Thursday, January 3, 2019

Brien Taylor: Cardboard Rise and Fall


On the surface, it seems like an odd choice for me to be a Brien Taylor super-collector. First off, he was a Yankee – among my most despised of teams. Second off, why bother? He topped out at AA and is remember mostly as one of the biggest flops in Major League history. 
  

To the second point, the latter sentence informs the former. As for the Yankees thing, well, that only makes his story all the more interesting. In fact, I’d say that Taylor is easily among the most fascinating ballplayers of my lifetime, with a rise and fall that has few parallels. And for the card collector of my age – turning ten years old as Taylor-mania overtook the card world in 1992 – his cardboard carries an sense of import that can only be realized by those who lived through that era. 

Brien Taylor was nearly a perfect fit for carddom in the early 1990s. The rookie card craze of the 1980s had led to major changes in how card-makers approached their products. Upper Deck had the foresight to open their debut set in 1989 with a string of rookie cards – a significant symbolic move in a time when rookies were still mostly limited to the high numbers. That same year, in a rare bold move, Topps introduced the “#1 Draft Pick” subset, a series of ten top picks featured on Major League cards in their amateur uniforms. When Jim Abbott became that year’s stud rookie, Topps’ gambit proved worthwhile and the company issued ten more #1 Draft Pick cards in 1990. Score, in their 1990 release, topped Topps by issuing 22 first round draft cards and Upper Deck included a card of top pick Ben McDonald in their base set. 

For 1991, Upper Deck featured a number of top picks in their base set as well, including future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Bowman was also into the draft picks game by now and collectors had shown themselves very eager to invest in players well before they had been able to prove themselves as professionals. 

And into this enter Brien Taylor, a dirt-poor North Carolina lefty who remains to this day one of the greatest amateur pitchers of all-time. And enter the New York Yankees, the most decorated team in MLB history, who had just puked up a 67-95 1990 season that landed them the first pick in the 1991 amateur draft. With Taylor the consensus for the top choice, it was a match made for maximum hype. Before he’d even signed his pro contract, he was being billed as the Next Great Yankee. When he held out for a record contract, the hype meter blew apart. 

Topps – just 11 years removed from having exclusive domain on baseball cards – was by 1992 in an ultra-competive marketplace. They’d finally ditched their grey card stock and introduced the first-ever parallel set in Topps Gold. And they would score a major coup in signing Taylor to a unprecedented exclusive contract, giving them the sole right to produce Major League cards of Taylor while he was still a minor leaguer. Just months after he signed with the Yankees, Topps announced that an autographed card of Taylor would be included in their ToppsGold factory sets, which immediately became brisk sellers at their $350 wholesale price. Dealers sold them to the collecting at $500 and could hardly keep in stock.


Taylor already had cards out on the market at this time, being included in a few late-year Classic sets in 1991. He had even signed about 5,000 cards for classic for insertion into random packs, a concept that was only a few years old at the time. In 1992, the Wall Street Journal reported that Score Board, Classic’s parent company, had paid Taylor $250,000 for the right to produce his 1991 cards. But many collectors, even those who has accepted Topps/Score/Upper Deck draft cards as legit rookies, were bit wary of Classic, who showed Taylor in his high school uni, or a blank jersey top, or even in street clothes. They wanted the REAL THING. And before the 1992 baseball season even started, Taylor’s Topps card – which was the first Topps draft card to show a player in his MLB uniform – was selling for $5. A Stadium Club card issued in a collector’s set early that year was selling for twice that. And his signed ToppsGold cards were selling for hundreds. 

So this was what was all around me as a ten-year-collector, hopelessly unable to afford any Taylor cards and not lucky enough to hit one in a pack. On the field, Taylor showed a lot of promise, fanning 187 batters in 191 innings at class A Fort Lauderdale with 2.57 ERA. But he had been burdened – especially in the card world where investors were expecting to make a fast killing on his cards – with hype that could only be realized by opening the 1993 season in pinstripes. Instead, he opened the year at AA and stayed there all season. He pitched well, especially for a 21-year-old, but Dwight Gooden already had a Cy Young and a World Series title at 21. The hype faded, his card prices sank, and – overwhelmed with product for a AA pitcher who was supposed to be the exclusive property of Topps (Fleer, Classic, and Upper Deck were all permitted to issue minor league cards of Taylor), collectors began to lose interest. 


Then, in December 1993, Taylor got into what must be the most infamous trailer park brawl in pro sport history. While the details on the case are still unclear, Taylor got into a fight defending his brother and blew out his shoulder in the melee. He missed the entire 1994 season, then lingered at A-ball for four more years before the Yankees released him. In those seasons he never had an ERA lower than 6.08 and never threw more than 40 innings. 


After a flurry of 1994 releases, Taylor’s only 1995 card was in the Bowman set. It shows him smiling in shorts and the classic Yankees jersey he seemingly only wore for photo shoots. The man who had driven the trading card market to the pages of the Wall Street Journal just three years prior would appear on just one card, a 1996 Norwich Navigators’ team-issue. He looks tired in the portrait photo. 


I started this Taylor collection without even realizing it, a few years ago, when I picked up one of his signed 1991 Classic cards for a dollar on eBay. I just couldn’t resist, knowing what that card would have meant to me as a kid of 10. This past year, bored of the latest rookie hype, I again went on eBay and scored one of the storied ToppsGold autographs. I paid about $4 for it. The buyer mailed me three of them. When I contacted him to see if this had been a mistake, he said it was not, telling me that he just wanted to get rid of them.
This was when I realized I had to go all the way on Brien Taylor. He is one of the few prominent players of the last 25 years who has an achievable number of cards in his overall library. Per the Trading Card Database, they are 106 different Taylor cards. The hardest to find will the minor league team issues and the spate of unlicensed weirdo cards – a trend whose peak seemed to match Taylor’s. There have been no retrospective cards or reissues in the years since his glum Norwich issue. No one seems to want to revisit his time in Yankees history. Taylor has personally mostly maintained his privacy since leaving the game. He’s done few interviews and has made news only when with his legal troubles. He did three years in prison for his role in a cocaine-trafficking scheme (he was facing 40), and hasn’t been heard much of since his release, save for MLB draft time when people run down the biggest busts in draft history. 

I currently have 37 Brien Taylor cards in my collection, with another ten soon to arrive in the mail. This gets me nearly to the half way point in a Taylor MASTER COLLECTION. And I think I’ll have fun trying to track down the rest. It’ll make a good binder to page through whenever I get a flustered with the thousand moving pieces that seem to make up my collection. As Thomas Gray once wrote, “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2019 Collecting Goals!

Happy New Year, everybody! With 2018 coming to a close, I though I'd set a few goals for myself for the coming year. This isn't really a new idea or anything, but I've never done it before, so let's get it rockin'...

1. Get Stinking Organized!




This seems to be an annual goal for myself, even if I don't declare it in writing. Check out the scene above... that's the look in our guest room right now. I'm in the process of following up on my BIG BREWERS SORT of 2018 by paging up Brewers organized by player. I'm still not sure if I'm just going to do them alphabetical from start to end or separate them era or what, but I gotta get this into some form of finality. I've been dinking around with this for far too long now. 

2. Do More Bloggin!
 
I severely fell off pace in blogging this year. And I do really miss it. I've been doing most of the action on twitter, and I really dig the crowd over there, but I also want to keep up with my blog folk. I'm getting a good start on this already, by deciding to post this list as a blog post than just a twitter thread. Woo-pee!

3. Reach the 500 Mark on my Ryan Braun Collection


With some orders that on their way to my house right now, I will enter early 2019 with about 370 different Ryan Brauns. He's the largest PC in my collection and this past Brewers season has really given me an appreciation for his place in Brewers history. I'm well aware that he cheated and then lied about it and he very may well be a total asshole IRL. But I've long ago gotten over all that. And every time he goes on the road and gets booed like hell and then burns the hometown club... it's very satisfying. So everyone who hates this SOB can just go ahead and send their Braunies my way. 

4. Build up my non-Brewers PCs


This a new project I started this year, focusing on a handful of guys I've always liked. I've also decided to become a Brien Taylor super-collector. The super-prospect to end all super-prospects has only about 100 different cards per the trading card database - an absurdly low number for a prominent player. I have 47 different so far, ranking me second on TCDB.

5. Brewers Dupes! They gotta go!


As a result of my BIG BREWERS SORT, I ended up with a BUNCH of Brewers dupes. And with all the traffic from my trades in the Team Collectors group, I am ending the year with about five thousand extra Brewers. See that monster box above? Yeah, that's just about all of them. I know there's someone out there - a few people probably - who can benefit from this bounty, and I sure could use the extra room. 

6. Reach the 10,000 mark in my Brewers Collection

I'm at about 8,700 different Brewers cards as the year closes out. 10K is an ambitious goal, but I think it's within reason, especially with all the new releases that will be out next year. Plus, I've still got a lot of Brewers police sets that I can add to the collection, which will add about 30 new cards at a time.

7. Become a Trading Card Database King

2018 Topps Now #412 Keon Broxton Front

I want to be the top collector in a TCDB category. Right now, I have 104 different Seattle Pilots cards, as I consider them to be part of the Brewers franchise and thus within my Brewers collection scope. That ranks me 5th overall among TCDB collectors, but just 15 cards from the #1 spot. It's a small number, but a challenging one. I'm second place among Keon Broxton collectors, about five cards off the lead. This will be a much easier gap to close, but it could turn into a horserace depending on how well represented Keon is in 2019 releases. And finally, I'm about 13 cards off the lead for Brien Taylor. That will also be a slog, as I am mostly into the minor league and oddball issues on my wantlist. 

So that's what I'm gunning for in 2019. How about you?



 

Monday, December 17, 2018

A tour of my 2018 brewersNOW set - Part 1

You know, I don't even remember where the idea came from anymore. I had been fooling around with the Rookies app - a custom baseball card creator - for a while early this year, but hadn't really considered actually ordering anything. It was just a dumb way to kill time. And then, sometime between Valentine's Day and the middle of Spring Training, I had an idea that would forever change the direction of this century-old hobby... for me and a couple of other guys, anyway. 

The idea - which I dubbed "brewersNOW" - was pretty simple. I'd create a custom card for every player who appeared with the Brewers in 2018, and make a series of season highlight cards to commemorate big moments in the season. I figured it would be a fun way to keep up with the season and do something better (and cheaper) than Topps. I guessed I'd end up making about 100 cards.

I ended up with 194 cards, chronicling the greatest Brewers season of my life and a damn-near miss at a World Series. It was really the perfect season for me to try this idea... a season that both kept me motivated to keep moving forward with the project, and a project that kept me fully engaged with the season. I was able to actually build the set in my mind as I watched the season unfold. And - in a calendar year that was dogshit personally for me and mine in a lot of way - this dumb game and my dumb team meant a whole hell of a lot to me. 

I'll be presenting my set over a few posts... sharing some of my memories of the cards and of making the set. Let's start off with the player series.



1. Ryan Braun
Yeah, eat it up, everybody. He might be an asshole, but he's our asshole. And there was no one better to drive a steak into the heart of the Cubs in game 163 than this SOB. I made this card during Spring Training, with a fun pic reflecting Braun's brief foray as a first baseman.



2. Craig Counsell
I didn't put too much thought into the numbering of the player series, but Braun was an obvious pick for #1, leaving the two-spot a good place for the skipper. I was making this set in real-time during the season, with the first batch of 20 printed and shipped by the end of April. So I had a few chances during the year to re-do cards when I found a better picture. This is one of those cards, with this pic of Couns balling out Tom Hallon after Madison Bumgarner plunked Ryan Braun in September. Counsell got tossed and Jonathan Schoop belted a grand slam in the next at-bat that gave the Brewers the lead and put an exclamation point on a city-wide f-you to Bumgarner.
3. Ji-Man Choi
In the first of many odd-but-genius moves by the Brewers in 2018, Ji-Man Choi made the Opening Day roster as one of, like, twelve, first basemen. Ji-Man had pinch-hit in the opener in San Diego, hitting a key double and scoring the go-ahead run. He was send down the next day. I listed him as a punch-hitter here, since I was pretty sure that's the only role he'd have with the Brewers in 2018, although he did get a call-up later on in the season and did play a bit in the field.
4. Jeremy Jeffress
For some of the early cards in the player series, as is the case here. JJ would have some awesome moments in 2018, but i left this card as-was. It's a nice pic and does well to convey JJ's take-no-shit attitude.
5. Jett Bandy
Hell, not much to say here. Bandy opened the year with team and saw action in two dozen games. This is another 2017 photo.
6. Chase Anderson
Another picture from Opening Day in San Diego. I patterned this one on that 1987 Classic card of Andre Dawson taking a pitch in the face... with Anderson looking less than comfortable after sliding into home plate on his face.
7. Oliver Drake
I probably have less to say about this card than any in the series. But there he is.
8. Brent Suter
This is another re-do card, with this awesome shot of Suter diving to tag out Alex Gordon at first too cool to resist. These images I'm using here are actually screencaps, not scans of the actual cards. While I was, overall, very impressed with the quality of the end product, dark photos tended not to print as well. This was one of those, looking much better here than it does IRL. I know exactly dink about printing or color balancing, so I wasn't able to do much about this.
9. Jonathan Villar
A word about the design here... it's goddamn awesome. The Rookies App has about a dozen different design templates, and this was easily the best one. It's clean and simple, a great throw-back with feeling like they tried too hard. It's a touch of 1982 Topps, with a bit of a nod to 1971 Topps. I was able to customize it a bit, mostly in color. The obvious choice here would have been to do blue and gold, but gold was not an option. Still, I think the orange works really well. The lower-case team name was my touch, too. A really nice touch, if I do say so.
10. Josh Hader
Hader was a tough guy to get in a good pic. His splayed-out wide-up is much-better suited to horizontal cards, which I hadn't yet decided to use in this set. This is another 2017 pic.
11. Pat Murphy
Coaches! Why don't they get any cardboard love. I had toyed with using a unique design for the coaches, but nothing really looked right.
12. Hernan Perez
13. Manny Pina
This is probably the most recognizable of the last-year photos. Here, Pina celebrates after mashing a three-run homer on Mother's Day to complete a wild comeback against the Mets.
14. Jesus Aguilar

15. J.J. Hoover
16. Brett Phillips
17. Jacob Nottingham
I wanted to change things up a bit for the rookies. Although I hate the Topps Update "rookie debut" duplicate rookies, I felt like changing up the base cards of rookies a bit was a nice idea. These use an pic from the player's debut, the date, and a summary of the game on the back. 
18. Jorge Lopez
It wasn't until I made the Lopez card that I realized I could actually use letters from the Spanish Alphabet. It's a really nice touch and I considered re-doing guys like Jesus Aguilar, but I didn't.
19. Ed Sedar
Eddie Love has been a fan favorite for years in Milwaukee. It's about damn time he had his own card.
20. Taylor Williams
Of all positions, it was hardest to find good pictures of middle-relievers. At the time I made this Williams card, all I could find was an old picture, with him wearing a uni number he gave up in 2017.
21. Eric Thames
So, the nominees for card of the set begin here. After an April game in which he smashed a pivotal homer, he was asked in the post-game, on-field interview about the secret to his success. 
"Um... Miller Lite?" He replied to the delight of home crowd. Shortly after, Miller send the big man some free beer, which produced this OH-SO-MILWAUKEE picture. This is the kind of card you might get if you had card makers (PLURAL!) willing to take a chance and offend sensibilities.
22. Darnell Coles
This was the ONLY picture of Coles as a Brewer I was able to find online. It's a few years old. Probably the oldest pic in the set.
23. Junior Guerra
24. Jacob Barnes
As middle relievers tend to be less often featured in photos, I sometime had to capture them in less-than-flattering moments. Here's Barnes getting yanked after a rough outing.
 25. Davey Nelson
This is the only non player/coach in this series. I thought I should honor Davey, who had been a coach/commentator with the Brewers for years. He was a beloved fixture in Milwaukee. He passed away in April.
 26. Christian Yelich
Yeli wasn't yet on his MVP pace when I made this card, but I think I still got him in a pretty nice shot. This is one of 23 cards on which Yelich appears in this set.
 27. Travis Shaw
Another candidate for best card in the set. I am beyond proud of myself for the clever cropping here.
 28. Adrian Houser
And how about the worst card in the set? Maybe this one. No shade on Houser, I just didn't have many (or any) good images to pick from.
 29. Lorenzo Cain
Another awesome card. This is one that I would just periodically stare at after I got it printed. A note on the images - most come from the JSOnline (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) game recaps. Some, like the Thames, came from Twitter. The Highlight cards presented a few more challenges photo-wise than the team series. Which I will get to when I post about those.
 30. Orlando Arcia
 31. Lee Tunnell
The coach photos were kind of hit-or-miss. This one was a bit hit, I think. You can see bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel in the background. I considered making bullpen coach cards for him and Robinson Diaz, but ended up not doing it. Which I am glad for, because it would have given me a total of 64 cards, leaving me with a dreaded single-card page in the binder. 










 32. Eric Sogard
Nice shot of a guy who just had an awful go of it in 2018. 


















So that's it for round one... I'll be back later this week with the rest of the player series, and then after we'll visit the Season Highlights!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Winner in my (crooked) Contest and a Stack O' Brewers from Fuji

At long last I have finished my BIG BREWERS SORT. Which means we have a winner in the HOW BIG IS MY CREWNEVERSE contest. But before we get that...


Look at that! What a beautiful sight... everything so damned orderly. What you see there are my all-time Brewers binder, which now is home to a COMPLETE set of every player who ever appeared with the Pilots and Brewers, my oversized Brewers stuff, and my two Brewers monster boxes, with players sorted by name (plus some spillage). Each of these cards is now entered into the Trading Card Database... which gives me a little demographic info about my collection.  

1. Ryan Braun 262
2. Robin Yount 238
3. Paul Molitor 168
4. Prince Fielder 162
5. Ben Sheets 154
6. Greg Vaughn 126
7. Rickie Weeks 121
8. Geoff Jenkins 120
9. Dave Nilsson 112
10. B.J. Surhoff 99

There you see the top ten players in my collection. Not a lot surprising about that... although Dave Nilsson ranks a but higher than I would have thought. 

Anyway, I don't plan on keeping all of these cards in these boxes long-term. I ended up having some issues with the monster box set-up. First off, I have come to hate penny sleeves. You notice that most of these cards are in penny sleeves. It makes them slick as hell, and it's almost impossible to pick up a stack of these from the top without sending them flying out in all direction. I also erred on the player dividers. They look fine, but they are printed on normal printer paper and tend to slide down between the cards. In short, this is not a good set up to actually LOOK at the collection. My plan is to start binders with my favorite players - a Braun/Prince binder for example - which would make everything much more accessible and fun. But many players will remain in the boxes... Jose Valentine for example... not someone I regularly need to browse. Perhaps a Franken-set or something like that will also soon be in the offing. 

So what about that total???? Well, about that total...

I remembered as I was doing this that in the original post for this contest, I said that I would not count Brewers cards that I got DURING the count. Well, I did. I totally forgot my own rule and lumped it all together. Anyway, since I have no idea how to undo that, I'll just stick with changing the rule mid-way through the game.

So, now, getting to the winner of this crooked contest...

But WAIT! There are some Brewers cards in my collection that I have not yet added to this total. Cards I just got yesterday from San Jose Fuji. I had won a contest of his (not crooked, I assume) a while back and my prize lot was full of Brewers!


Here is Lorenzo Cain, the backbone of this year's team, in a great-looking SP from A&G.


Hey! And a Dan Plesac card from the Topps TV All Stars set... I've been wanting one for a while.


And.... yeah, that guy. He's... certainly on the team.


Here's a Ryan Braun I wasn't even aware of... signed by the artist! Very cool.


And a couple of Greinkes from this brief time as a Brewer. The blue-bordered cards in numbered to 199. Sweet. 


And HELL YEAH! The best of the bunch, a clear-cut Greg Vaughn. Thanks, Fuji!

Which is, oddly enough, from the same set as the Lenny Dykstra in the prize pack for the Crewneverse contest. Let's recap that prize pack.


There's Nails and some UD stickers...


... and a signed Tom Selleck card...

And that's all I'd gotten around to including. But, since I now know the WINNER of this contest, I can craft the rest of the prize package around their interests. 

(which includes a lot of football)

To the guesses one last time...


Laurens – 2,200
Angels in Order – 4,444
Sportscard Collectors – 4,444
Doug Hoback – 6,500
Mike Matson – 6,700
Gavin – 6,969 (nice)
Bo – 7,676
GCA – 7,955
Trevor P – 8,100
Adam Kaninger – 8,750
EP – 9,009
Nick – 9,219
Rob 792 – 9,482
Jon – 9,700
Fuji – 9,887
Adam Sanders – 10,100
ARPSmith – 11,111
The Lost Collector – 12,224
 
and the final tally is...
 
8,162!!!!

Which means Trevor of Bump and Run is our champion!!!!

I know I've got a few Packers somewhere around here that I will include in your package and I'm sure I can find a bunch of other fun stuff from your lists. In the next week or so, I'll put something together... if you can send me your address, I'll get it out ASAP.

Thanks again everyone for playing and for sending me so much great Brewers stuff over the past year-plus.