September 11, 2014

Junk Wax Battle: 1988 Donruss

We like to break new ground here at The Baseball Card Blog. From the exhaustive Best Set of the 1980s Countdown, to publishing reader-submitted card designs, to an all-cardboard rendition of Casey at the Bat—not to mention showcasing the talents of Mike Kenny and Travis Peterson—we're always pushing new and unexpected ways for collectors to enjoy our hobby. 

Well, add another to the list. We're excited to announce that Junk Wax Battle: 1988 Donruss (formerly one of Ben's pipe dreams) is going to happen. It's a game, played with cards, where the goal is to be the first to hand-collate a set of 1988 Donruss. Sounds easy, right? Well, did we mention that there are eight players and a dungeonmaster-like judge?

Game play combines ripping unopened wax packs, keeping a checklist, trading with other players, and bidding in judge-run auctions (all bidding is based on cards' book values from a 1988 Beckett Baseball Card Monthly). And actual prizes will be awarded to the top two finishers.

It's guaranteed to be weird—if not exhilarating. If you're in the Boston, Mass. area, I invite you to join us. Right now, we're looking for eight players, and we'll be playing at 7PM on Thursday, October 2, 2014, at Knight Moves Board Game Cafe in Coolidge Corner (Brookline). It's free to watch and $20 to play. All players will go home with a complete set of 1988 Donruss.

Tell your friends!

August 22, 2014

Ball So Hard

Tom Brookens, 1989 Donruss 
NOTE: Don't ask me about the stain because I don't know



"BALL SO HARD ****** ******* WANNA FINE ME"


Idled during '84 pennant stretch for Tigers due to pulled hamstring...



Missed a month of '81 season with ankle and hamstring injuries...


Started triple play and went 5-for-5 in same game 8/20/80 vs. Brewers...



Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell nicknamed Brookens "the Pennsylvania Poker", a play on the song "Pennsylvania Polka."




He did lead American League (AL) third basemen in errors twice, in 1980 and 1985, but that was largely because he was getting to so many more grounders than other fielders;


Brookens also has the dubious honor of sharing (with 21 others) the AL record for the most errors in a game by a third baseman, four, on September 6, 1980.


Brookens' twin brother Tim was also drafted in 1975 by the Texas Rangers; he was later traded to the Tigers organization, but never made the majors. In spring training, Tim and Tom would sometimes switch identities, even suiting up in each other's uniforms;







August 14, 2014

The Wrong Kind of Star: Quirks in 2014 Topps Heritage

2014 Topps Heritage Mini - Zack Greinke
If you're collecting Topps Heritage this year, here's something you may not have realized. Just like in the sport it depicts, there are varying degrees of star popularity within the set. Here's what I mean. There are 13 different non-relic/non-autograph cards of superstar Mike Trout in the set. There are nine cards of Zack Greinke. By comparison, there are seven different cards of Alfonso Soriano. And just one card of guys like Mark Teixeira, Tim Lincecum, and Alex Rodriguez. And others, too. Paul Konerko has only one card. Matt Holliday and Shin-Soo Choo? One card each. Same for Jose Altuve, Anibal Sanchez, Josh Donaldson, and David Price.

Asking why there need to be so many different parallels and inserts for a set like Heritage is a question with no good answer. Instead, here are the different versions of non-relic/non-autograph cards:

1. Base card (500 cards)
2. Chrome (100 cards)
3. Chrome Refractor (same 100 cards as Chrome set)
4. Black Chrome Refractor (same 100 cards as Chrome set)
5. Gold Chrome Refractor (same 100 cards as Chrome set)
6. Purple Chrome Refractor (same 100 cards as Chrome set)
7. Walmart-exclusive Blue Border (25 subjects)
8. Target-exclusive Red Border (25 subjects)
9. Retail-exclusive Black Border (same 100 cards as Chrome set)
10. New Age Performers (20 subjects)
11. Base Action variation (25 subjects)
12. Base Logo variation (25 subjects)
13. Base Uniform variation (25 subjects)
14. Mini (100 subjects)
(I'm not counting the Black Back version of the base set, as every card on the base-set checklist is included.)

Some cards are easier to find than others. For instance, base-set SPs are seeded around one per three packs, while Mini cards show up one per case. And only some players are in some of the insert sets. For example, there are three cards in the Chrome sets that do not appear in the Mini set—Alfonso Soriano, Xander Bogaerts/Jonathan Schoop, and Nick Castellanos/Billy Hamilton. They are replaced in the Mini set by Jason Grilli, Austin Jackson, and Derek Holland.

So what gives with all this? Why are some players included in nearly every insert and parallel set, and others not represented anywhere? Well, Teixeira's been hurt. A-Rod's a pariah, banished for the season. And Lincecum has been mired in middle relief, a star in name only. But for the others—like the new-to-the-national-spotlight guys like Altuve and Donaldson—there are no good reasons for their exclusion. It's just a quirk of this year's set, one that will probably be corrected in 2015's edition.

July 27, 2014

Let's Talk About 2014 Topps Heritage High Numbers

We're a few months away, but I've started thinking about the 2014 Topps Heritage High Numbers set. Will it be an online-only factory set, or released in packs? Who will be included? Who will be overlooked? If we use the 2013 installment as a template, it's probable that each team will be represented, with somewhere between one and five cards apiece.

 Much like the "traded" sets from back in the day, the high-numbers set is mostly a showcase of young players and XRCs—although with so many draft, prospects, and minor league sets these days, there are virtually zero players who could have an XRC—with fewer traded veterans in their new uniforms. It's also a way for Topps to produce cards of players not included in the regular series. But with a checklist of only 100 cards, Topps has to be choosy about who's represented.

That said, here's a quick list of 25 players who may be part of Heritage High Numbers for 2014:

1. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
2. George Springer, Houston Astros
3. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
4. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
5. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
6. Brock Holt, Boston Red Sox
7. Jake Peavy, San Francisco Giants
8. Chase Headley, New York Yankees
9. Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
10. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
11. C.J. Cron, LA Angels
12. Yangveris Solarte, San Diego Padres
13. Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
14. Tommy La Stella, Atlanta Braves
15. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
16. Jake Petricka, Chicago White Sox
17. Joakim Soria, Detroit Tigers
18. Huston Street, LA Angels
19. Brandon McCarthy, New York Yankees
20. Jeff Samardzjia, Oakland Athletics
21. Ike Davis, Pittsburgh Pirates
22. Jose Lobaton, Washington Nationals
23. Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles
24. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

25. Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals

July 12, 2014

The World Needs a Retro Donruss Studio Set

Topps can conjure nostalgia for a wave of collectors just by opening a random file cabinet in its overstuffed HQ and producing a legacy design series like Archives or Heritage. And yet, the 13-year-old in me still thinks that nothing beats 1991's "sophisticated," "artistic," and high-cheese-quotient Studio. So tell us, Donruss: What's stopping you from jumping into the retro deep end with both feet?

Here's what I'm looking for:

1. Tasteful black and white photography of men with mullets. I understand that standard baseball hair fashion these days consists of goatees, mountain-man beards, and Mohawk variations, so you might want to stock a few mullet wigs with your photography equipment.

2. Hats optional. And actually, without a MLB license, I'd even accept a 225-card series of players in street clothes, or warmup shirts. Or even Ebbets Field Flannels jerseys of forgotten PCL teams.

3. Autographed buy-backs of Ramon Martinez, Steve Lake, Roger McDowell, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, and Kevin Belcher. Really, it would need a 25-to-30-player autographed buy-back checklist featuring the most memorable photos from the original set.

4. Trivial personal interest filler on the backs. Who watches Orange Is The New Black? Or what about The Bachelorette? Or Adventure Time? Also, I'd like to know if more players today would list "Jesus Christ" as their personal hero than did in 1991 (11 players back then, including Alvin Davis, who listed his heroes as "Jesus Christ and Harold Reynolds").

5. No inserts. I realize that this last one is a tall order for a card company in the business of making money. So how about just a few parallels? Definitely needs a one-per-pack stamped, original buyback from the 1991 series. Then a six-per-box "Outtakes" parallel, which would be a photo variation. Finally, a much-harder-to-find "Negatives" parallel, which would show up once every few boxes, maybe like one or two per case.

Even without that pesky MLB license, this could be a nice, low-frills retro set that harks back to a simpler time when men wore a workingman's haircut, enjoyed shows like A Different World, Cheers, and Unsolved Mysteries, and collected porcelain figures of animals (well, maybe that was just you, Glenn Davis).

July 02, 2014

The Pleasure Principle

 Ricky Wright, 1987 Topps

Here is Ricky Wright. Here he is again:

Now, I know what you're thinking: What was the exact date that catcher Wes Westrum caught three fouls in one inning?

"Wait," you say, "that wasn't the date I was thinking. I feel like maybe West Westrum had accomplished this feat before, no?"

So yes, this baseball card has an EDITOR'S NOTE relative to a tidbit that is not at all relative to the card itself. Maybe we can talk about Ricky Wright, whose likeness and personal information provide the foundation for this Ricky Wright baseball card. Here he is again:

Now, I know what you're thinking: Ricky Wright sure looks like he could use some pleasurable time. How does Ricky Wright spend his pleasurable time?

Ricky Wright: (strums guitar) DAMN this is pleasurable.

Ricky Wright's wife: (from adjacent room) Whatcha doin', honey?

Wright: Awww, you know me - just enjoying some pleasurable time.

Wife: You know, I was thinking ... why don't you make your way over here and we can really enjoy some pleasurable time ...

Wright: (strums guitar) You makin' reference to intercourse?

Wife: (hangs head) Geez, Ricky. YES, I am referring to "intercourse." Thanks for taking all the playfulness out of it. Now get over here, please.

Wright: 'Preciate the offer, sweetheart, but I'm really trying to nail down this Creedence Clearwater rif. This is my pleasurab-

Wife: You know what, Ricky? You're always taking about your "pleasurable time" - your *** **** precious "pleasurable time." What about the six months every year you spend playing a little kid's game? Is that not pleasurable enough? What about MY pleasurable time, Ricky? Huh? WHAT ABOUT THAT? (slams door)

Wright: (strums guitar) B*tch done ruined my pleasurable time.

Wes Westrum: Ricky, can we talk?

Wright: Wes Westrum? What are you doing here? This is MY house.

Westrum: Listen, Ricky ... (sits on edge of futon, puts arm around Ricky) ... we all need some pleasurable time every now and then, no doubt. When I was playing, I liked to spend my off days gardening while humming show tunes.

Wright: ...

Westrum: But one thing I discovered? The best pleasurable time is true love. And I think you have that with whatsherface over there.

Wright: (strums guitar) Dang, you're right, West Westrum. How do you know so much about true love?

Westrum: Well, let's just say that TWICE I caught three foul balls in one inning.

Wright: ...

Westrum: ...

Wright: You makin' reference to intercourse?

Westrum: Yes.

June 04, 2014

Card Critic: 2014 Topps Archives

Before I get into what I think about the 2014 edition of Topps Archives, a little background on the three shifts in the hobby landscape that were needed to support a weird mishmash of a set like this. 

In the summer of 1989, political scientist Francis Fukuyama published an essay in The National Interest titled "The End of History?" Fukuyama argued that Western liberal democracy marked the end of humanity's social evolution and that, contrary to Marx, democracy would be the prevailing style of government going forward.

If we replace "Western liberal democracy" with "nostalgia," this thesis could also accurately describe the approach and mind-set of Topps in 1989. Nineteen eighty-nine saw Topps's re-introduction of the Bowman brand, complete with oversized cards, a la 1953. While oversized cards were used for only the inaugural set, the design choices put forth in 1989 Bowman catered to those nostalgic adult collectors, and set the company on the path to today's hobby landscape: obsessed with retro designs, with fewer and fewer original designs and new ideas.

I could write an entire essay on the design decisions (or lack thereof) of Bowman, but let's talk about Topps Archives instead. When the brand started in 1991, it was strictly as a reprint of the 1953 set, with a few cards tacked on at the end of the checklist of players not originally included in the set (Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, Lou Boudreau, etc.). The "Ultimate 1953" set was a big hit with collectors. (So much so that Archives would pop up again in 1994 with the "Ultimate 1954" set, with a Brooklyn Dodgers set in 1995, and with mixed-years sets in 2001, and 2002, before disappearing for another 10 years.)

But while Topps was using Archives as a reprint brand for baseball (and football), the company took the innovative route and lent the Archives name to a basketball card set that predicted the direction of the brand today: a smaller set using legacy designs and heavy with contemporary stars.

The set was called "Topps Archives: The Rookies," featuring NBA players shown in their rookie years, using the baseball card designs from those years. This was significant because Topps did not create basketball cards for 10 seasons (1982-83 to 1991-92), thus missing out on a decade's worth of star rookies. I really liked this set; its concept, designs, checklist, and price per pack appealed to me as a collector (and the fact that you can still find boxes of unopened wax for under $15 is pretty cool as well).

The current iteration of Archives could not exist without a third nostalgia-tinted brand: Topps All-Time Fan Favorites. Released from 2003–2005, these sets featured popular regional favorites from the last 50 years—not necessarily each team's biggest stars. Designs included every year of the Topps canon, from 1952 on. And while the checklist got more and more tired with each passing year, the brand concept was fresh (though it did start to border on my parody idea of an Archives set comprised entirely of commons).

This combination—a yen for nostalgia, legacy designs, and a mix of contemporary and retired players on a shorter checklist—is what makes a set like Topps Archives tick.

But yes, it's a hodgepodge. The checklist is a mix of today's stars and rookies and retired Hall of Famers. The set's got a bit of history for younger collectors who don't know the legacy designs, it's got parallels (like every other Topps product), and it's got short-printed hot-stuff rookies (Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu).

It's also devoid of original thought, or new ideas, or really any ideas that go outside the box. And if you don't like the designs included in the set, you're probably not going to want to collect it. The brand has also, in its three years of existence in this form (2012–2014, so far), been plagued with lousy paper stock, odd inserts (Karate Kid villain autographs, anyone?), photography shared with other sets, and eerily similar checklists from year to year.

But did I mention it has on-card autographs? Of current stars and retired fan favorites? I never wanted a Shawon Dunston reprint 1990 Topps card, but I do cherish the auto'd Dunston reprint I got in a pack of 2012 Archives. But with 2014 Topps Archives pushing $100 a box, I hope I would find an autograph of someone better than Shawon.

This year's crop of inserts presents a nice mix of designs; my favorites are the 1969 Topps Deckle (what, no short-printed Jim Wynn or Joe Foy or their more recent equivalents Ron Gant and Alex Gordon?), and 1987 Topps Future Stars. Both of these inserts will fit nicely as I build mega master sets for both of these years (1969 Topps and 1987 Topps, respectively).

And it's here that Topps's dumpster dive into the past connects with me. I'm actively collecting cards that use a particular design to create a "mega master set." I'm doing this for a handful of years: 1965, 1969, 1976, 1978, 1986, and 1987 Topps. It adds a new wrinkle to collecting these sets and makes newer brands like All-Time Fan Favorites, Heritage, and even Archives worth paying attention to.

Have we reached the end of original thought in the hobby? Well, nostalgia is the prevailing selling point for many, if not virtually all, of the new baseball card sets in 2014. Gypsy Queen, Allen and Ginter, Heritage, Archives, Turkey Red—all of these sets are based on old designs. Topps flagship base-card designs have been interchangeable since 2010. Bowman? Ditto. And inserts in these flagship sets hark back to the legacy of each brand.

Don't let your set be a victim of repetitive photography!

So while 2014 Archives lacks the new idea to make it a memorable set, that's not a surprising development. It would be truly surprising if it did present something new.

May 25, 2014

A Few Great Things About 2013 Topps Heritage Minor Leagues

I recently purchased a box of 2013 Topps Heritage Minor Leagues. While I was not a fan of the Major-League edition, I am a fan of this version. The lightweight, too-smooth card stock and low-resolution photography don't bother me here. I like that I got practically the entire base set, not to mention a smattering of inserts, from my one box. Here are a few other great things about this set:

Rio Ruiz needs to change his name to "Rio Bandita." Amiright? 
1) The team names are not in a uniform color. Now, I have not heard of many of these teams. And their Major-League affiliations? Forget it. But it doesn't matter. My Heritage-programmed brain saw two cards of players on the Quad Cities River Bandits (the Houston Astros' Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League), each with "River Bandits" in a different color, and immediately thought one was a variation. Once I saw that this was true for many other teams, my love for it increased. It was not a variation! It was just a quirk of the design to add a little spice into the set. Awesome.

2) There are many teams represented, and not just at the same level. Granted, the set is supposed to highlight the 225 best players (or most hyped) minor leaguers in the system, but it's still fresh to open a pack and get a handful of players from different levels. Also, some of the team names are just ridiculous. Drive? Power? Storm? C'mon. At least at seems some thought went into "Lug Nuts" and "Blue Rocks," although both are smirk-ready for a bus full of 19-year-old jocks.

3) Each player smacks of potential, upside, whatever you want to call it. Not every one of these guys will star at the Major-League level. Heck, most of these probably won't even get to the Major Leagues. But that's what makes a set like this great: You can smell the optimism when you open the pack.

4) The traditional Topps "magazine-cover" design of the 1964 base set really works for some of these cards. They look like how a classic baseball card should look. You know what I mean? This card of Michael Choice is what I'm talking about. Actually, many of the cards achieve this effect, but those with bats leaving the frame work the best.

5) I counted four sons of ex-Major Leaguers on the base set checklist who shared their dads' famous names. And then there's Mike Piazza. Born in 1986, he's too old to be the son of Mike Piazza, right? This is some "Baseball's Two Hal Smiths" territory here, folks.

6) If I have a son, I will definitely give him a weird name. Because if today's crop of 20-year-olds is any indication, an off-the-wall name will give him better than a fifty-fifty chance of achieving professional sports stardom—or at least a shot at making the cast of a reboot of American Gladiators.

Finally, best card of the set: Joe Panik, Flying Squirrels. Let's be honest: If a flying squirrel was coming at you, I'd bet the first thing you'd think of is "panic."

May 22, 2014

The Tonic

Jay Howell, 1989 Score

Jay was just the tonic the Dodgers’ bullpen needed in 1988.

Tommy Lasorda: Our bullpen sucks!

Dodgers’ bullpen coach: If only we could find the right tonic.

Tommy Lasorda: (eats three pounds of pasta) (uses bathroom) (takes nap) (comes back to bullpen) Well?

Dodgers’ bullpen coach: Well what? Did you find the tonic?

Tommy Lasorda: Me? I was going to ask you the same thing. I’m the *** **** manager! I don’t find the tonic! I just play the tonic! Who’s responsible for finding the tonic around here?

Dodgers’ bullpen coach: I think Fred is.

Tommy Lasorda: (grabs bullpen phone) Fred? We need some *** **** bullpen tonic!

Dodgers’ bullpen coach: I think that phone just goes to the dugout.

He gave them the superb closer they had been missing in recent years after being traded from the Athletics at the end of ’87.

Fred: Everyone, meet Jay Howell, our new tonic.

Dodgers’ bullpen coach: Hello, Jay. 

Tommy Lasorda:

Fred: I firmly believe Jay is the superb closer we’ve been missing in recent years after being traded from the Athletics at the end of ’87.

Tommy Lasorda: (jarred awake) What the hell was that sentence, Fred?

Fred: I just …

Dodgers’ bullpen coach: You went from Jay being the subject to the Dodgers being the subject back to Jay being the subject.

Tommy Lasorda: You made it sound like we’ve been missing a superb closer ever since we—the *** **** Dodgers—were traded from the A’s. Shit, Fred.

Fred: Listen, dickheads. I’m paid to go get tonics, not master English.

Jay Howell: Can I like, start warming up or whatever?

Lasorda: You shut your pie hole, tonic boy!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Oh, hey, hi there. Sorry about that post. I know, it was dumber than ushe. Anyway, I wanted to let you all know that I wrote a new book (which, to the chagrin of very few, partially explains my lack of posting on this wonderful blog of late). It's called The Man in the Garlic Tuxedo and you can find out more about it here and maybe, I don't know, buy it? here. Like the previous book, it contains nothing about baseball cards, but maybe you will like it anyway because it is, I have heard, funny and good and nice. Please buy it. I am not good at promotion. Thank you.

May 21, 2014

2014 Topps Heritage Red Herrings

Though it's been off primetime network TV for a few years now, Law & Order can still be felt in pop culture. A great example is the hype and trickery surrounding 2014 Topps Heritage. A lot of noise has been made about the many hard-to-find variations in this set—found in three tiers: action, logo, and the mega-rare "throwback" uniform—so much so that collectors have become attuned to looking for them. To make things more difficult, Topps threw a handful of red herrings into the base set.

Like the slumlord who shows up at the courthouse in minute 35 can't possibly be the murderer (there are 25 minutes left in the episode, for crying out loud), these red herrings look like the variations we've all been chasing, but in fact are just these players' regular base cards.

Below are five red herrings, with a little explanation.

Derek Norris, Oakland Athletics - There are two throwback uniform variations featuring A's players—and both are shown wearing yellow jerseys—but neither of them is named Derek Norris.

Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins - The action variation set features 25 of the best and brightest in the game, guys like Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish, and Clayton Kershaw. To make things a little more interesting, there are at three regular, base set cards that also feature action photos: Kevin Gregg, John Lackey, and Ricky Nolasco. These three are not part of the action variation checklist.

Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins - Cards with logo variations are a bit harder to notice, but again, they feature just top stars of the game. Guys like Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen, and Giancarlo Stanton. But it's the fact that Stanton is included as a logo variation that makes the logos on the other Marlins in the base set interesting. Some are shown with a white M with "Miami" below, and some are shown, like Ozuna, with a black M and "Miami" below. Stanton's logo variation has just a white M, no "Miami."

Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati Reds - If you're an avid Topps Heritage fan like me, you spent more than your fair share of time studying the sell sheets for this year's set. And if you did, you'll remember that the throwback uniform variation of Joey Votto was prominently featured. What make's it a throwback uniform? Votto's cap's logo is the same old-timey "Running Man" patch seen here on Ludwick's sleeve. Yes, the logo is featured on other Reds' players' base cards as well, but no other card has it featured front and center. Well, except for the mega, ultra rare throwback uniform variation of the team's biggest star.

Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox - Eaton is not one of the game's brightest young stars. But his teammate Chris Sale is. So what gives? Well, although Eaton is definitely shown here in a throwback uniform, he's a red herring: it's his regular base card. This is important because it's a cue to collectors to be on the lookout for another player who is shown in the same throwback uni style (Sale).