Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Snorting Bull Awards: Newcomer of the Year

Newcomer of the Year 

Last year I gave this award to Byron Buxton and we all know how that turned out this year.  Hopefully this year's winner will fair a little bit better next year, if not I am going to have to scrap this award next year.  The 2014 baseball card products had two clear rookie favorites: Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu.  There were other sets with popular rookie cards or anticipated debuts, but no two players had a bigger impact on the baseball card industry than these two players.  Both players saw their cards fade a little bit during the second half of the year, but the market and demand for both players is still pretty strong.

I did not pull anything out of the ordinary in the way of Tanaka cards, but I did have a really great pull from of Abreu's from the 2014 Topps Archives set:

Besides the printing plate, Abreu managed to stay on the field for the entire season and post one of the strongest rookie campaigns ever closing out the year with a .317/.383/.581 line with 36 home runs, 35 doubles, and 107 RBIs.  Tanaka was strong too, but only made 20 starts for the Yankees.  It's a close call, but I am going to have to give the nod to Abreu for this award.  Really, I am not sure you can go wrong with either, but I felt like he had a little bit better season and also a better showing in around the hobby.  

As mentioned before, both Tanaka and Abreu have fallen off a little bit in price, but still remain fairly strong sales wise.  I recently bought a Jose Abreu from the Topps Tek set, dabbling with the idea of putting this set together, and found that bidding on the card was competitive and very aggressive.  I was actually surprised to walk away with the card.  I tried to bid at the last second, but sat nervously though the last five seconds as about three or four other bids come in at the very last second.

Just to give you an idea of Abreu's strength in the hobby right now, take this into consideration: While common patterns of Abreu cards might only sell for a few dollars, the short printed copies are easily pushing up over $10 with some landing as high as $20.  One Abreu short print numbered out of 50 went as high as $35 dollars, which is in the same neighborhood that the Topps Tek cards of Mike Trout are currently selling at.  His autographs from the set are also regularly pushing north of $50 and  are pricing at comparable levels to players like Frank Thomas and Clayton Kershaw.

Clearly Abreu has enjoyed a strong year on the field and within the baseball card industry.  He is clearly the best overall new player to the hobby and a deserving winner of the Newcomer of the Year Award.  Jose was not available for comment.  Maybe next year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quite Possibly A Perfect Card

I spent the majority of my childhood and early adult years living around the St. Louis area.  I still love the Cardinals and still really enjoy following all of the sports teams from the area.  I mean the Cardinals are the clear number one, but I still dig the Rams and Blues.  I still watch Mizzou games.  I moved to North Carolina in my late twenties and have enjoyed the sports scene in the Raleigh-Durham area.  It's a college heavy town, especially for basketball, but there is still plenty of good baseball, college football, pro football in Charlotte along with a heavy mixture of Skins fans, soccer, lacrosse, and even a hockey team with a Stanley Cup banner.

Every once in awhile the North Carolina and Missouri worlds of my life collide.  Last year Mizzou played, and won, a basketball game at NC State.  The Blues tangle with the Hurricanes, the Rams play the Panthers and the Redskins, and I get to see my fair share of former Cardinals players floating around in the minors attending Bulls games.

There are also a fair number of pro baseball players from North Carolina who have connections to St. Louis.  Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter is from Roxboro (The Rox), Cardinals pitcher Seth Maness went to East Carolina, former Cardinals/Rockies/Rays outfielder Quinton McCracken played football at Duke,  and former Cardinals second baseman Mike Tyson is from Rocky Mount.  I could spend hours talking about the connections.  New players, old players, good players, bad players, mediocre players........

My newest connection is one of the best baseball players to ever come out of Greensboro.  Rick Farrell played 18 years in the Majors from 1929 through 1945.  He had two stops in St. Louis, both with the Browns, but his best years were spent as a Red Sox.  The 7 time All-Star posted a career .281/.378/.363 line and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1984.

Topps included Ferrell in their 2013 Gypsy Queen product as a St Louis Browns player.  The set included a base card of Ferrell along with a cool coin card.  Here is the front and the back of the Farrell coin card which I picked up last week:

I love the coin cards, but have never found one out of Gypsy Queen that I really like enough to add to my collection.  First, they are limited to a print run of just 5 copies which makes them pretty pricey.  Earlier coin card sets, such as the Topps Gallery versions, featured no serial numbers and were much more affordable.  This card has been on my Ebay watch list for months, but was sitting at $50.  I made an offer or two, but never budged the seller.  Finally another copy of the card appeared and I managed to talk down the price.  I love that Ferrell is in a Browns uni on the card, but the North Carolina quarter is an added bonus.  A great connection between my childhood home and current home and a great and welcome addition to my collection.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Here's a different name for this week's #MyCardMonday: Matt Morris.  Matty Mo was a stalwart in the Cardinals rotation for almost a decade start around 1997 running through 2005.  He had some good years and some mediocre years, but was the best pitcher on several of the late 90s/early 2000s Cardinals teams.  Morris was a little bit tricky to collect.  He had a few autographs and a few relic cards, but nothing too spectacular.  I think at some point I owned a patch card of his from the 2003 UD Authentics set, but sold it after he left the Cardinals for the Giants.  I still have a nice autograph of the Cardinals hurler from the 1997 Donruss Signature set and he also signed for the 2004 Upper Deck USA Baseball set.  Oh and he signed in a Stadium Club Co-Signers set.  This dual Morris relic out of the 2004 Donruss Diamond Kings set was always one of my favorite Matty Mo cards.  I loved the artwork on these cards and opened several boxes of this product.  Really fun open.  

Snorting Bull Award: Best Base Sets

Best Base Sets of the Year

This is one of my surprising picks of the year and really required a little bit of time and reflection.  My early favorite for the award was Gypsy Queen.  I loved the product and had a really good time with that product that this year.   It was also probably my best box break of the year.  A button card, some printing plates, a few autographs, and one of those flag cards and I was in love with that product.  Eight months later I have had a chance to take a step back and really think about all the different sets I have had a chance to work on this year.  So, you can sort of see where this is going....It's not Gypsy Queen.  

Part 1- 

I actually almost always get an email from Jimmy at Big D's Cards, my favorite local card shop, before a product hits the shelves asking if I want him to set aside a box of whatever is coming into the store.  I did a bunch of different products this year, but also skipped a few.  We can't do them all.  One of the products I skipped was Topps Finest.  I am not sure why I thought the product looked meh, but I just did not get a good vibe from some of the different website reviews and product write ups I read.  

About three months ago I made a trade for a few cards and was really happy to see that the other collector threw in a base set (1-100) of the Topps Finest set.  It was a really generous move.  There was a sticky note inside the box that read "Thought you might love this...give it time"  So, I did just that.  The Topps Finest set sat in it's box on the edge of my desk.  The first week or two I basically did not open the box.  Then slowly I started opening the box and taking a look at the cards.  Every day I would pick out a few cards, check out the pictures, read the card backs, and slowly fell in love with the cards.  

I almost fell like I am giving out an award right now and at the same time also giving myself an award for big collecting regret of the year.  Yes, yes if I could do it again I would have opened a box of Topps Finest and enjoyed every moment of the process.  So, here's a look at the cards and what I love about them......

The best thing about the Topps Finest cards is clearly the design of the cards.  Topps spends a lot of time trying to be nostalgic and half the time they cannot get out of their own way in trying to do it.  Last year Topps celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Topps Finest product by releasing a product that full of cards using the 1993 product designs.  This year's Finest product had a throwback insert for the 1994 Finest set, but the base set design went out on it's own and was unique to this set.  I am not sure who at Topps came up with this product design, but as a fan of all things 1990s baseball cards, this set was awesome.  The design, the feel of the cards, the texture, the backs, everything 90s.  

The colors on these cards are really the best part of the design though.  The silver lettering on the top of the cards is the same on all of the cards, but the similarities on the rest of the cards ends there.  The shadowing of the Finest title at the top of the card is shadowed in all sorts of different colors, the geometric shapes on the bottom right hand side of the card are different colors and shading on all of the cards.  Add in some really cool photography and the cards are really cool looking from a design and color standpoint.  This David Wright card is one of my favorite.  I love the white uniform on the darker background with the bright oranges and reds towards the bottom of the card on the shading and on the picture.  Great look and great looking set.  Definitely worthy of some kudos and deserving of one half of my Base Set of the Year Award.  

Part 2- 

Sticking with the whole 90s card rehash theme I am actually going to pick a second set that I thought was deserving of this award.  Again, Topps did a really good job this year getting some of the 1990s rehash sets down well.  I loved the Finest set, I have just started to get into the Topps Tek set, and also really loved the Stadium Club set.  Someone at Topps is doing a really good job of connecting with the 30 somethings/40 somethings how collected baseball cards in the 1990s.  So, my second Best Base Set of the Year is obviously the Stadium Club release.  

When Stadium Club first released the product was based on cool photography and was the Topps answer to the early Upper Deck sets.  The designs were always really simple and were just dominated by a really good photograph.  Over the years Topps changed Stadium Club, let Stadium Club go, and tried to bring the product back a few times along the way too.  This year's relaunch was awesome.....

Topps did a really good job of recreating the original product concept of Stadium Club which was great photography with a simple design.  I have still not quite finished this set, but it is about the first thing on my list of hobby goals for my up coming winter break from school.  Despite the lack of closure on my Stadium Club set, this is one of those sets I find myself flipping through every couple of days.  I love the pictures and the feel of the cards.  Like with the Finest set, Topps did a great job of making this set....

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Acetate Overload

I have probably pushed my limit on acetate cards this week.  There was a post giving a set of acetate cards a good award, a post giving an acetate card a bad award, an acetate autograph I picked up of Jason Heyward because I am not going all in on collecting him......Now this:

Acetates: The Summation of a Facebook Messenger Conversation

Fellow Collector:  "Hey, you collect acetate cards?"

Me: "Yes"

Fellow Collector:  "Hey, I am practically giving away these two acetate cards because, well, they are   
                                 cards of Jason Castro and Dan Haren"

Me: "Acetate!"  "Dan Haren was on the Cardinals for ten minutes once?"

Fellow Collector:  "Sure.  LOL"

Me:  "Paypal address?"

It's really rough right now.  I need a compelling backdrop to make the conversation seem more dramatic.  Maybe the negotiations could be a bit tenser, or the curtains in my living room should be on fire.  Something.  I am actually going to say that was pretty terrible and just show the cards.  By the way, I love the green grass background on the Haren card.  

NC State Basketball Game 10- Charleston Southern & Reynolds Colisuem

A little different NC State basketball post for your Saturday afternoon.  I will return to my usual posts tomorrow when the Wolfpack returns to the court to play Wofford.  I had been excited for awhile to attend one of NC State's Heritage Classic Games this weekend at Reynolds Coliseum.  Reynolds was the on campus arena for the NC State men's basketball team starting in 1949 running through the 1999 season when they relocated to their current home, the PNC Center, down the street near the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

If you take a second to read the plaque outside the building it's a very important building on campus.  When I was a student at NC State I actually parked in the parking deck next to Reynolds and walked through a tunnel across the street to get to Poe Hall, which houses the College of Education.  I love Reynolds because it's on my little corner of NC State.  I walked by this place all the time for a few years and loved looking at the cool red doors on the outside and loved going to the few games that the Wolfpack played here every year.

The inside is in need of a little love.  In it's original form the building was nearly identical in lay out to Cameron Indoor at Duke, but was a larger building.  I posted two pictures, taken from similar places in both buildings, which do a pretty good job of showing some of the likenesses between two buildings.  The roof and seating bowl are the most obvious similarities.

State still plays their Women's Basketball games at Reynolds as well as wrestling and gymnastics too.  The configuration of the seats has changed a little bit since the seating bowl is much longer than the actual basketball court.  Step into the seating bowl on the ends of the arena and this is your view:

You're still not far from the court, but with only two men's games played there every year, and the other sports not needing the full 14,000 seats, the school placed a set of bleachers at the end of the basketball court.  The bleachers are temporary and can be moved or reconfigured for volleyball or concerts.  I have been in the building a few times when the bleachers are not even out and it's just one long big floor with a basketball court in the middle and two volleyball courts on each end.  

The concourses also show a lot of age in the building.  They are skinny and covered with a track.  The concession stands could double as a coat closet.  I decided not to snap a random picture of a student selling M&Ms in a concession stand, but here's a glance at the concourse.  

In spite of what it lacks in modern amenities, I still Reynolds.  NC State won two national championships playing their home games in this building and plenty of great players have walked through the doors to play in this building both for and against NC State.  So on to last night's game....

Reynolds is first come first serve on seating.  I got to the arena at 6, when the doors opened, and thought long and hard about where to sit.  I had thought about sitting along the sidelines, but I opted for a spot behind the basket next to the NC State bench.  The Wolfpack were taking on Charleston Southern who had already upset Ole Miss this year and gave Florida State a tough game in Tallahassee earlier in the year.  Plus the team was without starting shooting guard, and leading scorer, Trevor Lacey who was out with an ankle injury.  How did it turn out?

This was the score at the under 14 timeout.  State did a great job of coming out and shooting the basketball. Caleb Martin and Ralston Turner did a great job of shooting on the perimeter while Cat Barber did an excellent job of controlling the tempo of the game from the point.  BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington played great defense too erasing several shots from Charleston Southern close to the basket.  As a side note, there was a current student sitting in my row who was thoroughly confused as to what to wear to the game.  Why would anyone wear Maryland shorts to an NC State game?

The Wolfpack played a great a game and walked away with the a 36 point victory against the Buccaneers which included a chunk of time played by the walk ons at the end of the game.  I was happy with the victory and could do the usual stats and breakdowns of field goal percentages, assist to turnover ratios, and harp on missed field goals, but it was nice to see one last game in Reynolds.

This weekend is the final time that the men's team will play at Reynolds before the university completely guts Reynolds and refurbishes the building this spring.  I might wander into the old building one more time for a women's game just to see it one more time.  The new Reynolds should be nice, complete with air conditioning, a smaller seating bowl, and a cool area to recognize some of the great athletes who have played sports at the school.  This short video from the Women's Basketball team YouTube channel show some of the renderings of what the building will look like when it reopens.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Friday Five: Top 5 Cardinals First Basemen

Honorable Mention 

Joe Torre 

Torre played 6 years in St. Louis with the Cardinals with a .308/.382/.458 line with 98 home runs.  While many argue that his best years were in the early sixties with the Braves, Torre's year's in St. Louis actually produced a higher OPS (133 in StL vs 130 in ATL) and the 1971 Batting Title and MVP Awards.  Torre was also named to four All-Star games as a Cardinal.  He even returned to the team in the early 1990s as the Cardinals manager.  His teams were filled with young players and the owner, August Busch III, was a cheapskate who did nothing to help the team win.  

Bill White 

White played 8 years for the Cardinals starting in the late 1950s through the mid 60s.  Along the way the first baseman was an important part of the 1964 World Championship team when he hit .303/.354/.474 with 21 home runs and 102 RBIs.  White made 5 All-Star teams, and won 5 Gold Gloves.  At the end of the 1965 season the Cardinals traded White to the Phillies with Dick Groat and Bob Uecker.  White was actually traded back to the Cardinals before the 1969 season, but he only appeared in 49 games that year with only 57 at-bats. 

Keith Hernandez

Hernandez is kind of villan in Cardinals circles, but he still was a really good player while he was wearing the birds on the bat.  During his 10 years in St. Louis Hernandez posted a .299/.385/.448 line with 81 home runs, almost 600 RBIs, 5 Gold Gloves, and the 1979 National MVP Award and Batting Crown.  Hernandez also captured a World Series ring with the team during the 1982 season, which is definitely a factor in landing on a rankings of great Cardinals players.   He had some drug problems in St. Louis and ultimately ended up on the Mets and Seinfeld.  

5.  Ripper Collins 

Collins played 6 years as a Cardinal and hit .307/.370/.517 with 106 home runs, 165 doubles, and 50 triples.  He lead the National League in home runs, slugging, and OPS during the 1934 season en route to helping the Gashouse Gang Cardinals team win the World Series. In fact, he put up some really cool numbers that season.  In addition to the 35 home runs and 128 RBIs, Collins also had 40 doubles, 13 triples, 200 hits, and scored 116 runs.  How many times has someone posted a season line like that?   While Collins had a shorter Cardinals career than any of the players in my honorable mention section, he won a World Series ring on an important team to the franchise, which Torre did not, and was a much better offensive player than Hernandez or White. 

4.  Johnny Mize

Mize started his career with the Cardinals in 1936.  "The Big Cat" won two home run titles, an RBI crown, a batting title, lead the league in slugging percentage three times, OPS three times, and OPS+ twice.  His six season is St. Louis yielded a WAR of 39.3 including four seasons with a mark above 7.  In 1939 he posted a WAR of 8.1 with won the home run title and batting title and finished third in RBIs behind his teammate Joe Medwick and Reds slugger Frank McCormick.  His career OPS+ as a Cardinal is 171, which is the highest of any first baseman on this list.  

3.  Jim Bottomley

Sunny Jim played for the Cardinals from the early 1920s into the mid 1930s.   The St. Louis native helped the team win their first World Series and was won of the first stars of the team.  Bottomley played a total of 11 seasons in St. Louis with a .325/.387.537 line with 181 home runs, 1105 RBIs, and 344 doubles.  In 1926, in helping the Cardinals to that first World Series win against Babe Ruth and the Yankees, Bottomley hit 40 doubles, 14 triples, and 19 home runs.  In 1928 he went 42 doubles, 20 triples, 31 home runs (leading the NL), 136 RBIs, and a .325/.402/.628 line.  He closed out his career on the Browns after a stint with the Reds.  

2.  Stan Musial

Stan played most of his games in the outfield, but still spent more than 1000 games at first base during his Cardinals career.  He first appeared at first in 1946 when he played 114 games there.  Musial also spent time there in 1947 before shifting back to the outfield for a couple of seasons and returning to first base again in the early 1950s when he'd split the seasons between different spots in the outfield and first.  Again, not a full time first baseman, but let's just look at his first season as a first baseman in 1946.  First, he won a World Series against the Red Sox.  Second, he took home his second MVP award.  That season he lead the NL in games, plate appearances, hits, runs, doubles, triples, average, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  While some of the Bottomley and Collins season lines were cool with extra base hits, Stan's 46 season included 16 home runs, 20 triples, and 50 doubles.  That season alone is worthy of consideration on this list.  His 1947 season, also as a full time first baseman, was actually one of his worst early seasons when he only hit .312/.398/.504 with 62 extra base hits, a .902 OPS, an OPS+ of 134, and a WAR of only 4.9.  Don't worry I will put Stan number one when we get into outfielders. 

1.  Albert Pujols

Albert spent most of his career as a Cardinal at first base.  He did spend a little time at third and in the outfield, but most of his offensive production came as a first baseman.   Stan Musial is a better overall player, but split his time between two positions with less time at first.  The Machine his .328/.420/.617 in 11 years as a Cardinal with 445 home runs, 1329 RBIs, and more than 2000 hits.  Albert won two World Series rings, 2006 and 2011, and also picked up 3 MVP awards, and the 2001 Rookie of the Year.  Pujols is the greatest right-handed hitter to ever wear the birds on the bat.