Thursday, July 30, 2015

Custom Creations: The Greatest of the Greats

After showing off my new Jim Bouton 2000 Fleer GOTG auto addition the other day, I felt like it was time to add some updates to such an iconic set.  
Throwback sets became all the rage in the early 00's, and the 2000 Fleer release set the bar incredibly high.  The set featured an impressive checklist and many players who hadn't been featured on cardboard in quite some time.  To see them in person, the cards are just stunning, and have a depth and shadowy effect that makes them look fantastic.

I can't say I was totally able to recapture the effects on this custom, but it's a good first step I suppose.  Right now, it's just a digital mockup, but I look forward to getting a few test copies printed out (and hopefully signed) in the near future.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jack and White

If you had told me 15 years ago I could buy a jersey card for $7, I might have told you that you were crazy.  If you had told me 5 years ago I would pay $7 for a jersey card, I would have told you I was crazy.  

But so is the life of the player collector.  A plain white swatch of jersey.  ...that some company decided to limit to 15 copies.  Insert rant about artificial scarcity here.  

But the really amusing part is that the card itself?  It's identical to the base card.  And the swatch, more or less, identical to the patch version.  The patch version numbered to 100.  Yep, somehow the patch is six times more rare than this plain 'ole swatch of fabric.
But with how infrequently I'm able to land new cards from the ever-shrinking list of Jack cards I need, I was happy to overpay to land this guy.  It's the only copy I recall seeing for sale, and it's not like people are rushing to ebay to dump their really rare plain white jersey swatches of middle infielders not named Vizquel these days.  But as for me?  I couldn't be happier with my plain white swatch of cloth.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

When buying cards, I really make an effort to stick to my collections.  And it shouldn't be too hard, after all.  Over the last few years, my collections have gone from "Pirates.  The End." to include two college teams, the rest of Pittsburgh's pro sports, a few dozen mini collections and childhood player collections, and the catch-all of "it just looks cool."  And as some of you are probably aware, COMC can be kryptonite to the undisciplined collector.  Thaaat's me.
 And I don't regret it one bit.

My latest COMC haul included a couple dozen cards that fit here, there, and everywhere into my collection.  I mean how can any true collector pass up an autograph of an all-time great for $5?  Cheesy food issue and lacking logos aside, it's Frank freaking Robinson.
 And of course I'm thrilled to slowly plug away at my remaining needs for the 1998 Donruss Signature set.
 Or scoring a new find for my Pirate autograph collection, even if Ruben Mateo is wearing the wrong colors.
I read a comment on a card forum recently where someone said "people only collect cards from the past two years."  It might be a little hyperbolic, and obviously there are quite a few older modern cards that still carry tremendous value.  But for semistar and common autos, I'm always amazed some of the names that used to appear on the back of all-star jerseys, and can now be found in the dollar autograph box at shows.
Sure, guys like Henry Rodriguez or Juan Encarnacion were never superstars, but they were very good major league players.  I'm happy to have a good excuse to add their autograph to my collection.  And if it can be on a set as gorgeous as 98 Signature, all the better.
Speaking of great looking sets, I finally landed my first autograph from the 2000 Fleer GOTG set.
In the summer of 2000, I had just come back into the hobby.  The idea of a set that would yield multiple hits per box was still nuts, let alone retired stars.  And the cards just nice.  There was a card shop I would visit with my mom in the local mall.  I mostly bought lower end products geared towards kids - some Edge football, Fleer Impact, flagship Topps, and maybe the occasional splurge on a $3 pack.  But my mom enjoyed gambling on a big hit every once in a while, or maybe just on seeing my face light up from a great pull.  I remember we bought 3 packs from a half dead box of GOTG.  At $5 per pack, it seemed like a big gamble to my 12 year old brain.  With that money, I could have a mountain of Topps cards!

The packs were all duds.  I got a pile of base cards (some of which would become TTM autographs a few years later), but missed out on the elusive autograph from a beautiful and groundbreaking set.  When I saw this one on COMC with a $4 price tag, I couldn't pass it up.  A Seattle Pilots uniform would have been nice, but this is definitely one of my new favorite cards.  And if I ever hit the lottery, it's a set I'll be chasing down.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Coming Full Circle

When I hopped in the car after work Thursday, I flipped on the radio.  A local sports talk show was on, and I could immediately tell they were discussing a trade the Pirates had made.  Within about 40 seconds, I discovered the Pirates had traded for Aramis Ramirez.

And since there aren't many remnants of the late 90's/early 00's collecting nostalgia still alive and kicking in MLB, let me ramble down Memory Lane for a bit.

For a long, long time, Aramis Ramirez was the picture of everything that was wrong with the Pirates.  And it had absolutely nothing to do with Aramis Ramirez.

The Pirates signed Ramirez out of the Dominican, and he absolutely tore up the minors, being ranked as the 5th best prospect in the game heading into 1998.  The Pirates had been mired in a losing slump for 5 years, had just come improbably close to winning the division with a losing record, and were committed to a youth movement after dealing off 90's stalwarts Jay Bell and Orlando Merced before the '97 season.

In the days where you never heard the term "service time" and few teams fretted over when players would become arbitration eligible, the Pirates aggressively promoted Aramis to the majors in 1998 at the tender age of 20.  He struggled.  The team struggled.  And over the next three seasons, the Pirates would bounce him between AAA and the Majors.  It was a pattern that did nothing to help the development of Ramirez or fellow yo-yo victim Jose Guillen.  Both players would go on to long and successful major league careers, but their best baseball would be spent outside Pittsburgh.

But here's the thing:  good is good.  Despite the erratic development, Ramirez busted out in a big way for a forgettable 2001 Pirates team.  300/335/536.  Today, that would easily boost him into the MVP conversation.  But at just 23, as a Pirate fan it felt like he was already 33.  Despite his growth at the plate, it was easy to remember that he was far from a finished product defensively.  To this day my dad still remembers Ramirez throwing balls into the stands along the first base line, and us joking that we weren't safe in our seats in the upper right field grandstand from an errant ARam throw.

As was the Pirate way of the day, in '02 Ramirez slumped and slumped hard.  The team would have been bad either way, but I think he may have gotten an unfair share of the blame, over then fan favorites Jason Kendall or Brian Giles.

And then 2003 happened.  The Pirates, with the help of some collusion, plucked some great free agents off the market for dirt cheap, filling in some actual talent around their younger roster.  The team played surprisingly well.  But the debt from their new ballpark exceeded MLB's debt to equity ratio.  Simply put, they needed to shed salary and shed it quick.

And Kris Benson was that guy.  Or at least he should have been.  Both players made $6M.  Ramirez was a breakout star with a controllable contract.  Benson would never post an ERA under 4 after his 2000 breakout year where Peter Gammons predicted him to win the Cy Young.  But coming up to the trade deadline, Benson missed a start due to arm fatigue, killing any hopes of dealing him.  The most tradable asset?  Ramirez.  The yo-yo act had made him a pricey player still in his early 20's.  One the Pirates couldn't keep, but any team would gladly have taken.  Except for the fact that every other team knew that the Pirates desperately needed to shed dollars.  The return was...let's just not speak of Bobby Hill again.  Ever.

To this day, Ramirez was booed every game I saw him play in Pittsburgh for something well beyond his control.  It wasn't his fault the Pirates management burned up valuable service time when he clearly wasn't yet major league ready.  It wasn't his fault the team couldn't effectively manage their finances.  And it sure as hell wasn't his fault the team dealt him to a division rival for a literal bag of peanuts, and he would continue to crush Pirates pitchers for the next decade.

I couldn't be happier to see ARam back in Pittsburgh.  I'm thrilled he might finally get the chance to play on that young, growing Pirates club that he was supposed to join in 1998.  But forgive me if I don't still duck my head a little every time I see him throwing over to first.  Old habits die hard.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Isn't That Precious?

I've slowly started weeding through my 200-card COMC order that came in a couple weeks ago as part of their Spring Cleaning promotion.  For most sellers, I imagine COMC amounts to the scrap heap - a place to sell cards they couldn't move on ebay with ease.  And that's fine with me.  After all, I always pride myself on my collecting patience.  Sure, it's come back to bite me in the proverbial collecting ass (Andrew McCutchen).  But on the whole, I usually have pretty good results waiting for the initial wave of excitement to die down around a card before snagging my copy.

I was planning on having a sizable Geno Smith collection as the NFL Draft approached a few years back.  And then the Jets called his name, and my hopes were almost instantly dashed.  Huge market with a quarterback crazy fan base?  While I would have much preferred to see Geno succeed, his cards have become more affordable in recent months.  And this Precious Metal Gems card is one of my new favorites in my collection.  And at a cool $3, I couldn't be happier.

 Speaking of prices cooling, John Holdzkom went from being one of the hottest names in Pittsburgh to a bit of an afterthought these days.  When Series 1 went live, this card was selling in the $5-10 range, and I was bummed when I didn't pull one out of a case break.  But Holdzkom has been in the minors this season, and middle reliever autos aren't the type to stay hot for long.  I was thrilled to snag a copy for about $2, though I could probably get one for half that in a couple years, even if Holdzkom does regain the form that made him an overnight sensation last year.
 I guess that's the funny thing about this hobby.  Everybody is ready to jump on the next big thing.  Until the next big thing comes along.  Even if a player goes on to have a solid major league career, their prices are almost inevitably going to decline in value.  It's just the nature of the hobby, but I'm more than happy to let that work in my favor.  In 2005, this card was probably a $3 card.  In 2008, it was a $30 card.  And a couple months ago, I was more than happy to buy it for $1.
 But it's not really about the price paid, print run, or serial number.  I've really narrowed down my collecting focus - I like cards that look cool.  Whether it's $.10 or $10, if it looks nice that's what really matters to me.  Of course I do tend to stick closer to the $.10 end of the collecting spectrum.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Check Out My Haul: 2001 Donruss

My latest COMC shipment has been sitting idly in the box it came in for the better part of a week and a half.  Maybe this weekend will be the grand cataloguing process, maybe not.  I'm happy with the cards I added to my collection, but my relationship with COMC has been going downhill for a while now.

The site was a great resource for lower end cards when I joined in 2010 or 2011.  But then again, submission fees were only $.10 and shipping was $.15.  I could buy a card for $.50, with there still being enough meat on the bone for the seller to be happy.  Inflation, cost of doing business, yada yada yada.  You can argue whether the increases in cost are justified or not.  But at the end of the day, a card submitted now that sells for $.50 is basically the seller making a charitable donation to my account after the (at least) $.25 submission fee and the $.25 shipping fee.  And quite honestly, those cards I happily scooped up for $.35 or $.50 cents are far, far less attractive at $.75 or $1.

 Right around the time I decided to take on the 2000 TC Refractor set, I also decided to try my hand at the 2001 Donruss Star Line parallels.  Realistically, finishing the set was never in mind.  It's more just hoarding as many cards as I can, with the two tiers of parallels and offshoot retro sets.  But these are exactly the type of card that COMC used to excel at.  Fairly common parallels of fairly common players.  I'm sure in 2010 or 2012 I could have scooped many of these up without much problem.
 Today...I was thrilled to even find 5 new additions that fell into a price range I was willing to pay.
 Everything in collecting comes in cycles, and I realize for many the excitement of parallels numbered above 10 isn't at the top of their priority list.  But it constantly amazes me how tough it is to find some of these parallels - many of the cards in the Stat Line set are numbered in the 300-400 range.  Without thousands and thousands of copies, you'd think there would be a dealer at a show with a few here or there.  But they have been surprisingly tough gets for me.

What about you?  Is there a project you are working on that just seems head-scratchingly tough to track down?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Back to the Work Bench

I had a pretty exhausting day at work.  You know, the kind where you just wanted it to end at 10a.m because you knew things would only continue to get continually worse.

So by the time I got back home, I needed something to just let me mind relax.
 So off to the computer I went for a little r&r with my custom projects.  This is really the first time I have worked on new projects since the early spring.  But it was nice to get back into the swing of things, and the first day I can remember when I wasn't worrying about something that needed done at work or at home.
 I've been slowly plugging away at Jack Wilson cards in every Topps design.  Obviously the 2002-2012 years are already covered.  But it's going to be  tough challenge to replicate the photo quirks of each year going just by the limited photos available online.  I've been avoiding the early 50's and 60's releases, dreading the lack of portrait and posted photos available.
 Still, it has been a fun project to chip away at.  And considering how much my Jack collection has slowed in recent years, it's a nice little side project to add to my collection of my favorite player.

Speaking of projects...
As I was sitting at the computer, I had a little spark of inspiration for a new project that may eventually become a feature on the blog.  The Pirates got even less hobby than they deserved (which wasn't much) during the 90's and 00's.  And even during the years where Topps Traded was supposed to fill in the gaps, the Pirates were sorely under-represented.  After all, they were almost never buyers at the trade deadline - and the lone year they were, 1997, Topps didn't produce a Traded set! - and prospects were sorely lacking as well.  So...I introduce you to Topps Update Update.  I'll be filling in the gaps for some of the players, coaches, or league leaders who got passed over during The Dark Years.  First up will be 2001, though I may need an ink refill before the printed version becomes a reality.

Somehow Aramis Ramirez was absent from the 2001 Topps set, despite having a break out season.  He hit .300 with 34 homers, and had played in parts of three big league seasons (with 2 Flagship cards)  in the previous seasons.  But maybe it's a blessing in disguise, since it gave me a great excuse to use this awesome photo of the Pirates wearing throwback unis from 2001.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Catching Up on Customs

Things have been pretty slow around here when it comes to anything sports related.  Cards, customs...heck, even just watching a few innings of baseball.  I think I've watched exactly two complete Pirate games this year, and attended zero.  And oddly enough, I've been pretty much fine with that.

 But I had some free time this weekend, and decided to bust out Photoshop.  During my frantic custom making period a few months back, I ended up designing quite a few cards that never made it to print.  And after a little extra tinkering, had them ready to turn into real, live cards.  A few snips later, and these are my newest additions to the custom card wing of my collection
 This Jumpin' Jack Flash is one of the many customs I've turned out of my favorite player.  And this slight tweak on 1990 Donruss is definitely one of my favorite go-to designs.  For those who follow my arts and crafts projects, it might look familiar.  I printed a sparkly version in one of my test runs.  But I needed one that showcased the colors a little more in the collection as well.
And finally, one of my favorite newer creations.  This card is a take-off of a T-205 card featuring Pirates lefty Tony Watson.  It was tough to even come close to replicating the painted portraits on the original cards.  I was pleased with the final results when this one was completed, but since then I found a process that gives a more painted look to the photo, so an upgrade may be in store.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2000 Topps Chrome: The Inserts

Yesterday, I showed off some of the less than stelar star power from my 2000 Topps Chrome Refractor set-in-progress.  Today I'm back with the inserts, which thankfully have a little more pop behind them.

The thing I really loved about early Chrome sets was the fact that the sets almost completely mirrored the base sets, inserts and all.  As card releases moved away from being insert driven, the paralleled inserts and refractors quickly dried up.  But from about 1998-2001, the Chrome sets feature some absolutely awesome looking cards.  And the refractor versions?  All the better.
 In the Flagship 2000 set, foil was all the rage.  Obviously that doesn't translate to Chrome.  But Topps really stepped up to the plate this year.  Even without the foil features, the insert sets still carry a significant "wow factor" that really pops on the card.  The All-Star Rookie Team is by far my favorite insert in the set.
 But the set boasts a nice range in both design and player selection.  Sure, most of the "can't miss" type guys from the late 90's ended up being big time flops.  But that just makes the cards easier to track down.
 In fact, I have been having a much easier time getting the inserts at a cheap price than the base refractors.  And I guess the math checks out.  Refractors fall two per box, but there are nearly 500 cards.  While most of the refractor versions of the inserts are much tougher pulls (falling about once every other box, in most cases), the sets are much smaller.
 Not that I'm complaining.
I love the look of the cards.  And even if the master refractor set might be a long ways off, I'm holding out some hope that knocking out the insert sets might be a realistic goal within the next year.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oooo, Shiny

Quite a few things have found their way to the back burner for me in recent months.  Blogging.  Collecting.  Getting to the gym.  Definitely need to get back on that last one.  But I've come to accept that my collecting ebbs and flows.

 Late last year I decided to take on the monster undertaking of the 2000 Topps Chrome Refractor set.  It seemed like a big project to bite off, but I had nooooo idea.
 I've been trying to keep my pickups of commons under $1, which has made things even tougher.  It seems like so many of those late 90's/early 00's cards have dried up.  And at just two refractors per box, there probably wasn't a huge supply to begin with.
 But with my latest COMC shipment, I brought home some more of these beauties.
 Sure, they're all commons.  But I'm glad to knock out a decent amount of progress on the set, even if it is a super-duper longterm project.
 The 2000 refractors have quickly become some of my favorite non-Pirate cards in my collection, and they bring back all sorts of warm and fuzzies when it comes to collecting, since this was really my first exposure to a "high end" product upon coming back to collecting.
It's a little laughable that what was a higher end $3 pack is now pretty much par for the course.  Then again...times change.  Matt Clement was a young hurler with a live arm and promise.  Now he's a high school gym teacher less than a mile up the road from me.  And no, he does not refract in person.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hidden Gold

After a painstaking wait over the holiday weekend, I finally got my greedy hands on my latest COMC haul.  Thanks to the latest free shipping promo, 200 glorious new cards are now at home in my collection.  There are some great cards that fit into my various PC's that I'll be showing off over the next few days.  But sometimes the odds and ends deserve a little love as well.

Technically speaking, none of the cards in this post really fit into any particular aspect of my collection.  Unless you could my "Oooo, pretty" collection to be...a thing.
 Quite possible the most exciting pickups was this pair of 2001 Topps Chrome refractor inserts.  2001 Chrome was a great set, and the refractor versions of the inserts were a tough pull.
 Maybe I'm in the minority, but I love the fact that I can buy copies of cards I could only dream of pulling as a kid for under a buck.
 Speaking of under a buck, for $.50, I couldn't pass up on this crazy Focus Pocus insert of Ripken.  The orange and black colors give it a little extra Halloween spin.  But most importantly, check out the Turn Ahead the Clock jersey!  Maybe Nick and I are the only collectors in the world who obsess over these things, but I can't thank the Artist Formerly Known as Fleer enough for using some of these photos on their inserts.
 And while it isn't quite 90's nostalgia, this Crime Dog Diffractor from 2014 Tek was close enough for me.
 And there may be no better 90's sweet spot than rare cards of failed prospects.  Nostalgia?  Check.  Guy that was technically once a huge hobby name?  Check.  Awesome card?  Check.  So considering I've never even come close to one of these Gold Label parallels of a Pirate, I'll gladly take it for a mere $.75.  Not too shabby for a card from one of my favorite sets of all time.
And *sigh* teal Marlins jerseys.  I swoon for you.

Now I just need to catalogue the other 190 cards in the box...