As a follow-up to the 10th annual “Topps Pack Opening Day,” I was studying the 2012 Heritage proof sheet by pals there were nice enough to provide. A familiar face showed up:
Last year, after a lot of hard work and a willingness to change what he had done all his life, the former collegiate superstar finally lived down his reputation as a man most famous for one of his baseball cards, and is now “just” a top flight hitter on what might quickly become a tremendous offensive machine in Kansas City, and this is “just” what his 2012 Topps Heritage Card #51 is going to look like.
Even most non-collectors remember the brouhaha six years ago at this time when cards of Gordon appeared in the 2006 Topps and 2006 Topps Heritage sets – even though the MLB Players Association had recently codified the rules about who could and couldn’t be in big league card sets. It was comparatively simple: if you hadn’t already played a major league game, you couldn’t be included in a major league set. Topps, either accidentally (or many critics say, deliberately) got confused because that one rule meant Gordon – with 0 major league games under his belt – was eligible to be included in one of its brands, Bowman, but not eligible for its two others, Topps and Topps Heritage.
Gordon cards were made for all three sets and the MLBPA screamed bloody murder and just before the sets were released, the cards were supposedly pulled out of the packs of Topps and Heritage. The regular Topps set was released first, and cards of Gordon with a two-inch square hole in the middle started appearing in the packs (a ‘punch’ of some sort being used to destroy the inner portion of the cards while they were still on the uncut sheets, and the sheets were still stacked at the printers’). Not long after, full versions of the card appeared, some of them in packs shipped to PXs at American Military Bases in Germany.
If you think the thing with the Skip Schumaker “Squirrel” card is crazy, it pales in comparison to L’Affaire Gordon. I bought a few of the cards at four-figure prices on eBay, on the premise that this was the first regular Topps card ‘pulled’ from circulation since at least 1958. I was actually accused of being some sort of shill for the thing, because I consult on Topps’ retro issues; in point of fact I learned about the card’s scarcity on ESPN’s website, weeks after it came out. Topps estimated that maybe 50 to 100 of the Gordon cards got out, and maybe an equivalent number of ‘cutout’ cards. In the spring, however, a longtime dealer friend told me he’d been offered a large quantity of them. “I can get you 500 of them if you’ll pay the price.” Needless to say, I didn’t. As of this writing, there’s exactly one of them on eBay, but I’m confident that the number in circulation is closer to 1,000 than it is to 100.
Weeks later, Topps Heritage hit the stores and sure enough, the #255 Alex Gordon appeared – but only in cutout form. This frame-like card still shows up at times, although only a few of the fragments from the cutout parts ever hit the hobby.
You can see from the little Frankenstein-like assemblage of parts here that there must’ve been a third “fragment” there bearing Gordon’s face. This was the only time Topps ever actually issued a jigsaw puzzle kind of card (although they experimented with a set of them in the early ’70s – and it bombed). One wonders if somebody opened a pack of 2006 Heritage and found these little pieces of junk without realizing what they were, and tossed them.
In any event, six years and five Alex Gordon Topps Heritage cards later (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012), a full uncut version of the #255 2006 Heritage has never turned up. But I think it’s time for me to confess that I have one – sorta. We end as we began, with the fact that Topps indulges my long-standing fascination with their production process by donating the occasional proof sheet or printout to my Unintentional Museum.
So, for awhile now, I’ve had a paper proof version of the uncut 2006 Heritage Gordon. You’ll notice it looks different than the issued card – the proofs had red outlines, a “Rookie Card” logo, and the position designation had not yet been coordinated with the original abbreviations from the 1957 Topps set on which the Heritage cards were based. But, if you’ve ever wanted to see what the ’06 Heritage Gordon was supposed to look like… Ta da:
You don’t really want to know about my fantasy teams (well, except the name of the American League one, which I think achieves our league’s annual goal: the ideal conflation of current events and baseball – The Moammar Garciaparras). But you may yet gain some useful info from the two fairly early drafts, one for each league, which occupied much of my weekend.
Biggest news I can now share is that while in Florida, every Philly source I talked to – from the casual ones who talked a lot, to the in-the-know ones who tried to say nothing – left me with the same impression: Chase Utley is not going to play baseball this year. Supposedly they are trying rest and minor rehab now, which will tell them whether there is a remote possibility that more rest and more extensive rehab later could preclude surgery. If not, they’re going to cut him. Even if they decide they can get away without opening up the knee, that rest-and-rehab route could just as easily cost him the season.
So I guess nominating him in our auction this afternoon while there was still decent money on the table makes me a stinker?
Still, I’m not the one who paid $16 for him. Other injuries of unknown duration also did not scare a free spending NL-only league (sixth year, second auction, some real sharp fans). Mat Latos went for $20 even though the Padres are so strapped that Tim Stauffer will start on Opening Day. Brian Wilson still fetched $17 (comparison: Heath Bell, $18). Very late – after Francisco Cordero had gone for $15 and Brandon Lyon for $7, we shelled out $13 for J.J. Putz and $6 more for Brad Lidge. Both Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson were picked up as collars for Lidge (I think it’ll be Contreras) and Daniel Hernandez was an excellent no-risk flyer for Putz.
There was the usual star-sniffing inflation among the impact players. Most valuations of Hanley Ramirez place him at around $39 in an NL-only operation. He sold for $45. I reached past his likely $36 value to pay $42 for Carlos Gonzalez, and if Troy Tulowitzki’s inflation from $28 to $38 shocks you, or David Wright’s growth from $27 to $38 – you’d better sit down for these next two. Several of us must have read Matthew Berry’s note on how well Dan Uggla has hit lifetime in Atlanta, because he may have been valued at $22, but I gave up on him at $33.
And best of all was Mike Stanton of the Marlins, whom most analysts have pegged at a value of $20 or so. I think Stanton is going to bust through all ceilings this year, and so did another bidder. I won him – at $36. Before you think we’re daft, I won the league last year and the fella who was willing to pay $35 finished second.
I suspect his Florida teammate Logan Morrison will also turn heads before October, and the Pedro Alvarez I saw at third base in Florida two weeks ago had the confidence of an All-Star. What else did I pick up that you can use? Ian Desmond will lead off for the Nationals this year and Jayson Werth will inexplicably hit second. This means lovely things for Mr. Desmond. Brian McCann is saying all the right things after the Luis Salazar nightmare, when he was ready to retire when he thought he’d killed the man. But he hasn’t hit a lick since. He’s still the best, but be careful.
Lastly: on NL pitching, if you wait for it, it will come. Lincecum cost $33, Halladay $29, Kershaw $27 (the Commissioner is a Dodger fan who brings a radio with him to the games), Cain $24 (one guy named his team “Your World Champion Giants”), Cris Carpenter, Tommy Hanson and Ubaldo Jimenez $22 each. But I put together a perfectly respectable starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, James McDonald, Javier Vazquez and Carlos Zambrano for $22 (and stashed Johan Santana and – what the heck, Strasburg – for another $3).
If you care, here are my guys and their values. All but Soriano ($15) and Carlos Lee ($14) were on my “Favorites” list – and I happily took them at what I saw as 25-30% discounts. The rest of these choices I firmly endorse (although Alex Gonzalez may be wildly overpriced at $2). SP I mentioned. Bullpen: Axford $11, Lyon $7, Romo $4, Contreras $1 (we count holds). C: Buck $3. IF: Sandoval $19, Alvarez $16, Kelly Johnson $16, Lee $14, Espinosa $3, Alex Gonzalez $2, Chris Johnson $2. OF: C. Gonzalez $42, Stanton $36, Victorino $22, Hart $19, Soriano $15, $2 Morrison. Santana and Strasburg will go on our two-man DL to be replaced by a free agent starter and another set-up man.
My American League info will be of less use to you because in this one we do not start annually from scratch. There are keepers – up to six of them – and not everybody has the same idea what they are for (I kept an underpriced Nick Swisher at $12 and five guys at a buck apiece; a dear friend of mine kept Mauer and Teixeira – at $42 apiece). But I do have some useful info, most of it pertaining to the wonders that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer appears to be working for Kansas City. Kila Ka’aihue is powdering the ball and will push Billy Butler to DH. Melky Cabrera has lost weight and regained bat speed. And the Siren’s Call is being heard again: “Alex Gordon! Al Exxxxxx Gorrrrr Dun!” Line drives are flying off his bat and witnesses say he perfected first his new swing and then his new timing mechanisms. In any mixed league you should be able to get these guys very cheap, and probably only in an AL-only league is Ka’ahuie on the radar.
Also: fear of injury just doesn’t seem to register. Kendrys Morales went for $25 in our league, even though a likelier estimate of his contribution this year is about $18. Francisco Liriano still got a $21 pricetag, and in one of the more mystifying results, David Aardsma, who a year ago went healthy at $9, went this year, injured, for $12.
My team will indicate who I expect to flower in the AL this season. The freezes were Swisher, J.P. Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, and C.J. Wilson. More relevantly, these are the new purchases: (SP) Haren $26, G. Gonzalez $9 (most reports from Arizona agreed: Most Improved Pitcher this spring), Pineda $2, Matsuzaka $1 (I think he will do very well this year; he seems to be really listening to the new pitching coach Curt Young), Niemann $1. (RP – again, holds count): C. Perez $15, Jenks $3, Farnsworth $1. (C) Napoli $12. (IF) A. Gonzalez $38, A. Rodriguez $38, Nishioka $15 (this is a rookie of the year candidate), Hardy $5 (another bounce back year – he was described to me as “the 2007 J.J.”), C. Guillen $2, Dan Johnson $2. (OF) Crawford $40, Raburn $15, Ordonez $7, Gordon $6, Cabrera $2.
The only other insight I have from the AL is the Rays’ bullpen. It is unlikely that Joe Maddon will make Jake McGee his closer early or maybe at all – too valuable as a lefty specialist. Like dozens before him, he will give Farnsworth a try. If you don’t have to invest too much in him, you can, too. The real story of the spring has been how good the much traveled Juan Cruz has looked, though he’s more likely to wind up as the 8th inning man.
Final point: drafting has its rewards and I’m not going to call anybody who prefers it names, but if you want to be tested and challenged, once you go Auction, you’ll never go back. There is a palpable energy curve during the thing and a tremendous sense of fairness – you never get stuck with the 10th pick and thus miss on the best (and your favorite) nine players. If you didn’t get Pujols, you have nobody to blame (or commend) but yourself.
But it is essential that you price every player and stick – within reason – to individual price. It is also necessary to push players – the ones you want and the ones you don’t – up to within at least a couple of bucks of where you’ve priced them. And until you’ve nominated about 10-12 guys do not nominate a player you actually want. It is your job to get as much money off the table as possible. Are there guys in your league who are more loyal to their real-life team than the one they’re putting together? Bleed them. Make sure Aubrey Huff goes for more than he could be possibly worth, and make sure you shove those ailing stars out there as early as you can (I not only nominated Utley, I also nominated Brian Wilson). Eventually the madcap money will vanish – all at once you will look up and realize you can’t afford to pay more than $6 for anybody (and neither can anybody else) and the second half of the draft will be filled with a mix of bargains and desperation. It is essential to be able to stock 15 roster spots with $75 or less and be happy with the outcome.
In both leagues we play ESPN’s version and its auction function is pretty darn good. But a glitch seems to have developed this year that cost one owner in each league dearly – irreparably, in fact. If you let the computer literally do your bidding for you, unless you go in and set your own personalized values for each player, the program will bid conservatively – often stopping five or six bucks shy of the “official” ESPN value of a player – on some sort of computer-logic premise that it can spend your money much more efficiently later. This left our owner who couldn’t attend the auction with no fewer than 18 $1 players and $192 in unspent auction money that doesn’t even buy him a discount on ESPN The Magazine. Even last year’s second-place guy who did put in his own values still got screwed. He came home with Ryan Howard, Wright, Tulo, Lincecum, Cain, and ten $1 pitchers. So if you want the highest form of Fantasy Baseball fun, go with the auction. And if you want to survive the auction, do not do it on auto-pilot.
Besides which, why would you want to? As one of our more astute owners said today, counting holidays and his exciting film and tv career and, I assume, even his exciting dating life, this is the happiest day of his year.