Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hank & Beer Barrel Man

1976 Topps #550 is Hank Aaron’s last base card from his playing days. Hank made it known he was retiring so Topps didn't make him a base card in 1977. Topps wanted to be topical more than a year in review but Hank should have had a tribute card in 1977.

Beer Barrel Man was the first logo used by the Milwaukee Brewers. Originally used by the defunct Brewers minor league team. This gem was brought back by Bud Selig when he purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved the team into Milwaukee. 

This slab sold for $192.60 on an eBay auction. I'm assuming the person is going to crack it out & sub it to PSA but chances are this card was already housed in a PSA 9 slab hoping to get 9.5 from BGS. 

About the card
A very simple design that incorporated one aspect of the teams color. It also featured a sketch of a player representing the position. This idea was borrowed from the 1973 set.

A great improvement to this set would have been to use another photo instead of the drawing and the team Wordmark logo.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

1986 Sportflics & Steve Carlton: Briefing for a Descent into Hell.

In Ball Four, Jim Bouton wrote, “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

This observation made in 1970 was clearly on display in 1986.
At the age of 41, Steve Carlton refused to hang them up and began the most disastrous endings to a legendary career.

It truly was a descent into sports hell.

On June 24th, 1986 the Phillies unconditionally released Steve Carlton after first asking him to retire. He refused. He felt he could still pitch. This despite the fact that he was getting rocked off the mound every start.

On July 4th, 1986 the Giants signed Carlton. The reason the Giants signed him was because Steve, while getting rocked by the rest of the NL, somehow dominated the Giants.
Versus Giants 15.1 innings, 12 hits, no walks, 12 strike outs and a 1.19 era. In his other 14 starts: 68 innings, 90 hits, 45 walks, 50 strikeouts 5.05 era. Ouch.

So the Giants actually thought he had gas left in the tank.

The first thing Carlton does is break his 8- year ban on giving interviews. Right off the bat the Giants should have realized that not having Silent Steve wasn’t a good sign.
He stated the he was mechanically sound and his arm wasn’t sore. The Giants believed this lie because somehow he dominated them. But then again that what happens when your line up showcases Chris Brown as your three hole hitter and even more telling was that Chris Brown hit a home run off Carlton in the second game. Talk about a red flag.

So what we got is a talking and delusional Steve Carlton pitching for the Giants and he promptly stinks up Candlestick.

On August 5th, 1986 vs. the Cincinnati Reds Carlton strikes out Eric Davis for his 4,000th career strike out.

After the game Steve Carlton announced his retirement.

5 days later Steve signed with the Chicago White Sox. Surely he could fool those AL hitters who never saw him. Sure enough he threw six quality starts in his last ten starts of the year.

As I said before this was just the start of the decent into hell. 

About The Card
I happen to think that 1986 Sportflics is the best set produced for the year. But it was also the most expensive and even if you bought an entire box you'd only end up with half the set. That's if the coloration was good which it isn't - it's really bad which made things much worse. It didn't feature Jose Canseco,Wally Joyner or Cory Snyder which gave you no reason to spend the extra money. But as a card it was different in a good way. It wasn't cardboard and it had great bios on the back.
It was the first card pack to use tamper proof tin foil.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

BGS Multipliers. Gem Mint versus Pristine. What’s the jump in value?

The inevitable question when collecting anything particularly baseball cards is “How much are they worth?” Now without going into economic theories and methods let’s just look at realized prices albeit a very small sample size.

This is hard to track because rarely is there a GEM MINT 9.5 & PRISTINE 10 copy listed at same time to compare. The other problem is the aforementioned sample size. It’s too small to make a true judgment. However it could be said that this works in favor of the perceived scarcity of the item. But let’s work with what I have.

Now in my estimation the upgrade in quality from a Gem Mint 9.5 to a Pristine 10 isn’t as big from a Mint 9 to a Gem Mint 9.5. But nevertheless it’s still noticeable.

Again it’s worth repeating that this is just a couple of slabs selling during a certain winter. This is by no means a gauge that can be set in stone. 

Rod Carew 1982 Fleer #455 BGS 9.5 sells at auction for $8.74 – That’s the very definition of a steal in a buyer’s market. That’s basically the cost of grading to own a gem mint copy of one of the great quirky cards of the 1980s. In case you didn’t know 1982 Topps has used the same photo for their “In Action” subset.

Rod Carew 1982 Fleer #455 BGS 10 sold at auction for $36.19! Whoa that’s just 4.2 times as much. In context that's another steal!

Mark McGwire 1987 Donruss #45 BGS 9.5 sells at auction for $16.00. For one of the great-overproduced sets this is still a solid price in 2012.

Is it worth it to run out and grade 10 copies? Perhaps not but what if you landed a pristine…

Mark McGwire 1987 Donruss #45 BGS 10 sold at auction for  $229.79! Wow that’s a multiplier of 14.4! The steroid junkie superstar still has major hobby pop. Now of course this same card would have gotten $2000 in 1999 but $229.79 is tremendous value for a card that readily available raw at less than a buck.

Don Mattingly 1984 Topps #8 BGS 9.5 sold at auction for $86.85
Another over produced set holding tremendous value. Donnie Baseball is the man responsible for fueling the baseball card boom of the mid 1980s. His three rookie cards are still in demand especially in high-grade condition.

Don Mattingly 1984 Topps #8 BGS 10 sells at auction for $512.34!
That’s a 5.9 times a much. That’s a serious jump.

Barry Larkin 1987 Topps #648 BGS 9.5 sold at auction for $34.33
One thing you have to say about this over produced sets is that they are still popular. $34.33
is tremendous value for a readily available card

Barry Larkin 1987 Topps #648 BGS 10 sold at auction for $141.48
That's a multiplier of 4.1 - right in line with what you'd expect.

It’s silly to extrapolate any information but we can see that Pristine slabs get anywhere between 4.1 and 14.4 times as much as their Gem Mint counterpart.

About The Card
The 1982 Fleer set was as simple design and as time has passed it looks more cheap than it did then. But this is before Fleer is taking the business of selling cards seriously. The cards at this point were just a delivery system for their team stickers. You can say with conviction that zero effort went into making these cards. Fleer just trying to grab a piece of the market pie.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a pile. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

1st Corinthians 15:52

Monday, February 6, 2012

Crackin' Wax with Crackin' Wax

This is the first in a series of interviews where we delve into what makes the hobby turn…The Collectors

Christopher Lawson writes at Crackin Wax.
The great thing about his posts is his detailed examination of card designs.

So I asked him what is his favorite set?

I will always have a place in my cardboard heart for 1986 Topps Baseball. The first pack of cards my mom bought for me was from that set. I remember the ride home in the backseat, cracking open my first wax pack. The first card that I pulled was of my all-time favorite baseball player, Kirby Puckett. Being a trading card designer, the aesthetics of this set go against all of my training and beliefs. It’s quite possibly one of the least visually appealing professional trading card sets ever produced.”

FirstBallot: I have to agree with you. A quarter length black border highlighting bulky and awkward team lettering was a disaster. Nothing about it says baseball. Not to mention they missed out on over a dozen prospects.

“On the other hand, my creative intuition always feels justified when looking at the brilliant 1991 installation of Topps. From the simple and effective inner double-frame border to the clean readability of the text, and from the excellent use of team logos to the amazing photography, there is very little to dislike about this set.”

FirstBallot: I’ve written about this set before. For the most part I agree with your assessment and it’s most likely the best flagship set of the year but it doesn’t hold a proverbial candle next to its premium counterpart, the landmark 1991 Stadium Club set.

As enamored as I was with the 1991 Topps flagship set, the debut of Stadium Club was pretty exciting, especially for a teenager with his own hard-earned income. The price tag it carried on its packs suggested the cards within were something special, and at first rip they were. At the time, it seemed clear that they were an answer to Upper Deck's base cards. It was a thrill to crack my first few packs. All of that gloss, the full-color backs and the crisp full-bleed photos on the front seemed so different and fresh. While the '91 flagship set was the cute girl next door, Stadium Club was the hot cheerleader from the suburbs--nice to look at, but too expensive for my tastes. Hindsight being 20/20, it seems a bit more obvious that Stadium Club was an important step in Topps' market diversification. Topps was able to open a new door to reclaim collectors that had grown beyond the old pieces of cardboard stuck in the spokes of their sons' bicycles. The 1991 Stadium Club set would eventually give relevance to the words "high-end" in the trading card hobby. Had Stadium Club failed in 1991, the hobby may never have seen the advent of on-card autographs, embedded game-worn uniform swatches, and authentic vintage bat knob cards. Without high-end products, I feel that the trading card hobby may have folded completely by the turn of the century. In that sense, I feel that Stadium Club was an effective and important catalyst to the hobby as we know it today.

Firstballot: It really did recapture people's imaginations about collecting cards again. At the time, I remember people wanting these cards ahead of Frank Thomas' & Griffey Jr's real rookie cards.

How do you feel that Topps owns a monopoly on baseball card making? Competition helps drive innovation and quality of work. Competition gives the target market more options and helps further spread their dollars. Without competition, perhaps Topps would have never felt the need to produce Stadium Club in 1991. Without Stadium Club, perhaps no trading card company would have ventured into the high-end market. Without the high-end market, perhaps the trading card industry would have completely folded. It's hard to say. What is certain, however, is, monopoly or not, Topps will likely remain the most recognized MLB trading card brand.

FirstBallot: Amen

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black Refractor History Month

These two men set out to make things right. And they succeeded. And although both didn’t live long enough to see the magnitude of their work that ended up moving mountains - these men are now mountains of humanity themselves. First Ballot pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson in Black Refractor History Month. And frankly, for everyone who is for oppression of any kind – you can all go fuck yourselves.

The refractor first made its appearance in the debut of the landmark set 1993 Finest. The cards were not denoted in any way other than they looked like a disco ball reflecting light.

Well a lot happened in between that moment and when Topps unveiled the black refractor but lets just focus on the black refractor!

In 1996, Topps debuted Topps Chrome. Another instrumental moment in marketing gone awry but let’s fast-forward to 2002. Topps decided it’s time for a black version of the chrome because, why not?

Here is an example of the 2006 Topps Chrome Black Refractor. As far as I’m concerned it’s just an exercise in redundancy. 

2006 Randy Johnson – Bad, very bad. From April 29 -  May 24 in a span of 6 starts here are the numbers. Children please turn away now. 31.2 IP, 43 hits, 28 earned runs, 13 walks, 24 ks, 7 HR allowed, 8.07 era

Record? 3 -2. Of course, in the 3 wins the Yankees had to score 17, 10 & 8 to win. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

1961 Topps Bob Gibson. Time Out of Mind.

May 21, 1961 Cardinals at Cubs Bob Gibson set a career high with 11 strikeouts. He threw a complete game shutout, the second of his career, allowing just 4 hits & 4 walks.

The Cubs featured four future Hall of Famers in the line up batting fourth through sixth was Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams & pinch hitting for Al Hiest was Richie Ashburn. The four combined accounted for three of the four hits and three of the four walks. Billy Williams got the only extra base hit.

In the bottom of the sixth with the game tied at 0 and two outs, and Richie Ashburn on 3rd, Gibson intentionally walks Ernie Banks to face Ron Santo, whom strikes out looking.

It was an eventful game for Gibson who scored the tie breaking run and then tacked on a insurance run with an RBI double. He was also hit by a pitch.

In Gibby's final start of 1961, he again threw a complete game shutout this time versus the Phillies which served as a harbinger for the rest of his career.

About the card.
1961 Topps is really nice basic design. I wish the team name was bigger but other than that it tells you what you need to know. This particular slab sold for $420.78 on eBay on January 31st by prewarcardcollector whom have some really beautiful high grade cards. Truly remarkable that the card was found in this condition and now that it's in a slab we can be assured it will stay that way.

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Tigers - If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.

Elias Sports Bureau brings us this gem of a stat. "The Tigers are the second team ever to field two players under 30 years old with 200 career home runs. The other was the 1961 Milwaukee Braves, with Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews." The Braves also featured legendary ace Warren Spahn and revising that role is Justin Verlander for the Tigers. 

In 1961, Hank lead the league in Total Bases and Eddie lead the league in walks. Warren lead the league in Wins, ERA, CG, Shutouts and WHIP and finished SECOND in Cy Young...wait what?

Anyhow, before I investigate that award voting it's a safe bet to think Miguel, Prince & Justin could replicate those accomplishments. And there is no reason to think that these three won't also make there way to Cooperstown. They all have the eye of the tiger.

About The Cards
On this blog I haven't delved into the history of Chrome or Refractor cards but I loved both concepts when they first appeared but have since become annoyingly over done.

In a future post we will examine both trends and what they've meant to the hobby.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

1982 Topps Traded: A Change of Scenery

1982 Topps Traded is primarily known for the Cal Ripken, Jr. card. But why was Cal in this set anyhow? He was already in the 1982 Regular Issue and he wasn't traded. Cal was considered a "promising rookie" so why not double down a card for him.

Ozzie Smith on the other hand was traded. A change of scenery and managers landed him in Cooperstown. That smile on Ozzie's face is legitimate. Ozzie had been in contract dispute with San Diego since he signed. The problem reached absurd heights when his agent, Ed Gottlieb, placed an ad in the San Diego Union, it read "Padre Baseball Player wants part-time employment to supplement income. College education, willing to work, prefer PR-type employment. Needs hours tailored to baseball schedule, but would quit baseball for right opportunity."

The truly disturbing part is that apparently Ozzie had blown most his money and his wanting a raise had nothing to do feeling underpaid. [1]

Anyway you look at it, he wasn't getting a raise. And regardless of his out of the world defense the way he hit he didn't deserve a raise. Ozzie Smith was the leadoff hitter for the Padres leading the league in plate appearances with a .294 OBA. The reason I think manager Frank Howard never noticed Ozzie was an out machine is because the entire team couldn't hit. Regardless, once Ozzie got to St. Louis he improved his hitting enough that you could live with it.

In 1982, major league baseball had two other Hall of Fame shortstops playing who could rake and play defense. Robin Yount in Milwaukee & the aforementioned Cal Ripken. The very next year all three would be playing in the All-Star game.

About the Card
1982 Topps borrows a lot of its design style from Activision, an at the time, wildly popular video game maker. I like the design but it does resemble a hockey stick a little too much for my liking.
[1] Scorecard, Sports Illustrated, Kirshenbaum, Jerry, May 5, 1980

Thursday, January 19, 2012

1981 Topps The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In 1981, on the back of the position player cards, Topps introduced three statistical categories - Slugging Percentage (SLG), Walks (BB), and Strikeouts (SO). 1981 also saw the return of Stolen Bases (SB) which has been absent since 1971.
For Ozzie Smith, the stolen bases and walks helped him look a little more valuable at the plate but oh goodness look at that slugging .276! Yikes that's awful. 
Although his reputation as a defensive 'wizard' is well entrenched Topps continued to show Ozzie batting or posing every season except the lone exception of 1987 Topps where he looks to be camped under a harmless pop up.