Friday, June 19, 2015

The Quest for '60 - Visiting Vintage Heaven

A recent post by my friend William over at foulbunt.blogspot.com motivated me to finally make a pilgrimage to the hobby and collecting treasure that is the "Columbia Antique Mall" (also known as "Chic Antiques") in Columbia, South Carolina.

While the entire business covers a wide-range of treasures that fill two cavernous warehouses, my favorite part is the incredible sports cards & memorabilia collection that belongs to one of the proprietors, Conrad. Conrad has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia his entire life and has built an amazing catalog of inventory that focuses mostly on vintage baseball cards. His display cases are filled with stacks of vintage HOF cards. Each card resides within its own top-loader (and is typically penny-sleeved within, as well) and is adorned with a small post-it note that provides a "book value" and his price.

Yes, the "BV" is typically the "Hi Value" from Beckett and the cards rarely approach the necessary conditions to demand the high price, but this provides a good starting point for collectors like me to perform a quick condition assessment and see if we're in the ballpark for comparison with his price. It's a very convenient way to start the conversation or at least decide if you'd like for Conrad (or another employee) to take out a card for a closer look. It's important to note that Conrad is always willing to listen to reasonable offers below his listed price. This is crucial in mind and it can really add to your comfort level when you're assessing higher value cards. Condition, price and "worth" are all very subjective (as we all know), so this approach is very conducive to encouraging happy outcomes for both stakeholders.

Anyways, as luck would have it, I missed Conrad when I went to visit last week. He was enjoying some time on the golf course while I was enjoying some time around his vintage cardboard. While I was sad that I missed him, I think we were both pretty happy (and I was jealous of his time on the links!) with our situation. Determined to make the best use of my rare visit, I asked the very nice lady who was working (she is actually the shop's art consultant) if I could see Conrad's boxes of 1960 Topps cards.

That's right. Boxes. Here's one of them:

A few Moose among rows and rows of beautiful vintage cardboard


Yes, the shop has several glass display cases that are jam-packed with beautiful individual cards - but the true value of this cardboard heaven is the "back room" where Conrad has amassed dozens upon dozens of 5,000 count boxes that are both completely organized (by year, brand and in numeric order!) and completely filled with cards from the Tobacco era on up...it's amazing! Do you need some '67 Topps cards? No problem - BOOM - here's a few thousand cards to look through and find what you need. It's really something.

Again, the cards aren't in mint condition, but that's not the point. It's a BOUNTY of vintage cardboard that is well organized and reasonably priced for you to select yourself and TAKE HOME that day without the cost of shipping and knowing FULL WELL what you just paid for. With the LCS apocalypse in our rear view mirror and card shows being few and far between in my area, Conrad's shop is a godsend - particularly when I'm on a mission to complete my Dad's 1960 Topps set. I hadn't crossed off any cards from that list in some time - and time is precious.

I found 26 cards that day, whittling my NEEDS list down to 59 cards! I even had the luxury of selecting the 'best' conditioned copy when Conrad's stash produced more than one for me to consider. When it comes to searching for vintage needs, that has to be a rare treat. I only wish I had visited Conrad more often over the previous four years since we moved into the Columbia area. Here are all of the options I had to consider for card #129, the rookie card of Bob Hartman:


Let me know if you need a Bob Hartman, too!

Since Conrad was hitting the links that day, he had to think quickly on his feet when the art consultant called him for pricing. She hung up the phone and quoted me $2 per card.

In retrospect, I really should have taken it.

But no, I was trying to be conservative and careful - which I can't really feel too guilty about. The family budget is as meticulously constructed as ever with our new addition in March. So I countered the $52 price tag with just over a buck a card at $30. You see, I was focused on the fact that several of the cards I had selected were severely creased and a majority of the checklists I had pulled were completely (albeit sentimentally) marked on by collectors from days long gone by. The centering was also quite rough for many of the cards, in the tradition of 1960 Topps! Here are the team cards that pulled double duty as checklists:




Aren't they beautiful? You can see the creases but there's nothing that really detracts away from your enjoyment and viewing of the cards. Not to mention, Conrad informed me that these checklists (in addition to the Coaches cards that I'll show in a moment) can be a little tough to find. I didn't know that, but appreciate his knowledge. Here are the backs of the team cards:


I enjoyed seeing the variations in "marking" techniques on three of these four checklists!


As you can see, only one out of the four checklists escaped being inked. And the one clean checklist is the Senators cards which, is VERY cool, but is also one of the cards with a significant crease on the front. Not ideal, but not something out of the ordinary for these 55-year old checklists. And while the marked-up checklists aren't desirable from a value and condition perspective, they did give me a chuckle when I realized how elusive the 'star' cards were for our collecting ancestors. Check it out:



I am proud to carry on this set-build quest today, 55 years later!


Check out the All-Star portion of the list at the bottom of the card - no Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris or Hank Aaron (sad trombone sound) for the kid I imagine to have been tracking his progress decades ago...while our hero DID manage to obtain the two Willie's and the Al Kaline, I can still picture him mumbling as he ripped packs that fall (late summer?) and wondering if he would EVER pull what he needed. Good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, let's see what else I managed to find. Here are those Coaches cards I was talking about earlier. Hard to find, these gems deliver a a unique opportunity to snag some vintage of legendary players at a severe discount to cards from their playing days. Are you a fan of Yankee greats like Bill Dickey (HOF), Ralph Houk, Ed Lopat or Frank Crosetti? Get 'em all on one card!



Floating heads - never a bad idea.


With the white borders, it's easy to see that centering is a challenge with all of these cards and there are plenty of dog ears and creases to go around, too. While it factored into my initial offer for the cards, it didn't really matter as far as my desire to set aside and hope to utilize in my quest. Here is the next batch, a couple of coveted high numbers:

SP's - not JUST your modern card gimmick!


Yes! These two come from the seventh and final "high number", short-printed (SP!) series released by Topps for the 1960 set. The entire series consisted of 66 cards, #507 through #572. This Amoros and K-Mac represent numbers 531 and 534, respectively. of the 59 cards remaining on my NEED list, nearly half of them (28) come from this 7th Series. Therefore, the severe cross-diagonal crease on K-MAC and Sandy's <80-20 centering didn't even matter when I decided to buy or not...but again, it did factor into my offer.

Onward. How about some 'stars' that revealed themselves in the troughs of those 5,000 count boxes? Were there any notable players? I would argue that EVERY player in an old vintage set is notable...but there were certainly some bigger names. Here you go:




While Senator Bunning is the only official Hall of Fame inductee in this trio, the other two can be seriously viewed on a level playing field. Gil Hodges has continued to flirt with induction for decades and Big Klu has certainly earned his spot in the lore of the White Stockings. Ted led the league in long balls one season and was a multiple All-Star selection and World Champion. Gil slugged four home runs in one game a decade before this awkward mugshot was released (1950) and also boasts a hat trick of gold gloves to go with his All-Star selections and World Series rings. Both players have their numbers retired by their clubs. Good stuff! Bad centering...but fantastic baseball cards.

How about some inserts?




Hey, there's the WINNING Hartman out of the multitude of options pictured above! The Pascual All-Star card is a great pick-up but has some surface loss in the lower right. This was probably the toughest card I had to accept that day, but in light of the circumstances, there was no way I could leave it behind when I am so close to the finish line. 

The Baxes card is really stunning! It's surface is clean, the edges are sharp and you can see that the centering 7 corners aren't too bad either. I like the red and blue color scheme that seems to work very well with the old-school tribe cap. And that GIANT ROOKIE CUP - awesome. Just awesome. In fact, there's even more glorious baseball history wrapped up in that Baxes card that I plan to share in a later post. Stay tuned! It will be Hoot...

The Moose card was a nice surprise in the box, too. Skowron is considered by most to be a pretty memorable star, even among the crowded memories in Yankee Stadium. I can't believe that my old man (a Yankees fan) had never gotten around to trading for the entire Yankees team set, but there you go. The checklist doesn't lie...and cool is it that I can now wrap it up for him? Gives me chills.

And now, for the Best Supporting Actors:

Has anybody ever referred to '60 as the Skittles set? If not, I'm coining it!


A few of these are pretty stunning cards. I was able to, once again, fish around through dozens of duplicates and compare until my OCD-collector's heart was content. What great way to spend a lunch break, right?! Though deemed to be "commons" by the harsh reference documents of our Hobby, the colors are vibrant and the creases are minimal...heck, there are even a couple of sharp corners in this batch.

And so there you go! I set these 26 cards aside and asked the art consultant for pen and paper so that I might leave a thank you, offer, and explanation for Conrad to consider. I also added an EPIC Hall of Famer vintage rookie card to the stack but I'll cover that gem later. 

As respectfully as I could and laying out the reasons for my math, I made my offer of $30 for the 26 1960 cards. I knew it was conservative, but I also didn't know how strongly Conrad felt about the thousands of cards he kept boxed up in the back room. Was every card an individual treasure to him or were these separated out from the display cases and tucked away for a reason? In essence, Conrad and I would be getting to know each other during this, our first transaction...

I received a call the following afternoon and Conrad was very gracious as he chuckled.

"You should have taken the $2/card price and run away!"

I smiled and asked him what he was thinking...he went on to go through each of my 26 cards and explain their relevance within the set. The rarity of inserts and the hard-to-find nature of the checklists, coaches cards and SPs. His math began by adding up the maximum (remember, Beckett "HI") value for each card as a point of reference - this reached over $200, my friends, so my $30 offer obviously looked a little wimpy in contrast. Of course, the cards I was buying wouldn't come close to that value - and he recognized that. We began to discuss a middle ground. I reminded him that several of the rare/high dollar checklists were actually marked on, effectively rendering them down to the basement levels. He kindly agreed and continued to work with me on the price, though he did remind me that it was important to consider rarity. I nodded my head in agreement and reassured him over the phone, "I definitely understand what you're saying, Conrad."

I could go on, but I'll spare you the agony. In the end, we agreed upon a price of about $75 for the lot - just a little bit under $3 per card. On one hand, it was a little painful to see my original offer tripled...but my conversation with Conrad and the undeniable value associated with being able to cross these cards, some of them quite tough to find, off the list of this very special collecting mission made it easy to acquiesce in the end.

We had a deal.

During my search, I had a very pleasant conversation with art consultant regarding Conrad's collection and the man himself. She revealed that Conrad loved a good cup of coffee - black, nothing special. So, after we agreed on the price, I assured Conrad that I would stop by as soon as possible complete the purchase and that I would have a steaming cup of coffee for him. He gave another warm chuckle and we exchanged our goodbyes.

A great experience!

In the end, I feel like a still got a great deal. I feel like I gained some perspective during this process and learned a little bit more about this part of the hobby that I love so much. Vintage, set-building and some great conversation. What could be better? Hopefully, Conrad will still greet me as a friend and fellow collector the next time I bring him a cup of coffee. I think he will. 

What do you guys think? Was it a fair deal for both sides in the end? Do you have any similar tales of vintage hunting and lot-purchasing of old "raw" cards? Let me know what you think and feel free to check out my "Set NEEDS" tab to see if we can help each other!

Thank you for a great experience, Conrad! Here's hoping that our next chance to sit and talk cards isn't too far away. Besides, there's that gorgeous '76 Mike Schmidt card..and my insane idea that I am building the 1959 set...and...

Thanks for reading!     

Ryan

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hobby Conversation: "Graded Greats" Delivers Vintage Excitement

Over the past few weeks, I've enjoyed a robust hobby conversation with Chris Geiss, co-founder of Graded Greats. After "meeting" via twitter (as @ryanspitch and @GradedGreats) when I decided to give their Graded Greats Series 2 product a try, we quickly discovered a shared passion for card collecting. In particular, Chris and I have an affinity for vintage cardboard and have apparently been on parallel journeys into the world of graded cards, vintage or otherwise.

As readers of this blog know, I often strike a schizophrenic balance between both ends of the cardboard appreciation spectrum. One end offers what many consider to be the most organic hobby experience - collecting without the burden of concern for cards' 'value', 'condition' or even thematic organization. The opposite side involves concepts such as investment, market reports, registries and grading authorities - a hobby vernacular that has only come into mainstream focus during the past ten years.

Please note, I firmly believe that enjoyment of the hobby exists at both ends and at every point in between. While my dabbling in all of the above has created a more complex collecting approach that I am continuously refining for my own collecting pursuits, I've learned a lot and met some wonderful people along the way. And my education certainly continues.

Graded Greats caught my attention because their product presented the possibility for me to bridge the gap between both ends of my hobby spectrum. Could they truly capture the fundamental excitement of opening a pack of baseball cards and combine it with the value-driven but predictable peace of mind that comes with purchasing graded vintage cards?

In a subsequent post, I'll review my experience with their Series 2 product and compare my thoughts with the philosophical dribble hobby experience I've subjected you to above - for now, though, I'd like to share with you a brief conversation that I had with Chris about his own collecting story and where he feels Graded Greats might fit into our wonderful hobby:



RyansPitch: What was your first introduction to the sports card hobby? Any fond memories of your first card or set?
Chris Geiss: My first introduction to cards occurred when I was about 5 years old. For some reason, I recall the '77 Topps football set but I more clearly remember the '81 Topps baseball set and busting those rack packs! I went on to collect through high school and opened a shop while in college for about 4 years. I also participated in a lot of shows during that time.

RP: Would you describe yourself as a baseball fan who collects cards or a collector who enjoys baseball? As a collector, how has your collecting approach evolved over the years and what are you currently collecting?  
CG: I guess I would describe both myself and my co-founder, Cody, as collectors who are also fans of the game. We both played on the same legion baseball team and spent plenty of time talking about baseball and every other sports as well. From a collecting perspective, Cody and I are both fans of the "old" stuff. Even during the 80's, we were always intrigued by the classics.

RP: We seem to share an affinity for vintage cardboard - can you describe your affection and/or attraction to the classic, vintage elements of our hobby's offerings?
CG: I enjoy vintage because it never changes and I believe it will always be sought after. There aren't going to be anymore Mickey Mantle 1960 Topps cards produced but Mike Trout will continue to sign autographs and have more of his own cards created for years to come.


An exclusive peek into the Graded Greats stash...

RP: How were you introduced to graded cards and what was your first 'slab' purchase?   
CG: I was introduced to grading several years ago and was instantly impressed. They looked so nice in the slabs!! The first graded card that I added to my collection was not a purchase; rather, it was a '86-'87 Fleer Michael Jordan that I sent in myself for grading...and it came back as a "7"!

RP: What's your favorite graded great in your own collection?
CG: My personal favorite is a PSA 10 1993 Topps Derek Jeter rookie card because I can still remember pulling it from a pack 23 years ago but didn't submit it for grading until last year.




RP: George Lucas came up with the concept of the Millennium Falcon while chowing down on a hamburger - please set the scene for us regarding the genesis of the Graded Greats box.
CG: In all honesty, it wasn't something that took forever. Cody and I had bounced around ideas about getting back into the and how to do it. We tried buying into case breaks and thought that maybe that was the answer for us. Then one day on a phone call, we had the idea of "buy-back" graded Hall of Fame cards. We hung up the phone with a mutual agreement to think on it and reconvene later. When we continued our conversation, we both presented each other with the same idea for naming our concept - Graded Greats! After a few laughs, we put together a plan and decided upon some key elements for our product:


  • our base product would always be at a good price point
  • packaging would be top notch and deliver a little something extra (the experience)
  • we would only deal with Hall of Fame players
During a subsequent meeting, we decided to add some vintage packs to the graded cards and this has proven to be a very exciting element for our customers.


Graded Greats' original Twitter "teaser" 

RP: For anyone who might be unfamiliar with your product, what does each Graded Greats box contain?
CG: Series 1 and Series 2 boxes contained 3 graded Hall of Fame cards and one additional 'vintage' item (pack, raw card, relic, autograph). Each box was individually stocked with carefully packed pouches and sealed with its own unique serial number in that particular batch. It's our goal to ensure that the end result delivers a great balance of "ripping" or unveiling excitement with an appropriate level of return on value - regardless of the unknown potential in items such as unopened packs, etc. 




RP: According to your site, only cards from the "top 2 grading authorities" are included in your product. Which firms did you select, how did you determine these two finalists and what do you like/dislike about each company's product (slab design/quality records/etc.)? Any suggestions for these companies?
CG: We chose PSA and Beckett because of name recognition and the trust that we perceive them to have built with the hobby and its collectors. 

RP: Opinions might differ, but from your point of view, what's been the greatest graded card you've dropped into a pouch and mailed off to a customer? Greatest pack?
CG: The greatest graded cards will truly be dropping into Series 3 boxes, and could easily be chosen from any of the ten raw, vintage HOF cards that we've submitted to PSA for grading. Personally, I would go with the 1966 Mantle! As for greatest pack, that would certainly vary by personal preference as you suggest. We've sent out a lot of '78, '79 and '80 Topps packs - all of which carry a high "unopened vintage-wax" value.  

RP: As some collectors build their own graded card collections, what are some of the best methods that you've encountered for storage, transport and display of these collectibles?
CG: We have seen a lot of methods for storage during our 'hunting' trips. I've seen some collectors customize walls in their collecting spaces by notching out perfect spaces for PSA slabs. If you want to display them without modifying the family homestead - there are a lot of other modular, mobile and cost-effective options! If you're acquiring graded cards for investment purposes, a small fire-proof safe is a simple way to keep them safe, come what may.


Slabbing & Vintage Hunting - Precious Cargo!

RP: What can customers expect from Graded Greats in the future and specifically, Series 3? Ryan's Pitch is always happy to facilitate the announcement of exciting news!
CG: Series 3 has already sold out in similar fashion to Series 1 and Series 2 but we are working hard to make final preparations for a few new products coming up in the near future! One of which, I'd like to go ahead and announce right now - Wax Museum TV:




Essentially, we're trying to capture the excitement of online group breaks with a vintage twist. Participants' entry fee will guarantee them a pack from a sealed wax box from a vintage release. Each pack will be paired with a raw vintage card of HOF player that the participant will receive in addition to what they pull from their pack. On top of that, we will make things interesting by attaching other "chase cards" to random common cards in that particular set. Theoretically, we might determine beforehand that card #361 from the '76 Topps set ( the Tigers checklist card, by the way) will be "exchanged" for a premium card (graded HOF, star player auto, etc.). Therefore, a participant could actually walk away from a '76 break with an exchanged premium card, a Winfield RC and their pack's paired raw HOF card. An entirely new spin on group breaks! Be sure to follow us on twitter (@gradedgreats) and on Ustream (gradedgreats) for updates and information. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or are simply interested in joining the hobby conversation - we're looking forward to having a lot of fun!

RP: Sounds amazing, Chris. I appreciate you taking the time for our conversation and applaud your company's efforts to think outside of the box. Our hobby can become somewhat stagnant at times so it's refreshing to see something new and have an option that incorporates different collecting approaches. Best of luck with Graded Greats!
CG: Thanks, Ryan! We're always up for discussing our latest ideas, products and our passion for hobby in general. At the end of the day, we're collectors who are lucky to be doing what we love and are very excited to share that love with fellow collectors.


Thanks to Graded Greats and Chris Geiss for a great discussion. I hope you guys enjoyed it, too! What are your thoughts on their products, ideas and overall strategy/approach? How do you feel about graded cards, vintage packs or group breaks in general?

Please feel free to leave your thoughts below or reach out to me via twitter (@ryanspitch ) or email (ryansdugout@gmail.com).

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Ryan

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dan Uggla: A Push Present

Been awhile - miss you guys.

If you're reading this, thank you for sticking with Ryan's Pitch or deciding to stop by for a quick cardboard cocktail before returning to twitter...

It's been an incredible year for my family so far. We welcomed our third child into the world back in March - hence, my disappearing act. Don't worry, my cardboard and hobby addictions are still going strong. As proof, behold what might be the oddest "push present" of all time - Dan Uggla?



For my oldest child and (what is agreed upon to be!) my only princess, I dropped a nice (Hallmark) card and some artist jewelry in the glove compartment of my car for my wife to enjoy as we made our way to the hospital back in 2007. She loved the jewelry and didn't kill me during the nearly 40 hours of labor that followed. I consider that a success! Not to mention...we ended up having more than one kid.

In 2011, I stepped up my game and added a bit more sparkle to the ride that would ultimately deliver our first boy. You know, the one that scratched that hobby itch after being dormant for twenty years? I talked about my son's arrival back in 2012 here. The sparkles were a bit more expensive that time, but we had been very fortunate and, heck, she earned every last sparkle (and then some) for making us a family of four!

So, what to do for the tie-breaker? #3 was late enough in the month that a birth-stone piece was too risky for my tolerance levels. Not to mention, a birth photographer was on-call and this service was proclaimed to be the push present so "don't get me anything else, babe."

But I had to do something.

So, naturally, I began to consider baseball cards. Makes sense, right? Well, while my wife supports my hobby endeavors, she certainly doesn't collect herself. She does like baseball however and, as an Atlanta native, she shares in my affinity for the Bravos. She even [had] her favorite player - Dan Uggla.

Yep. Dan freaking Uggla.

It became a joke between us over the past few years as Uggs contributed proficiently towards the repeated "close-but-no-cigar" seasons for our beloved Braves. I cursed his performance while she praised his cuteness.

Don't get me wrong - Mrs. Ryans Pitch understands the game and knows that her Dan wasn't the best 2B in the league...or even on the team...but we all have our favorites, and having a wife who is into baseball at any level is a definite blessing.

Just like the blessing that was headed our way a couple months ago (WOW, has time flown!) - so why not combine the two!? So, I did it - for a couple of bucks, I snagged a crisp little Uggla RC auto and dropped it into a snazzy one-touch beside a vase of tulips...right on her bedside table. I set it all up a week or so before the due date to allow for proper appreciation with the long-term goal of it becoming her focus during early stages of labor...hey, all yours, Dan.

She had no idea...so it was a complete surprise.

And it worked!

She loved it and shared her little Dan with her world via Facebook within minutes. "Look what my thoughtful husband surprised me with..."



Pretty cool. I had no idea how it would be received and could never have imagined that I'd throw inhibition to the wind and buy my wife an autographed baseball card - to show my love for her during the arrival of our child, no less!? But then again, it does kind of make perfect sense to me.

Long live this glorious hobby.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Ryan
 

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Warrior

I was very fortunate to be able to add a great autographed baseball to my collection - Paul O'Neill!



I hated it when O'Neill and the Reds swept the Athletics in 1990. I was a huge fan of the Bash Brothers, Dave Stewart, Henderson and The Eck back then, so the National League's domination wasn't what I was hoping for.

In November of 1992, the Reds sent Paul to the Bombers in exchange for Roberto Kelly. He displaced Donnie Baseball as the #3 hitter and began contributing right away. He was having a fine season (as many of the Yanks were) in '94 when a strike ended the season, batting over .350 with 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI in only 103 games. The Yankees were 6.5 games ahead in the East when it all ended that season...dammit.

He'd go on to be a big part of the Dynasty and their four titles from 1996 through 2000. He went tot he All-Star game four times as a Yank and brought home the batting title during that shortened season in 1994. His send-off in Yankee Stadium at the end of Game 5 of the 2001 Series was something I'll never forget and his hard work in pinstripes over the years earned him the "Warrior" label from 'ol George.

So this ball is pretty sharp, right? I have a great friend who dated a very nice young lady a couple years back...her family happened to be good friends with the O'Neills. Knowing I was a Yankees fan, my buddy couldn't wait to tell me about the connection. And in return, I couldn't wait to ask him if he thought his girlfriend might be able to get a ROMLB into the Warrior's (or "Uncle Paul" as she knew him) hands on my behalf.

No shame in my game, I suppose. Never hurts to ask, though, and as luck would have it - he was happy to oblige me, she was happy to oblige him and Uncle Paul was happy to oblige her.

Job changes kept us apart for a couple of years and my friend's romance with the young lady from Ohio didn't last either. The timing was precarious but in the end, he left town to begin a new career in Chicago with this O'Neill baseball stuffed somewhere in his belongings. We joked about it from time to time, bantering back and forth in emails, texts and messages through our fantasy baseball league.

"Someday I'll get this baseball to you, my friend."

That day came last fall when the stars aligned for us to rendezvous in South Bend for a Notre Dame football game. Picking me up from O'Hare, we made our way into town for a festive reunion with other friends, old and new.

"Hey man, check out the glove compartment! Got something for you in there."

Good friends and baseball - it doesn't get any better than that! Mr. O'Neill was even kind enough to add the personal inscription, a real treat that I always enjoy.

A big heart-felt thank you to my good friend for going above and beyond the call of duty. Grateful for your time as well, Mr. O'Neill. To the young woman who connected us all - fare thee well, madame. You will always be a part of this story.

Welcome to my Yankees' Collection, Warrior!

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend, everybody -

Ryan



Friday, January 16, 2015

2013 Topps Archives - Gary Gaetti Certified Autograph

This is a great example of the type of autograph cards that I referred to in my 'State of The Collection' post. Gary Gaetti isn't a particular player that I collect, nor am I a huge Minnesota Twins fan. I do LOVE the 1987 Topps set but I think it's a safe bet that I would have scooped up this card for a couple bucks regardless of the design.
 
Gaetti was one of those good, solid players that I can remember being aware of as a kid. He was pretty well known after his heroics with the Twins during the '87 post season, or at least known enough by me to be a player that I would set aside when rifling through freshly ripped packs. Gary Gaetti didn't elicit the traditional "YESSSSS!" that accompanied each Mattingly or McGwire that I discovered, but he was certainly treated with care and saved for potential trades with my friends.
 
"Well, I DO have this Gary Gaetti card..."
 
A quick review of Gaetti on the interwebs reveals some cool facts:
 
Nickname(s):          "G-Man", "Rat" and "Zorn"
Feat:                        1st player to hit two home runs in his first two post season at-bats  
Signed w/ Twins:    Two months after I was born
 
The '2 homers in first 2 ABs' record was tied by Evan Longoria in 2008. ZORN retired as the Home Run King of players who had homered in their first career at-bat. I wonder who holds that title now? Baseball historian/writer/statistician Bill James has cited RAT for two particularly unusual trends over his 19 year career: that his walk-rate never improved and that his rate of productivity decline was exceptionally low. Huh.
 
At any rate, this card is pretty sweet! As I mentioned, I love the '87 design. The vintage Twins logo looks great along with those wood-grain borders and the (Archives?) foil stamp in the upper right doesn't detract from the card as a whole. This card is in great shape with good centering, terrific edges and sharp corners. The best part in my opinion? Zorn's signature is beautifully slanted, legible and bold.  
 




I really want to dig out Rat's actual '87 card to compare any differences. I believe Topps has used a different image for this Archive version, but I'm just shooting from the hip with that claim. Here's the back:



His son Joseph would grow up to make a solid run at following in his Dad's footsteps but fell short of making it to the Show. No word on Jacob...notice the denotation of being tied for league leader with his 162 games played in 1984. I wonder how many players he's tied with?

Thanks for reading!

Ryan

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Mattingly Collection - 2002 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Bat Relic Card

There's nothing I enjoy more than a relic card for one of my Player Collections. I came across this Mattingly Sweet Spot for a little less than $10 and decided to - not buy it. Yes, in a rare feat of self-control, I recognized that this was probably a little too much to spend on another bat card of Donnie Baseball.
 
Don't get me wrong, I WANT THEM ALL. But Mattingly, for better and for worse, demands curiously high rates for any/all of his cards due to his loyal and passionate fans. So, often I find myself on the sidelines as I watch so many terrific-looking, higher-end releases go to good homes elsewhere. 
 
Fortunately, nobody else had their eye on this Hit Man because the card was re-listed at a discounted price of just over $5 - an amount I could happily accept! I like Upper Deck's design on this one, with emphasis evenly divided between the relic and a great follow-through image of Maatingly.
 
 


Yep, it's Don and the bat, no more, no less. It's a sharp card in person and is in really good shape. Sometime these relic cards that are listed on the cheap come with hidden dings near the relic or banged up corners and edges. For the most part, it's tough to get too upset over the condition of relic cards in my book. Which does beg the question, why? These are cards too, so why do I care so much less about their condition? Very interesting thought. If I had forked over $5 for a mid-90's Mattingly insert, for example, I would be disappointed if it showed up with dinged corners and crushed edges. Is this a normal double-standard for any you?

The back recycles a zoom-in on the front side's image with a standard accompanying relic card "CONGRATULATIONS!" statement.


I need to total up my Mattingly relic cards. I'm sure it's way less than what it needs to be right now.

Right!?

At any rate, I'm pumped to add this one to my Mattingly Collection!

Thanks for reading!

Ryan

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Hall of Fame Collection - Class of 2015

That's IT. I'm done - and I couldn't be happier.
 
I've let go of my anger surrounding the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
 
I love a friendly and logical debate regarding the admittance policies for our game's highest honor. Like most things in life, black and white fades into gray for a great many things - including the comparisons between baseball players throughout history. Statistics can be mixed with memories, feelings and perceptions. Some things can be measured while other aspects are completely subjective. And when you only allow these musings of a select few to determine a very real, quanitifiable and final outcome?
 
Controversy will always ensue.
 
Heck, I've even jumped into the ring with my own two cents. My views have changed since then, and I consider myself to be a fairly steady and consistent person when it comes to my beliefs and views on the world around me. This personal shift alone has been enough to slap me in the face and say, 'let it go.'
 
And let it go, I have.
 
Now, I look forward to each and every Hall of Fame announcement. I fill in my own fictitious ballot and relish the great conversations and debates on TV and radio while the BBWAA have their votes tallied. I get to relive all of my childhood memories involving each of the players, whether they are elected or not. That's a precious gift that isn't dependent on votes.
 
In fact, for the first time in 15 years, I get to shrug off some weight and stress that has encumbered me since I first began to hope for something that always seemed a little improbable. I can make peace with that failure of fruition and move on, focusing on the positives instead of the negatives or, worse, the 'could have's' and 'should have's'.
 
More on that in a later post. For now, I'd like to honor this year's class with a little help from the Ryan's Pitch Collection!
 
The Unit. Randy Johnson. Man, this guy was larger than life for a young collector and baseball fan like me. Heck, he was larger than life for most of the guys he played with! I had a good buddy when I was growing up that was also a great baseball player. In fact, he ended up playing in college and made a trip to the College World Series. A great guy - and he was HUGE, too! So, for awhile, we all called him the Unit.
 
I can remember watching John Kruk make us all laugh in the '93 All-Star Game when a fireball from Johnson flew errantly over Kruk's head.



 
Or who can forget when Johnson's old Expo teammate and lefty, Larry Walker, turned his helmet around backwards and took a pitch as a right-hander in the '97 All-Star Game?
 
 

 
 

Randy Johnson was a helluva pitcher, one of the finest I was lucky enough to watch pitch as a youngster, and is very deserving of his election. Oddly, Johnson (as well as the rest of this class) never held much power within the hobby and by power, I mean card "value." Yes, a truly relative term in so many ways, but you all know what I mean. His cards were never "hot" or considered the "must have" items among my friends. We knew who he was and how awesome he was...and yet, the cardboard appreciation just never carried over for The Unit.

I wonder why that is? Because he was an Expo/Mariner/D-Back, perhaps? Doesn't explain The Kid's place in the Hobby. Of course, pitchers were/are always, in most cases, treated differently than home run hitters. Especially in The Unit's time...

Anyways, I went digging through my old collection and came up with these two beauties. 1989 Donruss was a colorful treat back then and these black/blue/purple bruisers are an EXCELLENT example. The hallowed "Rated Rookie" logo still makes me smile today - I love it. And int his case, it works really well with the Expos' blue. Not a great picture of The Unit by any stretch, but I dig this card. Wouldn't you know, I didn't even find these two (now) HOF RC's in my rows (upon rows) of top-loaded "good" cards from my youth. Nope, no room for one of the fiercest pitchers of the day when you have guys like Chad Mattola, Tim Salmon and Brien Taylor to reserve top-loaders for. Yep, found these two Johnson rookie cards completely raw, in a little 200 or 300-ct box of random cards. No penny sleeve. Nothing.

But not any more.

I'm sorry, Randy. Please forgive me and step out into the light...




Next, we have John Smoltz. Loved Smoltz as a Braves fan, of course. He helped guide us through the early years of nearly-but-not-quite dynasty success after years of mediocrity in the 80's. Part of a rotation for the ages, Smoltzy now joins Glavine, Maddux and Bobby Cox as wonderfully nostalgic reminders of my sports-crazy youth.

It's been just as wonderful to listen to Smoltz call ball games for Fox this past season, too. By all accounts, he is a great human being. Charitable with his time for good causes, he is also an avid golfer - my second favorite sport. While my claim to fame is an ancient high school match-up with Bubba Watson, Smoltz is a very close friend with Tiger Woods. I was watching MLB Netowrk the other day and he stated that he's probably played around fifty rounds with Tiger since they became friends. Tiger has been quoted as saying that he believes Smoltz to be the finest golfer he's played with that is not on the PGA. Powerful compliment, right there.

I could go down the long list of accomplishments from Smoltz's career but I'll leave you with this little factoid: he plays the accordion, just like my grandfather did. Need I say more?

After digging through the archives, I found these two Upper Deck cards - which I find to be very, very nice-looking cards. Man, Upper Deck really blew our minds in 1989, didn't they?! Unlike The Unit, these two HOF RCs were respectfully tucked into weird looking, yellow-tinted top-loaders.

Respect!




I don't know if I have any Pedro Martinez cards. Seriously, not a clue. I wish I did and I promise to be on the lookout for them when I conduct cardboard expeditions...but I make no promises. I can verify that there are no Pedro's in my rows of "top-loaded good players", but the fact that he's a Red Sox and not named Boggs, Yaz, Clemens, Greenwell, Fisk or Rice means that he very well might be drifting in the abyss of the dreaded COMMONS box!

Don't get me wrong, it would be great to discover some of his cards! I had the privilege of watching Pedro face Pettitte at Fenway back in '03. It was one of the finest pitching match-ups I've ever seen in person and extra special to witness in such a historic setting.

Doesn't hurt that the Yanks won, too.

Now, the Astros' KILLER B? That's a different story. I can vividly recall chasing down Biggio cards with gusto and relishing them in my collection. The Astros weren't my team but boy, were they fun to watch and collect! I can picture several in my head without even looking.

Here they are!



Oh my. Wait a second.....NO Biggio cards in the "top-loaded good players" section? This can't be!? Surely, I picked up some Biggio cards along the way. I remember the name. I remember the team...I remember...well, what exactly DO I remember? I know, let's check my alpabetized "Star Player Album"!

Here we are with Jorge George B-E-L-L.....



...so next should be....Boggs?!




Seriously!? Do I not have ANY Biggio cards, RC or not? Have my memories betrayed me THAT much?

My friends, a serious excavation into the cardboard tar pits is in order after this deficient HOF post. No Pedro and no Biggio is both unbelievable and unacceptable. I'm not sure what I'm most upset with- my memory or my adolescent baseball card judgment calls.

This is an OUTRAGE!

I take it back - my anger is NOT gone when it comes to the MLB HOF. It is back with a fervor! This will not stand! This injustice will not STAND! I want Pedro and I want Biggio and I want...I want....I want to step back and smile and enjoy this moment. This is the kind of faux-anger I can handle. Cardboard anger will trump current-event anger every time, and in so many ways. I can actually DO SOMETHING about my lack of Biggio's and Pedro's.

I can't, on the other hand, do a darn thing about the BBWAA!

And you know what? I'm finally okay with that. Congratulations to this year's inductees! I look forward to the induction ceremony in July and what looks like some fun pursuit of (affordable, for once) HOF cardboard to plug holes in my collection in the coming months.

Let the hunt begin!

Thanks for reading -

Ryan