Saturday, June 30, 2012

Big Fish in a Big Pond. Starring Mike Trout (and Jose Bautista)

Just a quickie today.  Spending some time in beautiful Stone Harbor, NJ with my wife's family.  I guess if our region is going to get scorched by triple-digit temps, might as well tough it out at the beach.

Anyhow, I was checking out the local Atlantic City paper this morning, whose sports section apparently features a "Mike Trout Tracker", since the young Angels superstar is from right down the road in Millville.  Hard to believe he was a star player at Millville HS just a few short years ago, and now he's leading the American League in batting.  Obviously, he is delighting fans in Los Angeles, as well as those of us around the map who are fortunate enough to have him on their fantasy baseball teams (me!).

Speaking of lucky, I played my cards right (literally) in the Topps Golden Giveaway online doohickey.  A code that opened a Mariano Rivera die cut card became an Eric Hosmer die cut card via trade which, after much trying, became a card I really lusted after -- the Stephen Strasburg die cut!  I love the picture Topps used for this card, peering over the mitt a la Andy Pettitte.  Plus, he's wearing the Star Spangled holiday uniform that teams break out over the summertime holidays.

I already had the amazing Jose Bautista (I card I flipped Al Kaline for) in queue and was going to give the command for Topps to ship 'em out to me ASAP.  But, wouldn't you know that most of the world is hot to trot for Strasburg, too?  Trade offers galore.  And wouldn't you know someone offered me the beautiful Trout card you see above in exchange for Sir Stephen?

After an evening of deliberation, I had to pull the trigger.  I mean, it's Mike Trout, one of the biggest young stars this side of Bryce Harper.  Star Spangled jersey or not, Stras had to be sacrificed.

I might hold off on getting these shipped for a while more, just in case I get any future code cards.  After my semi-rant at Topps and their insert mania yesterday, I think it's only fair to tell the old boys that they did OK by me with this insert/promotion.  In Series One, I wound up with David Wright and Johan Santana (after trading, mind you), which I have in my possession now.  And Joey Bats (a player who I am developing a card crush on) and Trout make my Golden Giveaway haul a mighty good one thus far.

I'd love to hear any Golden Giveaway success stories (or otherwise) from you guys/gals.

Enjoy the weekend, and stay cool!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Death of the Insert Card. Starring Frank Thomas and Eric Hosmer

Big Hurt!
Happy Friday!  Day Two of this crazy blog thing.  Gotta say it's addictive.  Thanks to those who left kind words on my inaugural post.

So, at some point during the summer of 1995, the 15-year-old Kaz (me) shelled out about $20 of my blood, sweat and tears money at my local K-Mart to get a box of '95 Fleer.

Now, for the majority of my life I've been a Topps man.  At age seven, when I first began collecting, my dad made it pretty clear that there were two kinds of baseball cards: Topps, and the other junk.  But, see, I had this sickness back then, and it still persists to this day.  I'm assuming most of you who are reading this have the same affliction.  If it's a baseball card, I have to have it.  Wax packs, rack packs, jumbo packs or boxes.  If it's on the shelf and it has a picture of a ball player on it, I usually want it.  Doesn't matter if it's made by Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck or Goldschlock (just seeing if you're paying attention).  Of course, Topps was/is my first love (don't tell Mrs. K) and my ultimate favorite, but hey, there's plenty of love to go around.

Sorry for the tangent.  Back to the 1995 Fleer.  It's a pretty ugly product, can we all agree?  Fleer has never been wont for making a beautiful base card design (save for 1990, which I do like a lot), and this one is no different.  It looks like Jackson Pollock on steroids.  And all the different design patterns?  One for each division?  Genius!  ...or not.  Anyhow, this particular box was within my price window and I couldn't resist the urge to open packs.  So, one Fleer 1995 wax box accompanied me home from K-Mart in East Brunswick, NJ that afternoon.

I wasn't into set collecting back then -- not like I am now -- and my hope for that particular box was to get as many "star" cards as possible and maybe, just maybe, a really great insert or two.  You see, several decades ago an "insert" card wasn't a guarantee.  You actually had to rip a good number of packs to get one.  And to get one that was really, really, REALLY meaningful, you had to keep your fingers, toes and eyes crossed.

I've never been a great suspense writer, so I won't drag this out (plus you can see the spoiler/scan above).  After wading through doubles and triples of certain players' base cards (think Alvaro Espinoza and Eric Plunk), I got a few decent inserts, but nothing that would light my Beckett on fire.  Except, of course, for the above Frank Thomas "Lumber Company" card.

Whoa!  Are you kidding me!?  Lumber Company?  Frank Thomas??

I think that was one of, if not THE toughest and most prized insert sets in Fleer '95.  And this card was valued at nearly $10 according to my grocery store-purchased price guide.  In other words...


I think I handled the thing with latex gloves and tweezers in order to get it into a penny sleeve and eventually a toploader.  What a prize!  My K-Mart venture was not in vain!

Fast forward to present day.  I could probably find this card if I dug through enough quarter boxes at my local card show.  But, that doesn't mean I still don't keep it stored behind bullet-proof glass in a display case in the rotunda of my house.  [Ed. Note: 5,000-count cardboard box, in a penny sleeve, thank you.]

Nowadays, inserts like the Big Hurt example just don't mean squat...unless they are plastered with stickers of autographs or swatches of pants or pieces of the Mitchell Report.  Rather, the good folks at Topps have taken to cramming so-called inserts into every orifice of our bodies.  Buy a 12-card pack of Series 2?  Get at least two "inserts"!  Buy a hanger box, get four or five.  Whoa baby!

C'mon.  When does an insert stop being and insert and just assume the identity of a sleek-looking subset?

The Hos
Flashy looking subsets, yup.  Just like the Eric Hosmer card above.  Don't get me wrong, I actually love the "Gold Futures" set, just like I love the mini 1987 insert.  And I my goal it to complete both sets.  But, don't piddle on my shoe and tell me it's raining.  If these cards truly wanted to be inserts, I'd have to rip through 6-8 packs just to sniff one.  And never mind this nonsense about having 2-3 per pack.

It almost feels...dirty.  Like, all the hope, anxiety and joy surrounding the insert hunt of decades gone by were a mirage.  [Ed. Note: Cue grumpy nostalgic grandpa persona]  Just like with anything else today, everything has to be free, easy and instantaneous.  If I can't have it now, why would I want it, right?  Does Topps think that little of us that they feel as though they have to shove these glittery prizes in our face or we won't buy their product?

Topps, if you're reading this, I'm not telling you to discontinue inserts.  But, can't we revisit a happier era where there was a middle ground between three inserts per pack and, say, 1:1,934,845 odds for an autographed sticker of Logan Morrison?

That isn't much to ask, is it?

In the meantime, I'll stick to the quarter boxes and see if I can't finish that Lumber Company set.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is This Thing On? My First Entry, Starring Will Clark

Who am I?  What am I doing here?  A blog, really?  I don't have an iPhone and barely use Twitter.  I still own (and wear) shirts I had in college (Ed. note: I haven't been in college in over a decade).  Am I really ready for a blog?  Can I handle the strain and responsibility that comes long with the blogosphere?  Who knows.  But you're not here to learn about my personal life and emotional well-being.  If you are, well, I am sorry to disappoint you.  I'd rather like to keep you around beyond one blog post.  After all, this is a blog created for baseball cards and about baseball cards.

So, rather than tell you who I am as it relates to card collecting, I prefer to tell you who I am least for starters.  I'm not a heavy hitter with loads of pristine vintage cardboard.  I've never bought a hobby box or a case.  I don't pack search.  Rather, I still buy almost exclusively retail.  When I go to a card show, a $10 purchase is a huge, HUGE commitment.  A "hit" for me usually involves pulling a favorite player or a neat insert.

As is the case with the rest of my life, I'm a simple person who takes pleasure in simple things.  I love this hobby for its freedom and simplicity.  And for intrinsic stuff.  Like the memories that are attached to the hobby for me personally.  Like hounding my mom to drive me to Caldor to buy another 1990 Topps blister pack.  Or getting royally ripped off in trades time after time by my buddy Chris -- but not caring because the card I got had an awesome play at the plate photo.  Building and comparing 'dream teams' out of our cards with my friends Neil and Brian.  Smelling that new cardboard smell after opening a fresh pack of 1989 Topps.  Dreaming of getting another Will Clark card.

Oh yeah!  Will Clark.

You're probably wondering why he is my so-called cover star in this seminal post.  I mean, like, you know, I'm a Mets fan and all.  Right, I get it.  Well, for whatever reason, Will Clark was my first baseball hero.  Couldn't tell you exactly why.  Maybe it was the snarl on his face, which graced a good number of his cards.  His bulldog attitude between the lines.  Or his awesome batting stance and sweet lefty swing.  Maybe I just liked this card a lot?

Truth be told, this isn't even my favorite Will Clark card (the 1989 Topps is my fave of his, with the 86 in close pursuit).  But, I had to include the '88 to tie into the title of my blog.  As you may well know, the little blurbs on the backs of most 1988 Topps cards had the "THIS WAY TO THE CLUBHOUSE" as their title.  I gotta admit, that baffled the hell out of me as an eight year old.  This way to the clubhouse?  With little hands with little fingers pointing towards the right edge of the card.  Where?  Huh?  (On a similar note, it was a few years before I also grasped the road sign "Wrong Way".  I once said to my mom, How do they know where we're going?  She just rolled her eyes.)

Anyhow, looking back, I think it's a pretty neat little title.  Both for the back of the card, as well as for this humble blog.  As for The Thrill, his little blurb informs us that he was drafted as a first-round selection by the SF Giants in 1985 by some scout named Ken Parker.  Though I don't think Ken Parker's nickname was Colonel, I think it's kind of amusing that the gangly, zit-faced college intern who wrote this blurb chose to capitalize the S in Scout.  As if that is a proper title like President or Tsar or Destroyer.  Whatever.

On a side note, the '88 design is one of my most beloved, but not my favorite by a long shot.  That designation belongs to one design and one design only: 1989 Topps.  I can assure you I will have plenty of entries dealing with that set and particular cards in the future.

I can't promise you that my blog entries will always be brilliant or make you smile, laugh or sneeze.  But, after reading and enjoying all the wonderful blogs around the 'net, I was inspired and figured that the worst I could do was never give it a whirl.

So, there you go.  Entry No. 1 in the books, and no animals were harmed.  I look forward to blogging with you all soon.  Enjoy the hobby and God Bless!