2017 TSR: What Happened

If Hillary Clinton can ask that, so can I.  One can safely assume that my version will make significantly less money.

In my case, “What Happened?” refers to my 2017 TSR custom set.

I’ll be the first to tell you that 2017 was not a great year for my original-design TSR custom card set. I worked hard on the design, but because I was also working on customs for the World Baseball Classic, I ended up rushing the design phase a bit, and I later came to realize that there’s a bit too much going on… The end result is a set I like but don’t love, and given the crickets in response to most of the posts, I’m thinking that the lack of love was pretty universal.

I’ve also come to understand that the underlying theme of a virtual card set representing my pack-busting desires has gone from inspiration to hindrance. Because of where the hobby is now, some of the subsets became largely pointless. Why make a 2017 Highlights “Indians Set Winning Streak Record” custom when Topps Now had already featured the streak 10 times?  (By my count, anyway)

…But I DO enjoy coming up with original card designs, I DO enjoy making customs and sharing them with all y’all, and I DO want to carry on in 2018.

In preparation for next year, I’m working on a 1960’s-inspired design and sorting out a “mission statement”. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to put some ideas to the test, but rather than saying “My 2017 design wasn’t great – here it is a bunch more times!” I’m going to whet your appetite for next year with a 1960’s favorite: 1960-62 Bazooka.

I always enjoy customs of players who changed teams, and at the moment nothing seems quite as odd as the sight of Justin Verlander in an Astros uniform.  I actually had to make this custom twice because –  no joke – I automatically typed DETROIT TIGERS before I saved the image.

Naturally, I like to feature Mets and Orioles as well, especially guys who are new to the team.  For a guy who’s been traded and lost on waivers since the season began, Norichika Aoki has been doing quite nicely in the Mets lineup every day since they got him.  In 19 games he’s batting .321 with 12 runs, 8 RBI, 7 doubles and a triple.

…And he’s using “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. as his walk-up music.  How can I not love this guy?  Watching Mets games now, I find myself in an odd position regarding the Mets outfield.  I like Aoki, I like the Gold Glove-winning Juan Lagares, who’s getting regular playing time again.  I like Brandon Nimmo and his .385 OBP.  Despite his injury-prone label, I like Yoenis Cespedes.  I really like the injured Michael Conforto, who looks like he could be a star in the making.  I wouldn’t mind a return of Jay Bruce when he hits free-agency.  And because I’m a Mets fan, I fear that the team will ignore Bruce, let Aoki leave as a free agent, trade several young outfielders for an inning-eating pitcher and then sign some past-his-prime big name outfielder, both of whom will suck.

Moving right along…

Night Owl indirectly inspired an idea I had for next year’s set.  Over at Topps, where they think that QA stands for “Questions and Answers”, the All-Star Rookie Cup was left off of the cards of each winner who appeared in Series 2.  That gave me the idea of having my own Rookie Star subset using a different method of picking the players, and in doing a test run using 2016 rookies, I came to realize that the 2016 A.L. Rookie Of The Year was not a Topps All-Star Rookie.

Nope, Fulmer got passed by for Kenta Maeda as the rookie RHP, even though their numbers were similar and Maeda was a 28-year-old rookie (having first become a star in Japan).  Will one of the 2017 Rookies of the Year get left off the Topps All-Star Rookie team?  HA!  Like Topps isn’t going to continue to hype the holy hell out of Bellinger and Judge.

Another idea I had for an occasional theme is “Players I like I on teams I don’t like”.  My disdain for the Marlins, who have had a steady succession of disagreeable ownership, have outpaced the Phillies and Braves in terms of “Most disliked division opponent of the Mets” and, on the right day, the Fish will give the Nats a fight for this ignominious honor.

Figuring out my favorite Marlin is easy… Ichiro, of course!

Ichiro is so talented, he can hit BP while simultaneously covering all logos, just for the benefit of Panini and other companies who are licensed only by the MLBPA!

BTW, while I don’t think Don Matttingly deserves it, part of me hopes that the new Marlins ownership will fire the manager… Just because the optics of Derek F’ing Jeter firing Donnie Baseball will make the Yankee fandom implode.

…or not.  More likely then not, they’ll say “Whatever” and then “All rise!”

I always enjoy watching Major Leaguers who I first saw in the minors, and the Orioles’ Austin Hays is the latest entrant into that category.  Hays was a 3rd round pick in 2016, was impressive in A and AA this season, was named the O’s Minor League Player Of The Year and earned himself a September callup.

Despite this impressive catch in last night’s game, the O’s lost, were mathematically eliminated from the postseason and are guaranteed a losing record.  Yay.


Because *Someone* Will Be Interested: Customs Created For My B&W Laser Printer

I sometimes like to print out customs even though I don’t have a color printer. It stems from getting tired of certain players in my “Current Rosters” binders being constantly represented by a hand-written placeholder… Backup catchers, utility guys, relief pitchers, all the guys who get a rookie card and then fall off of Topps’ radar… or don’t even get a rookie card to start with.

I’ve been doing these customs for a couple of years, and I call them “Cheap Seats”, which is kinda sorta a play on “Upper Deck”

Because toner ain’t cheap and because these customs are never going to look great no matter what I do, I try to minimize the amount of black and greyscale used. That means removing the background from the photo used and not “coloring between the lines” on the design. This also means that I shy away from designs which would ideally have large color areas (like 1975 Topps).

This year I decided to use the 1968 Topps / 2017 Heritage design with some adaptations for my purposes.

Obviously, I removed the color, the “burlap” and the filled-in circle.  Because the players I do these for are usually a bit more… shall we say ‘nomadic’… than average, I swapped the text in the circle to emphasize the position over the team.

So with card design template in hand (so to speak), here’s how I proceed from there.  First off, I look for photos a) where you can see the players face, b) which can be cropped fairly tightly, c) which features a home uniform (or at least not a dark one) and c) has relatively little background.  “Photo Day” images work very well in this respect.

Next, I take the image, get rid of the background and crank up the brightness and contrast.  Then — and if you don’t have Paint Shop Pro like I do, you’d have to find your own equivalent — I use a macro which comes with the software, one called “Black And White Pencil”.  That converts the image to something like you see here.

“Black And White Pencil” leaves a lot of light gray in the background, so I clean that up with the eraser set to a hardness of 50% or so, which allows me to clean up while maintaining the halo effect around the image.

When I’m ready to print, I take the individual images and paste them on a “printing sheet” document which has dotted lines drawn on it in standard size, so I can easily cut them out with scissors.  Here’s an example with the neighboring dotted lines and customs included.

Side note:  I have no idea why the Giants didn’t give Hwang more of a chance rather than bring back the washed-up Kung Fu Panda.  It’s not like the Giants have anything to play for, other than a top draft pick.  (or is that why they brought back the Panda?)

Late one night I had an idea that if I looked at the pitchers who fall into the Top 10 in appearances in 2017, at least one of them would have no cardboard to speak of… And I was right!  …at that time, anyway.  Ladies and Gentleman, the pitcher who, when I originally researched this, had the 8th most appearances in the Major Leagues and yet has no Major League cardboard at all… The Milwaukee Brewers’ Jacob Barnes!  (Insert a Kermit The Frog “Yaaaaaaaaay!” here).

Barnes’ 67 appearances is currently good for 11th in the Majors, BTW.

As I mentioned, I  make these for my “current roster” binders.  The real test is in how these look in a 9-pocket page….

Not too shabby… about as good as anything is going to look when printed by an ordinary printer on copy paper, anyway.



A Bunch Of 2017 Topps Pro Debut Cards

At my July card show, I ran across one dealer who had a small quantity of 2017 Pro Debut cards for a quarter a pop, so I went through and found 25 of them which were (in the following order) Mets prospects, Orioles prospects, guys I’ve seen in person, guys I’ve at least heard of.

Since I hadn’t seen a whole lot about these cards out on the Blogosphere, I figured I’d share some of them with you.

As you might expect 2017 Topps Pro Debut is a lot like 2017 Topps.

The main differences are the minor league logos, of course, and that the card front isn’t completely glossy; the player’s image is glossy, the background is matte.

Like regular Topps, Pro Debut includes social media info, where applicable.

Dominic Smith, of course, falls into the category of “Mets Prospect”. He’s been with the New York Mets for about a month as the Mets try to figure out which players they can count on if they want to be contenders in 2018.

Bradley Zimmer recently made headlines for the wrong reasons; in trying to avoid a tag on a play at first, he got his hand stepped on by Chris Davis and he is out for the season. I have to admit, I was at least relieved that it was a tag play; if he was one of those guys who thought that you can beat out a throw on a force play by sliding head-first rather than running through the base, well…

Zimmer falls into the “guys I’d heard of” category.

Brent Honeywell is also a “guy I’d heard of”. He’s one of the top pitching prospects in the Majors and, God bless him, he throws a screwball. Somewhere up there Tug McGraw is smiling.

I don’t know if he’s related, but there was a Brent Honeywell who pitched in the Pirates organization from 1988 to 1990 and YESTERDAY WAS HIS BIRTHDAY! Happy Birthday, original Brent Honeywell.

Here’s my sole Oriole prospect. Cristian Alvarado’s 2017 stats at Hi-A Frederick weren’t awe-inspiring, but one hopes that he can find his way to Baltimore because goodness knows they need the pitching.

Mets prospect David Thompson was their 4th round pick in 2015, and Baseball America ranked him as the team’s #31 prospect after the 2016 season.

Phillies prospect Nick Williams says “Everything’s better with bacon on it!” I would like to differ; I’ve had a chocolate bar with bacon bits in it and I was not impressed.

Williams has been with the Phils since late June, and was one of the prospects obtained from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal.

P.J. Conlon is Irish… REALLY Irish, he was born in Belfast. He’s one of the Mets prospects and spent 2017 with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

While I’d heard of Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon, the main reason I got this card is because he’s pictured with the Hartford Yard Goats. I kind of like the name “Yard Goats”, I’m not a huge fan of the logo, but I’ve seen the team’s road unis in person and I really like them. Blue & green is a sadly underused combination in baseball.

I saw Tyler Beede pitch in Double-A either last year or the year before and he looked damn impressive. He spent 2017 with AAA Sacramento, and given the parent Giants struggles in every facet of the game this year, the fact that he didn’t get called up might say something about how ready he is… or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know.

Wuilmer Becerra’s name makes me think of – sorry Wuilmer – Fred Flintstone banging on his own front door after having been locked out of his house in the closing credits. WUILMER!!!!

Becerra used to be a Blue Jays prospect… The Mets got him along with Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in the R.A. Dickey trade.

Finally, Austin Meadows is the Pirates best prospect and was Top 10 overall on at least two different list of prospects going into this season.

Contrast And Compare: Six Cards From Three Decades

Running through some Topps cards and their variations-of-sorts, as an admittedly last-minute post.

Doug Ault had a cup of coffee with the Rangers in 1976, got selected by the Blue Jays in the expansion draft, and shared a rookie infielders card with Rich Dauer, Orlando Gonzalez and Phil Mankowski.

Because he was a first-year Blue Jay, O-Pee-Chee gave him his own card.

Ault hit two homers in the Jays’ first game, was a regular with the team and made the Topps All-Star Rookie Team.  He wouldn’t repeat the success he had in his first year and was done in the Majors after 1980.

In 1980, Omar Moreno was coming off two seasons of leading the N.L. in steals.

That got him into the 1980 Burger King Pinch Hit & Run set in the “Run” category and a different photo was used… but he’s still pictured with a bat instead of running. Go figure.

In 1980 Moreno got a career-high 96 stolen bases… but would finish one behind Montreal’s Ron LeFlore who had 97. In 1981 he’d finish second to a different Expo, Tim Raines.

In 2013 Doug Fister went 14-9, 3.67 for the Tigers, surprising people by breaking out when he was 29 years old.
After that season, the Tigers traded him to the Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray. Since Opening Day gets released after Topps Series 1, a different photo of Fister was photoshopped into a Nats uniform.

Fister went 16-6, 2.41 in that first season with the Nats, but has been inconsistent since then and is currently with the Red Sox. The argument could be made that the best player in that trade was Robbie Ray, who was an all-star this year for the Diamondbacks. He was traded to Arizona in the three-team trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees.

A Couple From 2016 Topps Archives Snapshots

It was about this time last year that Topps released their online-only Archives Snapshots set. I haven’t heard anything about there being a 2017 version, which is something of a shame just because the 2016 set seemed like a starting point for something good. I didn’t buy any directly from Topps, but I bought a few through COMC.

This Oscar Gamble is easily my favorite from the set, partially because it’s 1970’s Oscar Gamble…

…but mainly because it’s the same photo that was used on Gamble’s 1974 card, and I love anything to do with 1974 Topps. Here’s a comparison of the two:

The way that 21st Century Topps cropped the photo off-center and cropping out part of Gamble’s hands makes me think they really wanted to keep that weird shadow in the lower right out of the Archives Snapshot card.

This B.J. Surhoff card may not be the most exciting photo, especially when compared to Oscar Gamble, but I love me some Surhoff so this was eagerly sought out for my collection.

Finally, to round out the two-card Mets team set (along with Michael Conforto which I’d featured before), here’s a lovely Jacob deGrom:

For the record, here’s the Conforto… I featured this card back in January.

There are still a couple of cards from this set that I’d like to pick up (Cal Ripken leaps to mind), but I really was hoping that there’d be another set this year that would build on last year’s… Maybe it’s been delayed because Topps is feverishly working on how many cards of Aaron Judge they can work into it.

More 1975 Customs: Mets Scattered On The Four Winds

Once again, I’m doing some 1975 customs as a “proof of concept” for a project I’ve got going on this winter. This time around, I’m featuring players who started the season with the Mets but are now elsewhere.

Before we get into the customs, here’s a bit of trivia I picked up watching a nationally-televised Mets game (FS1, I think… maybe ESPN):
How many players from this year’s opening day starting lineup are currently on the Mets active roster?

While you think about that, here are the customs along with the transactions in chronological order:

July 27th; Lucas Duda to the Tampa Bay Rays for Drew Smith.

July 31st; Addison Reed to the Boston Red Sox for Jamie Callahan (who just got called up) and two minor leaguers

August 9th; Jay Bruce to the Cleveland Indians for a minor leaguer

August 12th; Neil Walker to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later

August 19th; Curtis Granderson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a PTBNL (which a day later became Jacob Rhame, also a September call-up)

August 19th; Rene Rivera claimed on waivers by the Chicago Cubs

Answer to the trivia: Two of the nine Mets from the opening day starting lineup are currently active and with the Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard are on the DL and the other five players are shown above (with the exception of reliever Addison Reed, of course).

Random Team Review: 1974 Topps Texas Rangers

After moving from Washington to Dallas for the 1972 season, the Texas Rangers lost 100 and 105 games in their first two seasons.  In 1974 the team turned it around and went 84-76, finishing in second place in the A.L. West, 5.0 games behind the eventual World Champion Oakland A’s.

The Rangers were managed by Billy Martin, who took over late in 1973 after being fired by the Detroit Tigers.

Despite his success in 1974, Martin didn’t last through the 1975 season, the third time in his managerial career he went from fiery to fired.

Billy Martin wins this team’s “Notable Airbrushing” award;  you can see that he’s actually wearing a Tigers jersey.

Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins went 14-16, 3.89 as a 30-year-old with the Cubs in 1973.  The Cubs traded him to Texas for then-minor-leaguer Bill Madlock and Vic Harris.  Fergie reacted by going 25-12, 2.82.

Jenkins finished 2nd to Catfish Hunter in Cy Young Voting and 5th in A.L. MVP voting.  He’d fall back off again in 1975 and would get traded to the Red Sox after that season.

No arguments against Jeff Burroughs as the team’s best offensive player.  I’d mentioned that Fergie Jenkins was 5th in MVP voting?  Well, Burroughs was the MVP.

Burroughs lead the league with 118 RBI and batted .301 with 33 doubles, 2 triples and 25 homers.

Well, this is more “Best Rookie Story” than “Best Rookie”.  David Clyde was a Texas high school pitching phenomenon who was drafted first overall by the Rangers and went straight into the majors to pitch for a team desperate for a box office draw.

While he pitched an 8 K 1-hitter in his debut, he was inconsistent in his career and you can’t help but wonder how his career would’ve played out if he were allowed to develop in the minors.

It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I realized how award-winning the Rangers were in 1974.  Mike Hargrove was the 1974 A.L. Rookie of the Year (George Brett was 3rd in voting) and, as you can see, got a little Topps trophy on his 1975 card.

In his rookie season, Hargrove batted .323 with 57 runs and  66 RBI

No deliberating on this one… this card is easily my favorite in this team set.

Check this out… on August 30, 1974 Dave Nelson walked to lead off the bottom of the first, stole second while Cesar Tovar was at bat, stole third while Jeff Burroughs was at bat and then stole home while Mike Hargrove was at bat.  At the end of the inning the Rangers had scored one run on no hits and no errors.

This is from Jim Shellenback’s card:

Jim Gogolewski  (Yes, the top left corner is missing… looks like I should upgrade this card)

Current Phillies manager Pete Mackanin’s rookie card came after he appeared in 44 games in 1973.  He’d only appear in two games in 1974 and would get traded to the Expos after the season.

This card features Mackanin’s only cardboard with the Rangers, Manny Trillo’s only card with the A’s, and John Gamble’s only card, period (he appeared in 13 career games, all before this card came out) .

Dave Chalk appeared on a bunch of cards with the Angels… the spoilsport.

Jim Bibby won 19 games in 1974… and lost 19 games as well.  41 starts, 38 decisions, 11 complete games, 2 shutouts.

Bibby was originally signed by the Mets but went to the Cardinals in a 1971 8-player trade which included such luminaries as Art Shamsky, Jim Beauchamp and Chuck Taylor.  Bibby served in Vietnam, no-hit the A’s in 1973, was part of a trade which brought Gaylord Perry from Cleveland to Texas, and started Games 4 and 7 for the Pirates in the 1979 World Series (getting a no-decision in both games).

Bibby’s brother Henry played in the NBA from 1972 to 1981 and his nephew Mike (Henry’s son) played in the NBA from 1998 to 2012.