Grand Cards

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hanging Them Up

I remember when I started writing this blog.  I was back in Michigan for Christmas in 2008 and, after a year or so of returning to the world of baseball cards I told my future-wife "I think I'm going to start a blog."

And so I did.  I started up a little blog with a simple post--Grand Cards: A History

For the next two years I diligently chronicled the ups and downs of my collecting, of the Tigers, of baseball cards as a whole and of Curtis Granderson.  I was there when Curtis was traded to the Yankees, prompting a series of four posts called "Apocalypse Now."  I was there when the Tigers had their hearts crushed in Game 163 and when they made the playoffs this year.  I kept up with the times, producing a series of very long, but entertaining to write posts called "The Grand Scheme" in which I surveyed the card/sport landscape.  These were the good times.

This blog was born of a few things.  I was only a year removed from Michigan in 2008 and the Tigers were a strong, fun connection back to my friends and family.  It also happened to be the start (then the middle) of the recession.  I had a full time job, but we didn't have jobs that kept us busy full time.  Similarly, I had all sorts of extra time outside of working hours to fill with blogging.  Combine those with a newfound enthusiasm for collecting and a unshakable admiration for Curtis Granderson (which holds to this day, even in pinstripes), and this became a thing.

Today "Grand Cards" dies.  It's death is the result of the recession (it ending), my return to graduate school, the continuation of a full time job that has gotten obscenely busy, the trade of Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and a general malaise that I have felt the card blogging community over the last two years.  As I write less and read less I notice that others write less too.  Some of my favorites are gone without a trace.  Blogging, as a thing, seems on its way out.  Twitter is in.  My collecting continues, but I just don't feel like talking cards as much any more.

For those of you that have noticed, this is a slow death.  There have been fits and starts over the last year, but the writing was on the wall.  I simply don't have the time or energy to keep it going.

And you know what?  That's fine.  Blogging was something that I did because it was fun.  It was a supplement to my collecting and a way to connect with other collectors on the internet.  I enjoyed it and you all have been great.  But the blog came to oppress me and that, in and of itself, defeated the purpose of having it in the first place.

So, Fin.  And Thank You to everyone who read what I had to say over the years, or traded with me, or commented on my posts, or sent me pictures of cards for my galleries. 

It's been fun.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Card Cameos: The Shadow of the Empire

I understand how it works.  My favorite team, the Detroit Tigers, are a small market team.  This, by virtue of the fact that they are not in New York, or LA, or Philly,  or Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and a handful of others.  This, despite the fact that Detroit is actually the 11th largest media market in the country.  Whatever.  Small market.

And because the Tigers are a small market team, they tend to get some neglect from time to time.  Like this:

The Tigers, Division champs and ALCS participants, have TWO cards in the entire Topps Finest set. Same as Astros, Marlins and O's. WEAK.
16 Oct via web
And yes, I'm sure that the World Series Champions can complain about the same thing.  So could the Rangers.  Or the Rays or all the other playoff teams that aren't from New York, or LA, or get my point.

The card industry, like everything else it seems, revolves around "the market."  I hate the market.  I hate that every baseball card product out there feels like a Yankees team set.  Or that I get Brooklyn Dodgers forced down my throat. And the SAWX.  But I get it, I do.  Economics, man.

And as long as we get our pittance we can manage a thankful smile and say "Thank you, gov'nr" in a cockney accent to the Baseball Card Executive personified as a top-hat and monocle wearing fat cat in our heads.  Every now and then they'll throw us an extra nickel in the form of a "Ryan Perry memorial because he'll sign our cards for basically nothing" autograph or a shiny insert or some other special card that you see once in a blue moon for your own team while some Yankees collector flings it in the trash and says "ANOTHER, Mickey Mantle superfractatious atoma-fractor? Enough Already!"  Well I want an atomafractor.

Instead, the empire steals my lunch money.

2011 Topps Update: #US320 Russell Martin f. Brandon Inge


This is the best Tigers card of the year, bar none.  This may be the best action shot of a Tigers player IN A DECADE or more.  It is vintage Brandon Inge, at full extension, in an extravagant pose, at home, being awesome.  Great, great shot.

And in the background is an almost-blurry Yankee, in the midst of a somewhat ugly slide with his face partially obscured by the shadow of his helmet.


Oh that's right, there's a Yankee on it.  SLAP A YANKEE ON IT BOYS, WE'VE GOT CARDS TO SELL!

Now, some apologist may say, and they wouldn't be wrong, that at the time of design and printing, Brandon Inge had been Designated for Assignment, his days on the Tigers apparently over, and therefore a rational decision was made to use the card for All-Star Russell Martin instead.

This would not be incorrect, and would be justified.  But something tells me that if Topps followed the ins and outs of roster moves that closely they would never have produced, I don't know, this or this or this... I could go on forever if I had the time.  The point is, sure, maybe some uncharacteristically observant employee thought it imprudent to put a player that was essentially cut in an Update set.  "Oh, the criticism we shall receive!"  I'm not going to say that didn't happen.

But I am going to say, that somehow, some way, one of the best Tigers action shots ever placed on a baseball card was taken from us, and surprise, surprise, it just so happens to be the Yankees that took it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

11 Boxes, One low, low price

As I try to gradually get back into the blogging, I'll take easy subjects where I can get them.  Community Gum is hosting an 11 box all-Topps group break, that includes such nice releases as Topps Gallery and Turkey Red, some interesting inclusions like the one that comes with a Guaranteed Autographed Baseball, and some unmistakably awesome things like Topps LASER, which, wow.  If the Tigers weren't the worst team in history in the 90's I would totally salivate over Topps Laser.

Anyway, not only is this break now open, but it is currently $5 cheaper than it was yesterday, and $5 cheaper than it will be tomorrow.  There are also a surprisingly strong selection of teams still available (Red Sox? Seriously?), so get in on it.  After all, if it fills up, they will throw in a 12th box. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Misjudging Customer Demand

Sometimes sitting in an airport, or on an airplane, gives you a chance to just think.  I've been doing a whole lot of sitting in or on one or the other, so I guess this whole "thinking" think was destined to follow.  With a flight delay, I figure why not write about it?  I do have a blog, after all.

Today is a beautiful fall day.  The air is crispish, the skies are clear, long sleeves and jeans are comfortable...and the baseball season is wrapping up.  Game 1 of the World Series was last night.  Game 2 is tonight.  After that, we get to sit back and relax for a month or two, at least until we get that ol' baseball "itch" again.

You see, with a 162 game season, the fans get tired too.  By the time we get to Game 2 of the World Series, 28 of 30 fan bases have checked out.  Sure, they'll tune in, especially the bigger baseball fans in the bunch, but this is no longer a time for baseball fever.  Rather, we're on the cusp of baseball hibernation--the much needed act of post-season baseball recovery.

Whether MLB understands this is inconsequential.  They are in the midst of their crown jewel event and need to do whatever they can to hype the event.  I get that, and, despite the exhaustion I felt after the Tigers were batted out of Texas, a few days has given me a chance to recoup and be moderately interested in the World Series.

But, I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the level of excitement that exists at a national level for baseball at this time of year.  And it's not just baseball--every sport experiences this type of burn-out towards the end.  And most people get it.  Nike isn't going to introduce a new baseball bat right now.  Nobody cares.  Under Armour is saving it's new cleats for the fall.  The apparel companies are packing it in.  The Tigers Pro Shop is having a 50% off playoff merchandise sale this week.

And Topps is cramming a slew of new releases down our throats.


That's right.  Topps has essentially decided that the baseball season consists of two parts: the beginning and the end, with nothing in between.  In order to maximize their card sales, they need to capitalize on the excitement in the sport during those truncated parts of the season and then sell, sell, sell.

Let me explain.

Through their contract with Major League Baseball, Topps is allowed to produce 17 card sets per season.  I'll refrain from commenting on whether Topps should produce 17 sets per season, something that seems like far far more than anybody could reasonably care about, especially considering that they are not allowed to create sets of 1) retired players and 2) prospects, but I digress.  17 sets.  That's just around a new card release every 3 weeks (again, that seems like shockingly too many card sets...)

On its face, it doesn't seem to make sense to actually release sets with such a regular timeline--I'd imagine that December and January are pretty slow in the baseball card world, so it makes sense to work off of a 9 or 10 month sales schedule--capitalize on spring training, opening day, the season itself and the playoffs.  After that, exhale.

Yet Topps seems to confuse the basic tenets of 1) baseball fandom and 2) baseball fan demand.  That's where I started with all of this: people are burnt out.  As such, Topps is scaling back for the winner, right?  RIGHT?

September 7th: Topps Chrome  -- Great release time, people are playoff chase hungry and this is a consistently strong set.

September 12th: Topps Marquee -- One week later.  Topps Chrome is already becoming old news.

September 21st: Topps Heritage Minor League -- This somewhat intriguing set got no attention because it was released when nobody cares about minor league baseball and is the third set in three weeks.

September 27th: Topps Triple Threads -- This is a consistently popular high-end set that collectors seem to flock to in droves, especially on the singles market.  This release completely buries Topps Marquee.  Topps Chrome, less than a month from its release, is collecting dust.

October 5th: Topps Update -- Back in the day, they would release this right after the playoffs and include season highlights in here.  Instead, they try to jump on the playoff excitement.  Still, this is an fine release, considering no low-end or set-collector releases have been out in a while.

October 11th: Topps Finest --  ...and you just crushed Update.  Might as well not have been released.  This also gets lost in the Triple Threads singles fury.  Marquee is history.

October 17th: Bowman Chrome -- one of the most popular prospecting sets of the year just killed everything that came before it.

In 6 weeks Topps put out SEVEN products including FIVE sets with a consistently strong following and two sets that didn't have a chance in hell.

The only explanation is that the company has a fundamental misunderstanding of baseball fans and card collectors.  This is too much, too fast.  Nobody has the money for it, nobody has the energy for it and nobody has the appetite for it.  Even famed casebreaker Brent and Becca was a no-go:

Brent Williams
I did not break Finest due to the release being on top of Update this year. Plus thought about BC and doing TC football. Got to pick best 1s
13 Oct
That's right, didn't break what has been a historically major product for Topps because of how they spaced it out.  Of course, cramming all of these releases in made things pretty slow in the baseball collecting world the rest of the summer:

February 2nd: Topps Series 1
March 5th: Topps Opening Day
March 14th: Topps Heritage
April 11th: Topps Tribute
April 25th: Gypsy Queen
April 27th: Topps Attax
May 12th: Bowman
June 1st: Topps Pro Debut
June 6th: Topps Series 2
July 10th: Allen & Ginter
July 26th: Bowman Platinum
August 3rd: Topps Lineage
August 15th: Stickers (!)

Why did Gypsy Queen do so well?  It came 5 weeks after the last major release.  Why did Topps Lineage seem to garner such a (surprisingly) positive response?  People were starving.  They hadn't seen anything new in months.  Bowman Platinum is filler, A&G is what it is, Series 2 and Pro Debut are variations on the base set...Topps Lineage was the first accessible new product since Bowman in May.

Give me a break.

All year people have been bitching and complaining about Topps' Monopoly in the baseball card world.  I've stayed out of the fray, as I generally believe that everything that people have complained about (design, quality, misunderstanding collectors etc.) are things that Topps has done since I got back into collecting in 2007.  But if there is one thing that competition--real competition--could do, it is slap some sense into these folks and get them to release their products in a sensible way.

Meanwhile, I'll site on the sidelines.  If there is one thing a deluge of products is good for, it's picking up my team sets and singles on the cheap.  The more they shovel dirt on old favorites (Chrome, Finest, Update) by stacking up the new releases, the more easily and cheaply I can pick up the cards I actually want.  At some point though, someone is going to realize that collectors have a finite number of dollars to spend, and maybe, just maybe, it doesn't make sense to throw big new products out there week after week.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Finding Joy: A Saga

Let's go for a ride.

I've been traveling a lot for work lately--something that has taken me to all corners of the country, typically on a series of very fast 1-day trips that are cobbled together on very short notice.  Deadlines being what they are, I often need to book flights at the last minute to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, there are casualties.

Each of the Tigers vs. Yankees games in the ALDS started at 8:37.  Every one of them.  Even when they were "TBA" you just knew that they were going to be prime time.  I mean, Yankees, right?  Prime Time.  So, when I had to book a flight for yesterday and saw that my only option would leave me in the torturous isolation of the skies from 7:55 to 9:45 I was less than pleased.  But hey, 8:37, plus a few minutes for opening pomp and circumstance, means that I'll miss an hour of the game.  But that's like, a couple innings.  I'll survive, I guess.

But then that "TBA" became 8:00pm.  Shit.  By 9:45 this game could be almost over, and I would be stuck on a freaking plane, waiting for a line of the world's slowest people to pull their bags out of the overhead compartment, while a subset of them transform into the world's most polite people, letting everyone in the world cut in front of them as they patiently wait to get off the plane.  Meanwhile, I'll contemplate pushing the guy in front of me to the ground, starting a domino effect that will allow me to run on the backs of my fellow passengers to the front of the line.  I was certain this would happen.

Just as I was certain that once I got off the plane, the airport would effectively be closed, sports bars and all, and I would get to the rental car counter and some family of four that has never rented a car in history would be poring over the minutiae of adding supplemental insurance or debating the merits of pre-paying their gas tank, while I quietly die inside as the game winds down.

There was no way that I was going to see this game.  I was sure of it.

You might have picked up on my mounting tension if you were following me on Twitter:

I would pay a thousand dollars for Inflight internet on this next flight, but ,alas. Commence nervous wreckage. Go Tigers

Go little airplane, fly as fast as you can!

Let's go. Get on the fucking plane and close the cabin door. Baseball waits for no man or airplane. Come on!!
16 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Yeah.  My tiny plane was full of a bunch of lolligaggers.  My greatest fears were being realized.  The game was going to start and I wasn't even off the ground yet.  2 hours of radio silence followed.

As soon as I landed it the phone jumped out of my pocket.  Note to future self: Twitter is not a good tool for catching up on what has happened over a 2 hour span.

Just landed chaos trying to figure out the game while simultaneously looking for the nearest sports bar to park myself the rest of the night
15 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Guy in the row in front of me said that it was 2-0.  Bless your soul good sir.  As ESPN's mobile site loaded I saw this:

Jorge Posada singles on a line drive to center fielder Austin Jackson. Alex Rodriguez to 3rd. Nick Swisher to 2nd.
  • Pitcher D. Fister
  • BatterJ. Posada

183ChangeupCalled Strike
2 92Fastball (Two-seam)Foul
3    90Fastball (Four-seam)Foul
478CurveballBall In Dirt
691Fastball (Four-seam)In play, no out
Sweet Jesus.  Bases loaded and one out.  This is not the type of situation to follow on a freaking phone.

But follow it I did.  Fister prevailed, the aisles started to clear and it was time for a mad dash to the rental car.  Curveball--the rental car required a shuttle.

Following the game on your phone on a rental car shuttle is the worst thing I have ever experienced. Just want to scream WHAT'S HAPPENING
14 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Shuttle starts to slow, and I grab my bags and take off for the counter.  No need!  This airport lets me go straight to my car (National FTW!).  While on the shuttle I googled the local ESPN radio station.  I threw my bags in the back seat and almost broke the radio dial:

14 hours ago via Twitter for Android
 That "AAHHHHH..." is of the sweet release variety.  I just sat there for a minute and listened to VMart's RBI single.  I started driving before Cano hit his home run.  At some point, while navigating my way away from the airport I just screamed WOOOOOOOO!!!!! at the top of my lungs. 

And so, it would seem, the saga was over.  I had radio, it was like the 6th inning or thereabouts and I knew that I could listen to the rest of the game.  The thing is, I really wanted to see the game.  Also, I hadn't had any food for hours.  Commence the internal debate.  Hotel?  Sports Bar?  What happens now?

I had decided.  I'm just going to grab some horrible fast food and eat it in my hotel room I DON'T EVEN CARE.

But there was no fast food near the hotel, and just as I pulled into the parking lot I made a U-Turn and went back to a Chili's I saw along the way.  The hotel can wait.  I'm spending the rest of the night at the sports bar:

Finally in front of a tv (chilis!) Just in time to see that NASTY pitch.
14 hours ago via Twitter for Android

That was Scherzer being awesome, by the way.

As I ate some discount nachos and beer I noticed between innings that the place was starting to clear out.  At 10:55 I was the last person there, and the bartender asked if I wanted another beer.  Do you guys close at 11?  was my response. 


"Sure, I'll take another."  It's a dick move.  I know.  Ordering another beer with 5 minutes to close when I'm the last person in the joint is not a cool thing to do.  But if it could give me another half hour it would be worth it.  Again, I DON'T EVEN CARE.  There are more important things than etiquette.  You can mop around me.  I'll leave a good tip.

Well, it bought me some time, but not quite enough.

Chilis has closed. I'm about to get kicked out. NOT NOW
13 hours ago via Twitter for Android
That was in the top of the 8th ~11:18pm

I could hold out for this half inning, and as soon as Inge grounded out I downed what was left of my beer, flew out the bar, jumped in the car and drove at a ridiculous high speed the 1000 ft. (seriously, it was two buildings away) back to the hotel.

Somehow, in that 25 seconds I was forced to make a decision: Listen to the rest of the game in the hotel parking lot, or check in and get to the room but risk missing something.  Executive decision said Hotel.  Go.

Literally just sprinted to room. Asked what channel tbs was at the front desk.
13 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Bottom of the 8th, 1 out.

And the rest, they say, is history.  Pure Joy.  Yelling and screaming at the TV.  Hotel neighbors who probably thought about calling the front desk a few times, and maybe the police a few others.

What a game.  What a series.  What a team.  And then this:

12 hours ago via web


Go Tigers.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Well you all know what laughter sounds like

To say that I saw this coming would be a lie. Ok, sure, I've seen this coming for the last month or so, when the Tigers went from a middling division contender to a unstoppable powerhouse, but when a team wins 12 in a row, it's kind of tough to be surprised when the clinch a playoff berth. But the fact that we even got to this point is surprising to me. This is a season in which the Tigers started a horribly performing Brandon Inge long enough for him to earn 10/5 rights, then Designated Him for Assignment, then brought him back as a reasonably valuable platoon player. This is a season in which the Tigers looked sloppy. Poor defense haunted the team, inconsistent pitching created setback after setback. A weak bullpen just couldn't hold it together.

Yet somehow, hold it together they did. In place of a 2nd half collapse there was a second half surge. In early August, Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland were both given contract extensions. The Tigers had a tenuous grasp on 1st place and weren't playing the best baseball. Dombrowski had been doing everything he could shuffle the roster to keep the team in contention. Leyland was being Leyland. Many fans were confused; others, upset. Why would you give them an extension with two months to go. Subtext: Why would you stick us with these two with another collapse imminent. I held a more moderate view at the time. Sure, the timing is a little strange, but here you have a team that is in first place in August. Why wouldn't you give an extension? This isn't a great team, yet they've performed well. There is still plenty of season to go, potential lame duck leadership could sink the ship. Sure, extend away.

Since August 8th the Tigers are 27-10.


Take a look back at the start of the season. Did anyone expect this? I'm not saying nobody thought it was possible, but was there anyone who seriously expected the Tiger to blow away the division? There were way too many unknowns about this team. About the rotation, about 2nd base, about sophomore slumps. Nobody knew. And the funny thing is, all of that uncertainty didn't really work its way out. Instead, the anxious trigger finger of Dave Dombrowski made things happen.
I've never been an argent DD supporter. He made a bunch of boneheaded contract extensions after the Tigers last playoff run that handcuffed the team for years. But man, did he ever earn his money this year.

Doug Fister
Delmon Young
Wilson Betemit

Three pickups in a very thin trade market have made all the difference in the world. Sure, it helps that Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in the majors right now, or that Miguel Cabrera is playing as his consistently great self, yet is flying under the radar some how. In fact, as astutely pointed out by Jonah Keri, Alex Avila and Jhonny Perlata are having best-in-class seasons themselves.

When we look back at early season lineups and see INGE, RABURN, SIZEMORE, KELLY etc. slotted into the lineup every day it was depressing. It didn't work. Dombrowski saw it too. Now, the weak points of the lineup have become the Tigers' strengths, as platoon players or defensive replacements or pinch hitters. The Tigers are a much better, and much different, team than they were as recently as the start of July.

Four more names:
Jayson Werth
Adam Dunn
Carl Crawford
Victor Martinez

Let's play match game.

4 Years/$50 Million
4 Years/$56 Million
7 Years/$142 Million
7 Years/$126 Million

--match with--

232/332/392, 19 HR, 56 RBI, 147 SO
161/291/282, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 161 SO
252/289/398, 11 HR, 53 RBI, 98 SO
325/375/461, 11 HR, 94 RBI, 50 SO

In case you weren't sure, Victor(y) Martinez has the cheapest, shortest contract and production that FAR exceeds that of all of the three. Lest we forget, these four people were the free agent market last year. That was it. The Tigers knew that they needed to add a bat and they just happened to choose the only one of the four that has had a good season. VMarts season has been excellent, everyone else's has been short of serviceable. Point, Dombrowski.

There are two weeks left in the season and we can finally relax. There will be no Game 163 this year. No last minute collapse to the Wild Card. Jim Leyland can twist and contort his facial muscles into something that resembles a painful smile, before channeling his inner Rex Banner and snapping back to its default position.

The Tigers are in the playoffs. They won their division for the first time since 1987. This is a real thing. The Tigers have become a good baseball team, one that can reasonably contend for home field advantage over these last few weeks. One that is going to see its share of post-season awards. One that has a shot, as good a shot as anyone, at taking home the ultimate prize.

Baseball is a sport of two seasons: the Regular Season and the playoffs. The first objective is to craft a team that can get you to the playoffs, then have a strong enough rotation to dominate the playoffs. Place a check by the first one. As for the second, I think that Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and company may have a case to make come October.

Go Tigers.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Images are back

Huzzah! No more black circles with lines through them. That was a big step one on the way to rebloggery. Of course, there's also that who "time" issue, but this was a hurdle that I wasn't excited to overcome. Turns out it was easier than I thought.

Anyway, Images. Woo!

Also woo:

-The Tigers are in first place
-Michigan football starts tomorrow

Someday, like some hypothetical magic future date on which I am all of a sudden confident in initiating a jinx-free discussion of the Tigers playoff chances, blogging will continue. Topics to discuss: the Tigers playoff chances; the Tigers in the playoffs, hypothetically; Fister; The Tigers post-2011 outlook.

Also, 2011 baseball cards, a summary.

Sounds good, I can't wait.