Today’s Lineup vs. Its ’96 Counterparts: Which Is Better?

Beerleaguer was rather harsh in his assessment of the starting lineup the Phillies will be trotting out today, calling it “the worst lineup card in history.” Their performance today didn’t do anything to disprove his assertion. Yes, it truly was awful, but for me the standard by which all bad Phillies team are judged against will be the ’96 squad. It is easily the atrocious LineupPhillies team I’m most familiar with since I actually went to The Vet and Shea Stadium a combined nine times that year to watch it find innovative ways to lose and make me lament that the previous World Series was a scant three years before. With that in mind, I thought I do a quick-and-dirty comparison of today’s lineup to its ’96 counterparts to see which is actually better.

To make a proper comparison, I am purposefully comparing each of today’s starters to the player on the ’96 squad who most closely filled the same role. Thus if a regular starter, such as a Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, is beginning the game on the bench today, then his replacement is getting compared to the ’96 team’s backup player for the position. Admittedly, it’s highly unlikely that the members of the ’96 team that appear below actually constituted a starting lineup on any day of the season, but it would take far too much work for me to examine each box score from that year to determine which ’96 Phillies starting lineup was its worst. So, without further ado…

Starting Pitcher: Dustin McGowan vs. Russ Springer

1996 Leaf Sign SpringerDustin is a reliever and former starter who is being called on to make a spot start today. His closest analog is Russ Springer, who filled a similar role for the ’96 team, appearing in 51 games and starting in seven of them. McGowan has a career WAR of 2.2 and has done nothing to embarrass himself or the team out of the pen this year. Alternatively, Springer entered the ’96 season with a career WAR of -0.5 and finished it with a -0.8

Advantage: 2015 Phillies

Featured card: 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Series Autographs (no #), Russ Springer

Catcher: Cameron Rupp vs. Mike Lieberthal

2014 Immaculate RuppIt’s a shame that we’re comparing backups here because I’d like to take a few moments to talk about lucky the Phillies were in their acquisition of Benito Santiago at the beginning of the ’96 campaign. The club decided they wanted a veteran to fill-in while they waited for Lieberthal to mature enough to become the regular starter, and Santiago filled the role admirably, putting up All-Star caliber numbers. He left the team via free agency following the season and Lieberthal became arguably the best catcher in team history.

We won’t be saying anything remotely similar about Rupp when he takes over for Carlos Ruiz.

Advantage: 1996 Phillies

Featured Card: 2014 Immaculate Collection #108, Cameron Rupp

First Base: Darin Ruf vs. Kevin Jordan

1996 UD CC JordanAt the moment, Ruf is the backup first baseman, so we compare him to Jordan since he started the second most games at the position in ’96. (Interestingly, Jon Zuber and Gene Schall both started nearly as many games at the position as Jordan.) As far as backups go, Jordan actually had a decent season in ’96, providing a 0.5 WAR for the year and an OPS of 93. As much as it pains me to say it, Ruf thus far has been an offensive black hole. In fact, his performance over 15 games in 2015 has eliminated all but 0.1 WAR he accumulated in the first 137 games of his career. Ouch.

Advantage: 1996 Phillies

Featured Card: 1996 Collector’s Choice #33, Kevin Jordan

Second Base: Cesar Hernandez vs. David Doster

1996 Flair Wave of the Future DosterBy now, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme here. Once again, we are comparing backups. If we were comparing starters, this would be a no-brainer of a contest with Utley vs. Morandini. Instead, we have this. It’s actually a fairly close comparison in that both players are/were playing at the age of 25. However, Doster was making his major league debut while this is Hernandez’s third season appearing in the majors. Mind you, Hernandez hasn’t shown much thus far at this level and has a career WAR of -1.0. However, he hasn’t hurt the team this year, or helped them for that matter, in his limited playing time; current ’16 WAR is 0.0. Doster’s 113 plate appearances in ’96 were just as mundane, netting a WAR of 0.1

Advantage: Push

Featured Card: 1996 Flair Wave of the Future #7, David Doster

Third Base: Cody Asche vs. Todd Ziele

2014 Topps Heritage AscheFinally, a chance to compare starters. At first glance, they couldn’t appear more different. Asche is in just his second full year as a starter while Ziele was a respected veteran playing in his eighth major league season. However, both started the season as placeholders while a highly-regarded prospect gained additional seasoning at AAA. Thus far, Asche has already accumulated 0.5 WAR this season, but it’s unlikely he’ll continue at this torrid pace all year long. However, it’s not a stretch to argue that he could exceed the 1.7 WAR Ziele provided before being traded along with Pete Incaviglia to the Orioles for Calvin Maduro and Garrett Stevenson.

Slight edge: 2015 Phillies

Featured Card: 2014 Topps Heritage #75, Cody Asche

Shortstop: Andres Blanco vs. Mike Benjamin

2015 Phillies Team Issue BlancoBefore I tackle this one, I’m glad that thus far Freddy Galvis has proven utterly wrong my assessment of him back on Opening Day. Admittedly, it’s based on a small sample size, but thus far he’s really been a bright spot for the Phillies both on the field at at the plate. I’d love to compare him to Kevin Stocker, but we have another battle of the backups — our fourth out of the five infield positions. I’d like to say I remember something of Mike Benjamin’s ’96 campaign, but I don’t. In fact, I remember nothing at all of him and according to my ticket stubs, I saw him start at short on three different occasions. I suspect Blanco’s ’15 season with the Phillies will be just as memorable.

Advantage: Push

Featured Card: 2015 Phillies Team Issue (no #), Andres Blanco

Left Field: Ben Revere vs. Pete Incaviglia

1995 Score IncavigliaJust our second comparison of starters, and this one isn’t even close. In his three seasons with the Phillies, Incaviglia provided 3.0 WAR and an OPS+ of 106. Revere’s Phillies career thus far: 1.3 WAR and an OPS+ of 85, with 60 more plate appearances. Stolen bases and triples can be exciting, but Revere doesn’t provide enough of either to match the excitement of watching Incaviglia absolutely crushing a pitch. Furthermore, as bad as Incaviglia was in the field, Revere really hasn’t been that much better.

Advantage: 1996 Phillies

Featured Card: 1995 Score #131 Pete Incaviglia

Center Field: Odubel Herrera vs. Ricky Otero

1997 Stadium Club OteroAdmittedly, we’re looking at small samples sizes again, but as the Phillies pointed out on their Twitter feed a couple days ago, Herrera is currently amongst the leaders in several rookie offensive categories. Admittedly, he’s still a work in progress in his transition to the outfield, but he’s quickly proving that the Phillies made the right decision in picking him up in the Rule 5 Draft. Otero, on the other hand, was a passable defensive center fielder, but those skills were completely overshadowed by his offensive deficiencies.

Advantage: 2015 Phillies

Featured card: 1997 Topps Stadium Club #328, Ricky Otero

Right Field: Jeff Francoeur vs. Jim Eisenreich

1996 E-XL EisenreichI’m not even going to dignify this comparison with commentary.

Massive Advantage: 1996 Phillies

Featured Card: 1996 E-XL #244, Jim Eisenreich

Final score: The ’96 squad exceeds today’s lineup at four positions, with two positions being judged a “push.” With some luck today’s lineup might win in a head-to-head match, but they will need a lot of help from the bench. I don’t know about “worst lineup card in history,” but it definitely looks like it could be the worst in my lifetime.

Keeping Up With Topps Wall Art Issues

For roughly a year now, Topps has been issuing 5″ x 7″ sets (usually serial-numbered to 99) to coincide with each of their Wall Art releases. Ever since they came out with the 60th Anniversary Team Sets, I’ve been trying to keep up with 2014 Topps Wall Art ID Schmidtthem and add each to the Phillies Database as Topps adds them to its website. However, Topps also removes them from the website as soon as they sell out, and though I try to check the site regularly, I’m certain that I’ve missed a few over the past year. Unfortunately, Beckett has done a rather poor job of documenting them in its online checklists. So, if I didn’t see it on Topps’s site, then chances are pretty good that I don’t have the card listed (I have caught a few on eBay, after the fact.) As for acquiring the cards themselves, thankfully, there are dealers who are buying the 5″ x 7″ sets and breaking them up for team and player collectors. Otherwise, I know I would own rather few of the Phillies from these sets as I don’t have the money, time, or patience to buy each offering and then attempt to sell all the unwanted singles on eBay.

For those of you who are interested, Topps just issued another series of online exclusive team set that is very reminiscent of last year’s 60th Anniversary offering. The ’52 Tribute Team Sets are $19.99 and though the print run is still 99, they 2015 Topps '52 Tribute Rufincreased the set size to nine cards from five. Proving that Topps just can’t help themselves when it comes to parallel creep, they’ve also issued a Gold version that’s serial-numbered to just 49 and costs an extra $10. However, they did at least have the decency to include an extra card, Schmidt, in the Gold version. Because of the nature of my obsessive-compulsive disorder regarding my collection, I splurged and purchased the Gold, but I wasn’t very happy about it. Quite frankly, I didn’t see why Topps had to resort to the extra card gimmickry — the Gold version already differs in that the background for each player is yellow/gold, rather than green, blue or red as is the case with the regular set (which doesn’t use yellow/gold at all.) Both sets should have had the Schmidt card. Since I just submitted my order a couple days ago, I haven’t received my set yet. However, looking at the scans of the cards on Topps’s website, I’m already seeing lots of things to nitpick about. I’d list them, but honestly, what’s the point? Topps doesn’t clearly doesn’t care about the small details the way I do.

Nonetheless, I am still looking forward to the set for no other reason than I get to update the 1952 Topps design virtual pages I previously created. I’ll post a copy of the PDF once I have that completed.

2015 Topps Past Present Future PhilsIn the meantime, I’ll continue to add the 5″ x 7″ versions of the Wall Art that I like whenever I can — and some of them have been great. In particular, I loved the Past, Present, and Future card that Topps recently issued, as well as last year’s Call-Ups Postcards of Maikel Franco, which used the ’59 design. I was considerably less impressed with their Schmidt ’80s Throwback Thursday Postcard. I suppose Topps deserve credit for trying to make the card look like it was an ’80s issue, but the design looks like a reject for one of the 44-card box sets endemic to the era and they have used that particular photo so much that it should now be considered part of the public domain.

Finally, just because it gives me a way to tie this neatly end this post, Topps has also issued a 5″ x 7″ Series One team set. I assume they’ll do the same after releasing Series Two, but I won’t care if they decide not to. I just view them as oversized parallels and have no interest in them.

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.