Category Archives: collecting

1978 NST Giants

Veteran’s Day always coincides with a two-day education conference in New Jersey. As a result all the kids in New Jersey have a nice four-day weekend and all the parents have to figure out what to do.* As the primary parent I was pretty relieved to send the kids back to school and get a bit of rest again. When I checked the mail that afternoon it was wonderful to find a plain white envelope in my mail from Jason.

*Apparently Disneyworld is full of New Jersey families this weekend.

Opening and engaging with a small batch of cards is one of my favorite ways to relax and a PWE often contains the perfect amount. In this case, I opened the envelope to find a pack of Japanese cards with Shigeo Nagashima’s photo on the front. I mentioned him in my post on my first Calbee cards, and seeing him here looking about the same age allowed me to put some google searches together to figure out that this was a pack of 1978 NST Yomiuri Giants cards.

The Japanese Baseball Cards blog has a nice rundown of NST’s offerings during the 1970s and includes the information that these were intended to be pasted into an album.* All the player identification information is in the album and the cards themselves are clean and simple—basic photos and a thin white border.

*There’s also a post featuring the 1983 album which provides a sense of how these cards were intended to be displayed.

The card backs are all identical except for the card number which tells you where to paste the photo. Do I know what the cards say? No.* But given how the backs are basically the same year-to-year it doesn’t seem like the text is particularly important and is probably something along the lines of exhorting fans to collect all the cards, trade with their friends, and buy the official album.

*I’d love for translation assistance on the card and packaging backs.

Thankfully however, someone’s translated the album and put the checklist together so I can use the numbers to figure out (or confirm) who the player on the card is.

Of course this leaves me at a loss in terms of identifying who the coach (I’m assuming) on the menko-like parallel card is. He doesn’t look like Nagashima to me and with no name on the front, no number on the back, and not even a uniform number to provide a hint I’m kind of stuck.

Which is a shame since as far as coaching cards go this is kind of a great card with the blue milkcrate full of balls and the scattered equipment in the background. Coach cards don’t lend themselves well to action shots—let alone action shots that look like coaching. This one though clearly features coaching action and represents a photography type I’ve never seen before. Very cool.

Moving on the the regular cards, the first part of the checklist appears to have a lot of cards featuring players out of uniform—or, well, game uniform, The first one, number 46, features three players wearing what looks like school uniforms. The checklist identifies them as “ Suzuki, Kinoshita, and Nakazawa” but as far as I can tell there are no players for the Giants with those names in the years around 1978.

I don’t know that much about how Japanese baseball is organized but I can’t help but think that these must be young/new members to the organization and none of them managed to break into the big league club.

Two more non-uniform cards. Number 50 features Shigeru Takada, the Giants 3rd Baseman, getting off of an airplane. Not a great baseball card but kind of a wonderful photo showing a more civilized age of air travel as well as some wonderfully 70s power neckties. I can’t find an english-language bio of him but I am intrigued by his conversion from outfielder to third baseman. That switch isn’t particularly common in baseball anymore as 3rd base has increasingly become a power position so I’m just not used to seeing it.

Card number 54 meanwhile shows manager Shigeo Nagashima washing his hands at a Chōzuya. I almost didn’t recognize Nagashima out of uniform and I wish I knew the baseball significance of the shrine he’s at.


Card number 98 features Sadaharu Oh speaking at a press conference. I really really want to connect the flowers in front of him, this set being a 1978 release, and the fact that Oh passed Hank Aaron’s home run record on September 3 the previous year into guessing that this is celebrating him being the home run king. But that’s only a guess and for all I know all the press conferences have flowers.

Anyway it’s always nice to add another Oh card to the collection and I love that this one is so different from the other ones I own.


Card number 94 features a dynamic photo of Kazumi Takahashi. It’s oddly cropped but I dig it since he’s striding so strongly into the frame. I was surprised to discover had last played for the Giants in 1975. I saw some other all-time greats on the checklist* but wasn’t expecting a card of a player who was still playing in 1978 only not for the Giants.

*Victor Starffin and Wally Yonamine for example are both on the checklist and I’d’ve been ecstatic to have found either of those cards in the pack.**

**Yes as with Oh and Hisao Niura, I apparently have a soft spot for Japanese ballplayers who push the definition of what it means to be Japanese. I wonder why that could be?

But maybe Takahashi’s service to the club really stood out. His 1973 looks amazing where he completed 24 of 37 starts with a 23–13 record and 2.20 ERA. That’s a career year in any league. Unfortunately it looks like he must’ve ruined his arm that year since in 1974 he only completed 2 of his 22 starts with a 2–11 record and 5.12 ERA. and never really recovered his form after that.

Card number 102 meanwhile shows career-Giant and Hall of Famer Tsuneo Horiuchi who by 1978 was in the decline portion of his career—still eating up innings and starts but not with the same effectiveness as he had in the late 60s and early 70s. His 1972 season for example is a monster of a year where he completed 26 of 34 starts and went 26–9 with a 2.91 ERA.

And yes the math for the number of decisions doesn’t add up to the number of starts for both Takahashi and Horiuchi. Both of them also came out of the bullpen between starts—a fact that blows my mind since 1960s/70s starting pitcher usage is already so far removed from the way pitchers are used today.

Card number 242 features Teruyoshi Matsuo whose single season with the Giants occurred in 1973 (5 games, 2 starts, no decisions, 4.91 ERA) but appears to have been retained as a coach or at least a batting practice pitcher.

Card number 246 also features a coach or batting practice pitcher. Checklist identifies him as Tomio Yamaguchi but the only guy with that name I can find was an infielder for Daiei in 1950. Daiei did play in the same stadium as the Giants though so maybe it’s the same guy. If it is he’d be just over 50 in this photo (he does look older than I’d expect a player to look).

Supercool Jason! This was a lot of fun and I always love being able to see cards and photography from other parts of the world. Thanks!

A 4-month trade

Way back in early June, Tim (@MaxxxPower68) caught wind of my 1978 set build attempt and offered a trade of ~165 cards from that set in exchange for 1960s/70s stars as well as more-recent A’s cards. Needless to say, I was interested. Unfortunately I was 3000 miles away from my cards at the time and had to wait until September before I could make a proper inventory and see what I could offer in response. He was patient enough to set the pile aside and wait until then.

Once September came we had a bit of back and forth as I tried to find enough stuff to make the trade equitable. I tend to be extremely focused in what I acquire and, as a result, don’t have a lot of extras lying around. But I had a some vintage that Tim needed as well as a bunch of more-recent inserts and parallels that fit his son’s collection and we were able to reach an agreement. So I sent them off in late October and received a box of cards just before Halloween.

It was great. Too many cards to show all of them but this batch took my set from 67% to 89% complete and leaves me at a point where I really just need to concentrate on the big-name cards. I’d normally take photos of completed pages but there are so many of them that I can’t do so.

Going through the stack reveals a lot of things that make me smile. It’s nice to complete the Record Breaker subset. I’m always happy to get a Rick Reuschel card. The Jose Cardenal photo is fantastic. Chris Speier is always a favorite. So is Luis Tiant. I love that first Mariners team photo in front of the Kingdome. Julio Cruz’s photo is great. And it’s always nice to see playing-day photos of guys who I’m familiar with as managers.

I especially love the Managers subset this year and how those cards feature a then and now photo of each manager. It’s not a design I’d want to see every year but I wish it would make an appearance more often than once in Topps’s entire history (though heck I’d just like to see Manager cards come back).

As a Giants fan, all the photos taken at Candlestick are just wonderful. That pre-Jumbotron scoreboard with the Marlboro advertisement reminds me of my first seasons as a fan. So does, unfortunately, the empty outfield upper deck which was only ever full on Opening Day or Fan Appreciation Day. That chain link fence through which you can see the  structure of the unused football stands (that the Gossage card with its well-done (for a change) airbrushing is so clearly taken at Candlestick just adds to its charm). The giant press box on the third base side. I just wish that it wasn’t still artificial turf.

Tim also included all the checklists that I needed. This is very much appreciated. I hate the idea of explicitly trying to acquire checklists even though they’re an important part of the set. The 1978 checklists are kind of weird in how the card numbering appears to be an afterthought with a circle placed wherever it fits on the back. A shame since the rest of the set gets a lot of the small details so so right.

Thanks so much Tim. I’m glad we were able to get this trade to work and I’m very happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel with this 1978 build now.

WaxPack Surprise

A couple weeks ago when I went to get the mail, I found a small box addressed to me. I didn’t recognize the sender and couldn’t remember making any ebay purchases or signing up for any breaks. But that didn’t stop me from staring at it for five minutes to figure out if I was having a senior moment.

I shouldn’t have worried. Turns out it was a surprise package from Steve (@WaxPack916). He’s one of the more active TTM senders on Twitter and it’s always fun to see his returns. He also just started blogging in the past year and is in general just a good guy on Card Twitter.

Highlights of the package are three signed cards. When sending out requests it’s pretty common to send a couple cards out at a time so I’m assuming these are extras from successful returns.

Bergman and Summers fall into the category of guys whose cards I’d run into as a kid but never actually saw them play for the team. By the time I was a fan, Bergman was in the AL so I didn’t get to see him play and Summers’s career was over. Instead they were characters in the backstory of trauma and the days where the highlight of the decade was knocking the Dodgers out of the playoffs in 1982. Things I just was expected to know as a fan. So know them I did.

Bob Brenly though is a favorite. I’ve mentioned him before on here. He was a favorite as a player and later on, as a coach whose refreshingly candid post-game show was something we looked forward to after every game. I’m just not used to him with the mustache. It looks so weird.

These are the first signed 1983 Donruss cards I have as well. It’s a simple design that works pretty well with the signatures. The 1984 Topps cards though work really well. I especially like the geometric magenta and teal 1980s-ness on Summers card and the way he signed it vertically.

Steve included a few shiny cards in the package as well. The 1993 Denny’s card is fantastic and comes from one of my favorite oddball sets of all time. The 2001 Elite JT Snow confused the hell out of my scanner. It’s bright silver but scans black with more dust than any photo negative I’ve scanned. And the gold Willie Mays is a 2012 Factory set insert. I’m not so sure how many different Mays cards were available but a gold chrome version of the 1953 design feels wildly contradictory.

A handful of other Giants filled out the team bag and reminded me of how poor the Giants drafting was in the early 1990s. Steve’s custom card meanwhile is encouraging me to consider designing one of my own as well.

There was also a bag of pocket schedules. I don’t explicitly collect these but they’re always fun to look at. Minor league ones are always especially interesting in terms of seeing what kinds of promotions are listed and which player gets highlighted on the cover.

And last but not least there were two coins from 2018 Archives. Since this isn’t a product I’ve purchased it’s fun to see these. Heck I’m unfamiliar with the original coins as well. Yes I know they fit in 2×2 holders and 20-pocket pages but for whatever reason I just haven’t gotten any. They’re cute and I see why people like them.

Fittingly for a package from a guy calling himself “WaxPack,” the bulk of the box though was loose packs for my kids to rip. This looks like a lot of fun and I’ll be sure to tweet what they find. We’ll have to have a draft where they pick their packs and then I’ll let them start ripping.

Very cool Steve and thanks so much!

Wait what? I just got one of these

The day I got my envelope from Marc he posted a “heads up to the following zip codes” 0utgoing-mailday post which included my zip. I assumed that he’d written it a few days earlier and just posted it without expecting that my mail had already arrived. Turns out I should’ve expected a second envelope.

This one had an enigmatic note wrapped around the cards. What could it be indeed? The last time I got such a note it turned out to be Bob Veale.

Holy crap another 1964 surprise which knocks off a hole in my Stanford searchlist. This time it’s a high-number rookie of Bill Wakefield which was on the “more expensive than I wanted to spend at this time” list. Wakefield’s an interesting case in that I think he’s the only guy in that project who graduated from Stanford but never played for the baseball team.

I also like that he spent only a single season in the majors but managed to get three seasons of cards out of it. While I like his 1965 and 1966 cards better, it’s nice to have one from his actual season in which he appeared in 62 games.

Marc also included a 2017 Fire card of Stephen Piscotty which will slide into my Stanford album a few pages in front of the Wakefield. I skipped this set too so this is my first time seeing it in the flesh. I prefer the 2018 design. Aside from not liking the way the crazy background interacts with the player here, the way Topps just slapped the team logo over this design feels incredibly wrong.

Team logos are almost all decades-old design so incorporating them into an over-the-top modern design like this requires more work than just dumping the logo in the corner.


Filling out the rest of the envelope were three 2016 Topps cards. Every time I see this design I can’t help but think about how much nicer it would be with the smoke stuff. Just a nice full-bleed photo. Dump the team name. Keep the rest of the TV-style graphics as they are.

Each time I see this Posey though I’m increasingly inclined to view it as a photo of him with four arms.

And finally a 2018 Stadium Club card that’s well-timed on the heels of my going through Adam’s box and seeing all those 1990s card tropes. Photos of players with a cameras—preferably a gigantic lens—were pretty common in those days. They’re obviously still an appealing shot—especially to photographers like Marc and me. I’m more surprised though that we aren’t seeing photos of players with cellphones taking selfies with fans and whatnot.

Thanks for the surprise PWEs and for finishing off one of the Stanford Alumni runs! Only five left from the 60s/70s now. As for the overall list, I’ve had to add a few thanks to Topps Update (and expect another three or so once Bowman Draft comes out) so I’ve still got a dozen cards left overall to look for.

Fire PWE from Bru

A couple weeks ago I found yet another small envelope from Marc in my mailbox. This one caught me by surprise since I’d just received a decent package from him. When I opened it up I found a bit of Fire. Topps Fire.

That’s a McCutchen base card and a Cueto foil card. I don’t know the proper terminology since this set isn’t the kind of thing I pursue. Marc sent me my first Fire card ever in his previous PWE and these will go next to it in the binder.

Looking at these cards makes me realize how many of the things I dislike in card designs are things I really like as oddballs. As a 200-card set, stuff like this just makes me shake my head. As a 30-card set? I could see myself getting into it. The same goes with Panini’s unlicensed cards which have all the logos airbrushed out. Something about the small checklist makes me much more accepting of quirkiness.

Part of this is because the small checklist encourages a smarter selection of players. You need stars who aren’t diminished by an over-the-top design or who can salvage something logoless and bland. Finding 200 of those guys? Tough. Finding one per team? Much easier.

Anyway, both these cards look way nicer in person and a lot of that has to do with the fact that all three Fire cards I have are of star players. I just wish that Cutch and Stretch had different backgrounds since this design is really asking to be different on each card.

Like this Piscotty background is a nice change of pace. Seeing pages of this over and over again would make my eyes bleed. But seeing one page of craziness? Totally fine. And having just one card amidst a page of otherwise sedate designs really livens things up.

I’ve got to admit, I much prefer Fire to Gypsy Queen. Where I understand what Fire’s doing, I remain absolutely confused by GQ. From the HDR action photos to the pseudo-vintage look which hearkens back to the days of studio photographs, I’ve never been able to wrap my head around what this product is trying to do. Once you toss all the “errors” and variants into the mix? No. Fucking. Clue.

Still it’s nice to have a few in my albums since I’ll never ever buy them. Gives a nice variety to the page and that’s always fun. Plus I would never have noticed how weird it is to have such a different white point in the photo compared to the background of the card if I hadn’t had to scan this for this post. It makes my brain hurt since it makes it clear how the antique background effect is just a printed border.

Continuing with the Stanford theme. Marc included a Bowman Chrome of Mark Appel. This card also doesn’t scan well. Chrome goes black and the border becomes a weird grey halftone. On the plus side, scanning Chrome reveals a lot about how it was printed since the change in reflectivity shows where there’s an opaque white and where there isn’t.

As much as I don’t like the way Chrome looks with photography, I’m fascinated by the printing. Opaque white has such promise for all kinds of cool printing effects* and I’m a bit disappointed that it’s used as essentially a flood for covering up metallic stock. At the same time, it’s not used much in printing at all so to see it live and in the flesh is still exciting.

*If I were designing things I’d be going nuts with opaque white ink on medium-dark papers where the ink would create highlights and the black could create shadows.

Two other cards in the PWE. The first is a 2016 Update card of Brandon Belt as an All Star. One of the disappointing things for me upon reengaging with the hobby is how boring All Star cards have gotten. I mean it’s always fun to get an All Star card of a player on your team, but I grew up in the days of the dedicated subsets which had their own distinct All Star designs.

Coming across an All Star card was something special and those designs still trigger a ton of nostalgia when I see them. If I were baseball card king this is one of the things I’d bring back. Just slapping the All Star logo on the card front without even changing the team name is some laziness.

And last, the super-cool Deion Sanders action card. This goes with the rest of my Action collection even though it’s very much riffing on the concept rather than actually being action. I always liked this card too. Was cool when I saw it in 1992. It’s still cool now.

Looking at it now and I can’t help but notice how smart Upper Deck was to basically remove all the 1992 design from this and let the photo stand on its own. No baseballs. No drop shadow. No names. Just a photo and we all knew exactly who it was. Part of me smiles at seeing him carrying a football since as a cornerback that wasn’t his main job. And the rest of me remembers that ridiculous high-stepping pick-six celebration.

Thanks Marc for the very cool mailday.

Arpsmith: Topps goes crazy

How many words is that so far. 5000? 6000? Anyway, picking up from the previous post and soldiering on. This post covers not only the Giants World Series years but also shows the huge jump in products and inserts that Topps was releasing after it got a monopoly.

2010

Upper Deck’s trying to fight against the new monopoly. It’s not a great set but I like it better than many people do. Biography is also a neat-looking set in that it has a card for each day of the season. I’d like to see this tried again.

The real story though is Topps with a bunch of different sets. 19 different Topps piles here is just insane. I also don’t have much to say about any of them. The 206s continue to look goofy. So do the Turkey Reds. I do really love that 3D Sandoval card and need to search for more of the Opening Day 3D inserts. Seeing Mel Ott on the 1989 design is completely wrong. And those Topps Attax cards look more like promotional inserts that should be thrown away than an actual collectible card game.

2011

This year. 32 different Topps piles including an increased number of cards which have the same basic design and photos as Flagship. The black ones are kind of cool. The crazy sparkly ones…I don’t know these just aren’t my thing.

I like the Glossy Rookies homage. I’m completely confused at reprinting Buster Posey’s rookie card the year after it released. I love the Lincecum action card from Heritage. I’m not feeling it from Ginter this year since whatever they did for the vintage looks makes Madison Bumgarner look like he has Chicken Pox.

More 2011s. Topps Attax is a huge improvement over 2010. Bowman is getting even more confusiong than it usually is with a couple different paper and chrome designs but no obvious way for me to determine what sets are what. I also have no idea what there are four different Platinum backgrounds and what those are supposed to mean.

Yes that’s a Donruss card. The brand refuses to die. And that last Matt Cain is a sports Illustrated for Kids card. I only ever kept the baseball cards from those when I was a kid and looking at this new version I’m simultaneously happy that the magazine still came with cards 20 years later and sad that it’s not still that horrid blue/teal blotches early-90s design.

2012

Nice stack of Minis here. I should probably figure out how those were released. They’re fun though. Lots of cards featuring the same design again. Seeing everything laid out and I both understand why people want to complete rainbows and am completely discouraged at the concept of trying to get all the different colors. There’s really no reason for it.

This year does have a much-improved Ginter design. It’s amazing what switching to a spot ink for the scrollwork does in terms of cleaning up the entire card front. There are a few diecuts sprinkled in here. I find myself extremely intrigued by these since they all have to conform to the standard card size at some level so it’s an interesting design challenge to create a diecut shape that is interesting in its own right while following those constraints. The Bowman one works better for me here.

Also, we’re up to four Panini/Donruss sets now including the infamous Triple Play that everyone wants to try and avoid. None of these sets are licensed now. The Coperstown cards are adept at hiding logos through creative cropping. The other two cards start to look like food issues the longer you stare at them.

2013

Once the sea turtle got pointed out to me I can’t unsee it. Which is a shame since I actually liked this design a bit beforehand. Relatively simple. Foil isn’t unreadable. Teams all feature their own colors. I like Archives this year and that 4-sticker card is a lot of fun. Ginter continues to use the spot color well too.

Panini has two sets in this batch. Hometown Heroes is surprisingly good. Works well in the unlicensed format and has a good old-school feel without being a straight-up copy of a classic design. This is a line they could’ve released more than one year. Triple play on the other hand should’ve been sent to the cornfield in 2012 and the 2013 version is even more ghastly.

2014

Things are calming down now. Not because Topps is calming down but because I suspect that Adam hasn’t had the time to accumulate a ton of duplicates yet. Still there’s a decent chuck of flagship and minis to file. This is also my favorite Ginter design of all time The spot metallic ink is perfect and the effects that Topps did on the photos are really well done.

The Panini Classics card is perfect. I’ve pulled a few from repacks but it‘s nice to have a Giant. I’ve commented before on this Donruss design though and while I like the homage to earlier sets I’ll never be able to remember what year this one is from.

2015

Nice stacks of Flagship, minis, and Heritage wrap up the World Series years. It’s fun to accumulate cards from the years the Giants won and the years after the series since many of the photos and highlights show up in those sets.

The 2015 design is one which I had an initial bad reaction to but now, having seen what comes both before and after it, I really like. Colorful team-color borders are a lot of fun. I’m glad the Giants have a decent number of playoff ones with the red border to change things up.

2016

Two firsts for me here. One is my first sparkle snowflake card. The other is my first ToppsNOW card. I love the idea of ToppsNOW, I just hate the distribution. If it were the kind of thing you could subscribe to and get a card from every game? Color me interested (although the price would have to be much lower too). But at $10 a pop with the over-emphasis on big-market teams to the detriment of others? Hard pass.

Also that Cepeda Stadium Club is awfully pretty and I like the throwback 1982-style Donruss card. Looks a bit off with the huge logo but it’s a wonderfully quaint design that has a lot of nostalgia appeal.

2017

And a few 2017 cards round out the box. My kids will like the Bunts. I enjoy the stack of Archives. I really don’t know what to say about this shipment besides “holy crap thanks” and “looks like I need more binders.” When I get my GiantsNOW set manufactured* I’ll totally put one together for Adam as well.

*It’s mostly complete I’m just waiting on awards to be released since there’s a decent chance Crawford will win a Gold Glove.

Arpsmith: The Lean Years

Picking up where I left off yesterday. I made a break between 1996 and 1997 because the quantity of sets included in the package dropped off a ton between those years. Part of this is no doubt a reflection of Adam’s collecting interests and the nature of what kinds of cards he’s picked up. But it’s also a decent reflection of what I’ve noticed about cards from the late-90s and 2000s. They just don’t seem to be circulating.

1997

I’ve been thinking of these years as being somewhat lean but they may also represent how the market was fragmenting a bit. The selection of 1997 cards here is very different than the selection of cards I got in exchange for my Garbage Pail Kids. Lots of Topps and Upper Deck. Very little Donruss or Pinnacle. I suspect that collectors had started narrowing their focus at this point and were no longer purchasing everything.

In terms of this batch, there’s not much to say. We’ve got another photo of a baby. No idea what Upper Deck is thinking with its highlight taglines. I’m increasingly liking Score. Collector’s Choice is still good despite being indistinguishable from previous years. Zenith’s lack of player name (or really any other design) is kind of admirable. And that Matt Williams Fleer is a cool promotional item.

1998

This year is the last year in which the trading card landscape looks like how I remembered things from my youth. Topps, Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, and Upper Deck. Some premium sets like Pinnacle (also Stadium Club and Ultra but none of those are in this batch).

I gather that there were all kinds of crazy inserts and things during this time. I’ve not seen those yet. What I do know is that this is the last year Pinnacle (who by this time also owned Donruss) went out of business so a bunch of the card lines suddenly vanished after this year.

In terms of card design, the less said the better. Some of the expensive sets this year (e.g. Gold Label and SP Authentic) are very nice but the basic ones pictured here? I’m not a fan. Donruss at least has some character and Collector’s Choice finally looks a bit different but overall I’m not feeling it with this year.

1999 & 2000

Putting these two together because without Pinnacle there’s not a lot to write about. 1999 is super thin since Upper Deck, sadly, discontinued Collector’s Choice. Instead we have Upper Deck MVP—a set which manages to look like an insert each year—and Upper Deck Victory which hits some of the Collector’s choice feeling but has none of the charm.

This also begins an age of Topps sets all looking the same to me although I do like the baseball three-player card. At least Upper Deck’s designs are more interesting though. I may not like the foil salad tongs look of 1999 but it’s an identity. 2000 Upper Deck meanwhile appeals to me in a period-appropriate way and the Gold Reserve variants are kind of nice.

Fleer meanwhile decided to scrap all the fancy-shmancy card designs in 2000 and released a strong vintage-looking design. When I first encountered these I had a bad reaction to them since they felt like part of the whole Heritage ecosystem of modern reproductions of old designs. Looking at them in context though and I can see that they’re an intentional reaction to the overabundance of high-tech cards. Rather than competing on snazzy-jazzy, Fleer decided to get back to the roots of the hobby. I appreciate how much of it is zigging while everyone else zags.

The most interesting cards in this batch though are the MLB Showdown playing cards. The idea of a collectible card game appeals to me with regard to sports. I just wish that, instead of being something where every year a new deck gets released, that the deck was conceived as something to build over many seasons. This would result in a card set which behaves like nothing else on the market and comes closer to the concept of what I wish Topps Living was.

Heck, I don’t need the game, I just like the idea of cards being designed to last many years and encouragement to frankenstein my own set together out of the every-expanding checklist.

2001

Donruss comes back in 2001 just in time for its 20th anniversary. It’s an odd, awkward design though. 2001 Topps is one I actually like. Something about the grey-green borders really works for me although the blue-grey Opening Day color is also very nice. There’s a subtle richness to both colors that I don’t find on most cards and I really appreciate the way it frames and accentuates the photography.

Fleer is continuing its retro kick with a set which evokes 1956 Topps. I want to love this set but there’s an absolutely appallingly awful Photoshop filter applied to the action image. I think it’s supposed to look like a painting but instead it looks like an image went missing during printing so the printer just interpolated things from the preview image.

There’s also a true Fleer retro design in how Fleer Platinum is remaking the 1981 design. Unfortunately, that 1981 design is so loving hands that any improvement just looks wrong.

Upper Deck is nice enough this year. I’m finding myself partial to the full-bleed designs even though they’re difficult to distinguish from each other.

2002

I’m collecting 2002 cards a bit more earnestly than other years due to World Series reasons so it’s nice to get a big stack of Topps here. Is a shame that it’s kind of an awful design with a horrid background color and some bizarre scroll detailing. If you’re going to change the colors of some of the elements to match the team colors, picking a background color that clashes with those colors is not a good idea.

One of the things I can see happening this year is the number of sets from each manufacturer is going up again. Topps 206 is kind of a hideous retro-ish set but Topps Total is very cool. I love the idea of a set which tries to get everyone on the roster a card. I’ve been looking at the current state of things and unless you’re a young rookie or starter your chances of a card are pretty slim. Which sucks since there are a lot of lifetime minor league guys who deserve at least one card for their cup of coffee in the bigs.

Fleer continues to do the retro thing. It’s getting a bit too specific/blatant for my taste now in referencing specific designs though. It’s interesting to me how Upper Deck, Ultra, and Stadium Club all ended up at around the same place in their design philosophy. Big full-bleed photos with small name plates. As much as it would be nice to have multiple manufactures still making cards, I’m not sure we’d need three different sets like this.

Also it’s weird to see Flair still kicking along except without looking anything like the super-premium set it used to be. I’ll have to take another look but one decade after its debut and my impression of it is that it’s now indistinguishable from the other cards.

2003

Like 2002, Topps has a design with a distracting border color. Not a fan of the blue. Now do I like the bright red Topps logo. Which is a shame since the picture-in-picture callback to 1983 (and 1963) is otherwise wonderful. I’ll have to get more of the World Series and Playoff cards from this set too.

Opening Day’s border is a slight improvement on the Flagship. I really like this year’s Heritage design. 1954 is one of my favorites and it‘s nice that Topps just played things straight without trying any stunts to make the photography look old. The stack of Topps Shoebox will be great as stand-ins for vintage cards I’ll never be able to afford. I have mixed feelings about the Topps Archives and 205s in their fakiness but I do enjoy that triple folder.

2003 Donruss is nice and plain and boring. 2003 Fleer though is a fantastic version of the 1963 design. I like that they updated the position to have white highlights but this design is so simple and so good that it’s just nice to have a full-size set of cards in it. The Fleer discs are also a ton of fun and I dig the doubleheader as well. Odd cards are good cards.

Not as much a fan of this year’s Upper Deck but it’s fine. MVP still looks like an insert. 40 man is very cool as a competitor to Topps Total. It’s also a slick design that I very much like. and Victory this year is interesting in that it has rounded corners and appears to be trying to be a collectible card game. I like the format and the feel. I’m not a fan of the actual design of the card though where it looks lie I’m looking though a toilet paper tube.

2004

This is an underrated Topps design. I didn’t like it much at first but it’s grown on me a ton with the easy-to-read team names and a position indicator which copies the player position in the photo. I also had very few of these cards so it’s great to have enough for a page now.

I’m not as taken with the grey Opening Day design and the Topps Archives, Cracker Jack, and Bowman Heritage designs are all interesting takes on the retro esthetic. I really really wish that Topps didn’t use photos with those modern polyester black spring training uniforms in the retro designs though. It spoils the whole look.

Some nice things going on in the Donruss Team Heroes set with the split-color bars I also like how many of the companies have followed Fleers lead and gone with more throwback-feeling designs. Fleers this time reminds me of their 1984 design and Upper Deck Vintage has a bit of 1954 Red Heart Dog Food going on. It’s just nice to see companies remember what solid colors, white borders, and no fancy computer design can do.

Side comment here. I apparently still suffer some fan-PTSD with regard to Sidney Ponson and his stint as a colossal waste of space as a giant.

Also I’m kind of into what this Upper Deck design is trying to do. It’s a little hard to read but I love the idea of including a detail from the player’s ballpark on the front of the card.

2005

Kind of a thin year represented here. Topps’s design looks a bit too similar to the previous year but doesn’t hold together as well. Same with the Cracker Jacks. Archives remains interesting in the way it’s producing variants of the real cards which Topps released that year. I like this when they use an improved photo but Cepeda’s 1962 Topps card is a beaut and this new version is a major downgrade.

Donruss, kinda boring. I can just tell that it’s petering out and about to go out of business again. Fleer is continuing its retro kick but feels like it’s also running out of ideas.  And Upper Deck is still Upper Deck. I totally don’t understand the point of the First Pitch set however. But then I also don’t understand Opening Day either. The idea of a cheaper-made, smaller-checklist set that offers nothing new besides the price point just feels like a craven marketing ploy to make sure that all segments are targeted.

2006

So those Barry Bonds cards cover 2005–2007 but I’m keeping them together. This set is so obnoxious. I’m amazed however that there are Chrome versions. I hope that the Chromes do not also exist as paper versions (and vice versa). Also I have to point out that 661—when Bonds passes Mays—is stamped silver.  I’m assuming this is standard and nothing special.

The Topps Flagship design this year is one I can”t stand. Too many things going on. Borders and banners and ribbons and foil stamping and like 3 different fonts. It’s bad. Allen & Ginter and Turkey Red are also super awkward this year. they sort of look retro but they‘re also obviously modern and uncanny.

I will never understand chrome or foil Heritage cards. If you’re going to go for the old look, go for the old look don’t get cold feet and start adding foil where it’s not needed.

Fleer though this year is kind of nice. This is the first year Upper Deck owned the brand and it kind of shows. The base Fleer set kind of looks like Collector’s Choice and Victory. The Fleer Tradition set has the same basic layout that almost every Upper Deck set this decade has had only it has a border and flat solid inks. I actually like this set a lot since it’s not scared to use color and I have a soft spot for letting the solid process colors just print solid.

Ultra meanwhile looks awfully close to the Upper Deck base. It‘s got the usual Ultra font wackiness but there’s no reason for Uppper Deck to produce both of these. Plus Upper Deck’s design this year is pretty nice.

2007

A nice huge stack of Topps. Sadly I much prefer the white Opening Day design to the black Flagship one. The number of Topps releases is steadily increasing but hasn’t gotten bad yet. It weirds me out to see Dick Perez doing his Diamond Kings thing on a Topps card. It also is weird as hell to have the 1/1 editioning on the painting included in the reproduction.

Speaking of weird, Bowman Heritage using the 1954 Red Heart Dog Food design instead of a vintage Bowman design (and only a couple years after Upper Deck referenced that same design) makes no sense to me. That this design is so close to the Topps Heritage design with the player set against a solid painted-out background means the two sets look way too similar for my taste.

This is the last year of Fleer and the design looks like an Upper Deck reject. Sad to see that brand peter out as I’ll miss its willingness to print silly photographs in the 80s. Fleer Ultra is using almost the exact same font as the previous year but still manages to look better than whatever Upper Deck is doing with the elevator doors effect. That numbered Barry Zito is kind of nice however.

2008

So I like this Flagship design. I just wish the Topps logo was handled differently. Heritage though. Wow. I’ve never seen so many low-resolution photos before. Ginter is still in its growing pains. And since Bowman confuses me every year it’s nice to see one season when the paper and chrome versions are so different.

Donruss is back again. Very much a fringe product of non-current players but it’s clearly the brand that won’t stay dead.

And holy crap how many different Upper Deck sets are going on this year. I love the base design as a retread/homage of 1995’s design. Simple text and lots of photo is a great look. I also like the Vintage artwork. It’s not just a Photoshop filter and there’s some nice stuff going on with the keylines and coloring in this set. Masterpieces is one of the rare sets printed on uncoated stock. I appreciate the linen texture as a way of working with both the painting effect and well as increasing the pleasure of just handling the card.

The big stack of Documentary though almost deserves a post of its own. What a fantastic idea for a set. What a disastrously lazy execution. The idea of producing a card for each game a team plays is wonderful. It’s what I wish ToppsNOW was doing. It’s almost what I’m doing with my GiantsNOW project.*

*I have exactly 162 cards but only 108 of them are game highlights and the rest are roster cards.

I love the backs which include a writeup of the game. I hate the fronts which reuse the same photos over and over again and can’t even be bothered to use a photo of a payer who even played in the game. Hate, hate, hate the fronts. I will be displaying these with the backs showing.

2009

And I’m finishing off this post with 2009s because Topps starts to really go crazy in 2010. Not too many different things here yet. I kind of like the retro-stock variants. Ginter’s growing into itself a bit.

Upper Deck though. Wow. Over a dozen different piles here. Base design is fine. Main point of interest is Randy Johnson as a Giant though. The Starquest pair are I guess base and variant. There’s a helpful graphic on the back stating the color and how “common” it is. That we need such a graphic is one of those things that I hate about the current state of the hobby. Not to go all old man but needing to use space on the backs of cards to describe the print run of the front of the card is not why I look at the backs of cards.

I continue to like the way Upper Deck is doing the Goudy design. I also really like the Goodwin Champions cards. Something about the way Upper Deck’s artists have approached the vintage designs works way better for me than the way Topps did. Topps seems to frequently rely too heavily on Photoshop actions and doesn’t seem to consider the appropriateness of the photo for the look of the piece.

And the big stack of O Pee Chee is a lot of fun. I’m still not used to it not being a Topps affiliate but this design is a fantastic throwback to how cards used to feel. It’s not retro or heritage, it’s just a well-done basic cardset.