Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Call to Arms

Being a Braves fan has caused me to have strong convictions about building a farm system and a major league roster. I'm a firm believer in stockpiling as many arms (i.e. pitchers) as possible. Arms at the major league level, prospects in the minors. Injuries happen and position players are sometimes needed, so you can never have enough pitching. It was an integral part of the organization's philosophy for a number of years and worked well for them. The team moved away from that philosophy during the Frank Wren years but have (seemingly) gone back to it with John Hart. 

After a busy offseason, there are plenty of new arms in spring training- some of whom might make the opening day roster, while most will be re-assigned to the minors. Wherever they end up, they are surely destined to appear on cardboard wearing the Tomahawk across their chest.

Welcome Back, ARod!!!

Arodys Vizcaino, that is. Former Braves farmhand who was traded to the Cubs in the Maholm deal, Arodys is a nasty, nasty pitcher. Er, he has nasty stuff.

Out of all the recently acquired arms, Folty is the one I'm most looking forward to following this spring. Pure gas- but can he harness his control and command that 98 MPH heater? Time will tell.

It's unfortunate that Miller's first Braves card is an autographed Spring Fever offering from Topps. And, it's numbered to something like /75. #ThanksTopps
At least he's supposed to be in the soon-to-be released Heritage set.

Pitch Count

Here's a fun little fact (via Elias Sports): with John Smoltz' election into the Hall of Fame, the Braves have become the first MLB team to start Hall of Fame pitchers in Games 1, 2, and 3 of the World Series- doing it twice, in 1995 and 1996. 

And there's also this little piece of trivia (via CBS Sports): John Smoltz is the first pitcher in the Hall of Fame to have undergone Tommy John surgery. So take heart, those 33% of you major league baseball pitchers who have also undergone the surgery: there's still hope for a HOF career.

Finally, the Braves have seven HOF pitchers who made at least 300 starts for the team- no other team has that many. The Giants are second (5), with the Dodgers third (4).

The Braves AA and AAA rotations will be fun to follow this year, especially with Banuelos- the one-time top Yankee prospect- and Jenkins ticketed for the high-minors. Jenkins, like so many of this season's acquisitions, is a high risk-high reward player. His stuff is often described as 'electric' but has battled injuries and inconsistencies throughout his career. Reports thus far this spring have been good. *fingers crossed*

Fried, who will miss most, if not all, of this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, has previously been described as 'the best high school pitching prospect since Clayton Kershaw.' By the time he throws a pitch for the Braves organization, he will have missed almost two complete seasons. Atlanta (or anyone else, for that matter) never would have been able to acquire him from San Diego had he not been injured. *fingers and toes crossed*

Safe to say the least known of all of the pitchers featured, Winkler was picked up via the Rule-5 draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past season. And while he doesn't have the pure stuff of many of the previously mentioned pitchers, he has been a strikeout machine his first four professional seasons- striking out 9.5 batters per 9 innings (396.2 innings). A low BABIP and low WHIP have been friends to the 20th-round pick from the 2011 draft who uses deception and pitching to contact to his advantage. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Love the Smell of a Great Trade

A few weeks ago I ran across a new blogger in the hobby, I Love the Smell of Cardboard in the Morning (which, by the way, is a great name for a blog!). The first of Tim's posts that I read was him revealing his #WalletCard- the Durham Bulls mascot, Wool E. Bull. I knew immediately that if I made only one trade this new year, that it had to be this card. So I contacted Tim and inquired about any extras he might have, and he said if he didn't have any more of that particular card, he surely would have one from a different year. Much to my delight, Tim did have an extra to spare, plus a great, never heard of Braves team set.

2013 Choice Durham Bulls #30 Wool E. Bull

While the back of the card doesn't indicate it, Wool E. Bull's birthdate, according to the Bull's website, is July of 1992, and his middle initial stands for 'Education'- a name that was chosen from over 500 names. Interestingly enough, I sent Tim a number of 1992 Classic/Best Durham Bulls as part of this trade. I bet that makes Wool E. feel old!

As far as the card itself, I've always like the team's color scheme (is it Texas Tan or Burnt Orange? I've heard it called both), and the use of the colors for the borders on this set makes it one of the better minor league sets in recent years.

I don't know if this card qualifies as an oddball or not- all the other Bulls cards I've seen from the '13 Choice team set do not include the BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina logo. The card is numbered #30, so it's obviously part of a set. I think I'll go ahead and include it in my oddball binder. It's certainly out of the ordinary, as far as my collection goes.

Tim also sent something that has left me looking for more info on its release: a 2007 Upper Deck Braves team set, given away at Turner Field as a promotional item. If anyone has any information on the giveaway date, I'd really appreciate hearing from you.

The Braves set contains twenty-five cards, numbered 1-25, and shares the same design as the regular issue of 2007 Upper Deck. The card stock is more like that used in their 300-card First Edition issue than the glossier stock used in the flagship brand.

One of the perks with oddball sets such as this is that it includes a few players who were either not included in the regular Upper Deck issue or had different photos used on their cards.

Players not included in the base set (or the First Edition set):

#1 Bobby Cox

#14 Jarrod Saltalamacchia

#15 Yunel Escobar

#24 Willie Harris

If this card looks familiar, it might be his 2008 Upper Deck card you're thinking of- it features a photo very similar to this one. In fact, it's probably a few frames later, as Harris is getting ready to release the ball.

Photo Variations:

#21 Chris Woodward

#25 Andruw Jones

Thanks again, Tim, for the generosity shown in the trade!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Food-Issue Friday: Orange Ya Glad...

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Crappy banana card who?

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Crappy banana card who?

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Crappy banana card who?

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Orange who?

Orange ya glad I didn't show another crappy banana card?!

I've been on an Upper Deck kick for the last couple of weeks. I don't even remember why I started looking up cards from the Carlsbad, CA company, but I did, and in the process found some pretty sweet stuff that I never knew existed.

One of those I discovered was the 2005 UD/Sunkist set produced for Little League Baseball, of which Sunkist was a sponsor. The five cards in the set were distributed in specially marked bags of Sunkist oranges and included Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Stan Musial and were used to help promote healthier food choices for the obese children of America.

To sweeten the deal, a contest was held from April 1st (when the cards first began showing up in the produce aisles) through May 16th (the last day for entries to be postmarked), in which a $5,000 home field makeover was awarded to the winner to be used for field improvements. Oh, yes, there was also that three-month supply of Sunkist oranges. Gotta promote healthy after-game treats, after all. For a chance to win, all contestants (coaches) had to do was submit photos of their Little League team showing off their 'Sunkist Smile' (smile with a wedge in your mouth).

But that wasn't all...three first-place winners were awarded $500 worth of equipment as well as- you guessed it- oranges. Probably a lot of them, too.

I have never been a big fan of black and white photos on baseball cards. There have been a few exceptions, but none as great as this set. The bright, warm orange and yellows are a perfect contrast to the dark photo.

Five a Day? I'd take ten a day if the set was large enough. And that's no joke.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Base(ball) Oddity #29: Woolworth Reunion

As we were gettting coffee in the breakroom a couple of days ago, a co-worker told me she was taking an extended lunch that afternoon in order to take part in a reunion. She had worked at a Woolworth's department store for eight years prior to coming to work for our current employer and she had been contacted about a get-together over lunch. She was excited to see some old faces, as it had been thirty years since she had seen any of her former associates. Her excitement carried over to me, and I decided I'd have my own Woolworth reunion.

It hasn't been nearly that long since I've laid eyes on some of the Woolworth cards that I have, from sets that started appearing in the department store chain over 30 years ago. 

Produced by Topps, the sets ran for seven straight years, from 1985 through 1991. Oddly, there was no mention of Woolworths on either of the 1985 or 1986 sets, which can create a lot of confusion when trying to catalog your collection. For the longest time I couldn't figure out what set this '86 Murphy card came out of. 

Each set consisted of 33 cards- except the 1985 set, which contained 44 cards. That original set also was the only one to feature retired legends of the game, while every other year included current players. Sets from 1987 and beyond included 15 World Series Highlights cards and 18 regular cards.

Of course, Murph never got the chance to play in a World Series, but he did make two of the Highlight part of the sets- one for blasting 2 homers in an inning against San Francisco...

... and for hitting career Home Run number 375 on September 13th off Rick Sutcliff of the Cubs.

I enjoyed reminiscing during our little reunion. And Dale doesn't look like he's aged at all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Product Checklist: 2015 Heritage Atlanta Braves

Topps released the checklist yesterday for 2015 Heritage and like with the 2015 Topps flagship product, Braves fans are getting one last chance to say goodbye to a number of players no longer on the team.

10 Julio Teheran
32 Andrelton Simmons
38 BJ Upton (no Melvin Jr. on this one, I'm afraid)
56 Kris Medlen
79 Emilio Bonifacio
91 Nick Markakis
130 Evan Gattis
133 Mike Minor
154 Chris Johnson
200 Freddie Freeman
219 Justin Upton/Mike Stanton/ Adrian Gonzalez LL
236 Ervin Santana
326 Team Card
334 Alex Wood
387 Shelby Miller
436 Justin Upton SP
472 Craig Kimbrel SP

Clubhouse Collection Relics
     #CCR-EG Evan Gattis
     #CCR-FF Freddie Freeman
     #CCR-HA Hank Aaron
     #CCR-JH Jason Heyward

Clubhouse Collection Autograph Relics
     #CCAR-FF Freddie Freeman

Clubhouse Collection Dual Autograph Relics
     #CCDAR-AF Hank Aaron/Freddie Freeman
     #CCDAR-NT Phil Niekro/Julio Teheran

Clubhouse Collection Dual Relics
    #CCDR-AH  Hank Aaron/Jason Heyward

Clubhouse Collection Triple Relics
    #CCTR-AHU Hank Aaron/Jason Heyward/Justin Upton

Flashback Autograph Relics
     #FAR-HA Hank Aaron

Real One Autographs
     #ROA-PN Phil Niekro

Real One Dual Autographs
     #RODA-AF Hank Aaron/Freddie Freeman
     #RODA-NT Phil Niekro/Julio Teheran

1966 Baseball Punchboards Boxloader Autographs
     #66PA-PN Phil Niekro

1966 Baseball Punchboards Boxloader Relics
     #66PR-JT Julio Teheran
     #66PR-JU Justin Upton

1966 Player Cut Signatures
    #66PCS-JB Johnny Blanchard

1966 Mint
    #66M-EM Eddie Mathews
    #66M-PH Phil Niekro

1966 US Postal Stamp
    #66US-EM Eddie Mathews
    #66US-PN Phil Niekro

One thing of note: Jason Heyward is listed as a member of the Cardinals for card number 201, one number higher than pal Freddie Freeman. However,  JHey is shown as a member of the Braves in the Clubhouse Collection. I had not planned on picking up any of the CC relic cards, but will probably make an exception so that I can have one last Heritage card of the right fielder.

It will be interesting to see the photo selection Topps used for the cards featuring Braves players. The 1966 set featured many Braves players without hats, since the team's home for the upcoming season was up in the air as the National League spent the 1965 offseason and much of the 1966 season in the courtrooms, battling the state of Wisconsin over the team.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Annual Spahning

As one who is a team set collector, I can't help but feel that if I don't have every insert card produced with a Brave player on it, then my team set is somehow incomplete.

Slowly, but surely, I'm discovering that this is impossible. Rainbow parallels, low numbered hits, and cards that are just plain unappealing to me have not only spared me many a headache, but have saved me from bankruptcy as well. 

One player I know I'll be adding to each team set year after year is none other than the great Warren Spahn. 

The lefty has been a fixture in Topps sets for a number of years now. And though it would be good to see the card manufacturer mix in some fresh faces, it's nice to see a player like Spahn getting recognition, as I truly believe he's the most under appreciated pitcher in baseball history- at least in the post-war era.

I like the design of this 'flashback' set- only I find it to be something that would fit better in Heritage, since that's the set that is designed to tie current players and card sets to those of the past. Beautiful design, however, and I also like the card a/b concept.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the Highlight of the Year insert set. I like the concept, but the card front is horrible. I could have photoshopped something better than this. I do like the design for the back of the card, however.

If you use the Topps Bunt app, then you are probably aware of the number of  'insert' sets that Topps has included  in its 'packs.' I wish that they would have a team who puts as much effort into the design of the cardboard offerings than those who are involved in the digital cards. While Series 1 does have some nice inserts,  let's hope that we see some of that creativity from the digital side in Series 2.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ginter Glaus 'n Glavine, Gordon

'I got something to say, yeah, it's better to burn out than fade away'- Def Leppard's Rock of Ages (borrowing the lyric from Neil Young's Hey Hey, My My (Out of the Blue))

Earlier this past week I had a 'discussion' on Twitter with journalist and author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass and Stars and Strikes, Dan Epstein. Dan had posted a link to a video from Def Leppard's debut album, On Through the Night. I commented on how good their first three albums were and a discussion of the band and their guitarist, Vivian Campbell, ensued.

I didn't mentioned it to Dan, but I consider Def Leppard to be one of the biggest disappointments in rock history, second only to Aerosmith. Each band had an amazing catalog earlier in their career, only to sell out to commercialism. Their music became bland, a poor reflection of what was once great music. But, hey, they've made their millions, so whatever. 

Well, they have plenty of company in the card industry. The hobby is chock-full of inglorious sets that have overstayed their welcome. Tribute, Tier One, 5-Star, Museum Collection and Gypsy Queen are only a few of the brands that I have heard a number of collectors (including myself) declare as being dead to them. Sadly, as I was putting some cards into binders a few days ago, I asked myself the same question about Allen & Ginter: is it a set that has 'faded away' and become totally irrelevant? [Note: While this post was in the draft folder I noticed Nachos Grande asked the same question on his blog]

For me, the Ginter design has become really stagnate. After a more refreshing design in 2014, the 2015 set looks like it will return to a look similar to the 2012 and 2013 designs, both of which I did not like. Many of the odd inserts seem to be regurgitated ideas.

What I hope happens to the brand is that they shelve it for a few years, perhaps revisiting it at some point. But until then, why not bring back an older brand that we haven't seen in some time? Something like Topps HD or Topps Reserve. Of course, there's the large group of collectors who would like nothing more than to see Topps Total revived. That would be a welcomed change, as well.

What about you- what set would you like to be brought back to life?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Base(ball) Oddity #28: I Just Won the Lottery

If you read my post from yesterday, then you know that I am not one to spend money on the lottery. It doesn't matter if it's purchasing a power ball ticket, or just a normal scratch-off ticket- I'd rather not spend my money on a game of chance. Now, if someone were to give me a lottery ticket- well....that's an entirely different story. Heck, I might even take any winnings and buy some baseball cards. And that's exactly what I did.

(not the actual scratch-off ticket)

Back in December, our company held its annual Christmas party at which time one of our employees was recognized for hitting a landmark number- surpassing the previous high for someone in sales. To show her gratitude for those who helped her achieve her success was a gift: a scratch-off lottery ticket.

I can't remember if she told me how many tickets she bought to hand out, but I do know that I was the lone winner. Five bucks! That ought to buy me a pack of something, or a few singles. Thanks for the cards, lady!

I didn't rush out and immediately buy something. No, I held on to my winnings, waiting for just the right card(s). I didn't really have anything in particular in mind, but I knew that when I saw it that it would be pretty obvious.

Then, about two weeks ago, I found it.

1998 Virginia Lottery Baseball Legends Phil Niekro

This, this was the card to purchase. I had never been so sure of anything in my time as a collector. It was poetic.

So, I spent $2.99 on it- leaving me with $2.01 left over (which I still haven't spent).

Anyway, I received the card yesterday, which, as I mentioned earlier, was the same day I published the article on the lottery tickets at Denny's. Once again, pure poetry.

Crazy Eights

The Niekro card is part of a 4-card set (8 cards, if you count the autographed versions of each) that includes fellow Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Willie McCovey and Duke Snider. According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, the cards were one of the consolation prizes in the Virginia lottery and contained photos that were also used on some of the actual lottery tickets. The Niekro card just so happens to feature a photo from the 1989 Pacific Legends set. Sans logos, of course. Heck, if our state did something like this, I'd have to re-think my policy on buying scratch offs!

While I'm not crazy about the color scheme and the use of the stripes, I do like the fonts that were used. I really like the Virginia lottery logo. Very smart incorporating the crossed fingers in the 'V'
It should be noted, also, that each of the players spent time playing in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Card backs are what to expect for an odd-ball set. And while stats are included, they're not the typical MLB career stats, but those for the time each player spent while in Virginia. Very cool use of a stat line, if you ask me.

I guess some guys do have all the luck. It just takes some of us longer to find what we're looking for.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Food-Issue Friday: Denny's- At Least the Cards are Good

Yet another in the ongoing series of trade posts from my blockbuster deal with TJ- aka the Junior Junkie. Today, we're going to 'America's Diner,' Denny's....

When our kids were younger we would go to Denny's on Tuesdays, I think it was, a few times a year to take advantage of the kids eat for free special. The diner was also a popular place for breakfast whenever we were traveling. At some point, however, we decided to skip Denny's and take advantage of the continental breakfast offered by whichever hotel we were staying at- it was much lighter on the pocketbook.

Thus, we had not been to a Denny's in, oh, probably four or five years, until about a year ago when, on a whim, we decided to stop by for dinner.

There wasn't much of a crowd. In fact, the entire right side of the restaurant was empty. When the waitress came to seat us, she led us into an area on the left side- right between the only two tables that were occupied. To our left, a teenager, his mother and (I'm presuming) his grandfather. To our right, a mom and her three children.

Now, I'm the type of guy who doesn't like loud, boisterous people or loud settings. I rarely go out, and when I do, I want to enjoy some peace and quiet- not listening to the non-stop talk of an older gent who was hard of hearing (and thus, spoke EXTREMELY LOUD) or smart ass kids whose conversation must include 'friggin' before every word (and mom doesn't try to encourage an expanded vocabulary). It got annoying very quickly. The entire ambiance (well, it was Denny's, I guess) made me want to get the hell out of there. At least there was food on the way.

One problem- the food only ruined the evening that much more. I was really looking forward to a plate of biscuits and gravy, but what I received was a plate that had something that passed for biscuits and thick jello cold gravy. I honestly don't ever remember taking only one or two bites at a restaurant and refusing to eat anymore, but that day, I did. I actually got a little angry over the whole thing.

As we were waiting at the front counter to pay the bill, I looked to my right and there- right next to the door- sat a lottery ticket machine. Perfect! That just made my evening because, for some reason, I found humor in it.

As hard as I tried, I could not think of a single restaurant with one of those things. Not one.

Why is that, I asked myself.

I've never been one to dream of 'hitting the lottery'- whether it be through a legal, state-ran lottery (or multi-state lotto) or at the craps table. So the idea of people spending their hard earned cash on nothing but a roll of the bones...I just don't get it.  Studies say those who play the lottery the most are those who can least afford it.

It just seems like cheating yourself out of the satisfaction of knowing what you have came solely through good, old-fashioned hard work, with no shortcuts.

Play the lottery? Pft. Don't have the money to spare- and if I did, I'd use it to buy a box of Topps 5-Star baseball.