About The Shlabotnik Report

I've been collecting baseball cards since 1974, and I'm on a quest to rediscover the collection hidden within my accumulation.

They’re Here: The First Virtual Pack of 2017 TSR World Baseball Classic

I have to say, the World Baseball Classic has been fun so far, and I haven’t even been able to watch it on TV (minor rant about this down below).  At the time I’m writing this, there have been several fiercely fought extra-inning games, two different comebacks from five-run deficits, and Israel is 4-0.  Israel!

Since last fall I’ve been talking about doing a custom card set based on the WBC.  A reader poll voted 1980 Topps in as the design I’ll be using for this set.  I’ve taken this mandate seriously and tried to do what I can to make this set more interesting than a sort of “Topps Archives Lite”.  I even came up with a 1980-esque wrapper.

So let’s rip it open and see what we’ve got.

You’ve probably never heard of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo – I know I hadn’t – but he was named the MVP of Pool B after batting .364 with 2 homers in three games.

His “daytime” job is as an outfielder for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan’s Central League.  Tsutsugo had quite a year in 2016, batting .322 and leading the league with 44 homers and 110 RBI.

The Angels’ Andrelton Simmons hasn’t been lighting the WBC on fire, but he did hit a double.

More importantly, a good photo of him was available. For this set, that will play a bigger role than you might think.

As I’d mentioned, Team Israel is doing a good job of surprising people. The MVP of Pool A, in which Israel ran the table, was Ryan Lavarnway.

Like many of his teammates, Lavarnway is not on a 40-man roster. He’d signed a minor league contract with Oakland and has an invitation to big league camp. With Israel moving on to the second round, I think it’s safe to say that Lavarnway’s missing more time from A’s camp than anyone there had guessed. Lavarnway went 5-for-9 in the first round, walked four times, homered and drove in three runs during those three first-round games. His slash line was .556/.692/.889.

Speaking of Israel – this pack is admittedly heavy on Israel, but they’ve been my favorite team so far –  here’s an insert based on one of the other card design candidates in last fall’s voting. This custom is in the style of the 1976 Wonder Bread Football set, and shows the Israel team’s unofficial mascot, “The Mensch On A Bench”.

The Mensch is a take on the creepy “Elf On A Shelf”, was featured on the TV show Shark Tank, and has become the team mascot. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Mensch” is used to describe a good, honorable person, someone of integrity.

Going into the WBC, I didn’t really expect to make any customs for the Chinese team… but that was before I found out that Bruce Chen, former Orioles, Mets, Royals, Braves, Phillies, Red Sox, Rangers, Indians, Reds, Astros and Expos pitcher, was on the team! Bruce has been a favorite since his bad jokes were featured on the scoreboard during his time in Baltimore. Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes? A: No-eye deer. (This joke works better when said out loud)

Bruce gets the honor of being part of one of my “innovations” in this custom set; he ges a horizontal player card! Woooo!

It didn’t affect the play of the game to any great degree, but one of the interesting moments in a first-round game came when 6’8″ Israel batter Nate Freiman (who played for the A’s several years ago) faced off against 7’1″ Netherlands pitcher Loek van Mil (who’s played in AAA the past few seasons).

It’s believed to be the tallest face-off in professional baseball history. Despite Freiman’s large strike zone, he drew a base on balls.

Australia didn’t accomplish as much as they would’ve liked to this time around, but I had to create a custom to show their nice unis paired with the natural fit of the Oakland A’s colors from 1980.

Travis Blackley is a reliever who has pitched for the Giants, A’s, Rangers and Astros.

The Mariner’s Nelson Cruz has batted .333 with a homer thus far…

…but he’s here because of the aforementioned “good photo” rule.

Chris Archer pitched 4 shutout innings against Colombia on Friday, but did not get the win.

The US team is currently 1-1 and would greatly improve their chances of advancing by beating Canada tonight.

Former Oriole and current Mariner Yovani Gallardo gave up four runs in four innings, but I wanted to get a card of a familiar Mexican player.

Here’s another card new to the set. 1980 Topps didn’t have a postseason subset, so I had to create one.

This is loosely based on the League Leader cards from that set.

That’s all the cards in this pack… Let’s see what the offer is on the wax pack wrapper…

That looks pretty cool, but I don’t have the money… Maybe after I get my allowance.

OK, up at the top I promised a minor rant.

I’ve been looking forward to the WBC for a while now, although I didn’t plan on watching entire games. I figured I’d watch a few innings here and there, maybe check in when I heard about a game that seemed exciting. That’s pretty much what I did during the last WBC in 2013.

But I forgot about one thing… back in 2013 the MLB Network was part of my cable tier. That’s no longer the case; it got taken away from us, and we didn’t watch it enough to shell out the money for the higher tier of channels.

I’d assumed that some of the games might be on another cable channel, but that’s not the case.  I found out that it’s also on ESPN Deportes, and I can deal with the announcers speaking Spanish…

…But nope, I don’t get ESPN Deportes either.

OK, then what about MLB.TV?  During the regular season they always have free low-demand games along the lines of Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay.  A first round game airing early on a weekday morning isn’t exactly “Must See TV”, they should have free games like that, right?

Nope, struck out again. Well, poo.

I honestly don’t get this. The organizers (i.e. MLB) have said that the World Baseball Classic doesn’t get the attention in the U.S. that they would like it to get, but the cheapest option to watch ANY of it is $25 for a month of MLB.TV.  No, thank you. I’ll stick with listening to the occasional game on satellite radio, and reading about the games afterwards.

End of rant.

By the way, I expect to have more virtual packs of WBC cards coming the next two Sundays.

1976 SSPC #594: Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca & Pee Wee Reese (Checklist #6)

This was meant to be a quick post… You’ll soon see that this goal was not met.

In my last post about 1976 SSPC, I featured a checklist card that has Keith Hernandez and Lou Brock on the front… but much to my chagrin when I had been asked about the checklistiness of the card, I didn’t scan the back, so you couldn’t see the checklist part.

Today I’m going to rectify that by featuring another such checklist card, and give you some Dodger legends to boot.

No explanation was provided with the card, but this appears to be from a Mets’ Old Timers Day…. possibly 1973, but I have my doubts.  More on this in a bit.

The checklists cards are the only ones in 1976 SSPC which have text on the front of the card;  as you can see, it’s only the card number and the names of the subjects.  I presume this is because there isn’t room on the back for this information, or they just didn’t want to have that information get mixed in with the checklist.

As 1976 SSPC was only sold as complete sets, one could question the need for a checklist in the first place.  Maybe it’s strictly informational, maybe it’s just because it was considered traditional to include checklists in a card set, maybe it’s just a matter of seven cards which wouldn’t need text on the back.

Here’s the back:

There are 7 checklists, and six of them have the “Subscribe” message on the bottom. The 7th checklist, card #595, instead has this information on the back:

And there you go, in case you were wondering about what SSPC stood for:  Sports Stars Publishing Co.

Getting back to the Old Timer’s game…  I found this post from Centerfield Maz which discusses Saturday, June 9th, 1973.  On that day, there was a ceremony to retire the #14 worn by Gil Hodges, who had suffered a fatal heart attack just before the prior season.  Along with the ceremony, there was also an Old-Timers game between the Mets alumni and Dodgers alumni.

The Centerfield Maz post features images from the 1974 Mets yearbook, so I retrieved my own copy and scanned that page to present the evidence as to why the photo on the SSPC card may – or may not – be from that day.

Here’s the page at a reduced scale;  I’ll save the entirety of the page for a later post about the yearbook as a whole.

First off, Exhibit A: Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese. As you can see, Pee Wee is wearing an L.A. Dodgers cap, just like in the photo above.

Ah, but here’s Exhibit B, which throws the whole thing into question… In this photo of Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca, Erskine is wearing a different Brooklyn cap (this one looks like something of a knockoff), while Branca is wearing an L.A. cap.

I did some quick research using other Mets yearbooks. Given that many of the photos in the 1976 SSPC set were taken in 1975, it stands to reason that this photo might have been taken at the 1975 Old-Timers day. I looked at my 1976 Mets yearbook, and Pee Wee was there, but there weren’t any photos of the other two. I then dug out my 1975 Mets yearbook, and there were numerous Dodgers pictured, but none of these three… which doesn’t mean that the three of them weren’t there.  So take that however you will.

After all that, I almost forgot to update the running SSPC totals…

This whole post is based on the assumption that this was taken at Shea, but to be honest nothing conclusive in the background which would hold up in a court of law, so I’ll wimp out and say “Pretty Sure”.
Shea: 69
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 13
Can’t tell: 20
Not Shea: 9

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends
I didn’t think this would be necessary with three “Old Timers”, but damned if Oisk and Pee Wee don’t have 70’s sideburns.
Total Cards: 110
1970’s Sideburns: 63
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 2
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 27

Bonus image:
Public spirited as I am, I would like to help somebody save a buck. For anyone who’s only interested in what this year’s album stickers look like without actually collecting and/or sticking them, here are the contents of a pack I bought last night.

Random Team Review: 1973 Topps Expos

As a fun idea in general, but also an excuse to go back and appreciate cards in my collection that I might not have looked at in while, I’m going to try doing posts on 1970’s or 1980’s team sets – baseball, football or hockey – selected by a random number generator from a list.  For each team, I’ll talk a little bit about that year’s team and share cards from a number of categories. I won’t necessarily use every category with every team, and I expect that I will think up new categories as we go along.

True Confessions: I put my thumb on the scale for this first post. I wanted to start off with an Expos team set, so the randomizer was only involved in selecting which particular Expos team I’d start with.

1973 Topps Montreal Expos

The 1973 Expos went 79-83 under manager Gene Mauch, and finished in 4th place in the 6-team National League East.

Mauch was the Expos manager for the first 7 years of their existence.


Ken Singleton was easily the best offensive player, batting .302 with 23 homers, 103 RBi and 100 runs scored.


Steve Renko went 15-11, 2.81 as a starter and was their best pitcher over the full season.


Reliever Mike Marshall made 92 appearances, going 14-11 with 31 saves and a 2.66 ERA.

23-year-old Steve Rogers didn’t come up until mid-July after spending the first half of the season with the AA Quebec Carnavals and the AAA Peninsula Whips. During the second half he had a 10-5 record, 1.54 ERA and 1.060 WHIP. His rookie card was in the 1974 Topps set.


Tom Walker is the father of Mets 2nd Baseman Neil Walker. He beat out Pepe Frias and Jorge Roque (both of whom shared a card with two other players) for this honor.


This was not a fierce competition. There were only two action shots in this team set. Trust me, this is the better of the pair.

Mike Marshall’s card, shown above. Marshall is airbrushed because he had been acquired via trade from the Astros…. IN JUNE 1970! Assuming that’s a Tigers jersey, then the photo predates Marshall being taken by the Seattle Pilots in the October, 1968 expansion draft.


In the case of 1973 Topps, it’s the only insert… the unnumbered team checklist cards.  This card looks miscut because it didn’t scan properly and I didn’t want to go back and fix it.

Since many of you probably aren’t familiar with these cards, I’ll include the back.

…Well… that was fun!  I think I’ll have to do more of these.

Sports Card Haiku

CommishBob of Five Tool Collector fame recently had a 100-word post that made me think of haiku (although it wasn’t meant that way… I don’t think).

…But I will gladly take inspiration from anywhere I can find it, so I figured I’d try some sports card haiku. I’m thinking that the Haiku Society of America will not be beating a path to my door.

Airbrushed Flyer guy
Red paint goes through the number
What is up with that?

Saw him with Akron
He looked pretty good out there
Trade for Brandon Moss

Say he’s with the Tigers
Red piping on a black cap?
You’re not fooling me.

A Golden Gopher
Winfield looking real bad-ass
Wish it were color.


Grich is clean-shaven
Is that the Eiffel Tower?
Card is not 3-D.

Customs On The 8’s

So it all started last week, when I made a bunch of customs in the style of 1958 Topps. One of the first ’58 customs I made was for Phillies pitcher Clay Buchholz, and I had to go back and tweak it later when I realized I did it “wrong”.
Buchholz was acquired from the Red Sox for a minor leaguer. The Phillies have added a few veterans into their young prospects, and could be an interesting team this year. …Or not. Nostradamus I ain’t.

Lucas Giolito is a prominent pitching prospect and, as I’ve mentioned here before, has an intriguing background as his parents are actors Lindsay Frost (The Ring, Collateral Damage and other credits) and Rick Giolito (As The World Turns, Twin Peaks).
Giolito was one of three pitching prospects that the Nationals sent to the Chisox for Adam Eaton, and he should get a better chance with the rebuilding White Sox.  From my standpoint I don’t like either team, but at least the Sox have better uniforms.

Moving on to the next pair of customs, and moving ahead 10 years in terms of inspiration… In my two recent posts about this year’s Heritage set I bemoaned the absence of managers from the checklists, especially given how uninteresting the team cards are.  I was going to feature some manager customs in yesterday’s post, but decided that the post was plenty long enough as it was.

But to revisit the question… Would you rather have a card like this, one that’s reminiscent of the 1970’s Fleer football “Teams In Action” cards:

Or would you rather have a manager who is in the Hall Of Fame:

…Or a former MVP and 6-time all-star?

You know where I stand on this.  I don’t know, maybe it’s a financial decision on Topps’ part.  Perhaps they didn’t want to (or couldn’t) sign all of the managers to contracts.  Maybe Molitor and Mattingly drove the price up beyond what Topps was wiling to pay.  I don’t know, this is all just guesswork.  Maybe the management at Topps are just poopheads who increase the number of short prints to 100 and get rid of the managers.

So, anyway…

It was at this point that I looked at what I had for today’s post… I had customs inspired by 1958 and 1968… And I decided, what the heck, let’s extend the pattern and throw some 1978 in there as well.

Michael Conforto is battling for playing time in the Mets outfield and is off to a promising start in Spring Training.  I would like to see him starting in the CitiField outfield, but I’d also like to see Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce starting as well.  You see my dilemma here?
Since I’m talking relatively famous moms, Tracy Ruiz-Conforto is a three-time Olympic medalist in Synchronized Swimming.

I don’t know about Brett Anderson’s mom, but his dad Frank Anderson is the University of Houston’s pitching coach.
Anderson was with the Dodgers last year, signed with the Cubs as a free agent and is on this custom largely because he’s with a new team and that team is the Cubs, one of the few teams I can do with my work-in-progress 1978 template.

And just a reminder/tease…
First round action of the World Baseball Classic starts tomorrow (early in the morning on the East Coast because it’s in Seoul, South Korea). I spent an hour or so this morning finalizing the template I’ll be using for the custom cards and you should see the first batch next Sunday.

2017 Heritage: Let’s Try That Again…

Mama said “Haste makes waste.”

(…and Mama said there’d be days like this, Mama said knock you out and Mama told me not to come… but that’s another story)

I was so excited to find packs of 2017 Heritage on the day of release that the next morning I decided to finish the post I’d started and publish right then – check it out if you missed it – instead of waiting until Friday morning as I’d originally planned. I’ll admit, I was thinking of the traffic that would be generated by having an early pack-busting on my blog.

Unfortunately, I fell afoul of one of the WordPress smartphone app’s “quirks” and at the moment it published it instantly showed up buried in everybody’s blogrolls as if it had published the previous day. I didn’t realize this until much later in the day when I was wondering why my stats weren’t booming like I’d expected.

Because I rushed through it, I also didn’t write the post I would’ve written if I took my time… and it still bugged  me that I didn’t have any Mets, Orioles or the “Game” insert cards.  So yesterday I went back to the same Target and bought two more packs… Wax packs this time, because the 20-card “value” hanger packs were sold out.

My first pack was clearly meant for Shane from Shoebox Legends… Check it out:
Out of 10 cards, I got three Red Sox and a buyback. (Sabes will be heading to ShoeboxLand later today).

Meanwhile the remainder of the pack was a Night Owl Nightmare!

This first pack didn’t forget about me, as it also had a “Game” insert, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The second pack also proved to be worthwhile, as I got a short-printed Met:
YO!  MTV Raps

The “Game” card I got turned out to be a Target-exclusive “Game Rookies” insert of Jake Thompson… and it surprised  me because it was big.  Not “big big”, but bigger and on thicker card stock than the originals.  Here’s a comparison with 1960’s Phillie Tony Gonzalez:
The 2017 version is standard sized and on baseball card stock, rather than slightly mini and on something more like playing card stock.

To differentiate the regular Game insert from the Game Rookies insert, the card back color was changed to red (because, you know, it’s a Target exclusive):
It amuses me that they had to eliminate an entire rows of baseballs in order to replace “©T.C.G. MADE & PRINTED IN U.S.A.” with three logos and five lines worth of copyright info.  And, for anyone who cares, I’ll point out that a different dot pattern is used in the “infield”.

Anyway, I’m happy with the job did on these inserts, and this is one of the more welcome additions to these Heritage packs.

One thing I would’ve done in the first post if I’d taken the time is to break down the number of cards by team, so that fans of the Padres can get pissed off that there are 4 teams which have at least twice as many cards as their team.

Breakdown of base card (not counting Leaders, World Series Highlights and All-Stars) by team:
21 Blue Jays, Cubs
20 Red Sox, Rockies
19 Tigers
17 Angels, Astros
16 Dodgers, Twins, Yankees
15 Braves, D-Backs, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Reds
14 Cardinals, Indians, Marlins, Rays, Royals, White Sox
13 Giants, Mariners
12 Athletics, Brewers, Rangers
10 Padres

More telling, and probably more wounding, is the breakdown of short prints by team.  Topps bumped the number of SP’s up to 100 cards this year, and that’s decidedly more painful for some than others.

Breakdown of Short Prints by Team (not including variations):
9 SP’s (OUCH!) – Cubs
7 SP’s (Nearly as OUCH!) – Red Sox
6 SP’s – Rockies, Tigers
5 SP’s – Astros, Blue Jays, Nats
4 SP’s – Marlins, Mets, Pirates, Rangers, Yankees
3 SP’s – Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Mariners, Orioles, White Sox
2 SP’s – Braves, D-Backs, Rays, Reds, Royals, Twins
1 SP – Brewers, Cardinals, Padres, Phillies.

As surprised as I was about the huge-payroll Dodgers having only 3 SP’s, I was really surprised that a competitive team like the Cardinals has only on SP, but I checked and there’s only Aledmys Diaz.  It doesn’t seem right that the Braves and Twins should have more SP’s than the Cards, but there you are.  I think the person who decided which players got short-printed is a St. Louis Cardinals fan who is currently muttering “Suck it, Cubs fans” under his or her breath.

I did have a realization that might provide an insight into Topps’ modus operandi… Of the 20 players who appear in the All-Topps team inserts…


…only two – Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber – have base cards that aren’t short prints.

Furthermore, of the 31 players who appear on League Leader cards, only 10 – Chris Archer, Chris Carter, Kershaw, Kluber, D.J. LeMahieu, J.A. Happ, Khris Davis, Nelson Cruz, Rick Porcello, Robbie Ray – have base cards which aren’t short prints.

It’s almost as if Topps is saying “What are you complaining about?  There are Miguel Cabrera cards which aren’t short printed…”

But rather than focus on all the superstars who are short-printed, I decided it might be fun to focus who isn’t short-printed and make an all-star team out of the first 400 cards in the set.  This is completely objective and, for two positions, I couldn’t decide so I listed both.  One of these positions features a guy I happen to have a card of, and since this latter part of the post is a bit text-heavy, I’ll include it here.

OK, so here we go, the non-short-printed All-Heritage team:

Starting Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Marcus Stroman, Sonny Gray, Rick Porcello
Closer: Andrew Miller
Catcher: Yadier Molina
First Base: Carlos Santana / Chris Davis
Second Base: Jonathan Schoop
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus / Brandon Crawford
Third Base: Evan Longoria
Outfield: Adam Jones, Adam Eaton, Carlos Gomez
Designated Hitter: Kendrys Morales
Utility: Ben Zobrist, Ichiro

This post ran through a bunch of different iterations before it ended up the way it ended up, and I had one uploaded scan left over, so I’m going to pull a Jimmy Kimmel…

My apologies to Lonnie Chisenhall, we ran out of time.

Pack Animal: 2017 Topps Heritage (Two 20-Card Hanger Packs)

Yesterday I ran over to Target during my lunch break, expecting it to be the first of many wasted trips… but much to my surprise, they had wax packs and hanging 20-card packs.
As the hangers were a slightly better value, I shelled out $12 for two of those …and another $2.50 for a box of Trix.  With cards and Trix in hand, I silently thanked Target for their new self-checkout lane.

When I was a kid on Long Island in the mid 1970’s, there weren’t many avenues for obtaining cards and the oldest cards I was able to get my hand on was 1968 Topps. Because of that, 1968 had a certain “cool because it’s almost as old as I am” appeal to me which is somewhat above and beyond what is deserved for an admittedly middling design.

So the question for me this year is whether my own fondness for the small handful of dogeared 68T cards I’ve had since childhood will carry over to this year’s Heritage.

And I also have to apologize for my scanner washing out some of these images… I admittedly rushed this post out, so I didn’t have time to try to compensate for the washout.

First card:  Giants team.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. I’d rather have managers, who are absent from the checklist this year.  Boo, Topps!  Can you at least include managers in the High Numbers update set?

For a player card, here’s Danny Valencia… with the M’s?
I’ve gotta say, that’s some pretty nice photoshopping.

The backs seem excessively yellow… or maybe I’m just used to time-faded ink.

This answers one question I had:  fine-weave and course-weave in the same pack.

Ha!  Richie Shaffer, one of the guys who did the “Grand Tour” this winter.
You might remember my talking about Shaffer in one of my Hot Stove posts.  This offseason he went from the Rays to the M’s to the Phillies to the Reds to the Indians before passing through waivers and getting outrighted to the Indians AAA team.  He was in the Reds organization (on paper) from 12/23 to 1/26, so the photoshopping happened (or at least started) during this window.

Strikeout Leaders. They need to crop these portraits tighter.

Aaron Nola!  He’s a player I collect after being impressed with him in a minor league outing.

Then and Now.
I like the design a lot more than I like the theme.

I do like these All-star cards… Sorry, All-Topps Selections

And there’s a Mike Trout puzzle on the back!  Sweet!
(I know it’s Trout because I pulled another piece later on).

Hatless Herman Perez. Seems like we need at least some hatless guys.

I wasn’t going to open the second pack right away, but what the hell. I want a Game card!  And Mets and Orioles!

World Series cards. Oh, sure, Cleveland gets a card while the Mets got shut out last year.
Topps is just working towards annoying me now.

Got a SP in the second pack in the form of Mr. Kyle Schwarber.

And those are the highlights of my two packs.

Now that I’ve gone through 40 cards, I’m a bit mixed about this set. The cards are generally pretty well done, but as they would say at my place of employment, I’m not sure the “Return On Investment” is there. For $12 I got one of 100 SP’s, 38 base cards, 1 uninteresting insert, no Mets, no Orioles, no Game cards – which I was really hoping for after recently completing the original set. Not even any parallels or variations (admittedly, these would likely get traded or sold on COMC).

I understand it’s a small sample size, but this was a mildly disappointing first time through.

And yet I find myself thinking “Maybe if I bought a third pack…”