Monday, September 25, 2017

Vacationing at the card show

I took a couple much-needed vacation days from work this week, and while I didn't plan it as such, my time off just happened to coincide with the local card show.

I've never been a big travel guy. My five days off are more centered around relaxation -- what's more relaxing than a card show? -- and if I had to guess, the hour-long drive Dad and I made down to the village hall yesterday will probably be the most energy I spend all week. Even better was knowing that I was basically getting paid to be at the card show with my vacation days and all, and wow, what a great feeling that is.

This, as I've said before, is my favorite of the shows in my area, and to make a great place even better, I even got to meet up with Tony for a bit yesterday. The village hall has a calm, friendly atmosphere that persisted despite the fact that it was quite packed, as you might be able to tell from the photo above. But that's okay with me, because the last couple shows I've hit here were on Saturdays, and those had a bit too much of a ghost-town feel to them.

Sure, atmosphere is great and all, but what's a card show without the cards?

You know as well as I do that I wouldn't still be going to this show if it didn't have the cards to back it all up.

Yesterday, in fact produced the single greatest card I've ever found at a show -- and that's not hyperbole by any means -- but more on that a little later. In the meantime, I basically accomplished the only steadfast goal I set for myself at the very first table of the day: find Heritage High Numbers -- and, specifically, the Cody Bellinger from the set. I'm a fan of the Dodger prospect, but I sadly didn't have any luck in pulling his card from the packs I opened.

In a rare move for me, I actually forked over five whole dollars for his Heritage rookie, mostly because I just wanted the thing now and didn't want to have to hunt and peck and hope that I might find it cheaper a few months or a year from now.

With the Bellinger out of the way, I was able to kick back with a dollop of suntan lotion on my nose and simply take in the rest of my card show vacation.

That included, as always, a healthy attack on my remaining 2017 base needs, including almost all of the other High Numbers I needed. Everything on this page aside from the Bryant (which was a dollar) came out of a dime box.

Also, why did no one tell me Krazy George has a card in A&G this year?!

I'm still amazed at how quickly and easily inserts wind up in the discount boxes.

This whole page cost about two dollars all together -- the Reddick being the priciest of the lot at a whole buck -- and, once again, Finest continues to floor me with its stunning retro-themed inserts (though I have yet to actually open a pack of the stuff in my long collecting life).

I also added what I hope is the first of many Bruce Maxwell cards to my collection, and by now, I think you know why.

Dime box minis of all shapes, sizes, and creeds -- chrome minis, Artist Dude minis, and even a National-exclusive Topps mini that I'd never even seen before yesterday.

Dime box hits for a few of my main player collections, including the last card I needed to complete Lee Smith's rookie card puzzle.

I know have Smith's Topps, Fleer, and Donruss rookies from '82, and, somehow, they cost me all of 45 cents total (two dimes and a quarter).

A card show isn't complete without mini-collection hits, including that terrific Chili Davis which I've been targeting for a while.

Parallels have long been a source of unabridged joy for me, and I've found that no show satisfies that need more than this one.

While these were certainly exciting to pull from a quarter box... table has ever exposed my childish love for shiny objects quite like the one I encountered near the end of the day.

These boxes had BLOWOUT written on them in large print (usually a good sign) and underneath, the words 10 CENTS EACH (always a good sign). One of the boxes was a 3200-count box filled almost entirely of refractors. I repeat: a 3200-count box...ALL REFRACTORS.

Safe to say I was under a fair bit of hypnosis during that dig, and somehow I managed to not blow my entire budget at that table alone...which could've easily happened with a bit less self-control.

But cards don't just have to be shiny to grab my attention: I'm mostly on the hunt for just plain fun stuff at shows, like these.

(Hakuna Machado?)

Fun is finding photo-variation SPs in 50-cent boxes.

Even more fun is finding other ignored variant short-prints in dime (Leiter) and quarter (Arrieta) boxes, as these two are.

Only problem with the Leiter (still not sure what the heck is going on there) is that I've now acquired his rare photo SP without actually tracking down the standard base card.

Dime box oddballs!

The fact that I would voluntarily purchase a Jose Canseco should tell you how much I love Mother's Cookies cards.

Here's a new one for the Card or Not A Card? chronicles.

I unearthed this Mattingly from a dime box and immediately asked myself What the heck is THAT? Turns out these were issued as tags on Franklin products sometime in the '80s. So, a retail tag: card or not a card?

Verdict: card!

Franklin tags aside, the dime boxes certainly had the zany-meter cranked up to 11 yesterday...

...or maybe it was just that '90s inserts seemed to be in vogue during my digs.

Flying 3-D baseballs, screaming eagles, CDs-as-cards: I'm seriously starting to think that maybe '60s drug culture didn't hit card collectors until the mid '90s.

Though these dime box legends are certainly worthy of oohs and aahs...

...they couldn't hold a candle to the actual vintage I found yesterday.

My one complaint about this show in the past has been that it's largely been much more skewed towards the modern stuff -- but after what I experienced yesterday, I certainly can't say that anymore.

Take this one, for instance, actually my final purchase of the day. That's a 1971 Milk Duds issue of Fergie, and count me among the many who didn't know that Milk Duds -- Milk Duds! -- actually produced baseball cards at one point.

Originally priced at $10, the vendor gave it to me for eight bucks, and I was happy to have it since this is the type of thing I probably would've never seen again had I not bought it right then and there.

These 1969 Milton Bradley oddballs aren't terribly exciting, but at a buck a piece, they gave me an opportunity to acquire new cards of guys who don't have much left for me to chase.

I nabbed these from the same vendor who provided me with my Greatest Card Show Find Ever -- but hold the phone...we're not quite there yet.

For now, let's go back to that guy with the Milk Duds (not a euphemism).

I found his table right as the show was clearing out, having somehow missed it during my original tour of the village hall. He had lots of set-based binders on display, which I don't usually flip through. But one of them caught my eye: a vintage oddball binder! 

First up inside those pages was a healthy offering of '60s Fleer Greats singles, and with my budget dwindling, I chose these as the four I wanted most. Dolf Luque doesn't have many cards in general (I think this is only the fourth one I own), while the other three came home with me because of the gloriously unfamiliar uniforms featured on them.

That's only my second card of Ralph Kiner as a Cub, and my first of Red Ruffing (nine games with the '47 White Sox) and Dazzy Vance (six games with the '34 Reds) with their respective teams.

More from the oddball binder: Looie for a dollar, Ronnie for a five-spot.

The Aparicio peel-off actually came stuck to a piece of plain white paper, which actually works out for me: it'll be a whole lot easier to slide into a nine-pocket page now.

A couple heavy hitters from the oddball files with Willie and Hank (five and four dollars, respectively), including one of the last cards I needed of Aaron as a Brewer -- though that airbrush job certainly didn't do him any favors.

Tucked into the very back of this oddball binder were a bunch of 1970 Kellogg's -- and if I were to imagine cardboard heaven, I think it'd involve page after page after page of Kellogg's cards.

Though, at two bucks a piece, these two Hall of Famers packed some star power into my purchase... was actually the cheaper fan-favorite types that stole the show.

It's almost hard to believe, but these six cards cost all of two dollars together -- the Alou and Bando were 50 cents each, while the other four ran just a quarter a pop.

And then there's this one, which might have you convinced that I've finally lost my damn mind.

Yes, I actually bought a card that'd been ripped in half. Call me crazy if you want, but I did. Fact is I needed it: I collect cheap Senators and Mister(s) Epstein here was just a dime, for obvious reasons. I guess I bought it out of sheer wonder at how a two-part card could end up at a show in the first place.

But good news: a strip of Scotch tape later, and I'm happy to report that Mike Epstein is back in one piece and resting in my Senators binder as we speak.

Now, under normal circumstances, this would easily be my big purchase of the day: a 1960 Stan the Man for only ten dollars, only the third vintage Topps Musial I own and one you hardly see at anything near that price.

But as I said, this was no ordinary card show: for yesterday, as it turned out, would be the day I made my Greatest Card Show Find Ever.


I kid you not, one of the first thoughts I had in the aftermath of last week's '52 Hoyt saga was: maybe my next white whale should be a real Jackie Robinson card.

Just a few days later, and really without any real, conscious effort on my part, there it was: a real Jackie Robinson! It was my dad who first spotted Jackie amongst a pile of other vintage at the table where I'd later purchase the aforementioned Milton Bradley cards. (I'm starting to think he's the real cardboard magnet, and not me.)

I don't think I'd told my dad about my thoughts regarding Robinson as a possible future white whale at the time, though he has known of my desire to get a real card of his (a desire I'm sure I share with many collectors). I've never had a real opportunity to own a Jackie: most I see are in good shape and/or priced way above my budget. This one, however, was priced at $70, still a tad out of my range, but enough to perhaps negotiate a price I could stomach.

My dad suggested I offer $50, and, in a moment that might as well have spanned a lifetime, the vendor replied...

...Sure, I can let it go for that.

Just like that, Jackie was mine. And as if my dad hasn't already done enough for several lifetimes by now -- including but not limited to tracking down the elusive '52 Hoyt just last week -- he even split the cost of the Robinson with me.

I don't think I ever quite believed I would actually own a real Jackie Robinson -- but if I did, I didn't think it'd be this one. It is, after all, Card #1 in the '53 checklist, which tends to carry a premium. The copy I purchased obviously isn't in the greatest shape, but like so much else of my vintage collection, that's the only reason I had a chance to buy it in the first place. It was the perfect storm of events that led to Jackie being in my binders right now.

After making the transaction, the vendor said he'd had the card for a long time and, though the price was a little less than what he'd asked, he gave it to me because he (and I quote) wanted to see it go to a good home.

Rest assured -- O generous vendor! -- Jackie will always have a good home with me. And, for the record, that's two titanic white whales I've speared (with much credit to my dad, of course) in the span of five days.

With card shows like these, who needs to travel?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Top Five: Orel Hershiser

(In the interest of time and space, I've decided to postpone my fairly scan-heavy weekly frankenset posts and revive my past "Top Five" theme, in which I showcase my five favorite cards of a selected player from my stable of player collections. Enjoy!)

I often wonder how aware baseball players are of their own cards.

Do they have any of their own cards? Do some of them know that there are people out there obsessively chasing (and perhaps dropping big money on) their likenesses? And, perhaps most importantly, how much do they care about their baseball card personas?

Thanks to a random article I stumbled upon a few days ago, I at least know Orel Hershiser's answer to that last question is in the affirmative. The Bulldog is quoted as saying: I always tried to help the guys doing the photos not get bored.

There's no doubt that Hershiser's self-awareness in this regard made his cards just plain better, as I had a tough time narrowing it down to a surefire Top Five.

#5 -- 1995 Topps #305 Orel Hershiser

Though Hershiser has a lot of well-known cards, you don't usually hear this one mentioned.

I guess it kind of fits in with my feelings about '95 Topps as a whole: beautifully underrated.

#4 -- 1998 Fleer Tradition #359 Orel Hershiser

I always enjoying seeing family ties on baseball cards and, despite the fact that Hershiser looks infinitely awkward in a Giants jersey, this photo of Orel with sons Jordan and Orel V (the Hershiser you know is actually Orel Hershiser IV) is worthy of a place on the mantel.

His two sons look a lot like him, so much so that I'm a little freaked out by it.

#3 -- 1985 Topps #493 Orel Hershiser RC

No blue skies or polo-shirted children here, just a classic rookie card of the Bulldog.

I actually own all of Hershiser's major-brand rookies, but this early image of his classic follow-through has always been my favorite by a wide margin.

#2 -- 1991 Stadium Club #244 Orel Hershiser

And then there's this one.

Take away the nameplate and Stadium Club logo and you'd have absolutely no idea this is a baseball card -- it'd just be a goofy suburban dad in a thrift-store sweater. To this day, it still confuses me. I'll look at this card one minute and gush at the oddity of it. Then I'll see it next to action shots and Dodger Stadium poses in my LA binder and instantly wonder what the heck it's doing in the same group as all those real baseball cards.

It occupies the #2 slot in this countdown more because I've ever seen anything else quite like it in the hobby, and somehow, it so perfectly sums up Orel Hershiser's left-of-center baseball card persona.

#1 -- 1997 Upper Deck #53 Orel Hershiser

But Hershiser's status as a cardboard god goes further than sheer quirkiness -- it often extends in to pure, unfiltered art.

In an odd turn of events, my favorite card of the Bulldog actually came during his relatively short time in Cleveland. And though I'm sure 99 percent of baseball fans remember him as a Dodger, he's at least partially immortalized in my mind as an Indian because of the sheer magnificence of this card alone, which -- as the back of it perfectly notes -- makes it look as though Hershiser is pitching under his own spotlight.

Just perfection, and in the end, all I can say is: thanks for caring about your cardboard, Orel.

It went a long way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My white whale has been speared

There's no sense dragging this out, so I'll just say it: after well over a decade of frantically combing the waters, MY WHITE WHALE HAS BEEN SPEARED!!!!!!!

This white whale in question, as I've said many times on the blog before, is a 1952 Topps high-number rookie of Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm (all the buzzwords that basically say this is a really, REALLY expensive card). Hoyt, of course, is the man behind my most prominent player collection, and his '52 rookie has stood at the very top of my want list for years.

The Hoyt (like many of the high points of my collection) was gifted to me this afternoon out of the blue from my dad -- The Greatest Dad Ever -- and I think this'll go on record as The Greatest Surprise in the Entire History of Surprises for as long as I live.

The copy he bought was graded, and you know what I do with graded cards...

...I immediately bust them out of those horrid plastic cases, because baseball cards are meant to be touched and experienced, not observed.

And all I can say is: my god, it's every bit as beautiful as I thought it'd be.

I'd like to say I always knew that I'd eventually own a '52 Hoyt, but I honestly don't know if that's true. Beat-up copies don't come on the market very often, and even those go for north of $500 in most cases. I long ago resigned any hope of owning one in good shape -- they routinely sell for four-figure sums. My dad, like me, has constantly scoured the internet over the years, looking for a worn copy of the white whale without much luck.

That is, until last week, when he stumbled upon a copy with a fairly well-conditioned front...

...and a written-on back.

For my money, I'll take writing on the back over just about any condition flaw in the hobby. While I love card backs, my collection is displayed front side-up in my binders, and that's really the selling point for me. 

The day has been such a whirlwind so far, and even as I type this, I'm still not quite convinced that my dad gave me a '52 Hoyt this afternoon, that there's a '52 Hoyt sitting in my binder right now, that there's a '52 Hoyt in my house at this very moment. I can say and type it all I want, but it still feels like a far-off fantasy.

At this point, there's really one thing left to do: the thing I've wanted to do each and every second of the last twelve years of my life...

...and that's to show off what is now a COMPLETE TOPPS SET OF HOYT WILHELM, from 1952 all the way up to '72 (though Topps completely left him out of their '55 checklist, for some reason).

From the Giants to the Cardinals to the Indians to the Orioles to the White Sox to the Angels to the Braves to the Cubs to the Dodgers, I have them all -- all the Hoyts are mine.

'52 included.

After he'd given me the Hoyt, my dad asked me what my next white whale was going to be. And I honestly had no answer, because Hoyt had been the only white whale I've ever known: I don't remember a time when it didn't represent the ultimate chase in this hobby, when it hadn't sat at the cloudy mountaintop of my ideal collection.

So, for posterity, I'd like to let it be known that on September 20th, 2017, I officially speared what was and always will be my ultimate white whale: a 1952 Topps Hoyt Wilhelm rookie card.

I love you, Dad -- and who the heck knows what I'd be doing without you and this wonderful hobby you've passed down to me.