Thursday, December 31, 2020

Adventures in scanning - new hardware

Happy New Year's Eve!

I had a surprise at Christmas. Unbeknownst to me, my wife Cathy had arranged for my Mum to buy me a new scanner that I had idly added to my wishlist because I was curious to see if I could get better scans of foil cards than could be delivered by my trusty old flatbed scanner.

The new scanner is an 'overhead' scanner with built in LEDs. It looks like this:

I had a couple of foil Pinnacle cards, which really are the pinnacle of unscannable cards, lingering in my folders, so I decided to have a go with the new scanner to see if I could get better images of them.

Card Number 559: Pinnacle Naturals, 1998; #192

This was the flatbed scan. It's terrible.

This is the overhead scanner scan. Much better!

And this is the back, which I did on the flatbed.

The reference to a career power peak in 1997 is referring to Tony's career high for home runs (17) and RBI (119 - the only time he broke 100 ribbys).

Card Number 560: Pinnacle Plus, 1998; #83
Here's the flatbed scan.

Here's the (wonky) overhead scan.

And here's the cardback. The photo shows him fist-bumping another team-mate behind Steve Finley's back. It's an odd photo composition.

Overall I think the new scanner has worked for the foil cards. They still look a bit odd, and I need to work on my alignment for the scans. But they are heaps better than the flatbed versions - at least you can see the design even if the colouring is a bit off.

I  went back and had a go with a couple of other cards to see if the new scanner worked better with them. I chose some cards from the Fleer/Skybox binder. These were both cards that were an utter nightmare to scan.

First up, the Metal Universe card from 1998. The original flatbed scan is on the left.

And then the MLPD card from the Metal Universe range in 1999 (that merited it's own "scanning nightmares" post) - again the original scan is on the left.

The new scanner definitely captures more of the card, even if it's a little bit grainy. I can probably play around with the settings to improve the definition.

I also thought it would be fun to see how it captured an ordinary non-foiled card. I picked a DonRuss card at random.

It captured this card very well. Another feature with the scanner is that you can set it up on a timer to keep taking photos of the cards. This should make it easier to scan a stack of cards in one go because I don't have to keep opening the lid of the scanner, or even press any buttons to capture the image. 

The only thing I have found is that I underestimated how much time I needed to flip the card over and line it up so it was reasonably straight. Oops, finger scan!

But then all I had to do was wait a few more seconds and it scanned for me again.

All in all, I'm very happy with my Christmas present. I'd like to give a shout out to my Mum for buying it for me, and to Cathy for helping my Mum choose it!

Maybe when I run out of new cards to blog, I will go back through and try and get some better scans of the nightmare foil cards I've already featured.

Total: 560 cards

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

DonRuss Odds and Ends

Blogging this year has settled into a routine for me. Cards arrive. I log them on Trading Card Database. I scan them and file the scans in folders on my computer arranged by manufacturer.  Then I file the cards in my binders, which are also arranged by manufacturer. I started with almost 200 scanned cards arranged this way, then back in June I added another 240 cards. So I have been working through them ever since, all the while adding to them.

However, I am now drawing near the end of my stash of unblogged card scans. I seem to be left with several unrelated cards that don't really go together. Today I'm going to close out my DonRuss folder with three cards that have yet to feature on here. Some of them have been waiting months for their chance to star on the blog, while all the cards around them in the folder have been picked. At last their day has arrived.

Starting with the oldest card, which arrived most recently.

Card Number 556: DonRuss Baseball's Best, 1988; #154

This is a from a 336-card 'factory set' that was released towards the end of the 1988 season. According to BaseballCardPedia, the orange and black borders mean it's sometimes referred to as the Halloween Edition.

The unremarkable photo on the front (which is channeling Topps's uncanny knack of using a photo that shows neither the player's face or name), is matched by the unremarkable back. It's different to the regular base cards, however as the stats box is portrait-oriented, rather than landscape.

Card Number 557: DonRuss, 2001; #24

Somehow, I hadn't blogged this base card before. It's from Tony's final season. The star patterns in the background are cool.

The back has another photo of Tony. This is his 'running the bases' expression and he's got one dipped shoulder, so I suspect this photo is a cropped action shot.

Card Number 558, DonRuss Leather & Lumber, 2004; #124
This was a relic-heavy set where DonRuss literally cut up anything to stick in cards - balls, gloves, bats, jerseys, you name it. The ordinary cards were just filler to pad out the packs in-between the relics. This card was sent to me by Rodney just after I launched the blog.

It's a nice photo of Tony tipping his batting helmet to the crowd on the front.

The back has a succinct write-up highlighting another aspect of Tony's game. In the first half of his career he was an extraordinary base-stealer.

The one line stats box makes perfect sense for a retired player.

So that's my DonRuss file empty for the time being. I'm sure there will be some more along at some point, maybe even some cards released in 2021!

Total: 558 cards

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Limited shininess

After the gold shininess of last Sunday's card, here's another shiny gold card to brighten up your day.

Card Number 555: Leaf Limited, 1995; #87

Trading Card Database records the print run on these cards at 37,500, which is presumably where the 'limited' bit in the set name applies.

This card includes three images of Tony, which are all cut outs. The career stats are strange because it gives his monthly averages over his career. Looking at this it would seem his performances always peaked in June as that's the month he had made the most hits, scored the most home runs and batted in the most runs up to this point in his career.

Tony's preeminence in June isn't that much of a surprise given that was probably the month of the year he was least likely to be hampered by injury. He missed a few starts and ends of seasons in his career. He had also lost half an August and September the season before this card came out so that may have impacted his totals for those months.

Also, you may have noticed two things about his career batting average to this point. At .333, he was .005 lower in his career average than his final career total. Very few players increase their average at the end of their careers, but in the last six years of his career, Tony was able to increase his batting average to break the top 20 all-time career batting average totals. 

The other thing to note is how close his career batting average was to his career slugging percentage at this point. (That also got higher - increasing to .457 for his career when he retired.)

The difference between batting average send slugging percentage is the number of extra bases scored. Tony was never a massive power hitter - he collected several doubles and triples and a few home runs each season, but most of his hits were singles. Get the ball in play. Get on base. He was a Moneyball player before Moneyball, and if he had been active a decade later when Moneyball took off, I think he would have been in high demand.

I realise that's all speculation, but it does make me wonder how things may have been different for Tony if he hadn't been playing during the fascination with home run records and power sluggers, and had been active when his key skills became, briefly, the most prized skills in baseball. 

Total: a very satisfying 555 cards

Monday, December 28, 2020

Mini Monday

Back in 2011 Topps included Kimball Champions cards as inserts in their flagship products, based on cigarette cards produced by William Kimball & Co. in the 19th Century. Unlike Allen & Ginter and Gypsy Queen which are also tobacco brands revived by Topps, Kimball never made the jump to become a full set in its own right. 

This card arrived in the eBay lot that was misdelivered after I'd paid an 'administration fee' for the privilege of paying customs charges. I'm still a bit irked about that.

Card Number 554: Topps Kimball Champions, 2011; #KC-59

The front is illustrated rather than a photo. The bottom half of the picture makes it look like Tony is playing in a park somewhere.

The illustration is based on a photo of Tony taken in the early part of his career. The brown cap and jacket help to date the photo, as does his fine moustache.

All the cardbacks contained a checklist for the relevant section they were in. Cards 51-100 featured retired players and legends of the game. It's a dull cardback even by fake cigarette card standards. 

This is only the second card from 2011 that I've featured on the blog so far. 2011 was a comparatively lean year for Tony Gwynn cards - with just 182 cards listed on the Trading Card Database. 

Total: 554 cards

Sunday, December 27, 2020

One Card Only - Hands of Gold

It's the day after Boxing Day, which in our house is called Boxing Day Boxing Day! It's also a Sunday so that means it's one card only, and today's card honours Tony's fielding skills.

Card Number 553: Topps Hand of Gold insert, 2000; #HG5

This die-cut insert card is very shiny!

Tony often talked about how he had to work on his fielding when he started playing professionally. As with his hitting, his incredible focus paid off. He made very few errors in the outfield and in some seasons recorded a fielding percentage as remarkable as his batting average. In fact, in two seasons when he was batting champion, he also won a gold glove!

To date I think this is the only Tony Gwynn card I have that honours his skill and dedication as an outfield player. Several Padres have won Gold Gloves since Tony's fifth award (including Trent Grisham in 2020), but Tony is still the franchise leader.

Total: 553 cards

Saturday, December 26, 2020


Happy Boxing Day. Just the one card today and I chose it because, well, I didn't have any Skybox cards left to blog, and it sort of has a box as part of the design. 

Card Number 552: Upper Deck Ionix, 2000; #A11 (A-eleven)

Ionix was a weird card range that Upper Deck released at the turn of the Millennium. I have featured one of the cards from the 1999 set previously. This card came from eBay. 

The box saying Gn 19 looks like a box from the Periodic Table. This gave me an idea - a Periodic Table of baseball players! Then I googled it and found it has already been done.

The cardback has a sciencey-looking chart for Tony's batting average. Graphs on baseball cards are a bit of a niche interest for me. 

I also really like the font that Upper Deck used for the word 'Atomic' and it's much clearer on the back than the front. I'll give this card a bonus point for that font. (One day, when I have some free time, I will actually get round to scoring the cards in my collection.)

Total: 552 cards

Friday, December 25, 2020

Happy Christmas!

I was going to take a break from blogging over Christmas, but Laura, the talented first lady of the UK baseball card collector's Facebook group, sent me a very special, unique Christmas card that I decided to share with you today.

That's an adapted Topps card from 1994 - the year Tony achieved his .394 batting average. It made me happy, I hope it makes you happy too.

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas Day!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry X-press

Instead of a Merry Xmas, I'd like to wish you a Merry X-Press... with a Pinnacle X-Press. (It's a terrible Christmas pun. You deserve better on Christmas Eve!)

Card Number 551: Pinnacle X-Press, 1997; #13

X-Press is one of Pinnacle's less well-known card ranges. This card features a plethora of batting photos.

The statistical breakdown on the back shows a month-by-month summary of Tony's statistics from the 1996 season.

Tony played just one game in July 1996 as he struggled with a foot injury, which is why his total number of plate appearances in the year was four short of the minimum requirement to be in contention for a batting title. He still won the batting title, however, because even with four hitless plate appearances added to his total, his average would have been higher than anyone else's. (More information in this blog post.)

Have a lovely Christmas. I'm expecting coal in my stocking as punning-shment for my attempts at wordplay.

Total: 551 cards

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Hanging with the rookie class

It's the day before Christmas Eve and in our house we call that Christmas Eve Eve.

I've been thinking a bit about the future of this blog. It started back in May as a 'lockdown project' and I have posted every day since then. I wasn't anticipating it being a daily blog as I had less then 200 Tony Gwynn cards when I started. I imagined I would blog the cards I had and then blog more when I acquired them. However, I have been blessed by some great contacts who have supplied me literally hundreds of cards between them.

At this point in time, though, I am actually nearing the end of my unblogged cards, and so I think in January I will be heading into 'occasional blogging' mode, as and when I add new cards to the collection. I have a few other bits and pieces related to Tony Gwynn that could feature. And I have toyed with the idea of a virtual "Frankenset", which might be fun. 

However, as I said, I am finishing up the collection of unblogged cards, and have two cards here that have a similar theme.

Card Number 549: Upper Deck Pros & Prospects, 2000; #78

This card set had 192 cards in it, and 47 of them were serial numbered cards of rookies. It was released at the end of the season.

On the back, Upper Deck opted for the confusing 'put the player's uniform number where you would expect to see the card number' design choice. There are also some issues with the kerning in some lines - ah, the wonders of justified text!

Other companies released sets that covered similar ground to Pros and Prospects. Including, Leaf...

Card Number 550: Leaf Rookies and Stars, 2001; #19

Leaf were a bit more obvious about what the set was about than Upper Deck. Again, the setlist was heavy on rookies - 148 out of the 300 base cards were rookie cards.

The airbrushing effect at the bottom of the card makes Tony look like he is skipping.

There's an orange tone on the cardback. And another entry in my collection of cardback descriptions of Tony: "A field general at the plate". It also decribes Tony as being "on deck" for the Hall of Fame.

Leaf also get 19 bonus points for having this as card #19 in their set!

Total: 550 cards

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Tuesday Twins - another Magic Moment

In 2000, Topps included some 'Magic Moments' cards in their flagship set. They were issued with overprints commemorating various things. I blogged about three of the cards, and an Opening Day version, back in June.

There are five different overprints in this set, and I have recently added a fourth version of this card to my collection.

Card Number 548: Topps, 2000; #240 (1995 Batting Title)

The cardback explains why Topps picked the 1995 batting title as the one to highlight on this card.

Putting all four cards together makes a nice display.

The 3000th hit card was included in the Topps Opening Day set in 2000. There is a fifth overprint still to get as well. So, Topps really made the most of this photograph in 2000. However, that wasn't the first time Topps had used this photo. It also appeared on the back of a Bowman Chrome card in 1999.

This takes this photo up to 7 appearances on baseball cards across 3 sets, which is reasonably impressive for a time before the current era of multiple parallels. 

Total: 548 cards


Monday, December 21, 2020

Modern Monday - got your number

This card from the recently released Topps Update set came all the way from Plymouth, Massachusetts, via eBay. Then, after I'd bought it and while it was somewhere in the postal system, Marc from the UK Facebook collectors group asked me if I had it. The lesson? Wait and see what turns up in the group!

Card Number 547: Topps Update Numbers Game insert, 2020; #NG-15

The theme of this insert set are the various numbers retired by clubs. 

If that picture on the front looks familiar, it might be because it appeared on an insert card in Topps Chrome Update in 2019.

On the back there is a little write up about Tony's career.

I have one quibble with this insert series - why didn't Topps try to align the card numbers with the retired numbers? NG-19 in the series is Ernie Banks, who wore #14. They gave Derek Jeter's card the number NG-22, but his uniform number was #2, while NG-2 is a card for Ryne Sandberg, who wore #23.

Yesterday I talked about how I felt Topps's licensing monopoly had rendered the company lazy. This is the kind of thing I mean. I realise it might not always be possible to number all the cards exactly aligned to the shirt numbers of the players. But Topps could have done that with a lot of them. 

Total: 547 cards

Sunday, December 20, 2020

One Card Only: life without logos

Today's blog post contains opinions. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong in the comments!

Card Number 546: Panini Classics, 2014; #134

Panini have been producing cards without a Major League Baseball license for a number of years now. They have signed contracts with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, so they have access to photos and player likenesses. But they can't include the franchise name or any franchise logos.

And so we get cards like this. But looking at this objectively, there is nothing particularly bad about this card. You can see Tony's name and number on his shirt and as much of his face as is visible in, say, his Topps base card from 1987 or the main photo in his Topps rookie card from 1983. In terms of visible logos it is about parallel with the Topps Stadium Club card from 2020, which was a fully licensed card.

Panini are operating at a disadvantage, but, honestly, with the exception of the word 'Padres' not being included, this card is absolutely fine. It's nicely designed. The cardback is neatly laid out, and includes a factoid that I didn't remember until I read it. The set year is included on the front (bonus point!), and this is actually one of the few cards issued the year that Tony died.

I have mentioned this a few times when reviewing Panini output - they own the DonRuss stable of brands and now produce the Diamond Kings cards as Panini Diamond Kings - but given what the company achieves without a MLB license, it would be very interesting to see what Panini could do if they had a license that meant they didn't have to airbrush batting helmets and shirt sleeves to remove logos.

Only one card company - Topps - holds a MLB license at the moment. I don't think that is particularly good for the hobby. For one thing it limits innovation. Very few major advances in card production have been introduced into the hobby by Topps, and those that have were introduced in reaction to pressure. In fact I'd go as far as saying that being the sole licensee isn't just bad for the hobby, it's also bad for Topps. They don't need to try as hard, and so, let's be real, they don't.

With the exception of the Topps 2020 product this year, and that product is divisive among collectors, there has been little to show that Topps are the dominant card company. Their flagship set was OK, their archives set wasn't bad, but their other sets like Allen & Ginter and Gypsy Queen are looking tired. Museum, Gallery, Gold Label... they feel like they are treading water. And the decidedly average UK Edition was welcome for being baseball cards released in the UK (hurray!), but has a weaksauce checklist and an England-centric insert set, which I'll be blunt, turned a "United Kingdom" edition into an "England Only" edition. (It's not like Topps don't know Wales exists -  there were two Welsh castles in their Allen & Ginter fortresses subset!)

The Panini Classics card in this post is six years old, and it shows that Panini have known what they are doing for some time now. Despite being at a tremendous disadvantage, they are not as far behind Topps as Topps would like. It may seem counter-intuitive, but maybe the way forward for the Topps company is to relinquish their monopoly on the MLB license and allow other companies to compete on level ground. I think that would help Topps to rediscover the need to innovate and explore new things. There would be risk, but that will keep them sharp. 

It would also be good for the hobby, and what is good for the hobby will also be good for Topps.

In the meantime, if you can bear cards without logos, Panini cards are less expensive to collect, and are often more interesting too. If you collect a player, like I do, then the pictures on the cards are what matter, and they tend to be as good as the pictures that Topps choose anyway. With the archive of DonRuss, Leaf, Score and Pinnacle templates available to them, Panini can match Topps in the nostalgia stakes as well.

And if they produce cards that are as nice in hand as this one, I will be happy to add them to my collection.

Total: 546 cards

Saturday, December 19, 2020

SE Stat-urday

I am reaching the end of my stockpile of Tony Gwynn cards and seem to have ended up with a few odd ones that don't really fit into a themed post, like these Upper Deck cards.

Card Number 543: Upper Deck Collector's Choice Special Edition, 1995; #140

Collector's Choice was Upper Deck's other main set, and Special Edition was a smaller additional set of Collector's Choice, like a spin-off of a spin-off.

The stat leaders card is relevant to this blog because it commemorates Tony's .394 score in 1994. The blue foil SE logo marks this out as part of the Special Edition set.

On the back we have all the leading hitters across both leagues in 1994. Tony was .026 more prolific than Jeff Bagwell, who had the next highest average.

Looking down the list of other players, it feels very odd seeing Wade Boggs listed as a Yankee, but he spent five seasons and won the World Series with them in 1996.

Card Number 544: Upper Deck UD3, 1997; #35

UD3 was a high end card range brought out by Upper Deck that went heavy on emphasising its use of "unique technologies" on its cards. Tony's card was a PROmotion [sic] card that featured "Light-FX" - an effect that doesn't scan very well. 

This wonky photo captures the colourfulness of the cardfront better.

The cardback isn't treated with the same coating. It predicts Tony has a place reserved in Cooperstown - he entered the Hall of Fame ten years later!

There were only 60 base cards in this set, which sold at $3.99 for 3 cards. If we adjust for inflation, the retail price for packs of three cards would be $6.47 in 2020.

Card Number 545: Upper Deck Past Time Pennants, 2005; #76

This set from Upper Deck was composed of retired players. There were 90 cards in the set and 69 of them were Hall of Famers, or have been elected since the set was released. Tony was included in the set two years before he was elected.

The cardback lists Tony's five best seasons and it's notable that three of them were grouped between the 1994 season and the 1997 season. 

Although I sometimes comment negatively about truncated stats boxes on cards, this works really well in this kind of set that features legends of the game. 

Total:545 cards

Friday, December 18, 2020

Three cards to complete a Pacific quintet

Here are three more cards released by Pacific in 1999. 

Card Number 540: Pacific Invincible Sandlot Heroes insert, 1999; #17

I mentioned yesterday that Pacific had a penchant for photoshopping cards. Invincible was the product where they did it most often.

As with Tony's card in the regular Pacific release, this card was released with two different card fronts. There were 20 cards in the insert series, but all had two versions, meaning it was actually a 40-card set!

The alternative photo version of this card was of Tony at the plate. 

The posed photo on the back is a rare picture of Tony sans headgear. The cardback is bilingual with Spanish given priority.

I prefer "Heroes del Diamante" to "Sandlot Heroes". It definitely sounds better.

Card Number 541: Pacific Crown Collection, 1999; #242
Crown Collection was Pacific's main product aimed at Spanish speakers. The base card isn't particularly exciting.

The back picks an arbitrary batting average (.320) as a noteworthy data point, and also shows how close he was to his 500th double. (He ended up hitting 543 in his career.)

Card Number 542: Pacific Crown Royale Pillars of the Game insert, 1999; #20
Crown Royale cards were die-cut into a crown shape. I blogged about the 2000 version back in June. There were 25 cards in this insert series.

It's shiny and colourful, and, let's be honest, gaudy. 

There's a bit of history on the back. I've noticed how card companies often decided to summarise college careers and being drafted on cardbacks, instead of more contemporary achievements. This card was released 18 years after Tony was drafted, but that's what they chose to talk about.

Total: 542 cards