Sunday, April 28, 2013

Unique Unis

The game used phenomenon has come and gone, despite the fact that companies keep pumping the cards out by the thousands.  At this point, I look at relic cards as little more but glorified inserts.  If they're aesthetically pleasing, I'll add them.  But they certainly aren't something I pay a premium for.

Unfortunately, the entirety of my box breaking days came during the peak of relic-mania.  Those $50-70 boxes would yield one thrilling hit, now worth approximately the equivalent value of a loaf of bread.  And not even the good bread.  We're talking day old Italian here, folks.

Still, my box breaking days yielded some cool cards that for both sentimental reasons and the sheer fact that the cards literally are not worth selling at this point, will likely remain a part of my collection.

This Dale Murphy jersey card came from a box of 2003 Donruss Team Heroes, one of my all-time favorite sets.  What it lacks in vintage-ness (I believe this was the second most recent player on the checklist for the Timeline Threas cards, with the majority of the others being superstar HoF'er types), it certainly makes up for in uniqueness.  I love the distended seam that runs down the swatch, giving an already well designed card some extra character.

The Yogi jersey card is one of my favorite non-Pittsburgh pieces.  Yogi was my dad's favorite player, so it holds some special meaning to me.  On top of that, the card also features an awesome vintage swatch that looks even better in person.  It may not be as flashy as a patch card, but this chunk of Yankees road gray is perhaps the one area where game used cards got it right - putting a piece of baseball history into your hand.

The fancies of collectors seem to come and go in waves.  I doubt we'll ever see game used cards reach the fervor they did in the late 90's, or even the interest that some high end patches drummed up in the mid 2000's.  But I'll certainly enjoy the pieces already sitting in my collection.  After all, it's not like there's any reason to part with them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Some More Burried Treasure

 As I mentioned yesterday, a couple hours of digging through my non-Pirate boxes should theoretically calm any card-buying impulses I have.  That theory holds little water in reality.

But still, I came up with some more cool odds and ends this weekend.  I believe most or all of these cards came from a local mall show back in 2007 or so, when my collecting interests were still taking shape.  All I knew was back then I rarely came across vintage, and these cards seemed awesome for a buck or less.

A few years later, I still agree with myself.

The Brock is unquestionably the gem here.  I don't have the same appreciation for men holding bats that Dimebox Nick does, but even I have to admit that red bat is pretty awesome.  As are the ridiculous white stripes on the batting helmet.

 The Yaz is probably the card I'm least excited about out of this group.  But it's a nice vintage issue of a HOF'er, and in pretty good shape. 

I have always had a soft spot for cards that commemorate a particular date, whether it's playoff games, milestones, or individual accomplishments.  This card definitely fits the bill, even if the Bucs weren't in the series.  Brooks Robinson making a diving stop?  Just icing on the cake.
Another nice looking '71 here, this Wilhelm actually met a few collecting interests that I didn't even have when I picked it up.  Wilhelm's long and atypical career path took him to Chicago for just 3 games in 1970, so this card captures a very brief period in time at the twilight of one of the more unique HOF careers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Own Personal Dime Box

I have way too many cards.

There, I said it.

Ten thousand Pirate cards.  Four thousand autographs.  Fifteen hundred Steelers and Penguins   Probably a thousand more "odds and ends" cards that I consider in my PC.  Keeping all of that straight is daunting enough.

But tack on the tens of thousands of cards from various box breaks, my childhood collection, and lots that I broke up?  I've created my own dime box. 

My childhood collection is neatly organized by team and at one point was all cataloged in a spreadsheet.  Some cards have been moved, traded, or misplaced, but the structure remains pretty solid.  But that only takes me up through 2001 or thereabouts.  The rest?  Half a dozen monster boxes of commons, completed sets, near complete sets, vintage, inserts, and who knows what else.  On top of that, there is a box of nothing but cards I had pulled at one point or another to get signed.  That one needs desperately cleaned out, since many players in there have stopped signing through the mail or I no longer have IP access to.

The result?  A glorious scavenger hunt any time I stop by my parents' house.  I'm slowly weeding through everything and organizing the cards that catch my eye.  Not to mention the growing piles of cards to be dispersed to unsuspecting bloggers.

Our last trip back home yielded some fun, and long forgotten, favorites that have now safely secured their spot in my team binders.

 The dig yielded a nice array of new and old (assuming new means the 1990's).  I think the majority of these cards came from my local card shop, though the Rolen and Big Unit were both pack pulls way back when.

And really, how can I not love these cards?  Griffey, at the top of his game with his picturesque swing.  Rickey Henderson early in his career wearing those glorious A's unis.  A team in Milwaukee that I don't loathe.

The thing I think I enjoy the most out of these digs, this hodge podge of disparate collecting interests I have drudged up after laying dormant for years, is the array of uniforms that the players wear. 

 My memories of the 90's Astros are probably as tied to the blue and...goldish silver logo and color combination as it is to the Killer B's.  Long before Operation Shutwodn, I was actually a big Derek Bell fan.

And the Mariners teal uniforms were, and still are, the epitome of jersey perfection in my book.  For all of the drawbacks and sheer stupidity to the Moments & Milestones concept and it's million serial numbered cards, the set did offer some sweet vintage photos of some of my favorite childhood players.  I'll never much care for Randy Johnson as a Giant or Roger Clemens as a Yankee.  But offer them up to me as a Mariner, Astro, Blue Jay, or Red Sox and they'll almost certainly find a place in my collection.

And that's the best part about my own personal dime box dives.  It's a nostalgic trip back into my collection through both the players on the cards and the memories I have of pulling, sorting, and resorting those cards as a kid.  And now, every once in a while, pulling out a little piece of nostalgia I never even remember I had.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

And This Is Why I Don't Buy Blasters

I guess I've always been pretty lucky.  Since my early teens, I've always had regular access to card shows.  Some big, some small, some certainly better than others.  But whether it was a mall show every few months or a large show attracting dozens of dealers, I've always been able to count on a show to get my fix.

Maybe that's why I never really caught on to the whole blaster craze.  I stopped ripping wax for good around 2005.  There was a slight relapse in 2007 over a box of SPx, but I quickly got back on the wagon after an Alay Soler auto as my big hit.

It just never made financial sense to me.  I'm frugal.  Or as my fiancee likes to say, "cheap."  And I'm ok with that.  I've built what I think is a pretty nice collection without ever feeling buyer's remorse over a purchase.  That's something I could never say during my wax breaking days.

Part of me avoids the blaster aisle at Target because I'm desperately trying to avoid a wax relapse some 8 years later.  But part of me knows it just isn't worth it.  For that $20, I can fill some holes in my Pirate collection.  Or grab some nostalgic 90's Steeler cards.  Or, for the days when my collecting interests stray a bit too broad, pick up some odds and ends autos.

And at the monthly show this past weekend, that's just what I did.  The Pirates cards were slim pickings - I came home with around 100 new cards, but almost all were commons.  Same for Steelers and Pens.  But while digging through a box of $.10 Gypsy Queen commons to fill out my 2013 team set, I decided to flip through the small box of unmarked cards.

At a show, this usually means one of two things: junk cards in toploaders, or overpriced hits.  The seller usually has pretty fair prices, and a wide selection of new product, so I figured at worst it would be the latter...and it never hurts to look. 

Much to my surprise, the second card in the stack was a James Shields auto.  With a $2 price tag.  Two dollars?  This must be a mistake.  There was a Brock Holt auto sitting out on the table tempting me at an inflated $8.  How could James Shields possible be $2?  A throw-in to the Joel Hanrahan trade for 4X the price of the player who the Royals sold the farm for?

As I kept flipping through the stack, I noticed about half a dozen Gypsy Queen autos at the same $2 price tag.  I passed on most, since it looked to be the standard array of middling "rookie" autos.  But these two beauties came home with the total price of a pack.

Another table had your typical gu/auto blowout sale, mostly consisting of no-name Press Pass autos and relic cards.  But for another $2, this Brian Roberts jumped out at me.

Roberts is an auto I have been after for a couple years.  I loved the O's as a kid, and have shared a tortured fan bond with the team for most of the 00's (the same love can not be said of the Ravens). 

The last couple years I have been doing an autograph exchange with an autograph collector in Maryland - I get stuff signed for him at Piratefest, and he gets my stuff signed at O's Fest.  But each year Roberts has eluded me, probably due to his popularity in O's country.

Just getting a Roberts auto - and he sure does have a nice signature - would have made me thrilled for $2.  Add in a throwback jersey?  AND from 2005 Zenith, one of my top 3 favorite sets of all time?

For a grand total of $6, I picked up autographs of 3 All-Stars.  Now do you see why I don't open blasters?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Back When Game Used Cards Seemed Cool

I think it can be universally acknowledge that relic cards have lost their luster with the collecting public.  Between authenticity issues, lame photoshoot jerseys, and the general staleness of a concept that is now 15 years old, collectors seemed to have moved on.  Of course nobody bothered mentioning this to card companies, who continue churning out thousands upon thousands of hideous jersey swatches.

But perhaps there are a half dozen game used card collectors out there who are absolutely in heaven right now.

But what feels like a collecting lifetime ago, game used cards were the coolest thing out there.  Most autographs were out of my budget, full game used items seemed a world away, and these little pieces of fabric just looked so damn cool.

I never went too far out of my way to purchase jersey cards - only enjoying what I pulled from packs.  Except for patch cards.  The array of colors just made the cards seem that much more exciting, and of course the comparative rarity made me feel like I had something special. 

I don't think I paid more than $4-5 for any of the cards in this post.  Of course I would undoubtedly be able to get more hobby mileage out of those funds now.  Maybe the patches don't have quite the appeal they did then.  All three players featured have definitely lost their hobby luster, and I doubt the cards would have much value sale or trade-wise.  I probably don't enjoy them as much as I should, and definitely don't look at them as much as I could.  But it's nice to see some fresh colors in my collection, some relics of a time when relics mattered. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hidden Treasures

There are a lot of things that frustrate me about Bowman releases, not the least of which being the complete lack of Pirates over the past decade.  But from time to time the product has its benefits.

Bowman Chrome autos are a double edged sword.  For the budget-conscious collector, autos of even the lowliest of players on a Chrome card tend to send its price north of what I consider it "worth," and that is even more true for legitimate prospects.  It also means that it can often take years after a set's release for a player to pan out.

While flipping through some album pages the other day, I came across a card that caught my eye.

I have a Michael Bourn auto?  And a shiny X-Fractor at that?  News to me.  After a little more digging in my memory bank, I remembered how this card found its way into my collection.

I pulled both the Bourn and Cliff Pennington below on the same day while busting packs at the LCS (back when my collecting interests were even less focused than they are now, and my LCS trips far more frequent).  I can't remember if the cards are from the same box (or even the same product, since I don't have the cards in front of me to check if they're from Chrome of Draft).  At the time I was familiar with both players, but knew they weren't any of the hot ticket cards in the set at the time.  I remember being particularly unimpressed with Pennington, since he seemed - and looked - far too similar to A's SS Bobby Crosby.

It's a pleasant surprise to see that both players have developed into solid major league regulars since then.  Perhaps it's equally a testament to how infrequently I have looked at my non-Pittsburgh cards in the last few years.  That's something this blog, and the blogosphere in general, are quickly helping to change.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Digging in the Dollar Bin

I primarily stick to autos of lower end players, both for ttm mailings and for certified auto pickups.  There's a certain appeal to the unsung hero.  And my wallet certainly appreciates it, since it allows me to keep most of my card budget focused on my black and gold additions.  But every once in a while, some stars find their way into my collection in the most unexpected of ways.

At card show a few months ago, I came across an dealer with a box of autos marked $1.  I almost didn't look, but I'm glad I did.  Apparently the guy bought up a collection, and was looking to offload the uncertified autos.  Most were good ttm signers who I had little interest in, but I found a few gems, including half a dozen Steeler autos that will pop up on Battlin' Bucs.

  The Smits auto was undoubtedly the prize of the day.  I loved basketball in the 90's, and the Smits and Reggie Miller led Pacers teams were among my favorites.  I've also always enjoyed the Hoops sets, so it's a double win in my book.

The Smits may be the prize, but in pure star-appeal, this Tony LaRussa auto probably takes the cake of the bunch.  It's not perfect - I would have preferred a Cardinals or A's uni over this early-career Sox card.  But after a number of failed TTM attempts to my most hated division rival, I can't complain.
The Jaws pickup was a bit more impulsive.  I never saw him as a player, but have always enjoyed his work as a broadcaster, and he was someone I had wanted an auto of but missed the boat on his TTM days.

Unlike the LaRussa, I'm thrilled this Dye is in a less familiar uniform.  Even though I loathed the 90's Braves teams, I was captivated by Jermaine Dye's play during the '96 season, his lone season in Atlanta.  Imagine the Braves impressive run had they kept Dye.  For $4 total, these are some great additions.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Center from Down Under

I don't follow basketball nearly as much as I used to.  But growing up, it was probably my favorite sport.  And nobody could hold a candle to the 90's Bulls in terms of popularity or on-court excitement.  The teams seemed stacked offensively...except for center.  In comparison, center Luc Longley just seemed...average when surrounded by some of the game's all time greats.  But he did wear my favorite number - 13.

These TSC Dot Matrix parallels look far better in person than the scanner shows.  I pulled this beauty out of a dime box a few months back.  A worthy investment for a little piece of nostalgia.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Little Unit

Please excuse the incredibly awkward title.  Some sports nicknames are just pass up.

Many baseball fans have probably forgotten about The Little Unit.  An entire generation of baseball fans have no idea just how big of a deal he was.

For the uninitiated, Ryan Anderson is one of the defining tales on how talent, promise, and can't miss prospects are things that can mean very little in the game of baseball.  A first round selection by the Mariners, and topped the club's Basebal America prospect list every season from 1998 to 2002, ranking in the top 25 of BA's top 100 each season and making the top 10 in 3 of the 5. 

And unlike some prospects who earn high grades based of projectability or promise, Anderson backed it up on the field.  Nicknamed the Little Unit due to his 6'10" 200+lb frame that resembled Mariners ace the Big Unit Randy Johnson both in stature and fastball velocity, Anderson blew through the majors.  By age 20, he put up a 3.98 era with 146 K's in 104 innings in the absurdly hitter-friendly AAA PCL.  Let me slow that down:

12.6 K/9
                      age 20

And that's about where it all fell apart.  Anderson pitched 27 innings over the next 5 years, as injuries and questions over his work ethic sent his career off course.  By 25, he was out of baseball.

During COMC's recent spring cleaning sale, I found this Little Unit auto for a whopping $.58.  It had to be in my collection, a reminder of what could have been, but also perhaps a reminder that there is no such thing as a sure thing in baseball.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Well, at least it looks good in retrospect...

I'm a uniform junkie.  And nothing comes closer to my heart than throwback uniforms.  Well, except for MLB's Turn Ahead the Clock jerseys.  I may have been the only idiot out there who loved that concept when it actually happened.

But one thing stuck out to me: as pro football teams celebrate their early playing days' heritage, the throwbacks just look...well, plain.  The simplicity of the jerseys contrasts well with the super busy, swooshed and piped and striped jerseys we're so familiar with today.  But what about in their own time?

I've recently been doing some tangential research on Pittsburgh's semi-pro football teams for a book I'm writing.  One thing that struck me as I spent hours pouring over archive images:  for semi-pro and sandlot teams, these guys have nice uniforms.

Here's a card I snagged out of a dime box. Reggie White sports the Packers' throwback uni from the 1994 season.  Nice, sleek uniforms reproducing what I believe is a 1940's Packers design.  Nice, right?

But for a pro football team?  See, in the multi-billion dollar sports world in which we live, it's easy to forget that pro sports weren't always so well off.  Or even in the black some years.

So back to my original point, below ol' Reggie is a photo of the Garfield Eagles, a black Pittsburgh-area semi-pro football team circa the late 1920's.  If you click the photo, you can get a better look at the uniforms.  For the foreground players, the uniforms don't look too dissimilar from the Pack's.  In fact, I kind of like the diamond design a bit better.  If you look at the player in the back right corner, you can see the Eagle logo on the chest of their other jersey design. 

Pretty snazzy, huh?  Though pure speculation in this case, it wouldn't be out of the question for semi-pro teams like the Eagles to draw larger crowds (and thus more gate money) than their professional counterparts in the early 20th century.  The personal and community connections to the team and players often draw large crowds, particularly to see the most talented semi-pro clubs.  You know, back when a backup middle infielder didn't make millions and owners sold their teams for thousands of dollars (assuming the team didn't go bankrupt first), not for billions.