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Monday, December 28, 2020

Slightly Let Down.

I was really excited earlier this year when Topps announced that they were putting out a set that was created with the owner of the Super 70s Sports Twitter account.  The Twitter account is sort of a cross between sports and pop culture with a heavy 1970s lean.  Sure, there is a little bit of 1960s and 1980s cross over in there from time to time, but the account generally does a good job of staying in its lane.  

For example........


Brilliant.  

I was hoping the set would be the Topps equivalent of the 2001 Upper Deck 1970s set.  If you collected cards at the time that set was released, you know that's a high bar to meet.  There were some really strong inserts, great names from the decade, and a solid autograph checklist.  I thought Topps was up for the challenge of matching cards like this one from the Upper Deck set.....


 

It took awhile for the box to show up, but last week it appeared in my mailbox.  I was excited to open the pack of cards.  It's one of the few current 2020 products that I have opened this year.  



The packaging inside the box was pretty nice.   


Now that I mentioned the Twitter account and the packaging, I am roughly 50% of the way through the highlights for this product.  The set has one major flaw.  Maybe I am being picky, but I am going to go ahead and borrow a meme from Mad Man and one of my current favorite sayings at work.  



Works great in 2020, usually more than once in a week.  



So, here is the problem.  Ohtani has nothing to do with the 1970s.  He wasn't even born in the 1970s.  Sandy Koufax did not pitch in the 1970s.  In fact, he retired in the middle of the 1960s.  It's not even like he pitched in the late 1960s.  I am not scanning on my cards from the box, they are on my Twitter if you really need to see them, but there were a lot of other non-1970s players.  

Not to keep harkening back the Upper Deck 1970s set either, but that product only had players from the 1970s, which is what made it a really great product.  I'd like to think there is still a market for that type of product 20 years later.  Has Topps looked around at who collects baseball cards nowadays?  There are a lot of people who would eat up a set filled with players from the 1970s.  

Here is the sad part.  


The 1970s cards that are in the set are really well done.  It's not like I am expecting a set of Hall of Famers.  J.R. Richard and Dave Kingman are definitely more in line with what I thought would be in pack of cards.  These are great cards.  The 1970s themed insert cards are even better.  I pulled three insert cards, one of which was an autograph, out of my box of 1970s Topps.




This card is a gem with Rich "Goose" Gossage wearing shorts for the White Sox.  



Lou Brock wearing sunglasses.  Yes, absolutely great 1970s card. 



This Gorman Thomas card is also awesome.  The mustache is magnificent, as is the long hair cover up his ears and the long side burns.  

I understand that I am being a little hard here.  There are truly some really great 1970s cards in this product.  If had to go back and keep my $20 and not order this box, I probably would have still picked up a few singles on Ebay or COMC at some point.  It's not a total disappointment, I just feel slightly let down.  

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Set Appreciation Post #10 - 1995 Emotion XL

The local card shop scene in Raleigh is pretty weak.  There is a card shop that is attached to a gas station in one of the far northern suburbs and there is also one that has been dying shopping mall, but actually just moved to within two miles of my house.  Neither are great for different reasons.  I am not going to hold my breath that it's going to be anything great in a new location.  

About a year ago, I was in the dying mall to pick up a pair of extra slim pants for my son.  I had been sorting out some cards at the time, needed a 5,000 count box for storage, so I stopped into the card shop while I was there.  To my surprise, they had out this huge table of old boxes of cards.  Not really their thing.  As you can imagine, the mall card shop's biggest fault is their pricing, which has always been ridiculously high.  The prices on the boxes weren't terrible all things considered, but the Emotion XL box was marked at $30.  A quick search of Ebay listings told me that I had found the rare mall card shop bargain.  Shocking. 

I bought it.  


These were really cool cards back in the day, so I was pretty excited to open this box of cards.  I started opening up the packs and put a bunch of the cards up on my once award winning, now neglected,  Instagram page.  




I ended up with the complete set, but it was much more of a mixed bag than I remembered it to be.  At some point, I stopped posting pictures of the cards.  Yes, I finished up the set.  I put the completed set in a box and shoved them into my card closet.  I liken this set to an old record or CD that you bought at another point in your life.  It was great music at the time, but you can't make it through the whole thing anymore.  

Like the first half of Pearl Jam's Ten album, or almost every Nas album after Illmatic.  

So, let's take a look at the set.  Here is the base card.  




Honestly, I love the full color picture and the last name and team name on the front.  The odd frame corners are a little bit unnecessary, but it's not like they are ruining the card.  The descriptive word is what has not aged well on these cards.  Yes, it would have been awesome to see something like "'Roider" or "Juiced Up" on a Brady Anderson card, but Driving isn't actually all that bad. 

You will see bad in a minute.  Hold that thought.  


Even the pictures on the back of the card are nice.  The little sentence about the player at the top of the card is pretty fair.  The stat line is small, but kudos for mixing in things like AB/HR and OBP% in the mid 1990s.  The card stock is nice too for the mid 1990s. 

THESE ARE TERRIBLE 

Let's get these cards out of the way first.  I went through all 200 cards in the set and picked out 4 that seemed really bad in retrospect.  For more examples, some I disagree with, check out this SB Nation article which likens this set to "Gas Station Cologne".  



"The Heat"??? What does this even mean?  Bichette has a 130 point split difference between his home and road slugging percentage.  He hit almost 300 career home runs, but less than 100 of them came on the road.  I would have gone with something like "Altitude" or "Low Humidity" for his card.  




Will Clark was a pretty intense guy, but this is just stupid.  Couldn't we just get a card that says "Intense", or maybe someone could have used a thesaurus and found a synonym for the word intense.  Personally, I would have done something to reference his tradition of drinking a post game beer.  



Player nicknames aren't emotions.  Dumb.  This is post White Sox, so I would have gone with "Regressing" or maybe "Declining".  

What's dumber than using a player nickname?  




Using a state nickname.  Luckily no Cardinals players have the phrase "ShowMe" stamped on the front of their cards.  

THESE ARE NOT SO TERRIBLE

So, if you clicked on the link to the SB Nation article above, I am going to go against some of the cards that they ripped on in their write up of the Emotion set.  I am not a SB Nation reader, so I was curious about the age of the author, considering he spent a large chunk of the article ripping the Cal Ripken card.  We were born within a few years of each other, so I am going to dismiss age as a factor in his writing and just say it's ignorance in an otherwise humorous article.  

I will give an equally long rant.  




The word on the Cal Ripken word is "Class".  I am not a Cal Ripken person and I rarely write anything about him on this blog.  I agree with the SB Nation article's assertion that MLB went overboard with Cal Ripken during the mid 1990s.  However, the obsession with Ripken was somewhat warranted and necessary.  

Let's review: 

1. Fans were irked with both the players and owners after the strike in 1994.  Many of the angry fans had promised to stay away from the game.  Baseball is the worst professional sport at selling its superstar players, but they went big on them when the games resumed in 1995 for once,  Ripken was included for an important reason.    

2. Ripken's run at Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak was the first important event that came up after the strike ended.  I am sure that if there was a player closing in on 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 wins, that would have been blown up too. 

3. Playing more than 2,000 consecutive games is a legitimately impressive record.  You have to be good enough to start.  Good enough to maintain your starting job over other players.  Healthy enough not to get injured over a 16 year period of time.  It's part talent and part luck, but it's not a record anyone is going to touch anytime soon. 

4. Tell me something bad that Cal Ripken did as a person while he was playing baseball?  ((You can't))

With that being said, as a person who watched a lot of baseball in the 1990s, it's not a stretch to say that Ripken was an important part of bringing disgruntled fans back to the game.  Yes, he was a good player.  Yes he was classy.  Ripken chasing Lou Gehrig during the 1995 season was an important hook that soothed a lot of bad feelings.  

Some other good cards.  



I am going to ignore the word "Precision", and instead focus on the fact that McGwire has a mullet in this picture.   Any McGwire card from the mid 1990s where he has a mullet is an instant winner in my book.  In fact, I am going to add that to my little note pad of future post ideas.  McGwire mullet cards.  





Manny Ramirez always had a great looking swing.  I love the look on his face in this card along with the word "Punishing" that is attached to his card.  I know he's a bit of a lightning rod, so I am not sure if/when he will get into the Hall.  Still a great player though.  

I saw this interview a few years back where someone was talking to Dennis Eckersley.  They brought up blown saves and I instantly thought he was going to start talking about the Kirk Gibson home run in the World Series.  Instead, he starts talking about this Manny Ramirez home run from 1995.  Eckersley threw him a fastball on the inside corner, catcher is not moving his glove in the clip, and Manny hit the ball halfway up the bleachers in Jacobs Field.  

Eckersley is smiling after the home run and says "Wow". 



Last one for the not so terrible section of this post.  




This card also gets torn apart on the SB Nation article, but considering Gwynn was one of the first players to use video to improve his hitting, I think it is a pretty fitting label.  Gwynn is a Hall of Famer based on his statistics, but he's also a very important innovator.  Where would baseball be today without him watching video?  I am sure someone else would have done the same thing at some point, but Gwynn turned video into a popular practice.  

The Best Cardinals Card 

I will go with a former player instead.  The Cardinals cards are decent, but none of them really stood out.  However, you don't get many relief pitchers wearing batting helmets on baseball cards.  Yet, here we are with 1986 National League Rookie of the Year Todd Worrell.  




The Todd Worrell card is also ripped apart in the SB Nation article, but I actually like this card as a Cardinals fan who knows something about his background.  He went to tiny little Biola College, which is apparently in the middle of Los Angeles and was founded by some Presbyterian pastor back in the early 1900s.  It's not an athletic powerhouse, but a Cardinals scout went to one of their games while in town to watch another player.  Worrell played outfield and catcher for the team, but occasionally pitched, mainly as a long reliever.  He threw in the mid 90s as a college position player who didn't really work with a pitching coach.  

Obviously, Worrell did not bat often as a back of the game reliever, but he did register a triple as one of his two Major League hits.  I am sure that players like Worrell, who have experience as a position player, take batting practice every so often.  



The back of the card has the more standard pitcher photos.  I like the one in the background with him finishing his pitch.  Worrell was really tall and had this great downward motion with a low finish at the end of his delivery. 



It's not as cool as the Bob Gibson follow through, but I always thought Worrell looked different.  Max Scherzer does something really similar to this too.  

Best Durham Bulls Player




I am going to ignore the word "Cool" and just focus on the fact that this card has a sweet photo of Braves first baseman Fred McGriff.  He had not actually been on the Durham Bulls at this point in his career.  He did not appear on the Bulls until the end of his career while trying to work his way back up to the Majors with the Rays in 2004.  

McGriff ended up making to Tampa. 

That's cool.   

His career was done by the middle of July in 2004.  

That's not cool.  

Best Non-Cardinal/Non-Durham Bull 

in 1995, what was the best reason to buy some Emotion XL cards? Before Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Wander Franco, and whatever other uber prospects who were overvalued by baseball card collectors, there was Hideo Nomo.  People were crazy for his cards.  Non-mania might have been worse to some degree because he was actually pitching in the Majors at the same time people were going crazy over his cards.  I didn't go out of my way to find them, but I still ended up with a few from random sets.  




The "Twisting" tag seems a little weak, maybe "Effectively Wild" would have been better.  I like the picture on the front.  It gives you a little insight into Nomo's pitching motion, but the back is really good.  



Love the picture on the left with Nomo's back.  That's not a side view, that's likely from behind the plate.  

I don't love the description of Nomo's throwing motion as herky jerky.  He paused at two different spots during his delivery.  Lots of pitchers have used a pause mid wind-up to throw off the timing of hitters.  Currently, both Johnny Cueto and Marcus Stroman use a pause.  I believe Marichal used one back in the day.  

How Does It Compare?  

I love the photos.  I like Emotion brand concept on some of the cards, but others do not work for various reasons.  Some of the cards did not age well, others were just not very well thought out, which goes with the gist of the SB Nation article, if you read it.  

Good card stock and photos count for something, but not enough to crack the top half of the sets that I have featured on my Set Appreciation Posts.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

60s Cardinals In 1964

This is going to be a pretty quick post.  I am excited to be here for my third post of the month!  I hope this isn't my last post of 2020, but it seems like a real possibility.  My quest to find older Durham Bulls cards skewed off course a few weeks back when I found a few really nice Cardinals cards for sale on Facebook.  All the cards are from 1964 Topps sets, some of the players are pictured as Cardinals, some are not.  

Let's start out with the 1960s Cardinals players who are pictured on other teams.  Both of these cards come from the 1964 Topps Pop-Ups. 

 
First up is long time Reds outfielder Vada Pinson.  He only played on the Cardinals in 1969 after being traded to the team for Bobby Tolan.  Pinson filled the hole in right field for the Cardinals after Roger Maris retired from baseball at the end of the 1968 season.  He was older at this point and had began to decline, so he was not the extra base machine he was for the Reds throughout the late 1950s and 1960s.  Pinson finished in the top 10 in doubles and triples eight times during his first 10 years, while hitting more than 20 home runs 6 times.  

Not a Hall of Famer, but a really good player from his era. 

 

Speaking of Hall of Famers, I also picked up a Topps Stand-Up of Orlando Cepeda.  He was a really good player while he was on the Cardinals, winning the National League MVP during the 1967 season.  That was after spending a decade being paired with Willie Mays in the middle of the Giants line-up.  I really like the picture on this card.  It took me a few minutes to figure out what was happening here, but I believe he is throwing ground balls warming up the other infielders before an inning, or taking infield practice before a game.  Not something you see very often on a baseball card.  

One more Topps Stand-Up. 

 

Former Duke basketball player Dick Groat.  

This is one of the worst airbrushed card of all-time.  The STL on the hat is something.   Clearly an old Pirates picture that was taken while he was wearing one of the sleeveless vest style uniforms like this......

Love that they got the gold stripes on the socks red and blue, the sleeves on his shirt red, but then left the gold and black piping around the arm holes and neck line of the vest.  Regardless, good player for the Cardinals and an important member of the 1964 World Series winning team.  

Last card, the best one in this post.  I don't need many words for this card.  

 
This is a 1964 Topps Giants Bob Gibson.  Great looking card of the Hall of Fame pitcher.  Love that light shade of gray the 1960s Cardinals had on their road uniforms.  

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Search For Hak Ju Lee Continues.....

 Hak Ju Lee was one of my favorite Durham Bulls players when I first started writing on this blog.  He was a great defensive shortstop with some potential on offense.  In 2013, he was the best player in the International League for the first half of April.  Hak Ju Lee played his usual great defense while hitting .422 with a .600 slugging percentage.  It was like a combination of Ted Williams and Ozzie Smith. 

Then Travis Ishikawa slid into him at second base and tore up his knee. 


It happens.  

Former first overall draft pick Tim Beckham repleaced Hak Ju Lee while he was out with the knee injury.  Beckham played well during his first year in Durham and helped spark the team to an International League Championship providing fans with one of the most memorable base running plays of the 2013 season.  


 

Hak Ju Lee was never quite the same when he returned to the Bulls.  He got some at-bats, but was never promoted to the Rays.  Lee became a fan favorite of sorts around Durham when he returned.  It's easy to love a scrappy middle infielder who is trying to overcome a major injury and make it to the Majors.  I really enjoyed collecting his cards and picked up quite a few nice ones back in the day. 


His time with the Rays ran out and Hak Ju Lee became a Minor League free agent.  Lee signed with the Giants before 2016 season and managed to play part of the season for their Triple A team.  Then, he just disappeared.  

Seriously.  

I was looking for him, but he was nowhere to be found. 

Well, it turns out that Hak Ju Lee went home to Korea.  He sat out a few years, but reappeared in 2019 with the Samsung Lions.  He's pretty popular, appearing in a video on YouTube that refers to him as the religious sect leader of the team. 

 

I love Hak Ju Lee too, but maybe something was lost in the translation there.  Maybe there's not. 

Anyway, way back at the start of the pandemic, I made a list of some Durham Bulls cards that I would like to track down for my collection.  The list included a few Hak Ju Lee cards.  I was able to find one of them a few weeks back.  

This card is from the 2013 Topps Heritage Minors set.  

 
Lee has several different cards in the 2013 Minor League set including a Bazooka insert and two relic cards.  With the addition of this black parallel, I have the complete run of Hak Ju Lee cards outside of the printing plates.  I don't always love the parallel cards in the early Heritage Minors set, but this is a good looking card.   

Here is the back of the card. 

 

The serial number is in the bottom left corner, only 96 copies of this card produced.  The back of the card also mentions his .422 average for the first 15 games of the season in 2013 with the Bulls. 


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Speaking Of 1970s Cards....

 I have been working on a little project for the past two months trying to collect all of the former Durham Bulls players who appear in the 1975 Topps Mini Set.  I know that I am no longer a regular poster, but I have gotten really close to the end of that set and will be posted an update soon.  

In the meantime, I have started tracking down some other 1960s and 1970s Durham Bulls players.  I was able to find a pretty nice lot of Mickey Lolich cards from the 1970s a few weeks back.  The long-time Tigers pitcher actually started his professional career with the Bulls during the summer of 1959.  He also played in Durham at different points of the 1960 and 1961 seasons.  

A quick rundown on my newest cards.  


 
 
First up is a 1972 Topps League Leaders card.  Lolich had a lot of strikeouts during his career, but only managed to lead the league once.  That was during the 1971 season when he fanned a total of 308 batters.  Kind of an odd quirk for a pitcher who ended up with nearly 3,000 strikeouts during his career.  


Here is the list of American League Strikeout Leaders.  Some pretty good names on this list.  A few Hall of Famers.  Pat Dobson is another former Durham Bulls player on this list.  I have posted a few of his cards from time to time.  I will have a few more coming up at some point in the near future.  

 

 
Next up is a 1973 Topps card.  This is a really boring card.  There isn't even anything interesting in the background of the card.  Looks like a back field at Spring Training.  

 

This is my second copy of this 1976 Topps Lolich card.  Slight crease at the top and some soft corners, but it probably helped keep down the prices on this group of cards.  I love the side view of Lolich pitching and how close his knee is to the mound in the photograph.  Very unique, but not a one off thing that only happened when the photograph took the picture.  

 


Just the way he threw the ball.  

Second card Lolich card from the 1976 Topps set....

 
 
I have mentioned this on previous posts, but Lolich retired as the all-time strikeout leader for left-handed pitchers.  Carlton passed him in the early 1980s, but he still held the American League record until 2017 when C.C. Sabathia passed him.  Lolich is 20th all-time in Ks sandwiched in between Jim Bunning and Mike Mussina.  When he retired, he was inside of the top 10. 



Here is the list when Lolich passed Warren Spahn for the record in 1975.  Lolich is currently fourth all-time behind Sabathia, Steve Carlton, and Randy Johnson.  Clayton Kershaw is only 300 strikeouts behind Lolich, so he will be bumped down to fifth within the next two years.  

Last card. 


Also a 1976 Topps card, but this time from the Traded set.  Topps has not improved their airbrushing much over the years.  Maybe a little bit more pixelated nowadays, but just as bad.  Hey, they did a pretty good job on the blue pinstripes.  Lolich was traded to the Mets for Rusty Staub, another former Durham Bulls player.  It was actually the second time that Rusty Staub was traded for another former Durham Bulls player, but more on that a different day. 

More 1970s Bulls later this week, or next week.  Let's just hope I make another post this year.