Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Brett Favre signing a Bucs T-shirt while attending Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. The shirt, featuring Tom Brady's face superimposed over a vintage "Bucco Bruce" logo, is headed to auction:
It is usually a midsummer classic, but the Topps Allen & Ginter set was released several months later this year. A pandemic will do that.
So, instead of July, the venerable A&G set made its debut in mid-September. The formula has not changed: While the set concentrates on baseball players, it also includes stars from other sports and pop culture favorites.
I finally found blaster boxes of A&G at my local Walmart, so it was fun to buy one and open it. I originally was going to pass on collecting this year’s set — trying to fill in the holes on other UV sets has become more of a priority — but like the mythical Greek Siren, the Allen & Ginter set sings enchanting music and I cannot resist the lure.
The fact that I also pulled an autograph from one pack might have influenced my decision, too.
A blaster box contains seven packs, plus an extra pack. It is a silly concept card companies use. The eighth “bonus” pack was not a special set of cards, just the regular assortment of product. So, why not simply advertise “eight packs”? Must be a marketing ploy, like noting that a product costs $19.99 instead of $20.
The base set contains 300 cards, plus the usual 50 short prints. The blaster I opened had 28 cards and two SPs (Moises Alou and Bert Blyleven). Each pack contains a mini card. Three of the minis were base cards and one had an A&G back. A fifth one was a black parallel of Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, while the final three were inserts.
The design for the base set is slightly different this year, but only on the card front. A&G cards traditionally have wonderful artwork, and the 2020 version is no exception. But instead of the full bleed look, this year’s card fronts frame a photo. The frames are a thin gray color, so the appearance is not quite like previous Turkey Red issues, for example.
Speaking of frames, the big hit from the blaster was a framed, on-card autograph of Indians pitcher Zach Plesac. Those mini cards always look nice when they are framed.
I picked up several insert cards. There were two Digging Deep cards. This 20-card subset is dedicated to treasures you might find in the ground, and the gems I pulled were a diamond and chrysoberyl. Reach for the Sky contains 15 cards of famous skyscrapers and I pulled two cards — the Steinway Tower in Manhattan and the Shanghai Tower in China.
Down on the Farm is another 15-card subset that focuses on barnyard animals, while Field Generals is a 20-card set that pays tribute to some of the game’s greatest catchers. I pulled one insert from each. Longball is a 50-card set that highlights baseball’s greatest sluggers. I pulled a Carl Yastrzemski insert. A Debut to Remember is a 30-card set that features memorable first games by major leaguers.
I pulled one card from three of the mini insert sets — Booming Cities (Dhaka), Behemoths Beneath (Beluga Whale) and Where Monsters Live (Under the Stairs).
Once again, the lure of Allen & Ginter is too tough to resist. It’s always a nice-looking set, with maddeningly difficult short prints and an eclectic group of inserts.
Guess I will collect them again.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a 1941 Double Play card that had an interesting message written on the back by Massachusetts resident John Lawsky.
Here is a review of "Little Wonder" I did for Sport in American History:
And here is the podcast I did last month with Sasha Abramsky:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a cache of unsigned Patrick Mahomes cards that were discovered at a Goodwill in Kansas City.
It’s good to see new product on the shelves again. For a while, there were no cards at the Target and Walmart stores I visit.
On Tuesday I saw some new stuff and was overjoyed. So, I bought a blaster of 2020 Topps Fire baseball. Topps Fire is a retail product that has been exclusive to Target since 2017. Collectors have the option of buying a blaster for $19.99 or a hobby box for $69.99. The biggest difference, of course, is that Topps is promising two autograph cards per hobby box.
The blaster box included seven packs, with six cards to a pack. In addition, there was a special four-card pack of Gold Minted base parallels.
The base set for Fire contains 200 cards, with a generous assortment of veterans, rookies and former stars. The design of the cards, to say the least, are wild. Lots of lines, splashes of paint, circles, triangles and intersecting lines. The card fronts sport three distinct looks. And so do the card backs.
To be honest, the designs are a little bit too busy for my taste, as I lean toward a more traditional look. The artwork is nice, and the detail is excellent, but I felt like my senses were being overloaded by some of the cards.
Other collectors, however, might find these cards stimulating. So, it is just a matter of preference. Decide for yourself.
The box I bought yielded 36 base cards, which included four rookie cards. Some of the retired greats included Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz and Tony Gwynn. I also pulled a pair of flame parallels of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Willy Adames, along with an orange parallel of Chris Paddack, numbered to 299.
There were three inserts inside the blaster box I bought. Arms Ablaze featured a card of Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger, which clocked how fast one of his throws to home plate was (96.6 mph). The card also notes that Bellinger threw a 98.9 mph, 261-foot strike to nail a runner at the plate during a 2017 game. Impressive. The card is shiny and gold looking. There are 20 inserts in this subset.
The second insert was a Shattering Stats card of slugger Albert Pujols. This was one of 15 inserts featured, and it showcased Pujols’ feat of batting more than .300 during the first 10 seasons of his major league career. In his 11th season, Pujols fell to .299.
The final insert was a Smoke & Mirrors card of Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. This card is part of a 20-card subset and shows two photos — one a glorified posed shot, while the smaller picture shows Chapman in his pitching form.
The four Gold Minted cards I pulled included Alex Bregman, Trevor Story, Brendan Rodgers and Trent Grisham.
Topps Fire has an appeal for collectors who like to push the envelope in design. It is bold and flamboyant, and it’s an easy set to build.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a rare Michael Jordan card pulled from a pack in 1997 that is part of a Goldin Auctions sale this weekend:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Collectable, a fractionalized, stock-market type way for collectors to own high-end sports cards and memorabilia.
Baseball historian John Thorn calls the members of the Society for American Baseball Research “nerds,” but in a loving way.
But let's be honest: Where would baseball lovers be without SABR?
SABR was founded Aug. 10, 1971, in Cooperstown, New York, by sportswriter Bob Davids. That summer, I was on a family vacation trip from Boynton Beach, Florida, to the Fontana Village Resort in western North Carolina. There were no phones, videos, and the radio in my parents’ red 1969 Volkswagen beetle was lousy at tuning in stations as we rumbled through the hills of northeastern Georgia.
I read during the trip, choosing The Baseball Encyclopedia put out in 1969 by the Macmillan Company.
So, call me a nerd, too. I loved it. And I still have that book. I feel like a kindred spirit.
That is why reading SABR 50 at 50: The Society for American Baseball Research’s Fifty Most Essential Contributions to the Game (University of Nebraska Press; hardback; $49.95; 608 pages) is such a pleasure.
There are 50 articles selected by a committee of four volunteers: Mark Armour, Leslie Heaphy, Bill Nowlin and Thorn (who wrote the foreword). Nowlin handled the editing chores, with assists from associate editors Armour, Heaphy, Thorn, Scott Bush, Jacob Pomrenke and Cecilia Tan.
This book is more than just statistics and formulas. It is a living, breathing history of baseball, with writers passionate about not only preserving the history of the game, but also getting it right.
The breadth of coverage is remarkable. There is Herm Krabbenhoft’s chapter about Lou Gehrig’s career and season RBI totals. The Iron Horse was originally credited with 1,990 RBI, but Krabbenhoft’s research boosted the total to 1,995. In a postscript, two more RBI were discovered, giving Gehrig an unofficial total of 1,997 RBI.
That ties in nicely with Clifford S. Kachline’s article about Hack Wilson’s 191st RBI. “Like Ivory soap, today’s major-league averages are 99.44 percent pure, that is virtually 100 percent accurate,” writes Kachline, a founding member of SABR. “By contrast early statistics of both the American and National Leagues, especially for the pre-1950 period, are fraught with mistakes.”
Davids weighs in with the thought-provoking — as in, “Gee, I never thought of that” — chapter about the best games pitched in relief. In addition to Ernie Shore’s perfect appearance in 1917 when he set down all 26 batters he faced when he relieved Babe Ruth, there was Walter Johnson’s 15 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings in a 1913 game, Bob Osborn’s 14 shutout innings of relief in 1927, and George Washington “Zip” Zabel’s ironman effort of 18 1/3 innings in 1915. Exhausting.
Lawrence Ritter provides a gem of an interview with Marty McHale. Ritter, who wrote The Glory of Their Times, interviewed McHale during his cross-country travel to speak with players of the early 20th century. Ritter’s interview with McHale, however, was not transcribed in time to be included in the book.
The contributors to this book will be familiar to many baseball lovers — Thorn, Frederick Lieb, Pete Palmer, Jules Tygiel, Bill James, Peter Bjarkman and Steve Steinberg — but there are also some fresh and relevant writers like Rob Fitts and D.B. Firstman.
If Fitts is not the top expert in Japanese baseball and baseball cards, then he is awfully close to the summit. His chapter, “Babe Ruth, Eiji Sawamura, and War,” is a fascinating look at Sawamura, a Japanese pitcher who faced an American barnstorming team as a 17-year-old and held his own against Ruth and the all-star squad that came to the Far East in 1934. Sawamura fought for the Japanese against the Allies during World War II and died when his transport boat heading for the Philippines was sunk by an American submarine. Sawamura was more revered in death than he had been as a baseball player and “personified the trials of his country.”
“Many viewed his performance as an analogy of Japan’s struggles against the west,” Fitts writes.
Firstman writes about the growth of “Three True Outcomes,” which evolved from a gag during the early days of the internet into an explanation of how baseball has changed over time.
Other chapters I enjoyed — and there was not a bad one in the bunch — included Warren Corbett’s piece on Bill McKechnie, Bill Kirwan’s chapter on the versatility of Cy Seymour, Peter Morris’ quest to nail down information about 1860s baseball star Dick McBride and Gene Carney’s blow-by-blow account of the 1919 Black Sox fixing scandal.
One does not have to read SABR 50 at 50 in any order. It is a delectable smorgasbord of baseball history, statistics and research that is essential for baseball libraries. It goes without saying that each chapter is meticulously researched, and the editors provide updates where necessary.
The price tag may seem steep, but it really is not. To enjoy the kind of rich detail, analysis and excellent research is worth the $49.95.
As Thorn notes — and practices — baseball history is “getting things right simply because with effort one could, and because ‘cleaning up’ seemed morally superior to ‘going along,’ accepting what was wrong.”
This volume highlights the morality and high standards set a half century ago by SABR.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing Panini America's 2020 XR Football, which will be released Oct. 16:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Jon English, the former high school and college quarterback who is opening a sports antique store in Shelbyville, Tennessee:
Here's a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily about the Hunt Auctions sale of Vin Scully's memorabilia:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about several pairs of Michael Jordan sneakers that sold at Christie's Auction in London. One pair went for $615,000.
Here is a podcast I did with New Books in Sports with Sasha Abramsky, author of "Little Wonder: The Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, The World's First Female Sports Superstar."
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Rally partnering with Topps to offer shares of specially stamped 2020 baseball card sets:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an RR Auction sale that begins Aug. 13:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the Super Bowl XX jersey of William "The Refrigerator" Perry that is up for sale:
Here 's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the "blackless" cards from the 1990 Topps baseball set:
For collectors who enjoy finding cards at retail stores, Panini America’s 2020 Prestige Football fits the bill.
For the third straight year, Prestige is retail-exclusive, and collectors can choose from several packaging options: Mega-boxes have 10 packs, with four cards to a pack. This product yields the biggest hits, with two autographs per box. It also has 12 rookies, four inserts and three parallels.
Blasters have eight packs, with eight cards to a pack. A collector can expect to pull either an autograph or relic card, along with eight rookies, three parallels and five inserts.
Hanger boxes contain 60 cards, while fat packs have 30. The fat boxes include four rookies, two parallels and four inserts.
There is also a gravity feed box, which has 36 rookies, 18 parallels and 18 inserts.
Searching for retail can be an adventure at times. I was at a Target recently when the distributor arrived to put out new card product. We chatted for a bit, and he noted how some products simply “flew off the shelves” after they were put on display. Think Bowman 2020 baseball, for example.
“I’m not kidding, there are like five or six guys following me and they have a network,” the man said. “They call each other and buy all the stuff and split it among themselves.”
Well, what else are you going to do during a pandemic? There certainly aren’t any card shows going on right now.
The Prestige set is notable for having a card of quarterback Tom Brady in the uniform of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether Brady or the Bucs — and the entire NFL, for that matter — play this year is open to conjecture. Only the virus knows for sure.
The base set contains 300 cards, broken down into 200 veterans and 100 rookies. The blaster box I opened had 50 base cards, seven rookies, six inserts and one relic card.
Unlike the 2019 set, the 2020 rookies are not featured in their pro uniforms. They are depicted in action shots from their college careers. Again, blame the pandemic.
The card fronts are clean and reflect some parallel lines. The top of the card has the Prestige logo stamped in silver against the primary team color of the featured player. In the bottom right-hand corner, the player’s team and name are stamped in silver. They are slanted to complement the slanted lines that run across the top and partially down the sides of the card fronts. The player’s name is backed by the team’s primary color.
The card back uses a smaller cropped version of the player’s photo that graces the front. A five-line biography is placed under the player’s name and team. The type is ragged center and small, which is kind of disconcerting. Statistics, where available, showcase the players’ 2019 and career numbers.
Six inserts were pulled from this blaster. Two came from the 20-card Power House subset and featured Travis Henry and Mark Ingram II. Ingram’s card was a blue Xtra Points parallel.
Other inserts I pulled included Inside the Numbers (Mike Williams), Youth Movement (Josh Jacobs), Prestigious Pros (Russell Wilson) and Worldwide (Jameis Winston).
The other four parallel cards collectors could find are Heroes, which has a comic book look; Highlight Reel; Honor Roll; Old School; and Impressions.
The hot card pulled from the blaster was a Gridiron Heritage relic of Rob Gronkowski. The card is printed on thick stock and has a dark blue swatch from Gronk’s days as a tight end with the New England Patriots.
Prestige promises to be an interesting set to build. It has enough rookie cards in a blaster box to make collectors want to complete the whole set, and getting either and autograph or a memorabilia card is a big plus for a retail product.
Since Absolute Baseball returned for the first time as a standalone product since 2005, I thought I’d sample a blaster box.
Sure, Absolute was part of the Chronicles product, including the 2019 set. But now it’s on its own.
Granted, you will only receive two packs containing five cards in each pack, but the good news is that Panini America is promising at least one autograph or memorabilia card in every blaster.
Of course, if you decide to buy a hobby box, the breakdown is nicer — still two packs, but there are 10 cards to a pack. A hobby box breakdown includes four autographs, two memorabilia cards, four inserts and two parallels.
The base set includes 100 cards. The design is not bad, although there are certainly plenty of elements to deal with on the card fronts.
The player’s photo dominates the card front and is framed by a white border. The top left part of the card has “Absolute Baseball” stamped in gold and set against a backdrop of that player’s primary team color. Five arrows (using the team’s primary color) point upward in the upper right-hand part of the card, while eight smaller white arrows point upward from the bottom left-hand corner. The player’s name is stamped in gold and presented last name first. The last name is in all capital letters, while his first name is printed in smaller capitals.
The team name is stamped in small silver type under the player’s name, and to the right are more arrows — seven small ones, based on the team’s primary colors, which point to the right. To the left of the team name are 12 lines stamped in gold.
The card backs are not as cluttered. The player’s name is at the top left-hand portion of the card, with a 10-line biography underneath. Statistics from the previous stretch beneath the biography and player photo.
And don’t forget those arrows. There are six of them on the right side of the card, pointing to the right. They are located beneath the statistics.
The blaster box I opened contained three base cards and two blue parallels.
I also received two insert cards and a parallel for each. Introductions is a 15-card set, and the card I pulled was of Shohei Ohtani. The parallel was a blue one of Eloy Jimenez.
Absolute Legends was the other insert I pulled. This 20-card subset pays tribute to some of baseball’s greatest players. I pulled a “regular” Jimmie Foxx card and a blue parallel of Roberto Clemente.
Retail blasters offer Rookie Threads memorabilia cards. There are 37 cards in the set, and I pulled a Jake Rogers card with a white uniform swatch.
The card is thick and employs the same photograph on the front and back. The difference is that the photo on the reverse is a fuller shot.
For those who want to limit their collecting to retail products, these memorabilia cards also have parallels in red (numbered to 99), purple (25), gold (10), green (5) and black (1/1).
Overall, this is not a bad-looking set. The biggest drawback (other than all of the arrows) is that there are no team logos on uniforms or helmets.
That is due to the fact that Topps, and not Panini, own the MLB and MLBPA licenses. Unfortunate, but a business fact of life. fact of life.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a pair of Michael Jordan autographed sneakers that are heading to auction this week:
Thanks to the husband and wife team of Tom and Ellen Zappala, you can own a high-grade, 1952 Topps baseball card set for $35.
Well, sort of.
The Zappalas have put the iconic baseball card set into book form in a colorful, coffee table-sized format that includes photographs of all 407 cards and interesting sidebars. That includes the first Topps card of Mickey Mantle, one of the most coveted cards of the post-World War II era.
In Baseball & Bubble Gum: The 1952 Topps Collection (Peter E. Randall Publisher; hardback; $35; 236 pages), the Zappalas, with assists from Collectors Universe President and CEO Joe Orlando, sports columnist John Molori and Collectors Universe photographer Christina Good, have put together a book of memories that should resonate with older collectors and give new collectors a different perspective.
The book can be ordered through Amazon.com.
There have been books that have shown individual photographs of the entire 1952 Topps set — Frank Slocum’s 1994 effort, Baseball Cards of the Fifties, comes to mind (I guess that means I have two pristine 1952 Topps sets now, in addition to the ragged condition, uncompleted real-life set I own) — but Baseball & Bubble Gum offers more. Call it a more sentimental look, almost as if it were seen through the eyes of a 1950s kid collecting cards.
That is not a surprise, because the Zappalas have already published books about other iconic card sets, The T206 Collection: The Players & Their Stories, The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players, An All-Star’s Cardboard Memories, The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs, and Legendary Lumber: The Top 100 Player Bats in Baseball History.
The ’52 set, as Orlando writes in the book’s foreword, “changed the game” and “ushered in a completely new era of collecting.”
Tom Zappala, born in 1952, grew up in the Boston area and began collecting baseball cards in the late 1950s. While he never collected the 1952 Topps set as a child, he had a respectable collection of cards from 1959 to 1966.
That is until his mother tossed them.
“I think mothers across the country must have attended a card trashing convention and voted unanimously to throw out the baseball cards in every home in America,” Tom Zappala writes.
I’d have to agree.
Zappala is an enthusiastic guy whose passion for card collecting comes through on “The Great American Collectibles Show,” a national weekly radio show he co-hosts with former Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli.
In Baseball & Bubble Gum, Tom and Ellen Zappala have broken down their book into four, distinct chapters: The Hall of Famers, The Uncommons, The Commons and A New Era Begins. All are self-explanatory, and the cards are presented in alphabetical, rather than numerical, order.
That means the 26 players in the Hall of Fame chapter begin with Richie Ashburn and end with Early Wynn. The Uncommons are players who were very good but did not make it to Cooperstown (Joe Adcock to Gus Zernial) and the Commons include the rest of the set, from Cal Abrams to George Zuverink).
The cards, photographed by Good, come from the graded collection of John Branca, which is rated No. 4 in the PSA registry. Branca is the nephew of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, who probably couldn’t wait for the 1952 baseball season to begin. Ralph Branca had given up the “Shot Heard ’Round the World” to Bobby Thomson the previous October at the Polo Grounds, giving the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant.
John Branca has a PSA 9 graded card of his uncle, by the way. He also has a PSA 8.5 of Mantle, which is card No. 311. John Branca also has six PSA 10 cards in this collection, including Hall of Famers such as Pee Wee Reese, Bob Lemon and Hoyt Wilhelm.
In the book, each card is featured with a photograph and a short biography, with Molori contributing to the research and narrative for every player. Each player listing also includes a box that lists the player’s notable career statistics, and there is a listing of the teams he played for and when he played for them.
Readers will find out which player was a prisoner of war during World War II (Mickey Grasso), the player whose grandson, Rick Porcello, won the Cy Young Award in 2016 (Sam Dente), the infielder who scored the first major league run for the Baltimore Orioles (Bobby Young), and the player who became a sheriff in Texas after his baseball career ended (Ray Murray).
Topps was always noted for interesting facts on the backs of their baseball cards, but Baseball & Bubble Gum takes it a step further. Baseball trivia nuts will rejoice.
“This book was certainly a labor of love for us because this wonderful collection brought back memories of our childhood,” Tom Zappala told Sports Collectors Daily last month. “Unlike the T206 collection and Cracker Jack collection, the 1952 Topps set was part of the fabric of our youth. That is what made writing the book so appealing.”
Orlando returns in the final chapter to break down the major elements of the 1952 set, from its composition and design to its place in pop culture. He writes about the bookend cards in the set: Andy Pafko, whose card No. 1 is graded PSA 8 in John Branca’s collection; and Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, whose card landed a PSA 8.5 grade in the same collection. Orlando writes that the card was featured in the 2010 movie, Cop Out, which starred Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan.
Orlando also delves into the never-ending appeal behind the Mantle card, noting that “no single card elicits more emotion from an entire generation of children.”
Also included in the book is the story of Sy Berger, the driving force behind the 1952 set. Berger had the vision to pit Topps against rival Bowman in the 1950s, a war Topps eventually won after the 1955 sets for both companies were released. Of course, the venerable story about Berger hiring a barge to dump a huge pallet of cards off the New York City coast in 1960 is included. Berger’s son adds a sentimental tribute to his father in the book.
The book also goes through the many variations and errors in the 1952 set, which was broken down into six series. Addressed are the card back errors of Johnny Sain and Joe Page, the different colored Tigers logos for Detroit catcher Frank House, and the overprinting of a star on the back of Washington Senators outfielder Frank Campos. Also discussed are the minor imperfections about the Mantle card, which readers should find fascinating.
And finally, there is a note about the players who never made it to the 1952 Topps set, although their inclusion would have made an already valuable set even more expensive. The Hall of Famers were Whitey Ford, Stan Musial and Ted Williams, and collectors can only sit back and wonder what might have been.
The wonderful thing about Baseball & Bubble Gum is that the reader can open the book to any page and be informed and entertained. If you love baseball cards, or just baseball history in general, this book is a keeper. It’s informative, sentimental and simply a blast to read.
Tom Zappala notes that he finally forgave his mother for throwing out his cards when he was a kid. In a response typical of Italian-American parents, Zappala’s mom “looked at me like I had two heads.”
“Forgive me for throwing out those worthless pieces of cardboard?” she said, as her son looked at her and smiled.
Bless you, Mrs. Z.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a mint Michael Jordan rookie card that is coming up for auction next month. The card is owned by Tim Gallagher, an autograph collector with more than 50 years of experience chasing down signatures. His stories are fantastic:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the ongoing lawsuit between Upper Deck and Panini America over images of Michael Jordan on basketball cards:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1984 Topps USFL set:
I love to blog about sports books and give my opinion. Baseball books are my favorites, but I read and review all kinds of books.