January 31, 2006

Mailer & McCovey

I would like to say a few words about two of my favorite cards. I don’t know what makes me like some cards over others; it isn’t anything specific, I don’t think. I mean, a card’s appealing based a number of factors, but well, it’s more of a gut connection than anything else. (I know that that last sentence sounds a little weird, but I don’t know a better way of putting it).

Like the very idea of Clint Courtney’s 1960 card. I mean, the guy’s wearing heavy wire framed eyeglasses, and he’s a catcher. No wonder the Senators were so bad all those years, they were busy rushing their catcher to the emergency room every time he got hit in the face, mask be damned.

My all-time favorite card is the 1953 Topps Ed Mathews. I don’t own it because I don’t really have that kind of money to spend on cards these days, (even though it’s been a hallmark of my collecting career to purchase low-grade vintage star cards, just for the pure thrill of owning the card) because if I bought this card, I would want it in as near-perfect condition as humanly possible. This is really the essential card, in my view, and should be considered one of the elite cards of the early Topps sets. Taking nothing away from the enormous appeal of owning the Mantle, Aaron and Koufax rookies from the 1952, 1954 and 1955 sets, respectively, I propose a different take on the holy triptych of early Topps (listed here in chronological order). I would start with Gus Zernial’s 1952 card, the aforementioned Mathews from 1953, and then the Banks rookie in 1954. Actually, here’s my Top 10 best cards (1952-1955):

1. Mathews, 1953
2. Banks, 1954
3. Killebrew, 1955
4. Zernial, 1952
5. O’Brien Brothers, 1954
6. Paige, 1953
7. Williams #1, 1954
8. Williams #250, 1954
9. Rhodes, 1955
10. Irvin, 1954; Newhouser, 1955 (tie)

Okay, it’s eleven cards long. And I should probably explain the ranking, but for now I’m not going to, but I do want to talk about the Monte Irvin and Hal Newhouser cards from 1954 & 1955 respectively, because their appeal ties (in a roundabout way) in with another of my favorite cards.


Both Irvin’s and Newhouser’s headshots look like they’re approachable guys, like you could possibly end up in Monte Irvin’s living room listening to jazz records or be invited to a poolside barbeque at the Newhouser residence. They look like the kind of guys who would’ve probably worn turtlenecks and blazers on the team flight if only they played in the Sixties.

So what did they do when they left baseball? Did they open car dealerships or were they out of work homebodies who sat around in the mornings drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading the newspaper at a dingy yet modern, Eames-like kitchen table in their turtlenecks and blazers? I wonder if they collected cards after they were done playing.

Common sense tells me that probably none of this is true, but it’s one of those romantic visions card collectors sometime escape to when real life is to difficult to fathom. Plus, it would be really cool to grow up having a curmudgeonly old Hal Newhouser or Monte Irvin as your next door neighbor, collecting cards in their spare time, guarded in their personal life but careless enough to leave their doubles lying around where little kids would notice them when they would go over and help take out the garbage or clean the gutters or something. I think that would be cool.

That’s the backstory I’ve given to one of my favorite cards from my collection. It’s a 1971 Topps Willie McCovey (who could’ve been a turtleneck and blazer guy but probably was more of a yellow shirt and fat tie’n’sideburns kind of guy), and it’s a great card. 1971 is one of my favorite designs (right up there with the classic 1954, the thoroughly modern 1959 and the fun 1965 Topps designs), and one of the hardest to find in good condition (those black corners show even the slightest wear, unlike, say, Topps from 1982 and 1983, which you could scuff up the corners and you might be able to pass off as excellent or near-mint).

Of course, keeping with the rest of the vintage cards from my collection, if you had it PSA’d, it would probably get a P – 1, because some guy spilled coffee on it. But here’s the catch (and really what makes it one of my favorites): the spill only covers about one-half of the front of the card, and the card isn’t warped (the back is a little dark from the spill), which probably means the guy caught the spill early. But what about the other cards near it? How did they turn out? I would guess the closer to the epicenter, the more damaged they were. I like to think the card that got burned the most was a Ron Santo (just cause that would be fitting, a nice capstone to a certainly Hall of Fame caliber career that just can’t get a break).

But who was this guy drinking coffee near his cards? I’ve always told myself it was a lunatic writer type like Norman Mailer who was secretly a card fiend, like a modern day Jefferson Burdick, who would’ve beat himself up for destroying a perfectly good Ron Santo card and almost destroying a perfectly good Willie McCovey card, and had to sell it because he couldn’t live with it in his house. But that’s probably not true. So now I’ve swapped Mailer out for Irvin and/or Newhouser. I don’t know if it makes for a better story, but Mailer would probably challenge me to fisticuffs if I exposed his potentially true but most likely not true lifelong penchant for baseball cards.

January 22, 2006

SSPC Answers Revealed!

I have a number of these cards and I don't really know how I got them or where they came from. But here's a great history and explanation of this fantastic set (both for its clean photography and the fact that it's both hard to find and cheap to collect).

Long live SSPC.

January 21, 2006

Get on it, New York.

Why can’t New York City get its act together and put in a decent card shop near where I live or work? Or, you know, it doesn’t even have to be near where I live or work. It could be out in Canarsie, or up on the Upper West Side, or even in a hole in the wall on St. Mark’s Place. I just need to be able to go in there once a month or so and be able to flip through the crusty pages of a three-ring notebook filled with overpriced Robin Yount doubles. I’m sick of only being able to buy stuff mail order or on eBay.

Comic book collectors have always taken a lot of shit. They may think they have the right to complain because of this, but baseball card collectors, in my estimation, have it much worse. Comic book collectors don’t know how lucky they are, especially in New York City. They’re going through a near-Renaissance, if you ask me, what with at least two strong shops in Midtown Comics and Jim Hanley’s Universe on 33rd. Baseball card collectors ain’t got shit. Nothing. Not even a neighborhood drugstore where we can buy a couple of packs at near-outrageous prices and ogle FHM with a pesky, balding, old-timey pharmacist in wire-rim glasses looking down over them disapprovingly from the back of the store. (And if you know of any place like this, let me or Josh know right away).

You know, actually, I’m sure there are places in New York City that sell baseball cards. I’ve been looking and just haven’t found them. Part of me wants to be more than just an active appreciator of baseball cards, and make buying packs and singles and Ultra Pro pages and slippery plastic sleeves and top loaders and 800 count boxes part of my routine again. And the fact that I can’t seem to figure out how to do this in one of the biggest cities in the country and the world, well, that’s the most frustrating thing of all.

Catcher


A long time ago, when I was a kid playing Little League, I was a catcher. Why was I the catcher? Well, honestly, I'd guess because I was the fattest guy on the team. This was most likely also why I was the goalie on my street hockey team despite being a much better defender. Anyway, like any kid playing ball I learned to embrace the Major League counterparts at my position. Personally, I looked up to guys like Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Rich Gedman and Lance Parrish. I was also a huge fan of "Gregg Olson the Catcher" which is a another story onto its own.

At some point around this time I began carrying the baseball card of a catcher in my wallet for good luck. These included "Gregg Olson the Catcher" and Fisk but most notably Kirk Manwaring's 1989 Topps card #506 which resided there for over a decade until after his final season for the Rockies in 1999. At that point he was replaced with a 1991 Upperdeck Tony Pena, #652. I was given this card as a gift from my good friend Robyn and it's still in there.

Most people don't realize that catcher is one of the most demanding positions in any sport. It is a physical and mental endeavor that requires much more than just knowing how to catch the ball and how to throw the ball to second. As the catcher you must be a strong leader and have a heck of a head for baseball strategy. Catchers have to call the game and handle the pitcher. Enough said there.

Also, despite being heavily padded, catchers routinely suffer the worst physical abuse in baseball. Nowadays after three concussions and two busted knees thanks to train and taxi accidents over the years, I could be confused for Tom Berenger in the film Major League.

Don Slaught and Rick Cerone, this Bud's for you.

January 19, 2006

Treasure Trove

OSTON (AP) -- Police were called to guard the condemned home of a reclusive man whose death led to the discovery of a valuable collection of vintage sports cards.

The collection, stored in 400 to 500 boxes in John F. Hessian's home in Boston's Roslindale section, included cards of such long-ago baseball stars as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. Hessian also had football and hockey cards dating to the 1940s in a collection police estimate could be worth up to $1 million.

Read more HERE.

Life is Just One Big Warren Spahn Puzzle

I’ve wracked my brain for just about the worst card you could prepare yourself for when you opened a pack. Let’s face it, if you were like me when you were a kid, all of your money was going towards cards, but if you weren’t—and I can say that I envy you, but I don’t know if I really believe myself when I say that—and you were only buying one or two packs just to remind yourself you were a little kid and this was what little kids (or pimply teenagers without a girlfriend or any semblance of a life, for that matter) were supposed to buy and be interested in (and could afford to buy, besides Garbage Pail Kids and candy (and yes this would be right around the time your best friend got Super Mario 3 and you couldn’t go over to his house every day)), you’d probably be mega-pissed if you got a crap card in your pack. How much did packs cost? 1986 Topps cost 35 cents a pack, Donruss and Fleer more so, 1987 Topps went up to 40 cents a pack (but you got 17 cards a pack) and it just went up from there…until now you can’t buy a pack under a buck or even two (but that’s a different gripe).

So while I’m mostly writing this entry as a starter for an open forum, I have a few obvious suggestions and one strong suggestion for what the worst card you could pull would be.

1. Juan Samuel, Phillies (any year): Here was a guy whom Topps ‘honored’ as an All-Star in 1988 (this year has arguably the most-awesome design for the All-Star card during the 1980s). Okay, so he did have a great 1987, with 100 RBI and over 25 homers for a pretty crap Phillies team. But no one would be happy to pull a Juan Samuel card, let alone his All-Star card. Here were your Topps All-Star second basemen in the Eighties. American League:1982 gave us Willie Randolph, 83 Bobby Grich, 84 Sweet Lou Whitaker, 85 & 86 Damaso Garcia, 87 Tony Bernazard, 88 Randolph again, and 89 Julio ‘Never Gonna Die’ Franco. I wouldn’t be too happy pulling any of those guys, especially the immortals Garcia and Bernazard, though I think Bernazard is active in the Players Union now (actually, I’m not really sure about that, but I like to think he has a desk with a nameplate and a wall of plaques, including one reading ‘The Topps Chewing Gum Company would like to congratulate Tony Bernazard on being named to said Company’s entirely arbitrarily-chosen 1988 All-Star team. Way to go, Tony.’ National League: 1982 Davey Lopes, 83 Manny Trillo, 84 Johnny Ray, 85 Ryne Sandberg, 86 Tommy Herr, 87 Steve Sax, 88 Juan Samuel, and 89 Sandberg once more. Are you kidding me? They should have just given it to Sandberg every year. It would’ve saved thousands of kids from becoming inconsolable after spotting a 2B All-Star, only to realize it was Tommy fuckin’ Herr, or Johnny Ray, Manny Trillo, Steve Sax, take your pick…no one’s going to remember those guys, and All-Star status lasts forever.

2. Bill Doran, Astros, 1986: The idea of the ‘Common’ is one that deserves its own dissertation, but the idea of the faceless common is entirely different, and deserves a short paragraph. Julio Cruz played a forgettable career, recording every year on a forgettable card. Read the back of his card presented here. ‘Julio can dunk basketball from standing start.’ Do you understand the implications of something like this? Julio Cruz is listed at 5’ 9”. And he can dunk from a standing start? Does that mean he has a vertical leap of almost 5 feet? Is that for real? I really want to meet him and make him dunk a basketball. But Bill Doran? There’s nothing great about his career, nothing great about how he spends his leisure time, and worst of all, his photos aren’t interesting. Just a faceless common Topps needed to fill the 792 card quota. Faceless commons present a very strong case as being the worst cards to pull.

3. Doubles. In the same pack. Get a double in a pack sucks, unless it’s of a very good player, but the odds of that would probably be very slim because of print runs, et cetera. Somehow I remember ending up with tons of Lance McCullers, Padres in the 1989 Topps set, (and I just opened two 1989 Donruss packs just now and got a Mark Lemke in each pack…Donruss might as well as just’ve made the puzzle that year Mark Lemke, which leads me to…)

4. The Boring Puzzle Piece, any year, Donruss: unless you got the face or the logo or bat or something, there was nothing fun about the Donruss Puzzle. It was just wasted space.

I leave the rest of this thought to you. What’s the worst card to pull?

January 18, 2006

Of Gant and Van Slyke and All That's Forgotten

In the late 1980s, the Atlanta Braves were the worst team to watch on TV. Hapless is the most accurate word; a roster consisting of Dale Murphy and not really much else. I forget when Darrell Evans was on the Braves…he kind of looked like Warwick Davis, didn’t he? Or am I just imagining that they were separated at birth? Anyway, by the time 1988 rolled around, getting an Atlanta Brave in your pack of 1987 Donruss (when you were 8 years old and trying to rationalize paying almost $1.00 per pack…and you could just forget about collecting the ├╝ber-cool blue Fleer) was just about the most disappointing thing you could get, except maybe a double puzzle piece from the Clemente puzzle…or a Padre Diamond King that wasn’t Tony Gwynn.

So by the time 1988 rolled around, the Braves were still hopeless, but their cards were getting better. Tom Glavine, from Billerica, Massachusetts (pronounced Birr-rica, explain THAT one), just down the Pike from me, looked like he was maybe 14 years old, and speaking of separated at birth, Glavine kind of looked like one of those stress squeeze toys where the red eyes pop out, didn’t he? If you squint real hard, you can make it out…he also kind of looked like Mr. Bill, the claymation guy on SNL who was always getting killed…just like the Braves.

They had Glavine, they had Steve Avery in his immortal 1989 Topps card, the card you would trade your George Brett double for (right up there with the Jim Abbott draft pick card from the same set and the Bo Jackson football/baseball 1990 Score special card), and Ron Gant, the guy whom Kent Hrbek picked up off first base in the 1991 World Series and got called out. I swear, speaking of separated at birth (I’m serious about this one too) and the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris kind of looked like The Edge from U2 (in his later handlebar mustache years).



Ron Gant was awesome. It seems people forget that today. A lot of guys who were totally awesome but not necessarily Hall of Fame caliber just seem to fade away (Terry Pendleton and Andy Van Slyke are two names that come to mind) when really they should be carried around on the shoulders of offensive linemen like Vince Lombardi or the Big Tuna, because a) that would be interesting to watch and b) because Pendleton and Van Slyke are probably not going to make the Hall and people won’t remember them as solid All-Star players. They’ll remember them for being fantastic for only a few seasons, and think that they could’ve been fantastic for many years. In reality, Pendleton sucked when he was on the Cardinals. And Van Slyke wasn’t appreciated very much when he was on the Cardinals either (I think Pendleton was on the World Series team from 1987, along with the incomparable Jack Clark and Joe Magrane. Didn’t Clark declare bankruptcy a few years ago? And what happened to Joe Magrane? He faded about as fast as Jim Deshaies, didn’t he?).

Right around Opening Day 1987 (on my birthday no less), Van Slyke was traded along with Spanky LaValliere and Mike Dunne (who I could’ve sworn was going to be a big-time pitcher on those contending Pirate teams of the early 1990s) to the Pirates for Tony Pena. Looking back on it, it’s still a great trade. The Cardinals got a starting catcher, but the Pirates got a starting catcher, an up-and-coming pitcher and a deadweight outfielder who never hit over .270 and never hit more than 15 home runs. What a steal.



Ron Gant had a fantastic career cut short by injuries. Even when he resurfaced with the Phillies and Reds, you knew he was still dangerous at the plate. Van Slyke was unstoppable on those Bonds/Bonilla/Drabek/Leyland teams and Pendleton was great in 1991 in his own right (I think he won the batting title with a ridiculously low average just over .300 or something).

There are literally billions of baseball cards made in the early 1990s, when card companies figured out just how many of us were collecting and then overcompensated by about 2 billion cards. You’d think more little boys who grew up into offensive linemen would remember just how great Andy Van Slyke and Ron Gant were and would track the two of them down and carry them around a few days a week. It would make someone like me feel better about the world.

January 16, 2006

Oh! To Toil Through Life as a Minor Star!

I guess you can’t really call LaMarr Hoyt a minor star. But for two years he was pretty good (1982 & 83), and in the 1987 Topps, he was rewarded with #275 (given to the perennial workhorse Charlie Hough in the 1986 set and golden boy Kevin Seitzer in 1988).

Can you call Rick Reuschel a minor star? I guess he would qualify. I mean, he has a twin brother (Paul Reuschel) and he did win 10+ games for 10 seasons (but he also lost 10+ games for 8 of those seasons and one other season, including a masterful Anthony Young-esque performance for the 1975 Cubs with 17 losses). So maybe he’s just mediocre, remembered for some good years, a few big wins, that kind of thing…like a 1970s Tim Wakefield (though I don’t think Rick was a knuckleball pitcher).

And what about this: there are a ton of guys who, when they retire, can lay claim to stints on more than 6 or 7 teams. I remember being amazed that Juan Beniquez played for something like 7 teams before finally retiring at age 94. But here are a few other guys who matched Beniquez: Doyle Alexander, Dave Collins, Cliff Johnson.

Also, you know what I liked about Topps, and to a certain extent Fleer, was that they listed a guy’s record going back sometimes 15 years or more, both majors and minors. It was even better in the run from 1954-1960 when Topps would label the league in which the team played. You needed an encyclopedic knowledge of leagues, acronyms and how everything mattered to everything else just to read the back of the card. Talk about useless knowledge taking up valuable brain space.

I always thought it was fun to see how long it took a guy to get into the majors. Now card companies make a big deal about draft pick cards (thank you 1985 Topps for introducing the world to the hapless Shawn Abner, #282, and countless others that I poured baseless money-making aspirations into since), but wasn’t it more interesting to track the rookie’s climb through the minors, even if just to be reminded that Little Falls, New York used to have a minor league Mets team?

January 14, 2006

BREAKING NEWS

Pete Rose Caught Trying To Get Inducted Into Hall Of Fame Under Assumed Name...

The Onion reports on Pete Rose's ill-guided attempt to finally enter Cooperstown.

January 13, 2006

Of Venezuela y Argenis Salazar



I would like to elevate Argenis Salazar onto a medium-height pedestal just for a moment. Actually, I would like to elevate Dave Concepcion onto a pedestal (one that for all arguments, should be considerably higher than Salazar’s). Both were born and raised in Venezuela (currently made famous thanks to the O’s: oil and Ozzie Guillen), both played shortstop (like Guillen also), and both enjoyed careers in the majors, Concepcion finally retiring at age 290 after 180 years with the Big Red Machine. Who really knows how old Davey Concepcion is? He’s like Orlando Hernandez—he could be 50 years old or 75, it doesn’t matter, you still want him starting on your team.

Anyway, I want to recognize Salazar first, and the fantastic year he had in 1982. Imagine this: you’re in the Montreal system, it’s 1980, and you’re playing in Calgary, Alberta, in the middle of a wheat field, hitting in the .240s and generally sucking it up while guys like Tim Wallach pass you by on their way to growing pencilthin moustaches and playing in the hot corner for Youppi and breaking their knees every time they dive for a ball, but, more importantly, getting a front row seat as guys like Tim Raines, Hawk Dawson and Steve Rogers have fantastic careers with generally nobody watching.

Okay, so you make it out of the rodeo in Calgary and your next assignment is West Palm Beach, Florida. Are you kidding? It’s 1982, sunglasses and feathered hair, blazers and pastels, old people and spring breakers arriving in their Jeeps with the gigantic wheels and Bud Lights…all right, it was a little early for Spuds MacKenzie, but you get the idea. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that Argenis Salazar starting smoking something when he got down to the beach, but all of a sudden he sets career highs in nine statistical categories, including 25 stolen bases and 109 hits. He got 105 hits the previous two years combined. To top it off, he was of the MVP of his league’s all-star game.

After 82, he gets a cup of coffee at the end of 83 with les Expos, then gets sent back down in 84 and resurfaces via trade with the Royals in 1986, where he plays in 117 games, hits in the .240s and generally sucks it up. So out of the six years recorded on the back of his 87 Topps card, Salazar played for 7 teams (major and minor), with only one of them in a truly warm weather climate (not really comparable to Venezuela, but you can’t be perfect)—and that’s the year he’s a breakout star. It’s too bad he wasn’t born maybe 15 years later, he could’ve been the starter for the Marlins.

Which brings me to Concepcion. He was great, borderline Hall of Fame material, and a starter on a very good team for more than fifteen years in a row. That’s saying something. Anyway, I’m not really interested in his career, or contemplating him as a person. But if you want to talk about other Reds, I really liked George Foster, for sort of no reason except that he looked like a bad-ass and he would probably put cigarettes out on his tongue and strike matches on his cheek, like some kind of bastard Marlboro Man. Anyway, I wrote him a fan letter and asked for his autograph, and he sent back a form letter asking for $10. Actually, that might not be entirely accurate. I’m still looking through a cloud of anger about this.



What I want to talk about is his 1987 Topps card. I started thinking about the players with long, interesting names, like Joaquin Andujar and Cookie Lavagetto, names that just roll off the tongue like singing scat or ordering a fine wine. So when I started looking through 1987 Topps, I came across such favorites as Oddibe McDowell (I actually got excited about his card once), Argenis Salazar and Dave Concepcion. But Concepcion’s card’s different. Not only is he featured in a rare in-focus action shot, but he’s tagging out Herm Winningham of the Expos. That’s two rather long names on one card! What are the odds? The football equivalent would be Karl Mecklenburg tackling Bill Romanowski (but I don’t think their positions would allow for that name-on-name action). In basketball it would be Dikembe Mutombo blocking Dave DeBusschere, or maybe someone in the right time frame perhaps…I don’t know what it would be in hockey, but I’m guessing it doesn't involve Brett Hull.

January 11, 2006

three fun names


LaMarr Hoyt: Son of Dewey Hoyt (actual name Dewey La Marr Hoyt). That family must’ve had some other great names that we’ll never know. Hoyt was in two important trades in Sox history: in 1977 he was part of a package deal that brought Bucky F. Dent to the Yankees. Then in 1984 he was part of a package that brought Ozzie Guillen to the White Sox. Then he won the Cy Young while on the White Sox.





Spike Owen: I was never able to figure out if Spike was a nickname or his real name. I really wanted it to be his real name.








Ben Ogilvie: I never understood why the Red Sox gave up on this guy. What a great name. It sounds like he should own a cabaret and sometimes on Wednesday nights play jazz trumpet with the house band before making the announcement that he was buying the next round of drinks. You can’t paint the town without making an appearance at Ogilvie’s. He also had a spectacular 1980.

My Collecting History

my history

I started collecting in 1986. Christmas, 1985, I got a box of 1986 Topps and from then on every little scrap of money I had went to buying baseball cards. All I thought about were baseball cards. The baby fat in Clemens’ face on his 1986 Topps card, the excitement of receiving a Vince Coleman rookie card from my friend as a birthday present, the other excitement of finding a $20 bill on the ground and blowing it on a 1965 Gibson for $12 and packs of 1990 Score (still one of my favorite sets; I must have something like 6,000 cards just from that set…and I never found one of those elusive Sandberg ‘3B’ error cards). I think I even went as a baseball card for Halloween one year (I was a 1989 Topps cardboard box version of myself).

My older sister’s high school boyfriend gave me most of his collection one summer, so even though I started in 1986 and really could only afford Topps until about 1990, I had tens of thousands of cards from 1976 to 1984. When I stopped actively amassing cards in 1995, I had something like 160,000 baseball cards and at least 40,000 non-baseball cards (roughly one closet-full of cards).

My favorite players to collect were Eddie Murray and Fred McGriff, though I had books of others I liked: Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, Randy Johnson, Moises Alou, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Marquis Grissom, Edgar Martinez, Albert Belle, Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim Thome, and to a lesser extent Larry Walker, Johnny Damon, Mike Piazza, Manny Ramirez and Jim Edmonds. I don’t know why I picked some of these players to idolize. Certainly Belle, I hate to admit it, was less than likable, but his cards were really cool, and he came around at the right time (mid-90s).

But it was really the mid-90s that killed my interest in collecting. Too many insert sets, too many sets in general, and it became too expensive to buy packs, especially when you knew you’d probably get way more commons than you’d know what to do with. I had this idea once that I’d take all my 1989 Topps commons and make them into wallpaper or some kind of rug or something, but I could never bring myself to destroy cards, no matter how worthless.

I started again briefly in 2003 with the Topps Heritage set (of which I’m only missing 10 cards or so from the Master Set), but by then my interest was only because they revived the 1954 design and minimized the inserts, while skillfully bringing back the SP (without beating it over your head). Since that set, new cards just haven’t held my interest.

I’ve since made a conscious effort to focus on vintage, pre-1980 cards, if I buy anything at all. I also don’t really care about basketball cards anymore (though I did just break open a box of 1989-90 Hoops).

Opening

I had a few ideas when I first thought of regularly writing about cards. Initially, it was just going to be about the possibility of pulling a ‘perfect’ pack, with perfection based on a cumulative rating of the cards in the pack (and the individual card ratings based on a number of factors. A consistent superstar (like George Brett or Rickey Henderson but not Dave Stewart or Bobby Thigpen) would get a 5, a special card like ‘Doctor K meets Super K’ (Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens, 1987 Fleer #640) rated 4 out of 4 possible rating points because the players were good if not great, etc., with negative points going to cards of players on crap teams or who were just plain crap (though I have been thinking of writing about players who only had one baseball card).

I bought a box of 1987 Topps and started assessing each pack. It was going okay, but I then sort of decided I was missing the point about cards…well, not exactly missing the point, but taking a potentially fantastic subject and reducing it to dry statistics. Which is interesting, because one of the greatest deciding factors for Topps numbering is a player’s statistics, but that’s another thought for another time.

So I took a step back, consulted friends, and decided to come back to this idea of writing about cards—this time focusing not just on a Bill James-esque system of rating, with a focus on something I would have to explain away just for it to make sense to anyone other than me, but a focus on the things that made card collecting enjoyable to me as a kid, and still have a way of sucking me back in every once in a while (like now).

Sure, there’s still a place for statistics, and I’m developing an appreciation essay on the genius of the Topps numbering system and why they really didn’t have to abandon it (though it was systematically unfair when it came to rewarding sluggers over dominant pitchers), but mostly I want to focus on the little things and the long stories about favorite cards and players, those cards that had a way of sticking in my head and those that were utterly forgettable.