in over 100 games for the Tigs last year. 

I don't know just what the heck that thing is hanging from his thumb there, but I am glad to get a new Tiger's new Tiger Baseball Card, every time. Go, Neon!

Or, something. That there is a 2024 Rainbow Foil card. Seems like a great concept, Neon + Foil, but methinks this one needs some good ole time Summer sunshine to really shine. And is my official one-per-pack "insert" I guess, in this Hobby pack. 

This may or may not be Joey Votto's last Topps Baseball card; at press time Votto had just invoked a classic Dylan Thomas poem on the X/Twitter to indicate his desire to play, somewhere, in 2024. Could go either way, I suppose. This is, however, quite certainly Votto's last Topps Baseball Reds card, so is a "Team Sunset" card if you wish. Fittingly, it is card #19 — are we headed towards Uniform Hero #s, a la 2013 Topps Baseball? Let's flip another card over:

Who is Enmanuel Valdez? Not even Topps Card Back Writer seems to know much.

And why is he card #300? The mysteries, the mysteries. I do like one thing I see on this card back: Valdez achieved a perfect 0.0 WAR figure for the 2023 season. I have been thinking about making up a set of, naturally, 9 such perfect players - the WAR Heroes. Neither good, nor bad. These 2024 cards look so nice on the fronts...

...that I think this is the year I will finally do it. Welcome to The Show, Enmanuel.

Sometimes, a First Pack is as memorable for the last card as the first. This was one of those packs -

A worthy entry in my very modest Salvador Perez collection, which is probably already too large for just one Nifty Nine page, so I likely need a 2nd copy of this one. Cuz it looks like this set will be going into some binder pages, and I'm thinking I need some more groceries, tomorrow night, so....

Saturday, February 3, 2024

You need old Jazz to make new Jazz


I love listening to Jazz. Much like enjoying Baseball Cards, I figure Jazz will reliably entertain me basically forever. And as with the subject of this blog, an essential part of enjoying it is knowing the history of the art form. If you find Jazz a little perplexing but you would like to figure it out a little better, I can definitely recommend a sort-of local radio station where I live, which broadcasts Jazz every day after 10 pm Eastern, with live human DJ Lazaro Vega explaining all the new and old Jazz for you on: "Blue Lake Public Radio."

As with music history being the essential building block for musicians to make new music, the same is true in graphic design in a general sense but also on Baseball Cards in a specific sense. Recently I stumbled (my previous post here) across a new-ish Baseball Card that clearly borrowed inspiration from a famous graphic of the past. I knew I had to haves an example of it, and one arrived recently, as seen above in "extra large" detail. 

That is not the card I saw first, which was a 2022 Topps Rip mini (i.e. the cards that come out of the Ripped card) /25 Orange card featuring Derek Jeter, with a price in the high 2 figure range, iirc. Leaving aside my lack of desire to own Derek Jeter Baseball Cards, especially expensive ones, the card I saw first with this design had a different, very problematic flaw - in my opinion: the serial number was stamped on the front of the card. I have never liked seeing this on numbered cards, which seems to arrive just, occasionally, at random. I suspect a random employee at the printing plant determines when this will happen, randomly - who knows?

When I went to the ever useful resource that knows Everything® to figure out what set the Jeter card was from, I made the unhappy discovery that every single version of the card, across 7 or 8 different colors of parallels, all had the serial number stamped on the front. 

But I also made a happy discovery: every card on the checklist has an "image variation" without any color parallel, and no serial number stamped on the front, or the back. A strategy by Topps to make the short printed variations more mysterious, I guess?

So when I continued on down this particular rabbit hole, the natural next step was checking eBay, which illuminated another handy thing about these cards: not all of them are for superstars. And thus, some of them are quite affordable - just a couple-three dollars and one could be mine. 

Even better, one of the cards available that day was for a player for whom I now have a modest Player Collection: Jazz Chisholm Jr.

Now collectors never know which Topps employee designs which card, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same Card Designer first tried out this inspiration-theme in 2021 Gallery:

This was an insert set I admired in a basic sense for "going-for-it" somewhat with a simple colorful design, though it never quite inspired me to put together even 9 of them. I liked the more pleasingly colorful Bo Bichette card from the checklist much better than this Soto card that I pulled first and have a digi image more quickly available. This design also seems to have a further descendent in Topps Cosmic Chrome sets, perhaps. Those have eluded my collecting effort, so far, or I would comparison one up for you right here.

That Soto card there has the key word clue for where that Jazz Chisholm mini clearly pays homage:

Which of course has been heavily re-used by graphic designers for many decades, though I can't recall any nods to it in the world of Baseball Cards, before this one; here is the Chisholm card again -
That's the mini version of the scan, I guess. Back up at the top of this post on the extra large version you can clearly see how Jazz' left shoe says "Road" on it, probably a handy aid for the team's equipment manager; have never seen that on a Baseball Card before. Of course I also quite like that it is almost a Powder Blue shoe; the Marlins have some stealthy connections to that soothing 70s Baseball paint scheme we might see here on the blog some future day.

Now of course I have a new challenge with this beautiful little Baseball Card: where do I keep it? I doubt Jazz even has 9 different mini/"cigarette" size cards yet though perhaps he is getting close. But binder pages for these cards hold 15 entries so a mini-Jazz collection probably won't work out. 

Collecting 14 more from this 100 card checklist certainly will, though; I see many more of these little Great Waves in my future.