Monday, February 12, 2018

Signs of spring - A look at 2018 Series 1 Topps.

Normally, the first sign that it's almost time for spring training is the annual picking of the free agency carcass by Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette. In a normal year, most of the big names are gone leaving the Os GM to sign the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo. This year is a bit different as it seems no one is signing any free agents so there are no bones to pick over.  That means it's time to move on to sign number two that baseball is almost here - the release of Topps Series 1.

Looking through a few hundred cards of summer baseball action makes the foot of snow on the ground here in Chicago a little easier to bear. Buying a box of cards a few weeks before moving, probably isn't the smartest thing to do, but in the over all scheme of things, a hobby box worth of cards isn't adding that much to the grand scheme of things. So I wandered over to Elite Sportscards and picked up a box.

Let's get down to the cards....

The first card of the season was....

For the second year in a row, it's a Philadelphia Phillies position player. That doesn't bode well for the Phillies who finished 66-96 after I pulled Freddy Galvis  as my first card last year.  I will say that I like the Herrera card a lot. The layout is perfect for a horizontal card fits nicely with the placement of the logo and the nameplate.

I don't have any problem with the design itself. It's another full-bleed photo, which is nice. The logo may be a bit big, but not obnoxiously so. It's nice to be able to read the name and there is no unnecessary hard-to-read glittery typeface.

The back of the card...

I know people care more about the photos on the front than the stats on the back. I just wish that there would be more stats. My old man rant is they've gotten away from the full career stats on the back. I grew up with the ability to see an entire career on the back of a player's baseball card. It was impressive to see the numbers of someone who had been in the league for 10-15 years. I suppose it's nice to see what a player's Twitter handle is, but honestly, I'd rather have the stats, both new and old

The photography continues to be top notch. Honestly, the photos used for the base set rival what used to be used for Stadium Club. There are a lot of action shots, a good mix of horizontal and vertical cards. There is the usual mix of team cards, future stars, and checklists. The checklists feature odd pairings of players such as:

My least favorite card....

There are several reasons why I'm not a huge fan of this card. One, as a resident of Chicago, I've heard the "Bryce Harper is signing with the Cubs as soon as he's a free agent" story 1,001 times since since they've been in the majors. Yes, they are both from Las Vegas and are friends.   (Thank you to Scott for pointing out I'm an idiot. It's Kris Bryant that is from Vegas, not Rizzo. Still, that makes the card even dumber. Put Harper and Bryant on the card.) That's great.

The "Rizzarper" portmanteau makes my brain hurt. It just doesn't look right. Doesn't "Harpizzo" sound so much better? Hopefully Topps trademarked that term, because if Harper does join the Cubs, it's going to be plastered across a million bootleg t-shirts.

My favorite card...

A nice close-up of Travis D'Arnaud reaching fruitlessly for a foul ball in the stands. The impromptu nature of the card, the fact that it's one of the few day cards and the fan pictured under his glove recoiling from the action really appeal to me.

As usual, due to the early release of the set, there are some cards picturing players in their old uniforms. Which leads to:

Card that makes me sad....

I'm glad that Longo got one more card in a Rays uniform. It would have been a shame to see him airbrushed into a San Francisco Giants uniform. The trade really signified the end of an era for the Tampa Bay franchise. He was the last member of the 2008 team that marked the beginning of the Rays being a relevant team. He will be missed.

Card that makes me happy:

How can you not be happy seeing the best player in the game with a bid ol' smile on his face. This is not his base card. For the first time in a few years I managed to pull a short-print out of a hobby box. Apparently, one of the themes for the short-prints is showing the players in batting practice jerseys or sweatshirts.  As for the use of alternate photos in the set...I'm kind of over it. I liked it when the alternate cards were retired veterans, heck one of my cards of the year was a vintage alternative. Now, much like outdoor hockey games, there just seems to be too many of them.  Dial it down a notch, Topps.

Card that signals a new trend:

Last year, for the first time in two decades, Topps didn't leave out card #7 in honor of Mickey Mantle. Gary Sanchez got the honor of being the first non-Mantle player to feature on the #7 card since the Yankee legend passed away in 1995.

This year the card belongs to Clint Frazier, another young Yankee prospect. I liked Topps either leaving the card out of the set or printing a Mantle-memorial card. It was an interesting quirk that made sense, even if it did occasionally leave a blank slot in a card binder. However, it evolves into another quirk if Topps continues to use that spot for a younger Yankee player.  Could Justus Sheffield or Justus Sheffield take that place of honor in the future? It would be a nice way to continue to honor the history of the Yankees without going over the top.

Other hits and inserts from the box:

The relic or autograph promised by the front of the box is a simple white jersey of Michael Conforto. That's alright I guess. No need to get super-excited or super-depressed about it.

I knew I was going to like this insert as soon as it was announced. After all the 1983 set was one of my favorites, so seeing current players and veterans mixed in was great. Will I try and complete it? I don't know. We'll see how the year goes.

The parallels. A couple of golds (numbered to 2018) and a few foils.  Another insert that I can take or leave. I really don't see the appeal of the foil versions, they just seem a bit pointless.

The "advertisement disguised as an insert" card. Topps is promoting their daily, print-on-demand Topps Now product by showing their top selling cards from last year. I will do what I usually do and purchase any Orioles-related cards that come along.

The insert that looks really familiar. Superstar Sensations.  When I pulled the first one of these inserts I instantly associated them with last year's Five Tool inserts. Again, I'm neither over or underwhelmed by them.

Honestly I haven't even taken the time to look up what these two inserts are.  I'll get around to it at some point.

When I saw the sell-sheet for 2018 Topps and they mentioned this promotion I knew it was going to piss me off. Not because of anything Topps has done. In fact, I love it. The premise is simple: Get a card of a player and then pick the day he will hit a home run and then win a prize.  It's fantastic and I love everything about it except for one thing - I know that I will pick the wrong day.

Aaron Judge will most likely hit between 35-45 home runs this year.  He will not hit one on the day I pick him to.  I will put way too much research into figuring out a good day to pick and it will be pointless. If anything happens, he will most likely suffer a season-ending injury on the day I pick instead of hitting a home run. So, Yankees' fans, I apologize upfront for ending his season. Good thing you have 75 other players in your line-up that can hit 40 home runs.

Overall, I'm happy with the 2018 Topps Baseball set. I'm a few cards short of completion and will buy a couple of packs or hanger packs along the way before trying to trade my way to a complete set.

What do you all think about this year's release?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Trade Alert! New old cardboard finds a new home

Part of the reason for bringing my collection up to Chicago was so that I could get back into trading and put to rest some sets I’ve been chasing for over 20 years.  The other reason was because I had really, really overstayed my in-laws hospitality by using up a significant portion of their closet space to hold the cards for five or six years.  Of course, my reunion with my collection coincided with the demise of my preferred trade partner finding site - Zistle. Luckily I quickly found another site.

After a little crowdsourcing I settled on Trading Card Database as a new means to find collectors to trade with. It’s gone rather well.  I’ve completed 19 trades in the last couple of months, which isn’t a crazy amount, but what I’ve most impressed with is the response rate. With Zistle I might get a response once in every three or four requests. So far with TCDB I’ve only had two requests ignored.  Which is awesome.

The only rule I have for trading is that I have to send more cards out then I bring in. That way I can tell The Duchess that I'm actually reducing the collection (sometimes once card at a time). She, as always, rolls her eyes and moves on with her life.

Here is a sample of my most recent deal, completed with user OCHawkeye.  In exchange for a bunch of 1992 Score that have been in a box since...well….1992 and a handful of 2017 Update dupes I received the following:

4 2017 Topps.  

My god, I might actually complete this set before the 2018 version comes out.  To many set builders that doesn’t seem like a big accomplishment, but I’m still chasing cards from 1991 for goodness sake.

2 2017 Topps Updates

I don’t consider the Update set as part of the main set, but I bought a couple of packs from Target and have now decided to complete this one as well.  Trey Mancini picked a really, really bad year to be a rookie. Twenty-four home runs, .293 average and seventy-eight RBI’s is usually enough to pick up the award. This season he finished third behind Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi.

5 1990 Upper Deck

The successor to the most important set of the 1980s, 1990 Upper deck is one of those sets that I am still chasing. I didn’t buy a ton of it when it came out (Topps, Donruss, and Fleer were more in my price range), but have picked up a few in repacks along the way.  Loved the team cards (with art work by Vernon Wells’ father), would love to see Upper Deck bring it back for their hockey base sets.

11 1993 Topps

When you’re completing a set that sometimes means you’re trading for checklist cards. Yup, I swapped an actual player card for a checklist card (actually two of them). In the pre-spreadsheet days I actually used these cards to mark the status of my collection. Good times.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dusting this space off with a 2017-18 Upper Deck Series One review

Wow.  Two months since I've posted here.  That's not good for the brand (no I'm not sure what my brand actually is).  I have been writing, at least about the Lightning.  It's all over at

I do plan on posting more stuff in these parts soon.  For now, here are my thoughts on Upper Deck's Series One product.  FYI - I will be posting all the base (minus the Lightning cards) and some of the inserts on my page at trading card database. Just go to and look for me - lightningfan7609.  I should have them posted in the next day or so.

Here we go.

It’s the best time of the year, well at least for hockey card collectors. November means that Upper Deck’s flagship product has finally been released. While MVP and O-Pee-Chee are nice sets to wet the appetite, this is the set that gets the collectors going. Mainly because of the rookie cards, aka Young Guns, which serve as the bellwether for how a player’s career is going to be seen by the public.

Read the rest here....

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Golovkin vs. Alvarez - This Fight is Worth the Price

It’s here! The day has finally arrived!  For the first time in a long, long time, an actual fight of the century that isn’t 100% manufactured hype. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is squaring off against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in Las Vegas tonight.  It’s the best birthday present a semi-regular boxing writer could ever hope for.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. If I was, then I would say - just send it to me. However, if you were to splurge on just one pay-per-view event this decade I would say this is the one. This is what boxing is supposed to be about. Two world-class fighters meeting up in their relative primes.  They’re fighting not just for some belts (although I guess some of them are on the line) but because they want to show who is the better boxer.

The only thing boxing related these two aren’t great at is promoting a fight. This bout should be headlining ESPN, CNN, Sports Illustrated, all of the traditional media outlets. Your grandmother should be posting about this on Facebook. Yet, there is just a mild interest outside of boxing circles. That is just unfair. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is a despicable human being, but he knows how to sell a fight. Neither fighter involved is a natural showman. They just quietly go about their business.

In street clothes, Golovkin looks like a guy that your friend set you up with because he’s nice and has a good job. Inside the ring, he is a 160lb emotionless wrecking machine.  He’s like a shark in the sense that he is constantly moving forward finding weaknesses.  Early rounds are used to set up later rounds as he probes for an opening. Eventually he finds it and buries a left hook.

No one is ever ready for his power.  They say they are, but they aren’t.  He has quiet power. What’s the tell-tale mark of quiet power? The left-hook delay.  It’s the three or four seconds after his punch lands that it takes for his opponents to realize that it is no longer in the body’s best interest to continue taking punishment.  

The look of someone punched in the stomach by Gennady Golovkin

Golovkin lands the punch, the crowd gasps, his opponent looks like he is ok, after all his hands are still in a defensive position. As GGG reaches back to throw another shot, the man in front of him just crumbles to the ground. That’s quiet power.  Honestly, it’s easy to see why people think they can handle it. A body shot knockout isn’t as glamorous as knocking someone out by punching them in the face. Not that he has any trouble doing that as well.

He has spent the last decade knocking people out. That is not an exaggeration.  Since 2008 only two men have made it to the final bell against him, Amar Amari in June of 2008 and Daniel Jacobs earlier this year. In between those two, twenty-three other men ended their fights against Golovkin on their backs. So why is a knockout machine only a -160 favorite?

First off there is his opponent. Alvarez is no slouch. The big Mexican fighter has a 49-1-1 record and has never been knocked out. And it isn’t because he shies away from contact. He can be hit and he’s proven that he can take a punch.  Granted, he hasn’t been hit with someone of Golovkin’s power, but so far he’s shown a fairly strong chin in his career.

The main reason that Golovkin isn’t an overwhelming favorite is that in addition to facing Alvarez he is facing the undefeated opponent - time. He is 35 years-old, an age at which, unless your name is Bernard Hopkins, skills start to deteriorate. One of the first skills to erode is power.  Knockout punches become knockdown punches and knockdown punches become regular punches.

Was the fight against Jacobs a sign that the Kazakh native is starting to slow down? The cynical critic would say yes. Not only is he starting a decline, but the relatively bad showing, at least by Golovkin standards, is the only reason Alvarez agreed to the fight. It’s a fairly harsh view to have, but if you spend more than two weeks in the boxing world, cynicism becomes your standard default.

Even with a slightly depleted Golovkin, Alvarez is going to have his hands full.  A lot of casual fans only know Golovkin for the highlight reel knockouts, they might fast forward through the rounds where he sets up those devastating finishes. By doing that they miss out on how good of a technical fighter he is. His balance is phenomenal and he can outbox pretty much everyone in the ring.  

This fight is just as important to Alvarez as it is to Golovkin. With a convincing victory over a stone-fisted knockout artist, Canelo can win over the critics who say that he is media creation who has cherry-picked his way to almost 50 wins in the ring. How will he do it? By walking through a thunderstorm to land his punches. He knows he’s going to get hit, he is just betting that he can take the punishment and dole more.

Amir Khan's body told him it was time to take a 10-second nap

It’s not a bad bet. Canelo Alvarez throws no small punches. Not in practice and not in a fight. Every punch the unleashes has energy behind. There are no tap-tap-tapping jabs to gauge distance. He wants to hurt someone every time he lets it go. He will be the biggest puncher that Golovkin has faced. If Saul can absorb the shots, he will put himself in position to do damage.

So the big question, and the only reason why you’re still reading this, is who is going to win this fight?

Two outcomes are most likely:

Golovkin wins by knockout.  Alvarez is not going to be hard to find. He will eat a lot of punches in order to get in position to throw his. If GGG connects with a couple of clean blows, this fight could end early.

Alvarez wins on points.  If he can get inside on Golovkin and smother the smaller man, he can limit the amount of space the Kazakh has to throw his power punches. Not too many fighters have crowded Golovkin for an entire twelve rounds, mainly because it requires getting punched a lot to get in. Despite both of them weighing 160 lbs at Friday’s weigh-in, Alvarez is going to be the much bigger man after he rehydrates up to about 170. He will use that size to bully GGG around a bit. With the bigger man in close, leaning on him, it will be hard for Golovkin to get the space he needs to throw big punches.

It’s unlikely that Alvarez wins by knockout. While Amir Khan and James Kirkland can attest to Saul’s lights-out power, neither really has the chin that Golovkin has.  Gennady has been tagged cleanly a few times in his fights and brushed them off fairly easily.

Golovkin could win by decision. He is the technically superior boxer in this fight. Even if he fails to land the knockout shot, he could do enough damage to convince the judges that he won the fight.

No matter what happens it should be a hell of a fight. The kind that generates long think pieces cleverly  titled, “Don’t Count Out Boxing Just Yet”. Both fighters want to fight and they want to win by knockout. That means they’ll both be coming forward and meeting in the middle of the ring. Both have knockout power and a somewhat casual disregard of defense. Big punches will land. Do yourself a favor and just watch the fight.

The Hopeful Chase Prediction - Golovkin wins a split decision.  Rematch booked for the first weekend in May.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Alex Killorn's Pretty First Goal is Captured on Cardboard

It's summer. The hockey writers are starting to pack up their cabins and return to the grind, but there is still a good couple of weeks until real news starts breaking. Until then we are left with finding different sources of inspiration.  Today's inspiration?  A hockey card.  This hockey card in fact.

A 2013-14 Panini/Score First Goal insert featuring Alex Killorn.  How did the copy writer describe the goal?

“Killorn was pushing the puck toward the Florida net late in the first period of a Feb. 16, 2013 game and had a split second to make a decision. He could’ve dropped it off to an open Vincent Lecavalier or pull the trigger himself. Killorn took the shot and got to celebrate his first career NHL goal.”

Is that how it actually happened? Read the rest over at Raw Charge.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A look at some at some Topps Archives

June is coming to an end and hockey season is over.  So, with the exception of Free Agent Frenzy on July 1st, this infrequently updated website turns its eyes to baseball.  Most notably, baseball being played by the Baltimore Orioles.  If you’re a fan of offense, you should turn into the O’s every once in awhile.

Unfortunately for fans, the majority of the offense has been coming from their opponents. The O’s pitching staff….well it’s just not good. They recently went through a streak where they gave up five or more runs in 20 consecutive games.  That’s asking a lot for an offense that has been one of the best over the last few seasons. Unfortunately they’ve dropped off their normal pace (in part due to some injuries) and the Orioles find themselves floundering around .500 (they are currently 4th in the AL East with a 38-39 record as of this being written).

Their best pitcher has been Dylan Bundy who has willed his way to 8 wins and is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. While it’s nice that the former number one pick is emerging as the staff ace that was expected of him, there has been talk of backing off his number appearances as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery.  He’s already pitched 99 innings this season which is just 10 innings shy of his career high which he reached last year. More Wade Miley and less Bundy doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of the summer.

Enough about that. The real reason I started this post is to show some recent pickups for the Orioles collection.  I was perusing Twitter a few weeks ago and @DubMentality mentioned that he was giving away some duplicates from a recent break of 2017 Topps Archives. No one had claimed his O’s cards so I, a total stranger, reached out to him and he kindly sent some cards along.  A few days after sending him my address here is what arrived in my mailbox:

Brooks Robinson

As you can see one of the designs Topps used this year is the always welcome 1960 set.  One of my favorite Orioles stats is that Brooks, not exactly the fleetest of foots, is the all-time franchise leader in triples with 68.  I guess playing the majority of his 2800+ career games in a cavernous Memorial Stadium will lead to more than a few three-base hits.

Adam Jones is the current active leader on the Orioles with 26. I don’t think he’s catching him.

Jim Palmer

Another 1960 design. “Cakes” is the franchise leader in wins with 268. Most of the wins came when starting pitchers actually earned them by going more than 5+ innings and hoping the bullpen would hold on to the lead. Despite a career beset by injuries, Palmer topped 300 innings in a season four times. He probably would have added a couple of more if it wasn’t for the next guy on the list…

Earl Weaver

Weaver and Palmer had a bit of antagonistic relationship. Despite that, they worked well enough together to lead the O’s during their greatest run of play, the mid 1960s to the early 1980s.  During his 18 years of managing the Orioles, Weaver only had one losing season - his last.  In 1986, without Palmer who had retired, the Earl of Baltimore went 73-89.

Mark Trumbo

No we leap into current players.  Trumbo is having a Mark Trumbo-type of season.  He has 10 home runs and is hitting .255.  The 162 game average over his 8-year career: 23 home runs and a .252 average.  I’m sure fans would like to see him pick up the pace and get closer to the 47 home runs he hit last year, but without Chris Davis in the line up until after the all star break, he might not see too many great pitches to hit.

Adam Jones

It’s hard to believe that Jones has been in the league for twelve seasons now, but that’s what happens when you get called up at the age of 18. Never really thought of as a power hitter in the same vein as Trumbo and Davis, Jones is currently 5th all time in franchise history in home runs with 235. With a few more solid seasons he could end up in the top three.

Manny Machado

A switch to the 1992 Topps style. I always thought the 92 Topps set was a little underrated. It featured some of the best photos Topps every used for their base set even if the design itself was rather basic.

It’s been a rough season average-wise for the future of the franchise. He’s hitting a career-low .223 and has looked lost at the plate for long stretches of time. Still, he does have a team leading 15 home runs and is playing his normal sizzling defense.  A few days off at the All-Star Break may be what he needs to turn the season around.

The card that made me reach out to Dub Mentality in the first place.

Reggie Jackson

Look at all of that wonderful orange.

There aren’t many cards featuring Reggie in his brief stay with the Birds during the 1976 season. After all, he didn’t really want to be here and jumped ship as soon as he could following the season.  Still, his one year in the orange and black was productive as he hit 27 home runs and drove in 96. The team finished second on the AL East, 10.5 games behind the Yankees and as soon as he could, Jackson joined the Orioles biggest rival.

Thank you to Dub Mentality - go give him a follow on Twitter (and send him your Ron Gant cards).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trade Time- CrazieJoe helps kick off a new wantlist

As I mentioned a few months ago, it’s time to pare down the collection.  So I’ve been trolling other blogs and wantlists to see who needs some of the cardboard I’ve acquired over the last 30 years.  Somehow (it might have been Twitter) I stumbled across CrazieJoe’s Card Corner. He’s in Canada.  He likes the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I happened to be sorting through some hockey at the time and noticed I had some cards on his wantlist.  He had some cards I needed.  It was a match.

It was also the first trade I completed through The Trading Card Database.  With Zistle on life support, I’ve been searching for a new place to keep things organized.  I had signed up at TTCD about three months ago, but hadn’t really entered any cards, mostly because I was dreading having to import my collection over and re-enter it by hand.

With Joe having his want/trade lists on TTCD I finally had a reason to invest some time playing around with the site.  After a couple of days my initial review’s ok.  Zistle has a little better interface for organizing, but the trade function on TTCD is a little easier to use once you have your collection entered.

Enough about that, what goodies came my way from our neighbors to the north in exchange for a stack of Maple Leaf cards?  How about some 26-year-old cardboard?  That’s right, it’s 1991 Donruss.  A set old enough now that it should be showing up as a “retro” insert set at some point.  Among the 14 cards here are some highlights.

A Rated Rookie

Wes Chamberlin. As far as a prospect, Chamberlin never lived up to the hype that a Rated Rookie logo usually inspires.  He lasted for five seasons and appeared in 385 games for the Phillies and Red Sox.

A Yankee Phenom

Kevin Maas.  Before there was Aaron Judge there was Kevin Maas.  A mid-season callup in 1990, the California native mashed 15 home runs in his first 133 at-bats. He ended the season with 21 home runs and enough votes to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Sandy Alomar, Jr despite not making his major league debut until June 29th.  

A Former Oriole

Ben McDonald.  The Orioles drafted him first overall in 1989 (their reward for the disastrous 1988) and he shot through the minor leagues. He actually debuted the same year he was drafted as he was part of the September call-ups during Baltimore’s improbable pennant race. He struggled out of the bullpen, giving up runs in each of his first four appearances.  

Due to injuries and mismanagement by the ballclub, he never materialized into the dominant starter the O’s had hoped he would be. After 7 up-and-down seasons in Baltimore he left as a free agent and ended his major league career in Milwaukee. His relaxing Louisiana drawl can now be heard occasionally on Orioles broadcasts as he sometimes fills in as an analyst.

So why 1991 Donruss?  Because it’s time to finish off some of my childhood sets. I’ve knocked out 1983 Topps, pretty sure I’m done or close to being done with 1991 Topps so it’s time to turn my attention to some other sets from that era.  It was when I was collecting the heaviest so I shouldn’t have too many...OH MY GOD HOW DO I NEED 300 CARDS FROM THIS SET?

Well...that makes it a little more challenging, but I’m off to a decent start and I see these cards at shows all the time in the cheap boxes.  It shouldn’t be hard to knock it out.

Check the wantlist on the right side of this screen and if you’re digging for baseball cards from the same era just let me know.  (My apologies to the hockey collectors, those cards are taking quite a bit longer to organize than I anticipated).

Thanks for the trade Joe, your cards are making their way up to Canada.