2021 in review

A little late but still plenty of time to get my 2021 in review post out. Last year was a weird year. Nothing in stores. COMC not shipping (I finally got my shipment with over 2 years worth of cards right before Christmas). I even started to run out of things to post over on SABR. Usually I have close to fifteen posts. This year I needed a late flurry to get up to twelve.

In any case I’ll start off with a recap of the posts I especially liked over in SABR. First off, I wrote one of my favorite posts ever this year where I looked at the history of baseball cards as it fits into the larger history of photography and vernacular imagery. I’m too much a photo geek to not be annoyed by the way baseball card collectors ignore the larger context of the hobby and this was my attempt to provide some contex.

I also had some fun with more wiggle gifs as I scanned another set of Viewmaster discs. These aren’t as nice as my first such post but it’s always fun to do the wiggle gif thing. And I got to go down a bit of a rabbit hole into baseball at the 1912 Olympics thanks to a T218 card of a Track and Field Olympian.

Moving to specific projects of mine. I made a huge step in my Giants Retired numbers project with a couple purchases of autographs of Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Monte Irvin, and Willie McCovey—all players who I never really expected to have autographs of. I’ve gone ahead and put together a page to keep track of the current status of this project. I do not expect to update it very frequently. The cards/autographs I’m missing are all super tough and even updating the depicted cards to older ones is unlikely at this point.

Another project I decided to start tracking is my San Francisco Seals type collection. I went ahead and included Oaks cards from sets that don’t feature any Seals as a way of including more variety.

With that in mind I had a couple cards in my COMC pile which I’ve added. The 1930 Johnny Miljus Zeenut is the 5th Zeenut in the collection. It would be nice to get cards from other sets but Obaks aren’t cheap nor are the 1949 PCL Bowmans. Since there are no Seals in the 1933 Goudey set I grabbed the Floyd (Pete) Scott for Oakland Oaks reasons instead.

I did complete one set last year. Lanny gave me a heads up that he had a couple lower-grade copies of the last two cards I needed so I jumped on those. Yes. Lower grade for Lanny means the centering is off on an otherwise perfect-looking card. And yes I left the two big cards for last.

I know common wisdom is to hit the bigger cards first but since I like building sets to get to know the sets better, I don’t mind waiting until a deal comes up for the big cards. After all, they’re always available. The Murray is a fantastic photo and legitimate contender for both the best card in the set and the 1970s.

This leaves me one card short on two other builds—1994 Topps (Joey Cora. Totally gonna happen this year) and 2017 Stadium Club (Aaron Judge. No likely while his prices are still elevated). And for my other builds I’m ~85 cards short on 1989 Donruss and only 65% complete on 2014 Topps.

I made decent headway in my vintage Giants team sets. Being in a holding pattern of sorts where I need just Willie Mays, HoF rookies, and short prints (typically high numbers) I’m biding my time and picking things off when they hit an acceptably low price point.

I think my favorite here is the 1953 Bowman Monte Irvin but the 1961 McCovey is pretty nice too. The 1966 Mays meanwhile represents the kind of cheap low-grade card I’m waiting for now. I don’t mind the writing at all.

Which brings me to the past year in autograph hunting. Not much done in person since I only made it to like three Minor League games. I did however grab Jeff Manto and Derrick May at a Trenton Thunder Draft League game and got Casey Candeale at a Buffalo Bisons of Trenton AAA game. These were especially fun since all three are in the 1991 sets that my kids have. My eldest has been working on signed in-person 1991 Topps for a while while my youngest just started with 1991 Score.

This was a good year for TTMs. My longest return was Max Venable in 785 days. I don’t “give up” on returns but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a surprise. It’s always special to get a straggler back.

Meanwhile my shortest return was from Mark Leiter in only 3 days. Not sure I’m ever going to get one this quickly again. Pretty sure it’s impossible to get a faster one too.

I sent out a lot of customs this year and got most of them back. It’s been a very good year for the 1956ish design. Lots of fan favorite players. Lots of great photos. A few fun inscriptions. Impossible to pick a favorite and I had a hard enough time winnowing the samples here down to twenty.

Spring training was not nearly as good to me. Seems like Covid protocols kept a lot of guys from their mail. I did get a few Giants customs back at least. Tyler Rogers is probably the best of these—I remain confused how Topps hasn’t issued a solo card of him yet. Will be interesting to see how this year goes with the lockout but I’m not optimistic that I’ll be able to send anything right now.

A few Giants returns covering cards from across the decades. I’m kind of split between liking the George Foster or Renel Brooks-Moon best. Foster’s clearly the best player here though he barely counts as a Giant. Brooks-Moon meanwhile is a fan favorite whose whole return was probably my best of the year. Also I need to mention how great the Rick Parker photo is.

I just enjoy being able to flesh out the Giants binder in general though. Seeing it grow has been a great experience and writing the letters as a fan is also just a lot of fun.

A few other favorite returns this year. I’m not actively pursuing A’s but it turns out I got a lot of the guys from my youth. I didn’t like that team—mostly Tony LaRussa’s fault—but all those guys hit me in the feels now. Also a lot of guys here who fall into the “great players for a certain generation” category. A couple fantastic photos like Wynegar and Bordick, and an unexpected inscription from Davey Johnson which was perfect for me since the 1986 World Series was the first one I watched.

A lot of last year though was spent working duplicates from the cards from my youth. I’m not paging these by set in the binder—everything is alphabetically—but it’s fun to see a page-worth of each set that I’ve been working. I’m especially enjoying the photography on the 1986s.

1988 is a design that was underwhelming when I was a kid but which I really appreciate now. Its simple nature also works really well signed and lets the signature make the card.

1989 meanwhile is just a classic look. It’s missing the interestingness of he photos in 1986 but screams Baseball Card™ in a great way.

Not a ton of pre-war cards to mention. I have a few more that I need to scan and even more I still need to post about but I got some of my oldest cards in general,  a couple sets about polar exploration, and some more Garbatys. As the hobby has exploded, the pre-war deals I used to enjoy have started to dry up. Hopefully I’ll still find a few but we’ll see.

And that about wraps it up. A productive year despite everything. The kids have managed to stay engaged—thanks in part to the Giants having a season to remember. I haven’t been able to share the hobby as much with them as in previous years but we’re working on it.  I’m hoping that we finally turn a corner in 2022. Stay safe out there.

Addendum

As soon as this posted I realized that I had neglected to include a section about all the trades and maildays I received last year. I’m not going to recap every one since here are way too many but I do need to show the highlights.

A big thanks goes out to Donna, Mike, Scott, Jeff, Gio, Julie, Greg, John, Shane, Attic, Bob, Marc, Mark, Mark, Jason, Kerry, Shlabotnik, and everyone else who sent me stuff last year. I really love the variety and in a year when access to product was way down, being able to brighten people’s lives with trades and random gifts was fantastic.

We all tend to get caught up in tying our hobby enjoyment to what we can buy. I don’t think this is healthy either mentally or financially. It’s so much better to scratch those itches as a community and get cards that we aren’t enjoying to the right people who will enjoy them much much more.

A pile from Night Owl

Way back in November, Greg/Night Owl made a plea for people to take a bunch of extra Dodgers cards off his hands. While his request was intended for other Dodgers collectors, I figured it was a sign that I should take the plunge into collecting Shawn Green so I commented hat if he felt like dumping a bunch of Shawn Green on me I’d be happy to take them.

The madness of the holiday season means that sending mailings out like this gets backburnered until the week after Christmas. Sure enough, I found a bubble mailer in my mailbox on New Year’s Eve and inside was the stack of Shawn Green cards and an almost-threatening note.

I appreciate that Greg kept things in check. Where the other Stanford guys who didn’t play baseball for Stanford tend to not have many of cards at all, Green has a ton.* As I said way back when I first added him to the binder, I don’t want to supercollect him. But I won’t turn down a big stack and as a legitimate star/semi-star he does show up in a lot of sets which I’ve not included in the binder.

*Checking Trading Card Database. Bill Wakefield has 14, Bobby Brown has 34, Kenny Williams has 62, and Shawn Green has 4,445.

Anyway, to the pile. Since Greg is a Dodgers fan it only covers 2000–2005 when Green was getting Dodgers cards. He did however do a nice job in giving me a few cards from each year.

Starting off in 2000. I’m glad there’s one card depicting Green as a Blue Jay here. I have Giants cards from most of these sets but I’m pretty sure none of them are represented in my Stanford Album. I’ve tended to focus on either the base flagship sets or oddballs in that album. This is partly for simplicity’s sake and partly because I can’t be bothered to learn about the thousands of sets released in the 1990s and 2000s

This group of six kind makes that point since not only are none of them are from base flagship sets, they’re all from releases that only lasted a couple years. In many ways I love how much the hobby was trying things out. In other ways it’s a clear sign that everything was out of control.

To the 2001. Same story as with the 2000s except that I need to point out that my Stadium Club coverage of these years in all albums is thin to none. Greg included Stadium Club cards for 2000–2003 and they were my first representatives of those sets in any of my collections. I should probably rectify that for other Stanford guys as well as the Giants. Anyway this 2001 Stadium Club card is an especially nice image of Pac Bell Park in its first year.

The two Topps HD cards intrigue me. I don’t quite understand what makes this set HD since nothing besides the card thickness really jumps out to me as being different. I also don’t really understand what was going on with Topps Fusion. Both of those sets appear to be single-year experiments though so it’s nice to have a couple samples.

2002 has probably the most interesting mix of cards. Traditional photography like Stadium Club. Crazy chromed out stuff in Finest. Retro “painting” on the Topps 206. Acetate/clear stock on the E-X.

The Bats Incredible card is the one that catches my eye though. It kind of looks like an insert and it kind of looks a base card from a set that was designed to have a relic or signature in the top right corner on the hits. Definitely another one-year-wonder of a release but I can’t help but wonder how and why it was released.

This image covers both 2003 and 2004. Not a ton to say about these except that I love the 2003 Playoff Portraits card. As leery as I am about most of the fake paintings that end up on cards, the way this set is actually textured really enhances the painting feel. I’m pretty sure this was around for only one year which is a shame since it would’ve been nice to collect a couple seasons of these.

The Bowman Heritage in the 1955 design meanwhile shows the kind of thing that I dislike about so many of the Heritage cards. 1955 Bowman, despite the color TVs dominating the design, has a really distinct photographic look. An extreme crop from a generic action image like this doesn’t quite measure up and demonstrates a certain lack of understanding about what makes sets memorable.

Finishing up with the 2005s. Where the Playoff Portraits is great, the Diamond Kings is mess. It’s worth pointing out here that this is the only year with anything approaching the standard base cards. These are the only base Donruss and Fleer in the pile and the Opening Day is basically identical* to the Flagship card.

*And arguably an improvement with the blue foil on the Dodgers card.

Having the Opening Day card inspired me to add Green’s Topps Flagship run to my Stanford wantlist page.* I’ll probably take a gander at Sportlots or Cardbarrel at some point. No real rush though especially with so many Green cards in the Binder now.

*As well as Bobby Brown’s Bowman run.

Thanks Greg! I’m glad I could help with your duplicates problem.

Fanatopps

So that didn’t take long. This was always the most obvious logical move where rather than trying to start a trading card company from scratch Fanatics would buy Topps and acquire both a trading card manufacturer and the legacy of the brand that is synonymous with sports cards in this country. When the news officially broke officially yesterday there was a collective sigh of relief across the hobby as people realized that there was no longer a looming deadline followed by a big question mark about WTF was going to happen next.

It’s good news for the hobby. The collectors who appreciate the legacy being continued get to maintain that connection to the history of baseball. And the speculators who Fanatics looks to be courting get a certain guarantee of stability that things will continue on reliably.

My kids are happy. As should I be. Yet when I read about the announcement my initial gut reaction was one of disappointment.

That reaction caught me by surprise. I have a record of calling Topps the “card of record” and the idea of keeping losing that legacy—even though current Topps seems completely uninterested in embracing it—is what I hated most about the original Fanatics news. Sitting on it a bit, I realized that as much as I’m pessimistic about the direction Fanatics was going to go as long as it was run by a Sneakerhead, I had actually been looking forward to the upheaval.

I love the idea of Topps Flagship as a record of the nature of the game each season. Everything else though? I wouldn’t miss at all, especially the way Topps has been filing the unique edges off of every release and turning them into a mishmash of uninspired pack filler that gets tossed in the trash after the “hits” are pulled. So many of the current releases appear to just be churned out formulaically. No professional pride, just a desire to get stuff out because it’ll sell out no matter how bad or boring it is.

Not that I expect Fanatics to be any better here. Business after all is about making money efficiently not creating good products. But Fanatics has a different business model and distribution network. Creating products that support its existing infrastructure could’ve resulted in stuff that looked very different than what we’re used to. Which is really all I’m still hoping for in the next couple of years.

Fanatics is now making cards sooner than we all expected them too. They’re probably not going to rock the boat too much productwise to start whatwith lead times being close to a year. Distributionwise though I’m on alert and fully expecting some changes in that department—hopefully resulting in cards being more available again. And of course starting next year there should be some changes creeping in the product side.

Or at least I hope that there are changes. As reassuring as it sounds to say that nothing will change, we’re desperately in need of some change and fresh ideas.

My first NWSL card

The increasing presence of soccer (and women’s basketball) cards has kind of ramped up the gravity which is pulling my Stanford project into mission creep. I’m increasingly interested in old, vintage cards of Stanford athletes,* but I was doing fine staying away from modern cards until everyone started opening packs of NWSL cards last summer.

*Not in a comprehensive must-get-every-card way, just as a way of picking up some examples of classic Topps/Bowman/Fleer Football and basketball cards.

It turns out that I kind of love looking through checklists from sets like this to find Stanford players. It also turns out that guys who buy the packs for a cheap fun rip also find themselves with a pile of cards which they don’t want to keep all of. One such guy was Shlabotnik Report who sent me a quick note to let him know who the Stanford alumnae* were in the set.

*#8 Tegan McGrady, #124 Kelly O’Hara,  #141 Tierna Davidson, #143 Jordan DiBiasi, #158 Lo’eau LaBonta, #160 Averie Collins, #191 Ali Riley, #192 Jane Campbell, and Cityscape insert #13 Sophia Smith.

He went through his cards and found that he had the Averie Collins. A couple days later I found it packed with a bunch of other cards in a PWE in my mailbox.  Very cool.

Collins was part of the team that won Stanford’s second NCAA championship in 2017. She also did the very Stanford thing of graduating with a year of eligibility left and then playing a last season as a grad student at another college (which resulted in her missing a second NCAA championship as Sanford won again in 2019).

These Parkside cards have the feel of  some of the Minor League team sets and I’m trying to figure out why that is. Could be the printing quality but it could also be something about the design.

Moving to the other cards in the envelope. Sticking with soccer, this foil Coutinho Attax card was included to add to me Barcelona page. It’s only a page for now but people do seem to like sending me Barça cards since while I don’t seek them out I’m happy to keep them.

Coutinho is a good player who hasn’t the greatest fit for the team; one of many such signings the team has made over the past 5 years or so as I’ve kind of drifted away.* It’s tough to watch a team of players who haven’t been assembled with any clear philosophy besides “hope Messi does something.” I’m hopeful this year, as bad as it’s gone so far, represents a fresh start of sorts.

*The difficulty ins even finding match highlights has not helped either.

Took me longer than it should’ve to recognize hat these two 1979s were actually O Pee Chees. You’d think between the logo, white card stock, French backs, and horrible trimming that I’d’ve figured it out sooner but nope. Like the Barça cards these are things that I love adding to the binder but which I never seek out.

Three Topps mini leaders. With their glossy finish, white card stock,  and colored backs, these were some of my favorite cards when I was a kid. Something about the small size made them feel special too. Little cards made to a higher standard featuring the better players.

And finally a handful of 2004 Total (not a cereal tie-in). I love the Total concept of having a lower-quality produced set featuring all the players. Not sure if it works for set collectors but it’s great for team collectors. I’m not quite ready to create a searchlist for these but I probably should.

And that’s it. Lots of fun stuff and definitely my favorite kind of Christmas cards.

Are trading cards cool again?

I wrote a little about the Fanatics takeover when it happened but for the most part I’ve shied away from speculating about what will happen. Too many unknowns and the transition is too far way. I did do one interview about the collectors’ viewpoint and how people are attached to the brand, but as someone for whom the investing/speculation side of things is uninteresting at best and aggressively boring at worst,* there’s been little that I felt like adding to the conversation.

*One of the things I love about SABR Baseball Cards is our editorial focus on cards as objects we use and how they inform our understanding and appreciation of baseball. Questions of value are only of interest as they relate to budgeting purchases and don’t drive any of the posts on the blog.

Last week though, Josh Luber posted a long read about how Trading Cards are Cool Again* which made me rethink a lot of my positioning. Luber joined Fanatics in September as “Co-Founder and Chief Vision Officer” of the trading card division so his post can only be seen as a statement of intent about what his vision for the future of cards is.

*Heads up, it’s super long.

That vision is incredibly dire and has effectively removed any of the cautious optimism I had about the takeover. My optimism was couched in the fact that Fanatics as a brand has been about making merchandise available to fans of all teams at all times. This is something I would love to apply to cards as well. As a parent I’d love my kids to be able to access cards whenever they’ve saved enough allowance to make a purchase. And as a collector I’d like to be able to buy cards when I want them and not have to make a snap decision in the days after a new product ships.

Luber’s post though doesn’t touch on any of Fanatics’ core competencies and instead focuses on the world that Luber knows. Specifically sneakerheads and the current speculative world that trading cards occupies. There’s a ton of information* about the shape of the secondary market, how it’s behaved over the past couple of years, and what kind of events have influenced it. I actually enjoy the graphs and the way they highlight inflection points with stimulus payouts and other external events.

*Many people have legit quibbles with the data and how it includes known shill bidding and other market manipulation but in a general sense, Luber’s point doesn’t require bulletproof data.

I appreciate the way he’s able to articulate the values of the sneakerheads and explain what kinds of products they find valuable. What makes something hot and desirable and what can kill that buzz. How the hype is a feedback loop that can multiply the excitement around a product so it becomes even more valuable on the secondhand market.

The problem though is that this is clearly all that Luber cares about. He claims to love cards but he actually loves slabs and the way they can be flipped. He wants to create a “sustainable” market where cards are rare enough to drive flip opportunities and create excitement through ever-increasing values* but there’s never an acknowledgment about how the product itself can have value. He’s able to compare sneakers to trading cards because he doesn’t care that a shoe can be good or bad based on how it protects your foot and holds up over time. Or that a trading card can be desirable because of what it is not what it’s worth.

*Yes, “sustainable.” We all know that value is never always up and to the right and peddling that lie is a total scam. 

Which is why I’m now massively pessimistic about the Fanatics takeover. For the Chief Vision Officer of the endeavor to come out the gate with a vision that never sees cards as products is a huge red flag. He wants to manipulate the market but doesn’t care at all about the actual quality of the product. There’s no admission that a lot of people collect cards because they want to own cards. There’s no recognition that at the end of the hot potato value cycle, someone has to desire the product because of what it actually is.

Give me a vision of cards that talks about how they touch the history of the game. How they connect generations of fans. How they get kids excited for the new season. How they allow middle-aged men to enjoy the therapeutic  elements of a quick rip and sort. How they’ll enhance our enjoyment of the games and bring us closer to the players.

There’s so much that a baseball card can be as a product. Limiting them to a moneymaking asset is such a disappointment.

Mailday from Marc

Earlier this week I found the fattest PWE I’ve ever received in my mailbox. USPS’s maximum thickness where an envelope becomes a package is a quarter inch and I’m pretty sure Marc Brubaker hit that thickness right on the head. A lot of the thickness was the stiffening cardboard but it also had 23 cards inside which I think is the most I’ve ever gotten in a PWE.

It was the usual eclectic mix I expect from Marc but we’ll start off with the Giants cards. I’m very happy to get another copy of this Pablo Sandoval because it means I now have enough to give each son one of them. I don’t think they need identical stacks but a 3D card of on of their favorite players is extra cool and definitely the kind of thing that would cause some sibling friction.

The Pacific Paramount Stan Javier is a typical foiled-out Pacific design (sadly not in Spanish) with the typical 1990s problem where the foil covers the bottom half of the photo. It is however very much of its time and I appreciate that. The Joey Bart is another one that’ll go on the kids’ pile and, hopefully in a couple years they’ll be very excited to have his cards.

There was also a handful of 2021 Heritage cards. Most of these will also go in the duplicate pile for the boys although I’m not sure any of them will be excited by the Justin Smoak.* The Joey Bart card on the other hand means hat one can get the Opening Day and the other he Heritage.

*Who shouldn’t even be in the set since he was literally released by the Giants before the 2020 season ended. Topps does this kind of thing way too often though where players who have no business being in the set end up on the checklist.

The Willie Mays Award card though is one I didn’t have. I hadn’t included it as part of the Giants team set because it’s not. But it is Willie Mays and so I have no problems sliding it into the album.

On to the weirder stuff. The Scott Erickson Ultra Pro card is wild. I don’t think anyone is doing the corporate jersey thing anymore* and this one is such a generic jersey that I wonder why they even bothered. It’s not a great card but it’s weird and that’s always welcome in the binder.

*I do kind of miss the 1990s thing of creating baseball jerseys (check the Summertime video for examples) for all sports though.

The Buechele meanwhile comes from Marc’s apparently-infinite supply of stickers. There aren’t many cards of him with the Pirates though so that part’s pretty fun too.

More weirdness. I passively collect Barcelona cards. Very very passively. Love adding them to the album. Can’t be bothered to even search for them and the idea of buying them doesn’t even cross my mind. I’m not exactly sure why this is but it means that I very much appreciate each and every one that gets sent to me.

And finally, Marc, as a member of the custom card crew, included a bunch of his customs that I’ve been seeing him working on over the past year.* Is great to see these in the flesh and I’m kind of jealous because Marc has a good copyshop that he prints these at while I’ve been getting mine online at Magcloud. I have no complaints about Magcloud—it’s exactly what I expect and the quality is great—but man the paper Marc uses is so much nicer and thicker.

*The Bernie card is a fun joke which I didn’t get at first since I’m not that familiar with 1982 Fleer.

I’m especially liking the Dan-Dee inspired Dusty Baker. I’m always a fan of classic-feeling customs and the tweaks to the Dan-Dee are exactly the kind of thing I enjoy. But there’s a lot of good stuff going on in the Castro—I really want to see Marc try making the logo into a burned-in brand feel—and the Mays design is one which Mark is turning into a generic custom design for various fun photos and seeing its versatility has been awesome.

The last two cards are actually my designs. I was screwing around with creating a Ginterizer a couple years ago and sent a bunch of files to Marc ages ago since a bunch of them were of his Vintage Base Ball team. Marc went ahead and got them printed and they’re fantastic in hand. He actually ent me a couple different paper options (where not all 23 cards are depicted in this post) but the one I like best is the uncoated stock since it just feels right.

Super cool to see these in person and thanks for the PWE Marc!

Mishmash

A couple weeks ago I found a bubble mailer from Cards From the Attic in my mailbox. This is one of those mailings which took so long to arrive after he’d mentioned he was sending me something cool that I feared it had been blackholed by the USPS. But arrive it did and it did indeed have something cool inside.

I’m not sure if a Kevin Mitchell Archives Signature Series stamped and signed buyback counts as a hit or a miss for this product but it’s definitely one that Giants fans my age appreciate. Kevin was The Guy when I was a kid and I still kind of think of him that way.

These Bowman inserts were also one of the cooler things Topps made back then. They’re actually sweepstakes cards the likes of which were in most Topps products but which typically have a generic front and were trashed by most every kid.* Switching the front to a nice painting**—especially one that evokes 1952 Bowman—makes them a bonus card. Not an insert but totally worth saving. I kept all the ones from my youth.

*My youngest actually saves and binders them.

**By artist Craig Pursley.

I’m not an Archives Signature Series guy but I appreciate it when they use weird cards for their buybacks instead of boring base cards. A stamped and signed 1989 Topps card is not especially exciting. A weird oddball, boxed set, or something else that most of us don’t have dozens of makes the buyback a lot more interesting. Especially since Topps tends to repeat cards year-to-year and so all the serial numbering feels kind of stupid.

This one definitely counts as weird since even though these were disposable inserts they weren’t things that really circulated. It’s great to see Mitchell’s nice signature compared to the one I got in Philadelphia. I just need to decide now whether or not I want to bust it out of the one touch. The Archives Signature product includes the stickered holder but I’d enjoy this more in a binder with the res of my autographed cards.

True to form though, Cards from the Attic used a ton of other cards to stuff the envelope. These Giants cards aren’t technically bumper cards (those are coming later) but they also weren’t the main point of the package. They are very cool though. The boys will like the old cards (both are upgrades) and the 1980s boxed set cards are fantastic.

I do have a few of the boxed set cards but many others, such as the Limited Editions, come from sets I’ve never seen before. I have this feeling that there will always be another 1980s Fleer boxed set for me to discover.

A couple more Giants cards from the 1990s and 2000s. Osvaldo Fernandez turned out to be a need for a team set I’m semi-collecting.* I’ve not seen any of the American Pie cards before, that’s a weird sort of set though it’s printed nicely. Three more 2008 Documentary cards which demonstrate both the promise and disappointment of the set in how he fronts have nothing to do with the game they document.

*I’m passively building the run of Upper Deck team sets but haven’t gotten all my search lists online yet.

Favorite card here is the Brian Ragira which is nominally a Giants card but depicts him in his Stanford Uniform. It’s always nice to slide a new card into that album.

Wrapping up the baseball cards with the more-recent ones. The Heritage Flashbacks are always interesting to me because of the nature of what they commemorate. For Topps to print a Voting Rights Act card the year after Shelby vs. Holder is possibly one of the more political things Topps has done. At the same time it’s tempting to read the card as commemorating something that is now dead.

Other cards of interest in this pile are all the Diamond Kings since that’s a product I never purchase. They also fit the theme of the Kevin Michell autograph on an art card. I especially like the black and white Will Clark card and design.

Which brings us to the bumper cards—always sort of a highlight of a Cards from the Attic package. First off are a half-dozen 1980s Donruss sticker wax repacks. Not much to say about these except to note that they ended up being more fun unripped than ripped.

A bunch of non-sport pop culture cards. No real piles except for the Sgt Pepper cards. The Tron, Knight Rider, and Magnum PI cards are a lot of fun though in that they do a decent job at representing those shows. The Queen and Kiss cards are also pretty cool. All the repacks added to a pile of Sgt Pepper cards which is kind of a wild set about which I have no real cultural attachment. There is however a decent amount of star power in that set.

Three of these baseball-themed Baseball Freaks cards. I’m leaving these in non-sport but if I’d encountered these in my Garbage Pail Kid days I probably love them. Unfortunately I never saw these as a kid.

And finally it wouldn’t be a Cards from the Attic package without some golf. Nothing much to add to these either except to note that the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus special card is actually really nice and a great use of a black and white photo.

Very cool stuff. Thanks Attic!

A package from Jason

Yesterday I found a package from Jason in my mailbox. He’d given me a heads-up last week to expect some things but he only explicitly mentioned one of them. I’ll get to that last since it’s going to be a post of its own but aside from it and a couple piles of cards for my kids, this is the rest of what was inside.

A pair of vintage Giants—or Giantsish—cards. I have both of these already but I’m pretty sure my Antonelli is nowhere near as nice shape as this one. Marichal is also still in a Giants jersey so I’ve slipped this into my binder as well. In both of these cases my duplicates will go on the “for the kids” pile and their binders will get to add some more cards that are older that their dad.

A couple oddball minor league cards of guys who would end up on the Giants. These are from a set celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Carolina League. I’m pretty sure Jason got this set for the Dwight Gooden card and has been sending everything else out to various team collectors. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to add McCovey and Bonds to the Giants album.

A couple 1970s Hostess cards. I don’t really chase these outside of my various team/alumni goals but I will never turn random samples down either. One thing I am doing is trying to fill a page of candlestick photos for each set. Neither of these helps me there but the Mayberry is a nice shot of the Oakland Coliseum (Horton appears to be a the Tigers Spring Training facility Joker Marchant Stadium).

And a couple more random cards. The “3D” Action Packed cards are one of my favorite things from when I was a kid. I don’t have much more to say about them though aside from mentioning that I checked out the patent.

The Golden Age Bobby Thomson is a fun one. For whatever reason I don’t have any cards from this set and for all the retro-styled sets this has some of the better artwork I’ve seen. Unfortunately, none of the non-sport cards on the checklist really appeal to me.

On the topic of artwork, Jason also included a Blake Jamieson 1951 Topps card. I’ve avoided getting into all the art card stuff over the past couple years. Project 2020 and Project 70 are not my thing—too expensive and I hate the distribution method—even though I’ve enjoyed watching them from an intellectual/academic point of view. It’s been fun to see artists take a crack at cards and see what works and what resonates with collectors.

Blake’s been one of the more successful artists in the venture. He has a distinct look and point of view and respects the source material (in a good way) by recognizing how keeping these as cards is what allows his art to be accessible. He’s also been more than generous with his time in terms of interacting with fans/collectors and sharing his process.

I don’t find myself drawn to his work on a personal level—this isn’t a value judgement or anything just that my own tastes lie elsewhere—but his take on the 1951 set is one that I did enjoy and between that and the way that he’s one of the best faces of the whole endeavor I’m happy to have one of those cards standing in for the whole art card thing in my binder.

And the reason Jason sent me the package is because he wanted me to take an in-depth look at this T205 card. That will post over on sabrbaseballcards.blog so the only thing I have to add here is that this card shaves off 5 years from my previous oldest baseball card. Kind of wild to realize that his is 110 years old. One thing I love about the T205s is the way they have actual back information instead of just advertisements.

Very cool Jason. Thanks!

Spring in September

Way back in May, Kerry over at Cards on Cards announced a spring cleaning giveaway. I mentioned that if he wanted to clear out some Giants cards I’d be happy to distribute them amongst the three Giants fans in this household.* I was expecting like a bubble mailer with maybe a hundred cards. I was not expecting the 400-count box that arrived in late September.

*They both have Giants binders that would’ve made me super jealous when I was a kid.

Alongside the box were a couple baggies of nicer cards—mostly numbered parallels or special card stock variants. These are fun but the most exciting one was this signed Logan Webb card. Webb was one of those guys who had autographs in every set last year and looked to be one of those “junk” hits that everyone complains about since they only appeal to hard core team collectors.

If Webb continues pitching like he did this season though he won’t be a junk hit much longer. I am very happy to get his card this year since he’s been such a key member of the pitching staff.

The rest of the cards I’ve sprinkled in with the cards in the box and will go through things by year. Starting off with the “old” stuff, while I have a lot of this, the kids do not. For my part, I’m surprisingly light on early 80s Donruss so the Dave Bristol and Rennie Stennets are nice additions.  I also have not seen these Classic cards before so it’s great to add samples of those sets to the binder too. Also the Jim Gott is a glossy variant of 1987 Fleer but there’s no way to see that in the photo.

Continuing into the early 1990s with more cards from my youth. The Will Clark Provisions is great and as someone who has mostly Winner versions of 1992 Gold I always enjoy adding a pack-pulled version. The Bobby Bonds All Star Hero is a great card which I didn’t have. 1993 Flair is a similar hole in my binder since I couldn’t afford a single pack of hat when I was a kid.

A bunch of those 1994 cards are new ones for me too. I was clearly stepping away from the hobby that year even before the strike and while I definitely have some of the cards in the piles, cards like the 94 Bowman Phillips, 94 Donruss Martinez, 94 Fleer Burba, and 94 Score Portugal are all ones I was still missing. I’m not actively building those sets but I should probably consider putting need lists together for them just because it’ll give people an excuse to clear out some cards.

We’ll start off the next batch with a fantastic Kirt Manwaring card. I didn’t have any 1994 Oh Pee Chee Premier before. Now I think I might have the best card in the set. The 1996 Bazooka are also new to me. I just discovered that these cards came with gum in the packs. No idea why such a discovery made me happy but it did.

The 1996 Score Stan Javier, 1996 Pinnacle Shawon Dunston, and a bunch of the 1997 Bowmans also fill empty spots in the binder. We’re well into territory I’ve only filled via random packages I’ve gotten in the mail now.

As we move out of the 1990s the number of cards that are new to me starts to grow. I need many of the Bowmans. Same with the Fleers. But stuff like all the weird Upper Deck sets here—especially that great Benito Santiago card—represent sets that I’ve never even see before. And if I have seen them, such as with the Choice Bill Mueller Preview, they’re a variant I’ve never seen.

Also that George Foster looked at first like a card I had already but it turns out that the card I sent out TTM is essentially a reprint of a reprint. Why Topps felt like it had to reprint this two years in a row is beyond me. And it’s always great to add a card of Kenny Lofton as a Giant.

Some of the special cards that Kerry included are starting to slip in now. They’re still in the penny sleeves like the Barry bonds Bazooka “stamp” here. Lots of 2006 and 2007 Topps which will slip into the boys’ collections. The Upper Decks are still things I tend to need although I remain mystified at the First Choice se which is essentially a non-foil-stamped version of the main set.

The 2005 Leaf design deserves special recognition for how simple and nice it is. I don’ think I’ve seen it before and it’s a breath of fresh air amidst all the overdesigned cards of this era.

More special cards here like the 2009 vintage stock and black parallels as well as the Chrome Matt Cain Heritage. We’re starting to move into years where I have most of the base team sets again but since these are the World Series years it’s always fun to remember some guys and see photos like the celebration on the Pat Burrell card.

As before, I needed a decent number of the Upper Deck cards here and should probably add those sets to my searchlist since many are getting close.

Into the 2010s and parallel madness is starting to take over. As someone who never chases these it’s always fun to accumulate more and discover how many different ones are out there. I can see why people like building rainbows even though the amount of work required to do so isn’t worth it.

Mini cards are always fun. I really like the Pablo Sandoval Archives card in the 1954 design. Something about the sunglasses really works.

A very similar batch to the previous photo. I like the Aramis Garcia 1st Bowman and the Ryder Jones Oklahoma parallel (no idea what it’s actually called). Those shiny Prizm cards really jazz up a binder page as do the multiple foil parallels here.

A number of cards I needed here as we work into my reengagement with the hobby. 2016 is right there on the outside of things so it’s not too surprising that I missed a lot of what was going on. Granted, that cards like that Buster Posey which is actually a Bergers Best insert with gold foil instead of silver foil are some of what I missed means that I didn’t miss much.

The Optic parallels are especially nice but my favorite card here is the Hunter Pence Stadium Club.

Into the late 2010s and my full reintegration into the hobby means that of these cards it’s mainly just the parallels and inserts that are new to me. So stuff like the Hunter Pence Five Tool insert of the Sepia Steven Duggar slide right into the binder.

The Optics and Bowman Chromes fit too since both of those are cards I don’t come across very often either.

Nice to add some Holiday cards here. I never see them in stores and they’re exactly the right kind of stupid. I’ve never seen the Buster Posey Franchise Feats card before either. I like the Ginter Cepeda and have not received much 2020 Chrome as well.

And the last batch. Stadium Club Chrome is unnecessary but at least it included guys like Samardzija who weren’t in Stadium Club. The Yastrzemski Future Heroes Chrome card is also a nice addition as is the Willie Mays Legends of Baseball. Which brings us to Diamond Kings, a set which I can’t distinguish year-to-year but always enjoy encountering since the cards so jus so damn pleasurable to handle.

Very very cool stuff Kerry. Makes my binders a lot more interesting and I’ve got a serious task ahead of me in dividing the rest up for the kids. Thanks!

End of an era?

Yesterday afternoon I came back from a swim and found that my phone had exploded as a result of the Topps/Fanatics/MLB/MLBPA news. In short, it currently looks like starting in 2023 Topps won’t be able to use MLB players on baseball cards and in 2026 Topps will lose the right to use MLB teams as well. Given how Topps has been the card of record for 70 years now, this is a big deal and I’m not at all surprised at the amount of outcry that occurred online.

For my part, I’m simultaneously upset and happy about the deal. The biggest problem is that this is moving things into even more of a monopoly where MLB will control even more than they already do and Fanatics will have a stranglehold on basically all sports merchandising in the US. Both monopolies will continue to optimize toward efficient profitmaking in search of the cheapest product that makes the most amount of money right now. I have zero reason to expect anything good from either MLB or Fanatics. But I also had zero reason to expect anything good from the already-existing Topps monopoly.

There is however an emotional connection to the Topps brand and how it stands in as Baseball Cards™. That 70-year history is the history of the game itself. The players. The stats. The uniforms. The stadiums. When my kids are asking about old baseball players, the photos they end up referencing are invariable baseball cards. Losing that connection, even if there’s a Fanatics Flagship, will be sad.

I’m not sure MLB even realizes what it’s tossing. There are a lot of people for whom collecting baseball cards is collecting Topps cards. They won’t change brands and they even may step away this season because they’re done with MLB. I’m a bit surprised by this point of view—as someone who collects 1940s and 1950s cards, I’m used to the idea of other brands, like Bowman, also serving as the card of record—but it’s come up a lot, especially among a lot of older collectors.

As a child of the 1980s when I had three (soon to be five and quickly after, over a dozen) flagship sets to choose from, while I still saw Topps as the primary I didn’t grow up to have the same level of brand loyalty. Give me a flagship set of a couple dozen players per team and I’ll be happy no matter who makes it.

Which brings me to the side that I’m happy about. The last year of card collecting has been abysmal. Everything sold out in stores. Everything sold out online. Prices in the secondary market through the roof. The Fanatics deal is a commitment to cards existing in the forseeable future and I can’t see things getting worse than “completely unavailable.”

Heck, Fanatics’s distribution is the kind of thing I’d love to see happen for cards. Available online from multiple web shops. Available in team shops. No more having to deal with sketchy distributers and resellers. It’s long past time for trying a different distribution model and actually getting cards to people who want to collect them.

I’ve also found Topps’s production to be lazy and uninspired for a couple years now. Pictures get reused set to set. Inserts and gimmicks that are a complete waste of time. Checklists that always the same couple hundred stars and rookies. An utterly predictable emphasis endlessly boring on New York and LA markets to the detriment of all others.

I don’t expect Fanatics to do anything radical but at the very least they’re a company that emphasizes selling to all teams and, as with the distribution side of things, I really don’t see things getting much worse.

The thing though is that 2023 is really a long way off. Topps has an IPO planned and this news is the kind of thing that’ll crater its stock price no matter how rosy its earning statement is. I totally expect Fanatics to make a play at buying Topps and keeping that connection to the past. I also totally expect Fanatics to shake up the existing product lines. There’s a lot of deadwood right now and printing cardboard isn’t very efficient anyway.

I’ve been expecting more on-demand releases as it is. The Fanatics news pretty much confirms that we’ll be getting exactly that plus NFTs (not dead yet unfortunately). I remain hopeful though that some cardboard will remain and be accessible to everyone. Fanatics’s notorious lack of product quality though will remain a cause for concern for a while.