Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Throwback Tuesday

I love throwbacks.  And I love Pittsburgh's Negro League history.

The club does a decent job recognizing the city's baseball history (though there's always room for improvement).  But one thing I always look forward to are the club's NNL throwback games.  Pacific has some great throwback photography in their '98 set (some of which you'll likely be seeing on some other blogs when appropriate pwe bombs are delivered), but these Grays photos are unquestionably my favorites.

I'm curious who the Pirates played on this day.  Without doing too much digging (well, any really), it would appear to be a team with one of the infamous cookie cutter stadiums, somewhere on the road since the outfield padding doesn't match Three Rivers' blue padding.  Add in that the club also would have had to had a NNL club at some point, and my money would be on St. Louis.

I may take some time to do some more research at some point.  But if anyone can solve the mystery in the mean time, it would certainly be welcomed.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My First Trade Post

In the couple months since I started blogging, I've checked off a few of the blogosphere bucket list items.  Alliterative themed posts?  Check.  Throwback Tuesdays are among my favorite posts to write, though the exceedingly wordy "Wait, When Did He Play There? Wednesday posts perhaps could have used some more linguistic dexterity.

Card show recaps?  Gotcha.

A renewed appreciation for all things mundane in collecting?  My newly reorganized non-Pirate collections, now sorted by team and in binders by division would seem to think so.  Though I don't think I'll ever truly forgive Dime Box Nick for inspiring me to restart my 'Everything Bagel" approach to non-Pittsburgh collections.

But I had never made a trade.  Not that it bothered me.  I've never minded shelling out cash for cards.  This hobby is one of the few things I really spend money on, and even then I'm a penny pincher.

But when Adam from Thoughts and Sox posted on my recent Kordell Stewart additions saying he had some Kordell's available, I figured it couldn't hurt to at least see what he had.

My years on card forms hardened me to intense trading negotiations and a disproportionate percentage of borderline personality disorders.  As I wrote out the initial email to Adam, I prepared for the worst.  I began pulling any and every Red Sox card I could find, preparing for a terse back and forth of stiff negotiations.  Ready to bicker over the finer points of Trot Nixon versus 1998 base Topps.

Can you see why I rarely traded?  My experiences never went all that well.

So imagine my surprise when I opened up his reply email, saying simply "How about if I just send you the Kordell's and you can send me whatever you think is fair in Sox."

Wait.  That's it?  No two dozen revisions of the trae parameters?  No acting as if your cardboard is worth the life of your firstborn child?  No treating the trade as if we are both GM's of major league sports teams and our careers, our livelihoods, will be on the line if the trade isn't perfectly in tune with both our needs?  No acting as if anything below me giving up 5X the value of the cards I'm receiving will be completely and utterly unacceptable to your pallet?

Hmm.  I could get used to this blog thing.

When Adam's package finally arrived last week, I was thrilled.  I'd be lying if I didn't say I had been anxiously checking the mail in the days leading up to its arrival, completely unaware of its contents and perhaps a little nervous that I might not be able to reciprocate the sheer awesomeness of its content.
Luckily for me, the package was indeed full of awesomeness, but not toooo much awesomeness.  Adam sent me nine beautiful Kordell Stewart rookies, the remnants of what he said was once a small Kordell PC.  And after all, what collector in the mid 90's didn't have some kind of Kordell collection.
Of the nine cards, eight of the RC's were new to my collection.  Only the Stadium Club was a duplicate, but even then it is a major upgrade over the well love copy that is a holdover from my boyhood collection.

And out of all the cards, the Action Packed card above is by far my favorite.  I usually prefer rookies in the team's pro jersey, so I'm surprised I didn't prefer the Action Packed card two cards down, featuring him in the appropriate shades of black and gold.  But something about this card I instantly fell in love with.  It just seems like such vintage Kordell, making a light throw off his back foot, almost reminiscent of a shortstop.  It perfectly showcases the athleticism and outside the box play that made him such a blast to watch.
These cards undoubtedly don't have quite the same luster they had 15 years ago.  Each card was toploadered or in a snapdown case, and the light yellowing on the edges of the toploaders displayed the hallmarks of cards that once held an esteemed position.

Today, Kordell is probably better known to younger fans as a B-list analyst for ESPN's lesser shows, or the guy who apparently just divorced some kind of C-list reality star.
But these cards instantly brought back the excitement that Kordell brought to both the game and to collecting.  Maybe had I been a bit older, I might have found hi play as maddening as my dad did, screaming at the tv.  Instead, any one of those highlight reel plays he could make could negate a months worth of poor games, overthrown receivers, or 4th quarter interceptions.  I guess that's the advantage of watching sports as a pre-teen.  The great plays seem even greater, but the bad plays quickly fade from memory.
The package is definitely a great way to start off my trading in blog-land.  If my first experience is any indication (and from other bloggers I've read, I think it is), I'm really looking forward to future trades.  My Pirate holes have sadly become increasingly harder to fill, but my Steeler, Pens, and college collections are very much in their infancy, so hopefully I can help build those collections while also getting some stuff that is just wasting away in boxes here into loving homes.

A big thank you to Adam for an unimaginably easy trade, and for adding some true gems to my collection.  Hopefully the package heading your way is at least a small token of my appreciation

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Other Minis

There have been a few posts over the last couple weeks about my love/hate relationship with minis.  Namely, I love adding new cards.  I hate looking for minis.

But for all the irritation that the tobacco sized fellows cause me, there are a few sets that are a little more sorting friendly.

Topps remains the king of excessive use of the mini, but in the mid-late 2000's Upper Deck got in on the action too.  The results were mixed, but the cards, lacking the setbuilder following of the Topps releases, seem to be far more difficult to come by.

In 2007, Upper Deck used their Fleer brand to put out a unique set of minis.  The cards are supposedly available in silver (pictured on the right) and gold versions.  This is the only Jack Wilson silver I have seen, and I have neither seen nor heard of the gold version.  After the Fleer bankruptcy, UD treated the brand like a red headed stepchild.  The flagship set became essentially a low-end, retail friendly set, likely explaining why many of these cards haven't trickled into the secondary market.

But at around 3/4 the size of the regular cards, they're nice looking parallels.  Hopefully at some point a few other Bucs from the set will find their way into my collection.  But I'm not holding my breath.  If/when I find them, I'm sure it will probably be in a dime box, which is where the Jack came from.

The same can't be said for UD's Goudey sets.  In theory the set followed the same formula as A&G.  Poorly photoshopped photos based off of a classic vintage set.  Mini cards with an annoying number of barely distinguishable parallels. 

The lone area where they seemed to succeed is including Jack Wilson in more than one year of the set.  And like A&G, completely and utterly annoying me.

The sets are far from memorable, and seem to have had little to no impact on the secondary market, making life tough on a player collector.  Still, I give UD credit for the size of the mini cards, though perhaps credit is due moreso to the original Goudey release.  Still, the parallels are less frustrating to look through than the A&G cards, but again finding these cards, particularly anything beyond the red and green backed minis, is almost impossible.

Like so many sets I continue to hold out hope that my next dime box dig will reveal a giant row or two of these cards to magically fill my holes on these sets.  More likely, half of the print run is sitting in Burbank's warehouse, never to be seen or heard from unless willing to pay in blood.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Draft Day Blues

This year's NFL draft class is undoubtedly the most talented in the history of the West Virginia Mountaineers.  Tavon Austin became the second highest player ever drafted from WVU.  But most of the focus right now is on Geno Smith, who unexpectedly slipped out of the first round.

Geno's fall was particularly tough to watch for me.  While I was at WVU, Geno was my student.  I got to know him a good bit over the course of the semester, and he was the exact opposite of the big school athlete stereotype.  He wasn't just a good student, but also an incredibly friendly, down to earth guy.  Obviously watching his draft stock fall on live national tv was tough to watch, especially since it was happening to a person I know and like.

His slide will probably lower his card prices a bit, making it a little easier to begin a collection of his cards.  But that's little consolation to seeing someone experience heartbreak on live television.  Hopefully Geno will land in a good situation wherever he goes, and I have little doubt he'll find some kind of success as a pro at some point. 

And I don't mind saying it's pretty cool to be able to say you taught an NFL qb.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Forgotten Sets: 2008 UD Special F/X

I've never been a fan of formulaic blog posts.  I cringe a bit when I write some of the weekly features, like Throwback Tuesday, but those are themes I enjoy and the writing always takes me in different directions. 

Don't get me wrong, I completely get why some people use a basic template and plug in some info here and there.  But for me the blog is perhaps less about cards and more about just having a chance to write about something I enjoy in a casual format.  The downside to that is that it can make it tough to come up with fresh ideas.  Sure, there are the seemingly never backlog of purchases, card show hauls, and new releases to look at.  But what I really enjoy writing (and I hope you enjoy reading) are the more thought out, thematically driven posts.

Sometimes those themes delve into the history of the game, franchise, or hobby. 

Other times, it's just about shiny cards.

2008 Upper Deck Special F/X is a set that seems to have pretty much flown right past the hobby radar.  Designed to be a competitor with Topps Chrome technology, the set offered a full parallel of the UD base set.  For a team collector, that means glorious, glorious parallels.  For box breakers and casual collectors, it means instead of hitting shiny cards of superstars, you get Damaso Marte.

The sheer size of the esset, and its 4 colored parallels, make it a challenge to collect.  I've made nice headway with the parallels, though I amusingly only have two of the base cards.

The card's red background compliments the team's colors well, and perhaps equally important the cards are ten times more plentiful than Topps and Bowman offerings of the same color.

Upper Deck put together a fantastic looking set that I would have loved to see a follow up for.  Fortunately a few other companies are integrating chromelike technology, and while those sets will probably never have the same "value" or hobby currency as Topps' chrome sets, I personally like the non-Topps sets a lot more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Wait, When Did He Play There?" Wednesday

Somewhere between being a World Series hero and becoming the surly manager of the D'Backs, Kirk Gibson was a Pirate.

Don't remember that?  Well, there's good reason for that.

Gibson signed with the Pirates in 1992 as a 35 year old.  He was coming off of a mixed season with the Royals, seeing his batting average drop to .236, but retaining decent on base skills and some power.  He looked to slot into the Pirates outfield situation and replace at least some of the production that Bobby Bonilla took with him to New York.

Instead, hit a measly .196 across 60 at bats before being released.

And setting the script for 2012 Nate McLouth, Gibson (like so many others) would go on to continue producing upon leaving the Steel City.  Gibson signed with the Tigers for the '93 season, and would hit 46 HR's over the next three seasons for Detroit while maintaining a high OBP.

It would be safe to say luck (or perhaps good scouting) has not smiled favorably upon the Bucs in quite some time.

Fool Me Once...

A couple weeks ago I posed about how previous incarnations of Gypsy Queen have pretty much flown right under my radar.  Well, I decided to avoid making the same mistake twice and get a good jump on this year's set.  Luckily the local show in Dayton is always ripe with about half a dozen dealers who are always on top of the latest releases.  I was able to snag almost the entire team set out of a dime box, and even found an insert for a quarter.

The mini's and SP's will probably still prove elusive.  But at least now the set looks a little less pathetic on my checklist.

 The Cutch Sliding Stars is a nice looking card, and I'm happy to see Topps incorporating more photos of the Pirates alternate black jersey.  They wear it both at home and on the road, so it sees a fair amount of use, particularly early in the season.
 Overall, I like the design of this year's set far more than previos editions.  The lighter green borders don't overpower the photos, but give more character to the card than the tan borders from a few years back.  I'm still not a big fan of the photoshopping on the images, but I do prefer the action shots to the dull posted photos in A&G.
 Topps did a nice job with player selection this year.  The stars are there, along with a few veterans (Ralph Kiner and Clemente are SP's, as well as a Stargell variant photo SP).  But what I really like about this checklist is the inclusion of those second tier players - Snider and Martin specifically.  To me, it's tough to get excited about adding yet another Cutch base card.  Garrett Jones, A.J., and Neil Walker are nice inclusions, and guys who probably could and should have more cards on the market.  But I get downright excited about seeing guys who have very few cards as a Pirate land even a base card.  Over the last few years, that type of player was usually only found in Update or Flagship.

 I'm split on how exactly I feel about the inclusion of retired stars.  Sure, it adds a nice flair.  And I'll never complain about getting a few more cards of Pops or Clemente.  But with Topps' exclusive contracts, it also seems to be the very same retired players in every single set.  A little variety would be nice.  But then again, I might be better off just going to Panini if that's what I'm looking for.

 I was thrilled just to see Travis Snider in the set.  After all, he didn't look so good in his time with the Bucs last year, and has never really produced in the majors.  But it was a double bonus to find this awesome action shot against the backdrop of the ivy at Wrigley.  My only complaint?  I would have loved to see this photo in Flagship so it would be in its original form, rather than the awkward photoshop masks.
Yes, the Pirate uni is photoshopped on.  But for all the posts I've read about Topps botching photoshop jobs this year (and they are all well justified posts), I think they did an awesome job with this card.  Perhaps the effects used on the card mask some of the jersey change elements.  But still, if I didn't know this photo wasn't actually in a Pirate uniform, I'd never know it wasn't in a Pirate uniform.  And there's your Yogi-ism for the day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Throwback Tuesday

Throwback is a term I've used fairly liberally for these weekly posts.  I'm going to push the envelope a bit more here.  Technically, I'd probably say this is a throwback on a modern card of a throwback. 

The card comes from 1994's Upper Deck All-Time Heroes.  The early 90's most likely don't qualify as a throwback.  But that didn't stop the Rockies and Mets from wearing throwback jerseys from 1993.  So perhaps it's far enough back to qualify.

But more interesting is what's going on on the actual card.  The photo features Bill Madlock at All-Star weekend, hosted at Three Rivers Stadium, in what I believe was some type of old timer's home run derby (the predecessor to the abomination that is the celebrity softball game).  Madlock was only 7 years past his playing days, but he sure doesn't look it in this shot.  The angle certainly isn't flattering.

Madlock is also sporting the current (for the time) home jersey, rather than one of the styles he would have worn during his time with the Bucs.  Sort of an anti-throwback.  Throw forward?

To top the decade confusion off, the headshot in the lower left corner features Mad Dog with a wicked pair of sideburns from what looks to be the mid 70's during his tenure with the Cubbies.

Mini Me

I'd love to say I've never been a fan of mini cards.  Except I have.  I went nuts over the minis in 2002 Topps 206 and 2003's Topps 205.  I ripped pack after pack, building near complete sets of both.  The mini cards seemed like such a fresh fresh yet vintagey, fun, an unique set that I didn't get bothered by the countless parallel backs, impossible to calculate insertion rates, and lack of Pirates.  And then I realized out of all those packs (and a few full boxes), my grand haul was two, count 'em two, Pirate minis.

And for the better part of the next decade that about ended my experience with mini cards.  They never seem to appear at shows.  When they do, they're a pain to flip through due to their awkward size.  And on top of that...still almost no Pirates in the sets.

I've come across a few mini's here and there, but I'm still atrociously behind on even the most common of the parallels.

Luckily, I finally came across an entire row of minis, two across, at my most recent show pilgrimage.  Better yet, the cards were in the 5/$1 box

 Admittedly, I'm still trying to get the appeal of the mini card craze.  It was a fun novelty item for a year or two.  The cards had the original tobacco card size, and there were a number of reprint cards in the set that only enhance the appeal.  I'll never own a T-206 Honus Wagner.  But I'll probably come across a Topps 206 mini at some point.  And that's good enough for me.

But Gypsy Queen?  Ginter?  Year after year?  They just seem like one more card to get lost in the shuffle.  One more annoying stack to flip through.

Maybe the thing that annoys me the most is the absolute lack of creativity in the photos used.  Sure, the photoshop effects are drab and predictable.  And I'm certainly not fond of how much the photo alterations obscure the actual, original, image, particularly with this year's Gypsy Queen.  But the jerseys.  Ugh!

Is it really necessary to use horrible posed shots featuring players in their spring training jerseys?  I mean, all major leaguers and most of the AAA roster sit for photo sessions in their major league jerseys during spring training.  And for years Topps used posed pre-game photos.  Would it be that tough to use a photo of the player wearing a real jersey?  Spring training/batting practice jerseys are just kind of annoying, and I insist their use amounts to little more than yet another marketing ploy to sell even more jerseys, hats, and anything else that can be hocked to the public. 

Oh yeah, mini cards.  At the end of the day, it's nice to knock some tougher to find cards off the list that aren't of the serial numbered variety.  That doesn't happen much these days.  Still, I can't help but feel like I'm just going through the motions with cards like this - adding simply because I don't have them and there aren't really any other cards I really want that I'm budgeting for.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ebay Theivery: The Grand Finale

So this post is coming a little (or a lot) later than anticipated.  I ended up being away from the computer all weekend, culminating in seeing Bob Dylan last night.  I'm a huge Dylan fan, and the show was by far the best performance I've seen him deliver since '06 or '07, so that was quite the treat.

But anyway, back to the cardboard.

I'll jut get the grand reveal out of the way.  Aki Iwamura Topps Platinum 1/1, in case you were wondering.  Iwamura's time in Pittsburgh was far from memorable, but it's a platinum 1/1.  I had been wanting one for quite some time.  I was outbid on the Nate McLouth Platinum 1/1 a few months back, and it ended for almost as much as I paid for the entire lot.  I'd imagine the valuable on this card alone is comparable, perhaps greater if the long fabled "Japanese bidder" contingency collects Aki.  Either way, I doubt this will ever leave my collection.
 But just when you thought we were done with the black and gold themes, there's more!  The Cutch Gold Mini is a nice pickup.  I'm not sure how I feel about these mini cards; they're a bit awkward in shape.  Slightly smaller than a regular sized card, yet significantly larger than the tobacco sized minis of the past decade, they are interesting, but I don't totally get the hype behind them.
 I actually ended up with 3 of these Harrison silk cards in the lot, though I'm only keeping this one.  This shot is by far my favorite Pirate photo from 2013 Topps/Update, even though even Zoltan couldn't prevent a historic late season collapse.
 Casey McGehee played so well in Pittsburgh that he will now be clubbing hr's in Japan this season.
 Grilli was a Pirate auto I didn't have, and I had been looking for a copy of this card for quite some time.  I'm really glad I didn't pull the trigger on one earlier.

 Topps has finally been kind enough to include some shots of the Pirates alternate black jerseys.  Accordingly, Travis Snider has decided to finally live up to his top prospect billing thus far this season.  Thanks Topps!
 I liked Nate McLouth until I met him in person.  Still, I've always had a soft spot for players that leave a team and then return a few years later (see Joe Randa).  These moves never seem to work out well, though.
 Like relic cards, press plates have really lost their appeal for me.  The Topps Mini plates seemed to be fairly easy hits, at least for a 1/1.  Still, a cool card to add.
I wanted to say something positive about Juan Cruz's time in black and gold.  I really did.  But hey, at least I liked watching him pitch for the Cubs.  He didn't throw 86mph then...

So there you have it.  Pretty nice lot, eh?  In addition to all this Pirate goodness, it also included another 20 or so cards that were either doubles of the ones scanned, or cards I already had.  When I get around to selling all those, I imagine the total cost on this lot will be in the single digits, and possibly in the black if a few set builders still need some of the black cards.  Not bad, if you ask me.