Completed set & master set – one last look at 1981 Topps

30 11 2011

The 1981 Topps and Traded set is my fourth set completed!  I’ve also completed my “personal master set” for this year as well – which I’m defining as the base set, the traded set, and any regular inserts.  Here’s the “look back” I do for each completed set.

Info about my set:

How I put the set together:

  • 405 cards from the wax box
  • 193 cards from a vending box
  • 10 cards from a rack pack
  • 111 cards from the trades
  • 1 card from the Diamond Giveaway (Phil Niekro)
  • 6 cards purchased from Sportlots

Card that completed my set: #218 – Paul Splittorff (the last of 6 cards I purchased from Sportlots)

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Griffey in Topps next year – excitement and a little sad

29 11 2011

Topps made a pretty surprising announcement yesterday that it has signed Ken Griffey Jr. and will include his cards in its 2012 products.  This is a pretty big deal – right up there with adding the notoriously difficult signer Koufax last year – for a few of reasons.  One is that it’s kind of hard to get Griffey signatures through means not facilitated by Upper Deck – the best way in the past has been by purchasing something from Upper Deck Authenticated or on an Upper Deck insert card – I don’t know of him ever signing at a show or anything.  So his autograph is pretty valuable, period.  Also, this is the first time you could get a Griffey card in a Topps product.  The biggest reason is just what Griffey represents – to baseball card collectors, Ken Griffey Jr. IS Upper Deck.

I think I’ve got a bit of a unique perspective on this – I’m a huge Ken Griffey Jr. fan.  Griffey wasn’t the first athlete I idolized, but he’s my favorite.  When I was 12, I remember staying up late to watch his at bats every chance he was on TV.  When I went to college, I hoped against hope that it would be him and not Mark McGwire in 1997 and 1998 that would break Roger Maris’s record.  I have a 3-year old Dachshund named Griffey, most because I don’t think my wife would be OK with me picking that name for our first-born son. 

I can remember the excitement when he was traded “home” to Cincinnati.  To have your favorite player traded to your favorite team is pretty awesome.  I still have the article in the Cincinnati Enquirer that describes the trade and compares it to the Babe Ruth Sox-Yankees deal.  Obviously nothing on that level materialized, but I appreciated being able to watch him play for nearly a decade and seeing about 10 of his 630 home runs live.  Even when he was older and produced less, I didn’t want the Reds to trade him.  There’s something about having your childhood hero on your hometown team (even after you’re not a kid any more) that even trumps giving that team the best chance to win.   

So, on that level, I’m really excited that I can find Griffey Jr. in next year’s products.  Plus, the card above looks amazing!  I hope they do some cards with him in a Reds uniform, but I also hope Topps doesn’t go completely overboard – having too many Griffey cards could make me go a bit overboard.

In another way, though, this is a little sad.  Griffey’s rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in all of sports history.  If you asked me, it’s behind only the ’52 Mantle and the T-206 Wagner as the most influential baseball card of all-time.  A surprise pick as the #1 card in a fledgling set that changed the game (kind of like Topps said it’s going to do in 2012 :}), and a photo that captures the essence of “the Kid”.  This kind of signifies the nail in the coffin to Upper Deck’s run in baseball – and I’m sure that fact isn’t lost on Topps.  From everything I’ve read, Upper Deck kind of deserves it, but as someone who collected their products in the mid-90’s, I can’t help but be a little sad.





1992 baseball season in review

28 11 2011

Highlights and Events:

1991 was the first season where free agency really became what we know it today; Darryl Strawberry was the first example of a high-profile free agent who switched teams for more money when he was considered one of the best players in baseball (at least since the late 70’s / early 80’s).  The 1992 season, however, one-upped the previous year.  New York naturally jumped in – sluggers Bobby Bonilla and Danny Tartabull signed huge contracts with the Mets and the Yankees, though neither player would recapture their former production.  Frank Viola left the Mets for a bigger deal in Boston, and he never regained his Cy Young stature.  Other free agents included Eddie Murray (Mets), Dave Winfield & Jack Morris (Blue Jays), Mariano Duncan (Phillies), and Gary Sheffield.

There were two big trades, as Brett Saberhagen was traded from KC to the Mets for a number of players, including Gregg Jefferies.  The trade with the most lasting impact, however, was a crosstown deal where the White Sox got former MVP George Bell but gave up a young budding star with a tendency for striking out named Sammy Sosa.  Youngsters Curt Schilling (Phillies), Kenny Lofton (Indians) and Gary Sheffield (Padres) were also traded before they had become established stars.

Expansion was a year away, but the Rockies and Marlins both signed their first players.  The Rockies signed Stanford graduate – outfielder Ryan Turner, while the Marlins signed pitcher Clemente Nunez of the Dominican Republic.  Neither player made it to the major leagues.  The teams also participated in the MLB draft in June – future All-Star catcher Charles Johnson – of the University of Miami – didn’t have to move far when the Marlins took him.  The Rockies drafted pitcher John Burke, who made it to the Big Leagues but pitched in only 28 games.

The most significant development in 1992 may have been the new era in ballpark design that was ushered in.  After years of “cookie cutter” style ballparks built to house both football and baseball franchises.  On April 6th, Oriole Park at Camden Yards ushered in the Retro Park era.  Built near the Baltimore Inner Harbor, the park took nearly 3 years to build but set a trend that has continued to almost every park built since then.

The traditional “powers-that-be” held their place in 1992.  The Blue Jays, Braves and Pirates all repeated as division champions, while the A’s won their 4th division title in 5 years.

Oakland (96-66) beat out the Minnesota Twins (90-72) for the AL East crown; this was the 6th straight year that one of those two teams had won division.  The A’s got 42 home runs from Mark McGwire and the standard .400+ OBP from Rickey Henderson, though this continued a trend where they never seemed to get a great season from both Canseco and McGwire.  Canseco was sent to Texas at the trade deadline for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell and Bobby Witt.  Dennis Eckersley stole the show, however, with his 5th straight dominant season.  Eck saved 51 games with a 1.91 ERA, blowing only 3 for an incredible 94% success rate.  This netted him the Cy Young and MVP awards, a rare feat for a reliever.

The Blue Jays were already a great team in 1991, but signing veterans Jack Morris and Dave Winfield via free agency gave them an even more formidable attack.  Morris led the majors with 21 wins, following up his World Series MVP with a 5th place Cy Young finish.  Winfield slugged 26 home runs and knocked in 108 runs, earning 5th place in the MVP voting – he also had the game-winning RBI in the deciding World Series game.  He was one of 3 Blue Jays in the top 6 in MVP voting; Joe Carter was 3rd after 34 homers and 119 RBI, while Roberto Alomar was 6th, scoring 105 runs with 49 stolen bases and his second straight Gold Glove.

In the National League, the Pirates won their third straight division crown and the Braves defended theirs.  In his final year in Pittsburgh, Barry Bonds flip-flopped with Terry Pendleton for 1st and 2nd in the MVP voting.  Bonds had an incredible stat line – 34 HR, 103 RBI, 109 R, 39 SB, 127 BB along with averages of .311/.456/.624.  Andy Van Slyke hit .324 with 199 hits.  Unfortunately for the Pirates, this was not only the last time they went to the playoffs – it was the last time they had a season above .500.

Pendleton again was the best offensive player for the Braves – he followed up his MVP campaign with 105 RBI and 98 runs.  Ron Gant and Dave Justice had solid power numbers, but pitching was again the key for the Braves.  Tom Glavine again led the league with 20 wins; like Pendleton with the MVP, he was second in defending his Cy Young award.  Behind him, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Charlie Liebrandt were all very solid.

Ken Griffey Jr. highlighted a mid-summer classic; he was a triple short of the cycle and joined his father as the first father-son combination to win an All-Star game MVP award.  Griffey had another solid season, with 27 home runs, 103 RBI and a .308 average.  The American League won the game 13-6, the day after Mark McGwire won the home run derby.

The Olympic Games added baseball as a medal sport for the first time.  Team USA featured future stars Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra, and made it through round robin to the semi-finals.  But they lost to Cuba and Japan to finish a disappointing 4th place.  The Cuban team which won the Gold Medal featured future 4-time World Series champion – “El Duque”, Orlando Hernandez.

A number of players had great seasons outside of the division champions.  For the 2nd place Twins, Kirby Puckett had his best season with a .329 average, ML leading 210 hits, and over 100 RBI and runs.  For the third place White Sox, Frank Thomas had similar numbers, though he also had a league best 122 free passes.  Cecil Fielder led the American League in RBI for the third straight time, while the home run title went to young Juan Gonzalez (43).  Sheffield won a batting title (.330) for the Padres and had a legitimate shot at the triple crown with a week left in the season – while his teammate Fred McGriff denied him for the HR title (35).  Darren Daulton took the RBI title at the catcher position, with 109.  Greg Maddux was the most notable on this list.  Playing for the sub-500 Cubs, he led the league with 20 wins and a 2.18 ERA to win the first of his 4 straight Cy Young Awards.

On September 7th, a big change was made in the MLB leadership.  Fay Vincent was voted out by the owners as commissioner.  Vincent had an interesting tenure, but he often came across as ridiculous with threats he couldn’t back.  Ultimately, he forgot who he really worked for.  Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, who is still the commissioner today, replaced him.

There were some significant milestones and accomplishments in 1992:

  • In September, Robin Yount singled off of Cleveland’s Jose Mesa for the 3,000th hit of his career.
  • In the same month, George Brett became the 18th member of the 3,000 hit club – with a single against the Angels’ Tim Fortugno that capped a 4-for-4 day.
  • On June 15th, Jeff Reardon passed Rollie Fingers to set the all-time record with save number 342.  He would hold the record for less than a year.
  • Mickey Morandini of Phillies completed the 9th unassisted triple play in Major League history.
  • After back to back seasons of 7 no-hitters, Kevin Gross of the Dodgers had the only no-hitter in 1992, a 2-0 win where he walked 2 batters.
  • Bip Roberts set a major league record with the Reds where he had 10 consecutive hits.
  • Kenny Lofton set the AL rookie record for steals, leading the league with 66.
If there was some doubt as to who the best hitter in baseball was in 1991, there was not question in 1992.  Barry Bonds had his best season on record, winning the NL MVP for the 2nd time in 3 years, with a 2nd place sandwiched in between.  No one else was really even close – though behind him for second it would have been interesting between Will Clark, Ryne Sandberg and Rickey Henderson, with young stars like Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. beginning to enter the argument.  But Bonds was king by a wide margin for now.

Roger Clemens was still clearly the best pitcher in baseball, though Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were moving up into the argument.

Read on for the 1992 postseason summary…

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Go Blue!

27 11 2011

That is all.





1992 Topps ML Debut ’91

26 11 2011

1992 was the third and final year Topps issued the factory set “Major League Debut”.  This year, the set was 194 cards with every player who made his ML debut during the previous (1991) season – 192 players and 2 checklists.  The front of the card has basically the same design as the 1992 base set, with the team name replaced by the date of the player’s debut.  The back has a newspaper-like blurb about the debut, and contains full 1991 player stats from the minors and majors.  Like the Topps Traded sets, these cards are printed on white cardboard.  This set was released earlier in 1992.

JayBee’s Topps blog has done a great look at these sets in comparison with the Debut class from 20 years later.  Like the 1991 set, but unlike the 1990 set, there’s an appropriate amount of space in the packaging.

There are no baseball Hall of Famers in the set (yet), though this set still has some big names.  Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez all had careers that should net them an induction – though with the steroids era, you never know.  Bernie Williams and Mike Mussina are going to be debated players on the ballot for some time, and Kenny Lofton had a great career.  Mo Vaughn won an MVP, and Vinny Castilla and Reggie Sanders were very good players for over a decade.

In addition to Thome and Pudge, there’s one other player who was still playing in 2011; Arthur Rhodes was in fact pitching for the Cardinals on the biggest stage in baseball, the 2011 World Series.  This was one year after he made the All-Star team with the Reds.

Finally, there was another tier of guys who weren’t quite as great as the Hall-of-Fame or All-Star caliber guys above.  But Pat Hentgen won a Cy Young while Chuck Knoblauch and Eric Karros won Rookie of the Year awards.





Black Friday special – My Two Cents on the MLB agreement

25 11 2011

A few days ago, Play At the Plate had a good post that outlined the changes in the CBA that MLB and the Players Association agreed to.  Brian suggested doing our own post – and I’m going to take him up on that suggestion.

First and foremost – I think it’s worth pointing out and celebrating the fact that Major League Baseball got this agreement way before there was any question of potential work stoppages.  This was a year where the NFL got incredibly close to losing some games – which seems unbelievable considering the money the league is making as the current king of American entertainment.  The NBA is also in the middle of losing games to a much more debilitating stoppage that I also think is a more sensible one – unlike the NFL’s money-making juggernaut, basketball’s system is most certainly broken.  All of this happens while the country is in a very long recession – so these leagues risk sounding even more out of touch with their customers. 

As all that goes on, MLB quietly got a deal done to extend the baseball CBA by a few years.  21 years without a work stoppage seems like it should happen in every sport, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.  I’m not as down on Bud Selig as many others seem to be.  There was a canceled World Series during his tenure, but the basis for what caused the 1994 strike was from well before he was commissioner (though the collusion cases that really caused it did occur when he was an owner of the Brewers).  The whole steroids thing happened during his tenure, but this also started well before he was commissioner.  And, personally, I’m just not as disenfranchised by the steroid controversy as so many others.  Why do baseball players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro get vilified, while football players like Shawne Merriman and Brian Cushing seemingly get a pass?  Say what you will – if Selig didn’t do enough regarding steroids early on, at least he’s doing everything he can to fix the problem.

Here are some of the highlights of the new CBA:

1. Houston Astros move from the National League Central to the American League West in 2013.  This evens the leagues at 15 teams which means that each the league will have round-the-season interleague play.  Baseball needed to even out the leagues – as a Reds fan, I’ve always hated how unfair it is to have a 6-team division when there’s a 4-team division out there.  I wish there was a way to do it without having interleague year-round, but the unbalanced leagues bothers me much more.  I’ve read a lot of people say the Brewers would be the more appropriate team to move to the AL.  I disagree.  I have quite a few friends from Wisconsin, and my impression is that Milwaukee always considered itself a National League town, even though most people don’t remember when the Braves were still there.  Now, I’ve read that the same thing could be said about Houston, but somebody needs to move.  It’s not going to be an original, non-expansion team, and it needs to make sense geographically.  That basically leaves the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Astros and Padres as the only feasible teams.  Out of those teams, the Astros are the only up-for-sale, 106-loss team.  One thing this should show MLB – NOBODY WANTS TO MOVE TO THE AMERICAN LEAGUE!!!

part of which is because…

PEOPLE HATE THE DESIGNATED HITTER!!!!  Please take note.

2. Two more Wild Card teams will be added to the playoff mix as early as next season.  Probably in a one-game playoff to advance to the Division Series.  I’m for this as well.  The playoffs are good for baseball.  How many people tuned into a significant portion of the last 7 days of baseball in 1993?  The answer is not nearly as many who tuned into to watch the Yankees play the Tigers or the Cardinals play the Phillies.  The same thing will be true for adding a one-game playoff.  There will be years where the races would have been better without a 5th playoff team – unfortunately they made the change in a year where this was the case, so it looks worse.  Looking back, 2010 in the NL would have been less of a race, but 2010 in the AL, the race for the 5th spot would have been better. 

I’m sure it’s probably 50-50 over the long-term whether or not there was a better race for the 4th spot or the 5th, but adding the 5th playoff spot does two important things.  First, it makes it important to win your division.  How many times have 2 teams out of the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees had a playoff spot locked up where they care more about setting their rotation but less about winning the division.  This won’t happen any more.  Second, it gives the winning wild card team a disadvantage.  The wining Wild Card team won’t be able to start their #1 starter in the NLDS.  So, in a way, they’ve added more excitement but given an advantage to the division winners.

3. Blood testing for HGH with a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, 100 games for a second and lifetime ban with the right to seek reinstatement for the third. Hard to believe, but baseball beat the NFL to the punch on this one.  Good for them, and good for the players.

4. A raise in the minimum salary from $414,000 this year to $480,000 in 2012, and ultimately to more than $500,000.  The deal also implements an increase in the revenue sharing threshold and agreed to make it more difficult for revenue sharing to go to big market teams.  This minimum salary increase makes sense – the owners probably needed to agree to something like this in order to increase the revenue sharing threshold.  Overall, I think this deal seems to be very in-tune with further improving competitive balance.  You have to see how it plays out, but it seems good right now!

5. A luxury tax on teams that spend above an aggregate figure for players signed through the annual First-Year Player Draft and the near elimination of Draft-pick compensation for the signing of free agents.  I think this is kind of getting at the same idea a rookie wage cap – ultimately the hope is that small market teams won’t feel like they need to overpay in the draft to compete, and they won’t pass on players who they’d rather take but know will be too difficult to sign.  Like Brian at PATP, I don’t completely understand this, but I think it goes toward improving competitive balance, which is good in my book.

6. Expansion of instant replay to include fair and foul calls on balls hit down the line in addition to others trapped by fielders. Like Brian said, this is good in theory – but they better figure out a good way to do it.  I think they should have an off-field replay umpire – that would be the easiest way to make it fast if you ask me.

7. Restrictions for the first time on the use of smokeless tobacco on the field or in dugouts.  Players are still allowed to use smokeless tobacco, just not put the can of dip in their pocket and they can’t use it at other team functions.  I put a comment into PATP’s original post – I’ll paraphrase it below:

I don’t have a problem morally with the owners restricting the players in this way.  They aren’t losing their individual right, just the privilege to use tobacco at work.  Ultimately, if baseball determines putting rules like this in place helps them make more money, they should do it.  I don’t quite understand why the owners have to collectively bargain this kind of thing at all – I don’t get to tell my bosses what I can and can’t do at work.

That said, I am really glad they didn’t say 100% you can’t chew during the game.  Cutting around the edges on this is OK to me – it’s good to clean up the image a bit.  I honestly can’t make the most logical argument for it, but there’s just something very BASEBALL about chewing tobacco (and I personally hate the stuff).  I am 100% for banning smoking in every restaurant and bar in the US, but that’s because smoking impacts other people.  Chewing tobacco is different – I’m glad they didn’t go any further.  Ultimately, this is probably the least important thing in this whole list.

There’s my “Two Cents”.





1992 Topps Traded

24 11 2011

Topps again issued a 132-card “Traded” set in 1992 in the same manner as previous years; cards were numbered in alphabetical order, separately from the base set with a “T” suffix as #1-132.  The set contains cards of rookies who didn’t have a card in the base set, players who signed with or were traded to new teams, new managers, and a Team USA subset. The design was the same as the base set.

Unlike the previous 11 years where the box design was the same with a different color each year, this year’s set was more colorful box that looked.  Topps also issued a flat retail-only blue-colored box similar to the “Holiday” factory sets for the flagship set.

Topps no longer issued the miniature Bronze Cards for dealers who ordered a case of the Traded sets, ending a tradition that went from 1983 to 1991.  Topps also didn’t release a Tiffany version of the set, instead issuing a parallel Topps Gold factory set that was limited to 6,000 sets.  For the Gold set, the checklist card was replaced with Kerry Woodson.

There are six cards of Reds 1990 World Champion members.

  • My favorite player, Eric Davis, left the team via free agency after the 1991 season.  He headed for his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers where he would play with his childhood friend Darryl Strawberry.
  • Herm Winningham signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox after an unproductive 1991 season.
  • Mariano Duncan also left via Free Agency, signing with the Phillies, where he’s go on to play in another World Series in 1993.
  • Randy Myers was traded to the Padres in the offseason for Bip Roberts.  After Rob Dibble had proved a more effective closer, the Reds had unsuccessfully tried to move Myers to the rotation, and he thus became expendable.
  • Jack Armstrong was traded in the offseason, along with Scott Scudder, to the Indians for Greg Swindell.  Scudder didn’t get a card in the Topps Traded set.
  • Todd Benzinger was in the Traded set for the second straight year.  After the Reds traded him to the Royals in 1991, he was traded in the offseason to the Dodgers.

There are 3 Hall of Famers in the set.

  • Gary Carter was in his third straight traded set.  After 2 seasons as backup catcher for San Francisco and the Dodgers, Carter was claimed off waivers by his first team, the Expos, where he finished his career in that role.
  • Dave Winfield signed with the Blue Jays; he’d have 1 very good season to help them to the 1992 World Series title.
  • Eddie Murray signed with the Mets; he’d go on to 2 productive seasons with New York, including his 400th home run in the 1992 season.

The set also featured a Hall of Fame college coach.  For the 4th time, Topps had a Team USA subset.  Like the 1985 base set and the 1988 Traded set, this was the Olympic team.  Ron Fraser, who had just retired after 30 years as the Miami Hurricanes’ head baseball coach.  Unfortunately, Team USA went on to a disappointing 4th-place finish in baseball’s first year as a medal sport.

Topps featured the entire 25-man Olympic roster in the Topps Traded set, just as they had done for the 1991 Pan American Games roster.  There were a number of holdovers from the previous year’s set – most notably Jason Giambi.

There were really only two big rookie cards in this set. They were two pretty big ones, though especially considering that Boston’s future stars, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek, came from that same Team USA subset.  The Varitek card is particularly interesting – he refused to sign with Topps for most of his career, so this was his last Topps card until 2007.

Though nowhere near the same level as those, there were a few other rookies worth showing.

There were 5 guys who went on to some pretty significant careers AFTER they were featured in this set for moving teams.  Sammy Sosa was traded across town from the White Sox to the Cubs for former MVP George Bell – he’d only go on to have 4 straight 50 homer seasons and over 600 for his career.  Gary Sheffield hit over 500 homers for his career, and he vied for the triple crown in 1992 after being traded to the Padres. He didn’t win the triple crown, but he is still the only Padre other than Tony Gwynn with a batting title.  Curt Schilling would go on to pitch in 4 World Series (winning 3), Andres Galarraga would hit .370 and win a batting title of his own, while Kenny Lofton replaced Rickey Henderson as the best leadoff hitter in baseball.  Lofton played in 11 postseasons.

On the other side, there were quite a few guys who were traded or signed as free agents who didn’t quite live up to their past performance.  Jack Morris is a bit of an exception here – he did win 21 games in 1992 for the Blue Jays – and he played on both of their World Series champions.

Finally, this set is kind of cool because it features Felipe Alou as a manager for the Montreal Expos and his son Moises playing for the same team.  I’m not sure why Moises was in the set – he was traded to the Expos in 1990 and was shown with them on a 1991 Topps card, but it’s neat nonetheless.