Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spearing a Miniature Whale

I think everybody has that one card on their want list that just seems unreasonably impossible to find.  The mystery only intensifies the hunt.  Where could they all be?  Tucked away in personal collections?  Sitting in the boxes of some dealer that who doesn't use ebay on the other side of the country.  Or little Timmy, whose mom bought him some retail packs that have been stuffed in the garage for the past decade.  Or maybe, just maybe, some fluke printing accident destroyed all of the cards, or they were never packed out at all.

A little paranoid can go a long way for collectors.  Right near the top of the Captain Ahab list is 2002 Fleer Mini.  A lot of collectors probably don't even remember 2002 Fleer.  In 1998, Fleer rebranded their flagship line Fleer Tradition.  I'd assume the rebranding was inspired by lagging sales, likely following the frightening design of the 1995 set and the nearly identical, gloss free releases in '96 and '97.

Fleer Tradition was the flagship brand from '98-2001.  But in 2002 Fleer released a Fleer Tradition set pretty similar to the two previous releases, and then also introduced a standalone Fleer set.  It's a tossup which was the true flagship issue, but my money always went towards Fleer, while Tradition felt more like the a bad Archives knockoff.

Fleer's 2002 set was pretty straightforward, except for the weird parallel configuration.  The set had gold backed parallels, making up 15% of the print run, that were distributed in packs mixed in among the base cards.  The Tiffany parallel was a glossy parallel numbered to 200 in Hobby packs.  And the lowest numbered parallel of the set, Minis, were numbered to 50 and distributed exclusively in Retail packs.  Yep, the rarest insert goes straight to retail.  Oh, 2002.

Simply put, the Mini's are rare squared.  Whatever copies may have been pulled have probably largely gone to casual or non-collectors.  And while they are minis, the scan above gives you an idea that the cards aren't really all thaaaat much smaller than the base cards - maybe about 2/3rds the size.  Easy enough for a casual collector to dismiss.

Completed auctions on ebay are rare, and I have never seen the Jack Wilson from the set listed anywhere.  I was lucky enough to snag a Tony Clark a few months back.  But I was downright floored when I saw a Jason Kendall sitting on Sportlots.  Better yet, it only ran me a mere $3.50 shipped.  It may not be the flashiest parallel out there, but I'm thrilled just to snag one of these.  I wouldn't mind coming across the Jack Wilson one of these days as well...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Well, I'll be quite honest.  Didn't call that one.  At all.  Just another September 23rd, just another playoff clinching win.

Three weeks ago I would have said no way in hell. 

Six months ago I would have said the team had an outside chance at being a wild card team.

But the Bucs have been on fire lately, while the rest of the NL seems to just be treading water.  A lot can still happen over the last 5 games, but either way I'll be watching some baseball in October.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ooo, Shiny

 I typically try to stay away from picking up cards off ebay right around the street date.  I'm a bargain hunter.  Buying when prices are most inflated is not a bargain.

But sometimes things can work in your favor, particularly with Topps' screwy release calendar.  Topps Chrome and Triple Threads went live within a short timespan, and mostly containing the same players.  The result is a flood of new cards hitting the market for these players.  And while there are many collectors out there with deeper pockets than I, the big fish are bound to miss a tasty morsel or two.

I've become largely disinterested with Topps' refractor parade each year, as more and more "colors" are added to the Topps rainbow.  But there's no arguing that Bucco cards always look good in black and gold refractory goodness.  And with most of the collecting dollars chasing the hits out of TTT, it was inevitable that some gorgeous cards would slip through the cracks.

And quite honestly I'd rather have a nice refractor over a shrapnel card that contains a piece of jersey that may have been on the field, or may more accurately resemble one of the jerseys I wore to the Pirates games this past weekend.

I was able to snag both of these black refractors for a little less than $5 delivered, and I'm perfectly fine with that.  Lambo and Alvarez are both out of favor with both collectors and Pirates brass right now, but they'll find a good home in my collection.  And I really like the way the black border looks with the Pirates black jersey.  It's doubtful I'll be able to round out the black ref team set at prices I'm happy with, but I do need to get on adding some more Pirates refractors from this year.  The Bucs were woefully represented in Chrome for most of the past few years, so I need to take advantage of the variety while I can.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Signature Sunday

Some guys just look like ball players.  Others...not so much.  At 5'6", Rafael Belliard wasn't exactly an overwhelming presence at the plate or in the field.  But he somehow managed to appear in the majors in

Belliard first came up with the Bucs in 1982, and would receive a cup of coffee each season until finally sticking with the team in 1986.  He saw regular playing time for the Bucs between '86-'88, before leaving for Atlanta in 1991.  Despite the Braves dominance throughout the 90's, they somehow retained Belliard in a utility infield role through 1998.
17 different seasons, putting up a whopping .259 slugging percentage.

In short (no pun intended), the guy with a lower slugging percentage than Carlos Zambrano by a cool hundred and thirty points spent the entire decade of the 90's playing for contenders.  It's a strange, strange world.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Scooby Dooby Doo - Mystery Solved

Base Upper Deck                                                    SGA Glossy                                                SGA Non Glossy

Yesterday I had a bit of a mystery on my hands, trying to track down the origin of two oddball cards I had found in a dime box.  I posted on this blog and a couple online forums asking if anybody could identify the cards.  I got a few suggestions from collectors, but nothing that looked like a correct match.

I spent some more time doing extra research myself, including checking the Pirates promotional schedule from 2006 to see if there had been some kind of card giveaway that I had overlooked.

But by the evening, it was nothing but crickets.  I had pretty much resigned myself to accepting that I had two cool and somehow unique cards whose origins may have been lost to very, very recent history.

I came upstairs to check a couple ebay auctions during inning breaks last night, and voila - all my questions were suddenly answered in a couple quick sentences.  One of my team collector buddies, a Mariners collector named Jeremy, had all the answers to my questions.  He had been an usher for the Mariners in 2006, and recalls the set being given away as an SGA in late August or September, possibly coinciding with National Card Day (do they still do any promos for that?).

The cards were a nine card set that was distributed with a binder.  Obviously the Mariners and Pirates participated, but I couldn't find any other info online.  Jeremy also noted there is a glossy and non-glossy version for the SGA cards, which I assume to simply be a printing error.  There does appear to be a slight difference in logo size between the two, and the UD logo has a black circle R on the glossy and a white circle R on the non glossy, so you could consider it a legitimate variation if you want to drive yourself insane.

I'm thrilled to have some answers from the great detectives in the collecting world.  But this also brought up some really interesting points for me:

1) It's crazy how quickly information can be "lost to history."  Much of my work involves digging up historical data and information from the past, and it's fascinating how much information we can piece together from a century ago.  But at the same time, despite the fact that our world is becoming increasingly "saved" as digital bytes (I was just checking out the original website promoting the Space Jam movie yesterday), something as relatively recent as 2006 can be so difficult to find any traces of digitally or in people's memories.

2) The internet collecting community has changed.  A lot.  Night Owl wrote about this recently in terms of the blog community, but I think it applies to a much broader cross-section.  I joined the Beckett forums in the spring of 2004.  I was in 10th grade, and had just started to collect cards more seriously.  There was such a wealth of knowledge on those forums (and when Beckett managed to piss off their entire customer base, that knowledge scattered across the interwebs), but I remember how anxious folks were to help identify cards and the insanely detailed conversations that would result.  Luckily I know some fantastic collectors with some fantastic knowledge.  But my posts on the major forums?  Crickets.

The way we communicate about cards has changed a great deal.  I don't talk about cards on twitter, and I'm not involved with any facebook groups in any way related to cards.  For me those two parts of my life are separate.  But I also don't know that I really care for the tone of the conversations that those media create.  By design they create short, immediate input.  It isn't a forum for knowledge-sharing or in depth conversations, in my opinion.  It's a perfect venue to "pimp" your cards.  An ideal spot for those looking to trade, or simply looking for a quick pat on the back from a dozen people liking their card.  That isn't meant to be a dig at anyone who utilizes those venues, but it does seem to be a very different tone than message boards or blogs.

But I'll step off the soapbox.  Mystery solved; now back into the Scooby Mobile.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Can Anybody ID These Cards?

It's not very common for me to get stumped when it comes to cards.  The occasional 80's oddball or magazine insert will throw me for a loop.  And I admit I'm just about clueless when it comes to pre-war cards.  But other than that?  I can id just about any card that comes across my desk, or at least find out the necessary info from Beckett or BaseballCardPedia.  But I'm utterly clueless on this one, some hopefully the collective collecting wisdom of the blogosphere can help me out here.

In a dimebox dig at the Robert Morris show this past spring, I pulled out two cards that seemed relative innocuous at the time.  I tossed them in my stack at the time, brought them home, looked them over.  Nothing overly suspicious or mysterious about the pair.  Well, not too much.

Both cards are identical to the photos used on the 2006 Upper Deck base cards.  But the cards are missing the foil stamping on the team logo, UD logo, and position.

When I first saw them at the show, I assumed they were from Upper Deck First Pitch, the retail red-headed stepchild of UD's flagship release.  But unlike previous years, First Pitch had a completely different design from UD Flagship in 2005.  No other release from that year seems to fit.

But wait, it gets more confusing.  The Capps card is numbered 357, identical to his number in the base Upper Deck set.  Sean Casey's card is numbered 135.  And Casey is number 135 in UD Series 1.  But the card looks like this.
Casey would be included in UD Series 2 with the photo seen at the top of the post, but the card was number 760.

I'm at a loss.  The cards don't seem to match any sets released that year.  I don't recall any stadium giveaway team sets that season, and if there had been I would think the set would have been renumbered, not skip numbered.  Plus in 2006 there definitely would have been a Jack Wilson card included in a team set, which I would have added to my master checklist.   And I don't think it could simply be a printing error, because the areas where the foil stamping should be would be blank, not filled in with color text and logos.

So there you have it.  Maybe the dime box diggers, retail rippers, and collecting minds out there can give me some kind of direction here.  I can honestly say this one has me stumped.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What I've Been Up to Lately - A Trip into the Archives

My blog posts have been a bit uninspired lately.  A picture, a few lines.  A post...at least technically.  And I do hope it hasn't caused anyone any sleepless nights.  But alas, dear reader - good news!

I've actually been working diligently on the blog the past couple weeks - a couple hours in the evening every night.  I've always been a bit of a jersey nut.  There's just something I find really cool about sports uniforms, baseball in particular.  And being the Pirates fan that I am, I've always enjoyed the nuances of jerseys - throwbacks, one offs, those weird alternate jerseys that disappear after two seasons - I just find them rather fascinating.

And so I started on a new project.  To create a comprehensive guide to the Pirates uniform twists and turns, from the way the Pittsburgh Alleghenies suited up in 1882 through that Pittsburgh Crawfords throwback the Bucs wore earlier this season.  New might not be the right word - really this is a project that has been building in my mental database and in my various image folders for years.  I've always saved photos from those hideous Memorial Day caps, or 1979 bumblebee throwback day (though I didn't always note dates, a fact that has cost me significant research hours lately).

Better yet, this project has given me an excuse to comb the internet for visual reference to all those these great uniforms.  Tracking down the latest throwback?  Not so tough.  Finding a photo of the Pirates 1914 road uniform?  A little tougher.  But it's been a blast coming across old archived photos and obscure shots.  And thankfully there are some great resources out there that already did some of the legwork for me.

The photo above is a perfect example.  It's a photo from 1910 of Pirate Tommy Leach at bat presumably at Forbes Field, which was only in its second season.  Sure, it shows a great, clear photo of the Pirates uniform.  But it also tells such a story.  I love the way the rest of the team is literally lined up to the right of home plate, waiting their turn to bat.  Look at the crowd, sparse as is is, and the distance from the field.  And check out the rippling arm veins of Leach's left arm.  Maybe not all players were on the Ruth brauts and beer diet.

The uniform page is still a work in progress, but I'll probably put up the work I have done so far in the next few days.  It's as much for my own reference as for any other purpose, but I think it's something Pirates and non-Pirates fans alike could enjoy.  I think to some extent uniforms tell the story of baseball's evolution, evolving and growing through the various eras, and the obscene commercialization we see today with dozens of special caps, jerseys, and alternate uniforms cycled through each year.  And I've got the pics to prove it.

Cross Another One Off the Want List

My Jack Wilson pickups are few and far between these days.  I struck out finding any cards I needed at the National, and most of my needs are either high numbered parallels that never surface, or low numbered stuff that...never surfaces.

But I was lucky enough to snag a new addition the other week.  These Heritage Box Toppers aren't the flashiest of cards.  Heck, I don't even know if they'd really be considered cards at all.  But this is only the second time I have seen one of these (the other being an insanely overpriced copy on COMC), so I wasn't going to let it pass me by.

While the front of the card is identical to the 2009 Topps Heritage base card, the back contains advertising text for the set rather than the usual back.  I wouldn't mind finding a second copy to hand cut the cards and slot the Jack into my binder.  But for the time being I'm just happy to cross one more card off my list.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Minors Monday - Deja Vous

Sometimes cards feel just a little too familiar.  And not in the good way.  I could talk extensively about how much of a jerk Jason Kendall turned out to be his last few years in Pittsburgh, and how wonderfully this UD Minors card captures that spirit as he screams at...someone in 1994.

But alas this card brings up an even more depressing realization.  Minor league cards really picked up steam in the late 90's.  But the middle of the decade was a bit of a testing ground.  Fleer had their Excel minor league brand, which actually did a pretty good job of combing the minor league ranks for prospects and non-prospects.  And of course there were minor league team sets.  And newcomers like Best.

And then there's UD.  Admittedly 1994 UD is one of my least favorite designs all-time (though the 95 set is one of my favorites, so it evens out).  But the 1994 Upper Deck Minors set?  It took a bland and uninspiring design, and threw minor league players into the mix.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like Topps Pro Debut.

Minor league cards, particularly team sets, have become one of my favorite parts of my collection.  They're unique pieces that, and you can literally chronicle a player's rise through the minor league system each season.  It's just a damn shame that the only game in town these days just ends up looking like the kid brothers to Flagship each year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Prime Patches

Game used and patch cards have largely lost their luster with collectors.  And for good reason, with recent discoveries that non-used jerseys were inserted onto cards and card companies were most likely aware.

At the National, I was pretty surprised to find beautiful game used patch cards for sale anywhere from $3-5.  And some decent names too, though no Pirates.  Still, the hobby landscape has changed significantly.  Not that that has stopped Topps from putting gu swatches on everything...but I dirgress.

Even though gu cards aren't anything I actively seek out anymore, there are still a few that are among my favorite cards in my collection.  The 2005 Prime Patches set lived up to its name as Donruss looked to liquidate its back stock of game used and autographs before losing their MLB license.  The result?  Lots of amazing multi-player items.

This card immediately became a must have for me when it went live in 2005.  The card featured patches from three of my favorite Buccos (missing Jack Wilson, of course).  I had just joined ebay in late '05, and this card instantly became one of my prime targets.  I love the Giles patch the best, and the inclusion of red brings a little life to what are often boring Pirates patches.

I actually ended up picking up two copies of this card, and I think both were had for around $10-12.  I saw a copy up on ebay a few months back that sold for more than that, so maybe game used isn't totally dead after all.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Minors Monday

I think most fans would agree that Josh Harrison has been the highlight of the Pirates season thus far this year.  While it probably seems like his performance came out of nowhere this year, he has quietly been a fan favorite among Pirate fans for a while now.

Harrison came to the Buca as what seemed like a spare part along with big armed pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio.  Bot those guys are out of baseball, while Harrison is enjoying the best year of his career.

I had the chance to see Harrison a couple times at AA Altoona, and his speed and hard play were evident.  Whether his glove could ever stick in the majors was a much more legitimate question, but he has put up a number of amazing plays both at third and in the outfield this year.

Guess it just goes to show you how crazy development can be in baseball.  Should make for a fun end to the season.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Signature Sunday

Leaf's 1996 Signature Series set (and the alliteration it produces) was one of the landmark sets in the hobby, introducing the concept of the one hit per pack high end product a full decade before Topps would beat the concept into the ground each and every month.  The initial set, with three tiers of bronze, silver, and gold autographs, is one of the cleanest and most comprehensive autograph sets ever.

The set got a second helping when Leaf Signature Extended came out.  Similar concept, but the auto tiers were gone.  There were some big names included, but overall most of the mid-upper tier guys had been included in the initial release.  And the design...well, it's similar.  But not quite as clean, not quite as exciting.

But it does have a few gems on the Pirates end, including this rookie auto of Mexican free agent signing Francisco Cordova.  Cordova looked like the ace of the team through the late 90's, before his arm imploded as the Bucs christened PNC Park.  But he's still one of my favorite childhood Bucs.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

There's Gold in Them Hills...Somewhere

I participated in a group break with my group of team collectors last night.  The release of Topps Chrome had been what initiated the order for the 5 box break.  But when all was said and done, Chrome was probably the least exciting break.  And that seems pretty typical for the product this year.  Most boxes don't seem to be yielding any colored refractors at all, and the breaks just seem generally uninspiring.  When our Topps Series 2 box is more interesting than Chrome...it's not a good sign.

Maybe collectors have been spoiled in recent years.  While I'm no fan of Topps and their million parallels, I realize that for box breakers the addition of new colors each year makes the break...well, more colorful.

Speaking of color, I picked up this Pedro Alvarez refractor from Finest off ebay.  Wanna play a round of guess what color it is?

If you guess gold, you're right.  But with all the color in the background, it's pretty tough to actually make out that it's a gold refractor.  If anything, the gold pops more in the scan than it does in person.  I really like the design to Finest this year, and it reminds me a lot of the 90's Finest sets.  But the colors seem to completely wash out of the colored ref's with the multi-colored background.  Though the X-Fractors from the set do look amazing.  But for $3.50 shipped, I can't complain too much.  It's a cool card at a good price.  But boy would a more pronounced gold background look nice with those Sunday throwback uniforms.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Just an Update

As my collecting interests have broadened, I figured it's time to finally get up a full list of all the random stuff I collect.  Besides, Bob Walk the Plank already traded for all the Bucco cards on the blogosphere, so need something else for you guys to send me!  I've written about a lot of the mini collections before, but now they're available for easy reference.

The What I Collect page is on the left hand sidebar right below the About Me section, and I'll try to keep it updated.  I may add some more 90's-tastic player collections at some point.

Losing a Friend and a Collector

I woke up this morning to find out I had lost a good friend.  My friend Mike Trompeter of Tromp's Sports Cards passed away.  I'm at a bit of a loss for words - I met Mike through cards, but our friendship had very little to do with cardboard.  He was one of the most generous and caring people I've known, and even though life gave him plenty of lemons, he always was quick with a joke.  And I think he's the only Royals fan I've ever met in the collecting world.

I know quite a few of my fellow bloggers made purchases from Tromp during his various sales, and I can say now that financially the extra cash made a big difference for him, and he was genuinely appreciative of the new customers.  He was a true collector at heart, and beyond his beloved Royals and George Brett collection, he loved getting cards into the hands of other collectors.  I don't know that I've ever met someone as generous and giving in my years of collecting as Mike.

It's not the first time I've lost a friend who I met through collecting, but there's no way around the fact this this one hurts pretty bad for someone who I never actually had the chance to meet in person.  Mike lived in Kansas City, and we had talked a few times about me coming out to visit the Negro League HoF to do some research in their archives for a book I was working on, and getting together to finally meet the great Tromp of Cards.  It almost happened last summer, but money and time were pretty tight with the wedding coming up.

I'll be cheering for Mike's Royals the rest of the way this season.  He was a friend to many collectors who order off his website, sportlots, and the other selling avenues he had over the past couple decades, but more importantly he was just a damn good friend, period.

I'll cherish the cards he sent me, and the memories they bring to mind.  But it's gonna be a rough day.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, guys.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Trade Post: The Angels, In Order

I've been sluggish on the blogging of late.  Blame the summer heat, or something like that.  Tom over at The Angels, In Order emailed me a while back after he saw a comment I left about my modest Charles Johnson collection.  He had a stack of cards that needed a good home, and I was happy to oblige.

For the early part of my collecting life, I collected just about anything but Pirates cards.  Steelers, basketball, and some meager player collections of my favorite players - Charles Johnson, Ripken, Jeff Bagwell, and Junior.  He wasn't a star by any means, but I learned to appreciate CJ's amazing defense.  My dad had been a catcher playing up through high school, and any time we were watching a game I was sure to get a dissertation on how well or poorly the catcher did his job behind the plate.

The Marlins became an expansion franchise the year I started playing t-ball.  Something about the ridiculously 90's color scheme stuck with me even as I grew up, and I've always loved the jersey sets the Marlins wore before they introduced black and screwed the whole thing up.

While I haven't been very active on this blog or in trades this year, blogging has helped me revitalize my interest in the random, cool, and otherwise amusing cards I collected as a kid but tried to shy away from as a an adult collector just focusing on "my team."  I give major credit to this for Dimebox Nick in particular.  It has been fun remembering that it's ok if the focus of your collection is that it has no focus.

The down side?  I now have another 10 binders of random cards, on top of the 13,000 Pirate cards I have.  Thanks guys, thanks a lot.

But revisiting my Charles Johnson collection is just part of my expanded collecting interests.  I haven't had the chance to really talk a lot about the great side collection pickups I've made from the National due to my lack of posting, but I'm hoping to have a new page up soon listing my various non-Pittsburgh collections.

Tom also threw in a few great Pirate cards, which were much appreciated.  I've been slacking in adding Pirates from 2014 for a variety of reasons, so they were much appreciated.

Better yet, the trade lined up with my trip to the National, giving me an excuse to pick up some cool Halos cards for Tom while digging through boxes.  I always enjoy finding cards for others when digging through a box, and it makes the dig go faster in my opinion.

Thanks for the great trade, Tom!