Category Archives: ephemera

Donruss Champions from @REALjtCarter

One of the things that amazes me most about the card community on Twitter is not just everyone’s generosity but how immediate that generosity is. The most-recent example of this is a package from Jason (@REALjtCarter) consisting of a bunch of packs of Donruss Champions. A week ago another Twitter contact received a similar package and I responded with an enthusiastic “Cool! I never saw these when I was little.” And that was enough for me to get an offer for my own package of cards from someone who I wasn’t even following at the time.

The reason I responded to these cards in the first place was because my general approach to Twitter is to be excited about when people share things; following the first rule of improv comedy is a very healthy way to internet. For a set released by one of the three main card companies of the 1980s to be something I’d never come across is noteworthy and exciting—especially when it’s a set of oversized cards.

It’s hard to tell in a photo but these are 3.5×5″—exactly twice the size of a standard card. I’ve always been a sucker for oversized cards and these are pretty nice in how photo-centric they are.* The checklist is a who’s-who of early 1980s baseball which, while not representing the time period I was a big time fan is a great mix of well-established stars from my youth with aging all-time greats.

*The less saids about the early-1980s offset printing the better.

Carl Hubbell is the only one Giant in the set and I was pleased to see him peering at me from the top of one pack. Somewhat amazingly for 1980s pack collation, I found no duplicates between these packs so I now have 25 of the 60 cards in this set including Wade Boggs, Cy Young, Mike Schmidt, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, and Rod Carew.

Jason didn’t just stop there though and included three team bags full of Giants cards as well. Most of these were newer cards but there were a couple dozen “old” ones as well. The most noteworthy ones for me are the three Baseball Card Magazine versions of 1960s Topps designs. I’ve seen photos of those but had never come across any real-life samples before.

This entire batch of cards is amazingly solid in terms of not having many duplicates with my childhood collection. I’m pretty sure that 90% of these are new to my collection—including all the Topps cards.

The 1993 minis are fun (I have the 1991 and 1992 sets but didn’t get the 1993 one). Topps Gold is always appreciated as a throwback to the age when parallels were just beginning  and hadn’t been beaten into the ground yet. 1993 Donruss is a set which I didn’t collect much at all so I have just a few representative packs. And that Studio 91 Garrelts card is great; it’s wonderful to see a photo of him without his glasses on. I need to get more of this set since I still like the photography in it.

A bunch of assorted Bowman, Fleer, Skybox, Leaf, Donruss and Panini cards. I still don’t understand Bowman as a brand but I’m happy to get Giants prospects and I’m glad it exists for my Stanford Project. Skybox and Leaf are both mid-90s releases which would’ve been out of my price range at the time if I were still collecting cards. But most everything here are not just cards I don’t have but come from sets which I don’t have any examples from either.

Of this batch I have to admit that the super-shiny silver Leafs catch my eye despite my typical aversion to that kind of shiny stuff.  I also have to admit that as much as I complain about being unable to distinguish the Topps designs from 2009–2014, the Bowman designs demonstrate how much worse that can be. Oh and it’s always fun to come across a Christy Mathewson card

Most of my modern collection is Topps. This is partly due to the amount of upheaval in the other brands in the 1990s and 2000s and partly due to how it seems like Topps duplicates are what everyone ends up with. So I have none of these Upper Deck cards and it’s quite possible these are all the first examples from these sets too.

Looking at these and even the designs which are overkill have me missing Upper Deck in today’s baseball card universe. As much as I’m a Topps guy, I readily admit that Upper Deck had its own style which would be a welcome change of pace today.

And finally to cards which I’m more likely to have dupes of. Though still not as many as would be expected. The 2001 Bobby Thomson card is great. It’s always nice to see 2010 cards and be reminded of that first World Series team. And that Gaylord Perry reprint rookie card is likely as close as I’ll ever get to the real thing. I’m also mostly unfamiliar with the Bazooka cards so that’s a noteworthy addition too.

2012–2014 continues the good Giants memories both with the 2012 and 2014 teams as well as the celebration card in 2013. Not much to say about these except to note that I enjoyed the Spot the Difference card and it took me a bit too long to find that the bat knob was missing on one side.

And 2016–2018 takes us into the full-bleed years. Putting them all together this way confirms how much better the 2018 design and photography are.  The Holiday cards are still bizarre to me even though I think I prefer the snowflakes to the needless smoke design in Flagship.

Anyway all told and including the duplicates that Jason included in this package I only ended up with 15 dupes at the end of sorting.* This is pretty damn amazing out of a batch of ~140 cards and I need to start saving Reds cards to send a thank you package back.

*This is a slight undercount since some cards like the Austin Slater 2017 Update card can fit in multiple albums so duplicates are appreciated.


More 2018s from Tony

Tony is one of the first guys I became friends with on baseball card twitter. He runs two card blogs, his main blog is Off Hiatus and covers his Milwaukee and Brewers collecting focus. His second though, Collecting the 80s, covers 1980s oddballs and it’s in oddball land that we’ve had a lot of fun.

One of the best parts of collecting cards in the 80s and early 90s was how so many different food products, magazines, etc had cards in them. Many of these releases were extremely regional and it’s been really interesting to compare notes with other collectors around the country to discover what cards and sets they grew up with and how different those were compared to what I grew up with.*

*I’ve posted previously about Mother’s Cookies both on SABR and my own blog.

I’ve been meaning to put a trade package together for Tony but it’s been really hard. Most of my duplicates are from the peak junk wax days of the late 80s and early 90s. And the fact that Tony’s collecting focus happens to be the Brewers means I haven’t been able to come across any new cards to send him either. It’s rough out there if you support a “small market” team. Topps is increasingly focusing its new products on big-name teams and players and while I understand the business reasons for this it also feels extremely shortsighted since there are plenty of baseball fans out there who hate the big market teams and are getting increasingly tired of the dominance of Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers cards.

Tony proudly identifies as a member of that group and has been pretty vocal with Topps about how disappointed he is with their new products and wouldn’t be buying any of them. so of course he won a free box of 2018 Series 1 cards. And of course I found myself laughing at him about it. He got a decent box with a good number of Brewers cards in it. But even after getting a huge head start on the set he decided to stick to his guns and get rid of all the cards he didn’t want.

He was gracious enough to send me his Giants* so now I have seven of the Giants cards in Series 1. Since Peter sent me a couple of Poseys and Cuetos already I now have enough duplicates now to give my sons their first 2018 cards without causing any sibling strife.

*I need to figure out what black magic he used to send a bubble mailer for a buck.

I remain impressed by the photography in this set. It’s noticeably more varied and seems less preoccupied in getting extreme exertion faces and more about catching details like what grip the pitcher is using.

Also, hello Christian Arroyo. We hardly knew you and now you’re already gone. I have such mixed feelings about those orange jerseys. I love them as jerseys by themselves. They really pop on the card. But I hate them as part of the official uniform (though they’re worlds better than the black jerseys).

My favorite card of the batch is the Brandon Belt. First, this year’s design works way better in horizontal formats than previous years’ designs did. It doesn’t feel like the graphic is eating up half the card and the ground fog effect is much much more subtle. I still wish they’d stop using that filter though. What I’m most interested in though is the photograph and how it’s clearly shot from the stands rather than the photographers’ well next to the field.

Looking at the other photos from that game shows that this is the only one shot at that angle. I’m really curious what the photographer was doing to get this shot. Or perhaps there’s something really weird down the first base line at Petco that I’m not familiar with.

Tony also included a Stephen Piscotty card for my Stanford binder. Between this card and the Jed Lowrie from Peter, my Stanford checklist for Series 1 is already all checked off. It’ll be interesting to see who shows up in Series 2. And I do expect to see another Piscotty card in Update showing him with the A’s.

Thanks Tony! One of these days I’ll get enough Brewers cards to send you a thank you package in return.

First 2018s

While I have yet to get any new packs of 2018 Topps, I’ve been encouraged by the generally positive reaction I’m seeing across the web and have been feeling increasingly curious about what they actually look like in hand. I was initially hesitant about buying any new product and since my local Target hasn’t had any in stock, I haven’t even had a choice about whether or not buy.

Thankfully though I didn’t have to wait for my local Target to even get anything in stock. Peter at Baseball Every Night couldn’t resist busting a few packs to celebrate the new season and was kind enough to send me a plain white envelope of cards he didn’t want.

So these two Giants count as my first 2018 cards. I’m still not feeling the waterslide design but I appreciate that it’s less intrusive than previous years’ designs and fits the full-bleed look much better. The photography is also noticeably more interesting. Cueto’s is most-similar to previous years’ shots of slightly-too-closely-cropped action but I love the detail where it looks like we can see he probably just threw a circle change.

Posey’s is a little oddly cropped for me. Topps still likes to center players within the card rather than suggesting movement within the frame. All too often you can see in the original images that there’s plenty of space for a more dynamic framing. The photo of Posey is no exception. I want to move him a quarter inch to the right, get the full mask in the frame, and give him space to look into. Still, the shot itself is more interesting than the usual full-exertion swing we’ve had the past years.

Peter was nice enough to include doubles of these so my kids will also get a chance to start their 2018 card collection without having to spend money or, if they do, be disappointed if they don’t get any Giants in their packs.

Jed Lowrie is part of my Stanford project. I like this card a lot. Again a more interesting image with lots of small details—like the extra pair of gloves in his back pocket—to notice.

And yeah, the fronts of these are very nice and suggest that there’s a lot more variety in the photo selections this year. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these cards over the next few months.

The backs though? Sigh. I didn’t scan anything because they’re pretty boring. I miss having complete stats. My 8-year-old even complains about this. He wants to know where the players have played each year they’ve been in the majors (and ideally, each year in the minors too). It’s funny, I liked the stats when I was a kid.  He, however, likes the story about where in the country each player has played and how the different minor league levels fit into the club organization.

Also, the huge amount of space devoted to twitter and instagram handles is going to age horribly. I know it’s a little silly to complain about the future of these cards but at the same time, much of the allure of this hobby is how it’s part of a history of card collecting. There aren’t many things now that kids can share with their grandparents this way* and those social media handles won’t age nearly as well as the cartoons from the 1950s have.

*As much as I make old man jokes this is what I love about the hobby too.

The last card is a Buster Posey insert. I’m increasingly disenchanted by all the inserts. Yes, I guess I’m glad that they’re inserts instead of yet another set to buy, but the explosion in insert sets was something that helped to push me out of the hobby 25 years ago. There are just so many of them now that most of the people in the hobby who I follow now just mail them to whoever they know collects that team.

I’ve tended to pull Dodgers inserts and have sent them off to Night Owl. Peter seems to get Giants one so I’m the lucky beneficiary. It’s good. They end up in my Giants album and I enjoy them there. But they’re just not something I’m excited to pull from a pack. The inserts are almost invariably over-designed and as I’ve gotten older I find myself liking cards for the photography more than a anything else.


A collection of my 👴 tweets which I’ve been generating on Twitter as I come to grips about how much the baseball card hobby has changed since I was a kid.

@mjpmke set me up the bomb

Holy moly. Matt (@mjpmke) sent me a surprise 400-count box of cards. It was packed with team bags and bubble wrap so it ended up being ~200 cards. And good lord they all happened to be great.

Most of the box consisted of about 120 1978 Topps cards. This takes my set progress close to 50% complete. While I’ve still got mostly commons, Matt was kind enough to throw in a decent number of star cards in this batch including the Jack Morris rookie among a handful of Hall of Famers.

I’m fast approaching the point now where I need to consider getting a dedicated set binder and paging everything with empty spots for the missing cards. Looking over my current checklist shows that I don’t yet have a completed page and that I would still have one empty page. When I change both of those statuses is when I’ll dedicate a single binder to this.

Most of the rest of the box consisted of a huge batch of Pacific barajitas. It’s not a ton of cards but these don’t seem to be commonly available as lots. That Spanish-language Pro Set card sent me down a rabbit hole of Spanish-language baseball cards. I grabbed a Topps Zest set last year but most of my attention has been in learning about the 1994–2001 Pacific issues.

I had a handful before this mailday—a few Giants here, a few Stanford guys there. It was nice to have them as samples but they didn’t really provide a sense of the set and brand. The nine 1994s are fun. The ~40 1995s though are wonderful. Where 1993 and 1994 feel very much like baby steps into proper card production, 1995 is a legitimate set which has some interesting photography—I especially like the Ozzie Smith card—and feels like a demonstration of Pacific’s subsequent branding.

The 1996–1999 sets continue that sense with the gaudy graphics and overdone foil stamping. These designs aren’t my cup of tea but there are things about all of them that I like and there’s a certain distinctiveness in the identity that I appreciate.

Matt also included a couple dozen Giants cards. A decent amount of junk wax coupled with a few newer cards. I probably have a few of these but many look completely unfamiliar to me. Of the batch I especially like Duracell oddball and the Matt Williams Pacific. But it’s also fun to have another diecut even though I still don’t understand the point of these. And I like the Will Clark Studio card and the Triple Play with the Turn Back the Clock uniform.

The last card in the box deserves a special mention. The Christie Mathewson mini is here because I forgot to photograph it with the rest of the Giants cards, but the Jorge Campos 1994 World Cup card is one of the few non-baseball cards that really strikes a chord with me. If 1994 marks the point where my baseball fandom took an irreparable hit, it also marks where I jumped seriously into soccer.

Attending the World Cup was just part of it. But between learning much more about the sport via high school soccer and watching all the World Cup games on TV, I came out of the summer of 1994 totally down on baseball and totally up on soccer. Jorge Campos, while not a huge star of the cup, was a clear star for all of us youth soccer players in California. Having a card of his is a fantastic reminder of that summer and my youth playing the game.

This 1994 Upper Deck set is the kind of thing I can see myself grabbing random singles of players I remember fondly from the World Cup—Romario and Hristo (it should be no surprise I ended up a Barcelona fan), Bebeto, Bergkamp, Valderrama—and the rest of my mid-1990s early soccer fandom.

Anyway this whole box was awesome and I need to get my return package of 1978s for Matt’s set chase put together and into the post.

First Calbees (巨人)

One of the things that’s happened after I wrote about how baseball cards formed a certain amount of my visual literacy has been that I’ve become increasingly aware of non-American cards and how different they can look. In particular I’ve been increasingly exposed to Japanese cards from the 1970s and have been stuck by how different they feel compared to my experience with Topps.

The main product here of course is Calbee whose full-bleed photo-centric cards with minimal text and design is as much a polar opposite you can get from anything Topps was doing in the 1970s.* And that’s before even getting into the photography itself.

*The Yamakatsu cards and their own wonderful photo-centric look which, when coupled with the player signatures, creates fabulous looking cards deserve to be mentioned too.

I found myself seeing samples of Calbee cards using telephotography that put the 1970s action cards to shame. It’s not just that it feels like the camera technology was better* but the light itself is better. Most of the Topps photos are shot in the day with full sun—resulting in harsh shadows and high contrast images. The Calbee ones have flatter light which often feels like they were taken indoors or in the night.**

*Given Japan’s position in the camera industry—especially in the 1970s—this is entirely possible.

**Which makes me wonder what kind of film they used and if this is an early Kodak vs Fuji difference. And yeah these results would put me on team Fuji. 

There are also ones which use wide angle lenses to give us beautiful cards that we can only describe as the kind of thing that Stadium Club aspires to today—over four decades after Calbee printed cards like this in Japan.

All of these factors combined have made me periodically search on ebay for Calbee cards. Usually the results—if any—are way too expensive (especially once shipping from Japan comes into play) but low and behold I found some at a decent price which would ship in the international version of a plain white envelope (in this case a manila policy envelope). So I took the plunge and got a half-dozen 1975–1976 Calbee cards that caught my eye.

Amusingly they were all Yomiuri Giants. This is completely coincidental to my collecting interests but not that surprising. As the Yankees of Japan, the Giants had the biggest budget and biggest name players at the time and it was only fitting that the first Calbee cards I’d purchase would feature those players.

From an American point of view, Sadaharu Oh is the obvious must-have card. I was pleased to find two of them at an affordable price as his cards often command the “only Japanese star Americans can name” markup. I really like both of these and am glad to add them to the only Oh card in my collection.

The head shot is close to the standard Topps look with that raking shadow. But it’s super tightly cropped and has wonderful detail on the helmet logo. If it’s posed it doesn’t look it. The batting shot meanwhile shows off his distinct leg kick while also being an unusual angle of not just right behind the plate but also almost below field level.

Shigeo Nagashima meanwhile was the most popular player in Japan and had taken over as the Giants’ manager. So it’s nice and fitting to have his cards as well. The portrait is a nice casual shot but I really like the celebration photo. There are so many great things going on with it with all the other photographers in the frame and the park details such as how the foul pole has lettering on it. I also appreciate that the date stamp for the celebration is not just October 16 but specifies 3:40PM too.

I grabbed the Davey Johnson card because I liked the way it shows how differently the caps were constructed. But it’s also an interesting artifact which fills in a two-year hole in his Topps card record. Because he went to Japan to play from 1975–76 he has no 1976 or 1977 Topps cards and the only mention of what happened in that two-season gap is his 1978 card mentioning that he was a teammate of both Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh.

And I just liked the card of Hisao Niura tying his shoes. It’s a photo I’ve never seen on a card before and reminds me how the current all-action approach to baseball card photography misrepresents the sport. It’s nice to have cards capturing the down time when “nothing” is happening but which make baseball baseball.

Niura is also an interesting character in that, like Oh, he wasn’t considered Japanese despite being from Japan. Where Oh was Chinese, Niura was Korean and I like having these in-between cases in my collection too.

I’ve titled this post “First Calbees” since I can see getting more of these in the future—especially if the photograph catches my eye. However these are also plenty sufficient to satisfy my curiosity. I wasn’t ready for how thick they are compared to what I’ve come to expect from food-insert baseball cards.  The printing is also pretty good—especially for its time.

It’s also nice to see cards in a size that doesn’t follow the Topps standard. These are slightly smaller but don’t feel like minis. With the slightly smaller size and the slightly thicker paper they feel really good in hand.

Happy New Year from @LumberjackCards

Late last months, @LumberjackCards made a New Year’s offer to send a bunch of us a few packs of junk wax* and I happily raised my hand. I didn’t know what to expect but it’s always fun to open packs with my kids. My package arrived on January 2 and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a few more goodies hidden between the packs.

*While I’ve posted about going through junk wax in repacks before it’s worth discussing the term and how most of us who grew up in the peak junk wax days of 1987–1993 use it fondly as a way of enjoying nostalgia on the cheap rather than thinking of all our childhood hobbies as being trash.

The main goodie was a Caveman autograph. I got a few cards of his signed in Philadelphia but this 1989 Topps was not one of them. As a Giants fan, 1989 was one of the more exciting baseball years of my youth and this takes me right back.

The rest of the goodies were a handful of Giants cards. I kind of like how the Chrome scans black—especially with the Giants cards. I also understand the brand a little better when it’s applied to cards with borders. On the current full-bleed cards I never understood the point. But then I’m not a sucker for shiny the way I used to be.

I still am not a fan of Ginter but I can admit that the minis do scratch a bit of my oddball itches. On the Venn Diagram of Insert vs Parallel vs Oddball I’d put the minis right in the middle as part of all three sets. And that’s kind of cool.

The Buster Posey Triple Play card made me laugh because @LumberjackCards put it in a penny sleeve. And the Grizzlies contest was not a winner but no surprise there. Yes I know that the Grizzlies are no longer the Giants AAA affiliate but my gut still thinks of them that way.



The real fun though was the packs. When I showed them to the boys (after a few days of waiting for them to clean up all their Christmas Legos) they excitedly asked if these had gum in them. I had to explain how only Topps had gum and these had puzzle pieces instead. But they had a lot of fun tearing open their packs and seeing who they got.

My five-year-old had a Kirt Manwaring card right on the top of his stack and got very excited to have found a Giants card. The rest of his pack was not nearly as exciting though he was as intrigued by Oil Can Boyd as I was when I first saw him pitch in the 1986 World Series.

My 8-year-old’s pack was a bit better. No Giants but he got George Brett, John Olerud, and Lou Whitaker. He knows enough now to know what the Hall of Fame is and be happy finding cards of guys who are in it.

My packs meanwhile had a bunch of the MVP inserts, a Robin Ventura Rated Rookie, and an Atlee Hammaker card. 1990 Donruss is another one of those designs which has grown on me. It gets a lot of snark about being the Red Set and it is true that the Green (Rookies) and Cyan (Best of NL/AL) sets are a bit easier on the eyes. But that script font and the color spatter and even the bright color all scream 1990s design to me in a way which I really appreciate now.

I had also forgotten the way wax packs smelled. In a good way. Something about the mix of ink and paper and wax reminds me of being a kid again. A little kid. If the smell of UV coating reminds me of opening cards in the early 90s as an early teenager, the wax pack smell reminds me of being nine years old. Which made this a perfect way to kill an hour of time on a snowy day with my kids.