2013 Topps Goes ‘Out Of Bounds’

There are certain truisms in life, certain specific and unavoidable happenings that are hardly worth mentioning because they simply ‘are’ by their very nature – and always will be.

The Pope being a Catholic; the fact that bears taking time out of their busy schedules to defecate in nearby wooded areas; and Topps releasing a shed-load of short prints in their flagship Baseball release.

Ahhhhh… Topps and their short prints – a Baseball card collecting truism!

In previous years we’ve had Hall of Famers in the dugout and ex-Presidents in the crowd, while last year we had players being dowsed in Gatorade (other isotonic sports drinks are available folks); players being cream-pied (no, that isn’t a euphemism) and players accosting team mascots!!

Oh yeah… there was also that f*&%ing squirrel!!

Anyway, as I’m sure you can imagine, this years release of Topps Series 1 has been no exception! But rather than going for the random shots of player-related tomfoolery, this year Topps has given us a theme!!

‘Out of Bounds’ is a series of short prints dedicated to those highlight-reel, high-flying, death-defying defensive plays that usually involve players putting their limbs (and sometimes their lives) at risk… all for the sake of an out!

And to celebrate this set I’ve picked out a few of my favourites for us all to enjoy!

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2013 Topps Kevin Youkilis SP
2013 Topps Kevin Youkilis SP

Good Lord, that must have hurt!!! It’s been well documented in a variety of sources that The Youk’s body has been systematically shutting down over the last few years as age and injuries have been taking their toll, so the fact that he managed to leap over three inches off the ground WITH a running jump deserves some props!! Well done, that man!

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2013 Topps Mike Trout SP
2013 Topps Mike Trout SP

Mike Trout doing that he does best… Apart from hitting home runs, scoring runs, knocking in other runners, getting on base, stealing bases, winning awards, and so on, and so on…

My favourite part of that shot is the shadow he casts on the wall behind him… Reminds me of Max Shrek in the film Nosferatu. Check out the hand!!

Max Shrek in Nosferatu (1922)
Max Shrek in Nosferatu (1922)

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2013 Topps Alex Gordon SP
2013 Topps Alex Gordon SP

“Spider-Gordon-man, Spider-Gordon-man, does whatever a Spider-Gordon can”… Join in, you know the words…

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2013 Topps Mark Reynolds SP
2013 Topps Mark Reynolds SP

I really, REALLY don’t know what’s happening with Mark Reynolds in this picture. I’ve ran through every possible scenario in my head and the only plausible one that I’ve come up with is that he’s slipped on a giant banana skin that’s been thrown from the crowd. I can only assume that if it WAS a giant banana skin then it must have been thrown by a giant monkey – and that’s when my theory starts to fall apart.

After all, everyone knows that giant monkeys only turn up and throw giant banana skins at Cubs games 🙂

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2013 Topps Jay Bruce SP
2013 Topps Jay Bruce SP

Woah!!! Now that’s some elevation that Jay Bruce has got going on there. The fact that you can’t even see the ground in that picture means he could well be something like 10m in the air!!! This kind of physical feat can mean only one of two things… One, he has springs in his legs like Zebedee on The Magic Roundabout, or two, he’s getting some type of divine help like that kid in Angels in the Outfield. Either way that’s a damned impressive leap!

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2013 Topps Rajai Davis SP
2013 Topps Rajai Davis SP

Another example of a gravity-defying leap a la Jay Bruce. This time we see Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis taking near the outfield wall, but what the picture doesn’t show is the small trampoline positioned 6 feet to the left. Rumour has it that Davis continued his elevation long after this picture was shot, travelling out of the stadium and into the night’s sky, finally coming back down to earth on the outskirts of Quebec City nearly 500 miles away!

No – seriously – that’s exactly what happened!!

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2013 Topps Alex Rodriguez SP
2013 Topps Alex Rodriguez SP

OK… Let’s let this one sink in for a few moments…

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Right, here’s my take on it!

Top of the 2nd and A-Rod spots a blonde in the crowd who he decides to hit on. Why would he do this? Because he’s Alex Rodriguez, what more reason do you want? Anyway, he patiently waits until the top of the 7th when suddenly a foul ball is hit up from home plate and heads out towards her. He starts to run full out to get the ball but he realises that it’s heading into the crowd… So he launches himself towards the ball and puckers his lips at the same time in order to steal a quick kiss from the object of his affections…

But suddenly this old guy gets out his seat, probably to go to the Wiz Palace (a shout out to all you Parks and Rec fans out there), and ends up intercepting A-Rod amorous advances!!

So there you go!

Unless of course the person receiving the ‘kiss’ from A-Rod was actually Madonna and he was just running over to say hello. Come to think of it, the arms of that old ‘guy’ do look awfully familiar…

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So there you have it! My run down of some of the highlights from this years 2013 Topps Series 1 short prints!!

No doubt you’ll be able to pick some of these up on eBay for a ridiculously high premium, but if that’s your thing then who am I to get in your way?

Enjoy your cards and just be grateful that you’re not chasing after a bloody squirrel this year!

Please take a few moments out of your day to read this from fellow collector and fellow blogger, Mike Karamanian. Mike lives in Canada and this is quite a candid and personal look at why he collects sports cards and what they mean to him!

Thanks for your time!!

Prospect Watch: Billy Hamilton

This weeks Prospect Watch looks at the fastest pair of young legs in the Minor Leagues, Reds shortstop – Billy Hamilton.

Hamilton is an elite, top-tier talent and the No. 1 Prospect in the Reds organisation according to Baseball America’s 2013 rankings! With a game built almost entirely on his speed and his ability to run the bases, Billy Hamilton set a professional record in 2012 by swiping 155 bases in the Minor Leagues, split between Single-A and Double-A…

I’m just going to repeat that again for you… 155 total bases!!!

Wow!! That’s 10 more than Vince Coleman’s Minor League record of 145 set in 1983, and 25 more than Rickey Henderson’s Major League record!

Like I said… Wow!!

2012 Bowman Chrome Billy Hamilton Prospect Autograph
2012 Bowman Chrome Billy Hamilton Prospect Autograph

Hamilton was drafted out of Taylorsville High School, Mississippi, by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft. He was offered a football scholarship to Mississippi State – he played receiver and returned punts – but instead decided to pursue a career in baseball as it better suited his 6-foot tall, 160-pound frame.

During his early years in the Minors Hamilton relied purely on his speed to steal bases, but under the tutelage of Reds coaches, including former Reds outfielder, Eric Davis, he has developed his game to read pitchers more effectively in order to expand his skills as he progresses through each level.

Hamilton will start the 2013 season in Triple-A and has moved from shortstop to centre field to accommodate the young Zack Cozart, who is pencilled in at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Hamilton is expected to take over the centre-field role either late-2013 or at the start of the 2014 season, depending upon how quickly he develops at Triple-A.

In the fan-community SB Nation, John Sickels writing for Minor League Ball notes that Hamilton’s speed is “tremendous”, something that he uses to his advantage when running the bases. He goes on to say –

“Unlike many speedsters, he has good technique, and he’s so fast he often outruns any mistakes he does make. The rest of his hitting game is steadily coming along. He doesn’t have home run power and probably won’t develop much, but he has ability to lace the gaps, making him a threat for more doubles and triples as he matures. His plate discipline is gradually improving, and he’s done a good job reducing his strikeouts this year [2012]. He’s still learning finer points of the game like bunting, but he understands that anything he does to leverage his speed and get on base more frequently is to his advantage”

Some scouts have speculated that his base-stealing game could develop along the same lines as Rickey Henderson’s but concede that Hamilton will probably never develop the same power that Rickey exhibited throughout his career.

An MVP award at the California League All-Star game has led to an invite to the 2013 Future’s Game at Kansas City during this year’s All-Star Week-End!! And it doesn’t stop there…

The Reds have also been concentrating on developing Hamilton’s switch-hitting game, with the emphasis placed on positioning him on the left-hand side of the plate so that he has the added advantage of starting out closer to first base, thereby being able to beat out more infield ground balls due to his quickness!

Because of the way that Billy Hamilton’s speed impacts games he has started to garner national recognition, particularly when one of his inside-the-park home runs became a YouTube hit and he was clocked at just over 13 seconds covering the bases! He’s also a throwback to an era when base-stealing was an integral part of the game, when the scrappy ‘small-ball’ plays were seen as an important way of generating runs, as opposed to the modern game which has placed more emphasis on the long-ball.

The Bleacher Report makes an interesting observation when assessing how Hamilton’s speed might impact a game –

“It’s hard to measure the true impact of a speedster through stats. Total number of stolen bases does not quantify their impact. A players slugging percentage takes into account the total number of bases that a player gains throughout his at-bats. But, it does not, however, factor in stolen bases as a total base earned.

If Hamilton reaches base on a single and then steals second, he essentially got a double (or gained two total bases), right? If he steals third base after that, then he essentially has earned a triple, or recorded three total bases, correct?

So, if we added Hamilton’s stolen bases into factoring his slugging percentage it comes out to a whopping .745! Take the season that Joey Votto is having right now [2012] and factor in his stolen bases and you get .675. When using SLUG as a measure of the amount of total bases gained by a player (with stolen bases factored in), you begin to see just how amazing the impact of Hamilton’s stolen bases.”

THAT is pretty impressive!! Based on that kind of production Hamilton could end up carrying your Fantasy team for a whole season in the SB category in most Roto Leagues!! Think about that for a while!!

As per usual we turn to Baseball Prospect Nation for a full scouting breakdown as of May 2012…

Body (6-0, 165): Very thin. May be shorter than listed height. Plus-plus athlete was a Division I football recruit as a wide receiver. Lacks strength throughout body and doesn’t have a lot of room to add strength in the coming years. Body fits his game. Classic burner body.

Hit: Drastic improvement since beginning of 2011 season. Previously showed inconsistent swing mechanics with a lot of hand movement and some delay getting the bat to the zone. Has quieted his setup and load, and now gets the bat to the zone much more consistently. Has average to a tick above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate. Improved ability for solid contact to all fields from both sides. Needs to stay within himself at the plate and not get power hungry. Approach can get overly aggressive at times and he needs to improve pitch recognition on secondary pitches. Will always run out extra hits which should help him hit for higher averages. Needs to improving bunting to fully develop the hitting ability his speed can support. Potential to push upwards of a .300 average in peak seasons and hit at the top of a big league order. Grade – 40/70

Power: Not part of his game. Lacks the strength and bat speed to drive the ball. Speed can generate extra-base hits but will not drive the ball to the gaps or over the fence consistently. Doubles and triples from speed will make power look a little better than grades. Grade (raw power) – 20/30

Arm: Fringy arm at shortstop. Can make most throws for the position but really has to get on it to make the tough/long throws. Loses accuracy and velocity on the run. Arm is stretched at shortstop but can play at second base and would play in the outfield. Grades ranged from 40 to 50 over the last two years, will likely settle with a fringe-average arm that could play up if he better learns how to use it in game situations. Grade – 40/50

Fielding: Speed gives him incredible range to both sides at shortstop. The same was true at second base in 2010. Lacks the instincts for shortstop and his actions aren’t fluid. Hands are below-average. Tendency to make some routine plays more difficult because of lack of instincts or not catching it cleanly and on the proper hop. Many scouts would prefer to see him in center field where his speed could be a defensive weapon. If at shortstop, would likely remain a below- to fringe-average defender at the position. Grade – 30/40 (shortstop)

Speed: Absolutely elite. Fastest player in the minor leagues, and it’s not even close. True burner that gets out of the box quickly and has even better top end speed. Can turn routine grounders into base hits. A threat to take over any game with his legs. Can scoring chances almost at will. Instincts have improved since signing and he now gets good jumps off both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Brilliant runner whose legs could have a 1980s style impact on the game. Grade – 80/80

Summation: Improvements with the bat look significant and maintainable. Potential .290+ hitter with enough on-base ability to wreak havoc on any opposing team. Could cause chaos at the top of the lineup. Needs more well-rounded and consistent small-ball game to help take further advantage of his speed. Elite, elite runner with instincts to let it play to the max. Shortstop defense is still rough and doesn’t project to improve arm strength, instincts or hands enough to stick there long term. Could be an impact defensive player in center field. Has the swagger of an elite player. Plays the game hard and works hard before/after games. Potential to impact the game on both sides of the ball thanks to elite speed.

Relative Risk: High. Everything rides on the sustainment of his hitting ability and the health of his legs. Any deterioration in either could destroy his prospect stock.

Future: Hamilton could see Double-A before the end of the 2012 season. Defensive development will be what holds him back and the development of his bat may force his move to second base or center field. Could be ready for big league action by 2014 and could hit atop the Reds order for quite a while.

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Billy Hamilton is an incredibly exciting prospect. I’ve always had a soft spot for the speedy base-runners but appreciate that their shelf-life is often limited, and more often than not an abrupt leg or foot injury can put the stop to a once promising career.

Hamilton’s first Bowman card appeared as a Prospect in the 2009 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects set but his 2012 Bowman Chrome contains his autograph and will no doubt be the card everyone will be chasing!!

You can also pick up a number of base and parallel Hamilton cards in 2012 Bowman Platinum, but if you want to go for a cheaper alternative to the Bowman Chrome autograph then look no further than the 2012 Bowman Sterling Prospect auto, and obligatory refractor parallels!!

Along with his licensed Topps and Bowman releases there are a number of non-licensed releases that feature Hamilton that might be worth your time, including 2012 UD Goodwin Champions, 2010 Tristar Pursuit and 2009 Tri-Star Prospects.

A great player to watch out for with a rich life on baseball cards ahead of him!

In the next Prospect Watch – The next ‘Albert Pujols’ for the Cardinals??

My Favourite Baseball Sets of the 1990’s – Part 1: #10 – #6

It occurred to me earlier that I’ve written a lot recently about what’s to come in the world of Baseball cards, whether it’s up and coming Prospects or new products; the future of the Rookie or increases in postage costs, and while it’s fine and dandy to be looking forward in this great Hobby of ours, sometimes it’s just as much fun to look back…

So I’ve decided to go back to a period when I first started collecting sports cards, around the mid-90’s, and to look back over my favourite sets that were around at the time!

This isn’t meant to be a definitive ‘best of’ list by any stretch of the imagination, just a few random scribblings about the sets that fired up my imagination at the time and made me realise how much fun there was in collecting cards. Some of these you might agree with, others you won’t… Everyone has their own favourites after all…

#10 – 1997 Bowman Chrome

This is the set that started the whole Chrome phenomenon, all the way back in 1997. As was the trend for the majority of releases in mid-90’s, Topps produced Bowman as a two-series product rather than one large card set. These black bordered beauties employed the same card technology that Topps had been using since 1993 with their first Finest release, but Bowman Chrome was the first to put the emphasis on the Rookie Card, with collector’s vigorously chasing the likes of Kerry Wood and Jose Cruz jr!! Nowadays the popular rookies are of Roy Halladay and Lance Berkman!

1997 Bowman Chrome Roy Halladay
1997 Bowman Chrome Roy Halladay
1997 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card
1997 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card

#9 – 1999 Upper Deck SP Signature Edition

Upper Deck’s first foray into the ‘auto per pack’ Baseball product came with SP Signature in 1999. With a distinctive design and a huge checklist of signers (including many Hall of Famer’s) this was an incredibly popular release and almost impossible to find now as unopened wax. I remember being at a card show at the US airbase at Mildenhall when I first saw these cards… One dealer had purchased a box and had ripped each pack to sell off the autographs. I remember having the opportunity to pick up a young Yankees closer by the name of Mariano Rivera for £20 but thought it was a bit too much at the time!! The same card now books for over $150… sigh…

1999 SP Signature Pedro Martinez Autograph
1999 SP Signature Pedro Martinez Autograph
1999 SP Signature Mike Schmidt Autograph
1999 SP Signature Mike Schmidt Autograph

#8 – 1997 Fleer

Perhaps an odd choice but I’ve always felt that this was a really underrated set. This was the last Baseball set that Fleer produced before changing the brand name to ‘Fleer Tradition’ in 1998. What made this set stand out for me was a move away from the glossy card stock to a matte finish (with a gold-stamped foil logo), giving the card a more old-school feel and making ideal for autographs. Split into two series, rumour has it that the last 11 cards in Series 2 were all short-printed due to being late additions to the set. 1997 Fleer is also notable for being one of only two sets (along with Fleer Ultra) to feature the Rookie Card of Big Papi, David Ortiz, appearing on the card as David Arias.

1997 Fleer David Ortiz Rookie Card
1997 Fleer David Ortiz Rookie Card
1997 Fleer Cal Ripken
1997 Fleer Cal Ripken

#7 – 1997 Topps Finest

Again not necessarily an obvious choice but I came across this set through the earlier Basketball release, and although the Baseball release doesn’t have the equivalent of a Kobe Bryant rookie to make it stand out it still has enough going for it to make it an easy-ish set to put together. The complete set was 350 cards (two series of 175 cards in each) with a built around a fractured structure of card rareness, made up of the more common Bronze cards, the uncommon Silver (1 in 4 packs) and the rare Gold (1 per box). Series One is divided into five distinct themes: Finest Hurlers (top pitchers), Finest Blue Chips (up-and-coming future stars), Finest Power (long-ball hitters), Finest Warriors (superstar players), and Finest Masters (hottest players). Series Two is also divided into five distinct themes: Finest Power (power hitters and pitchers), Finest Masters (top players), Finest Blue Chips (top new players), Finest Competitors (hottest players), and Finest Acquisitions (latest trades and new signings). A fun set with sealed boxes available on eBay at pretty decent prices.

1997 Finest Barry Bonds - Gold
1997 Finest Barry Bonds – Gold
1997 Topps Finest Greg Maddux - Gold
1997 Topps Finest Greg Maddux – Gold

#6 – 1995 SkyBox E-Motion

An awesome and durable set from SkyBox, made on thick card-stock and featuring some gorgeously clear player photography, E-Motion had a lot going for it… but then SkyBox went and added an ’emotive’ word to each card that was supposed to summarise a quality or emotion for that particular player! These ’emotions’ went from odd to downright ludicrous, in a lot of instances, providing some great comic moments such as ‘Surprise’ for Jim Thome; ‘Fresh’ for Kenny Lofton and (my personal favourite) ‘Stroking’ for J.T. Snow!! Notable as a set that even has its own blog – 1995 SkyBox E-Motion. Hot on the heals of the truncated 1994 season E-Motion even has a complete insert set dedicated the the then ‘saviour’ of Baseball, Cal Ripken jr!

In retrospect this would be a great set to re-release today having the benefit of history on our side. I imagine we’d see some fun new designs with the ’emotions’ of ‘Liar’, ‘Cheat’, ‘Deceitful’ or ‘Juicer’!

1995 E-Motion Ken Griffey  jr 'Junior'
1995 E-Motion Ken Griffey jr ‘Junior’
1995 E-Motion Will Clark ' Mr Intense'
1995 E-Motion Will Clark ‘ Mr Intense’
1995 E-Motion Roger Clemens 'Rocket'
1995 E-Motion Roger Clemens ‘Rocket’

So there’s numbers 10 through 6.

Numbers 5 through 1 coming soon!! Any guesses what will make it in?? Or what will be in the top spot??

It’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts on what you got a kick out of from the same era!!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Buyers Outside The US Read This NOW

Ladies and Gentlemen!

If you regularly purchase items from the US you’re about to receive a short, sharp kick to the nuts courtesy of the US Postal Service. I wanted to make that non-gender specific but couldn’t think of a better way of describing it!!

As of yesterday, Sunday 27th January 2013, the USPS introduced a price rise of around 3-5% for their domestic services. International services also saw an increase, but that’s another story entirely with huge hikes across the board! And when I say huge, I mean MASSIVE!!!

Please understand that I’m not trying to downplay these increases for buyers outside the US. These changes are likely to have a long-term and detrimental impact on the way we purchase items from the US from this point forward.

The guys over at Etsy have put together the following comparison breakdown for the benefit of their international customers, so many thanks for the great work. Click here to read the full article on their website:

All you need to do is check out the international shipping rates and you can see how it’s going to affect us. For example a 3oz package sent by First Class International (about the size and weight of a single, top loaded card in a jiffy mailer) to the UK has gone from $4.56 to $8.88, an increase of some 94.7%, and a flat rate small envelope/box sent via Priority International has gone from $16.95 to $23.95, and increase of 41.2%!! Other international services fluctuate in between.

And don’t think our brethren over in Canada have got it any better either as their rates show a very similar increase percentage wise!

At the moment I’m trying to come up with some kind of positive from all this but I’m at a complete loss!!

I’ll post again in a few days after the news has had a chance to sink in a bit, but I just wanted to get the word out! Feel free to spread the news far and wide… The sooner more non-US buyers are aware of this the better!

And please remember – when you start seeing listings on eBay from US sellers showing these ridiculously high increases for international shipping, take a moment to acknowledge that this isn’t their fault. Sellers are just as much the victims of these increases as we are and they have to increase their costs accordingly!

So thank you USPS and have a nice day!!

2013 Bowman Platinum Baseball Preview

Another week and another product preview lands in our laps from Topps.

And how wrong was I…?

Recently I posted a preview of 2013 Bowman Inception Baseball which I was convinced was replacing Bowman Platinum but this doesn’t appear to be the case after all!!

Bowman Platinum is a mid-season prospecting release with a relatively low price point when compared to the higher end, post-season release of Bowman Sterling. How this will sit side-by-side with Bowman Inception, and how collectors will take to two prospect-related products released so close together, remains to be seen.

Here’s a pdf of the sell sheet for your viewing pleasure…

I’ve never had a great deal of time for Bowman Platinum myself, preferring to defer to the more ‘traditional’ releases such as the main Bowman set, Bowman Chrome and Bowman Draft! While Bowman Sterling always comes across as the ‘rich uncle’ of the Bowman brand I always think of Platinum as the ‘strange cousin’ who nobody in the family likes to talk about!

However it must have its fans as this will be the fourth year in production, and the 2013 release does have some nice designs and a great list of signers! One of the problems that plagued the 2012 release was a high instance of redemption cards strewn throughout the production run, so let’s hope that’s an issue that Topps manages to resolve before this year’s release hits the stores!

So, if you’re a prospect fan and a lover of nice and shiny cards, with a whole host of parallels, refractors and autographs, then this might just be the set for you! Personally I think that Topps does prospects better across its main Bowman brand, but Platinum offers a nice alternative for player collectors and it usually has a small enough check-list to entice set builders as well.

I’ll probably pick up a blaster for a review further down the line, but unless I’m completely bowled over by it, it’s unlikely to be a product that will feature highly on my ‘must-have’ list!!

All UK-based Sports Card Collectors – READ THIS!

A few days ago a gentleman by the name of David Marshall contacted me regarding a collection of sports cards that he inherited from his uncle.

David has been attempting to sell these locally, in the Lakenheath area, through an online small-ads service, so far without much success. But he saw this blog and contacted me to see (a) if I was interested in buying them, or (b) if I knew of anyone else who might be interested.

David estimates that there might be around 40,000 cards (a shop’s stock, as he describes it) of various US sports and there is a mixture of sealed wax, sets and singles. David’s uncle originally amassed this collection with the intention of selling then on to the servicemen at the nearby US airbases and this is basically what’s left. As I understand a lot of the stuff hails from the 80’s and 90’s but there could well be stuff dating back much further.

You can click on this link to take you to his online listing – Topps Baseball, NFL, & Ice Hockey Trading Cards

Now, I haven’t turned The Wax Fantastic into a classifieds site, but I thought that this might be an offer too good to pass up for someone out there. Unfortunately I don’t have the funds to snap the collection up myself but there could be someone more than happy to help David out, and take literally thousands of sports cards off his hands.

This a quote directly from one of the emails he sent me…

“My Uncle collected all sorts of things in his time – Antiques – Rupert Books, but, it has become a Family joke to be left with a Legacy of Cards, in respect of which we are struggling to discover, what is really there, in terms of value.

There are undoubtably gems amongst them, and indeed one US Airman did many years ago come to have a look. He was overwhelmed by their sheer number, but did say that (at the time), he found a card amongst them, he thought worth around £1,000 on it’s own!”

If that doesn’t whet your appetite then I don’t know what will!!

He advises that a viewing is essential as he has no idea what’s in the collection, so if you’re in or around Suffolk (or fancy a trip out there) then drop him a line!! There could well be some really nice finds amongst the cards that will make it well worth someone’s time to take the trip in the first place!

Obviously, my 15% finders fee will apply as always 🙂

2013 Topps: A Tale of Two Inserts

With the excitement steadily building ahead of the release of the first of this years Topps Baseball card products (Hobby hits on 30th January with Retail no doubt dropping a few days before), I’ve just spent a few minutes going over the design and something struck me…

This has got to be the most divided I’ve ever felt over the release of Topps’ flagship product, and it comes down to this –

INSERTS vs PARALLELS

Ding Ding… Seconds Out… Round 1

Oh dear… Parallels again!! This years parallels of the base card have got to be the most eclectic yet in terms of their appearance. And I’m sorry to say, I think that they’re probably the most ugliest as well!

And why on earth do we need so many??? Check this out –

Emerald Foil – Odds: 1:6 Packs
Gold – Serial #/2013
Desert Camo Foil Parallel – Serial #/99
Pink Parallel – Serial #/50
Platinum Parallel – Serial #1/1
Printing Plates (4 Colors) 1/1 (Hobby Boxes Only)

2013 Topps Parallels
2013 Topps Parallels

I’ve read quite a few opinions on this on Twitter and various other forums over the last few weeks and the general consensus seems to be overwhelmingly positive towards these parallels.  I don’t know if its just me or not but there’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about them, aside from the fact that there’s too damn many of them!!

Personally I think they’re horrible! The Camo and Pink parallels especially! I can understand the need for Topps to continue to reinvent and invigorate the their main Baseball set but I just can’t help but think that the designers are trying to be different for difference sake!

Don’t get me wrong – I love the base card design! Absolutely love it!! A real change of direction from the last few years designs and it really works! But I don’t like seeing all of those refractor parallels in the Chrome products, and I don’t really like seeing the numerous parallels here either!

Seconds Out… Round 2

And now for the inserts!

Wow!!

Best Topps Inserts Ever!! Some of these designs are just sublime!

Love the minis (based on the classic 1972 design) and the mini relics; love the Chasing History relics and autos; even love the manufactured relics this time around!

2013 Topps Inserts
2013 Topps Inserts
2013 Topps Minis
2013 Topps Minis

Did I say I love the minis already??

Ding Ding… Seconds Out… Round 3

Do we really need to bother with a third round?? No contest really!

While I might not like the parallels, and I submit that it’s just a personal issue with these types of parallels in general, the inserts are just fantastic!!

WINNER – The Inserts

Now, about those super short print surprises that everybody loves…

Prospect Watch: Gerrit Cole

Last week I promised another Prospect Watch feature especially for all the Pirates fans out there. Obviously I’m not one to go back on my word so, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to another player from my PC and the #1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Gerrit Cole.

While doing my research into Cole I’ve found that there don’t appear to be enough superlatives around to describe this young pitcher, and despite being such a hard thrower of the baseball he has proven himself to be incredibly durable during his time pitching in college.

Back in 2008 Gerrit Cole turned down the chance to be taken by the New York Yankees in the first round of that years draft. Instead he opted for college at UCLA where he came to dominate through the college ranks. The Bleacher Report has noted that throughout his college years Cole’s commanding stuff was almost as hard to hit as Stephen Strasburg’s, but that Cole was “missing the secondary stuff to compete with Strasburg’s ridiculous four plus pitches.”

In his article for Project Prospect, Lincoln Hamilton examines Cole’s pitches in more detail, and notes that despite having an overpowering fastball, his best pitch is actually his change-up (“already a big league out pitch”), which clocks in between 83-86 mph. The effectiveness of his fastball and change-up stems from the fact that his arm speed is virtually identical between the both pitches, making a devastating combination of the two together.

Here’s the February 2012 scouting report from Baseball Prospect Nation, who describe Cole as a “potential ace” who just needs to add polish to his “enormous raw stuff”. Interestingly his change-up isn’t rated as highly as in the Project Prospect scouting report!

Body: Classic power pitcher’s body. Broad shoulders, strong torso, thick and powerful legs.

Makeup: Impressions of his competitiveness and makeup varied from start to start last year. Some scouts believe he lacks the fire to be a truly great pitcher, noting he has a tendency to pack it in when things don’t go his way. Needs to prove mental toughness on the mound but is still young with plenty of time to do just that.

Delivery/Mechanics: Much smoother than in high school. Deliberate and balanced through his windup. Gives hitters a peak of the ball behind his back, losing some deception as a result. Will show good extension out front but cuts himself off at times, coming up a little short and not following through. Good drive off back leg taking some stress off his arm.

Fastball (FB) Velocity (Wind-up): High – 101, Low – 92, Average – 95-96, Grade – 70/80

Fastball (FB) Velocity (Stretch): High – 99, Low 92, Average 95-96, Grade – 70/80

Fastball (FB) Movement: Has explosive life on 4-seamer when he doesn’t overthrow it. Can get a little straight when he reaches back for more but pure velo can overcome this most of the time. Hasn’t developed ability to manipulate the ball at lower velocities but really hasn’t needed to either. Grade – 50/60

Overall Fastball: Outstanding velocity. Could sit as an 80-pitch in the future. Has toyed with a 2-seam FB that has some sink and run on it and if that comes it could be unhittable in the 92-95 range. Potential elite pitch with minor refinement. Grade – 70/80

Slider (SL): Throws it very hard with outstanding bite. Generates foolish swings with plus-plus two-plane bite. Must improve ability to keep it down in the zone. Already understands how to use it as a chase pitch to both righties and lefties. Not much room to add much more to the pitch. Grade – 70/70

Change-up (CH): Started throwing in college. Doesn’t always maintain arm speed and has a tendency to guide it to the plate rather than trusting the grip. Has some fade when he’s throwing it well. Still a work in progress but flashes as a nice third pitch. Grade – 40/50

Control: Throws a lot more strikes after three years in college but will still lose the zone. Loses it most frequently when he falls in love with the radar gun and tries to blow hitters away. Needs to trust himself and throw strikes. Raw stuff is good enough to miss bats and get outs in the strike zone. Grade – 40/60

Command: Not really a part of his game right now and may never be. Will flash ability to paint the outside corner and elevate the FB when he wants to. Doesn’t show consistent willingness to work inside on hitters, which would be a huge help for him. Grade – 30/40

Summation: Some of the best raw stuff in the minor leagues. Can dominate inexperienced hitters by just blowing it by them and feeding him his filthy SL. Needs to learn how to pitch and utilize different parts of the strike zone better. Questions about his competitiveness on the mound can’t be ignored until he goes out and disproves them. Pure ceiling is that of a number one starter but he’ll fall short of that without some kind of command. Still learning the nuances of the game such as controlling runners and fielding his position but those should come fairly quickly once he starts working on them more heavily.

Relative Risk: High. He’s close to the big leagues but his lack of command and character questions leave his risk level elevated.

Future: To date the Pirates have pointed toward High-A Bradenton as his likely 2012 starting point. He could reach Double-A in extremely short order and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising he received a September call-up. His timetable is easily in the 2013 season and it would take some significant setbacks for him to be delayed beyond that. Cole has the potential to be one of the game’s elite starting pitchers in a few years.

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The Pirates have a number of exciting Prospects coming through their farm system and, coupled with one of the best players in the game in Andrew McCutchen (in my humble opinion, of course), are primed to challenge in the newly structured NL Central for a good few years to come.

And Gerrit Cole is just the player to help them finally snap their crazy streak of losing seasons going back to 1865, or something like that!!! It really does seem that long!

In terms of his cards Cole is a player whom I have coveted for some time now, and his 2012 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autograph is one card I’d love to get my hands on at some point. However there are a number of Prospect-related releases over the last couple of years, along with college-related releases from around 2009 and 2010, that feature Cole’s cards so he’s pretty easy to track down for base cards as well as numerous autographed inserts!

2013 could well see Cole’s MLB debut and if he is half the pitcher that a lot of scouts are predicting then it’ll be worth keeping an eye on his cards over the coming years, particularly those 2012 Bowman releases!

OK – we’re done!!

Coming next time – a young speedster for the Reds!

Baseball’s Perfect Warrior

“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”

– Attributed to former Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick, and inscribed on the base of Stan Musial’s statue at Busch Memorial Stadium

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“Get eight hours of sleep regularly. Keep your weight down, run a mile a day. If you must smoke, try light cigars. They cut down on inhaling. Make it a point to bat .300.”

– Stan Musial, on his Baseball longevity

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This weekend Baseball, and it’s fans across the world, are mourning the passing of St. Louis Cardinal legend, Stanley Frank Musial, at the age of 92.

There’s nothing new that I can add here that hasn’t been written about or said about Musial before, far more intelligently and eloquently, and by far more gifted writers than me… So I won’t even try!

Instead I’ll leave it to others (and himself) to describe the greatness that was Stan ‘The Man’ Musial, and hope that that’s enough!

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1958 Topps Stan Musial 'All Star'
1958 Topps Stan Musial ‘All Star’

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“No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today.”

– Ty Cobb, Life Magazine (1952)

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“Once Musial timed your fastball your infielders were in jeopardy.”

– Warren Spahn, LHP Milwaukee Braves

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“He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could.”

– Willie Mays, LF New York/San Francisco Giants, describing Musial’s attitude to black ballplayers and integration

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1959 Topps Stan Musial
1959 Topps Stan Musial

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“Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game. The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him.”

– Hall of Fame President, Jeff Idelson

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“How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”

– Vin Scully, Broadcaster

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“I throw him four wide ones then try to pick him off first base.”

– Preacher Roe, LHP Brooklyn Dodgers

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1960 Topps Stan Musial
1960 Topps Stan Musial

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“He didn’t hit a homer in his last at-bat; he hit a single. He didn’t hit in 56 straight games. He married his high school sweetheart and stayed married to her, never married a Marilyn Monroe. He didn’t play with the sheer joy and style that goes alongside Willie Mays’ name. None of those easy things are there to associate with Stan Musial. All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.”

– Bob Costas, Sportscaster in ESPN SportsCentury

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“I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.”

– Carl Erskine, RHP Brooklyn Dodgers

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“There was never a day when I was as good as Joe DiMaggio at his best. Joe was the best, the very best I ever saw.”

– Stan Musial

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1961 Topps Stan Musial
1961 Topps Stan Musial

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“He could have hit .300 with a fountain pen.”

– Joe Garagiola, Catcher St. Louis Cardinals

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“Every time Stan came up they chanted, ‘Here comes the man!'”

– Leo Ward, Cardinals traveling secretary, on the reaction of Dodger fans when Musial came to the plate

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“I can’t think of any all-time great in any sport who gets left out of more who’s-the-greatest conversations than Stan Musial.”

– Jayson Stark, Sportswriter

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1962 Topps Stan Musial
1962 Topps Stan Musial

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“He missed tying for the top in homers by one rained out home run. If it had counted, he would have won the Triple Crown that year…and in addition have been the only player of this century to lead the league in runs, hits, double, triples, and slugging percentage. What a year!”

– Bob Broeg, Sportswriter, on Musial’s 1948 season

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“The bent knees and the crouch give him the appearance of a coiled spring, although most pitchers think of him as a coiled rattlesnake.”

– Tom Meany, Author

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“Nobody can be that good. Nobody.”

– Jimmy Wilson, Former Chicago Cubs Manager

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1963 Topps Stan Musial
1963 Topps Stan Musial

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RIP - Stanley Frank Musial, 1920-2013"Holds many National League Records..."
RIP – Stanley Frank Musial, 1920-2013
“Holds many National League Records…”