February 02, 2016

The History of The Baseball Card Blog

Ten years seems like a good time for a recap. Here goes nothing.

The Baseball Card Blog was born in January 2006. My friends and I had been kicking around the idea of blogging about sports cards since summer 2005, but we only started posting after I bought a scanner. Even though we didn't know how long we wanted to write, or really what we wanted to write about, blogging seemed like a fun idea.

I remember being amazed that a Google search only returned one sports card blog (Stale Gum) in its results, and that its writer, Chris Harris, hadn't posted in years. Here was a gigantic, generation-defining hobby with zero presence on the Internet.

After I signed up for a Blogger account (pre-Google acquisition), my friends Rob and Josh helped me set up a template, as well as a commenting interface. I knew that the audience was out there, waiting for something like our blog, but I was not at all convinced that there would be enough traffic to warrant comments.

After posting a few entries, I started emailing other writers to get them to link to me. Guys like Aaron Gleeman and Jay Jaffe were supportive and general sports blogs helped spread the word too. Pretty soon, the blog was receiving almost 20 visitors a week. When I wasn't writing, I was watching traffic come in on my third-party traffic counter. Visitors from all over the country, staying on the site for more than five minutes at a time. It was awesome.

As January turned into February, I knew that I enjoyed blogging, and decided that I could write about pretty much anything I wanted. So I wrote some outlandish stuff with a lot of cursing, highlighted fantastic cards, cards of players with bushy facial hair, funny names and expressions, and generally lived it up for my own enjoyment. Then I emailed Bill Simmons.

I first met Simmons in 1992, at the draft of my dad's fantasy basketball league. My dad has been in that league every year since, and Bill's ascension to noted sportswriter and media star has been a point of pride for many years. (If you want a good time, read Bill's draft diary from 1998 or so; I'm the "Fresh Fish" team. It's still out there on the Internet somewhere.)

I had emailed him for advice on how to approach writing. He was a prolific writer, and I thought a few nuggets of his wisdom would at least point me in the right direction. I also assumed that he was so busy that I'd never hear from him. Wrong. Tucked into one of his ESPN.com Page 2 links posts was a little sidebar about The Baseball Card Blog.

It was like someone turned on a faucet. Within minutes I had more readers than I had in the entire month of January. By the end of the week, the blog had more than 35,000 visitors. It was crazy. I knew that I would have to write more than a couple times a week, or the traffic would disappear. So I decided to blog and rank every major set produced in the 1980s. And tell more people about it. Jamie Mottram at Yahoo!, Will Leitch at Deadspin, and other sites (including something called "Whatevs") all linked, and in June Entertainment Weekly included The Baseball Card Blog on its "100 Websites to Bookmark Now" list. (I had been so excited that I showed the mention to my boss at the small arts marketing firm where I worked. She asked what kind of reward I got from this and I remember telling her that this was the reward.)

There were other media mentions, and more traffic, and I got to do an interview with a Chicago newspaper. I also met with one of the marketing directors at Topps. I remember going into the meeting thinking I could convince him to hire me as the official Topps blogger, then coming out defeated and angry at myself. Visiting the Topps HQ was really, really cool, and I was plied with free cards on my way out. All this attention was nice, but the best part was that I was no longer the only person actively blogging about sports cards and sports card collecting. Other blogs started popping up, and now, ten years later, there are hundreds and hundreds of blogs and social media sites and other new media platforms on which to read and talk about sports cards; it's great.

Two thousand six turned into 2007, and I started to tire of posting so often. And although I loved fielding questions and hearing from fellow collectors, I was also sick of the hate mail, the passive-aggressive missives from other writers, the pleadings of others who needed me to write more often, and the stalkers. (There was at least one guy who would message me every single time I checked my email account; it was super creepy and it went on for months.)

To combat the doldrums, I helped launch a group blog (A Pack A Day) with many, many authors. I also did a short, unpaid stint with Beckett.com (pre-redesign) but the combination of work, blogging, and the endless, angry hate mail I received from Beckett.com readers really turned me off. (I remember getting one email from a Beckett reader who called me "As bad as Michael Vick"—then under investigation for dog fighting—because I didn't think the Canada box-loader insert in Allen & Ginter was that great.) So by the time 2008 rolled around, I was pretty much done with writing about sports cards.

By spring 2008 I had quit my job in NYC and moved back to Boston. I holed up in my bedroom at my parents' house and used my Quark XPress expertise to write and lay out The Baseball Card Book (never published, though I'm convinced it will be a best seller whenever it ends up being released).

In the summer of 2008, I completely, deliberately alienated the bulk of the blog's readers by adding a PayPal donation button to the blog, then actively encouraging people to give me money. It was a gross misstep, and I became a pariah in the now-robust sports blogging community, with an aggressive rival at the front of the pitchfork-toting procession, beating the drum to admonish me. He was right, I deserved it. It was a great way to disappear from blogging.

But then I started to get into custom cards. And after a few months away from blogging, I found I liked working with PhotoShop to create the cards I wished existed. I took a brief excerpt from A. Bartlett Giamatti's Green Fields of the Mind and threaded the text over a few Red Sox cards. It was fun. As a follow-up, I decided to adapt Casey at the Bat in the same style. It was also the perfect "last post" I had been looking for. It went up in December 2008. I was proud of it and promoted the hell out of it. Traffic had been steady at about 400 visitors a day since summer 2006, and with the promotion and links from more prominent sites like WSJ.com, FOX Sports, etc., traffic remained steady for all of 2009 without me typing a single entry.

I had entertained the idea of selling the blog in 2009, but because I never successfully monetized the site, the offer I got was embarrassingly low. And by January 2010 I was itching to write again. The year passed with many posts but not much fanfare. When 2011 arrived, I decided that The Baseball Card Blog would be a group blog. I invited Mike Kenny and Travis Peterson to join up and was ecstatic when they agreed to participate. Both are without parallel in their respective domains: Mike is insanely funny and Travis is probably one of the best custom card artists practicing today. I left Mike to do his own thing, but with Travis I collaborated on a few projects, including custom parody cards of Saturday Night Live cast members through the decades. As validation of our collective work, the blog was lauded as a Blog of Note by the folks at Blogger and Google in April 2011.

The years rolled on. Family life and jobs took precedent and frequent posts from Travis and Mike became occasional posts from Travis and Mike. I kept going down the rabbit hole with more and more custom cards, and then it all just petered out. The Baseball Card Blog welcomed its 1,000,000th visitor and I stopped counting quickly afterwards. Facebook became more important, and I started posting exclusively to the FB page I created for the blog. I made custom sets of additional traded players in the style of 1976 Topps Traded. I made custom 1978 Topps Traded cards. And custom 1965 Topps All-Stars (which were a featured design in Topps Bunt, which I still find hilarious: Topps cribbing a design that I created as a "fix" to their original).

I'm not sure where The Baseball Card Blog goes from here. I'm not going to sell it, but I'm also not interested in posting frequently enough to warrant steady traffic or even relevance anymore. And that's cool with me. That said, a lot of people deserve thanks for keeping this blog alive. People like Josh Mueller, Adam Dorn, Mike Kenny, Travis Peterson, Matt Sienkiewicz, Chris Harris, David Campbell, JayBee Anama, Mario Alejandro, Scott Crawford, Rich Mueller, Mike Smeth, Ryan Cracknell, Blake Meyer, Bill Simmons, Mark Sapir, Dan Hitt, Josh Wilker, Aaron Gleeman, Will Leitch, Jamie Mottram; the list goes on and on. But most importantly, the person who deserves the most thanks is you, dear reader. Thank you for spending your time reading my inane musings about our shared obsession. It hasn't been overlooked.

September 25, 2015

1965 Topps Combo Card: Dynamic Duo

One more custom combo card to round out the week. Perhaps a few more next week...

September 24, 2015

1965 Topps Combo Card: Athletic Aarons

"Big League Buddies" strikes again, this time with Hank and Tommie Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves.

September 22, 2015

1965 Topps Custom Combo Cards

I love combo cards, those goofy-titled cards of more than one player. As I've moved toward downsizing my collection, combo cards have become a major focus.

I also love 1965 Topps. It's one of my favorite sets, yet it's the only Topps set from the 1960s without combo cards. Go figure.

Therefore, I've decided to remedy the situation with a few custom combo cards for 1965 Topps. Here's the first.

September 01, 2015

The $10,000 Question

Here's what I've been thinking about these last few weeks...

A reader sent me an e-mail last week looking for advice. He wanted to spend about $10,000 but only purchase four or five cards. Here were the other parameters: At least one of them should be a T206, all should be from earlier than 1970, and all should have solid PSA grades. Which should he buy? I told him he couldn't go wrong with popular hobby stalwarts like Clemente, Koufax, Aaron, and Rose. As for the tobacco card, I have no experience buying or selling T206's, and couldn't give him a recommendation. But this got me thinking: What cards would I have chosen for myself? Buying cards as investments goes against my outlook and reasons for collecting, but it would be nice to have that kind of dough to play with. Which cards would you choose?...

...I've been searching for a new set to collect. I thought 2015 Allen & Ginter would be that set, but right now the price tag is steep. I might have to wait a year for things to settle. One set I've always enjoyed is the Archives line from 2001 and 2002. I had dipped into it as part of the mega master sets I've put together for 1976, 1978, 1986, 1987, and 1988 Topps, but never for its own sake as a set. A few weeks ago I purchased a group from 2001 series one and I'm digging it. This may be my new set. That said, there are a few players who seem to be missing, or maybe I've just overlooked them? Guys like <b>Jeff Burroughs, Dave Stewart, Charlie Hough</b>, and <b>Manny Trillo</b>. Burroughs was the 1974 AL MVP, Stewart won 20 games in four straight seasons, Hough was a knuckleball workhorse, and Trillo was one of the best second basemen of his generation. Additionally, all four had retired before 2001, and each had a rookie and last card issued by Topps. Granted, none was elected to the Hall of Fame, but neither was <b>Wilbur Wood, Jim Maloney, Johnny Antonelli</b>, or <b>Bucky Dent</b>, and all four of them are in Archives. Maybe I'll do some custom Archives...

...There are two questions I think about when I'm falling asleep: 1) If we projected today's salaries on players from the past, who would've been paid what? For example, someone like Bobby Shantz. Would he have been a max-contract guy? And 2), are there any players today who will make the Hall of Fame? Besides Alex Rodriguez's steroid-fueled sideshow, I can identify 10 players who are legitimate Hall of Famers: <b>Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Ichiro, CC Sabathia, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina,</b> and <b>Mike Trout</b>. But which of these players will be remembered by Hall of Fame voters in 10 to 20 years when they're up for election?

You may scoff at the insinuation that an otherworldly talent like Albert Pujols would be forgotten in 10 years, but look at the example of <b>Duke Snider</b>. The Duke of Flatbush was elected in his 11th year on the Hall of Fame ballot, which means he had been retired for 17 years before election. Or how about someone like <b>Jim Bunning</b>? Over 200 wins, author of a perfect game (as well as another no-hitter), All-Star in each league. Seems like a shoo-in for the Hall. Instead he was on the ballot for 15 years, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Twenty-five years after he retired he was elected by the Veterans Committee. A situation like that seems unthinkable today, but could it be possible for someone like Sabathia, or even <b>Roy Halladay</b>? It seems today that if a player's not elected on the first ballot, then they're not true Hall of Famers. I hope someone like <b>Graham Womack</b> will tackle this question...

...I feel like a dolt. A few weeks ago I purchased a large stack of exclusive Target Topps coupons on eBay for a couple bucks. Now my local Target has stopped carrying Topps products. Not sure what to do with these coupons...

August 14, 2015

Fuzzy for the Wrong Reasons

Notice that Panini used a piece of Scotch tape
to keep the card in the top loader. Not cool.
I'm new to this whole "redemption" game. Actually, that's not true. I've mailed away for cards in the past, it's just that the last time I did it was 1994 and I received the 1993-94 Upper Deck NBA Lottery Picks set in return. Never have I waited for an autographed card from a manufacturer. (Actually, that's not true, either. Back when I was doing TTM autographs, I sent a 1987 Topps checklist to Topps CEO Arthur Shorin to sign at Topps HQ. And he did. And I got it back and then promptly lost it in a stack of commons...) What I'm getting at here is that I had no idea what to expect from Panini after submitting a code on their website last fall for an autographed Chandler Parsons Past & Present draft pick card.

I went in with zero expectations. For one thing, I was surprised that Panini even accepted the code I inputted, if simply because the set came out in 2012 and I had missed the redemption deadline by at least a few months, if not a few years. I know how important the redemption game is to manufacturers: it's another way to differentiate from the competition. Saying that, I expected a "Sorry, you're too late" message. I guess though that if your redemptions are "always on," so to speak, your customers will take notice. And while I profess a certain level of innocence, I'm no slouch. I've read blogs and articles about waiting for redemption cards, and the trials and tribulations of receiving the wrong cards, or poorly signed cards, or whatever.

Which leads me to the card I received a few days ago. It's signed by someone whose first names starts with a "C," that much is for certain. I can even make our a "25," and Parsons is shown in his #25 Rockets uniform, so I would suppose that the signature is that of the card's subject, Chandler Parsons. But the signature looks like it went through the wash, or was signed in a sauna. It's blurred on the edges, which is too bad. I mean, I did send away for the card after the purported redemption period had ended, and it would stand to reason that most, if not all of the signed cards for this promotion had been redeemed already, so all that was left was the dregs, the sloppies, and the cards signed with a pen about to run out of ink.

So I can't really complain. Besides, it got me thinking: What if manufacturers paid MLB, or the NBA, or NFL, or whichever league, to have its players sign cards during a game? It could be during halftime, or while their team is at bat. Since every game is televised, showing players busily signing sports cards would be whimsical cutaways for broadcasters. "Well, Bob, there's Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and their Thunder teammates signing cards for Panini's 2016-17 NBA Hoops," or "It looks like Clayton Kershaw has found a way to stay loose between starts, Joe: He's down in the dugout signing cards for 2016 Topps baseball cards!... That's right, Harold. Fans, look for autographed cards of your favorite stars randomly inserted into packs of 2016 Topps Baseball..." If teams can sell out their coaches and managers for telecast interviews during a game, there's no reason players' downtime should be off-limits.

Much like my plan for turning broken bats into game-used memorabilia cards, complete with game date–stamping, I expect this idea will also be ignored. But what makes these ideas unique is that they solve the problem of poor quality: there would already be so much documentation of the materials that went into making the cards that the quality of the bat shaving itself—or in this case, signature—would be of less importance than the act of its creation. As I understand it, the actual "game-used memorabilia" that go into relic cards are rarely, if ever, actually used in a live game. Similarly, autographed cards are signed in marathon sessions done in the off-season by players sitting at a conference table with bottles of water nearby. These things, which should be overflowing with the implied "love of the game," are in fact created in sterile environments with sterile materials by men who are late for their tee times.

What I'm saying is, it all could be so much more. That Chandler Parsons autograph should be fuzzy—not because the pen was running out of ink or the Panini intern set his bottle of water down on it, but because a sweaty Parsons should've signed it in the Rockets' locker room during halftime of a nationally televised game. You want us to be excited about your products? Make your cards mean something.

August 10, 2015

The Numbers Don't Add Up

After writing last night's post I did a quick calculation and realized I have waaaaay more than my professed 10,000-card ceiling. Here's how it breaks down:

1956 Topps set (342)
1965 Topps set (598) + Embossed set (72) + other random '65-inspired cards (25)
1969 Topps near set (664) + errors/variations + Deckle set (35)
1976 Topps set (660) + Traded & Missing Cards (88) + extras (30)
1978 Topps set (726) + extras (10)
1986 Topps set (792) + Traded (132) + extras (100)
1987 Topps set (792) + Traded (132) + extras (100)
1988 Topps set (792) + Traded (132) + extras (50)
2003 Topps Heritage master set (500) + extras (10)
2014 Topps Heritage master set (554) + Minis (60)
Red Sox collection of at least 1,500 cards
Player collections of at least 200 cards
Basketball collection (1,200)
T218 (60 cards)
1967 Topps Who Am I? (40 cards)
2013 Topps Heritage Minors (200 cards)
Other random cards (1,000)
1955 Topps (50 cards)
Miscuts/misprints (50 cards)

And all that adds up to 11,747 cards. I forgot to add the single vintage rookie and star cards I have, and the new A&G cards I bought last week. Plus the random Archives and Topps cards I gotta find a home for. Sounds like I will be a busy seller and trader in the coming weeks to bring that number down.

August 09, 2015

The Magic Number

Ten thousand is a big number. And 10,000 of something is quite a lot. Unless, of course, we're talking about sports cards. Then it doesn't seem like so many.

It's here that I find myself these days, butting up against the 10,000-card ceiling, the amount my non-collector wife and I have decided should be the maximum number of cards in our apartment. For a while it was easy—10,000 cards is a lot of sports cards, after all. I had a few sets, a few small player collections of Ichiro, Kirby Puckett, Eddie Murray, Fred McGriff, Dwight Evans. But then I decided I wanted to collect a vintage set, so 1969 Topps became a focus. And as 2014 became 2015, I found I wanted to complete an Allen & Ginter set. And what about my vintage basketball card collection? Or those multiplayer combo cards I had a ton of?
Don't worry, Eddie. With hair like that,
you'll always be a keeper.

I've always been a little jealous of those guys who take selfies with their patchwork quilts of top-loaded memorabilia cards, and those who are surrounded by binders of every set ever made. I was once like them. I once had hundreds of thousands of cards, an entire closet's worth of boxes, bags, and binders. Then I met my future wife and my priorities shifted. And now, after a few moves, I find myself with less cabinet space than in previous apartments and hard choices ahead. What do I save? What do I trade away? What do I try to sell? Why 10,000?

When we agreed on the number, 10,000 meant I could keep all the sets I already had, plus the Red Sox collection I was working on and my small player collections. But like all things, this number has taken on new meanings as time progresses.

Now 10,000 means no doubles. Ten thousand means if you bring in something new, something old is shown the door. Which is fine, in theory. But now "something old" is my 2003 Topps Heritage master set. And I'm not so sure I want to part with that just yet.

I have very little wiggle room these days, and sometimes I kick myself for setting the ceiling so low. So while I find that baseball cards consume my idle thoughts these days, it's complicated. It's not just about what to add to my collection next, but what I'll have to remove.

July 21, 2015

The Butterfly Effect

I’ll give you three guesses as to what’s on the back of this Felix Hernandez card that I (and by “I” I mean my 5-year-old daughter from whom I hijacked this card to write about it on a blog) received while at Safeco Field during a Mariners game.

Go ahead.

Are you good?

Do you have three guesses?

OK cool. I don’t want to hear about your guesses because they are all wrong.

For real this is the back of the card. It’s a baby who is maybe morphing into a butterfly, or vice versa … I’m not certain of the science behind that process. Or maybe it’s a baby who has butterfly wings because it’s a hybrid butterfly-baby formed in a BASF lab. Who knows. The point is: baseball.

This card also asks the timeless question:

How can you make tomorrow love today?

which, ???????????????????????????????????????????????

Seriously though, how CAN you make tomorrow love today? Let’s ask Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez.

Me: Hi, King Felix. I was wondering, how can you make tomorrow love today?

Felix Hernandez: I don’t know for sure, papi. Maybe, like … if we channel our hopes and dreams into our current state of consciousness, we can marry anticipation with the present and experience a slice of heaven on earth. Like this … (blows on passing butterfly, which turns into a baby and lands in my lap)

Me: Uh, what am I supposed to do with this?

Felix Hernandez: I don’t know … raise it? Listen, are we done? I have to pitch a baseball game now.

Me: (raise child as my own, grow to love it, it eventually teaches me how to make tomorrow love today)

Child: Welp, looks like my work here is done. (sprouts butterfly wings and flies toward the sky)

Me: wtf

July 11, 2015

When an All-Star is not an All-Star: NL edition

If you were like me, you blindly accepted the Topps All-Star team subsets as factual representations of real life. In the Topps universe, Shane Rawley and Dwight Gooden were All Stars in 1987, since they were included in its 1988 All-Star subset. And yet, neither of them was an All Star in 1987.

Rawley was an All Star in 1986, and he did have a great 1987 season, posting a career-best 17 wins for the mediocre Phillies. But that's not the point. The point is that Topps unilaterally decided that the voters got it wrong when they put pitchers not named Rawley or Gooden on the team. Or maybe Topps didn't want to make an All-Star card of Sid Fernandez? It's all unclear, but it got me thinking.

Just how many of Topps's 1988 All Stars were actually on the 1987 teams? Let's look at the starting lineups.

1. Eric Davis                   LF       1. Rickey Henderson             CF
2. Ryne Sandberg                2B       2. Don Mattingly                1B
3. Andre Dawson                 CF       3. Wade Boggs                   3B
4. Mike Schmidt                 3B       4. George Bell                  LF
5. Jack Clark                   1B       5. Dave Winfield                RF
6. Darryl Strawberry            RF       6. Cal Ripken                   SS
7. Gary Carter                   C       7. Terry Kennedy                 C
8. Ozzie Smith                  SS       8. Willie Randolph              2B
9. Mike Scott                    P       9. Bret Saberhagen               P

For the National League, Dawson, Smith, Clark, and Steve Bedrosian got Topps All-Star cards, and over in the American League, Randolph, Bell, Winfield, Mattingly, Boggs, and Tom Henke got cards. Tony Gwynn, Juan Samuel, Tim Raines, and Tim Wallach, represented in the Topps All-Star lineup, were NL reserves, and Kirby Puckett, Matt Nokes, and Alan Trammell, all three Topps All Stars, were reserves for the American League. But Benny Santiago? Not an All Star. Roger Clemens? Not an All Star. Jimmy Key? Dwight Gooden? Nope and nope. And no Shane Rawley, either.

The other side of that meant that Eric Davis, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Schmidt, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, Mike Scott, Sid Fernandez, Mark Langston, Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Terry Kennedy, and Bret Saberhagen weren't in the regular Topps All Star subset. (They were included in the Glossy All-Star mail-away set and the glossy All Stars found in rack packs, but so what? Not everybody had the cash to send away for the larger All Star set, and it wasn't a guarantee that your drugstore carried rack packs (which were also more expensive than wax packs).)

One of Topps's "things" would be to include an All-Star right-handed starting pitcher and an All-Star left-handed starting pitcher in their All Star subset. So for the NL, these should have been Mike Scott (RHP) and Sid Fernandez (LHP). And for the AL, Bret Saberhagen (RHP) and Mark Langston (LHP). So, because they should exist, here are your 1988 Topps National League All Stars.