Feb 28, 2012

Wondrous Seasons of the Past: Dean Chance in 1964

There are times when talk of great players gets boiled down to career value, but sometimes there's a time when a good player can rise above the rest of the league for a season or two and become truly great.  Dean Chance in 1964 was that player.   During a time when the Cy Young award was awarded to only one pitcher between both leagues, Chance led in WAR, ERA, shutouts, HR/9, and ERA+ matched up against the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning,  Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal, and Bob Gibson.

"His name is Wilmer Dean Chance, a country boy out of Wooster, Ohio, who plays pool better than Leo Lippy Durocher and beats the Yankees with more consistency than Frank Lary ever did."

He did only go 20-9, which for that pitcher's decade was not that imposing a W/L record, though he did it over an AL leading 278.1 innings with an amazing 11 complete game shutouts. He had finished 3rd in the ROY vote in 1962 and was realizing the potential in full form.

"On the night before he racked up his 20th win in 1964, Dean, never noticeably a booster for the President's Physical Fitness Program, hit the sack at 7:30.  He slept soundly, like a good boy should."

His durability was never in question as he led the AL in complete games, including five 1-0 victories, becoming the 5th pitcher ever with that many in one season.   He also increased his K/BB ratio above 2 for the first time in his career, demonstrating the most command up to his point (though it would desert him in 1966 and return in 1967).

"Chance probably has the strangest-yet most powerfully effective delivery-since Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons pitched in the thirties.  Like Fitz, Chance violates on the cardinal theories of hurling: before throwing the ball he turns his back on a hitter."

So picture a much sturdier version of Hideo Nomo with a jumping fastball who doesn't always know where it's going because "he doesn't see well out of his left eye anyhow".  Imagine if he ever put on glasses....

Dean Chance, with a season for the ages and a career to reflect upon.

All quoted passages are from the book Baseball Stars of 1965: the Dean Chance section was written by Ray Robinson.

Feb 24, 2012

Ryan Braun and 2011 Gypsy Queen

The saga with Ryan Braun today was revealing in one aspect. There is a vehement disagreement about what transpired. It doesn't say definitively whether he used a PED or didn't or also didn't reveal whether the testing process and chain of custody is sound. The process is what it is though, and the fact that MLB disagrees with the decision doesn't reveal anything either. They also disagreed with the dissolving of the reserve clause in 1974. The worst part of the saga is probably the leaking of confidential information...again, raising the issue of trust...There's more to the story in some way, but it won't be revealed anymore. The record will show that Ryan Braun was cleared of using PEDs and was not suspended...as consumers of information, we'll have to stand by this as the state of being until proven otherwise. (wow, that was a serious paragraph)

Speaking of Ryan Braun, I was lucky enough to snag a retail box of the Gypsy Queen after the craze for a reasonable price.  I signed up without hesitation for 24 packs of the elusive set. And I pulled this amazing card numbered 01/10.

Yes, that is a stamp card of Ryan Braun, and the stamp is especially meaningful for me because I love going to Yosemite (though I don't see the connection to the player at first glance).

What other excellent cards did the box reveal besides the usual assortment of base and inserts?

Minis!! of great players with different borders. I do love me some GQ minis (not the magazine in mini form).
Also, this sepia mini of Ichiro /99.  This was in the first pack, and I thought that it would have already been a great box if I pulled nothing else.

There were also a couple of the parallel set of 2011 in Al Kaline and Mariano Rivera, that was pleasing too.

Lastly, in the final pack of the box, I pulled a full sized relic of the Greek God of Walks (why, I did see Moneyball recently, how did you know?) of Kevin Youkilis.  I wasn't sure if there was a relic per retail box, but this one had one.

This may have been the best box I have ever opened....until the next best box I opened....

Feb 23, 2012

Junior High Countdown: 88. 1995 UC3

It's not flatland, and it's not the space-time continuum of the 4th dimension, it's 1995 UC3.

The Stats

A strange number of 147 card base set distributed in 5 card packs, 36 packs per box, probably $2.49 per pack if my memory's right.

The Design

There were different designs for AL and NL players with ALers having a giant baseballs and NLers having a giant glove with the player superimposed.  Look, the baseballs are flying at you.

The Rookies
Only one rookie in the set: the ubiquitous Hideo Nomo.

The Inserts
There were three insert sets and one parallel set in 1995 UC3.
Clear Shots was a bunch of clear plastic rookies and newcomers, Cyclone Squad had psychedelic spinning wheels on the cards, and In Motion was made of 8 virtual pieces of players flying apart in sections as the card was tilted.  The Artist Proof parallel was the staple of the Pinnacle Brands products and the cards were marked with the seal indicating it as such.

The Impact

The set concept lasted a year.  The flying baseballs in the background coming at you in almost 3D (UC3! Get it?) must have not been the sticking, far-reaching concept that they had initially hoped.  (Sidenote: In 1997, Upper Deck released a set called UD3, which was not an offspring of this set even though it was next in sequence.  I guess the next step would be to release a set called UE3).


This was supposed to be the higher-priced, premium cousin to Sportsflix except there weren't any changing images except on the inserts.  The lithographic surface remained, but it didn't have the same fun as tilting the cards to make the players move.  Plus, players getting swallowed by giant gloves was a disturbing image for even the most non-squeamish collector.   Paying more for essentially the same set without significant changes did not let it thrive.   Of course, today, a set with that name could come with 3-D glasses and a 46 inch LCD TV, then you could really see all 3 dimensions of the card.  The inserts were both interesting and annoying to look at.  I think I bought some packs of this many years after the fact, it was a good buy for $0.99 per pack.

Feb 18, 2012

Giant Phillies on the Loose

1964 Topps Giant set is supposed to be post-card sized, measuring 3 1/8" x 5 1/4", so that's pretty giant for the time. Not quite modern boxtopper size, but they dwarf the standard size cards. The set is 60 cards, including 7 shortprints of Koufax, Mays, Bill Skowron, Bob Friend, Wayne Causey, Dick Stuart, and Galen Cisco. There were three Phillies in the set, of which I've managed to pick up two so far. The missing Phillie is Jim Bunning, which would be his first card with a Phillies hat.  The others on the team checklist are pictured below, both long time Phillies, Tony Gonzalez and Johnny Callison.

Compared to the regular Topps issue from that year, the entirety of the player is the focus of the image.  There's even enough space to include some background color.  The 1964 Topps set's prominent feature was the team name at the top of the card. The reverse of the card is also unique for the time because of the inclusion of a 2nd photo and the newspaper-style text.  The baseball element in the corner was duplicated in the 1969 Topps set.

I like to collect oversized cards.  At some point, I'll create a real display on the wall with them all.    They're usually striking just because more detail can be included in a larger shot....think baseball-panorama in collectible form.  Happy weekend everyone....

Feb 14, 2012

Subsets, Star Card Questing, and Pack Opening

What I'm about to say isn't shocking, unique, or about 2012 Topps (except tangentially).  A good card for a collector can come in a variety of flavors:
a) the high dollar, extremely rare, can you believe that? card
b) a rare card of a favorite player
c) a card of a favorite player or team
d) a card that adds to a niche collection
e) a card of a star that you don't hate viscerally
f)a card that leaves you smiling

As I was ripping through a jumbo box of 2012 Topps (there's that word combination again), the sheer enormity of the pack made it almost impossible to gauge what a "good" pack would be.  Fifty cards covers a lot of range in the disappointment to elation face changes over the course of sorting through the pack. 

As a collecting tool and set completion means to an end, the jumbo packs are great.  But if you want to measure them on the scale of collecting enjoyment as a stand alone entity, they're tough to judge.    Each are fairly similar in their construction...bunch of base cards, slew of inserts, flood of base cards with some variation here and there.  There's very little of the hope of much of those categories of what makes a good pack.  For me, it would be an insert or parallel of my favorite team.  Even finding base cards were a shrug-worthy event because in most jumbo boxes, you'll run into the all the base cards at one time or another. 

Before the world of inserts, it took some imagination to get star players into multiple cards in a release.  For awhile, there were the standard all-star cards, which were soon joined by the league leader cards (1967 version shown below)

The league leader cards sometimes even felt like they were set apart for star players; I don't recall any other cards with black borders in the 1967 set.  And with some exceptions, league leader cards did feature star players.  The presentation of the 60s and 70s versions of this subset, was all about the posed shots or head shots and usually complemented the player's principal card well.

There have been other subsets over the years, with this MVP retrospective from 1975 Topps one of the best.  The card within a card concept does work, and it even fooled me as a kid as being real old cards with the Turn Back the Clock cards from 86-90.  MVPs were generally stars and added an extra element to the star player pursuer or the collector defining a good pack just opened.

The problem with modern collectible sets is not the limitation of star cards or the lack of elements that would make a good pack. It's almost the overproliferation of them.  I never thought I would be unexcited to see a Roberto Clemente card or Mickey Mantle card (that's not actually true, I still get excited, but some are definitely not).  Of course, this is a reflection of the times, collectors want every pack to have the odds in their favor to have a potentially positive experience; who wouldn't after all?  And I can see the reason, packs are not cheap, you get a collector to buy a few where there's a positive in nearly every pack, then they're likely to purchase a few more later down the line.

Contrast this approach to 2001 or 2002 (the beginning of the ultra modern collecting era) where there was an insert maybe one in every 4 packs if you were lucky for Topps.  A relic was one in every 3-5 boxes and an auto had even steeper odds.  It was real luck to pull something amazing, and there was even a small amount of luck to pulling out a pack win on the positive experience side. 

For the base set at least, Topps has tipped the scales in the nouveau collector's favor because if every pack has something to offer, there should always be another pack waiting to be opened.  For mid-end sets, this is even more pronounced.  Check out the refractor distribution in Topps Chrome over the years or look at the insert mini distribution differences in Allen and Ginter from 2008 to 2011. 

The question is have we reached a saturation point of how much positivity we can handle?  When all the elements are in nearly every pack or box, what allows a set or a concept to rise above the others?  Does this lead to more uniformity of collectors' expectations?  If we don't experience the valleys of opening disappointment (not based on perceived and intrinsic value such as in high-end), can we enjoy the peaks as much?

Feb 11, 2012

Stat Anomaly: 20 losses: 1973 Wilbur Wood

Here is the first 20 game loss accumulator that can be said that is based on volume rather than dearth of quality.  Let's take losses out of the equation for a minute and look at his other stats from that year of 1973.

Wilbur Wood, knuckleballer extraoadinaire of the year had a record of 24-20 in 48 games started in 359 innings with a 3.46 ERA (116 ERA+), 1.31 WHIP, 199 K, 91 BB and a league leading number of batters faced, hits allowed, etc.  You get the picture....he started nearly 1/3 of the White Sox's games that year, which is an incredible ratio.  It's amazing that he only had 20 losses during the season.  This year was also a step down from his similar, but better 1971-1972 seasons.

Let's see if he was a victim or an instigator of his 20 losses.    His season started off incredibly over the 1st two months through Memorial Day, going 13-3 with a 1.71 ERA.  All four of his shutouts were during this time period, and all starts except two went 8 innings or more.    Somehow, he pitched in 32 games in the first half of the season and matched that with 32 decisions, going 18-14....before the all-star break.  He clearly was injured or just got tired from the workload since he went 1-8 in June with a 4.43 ERA and 1.46 WHIP; the rest of the months of the year also followed a similar pattern in WHIP in ERA.  

Over the course of the season, there were 6 starts in which he allowed 3 earned runs or fewer with 8 or more innings pitched and lost the game.  This is not an obscenely high total for the era (just my guess), but it would have made his won-loss record a little better.  This was his 3rd straight season of greater than 330 innings, and it may be the toll came upon him in June 1973.

Interestingly, he allowed what seemed to be a high amount of unearned runs (28) or the season, this is probably due to the 33 passed balls committed by the White Sox catchers that year. 

His workload continued unabated for awhile, so expect to see him again in this series at some point.

Feb 7, 2012

Pack Rips from the Recent Past: 2011 Topps Update Value Box

I think I was reading the Blowout forums too much during the collecting and release lull of December and January. Did you know there were collectors out there who would buy 30 or more at a time of these packaged packs? Apparently, you can break even on these guys if you're into that type of buying and selling part of the hobby.

The normal damage is $15; the spoils are a diamond giveaway card, one of three exclusive Bryce Harpers, 5 2011 Topps Update retail packs, and a 2011 hobby Bowman Chrome pack. I think other people have explored whether they were "loaded". I did see some amazing pulls on the boards. Let's see what happened when I jumped into the retail boulevard of dreams.

It's the exclusive Bryce Harper card.  This looks like the most common version, the red.  The silver and gold have definitely been harder to come by.  I do like having a Harper rookie just because he's the major rookie association of 2011 at this point.  I say the odds of him breaking camp with the Nationals on the big league roster as the starting right fielder is 60-40.

The 2011 Topps Update packs gave me pretty much what was expected.

The insert series of that moment: Topps 60; nobody's favorite, but nobody's least favorite. There were some images I like, like this one of Tris Speaker. The Gray Eagle can be thought of as either an Indian or Red Sox member. 

The Target exclusive red-bordered parallel of another of the rookies of the moment, Dustin Ackley...he is already probably the Mariners 2nd best offensive player.

An Eric Hosmer Rookie Debut liquorfractor sure spices the pack opening up.   His age 21 season compares favorably to Eddie Murray's, I'm just saying.
I already miss the legend shortprints this year, so I was happy to pull Ty Cobb as a Philadelphia Athletic.  In 1927, as a 40 year old, he had 5 HR and 93 RBI at the peak of the power '20s, a remarkable career.

Robinson Cano won the home run derby and it was awesome to watch in person. He was really locked in.

Was Kevin Correia named to the all-star team last year?  And not as the only Pirate?  He must have had an incredible first half (after further review, he did).  This is a nice diamond parallel anyway.

From the 2011 Bowman Chrome pack, I got a Chase Utley (good for me) and beat the odds with a refractor #d to 500 of Hunter Morris, a young prospect in the Brewers system. Refractors give me an uplifting feeling, don't they give you one also?

So there it is, I feel good about the value...won't be going for huge returns on these....but then again, when have I ever at this point in my life?

Feb 5, 2012

The Discovery of Forgotten Cards from the Collection

Card collections are of themselves, by definition, difficult to define.  It's a sprawling mass of purchases, trades, and discoveries put together in a way for you, as the collector, to keep track of or hide from view.   As with most of this ilk, I seem to have accumulated boxes beyond count, binders beyond reckoning, and enough plastic team bags to fill a landfill.   Sometimes cards are put there for years without being noticed or acknowledged as being important enough to be counted.  Other times, they were part of a set collection that never got its act together.  And other times, they are from boxes that were discovered after many years of hibernation in another state.  Below are those examples.
2002 Bowman Jose Bautista:   This is the rookie of the Jose Bautista that is on the Blue Jays.  I honestly had no idea that there was any connection between the two, mostly because of the lack of goatee.  What actually brought this card to my attention was an up arrow in a Beckett of all places, while browsing through one at the local CVS.    I dug through my boxes of many Bowmans and there it was.  I do like to have rookie cards of known players.  It's nice to know I didn;t overlook one, even if I did at first.
2001 Upper Deck Ichiro: No excuse for this one.  I love Ichiro cards.  It simply got wedged between two 1959 Topps cards' toploaders and only became unstuck recently.  That was a nice surprise to find.
1991 Stadium Club Jeff Bagwell:  This card I chased forever.   I have no count of how many 1991 Stadium Club series 2 packs I opened in search of this card.  I thought Jeff Bagwell was awesome in 1994.  One thing is certain from opening those packs, either this card was shortprinted or the Jeff Conine rookie was triple printed because that's all I ever got.  While going back through my '90s cards recently, I noticed I had two of these; I don't know how they got there....so I would like to thank the nostalgia elves for dredging them up for me.

So as we take account into this new collecting year, remember to reflect upon what used to be important (diamonds and Bryce Harper) from the recent past and strive to look even further back and take stock of that  which may not be treasured immediately upon arrival. You might find something that would astound you.

Feb 3, 2012

Lineage Linking

Topps Lineage was not a favorite among collectors in 2011 (though they sure did seem to buy a lot of it).  There's already a lot of talk out there of its deficiencies and general malaise with the pack-opening process for this product.  A Spanish language card?  Experimental ideas from the '60s?  More detail was found months ago here about questioning ideas and motives behind a certain number of the presentations.

There is one great thing about this set: the opportunity to expand my 1950 Phillies auto collection by one.  Here we have Bob Miller, signing straight onto a 1952 Topps reprint. 

Bob Miller played for the Phillies (and his entire career) from 1949-1958.    He had a career best year in the pennant winning season of 1950, going 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA  (113 ERA+), finishing 2nd in the ROY behind Sam Jethroe.  He was a low K pitcher, even for the era,  with a career 2.9 K/9.   It looks like injuries struck him in 1951-1952, but he managed to come back up to the Phillies as a starter 1953-1954, then converting to a relief pitcher for the rest of his career.

This is actually one of the few times where I had not known anything at all about this long-time Phillie before receiving this card.  I think that there should be similar autos in sets like this of fan favorites (wait....that is happening this year) or even those who played at least 5 consecutive years on the same team who may have been overlooked.  I mean, when's the last time you saw a card of Harry Walker as a Cardinal or Ferris Fain as an Athletic?  (Note: These may have existed recently without my knowledge)

As the 2012 introduction to cardmania commences....

Stand up...
Try to be seen....
Dress fashionably in the latest fabric....

And try not to follow the crowd.....
Because you can shine (with some direct light)...
And be focused on your goals...

even when just beginning the collecting journey...

just don't get cut out of what you love to do....

Today's uplifting message was brought to you by the 2011 Topps Lineage Phillies inserts and an uncanny optimism now that the groundhog has seen its shadow. Knowing that there is less than 20 days to spring training is what keeps hope alive and the scattering of foil wrappers around my living room gives me a veritable hobby pool to jump in. The cycle doesn't end....