Sunday, May 31, 2015

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Baseball can be a strange, strange game.  Take a look back at top prospect lists from the past decade and you'll see the top of the lists littered with names that make you say, "Who?"  And even for the guys that make it, or at least seem to, success can be fleeting.
 In the mid 2000's, I bought in to prospect hype.  Not to any significant degree, but I picked up a few cards here and there of guys who I thought were sure fire locks for big league success.  Casey Kotchman was one of those guys who I thought would be a blast to watch for the next two decades or so.  He had a great approach at the plate, hit the ball well, and was a pretty strong defender.  He was the type of well-rounded player I love watching.  And when he put up close to a .300 average with good power by age 24?  Seemed like a guy who was headed towards good things.
 ...and then by 30 he was out of baseball.  Like I said, crazy game.  Even when his star was on the rise, Kotchman was a great TTM signer.  And those habits have continued since leaving the game.
 I always like getting cards from different teams signed, particularly for guys who have traveled around a bit.  But the real star is the signed Pristine Refractor at the top.  It was one of those prospecting buys, and I still remember shelling out $1 for it at a mall show around 2005 or 2006.  It's been sitting in a box, toploadered and waiting for superstardom ever since.
Looks like the time for that came and went.  So I'm glad the card got a second life through the mail.  Even better, the blue signature looks awesome on the card.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Card Show Haul: It Took Some Balls

Rennie Stennett 7-for-7 inscribed Three Rivers 
I was thiiiiiis close to making it home under budget.  Seriously.  And I even would have skipped the third day of the show.  

But as fate would have it, I guess going back wasn't the worst thing in the world.  First, let me flash back to last year's show.  I blew the budget out of the water, but landed some of the centerpieces of my collection thanks to a fellow Pirates super-collector I met named Todd.  He was retiring and downsizing, and in the process parting with some pieces.  But that was supposed to be a one-time deal, so I was shocked to see him back again this year.

We chatted for quite a while Friday, but just about all the stuff he had brought with him were the same items he had last year.  The prices were still good, but wall space is a finite thing, and there was nothing that screamed "must have" to me.

So fast forward to about 15 minutes before the show is set to close on Saturday.  I was squaring up on a couple deals, and as I headed for the door I made a stop by Todd's table just to say bye and to make plans to get together sometime at PNC Park.   

Devil Rays Inaugural baseball 

 Ok, so here's the part that cost me my Sunday.  I'm a sucker for a deal.  Don't judge.
Dock Ellis Three Rivers ball
 On Todd's table was a box that I hadn't remembered seeing the day before.  I peeked inside, and saw it was full of signed baseballs.  I've never been a big fan of signed balls.  I like having a photo of the player - whether it's a photo, or a card, or what have you - than just a generic white baseball.  But right on top of the box was the Dock Ellis ball above.  Now that alone is pretty exciting - Dock is one of the more notorious characters in baseball history for his LSD no hitter (side note: there's a pretty interesting documentary on Dock on Netflix, which even Kate enjoyed).  But more interesting was the Three Rivers stamp on the ball.

 I consider myself pretty well versed in the various oddball Pirates memorabilia out there.  Yet somehow I had no idea they made a commemorative baseball for the final season at PNC Park.
Bert Blyleven World Series baseball w/ Game 5 winner inscription
 I had never seen a ball like that before, signed or unsigned, and absolutely needed one for my collection.  2000 was a special season for me, as it's sort of the pre-cursor for my baseball obsession that would come to full boil in 2001, and I have some great memories of watching games at Three Rivers during the 2000 season.  I asked Todd what he would need, and he replied that he would like to just sell the full box, but we could work something out if there were just one or two balls I wanted.
Chuck Tanner WS baseball with 1979 World Series Champs inscription
 I decided to flip through the rest of the box of about 20 or 25 balls.  Like I said, I'm not a signed baseball collector.  I have maybe half a dozen from one year at Piratefest, but that's it.

But the one thing I can't resist is unique memorabilia.  I just love having pieces in my collection that are one of a kind, or damn close to it.  And from what I was seeing, this box was full of just that.
Dave Parker 1979 All-Star game ball - Parker won the MVP and made one of the most impressive throws of all time
 I asked Todd for his number on the box, and he said he was looking to get about $200 for all the balls.  As I flipped through the box, the PA system was asking dealers to wrap up their transactions and close up for the night.  I really had no interest in spending that kind of money.  But at the same time, I wasn't sure I could pass on some really unique and cool Pirates items for such a good price.  You would quite literally pay more for twenty plain, unsigned baseballs.

Lucky for me, I was saved by the bell as the show closed down.  I told Todd I would be back the next morning to see what we could figure out.
Jason Kendall and Brian Giles 2000 All-Star game ball
Guess I was going back on Sunday after all.
multi-player signed ball from Pirates Fantasy Camp instructors.  Matt's favorite Bob walk is at the bottom of the panel, but check out the signature 4 above that.
 I can't say I didn't try to talk myself out of the purchase more than a few times.  I hate spending big chunks of money in one swoop, whether it's sports related, groceries, or anything else in life.  And I had already had a very good show, without or without the box of balls.  But while I'm not ga-ga about signed baseballs, I do love the look of those home plate shaped ball displays.  And I'd much rather fill one up with some Pirates greats than with signed balls Andy LaRoche and John Grabow.
Don Robinson 1979 World Series baseball with Game 2 Winner inscription.
 The added time was definitely needed just to think through everything.  I got the green light from Kate, and even gave my mom, who I'm convinced genetically engineered a frugal gene into me, the chance to talk me out of it.  But ultimately it just seemed stupid to pass up on - a similar Chuck Tanner baseball on just a plain MLB ball sold for $90 alone.
The Original Frank Thomas
I headed back early Sunday to close the deal.  I know I've already emphasized it to hell, but the uniqueness of these balls is what really made me fall in love with them.  Many items in this hobby are simply a matter of whether you can afford them or not.  With enough cash, a patient collector could probably find a game used jersey of Michael Jordan, or a Willie Stargell bat.  There's a finite supply, but they're available, and will pop up at auction houses every so often.
Ralph Kiner
Obviously anything like that is well, well, well out of what I would ever spend.  But I love the idea that I can, for a pretty affordable price, have some really unique Pirate items.  It's not like these are private signing items where there are hundreds of identical inscriptions out there that a dealer is selling off one by one.  The Nellie Briles ball below?  I imagine there can't be many of those around.
Nellie Briles, 1971 World Series Game 5, 4-0, 2 hit shutout, base hit and rbi! Inscription on Three Rivers ball.
Briles is sort of a special one for me.  He lived about 15 mins from my parent's house.  In high school, I was scheduled to interview him for a feature in our school newspaper.  Unfortunately a couple weeks before we were supposed to get together, Briles died unexpectedly.  He was, from everything I've heard, a great guy who did a lot for the Pirates alumni.  While I wish I would have had the chance to meet him in person, I do enjoy the fact that I now have a great item from him in my collection.
Sweet spot from Briles ball above
 I didn't have a chance to fully go through the box until I got it home.  The final count was 23 signed balls, the Devil Rays ball, and an unsigned Gold Glove baseball.  All of the signed balls were players who you wouldn't be ashamed to have on a signed ball.  The "lesser" names that I didn't picture were guys like Neil Walker, Bob Robertson, and recent first round picks Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.  Some of those may get sold to cover some of the cost, but I'll be holding on to all the really unique balls.
2000 Pirates team ball
As for how I'm going to display them?  That's an entirely different question.
Jason Kendall
Short answer?  I have no idea.  For now, I'm just doing the most I can to protect the balls until I finally have a proper display.  
But I wasn't totally done.  I picked up this great Three Rivers lithograph from Todd for dirt cheap, along with a PNC Park one by the same artist that isn't framed yet.

While I would have been perfectly happy to have walked home Saturday without spending any extra money, and having a day at home certainly would have been nice, it's almost impossible for me to pass up the chance to add some great and unique items.  Finding the space to display everything?  Well, that's sort of a different story.  But one step at a time, right?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cardboard Fun

Ever come across a card that is just too much fun to pass up on?  I do it.  A lot.

I think it's the result of something I've come to term Ignored Team Syndrome.  It's a serious condition that forced the afflicted to buy cool looking cardboard in an effort to compensate for the fact that their team was left out of said awesomeness.  The condition is no laughing matter, as the numerous binders of cards that don't have a Pirate logo can attest to.

Sure, this Rodman card is a basketball card.  Pittsburgh doesn't even have a basketball team!  We had and lost one - the same franchise - twice!  But even if Pittsburgh did have an NBA team, I'm sure we wouldn't have had the kind of players Bill Walton would want to talk about.  At least not in a good way.  *insert sad Charlie Brown trombone slide*

 Ah, baseball.  The sport an entire country forgot Pittsburgh played for two decades.  Naturals?  Naturals?!?!  Pittsburgh couldn't even cheat effectively.  When the Mitchell report came out, the only Pirate accused of juicing was Kevin Young.  And've seen Brian Giles, right?  Pirate history is littered with some of the greatest natural talent ever to play the game.  Right up until the point when they started making shiny cards about those guys with natural talent...
 1960 was a better year for the Pirates, but didn't do me many favors this weekend.  I decided to take a longterm crack at the 1960 Topps set.  It's an important year in Pirate history, but also just a really awesome looking set.  I was hoping to land a good stack of cheap vintage.  Unfortunately the weekend yielded only 3 new 1960 cards.  But at least the Pirates were good that year!
 Perennial All-Stars?  For the Pirates that meant Jason Bay or Mike Williams.  But I was able to snag some great 2000 Topps inserts out of dime boxes over the weekend.  I've been working on completing the 2000 Topps and Topps Chrome master sets.  It's another longterm project, but I've made pretty progress on everything but the Chrome Refractors.
 Alright, I'm running out of witty quips.  But for $.25, I couldn't pass on a Terry Pendleton autograph.  In the long list of "maybe I'll try this some day" has been working on a complete signed set.  The top contenders would be 2000, 1987, and 1991.
 The weekend also netted me some great 90's sample cards.  And none look better than this one, where the silver lettering of Sample really stands out over top of the image.  There are another great remnant of a bygone hobby.  These Sample cards are so much cooler than the terrible Photoshop mockups put out today to preview a set.
 And what would the weekend be without a couple great Vlad inserts.
There are just so many fantastic cards out there, it's nearly impossible not to bring them home when I come across them at dirt cheap prices.  And who can blame me?  Maybe if the card companies had just paid a little more attention to the Pirates in the 90's (couldn't you just squeeze Al Martin into a few insert sets?), we wouldn't have this terrible, terrible condition.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Odds, The Ends

I'm not sure if it says more about how much cardboard I brought home last weekend or how disorganized I am, but I'm still coming across new stacks from the RMU show.  Getting everything sorted, entered, and organized is going to be a PITA that will probably be going on into July.  And I haven't even gotten around to showing off the best stuff yet!  But some of the cards I picked up are just too cool not to show off in the interim.

It sounds horrible even to type, but I'm starting to think that maybe I have too much access to cheap cardboard.  I know some collectors would kill to come across loaded dime boxes like I do.  Mainly because I've had the same thought cross my mind when reading some of the stuff other bloggers come across.

But it's a double edged sword.
 I'm a complete and utter failure at being selective.  Or at least being as selective as I could be.  And the end result ends up being bringing home some glorious cards dirt cheap.  And then realizing the last thing I needed were more cards.
 Everything in this post came from dime boxes from a couple different dealers.  Do they fit into my collection?  Yes and no.  I mean...they aren't cards of any player or team that calls Pittsburgh home.  But...but...but...for a dime, how can you pass up on something like a sweet Cards throwback uni, or some Marquis Grissom 90's nostalgia, or Reggie as an Oriole.
 I'm certainly not breaking the bank with these cards.  Heck, almost everything I bought over the weekend, at least card wise, was under $1.  There were a few $2 cards, but otherwise my most expensive purchase came as part of a 3/$10 deal of autos and game used cards.
 Maybe one of these days I'll be willing to part with some of the stuff I've picked up over the years, and will put out the most epic array of quarter boxes known to man at some show.  But in the mean time, it's hard not to enjoy these cards in my collection.
 And even better yet is the stack of awesomeness that I was able to pick up for bloggers and team collectors that will filter out in packages.  As much as I love coming across new cards for myself, I always get a little more excited when I come across a dirt cheap card that I already have a collector in mind for and know they will love.
 There is definitely a bit of a moral dilemma when it comes to loaded dime boxes like this, though.  They were all local dealers, and I knew going in just about all the Pirates would be stripped from the boxes.  While I came away with 100+ cards of this variety from these tables, I maybe found 3 or 4 new Pirate cards.
 Do I invest the time and neck pain to go through a couple dozen boxes, knowing there will quite literally be almost no cards for my *actual* team collection?  Obviously the answer is yes.  I'd love to be more selective, to narrow my collection down from the mass of binders and boxes to a core grouping of cards.  But it's not how I collect, and that's not how I enjoy collecting.

And in the grand scheme of things, I came out ahead.  I traded two large boxes - probably close to 5,000 cards - of Pirates doubles to a dealer.  So ultimately my closet is two full boxes lighter than it was a week and a half ago.  Moving out the stuff I didn't need, and bringing in great cards I do want.  It seems like a win-win, even if I will be sorting until the end of time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Value of a Dollar

There's no question about it.  I'm a bargain shopper.  And that applies in spades when it comes to vintage cards.  The great thing about large shows is that they tend to draw dealers from across the country, which will knock prices down to about their bottom basement price.  The Robert Morris show has done wonders for my vintage team sets over the past few years.  The sheer selection has allowed me to knock out just about every common, with only superstars like Clemente and Stargell remaining from their early sets and those pesky short printed high numbers.

I actually didn't do as well on vintage this year as in the past.  That certainly had a lot to do with the influx of modern dealers.  Last year, I spent a lot of time digging through vintage boxes simply because there...wasn't anything else to look through.  But with more modern this year, most of my box digging was centered around the more recent stuff.  And the vintage bins I did look through mostly just had the same common cards I already had priced at $1 or $2.
But I was going through one dealer's $.25 box.  A lot was more or less junk - late 80's star commons.  A few serial numbered cards.  Lots of 70's commons.  And...half a dozen Pirate cards I needed.  Wait, huh?

The four cards above are definitely of the well-loved variety.  But at just a quarter a piece, they are welcomed placeholders that cross a card off my needs list, and can always be upgraded if a better copy ever presents itself at a great price.  And that's just what I did with the Rice RC.  I had picked up a really, really, really beat up copy off COMC for $.65 as a set filler.  While this copy isn't close to mint, it's a major upgrade in eye appeal at less than half the price.  Just ignore the crop job at the bottom, which is just a result of my scanner being a jerk

I'm always a little amazed how many great looking cards can be found in discount bins.  I had no idea this card even existed, but was thrilled to find a Quasar card of former Steeler and Mountaineer Amos Zereoue.  The design was actually reused in UD's Fleer Retro product, and there is a Geno Smith version I still need to track down.  Now the big question becomes which binder this goes into.

And at a buck each, I was thrilled to find two cards that had been sitting in my COMC watchlist forever, but priced around $5.

This Lemieux/Bradshaw just became one of my favorite cards in my collection, featuring two of Pittsburgh's greatest set in front of a beautiful painted skyline.  How much better can it get?
There just aren't any avenues that provide the kind of bang for your buck that card shows do.  I love COMC.  I love still buy on ebay.  And sites like Sportlots and Justcommons are great.  But there is a degree of maximizing profits that can be avoided at a show.  Most of the dime and quarter boxes I dig through are the leftovers from large deals that were long ago into the black for the dealer.  Anything else they sell out of their inventory is just icing on the cake.  And that always seems to equal great finds for my collections, and is far less irritating than the COMC seller willing to sit for years and years on a card priced well above what anyone is willing to pay, hoping just to find that one person willing to overpay someday.
I don't care how overdone Bowman is, or how watered down the checklist is.  A gold refractor of a Pirate is just too nice looking not to own for $1, even if the player will probably never hit AA.
Or to find oddball sets, like these Cooperstown Orange parallels that were only available in retail.
Or these Pinnacle Artist Proof cards.  This is apparently the blue version, which I didn't even know existed.  And I think I paid 20 times more attention to the set than the rest of the hobby did.  Again, I'd guess it was a retail exclusive.  But I honestly have no clue, and didn't find any info online.  Anyone have the inside scoop?

There's nothing that beats finding a big stack of cards from a dealer, and when all the dollar and quarter cards are counted up discovering that you just nabbed a great stack of cardboard you'd be hardpressed to even find elsewhere for less than the cost of a fast food lunch.  Long live the card show!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Talking, Buying, and Talking Some More

You never know who you'll meet at a card show.  I found some great cards over the course of the weekend.  I filled in some holes in my Pirates collection.  But the most enjoyable part of the weekend for me was taking the time to get to know some of the folks at the show.

Early on the day on Friday I came across the dealer from Boston who I bought a ton of stuff off of last year.  This year he drove down with his buddy, who deals in pretty much nothing but 1952 Topps cards, and has one of the most impressive collections of graded and signed 1952 cards I can imagine.

I spent a good chunk of the weekend talking with them, working out the occasional deal, and then talking some more.  They Jimmy and Tom are two great guys, and it was a real pleasure getting to spend time just bullshitting.

I even ended up getting some professional contacts out of it, since Tom's brother is in education and is doing the kind of work I'm hoping to eventually move towards.

After spending three days talking and even watching their tables a few times, I figured I couldn't leave empty handed.  Most of Tom's collection cards were well above my usual price point.  But for just $14, I couldn't pass up on this signed Ed Fitzgerald.  I already have an autographed Fitzgerald Bowman card in my collection, but you can't beat the iconic Topps set.  Better yet, the colors on this card are by far the best on any of the 5 '52's I own, and looks amazing.  There are a couple spots of paper loss on the front, but I think the overall condition of the card and the boldness of the colors more than make up for that.

The cardboard itself is great.  But the quality of the company and conversation was a big part of what made this past weekend so enjoyable for me.  It sure as heck is a nice change from the usual array of card dealers gruffly grunting or avoiding eye contact at local shows.