Thursday, August 29, 2013

Topps Team Set Countdown, 62-56

I've never really been a fan of rankings, or lists in general.  Perhaps that's because I see the world as more fluid.  Or maybe I just don't like making decisions.  But really - if we're ranking the top 1000 songs, how much space is there between number 643 and 644?  Lists are almost almost arbitrary, and driven by personal preference or inherent bias.

But the damn things are fun...

I'll be ranking the Topps Pirate team sets.  The judgments are admittedly beyond subjective. Certain rankings may be driven entirely by sentiment, with utter disregard to anything having to do with the actual cards themselves.  The rankings have nothing to do with the set as a whole - I'm focusing exclusively on the Buccos in the set, so my own rankings on a "full set" list would probably be entirely different.  But hey, I said these things were subjective didn't I?

These type of things are always great to debate, and I'd love to hear from other team collectors (or anyone else for that matter) how my rankings would match up with the order for your team.

62) 1988 Topps

I really don't think it could get any worse than '88 Topps.  Dull posted spring training photos, or players standing around.  Terrible late 80's uniforms.  Awkward picture frame borders.  This set makes '91 Fleer look pretty.  Really the only thing saving the set is the colorful Future Stars label on this Lind card.  Even then...blah.

61) 2006 Topps
2006 was a great year for me.  The Pirates hosted the All-Star game.  I started college, and found myself a mere 15 minute walk from PNC Park.  I was at games just about every night, and it wasn't difficult to scalp a ticket on the Clemente Bridge for $5 an hour before game time.

Topps decided that my fond memories were best not memorialized in cardboard, though.  The 2006 set is just atrocious.  The design is actually decent, though perhaps an acquired taste.  But it's spring training jerseys galore.  Take a look at this Jeromy Burnitz card.  Photo cropped too close.  Awkward batting post.  Horrible armpit stripes.  Beautiful chain link fence backdrop.

Ok, now keep in mind this card was in series two.  Giving Topps a few full months of baseball anything.  Anything.  The cards that do feature game photos all feature the Pirates pinstriped home Sunday alternates, presumably coming from one or two games.  The late 2000's marked a real decline in photo quality for Topps.  So of course the most logical thing to do was to give them an exclusive license.

60) 1968 Topps
I don't really have any explanation for this one.  The awkward burlap looking pattern could have been a nice update on the '62 set, and provided a little bit of color.  But...what's up with the giant purple bingo marker in the bottom corner?  Mix in some dull posed shots, and it's a real yawner.

59) 1999 Topps

You know Topps, it didn't have to be like this.  This photo is perhaps the best you'll see in this entire countdown.  Interleague game from the first season of interleague play in 1998?  Awesome.  Jason Kendall sliding in to second hard?  Sweet.  The sweeping gold border even works pretty well on this shot.  Hell, the team set is full of great action shots, as if said "hey, go grab that stack of photos we aren't using for Stadium Club." 

So why so low?  There are a whopping ten Pirate cards in both series.  Ten.  1-0.  You know, when you ask your little cousin how old he is and he holds up both hands?  Yeah, imagine one card on each finger.  Then take down four fingers on each hand, the outermost two on each side.  See where this is going?  That's exactly what Topps said to Pirate fans in 1999.

58) 1977 Topps

There isn't much to say about the 1977 set, because there isn't much happening in the '77 set.  It's too similar to the superior 1974 set.  But with an awkward waving pennant in the top corner.  What happened?  Did cookie monster take a bite out of it? 

57) 1966 Topps

Remember that really boring strip on the 1988 set?  Well here's its daddy.  For all the craziness of the mid '60's, Topps managed to keep things pretty uptight when it came to their cardboard.  Guess they weren't really marketing to the peace and love crowd.  Thankfully they didn't make the same mistake in the '70's.

56) 2010 Topps

Did I mention blah?  2010 was a rough year for the Bucs, and the set is highlighted by such standouts as Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, and Steve Pearce.  This was only the third year of the ongoing run of white bordered monstrosities that I think we'll all remember as the Dark Ages.  The logo and left side color splash overwhelms the card, a tidal wave ready to sweep over the photo.  The team font (not even a logo!) seems awkwardly thrown onto the card, while the position is dwarfed, cowering in the corner for its life.  The only thing saving this set is the inclusion of some nice action shots, including this Paul Maholm featured above.  I believe this is also the only shot of the Pirates black alternate jersey for a few years to come.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Love the 90's

I've gone on ad nauseaum about how bored I have been with the offerings thus far in 2013.  There have been cards I've liked, and the Pirate team sets have been a nice improvement on past years.  But there just hasn't been any single card that I said "I must have this!"

So, as they tend to do, my hobby dollars keep trying to find their way back into my bank account.  But instead, they keep finding ways to escape towards fun new pursuits. 

I was scanning sportlots the other night to see if any new Jack Wilsons were added.  No luck on that front, but I did come across some rare 90's parallels at dirt cheap. I couldn't get them in my card fast enough.
This 1999 Upper Deck MVP Gold Signature /100 came my way for a little over $2 shipped.  Considering how tough these were to pull, and I was giddy as a schoolgirl.  MVP was basically a continuation of the Collector's Choice (94-97) and UD Choice (98) sets, carrying on the Silver Signature and Gold Signature parallels.  The set was a lower cost release with a fair number of shiny, kid friendly inserts, and some tough to pull game used and autographed cards. 

The gold signature didn't come out great in the scan, but really pops with the card's black/gold color scheme.  I may have to spend more time on the newly redesigned sportlots - I used to use the site exclusively for my commons needs, but clearly there have been some rarer cards added at amazing prices since I last shopped there.

Minor Matters: Brad Corley - The Player Collection That Never Was

Once upon a time, I was a player collector first and a team collector second.  My progression of player collections has pretty exclusively featured light hitting middle infielders: Warren Morris, Lou Collier, and then a super-collection of Jack Wilson.

As my collecting interests grew, I thought it would be fun to take on a new player collection.  What better way than to dig deep into the minors and catch a guy as he started his pro career.  Coming out of the 2005 draft, I didn't have the pockets to pursue first rounder Andrew McCutchen.  But slugging second round pick Brad Corley seemed like the perfect fit - a power hitting college bat with only a few cards, it would be the perfect start to a super collection.

I probably don't need to say much about the McCutchen guy.  Corley on the other hand...he put up nice power numbers, slugging 16 homers and 100 rbi's in his first full pro season in 2006.  But that line was capped off with an unsettling 109 K's and a hollow .438 slugging percentage.  As he rose through the minors, the K's got worse, batting average slumped, and the power never went from above average to exceptional.

By 2009, Corley was out of baseball at age 25, topping out at AA.

I built up a nice collection, including all colors of refractors, a few press plates, and some newfound player collecting wisdom.

Browsing ebay last week, I noticed an auto of Corley from 2006, when his promise still seemed strong.  I always enjoy minor league cards, even if the players don't quite make it all the way.  For $1 and free shipping,I got myself a nice reminder of why I have 8 Blue Refractors of a guy who never made it above AA.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finally, some new mail

It's been quite some time since I've had a mail day.  What little buying I have done over the past two months has been largely relegated to COMC.  But I snagged this beauty off ebay for $4 shipped.  Hague doesn't look to have any future in the Bucs organization, and there isn't a lot of demand for RH light hitting first basemen. 

Pirates always look nice on the black or gold bordered refractors, but sadly the player selection has been pretty slim in recent years of Topps Chrome.  But after being left out of countless Bowman and Topps auto checklists over the past few years, it's nice just to see a Pirate auto.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Diamond King

Sometimes you have to look pretty hard, but there are some real gems on youtube.  And I'm not talking about videos of cats.

From time to time there are some awesome highlight reels posted on youtube from the 90's.  Say what you will about the steroid era, but homers flying out of cookie cutter parks left and right were fun to watch.

For better or worse, the Bucs seemed largely immune to all the juicing going on.  The team was bad, and the hitters seemed to miss the memo on balls flying out of the park.  But there was the occasional bright spot.  Jeff King was a disappointing former first overall pick who at least briefly found his power stroke.

I don't remember much about the '96 season - but it was tons of fun to watch the bounces balls took on the Three Rivers astroturf outfield.

King is probably remembered best for his mustache, and perhaps for what most viewed as a surly disposition.  Honestly, I can't comment on the latter, since all I know is that it certainly felt like the sky was falling to an 8 year old when King and Jay Bell, the team's two best players, were shipped out before the '97 season.

Perhaps King's career could have played out differently.  He was largely relegated to a reserve role early on as the early 90's teams wanted more experienced players at the corners during seasons with high expectations.  And you certainly can't accuse King of being a player that hung around the game too long, retiring after the '99 season at just age 34 despite 3 successful seasons with the Royals.  At the end of the day, King and Bell will likely be remembered as the last holdovers from the Pirate contending teams.  The void between the '92 team and the '97 Freak Show was a cavernous gap.  But at least there were some players to keep us entertained, oblivious to the continued suffering Pirates fans would endure into the next century.

My Flea Market Adventure

While my posts have been pretty infrequent, there has definitely been a consistent theme when I do get around to writing: bemoaning the lack of card purchasing opportunities in the Pittsburgh area.

The wife-to-be and I have always loved going to estate sales, thrift stores, and the like.  She likes to find old furniture and clothes to re-purpose and fix up, and I'm always on the look out for some new collectibles for my future man cave.  Preparing for the wedding has only intensified these thrift store ventures - we're using mismatched vintage plates for the reception, and are doing a lot of the decorations and crafts ourselves with a vintage fall festival/halloween theme.  In short, it will be awesome.

We have just about exhausted the supply of plates in every decent thrift store in the Pittsburgh metro area, so we were both really caught off guard when my Kate's mom mentioned a flea market we had absolutely no idea existed.  It's only about 20 mins from my parents' house, but after a little digging I discovered why this gem of old junk had remained hidden to us.  It opened in 2007, right around when I was starting college, and is set off the highway behind a Wal Mart.  Yep, never had the slightest idea it existed even though I've probably driven by it a few hundred times.

So we decided to take a break from wedding related stuff to go do...some wedding related stuff.  In all honesty, I must confess she was much more focused on the task at hand.  I was using my keen Black and Gold-dar to look for new finds for my collection.  At this point, I can spot a pile of McFarlane, a dime box, or some old Starting Lineups from 40 yards away after years of practice.

Aside from a glass pumpkin for $1, we struck out on the wedding side.  Fortunately for me, the collectibles end was for more lucrative.

As soon as we exited the indoor portion and stepped out into the outdoor vendors, I spotted a table with Starting Lineups and a few boxes of cards.  A quick flip showed it was mainly early-mid 90's star base cards in toploaders.  Even at 5/$1, nothing seemed worth the price tag, but I decided I would stop back later after making the rounds.

I ended up coming away with some awesome non-card stuff that I'll show off a little later.  But after making my way around the other vendors, I made my way back to the cards.  Again things didn't look promising.  But I found one numbered card.  And then another.

And while I'd love for this story to end with my finding a hoard of 90's inserts, the finds were far more intermittent.  I picked up most of the cards with the idea of trading or flipping them.  But at these prices, the 90's nostalgia they bring back may end up being well worth the $3 I spent.

 But the dig wasn't without some great finds.  This Sosa/Marris Black Label '98 Gold Label card definitely would have drawn a nice chunk of change in the late 90's.  Even today, it's a great card.  But...nostalgia!

Speaking of which, since Pinnacle is back, any chance at also seeing some of the awesome 90's Score parallels again?

The foily goodness of the decade was out in full force in these Naturals inserts.  The cards have foil on both the fronts and backs, and the bright backgrounds really let the player photos stand out.

Pinnacle Mint was one of the more unique products, including coins of various rarities in each pack along with the cards.  Much more creative than the Topps cards with regular ole pocked change that people are shelling out big bucks for, don't you think?

And of course the day wouldn't be complete without at least a fewwwww main-collection pickups.  The Steelers '94 75th anniversary throwbacks are my absolute favorite uniform, and I couldn't pass up the chance to add the Dawson, which will be heading out in the mail to be signed.  The other cards are additions to my respective Pitt and WVU collections.  Finding college uniform cards can be tough, and neither program has turned out a ton of pro players, so they'll find a home in my slowly expanding binders.

Nothing that will drop your jaw, but some fun and unexpected additions to my collections.  And while the range or quality of the cards may not rival some of the other flea market finds I've seen folks have, I'll definitely have to make a point to stop back in the next few weeks.

I guess that's part of the fun of a flea market - these cards aren't worth much anymore, and like most of the stuff on dealer tables they are well past their prime.  But for a few dollars the fun of digging through the boxes not knowing whether I would find a few cards that might simply be fun, nostalgic additions to my secondary collections, or a 90's goldmine that might be able to fund my own collecting.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Back to Basics

Since moving back to PA, the sudden lack of card shows is leaving me feeling way out of touch.  One of the few benefits to being in Ohio was the regular access to card shows.  With a large show every month in Dayton and even larger shows in Columbus every few months, most of the commons from a new release and with some luck a decent number of the parallels would find their way into my collection within weeks of the product hitting the streets.

There is a show in November.  Other than that, there is not a single show, mall show, awkward little hotel show, or anything else between here and 2014 in all of western PA. 

That's the long way of saying I know 2013 A&G came out.  But I don't know a damn thing about it, except that the design doesn't make me want to drive 5 hours to go buy them at a show (and yes, I am overlooking the far more rational and cost effective option of just buying the things online).

As I've started adding my Pirate collection to binder pages, it provides an awesome opportunity to view my collection from a new perspective.  Up until now, my dozen or so monster boxes and shoe boxes were organized as such: commons by year and set with dividers marking each year, inserts/numbered cards/rarer parallels in their own box(es), a shoebox of certified autos, and a couple monster boxes of ip/ttm autos organized alphabetically.  Of course there were the odd boxes of cards still in need of sorting as well.

Point is...I could never really see all the cards from one release in one place without either pulling a bunch of cards from different places or the magic of photoshop.

So when I gathered all the cards together and put them on the page...

Oh my. 

Maybe the skies didn't open, the clouds didn't part, and it wasn't one of those ah-ha moments the way it is seeing the Sistine Chapel or Roman Coliseum.  But it sure felt like it.

2006 Allen & Ginter was a thing of beauty.  Each card appeared to be a masterfully crafted piece of artwork, enhanced by the dirtied, heavy card stock.  Slap an autograph on there, and there are few things more aesthetically pleasing in this hobby.

I could complain about the decline in quality in more recent A&G sets.  The lack of care with each and every base card.  Cookie cutter design, creating "retro" sets that are no longer based off of an actual historical set.

But I really don't care.  Just look at those cards!  Ok, maybe I could do without the spring training jerseys in each photo.  But what is art if not for our enjoyment and criticism.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Double Header

Two posts in one day?  I don't think I've pulled off that feat in a few months.  Heck, even one post has been pretty tough to come by. 

Even with the Pirates in their first pennant run of the millennium, I can't help but be at least a little excited about the upcoming football season.  And even though I'm a proud Mountaineer, now that the Backyard Brawl has been disbanded and the Big East is (virtually) no more, I can cheer juuuuust a little bit for Pitt.
Pitt has had a tradition of good, if not great, running backs.  And while Shady McCoy may not live up to the accomplishments of Tony Dorsett or Curtis Martin, his autograph certainly has a place in my collection.  I snagged this in Dayton a few months back for $8.  I'm pretty sure this is the most I've ever paid for a non-Pirate card (which isn't saying much, since the previous high was probably something like $3), but I'm thrilled to add it to my slowly developing college collection.

I Love the 90's

I've lamented this countless times on this blog, but perhaps the one biggest downside (for me) in the past two decades of losing baseball was that the Bucs were largely excluded from every cool 90's insert set.  There are fantastic sets out there that leave player collectors of the big name players from the decade still chasing hard to find inserts a decade and a half later. 

But even without the super insert goodness, there are some sweet cards from the 90's.  The players on the cards are just a little less exciting...
 Can you see why I'm excited about a new Pinnacle release?  I have found dozens of the Starburst and Museum Collection cards in dime boxes, but the Pirates always seem to elude me.
 Speaking of resurrected brands, I know people have mixed opinions on the new Leaf.  I'm not a big fan of repack products in general, but I have enjoyed the original products Leaf has released.  In a different hobby landscape, I'd like to see what they could do with an actual MLB (or evan MLBPA) license.  Perhaps some day.
Oh, these guys used to exist too.  Upper Deck had the market pretty much cornered on high end products since the late 90's.  Even without logos, I'm curious to see how their Fleer Retro baseball product turns out.  The set looked great in hockey and football, even though the Penguin and Pitt Panther starpower in the set have put the cards a little out of my price range.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Little Nostalgia

It's been about two months since I boxed up my collection.  But aside from a few ebay sales, a few COMC purchases, and the occasional ebay win...I haven't spent much time thinking about cards.

It's not that I've lost interest, or want to stop collecting.  But the break has certainly served me well.  I have been burnt out on cards - the piles continued to build, and build while I was in Ohio, and by the move I think it was a relief to have them out of sight for a while.

And in truth, many of the recent sets haven't really interested me.  I added cards I didn't have for the simply reason that I didn't have them.  But cards I truly want almost always come from the 90's and early 00's, and my true want list has dwindled significantly.

But skimming some card forums, I came across a preview box break of 2013 Pinnacle.  I'd imagine some collectors don't even remember Pinnacle.  But they came out with some incredibly fun products in the mid 90's, and some of the rarer inserts can still command a pretty penny.

Sure, this new release lacks MLB logos.  Sure, the sheer name value of the marquee players will probably never match the 90's, when every insert set could be loaded up with 50HR guys who had a strong hobby following.  But I haven't touched a new wax product since 2007, and seeing this product made me want to go out and grab a box when the product goes live.  
The McCutchen insert here shows that a card can still look amazing without MLB logos.  Sure, the base cards look rough, and some uniforms look better sans logos than others.  But this card, oozing 90's nostalgia, has me more excited than any card Topps has put out in the past half dozen years.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I've Been a Bad, Bad Blogger

Apparently it's been a full month since I last posted.  Geeze.  After being gone from Pittsburgh for three years, it's taking even longer than expected to get settled in.  Add in wedding-related stuff during just about every free moment (I spent 3 evenings this week along going to various stores to do registry stuff), and add in that there has not been a single card show in the Pittsburgh area, and cards have sort of moved to the back burner.

Thankfully we're entering the home stretch with the wedding, finally think we found an apartment that has everything we are looking for at a great price point, and of course the cardboard itch is coming back.

Ironically, this all happens while the Pirates are in the middle of the best season in far, far too long.  In all honesty, I'm still adjusting to the idea of competitive baseball.  And with the Steelers looking to be rebuilding and the Pens coming off a disappointing, but successful, season, it seems all the casual sports fans are once again flocking back to the Pirates.  Sadly the stadium hasn't been filled with a new fleet of McCutchen and Burnett jerseys, but rather an array of girls in Victoria Secret Pirate tshirts that appear to be about the same thickness as Hulk Hogan's tear away tshirts and frat guys in backwards baseball caps.  So is the price of winning, I suppose.  But I must say that for all the misery, errant throws into the stands, and botched baserunning over the past two decades, it was glorious to never have to deal with fair weather fans.  The seas were consistently stormy through those years.

But this season has also brought up some interesting connections.  For the team to be historically bad for such an extended period, it will be interesting if the "streak" will be bookended by playoff appearances.  Of course I can't imagine any playoff loss being more heartbreaking than Sid Bream's death blow to the Bucs.

And the team is not without some connection to that '92 team.  Jay Bell joined the team as hitting coach this season, and though I am hesitant to ever put too much blame or praise on a coach or managed, he was a well regarded candidate before getting the job.  Bob Walk was a starter in '92.  Now he's a broadcaster whose Ban the DH campaign has won a piece of my heart.  Even during the worst years, Walk was always good for a laugh with his honest, hilarious analysis.  Watching earlier in the season made my appreciate his style, since most broadcast booths are dedicated to the continuous praise of the parent club, regardless of performance.

Really, the only thing missing is the voice of the team.  Longtime broadcaster Lanny Frattare left the team unceremoniously after the 2008 season.  For most of my life, Lanny was the Bucs.  His voice was the only constant as a revolving cast of characters put on the black and gold. 

This season is only a reminder that "there was nooooo doubt about it."