1986 Topps

I was not a huge set collector when I was a kid. This wasn’t by choice but rather economics. Buying complete sets was beyond my means. As was ripping boxes. In general I only got a couple packs of each release. Still I was able to accumulate a substantial number of cards of a few sets from my youth. 1990 Fleer and 1991 Donruss are two where I was gifted a box for my birthday. 1986 Topps though is one I accumulated the old fashioned way by opening a pack at a time over years.

I’ve been working on building all three of those sets since I had made substantial progress on them decades ago. As junk wax they make nice trade package filler and many people still have piles of them just sitting around. Heck I have piles of them just sitting around too. The past year has taken me to 90%, if not higher, complete on all of them and I’ve speculated in previous posts on here that it’s going to be interesting to see what set completes itself first.

A couple weeks ago my set need list got picked up by a few people on Twitter and all of a sudden it looks like 1986 is complete. This warms my heart since 1986 is literally the first set I started building even though I didn’t know I was doing so at the time.

1987 Topps holds a special place in my heart since that set represents the set I acquired during my first full season as a baseball fan. I look at that set and am transported to the beginning of my fandom. Watching my sons go through that exact age has definitely helped me remember how formative and wonderful that year is.

1986 though is the set which hinted at the world of baseball cards. The cards were just around. They were still in rack packs at Toys R Us. There were repacks of all kinds which consisted of like 50% 1986 Topps. I couldn’t avoid picking up a couple hundred of them and while 1987 Topps takes me back to that first season of baseball, 1986 reminds me of getting into the hobby itself.


Three people on Card Twitter in particular finished out my set for me. The main bulk came from Mark Del Franco (@delspacefranco)* and Jenny Miller who combined to kill almost my entire ~90 card needlist. Mark sent me over 60 cards** including a bunch of the Pete Rose specials. I’d never seen those as a kid and only now am I noticing the red-yellow gradient that would become a go-to look for all card companies in a couple years.

*Who I thought I was following but somehow and embarrassingly, wasn’t.

**Jenny’s package hasn’t arrived yet but looks to be even bigger. They started pulling cards at exactly the same time and I never know how to manage that (especially because trades sometimes fall through) so there will be a decent amount of overlap.

I don’t exactly like the 1986 design but there’s something solid about it. An incredibly distinct font definitely helps but the black bar is a good look too in making everything standard while allowing the team colors to provide enough interest card-to-card.* The photography is also an interesting mix of action, candids, and posed photos here.

*Something we’ve lost in the past two decades of “everything must be foil” madness is big bold colorful lettering. 

Mark’s asked me to pay this forward to other collectors—which is how I tend to approach trading as well. Send out what you can to who you can and don’t worry too much about what comes back. Odds are you’ll get more back than you ever sent out. But if I ever come across a good amount of 1969 Topps duplicates or 1950s Bowman duplicates (an unlikely scenario in both cases) I’ll know who to call.

The one card Mark and Jenny weren’t able to cover was number thirty Eddie Murray. After I’d gone through my lists and figured out what hadn’t been spoken for yet Mark put out a “get this guy a 1986 Eddie Murray” tweet and sort of immediately @CollectorVt responded.

A few days later Eddie showed up in my mailbox. Once Jenny’s package arrives my 1986 Topps set will be fully complete rather than expected complete. Very cool. I’ve never put together a set from scratch and even though accumulating cards via trades is still targeted set completion it’s nice to have done 75% of this from packs.

Thanks guys!

Surprise from Jason

So a couple weeks ago I found a surprise package from Jason in my mailbox. This package functioned as a bit of a thank you for introducing his to Card Twitter and the SABR Baseball Cards guys. Since he first popped up on Twitter last fall he’s become a big part of the community in general as well as a new SABR member who’s been blogging up a storm.

We’ll start with the requisite Giants cards. Do I have these? Yes…though I’ll have to double check with my current collection for condition since quite a few of my early-80s cards are printed badly.

But extras are always welcome here since I’m setting aside duplicates for my kids. They’ll each have very fun Giants albums soon and while I’m mainly setting aside two sets of identical cards so there’s no fighting we’ll probably have to have a draft of some sort for the rest.

The majority of the package though was, appropriately, all referencing various blog posts I’ve made for SABR over the years. I’ll go through these in the order I posted about them.

The first was this great Babe Ruth action photo. Not a Conlon card but rather part of the identically-designed 1992 Megacards Babe Ruth set. I’m a little sad to learn that this design turns out to have been used for a bunch of different sets but it’s still a nice look for all these old black and white photos.

I love multi-exposure action cards but was completely unaware of this one. A shame since the 1942 photos would’s been the oldest set of photos on that post.

There were a bunch of 1973 Topps cards which I’ll get to later but the Horacio Pina featured the Latino double last name on the back. I was wondering whether Topps would keep this detail in 2019 Heritage since it’s also part of the 1970 design but alas they did not.

Jason is a Dwight Gooden collector so he’d acquired a 1985 and 1986 Mets fan club card sheet just for the Doc cards. He then proceeded to tear them apart like an animal. Seriously, check out those edges. He kept the Doc but the rest found their way my direction. I like these because they’re oddballs but also because the typesetting on the back is very cool.

Jason did a better job tearing apart the 1986 cards. The Mets didn’t change the designs much these years but this is one of the stronger team-issue sets. Photography is mostly good and the design on the fronts is simple but effective. It would be fun to see sheets of these done for each team and, in an age of white-bordered cards, seeing team-color borders is especially fun.

The 1973 Topps Traded cards rounds out the references to my SABR posts. This kind of kid-generated modification is one of my favorite things. I love seeing evidence of kids using cards and really following the game.

Also, for a set with notoriously bad photography the selection here is mostly good. Just the Tommy Agee at the top of this post shows the all-too-common “who is this card of” photo selection. The Jim Hart card is also a bit awkward in that his face is completely in shadow. My only other comment is that it’s really really weird to see Dick Dietz as a Dodger.

Last card in the pile is a trimmed 1954 Jim Greengrass which is a bit of a reference to a SABR post I did not write. 1954 is a design I love despite its weirdnesses (the way the fronts and back only bleed on one, albeit different, edge means that half the backs are upside down). Seeing a card with full bleeds like this kind of freaks me out even after I get past the trimming thing. It’s just a completely different look.

Thinking about full-bleed brightly-colored cards brings us to the last item in the package. Jason included a pack of 1988 Score for me to rip. I wasn’t used to color full-bleed cards when I started collecting. Even colorful sets had borders or, in the case of 1975 Topps, multiple colors so you could get lots of different colors per press sheet.

I’ve touched on this before but Score was different. 6 different color designs were unlike anything I’d seen. Plus the photography was frequently better than anything I’d see on a card. No truly awesome photos in this pack—though the Steinbach is pretty good— but just selecting a card or two of each color shows how this set still jumps off the page. Yes it’s a very of-its-time design but it really showed what cards could be.

Thanks Jason! Glad to have you on-board with SABR and as part of the hobby community.

Sunken Diamond Cardinal

While the Alumni Game was my first autograph experience at Stanford, it didn’t take long before I started to collect autographs at the regular season games themselves.

It was the 1988 Topps Traded set that pulled me in. The Team USA cards were very cool* and the fact that Topps included a Head Coach card of Mark Marquess meant I felt obligated to try and get it signed. The two Stanford players on the team—Ed Sprague and Doug Robbins—were both drafted in 1988** but I knew Marquess would be back in charge of the Cardinal for the 1989 season.

*I remember going to a Team USA practice at Sunken Diamond in the summer of 1988. Other than going to the practice—I didn’t even hang around to get a ball signed—the one thing that I do remember is that everyone was talking about Jim Abbott.

**I did eventually get their cards signed at the Alumni Game.

I have two of these signed. The first one is arguably worth adding to my Beginnings post since it’s the first hanging-over-the-rail autograph I ever got. I’d learned to use a Sharpie (albeit a black one) by 1989 but hadn’t learned how to handle the card so it didn’t get all banged up.

The second one is from a couple of years later. I’m not sure where I got the duplicate but Marquess was such a fixture that I felt like “upgrading” from my previous signature.

By 1990 I’d branched out and started to get other items signed. I was still very much a literal autograph collector who only wanted the people pictures on the item to sign it.* So I got Paul Carey’s signature on both the 1989 and 1990 scorecards and Troy Paulsen on the 1989 one.

*Something I’ve encouraged my son to avoid doing since it’s nice to recognize that a score card or program is a great platform for an entire team set of signatures.

I also brought the 1989 scorecard to a subsequent Alumni Game to be signed by Frank Carey and Steve Chitren. And I trimmed them from 8.5″×11″ to 8″×10″ because I hadn’t learned about the two different single-pocket sizes yet. Yeah. Lots of things I wish I’d done differently here but I still really like these for what they represent about this stage of my life and how earnestly I was taking the hobby despite not knowing really anything I was doing.

I was still figuring things out in 1991. Where the ball I got at the Alumni Game used a ballpoint pen on imitation leather, this one uses a Sharpie on real leather and demonstrates exactly why that’s not the best idea. Ink bleeds and fades and none of the signatures* are really crisp now.

*1—Ryan Turner, David Holbrook, Matt Bokemeier. 2—Roger Burnett, Jeffrey Hammonds. 3—Frank Carey, Paul Carey, Willie Adams, John Reid. 4—Troy Tallman, Aaron Dorlarque.

I think I got this one hanging out by the clubhouse door at Sunken Diamond. I was enough of a fan to recognize the players in the street clothes now. I’m more amazed that my mom just waited for me in the car while I hung out after the game. There’s a reason she’s laughing at me now.

By 1992 I had things figured out. I’d realized that the Official Pac 10 baseballs were manufactured by Diamond and, while I couldn’t buy a clean Pac 10 ball I could afford to buy an all-leather generic Diamond ball at Big 5. So we’ve got the closest approximation to a Pac 10 ball, real leather, and ballpoint pen. It’s aged perfectly.

I wasn’t going for a team ball at this point but rather was collecting who I had determined were the most-promising prospects on the team.* Some decent calls on my part since four of the seven did make it to the bigs. But I also missed just as many names since some of the newer guys** turned out to be pretty good. Plus the biggest name on this team was John Lynch who went on to bugger and better things on the gridiron.

*1—Mark Marquess. 2—Steve Solomon, Willie Adams, David McCarty, Scott Weiss. 3—Jeffrey Hammonds, Chris Kemper. 4—Brian Sackinsky.

**Jed Hansen, Dusty Allen, Rick Helling, and Andrew Lorraine.

At the same time I was getting these balls signed I was also getting the Topps Traded Team USA cards signed. There was always at least one Stanford guy each year. Rick Helling was a transfer in 1992 and for some reason I completely blew getting his 1991 card signed but the other ones I managed to get. This was always a lot of fun since it involved getting a real-deal Topps card signed and that was always something all the players liked to see.

I especially love the Hinch card because I’ve seen his signature show up on a lot of celebratory Astros stuff the past couple of years and it’s fascinating how much it’s changed in the two-dozen years since he signed for me. I sort of want to get a duplicate of this card and have it signed now just to compare the two.

Another thing I started doing was getting our season ticket signed by whoever I determined were the most prominent players who would be leaving the team after this season. This idea was inspired by my Mike Mussina autograph the previous season. I really liked the way it worked out as a way of commemorating who I thought was the player of note each year.

So in 1991 I got our ticket signed by Roger Burnett and David McCarty. In 1992, Jeffrey Hammonds And in 1993, Andrew Lorraine. I could look at the rosters and think about guys I missed but at least each of these seasons is represented by a player who made it to the majors.

Finally, I have this signed Baseball America. I’d started getting these signed a couple years earlier* since the college preview issue frequently featured Pac 10 players. 1993 was Stanford’s turn. Two of the three made it to the majors. One ended up winning a World Series as a manager. Not exactly the prospecting payoff I was hoping for as a kid but this turned out okay.

*Will be covered in a later post.

I’ve had this folded in half in a sleeve for decades. It’s clearly kept it in mostly good shape with only a little yellowing on the exposed edge. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a better way to keep it going forward. Too big to binder. Not really the kind of thing I’d want to frame. Maybe I’ll have to consider the portfolio route.

Philadelphia Zoo

It’s been a while but spring break means it’s time to visit the Philadelphia Zoo again. Many of the animals are still on winter mode and hiding where it’s warm but there’s always something good to see.


Stanford Alumni Game

In the spirit of my San José Muni post it’s time to write about my youth collecting autographs at the Stanford Alumni game. The game used to occur in January and marked the beginning of the new baseball season. Sitting at Sunken Diamond watching college ball on February and March weekends was one of the best things about growing up in California. Not only was there really no Winter, I got to watch Baseball outside almost all year.

While my first experience at the game was getting my Mike Aldrete card signed, by 1991 after my experience in Philadelphia and going to the College World Series, I was ready to try more.

In 1991 I just brought a ball and got it signed by everyone. This is very much in the manner of my Giants ball. Yet another fake-leather baseball though this time I exclusively used a ballpoint.* It’s held up ok but shows why ball point and fake leather are not a good pair. Signatures are mostly alumni but prospects like Hammonds made it on to the ball too. And yes there’s one name I can’t figure out.**

*Signatures: 1—Mark Marquess. 2—Mike Aldrete, Jack McDowell, Frank Carey, Lee Plemel. 3—Stan Spencer, Paul Carey. 4—Steve Buechele, unknown, Troy Paulsen, Jeffrey Hammonds, Tim Griffin. 5—Jeff Ballard, Doug Robbins.

**I have a key someplace at my parents so I’ll eventually figure this out.

It’s a fun ball which really captures the state of the Stanford Alumni in the pros at that moment. Four Major Leaguers (Aldrete, Ballard, Buechele, and McDowell), a bunch of new professionals who had yet to make it in the bigs (a cup of coffee for a few like Paul Carey and Stan Spencer but no long careers), and a prospect (Hammonds) who went on to have a long career. I can look at it and know exactly what moment in time it captures.

When I was a kid I was as unsatisfied with this ball as I was with my Giants ball. Which is a shame. I really love them now as a way of capturing the event and experience. Carrying just a ball and a pen around to different players was also a much much simpler way of doing things.

I wish I hadn’t been as snobby about who signed too. In addition to the Alumni game between current professionals and the Stanford team, there was also an Old Timers game between two teams of retired former players. Some of those guys also played professionally but I just didn’t know who they were. I did eventually remember to bring blank cards with me but Steve Dunning is the only one I can find.*

*I could’ve sworn I also got Sandy Vance’s autograph but I can’t find it.

Anyway I just didn’t know about the older guys and as a result ignored them. I wanted current professionals or prospects only. Learning about the guys I ignored has been one of the best thing about my current Stanford Project.

The following year I decided I was done with signed baseballs and instead brought cards to the game. This was to be my MO from 1992 through 1994.*

*The 1994, while knocking me out of the hobby in general, also occurred right when I was starting to think about applying to colleges. As a result, I found myself withdrawing a bit from being as attached to Stanford in general and feeling weird about getting autographs from guys who were increasingly close to my age.

I learned a lot about autograph hunting with a stack of cards at these games including the value of restraint and only dealing with a couple of cards at a time. Giving the guy a stack of cards is an invitation for smudging as he signs one and slips it onto the bottom of the pack. I wish I’d known about the current method of using photo corners and a notebook although I’m not sure how I’d like the bulk of carrying the book.

But I also learned about identifying players and trusting my gut and dealing with the scrum at a ball park. Sunken Diamond wasn’t crowded but there was always a decent crowd. Learning how to navigate my way around it was a good lesson that prepared me for dealing with the bigger crowds I’d encounter at Spring Training.

I’m not going to write about individual players here. The experiences all kind of blend together across the years into one event where I can still remember keeping my head on a swivel in the patch of grass by the clubhouse and bullpen—even walking around on the field in the bullpen area and trying to recognize players based on their playing card photos.

The stories that stand out most I’ve already told. My first autograph from Mike Aldrete. Steve Chitren getting razzed for his card featuring someone else. I’ve ordered everything below by card year since it provides a wonderful slice of the generation of players whose signatures I got. I was a big baseball fan from 1987 to 1994 so logically I got cards from 1987 to 1993 signed.

Much to my dismay Steve Buechele never showed up again after 1991. I also never saw players like Pete Stanicek or Kenny Williams. But guys like Aldrete, Amaro, McDowell, and Sprague showed up year after year and I always had cards ready for them.

One year ago

It’s been a long time since I did a one-roll post. This is a roll of film I stuck in my camera literally a year ago. It looks like Winter but really starts off with the first day of “Spring” and pretty much stays in the camera until the first day of Summer.


Bob Feller

The one autograph I got at San José Giants that I did not mention in my post was Bob Feller. He came to a game to make an appearance. He threw out the first pitch. He then proceeded to sit at a table under the stands and sign autographs for the entire game.

There’s a long-standing baseball joke that a ball not signed by Bob Feller is worth more. This didn’t stop me from bringing a clean, Official American League baseball with me. A Hall of Famer whose peers considered him the greatest pitcher in his era? That’s clearly worth having on a ball.

To get a sense of how generous Feller was with his signature, while he only signed one item at a time, I was able to get back in line three more times and get not only a signed ball but three signed baseball cards.

While his “real”* cards were outside of my budget back then (heck they’re are still outside of my price range now), the nice thing about growing up in the 1980s is that there were all kinds oddball greatest-player sets.

*Cards from when someone was an active Major Leaguer will always be more real to me than any cards released before or after someone’s career.

These sets were great for me as a way of learning about the game. Lots of good biographical information on the backs and a great selection of players to know on the checklists. Plus they made great cards to have handy if a Hall of Famer ever came to town and was signing autographs at an affordable price.