Nov 30, 2012

Framed Ginter Majesty

O beautiful for mini cards, For the dark bordered grain,  
For framed Ginter majesty,
The autos are not plain!
Nostalgia! Ginterica! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with jersey and wood
From sea to shining sea!

Nov 26, 2012

Cards from Fantastic Catch or Envelopes Welcome Me Home

After being away from home for a little bit, there is one constant that keeps me going....the unspoken threat of a manila envelope in the mailbox. They lurk for you when at work and try to give ideas to the bills and magazines always present in the mailbox to get noticed more. Here's the top 5 pieces of advice from the manila envelope to these other scraps of mail that get thrown on the table unopened and unloved.
1. "Try and hold your breath.  You seem frail and bendy"
2. "You're looking a little pale. You need more sunlight to turn yellow."
3."I can give you the number of a good toploader implant doctor."
4. "Allow yourself to be covered in stickers."
5."See that. That's a delivery confirmation stamp. Use it. Live it. Love it."

In any case, one of the envelopes I received some time ago was from the gentleman at Fantastic Catch.  He exhibited a lot of patience with me and came through with ....well, a fantastic package.  Everyone can tell I'm a Phillies fan, but I don't mind some cards from the original AL Philadelphia team, especially with the year they had this year. Here are some highlights.
2008 or 2009 Upper Deck Common or Uncommon or Rare or Ultra Rare Starquest Jimmy Rollins: Honestly, if it's not chrome or refractory and it's a retail one per pack insert, colored parallels barely matter.  The only starquest that matters is Collector's Choice style circa 1997.
2012 Topps Daric Barton:  He was benched for the Chris Carter/Brandon Moss platoon this year and was not part of the excitement.
2006 Ovation Eric Chavez: He was a Yankee last year, and he destroyed righties, and he played more than 70 games. Remember when he was a 2nd/3rd round fantasy pick?
2012 Topps Opening Day Roy Halladay: The stripped down version of Topps with the stripped down 2012 version of Halladay.  I hope the 2013 version is close to the 2011 version.
2012 Topps Update Blue Border Laynce Nix: An injured bench player is the most forgotten of players as a retail parallel issued only in blaster packs is the most cast aside of parallel.
2012 Topps Kyle Kendrick: He was officially labeled a pleasant surprise in 2012, upping his K rate to a career best 6.6 K/9.
2006 Ovation Ryan Howard:  Who misses themed cards? Spotlighted baseballs anyone?
2006 Artifacts Pat Burrell: Burrell had the best chewing mouth ever....possibly.
2012 Topps  A Cut Above Roy Halladay: Die cuts are back in 2012....It's almost like they forgot what the purpose was. This looks like a 'Z', which would be in the omega position of the alphabet.

Always fun to receive a manila envelope....maybe next time, the rest of my mail will be inspired and every piece will transform into one.

Nov 19, 2012

Wondrous Seasons of the Past: Elston Howard in 1963

Elston Howard was a catcher for the Yankees.....and an outfielder...and a first baseman.   His career started late at the age of 26 because of the Korean War and Yogi Berra, and he was a semi-full time player for the first 5 years thanks to Yogi Berra.

He was the International League MVP in 1954, batting a robust .330/.380/.569 with 29 HR and 109 RBIs. Allie Reynolds pontificated that if they had had Howard in the lineup, they would have overtaken the Indians and won 112 games instead of the mortal 103 that they earned during that season.  (Sidenote:  It must have been really fun to be a Yankee during the '50s in some ways.  You got to be in the World Series every year except 1954 and 1959  Then again, everyone had to have a buzzcut.)

He was called up and bounced around the field from 1955-1958, squeezing at-bats amid Yogiisms and the toughness of breaking into the '50s juggernaut Yankees lineups.  He initially modeled his batting stance after Joe Dimaggio, but after an unsuccessful 1960 season (.245/.298/.353, 80 OPS+) it had to changed.  His manager, Ralph Houk, told him to hit it through the center to better square up the ball.

So, Howard adapted the point to centerfield before each at-bat that we can associate with Jim Thome or Ryan Howard and was also associated with Rocky Colavito.  That 1961 season was the best of his career, hitting .348/.387/.549 (153 OPS+), albeit in a not quite full-time role.

But he won the MVP in 1963 with a prodigious line for a catcher in a pitcher's era.....287/.342/.528 (141 OPS+) with 28 HR and 85 RBI, with a stellar catching line as well with a Gold Glove.  Of course, the Yankees won the pennant that year, so that may have helped in the voting.

He was 5th in the league in OPS, 8th in the league in AVG, 8th in RBIs, 9th in extra base hits, 2nd in catcher assists, 2nd in total zone rating for catchers, and 4th in caught stealing %.  That is some all-around goodness.   He was also seen as the expert handler of the pitching staff with the 2nd best ERA in the AL, presiding over the continued excellence of Whitey Ford and the emergences of Jim Bouton and Al Downing.

As pitcher Pedro Ramos once said, "With a catcher like Ellie, a pitcher can do no wrong."

"Hail to Howard
While yet he plays,
And honor ye your catcher
While unstill he toils on bended knee!
Deny him not the spoils of excellence
For simply that he's not become mere history."

(all non-statistical information in this post is from the book "Baseball Stars of 1965" article written by Norm Borrow.  Of course, all statistics are from

Nov 17, 2012

2011 Playoff Prime Cut Phillies or The Hats Are On a Search

There's a bevy of MLB-unlicensed products out there with Panini and Leaf leading the way. We don't have Ames or Woolworth's releasing cards anymore. These are companies that just can't seem to get in the logo game at this point and time.

 Both have seen to gone the high-end route with multiple autos and patches of pros, prospects, and legends dotting their product release landscape. With these products come inherent risk for the collector. Why would one bother with a product that's not officially recognized? Do we care about logos that much? If there was a card without a photo or name, but just a signature or jersey piece, would it be worthwhile? (That last question has already been answered by 2010 Famous Fabrics and 2012 SP Signature not as rhetorical as the first two)

 I recently acquired a couple Phillies reps from the 2011 Panini Prime Cuts brand; this was originally released as a $250/box product. With the chance for some great pulls including the only place for "Shoeless" Joe Jackson cards; it seems like there should be enough quality to go around.  Unfortunately, there were not enough legend cards to offset the unknown prospect auto cards with the terrible design and broad checklist.

Also, there seemed to be a lot of single grey or white swatch jersey cards for modern players with numbering around /199 per card.   I picked up two Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to continually build towards that impossible mission: connecting enough Phillies cards to spell out Philadelphia around the circumference of the Earth.

The best part about these cards is actually the Detroit Tigers-style font and sepia tone.  It actually feels like an old-time card displaced to the present day.  Unfortunately, the worst part of the card is the inherent part of being unlicensed, the player picture with the blank shirts and hats and the city name in lieu of the team name.

After looking at these cards awhile, I have visions of the hats conspiring together to steal other hats' logos, and then I feel like I have to wear all my hats at once to protect them from the rampaging imposters.  The end result is that I have a stack of hats on my head all murmuring to each other about how ridiculous they feel about not being the primary hat and having to share the head spotlight.

So, I guess the message is unlicensed cards make other hats become paranoid.  Paranoid hats only breed paranoid people. In other words, unlicensed cards cause unnecessary paranoia due to attacking logoless hats.  Remember that when you're thinking about buying this year's Prime Cuts release.

Nov 13, 2012

Gypsy Queen Dual Rack Pack Break Highlights

There are times when packs sit on my shelf of cards for months at a time. "This time I will write something grandiose about these cards," I think to myself. "This time the scans will be known the world over and then phase 2!" Actually, none of those thoughts occur in exactly that way, but it's true that I like to scan in bunches. There will be nothing grandiose about this entry as well. Sorry, I left my trumpets at my other blog.

Gypsy Queen was my siren last year (2011).  It drew me in with the subtle game of playing hard-to-get.  The  packs flirted with me at Fanfest, tantalizing me with the $10 price tag.  Then, they came into startling vision at my local Target, singing unto me their glorious contents.  I caved and was pulled in, forever smitten by the Gypsy Queen.  Would the 2012 version be so rewarding and alluring?

The thing I like best about the Gypsy Queen base set is the retired players sprinkled throughout with the strange photo filter they use.  It doesn't work all the time, but there are enough times where one can say it makes a spectacular card.  The design is certainly ornate.
One such example that I like is this Bob Gibson. He's not intimidating, he's a retro-vintage art-deco piece.
Hunter Pence is an anachronistic player if there ever was one.  Too bad they don't show his socks here.
Future Stars Desmond Jennings is an example of one of the retail only inserts from this edition (if I remember right). They are very similar to the 2011 version.
The Hallmark Heroes are also a retail-only insert. Nolan Ryan wants to give you a card.....attached to a ball traveling 100 mph.
And of course with a retro-vintage product there are minis like this Gypsy Queen back mini of someone I don't know because there is no name on the back (though the card number would reveal it) and another mini of Josh Reddick.

And here are more minis: a Nick Swisher black border mini, a future NL MVP mini, and a legendary mini.

Of course, the raison d'etre of these rack packs are the bonus 3 card packs.  It's like you bought 3 packs and were rewarded with three cards of a colorful variety.  In Gypsy Queen, this is especially effective because the raised border cards from last year were among the most intoxicating of them all.  This year's edition were bronze, textured, and ready to be put in the baroque section of an antiquities museum, especially that Duke Snider.

How was this foray into the land of the Gypsy Queen and was I able to weave its way out from the entangling spell cast by yesteryear?  Well, after this, I got a hobby box (to be posted at some later date), but have decided to not cast the line for master set completion.  Crisis averted; I can wander free without the siren song for 2012.

Nov 7, 2012

Original Heritage: 2001 Topps Heritage Grandstand Glory Robin Roberts

This is an authentic stadium seat piece (or at least the card front says so) from the previous previous stadium in Philadelphia. It was even from a name and time when Philadelphia had two sports teams.  The name Shibe Park elicits times when Connie Mack wore a hat and suit and when Jimmie Foxx mashed (wait, wrong team, let's try that again).  The name Shibe Park elicits times when Richie Ashburn roamed centerfield and Hugh Mulcahy received the nickname "Losing Pitcher" and when the team got sold because the owner gambled....I  guess the Phillies history in Shibe Park wasn't that great for most of the time it was called Shibe Park.

Shibe Park was built in 1909 and was the first steel and concrete stadium in the business.  It served as the home of the Athletics principally, and then the Phillies joined there in 1938 upon the abandonment of the Baker Bowl.  At this point in their histories, none of the franchises were particularly ascendant.  The Phillies were in the 5th year of a 16 year streak being under .500, and the Athletics were in the middle of a streak of their own with 9 straight 8th or 7th place finishes.  Why not share a stadium and see what happens...there's less overhead for everyone??

The Phillies began their turnaround in 1949, just as Connie Mack was about to hang up his hat after 50 years  as the manager/owner.  This was fortuitous for the Phillies because even though they were the less successful of the two franchises through league history, they held their heads above water enough to become first banana in the city at the right time.  Connie Mack retired, the A's moved to Kansas City after the 1954 season, and Shibe Park was renamed Connie Mack Stadium during that interim period.

This seat piece could be from either era of the stadium, but the fact that it can potentially connect back to the Philadelphia A's of both Home Run Baker and Lefty Grove as well as the Whiz Kid Phillies of Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn brings the history of Philadelphia sports into focus.

This was also from the first Topps Heritage set of 2001, and gave collectors a different part of the past than they had before.  A stadium seat piece, though impersonal on its face, is an interesting idea, especially for defunct, no longer existing stadiums.

I guess my next collection quest is to get a seat from all the Phillies stadiums.  Imagine how the wooden bench of Shibe Park would look next to the blue plastic seats of Veterans Stadium (I remember sitting in brown seats or orange seats also).  It's much better than a couch to watch a ballgame in the summer.....the dreams have already begun.

Nov 3, 2012

Sometimes There are Dreams of Creatures in the Night When Baseball Season Ends

Like many, I am lulling my way through a baseball season withdrawal.  Football is nice; I like football, but it doesn't feed my need for sports every single day (does that sound like I have an obsessive personality? I might in some things, but I swear I only fold my socks in one direction).  My daily 2nd choice has been hockey; the sport's collectively decided to go into a coma.  If a season is missed twice in one decade, will anyone remember you exist?  I will now have to turn to basketball, though for some reason, I enjoy reading about it more than watching it....except for playoff basketball.

I am inoculated against the European version of football because in my special home fraternity, if I don't root for Real Madrid, I will be excommunicated.   I should be delving into this because I do play this sport and need to learn more about tactics, so that every cornerkick doesn't have the potential to end with someone flying facefirst into a goalpost.

One good thing about the offseason is that it allows me to do activities which I would consider an anathema to my normally busy (meaning television and ticket oriented) schedule, such as finally re-organizing my collection for the 20th time in 20 years.  I do not like the stacks of cards that I have accumulated and my binders are full and my bookshelfs are full of binders and there's chaos everywhere.

To enlist in the destruction of the chaos, I've found two legendary figures to help cut things down to size.  The good news is that they both have axes.  I've also discovered yet another quest, trying to get at least one card from any of the mini sets from an Allen & Ginter release.  This will not be an easy undertaking....anyone ever seen a World's Saltiest Sailor card?

These are from the Creatures of Legend, Myth, and Joy set from 2010 (not to be confused with the Creatures of Legend, Myth, and Terror set from the previous year.)  These apparently were inserted at the rate of approximately 2 per case.
Paul Bunyan would be useful for the large-scale culling needed for my collection.  Large swaths of cards would fall before his mighty axe.  The only caveat is that he's taller than most roofs and would have trouble bending over so far.  His mighty blue ox, Babe, would haul them all away, never to be thought of again.  To feed him, I would need how to learn to make flapjacks the size of my street.

I'm more worried if Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk comes calling to help. Out of desperation, he might take my only cow and my magic harp.  His cutting would be more focused, especially if I attach my collection to a sky-reaching plant.  Commons from 2010-2012, you're first up for planting.

Anyone else feel off during this offseason?