If It Weren’t For PWEs, I’d Get No 2020 Cards At All

OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but I definitely get the bulk of my first looks at 2020 cards from cards sent to me by Dime Boxes Nick.

…but I’ll get to the other stuff first, because he sent me plenty of oddballs as well.

I was well into my 20’s when Starting Lineup figures came out and I never liked the figures much.  The only one I’ve ever owned was a Gregg Jefferies I found cheap (and which still works its way into my rotation of ‘display toys’ at work).  I do like the cards which came with them, though, and this 1988 Starting Lineups card of Howard Johnson is new to me.

It seems to me like HoJo is a largely-forgotten figure of late 1980s / early 1990s baseball, so I will point out that he was an All-Star twice, scored 100+ runs twice, had 100+ RBI twice, won a World Championship twice, won a Silver Slugger twice… And yeah, we’re generally talking about 1989 and 1991 here, but not always.

This next card was indirectly involved in my learning something about a useful feature of Trading Card Database….

Junk Wax Twins clued me into the fact that TCDB has a “FILTERS” feature, so if I don’t know what this card is – and I didn’t…

I can look up Gregg Jefferies and filter on team and card # to find out that this is an unlicensed 1989 card put out by Pacific Cards And Comics… if there even was a Pacific Cards And Comics in Los Angeles (FYI, the “Pacific” we are familiar with is Pacific Trading Cards out of Washington state).

I saw this 1990 Swell Baseball Greats card and said “Well, that’s cool… but why did Nick send me a card of Jimmy Piersall?”

Then I realized that Piersall’s left arm is covering some Mets script… I’d forgotten that Jimmy played 40 games for the Mets in the middle of 1963, even though I’m very familiar with the story of Piersall’s 100th home run when he backpedaled around the bases.  The Mets acquired him from the Senators that May (in exchange for future Mets manager Gil Hodges) and then released him in July (and he was quickly scooped up by the Angels).  The only Mets cards of Piersall are from sets like this one and Pacific Legends.

So yes, Nick sent me one of his Short Term Stops!  (trademark patent pending)

Shifting from “cards issued after a career was over” to “cards issued before a career got started”, there’s this 2002 Justifiable minor league card of David Wright.  The cap logo has been removed, but I believe he’s shown with the Capital City Bombers, an A-Ball team based out of Columbia, SC.  (but not the same franchise as the Columbia Fireflies, the current Mets affiliate in the South Atlantic League)

Even though Just Minors didn’t put out the greatest cards, I kinda miss them…. Or maybe it’s more that I miss being able to buy packs of minor leaguers. (I realize that Topps Pro Debut comes in packs, but even though I own more than 500 Pro Debut cards, I don’t think I’ve ever opened a pack)

This card is simultaneously pre- and post-career… a 2009 TriStar Obak card which shows Tom Seaver with the 1966 Jacksonville Suns (his one and only minor league season).

I was going to make a comment about how this photo of Seaver with the Jacksonville Suns had a sun in the background, but then I realized that this was one of a number of backgrounds used by TriStar in the Obak set.

Jump forward ten years and we’ve got another card of Tom Seaver, this time in a  more recognizable uniform.

For those who enjoy somewhat obscure Beatles movies references, I saw the old-timey ballpark background substituting for Shea Stadium, and I said to myself “Not a bit like Cagney”.

Believe it or not, I had not as much as seen a 2020 Bowman card in person before receiving this Adley Rutschman card. Normally I’d buy a pack or two and then fill in wants at shows, but…

BTW, now that I’ve seen 2020 Bowman in person, I can confirm that it’s a better design than 2020 Topps… and if Bowman were Topps and Topps were Bowman, nobody would’ve said boo.

I bought very few packs of 2020 Topps Series 1 or 2, so this Cal Ripken insert is also new to me. I think I have a couple of other “1985” inserts around here somewhere.

By the way, this is starting to come across as very “woe is me”, but it’s really not. I miss opening packs and checking out new product in a more timely manner, but if we’re being honest here… by the time many of these cards make it to me, the bloom is off the rose and I find I’m not as interested as I would’ve normally been. That’s not a bad place to be in, as it turns out.

OK… Moving on to the next 2020 product I hadn’t seen before, and it’s 2020 Topps Archives. I’ve been disappointed in Archives the past year or two, so I wasn’t sure how much I cared about 2020 Archives. I have to admit, they did a pretty decent job with the 2002 design.

This design haunts me a bit because someone, somewhere – I think I know who, but I’d rather not guess than guess wrong – made a custom version where he replaced the burnt caramel color with traditional white, and it looked REALLY GOOD… Bit of a missed opportunity there.

1974 Topps was the first set I collected and I know those cards backwards and forward and inside-out. When I saw the first images of Archives’ 1974 design I went on a bit of a rant about incorrect details. I won’t rehash these here, but I’ll just point out that the most vocal complainers are the ones who want to be happy with something but aren’t.

This is also my first look at Stadium Club. I do like this year’s minimalist design… it’s different, but has a definite Stadium Club-ness about it. (Doesn’t scan all that well, though)

I mistakenly scanned the wrong side of that Syndergaard, so I figured I’d just post it here for anyone who also hasn’t been able to find Stadium Club. I really like how they reprised the colored stripes for the card number

As always, I’m amazed at what Nick can pack into a literal Plain White Envelope, and I’m very appreciative that he takes the time to pack cards into a PWE for me.

Thank you very much, Nick!

The Folder On My Laptop Said “Next Post”. Who Am I To Argue?

I’ve been struggling a bit lately to find topics to write about, but I also know that I’ve got a bunch of post ideas that got to a certain point and then I (most likely) got distracted from them and ultimately forgot about them.  Sometimes I only get as far as scanning cards before I end up inadvertently going in another direction.

In looking for images like that, I stumbled on a folder called “Next Post” from March 29th and it had five images in it.  I think these might’ve been just a random selection of “Cards I got in the past year”, but six months later, I’m not sure.  I guess it doesn’t matter.

I’m in a weird place when it comes to collecting the Steelers, my NFL team of choice… But before I get into that, since I was a kid there’s a part of me that wants to write “Jack Sprat” verses about Jack Ham… Stuff like “Jack Ham would eat no Spam, his wife would eat Sizzlean…” (For those who don’t remember Sizzlean, it was a supposedly healthier – or less unhealthy – bacon substitute)

I didn’t grow up a Steelers fan but became one in the 1980s when I roomed with a die-hard fan of the Black and Gold (and who owned the TV we shared). With the exception of 1975 when I went nuts with that year’s football cards… which was just as much about “I’ve already finished the 1975 baseball set” as it was about the NFL… I’ve never been a huge football collector. However I did have a general, open-ended plan to collect all of the Topps base cards for the Steeler teams I watched, from the 1980s forward.

A funny thing happened over the past few years, though… The desire to chase vintage has dominated what little football I buy, so while I have few football cards since 2015, I’ve been buying vintage Steelers who came before I followed the team. Jack Ham, at the very least, was a player I remember from when I was a kid, even if the Steelers were just another NFL team to me at the time. The Steelers cards I’ve been buying from the 1950s and 1960s, however mean little to me in terms of nostalgia, but serve more as a case of “I want vintage football, so I might as well chase the Steelers… except when I’m looking at AFL or CFL cards, then all bets are off”.

Anyway… I’m not really going anywhere with that, it’s just that the card made me stop and reflect on how readily and unwittingly I abandoned what had been an established plan. To be honest, I think the current card market took a lot of wind out of my sales. When Topps stopped making NFL cards, it wasn’t really clear which “flagship” set to focus on, and I ended up mentally wandering off.

Wow, that turned out to be more of a topic that I’d had in mind.

I think I got this 1977 Hostess Johnny Bench card from a bin of loose $1 cards at a show last fall. Can’t go wrong with Johnny B!

“Johnny B., how much there is to see… Just open your eyes and listen to me”. Do you think The Hooters were singing about Johnny Bench when they recorded that song that you probably don’t know even though it reached #61 on the Billboard Hot 10 in 1987? I have the single around here somewhere because the B-side was a live version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”.’

But I digress.

I have nebulous plans to complete all five Hostess sets, but I think I need some kind of game plan if I’m going to get serious about it.

Al “Rube” Walker was a Mets coach when I was a kid, and because of that he’s someone I collect… But even without that reason, how could I resist this 1957 Topps card?

The card only looks miscut… my scanner’s software didn’t like the left edge.

Bill Virdon was the Yankees manager during the fairly brief period when I liked the Yankees as well as the Mets. This 1960 Leaf is one of 7 cards I have of Virdon from his playing days.

1960 Leaf is a set I didn’t look at twice for much of my collecting life, but it’s grown on me over the past 5-10 years. (Again, miscut by the scanner, not in real life)

Wrapping up, appropriately enough, with Tom Terrific from 1974 Kellogg’s. Remember, these cards were selected by me in March, before Seaver’s passing.

TOM SEAVER
1944 – 2020

Learning How To Play APBA Baseball

This post is the latest in a very occasional series that give a broad overview of how different tabletop baseball games work.

This particular post has been in the works for months, and the idea was sparked when some mention about playing APBA was phrased in just the right way that it allowed a forgotten fact to bubble to the surface of my brain: “Wait a minute… don’t I have a copy of APBA in the closet?”

So I went into The Shlabotnik Report’s World Headquarters (aka the spare room my wife allows me to occupy) and I looked into the recesses the closet where I keep a few games.  All the way in the back, on the top shelf, under Cadaco All-Star Baseball and next to Donruss Top Of The Order, there was the out-of-sight-out-of-mind box containing a mid-1990’s edition of APBA.

Pulling it out I remembered why it got shoved in a closet… This mid-1990’s edition, which I suspect was made to be sold relatively cheaply in retail outlets, came unappealingly packaged, had an instruction book that wasn’t particularly well written, and came with teams that didn’t inspire excitement: Team sets for the 1994 Astros (66-49 in a strike-shortened season, 2nd place), 1994 Tigers (53-62, 5th place) and another envelope which contained “20 of Baseball’s All-Time Greats!”… one of whom was in “witness relocation” – more on that in a bit.


A quick note to people who already play APBA:  If I make any mistakes or misrepresent something about the game, please let me know in the comments so I can correct it.  These tabletop game posts tend to have a long shelf life and I want to minimize the number of people who say “You got it wrong, ya big dummy!”

Thanks!


Here’s the the primary bits for game play…

…through sheer carelessness my photo includes the plastic bag that the dice and dice cup came in (in case you were wondering what that was on the right on top of the chart).

FYI, if you use a scoresheet to track the game, then the board isn’t needed.  I didn’t use the board when I played.

Oh, another thing… the dice cup seems to be a standard APBA thing, but after the dice got jammed in there for the 5th time, the cup got jettisoned.  I also found out that some players will use a smartphone/tablet app to replace the dice.  I can understand the convenience of virtual dice, but there’s something satisfying about rolling real dice… just not with that friggin’ dice cup.

One last aside then I promise I’ll get to the contents of the game… The cover of the Instructions booklet gave me a laugh…

This image was a widely-used (and, I’m guessing, royalty-free) image back in the 1990’s;  This image showed up *everywhere* at the time… If you have any baseball magazines, yearbooks or scorecards from the 1990’s… especially minor league publications… there’s a good chance that this guy is in there somewhere, often in an advertisement — “CATCH A DEAL at Kuhlschrank Pontiac/Oldsmobile!”

OK, I’m rambling too much.  So once you pick out your team’s starting lineup, you have to make note of a few things.

First, you make note of your starting pitcher’s “grade”.  You can see just below his name that Doug Drabek is a “Grade B” pitcher.

Second, each player has a certain number of Fielding Points assigned to him for any positions he’s allowed to play at.  As an example I have this Chris Donnels card…

The more points, the better the player fields that position.  In this case, Donnels  would get 6 points if he’s playing at 2nd or Short, but fewer points at other positions.  You take the total number of Fielding Points for your defensive lineup and make note of it.  For this example, the total is 38.

OK, now we get to the first batter, Al Kaline (one of the “All-Time Greats”) and he’s facing Doug Drabek.

So the most basic element of gameplay is the two dice, one red and larger, the other white and smaller.  When you roll these dice, rather than add them together (i.e. 4+3  = 7), you combine the results into a two-digit number, with the bigger red dice as the first digit. For example, if you had rolled this…

You’d take the three from the big die and four from the small die and combine them to make 34.

Next, you’d look at the batter’s card for the black number 34 and then get the corresponding red number.  On this card of Al Kaline, the black 34 matches up with a red 31.

To find out what 31 means, you’d check with a set of charts which cover each type of ‘man on base’ situation:  bases empty, man on first, man on second, man on first and second, etc.

Since we’re starting off the game, Kaline is batting with the bases empty.  Here’s the part of the Bases Empty chart that would fit on my scanner…

You probably can’t read that, especially if you’re reading this on a phone, but there are multiple columns based on Pitcher Grade and Fielding Points…  The results are color-coded by how good it is for the batter (green = good, yellow = kinda good, reddish orange = bad).  As you go from left to right, the pitching/fielding is better and the batting results get worse.

OK, if the result was between 1 and 11 we’d chose the result based on the Pitcher Grade, but since the result is 31 it’s based on the Fielding Points.  The team in the field has 38 points, so we’d look at the second column (36 – 40 points) and the row corresponding to 31…

…and Kaline flies out to Center Field (F8).

Now if we had rolled a 33 instead, Kaline’s card shows that as a 6.

Since this, obviously, falls between 1 and 11, then we use the top part of the chart which is based on the Pitcher’s Grade.  As it turns out, 6 with the bases empty is always a double, regardless of what the Pitcher’s Grade is, but other numbers have different results corresponding to how good the pitcher is.

Like a lot of tabletop games, this seems cumbersome when being described, but once you get the hang of it it’s not too bad.

Now some cards have two columns of red numbers, like with this Pepper Martin card I downloaded from the APBA website as part of a 1933 All-Star Game set of 18 cards in PDF form.

In this case, if we’d rolled a 33 then Martin’s card shows a zero in the first column and that means that we roll again and look at the second column of red numbers… so if we rolled a 33, saw the zero and the rolled again and got a 44, the result would be a 1 (Home run!)

Again, this gets easier as you play.

So I played a game between the “All-Time Greats” and the Astros;  here’s how the first inning played out:

Gabby Hartnett leads off, the dice roll is 31, which corresponds to 9 on Hartnett’s card.  Since the number is between 1 and 11 we look in the “Pitcher Grade B” column on the Bases Empty chart and #9 the result is a single off the shortstop’s glove.  The next batter, Billy Herman, lines out to center and the runner holds.

Rogers Hornsby batted third and the result was a single to right-center which sent the runner, Hartnett, to third.  Had Hornsby had a rating of “F” (Fast?), he would’ve advanced to 2nd base on the throw to third.  Monte Irvin singles to right, Hartnett scores and again, if Hornsby had that F rating he would also have scored.  Finally, shortstop Travis Jackson (inexplicably listed as “Jack”) grounds into a 4-6-3 double play and the inning is over.

Later in the game I had a situation where the pitcher’s rating came into play… The Astros’ Scott Servais would’ve popped out against a lesser pitcher, but against Catfish Hunter with his “Y” rating, he instead struck out.  What “Y” stands for, I don’t know, but it seems to be a good thing.

In the 6th inning I found myself in need of a pinch hitter and scanned my reserves (which weren’t many because they only gave me 20 “Greats”).  Several of the names weren’t familiar to me and there’s no easy way for an APBA novice to pick out better hitters (keeping in mind that everybody on this team is an “All-Time Great” so how bad could they be?). I was idly looking at a card of “Buck” Jackson, who I’d assumed to have been a Negro League player I hadn’t heard of…Here, let me share a copy of his card the way I saw it, without the specifically personal information:

After I decided to send ol’ “Buck” up to the plate, I I happened to notice some of the other information on “Buck”… born in 1946, full name Reginald Martinez Jack–

(insert drawn-out record scratch)

Wait a bleepin’ minute!  Reggie Jackson?  Reggie Freakin’ Jackson?  Who in the wide, wide world of sports has EVER referred to him as “Buck Jackson”????

…other than APBA, anyway…

For any Reggie fans out there, he grounded out in his pinch-hitting appearance, stayed in the game and grounded out again in the 9th.

So anyway, the Astros beat the Greats 5 to 4.  I also played a game with the downloaded 1933 All-Star lineups I’d mentioned before… The American League trounced the National League 9-1 (In the actual game, which I feel I should mention finished in just over 2 hours, the AL won 4-2).

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure about APBA at first, but once I got past the learning curve with the charts and fielding scores and such, I found it was a fun game to play and I began to understand the appeal of it.

One of the benefits of playing APBA is that it’s a popular game and cards are relatively available.  You can even buy individual cards on COMC if you wish… although how one determines that a loose APBA card is for the 1963 season is for someone who has a lot more familiarity with the game than I have.

1964 APBA Baseball 1963 Season - [Base] #DECR - Del Crandall [Poor to Fair] - Courtesy of COMC.com

1964 APBA Baseball 1963 Season – [Base] #DECR – Del Crandall [Poor to Fair] – Courtesy of COMC.com

Similarly, on the cards I have there’s nothing (other than the manila envelope the cards come in ) to indicate what team the player is from and there’s nothing at all to indicate the season.  I figured out my two teams were from 1994, but that was through sheer deduction – James Mouton has a card, he debuted in 1994, while Servais’ last year with the Astros was 1994.  Furthermore, the Astros set does not reflect the blockbuster December 1994 trade which sent Ken Caminiti, Andjuar Cendeno, Steve Finley, Brian Williams and Roberto Petagine to the Padres for Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Pedro (“the other one”) Martinez, Phil Plantier and Criag Shipley… so it seems pretty clear that the team in these envelopes reflects the 1994 season… but it would’ve been nice to know that without doing the detective work.

In general, the game play is a little too… opaque, for lack of a better word.  Look at these 2014 Statis-Pro cards, for example:

If you only know that a number on the card corresponds to a result, you can tell from the number ranges that Trout hits more homers than Shlabotnik and generally gets on base more.  You also don’t technically need to consult a chart to get the result (if you don’t care about things like “Faster runners taking extra bases” or the possibility of an error on the play).

Compare that to an APBA card…

I’m sure that if you play enough you can read a card without much difficulty, but it just puts me off a little bit… but it’s largely just picking nits.

To be fair, I don’t know how many of my minor issues with APBA come from this particular edition of the game, and how many apply to the game in general.  I think that if I had a copy of the game that had a better-written instruction manual then my overall enjoyment would’ve been better.

All things considered, I enjoyed APBA I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try a baseball simulation.  I don’t like it as well as Statis Pro, but you can’t buy Statis Pro anymore so it’s a moot point.

Vintage Steelers Cards And Uniforms

It’s been a while since I did a simple “Hey, look at these cards!” posts, so I figured I’d share some football cards I got at a show early this year.  One of the dealers at this show had some great prices on vintage football… while I don’t have any real goals regarding vintage football, I just enjoy picking up cards at the right price.  Although I grew up on Long Island, I’ve been a Steelers fan since the 1980s I tend to gravitate towards the black and gold when buying vintage, even if I have no real plans to chase team sets older than the 1970’s.

So before this show my oldest football card was from 1958, but I was able to push a few years past that and fill in some gaps in the process.

The latest acquisition which can hold the title of “The oldest football card I own” is from the 1955 Bowman set… Actually, this and the other 1955 Bowman card I bought are the only Bowman football cards I own (not that I own a lot of Bowman baseball either).

It’s an interesting set in a number of ways… the colored background with a white “glow” around the player being the main reason.  It’s interesting that the card also points out that Frank Varrichione is a rookie.  Unlike today, that had nothing to do with whether kids should go out and hoard as many Frank Varrichione cards as they could.  Varrichione was a member of a heralded, undefeated Notre Dame team, and would be named to four Pro Bowls during his time as a Steeler.

Moving forward to 1957, here’s a Topps card of Jack Butler.  Check out that helmet!

Butler is in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, was named to the Steelers all-time team and the NFL’s All-1950s Team.  He also retired as the Steelers record-holder for most career interceptions (a record since broken).

From 1958 Topps, here’s Jack Butler again wearing another notable helmet.

Not only is the helmet the reverse of what we are all familiar with, but there’s no logo.  The jerseys might be familiar from the throwbacks the Steelers have worn recently.

1960 Topps Steelers team card… Can’t think of much to say about it, other than it’s a nice-looking card.

Lou Michaels, shown here on a 1963 Topps card, was an outstanding defensive lineman for the University of Kentucky, he is an inductee into the College Football Hall Of Fame, made the Pro Bowl in 1962 and 1963, and – this is my favorite part – he was also a placekicker who lead the league in field goals in 1962.  Lou’s brother was Walt Michaels, who played in the NFL and coached the Jets.

The Steelers added a logo in 1962, but I don’t know enough about football uniforms to say whether that means that this photo is from before 1962.

Here’s another card from 1963 featuring Ernie Stautner.  I love this version of the Northwestern stripes on the white jersey!

Stauntner, who was born in Bavaria, is in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame and his #70 was the only officially retired Steelers number for 50 years until Joe Greene’s #75 was retired in 2014.  There are obviously a number of unofficially-retired numbers, as you don’t see anybody wearing 12 or 32.

OK, last card is from 1969 Topps and shows the…um… unique “Batman” uniforms from the late 1960’s.  If I’m understanding things correctly, the uniforms were meant to pay tribute / draw attention to the Golden Triangle area of downtown Pittsburgh.  It’s not the best look in Steelers history, and one they’ve yet to throw back to.
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Paul Martha was born in Pittsburgh, went to the University of Pittsburgh and was the 10th overall pick in the 1964 draft.  He went to law school during his professional career and would go on to be an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Francisco 49ers

7 Day Trading Card Challenge Done All At Once

Over at the Cardpocalypse blog…

“There’s a liiiiiiiiiiiight… Over at Cardpocalypse blog!”  (Pardon my Rocky Horror reference)

Now, then… where was I?  (Other than generally losing my mind from months of social isolation)

Oh, yes, Cardpocalypse!  So there’s this 7 day challenge that all of the cool kids are taking part of… but I don’t have the brainpower nor the attention span to do anything for 7 days, so I’m doing them all now… well, most of them. I cheat on a couple. I’ll provide full refunds to any readers who are displeased with my content.

Favorite card acquired during quarantine

I’ve bought very little during quarantine, save for a blaster of Heritage and a couple of random packs… But if you count cards I bought on COMC and which are still sitting in their warehouse on the other side of the country, well, I’m pretty stoked about this baby I bought this past weekend:

Sure it’s got a big ol’ crease running through Lynn Nolan Ryan’s face, but the price was right for this cheap blogger… and it’s not like I’m going to send any of this set in for grading.

What makes this even more noteworthy is that for years now I’ve been accumulating 1972 cards with no delusions about completing the set… but shit just got a little more real.

A card from a current release year (any sport) with a unique photo

I’m skipping this… I’ve got maybe 200 cards from this year – mostly Heritage –  and none of them made me sit up and take notice.

Favorite football card in your collection
I’ll be honest, I’m not a “single favorite” kind of guy.  I don’t have a single favorite baseball player, movie star, Beatles album or pretty much any category you might name… but right here, right now I’m being asked to come up with a favorite football card so I’ll just go with this card that features Mean Joe Greene more than it features the intended subject, Greg Pruitt.

Favorite basketball card in your collection
I’ve tried… Lord, how I’ve tried to appreciate basketball, but it just never has appealed to me… I’m going to fudge the category and go with this card from the 1972 Fleer Harlem Globetrotters set.

Favorite ‘other’ sport card in your collection
I’m going to ignore the implicit snub in including hockey in an ‘other’ category when it should’ve been an additional day of The Challenge (Harrumph!)

I’ll get really obscure instead and go with this curling card (really more of a photo to be pasted in an album) from the 1932/33 Sanella Margerine “Handbuch des Sports” set.

In terms of time spent following it, curling is edging up on the NFL as my second-favorite sport… and it’s a fun sport to collect because there’s really very little out there.

Favorite non-sport card in your collection
Again… So, so many cards I love in my non-sport collection. I’ll just take the easy way out and go with this 1964 Topps Beatles card.

Best hobby trend to emerge this year

Most of the hobby trends this year are not for me… But I know I’m not alone in saying that the best trend is putting an emphasis on organizing my cards rather than buying new ones (although I have bought *some* new ones, as already mentioned)

To wrap up, for anyone who doesn’t get the “There’s a light…” reference, or for those who do and just want to hear some Rocky Horror…

Getting There Is Half Of The Fun

For a number of reasons – not least of which is the whole “Gotta find stuff to do in the house because there’s no place to go” situation we all find ourselves in – I recently pulled my Statis Pro tabletop baseball game out of the closet.

Before long it was like I was 12-year-old me again.

…and that’s a key phrase right there… Not a general “like being a 12-year-old”, but a specific 12-year-old *me*… because I was kind of a weird kid (who grew up to be kind of a weird adult).

As a kid, I had hours of fun playing Statis Pro, which is a game similar to Strat-O-Matic and APBA, but did not survive as long as those two did. I was never much of a “replay the season” kind of kid, though. I’ve always been one to think on “what if”, so I would spend a lot of time creating different ways to set up teams… Merging two bad teams to see what happens, playing interleague games (which wasn’t a thing in the late 1970’s), even doing things like creating teams alphabetically: Players whose names begin with “S” (Tom Seaver, Ted Simmons, Reggie Smith) vs. players whose name begins with “M” (Doc Medich, Felix Millan, Bake McBride).

So back to the present day… After playing a couple of games, I got a set of cards for the 1973 season and replayed the 1973 World Series (spoiler alert: The A’s still beat the Mets, who had great pitching but were an average team otherwise). I then had the idea of redoing the 1973 ALCS and NLCS…

…but that’s when, as I look back, I started regressing to that weird 12-year-old who enjoyed playing with the rosters as much as playing the actual game.

As much coping mechanism as entertainment, I started brainstorming on different ways  I could play my game and the four different seasons I have cards for.  I thought I’d share a number of them as a source of amusement and, if you’re as weird as I am, maybe a source of inspiration.

So my first impulse was to take either the 24-team 1973 season or the 26-team 1978 season and contract the Majors into the setup that existed during the 1960’s – two 10 team leagues.  My mind wandered beyond that concept, though, and I started thinking up backstories to eliminate cities and not just teams.  At first it was that California falls into the ocean after a massive earthquake and the five California teams need to find new homes and/or be contracted.  The earthquake soon got replaced by an extraterrestrial invasion where the invading aliens would take over the entire western half of North America (thus eliminating Seattle and Denver as potential “new” cities for these 1970s teams).

As this apocalyptic scenario would’ve started a few years before the intended season, there would have been no Blue Jays or Mariners to begin with.  I also did quick work of eliminating the Padres and Rangers, as they were both on shaky financial and attendance ground to begin with.  I decided that since none of the other owners like Charles O. Finley they would just buy him out and contract the A’s… and the Braves were struggling in the 1970’s as well, so I made them the fourth team.

With that taken care of, we still had the Dodgers, Giants and Angels looking for a new home, as Los Angeles and San Francisco were under the control of the beasties from another galaxy.  I decided the Dodgers would take the Dallas/Ft. Worth Market, the Giants would move to Toronto (as they almost did in real life in 1976) and the Angels would take over Atlanta.

It was around this time that I remembered that the host city really meant nothing, as Statis Pro doesn’t factor in a ballpark, and when I started thinking about the logistics involved in a “dispersal draft” I realized that this worked better as a mental experiment than it did as a prelude to playing a game, so I abandoned that idea.

As a long-time Mets fan who has seen his fair share of bad trades, I had another thought of taking the 96-loss 1978 Mets and reversing some of the trades I liked least.  Just to show I’m not a megalomaniac, I wouldn’t undo the 1971 trade which sent Nolan Ryan to California, because I don’t know if he becomes a HOF pitcher without a change of scenery. I certainly don’t want to undo the trade that brought Rusty Staub to Queens, even if it did send Ken Singleton to Montreal… but I *do* want to undo the trade that later sent Rusty to Detroit for Mickey Lolich.

But do I undo the Tug McGraw trade, seeing as it brought four-time All-Star John Stearns to the Mets? I’d have to think about that. But I’m sure as hell going to undo the “Midnight Massacre” trades that sent Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman away.

Another goofy idea:  While thumbing through the card sets I have from 1978 and 1989 and seeing players duplicated in both –  Dave Winfield, Bert Blyleven, Gary Carter – I hit on the idea of forming two teams with identical rosters but for the two different seasons, so each team might have Eddie Murray at first base and George Brett at third.  Even more fun, since I always play without a DH, Bert Blyleven and Rick Reuschel would have to face themselves.

Even goofier:  Two of the sets I have are in PDF format rather than physical cards, and I had the goofy idea of creating “new” teams by digitally renaming the players and then printing the new cards. For example, I created a “Springfield Isotopes” team where the entire roster was made up of cartoon characters.

JINKIES!  That Velma is deceptively fast and runs the bases well. The thing is, all the time I was playing with this team I knew that the Isotopes was really the 1959 AL Champion White Sox, and that Velma was really HOFer Luis Aparicio, so the pretense didn’t go past a single game.

The most recent idea I had, and the idea which is closest to actual game play, involves an Olympic-style tournament of 12 teams, four each from the 1959, 1978 and 1989 seasons.  The teams are broken into two groups of 6 and would play a round-robin tournament, one game against each other team in the same group.  At the end of round robin, the top two teams from Groups A & B go into the playoffs to determine the champion.

In this idea, nine of the twelve teams would be three teams from each season that I would most want to play.  There would also be a team from each season made up of the players I would most want to play… But this most definitely would not be a dream team, because it’s more about who I’d want to “see” play than it is about who is the best.  For example, the 1959 team might have a battery of Camilo Pascual and Gus Triandos instead of Don Newcombe and Yogi Berra.

So that’s about all of the ridiculous brainstorms I have for now.  I can share more later if there’s an overwhelming response to this post, but I rather doubt that. :-)

By the way, if you’re curious about Statis Pro I wrote an overview of the game back in 2015.

What “Bringing Focus To My Collection” Means To Me

I know a number of collectors who are talking about bringing (or having brought) “focus” to their collections.  For a number of years I’ve been trying to bring focus to my own collection (despite my repeatedly shooting myself in the foot).

After seeing pictures of other people’s reduced collections, I’ve come to realize that my definition of “focus” is significantly different than some of these other people.  I see people narrow their collection down to a few hundred cards, I’ve also seen “focused” collections that number in the tens of thousands.

The key thing, I think, is that after a while (or in my case, thirty-something years),  a collector gets to the point where it all seems too much and something needs to be done to bring things down to that person’s definition of “a manageable size”.

With that in mind, I thought I’d lay out what I’m working towards.

First off, I want to know what’s in my collection. This sounds obvious, but I’ve pulled cards out of boxes, pulled binders off of shelves and said “I forgot I still have this!”  Sometimes that’s a good thing, but more often the follow-up is “WHY do I still have this?

Second, I want to be able to find things. I’ve made a good amount of progress with this given that, at one point a number of years ago, I had completely misplaced several sets (including a near-complete 1987 Topps set).  I’ve since gotten things so that everything is more or less in one place, but if I’m writing a post and I decide I want to scan my 1982 Topps card of Butch Wynegar or a 2000 Pacific Crown Collection card of Abraham Nunez, I couldn’t do that right now without searching through boxes and binders to find those sets.

My original draft of this post said that “every card needs to have a reason for being in my collection”, but that sounded more formal than it needed to be.  Frankly, a lot of cards are in my collection solely because I like them, but don’t serve any real “purpose” in my collection.  Fr’instance, I stumbled across this 1978 Australian Rules Football card a few years ago:

No matter how I might try to define my collection, this wouldn’t fit into any “rules”… but there’s no way I’m getting rid of this card.  It’s just too cool in an arcane way.  My collection is all over the place, and I want to keep it all over the place, because that’s part of what makes it fun.

So I suppose the real way to define “bringing focus” would be better described by what I’ve been pulling out of my collection.  I’ve given myself permission to remove cards which are part of team and player collections but which I don’t like.  Topps Turkey Red cards are a good example.

I know a lot of people like Turkey Red, but I really don’t.  The decision to get rid of cards I don’t like was part of a steady progression.  It went from “I can’t have it all” to “If I can’t have it all, I can be selective in what I pick up” to “If I’m being selective in what I get, I can also go back and be selective with what I already have”.

So much of this is about giving myself permission to get rid of cards I never really liked much but felt obligated to chase and keep.  Those ugly cards?  Those pointless inserts?  That Bowman Prospects card from 10 years ago of a guy who never got past A-ball and would be completely unknown to me if it weren’t for this one Bowman Card?  Why keep those?

The other part of my collection which I’m targeting is my years of attempted set completion.  Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s there were multiple flagship sets each year and it was easy and affordable to go after them all.  But I’ve got a complete set of 1988 Topps, I’m just a few cards away from completing 1988 Topps… Even though 1988 Fleer and Donruss are pretty good sets, do I really need to have four flagship sets from the same year?  And if I’m no longer chasing 1988 Donruss, do I really need cards of 1988 Donruss cards of Brian Dayett or Fred Manrique?  …And to be honest, do I need 88D cards of Wade Boggs or Andre Dawson?

And I suppose that what “focus” really means for me.  For many years, card were cheap, cards were fun and the only decision I ever made about whether to keep cards was “Do I already have them?”  After too many years of not being selective, I’m feeling the need to go back and be selective about those cards now.  I need to ask the question I should’ve been asking all along:  Do I really want this?

Postcard Show!!! 2019 Edition

For the third straight year, I went to a not-really-local (i.e. about an hour’s drive each way) postcard show.  The first time I went, it was something different to do “just because”… but I enjoyed it enough that I went back a second time, and now this third time I came to realize that I have a favorite dealer, so I guess that says something.

I’ve tagged all of my various postcard show posts, if you want to see what I’d gotten previously.

Although I enjoyed myself again and plan on going again in 2020, my haul from the show is modest;  3 baseball postcards and 4 for my other postcard focus, the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Since this is a baseball card blog, I’ll feature the baseball postcards up front and leave the World’s Fair ones for the end.

The Cleveland Indians did a series of team postcards during the mid-1970’s, right during my initial introduction to baseball and also coinciding with what are (in my eyes) the best Indians uniforms of all time.  Because of this, I have more Indians postcards than anyone who isn’t an Indians fan would normally have, but I’m just enjoying the heck out of these things.

This 1974 Postcard of Frank Duffy caught my attention because of all the groundskeeper-y items in the background like hoses and rakes (and implements of destruction – couldn’t resist an “Alice’s Restaurant reference) …Just a fun “behind the scenes look”.

I have a modest collection going for former All-Star and 20-game winner Fritz Peterson, so I quickly grabbed this 1976 Indians postcard of Fritz.  This is the third Fritz postcard in my collection;  one Yankees and two Indians.

Back in 1985 I saw a pitcher by the name of Johnny Abrego pitch for the Pittsfield Cubs of the AA Eastern League.  That same season, he pitched 6 games as a September call-up, and given that I was new to minor league baseball at the time, this was enough to cement him as a guy to keep my eye on.  It also didn’t hurt that “Johnny Abrego” sounds like a gunslinger from a TV show like Gunsmoke.  “Sheriff, I hear that Johnny Abrego’s gunnin’ for ya!”

Unfortunately, Abrego battled injuries after that, retired at the age of 24 and that September stint turned out to be the entirety of his MLB career.

So here’s the thing:  I officially collect Johnny Abrego, but there honestly isn’t much of him to collect.  Prior to this weekend, my Abrego collection consisted of this 1986 Donruss card.

Now, I’m proud to say that I’ve DOUBLED my Abrego collection with this 1986 TCMA “Stars Of The Future” postcard.

According to Trading Card Database, the only card left for me to get is a a card from the 1986 ProCards Iowa Cubs team set …but don’t hold your breath.

Among the baseball-related postcards I *didn’t* get were some Exhibits of players like Phil Rizzuto and Bob Lemon.  I gave some thought to picking up the Rizzuto, but I don’t know enough about Exhibits to be sure whether i was getting a deal on a vintage card or paying way too much on a reprint.  There were also a number of Exhibits of celebrities which looked neat, but I didn’t know whether there are any famous movie stars of the day that I might have wanted to look for.  I’m mentioning this as a note to “2020 Me” to brush up on Exhibits a little bit before heading to the next postcard show.

OK, now on to the World’s Fair postcards.  As I’d mentioned in prior posts, I’ve held a lifelong interest in the buildings that had been left over from the Fair, especially the Unisphere (the big stainless steel globe which has become a symbol of the Borough of Queens).

The first postcard is of what I used to think of as “The Capital T Building”, but which had been the Port Authority Heliport and “Terrace on The Park”, a restaurant/catering hall with views over the whole Fair.

A night view of the aforementioned Unisphere…

Another view of the Unisphere, with the New York State Pavilion’s Tent Of Tomorrow and Astro-View observation towers in the background on the right…

The last postcard I’m featuring is a view of the Fair as taken from one of the  observation towers.  In the distance on the left, you can see a brand-spanking-new Shea Stadium.

Just like I like a baseball scorecard which has been used to score a game, I enjoy postcards which had been mailed – Even though there’s a little bit of a “I’m reading someone else’s mail” feeling… Enough so that I’m not going to share the note or address (which wasn’t terribly exciting anyway).

However, there is a very cool Project Mercury stamp with a World’s Fair postmark.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got this same stamp in my stamp collection from high school (not that anybody really cares, I suppose)

So that wraps up this year’s Postcard Show recap.  I know that these shows are not anywhere as common as sports collectibles shows, but if you find out that there will be one near you, I encourage you to go check it out… just keep in mind that every dealer organizes their postcards differently, but every one I’ve run across has been very happy to help you find whatever you might be looking for.

Down The Rabbit Hole With A 1977 TCMA Minor League Card

A recent package from Nick of the World Famous Dime Boxes blog included a card which became my oldest minor league card, beating out my 1979 TCMA Jackson Mets team set (which I wrote about seven years ago).

Say ‘Hi’ to Carman Coppol from the 1977 TCMA Lynchburg Mets team set.

I admit, I never heard of Carman Coppol before this card came my way, but now that I know a little more about him, the more I like this card.

Before I get into that, here’s the back of this card:

Carman Coppol was drafted in the 31st round out of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. I’m just familiar enough with E-Town to know it’s a Division III school, and I’m here to tell you that if you played D3 ball in the Mid-Atlantic, that playing professionally is, in and of itself, a pretty damn big accomplishment.

Coppol pitched three seasons in the Mets system and peaked in A-ball. According to the E-Town Blue Jays website, Coppol was inducted into E-Town’s Ira R. Herr Athletic Hall Of Fame in 1993. He was also named to the Middle Atlantic Conference’s Century Team (1974-1986 division) for baseball. Poking around that list of the best 82 baseball players from this D3 conference, I saw a couple of names that made it to the majors and another name that made me stop and Google in another direction.

That name that added to my research time was Lafayette College’s Jim Van Der Beek, which got me thinking “Wait… James Van Der Beek? Dawson’s Creek, Varsity Blues… THAT James Van Der Beek?” Sadly, I then realized that Lafayette’s Jim Van Der Beek falls into the 1912 – 1973 category, which would make Jim too old to play “Dawson”… But the actor is James Van Der Beek Jr., so maybe this Jim VDB is James Sr? …mayyyyyyyyybe….? At this point I’d already spent far too much time on what had been meant as a quick single-card post, so I’ll leave it to you to figure that out, if you want to.

The two legitimate names I recognized from the Century list were Messiah College’s Chris Heisey, who played with the Reds, Dodgers and Nationals…

…and Albright College’s Casey Lawrence, who pitched for the Blue Jays and Mariners, and is currently in Japan with the Hiroshima Carp.

One last guy who I thought would be on this list got me scurrying all over the internet. Gene Garber, who has over 200 MLB saves, is in the E-Town Sports HOF, is listed in several places as having gone to Elizabethtown High School and Elizabethtown College (as well has having grown up in a farm outside Elizabethtown)… and yet he is not part of that MAC Century team. How can this be?

I finally poked around enough that it dawned on me: Garber’s professional experience started in 1965, when he was 17 years old and continued until his age 40 season in 1988; however his E-Town College HOF page (such as it is) shows him as a member of the class of 1969. Garber must have attended college while pitching in the pros, so while he graduated from E-Town, he never pitched for E-Town. Even so… Graduating a four-year school in four years while playing professional baseball, that’s pretty damn impressive.

Since I wandered pretty far afield, my whole point here was that out of 82 best-of-the-century players from a D3 conference, I could only find two who had enough of a MLB career to appear on a card. I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed somebody, but it still underlines the fact that the deck is stacked against a player from one of these schools having a significant baseball career.

And now, getting back to the TCMA set – I *did* say up front that this was going down the rabbit hole – I took a peek at the checklist for the entire team, and there are some well-known names included: pitchers Neil Allen and Jeff Reardon and manager Jack Aker. Other names which jumped out at this 1970’s Mets fan are Butch Benton, Mario Ramirez (misspelled “Raminez” on his card), Randy Tate and Dave Von Ohlen.

So yes… quite a lot of research time coming out of one minor league card.

But before I go… A very big thank to Nick for sending me this card; he sent me many others (both in this package and in others I haven’t fully acknowledged), and I want him to know that they are all appreciated (just not publicly… yet)

PWE Backlog #2: Autographs from CommishBob

There was a time when I posted here every single day.

Part of it is that I got more ambitious with posts as time went on – I’d have a serviceable post close to being ready, but then I’d get an idea to augment it, but augmenting it required research, scanning, finding cards to scan, etc. etc.

Admittedly, much of it is also lack of time and energy.

At any rate, because I’m generally behind on my posts, I’m waaaaay behind in my “acknowledging the generosity of my trading buddies” posts.

A while ago I got a package from CommishBob of The Five Tool Collector, and I didn’t quite get around to writing about it… Then I got another package, and I said “Well, maybe I’ll do the new one first, and then go back and do the first one”, and before I finish doing that, I received a PWE with three vintage cards in it. I’ve been able to Tweet my thanks, but I haven’t blogged about any of it.

The first autographed piece is what I imagine was a team-provided card for players to sign, and the autograph is for 1960’s Mets infielder Jerry Buchek.

Buchek was from St. Louis, signed with the hometown Cardinals, played with them for five years and got a hit for them in the 1964 World Series. He was traded to the Mets just before the 1967 season and would spend two years with the Mets. He was their primary 2nd baseman in 1967, but batted below the Mendoza line in 1968 and was used in more of a utility role.

I would have liked to have shared a Jerry Buchek card, but I don’t have any scanned, and I’m going to operate according to the teachings of that reknowned philosopher Larry The Cable Guy and just “Git ‘er done!”  As a result, you’ll just have to imagine Buchek’s head shot on a 1968 card.

More famous than Buchek is Bud Harrelson, a two-time All-Star, Gold Glove Winner and 1969 World Champion with the Miracle Mets.

Even if this were left unsigned, I’d love this piece. Mr. Met wasn’t as much of an on-field presence in the 1960’s as he is now, but as a cartoon character he was at his peak in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I’ve been feeling the need to add more vintage Mr. Met pieces, and this is certainly an excellent way to add to that!

I also love how the boy obtaining the autograph has a similarly oversized and round head.

Unlike Jerry Buchek, I’ve got plenty of Bud images to chose from.

Wrapping up this trilogy of autographs is this very nice color 8 x 10 glossy photograph of Ed Kranepool, signed in gold Sharpie and with an inscription.

To the outside observer, Ed Kranepool was a decent player who was an All-Star in 1965 and played in two World Series (including 1969), but for many Mets fans he holds a special place in Mets history.  He started out as a 17-year-old local boy who debuted with the 1962 Mets and he played for the team his whole career, running up to 1979.  In the 1970’s he was THE MAN, the one player who had been on hand for nearly all of the team’s history, and for quite a while I was upset that the Mets hadn’t retired his #7 upon his retirement.  Kranepool once held a number of Mets career records;  most of them have since been eclipsed (generally by David Wright), but his 1,853 games played is still the Mets all-time record.

Many, many thanks go out to Bob for this oversized envelope which provided me several wide-eyed and sincere “wows” when opening it!  Bob, there’s a little bit of help for your 1971 Topps set build heading your way, but it’s just a drop in the Bucket O’ Appreciation I feel for your generosity!