New Year, New Focus: The 10th Anniversary Edition

Posted in Misc. with tags , , , , , , , on July 12, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

It’s a tad bit embarrassing to admit this, but I recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of this blog. It’s weird to say that it’s been a decade since I started writing here; it’s even more awkward since the last few years have been relatively light on posts.

It’s been a turbulent decade to say the least, one filled with the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows both personally and in this hobby. But here, as I start this tenth year owning my own Web domain, I am on an even keel, with a new focus for my collection.

I’ve started to shift gears over the last year — a journey I’ve hinted at and have written about minimally — from straight cardboard to something else. Topps likes to use the slogan “bringing you closer to the game.” But I’ve decided to just eliminate the middleman when it comes to my new focus. The focus of my collecting efforts is now procuring game-used baseballs.  Not small pieces of the ball — which Topps, as a middleman, places into cards for the hobby — but the whole damn ball.

Whether you know it or not, your local (or favorite) Major League Baseball team will sell directly to you: jerseys, helmets, bases and other items — including balls — used in their games.  And most of these are not just generic “used” items. Everything from the teams come with an MLB Authentication holographic sticker and serial number that matches their database letting you know exactly when your item was used and often by whom it was used.

Like many collectors, I was intrigued by game-used memorabilia cards when they started to hit the market in the late 1990s.  And over the last 20 years I’ve owned thousands of the cards, a few hundred of which are still in my collection. But over time, the authenticity of the fabric has been brought into question. Furthermore, the ambiguity with which companies chose to word their certificates of authenticity is off-putting.

Take for instance Topps, which for years has pledged to bring us closer to the game but still uses verbiage to legally cover themselves by making no claim as to which season or year the enclosed item was used. Hell, sometimes they won’t even make a claim as to what the item is. Is that really a piece of bat used by Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth, or a piece of a seat used at the stadiums in which the legends used to play? It wasn’t until recently that Topps began partnering more often with MLB Authentication to add some credibility (and collectability) to the modern relic cards

And Panini? Please … I don’t want cards with swatches from photo shoots and signing sessions, even if they are very appealing to the eye. I’m glad I don’t collect basketball or football cards as it is common place to see guys dropping hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on breaks hoping to get a signed patch card featuring swatches handled and glanced at once by the pictured player.  BUT, at least Panini is clear on what these swatches … most of the time.

I digress. My point here isn’t to slam Topps or Panini — or even Upper Deck — for what they’ve provided to us collectors. Rather, my point is that what’s being offered these days just doesn’t fit my needs to feel like I own something special, something significant.

Enter: The game-used baseball.

The ball is white, the stitching is red, and in blue are the facsimile signature of the League commissioner and the logo of Major League Baseball. From several steps away — and even just a few inches away — one ball does indeed look just like other.  But if you look closely, none of them are identical. All of them are unique, especially when you take into consideration the way that MLB authenticates their items.

I know I am late to this hobby. But I’d argue that there is no better time to have gotten into this arena of sports memorabilia collecting. Have you see all of the information that MLB includes in their authentication?

It’s no longer about simply assuring you that the ball in your possession was actually used in a certain game. MLB’s Authentication program now includes the player who threw the ball, the hitter who was at the plate, and the fielders involved in the plays. Hell, the program now includes the speed and type of pitch thrown, as well as the launch angle off the bat … or off of a person.

Yes, I said off of a person.

On May 10, 2018, the Minnesota Twins faced off against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. On the mound for the Twins was right-handed 24-year-old pitching phenom Jose Berrios of Puerto Rico. At the plate in the fifth inning was 26-year-old Mike Trout, easily considered the best player in the game today.

Berrios reared back and threw a 92.5 mph fastball to get ahead of Trout 0-1. He then threw a slightly faster pitch (92.7 mph) down the middle of the plate to make the count 0-2.  On the third pitch Berrios lost control of a 92.8 mph fastball — the ninth straight fastball of the night to Trout if you watched the broadcast — and drilled Trout in left arm between the elbow guard and his bicep. Clearly it was a mistake pitch; but that goof created a one-of-a-kind collectable.

That ball was taken out of play, authenticated by MLB, and sold by the Angels.  And after passing through the hands of at least one other owner, the ball that struck generational player Mike Trout for his 57th career official Hit-By-Pitch now sits in my collection as one of the cornerstones for a segment of my game-used baseball collection that focuses solely on balls that struck players.

You see, the Trout HBP ball is not the first ball that I own which has caused a grown man to grimace in pain, or in Trout’s case cause him to turn away from home play, look upward for a few seconds and then flip his bat toward the dugout in disgust before trotting to first base.

This Trout ball is merely the latest of my admittedly odd theme.

My love for these HBP balls began only a year ago when taking in a Cubs game in San Francisco.  After the Aug. 7, 2017, game, I headed to the Giants official store at AT&T Park to buy a ball from the game as a momento, hopefully something with Kris Bryant’s name attributed to it.  Lo and behold the only available ball attributed to Bryant was the one that struck him on the left arm in the third inning — a 2-2 92.6 mph fastball that got away from Giants starter Matt Moore.

The acquisition that night ignited a passion that has now led to me owning nearly 10 pain-inducing baseballs, some of which I shall show off in the future.

Baseball cards have always been my collecting passion. But to say that the thrill is gone would be an understatement. The current products produced by manufacturers by and large just don’t appeal to me. And my goal of collecting Hall of Fame rookie or tobacco cards is one that I’m choosing to take a break– although truth be told, I’ve got the majority of the guys I’d sought many years ago.

And the stars of today? All those Bowman Chrome autos I collected? Yeah … I’m selling.

The crack in the foundation for these Chrome autos came last year when I decided to part ways with my BGS graded 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Mike Trout. His basic autograph from that set had reach an all-time high and the money was just too appealing. Once I sold that card, it decreased the purpose to keep any of the other chromes. And so, as this tenth year of writing here, those Chromes will slowly start to hit the market as they no longer appeal to me.

Just don’t ask about my 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Refractor Clayton Kershaw. That’s not for sale as Kershaw is one of only two guys I’ve decided to focus my cardboard collecting attention.

2018 Topps cards offer these amusing Twitter and IG handles

Posted in Commentary, Misc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

In recent years, Topps has been doing a great job of incorporating social media into its physical baseball cards.

A few years ago in its Bowman brands, Topps had prospects sign cards with their Twitter handles. And in recent flagship issues we’ve seen Topps print the handles of players on the cards.

While sorting the handful of 2018 Topps packs I’ve purchased, I decided to choose the top five from the cards in my possession.

Clearly this list isn’t definitive,

and it’s totally subjective. If you’ve got a favorite, add it in the comments below.

No. 5: Sean Manaea (@BABYMGIRAFFE / Twitter)

While I’m not sure what the genesis of this username is, it appears to be “Baby,” his initials “SM,” and “Giraffe” pertaining to his height, which is listed here as 6’5. It’s probably worth noting that Manaea hasn’t tweeted from this account since October 2016.

No. 4 Harrison Bader ( @aybaybader / Twitter)

I don’t listen to rap or hip hop the way I used to, but even I could see this from a mile away. Harrison Bader riffed on Hurricane Chris – “Ay Bay Bay” here and it’s wonderful. A quick check of Twitter shows Bader is an active tweeter.

No. 3: Scott Feldman ( @scottyf_baby 37 / Instagram)

If I weren’t a wrestling fan, this may not have made my lost. But. When I read his Instagram handle (he has 3,730-plus followers) it made me think of Adam Cole … baby!

No. 2: Chad Kuhl (@KuhlWhhip_11 / Twitter)

A clever play on his name and the Cool Whip brand … I think. Whatever it is, it made me laugh. Chad had just shy of 3,900 followers at the time I wrote this.

No. 1: Walker Buehler (@buehlersdayoff / Twitter)

This was hands down the best twitter handle I’ve seen in my stack of cards and was really the reason I even decided to generate this list. I’m a big fan of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And so, Mr. Buehler, if you ever read this …

Imagine me as Cam, sitting on the edge of the hot tub after Ferris saves him when he sinks to the bottom of the attached swimming pool:

“Walker Buehler you’re my hero …”

Sometimes you win, Sometimes you lose, Sometimes you break even … in theory

Posted in New Addition with tags , , , , , , , on February 18, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

About a month ago I located on eBay a lot of cards that I thought might have a nice return for me. The auction was poorly titled and clear as day in the pictures was what appeared to be a 1963 Topps Mickey Mantle.

For as long as I have been on eBay — which is now 20 years — I’d dreamed of coming up on a group of cards featuring an authentic Mantle card priced for next to nothing.

Well, I’ll need to keep dreaming.

I won the auction for $40 — a bit of a gamble, but not overly expensive. And when the cards arrived in my hands I opened the package and went straight to the Mantle. The card felt weird and the image looked soft. I grabbed my jewler’s loupe and confirmed my suspicion: The Mantle was a fake.

The stock was wrong. The type face was blurry and there were grain lines printed into the cardboard. And the card is slightly smaller than other 1963s I own.

Gone was the dream.

Gone was my confidence.

Gone was my $40. (The seller didn’t accept returns — which isn’t a problem as I do not allow them either.)

I let the cards sit on my coffee table for about a week before the disgust wore away and I was able to appreciate what was still in the package, which included two cards I did not already own.

The two highlights from this package were a 1973 Fleer Laughlin Baseball’s Famous Feats Babe Ruth and a 1976 MSA Isaly’s disc Hank Aaron. Both items are oversized, but would look neat in a display piece I’m thinking about making.

Additionally, the package also had this 1964 Topps Giants Harmon Killebrew, which is also oversized and may make its way into the piece I’m envisioning.

The remainder of the lot is rounded out by a 1964 Topps Jim Kaat, 1965 Topps league leaders HR featuring three Hall of Famers including Willie Mays, a 1969 Topps Deckle Luis Aparicio, two 1986 Sports Design Products unlicensed wannabe 1969 Cards of Whitey Ford and Eddie Mathews, and an intriguing 1957 Topps Dick Williams.

Why is the Williams intriguing? The bottom border has been cut off and a previous owner clearly had this thing taped to something — perhaps a bed post? — which always reminds me of how cards were enjoyed before they became items associated with money.

While the package didn’t quite deliver the value I’d hope, in hindsight it still offered more value than a lot of current stuff. I mean this lot did have vintage cards of three of the game’s most prolific power hitters — Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.

All I need to know about 2018 Topps I learned in three retail packs

Posted in Commentary, Misc. with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

The release of the latest Topps baseball set used to be cause for celebration for me.

I was like many of you, pining for something new after a winter of hearing about draft baseball products and numerous football and basketball releases.

But what’s funny is that I’ve never fancied myself a set collector, and Topps in and of itself has never been the object of my desire.

Now, before a I start down this slippery slope, I will say that I am in a different place on my life than before. And the focus of my collection is such that the latest product — of anything really — doesn’t quite jive with what truly makes me happy.

I like that old smelly cardboard, the ones that reek like my grandfather’s ashtray, the ones that look like they thrown around the house like a ninja star, the ones featuring the true icons of the sport, not the youngest kid on the block who gets labeled as “the next (insert superstar name here.)” In a nutshell, I want the cards that I never could have imagined owning — and not because they are rare due to manufactured scarcity like we get today.

That said, opening packs of cards is part of my being; it’s been a part of this hobby of mine since I opened my first wax pack on 1987.

So it’s impossible for me to say that I’ll never open another pack again; especially while I continue to collect.

And so there I was last week when 2018 Topps hit the shelves with Twitter abuzz over every card, good or bad. I was fighting that urge to buy a box — or three — which isn’t uncommon for a guy who at times does show an addictive mentality. So I stayed out of the conversation, avoided my Local Card Shop — sorry, guys, I had to — and tried to steer clear of the card aisle at Target.

After a few days, when I felt I could handle buying a few packs, I decided to do so. And in those three packs I learned — or should I say reminded myself — why I shouldn’t be buying much of this product.

The first item I unearthed in my very first pack of Topps was a blank security card, which I found apropos since the card literally said nothing — kind of like the cards within the pack did nothing for me.

And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the product. It’s the same formulaic stuff that works for most people. It’s that for me the blank card, along with the contents of the three packs, just felt like a waste of time.

I didn’t care much that I now owned Salvador Perez as my first true card of a 2018 Card set. Or that I also got a Charlie Blackmon home run National League League Leader Card after he finished THIRD in that category. Hell, I got two Derek Jeter insert cards and really don’t care because neither he nor that insert set are my cup of tea.

Topps baseball has been fun for me in the past, and I suppose it could be again on the future. But right now, I’m not feeling it. And unless my kids show some interest in ripping with me, I’ll stay away because that’s what’s good for me. In those three packs, I learned the two important things about the set — it’s just not something I NEED, and I had no pleasure at all from opening the packs. And those lessons — if you want to call them that — were important to experience because I sometimes fail to realize them until I’ve already lost control and bought too much.

I leave you with this thought today:

If you aren’t finding joy in your hobby …

If you find your hobby spending to be out of control …

If you feel you’re lacking focus …

… it’s OK to step away and regain whatever control you need so that you can maintain a healthy balance of life and hobby. Your hobby shouldn’t rule your life.

Are your card packages being received? A reminder for buyers and sellers.

Posted in Commentary, Misc. with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

A few weeks ago I had two eBay purchases arrive on the same day. As soon as I got notification via eBay that they were delivered I went straight home to retrieve them. When I arrived, I found them sitting on the porch, atop a box of Similac samples my relative had received.

These packages were pretty standard card packages — bubble mailers that could have been shoved into the secure mail slot in the garage door. However, the postal carrier decided to leave them on the step, in plain view of the street — available to any person who wanted to take the items.

Fortunately for me I got to the cards in time. But not less than a week later I received a message from a buyer who claimed that he did not receive a card I sold him last month.

The buyer told me that he never received his card, which he had purchased for more than $150. I promptly checked the delivery confirmation number and it showed that it had been delivered some 30 days before I received this message.

The buyer and I went back and forth, and the buyer opened a EBay case against me, which automatically tied up my PayPal account until the case was resolved.

I provided the buyer and eBay any documentation I had. And after calling eBay myself, the auction site took my side and agreed that I followed the right steps. I won the case and my PayPal account and funds were unlocked.

While I had come out on the positive end of both cases discussed above, it is unfortunate that things even had to get to this point. Mail theft is so rampant these days that it’s common for pieces to go missing, and sometimes the bad guys winds up with someone’s $150 Card.

But these examples prove that it’s a good time to share these precautionary tales with fellow collectors.

If you’re buying something, keep an eye out for mail. Use the tracking numbers, and if it’s expensive ask the seller to consider using a signature confirmation service — at YOUR expense. And do all you can to provide a secured area for a postal carrier to safely deliver your package.

And If you’re a seller, make sure you document your tracking numbers and keep your records (I.e. postal receipts and customs forms, etc) for several months. If you can show eBay that the item you sold was delivered to the confirmed address you should win your case should one be opened against you. Whether or not it actually was received by the buyer isn’t your problem.

Obviously this system would work better for everyone if thieves didn’t exist, but that’s not the case. And whichever side of the buyer-seller relationship you fall on, you have to do what you can to protect yourself.

Ben,

Former Beckett Baseball columnist.

———

Collector of Hall of Fame tobacco era and Rookie cards.

Collector of Roger Clemens and Clayton Kershaw.

You can reach me on Twitter and Instagram @cardboardicons. You can also e-mail me at cardboardicons@yahoo.com

Thrift Treasures 113: Circumstantial Evidence

Posted in Thrift Treasures with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today I will show you evidence that even in 2018, anything is possible when it comes to thrift stores.

Please direct your attention to the photographs shown here as they depict the evidence — the circumstantial evidence — that led to the purchase of the “Treasure Chest” brought forth in the previous case of Thrift Treasures.

The bag in which these items are contained is not original to these collectibles. It is a Wal-Mart brand food storage container used by a Goodwill in San Jose, Calif., to hold these cards for sale. The cards themselves, as you can see, are at least two decades old, some of them three decades.

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss this bag as containing commons — items no one would want. But a closer look reveals that some of the commons are 1985 Chong Modesto Athletics minor league cards, about 20 of which bear the signatures of the player or coach pictured.

While most of these guys never made it to the Majors, the fact that their signed cards exist, and that they were saved from a trash can, is a amazing. The basic set is best-known for housing an early Mark McGwire. However there was no McGwire to be found.

Here are the signed cards:

Twayne Harris // Paul Bradley // Kevin Stock

Jim Jones // Steve Howard (MLB) // Oscar De Chavez

Stan Hilton // Dave Wilder // Damon Farmar

Antonio Cabrera// Doug Scherer // Bob Loscalzo

Joe Strong (MLB Debut at age 37 in 2000 – Marlins) // Eric Garrett // Allan Heath

Mike Fulmer // Kevin Coughlon // Jim Eppard (MLB Debut, at age 27 in 1987 – Angels)

Pete Kendrick // George Mitterwald (Spent parts of 10 seasons in MLB) // Joe Odom

There also were a handful of unsigned A’s minor league cards …

One of the first cards I actually noticed when I picked up the bag was a 1985 Topps Tim Belcher Rookie Card which is signed in ballpoint one and personalized “To John, All The Best!” Belcher was a solid MLBer who spent 14 seasons in the Majors. He placed third in Rookie of the Year voting in 1988, and sixth in Cy Young voting, both seasons with the Dodgers.  He won 15 games three times during his career.

In addition to these cards, there was a partial set of these 1987 Fleer Award Winners — including this Tony Gwynn card, which is epic for two reasons: First — he’s wearing a single earbud.

And Secondly …

Made you look!

The remainder of the bag contained little more than commons. But there was a nice flashback when mixed in with the newer press lock baggies was this old school — thinking 1990/1991-ish — nearly full pack of penny sleeves. I’m not sure about you, but seeing the original packaging on supplies from the junk wax era brings about all sorts of memories. In my case, I distinctly remember rummaging through a relative’s bedroom for coins so that I could secure my first pack of soft sleeves.

Speaking of nostalgia, within this food storage bag there were two of these “Sports Card Collector’s Guide” books that give a very broad over view of collecting in the early 1990s. These things were all over the place, usually packaged with what we would equate to a card collector’s starter kit usually sold at retailers like Toys R Us.

The items within this food storage bag aren’t worth a ton, but certainly they are worth more than the  price tag. And when you consider that they were found with the aforementioned Treasure Chest, they certainly added value as circumstantial evidence for the purchase of the box, which as I noted in my previous post, had contents unknown to me at the time of purchase.

Total cost of this Thrift Treasure: $3.99.

You can see more Thrift Treasures posts Here.

Thrift Treasures 112: I found a treasure chest!

Posted in Thrift Treasures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2018 by Cardboard Icons

Once upon a time, a Yahoo Sports columnist wrote that I, Ben Aguirre, must consider myself a “real, live Indiana Jones” (read here) after I unearthed the mother of all Thrift Treasures items, a game-used Earl Weaver jersey, that I later had signed and authenticated by Weaver himself.

Well, what should I consider myself today after finding a real, live “treasure chest?”

The answer: perhaps nothing more than a fool.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a Thrift Treasures posts. In fact, it’s been 11 months. Which if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you’d know that’s an asinine amount of time for me, an avid thrift shopper, to write about something I’ve found.

Well, truth be told it’s been slim pickings for a while. Anyone with a cell phone — which is to say that everyone who walks into a thrift store — is an expert, or can at least quickly learn enough to know whether or not to buy an item.  Also, while I still pop into thrift stores, it’s definitely been with less frequency.

I digress, this week I decided to set aside some “Me” time and do something other than laundry, or other adult chores such as run errands and pay bills. I decided to be Indiana Jones — I decided to go hunt treasure.

I walked into a few stores and walked out empty handed. But at one Goodwill in San Jose, Calif., I found something promising: A Baseball Collector’s Treasure Chest. See, it says “treasure” right on the box.

The box, as you might be able to see in the picture, is taped shut.  And while some would say rip the box open and review the contents before purchasing, I found that to lack class — yeah, I used class while writing about a thrift store visit. Also, there was nearby evidence suggesting there may be something worthwhile inside. Beside, it was $5.99 for this big box of cards, or about the same price of three retail packs of 2018 Topps Baseball — which I know releases next week and I will be sure to steer away from as much as possible so as to not get sucked into that rabbit hole.

So, what is this nearby evidence of which I speak? It’s actually a clear, gallon-sized food storage bag also containing cards, including what i could see to be a handful of mid 1980s autographed minor league cards, as well as a personalized signed 1985 Topps Tim Belcher rookie card. The bag was priced at $3.99. The presence of these autographs created this notion in my mind that there could be anything in side the box.

And so the “Treasure Chest” left the store with me and in the car I sliced open the tape and I could immediately see three things:

First, there was a 1968 Topps card included here. That was promising.

Secondly, the cards did not appear to be recently sorted since they were packed fairly tight and in a uniform fashion. That’s also promising.

Thirdly, there’s an awful lot of colored borders here. That’s NOT so promising.

As it turned out, this treasure chest was a real turd.

I immediately grabbed the 1968 Topps card (Jim Merritt, a common) that was sitting on the side of the row and found that there was a 1979 Topps card (Ken Clay, also a common) behind it, as well as a 1990 Topps Special Nolan Ryan card as well. I then thumbed through every card in the box and found that the box contained an assortment of 1986 through 1991, what seemed like opened packs or bricks removed from complete sets, or partial team sets, void of most of the big names. The one highlight from the box was a 1988 Topps Tom Glavine rookie card.

I sat there a second and thought about what exactly this “Treasure Chest” was.  I’d never seen these for sale before, but it was not uncommon in the early 1990s to find random baseball cards for sale either on television shopping channels, or in various magazines. And based on the items that were IN this box, I’m guessing this was a “Treasure chest” offered for sale via one of those avenues, and the description likely pitched this box as containing roughly 1,000 cards, a random assortment from multiple manufactures including Topps, Donruss, Score, Fleer and Upper Deck. Additionally there was likely a guarantee that the box included a card from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a card of Nolan Ryan, who was at the peak of collectibility in 1990 and 1991.

Needless to say, the Treasure Chest was a dud. But thanks to the box I learned about pitcher Jim Merritt, the subject of the 1968 Topps card. He was an all star in 1970 with the Reds, who three years later would be fined as a member of the Texas Rangers for throwing “spitters” in a three-hit shutout against the Cleveland Indians.

And I learned about pitcher Ken Clay, the subject of my 1979 Topps card. Clay apparently was a top pitching prospect who never made it at the MLB level, and was traded by the Yankees after a handful of seasons in which he bombed, but his team still managed to win a pair of World Series rings. Wikipedia also notes that Clay’s struggles at the MLB level was the reason why Yankees owner George Steinbrenner shifted away from building through the draft and rather through free agency and trades.  Additionally, Clay also apparently had some run-ins with the law, all of which you can read on the link added above.

As for the Ziplock bag that I labeled as evidence for this purchase earlier, I’ll break that down in the next edition of Thrift Treasures coming up later. I assure you it’s better than this.

Total cost of this Thrift Treasure: $5.99.

You can see more Thrift Treasures posts Here.