Wednesday, April 27, 2016

We Need To Catch Up...

Baseball season has started, I have ended games, and I have not written about any of them.  So far I have been to four different games and seen some really good players and cool things along the way.  Let's go ahead and scratch one of the cool players off the list this evening.

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to attend Opening Day for the Durham Bulls.  The park always looks great.  The Bulls have a deep and talented roster this year, but the clear top prospect on the team is starting pitcher Blake Snell.  The southpaw was impressive Opening Night against the White Sox Triple A team.  His fastball was in the mid 90s and wicked curve ball in the mid to low 70s.  Great combination.  In past game posts I have included some short videos, but it was a rainy wet night.  Only pictures for this post.

Here a look at Snell working early in the game before the rain completely cleared out.

Having watched Snell pitch the last half of the season in Durham last year, I knew he was going to be a player I would try to collect this year.  He has had a few autographs over the years, but the majority of them have appeared in the later months of 2015 and a few of the new 2016 issues.  My first Snell card of the year is a nice autograph/jersey combo out of this year's Donruss......

I know I am going soft on the unlicensed card thing.  Two posts in a row. I like that Donruss put a nice sized jersey chunk on the cards and the Snell signature is pretty nice on this card.  Snell had a good Major League debut last weekend against the Yankees before returning back to the Bulls.  I am hoping for good things out of Mr. Snell.  He seems like he could make an impact on the AL East later this summer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Rays Book

Y'all know my feelings on unlicensed products if you have been following my blog for awhile.  In summation, I am not a fan.  However, I am still opening to looking around at cards from Panini and Leaf from time to time.  They are capable of making some nice cards.  Not sure what it is about having logos on cards and uniforms, but it's just the way it is with me.  I think a lot of other people too.

One of my favorite unlicensed products every year is the National Treasures set.  No, I do not buy any boxes, but I do enjoy finding some really nice cards of players who fit into my collection: Cardinals, Rays, former Durham Bulls.  This year I have added a pair of cards from this product and I have to share one here this week from one of my favorite former Minor League players Steven Souza.

Here's a look at the outside of the book:

Really nice looking outside to the booklet.  I do not have too many of these in my collection, but a few of them feel like the outside part of the card was totally neglected in the design process.  I like the cover on the right with the serial number and the back cover on the left with the player bio.  I especially like that they made mention of his time in the minors.  I know it's tiny print: In summary Souza spent a long time in the minors with the Nationals.  (not included on the card) He was the International League Player of the Year before he was traded to the Rays.

Now, the inside of the card.....

I like the two different color patches on each side of the card with Souza diving across both jersey swatches.  It's so cool I can almost ignore the fact that his batting helmet doesn't have a Rays logo on it.  Add in the fact that I paid around $10 for a card numbered to 10 (Yes, it's Steven Souza) and this is a sweet card.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Venerable Old Card Part 10

We are now a few weeks into the 2016 baseball season.  I have watched a bunch of games and been thoroughly frustrated with the start that my Cardinals are off to this year.  It's early and I still hold out hope, but it's clear that there are a few holes on the roster and they are not really being helped by the fact that Mike Matheny seems to regress every year that he manages the team.  

One of the best stories on the Cardinals so far this year has been rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz.  He is on the roster at the moment because Jhonny Peralta hurt his thumb in Spring Training.  Peralta was then replaced by Ruben Tejada who managed to also end up on the DL at the end of Spring Training.  Enter Diaz, all he's done is hit.  Right now he has a .480/.509/.860 slash line with 3 home runs, 8 doubles, and 11 RBIs.  

It would be nice to have an Aledmys Diaz card, but right now they are only Minor League team set cards available.  Given that slash line you'd think that Topps might throw him into their now ToppsNow cards, but no.  Anyway, the Cardinals ended up with Diaz after he defected from Cuba and was signed as a free agent.  While Aledmys is currently the only Cuban player on the Cardinals roster, the team has dabbled into the world of Cuban players before.  

In fact, 23 years ago during the 1993 season, the team actually had two Cuban players on the roster.  Let's start with the name player......

Everyone remembers Ozzie Canseco, the less successful twin brother of Jose.  I am always puzzled as to how Ozzie Canseco ended up with a few Cardinals cards considering he played 6 games for the team in 1993 and 9 games in 1992.  He was a career .239/.352/.348 hitter for the Cards with no home runs.  Clearly the popularity of Jose at this time helped out Ozzie with his appearances in baseball card sets.  On to the better player......

I am pretty sure not many people remember Rene Arocha, but he was not a total scrub.  First, he pitched on some really thin Cardinals teams in the early 1990s.  I know people do not think of the Cardinals as bad, cannot remember a time they were bad, but they were bad in the early 90s.  Much of their misery was caused by the owner, August Busch the something, because he did not spend any money on the team.  The Cardinals had some promising prospects and some cheap veteran fills.  Arocha was one of the veteran pickups.  

In three seasons as a Cardinal Arocha pitched a total of 124 games, started 36, and won 18 games.  He posted an ERA+ of 104 for the Cardinals.  While that does not sound like anything that is too great, given the state of the Cardinals at the time, it was not half bad.  Scary as it sounds, Arocha was actually the Cardinals staff leader in ERA+, came in second in wins, and second in strikeouts.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Five: My Top Five No-Hitters

I got into the no-hitter game tossed last night by Jake Arrieta and thought no-nos would be a good topic for my weekly Friday Five countdown.  I have been fortunate enough to see a few no-hitters in person, been on a roll the last two summers, but I am going to toss those aside.  Partly because they were minor league, or in the case of last summer an international game, plus I could tell you to just Google search Durham Bulls and no-hitter and you'd have two of the five.  Not very fun.

I am picking Major League no-hitters.  I have found over the years that I always end up getting attached to a no-hitter at some point during the baseball season.  Some years I start watching a game and the next thing you know, it's a no-hitter.  Or I am watching a game, a no-hitter is taking place somewhere else, and I follow along via Twitter or MLB Network.  Something.  Such is the case with Arrieta's no-hitter last night.

I started paying attention to the Cubs always entertaining Twitter feed around the fifth or sixth inning.  After some long half innings of offense, I would focus in on the Reds half of the inning.  All the way to the last Eugenio Suarez pop out.  Great game.

So, I sat down at lunch today, scrolled through a list of no-hitters, and picked out a bunch that I had followed along with at the time they happened.  There have been 96 no-hitters thrown during my lifetime and by my count there are about dozen that I followed in progress or sat down and watched for whatever reason.  I narrowed it down to five......

5.  Philip Humber April 12, 2012 

I really wanted to put this perfect game a lot higher, but I could not figure out a way to justify it being any higher than this.  I always loved this performance simply because it was Philip Humber.  I remember the day this happened.  I was off of school for my spring break and was shocked to hear that he had a perfecto going into the sixth inning.  I have probably seen Philip Humber pitch half a dozen times in my lifetime in the International League.  He was a huge prospect at one point, but he just never really panned out into the pitcher he was supposed to be.  However, for one day he was incredible.  Philip Humber has only won 16 career games and has a career ERA over 5, yet he's one of a few pitchers in the history of baseball who has ever thrown a no-hitter.  I was pumped when he got the last out.

4.  Fernando Valenzuela June 29, 1990

After watching years and years of winning baseball under Whitey Herzog, the summer of 1990 was a tough one as a baseball fan in St. Louis.  The team underperformed for the most part, Whitey quit in the middle of the season, and the Cardinals actually finished the season in last place.  I am in my late 30s and this is the only last place Cardinals team I have seen during my lifetime.  To top it off I went and spent a week with my grandfather, who lived about thirty minutes from St. Louis in Illinois, while my parents were at a conference out of town.  We stayed up late the one night to watch a Cardinals/Dodgers game and the next thing you know there is a no-hitter.  The 1990 version of Fernando was not very good, but he managed to pull of this gem.  Added bonus of Vin Scully calling a game in a post.

3.  Mark Buehrle July 23, 2009 

Similar to the Cardinals/Dodgers game in the Fernando no-hitter, I actually sat down to watch this game because of the Rays.  As a Durham Bulls fan, it is always fun to sit down and watch all your favorite minor leaguers in the bigs.  Well, except when they get no-hit in a perfect game.  This was a no doubter after the Dwayne Wise catch in the 9th inning.  

2.  Jack Morris April 7, 1984 

I am not sure if I knew what a no-hitter was before this game.  Back when I was a kid there was baseball on every Saturday during the afternoon.  Not for just part of the season, but every Saturday on NBC.  I don't remember all the details of this game, just the ending.  Where was Lance Parrish's cool catchers glove with the orange cushioning?

1.  Jose Jimenez June 25, 1999

I watched this entire game start to finish.  Randy Johnson vs Jose Jimenez and the Cardinals scrapped out one run to win.  I believe Jimenez two-hit the Diamondbacks in his next start, also against Randy Johnson.  I had never seen a Cardinals player throw a no-hitter before watching this game.  Bud Smith threw a no-hitter in 2001 for the Birds, but I missed it because it was a West Coast game on a school night.  If you do not remember Jose Jimenez he was actually a pretty talented pitcher for the Cardinals, Rockies, and Indians.  After the Cardinals traded him to the Rockies for Darryl Kile they converted him into a closer and he ended his career with more than 100 saves.  Bonus for a Joe McEwing sighting at second base and Willie McGee in the pile of players at the end of the clip.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Things I Am Sorting....Part 1

Again, I have been back a week and in case you have not been following along, I am spending more time working on the cards that are already here in my collection.  In my quest to reorganize my cards from team boxes into sets, I figured it might be cool to share some of the cards that I am sorting out.  Always fun to look back at what you picked up out of a wax box, or from your local card shop, long ago.

While I said there was less focus on new things not coming in immediately, I am going to set that aside for tonight's post.  Today, I am going share a few things that have recently been added to my collection, but they are still here inside of my house taking up space and time.

So, let's start with the easy stuff.  I have spent some time this week straighten out my autographs.  I added a few new autographs from some of the early Topps releases and never filed them away into my boxes.  Some of them I pulled myself out of boxes, but I have been trying to fill in holes by trading and buying too.  I have actually only worked on Topps Series 1, Heritage, and Gypsy Queen.  Still, there have been other products released by Topps and Panini recently.  Not bothering with packs.  Here are two Cardinal additions:

The Carpenter card is from Topps Museum Collection.  Museum has been around for a few years and is always loaded with sticker autographs.  There are some Cardinals and Rays in this product, but stickers...... I found this Matt Carpenter autograph on Twitter on a picture posted by Brent and Becca.  They are case breakers in Arkansas, fun to follow when new cards come out, and sometimes you pick off cards before they list them on Ebay.  That's how Matt Carpenter ended up in my collection.

I also picked up an Ozzie Smith autograph from Legacies.  Nice card, nice signature.  It's Ozzie.  There are other autographs too, but I am not posting all of them.  Check out my Instagram for more of these types of cards and a picture of a street named Cypress Hill that I drove down last week.  Sorry, no B Real or Sen Dog.

On to the real challenge.  I have been spending a lot of time the past few weeks working on some early and mid 1980s sets.  Next week I am hoping to spend time working on some 1986 and 1987 sets, but this week I am skipping the eighties to work on this year's Gypsy Queen cards.  They came out a few weeks ago......

The design is alright this year.  Not sure about the red letters on the bottom of the card.  I am saying that and I love the color red.  The trim is kind of an orange color, which looks nice with the tanish/brownish card color, but then the red is just too much.  I am in really good shape with the base set and have a good start on the minis.  The other cool thing that I found while sorting out my Gypsy Queen cards was a variation of Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.

Pretty cool pull.  I am not sure what the odds are exactly on pulling the full sized variation card, but I am pretty happy to land the card.  Enough with new cards, next week I am going to post some nice 1980s cards.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Venerable Old Card Part 9

Topps has been pumping up a new product the first two weeks of the baseball season called Topps Now.  The cards can only be bought online, for $9.99, and collectors only have 24 hours to purchase the cards.  Player selection for the cards is based on actual performance in games.  Seems like kind of a cool idea, but I am having a hard time moving past the whole $9.99 thing for a single card.

Seriously, they have had players that I have been interested in collecting, but $9.99?  Jamie Garcia had a card the other day, I thought it would be cool, but $9.99.  Today, there is a card of Melvin, formerly B.J. from the Durham Bulls, Upton.  Sigh.  $9.99.

Which brings me to my old card of the week.  If you have read my last two posts since I have returned to blogging I have told countless tales of sorting out old sets.  Somewhere someone is rolling their eyes thinking "not another card sorting story", but that's exactly what you are going to get right now.

My wife spent a few hours last week helping me sort out some of my early and mid 1980s sets.  Every time I would pull a set of Topps cards from one of the years, she would start sorting, and stop when she came across a card she thought did not fit.  Almost every stop involved the same type of card from my childhood.  Anyone remember these?

If only I had a wax wrapper from my childhood at the moment.  Back in the olden days, before the internet, Topps had offers on the back of their wax wrappers which offered a pack of 5 All-Star cards for a bunch of wrappers and a five dollar check from your mom.  Much better deal to get a Pedro Guerrero, Jim Rice, and few others for $5 than a Melvin Upton for $9.99.  My brother and I always ended up with a bunch of these at the end of the summer.  If they had cost $9.99 for a single card my mother would have never sent the check in for me.  I never put together a full set of them as a kid, but as an adult I finished off the 1985 mail-ins.

A look at the back of the card....

Most of my non-1985 cards are a pretty random bunch of cards.  For some reason I do not have any Cardinals, but I have players like Pedro Guerrero who ended up spending time on the Cardinals.  Out of all the mail-in cards I found the past week this card has to be my favorite.  Given the wear on the corners of the cards I am guessing the seven year old me liked this card too.

Anyway,  I might have to make one of these old mail in sets a project for sometime in the future.  I can probably buy the whole mail in set for less money than the $9.99 for the Topps Now cards.  Anyone else doing the Topps Now cards?

Set Project Number 1: 1999 Skybox Molten Metal Xplosion

In sorting out of all different types of cards the past few months off away from writing I had all kinds of options to place here for my first set to work on completing.  I am actually listing a second one on the Projects In Progress tab at the top, but not dedicating a post towards the completion of the 2001 Topps Archives set.  The pile of cards that struck my interest the most was a stack of 1999 Molten Metal Xplosion cards.  I had actually started working on completing this set about two and half years ago and gave my last update roughly two years ago.  

At the time of my last update the work on the set felt long lost, so I am not quite sure what adjectives I could use to describe a project that has sat for years.  I am not going to worry about, but rather set out to do something about it.  Currently I have 82 out of the 150 cards, shown below in case you don't remember what the cards looked like: 

I still need a total of 68 cards, or 45%, of the cards in this set to complete it.  The cards are not too difficult to find and there is not any one card which stands out as something that would difficult to find.  I have one or two trades lined up for a few of these cards as we speak and I have found a few others on COMC and SportsLots.  I am going to put my time frame on this set at two and half months.  In other words, I am going to try to finish it off by the end of June.  The cards I still need to add are listed below:  

1 Larry Walker
2 Jose Canseco
3 Brian Jordan
4 Rafael Palmeiro
6 Dante Bichette
11 Miguel Tejada
13 David Cone
15 Ruben Rivera
20 Pedro Martinez
22 Randy Johnson
23 Matt Williams
24 Sean Casey
26 Ryan Klesko
28 Geoff Jenkins
29 Bob Abreu
30 Vinny Castilla
31 Will Clark
34 Richie Sexson
35 Derrick Gibson
37 Greg Vaughn
39 Steve Finley
40 Chuck Knoblauch
41 Ricky Ledee
42 John Smoltz
44 Jim Edmonds
46 Javy Lopez
47 Jim Thome
50 Andy Pettitte
51 Juan Encarnacion
52 Travis Fryman
55 Brady Anderson
57 Edgar Martinez
58 Garret Anderson
62 Tom Glavine
66 Fernando Tatis
67 Carlos Beltran
68 Charles Johnson
69 Raul Mondesi
71 Barry Larkin
77 Mariano Rivera
78 Livan Hernandez
79 A.J. Hinch
81 Rusty Greer
84 Kevin Brown
85 Chan Ho Park
86 John Olerud
91 Mike Cameron
93 Rickey Henderson
95 Omar Vizquel
96 Craig Biggio
99 Mike Mussina
101 Andruw Jones
102 Pat Burrell RC
104 Darin Erstad
105 Roberto Alomar
113 Troy Glaus
114 A.J. Burnett RC
115 Dave Justice
121 Manny Ramirez
122 Barry Bonds
126 Jeremy Giambi
130 Mo Vaughn
138 Alex Rodriguez
140 Juan Gonzalez
141 Tony Gwynn
144 Scott Rolen
147 Roger Clemens
149 Vladimir Guerrero

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Five: Five Things I Love About the 1985 Topps Set

I have spent the past week sorting out a bunch of the sets that I collected as a kid.  My wife was awesome enough to help out with the sorting process, but a few of the sets took a little longer to sort than normal.  I spent a good deal of time just looking at the cards as I took them out of their boxes to sort out into complete sets.  So many good memories and many great names on the cards.  One of my favorites from my first years in collecting was the 1985 Topps set.

Before I get into my five things, I encourage everyone who likes these cards to go check out the 1985 Topps Blog written by the legendary Night Owl.

5.  There Are Expos Cards 

The Expos never really won anything, but they had some good players over the years.  Plus they had really cool uniforms.  The Nationals are not quite the same thing.  One of the best parts of flipping through old 1980s and 1990s sets is the Expos cards.  While they had some of their better teams in the mid 1990s with Pedro Martinez and Larry Walker, I love the Tim Raines and Andre Dawson teams of the 1980s.  The 1985 set has plenty of good Expos cards.

4.  Blue Uniforms 

The blue road uniforms were really common in the 1970s and early part of the 1980s.  By the time the mid 1980s started to roll around the blue road uniform was on its way out the door.  My beloved Cardinals had plenty of cards featuring players in road blues in the 1985 Topps set, but by the time the 1986 Topps set rolled around many teams, including the Cardinals, had ditched the blue for grey uniforms.  Sad, but at least teams break them out occasionally still for throwback days, or alternate jerseys.

3.  Rookie Cards, But Not Clemens, Puckett, Or McGwire 

There are three really good rookies in the 1985 Topps set that many collectors know, recognize, and love: Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett, and Roger Clemens.  However, there are some other nice rookie cards in this set beyond those three players.  Eric Davis was a good player, he has a rookie card in this set.  Bret Saberhagen, also pretty good, has a rookie card in this set.  Mark Langston, personal favorite and once traded for Randy Johnson, also has a rookie card in this set.  These rookies do not have much monetary value, and you might find them in the dime boxes at your local card shop or show, but they are still worth filing away in your collection.

2.  USA Baseball Cards 

Many people love the Mark McGwire rookie card in the USA Baseball subset.  Nice card, good player.  It was also the first really popular USA Baseball card.  Many USA Baseball products have been made in the years since the 1984 Olympic team was included in the 1985 Topps set.  I was not really big into the Olympic, or USA cards as a kid, but as an adult I have found enjoyment in collecting these cards.  I would like to think that without the USA Baseball cards in the 1985 Topps set, many of the products featuring some of the great amateur baseball players in the country would not be produced, or at least not as popular.

1.  Well Loved Cards

In the time I spent sorting out my cards from the 1985 Topps set it was plain to see which cards in my stacks I actually owned in 1985.  I was a second grader at the time and really enjoyed collecting cards.  I am not sure I really understood taking care of my cards, but I went back and recollected these cards later on as an adult.  While I sorting out my cards in to sets I have generally taken out the doubles, I am holding on to these gems from my younger years.  I did not draw, or mark on cards, but I clearly handled them frequently.  Anyway, I do not quite have a complete set of 1985 Topps cards collected by my second grade self, but I am really close.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

and I'm back

I did not put a time table on my return to writing in this space and even left the door open to just shutting the door all of the way.  The two and half months off from writing have been really good for me, but I have really missed writing about cards.  There were several times over the past few months when I just wanted to sit down in front of my computer and crank out a cool post about something that crossed my mind during the day.

Obviously I resisted the urge to actually write, but I still jotted the ideas down in a notebook and have some good ideas for upcoming posts.  I also spent a lot of time thinking about the direction of my blog.  In my last post, back in January, I had expressed a sense of restlessness with my writing.  I can be scattered, wander, lose direction, and I tend to step back and and re-evaluate when this happens.  The past two and half months have given me this opportunity.  So, here is what I have been working on during that time.

First, I worked really hard at organizing my cards.  I have a lot of cards.  Almost three years ago I set out to reorganize my cards into sets, switching them out from boxes that were sorted by team, then by year, then by card set.  The project has been a lot more than I could have every imagined.  I have put together a lot of sets during the past three year, and many more were completed during my time away from my blog.  A quick video....

There are still a ton of cards left to sort out at this point after all of that work.  For example, these are all of the card boxes from the late 1970s through 1988.  My wife has been awesome in helping me take the cards out of these boxes, sort them into piles by set, and then sort the actual cards into sets.

and here is what they look like sorted out onto my coffee table in stacks by set......

A bigger problem has been the amount of doubles that I have generated from sorting out all of the different card boxes out into sets.  The "doubles table" has felt like a little much to deal with at times during the past year or two.....

I let a few of my card collecting friends come over and pick through the table looking for singles that they needed/wanted for various reasons.  One of them was kind enough to straighten the table out as he looked for cards.  This picture does not show the entire table, nor does it show the eight foot bookcase that was next to this table which was also covered in cards.  There are some really good cards on this table, but I am not sure I have the time and energy to Ebay them all, or send them some place like COMC or Sports Lots.  Maybe a charity of some kind.

So what does this all have to do with returning to this blog space?

While I am returning to this space I am also going to make a few changes.  I know a lot of readers liked some of the minor league stuff that I posted here and I plan to keep that here.  I know a lot of readers liked some of the regular posts with countdowns and the whatnot, which will also stay.  It's really the posts in between that I want to change.

I spent a lot of time talking about cards that I bought, or picked up in trades.  I like cards, I saw cards, and I added them to my collection.  In sorting out cards into sets I have realized two things:

  1.  Have a lot of cool cards that are already in my collection that I have not spent time writing about.  Some of the cards have a really good story, some belong to favorite players, etc.  I want to spend time focusing on those cards.  In other words, I am not going to write as many posts about new cards that I am adding to my collection.  If you enjoyed those posts, I will occasionally write about those cards, but you can find more of those cards on my Instagram and Facebook pages.  
  2. I am going to make more posts that are goal oriented.  Way back in the day I assembled the 90 cards to make a 1998 Topps Tek set and started another project with the Skybox Molten Metal Xplosion cards, but never finished that project.  In sorting out a few hundred sets the past three years I have run across bunches of sets where I am missing some cards.  I am going to finish them and write about them when I get there.  I have made a few changes to my blog in preparation for this change at the top of the blog by adding an on-going projects page and completed projects page.  I have already selected my first project and will be sharing the details over the weekend.  
I have missed being here writing and I am happy to be back.  Thank you for coming back and reading my blog again.