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.

2017 TSR: A 4th Series Cello Pack To Make Up For Lost Time

My custom card output has been way down since the start of the season. There are a number of reasons for this… time, energy, enthusiasm. I’ll even blame Topps Now to some degree, because it feels a little pointless to make a “2017 Highlights” custom when Topps has already done so and, unlike me, will ship them out.

A recent spate of throwback games got me making throwback customs again, and all of the recent player movement inspired me to make my “flagship” TSR customs again. Normally by this time of year, I’d be working under the pretense of a 4th series coming out… but I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to do a 4th series wax wrapper…

…so today we’re getting a cello pack. I won’t say I miss cellos, not exactly, but I do miss being able to pick out a pack that has a “need” on top.

So here’s the top card in the pack…

The Cubs have been playing well lately; I don’t know if it coincided with the acquisition of Quintana from the White Sox, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt, if only from a general enthusiasm standpoint.

It wasn’t long ago that the Red Sox acquired a Giants third baseman and it worked out poorly for everyone involved. The Sox cut the Panda loose and to replace him they… get a Giants third baseman. Hmm.

I would say that I hope it works out better this time, but as I’ve got no reason to pull for Nunez or the Sox, I won’t say that.

I almost created a semi-parody of Topps Now for this post, something to feature interesting moments which wouldn’t make it into “Now”. The first “TSR Not Now” card, as it was tentatively called, would’ve featured Todd Frazier hitting into a triple play in his first home at-bat as a Yankee.

With the bases loaded and (of course) no outs, Frazier hit a grounder up the middle. Reds shortstop Jose Peraza stepped on second for one out, threw to first for the second, and Didi Gregorius got caught in a rundown for the third out… However, Matt Holliday did score on the play.

Big Sexy recently made his way to Minnesota, but after two games he’s not pitching appreciably better than he was with the Braves.

I really enjoyed Colon’s time with the Mets and I hope he sorts things out and gets back to pitching like he did when he was 43 (ha!).

In one of the least-surprising trades of the month so far, the Mets traded Lucas Duda.

Duda is in his walk year, and the Mets have the highly anticipated Dominic Smith ready to take over at first in the (hopefully) near future.

Between the two leagues, there have been six “Rookie Of The Month” awards given out so far this season, and those awards went to three different players. The only one not named “Judge” or “Bellinger” is Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela, who won the N.L. April award.

I’m a bit surprised I wasn’t aware of this guy until recently. He got off to a hot start in April and May, getting off to a 7-1 record, but then he fell off in June, got sent to the bullpen and then AAA Albuquerque. He’s back in the Rockies rotation now.

Meanwhile, Aaron Judge is hitting just .244 with 6 homers in July, so we’ll see if he gets a 4th consecutive “Rookie Of The Month” award.

Rafael Montero has not pitched well in 2017 (or 2016, for that matter), but he’s been in 21 games with 7 starts, so it seems like he should have some sort of card, even if it’s a virtual one.

He was a well-regarded prospect at one point, and he pitched in the 2013 Futures Game.

Former Met Ruben Tejada has found his way to my Orioles as a fill in while J.J. Hardy is on the DL.

It’s funny how Tejada went from a regular with the Mets to a journeyman in short order. The photo on his baseball-reference.com page shows him with a team he never actually played for (the Yankees).

2017 TSR Custom Fun Pack #2: Continuing To Follow My Muse

As I mentioned in my last custom card post, I’ve been having a time trying to keep to my original intentions regarding the customs I’m making, so for now I’m just going to go with whatever inspires me, and put the assorted customs into an old-school repack format.

This post is more of a compilation of smaller posts than anything else. Almost like a “clip show” on TV, except these clips haven’t appeared before.

I read a couple of articles the other day about how the Dodgers are playing with the idea of turning Ike Davis into a pitcher. In defense of this idea, it was pointed out that Davis is athletic and was a two-way player at Arizona State.
This custom is in the style of the 1976 Wonder Bread football set.

Not once did I see another factor mentioned… the fact that pitching is in his bloodlines. Ike’s father is Ron Davis, who pitched in 481 Major League games, had 14 wins and 9 saves as a rookie, was an All-Star in 1981 and had 30 saves in 1983.

You know, THAT Ron Davis.

Former Oriole Nolan Reimold was a personal favorite of mine and had been named to the 2009 Topps All-Star Rookie team. A number of injuries, most significantly a neck injury he suffered while diving into the stands in 2012, took the momentum out of his career, and going into this season he’d signed with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.
This custom is my 2017 TSR design.

His time with the Ducks lasted just 19 games before Reimold retired from baseball. I wish Nolan success in his post-baseball endeavors.

Last week I featured a custom of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury of the newly-minted Vegas Golden Knights. While researching the 1970/71 Topps Hockey set (to see if the original cards said “GOALIE” or “GOALTENDER” or “G” or whatever), I stumbled across an insert from that very same set, referred to as “Sticker Stamps”, whatever that might imply. At any rate, I loved the design enough to make another Fleury custom.

This should be it for Golden Knight customs for the time being.

Last week the Mariners and Astros wore uniforms which threw back to 1977. You know me… if there are 1970’s throwback unis, I will be making customs of them! Since the uniforms were from 1977, it seems like the customs should be as well.

…or maybe 1978 Topps… I’ve got more images from this game I can use, maybe those will become 1978 customs.

From throwback to Fauxback… specifically my 2017 TSR Fauxback design (which I still suspect may be unintentional plagiarism). Back in the mid-1990’s my friends and I went to a local theater to see a collection of animated short films. My favorite of those films was “The Wrong Trousers” which I later found out was the second in a series of “Wallace And Gromit” films made by British animator Nick Park. I used to have a “Have you seen this chicken?” T-shirt and I still laugh every time I see the climactic chase scene.

Peter Sallis, who voiced Wallace, passed away in early June at the age of 96. Rest in peace, Peter Sallis.

BTW, this is my second “Fauxback” custom to honor a recently-passed figure from pop culture… this is not the “mission statement” of this custom design, just the way it’s worked out so far.

Trying To Break A Custom Funk With A “Super Value Fun Pack”!

You may have noticed that I’ve been kind of quiet with the customs lately.  It’s mainly from lack of time, but underlying that was a simple case of “writer’s block”.  I didn’t really have anything I wanted to “say”, so nothing came out.

I started to come out of the funk a little bit when I poked a bit of fun at the Topps online exclusive Throwback Thursday sets (#TSR_TBT), but then I also decided to stop focusing on my 2017 TSR set and let my muse take me wherever I might go.

I ultimately ended up with an odd assortment of customs and I was trying to think of how to present them… And that’s when I remembered a predecesor of the 21st century repack.  Back in the day, companies used to take whatever they had left over – cards, comic books, etc. – package them together at a low price and tried to make them sound appealing by throwing about words like “Value” and “Fun”.

So I came up with the idea of a “Super Value Fun Pack” and went about creating a “wrapper”:

Now that I’m done with the explanations, let’s see what’s in the Super Value Fun Pack, shall we?

Leading up to the recent NHL Expansion Draft to stock the roster of the Vegas Golden Knights, I made a decision that if any players showed up in person and put on a VGK jersey (Sorry, Canadians, I just can’t call it a “sweater”), I would make a custom out of it.

Well, a number of players did make an appearance, and I decided to use the 1970-71 Topps Hockey design because a)  It allowed me to remove the uninteresting background and b) I’d already come up with a template to use.

Deciding which player to feature wasn’t hard, because the one and only drafted player I’d even heard of before the draft was one of the guys who showed up.

While researching this card, I stumbled across a hockey oddball from the same year, and the custom which resulted will be in the next Super Value Fun Pack (ideally next week).

The one bit of momentum I’ve been able to maintain with my 2017 TSR custom set is making customs of Mets and Orioles for players who haven’t appeared on a real card in 2017. For this week’s Orioles entry in the “Dude Needs A Card” theme, we have a pitcher who appeared in 3 games before being Designated For Assignment, and who is already gone from the O’s organization. I’m talking about journeyman pitcher Edwin Jackson!

The Orioles were the 12th team Jackson has pitched for. When the O’s DFA’ed him, he declared free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Nationals… But if he makes it back to the Majors with the Nats, it won’t up his totals, because he pitched for the Nationals in 2012.

For the record his 12 teams (in order): Dodgers, Devil Rays/Rays (they transitioned while he was on the roster), Tigers, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Cardinals, Nationals, Cubs, Braves, Marlins, Padres, Orioles

Fernando Salas has already appeared in 36 games for the Mets and yet remains cardboard-free. I’m sure that’s nothing to do with his 6.00 ERA or 1.697 WHIP.

I would’ve created a custom for my TSR set, but I already had one made for my TSRchives set.

The final custom comes from a desire to have a design I could use for just about any purpose. I ultimately decided to revive my short-lived “TSR Fauxback” set from 2015. The design I came up with for 2017 is similar to my 2015 design in that it’s intentionally derivative as hell, but I can’t help shaking the feeling that I’ve subconsciously stolen it from somewhere.

Call it derivative, call it homage, call it plagiarism… Call it whatever, this is the 2017 TSR Fauxback design:

Rest in peace, Adam West.

2017 TSR: Four Quickies Are Better Than Nothing

This post and the four customs attached were largely done during surreptitious breaks while working from home on a project that unnecessarily occupied a good chunk of my Saturday.

Given that this post was done on the fly, there’s not a whole lot of deep thoughts involved here today… but I hadn’t done any customs in a couple of weeks and I didn’t want to let it slide any further… besides, making the customs kept me from getting excessively irate with certain co-workers.

And so…

Greg Holland has been lights-out for the Rockies so far. At this early stage, he’s one of the best, if not the best, free agent signings of this past offseason.

Dovydas Neverauskas is the second Lithuanian to play in the Majors; the first was Joe Zapustas who played 2 games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1933.  Baseball Reference says that Zapustas was born in Latvia;  I don’t know if this is because of fluid borders in the Baltics, or Zapustas was an ethnic Lithuanian, or because one of my sources is wrong.

Seth Smith has quickly become one of Mrs. Shlabotnik’s favorite Orioles.  I’m sure he’d be one of mine if I’d have enough time in the past two months to keep on top of both the Mets and the O’s (sorry, Baltimore)

T.J. Rivera has done a nice job of filling in for… well, half of the Mets position players at this point, but mainly David Wright and Lucas Duda.

2017 TSR: An Immigrant, A Judge And Other Rookies

This might sound like the lead-in to a joke about the current US President, but I promise, it’s just a lead-in to the latest pack of 2017 TSR custom cards.

Since I wasn’t quite happy with how the first two batches of customs looked online, especially on phones, I’m trying a couple of tweaks to the design this time around.  These may end up sticking, or they may end up being “variations” that will be worth thousands and thousands of bitcoins someday.

Anyway, on to the first custom…

I’ve been aware of Gift Ngoepe for a couple of years because I’ve been telling a South African friend “Hey, there’s this guy in the Pirates’ system who’s from South Africa!”  She doesn’t care, but I’ve kept her updated anyway… and earlier this week, Gift Ngoepe made his debut with the Pirates.

Despite coming from a country where few play baseball, Gift literally grew up around the game;  that’s because his mother worked as a clubhouse attendant for a South African baseball team called the Randburg Mets, and they lived in the team’s clubhouse.

The first draft of this post had a custom of the Yankees’ 6’7″ Aaron Judge.  I wasn’t happy with the way the custom came out, but in that original draft I said “One of these days I’m going to find a good shot of him standing next to one of his teammates, and a combo card will ensue.”

Thanks to Brett Gardner’s 3-run homer yesterday, “One Of These Days” is today!

One of my goals for this year’s set is to have some combo cards which are more interesting than the typical Topps “two guys standing around first base waiting for the next pitch” combo.

Rookie Amir Garrett and the Reds were flying high for a while at the beginning of the season, but have since come down to Earth.

Garrett had a 1.83 ERA and 21 K’s in his first 3 starts before getting shelled by the Brewers in his 4th.

I’d heard about this Athletics pitcher Andrew Triggs who was, after his first three starts, 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA (and he pitched 7 shutout innings against Houston last night). I was thinking that his name sounded ever so vaguely familiar… and then I found out why. He spent 2015 with the Orioles’ AA team.

Because the Orioles have pitching coming out of their ears (sarcasm alert) and because the O’s can’t seem to acquire enough guys who have that valued combination of homers and strikeouts (even more sarcasm), they dropped Triggs off the 40-man to sign Pedro Alvarez. The A’s picked up Triggs on waivers, he split 2016 between Oakland and AAA Nashville and here he is in 2017, 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. Yes, he’s 28 years old so he’s not exactly a prospect, but stats like that would be vastly preferable to the “Which Ubaldo Jimenez is showing up today?” situation there is now.

I’m in my sixth year of posting customs, and one thing I’ve attempted every so often is a series I call “Dude need a card!”, with the general idea being to feature players who have been ignored by Topps and Panini. I’ve decided to revive the “Dude!” series with a focus on Mets and Orioles.

Mets catcher Rene Rivera is technically a backup, but he gets into his share of games because of his skills behind the plate, even if he doesn’t have offensive stats that impress.

Rivera is in his second year with the Mets and started last fall’s NL Wild Card game, but his only Mets cardboard appearance so far is in 2016 Topps Update.

The Oriole “Dude” is a little bit of a stretch, as he has appeared in the 2017 Topps retail Orioles team set and should appear in Topps Series 2, but given the paucity of cardboard since his MLB debut in 2015 I declare that Mychal Givens is a dude who needs a card.

Givens was a shortstop during his first three years in the Orioles organization, but was converted to a reliever and that was what got him to the Majors. This year, he’s pitched 12 innings in 10 appearances, is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, a 1.000 WHIP and has 11 strikeouts to just 3 walks.

2017 TSR: The First Official Pack

“If I could produce my own card set, what would it be like?”

That’s the question I ask myself every year when I create my virtual TSR set (…which is called ‘TSR’ because I used the initialism of “The Shlabotnik Report” as a placeholder name and then couldn’t think of anything better).

The succinct answer to that question is that my ideal card set would include managers, bench players and relievers… it would have a few inserts but still be about the base set… and most importantly, would have an original design which would look like something produced in the 1960’s, 1970’s or 1980’s.

Furthermore, such a set would be issued in four 198-card series and work as a ongoing document of the season in progress… Something which falls between the static “This is where a couple of hundred players were in early January” and the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time (or money) For This” beast that is Topps Now.

This is what I generally strive for, and was what I was striving for in the previous five TSR sets.

Last week I featured some “promo cards” from my custom set because I was ill-prepared for the “official release” – such as it is.  Thanks to a poopstorm at work, I’m still not completely ready, but…

Anyway, Let’s get to the wax pack, which is a true wax pack wrapped in wax paper, oh, yessirree Bob, you’d better believe it!

After all, there are no relics, autographs or 1/1’s in this set, so there’s no need for high-tech tamper-resistant stuff.

First card…

One of the things I noticed with last week’s “promo cards” was that the drop shadows which looked cool and seemed to make the lettering “pop” on my laptop sometimes just served to make the lettering look blurry when viewed at smaller size, like on a phone. Certain color combos look worse than others, so I might end up taking a cue from 1968 Topps and tweaking the design for the second series.

Here’s the first subset of the year, a Highlights card featuring the Braves new ballpark. I feel like Topps Now has supplanted proper “Highlights” cards to some degree, but it’s interesting that there wasn’t a Topps Now card for a new home field. Granted, a new ballpark is not a once-in-a-generation event that it used to be, but still…

From what I’ve seen SunTrust Park has opened to positive reviews, which I view as something of a disappointment because the Braves and their “Screw the fans, we’ll go where the money takes us” attitude is little too NFL for me.

I don’t believe that Jerry Blevins has appeared on cardboard since 2014, which means he hasn’t been shown in a Mets uniform yet… despite making 73 appearances last year with a 2.79 ERA and 11.1 K’s per 9 innings.

…But he’s a reliever with only 2 saves, so clearly nobody cares about him.

Rick Renteria puts me in a rooting bind. I’d like to see him do well because he was let go by the Cubs solely for the reason that Joe Maddon became available.

…but I really don’t like the White Sox and generally enjoy seeing them suffer. Sorry, White Sox fans… it’s not you, it’s Jerry Reinsdorf.

Wrapping up with Eric Thames, who played with the Blue Jays and Mariners before going to Korea for 3 seasons where he hit 124 homers and became Korea’s first 40-40 guy.

The Brewers signed Thames to a 3-year contract and cut Chris Carter loose to make room for Thames. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. So far he’s panning out pretty well with 5 homers and 10 RBI in 10 games.

That’s the end of this week’s pack.  We’ll see what innovations and design tweaks come in next week’s pack!

“Promo Cards” For My 2017 TSR Custom Set

As I’ve done every April since 2012 (yikes!), I would like to unveil my 2017 TSR custom baseball card set by opening a virtual pack!

Emphasis on “would like to”… while I would like to, I’m unfortunately not able to… not this week, anyway.  I’m already a week past my Opening Day target date, and all I have ready is a vertical base card design which is set up for 8 teams.

Under better circumstances (i.e. had I not waffled between two potential designs for all of February and part of March) I would’ve presented a virtual pack for us to go through…. but that would require a design for a wrapper.  I’d also include at least one or two inserts, possibly a horizontal card… all of which exist only in my head.

What I do have is a handful of customs I created as a “dress rehearsal” to make sure that the design works for different color combinations I had in mind, that it worked for player and team names of varying lengths (i.e. CUBS, DIAMONDBACKS).

I don’t have anything else to post today… so I’ll call these “promo cards” and work towards having a more fulfilling experience next week.

I’m always willing to suck up to my readership, so if there’s a particular player or team you’d like to see on a TSR card, leave a comment and I will do my best to get something in the first official pack.

Since I call these promo cards, I feel like they should be accompanied by some sort of sales pitch, so…

Contact your TSR sales representative to find out how TSR cards can:

  • Drive traffic to your stores!
  • Increase profit margins!
  • Improve customer loyalty and employee morale!
  • Give your store a distinctive fresh aroma and…
  • Qualify your business for tax-exempt status!