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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Bear With Me

I found more retail baseball cards this past weekend. 

I think we have officially moved past the pandemic retail card craze. 

The Target next to my house had physical fights over sports cards that required police intervention during the pandemic. They pulled them from the shelves and they have not returned.  

Fighting. Over. Cards. 


So, the cards from this post came from my local Wal-Mart, which is low on my list of places to shop. I recently wrote about the Wal-Mart that is halfway between the Duke and UNC campuses. The Wal-Mart near my house is interesting for different reasons. It's the cultural intersection of suburban-dwelling transplants and old farmers who can tell you what kind tobacco was grown in your neighborhood before it was developed.  

That's for a different post.  

Unfortunately, I bought a box of Donruss, but bear with me, it does get better at some point. 

I was intrigued since the last few packs of Panini cards I opened were not actually all that bad. Baseball card money is finite, so I am usually carefully and picky about what I buy and how much I spend. I should have looked up the cards online before I handed over money for these cards.  

Here is the basic design.  



There are a lot of cubes and rectangles with different depths. Maybe it's my ADD, but I feel like my eyes are drawn away from the picture of the player and onto the design of the card. Catchy designs are good, but not when they are overwhelming and busy.  

The back is the same.  



The write-up is terrible.  

It's hard to make an argument about someone being the best in baseball history when the stat involves getting hit by pitches. Do people at Donruss know how many times the Marlins have thrown at Ronald Acuna? I bet they account for at least half the total.  



There are other disappointing aspects to this year's Donruss set beyond the base cards. The Diamond Kings cards, long-time personal favorites, now feature a background that looks like a floral sofa pattern from some 1980s living room. 



The inspiration for the background of this Jose Ramirez card?  



There are plenty of other half-assed cards also appeared in the box.  

There is some sort of 1988 Donruss redux.  



Where is the rest of the border?

Why is half of it whited-out?  




Why is the colored pattern on the border on the adjacent corners from the original?  

GET. THE. LITTLE. DETAILS. RIGHT. 

I am not even a details person and it bothers me. 
 



I saved this for last.  

Donruss included some retired Hall of Famers on their checklist, but they could not just airbrush out the logos on their uniforms. They had to take it an extra step and add trim to their jerseys. The Brooks Robinson card leaves me speechless. Ozzie?  The red trim is terrible.  

At least Panini still includes the Rated Rookie cards in Donruss.  


I managed to pull Rated Rookie cards of Vidal Brujan and Juan Yepez. I am still not sure what the Rays are going to do with Brujan. He's played well with Durham this year, but he's played all over the field. I am not sure if they are trying to turn him into a super-utility type or the Rays just do not know what to do with him. Shortstop is obviously taken for the next decade. Yepez has been excellent for the Cardinals. One of the few players who has hit well.  

Then there is this.....



Rated Prospects?  

This feels like New Coke or M&Ms filled with pretzels.  

Okay, so bear with me for a few more cards.  

As bad as the base cards are in the 2022 Donruss set, the inserts are actually pretty nice.  



I pulled two Diamond Marvel cards. I am not a comic book collector, but I like the design here merging them with a baseball card. The cards have a nice finish too. Not sure if it comes through on the scan.  

The other pleasant surprise with 2022 Donruss was the quality of Stan Musial cards. 

Who saw that coming?  


For a card with the logos airbrushed off, this is really nice. I also like the choice of using a black and white photograph versus the red, gray, and black boxes around the edge of the card. Perhaps, Panini should have used black and white photos for more cards.  

The last card is just incredible.  


Growing up in St. Louis, I have spent my whole life listening to stories about Stan Musial. I am not sure that any of them made me think of Stan as being ferocious. What attributes does Stan share with a bear?  

I am not sure, but this is pretty awesome.  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Random Ray - 2001 Topps Heritage

I am reaching for the top shelf this week and going with a 2001 Topps Heritage Ray Lankford card. I am not always really big on rehashed designs, but this set is probably the best one ever in that category. Heritage sets are put out every year, but this was the first one. It's in its own class.  

While the set is a modern classic, it was sadly one of Ray Lankford's last baseball cards in a Cardinals uniform. He was traded during the 2001 season to the Padres for pitcher Woody Williams. The end of year products in 2001 featured Ray as a member of the Padres. 

Here is the front of the card.  

Almost all of the Cardinals cards in this set were photographed at Spring Training. I love the posed photograph of Ray Lankford batting. Better yet, I really like the landscape layout of his card. There are not many Lankford cards with this layout. A little sad about this fact.  

Here is the back.  


This is the best write-up on the back of a Ray Lankford ever. 

Great card.  

Friday, May 13, 2022

Bowman. Peanut Butter Patties. Shortbread.

During Girl Scout Cookie season, all of your family and work friends with girls in the scouts spend weeks pushing overpriced, five dollars boxes of cookies in your face telling you their daughter needs a badge. When you go to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon, because your wife forgot buy Italian parsley when she was at the store earlier in the week, you will get hounded again with $5 boxes of cookies. 

No matter how many different types of cookies are on the order sheet, or how many boxes are stacked up on the table, we all know that there are only a few Girl Scout Cookies that are worthy of the $5 sticker price. Will I pay $5 for a box of Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Patties, or Caramel deLites? 

All day, every day. 




Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Peanut Butter Patties.  

All-time greats. 

We all know that there are some lesser Girl Scout cookie flavors. For starters, the Shortbread and Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies are dry, bland, and utterly unfit of their brand name. Why am I going to pay $5 for a peanut butter cookie that has the texture of a Triscuit cracker when I can spend the same amount of money to buy Nutter Butters, which taste better and are shaped like a peanut.  



Nobody is going to mistake Nutter Butters for Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax, but they are solid long-term player in the cookie world. Adam Wainwright, David Price, Don Newcombe, Nutter Butters. 

Bowman baseball cards are very much like Girl Scout Cookies.  

They came out recently and my social media feeds are now loaded with collectors pushing cards of 18 year-olds few have seen in person, but they swear on their best-friend's, brother's, college roommate's, nephew's, mother-in-law's grave that they found a card of a guy who is going to be a Hall of Famer within the next two decades. 

"Buy this card of the Angels A-Ball catcher! He's 18, but I know he's going to be a star! Just $200 shipped!" 

It's essentially the same sales pitch as the really mediocre Girl Scout Cookie flavors.  

As sure as there are Peanut Butter Patties, I am sure that some current Minor League baseball player will eventually go on to be a Hall of Famer. I am also certain, as a person who ate one of those Lemon Girl Scout Cookies last year because my daughter (not a girl scout) wanted to try them, that many current Minor Leaguers will amount to little as a professional baseball player.  

I recently ran into a box of Bowman baseball cards. The $30 blaster boxes at Wal-Mart, not the $400 jumbo boxes at baseball card shops. Nobody needs to read a "What I Learned Sleeping In The Wooded Lot Behind My House" post on this blog.  

I thought it would be fun to look at some of the cards I pulled. I am not making any predictions outside of saying that I typically put together a Bowman set every year.  Afterwards, I put it in a box. I put the box in a closet. I ignore the box for five or six years.    

Let me start by saying, as a person who watches and follows Minor League baseball, I am slightly disappointed that Curtis Mead is not flying under the radar this year. After quietly following him from a far last year, I think he's for sure a Peanut Butter Patty, Caramel deLite, or Thin Mint. Curtis has more pop than Wander, naturally more strikeouts, but he hits for a high average and is on-base all the time. I hate how much his cards cost and I don't want to be your friend if you have bought one of these cards off of Ebay for more than $300.  

Go away.  





Back to baseball cards. 

Cookies too.  



Bowman is geared for young players, but I am still going to mention some old guys. 

Albert and Yadi are definitely Peanut Butter Patty kind of players.  



I love that Bowman has a set of 100 veteran players taking up space in their packs. Who buys Bowman cards for the veterans? Even if they are high-end Girl Scout Cookie worthy, they are just pack filler.  


Next up, not a peanut butter patty player. If you are reading this blog and it's after 2037, feel free to make fun of me or giving me a high-five for calling any of these prospect cards correctly.  




Last year's first overall draft selection, Henry Davis. He's been very good playing down the road in Greensboro. It's not the Majors, but it is one of the best low-Minor League parks around. Henry is going to be a solid Major League player. I am going to guess he's a Caramel DeLight.  




I also pulled a rookie card of former Durham Bulls shortstop, Wander Franco.  



A lot of people think Wander is a Peanut Butter Patty kind of player.  I hope they're right. Personally, I agree with the take, but I will add that I think he's a Thin Mint or Caramel deLight at worst.  

Wander is a high basement, high ceiling player.  

Here is the back of the card.  


There is no mention of the Durham Bulls, but Wander does love Instagram.  

Although, Wander does not drive a sports car. He has a Mercedes SUV. It's in every picture on his account that features a car. He parked it in the wrong parking spot last year and the Rays players moved it onto one of the practice fields at Spring Training.  



Hazing people at work is such a Shortbread cookie sort of move.  



Next up, Juan Yepez.  



I am excited to see Juan get a new baseball card. It's been a few years since he got a Braves prospect card, so a Cardinals rookie card is a welcome site. For the love of the Cardinals offense, I hope he's at least a Thin Mint. The team's offense is on a bigger struggle bus than a table full of Boy Scout Popcorn.  

Gross.  



Spencer Torkelson.  Definitely a thin mint, maybe even a Caramel deLite.  




Former NC State catcher, Luca Tresh. He's off to a surprising start in the Minors. I would love to say that Luca Tresh would be some prime grade Girl Scout Cookie, but I am not sure. Seems like the type of player who might be destined for a role as a utility player. Maybe one of those Keebler knock-offs.  I will go with Coconut Dreams.  


Next up, Vidal Brujan.  


What is the flashiest Girl Scout Cookie that may or may not disappoint?  

Maybe one of those gluten Girl School Cookies?  

Those are hip and trendy. Some gluten-free food is good, some gluten-free food is bad. 

Is Vidal Brujan a good player? 

Maybe.  



Are the Toffee-Tastic cookies good cookies?  

Maybe.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Pujols Parade - 2009 Upper Deck Goudey

Upper Deck was really good at remaking other card companies' sets. It all started with their Upper Deck Vintage sets whose designs were borrowed from 1960s and 1970s Topps sets. That product eventually died out, but during their last few years of producing baseball cards, Upper Deck made a Goudey set. You are not going to believe this, but the sets were based on the 1930s and 1940s Goudey sets. The 2009 Goudey set is based loosely on the design of the 1933 Goudey set.  

Upper Deck was great at pushing the envelope on copying other sets without crossing any sort of lines. They are the Vanilla Ice to Goudey's David Bowie.  


You see, the border says "GOUDEY" and not "BIG LEAGUE", like the original Goudey cards. Just like Vanilla Ice wrote a song that sounds like a David Bowie song, but there is a little cymbal ting at the end of the beat.  

Everyone be cool. There is no need to call any lawyers. Let's just look at the baseball card.  




Even if Upper Deck stole the design, it's not a bad one to steal. I like the bright yellow background behind Pujols. The art work is fine, but I feel like his face is off, as well as the bat. Pujols has a look about him while he is hitting, but whatever is happening on this card is not that look. 


Albert does not squint while he is hitting and he frequently pulls his lower lip into his mouth. His bat on the Goudey card is also too north and south. Pujols starts with his bat high, behind his head, with a slight upward tilt. You can always see his bat knob looking at him from the side.  

I am sure the artist tried very hard. I am already over the inaccuracies.  

Back of the card.  



I cringe.  

The first sentence says, "people talking about him in the same breath as the greatest players to ever play the game". The second sentence mentions Nomar Garciaparra. 

Nomar is not even the best athlete in his house, let alone one of the greatest baseball players.  

Let's do a quick rewrite.  


Albert Pujols hits baseballs like Mia Hamm scores goals.  

Monday, May 2, 2022

Set Appreciation Post #16 - 1998 Metal Universe

We went through a dinosaur phase in my house when my son was in preschool and early elementary school. He's now in fifth grade, so we are past the phase, but the kid is a sponge and can still repeat back all kinds of information about all the dinosaurs. 

The dinosaurs phase included trips to museums to see dinosaurs. My personal favorite was the Easter Egg Hunt at the Life and Science Museum in Durham when he spent an hour looking at dinosaur models. Note, he is not holding an Easter Egg in this picture. 

Did he pick any up?  



He did the follow year, because the museum used inflatable dinosaurs that were not realistic and did not hold his attention.  



Beyond going to museums, he also had tons of dinosaur books. They had their own section in his well-stocked bookcase. Every night, we would end up reading a dinosaur book before he went to bed.  Most of the books were fine, but one that I always remember was one titled, "Dinosaurs On My Street" 

It's widely available, if you feel inclined to purchase.  



The cover says it all.  

It is this bizarre mashup of prehistoric dinosaurs on modern streets. You parked your red Mercedes on the street, you should have paid extra for the parking garage, because this T-Rex is going to total it out for you. Good luck explaining that to your insurance agent.  

It goes on from there.  



A lot of cars get smashed up by dinosaurs, which probably has a lot of appeal to a preschool aged boy.  

In many ways, the Dinosaurs On My Street book has always had some strong parallels with the 1990s Metal Universe cards in my mind. They essentially have the same formula. Take something popular, in this case baseball, and mash it up with some really odd backgrounds.

As a guy in his 40s, this is a really cool set. 

It was a cool set when I was in my 20s and in college.  

Before I get into the baseball cards, I wanted to note that I did not use a scanner, because they are terrible with these cards. See Jose Cruz Jr. below.  



The background just looks like a complete blur. It is not supposed to be, so all the cards posted here were taken as photographs.  

Here you can see the background much better. 



A little chipping along the edges. My son really likes looking at these cards, so that has contributed a little to wear and tear on a few of these cards. However, they are printed on fairly thin card stock and feel a little flimsy.  

I am not sure why there is a mountain in the background behind Jose Cruz Jr. 

Are there mountains in Toronto? 

Does Jose Cruz Jr. have some sort of nickname that involves mountains? 

No and I think no.  

This is just the first card in the set. I am letting you see the basic design and in no way is this post going negative on Metal Universe. This is a true 1990s masterpiece.  

Here is the back of the card, which I am not going to post beyond this Jose Cruz card.  


I like the pink, green, and purples hues on the right side of the card. You could have easily seen all three of those colors on some clothing in an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air back in 1998. Will Smith had moved into his alien move phase by the late 1990s, but I am sure the show was still on WGN or TBS.  



I bet Jose Cruz Jr. had that same shirt in his closet.  

Rather than doing my usual breakdown of Cardinals, Durham Bulls, and insert cards, I am just going to stick with the backgrounds in the base set. Let me run through some of my favorite cards from this set.  

There are three basic types of backgrounds on the 1998 Metal Universe cards.  

First, there are pictures with landmarks from the city or area.  

Randy Johnson in front of the Space Needle.  



Scott Rolen in Love Park.  



Last, but not least, Ray Lankford in front of the Old Court House with the Arch in the background.  



These remind me a bit of the card backs of the mid-1990s Leaf cards. Same company, so it's a bit of a borrowed look, but these still look really sharp. If the whole set had been made using the city landmarks, it would have been a great looking set.  

Although, I would have liked to see some city sites that were more personal to the players. 

For example, Jeff Kent in front of a street car seems like a good idea.  



What do you think of when you hear the name Jeff Kent?

Me?

I think of trucks and carwashes.  




What about a background with a truck going through a carwash?  

If you know, then you know.  

Next background.  

Animals.  

If you know this set, the best animal card is at the end of the post. 



We've got Chuck Finley in front of some giraffes. 

Chuck is tall. 

Giraffes are tall.  



Tony Clark in front of a tiger.

Tony played on the Detroit Tigers.  

See what they did there?

There are also all sorts of cards with a space background. 



Here is Russ Johnson on the moon, or this Mars?  

Earth is too big for Mars, but I don't think the Moon is that red.  

It's the effort that counts.  

Which brings us to the really great Metal Universe cards. The random backgrounds or those with some sort of connection to the player are just simply too incredible to believe. Some of the most unique cards from the 1990s. The best part was the fact that they were often just random players.  

Here are three of my favorites from the 1998 Metal Universe set.  

First, Reds third baseman Willie Greene.  



Anytime I hear mention of Willie Greene, I instantly think of this card. Since nobody talks about Willie Greene anymore, I talk about him and remember this card. Decent player for a time, hit 26 home runs in 1997, so obviously that earned him a cool construction excavator background. 

Name another baseball card with construction excavators in the background? 

You can't. 

The next time you are out and about and see an excavator, think about Willie Greene.  

Next, pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Matt Stairs.  



Yes, he is fielding a ball on a set of stairs and his last name is Stairs.  

Is that the US Capitol?  

Matt Stairs is Canadian.  



This Matt Stairs card is incredible. A true great baseball card of the late 1990s.  

Last card of the post. If you know this set, you know this card.  

It speaks for itself.  



Another great card.  

HOW DOES IT COMPARE?


I have written about 15 other baseball card sets over the past two or three years. Here are my rankings of the previous sets, links to the sets are included.  


13. 2000 Topps 
12. Bowman Platinum 
9. 1988 Donruss 
4. 2001 Fleer EX 

The 1998 Metal Universe set is a great modern set. I think it's better than the 2001 Fleer EX product, but I am still going to keep the 2002 Topps Super Teams set ahead of it. Super Teams is a much different product than Metal Universe, both great in their own way. 

So, the question comes down to whether or not this is better than the 1979 Kellogg's set. I am going to Metal Universe the nod and slide it into the 3rd spot on my list.