Sunday, October 22, 2017

It's Good To See You Again

Several years ago I would have listed Triple Threads as one of my favorite annual baseball card products.  There was so much to love about these cards.  The product always seemed to have a great checklist with great looking cards.  They didn't even have to be players that I really sought out or collected.....

Not a huge a McCutchen collector, but I love watching him play baseball.  What modern card collector wouldn't want something like this in their collection?  Aside from the great looking autographs, Triple Threads also had some cool jersey pieces and unique designs which featured player nicknames or stats.  

Ryan Braun as the Hebrew Hammer......

 The colored pieces on the card are from the 2006 Futures Game.  This Miguel Cabrera patch card is probably my favorite non-autographed Triple Threads card.  

So what happened to my love of Triple Threads cards over the past five years?  First, most of the Cardinals and Rays (Durham Bulls) players have been repetitive.  Every year we've gotten Evan Longoria, maybe Wil Myers, Matt Carpenter, and Carlos Martinez.  I do like all of these players, but I also like a little bit of diversity, new challenges, and new faces.  

Lastly, I like this Matt Carpenter card.....

we're a chunk of bat away from this card....

There are so many Topps products that have started to drift together in appearance.  

All of this has changed my view on Triple Threads from a favorite, must have, must see card set to something that I could take or leave depending on price and how hard I have to work to win an auction on Ebay or pull off a trade.  

Well, that changed when I saw the checklist for this year's Triple Threads product.  There are new Cardinals in the set.  There are Cardinals that I really enjoy collecting.  There are Cardinals cards in the set that I am actually excited to own and worked hard to find.  Today, the first of a few cards from this year's Triple Threads set.  

Not only my newest Triple Threads, but also my latest Jimmy Ballgame card.  

First, the negative.  It's a sticker autograph, but it's really well done.  Not one of those silver stickers on a white card.  This is as good as it gets for a sticker.  

Second, this is the second Topps product that Edmonds has appeared in this year.  I am almost positive that he is also going to be in the Topps Signature Archives set coming out soon.  Topps doesn't have to make cards of retired players, especially of those who are not in the Hall of Fame (he should be).  

Last thing I love about this card.  It celebrates Edmonds performance in the 2004 National League Championship Series.  Pujols won the MVP for the Series, but Edmonds had a great series.  He had an incredible catch to save the team from getting behind in Game 7, but before that he won Game 6 with a walk off home run.  

One of my favorite memories from the LaRussa era Cardinals.  It's good to see you again Triple Threads.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 8- Whitey Herzog

It will take a few of these posts to show the pattern, but 1990 was a real turning point for the Cardinals franchise.  Not in a good way.  The 1980s Cardinals were headlined by players like Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, and Willie McGee.  The players on the team possessed some sort of combination of speed and defense.  They mixed in other position players like Jack Clark, Tom Herr, and Terry Pendleton to add a little pop to the line up.  The pitchers generally pitched to contact and let the fielders take care of the outs.  

Doubtful that you'd see anything like this in today's baseball.  

The leader of the Cardinals throughout the 1980s was Whitey Herzog.  All tolled the Cardinals won a World Series in 1982 and National League Championships in 1985 and 1987.  The last Cardinals team of the 1980s finished in third place in 1989 behind the Cubs and Expos.  The team entered 1990 with several important players approaching free agency.  

There were four really important ones: Pendleton, McGee, Coleman, and John Tudor.  

The season was a complete disaster.  Willie McGee won the National League batting title.  Vince Coleman led the National League in stolen bases and broke the consecutive successful steals record.  That was about the only good.  

After 80 games the Cardinals were 33-47 and Whitey Herzog quit as the manager of the Cardinals.  The team ultimately ended up with Joe Torre as the manager and the roster was turned over to young players like Todd Zeile, Ray Lankford, and Geronimo Pena.  

There aren't a ton of manager cards, but throw in the fact that Herzog quit in the middle of the season and there are only two 1990s mainstream Whitey Herzog baseball cards.  He showed in things like the 1993 Cardinals Pacific 100th Anniversary Set, but that might be about it.  Not so many cards to share this week.  

First up is his base 1990 Topps card.  

Certainly not the most flattering card of the White Rat.  What is going on here?  Is he yawning?  Is he yelling at someone?  Is he looking at Terry Pendleton's .277 on base percentage?  Perhaps if the good people at Topps had known this was going to be his last base card they would have done a little bit better job.  Maybe. 

His other 1990 card is actually nice.  

This is a 1990 Topps TV card.  I have seen them around here and there.  They were originally sold through television ads in 1990.  Apparently my parents let me buy baseball cards at the Manchester, Missouri Dierbergs and the Ben Franklin in Webster Groves, but no cards off of television.  There were 6 different sets.  One of them was an All-Star set and the other five were team sets: Mets, Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, and Cardinals.  

The best part about the team sets were the fact that they were giant.  The coaching staff got cards, 24 man roster got cards, and there were also a ton of minor leaguers in the set as well.  By far my favorite of the two Herzog cards from 1990.  

A song from 1990 on my IPod.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Project Durham Bulls #22 - Brandon Guyer

2011-2014 Durham Bulls 

If you're a Cubs fan just go ahead and skip past the first part of the background section.  The Rays ended up with Brandon Guyer as a part of the Chris Archer for Matt Garza trade.  The Rays also received Hak Ju Lee, Robinson Chirinos, and Sam Fuld as a part of the trade.  Guyer's first season in Durham was his best year as a professional baseball player.  Guyer slashed .312/.384/.521 with 14 home runs, 5 triples, and 29 doubles.  Add in 61 RBIs and 16 stolen bases and Guyer seemed like he would be a solid addition to the Rays outfield.  The Rays called him up in September, but he did not hit.  Guyer spent the next three years bouncing in between Durham and Tampa.  He hit well in Durham, never faired as well in Tampa.  Last year he was traded to the Indians where he starred in the team's postseason run, including a .300 average in the World Series.  He appeared in all seven games.  Guyer has also started getting noticed for his ability to get hit by pitches.  Some pretty cool charts and diagrams out there documenting his ability to be beamed.  

The 2011 Bowman Chrome autograph of Guyer I picked up is a little bit of an oddity.  The front of the card pictures the Guyer in a Cubs uniform and it even has the Cubs logo in the bottom left hand corner of the card.  However, Guyer was on the Rays during the 2011 season.  It would be one thing if the Bowman Chrome product was released early in the season and Topps did not have a chance to get an updated photo of Guyer.  However, the set was actually released towards the end of October of 2011.  Meaning, Guyer played an entire season as a member of the Rays organization and he still was put into a Cubs uniform on this card.  So, flip the card over and......

we've got a whole lot of Rays information.  The stat line on the bottom belongs to the 2010 season with the Tennessee Smokies, Cubs AA, but the top Resume section is all about his 2011 season with the Rays and the Bulls.  I don't know if I have ever seen a baseball card like this, but I guess there are many times when I don't read the back of the card.  I am learning the error of my ways.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 7- Braden Looper

I know I might get a few people with Braden Looper being a 1990s Cardinals.  His appearance with the team during this decade was very brief.  His stint with the club in the mid 2000s was much more notable.  The Cardinals signed him away from the Mets before the 2006 season and he became an important member of the team's postseason run that ended with a World Series win over the Tigers.

It was his second World Series ring, he had previously won a ring with the 2003 Florida Marlins.  The Cardinals converted Looper into a starter for the 2007 and 2008 seasons.  He ended his career in 2009 with the Brewers as a starting pitcher.  Looper tried a comeback with the Cubs in 2011, but was released at the end of Spring Training.

Back to Looper as a 1990s Cardinals.

The Cardinals drafted him as a relief pitcher out of Wichita State in 1996 with the third overall pick.  Painful to think that a team used a pick that high in the draft to get a relief pitcher.

Looper did not pitch for the Cardinals until 1997 and made it all the way to Double A Arkansas.  At the beginning of the 1998 season the Cardinals actually used him on the Major League roster for the first two weeks.  His debut was on Opening Day against the Dodgers.  Looper pitched one inning and struck out all three batters.  He made three more appearances for the Cardinals in those two weeks.  A little rough.  

As far as cards go, Looper started appearing in sets right away.  He had a few Minor League cards in 1996, but his major brand licensed cards started in 1997.  

He had one card in the 1997 Topps set as a Draft Pick card......

The edges of this card are white.  Makes it look a little funny on a white background.  The 1997 Topps set was one of those missable products.  Not very memorable.  There are a lot of things that I actually like about that set, for another post, but I suspect that much of it is the fact that there are not any strong rookie/early cards.

As a prospect in the late 1990s it would be impossible for a high draft pick to not make an appearance in a Bowman set.  There were a few Bowman products in 1997.  I like the base set with the black borders.

There is something nice about cards with a solid black border.  Simple.  The Bowman cards from this era always had the "1st Bowman Card" stamp somewhere on the card.  Looks like a Spring Training photo here.  Flip the card over.....

I did not know, before writing this, that Looper was on the 1996 Olympic team.  I believe I actually have an autograph of his out of the 2004 Upper Deck USA Baseball mega-autograph set.  I just did not know when he played there.  Considering that they have high school and college players there, it leaves a wide range.  Plus, baseball has been out of the Olympics long enough that sometimes I forget that it was there.  Sorry Ben Sheets.  

That's it for Looper as a 1990s Cardinals player.  After his two weeks in the Majors the Cardinals sent him to Memphis.  He never made another appearance for the team that season.  At the end of the year the team traded him, along with shortstop prospect Pablo Ozuna, to the Marlins for Edgar Renteria.

That trade worked out pretty well for the Cardinals.  One of these days I will give Edgar a 1990s Cardinals post too.  In the meantime, a song from 1997 off of my Ipod.....

Pretty sure that I wore out my OK Computer CD over my last few years of college.  If I thought my readers would take time to listen to a full album I would post it, I know you're just here for a few minutes though, and that time is almost up.  

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Friday Five: Greatest Former Durham Bulls Postseason Performances

Many Durham Bulls players have graduated to the Majors and have had the opportunity to shine on baseball's biggest stage during the postseason.  There have been a total of 9 former Durham Bulls who have won a Postseason MVP Award, which includes former hitting coach Gary Gaetti who won the ALCS MVP with the Twins in 1987.

Which are the five best?  Here's my take with a few baseball cards mixed in.....

Honorable Mention- Adam Kennedy 2002 American League Championship Series MVP 

The long time Cardinals and Angels infielder played in Durham during the 2009 season while trying to work his way back to the Majors.  In 2002, while playing for the Angels, Kennedy won the ALCS Award in route to the Angels taking home the World Series Championship in a hard fought series with the Giants.  The Angels took on the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS and Kennedy had one of the best Postseason games in the history of baseball hitting three home runs.

If I were ranking individual game performances of former Durham Bulls players in the Postseason I would probably have a really hard topping Kennedy's game 5 barrage against the Twins.

5.  Javy Lopez - 1996 National League Championship Series MVP 

The 1996 Braves were the favorites to win the National League after winning the World Series in 1995.  However, they found themselves in a 3 to 1 hole against the upstart Cardinals in their first season with Tony LaRussa.   During the first four games the Braves had been done in by a two home run game by Ron Gant, a Dmitri Young triple followed by a Brian Jordan home run, and a Gary Gaetti grand slam off of Greg Maddux.  Lopez and the pitching staff led the Braves back over the last three games.  He ended the NLCS with 2 home runs, 5 doubles, 6 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.607.  The Braves went on to the World Series, but lost in 6 games to the Yankees.

4.  Steve Avery - 1991 National League Championship Series MVP 

The Big 3 started out being Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery.  Avery was the youngest of the bunch and probably the most hyped of the three Atlanta pitchers.  He had a nice 1991 season going 18-8 with an ERA of 3.38.  In the postseason the Braves were pitted up against the favored Pittsburgh Pirates led by Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.  The series went a full seven games with Avery shutting down the Pirates in Game 2 and Game 6.  The Game 6 performance forced a Game 7, which got the Braves into the 1991 World Series.  In the 2 wins, Avery pitched 16 innings, struck out 17, and did not allow a run.

3.  Hideki Matsui - 2009 World Series MVP 

Matsui excelled for many years in Japan before joining the Yankees in 2003 at the age of 29.  By the time 2009 rolled around the power hitting outfielder was at the end of his time with the Yankees.  The Bronx Bombers reached the World Series and were matched up against the Phillies, who were the defending champions.  Matsui did not do much in the ALDS against the Twins, nor the ALCS against the Angels, but the World Series was a different story.  During the 6 games series, Matsui had 8 hits in 14 plate appearances, which included four extra base hits.  Three of those extra base hits were home runs.  Matsui would go on to spend time with the Angels and A's before landing with the Rays in 2012.  Before joining the team in Tampa, the Rays let Matsui spend a little time with the Bulls.

2. Ben Zobrist - 2016 World Series MVP 

There were players on this list that had better Postseason numbers than Zobrist did last year in the World Series, but I figured contributing to the end of the Cubs long championship drought had to count for something.  Similar to Matsui, Zobrist did almost nothing of value in the playoffs before reaching the World Series.  He hit .188 against the Giants in the NLDS and .150 against the Dodgers in the NLCS.  In the World Series he hit .357 with three extra base hits.  One of those was pretty important......

1. Mickey Lolich - 1968 World Series MVP 

Lolich is a no-brainer here.  The Tigers were heavy underdogs to the defending World Series Champions, the Cardinals, in 1968.  The Cardinals jumped out to a 3 to 1 Series led by ace Bob Gibson.  St. Louis put up 21 runs in the 3 games that they won, the lone bright spot for the Tigers was Game 2, which was won by Mickey Lolich.  The Cardinals had 3 games to put the Tigers away with Bob Gibson pitching the seventh game if the Tigers got that far.  Lolich started Game 5 and the Tigers managed to rally to win the game after the Cardinals scored 3 early runs.  Game 6 went to Detroit too, setting up a Game 7 match-up between Lolich and Gibson.  Gibson had won 7 straight World Series games stretch back to the 1964 match-up against the Yankees.  Included in those seven straight World Series victories were two Game 7 wins in 1964 and 1967 against the Red Sox.  Lolich pitched shut out ball until a Mike Shannon home run in the ninth, but that was the only run the Cardinals scored in a 4-1 Tigers win.  Lolich ended the Series a perfect 3-0.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wrong Way

The 2017 Cardinals had a lot of help from the Memphis Redbirds.  There were nearly a dozen different Minor Leaguers who debuted with the Cardinals during the past year.  Some were successful, like Paul DeJong and John Brebbia, while others were less successful.  The Cardinals also had a few players who failed to met expectations.

Really third place is not cool in St. Louis, and if I were just going to strictly write a post about baseball, I could write a dissertation about why Matheny should be unemployed at this point.

One of the bigger names, who ended up going the wrong way this season, was shortstop Aledmys Diaz.  As a Cardinals fan, it was fun to watch the Cuban import hit his way into the line up last year.  As a card collector, it was fun to have another Cardinals player to collect.  However, this year was bad on the field, so guess what has happened to his cards?

They're are headed the wrong way.

Which can be good, or bad, all depending on what happens from this point going forward.  Last year I pulled my first Aledmys Diaz card from a box of Topps Traded after debating whether or not to skip the product to buy a single autograph of him.

Last year when I pulled this I had a fellow collector suggest that I sell this card, it was selling for roughly $30 last fall, because there was no way that Aledmys Diaz was going to maintain that sorts of card prices.  My brain might have known that there was truth in that statement, but my heart was happy to pull a card that I wanted out of a box of cards.  How often does that happen?

Even now that this card is selling for a fraction of that $30 price, it is still a great memory.  The card is staying for sure....

Now, that they are cheap and getting cheaper I am actually finding some great bargains on Aledmys cards.  A few weeks ago I wrote about two new cards of his that I had added to the old collection.  Today, I have two more.

First up....

Is a Topps Clearly Authentic card.  This is an acetate set, which I really love.  I also have a Luke Weaver autograph from this set.  Of course, the best part of the acetate cards are looking at the card backs.....

Very nice. Next card....

is an insert from Topps Chrome.  I usually have a pattern of sorts with Topps Chrome, more on that this weekend, and this card does not really fit the pattern.  I am not really a huge Topps Chrome person in terms of autographs.  Often I buy a base autograph, or two, and then call it quits.  I never go after the inserts, let alone the insert autographs.

Overall, Aledmys Diaz cards may continue to slide, but I am still having fun tracking down his cards and that's the most important thing.  Maybe he will bounce back and have a good year in 2018, or maybe he will be hanging out in Memphis, either way there are still some more cool Aledmys cards to find.....

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Just Disappointed

We've have all seen pictures on the internet of people sitting in the card aisle of their local Target or Wal-Mart feeling up packs of cards, sticking them on scales, or sitting on the floor shuffling through the product.  It's a sad sight to see.....

is this guy barefoot?  Ugh.

In my cozy little corner of suburban Raleigh I do occasionally dabble in the retail card aisle of my local Target store.  The Wal-Mart near my house has the worst retail card aisle in the history of retail card aisles.  My retail purchases tend to be small quantities of products that I am not going to put together as a set, or sometimes something that I am not sure about collecting so I dabble first with some retail.

My wife recently sent me to Target to run a quick errand, so after completing the shopping list I walked through the card aisle and picked up a pick of Donruss Optic.  It's a product that I am not going to buy a box of, but I like the looks of some of the cards.  If Panini were a licensed card manufacture I would probably be more willing....

So, I quickly grabbed two packs and checked out.  I went out to my car, opened the first pack, and flipped through the cards.  Pretty nice stuff.  Then I went to open the second pack and.......

I really didn't have to do much to open the pack of cards.  The top of the pack was slit open with a knife, or a razor.  I am not sure how I missed it in Target, probably in too big of hurry, but I felt completely disappointed.  

First off, I ended up getting a couple of nice Cardinals cards out of the packs.  

I pulled two Magnueris Sierra cards.  The colored parallel actually came out of the pack that was cut open, the white base card came out of the sealed pack.  I also ended up with a nice looking Yadier Molina card.....

If only Panini would only make cards of catchers wearing their catchers gear........

Which brings me back to the whole retail pack searching thing.  I know many adults who go into places like Target and Wal-Mart, pick up some retail packs randomly from the card aisle, and open them after buying them.  Sometimes they are really happy, sometimes they are not.   I once had a great blaster box of retail cards.....

I will never forget pulling this card out of a pack at the same Target store where I bought my two packs of Donruss Optic.  You know who else buys a lot of retail packs?  Kids.  I work with kids.  I have given away packs of retail baseball cards in my class.  I have had kids pull really good cards out of packs.  One of my best ever was a 2015 Jeter photo variation card.....

That's a tough pull right there and it made the kids day.  Guess what happened later that week?  Same kid walks into my room with a stack of cards that he and his mom picked up at Wal-Mart.  We sat down before school, flipped through the stack and talked about what cards he liked and what players were his favorites.

More recently, I had a students pull a Luis Gonzalez autograph out of a repack box I had bought and given the packs away.  Nice looking card numbered out of 25.....

After researching Luis Gonzalez, the student is a Yankees fan, they decided that they liked the idea of pulling an autograph, just not Luis Gonzalez.  I brought in a few Yankees autographs and swapped them out for Luis.

I have been on this soapbox before, but there are many adult collectors and not many kid collectors.  It would be nice to attract my kids into baseball card collecting, but having people pack search and wreck the chances of a kid getting a nice card out of a retail pack is reprehensible.

How much does a Luis Gonzalez autograph cost?  Not enough for grown up to sit on the floor of Target and feel up a bunch of packs of cards for an hour.  Just disappointed.