Friday, June 24, 2022

Collecting by the Book : Or...Adventures in Reading/Where's LaVar Burton when you Need Him?

 


I become obsessed with things I’m obsessed with.

            That’s a funny sentence, isn’t it? But it’s kind of true. I get on kicks and the kicks go into overdrive and take up a good portion of my free time. Sometimes these are new obsessions. Most of the time, at least at my age, it’s reengaging with things that I loved in the past. A favorite TV show. A favorite superhero. A favorite Hobby, anyone?

            Here are two examples of what I’m talking about.

            I recently finished this book.


            When I was a kid, I was Brady Bunch obsessed. I watched the show in reruns continuously. I wanted toys with the Brady’s on them. I drew the Brady kids from my imagination. Wished I was a neighbor who could come over and throw the ball around with Greg, Peter and Bobby in that Astroturf backyard. I say it’s Alyssa Milano, but my first crush was probably on Maureen McCormick. And then Eve Plumb. But my story isn’t rare. My generation probably did more than any after it to solidify the Brady’s place in pop culture lore.

            But that was when I was a kid.

            When I finished that Brady Bunch book as an adult, it was like I’d recaptured some kind of joy. I found myself wanting more. So, I began watching whatever videos I could with the cast on YouTube. Interviews. Specials. There’s even an HGTV show staring the cast in which they remodel the inside of the Brady house to match the one we’d been seeing from the exterior our whole lives.  I found more books. Memoirs. I sat through entire episodes of the Brady Bunch Variety Show. I’m currently making my way through a podcast called The Real Brady Bros, hosted by Barry Williams and Christopher Knight. Greg and Peter Brady respectfully.

            And I’m making my way through all five seasons of the television show.

            Quite probably for the umpteenth time.

            And I’m loving it.

            I’m currently eyeing up this DVD boxed set.

            I recently finished this book as well.


            If there was a character who equaled my obsession as a kid as much as the Brady Bunch world, Muppet and Star Wars world did, it was Batman. I collected the comics, his and ONLY his. I watched the cartoons. I watched reruns of the ’66 TV show.

I wore the Underoos, man!

I dressed like Batman for Halloween. I acted like Batman on the playground at recess. I made those POW! and BAM! sound effects when we pretend fought (and sometimes really fought) in my neighborhood. With the exception of this year’s The Batman (thanks Covid), since 1989 I’ve seen every single Batman movie (yes, that includes 1997’s Batman & Robin) in the movie theater.

            When I finished that great book, the first thing I did was queue up that new Batman movie. Then I caught up on some of the animated films that have come out in recent years. And there are A LOT. I got myself back into Batman comics. I’ve since been through the Bane Wars and the Joker War. I’ve read about Gotham city putting masked crusaders on notice, by a new mayor who has a bone to pick. Now I’m getting ready to enter the Fear State, through the wonderful comics written by James Tynion IV.

            And I’m currently loitering in toy and comic book stores looking for the perfect 1996-era Batman & Robin action figures to put on my already cluttered writing desk, with all of these items.

            Books fuel my obsessions.

            They always have.

            When I went to Dublin it was Leopold Bloom I went searching for.

            I just finished this book.

            Guess what I’m watching too much of?

            At some point this week I’m picking up the first volume of these.

            It’s gonna be a Ring-A-Ding summer in my house!

            Books have also fueled my sports card collecting.

            One of them actually helped get me back into The Hobby.

            Back in October 2002 I wrote THIS article about my return to collecting in 2019. I got it mostly right. I discussed my anxiety. My nostalgia for collecting. The way I felt collecting cards as a kid, and how much different The Hobby was to me as an adult. I mentioned watching collectors open product on YouTube. I gave shout-outs to the blogs I was reading and the podcasts I was listening to. I wrote about how returning to collecting helped quell the anxiety.

But I left out one thing.

And what I left out of the essay was a book.

            Specifically, this book.


            If my memory serves me correctly, and it usually does, I read Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods during the summer of 2019, when my anxiety was at its worst. What I found in Josh’s book, despite its sometimes-tumultuous subject manner, was a calm. Not only a nostalgia for card collecting, but I genuine love. I felt at peace in his prose. I wanted to feel the peace. And I began thinking about my own childhood relationship to The Hobby, probably more with his book in my hands than I did watching Jabs or someone open up a wax box of 1987 Topps. I didn’t know it then, but I wanted to express how I felt about card collecting the way Josh did.

            Eventually I’d write something.

            But in the immediate, I wanted to collect again.

            Wilker’s book helped fuel the obsession. It was broad in scope. It, along with the other aforementioned blogs, etc., got me back into buying wax. Building sets. Starting up a PC again for the first time since 1992. The effects on my anxiety were slow at first. But they were tangible. Yes, there was worry during the day. But some of it was abated when I was able to come home and mess with cards, or spend my weekend morning collating sets, instead of waiting for my wife to wake-up so that I could complain about my job and act like the most woebegone man on the planet.

            But Wilker’s book was just a start.

            Not all of my collecting happens this way. The obvious way it through team affiliation and player performance. But I’m beginning to see that if I read a book about a specific athlete or team, I tend to dip my toe (or sometimes dive right into the deep end of the pool), into the card collecting aspect.

            Obsession.

            And it’s been a recent facet

            In the spring of 2021, my wife and I were vaccinated and finally able to go to Buffalo and Pittsburgh to visit family for the (mostly) first time since 2019. We were able to see our families, go out to eat and generally act like normal human beings. On a trip to a ½ priced books in the Pittsburgh suburbs. I came across this book.


            But I stupidly didn’t buy it.

            Instead, when I got back home to Brooklyn, I checked it out of my library. I was a baby to a five-year-old kid when the Pittsburgh Steelers were winning those Super Bowls and forging a dynasty whose legend looms large over city and team to this day. Those Steelers were already superheroes. Already talked about the echoes of gods walking amongst us. Never mind that by the time I old enough to watch The Steelers, it was when the winning stopped, the Super Bowls dried up, and those gods become mortals on the football field.

            Their legend was already locked up.

            I never thought I was going to return to football card collecting when I got back into cards. I’ve always liked football. But baseball is a way of life. A religion. I didn’t think football cards held a place for me. But getting back into them; it was an inevitability after I finished reading Their Life’s Work. If I wasn’t going to collect football cards generally, then I was at least going to have my fill of Steelers cards. And when I returned to Pittsburgh in July of 2021, I hit up the flea markets and did just that.


            I’m even buying the new guys now.

            I was a Dave Parker collector before I read this book.


            But, as with Their Life’s Work, reading Cobra got me to want to focus my collecting not on ripping all of that wax and building sets at random, but to focus more on the Pittsburgh Pirates cards I wanted. To connect my collecting to team history and lore.

            And it let’s you drop the dough on a cool card like this.


            It’s not just local teams.

            This book to collection ratio has been happening across the spectrum.

            I read this book on Dick Allen


…and this happened.  

I’m currently reading Dan Good’s wonderful book on Ken Caminiti.


…and yesterday I spent an hour or so going through boxes just to dig up these.



Next up is this one.


Rickey played so long, if I collect him, it’ll be like going down a rabbit hole in Alice’s Garden.

(And, no, I do not have his rookie…someone is gonna get my money on that one)

This book made me reconsider 1986 Topps, and is just a damned fine read.


If the guys in this book were playing now, they’d for sure, have a Topps rookie card. Probably in multiple products.

But for most of these guys its minor league sets or nothing at all.

Obviously, there are some books on players for whom you can’t just run out and fulfil your obsession buying cards.



But you can try.




And in some instances, reading a bio on a player just works to keep that long burning fire going.







What’s happening with all of this type of reading, or it least what I’m garnering from the experience, is that I’m developing a sort of subset to my collecting. Or what I call, Collecting by the Book. And I actually look forward to it. To seeing what books will show on my radar. How it’ll enhance and inform what I collect. I’m hoping a few more books that’ll get me digging into those boxes, like I did when I went searching for Caminiti. I don’t know what I’ll find. Or where they’ll go. Maybe in the same special place I reserve for cards that mean something to me. Maybe I’ll start a Collecting by the Book binder.

Right now, I’m in the hey-I’m-just-noticing-this-about-myself stage in this part of my Hobby journey.

So...stay tuned

Thanks for Reading! Happy Collecting!

NEXT FRIDAY: Russell Streur returns! 

           

           

 






Friday, June 17, 2022

2022 Topps Series 2 : A Study in Disappointment


 

This blog post is about disappointment.

            Or working through disappointment.

            I tried finding a Mister Roger’s Neighborhood episode on the topic (Fred always gives me a boost) …but I couldn’t find one. And I ended up just watching those Land of Make-Believe puppets all afternoon.

            Here, let me show you what I’m talking about in terms of disappointment.


            That was the Silver Pack I opened from the Topps Series2 Hobby box that I opened. My opening salvo to Series2, if you will. I always open the Silver Pack first. I don’t like to wait on surprises. And I was…well…

            Disappointed.

            Marcus Stroman? Come on, man!

            I know there’s a Shane Baz rookie card there. But I don’t collect pitchers. I don’t see the point. Even ones I like. Pitchers get hurt. Shane Baz was already hurt. And I don’t like the way modern pitching is run. Gone are the days of the workhorse throwing 7 2/3 innings then the set-up man and closer come in to finish off the rest. Those days are gone…and I get that. You can’t pitch 7 2/3 innings when pitching is all about velocity and throwing 100 miles an hour. There’s no nuance to pitching. There’s no subtly or true craftsmanship. I get that.

I don’t have to like it.

            So, you can keep your Shane Baz card. Your Clayton Kershaw cards. Your Verlanders and Scherzers, and all the rest.

            But I digress…

            I’m not disappointed in the 2022 design. Not at all. I honestly like what Topps has done with their base design this season. Although getting a number of cards whose backs looked like this was a touch disappointing.


            Anyone else get cards like that?

I can’t really touch what I’m disappointed in, and that’s what’s bothering me. No, it’s not the fact that there were no rookie cards of Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt Jr., and Spencer Torkelson (a name I can only spell because Monkee, Peter Tork’s, real last name is Torkelson), other than SP cards…none of which I got by the way. I didn’t expect to get one of the short prints. I know my luck.

            If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.

            ***A brief aside, love my SP Vlady Jr. RC as I do (only because the photo is far superior than his Update one), I don't really appreciate the SP rookie card in base. In a world saturated with rookie cards, just do us all a favor Topps and give a player their one legit rookie card. Enough with the false scarcity....you do that enough with parallels and other bells and whistles***

           That said, two rookies that I was actually excited for are in Series2 as regular base cards.


            One is already playing for the Pirates and the other is currently in AAA, having his time manipulated by the Major League organization.

            I got the Pirates cards I needed.


            There’s plenty of star power in Series2.



            There’s even some fading star power.


            And there were even a good number of cards for all of those guys whose rookie cards we were all nuts over last season, who now have second year cards with Rookie Cups or Future Star plastered on their card, and only cost .18 cents on SportsLots, because who in the hell cares about someone’s SECOND card…right?


            Disappointed AND a touch cynical this week.

            Of course, there were the rookie cards.


            Fifty-Seven in Series2 to be exact. I managed to get forty-nine of those rookies in the Hobby Box that I opened. A quick check of them all revealed that thirty-two of the forty-nine rookies I pulled, the players were aged twenty-five or older. Now, I’m forty-eight. Twenty-five-year-olds blow my mind. I was twenty-five. Sometimes I can still taste twenty-five. Feel it in my soul. Sometimes I wish I could BE twenty-five again.

            But not if I were still a baseball prospect.

            Twenty-five is pushing it to still trying to be making it in baseball.

            Yet there are at least thirty-two cards featuring a rookie player twenty-five years or older.

            But even that doesn’t seem to touch why I’m disappointed.

            I got the requisite bells and whistles in my Hobby Box.

            The 1987 cards.


            Hey got Acuna! But he’s an effin’ Brave.

            A Jackie 1987.


            There are very few players for whom I collect post-playing-day cards. One is Roberto Clemente. One is Willie Stargell. Another is Henry Aaron. And the last one of those four is Jackie Robinson. Getting post-playing-day cards of Jackie Robinson in packs is special to me. It’s the closest I’m getting to the sensation of pulling a Jackie card. And I know I’m never going to own a real Jackie card from his playing days. These inserts are it.

            A small Oasis in an otherwise barren landscape.

            I got the foil cards.


            I got the one Gold Card.


            I got a SP card for a pitcher who plays for a team I’ve loathed for over thirty years.


            I got another SP for a star player for another team I absolutely loathe.


            (I’m going to try and get those out to people who actually like those teams)

            I was excited for the Diamond Greats Die-Cut cards because Willie Stargell has one. Instead, I got this guy.


            No disrespect to Randy Johnson and his Hall of Fame career. But if there is a post-playing-day card that I’m going to get…IN…ANYTHING…I…OPEN…it’s going to be Randy Johnson. I’m somehow fated to get a Randy Johnson card. It’s not a bad thing if you’re a Randy Johnson fan, but for someone, like me, who took barely a passing interest in his career (scroll up and read what I wrote about old school pitching and feel free to tap your HYPOCRITE button at home), I sort of shrug and move on.

            To these inserts.


            And another goddamned Red Sox.

            And these.

            Featuring a guy who regularly makes my Pirates look like fools…and another goddamned Red Sox.

            I didn’t get an auto card…par for the course.

            But I didn’t get a player relic.

            Instead, I got this.


            WTF?

            I don’t know if they were packaging my Hobby Box next to the Blaster Box section of the Topps Factory, but that card ain’t what was promised on the box, and…

            Shit.

            I think I know why I’m disappointed. It’s not the cards. It’s not the star cards. It’s not the rookie cards, or the fact that I was sweating it out until the second to last pack to even pull that Oneil Cruz rookie card. It’s not any of it.

            It’s the goddamned bells and whistle cards.

            What have I become?

            I often go OFF about how I don’t care about insert cards, and how I don’t understand them in regards to modern collecting. But…three years in…I expected...more? Maybe one player I liked or collected in that silver pack. Same with most of the 1987 inserts. All of my other inserts seem to be a Brave or a goddamned Red Sox. Then there’s my strange, twisted history with Randy Johnson cards.

            Yeah…I’m disappointed in the bell and whistle cards I got.

            But…

            Through disappointment comes understanding. I’ve been learning a lot about myself as a collector this year. I’m learning that I’m not the set-builder that I thought I was. I’m more of home team/single player (mostly for the home team) collector. Series2 would be underwhelming in that regard because there weren’t a lot of Pittsburgh Pirate cards, and I didn’t get a single Pirates player as an insert.

            So, I’ve thought about it. I think going forward, 2023 and beyond, I’m going to let other collectors spend their money and rip Hobby Boxes. Then I’m going to go onto SportLots/ComC and buy the singles of players, team players, and bells and whistles that I want. I seem to do that every single time I buy a Hobby box now, so why not save myself a couple hundred bucks every season. 

        I’m not going to stop ripping wax, even though giving up on Heritage and now Hobby base would appear that way. There’s Update and Archives after all. I might put my money toward ripping older wax now. I'm always on Baseball Card Exchange saying to myself, man, I'd love to buy that! If only I weren't ripping modern stuff. 

            And as for sets? I guess if I want that year’s set, I’ll just buy one when they become available during the summer.

            See?

            Not so disappointed now, right?

            Except…

            Remember last week’s post? When I said how excited I wad going to be to get a Michael Chavis card in a Pirates uniform? Remember that?

            Yeah...I got that Chavis card.


            In a Homestead Grays uniform instead of a Pirates one.

            Sigh.

 

Thanks for reading! Happy Collecting!

 

NEXT FRIDAY: Collecting…by the book. Interpret that as you see fit.

           

Friday, June 10, 2022

Rookies, Rookies, Everywhere...and Not a Drop to Drink

 



I’m wondering if it’s all our fault.

            I don’t blame Generation X for much. I don’t want to go into cultural stereotypes or touchstones here about this generation vs. that. There are plenty of other, way better, sources out there closely examining the cultural zeitgeist. But it is safe to say that Generation X has kind of taken, maybe sort of is fostering, a backseat, laissez faire attitude toward the culture at hand. While the Boomers try to hold onto their last grasps of power, and Millennials and Generation Z try to take it away from them; Generation X seems content to kick back (yes, I’m obviously generalizing here), and let it all play out as it may.

            Besides…we’ve already done our damage.

            For proof, I gave you exhibit A.




            And exhibit B.



            (no…I don’t own a 1984 Donruss Mattingly card)

            Generation X might not be up to much politically or culturally these days, but if I try to pinpoint the generation who pushed The Hobby full force into Rookie Card Mania, I don’t need to look much further than us folks born between the years 1965-1980. We’re the ones responsible. We’re the reason The Hobby has been this way for almost forty years now. We’ve caused the bother. We’ve caused the pandemonium exhibited with every card release. We’re the reason you fly by every other card in a pack, looking for some twenty-one-year-old kid who batter .215 last season, but has tons of potential.

            I offer you exhibit C.


            (no...I don't own that one either)

            When I was twelve-year-old that Canseco card sold for $25 or more at card shows, when you could still pull it out of a pack. I didn’t know much about Jose Canseco in 1986, but you can bet I knew a ton about that card and coveted it as much as every other kid I knew who collected. We wanted the Canseco card. We wished there was a Wally Joyner card. We wanted Bo before Bo knew anything about anything, and that included hitting the ball for better than a .207 batting average. The ’86 Donruss Canseco was indicative of what The Hobby was becoming in 1986, what those ’84 Mattingly cards had popped off two years before. And its indicative of what The Hobby still is today.

Rookie-mania.

I offer you exhibit D from the crazy heyday of the Junk Wax Era.


All going to be worth a ton.

None of them worth much raw.

Not a Hall of Famer amongst them.

And even though their careers are said and done, I still get a twinge of excitement whenever I see their cards, or open their cards if I chance upon a pack of Topps from 1987.

I’m conditioned to.

Is it unfair to blame Generation X for the prominence of rookie cards in The Hobby? Yes...and no. Adult forces controlled The Hobby when I was a kid. Adults ran the major card companies. I bought cards from adults at my drug store, LCSs, and card shows. If you want to get technical, me and my ilk were hapless, helpless consumers at the mercy of the capitalist marketplace.

But…

We were the ones collecting the cards. We were the ones placing value on young players based on their performance, and the promise of their performance. We were the ones flying by late career cards of Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, hoping that Pete Incaviglia card was somewhere at the back of the pack...and not ruined by a gum or wax stain. We were the ones putting Corey Snyder cards in penny sleeves and top loaders having never seen him take a swing at the plate.

But…

Generation X was the first generation to experience the sports card Hobby truly explode. To you folks who began collecting in the 1960s, 1970s, and earlier…I know, I know; I’m extrapolating a lot here. I know you had your cards. I know you probably coveted a rookie here and there. I know you met with other collectors, traded with other collectors, and maybe even attended a card show here and there. And I’m not discounting that. But there’s a vast difference between how collecting was presented in the 1970s and the mania I witnessed during my youth.

It's weird to put it into words now, because of how prevalent the rookie card is in The Hobby. The excitement was palpable back then. The anticipation of the hunt was real. Wanting cards for players, and this is the 1980s here, that you most likely were never going to see play live OR on TV. And that (minus the access to games) has continued for forty years.

And we didn’t even have parallel and short print cards.

But we had a 1985 Doc.


If you don’t believe me, take a look at the big letdown amongst many card collectors when Topps released the checklist for 2022’s series 2. No Witt Jr? No J-Rod? No Torkleson? Fuck YOU Topps! 

****Yes, I know Topps put SPs of Torkleson, Rodriguez and Witt J in series two....and if Blogger had an eyeroll emoji I'd use it....I don't like SPs...that said, to be COMPLETELY hypocritical, I'm opening a Hobby Box of Series 2 and if I pull one of those SPs, I'd gladly trade it to someone who has a 2022 Heritage SP of Oneil Cruz.****

There are YouTube videos literally railing against the release, and some calling it the worst ever. I’m not yet willing to say that about a set that’s going to have some Pirates I’m excited for, and Yordan Alvarez’s base card in it.

But it’s his third-year card…so what do I know?

Look, I like rookie cards. I keep rookie cards.


See?

I even collect rookie cards



    

Nothing can separate me from me and my Vlady rookies.


But you know what? I prefer his 2020 card more.


I think it’s neat-o that Topps places an emphasis on rookie cards. I find it humorous that the RC logo gets us all wild to the point where we even argue about its placement on said card. I still like the promise inherent in rookie cards, even though I’m well-versed in the burn. And, boy, can you get burned more these days than you ever could when I was a kid. Yeah, some dope might’ve shelled out $50 for that ’86 Canseco. But what about the collector who shelled out $150 for the Evan White auto card from last year?

What about that poor schmuck?

It just surprises me, at times, that the rookie card still takes up so much space in The Hobby. Especially with all of the other bells and whistles attached. You might not be getting a J-Rod or Witt Jr. rookie card in Series 2…but you can still hunt for their autos. Maybe, as a collector, I should be excited that people are still so passionate about base cards. Even if they are rookie base cards. It gives me hope as a collector that people still care about base cards.

Or…

It's about the parallel cards…isn’t it?

The…goddamned…parallel cards.

I meant what I said about being excited for Yordan’s base card in Series 2. Manny Machado is in Series 2. So are Ozzie Albies, Cody Bellinger and Bryan Reynolds. Just to name a few. That’s some exciting young talent. More so if the real Cody Bellinger ever shows up again. As a Pirates fan, the Rookie Cards in Series 2 are actually pretty sweet: Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras look like cornerstones of the franchise in the years to come. There’s even a Pirates rookie card for some player named Connor Overton…whom I don’t even remember.

Maybe because he pitched all of 8 innings for the Pirates last year...and doesn't even play for them anymore.

And that’s a point of contention that I do have with rookie cards. There are 57 rookie cards in Series 2. That’s 57 cards out of 330 cards. Add that to all of the stupid team cards and combo cards Topps adds, and that a pretty big chunk of your base product right there. Yeah, rookie cards are cool, but if a rookie card ends up taking the place of a player who maybe more deservedly should have a base card, than some twenty-year-old prospect who played in two games; well…that’s where I’m decidedly not for the rookie card.

That’s where I draw the line on the big RC.

And for the record...those Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras rookie cards I'm looking forward to? They only played in a couple of games last year as well.

***That said, I would gladly trade someone the Nolan Ryan or Mookie Betts seen here for the 2022 Heritage SP of Oneil Cruz***




If Generation X caused this focus in The Hobby…then I’m truly sorry. I kid, I kid. I don’t really blame Generation X for the state of The Hobby. The lack of involvement in politics? Sure…I blame Generation X. As for The Hobby…it’s all fun. Enjoy the rookie cards, I say. But don’t forget about all of the cool base cards for star players, or team players that you root for in any released set. Those are the cards that are going to mean more going forward. They’re the ones that hold the memories for me, and the ones that are making the new memories.

I might not be getting a Julio Rodriguez in Series 2 (enough with the J-Rod shit).

But I’m getting my first Michael Chavis card in a Pirates uniform.


And that’s pretty cool.

Now…excuse me while I go on ComC and get me that that ’84 Donruss Mattingly I always wanted.

 

Thanks for reading! Happy Collecting!

 

NEXT FRIDAY: We do the inevitable…we talk 2022 Topps Series 2.