Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Death of Zistle? (or the Perils of Contributing to a Website You Don't Own)

For me, there is a single website that has, more so than any other, defined the way that I collect cards over the last number of years; Zistle.

It all started for me back in 2009 when I posted here on this very blog about a rinky-dink Access database I was working on to track my collection digitally.  I wasn't that happy with the results, and didn't want to maintain and upkeep it, but I knew that tracking and organization was critical to my enjoyment of the hobby.  After all, if a card sits in the dark in a box and you don't even know that you have it, what good is it really doing you?

A couple of days later I received an email from a kind woman named Ashley asking me to check out a site she and her husband had developed for exactly this purpose called Zistle.  I was hooked.  Ashley and her husband Josh were motivated and responsive, and the site was everything I had visualized but didn't have the time or skill to bring to life myself.

Thanks to this wonderful (and free!) online utility I completely digitally organized my card collection to the point where I could tell you with a couple of keystrokes exactly how many cards I had of a certain player, team or set.  I could look at the collections of my hobby friends in the same way, making for super efficient trade packages.  I "met" (virtually) and traded with dozens of other collectors who found a home in the same place.

As one of the early adapters, I told everyone who would listen how great the site was.  I communicated with Ashley and Josh constantly, they were receptive and added features that collectors were looking for.  At one point they even did a blog post about my collection on the Zistle blog (now offline).  Hell, to this day it's my Zistle collection you see a screenshot of on the homepage for the site (can't miss that Whalers logo):

Well, earlier this year I got a bit of crushing news when I learned that Beckett was suing Zistle for copyright infringement.  I don't personally see how you can "own" the intellectual property that is a checklist for a set, but that's not the point of today's rant.  I knew that Beckett was a big bully just trying to push a competitor out of the marketplace; basically "COMC lawsuit round 2".

The thing is, COMC is a huge company who I'm sure has its own legal team and the resources to fight a giant like Beckett.  They did, and they won.  I think if Zistle had pursued the same course they would have ultimately won too, but we're talking about a husband and wife team here, presumably with limited funding, both of whom I believe have other careers as well.  I got a knot in my stomach right away.

Once the lawsuit was filed, there was basically no news or updates provided at all from that point forward.  A couple of months later I started to notice oddities with the site.  Zistle had always been about the collectors building the library through their own contributions, but I began to notice that less and less adds/changes were being approved.  I began having issues using the site with certain browsers.  Nothing huge, but little annoyances that years ago would have been tidied up by Josh or Ashley promptly.  I started exporting my collection from the site on a monthly basis as a CYA maneuver, but I wasn't ready to give up just yet.

Then, finally, in the last few weeks, came the news that I fear is the final crushing blow.  Some keen observer noticed that on Josh's LinkedIn page it was noted that Zistle was sold to Beckett.  It was a punch to the gut to say the least.  A few days later, the site's SSL certificate expired, making it totally unreachable for most without some browser settings changes.  It has since been renewed and the site is online again, but the same issues that existed before have gone unaddressed.  For example, I can no longer add any new cards to the library using Firefox.

If Beckett was smart (which they are not), they would take this buy-out as an opportunity to use the Zistle framework/platform to overhaul their own online collecting site.  After all, theirs is so awful that it's one of the main reasons people flocked to Zistle in droves to begin with.  Hell, if they just rolled the Zistle site over and re-branded it as Beckett I would happily pay $10 a month or so just to keep using it.  I have no confidence that this will happen though.

At this point I think the lawsuit accomplished its goal; to bully two young, motivated individuals with a huge following right out of the hobby.  Hell, Ashley and Josh never even said a word about what was happening, and stopped answering my emails as well.  I'm sure they have no choice, and were forced to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement not to speak about anything as part of the buyout, but man does it hurt after all these years of contributing my valuable time.

If I had to make a prediction, it's that Beckett renewed the SSL cert for one more year just to cover themselves legally for anyone who had paid for a 1-year Zistle "Gold" membership.  I don't think they will touch the site ever again after that, and I expect that a year from now, or whenever the last Gold membership expires, it will ultimately be shut down.

So, now I find myself at a crisis with my collection (this is the definition of a first-world problem, I know).  Sure, I've exported it out of Zistle so I haven't lost my inventory, but what fun are spreadsheets after years of a vibrant, online community and a slick site with great presentation, search capabilities, photos, and even an automated trading engine?

Is anyone else reeling from this as badly as I am?  Any suggestions for digitally tracking a collection?  I still don't know exactly what this means for the future of my collection just yet, but I do know it will mean drastic change in one form or another.  I can tell you one thing, now that the jerks at Beckett have sued both of my favorite hobby sites within the last couple of years and really put a damper on the hobby for me, I will never buy another one of their shitty price guides again.

Josh and Ashley, if you ever see this, I'm sorry it had to end this way, and I truly appreciate all that you both did to make collecting an absolute blast for me over the last 7 years...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Buyback Franken-set: League Leaders

I'm still reeling over the seemingly impending doom of Zistle at the hands of the evil overlords at Beckett.  In fact, I typed up a giant rant on the topic last night but I'm trying to stay positive so that one will be staying in my drafts folder for now.  Instead let's look at a nice little order of a dozen buybacks I placed on Sportlots a couple of weeks ago now in an effort to further grow my franken-set...

1967 Topps #24 - Bob Allen

Seems like a good day to lead off with an Indians card, as they have a shot to punch a ticket to the World Series this evening.  Bob Allen was a career Indian too, he never played for another team during his 5 MLB seasons.  There's nothing overly spectacular about this card, but Bob makes the set for now as the only #24 buyback I've got so far.

1967 Topps #40 - Rick Reichardt

The twelve buybacks in this order came to just about $12 on the nose, so you figure a dollar each on average.  In reality though a couple of them were $2, and others like Rick Reichardt here were less than a buck.

Rick was a very highly touted two-sport star coming out of college.  His career was off to a promising start in 1966 when an illness forced him to have a kidney removed.  Though he'd ultimately return the following season and would last a few more years at the Major League level, he was never the same player as he was before the operation.  Rick makes the franken-set uncontested as well.

1968 Topps #267 - Herman Franks

I'm a sucker for a good manager card as it is, but with this one those awesome shades really put it over the top.  Herman's a pretty interesting figure, too.  He was actually a big league catcher in the late '30s and '40s, and even caught a no-hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940.  He served in the Pacific during WWII, rising to the rank of lieutenant.  After that he got into coaching, and depending on whose story you believe may have been the guy in center field stealing signals when Bobby Thomson hit his "Shot Heard Round the World".

At less than $1 this turned out to be one of my more interesting buyback purchases to date, happy to welcome Herman to the set in slot 267!

1968 Topps #308 - Pittsburgh Pirates Team

The Pirates were a mediocre team at best in 1968, failing to finish above .500 and finishing 6th in their division.  On top of that, this card is beat to hell, possibly the worst conditioned card of any of the buybacks in the franken-set thus far.  It only cost me 50 cents though, and it fills a spot in the binder that was open previously.  Also, this is probably the closest I'll ever get to having a Roberto Clemente card in the franken-set, so it has that going for it.

1976 Topps #70 - Roy Smalley/Roy Smalley Jr.

I want my franken-set to be as interesting and diverse as possible, so I jumped at the opportunity to land this Father & Son combo card of Roy Smalley and Roy Smalley, Jr.  In actuality, the Roy Smalley on the left here is actually Jr. and the one on the right is Roy Smalley III.  I love this unique buyback (you can barely make out the stamp in the dark, upper right), but it has some competition for slot 70...

This Milt Pappas card actually just joined the franken-set earlier this week, and it's already got a challenger here.  Not much of a contest here, as Milt Pappas has more than one card in the franken-set currently.

Milt is out, the Roy Smalleys are in!

1975 Topps #232 - Diego Segui

You had to know there would be at least one Red Sox buyback in this order, right?  Born in Cuba, Diego Segui was a forkball master.  He might be best known for having pitched in the first ever MLB game for both Seattle franchises (the Pilots in '69 and the Mariners in '77).  With no current competition for #232, Diego is sitting safely inside the franken-set binder.

1959 Topps #190 - Bill Virdon

This Topps Heritage Bill Virdon buyback represents my best bargain of this particular order.  I guess the pencil marks and crease in the upper right corner must have scared off a few prospective buyers because I landed this one for just 50 cents.  Not bad for a former NL Rookie of the Year!  Even better because I didn't have a #190 buyback previously, so the franken-set count increases by one.

1985 Topps #761 - Jerry Remy

I was drawn to this Jerry Remy for two reasons.  First, I can't even imagine how many hundreds of hours I've spent listening to Jerry's voice over the years as color commentator for the Red Sox here in New England.  In addition to that, this is a nice high numbered card.  In fact, it's the first buyback I've managed to pick up so far that's number 700 or higher in its set.  There's a bunch of empty sheets before and after this card in the binder right now, that's for sure.

1970 Topps #279 - Bill Lee

When I stumbled upon this buyback of Bill "The Spaceman" Lee's rookie card for just $1, I couldn't add it to my cart fast enough.  I picked up the O-Pee-Chee version of this card from COMC a while back, nice to have a buyback to accompany it.  Aside from the fact that Lee is one of the more interesting personalities in team history, I love that the Green Monster and Citgo sign are prominently featured.  This one makes the cut at card 279, and I highly doubt it will ever be replaced over the lifetime of the franken-set.

2012 Topps #192 - Active NL Home Run Leaders

Now we reach the portion of the post from which I derived its name; league leaders cards.  For just 75 cents this was a great opportunity to add three big names to the franken-set in Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones.  Just one problem, there is already a card in slot 192...

Both 2016 Topps buybacks, both red foil, but one features three stars and the other features a so-so shortstop with a badly damaged corner.

Sorry Mario...

1978 Topps #201 - 1977 Batting Leaders

We'll close out today's post with the two buybacks that I ponied up $2 each for.  First up, two big names (though only one is enshrined) on this 1977 Batting Leaders card.  Dave Parker paced the NL with a .338 average in 1977.  1978 was even better for him, as he again led the NL with a .334 average en route to his lone NL MVP award!

Rod Carew is represented on this card thanks to the insane .388 he swatted in '77.  Unreal.  Easy to see why he was voted AL MVP that year.  Like Parker, he'd win a batting title again the following year, for the 7th and final time in his impressive career.  Pretty cool that both of these guys would repeat as batting champs again the year this card was printed up.

I already had this 1979 Topps record breaker buyback in slot 201, but how can the record for most unassisted double plays by a second baseman in a game possibly hold up against those numbers I just mentioned?

Well, quite frankly, it can't!

1973 Topps #64 - 1972 Stolen Base Leaders

Last buyback for today is another great league leaders card, this time from the 1973 set.  First-ballot HOFer Lou Brock swiped 63 bags in '72, one of eight times that he would lead the league in stolen bases.  Campaneris stole 52 that year, the 6th and final time that he'd pace the AL in that category.  These speedsters have competition for card 64 though...

...just not much.  I don't think there are too many collectors, Astros fans aside (are there any?), that would choose Bob Bruce over Brock and Campaneris.

I'm certainly not one of them!

This was probably my favorite round of buybacks yet.  Out of 12 cards, 8 were slots that were empty previously and the 4 that had conflicts all won out over the competition.  With a little luck I can get over 20% complete over the course of the next couple of buyback posts.  Thanks for reading as always!

Franken-set Progress:  145/792 (18%)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Highly Objective Contest

A couple of weeks back Brian over at Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary hosted a nice, simple post-season baseball contest.  All you had to do was leave a comment indicating how many home runs would be hit in that evening's Blue Jays/Orioles contest, which team would hit more, and which player would hit the first.

I was one of three people to get two out of three categories correct, and Brian sent me a nice prize PWE as a result...

We'll start off with a set that's really grown on me, 2016 Topps Bunt.  Between Dimebox Nick's PWE and this one, I must be getting close to a Red Sox team set at this point.

New Bogaerts card!  Xander cooled off a bit in the second half of 2016 after a red hot start, and as a result fell just short of 200 hits for the second straight season.  I'll still gladly accept any and all of his cards!  He only just turned 24 after all, and I hope has many good seasons ahead as the shortstop for the Sox.

Henry Owens had a rough year for sure.  He made only 5 starts for Boston in spot situations, and went 0-2 with an ERA close to 7.00.  Yikes.

What Red Sox fan wouldn't love receiving this card in a surprise package?  A great photo of Teddy Ballgame that I don't recall having seen all that often.

Brian threw in a few other cards along with the Bunt, including this 2015 Topps Update release of utility infielder Josh Rutledge.  Pretty tough when you're the second guy on the utility player depth chart (behind Brock Holt)!

My first card of prospect Jagger Rusconi.  He swatted well below the Mendoza Line in A ball this year, so not sure how many sets we'll be seeing him included in going forward.

As much as I disliked the 2016 Topps flagship design, I think the empty white space they left on two corners actually works pretty well when it comes to the Chrome Refractors.

This David Ortiz was my first look in-hand at the Donruss Optic set.  I really like how this card looks.  So much so that I ran out and picked up a retail hanger pack the day after this PWE arrived.  It was a total bust, I hated all the cards, and was reminded why I don't spend much of my hobby budget on retail wax.  Oh well, I still like this Big Papi card.

Last, but certainly not least, a nice bat relic card of poor Bill Buckner.  It's nice that the Red Sox were able to win some World Series Championships while he was still alive so that he could put that whole thing to bed and get some closure.

Brian, thanks for the great cards.  My Twins supply is a little low at the moment but I actually managed to get a return PWE off to you in yesterday's mail, hope you enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Buyback Franken-set: Ten from COMC!

Let's keep the buyback franken-set moving with another round of ten that arrived in my most recent COMC order...

1975 Topps #333 - Dick Drago

The bulk of what's been entered into the buyback franken-set so far came from a large lot I won on eBay.  Tonight's post is the first chunk of ten that I hand-picked entirely, so I guess it should come as no surprise that it starts with a Red Sox buyback.  Dick Drago had two stints with Boston, one in the mid-'70s and a second to close out the decade.  He's got some competition for card #333 though... airbrushed '78 Mariner vs. a '75 Topps Red Sox card.  Truth be told, I've been looking for an excuse to oust Jim Todd from the set since the day he first made the cut.

See ya!

1969 Topps #371 - Sal Bando

An interesting one here, the 1969 Topps release of the man who would be a key contributor for the back-to-back-to-back World Series Champion A's team the following decade.  I'm thinking those are palm trees over Sal's shoulder there?  No competition yet for card #371, Sal's in by default.

1966 Topps #53 - Bob Duliba

Another Red Sox buyback, and it won't be the last one in this post.  I actually ended up with two of these.  The other one looks like it was crumpled in a ball then run over by a bus, so it's this copy that makes the binder in slot 53.

1973 Topps #14 - Sonny Siebert

And we go three out of four Red Sox to start the post.  Sonny Siebert was a two-sport star who was actually drafted by the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA, as well as the Cleveland Indians.  He converted to pitcher not long after he began playing baseball professionally, and managed a no-hitter in 1966!  Sonny makes the set without any competition and is sitting snugly in the middle of the second page of the binder.

1967 Topps #130 - Phil Regan

This one was purely a case of being frugal.  You don't often see the Heritage buybacks listed for under a dollar, so I pounced on this one.  Phil's got some kind of mildew or mystery substance on his shoulders and chest, and he's also got some competition for #130 in the franken-set:

Pretty boring one here, even that completely '70s Astros jersey ins't enough to save Bob Watson.

'67 Topps trumps '79 Topps!

1959 Topps #73 - Ron Jackson

Don't have much to say about Ron Jackson, picked this one out just because '50s cards are pretty tough to land in buyback format.  In fact, I'm well over 130 cards into the franken-set now and this is just the second one from before 1960 (the other being a '58 Topps).  Ron's in.

1960 Topps #424 - Pete Whisenant

From my first '59 Topps buyback to my first 1960 buyback.  I don't have any amazing Pete Whisenant facts to share, looks like he was a role player/utility guy for the bulk of his career.  Either way, nice to get a card this old above #400 in the franken-set.

1974 Topps #192 - Mario Guerrero

Last Red Sox card for today, I swear.  I have no idea what happened to the upper right corner of this Mario Guerrero card.  Topps went with different color buyback stamps in the 2016 set that are supposed to represent scarcity.  Red is "limited", whatever that means.  I'm powerless against a new Red Sox buyback, regardless of how scarce or how commonplace it is.  Mario and his damaged corner are in for now.

1973 Topps #70 - Milt Pappas

Slot 70 in the binder was previously empty, but now it's home to the second Milt Pappas card to make the franken-set.  For now, based mostly on random chance, Milt is a member of a very elite club of players to appear in the franken-set more than once.  We'll see how long he retains that membership for.

1964 Topps #94 - Jim Britton/Larry Maxie

Last card for today, another Heritage buyback.  This is my first of the 1964 variety.  Jim Britton, whose name was completely covered by the buyback stamp here, gave up Johnny Bench's first career home run.  Larry Maxie is one of the more obscure Braves to get a card during this time period, with just two career MLB appearances to his name.

Out of ten new buybacks, eight made the cut no contest, and the two that did have competition both won out.  A pretty successful grouping right there, won't be long before I'm crossing the 150-card threshold!

Franken-set Progress:  137/792 (17%)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Signature Sundays - Discount Leetch

With the 2016-17 NHL season in full swing, I have a hockey autograph to feature in this week's Signature Sundays post...

This on-card beauty is one of those retro '94-95 die-cut autographs from the 2014-15 Upper Deck SP Authentic hockey set.  It represents my second autograph of HOF defenseman Brian Leetch, with the other being from the Panini Classics Signatures release I went kind of overboard on a couple of years back.

I was drawn to this one because I have fond memories of the '94-95 Upper Deck SP set that it honors being a nice "premium" release in my childhood days of collecting.  The real reason I went after this card though was the absolute bargain price.  Thanks to a poorly worded eBay listing, I reeled in this sweet card of Calder Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup winner Leetch for a mere $6.00.

I'd have to say this one falls into my top 10 bargains of 2016 thus far.  Hope all you hockey fans are enjoying the young season so far!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Surprise PWE from Dimebox Nick

I received two nice surprise PWEs in the mail this past week.  I'll cover the first one today, from everyone's favorite dime box bargain hunter, Nick!

Both of the PWEs I received contained some Topps Bunt cards, with Nick providing me with a Roger Clemens.  As a low price point release, I'm definitely a fan of this set.  Seems like most collectors feel that way, or at least the cross-section of blog posts I've read on the set.  I picked up just a single hanger pack of these and pulled no Red Sox cards at all, so it was a nice surprise to receive this one.

Bunt wasn't the only (relatively) new release I found in this package, as Ryan Hanigan here hails from the 2016 Heritage High Numbers set.  Definitely needed this one!

Keeping it rolling with the 2016 releases, here's a Topps Sticker of (your AL Cy Young Award winner?) Rick Porcello.  Does Topps release a book for collectors to stick these in like they used to?  I'm so out of touch.

Here's a nice Future Stars Gold parallel of lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.  On the whole, he seemed to regress a bit this year, and had to deal with some injuries as well.  It was not the season that I, or any Red Sox fan, had hoped for from Eddie.  He did show the occasional flash of brilliance though, and is still quite young.  I expect that we'll see him towards the back of the rotation to begin 2017.

Here's another one from the recent Heritage High Numbers set.  I believe you got a couple/few of these black-bordered parallels in each hanger pack.  I definitely don't have too many Pomeranz Red Sox cards yet, and I'm rarely lucky enough to pull Red Sox parallels on my own so I'm grateful that Nick thought of me for this one.

I have to say that the MLB Debut inserts from this year's Topps flagship set are some of the better inserts I've seen in the flagship effort in some time.  Just my opinion of course, but I like these where I generally find Topps inserts to be boring if not awful.  Boggs debuted just a few months before I was born...boy I'm starting to get old.

I'm not sure if Nick read here on the blog that I'm making a concerted effort to wrap up with the Kellogg's Red Sox cards this year, or if it was just chance that he included this one, but either way I'm happy!  This '72 Sonny Siebert is one I'd yet to track down, just perfect.

Just one more 2016 card here.  It looks like a near certainty that Rusney Castillo will go down as one of the biggest contract busts in the history of the franchise to date.  If this turns out to be his final Stadium Club card, he sure got a nice one at least.

How perfect is this card?  This might be the most 1990s card in my entire collection.  The obnoxious color scheme, the design, the fonts used, Scott's turtleneck.  The Classic releases are an admitted guilty pleasure of mine, so Nick really hit a home run with this one.

How about another odd-ball release, 1988 Topps Woolworth.  Don Baylor is actually the first card on the checklist in this small set.  I believe Roger Clemens is the only other Red Sox player in this release, I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for that one.

An Upper Deck SP card of Tim Naehring in the midst of a pretty good collision at the plate.  I'm going to say he was called out on this one.

How great is this 1987 Leaf card of legend Tom Seaver?  Easily within my top 3 favorite cards from the PWE, maybe my overall favorite in fact.  There truly were only a handful of Red Sox Seaver cards released in 1987, so it's a good day when I acquire a new one like this.

A perfect black-and-white posed shot on this Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic Yaz.  I don't recall having seen this set before (this is the 2005 release), but it's actually a nice design.

Here's another Yaz, this one a Topps Heritage insert paying homage to the '67 Topps Stickers.  I've got a few of the originals, but no Yastrzemski unfortunately.

Manny Ramirez recently appeared at the send-off ceremony for David Ortiz at Fenway Park.

Closing things out is a fantastic vintage odd-ball, Haywood Sullivan's 1961 Post card.  Every time I see one of these I'm impressed that it's survived all these years after being cut from a box.  I think Haywood here looks pretty good after 50 years plus.

Thanks for the nice surprise Nick, was a joy finding these in my mailbox!  I'm working on a return for you that I hope to have out soon.
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