Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday round up: Cardbacks and coincidences

This may become a habit. Last Saturday I blogged about how I had discovered more about a card I has already blogged about. This week I'm going to do the same and also talk about a second serendipitous tangential addition to the 'collection'.

One of my first posts was about Tony's 1980s Topps cards. I mentioned how in 1988 there was an acknowledgement of scout Cliff Ditto on the back of Tony's card.

This week I've finished reading He Left His Heart in San Diego, an anthology of memories of Tony Gwynn compiled by prolific author Rich Wolfe. On page 142, one-time Padres manager Jack McKeon is quoted thus:

"About the middle of November... Sy Berger from Topps Baseball Cards called me. He said, "Jack, I've got a problem... I've got four or five scouts claiming Tony Gwynn." I laughed and said "Let me go through the scouting files and see which guy should be credited." I went through the scouting files and there was one report on Tony Gwynn. That was from Cliff Ditto out of the Los Angeles area. That was the only scouting report we had. So I told Sy, "Make them all feel good. Give them all a certificate or whatever they need." They all claimed Tony Gwynn but we had only one report."

There are some learning points from this.
1) Always submit your reports!
2) Other people will try and claim your successes. Which is why point 1 is important.
3) For all that I bust on Topps for their bizarre choices of cardback factoids, they actually did some diligent digging to make sure they were right.
4) Cliff Ditto has risen even higher in my estimation because it seems he was the only scout who actually spotted Tony.

And on to the Saturday Serendipity. A couple of weeks back Jack contacted me via one of the Facebook groups for UK baseball card collectors to show me a couple of Tony Gwynn cards he had, including this one.

Card Number 60: Topps Mini, 1986; #65 (League Leaders)

As you can guess, I didn't have this card but I do now thanks to Jack. The back is unremarkable but is a nice shade of pink.

Anyway, that's not the serendipity. Jack said he was happy to sell this and the other card of Tony's or he would trade. He collects Derek Jeter. So I took a photo of four Jeter cards I had accumulated and asked if there were any he wanted. Turns out he wanted all four, so I asked if he had any other Padres cards and I'd just pick two extra and we would swap four cards for four cards.

Jack showed me his binder pages of Padres and one card leapt out at me. It was a Topps 1984 card. Somehow I have accumulated plenty of Padres 1983 cards and 1985 cards, but I had exactly zero 1984 cards in my binder. So I said I'd take that one and another card as well (which may make an appearance on this blog in a future post.

Anyway, the 1984 card was #224, pitcher Sid Monge. This almost a quintessential example of what a real baseball card looks like.

The back is centred poorly. This makes it almost a quintessential example of what the back of a real Topps baseball card from the 80s looks like. (As an aside, I love that Friar logo.)

A few hours after we agreed the trade I got another message from Jack. "I take it you knew this," he said with a screengrab of Sid Monge's Wikipedia entry with the following line highlighted:

"Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres got his first hit off Monge on July 19, 1982 while he was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies."

My first reaction was "WHAT!?!?" I wish now I'd played it cool and said, "Yes, of course I knew that. Why else would I have selected that card?" But, really there's no point lying to a fellow collector (who I discovered lives not very far away from where I grew up), especially when a fellow collector is not only helping you out with cards for your collection, but is also going off and doing your research for you! That's going above and beyond, isn't it.

So, there you go. My first 1984 Padre, traded as an add on in a deal, turns out to have an important connection with Tony Gwynn. Being totally truthful I doubt I would have done any research on him at all, just happily filed him away in my Padres binder full of Topps cards. So a massive thanks to Jack for giving me a reason to include Sid's card on this blog.

Total: 60/394

Friday, May 29, 2020

The latest look is retro

Hey, remember Tony's card from 1985?

That card is 35 years old.

Topps has revived that card design for an insert series in its 2020 flagship product. Thanks to Dean in the Baseball Cards UK Facebook group, I now have one of them.

Card Number 58: Topps 1985 Series, 2020; #85-85

This card literally arrived less than a week ago, and will probably have the record for the shortest time spent between arrival and appearing on the blog, at least until I've cleared my backlog.

There is one thing about this card that irritates me. Why did they use the modern 'SD' logo instead of the awesome Swinging Friar logo from 1985? It's a retro card, Topps. Use a retro logo! I appreciate that not all logos from 1985 are useable in this day and age (Chief Wahoo the Indian from Cleveland no longer features on cards), but there really is no reason not to have the Friar on here.

Please excuse my wonky scan of the back. The only interesting thing about this card is that it's numbered 85-85. I pity anybody with red/green colour blindness who tries to read this card. But trust me, you ain't missing much.

This isn't the first Topps retro card that Tony has appeared on. Last year the card design was 1975, and Tony was on one of the cards.

Card Number 59: Topps 1975 Series, 2019; #121

Tony was 15 in 1975, so this card feels a little bit odd. Can't argue with the layout though. This is a stone cold design classic.

The card back is much better. There is even a little cartoon. Topps can get retro cards right if they actually bother (he says, grumpily).

Total: 59/394

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Know the Score

Score is another baseball card manufacturer lost to mergers, acquisitions, and the vagaries of the hobby. Score cards almost always feature in random job lots or repacks. They have one very specific feature that is consistent across almost every card - their backs are more interesting than their fronts. I'll show you what I mean...

Card Number 52: Score, 1988; #385

You see? Look at that card back. It has a colour headshot, stats, an epic-length write up (it's so big it has paragraphs!) and lots of colour. This was 1988! People rave about how Upper Deck shook up the card hobby, but Score got there first. I mean, this is what Topps card backs looked like in 1988.

In comparison to the back, the front of the score card is a meh action shot in a dull border, a look that Score used for several years. You know what, for the rest of these cards, I'm going to show the backs first.

Card Number 53: Score, 1989; #90

Tony looks distracted in this photo. There's something definitely more interesting to look at than the photographer. In the blurb, he's called a "defensive whiz". If I'd been proofreading this I would have corrected that to 'whizz'. Or possibly 'wiz' as in short for wizard. 'Whiz' with one z means, well, taking a whiz.

When looking through cards I tend to struggle telling Score cards from 1988 and 1989 apart. The front are more similar than the backs.

Card Number 54: Score, 1990; #255

For three years in a row, Tony is wearing a brown cap with an orange logo. He was always on brand. In the blurb he gets a nice endorsement from his team-mate Marvell Wynne.

Score made it easier for me in 1990 by putting the year on their cards. You can also tell this is from 1990 because they have italicised the font for the player's name.

Card Number 55: Score, 1991; #500

Score went landscape with the card back in 1991. I don't approve of this change. There's that brown cap again. (I gotta get me one of those caps!) He gets two endorsements in the write up this time, from the GM and from a team-mate.

This is the best card front so far - the moment of IMPACT! That 's a hit right there. (Or maybe not, but he has hit it!) Also another card with the year helpfully included on the front.

Card Number 56: Score, 1992; #625

Back to portrait orientation on the card back for 1992. Tony looks slightly quizzical in this picture and that looks like a blue hat!

I like the use of a mild yellow colour as it makes the card easier to read. Of note in the blurb is the factoid that he uses the smallest bat in the major leagues - something that would actually change around about this point in his career after his famous encounter with hitting legend Ted Williams who called Tony's bat a "toothpick". Also, the endorsement this time around is a quote from then Cardinals manager Joe Torre, rather than one of his San Diego team-mates.

The front has another bat-on-ball shot! The design has changed here at last. The big chunky borders have gone. We are entering the 90s design frenzy, with the bat breaking the edge of the photo and into the large gutter margin.

Card Number 57: Score, 1993; #24
This is the end of my run of Score base cards.

What a smile! His headgear looks really odd. I think it's his sunglasses perched on a batting helmet. It's a shorter write up, livened up by the word "inexorably".

And the front marks a radical design change. This actually looks like it could be a mid-90s Topps card.

I have some more Score cards which are good examples of how they seemed to get things back-to-front, but I'm going to save them for another post.

Total: 57/394

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Card Number 51: Pacific, 1993; #257
Trading Card Database lists this set as "Pacific Spanish". I don't know if there was a "Pacific English" set.

Jardinero means 'gardener' in Spanish. In the baseball context it means 'outfielder'.

Pacific was one of the companies that came into the packed early 90s card market and managed to bring something a little different with them. In this case, the Spanish language. After reading the same sort of factoids on the backs of so many cards, the description of Tony as "el mejor bateador de contacto" is a welcome break. All in all, it's a decent card too. Nice colours, good photos.

In my opening post I mentioned visiting the USA in 1987 with my family. We changed planes in New York, where I bought a musical badge with a picture of the 1986 Mets team on it, and then flew to Florida for a week. We did Walt Disney World and the Epcot Centre. We then went to Miami, where I remember getting very confused by the addition of sales tax when I tried to buy some baseball cards in a drugstore. Then we flew to Oklahoma where some friends of my parents lived. They had daughters about the same age as me and my brother.

I remember discovering that at school they were learning Spanish. I thought that was the daftest thing I had ever heard. At secondary school in the UK you learned French. You might get the chance to learn German. Nobody learned Spanish. What was the point of that? (Thinking about it, it's weird we didn't get taught Spanish given how popular Spain is as a holiday destination.)

That was my Eurocentrism at work there. French and German were the big languages on the continent. I didn't realise the USA had a large Hispanic population or that Spanish was the second most popular spoken language. (There was a lot I didn't know about the USA. I also had my mind blown when I lost a quiz question about the smallest state in the USA. I was adamant it must be Hawaii. Right up until they showed me an encyclopedia entry about Rhode Island.)

Pacific saw a gap in the market for Spanish cards and jumped into it with this licensed set. Prior to this they had produced a few other baseball collectibles. However, although it was an untapped market, it was also a limited market and the Spanish cards were a short-lived thing.

For the rest of the 90s, Pacific did some pretty jazzy cards. I have a few to show you in future posts.

Total: 51/394

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Triple Tuesday - three cards that look the same from DonRuss

These are cards from 2018. DonRuss is now part of the Panini stable of brands. This means more recent DonRuss cards feature players but aren't allowed to mention the teams for whom they play.

I'm not sure about the logic of including retired players in their base sets, but it seems to be a more common practice now. I'm not complaining. It's more cards for the collection.

Card Number 48: DonRuss, 2018; #165 

Nothing hugely exciting about the front.

Bit of an odd blurb on the back, talking about Tony tasting World Series glory late on in his career.

But DonRuss weren't done with Tony in 2018.

Card Number 49: DonRuss, 2018; #165 (Short Print)

The difference on the front is that it just says 'Gwynn' instead of 'Tony Gwynn'.

The back has a black baseball top left, instead of white. Actually, I like the way they have done this to denote a short print. Makes it a lot easier to spot them if you pull them from a pack.

But DonRuss still weren't done.

Card Number 50: DonRuss Optic, 2018; #131

I'm not sure how well that has come out. Optic is the DonRuss equivalent of Topps Chrome. This is a very shiny version of the same card as the DonRuss flagship base cards.

The information on the back reads exactly the same as the flagship base cards as well. The card has a different number, Tony moving about 60 spots up the set order, and the Optic logo is in the middle.

That's your triple Tuesday!

Total: 50/394
We've hit the half century!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Bank Holiday Bonus - some oddball freebies

It's a Bank Holiday, which means a free day for me off work. In keeping with the theme of the day, here are some cards that were originally free giveaways.

This kind of baseball card is often referred to as an 'oddball' because they weren't issued by the main manufacturers, or sold in packs in stores. And some, as we will see, aren't even technically "cards".

All today's cards arrived in various joblots. I love it when oddballs turn up alongside the usual selection of junk wax from the main manufacturers.

Card Number 46: Post Cereal 1991; #10

Post aren't a well known breakfast brand in the UK. Originally set up as a rival to the Kellogg's company, they now sell the kind of crazy sugared cereal mocked mercilessly in Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. Back in 1991 they also gave away baseball cards.

I quite like this card. It's a decent close up photo of Tony at bat, ready to receive a pitch. The blue and yellow borders set the card off nicely.

The back is a bit dull. The card is copyright MSA, which stands for Michael Schechter Associates, who produced a whole load of promotional cards and items for various big brands.

Although MSA only had a licensing agreement with the MLBPA, they still used the Padres name on both the front and the back of the card. The pictures looks airbrushed, though. This was before the licensing agreements restricted the use of the team names to cards printed under a MLB license only.

Card Number 47: Duracell Power Player, 1993; #14

Duracell is a well known brand of battery in the UK, so no explanation needed.

This is cool card with Tony sliding into base. You can see the picture has been photoshopped to take out all the detail on his shirt, though - not just the word Padres but the pinstripes too.

The MLBPA logo is on the front of the card, showing its semi-official status. They still use the team name, though.

The back is colourful with a little headshot and a nicely laid out stats chart. Here we see this is another card produced by MSA.

And finally, a card that isn't really a card.

'Card' Number 48: Fantastic Sam's Disc, 1988; #18
There are almost 1,000 franchises of Fantastic Sam's Hair Salons across America (or at least there were before the pandemic; hair salons have been hit bad).

These discs are similar to discs given away by several other businesses in the late 80s. Guess who made them - that's right, MSA! They are about the same size as a poker chip (or a pog, if you remember pogs).

The discs open up like a tiny booklet, so you get a front...

...a middle (with a few pertinent player stats)...

...and a back.

The disc advertises a 'Superstar Sweepstake' where you could "Win a pro player for a day!" I'm intrigued by this. Which pro player had they roped in for this? What would you do with them? Could you send them to run errands for you? So many questions!

You have to scratch off the little foil panel to see if you won a prize. Whoever received this one wasn't particularly bothered about winning a prize. The foil is pristine.

So, those are my Bank Holiday Bonus cards. I hope you enjoyed seeing these oddballs.

Total: 47/394

Sunday, May 24, 2020

One card only - Topps Reserve

I have a few Tony Gwynn relic cards. There are loads of different types of 'relic' cards out there, with almost any kind of thing Tony ever touched chopped up and stuck into baseball cards. I have some swatches and some bat splinters embedded into various cards. For today's post I'm going to show you the first one I ever bought.

Card Number 45: Topps Reserve 2002; #TRJ-TG

It's a piece of plain grey cloth! So many of Tony's swatch cards are grey. It claims to be from an authentic game-worn uniform, but how can you tell really?

CONGRATULATIONS! screams the back of the card.

I still have a slight thrill at the idea of relic cards. I actually pulled one recently from a Topps 2019 jumbo packet that a friend brought me back from America. Talk about the buzz when you realise you've got something a bit out of the ordinary!

I'm not exactly sure when I acquired this card. I know I bought it off eBay and it was the first Tony Gwynn relic card in my collection.

Total: 45/394