Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Perhaps I have Turned the Corner....

The Cardinals made a trade for Jason Heyward earlier this off season and I immediately went out and added an autograph of the Gold Glove right fielder to my collection.  After this season Heyward can become a free agent and seems to owe the Cardinals little in the way of negotiating leverage.  Yes, I could go out and pick up a bunch of Heyward cards, but would might have to trade or sell a bunch of them at the end of the year.  At least that was my original intention.

For the third time during the last month I am introducing you to another Jason Heyward autograph.  At what point do you just admit you have turned the corner and gone from:

"I am just picking up an autograph of Jason Heyward for my collection"

to

"Yes, I collect Jason Heyward cards"

Oh, here's the card:




The Cardinals have been pretty successful at trading for potential free agents and managed to keep almost all of the big names.  Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Mark McGwire, and Matt Holliday are on the top of my head this morning.  I would love to see Heyward have a great year in St. Louis and the Cardinals reward him with a nice long term contract.  I may only be three Heyward autographs into a collection, but I have had fun picking up these three cards and have picked out a few more that would look nice in my collection.

Have I turned the corner on Heyward?  Sure, let's hope it's a good summer for the Cardinals newest outfielder.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Snorting Bull Awards: Best Card of the Year


Best Card of the Year


I did not give out an award for the Best Card of the Year prior to this year.  If I can give out a bull statute for really awful baseball cards, then I can also give one out for really good baseball cards.  In fact, I gave out two really bad baseball card awards this year, so I picked an extra pricey and expensive card as my first annual Best Card of the Year.



I actually do not own this card and if I did own this card I would sell it and not even think twice.  It has nothing to do with the fact that Bryant is a Cub and I am a Cardinals fan.  Every couple of years there is a prospect that comes along that sends the baseball card hobby into a frenzy.  Recently we have had crazy summers with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.  Collectors spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars chasing down cool rookie cards of those players.  I am pretty sure that most of those Harper and Strasburg cards have lost a chunk of their value, but those initial prices and hype are a high bar to live up to in the long run.  Not to say that Strasburg, Harper, or Bryant won't be good players in the future, but what players rookie cards sell for hundreds of dollars?  Think of a few.  That's probably a high bar for three players under 25.  

Copies of this 2013 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant autograph, which was issued in the 2014 Bowman Chrome set, have sold anywhere between $150 dollars to more than $200.  Bidding on Ebay auctions could be described as highly competitive.  Basically if you want a copy of this card you need to either sit at the computer and bid at the last moment or being will to overpay to pick up a copy via Buy It Now.  One of my original criteria for card of the year had originally been attainability, but I am going to still pick this card as my Card of the Year.   

It's always good for the hobby to have new players to chase even if they have a hard time holding their value over time.  The 2013 Bowman Chrome Bryant autographed card is likely going to be an iconic card whether Bryant goes on to great things or not.  I remember when Upper Deck put out a Mark Prior autograph in their Prospect Premieres set in 2001.  Every card collector wanted that autograph.  Prior did not work out as a Major League pitcher, but that card is still a great card and a must have for many collectors.  



Sunday, December 28, 2014

#MyCardMonday

I have been writing a little bit with my weekly #MyCardMonday posts every week and have enjoyed putting a story with each of the cards.  If you stop by and read my blog on a regular basis it's usually pretty obvious that most of the cards come out of my collection of Cardinals or Durham Bulls (Rays) with a few other sentimental favorites mixed in along the way.  Today's card is a little bit Cardinals and a little bit Durham Bulls.


I wanted to pick this card up in 2008 when it came out with the Stadium Club set that summer.  Mather was a bench player for the Cardinals and showed good pop.  While this Stadium Club autograph was not outrageously priced at the time, it was selling for more than $5 which is probably a few too many dollars for a Joe Mather card.  At some point Mather was claimed by the Braves and ended up spending the beginning parts of the 2011 season playing for the Gwinnett Braves.  

The first baseball game I took my son to was the Durham Bulls April 17th game against the Gwinnett Braves.  The afternoon did not end well for my hometown Bulls who lost the game 18-7.  The Bulls were actually winning the game entering the sixth inning, but the Braves posted a 10 spot in the top half of the frame and blew the game wide open.  I still had a great time taking the little man to the game.


Mather batted fifth that day for the Braves and went 2 for 6 with a double.  More importantly it reminded me of Mather's Stadium Club autograph.   A week after the Braves/Bulls game the Mather card popped into my mail box and has been in my collection ever since.  I think the card ended up costing me three or four dollars with shipping, but one of my favorite cards because it reminds me of my son's first baseball game.  




More Five Star Autographs

A little bit of a follow up post from yesterday, but I wanted to give my new Five Star autographs a post of their own.  The Oscar Taveras card appeared in the Best Autograph Set of 2014 post, but probably also deserves a little bit of a nod in it's own post.  Five Star always seems to come out really late every year and just when you think the card calendar has come to an end, there is a really nice product with really nice autographs that pops up.  Want lists are revised and plans for filling in the last remaining holes in the 2014 sets are placed on hold.


As discussed in the previous post, I am really high on this set.  I love the thick card stock and I love the on-card autographs.  I have seen a few people compare the background design to a paisley shirt that Will Smith might have worn on the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire, but I am cool with it.  I actually think it looks a little bit more like the Basilica Cathedral in St. Louis than a Will Smith shirt and I am sure if we could talk with the design folks at Topps I am sure they would probably side with my interpretation of the design.  


I picked up two Five Star autographs to start out.  I really liked the Taveras card, but also decided to add the Craig since it was being sold by the same seller on Ebay and had almost no bidding on it.  I believe that this is the first autograph for Craig in a Red Sox uniform.  Kind of wonder if it is also probably his last autograph in a Red Sox uniform.  As for Taveras, I will be talking a little bit more about Oscar later this week.  I have avoided the topic over the past two months, but have had some time to think and process everything.  More Oscar later....


Needless to say, I am on the look out for a few more Five Star autographs.  I am thinking about adding another Cardinals autograph or two, but I really like the Vladimir Guerrero autograph.  I am thinking of doing more 90s baseball autographs out of this set more than my usual Cardinals and Rays.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snorting Bull Award: Best Autograph Set


Best Autograph Set



In my opinion there were two sets deserving of this award this year.  I have not actually spent a lot of time on either set on this space, but that was more a matter of time than anything else.  Both sets were released later in the card year, but offered collectors some great autographs.  While the quantity of autographs from these two sets may not yet be in my collection, I feel like I have a pretty good gauge on the quality offered by both sets. 

Let's start off with the repeat winner Topps Five Star.  This card set has been issued the past several years, and while I do not bust open high end card boxes, the set has always offered collectors great on-card autographs in limited numbers.  This year's set is not any different.  While case busters may not like pulling cards of Livan Hernandez, that really hurts the bottom line, there are plenty of great autographs available in the set. 

 

I have been able to pick up a few Cardinals autographs, but am still looking to add a few more cards.  Some of my favorite looking cards in the set include a Vladimir Guerrero autograph in an Expos uniform, El Duque, Juan Gone as a Ranger, and Roberto Alomar as a Blue Jay.  Add in that the cards are made on really nice thick card stock and you have got a winner.  Again, I recognize the fact that the boxes do not often pan out and provide collectors value, but if you can just stick to purchasing single autographs off of the web and from local card shops, your dollar will go much further and you can pick out the autographs which will look nice in your collection. 


My other winner this year is Topps Supreme.  The one obvious drawback is the fact that the cards feature sticker autographs.  In most cases the sticker autographs are very well done, but there are some obviously huge positives for the set which have propelled it to the top of my autograph set list this year.  First, the design of the set is awesome.  Really clean design on the cards and I love the photography. 


The second reason I love the Topps Supreme set, minus the Cardinals, is the diverse names in the autograph checklist.  I was able to pick up several minor leaguers in the set which have not been available in other sets.  I am planning on posting a few of these autographs in the coming weeks, but already posted my cool Jesus Aguilar autograph.   Just like the Topps Five Star set, Supreme also offers plenty of cool veteran and retired players autographs too. 

Just like Five Star, Supreme is a product that is best picked up in singles.  I know opening boxes is always awesome and fun, but there are autographs in this set which would be duds if you spent $60 on a box of these cards.  There are plenty of cool singles floating around on Ebay and at local card shops. Overall, both of these are really good autograph sets and offer collectors some really great autographs. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Friday Five: Top 5 Cardinals 2nd Baseman

5.  Julian Javier 



Javier played 12 seasons for the Cardinals from 1960 through 1971.  He spent his final season as a Red.  During his 12 years as a Cardinal Javier made two National League All-Star teams and helped the Cardinals win two World Series titles (1964 and 1967) and win another National League pennant (1968).  Julian Javier was known much more his defense than offense and also excelled during the Cardinals appearances in the World Series.  In 1967, he batted .360 in the World Series and had a big home run in game 7 of the series.  In 1968, Javier batted he batted .333 against the Tigers in a losing effort.  

4.  Tom Herr


Herr was an important cog in the 1980s Whiteyball Cardinals.  He was always a really good player on those teams, just never really the best player on any of the teams.  In my opinion, his best year was the 1985 National League Championship team when he hit .302/.379/.416 with 110 RBIs and 31 stolen bases.  Herr also was the starting second baseman on the 1982 World Series winning team and the 1987 National League Championship team.  The Cardinals traded Herr to the Twins in 1988 for Tom Brunansky.  In 10 seasons with the Cardinals he had more than 1000 hits, 400 RBIs, and 150 stolen bases. 


3.  Red Schoendienst 


Schoendiesnt was the Cardinals second baseman most of the late 1940s through the 1950s until he was traded away to the New York Giants.  After a stop off with the Braves, Red returned to the Cardinals for the 1962 and 1963 seasons before taking over the reigns of the team as the manager.  In 15 seasons with the Cardinals Schoendienst made a total of 8 All-Star game appearances and recorded over 1000 runs scored and almost 2000 hits.  He helped the Cardinals win the 1946 World Series, but his best season as a Cardinals was probably 1953 when he posted a .342/.405/.502 line with 15 home runs.  He finished fourth in MVP voting that season.  Red was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989. 


2.  Frankie Frisch 



Frisch started his career with the Giants in 1919 and was traded to the Cardinals for Rogers Hornsby after playing 8 years for New York.  The Fordham Flash ended up spending 11 years with the Cardinals helping the Gashouse Gang Cardinals win the 1934 World Series against the Athletics.  Frisch also made 3 All-Star teams and won the 1931 National League MVP Award.  Overall during his time as a Cardinal, Frisch had almost 200 stolen bases, 1500 hits, and almost 300 doubles.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947. 


1.  Rogers Hornsby


Hornsby is one of the best second baseman of all-time and started out with the Cardinals in 1915.  He was traded to the Giants for Frisch, but ended up back in St. Louis at the end of his career.  JAWS rates him as the best second baseman of all-time and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942.  During his thirteen seasons as a Cardinal Hornsby posted over 2000 hits, over 1000 runs, 367 doubles, 193 home runs, 118 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 177.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Snorting Bull Awards: Best Insert Set


BEST INSERT SET






This was a difficult decision this year.  Usually there is a clear cut winner or several insert sets that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the insert sets.  This year was a tough decision for the opposite reason.  There were not any tremendously awesome insert sets.  I could point to every product and name at least one insert set that I liked during the year, but again nothing overwhelmed me to the point of having an easy decision on this topic. 

For me the decision ended up boiling down to two sets.  I really liked the die-cut Triumvirate cards out of the Stadium Club set this year.  Stadium Club was a strong product this year and Topps did a really good job of getting the set back to its roots.  As an avid 1990s collectors I really enjoyed the product and it took me back to some good days back in the 1990s when Stadium Club was an annual release.

  


The Triumverate inserts were always one of the best parts of the late 1990s Stadium Club sets.  Again, Topps did a really nice job of recreating this insert set in this year's product.  I have gone out and picked up several of these cards for my collection.  However, I thought that there was an insert product that was stronger than this Stadium Club insert this year.  Just wanted to give this insert set a nod, or tip of the hat, in my post.  The best insert set this year was.......

 
 
 The Topps Archives Major League Set.  Overall Topps did a really good job of creating a lot of 1990s feeling cards this year.  Major League was actually released in 1989, which felt a lot like the 1990s in many ways.....  The Major League Set seemed to translate better across the board with collectors of all age groups better than the Stadium Club set.  While Major League is a 1990s movie, it's one of those baseball movies that loads of all sorts of different age groups has seen. 


Topps did a great job of creating a set of cards based on the main characters from the movie putting them on a 1989 Topps style card.  They even used the pink and blue color schemes that were on the Indians cards in the 1989 set.  I like the Major League logo baseball in the corner and the script text in the top right hand corner to set the cards apart just a little bit.  The set also has a cool autographed parallel set featuring the autographs of the actors/actresses who played the character on the card.  I landed one of these in one of the boxes of Topps Archives I opened this summer....


Not the flashiest, shiniest, or hardest to pull insert set of the year, but the Major League set brought a lot of excitement to the Archives product and card collectors in general this summer.  The insert set is not too expensive and not too difficult to assemble, yet looks great once all of the cards are put together.    The autographed parallel set is a nice touch too.  Great insert set and the clear winner of the Insert Set of the Year Award here on my blog. 

ManuPatch MVP



Just filling in some holes from earlier in the 2014 Topps sets.  It's been a good year, the sets have been completed, but there are some other holes in the sets to fill.  Mainly I am trying to track down some of the different insert sets, in particular I am looking for some of the Cardinals cards out of the World Series sets.  Here is my latest pick up from my list...



While Freese is no longer on the Cardinals this is a great card commemorating his World Series MVP award he won while playing for the team in 2011.  Freese has a great post season and single handedly won Game 6 of the World Series for the Cardinals.  If you are Nelson Cruz or Mark Lowe please look away. 


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Snorting Bull Awards: Worst Card of the Year Part 2


WORST CARD OF THE YEAR PART 2 






There are some really nice high end products that come out every year.  Personally I do not touch them.  Yes, there is a chance that you could pull some really incredible once in a life time pull that will more than pay for the box.  On the other hand you could pull a $5 autograph and completely go backwards on the box of cards.

The highest of high end card products this year was the brand new Topps Dynasty product.  The boxes cost just a little more than $300, but you get an encapsulated autographed card in every box.  Each box has one pack.  Very high end sounding and check out these product fliers......



Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams make this product all feel so high end.  So, how could you possibly get the worst card of the year out of this set?  I mean at worst you pull some low end autograph and are out a few hundred dollars, right?  I would love to say that the answer to these questions is yes, but unfortunately it's much worse than low end autographs.  My other Worst Card of the Year is appearing here because of credibility issues.  

Really it's sad to have to make a post like this, about a card like this, but Topps continues to have major issues with quality control.  Their latest example probably just further erodes collectors trust in the whole "game used" label that has been attached to hundreds of thousands relic cards over the past twenty years.  Several recent fraud scandals and over production had already eroded the value of relic cards greatly, but this latest example is just terrible.  Cue Sir Charles.....



Again the card is out of the high end Topps Dynasty product and features a "relic" piece from Red Sox and Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs.  There are a ton of his cards in this product and most of the relic pieces look like they could be a piece of a Red Sox or Yankees jersey.  Lots of navy, some red, and even a few pinstripes.  Then there is this gem.......



There were several long discussions about this card around the internet.  Twitter, Facebook, and Blowout Cards all had lively discussions about this card.  At first the conversation started out with a few collectors asking if they had missed some brief appearance by Boggs in Anaheim.  We all remember Steve Carlton as a Giant or Joe Namath on the Rams.  No, Boggs was not on the Angels, but he did make an appearance at the Pepsi Celebrity All-Star Softball Game during the 2010 All-Star Game Festivities in Anaheim.



The All-Star Game Logo used by the Angels that year.  Sadly this card sold on Ebay for more than $200 right after the product released.  I would have to question whether this card would have fetched that price if they buyer had known that the patch piece attached to the card was used in softball game.  Some collectors debating this card had speculated that perhaps the patch piece was actually from a Pujols, Hamilton, or Trout jersey which would still add value to the card.  However, the halo piece on the Boggs card is silver.  The regular Angels jerseys feature gold halos, like this.......


This card is not an error.  It's just a really cheaply made card that Topps should have felt really embarrassed to put out into packs of cards.  I am sure that Topps would pass the buck onto a third party vendor, or some garbage like that, if they were asked to comment on the card.  Really though, have you ever seen that website that Leaf assembles to show every patch they make in a print run of cards?  It looks like this....




Why can't Topps do something like this?  The quality control is very disappointing on the part of Topps and there is no excuse for a card like this Wade Boggs Dynasty card to ever see the light of day.  This card is everything that is wrong with bad modern trading cards: Indifference towards the collector.  Both of my Worst Cards of the Year winners show that Topps is either woefully incompetent with their editing work or they just do not care what ends up in the packs as long as it is shiny and bright.  

#MyCardMonday



I have used a few posts during the last month on Jordan Heyward, but the Cardinals also acquired relief pitcher Jordan Walden in their blockbuster trade with the Braves.  If you could rewind a few years back Walden was actually a pretty well thought of prospect and had a nice run of baseball cards issued by Topps.  What happened to Walden over the past three years?  Besides being traded to the Braves, and then to the Cardinals, the answer is absolutely nothing.  In 2011 Walden made the American League All-Star team with an ERA+ of 127 and a FIP of 2.79.  Last year pitching for the Braves Walden posted an ERA+ of 127 and a FIP of 2.79.  That's not a typo.  Same ERA+ and same FIP.

Almost every Jordan Walden certified autograph comes out of the 2011 of 2012 Topps catalog and they are really inexpensive.  He signed cards for Finest, Triple Threads, Museum, Chrome and they all sell for under $10.  I am not sure when or where I ended up with this nice looking dual jersey autograph out of the 2011 Topps Finest set, but it's sitting here in my box of autographed cards.

Another Trip To Big D's Sports Cards

It had been awhile since I had managed to make my way into my favorite local card shop, Big D's Sports Cards, in Raleigh.  I do not have school on Monday and little responsibility for the next five weeks I am tracked out of work, so it was a no brainer that I needed to hit up the card shop.  Jimmy had a couple of things waiting for me.  Some of the cards he had found and set aside for me, while a few of the cards I picked up in a trade with a local collector. 

So, first up is a small side project in my collection.  A few Michael Sam cards from different Topps base sets.  The one card would appear to be a variation, but I might be wrong on that.  I actually know almost nothing about football cards, but I like picking up a few things from Mizzou and NC State guys here and there.  Sam was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last year and was drafted by the Rams in this year's rookie draft.  




I also picked up a pair of Hak Ju Lee autographs which were signed in person while he was a member of the Durham Bulls.  He should be back in Durham next year, but the Rays seem to be working pretty hard on trading away everyone this offseason.  He will probably end up on the Padres.  


I love the Bowman autograph on the right hand side.  That is kind of the quintessential Hak Ju Lee defensive pose.  Spend five minutes watching the Bulls take infield practice before the game and you will see that pose half a dozen different times.  On to more serious things.  

I have been trying to work on a few new player collections.  The statement above about the Michael Sam cards being a side project should have probably been typed in blue (for sarcasm).  I am really trying to develop a player collection away from baseball cards, but let's face it: I am not a football person.  

As a resident of central North Carolina it is hard to go wrong with collecting something basketball.  I like basketball and I graduated from one of those North Carolina basketball schools.  So, I am happy to add a second autograph to my collection of T.J. Warren cards.  This time he is wearing a Suns jersey and not NC State.  Well, he's at least holding a Suns jersey.  Roll Pirates Roll.  (Google Riverside Durham)  



While I was in the shop I also decided to pick up a copy of a Trea Turner autograph that looked really sweet.  It is from Leaf Valient and is a die cut autographed serial numbered out of 25.  Turner went to NC State and was drafted by the Padres 13th overall in the draft this summer.  He was in the Will Myers trade last week, but since he has not played for a full year he's in some sort of baseball purgatory.  This was too cool of a card to pass up.....




Last two cards for this post came in a trade from a local card collector who traded me a pair of Cardinals for an autograph of Red Sox prospect Henry Owens from his days as an amateur with the USA baseball program.  I thought I was only getting an Allen Craig.  Looks like I owe you a card on the next trade. 



The Edmonds patch card is a great throw in for a card for a card trade and I love the Allen Craig card.  The PinchMe phrase is in reference to his appearances off the bench for the Cardinals during their 2011 playoff run which resulted in the team's 10th World Championship.  Craig pinch hit playing in Busch and was the DH in Texas.  He started game 7 because of an injury to Matt Holliday and ended up hitting the go ahead home run.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Snorting Bull Awards: Worst Set of the Year

WORST CARD SET OF THE YEAR






We are meeting here too often.  This is how awards get named after people, or in this case a set, and it's not really a good thing.  Mental note: If Topps releases this set again next year and it is truly garbage again my award for Worst Card Set of the Year will be renamed after this product.  Really there is no need for this sort of thing to happen.  We've discussed airbrushing in several different posts over the years and no matter how it is done, collectors can all agree that it is not a good thing for the set.

So, if you worked at Topps and you wanted to showcase the talent that was drafted in the amateur baseball draft how would you go about doing this?  There are several good examples, a few mediocre examples, and a ton of poor examples.  The poor examples are mainly recent.  Here's how I view some of the draft cards over the years:


The Good: 1992 Topps Stadium Club Dome


These are sort of a classic in many circles.  Manny Ramirez was at Duke Chapel.  Shawn Green was in his backyard.  Nothing wrong with these cards.  I like Shawn Green in a t-shirt and a hat from his high school a lot better than an airbrushed Blue Jays uni.


The Bad: Leaf Products 


Leaf is always pretty good about getting draftees to sign for their different products.  They take the logos off of stuff, but they are not adding stuff either.  Treat Turner autograph?  Yes, please.  Why did you take the NC State logo off of his cap?  Disappointing, but not a deal breaker.

The Ugly (and winner of Worst Card Set two years running) Bowman Draft



I am not sure if this picture was taken while Turner was in college or playing somewhere in the minors, but he was clearly not on the Padres at the time it was taken.  It brings up the first problem with the Bowman Draft set: Quality.  

The SD logo on the hat is goofy and the jersey is off too.  I understand that almost every Topps set these days has some airbrushing, we all have bad days, but Bowman Draft just takes it to a different level.  Is there a card in the set which Topps does not airbrush?  I am not sure that there is. 




This Trea Turner is not quite as bad as the base card in the Bowman Draft set, but it still is not great.  This looks a lot like a USA Baseball photo.  The helmet is not quite right for NC State.  The earflaps on their helmets are a little bit less padded.  Almost a dead ringer for the USA Baseball helmets though and that dirt spot on the front of his jersey has a strange shape, but it's in the same spot as the number on is US National team jersey.  Pretty hard to get those dirt spots to cooperate with your airbrushing.  Even when Topps tries really really hard it is hard to make a quality product when you have to airbrush every single card.  


I had also thought about picking up a copy of the Luke Weaver card who was the Cardinals first round draft pick out of Florida State.  I saw the pitcher a few times the last couple of years with both FSU and USA Baseball.  His rookie card in Bowman Draft is inexcusably sloppy which is my second adjective I would use to describe this product.  


The Cardinals logo on his jersey is pretty bad, the hat is okay, but if you are going to go ahead and airbrush those two items on his jersey what is preventing you from fixing his maroon socks, belt, and undershirt showing on the card.  Seriously just airbrush the whole thing.  If I had been airbrushing him I would have put him smack dab in the middle of Busch Stadium.  What stopping you?  

Finally there is this awesome number Topps pulled on Casey Gillaspie cards which illustrates a total lack of consistency within the Bowman Draft product.  Gillaspie was the Rays first round pick out of Wichita State.  If you have never seen Wichita State play they have unique uniforms and they are probably pretty difficult to airbrush.  Topps actually waited until he reached the minors to take a photo of the power hitter first baseman.........




This insert card is not too bad.  The color scheme and design certainly fit with the Rays.  The helmet might be slightly off, but not bad.  What I do not understand is how you can create a decent photograph for one card and then completely miss on another card of the same player.  Here is Gillaspie's regular base card in the Bowman Draft set.....



I am not sure where this picture was taken, but the hat logo is terrible and the jersey logo is not much better.  I just do not understand why, if you are going to use airbrushing, you would not choose a card that is easy to work into something that looks good.  

I know that for many collectors the Bowman Draft product is the end of the calendar year and in many ways a celebration of the card year.  One final Bowman product and the first look at a few young stars before the new card year starts.   However, until Topps does something to change the quality and consistency in the product and clean up the sloppiness the Bowman Draft product will not be a serious set of baseball cards.  

It appears that other collectors are also down on this product too.  The set has not been out for very long and the set is already selling for just a little more than $5. 



Topps needs to seriously pull the plug on this product and do a complete revamp of what they are doing in this set.  I am not sure that Topps can ever really admit that they do something wrong, they are the only licensed card company in the game, but this would be a great set to either discontinue or go out on a limb and do something creative with.  In the meantime, I am prepared to rename the award for Worst Card Set of the Year to the Bowman Draft Worst Card Set of the Year Award.  As sure as the night is dark and water is wet, Topps will release this product again next year with all of the same flaws it has had the past several years running.



Friday Five: Thank You Charlie!




I had walked my students outside to their busses yesterday afternoon when I paused a minute to check the news and saw this tweet staring back at me on my iPhone.  I stopped for a minute on the sidewalk and soaked it in.  Earlier this offseason I had hoped that Montoyo would have a chance to move up to the Rays as the team's manager.  After watching Charlie navigate the Bulls for the past 8 seasons I know he would have done a great job.  For awhile I guess, as Bulls fans, we were in limbo about Charlie.  A few Cubs fans on my Twitter feed had speculated that Charlie could end up with the Cubs in some capacity.  After pausing for a minute and reading a few of the comments below the tweet I decided to be happy for Charlie.

Baseball fans in the Triangle are losing a great baseball manager in Montoyo, but after spending his entire managing and coaching career in the minors it is great to see him get his day in the sun working for the Rays as their third base coach.  I thought Charlie would make a great manager and know he will also make a great third base coach.  I've seen Charlie make that run out of the first base dug out down the third base line dozens of times each of the past eight summers.  He does a great job of talking, coaching, and working with the players throughout the game.  I have no doubt that he will be successful at the Major League level.

Montoyo leaves the Bulls after eight sevens which resulted in 7 division crowns, a pair of Governors Cups, and a Triple A National Championship.  He also leaves as the Durham Bulls all-time most winningest manager after passing the legendary Bill Evers by last summer.

I took a little bit of relaxation time this morning and combed through the managerial record of Charlie Montoyo and ranked, in my opinion, his five best performances as a manager.



5.  2007 Durham Bulls 
80-63 International League South Division Champions, Governors Cup Appearance  

The first season Montoyo spent as the Bulls manager resulted in an International League South Division Title and a trip to the Governor's Cup Championship against the Richmond Braves.  Ultimately the Bulls lost the Cup that year, but Montoyo did a great job of turning around a team that had struggled on and off the field the season before.  More than 30 players appeared on the Bulls that season who eventually appeared on a Major League roster at some point in their career.  The highlight of the season was an appearance by top Rays prospect Evan Longoria for a 31 game cup of coffee on his way up to Durham.  The roster also featured Jonny Gomes, Joel Guzman, Chris Richard, Justin Ruggiano, Shawn Riggans, Ben Zobrist, Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Niemann, Jason Hammel, and J.P. Howell.  Montoyo had actually managed many of the players the year before while he was working for the Rays Double A team in Montgomery as their manager.

4. 2014 Durham Bulls
75-69 International League South Division Champions, Governors Cup Appearance 

I cannot possibly do a good enough job of explaining what a wonderful job Montoyo did this last season with the Durham Bulls.  I watched the team all the way to the Governors Cup and was truly amazed the entire way.  The Bulls dispatched with the rest of the International League Southern Division the way that their fans have come all too accustomed to seeing.  The Bulls won their division by 9 games, defeated the Columbus Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, and took the Pawtucket Paw Sox all the way to a final fifth game of the Governors Cup Series before yielding the cup to the Red Sox Triple A team.  What was so impressive about 2014?  While I can point out dozens of talented prospected on other Durham Bulls teams during Montoyo's eight year run as the Bulls manager, this summer's squad lacked a big name.  Kevin Kiermaier appeared for 34 games, but was gone by the half way in the season.  Mikie Mahtook seems like a nice player, but I am not sure he is a top tier prospect.  Stud pitching prospects Enny Romero and Alex Colome struggled with consistency.  Mike Montgomery threw a no-hitter and was unhittable at the beginning of the year before struggling down the stretch with an ERA of 6.86 in July and 5.91 in August.  Veteran players like Vince Belnome and Wilson Betimet failed to provide the Bulls any spark on offense.    Even Snorting Bull favorite Hak Ju Lee only hit .203 and found a seat on the bench frequently towards the end of the year.  There were so many reasons why this team should not have won, but Montoyo willed them into the playoffs and within a game of taking home the International League Championship.


3.  2013 Durham Bulls
87-57 International League South Division Champions, Governors Cup Champions 

The 2013 Durham Bulls were a great team.  They had talented players, but they worked really well together.  I would have loved to see how many games they could have won with a full season of players like Will Myers and Chris Archer.  Hak Ju Lee was hitting .422 through his first 45 Triple A at-bats before he blew out a knee.  Motoyo got great performances out of prospects like Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, Tim Beckham, and Kevin Keirmeir, but also got a lot of some key veterans like Leslie Anderson, Jason Bourgeois, Shelley Duncan, Rich Thompson, J.D. Martin, and Matt Buschmann.  Plenty of other players like Cole Figueroa, Merrill Kelly, and Brandon Guyer mixed in too.  The team won the South Division by 10 games, swept the Indianapolis Indians in the first round of the playoffs, and defeated the Pawtucket Red Sox to win the Governors Cup.  The team ultimately lost in the Triple A Championship to the Omaha Storm Chasers, but still were a great success in large part due to the managing of Charlie Montoyo.


2. 2006 Montgomery Biscuits 
77-62 South Division Runner-Up, Southern League Champions 

It's hard to ignore Montoyo's work with the Montgomery Biscuits before he jumped up to manage the Durham Bulls.  The year before taking the reigns with the Bulls, Montoyo managed roughly a dozen of the players who appeared on the 2007 Durham Bulls, his first as the team's manager, to a Southern League Championship with the Rays Double A team.  That team included Longoria, Ruggiano, Reid Briganc, Elliot Johnson, Jeff Niemann, and Mitch Talbot.  All of those players were a huge part of his success during his first season in Durham, which really began the year before in Double A.  The 2006 season was Charlie's fourth at the helm of the Rays Double A team and his first winning season at that level of managing in the minors.


1.  2009 Durham Bulls 
79-65 International League South Division Champions, Governors Cup Champions, Triple A National Champions 

The crowning gem of Montoyo's time as the Bulls manager was the 2009 Triple A National Championship team.  The team had young prospects, veteran's playing out the end of their careers, pitching, hitting, defense.  Everything.  Let's start with the prospects.  The team featured Desmond Jennings, John Jaso, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce,  Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, and an appearance by David Price early in the season.  There were some veterans too.  Jason Isringhausen, Akinori Iwamura, Shawn Riga's, Chad Bradford, and Jorge Julio also spent time in Durham that season.  Unlike many seasons, where the Bulls easily win their division, they spent the summer in a fight with the Gwinnett Braves winning the division by two games.  The team won their first round playoff matchup and advanced to the Governors Cup against the Scranton Yankees.  The Bulls swept the Yankees and made up for the previous season when the team had been drubbed badly in the deciding game of the Governors Cup against the same team.  In the Triple A championship game the Bulls ran into a talented team in the Memphis Redbirds who featured future Cardinals World Series winners in Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and David Freese.  The game went into extra innings and the Bulls won a wild pitch.  




It was a great run for Charlie Montoyo as the Bulls manager and I hope you enjoyed my take on his five best performances as a manager.  It was a tough list to make and it's difficult when you make a list of teams and have to leave out three other talented Durham Bulls teams which also won their divisions and made it into the playoffs.  I know I can safely say I speak for baseball fans all over the Triangle and many Rays fans too when I say: Thank you Charlie.  


Friday Five: Top 5 Durham Bulls First Baseman

This is the Saturday edition of my normal Friday blog post.  I am going to post two of these today.  This post was planned since last week, but my real job took up a lot of time the last few nights and prevented me from finishing this post.  The second Friday Five post is in reaction to some baseball news from yesterday.  




5.  Rusty Staub 



Staub appeared for Durham in 1962 as a minor leaguer in the Astros organization.  The Bulls were apart of the Carolina league that season and Staub's performance that season paced the Bulls to a league title over the Kinston Eagles (Pirates) and their star pitcher Steve Blass.  In his only full minor league season "Le Grand Orange" posted a .293/.429/.483 line with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs.  Staub was one of the top offensive performers in the league that season and ranks as one of the best offensive performances in the history of the Durham Bulls.  On a side note,  Rusty Staub missed out on leading the Carolina League in home runs and RBIs to one Bert Barth, St. Louis native,  who hit 33 home runs and drove in 136 playing for the Rocky Mount Leafs.  He also pitched in the minor leagues too.   I am going to have to track down more info on Bert Barth and I promise he gets a post in the near future.  



4.  Greg Luzinski 



Luzinski was apart of the 1969 Raleigh-Durham Phillies team (they also played one season around this time as the Triangles).  The team placed second that season, to those dreaded Rocky Mount Leafs, in the Carolina League's Eastern Division finishing with a record of 79-62.  Luzinski lead the Carolina league that season in home runs, RBIs, and finished third in slugging and OPS posting a line of .289/.371/.394 with 31 home runs, and 92 RBIs.  "The Bull" ended up splitting his career between the Phillies and White Sox where he hit over 300 Major League home runs, drove in more than 1000 runs, and almost reached 2000 hits.  


3.  Kevin Witt 



Kevin Witt won the International League MVP the first full season that I lived in Durham.  The big first baseman had some incredible power in his bat which never really worked out in the Majors.  He was still a great player in the more than half a dozen Minor League stops during the late 90s through the mid 2000s.  His 2006 season with the Durham Bulls was his last year playing for a minor league team in the US.  Witt posted a .291/.360/.577 line with 36 home runs and 99 RBIs.  Witt lead the International League in both home runs and RBIs, as well as slugging percentage.   The Bulls had a lot of talent on that team including Delmon Young, Jame Shields, Edwin Jackson, Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton, Darnell McDonald, Elijah Dukes, and newly minted Rays manager Kevin Cash.  Still all the talent could not get the Bulls above .500 that season.  After Witt's MVP season he had a short lived career playing baseball in Japan with Rakuten.  


2.  Steve Cox



Cox spent two seasons in Durham with the Bulls and his 1999 season was one of the best offensive seasons in team history.  Cox posted a .341/..415/.588 line with 25 home runs, 127 RBIs, and 49 doubles.  Cox lead the International League in batting and RBIs, but missed out on the home runs leg of the triple crown finishing fifth.  I would like to say that the doubles in an International League record, as I cannot find a total higher than that, but some of the older stats in the IL are a little murky in places.  Cox ended up spending a few decent seasons with the Devil Rays before his career lost traction.  He spent part of a season in Japan and ended up back with the Rays briefly in 2005 and even made a return appearance (for 19 games) as a Durham Bull 


1. Dan Johnson



Dan Johnson spent three years as a Durham Bull.  His second stint with the Bulls, in 2010, he was basically an unstoppable force at the plate.  I attended several games that season where Johnson just simply schooled the other teams pitching staff in every way possible.  You've heard the old say about how the "baseball must look like a beach ball to that player right now"?  Johnson turned the right now into most of a season.  In 98 games in Durham that season Johnson hit 30 home runs, 19 doubles, with 95 RBIs while posting a .303/.430/.624 line.  Johnson basically missed a third of the season, but still lead the league in home runs, walks, slugging, and finished second in RBIs to Brandon Moss who played 38 more games than Johnson.  It was one of the most impressive seasons I have ever seen.  His Major League career has not been the best, but he still owns one of the biggest hits in Rays history.