Sunday, May 31, 2020

One card only - Fleer Grassroots

I can't express how much I adore this baseball card. If I could only pick 10 cards to keep out of my Tony Gwynn binder, this would be the first one I pick.

Card Number 61: Fleer Tradition, 2001; #13GR

The scan doesn't really do it justice. I can't really define what makes it so appealing. Maybe it's the way Tony's name follows the arch of the frame. All I know is that when I picked it up while going through a job lot, my first response was 'Wow!'

It has a nice, handsome card back too. There were 15 cards in the 'Grass Roots' insert series within the Fleer Tradition set. I'm not sure what the reference to 'Grass Roots's is about. The write up on the back offers no clues as to why they chose to call it 'Grass Roots'.

This was from Tony's final season and predicts Tony would finish with a higher lifetime batting average than Honus Wagner. When Tony retired, the Fleer cardback writers were proved correct as he finished with a career total of .338 with 19 seasons in a row posting over .300; two more seasons than Wagner.

It's interesting to speculate if Tony would have won even more batting titles and finished with an even higher career total, if he hadn't played so many games while carrying an injury. There were some seasons where he would have finished with a higher average if he hadn't played for the final few weeks of the season.

Fleer Tradition cards were an equivalent to Topps Heritage, but are sadly no longer produced. I'm just glad to have this lovely card in my collection.

Total: 61/394

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

Due to an error in counting, I had two cards numbered 48, which I only discovered months later, so this card has now been relocated and renumbered as #515

If you want to see it in full, then check out my post from 2 December!

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

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday round up: Time Sinks and Serendipities

A chap called Tim got in touch with me, having read a few of my blog posts, and said he would like to try and help me out on my project to collect 394 different cards featuring Tony Gwynn. Then he asked if I had a wants list.

I am a disorganised collector. My cards aren't in any real order. I keep them in a repurposed Panini soccer cards binder and they are roughly ordered by date of acquisition. I've grouped certain types of cards together, but mostly they are random.

So, I decided I needed to make a list. My first thought was a trusty Excel spreadsheet but then I realised that would take a while. So I went on Trading Card Database (TCDb) where you can log the cards you own. I thought this would be quicker, but I think I chose an inefficient way of doing it because it took me several hours.

There are over 10,000 Tony Gwynn cards on TCDb. Or at least that's what they tell you. In reality many of the "cards" they list are 1/1 printing plates and the like, or barely-remembered sets with a billion variations like Topps Tek. (Do you remember Topps Tek? I don't. And after scrolling through literally hundreds of varieties I don't feel particularly enamoured of them.)

However, the huge glorious timesink that is TCDb did throw out a couple of really interesting little factoids for me, and even revealed a hitherto disregarded card in my possession that counts as a Tony Gwynn card.

Firstly, last weekend I posted about Tony's DonRuss cards in 1990. What I didn't know then, but thanks to TCDb I do know now, is that the All Star Card I've got is an error variation.

On the back there, where is says "Recent Major League Performance" it should have said "All Star Game Performance." In my previous post I made fun of how the DonRuss team had used cut'n'paste for the career highlights sections. Turns out they did the same for the box header as well, and that really should have been changed. I did point out in the post that it was his All Star Game stats but I didn't realise this card was changed for subsequent print runs. From the looks of it on TCDb, almost all the All Star cards  in this part of the DonRuss set had a similar error.

So, what does this mean? Well, it means I can keep an eye out for the corrected version and add it to the set as another card, and probably quite cheaply compared to 1/1 printing plates.

The second bonus was finding Tony listed on a Pirates card, which I actually owned.

Card number 44: Topps 1989, #699 (Pirates Leaders)

Yes, that's Tony, failing to safely make it to base. The Pirates player tagging him out is shortstop Al Pedrique, who only had three seasons in the Major Leagues after spending nine years in the Mets farm system. Originally from Venezuela, Al is now a coach with the Athletics.

This again highlights the odd choices Topps made for certain cards. Why have a leaders card that doesn't show team leaders on it? Al Pedrique wasn't a leader in any category on the back, and was barely even a Pirate for any length of time.

Two other things, though, about the back of this card. 1) It's the second Topps set in a row where Tony is on the card numbered 699. In 1988, that was the Padres Leaders card. 2) One of the names on the back of the card is infamous. Bobby Bonilla was the Pirates' joint leader for RBI. Yes, that Bobby Bonilla, the guy who signed a contract with the Mets that was so huge he will be getting paid $1,193,248.20 a year every year until 2035, despite retiring in 2001. (That really is a story worth reading about as epic fraudster Bernie Madoff is involved, and it's leaves me shaking my head at the insanity.)

Anyway, so I saw this card listed on TCDb and it rang a bell. I went and had a look through the little pile of Pirates cards that I have acquired over the years because I had a weird memory of seeing this card at some point. I must have pulled it out of a repack. Going through the cards I found it, and there was Tony, sliding desperately into a base and already being called out. I didn't know I had this card.

I did consider whether it should really count towards my total, but then I thought, if it's good enough for the TCDb, then it's good enough for me. Plus, rule 4 applies.

I have another card that Tony is gatecrashing. It arrived in a bundle of his cards I bought from someone, sight unseen. One of the cards wasn't of Tony, it was of his team-mate Greg Vaughn. However, I can see why the person would have thought it was a Tony Gwynn card.

There he is, high-fiving Greg, with his name very prominent.

Unlike the Pirate Leaders card, I'm not counting this card as a 'bonus Tony card', because it's Greg's card and it seems unfair to take it away from him. It's from the 1999 Sports Illustrated set published by Fleer.

Greg was a very different batsman to Tony, hitting 50 home runs during the Padres World Series season in 1998. The following year he was traded to the Cincinatti Reds - the first time any player had been traded the season after hitting 50 home runs. His beard was an issue, as the Reds had a ban on players having facial hair, but they lifted it for him. So, as a great servant to the Padres, who they cashed in as quickly as they could, and the trailblazer for today's hipsters who want to play for the Redsame and keep their beards, I don't feel it would be right say this card isn't his.

Total: 44/394

Friday, May 22, 2020

Whole lotta Leaf

Leaf was a bubblegum company that produced its first gum in 1940.  It produced its first baseball cards in 1948, the first post-war cards printed in colour. In the 1980s Leaf took over the DonRuss card brand, and in the 1990s it was one of the worlds largest confectionery manufacturers. It's now sadly disappeared from the candy aisle after various mergers and acquisitions, but the cards live on under the Panini umbrella.

Today's cards all come from Leaf's heyday as a brand and card producer: the 1990s. They were one of many companies contributing to the 'junk wax' explosion, but their cards tended towards the glossier and smarter end of the bunch.

Card Number 39: Leaf Series 2, 1991; #290

I like the solid silver borders on this and the 'photo mount' corners. It's a nice throwing stance photo.

Tony has a bit of a quizzical look on the back there. In among the bio details is a note that he was contracted through to 1996. They also included his minor league stats.

Card Number 40: Leaf Series 1, 1992; #206

Oof! That looks like a wild swing!

I'm developing a fondness for blurred out people behind Tony. (It has made me wonder when Photoshop started offering designers the blur feature, but this could be natural blur.) That lady in the blue top behind the dugout either had a big hat on, or a Beverly Goldberg giant perm. It was the 90s. I don't think we can rule out the perm.

The back of this card really makes me smile, because it looks like Tony is looking down on the catcher and is just about to swing the bat down and bludgeon him. I'm trying to work out who his victim could be. The name begins "DE" and the number starts with a 3. It's a gray uniform with orange or pink piping on it. But a lot of teams wore gray road uniforms in 1991/2.

The bio mentions Tony's contract details again. It seems an odd factoid to include, but I guess Leaf knew their audience. This would appeal to the kids who dreamed of being a Big League accountant when they were older. The minor league stats are included again as well.

Card Number 41: Leaf, 1996; #99

This card has not scanned very well because it is shiny. Now I'm a great lover of shiny things, but this shiny card is actually a bit boring to look at. Well the front is anyway.

But the back? The back is glorious 90s design. 5 different fonts, different kerning, words stretched and curved. There's just one seasons' stats and they are awkwardly spaced out. 2 photos on the back - the little one in the circle is a great little bonus picture. It doesn't mention his contract though. Enquiring number-oriented little minds will be disappointed! (Also of note, this card is copyright DonRuss, not Leaf. The brand was starting to fade by now.)

Card Number 42: Leaf Rookies and Stars 1998, #33
Rookies and Stars was a premium product featuring, erm, rookies and stars.

Because of the banners hanging over the wall in the background I think this photo was taken on Opening Day 1998. If so, that was on 31 March 1998 at Cheney Field in Cincinatti, which would explain why Tony is wearing a blue road uniform. He's on base here, poised to run. he got two runs in that game but only one hit. In fact his stats were 4 at bats, 3 RBI, 2 runs, 1 hit. (Of course, it could have been any of the opening day weekend games, and I might not even be right with my guesses there.)

1998 was the season the Padres won the national League Championship and played in their second (and to date, most recent) World Series. It started out well in Cincinatti, with a 10-2 victory.

There are no minor league stats on the back but there is a complete major league record, so a lot more info compared to the 1996 base card, it's fairly simple. No contract details. And the photo is of Tony grimacing. An unremarkable card back.

And now a question for the ages, when is a baseball card not really a baseball card? Answer: when it's a checklist.

Now, I don't mind checklists. I remember getting a checklist in one of the original packs of 1987 Topps cards I bought as a kid in Florida and just realising there were hundreds of cards in the set. I still have that checklist in the nearly complete Topps 1987 set I've been building, complete with little pen marks denoting which players I had got so far.

In the 90s checklists got a bit more interesting.

Card number 43: Leaf 1996; #205 Checklist
This is another foil card from the 1996 set. It scans poorly.

The back isn't foil, so scans well. Unfortunately, Tony is only on the front. There's a nice photo on the back of Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners. Tony and Edgar shared this card because they were the respective batting champions in 1995.

This checklist is worth reading to see how Leaf divided up their bonus cards depending on what kind of packs you bought. Also, I was really intrigued to see what the #20 MVP Contender card would be as it's just listed as "Bonus Card". So I looked up the set on the Trading Card Database.

Basically, the 20 cards in the MVP Contenders subset were cards you could trade in later for a set, if that player was the MVP - in return for the card you would get a complete 20 card set of "Special Gold MVP Contenders". If none of the 19 players won the MVP then the 'bonus card' was the one you traded in.

Leaf did pretty well with their guesses. Number 2 on their list was Mike Piazza. He was the MVP that year.

Total: 43/394
(Now over 10% of the way towards my target)