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    Looking Back: 1991 Topps Stadium Club Baseball

    April 6th, 2012

    Topps’ answer to the new, slick-look 1989 Upper Deck baseball card product came two years later as 1991 Stadium Club.

    The first “premiere” set from Topps, 1991 Stadium Club also was the first true set to be broken up into series. I say “true” because in years past, Topps not only produced “Traded” sets that included rookies and traded players, but also “high-number” series that often were more difficult to come by.

    A special 200-card Stadium Set was produced in 1991, but it had nothing to do with wax packs for the base set. This set featured 100 draft picks, 50 All-Stars, 25 Team U.S.A. cards and a few others, packaged in a replica Toronto Skydome display box.

    One of the things about 1991 Stadium Club that I now find appealing actually is a big turn-off to most newer collectors: There are no parallel sets and no subsets. What a refreshing change from today’s plethora of gold, silver and platinum subsets, and parallel cards numbering into the hundreds!

    In card collecting’s simplest form, 1991 Stadium Club offered well-done photography, often close up. There was almost nothing else on the card fronts except the Stadium Club logo and the player name, which were small enough to not crowd out the photo.

    One of the things I liked best about 1991 Stadium Club was the miniature rookie cards on the card backs. The statistics aren’t nearly as complete as in basic Topps sets, but when producing something different, it helps to actually look different, and the mini rookie cards were a brilliant idea.

    I could have done without the hitting and pitching percentages on the card backs, but we can’t have everything we want, can we?

    Cards of Dave Stewart (#1) and Nolan Ryan (#200) showed each player in a tuxedo, with a cloth backdrop instead of an action photo.

    A glaring lack of rookie cards keeps the value down on this set. Jeff Bagwell is the only notable rookie card in the set.

    If you’re a new collector looking to increase the size of your collection, this set has enough stars to make it worth the space on your shelf. If you’re a long-time collector and don’t already have the set, you probably don’t want it because these cards can be found in abundance for well under the high book price.


    1991 Topps Stadium Club Baseball

    Complete set: 600 cards (Series 1: 300 cards; Series 2: 300 cards).

    High book: NM-M, $20.

    Top Stars: #21 Don Mattingly ($2); #126 Greg Maddux ($2); #159 George Brett ($2); #200 Nolan Ryan ($3); #220 Barry Bonds ($2.50); #270 Ken Griffey Jr. ($1.50); #309 Roger Clemens ($2); #399 Mark McGwire ($2.50); #430 Cal Ripken Jr. ($2.50).

    Top Rookies: #388 Jeff Bagwell ($1.50); #317 Wes Chamberlain – UCE ($0.50); $459 Phil Plantier ($0.50); #576 Luis Gonzalez ($1); #578 Jeff Conine (0.75).


    Looking Back: 1989 Upper Deck Baseball

    April 5th, 2012

    Perhaps never has one individual card anchored a set more than Upper Deck’s inaugural foray into the sports card business in 1989.

    Everybody knows the card. Everybody has seen one. Most collectors now are in possession of one.

    Card No. 1 in the 1989 Upper Deck set is the famous Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

    I earned my Griffey rookie card by working in a card shop, sorting and taking inventory sometime around 1996. I was paid in “card money,” of which my two biggest prizes were a Joe Montana Topps Stadium Club refractor and the aforementioned Griffey rookie.

    When I earned my Griffey rookie card, the high book price was in the $80 range. Now it can be had for half that. In fact, the complete set is now valued in that neighborhood.

    Perhaps the one positive Upper Deck brought to the hobby was it forced Topps to improve its products. Soon after the 1989 Upper Deck set hit the shelves, Topps countered with premium card brands such as Stadium Club and Finest.

    But with most good news comes bad news, and Upper Deck had its share as it attempted to carve out a niche in the collecting industry.

    The most obvious downer, at least for those of us with little disposable income, was the price. Who wanted to fork out $1.50 or so for a pack of Upper Deck cards when Topps cards were sitting right next to them on the shelf and going for as low as three packs for a buck?

    Were we really so intrigued by fancy foil on the card packs and promise of an innovative “fraud-proof” hologram to extend our collecting allowance?

    Granted, compared to the worn-out look of the Topps cardboard, Upper Deck offered us a refreshing alternative. The cards DID look cool. The photos were nice, crisp and clear, and Upper Deck even gave us a secondary picture on the back, even if it did take away complete player statistics that made Topps the favorite of old-school collectors. And who didn’t like the triple-take photo on the Nolan Ryan card (#145)?

    Personally, I believe most of the Upper Deck sets, similar to Fleer’s base sets, are some of the best-looking cards to get autographed. The clean card fronts, with little that gets in the way of the player pictured, along with the white background, makes it an easy choice for signature hunters.

    Like the “Rated Rookies” in the Donruss sets, Upper Deck featured several rookies in its “Star Rookies” set, which was part of the base set. The first 26 cards of the set were Star Rookies, with card #27 the rookie checklist.

    The most glaring omission from the top 26 potential rookies was Craig Biggio, who was inserted at #273 of the set – not that anyone else could have foreseen such talent.

    Cards numbered 668-693 are team checklists, featuring a star player from each team. The final seven cards of the set are checklist cards. Upper Deck did introduce an extended set, cards #701-800, that were released separately.

    Noted error cards include Pat Sheridan (#652), which did not list a position on the card front and books considerably higher (about $8) than most error cards of its kind. Dale Murphy’s photo (#357) is a reverse negative, and Upper Deck mixed up Willie Hernandez and Guillermo Hernandez.

    For me, the thing I disliked most about Upper Deck, and I believe this issue exists to this day, is in the way the cards are distributed in wax packs.

    I could buy a box of Topps cards and collect as much as 60 percent of the base set, with rarely more than two or three doubles of the same player.

    Not Upper Deck.

    It always seemed to me that whenever I bought a box of Upper Deck cards, I might get five cards each of players #101-105 and zero cards of players #106-110. Being fortunate enough to get five Griffey rookies in one box aside, this made hand collating Upper Deck sets more than frustrating.

    For this reason, I’ve never been a big fan of Upper Deck. I think Topps did enough to improve on its products to make Upper Deck easy to pass up on the shelf.


    1989 Upper Deck Baseball

    Complete Set: 700 cards.

    High book: NM, $80.

    Top Stars: #120 Ryne Sandberg ($1); #145 Nolan Ryan ($3); #195 Roger Clemens ($1.50); #200 Don Mattingly ($2); #210 Rickey Henderson ($1); #215 George Brett ($2); #241 Greg Maddux ($2); #265 Ozzie Smith ($1); #285 Robin Yount ($1); #300 Mark McGwire ($4); #406 Mike Schmidt ($1.50); #440 Barry Bonds ($4); #467 Cal Ripken Jr. ($2.50);

    Top Rookies: #1 Ken Griffey Jr. ($40); #13 Gary Sheffield ($4); #17 John Smoltz ($3.50); #25 Randy Johnson ($10); #273 Craig Biggio ($4); #736 Tom Gordon ($1); #742 Steve Finley ($1.50);#755 Jim Abbott ($1.50).


    My Matsui Conversion

    April 4th, 2012

    One of the most wonderful things about being a sports fan is the undying loyalty that exists.

    Everybody has their favorites and everyone wants to believe that their favorite teams and players are the best – even if they’re nowhere near the top.

    And just like those we cheer are those we love to hate.

    For every favorite player I have in every sport, I have just as many athletes that I detest. Sometimes the hatred runs deep – fans of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, or the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, citing a few examples, know exactly what I’m talking about.

    I recently had two opportunities to change the way I view two sports personalities that I held disdain for. In one case, my attitude changed completely. In the other, the dislike only deepened.

    But nobody can say I didn’t give either the opportunity.

    I attended a recent game when the Oakland Athletics visited Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

    While I brought very few cards of visiting players, I did stick a Hideki Matsui card in the stack. Just in case.

    I wasn’t a Matsui fan from day one. I thought he was one of those arrogant Japanese players who came over here insisting that he play either for the Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, who along with the Japanese-owned Seattle Mariners, likely are the only major league teams that some Japanese fans are familiar with.

    As Matsui stepped out of his cab in front of the stadium, my friend and I cautiously approached him and politely asked for his autograph.

    He stopped and signed for us and several others who quickly flew to the scene when they saw who was offering his Japanese John Hancock.

    Matsui never grumbled. He acted like he was in a hurry, but I could hardly blame him for that. He was headed to work and was being interrupted by a bunch of crazy-looking fanatics.

    The game featured a “Salute to the Kansas City Athletics,” with several former A’s players on hand to sign autographs.

    Long before Matsui’s cab pulled up to 1 Royal Way, Kansas City, MO, long before the gates opened or most fans made their way into the stadium, former Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda stepped out of a car.

    Ever since I was a budding teenager growing up in Southern California, LaSorda was probably – more than anyone – the one sports figure I just couldn’t stand.

    He seemed to be a complete phony to me. Watching Dodgers games on television, it seemed as if every time the cameras snuck in on LaSorda in the dugout, he was slumped over, arms folded, looking as if he wished he were anywhere but a game. Whenever he saw that camera on him, however, he became the world’s biggest – pun slightly intended – cheerleader.

    LaSorda also had a thing for cussing, seemingly trying to see how many words had to be bleeped from each interview. In short, he was a real work of art.

    There were only a few of us – no more than five or so – who were even at the stadium that early when LaSorda pulled up.

    We approached him with the same respect we later showed Matsui, politely asking for an autograph.

    He screamed at us.


    He began shouting, loud enough for those driving on Interstate 70 to hear, “No! I’m only signing for kids!”

    Of course, the five of us looked around and saw exactly zero kids.

    My friend decided to try to soften the curmudgeon up with a little humor.

    “Well, I used to be a kid,” my friend replied.

    “I DON’T CARE!!” LaSorda shot back, almost appearing as he were about to begin snarling like a vicious dog, spittle forming around the corners of his mouth.

    Long since retired from baseball – he was a horrible player who didn’t last long in the majors, and a vastly overrated manager who was fed talented teams that seemingly should have won several World Series – LaSorda had no reason to continue his tiring act.

    Except it wasn’t an act.

    And while I learned that my opinion can change based on how athletes and entertainers treat the fans that pay their exorbitant salaries, I also learned that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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    My Favorite Cards

    April 4th, 2012

    The obvious next question begs, I suppose, what are my favorite cards that I have in my collection?

    Some answers are obvious: I have rookie cards of my all-time favorite athletes from the big three – George Brett, Joe Montana and Julius Erving.

    I am a huge George Brett fan. Not only was he the local hero when I was growing up, but I pattered my style of play after Brett. That would explain the arthritic hips, the knobby knees and the ankles that all are paying me back for not taking better care of them in my youth.

    I also named my son after him. “Brett,” of course, not “George” – the wife wouldn’t let me. My son joined probably thousands of little boys – and many girls – in the Midwest named after the Royals all-time hero.

    In addition to building sets, I also have collections of my favorite players. Probably my biggest beef with the sports card industry is directly related to my overwhelming effort at one time to collect every card ever made featuring George Brett. Not only did card companies continue to produce George Brett cards long after his retirement, but they produce many in limited quantities – including those dreaded 1-of-1’s that cost more than my rent.

    In 1992, Upper Deck created a Joe Montana gold card (card No. 1 in the subset), that I would have to say is my favorite card. I think I paid about $16 for it in eBay, including postage.

    The design is simply beautiful. The entire card, front and back, is 24K gold and limited to 2500 made.

    I have since found two other cards with gold fronts that stand out: A 2001 Upper Deck Harmon Killebrew (card No. ES8) from the Endless Summer set, and a 2001 Upper Deck Ty Cobb (No. C1) from The Class of ’36 set.

    Beautiful, simple cards.

    One of my most recent favorites I have only had a few weeks.

    I won on eBay a 2011 Topps Leather Nameplate of Royals first baseman Billy Butler with the sole intent on getting it signed.

    Butler is one of the nicest guys in baseball, and often stops and signs until everyone is satisfied. Getting his signature on the leather, just above his name, was far easier than getting the card itself.

    Other “heroes” that I grab all the cards I can find include, from baseball, Nolan Ryan, Johnny Damon, Dan Quisenberry, Dick Howser and a host of current and former Royals players; from football, Len Dawson, Barry Sanders, Priest Holmes and Derrick Thomas, and current hero Tony Gonzalez; from basketball, Larry Bird and Reggie Miller, and current hero Kevin Durant; Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux from the NHL; pro wrestlers Harley Race, Terry Funk, Ric Flair, Kurt Angle and “Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell – my childhood favorite; and Brock Lesnar and Ken Shamrock from mixed-martial arts.

    I also keep my eye out for a sentimental favorite.

    Ed Sprinkle was a multi-time Pro Bowl end for the Chicago Bears (1944-55). Genealogy websites also show him as a distant cousin of mine.

    Sprinkle was known as “the meanest man in pro football,” a tag that probably cost him the NFL Hall of Fame.

    I am aware of only two cards, his 1951 Bowman “rookie” card and a 1988 Chicago Bears Fan Convention card. I own four of the Bowmans and one of the fan convention card, along with an autographed photo he sent me when I wrote an argumentative essay on his exclusion into the Hall of Fame while a budding journalist in college.

    Favorite cards don’t have to be expensive. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


    Rating My Collection of Wrestling Biographies

    September 22nd, 2011

    Along with collecting sports cards and memorabilia, I also have an extensive collection of pro wrestling biographies.

    I’m not much of a wrestling fan any longer, actually, ever since the death of Eddy Guerrero and, two years later, the double murder-suicide by Chris Benoit completely changed my love for the entertainment spectacle.

    I do, however, still enjoy the history of the genre and love to read “road stories” as part of pro wrestlers’ autobiographies.

    Mick Foley’s New York Times top-selling autobiography, “Have A Nice Day! A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks” ushered in a boom period for pro wrestling books. And it remains the benchmark in which other wrestling biographies and autobiographies are compared.

    While I don’t profess to own every pro wrestling autobiography, I have read many. Here are my thoughts on the majority of them and how they rank.


    Must-read titles

    * “Have A Nice Day! A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks” – Mick Foley

    This book would be enjoyable even for those not into pro wrestling. For a self-author (no ghost writer here), Foley is a natural writer who mixes humor into serious aspects of his life story.


    * “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex” – Chris Jericho

    Another incredibly gifted writer, Jericho’s first tome was well received. His ability to blend in comedy with the toils of life as a struggling wrestler is heartwarming.


    * “Pure Dynamite” – Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington

    This may be the most underrated pro wrestling autobiography in existence. But the tale of Tommy Billington, from skinny shooter-in-the-making to one of the greatest workers in pro wrestling history, is gripping and compelling.

    Billington mixes in his own British humor, along with tales of some of the most cruel practical jokes – and their repercussions – from dressing rooms around the world.


    * “Undisputed: How To Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps” – Chris Jericho

    Jericho’s second effort was nearly as good as his first. If you are a fan of Fozzy, or that style of music, you’d probably think it was better than the first.

    Not a Fozzy fan, but I still enjoyed reading the story of one of my favorite wrestlers after he joined World Wrestling Entertainment.


    Good reads

    * “King of the Ring: The Harley Race Story” – Harley Race

    Probably my favorite all-time wrestler, the only thing disappointing about Harley Race’s autobiography is the length.

    One of the most respected workers in and outside the ring, stories about Race, along with alcohol, firearms or driving – sometimes all three – are legendary. Surely there are more fascinating road stories from one of the greatest grapplers of the 1970s.


    * “Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore” – Terry Funk

    If there is a close second to my all-time favorite performer, Terry Funk is it.

    Again, the only real disappointment is the lack of road stories, especially for a man who is not only a legend in his native country, but is one of the most respected “puroresus” in Japan.


    * “Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story” – Eddy Guerrero

    A fascinating tale of an undersized, Mexican-American wrestler and his life trying to live up to the famous Guerrero name.


    * “The Queen of the Ring” – Mildred Burke

    If you’re a fan of the history of wrestling, particularly the history of women’s wrestling, you’ll love “The Queen of the Ring.”


    * “In the Pit With Piper” – Roddy Piper

    I was never much of a fan of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, but his book offered awesome stories along with a splendid mix of humor that kept me reading.


    * “Bobby the Brain: Wrestling’s Bad Boy Tells All” – Bobby Heenan

    One of the greatest managers in wrestling history, Heenan continues his mastery of humor in his first book.


    These were “not bad”

    * “The Stone Cold Truth” – Steve Austin

    This was a great look at the biggest-selling memorabilia man in wrestling history. It may have been published a little too soon, though, as there’s more to the story of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.


    * “Batista Unleashed” – Dave Bautista

    Again, a nice read about the past of one of the more modern successful wrestlers, but even though Dave Bautista retired from wrestling, I get the feeling there’s more to come.


    * “Ric Flair: To Be the Man” – Ric Flair

    Widely considered the greatest all-around performer in pro wrestling history, Flair’s book was a nice mix of childhood-to-fame, a stressful tenure with World Championship Wrestling to his endeavors at World Wrestling Entertainment.


    Disappointing entries

    * “4 Ever: A Look Behind the Curtain” – Arn Anderson

    You would think an autobiography by one of my all-time favorite wrestlers would be further up the charts, but what made this disappointing is that Marty Lunde (Arn Anderson) stayed somewhat in character, treating pro wrestling as if it were real.


    * “Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture – George Wagner

    I was expecting more from one of the guys who was most
    responsible for taking wrestling to the new medium of television. A bit boring
    at times.


    Stay far, far away

    * “Hollywood Hulk Hogan” – Hulk Hogan

    About the only thing in Hogan’s first tome that is believable is the cover title. Nearly everything else is a stretch of the truth to pure fiction.


    * “Rope Opera: How WCW Killed Vince Russo” – Vince Russo

    The most overrated pro wrestling scriptwriter of all-time continues to blame everybody but himself for the rise and fall of World Championship Wrestling.

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    Looking Back: 1991 Fleer Baseball

    August 5th, 2011

    For my previous “Looking Back” segments, I selected a few baseball card sets that were appealing to me, for different reasons.

    This column details my thoughts on what I consider one of the most ugly and worthless sets of all time: 1991 Fleer Baseball.

    Now, before you start calling me a hater, I tried – I really tried – to like this set.

    In early 1992, these wax packs were in clearance bins at retail department stores and for the first – and only – time in my life, I became a cheater at card hunting.

    Yes, while more savvy card collectors now “search” packs in hopes of finding autograph and game-used cards in them, I hunted for the “Pro Visions” subset, because if you looked carefully along the side of the wax packs, you could make out the black border sticking out from the sea of yellow.

    Fleer did try to do some good things with its 1991 product.

    I liked the clear card fronts and most of the photos. The player’s last name is in large, upper-case letters at the top of the card fronts, with the first name in a smaller-sized font above the last name. The team name and position anchor the bottom of the card front in small enough text so as not to make it appear garish. Horizontal lines at the top and bottom of the cards give them a more “boxy” feel, but also make miscut cards stand out like sore thumbs.

    The card backs featured a close-up “mug” shot of the players in a circle, and many feature both major and minor league stats. Some, such as the Ken Griffey Jr. card, provide biographical information where space allows.

    When I think about it, the 1991 Fleer Baseball set actually has many of the elements I like to see in a card design. So why does it drive me nuts?

    One word: Yellow.

    The garish yellow card stock – both back and front – make this set look as if somebody got sick on it.

    I simply can’t escape it. When I begin rooting through boxes, looking for cards to take to the stadium for autographs, I invariably come across the bevy of 1991 Fleer Baseball sets, near-complete sets and extras. And they’re just too easy to spot, with the garish yellow cards instantly making me wince.

    There are several rookie cards in the set, although, Jeff Conine is likely the only one that would draw any interest outside of the immediate families.

    Star cards are not in abundance, and book around a buck apiece. Nolan Ryan and Ken Griffey Jr. are among the only real standouts.

    There were a few error cards in the set, some of which were uncorrected. Among them, Mark McGwire’s card (#17) says he had 183 extra-base hits in 1987 (that would be a neat trick); and Steve Balboni’s (#656) birthdate is incorrected listed as Jan. 5, 1957 (it is Jan. 16). Variations, including the Griffey Jr. (#450) card, which has him batting .300, is the most valued mistake card.

    If you don’t already have a 1991 Fleer Baseball set, you shouldn’t have trouble finding one. You likely have a friend – or three – who has an extra one they’ll give you, if only to clear space on the card shelf.


    1991 Fleer Baseball

    Complete Set: 720 cards.

    High book: NM, $10.

    Top Stars: #17 Mark McGwire error ($0.75); #33 Barry Bonds ($1); #90 Roger Clemens ($0.75); #302 Nolan Ryan ($1); #426 Greg Maddux ($0.50); #431 Ryne Sandberg ($0.50); #450 Ken Griffey Jr. error ($1); #490 Cal Ripken ($0.75); #552 George Brett ($0.75); #710 Ken Griffey Jr.-Barry Bonds ($1).

    Top Rookies: #507 Luis Gonzalez ($0.50); #553 Jeff Conine ($0.50).


    A Few Simple Tips to Make eBaying Work Better

    August 4th, 2011

    I talk a lot about eBay because I get the majority of my single cards from the popular auction website.

    I wasn’t quite what one would consider a charter member of eBay, because they don’t allow hotmail addresses to be used as confirmed e-mail address – at least they didn’t when I first started bidding on items while in college in 1995. But as soon as I had a valid e-mail address, I was confirmed
    and have been buying – and sometimes selling – “officially” since 1997.

    I have several tips for those of you interested in buying and selling on eBay.

    The site can be a fun and rewarding experience, but also can be frustrating. If sellers followed a few simple rules, most of the frustration would be alleviated.


    For crying out loud. A seller is posting an auction for an individual card. He or she probably scans or takes a picture of the card. But as much care as goes in with posting an item for sale, the dunderheads forget the most simple and basic premise.

    The player’s name – most of the time – is right there on the card. How difficult can it be?

    The importance in this simple step is huge: Many collectors – me included – have several bookmarks of their favorite players. If you misspell the name, you can forget your card showing up in the search.

    I have a saved search for George Brett cards. The search excludes numerous words that would knock out most other “Brett” cards from showing up, such as “Favre,” “Hull,” and “Boone.” However, if you’re selling a Brett Favre card and spell his name “Farve,” you have no one to blame but yourself if it doesn’t sell.


    State the player’s last name (and first name if the player has a popular last name), year, card company and a key word that would describe the card if it’s a chase card.

    For instance: “George Brett 1975 Topps Rookie RC,” or “Billy Butler 2011 Topps Bat Barrell Brown.”


    Anyone with any eBay buying experience takes into consideration not only the bidding price, but the shipping price combined before determining whether or not to make a bid.

    It doesn’t matter if the current bid is 99 cents on a card with a shipping price of $4. Someone’s going to have to want that card awfully bad to pay that much to ship one card.

    It’s true that eBay’s seller costs have skyrocketed in recent years. But many sellers try to make the buyer pay most or all of those costs. That may hurt them in the long run, because a large number of cards may go unsold if nobody is willing to pay the exorbitant shipping costs.


    This one irks me to no end.

    I win an auction. I immediately send a PayPal payment. The seller ships out the card the next day. But he or she holds my feedback hostage until they receive feedback.

    It doesn’t work that way, and eBay really should crack down on this self-centered practice.

    If I pay immediately, I deserve positive feedback, whether I’m happy with the transaction or not. And if a seller provides crappy service, I should have the right to complain, and leave neutral or negative feedback, without fear of a retaliatory negative feedback.

    Retaliatory negative feedback is against eBay policies, but it’s tough to get them to act on it.


    I am currently working on the 2011 Topps Baseball Walmart Black subset.

    I need about 11 cards to complete the set, and have my checklist at arm’s length at all times.

    So imagine me clicking on an eBay auction for a 10-card lot of these rare gems, only to see a list of player names with no card number.  Just as dumb is the list that isn’t in numerical order.

    If you’re selling lots of cards from the same set, it only makes common sense to list the cards in numeric order, from lowest to highest, along with the players’ names. That way, we buyers can quickly scan the list and see if the auction is worth a bid.


    It should go without saying, but if you are trying to run a business, and many eBay sellers are doing just that, don’t try to fool someone into bidding on one thing while giving them another.

    It’s not only stupid, but it’s illegal. Not only does eBay strictly forbid it, but it is a federal crime to commit fraud via the U.S. Postal Service.


    Looking Back: 1981 Fleer Baseball

    August 2nd, 2011

    Collecting the first of something can often be productive, if not financially rewarding down the line as an investment.

    The 1981 Fleer and Donruss baseball card sets were glaring exceptions to the rule.

    When Fleer and Donruss were granted licenses to produce baseball cards beginning in 1981, it seemed a refreshing concept to those who had been stuck with only Topps as an option for so many years.

    Actually, 1981 was not the first year that Fleer produced baseball cards. In fact, Fleer produced baseball cards for many years, until ceasing production after the 1963 set.

    Fleer – and Donruss – did perhaps the worst thing a new card company could do when each produced their 1981 sets: They tried to do too much too quickly.

    The result was a massive batch of error cards, which led to subsequent print runs to correct many of the discrepancies. The amount of error cards in the 1981 Fleer set probably exceeded the number of error cards by Topps through the previous 50 years.

    Fleer produced its cards on thin, white stock that, while having a more glossy look than the worn-out Topps cardboard stock, made the cards somewhat flimsy and easy to ding. The cards also tend to bow, rather than lay flat.

    An interesting concept that Fleer brought to the table was the advent of sorting sets by team, rather than random selection. The 1980 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies started the set, followed by the American League champion Kansas City Royals, then down the line, based on standings.

    Because there were so many error cards in the 1981 Fleer set – and because there were so many corrected versions during subsequent print runs – my goal became – and still is to this day – to collect two complete sets, one with the error variants and the other a complete corrected version.

    The price, obviously, made my goal affordable. But like most card sets produced in the 1980s, affordability reigns supreme. This set is chock full of Hall of Famers at reasonable prices. There are multiple cards of such 1980s legends as Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson, to name a few.

    The rookie cards are sorely lacking, but again, makes this an affordable low-budget option. Kirk Gibson was the top rookie, based on card value, with his card in the $5 range.

    It was also the first opportunity to obtain a card of former Boston Celtics basketball player Danny Ainge in a baseball uniform. Ainge ushered in a new era of multi-sport stars that later included the likes of Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and even Michael Jordan.

    I thought the 1981 Fleer cards looked nice and clean, although some of the photos appeared to be out of focus.

    As Topps has shown of late, though, finding both versions of an error card is about the only challenging thing about this set. Topps, of course, took that to the extreme, allegedly printing “error” cards on purpose for the thrill of the chase, making sure to print the “error” version in an extremely short run.


    1981 Fleer Baseball

    Complete set: 660 cards.

    High book: NM, $30.

    Top Stars: #1 Pete Rose ($3); #5 Mike Schmidt ($2.50); #28 George Brett ($2); #57 Nolan Ryan ($4); #79 Reggie Jackson ($2.50); #87 Graig Nettles – “Craig” on back ($4.50); #351 Rickey Henderson ($2.50); #488 Ozzie Smith ($2); #574 Rickey Henderson ($2.50); #640 Mike Schmidt ($2); #650 Reggie Jackson ($2); #655 George Brett ($3).

    Top Rookies: #140 Fernando Valenzuela – “Fernand” on front ($1.50); #335 Jeff Reardon ($2); #346 Harold Baines ($3); #418 Danny Ainge ($3); #481 Kirk Gibson ($5).

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    Royals Fans: Enjoy Eric Hosmer While You Can

    August 2nd, 2011

    Kansas City Royals fans should catch Eric Hosmer while they can.

    Meanwhile, the New York Yankees are just biding their time, waiting for Hosmer to become eligible for arbitration and/or free agency, when they can bring him up from their “minor league farm system” in Kansas City.

    This much is obvious: Hosmer is a future superstar. The word “future” could dissolve as quickly as Ivan Nova’s fastball did May 12 when Hosmer sent a screaming liner over the right-fiend fence for his second home run of the season – and second in as many days.

    Royals fans, grown weary, but accustomed to cheapskate owner David Glass and his Walmart prices, know that Hosmer won’t be around long. It’s likely that neither will other bright prospects Aaron Crow, Mike Moustakis, Wil Myers and a slew of other “future superstars” who dot Baseball America’s list of Top 100 prospects.

    After all, this is the same team that once boasted an outfield of Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye. But since the 1985 World Series trophy rested in Kauffman Stadium, prospects come to Kansas City to get a few seasons under their belt, then are traded for more prospects, or allowed to leave via free agency.

    I had the fortune of getting a second baseball autographed by Hosmer recently before the Royals took on the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium.

    I also am proud owner of an Aaron Crow 2008 Razor Authentic Signature baseball card.

    The 2011 Royals FanFest, held every January in nearby Overland Park, Kan., featured many of the “can’t miss” prospects, and I was on hand to obtain as many signatures, on as many collectibles, as possible.

    I’m no dummy. I know that these guys are going to be much more accessible in Kansas City than they will be in their final destinations of large markets such as New York and Los Angeles.

    Why waste your time chasing down cantankerous, bitter, former superstars such as George Brett, when so many bright prospects are willingly accessible?

    In fact, if you really want an opportunity to get your cards personally signed by superstars and prospects alike, go to spring training games. While the rosters for major league teams are limited to 25 players, there are tons of hopefuls in Arizona and Florida in the spring.

    Don’t forget to scan the roster for coaches – many who used to be major league players themselves.

    At the stadium, keep your eye out for announcers and color commentators – again, many whom once stepped foot on the hallowed grounds of a baseball diamond.

    But if you really want to keep up with the future of baseball, find out who the prospects are, and when they might be playing. It may be worth a trip to a minor league game in your neck of the woods, where players are nearly as accessible as they are in the spring.

    The neat thing about chasing prospects is that, once you’ve obtained an autograph, you might find yourself rooting for someone you once never knew existed.

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    The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Topps Series 1

    July 26th, 2011

    With the launch of Series 2 of the 2011 Topps Baseball set, I thought I would go back and review Series 1.

    Series 1 was a challenge for subset collectors. I not only managed to collect the base set, but added the 10-card History of Topps subset, 30-card Diamond Duos subset, 10-card History of Topps – The Lost Cards subset, the 59-card 60 Years of Topps subset, the 50-card Topps 60 subset, the 50-card Topps Town subset, and my favorite, the 50-card Kimball Champions subset.

    Along with those, I need just three cards to complete the 30-card Reproduction Cards subset and 10 cards to finish the Walmart Black parallel set.

    Like most parallel sets, the Walmart Black set is quite the challenge. It helps to buy your cards at Walmart, but you would have to buy a ton of boxes to complete the parallel set on your own. Of course, eBay is a huge help, but I’m often forced to buy lots of cards just to pull out one or two cards I need.

    As we begin purchasing packs and boxes of 2011 Topps Baseball Series 2, here are the good, the bad and the ugly about this year’s set:

    The Good

    * The Kimball Champions subset is my favorite because I like the look and feel of the cards that are created with baseball’s rich history in mind. They are very similar to the Allen & Ginter’s sets that I think are one of Topps’ best all-around efforts.

    * The Throwback Commemorative Patch Cards are awesome.  Old-school logos for nearly (wait for it) all of the major league teams. Where else can you obtain an actual small patch of the Seattle Pilots?

    * The Diamond Giveaway cards were an interesting concept.  Collectors can enter a code at for a chance to own virtual rings and other items.

    The Bad

    * The base card fronts have gotten slicker.

    It seemed to me that Sharpies were invented specifically so we could get autographs on the slick, new card stock that seemed to be all the rage when Upper Deck raised the bar on slick, new card fronts in the late 1980s.

    The 2011 Topps base set had me scrambling back to look at my growing collection of autographed cards. And yes, even the 2010 Topps base set held an autograph well.

    The 2011 cards make the signatures bubble up. One little mistake, and the autograph is a smeared-up mess.

    * The Diamond Giveaway cards, while an interesting concept, sucked when it came to collecting the cards themselves.

    Jackie Robinson, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols were fine ideas to adorn the cards. But did we really need FIVE different Derek Jeter cards? Sheesh, get over your man-crush on the guy, Topps.

    The Ugly

    * The Throwback Commemorative Patch Cards were awesome, all right, until I searched in vain for patch cards containing Kansas City Royals players and logos.

    I thought maybe Topps was joking. Perhaps they stuck to large-market teams, I thought.

    Then I saw a few Pittsburgh Pirates cards. Then some Minnesota Twins/Washington Senators. And Milwaukee Brewers. There also was the aforementioned Seattle Pilots.

    For some STUPID reason, Topps decided to completely disrespect players and fans of the Kansas City Royals.

    There were plenty of Kansas City Athletics logos – with cards of Oakland Athletics players. No Bo Jackson, no George Brett or Bret Saberhagen, no Billy Butler or Joakim Soria. No old-school Royals crown, new-school Royals crown, no Royals script, nothing.

    What is the deal here? I e-mailed Topps to ask for an explanation, but they even were too arrogant to respond to a sports card fan with some 350,000 cards, at least 70 percent of them Topps cards.

    * Topps and its man-crush on the New York Yankees.

    While there were few historic cards of the Kansas City Royals, Topps more than made up for it with commemorative cards of just about every player on the current New York Yankees roster, and way too many former players.

    I get it: New York, with some 8 million people, is the largest market in American sports. But not everyone is a Yankees fan. In fact, while the Yankees would rank near the top of the most adored team in American sports, they also rank near the top of the most hated teams.

    Fans of small- and medium-market teams just get tired of losing their players every year when free agency comes around, watching the All-Star team in The Bronx overspend for them.

    Unfortunately, Topps has run everyone else out of business, so if you want to continue collecting cards, you are forced to do it their way.

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