Thursday, February 28, 2013

And finally, on to the new additions

I'm still terribly behind on scanning new additions, but yesterday and today's post should be the first of about a dozen new additions to my Pirate autograph project. 

This 2000 Topps Todd Ritchie is an upgrade over a Classic Rookies auto which featured him in a airbrushed Twins minor league jersey.  The 2000 Topps set is one of, if not my absolute favorite Topps sets. I love the design, and it brings back fond memories, since it was the set that reinvigorated my interest in collecting.  I only have a few cards from the Pirates team set signed, but hopefully I'll be able to complete the relatively small signed team set at some point.

Ritchie repeats a common theme in recent Pirate history - a player who puts up a couple strong seasons during their peak years before quickly slipping out of the game.  A former first round pick by Minnesota, he largely faltered for the Twins in limited big league action before signing with the Pirates for the 1999 season.  I recall Ritchie pitching better than his stats reflect, though that may largely be because he was the only starter from the injury-riddled 2001 pitching staff to survive the season unscathed.

His greatest contribution may perhaps be the return on his trade o the White Sox, netting starters Josh Fogg and Kip Wells, the latter of whom would pick up the torch as a fading flash of promise in the rotation.

After leaving Pittsburgh, Ritchie's career quickly bottomed out, after a 5-15, 6 ERA season for the Sox in 2002, he picked up a handful of starts for Milwaukee and Tampa Bay in 2003 and '04 before retiring.  He apparently did attempt a comeback in 2008, though he only appeared in 5 games, culminating in one start at AA Tulsa.

Still, he was one of my favorite Pirates during the transition from Three Rivers Stadium to PNC Park.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wreck Specs

Being a Pirate fan, I think, gives you a unique perspective on the game.  An appreciation for the minutia, the mundane, that perhaps fans of other teams never fully get to appreciate.  After all, the good years provide a smattering of stars, veterans, and hopefully a superstar or two.  The bad years are spent bemoaning your team's losing ways, or hinging hope on the next big prospect.

Call me crazy, but being a Pirate fan through the 2000's was a beautiful thing.  The team was bad.  We knew the team was bad.  Dave Littlefield had displayed a fetish for soft tossing middle relievers, a rotation full of mediocre, innings eating starting pitchers, and a lineup riddled with aging veterans who, even in their prime weren't quite championship caliber players.  If that wasn't enough, a series of terrible drafts and underwhelming college pitchers in the first round offered a farm system majestically void of anything resembling an actual prospect anywhere close to the Clemente Bridge.

If you aren't a Pirate fan, you're still probably wondering what the appeal is here.  If you were a Pirate fan, perhaps you're already fondly reflecting. 

You see, the team was terrible.  Not even a glimmer of hope going into spring training terrible.  "Hey, we might finish 5th in a 5 team division" terrible.  "Wow, I never noticed that building in the PNC Park skyline" bad.  At that point, the team had already been losing for a decade straight.  What could you do but laugh at the endless cycle of retreads and soft tossing pitchers, of the errant throws over the first baseman's head and booted routine grounders to third. After all, you could scalp a ticket half an hour before gametime for $5.

And when your team is that bad - historically bad - it means you can no longer just cheer for the one or two star caliber players your team does have.  After all, every yinzer who goes to a game or two every summer will be wearing their Jason Bay or Freddy Sanchez tshirt jersey.  But you, the baseball connoisseur, grizzled veteran of blown six run leads, must reinforce your fandom (and possibly also satiate some masochistic part of your psyche) by cheering for the very players who so actively prevent your team from winning.

And at the top of the list of such players is perhaps my all time favorite Pirate nickname: "Wreck Specs" Franquelis Osoria, aptly named both for his glasses he wore on the mound and for his uncanny ability to blow any and every lead he inherited. 

Frankie as I imagine only his mother and Jim Tracy called him was the type of player that I imagine every team has, but who becomes so much more obvious on a terrible team.  This favorite player rule is the reason John Wehner has a World Series ring (courtesy of the '97 Marlins) and is thus obligated to send Jim Leyland and his descendents a Christmas card into the next century, or why Clint Barmes made many a Pirate fan cry last year as he made Mario Mendoza look like Babe Ruth.  Osoria came over from the Dodger organization, pitched an inexplicable 89 innings for the Pirates between 2007 and 2008 with an impressive 5.66 ERA during his time in Pittsburgh, but that seemed to do little to discourage Tracy from repeatedly using him in games.

After the 2008 season, Osoria disappeared from baseball.  He signed with the lowly Royals before the 2009 season, but never pitched an inning in their system. 

Though he has a few certified autos as a Dodger, Osoria's lone Pirate card came in 2008 Topps Update, released after the season.  It's possible he signed a few copies during 2009 Spring Training, but I have yet to see one.  My auto on a AAA Indianapolis Indians card came in my latest batch of purchases, and will have to serve as a placeholder until an upgrade can be found.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Throwback Tuesday

Throwback Tuesdays will take a look at the history of the franchise looking at players new and old, from Pirates of long ago to contemporary throwback uniforms. 

Sometimes the most obvious starting point is the best.  And where better to start than with the oldest card in my collection?  My 1948 Bowman Ed Fitz Gerald marks the current starting point of my collection. 

Beyond the interesting capitalization of his last name, Fitz Gerald spend a dozen years in the major leagues, mainly serving as a backup catcher.  Spending half his career in Pittsburgh, his most extensive playing time came in his rookie season of '48. 

Fitz Gerald also holds a special place in Pirates history as the catcher of one of six no-hitters in Pirates history.  On May 6, 1951 Cliff Chambers pitched a 3-0 no hitter against the Boston Braves in the second game of a doubleheader, marking the second no-hitter in team history, and the first of the modern era.

Upon leaving Pittsburgh, Fitz Gerald would serve as Washington's primary catcher in 1955 and '56, remaining in the majors through 1959 before spending several seasons coaching and managing in the majors and minors.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black and Yellow, Black and Yellow

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think I'm ever NOT behind on scanning.  Every time I get caught up, there's a card show or package coming in that makes the stack magically reappear in front of the scanner.  My fiancee is monopolizing the scanner today scanning old family photos, so some pictures of my latest additions will have to wait. 

Since we moved from Pittsburgh to western Ohio, I've found myself yet again expanding my collecting interests.  At home, Pens and Steelers cards were typically too overpriced to even consider, often being priced at 1.5-2x ebay prices at local shows.  Fortunately one of the few perks of the move has been an ability to add lots of Penguins and Steelers cards to my collection at great prices.  Not only has it given me something else to look for at shows, but it's also a nice little reminder of home each time I pull a card in the familiar black and gold. 

One of the (perhaps few) perks to being a Pirates collector is , oddly enough, the team's colors  The Pirates losing streak just so happened to coincide with pretty much every recent development in modern cards, meaning Pirates players were almost entirely excluded from most of the fantastic insert sets of the 90's and early 2000's, and have had comparatively fewer cards in most base sets than their Pittsburgh counterparts in hockey and football. 

But the team's primary colors of black and gold also happen to be two of the most common colors used in parallel sets.  From Collector's Choice Gold Signature cards parllels in the mid 90's to the popular Topps Black and Chrome Gold Refractors today, the colored borders really make the team's uniform colors 'pop' in my opinion.

Pittsburgh's teams are of course unique for their color parity across all major sports, though the Penguins have shifted to a more muted Vegas Gold in recent years.  The Steelers are the only team in the city to maintain a singular color scheme throughout their history - the Pirates changed from a blue and red color scheme to the now familiar black and gold before the 1948 season, and the Penguins used a number of blue and white color combinations before switching over after the city's other two teams won their respective championships in the 1979 season.

Since the Pirate uniforms prominently display black,with a more subtle gold piping, I think the gold borders accentuate the secondary color.
The 2003 Topps team set has some great action photography prominently featuring PNC Park, including this Craig Wilson card.  As an added bonus, the yellow of the foul pole really seems to bring this card together.

And capping off the color theme and players who's last name begins with a W, these two Jack Wilson refractors illustrate my point about the black on black color scheme.  While they both look good, the inclusion of the gold on the 2005 Topps Chrome refractor stands out more to me than the black-heavy 2006 Finest ref.  I would love to see the Pirates reintegrate a gold jersey into their uniform set at some point.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Tale of Two Sluggers

Spring Training offers a lot for baseball fans - the first sight of live action in months, the annual hope of pennant chases (or at least mediocre play), roster battles, and brief glimpses of the franchises future as top prospects spend time with the big league camp.

For Pirate fans, those hopes are almost always met by equal disappointments in the following months and years.  The Bucs enter camps this year with a pair of potential ace arms in the upper minors in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.  But sixteen years ago, the Pirates entered camp with another pair of prospects to dream on who took drastically different paths.

Entering the 1997 season, the Pirates had two corner infield power prospects who appeared poised to power the team's offense into the next century.  Twenty-one year old first base prospect Ron Wright ranked #48 on Baseball America's preseason Top 100, while 19 year old third baseman Aramis Ramirez cracked the '97 list at number 26.  Wright was coming off his age 21 season in AAA Calgary in the hitter friendly PCL.  Still, his raw power numbers (16 HR's and 31 doubles in a little over 350 PA's) and high average at an advanced level for his age confirmed his prospect status.  Similarly, Ramirez put up outstanding numbers at High-A Lynchburg, .278/.390/.517 as a 19 year old.

However, the two players would follow dramatically different paths.  Wright's career would be seriously derailed by injuries, draining him of both the power and bat speed that made him a top prospect.  Though he would bounce around AAA into the early 2000's, his only major league appearance would come in 2002 in one game for the Mariners.

 Ramirez, obviously, found more success at the major league level, developing in a two time all-star, though he too would have his career go off track while with the Pirates.  Rushed to the majors at age 20 in 1998, Ramirez would be shuttled between the majors and AAA for the next three seasons, undoubtedly slowing his development.  His major league service time early on would prove catastrophic, since his increased cost during his arbitration years forced the Pirates to deal Ramirez in 2003 at age 25, just as he was meeting his potential as a hitter, in order to get out of the red.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One Out Wonders

Attempting to obtain autographs of every player to play for a team is undoubtedly a challenging endeavor.  But I think anyone undertaking a similar project would tell you that it's also a journey that can take you into the forgotten nooks an crannies of a team's history.  While it's easy to get caught up on getting an autograph from your favorite player or knocking off a high dollar Hall of Famer, it can be just as exciting to knock off the journeyman utility infielder who produced 230 forgettable at bats.  And sometimes you discover a player you never even knew existed.  Ever.

I added about a dozen new Pirate autographs this week between TTM returns and a purchase from Brian at abcunlimited; but none were as interesting as Dennis Konuszewski.  When I first noticed his name on my master list of Pirate players, I had to do a double take.  This must be some minor leaguer who briefly appeared on the 40-man roster but never played in Pittsburgh.  Or perhaps a spring training invite who was cut long before camp broke.  It wasn't out of the question.  The master roster pulled directly from the Pirates site was riddled with Einar Diazs and Rudy Owens,' players who made it just close enough to Pittsburgh to be documented somewhere, somehow, but who never actually wore actually spent a day on the regular season roster.

But a quick google search confirmed that Dennis Insanelyobscureyetcomplexlastname had been a major league baseball pitcher for the Pittsburgh Baseball Club in the year nineteen hundred and ninety-five. 

This project has been a fun aspect of my collection, but also a foray into baseball's past.  I have learned about countless players who played, and sometimes died, long before I was even born.  I have committed to memory the trades for Tommy Helms (for Pittsburgh native Art Howe) or AAA home run total of Ted Savage (24 in 1961) as if I had watched the players while growing up.  But here was a player who appeared in 1995 - when I was 7 years old - who I not only didn't remember, but had never even heard some mispronounced abomination of his last name uttered in passing.  No vague recollection of a bad pun or nickname on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight.  Nothing.

And perhaps there's a reason for that. 

On August 4th, 1995, Dennis Konuszewski pitched one third of an inning in the Major Leagues.  He recorded exactly one out, on fifteen pitches, while facing five batters.  Of those five, four reached base, scoring two runs.  One out, three hits, one walk, two earned runs.  Add in a pinch of rosin, and bake at 350 degrees, and you come up with a 54.00 ERA.

Konuszewski had been been called up directly from AA after a solid, yet underwhelming season.  A 7th round selection, he pitched to 3.65 ERA for the Carolina Mudcats in his second go-round in AA, with a 48/26 K/BB ration in 61 2/3 innings. 

The details of what exactly brought the righty to Pittsburgh seem lost to the vastness of the internet, and perhaps the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's paywall.  Presumably, he was little more than a spare bullpen arm.  The Pirates played a double header that day, blowing a 5 run lead in the first game, but using only two relievers.  The bullpen had seen little action in the days leading up the the double header, so presumably there were fresh arms available. 

Still, when starter Steve Parris was lifted after 6 innings trailing 3-2, Jim Leyland turned to the AA callup as the first reliever out of the pen.  Perhaps he wanted the rookie to get his first taste of big league action.  Maybe he thought he could minimize the Konuszewski's exposure against the 8-9-1 hitters, turning to more experienced arms to close out the game. 

Regardless, he walked the first hitter, and then gave up a single the pinch hitter.  Leadoff man Brian Hunter advanced the runners on a sacrifice bunt.  Back to back singles to the left side of the infield by ex-Bucco John Cangelosi and HoF'er Craig Biggio brought in two runs, knocking Konuszewski out of the game and out of the majors.  He would pitch only 3 games in AAA in 1996, and would retire from baseball after a 4th stint in AA to begin the 1997 season.

This very well may be the longest writeup on Dennis Konuszewski's baseball career.  But however brief his time in the majors, it may in fact make his accomplishments and the circumstances surrounding them all the more unique and interesting.  Each franchise has scattered occurrences of such players throughout their history - some, like Archibald "Moonlight" Graham or Adam Greenberg take on a life of their own in the telling and retelling of baseball lore.  Others, like Konuszewski, fade into a vast and complex tapestry of baseball history; by no means integral to the history of their team, but yet central to the narrative of that team's history

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Turn Back the Clock Tuesday

I'm still behind on scanning some new additions, but in the mean time here is a recent non-card pickup that instantly became one of my favorite pieces in my collection.

I've been slowly expanding my collection to include more game used items, and at the top of my wantlist have been the various styles of turn back the clock jerseys the Pirates have worn over the past few years.  The Pirates wore this jersey in the Sept. 9, 2009 game at PNC Park against the Reds, who also wore their late 70's style gray pullovers.

Cedeno started at shortstop in the game, though he put up an unimpressive 0-4 statline with one K.
The jersey is an example of the late 70's mix-and-match jerseys, and thought the Pirates have also worn both the black and yellow tops in TBTC games in recent years, the pinstriped is by far my favorite.  To date, the Pirates have only worn the pinstriped tops twice, in the 2009 game and previously in 2004.

Though Cedeno wasn't a player I was particularly fond of, both because of his inconsistent play and the fact that he replaced my all-time favorite player, Jack Wilson, at shortstop.  Still, this jersey is a rare piece, and looks amazing in person.  I haven't been able to find a photo of Cedeno from, but hopefully I can track one down soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Incredibly Uncreative: A retrospective of Topps Photography

The Topps brand is inexorably linked to the public conception of baseball cards.  To anyone from the most die hard collector to the most casual fan, Topps is an unmovable force in the baseball card industry.  Childhood memories are bound to the card designs of a certain year, the minute details of our most cherished cards branded into memory.

But cardboard nostalgia aside, Topps cards are as reliant aesthetically on their photography as they are on their card design.  And unlike the polarizing debates over card design, whether you love the wood grain '62 and '87 sets (I do), or think the '75 and '60 sets veered too far from the traditional formula (I don't), Topps photograph is a far more nuanced debate that seems to come up far less often.

The first twenty five years of Topps cards offered little excitement or innovation for collectors in the on card photography.  The cards followed a fairly predictable formula: posed photographs, typically in the team's home jersey, taken at the spring training complex.  It was a logical plan: spring training would most likely have every player who would suit up for a given team during the season, barring trades, and in the pre-merchandise savvy era, there was no concern about teams wearing eighteen different versions of their jersey, with 4 alternate batting practice uniforms.  Throughout the '60's, various season highlight cards would integrate full action shots, and the early '70's introduced the In Action cards, featuring large action photos. 

But the overall visual approach was fairly simple: if we have a photograph of that player in a vaguely current uniform, print it.  If not, pay an intern to do a half-assed job airbrushing out the old logo.  The result was a sequence of years using photos clearly from the same photo session of a player.  Or better yet, players who appear in a string of airbrushed photos.  For example, Hall of Famer Jim Bunning spent 1968 and most of 1969 playing for the Pirates.  Despite appearing in two Topps sets, his only card in an actual Pirate uniform wouldn't come until the 1990 Pacific Legends set.  Nice work, Topps.

But even as Topps integrated more action shots into the base set by the late 1970's, the basic philosophy of getting as many photos as possible from one session still appeared to hold true.  The Pirates 1979 team set holds a special place in my heart for many reasons.  While it marks the last Pirates World Series victory, and a magical We Are Fam-a-lee club, it also marks an impressive feat in Topps photography.  I'll let the photos below speak for themselves.

Seeing a pattern here?

The late 70's Pirates were known for their mix and match jersey combinations that included white pinstriped, black, and yellow pants and pullover jerseys.  Instead, it would appear that almost half of the team set was photographed on the same day, in almost the exact same position in the batters box or on deck circle.  Talk about variety.

But it wasn't all bad.  Though the posed or pseudo action shots dominated much of the '80's, Topps included some great photography in the 1990's, perhaps not coincidentally coinciding with the development of the Stadium Club brand.  The 1993 set featured Zane Smith and Barry Bonds in 1938 throwback jerseys which the team only wore for one game. The jerseys are a unique nod to an 86-64 team that finished in second place, behind HoF'ers the Waner brothers and Arky Vaughn.  The '92 season marks the only time to date that the Pirates have worn the red/white/blue colored jerseys in a throwback game.

The photography in the 1998 set is perhaps my favorite of any Topps set, featuring an array of creative posted shots, horizontal photos, and unique action shots.  The Pirates team set also features two of my favorite Pirate base cards, #146 Jose Guillen and #365 Jermaine Allensworth.  At the time, Allensworth and Guillen appeared to be part of a young core of the Pirates (first) 5 year rebuilding plan.  Guillen's, a 21 year old Dominican right fielder with a rocket arm when he reached the majors in 1997 put up strong numbers for his age in his rookie season.  His 1998 card features him alongside the statue of Roberto Clemente outside Three Rivers Stadium, a parallel perhaps a bit ambitious for the promising Guillen, but one with unavoidable similarities nonetheless.  

Allensworth's, a first round pick in 1993 using the compensation pick gained from the departure of aforementioned Barry Lamar Bonds.  Drafted out of Purdue, Allensworth moved quickly through the Pirates system, reaching AAA by 1995 and featuring a high contact/speed combination that would become the hallmark for a revolving door of almost identical players for the following decade until the arrival of Andrew McCutchen.  Allensworth was one of my favorite players from 1997's Freak Show team that made an improbable run at the NL Central pennant.  Despite his pedigree and minor league success, Allensworth saw dips in his stolen base total and average which, coupled with his below average power, drove his OPS+ numbers into 80-90's.  He was traded to frequent trading partner Kansas City midway through the 98 season, and would see his last major league action with the Mets in 1999. 
Allensworth's 1998 Topps card features a great play at the plate at home against the Reds.  I love the way the elevated camera angle captures the play, and it's a bonus that the card features the Pirates black home alternates that were worn from 1997-2005.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of this series.  Tomorrow will take a look at the 2000's, as Topps reverts back to some of their old tricks, and the eventual discovery of licensed photography.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Operation Showdown, Part Deux

We were back in Pittsburgh over the weekend seeing friends and family and doing some wedding planning, so forgive the lack of posts the last few days.  I had a few typed up to cover the weekend, but with everything going on I never got a chance to log on and post them. 

I brought came back with some new additions, but I'll save those for later in the week.

Today, I want to turn my focus to one of my favorite aspects of my collection: Pirate cards of guys who were never actually Pirates.  Of course there are countless cards released under the Bowman brands of "prospects" (and I use that term very loosely for some of the Pirate minor leaguers who have ended up in Bowman sets over the years) who are photographed in their spring training uniforms, or photoshopped to appear in a big league uni.  But far more rare are the major leaguers who appear in a mainstream set without ever playing for the team.  As spring training opens up, each team brings in a handful of players as non roster invitees.  Most have at best an outside shot at cracking the big league roster, and instead will fill in a few innings in split squad games before heading to AAA and hoping a spot opens up on the big league roster.  But it seems a few players enter training camps each year almost a lock to fill a glaring roster vacancy, barring the unexpected.  And the unexpected doesn't always match up well with Topps' checklists.

Perhaps most notably, one-time super prospect made a brief appearance as a Pirate on his 2005 Topps card.  Grieve entered camp as a NRI with a decent shot at cracking the Pirates outfield depth as a RH bench bat in a lefty heavy lineup.  By 2005, Grieve had evolved from super prospect to budding star to journeyman outfielder, all in the course of a few seasons.  But Grieve was cut during camp, and opted for free agency before ever appearing in a regular season game with the Buccos.  He managed to catch on with the Cubs, but would be out of the majors for good after the 2005 season.

In 2002, a pitching starved club brought in ten year veteran Pat Rapp to bolster a rotation that had been ravaged by injuries the year before.  A solid innings eater, Rapp had gone 5-12 with a 4.76 ERA for Anaheim the year before with a nearly 1/1 K/BB ratio.  Like Grieve, Rapp would be cut during spring training, opting for retirement rather than taking on journeyman status.

Last, but certainly not least, is perhaps the player who best epitomizes the Pirates two decade losing streak:  Darren Lewis.  At the tail end of a dozen years in the majors, Lewis was a speed & defense first outfielder who found the former skill rapidly deteriorating as he entered his 30's.  At the 2002 trade deadline, the Cubs shipped Lewis to the Pirates for one time prospect Chad Hermansen.  Lewis would likely have profiled in a defensive replacement/backup centerfielder role, spelling .216 hitting Adrian Brown.  Instead, Lewis decided anything was better than playing for a lowly Pirates team, refusing to report and opting to retire instead.

While this anecdote in futility is blog worthy in and of itself, it's only topped off by the fact that Topps still saw fit to include Lewis in that year's Traded set.  Heck, if you already paid the intern $7 to airbrush the photo, why not use it?

Monday, February 11, 2013

And now, back to your regularly scheduled program

Now that I have a couple posts under my belt, I can turn my attention towards some new additions.  I added autos 485 and 486 over the weekend, both of which are recent first basemen for the Buccos

Though I usually only count autos if it pictures the player as a Pirate, Lee only has two cards in a Pirate uniform - 2011 Topps Update and a 2012 Heritage SP.  Both cards came out after the 2011 season ended, and his subsequent unofficial retirement, making it highly unlikely many (any?) signed copies of the cards are currently floating around.  I'm sure Lee will eventually make his way onto the public signing circuit, but even then his prices may be more than I'm willing to pay, so this will have to do for now.  I only paid $1 for the Lee and it's a pretty hideous looking card, so I may end up peeling off the sticker and putting it on his 2011 Update base card.

Matt Hague's cards are a bit of a mystery to me.  His autos and parallels still sell above what I'd consider them worth.  Pirate fans had a brief love affair with him early in 2012, despite the fact that he is a light hitting right handed first baseman in a ballpark that heavily favors left handed power.  Despite showing nothing in his time in Pittsburgh, being outrighted off the 40-man roster, going unclaimed through waivers, and being knocked down to 4th on the depth chart, it looks like he still has some dedicated collectors.  But hey, at least the Pirates gold spring training jerseys look cool!

How I Met Your Pirates

You know how every couple has that adorable, perfectly rehearsed "how we met" story?  How every line, ever nuance is perfectly crafted to elicit the inevitable ooh from an audience?  And how these stories are almost always at take significant liberties in the retelling of the story, and at worst the exhibit the type of revisionist history that would make Manti Te'o proud?

Well, that's sort of how my relationship with the Pirates went.

I'd love to tell you that I was born and bred a Pirates fan, spurning the Western PA Steelers birthright for a club that has, for all intents and purposes spent the vast majority of my time on this planet in the cellar of the National League.  Instead, I grew up an Indians and Cubs fan, barely giving a second thought to the Pirates, unless my dad scored free tickets from work or I was going to a game with a friend's family.  And the reason for this is very simply: Andy Van Slyke.

Andy Van Slyke was my first "favorite" player.  That statement is qualified only by the fact that I have no recollection of Andy Van Slyke as a player, save for a couple ticket stubs to a 1993 Phillies/Pirates game which it can be assumed I attended.  You see, my only real connection to Andy Van Slyke was his picture on the cardboard backing to the 1994 Starting Lineup baseball figures.  You know, those 3 inch tall pieces of plastic vaguely painted to resemble your favorite player (in the most generic of poses), which your uncle told you not to open because they would put you through college one day?  Well, I opened them.  And at 7 years old, my conception of pro sports was far more firmly rooted in the the baseball games I would create on our suspiciously astro-turf colored game room carpet than in any televised games that may have been on.  The fact that Andy Van Slyke - a local player from the lowly Pirates - was important enough to be featured on the back, among a half dozen other superstars, told my seven year old brain that he must be the epitome of cool. (Note: this same logic would later be used to convince my 8 year old self that Carlos Baerga was also cool.  A notion I am trying to shake off to this day).  Besides, what name could be more awesome than Van Slyke?

But my budding fandom would be short lived.  Van Slyke would be released prior to the 1995 season, nearly destroying my entire world view.  Though I couldn't have known it at the time, this was wonderful preparation for the frustration and perennial heartbreak the team would cause me in the coming years.  But at the time, without Andy Van Slyke, the Pirates might as well not exist. 

It would take another five years for me to finally come around.  In between, I had some dates with other teams, a few one night stands.  But nothing serious.  I thought the Indians might be "the one", but they just couldn't commit.  The Cubs, led by fireballing Kerry Wood, looked good, and blinded by lust I as too foolish to see the relationship was cursed.  But then one night I was at a party, and I saw the Pirates across the room.  We started talking again, and instantly hit it off.  It was as if we were meant to be together all along.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It has to start somwehre, it has to start sometime

Bear with me - these initial few posts will undoubtedly be a bit unfocused as the Battlin' Bucs get their sea legs.  By next week, I plan on turning the attention of my posts towards some anticipated new arrivals and some planned weekly showcases that will focus on my Pirates all-time autograph project.  But in the mean time, I thought it might be nice to take a look at what got my collection to its current state by focusing on some of my player collections.

As I'll discuss more in tomorrow's post, the Pirates were little more than an afterthought for me growing up.  The teams were (and have continued to be) bad, the Pirates had an awkward tv deal at the time that split regular season coverage between three little-watched networks, and in the midst of the 90's home run boom, the Pirates fielded an ever-rotating cast of light hitting retreads and middling prospects. 

But as the 2001 season rolled around, the promise of a new ballpark sparked what had never been more than a casual interest in the Pirates.  Simultaneously, the red hot rookie crop and return of Donruss drew me back into card collecting.  At 12, I was looking for a favorite player: someone whose cards I could collect on a very limited budget, and someone who would likely be with the team for a while.  I took an interest in a light hitting, smooth fielding shortstop who was positioned to fill the team's void at short heading into Spring Training, Jack Wilson.  Wilson had come to the Pirates the in a trade deadline deal the previous season for one of my favorite players, reliver Jason Christiansen (like myself, a lefty with an excessively long last name).

I spent much of 2001 going to card shops and local shows asking everyone if they had any Jack Wilson cards, usually met by blank looks, followed by "Who?"  Wilson went on to spend parts of nine seasons in Pittsburgh, providing highlight reel qualify defense on a nightly basis, and putting up a couple of strong offensive seasons, including an All-Star appearance in 2004.  My Jack Wilson collection was the first point that I focused on any one player or team, and as the number of Wilson cards I needed slowly shrank, I began expanding my collection to focus on Pirate autographs and eventually all Pirate cards.

My Jack Wilson collection is still my favorite part of my collection.  I currently have a little over half of all Jack Wilson cards produced, including 1/1's, and nearly 75% of all non-1/1 cards.  Below are five of my favorites, for either sentimental or aesthetic reasons.

2001 Studio /700
For a long time, this card was my white whale.  Despite being /700, up until last summer, I had never seen the card in person or listed anywhere online.  I was almost convinced it didn't exist...until finding a copy in a $.50 box at a show.  The next week, a copy was listed on ebay. 

2005 Zenith Z-Graphs /25
05 Zenith is one of my favorite modern sets - I absolutely love the defux printing on the parallels.

2004 Topps Chrome Gold Refractor
I really like how well black or gold bordered cards accentuate the Pirate team colors.  The card also features a cameo appearance from a childhood favorite, Carlos Baerga.

2005 Leaf Century Fabric Number 2/2
Again, the black and gold color scheme really makes this card stand out for me.  I actually like this card more than any of the 1/1's I have in my collection.

2007 Topps Co-Signers Hyper Silver Blue /15
The 07 Co-Signers set was a huge headache for player collectors, featuring a mind boggling number of parallels, and multiple player combinations.  Jack is featured as the primary player with both Freddy Sanchez and Jose Castillo, and as the secondary player with Jason Bay.  Fun, right?  This card shows Jack with close friend and overall good guy Freddy Sanchez.  Wilson and Sanchez were summer league teammates growing up in California, and would anchor the Pirates double play from 2003-09.

Check back tomorrow as I take a look at some cool photography on Andy Van Slyke cards.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring Training Eve Eve

It only seems fitting that this blog's maiden voyage should come nestled between the release of 2013 Topps and pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton for Spring Training.

Obviously I haven't been able to get any of the 2013 cards signed yet (though a few will be heading out in the mail for TTM autographs Monday).  But I like the design of this year's base set much more than the other white bordered, swoosh-incorporating designs from the past couple years.  At a dozen cards including Andrew McCutchen's appearance on a league leader card, the Topps still managed to include two ex-Buccos in the Pirate team set.  Brock Holt, sent to Boston along with Joel Hanrahan, was presumably traded after the set went to press.  However, the inclusion of Kevin Correia as a Pirate is a bit of a head scratcher, since the recent Twins' free agent signing had some Pirate fans (myself included) counting down the days to his inevitable 2013 departure from Pittsburgh since the winter of 2010 when he signed with the Pirates.

I was able to find the entire team set at a card show over the weekend at a dime a piece, and also picked up the new Emerald parallel card of Andrew McCutchen.  The Emerald looks pretty similar in foil and texture to the gold foil parallels from last year.  The color scheme doesn't work as well on Pirate cards as the gold foil did, but I'll still work towards the entire team set of the parallel. 

So as pitchers and catchers report, and the Pirates prepare to make yet another attempt at eeking their way above .500, a fond(enough) farewell to Kevin Correia and his impeccably combed hair.


After who knows how many attempts at starting a blog for my collection, I can only hope this will be the first of many posts.  If not, this initial post sure will look funny all alone on the page, won't it?

I'm a collector of any and all things Pittsburgh baseball related.  This blog will largely focus on my efforts to collect autographs of every player to appear in a game for the Pirates, however, it will undoubtedly also include other Pirate cards, bobbleheads, the occasional Steelers and Penguin post, and whatever other odds and ends I find amusing.

As of this writing, I am over half way to obtaining autographs of all the Pirate players post WWII.  I enjoy writing and reading about the less explored nooks and crannies of the franchise's history: the obscure journeymen who appeared in half a dozen September games, or the aging veteran who collected one last paycheck for a last place team on his way into retirement.  I hope through this blog to focus on some of that less explored history, as well as looking at Pittsburgh less heralded (and often more talented) baseball teams: the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays.

Hopefully (and by hopefully, I mean should I ever actually continue this blog beyond the initial post), this blog will offer a combination of baseball history, pretty pictures, and shiny baseball cards for Pirate and non-Pirate collectors alike.