August 18, 2007

Adios Comfort Zone

Something happened to me earlier this week that I’ll not likely soon forget. I ended up in the emergency room and since then I’ve stayed in my apartment: warm, soothing, welcoming apartment, it has felt like a haven and a prison for me this week. I’ve been operating at half-speed (talking, walking, thinking), keeping me out of work and on the couch and in bed for the week. Today I started feeling a little more normal and went out to see if the subway still freaked me out (it did).

On my way back to the apartment, I started to think about my comfort zone: where I live, what I eat, how I spend my free time and money, how I live my life. My apartment has betrayed me this week, I eat a lot of junk food, I watch TV, movies, I read and I write about baseball cards, and I don’t really spend money on myself, except for groceries and paying bills. When I spend money on baseball cards, I don’t ever spend very much. In fact, one of the reasons I buy low-grade cards is because I’m a bit of a cheapskate. I don’t like spending a lot of money, period. Especially on cards. The most I ever spent on cards was at Brimfield Flea Market about ten years ago. My dad and I spent just over $200 for a lot of 48 1955 & 1956 Topps, including 3 Al Rosens, 2 Newhousers, a Vic Power, 2 Jackie Jensens and a Ted Williams.

So today I thought I’d test the comfort zone a little and go for a larger purchase at my local card shop. I ended up buying a box of 2007 Allen & Ginter baseball. This purchase goes against everything I stand for: expensive premium cards, high price point, useless inserts whose very existence I’ve made fun of on this blog before. While not a $500 box of three cards, I would characterize A&G as ‘risk-taker’ cards. High-roller cards. I’d rather buy ten boxes of early Nineties crap than one box of A&G. Speaking of the early Nineties, I should probably continue the Early Nineties Countdown one of these days…

I ended up paying $105 for the box. That’s $4.38 a pack. $0.55 a card. Just one look at the checklist and I can already imagine the perfect pack will consist of Willy Taveras, Brad Ausmus, Gil Meche, Brandon Inge, Sweet Loretta, Kevin Mench, Chris Burke and Milton Bradley. Or maybe a flag of Kenya. I thought the purpose of creating a set like this was to weed out the commons. I know, Meche signed for a ton of cash this off-season, but he’s still a common, right?

Needless to say, I have rather low expectations for this box. Maybe that’s just the post-purchase guilt spreading itself on real thick…

Let’s start out with the box loader. I got a ‘National Pride Cabinet Card.’ After checking out the checklist, I’m gunning for anyone except the Koreans and the Canadians… Goddamn, useless lousy Canadians! And there’s a big picture of Niagara Falls in the center of the card! What, Topps didn’t want to use a photo of a polar bear attacking a school bus in Victoria?

Alright, staying positive…here’s the first pack.

Matt Cain, Barry Bonds, Chris Capuano (mini A&G back), Dick Perez Jose Reyes Sketch Card, Mohandas Gandhi, Josh Barfield, Gil Meche!, Michael Cuddyer

Gotta love getting Gil Meche in the first pack. Also, after a quick scan of the checklist, I thought it said ‘Mohandas Giambi’. Apparently that is not true. Finally, I hope Josh Barfield’s teammates call him ‘Barf’, and that after he hits a home run at home, the Jumbotron at Jacobs Field plays the scene from Spaceballs! where Lone Starr and Barf (the esteemed Bill Pullman and the late John Candy) celebrate with ‘Gimme paw!’ One last thing—try to find a video of the Museum of the Moving Image Salute to Will Smith, where the announcer introduces Bill Pullman as ‘Bull Pillman’. It’s hilarious.

Second Pack
Brian Roberts, Pedro Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Flag of Austria (mini), Dick Perez Raul Ibanez, Aaron Harang, Mike Cameron, Kelly Johnson

Well, I got a Flag of the World (Austria). And a special insert card of Raul Ibanez (sigh). At least Aaron Harang looks like a zombie… You know what would spice these cards up? Real cigarettes in every pack. Or chewing tobacco. Or even better—why hasn’t anyone thought of this?—a little packet of Big League Chew.

Third Pack
Raul Ibanez, Michael Young, Jermaine Dye (mini), Dick Perez Freddy Sanchez, Jeremy Bonderman, Chipper Jones, Dontrelle Willis, Stanley Glenn

Another fuckin’ card of Raul Ibanez. Please, God, let that be the last one I get. Also, I propose we start calling Chipper Jones ‘Larry’. That’s his real name, not ‘Chipper.’ Besides, he’s looking old and fat, which is something I thought would never happen; his body fits Larry Jones more than it does Chipper Jones.

Fourth Pack
Manny Ramirez, Eric Chavez, Joe Borowski, Scott Kazmir (mini), Dick Perez Daisuke Matsuzaka, Miguel Tejada, Bob Wickman, Chris Duffy

Incredible, I got three look-alikes in this pack. Miguel Tejada looks like Charles Bronson, Bob Wickman looks like President Taft, and Joe Borowski looks like what I’ve always imagined the boxer looked like from Hemingway’s The Killers. I have to admit it: whatever Photoshop technique the Topps designers used on this set, the colors really pop.

Fifth Pack
Garrett Atkins, Ken Jennings, Elijah Dukes (mini), Dick Perez Ryan Zimmerman, Rickie Weeks, Willy Taveras!, Bobby Abreu, Kei Igawa

I honestly don’t know what’s better: a special card of Elijah Dukes, the batshit crazy Devil Rays rookie, or a card of Ken Jennings from Jeopardy!. By the way, in MLB: The Show 2006, Rickie Weeks is a bona fide superstar. Also, Barry Bonds is called ‘Reggie Stocker’ (probably because they couldn’t get licensing).

Sixth Pack
Tony La Russa, Lyle Overbay, Juan Rivera (mini A&G back), Dick Perez Carlos Lee, Chad Tracy, Gary Sheffield, Sean Casey, Brian Fuentes

You know how after you buy a lot of packs of a certain set, you begin to recognize collating patterns? And then, after getting pack after pack of the same players, you suddenly get a pack of commons that proves to be the linchpin to the rest of the set? This pack feels like it’s A&G’s linchpin.

Seventh Pack
Chris Stewart, Jorge Posada, Carlos Lee, David Ross (mini), Dick Perez Prince Fielder, Shea Hillenbrand, Brad Lidge, Wes Helms

Or maybe this pack is the linchpin…

Eighth Pack
Jeff Kent, Francisco Cordero (mini), Dick Perez Alfonso Soriano, Alfonso Soriano, P.T. Barnum, Joe Mauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Shawn Green

Pretty good pack. I can’t say that I really like the Dick Perez inserts. They’re too much like his Diamond Kings he did for Donruss. I guess they work with the illustrated look and feel of this set, but DK’s are what made Donruss sets so great. Topps had their subsets, Fleer had the inevitable error card and hot rookies and Donruss had the Diamond King. Also, I’m surprised at how much I like the idea of P.T. Barnum having his own card.

Did I ever tell you about the time I visited the Tufts University Special Collections Archive and got to handle the last remaining piece of Barnum’s Jumbo the Elephant? I didn’t? Well, maybe another time then… (but it’s true, Barnum had Jumbo—one of his greatest moneymakers—stuffed and then shipped to Europe for a tour. During a storm en route, part of her tail fell off. Later, after the Barnum Taxidermy Museum at Tufts in Medford, Mass. burned down, the smidgen of tail was all that was left. Barnum was a fascinating man, especially because he was deeply religious and he took joy in finding new and ingenious ways of ripping people off.

After a third of the box, I haven’t gotten any doubles yet. I’ve also gotten a handful of Dick Perez cards, a number of mini cards and a few special cards, including P.T. Barnum. I also struck out with the box loader, receiving a crappy card of Famous Base-Ball Playing Canadians. Here’s how I did with the rest of the box:

2 relics: Miguel Cabrera (bat), Rich Harden (jersey)
14 Dick Perez sketch cards: all different
11 special cards: all different, including Fyodor ‘The Butler Did It’ Dostoevsky
1 A-Rod Home Run Bullshit Waste of Space
1 mini Flag of Taiwan
2 mini cards with black borders: Rafael Furcal and Brad Ausmus (!)
3 mini special cards: Eleanor Roosevelt, Mario Andretti, Jamie Fisher
3 mini rookie cards: Carlos Gomes, Gustavo Molina, Hunter Pence
10 other mini cards: all different, including Ryan Howard no number
and no doubles

I also got some short-printed cards:
Bob Geren
Placido Polanco
Hunter Pence
Justin Verlander
Ken Jennings
Michael Young
Josh Bard
Grady Sizemore
Barry Bonds
Rocco Baldelli
Francisco Cordero

Impressions: Good color, nice design, mini cards pleasing addition to each pack. I’m surprised I like this set. I thought I’d hate it. Some things I don’t understand:

-Why so many Dick Perez cards? They’re really just Diamond Kings. Why not put them in the base set?
-Why include the lousy A-Rod mirror set? Topps really blew it with this one.
-I don’t understand the black bordered parallel set. It’s too intrusive on the face of the card.
-Why bother with relics at all? Everybody knows most of them are not worth more than $5 after they’re removed from the pack. I say, don’t make the promise of two a box. Then only make ten or twenty different ones and include them less frequently.
-Topps has now had two years of Allen & Ginter Champions of the World subset, and yet they have yet to make a card of Gary Sobers. There are more cricket fans in the world than there are citizens of the United States, so what, pray tell, is the deal with not including him?

I probably won’t collect this set. I got all the players that I like: Ichiro, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Justin Verlander, Hanley Ramirez, Kenji Johjima, Prince Fielder, Placido ‘Domingo’ Polanco. The only guy I didn’t get that I might buy separately is Magglio Ordonez.

I guess going outside of the comfort zone wasn’t so bad. I have to admit, I’m intrigued by the level of thought that Topps has put into this set, what with the number of parallels and short prints and other stuff they’ve got going on within the confines of the Allen & Ginter cigar box. I like the minis, the flags are okay, and I like most of the special cards.

I’d like to do the next checklist of special cards for A&G 2008, precisely because I think Topps dropped the ball in not including David Beckham in this set, but also because Ernest Hemingway, Keith Richards and the Lusitania need their own cards. Maybe I could do a set called ‘Famous Men and their Thrilling Demises’…

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