Dollar Store Packs

After a lackluster year of collecting in 2018, I was determined to start off 2019 with a bang. Determined, I planned a trip to Target (one that is out of the way via public transportation) in the hopes I would find a blaster box or two. But I had no luck–the Target only had football cards.

To the interwebs, I thought next, as I logged onto eBay. Maybe I’ll find some Topps Chrome or something to start off the year–and I did. A hobby box of 2018 Topps Chrome for only $37.00? This seems too good to be true, I thought. But the seller checks out and the item has sold in the last hour. Let’s go ahead and order!

The excitement of that steal of a deal lasted only a few minutes before I was greeted with an email from eBay stating that the seller had been hacked, the listing was cancelled, and I wouldn’t be getting my cards. Oh, and it didn’t give me any indication of how to go about a refund. Fun times.

But I was determined, so as a last-ditch effort, I decided to take a long walk to the dollar store. And what did I find?

Two measly packs of 2018 Panini Donruss. This is the way 2019 begins. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Pack 1

#158 – Corey Seager – Dodgers

Not a bad first card, to be honest. Seager was out for most of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery but should be back and healthy in 2019.

#132 – Christian Yelich – Marlins

A mainstay of my fantasy baseball team for years, Yelich broke out in a big way in route to the NL MVP for the Brewers in 2018.

#74 – Duke Snider – Dodgers

More Duke Snider cards, please.

#168 – Josh Donaldson – Blue Jays

Pack 2

#216 – Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez – Reds

While I applaud the sight of a Dave Concepion and Tony Perez card, this thing is just…terrible. It’s boring, bland, meh, whatever you wanna call it, I don’t like it. The position plate on the bottom right of the card is invasive unnecessary, and Panini’s lack of MLB licensing really hurts them here.

#178 – Carlos Martinez – Cardinals

#102 – Nelson Cruz – Mariners

#11 – Jose Altuve – Astros

Not a bad showing overall, as I managed two Dodgers in just eight cards. I’m not a huge fan of Panini products (or the unlicensed products in general), and some of these just seem hit or miss. The dual Concepcion-Perez card is a disaster, but the vertical cards are decent. The splash of baseballs behind the position is a nice touch, too.

Though 2019 didn’t start out quite the way I envisioned, I can’t say cracking some dollar store packs wasn’t fun.

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The End of My Matt Kemp PC

Part of my blogging/collecting woes from the past year have been due to my lack of dedicated card space. I’m jammed into a tiny apartment with two roommates, so my room doesn’t accomodate a desk or any other furniture besides a bed and our common area doesn’t allow for much either. Because of this, all of my cards (the few small boxes I have with me in NYC) have been stored at the top of my closet, requiring me to pull out a stool to access them. This also means I dont have a dedicated space (i.e a desk) to actually do much writing. I often write while sitting in my bed, which I don’t find comfortable or constructive.

Thus, one of my early goals for 2019 was to figure out a better way to store my cards, maybe adjusting my collecting goals along the way.

Since moving to this my new place, I’ve used the window sill in my room as a makeshift bookshelf, with my books stacked from wall to wall. It worked out perfectly, actually, as I had exactly the right number of books to coincide with the space between the walls. But with a need for card space, I decided to dissemble my row of books to create some additional room.

The books have been moved over and stacked in two columns, leaving me just enough space to keep my cards. And, unfortunately, there isn’t much. I have two small stacks of top loaded cards, two blaster boxes filled with singles, another small box filled with some vintage cardboard, and a bubble mailer of cards for a fellow blogger. I also have five binders of my various PCs and Dodgers flagship sets in my closet, but I’ll leave them there for now.

Reorganzing, of course, is the perfect time to look through a collection, and that’s what I was doing when I ran across this beauty.

2006 Topps ’52 Matt Kemp 52S-MK

A sweet on-card auto from 2006 Topps ’52. I bought this card a few years back, just before I stepping away from blogging., so I never had the opportunity to properly blog about it.

At that point in time, I was fully committed to building a super collection of Matt Kemp cards. Kemp was my favorite player at the time (and still a Dodger), and his cards were priced fairly reasonably. As a Kemp collector, this autograph, one of his first, was a definite must have for my collection.

The back of the card is a dandy as well. Kemp’s full name (Matthew Ryan Kemp) graces the top of the card; Grady Little compares Kemp to Joe DiMaggio; and Kemp’s fielding record (inclduing putouts) is featured. I’m a definitely a fan of the back.

Of course, Kemp was traded (along with Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer) to the Reds a few weeks ago, closing a Dodger career that saw him hit over 200 homers for the Dodgers in his ten years with the club. And while I still have an affinity for Matty, I also think it’s about time I close the door on my Kemp PC.

I’ve already sold off, gifted, and traded many of my Kemp cards, including most of my high-end Kemp stuff. And now that he is with the Reds in what is most likely his final year in the big leagues, I don’t see a reason to contiune to building that PC.

I suppose it’s the end of a chapter for me and this blog, and perhaps a timely one. I started blogging back in 2013, largely as a way to share my collection with all of my fellow collectors, and my Matt Kemp PC was the driving force of the blog. In fact, my first blog post featured a Matt Kemp relic that I was super excited to share. I eventually built my Kemp PC to well over 200 cards, and while I’ll never quite match the impressive collection of Greg over at Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle (seriosuly, 505 Kemp cards!), I can say with certainty that I had a blast trying.

My colection will continue to grow and shift as we move into 2019, and I am looking forward to sharing those collecting goals with you soon. Until then, enjoy some of my favorite Kemp cards from throughout the years.

Wrapping Up 2018 with Topps Chrome

Future Dodger Bryce Harper…and some other guys.

This year my girlfriend and I flew to Ohio to spend the holidays with her family. We celebrated Christmas, hung out with her extended family, made a quick trip to Chicago for more family stuff, and lounged around her parents’ house. It was a fantastic and unproductive week and a half, and I loved every minute of it.

We happened to drop by a Target toward the end of our stay, and, lucky for me, I happened upon a decently-stocked card aisle. I have been unable to find cards at NYC Targets for the past several months, so this was certainly a boon. I planned on buying a blaster box, though they only had Panini blasters, so I opted for a few hanger packs of 2018 Topps Chrome Update Series instead. I’m a sucker for chrome, so I was definitely excited to get cracking.

Right off the bat, my girlfriend ripped open back-to-back packs and pulled a pair of autos. (She had quite the lucky touch this week, as she also won 100 bucks on a two-dollar scratcher.) Dustin Fowler is a former Yankees farmhand, now with the A’s, and has a ton of promise. It’s a sticker auto (meh) but a solid pull nonetheless.

The Minaya auto is a bit more exciting, as it’s a green rookie parallel #’d /99. These things fall only once every 3,200 packs, so I was definitely happy to see it. Minaya has bounced around between the minors and the big leagues for each of the last three years, though he has a solid showing in 2018 and is likely to stick around in the White Sox bullpen.

Each hanger pack also came with a couple of pink parallels, which are pretty fun. The Braves are young and fun, so it’ll be exciting to watch Albies develop other the next few years.

Other than the autos, the packs weren’t all that exciting. There was a mixture of veteran stars and young rookies, but the cards themselves weren’t too interesting. That is until I took a closer look at this Rhys Hoskins card.

The Phillies logo on Hoskins’ helmet is barely visible, and his swing completely blocks out “Phillies” across his chest. If it weren’t for the Phillies logo on the bottom left of the card, it would kinda resemble an unlicensed Panini card.

In fact, a majority of the cards I pulled seemed to fit this bill. Logos are hidden by arms and heads are often turned away just enough to obscure the helmet/hat logos. I’m not all that bothered by this, though I did find it a bit odd. I didn’t buy all that much in 2018, so I’m wondering if this was a theme for Topps this year.

2018 wasn’t a big year for cards here on the blog, but it certainly ended with a few packs and some satisfying pulls. Here’s to a better card year in 2019!

A New Chapter for 2019

Earlier this week I received a large cardboard folder filled with photos of my younger sister and myself. Among photos of past birthday cakes, t-ball uniforms, and embarrassing photos of me with a mullet (oh, the nineties), I found several photos of my sister and me excitedly ripping open presents on Christmas morning, our faces filled with joy. After all, we were out of school the week before Christmas, and despite not having to do homework, that week was always a drag. I don’t remember if either of us had calendars on our walls, but we did have chocolate-filled advent calendars (sometimes two if we could convince each parent to buy us one) that we used to count down the days Christmas.

I’ve always loved the Dodgers, though I’ve never liked the hair.

Of course, New Year’s Day is only a few days later, another holiday that calls for an exciting countdown (and more chocolate). I was always dazzled by the gleaming ball as it lowered down to announce the arrival of a new year, and younger me used to dream of attending the ball drop in Times Square. Of course, now that I live in NYC, I avoid Times Square as much as humanly possible, and I wouldn’t wish attending that event on my worst enemy. Seriously, hours of standing in the freezing cold, surrounded by thousands of people, and a severe lack of public restrooms. No thanks!

December, then, seems to be a time of countdowns in expectation of big things, new adventures, and, for many collectors, baseball cards. The baseball season is less than 100 days away, I still have several days left of my vacation, and, hopefully, I will be picking up some baseball cards in just a few short hours.

Since I restarted the blog back in August, I’ve managed to buy only a handful of packs, a fact that definitely impacts my posting frequency here on the blog. An unfortunate lack of space and money to buys cards has definitely dragged that down (darn you, student loans!), though a lack of card access has also been a problem. It’s difficult to find cards at my local Targets, and I haven’t ponied up to buys packs or singles online. I’m really more of an impulse pack buyer more than anything, and I haven’t fully returned to the hobby yet, in my eyes.

I’ve attempted to fill the void with other projects, including my Greatest of Topps series, though each post in that series takes a ton of time, and I haven’t really been able to get that off the ground and moving as much as I would’ve liked. Oh well.

Despite these personal blogging woes, I have been quietly working on something in the background—a new blog location and redesign. I’ve decided to ditch the Blogspot platform in favor of WordPress, despite the lack of true and free customization there. I’ve been working to get the redesign to my liking and importing my posts, media, etc, and I’ve finally reached its completion.  

You can check out the new blog here: 
https://chavezravining.home.blog/

With the new blog, however, comes a shift in the blog’s focus. While I plan on explaining this in more detail at the new blog, I should mention that the blog will have a larger focus on the Dodgers. There will still be baseball card content (I promise!), but in an effort for more a more consistent posting schedule, I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on the Dodgers and the baseball landscape. Let’s just say I’ll be expanding my portfolio.

I’m excited to get started on this new step in my blogging career, and I’m happy to share more content with you moving forward. The entirety of this blog has been imported into WordPress, so you can always go back and check out old posts, images, and more. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you out there reading this. I can’t wait for 2019 to get started.

What WAR Tells us about Prediction: The Greatest from 1951 Topps Baseball

The 1951 Topps Baseball set is one of the first releases for Topps Baseball, and it’s where this series will begin. Unlike Topps Baseball sets from 1952 and on, the 1951 set is a sort of hybrid set, featuring two separate 52-card sets: Red Backs and Blue Backs. Though Blue Backs are a bit more rare, the Red Backs contain some of the most memorable and best players of the 1950/51 seasons. In fact, not a single player from the Blue Back set appears on this list.

Of course, the 1951 set is famous for its game-based design, with cards featuring different baseball outcomes (foul ball, strike, double, bunt, etc.). This didn’t seem to strike a chord with collectors, however, as Topps altered its designs and started producing the modern-looking sets we are familiar with today. While the 1951 set is not one of my personal favorites, it’s hard not to appreciate the only set in Topps Baseball with black-and-white floating heads.

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Catcher
1951 Topps #1 Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra (5.3 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 6.0 WAR (1st for catchers)

Yogi led the league in WAR in 1950, and while he put together a great season in 1951, he actually ranked second in WAR to eventual MVP Roy Campanella (Dodgers) who does not appear in this set. Yogi’s 1951 season was not his best by any measure, but he did manage a triple slash of .294/.350/.492 with a very low 3.4% strikeout rate. For comparison, batters in 2018 average a strikeout rate of 22.1%.

Top 3 Catchers in 1951: 

Roy Campanella (7.1 WAR) – No card in this set.

Yogi Berra (5.3 WAR)

Wes Westrum (4.1 WAR)

First Base

1951 Topps #31 Gil Hodges

Gil Hodges (5.0 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 3.1 WAR (5th for first basemen)

With the 1951 set only containing 52 cards, it’s rather common for the best player at each position to not be represented on Topps flagship product. Take this Gil Hodges for example. While Hodges put up a fine season for the Dodgers in 1951, three other first basemen surpassed him in WAR. Of course, Kiner and Irvin played primarily in the outfield in 1951, but Stan Musial was by far the better first baseman. In fact, Stan Musial was the best player in the Majors in 1951. But as Brett Alan mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago, Musial “refused to sign with either company, finally relenting after Topps made a substantial charitable donation to convince him to sign” in 1958. And considering Musial was the best player of the decade, his absence in early-fifties Flagship is certainly a bummer.

Top 3 First Basemen in 1951

Stan Musial (8.6 WAR) – No card in this set.

Ralph Kiner (7.3 WAR) – See outfield. Played only 58 games at 1B. 

Monte Irvin (6.4 WAR) – See outfield. Played only 39 games at 1B. 

Second Base

1951 Topps #48 Eddie Stanky

Eddie Stanky (5.0 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 7.7 WAR (1st for first basemen)

Coming off of the best season of career in 1950 that saw him hit .300/.460/.412 and lead second basemen with 7.7 WAR for the Giants, Stanky wasn’t able to match Jackie Robinson’s production in 1951. Stanky put up 5.0 WAR in 1951 and knocked out a career-high 14 homers–impressive for a 5’8″ dude–making New York an especially impressive place for second basemen that season. 

Top 3 Second Basemen in 1951

Jackie Robinson (9.0 WAR) – No card in this set.

Eddie Stanky (5.0 WAR)

Gil McDougald (4.6 WAR) – No card in this set.

Shortstop

1951 Topps #5 Phil Rizzuto
Phil Rizzuto (3.8 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 6.9 WAR (1st for shortstops)

Rizutto takes home the award for the most valuable shortstop in the 1951 set but was only sixth in the majors for WAR for shortstops, behind the likes of Eddie Joost, Alvin Dark, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Pesky, and Solly Hemus. That said, Rizzuto lead the league in WAR a year prior, producing 6.9 WAR with his typical stellar defense and strong bat. Standing at just 5’6”, Rizzuto took home the AL MVP in 1950 after a campaign that saw him hit .324/.418/.439. He failed to replicate that 1950 season (his best), batting only .274/.350./.346 with a pair of homers. 

Top 3 Shortstops in 1951

Eddie Joost (6.3 WAR) – No card in this set.

Alvin Dark (5.2 WAR) – No card in this set.

Pee Wee Reese (4.3 WAR) – No card in this set.

Third Base

1951 Topps #35 Al Rosen

Al Rosen (4.0 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 6.9 WAR (1st for third basemen)

Al Rosen debuted in 1947 but only managed 65 plate appearances over the next three seasons. It was Rosen’s tremendous 1950 rookie season that put him on the map, as he amassed 6.9 WAR while knocking out 39 homers. His 1951 campaign was not quite as strong, taking a step back in the power department, on his way to a 4.0 WAR season. 

Top 3 Third Basemen in 1951

Minnie Minoso (5.5 WAR) – No card in this set.

Bobby Thomson (5.1 WAR) – No card in this set.

Gil McDougald (4.6 WAR) – No card in this set.

Outfield

1951 Topps #15 Ralph Kiner

Ralph Kiner (7.6 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 5.0 WAR (7th for outfielders)

I went back and forth on whether or not to split up the outfield into three separate positions, but after realizing how long this research and writeup takes, I decided to lump the positions together. Ta-da! One outfield spot to evaluate!

That said, after taking a look at the WAR leaderboard in 1951, I really should have all three positions covered–Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner, and Ted Williams all put of tremendous years. Alas, only the powerful Kiner was featured in the 1951 set. After swatting 47 homers in 1950, Kiner knocked out 37 in 1951, putting up a triple slash of .309/.452/.627. Kiner only played 10 seasons in the majors, as a back injury forced him to retire in 1955, but what a career it was. 

Top 3 Outfielders in 1951

Stan Musial (8.6 WAR) – No card in this set.

Ralph Kiner (7.6 WAR)

Ted Williams (7.1 WAR) – No card in this set.

Pitcher

1951 Topps #21 Larry Jansen

Larry Jansen (5.7 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 – 5.6 WAR (3rd for pitchers)

If I am being honest, I’d never heard of Larry Jansen before I started to research for the article. I mean, Larry Jansen isn’t necessarily a name that jumps out at you. He’s not Oil Can Boyd. He’s not Quenton McCracken. He’s…Larry Jansen. And our boy, LJ put up his best year in 1951, pitching to a 3.04 ERA and tossing 18 complete games. Boy, was the game different then.

Top 3 Pitchers in 1951

Robin Roberts (6.7 WAR) – No card in this set.

Don Newcombe (5.8 WAR) – No card in this set.

Warren Spahn (5.5 WAR)

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Despite featuring some iconic cards from some of the game’s greatest players, the 1951 set failed to produce a single card of a positional leader in WAR for the 1951 season–that said, four of the players in the following list led their position in WAR for the 1950 season and the other three ranked in the top five players for their respective positions.

It seems, then, that the early iterations of Topps Baseball produced cards to catalog the best players of the previous season–the 1951 set features the best players of 1950, and so on. In short, the production of these cards wasn’t necessarily predictive of the best players the following year. That said, predicting performance is notoriously difficult, especially considering the baseline statistics used to evaluate players back in the early 50s. While statistics used today (at least in stathead circles) like xFIP and xWOBA are predictive of future performance, these numbers were not used at that point, and certainly not by a company like Topps.

I was unable to locate a release date for the 1951 set. A release date for the product might provide some insight into how players were chosen for the set and further my hunch that the early Topps Baseball sets were ways to chronicle past performances rather than predict the top performers for the following year in an effort to maximize profitability. (Current-day Topps obviously takes a different approach to boost sales.)

Though I am still crunching the numbers, I predict that the sets produced for the remainder of the decade and into the 1960s will not always reflect the WAR leaders. For one, the baseball card industry was still forming and did not have contracts with all players (see Stan Musial). Of course, the set size and production of cards also play a role in this, as fewer players were represented on cardboard compared to today. And finally, the statistics used by baseball folks and the general public did not fully capture the performance of players in the most effective ways.

The 1951 set was a beauty that saw some of the most iconic cards of all-time. And though the set failed to produce cards of the top players of the 1951 season, it sure featured some tremendous players at the peak of their careers.