Friday, May 25, 2018

2018 Bowman Mania is an Utterly Boring Mania... and Represents Perfectly the Modern Day Hobby

Card collectors are a bit testy these days. At least according to card twitter. The source of all this antagonism seems to be the new Bowman product. Normally a non-controversial release, this year's product features the coveted Ohtnai signed flashy whatever card. The initial offering of product at retail outlets sold very quickly, leading to a new "mega box" release that seems to be driving everyone involved in this thing we do a little crazy. 

People complain that they can't find the mega boxes. They trash Topps for this weird, unannounced release. They hoard the boxes to open or resell. They trash other collectors for hoarding the boxes to open or resell. They mock collectors for wanting the stuff so badly. They ooh and aah over "hits" from the product. Bowman Mega Box opinions have become a big part of daily life on the card twitter stream. 

I've been doing some casual reading in old issues of Baseball Card and Tuff Stuff mags while watching the Brewers the past few nights. Issues from the early 1990s, when there were dozens of releases every year from a half dozen different card makers, each of them trying to catch the collecting world's fancy... it was a weird and wild time. And then I check twitter and read all of this about retail Bowman. And something dawned on me...

The modern hobby is an utter bore. 

The Topps monopoly has drained all of the creativity out of the business. Even innovative products like Topps Now or the Living Set are executed in a cripplingly dull way. The Now set is an idea I've ripped off for my own custom set, so it's a good idea, but they take no risks with the set. It's largely the same teams and players as in the base product with a few terribly-written sentences on the back. The living set is more substantial, but the idea is less interesting. And the 1953 design again? AGAIN? 

Topps flagship is as devoid of new ideas as it has ever been. Heritage feels lifeless and lazy. Stadium Club has some stunning photos, but little else. I was just paging through my Update 2017 binder and - my god - it was so boring. 

And so this is what we are left with... arguing about Bowman. BOWMAN. When was the last time anyone gave a shit about Bowman? 

I've tried to get excited about new product, and dutifully buy my flagship boxes each year, but looking back at this stuff, I'm left with such an empty feeling. What do these cards mean to me? Not much. They're just not any... fun. 

FUN! O lord, remember FUN??? Collectors, we have been deprived of fun for so long, we've devolved. Paging through my 1991 Topps binder is a BLAST. Remember Upper Deck SP inserts? Prime Times Two? Man, that was awesome. Ted Williams Card Co? Hell, it was a new take. Pacific? It sucked, mostly, but it sucked it its own weird way. Topps MBossed? What a big, bumpy, wacky try at something new. 

2018 Bowman Rookie of the Year favorites? (crickets)

Now, I don't want to make this seem like I'm putting anyone down who is buying Bowman, or having fun ripping it. I actually tried to pick some up this past month and would have had some fun opening it up. But I feel like the furor over this far outpaces the actual enthusiasm anyone feels for this product as a whole. We have so little to get excited about, so it's a rather middling product like this that starts a firestorm. 

I have almost no interest in buying in a box of Topps series 2 this year. Sure, the completist in me WANTS one... for no good reason other than to fill another binder that will depress me some afternoon this winter. Maybe I'm done with new stuff for now. Maybe until someone issues a set that is actually worth collecting.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

1992 Eclipse True Crime - The Mega-Controversy the Card World Forgot (plus a contest!)

Look through a Tuff Stuff Magazine from the early 1990s once in a while. It is a real trip. I have a June 1992 copy and paging through it is like a damn time warp. There is just SO MUCH product being advertised, discussed, sold and traded.

SPORTS! The big four, boxing, golf, track and field. NON-SPORTS! This is where is really gets crazy.. cars, movies, motorcycles, wars (seriously), tractors, comics, TV shows, pin-ups… everything that anyone could have a passing interest in what given a damn card set in 1992.

And people had more than a passing interest in serial killers in 1992. Milwaukee’s own Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in the summer of 1991, sparking international fascination with his horrific spree of murders, mutilations, and acts of cannibalism. It was one of those moments where true crime goes mainstream for just a bit, and all the so-called “respectable” news outlets get to thrash around with the slop with those who write gory and sensationalized stuff for a while before returning to their ivory towers. So, with carnage and blood all over the news in 1991, it seemed natural that a True Crime card set would hit in 1992.

In that same issue of Tuff Stuff, there is a short column on a set that was due out in May from Eclipse, a comic book publisher who specialized in edgy material. In January 1992, the tv program Entertainment Tonight (one of those schlock-centric garbage shows that lived on sensationalism, but never owned up to being a  schlock-centric garbage shows that lived on sensationalism) aired a segment on the set, which they claimed would be dedicated to serial killers. The segment caused an uproar, but only got it half-right. The set was to be dedicated to True Crime, and it would include gangsters and crime-fighters as well as mass murders. But the outcry was enough to get legislators in eight states to introduce legislation to ban sale of the cards to minors or to prohibit them altogether – a bill in New Jersey would have given a penalty of 18 months in jail to anyone who sold the cards to kids. And this was all before even a sample card from the set had produced.

 Victims’ rights advocates and free speech supporters debated about the cards on TV. Larry King hosted a segment on the cards. Newspapers all across the nation wrote about the controversy. Meanwhile, Eclipse Co. upped their initial print order for the cards – which would sell for $1 for a 12 card pack – from 10,000 cases to 25,000.

And the cards sold like mad. Only one of the efforts to ban the cards came to fruition… Nassau County, on Long Island, banned sale of the cards to anyone under 18. A lawsuit by Eclipse, supported by the ACLU, eventually overturned the ban. By the end of 1992, with a second, 110 card series rushed into release, the New York Times reported that the company had sold $1 million worth of the product. The cards gained such a high profile that in early 1993, the Hillside Strangler – Kenneth Bianchi – who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 10 women, brought suit against Eclipse for using his likeness for commercial purposes. The suit was thrown out.

The booming success of the cards didn’t seem to do much for Eclipse’s trading card efforts. They had been in the game since 1988, issuing tongue-in-cheek sets on the Iran Contra scandal and political corruption. In 1990, they printed a set on the Kennedy assassination and a “Friendly Dictators” set and, in 1991, issued sets on the drug war and the savings and loan scandal. Although they had announced plans for an “AIDS Awareness” set for 1993 – which would feature Magic Johnson – the concept seems to have been scrapped. In 1993, Eclipse issued a handful of movie sets – including a National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon set – and then bowed out of the card game for good.

I picked up a lot of the second series on eBay recently. I was pretty impressed. The artwork is great and the backside have plenty of copy. There are far fewer “star cards” in this series. Dahmer, HH Holmes, John Wayne Gacy and the like all get their due in the first series. I’d like to pick up some of those to try to complete this set. It’s weirdness and controversy are just too much to pass up.

So what do you think of this set? The uproar seems kind of silly in retrospect, but it’s easy to forget that in 1992, trading cards were seen by many outside of the hobby as something strictly for kids. But so what? I was ten years old in 1992 and read plenty of Milwaukee Sentinel articles on the Dahmer case as it unfolded. No one was suggesting that kids not be allowed to read the newspapers. There is a definite double-standard at play in all of this, the kind that is found when people try to deny the fact that – in general – people are pretty interested in those who do wrong. And if they read about it in the papers or in books (like the books I write) or if they read about it on a trading card… isn’t the real difference in all this just the status of the medium?

And, for the record, no one said boo about the Civil War and World War II trading card sets… and that depicts something that killed more people than a caseful of Jeffrey Dahmers.

I have a couple of unopened True Crime II packs left... leave a comment below with your thoughts and I'll random them off. I'll give you until 11:59 pm on Wednesday, May 30.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Blog Bat Around Doubleheader

A little late to the table here, but I do want to join in on Zippy Zappy’s Blog Bat Around and present my all-autograph team.

I had planned to do this for a while, and I’ve actually waited so long that ANOTHER Bat Around topic has been floated – this one by Diamond Jesters – which references some comic book movie-picture I haven’t seen and have no interested in seeing. The movie is called “The Infinite Wars” or something like that and evidently involves things disappearing. From this concept, there emerge two questions to the collecting community. I’ll answer both of these before moving on to my all-time auto team.

1. With a snap of your fingers, you receive a complete set of your choice. This set is in mint condition. However, half of your collection as it stands now fades away into nothingness. You have no idea what cards will disappear - junk wax, autographs, relics - all are fair game. Would you do it? What set would be worthy of such a heavy price?

I mean, wouldn’t you have to do this? A complete mint 1952 Topps set would sell at auction for millions of dollars. And a mint t-206 set would be perhaps the most sought-after auction item in the history of the hobby. Still, I’d be a contrarian about it all and snap for a mint ’71 Topps set, because it’d be the most beautiful thing in the whole collecting world.

2. With a snap of your fingers, you legally obtain every known copy of one card in existence. Just think, all of those T206 Honus Wagners could be yours to do with as you please! However, you must name a player. That athlete will have all of their collectables erased from history. The player and their career is not affected, they just lose anything associated with them. Set completionists will curse you for all eternity, as these cards will forever leave gaps in their sets. What card do you covet most? Who among the cardboard faces will never be in a PC collection?

Again with the finger snapping! I remember back in kindergarten it was a mildly big deal when a kid learned to snap their fingers. It was like a divide among the class – some kids could and some couldn’t. I recall one kid, the first day in class after he had figured it out, going around and snapping his fingers in everyone’s ears. Just to rub it in, I guess. Anyway, with this one, I think I’d go for all of upcoming Ohtani Topps series 2 RCs. Just to screw with people. And as for the vanisher… Kobe Bryant. You all know why.

Anyway, on to the squad…

Catcher: Bob Uecker

Ok, so Ueck might not be the greatest catcher in my collection, but he was a solid defender and could easily become the heart and soul of an otherwise stacked lineup. I score this one via TTM a few years ago.

First Base: Miguel Cabrera

It’s kind of easy to forget how great Miggy was just a few years ago. Last season was the worst of his career and he’s on the DL again this year, but between 2011 and 2015, he won four batting titles, two MVPs, a Triple Crown, and played in the World Series. He’s under contract with the Tigers for at least another five years and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of role he plays in their rebuild. It’s also worth noting that in another couple of seasons, if he stays healthy, he should make a run for 3,000 hits and 500 homers. I got this card cheap on eBay a few years back. A seller had multiples of this card listed all at the same time, so I managed to pick it up for about $15 in a diluted marketplace. It was more of a steal then and now, but still a good deal.

Second Base: Lou Whitaker

Beats out the HOFer Ryno for this spot with his 75 WAR and career .276/.363/.426 slash line. Sweet Lou actually best those numbers over the last five years of his career, a period in which he ran up a 134 OPS+ and struck out just 225 times.

Third Base: Adrian Beltre

Like Sweet Lou, I nabbed this one via TTM. Also like Lou, Beltre has saved some of his best play for the twilight years of his career.

Shortstop: Ernie Banks

I should mention that I am not including any Brewers on the team, just as an added challenge to myself. This certainly would have been Rockin’ Robin Yount’s spot, but Ernie isn’t a bad pick either. Mr. Cub had a phenomenal seven year run as the North Siders’ SS, averaging 37 homers a season while batting .290. This was part of a lot of ‘Home Run Heroes’ autos I got a few years ago in one of those groupon-type offer things.

Outfield: AL Kaline

A TTM send-back, Al Kaline made 13 straight All Star teams between 1955 and 1967. In that same period, he placed in the top ten in MVP voting NINE times. He was a regular at 19 and won a batting title at 20. Not bad.

Outfield: Stan Musial

I got this one cheap a few years ago, part of a set issued after Musial’s death. I read somewhere that in the last months of his life, he signed thousands of stickers in an increasingly shaky hand. These stickers have since shown up in all variety of cards, including just pasted onto some of this vintage stuff. It’s an ignoble end and some the autos from this period look really bad. It’s sad, really, but I couldn’t pass up the change to own a Musial sig. Still, I feel kind of conflicted about it.

Outfield: Barry Bonds

Speaking of conflicted! Sure, he’s one of the five greatest players ever, but he’s also probably not a very good person. And this doesn’t even consider the PEDs.

DH: Frank Thomas

This is one of those Best Company autos that they used to sell blind at Wal Mart in the early 1990s. I got a deal on it and really dig the colorful artwork and the bold sig. When I was a kid, the Big Hurt was THE MAN. And looking back, his stats really hold up. I’d place him in the top His career OPS+ is 156… 26 points higher than Ichiro recorded in any single SEASON.

Right Hander Starter: Roger Clemens

The other half of the PED elephants in the waiting room to the Hall, Rocket Roger signed this one for my TTM in exchange for a donation to his charity. It’s tough to find another righty who was as good for as long as Clemens.

Left Handed Starter: Warren Spahn

Another TTM return, Spahnnie is not only a local hero, but also the winningest lefty of all-time. He also won a Purple Heart in WWII and was awarded a battlefield commission. He was an effective pitcher into his 40s and in 1967 at age 46 pitched a handful of innings for the Cardinals AAA team in Tulsa.

Closer: Brien Taylor

Yeah, this is just an excuse to show off this card, which I paid all of a dollar for. I have price guides from the early 1990s that list this beauty at over $100. For those who don’t recall, Taylor was taken by the Yankees #1 overall in 1991 and was considered to be the greatest high school pitching prospect of all-time. He immediately became the top prospect in baseball and – this being the boom days of the card market – the frenzy for this stuff was downright Ohtani-esque. He pitched his way to AA by 1993, but in an off-season fight he fell on his shoulder, badly injuring it. He missed all of 1994 and struggled mightily in five more minor league seasons, topping out at A ball, before retiring. For purposes of this team, of course, I’m taking 1992 Taylor, jumping him and his electric fastball to the bigs to become our fireman. In real life, Taylor went to work as a bricklayer after his career ended and later spent three years in prison on a cocaine trafficking conviction.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Getting Excited Again - 9 Cards at a Time

Oh. Hello there.

You might remember me. I used to blog pretty regular here. But then I went back to school like an idiot and had no time for my fun little endeavors like this. Well, the semester is over, suckas! So, here I am again.

I am a creature of habits, good and bad. I get into habits, like running (I used to do thirty miles a week) or model building (I got really into this for a while) or card blogging (like I mentioned above). But just as running is a habit, NOT running is a habit, NOT building, NOT blogging. TO be honest, these are much easier habits to keep up with. Cheaper too.

Anyway, I’m going to spend this summer trying to correct some of my habits. Like Forrest Gump in the desert, I’m afraid my running days is over (posterior tibial tendonitis saw to that), but getting back into blogging is an achievable goal.

And also sorta of back into collecting. I’ve been recently in a kind of down period as a collector. I just haven’t been overly excited about anything in a while. This, with the time constraints, has made me a bit scarce in the online collecting community the past few months. So I wanna recharge that! I wanna make some swaps! I wanna do some fun stuff! Summer’s a-coming and my team is winning. It’s the nature of the season!

The one thing I have been keeping up with is my 2018 brewersNOW set. As I said in one my last posts, I was THRILLED with how these cards turned out. I have since gotten another order of 20 and am working on the backside copy for another order of 20. So, about one-fifth of the way into the season, I am sitting on a set of 60-plus cards.

I have also recently put my brewersNOW cards into some 9-pockets. I’ve always felt that in order to properly gauge a set of cards as a SET, you need to see them nine at a time. It just gives you a different perspective on them. For example, recent Topps flagship sets have looked OK on their own, but just don’t really work in pages.

For example, take a look at 2017 Topps, which was a design that – on its own – I kinda liked.

But look at a page of these. It’s just a mess.

But then look at this page of 1992 Topps. It’s artful in a way I cannot really describe.

So I was just as excited to check these cards out in some Ultra Pros as I was to see them in real life in the first place. And….

I think they play really, really well.

And I ended up being very pleased with my decision to do the “team” set and the “highlight” set separately.

I’m not sure that the highlight cards look as good in pages – I’m not as wild about the design of these – but having the big headlines in the upper left with each one give a nice sense of order to the set.

And looking forward, I managed a couple of really cool cards commemorating Freddy Peralta’s amazing debut today in Colorado.

So, that’s where my excitement index tops out at the moment. I’m going to try to get back in to habit of posting and sharing what I’m getting into and hopefully that will lead to me getting back into my old ways and getting excited about new things.