June 23, 2015

Interview with "Kaiju Baseball" artist Chet Phillips

We here at The Baseball Card Blog appreciate fine art and its place within the hobby. From the bubbly, Topps-approved artwork of David Coulson to the punk aesthetic of Pat Riot (and everyone in between), the baseball card is the perfect pocket-sized canvas. 

Continuing our occasional interview series, today we're talking to Chet Phillips, who has just completed "Kaiju Baseball," an homage to Japanese Menko cards of the 1960s and the kaiju monster demons from the worlds of Godzilla and Ultraman.

The Baseball Card Blog: Tell us a little about your background as an artist.

Chet Phillips: With a BFA in painting and drawing, I worked as a commercial illustration with traditional tools for a decade. Clients included ad agencies, design firms, publishers and corporations. In 1992 I purchased my first Mac and switched to digital art, using the natural media software program Painter (I still use it to this day). A highlight for my commercial work came in 2000 when I was hired by Warner Brothers to illustrate 100+ pieces for the Harry Potter merchandising style guide. 

In the late 90s, I began a new chapter in my career, creating my own merchandise to sell online. It started with a handful of cigarette card–inspired sets of monkeys as WWI generals, steampunk monkeys and dogs and cats as famous authors, artist and musicians. I also have produced a number of limited-edition books, hand-bound by my wife (she's a professional bookbinder). I still do occasional commercial jobs, but spend the bulk of my time creating my own work for online sales, conventions and art galleries.

BBC Blog: Did you collect baseball cards as a kid? Or do you still collect?

CP: I did a little baseball card collecting when I was young, but gravitated more towards collecting comic book type cards. I was a big fan of Norman Saunders and collected his Batman series. I was never able to collect the entire original Mars Attacks! set, but did a trade with a schoolmate once for a dozen or so that I still treasure to this day. 

BBC Blog: What led you to kaiju, baseball, and Menko? 

CP: I've always loved the look and feel of Japanese printmaking. Over the last two to three years I've explored creating my own version of artwork with a similar feel. This series includes an alphabet book of kaiju monsters of my own design titled "Land of Kaiju," and a series that placed pop culture characters engaging in childhood activities, each with their own hiaju poem ("Childhood"). "Kaiju Baseball" was inspired by the look and feel of vintage Menko baseball cards with a parody mashup of kaiju monsters from the Godzilla and Ultraman universes.

BBC Blog: It's interesting that you chose to create a stand-alone baseball card set as part of this project. Did you have the intention to create a card set all along? Or was it borne out of the process of creating the art?

CP: This was intended to be a card set from the outset. Unlike past sets that I've created, I decided to take the idea further and produce an 18 x 24 poster of the group and also produce a cloisonné enamel pin. 

The set is divided into four teams that I devised, each with nine players. The set also includes four team cards for a total of 40 cards. Each card includes the team name, character name, team number and field position on the front in Japanese with the portrait. On the reverse I've included the same info in english along with a few basis stats. 

The card backs include a symbols for rock, paper and scissors as well as a fighting number system (for use like the children's card game War). Cards were professionally printed on sturdy 100-lb premium uncoated card stock. Each set comes in a green handcrafted Japanese-styled paper portfolio. The Japanese characters for the words "kaiju baseball" are stamped in gold foil on each label.

BBC Blog: What's your next project? 

CP: With our 6th year of exhibiting at San Diego's International Comic Con coming up next month, I'm putting the finishing touches on a book of characters and stories of my own invention that will be in the tradition of American tall tales. This, along with the new card sets, posters and pins will be available at my Small Press table (O-01, across from Oni Press.)

Check out Chet's Etsy shop if you're interested in purchasing the set or viewing more of his great stuff.

March 30, 2015

A Collection of Two-Sport Athletes

Bo Jackson. Deion Sanders. Gene Conley. Danny Ainge. Eric Lindros. Charlie Ward. And did I forget to mention Michael Jordan? The list goes on and on. Jim Brown, Jim Thorpe, Dave DeBusschere, Brian Jordan, Chuck Connors. Heisman Trophy winners. Hall-of-Fame, immortal athletes. What I'm getting at here is that gifted ballplayers, no matter their sport, think that they can compete with equal success in another sport. And it turns out they're usually right—if you can be creative with your definition of "success"—which begs the question: Who chose the wrong sport?

I can think of two immediate candidates: Bo Jackson and Jim Brown. What's funny here is that football was the wrong sport for both of them. Jackson was a superhuman on the baseball diamond, and had he not suffered a debilitating hip injury as a member of the NFL's LA Raiders, he would've patrolled the Kansas City Royals outfield for at least a decade. I say this because baseball is a sport where you rarely run into anything with such force that you dislocate your hip. It's not unlikely that the hard-charging Jackson would have suffered a more pedestrian injury to a hamstring, wrist, elbow, or knee, but he seemed otherworldly enough to be able to make a meaningful contribution on the field. Instead, I remember him from two of 1991 cards: his 1991 Fleer Pro-vision "Bionic Bo," and his 1991 Topps Traded card where he coolly takes in the scene on the bench as a hobbled member of the Chicago White Sox.

Before he put together a Hall of Fame football career, Jim Brown was a hulk with a lacrosse stick. And according to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, he was quite possibly the greatest lacrosse player ever. So while it may be unfair to say Brown chose the wrong sport—he's clearly one of the greatest to find gridiron glory—it's not because he wasn't talented. It's because there was no professional lacrosse league at the time he left Syracuse.

As for other players, it's clear that Michael Jordan didn't choose the wrong sport. He wasn't a good baseball player. And speaking of Hall of Fame players, Dave DeBusschere wasn't very good at playing baseball, either. I may be forgetting others, but it seems like only Deion Sanders managed to put together full, rewarding careers in both of his sports (Hall of Fame in pro football; nine seasons of Major League Baseball).

But not everybody can make a hall of fame. For all-star-caliber players, Ron Reed was up and down in his two-season stint with the NBA's Detroit Pistons in the mid 1960s before excelling with the Phillies, Braves, and other Major League teams over his 19-year baseball career, so it's tough to make the case that Reed should've stuck with basketball.

In Bill James's updated Abstract from 2010, he suggests that the baseline goal of the professional ballplayer—in this case, baseball—is to be average. So it's when we get a little creative in our definition of success, the two-sport (or even three-sport) athlete shines: average on-field performance and great box office.

Danny Ainge was average but had the Toronto Blue Jays drooling. Russell Wilson toiled in the minors for the Rockies. Their exploits in other sports sold newspapers and generated mounds of publicity. How did the 1995-96 New York Knicks sell tickets? Well, they were so great that they had Heisman Trophy Winner Charlie Ward coming off the bench (even if he was just an average NBA pro). And Jim Thorpe—probably the greatest athlete in the U.S. in the 20th century—went pro or excelled in almost every sport he played, including baseball. And guess what? To say that he was average at the pro level would be kind (he was not very good). But Thorpe—like Ward, Sanders, Bo Jackson, and the other multi-sporters, even the most terrible (ahem, Michael Jordan)—was great box office. And if that's not the true measure of success in pro sports, well...

February 16, 2015

Snowbound and Stir Crazy

In case you missed it, Boston has received so much snow in the last few weeks that everything and everyone—including me—is at a breaking point. The MBTA doesn't work, the government is encouraging people to stay indoors and off the roads, and there are no signs that the cold and the snow will let up anytime soon. Which has given me plenty of time to stew in my thoughts...

I would really like to see colleges offer an intercollegiate stock car racing circuit, if only to see cars and fire suits covered in logos and emblems of universities and names of individual departments. Maybe the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chair in Automotive Engineering?

I haven't bought any 2015 Topps Series One yet, but I'm digging the acetate parallel. It reminds me of the Slideshow insert set from 1995 Leaf. An idea's an automatic winner in my book if you need a functioning lightbox in order to enjoy the cards.

And while we're on Series One, the sheer volume of opened cards listed on eBay right now is staggering. Massive lots of hand-collated sets, "unsearched" (yeah right) lots of base cards, parallels, inserts, autographed cards, game-used swatches, and more. Didn't it just release a few weeks ago? It gets me thinking about collecting in Bachelor terms—here for "the right reasons" versus the wrong reasons. While all this stuff on eBay is great for cheapskate collectors like me who just want to see the cards, it's also off-putting. Why would someone buy so many cards in the first place if they're just going to try to flip them for pennies on the dollar? Is it really all about finding the case hits?

I finally put my 1969 Topps set in pages. Got me thinking, did Ultra Pro decrease the quality of its nine-pocket pages? The ones I bought seem flimsy.

Also put my Heritage High Numbers set in pages (with the rest of the Heritage set). Looks good. Wish I had disposable income enough to assemble Heritage every year.

Scott Crawford on Cards has a great idea about collecting over the course of a year: only focus on certain sets and interests during certain months. That way your individual collections each receive attention and your interest doesn't flag. For me, it would be

Jan/July: 1970s Topps basketball
Feb/Aug: Adding new players to my Red Soxlopedia
March/Sept: 2014 Topps Heritage Minis
April/Oct: 1969 Topps variations
May/Nov: Mega master set additions for 1978, 1986, and 1987
June/Dec: 2015 Topps Archives (only cards of players depicted in the 1976 style, and only those players who also had a card in the original 1976 set)

The much-discussed decline of blogging in the sports-card-collecting hobby is sad to me. There are literally scores of YouTube users who post box breaks but don't seem all that interested in the cards they find—unless those cards are serially numbered or autographed—or have anything to say about the cards. Blogging about cards allows for more than just posting images of the cards. It allows you to say what you like about the cards, about why you collect. It's important that this outlet doesn't disappear.

Lastly, with all these stamped buybacks, Topps has finally released the Archives: Commons set I predicted back in 2007.

February 13, 2015

The Man Who Came to Dinner

John Barfield, 1991 Score

Cool mechanics, John Barfield.

"Your mom liked 'em, Internet weirdo." - John Barfield

Touché, John Barfield. Let's move on.

John was brought up from Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May ’90 as a temporary replacement for Gary Mielke

That is the SEXIEST story about opportunity knocking I have ever heard. It’s also, coincidentally, exactly how I started blogging.

But, like the man who came to dinner, John pitched so well in middle and long relief, he just stayed and stayed and stayed.


Texas Rangers equipment manager Dizzy Flapperton: STILL HERE, EH BARFIELD? YOU’RE LIKE THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER.

John Barfield: Ha, ha, yeah … what?


Barfield: Uh, I’m not black.


Barfield: I don’t … I just … I am 25.


Barfield: That sounds gross.


Barfield: ...


Barfield: ...


Barfield: It’s “Barfield.” Why are you yelling?

January 20, 2015

Junk Wax Battle 2.0 - Players Needed!

If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know that I'm all about innovation in this wonderful hobby of ours. Not so much innovating the cards themselves, but how we as collectors approach and make sense of them, and their meaning and use within our lives.

Back in October, my friend Matt and I hosted a game—we called it Junk Wax Battle—at our local board game cafe in Brookline, Mass. The goal was to put together a complete set of 1988 Donruss by ripping packs, trading with other players, and winning in-game auctions. We had five players and one judge.

And while it was fun, it was too chaotic, frenetic, and crazy to keep track of everything at once. That was problem number one. By going for a complete set, players had to keep the cards face-down in order to view each card's checklist number, so they couldn't appreciate the ugly, futuristic blue design and photos on the fronts of the cards (problem number two). And after two-and-a-half hours, none of the players had completed the set. So there was problem number three.

Our post mortem with the players revealed other problems: there were too many moving parts in the game-play structure and the set itself was too big to complete in the time we allotted. While the players' different checklisting styles wasn't an issue, the time it took each of them to sort and then physically cross names and numbers off the checklist was.

Armed with this constructive criticism and firsthand experience, it was back to the drawing board. And now, after much tinkering, Junk Wax Battle 2.0 is ready to be put to the test.

We've incorporated smaller checklists—within the larger set—that can change from game to game (or even round to round). We've made the scoring system easier to manage for the players and for the judge. We have a game board (like a baccarat mat), and a less convoluted game structure than before. And we have a real prize, supplied by a generous local card shop. All we need now are players.

Would you pay $10 for a chance to win an autographed David Ortiz baseball card? We're looking for 3 to 5 players available for Sunday, February 15th. If you're in the Boston, Massachusetts area and are interested in competing in Junk Wax Battle 2.0 for a chance to win this great prize, drop me a line.

January 13, 2015

The Equation: Joe Oliver Edition

Here's today's equation.

Back in the early 1970s, Jim Henson and the Muppets adapted a few fairy tales, including The Frog Prince. In the Henson retelling, there is a character called Taminella Grinderfall. I think you can still find these TV specials on VHS, if not DVD.

Taminella Grinderfall 


Terry Gilliam in this cast photo of Monty Python's Flying Circus (far right)


Crazy Joe Oliver, circa 1992
"You want home plate? Come and take it!"

January 12, 2015

Custom 1966 Leaders Cards

Pulled a card at random—1967 NL Home Run Leaders—and made a couple of customs. Nineteen sixty-six was a big year for John Lennon!

January 11, 2015

1986 Topps Master Set Highlights

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I collect mega master sets. Today I want to highlight a few oddities from the 1986 Topps mega master set. Nineteen-eighty-six Topps may be my absolute favorite set from my childhood. It's the first set I collected, and while it doesn't boast the greatest checklist or really any standout rookies, it holds a special place in my heart. (I ranked it as the 11th-best set of the 1980s.)

What I've enjoyed as a collector over the last few years is that Topps has recognized 1986's base-card design as one of its most adaptable—it's been used in a number of recent sets, and not all of them baseball, or even sports, related (like 2009's American Heritage Heroes set).

The Ripken, Murray, and Mookie cards are from last year's Topps Archives set. I've included these cards in my mega master set because these three are all included in the original 1986 set. The Fernando Valenzuela card is from the box-bottom subset found on the bottom of wax boxes in 1986. If you're unfamiliar with this subset, it featured 16 of the game's biggest stars (including Dwight Gooden, Reggie Jackson, and Wade Boggs), using alternate photography and a red upper border. Attractive cards, in my opinion.

The Joe Carter is from one of the All-Time Fan Favorites set from the early 2000s. The Larry Bird is from the "Larry Bird Missing Years" insert set from 2006-07 Topps Basketball. The Paul Revere is from the 2009 American Heritage Heroes set, and the Al Nipper/Mike TV card is a Pat Riot original from his "Discarded" series. If you don't know anything about Pat Riot and his artistry, start here.

January 10, 2015

1978 Topps Master Set Highlights

I've gone on and on about collecting mega master sets. As of today, I'm actively collecting mega master sets for 1965, 1976, 1986, 1987, and 1988 Topps. But instead of writing another thousand words on the beauty of collecting a card design rather than a player or team, here's an image gallery of a few of the highlights of the 1978 Topps mega master set.

In addition to the basic 726-card set, Topps also produced four regional team sets in 1978 using the same design, issued as a Burger King promotion. Those teams were the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, and New York Yankees. But instead of just repackaging cards from the basic checklist, each regional team set was on its own checklist and also included a few cards that had not been produced for the regular set. I don't have all of them yet, but here are a few I do have...

How these cards are different from the regular 1978 Topps set:

Dave Bergman, Astros: Appears on four-headed "Rookie Outfielders" card #705.
Reggie Cleveland, Rangers: Appears as a member of the Red Sox.
Al Oliver, Rangers: Appears as a member of the Pirates.
Rich Gossage, Yankees: Though Goose is shown as a member of the Yankees on his regular card, a different photo is used. 
Rawly Eastwick, Yankees: Appears as a member of the Cardinals.
Fergie Jenkins, Rangers: Appears as a member of the Red Sox.
John Lowenstein, Rangers: Appears as a member of the Indians.
Jesus Alou, Astros: Does not appear in the regular set.
Bobby Thompson, Rangers: Does not appear in the regular set.
Jack Billingham, Tigers: Appears as a member of the Reds.
Alan Trammell, Tigers: Appears on four-headed "Rookie Shortstops" card #707.
Jim Spencer, Yankees: Appears as a member of the White Sox.

The Santa Claus card above is from the Topps Christmas holiday novelty set from 2007. The Eric Gregg card is from the 2004 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites set.

Of course, you should also check out my 1978 Topps Traded custom card artwork.

January 08, 2015

NBA History, Sans Michael Jordan

What if you had to present the history of the NBA without mentioning Michael Jordan? Fans of basketball know that to even suggest something so ludicrous is, well, ludicrous. And yet, if you're Panini, you have an exclusive license to produce official NBA cards and the sport's number-one-all-time star is under contract with a competitor.

It's unfortunate, to say the least. For the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Panini produced a very cool throwback set called Past & Present, featuring stars and rookies of today with Hall of Famers and stars from the past. Yes, there were other big—really big, in a few cases—stars missing from the checklists, but none bigger than Michael Jordan. 

Yes, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, all are represented. Even a few nice rookies, including the unibrowed rebound monster Anthony Davis. But it's not like you don't notice. It's obvious Jordan's not on the checklist.

Despite his absence, Past & Present is the kind of set I would create if I worked at a card company. Vintage look and feel to the base set, a nice mix of designs and a diverse checklist (of course I would've found a way to include cards of Dan Issel, Dave Cowens, Earl Monroe, Rudy Tomjanovich, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Johnson, Gus Williams, Kevin McHale, and, oh, I don't know, Charles Barkley). 

Another highlight is that, much like Topps's football and baseball Archives products, both years of Past & Present are relatively inexpensive to collect. Packs and boxes are still available on discount wholesale websites, and hand-collated sets can be found on eBay (if you search long enough). Another similarity to Topps Archives? One of the 2012-13 chase sets is comprised of autographs of obscure, retired players as well as current stars. Guys like Rick Fox, J.R. Rider, and even a recently deceased former player (Ray Williams).

All in all, nice cards—great designs and an excellent mix of old and new stars. And if you can get past the fact that Jordan isn't walking through that door, you've got yourself a winner.