Conlan On A Conlan? Bowman On A Bowman?

After a recent custom of Mets rookie pitcher P.J. Conlon, Jeremy over at the Topps Cards That Never Were blog asked “Has anyone made a Conlon card of Conlon?”

…Meaning, of course, whether P.J. Conlon had ever been the subject of a custom card in the style of the Conlon Collection cards of the 1990’s.

I was chagrined that I never thought of this myself.

I mean, I did once put Aaron Judge on an Old Judge.

…But Conlon on a Conlon? This was a project I was definitely going to have to take on.

And so…

…but the Conlon Collection design is a bit uninteresting and largely straightforward (even if I couldn’t get the fonts quite right) so I started to think about something more challenging and appealing. I got to wondering what other similar baseball card brand and player combinations I could come up with.

There’s Cardinal Matthew Bowman on a 1951 Bowman…

…Legendary Indians pitcher Herb Score on a 1988 Score…

In a bit of a stretch, DeJong on a DeLong…

Making a custom of the 1933 DeLong set was the biggest challenge of the bunch, and the most fun as well.

I thought about making a custom of Wally Post on a Post cereal card, but then realized that Wally already *had* been on a 1962 Post card, so that took the wind out of those particular sails.

I tried my best to come up with others, but there just aren’t any Major Leaguers named “Fleer”, “Mother’s” or “Leaf”. Can anyone come up with any combos I missed?

Most of my custom efforts this week were devoted to the project I just shared, but I have certain cards I’m determined to feature each week, so let’s get to those…

For the 1988 Topps Tribute of the week, all of the players who were outstanding last week have either been on an 88T custom already or weren’t players I really wanted to feature, so I went with the A.L. Pitcher of the Month for May, Justin Verlander.

It wasn’t until this past week when I looked at the standings and saw “SEATTLE” at the top of the A.L. West that I said “Hey, the Mariners are really good this year!” So much attention has been on the World Champion Astros and the Ohtani Angels that it seemed like the Mariners came out of nowhere, even though I can see on the M’s Baseball Reference Schedule/Results Page that they’ve never been more than 3.5 games out all season.

As a result, Mariners manager Scott Servais gets this week’s Managerial custom.

As for my Mets and Orioles… well… it’s been a long season already.  The Mets have lost 19 of the past 24 games, and the Orioles have lost 9 in a row and are on a pace to lose 117 games.

There’s nobody from either team’s offense which deserves any sort of commemoration this week, so I’ll feature Steven Matz and Kevin Gausman, who starting pitchers who pitched reasonably well this week.

Hopefully the coming week will feature some Mets and Orioles performances that deserve some custom commemoration.


2018 TSR: I Can Make It Longer If You Like The Style, I Can Change It ‘Round

Once again, I didn’t have a subject line in mind for my weekly virtual pack of custom baseball cards, so I used a line from a well-known song.  If you can’t quite place it, the video is at the end of the post.

Over the offseason it was clear that the Orioles needed pitching.  One of the pitchers they signed was former Tampa Bay Ray Alex Cobb.  Like many on the Orioles pitching staff, Cobb has been a disappointment… until…

This past week saw the arrival of a series I never look forward to, that time when my two teams (Mets and Orioles) face off against each other.  Naturally, Cobb puts in his best performance of the season (6.0 IP, 2 hits, 1 run, 7 K’s, 1 BB) against the Mets.  Granted the Mets aren’t putting up much of an offensive fight against anyone these days…

P.J. Conlon isn’t currently on the Mets 25-man roster, but he has an interesting background.  Although he grew up in California, Conlon is the first Irish-born player in the Majors since the Senators’ Joe Cleary in 1945.

According to Baseball Reference, Conlon is the 49th Irish-born pitcher in the Majors; only he and Cleary were born after 1901.

On June 2nd, the Mets lost Conlon on waivers to the Dodgers. Conlon was assigned to AAA Oklahoma City but before he appeared in a game, the Mets claimed him back on waivers.

Manager card of the week… The Cubs have been less-than-dominant this season, at times briefly finding themselves in fourth place. They’ve been on a tear lately and are currently a half-game behind the Brewers, so Joe Maddon gets himself a card.

Rookie Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez also hasn’t been dominant, although he did pitch well against the Phillies on June 3rd.

What makes him a pitcher of note is that he’s the son of Hall-of-Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. Dereck was born early on in Pudge’s MLB career.

Time for a couple of throwback customs… First off is our 1988 Tribute card of the week, as always included because Topps decided to use the design for Major League Soccer instead of Major League Baseball.

This week I decided to go with a smaller market and I made a custom for the Twins’ Eddie Rosario.

This past week Rosario batted .379 with 7 runs and 7 RBI with a double and four homers.  On the season he’s batting .318 with 14 homers, 40 runs and 43 RBI.

Rosario’s numbers were good enough that I picked him up for my fantasy team, while dropping Justin Turner, who is continuing to have issues with his wrist…

..and who is the subject of the latest “Pointless Pairings” insert.

Finally, Stephen Colbert brought his Late Show crew to Citi Field this past Friday for kickoff of the Mets/Yankees series. I ran across a posed photo that I wanted to use for *something*, but I wasn’t sure what.

…And then I thought about some 1955 Bowman cards I saw while poking around the Burdick Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website and I said “Oh, of course!”

I also stumbled across a video… or at the time, a “promotional film”… that I’d never seen before. It’s for the Beatles’ song Paperback Writer, the source of today’s subject line.

2018 TSR: Mistakes May Have Been Made…

Quick comment for anyone who’s new to The Shlabotnik Report… we’re about to “open a pack” of virtual baseball cards, some of my own design, others are a tribute to past sets.

So… I’m beginning to wonder if I screwed up in my post this past Friday where I selected the 3 Braves and Yankees who would represent their teams in a fictional card set which mirrors the 1964 Topps “Giants” set.  For the Braves I chose Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies…

…To which Mike Foltynewicz says “Leave me out of your stupid set’s checklist, willya?”

In an effort to make me look foolish, Foltynewicz has not given up more than a single earned run in each of his last five starts, including Friday night’s two-hit shutout of the Nationals. In that game Folty retired 20 Nats in a row, and over his last five starts he has an 0.56 ERA, 37 K’s and 17 hits allowed over 32 innings.

Hey, speaking of the Braves… Do you know which golfer recently qualified for the U.S. Seniors Open?  Why none other than Braves HOFer John Smoltz!

Among the players who Smoltz beat out was Football HOFer John Elway.

What can I say about the Orioles this year? Before the season started, some thought they had a chance at a wild card spot. Instead they currently have the worst record in the major leagues and are getting ready to trade off players who are in their walk year.

None of this is the fault of Jace Peterson, who was claimed on waivers in April and has been starting a number of games at third base, even though he’s played the majority of his Major League games at second.

While he’s struggling at the plate, I understand he plays a respectable third base. I don’t know firsthand because I have to admit I’ve watched very little of the Orioles lately.

By contrast, the Tigers started tearing things down last season, but they’ve won 4 straight and 8 out of 10 to get up to 2nd place in the admittedly mediocre AL Central.

Maybe the Orioles need a “Rally Goose”…

I couldn’t decide who to make my “Met of the Week” so I went with the guy who had the best stats for the week: Outfielder Brandon Nimmo.

This past week Nimmo batted .390 with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 6 runs, 7 RBI and 2 stolen bases.  I almost went with Amed Rosario;  he’ll probably be the Mets card next week unless somebody convinces me otherwise.

Time for the 1988 Tribute of the week, where I create the 30th anniversary insert set that Topps didn’t. This week’s subject is the Indians’ Jose Ramirez:

For the week, Ramirez batted .367 with 3 doubles, 4 homers, 9 runs and 6 RBI.

To finish things off with another “insert”…  It’s been a while since I included an sheet of U-KNOW-M stamps – “You’ll love ’em because U-KNOW-M” – in a pack.  Can you guess what Ludwig Von Drake, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, “Poppin’ Fresh” (aka the Pillsbury Doughboy) and Boris Badenov have in common?

All four were originally voiced by Paul Frees, who did an amazing amount of voice work and narration over his lifetime. The other day I was discussing the Don Knotts movie “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” with friends – when I was a kid it was in heavy rotation on the local channel’s weekday afternoon movie – and somehow Crusty The Crab from that movie evolved into a discussion of the man who gave voice to Crusty… Paul Frees. Among other roles of his were Santa Claus from “Frosty The Snowman”, John Lennon and George Harrison from the early 1960’s Beatles cartoon, Morocco Mole (sidekick to Secret Squirrel), Inspector Fenwick (“Dudley Do-Right”), Fred (“Super Chicken”), Ape (the original “George Of The Jungle”), Ben Grimm from the 1960’s Fantastic Four cartoon, the mega-computer Colossus from “Colossus: The Forbin Project” and the narrator of the classic ultra-low-budget 1970’s parody film “Hardware Wars”.

I understand that if you’re under a certain age (which I won’t guess at) you’re not going to know what I’m talking about, but trust me, it’s impressive.

2018 TSR: Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard

“And I’m on my way… I don’t know where I’m goin’, I’m on my way.  Takin’ my time, but I don’t know where…”

I never expected to do a series of cards featuring Jose Bautista, but when the Mets picked him up to fill in for some injured players I wanted to capture this moment in Mets history so that down the road I can say “Oh, I almost forgot that Joey Bats played for the Mets”.

Here’s some trivia for you… this is actually the *second* time that Bautista has been on the Mets roster, but the first time was for just a few minutes between trades, and by the time Bautista found out he’d been a Met he no longer was. Here’s the way it played out… in late 2003, the Orioles selected Bautista from the Pirates in the Rule V draft. He made it to early June before the Orioles gave up on him and the Devil Rays picked him up on waivers. A few weeks after that, the Royals purchased him from Tampa Bay. In late July the Royals traded him to the Mets, who flipped him to the Pirates in a trade that also involved Kris Benson and Ty Wigginton. It wasn’t until 2010 that Bautista broke out with the Blue Jays and the rest is history.

A couple of years ago, a young minor league pitcher named Aaron Nola impressed me in a game I went to, and now that he’s in the majors he’s a player I collect, if somewhat passively.

Last night he took a no-hitter into the 7th by retiring 18 straight batters.  He didn’t get the no-no, but he pitched the Phillies to a win over the Blue Jays, and now the Phillies have sole possession of first place, so that’s kind of a mixed bag for this Mets fan.

Dylan Bundy also pitched an impressive game recently, pitching a complete game two-hitter against the White Sox.

The fact that Bundy and teammates Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner (plus two other  pitchers) are all tied for the American League “lead” with 6 losses goes a long way towards giving you an idea of how big of a performance this was for the Orioles.  It’s been a long season at Camden Yards, and it doesn’t show many signs of improving.

Just when I say “This is the last guy I’m featuring who pitched in Japan last year”, I find another. Chris Martin came up through the Red Sox system, pitched one season for the Rockies and their AAA affiliate (and got on a 2014 Topps Update card), another for the Yankees and their AAA affiliate and then went to Japan to pitch for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Over two seasons with the Fighters Martin made 92 appearances and rocked a 1.12 ERA and a 0.668 WHIP. The Rangers gave him a chance this year, and although a 4.00 ERA is nothing to write home about, some of his other numbers look pretty good to me.

The Brewers have gone 8-2 over their last 10 games, earning Craig Counsell the “Manager Card of the Week”.

As I write this the Brewers are in first place, 4 games up on the Cardinals and Pirates and 4.5 on the Cubs.

This week’s 1988 tribute is for Mike Trout, who many say is the best player in baseball.

One can also make the argument that Trout is the best player in the just-concluded week.  From Sunday to Saturday he went 8 for 17 with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 9 runs, 6 RBI and 10 walks.  He got on base for 2/3rd of his plate appearances!

A few weeks ago, something I saw in my internet wanderings told me that the WNBA’s Chicago Sky drafted Diamond DeShields with their first round pick, 3rd overall.

“Diamond DeShields?”, said I… “Gotta be related. GOTTA BE.

Sure enough, she’s the daughter of Delino L. DeShields (who played for five MLB teams from 1990 to 2002) and the sister of Delino D. DeShields (in his 4th year with the Texas Rangers).  Interestingly enough, all three of them were drafted in the first round; Delino the elder by the Expos in 1988 and Delino the younger by the Astros in 2010.

The subject line for this post was meant as a placeholder – the song was playing on the radio when I was looking for a subject line – but then I remembered that the video for Paul Simon’s “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” has cameos by Mickey Mantle and John Madden towards the end, so hey… gotta love that.  Oh, and the slam-dunking “nerd” is Spud Webb.

The video was made for a 1988 greatest hits compilation, 16 years after the song was originally released… in case you were wondering why a video for an early 1970’s song has Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts.

2018 TSR: I Don’t Like Mondays (Meaningless Post Title)

Without getting into too much detail, something reminded me of the band Boomtown Rats when I started writing this post, so I stuck in the title of their biggest song as a placeholder and then couldn’t think of anything better.

As always, this is a post featuring a number of custom baseball cards, most of which have a design of my own… um… design.

Let’s rip this pack open!

I decided to work in a few customs featuring teams I hadn’t done already, and one of those is the Marlins… and who better to represent the Marlins than “Jarlin The Marlin” (and if that’s not already a thing, why the heck isn’t it?)

Jarlin Garcia got off to a very nice start this season… 6 shutout relief innings against the Cubs and a decent appearance against the Phils convinced manager Don Mattingly to put him in as a starter. He no-hit the Mets for 6 innings before getting lifted because of the pitch count, and then he started against the Yankees with 4 more no-hit innings. After that he had two outings where he gave up one run each and at that point he had a 1.09 ERA… and then he seemed fall apart. Seven earned runs, four earned runs, another four… His overall number still aren’t bad, but April and May are two very different months for Jarlin the Marlin.

Because of the dearth of manager cards of late, A.J. Hinch hasn’t appeared on an in-pack card since 2016, although he had a Topps Now card last year. I ran across this shot of Hinch hitting balls to his team and couldn’t resist making a custom of it.

The Astros have the third-best record in the Majors, but they would never get the attention that the Yankees and Red Sox get.

By the way, Hinch’s first cardboard appearance came as a catcher in the “Team USA” subset in 1993 Topps.

Time for the “Glasses Guy” of the week. The Rays acquired Anthony Banda in a three-team trade this February, so he appears in Topps Series 1 and Opening Day with the Diamondbacks. He’s put up good numbers in the minors but has yet to make his mark in the Major Leagues.

In 2014, the Brewers traded two minor leaguers for Gerardo Parra… Those minor leaguers turned out to be Banda and Seattle Mariner Mitch Haniger.

I first became aware of Colin Moran because he’s B.J. Surhoff’s nephew, but he’s put up some good numbers as the Pirates starting 3rd baseman this year.

Moran was drafted by the Marlins and had two cups of coffee with the Astros before heading to Pittsburgh in the Gerrit Cole deal. He’s batting .284 with 15 runs and 21 RBI.

The Mets didn’t have any one player who particularly stood out this past week (and who hadn’t already been featured on a custom), so I went with Michael Conforto, who’s become a favorite of mine.

Conforto was an All-Star last year and a Topps Rookie All-Star in 2015.

There’s not a whole lot of good going on with the Orioles these days, but at least “awful” has been replaced by “mediocre”. For the time being, my weekly Oriole custom will feature players I like, such as outfielder Trey Mancini

I’d seen Mancini play in the minors, so that gives him a leg up on the competition, plus finished third in A.L. Rookie Of the Year voting last year… Of course, Aaron Judge got all of the first-place votes so there was no way that Mancini was going to win, but it’s still something to point out.

This week’s “insert” is the 1988 Topps throwback of the week, featuring Mookie Betts.

Mookie went 13 for 31 this past week, hit 3 doubles and 2 homers, scored 7 runs, drove in 5, stole 6 bases.  If your not impressed enough by those numbers, for the season so far Betts leads the Majors in batting, slugging, on-base percentage, hits, doubles, homers and total bases.

So It turns out I jumped the gun – sort of – when I said it looked like Topps is not doing anything to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1988 set. It turns out they’re using the 1988 design as an insert in a set which comes out this week – 2018 Topps Major League Soccer.  The following is a preview image.

Hm. While I enjoy watching soccer on occasion, I don’t follow any particular leagues or teams… So the only players on the checklist that I’m at all familiar with are Tim Howard and David Villa. Still I think I’m going to have to chase down one or two of these.

I know it would never have worked out this way anyway, but… wouldn’t it have been awesome if former MLS player Marvell Wynne were still active so he could be included in this tribute to a set that included his father?

Finally… Here’s the song referenced in the title and which, as I’ve said, has nothing to do with nothing.

2018 TSR: A Trade, A Debut And Mistaken Identity

In a season where Mets fans finally saw the “rotation of the future” – Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler – healthy and pitching at the same time, we ended up seeing one of those pitchers hit the road.

For those who haven’t kept up with the Mets, former All-Star and frequent insert subject Matt Harvey continued to struggle with the Mets this year. Demotion to the bullpen didn’t help, and when he refused a minor league assignment, as is his right, the Mets surprised many by designating Harvey for assignment. He got traded to the Reds, but you know that if the change of scenery improves his pitching to any significant degree, he’ll be flipped at the trading deadline.

In exchange for Harvey, the Mets got catcher Devin Mesoraco. With starter Travis d’Arnaud out for the season and backup Kevin Plawecki also out (but due back soon), the Mets needed someone who could be an improvement over Jose Lobaton and the not-ready-for-primetime Tomas Nido.

From all indications, Mesoraco has thrown himself into learning as much as he can about the Mets pitching staff, so the end result of this trade could come down to something as simple as whether Harvey and Mesoraco can stay healthy.

Orioles rookie David Hess made his MLB debut yesterday, pitched 6 innings, gave up six hits, no walks and three runs en route to his first Major League win. By 2018 Orioles standards, that’s a damn fine outing (and a godsend).

Hess has a follow-through that brings his right foot up over his head while his foot rotates around… I enjoy watching pitchers like that, I guess because I couldn’t even dream of being that flexible.

For this week’s Manager I went with Paul Molitor. His Twins have gone 8-2 over the last 10 games to get within a half game of first place… and yet they still have a losing record. I hadn’t realized that the first-place Indians are right at .500

Speaking of the AL Central, the White Sox have fallen apart, losing 9 of 10 and now have THE WORST RECORD IN BASEBALL, which comes as a relief to both the Orioles and Reds.

I read an article earlier this week about how Braves infielders Dansby Swanson and Charlie Culberson are often mistaken for each other. This amused me and I thought it deserved a “Pointless Pairings” insert.

Both Dansby and Charlie are Georgia natives of similar height and build and, as you can see, have similar faces and hair. TV networks have confused them in highlights, fans have asked one for an autograph thinking it was the other and — in spring training, anyway — players and coaches got the two of them confused.

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to be doing a 1988 Topps tribute insert set that Topps should have already been doing (not too late, dudes!). Each week I’ll be creating at least one custom using the 88T design. I intend to use players who were outstanding in the prior week and would likely be included in an insert set such as this.

Max Scherzer is 7-1, 1.69 so far this year, so there’s no need to justify his presence in this set. In two starts this past week (May 6 – 12) he pitched 13.1 innings and struck out 26 batters while giving up 2 runs and 9 hits.

Scherzer got a win against the Diamondbacks and a no-decision in a Nats win against the Phillies.

Odubel Herrera got some consideration as the subject of the 1988 set, but as a consolation prize he gets a double-throwback 1985 Fleer-ish custom.

Herrera has gotten on base in 40 consecutive games stretching back to last September. During this past week, he went 12-for-21 with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 7 runs scored, 10 RBI and a .654 On-base percentage.

2018 TSR: Hot Pack Featuring 88T 30th Anniversary Inserts

There used to be a series of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials where two people somehow collided and ended up saying “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” and “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”

In a similar way, two ideas of mine came together accidentally and I’m hoping the result works as well.

Along with last week’s virtual pack of customs, I made light of last week’s post being light on name players… but at the same time I grew concerned that I might be leaning too hard on my favorites (who aren’t always name players). I started thinking of ways to work bigger names into my vitual packs without straying too far into Topps Now territory.

Earlier this year I was hoping that Topps would somehow commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1988 set, but when it seemed that they would not do so I happily decided to fill the void.

This past Monday the first idea’s chocolate became firmly lodged in the peanut butter of my 1988 desires, and I hit on the idea of doing a 1988-style “insert” that would feature players who had put up big numbers over the course of the week leading up to each Sunday’s virtual pack.

That night, I did a test run with a player who had excelled in the prior week:

During the week of April 23rd to 29th, Votto batted .360, walked 9 times, scored 7 runs, drove in 8, hit a double and 4 homers… but that’s not exactly why or how I chose Votto.

In an attempt to minimize my own skewed methods of player selection, I used the points system from an online fantasy baseball league to determine who the top 5 or 6 points-getters were for the period, and then I picked Votto from that group. This is the method I’m going to use going forward with this “insert set”.

The reason I’m not going with “THE top player, period, end of story” is because I want to make sure that there’s some variety as we go along. I don’t want to have the same handful of teams represented all of the time, and there are times when a player isn’t at the tippy-top but may have a far more interesting story to tell.

As I go along creating 1988 Topps customs for the players who excelled over the course of a week, I hope to simulate, both in appearance and in checklist, the insert set that Topps could have been doing to commemorate the 30th anniversary of this underrated set.

For this week’s 1988 insert, I went with the Astros’ Gerrit Cole.

Last week Cole shut out the D-Backs and had a no-decision against the A’s, pitched 15.1 innings, allowed 7 hits and 3 earned runs and struck out 28 while walking just one.

Because I was having fun with the 88T template, and because I wanted to do a team which didn’t exist in 1988, I created another for National League Player of the Month for April, A.J. Pollock.

During the month of April Pollock batted .291, hit 8 doubles, 2 triples, 9 homers, stole 6 bases, scored 20 runs and drove in 24.

To wrap up these 88T inserts (but not this virtual pack), after I heard that Ichiro was stepping off the field for the rest of the season (while not actually retiring), and after I found a very Ichiro-y photo to work with, I made one last one:

Before we get to the “base cards”, here’s one last throwback for those who don’t follow me on Twitter (@Shlabotnik_Rpt) and didn’t see this when I posted it:

This was to commemorate Nick Kingham retiring the first 20 batters he faced in his MLB debut, and to commemorate the fact that I love 1985 Fleer.

OK, moving on to the base cards… The Braves called up Jose Bautista to play third base, and I couldn’t resist making a custom of him.

I also went with a “player of the week” theme for the rest of the customs. For the Orioles in 2018, Manny Machado has generally been the player of the game, of the week, of the month and of the season. This past week he batted .333 with 3 runs, 5 RBI, 2 doubles and a stolen base.

He’s also in a walk year and, to my thinking, he’s going to sign for big money elsewhere, plus there’s always “We stink with you, we can stink without you”. With the Dodgers losing Cory Seager for the season, the trade rumors have already started.

The Mets had a rough week, but Yoenis Cespedes isn’t going anywhere… not that I want him to. Yo batted .350 with a solo homer, two doubles and 4 runs scored.

Finally, I also used a “Who had a good week last week” method to pick the Manager card. The Yankees went 6-1 this past week, so manager Aaron Boone gets his moment in Shlabotnik Report fame.

In this photo, Boone is going to home plate with his lineup card… hopefully he didn’t get his lineup card in somebody’s peanut butter.