Friday, March 30, 2018

Card Madness, Pt. 8: THE FINAL FOUR

I've been running my own card tournament to coincide with March Madness.  I've been calling it Card Madness and it is really just a way for me to play with my cards.  I  created a bracket and I'm pitting baseball teams against each other in a battle to the death by showcasing cards from my collection, which have been randomly selected.  The bracket is here, so you can view progress.  Cards were chosen at random and each team will have a different representative every round.  This is baseball after all.  You can't pass the ball to Michael in Crunch Time; you have to go with the next man up in the order.

We have reached the Final Four.  Today we will see which teams will represent their respective leagues.  Our Final Four?

Chicago White Sox
Houston Astros
Atlanta Braves
San Diego Padres

Round 4: Houston Astros vs. Chicago White Sox

 2009 Upper Deck #667 LaTroy Hawkins vs. 2012 Topps #336 Gavin Floyd

Here we have two decent pitchers in their windup.  Like the pitchers, the card designs or both decent, but not extraordinary.  I think the Upper Deck design is a good idea, but the foil is kind of hard to read.  The 2012 "surfboard" design is probably my second-least favorite from Topps this decade, but it's not horrible.  It's just kind of blah.  Gavin Floyd was probably a better pitcher, but something has to be said about Hawkins's longevity.  The guy spent 21 years in the Majors.  Even though the photos are similar, I really like the look of Astros red with the bronze of the Upper Deck card.  This is a tough call, so I'm going on a miscellaneous point to decide: I remember LaTroy Hawkins from the days when my dad would take me to see the old Salt Lake Buzz.  With that in mind . . .

Winner: Astros

Round 4: Atlanta Braves vs. San Diego Padres

2013 Topps Archives #137 Brian McCann vs. 2014 Topps Heritage #375 Yasmani Grandal

This is an odd coincidence.  The previous matchup was two pitchers with similar poses on cards from the same era.  Now we have two catchers with similar, non-action photos.  Both are cards of recent years, but are throwback designs.  I never noticed until I examined these two cards together, but the 1965 and 1985 designs have many similar elements.  I see a team name in a diagonal space starting in the bottom left, a team logo, and the player name in white on the bottom right.  I think I'm partial to the 1985 look, though, if I were forced to choose.  Grandal wins the back of the card with the cartoon highlighting the hot start to his career: 4 homers in first 6 games.  However, I think Atlanta will win this on the strength of Brian McCann vs. Yasmani Grandal.  Not only has McCann been one of the best catchers of the past decade, but he also has the all-important All-Star Game MVP.

Winner: Braves

Now our championship matchup has been set.  I'll post Monday with the NCAA championship game so we can see the true winners this March.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Spoils from a Pair of Group Breaks

I've gotten in on a couple group breaks hosted by fellow bloggers in the past month.  The first was a break of some 1990s Pacific boxes from Colbey at Cardboard Collections.  The second was a smorgasbord of older and newer boxes (but called a "retro" break) from Nachos Grande.  I selected the Cubs in both.  I have to say, I was pretty satisfied with the results of both breaks.

First up is Colbey's Affordable Group Break of Bilingual Pacific cards.  I was intrigued by this break because I didn't own any 1993 or 1994 Pacific.  They're not bad looking cards, either, and I like the novelty of having both Spanish and English on the card.  It's kind of like the appeal of O-Pee-Chee, but with cards that aren't quite as widespread.

My random second team was the Rockies, which was kind of a tough break because they didn't exist for one year of this break.  Still, I wasn't in it for the random team, so I'm content just to have these new Cubbie additions to my collection.

Here is 1993 Pacific.  This isn't every card I got, but a sampling of some of my favorite North-Siders from that year.  I was familiar with Pacific football from this year, but this set doesn't share too much resemblance with its gridiron counterpart.  In fact, this looks much more like the 1992 Pacific football.  It's a nice, colorful design, and I like it.

And here is the 1994 edition.  I like the team color marbling on the bottom.  Once again, I didn't scan every new Cub, but here are some of my favorites.  Two boxes, two new Gracies for my collection.  I'm not complaining.

I'm not showing the Rockies (which only came in the 1994 variety) because I already have them ear-marked for someone.  I also have some Cubs dupes from this break, so if any of you Cubs collectors have some 1993-94 Pacific-sized holes in your collection, just let me know.

The second break was Nacho Grande's Rockin' Retro Group Break.  Chris broke 7 boxes spanning 20 years from 1997 to 2017.  Once again I picked up the Cubs, receiving the Rays as my random second team.  Once again, it was a team that didn't exist when some of these products were released.  But again, I was content with my Cubs.  Plus, you will see that I got some Rays that fit into my PCs anyway, and one team would have been sufficient with the cards I wound up with.

This was my first look at 1997 Sports Illustrated in hand.  They were much nicer and glossier than I anticipated.  Here is the complete Cubs team set, so no complaints here.

Here is the one insert I got from that box: a mini-poster of Ryne Sandberg.  Good thing I have some page protectors so I can put this in my Cubs binder.

1998 Bowman Chrome came next.  A second Mark Grace from the break, a young Kerry Wood, and a zero-year card for future All-Star Jon Garland.  Old Chrome is usually pretty fun.  I had to look up the Kerry Wood because I wasn't sure if this was a rookie or not.  As it turns out, he had a rookie card the previous year.

Now we have a set that I had never seen before: 2002 Fleer Triple Crown.  Like most Fleer sets from this time period, it is rather simplistic and easily forgettable.  The Moises Alou in this scan may be wearing an Astros uni, but the team is listed as the Cubs, so I got the card for my collection.  One Ray managed to become part of my collection from this box: Ben Grieve, former AL ROY.  The McGriff and Young additions are welcome, as both are underrepresented in my Cubs collection.  Nate Frese spent his entire career in the Cubs organization, but never advanced beyond AAA.  This is the first card I have of him.

Here's some 1998 Gold Label.  Class 1 has a fielding picture in the background, as you can see most of these do.  The Sammy Sosa in the middle is Class 3, and the one on the right is a Home Run Race insert.  Nothing screams late 1990s baseball like an entire insert set featuring players who could break Maris's home run record.  It seems like half the teams in the league had a candidate.  Thank you, steroids.  The Fred McGriff on the bottom is a cool black parallel.  It's hard to see in the scan, but the name and the Gold Label logo on the front are not gold.  That's a nice All-Star Game MVP pickup.

Fast forward 19 years and Chris is breaking a box of NEW Gold Label.  I really liked these cards when I got them, but I was surprised at how thin they were.  I can't complain about the player selection.  Neither can I complain about the fact that not one of these is a Class 1.  That's right; KB and Javy are both Class 2, and Jake is Class 3.  That's pretty lucky, I'd say.  I didn't notice at first, but along the left edge of the cards, the Class is written very faintly.  Here is a close-up of Bryant:

Finally, Chris threw in a blaster of 2016 Donruss Optic.  It was kind of an afterthought, so I didn't think much of it.

I ended up with one base card and one pink parallel that both fit into my collection.  I'm still not impressed with Panini Donruss, even with the Chroming treatment.  But then, Chris made an amazing pull.

Kudos to Colbey, who noticed on the live feed that this was not a facsimile signature.  I thought it was at first.  I just planned on adding a new Schwarber rookie to my collection.  But this is a real, autographed hit!  More than that, it is the black parallel signature.

Yes, Chris pulled an autograph numbered to 25 from a blaster box that he just added to the break at the end, and I got it!  That is astounding luck!  Had I walked away with nothing else, I would have been okay.  But adding this as a cherry on top of the rest of my new acquisitions just made this an incredibly fun, unforgettable break.

I don't always get in on group breaks, but I really enjoy these breaks within our blogging community.  Thanks to Colbey and Nachos Grande for hosting the breaks.  You do a great job, and I appreciate it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Card Madness, Pt. 7: Time for the Elite Eight

Last week, I started my own tournament in conjunction with March Madness: Card Madness.  I  created a bracket and I'm pitting baseball teams against each other in a battle to the death by showcasing cards from my collection, which have been randomly selected.  The bracket is here, so you can view progress.  Cards were chosen at random and each team will have a different representative every round.  This is baseball after all.  You can't pass the ball to Michael in Crunch Time; you have to go with the next man up in the order.

With two rounds in the books, we have reached the Elite Eight.  Our eight teams remaining are

Chicago White Sox
Atlanta Braves
Houston Astros
Chicago Cubs
Kansas City Royals
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Angels
Washington Nationals

This round will take us to the Final Four, or LCCS (League Card Championship Series), as the case may be.  Who will advance?

Round 3: Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Angels


2017 Topps #275 Dallas Keuchel vs. 2015 Topps Update #US185 David Murphy

This is a rather difficult matchup for me.  Once again, we have 2017 Topps up against its 2015 counterpart.  The 2015 design looks great in the Angels' red.  David Murphy looks cool in his shades as he takes a cut.  Dallas Keuchel is a true ace, and I like that you can clearly see the grip on his pitch.  Keuchel wins the player matchup; Murphy takes the card look.  Ultimately, I suppose this one boils down to which card I would rather have if I had to take one and only one.

Winner: Astros

Round 3: Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves

2003 Fleer Splendid Splinters #121 Matt Bruback vs. 2015 Topps #543 Alberto Callaspo

Topps has taken a lot of flak for its 2016 and 2017 designs.  But they are gorgeous compared to this Fleer Splendid Splinters offering.  This card is hideous.  There's too much going on.  Why do we need three illustrated ball players in the background?  Why is there a bar code in the corner?   What does this have to do with "Building Blocks?"  To boot, Matt Bruback never played a Major League game.  Alberto Callaspo may have never been a star, but I learned from the back of his card that he entered 2015 with the best strikeout to at bat ratio among active players in the Majors with at least 3000 at bats.  Impressive.  What really catches my eye on this card is the patriotic Braves uni that Callaspo is sporting.  Love it.  I'm afraid my Cubs didn't put up much of a fight against Atlanta.

Winner: Braves

Round 3: Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals

1995 Topps #135 Julio Franco vs. 2013 Panini Triple Play #34 Eric Hosmer

Two cards from All-Star MVPs in my collection.  Julio Franco appears on the 1995 Topps, which has grown on me throughout the years.  I never liked it then, but I'm beginning to appreciate it.  It might be somewhat hard to read the name, but the scoreboard photo on the back is kind of a cool touch.  Regardless, it's better than the Triple Play design.  This is a horrible card.  The cartoon of Hosmer isn't great.  I can't figure out what the musical symbols in the background are all about.  It's the only card in the set with music, so it would stand to reason that it is meant to connect to Hosmer personally, but I don't know why.  Going to the back of the cards, Franco's has a little factoid that stands out: he reached 50 RBI faster than any other player in a ChiSox uniform.  Impressive--especially for a player on the back nine of his career.  This really wasn't much of a contest.

Winner: White Sox

Round 3: Washington Nationals vs. San Diego Padres

1997 Donruss Elite # Mark Grudzielanek vs. 2016 Topps Archives #222 Matt Kemp

The Washington/Montreal franchise is represented once again by the Expos.  The 1997 Donruss Elite set is a cool shiny set, but with one fatal flaw: the border takes up entirely too much space.  The empty space on the bottom of the card is almost as large as the postage stamp of picture.  I don't get it.  Other than that, the blue and red look good all shiny, and I like the way Grudzielanek's bat comes out of the frame.  On the other card, I really like the 1991 design, and the modern Padres logo and uniform look even better than the original to me.  The players have similar WAR scores when you factor in that Kemp doesn't have quite as many games played as Grudzielanek.  I have to give the edge to Kemp here, though, because he has two All-Star Appearances and Gold Gloves to Grud's one each.  I like this matchup, but I have to go with Matt Kemp and San Diego here.

Winner: Padres

Well, that narrows it down to the Final Four!  Houston took a bye week in the 1st Round and they are going strong into the semis.  Who do you see as Cinderella?  San Diego?  The White Sox?  I can't say that I anticipated either one getting this far.  What matchups would you have seen going the other way?  Let me know your thoughts as we head into the final weekend of Card Madness!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Card Madness: Pt. 6

Last week, I started my own tournament in conjunction with March Madness: Card Madness.  I  created a bracket and I'm pitting baseball teams against each other in a battle to the death by showcasing cards from my collection, which have been randomly selected.  The bracket is here, so you can view progress.  Cards were chosen at random and each team will have a different representative every round.  This is baseball after all.  You can't pass the ball to Michael in Crunch Time; you have to go with the next man up in the order.

As four more teams bit the dust in the last post, there are twelve more remaining.  Let's narrow the field to the Elite Eight.

Round 2: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels

2015 Topps Update Rookie Sensations #RS-6 Nomar Garciaparra vs. 2017 Topps All-Star Game MVPs #24 Mike Trout

This is the best matchup of the tournament so far.  Two legitimate stars, two inserts, face off.  An extra fun nugget for my collection is that I collect Nomar because of his ROY and Trout because of his ASG MVP.  And these two cards happen to feature both of those moments in their respective careers.  As far as the player matchup goes, I really was a big fan of Nomar.  But Mike Trout is probably the best player in this generation, and in the conversation for the best of my lifetime.  I don't know how to choose the better card design.  I like both.  Rookie Sensations were more colorful and had a cool team logo in the background.  The ASG MVP cards look like car designs.  My guess is that it's meant to tie in with the Chevy that the MVP receives.  Even if it isn't meant to tie in, it made me think of it, and that makes the design good to me anyway.  I like the photo on Trout's card more.  The All-Star cap and holding up the trophy truly commemorate the moment that fits my collection.  A good matchup between two nice cards, but I think Trout pulls out the win easily.

Winner: Angels

Round 2: Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets

2002 Donruss Originals #393 Chipper Jones vs. 2017 Topps #416 Neil Walker

Two AL East rivals bring another matchup I like.  These aren't inserts, but they are a couple of players I've always respected.  I think Chipper is the better player here, though.  Chipper is featured on what is probably my least favorite Donruss design ever (aside from the unlicensed mess Panini has been producing the past few years).  Yet somehow, it looks better when it is done 14 years later with a player who was still in high school when the original came out.  Is that the power of nostalgia?  I really prefer the photo on Walker's card.  That is the epitome of "keeping your eye on the ball."  Even at the highest level, the basics apply.  As for the backs, I'm a little disappointed in both.  The old Donruss cards had the player's full name, but this one says "Chipper" instead of "Larry Wayne."  From Walker's I learned that he is a Pittsburgh native, and that just makes this card even weirder to me.  Walker is a Pirate in my mind.

Winner: Braves

Round 2: Texas Rangers vs. Chicago White Sox

2017 Topps #317  Mitch Moreland vs. 2017 Topps #74 Brett Lawrie

2017 Topps is dominating the randomizer again.  I don't think this domination continues after this round, by the way.  But here we have a matchup of two 2017s, so the design is a wash.  This is a tough call on the better player.  I think I would give Lawrie a slight edge, but Moreland is good for 20+ homers per season, and, more importantly, he's still on a Major League roster.  The picture here will be the decider, and I  love the emotion and intensity Lawrie shows on this card.

Winner: White Sox

Round 2: Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals

2013 Panini Triple Play #89 Bryce Harper vs. 2017 Topps #158 Tommy Pham

The player here is no contest.  The card he is on, however, is going to score low on the design.  And actually, it's low because there is no photo.  If the border and all else looked like this with a picture, it wouldn't be too bad.  And, the picture on this card is one of the best in the set.  The pictures for both players are actually strikingly similar.  Tommy Pham was a great rookie last year, but this isn't his rookie card.  That would have scored it an extra point.  As it stands, I think I'm going with Harper and his kind of stupid cartoon card.  Maybe it's a touch of 2017 fatigue.  Maybe it's my bias against the Cardinals.  Maybe it's both.  Maybe I think Harper is enough better than Pham to overcome a bad set.  I don't know.  But. . .

Winner: Nationals

Card Madness 2018, Pt. 5: On to the Sweet Sixteen!

Last week, I started my own tournament in conjunction with March Madness: Card Madness.  I  created a bracket and I'm pitting baseball teams against each other in a battle to the death by showcasing cards from my collection, which have been randomly selected.  The bracket is here, so you can view progress.

After one round of play (which is really the point of this--playing with my cards), we have elimated 14 of the 30 MLB teams.  The Astros and Cubs will be joining us this round, as they both had byes in Round 1.

Round 2: Houston Astros vs. Cleveland Indians

2015 Topps Chrome #149 Evan Gattis vs. 1991 Topps #692 Efrain Valdez

Two great card designs here.  I love 2015 even more when it is chromed, and 1991 is one of my all-time favorite flagship designs.  The photos here are pretty boring.  Both players are featured in uniforms that looks like Spring Training t-shirts than actual uniforms.  The real edge goes here to Gattis, who is not only a superior player, but a really interesting guy.  El Oso Blanco picks up the victory here.

Winner: Astros

Round 2: Chicago Cubs vs. Colorado Rockies

1991 Upper Deck #332 Jerome Walton vs. 2016 Topps Archives #114 Jose Reyes 

Jose Reyes is clearly the better player here, but Jerome Walton won Rookie of the Year after a pretty nice debut season and even garnered some MVP votes in the process.  The ROY award gives him
a special place in my heart.  The juxtaposition of the photos is interesting to me here.  Both in their batting stances, on opposite sides of the plate, looking like they're facing each other.  I like the design on both, but I think I favor the clean look of early Upper Deck, and the team logo on the front.  The back will decide. . . and the trademark second photo on the flipside gives the edge to Upper Deck.

Winner: Cubs

Round 2: Kansas City Royals vs. Toronto Blue Jays

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-32 Raul Mondesi vs. 2017 Topps Update #US76 Miguel Montero

Until this past June, Montero was my possibly favorite Cubs catcher ever.  He fell from grace quickly then.  Still, I have to say his career body of work far surpasses Mondesi's.  I'm not sure which design I prefer out of Topps's last two offerings.  A slight miscellaneous edge might be given to Mondesi for its being a rookie card, but it's not big.  Both photos showcase a follow-through.  On to the backs then: Mondesi refers to the cool fact that he was the first player to make his Major League debut in the World Series.  That's quite the stage to make an appearance.  Montero refers to his suddenly becoming available on the trade block.  That's just a bad reminder to me of the ignominious way he talked himself out of Chicago and off my Cubbies' roster.

Winner: Royals

Round 2: Milwaukee Brewers vs. San Diego Padres

2017 Topps Update #US193 Orlando Arcia vs. 2012 Panini Cooperstown Induction #15 Tony Gwynn

There's an obvious mismatch in players here.  Arcia has shown lots of potential, but Gwynn is just too much for the youngster to overcome.  I like the design of Topps here more, but I have to admit that the somewhat bland design on the Induction card is well-suited for its subject.  It would be cringeworthy if it were meant to feature anything but a formal ceremony, though.  In all, I like the dichotomy in this matchup: Rookie Debut vs. Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.  I'll take Gwynn.

Winner: Padres

Monday, March 19, 2018

Card Madness 2018, Pt. 4: Out of the 1st Round

This week, I started my own tournament in conjunction with March Madness: Card Madness.  I  created a bracket and I'm pitting baseball teams against each other in a battle to the death by showcasing cards from my collection, which have been randomly selected.  The bracket is here, so you can view progress.

I may be a day late with this, but my goal was never to keep up with the NCAA tourney.  I figured that if I could reveal the Sweet Sixteen before that round actually started in basketball, I was okay.  So here have four more matchups, which will narrow our pool to 16 teams.

Round 1: Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox

2010 Topps Update #US276 Austin Jackson vs. 2015 Topps Heritage #324 Alexei Ramirez
Two nice-looking cards face off here.  I don’t have much 2010 flagship, but I really think it looks good.  Heritage carries all the simplicity of 1966 Topps, of course.  I like both.  Jackson has been a solid player throughout his career, but Ramirez was an All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger.  Plus, he looks like a Cuban Fresh Prince.
(Funny side note: I once overheard a conversation in my eighth grade classroom in which one student saying that he watched an old episode of the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and he couldn’t believe how much the Fresh Prince looked like Will Smith.)
Another point goes to Ramirez because of the cartoon on the back which highlights his 21-game hit streak.  Pretty impressive, and it’s a cartoon.

Winner: White Sox

Round 1: Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals

2015 Topps #662 Darrin Ruf vs. 2017 Topps #234 Luke Weaver 
This is another 2015 vs. 2017 flagship, and I keep expecting 2015 to pick up a win.  But Luke Weaver is a better (or at least, more promising) player and the photo features a clear shot of the jersey number.  For some reason I really like cards where I can see the jersey number prominently.  It may be horizontal and the Cardinals, but I’d take it over a 2015 Ruf anyday.

Winner: Cardinals

Round 1: Baltimore Orioles vs. Los Angeles Angels

2015 Topps Heritage #315 Adam Jones vs. 1990 Upper Deck #645 Jim Abbott
2015 Heritage makes a second straight appearance, and we see our first junk wax card.  How more of them haven’t shown up in the randomizer is a mystery to me.  I’ve always admired both of these players, but Jim Abbott moreso than the average player.  Not only was he a good pitcher, but he was truly inspirational.  I like 1990 Upper Deck more than I do 1989, so I’m toward Abbott for the card design.  It’s clean, crisp, and bright.  The back has Upper Deck signature second photo.  I really enjoy watching Adam Jones play, but Jim Abbott is simply the better card here.

Winner: Angels

Round 1: New York Mets vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

1991 Donruss #154 David Cone vs. 2017 Topps Update #US130 Zack Greinke
Whoo, two really good pitchers.  I have always liked Zack Greinke.  I have people close to me who suffer from similar mental health issues to what Greinke fought so publicly earlier in his career.  Heck, given the nature of such issues, he is probably still battling them now.  David Cone once pitched a perfect game, though.  Still, if going by the player, I think I’d rather have Greinke on the mound.  The photos are actually quite similar.  Both righties in the windup, but you can see just how different their deliveries are.  Greinke is an All-Star card, which is cool, but Donruss’s blue border and orange speckles look great with the Mets uniform Cone is wearing.  I think this one must be decided by the back.  Normally, Topps would beat Donruss, but this card doesn’t have any stats.  So I’m going with Donruss and its full-name, lots of vitals, truncated stats back for the win.

Winner: Mets

I'm interested in hearing your takes.  Are there any cards you have especially liked?  Any that lost that you thought should have won?  Does your team still have a shot?  Now, on to the Sweet Sixteen!