Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adios, 2013

I already ran through my hits and misses on my collecting goals for 2013, but I thought I'd take some time to look back at what 2013 has done for my collection.

The year was certainly a mixed bag for me.  From a personal standpoint, I got married and am walking into next year with a job I absolutely love doing, and living in the Pittsburgh area even if it isn't as close to the city as we would like.  But of course all that came on the back of a lost year in Ohio, and a very inconvenient gap in employment upon moving back to PA.  From a collecting standpoint, the plus column heavily outweighs the negative.  But the moving, money, and stress all took a toll on my relationship to the hobby that have had me on the ropes for the last few weeks.

I don't think any single year has seen such rapid growth in my collection, with my Pirate collecting growing by over 3,000 cards.  At year's end, my final count is sitting pretty at 11,592. 
At this stage in my collection, I think it would be tough to duplicate that kind of growth again.  There just aren't that many cards to chase, and filling in needs among commons and low end parallels certainly accounted for a big chunk of that growth.

My time in Ohio also gave me some added incentive to turn attention towards some of my other favorite teams, the Pens and Steelers.  At the beginning of the year the collections for each team were a few hundred cards I had from my childhood collection.  The collecting landscape has exploded since then, particularly in football.  I had no idea how much was out there, especially the number of releases that never made their way over to the baseball side. 
My Steelers collection is at 1,300 cards, while my Pens collection is sitting at a meager 300.  As my baseball needs shrink, I think 2014 will be a good year to continue branching out into the other sports.

But the biggest addition this year?  This blog.  I started blogging in February, and while there have been some extended absences during this past year, I still managed to turn out 235 posts during those 11 months.  Hopefully 2014 will be a year of more consistent blogging and continuing to meet great people.

On top of all that, blogging has also pushed me to return to my collecting roots, so to speak.  Before becoming a team collector, I simply collected everything and anything - whatever caught my eye.  Somewhere around 2005 I decided my collection needed to be more focused, and pushed everything that wasn't black and gold to the side.  As I entered the blogging world, I realized there were a lot of folks like myself - some incredibly fun, random collections pulled from packs and dimebox leftovers.  And I couldn't be happier to give some binder space to those cards that fit the quirkier side of my collecting self.

On top of that, I've slowly been turning some of my collecting dollars towards expanding my autograph collection.  I've always enjoyed collecting autographs - starting with getting signatures in person and later through the mail in my early teens.  With over 4,000 autographs, I had focused on quantity over quality.  But I've started whittling away at the list of players from the childhood who I would love to have autographs of.  Fortunately the big 90's autograph sets of Leaf and Donruss Signature caught most players from that era.  I've been focusing on the lesser players, but I'm hoping 2014 may include a few bigger name additions.

I might try to check back in tonight with some collecting goals for 2014.  Hope everyone has a good time tonight and stay safe.  Happy new year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Perfect Game

I'm taking the scenic route on this post, but I hope you'll stick with me.  Even before his death, I have been on a Lou Reed kick for the last few months.  Call it a mid 20's life crisis or something.  I probably spent more than a few hours over that span listening to "Perfect Day," a beautifully simple song about...well, a perfect day, that I had overlooked for years.  But for whatever reason the song suddenly resonated with me in a new and wonderful way.

I don't think I've made any effort to hide some of my conflicted emotions over collecting and my relationship to the hobby recently.  Relationships, whether personal or otherwise, are fluid things that are tough to pin down during the best of times. 

I was sitting at home tonight looking at box scores in an effort to narrow down when a photo on a card was taken.  And it got me thinking what I love about baseball, and quite frankly why that magic just doesn't feel the same for me anymore.  And there are undoubtedly many reasons, some simply accredited to getting older and having more responsibilities in life than I did at 17 or 18.  But a lot of it comes down to people.  Not the ones on the field, but the ones in the stands next to you.  Right next to you.

Like many of us, I watch a lot of baseball.  Unlike many, I'm lucky enough to be able to attend a lot of those games in person.  When you spend most of your life within half an hour of a major league ballpark (and a chunk of that time a 15 minute walk away), it can be easy to take it for granted.  I probably get to an average of 25 Pirate games a year.  Average that out over the past decade-plus, and there are a lot of games.  And in all honesty, they run together for the most part.  But then there's the Perfect Game.

Everybody has one.  It might be a magical moment in a major league park.  Or one you watched at home.  Hell, it might be that 1 hit shutout you pitched your senior year of high school, or your walk off homer in your beer league championship.  But every baseball fan has one.

And as I was scrolling through the 2006 box scores, there it was.  A long-lost, but never forgotten, friend who was instantly recognizable (in box score form, of course).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006.  Astros vs Pirates.  A 7:07 start time.

I had started college just a few weeks earlier, and the 2006 Pirate season was the backdrop to my changing life.  Just a few months earlier I had been in high school, living at home, and making the weekend pilgrimage to the city with my dad to watch Pirate games, as we had for years.  Now?  I lived just a short walk from the park, starting college with all the anticipation and excitement I had worked hard in school all my life to enjoy.  And though I would still see quite a few games with my dad, I was taking full advantage of a 100 loss team and an empty ballpark to catch games with friends almost every night of the week.

In those early weeks, I spent a lot of time with a small group of kids I had gone to high school with who were also starting their freshman year at Duquesne.  Kids I had known most of my life and considered friends, but within months would drift away from.  But for now, with the crispness of fall setting in, we clung to each other.

I still remember hastily making plans to take in the game in the early afternoon.  After classes ended (I think I finished up at 2 or 3 on Wednesdays that semester), we had a quick dinner and walked down to the park.  When you have a 100 loss team, tickets are never an issue.  We grabbed tickets for $5 a seat from a scalper who was thrilled to get anything for them in the lower section of the left field bleachers.

The game mattered little.  We were just some college kids who loved baseball having a nice night out.  The Bucs scored early, but their offense would go into a coma after the 5th.  The Astros didn't provide much more excitement aside from a 4 run 6th that kept the game within reach.

Until the Bucs gave up the tying run in the top of the 9th.  It was a 100 loss team after all.  The innings dragged on, 10th, 11th, 12th. 

The left field bleachers at PNC Park are ideal for heckling, with a low wall putting you right at eye level with players.  An empty stadium certainly helps.  Paid attendance as 16,000.  Actual game time attendance at first pitch was likely half that.  By the time extra innings rolled around for a Wednesday game in the final week of the season?  I could have counted the people left in the ballpark. 

This was not a situation that worked in Luke Scott's favor.  We had been riding Luke hard all game, and as the section thinned out around us, it was impossible to ignore us.  Nothing too lewd, and Scott looked back at us a few times with a smirk on his face.  I'd like to think he appreciated the acknowledgment.  Or at least appreciated us not bringing his mother, wife, or bestiality into the equation.

I remember sitting in the bleachers debating whether we should stay until the game was over or head home.  The temperature was dropping, Thursday morning was fast approaching, and most of us still had homework to do.  But like studious college students and passionate baseball fans, we stuck it out. 

Jim Tracy had blown his bench trying to cling to a lead during the first 9 innings, and only the hopeless Humberto Cota remained on the bench.  The bullpen was dwindling just as fast.  This was a war of attrition that we had little chance of winning.  As the top of the 15th rolled around, Jonah Bayliss came out for his 3rd inning of relief.  Jonah Bayliss does not pitch three scoreless innings. 

The Astros made it relatively painless.  Walk, single sending the runner from first to third, and a sac fly.  The Pirates went 3 up 3 down, with the hapless Humberto Cota making a pinch hit appearance as if to tell us we would be back in our dorms soon.

The Pirates lost 7-6.  And I remember walking back to campus completely satisfied.  It didn't matter that my team lost.  I had a great night with friends.  We stuck out 15 innings, 4:50 of baseball carrying us into the wee hours of the morning.  It was a badge of pride that few would recognize or care about.  There was, in and of itself, nothing exceptional about the game.  The people I was with?  One of them was at my wedding in October, but the others I haven't seen or spoken to since 2006 or 2007.  But that game will forever be my perfect game. 

Luke Scott will forever be my favorite player nobody will remember in ten years.  Jonah Bayliss will forever be the but of Bay-Bayliss (get it, Bay-less? ha!) jokes that nobody else will get or care to get.  And I will forever appreciate the comfort of having a warm bed close by when games stretch into extra innings. 

Oh, it's a perfect day/ I'm glad I spent it with you

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Other Side

I've always been one to shy away from those grand scale year end reflective mindsets.  The end of a year makes a nice, arbitrary measure for time and reflecting back on that time period.  But in the grand scheme of things?  It's not much different than looking back on August 11th, or any other random date.

I don't think it would come as a surprise to any regular readers I have (if I have any) that my relationship with the hobby has become a complicated one.  There's no cut and dry answer for why or how it happened, or continues to happen.  I still love collecting, and all the great things that come with it (not the least of which has been some of the wonderful experiences I've had blogging).  But then there's what I like to call the other side.

This hobby that I think most of us in the blog world take as just that - a hobby - isn't all that squeaky clean.  I'm tired of dealing with people whose sole goal in the hobby is to make a profit.  I'm tired of companies who care little for the quality of their product from year to year.  And of the feeling of getting kicked in the teeth by the sport or hobby that is supposed to be a relaxing outlet.

I just got an email from ebay informing me that the ebay bucks program is being reconfigured - which is a nice way of saying your ebay bucks don't count unless you spend $250 or more per quarter.  From the card forums I still visit, the reaction is predictable.  Those who primarily sell take the position it's ebay's site, and they can do as they please.  Those that buy heavily say that's too bad, but they'll still get their money.  And I'm sure some will continue to use the site as always.  But me?  Well, call me an idealist.  But that measly 2%, which never added up to more than a couple dollars a quarter, was a nice little thank you.  A "we appreciate your business" perk.  Taking it away?  Well, that sounds a lot like you don't really appreciate my business all that much. 

I'll be the first to admit sometimes little symbolic gestures like that are things I put too much stock into.  But hell, I've got too much Italian blood running through me not to.  And the thing is...I'm happy to take that money I would have spent on ebay and put it elsewhere.  I'm a guy of many interests, and I can always move my resources to a different one.  But it's not about that measly 2%.  Not entirely.

I haven't discussed my new job much here, but the short story is that I'm working with a non-profit organization that provides after school programming for inner city kids - tutoring, homework help, credit recovery for failed or incomplete credits.  That's the what the grant tells you.  But the reality is that some kids are coming to the program so they don't have to spend a few more hours at home.  Or just to get a half decent dinner, which we provide in the school cafeteria.  And when you're working with kids who tell you that they want to learn how human eyesight works, because their teacher doesn't teach - just gives them the answers.  Or kids who are in foster care, and know high school graduation doesn't mean accomplishment but aging out of the system...perspective changes.  Fast.  It's a far cry from the largely white, largely suburban kids I used to teach college English to, preaching the value of a strong thesis statement or extolling the virtues of Langston Hughes.

This isn't one of those "I'm done with the hobby" posts.  If anything, the escape that cards provide are one I need more than ever.  But I guess what I'm saying is it's time to learn to collect differently.  So sorry I've been far, far behind on trade packages, thank you posts, and just generally posting pretty pictures of baseball cards.  I promise we'll be back to our regularly scheduled program as soon as possible.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Trade Winds a Blowin'

The holiday layover is giving me a chance to breathe for the first time since starting my new job the other week.  Of course in the mean time the packages have been piling up around here.  Not that I'm complaining.  Hopefully the holiday break will let me catch up on some of the cardboard goodness.

And goodness it most certainly is.  This trade post comes courtesy of Jeff at 2x3 Heroes.  We were working on striking up a deal for the Liriano pictured here, which pretty quickly expanded.  I have a lot of Pirate cards.  Too many, according to Kate.  But Jeff managed to pull almost 70 new cards for the collection.  Quite an impressive accomplishment, and one that will not go unpunished.  Now I have another towering stack to sort!

The Liriano was certainly the highlight, but the shiny goodness wasn't done yet.  Matt Hague never turned into much of a player - no pop, mediocre defense at first.  But he managed to work his way into quite a few Topps sets before being relegated to AAA purgatory.

 Any team collector will tell you that 2008 Upper Deck Documentary gives them nightmares.  I'm still about 70 cards short of the team set.  The Gold parallel?  Don't even go there.

 These great Topp UK minis were a set I didn't even know existed a month ago.  Through some strange turn of coincidence, I managed to acquire the entire team set via two separate trade packages (in neither case had the minis been discussed) and a justcommons purchase.  Nothing beats the feeling of a completed team set, even if it is only three cards.
 Jack Wilson cards are always a welcome addition here at Battlin' Bucs.  All my Wilson cards have prime real estate in their own binder, so doubles are always appreciated to fill in the team set binders.
 Say what you will about the 2000's Pirates, but 2006 was a magical year.

But maybe this duo can top the memories of Freddy, Bay, and company.  I certainly wouldn't mind.

Thanks a ton, Jeff!  It was great to see so many base cards come off my needs list in one fell swoop, and this trade should full up quite a few holes in the binders.  And more importantly, I found another great Chicago trader to unload my Sox cards on.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Man Overboard

I'm getting pretty good at this whole Houdini thing, disappearing from the blogosphere for a couple weeks yet again.

I don't want to say I've lost interest in the hobby; I haven't.  But sometimes getting burned will give you good cause to pull back from the flame.  For years, the highlight of the baseball year has been the Pirates fanfest event, Piratefest, typically preceded by the Pirates Caravan.  In short, it has been an autograph-a-palooza.  Last year I think my final count was somewhere around 200 autographs between caravan stops and Piratefest.  And that was done living 5 hours from Pittsburgh, and attending Piratefest solo.

I had high hopes for this year - a winning team.  Some fresh faces on the team.  And presumably, a team that was looking to capitalize on the good will built up last year.

I was...wrong.  On all accounts.

For those of you unfamiliar with the dance that is a fan fest, I'll lay it out as simply as possible.  Stand in lots of lines to get things signed, and hope that the line in front of you isn't comprised with too many casual fans who will want to hold up the line with a photo, fumble through their belongings to get a hat or mini bat signed the moment they get up to the front (after standing idly for an hour), or feel the need to share some story that could be summarized in a sentence or two with the player.  Ok, maybe patience isn't my best trait.  But after years of practice, I like to consider myself a pro at these events.  And Piratefest is essentially my SuperBowl.

The autograph opportunities were a driving reason behind keeping my season tickets through some years that are best forgotten.  And as the number of season ticket holders dwindled, it became a bonding opportunity for those of us who remained.  Each year it was the same faces in line with you, and I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know quite a few great people simply through standing in line with them for a few hours each December or January.

I wasn't as organized this year as I would have liked, but it didn't matter.  Hours of pulling cards, printing photos, and getting everything perfectly prepared in my binder couldn't have mattered less.

I had early entry passes for Saturday, getting in at 9am rather than noon with the rest of the general public.  In past years, this basically meant free run of the place and almost no lines.  So I was a little more than shocked to see a line stretching the entire way across the convention center to get in upon my arrival.  Maybe it was the general admission line starting early?  Nope.

Apparently these couple thousand people were all now "season ticket holders."  The STH crowd was about the same size as a general admission crowd for Piratefest on a Sunday.  Adding insult to injury, I could overhear most people saying how they had never been to a Piratefest before.  Or "oh, this is nice."  The sheer fact that I saw few backpacks or bags, not to mention familiar faces, meant for most folks this was their first rodeo.

And maybe it was a good thing.

The star power decided to sit this one out.  No public signings for McCutchen, Alvarez, Liriano, Martin, or any other starter.  But you could have your fill of Jaff Dacker, Chris Stewart, or Tony Sanchez.

I stood line line for an hour and a half to get autographs from Justin Wilson.  Just...Justin Wilson.  For comparison, tables would typically have 2-3 players per hour session in the STH area, and I never had any trouble getting through every session at least once.  The line was pretty easy to double up most years, even for bigger names like Andy Van Slyke or Neil Walker.  This year?  The line was quickly wrapped around the building, at least two and a half hours long.  Entirely of "season ticket holders."

So I got my Justin Wilson autographs, and Kate and I left for some Christmas shopping.  I didn't even bother going back Sunday.  And that may be the single most disappointing baseball-related event I've ever experienced.

Total haul?  5 autographs.  And while I undoubtedly sound a bit ungrateful complaining about coming away with something, my bigger complaint is that the team appears to have lost any and all interest in catering to fans.  True fans.  Who needs em if you can fill a stadium full of fair weather fans, right?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Let the Flood of Holiday Packages Begin

Yep, I'm at it again.  Yet another layover between posts here at Battlin' Bucs.  The new job is eating up more of my time and energy than I expected, including about an hour commute to the city each direction.  But enough about that...

Unfortunately the backlog on posting comes at the worst time, with a pile of trade packages, COMC shipments, and the like making a glorious stack of cardboard to share.

But I'll start with the small stuff first.

I put in an order with my buddy Mike at Tromp's Sports Cards.  His prices are already top notch, and he was running a 50% off sale over Black Friday weekend.

I was on a bit of an impulse buy streak prompted by some COMC purchases earlier in the weekend, so I may have gone a bit overboard.  The Pirate goodies will wait for another day.

Today's loot will focus on the "this has no place in my collection, but I reeeeeally like autographs" collection.  All the guys you'll see here are players who I wanted to add to the collection for some sentimental reason or another.  And at less than $1 each, it wasn't too hard to pull the trigger.

The must have card of the purchase was this Dan Wilson auto from 1998 Donruss Signature.

The 1998 Signature set may be one of the best designed autograph releases ever, in my opinion.  Wilson was a mainstay behind the plate in the Emerald City for most of my younger years, and the Mariners were always my AL team.  This is one I'm thrilled to add to my collection.

Speaking of '98 Signature, I added a few others from the set as well.

Hidalgo and Tatis were two guys who had more than their 15 minutes of fame in years gone by.  Their cards may not have much appeal now, but I was happy to add autographs of each guy for a mere $.79 each.

But it wasn't all bargain bin pickups.

I broke the bank with this beauty.

Carlos Lee was a fairly consistent slugger who deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Very Good and Lumbering.  For a whopping $1.79, I couldn't pass up the chance to grab this hasty scribble.  It may migrate over to the trade bait pile one day, but I'll enjoy it in my collection for a bit.

Like I said, I like quirky.  David Murphy was a fairly important piece of some strong Rangers teams this decade.  And while it kills the I love the 90's theme to this post, it was a no-brainer to add him on the cheap.

Speaking of no brainers, there's not really any rhyme or reason to my newfound love of Expos cards.  The team had a sweet logo, was an amusing north of the border anomaly, and doesn't really exist anymore.  But beyond that, my love of power hitters who have short bursts of power holds true.  My Expos collection has been growingly faster than I'm comfortable with.  Next stop, Peter Bergeron auto!

And of course the last purchase undoubtedly falls into the "well, it's only $1" category.

Erick Aybar doesn't really have much of a place in my collection, nor is he one of those players I have a weird affinity for.  But...well, the 52 autos are great cards, even if he was utterly unable to sign inside the box.  And Aybar is just the kind of player I can see ending up with the Pirates in a few years after his best days are well behind and he manages to drop below his previous career low batting average by 50 points.  And then I'll be glad to have this card.  I think.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013 Collecting Goals Revisited

I was planning to save the year-end recap until a little later in the month, but it looks like things will be pretty hectic for me between now and the end of the year.  Perhaps more importantly, the status of my collecting goals probably won't change much over the next few weeks.

Thirteen has always been my lucky number.  But 2013 was not my lucky year.  It's been a year of ups and downs, which in turn impacted my collecting both for better and for worse.  Case in point: escaping Ohio and getting back to Pittsburgh was by far the biggest happening of the year for me.  But the move also took me away from a busy circuit of large monthly and quarterly shows within driving distance and replaced it with the card show from hell.  Now obviously this was a win in terms of mental health, happiness, and Pirate game attendance.  But the card front suffered quite a bit.

And of course there are the residual effects of moving.  Carrying large boxes onto and off of a truck.  Driving a large Uhaul truck across the entire state of Ohio.  Packing and unpacking boxes.  And, when your darling ladyfriend is the one with the new job, an almost inevitable lull of one income.  This, most assuredly, is not a friend of the card budget. 

But as the year draws to a close things are looking up.  The wedding is under our belt, I'll be starting a new (and exciting) job Monday, and the the 2014 season should be a fun one as a Pirate fan.  Plus 2013 marked the beginning of this blog for me, hopefully something that will keep running for years to come.

And now to revisit a forum post I made last year, let's see how my collecting goals fared for this year.

1) Reach 10,000 different Pirate cards (8,560 as of Dec 2012)

The goal seemed attainable, and in face I blew by that number.  I'm currently sitting at roughly 11,300 Pirate cards, and with some incoming trade packages and a COMC shipment, I might hit 11,500 by the end of the month.  It's pretty crazy to think that I have added almost 3,000 new cards this year.  The newfound trade partners on the blogosphere have been a huge help, as have sites like justcommons and COMC.  Still, that's pretty crazy.

Mission: Accomplished

2) Add more Steelers and Penguins autographs

I didn't have any specific number goals, but I have definitely succeeded in expanding my Pittsburgh auto collections, as well as my Pens and Steelers collections in general.  Still, I have slacked off severely in the TTM department after a very strong start to the year.  There are still a lot of reliable signers out there who have played for the black and gold I need to add to my collection.  With some extra money in the budget for 2014, this is an area I'll be looking to focus on.

Mission: Incomplete

3) Add 30 new Pirate autographs to my all-time roster project

I started the year with autographs from 440 different Pirate players.  Right now I'm sitting at 497, with a few more incoming with my COMC order.  There weren't as many new additions as I'd like, and quite a few of that new number come from players who graduated to the majors who I already had an auto of rather than completely new pickups.  But that isn't the worst thing in the world.  Again, this is an area I hope to have a renewed focus on in 2014.

Mission: Accomplished

4) Add at least 3 pre-war Pirate cards

My end of year count?  A big, fat zero.  Part of that is definitely budget related, both because of the self-imposed budget restrictions, but also because the funds that were available were being allocated towards filling in my post-war vintage needs (which was a huge success) and trying to keep up with modern releases (the results were decidedly mixed)  Pre-war vintage is definitely an area that is lacking in my collection.  But those may be goals that get pushed to the side in 2014, unless an absolutely steal falls into my lap.

Mission: Failed

Overall the year was one of the best for my collection.  That big number of nearly 3,000 new cards really drives the point home.  Of course it's not just quantity.  While I filled a lot of base needs, I also added some major pieces that were missing fro

Friday, December 6, 2013

Doubling Up

Just a friendly reminder that the skylines contest that started yesterday will be running until tomorrow, at which point I'll random off a few winners.  Help me clear out some cards, people!

I consider myself a pretty laid back collector.  It's a hobby, and while there are from time to time things (or people) who make my blood boil a bit, I try not to take the hobby too seriously.  After all, doesn't it stop being a hobby at that point?

But one thing that really does irk me are doubles.  Being a team collector, doubles are unavoidable.  There are just too many cards to keep track of with the 'ole mental rolodex, and even the most organized of collectors (which I am not) will end up with their fair share of extras.  And having just crossed the 11,000 mark in my Pirates collection, I can assure you I have doubles.

Boxes of em.  Right now I think I have around 3 monster boxes full of doubles.  Now of course those weren't all errant single card purchases.  I've bought my fair share of sizable team lots.  And when you're buying a 2,000 count lot, it comes with the territory that most of the cards will be doubles.  If I hit a couple hundred new cards out of a lot that size, I call it a good day.  But then what do you do with the extra 1,800 cards?  Into the box they go!

But the thing is that it's not just commons that are getting doubled up these days.  Numbered cards, inserts, and those damn sparkly Topps parallels.  There's just too much to keep straight.

As I entered my latest justcommons purchase yesterday, I realized I had picked up a double of Sixto Lezcano's 85 Topps Traded card.  Oddball cards and boxed set cards are the toughest to keep straight.  It seems like every traded set is either missing a card or two, or I only have a card or two. 

The thing that bugs me about cards like the Lezcano isn't the dime I wasted on the card, but the simple fact that I unknowlingly created yet another double for myself.

But the biggest question - what to do with it?  While I have lots of cards to move, I don't see it being worth the time and cost to set up at a show.  I don't have much higher end stuff to sell, and while we in the blogosphere seem to love dime and quarter boxes, they aren't nearly as popular in this area.  Sell them as a lot?  Not much demand going that route either.  And of course I could always donate or pitch them, but the hoarder in me says puts that baby to bed real fast.  And of course I've been able to thin out a few cards here and there in trade packages, filling in some quirky cards for mini collections for some great bloggers.

So if anyobody wants to trade for some Pirates, let me know.  I'm well stocked.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hark, A Contest!

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, as far as I'm concerned.  The Halloween through New Year's stretch has always been the highlight of my year, and this year is no exception.

Kate's favorite holiday is Halloween (and I'm pretty fond of it as well, though my costume selections in recent years have been a bit uninspired), our wedding anniversary is going to be on Oct 26th, meaning our friends can be expecting a Hallo-versary party every year henceforth.  I'm an only child, so Christmas is always a good time, and my birthday is on Dec 28th, meaning double presents!  Though it also means I get shorted on gifts each year...

But we'll overlook that!

And finally, I got word yesterday that I'll be starting a new job as a site director for an after school program in the city.  It's going to be challenging work, but it's something that should open up some doors for me (not to mention some added infusion to the card budget).

But the thing is, even with all that great stuff, my favorite part of the holidays is giving gifts to other people.  And after almost a year of blogging and meeting some fantastic people here, I think it's well past time to pass that forward to the great people on the blogosphere.

So here's the deal.  Contest is a word I use very loosely.  Heck, it's a word I really just used to boost my blog hits.  It's a giveaway, with one of those tricky Canuck skill questions involved.

If you've been reading the blog for a while you'll know that some of my favorite cards are ones that feature city skylines.  There's just something special between the city's identity and its team, and I love to see that captured on cardboard.

So here's the contest: post a picture of your favorite card that incorporates a skyline.  It can be on the front or back or the card.  It can be any city, in any sport.  The only exclusion is no Pittsburgh skyline cards, because I don't know that I have the willpower to overcome hometown bias.  Heck, this contest might even inspire me to start a new mini collection.  Also feel free to include a brief list of some things you collect - I have a pretty good idea of what most of the regular bloggers like, but I'm sure free stuff will bring some new names out of the woodwork.

I'll let the contest run through the week, and contact the winner or winners on Saturday.  I have lots of cards here I'd love to get clear out, so the festive tidings could be anything from a PWE stuffed with shiny cards to a bubble mailer full of Cole (Alex, Gerrit, Dick, or Victor, that is). 

Speaking of which, did you know that of the ten players with the last name Cole who have played in the majors, 4 of them have been Bucs?

On with the contest!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Top 100 All-Time Pirates: 99 - Rabbit Maranville

The Pirates have their fair share of players in the Hall of Fame.  Some of the game's greatest players have played in Pittsburgh, including an array of pre-war players. 

But one ex-Buc that undoubtedly flies under the radar is Rabbit Maranville.  He had a lengthy career, spanning from 1912-1935, but is best remembered as a Boston Brave.  And for good reason - Maranville spent only four seasons with the Pirates.

Perhaps that gives you some idea how top heavy the Pirates list is - when a light hitting deadball era shortstop can crack the franchise's all time 100 in WAR.

Still, they weren't shabby seasons.  Rabbit posted his two highest single season batting averages while playing for the Pirates, and his .376 slugging percentage while with the Bucs outpaces his career totals by 36 points.

Still, shortstop is a position that has served the Pirates well over the years, so Rabbit's short stint can be easily overlooked.

This card from this year's Panini Cooperstown Coglan's Chips insert set is one of the more unique cards of the year for me.  Panini included a few guys listed as "Pittsburgh" who either didn't make the base set, or were listed with another team.  A small victory for team collectors everywhere, I suppose.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cleaning House

I've been working on cleaning up my hard drives today, and realized how many cards I had scanned for posts that just never came to be. 

So consider this a trip into the wayback machine to some of the blog posts that were supposed to happen when I had just started battlinbucs that never made it past the design stages.

I think all these cards came as TTM returns right around May or so. 

And what better way to start than a Hall of Famer?  Y.A. Tittle is undoubtedly best remembered for his days as a Giant.  But this is a pretty cool piece of cardboard.  Check out the 49'ers logo.
 Buck Showalter was always a guy I considered to be a better manager than he was given credit for.  It's nice to see him have some added success and recognition with the O's
 Steve Kemp is a great TTM signer, but had been a guy I needed in my collection for years.  The problem?  Despite having a fair number of cards as a Pirate during the overproduction era, it seems that coming across an 86 Topps box at a card show isn't all that common.  But problem solved.  One more Bucco to cross off the list.

 Goodwin is coaching for the Mets now.  I always took a liking to the speed/no power guys in the 90's, and Goodwin was one of many.  With few exceptions, there just don't seem to be many of those types of player these days.
 I assume somehow those scribbles constitute some of the letters in Dell Curry's name.  Assume being the key word.  I don't follow basketball much anymore, but still enjoy getting cards signed from the 90's guys I loved watching.  Growing up basketball was probably my favorite sport, or at least the one I followed the closest.  But today's game doesn't interest me much.  Defense anyone?

Card Show on Black Friday? Bad Idea

Guess I kinda spoiled the big reveal on that one.  I just attended what was, hands down, the worst card show I have ever seen.

Since moving back to Pittsburgh in June, there hasn't been a single card show.  So a show on Black Friday weekend?  It has to be big, right?  Especially if they're charging $3 admission.

I was wrong.  Very, very wrong.

I pretty much arranged my shopping plans on BF around getting to this show as early as possible.  I figured the dealers would continue on the Black Friday spirit, and put out some steep discounts on lower end stuff.

Instead, I arrived to a sad looking setup inside of an abandoned Borders storefront.  I didn't see a lot of traffic, but hey...it is Black Friday.  Maybe that just means I beat people to the deals.

Had I known what awaited me inside, I would have turned around and headed home.  After trading in my $3 for a smiley face stamp on my hand to get into the show, my smiley face quickly turned upside down.

Old video games.  Wrestling figures from the 90's.  Former WWF and WCW wrestler Virgil (who is a high school teacher in the area and always trying to sell autographs whenever he can).  A company selling siding for houses.  Beanie Babies?
What's missing here?  Cards.

Out of the 20 or so vendors set up, there were 4 people selling cards.  One guy, who looked to have a ton of cards, was too busy talking on the phone to even bother putting the boxes out.  Another dealer was the typical "I bought these cards in 1996 and haven't looked at them since" type.  I pulled out a stack of Kordell Stewart commons I needed, just to get a sense of price.  His price?  $5 for 6 or 7 commons.  Onnnnn to the next table.

I shamefully picked out some commons out of a dime box from a dealer who mainly sells high end stuff to make myself feel a little better.  I wasn't walking away empty handed, dammit.

The results were unspectacular, but I did add some cool cards.

I've been building a mini collection of non-Pirate cards that feature photos shot in PNC Park.  The Clemente Wall makes an excellent backdrop for photos of left handed hitters, and it's a shot Topps takes full advantage of each year.

There's a very good chance I was at the game featured here, since I was at quite a few poorly attended Astros/Pirates games in 2006.  I may do some more digging to see what I can find on this one.  This mini collection is quickly becoming one of my favorite non-Pirate parts of my collection.

And from there I made a run on unfamiliar unis, which always amuse me.  There were quite a few guys who made brief appearances in strange places in the late 00's, none of which I appear to have cardboard of.

Problem solved!

I was thrilled to add this Braves of favored Bucco Craig Wilson.

The Braves have always been a far cry from my favorite team due to the early 90's...incidents.  Ironically, two of my favorite Buccos, Craig Wilson and Jack Wilson, both ended their careers in Atlanta.

For such a terrible show, the dime box did manage to yield additions for pretty much all of my mini collections.

Throwback uni?  Check.

Awesome 90's card?  Check.

And of course, the smattering of random cards that I just find cool.

But what ultimately saved the day (and I use saved loosely here) was a hockey collector who was selling off their collection.

It was almost all Pens stuff, with a small box of Steelers.  And then I noticed a small tab for Pirates stuffed in the back corner of one box.  I wasn't expecting much, since all the other cards were priced at or above ebay prices, and most commons were $1.  But I found a nice little stack of numbered Pirate cards, conveniently priced at a quarter each.  Yes please.

I managed to come up with $5 worth of quarter cards, which seemed like a miraculous idea for this show.

I walked in with a pocket full of cash, looking to spend.  I walked out with a pocket full of cash and a headache.  Total spent?  $10, including the $3 entrance fee.

To ease my pain, I drove home and drowned my sorrows in a COMC shopping spree.  So don't feel too bad for me.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top 100 All-Time Pirates: 100 - Carmen Hill

My posting has slacked off quite a bit lately.  The holidays will do that, I guess.  But I'm hoping to make up for it with an adventurous project that I've been planning for a while now.

I'll be counting down the top 100 players to suit up for the Bucs during the franchise's entire history.  To make the list, I've largely relied upon advanced metrics, like WAR, to adjust for the differences in eras (and in some cases centuries).  The list also accounts for the length a player was with the Bucs, any noteworthy accomplishments (no hitters, post season heroics, etc), though those elements don't factor in in any significant way.

With a team with such a storied and lengthy history, it makes for an interesting project to dig through turn of the century ballplayers who are far from household names.  I have cards of almost all the players to include in these posts, but there are a few guys who have eluded cardboard mentality as a Pirate, or at least eluded my collection.

Anywho...on to the countdown!

Cracking the last spot on the top 100 list is Carmen "Bunker" Hill.
Not exactly your household name, right?

Ah, the days when Revolutionary War references constituted nicknames, rather than some abomination combining the first letters of first and last names.

Bunker Hill?  Sure beats CarHi or CHill or some equally thoughtless nickname.

Hill broke into the majors at the tender age of 19 in 1915.  Despite pitching well in his initial season, putting up an impressive 1.18 era in 3 starts and 5 relief efforts, he would spend the majority of the next decade in the minors, appearing in only 20 major league games between 1916-1922, and out of the majors entirely from 1923-1925.

In 1926, at age 30, Hill reemerged as a solid big league pitcher, earning a permanent rotation spot in 1927.   His 1927 campaign would be the peak of his career, winning 22 games for the eventual NL champs and getting two points in MVP voting on the season.  He would lead the team in wins, posting a 3.24 era over 277 innings.

Hill would return as a starter in 1928, posting a 16-10 record and 16 complete games in 31 starts.

He would move to the bullpen in 1929 before being claimed off waivers by St. Louis in late August.  He would appear in 7 games for St. Louis across 1929 and 1930, and then kick around the minors for a few more seasons before calling it quits.

For his Pirate career, Hill pitched to a 47-31 record with a 3.26 and 47 complete games in 78 starts.  Far from a household name, he is notable both for the span of his career, appearing in games for the Bucs almost 15 years apart, as he is for his exceptional run from '27-28.

The signed index card above is one of my most unique items in my collection (though that wasn't what put Hill on the list), and with a 1915 debut by far my oldest signature.  But fret not, we'll quickly be moving to some more recognizable names on our list.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Calm Before the Storm

It's been a pretty hectic few days around here, which will probably be followed by a few even more hectic weekends.

After a year stranded in Ohio, we're looking forward to all the holiday festivities that Pittsburgh has to offer  And this year, that means cards.  One of the malls in the area that has been bleeding stores for years is having a weekend card show starting on Black Friday.  I'm not planning on doing much holiday shopping aside from a few DVD purchases, but the card show will be on my calendar for Friday.  It will be the first show in the area since I moved back in June, so the dime boxes will hopefully be a sight for sore eyes.

Follow that up with Piratefest in mid December, and I'll be a busy boy.

And of course the holidays also mean a little extra in the card budget.  I'm hoping to score some good deals during COMC's Black Friday sale, and I've found a lot of tougher to find cards pop up on ebay this time of year as people look to make a little extra holiday cash.  I was lucky enough to add a card that had been long been on my want list around this time last year at about half the price previous copies had ended at.

Fleer's EX brand was one of my favorite sets for quite some time, and this dual auto /25 was one of the must have additions to my Jack Wilson collection.  If it weren't for those pesky spring training hats... I'm not expecting any additions of this magnitude this year, since the Jack cards I need have become few and far between.  But I'll still be adding some great new cards I'm sure, as well as shipping a monster COMC order that has been building up since their last free shipping special.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Going Old School

I've been writing quite a bit about my frustrations with modern cards.  And for good reason, if you ask me.  I still enjoy collecting.  Heck, I probably enjoy it more now than most of my collecting lifetime.  But there's just something about current releases that is far from awe inspiring for me.

It's easy to forget there was a time where Topps was still the only game in town, but perhaps things were a little less depressing.  Well, remember is far from the right word.  By the time I was born Fleer, Donruss and Score were all going strong.  Or at least...around. 

Still, there's something to be said for a nice vintage card.

Or in some cases, a not so nice card.

And then of course there are those that just fall smack dab in the middle.

Like this 1967 checklist.  I dug this out of a discount vintage box at the big yearly show in Pittsburgh last year.  I think the card cost $1, maybe even less.  It's in nice shape, and is unchecked.  Score.  And after all, it is a Clemente.  Err, it has his head.

So maybe it isn't a "true" Clemente card.  But it sure beats an ordinary checklist.  Do they even still make checklists?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crossing the Border

2005 Diamond Kings Signature Materials Framed Red Platinum B&W
Silver Materials Framed Red Platinum Black and White

I hope you'll excuse me.  Most of this post will be delivered from my soap box.

The hobby was a crazy place in 2005.  Fleer went belly up midway through the baseball release calendar.  Donruss had their license yanked, and in doing so dumped their remaining game used and autograph inventory in a symphony of hit filled products.

At the time, there was strong sentiment calling for cutting back on the number of products and number of manufacturers.  Good riddance was the cry.  After all, as many collectors would be apt to remind you, Donruss and Fleer just keep turning out product after product filled with parallels where they do nothing more than change up the foil color and numbering.
2005 Diamond Kings Framed Green

And perhaps there was a point.  Things went a little overboard on parallel-a-palooza.  Take a look at 2005 Diamond Kings.  The set didn't have quite the aesthetic brilliance of the prior releases.  But the set still featured gallery style portraits of top players.  And an infinite number of parallel combinations.

Framed versions exist in red, blue, green, and black.  Unframed parallels come in copper, silver, and gold.  And then of coruse there is a platinum version of all of those.  Oh, the player has a game used version?  Good.  There's a version of all of the above for those too.  Plus platinum framed 1/1's for each border.  Oh, and the game used and auto dump resulted in a second set, where all the same players are included...but with black and white photos!
Diamond Kings Materials Silver /100

...and all the same variations.

Clearly things had gone overboard.  But how to right the ship?

Over the next few years, the remaining manufacturers seemed to make little to no effort to change all that much.  Upper Deck, Upper Deck Gold, Upper Deck Predictor Green, Predictor Silver, Predictor Purple.

Ok, we get it.  Parallels.

And now we're a few weeks away from 2014 products hitting the shelves.  Almost a full decade away from the great parallel debate, we now have one manufacturer with full licensing.  One company to rule them all, if you will.

And what happened?  Parallel explosion.

Topps Emerald
Topps Gold /2013
Topps Camo /99
Topps Pink /50
Topps Black /62
Topps Platinum 1/1
Topps Blue Border
Topps Red Border
Topps Purple Border
Topps Slate Blue Sparkle
Topps Slate Silver  /10
Topps Factory Set Orange /260
Topps Saphie /25

and then...
Topps Opening Day
Topps Opening Day Blue Sparkle
Topps Mini
Topps Mini Gold
Topps Mini Pink
Topps Mini Platinum

and printing plates!  Everything must have a printing plate, like every child a womb.

So what's the point?  It's not that I'm angry about the loss of manufacturers (I am).  It's not that I dislike parallels (I love 'em).  But I wonder where did those angry collectors go?  Why was the angry mob up in arms over slight foil changes nine years ago, yet today we gobble up Topps Mini's by the boxload, and bid up hideous Topps Camo cards to $10 when we used to bemoan that numbered parallels didn't mean anything anymore.  Or do we simply turn a blind eye because there is no other choice.