Tuesday, May 31, 2016

1981 Atlanta Braves Police Set

The Atlanta Braves, in conjunction with Hostess, Coca-Cola and the Police Athletic League, released the first of six yearly safety sets in 1981. A complete set features 27 cards; twenty-five active players, manager Bobby Cox and Braves legend Hank Aaron.

These cards are typical of the police sets released during the first half of the 1980s. Measuring a bit larger than the standard card size, these measure approx. 2-5/8 inches wide by 4-1/8 tall. Cards were printed on soft white card stock with a nice coating of semi-gloss across the fronts. Every card but Hank Aaron and Terry Harper features a studio portrait with a neutral background (Aaron and Harper are pictured at the ballpark). Though the year of issue is mentioned nowhere on the cards, they are easily identifiable as '81s because of the green ribbon graphic found at the top right of each card front. A Police Athletic League logo is found at the top left; this logo appears on all six Braves police sets. Card backs feature Coca-Cola and Hostess logos, as well as a short player biography and a "Tip from The Braves." Cards are not numbered except for uniform numbers.

Braves fans were treated to good baseball in the 1980s, and this set offered a preview of what would be many of the key players. Infielder Jerry Royster, 1978 Rookie of the Year Bob Horner, Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, All-Star outfielder Claudell Washington and two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy are just some of the players who contributed to the success of the club during the first half of the decade. Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry is also found in the set, his lone year with the Braves. Four-time Manager of the Year and Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox is also pictured, one year before heading to the Toronto Blue Jays. Cox would return to the Braves in 1990, and the rest is baseball history with his fourteen first place finishes in fifteen years.

It was reported that 33,000 sets were printed. Allegedly, the Terry Harper card is a bit harder to find than the other cards; while it isn't scarce by any means, it is technically a short print. The Hank Aaron card, on the other hand, was triple-printed (I saw an uncut sheet several years ago to verify this) and is by far the easiest card in the set to find. This means that approximately 99,000 Aaron cards rolled off the presses back in 1981, and examples are easily found these days.

A NRMT complete set is valued in the $10 to $15 range today, including the "slightly" short-printed Harper. This set, along with the other five '80s Brave police issues, are loaded with quality cards and should be a part of every baseball oddball portfolio.

Find Braves Police Sets on eBay
 (1) Jerry Royster
(3) Dale Murphy
(4) Biff Pocoroba
(5) Bob Horner
(6) Bobby Cox, MGR
(9) Luis Gomez
(10) Chris Chambliss
(15) Bill Nahorodny
(16) Rafael Ramirez
(17) Glenn Hubbard
(18) Claudell Washington
(19) Terry Harper (SP)
(20) Bruce Benedict
(24) John Montefusco
(25) Rufino Linares
(26) Gene Garber
(30) Brian Asselstine
(34) Larry Bradford
(35) Phil Niekro
(37) Rick Camp
(39) Al Hrabosky
(40) Tommy Boggs
(42) Rick Mahler
(45) Ed Miller
(46) Gaylord Perry
(49) Preston Hanna
(NNO) Hank Aaron

Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 Topps NOW Baseball: The First 100 Plus

As the 2016 Topps NOW Baseball set continues to rapidly expand, collectors are closely monitoring the newly released cards on a daily basis. New records for both the highest and lowest print runs have been set since we reviewed the first fifty cards not quite a month ago. Numbers geeks such as myself are having a ball in the process.

If you happen to be unfamiliar with the the Topps NOW concept, we talked about it in this blog post. Basically, collectors have a 24 hour window to order a Topps NOW card, by logging on the the Topps website. Topps announces the print run of each card shortly after the ordering window has closed. It has been fascinating, to say the least, to follow the print runs and values of these cards thus far this season.

Let's look first at the lowest print runs up to this point. Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis  holds the distinction of having the fewest cards printed to date, with a mere 212 copies distributed to commemorate his game-winning home run on May 17. Right on his tail is Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta, who had 215 cards printed to also honor a game-winning homer; this time on May 11. While both players certainly deserve a card in the set, neither is known as a player with great offensive numbers and both play for teams with smaller fan bases. The card that features the third lowest print run is somewhat of a surprise to me; budding star Stephen Piscotty and seasoned vet Matt Holliday of the Cardinals share a NOW card with a print run of just 217 examples. From there the trend set by Gattis and Iannetta continues, with Padres outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. having a print run of 226 for a card that commemorates his game-winning home run on April 16.

Here's a look at the sixteen cards with the lowest print run thus far (Liriano and Davis are tied for fifteenth place):

#79         Evan Gattis         212
#67      Chris Iannetta      215
#52    Piscotty/Holliday    217
#24    Melvin Upton Jr.    226
#78    Kendrys Morales    227
#51       Corey Kluber       229
#53   Colorado Rockies   231
#8        Albert Pujols        244
#22         Chris Sale         244
#26       John Lackey       244
#58         Aaron Hill         246
#49      Justin Smoak      252
#66    Marwin Gonzalez    253
#55   Giancarlo Stanton   259
#1     Francisco Liriano     266
#13        Chris Davis        266

The largest print runs make for an interesting study. For starters, the first five cards with the highest runs all feature pitchers... And the current king of the Topps NOW castle isn't even close. Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon set an MLB record on May 7, when he clubbed his first home run at the age of 42. In response, the NOW card created for Colon's feat was purchased in incredible quantities; a whopping 8,826 copies were sent out to collectors. Nats ace Max Scherzer comes in a distant second with a run of 3,746 cards to note his 20 K performance on May 11.  Colon's Mets teammate Noah Syndergaard currently holds third place with a run of 3,670 cards to commemorate his spectacular showings on both the mound and the plate on May 11, coincidentally on the same day as Scherzer's aforementioned performance. 

The fifteen highest print runs thus far are as follows:

#57       Bartolo Colon       8,826
#68       Max Scherzer       3,746
#69   Noah Syndergaard   3,670
#102      Julio Urias RC      2,992
#30       Jake Arrietta       1,808
#29        Kris Bryant        1,644
#12   Nomar Mazara RC   1,427
#59       Bryce Harper       1,366
#11     Tyler White RC      1,350
#9     Trevor Story RC     1,298
#20      Bryce Harper      1,286
#88      David Wright      1,014
#98    Nomar Mazara RC    996
#4       Trevor Story RC       981
#7      Kenta Maeda RC       952

Seven of the fifteen cards with the highest print runs feature the "rookie card" designation. The rookie with the fewest cards printed thus far is Mariners slugger Dae-ho Lee, who smacked a game winning home run on April 13. At 33 years of age, Lee already has fifteen seasons of foreign professional baseball experience under his belt and is obviously predicted to have a short MLB career. Nomar Mazara's second card in the set (#47) has a print run of just 468, and has the potential to be a "sleeper." Having just turned 21, one might expect to see highlights of Mazara for the next fifteen or so years. On the high side of the print run, nineteen year-old Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, who made his MLB debut on May 27, is featured on card #102 with a run of 2,992 copies.

Regarding values, the Bartolo Colon home run card (#57) sold for upwards of $50 in the days immediately following it's release on May 8. It has since cooled down to the $20-$25 range, and I expect it to drop to ten bucks by season's end. Trevor Story has four cards in the set thus far, with his first one (#4) being the hottest. Also briefly selling in the $50 range at one time, this card can currently be purchased on eBay for $15 or less. The first two NOW cards released, Francisco Liriano (#1) and the Kansas City Royals (#2), each sell for $35 or higher when they appear on eBay. Only a few examples of each have found their way to the secondary market as of now, which helps to account for their seemingly high values.

It'll be time to review the first 150 NOW cards soon enough. I doubt that King Bartolo and poor E-Gatt will be knocked from their titles as highest and lowest print runs, but you never know. I hope everyone enjoys what they collect, and the best of luck to you with your search!

Find Topps NOW cards on eBay

Friday, May 20, 2016

Selling 1950s-1980s Card Reprints... A Big Deal?

There's a seller on eBay right now who is selling reprints of baseball, football, hockey and basketball star cards from the 1950s through 1980s. In his store, you can find everything reprinted from a 1951 Bowman Willie Mays to a 1990 Topps Traded Emmitt Smith. The cards are the same sizes as their original issue.

To be fair (if that's the right term), I don't know if the backs are fully printed. I'm assuming that the word "reprint" does not appear anywhere on the cards, but even if it does, The Topps Company, Inc. firmly maintains the copyright to all Topps and Bowman card issues. 

The photos used for this blog post were taken directly from this seller's eBay auctions. The reprinted cards include a 1985 Topps Walter Payton record breaker (the real thing retails for $2), a 1972/73 Topps Julius Erving rookie, a 1968 Topps Roger Maris and a 1986/87  OPC Patrick Roy rookie... Bundles are also being offered, such as the fifteen-card lot of 1965 Topps baseball pictured at the left. All cards feature star or superstar players, but some of the card choices are more surprising than others. 

One reprint card, a 1957 Topps Bart Starr rookie, is being sold with  artificial wear. This card is being sold for $9.95 as opposed to the usual $2.45. Is this considered a suspicious act, or is this just a way to make the reprint more visually appealing but not in a deceptive way? I personally don't have an opinion on the added wear, as in my mind the bigger issue is still the fact that these reprinted Topps and Bowman cards are illegal regardless.

I mainly collect oddball cards, and don't have any special interest in vintage regular-issue sets. I do love the hobby, however, and began collecting in 1979 with a small handful of Topps football cards. If these reprints do indeed feature full fronts and backs, without any type of "reprint" designation, I certainly don't want to see any collectors (especially beginners) getting tricked into purchasing reprint cards at authentic prices. Even is this current eBay seller is up front about these cards being reprints, there's no guarantee that future sellers will be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2007 Upper Deck Oakland Athletics SGA Set

Many collectors are unaware of Upper Deck's quiet venture into the stadium giveaway card business in the 2000s. We have already profiled two of these, the 2001 Washington Redskins set and the 2004 San Diego Padres set. Because of the local nature of these issues, and the fact they were not packaged for retail sale, stadium giveaway sets have always - and will continue to - fly under the collector radar.

The Oakland Athletics commissioned such a set during the 2007 MLB season (I have not been able to determine the date of the giveaway). Consisting of 25 cards, the set came in a clear plastic wrap. The design of the cards is very similar to Upper Deck's regular 2007 Baseball issue, with one difference being a small "The Mercury News" logo found at the bottom of each card front. Cards are numbered on the backs, but match the player's uniform number. Finally, these giveaway cards are foil-free, whereas the regular cards feature silver foil stamping on card fronts for both the player names and the Upper Deck logo.

Oddball geeks love this type of hybrid set. At first glance, the cards can be easily mistaken for the regular '07s... But additional research reveals a major difference, much more significant than different card numbers, a lack of foil or a Mercury News logo; we're talking about five cards that were not found in the regular set at all. Manager Bob Geren, pitcher Lenny DiNardo, pitcher Santiago Casilla, designated hitter Jack Cust and catcher Kurt Suzuki are unique to the stadium giveaway.

Pitcher Jay Marshall did not have a regular Upper Deck card that year card per se, but was included in the "Rookie Exchange" set that was obtained with a redemption card; these 20 cards were inexplicably numbered as part of the regular set. Regardless, the photo used on Marshall's SGA card is different than the one found in the Rookie Exchange set.

I am indeed one of those oddball geeks who like finding cards that feature new photos and additional players. I also like cards that feature players who spent just a short amount of time with a club; in this case, Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza is captured at the end of his career and during his single season with Oakland. Outfielder Shannon Stewart is also featured during his lone year with the club, before moving on to Canada to finish out his MLB career in 2008 with the Blue Jays.

Though the set is everything the oddball collector looks for, it's not an expensive one. The current value is in the $5 to $8 range, possibly because most collectors don't know they want one. 

3. Eric Chavez
6. Travis Buck
7. Bobby Crosby
14. Mark Ellis
15. Dan Haren
19. Marco Scutaro
20. Huston Street
21. Mark Kotsay
24. Shannon Stewart
25. Estaban Loaiza
28. Kurt Suzuki
29. Dan Johnson
31. Mike Piazza
32. Jack Cust
33. Nick Swisher
37. Joe Kennedy
40. Rich Harden
41. Alan Embree
44. Santiago Casilla
52. Jay Marshall
53. Bob Geren
55. Joe Blanton
56. Lenny DiNardo
57. Chad Gaudin
58. Justin Duchscherer

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

1995 Team Issue Asheville Tourists Update Set

The Asheville Tourists minor league baseball club became the "A" league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies back in 1994, and has maintained the position ever since. The Tourists released a set of 30 cards early on in the 1995 season, featuring players and staff members that were current at the time. An update to that set would be released a few months later, adding another fifteen cards to the mix. 

With an announced print run of just 1,000 sets, this update issue is fairly tough to find. Sets were factory-wrapped in clear, graphics-free cello. Young prospect Todd Helton was the card found on the front of the pack, with slugger Derrick Gibson appearing on the back. As it would turn out, Helton and Gibson would be the only two players from the update set to make it to the majors.

The cards from the update issue are virtually indistinguishable from those found within the regular 30-card set. The cards are numbered on the backs based on the player's uniform number, meaning several cards share a number between both sets. Printed on white, medium-weight cardstock, fronts feature a large color photo and and orange border. Nowhere is the printer of the cards mentioned.

Todd Helton is the primary reason for the value of the set today, which is in the $15 to $20 range; the 1,000 set run doesn't hurt the value either. One reason the set isn't worth more, however, is because of two earlier Team USA cards of Helton found in the 1993 Topps Traded set and 1993 Bazooka Team USA set.

Random Fact: Outfielder Derrick Gibson appears in both the '95 Asheville regular and update sets. He led all of Minor League Baseball in 1994 with 115 RBI, and tied the league lead with 32 home runs. His time in the majors  would be short, however, appearing in just seven games for the Rockies in 1998, and ten games in 1999. Gibson's final season in baseball was in 2006, with New Haven County of the independent Canadian-American Association.

Click here to hunt for 1995 Tourists cards on eBay

 (NNO) Team Photo
(7) Mike Vavrek, LHP
(8) Brian Rose, RHP
(9) Todd Helton, INF
(13) Chris Henderson, RHP
(16) Bill Eden, LHP
(18) Fred Ocasio, INF
(20) Mike Zolecki, RHP
(21) Pat McClinton, LHP
(26) Tal Light, INF
(27) John Meskauskas, C
(28) John Slamka, LHP
(30) Mark Wells, OF
(31) Keith Barnes, LHP
(34) Derrick Gibson, OF

Sunday, May 8, 2016

1986 Sports Design Products All-Time Great Tigers Set

Sports Design Products was a small company that produced a handful of oddball baseball card sets in the mid-1980s, including two sets of legendary Major League players that were illustrated by artist Doug West (click here to see the 1984 and 1985 sets). A third SDP set illustrated by West is the All-Time Great Tigers, which was released in 1986.

Featuring 22 cards, the set was issued in a dark plastic box with the set name and SDP company logo embossed across the front. The card design is simple and uncluttered, with fronts featuring the player name across the bottom and a large painting of said player occupying the remainder. Backs show career stats for each player and give a few highlights during their time as a Tiger. 

The players in the set appear in order somewhat chronologically, with Ty Cobb kicking off the set (he joined the club in 1905) and John Hiller ending it (he last pitched for the Tigers in 1980). Many of the players are in the Hall of Fame, including Cobb, Harry Heilman, Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg. The rest are certainly fan favorites; Harvey Kuenn, Norm Cash and Willie Horton are three names that continue to be collected by faithful Detroit-loving hobbyists.

Doug West, who was 25 years old at the time of the set's release, was beginning to garner national acclaim for his talents as a sports artist. He continues to be very active in the sports art world today, and places an emphasis on players from the different Detroit sports franchises. Anyone interested in browsing West's current and past projects, or who may have an interest in commissioning a personal painting, can find the information on his personal website.

I'm a sucker for small boxed sets from the 1980s, and this set is no exception. With that being said, I will repeat a sentiment I felt while reviewing the two baseball sets mentioned in the first paragraph... I don't believe that the design found on the card fronts do the paintings justice. Card blogger Jason Presley and I joked that the design of those sets resembled one you might see if it were issued by the military during the cold war era (either the United States or the Soviets, you pick). Surprisingly, this Tigers set may qualify even more so; all this set lacks is a hotline number on the card backs which should be called if a neighbor or co-worker is suspected of being a spy.

This set has always flown under the collecting radar, and I can find very few card magazine ads that were selling this set in the late 1980s. I'm sure the production number was released but I'll probably have to thumb through some old publications to find it. SDP typically released sets with a run of 5,000  or less, and I'm guessing that this is no exception. I'd place the current value of a NRMT boxed set at ten dollars.

Random Fact: Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane played for the Tigers just four seasons (1934-1937), and was also the team manager during much of that time.

1. Ty Cobb, OF/MGR
2. Hughie Jennings, MGR/SS
3. Harry Heilman, OF
4. Charlie Gehringer, 2B
5. Mickey Cochrane, C/MGR
6. Hank Greenberg, 1B
7. Billy Rogell, SS
8. Schoolboy Rowe, P
9. Hal Newhouser, P
10. George Kell, 3B
11. Harvey Kuenn, SS
12. Al Kaline, OF
13. Jim Bunning, P
14. Norm Cash, 1B
15. Mickey Stanley, OF
16. Jim Northrup, OF
17. Bill Freehan, C
18. Gates Brown, OF/PH
19. Willie Horton, OF
20. Mickey Lolich, P
21. Denny McLain, P
22. John Hiller, P

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016 Topps NOW Baseball: The First 50

Click here for a brief description of the 2016 Topps NOW Baseball cards.

It took exactly one month for Topps to issue the first 50 cards of their inaugural "NOW" baseball set. As the owner of several of these cards, I consider myself a fan of both the look and the idea behind them.

Now that we've had a full month to watch the set unfold, we kinda have a feel for how this whole thing works... We know that a promising rookie will have a higher print run than a veteran who has a random great game. From an investment standpoint, however, the rookie cards still hold the most promise. It will be up to set collectors to drive the demand for cards featuring veteran players like Mark Trumbo and Melvin Upton Jr, even though these print runs are quite low. 

Speaking of set collectors, will there be many of them? By doing a bit of simple math, we can estimate that the 2016 NOW set may feature around 300 cards by season's end. That wouldn't be considered many cards if a set were assembled from packs; but because these NOW cards are offered one at a time from Topps' website, it becomes a much more difficult and expensive proposition. Some eBay sellers have already begun to offer "bundles" of cards, as well as the chance to pick the cards you need from their list. Even so, if the average cost of each card is $7, the total cost of a 300 card set will be... Yikes.

Of the first 50 cards, eleven of them feature a rookie (Trevor Story is found on four of them). As I mentioned in my original post about these cards, I purchased my first NOW cards from Topps on April 10 when they offered rookie Nomar Mazara of the Rangers. I paid my $80 for 20 of them, and three weeks later Mazara has claimed A.L. rookie of the month. While I'm not much of a speculator, I couldn't resist trying to kill two birds with one stone; Mazara provided the opportunity to both enter the NOW market at a good time and possibly provide trade bait/money for other oddball cards. As a bonus, it's a heck of a lot of fun to follow a prospect when you have a small stack of their cards lying on your desk.

The other card I've purchased directly from Topps is that of Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia, released on April 15. I figured the print run would be low and grabbed ten of them; Topps printed 300, which was the exact number that I predicted to be on the high end (in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have released a blog post telling everyone to buy the guy). I've purchased two additional players from the secondary market off of eBay; Chris Sale of the White Sox (244 cards printed) and Melvin Upton Jr. (226 cards printed, the lowest total so far). 

In my opinion, the biggest surprise regarding any of the print runs so far features Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who had a whopping 1,808 cards printed on April 22 -- the record thus far for most cards printed, and 164 more than teammate Kris Bryant, who was offered on the same day. Though Arrieta has had an incredible season thus far, I'm not really sure why there was such a huge run on the card. One week later, on April 29, Arrieta's second NOW card had a print run of just 365 cards... Go figure.

I always believe a person should collect what they like. I like these cards, but it seems unrealistic to acquire a complete set at this point. I know many cards will drop in price on eBay when speculators start to sell their excess stock (and they only paid $4 a card when they purchased a 20 lot from Topps). A handful of cards will increase in value over time, with the successful rookies being the most likely to do so. Hopefully Trevor Story and Nomar Mazara won't have ten different cards each by the end of the season, as this would likely dilute the values of all of them.

Find Topps NOW cards on eBay

1. Francisco Liriano, Pirates (266)
2. Kansas City Royals (356)
3. Bryce Harper, Nationals (782)
4. Trevor Story, Rockies (981)
5. David Ortiz, Red Sox (471)
6. Trevor Story, Rockies (759)
7. Kenta Maeda, Dodgers (952)
8. Albert Pujols, Cardinals (244)
9. Trevor Story, Rockies (1,298)
10. Brandon Crawford, Giants (316)
11. Tyler White, Astros (1,350)
12. Nomar Mazara, Rangers (1,427)
13. Chris Davis, Orioles (266)
14. Addison Russell, Cubs (331)
15. Trevor Brown, Giants (590)
16. Dae-Ho Lee, Mariners (363)
17. Nolan Arenado, Rockies (268)
18. Vincent Velasquez, Phillies (557)
19. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals (300)
20. Bryce Harper, Nationals (1,286)
21. Jackie Robinson, Dodgers (759)
22. Chris Sale, White Sox (244)
23. Mark Trumbo, Orioles (285)
24. Melvin Upton Jr., Padres (226)
25. M. Tanaka, Yankees and H. Iwakuma, Mariners (424)
26. John Lackey, Cubs (244)
27. Cincinnati Reds (278)
28. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (489)
29. Kris Bryant, Cubs (1,644)
30. Jake Arrieta, Cubs (1,808)
31. Curtis Granderson, Mets (294)
32. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees (326)
33. Chicago White Sox (321)
34. Brett Gardner, Yankees (278)
35. Kenta Maeda, Dodgers (784)
36. Bryce Harper and Chris Heisey, Nationals (400)
37. Neil Walker, Mets (289)
38. A. Pujols, Cardinals and R. Jackson, A's (527)
39. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (524)
40. Jake Arrieta, Cubs (365)
41. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets (325)
42. Trevor Story, Rockies (800)
43. Ryan Howard, Phillies (280)
44. David Ortiz, Red Sox (346)
45. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (453)
46. Bartolo Colon, Mets (298)
47. Nomar Mazara, Rangers (468)
48. M. Machado, Orioles and B. Harper, Nationals (540)
49. Justin Smoak, Blue Jays (252)
50. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (280)