Category Archives: Gene Mauch

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

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Late September 2011, Oh What a Night

Featured Cards: 2009 Topps Heritage #222, Charlie Manuel; 1978 SSPC #0050, Danny Ozark; 2001 Topps #347, Terry Francona; 1964 Topps #157, Gene Mauch; 2011 Topps #524, Michael Martinez

I stayed up until the conclusion of the Yankees-Rays last night and just soaked up what was the greatest night of regular season baseball in my lifetime. As I type this, I still cannot believe everything that I saw last night. I don’t know if I will actually write all my thoughts about last night’s games into this post, but I will certainly give it my best shot.

1. Charlie Manuel’s Historic Night
Throughout the day yesterday, the press played up how a Phillies win would give Manuel the franchise record for most victories by a manager. I found this interesting because Baseball-Reference.com — which I used in my post about Manuel back in July, when I stated he needed 103 wins this season to set a new record — lists Gene Mauch as winning 646 games as Phillies manager, not 645 as reported by most in the mainstream press. I still haven’t seen an explanation for the discrepancy, so I’m not entirely convinced that Manuel has sole possession of the record just yet. Nonetheless, at a minimum he co-holds the mark, which means that Manuel now has the franchise marks for most wins, most wins in a season (breaking Danny Ozark’s mark of 101 from 1976 & 1977), highest winning percentage and most first place finishes. He is also the only manager to lead the Phillies to multiple World Series appearances. At this stage, the argument over who is the greatest Phillies manager ever is as settled as who is the greatest Phillies third baseman ever. (Quick aside: to this day, I still can’t figure out why Manuel’s card in the 2009 Topps Heritage set uses the 1960 Phillies logo while the rest of the Phillies card use the current logo.)

2. The Other Games
Although the ghost of the 1964 Phillies has long since been excised, their end-of-season performance that year still ranks as one of the greatest collapses in history. So, it seems fitting that a former Phillies manager, Terry Francona, was leading the Boston team that may very well be the worst collapse in history. Currently, there are a lot of rumors swirling about this collapse may ultimately cost Francona his job. However, it should be noted that Mauch stayed on with the Phillies into the 1968 season, and the Mets, for example, didn’t fire Willie Randolph after their collapse in 2007. On the other hand, the Red Sox were quick in firing Grady Little after their postseason collapse in 2003. Those are just examples off of the top of my head — it would be interesting to research all the team frequently mentioned in the lists of historic collapses to see how managers, on average, fair after such season-ending performances.

However, if it wasn’t for the Red Sox, everyone would be spending far more time discussing the Braves collapse, which for just a mere 25 minutes or so was the new mantle-bearer for worst choke in baseball history. I do not hide the fact that I absolutely disdain the Braves for no other reason than the Tomahawk Chop. Aside from being annoying, it feels like it’s a cheap, artificial construct. I’ve never been to a game in Atlanta, but every time I see an Atlanta home gome on TV, it sounds like the chant is actually pumped through the stadium sound system. Of course, that’s insignificant compared to the fact that it’s disgustingly racist in a manner matched only by the Indians’ use of the Chief Wahoo logo. But, I digress. This was Fredi Gonzalez’s first year as Braves manager and the baseball culture in Atlanta is far different from that in Boston, so he will probably be back for next season. Having said that, how the hell do you pitch to Hunter Pence in that situation in the 13th inning when Michael Martinez is batting behind him? Seriously, how do you justify not issuing the intentional walk in order to pitch Martinez, who sports a .258 OBP and an OPS+ of just 48?

Still in disbelief over the Braves decision to pitch to Pence instead of pitching to Martinez. WTF?

As for that game in Tampa… just, wow. If that had been a Hollywood movie, I would have been yelling, “Bull shit!” at the screen the moment the Rays tie the game. That ending was so improbable that I still cannot believe that happened. Seriously, the only thing that competes with this is the mind-numbingly difficult-to-comprehend decision to pitch to Pence instead of walking him to get to Martinez. However, I would like to point out that while Citizen’s Bank Park is often derided for being a bandbox, at least the corners of the field are fair. In most parks in baseball, both the game-tying and the game-winning home runs in the Rays game last night would have stayed in the park — the corners in Tropicana Field are 315 and 322 feet, and both home runs were line drives that just barely sailed over the fence. In a park with normal corners, the Yankees might have actually won that game.

At the end of the night, I was admittedly just a bit disappointed that there wouldn’t be any sudden-death playoff games today. However, the excitement and drama from what unfolded in Atlanta, Baltimore and Tampa more than compensated for that. Here’s to hoping that this year’s playoffs are just as exciting as the end of the regular season (and that the Phillies win it all, of course).