Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It's what's on the inside that counts

I'm sure this has happened to everyone. You leave your home. You reach your destination however many minutes later. And you realize that you have no memory of anything that happened on your travels in between.

That's how occupied I was yesterday as I headed out to run a few errands. I had planned to find most of what I was looking for in Target so I could then use the Target baseball card coupons that I kept forgetting. I had also planned to stop at the ATM to break in a new debit card.

But before I knew it, I was pulling into a parking spot at Walmart, of all places. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no," I said out loud in disgust as I realized where I was. I hadn't stopped at the ATM, I hadn't gone to Target where I had coupons. I was in the gross Walmart parking lot with absolutely no knowledge of how I got there.

Also, I had forgotten my Target coupons.

So, resigned to my fate, I opened the door and walked toward Walmart, past the broken down shopping carts randomly scattered through parking spaces, past the various garbage fluttering in the wind. And I muttered about how the card aisle was better stocked at Target.

But here I was inside. So I grabbed the few household items I needed and then shuffled over to the card aisle, which is actually about one-fifth of an aisle when you narrow it down to what I'm interested in: sports cards. Those damn Funkos are taking up more and more space every time I go there, which makes sense because what a space-filler.

I stared at the cards available and then suddenly realized there might be something in the discount bin on the bottom shelf. I dropped my head in that direction and saw this:

A single box of 2016 Allen & Ginter that apparently had been stomped on by an angry kid looking for a Funko.

I contemplated the box for a minute: discounted blasters of A&G are quite the find. They don't come around much. I would not call $5 off "extreme value," but still I was sold. The problem was the crushed box. What would I encounter inside?

I decided to take the chance. The minis would probably be unscathed, right? That's why I'm buying this anyway.

So I got it home, opened the box and pulled out the packs. The first two or three packs looked abnormally squashed and wrinkled on the bottom, but everything else appeared OK. And when I opened the packs, all of the cards were in fine shape.

So, let's see what's inside. Even though I'm not attempting to complete this set, old habits die hard (I've completed 2008-14 Ginter). You're going to see just the cards that I needed from each pack. Plus the mini. There's six cards per pack.

Here we go:

Pack 1

That's a pretty good start. Four cards I needed and a "black-bordered" mini (I'd like real borders again, Topps). I ended up dropping both Cardinals cards off the desk, onto the floor and dinged a corner on each, which is very painful with A&G. So much for worrying about the stomped box. I should've worried about myself.

Pack 2

That's a fine mini. Every time I pull a Trout I have to fight off the urge to see what it's selling for, because the prices for this guy's cards are weirdly inflated. Also, I dropped the Luke Jackson card in another card-dinging episode.

Pack 3

There is always a point in the set-collecting season when it's advisable to no longer buy blasters, especially for products like A&G and Ginter. The doubles become outrageous. I've far surpassed that point with 2016 A&G, but this blaster wasn't like that. Plenty I need and nice minis, too.

Pack 4

This is kind of a Teixeira hot box, which is awful and is giving me flashbacks to 2009 when I used to pull cards of this guy all the time. I am very pleased he will not be in card sets anymore ...

Oh wait, I forgot a card ...

How about that?

My relic luck with 2016 A&G has been great: Kershaw, Carew and now Rizzo. Six years ago I was pulling A&G hits of people like John Danks and Jeff Clement. I guess I must have gained some experience on which blasters to buy.

Pack 5

Easily the least successful pack. Nothing more to say here.

Pack 6

Allen & Ginter sure does love its New York teams. But I ain't complaining about a black-bordered Gary Carter mini.

Pack 7

True story: I have never seen a single episode of The Sopranos. I am almost the only person in this country who is not interested in mobster movies/shows.

Pack 8

Yay! A new card of Rickey!

I would say that was a very successful discounted blaster and well worth the risk.

As always, the moment after I open A&G, I must determine which minis make it into the frankenset binder.

Here are the ones that made it:

Trout fills an empty slot. Arrieta knocks out a 2014 Hiroki Kuroda (Yankee, bleh). But Carter does the best job because he replaces one of the two Jason Kubel minis that are situated right next to each other (#223 and #224!). Well done, Kid.

The other minis are available, as are any other minis that don't make the frankenset binder.

Now that I've had time to review the situation, I'm quite happy that I ended up in Walmart. I'm sure I wouldn't have found a discounted A&G blaster in Target, and I would have used my coupon on Heritage or Opening Day and likely found zip worth mentioning.

That's not to say I am recommending you proceed to your destinations on auto-pilot.

But sometimes you need to follow where the day takes you. And if that takes you to a seedy parking lot and a blaster that looks like it was used for hacky sack, then go with it.

It's what's on the inside that counts.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The day 1990 -- the whole damn year -- came to my door

I have never consciously attempted to complete a run of Topps flagship sets. As a set-collector, it just kind of happened.

By happy accident, I've completed Topps sets from 1974 through 1989. I'm two cards away from completing 1972 and that will spur me on to tackle 1973. With 1971 Topps and 1991 Topps already finished, landing the '73 set would mean I would have an even 20 years worth of Topps sets completed, from 1971-1991.

Except for one tiny issue.

I've never tried nor wanted to complete the 1990 Topps set.

I don't out-and-out hate the set, even though when I bought 1990 Topps for the first time that year, I wanted to throw them out as soon as I saw them. The 200 or so cards from that set I own sit in a binder, which means that someday, someway I may actually try to complete that set.

Well "someday, someway" happened last week.

A few weeks earlier I had been reading the blogs when I came across a post by Brad's Blog. He mentioned that his wife wanted the thrill of pulling a 1990 Frank Thomas no-name card, so she bought four boxes of 1990 Topps from a dealer. That might be the coolest thing I've ever heard of a wife doing (outside of buying me a Ron Cey-Fleetwood Mac lamp).

Inspired, and realizing how stupid I would sound saying "I have every Topps set completed from 1971 to 1991, except 1990," I took Brad up on his offer. He was willing to send out a bunch of extra 1990 Topps that had accumulated in the unsuccessful search for Thomas no-name to anyone who asked.

I know this sounds like insanity -- actually asking for 1990 Topps -- but it's not like I was paying for those garish cards.

Last week, a box arrived on my porch. Man, was it heavy. I opened it up and it was 12-plus pounds of cards!

That's right. Twelve-plus pounds of cards from one year and one year only, 1990.

I didn't ask for the 1990 Donruss or 1990 Upper Deck. Nor did I ask for the 1990 Fleer, Score or Bowman (they're there too although you can't see them). But Brad sent me the whole damn card year.

Fortunately, the non-Topps '90 cards made up just a small part of the box.

The whole rest of the box looked like this:

Wild colors that don't go together for as far as the eye can see. A bottomless pit of 1990 Topps.

I don't know how many cards of this stuff that Brad sent, but it was a lot more than 792 cards, I know that.

So, I knew I had quite the sorting task on my hands to see whether I had complete the 1990 set thanks to this 12-pound box.

Sorts like this take up a lot of time and space. Fortunately, the other people in the house went on an out-of-state trip over the weekend, leaving the dining room table free for a multiple-day, card-sorting task.

After sorting through Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I had almost the entire 1990 set.

It's just begging for a binder.

But the set still wasn't complete. I had determined that 12-freakin' pounds of cards doesn't finish a set, and I was 21 cards short.

Brad took care of one of those cards with a separate item in the box:

Sammy Sosa will be breathing the fresh, clean air very soon, mint 10 or not.

For the remaining 20 cards, I took my pen-scrawled want list to the binder with the 1990 Topps I already owned and hoped it contained all of those cards.

I was able to cross off several key cards, Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas (not the no-name one), Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Murray, Walt Weiss. I crossed off 11 cards total.

But that left nine cards remaining:

Rob Dibble
Mike Felder
Rock Raines
Mike Gallego
Bret Saberhagen
Kevin Seitzer
Jerry Browne
Pat Clements
Tony Gwynn

Now, don't go running toward your silo full of 1990 Topps to find these cards for me. I already mentioned the nine I needed on Twitter and several collectors pulled a muscle trying to rid themselves of some 1990 Topps.

I'm getting all nine cards from one collector and then I can say I've at least completed 1974 through 1991.

I thought after sorting through all of those cards that I might grow sick of them. You know how 1990 is with sickly green paired up with orange and purple joining red. But, instead, my admiration grew for the Lichtenstein set with cards that look more like a comic book than any other Topps flagship set.

Some of the cards actually look quite nice. Here are just a few:

So that giant box of cards will accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. It will lead me to completing the 1990 Topps set and erase that glaring gap in my series of completed sets.

Of course, I do have a number of extras left over. I don't suppose anyone wants any 1990 Topps, but on the off-chance someone is crazy enough I have a few hundred extra.

I also have quite a few 1990 Donruss, Fleer and Score that's just waiting for someone to say the word. I don't ever plan to complete those sets.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Forcing the action

A number of bloggers have observed that Topps has zoomed out a bit on their subjects in the 2017 flagship set, and isn't it about time?

After five years of viewing every bead of sweat on a batter and every nostril hair on a pitcher, we mercifully are starting to see almost all of a player's limbs again.

Here are a couple of examples of the difference between this year and last year:

That's not to say that it's a drastic change or even close to what I'd like to see, but it's progress.

How much progress there will be in the future in this area, I have my doubts.

You see, Major League Baseball is obsessed these days with action. They are trying to convince people -- people who barely watch the sport, I might add -- that baseball is nonstop action. And to force that action, it wants to artificially speed up the game by adding pitch clocks and other such nonsense.

Baseball, by its nature, is full of ebb and flow. That's what baseball is. If you turn it into a hyperactive version of itself, it's not baseball anymore. They're going to have to come up with another name for it.

But anyway, because of baseball's desperate need to appeal to the ADD crowd, it will promote itself as an action-packed sport as often as possible. And part of that advertisement will appear on baseball cards. Cards and Topps have been boasting about "getting you close to the action" for a long time now, and I expect that to continue if not more so. That means tight shots on action-filled plays.

It also means we won't see this in anything besides Heritage:

I really miss this. More and more by the day.

I'm not talking so much about the posed shot. I'm referring to the background. Look at the story the background tells. A couple dudes hanging loose on the bench. One -- is that Al Hrabosky? -- appears to be reading a book. That's baseball, my friends. Deny it if you like, but you can read a book at a baseball game if you want. That could be considered an insult to people who don't understand the game, or who can't sit still, but it's actually a good thing. There's nothing wrong with lazy and hazy if the promise of action is just around the corner. Have some patience and wait a second.

You probably won't see players hanging out by the batting cage anytime soon either (that's John Milner wearing No. 28). That's because Topps doesn't have its own photographers or shoots spring training anymore. It's all canned action shots purchased from Getty Images, which happens to be well-equipped for shooting action. But dudes standing around the batting cage really do still exist. It'd be nice to see them on cards again.

Batting cages and players in the distance tell me it's baseball. And just from a simple background, I can find the scoreboard and tell whether the photo was taken in Kansas City ...

... or in Chicago.

The background might even be able to tell you which team the player is about to play. In this case, Dewey is going to face the Oakland A's.

And because it was the 1970s, you could identify a player in the background even if you couldn't see his entire uniform number. I'd know Oscar Gamble's hairdo anywhere.

But if you wanted to identify the player by number, you could do that, too. Except it's spring training, and that guy in the distance may be wearing a 72 or a 74. The only Dodger I know wearing 74 is Kenley Jansen and he wasn't alive back then.

Backgrounds show you guys heading to work ...

... practicing their swings ...

... or just standing around.

You know, real baseball stuff.

Baseball is not action 24-7 and as in your face as possible.

If you want that, there are other sports. Or go to an amusement park. Or cliff-diving.

Baseball should be proud of what it is.

And not force the action.