SABR47 Gets Its Own Baseball Card

When I returned to collecting a decade ago I quickly learned that there are several different types of card collectors. To the outside world I guess we are all Just Baseball Card Collectors, but within the community there are several sub-types.

I think of myself as a Team Collector (Phillies), Set Builder (1959T, 1954T, 1971T maybe 1964T Jumbo), a bit of a Player Collector (Utley, Rollins, Thome, Garry Maddox, Ozzie, Matt Adams, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, and many Others), and a Type Card Collector.

Mrs Phungo has another word for the type of hybrid-collector I am: “Hoarder”.

There is one other collection I have that is a purely narcissistic pursuit. I collect cards that represent games that I have been lucky enough to attend. The easiest to find are those cards which are related to noteworthy games: Opening Day, Postseason, or All-Star games. Sometimes it involves trying to find the photo on the card within Getty Images and tying that to a game. The collection includes cards that reference games on the back, perhaps a milestone home run or superlative pitching performance.

Thanks to #SABR47 in New York I was able to add a new card to the Phungo Games Checklist.

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom

Topps issued a card dedicated to the game that SABR members attended during this years convention. Jacob deGrom had a great night no-hitting the Phillies for the first several innings. The Mets won the contest 2-1, illustrating a point mentioned in a Dave Smith’s SABR presentation: the one run margin is the most common outcome in baseball.

Topps Now is basically a line of instant cards produced the day after a game and sold for just 24 hours. SABR Weekend was so busy that I never checked for the card the day after the game. However on Sunday I was checking Twitter while on the train back home from NYC and a Mets fan in my feed mentioned the card. The Topps Sale was over, but I was able to find the card on the secondary market.

The 24 hour window for Topps Now means the cards have a limited print run which Topps is happy to publicize. For deGrom the Print Run was 342 cards.

The photo on the card can be found in Getty Images. According to the information accompanying the photo it was taken in the first inning by Mike Stobe who is the team photographer for the New York Islanders.

42 over 92

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom (b-side)

The back of the card summarizes deGrom’s start followed by noting an accomplishment that revolves around some not so round numbers. In deGrom’s first 92 starts he gave up 1 run or less 42 times. The 42 successful starts matched a record held byDwight Gooden, a Met pitching star from the 1980s.

I took a deeper look at the 92 starts of the two pitchers and as you can imagine there were some big differences, much of which has to do with the changes in the game.

The big differences are in the Complete Game and Shutout categories. These differences are further reflected in the fact that Gooden averaged 1+ inning more per start than deGrom.

 

Sources and Links
ToppsNow

SABR47 David Smith

Retrosheet David Smith

SABR47 Game
Phungo Game Dated Cards Index
Baseball-Ref
Getty Images
LinkedIn

 

Apostrophes

Oof. While 2017 marks the first time that the mainline Topps Sets haven’t used the Chief Wahoo logo,* it also appears to mark when the apostrophe catastrophe  hit the front of baseball cards. This has been driving me nuts all year with Topps Now and seeing the National Sports Collection Convention cards just twisted the knife.

*Yes, many of the 2017 Topps insert sets still use Wahoo.

Paul Lukas’s four-year-old article does a good job at spelling out what’s going on but the short version is:

is an apostrophe which stands in for missing characters whether in a contraction of a word like “Athletics” or when replacing the first two numbers in the year.

is an open single quotation mark which is used when it’s necessary to nest quotations. It’s not supposed to be used in contractions of words like “Orioles.”

Because “smart” quotes in word processing programs assume that apostrophes only follow other characters and open single quotes only follow spaces, they use the wrong character on any abbreviation where the apostrophe starts the word.

As a former typesetter this kind of thing is a pet peeve. And I know I know, I’m especially sensitive here because of my background and many, if not most, people never notice things like this. But it’s also indicative of a larger trend away from hiring trained professionals. Seeing repeated typographical mistakes like this implies that Topps doesn’t employ anyone who’s been trained to set type. The inevitable conclusion here is that Topps doesn’t care about properly set type and just lets the computer do what it does. And the next question is wondering what else Topps doesn’t care about doing properly.*

*This is a subject for another, larger post but I’ve already had conversations on Twitter about Topps’s handling of photographs and how many of them seem to be getting hammered by a script which aggressively opens up shadow details.

Donruss

I can’t let Donruss off the hook here as this year their cards show evidence of the apostrophe catastrophe too. The ones based on the 1983 designs are fine (1981–1986 Donruss all used the apostrophes in their design) but the ones based on 1991 are not. That Donruss is referencing old designs which do it correctly makes it even more annoying when they make a mistake.

Anyway that’s three different sets from two different companies this year which are using an open single quotation mark instead of an apostrophe. I’m not willing to throw in the towel yet in terms of accepting this new status quo but it’s not looking good.

Progress

Lindor1

When I got back into baseball cards this year I had many things to get used to. The better-quality printing and photography. The commitment to all action. The thousands of parallels and short prints and set releases and inserts to either be aware of—even if it’s so I know to ignore them. One thing I didn’t note was the change to the Indians logo.

The DeChief movement has been going on for a few years now and I know that MLB has demoted Wahoo in favor of the block C. So it didn’t jump out at me to see that Topps was using the block C as the logo on its 2017 flagship set. It made sense with the general trend of things and I didn’t think any further about it.

It was only after discussing this a bit further on Twitter that I realized that Topps (and MLB since they control the logos) only made the change this year. I’d assumed it had happened a while ago but no, 2016 had Wahoo—as did all previous years where the Indians logo was used. I’m not sure why I’m so surprised given how the Indians wore the Wahoo cap in all their World Series games..

This feels like a big deal to me. While it seems to have been noted but not commented on in the card community, that Topps, as essentially the card manufacturer of record, has finally DeChiefed is important and both MLB and Topps should be congratulated for making that step even if they did it woefully late.

Carter Score
Lindor2 Ramirez

That Topps has also been making that change on its old designs which used to feature Wahoo is especially welcome. It was only when I started looking through all my old cards that I began realizing both how often that logo showed up and how distracting I found it now. Where some logos cause me to feel nostalgia, every card with Chief Wahoo on it made me wince.

While many of the design anachronisms bother me in the reissues of Topps’s old designs, I’m pleased every time I see the big Block C on a Cleveland card. There are plenty of things to wince about without having to see that logo in a prominent position.

A lot of this is because of my growth in awareness of how damaging and inappropriate that logo is. And a lot of it is being reminded over and over and over again that as I get into card collecting with my sons, I’m going to have to continuously reinforce how there are problems with the old logo and how our cultural norms have changed over the decades.

That it’s clear that the logo still shows up in the photos means I’ll have to be vigilant about this with the modern cards too. Topps isn’t photoshopping it out nor is it limiting its photo choices to just those images which don’t have it. So I’m going to be in charge of talking about how while we’re making progress there’s still a lot of room for growth.

Aaron1
Aaron2

And yes I figured I should look into the Braves as well. Their racist logo also occasionally resurfaces on hat designs and merchandise. Thankfully those designs don’t seem to make it out of the prototype stage but it’s noteworthy that it‘s still in the mix. I’m happy to see that Topps isn’t using it on the old designs anymore even though the same concerns about it showing up in photos are obvious.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that Topps should photoshop it out of the images—especially the old photos— where it’s present. That this was both commonplace and acceptable is as important a lesson to learn as understanding why it’s no longer ok.

Future Stars: Seldom Stars, Sometimes Not Even Future

They say you can’t predict baseball, and the folks who make baseball cards surely agree. Off and on for the past several decades, Topps has made a practice of predicting which players would be future stars and slapping the “Future Stars” label right on the cards. Sometimes they do a pretty good job — Cal Ripken and Tim Raines are among the Future Stars who became Hall of Famers — and sometimes they don’t — just ask Bob Bonner, Jeff Schneider, Roberto Ramos, and Bobby Pate, the four guys who shared those Future Stars cards with Ripken and Raines.

bo-jackson-tim-pysnarskiThe same year that Topps nailed it with Gary Sheffield and (to a lesser extent) Sandy Alomar Jr., they also dubbed Steve Searcy and Mike Harkey as Future Stars. I’ll see your 1987 Bo Jackson and raise you Tim Pyznarski.

So anyway, the point is that predicting which baseball players will become stars in the future is a losing game. That’s why I have so much respect for Upper Deck, who in the mid-2000s made a bold decision: If the Future Stars hardly ever turn into “Stars,” they reasoned (I assume), then why are we so beholden to the “Future” part of the equation?

I recently came across the 2007 Upper Deck Future Stars set. It jumped out at me because I was surprised to see Johnny Damon and Matt Cain in the same Future Stars set. It turns out I was right to be surprised.

I won’t go through the entire checklist, but let’s highlight a few of the players who, in 2007, Upper Deck was willing to go out on a limb and predict stardom for, along with their career accomplishments before they were named Future Stars.

Miguel Tejada. Age 32. Winner of the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, and receiver of MVP votes in each of the previous seven seasons.

Andruw Jones. Eleven-year veteran. Nine-time Gold Glove winner. Five-time All-Star.

Chipper Jones. Age 34. National League MVP in 1999. Five-time All-Star. MVP votes in nine different seasons.

Manny Ramirez. Eight consecutive top-ten MVP finishes. Nine straight All-Star appearances. 470 career home runs.

Ken Griffey Jr. American League MVP in 1997. Twelve-time All-Star. Ten-time Gold Glove winner. 563 career homers.

Okay, this is just getting tedious at this point. Others in the set include John Smoltz, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, and Greg Maddux, among (many) others.

In 2007.

griffey-sheffieldI’m sure there was some rhyme and/or reason to this set. They did a similar set the year before, and they obviously didn’t think they were actually fooling anyone. I’ve looked at several of the cards, trying to find a wink or a nod or some indication that they’re messing with us, but it’s not on the cards themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any “throwback” aspect to the set — Johnny Damon is pictured as a Yankee, Griffey as a Red, Sheffield as a Tiger, etc.

It can’t possibly be true, but it seems, at least to the eye of the casual observer who happens to come across some of these cards ten years later, as if Upper Deck just really wanted to make sure their Future Stars set included some actual stars.

To be fair to Upper Deck, the set also included several players you would traditionally find in a Future Stars set. You know, rising stars like Mike Schultz, Sean Henn, and Jamie Vermilyea. For every Andrew Miller or Ryan Braun, you have a Rocky Cherry or an Other Ryan Braun.

Once you get past the first 100 cards, most of which feature established stars, there’s the usual hit-and-miss assortment you’ve come to expect from Future Stars sets. And now Zack Segovia and Devern Hansack will be able to tell their grandkids they were in the same set as Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter.

2013 Bowman Inception

img_4711At the time that the 2013 Bowman Inception series was released I had not yet been on Twitter. I didn’t read the card blogs and was unaware that the product existed. This changed on a trip to my local card shop (LCS). At the time I was at the stage of collecting modern cards where I was solely hit driven. I was in search of the most autographs per box for the money. That is when the shop owner told me about the new autograph-only prospect proimg_4710duct that had just come out. I pulled up the checklist on my phone and decided to give it a try and opened a box, I enjoyed it so much that one box turned into three on that trip and eventually two more.

At five cards per box I was quickly halfway to completing the base set so that is what I set out to do. Over the next year I set out on the quest to complete the set, which I did rather quickly sans redemptions that had not yet been filled by Topps. The final two cards I acquired to complete the set were Alen Hanson who took quite a long time to sign his cards and Yasiel Puig which is the only stated short print of the set and is his first certified aimg_4709utograph card.

Over the three years since this set was released it has held up rather well for a prospect set. 33 of 47 players have reached the majors totaling 101.9 bWAR between them. The group includes three Rookies of the Year winners in Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Jose Fernandez. All-Stars include Seager, Fernandez (two times), Puig and Addison Russell. Seager also has a Silver Slugger award to his name. On a somber note two players featured in this set, Oscar Taveras and Fernandez, have since passed away leaving us to only dream on the potential that will forever go unrealized.

Several of the playeimg_4708rs have been involved in major trades this offseason. Jorge Soler traded to the Royals for Wade Davis. Lucas Giolito traded to the White Sox as part of the Adam Eaton trade. Taijuan Walker traded to the D’Backs as the primary return for Jean Segura. For me it is fun to follow a group of players that are linked really only by a set of pictures on cardboard. I look forward to checking back in on this group through the years.

The complete checklist can be found here.

 

The Other Mike Cameron: A 2009 Topps Mini-Mystery Sorta Solved

Like many card collectors, I have a touch of what R. Crumb called “compulsive series syndrome.” That is, the need to create a collection that is not only complete, but organized in a specific way. As a Milwaukee Brewers collector, that means lining up the flagship team set every year – base cards arranged by last name followed by subsets by number, then the traded or update series organized in the same fashion – in nine-pocket bindered pages. It’s a nice way to capture a season, but the last decade or so of Topps flagship sets has often been frustrating. Series one usually contains  handful of guys no longer with the team while series two begins to roll out off-season additions. Unlike the clean single-series sets of yore, it leaves a sort-of two-season amalgamation of players. It also resulted in one of the true quirks of my flagship Topps Brewers collection – the twin 2009 base cards for Mike Cameron that sit side-by-side in my “2004-Present” binder.

cam

Before the 2008 season, the Brewers signed Cameron to a 1-year deal with an option for a second. Cam was to take over in center field for an over-matched Bill Hall and, after serving a 25 suspension for amphetamines, was one of leaders of a team that won 90 games and broke a quarter-century playoff drought for the Brewers. Cameron had a good season, but he wasn’t an all-star, got no MVP votes, and led the league in nothing. He was certainly significant enough to get a spot in the upcoming Topps set… but two? So far as I know, the only other player honored with TWO base cards with the same team in a single set was Ted Williams, who was both the first and last cards in the 1954 set. (I need to make clear here, there may be other examples of this… I just don’t know of or know how to search for them. If you know of others, please mention them)

cam2

So what gives? Well, the series one Cameron card is unremarkable. But the series two card offers a clue. While the series one entry correctly states that Cam was acquired as a free agent on 1-11-08, the second series card says “ACQ: TRADE WITH BREWERS, 12-15-08.” On December 11, 2008, it was reported that the Brewers were very near to a deal to send Cameron to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera. The Brewers had just picked up Cameron’s option year, but were looking at cheaper alternatives in center. Meanwhile, the Yankees were seeking a veteran upgrade from the 23-year old Cabrera. The deal was nearly official before the Yankees asked the Brewers to help pay part of Cameron’s salary. By December 17, it was reported that the deal was dead.

Piecing all this together, we can assume that Topps was finalizing its series two checklist right around the time of the rumored trade and prepared a Cameron-as-Yankee card. When the deal fell apart, they inexplicably kept Cam on the checklist as a Brewer, forgetting to change the ‘how acquired’ line. Why he wasn’t replaced altogether on the checklist remains a mystery. Several players who changed teams around the same time Cameron nearly did appear in series two in their new uniforms, so it’s not as though Topps did not have the time to make significant alterations to the series. And then there is the matter of CC Sabathia, who, like Cameron, was featured in the first series as a Brewer. Sabathia was the that off-season’s top free agent prize, and signed with the Yankees on Dec. 20. While Topps included a number of players who changed teams after Dec. 20 with their new clubs, they ignored the Sabathia signing – and any other player in series one who changed teams – until the update series. So, again, we’re left with to wonder what was so special about Mike Cameron.

So, in my quest to learn why my perfectly-aligned 9-pocket page had two Mike Cameron cards right next to each other, I ended up with as many questions as answers. Can anyone think of other two-base card players in Topps history? Does anyone have any similar petty-yet-maddening card mysteries?

Follow me on Twitter, @mjpmke and check out my blog on Brewers history.

Topps “Now” Card Program

ichiro-3000-hits-topps-now-card

As Mark wrote about in Entry 4 of his 10-part series on the Topps baseball-card monopoly, a breakthrough in card design – although not always executed well at first – was the introduction of action photography in 1971.

It took 45 years, but Topps found a way to enhance the experience of viewing action cards, by letting fans choose the specific plays they wanted to immortalize, and do so with quick turnaround from order to delivery.

In 2016, Topps began its “Now” program, allowing fans to order specially made cards capturing action images of noteworthy events on the diamond, generally no-hitters and important home-runs. The idea is that, once a significant (in some fans’ minds, at least) development occurs, customers have 24 hours to go online and purchase an action-shot card of the milestone (as long as Topps has decided to make one).

I first heard of the Now program via this article on the runaway demand for a Now card of Bartolo Colon hitting his first major-league homer on May 7. According to the article, Topps “sold 8,826 cards of the 42-year-old pitcher hitting a home run on Saturday. The card went on sale at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday and stopped production exactly 24 hours later.”

Before the Colon card, the biggest-selling card (Jake Arrieta’s second career no-hitter) had attracted 1,808 purchases.

In August 2016, the sales figure for the Colon homer card was eclipsed by the Now card for Ichiro’s 3,000th hit, which sold 11,550 copies.

As a Cubs fan, I decided to look into Now cards commemorating the team’s World Series victory. Topps made several individual cards and sets available, with a one-week ordering window instead of the usual 24 hours.

I zeroed in on a single card, showing the Cubs’ celebratory gathering in the infield, immediately following the final out, which carried a $9.99 price tag. I’m pretty frugal, so $10 for one baseball card seemed a lot. But then I asked myself, “How often do the Cubs win the World Series?” and the decision to purchase a card became obvious.

artbb-16c2s-16tn-0665-1

The card took about two weeks to arrive and came enclosed in a clear plastic case, not a flat one, but one big enough to hold a deck of playing cards. The back of the card contained a paragraph-length summary of the series, with an emphasis on Game 7. I would have preferred a more data-laden back (like regular baseball cards), such as a listing of scores of all of the Cubs’ 2016 post-season games. I can’t complain, though.

The Now program seems like an excellent way for fans to celebrate their favorite players’ and teams’ accomplishments, including those on the quirkier side, such as when a certain aging, not-so-svelte pitcher goes deep.