Sunday, December 27, 2009

My 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot

On January 6, the Hall of Fame class of 2010 will be announced. Given the name of this blog, you know that this topic is most interesting to me. First-timers on the ballot include Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, and Edgar Martinez, among others. Holdovers include Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell, and Lee Smith, among others.

Up front, I must disclaim that I am a long-time suffering Cubs fan. However, this has no bearing on the first person on my ballot: Andre Dawson. 438 homers, 314 steals, eight Gold Gloves, a Rookie of Year award, an MVP award, and stellar defense are all you need to know about Dawson to place him in the Hall. His intangibles, though, are what makes him one of my most favorite ballplayers--he was a pillar in the clubhouse, and a mentor to young players such as Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace. The fact that he has been shunned from Cooperstown for this amount of time is mind-boggling to me. Here's hoping that 2010 is THE YEAR for Andre.

There are also three additional carry-over candidates that I feel are worthy of enshrinement. Bert Blyleven gained little notoriety during his year. As I have noted here before, had he played for Boston, Chicago, or New York, he would certainly be in the Hall already. His 287 wins, 60 career shutouts, and 3701 career strikeouts make him Hall-worthy in my mind. Another contemporary of Blyleven's, Jack Morris, similarly deserves enshrinement for his stellar career statistics and playoff performances. I will continue to campaign for Alan Trammell as well, despite what I perceive as little chance that he will ever get in, unless the Veteran's Committee is reorganized in the next 20 years. Trammell was overshadowed by Cal Ripken at the time, but Trammell's 6 All Star game appearances, 4 Gold Gloves, and 3 Silver Sluggers demonstrates that he was in Ripken's class.

Although they would not receive my vote, I feel that two specialists of sorts on the ballot warrant discussion. Lee Smith was the all-time saves leader for a time, but has seen little increase in voter support since Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage were enshrined. I do not believe Smith will make the Hall, because while he accumulated an impressive number of saves, he was a traditional one-inning stopper and never had the opportunity to build a solid body of postseason work like Mariano Rivera. Harold Baines may be one of the two best designated hitters of all time (see below for the other), but I cannot yet bring myself to find that a full-time DH is Hall worthy.

From the first year candidates, there are two infielders deserving. Roberto Alomar stands the better chance of being elected in his first year, but I anticipate that it may take an additional year or two before he gains 75% of the vote, based on his off-the-field issues and the infamous spitting incident. But his statistics cannot be ignored--he is clearly Hall material. I consider him one of the three best 2B of my lifetime, along with Craig Biggio and Ryne Sandberg. Barry Larkin was an MVP caliber player and the clear leader of the Reds in the late 80s and 90s. While his career statistics may seem short, one must remember that he was almost annually an NL All Star and that injuries cut short his career. Edgar Martinez does not get my vote for the same reasons as Baines. Fred McGriff is just short of Hall worthy in my mind, similar to Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly in my mind.

I will post my reactions to the January 6th announcement in the days that follow. Here's to a Happy 2010.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Latest Santo Addition (sort of): 1963 Topps

One of Topps' patented tricks in the 1960s was to feature the wrong player picture on a card front, with the error going uncorrected. While the value of these cards isn't terribly significant (since they were never corrected), it still makes for interesting collecting experiences. This weekend I was rummaging my way through a box of 1960s common cards at a Detroit area card store. Then, I came across this beauty:

I knew at once it was Ron Santo. While Santo's official card was #252 in the '63 set, he was also featured on teammate Don Landrum's card #113. The statistical difference between the two is hard to understate: in 1963, Landrum hit .242 with 1 HR and 10 RBI. Santo, on the other hand, hit .297 with 25 HR, 99 RBI, an All-Star appearance, and was #8 in NL MVP voting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fun finds from some old school wax packs

My lovely wife and I had the chance to visit my favorite card shop yesterday. I told her to select some packs from the $.50 pile. For $4, we ended up with about 100 cards. Today, kids are lucky to get a pack of 8 cards for that price, hoping for that hit autograph or relic card. Call me old school, but I would rather pay $.50 a pack and get a couple Darrin Fletchers or Scott Bankheads!

Without further ado, here are some of the highlights. I never collected the Topps Big set when I was younger, so I struck a little gold with some of my favorites, particularly Alan Trammell.

The next packs ended up as duplicates for me...I had neglected to remember that I had already collected the monster 990 card 1991 Score set back in the day. But still, it's good to see a Hall of Famer and future Hall member in my pack.

Those dream team cards from the 91 Score set are terrific, aren't they?

And finally, two additional packs netted two Hall of Famers--Henderson from the 1995 Fleer set and Ryan from the 1991 Ultra set.

Sometimes the best part of collecting is ripping some old wax to see what bargains you might find!

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Gives, Topps? Angst from a Sandberg collector.

I've previously gone on record with my lack of enthusiasm for Topps' pervasive use of variation cards throughout its regular 2009 set. Now, the trend continues with the Topps Updates and Highlights set. Like a good Sandberg fan, I diligently picked up the variation card in the regular season set--it is always a treat to pick up a Sandberg card in the sharp 2009 design.

So Topps, in what is definitely a novel idea, inserts "traded" versions of the same subjects (with some exceptions) in its Update set. And to my surprise, Sandberg is featured again, but this time in a Phillies uni!

Certain readers of this blog know that there are only a few Phillies Sandberg cards in the market, so I was looking forward to picking this one up. But wait, that image looks familiar, doesn't it? You bet it does, courtesy of the 2007 eTopps Cards That Never Were collection.

Come on, Topps. I like the idea, but not the execution. For player collectors, we would like to see what should be a relatively rare card seem truly rare, not an afterthought. Still, an addition to the Sandberg collection, nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Sandberg Addition: 2009 Tristar Obak SP with Josh Vitters

As promised, here is the other half of the Tristar Obak Sandberg additions. Hopefully Vitters will become even half of the player that Ryno was.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Sandberg Addition: 2009 Tristar Obak

I'll admit that I've never been a fan of the Tristar cards before. I consider them pre-rookie cards, since the players are not featured in MLB uniforms or with the parent MLB clubs. But the new/retro Obak set is an exception because of the terrific players featured, most notably Ryne Sandberg in an OKC 89'ers uni.

However, this is not Sandberg's first card in an 89ers uniform. Those serious collectors probably know of his rare 1981 TCMA card. That one still eludes my collection, so I will enjoy this OKC addition to my collection.

P.S. This is not the only Sandberg card in the Obak set. He is featured with Josh Vitters on an SP card that will be displayed on this blog once it arrives in the mail!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Top Ten Cards of the 1980s: #1 is . . .

While the rookie cards of stars such as Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire were among the ten most valuable of the 1980s, there is one card that stands above the rest in value. I’m also pleased to report that this player epitomizes all that is right with the game of baseball, unlike some of the other PED-influenced stars that have been featured in this list to date. Without further delay, the number one card of the 1980s belongs to none other than Mr. Oriole, Cal Ripken Jr.

This “rookie” card is a bit of an oddity, in that Ripken’s true RC was actually in the regular issue of 1982 Topps. While Ripken shared this card with two teammates (Bob Bonner and Jeff Schneider), he was deemed worthy of his own individual card in the 1982 traded set. Card number 98T remains a Holy Grail of sorts to collectors today, and it should remain that way long into the future.

I hope you have enjoyed the top ten series of posts. I’m considering replicating the same concept for other decades if there is interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #2, Roger Clemens 1984 Fleer Update

As I previously alluded to, the 1984 Fleer Update set is one of the most valuable sets of the modern era. We already reviewed the Gooden and Puckett rookie cards in the top 10 countdown. At #2 is the most valuable card of the set, Roger Clemens. Clemens' exploits are well known, and the steroid allegations are well documented. Regardless of his Hall of Fame possibilities, this card should continue to hold its value.

The Fleer Update card is Clemens' only 1984 XRC. Topps, Fleer and Donruss all featured RCs of Clemens in their 1985 issues.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #3, Rickey Henderson 1980 Topps

The number 3 card in our top ten most valuable cards of the 1980s countdown is a 1980 Topps entry. While the set design was nothing special, Topps was lucky enough that a young speedster named Rickey Henderson made his debut in 1979 with the A's. Henderson went on to re-write the record book for a number of statistical categories. Most notably, he set the single-season steals record with 130 in 1982, and the career steals record with an astounding 1406. Henderson is also the all-time leader in runs scored and lead-off home runs.

The 1980 rookie card is truly an iconic card. 1980 marked the final year of Topps's monopoly, so collecting Henderson's rookie card is relatively easy. The card has a book value of approximately $60 today, and Henderson's recent Hall of Fame induction should ensure this card continues to maintain its value.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Set Review: 2009 Topps Chrome

I have recently had the opportunity to pick up some nice Chrome sets. Most of my additions have been traded sets, but I was able to pick up this year's 220-card Chrome set. The basic set does not include the rookie autographs, but it does include key rookie cards from future stars such as Gordon Beckham, Rick Porcello, and Andrew McCutchen.

A scan of the Chrome cards never seems to do them justice, so I haven't included an image of any cards here. The 2009 design in particular really pops on the Chrome cards. For those Cubs collectors, there are 10 cards from the team (Harden, Fukudome, Samardzija, Soto, Zambrano, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, and rookie cards from Patton and Scales). For me, the best card here is of Bobby Scales. He was the 220th (thus the final) card selected for the set based on his spark plug role earlier this season. His absence from the current team, in favor of Aaron Miles, is just one of many reasons why this current Cubs team is not likeable. I have not seen a checklist for the Topps Updates and Highlights set yet to see if Scales and any other rookies from the team are included. I'm certainly hoping that impact players such as Jake Fox and Randy Wells get their due with cards in that set.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #4, Kirby Puckett 1984 Fleer Update

At number 4 in our countdown is Mr. Twin, Kirby Puckett. His playing career was cut short by the loss of vision, but he made a huge impact during his abbreviated 12-year career. Thus, his career numbers do not really tell the story of Puckett. Even still, he was a 10-time All Star, 6-time Gold Glove winner, and he totaled more than 2300 career hits. He led the Twins to two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. The 1991 World Series stands out to me as the best World Series of my lifetime. Puckett had key defensive plays and a game-winning home run in Game 6.

His rookie card is #93 from the 1984 Fleer Update set. Based on the relative rarity of this set, his card generally has a value of between $50-60 in near mint condition. This is his only XRC, as his first Topps and Donruss appearances were in 1985.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #5, Ken Griffey Jr. 1989 Upper Deck

The number 5 card in the countdown is an absolute must-have for collectors. To me, Griffey Jr. is one of the brightest spots of the steroid era, along with Greg Maddux. It is terribly unfortunate that injuries sidelined his run toward Hank's record, but he has still accumulated more than 600 homers naturally.

A 13-time All Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and winner of the 1997 AL MVP award, Griffey should be a unanimous selection to Cooperstown on the first ballot. It's hard to find any fault with his career. I do hope, however, that Mr. Griffey hangs it up after this season. It has been great to see him finish his career in a Mariners uniform, but his current .220 batting average tells the story of a man whose best days are behind him.

Griffey was THE reason the 1989 Upper Deck set was a must-have for collectors. The set also contains key rookie cards of Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and John Smoltz, among others. This card is a frank reminder of what Upper Deck used to be. I do not think the average collector would look at UD's products today with the same regard as we had 20 years ago. That's why for me, Topps' exclusive license with MLB will have little practical effect on my collecting.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #6, Mark McGwire 1985 Topps

Number 6 in our top 10 countdown of the most valuable cards of the 1980s is one of the most controversial figures of the steroid era, Mark McGwire. He set the short-lived single season home run record with 70 in 1998 and along with Sammy Sosa sparked a comeback for baseball after the 1994 strike. Big Mac hit 583 home runs and was a 12-time All Star. His connections to andro and his Congressional testimony are well known, and his shortcomings in Hall of Fame votes are well known. Based on numbers alone, he certainly warrants consideration for the Hall, but his lifetime average of .263 is quite low. While he was a one-dimensional player, he was undoubtedly the finest hitting first baseman during the four-year stretch of 1996-1999.

Some of McGwire's earliest exploits are quite impressive. He debuted as a third baseman in late 1986 with some limited success. But in his first full season of 1987, he hit 49 homers, 118 RBI with a .289 batting average. The Bash Brothers of the late 1980s were exciting to watch, albeit those memories are now stained.

While McGwire debuted in late 1986, he was not featured in any 1986 traded sets. He was featured in each of the 1987 sets, but his first card was in the 1985 Topps set. I personally love the U.S.A. Olympic cards that have been featured in Topps sets over the years, including 1985 Topps, 1988 Topps Traded, 1991 Topps Traded, and 1992 Topps Traded. Sadly with no baseball in the 2012 Olympics, there will be a cycle without Olympic cards. But in recent years the Olympic cards have been offered exclusively in Upper Deck sets.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #7, Don Mattingly 1984 Donruss

Number 7 in our Top 10 countdown of the most valuable cards from the 1980s is a former Yankee favorite, Don Mattingly. I was a fan of Mattingly's growing up, as Donny Baseball is also a Hoosier native. From a Hall of Fame perspective, it is unlikely that Mattingly will ever make it into Cooperstown. But he had a tremendous 4 year stretch of being one of the very best players in the American League. During his 1985 MVP season, Don hit 35 HRs, 145 RBIs, with a .324 average.

Don's 1984 Donruss RC has always been considered one of the most valuable cards of the decade. The Donruss card usually rates a bit more valuable than Don's Topps and Fleer rookie cards.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #8, Ryne Sandberg 1983 Topps

On this Cooperstown Sunday, there is no better time to reflect on the career of my favorite player, Ryne Sandberg. I was lucky enough to personally attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and I hope to return to Cooperstown in the coming years for the inductions of Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux, and Ron Santo.

Sandberg's most valuable 1983 rookie card was the 1983 Topps. He was also featured in a 1982 Red Lobster set that most would consider an oddball card. His minor league cards from 1980 and 1981 are hard-to-find treasures that still elude my collection. But for me, the 1983 Topps card is a classic representation of a classic player. Sandberg was of course also featured in the 1983 Donruss and Fleer sets.

Finally, in 2005 Topps had an insert set titled Rookie of the Week. Card number 24 of 25 in that set was a reproduction of Sandberg's 1983 rookie card, but with a different image. I like the idea (it is much like the Fan Favorites sets), but I still prefer the original. Topps did reproduce the original version in its 2001 Topps Archives set.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #9, Tony Gwynn 1983 Topps

Up next in the countdown of the ten most valuable cards of the 1980s is Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn. Gwynn's exploits have previously been documented here. He immediately made an impact on San Diego, helping lead them to the World Series in 1984 in a forgetful NLCS over the Cubs (if you are a Cubs fan, like myself).

Each of the three card companies issued a Gwynn rookie card in their regular series. The Topps card is the most valuable of the three. Despite my extensive Hall of Fame collection, I have still not yet acquired his Donruss rookie card.

HONORABLE MENTION: While his card fell just outside the top 10, Wade Boggs also debuted in the 1983 Topps set. His Hall of Fame career was most impressive, as he dominated a traditional power position as a contact hitter.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Top Cards of the 1980s: #10, Dwight Gooden 1984 Fleer Update

Our subject at #10 is one of only two players of the top ten of the 1980s who did not progress to have a Hall of Fame caliber career. Dwight Gooden, however, certainly began his career like a Hall of Fame player. After winning the rookie of the year in 1984 at the age of 19, Gooden won the Cy Young in 1985 with a sparkling 24-4 record and an otherworldly 1.53 ERA. "Doc" continued his success into the 90s, but problems with drugs derailed what could have been.

Late in his career, he threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996. While his career is a bit short of Hall of Fame standards, he was one of the memorable players of the 1980s. After making his debut in 1984 he was featured in two update sets, Fleer Update and Topps Traded. Of the two, the Fleer card is the more valuable of the two. Those of you familiar with this set know that there is more to come from this set for this Top 10 list. The 1984 Topps Traded card has a Beckett value of approximately $10, while the Fleer card (#43) is double that.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Coming Soon: The Top 10 Most Valuable Cards of the 1980s

In the baseball card industry, the 1980s have received a bad rap based in large part to the glut of cards available in the market. As a consequence, the cards from that decade did not keep their value as much as those from earlier years. Having said that, my card collection from the 1980s is still quite special to me, because that is when I began collecting. Additionally, many of my favorite stars growing up made their card debut in the 1980s. The decade also saw the dissolution of the Topps monopoly, and most notably, the debut of Upper Deck during the final year of the decade which really kick-started the higher quality cards of the 1990s.

Through some recent acquisitions, I have now compiled what I believe to be the ten most valuable cards from the 1980s. My plan is to have an individual post on each featured card. My criteria were rather simple. I only used one card per player (thus, an ‘82 Topps Traded Ripken would moot the need to review his other ‘82 cards), the cards had to come from one of the major distributors (Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck), and they could not be a gimmick card such as an autograph or error card. I will begin debuting the list with #10 later this weekend.

On a related note, I am also considering an “oddball” type series of posts about cards from the 1980s. These cards aren’t necessarily the most valuable, but they are memorable nonetheless. If anyone has any suggestions for these cards, let me know.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2001 Topps Collection: Who Would Have Thought Insert Set

In line with the release of 2001 Topps Traded, Topps issued an insert set featuring 20 star players who changed teams during their career. Some are more surprising than others. For instance, I didn't realize Steve Carlton began his career as a Cardinal. And of course, it is difficult to picture the Say-Hey Kid ending his career as a Met. Other team changers are more familiar, particularly my favorite card of the set, Andre Dawson. The design mirrors the regular design of the set, but features two great images of the stars.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Building My Topps 2001 Collection: Topps Chrome Traded Set

As time has gone on, I have come to realize that 2001 was a truly special year for Topps. It marked Topps' 50th anniversary, and Topps spared no expense in making great cards. 2001 featured several great subsets (Through the Years, Who Would Have Thought, Before Topps), as well as the new series Topps Archives and the premiere issue of Topps Heritage. Let's start with the biggest star of 2001--the Traded set.

By some minor miracle, I secured a complete set of 2001 Topps Chrome Traded from the Bay for less than $80. The regular traded set continues to sell for well north of $100, and Chrome cards are usually graded a bit higher. But that is not why this is my new favorite set. First, this set contains some of the most important rookie cards of this decade. Everyone knows about the Pujols rookie card, as well as the Ichiro/Pujols rookie of the year card. But what makes Chrome special is that card T266 is an Ichiro rookie card, which was not printed in the regular Topps Traded set. While Ichiro appeared in the Series 2 Topps set for non-Chrome cards, he did not appear in the Chrome set. Thus, my question for the readers is the following: should I get these cards graded? While there is a cost involved with the grading process, these cards are key additions to my collection. I'm leaning towards grading them. If you have a recommendation, let me know!

(Note that the Chrome cards do not scan very well, as each one is completely clean and Near Mint.)

But these aren't the only cards worth noting. In addition to the rookies mentioned above, the set includes rookie cards of key stars including Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Jake Peavy, and Justin Morneau.

But my favorite part of this set is the Traded reprint subset that consists of cards T100 to T144. As part of Topps' 50th anniversary blitz (and what a blitz it was), Topps reprinted some of the most important Topps Traded cards from the 1970s-90s. I am a huge fan of Topps reprints, and these cards are probably my favorites (they are quite similar to Topps Reserve Archives). Here is a small sampling of this subset.

Finally, readers of HOF Cards know that I'm a Cubs collector. Well, the Cubs cards in this set are nothing special, as they feature some journeyman veterans (Tom Gordon, Jeff Fassero, Todd Hundley, Bill Mueller) and the usual assortment of Cubs prospects that never pan out (Steve Smyth, Corey Patterson, Luis Montanez, Hee Seop Choi). Of course the one saving grace from a Cubs perspective is Mark Grace's Diamondbacks card from his bittersweet 2001 championship season. There is also a Shawon Dunston card from his Giants days.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hall of Fame Tracker: Mets Edition

This is the second team-specific analysis I have done of potential Hall of Fame players in the game today (the first team was the Phillies).  Up next is another National League team with a plethora of Cooperstown capable players--the New York Mets.  There are six current Mets players (not including the disabled Billy Wagner) who are on track to make the Hall.  Some are more certain than others, but each one deserves recognition.

Up first is the most obvious candidate, Johan Santana.  Since his trade from the Twins, Santana has picked up right where he left off by continuing his exploits in the NL.  The winner of two Cy Young awards by the age of 30, Santana has racked up 118 wins and, along with Roy Halladay, may have the best chance of reaching 300 wins for his career among active pitchers.  While he needs another five or six first tier seasons to punch his ticket, Santana is on a one-way trip to Cooperstown.  One of Santana's best known rookie cards is from the 2001 Topps Finest set.

The other Mets pitcher that warrants consideration is Francisco Rodriguez.  K-Rod is only 27, and he has already accumulated 228 saves.  Last year he set the single season record with 62 saves.  This year he has posted a 1.23 ERA to date, and he has solidified a problematic Mets bullpen.  Another ten seasons of 40 saves each, and K-Rod will obliterate the career saves record (likely to be held by Mariano Rivera by that time).  While K-Rod's rookie cards have not been popular with collectors (much like other relievers), his first Topps card is from the 2000 Traded set. 

Now, let's head around the infield.  The most obvious candidate is third baseman David Wright, who has a tremendous all-around game.  In five full seasons, he has already been an All Star four times (including this season's likely election), and he is currently batting .345.  At the age of 26, he has already accumulated more than 900 hits.  He is certainly on track for a 3000 hit career.  Wright's best known rookie card is his 2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premieres.

At shortstop, the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jose Reyes should garner some debate.  Reyes splashed onto the scene in 2003 and led all NL players in steals for three consecutive seasons (2005-2007).  Surprisingly, he has shown solid power in recent years, hitting 16 homers last season.  But like his shortstop counterpart Jimmy Rollins, Reyes has been hit with the injury bug.  While he is still only 26 years old, his future is a bit more unknown than his teammate Wright.  Reyes' rookie card is the 2001 Topps Traded. 

With tongue-in-cheek apologies to Luis Castillo, the final member of the regular Mets infield also warrants conversation.  Carlos Delgado has been injured for much of this season, but his career numbers cannot be ignored.  Delgado's strongest stat is his 473 career homers, but with today's diluted power numbers, his likely target of 500 home runs is not an automatic admission.  He has just over 2000 hits and 1500 RBIs, with a career average of .280.  Perhaps the most telling number is that Delgado has only been a two-time All Star, despite his prodigious power.  With a game similar to Jim Thome's, but with less power, it is unlikely that Delgado will fly into Cooperstown.  Delgado's key rookie card is the from the fabled 1992 Bowman set. While it's hard to remember him as a Blue Jay, it is even harder to remember him as a catcher.

Finally, the Mets also boast an outfielder who is on the Hall of Fame track.  Carlos Beltran burst onto the national scene when he was traded from Kansas City to Houston during the 2004 season.  Beltran has never been a high-average hitter (career BA is .283), but he has hit .336 this year in an injury shortened campaign, much like several of his Mets teammates.  Beltran is a four-time All Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and three-time Gold Glove winner.  If he rebounds from injury to post another solid year, he is probably only five years away from cementing his spot in the Hall.  Beltran's Topps rookie card is the subject of much debate, as the card was actually an error card by Topps in its 1995 Traded set.  Thus I have included both his "real" rookie card (featuring an image of Juan Lebron), and Lebron's card which features Mr. Beltran.

Of the six, I think the most likely Met to make the Hall of Fame is Johan Santana.  But of the under-30 subset, I think David Wright is on track to follow Santana.  Not surprisingly, those two player's rookie cards are in the most demand.  

Monday, June 29, 2009

HOF Career Review: Robin Yount

It is well documented that some players live in the spotlight, and their Hall of Fame resume seems predestined even while they are playing in their prime (see Jeter, Derek; Pujols, Albert). Then there are others who played in relative obscurity, showing loyalty to their team and fans, and having the longevity to warrant inclusion in Cooperstown. Robin Yount falls into this latter category of baseball superstars.

Yount played all 20 seasons of his career in Milwaukee. Of his many feats, one of his most impressive was his successful conversion from SS to CF midway through his career. Yount won two MVP awards, most notably in 1982 when he led the Brewers to their only World Series appearance. While he was not a classic power hitter, he did hit 251 homers in his brilliant career, while accummulating more than 3100 hits. As can be said of many a small market player, Yount's profile would have been huge had he played in New York or Chicago. As it was, he was an outstanding player, most definitely deserving of the honors he received.

Additionally, he was one of four future Hall of Fame players to make their Topps debut in the 1975 set. As a result, the '75 set is often considered one of the most important Topps sets of all time. Yount's card is the second most valuable from the set, behind only George Brett. Here is card #223.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

HOF Review: Mr. Padre

Today, being Father's Day, is a great time to reflect on the most famous "Padre" of the team's relatively short existence, Tony Gwynn.  I had a real appreciation for Gwynn as a youngster, because he did the right things by staying with his original team his entire career, and he was a hitter, not merely a slugger.  In these times, players like Gwynn and Wade Boggs should be respected for the way they played the game.

Gwynn was a 15-time All Star, 7-time Silver Slugger winner, and somewhat surprisingly a 5-time Gold Glove winner.  He led the NL in hitting eight times, and I am saddened by memories of the 1994 season, when he hit .394 and us fans were left to wonder what could have been.  There was no other player of the era who was more deserving of hitting .400, although today I am certainly rooting for Joe Mauer to beat that mark.

His 1983 rookie cards are relatively inexpensive compared to his contemporaries of the era.  But the 1983 Topps set marked the debut of three world class hitters, with Sandberg and Boggs joining Gwynn in this desirable set.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Latest Sandberg Addition: 2009 Topps Variation

While I am not the biggest fan of Topps' expansive use of variation cards in its base set, I had to pick up Mr. Sandberg's #350. Even as a Hall of Fame and Topps collector, I still find it hard to justify the significant financial undertaking to obtain a complete set of the variation cards. But I can certainly make exceptions for truly exceptional players, of which Ryno must be included.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

2007 Topps Flashback Fridays Insert Set Review

I recently picked up the 25-card Flashback Fridays set from 2007 Topps. For all of $0.50, I was able to get an interesting looking set with many future Hall of Famers such as Ken Griffey, Chipper Jones, and Derek Jeter. The sets feature a retro look, with the featured player depicted in black and white (for the most part) in front of a colorful stadium depiction. The backs of the cards feature a Goudey-style paragraph about the player, rather than a statistical grid.

One question for the readers--does anyone know if this set was modeled after a particular past set, or was this an original Topps retro creation?

Friday, June 12, 2009

2009 Topps Career Best Legends of the Game Insert Set Review

As you may have surmised by the title of this blog, I am a sucker for a reasonably priced set of Hall of Famer cards, especially with a great design by Topps. While Topps has perhaps gone overboard with its Hall of Fame issues this year (Legends of the Game set, Variation inserts, Turkey Red inserts), I couldn't resist picking up the 15-card Career Best insert set with Series 2. The sepia look is appealing, as are the actual subjects of the set. Here are six of my favorites from the insert set.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Future HOF RC Review: Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas

While much of the talk in this era surrounds who took performance enhancing drugs and whether that suspicion or fact should preclude admission into the Hall of Fame, I have become much more choosy about which recent players I am collecting. The two players listed here have had absolutely no ties to PEDs, and each of them displayed a natural talent at their respective positions and should be first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Mike Piazza will always be a Dodger to me, despite his exploits with the Mets. A 12-time All Star, Piazza finished his brilliant career with a .308 average and 427 home runs. While his defense may have left something to be desired, he gets extra credit for longevity in my book for his catching duties.

Frank Thomas was undeniably one of the biggest stars of the 1990s. He won 2 MVP awards and was an AL Top 10 vote getter for the award an additional 7 times. Somewhat surprisingly, Thomas was only an All Star five times, although part of that was his relatively cold relationship with the press and the strength of American League first basemen in the era (Mo Vaughn, John Olerud, Jim Thome, and Rafael Palmeiro are among those who were deemed better players for the All Star game at the time).

The two cards I picked up have both been on my wish list for some time. The Piazza RC card is from 1992 Fleer Update, and the Thomas RC card is his most valuable RC, the 1990 Leaf.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Latest Additions to My Ron Santo Collection

Unlike my Sandberg collection, which is relatively complete, I have only recently started collecting Ron Santo cards. My goal is to have a complete "Topps Anthology" of all of his original Topps cards from 1961-1975. I put a good dent in my collection with a trip to my local card shop on Saturday, where I came away with four Topps cards, as well as a recent card.

The Topps additions include his final two cards (1974 Traded and 1975), both in a White Sox uniform (albeit one airbrushed). The two other cards are from 1970 and 1972, plus a nice looking Fleer Greats. By my calculations, I have twenty more cards to go. I do have Santo's rookie card (which was an awesome birthday gift from my wife last year), so the investment shouldn't be too significant.

Happy Collecting.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Latest Sandberg Addition: 2009 Topps Legends of the Game

I recently picked up both the Series 1 and Series 2 Topps Legends of the Game subsets (50 cards in total). Of course, my favorite card is Mr. Sandberg. Ryno is the only Cub featured in the series, although Greg Maddux is featured in a throwback Braves jersey.

Up next in my ongoing quest is to pick up Sandberg's 2009 Topps SP Variation #350. I would try to collect all of the Topps Variations, but that would break the bank.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A New Minor League Baseball Team in My Backyard: The Lake County Fielders

Although it is slightly off topic for a blog about baseball cards, I have to share my enthusiasm for the new Northern League baseball team that is starting next summer in Zion, Illinois. As a resident of the north suburbs, this is my closest team.

Lake County Baseball held a "name the team" contest in recent weeks, and just announced that Fielders was the winner. This name is appropriate, given that the owner of the team is none other than Kevin Costner. The team's logo certainly evokes thoughts of the Field of Dreams.

As a baseball fanatic, I'm excited for any type of baseball, but independent leagues such as the Northern League are baseball purity at its best. The games are fun for fans of all ages, and the players give their best every game. Also, the addition of the Fielders gives the Schaumburg Flyers a natural rival, which should make for compelling ball games.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Topps Insert Set Review: 2009 World Baseball Classic Box Set

I picked up the 55-card insert set (not to be confused with the Topps Series 2 WBC set) featuring players from the recently completed WBC. The cards were obviously selected prior to the actual WBC, as noted by the card featuring A-Rod. For Hall of Fame collectors, there are cards featuring Derek Jeter, Ichiro, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, Pedro Martinez, Chipper Jones, and Carlos Beltran. There are also several cards of potential HOF players including Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, and Dustin Pedroia. For Cubs collectors, there are cards featuring Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto. There are also several prospects featured, most notably Yu Darvish.

The set looks good, although some of the same images are used in the Series 2 inserts (such as the Darvish cards), thus negating to some extent the desire to collect both sets. The good part of the Series 2 insert set is that those 25 players actually played in the WBC, thus ensuring a satisfying insert set. But I have no complaints about this set. It's rare that you'll find an insert set featuring this many stars at such a reasonable price.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Special: 1991 Score American Flag

The 1991 Score set featured nearly 1000 cards, many of which were unique at the time (Jose Canseco shirtless, for instance). But one of my favorites was this beauty, which requires no description. Happy Memorial Day to all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hall of Fame Tracker: Phillies Edition

Among the many National League hitters who are on a Hall of Fame career track, the Philadelphia Phillies are lucky enough to have three, if not four, potential candidates at the early to mid stages of their careers. With an infield consisting of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, the Fightin' Phils have plenty of talent to back up last year's World Series championship.

Of the three infielders, Utley probably has the best chance of making the Hall, based on his position and the stats he has put as a second baseman. Utley is hands down the best offensive second baseman in baseball today, with all due respect to Ian Kinsler. He may not finish his career with more than 2000 hits, but he stands a solid chance of setting the all-time record for most home runs by a second baseman. His most notable rookie card is a 2001 Bowman Draft Picks.

The biggest knock on Ryan Howard's Hall of Fame resume is that he had a relatively late start to his career and may not accumulate the key power stats. In many ways, his career may parallel David Ortiz, who was also a late bloomer and unfortunately appears to be on the downside now. But Howard is a huge force for the Phils, and there is no reason to believe he will be on the downside anytime soon. Howard's most recognized rookie card is the 2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premieres #62.

Jimmy Rollins is already on the verge of collecting his 1500th hit, so he is well on his way to a stellar career. Rollins was the 2007 NL MVP but seems to have taken a step back the past year and a half, due in part to injury. Rollins is still only 30 years old, but he will likely be overlooked as an NL SS the remainder of his career, assuming that Hanley Ramirez remains a shortstop (and a Marlin). Rollins' most notable rookie card is a 1998 Bowman Chrome #181.

Finally, an honorable mention goes to Cole Hamels. Hamels' postseason performance proved that he has true ace material, but it remains too early in his career to see if he will meet his potential. Injuries have derailed him this year, but he is only 25 years old. His most notable RC is a 2002 Bowman Draft.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Latest Cubs Subset Additions: Donruss, Fleer, and Stadium Club

I've nearly completed my quest to own all Cubs cards from the basic Topps sets since 1978. But recently there was a deal on the Bay too good to pass up--8 Cubs subsets for essentially $2 plus shipping. Here are some highlights:

Fleer: I picked up the two early sets, 1981 and 1982. While neither has a noteworthy design (or players), it was good to see the plethora of powder blue pinstriped jerseys in the 1982 set. While the 1982 set may be better known for the Lee Smith rookie card, I particularly like the Jody Davis rookie. From the 1981 set, the most fascinating card is that of current Cubs coach Ivan De Jesus. He looks exactly the same now, almost thirty years later.

Other Fleer sets that I picked up include the 1989 and 1991 Cubs sets. The '89 set is pretty bland with a gray pinstripes background. It did include a Maddux card that I didn't have before. I feel that the '91 set is underrated. I really like the yellow design on the front, and this card is classic Dawson (even with those short lived road jerseys with the small Chicago font).

Donruss: while I am not a huge fan of Donruss cards in general, I did pick up the Cubs cards from the 1989 and 1990 sets. Neither design is particularly inspiring, and the backs of both years' cards are nearly identical. But many of my favorite players are featuring in these sets, including of course Grace and Sandberg.

Stadium Club: Finally, the 1991 Stadium Club set was one of my all-time favorites. These cards blew the competition away in 1991 with their glossy stock and full color photos. Stadium Club and Fleer Ultra should receive a ton of credit for the evolution of card quality and design in the 1990s. My favorite feature of the 91 Stadium Club cards is that the card backs feature a picture of the Topps rookie card of the player. For example, Shawon Dunston's card features his 1985 Topps card. Of marginal note, the only player whose rookie card was the actual 1991 Stadium Club card was Gary Scott (and I think we know how that turned out).