Jay’s Housewarming

Last week I came back from picking the kids up at school to find a bubble mailer from Greg/Night Owl waiting in my mailbox. This time he’d addressed it to my new address. It felt “off” when I picked it up. I’ve gotten enough of these now that I know what cards usually feel like. This one was different, sort of more dense and rigid and I was more curious than usual to open it.

Inside I found a stack of over a dozen Jay Publishing photopack cards. I’ve picked up a couple of these over the years but to-date they’re tended to be outside my collecting radar. When Greg received a huge batch of them earlier this year I began to realize that I’d been ignoring some good stuff.

As someone who got back into baseball cards because of photography reasons, these team photopacks are especially relevant because they represent a different branch of the image sharing/collecting culture that started in the 19th century. They’re basic halftone prints but they represent another way that photos circulated.

Unlike cards—whose size and thickness encourages handling—the photo packs are paper and are clearly meant to be put on display or pasted into an album. The ones I received from Greg are all in petty good shape and don’t have any pinholes or tape residue.

Jay Publishing printed these team packs for about a decade. They all look mostly the same with a large black and white photo over the player’s name, city, and team. In 1962 the font changed from san-serif to serif but other than that the only clues for dates are knowledge of the roster and the team uniforms.

Thankfully, Trading Card Database has photos of all the different Giants photo packs so I was able to determine that my stack was a combination of 1961 and 1963 photo packs.

Eight of the photos are from 1961. There are two doubles. That photos are often reused year-to-year makes determining if things are truly doubles kind of difficult. The ones here though do in fact appear to be identical in terms of the photo cropping but from different print runs.

In this batch I particularly like the Sam Jones photo which shows off the spring training facilities and the Bob Schmidt which is just a great image with the mask flying out one corner and his shadow anchoring another. The other four images aren’t bad either.

Of the six missing images it’s no surprise that Mays, Marichal, and Cepeda are among them. The thing I’m most confused by is how McCovey didn’t make the checklist and how Bob Schmidt, who only played two games for the Giants in 1961, did.

The 1963 photos to my eye aren’t quite as nice. Sanford is a bit blurry, O’Dell and Pagan are awkwardly cropped. Hiller’s a decent baseball pose though and Pierce is similarly strong. Haller’s meanwhile isn’t a bad image either but the crotch-eye view is a bit weird for me.

It’s kind of amazing to  compare Pierce and O’Dell though since they’re identically composed and timed but one is great and the other not. The difference in angle makes so much of a difference here.

From these six I’m missing Mays, McCovey and Cepeda this time (Felipe Alou and Al Dark are also missing from both 1961 and 1963). Again, not a surprise since those will be of interest to a much wider audience while  the rest of the players resonate only for Giants fans.

Greg also took the opportunity to clear out a dozen unwanted Giants cards. We’ll start off with a handful of older cards. Many of these I have so they’ll go to the boys. The 1984 Jeffrey Leonard though is new to me and doubles my 1984 Fleer Giants holdings. Yeah. Even though these all come from the overproduction era and represent sets my kids still pull from repacks I only have two 1984 Fleer Giants.

Some newer Giants cards. That Bumgarner All Star is one of the last cards Topps made of him. It’s nice to add it to the binder. The Stadium Club Hunter Pence is also quite welcome since I somehow only had the gold and black foil versions. And that Bergen/Coonrod Rookie Combo card confuses me since Bergen also has his own card in that set.

The last four cards are Archives cards using the 1975 design that Greg loves so much. As a non-collector of Archives I always appreciate getting these in the mail. I like seeing how Topps remakes its old designs even though it typically screws things up in an uncanny valley way.

These aren’t too bad: Team name is a bit small. Autographs are super bold. Colors are slightly off. But all in all they feel about right, especially when I see a group like this where every card is a different color combination.

Super cool Greg. Thanks!

Housewarming from Night Owl

So the first mailday after moving arrived earlier this week. Unfortunately it went to the wrong house but we’re still swinging by to pick up things there.* Still. Very cool. Nothing like properly settling into a new home by getting cards in the mail.

*Such as an Amazon package we sent there because we’d forgotten to change our address on Amazon.

This package came from Greg/Night Owl who’s apparently got the hot hand when it comes to pulling Will Clark cards and wants those out of his house ASAP. But he also included a bunch of other cool things and yeah let’s start from the oldest (and best) and work forward in time.

This 1956 Al Dark is a beaut despite being beat up. Lots of small creases and things but none of them detract from the way the card looks for me. 1956 is one of Topps’s top three designs ever and every single card from that set I add to my binders makes things look better.

Dark also marks the last “easy” 1956 card on my searchlist. I’m now down to three missing cards for my team set: Willie Mays (hahahaha), Hoyt Wilhelm (could happen but Hall of Famers are Hall of Famers), and the Giants team card (I guess kids used to throw those out or something since they all seem to be scarce now).

Some more vintage including two guys who I’ve gotten TTM returns from recently. I got both Marshall and Hiatt on 1970 Topps cards already. I’m kind of tempted to send the 1969 to Marshall as well since he’s got a good-looking signature and that Rookie Cup makes for a good-looking card.

Joe Gibbon meanwhile just passed away in February. He’s pictured here on his last Giants card. He’d had a decent few years as a reliever but in 1969 returned to Pittsburgh.

To a couple cards from my collecting youth. It’s always nice to be reminded of the original San Jose Giants uniforms—especially the cap logo. I prefer the current version but these 1989 Star cards depict the first season San Jose was a Giants affiliate and that was a lot of fun to get in on the ground floor for. I can’t believe they’ve been there for 30 years now.

And the Will Clark Collect-A-Book is one of my favorite oddballs. I have the set of these but it’s great to have an extra to put in the Giants binder. I’ll probably binder it in a 4-pocket page too so that I can see more of the booklet.

To cards from this year! Two Opening Day cards. As a set which I don’t collect and refuse to purchase I very much appreciate getting singles in trade packages. I still don’t understand the purpose of this product unless it’s intended to undercut Flagship sales. If I were King of Topps this would one of the first things I’d chop.

And two Big League cards. I like this product. Am not particularly sold on the design. Pennant is nice. Woodgrain is always a good look—especially when it looks like an ash baseball bat rather than a 1970s TV. But the name has a lot going on (thankfully not the team name/city) and the layered photos where the image tiles from the top photo to the one underneath is a bit much.

Still, despite all my reservations, I like these as a reminder of how collecting used to be when I was a kid. You’d just get packs full of base cards and not worry about all the lottery ticket BS that comes with packs now. Lots of cards in a park. Lots of cards in a set. Lots of fun over all.

Finally, a Will Clark insert from god knows what product and a Buster Posey insert from Heritage. Both of these are great for trade packages if you can get them to team collectors but I can’t imagine anyone collecting a set of them. I like these cards. I also know why Greg got them out of his house.

Thanks Greg! I’v been putting lots of stuff away the past couple weeks. It’s about time to get a chance to relax when I do it.

Happy New Year from Night Owl

A surprise PWE from Greg/@nightowlcards to ring in the beginning of Spring Training—or as we call it in baseball land, the New Year. Definitely well timed. Last weekend I walked past the ballpark on campus and heard the team taking batting practice. That ping of aluminum on leather is supposed to be anathema to everything I believe in in the sport but wow, it reaches deep into my soul and makes my heart believe it’s spring.

Then I took my eldest to his Little League evaluations and came home to find that KNBR was streaming the radio broadcast of the first Giants Spring Training game (unfortunately the Giants picked up where they left off last season). The sound of summer filled the house and it didn’t matter that it was freezing outside.

 

To the cards. Really just a random assortment of Giants that Greg, as a Dodgers fan, wanted out of his house as quickly as possible. The 1970 Jack Hiatt gets me in the mood for 2019 Heritage although I doubt we’ll see any photos that have this busy of a background this year.

The 1981 TCMA Jose Pagan is part of a set commemorating the 1962 Giants. It’s a nice clean design—better than a lot of TCMA’s 80s offerings and makes the most of its black and white photo with just a splash of color in the team-colored border. I need to remember that this kind of thing works so well.

It took me a moment to realize that that 2018 Buster Posey was not a base card. I didn’t notice the non-foil logo at first and if my son hadn’t pulled a National League Team Set card out of a repack last week I would never have even thought to double check it. Yup. Looks like Greg pulled a National League card out of a repack as well. Into the binder it goes instead of the dupe box.

Fourth card in the envelope was a certified autograph of Brian Buscher from 2003 Upper Deck Prospects. Yet another Fairfield repack quality autograph, this time a guy who played for three seasons with the Twins but who I did probably see play at San José in 2003. If only the prospect signatures I got at San José actually panned out as well as he did.

Very fun Greg. Opening Day is a month away!

Reminiscence Bump

One of Night Owl’s recent posts involved memory and baseball cards as he grappled with his mother showing the first signs dementia (or worse)* and how things like music and baseball cards can trigger memories from decades ago.

*A story which reminded me of my grandmother who succumbed to dementia in the late 1990s (well she died in the early 2000s but by then there was no one home). As she regressed further into her past we’d still make small talk when we visited just to try and keep her brain working. One fall day we mentioned the upcoming World Series and jokingly asked her if she’d followed who was in the Series that year. She screwed up her face and guessed, “Yankees?” Which was both correct for the season as well as an accurate representation of where her reminiscence bump would fall.

It’s a wonderfully thoughtful and vulnerable post since it’s always awful to see someone going through the experience of slowly losing a loved one. It’s also a post which suggested that we could all think about our cards and our memory and how specific cards bring us back to specific moments in our youth.

This is the virtual card version of that scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack reorganizes his record collection autobiographically. One card per year of my collecting lifetime. With my memories of that year and the card attached.

1985

I wasn’t into cards yet. Heck I wasn’t even in Little League. My parents didn’t want anything to do with the overly-involved Little League parents and wanted me to be running around instead. So soccer it was and besides kind of wanting to be in Little League with my friends baseball wasn’t even on my radar.

I remember a friend of mine giving me this card right before soccer practice some time in 1986. No idea why he gave it to me. I’m not even sure why I kept it but I stuck it in my sock and my shinguard kept it “flat” against my shin.

It then got buried in my desk until July 1987 when I went looking for it after Eric Show hit Andre Dawson in the face. I had remembered it was a Padres pitcher. I was surprised to find that it was the Padres pitcher who the Giants had just traded for instead. I had no idea it was the pitcher who’d feature in one of the most amazing games I’d ever attend.

1987

I’ve mentioned it before but for whatever reason this card reminds me of my first year of ripping packs and really getting into the hobby. I remember browsing the rack packs at Toys R Us but I want to say my first pack was a surprise from my mom after she picked me up from school.

I usually took the bus after school so being picked up meant I had some programmed after-school activity instead. My memories are of opening my pack while sitting in the front seat on the ride home. I think I got a Dave Winfield Glossy All Star but the Magadan stood out to me most with all the promise that a “Future Star” holds.

1988

It’s hard to understate how amazing 1988 Score was as a set. Its thunder got stolen by Upper Deck the following year but in terms of paradigm shifts in the hobby, I’d argue that 1988 Score was even bigger.

I had been in the hobby over a year now and had matured greatly as a collector. I no longer browsed the rack packs at Toys R Us for my new cards. Instead I had discovered a local card shop (LCS) located kitty corner from where I had piano lessons. I suspect I begged to go there every weekend and I know my mom indulged me and took me there a lot more than I’d want to take my kids to any such shop now.

My LCS helped me settle into accepting the Topps/Donruss/Fleer hegemony as it stocked wax boxes of all three brands all the way back to 1980. It was my goal to be able to buy and open a pack of each of those.* Then one weekend afternoon I discovered a new brand on the counter.

*I never did buy 1983 Fleer or 1984 Donruss but I did manage to rip a pack of everything else.

The packs weren’t too expensive so of course I bought one.

Mind. Blown.

So much color and those photos. They were like nothing I’d seen before. Batters mid-swing where you could see the baseball as an oblong blur were pretty amazing but the catcher cards were where the set really shone and the Tony Pena was in a class of its own. I didn’t know cards could look like this and that’s before getting to the encyclopedic backs.

1989

Donell Nixon 1989 Score

What a year. It started off with Gregg Jeffries mania. Quickly became Billy Ripken mania. And by the fall all was forgotten in favor of Ken Griffey Jr mania. For me it was pretty magical. My collecting world changed completely with a trip to Philadelphia and this Donell Nixon autograph which I’ve blogged about before. I also ramped up my collecting by getting team sets of Giants from all the major releases this year.

1990

I looked forward to a lot of the 1990 sets because, despite the loss, I knew the Giants were going to feature in all the World Series cards. I wasn’t disappointed but this Score card caught me by surprise by being willing to recognize the seriousness of the event and how there are things bigger than the game.

In some ways 1990 topped 1989 for me baseballwise. I was that kid who was at the earthquake game. I went to the College World Series. I joined the Baseball Card Club in my Junior High. I was able to afford more cards and actually stay on top of the hobby to my satisfaction. The perfect balance between having money to spend and literally no other interests or obligations to spend it on.

Yeah my Junior High had a baseball card club. We knew better than to bring our cards out during class but during lunch we could buy/trade/rip and enjoy the hobby. I saw some cool pulls but the two big highlights were winning a set of 1990 Upper Deck Extended (I figured out the pattern first) and getting fingerprinted by the police when someone robbed a local card shop and they thought it might be someone in the club.

1991

By 1991 I was deep into the autograph thing. The Stanford Alumni Game was my main event each year and the rapid increase in #1 draft pick cards across the hobby meant that I got excited to see guys I’d been watching at Sunken Diamond the previous spring show up on cards.

I could’ve chosen a number of cards here (I mentioned Steve Chitren in a previous post) but Mussina really captures everything about this year. He’s a guy I watched play in college. He’s a rookie I “invested” in because that’s what we thought we were supposed to do with cards then. And he’s one of my big autograph gets from when I started hitting the Alumni game in earnest.

I had gotten a few of his autographs the previous season* but finding this card in my set of 1991 Score that I got for Christmas** was super exciting and I know I looked forward to bringing it to the Alumni game the next month.***

*I remember him signing my all-session NCAA Regionals ticket and commenting on my being a true fan.

**I had saved up Bazooka comics and redeemed them for a Topps set earlier that year.

***Yup. One of the best things about growing up on the West Coast is that baseball started in January.

1992

It wasn’t just the alumni games. I loved the Team USA cards in Topps Traded and used to set aside all the cards of guys who’d be playing at Stanford* the following spring. Some of this was going a bit crazy with the rookie speculation but it was also still a novelty to have real Topps cards of those guys.

*Either Stanford players, Pac 10 players, or standard opponents like Cal State Fullerton.

Willie Adams is six years older than me. That means nothing now but when I was only barely a teenager? That’s huge. And at 6’7″ he was huge too. I was pushing six feet by then but I remember Willie’s dad asking him to “sign for the little guy” when I approached him with my card.

1993

This was another magical year. The Giants had a fantastic season (shame about the ending). I went to Spring Training for the first time. Lots of autographs and good baseball experiences. But in some ways what I remember most was tormenting my soccer coach with those Hostess Baseballs.

As a soccer player I was supposed to hate baseball. A lot of this was backlash to the way soccer was often portrayed as being “foreign” compared to baseball’s status as an “American” thing but I think it went deeper than that too. Anyway my coach was an inveterate baseball hater AND a health food nut so those Hostess Baseballs had him recoiling in abject horror. I’m surprised I didn’t have to run laps all practice.

I didn’t actually like the cupcakes that much. I preferred chocolate and the baseballs were boring vanilla and just sweet. But they came with cards in the package so I had to buy some.

1994

I found all my 1994 cards in a shoebox last summer. Once the strike hit I dropped everything and none of those have any specific memories attached to them aside from “oh yeah I told this hobby to shove it.”

The only 1994 cards I didn’t shoebox were the Nabisco All Star Legends. Those were still cool and a super-affordable way of getting Hall of Famer autographs. I remember being excited to see who was on the checklist and who I wanted to order. Gibson was a no-brainer when I saw the list this year.

1996

Not a card since I was no longer collecting but I went to Spring Training in 1996* and while I was no longer pursuing autographs in a big way I was still hanging over the rail just in case. Garagiola wasn’t worth a ball for me but I had a bunch of blank cards handy. As a result this was one of a handful of signatures I collected after I gave up the hobby.

*I’d gone in 1993 and 1994 but skipped 1995 for replacement players and anger at the whole thing reasons.

1997

I wasn’t collecting cards but I still enjoyed the Mothers Cookies Stadium Giveaway and trading cards with other fans. Plus that Giants-Dodgers pennant race was fantastic. After a couple of years in the wilderness, the 1997 season kind of brought me back to liking the sport again.

I played hooky from my summer job to go to that late-summer Giants-Dodgers game which Brian Johnson won in extra innings. As exciting as the game-winning home run was, Rod Beck getting out of a bases-loaded jam also brought the crowd to its feet. I miss closers whose out pitches also functioned as double play inducers.

1998

My last year of collecting in any form for almost two decade. I was still going to baseball card day but I was no longer trading cards there. Which is why I found myself with eight Alex Diaz cards when I went through my collection at my parents’ house.

While I still enjoyed going to games, things had started to intrude on my life as I hit the back stretch of college and my summers started to have to be more “productive” as I began to look forward to all the possibilities.

2016

Fast forward 28 years in which I’ve not even really thought about cards and now I’m a stay-at-home dad living in New Jersey with two sons who are just getting into sports. Soccer mostly at this point which is why I don’t have a baseball card here.

Heck, it’s not even a card I own. But that Fall my mom sent my sons each a surprise pack of soccer cards. She’d noticed their burgeoning interest in sports as well and, I suspect, wanted to give me a taste of my own medicine. She mentioned in her letter that she’d gone to the same card shop I used to frequent starting way back in 1988. It was no longer kitty corner to my piano lessons nor was it owned by the same guy, but it was the same shop and according to her felt very familiar.

This caused me to want to visit the store again but also seeing my kids enjoy ripping packs just planted the collecting seed in my head. That my eldest pulled a Messi card—my being a Barcelona fan meant that he actually knew and was excited by the pull—was kind of icing on the cake. It reminded me again how much fun cards were and how much I liked them and totally primed me to be pulled in when the SABR Baseball Cards blog launched later that winter.

Night Owl’s 10th Anniversary

Earlier this year Night Owl, one of my favorite Baseball Card Bloggers, celebrated a decade of blogging. This is impressive. I’ve been blogging for 8 years  and not only does that feel like forever, my blog has ranged all over the place over that time. That Greg’s managed to stay so focused for a decade is no easy task and reflects a lot of work on his part.

To celebrate his 10 years he decided to host a little giveaway from a selection of ~30 vintage and modern cards. I drew a mediocre number which put me in the bottom half of the queue where I got to wait and see what items turned out to be unpopular.

As a vintage-first guy I was expecting all the vintage cards to get snapped up first. Much to my surprise though this is not how the event played out. Seeing what people selected ended up being much more surprising than I expected. When my turn came up a handful of cards older than me were still on the board.

Of that handful, the 1976 Mike Schmidt was the clear choice. I’ve always liked the 1976 set and design with its bright colors, large photo, and position icon. An early-career card of a Hall of Famer (and arguably the best Third Baseman in the game’s history) from that set will always be a welcome addition to my binder.

That this card also has some of that classic 70s action photography is even nicer. I like everything about it and am very pleased it fell to me in the draft.

Greg also included this 2016 Topps Gold Parallel of Santiago Casilla as a bonus. I gather he doesn’t want any Giants cards in his house. I don’t particularly care for the smoke monsters in the 2016 design but I kind of like the way they worked with the gold printing. This is one of those cases where the parallels may be nicer than the base cards.

Thanks for the cards and congratulations on 10 years of blogging! I hope I make it to that milestone in a couple.

The Magic of Card Twitter

A few months ago I purchased one of those $5 Fairfield repacks at Target. It’s always a fun exercise to see what kind of old cards show up in there* and it’s also a great way for me to see what I missed in the decades I was away from the hobby. I don’t care about the high end cards but just seeing all the different base cards has been great.

*I’m frequently jealous of how my kids can find the exact same early-1980s cards in repacks that I found 25 years ago.

Anyway those repacks, like everything else nowadays, include a chance at a “hit” and lo and behold, I got lucky and found a JD Drew Dodger relic.

This is actually a “good” Fairfield hit in that it’s a semi-famous player. At the same time that it’s a player that no one ever liked makes it the perfect example of what to expect as a hit.

As someone who’s not really feeling it with relics in general, never liked Drew as a player, and collects Giants cards, I put the card in a pile and forgot about it until Night Owl received a scammed Fairfield repack box for Christmas. Then I knew what I had to do.

The magic of Card Twitter is that that JD Drew relic which didn’t excite me at all not only found a perfect home but turned into a card I really like as well.

Yeah. Only a Giants fan of a certain age would enjoy a Steve Scarsone 1996 Leaf Signatures card. I am one of those and I know I’ll enjoy this much much more than Night Owl did.

Scarsone was the backup and eventual replacement for Robby Thompson. We all loved Robby* but it’s not like he was going to play forever nor was he a massive threat with the bat. It’s not like Scarsone was much of an upgrade either, I remember him mostly as a pinch hitter and double switch substitute.

*One of only four players to play over ten years exclusively with the Giants.

The reason why I particularly like this card though is that I got Scarsone’s autograph at the Giants 1994 Spring Training before he had really any baseball cards of note and definitely no Giants cards. So this plain white card has been sitting in my autograph binder for two dozen years and now it will have a real, signed card as a partner in the pocket next to it.

This isn’t a card I’d go out of my way to buy but I love having it as it reminds me of my days as an autograph hound back in those simpler, pre-strike years.

Night Owl of course didn’t stop there and included a second card hiding behind the Scarsone in the penny sleeve.

This was unexpected and very generous. McCovey’s one of those guys whose cards almost always look good and this is no exception. A great-looking card in a great-looking set which all-too-often gets chipped and beat-up edges. I’m very happy to slide this one into my binder too.

Thanks Night Owl! These kind of small-scale trades are what I’ve found myself loving most about reintegrating into the hobby. The larger, coordinated ones are fun too but there’s something about exchanging a couple cards via unexpected plain white envelopes which reminds me of all the promise that trading cards on the playground had to offer.

My Various Projects

This is inspired by Night Owl but also represents a good opportunity to reflect on what’s taken shape in the year I’ve been back in the hobby and how different my collecting goals are from when I was a kid. I’ve previously mentioned how my childhood collecting consisted of trying to get a sample of everything—a pack of all current releases, a sample of every insert, one Topps card from each year, etc. So no real focus but I wouldn’t expect anything more from a kid either.

Now? I have more-focused interests which, while potentially huge, allow me to pick and choose what I want to spend money and time on. And yes of course I’m working on multiple projects. Many of them are listed on my general collecting page—as are the links to my want lists—but it’ll be fun to have a post dedicated to describing them in more detail.

One of the most-fun things to discover about the hobby is how much I enjoy putting checklists together. Many of these, such as the Lifers concept, are not intended to be real projects and are just checklists I’ve enjoyed making. Others though have become their own projects which I’m pursuing. We’ll start with the smaller projects and work up to the big ones.

Oddballs

Regional oddballs, food releases, police cards, stadium giveaways, etc. The wonderful thing about the 1980s and 90s is the because the baseball card industry exploded into an oversaturated, overproduced investment bubble, there were an uncountable number of weird cards produced as promotional items for stores, restaurants, food, etc. It’s amazing to see how many different sets there were and find out how few of them I’d ever heard of.

Oddballs are great because of how non-standard they are. They take risks in the form and the distribution. They’re limited to specific geographic reasons or demographic markets. They’re a wonderful way to learn about how different parts of the US were.

The best thing though is that they, more than any other genre of baseball card, are a direct link to the original baseball cards which were inserted into regional tobacco issues. The way that oddballs in particular tell the story of how baseball has been tied up with US consumer culture is why I love them.

Expansion and Moves

I covered this a little bit before since my batch of 1961 Topps cards included a number of first-year Twins, Senators, and Angels cards. It’s always been interesting to me to see cards from teams that no longer exist. But I also love the idea of seeing how Topps dealt with these changes. Yes the hatless airbrushed results are often horrible, but seeing the transition in the cards from the hatless ones in low-number series to band new uniforms in the high numbers is kind of wonderful.

This is also a project which really appeals to me from a history point of view. The idea have having a sampling of cards from the last year a team is in a city is as neat to me as having cards from its first year in a new city. It chronicles the way that Major League Baseball has changed over the decades and who has had direct access to games.

There’s no proper checklist for this project either. I’m trying to get a sample of first and last years in a location as well as any interesting things that also occur in terms of franchise identity. So far I’ve been mainly getting 1960s cards since there were eight new teams, three moves, and one name change during that decade. But I do plan to try and get samples from the five 1950s moves and for whatever reason I’ve been pretty slack on getting 1970s cards as well.

I will eventually move into the 90s as well but I need to check how many Marlins and Rockies cards are in my childhood collection first.

Photography and Design

In keeping with the rest of my blog’s focus, of course I would also collect baseball cards as samples of photography and design. Heck, baseball cards made up a significant portion of my visual literacy education. This is very much my beat on SABR where I’ve written about cards from the auteur theory point of view or done deep dives into the typesetting and design of a specific release.

I’m unable to not treat cards as a designed object and as much as I love baseball, I will respond to well-crafted cards regardless of the team or player pictured. I don’t usually get the “got to have it” urge but every once in a while I see something which strikes me as being especially well made or interesting from a craft point of view.

Action

I started this as research for a SABR post but it’s been interesting enough for me to continue pursuing from a general photography and printing point of view. I love seeing how companies have tried to represent action on cards and, like with the oddballs, there’s a lot of experimentation which is extremely fun to see.

The 1950s and 1960s action cards are great because featured action photography were not common on baseball cards until the 1970s.* The 1980s and 1990s cards meanwhile are wonderful low-tech gimmicks which have managed to entrance my kids even in the age of ipads and touch screens.

*I’m not counting the background action on things like 1956 Topps. 

Spanish-language

While I’ve also started a series of SABR posts about these, I started collecting Spanish-language baseball cards as soon as I learned about their existence. Where O Pee Chee and Leaf were interesting in their bilingual French-Canadian way, they were still not made for a US market so I always counted them as foreign cards. The Spanish-language sets from 1993–2003 on the other hand are distinctly for US markets and the fact that they’re either bilingual or Spanish-only is extremely interesting given how much “speak ‘American’” is still a thing.

I don’t regret giving up on the hobby after the strike, I am sad though that I never saw these in the wild.

Stanford

On to the big projects. I’ve introduced this one in a post already but it’s come a lot further since then as I’ve been using it as a way to learn about the trading card landscape which I missed in the two dozen years I was away from the hobby. Many of the Topps cards have been knocked off now and I’ve had to expand the searchlist to try and get samples of cards of the players in various uniforms.

Most of the players on this list either only had a couple seasons in the majors or, despite a long career, were the kind of bench players who didn’t make it onto many of the set checklists of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I quickly realized sticking just to Topps, while a decent way to keep the official search list under control, wasn’t going to give me a good representation of the players’ careers.

Giants

My largest project and one which will never be finished. There’s always more to collect. I grew up a Giants fan attending games at Candlestick. Giants cards have always been a major part of the appeal of card collecting and of course getting cards from the teams I’ve followed and the franchise history I devoured as a child is a wonderful way to both relax and to share the experiences with my kids.* At the same time much of this isn’t a specific searchlist. I am trying to get team sets of the entire Topps run up until 1993** but everything after that—as well as the non-Topps cards—is pretty much undefined.

*My 8-year old is devouring Giants and baseball history in very much the same way and it’s wonderful to watch. My 5-year old meanwhile is eagerly trying to copy his big brother and gets more excited finding cards of players I liked when I was little than he does about cards of current players.

**No I don’t expect to even do this since many of the cards on that list are way more than I ever expect to feel comfortable paying for a piece of cardboard.

All that said, I’m totally using the Giants and Stanford themes as a way to focus many of my other projects. Spanish-language cards? I’ll just make a checklist of the Giants and Stanford players. Same goes with Oddballs—though if it’s a Giants-specific Oddball set like Mother’s Cookies I’ll want the whole set. This allows me to not go too crazy with collecting everything while still giving me many fun things to look out for.

Sets

Many of the other “various project” posts mention various sets that people are building. I’m not quite in set-building mode yet but I did cross the 50% mark on 1978 Topps recently. I still plan on putting together needlists of 1986 Topps, 1990 Fleer, and 1991 Donruss too but those all require me to catalog my childhood collection once I visit my parents next summer. Once I do that I’ll have to put together a post of “childhood sets I’d like to complete” and add that to my next project list.

Mailday from Night Owl

I kept pulling Corey Seager inserts out of Stadium Club. Since my interest in Stadium Club was the photography, I figured I should send the inserts off to someone who’d appreciate them. Greg at Night Owl Cards has one of the better baseball card blogs around (seriously, most of the time when I notice something neat he’s already blogged about it years ago) and he happens to be a Dodger fan. So I sent my Seager inserts off to him and he was more than happy to rid himself of Giants cards in return.

I’ll start with the handful of old/odd cards in the package. While I’m not explicitly looking for non-Topps Giants since the 1981–1994 Donruss/Fleer/Score/Upper Deck sets remind me so much of my youth, I’m not only always happy to receive them but I’ll probably end up trying to complete those team sets as well.

The 1992 Conlon card is a nice addition to the 1991 Conlon cards that I got from SABR as part of their Conlon Project. In addition to my contribution to that project I already know that I have other things to say about the Conlon cards.

The majority of the cards though are new ones including many from 2017. My kids will fight over the Topps Bunt. I’m not a huge fan of that set but at least it looks different from Flagship. Different design. Different photos. I’m glad I chose that instead of Opening Day as the set for my kids to play with. Because good lord, between Flagship, Opening Day, Chrome, and the team sets it looks like Topps has packaged the same design four different times and managed to convince people that it’s four different products to buy.

I’m relieved to have a couple samples of each of these (and my son has a team set) because there’s no way I’m buying packs from all these different sets. Four different sets plus all the different parallels for the same design and same photo? Hard pass.

All those all-look-same Topps Flagship family releases has me feeling somewhat more charitable toward all the faux-retro stuff. I can see the appeal even though Heritage and Archives are still weird in how they falls into an uncanny valley between homage and copy. But they are indeed a nice change of pace both photography-wise and design-wise.

I miss posed portraits on card fronts. And I miss the simple understated designs and typography. Now that Flagship has gone full-bleed it’s become infested with undisciplined TV-style digital graphics. Bunt’s simplicity is a breath of fresh air (shame about the photo processing) and Stadium Club’s design is all class all the way. Heritage meanwhile is a reminder of what worked in the past. I just wish Topps would try and learn from that instead of recycling it.

Also I wish Topps would typeset the 1960 design with fully-justified names like the 1960 design was meant to be typeset.

Allen & Ginter meanwhile is seriously growing on me. It’s still not a set I like but this year’s design in particular has a certain something to it. The photo treatment isn’t too over the top and the retro styling of the oval portrait works a lot better than their designs in previous years.

Speaking of previous years of Ginter, I also got a handful of minis. Mini format is indeed fun. Trying to look like tobacco cards is a mixed bag. A lot of the problem is that Topps’s approach to photo retouching approaches HDR contrast porn rather than the low-contrast non-process-ink tobacco look. That all of these show the shiny black synthetic spring training shirts doesn’t help the look at all. The best thing I can say about these is that each year Topps gets a little better at figuring out how to make these look good and it’s fun to see the progression.


And a few random Bowmans. I’m increasingly confused by what this set is and looking at checklists isn’t helping. This year so far it feels like Bowman is four distinct sets (Bowman, Bowman Prospects, Bowman Chrome Prospects, Bowman Chrome) being released in two different packages (Bowman and Bowman Chrome). I’m too confused to buy anything.

Also, multiple small sets of under 200 cards make me sad. Too small to feel like a set. Too large to feel like an oddball. Unless the product concept is super clear (*cough* 1987 Donruss OPening Day *cough*) it just feels like filler for chase cards and a checklist meant to satisfy some legal obligation as to what a set is. Anyway, since I’m not buying Bowman it’s nice to receive some copies for the binder.

Finally, Sportflics! Apparently I’m one of those weirdos who likes these. I thought they were great when I was little even though Beckett insisted otherwise.  My kids love them as well. Though that Estes card is one of the lamest Sportflics designs ever. Sportflics is at its best when the lenticular graphics depict action. All of these have only two frames so it’s a bit difficult but the Lance Johnson comes close. If it’s not going to depict action, providing multiple different card photos like in the Biggio card is acceptable. Having a static photo and swapping the background? That’s giving up on Sportflics’s core competency.

Thanks Greg! It’s good to know who to send my unwanted Dodgers cards to now.