Friday, January 1, 2021

Good Riddance 2020, Hello 2021!

 Happy New Year Everyone!

This time last year I posted a good bye to 2019, reviewing my collecting goals, and looking ahead to 2020.

My goal from 2019 to organize my collection only got worse in 2020, things are way out of hand, I may need to hire an intern to help me sort and catalog everything.

My "At the bat rack" mini-collection has continued to grow, and more pages from the "Frankenset" will be posted in 2021.

The "Call Me, Maybe" mini collection I started in earnest in 2020 did not grow very much. 

The 1959 Topps Set build nearly stopped entirely. Sure, I could have just bought all the singles online, but how is that any fun? In hindsight, with the Project 2020 hype and his untimely passing spiking demand, I should have purchased the Bob Gibson rookie last year.

The "I Love the 80s" and the "Topps All-Star Rookie" posts will come back again in 2021, I still have plenty of material to cover there. 

I only attended 2 card shows in 2020, the last one coming in February. I don't know what the future holds for card shows in MN, selfishly I hope they survive and can rebound in 2021 at some point. I still will hold off from attending until I am vaccinated- I have elderly parents and I'd like to avoid passing anything on to them.

and drumroll . . . I bet you all forgot that I held a contest last January first to guess which 1970s set I was going to start working on. Well, last month I finally took the initiative and bought a 400+ card lot of:

1974 Topps! So, Jim (cards as i see them) and Chris (The Collector), congratulations! You've won by also guessing that I would start a 1974 topps set build. 

As far as actually building that set... well I have no idea what cards I need right now, the 400+ lot is still in the box it shipped in. I will be looking to buy a nice, big binder (or two?) to house the set, and I'll need to get more 9-pocket pages. I haven't started to figure out what I have.

But the good news is that card collecting will continue in 2021. 

Thanks for reading, I owe you all a ton of posts, and a shout out to everyone that has reached out via email and or snail mail with cards and notes. This year can be better if we make it better!

Monday, November 2, 2020

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Ben Grieve


Many profiles of our next Topps All-Star Rookie want to know "What happened to Ben Grieve?" If you follow the trajectory of many phenoms / "can't miss" prospects, his story is probably a familiar one. Grieve had an MLB lineage (his father was a first round pick, too), to go along with a stellar prep career that had the scouts ready to fall all over themselves. Grieve backed up the hype in his rookie season with the A's - he set a franchise record for hits by a rookie, and made the MLB All-Star team en route to Rookie of the Year honors in the AL. Of course, that made him an ideal candidate for the Topps All-Star Rookie squad as well.

To give some perspective about how highly the A's thought of Grieve, he had more plate appearances that season than Rickey Henderson. Grieve's 41 doubles led the A's, as did his 168 base hits. Just 22 years old, Grieve was ready to take his place in Oakland A's history. 

The Oakland A's selected Grieve #2 Overall out of high school in Arlington, TX. He grew up with his father Tom Grieve as a 9 year veteran MLB pitcher and later coach and GM. Ben's older brother Tim was also a talented pitcher, and Ben even got the chance to face off against him in the minor leagues. The MLB connection included getting hitting instruction from the then Texas Rangers hitting coach Tom Robson while Ben was in high school. 

As prospects go, few were hotter than Grieve - he was the 1997 Minor League Player of the Year, have forced his way onto the MLB roster to finish the season. He slugged .610 with 24 homers in double A, then surpassed that with a SLG north of .700 in a handful of games in AAA Edmonton. He had already made an impression in 1996, hitting .356 for the season in Modesto. There was little doubt that Grieve was on his way to star status.

Despite the fact that Grieve's 1998 season was his only All-Star Appearance, his entire A's career was a success. Grieve follow up his Rookie of the Year campaign with a career high 28 homers. In 2000 he once again reached 40 doubles, this time with 27 homers, making it the highest slugging of his MLB career to date. He also topped 100 RBI for the first time, finishing the year with 104. That season marked his first appearance in post season play, where he struggled with a 2-17 with 7 strikeouts performance in the ALDS against the Yankees. Over the first 3 full seasons in the big leagues, Grieve was averaging 35 doubles, 25 homers, and over 90 RBI. 

Before the 2001 season began, Grieve was traded to Tampa in a wild three team deal that sent Johnny Damon to Oakland, Angel Berroa and Roberto Hernandez to Kansas City, along with several other players flipping between Oakland and KC. Grieve was the lone player coming to Tampa Bay, and they certainly thought they were getting a steal. It's about this time when people started the "what happened to Ben Grieve" narratives, with his first season with Rays just 11 homers and a 100 point drop in his slugging percentage. After the trade, Grieve had gone from second banana behind Jason Giambi to top dog in Tampa. He was hitting 5th in the order after an older Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn. He was making less contact in Tampa (certainly the roof in St. Pete was less inviting than California sun), setting a career high with 159 strikeouts. The positives? He still rattled off a pair of 30 double seasons, and his walk rate had improved considerably. Maybe the opposition was willing (and able) to pitch around Grieve now that he was the main focus of the lineup? 2003 added injury to insult, as a blood clot in his shoulder required surgery. He would play in just 55 games that year, his last in Tampa. 

He was entering a free agent season after the injury, and was left with fewer options than a former ROY would normally expect. He landed in Milwaukee, where he was used in platoon situations for 108 games. He was on the move again the next year, taking a brief tour of the NL Central division. While the Pirates signed him initially, he would end up playing for the Cubs for a handful of games in 2004 and 2005. He moved to the south side after that, playing minor league ball for the White Sox for two more seasons. 

Do you have any Ben Grieve memories? I'd love to read them in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

I Love the 80s - 1982 Montreal Expos

This is a series of posts on a 1980's Frankenset. Each page features a different team, with 9 of my personal favorite cards from that year's team. You might find players repeated, you'll definitely see brands repeated, but hopefully you'll agree that there are some interesting selections from the 1980s!

The Expos clinched their first ever Playoff berth in 1981, despite the team's manager Dick Williams being fired in September by the front office with the team just a game and a half behind the Cardinals in the standings. They would lose 3 of the first 5 games under new skipper Jim Fanning, but squeaked out a narrow half game lead over the Cardinals by the end of the second half. They would go on to beat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in the Divisional round, but fell in 5 games to the Dodgers in the NLCS. The franchise would not return to the post season until after the team moved to Washington, D.C.

Despite missing the playoffs in 1982, the Expos were still a very good team, led by a trio of Hall of Famers. Carter, Dawson, and Raines were joined by fellow Expos Al Oliver and ace pitcher Steve Rogers in the All-Star Game. It was hosted for the first time outside of the United States and the only time in Montreal. Rogers pitched well and recorded the win. Ultimately the team finished third in the standings, behind the Cardinals and Phillies in the NL East. Despite the talented trio and more young players on the way, the team never finished higher than 3rd for the rest of the 80s. 

The Cards:

Donruss #114 Gary Carter - By 1982, "The Kid" was a veteran and a team leader. He was just about midway through a run of 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, and took home his 3rd straight Gold Glove and 2nd Silver Slugger award. He paced the Expos with 29 homers, and led the NL in WAR with 8.6 for the season. His final season in Montreal, 1984, he led the NL in RBI, won his 2nd All-Star MVP award, and posted a career high 175 hits. He'd go on to post season glory following a trade to the Mets, winning the World Series in 1986. Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 6th year of eligibility. His 2,056 games caught ranks 4th All-Time in MLB history.

O-Pee-Chee #379 Andre Dawson - I had to break out the OPC for the Canadian teams! Andre, just like Gary, was celebrating 1982 with his 3rd Gold Glove and had appeared in his 2nd of 8 All-Star games. Dawson had the 2nd Highest WAR in the NL just behind Carter, with 7.9 wins above replacement. He played a sterling center field, including 7 outfield assists that year. He led the NL twice in that category from Center Field. He was the 1977 Rookie of the Year in the NL, thanks to displaying skills at all phases of the game. Before injuries sapped his speed, Dawson would average more than 30 steals and nearly 25 homers a year in his prime. He showed his worth again in his first year in Chicago, winning the MVP in the NL by virtue of leading the league in Homers (49) and RBI (137). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 9th year of eligibility, with voters citing his lower career totals compared to his healthier peers as a stumbling block. His speed, power, and grace on the field would not be denied!

Topps #3 Tim Raines - While Rickey was dominating the AL on the bases and leading off year after year, it was Tim Raines showing many of the same skills in Montreal. In 1981, Raines had a triple slash of .304/.391/.438 and stole 71 bases in just 88 games (remember, this was a strike shortened season, and Raines was a mid-year call-up!)! Just like his HOF brothers-in-arms, Raines was embarking on a string of numerous All-Star appearances in 1982. It would be his 2nd of 7 straight mid-summer classics. He led the NL in runs scored twice, won a batting title (and OBP title) in 1986, and was the top base stealer in the NL for 4 straight years starting in his rookie campaign. He'd steal at least 10 bases every year for 15 consecutive seasons. He ranks 5th All-Time in the category, with 808 career steals. Raines would have to wait the maximum period of 10 years on the HOF ballot before his induction - he never finished higher than 5th in MVP balloting, didn't have post season success in his prime (though he was a key piece of the 1996 and 98 Yankees teams), and didn't hit for power or reach the 3,000 hit milestone. His final year of eligibility included a successful campaign on behalf of OBP, stolen base %, and the value of a player who rarely got himself out. 

Topps #131 Stan Bahnsen - The 1968 AL Rookie of the year was coming to the end of long and winding road in the big leagues, which included a 20 win season followed by a 20 loss season, and 5 different franchises. 1981 would be his last of 5 seasons in Montreal. He came to the team mid way through 1977 from Oakland, and spent the rest of the year as a member of the starting rotation. He converted to the bullpen in 1978, and had several successful years in that role for the Expos. In 1981, Bahnsen would make his first post season appearance after 15 MLB seasons. He faced 5 batters and retired 4 of them in relief in the NLDS against the Phillies. Like many pitchers to have his staying power, Bahnsen learned how to pitch rather than just throw, as evidenced by the evolution of his nicknames. When he arrived in Yankee pinstripes, he was called "Bahnsen Burner" for his high 90s fastball. Towards the end of his career, he became known as "Stanley Struggle" for getting himself into and then out of jams through wits and guile. He went on to pitch in the Senior League, then in the Netherlands (the first former MLB player to do so).

Fleer #196 Brad Mills - One of the more iconic cards in the 1982 Fleer set, Mills is blowing a big bubble in the dugout. Mills was a rarely used utility infielder for the Expos, playing in 106 total games from 1980 through 1983, giving him plenty of time to work on his chewing gum skills. 1980 was the same year that Mills started professional baseball, going from single A up to the big league club that year. He would play in AAA for several seasons after his last MLB game in 1983. Following an injury that ended his playing career, Mills became a coach and then manager. He led the PCL Colorado Springs Sky Sox to a pennant in 1995, and later managed the Houston Astros for 2 and a half seasons. He's been a close confidant and bench coach in recent years of Cleveland skipper Terry Francona, though Mills sat out during the 2020 season to limit his exposure to the Coronavirus.

Donruss #650 Felipe Alou - Alou joined the Expos organization briefly as a player in 1973, then as a batting coach following his playing career in 1976. Alou would work his way up the ranks with the Expos, and stuck with the franchise even though he was offered a chance to manage the San Francisco Giants in 1985. He would get his chance in Montreal in 1992, and would be the skipper for arguably the best team in Franchise history in 1994. Though the strike ended the season prematurely, the Expos had their lone 1st place finish in Montreal that year. The strike eliminated the chance for the team to play in the post season, and they would not make it back under Alou, who remained the manager until 2001. He retired but was given another shot in San Francisco and led the Giants to a 100 win season in his first year with the club. After his final year as manager in 2003, he continued to work with the club as an instructor and as special assistant to the general manager. 

Topps Traded #7T Tim Blackwell -  Sporting one of the best moustaches of the 1980s, Tim Blackwell was a talented reserve catcher for several teams. He also had a brief period of time as the primary receiver for the Chicago Cubs, posting career highs across the board in 1980. He was drafted in 1970 by the Red Sox, and worked his way into a solid and dependable reserve role while learning the finer points of the game. This would come in handy in his next career choice, managing several minor league teams across all levels. He led the 1991 Columbia Mets and the 1993 Saint Paul Saints to league titles, and finished in 1st place 2 other times. 1982 was his first year in Montreal, and backing up Gary Carter meant not much playing time. He did manage to strikeout against Nolan Ryan in 1983, allowing Ryan to tie Walter Johnson's then record. Ryan would start his own record with the next batter, striking out Brad Mills for #3,509.

O-Pee-Chee #191 Tim Wallach - Like many Montreal Expos, Wallach was under the radar for much of his career. A first round pick in 1979 out of Cal State Fullerton, Wallach played 13 seasons for the Expos, amassing over 1,600 hits and driving in over 900 runs for the team north of the border. He wasn't totally ignored, however, winning 3 gold gloves and appearing on 5 All-Star rosters in his Expos career. His best season was 1987, when he finished 4th in the MVP race behind his former teammate Andre Dawson. That year he led the NL in Doubles while hitting a career high .298 and driving 123 runs. His output may have been directly tied to Dawson's absence in the heart of the Expos order, but he rose to the challenge. He would return to California to close out his career in Dodger blue and a brief stop with the Angels sandwiched between two stints in Chavez Ravine. His 2,054 games played at 3rd base ranks 11th All-Time at the position. He became a coach after his playing career ended and has followed Don Mattingly from the Dodgers to the Marlins as a bench coach. He opted to leave the Marlins for the 2020 season to seek a job in baseball closer to his California home. His son Chad currently plays for the Marlins. 

Fleer #194 Bill Lee - "The Spaceman" was spotted in Canada following a 1979 trade. The crafty and kooky lefty was the team's most successful starter that year, going 16-10 with a 3.04 ERA, his most victories since his heyday with the Red Sox in 1973-74-75. Lee would convert to bullpen duty and showed promise in that role as well, with an excellent run in 1981, posting a 2.94 ERA over 88 innings for the post season bound Expos. His time in Montreal (and his MLB career) came to an abrupt end in 1982 after just 7 games. Lee walked out (in full uniform) in protest for the release of Rodney Scott on May 5, 1982. Scott was one of Lee's best friends on the team, and Lee felt that manager Jim Fanning was exercising a personal grudge against Scott rather than solely a baseball decision. Following his MLB playing career, Lee wrote his (first) autobiography, then continued to pitch semi-professionally for a variety of teams and leagues. At age 65 in 2012, he pitched a complete game for a team in San Rafael, CA.

What is your favorite card of a Montreal Expo from 1982? Doesn't have to be one of these...

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Topps NOW 2020 Post-Season Minnesota Twins Team Set


The Topps NOW post season set arrived today in the mail, let's catch up and see how the Twins did!

oh. oh no. They did not do well.

The bad news started before the games even began, with Josh Donaldson aggravating his calf injury during the final week, and not being named to the post season roster.

Byron Buxton played Game 1 despite lingering issues from a concussion suffered during the final weekend of games, then missed most of Game 2 save for a pinch running appearance where he looked visibly groggy. He was picked off first to end a possible scoring chance late.

The good news? Well, the Twins did have a much better starting rotation in 2020, allowing the 2nd fewest runs in the AL during the shortened season. The only problem? The starters don't pitch all nine innings, and they don't field every position either. Maeda and Berrios combined for 10 innings and just 1 run allowed. The bullpen, on the other hand, gave up 6 runs in 8 innings.

Game 1 was a very close contest until Jorge Polanco's error - he fielded a ground ball cleanly, but his throw to Luis Arraez at second pulled him off the bag, resulting in no outs. Houston took advantage and once they saw a small crack of daylight, they pounded down the door on the bullpen, some of the damage was self inflicted (a bases loaded walk by Sergio Romo). 

Luis Arraez was playing on a bad knee, just like 2019 nursing an injury that came late in the season at the worst possible time. He went 0-6 with a pair of walks. Sano, Kepler and Rosario went a combined 1-19, with the icing on the cake coming with Rosario getting himself ejected from Game 2 arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire.

The Twins set a record for futility by failing to win a game, extending their streak to 18 games lost, which is almost beyond comprehension. 

A "sign" that things were not to be this year? Topps did not offer an autograph version of the Twins team set, despite offering auto versions of most of the other 16 post season teams. That's fine, I saved a little money. 

Did your team make the playoffs this year? Would you like to see 16 teams again in 2021, or should it be returned to just the division winners and a pair of Wild Card teams? 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trans-Atlantic Triple Break: 2020 Diamond Kings

Matthew and Kevin and I have been sharing hobby boxes for a few seasons now give or take, and one box that always proves to be a fun break is the Diamond Kings brand from Panini/Donruss. Matthew did the honors and broke a 2020 box, with each of us taking two divisions. 

I selected the NL West and the AL Central (gotta chase those Twins!). Diamond Kings comes with a base set of 100 cards and an additional 70 short print base cards. all have the canvas texture and oil painting treatment seen above. As is common for Panini, there are no MLB team logos as the Topps Company has exclusive rights with MLB. The cards are all most likely based on existing photographs, then photoshopped to create that distinct look. 

The card backs this year eliminate the stat line completely - no yearly or career totals are provided. Instead, each card has a short paragraph about the player, usually providing some statistical information along the way. 

Diamond Kings is known for vibrant and inserts, usually featuring a theme that celebrates the visual arts. "The 3000" is a series all about members of the 3,000 hit club. 

I always say a successful break is when we can send all the hits away to each other. I was the lucky winner of the relic in the hobby box, and it is none other than the early front runner for World Series MVP and two-time Doritos Locos Taco Champ, Mookie Betts! Bat Kings is a very matter of fact name for this insert set, which features Bat relics for players in the Diamond Kings set. Bat + Kings = Bat Kings. 

And of course, I have to share the Twins! This is "late career Twins" Bert, with the thick beard he grew in  Pittsburgh and kept throughout the 80s. His first several seasons in MN in the 1970s featured a fresh face. Also, each team in the league had an "All-Time Diamond King," and this year it fell to Harmon Killebrew, who was previously featured as the puzzle in 1991 Leaf packs. They might consider bringing the puzzle back, that might be fun? Or even as an insert set- they could be regular cards, but with jigsaw designs superimposed like a completed puzzle? Overall, I like Diamond Kings, and I just wish they would take these concepts a little further. Sometimes the ideas for the set and the inserts seem unfinished, like the bottom left corner of all of the base cards... All in all a fun break!

Matt never stops there though,  and this time he brings out the big guns, helping me build my fledgling Barry Sanders collection with this awesome patch card! LaDanian Tomlinson is great too. The last time I won a fantasy football league he was on my team...

Last but not least - Big Papi! Sorry for the blurry image, I scanned this without taking it out of the one touch holder. I have lots of autos of "little Papi" (fellow former Twin Kennys Vargas) - but this is my first solo David Ortiz signature. Big Papi will be on the HOF ballot starting in 2021, and it's too early to tell if the rumors of PEDs will keep him out, or if the % of his career spent solely as a DH will hurt his candidacy, but he certainly will get a lot of discussion!

Thanks Matt for another great break!

Do you like 2020 Diamond Kings? If you were making an insert set for Diamond Kings (or Topps Gallery), what would it look like?

Thanks for reading!