Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Card Show in June

About a month ago, my pal Joey a/k/a Dub Mentality tagged me and Dayf a/k/a Card Junk on Twitter with an announcement about a small card show at a local antique mall here in Atlanta. It gave me an excuse to get up and active on a Saturday morning when I otherwise might have just sat at home, so I marked the tweet and made sure to go.

I'm glad I did.

It had been a while since I had attended a local card show. In fact, it had been probably four or five months. As a result, the folks whose dime boxes I tend to clean out had restocked their supplies of Brewer cards. This led to a great show for me. I even found a non-Brewer I needed:

I know I have posted a lot of Pearl Jam songs here, but they are my favorite band. So, guess what? Y'all have to deal with them again.

While I know that "Last Kiss" -- a cover of a 60s song that PJ issued as a Christmas bonus vinyl to its fan club in 1998 before it was included on a charity album for Kosovar refugees in 1999 -- was PJ's highest ever charting song when it number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, "Even Flow" is to me one of the band's biggest hits. The band absolutely did not like the take that ended up on its album Ten, with guitarist Mike McCready saying that they redid the track 50 or 70 times and played it "over and over until we hated each other."

For what it's worth, Rolling Stone put this song at #77 on a list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time" and VH1 listed it at number 30 of the "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs." After 26 years of hearing the song, I still like it. There's nothing new about it, but sometimes having those classic hits to go back to is a good thing.

Speaking of classics, here are some new cards of classic players from the Milwaukee Braves. I teased the Hank Aaron bat relic card on Twitter right after the show, and it got rave reviews. It's an early relic in terms of baseball card history, so perhaps it is a bat that Hank actually used in a game at some point as opposed to a bat he picked up in Upper Deck's offices, swung it once, and then it got called "event used."

The Spahn Cy Young award card is a super-thick manu-relic from about five years ago. Topps has gone to thinner manu-relics these days. I'm guessing that is a cost measure to save a few bucks on not buying real metal for the relic and saving a few pennies on card stock. 

The Hank Aaron Hall of Fame card just made me realize that there is an error in the Cramer Baseball Legends set that I wrote up for the 1980s Oddball blog yesterday. On the back of Aaron's card, it lists him as being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981, but he was inducted in 1982. Perhaps that was meant to mean that he was voted into the Hall in 1981. Of course, the real issue I'm having is that his card was included in the 1980 Series 1 set. While he was certainly guaranteed of induction, did Cramer's first issuance of that 1980 card really say he would be inducted in 1981? I'm all confused now.

Finally, those chrome Bowman cards are all nice and shiny. I appreciate the effort at times from Topps/Bowman to keep baseball's past greats in our consciousness by including them in new card sets. It's fun to get new Spahn cards, even if it is the same photo from the 2015 Archives set. I do wish that Topps expanded its pre-World War II player list to go beyond just Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig to add some of the other greats of the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe an Al Simmons card? Or some of the guys in that Cramer Baseball Legends set that you never see in card sets these days like Rabbit Maranville. 

There's always room for improvement. As one law school professor I had once said, "There's nothing so impeccable that it can't be pecked at."

In 2009, Pearl Jam released its album Backspacer. The breakout hit from that album was this introspective ballad called "Just Breathe." Backspacer was a much more upbeat and optimistic and less political album than the band's previous efforts -- a fact that the band attributed to Barack Obama's election. 

The album was also the first time since 1998's Yield that the band worked with Atlanta-based producer Brendan O'Brien on a full album. Indeed, the album was finished at Southern Tracks studio here at Atlanta in April of 2009.

The show provided me an opportunity to stock up on some Ryan Braun cards. Braun is the longest-serving current Brewers player, having passed the ten-year mark with the team earlier this year. He's the team's all-time leader in home runs and, recently, became the team's all-time leader in grand slams. 

As far as other categories, he's third in career WAR (45.0), tied for second with Paul Molitor in batting average (.303), tied for sixth with Richie Sexson in OBP (.366), first in SLG (.544), second in OPS at .911 behind Prince Fielder's .929, fifth in games played with 1401, third in runs scored at 913, fifth in hits with 1642 (54 behind Jim Gantner), third in total bases, fourth in doubles, third in triples, second in RBI, fifth in walks, third in stolen bases, and second in extra base hits (having passed Paul Molitor earlier this year). 

He's creeping up on career totals that give him a potential Hall of Fame argument, or would had it not been for the Biogenesis stuff. Maybe that's what's preventing me from saying that I'd still collect his cards in another uniform, but he's not to that point yet. He's close.

This past Friday at work, four of us got into a very heated discussion about the fact that one of our co-workers did not see much difference between Pearl Jam and Journey. Needless to say, I lost a lot of respect for that misguided opinion coming from someone who otherwise is an educated man. 

I think the reason that he has such an incredibly wrong opinion is contained within another statement he made: that he's not a "live music guy." To me, that's the very essence of Pearl Jam. Their concert versions of songs simply are better than what gets laid down in the studio. The sound is warmer, less antiseptic. Vedder's vocals in concert are just better than what gets put down as a remixed studio track. 

Also, if you're not a "live music" guy or gal, your life priorities are wrong.

I found a vein of the Panini Diamond Kings as well. I think these were in a quarter box, which is slightly annoying for new issues but not as annoying as having a card called "originals" featuring Paul Molitor as a Minnesota DH. 

Still, if ever I were inclined to collect any particular Panini set, it would be the Diamond Kings set. I like the card stock with its canvas feel. The artwork and touch-ups taking these from being photos to make them into what look like paintings is of excellent quality -- much better than the garbage retouching that happens with the Donruss brand. 

On the other hand, that Aurora card of Jonathan Villar may be the most godawful insert of 2017. It's ugly as hell with all that orange coloration. Also, I am guessing that the Aurora insert is meant to signify some sort of sunrise or draw a parallel to a sunrise. If my sunrise has those colors appearing in that way, I'm thinking a nuclear bomb has been dropped.

This song is one that came off PJ's second album, Vs.. The song is a reaction to all the media coverage the band got in its early days, in part from "Spin", "Rolling Stone" and "Circus"; this led to the lyric, "SPIN me round, ROLL me over, f**kin' CIRCUS" in the song. The basic idea behind it is that the media used the band and bled them to "fill their pages."

I can understand how that would be a pain in the ass. No doubt. It's a rage song of guys tired of getting used to sell magazines. When PJ was at its height in the 1990s, people wanted that blood. They wanted that drama. Now that the band is more mature and its fans tend to be more mature, I think the band and its fans appreciate not the drama but the journey in getting there. 

But not the band Journey. 

The rich vein of Brewers cards I found also yielded some decent parallels, inserts, and autographs. Sure, the Carlos Lee card says he is on the Astros, and when the card was released he was. But he's shown on the Brewers so it's a Brewers card. For $1, I'll take that.
While I don't chase Wily Peralta cards and, therefore, have no real reason to pick up a silk card from 2013 serial numbered to 50, I think it was $0.50. For that, I'll take literally any serial numbered Brewers card that I don't have in my collection. Even a Gary Sheffield card.

The rest of these were all $0.50 or $1 or somewhere in that range. I got them all thrown in on a package deal with all the other dime and quarter cards, so I don't quite recall how much each was individually.  

Finally, "Light Years" was released in 2000 from the album Binaural. Recording this song was a chore from all indications. When it started out, it was too close to "Given to Fly" as a song. According to interviews the band has given, the song had its tempo changed, its keys changed, its drum part changed, and its arrangement changed dozens of times before it came together in its current form. 

The song itself is actually about the death of a friend. If you can find a copy of the lyrics, it is worth it to read them. At various times, the band has dedicated the song to Diane Muus of Sony Music (a friend of the band who died at age 33 in 1997) and to Gord Downie, whose band The Tragically Hip was playing their last show on the same night that Pearl Jam played Wrigley. Downie has been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.

While the song is a bit of a downer, these cards are all really uppers. All of these are player collection cards for me. I think the Fielder manu-patch may have run me about $2, but the rest were all very affordable. 

As always, I recognize I am really lucky with how many card shows there are around Atlanta on a regular basis. With the recent Judge-mania gripping the hobby, there's some hope that this moment could be a real turning point for our hobby in bringing in new collectors -- particularly kids -- who are big fans of the young superstars of the day like Judge, Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout. 

Let's hope that Topps doesn't view this rise like the media viewed the rise of grunge -- in it only to suck all the blood and fun out of everything.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Malaise Falls over the Crowd: Topps Now

I have been in a rut this year. At first, I thought it was because of being super busy with work and all that goes along with it. Then, I thought it was because my creativity in terms of blogging had slipped. I've come up with all kinds of reasons why I might be in a rut, but none of those reasons dragged me out of my rut.

Then, this morning at work, with my morning coffee, I read this fantastic post from Dan's Other World called "The Great 2017 Baseball Card Price-Out: A Commentary." It helped me put my finger on a few things that have happened over the past six months to a year that have really turned me off to modern cards to some extent. 

I suppose if I'm honest with myself, my malaise truly began with the introduction of Topps Now at the beginning of last season. The idea, in concept, is a good one as I have said on many occasions. In its execution, it's a money grab by Topps. Topps is happy to feature Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger walking on the field each day as a card in Topps Now, and those cards sell well even at their ridiculously overpriced $9.99 per card (or even at the $79.99 price per 20, or $4 a piece). 

There are signs that collectors generally are a bit tired of these cards. Last year, the lowest print run was a Chris Carter card near the end of the year, which had 178 total cards purchased. This year, that number has been surpassed on an incredible thirty-six  occasions so far, including a recent Marcell Ozuna catch card (Card 362) that just 113 cards sold. 

Before I go on, let me show you the Brewers Topps Now cards that came in from eBay recently. 

I still feel compelled to buy them right now. I have two more on the way, I think. I'm guessing that if the Brewers fall off (and by the way they are playing lately, they will fall off the pace quickly) Topps will fairly ignore them going forward.

I am quickly arriving at the point, however, of ignoring current cards. Sure, I'll collect them if they are sent to me, and I'll probably even buy them as team sets on eBay or at card shows. Even then, I'm not 100% committed to it. It's still "probably" because I'm kind of burned out on the decision making that goes on at Topps. 

For instance, there is the inexplicable decision making that went into the Archives set autographs -- particularly including Zack Hample as an autograph subject. If Topps did not have a completely tin ear, it would have known that Hample is an object of scorn both in the baseball card community and in baseball generally thanks to his ballhawking getting in the way of things like decency and letting military people go to the game at Fort Bragg last year. Similarly, Topps included a New York Yankees fan in the Archives autographs (Fat or Loud Vinny or whatever...who really cares what his name is). Even if those two were in Allen & Ginter, it would have been disappointing. 

Speaking of Ginter, I really liked this set when I first got back into collecting. Ginter & Archives. This year, the Brewers had three base cards in the set. How does that stack up? The Cubs and Mets have 15, the Reds have 9 as do the Diamondbacks, the Rays and Twins have 7, the Padres have 6, the Yankees have 17, and the Red Sox have 19. I know -- the world was clamoring for a new Johnny Damon on the Red Sox card or a new Henry Owens cards (since we sure didn't get enough of those last year /sarcasm). The only team close in terms of the small number of base cards is the Angels with 4 and the Montreal Expos, Milwaukee Braves, and Brooklyn Dodgers with 1 each. Of course, those last three teams no longer exist.

Where am I now with collecting? I don't know, honestly. I'm still grabbing Brewers cards here and there, but I'm more likely to find myself deep-diving on eBay looking for a new police department set to add than I am looking for the single Ryan Braun autograph from a set. I guess what that means is really that I will focus as much -- or more -- on the things that I enjoy in collecting: oddballs.

I'll keep posting here -- don't get me wrong -- but my attention may be spent more on the 1980s Oddball blog than here. 

This was more of a personal vent than anything, so I apologize if it made you upset or if you are the world's supercollector of Henry Owens for whom Topps is printing cards.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Big Stack of Arbitrary Brewers

I've traded in the past with Brian from the Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary blog in the past. I was recently pleased and surprised to get a package in the mail from him that contained a ton of Brewers cards. I've been neglecting my Brewers cards lately, opting instead for actually watching the team's performance -- which has continued to impress -- and spending more time binge-watching shows on Hulu and Netflix.

But that's really just excuses being made. Nothing in current cards is grabbing me today. I'm burned out on hearing about the latest stratospheric price that Aaron Judge cards have reached. To top things off, I tried to go out a couple of weekends ago to buy some packs of cards. I could not even find a single pack of cards in my local Walmart. Hell, they may not even carry them any more. And the Target wasn't much better either -- all the cards they stocked were ones I have all the Brewers for already thanks to case breaks. 

I guess I'll just stick to my classic, tried and true way of getting cards on eBay, COMC, and Just Commons. 

Speaking of classics, maybe some classic rock will help me dig out of this funk.

When I think classic rock, I think the rock of the 1970s and 1960s and maybe some early 1980s. Anything later than that is part of my "normal" rock and therefore isn't "classic." And speaking of classics, does it get any more classic than The Who and "Baba O'Riley"? This song is still used at UGA to fire up the crowd just before kickoff. That's pretty classic to still be in the rotation at least as of 2016.

Let's go really classic here. This 1977 Bill Travers is actual a 1977 cloth sticker from the original set that was deemed so classic by Topps that it was resurrected for use with Archives in 2012. Travers was a 6th round pick of the Brewers out of Norwood High School in Norwood, Massachusetts. He worked his way up through the minors -- making it to Triple A by the age of 20 in 1973 and to the Majors in 1974 despite only 61 decent innings in Triple-A in 1974. He stayed in the majors from 1976 on, and 1976 was his best season -- 2.81 ERA, 15-16 record, 240 innings, 120 strikeouts versus 95 walks and over 1000 batters faced at the age of 23.

He really didn't make it very far after that. He got injured and went through two ulnar transfer operations (transferring a nerve in his elbow). He rebounded in 1979 and 1980 to win 26 games in 52 starts over 341-2/3 innings. He played out his option after the 1980 season at the age of 27. He went on to sign what was recognized immediately as one of the worst free agent contracts in the early free agency era: a 4-year, $1.5 million contract that was seen in the same regard as that Pablo Sandoval contract with the Red Sox. For their money, the California Angels received 52-1/3 innings of 6.36 ERA pitching (4.54 FIP) with 72 hits allowed and 11 games started over those four years. 

Bill Parsons was even more unique -- so unique that Steve Berthiaume wrote up a story about him on ESPN identifying his career as completely unique. Parsons is the only pitcher since 1883 to win at least 13 games and start at least 30 games in each of his first two seasons, only to win 5 or fewer games the rest of his career. He was the rookie pitcher of the year in the AL in 1971. 

His career went into the tank because of coaching. No kidding. As the ESPN story discusses, manager Del Crandall hired former Milwaukee Braves teammate Bob Shaw as the pitching coach. Shaw was an analyst, breaking down mechanics into endless detail. But he messed with Parsons and his delivery and screwed him up. Parsons was a "grip-it-and-rip-it" kind of pitcher with a fastball and a change up. Shaw made him work from a full windup and learn a curveball. All of this had disastrous results, and Parsons never found his mechanics again. By the age of 26, he was out of baseball.

Sure, The Doors might not be a "classic rock" rock band, but their music is excellent. I know it's cliché to play this song, but it's a damn good one. In fact, I tried for a long time not to like The Doors due to all the reverence that the generations older than me have for them. 

That worked until I listened to their music. The keyboard solos are excellent and well-played, the chords are melodically interesting, and the music overall provides an atmosphere. Anything that has that much going for it will get into my playlists.

These cards strive for an atmosphere. They strive to give a sense of modernity, excitement, and action. Maybe I've become that "get off my lawn guy" but these cards really fall short in that regard. I like them for being cards I need, but the new card designs leave me wanting more. 

I like variety. I like a mix of photos. I like a sense of place or of being or at least some sort of differentiation. And, I think that is the problem I've gotten myself into with modern cards. Everything is either an action shot or it's from Heritage and its affected attempts to copy card designs and photographic flaws from 50 years ago. It's like Topps has become its own cover band.

I'll be honest about this song: I did not have a proper appreciation for it before I played Guitar Hero on PlayStation. It's an ass-kicking guitar riff around which the whole song is built -- that roaring sound that comes from the rhythm guitar while the lead noodles around -- that really grabs me. It's guttural, raw, even dirty, and it makes you feel like you're on a riverboat in the dirty Mississippi River somewhere south of Memphis.

Or maybe that's just me.

Brian sent some awesome oddballs, including a nearly complete set of the 1984 Waunakee Police Department Brewers set (he kept the Molitor for his own PC of the St. Paul native) and this Pinnacle/Denny's card from 1996 of Kevin Seitzer. With my new Oddballs blog up and running and focusing on the 1980s, I see this Pinnacle card and think that I've made a mistake by limiting myself to the 1980s.

However, there are so many oddball issues in the 1980s that I probably should not have wandering eyes for the 1990s.

When it comes to classic rock of my youth, nothing quite embodies that term better than two things. I'll get to the other in a minute, but this one is the first one. Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" -- and its opening guitar riff -- was the first song every aspiring metalhead in the 1980s seemed to learn. And the local rock station was more than happy to oblige those learning the song by playing it as if it were the new hot release. 

Don't get me wrong -- it's a great guitar riff -- but damn it got tiresome after about the 500th time that it got played in the high school weight room while someone screamed at me to "PUSH IT" when I was trying to max out my bench weight at something around 150 or 160 pounds (while I weighed 175). I haven't seen either of those weights -- either on bench or on the scale -- in quite some time.

In all, Brian probably sent me nearly 100 cards. These four cards were the some of the best. A Geoff Jenkins relic from the early 2000s? Yes, please! A Jeromy Burnitz Topps HD? Certainly. A Doug Jones "Minted in Cooperstown" parallel? I hardly ever see these!

The top card here, though, is that Prince Fielder. Topps's "Moment & Milestones" set maybe the one of the most diabolical sets ever issued -- along with Topps Tek. Moments & Milestones had a card number for each player -- let's say Fielder is 59 -- and then had a different card 59 for each of the 81 RBI that Fielder had in his rookie season. So, let's call this card "59-70." To top off the obnoxiousness, each card is serial numbered out of 150.

The other guarantee from classic rock stations in the 1980s -- and maybe today for all I know -- is that at an appointed time, usually 9 PM, it's time to "Get the Led Out." Led Zeppelin is a great band and did a lot to push metal forward with Robert Plant's vocals and Jimmy Page's grinding guitar lines. But every damn night? Really?

"Black Dog" always got a lot of airplay during those 30 minutes where the DJ could line up three songs, hit the head, smoke a cigarette, and line up his evening after leaving the station at 10 PM.

Let's close with youngsters -- two that really didn't make it, and one that is still working on it. You know who Orlando Arcia is already, so let's look at the other two guys.

Erik Komatsu is still only 29 years old, but it has been 5 years since he appeared in the big leagues for the Cardinals and the Twins. The Brewers drafted him in 2008 in the 8th round, then traded him to the Nationals in a rental trade for Jerry Hairston. The Nationals left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, so the Cardinals signed him. They tried to waive him, so the Twins took a shot on him in May of 2012. A little over 3 weeks later, they returned him to the Nationals. The Nationals released him in 2014, and he signed as a free agent with the Angels for a month. They released him, so the Brewers picked him up for the rest of 2014. After the 2014 season, the Brewers let him go, so he played in the Atlantic League for Long Island in 2015 before hanging up the spikes. He's now a music producer in Orange County, California

Chad Green was the Brewers 1st round draft pick in 1996 (eighth overall) out of the University of Kentucky. He made it to Triple-A with the Brewers at the age of 25 in 2000, but his hitting was poor, to be charitable. He struck out three times for every walk he took, and his overall OBP in the minor leagues was .310 (.282 at Triple A). As of 2014, Green -- who was just 5'9" tall and relied on speed over power...indeed, this article says he beat Bo Jackson's 60-yard-dash time -- was living and working in Lexington, Kentucky, running a day care company called "Wee Care." 

Orlando Arcia has already seen more action in the majors than either of these other two gentlemen. Arcia has a real chance to be something special in the end -- if he avoids injuries and keeps hitting.

Thank you to Brian for the great cards -- and the classic rock that has picked up my spirits a bit!