Results tagged ‘ Topps ’

10th Annual Topps Pack Opening Day

For years, as part of my moonlighting as an unpaid consultant for Topps Baseball Cards, I have engaged in a ritual involving a few company executives and a few (brand new) boxes of that year’s Topps set. The first box to come off the production line is ceremonially opened, either on television or at Topps HQ, and then we quietly pillage through whatever’s available pack-wise.

Today we turned it into a happening.

This started when I ran into my colleague and fellow collector Greg Amsinger at MLB Network two weeks ago. Greg is giddy enough about cards that I once almost distracted him from a Yankee Stadium live shot by advising him that my collection included three Honus Wagners. When the Topps gang and I set the “ripping of the first packs” for today, I asked if I could invite Greg along.

Ka-boom.

Next year, maybe we'll televise it

Greg brought a camera crew, Topps put up a display including blowups of the cards of Pujols and Reyes in their new unis and the one-of-a-kind gold card inserts, they assembled the entire 2012 Baseball Production team, I dressed up in my Matt Moore First Win Game-Used uniform, they fitted up a conference room full of unopened boxes, and pizza, and I had to give a little speech, and half of the staff snapped photos on their phones and their tweets out even before I finished talking (insert your own joke here; I actually had to be brief for a change as I’m still under doctor’s orders to not try to ‘project’ with some severely strained vocal cords and throat muscles).

Suddenly we went from four guys sitting in a room going “nice shot of Braun” to a veritable orgy of pack opening. It felt like snack time at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and I must say, for something that was made ‘bigger’ than in years past at least in part to utilize the presence of a tv camera, this organically and spontaneously turned into a really fun ninety minutes in which the pride of the employees – to say nothing of the imminent promise of spring and another MLB season – were in full bloom.

A veritable orgy of pack opening (or what my room looked like in 1967)

Before we get inside the packs, and a really exceptional effort by Topps this year (to say nothing of a sneak peek at their next issue, 2012 Heritage) a couple of fun images.

For some reason Greg didn't want to take Pujols back to the office

Why shouldn't cardmakers sign card boxes?

The Topps production team all signed the first box that was part of the ceremonial presentation depicted above. They do it at aircraft factories and they do it on the first production runs at Apple – so why not? And on the right is that display I referenced complete with the Pujols and Reyes blow-ups. I have no idea how poor Amsinger, Cardinal diehard that he is, got past this graphic testament to the fact that Albert has surrendered his legacy in St. Louis and is now tempting the curse of Almost Every Angel Free Agent Contract Ever (Amsinger, when I pulled a Mark Trumbo card today: “It should say third base on his card. Where else is he going to play for them?” Me: “First. After you-know-what happens.” Amsinger: shakes head dolefully).

A leap in photography

Over the last few years, Topps has been steadily improving the photo quality of their base set, but this year a great leap has been made. The photos are better sized and framed, more interesting, more innovative, and with the ever-increasing improvements in the mechanics of photography, crisper and more compelling. The embossing makes the names difficult to scan but the shots here of David Robertson and Jose Altuve are really terrific and virtually every square quarter-inch of the card frame is filled and filled cleanly. There’s a design decision here, visible in the Altuve card, to sacrifice the tip of his left foot to minimize dead space – and I think it works wonderfully.

And then come the fun cards. There are SP’s (single prints, if you’re not a collector – cards that you know going in are much scarcer than the regular 330 cards) that include Reyes and Pujols sent by the magic of computers into their new uniforms. When you consider that as late as 1990 Topps was still airbrushing the caps of traded players – literally hand-painting logos over the original one, not on a photograph, but on a negative measuring 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches) – let’s give the computer a round of applause.

The flatfootedness in the Reyes card makes it a little clunky but it gives you a pre-Spring Training hint at how the new Miami uniforms are going to visually ‘feel’ once the rechristened club takes the field.

Two years ago the theme of the SP’s were the Pie-In-The-Face celebrations, mostly enacted by the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett. This year the premise is celebrations and mascots, and in the case of the former, particularly the Gatorade Bath:

145 Butler (l.) and 145 Butler SP

Butler, caught just as the orange goop explodes but before he’s lost under it, is a classic card. But, to my mind, the SP version of Mike Morse’s card 165 and its suspension-of-the-wave is an instant All-Time Great:

I betcha it hits Wilson Ramos

But 48 hours after the cards reached dealers and collectors, most of the publicity has surrounded the short print of #93 Skip Schumaker.

For the record, those are Schumaker's left foot and ankle

The Cardinals’ second baseman is said to be ticked off – and I happened to see Kevin Millar, serious for the first time in months, take unnecessary umbrage at the St. Louis Rally Squirrel squeezing Schumaker out of frame – but remember, for every one of those cards, there are several hundred of the regular one on the right here. Happy? Nice boring five-cent card compared to one that’s rather crazily being bid up to more than $200 on eBay?

Players take the baseball card photo a lot more seriously than they would have you believe. Several inscribe cards bearing particularly unflattering pictures with notations about how much they hate the photo. On occasion players won’t even sign their cards based solely on the choice of image.

The real trick for the Schumaker SP 93 will be not to get the player to sign it – he’s noted for a good heart, I’m sure the charity possibilities will be raised to him and he’ll sign a bunch. The problem is going to be getting that Squirrel to sign the card. Incidentally, the squirrel isn’t a Topps first; a card of “Paulie Walnuts,” a squirrel who occupied a foul pole at Yankee Stadium, was issued in 2007.

I promised a preview of Topps Heritage 2012 and that’s coming – but one more aside first. I thought I’d pay off the day I scared Greg Amsinger with my Wagner boastfulness by bringing the famed T206 scarcity to Topps to link up the past and the present. He didn’t know it was coming, which is why he’s been caught mid facepalm on the right.

And lastly, Heritage. They’ve done another meticulous job matching up the set celebrating its 50th anniversary, the vibrant 1963 design, in which the glowing colors of ’60s Topps were first evident: A lot of star players on this sheet – and forgive the waviness of the photo: it’s a sheet.

Two cards in particular jumped out at me: Reyes again in what looks like a photo actually shot at the news conference announcing his move to Miami (although that could easily be a little misdirection) and C.J. Wilson in Angel garb.

One note on deadlines: Chris Iannetta is shown with the Rockies in the Topps set, but has already been updated to his new Angels’ uniform in the Heritage issue.

Strasburg On Cardboard

With the scouting observation that the most impressive part of Stephen Strasburg’s night was his willingness to work quickly, to maintain ownership of the pace and momentum of the game, a little sneak preview of a much more “official” welcome to the big leagues.

RC1.jpg
This will be what Strasburg’s rookie Topps card will look like, and it’s more than just a nice shot of the rookie’s classic delivery. It is, in fact, an image of the first pitch of Strasburg’s Major League career, to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Tuesday night at Nationals’ Park.
The other memorabilia for the most hyped rookie since Griffey consists mostly of his Bowman 2010 cards (including a 1-of-1 variety which inspired insanity and could never recoup its purchase price unless Strasburg ended his career 511-0). A few game tickets have already popped up (standard Ticketmaster style around $50, nicer Ticketmaster around $60, the deluxe Season-Ticket style not being offered as eBay buy-it-now, but with a minimum of $70).
But with Upper Deck out of the game, the Topps card is the gold standard. And this is what it will look like.
UPDATE: The card is destined for general release in the annual update set in the fall but the grass doesn’t grow between the toes of the execs at the place with the renewed card monopoly: they’ll be giving some away earlier as part of this year-long “Million Card Giveaway.”
ONE LAST UPDATE: I can’t think of Strasburg – and this only has tangentially to do with the card – and not flash back to a summer’s day 17 years ago when I saw another can’t-miss pitcher who did not get as far as the Washington rookie now has. I had never seen, and have never seen, anything like it. Some guys throw extraordinarily hard (I was in the Red Sox dugout for a Daniel Bard inning in Spring Training, 2009, and I watched him paint the corners with 98’s and 99’s), but all of them show it.
Not Brien Taylor.
The ill-fated Yankees’ top pick of 1991 had already made it to AA ball in ’93 and was pitching for Albany at the Beehive in New Britain, CT, just 10 minutes from my home when I worked at ESPN. Taylor was to pitch and a bunch of us went to see him. And he was not just everything they said, but he was more – by being less.
The sound of his effortless warm-up pitches thudding the catcher’s glove resonated around the park. And then he got serious, and you couldn’t see the ball any more. Of course, there was nothing to suggest Taylor was trying to throw that hard, even though a nearby scout with a gun told us “that hard” was 102. Taylor still looked like he was warming up, or perhaps just playing a serious game of catch. Not that the first pitch was caught - it hit the backstop on the fly. The next one nearly did the same, and then a coach hustled out to the mound and put both hands on Taylor’s shoulders.
A slightly quieter thud. Strike one, 97 MPH. Another one. Strike two, on a curveball, about 90, I think. The last. Strike three, 96 MPH. By this point, having taken something off his fastball, it appeared the catcher was trying harder to throw the ball back to Taylor than Taylor was pitching it.
The Taylor I saw was 21 years old. An outfielder just up from A-ball (might have been Brian Brown) took him over the fence in a very big ballpark, and Taylor got a little angrier, fired it back up to triple digits, almost looked like he was trying, and soon reached his pitch count. Six months later came the bar brawl that would destroy his shoulder and end his career.
I wonder how many pitchers I’ve seen, live or on television, in 44 years of being a fan. I do not wonder about how many of them threw that blindingly fast, that effortlessly. Strasburg was as impressive as any rookie pitcher I’ve ever seen at the big league level. But he’s not on the other list. Only Brien Taylor is on that one.

No Hits, No Jinx, No Humor, No Bobby

How many teams can see their ace carry a no-hitter into the 8th and still create a handful of controversies out of it?

Firstly, the question about pulling CC Sabathia out of the game at the end of the inning whether he had the no-hitter going or not, was academic. It assumes that with his rising pitch count, Sabathia was going to throw 10 to 25 more pitches without losing enough on them to give up a hit (which obviously he did anyway). Secondly, why on earth did Joe Girardi say anything about it – it had already happened and all he could possibly do was deflate Sabathia after a thrilling day and great game. Thirdly, no, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver did not cause Sabathia to lose the no-hitter by saying the word “no-hitter” 224 times. I have a tape of the famous 1969 Tom Seaver game where he lost a perfect game in the ninth courtesy an obscure Cubs’ utilityman named Jimmy Qualls. The Mets’ radio announcers meticulously avoided ever saying “no-hitter” – and he still lost it.
MOCK COURT:
Remember my speculation last week that there was something wrong with the baseballs? The covers were too slick, or the stitches too high, or something that was causing pitchers and fielders to have trouble with gripping it, and led to them sailing it, sometimes as hilariously as Carlos Zambrano? Garrett Mock of the Nationals complained about it Friday night, and Mets’ scout Bob Melvin mentioned to me yesterday that he’d seen and heard about it too.
HAYHURST PANNED:
“In spite of the cover blurbs from well-known baseball personalities trumpeting how howlingly funny the book (The Bullpen Gospels) is,” writes Chaz Scoggins of the paper in Lowell, Mass., “I found it tolerably droll. ‘Ball Four,’ now that was hilarious.”
This must be taken in context. Years ago, Mr. Scoggins thought it would be really hilarious to invite me to host the annual Boston baseball writers’ dinner – without telling me that I was going to have to personally present an award to another baseball figure with whom I was having a very public feud (who, me?). This was a variation of the original plan in which I was to merely introduce whoever was to present the award. I found out as we all walked out to the dais. “Surprise!,” Scoggins said to me (conveniently the other figure skipped, possibly because he’d found out I was presenting). So, in short, Mr. Scoggins does not have an adult sense of humor.
GRATUITOUS BOBBY COX TRIBUTE:

Cox1969.jpg

Thought this might be a treat. Three seldom-seen items from the collection, pertaining to the soon-to-retire skipper of the Braves, dating from the opposite end of his career. In fact, they all are from a time before I knew Bob. We met in Spring Training of 1978 – if you can believe that – when I was the most fledgling reporter imaginable, and he gave me a very cordial and respectful interview even though I was, in short, a moron. This first image is from his two-year career in the Yankee infield, as the starting third baseman for much of 1968, and then as a utility guy in 1969. It’s an unused photo from the files of the Topps Company and is theirs, please, with copyright and everything. He’s younger, but you can see he already looks like the manager he was to become.
Below is a card from a beautiful set from Venezuela and the once dominant winter league there, in 1967-68. Kind of formal with the third baseman’s first name.
Cox1967.jpg
Cox1967back.jpg
Coxy’s ascent to management was far more rapid in Venezuela than the U.S. By the winter of 1974-75, the card of Mr. Cox of the Lara Cardenales showed him as the manager. Maybe more importantly, it showed him as…Roberto?
Cox1974.jpg

The Hall, And The Meaning Of Stats

Don’t look it up. Try (at least first) to figure it out. I’ll answer it at the end of this first part of the post – and I’m doing it this way to underscore why a malleable attitude towards statistics and Cooperstown is mandatory.

Here goes: Who led the American League in home runs in the 1980’s?
Somewhere else on the web, somebody dismissed my support (and that of the 400 BBWAA electors who voted for him) of Bert Blyleven by claiming you can’t put a pitcher in the Hall of Fame who averaged only 13 wins a season.
A-hem…

Pitcher                                             Wins Per Season

Bob Gibson                                             14.76

Gaylord Perry                                          14.27

Allie Reynolds*                                        14.00

Tom Glavine*                                           13.86

Sandy Koufax                                          13.75

Steve Carlton                                           13.70

Chief Bender                                            13.25

Early Wynn                                              13.04

Bert Blyleven*                                          13.00

Dizzy Dean                                               12.50

Dazzy Vance                                            12.30

NOLAN RYAN                                           12.00

         * not in Hall of Fame


You can make a million different arguments about what this statistic means – and then move on to whether or not it really means anything in terms of the Hall. But the Blyleven (exactly 13 wins a year) versus Ryan (exactly 12 wins a year) comparison certainly is startling.
A much fairer, and slightly more subjective, view of the issue is provided by what we might call “Adjusted Wins Per Season.” It’s not a complicated formula. You just assess a pitcher’s “incomplete seasons” – only half a year in the majors, or less, or the last year when they were released on May 15th, or, particular to Koufax, the first two seasons of his career in which he was forced to stay on the major league roster (but was seldom used) because of a then-extant rule requiring such treatment for any free agent signed to a ******** bonus. You then throw out these “rump years” (and any scattered wins gathered in them) and re-divide.
Let’s do this for the same mix of a dozen pitchers, HOF and NON-HOF, as above:

Pitcher                     Adjusted Wins Per Season        “Rump” Seasons

Dizzy Dean                               16.50                                 Three

Sandy Koufax                           15.9                                   Two

Steve Carlton                            15.52                                 Three

Bob Gibson                              15.50                                 One

Allie Reynolds*                         15.17                                 One

Tom Glavine*                            15.05                                 Two

Dazzy Vance                             14.92                                 Three

Gaylord Perry                            14.27                                 One

Early Wynn                               14.19                                  Two

Chief Bender                             14.13                                 One

Bert Blyleven*                           13.00                                 None

NOLAN RYAN                            12.76                                  Two

         *not in
Hall of Fame

As usual when you research something – however trivial it might be – unsought data turns up. In this case it would include the suggestion that the voters need to reexamine the candidacy of Allie Reynolds. Somebody else interesting turns up in that “adjusted” category – Ron Guidry, at 15.27.

But the most fascinating is the comparison it provides for Blyleven and Ryan. Their ERA’s are similar, their 20-win seasons are similar (and unimpressive: Ryan, 2; Blyleven, 1), their average seasonal win totals are similar (adjusted or not). The differences are the no-hitters and strikeouts, and while I would agree they are enough to have made Ryan the first-ballot Hall of Famer he was, I don’t see how their absence has left Blyleven to decades of also-ran status.
By the way, the answer to the trivia question at the top: Mike Schmidt led baseball (and obviously, the National League) in homers in the ’80s with 313. Dale Murphy was second with 308. Eddie Murray was third overall with 274 and thus led those who played in each league during that decade. But your American League top homer man of the ’80s, and fourth overall in the game, was Dwight Evans with 256. I happen to think Evans deserves serious consideration for Cooperstown – but surely not for that stat.
CAVEAT EMPTOR

Fell victim to myself – and was contacted by a bunch of other suckers – to an eBay scam that, while clearly focused to rip off specialists in a very small branch of baseball memorabilia collecting – serves as a reminder to think carefully about the ingenuity people can muster while pursuing the proverbial ill-gotten gains.
To eBay’s credit, in my case at least, it and PayPal refunded my money, even as the seller claimed he was the victim, and smeared, and all the like. The ID was “tarheels17032″ and the man, a Randy Howard operating out of a post office box in suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, put up for bid a “box” of vintage 1971 O-Pee-Chee baseball cards (the Canadian version of Topps). The illustration showed the retail box, and in it, 36 seemingly unopened packs in good shape. Upon arrival, I couldn’t resist opening a pack.
I was surprised, initially, as to how easy that was. The packages were barely sealed. As a kid, I actually opened packages of these cards when they originally came out, and they were stuck together for the long haul. But the biggest surprise awaited inside. The cards had clearly not spent the last 39 years in those packages. Some had creases and seriously stubbed corners, others didn’t. At least two cards that were not directly facing the gum in the packs, nevertheless had damage from having had gum stuck to them. The packages were in better condition than the cards – a physical impossibility if the packs had been unopened.
Unless we were dealing with cards granted the ability of locomotion, which had escaped their packs and managed to somehow injure themselves, then return home like salmon swimming back to spawn, there was something seriously amiss here.
Mr. Howard at first agreed to “take a look” at the cards if I wanted to return them to him. He then refused delivery at the post office in Dauphin, Pa. When I filed a complaint with eBay, he wrote: “First of all, please re-read my description. No where do I EVER describe in any of my auctions that something is ‘unopened.’ I’m not the original owner nor do I profess to be. I specifically state in my auctions to ask any questions prior to end of auction. I also state that all items are sold as is…”
As the complaint moved through eBay, he later posted that I had tampered with the packages. Needless to say, the eBay folks did not exactly buy that (since I had a registered mail receipt marked “refused” – he could not have seen the packages). Nor did they buy the ‘I never explicitly said these were unopened packs’ defense.
My travails with memorabilia sellers are not your concern. But when several other collectors advised me that there were several instances of this exact kind of rip-off involving supposedly unopened packs, I thought it merited mention here. The story as I understand it is that either two people working in cahoots, or one using two different eBay ID’s, buy up old empty card boxes, and empty wrappers that match the boxes. Lord knows where they get the gum, but they fill the “packs” with off-condition common cards, seal them just closed enough, then stick them in the empty box, and make big money selling not vintage unopened packs or boxes, but garbage.
Once eBay returned my money I thought it would be fascinating to open up Mr. Howard’s packs to see what was inside. Not one of the packs didn’t include something impossible. Several packs included not 1971 O-Pee-Chee cards (yellow backs), but ordinary 1971 Topps (green backs). The O-Pee-Chee cards were issued in series that year, so all the cards in each pack should have been restricted to Series One, Series Two, or Series Three, etc. But many were intermixed between the series. Topps and O-Pee-Chee made their money on making sure kids had to keep buying to get a full set, so they had state-of-the-art “randomizing” processes to be certain there were lots of doubles in a box and never anything like a run of cards in numerical sequence in a given pack. Nevertheless, nearly all the packs came out that way (one produced numbers 234, 235, 238, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244). And virtually every card in the box was a “common” – no stars, no rare cards.
But the piece de resistance was the fact that the battered cards in that first tentatively-opened pack proved to be just the start, in terms of damage and bad condition. You do not have to be a collector nor a detective to doubt that this card had always be in that pack:
fakeopc.jpg
Seriously?

                                              

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