April 25, 2020

An Historic Collecting Journey

Over the years, my collecting habits have flipped more times than the commemorative coin being tossed at the beginning of the Super Bowl. I've been a set collector on again/off again for as long as I can remember. There have been countless sets that I started/stopped building and then revisited from time to time. There are many others that I started and lost interest in altogether. Ive stuck with a select few for the better part of 19 years now. Today we take a look at one of those: Stitches in Time from 2001 Fleer Tradition. The set consists of 25 base inserts and has both autographed(7) and relic(5) parallels. When the product released, I remember pulling one from a pack and immediately feeling drawn to both the design and the Negro League subjects. It became one of the sets I just had to complete. Within short order, I accumulated 9 of the 25 cards in the set. Just as quickly, my focus moved on to something else. Many times over the years, I have revisited this set, picking one up here and there. As time has passed, the hope of finding these in quarter(or even dollar) boxes at shows has faded.  I currently stand at 14/25 in my possession. The remaining 10 base inserts I need are readily available on eBay or COMC, but not at prices I'm willing to pay.

I had never really considered putting together the relic or auto sets until a little over a year ago while I was running an eBay search for the set. I happened to stumble upon an inexpensive listing for one of the autos from the set and decided to snap it up as quick as I could click the 'Buy It Now' button. Approximately a week later, the auto arrived and as I gazed upon it for the first time I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me. All of a sudden the wonder and excitement I felt when I saw that first base insert in 2001 came rushing back. Holding that hard-signed piece of baseball history started me on a new collecting journey: track down all of the autos in the set and research each subject that signed for it.

This is the one that started that new journey. He may not be a household name like some of the others in the set, but Joe Black had an incredible MLB rookie season. Having already logged seven seasons in the Negro Leagues and a year in the minors, he made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952(5 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier). Black finished the season with 15 wins, 15 saves, and a 2.15 ERA which would have lead the category if he logged an additional 8 IP to qualify for that title. He wrapped up that great season by being named NL Rookie of the Year.

The next pickup... I targeted Monte Irvin second because I at this point in the journey, I wasn't sure if my hobby budget would allow me to complete the auto set and I thought this would go great with the few vintage Irvin's I already had in my collection. In 1951, he led the Giants to the World Series hitting .312 with 24 home runs and 121 RBI. He stepped up even further in the WS, raking at a rate of .458 in the Fall Classic. His season was capped off by a third place finish third in the NL MVP voting and he did all of that while mentoring a young ball player by the name of Willie Mays!

Speaking of the Say Hey Kid... This addition to the set clearly contains no ink. Several signed copies of this card have surfaced in the years since Fleer went bankrupt, however all of those are believed to be forgeries. Mays was well known for his refusal to sign anything related to the Negro Leagues. He began playing with the Birmingham club in 1947 at the age of 16 and helped the Black Barons earn a spot in the Negro League World Series the following year.

This was the one that got me over the hump so to speak. While it was only the third auto I picked up, it was the big one! When I successfully tracked down a copy that fit into my budget, I knew I'd eventually be able to complete this set. It was quite an exciting acquisition! Banks played two seasons with the Monarchs which were split up by a two year stint in the Army. When the Cubs came calling to sign him, he didn't want to leave because he loved playing in Kansas City so much. He eventually decided the opportunity to sign with Chicago was too good to pass up and the rest is history.

Ted 'Double Duty' Radcliffe was an interesting player. The origin of his nickname came in 1932. While playing in back-to-back games of a Negro League World Series doubleheader, he assumed catching duties in game one and toed the pitching rubber in game two. His performances helped the Pittsburgh Crawfords win the championship that year. Throughout his career, he would go back and forth between the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays with two stints on the Chicago American Giants mixed in. He won the Negro American League MVP award during his second run with Chicago at the age of 43. Incredibly, Radcliffe was 98 or 99 years old when he signed for this set!

These Artie Wilson cards were apparently not released in packs of 2001 Fleer Tradition like the others, or so the story goes. There are claims that these were redemptions which were filled prior to the bankruptcy and other stories that say they didn't make their way to the secondary market until Fleer's liquidation sale/auction. Either way, these did eventually become available and I was happy to grab one at a very reasonable price. In a stretch of seasons lasting from 1942-1948, Wilson was the best shortstop in the Negro American League. His best season at the plate came in 1948 when he hit .402, eight years after Ted Williams became the last player in the majors to accomplish the feat. In that same season, he served as a mentor to Willie Mays(three years before Monte Irvin did the same in the majors) during the youngster's second season in professional ball.

...and then there was one. Buck O'Neil was the final step on this collecting journey. Buck had a lengthy career as a solid ballplayer. When his playing days were over he became a well-respected Major League coach/scout and later had significant role in establishing the Negro League Museum in 1990. Many likely know him best for being featured prominently in Ken Burns' Baseball documentary.

Hunting down these autographs and researching the players involved was one of the most rewarding things I've done as a baseball card collector. Upon completion I took a small break to enjoy the cards, but now I'm ready to begin tackling the memorabilia portion of the set. Though there are only five cards in the set, two are absolutely huge: Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson. The other three are no slouches either: Elston Howard, Larry Doby, and Roy Campanella. In addition to probable budgetary issues, I'm likely to have considerable difficulty even finding a copy of each one. While tracking currently listed cards(and list price) for over a month, I have only seen copies of Howard, Robinson, and Doby thus far. It's going to take some creative dealing if I'm going to be successful in this endeavor, but I'm up for the challenge! If anyone out there has any of these(or any of my base insert needs) they're willing to part with, let's make a deal. Thanks for reading.

April 22, 2020

This Day in Baseball History

I've been thinking of reviving this theme for a few weeks, but haven't found the right event to tie into my collection...until today.

On this day back in 1959, Whitey Ford pitched a 14-inning complete game shutout against the Washington Nationals before an estimated crowd of 7,337 at Griffith Park. Making his second start of the young season, he scattered 7 hits, walked 7, and struck out 15. The 15 K's tied the Yankees' single game record(at the time) and his 14 IP would end up being the longest outing of his career. The incredible start helped the team improve its record to 6-3. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be a sign of things to come as they finished the season at 79-75 which was only good enough for 3rd place in the AL.

From an impressive on-field performance to an impressive piece of cardboard... I'm typically not a fan of unlicensed cards but this one is certainly an exception. It has a nicely cropped photo and a legible, on-card auto with an inscription! You don't see that everyday. This (somewhat)new arrival came to me courtesy of my friend Matt from Sport Card Colectors blog. We've been involved in a never-ending trade for over a year now and has been responsible for some huge PC additions. Thanks SCC, I'm looking forward to our next exchange!

The 1959 season may have been a rare disappointment in the middle of a Yankee dynasty, but the ace of the New York rotation turned in an effort befitting a future HOF'er on this day in baseball history. Thanks for reading.

April 19, 2020

Starting Lineup for The Last Dance

Today's the day! The first two episodes of The Last Dance premiere tonight. The hype surrounding this 10 part, documentary mini-series is real and has definitely extended into the world of cardboard. Social media feeds near and far are being overtaken by Jordans from the late '90's and even sales of base cards have been going through the roof. I was never a huge Bulls fan or Jordan collector, but it certainly was incredible watching what that team was able to accomplish. In celebration of those accomplishments and the entertainment to come courtesy of the folks at ESPN, let's take a look at the starting lineup of your 1997-98 Chicago Bulls!!!

At small forward #1, 6ft-8in, from Central Arkansas, #33...

Scottie Pippen!!!
Full disclosure: this is not my card. I grabbed this image from a recently sold eBay listing. Way back in early 1997, I did own a copy of this. I was recently out of high school and working at Toys R Us unloading trucks or assembling various floor models. One day I went to the front of the store to buy a Mountain Dew(don't judge, I was young) at the end of a shift. On the way to the checkout lanes, I saw one of those 100 card repacks with this showing on the front. I didn't think twice and brought it with me to the register. I held onto this awesome insert for a few years and eventually traded it away. I can't remember what I got in return, but it was probably a handful of Gary Payton cards.

At small forward #2, 6ft-10in, from Croatia, #7...

Toni Kukoć!!!
*I split the small forward position because Pippen missed the first half of the regular season with an injury.*
In the middle of the Vin-Sanity craze, I bought a box of 1998-99 SP Authentic hoping to pull the Vince Carter Sign of the Times auto, his serial numbered RC, and maybe an Antawn Jamison RC. I pulled none of the above. I wasn't even lucky enough to pull a Dirk Nowitzki rookie(even though I had no idea who he was at the time). I pulled this auto instead. I remember what a big deal it was when Kukoć finally came to the NBA to play in Chicago, he just wasn't one of my favorites. To this day, his auto lives in my 'for trade/sale' box.

At power forward, 6ft-7in, from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, #91...

Dennis Rodman!!!
From his time with the Pistons through his post-career craziness, I was not a fan of The Worm. Younger me did have an appreciation for how great he was on the boards though. This is my favorite card of his that I actually own. I loved Finest and this is a low-key, all business design/picture. With my current collecting preferences, I kinda wish I owned one of the cards showing him in a more dynamic light, like diving for a loose ball or pulling down a rebound.

Next up, the man in the middle, at center, 7ft-2in, from New Mexico, #13...

Luc Longley!!!
Not much to say about this one. It came out of a pack of Ultra while I was searching for Tim Duncan and Keith VanHorn. I was not thrilled. However, upon inspecting it a bit closer for the purposes of writing this post, it appears this picture was taken during the 1996-97 NBA Finals.

At point guard, 6ft-6in, from Miami-Ohio, #9...

Ron Harper!!!
I don't have any non-base Harper cards. Much like the Longley, I thought this was the most fitting of the occasion as it looks like this photo is also from the '96-97 Finals.

And at shooting guard, 6ft-6in, from the University of North Carolina, #23...

Michael Jordan!!!
Back in the day, most MJ cards were out of my collecting budget. I really couldn't trade for them either because almost all of my friends that collected wanted his cardboard too. So, I pretty much had to stick with what I was lucky enough to pull from packs. From the moment I saw this card peeking out from middle of a 1992-93 Skybox pack, I was in love! I had enjoyed watching the Dream Team win the Olympic gold medal in the summer of '92 and this was a rare, non-base Jordan pull for me. Since he is the source of all the hoopla(see what I did there), I'm going to write about one more Jordan card before wrapping up.

In the summer of 1994, all of the MJ hype was focused on his new found quest to become an MLB ball player. I was living in a rural town in Orange County, NY and had the good fortune to have a tiny LCS that was about a 5 minute bike ride from my house. A few days a week, I would ride to the shop and spend time talking with the owner, flipping through singles, and buying some packs(allowance-permitting). I wasn't one for minor league cards back then, but since MJ was going to make an appearance in the newly released Upper Deck Minors set, I picked up a few packs throughout the summer. A week or two before school started, I pulled this. Though I may be in the minority, I really liked the 1994 Upper Deck design and I was thrilled to pull such an 'in-demand' piece of cardboard. 

They're coached by...

Phil Jackson.
This is one of the first basketball sets I can remember opening. Packs were cheap and readily available at my local mom and pop convenience store. Get a load of that tie!

Let's hear it for your starting five(plus two) getting ready for The Last Dance!

I hope you enjoyed this take on the highly anticipated series. Thanks for reading.

April 15, 2020

A Thing That Happened While I Was Writing My Next Post

My originally intended next post was going to be a write up about my progress on the 2001 Fleer Tradition Stitches in Time set. However, research and writing has been taking me longer than expected. So, today I decided to take a break so I could offer up some thoughts on a recent collecting trend.

I'm sure that many of you have heard/read about the new on-demand offeriring, Topps Project 2020. The concept here didn't initially grab my interest. The description from the website: 'a year-long collection on Topps.com that visually reimagines the baseball cards that have defined generations, ushering in a new era of seminal artwork. Topps is collaborating with a cast of 20 artists from around the globe, ranging from famed streetwear designers, tattoo and graffiti artists, and one of the premiere jewelry designers on the planet. Each Artist will recreate all 20 cards.' The first thought that came to my mind when I heard about this was 'just what we need, more reprints...' Since I wasn't thrilled with the concept, I hadn't been keeping up with the releases, but I would see them show up in my various social media feeds anyway. The majority of the images I'd seen were quite underwhelming, and there was a lot of chatter about their excessive cost. Each individual card is $19.99 and a bundle of both daily issues can be had for $34.99. There is a bulk discount offer much like there is for Topps Now cards, but no matter how you look at it, that's a steep price tag. I figured that I'd be skipping out on this entire concept. That was until I got the email about yesterday's release...

It was The Captain! His card wasn't on the original list published on the website(only19 out of the 20 cards chosen for the project were listed). Heck, the design isn't completely hideous either. It's actually one of the more attractive designs to drop thus far, at least to my eye. I went ahead and put in my order while I was on lunch break yesterday to ensure that I won't have to try to pick one up at some crazy, secondary market price.

As far as on demand cards go, these backs are pretty decent. I like that it lists the original card and that it has a brief write-up about the artist behind the new design. I halfway expected them to just have an image of the original on there and call it good.

Now that I've taken the plunge, I suppose I'll keep a little closer eye on future releases. I don't expect to buy very many more, but they are reimagining Mariano Rivera's '92 Bowman, Mattingly's '84 Topps, Ichiro's 2001 Topps, and Rickey Henderson's '80 Topps so who knows? I already missed out on pretty cool Rickey and Ichiro designs, and with 18 or 19 more designs left to come for everyone, I guess the odds are in favor of finding a few more designs that I like. Time will tell. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this concept. Have there been any designs you've really liked? Any you picked up yet? Thanks for reading.

April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday Single Card Post

Happy Easter to everyone out there that celebrates.

I have long had a Holiday-themed PC. It began as a side project that was strictly Christmas/Santa based. Slowly but surely over the past several years, it grew to include a few Thanksgiving-themed cards as well. Recently, fueled by the excitement of my daughters, that expansion has continued.

I'm not a huge Ginter's fan as it relates to the baseball portion of the checklist, but the oddball/non-sport/non-mainstream sport stuff usually catches my eye and these certainly fit that description. This is my second card to come from 2010 A&G insert Creatures of Legend, Myth, & Joy(you can read about Santa here). These minis were difficult to track down(at a reasonable price) since they're relatively tough pulls at 1:128 packs and due to demand created by the many collectors devoted to building complete or master sets each year.

My Santa PC began because I love Christmas. The subsequent addition of other holiday cardboard has been in an attempt to stoke the collecting fire within my daughters. Thus far, that tactic has successfully hooked my oldest into the hobby. Now, whenever I look at this part of my collection, I'll remember the times spent sharing the hobby with her. It's truly a wonderful Holiday gift! Thanks for reading.

April 5, 2020

A Surreal WrestleMania Weekend

I always love WrestleMania weekend! This year, things are different for so many reasons. They split the card between 2 nights, the action was pre-taped, and obviously there won't be any spectators due to the 'ongoing global situation'. Thanks go out to @adamwilbourn and @WhatCultureWWE for coining that term(if you haven't checked out their content, you really should click here. While I still think it's nice to have some form of escapism in this time of quarantine, it's more than a little surreal to imagine two long nights of empty Performance Center matches that are meant to represent the biggest wrestling show of the year. I didn't watch night one yesterday and I won't be watching live tonight either. I live in the middle of nowhere and have monthly internet data limits so I can't justify the bandwidth(and time) necessary to watch the full show. I'm definitely interested in several of the matches though, so I'll be following along on Twitter and whatever YouTube clips are posted of the big moments. Until I can find all the highlights I'd like to see, I can always fill the void with some Topps Road to WrestleMania cardboard! Similar to recent PPV themed releases, the set is comprised of two sections: the base set(depicting various highlights from the last year) and the roster.

I'm always happy to add an Alexa Bliss to the collection! This roster card was probably my favorite pullfrom the 2 fat packs I opened. 'Five Feet of Fury' opened the main card last night, challenging for the Women's Tag Titles alongside partner Nikki Cross.

I'm happy to say, they picked up the victory, winning the titles for the second time!

The base set has multiple parallels available. This one happens to be foilboard which came one per pack for me(not sure if that is the official odds for fat packs). The series of matches between Rey and Andrade have been top notch. Sadly, neither of them will be having a WrestleMania moment this year. 

Ripping the fat packs was a fun break and flipping through them and reading/re-reading the backs will help with my wrestling fix for the short term. I liked it enough that I ran a quick eBay search to see what else the product had to offer. Last night, I stumbled on a low priced relic auction that was about to end so I tossed in a low bid and ended up winning. 

Bro!!! I love Matt Riddle, he's really entertaining, has a unique in-ring style, and he's hilarious on the mic. I decided to use my eBay Bucks and after shipping, this only set me back $1. That's not the only card from his set that I discovered and now need to add to my collection. The Fiend has a roster card which I think is the first piece of cardboard for the character(besides Topps Now issues). As much as I want to bring home a copy of that, I wasn't willing to pay the prices I found on eBay. So, if anyone out there has a copy they'd be willing to trade, I'd love to make a deal. I've got my fingers crossed that he defeats John Cena in their Firefly Fun House match tonight. Thanks for reading.