Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 2022 Topps Brooklyn Collection:
Topps Gallery baseball has always been an art-oriented product. So it is not surprising that this year’s set is framed around artistic themes.
After all, the set’s motto is “The Art of Collecting.”
Usually you can only buy Gallery at Walmart as a retail-only product, but the 2022 version is also available this year from the Topps website. I found both blasters and Monster boxes at my local Walmart store.
Since I am not collecting the set, I chose the blaster. For those who want to invest $79.99 for a Monster box — which is kind of like a hobby box, in my view — the advantage is that you will receive two autographed cards.
Last year I bought two Monster boxes. I went the blaster box route this year, buying only one box for $24.99. The economy, you know. However, buying the blaster meant I’d still receive four exclusive Printer Proof parallels.
A blaster has seven packs, with four cards to pack.
What I like about this set is the museum-like theme. Until 2021, Gallery card designs relied on original artwork. For the second straight year, the card fronts will feature actual photographs.
As in previous years, the main photograph is still surrounded by an inner border that looks just like a picture frame.
Most of the cards I pulled had vertical designs on the card front, although a few did have a horizontal design. I prefer vertical, but sometimes a card does lend itself to a horizontal look.
The card backs feature vital statistics for each player, plus “Gallery Notes” that provide brief highlights separated by three dots in the column-writing style of Dick Young, the late, great New York sportswriter.
Again this year, the base set consists of 200 cards. Current stars, rookies and retired stars are the focus.
The blaster I opened yielded 24 base cards and Rainbow Foil parallels of Jose Altuve and Spencer Torkelson.
There was also a Green Pattern parallel of Cody Bellinger. which was numbered to 99.
The lone insert in the blaster was a Modern Artists insert of Julio Rodriguez. The artwork was created by Jason Drumheller, an award-winning artist from Baltimore. His motto is “Keep it simple, make it smart.”
That is reflected in the simplicity of the insert.
The four Printer Proof cards featured Tyler O’Neill, Andrew McCutchen, Tony Gwynn and Alek Manoah.
Another interesting set. The 2022 Topps Gallery set is not flashy, but it is a clean and attractive product.
The Allen & Ginter set by Topps is the product I wait for with anticipation every year.
I still enjoy the flagship set, but the A&G set has entranced me with its eclectic output since its debut in 2006. Sure, there are current stars, rookies and Hall of Famers. But stars from other sports, media personalities and actors make this a fun set to collect.
Of course, it is a maddening set, since the short-prints can make it difficult to complete the checklist. But that is the fun of collecting.
I bought a hobby box, since I am not sure when the retail product will hit my area stores. Oh, there is plenty of product now at my local Target — depending on the location, Walmart can have a bonanza of blaster boxes or nothing at all — but much of that is several months old.
With Allen & Ginter traditionally a midsummer set, it has been a bit excruciating this year waiting for it to come out.
As usual, A&G does not disappoint.
A hobby box has 24 packs, with eight cards to a pack. Topps promises that every hobby box will contain at least three items from this lists of possibilities — autograph cards, relic cards, rip cards, printing plates or book cards.
There are 298 base cards, with no cards printed at No. 167 and No. 181. There are an additional 50 short prints, which fall in every other pack on average. Interestingly, Topps has a pair of cards — Nos. 337 and 344 — that have SP and non-SP cards. Card No. 337 features Juan Gonzalez (SP) and Manny Ramirez (non-SP), while card No. 344 showcases Lou Piniella (SP) and Luis Castillo (non-SP). I am guessing that Castillo was supposed to be No. 167 while Ramirez was designated at No. 181, since each has a mini card at those numbers.
Every pack on average has six base cards, an insert and a mini card. There are 300 base minis and 50 short-printed minis. The mini set does not include the non-SP cards of Ramirez and Castillo. Short-printed minis fall once every 13 packs on average.
The design has the main photo framed on three sides with a marbled gray color border highlighted by a thin black line. The Allen & Ginter logo is tucked into the left-hand bottom corner of the card front and is more elaborate looking than last year’s set, which had the product name across the bottom of the card in gold block letters. This year’s product includes the slogan “The World’s Champions” with the A&G logo.
The design for the card backs remains the same, with plenty of statistical information for the players and a short biography for the non-baseball subjects. The statistical numbers remain spelled out, a haughty throwback to the Gilded Age of U.S. history — the time frame when the original Allen & Ginter set was released 135 years ago in 1887.
I pulled 124 base cards from this year’s set. In addition to the stars, rookies and legends, I found cards of three curlers (Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and John Shuster), two musicians (Ian Grushka of New Found Glory and Tim Hause of The Mermaid) and two rappers (B-Real and Ben Dog). I am not sure why Topps made the distinction between musicians and rappers — they are all performers, right? — but that was their call, not mine.
Other sports represented in the box I opened included basketball (Bradley Beal), lacrosse (Charlotte North) and soccer (Sam Mewis). I found a sports agent (Drew Rosenhaus), a sports reporter (Field Yates) and a journalist/comedian (Charlie Berens). There is probably some snark that can be made about Berens’ dual occupation, but you will not get that from me. I have been a sports reporter and am still a journalist. As for being a comedian, my jokes still make my kids groan.
I also pulled a card of actor Danny Glover, tattooist Luke Wessman, barber Davey Cuts and barbecue chef Rodney Scott. And finally, a card of Blake Brice, a 10-year-old “hobby wunderkind” from suburban Denver who has attracted a following with his YouTube videos reviewing sports cards. His channel is the appropriately named BLAKEdown.
Those were the base cards. There were 12 short-printed cards, and I also pulled the non-SP card of Castillo.
As usual, Topps has mini parallels from the base set. I pulled nine base card minis and a pair of short prints (Scott Podsednik and Zach Wheeler). The minis also come with an Allen & Ginter back and I pulled five base minis plus a short print of Juan Gonzalez.
Topps also promises a Black parallel once in every 10 packs, and that average was hit with a pair of them in the box I bought — Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner and Brandon Woodruff.
The first hot card I pulled from the hobby box was a relic card of Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. The card was a round uniform swatch of the Atlanta outfielder. In the very next pack, I pulled the same type of memorabilia card of Trout. These are considered “A Relics.”
Several packs later I pulled a relic card of NFL Network broadcaster Scott Hanson. The piece appears to be from a dress shirt, with some nice intricate lines. Definitely a different kind of relic. This is considered a “B Relic.”
I am always glad to find nice hot cards, but I kind of wished there had been more variety, rather than three relic cards that were all swatches. An autograph or rip card would have been nice. I have pulled one rip card once before, and that was an interesting choice — to rip or not to rip? I ripped.
As expected, the hobby box I bought had a boxloader card. This year’s version was an oversized card of Mike Trout.
Insert cards showcases the Allen & Ginter penchant for finding traditional and off-the-wall subjects.
Banner Season honors players who excelled during a particular year. I pulled nine of the 50-card subset.
Pitching A Gem consists of 25 cards and highlights memorable performances on the mound.
pulled five of these cards, which feature the pitcher set against a background of a gem that matches the player’s birthdate, which is listed at the bottom of the card front.
Famous Rivals is a 10-card set that features rivals from baseball and also outside the sport. Non-sport rivals include Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, East Coast and West Coast, New York Slice and Chicago Deep Dish (no contest), and Pork Roll and Taylor Ham (a thing in New Jersey and surrounding areas). I pulled three cards, including the hysterically named New Jersey and Everyone.
I also pulled Bush and Gore, along with the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Suggestion for next time — Tampa Cuban sandwiches and Miami Cuban sandwiches. Tampa wins.
Two other large inserts are food oriented.
What’s Cookin’? is basically a 10-card recipe that features various condiments and spices. I pulled Dark Brown Sugar and Fresh Ground Black Pepper.
Get That Bread also has 10 cards and features different types of sandwiches. I pulled three of these cards — Burger, Meatball Hero and Turkey Club.
The final regular-sized insert is It’s Your Special Day, a 15-card set that highlights days of note. I pulled a pair of cards — National Dog Day and National Pajama Day.
As usual, there are mini inserts in the A&G set.
Bearing Fruit has 18 cards of exotic fruits, and I pulled a pair of them (pun not intended) — Lucuma and Mangosteen.
Ducks features 10 different species of the webbed creatures.
I pulled a Gray Duck.
Inside the Park has 25 cards featuring U.S. National Parks. I pulled one of Grand Canyon National Park
Finally, Time Out! is a 10-card set that recounts MLB games that were canceled or delayed under unique circumstances. I pulled Power Outage, when a 2012 game between the Red Sox and host White Sox was delayed 21 minutes when the lights went out at U.S. Cellular Field.
There are plenty of things to like about the 2022 A&G set. The base set is relatively easy to finish but the short prints are difficult. The inserts are varied and eclectic. And when one buys a hobby box, there are always hot cards and a box toppers.
It’s a nice combination.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about next month's Topps Chrome Update baseball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a card shop in Texas owned by a pair veterans that was broken into -- on Veterans Day.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a credit card scammer who was able to walk off with nearly $2,600 worth of sports cards last week:
I cannot think of a better book to review on Veterans Day. Heroism never gets old.
Buzz Bissinger’s latest effort is intense. Very intense.
At first glance, The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II (Harper; hardback; $32.50; 463 pages) appears to be about college football players blowing off steam while waiting for more action as soldiers in the Pacific Theater.
Then you open the book and start reading.
Only 10 pages actually deal with the game, which was played on Dec. 24, 1944, and ended in a scoreless tie.
Sixty five men played in that Christmas Eve contest, with Marines from the 6th Division’s 4th and 26th regiments squaring off in front of approximately 1,500 soldiers at Pritchard Field’s parade ground in Guadalcanal. Fifty-six of them had played college football and several others played in high school. Sixteen players on the roster had been drafted by NFL teams, five had been team captains and three were All-Americans.
“The remaining handful just wanted in on the mayhem,” Bissinger writes.
The real mayhem would come soon enough. Horrifyingly so. Disturbingly so.
Fifteen men on those rosters were killed during the Battle of Okinawa. They were part of a staggering toll of U.S. casualties. Between April 1 and June 22, 1945, nearly 13,000 Marines, Army and Navy members were killed. Three times as many were wounded. The Japanese also had massive casualties, and the natives of Okinawa suffered greatly.
Every richly detailed chapter in The Mosquito Bowl was nevertheless stark in its description of life and death during World War II. It reminded me of the comments uttered by Col. Walter Kurtz, the off-the-rails officer played by Marlon Brando in the 1979 film, “Apocalypse Now.”
“The horror. The horror,” Kurtz said just before he was killed by Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen).
The horror was real in The Mosquito Bowl. And the participants were not actors, but established football stars transformed into soldiers. Failure was never an option in their minds, and if victory could be attained through their deaths, then so be it.
Bissinger, 68, has riveted readers before. There was 1990’s Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, about the Permian High School Panthers and the culture in Odessa, Texas. The book would inspire a film and television series of the same name. In 2005, 3 Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and the Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager, focused on a three-game series two years earlier between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, and specifically through the eyes of Cardinals manager (and Tampa native) Tony La Russa.
As a journalist, Bissinger won a Pulitzer Prize while writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He won the prize in investigative reporting for writing about corruption in Philadelphia's court system.
The prose in The Mosquito Bowl has many elements. Staccato phrases pepper the reader like the report of a machine gun. The language is also earthy, which is to be expected. Being in the military is not always about discipline; it is also about raw language and searing experiences.
Bissinger explores the fates of several of the game’s key players. These men had offers to play in the NFL, although some of their coaches cautioned them about the pro league’s unsavory reputation at the time. Some men were torn between marrying their girlfriends and starting families, or waiting to see how the war played out.
These were not easy decisions. But, as Bissinger points out, these men were willing to sacrifice their futures. Their heroism and devotion to the American cause in World War II magnifies what the U.S. calls its greatest generation.
The Marines stationed in Guadalcanal waiting for the anticipated invasion of Okinawa were not a patient bunch.
“The wait,” Bissinger writes. “The interminable wait.
“Marines did not like to wait; it was better to know you were going to die than play it over and over in your head. … Semper Fi, Semper Die.”
Here are some of the heroes that Bissinger writes about. All had compelling stories, and Bissinger provides detailed family histories and gives the reader a sense about what made each player special.
From onion fields to the killing fields, Bissinger tells many great stories in this book. Several stick out.
One was about a reconnaissance patrol led by McLaughry on the island of Bougainville in the Solomons chain. Bissinger writes an hour-by-hour, “you are there” account, including McLaughry discovering that an irritating itch he got after sleeping on his poncho was caused by draping the garment over an anthill.
Schreiner agonized over whether to marry his girlfriend, Odette Hendrickson, before going overseas. That was a common cause for anxiety among young couples during World War II, and Schreiner decided to wait until his fighting days were over.
“Sometimes I think it’s unfair to have her wait for me,” Schreiner wrote to his parents. “After all there’s a chance I won’t come back and then where’ll she be? … We should have gotten married before I left and had one in the oven.
“If she’ll wait for me I’ll be plenty happy but I can’t blame her if she doesn’t.”
Another story revolves around a girl on Okinawa, probably no older than 7 years old.
Sgt. Raymond Gillespie was near Mount Yaetake when a platoon sergeant took aim and wounded the child. Gillespie reported the incident to a lieutenant, who told him to shut up or face a court martial.
“I’m not here to kill children,” Gillespie retorted.
Gillespie took the child to a main road and flagged down a jeep, which took the girl to a regimental hospital. When he returned to the platoon, Gillespie said the lieutenant never mentioned the incident.
“Which, in the way of the military, meant that it never happened,” Bissinger writes.
Butkovich had a pen pal during the war — Tom Milligan, a 9-year-old boy from the eastern Indiana city of Richmond. The two swapped letters while Butkovich was in boot camp and even when he went overseas.
While stationed in Guadalcanal, Butkovich met a naval coxswain who has headed home to Richmond. Butkovich asked if the man knew the Milligan family, and when he answered in the affirmative, the football star dashed off a few sentences to be hand-delivered to the child, 7,956 miles away, Bissinger writes.
Milligan sent a letter to Butkovich in early 1945, but it came back to him on May 24, stamped “return to sender.” You can guess why.
The first player to die in action at Okinawa was John Henry “Red” Anderson, on April 1. He was 22.
Bissinger ends 15 different chapters with the death of one of the Marines who played in the Mosquito Bowl. The three-sentence effect — name, place of burial and his age — has the metallic clank of a coffin slamming shut. It is direct and sparse in a way that would make a Marine proud.
I am not going to reveal the other players who died at Okinawa — you can read about it — only because each incident has a dramatic story behind them.
After McLaughry learned of the death of his patrol commander, Lt. Col. Joseph McCaffery, he penned a poignant letter to his parents, Bissinger writes.
“Up ’til now, the war has just been something I read of, heard of, and talked about, back in a nice safe base,” McLaughry wrote. “It all seemed very objective, but now it is just really beginning to come home to me just what it all means.”
The 50 Mosquito Bowl players who survived went on to varied careers, including as football coaches at the high school and college levels. Bissinger writes that other survivors became educators, businessmen in construction or spent their careers in the military.
McLaughry would coach at several colleges, including an unsuccessful stint at Brown, his alma mater.
Like many war veterans, he returned “different, quieter, more inward,” Bissinger writes. McLaughry’s mother saw it in both of her sons, who served during World War II, “empty shells with empty eyes.”
Still, McLaughry lived a long life, dying in November 2007 at the age of 90. After returning from the Pacific Theater, he discovered that his mother kept almost all of his letters. He wrote an 80-page account of the patrol at Bougainville.
That is part of Bissinger’s exhaustive research. There is the added nugget that his father had been in the 6th Division at Guadalcanal when the Mosquito Bowl was played. Whether the elder Bissinger actually watched the game is a fact lost to posterity.
Bissinger documents his research with 111 pages of endnotes, which were culled from military records, correspondence and interviews with survivors.
As for the game?
“The final was 0-0 — a perfect score, really,” Bissinger writes. “No winners or losers.
“Just the two hours of life that turned into death several months later” at Okinawa.
“War is hell” is an overused cliché, but it is certainly appropriate in The Mosquito Bowl. It may not be sports book in the true sense of the word, but Bissinger writes about the hopes and dreams of young men — some of whom would never get the chance to realize them.
It is a stunning, eye-opening slice of history that should resonate every day — and especially on Veterans Day.
The Topps Update series marks the final installment for the flagship series, and collectors will recognize the formula that has been used for years.
Players who were traded will appear in the uniforms of their new teams, and rookies who have made an impact will also be included in the 330-card set.
The 2022 version follows the same patterns as Series One and Two. The only difference is the numbering, which has a “US” in front of the card number, which runs from 1 to 330.
If you buy a hobby box, you can expect one big hit, either a memorabilia or autograph card. Jumbo boxes have an additional hit, offering one autograph and two memorabilia cards.
As for me, I remained with my usual pattern of buying blaster boxes. That could change, of course, if I ever hit a Powerball or other lottery game. But I am not counting on that.
But there is one big hit in every blaster box, and that is a manufactured relic. There are 50 of them to collect from retail boxes, and they are thick cards.
The one I received was a batting helmet of Ozzie Albies that was embedded into the card.
The design of the 2022 Update set remains consistent with the flagship product’s first two series. The player is shown in action pose, with the background blurred. It’s a nice effect because it does put the player into sharper focus.
The design format varies between vertical and horizontal. I prefer the vertical look when solo players are involved, but horizontal does come into play several times in this set. Card No. US93, which shows Bradley Zimmer diving to his left to snare a drive, is a good example of nice horizontal usage. So are cards US156 (Tim Locastro) and US262 (Josh Harrison), which show both of them airborne while executing headfirst slides.
The card backs show the player’s year-by-year statistics, a feature from Topps that I have always enjoyed. Baseball is all about numbers, so seeing them on the back of a card is a handy guide. Sure, collectors can look those numbers up at Baseball-Reference.com, but a true baseball card collector is a numbers geek. At least that’s how I see it.
The blaster box I opened contained 80 base cards, which included a generous amount of veterans and rookies. Some of the rookie cards include the date the player made his major league debut.
There are also combination cards. Other cards, called Veteran Combos, combine several players with some clever tag lines. For example, card No. US83 is called “Picture Perfect” and shows Padres players Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar posing for a photograph.
“Desert Cool Off” (card No. US221) shows the Diamondbacks’ Ketel Marte being doused with Gatorade by teammate Christian Walker after a victory. And card US168 is called “One Last Dance” and features Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina.
You need to be sharp-eyed to see it, but this year’s All-Star Game 50-card insert set looks almost exactly like the base set. The tip-off is in the lower left-hand corner of the card front, which uses an All-Star Game motif instead of the team logo.
I pulled three of those cards, featuring Jose Altuve, Tony Bonsolin and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
There are several parallels for the base set. I pulled a foil parallel of Clint Frazier, a Royal Blue parallel of Steven Matz and a Gold parallel of Michael Pineda that is numbered 0827/2022.
Every retail pack also includes a Stars of MLB insert card. The 30 cards that make up this insert set have a foil-like, shinier look than the base set. I pulled seven of these cards, plus a Stars of MLB chrome card of Bryson Scott. The chrome cards fall once every 10 packs, so that was a nice pickup.
For collectors who are nostalgic for the 1980s, the update set continues with the inserts that copy the wood-grain design of the 1987 Topps set.
There are 50 cards in the insert set, and I pulled a pair of them — Hunter Greene and Mariano Rivera.
Collectors who pine for the mid-1990s can collect the 25-card Topps Black Gold insert, which returns again this year.
emember when finding a Topps Black Gold card was a rare, but fun occurrence? They really stood apart from the rest of the Topps cards.
Well, these cards still have that look and are a nice addition to the set. I pulled a card of Julio Rodriguez.
he cards I really liked from this set was the Diamond Greats Die-Cuts. As the name implies, these are die-cut cards of some of the game’s greats.
There are Hall of Famers, retired players who could arguably be in the Hall, and current players who are blazing a path toward Cooperstown.
The card I pulled was of Brooklyn Dodgers great Roy Campanella. I interviewed Campanella in the early 1980s at the Dodgers’ spring training camp in Vero Beach, Florida, and he could not be nicer.
t was a great interview and one that brings back good memories, since we talked about his past, the Dodgers future and how the team’s catchers were doing (he was a consultant and instructed catchers that year at Dodgertown.
The Topps Update set helps put an exclamation point to the baseball card season, although the Allen & Ginter set is arriving soon, much later than usual. It’s a clean set with good photography, and blaster boxes can give a collector more than 25% of the base set.
The 2022 Donruss Elite football set offers good action and parallel lines — lots of them.
You would think the designers at Panini America were fans of Blondie.
Still, there are some veterans and rookie cards, along with inserts, parallels and autographs, to keep collectors in rapture.
The base set contains 200 cards, which are split between 100 veteran cards and 100 first-year players. I pulled 19 veterans and one rookie card (Jalen Wydermyer).
There was one parallel card — an Aspirations Shimmer card of Eagles rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis, numbered to 499.
The card front design is vertical, with many parallel lines that are slanted on the left side of the card. There are also thinner lines at the top right-hand of the card that starts at the top and travels about an inch.
The player photographs are action shots with foil in the background. The player’s name is stamped in gold foil in the bottom right-hand corner of the card, with the player’s last name getting the large block treatment.
The card backs utilize a team’s primary colors for the main color scheme.
The design is simple, and each player has an eight-line biography that features statistics, highlights and quotes.
I pulled four different insert cards.
Star Status cards feature a notable NFL player framed by a large star. The card I pulled was of T.J. Watt.
Spellbound boasts a card front with a giant letter that is part of the player’s last name. Therefore, since I pulled a Joe Burrow card with an “R,” I can expect there to be five other cards with different letters so I can spell out the name of the Bengals quarterback.
Full Throttle gives praise to speedy players. The layout shows an action shot of the player framed against a rainbow-like setting that plays off his team’s primary colors. Very nice. The card I pulled was 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
Aiyuk, by the way, did not need a lot of speed on one signature play, as newly acquired running back Christian McCaffrey threw him a pass that resulted in a 34-yard touchdown reception. That tied the game at 7 in second quarter as a wide-open Aiyuk cruised into the end zone.
The final insert I pulled was a Title Waves insert of Watt (another one). Watt is shown in an action shot with a golden foil wave behind him.
The 2022 Donruss set has some flash and foil, and some of that foil looks pretty nice. The photography is shot and the design, while full of parallel lines, is clean and sharp.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2022-23 NBA Hoops set by Panini America:
I could not find any blaster boxes for Panini’s 2022 Score football at my local Target or Walmart stores, so I settled for a hanger pack. What the heck, there are 60 cards in a pack, which is sometimes more than the blasters I’ve bought recently.
I was not disappointed. There are plenty of base cards and rookies, plus a generous amount of parallels and insert. Throw in a clean design, and these cards are nice.
The 400-card base set has 300 veterans and 100 rookies. I pulled 37 base cards — 25 veterans and 12 rookies — from the hanger pack. There were also four purple parallels, and a Cubic purple parallel of Matthew Stafford numbered to 299.
The design is vertical for the card front, with a sharp color photo framed with a thin colored line. The Score logo is stamped in silver foil in the upper left-hand corner, and the player’s name is also displayed in silver foil in the lower right-hand corner.
The team logo is displayed in the lower left-hand corner.
The card back is formatted with rectangular elements. The photo on the card front is cropped tighter on the back to give a sharply rectangular look. The team logo is situated in the top left-hand corner, with the player’s name and a 10-line biographical sketch underneath.
Stat lines are included at the card bottom, with 2021 situated above career totals.
There are a liberal amount of inserts, all of which are retail exclusives.
There was a pair of Throwback Rookie cards, which pays tribute to the 1992 Score set. The cards I pulled were of Saints wide receiver Chris Olave and Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Celebration is presented in a horizontal format, and as the name implies, it focuses on touchdown jubilation scenes. There were four of these inserts in the hanger pack I bought.
PROtential is a nice play on words that features players in their college uniforms. The vertical design showcases the player in action, with the “PROtential” logo perpendicular to the photo and running down the right-hand side of the card front. I pulled five of these cards.
First Ballot recognizes players who were shoo-ins to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I pulled cards of Joe Montana and Charles Woodson.
The last two inserts utilize a horizontal layout. Sack Attack features defensive standouts who made a career of harassing quarterbacks. I pulled Jason Taylor and Joey Bosa.
I pulled three of the final inserts, called Huddle Up. These cards depict players in the huddle as they prepare to run plays on offense.
With the NFL season at the halfway point, these cards are attractive and fun to collect.
Panini America’s NXT 2.0 certainly has some promise as a pro wrestling set. After all, the NXT promotion has served as a great training ground for WWE stars through the years.
One can count Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins as NXT alumni who have made an impact in the WWE.
Unfortunately, Panini’s NXT 2.0 set misses the mark in its debut like an errant dropkick.
At least that’s the impression I had after buying a blaster box.
The design is nice enough, and there are some familiar names. Where the blaster comes up short is in the amount of duplicate cards. Way too many. At least that was my experience. Perhaps other collectors had better luck.
A blaster box contains six packs, with 15 cards to a pack. In a 100-card base set, with 25 additional cards depicting NXT alumni, one would believe that a blaster would cover a good chunk of the base set.
That did not happen in my case.
all it bad luck, but I pulled 42 base cards and 31 duplicates. That is slightly more than two packs worth of doubles, and that is unacceptable.
On the plus side, I did pull 24 rookie cards in the base set.
I was also disappointed that I did not pull card No. 31, of Tony D’Angelo, but that’s a personal preference. I like the name.
The set focuses on current stars in the NXT 2.0 and the NXT UK promotions.
There are parallels too, of course. Panini advertised 12 inserts or parallels, and that goal was satisfied.
For the base set, there were two Silver parallels of Trent Seven and Flash Morgan Webster, while I also pulled Green parallel cards of Gigi Dolin, Kushida and Sanga).
There were seven cards from the 25-card NXT Alumni short-printed subset. Cards I pulled from the blaster included Bliss, Reigns, Rollins and Bayley.
Inserts featured an All-Time NXT Highlights card of Rollins. This insert focuses on the promotion’s history.
Meanwhile, I pulled two cards from a 50-card insert set called 2021 NXT Highlights, and both cards were of Kushida.
ifferent cards and different highlights.
The 2021 NXT Highlights subset reviews some of the top moments in television and pay-per-view matches from last year.
Finally, I pulled two cards from All-Time NXT Gold, a 25-card subset. Those cards were of (Raquel Rodriguez and Tyler Bate), and there was also a Green parallel of Bron Breakker.
The cards’ design appears to be mostly vertical on the front and varies between tight solo photographs and action shots involving the main subject competing against other wrestlers. Some of the action shots are quite good.
The WWE logo is anchored in the top left-hand corner of the card, while the promotion name (NXT 2.0 or NXT UK) is featured in the lower right-hand corner of the card.
The card backs feature a horizontally cropped version of the photo on the card front. Seven lines of type document career highlights and other trivia. The logo of NXT 2.0 and NXT UK is positioned beneath the biography.
The bottom corners of the card backs are anchored with the WWE and Panini logos.
I am not trying to be harsh, but you can only go by what you get after opening packs. And this blaster was disappointing.
Topps Archives is a nice way for collectors to look back at vintage baseball card sets. Utilizing designs from different decades, the set gives a fresh look to current stars, rookies and retired greats.
The three main designs 2022 Archives uses are from the 1963, 1978 and 1987 sets. I still find it difficult to consider the ’87 set as “vintage,” but it’s 35 years old so it qualifies. Then again, how many of you 35-year-olds consider yourselves vintage? Thought so.
A blaster box contains six packs, plus an “extra pack,” and there are eight cards to a pack.
The base set consists of 300 cards, with 80 more cards in four subsets that are short-printed cards. So, there are 380 cards.
The blaster I bought had 17 cards featuring the 1963 Topps design. That number included three rookie cards — Shane Baz, Reid Detmers and Bryson Scott — to go with current stars. Retired stars included Roger Clemens, Tony Gwynn, Dale Murphy and Dave Winfield.
The 1978 Topps design was well-represented in the blaster with 16 cards. No rookie cards, but retired stars featured Monte Irvin, Derek Jeter and Roger Maris.
And fittingly — due to its 35th anniversary and how many millions of cards (maybe billions?) were issued — the most cards in the blaster had the 1987 Topps design. That number included a pair of rookies in TJ Friedl and Joe Ryan, and retired greats like Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Mariano Rivera and Billy Williams.
There is not much to say about the designs, other than to note that Topps did not vary from the originals. It’s fun to see today’s stars in yesterday’s designs, and that is the appeal of Archives
Archives introduces the 1955 Topps Scoop design, featuring modern players and falling approximately once in every six packs. It is a 15-card short-printed subset, but I am wondering if Topps meant 1954 Scoop, since I cannot find a ’55 listing anywhere. The design certainly mimics the 1954 product, although this year’s cards stick to baseball; the original set covered a wide range of subjects outside of sports.
For this year’s Scoop, I pulled one card with the headline “Javy Baez Baserunning Magic.” That card highlights Baez’s savvy decision during a May 2021 game to stop before first base and retreat toward home plate to avoid a tag, which allowed the Cubs’ runner to score from third.
The second short-printed subset is 1961 Topps MVP, a 15-card offering that mimics the portrait-style card used in the original ’61 set. These cards can also be found once in every six packs. The card I pulled was of Giants catcher Buster Posey.
I did not pull any cards from the 25-card, 2005 Topps Draft Picks subset. This is the scarcest short-print in the set, falling once in every 24 packs.
I did pull a card from the 1992 Topps Major League Debut set, which features 25 cards and can be found once in every six packs. I pulled one card of Angels’ star Mike Trout, and a foil version of Julio Rodriguez.
Exclusive to retail products, the 1988 Topps Big Foil insert set consists of 50 cards, with three per blaster on average.
I hit the blaster average with three, with cards of Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk, Ryne Sandberg and Frank Thomas.
There are autographs and image variations in the set, but the blaster did not have any. That is to be expected. When one shows up, it’s a bonus.
The Archives set is a fun one to collect and gives today’s collectors a look back at what designs looked like years ago. They were not always pretty, but it remains part of baseball card lore.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about some letters Lou Gehrig wrote to a grape farmer in upstate New York:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about two men who were indicted on theft charges after several card shops in Tennessee and Kentucky were vandalized:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an upstate New York man who was indicted for mail fraud and wire fraud. The man allegedly defrauded six customers across four states out of more than $33,000.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Michigan man who received a 30-month sentence for a card fraud scheme he executed on a couple that cost them more than $43,000.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1982 Topps Traded/Update baseball set, which was anchored by the first Topps solo card of Cal Ripken Jr.
You know what to expect when you buy Panini Prizm Baseball. Shiny cards and colorful parallels across three tiers featuring veteran, rookies and retired greats, along with plenty of inserts to chase.
Expect to pay premium prices, too. This year’s blaster boxes sell for $34.99.
A blaster has six packs per box, with five cards to a pack.
There are 270 cards in the set, an increase of 20 cards from last year’s product. This year’s configuration adopts the same breakdown as it has since it returned as a standalone set in 2019. Prizm was part of the Chronicles set in 2018.
This year, the first 110 cards are in Tier I and represent the base set. Nos. 111-220 in Tier II are short prints, with Nos. 221-270 part of the scarcer Tier III cards.
There were 16 base cards in the blaster that I opened. The rest were parallels and inserts.
There were six Tier I cards and nine Tier II cards. Predictably, the higher number Tier III cards are harder to come by, as I only pulled one card.
Panini promises up to three “blaster exclusive” parallels in white and purple, and the box I bought did not disappoint. In fact, the box went beyond expectations.
There were White Wave Prizm parallels of Eloy Jimenez (White Sox) and Rhys Hoskins (Phillies). Jimenez is a Tier I card, while Hoskins is a Tier II.
Purple Prizm parallels featured Reds pitcher Dauri Moreta, Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gellen and outfielder Ronnie Dawson.
Dawson is an interesting case, because Panini lists him as being with Houston. But the Reds used the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft to select Dawson from the Astros organization on Dec. 8, 2021. Seems like Panini could have fixed that under the nameplate and on the back of the card. The photograph, which does not show any team names or logos, is certainly acceptable given licensing rules.
However, the 2022 Topps Heritage set, which was released in May, lists Dawson as being with the Reds organization. Panini’s product was released in late September, several months after Topps’. Just sayin’.
I also pulled a retail-exclusive Green parallel of Riley Adams, a Tier II card. There was also a Red Wave parallel of Kyle Lewis, numbered to 99, that is a scarcer Tier III card.
There are many different parallels in Prizm baseball this year, with some numbered from 199 to 1/1. Favorite name for parallels is again Donut Circles Prizms.
“Have another doughnut,” indeed. Hockey fans know the reference.
The design for the base and short-printed are similar to last year’s design, with a few tweaks. The player is shown in an action pose, with a nameplate beneath the photo that also displays the city where the player competed. The photograph is framed by an hourglass border that features one of the team’s primary colors.
The card back shows a horizontally cropped version of the photo that appears in the front. A seven-line biography features a highlight from that player’s 2021 season.
A stat line near the bottom of the card shows 2021 numbers and career statistics.
I pulled six inserts. Two of them were of the same player — a Fearless card of Luis Robert. However, one was the regular insert, while the other was a Red Velocity parallel. There are 20 cards in the Fearless insert subset.
Fireworks is a 10-card insert, and I pulled a Mookie Betts card. Sluggers, a 15-card set, features the game’s top home run hitters. I pulled a card of Pete Alonso.
Rookie Class, as the name implies, is a 25-card inset that focuses on first-year players. I pulled a card of Jake Burger.
Ketel Marte was represented in the Emergent insert.
Finally, there is Old School, a 10-card offering that features some of the top stars from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. I pulled a Nolan Ryan card, and you really cannot get more old school than the fireballing right-hander.
A final note: My scanner does not reproduce shiny cards like Prizm very well, so I am using images from Panini America’s sell sheet. Not the best way to go, but at least you get the idea of what the cards look like.
I prefer to showcase the cards I receive, and I did so with the Corbin Burnes cards, but the other scans were way too murky and did not show up well at all.
That's the hazard of having a shiny card. I'll figure something out by the time the next shiny product rolls around.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Hunt Auctions sale that includes a game-used Babe Ruth glove that was given to former major leaguer Jimmy Austin:
Here's a preview I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about 2022 Donruss football, which will be released next month:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2022 Panini Absolute football set, which comes out next month:
During the 1960s and ’70s, minor league baseball players were pretty good at being “low ball hitters and highball drinkers,” Mike Floyd recalls in his autobiography. “And possibly a little funny smoke mixed in there, too, depending on availability.”
Floyd should know. He spent nine years in the minors in the Angels, Dodgers and Astros organizations. Throw in a season playing winter ball in Mexico, and there are plenty of memories.
He is 76 now, but Floyd remembers his salad days like it was yesterday. And that’s a good thing. In Bush League Blues (Lea Street Press, LLC; paperback; $19.95; 300 pages), Floyd gives the reader an unvarnished look at the difficulty of getting to the big leagues. It is a poignant, funny and at times heartbreaking look at the game, and Floyd tells his stories with zest.
Many memoirs from former major leaguers touch on their formative years. Recent autobiographies by Cleon Jones and Willie Horton are good examples. But Floyd never got to the big show. And while that was disappointing for Floyd, it does provide him with a treasure trove of stories to tell in his first book.
Floyd played 740 games in the minors, batting .275 with 75 home runs and 369 RBI. He got his start with Idaho Falls in 1967 in the Pioneer League and had stops in the Quad Cities, San Jose, the Arizona Instructional League, El Paso, Salt Lake City, Waterbury, Albuquerque, Columbus and Denver before hanging up his cleats in 1975.
Floyd played in Triple-A ball for three seasons but never made an appearance in a major league game.
That does not matter now. In Bush League Blues, Floyd reveals a vibrant, competitive and draining lifestyle at the minor league level and spins a friendly, conversational narrative.
And there are some wonderful stories in this book.
Floyd describes himself as a “wild, undisciplined athlete” who was taught the basics by California coaching legends Joe Hicks and Mike Sgobba and his father, George Floyd.
Hicks coached from 1950 to 1975 at Long Beach City College, where he won 514 games and three state titles. Sgobba coached at Fullerton College from 1961 to 1985 and racked up 487 victories. Floyd played for Hicks on a Long Beach team that was part of the California Collegiate League in 1965.
Floyd has warm memories of Del Rice, who was his manager for four seasons at three different franchises. He called him a good manager who left players alone and expected them to give their best “without any cheerleading or pep talks.”
“I could write a whole book about playing for Del,” Floyd writes.
There are stories about players who at first glance seem to be footnote players in major league history, but were actually colorful as minor leaguers. Floyd writes about Rod Gaspar, whose longest stay in the big leagues came with the 1969 “Miracle Mets.”
“When you shook hands with this skinny dude, it was like putting your hand in a steel vise,” Floyd writes. “He played the game hard and he played to win.”
Then there is Dennis Ribant. My only memories of him came from collecting and reading his 1965 and 1966 Topps baseball cards, when he pitched for the New York Mets. Nicknamed “Weasel,” Ribant was an intense competitor.
Floyd writes about hitting a home run off Ribant and celebrating in the dugout, then taking a pitch from the right-hander to his elbow during his next at-bat. Floyd had to leave the game and was later taking a drink at the water fountain when he was asked, “How’s your elbow, big boy?”
Floyd turned around and faced a glaring Ribant.
“Nobody, and that means you, laughs after they hit one out off me!” the pitcher said before turning and leaving.
OK, so Ribant was not Bob Gibson, but the competitive fire is eye-opening. Ribant was 24-29 in the majors but had minor league seasons where he won 14 games (1970) and 15 games (1971).
It is instructive that when Floyd hit a home run later in the season off Ribant, he kept his head down and refrained from “cadillacking,” as he called it.
“Nobody hated to lose more than (Tommy) Lasorda except Dennis Ribant,” Floyd writes.
Floyd does include a chapter about Lasorda, whose mouth “was always going but since he was funny, it was entertaining.”
Lasorda has appeared in many books and magazines, but he never had the eclectic shoutouts given to another Floyd teammate, pitcher Dick Baney.
Baney earned several mentions in Jim Bouton’s classic 1970 book, Ball Four. He was shaving next to Bouton in the Seattle Pilots’ locker room in March 1969 and told him about the time the veteran pitcher — soon to be best-selling author — never answered a fan letter the young pitcher wrote to him.
When Bouton asked how long ago that was, Baney said, “When I was 6.”
Baney is actually six years younger than Bouton, but baseball players are noted for their talent at needling others.
Floyd writes that during his minor-league career he had seven teammates who played for that Seattle Pilots team — Baney, Gene Brabender, Greg Goossen, Gus Gil, Ray Oyler, Jerry Stephenson and Danny Walton. I am not sure if any other professional baseball player can make that claim, but I could be wrong.
Floyd notes that Baney threw so hard as a youth, his Little League organization in Garden Grove, California, banned him because he threw too hard.
Baney “could pick up a scent belonging to any open opportunity,” Floyd writes.
That includes having a chance encounter with gossip columnist Rona Barrett and posing nude in the centerfold of the February 1977 issue of Playgirl.
Lasorda never made an appearance in that publication, to everyone’s relief. Great manager, but not a pinup candidate.
Floyd reveals the three fastest pitchers he ever faced, the pitcher with the best pickoff move in baseball history and the greatest throw he ever witnesses.
He writes about meeting his hero, Harmon Killebrew, and the crazy antics of his minor league roommate, Randy Brown. A short, compact man, Brown fancied himself as having “the quickest bat in baseball,” and would mouth the phrase to his teammates while batting.
There are also stories about Reggie Jackson, Moose Stubing and Roy Gleason, who hit a double in his only official major league at-bat in September 1963. Gleason appeared in seven games as a pinch runner before that hit against the Philadelphia Phillies, but had his career derailed when he was wounded in action in Vietnam five years later. Gleason would earn a Purple Heart to go with a Silver Star.
Floyd’s final chapters are about his time in the Mexican League and the mysterious death of teammate Zelman Jack in Guasave, Mexico, in December 1971.
Floyd’s introduction to Mexican baseball came when a fan threw a pig bladder filled with the animal’s urine as he warmed up in the outfield. Most of the time, however, Floyd enjoyed the culture and the nightlife south of the border.
Jack, Floyd writes, “looked like a chiseled light-heavyweight fighter.”
Floyd writes about the circumstances surrounding Jack’s death, which have never been fully published. He also discusses his emotional meeting with Jack’s son in 2012.
“It took fifty years to finally get this story out there,” Floyd writes. “Forty years to think about it, and ten long years to write.”
The book does have some flaws. There are misspelled names and incorrect possessives. I know, the average reader may not notice the latter, but I am an old copy editor, and from my perspective, they could have been avoided.
Greg Goossen is spelled as “Goosen.” Mickey Mantle is referred to as “Micky” in a photo caption. Jimmie Foxx is spelled as “Jimmy.” Pedro Borbon is written as “Bourbon,” and Al Hrabosky is referred to as “Hrbowsky.”
And those possessives. Examples include “Angel’s” instead of Angels’, and “sport’s writer” instead of “sportwriter’s.”
Drives this OCD copy editor nuts.
Those flaws do not overshadow Floyd’s narrative. As an added bonus, he publishes correspondence he had with players he writes about. Their letters and memories give the book some added depth.
As he looked back on his career, Floyd recalled a conversation with his father, a major in the Army Air Force during World War II and a decorated combat B-17 pilot.
His father wanted to know why Floyd never made it to the majors.
“I had the numbers, and I had the ability, but I was just too immature and rebellious,” Floyd answered. “I literally talked and acted my way out of the big leagues. I didn’t understand the political nature of the game because I was a player, not a politician.”
Floyd is not alone. But he went on to interesting careers as a mail carrier, reporter, baseball coach, a collector for Dun & Bradstreet and musician (specializing in blues harmonica).
He has lived a fascinating life, and in Bush League Blues, Floyd tells a compelling story.
For collectors who enjoy card designs that are busy and flashy, Topps Fire is the right product to collect.
There are a lot of elements to view on the card front, like arrows, swirls and artistic looks at players.
It is definitely a set that can overload the senses, and the 2022 version is no exception.
The base set, as it has been for the past few years, consists of 200 cards of MLB stars, promising rookies and several retired players — including Hall of Famers.
Key names in the set feature Wander Franco, Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez. Rookie cards will feature Steven Kwan and Seiya Suzuki.
As usual, I bought a blaster box. This one was $24.99 and features seven packs, with six cards to a pack. In addition, blasters contain four Gold Minted parallels. My blaster had the added bonus of an autograph card.
Gold Minted parallels are limited to blaster boxes, and Onyx are exclusive to hobby collector boxes. Other parallels that collectors could find are Flame, Orange (numbered to 299), Green (199), Purple (99), Magenta (25) and Inferno (1/1).
In the blaster I bought, there was one Orange parallel of Tyler O’Neill and two Flame parallels — Shane Baz and Josiah Gray.
As for base cards, I pulled 34. I do not particularly like the name plate that only includes the player’s last name, but that is a personal preference. The names are bold and large and do not interfere with the action shot.
The card backs feature the player’s full name, team and position, along with a five-line description of a career highlight. Unlike the card front, the backs are relatively muted, with only a hint of the wild front designs.
The four Gold Minted parallels I pulled were of Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, Tarik Skubal, Kevin Smith and Jazz Chisholm Jr.
As you will see in these photographs, my scanner does not like gold on cards. But trust me, they look better than they are depicted here.
The blaster yielded four different insert cards. The most interesting was the intricately cut En Fuego subset, consisting of 30 cards. I pulled a card of Trea Turner, which features a large photo and a smaller one contained in a gold outlay.
In fact, all four inserts I pulled were gold.
There was a Fired Up insert of Javier Baez, part of a 20-card subset. Not surprisingly, the card shows Baez in an enthusiastic moment. The artwork is done by noted digital artist and graphic designer Tyson Beck. It’s good stuff; the card really pops.
A more subdued bit of work by Beck is showcased in the 15-card Flame Throwers insert set. The card features Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty; the card back shows a pitch speed of 93.6 mph which was Flaherty’s average fastball velocity.
The final insert I pulled was from the 25-card To The Moon subset. The card featured Nolan Arenado and concentrates on players who can send baseballs rocketing out of the ballpark.
The final card in the blaster was an autograph card — or, more appropriately, a squiggle card — of White Sox infielder Romy Gonzalez.
It’s a sticker autograph too, and while I get the concept of stickers — doesn’t mean I have to like the idea — a little effort into the signature would have been nice.
My 8-year-old granddaughter can do better.
However, getting an autograph card is always a plus, especially in a blaster. It’s unexpected and a nice surprise.
There are plenty of flashy cards in this set. If many moving parts are your thing, then Topps Fire is up your alley.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 2022 Topps Pro Debut baseball set, which comes out Friday:
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.