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.

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.