Archive for sports

The Man is finally a Champion: Kershaw now pitching with a lead instead of from behind

Posted in Collecting Kershaw with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

For all of the regular season accolades Clayton Kershaw has achieved during his 12 seasons in Major League Baseball, detractors of the lefty have always had one major gripe: How’s he going to screw up in the playoffs.

But after a stellar performance in the 2020 playoffs, including two key wins for the Dodgers in the World Series (Games 1 and 5), Kershaw may have been able to re-write the narrative on his own career as he is now a champion.

As a collector of Clayton Kershaw memorabilia — namely his baseball cards and his game-used baseballs — this has been a hell of a roller coaster ride. I took a liking to the lefty around the time of the 2006 MLB Draft. I’ve always been a fan of pitching and while that’s not where folks advise to “invest” your time and money in this hobby, such advise has never dictated what made me happy. Around the time of the draft I had seen many a clip highlighting the lefty’s knee-buckling curveball. It was then that I felt this urge to own something of his. As fate would have it, I came to own perhaps one of his most coveted baseball cards: his 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Refractor autograph.

At the time, Walmart had begun selling blaster boxes of the product. And unlike with everything being sold today, the stuff didn’t always immediately sell. I opened one blaster and pulled a blue refractor (non-auto) of then-prospect Travis Snider. That success made me go seek out more of the product, and a day later I came across another blaster in a Walmart in another city. It was then that I hit the jackpot. In one of the packs from the blaster was the card that would be the foundation of a player collection of a guy who’d eventually become one of the baseball’s finest.

I’m not going to lie. I was not always considering myself a Kershaw collector per se. My PC, or personal collection, at the time revolved heavily around rookies (and first prospect cards) of anyone who had cards. Really.

I enjoyed Kershaw cards early on but was not holding them as an investment. In fact, my mentality was about obtaining the aforementioned rookie cards because they felt like good monetary buys in a relatively volatile market. Collecting isn’t all about the money, but sometimes you can’t help but at least consider it. Besides, I had just taken my foot off the gas pedal a bit with my other player collection: Roger Clemens. While I enjoyed collecting single players, I really wanted to achieve bigger goals – I wanted the icons of cardboard.

For years I focused on that rookie collection, and at times I missed the simplicity of player collecting. It was at that time I decided to really dive into the Kershaw collection. It started with every base card I could find in my boxes. And then with the ease of COMC and eBay I acquired more. Then through trades the collection continued to grow. Sometimes I focused on quality, other times quantity. And to date I have more than 1,200 unique cards in my possession and another 300 or so on the way. By the time those cards are catalogued, the Kershaw collection may very well outnumber the Roger Clemens collection, which is right around 1,500 unique pieces.

Cards are my first hobby love, and at some point I intend to photograph and post each of the Kershaw cards either here or on another platform. But my hobby desires over the last half-decade have shifted and now include game-used memorabilia, specifically baseballs.

***

The very first time I saw Clayton Kershaw pitch live, he was involved in a battle with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. I live in northern California, so up until Sept. 29, 2015, I had only been able to see Kershaw pitch on television. And then that late-season matchup was announced and thre NL West crown was on the line. Kershaw — the guy who I could not wait to see pitch live — was facing off a local lefty whom I had seen pitch plenty and also enjoyed. The battle, in my mind, was going to be epic. To some degree the real outcome was epic. Kershaw tossed a 1-hit, 13-strikeout complete game masterpiece as the Dodgers clinched the title that night in San Francisco. After the game I located the game-used memorabilia booth hoping to get a piece of the action, but learned quickly that obtaining game-used items isn’t always easy , even if you’re caught up in the moment and willing to spend whatever you’ve got. Typically the home team controls any used items, including bases and balls, however since the Dodgers had clinched the NL West title they worked out some sort of deal and the Dodgers took possession of it all. In short, that night I left with no physical memorabilia, just a smile, great memories and a bunch of photos I took from the field-level seats my sister and I had along the third baseline.

A year or so later while searching eBay I found a ball from the game for sale. Needless to say I made it mine — it was a pitch in the dirt thrown by Kershaw to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. And about a year after buying that I found another from the same game involving the same players from another at-bat in the game.

The first of those balls was the first Kershaw-used item (non card relted) I owned. And to date, the collection of Kershaw-used baseballs is now nearing two dozen, the biggest two in my mind being a 2018 ball used by Kershaw to strikeout former NL MVP Ryan Braun, and one thrown by Kershaw in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series, the contest in which the Red Sox would rough up the lefty and win their fourth title of the century. This ball is valuable to anyone who collects game-used balls since World Series memorabilia has a lot of desire. This ball for me, however, is literally priceless because I was at the game.

I’d written about this experience before — about being a kid from the San Francisco Bay Area who as a youth chose Roger Clemens as his favorite player and then latched onto the Boston Red Sox; about sticking with the Sox even after Clemens went to Toronto, then Boston, then Houston, and back to New York. I’d chronicled how the night of Game 5 of the 2018 World Series I wept while standing at Dodger Stadium watching my team celebrate a championship — something I’d hope all fans would be able to claim.

While the baseball from that night is something I’d never willingly part with, there are other items I’d also have a tough time moving, including a single game-used cleat from Kershaw’s 2009 season.

***

If you follow me on Twitter, I’d been discussing this cleat in vague terms for almost half a year, or pretty much since COVID changed the routine of our lives. I’ve yet to share the full story. Now is as good as a time than any other, right?

In early March while doing an eBay search for Kershaw items, I got frisky and looked for “better” items, meaning not just cards or baseballs. I wanted something more substantial – I wanted something that I could display.

During the search I found a listing for a signed and authenticated Clayton Kershaw used cleat. Not a pair of cleats, but a single cleat — one dirty right shoe that was caked with mud but was emblazoned with a Steiner Memorabilia sticker/COA. The asking price was much higher than many of the other items I usually purchased, but this was to be expected, especially since I was looking for a substantial piece.

I did a bit of research and saw more modern cleats sold in pairs were well into the four digits. This single shoe from early in his career looked like a deal. And when I photo-matched it to several games, including a a few from the playoffs in 2009, I knew it had to be mine. A bit of haggling ensued and a deal was struck. The overtime I had worked that week was going to fund a special item in my collection and I wasn’t mad at all.

Now, here’s where the story gets a bit funky. Remember the context of the time. The deal was struck in the first week of March, and it was shipped pretty quickly using USPS Priority Mail. At the time the United States was still fully functioning. The discussion about COVID-19 was still somewhat of a international story, not exactly one that had turned into the giant mess that we know it now to be. On March 16, it was announced that the Bay Area — where there had been a high concentration of presumed positive tests — was one of the first areas in the state to go into a “Shelter In Place” order. This was new to everyone, we had no clue what we were getting into.

That day I had an emergency dental appointment and my sister was home all day, so she would have been there to receive the package. When I got out of my appointment, I checked the shipping status and found that USPS had tried to deliver the package but left a notice behind. As I drove home the SIP order was just being leaked and I feared I would NEVER receive the cleat I had paid for. Remember, we had not had an SIP order before and had no clue what we’d be allowed to do, if mail would be delivered or what. For all we knew, we could have gone into a full military lockdown state.

I rushed home to confirm there was no package, and was furious because my sister was literally inside the house all day working from home. There was no knock at the door — the postman left a silly note on the door without even really trying to deliver the package.

So I drove through our neighborhood looking for the guy, I drove through the next neighborhood and didnt seem him either. I spotted a letter carrier at a local park to ask if he had any idea where the guy was and he said he should still be around. So my search continued and just as I was about to give up, I located the guy eating his lunch — I had zero shame bugging him for my package seeing as how he didn’t even knock on the door.

In the end it turned out well. I got my shoe, and I did thank the postal worker for his service and wished him safety in this time of uncertainty. The package indeed contained a single shoe inside a massive Ziploc bag — mud, gravel and even what looks to be a piece of gum is stuck to the spikes. The cleat is signed by Kershaw, even identifying it as “2009 game used.”

***

The collectibles market is a crazy business and prices fluctuate greatly, as by now I am sure you’ve seen. Just in the last eight months we seem to have experienced intense growth, increased interest and a swell in “value” for some pieces. And with the Dodgers winning their title this week, there surely is another boon to Dodger items, particularly those associated with Kershaw.

For more than a decade, baseball fans have known Kershaw and his domination. He’s the winner of three CY Young Awards, an MVP, a pitching triple crown, author of a no-hitter, and holds various records and is quite possibly the best all-around pitcher the sport has seen this century — others who could also lay claim would include Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

But now, Kershaw is a champion. I’m happy to have been along for the ride — to this point I’ve seen him in person pitch about a half dozen times, including in Division title-clinching setting and on the sports’ biggest stage. I’m thrilled that I personally pulled one of his most desirable cards and that it later led to me collecting his items. And really I am elated for Kershaw as his postseason faults are no longer highlighted with such a heat lamp that it sears the accomplishments of his stellar career.

The pressure is gone. He’s now pitching with a lead. I’m curious to see what he does from here even though his legacy is now firmly solidified.

Is It Time To Buy or Sell? Answer: Both

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , on August 19, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

The current state of the hobby is an interesting one. In some ways this feels unnatural since things that were irrelevant now matter (again), but at the same time there is a familiar feel of days gone by, a time when lots of people were talking about trading cards and telling stories about how they collected when they were young.

It’s a fascinating thing to witness as a middle-aged man, considering the last time this market was booming — early 1990s — I was an impressionable youth trying to find my way.

For those who’ve been here a bit, this quick-paced market now leaves some confused about about how to feel about things. Will this last? Is this a fad? Are were still on the upswing or are we peaking? Is it time to sell what I own, or is it time to keep buying?

None of us should be telling others how to feel about this market, our cards, or anything else. But in terms of reconciling the the latter part of that series of queries, I do have a recommendation: It is time to sell AND buy.

Yes, this is typical me, kind of being neutral, but hear me out. In my 33 years of collecting I cannot recall a time when this hobby was hotter. More eyes are on this field than ever, and social media has given us access to so many more potential selling/buying/trading partners than we ever had before. And what this means to us who have loads of cards just sitting around is that this is an opportunity to turn some of that stuff into something we want … or re-purpose that money.

Two and a half decades ago it was easy to take your unwanted cards and find trading partners, whether it be at the card shop, a card show or with others you knew. Trading still exists, but since a lot of it is done online there are associated costs, specifically shipping. You might have once agreed to trade your 1989 Donruss Don Mattingly for that 1988 Topps Kirby Puckett, but would you have done so if you knew the transaction would cost each of you the price of a stamp? Probably not. The result is that a lot of the stuff we owned became dead stock for us; it sat and sort of became useless and in some ways worthless.

But what’s old is new again. While the Mattingly for Puckett swap mentioned above still may not make since today’s market — they’re both worth about a dime each — there are surely other examples of items in your collection that have just been sitting for years and suddenly they are relevant again. This is the time to seize that opportunity and dig out all of that stuff and find someone who will appreciate it; someone who will give you a few bucks for a card that has been sitting in your closet for a decade.

Forget seeking the next flip online when your closet, basements and storage units are full of items that had been carrying little to no value for you. If you look at it the right way, that’s all “found money.”

In terms of buying, I’d say this is also a time to seek the items you always wanted. Take all that money from the aforementioned sales and sink it into an item (or multiple items) you once thought was (were) unattainable. And even if you’re coming into this era of the hobby with no card cache but with a wallet or account full of cash, don’t follow the trend and buy the new shiny hotness, unless of course that is all you know. Bottom line: If cards talk to you, find the ones (new or old) that make YOU happy and give them a new home.

And if you’re here just to flip? Then you keep doing you, and accept the results, both good and bad. There is room for us all.

Breaking Barriers: The vintage rookie cards that shaped the last 15 years of my collection

Posted in Cardboard Porn, Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Have you ever believed that certain things were impossible and then suddenly you accomplished a feat once deemed so insurmountable that it allowed you to rethink everything you believed?

These barrier-breaking moments can have huge impacts in your personal life. And in the right context, these accomplishments in our hobby can lead to reaching amazing collecting goals.

I’m a first-generation baseball card collector who broke into cards at Age 7 because two brothers in my apartment building took me under their wing and led me directly across the street to the card shop where I learned about the pictures of players printed on cardboard.

I collected a bit in 1987 and really leaned into things in 1988, and then 1989 blew my mind with the introduction of Upper Deck and that famed Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. I’ve been here ever since, save for a gap from the middle of 2003 and most of 2004, and this is where I pick up the story.

Upon my return in 2005, the hobby landscape had changed, and I had to adapt, so I really began looking at the things I enjoyed — rookie cards, which I had been collecting hard since 1997 — and seeing glaring holes from 1979 and earlier. This of course isn’t completely abnormal because vintage cards always seemed a bit out of reach for me as a kid, teenager and eventually as a young adult. The common theme for these ages is lack of resources.

By my mid 20s I had completed college and entered my first career. And one of the first goals I had during this “new era” of my collecting history was to obtain a rookie card of two players who cards seemed a bit undervalued by comparison to their peers.

I spent a few months going through the collection I had built to that point and sold off a bunch of inserts and the like. And in 2006, I acquired the two first big vintage rookies for my collection, the 1951 Bowman Willie Mays and the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax.

In my mind, both cards were underrated. Mays and Mickey Mantle were two names often discussed together and both have their Bowman rookie cards in the same set. However, the prices for the two were vastly different, and the Mays felt like an incredible bargain so I chased one down. Sure it, was a low-grade copy, but it was real and it was mine. This is a mantra I still preach to this day when someone wants to knock the condition of anything I own.

And the Koufax? Well … c’mon, it’s a Koufax rookie. I’ve always been enamored with footage of the lefty and owning that card, which had a $1,200 book value (when that was important) for like a decade, seemed grossly underappreciated.

Sadly I do not remember which of the cards came first. Hell, they may have come in at about the same time, because I remembering making the purchases and having this moment of overwhelming joy: “You finally did it!”

I still own that same Mays rookie today, about 15 years later, but the original Koufax I owned has since gone into another collection as I upgraded to a better-looking card.

When those purchases were done, it tapped into the addictive personality that I have. They were a gateway drug for me as the euphoria I felt when I held those cards in my hand made me seek a new high. I set my eyes on more players whose rookie cards were in the same price range (about $250 market value based on condition) and came up with two legends: Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson.

The first Hank Aaron rookie I owned was graded by some off-brand company and while it was clear the card was real, it was also obvious the right border was wavy as if it were cut with a pair of scissors. And the only Jackie Robinson rookie I could afford at the time was a 1948/49 Leaf card that had major damage and was ungraded. Both cards came into my collection and served as placeholders for about a year until I upgraded to the 1954 Topps and 1948 Bowman that currently live in the showcase across from my desk.

For about 18 months I felt like I had built a solid foundation of vintage rookie cards, so I started to look to the future and dabbled a bit in Chrome and signed prospect cards. (Insert major groan here.) My next major vintage rookie is really what got me thinking about this journey.

On Sunday night I tweeted a picture of my 1933 Goudey (high#) Lou Gehrig. Along with the photo I explained how that card made me believe anything was possible again. While the comment wasn’t wrong, it also wasn’t an entire thought as it neglected to mentioned all of the aforementioned, which is what lead to me writing this piece this morning.

I wasn’t feeling well on July 29, 2008, and decided to stay home from work. This was about four weeks after I started this blog and as such this is why I have this date documented. At some point that afternoon I sat in front of my computer looking at stuff on eBay and there was this auction for an SGC graded Gehrig. The card wasn’t as pretty as others available, but the price for the auction was trending low so I threw a nonsensical bid — $1 for every homer Reggie Jackson hit — and to my surprise I won. As you can see I’ve since had the card crossed over to a BGS/BVG slab for continuity in my collection. (Side note: I am a BGS/BVG fan and you can read about that here.)

To that point, the amount I spent on the Gehrig card was the most I had spent on any single card and that is why I see it as such a monumental acquisition for me. Buying this card raised the bar for me and led me to believe that if I really wanted to get to the next level — owning a famed Mickey Mantle Bowman rookie — it was possible.

I added several cards to my collection after the Gehrig, but I kept tabs on Mantle rookies all along. And in 2010, after liquidating a bunch of unwanted items in my collection, I used the money culled from that sale and acquired the Mantle 1951 Bowman rookie card that currently resides in my collection. Mint it is not. In fact it’s not even close. There’s some paper loss on one corner and the register is off … but as the saying goes: It is real and it is mine.

I won the Mantle rookie on Opening Day 2010 just as then-rookie sensation Jason Heyward hit a walk-off homerun. To date, the price I paid for that card is still the most I’ve paid for any single card. But that acquisition changed my mindset and furthered my goal of getting a rookie card (or tobacco era card) of every player member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And in 2012 I acquired a handful of them including my 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, because you can’t own Gehrig and Mantle and not own a Ruth. And once the Ruth was in hand, it lead to me chasing Joe DiMaggio, who is embodied in my collection through a 1938 Goudey Heads-Up card.

Having this idea of Four Pillars or Mount Rushmore of a certain team led me to do the same with others, and I’ve continued ever since, although I also dabble in a bunch of other things as well.

Over the last half decade, life has thrown several curve balls at me. I’ve swung and missed at some, fouled a bunch off and even went with a few and knocked them into right-center field for a base hit. But at some point here in 2020 or the near future, I’m hoping to take one deep — I’m hoping to use my collecting cache and acquire what has to this point seemed impossible to own, a 1952 Topps Eddie Mathews rookie card.

The Mathews to me is almost like the final boss of a 1980s scrolling video game. The Mathews is the last big “modern” vintage HOF rookie card that I do not own. And while it may not be the last card I chase, it surely is the one that is in the crosshairs thanks to a long line of purchases that made the next one seem possible.

Priced out and pissed off? Perhaps its time to pause and appreciate what we’ve had all along.

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Three years ago there was a belief this industry was dying. Cards were not holding their value; ingenuity seemed to be fairly low, and if you spoke to non-collectors about our hobby there was some sort reaction akin to someone asking if you’d even had your first beer.

Alas here we are in 2020 — amid a pandemic, a time of social justice advances, and intense politics — and this card hobby grabs headlines and is hotter than ever.

If you’re like me then you’ve been around cards for a while, and even those of us who have lived through three decades of cards — and some of you much longer — you thought you had seen it all. But this current climate is proving us wrong.

Base cards are relevant again; early non-rookie releases of sure-fire hall of famers are commanding a premium, and parallels — not necessarily autographs — are what’s drawing folks to products. In short, history is repeating itself to an extent but I’m not sure any of us could have predicted anything to this level so quickly.

But when a hobby or market runs hot, demand for products are through the roof and with it go prices. And this is where things get super wonky for the die-hards because … suddenly nothing is easy to find, and most sealed products are carrying insane premiums.

Some have said — or at least thought — that they are priced out of the hobby. This would include me. And honestly, there has been a struggle about how I feel about this. In some ways I’m pissed. I mean how dare this rush of “new” type of consumer rush into this hobby and change the landscape for me and everyone else who has called this their own for years. But … BUT! … how can I/we really be mad when we have bitched and moaned for years about this industry dying; about the lack of respect; and it’s lack of … value.

If you’re in a place where you’re feeling priced out and pissed off, it might be best to pause and think about where YOU fit into this hobby. This, again, includes me.

I know that I cannot hang with the guys who buy into breaks seven days a week constantly gambling their money away until they hit big … and then sell the prized hit and repeat the pattern hoping lightening strikes twice.

I also know that I cannot justify spending $7.50 for a pack of flagship Topps baseball Series 2 — I saw that at an LCS this weekend — and maintain any sort of happiness.

I for damn sure won’t spend $80 to $120 on a blaster knowing that it cost $19.99 when it’s found in the wild. And yes, I know the blasters are impossible to find at times, which is why they command a premium, but I’m not your huckleberry at 4x or higher.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

This is a time for us longtime collectors to realize how good we actually had it all of those years. The times when we were tasked with a milk run at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night and wound up at Target buying the milk and a blaster or two. Those trips to the LCS when we walked in with $20 or $100 budget and walked out with a smile on our face and cards in our hands. The special feeling we had when you found out a distant relative, neighbor or co-worker collected cards and it felt like you were part of the same secret club.

Now is the time to look at your collection and appreciate what you already own. A time to remember why you got into this in the first place. Was it the actual cards? The thrill of the chase? The gambling element? Does the hobby give you a sense of inclusion? Are you carrying on a family tradition or looking to start a new one? The answer is personal for each of us.

I cannot control your feelings about the cards you possess, nor can I contain the emotions you may have for the ones you do not own. But I hope this time of change in our hobby — whether it be short term or not — isn’t pushing you out of the hobby. Because while packs are at a premium, singles are still as available as ever and you can still build a kick-ass collection without having to succumb to the notion that the only thing that matters is the shiniest card released this week of the hottest rookie.

National Baseball Card Day is usually chock-full of memories

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , on August 9, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

For the last four years, I’ve really enjoyed National Baseball Card Day. I know it’s been around in some fashion for at least a decade before that but I didn’t participate as much for varying reasons. But since 2016 I’ve been dragging my kids to the local to get their free pack of cards, an opportunity for them to see deeper into the hobby that has captivated me since I was 7.

It’s become a tradition for us. We’d go in the morning and find a few things to purchase and we’d each get our Topps NBCD packs and pose in front of the store with them. That first year my daughter, while wearing her colorful balloon patterned dress, opened her cellophane pack and unearthed a Greg Bird rookie autograph. As you know, signatures in these freebie packs are tough. The look on her face was priceless, a memory for life. I held on top the card until last year when I turned it back over to her to place into her binder.

The photos we took that day eventually got used in an advertisement that ran in Beckett magazine a year later, which is a fun fact I get to drop on people during casual conversation. The kids still get a kick out of the fact they were in an advertisement.

Since then I’ve incorporated my nephew into this tradition, and to some extent got my ex-wife on board as now she takes my kids on the NCBD days when I have to work. In fact, last year they surprised ME when they brought home an extra pack of NBCD cards, a package that contained a certified Fernando Tatis Jr. autograph. Needless to say that card is forever a PC item.

This year started as every other, a loose plan was in place to hit the shop, buy some stuff and get our packs. My nephew was out of town so it was just my kids and I. The one thing that really felt different this year was this sense of urgency to get to the shop before a line developed. Not only is the shop only allowing a fixed number of parties into the store due to COVID-19, but the hobby is hotter than ever.

We’d been to the shop fairly recently, and I knew the pickings were slim in terms of affordable options, but I was determined to make the best of things and try not to concentrate on the fact that I’m priced out of a lot of products. So we focused on supplies and older blasters for sale. I located three that were of interest: A 2016 Stadium Club one of two left in the store; a 2019 Big League with a Mike Trout cut-out card on the back; and a Topps Archives that was the last on the shelf.

We made the purchase, got our free packs and bonus Pete Alonso (even one for my absent nephew), and took our photo in front of the store just as a half dozen people showed up and began lining up outside. The NCBD packs were fun as usual. My daughter chose her pack first and grabbed the one with Francisco Lindor; my boy chose the one with Aaron Judge and I grabbed one with John Means. We collectively left the pack with Buster Posey on front for my nephew since he’s a Giants fan.

No autographs for us on this day, but my daughter did pull a Luis Robert rookie card which I’ll have her place in her binder next to the Greg Bird,

And what about those blasters? Not bad, we crushed the odds. The Stadium Club yielded a case hit (a Beam Team card of then-rookie Hector Olivera), the Big League contained a Christian Yelich rainbow parallel numbered to 100 copies), and the Archives served up an Expos autograph, which was a surprise considering I opened a fair amount of this product and didn’t see any ink when it was fresh.

Week Two of NBCD happens next Saturday, 8/15/2020, at which time the second bonus card (Yordan Alvarez) will be given out. I’ll have to have my ex-wife take the kids again since I am working. The real problem will be her finding something in the store that is affordable.