Opening Day Blues

Yesterday was my first proper Opening Day in Philly since 2006. It was also my son’s first ever Opening Day. The weather was gorgeous, 2015 Topps OD Phanaticbut as every Phillie fan who saw yesterday’s game knows, this year’s team reeks. I’d use the modifier “offensive” to describe the team’s performance, but that would require the Phillies to have an offense in the first place.

I know; that was a cheap shot

However, that doesn’t change the fact that this was easily the worst Opening Day I’ve experienced in all my years of following the Phillies. However, to be fair, it wasn’t as bad as the 1990 home opener (which was the team’s fourth game of the year) that I witnessed from the 700 level of The Vet, but that’s damning with faint praise.

Some additional thoughts that occurred to me while while watching the massacre and getting a slight sunburn in the 400 level seats of CBP:

  • During the game, I kept trying to recall the starting lineup of the ’97 Phillies in an effort to compare the two teams. At a superficial level, the two clubs are fairly similar. They’re both incredibly bad clubs surrounding an ace pitcher (Schilling/Hamels) and one legitimate All-Star caliber starter (Rolen/Utley). However, the ’97 Schilling-Rolen combo will almost certainly prove to be better than than the ’15 Hamels-Utley combo. I plan on taking a closer look at the ’97 squad to get a better idea of how they compare.
  • One position where 1988 Score JeltzI know the ’97 team exceeds the ’15 version: shortstop. Freddy Galvis may have a great glove, but Kevin Stocker was no slouch defensively. Furthermore, Stocker was actually competent with the bat. Galvis, on the other hand, appears to be the second coming of Steve Jeltz, sans the Jheri curl.
  • I am still stunned that this team gave two of its outfielder jobs to Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur. (I’ll let you decide which one of them is the better analog to Danny Tartabull.) I’m willing to wager money that both of them will be flat-out released–not traded, there won’t be any takers–by no later than the All-Star break. Seriously, I’d rather the Phillies play any outfielder in Lehigh Valley or Reading over these two.
  • By picking Francoeur and Andres Blanco over Darin Ruf for pinch hitting opportunities, Ryne Sandberg seems intent on never giving Darin Ruf a chance to prove that he may be a late-bloomer in the Raul Ibanez mold. This is exactly the kind of squad that should be taking advantage of a situation like Ruf. Instead, we’re wasting at bats on those thirty-something impersonations of major leagers.
  • Why were the Phillies wearing their red pinstripes yesterday and not their standard day game alternate cream uniforms?
  • Did Odubel Herrera Scoreboard PicHerrera really anger someone in the Phillies front office or does he have the same problem as Chandler Bing when someone asks him to smile for a photo? In the profile picture displayed on the scoreboard while he’s at bat, he looks like he just smoked a massive amount of high-octane Guatemalan refer. While this is nowhere near as bad as the photo the team used on Dave Wehrmeister’s sole Phillies card, it still looks comically bad.
  • How long before Utley decides that waving his 5-10 rights is the only way to save his sanity and then marches into Amaro’s office to scream, “Uncle!”

I also purchased both the Phillies Team Issue set and the 2o15 Topps Phillies Team Set while at the game. Although I have opened them both and took a quick look at them, I haven’t looked at them very closely. Truth be told, after the four-hour drive back home to Northern Virginia, I really wasn’t much in a mood to check out the contents last night, and today I made getting this post online a higher priority. I’m off to do that now and hope that they provide a better value than the product on the field yesterday.

Just, Eff You Topps… Eff You

Really? You really waited 2015 Heritage Mahaffey Autountil now to issue an Art Mahaffey autograph card, and you did so depicting him as a Cardinal. I have no interest in this Art Mahaffey autograph card. You couldn’t have created one for any of the last five Heritage sets, where it would’ve made far more sense to issue one that depicted him as a Phillie… wearing the uniform of the team that he was a two-time All-Star with. No, instead you waited until you had to issue one of him as a Cardinal — the team he ignominiously ended his career with. I much would’ve rather had a Mahaffey autograph as a Phillie than the Roger Craig one that you did issue in this year’s Heritage.

You really don’t seem to get it, Topps.

I can’t wait for the day when MLB realizes that giving you a monopoly was a major mistake. (Image obtained from eBay auction #141596987102.)

The Topps Chrome/Finest Splotch & Fade

Have you checked your Topps Chrome and Finest cards from the ’90s lately. If you haven’t in some time, you may want to take a look at them again. Word of warning: you may not like what you see.

I only1998-Finest-Bottalico found out about this issue early last year, when I started to complete a set of 1998 Finest that an old high school friend originally started to compile. Because he had only worked on the first series, it seemed to me I could greatly speed the process along by buying a complete second series and then finding the missing cards from the first series. After finding what I was looking for on eBay, I eagerly opened the box to take a look at my new cards and was stunned by what I saw. Nearly ⅓ of the cards were either completely faded into an odd greenish tint (as seen on the 1994 Lenny Dykstra Team Stadium Club Finest I posted a scan of back in November) or developed a very splotchy fade that seems to form in the more brightly colored portions of the photo. (All the cards given to me by my friend were absolutely fine.)

Fairly quickly, I contacted the seller to see about sending it back for a refund — I wanted nothing to do with what I considered damaged goods. He was just as surprised as I was; he thought they were all in mint condition but admitted that he hadn’t looked at the cards himself in years. After sending him a few scans proving that I wasn’t fabricating this issue, we ended up 1998 Finest Schillingworking out a partial refund and I kept what he sent. Shortly thereafter, I used one of the sellers in the Beckett Marketplace to replace some of those cards and was just as shocked when roughly the same percentage of the cards had the same issue. That’s when I started to realize that this wasn’t an isolated issue and decided some research was in order.

The first thing I did was start looking far more carefully through my own collection, and sure enough many of my 1998 Finest Phillies cards displayed the same issue. Furthermore, the splotch and fade problem affected other sets as well. Various Bowman and Topps issues from 1994 through 1999 had this problem as well, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the cards still bore the peel-off protector. Since I didn’t closely look at the cards on a regular basis, I have no idea when the various cards first started exhibiting signs of this happening. It just may be that some of the early ’00s just aren’t old enough to start displaying the splotch and fade yet.

From there, I tried to do some research online and found this had become something of an issue that other collectors were discussing on various message boards. A lot of suppositions and theories were being thrown around, but no one knew what was causing it. What was especially appalling was that I couldn’t find anything on the Beckett or Sports Collectors Digest sites about this problem. Admittedly, there may have been some articles back when my hobby involvement was at a minimum and I just didn’t enter the right combination of search terms to find the information I was looking for, but if it’s out there it’s hard as hell to find. Certainly, no one else on the message boards I read was linking to articles describing the phenomenon.

1994 Finest KrukSo, the question is how do we know that any new Chrome or Finest cards purchased today won’t eventually experience similar issues? Why spend serious bucks when the cards harbor a chance of looking like a splotchy mess years down the road? Those rare sepia chrome parallels look awesome now, but will they look like a mess 15 years from now? What, if anything, has Topps done to ensure that this issue will no longer affect any of the cards that use this printing technology? And, if neither Beckett nor SCD has tried to investigate, then why the silence? (I suspect that Beckett has never investigated. Otherwise, hobby apologist Beckett Baseball Editor Chris Olds would have quickly come to his publication’s defense in my comment on “First Look: 2015 Topps Chrome Baseball.”)

In the meantime, I’m seriously considering just making scans of my 2012 Topps Chrome Halladay batting variation SP and the various sepia parallels I’ve picked up over the past few years and then selling them all while they are still the proper color. I just don’t want to find myself holding the bag if/when they start experiencing the hideous splotch and fade.

Adding PSA/SGC “A” Cards to the Collection

1909-11 AC Eddie GrantI have to admit to being something of a snob when it comes to adding pre-World War II cards to my collection. When given the choice, I will always take a card graded either PSA 1 or SGC 1o over any card that receives an “A” grade, no matter how much nicer the appearance of the card merely graded “Authentic.” The funny thing is that I know it’s a form of snobbery that isn’t necessary adhered to in other forms of antique collecting; lots of people have no issues with buying restored/rehabilitated antique furniture. However, I, like many other baseball card collectors, am very picky about this; I just don’t want a card that underwent restoration techniques — if for no other reason than the act was most likely born out of an attempt to defraud a collector.

In an ideal world, I could completely avoid any card that bears an “A” grade. My biggest problem with it is that you typically don’t know the precise reason for the grade. The card could’ve been altered, the person who submitted it for grading may have only wanted its authenticity judged, or, as is the case with a significant percentage of strip cards from late teens and 1927 W560 Thevenowearly ’20s, the card was hand-cut too small or flat-out ripped from its adjoining brethren (PSA explains how they handle strip cards on their Grading Standards page). Yes, you can find slabbed strip cards bearing actual grades, but all too often the seller is extracting some sort of premium, even if the grade is as low as “Fair” or “Good.”

Given the rarity of so many of these strip cards, my desire to acquire as many Phillies cards as possible, and the constraints of my budget, something had to give. Last week, the dam broke, and I purchased my first strip card bearing an “A” grade. I’m going to continue to avoid doing so as much as possible in the future — and my intention is to refuse to purchase such cards if the grade appears to be to trimming or some other form of alteration to a card that wasn’t of the strip variety. However, while I’d hate to change my mind on this matter, I may not be able uphold that standard. The fact is that many of the other issues from the first couple decades of the 20th century are completely out of my price range unless I get ridiculously lucky in 1909-10 CA Briggs Bransfieldan eBay auction, as I did with my 1909-1910 C.A. Briggs (E97) Kitty Bransfield card. The fact is that somewhere down the road I may just have to accept a card that received an “A” grade for unpalatable reasons.

But, that day isn’t here yet, and there’s always a chance I experience the same bit of luck that allowed me to acquire the C.A. Briggs Bransfield card. Until then, it’s almost certain that I will allow other strip cards bearing the “Authentic” grade in my collection. Hopefully, I can keep that number to a minimum.

Complete 2015 Topps Series One Phillies Checklist and Review

It’s been a quite a while since I posted these type of checklists, and I don’t really have the time to do them in the old format. However, I did enjoy sharing my work, so I’m going to try a new method of posting checklists separately from the massive Excel file I occasionally update on this site. So, in the hopes of making this a regular feature (as far as anything is “regular” in regards to this 2015 Topps Utley Variationblog), here is the complete, to the best of my knowledge, 2015 Topps Series One Phillies checklist, in PDF format.

I feel that it’s much more thorough and helpful than the checklist officially issued by Topps — which actually wasn’t as complete as they would have you believe. I’ve supplemented their information with data from Beckett and with details I’ve gleaned from the cards I acquired and what I’ve seen on eBay. I’d also like to note that I haven’t actually seen everything on the list. This list contains all known parallels and variations for both the main set and all the inserts. I’m not guaranteeing it’s 100% complete, but it’s probably better than you’d find anywhere else — please excuse my lack of modesty on this.

2015 Topps RuizAs for my thoughts on the set itself… For starters, I think it’s the most attractive set Topps has issued in a while, but that may be due to the fact that the player and team names are now in plain white text and not foil-stamped. Topps seems to have also pared down the number of parallels, but given their propensity for adding additional parallels and backfilling when issuing the second series, it’s too soon to say that they’ve cut down on that particular blight. I’m also pleased with the photo selection; in particular, Ruiz’s card and Utley’s variation card stand out in my mind. Having said that, the set vaguely reminds me of 1999 Upper Deck MVP, sans unnecessary foil lines. However, I do wonder if there can ever be a truly unique card design at this stage in the game.

Moving to the inserts… I’m glad to see that Topps has done away with the mini inserts. Some people really enjoyed them, but at the same time they really were kind of superfluous given Topps’s Archives brand. Unfortunately, Topps continued the ridiculously ponderous medallion cards, and because they are a pain to properly store2015 Topps Robbed Revere they can’t go away fast enough for my taste. I like the concept of the Robbed in Center insert set but hate the fact that Topps couldn’t be bothered to use a photo from the April 9, 2014 catch they reference on the back of Revere’s card. It shouldn’t come as a great shock, however — Topps never really has been a stickler for paying attention to that kind of detail. Given the sheer number of Ryan Howard Career High Autographs available on eBay, it certainly appears that Topps is trying to blow out their inventory of Howard autograph stickers while they still can. Speaking of blowing out the autograph sticker stock, Topps issued a Mike Adams autograph card via its Spring Fever dealer promotion, and I snatched up the very first one I saw that hit eBay. There are only 200 of them, which (assuming he doesn’t appear as a Phillie on any future autograph issue) makes Adams one of the harder Phillies to find a certified autograph issue for.

In all, I think it’s a decent start to the 2015 baseball card season. Solid, but nothing spectacular, which is what the Topps flagship brand should be.

Fred “Cy” Williams: Baseball’s Forgotten Slugger

I know a ridiculous amount about the history of the Phillies. Although I think this is true of most Phillies team collectors (how can you not learn about the team’s history when you’re collecting cards that were printed decades before you weWilliams052re born), I actually pride myself on the breadth and width of my Phillies knowledge. Though I’m certain that there’s plenty of minutiae about the Phillies 130+ year history I don’t know, I don’t expect anything I learn to take me completely by surprise. That changed yesterday when I read Frank Jackson’s tribute to Fred “Cy” Williams in “Song for an Unsung Slugger” over on The Hardball Times.

Now, I know quite a bit about Williams, and I’ve previously featured on this blog a few of his cards from my collection. I knew he was a late bloomer offensively, won three NL home run titles for the Phillies, was one of the most feared sluggers in the National League during the 1920s, and remains the oldest man to win a league home run title. Yet, Jackson managed to pass along a piece of trivia that caught me totally by surprise: when Williams retired, he was third all-time in career home runs — just one of three men (the others being Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby) with over 250 home runs. Furthermore, after 1982 TCMA Williamsreading Jackson’s article, I went over to Williams’s page on Baseball-Reference and discovered that in 1926, at the age of 38, he was arguably the best offensive player in the National League — and he didn’t even win the home run crown that year.

Despite all the home runs, Williams never received serious Hall of Fame consideration, something Jackson’s article briefly addresses. Even though I’m a “Big Hall” kind of fan, I feel that Williams fell short of reaching borderline candidate status. Still, he was the eighth player to be awarded with a plaque in the Phillies Wall of Fame and deserved to be better remembered than he appears to be.

Collecting Leaf History of Baseball Cut Signatures

Although baseball cards remain the primary focus of my Phillies collection, I also try to obtain autographs of as many Phillies as possible. For what I feel are obvious reasons, certified autograph cards issued by the trading card manufacturers are the primary source of these in my collection and my preferred way of acquiring them. But, 2012 Leaf HoB Bartell030for the Phillies who haven’t been asked to sign such cards (or sign stickers to be placed on cards), I also collect baseballs and photos bearing signatures authenticated by the likes of PSA/DNA, SGC, GAI and JSA. While it isn’t an issue with baseballs, the one catch for me is that I don’t want photos or cards that picture the player with another team. Thus, I have no interest in Bruce Ruffin’s 1996 Leaf Extended Series autograph card, even though it’s the only certified autograph card ever issued for him. I also refuse to forgive Topps or Upper Deck for failing to issue a Johnny Callison Phillies autograph card before his passing; yet, they did respectively manage Callison White Sox and Yankees autograph cards — go figure.

This hard and fast rule of mine gets tested with Leaf ‘s History of Baseball cut signature cards that they issued over the past few years.

On one hand, there are no team designations on the card, so any former Phillies are potentially fair game. However, they do bear notable achievements on the card, often with a year that the accomplishment took place — such as a player’s sole All-Star Game selection. As a result, even though there isn’t a team designation I can research the player’s listed achievement(s) thus easily determining whether he was a member of the Phillies when the noteworthy event occurred. As a result, I stay away from the Leaf History of Baseball cards where the former Phillie’s achievement took place on another team.

For example, there is a 2012 Leaf History of Baseball signature cut card for Jim Kaat. If it listed his 16 Gold Glove awards as his accomplishment, I would have added it to my collection as two he won two of those awards while pitching for 2013 TriStar Kaat031the Phillies. Alas, the card only mentions that he was a three-time All-Star, and all those selection occurred before becoming a Phillie. So, this card was of no interest to me. Luckily, I found a 2013 TriStar SignaCut Baseball Honors card that used a Kaat cut autograph from a 1977 Topps card issued during his stint with the Phillies. So, I have a Kaat signature that meets my requirements after all. Interestingly, it lists his number of All-Star appearances and Gold Glove awards. Take that, Leaf.

Even with the restriction I placed upon collecting these cards, I’ve managed quite a little collection of them. Without these bland cut autographs, I wouldn’t have autographs of former All-Stars Ray Culp, Grant Jackson, and Dick Bartell. I own signatures of Whiz Kids Dick Sisler and Stan Lopata thanks to these cards, and I sincerely2012 Leaf HoB Jackson032 doubt I’d own an autograph of 1947 batting champ Harry Walker if it wasn’t for these series of Leaf cards.

The best part about them is that they are relatively cheap. If you’re patient enough, you can get most of them from anywhere between $5-$15 each (I may have payed slightly more for the Bartell card). In an ideal world, one of the major card manufacturers would have already printed proper certified autograph cards for many of the Phillie autographs that are only in my collection because of Leaf History of Baseball, but I’ll take what I can get.