Thursday, February 28, 2019

Around the Horn: Texas Rangers

The players and the crowd in the picture above are celebrating. Why? Because it's time for another edition of "Around the Horn", this time featuring the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers were actually born all the way back in 1961 as the expansion version of the Washington Senators. Despite being a new team with new promise (as the original Senators moved to Minnesota to open the 1961 season), they were just as bad. During their time, they only had one winning season (1969).

For the first few years, Cincinnati native Claude Osteen (bottom middle) was one of the standout pitchers compiling a 33-41 record with a 3.46 ERA in 108 games (90 of those starts) over four seasons before being swapped to the Dodgers for the man shown next to him, Ken McMullen and a trade that also netted the Senators slugger Frank Howard.

I love these 1971 Senators cards for a number of reasons. First, being they're 1971 Topps and who doesn't love that set. Second, 1971 was the final Senators season before they moved to Texas the next year and set up shop in Arlington as the Texas Rangers. The Ted Williams card is the only vintage Ted Williams card I own.

This Rangers team card is glorious. Check out the old school uniforms but the thing I love most is that you can see the bottom of the Texas shaped scoreboard in the background.

Here's a couple more Rangers cards from the 70s. Bert Blyleven could be considered a short term stop I think as he only spent a season and a half with the Rangers.

Al Oliver and Bert Blyleven were involved in a crazy four team trade in December of 1977. As part of the deal, Blyleven was sent to Pittsburgh and Al Oliver arrived in Texas. During his stint in Texas, he was a two-time all star and played all 163 games of the 1980 season.

There's a lot to like about this card in general. First, the old Rangers uniform. Then there the cameo of an unnamed Brewers player scampering back to first on a pickoff attempt. Last, looking at the background, it has the feel of a spring training game. It's just a glorious card.

Billy Sample spent the majority of his career with the Rangers and was a decent outfielder and DH. Between the picture of him and the Larry Biittner card above, how can you really not like 1984 Fleer. The design is just so simple. 

By the time this card was released, Fergie Jenkins was playing for the Cubs. He'd only hang around the majors for two more years after this, retiring after the 1983 season. Fergie had two different stints with Texas (1974-1975, 1978-81). In 1974, he won 25 games for a Rangers club that won 84 and finished 2nd in the west. For the 1981 club, he was 5-8 over 19 games.

Here's an interesting card, the man for who the "Mendoza Line" was named, Mario Mendoza. This would be his sunset card for Donruss (he also had cards in the 1982 Fleer and Topps issues) but none of them actually capture him in action like this card. He only played in 12 games for the 1982 Rangers, hitting a paltry .118 in 18 plate appearances.

I'd forgotten how many interesting players donned Ranger uniforms in the 80s. Most of the players from the 1982 Donruss batch above I'd forgotten played down south, except for Hough and Darwin. The 1987 Topps Toby Harrah card is a sunset card. He was the last link to the original days in Washington as he played for the team before the move to Texas. 

Throughout the 80s, the Rangers were a middle-to-bottom of the standings team in the AL West. Only three times finishing the season with an above .500 record. One of those years was 1986,  which was Bobby Valentine's first season managing the team. Don Slaught was in his second season in Texas and split catching duties with Gino Petralli. That team also had a young Ruben Sierra and Pete Incaviglia and also featured grizzled vets like Charlie Hough, Toby Harrah, and Darrell Porter.

The Rangers signed Nolan Ryan as a free agent after he left Houston over a contract dispute. His first season in Texas was his best, going 16-10 with a 3.20 ERA and making the All-Star team. When I first got back into collecting, the card shop I went to had some packs of 1989 Upper Deck for sale. I took a chance, while I didn't get the vaunted Griffey rookie card, I did get this Nolan Ryan card from said pack. 

The 90s are when I really starting noticing the Rangers, especially when Ivan Rodriguez started becoming a household name and when they made the deal for Jose Canseco. Of course, everyone remembers the infamous moment with a ball bouncing off Canseco's head for a home run.

Yep, that.

Here's a random assortment of 90s cards. I wonder if the scoreboard in the background of the 1991 Topps Juan Gonzalez card is the same scoreboard that's in the background of the Rangers team card from earlier?

Goose Gossage is probably the only true "short term stop" I could find in my Rangers collection. Goose made a comeback to the majors in 1991 after spending the 1990 season in Japan and pitched one season for Texas. There was a weird coincidence on July 23 of that season where Gossage recorded his 308th career save to preserve Nolan Ryan's 308th career win.

I think everyone is well award of A-Rod's 3-year stint in Texas. I remember when he signed with them and I found it a little bizarre that he signed with Texas from out of nowhere. The three seasons he had were might successful, especially with him winning an MVP his last season there. The giant contract turned out to be an albatross on the Rangers who shipped him to the Yankees during the 2003-04 offseason after Aaron Boone suffered a knee injury playing basketball

As far as player collections go for the Rangers, I'd say probably Nolan Ryan would be one even though I don't really look for his cards. If I find a cool card of his in a bargain bin, I'll probably snatch it up.

Adrian Beltre seems to be an unintentional player collection, although I think I might add him officially to my list. I never got to see him play much put I always heard that he had a good time playing the game. He was also an anchor for the 2011 team that made a run to the World Series.

After this past season, Beltre retired after a 21 season career with the Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox, and Rangers. I would be he'll be a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer once he's eligible. I'm not sure if he has a card in the 2019 Topps issue but if he doesn't, then I think this 2018 card is a pretty fitting sunset card.

Speaking of sunsets, this edition of "Around the Horn" is riding off into the sunset.

Next up ... the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Baseball, Sumo, and NASCAR

I honestly don't know where to begin with this giant stack of madness. What you see above is most of the cards that Ryan from the Sumo Cards blog sent me a while back. It's a regular treasure trove, mostly baseball, but other stuff as well, including my first ever sumo cards.

I'll be quite honest, I'm not familiar with the sport of Sumo at all. As a kid I remember seeing it here and there in the early days of ESPN2 back when they would run tapes of pretty much anything from strongman spectacles to caber tossing competitions and every manner of off the radar sport in between. Somewhere in between all of that, there would be the occasional kickboxing or sumo wrestling tournament. I was pretty fascinated with the sumo wrestling but never really followed it or anything. I watched it out of mere curiosity than anything else.

These cards are just so cool but not knowing the first thing about old sumo cards, I had to ask Ryan about them. Luckily, he gave me a nice rundown of the wrestlers on the cards and what they are called. The black and white cards are called bromides and are from the 1940s and 1950s and are basically cards printed on photo paper. The round disc is a menko piece and dates to about 1930. Apparently the menko piece is extremely rare but Ryan had an extra from a set and included it for me.

As far as the wrestlers on the cards go, the two on top are Meagashira Fujigatake on the bromide photo and Maegashira Fujinosato on the menko disc. The other three, from left to right are: Yokozuna Chiyonoyama, Yokozuna Kagamisato, and Yokozuna Tochinishiki, three of only 72 wrestlers in history to attain the top ranking in sumo.

Here are some more modern sumo cards put out by BBM. The green card is actually part of a sumo fantasy card game (similar to MLB Showdown from the early 2000s I'm guessing). The BBM cards feature Ishihura Masakatsu, Takayasu Akira, and Daieisho Hayato. The explosion of color on these is fantastic and kind of makes me want to pick up a few more here and there just because of the cool looking cards.

Moving on to other cards, these two racing cards from the Maxx '91 set were included. I don't watch a lot of NASCAR but I have a general idea of some of the drivers. Both of these guys are legends in the sport. These are cool additions to my otherwise small racing collection.

Moving on now to the giant stack of baseball cards. First, there are these Expos cards. I always like it when Topps includes the Expos on modern cards. I keep telling myself I'm going to get more of those Highlight of the Year cards in general but I never do.

Some nice cards for my player collections of these four. The Robinson is a reprint so don't get excited thinking it's an original 1971. The Griffey card though is very nice with the Chrome style and the retro Bowman design.

Some modern Reds cards including a really cool Billy Hamilton card from not so cool 2016 Topps Opening Day. Mascot cards are always super fun. Strangely enough, one of the people in the office I work in is a mascot for the Reds and I think that he might actually be Mr. Redlegs.

Some old school Reds. Pete Rose may be a duplicate I think and the Tom Browning might be as well but I think the Eric Davis card is new to me. I really should catalog my cards.

This Johnny Bench card claims it's from 2002 Topps on it but I can't find a record of it anywhere. I'm guessing it's part of a legends insert or variation set? Did they do such things in 2002?

There was also a nice lot of Nolan Ryan cards, some of which I strangely didn't have yet. 

What I've shown so far is only about half of the cards from the header photo. The other half, the BBM cards from Japan, I'll cover in the upcoming days.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

2018 Topps Heritage High Number Hanger Box

I'll be honest, I'm not looking forward to Heritage as much this year as I was the last few years. The past two years, Topps has done well with both the 1968 design (2017) and the 1969 design (2018) and those happen to be two of my favorite 60s sets as well. So when I opened the package that Ryan from the Sumo Cards blog sent over and pulled this out, I was pretty excited. I won't show every card, but here are some highlights.

Todd Frazier was a great third baseman for the Reds and him winning the 2015 Home Run Derby when the Reds hosted the All-Star Game that year. Despite the Reds having to trade him off, I still enjoy watching him play when the Mets are on MLB Network so therefore I still get his cards. Speaking of fun players, you can't forget about Bartolo Colon, who is pretty much ageless. To my knowledge, he hasn't signed a contract with anyone for 2019 but is the last active major leaguer to have both played for the Expos and to have played in the 1990s.

Here are a couple interesting specimens. Miles Mikolas came from out of nowhere last season to lead the lead the NL with 18 wins and a .818 winning percentage. This was after he was out of the majors for four years and had appeared in 37 games total with the Padres and Rangers from 2012-2014. He finished 6th in Cy Young voting and made the All-Star Team last year. Gift Ngoepe is the first major leaguer from South Africa and made it into 13 games with the Blue Jays last year. He's currently in camp with the Phillies as a non-roster invitee.

I found it interesting that the photos in both of these Giants cards were taken at sunset. 

There were also a few cool inserts starting with this Ichiro. I'm glad to see he was featured as a member of the Mariners.

Also, there's this Freddie Freeman deckle edge style insert. This I really dig with the black and white photo. I always hear about insert sets like this and the Topps Super style inserts in Archives a few years back but I never pull any. I'm pretty happy to have this.

All in all, a pretty standard hanger box of cards but still it's Topps Heritage and I'm not going to complain too much.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Finally ... I Found 2019 Topps

Finally! I finally found some 2019 Topps! 

As I was in Target getting a box of Valentine's Day chocolate for my wife, I saw that 2019 Topps was in stock. Naturally, I couldn't help myself. I figured a hanger box and a few loose packs wouldn't hurt at all. I considered a blaster but I didn't want to go all in on one box, variety is the spice of life after all. I finally had some time to open these up this weekend

My first card of the year, Jonathan Villar of the woeful Baltimore Orioles. My initial impressions of the 2019 cards are that I like them ... a lot. Topps really had to work at topping themselves from the 2018 flagship but I feel like they pretty much did. The design is nice and clean and *gasp* borders are back! I also really like the team logo in the corner and how the inner border works with the team colors. The photography is good too. All in all, I'd say this is a winner!

Moving on now through the hanger box, here are my first Indians cards of the year. Both Bauer and his rotation counterpart Corey Kluber were mentioned in trade rumors over the winter. It's nice to see the Tribe hang on to both of them though.

I'm showing this card only because I remember Touki Toussant being involved in a trade where the Braves got him and Bronson Arroyo for Phil Gosselin. A month later, the Braves sent Arroyo to the Dodgers as part of some absolutely insane three team mega-deal.

My first Reds card of 2019 and it's Eugenio Suarez. Here's the other half of the Indians pitching duo I mentioned earlier as well.

Two guys who were both Reds at one time. Bruce had a very brief stint with the Indians as well in 2017 before going back to the Mets. Cozart had another injury filled season with the Angels last year. Here's hoping he bounces back this year.

Let's pause for a moment and look at the backs. Just like the front of the cards, they are very clean and the borders are in the team colors. I also really like the fact that it's full stats on the back, just as a baseball card should be.

Knowing it's Series 1, I know that additions made late in the offseason won't show up in here. For example, the Reds acquired Sonny Gray in January, which means he's still shown here in a Yankees uniform.

It's card #1 of the set! I personally always think it's pretty neat when I get card number 1 of a set out of a pack, but that's just me.

One awesome additions that Topps did this year was axe the team cards in favor of stadium cards. This is honestly something I've wanted for a long, long time in a set. I think these may be something I have to chase after this year as they are just absolutely brilliant. I think next year, maybe we could get an insert set called "ballparks of yesteryear" or something like that to commemorate former ballparks (or maybe even use those as the team checklist next year).

Seeing that I bought these cards at Target, I got exclusive Gleyber Torres inserts. They remind me of 1986 Donruss with the top and bottom borders.

Finally, the inserts from the hanger box, there's a foil Jack Flaherty, and 1984 style J.T. Realmuto (who was the subject of much trade consternation), and a Bryce Harper reprint. Topps seems to be doing reprints in some form every year now and I'll at least give them points on these because they are reprinting not just Topps cards, but Bowman and from what I've seen, early Stadium Club stuff too.

Ok, that's it for the hanger box, I'd say that was pretty solid. Now, onto the packs.

One thing I didn't show from the hanger box were horizontals. I really like how the design works with the horizontal photos.

More base cards. Luis Castillo is a lock for the Reds rotation this year and may actually even be in the running for the Opening Day start. The Cesar Hernandez card is awesome for a number of reasons ... first the photo as he's in mid-air turning a double play but the thing that really grabbed me is that Phillies logo.

A few more cool action shots and another stadium card. I've got to add these to my want list.

I got a number of different inserts from the packs that I didn't get from the hanger. First is this Tanner Roark card with the "150 years" stamp. While I don't mind that, I think this year, especially with it being the 150th anniversary of professional baseball, would've been a great year to do buybacks.

Here's something cool, a blue Father's Day parallel card.

With these Father's Day cards, they're numbered to 50 each and I'd say that was a pretty good pull from a retail pack.

More inserts. The "Stars of the Game" cards were one per pack.

Here's something I really like, it's a "Cactus League Legends" insert of Cody Bellinger. Spring Training seems to get forgotten about on cards sometimes so it's neat to see Topps include an insert set devoted to the Cactus League. I would assume the Grapefruit League has an insert set as well.

Overall, I think we've got another winner here from Topps this year. I really enjoyed last year's flagship and I think I'm definitely going to be buying more of this. Probably more of this than Heritage this year.