Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Current State of My Hobby

Please note that this post is entitled "The Current State of MY Hobby", but maybe my current state is similar to other collectors out there. Perhaps some of these thoughts might also apply to "The Current State of THE Hobby".

The journey to get back in collecting has been fun and nostalgic as I open box after box of cards that haven't seen the light of day in 15-20 years. It is taking longer than expected now that I've gotten sidetracked by the 2009 Topps cards that were released last month. After buying a "hobby box" and various other loose packs, I've finally completed the 2009 Series One and additionally have small piles of insert cards, "game-used" cards, parallel cards, and miscellaneous duplicates to look at, some better than others. But I have a nagging suspicion that I have been going about collecting the "new" stuff the wrong way.

I don't have buyer's remorse, but all of this action in the past month has led me to a realization. It is far, far cheaper just to go to eBay and buy a set of cards than trying to collect a set by buying packs. This may seem obvious to most of you, but the difference between the two methods is astonishing. I may have spent $120-$140 in small increments over the past 6 weeks just to complete half (or a third) of the 2009 Topps set, whereas that same set of cards, minus the duplicates and inserts can be had for less than $20 on eBay, shipping included. And I am fairly certain that by the year end I would be able to buy the entire set of Series 1 and 2 even cheaper.

So what do you miss by taking the quick and dirty route to set-building? Well, you certainly miss the thrill of opening a pack of cards, and especially the excitement that your pack might contain (it doesn't) some amazing insert card that MIGHT be valuable or at least entertaining to look at. At least, in theory, that seems like a lot to give up, since that was originally the fun of baseball card collecting. In reality it is completely insane to attempt to complete any insert set simply by buying packs. I have even spent the last few weeks attempting to trade for the last of the 2009 Turkey Red Set (rather, HALF of the Turkey Red Set), which has been interesting, but I am still missing 9 cards, or almost 20%. I am even further from completing any of the other insert sets. It used to feel like cheating to buy a complete set at a card show or on eBay. I was missing out on half the fun of card collecting, right?

My experience this month has erased that vague feeling of guilt. A quick perusal of eBay again reveals that these elusive inserts can be bought quickly and in total for less than I have spent so far. What is so insane about not wanting to spend $300+ dollars for a set of baseball cards every year? The joy of collecting for me is to look at the cards, not to tally their total net value in some fanciful Beckett-induced fantasy. Trading is fun, collecting is fun, but SPENDING a lot of money is not always necessary for fun. For the same $300 I could buy the entire 2009 set plus an entire set of cards from the 1970's for instance. Stretching the collecting dollar is totally within the spirit of the hobby in my opinion. I think from now on I am going to be more judicious about where I spend the baseball card dollar. The farther I can stretch it, the better, no?

I'm not going to state that Topps has made card collecting too complicated. If the demand is there, than by all means, I hope Topps can supply it and be profitable and the more the better. If the general public wants a bunch of inserts and chase cards to track down and Topps can sell more cards by providing it, then let me step out of the way and let it roll.


There is one area of collecting that I will step up and call madness. I only have had to look at three of these atrocities to know a stupid idea when I see it. Below are three "game-used artifact" cards, or "relics" as they are distastefully called. Would I like a game-used jersey in my collection? Perhaps yes, if it was George Brett's #5 that he wore during one of his campaigns. Probably no if it was a player I had no strong connection with at all. Would I want a tiny piece of George Brett's jersey crammed into a poorly made card with his picture slapped on it? Not at all. Is there really any meaning to be found in a 1" square piece of fabric that looks like every other 1" piece of fabric I've ever seen? How about a bat? Again, not a bad souvenir IF I could actually hold the bat and imagine it being used to strike the decisive blow in a big game at the hands of one my heroes. How about a small sliver of wood that may or may not have at one time been a bat, but looks identical to a sliver of wood that at one time might have been the end of a doorstop in some derelict office complex or housing project? Umm, no thanks.

There may be some perceived value in these cards currently, but there will someday be a glut of relic cards so vast and so worthless that it will make the overproduction issues of the 1980's and 1990's seem trivial. At least today, twenty years later, there is still some demand for the cards of that era. Collectors share a common connection with these cards because they are so familiar and easy to obtain. The blogosphere has come alive the past year or two with rhapsodic musings about baseball players and teams of that bygone era simply because there are so many other collectors out there that can appreciate it. They also have had the same thoughts and revels about the same cards and players I had many years ago and can relate to it well. After reading an exceptional post on a blog I actually experience a desire to go look at that card the writer was referencing.

How can there be any common connection with a card that is "1/1", or "34/51" or other nonsense? In the future is there going to a blogpost about some rare relic card of a journeyman shortstop that will mean anything if no one else has actually seen or held that card before? If my experience with cards is at all common, than the answer will be "NO".

I can fully imagine an eBay auction in 20 years for "800 GU Jersey/Bat Cards - NICE! with a Buy It Now option of $9.99 FREE SHIPPING!" that will end without a sale.

This isn't even addressing the depressing thought that actual pieces of history are being destroyed by band saw and fabric shear. Isn't there any better use for a pile of authentic game-worn jerseys and game-used bats than putting them in a proverbial paper-shredder? How about the novel idea of selling the ACTUAL jersey and/or bat? How about random redemption cards that could used to obtain the actual item? Who came up with the crazy idea that the best use of a Major League Baseball player's game bat is the take it the wood shop and hack it into tiny pieces?

I think this latest process takes the collector beyond simple fandom and into a semi-religious realm of literal hero-worship. The cards are even called "relics" just like the tiny slivers of bone and hair from the saints contained in the reliquaries of every Medieval cathedral . This level of collecting makes me think more of "creepy" than "cool". Am I alone here?

I will be giving away all three cards here, starting with the one and only contributor to my post on the Rickey Henderson card. So, if MMayes of the "1972 Topps Baseball" blog cares to email me, the card of his choice is his. Email me a toppsbaseball at If none of those cards interests you, email me anyway and we can work out another prize. Thanks!

One last comment before I go. As I actually look at these cards I am amazed at the craftmanship, or lack thereof, in these cards. Some have loose threads, all have irregular cut mattes surrounding the patch which seems to indicate that it was cut by hand with an exacto knife instead of an automated press. Amazing!

Monday, 9 March 2009

1983 Topps Review

The 1983 Topps Baseball Card set is my favorite set of the 1980's. It is made up of 792 cards, the second year that Topps had expanded the set from 726 cards. Visually the most appealing set of the decade, it is a step up from the 1982 Topps set in production value and miles ahead of the woeful 1981 set. A similar style set was released by Topps in 1984 that didn't catch the eye as well as the Topps 1983 release. After 1984, Topps seems to have let their baseball cards slip in quality with poor designs and unimaginative photography, a trend that would end up costly them dearly a few later as the competition caught up and surpassed them later in the decade.

The entire 1983 Topps set was bought for me at a card show in the mid 1980's but I don't remember the price. This set looked great at the time and hasn't lost any of its appeal over time. Like all baseball cards from this era, though, it has lost a lot of its value. This set peaked at around $160.00, but today can be bought on eBay for $20-$40 including delivery.

Lets look at the Good, the Bad, and the rest of this set.

The Good

One aspect of the 1983 Topps card that was innovative and new was the inclusion of a small portrait photo in the lower right or left corner. This allowed Topps to include far more action photography in the main photo without neglecting the traditional head shot. Some of the best Topps cards of the 1980's utilize this feature quite well.

Card #540 Ozzie Smith is a great example of the new design and its improved photography. It is also one of my favorite baseball cards overall probably because the gold chain suspended in mid-air around Ozzie's neck gives the photo such a sense of motion.

Card #604 Joe Morgan Super Veteran and card #101 Pete Rose Super Veteran are great examples of my favorite of the subsets Topps included in most of their 1980's sets. I really like the Joe Morgan card because, as you can see in the photo on the left, he is wearing a Houston Colt .45's uniform. I don't have any Colt .45's cards unless you count this one. The backs of these cards really stand out from the typical written copy that Topps slapped on most of their cards. Instead of "Had 13th-inning Single for game-winning RBI, 5-29-82" like you find on Ryne Sandberg's #83 Rookie Card, the Super Veterans set gives you a wonderful rundown of the player's career and accomplishments including their all-time rankings and awards. Way to go, Topps!

The League Leader cards from 1983 are fairly typical, but card #704 is just amazing. It features Rickey Henderson's 130 stolen bases - the single season record that still stands and probably always will. Rickey's photo is slightly out of focus, but perhaps that's because he never stood still long enough for Topps to get a good shot that year. Second place with fewer than half of Rickey's total was Damaso Garcia and even the National League Leader, Tim Raines, trailed by 52 stolen bases.

Cards #350 Robin Yount, #478 Phil Garner, and #768 Chris Speier are some more great examples of the improved action poses Topps captured in this set. Two of the cards also capture one of my favorite aspects of a card when there are additional players featured in the photo. In this case, it appears that Phil Garner has failed to stop the sliding Lenny Faedo, who wore #12 for the Twins, whereas in the last card, Chris Speier is tagging out the Dodger's Derrel Thomas, wearing #30.

The Bad

Card #789 Bryan Clark has long been one of of the most memorable cards in the 1983 set, but not exactly in any flattering way. Clark's facial expression captured by the Topps photographer would certainly not have caused any trepidation in the batters he might have faced that day. That, or Godzilla just stepped up to the plate. I have just never understood how photos like this make it past a final review before going to press.

Card #360 Nolan Ryan is one of the most mundane cards I've ever seen of the Ryan Express and probably just a more traditional portrait would have been better.

The Rest...

The 1983 Topps Traded Set is the standard 132 card set and features the rookie cards of Julio Franco and Darryl Strawberry.

Significant cards from this set.

#83 Ryne Sandberg RC
#100 Pete Rose
#163 Cal Ripken
#360 Nolan Ryan
#482 Tony Gwynn RC
#498 Wade Boggs RC
#34T - Julio Franco RC
#108T - Darryl Strawberry RC


This is a very strong set from Topps for the 1980's, definitely in the top 2 of the decade. The use of two photographs on each card certainly foreshadowed the rise of Upper Deck with its improved production values in the 1990's. Why Topps got away from a real winning design that it had in 1983 I've never been sure, but it would take Topps enormous effort and time to regain the lead from the competition that it squandered in the early 1980's

Sunday, 8 March 2009

My 1978 Joe Morgan Baseball Card

This 1978 Joe Morgan is one of my original baseball cards, which is part of a pile that includes the 1978 George Brett in my profile. Unfortunately, someone took a hatchet to this card. And unfortunately, that someone was me. I do remember, however how it happened. The upper left corner of this card had gotten bent and, even at a young age, I had realized that might detract from the desirability (and thus, tradability) of the card. To correct this problem I simply took a pair of scissors and trimmed the edge off with the defective corner. But now the border on the top was uneven with the side. I had to trim the same amount off of the left edge, then a bit more...

When I dug this card out of its shoebox I just cracked up. I remember thinking that this card looked pretty good immediately after I had finished doctoring it. In hindsight, it looked more like Ralphie's glasses in "A Christmas Story" after he had shot his eye out with his BB gun. I can't remember if I had actually offered this card as tradebait or not, but I can imagine the response it might have generated from the school bus crowd.

Now this card is worth more as a laugh then as a baseball card but I wouldn't part with it for anything.

Testing the Power of the Internet

On many occasions I have seen the power of the Internet come to life when a blogger is stumped as to the identity of certain players in the background of cards, what set a card belongs to, or various other obscure minutiae that is part of the allure of baseball and baseball card collecting. Invariably another reader is able to fill in the missing information just because the internet has such far reaching exposure to so many people with the same interests but different backgrounds.

Let's test the power of the Internet. Below is a 1991 Topps Rickey Henderson card #391. I have determined that he sliding back into first base. It isn't second base because I am assuming you would be able to see home plate in the background from that angle if Rickey was at second. If it was third base, you should see the outfield in the background and that isn't the case either. What I am trying to figure out is who is applying the tag during the pick-off attempt? My guess is Frank Thomas. He had just started playing first base for Chicago in 1990, which would make him one of 13 American League candidates since I can assume Rickey is not being tagged by Mark McGwire, his Oakland teammate. The black armband is something I kind of remember Frank Thomas wearing and that would be the right color to be a White Sox. The size of the biceps and the color of the skin look right too. I don't think he looks like Cecil Fielder or Fred McGriff, but I can't tell for sure.

OK, Internet, do your thing. Who is the first baseman in this picture? If we have a winner, there may be a prize which I have yet to determine, but stay tuned... Bonus points if you can convince me as to where this game is being played.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Trading Baseball Cards on the Internet

When I started this blog just a short while ago, I had no idea people traded baseball cards on the Internet. I put a few "Want Lists" up on the site, but figured it would be mostly for me to keep track of my collection. Then Ben, from 1988 Score sent a few cards to me out of the blue and helped finish a couple of sets! Thanks again, Ben. This blog has enabled me to meet many great people with the same interests and are all happy to help out a fellow baseball card nut. So far I've completed trades with 1988 Score, Baseball Cards Come to Life, Night Owl Cards, Shane, a reader from Massachusetts, and James, a reader from Maryland. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time and effort to actually mail baseball cards to me. I want to especially thanks James from Maryland. He just sent me 167 cards I was missing from my 1980 Topps set. Wow, I just got them in the mail yesterday. These cards are awesome! I'm down to just missing 203 cards, so James almost cut the list in half all by himself. Picture below are the James' cards just after I opened the package...

In addition to this blog, it turns out there are other ways to trade baseball cards over the internet. Websites like Sports Card Forum, where I have traded about 10 times under the name "brettforpresident", allow members to arrange trades with other members in a suprisingly organized fashion. Worked really well with the current 2009 Topps set, though not too sure if it would be as easy to find traders for my older sets.

So what all of this has made me realize is I've got to not only organize my sets, but start compiling a list of all my doubles so I can do a better job of helping out some collectors myself. For the years that I just bought the factory set, I probably don't have a lot of doubles, but many years I have stacks of lonely doubles that would probably love a new home. I guess this project isn't over quite yet...

One last thing, when I made the want lists, I just used a copy of my checklist and made the missing cards stand out in bold. Looks very pretty, but may not be as useful as just a written list. I'll be working on a master list written out the traditional way with both the wants and trade bait included.

Anyways, thanks again!

Monday, 2 March 2009

1991 Topps Review

The 1991 Topps Baseball Set consists of 792 ignored and unappreciated baseball cards. I barely remember buying the factory set in the mid 1990's and probably only looked at some of the key cards if at all before closing the box and setting it down on a shelf in the basement for the next 15 years. My enthusiasm for this set dwindled even further once it became clear that it would never appreciate in value. Even eBay auctions for $0.99 for the entire set occasionally end up without a bid. You can buy a brand new, unopened set for $8-$10. I can't remember what I paid for mine.

That all changed once I actually got the cards out, sorted them and put them into their own binder. As I really looked at the cards I realized that Topps actually did a good job with this set. Yes, it is still on the old-fashioned cardboard in 1991, while Upper Deck had been putting out glossy cards on attractive whiteboard for 3 years that were far superior in production value. And yes, even stodgy old Topps was branching out with the costier Stadium Club set, but there is a lot to like in these cards.

Compared to the fairly routine or even mundane portraits of previous years, 1991 marks a start of better photography with more inventive poses and much better action shots. There are quite a few cards that stand out in this set if you don't let the fact that they aren't worth anything dampen your perspective.

1991 also witnessed a return to putting the player's position on the front of the card. This had been done away by Topps from 1987-1990 and was a source of irritation to me. Did Topps assume every kid knows the position of 700+ players by heart? A simple two letters gives a lot of information in a small space and I was pleased to see it reappear in the bottom left corner of the 1991 set.

Let's look at the Good, the Bad, and all the rest of this set...

The Good

Card #455 Walt Weiss is one of my favorite cards of the set and pretty much sums up what is great about this set. I can't imagine getting a better action shot than here with Weiss elevating over the oncoming Joel Skinner to complete a double play. The flying dirt is seen in vivid detail without any blurring and I especially like that Topps let some of the action extend outside the frame in a lot of its cards.

Card #760 Benny Santiago is the centerpiece of the set and is another action shot that I really like. Notice that the frame covers the catcher's mask on the right while on the left Santiago's arm seems to be reaching out of the card giving the viewer the sense of depth. While this pose is obviously a bit more staged than the previous card of Walt Weiss, it is one of the best portraits I've ever seen.

Card #530 depicts a younger Roger Clemens posing against the Fenway Park outfield scoreboard. The pose just seems iconic to have the Rocket posed next to the words "STRIKE OUT". I was never a fan of Roger Clemens, but he almost seems likable depicted in this manner.

Card #1 of the 1991 Topps Set again featured Nolan Ryan. This pose is by far the best shot Topps ever took of the Ryan Express and captures perfectly the delivery that produced 100 mph fastballs for 27 years.

Card #450 at first looks as if Wade Boggs is standing in front of those ridiculous grey felt studio backdrops. Further inspection actually reveals a grey sky with menacing storm clouds ominously hovering over a towering Boggs. Not my favorite card of the set, and the pose is more appropriate for a power hitter, but if I try to imagine that the clouds are real and hanging over Fenway Park, then the cards becomes a bit more bearable.

The Bad

How bad would you feel if you worked to make it to the Major Leagues and this turned out to be your rookie card? He looks just like a little kid trying on his daddy's work clothes. His helmet looks too big, his glasses look WAY too big, and he just looks out of place. His jersey even looks fake though it is probably a practice jersey. I wish someone at Topps, while proofing this set prior to production would have been able to realize that this card looked ridiculous and simply chose a different photo. Was there really only one photo of Jeff McKnight?

I think more than one photo taken on "Turn Back the Clock" Day at Comiskey Park is a bad choice. Overuse a gimmick and it loses its appeal. Also, look at Robin Ventura's expression - looks like he is in pain or constipated. Again, Topps could have tried a bit harder to flatter it subjects with its photos instead of just slapping the first photo they come across on the card.

The Rest...

The backs of the cards are nothing special, but I have always been loyal to Topps in part because the "Complete Major League Pitching Record (League Leader In Italics, Tie <>)". They have thankfully never deviated from this practice and hopefully never will.

The traded set consists of the standard 132 cards released later in 1991 and have the same design as the base set except that they are printed on slightly different card stock (which I have never understood) and the backs are lighter in color.

Significant cards from this set:

#113 Carl Everett RC
#333 Chipper Jones RC
#4T Jeff Bagwell RC
#45T Jason Giambi RC
#101T Ivan Rodriguez RC


This set has gotten a lot better with age even though its value hasn't. I really like what Topps did with the upgraded photography. 1991 is miles ahead of the 1987-1990 era and overall I give the set 3 1/2 stars.

Progress Report

So, am I getting organized or just getting sidetracked by all the new 2009 Topps baseball cards? Well, both, it turns out.

What do I have organized?

1978 Topps - still in the box, but due up next.
1979 Topps - in an album and missing only 10 cards
1980 Topps - still in the box and only 50% complete
1981 Topps - complete and in an album
1982 Topps - in an album and missing only a few cards!
1983 Topps - complete and in an album
1984 Topps - complete and in an album
1985 Topps - complete and in an album
1986 Topps - still in the box and only about half complete.
1987 Topps - complete and in an album
1988 Topps - complete and in an album
1989 Topps - complete but still in the box
1990 Topps - complete and in an album
1991 Topps - complete and in an album
1992 Topps - complete and in an album
1993 Topps - about 80% complete and still in a box
1994 Topps - complete and in an album
1995-2004 Topps - don't have any of these cards (except maybe a stray or 2)
2005 Topps - complete and in an album
2006 Topps - complete and in an album
2007 Topps - complete and in an album
2008 Topps - complete and in an album
2009 Topps - complete and in an album (series 1 only)

After all of this work, I still have quite a few loose cards, but they have been consolidated into 2 large 5000 count boxes instead of scattered shoeboxes and most are organized. I seem to have picked up about 2000 miscellaneous Score and Donruss cards and I haven't even looked at them yet. The rest are sorted by year and number in a fairly orderly fashion and as you can see, only two sets are complete or almost complete and still waiting on an album (which I still have to buy...)

I have also started going through all of the loose cards and creating a list of all the doubles in hope that some day I can post the list here to help find some of them a new home...

For those of you who have unorganized baseball card collections, my advice is to get organized now before you reach a point of no return. Once you have 20,000 loose baseball cards you are looking at weeks, not days, of sorting. I actually enjoyed most of the sorting except it is tough on your back if you do it on the floor like I did and if I had known how long it was going to take I probably would have hesitated and never gotten started.

Once I finish this I am going to buy a set from 1995-2004 every couple of months and keep going. Once 1995-2004 is complete I'll start going back to pre-1978 and start filling in the missing cards.

Getting a complete set into a binder gives me a whole new appreciation for some of these cards.