Archive for Panini America

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.

I’m going to the store just for supplies… I think.

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

After I wrote yesterday’s post, I finished up with the car maintenance and headed over to the card shop to buy nothing more than supplies. Just a few new little plastic cases to help protect some of the items in my collection.

And while that was my sole intent, I thought it’d be fun if I found something to add to the collection. To sort of mark this place in my life.

The thoughts and emotions that ran over me. They were familiar.

What was I going to buy? What would I find? Was this hypothetical card purchase really going to be something I wanted/needed, or merely something I was buying to soothe an itch?

When I waked into my local card shop I was greeted by the secondary guy — it was Thursday, the sole day off for the primary guy with whom I usually spark conversation .

I said hello and went straight to the supply area. I needed a 180-point one-touch to protect and display a specific card I recently added to my collection. And after grabbing two of those (because that’s what we do, right?), and two packs of soft sleeves specifically designed for tobacco cards, I decided to have a look around the shop.

I looked and looked. And looked some more. I looked high and low and didn’t see anything that sparked my interest. Not even the vintage case — which was pretty barren on this day — had anything that enticed me, partly because I owned most of the stuff that was in there.

I then saw lots of high prices for packs, priced way above retail for products that didn’t interest me.

Yes, NBA Panini Prizm is hot. But guess who doesn’t collect basketball? This guy. And I sure as hell was going to pay $35 for a blaster box that costs $19.99 at Target … when /if you can find them.

And all baseball released in 2017 has been marked up so much it’s disgusting. No fault of the LCS of course.

And so I reached familiar feeling: There was nothing that struck my fancy and I was leaving without any cards. Hey, it’s baseball’s off season, I’ve been here before.

So I went to pay for my cases, and there next to the register stood a stack, about 8 inches tall, of cards left behind by other customers. The shop always offers customers a chance to take whatever they want from the stack. Sometimes I indulge. Today it appeared to be 90% basketball and football, but I found a small stack of 2017 Panini Contenders Draft Picks, baseball of course. The clerk said I could take them all — so I did.

I knew there were no “hits,” but this was a cost-effective way to soothe an itch that I could feel growing. Plus I knew Roger Clemens has a few cards in the set so I was hoping to find one.

The funny thing about seeing this stack though, is that it instantly reinforced the idea in my kind that this hobby has become so much about the hits that there are people who simply don’t care about the standard issue items. Some of the. Simply discard practically anything that doesn’t bear a swatch of fabric, a smudge of ink, or a serial number.

But after thinking about that reaction for a minute, it made me feel a certain way — like I’ve been looking at this hobby lately through such a prism of negativity that I couldn’t appreciate this instance for what it was worth: someone made a conscious effort to stack the freebie cards there and offer them to others instead of actually tossing them in the trash, which many collectors see as sacrilege. And on this occasion I was the one benefiting from this … this … generosity.

I still see a lot of negative aspects to our hobby right now, but perhaps I need to allow myself to see the other side of things and understand why things are the way they are.

By the way, I spend less than $9 on supplies and in that stack of cards I got for free there was indeed a Roger Clemens card I did not yet own.

Ben Aguirre, Jr.,

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

Another iconic card added to the Icons collection

Posted in New Addition with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2016 by Cardboard Icons

Additions to my personal collection have slowed down in recent months, so when I make an acquisition that fits into that “PC” category, I shall share it.

Like many of you I have an addiction, a true sickness for cardboard. I say this somewhat in jest, but there is some truth to it. I spend more money on cards than I should; I even find myself buying stuff just for the sake of buying. Don’t laugh, you might be in the same boat but just not willing to admit it.

But rather than walk away from the hobby that has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, the way I “right the ship” so to say is to find one card to add to my collection; one that i can point to and say, “THAT is why I collect.”

img_0879And today that card is the 2001 SP Legendary Cuts Game-Used bat card of the one and only “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

When it comes to memorabilia cards I have many of the greats.

I have Mantle. I have Mays. I have Aaron.

I have Ruth. I have Gehrig. I have DiMaggio.

I have Mathewson. I have Cobb. I have Wagner.

And the list goes on …

But there has always been one player whose memorabilia card that has taunted me from a  distance. And now I can look at Joe Jackson eye to eye and clutch his card between my thumb and index finger like it were a big ol’ bass and say, “Gotcha!”

For a long time Jackson, the controversial baseball player whose legendary playing career is forever tied to the gambling scandal of the “Black Sox,” really only had one licensed memorabilia card, this 2001 Upper Deck release. More than a half-decade after the card’s release, Donruss (then owned by the company known as Donruss Playoff) lost its MLB license and with that came the release of various logo-less products. This “free reign” seemingly allowed them to produce cards of Jackson, base and insert cards, as well as memorabilia cards. Panini America, who now owns the Donruss name, continues to produce Jackson cards in all forms under various brand names.There now are several options for collectors when it comes to Jackson memorabilia cards.

Meanwhile, Topps, the only company with the MLB license, has not produced any cards, likely because Jackson has been blackballed — not unlike Pete Rose — from licensed products. His name is often met with a head tilt and a grimace as Jackson’s actions in the gambling scandal are still somewhat debatable, although time has shown that he may have been the good guy in all of it.

Nonetheless, Jackson is still a baseball icon. Over his 13-year career he notched a .356 batting average and tallied 1,772 hits. And while I don’t own any of his older cards, at least I can say that I now own a piece of Jackson’s bat and it’s not just on any card. It’s THE Jackson memorabilia card, which is one of the most recognizable in our hobby.

A few CARDS from the toy show

Posted in New Addition with tags , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2016 by Cardboard Icons

This weekend we celebrated my son’s sixth birthday with a trip to a place he chose — the toy show. He’d never been to a toy show — and for that matter neither had I — but he wanted to go so we took the family and a bunch of his cousins and gave them money to pretty much buy whatever they wanted.

While this was a toy show, I held out hope that I might find a few card/sports-related items for myself.  And that I did, while spending a grand total of $10.

What did I find?  Here ya go.

img_0458One seller had a cigar box with vintage cards in warped top loaders.  His prices weren’t bad … just not at the level that I wanted. And almost every card in the box that appealed to me — major stars from the 1960s — were ones I already owned. But he had one item I did want. This 1972 Topps Baseball wrapper. The wrapper is not in perfect shape, and from what i can tell it was folded down flat and then sealed again with wax.  It now fits in a top loader. And while the “value” of said wrapper may be diminished by the fact that it is not in its original state, I have three words that best describe my feelings on that: I Don’t Care. I just think it’s a cool-ass item to have in my collection. Would I buy another at $4? Probably not.  But I’d be open to owning other wrappers.

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Another seller at the show is actually a tandem whom I see quite often at one of the local flea markets.  And his items are usually priced really well.  He had a slew of toys and a few cases of sports cards, some high-end.  Then he also has these boxes of cards that he sells for $1 each and others that are $2 or three for $5.

There were quite a few cards I wanted to buy but I decided to harness my impulse and opt for just a few.

I purchased ONE card from the $1 box, this 2016 Topps Gold Jose Bautista. That bat flip is still amazing. And the price for this card was HALF of the price of a pack of cards.  That’s a win.

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And from the $2 each/ three for $5 boxes I selected these three:

2015 Topps Allen &Ginter Mini No Number on Back /50 Nolan Arenado, 2016 Donruss Signature Series Elias Diaz and 2016 Stadium Club Kole Calhoun autograph.

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Two of the three will be headed to COMC with my next submission, but the Calhoun is a card that I really like.  Good (not great) player, fantastic image and a clean, loopy signature. For $1.66 that’s a nice addition to my collection.

 

 

A Flawless Diamond added to my collection

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by Cardboard Icons

Gem stones and baseball cards. This is hardly a new concept.

There were some “24 karat gold” cards (made my Bleacher if I remember correctly) sold via television home shopping channels during the 1990s that also had stones — rubies if I remember correctly — but as clear as I can remember, Pinnacle Brands was the first company to incorporate actual pieces of stones (diamonds) into mainstream baseball cards when they brought us The Diamond Club inserts in 1996 Pinnacle Zenith.

It was cool in theory. I mean aside from putting cash into cards, actual gem stones are the only other way to ensure that a card in your collection has some real value outside of just this hobby. But those early cards were poorly produced.  They were the same thickness as regular cards and the stone was in a small metal mount that easily came off some of the cards. Furthermore, the size of the stones was tiny. Think smaller baby earrings.

Fast forward a decade and a half and Topps brought us some special 1/1 Diamond parallels with gem stones to coincide with the company’s 60-year anniversary. The design was much approved over one of the rival companies from 15 years earlier. But they were 1/1’s Good luck finding a card of your guy.

And then in recent years, Panini America seems to have taken a liking to the idea of gem stones and cards and the company has used diamonds and what appear to be rubies in some of its higher-end brands.

Watching from a distance, I really wasn’t overly impressed with the cards, or really the notion of the gem stones in the cards. Truth be told, my sour experience with the inserts from 1996 and the difficulty actually obtaining one of the 2011 Topps cards really put me in a negative mindset as it pertains to such cards.

And the more recent Panini cards to me looked more like a way for the company to justify the price point at which the MSRP was being set rather than something collectors actually wanted. While it’s completely unfair of me to make such a broad assumption, it’s pretty clear that there is at least some truth to my thought as the secondary market on these cards remains relatively soft given the quality of card, the fact they contain actual stones, and the limited serial number nature of the cards.

Side note: I’m assuming these stones are real as there is a statement of guarantee on the reverse of the cards. And yes, I have seen some of the videos on YouTube calling their legitimacy into question. But it should be noted that while some didn’t pass the test of jewelers reviewing the cards, many did.

That said, I decided to buy one. Why? Because I found one of my all-time favorite player, Roger Clemens, … and the price seemed cheap.

This 2015 Panini National Treasures Multi-Sport Flawless Diamond card shown above is limited to 20 copies and shows Clemens in his University of Texas Longhorns garb. It has a few factors that might keep it out of the hardcore Clemens collectors, which kept the price low I think, but for $30 it seemed like a good addition to my collection.

So, do I feel any differently now that I have one of these nice, shiny Flawless Diamond cards in hand?

Yes and no. The quality on these cards is fantastic. Thick card stock and flashy foil help the “bling” factor if you will. I do think this one is a cool addition to my collection. But are they for everyone? No.

For the rippers and flippers, these are merely the equivalent of pocket change — nice to have as they are better than a pocket full of lint, or premium base cards, because they’ll eventually decrease the net cost of your break. But they are hardly the chase cards that collectors will hunt with an open wallet, which in turn would make a flipper a small fortune.

For player collectors, I think they present an interesting opportunity especially with prices for most guys being relatively cheap. And by relatively cheap I mean in the $20-$60 range for a hit that hails from a product that commands several hundred dollars sight unseen.

For everyone else it just depends if you want to spend your money on a piece of cardboard with a small diamond. Bottom line, that’s all this really is. There is no significance to the stone, or the paper in which it has been embedded.

’16 Stadium Club & ’15 Prism box breaks

Posted in Box / Pack Break, Newspaperman with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2016 by Cardboard Icons

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I won a gift certificate from Blowout Cards earlier this year and it’d been sitting in my account for months.  I decided to use it last week and just a few days ago the boxes arrived. I love Stadium Club and Prizm offered two autos per box at a discounted price so it seemed like a decent buy.  Here are the results.

I’ll say this upfront. Panini America’s Prism is always fun to open, although I think we’d all like it more if the cards had logos. I like the design,  the quality of the cards and I the parallels. These boxes have two autos and four numbered parallels per box.  I did OK given the price point.  My autos were James McCann and Addison Russell, which was a parallel. My parallels included a Barry Bonds /125, Stephen Strasburg /99 and Cole Hamels /42.

 photo 1FDB2955-9BBF-4EA4-835C-9DC814AC92ED_zpsey0opswu.jpgThe real reason I decided to order the cards was because I really like Stadium Club. I love the photos, which is what brings be back to the product every year that Topps decides to bring it back.  As you know, each box contains two autographs and a slew of parallels and inserts.  My haul wasn’t half bad.  The autos included one of a young Mets pitcher Steven Matz whose signature I didn’t already own, and my parallels were solid — black parallels of Corey Seager and Babe Ruth, gold Mike Trout.  And I pulled one of those tough (1:256 packs) Triumvirate Illuminators (Prince Fielder) and a photo variation of Greg Maddux.

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Another case of a missing Rookie Card Logo

Posted in Misc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2016 by Cardboard Icons

A decade ago, the official “rookie logo” was instilled into the baseball card world following a rule change that no longer allowed card companies to create cards of players who had yet to serve time in the Major Leagues.  Topps’ rules were slightly different as they were grandfathered into the hobby and via various Bowman branded products could produce “prospect” cards. This changed the definition of a “rookie card” for many people as some saw the prospect cards as nothing more than an insert, or pre-rookie card, akin to a minor league issue. The debate over what collectors really want continues to this day.

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But the Rookie Card Logo was also designed to make it easier for collectors, especially novice ones, to easily identify a real rookie card from a player’s second- or third-year card.For the most part Topps, the only company with a Major League Baseball Properties license, has done a good job using the logo when needed.  However, it has been abused in the sense that the logo has basically been slapped on ever rookie player’s non-rookie cards — like subsets, inserts and checklists bearing their photo and name.

But there have been instances where the company seemingly has flat out missed the opportunity to correctly use the Logo.

In 2015, Giants utility man/third baseman, and eventual runner up for National League Rookie of the Year, Matt Duffy was added to the Topps Update Series without a Rookie Card Logo. And to make that worse, they have added the Logo to his 2016 Gypsy Queen card.

It should be noted that Panini has a license to create baseball cards through the Majoe League Players Association and uses a variation of the Rookie Logo on their cards. The 2015 Duffy cards created by Panini in fact have the Panini version of the Rookie Logo.

The reason this comes to mind today is I pulled a 2016 Topps Gypsy Queen Byung-Ho Park rookie card this morning and guess what … it’s missing a logo.Park signed with the Twins in November and to date is his only Major League card.