Aug 31, 2009

Gint-a-Cuffs Packs 9 and 10: In Which a Facial Expression is Revealing

Take a look at the cards scanned below. Such an interesting variety of expressions. Are these guys expressionistas or what? Are they happy or disturbed or bored of staying still while the painter finishes their portrait? I'm sured someone else noticed this, but has Ryan Braun ever smiled? and doesn't the Yankee uniform look slimming on CC Sabathia?

Pack 9
229: Mark Ellis
196: Joey Votto +2

153: CC Sabathia -1

20: Adam Jones
21: Robinson Cano -1

342: Sitting Bull +5

Mini A&G Back 11: Jacoby Ellsbury +2

National Pride NP26: Yunel Escobar (Cuba)

Pack Total: 7

Pack 10
293: Ian Snell
205:Ryan Braun +2

130: Johnny Damon -1

12: Jermaine Dye
42: Mark Buehrle (the perfect game endures)
234: Wyatt Earp
Mini Black Border 71: Albert Pujols +3 (I was stoked to get this card)

National Pride NP27: John Lackey (USA)

Pack Total: 4

Total After 10 Packs: 79

On Pace For: 180

Which is better, pensive or contemplative?

Aug 29, 2009

Gint-a-Cuffs Packs 7 and 8: In Which Praise is an Illusion

All I know is that I still enjoypulling relics from packs. I have not bought many new unopened boxes since 1999 and it's still a thrill, especially in a well-designed set like this one. But then, sometimes you see the player. If it's not a rookie, I would like someone who actually plays in the majors (foreshadowing). Let's just call it a case of the checklist blues.

Pack 7

163: Matt Garza (staring down the Red Sox, 3.5 BB/9 this year)
198: Raul Ibanez +1 (first Phillie!)

290: Cat Osterman (great pitcher, what if she threw overhand?)
164: Erik Bedard (injury prone)
139: Daisuke Matsuzaka (crazy wild)
Mini 276 Michael Phelps (only 8?)
318: Delmon Young +5 (his production is lacking for a corner outfielder)

National Pride: NP24 Chase Utley (USA) +6 (my favorite player!)

Pack Total: 12

Pack 8
215: Jed Lowrie (injured for most of the year)
147: Coco Crisp (injured and on the Royals)
Relic Alert! Oh, but it's Corey Patterson. Can't break the Nationals lineup Corey Patterson? The greater than 6:1 K:BB ratio Corey Patterson? Yes, it's really him. The bat inside the card feels real enough, but it hasn't helped Mr. Patterson lately. How prescient of the rulemakers that I should pull one of the dastardly three. -5

259: Napoleon Bonaparte (do you think he had a Napoleon complex?)
World's Biggest Hoaxes, Hoodwinks, and Bamboozles: HHB2 Alabam Changes Value of Pi (did anyone actually fall for this hoax?) +5

292: Oliver Perez (he's a Met, therefore on the DL and had close to a 1.8 WHIP)
National Pride: NP25 Jonathan Sanchez (Puerto Rico) (he threw a no-hitter this year!)

Pack Total:0

Total After 8 Packs:68
On Pace For:189

Illusions may change with perspective.

Aug 28, 2009

Gint-a-Cuffs: Packs 5 and 6: In Which Stories are Beholden to Walls

There's a lot of unexpected and interesting stories lurking in the careers of many players and people in general. In many cases, success can be achieved in the story if not for the villain, which may be intangible, personal, or institutional. Cards tell stories, but only if we dig deeper.

Pack 5

296: Bobby Abreu-success despite perception and previous prodigious talent displays
108: Alamo-landmark of heroism, though many perished for the memory
203: Scott Kazmir-Steve Phillips did not believe
39: Hanley Ramirez +2-so many tools, so little attention
291: Josh Beckett-blisters
Mini 22: Mariano Rivera (favorite Yankee mini) +2-one pitch, really?

Code Card Parallel 221: Brandon Webb +2-mastery of the environment

National Pride: NP23 Chien-Ming Wang (Chinese Taipei) -1-cultural barrier

Pack Total: 5

Pack 6
78: Eric Byrnes: -1-the hair

50: Pat Neshek-coming back from surgery
57: Frank Evans +2-pre-integration, lacked opportunity

46: Brian Roberts +2-height
188: Chris Davis-inability to make contact consistently
98: Josh Whitesell RC-adjustment to majors
Mini 339: Jordan Schafer RC +7-listening to the tomahawk chop

National Pride: NP29 Alfonso Soriano (Dominican Republic)-101 years

Pack Total: 10

Total After 6 Packs: 56
On Pace For:200 points

Incidentally, I'm really terrible at wall climbing.

Aug 27, 2009

Gint-a-Cuffs Packs 3 and 4: In Which a Multi-Colored Palette Trumps All

Believe me, I'm not being sarcastic when I'm running down the list of cards I've received. It's just....I never win these type of contests. And that is the way luck and life intertwine. What is it they always say? Lucky in cards,unlucky in love? Who's to say what's lucky anyway? Be amazed at the next offerings and be mesmerized by the splashes of watercolor.

Pack 3
140: Loren Opstedahl, the champion sheep shearer...the question remains did he win in Norway?
173: Francisco Rodriguez
120: Edwin Moreno RC
270: Josh Outman RC, who the Phillies traded for Joe Blanton
325: Dioner Navarro: +5 for being scarce

Sketch Card: AGHS16 Alex Rodriguez +2 because he is a Yankee (not a true Yankee though, right Yankee fans?)

Mini 274: Josh Hamilton: +3 because he is a favorite

National Pride: NP28 Melvin Mora (Venezuela)

Pack Total: 10

Pack 4
8: Matt Cain without a goatee
67: Ian Kinsler
75: David Wright +2

149: Chipper Jones +2, Larry's always a favorite

60: Matt Holliday
331: Jeff Samardzija +5 shortprint

Mini A&G Back 193: Khalil Greene +2

National Pride: NP12 Prince Fielder (USA)

Pack Total: 11

Total After 4 Packs: 41
On Pace for:205 Points

I think I prefer a green palette followed by a mango sorbet, or is it the other way around?

Aug 26, 2009

Gint-a-Cuffs: Box Topper, Packs 1 and 2: In Which There is Hope for the Future

I've broken this box over a month ago, but I am the slowest scanner alive. Also, I am just back from vacation and have been completely cut off from phone and internet for the past 10+ days, so there's nothing to really reflect upon. I therefore welcome you to the Gint-a-Cuffs box. Let's see if I can even approach the lofty heights set by previous participants.

Box Topper

Come on, something memorable...
No, it's not memorable.

CB 8: Signing of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (starring Truman and Pearson): +8

On to the unknown:

Pack 1

217: Jorge Cantu
300: David Ortiz
192: Ryan Zimmerman
72: Carlos Lee
93: David DeJesus
41: Victor Martinez
World's Biggest Hoaxes, Hoodwinds, and Bamboozles Mini: HHB10 D.B. Cooper (more like a crime) +5

National Pride: NP13 Justin Morneau (Canadian)

Pack Total: 5

Pack 2
154: Corey Hart (no sunglasses)
281: Jake Peavy
83:Ludwig Van Beethoven (sans German national team cap)
22: Mariano Rivera +1 (somebody's favorite Yankee)

61: Burke Kenny +2 (because beards are great)

333: Nick Swisher +4 (short-printed Yankee)

National Pride: NP20: Akinori Iwamura (Japan)


Pack Total: 7

Total After 2 Packs and a Box Topper: 20 points
Current Pace: a whopping 167 points (even with the guaranteed box topper points)

More goodness to come.

Aug 14, 2009

Slice of a Season: Part 12 of 18, Abbreviated

This is abbreviated due to vacation. Posts will be sporadic for the next 10 days.

Slice of a Season: 2009, Slice 12
Slice Record: 3-6

Cumulative Record: 61-47

Standing at Slice's End: 5.0 games ahead of the Marlins

Opponents that hurt the Phillies: Giants, Marlins

Opponents that helped the Phillies: Rockies

Wins to Remember:: Cliff Lee's debut, beating the Giants 5-1 on July 31
Losses to spill milk over: Losing 7-3 to the Giants on August 2nd (I was there, it was ugly, at some point I'll post some photos), losing 3-2 to the Marlins on August 7 (because the Phillies should win on my birthday)
Bats do help in general: When facing Jason Hammel
But bats do not help, only luck does : When facing Tim Lincecum
New Nemesis Alert:
In your face HR of the year so far:Chase Utley hitting one off Jonathan Sanchez after a few pitches after a pitch went over his head

Hitting Heroes: Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino,

Need Adjustments: bench, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley

Fire Starters on the Mound: Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels

Holding the Fort Down: Cliff Lee,Joe Blanton, JA Happ, Scott Eyre

Aug 12, 2009

Pedro is Pitch Tonight

Pedro Martinez (pictured here in a 2009 SPx Flashback Fabrics card) has been arguably the greatest peak pitcher of his era. His 1999 and 2000 seasons are insanely great (291 ERA+, 0.737 WHIP in 2000, that's almost impossible), and he sustained excellence through 2006, when the first major injuries struck.

The Phillies won't be gumming up behind the wunderkind of 1997-2004, in which at the peak, his appearances were a drop-everything and watch event. For example, remember the relief appearance against Cleveland in the 1999 Division Series? Incredible.

He probably won't even be the Pedro of 2005-2006. There is potential, however, for him to return to the Pedro of August 2008, and that could be good enough. Even in his decline phase, his K/9 and K/BB ratios have remained strong. His WHIP increase is entirely due to an increase in H/9. He won't be too much worse than Moyer and he'll be better than Rodrigo Lopez for the rest of the season.

For the rest of the season, I expect an ERA of around 4.40, a WHIP of around 1.40, and a smattering of quality starts. As with all pitchers, he'll need the Phillies bats to wake up and score more than 3 runs.

I will be watching in anticipation tonight.

Aug 8, 2009

Topps Thoughts: 2

The positives I see are mostly for so-called “first world” collectors. Topps, Heritage, Allen and Ginter will continue as before in the short term. Out of the Upper Deck offerings only the base set really offered competition in this area. Goudey had too many short prints for set collectors and Goodwin has not established a brand identity yet (or even has been released). The Topps base set is a hit and miss proposition with design and execution, but hopefully Topps has learned to not include “mirror” inserts (Generation Now, Mantle HR history) anymore and recognized the futility of stealth parallels (red letters in 2007 and gold foil in 2008) and other gimmicks (Kazuo Uzuki anyone??, inverted rookie cards, etc).

Another positive is that Upper Deck won’t release another cross-brand insert set monster. It really discouraged me from buying most Upper Deck products the last couple years. Topps should not pursue this angle again, since, conversely, it kept me away from Topps products in 2007.

One negative, of course, is the lack of push from a competitor. This really is only effected on a year-to-year basis. The prime example is the change in format for 2009 Topps compared to 2008 to challenge the Upper Deck base. Topps may have to step up and fill the void left by SP Legendary Cuts, Sweet Spot, the full-bleed base set, and the high-end Upper Deck products. Are they up for the challenge?

The other is the potential tangleweb of exclusive contracts, both present and future. Are we going to be lacking Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols autos in Topps products? Or will other athletes sign with Upper Deck, Panini, Razor, etc to get higher individual fees? Luckily, baseball isn’t as bad as basketball in this regard.

The so-called “second-world” collectors are not in a good place with this deal. Triple Threads and Sterling have not returned value. Part of it is that top baseball stars don’t have the same draw and broad fan base as top stars in football. The other is that the design and packing out configuration of these products leave much to be desired.

It’s interesting because Topps has mostly been the company of nostalgia and the past while Upper Deck has mostly been branded the future, at least in terms of card designs and brand approach. And now it has been left in the past. As collectors, we adjust and buy what we like and that will not change.

Topps Thoughts:1

I think after digesting the news over the past couple of days (and also having my Google account be inaccessible for the past 24 hours), I’ve come up with some comments regarding the new exclusivity that Topps has been granted for the 2010 season.

Most of the responses I have been reading have been negative, but I almost feel like this will be good for most baseball card collectors…in the short term. Innovation is a great buzz word that is thrown around, when really in this hobby, I think it means, ideas that collectors like. There are a lot of innovative (see: creative) ideas that fall by the wayside in short order because they are not initially well-received by collectors. It may be because the ideas are not that intelligent (albeit innovative) or the timing is off for their introduction.

With only one company, innovation will not cease. Topps will still be looking for the ever-important dollar of the existing collectors while still drawing in new collectors, just as they were before. Instead, they will have 100% of the licensed baseball card collecting hobby pie. Ideas will continue to flow, even though a lot of the successful ideas tend to be drawn from past successes; the pool of potential ideamakers is also smaller. Ideas will go only as far as the constraints let them go (rookie card designation and NMT 20% retired players in a set).

Brand identity should be strengthened and there should be an opportunity to revamp some products (the Bowman line mostly, Finest could use some adjustment, the high end). The sets released for 2010 should be Topps, Topps Chrome, Topps Heritage, Allen and Ginter, Bowman Chrome (skip regular Bowman, it’s done), Bowman Draft Chrome, Finest, a version of Stadium Club, Triple Threads (because it sells, no matter how bad it is), a completely changed Sterling, and one-two change-up products to try out new ideas. That should probably cover most price points and market segments. The lineup could use some fleshing out or cutting back depending on your point of view.

In terms of confusion in the marketplace, there really isn’t much for the informed/experienced collector. Most of this type of collector know what type of set they are looking for before purchasing and have done at least gathered some reconnaissance information about the card brand. The new collector would be overwhelmed by the number of choices available in the marketplace. Of course, hasn’t this been the case since at least 1993 or 1994? It became worse in the period of 1998-2001 (remember, there were at least 5 companies then), and really reached a peak in 2005 when MLB slashed and burned all the companies except Topps and Upper Deck.

And now we are left with just Topps.

Aug 5, 2009

Tales of a Former Bowman Collector: Part 4

The taking of the Bowman set to the so-called superpremium level really began in 1994 with the birth of 1994 Bowman's Best. Half prospects/half veterans, $5.00 packs, and the first prospect refractors was a recipe that yearned for success, but only filled a small niche in that market.

The Bowman set collectors wanted an abundance of prospects to feed their once and future hype machine and the new superpremium collectors wanted refractors of stars like Finest gave them. It split the middle between the two, and people liked an extent. I don't remember anyone clamoring for the next Bowman's Best release.

In 1995, the set followed the same pattern, but the greatly loved and invested in rookie class buoyed the set value to never before seen levels. Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Richie Sexson, Bartolo Colon, Bobby Abreu..Any prospector worth his salt knew at least 3 of those names. I never saw a pack of this for less than $10.00. The relative scarcity compared to the previous year's set thanks to the baseball strike, the strong rookie class, and the continued love of refractors kept this product off the remaining hobby store shelves.

There was nothing special about the 1996 release on the surface. The rookie class was considered weak even at the time. Anyone remember the draft from 1995 off hand? The guaranteed value didn't extend to the Bowman's Best set. There was one aspect which has remained a staple of the hobby; multi-layered refractor parallels. These were the first of their kind, introducing the so-called atomic refractor. I have one from 1999; I want an original before the design was changed.

Another innocuous event was the introduction of Topps Chrome in 1996. I was a very traditional set-builder at the time. I thought that was a waste. More money for less cards per pack for the same cards you could get before except with a different finish. Why not just call it, "Topps printing presses are down, let's put some metal on the card."? It was a fad that became a revolution.

Bowman Chrome debuted in 1997. 4 card packs for $3.00. 4 cards! For a 300 card set! What's the point? The popularity expanded as well as the price. It helped that the 1997 rookie class had some strong characters in it (though not the same ones we'd think are strong today). There were refractors, there were refractors of parallels, there was chrome in its infantile glory. I succumbed to the hype; I bought a card of some one I ever heard of (Derrick Gibson) because it was a 1997 Bowman Chrome card, and it wasn't even a proper rookie.

Through the end of the '90s, the king of Chrome remained atop the heap of the Bowman offerings. This is when I left the collecting game for awhile. But Bowman and its offspring continued to evolve as the millennium turned.

Aug 3, 2009

It's Hard to Say Good-bye to Prospects...Sometimes

Continuing with the examination of the Cliff Lee trade, here's the prospects that are traveling from the Phillies to the Indians organization.

Jason Knapp (P): An 18-year old pitcher with a live arm and huge strikeout potential. This is his first year in the full-season A level and has dominated. 147 strikeouts vs. 51 walks in 116 innings tells the tale for his minor league career. At this level, W-L record means nothing. Only stuff, make-up, age relative to competition, and a few key indicator stats can project a pitcher even to the AA level. A 2nd round pick in the 2008 draft, he still has a lot of maturation to go, and the risk of injury is still high (currently has shoulder fatigue). For the Indians, he was the centerpiece of the deal. Given time, if nothing bad occurs, he projects to a Roy Halladay type talent.

Known Rookie Card: 2008 Bowman Sterling Auto

Jason Donald (IF): A middle infield prospect (24 years old)that had been promoted to AAA prior to this year. Until this season, he had been a shortstop, but the Phillies organization shifted him to both 3B and 2B during the season (possibly for relief if there was an injury at the major league club). His bat stagnated in 2009, hitting .236/.297/.332. Otherwise, for a middle infielder he displays decent pop and respectable fielding range with some position versatility thrown in for good measure. He should be a useful piece on a big-league club as early as next year, assuming that this year's struggles are a blip (and they may be injury related).

Known Rookie Card: 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft

Lou Marson (C): A 23 year old catcher with average receiving skills, he has been blocked for a couple years. The Phillies prefer Carlos Ruiz's defense with the back-up being of a veteran variety. There is no reason why he couldn't be a useful back-up at the major-league level now. His bat has little power (even translating 2B to HR with minor league stats), but he has developed fairly excellent plate discipline, posting a career .371 OBP in the minor leagues. His situation has not improved as he is now blocked by Kelly Shoppach and the AA wunderkind Carlos Santana.

Known Rookie Card:2004 Bowman Draft, 2004 Bowman Chrome Draft (+ refractor parallels)

Carlos Carrasco (P): He was once the #1 prospect in the Phillies organization before the emergence of other prospects and the emergence of concerns about his mental make-up. He doesn't possess any overpowering pitches, but all of his pitches are above-average. His K/BB ratio has consistently remained above 2.4 throughout his career, but he gives up too many hits as evidenced by a career 1.33 WHIP. His K/9 this year of 8.8 also portends future success if the mental concerns are unfounded. He is still only 22, still young relative to AAA and a change of scenery may improve his prospects. I'll be looking forward to his major league debut.

Known Rookie Cards:2005 Bowman, 2005 Bowman Chrome

I would like to discuss more about other prospects in later posts.

Aug 2, 2009

Contest at Trader Crack's Card Blog

Here is a great contest at Trader Crack's Card Blog for a Razor 2009 Sports Icons: Cut Signature Edition pack. Check it out! and give the rest of his excellent blog a read. He collects Canadiens and John Jaha (if I remember correctly).