Saturday, February 3, 2018

2018 Topps, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Building Other Sets

There it is - the first card from the first pack I opened of 2018 Topps. I've decided to keep the 1st card pulled in a separate spot.

Here's the last two years of first cards, just to give a sense of the evolution of the borderless design.

Here's the back - the trade with the Rangers looks like it worked decently well for both teams. The Rangers don't have Fielder anymore due to his retirement, and Kinsler is moving on to the Angels this year, but both teams ended up with several seasons of production from their player.

I purchased a blaster and 2 loose packs - and I ended up with just two Twins. The lens flare effect on the team logo doesn't really do much for me. It just gets in the way - might be better if the light source was behind the logo instead of in front.

Some nice action shots for the young guns.

The veterans are all brooding and intense. They've been through some things.

The horizontal shots are back again, which is usually a good idea. Overall, I thought there was a nice selection of photos for Series 1.

Here's where everything comes off the rails. The inserts have been getting more generic looking and unnecessary. I'd much rather have more base cards than these. The 1983 Salute is a head scratcher - the design was just recently used for Archives, and while I will be the first to admit is one of the better Topps designs of the junk wax era, it still seems like a slot that could have been used for something else.

The Derek Jeter set... I get it, that's fine, but I will just be trying to get rid of them. Opening Day... Why? Topps has a whole set dedicated to Opening Day, we don't need an insert set on top of it. Then there's the Home Run Challenge card.

Check out the website. This "card" is just an ad for the promotion, not the actual Home Run Challenge insert. You can't even use this card to enter the contest! Wasting space in the pack.

Ugh. Get over yourself, Topps. This is masturbatory.

This is the manufactured Relic, Royals fans, hit me up... Overall, the base set is fine - I'd prefer borders, but the photo choices are good and there's a variety of rookies and veterans. No Bartolo Colon? That's a bummer. The inserts are terrible, I would have preferred bringing back First Pitch and/or adding National Anthem singers or something. The inserts also seem position player heavy - would have been nice to throw the pitchers a bone too.

The blaster came with a bunch of coupons, and this last one caught my eye. What set is this? I checked Topps website and Cardboard Connection but I didn't see any upcoming releases for Topps with "BL" initials. The coupon is good from May to August, so I'm guessing this is a product coming out in the summer sometime.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The 1974 Topps Rookie All-Star Team - Bill Madlock

Here they are - the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, selected "by the Youth of America" following the 1974 season and featured in the 1975 Topps set. 

I have completed the run of these up through 2017 Series One, at least all regular issue cards that bear the All-Star Rookie Trophy. 

Topps decided to skip the Trophies on the 1974 Topps Set, but they made a triumphant return in 1975. I wanted to show my appreciation for this expression of good judgement, so for the 1974 Lineup, I will do a separate post for each player. This was a pretty good crop of players, so let's dive in! 
Third Baseman - Bill Madlock

It was a tall task for Mad Dog in his first full major league season - replace a Hall of Fame fan favorite at a vital position. Madlock was asked to take the place of the recently traded Ron Santo as the Cubs' Third Baseman.

He responded with a tremendous rookie year at the plate, then reeled off a pair of batting titles. The Cubs couldn't agree to a contract with Madlock following 1976. They decided instead to trade him to the San Francisco Giants. They moved Madlock from 3rd to 2nd base, but the position change didn't slow down his bat. His stint in the Bay Area could be called tumultuous, and his reception chilly as a windy day at Candlestick. He managed to get into a much publicized fight with teammate John Montefusco during Spring Training. Madlock had heard that Montefusco had told the press that the Giants were a "team of losers," so he confronted "The Count" mid-interview at his locker. The two men had to be separated by teammates. 

The following season didn't start any better off the field. A rumor was passed around that Madlock was instrumental in sabotaging the team's efforts to acquire Rod Carew in the off-season. Further complicating things, the rumor seems to have started from the Giants' owner Bob Lurie. The situation seemed to leak onto the field as well. His batting average in 1979 was well below his career numbers, and his slump did nothing to improve his mood. The famously short-fused Madlock tangled with Braves' pitcher Bo McLaughlin after a night of ducking fastballs high and tight. Mad Dog's elbow ignited a bench clearing brawl. Two days later, he was traded to the Pirates.   

The change of scenery did wonders for Madlock, and he found a clubhouse that embraced him as a member of the Fam-A-Lee. His bat turned around as well, hitting .328 for the remainder of the season and .375 in the World Series. He would go on to win 2 more N.L. batting titles in Pittsburgh, and became Willie Stargell's successor as Pirates' team captain.

Madlock was traded to the Dodgers in 1985 - He finished the season hitting .360 for LA. He had some injury issues in the years that followed, limiting his effectiveness. He was released in early 1987 by the Dodgers, but found himself back in the thick of another pennant race.

The last stop in his playing career came with Detroit, making one more trip to the post season and providing a little extra veteran leadership. In 1988, he played in Japan and hit a career high 19 homers. He had over 2,000 hits in the major leagues and his 4 batting titles place him among elite company. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Yogi, Whenever I'm At Bat, I'm in Scoring Position

We lost a great one today. Oscar Gamble was scouted by Buck O'Neil, who found him playing for a semi-pro team outside Montgomery, Alabama. O'Neil wrote in his book that Gamble was the best prospect he'd scouted since Ernie Banks.

The Cubs took Buck's advice and drafted Gamble in the 16th Round. He tore through the minor leagues, but it took several years for him to find a footing in the big leagues.

His first stint in New York was viewed by some as a disappointment, but he did prove that his swing was well suited to Yankee Stadium's dimensions. He would return later to help propel the Yankees to the 1981 World Series.

His best season came in 1977 for the Chicago White Sox, in which he crushed 31 homers for the South Siders. He finished his career in Chicago in 1985, with exactly 200 homers. It may not seem like much, but Oscar took full advantage of the opportunities he was given. For his career, he homered once every 22.5 at bats, a rate that ranks right up there with sluggers like Freddie Freeman, Eddie Murray, and just a little behind Frank Thomas (the original one).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The 1974 Topps Rookie All-Star Team - Frank Tanana

Here they are - the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, selected "by the Youth of America" following the 1974 season and featured in the 1975 Topps set. 

I have completed the run of these up through 2017 Series One, at least all regular issue cards that bear the All-Star Rookie Trophy. 

Topps decided to skip the Trophies on the 1974 Topps Set, but they made a triumphant return in 1975. I wanted to show my appreciation for this expression of good judgement, so for the 1974 Lineup, I will do a separate post for each player. This was a pretty good crop of players, so let's dive in! 
Left Handed Pitcher - Frank Tanana

Frank had two very different major league careers. He came up to the California Angels in 1973 as a pretty boy flamethrower, and re-invented himself in the mid to late 80s as a gritty left handed finesse pitcher.

Despite the stereotype that hard-throwing fastball pitchers are wild, Tanana was known for great control throughout his early career, which helped propel him to the big leagues. Pitchers that throw hard also allow hard contact - limiting walks meant that the home runs allowed hurt a little less. His rookie season he gave up 27 home runs, which was the 3rd highest for any pitcher in the American League. But Tanana also missed bats with regularity, ranking 7th in the league in strikeouts. His 19 losses in his rookie campaign did not make a dent in his confidence, as his sophomore season was a breakout success. His strikeout totals spiked, leading all of baseball with 269 Ks. His strikeout rate per nine innings also was tops in the AL, and he led the league for the next two seasons in his ratio of strikeouts to walks. He was still giving up over 20 homers a season, but his ERA and FIP was near the best in baseball.   

Tanana reeled off three straight All-Star seasons in 1976, 1977, and 1978. He led the AL in ERA in '77, and shutout the opposition a league leading 7 times. One shutout came on Opening Day, the debut of Seattle's Kingdome. The Mariners were held scoreless despite getting 9 hits and drawing 2 walks against the rising star. The innings were piling up for Tanana, which didn't seem to bother him. In May of 1977, he pitched a complete game in every single start - and then did it again in June. All told, he had a string of 14 consecutive complete games from April 29th until July 7th. He allowed 72 runs in 1977, but 24 of those runs came in the last full month of the season. Something was wrong. 

With his signature pitch,  a 100+ mph fastball, taken out of his arsenal, he struggled with "a sore arm" as he bounced from the Angels, to Boston for half a season, to Texas where he lost a league high 19 games in 1982.  By 1985, the Rangers were looking in other directions for rotation help, and were happy to find a taker for Tanana. The Detroit Tigers gave up minor league prospect Duane James. The Rangers probably didn't think Tanana would outlast the young righty by more than 8 seasons.

Tanana credits his faith and his arm injury for turning around his life. Losing teammate Lyman Bostock also gave him a new perspective. But it was the trade to Detroit that turned around his career. His hometown team provided a chance for Tanana to take the same repertoire of fastball, curveball, change-up as his early days and slow everything down. In California, his bread and butter was revving up the fastball to triple digits. With the Tigers, it was taking a fastball in the high eighties and pairing it with an agonizingly slow change up. His curve was not as sharp as it used to be, but the break was still sufficient to fool hitters and throw off their timing.

He pitched his final season in 1993, splitting his time between the Tigers, the Mets, and 3 starts for the New York Yankees. He finished with 34 career shutouts, 2773 Strikeouts, and 240 wins. He amassed over 30 WAR by the age of 24, which was similar to guys like Vida Blue, Hal Newhouser, Dennis Eckersley, Don Drysdale, Felix Hernandez and Fernando Valenzuela at the same age. He is 22nd All-Time in career Strikeouts. When he reached the Hall of Fame ballot, he did not receive a single vote. He shared that ballot in 1999 with inductees Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, and George Brett; not to mention Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Luis Tiant - pitchers with similarly uneven but strong cases. But none of those guys were Topps All-Star Rookies!

Monday, January 29, 2018

i see them in the mailbox

It's still cold, the Vikings laid an egg and then Mother Nature dumped a foot of snow on the Twin Cities, but that didn't stop Jim aka gcrl of cards as i see them from sending a wantlist filled mailer.

Vintage played a key role, hitting all the different moods of Craig Robinson. Darrell Evans is returning to his home planet, his people need him...

The card is a beaut - this was most likely in the spokes of some lucky kid's bike for a summer in the late 70s.

With a couple of new 80s stars being enshrined in the Hall of Fame this year, it brought back plenty of memories of guys already there like Steady Eddie.

Speaking of the new guys, here's a couple nice mid 80s cards of Jack Morris. I'm happy for him, even though I can honestly say there are lots of guys I would have voted for before him. O-Pee-Chee was still going strong in 1992, it was cool to see Mr. Yount there at the bat rack, just a season shy of 3,000 hits.

Thanks very much Jim!