Category Archives: Curt Schilling

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.

Quick Hits

For my first post of the year, a random assortment of items to get off my plate:

Congratulations to Pedro Martinez for replacing Mike Schmidt as the most recent former Phillie to make the Hall of Fame. That means the Phillies went a little over 20 years (early 1989 through late 2009) between fielding Hall of Famers. As John Stolnis recently pointed out over on The Good Phight, it’s2010 UD Bio Martinez hard to get into the Hall of Fame, and if any of the Hamels-Rollins-Utley-Howard-Lee Phillies core (Stolnis excludes Halladay from that group) during that awesome 2007-2011 run are going to gain entrance into the Hall, then it’s going to take a at least a few more years of excellence….

Pedro’s limited run with the Phillies resulted in a far fewer Phillies cards than you might think. I show only 32 cards in my database, but when you filter out the parallels and printing plates, the number drops to a mere 16. Furthermore, you filter out the cards where he’s pictured with either the Red Sox or Mets (but still denoted as a Phillie), the number drops to 11. What’s really astounding is that he didn’t appear in any of the Topps’s 2010 sets or the 2010 Upper Deck set (though he did appear on a few inserts for 2010 Upper Deck.) By way of comparison, my Phillies1993 Pacific Schilling collection contains 18 different 2014 Roy Halladay cards, and I own almost none of the more expensive/limited parallels or inserts….

I feel like I should briefly note that I thoroughly believe Curt Schilling is a no-brainer Hall of Famer and have every expectation that he will eventually get into Hall, which will retroactively mitigate that 1989-2009 gap. However, I really do think that sometimes he would really be much, much better off just keeping his mouth shut. Lost votes for being an outspoken Republican? There are so many things wrong with such an assertion that I don’t know where to begin….

Final thought regarding this year’s Hall of Fame voting: thank goodness that Chris Olds at Beckett doesn’t get a vote….

Circling back to The Good Phight, dajafi’s “The All-‘Wait, That Guy Was a Phillie?’ Team” struck me as both far too limited in its scope and included a head-scratcher. Its requirements, which included that the individual had to be on an opening day 1996 Donruss Van Slykelineup during the 1991-2014 period, meant the exclusion of Andy Van Slyke and Fernando Valenzuela — both of whom are far more deserving of inclusion than a few of the individuals who were included. In particular, Dale Murphy — who was actually with the club for over two seasons, which is far too long for such a list — had no right appearing on it. It would’ve been much more fulfilling if he had done a little research, expanded the timeframe, and included such luminaries as Hack Wilson, who I covered in the early days of this blog, Lew Burdette, who never received a Phillies card for his efforts, Dick Groat, and, yes, Michael Young (though he’s fresh in our memories, in 15 years his stint will be remembered as well as Andy Van Slyke’s)….

Finally, Slate coincidentally ran an article on the Topps Bunt app a few days after my post about it. Just thought it was worth mentioning.

My First Graded Cards

Okay, the title is something of a misnomer. I own plenty of graded cards. In fact, I recall buying them as early as 2002 (if not earlier), and over 450 cards in my collection reside in slabs assembled by SGC, PSA, or BGS. However, I never actually submitted any of my own cards for professional grading until the most recent CSA Chantilly Card Show, back in the beginning of October.

1954 Bowman Ennis AutoI resisted (and will likely continue doing so, as much as possible) getting my own cards graded for so long solely because of cost considerations. For the most part, it just isn’t the best use of my resources. However, I am not completely oblivious to the fact that at some indeterminate point in the future, I will likely need to start selling the collection, and when I do so, it may be to my advantage to have at least a few key cards in slabs in order to maximize my returns. So, I decided to take advantage of the fact that both SGC and BGS would have submission tables at the show and see what would happen.

With the first card, my primary concern was to get the autograph authenticated. I knew it was legitimate because I paid to have Ennis sign it in person at a card show in Ocean City, NJ during the summer of 1992 or 1993. When the day comes that I start breaking the collection up, it certainly will be one of the last cards I sell, but I felt authenticating it would be to my advantage when the day to sell finally arrives. I know having the card itself graded really isn’t important for most collectors, but when the SGC representative told me it would only add a few bucks to the overall cost, I thought, “What the hell.”

I decided to get the Schilling card graded because it’s probably the most unique card in my collection. I have a few other 1/1 cards, but this is the only one bearing an autograph and multiple relics.* It felt like I was taking a gamble because I knew that there was no way it was 2005 Classics Schilling BGSgrading as anything higher than an “8.” In fact, given one of the corners, a “7” or “7.5” was far more likely. I was pleasantly surprised when it came back bearing the “8,” but sure enough, thanks to the corner I worried about, it did get a subgrade of “7.5” in that category.

I’m certain that I will submit other cards for professional grading at various points in the future. I’m not very happy about the cost of doing so, but I actually enjoyed seeing the Ennis and Schilling cards return in their new tamper-resistant, condition-preserving holders. Figuring out the next cards to send will be a bit of a challenge (I’m guesstimating that I have roughly a dozen cards I would like to submit for grading), but it will take a number of months before I’m reading to determine which ones.

* I posted about this particular Schilling card previously.

How Rare Is It Really?

Because it’s a nearly a four-hour drive to see my dad, I only see him a few times a year. When preparing for these visits, I frequently make it a point to bring a few of the latest acquisitions to my collection. 2012 Triple Threads LuzinskiI do this in part because although he collects model trains instead of baseball cards, he played a large role in the collection I originally built during my teen years. Just as noteworthy, he is a Phillies fan and as a collector he generally appreciates the vintage and relatively rare modern cards I choose to share with him. During such a visit at the end of 2012, I showed him my Greg Luzinski 2012 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relics, #TTAR-161. While examining it, he couldn’t help but notice that it bore a 1/9 serial number, and he was impressed that I had something so rare in my collection. At which point, I stated, “Well, it’s not really quite as rare as Topps would like you to think.”

The fact is I don’t understand why so many people fall for the parallel shell game perpetuated by Topps and all the other major manufacturers. I’m sure that it works to the extent it does because collectors love the notion that they own something that’s incredibly rare, and incredibly small serial numbers provide concrete proof of rarity. However, when you step back, seriously consider what’s really going on, and do some simple arithmetic, many of these “rare” cards aren’t as rare as the manufacturers would like you to believe. Let’s take another look at that Luzinski card. The one I own is actually a gold parallel. If you combine the print runs of the regular insert with all the print runs, you still have only 33 cards. That strikes me as an impressively low figure — certainly nothing to scoff at in terms of rarity. However, there are two other Luzinski cards in that particular insert set. They use the same photo, apply the autograph sticker in the same spot and also bear pieces of a bat supposedly used by Luzinski in a MLB event. The only other notable differences are the text on the back of the cards and the bat shards on cards #TTAR-162 & #TTAR-163 instead respectively spell “Philly Favorite” and “The Bull.” Combine the three cards and all their respective print runs, and you get a total of 99 Luzinski 2012 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relics.

Now, even by current 2001 UD GG LB Auto Luzinskistandards — as opposed to those from the late ’90s — that’s still fairly rare. However, it’s certainly not rare enough to justify the cost Topps charged for a pack 0f 2012 Topps Triple Threads. Hence, the need for the parallel shell game. To me, the worst part about it is that I see dealers and other collectors absolutely falling for it. Currently, one individual is asking $59.99 for a Sapphire parallel (serial numbered to 3) of #TTAR-162. Given that the last few versions of the card on eBay have sold in the $10-$20 range, regardless of its stated print run, I suspect it won’t sell for anywhere near that much. I will, however, concede that outside of his 2001 Upper Deck Gold Glove Leather Bound Autographed card it is Luzinski’s only autographed memorabilia card printed in anything even marginally resembling collector-friendly quantities. Still, given recent selling data, $60.00 is ridiculously overpriced.

The problem is that the same cannot be said for so many other cards bearing serial numbers whose sole purpose is to mask the true print run. I recently acquired the John Kruk 2013 Topps Tribute Autographs Framed Printing Plates 2013 Topps TT Auto PP KrukCyan card. This was significant for me on two counts: it’s the first “1/1” Kruk card in my collection, and it’s also the first Kruk printing plate. However, is “1/1” really a correct way to refer to the card? There are three other printing plates, the regular insert set, and seven different parallels for the card those plates were used to create. Adding them all up gives you a total of 240. Again, that’s still an nice, low number by current standards, but from that perspective this “1/1” Kruk card doesn’t feel quite as unique as it once did. Furthermore, unlike the Luzinski’s 2012 Topps Triple Threads card, there are a slew of other similar Kruk autograph cards out there. If you are a completist such as myself, you can more easily and cheaply acquire over a couple dozen different Kruk autograph cards. When viewed through such a lens, acquiring a Kruk 2013 Topps Tribute Autograph card doesn’t carry the same urgency or importance as obtaining a Luzinski Triple Threads card.

To be sure, 2009 Topps Unique TT Auto Philliesthere are some legitimately really rare cards out there, and the parallel shell game tends to obscure them. I actually own one of the five 2009 Topps Unique Triple Threat Autograph Relics cards featuring Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Raúl Ibañez. Topps did not produce any parallels or printing plates; thus, there literally are just five of any of these cards in existence. (I’ll let you guess as to how many other autographed relic cards featuring this trio of players were produced.) To me, this card is far more unique and rare than my “1/1” Kruk autographed printing plate — or any other printing plate for that matter. Then there’s the case of the 2005 Donruss Classics Classic Singles Curt Schilling card, #CS-15. This is a slightly more interesting example because the card exists in so many different varieties: 2005 Donruss Classics CS Relic Auto Schillingplain, relic, autograph, both relic and autograph, dual relic, and parallels of each. However, after examining the print runs for each of the variations, you discover that Donruss only issued seven Schilling cards bearing an autograph sticker. Thanks to the various memorabilia combinations (or lack thereof) and parallels Donruss employed, each of those seven bears a “1/1” serial number, but only two of those seven bear both bat and jersey relics. One can actually make the argument that by creating so many specialized “1/1” cards, Donruss inadvertently drew attention away from just how rare the autographed versions of those cards themselves actually were.

It seems that true “1/1” cards — cards which neither exist in parallel form nor have the printing plates issued as well — are actually much rarer than any of us realizes. The only cards that consistently seem to honestly bear such a serial number are cut 2013 Panini AP PC Mauchautograph cards of deceased players and managers. I’m fortunate enough to own a small handful: most notably a few of the cards from 2010 Topps Sterling Certifed Cut Signatures — an insert set that will certainly contain the only fully licensed certified autograph card for many baseball figures — as well as the Gene Mauch card from 2013 Panini America’s Pastime Pastime Cuts. (It’s incredibly likely that should I ever find someone selling the Ethan Allen card from that particular insert set I will seriously consider busting my budget in order to obtain it.) I know that parallels are here to stay, but I do wish that the hobby as a whole wouldn’t exhibit such willful ignorance as to how they’re being used to both mask true print runs and cheapen the meaning of a “1/1” serial-numbered card.

Featured Cards: 2012 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relics Gold #TTAR-161, Greg Luzinski; 2001 Upper Deck Gold Glove Leather Bound Autographed #SLB-GL, Greg Luzinski; 2013 Topps Tribute Autographs Framed Printing Plates Cyan #TA-JK, John Kruk; 2009 Topps Unique Triple Threat Autograph Relics #TTAR-HRI, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, & Raúl Ibañez; 2005 Donruss Classics Classic Singles Signature Materials Prime #CS-15; 2013 Panini America’s Pastime Pastime Cuts #25, Gene Mauch

2014 Topps Turkey Red, Revisited

2014 Turkey Red HalladayOver the weekend, I gave some more thought to what I wrote about the newest iteration of Topps’s Turkey Red brand. My opinion on the set remains the same, and I wouldn’t retract or change a single word. However, it did occur to me that if Topps was indeed attempting a modern take on the Turkey Red design — one of my suggestions for why the set looks the way it does — then they managed to completely overlook a direction suggested by their own designers approximately 15 years ago: the 1997 and 1998 Gallery sets.

When you look at those sets, it’s clear that they contain the same basic design elements employed by the original Turkey Red set. Both the ’97 and ’98 Gallery sets contain the picture frame and nameplate motifs, and both sets actually employ multiple variations of it in each year. Remove the foil and the gloss from

1997 Gallery Jefferies1997 Gallery Schilling1998 Gallery Rolen1998 Gallery Schilling

the cards, and you essentially have Turkey Red sets with frames embodying a much more modern appearance. Topps could have taken this direction, and even potentially created a “Gallery” parallel set that used foil, gloss, and the Gallery logo. While I typically avoid parallels and find most of them to be utterly banal and superfluous, I would’ve applauded Topps for updating a retro design and paying homage to a brand that they’ve let lay fallow for quite some time now (and I’m not just saying this because I came up with the idea.)

One other thought regarding the 2007 Turkey Red Utley2014 Turkey Red set: who the hell thought that new photo treatment looked attractive? I can accept that paying artists to do original artwork for baseball cards can become quite pricey and that it’s more cost effective to apply some kind of filter to an existing photo to make it appear like artwork — even though original artwork is what made the 2007 Turkey Red set arguably the best of the series. However, the new filter they used on this year’s set was just awful — even if they did manage to correct the error that caused coloration problems on the Phillie script on the jerseys and the “P” on the caps. Why the change from the one they used on all the other Turkey Red sets? If they felt such a change was essential, there were better filters available, such as the one they used on the 2007 Bowman Heritage sets.

2007 Bowman Heritage IguchiComing back to my primary complaint about the 2014 Turkey Red set, this boils back down to an overall lack of attention to detail at Topps. I know that once you take into account all its other sports and non-sports brands, Topps creates and distributes an ridiculous number of sets per year. That type of production schedule must be difficult to maintain, as evidenced by the fact that the release date on this year’s Heritage offering was pushed back to March 14 from March 5. Because Topps is a privately-held company and therefore isn’t required to publish annual earnings statements, there’s no way for me to know Topps’s profit margins for 2013. However, are their earnings so slim that they can’t hire one person — an expert on both the details of baseball card design throughout the product’s history and baseball history in general — 2009 Turkey Red Ibanezwhose job it is to ensure that such inattention to detail doesn’t occur? Or is this a case of a company that actually doesn’t care all that much about what its customers think, so long as they somehow maintain their current profit margins?

In the end, I just wish that Topps showed that they care as much about the minutiae of the final product as collectors such as myself do. The key here is that we want to unabashedly love these sets — that’s why we purchase them and write about them in the manner we do. Out criticism stems not from a desire to berate the product but from the understanding that it could be made significantly more enjoyable without much in the way of effort. Deep down, however, I know that Topps will show no inclination to address these flaws so long as I, and collectors such as myself, continue to purchase such product  despite our complaints. However, I will continue to voice such objections in the hopes that one day Topps may actually start listening to them.

Featured cards: 2014 Topps Turkey Red #83, Roy Halladay; 1997 Gallery #23, Gregg Jefferies; 1997 Gallery #54, Curt Schilling; 1998 Topps Gallery #74, Scott Rolen; 1998 Topps Gallery #127, Curt Schilling; 2007 Topps Turkey Red #56, Chase Utley; 2007 Bowman Heritage #162, Tadahito Iguchi; 2009 Topps Turkey Red #TR129, Raúl Ibañez

Schilling and Thome Autograph Cards, Redux

Featured Cards:2008 UD Premier Postseason Premier Autographs #PLA-CS, Curt Schilling; 2004 E-X Clearly Authentics Signature Jersey Black #CAS-JT, Jim Thome

2008 UD Premier PS Premier Schilling AutoYesterday, I asserted that there haven’t been enough Schilling and Thome Phillies autograph cards over the years and that I’d love to see more of them in the coming year. I understand that the chances of this happening this year and in any subsequent year are quite slim for a simple reason: Topps and Panini have plenty of valid reasons in predominantly issuing autograph cards for them as members of the Red Sox and Indians respectively, so any Phillies autograph cards are going to be few and far between. (Which really isn’t fair in the case of Schilling, who started more games with the Phillies than with the Red Sox and Diamondbacks combined, but I understand the rationale behind why he is more associated with the Sox.)

I feel that I need to make a slight qualification when I say that there haven’t been enough Phillies autograph cards over the years. Both players have appeared on a large number of Phillies autograph cards over the past 10 years. However, the overwhelming percentage of those cards are incredibly short-printed (that is, less than 25 of each). The overall situation isn’t quite so bad in regards to Schilling, who before his trade to the2004 E-X CA Auto Thome Diamondbacks signed a large number of cards — albeit only seven of those sets were in excess of 100 cards, but some of them he signed well over 1,000, counting the parallels. The Thome situation, however, is a much more dire. Only five of his fully-licensed Phillies autograph cards were printed in quantities greater than 100, and quite frankly, I find two of them hideous. The 2003 Donruss Signature Series Signature Cuts was created with cut autographs from various ’90s Signature Series cards he signed while with the Indians, and although his is the only autograph on it, he shares his 2003 Fleer Box Score All-Star Line-Up Autographs card with Roberto Alomar, Alex Rodriguez, & Nomar Garciaparra. If you want to be generous, you can add his partially-licensed 2012 SP Signature Edition card to the list, bringing the total to six, but even with that card, getting a Thome Phillies autograph card at a relatively affordable price takes a great deal of patience and perseverance.*

So, even though both players have each appeared on over 50 autograph sets as a Phillie, the total of relatively attainable autographs for your average collector is a small fraction of that number. Between these two players, I have a grand total of 12 autograph cards in my collection. By way of comparison, I have 11 Darin Ruf autograph cards.** This is why I included Schilling and Thome in my wish list yesterday.

*By the way, pulling together the data regarding number of sets and print runs was made much easier by having the Phillies Baseball Card Database in the state that it’s finally in — albeit still far from complete. I just feel the need to state just how much I love being able to pull such information so quickly and easily now.

** I know, not a fair comparison, but it does provide amusing perspective on the matter. I hope to write a bit more on the Ruf autograph card issue in a future post.

Nitpicky Annoyance

Featured Card: Leaf Certified Materials Fabric of the Game Signature Position #FG-145, Curt Schilling

I know I said this past Friday that I was going to post the newest version of the database this weekend, and I apologize for not doing so. I’ll rectify this either tomorrow or Tuesday. In the meantime, another matter — something in the grand scheme of things I shouldn’t get annoyed about — has grabbed my blogging attention. Simply put, as a Phillies fan and collector, I have to state that Panini’s insistence thus far on issuing Curt Schilling cards only as a member of the Red Sox and Lenny Dykstra only as a member of the Mets is flat-out annoying.

On one hand, I should probably be a little grateful — I don’t have an unlimited budget and fewer Dykstra and Schilling cards depicting either of them as a Phillie (especially in Panini’s2004 Leaf CM FOG Sign Schilling newest offering, America’s Pastime) is probably better for me in the long run. Furthermore, Schilling’s high-profile standing on two different title-winning Red Sox teams really does justify Panini’s handling of his cards thus far. However, there’s one little fact that undermines Panini’s choices regarding Dykstra and Schilling up to this point: both of them played played the majority their careers with the Phillies.

Look, I get that Panini wants to pander to Boston and New York fans. It makes economic sense. Furthermore, I know that they haven’t been producing decent quality (designation is debatable) sets for very long at this time. However, is it too much to ask from Panini to issue the occasional card of Schilling or Dykstra as a Phillie? After all they made such a card for Tony Pérez, and there really was little reason to expect such a card from them.