Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Five years


Five years ago today, I acted on a crazy impulse to start a baseball card blog.

In other words, this blog has been around for half a decade. That's almost inconceivable to me. I started this blog when I was still a teenager, and here I am now just having received a college degree. I like to think I've matured in the years since then, but who can say for sure?

At times, I'll stop and think Gosh, it feels like just yesterday I started this thing while other times I'll mull it over and say Man, I HAVE been blogging for a long time, haven't I? As is the paradox of time.

It's safe to say that year five has been the most teeter-totter one of them all. I said goodbye, returned when I realized just how much I needed blogging in my life, and have stuck around since then, albeit infrequently. Granted, I don't post much anymore. Three times a week tops, ten posts a month if I'm lucky. I'll admit, this dip in posting has made me feel like an outsider at times, someone in the back of the blogging group photo.

Still, I guess what I've learned this year is that staying a part of this wonderful community isn't wholly dependent on how much you post around here. I still make it a point to read/comment on other blogs and ship PWEs out to my blogging buddies as often as possible, and I get a great amount of joy out of that. (And I do offer a heartfelt apology to the delay in trade posts for anyone who's sent me cards over the past handful of months. I'm working on it.)

I tend to get a bit introspective on these blogging anniversaries. But in the end, the only word I can really come up with to describe what I feel is: thanks. Whoever you are, wherever you live, however you read my blog, thanks.

I wouldn't have made it anywhere near these five years without you.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Into the Sunset, Pt. 33: Kenny Lofton


(Note: I'm thinking of moving my frankenset posts from Mondays to sometime over the weekend.

Vote totals have taken a sharp dip since the frankenset tournament ended, so go ahead and get your vote in on the first page of new frankenset contestants if you haven't already! 

Now let's return to your regularly scheduled programming with a reboot of my "Into the Sunset" theme.)

I know I'm on the younger end of the card collecting spectrum, but that doesn't mean I can't still feel old sometimes.

I'm sure every sports fan has probably experienced that dreaded Gosh-I'm-getting-old moment at some point. It comes with the territory. For me, it came when some of the most hallowed ballplayers of my youth began to retire, one by one. The first of those retirees I can recall was Kenny Lofton, a man so fast that not even a parachute could stop him.

I'm not quite old enough to remember Lofton on those great Cleveland teams of the '90s, but following his baseball career during my baseball adolescence made him one of my all-time favorite ballplayers, a title he retains to this day.




But the sad fact of the matter is that even the best in the game have to retire sometime.

One of the first things that drew me to Kenny Lofton was how often he switched uniforms. He played for a whopping eleven clubs in his 17-year career, and amazingly, he spent a year or less with ten of those teams. Unlike some other well-traveled ballplayers, however, I think it was more of a case of other teams wanting him as opposed to teams being desperate to unload him.

Lofton played ten of his 17 seasons with the Indians over a course of three separate stints with the club, the last of which came during his sunset campaign of 2008 when he was dealt from Texas to playoff-bound Cleveland at the trade deadline.

I don't count subset issues as official sunset cards, but these two are worth mentioning since Lofton's 34th career postseason stolen base secured a record that still stands.




Kenny Lofton received three sunset issues from a card market that was quickly dwindling.

The first comes from probably the most disappointing design of my collecting lifetime: 2008 Topps. I use the word disappointing because this design could have been so great, but it ended up being a dud.

It was nice of Topps to insert Lofton into their 2008 checklist following the speedster's retirement the year prior, because you know what that means...




...complete career stats!

Lofton's stats are among my favorite to read because of the stellar numbers and the sheer overload of teams he played for. Look at those accolades. A .299 career average. Over 2,000 games played. Not to mention his 622 career steals, which ranks 15th all-time.

I'm not sure if Lofton is a Hall of Famer, but I sure as heck believe he deserved better than the 3.2% of votes he got in his only year on the ballot (2013).




Though the shot is almost exactly similar to Lofton's Flagship issue, Topps also inserted him into their Heritage checklist in '08.

It was a great time to have a sunset card in Heritage, since Topps honored one of its top-tier designs that year: 1959.

I probably opened more packs of Heritage in 2008 than any other single year since because of how much I enjoyed the look of it.




But in the end, Upper Deck provided the finest farewell to Mr. Lofton, at least in my opinion.

Most collectors seem to agree that 2008 UD is the brand's last great set. They'd be out of business just two years later, but the greatness of their 2008 edition remains to this day: an all-around fantastic mix of stellar photography and simplistic design.

Upper Deck captured Lofton in the joyous huzzahs following (what I assume is) Cleveland's division-clinching win in 2007, with an anonymous teammate lifting the 40-year-old veteran from behind.

Even with a fantastic sunset card, it's hard to be neutral when a beloved ballplayer like Kenny Lofton retires. It hurts. It sometimes feels like a part of me has gone missing. Many of my favorite players of my youth are out of the game by now, and what's more: many of baseball's brightest young stars are actually younger than I am.

Here's hoping the Ichiros and Bartolo Colons of the baseball world can hang on for just a few more years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The best damn garage sale ever


A display like this resembles something you might come across at a card show, but take a closer look and you'll find that what you see here is actually someone's garage.

More specifically, this was what awaited me at a local garage sale I attended this past weekend. The online ad dubbed it The Best Damn Garage Sale Ever, which I naturally thought was a bit hyperbolic. Turns out I'd actually been to this very same garage sale a few times before. The guy's selection seemed to be dwindling the last time I went, so I wasn't expecting a whole lot when I made the drive over this time around.

Good news: among the first things I noticed upon entering the garage/card lair this past weekend were two large 3200-count boxes labeled Baseball -- 15 cents each. Bad news: the guy began putting SOLD signs on everything card-related not one minute after I stepped foot in his garage.

Apparently, someone had made him an offer for everything he had on display, and he accepted. His collection had been bought. And I didn't even get to look through those 3200-count boxes...

I put my head down and prepared to walk out of the garage with nothing.




That's when the guy kindly informed me that until this mystery buyer came to haul the cards out, everything was still up for grabs, a special deal that I'm guessing he may have granted me since I was a repeat customer of his.

I felt my stomach loosen at the happy ending being presented to me: turns out I was going to get to tear through that pair of 3200-count boxes after all.





As I've detailed in past posts, the guy who runs this garage sale is a high-end dealer/collector.

I saw remnants of his past breaks with the cards from big-dollar sets like Leaf Limited and Museum Collection I found in his scraps. I could tell he's the type of collector who buys a box, plucks out relics/hits/anything else of "value," and throws the rest in a box somewhere.

That's okay: I've basically built an entire collection out of culling also-rans from collectors who have a lot more money than I do.




We swapped very different collecting stories (his involving redemptions, mine involving dime boxes) as my eyes continued to light up over what I was finding in those 3200-count boxes, things that you rarely see in discount bins anywhere, much less a garage sale.

Things like big-name rookies.




Things like minis.

(I'm guessing Julio Urias was a relative unknown when the guy originally pulled these.)




Things like short-prints.

(RIP, Jose.)




Things like...buybacks?

Indeed. Among the most surprising finds of the afternoon were the dozen or so buybacks I unearthed from those boxes. Most are earmarked for a few different bloggers I know of who are undertaking various buyback projects, but these two are staying with me.

I'm a huge Bernie Carbo fan, and the Haney (actually a reverse-negative error) is an exciting oddball-ish add to my Pilots collection.




The guy seemed to have busted a lot of Panini product over the past few years, some of which were complete unknowns to me.

The Wilson in particular (a mighty thick card numbered to 125 copies) comes from a set called America's Pastime released in 2013 -- which I had never once heard of before last weekend.




More inserts/parallels from Panini, including a healthy dosage of shiny cards which actually don't look half bad despite the lack of logos.




Most of what the guy had on display involved newer product, though I did find a small dose of randomness thrown into the mix.

I mostly stay away from Kraft cheese these days, but the oddballs are still cool.




You're telling me a garage sale can have mini-collection hits, too?

You bet.




How about a couple plays at the plate for good measure?

The Martin is a card I've wanted ever since 2013 Topps Chrome hit the shelves, but hadn't yet tracked down for whatever reason.




And now we've come to the main attractions from those 3200-count boxes: the parallels.

The chrome Ethier and baby-blue Price you see here were certainly treats...




...but the real story came in the form of Flagship parallels.

I found about a half-dozen blue-bordered beauties from 2011 Topps Update in those boxes, including this one of former Chicago fan favorite Tony Campana, who still holds a near and dear place in my heart.




But maybe the surfboards from 2012 Topps are more your speed.

Tulo double dips and Matt Harvey gold sparkle rookies are sure to grab anyone's eye.




Or maybe the sea turtles from 2013 are more your game: blue sparkles, red borders, gold borders, whatever you like.

Probably around 50-60 cards I bought were 2013 Flagship parallels, including my first parallel of 2013's Card of the Year, Adam Greenberg.




Or perhaps about 2014 Topps and the -- whatever that design was supposed to look like -- are to your liking.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: these boxes were absolutely loaded with parallels, more so than almost any other discount bin (card show, garage sale, anywhere) I've ever had the privilege of digging through.

And if all that wasn't enough...




...how about a couple black parallels, numbered to just 63 copies each?

No?




Okay, how about a good ol' camo parallel (99 copies) then?

You may have noticed that up until now, I've left one precious detail out of all this cardboard goodness: the final price. Things got kinda out of hand as I was digging (can you blame me?) and, even at the glorious price of 15 cents per, my purchase pile of right around 250 cards was still bound to total more than the cash I had on me that afternoon.

I was just starting to count the number of cards I'd picked out when the guy stopped me, glanced down at the stack I'd picked out and said: Today's your lucky day, just gimme five bucks for everything.

I was so floored that I looked right back at him and said: Are you sure? He answered yes, and I felt like I was getting away with some sort of robbery when I handed him that five-dollar bill.

Let's see: 250 cards, divided by five dollars, that's...OH MY GOD!...two cents a card.




How could this day possibly get any better?

Turns out there were a couple other boxes with higher-priced cards I hadn't noticed during my first tour of the garage. One contained various stars/rookies, separated by player, while the other housed past and present Chicago greats. In the end, the guy let me have the 13 cards I plucked from those two boxes for $20.

I know that sounds like a king's ransom juxtaposed next to the five-dollar deal I just recapped, but trust me here, don't be so quick to judge.




Along with the Corey Seager rookie came Mini Babe and Big Babe from the non-Chicago box.




Inserts and parallels of couple current Cubs with Rizzo and Lackey here, and I must say GQ's blue border parallels sure mix well with Cubs cards.




Now we're starting to get into part of what really made this deal so sweet.

Not surprisingly, I've noticed cards of the Cubs' young core experiencing an uptick in price both during and after the magical season of 2016. Willson Contreras looks to be the backstop of the future in Chicago, and has quickly become one of my personal favorite players to watch in all of baseball.

I nabbed these Bowman and Bowman Chrome rookies of his for what amounted to a little over a buck each, which, I can assure you, is far less than I'd find them anywhere else in the Chicago area these days.




Here's a quartet of beautiful Addison Russell cards, three of which -- given Russell's non-tenure in Oakland -- are treasured new additions to my zero-year collection.

A mini chrome, a melting insert, a numbered parallel, a refractor...what else could this guy possibly have?




Ah, vintage.

And we're not talking buybacks here, either. This is the real, unstamped stuff. Specifically, a 1977 Topps Pete Rose I've had my eye on for a long, long time -- and in nearly flawless condition, no less. Rose cards are hard to come by on the cheap, and they don't get much cheaper than this one.

Gosh, what a way to cap it off. Well, that just about does it for this garage sale from something out of Paradise. SPs, parallels, rookies, vintage, I couldn't ask for much more out of...

Hold on...




...what?!

Yes. That, my friends, is indeed an authentic 1961 Topps Ernie Banks. That I found at a garage sale. I'm hoping that if I say it more I'll start to believe it, because I'm still not entirely convinced all this actually happened.

Let me assure you that I was fully ready to put this one back, because I pretty much assumed that it would catapult me over my cash limit for the day. But once again, when the guy quoted me a twenty-spot for the lot, I had to ask: Are you sure? 

He (again) was, and now I think you can see why $20 for this baker's dozen of cards was an out-of-this-world steal. The whole afternoon in all set me back a grand total of $25, and I exited that musty garage with a box of cards and a huge dumb grin on my face. I had to walk around the block a couple times just to get some air, to take in the deal I'd just gotten.

One thing's for certain: I'll be damned if that sure wasn't the best damn garage sale ever.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Frankenset redux, Page 1: Numbers 1-9


It's official: the second Dime Box Frankenset is a go!

I admit, I had some qualms about doing this. I thought starting a second frankenset with the leftovers that didn't make the first binder would diminish the integrity of that first set, would somehow mean that first frankenset wasn't as special, would mean blah, blah, blah.

Fact is the initial frankenset concept seemed to be a pretty popular theme with my readers, and I had way too much fun the first time around to pass up an opportunity to do these weekly posts again.

I took whatever time I could this past week to start selecting cards for the second frankenset, and although I'm not quite done with the process yet (about 200 more cards to pick) the first page is fresh and ready to go. (Also, if anyone happens to have any spare 9-pocket pages available, I'd be interested in acquiring them because this latest Dime Box Frankenset is still being housed in a box, and that's no way to treat cards you love.)

So here we go: let's take a look at the first nine nominees in the second Dime Box Frankenset.



1991 Line Drive #1 Billy Bean

The frankenset kicks off with Billy Bean, the only living openly gay player to have played in the big leagues, and MLB's current Ambassador for Inclusion.



2015 Bowman Chrome #2 Michael Brantley

Throwing it back to the days of the Negro League's Cleveland Buckeyes. 



1998 Team Best #3 Hiram Bocachica

Minor league throwbacks are a rare sight in the hobby, and besides, I can't let a name like Hiram Bocachica go unrecognized in this frankenset. 



2016 Stadium Club #4 Kevin Kiermaier

One of Kiermaier's many great grabs forever immortalized on cardboard. 



1993 Stadium Club #5 Tony Phillips

The rare double dip/throwback combo. 



1994 Topps #6 Derrick May

The only horizontal of the frankenset's debut page features serenity by the bat rack. 



1992 Upper Deck #7 Roberto Hernandez

As much as I love interview cards, I wish card companies would zoom out a bit to show both the interviewer and the interviewee (instead of a disembodied hand with a microphone). 



1991 Leaf #8 Dave Martinez

A valid effort, but no catch for Dave Martinez: the Cubs' current bench coach.



2000 Ultra #9 Mickey Morandini

The first page of the frankenset closes with yet another Wrigley shot, this time of the double dip variety.

As usual, the polls are now on the sidebar, so let's determine the first champion of the second Dime Box Frankenset!

Happy voting!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Elusive Three, revisited (Vintage from the card show)


While fun, there's no doubt that card shows can indeed be overwhelming.

With stacks of cards everywhere and signs shouting DEALS! and BARGAINS! and THE BEST VINTAGE SELECTION ON THE PLANET! at you, it's all too easy to get sidetracked. And while getting distracted at a card show isn't the worst thing in the world, it's still worth it to feel like you're at least trying to keep yourself on task.

That's why I've taken lately to selecting a few choice cards to search for before every large card show I attend. With the sheer size of the place, I liken it to a glorified game of Needle in the Haystack. Much like I did at last year's National, I again chose a set of Elusive Three to hunt for last Friday.

This year's selections: a 1976 Topps Dennis Eckersley rookie, a 1970 Topps Hank Aaron, and the granddaddy of them all, a coveted 1975 Topps Robin Yount rookie.

Would the Elusive Three remain elusive, or would I capture them once and for all?




I'll answer that question in due time, but let's get to all those pesky "distractions" first.

This show may be somewhat overwhelming, but Dad and I maintain a bit of continuity by always hitting the same vendor first. There's a guy right near the entrance that has been setting up at this show for years. He always has a big bin of, well, everything on display.

His cards are usually $1 each or 40/$20, but this time around they were 50 cents each or 50/$20. Better yet, since Dad and I were among the first to be admitted on the show's opening day, I can say with certainty that we were the very first customers to dig through that bin. (I was so excited that I forgot to snap a picture of it in the moment.)

As a result, I got the Babe here...




...and a smattering of other 1961 Golden Press oddballs for an astounding 40 cents a pop.

The Babe is the most desired card from this set and usually runs a pretty penny, but don't sleep on other legends like Lajoie and Mathewson I unearthed on the cheap.

Turns out the 50/$20 bin fun was just getting started.




This more than doubled the existing amount of Permagraphics cards I had in my collection before last Friday.

These look and feel very much like credit cards, and they triggered a memory my dad hadn't recalled in a while. He remembered purchasing a handful of them during his later adolescent collecting years.

Along with the stack of Golden Press singles, these got the evening off to a delightfully odd start.




The vast majority of the 55 cards I ended up purchasing from this vendor (which he still let me have for $20) ended up being oddballs.

The 1960 Leaf Don Newcombe qualifies as a sunset issue of the former Dodger great, and my dad still argues that the Brock -- an ad for Sporting News from 1982 -- isn't a baseball card. Advertisements are not cards to him.

I disagree.




We'll close the 50/$20 bin out with the 1941 Play Ball of the not-so-politcally-correctly nicknamed "Indian Bob" Johnson you see on the left.

While the edges might be trimmed, it is indeed authentic, which made it a truly staggering 40-cent find. It's also my first card from Play Ball's color years.

The '51 Topps Kluszewski came from the vendor whose table you see me perusing at the top of this post. He's also a regular at this show, and one of his bins advertised 90% OFF vintage. You don't have to tell me twice.

Klu found his way into my purchase pile for a mere $2.50.




This miscut PATP (sorry Jeff, I'm keeping it) of Ernie Banks set me back three bucks, and is probably the cheapest vintage card of Mr. Cub I've ever found.




Here's one I've had on my wantlist for a while: Ralph Kiner's sunset card from 1955 Bowman.

Add the fact that Kiner spent just a single season in Cleveland, and you have a no-brainer buy at $2.50.




Also among my 90% Off scores was what is now my oldest Jimmy Piersall from '54 Bowman, another $2.50 purchase.




Eagle-eyed readers may notice that I'm digging through a stack of Hostess singles in the "action" image of yours truly at the top of this post.

That's because this vendor had something I'd personally never seen before at a card show: an entire shoebox-sized box filled with nothing but Hostess.

Between big names, fan favorites, and even some uncut panels, that box was a Willy Wonka wonderland of pure imagination, containing just about anything and everything Hostess-related you could ever dream of...






...and you better believe I did some serious damage to it.

The cards were unpriced, which worried me a bit. Still, despite the vendor pulling out his Beckett when I brought them up to him (which I think was only to check if any of the ones I'd selected were SPs), I ended up getting the two-dozen-plus Hostess singles I wanted for less than 50 cents each, impressive considering some of the stars (Gibson, Morgan, Sutter, etc.) I picked out.

Dad and I were only a couple aisles into the show at this point, and already my bag was filled with an evening's worth of glorious vintage oddballs.




A couple more oddities before we get back to the standard Topps protocol.

The Greenberg is a terrific 1961 Nu-Scoops oddball I couldn't pass up for $3. The Home Run Baker/Ty Cobb/Zack Wheat trio (how's that for some serious star power?) was part of that aforementioned 50/$20 bin.

An extremely cheap price tag considering it's Card #1 from the '61 Fleer checklist.




But back to Topps, and specifically to a couple Chicago legends.

Surefire steals at just 50 cents a piece.




I never knew Don Zimmer had a Topps card as a Cub issued during his playing career, which was enough for me to jump on his '61 Topps semi-high-number for $2.50.

I made a shocking discovery while perusing my binders a few weeks ago: I didn't own any vintage Pumpsie Green cards. Green is notable for being the first black player on the last team to integrate (Red Sox, 1959), and he closed out his career with a brief 17-game stint with the '63 Mets.

Sunset card and a short-term stop: can't do much better than that from a 6/$1 bin.




The Hammerin' Hank was $4, an historic card I couldn't believe I didn't own before last Friday.

Same goes for the Griffey, which was a Dime Box Dozen suspect I somehow hadn't captured during my many digs through discount bins filled with '75 Topps over the years.

I forked over two bucks for it, which was a bit more than I wanted to shell out...but still a small price to pay to end the frustration of not having it.




One of the better tables of the evening presented itself in the later aisles of the convention hall.

It didn't look like much, only a single 3/$1 box and a small pile of various other scattered vintage tucked into a corner. But that just proves one of the prime rules of a card show: never judge a table by how it looks on the outside, because you never know what it might contain on the inside.

That 3/$1 box turned out to be the stuff of legend. Among the gets was an awesomely titled highlight card from the '64 Topps checklist as well as a Bobby Murcer PATP, a steal made all the more sweet by the fact that it's an uber-high-number/hero number (#700) from '72 Topps.

I'd say that's 66 cents well spent.




A couple cards I picked up just for kicks.

The Schneider is a strong contender for the Worst Baseball Card Ever Made (the possible captions are endless!), and I actually remember reading about the '58 Cimoli in one of my old baseball books as a kid.

The overenthusiastic Topps artist ended up airbrushing the bat right out of poor Gino's hands.




The oddball theme of the day kept right on going with these '60s Post singles from the 3/$1 box.

Podres, Torre, and Gibson are all great, but I know you can't take your eyes off Ryne Duren and his Coke-bottle shades.




A young artist appeared to have been a previous (original?) owner of these 3/$1 cards at some point.

Several of the cards I found had faux-eyebrows and mustaches drawn on them, as you see with the Piersall and Skowron here. Others fell into the 3/$1 box due to their poor condition: creases, soft corners, and the like.

Either way, I was all too happy to take them home with me for nothing more than loose change.




Steal of the Day honors have to go to this '59 Roger Maris, which I found in the small pile of individually priced vintage next to the 3/$1 box.

This isn't a card I ever planned on owning. Heavy creases or not, I felt my heart jump into my throat when I saw the price tag on it: $4.50. Maris cards have a tendency to carry a premium, and you'd be lucky to find anything of his at half that price.

Much less his second-year card, and the only Topps card to feature him as a Kansas City Athletic.




Now that those doggone distractions are out of the way, let's get down to it: The Elusive Three.

Full credit for eliminating the first suspect -- this 1970 Topps Hank Aaron -- goes to Dad. He wandered off early in the show while I was in the midst of a dime box dig...and, to my complete and utter surprise, came back with none other than Hammerin' Hank himself.

Aside from being an Aaron I didn't already have, this is also the earliest example I know of which features a ballplayer signing autographs on a baseball card.

Thanks, Dad.




The second member of the Elusive Three went down without much of a fight.

As a young collector, I had a chance to purchase Dennis Eckersley's 1976 Topps rookie at a fair price, but passed. It's a decision that's haunted me ever since, and one I finally put to rest last Friday.

I found this copy of Eck's rookie in a vendor's glass case with a $12 price tag. I asked if he'd take $10 on it, and he graciously accepted. Two down, one to go.

I stopped at table after table, searching for the hallowed '75 Topps Robin Yount rookie. The couple I saw were well out of my price range. I went back through the entire card show a second time looking for a more affordable copy. I even asked several vendors if they had it, which is something I almost never do.

It was starting to look like the last of the Elusive Three might have to remain elusive.




Until it happened.

I spotted a copy of the '75 Yount in a glass case near the end of the show, priced at $22. I initially balked, but after a few minutes of contemplation, offered $20, which was met with a blissful yes from the vendor. 

I may have overpaid a bit (one vendor informed me that the card carries a bit of hometown inflation due to Milwaukee's proximity to Chicago, which was news to me) and it's the most I've spent on a single card in years, but I just wasn't leaving that convention hall without Robin.

Finally, one of the most iconic cards of the '70s -- and all of cardboard history, for that matter -- was mine. 




There I am with Yount and Eck at the edge of the convention hall, two of my new favorite rookie cards in my collection.

Big card shows are susceptible to sensory overload, and I've gone on record before saying that I enjoy smaller, hotel-type shows a bit more. But there's no denying that gargantuan shows like this one are like Mecca for collectors such as myself, and you won't find the sheer amount of cardboard housed in a single convention hall like this anywhere else.

All I can say is: I urge any of The Hobby Is Dying! talking heads to take the time to attend one of these gatherings someday.

Shows like this one make the hobby come alive again.