Friday, February 27, 2015

Food-Issue Friday: Orange Ya Glad...

Knock, knock.

Who's there?



Crappy banana card who?



Knock, knock.

Who's there?



Crappy banana card who?



Knock, knock.

Who's there?



Crappy banana card who?



Knock, knock.

Who's there?





Orange who?





Orange ya glad I didn't show another crappy banana card?!


I've been on an Upper Deck kick for the last couple of weeks. I don't even remember why I started looking up cards from the Carlsbad, CA company, but I did, and in the process found some pretty sweet stuff that I never knew existed.

One of those I discovered was the 2005 UD/Sunkist set produced for Little League Baseball, of which Sunkist was a sponsor. The five cards in the set were distributed in specially marked bags of Sunkist oranges and included Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Stan Musial and were used to help promote healthier food choices for the obese children of America.

To sweeten the deal, a contest was held from April 1st (when the cards first began showing up in the produce aisles) through May 16th (the last day for entries to be postmarked), in which a $5,000 home field makeover was awarded to the winner to be used for field improvements. Oh, yes, there was also that three-month supply of Sunkist oranges. Gotta promote healthy after-game treats, after all. For a chance to win, all contestants (coaches) had to do was submit photos of their Little League team showing off their 'Sunkist Smile' (smile with a wedge in your mouth).

But that wasn't all...three first-place winners were awarded $500 worth of equipment as well as- you guessed it- oranges. Probably a lot of them, too.




I have never been a big fan of black and white photos on baseball cards. There have been a few exceptions, but none as great as this set. The bright, warm orange and yellows are a perfect contrast to the dark photo.

Five a Day? I'd take ten a day if the set was large enough. And that's no joke.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Base(ball) Oddity #29: Woolworth Reunion


As we were gettting coffee in the breakroom a couple of days ago, a co-worker told me she was taking an extended lunch that afternoon in order to take part in a reunion. She had worked at a Woolworth's department store for eight years prior to coming to work for our current employer and she had been contacted about a get-together over lunch. She was excited to see some old faces, as it had been thirty years since she had seen any of her former associates. Her excitement carried over to me, and I decided I'd have my own Woolworth reunion.

It hasn't been nearly that long since I've laid eyes on some of the Woolworth cards that I have, from sets that started appearing in the department store chain over 30 years ago. 




Produced by Topps, the sets ran for seven straight years, from 1985 through 1991. Oddly, there was no mention of Woolworths on either of the 1985 or 1986 sets, which can create a lot of confusion when trying to catalog your collection. For the longest time I couldn't figure out what set this '86 Murphy card came out of. 



Each set consisted of 33 cards- except the 1985 set, which contained 44 cards. That original set also was the only one to feature retired legends of the game, while every other year included current players. Sets from 1987 and beyond included 15 World Series Highlights cards and 18 regular cards.



Of course, Murph never got the chance to play in a World Series, but he did make two of the Highlight part of the sets- one for blasting 2 homers in an inning against San Francisco...




... and for hitting career Home Run number 375 on September 13th off Rick Sutcliff of the Cubs.




I enjoyed reminiscing during our little reunion. And Dale doesn't look like he's aged at all.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Product Checklist: 2015 Heritage Atlanta Braves



Topps released the checklist yesterday for 2015 Heritage and like with the 2015 Topps flagship product, Braves fans are getting one last chance to say goodbye to a number of players no longer on the team.

10 Julio Teheran
32 Andrelton Simmons
38 BJ Upton (no Melvin Jr. on this one, I'm afraid)
56 Kris Medlen
79 Emilio Bonifacio
91 Nick Markakis
130 Evan Gattis
133 Mike Minor
154 Chris Johnson
200 Freddie Freeman
219 Justin Upton/Mike Stanton/ Adrian Gonzalez LL
236 Ervin Santana
326 Team Card
334 Alex Wood
387 Shelby Miller
436 Justin Upton SP
472 Craig Kimbrel SP




Clubhouse Collection Relics
     #CCR-EG Evan Gattis
     #CCR-FF Freddie Freeman
     #CCR-HA Hank Aaron
     #CCR-JH Jason Heyward

Clubhouse Collection Autograph Relics
     #CCAR-FF Freddie Freeman

Clubhouse Collection Dual Autograph Relics
     #CCDAR-AF Hank Aaron/Freddie Freeman
     #CCDAR-NT Phil Niekro/Julio Teheran

Clubhouse Collection Dual Relics
    #CCDR-AH  Hank Aaron/Jason Heyward

Clubhouse Collection Triple Relics
    #CCTR-AHU Hank Aaron/Jason Heyward/Justin Upton

Flashback Autograph Relics
     #FAR-HA Hank Aaron

Real One Autographs
     #ROA-PN Phil Niekro

Real One Dual Autographs
     #RODA-AF Hank Aaron/Freddie Freeman
     #RODA-NT Phil Niekro/Julio Teheran
















1966 Baseball Punchboards Boxloader Autographs
     #66PA-PN Phil Niekro

1966 Baseball Punchboards Boxloader Relics
     #66PR-JT Julio Teheran
     #66PR-JU Justin Upton

1966 Player Cut Signatures
    #66PCS-JB Johnny Blanchard

1966 Mint
    #66M-EM Eddie Mathews
    #66M-PH Phil Niekro

1966 US Postal Stamp
    #66US-EM Eddie Mathews
    #66US-PN Phil Niekro




One thing of note: Jason Heyward is listed as a member of the Cardinals for card number 201, one number higher than pal Freddie Freeman. However,  JHey is shown as a member of the Braves in the Clubhouse Collection. I had not planned on picking up any of the CC relic cards, but will probably make an exception so that I can have one last Heritage card of the right fielder.

It will be interesting to see the photo selection Topps used for the cards featuring Braves players. The 1966 set featured many Braves players without hats, since the team's home for the upcoming season was up in the air as the National League spent the 1965 offseason and much of the 1966 season in the courtrooms, battling the state of Wisconsin over the team.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Annual Spahning

As one who is a team set collector, I can't help but feel that if I don't have every insert card produced with a Brave player on it, then my team set is somehow incomplete.

Slowly, but surely, I'm discovering that this is impossible. Rainbow parallels, low numbered hits, and cards that are just plain unappealing to me have not only spared me many a headache, but have saved me from bankruptcy as well. 

One player I know I'll be adding to each team set year after year is none other than the great Warren Spahn. 

The lefty has been a fixture in Topps sets for a number of years now. And though it would be good to see the card manufacturer mix in some fresh faces, it's nice to see a player like Spahn getting recognition, as I truly believe he's the most under appreciated pitcher in baseball history- at least in the post-war era.




I like the design of this 'flashback' set- only I find it to be something that would fit better in Heritage, since that's the set that is designed to tie current players and card sets to those of the past. Beautiful design, however, and I also like the card a/b concept.


Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the Highlight of the Year insert set. I like the concept, but the card front is horrible. I could have photoshopped something better than this. I do like the design for the back of the card, however.















If you use the Topps Bunt app, then you are probably aware of the number of  'insert' sets that Topps has included  in its 'packs.' I wish that they would have a team who puts as much effort into the design of the cardboard offerings than those who are involved in the digital cards. While Series 1 does have some nice inserts,  let's hope that we see some of that creativity from the digital side in Series 2.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ginter Glaus 'n Glavine, Gordon

'I got something to say, yeah, it's better to burn out than fade away'- Def Leppard's Rock of Ages (borrowing the lyric from Neil Young's Hey Hey, My My (Out of the Blue))

Earlier this past week I had a 'discussion' on Twitter with journalist and author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass and Stars and Strikes, Dan Epstein. Dan had posted a link to a video from Def Leppard's debut album, On Through the Night. I commented on how good their first three albums were and a discussion of the band and their guitarist, Vivian Campbell, ensued.



I didn't mentioned it to Dan, but I consider Def Leppard to be one of the biggest disappointments in rock history, second only to Aerosmith. Each band had an amazing catalog earlier in their career, only to sell out to commercialism. Their music became bland, a poor reflection of what was once great music. But, hey, they've made their millions, so whatever. 

Well, they have plenty of company in the card industry. The hobby is chock-full of inglorious sets that have overstayed their welcome. Tribute, Tier One, 5-Star, Museum Collection and Gypsy Queen are only a few of the brands that I have heard a number of collectors (including myself) declare as being dead to them. Sadly, as I was putting some cards into binders a few days ago, I asked myself the same question about Allen & Ginter: is it a set that has 'faded away' and become totally irrelevant? [Note: While this post was in the draft folder I noticed Nachos Grande asked the same question on his blog]



For me, the Ginter design has become really stagnate. After a more refreshing design in 2014, the 2015 set looks like it will return to a look similar to the 2012 and 2013 designs, both of which I did not like. Many of the odd inserts seem to be regurgitated ideas.

What I hope happens to the brand is that they shelve it for a few years, perhaps revisiting it at some point. But until then, why not bring back an older brand that we haven't seen in some time? Something like Topps HD or Topps Reserve. Of course, there's the large group of collectors who would like nothing more than to see Topps Total revived. That would be a welcomed change, as well.



What about you- what set would you like to be brought back to life?






Saturday, February 21, 2015

Base(ball) Oddity #28: I Just Won the Lottery

If you read my post from yesterday, then you know that I am not one to spend money on the lottery. It doesn't matter if it's purchasing a power ball ticket, or just a normal scratch-off ticket- I'd rather not spend my money on a game of chance. Now, if someone were to give me a lottery ticket- well....that's an entirely different story. Heck, I might even take any winnings and buy some baseball cards. And that's exactly what I did.

(not the actual scratch-off ticket)

Back in December, our company held its annual Christmas party at which time one of our employees was recognized for hitting a landmark number- surpassing the previous high for someone in sales. To show her gratitude for those who helped her achieve her success was a gift: a scratch-off lottery ticket.

I can't remember if she told me how many tickets she bought to hand out, but I do know that I was the lone winner. Five bucks! That ought to buy me a pack of something, or a few singles. Thanks for the cards, lady!


I didn't rush out and immediately buy something. No, I held on to my winnings, waiting for just the right card(s). I didn't really have anything in particular in mind, but I knew that when I saw it that it would be pretty obvious.

Then, about two weeks ago, I found it.

1998 Virginia Lottery Baseball Legends Phil Niekro





This, this was the card to purchase. I had never been so sure of anything in my time as a collector. It was poetic.

So, I spent $2.99 on it- leaving me with $2.01 left over (which I still haven't spent).

Anyway, I received the card yesterday, which, as I mentioned earlier, was the same day I published the article on the lottery tickets at Denny's. Once again, pure poetry.

Crazy Eights

The Niekro card is part of a 4-card set (8 cards, if you count the autographed versions of each) that includes fellow Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Willie McCovey and Duke Snider. According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, the cards were one of the consolation prizes in the Virginia lottery and contained photos that were also used on some of the actual lottery tickets. The Niekro card just so happens to feature a photo from the 1989 Pacific Legends set. Sans logos, of course. Heck, if our state did something like this, I'd have to re-think my policy on buying scratch offs!

While I'm not crazy about the color scheme and the use of the stripes, I do like the fonts that were used. I really like the Virginia lottery logo. Very smart incorporating the crossed fingers in the 'V'
It should be noted, also, that each of the players spent time playing in the commonwealth of Virginia.



Card backs are what to expect for an odd-ball set. And while stats are included, they're not the typical MLB career stats, but those for the time each player spent while in Virginia. Very cool use of a stat line, if you ask me.


I guess some guys do have all the luck. It just takes some of us longer to find what we're looking for.








Friday, February 20, 2015

Food-Issue Friday: Denny's- At Least the Cards are Good

Yet another in the ongoing series of trade posts from my blockbuster deal with TJ- aka the Junior Junkie. Today, we're going to 'America's Diner,' Denny's....



When our kids were younger we would go to Denny's on Tuesdays, I think it was, a few times a year to take advantage of the kids eat for free special. The diner was also a popular place for breakfast whenever we were traveling. At some point, however, we decided to skip Denny's and take advantage of the continental breakfast offered by whichever hotel we were staying at- it was much lighter on the pocketbook.


Thus, we had not been to a Denny's in, oh, probably four or five years, until about a year ago when, on a whim, we decided to stop by for dinner.


There wasn't much of a crowd. In fact, the entire right side of the restaurant was empty. When the waitress came to seat us, she led us into an area on the left side- right between the only two tables that were occupied. To our left, a teenager, his mother and (I'm presuming) his grandfather. To our right, a mom and her three children.




Now, I'm the type of guy who doesn't like loud, boisterous people or loud settings. I rarely go out, and when I do, I want to enjoy some peace and quiet- not listening to the non-stop talk of an older gent who was hard of hearing (and thus, spoke EXTREMELY LOUD) or smart ass kids whose conversation must include 'friggin' before every word (and mom doesn't try to encourage an expanded vocabulary). It got annoying very quickly. The entire ambiance (well, it was Denny's, I guess) made me want to get the hell out of there. At least there was food on the way.







One problem- the food only ruined the evening that much more. I was really looking forward to a plate of biscuits and gravy, but what I received was a plate that had something that passed for biscuits and thick jello cold gravy. I honestly don't ever remember taking only one or two bites at a restaurant and refusing to eat anymore, but that day, I did. I actually got a little angry over the whole thing.








As we were waiting at the front counter to pay the bill, I looked to my right and there- right next to the door- sat a lottery ticket machine. Perfect! That just made my evening because, for some reason, I found humor in it.


As hard as I tried, I could not think of a single restaurant with one of those things. Not one.




Why is that, I asked myself.




I've never been one to dream of 'hitting the lottery'- whether it be through a legal, state-ran lottery (or multi-state lotto) or at the craps table. So the idea of people spending their hard earned cash on nothing but a roll of the bones...I just don't get it.  Studies say those who play the lottery the most are those who can least afford it.




It just seems like cheating yourself out of the satisfaction of knowing what you have came solely through good, old-fashioned hard work, with no shortcuts.








Play the lottery? Pft. Don't have the money to spare- and if I did, I'd use it to buy a box of Topps 5-Star baseball.









Thursday, February 19, 2015

We Barely Knew Ya...Keith Mitchell



Had Twitter existed in the spring of 1992, the social media site would have erupted in chatter over a trade that took place involving one of baseball's premier stars. And although the trade didn't become public knowledge until years later, you know that it would have somehow leaked in today's culture.

In Built to Win, a book released in 2006 by former Braves GM and current team president John Schuerholz, fans were given details of a trade that was agreed upon during spring training of 1992 between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves. Schuerholz revealed that he had acquired Pirates superstar Barry Bonds for then-Braves closer Alejandro Pena, outfield prospect Keith Mitchell and a prospect to be named later. However, shortly before the trade was announced, Schuerholz was informed by Pirates GM Ted Simmons (yes, that Ted Simmons) that he was going to have to renege on the deal. Apparently, Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland went ballistic upon being informed of the agreed trade, causing Pirates president Carl Barger to pull the plug on the deal.






Buried on the organizational depth chart, Mitchell found himself in AAA Richmond to start the '92 season. He also found himself an emotional wreck during its first few months. Discourage that he had optioned back to the minors, despite hitting .318 in 66 at-bats for the big league club the previous year (and making the postseason roster), the outfielder languished in Richmond, hitting what at that point was a career-low .227. In a Los Angeles Times article from June of that year, Mitchell pulled no punches in describing his situation. "I'd rather see myself in a different uniform than to be back at Richmond. It's kind of hard to be back down here." Okay, then. That's one way to punch your ticket out of town. Without having to give his approval on a trade, it's probable that Keith never knew he had been traded just a couple of months earlier.



Fast forward one year later, to March of 1993- Mitchell was once again about to be traded, this time to the St. Louis Cardinals (this was reported years later, by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). That is, until tragedy struck.

That spring, the Cleveland Indians suffered a devastating loss when pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed and a third pitcher, Bob Ojeda, was seriously injured in a boating accident. In desperate need of arms, GM John Hart inquired about Cardinals pitcher Rene Arocha, but was told that he was not on the market. When Hart offered Cardinal GM Dal Maxvill hard hittin' Mark Whiten, Cleveland's right fielder, a deal was struck, sending infielder Juan Andujar and pitcher Mark Clark from St. Louis to Ohio.



 Once again, Mitchell found himself in Richmond for the 1993 season and, once again, his play did not warrant a call-up. Keith finished out the season at AAA and would then be released by the Braves on October 15. 

While Keith's time on the big league roster was a short one, he did have a number of cards showing him with the tomahawk across his chest- many of which are minor league issues. As far as his big league cards, here is a checklist:

1991 Bowman # 575
1991 Topps ML Debut #125
1991 Upper Deck Final #56F
1992 Bowman #62
1992 Donruss #508
1992 Fleer #364
1992 Pinnacle #258
1992 Pinnacle Rookie Idols #8 (w/ Dave Henderson)
1992 Topps #542
1992 Score #748
1992 Stadium Club #551
1992 Upper Deck #454




Call-Up
Mitchell's call to the big leagues in '91 came at the expense of pitcher Pete Smith- who had been struggling badly and was demoted to the minors. Keith had been the team's hottest bat in the minors at the time, but had played only 25 games in AAA Richmond at the time of his promotion (coming after only 60 games of experience in AA). 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Legendary Years

My first return to the hobby came at an interesting time. As a Braves fan, the organization had traded icon Dale Murphy only a few months earlier, the fourteen year run of division titles was in its infancy, and the team appeared to have another legendary player in the making.










Being a sucker for Heritage and Archives, the Legendary Years and College Years are right up my alley. Take a Heritage card, put it into a blender, add a dash of Finest and mix 'em together. This is the result.

Much better than the Chrome cards found in Heritage, IMO.















After being named the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year, David Justice was one of the most sought after cards during the 1991 baseball season. Even hotter was his rookie card from 1990 Leaf. It's still one of my favorite cards in my collection.

 Included in all the major releases, Dave also found himself in many, if not most, of the oddball sets that hit the market that year. He was the subject of specialty sets (Colla Collection, Star), a promo card hawking hobby supplies (Card Guard) and even made the cover of the September issue of Beckett. 



I don't remember exactly when it was that Justice cooled off in the hobby. Injuries didn't help his cause, but neither did his persona. He tended to rub people the wrong way, but was still a hellofa player when healthy. Like so many in the hobby before- and after- him, they're here today, gone tomorrow. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Base(ball) Oddity #27 The Sun Devil Went Down to Georgia

'I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best there's ever been'~ Charlie Daniels Band's The Devil Went Down to Georgia

'He wasn't cocky by any means. But he was confident, and rightfully so. He had to be close to that, to stay here, to make it." ~ former teammate Dale Murphy, on Horner

'Bob's so confident at what he does, baseball or gold or Space Invaders, that people get the wrong idea.'~ former teammate Jerry Royster



I wonder if Bob Horner ever felt like Johnny, the protagonist in Charlie Daniels 1979 bluegrass chart-topper. If he did, you certainly didn't hear him actually say it in public. Ted Turner, on the other hand, did- during Horner's rookie season. "Nobody's ever come straight into the majors and done what he's done," the Mouth from the South said in an August 14, 1978 Sports Illustrated article on the rookie phenom. "So all he is is the best there ever was."

Hyperbole? Yes, but here was a guy who had made the jump straight from college to the majors, one of only a few players to have never spent a day in the minors. Not only that, but the twenty-year old was learning a new position (Horner player mostly second at Arizona State) while adapting to wood bats- and still went on to hit 23 homers in only 359 plate appearances, winning the 1978 N.L. Rookie of the Year Award. And, oh, by the way, he homered off of future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in his first major league game. Bob Horner didn't head to Georgia to steal souls, but to crush the spirit of opposing pitchers.


2014 Upper Deck 25th Anniversary #66 Bob Horner





If there's any question about why Upper Deck would include Horner in its 25th Anniversary edition, one look at his resume as an amateur (remember, the company couldn't picture players in their major league uniforms) would leave no doubt that he was worthy of inclusion.

Bob earned All-WAC honors in each of his three seasons in Tempe- twice being named 1st Team All-American. He holds the Sun Devils record for career Home Runs with 56. He led the Devils to the College World Series in each of his three seasons- winning the National Championship in 1977, when he was named the Most Outstanding Player for the tournament (hitting .444 with 2 HR and 9 RBI). In his junior season (final collegiate year), he hit .412 with 25 homers and 100 runs driven in, winning the very first Golden Spikes Award, as well as being named the Sporting News Player of the year. In 1999, Baseball America ranked Horner second (behind Pete Incaviglia) on their College Player of the Century list. For his accomplishments, Bob was part of the inaugural class inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, 2006. Pretty high accolades, indeed.



Once a Sun Devil, Horner became known as Aka-oni (The Red Devil) during his one season in the Land of the Rising Sun. The nickname was meant as high praise.

Horner followed up his rookie campaign in an even more impressive fashion. Despite suffering an injury in the opening game of the season which caused him to miss the next 32 games, Bob's stats on August 25, 1979 (the day that Daniel's song hit #1 on Billboard's Country charts) read .317/.353/.559 with 25 Homers and 77 RBI. He would finish his sophomore year hitting .314/.346/.552 along with 33 HR and 98 RBI.

By 1981, lofty expectations had been placed on Horner: former Braves minor league hitting instructor and MLB Hall of Famer Luke Appling predicted that the third baseman would hit 70 home runs in a season; Bobby Cox saw him as a future Triple Crown winner; Hank Aaron declared that Horner would break some of his records.

It seems the only thing broken was Bob. Broken wrists (twice); fractured ankle; separated shoulder; hyperextended elbow. He played only seventy-nine games in 1981, one hundred and four games in 1983, thirty-two games in 1984. And not to take anything away from Horner's career, but it certainly didn't go the way that many of us fans expected.







Bob's Hall of Fame induction speech can be viewed here.

He was also inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame: