Blog Bat-Around: My Wacky Regret

This post is part of a “Bat Around” question posed by the esteemed proprietor of the Garvey Cey Russell Lopes blog:

What cards have you owned that you regret are no longer in your collection?

I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d be taking part in this because I couldn’t think of any cards that really were worth writing about. I haven’t done a whole lot of trading or selling, and most of it has been either duplicates or card I had no interest in keeping.

Just as I was about to punt, I thought of another angle on the subject, and then most of this post formed in my head before I had a chance to attempt to write it all down…

Back when I was a kid in the mid 1970’s, there were a lot of different toys and games and collectibles to occupy the youth of America, but there was one thing that united everybody in my school (and many other schools)… It seemed like every kid, boys and girls alike, spent some of their allowances on Topps Wacky Packages stickers, commonly known as “Wacky Packs”.
1979 Topps Wacky Packages Gyppy Pop

For those who aren’t familiar with Wacky Packs, they were stickers that featured parodies of common products of the day… but they weren’t gentle little parodies, they were like Mad Magazine in a pack…. funny, subversive and very nicely illustrated by professional artists.
1970's Topps Wacky Packages_0004

But they were stickers… and if you’re a kid, what do you do with stickers? You stick them on things.  (Joe from 1975 adds “That’s what stickers are for.  Duh.”)

Unlike many of the sticker sets that would follow in later years, there was no such thing as a Wacky Packages album, so we were left to stick them wherever we saw fit.
1970's Topps Wacky Packages_0001
Like many kids, my preferred target for my Wacky Packs was the looseleaf binder I used for school. I eventually had the entire binder, front and back, inside and outside, covered with Wacky Packs. That binder eventually got too beat-up to use, but I hung on to it because, well, it had all my Wacky Packs on it. When it started to fall apart, I kept the two main pieces and I still have them…. somewhere.
1970's Topps Wacky Packages_0003

With the exception of the “Gyppy Pop” which I got late last year, the Wacky Packs I’m sharing here are “doubles” I had… No point in sticking them on my binder when I’ve already got the same one on there, right?

…But if I’d only saved my Wacky Packs like I’d saved all of my baseball and football and hockey cards… or even like I’d hung on to my small assortment of “Welcome Back, Kotter” cards… I’d have a really nice collection enshrined in 9-pocket pages, rather than a pair of battered pieces of a looseleaf binder, lost in a box that’s buried in a closet.

Before I close this out, I’d like to thank GCRL for reviving the Bat-around concept. Back several years ago when bat-arounds were more common, I would always enjoy reading them and I’d think “Man, if I had a blog, I could have a lot of fun with these”…. and because of the way things go, I started my blog too late to participate in one…

…until now. Thank you!

Think Too Much

Sometimes I just work too hard at this stuff…. Ranking, researching, analysis, comparisons, themes…

So I’m just going to throw a bunch of cards at you, generally ones I’ve acquired within the past 9 months or so, and toss in a few comments…. and there’s a song at the end.

Hope you like ’em.

Here’s the 2014 Pro Debut card of the Mets’ more-often-than-not-these-days starting catcher, Kevin Plawecki. There’s been talk that perhaps he, and not Travis d’Arnaud, is the Mets catcher of the future. I guess the brass is getting a good look at him, anyway.
2014 Topps Pro Debut Kevin Plawecki
For what it’s worth, 2015 will be the last year for the Savannah Sand Gnats… The team will be moving to Columbia, SC for 2016 so go out and buy all your Gnat merchandise while you still can!

I got this 1996 UD Collector’s Choice card in a repack and kept it because I just like it…
1996 UD Collector's Choice Andy Benes
Back in 1996, Collector’s Choice did it’s part in restoring my faith in card manufacturers. In 1995, coming off of a labor dispute, baseball manufacturers pulled out all the stops in the name of “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” 1996 CC was a breath of fresh air, just a nice, simply designed set with decent photography.

Bob Tillman grabs a bat or two.
1971 Topps Bob Tillman
The world would be a better place if more baseball card photo sessions started with “Hey, Bob, go in the dugout and grab a bat”.

I really need to keep track of instances where I see a card on a blog that I want to get, because once I get those cards and post them, I want to thank the person who made me aware of it, but by then it’s long forgotten.

So whoever posted this Cal Ripken card – the cartoon on the back is priceless! – Thank you very much.
1994 Stadium Club Dugout Dirt Cal Ripken back

The card has a front as well, but it’s just another card of Cal (1994 Stadium Club Dugout Dirt insert, if you’re keeping score at home).
1994 Stadium Club Dugout Dirt Cal Ripken

A cool card from 1978/79 Topps Hockey.
1978-79 Topps Hockey Dave Forbes
Is the guy on the ice a Cleveland Baron? I think so, but I’m not sure.

1961 Topps Sports Cars. Ten cards in (out of 66) and I still freakin’ love this set.
1961 Topps Sports Cars Jaguar XK-150

I got this Jeff Francouer from the 2012 Sega CARD-GEN set, not so much because of Frenchy, mainly because I felt like I should own at least one of these cards.
2012 Sega CARD-GEN Jeff Francouer
The back is just slightly more cryptic than your typical Japanese baseball card.
2012 Sega CARD-GEN Jeff Francouer back

This is a card I’d shared 2 years ago, but I’m sharing it again because that post is getting a couple of hits in the wake of the Phillies managerial situation.
1977 OPC Pete Mackanin
This is a 1977 O-Pee-Chee card, by the way. The 1977 Topps card used a different photo (and I don’t have a readily-available scan).

Paul Simon’s “Hearts And Bones” album didn’t sell all that well, but it’s been a favorite of mine for many years… and I can identify with the song “Think Too Much”.

2015 TSR: Be vewwy vewwy quiet…

For today’s virtual pack of my TSR custom cards, I wanted to highlight a number of guys who are quietly getting the job done this season and being a league leader.  For the most part, it’s “quiet” because it’s happening in smaller markets…. FOR THE MOST PART (later in this post you’ll realize why this is emphasized).

2015 TSR Series 2 Wrapper

By the way, all stats are as of the morning of Sunday, June 28th, 2015.

Dallas Keuchel leads the Majors in innngs pitched (116.1) and leads the AL in Batting Average Against (.194), On Base Average Against (.249) and Wins Above Replacement (4.1). He’s also tied for the Major League leads in complete games (3) and shutouts (2).
2015 TSR #168 - Dallas Keuchel
I’m happy to say that the Orioles have his number… relatively speaking. In two starts against Baltimore, he’s 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA.

Chris Archer leads the AL in ERA (2.01) and WHIP (0.95).
2015 TSR #163 - Chris Archer

Jason Kipnis leads the Majors with 24 doubles and leads the AL with 100 hits and a 4.7 WAR.
2015 TSR #167 - Jason Kipnis

Who is tied for the Major league lead with 24 saves? These two guys.
2015 TSR #166 - Glen Perkins

2015 TSR #164 - Mark Melancon

Who would you expect to lead the leagues in extra-base hits? Cabrera? Trout? Harper? Stanton? Wrong.

Todd Frazier leads the Majors with 46 extra-base hits (21 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR) and 178 total bases.
2015 TSR #160 - Todd Frazier

Brian Dozier leads the AL with 42 extra-base hits (23 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR).
2015 TSR #161 - Brian Dozier

Gerrit Cole leads the majors in wins and has quietly (at least it seems that way to me) pitched his way to a 11-3 record and a 2.16 ERA.
2015 TSR #165 - Gerrit Cole

Admit it, you’d never heard of Chris Heston before he no-hit the Mets.
2015 TSR #162 - Chris Heston No Hitter

And to wrap up the “quietly getting the job done” theme, we have a guy who certainly would never have qualified for that theme in pretty much any previous year:
2015 TSR #169 - Alex Rodriguez
Sure, he’s operating out of the spotlight because both the Yankees and the media regard him as persona non grata, but he’s been playing well, achieving (tainted) milestones and seemingly keeping a low profile (although that might be the media again). So congratulations, Mr. Rodriguez.  For keeping your head down and your mouth shut and playing baseball, you’ve achieved the status of a non-mocking custom TSR card.

Crimes against baseball
My virtual pack is light on inserts, so I’ll give you a preview of the Draft Picks inserts from the upcoming third series (due in early July).

The Diamondbacks drafted shortstop Dansby Swanson first overall… Swanson played for Vanderbilt… Vanderbilt wore some horrendously fugly alternates in game 1 of the College World Series, and I cannot let them slide.
2015 TSR DP-1 Dansby Swanson
Head-to-toe black is bad enough, but when you add gold pinstripes to an all-black uniform? Yeowch. (And since this middle-aged guy hates the uniform, that probably means that the Vanderbilt players loved them).

Pack Animal: 2015 Stadium Club

True confessions:  I’m not really much of a Stadium Club guy.

I like the cards just fine, but the value’s not there for me.  They cost – what? – a little more than twice as much per card as regular Topps?  The thing is, I don’t like them twice as much.  Sure they’re nice, they often have nice photography and are glossy glossy… but I don’t see them as being twice as nice. As a result, I generally don’t buy many packs.

Let me put it this way… Only once have I ever bought a wax box of Stadium Club.  It was a box of these…

1992 Topps Stadium Club Series 3 Pack

…And I bought it earlier this year.

…For five bucks.

I keep a couple of packs in my car for when I need a pack-bustin’ fix during the work day.

But this week at work has been… Well…. Let’s just say that it’s been a bit short on stimulation and fulfillment.  I needed something a little more exciting than 23-year-old packs… even if those 23-year-old packs contained “SUPER PREMIUM PICTURE CARDS”.

So, off to Target I went.  I bought a repack (which I’ll tell you about in a few days) and I bought this:
2015 Stadium Club pack
What the heck, y’know?  See what the excitement’s about.

It’s a loose pack from Target, I’m sure the pack feelers have already been and gone, but we’ll see what happens.

First card:
2015 Stadium Club Steve Pearce
Sweet!  An Oriole I would’ve been looking for anyway.  Steve Pearce made a nice catch yesterday in Boston, one that clearly irritated David Ortiz (who’d hit the ball).  Anything which annoys Big Papi is worthwhile in my book.

The card design – such as it is – is OK, but it most likely will fail my “can I read it while it’s in a binder?” test.

The backs are pretty nice.
2015 Stadium Club Steve Pearce back

Second card:
2015 Stadium Club Oswaldo Arcia
Oswaldo Arcia does an impression of the Salt Vampire from the original Star Trek.

Third card:

Tanner Ro-ark of the Nationals (at least that’s how the Nats broadcasters say it).
2015 Stadium Club Tanner Roark
Down at the bottom of the card, where they’ve got the photo sort of faded out, it looks sort of like he’s got his pants hiked up and not wearing any socks.

Fourth card:
2015 Stadium Club Justin Morneau
Justin Morneau of the Rockies… something I’m still not quite used to.

Fifth and final card:
2015 Stadium Club George Brett
George Brett, and he’s surrounded by The Ood.  (Hey, as long as I’m making nerdy references…)

…And I’m already done. 

I had more fun with the repack.

Unless one of these cards is a short print, that’s not much return for $3.  And this is why I don’t buy packs of Stadium Club.  But what the heck, it served it’s purpose and gave me a little bit of fun after a less-than-fun day.

Ranking 15 Years Of Heritage, Part 2: 12 through 10

As this is “Part 2″ of a series of posts, I don’t want to get too involved in the whys and the wherefores of this series.  If you want that, you can check out Part 1 here.

What I will recap is what criteria I’m using when I rank these.  I looked at the design being “Heritaged”, how successful Topps was in replicating the design and feel of the set, and finally whether the Heritage cards changed my feelings towards the original card.

For those who didn’t click the link, here’s a list of #15 through #13:
#15 – 2001 Heritage (1952 design)
#14 – 2011 Heritage (1962 design)
#13 – 2009 Heritage (1960 design)

All right, let’s get back to it!

#12 – 2010 Heritage (1961 design)
Going into 2010, I really wanted to like this Heritage set. When I was a pre-teen, 1961 Topps had the honor of being the oldest set where I had more than one card (I had maybe three), so from a relative early age, the 1961’s were the epitome of “Cool old cards”.
2010 Heritage Rick Ankiel
2010 Heritage Rick Ankiel back
When 2010 Heritage came out, even though they did a pretty good job of reproducing the set, the end result was… unsatisfying. And I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons why.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but I’ll stand on top of this particular soapbox anyway: One of these days, a card manufacturer is going to figure out how to simulate vintage printing technology and we will all gush about how awesome that company’s throwback sets look (even if we’re not 100% sure why we’re gushing).

This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking… At least one uniform manufacturer has some sort of technique to simulate the weave of flannel uniforms using modern fabrics. I’ve seen this in person, and I have to say it looks pretty convincing (at least from 20 or so feet away). 99% of people probably see it as “old school” without words like “flannel” entering their consciousness.

In a similar way, there’s gotta be a way of simulating vintage printing technology with these Heritage cards, thus making them look more like pack-fresh cards from the 1960’s rather than the products of 21st century technology.  Maybe subtle flaws or unevenness can be worked into the colors… Some bleeding between colors and around black lines. This is something I’ve been futzing with while playing with my custom cards, and I’ve found that little touches like that can make a big difference in how the customs look. Now we just need to get someone in charge to feel the same way.

Getting back to the cards, the All-Star inserts turned out just fine.
2010 Topps Heritatge Johan Santana AS

…And the award winner subset also turned out pretty well.
2010 Topps Heritage Miguel Tejada MVP

How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals:  To be honest, it made me go back to my 1961’s and wonder why I like them as much as I do. But I do like them, despite the mild disappointment that is their Heritage offspring.

2010 Heritage cards in my collection: 179 cards out of 501 in the set (35.7%)

#11 – 2004 Heritage (1955 design)

When I came up with my ranking, I flip-flopped several times between this set and the next set.  I started out with this set at #10, but as I started writing this post, I decided it had to be #11… maybe even 12.  When I finish this series, I probably could start another one called “How I’d rank them now that I’ve finished ranking them”.

Part of my problem with 2004 Heritage is my general bias against horizontally-oriented sets. When you hold cards in your hand, you hold them vertically. If the set is horizontal, you have to either hold your hand at an unnatural angle, tilt your head, or both.
2004 Heritage Paul LoDuca

Like 2010 Heritage, I had to struggle to figure out why the cards seemed “wrong”.  Unlike 2010 Heritage, I think I know why…

IMHO, Topps graphics people get a little too hung up on 21st century “design language” or style or convention or whatever you want to call it.  Whether for aesthetic reasons, or legal reasons or just not wanting to irritate licensors, they tend to leave a lot of space around photos when the crop them.  They also seem particularly averse to one photo interfering with another, or a player’s bat getting chopped off, or part of the player’s “action” shot being covered by the team logo.

In doing so, they forget one of the reasons why kids bought baseball cards back in the day – to see what players look like.  Boxscores and radio broadcasts didn’t give you any idea.  Newspapers and most magazines often had grainy black & white photos.  TV was probably the best source, but they were not the HD TV’s of today.

Accordingly, Topps back in the day would let the player dominate the front of the card:

1955 Topps Reno Bertoia

You get a good look at his face, and even the “action shot” would give you a decent idea of what he looked like.  The card design was visual spice to make it more appealing.

For 2004 Heritage, Topps was overcautious with their cropping, and inadvertently let the card design nudge it’s way into your awareness.  It’s like those MP3’s which have been “Remastered for iPod” and the engineers largely ignore the original mix and just crank the vocals, guitars, keyboard, bass and drums all to the same levels… Sure, you can hear more keyboards or bass (and I’ve been told that it’s all about da bass), but then you hear less of the lead vocals and guitar…. and then you want to run out to a used record store, find the original vinyl and rip that instead.  (Not that I have any experiences like this WHATSOEVER).

As a quick visual aid to show you the cropping differences, I did a little experiment…

I took the Bertoia image, reduced it by 95% to get it roughly standard size, and then took slices and laid it down on the 2006 Lo Duca, aligning each by the green stripe on the bottom. It’s not the most scientific test, but the results were pretty telling. Check it out:

2004 Heritage vs 1955 Topps

The background goes higher on the Bertoia (in other words, the white border is narrower on the original), but look at how much larger the 1955 images are when compared to the 2006 equivalent.  It just gets more extreme with other Heritage cards, Lo Duca’s face is relatively large compared to some of the others.

So, like we had with the 1960 design in my previous post, the graphics people didn’t crop tight enough, the design takes over, and the result ends up being less than satisfying.

2004 Heritage Paul LoDuca back
The backs are nice, anyway. Several colors, white cardboard and a cartoon go a long way.

How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals: No opinions of 1955 Topps were harmed during the creation of this Heritage set.

2004 Heritage in my collection: 49 / 475 (10.3%)

#10 – 2006 Heritage (1957 design)
I’m sort of “analyzed-out” after the past two sets, so I’m not going to pick this design apart and examine it under a microscope.
2006 Heritage John  Smoltz
2006 Heritage John Smoltz back
Besides, 2006 Heritage is ranked pretty much the way I’d rank the original.  1957 is a set I really want to like, but it’s just too inconsistent.  When you can read the player’s name, team and position, it works very nicely.  Very often, the text on the card gets jumbled into the background, and it becomes something of a mess.

For the record, here’s an original 1957.
1957 Topps Bob Boyd

How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals:  2006 Heritage made me wish, even more, that I liked 1957 Topps more than I do.

2006 Heritage cards in my collection: 110/495 (22.2%)

Coming Attractions

I promise this entire series isn’t going to be a grumpy old man kvetching about picky details… There are Heritage sets I like, and we will get there.

Contrast & Compare: Will & Woodie Show Us Two Sides Of A Trade

On December 16th, 1976 there was a trade made between the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds. This trade happened too late for Topps to maake any changes to their 1977 set, but O-Pee-Chee went to press later and – in the inaugural year for the Toronto Blue Jays – made an effort to update player who got missed by Topps.

The Reds traded Tony Perez and Will McEnaney to the Expos for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray. I’ve already featured the Perez cards here, and Dale Murray didn’t appear in the 1977 O-Pee-Chee set, but today I’m going to feature both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee versions of the Will and Woodie cards.

…And just for fun I’ll discuss how each player did in the 1977 season with their new teams.

Here are the Topps Will & Woodie cards that many of you are familiar with.
1977 Topps Will McEnaney
1977 Topps Woodie Fryman

On his OPC card, Will McEnaney looks like a guy who’s satisfied about having been updated without being airbrushed (many of the Expos and Blue Jays photos used exclusively by OPC were taken in Spring Training).
1977 OPC Will McEnaney
McEnaney was a reliever who didn’t have a huge amount of success with the 75-87 Expos. He was 3-5 with a 3.95 ERA. Interestingly enough, he finished 32 games and yet had only 3 saves.

McEnaney was one-and-done with the Expos; just before the 1978 season he was traded to the Pirates.

Woodie Fryman was coming off an All-Star season with the Expos, going 13-13 for a team which lost 107 games.  He also looks less-than-thrilled to be airbrushed into a Reds cap and a generic jersey (which isn’t even the pullover the Reds wore at the time).
1977 OPC Woodie Fryman
Woodie was 5-5 for the Reds when he suddenly retired mid-season, later deciding to return only if he was traded away from Cincinnati. During the off-season he got his wish and was traded to the Cubs.

Dale Murray went from the Expos to the Reds and, as I’d mentioned before, did not appear in the 1977 O-Pee-Chee baseball set.  You’ll have to make do with the Topps card which shows Murray still in the Expos’ rouge, blanc et bleu.
1977 Topps Dale Murray
Murray worked out of the Reds’ bullpen and went 7-2 with a 4.94 ERA. He lasted slightly longer than a season with the Reds, as he was traded to the Mets the following May.

Also involved in that trade was Tony Perez:
1977 OPC Tony Perez
When I went to compare the 1976 and 1977 stats for Tony Perez, the numbers were so weirdly similar that I thought it was some sort of glitch with  Perez improved his batting average from .260 to .283 and scored fewer runs, 71 down from 77. Here’s where the freaky-deaky part comes in: In both 1976 and 1977, he had 32 doubles, 6 triples, 19 homers and 91 RBI. The exact same numbers in four prominent categories. But I’ve confirmed it using several sources, so I’ll just go with and and proclaim it to be weird as anything.

2015 TSR: A Hot Pack Loaded With Prospects!

Before I get to the prospects, you’re going to have to listen to my brief tale of Fantasy Baseball woe…  No, really, the two are related.  And yes, I realize you don’t give a flying Pop-Tart about my Fantasy team.  Just bear with me.

This year’s draft can be summarized by three words:  Disappointing, Disabled, Disastrous.  Among the players I’d drafted are Robinson Cano, Yasiel Puig, Hisashi Iwakuma, David Wright, Alex Cobb, Devin Mesoraco, Hyun-jin Ryu and Rougned Odor.  With all those busts, it’s no wonder I’m in last place.

So what do you do when you’re in last place?  Load up on prospects!

In the interest of boosting the general mojo of my new acquisitions, I’ve made customs of all of them and will tout their accomplishments.

Entering this season, Baseball America had Joey Gallo ranked as the #6 prospect in all of baseball.  Gallo may only be batting .224 in his 16 games, but he’s got 5 homers, 10 runs and 10 RBI.
2015 TSR #137 - Joey Gallo
Gallo was a Little League teammate of Bryce Harper and recently tweeted a photo of the two of them back in the day.

Carlos Correa was the first overall pick of the 2012 draft and is the #4 overall prospect.  In 11 games his batting .319 with 3 homers, 7 runs, 7 RBI and 4 stolen bases.
2015 TSR #139 - Carlos Correa
Three of those stolen bases came in one game against the Rockies, making Correa the second-youngest player to steal three in a game (Rickey Henderson was the youngest, naturally).

Lance McCullers is the son of former reliever Lance McCullers.  I think that McCullers The Younger is a “Junior”, but he doesn’t seem to go by it so I won’t force it on him.  In his 7 starts he’s got 46 K’s and just 13 walks, a 1.017 WHIP and a 2.45 ERA.
2015 TSR #140 - Lance McCullers
His first start for my team was also his second consecutive start against the Mariners, and the M’s seemed to have his number the second time around:  4.1 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs.  Fingers crossed that this is just an aberration.

OK, this one is cheating a little bit, Joc Pederson wasn’t really part of my Fantasy Fire Sale, I’ve had him on my team for a few weeks…
2015 TSR #138 - Joc Pederson
…But he’s still on my team, which is more than I can say for many of my other acquisitions.  He’s the #8 overall prospect, and in 67 games he has 10 doubles, a triple, 17 homers, 37 runs and 33 RBI.

Dodger fans most likely knew this already, but I didn’t:  Joc is the son of Stu Pederson, who had a cup of coffee with the 1985 Dodgers.

Stu is featured on one of my favorite all-time minor league cards:
1991 Line Drive Pre-Rookie Stu Pederson

I’ve also picked up a couple of guys who are young and talented, but not uber-prospects.

Carlos Martinez made his debut in 2013, but he’s broken out this season, going 7-3, 2.80 with 85 K’s.
2015 TSR #153 - Carlos Martinez
Martinez had made it as high as #27 (2011) on the Baseball America Top 100 list, and he’s the third Carlos Martinez to have played in the Majors.

And when your team is in last and desperately in need of a points infusion, what’s to be done? Well, as British cartoon character Danger Mouse once said, “There’s only one thing for it… PANIC!!!!”
2015 TSR #152 - Joe Panik
Panik was a 1st round pick in 2011 and is batting .305 with 16 doubles and 35 runs scored.

OK, enough of the young studs, what about the inserts?  What’s a pack without inserts?

I’m not a complete slave to 1970’s baseball fashion, but I love the 1970’s Red Sox cap and socks that Xander Bogaerts is wearing here.
2015 TSR TB-4 - Xander Bogaerts
The front office in Boston could do a lot worse than to add those to the current uni set. The pullover jersey and the pants with a Sansabelt waistband I could live without.

…And speaking of Throwbacks, you have to be a throwback yourself to get the reference in this first Pointless Pairings insert of 2015:
2015 TSR PP-1 Rosscup Crashcup

You’re welcome, Hackenbush!