Monday, October 20, 2014

That year was next year

I wasn't around for the 1955 Dodgers. I missed the amazement, the astonishment of that day, when before fans' disbelieving eyes, the Dodgers were finally winning a World Series.

"Wait 'Til Next Year" were just words in a book to me, devoted to an event that took place years before I knew what baseball was. "Next Year" -- 1955 -- was something I never experienced.

But I had my own "Next Year". It didn't involve my favorite team, nor was it as long a wait. But it was exhilarating nonetheless.

My attachment to the Kansas City Royals doesn't come from living in the Midwest or because their colors are similar to the Dodgers or because I want the Giants to lose when the World Series starts. It's not even because I remember the Royals' victory in the '85 Series. No, my attachment began in 1976 when the Royals took on the Yankees and were demoralized by Chris Chambliss' home run off of Mark Littell.

The Royals then met the Yankees again in 1977 and 1978, with similar results. The Yankees always won. As a young baseball fan, surrounded by Yankees lovers, many more obnoxious than the last, this was the height of unfair. The Royals wanted nothing more than to get to the World Series. And the boorish Yankees wouldn't let them. And then the Yankees would go on to beat my favorite team just for spite.

Imagine a kid who couldn't go to bed when he wanted, couldn't have cookies when he wanted, couldn't play baseball until he wanted, never being able to root for the winning team. I never got my way. It seemed like the decks were stacked everywhere. You couldn't have what you wanted unless you were big and rich and loud.

And because of this my allegiance to the Royals grew year by year.

In 1979, we all got a breather. The Yankees didn't make the playoffs. The Royals didn't make the playoffs. Heck, even the Dodgers didn't make the playoffs. It was a relief. A kid didn't need that kind of stress year after year.

But then, in 1980, they were back. At least, the Yankees and the Royals anyway (not the Dodgers -- stupid Astros). The Royals featured a lot of the same characters from 1976-78, but they seemed older, a little more world weary.

I didn't expect anything different than what occurred in '76, '77 and '78.

Which is why I was so incredulous when this happened.

George Brett's home run off of Rich Gossage was my Next Year. The Royals were going to the World Series! By beating the Yankees! Wait 'Til Next Year???? This was NEXT YEAR, chumps!

So, yes, I was like all K.C. fans that year. And although the Phillies would win the World Series and it was crushing, at least the Royals did something no one figured they could ever do. They beat the Yankees in the playoffs. Brett's home run signaled the end of the Yankees' reign. The Dodgers would finish them off in the World Series in 1981 and the Yankees wouldn't be the same until the 1990s. This is the reason why I always felt that the Yankees set out to get Brett (highlighted by Billy Martin's moves in the Pine Tar Game). They knew what he had done to their franchise.

The 1980 Royals gave me astonishment and that fairy tale feeling that I had yet to experience in baseball (I have only fleeting memories of Carlton Fisk's home run in the '75 World Series). K.C. was a part of my emerging awareness of the culture of baseball, too. The first hitting coach I was ever aware of came from the Royals. The first groundskeeper, too.

So this is why I root for the Royals this week. Yeah, they're the good guys, but they're also the Next Year guys and so much more. It's more than 1985 or Ned Yost's bunting or Moooose. It's about 1980 and what can happen even though you don't think it can happen.

Here are the Royals cards I was staring at when Kansas City finally advanced past New York:


Thanks, Royals, for 1980 and Next Year.

Now, go out and amaze me again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fully completely


One of the greatest highs in this hobby, the reason why I think it can be called a drug, is set completion.

For me, nothing in collecting baseball cards will exceed the rush that I receive from finishing a set. Completion, to me, is what elevates this hobby above simple accumulation. The ability to assemble a set by the numbers on the back or the uniforms players are wearing on the front, and actually complete it, is an achievement that I think even collecting outsiders can appreciate.

Completion means that this is no longer just a bunch of cards but the resolution of a pattern. The full puzzle. It's point A to point Z with all of the letters (or numbers) in between. It is an accomplishment -- however easy or difficult.

Let's face it: the loan might not have gone through, or your kids might not have turned out how you wished, or you're off your diet again, but daaaaamn, look at that set in the binder!!! Don't they all match up? Don't they all look like good little soldiers wearing their similar border designs? You did it, bud (or budess). You did it! YOU COMPLETED A SET!

When I first started collecting cards, set completion was the goal. I never achieved it back then because what kind of kid has the money to finish a 660-card set?

For that reason, I think, I tried instead to simply complete sets of my favorite team, the Dodgers. Twenty-five cards was a lot easier than 660. The first one I completed, I believe, was the 1977 Topps Dodgers set. What a great day in my purple plaid pants world that was.

And now, even though I've completed many full sets of 660 cards, 726 cards, 792 cards, etc., etc., I continue to try to complete Dodgers team sets. Because they're just a little bit easier.

And that's why I celebrate when I finish one off, no matter how mundane the set.

For example, Julie of A Cracked Bat sent me the last five Dodgers cards I needed to complete the 1995 Select Dodgers team set.

The Raul Mondesi card at the top is one of them, along with these:

Now, honestly, the '95 Select set doesn't mean much of anything to me. There aren't many mid-1990s sets that do. The design is kind of annoying and some of the players from that era are, too.

But never mind all of that because I got to erase 1995 Select from my want list!!!!

That was a giddy few seconds as I crossed off the last few numbers, I tell ya.

This is why I'm collecting. To cross off the last few numbers, then add those final few cards to the binder, stare at them in admiration, and give myself a high-five. You better know that I'm smiling when I write this. I completed a team set today!

Of course, not all cards I received finish sets. They're just part of the process.

Let's see that process in action:

There's another Mondesi, contributing to the ever elusive 1992 Bowman team set.

There is Pedro Martinez, contributing to the 1994 Pacific completion quest, before he departed for Montreal.

There are four Dodgers pitching in to complete the 2013 Triple Threads Dodgers team set, although one is a numbered purple thing, which is actually detracting from the team set quest, thank you very much parallels.

This one is for the 2014 Triple Threads team set attempt, which has barely begun because, hey, it's not like I buy Triple Threads.

2000 MLB Showdown? Yeah, it's part of the team set try.

And this beauty assures that I don't break up the complete set of '94 Pinnacle Naturals that I once won from a blogger. I've been tempted to separate shiny Piazza from his friends just to put it in my Dodger binder. Now I will never be tempted again. Thanks completion gods! And, of course, Julie.

None of these have anything to do with the completion theme because they're all inserts or parallels. I like them because my team completion ways morphed into an accumulation habit. But at least I'm sensible enough not to try to complete insert or parallel sets. I don't want to put myself into full-on misery while trying to accomplish.

But look:

I completed another Dodger team set!

Julie sent me the Gil Hodges card from the 1995 Upper Deck Sonic Heroes of Baseball set.

Yeah, it's an easy team set to finish. It's the only Dodger in a 20-card set.

But I felt just as grand crossing the last card off of this list as I did 1995 Select or any of the other lists that saw the last number erased.

When I complete a set, no matter how large or small, I do in fact feel complete. Fully. If only for a short period of time.

Completion happens so seldom in life. At least cards are there to give that to us.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I shouldn't be buying new stuff anymore

I don't know what happened with me and Topps Update. Update used to be the most fascinating product outside of the first cards pulled from Topps flagship. But that was back when it was called Topps "Traded" and I don't think there's any going back.

This is probably more about me than the actual product, but let's review why Update and I have had a falling out:

a) I don't find it interesting anymore.
b) I don't know who these people are anymore
c) It seems to be more about new players, rookies and all-stars than what it once was: guys traded to new teams
d) so much extra crap in the set that doesn't need to be there. But I've written about that before.

Still we'll address each in painful detail:

A) Years ago, like during the first few sets of Update/Traded in the 1980s, the Update cards were the most mind-blowing cards ever. I've also written about this before, but here's an example of a card from the glory years of Update/Traded:

Look at that.

For almost the entire year of 1982, if you pulled a Fergie Jenkins card out of a Topps pack, Fergie was a Texas Ranger. He had been a Texas Ranger for four years. He was a Texas Ranger in Donruss and Fleer, too.

There's a good chance that if you collected in 1982 that you pulled the Topps Jenkins Texas Ranger card several times that year, too. And then ... AND THEN ... to find a card that looked just like the one you had been pulling all year, except that Jenkins was now a CUB with the Topps Cub pink and blue colors for 1982, well, that was an excuse to run around and show that card to the entire neighborhood.

And, of course, there was the back:

Every 1982 Topps card back was dark green, so you can imagine how many eyeballs were fried when collectors turned the card around and saw this beauty.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is that the Topps base set and the Update set are too similar in the way they look. Change it up a little! And I don't mean add even more All-Star cards (good gravy there are already too many), I mean make the back different or make the foil logo on the front say "Topps Update" or something. It's too much of the same.

B and C) Who are these guys?

This probably has to do with the fact that I don't pay as close attention to the players as I did in the '80s (the fact that there are more players than ever before doesn't help), but when I opened Traded/Update sets back then, I knew most of the players in the set. There were a lot of established players who had changed teams in the set.

Now we have this:

I don't know who he is.

It turns out he started 10 games for the Pirates this year. But unless he's in the league and pitching regularly for the next four years, he will quickly evaporate into the ether in terms of my "baseball knowledge".

After looking through the cards I pulled in a pack of Update (this is a pack break post, didn't you know?), I realize that -- yes -- this is my issue, not Update's. I just don't follow baseball closely enough to get excited about Update anymore. This is a set for big-time followers, people who check every boxscore each day, who get updates throughout the day, who don't care that there appears to be 1,500 people who play major league baseball each year now, etc.

But I don't do that anymore. No time.

D) Weeeeee, filler!

Nothing irks me quite like filler. Happy talk at the end of the newscast, movie plots with no point other than to pad the length, food packages filled with air when you open them. Filler is giving the viewer or consumer the impression that there is more to something than there actually is.

Welcome to Update.

Why are there Clayton Kershaw cards in Update? He's not a rookie, he wasn't traded, he doesn't need to be there. But he's there because of filler. He's a star, collectors collect him, if Topps wants people to buy Update then they need stars in the product, whether they were traded or not.

I wish I could tell you if there was a Jon Singleton card in Series 1 or Series 2 or another Singleton card in Update. I just don't pay attention enough to know. But I get the impression that there is, because when I turn the card over, there are no rows of stats, just a little write up about his debut.

This, to me, is a card that doesn't need to be here. It's puffery.

We have filler in the newspaper world, it's called "filler ads". I try like hell not to use them. But Update seems to be a product that relies on filler -- heavily.

So, what it comes right down to is Update isn't a product for me anymore. Hasn't been for awhile. Decades even.

So why did I buy a pack?

Got to see what's new I guess.

Here's what's new:

#US-80 - Josh Harrison, Pirates

#US-47 - Steve Tolleson, Blue Jays

#US-265 - Yoervis Medina, Mariners
#US-307 - Santiago Casilla, Giants (blaaaaaaaaargh)
#US-275 - Boone Logan, Rockies
#US-39 - Brock Holt, Red Sox
#US-62 - Adam Eaton, White Sox

#US-108 - Ryan Doumit, Braves

#US-106 - Collin Cowgill, Angels
#US-118 - Collin McHugh, Astros

#US-26 - Mookie Betts, Red Sox

#US-249 - Eduardo Nunez, Twins
#US-189 - Brandon Cumpton, Pirates
#US-71 - Justin Masterson, Cardinals
#US-22 - Kendrys Morales, Mariners
#US-139 - Jason Hammel, Athletics

#PPA-MS (stop it) - Max Scherzer, Tigers, Power Players insert

These look very 2003. And I'm glad I'm pulling Tigers, because suddenly there are a bunch of Tigers collectors.

#FN-JA3 - Jose Abreu, Future Is Now insert

#FF-GB - George Brett, Fond Farewells insert


#TM-GSP (it'd be so much easier to type a number) George Springer, Astros, '89-style diecut

#US-88 - Jon Singleton, Astros, rookie debut
#US-110 - Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox

#US-125 - Jason Bartlett, Twins

#US-322 - Drew Pomeranz, Athletics
#US-197 - Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

#US-259 - Craig Kimbrel, Braves, All-Star

The moment I saw these caps during All-Star festivities was the moment I wished I could unsee them. But of course now they're preserved on cards forever.

#US-247 - Tony Watson, Pirates, All-Star (I've got to figure out who is on the Pirates)

#US-234 - Feliz Hernandez, Mariners, All-Star (microphones!)

#US-253 - Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
#US-290 - Cam Bedrosian, Angels
#US-148 - Kyle Parker, Rockies

#US-50 - Jacob deGrom, Mets

#US-10 - George Springer, Astros
#US-176 - Michael Brantley, Indians, all-star
#US-292 - Chase Utley, Phillies, all-star

#US-315 - Carlos Gomez, Brewers, all-star

Supposedly that was 36 cards. I didn't keep track.

I did notice there were no Dodgers. So that was a waste of whatever I paid for it. Except the George Brett card, of course.

I bought these cards on Wednesday and am showing them on Friday, which is an unheard of delay in me buying new product and it appearing on this blog. That probably tells you where my head (and life) is at more than anything.

To summarize:

a) Update isn't for me anymore
b) I'm old
c) I'm really pissed off that the Giants weaseled their way into the World Series again with their pathetic 88 wins and second-place finish.
d) I'm old
e) I've got to buy some vintage quick
f) I'm too busy for cards and blogs
g) stupid managers are stupid
h) I'm old
i) and cranky, don't forget cranky
j) vintage
k) always
l) vintage
m) that's all, I promise
n) I promise
o) but vintage
p) OK, really, I promise
q) the end

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The blog now has accessories

A few weeks ago, my wife came home with this knick knack of an owl, pronounced that she loved it, and promptly stuck it on top of my card desk.

Now, she knows I'm a night owl, and has known it ever since she met me. She also knows that I run a blog called "Night Owl Cards". But I have no idea whether she placed it on my desk for that reason.

I could ask but, you know, we're both very, very busy people.

I prefer to think of it as a blog accessory, whether it is or not.

I like the idea of accessories. Every once in awhile, when I see that a blogger has made up a business card for their blog, I think "I wish I could get things together and make my own business card." It'd be a nice extension of the blog.

But I don't have to do that right now because I've got something more handy:

The blog now has its own mug.

This arrived from Baseball Dad. He and I think it's pretty appropriate. If you are hard of seeing it's an owl sitting on a base with a baseball next to him.

The reverse side even has Mr. Owl professing his love for his favorite team!

The mug/painting also has a title -- "Hoo's On First ..." by Will Bullas.

Look, you can even buy a used one -- ewwwww -- on Amazon. I'm a bit miffed that this wasn't made specially for me, but at least I didn't pay $19.95 for it! (I hope Baseball Dad didn't either).

As a night owl, I don't use mugs much. I'm not awake in the morning, which is the peak time for coffee zombies clutching their mugs. I don't even drink coffee. But I'm sure it's just as useful for other beverages and everyone else in the house has their own mug, so it's about time I have mine.

BD also stashed some stuff inside the mug.

2014 Topps Chipzah. That's my first red one there. I believe it gives me super powers. Besides flying and perfect vision in the dark, which I already possess.

A single Dodger card. And it's one I didn't have. How did he do that?

And a pack of this.

At some point, I lamented that the only decent Panini products never appear around me. The only thing Panini that I've been able to tolerate are Hometown Heroes -- easily their best product -- and Golden Age. But I've never seen Golden Age here.

Baseball Dad has better access to this stuff and sent me a pack of 2014 GA!

We're gonna open it right now.

Right after I get done chuckling while I picture a 9-year-old boy pulling a card of Patsy Cline.

So, this is a pack of six cards of old-timey baseball players, actors, famous destinations, horses, that kind of stuff. My goal is to open a pack of all '70s subjects. I get hazy on anything before the '50s. And Dodgers, I want some Dodgers. As usual there are bunch in this product.

And you're still waiting for me to open it.

OK, right now. For sure.

#45 - Fay Wray, Actor

Excellent start. It's not someone from the '70s, but the first time I ever saw King Kong was on a giant black-and-white console as a kid sometime during the '70s.

Fan Craze insert, #2 - Ty Cobb

These are 1 per 8 packs. Not a bad-looking card, considering how I don't like Panini's tactic of cutting off tops of heads.

#91 - Vivien Leigh, Actor, mini

It's 1930s STARLET MOJO!!!! First Wray, now Leigh. I believe I may have watched Gone With the Wind as a kid in the '70s, too.

#127 - Lee Majors, Actor

'70s! Here we go! No one has ever looked cooler running in slow motion in a jogging suit.

#83 - Jerry West, Guard

Ugh. Basketball. I won't shock you with my limited knowledge of Jerry West. Instead, let's address the card design.

I don't like it. It's ugly. Panini can't design worth crap. I know it's supposed to look old-timey on purpose but I can't collect a full set of anything that looks like this.

Also, just like every other Panini product I've opened, the backs are unreadable with their boring layout and tiny type.

#74 - Harvey Haddix, Pitcher

Yay! Baseball! Haddix did something that will never happen again, given the way pitchers are handled today. Can you imagine anyone being allowed to throw 12 innings, no-hitter or not?

That's the pack.

The subject matter to this set -- although I wished it was weighted more toward the latter half of last century -- is terrific, and helps save it from an ugly carnival design.

If the cards ever appeared in my neighborhood stores, I'd probably pick up some more packs.

Still, the most useful item in Baseball Dad's cardboard box of goodies was The Night Owl mug.

I can assure you it will be used during the games tonight.