Sunday, April 23, 2017

Buyback Franken-set: A Personal Hero Joins the Binder

Just a quick, single buyback to evaluate tonight, but it's a good one if you ask me.  Recently I had the chance to grab a buyback rookie card of one of my personal idols, and I jumped:

1989 Topps #573 - Jim Abbott RC

I have some fond memories of collecting Jim Abbott's rookie as a kid.  If I give it an honest evaluation now it's a big clunky, with Jim pictured in his college uniform, with a pink Angels banner and that large #1 Draft Pick graphic.  Still, I couldn't resist the opportunity to add to the project this card of one of the most inspiring athletes ever to play baseball.

Here's the back, featuring Jim's college stats as well as a write-up about his time at Michigan and with the 1988 US Olympic Team.

Just one problem...if the Abbott card is to make the binder it will have to supplant another Angels pitcher:

I like this one quite a bit, but it doesn't stand a chance against Abbott.

Yeah, that was kind of a foregone conclusion to me.  No offense to Night Owl.

Happy to have Jim included in this project.  I have a feeling this is one buyback that will still be standing at the end if/when I ever complete the set!

Franken-set Progress:  394/792 (50%)
"Rejected" Buybacks:  183
Total Buybacks in Collection: 577

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stat Kings - 2004 MLB Batting Leaders

As a Red Sox fan, 2004 will always be one of the most memorable seasons in Major League Baseball history.  I was living in Massachusetts at the time while my wife and I saved up for a house, and was able to witness the breaking of the infamous curse.  I was just 22 years old but I could still appreciate the decades of torment that Sox fans had suffered through waiting for that elusive World Series championship.

So, when it came time to put together my first Stat Kings post on the baseball side of things, I thought 2004 would be a great place to start.  Though I was still a rabid sports fan in '04, I wasn't collecting cards, so this was also a great chance for me to pick up some cardboard from an era that's somewhat unfamiliar to me.  With one exception, every 2004 card in today's post came courtesy of COMC, and I don't think I paid more than 75 cents for any one of them.

For your enjoyment, today I've got the 2004 MLB batting leaders for you (top 20), in cardboard format of course!  As was the case with the first couple of Stat Kings hockey posts I did, there were some names that I expected, and others that were total surprises.  Let's get started...

#20 - Scott Rolen - St. Louis Cardinals - .314 Average

Kicking things off is third baseman Scott Rolen, who hit .314 in 2004.  I always forget just how good Scott was.  He was the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, was a 7x All-Star and 8x Gold Glove winner, and captured a World Series with the Cards in 2006. 

2004 was without a doubt his finest season at the plate.  His .314 average was a career high, as were 34 home runs, 124 RBI, and 1.007 OPS.  He finished fourth in NL MVP voting, the highest he would ever place.

#19 - Mark Kotsay - Oakland Athletics - .314 Average

Here's a name I was very surprised to see, outfielder Mark Kotsay, who also hit .314 in 2004.  This was Kotsay's highest single season average by a long shot, in fact it was the only time over the course of his 17-year career that he even topped .300.  It's statistical anomalies like this one that make this Stat Kings series enjoyable.

#18 - Johnny Estrada - Atlanta Braves - .314 Average

Here's another name I would never have guessed.  Estrada was a 17th round pick who managed to carve out an 8-year MLB career.  He achieved career highs in almost every single offensive category in '04, and was named an All-Star and Gold Glove winner for the only times in his career.

#17 - Javy Lopez - Baltimore Orioles - .316 Average

I always think of Javy Lopez, the talented Puerto Rican catcher, as a member of the dominating Braves teams of the '90s, but by 2004 he was winding down his career in Baltimore (he actually finished with a very brief stint with the Red Sox in '06).  Even at 33 years of age, he still managed to swat .316 in '04, good for 17th in the league.

#16 - Lance Berkman - Houston Astros - .316 Average

Lance Berkman was a 6x All-Star who won Comeback Player of the Year (and a World Series) in 2011 with the Cardinals.  Berkman could hit for both average and power, and his .316 mark in 2004 was actually the second best season of his career as far as batting average goes.  He registered over 100 RBI in 2004 as well, one of six times he'd achieve that stat!

#15 - Aramis Ramirez - Chicago Cubs - .318 Average

Maybe it's because he played his entire career in the National League, and I'm more of an AL guy, but I didn't realize just how good a hitter Aramis Ramirez was until assembling this post.  While his .318 average in 2004 was a career high, it certainly wasn't abnormal, as Ramirez topped .300 seven different times.  He could put up big power numbers as well, as he topped 100 RBI in a season seven times also, and finished with close to 400 career home runs.

#14 - Carlos Guillen - Detroit Tigers - .318 Average

Carlos Guillen missed the final month of the 2004 season with an injury, but the .318 he batted before going down was enough to land him on this list.  '04 was the first time he was selected as an All-Star, and kicked off an impressive 5-year span in which he hit .318, .320, .320, .296 and .286.  Not too shabby!

#13 - Jason Kendall - Pittsburgh Pirates - .319 Average

Longtime Pirates catcher Jason Kendall was known as a contact hitter, and he certainly lived up to that in '04 when he had 183 hits en route to a .319 average.  Not bad for a guy who also had to handle catching duty for 146 games!  Jason cleared .300 half a dozen times over the course of his career, and had 180 or more hits during three separate seasons.

#12 - Erubiel Durazo - Oakland Athletics - .321 Average

Of the twenty players in today's post, Erubiel Durazo may have been the most surprising to me.  He lasted just seven years in the Majors, and was a part-time player for all but two of those seasons.  His .321 average in 2004 was a full 40 points better than his overall career average.  He surpassed 20 home runs for the second straight year as well, and set a career high with 88 RBI.  It's remarkable that he played just 41 more games total after that impressive season before retiring.

#11 - Sean Casey - Cincinnati Reds - .324 Average

"The Mayor", Sean Casey, never had trouble putting the bat on the ball over the course of his career, which started with the Indians in 1997 and ended with the Red Sox in 2008.  In fact, he finished with more than 1,500 career hits in just 1,405 games played for a career batting average of .302.  I was pumped to be able to grab this beautiful Topps Chrome Black Refractor for use in this post for just 65 cents.

#10 - Juan Pierre - Florida Marlins - .326 Average

Now we crack into the top ten with Marlins speedster Juan Pierre, who appeared in all 162 games for the second of five consecutive seasons in 2004!  Pierre's 748 plate appearances were tops in the National League; same goes for his 221 hits.  I'm sure plenty of those were infield hits legged out by the speedy Pierre.  This was right in the midst of a 6-year stretch during which Juan surpassed 200 hits four times!

#9 - Albert Pujols - St. Louis Cardinals - .331 Average

Here's a name that should surprise nobody.  Albert's career was really just getting underway at this point.  He really cemented his spot in Cooperstown right out of the gate, hitting better than .300 with more than 30 doubles, more than 30 home runs, and more than 100 RBI in each of his first ten seasons!  Just insane.  I was drawn to this particular card based on the sweet retro uniform.

#8 - Ivan Rodriguez - Detroit Tigers - .334 Average

In the #8 spot is one of the best hitting catchers that the game has ever seen in Ivan Rodriguez.  He'll get his plaque in Cooperstown later this year, and deservedly so.  2004 was Ivan's 14th year in the league, and his first with the Detroit Tigers.  While he'd still have some good seasons afterwards, '04 might be his last truly great season, as his average dropped a full 58 points in 2005.

#7 - Adrian Beltre - Los Angeles Dodgers - .334 Average

Here's another guy that I think everyone has come to realize is bound for the HOF.  2004 will likely go down as his best season ever; his .334 average is a career high, same with his insane 1.017 OPS.  Oh yeah, and he also paced the league with 48 home runs.  He finished second in NL MVP voting to a player we'll see further down the list here.

#6 - Mark Loretta - San Diego Padres - .335 Average

Most of the surprises on this list come in the upper half, but if I had to pick a player in the top ten that shocked me while putting this post together it would be Mark Loretta, hands down.  Not only was 2004 his best season average-wise, but it was his best as far as power goes as well.  He set career highs in doubles (47), home runs (16) and RBI (76), was selected as an All-Star, captured a Silver Slugger Award, and even got a few MVP votes for the only time in his career.

#5 - Vladimir Guerrero - Anaheim Angels - .337 Average

In 2004 Vlad Guerrero did what he did just about every season of his career, absolutely pummeled opposing pitching.  He ran away with the AL MVP this season, accumulating 206 hits, 39 home runs and 126 RBI.  He came tantalizingly close to registering an OPS greater than 1.000, which would have been the fourth time he'd done so.  For most players this would be a season to remember, for Guerrero it was just another season.

#4 - Melvin Mora - Baltimore Orioles - .340 Average

After a few years spent as a "super utility" player, the Orioles made Melvin Mora their permanent third baseman in 2004.  He responded with the best season of his career, setting statistical highs in most offensive categories and making himself known as the most feared hitter in Baltimore's lineup.  His .340 average was good for second in the American League.

#3 - Todd Helton - Colorado Rockies - .347 Average

The 2004 season was the last of a 6-year stretch during which Todd Helton was basically regularly batting .330 or above and could be counted on for between 30 and 50 home runs and 100 RBI or more.  It was the fifth straight year that he was selected as an NL All-Star, and the fifth straight year that he received at least some NL MVP votes as well.  One of the best pure hitters of his era, Todd finished with an impressive .316 career batting average.

#2 - Barry Bonds - San Francisco Giants - .362 Average

The second best average posted in 2004 belongs to everyone's favorite villain, Barry Bonds.  Barry was right in the middle of his "enhanced" run of insane, video-game-like statistics at this point in his career.  He would capture the National League MVP for the fourth straight season in 2004.  Barry swatted .362 in '04 despite recording only 135 hits, as he was walked an insane 232 times

At age 39, he posted the best OPS in baseball history in 2004.  It's amazing what those steroids can do, huh?  I read Game of Shadows, the book that broke down Bonds and the BALCO scandal, cover to cover a few years back and used to really detest the guy.  I've softened on him over time though, and he doesn't really bother me that much any more.  Chalk it up to getting older I guess.  By the way, what a great card this is, hats off to Donruss for this one.

#1 - Ichiro Suzuki - Seattle Mariners - .372 Average

At last we've made it to #1, and your 2004 Major League batting champion, Ichiro Suzuki.  In his fourth season in the league, Ichiro broke the record for hits in a single season with 262!  This is a mark that still stands well over a decade later, and probably will for quite some time.  His .372 average that year is a career high as well (he's still playing at age 43, but will obviously never approach that number again), and one of four times that he would top .350 in a campaign.

Suzuki is an absolute lock for induction whenever he decides to hang up the spikes.  I'm glad that he received an appropriately awesome card in 2004; thanks to a cameo from Mr. Met this is easily my favorite card in this entire post (RIP Upper Deck!).

So, there you have it, your 2004 MLB batting leaders!  I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

'92-93 Ultra All Over Again

I don't do a great job of keeping up with new releases, so you can imagine my surprise when I recently learned that the 2016-17 Fleer Showcase hockey set contains buybacks from 1992-93 Fleer Ultra!

The '92-93 Ultra set was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, so I was pumped to learn that some of these would be available as buybacks.  Unfortunately, they're pretty limited, being serial-numbered to just /25 copies each (to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the set I presume).  I've been fortunate enough to land a few of them on eBay though, and today I've got the first one to share with you:

This card in particular really takes me back to my days as a pre-teen collector in the early '90s.  The "overseas invasion" was going on in the NHL at the time, and as a kid who was playing ice hockey myself I was enamored by guys like Fedorov, Mogilny, Pavel Bure and yes, even Vyacheslav Kozlov!

"Slava", as he was affectionately known, was never going to be a HOFer, but he was a key component to those powerhouse Red Wings teams of the '90s and won a couple of Stanley Cups during his time in Detroit.  In those days you could count on him for 20-30 goals, at least as many assists, and solid defensive play.  He ended up playing professionally for a long time as well, having last skated in the NHL in 2010.  If you count his time in Russia's KHL after that, he actually played all the way through the 2014-15 season!

I always loved the design of the first couple of Fleer Ultra sets, and the cards like this one that featured the gold foil ROOKIE ribbon emerging from the Ultra logo were always extra cool.  Fleer did a great job with the backs as well:

A nice layout, and two separate photographs that differ from the one on the front of the card.  Even 25 years later, Panini could learn a thing or two here on how to make an attractive card back!

So, there's my first ever '92-93 Ultra buyback.  You might think I'm crazy for shelling out $7 and change for a re-stamped copy of a card that is worth probably a dime in its original format, but I couldn't be happier!

I'll be showing off some more of these in the future for sure...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Buyback Franken-set: Sweet '65s!

Time for another round of buybacks for my franken-set project.  I'm gonna take a break from the large lot of 2017 buybacks today.  Instead, this lot came a couple of months back courtesy of a seller who listed a whole bunch of '60s buybacks on eBay, each with an opening bid under a dollar and with combined shipping offered.

All but one of today's cards comes from the 1965 Topps set, which is generally regarded as a favorite among vintage collectors.  Let's see what I ended up with, and how the cards fared in terms of the franken-set...

1965 Topps #329 - Hawk Taylor

I was drawn to this one just because you don't see a lot of guys named "Hawk".  This is, of course, a nickname, but I'm glad Topps went with it over his real one (Robert Dale Taylor).  Taylor had the first pinch-hit grand slam in Mets history.  He would have finished out his career with the Red Sox, but a back injury knocked him out of the game prematurely before he ever played a game with Boston.  As my first #329 buyback, Hawk is in!

1965 Topps #19 - Gates Brown

Another nickname here, as "Gates" Brown's real name was William James Brown.  Gates was a pinch-hit specialist as well, never more so than in the Tigers' 1968 World Series season.  He hit an astounding .450 as a pinch-hitter that year for Detroit.  He captured a second World Series with the Tigers in '84, this time as a member of the coaching staff.

I've already got a #19 buyback in the binder:

I love Expos cards, and those are some nice glasses too...

...but Gates is in, Foli is out.

1965 Topps #313 - Jimmie Schaffer

I don't really know much about Jimmie Schaffer.  He enjoyed an 8-year career in Major League Baseball, but his time with the White Sox was limited to just 17 games at the beginning of 1965.  I just liked this one because Jimmie is sporting the backwards cap decades before Ken Griffey Jr did!  As a way to deal with traded players, the reverse cap look you see here is certainly preferable to the hat-less photos, at least in my eyes.  Schaffer makes the binder uncontested.

1965 Topps #174 - Joe Jay

Next up is a late-career card of pitcher Joe Jay.  Joe will forever be remembered for his 1961 season, where he led the NL with 21 wins.  The Reds faced the Yankees in the World Series that year, and even though the Bronx Bombers won, Jay tossed a complete game four-hit gem in Game 2.  He won 21 games again in 1962, but his numbers began trailing off after that.

I had this '61 Topps Ray Semproch in slot 174...

...but don't care too much for this one, so Joe Jay now occupies that spot.

1965 Topps #184 - John Boozer

Here's the first of two John Boozer cards that you'll be seeing in today's post.  The Phillies were the only team that he pitched for over the course of his MLB career.  When his pitching days were over, he returned to South Carolina, where he was born and raised, and started a "Recreation & Aging Committee" in his county.  Sadly, he passed away at just 47 years of age from lymphoma.

I had this cap-less Denis Menke card in slot 184...

...and we all know how I feel about these.

This one also happens to fall on the one page of the binder that's actually complete so far.  Here's the before, you can see Denis Menke middle left.

Here's the after, with Boozer in Menke's place.  Much better!

1965 Topps #66 - Bill Rigney

Here's Bill Rigney, who managed the Angels throughout the '60s.  Coincidentally, this is the second Rigney card I've shown on the blog in the past week or so.  I really like this card of the grizzled veteran, but it draws a tough match-up when it comes to the franken-set project:

This was the first, and still only, 1962 Topps Heritage buyback that I've acquired to date.  I love the photograph on this one, complete with marks left by foul balls on the backstop behind Cuno there.

Rigney loses in a tough one.

1965 Topps #96 - Sonny Siebert

Here's two-sport star Sonny Siebert, who was simultaneously drafted by the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA.  Sonny is best remembered for tossing a no-hitter in 1966.  My favorite feat that Siebert accomplished though was when he hit two home runs on the same day as a member of the Red Sox in 1971.  I'm admittedly a bit biased there, since Sonny accomplished the feat on my birthday.

This '75 Mike Cosgrove was the reigning champ of slot 96.

Was being the operative word!

1965 Topps #311 - Orlando Pena

I love this classic shot of Cuban hurler Orlando Pena rocking some sweet green and yellow KC Athletics gear.  These uniforms are some of my favorites of the era.  Plus, this card gives me the perfect reason to bump this boring one from the franken-set:

I've been bored by this buyback since the day I pulled it from a pack.

So long Jose!

1965 Topps #152 - Bill Monbouquette

Here's the last '65 for today, and a nice Red Sox buyback to boot!  Bill Monbouquette was the staff ace for Boston throughout the early '60s.  In 1965 he was the starter against a 58-year-old Satchel Paige, and became Paige's final strikeout victim!  Good bit of bar room trivia there for sure.  Bill is a member of the Red Sox HOF.

If he wants to make the franken-set, he'll have to unseat another Red Sox HOFer:

I love Frank Malzone, but he's listed with the Angels here, and missing his hat.

Easy call.

1963 Topps #29 - Reds/Phillies Rookie Stars

Here's the last buyback I have for today.  I'm not overly familiar with any of these players, though John Boozer was featured earlier in the post.  I really grabbed this one solely due to the fact that it was my first opportunity to land a multi-player rookie card from 1963 Topps in buyback form.  This is my first #29 buyback, and was a nice way to add some variety to the binder indeed!

If you round up I'm at 50% complete now, but in actuality I'm sitting at 49.7%.  Hopefully in my next post I'll cross the halfway point for real.  Thanks for reading as always!

Franken-set Progress:  394/792 (50%)
"Rejected" Buybacks:  182
Total Buybacks in Collection: 576
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