Thursday, December 31, 2020

Shoebox Legends' Top 20 of 2020!

As I've done each of the previous few years here on the blog, I'd like to use my final post of this particularly horrid year to highlight the top cards to debut on this blog over the past twelve months.  The rules for this countdown are just that simple, the card has to have debuted here on Shoebox Legends between January 1, 2020, and today.

Each card caption in the post is actually a hyper-link to the original post where that card debuted on the blog, in case you missed it the first time around and are incredibly bored or looking for some extra card-related reading material.

With that out of the way, here is my Top 20 of 2020 countdown...

#20 - 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente

You know it's the sign of a good year for my collection when the last-place card in the countdown is a playing-era Clemente!

One of my big trends this past year was selling off cards and downsizing my collection, and using the proceeds to pick up fewer, more significant cards instead.  This Roberto is the first of many examples of the fruit of all of that labor in today's countdown.  I picked up half a dozen graded HOFers from this iconic set with some sales funds, but Roberto here was the best of the bunch by far, and thus just squeaks onto this list.

#19 - 1995-96 Select Gold Team Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky seems to have at least one card in the countdown at the end of each year, and 2020 was no exception.  This year he gets the #19 slot, with this obnoxiously shiny '90s insert.  I pretty much went out and picked this up as soon as I heard about these golden beauties.  I may have added some older Gretzky cards, and some more valuable Gretzky cards, to my collection this year, but this shiny gem is my favorite of the bunch.

#18 - 1964 Philadelphia Johnny Unitas

Using my Cardboard Keepers project as an excuse to pick-up some all-time greats outside my normal collecting wheelhouse has been quite successful so far.  Case in point, this really great Johnny Unitas, which just so happens to be the very first football card to make one of these year-end countdowns.  I'm hoping to (very selectively) continue to pick-up some NFL greats in the coming year, so maybe this will be the beginning of football having a place here on the countdown in future years.

This one's also great in that I picked it up at an antiques store just down the street from me that has plenty more great vintage to be picked through.  I've been avoiding going back due to COVID, but will hopefully peruse again someday soon when conditions are better...

#17 - 2016-17 Fleer Showcase '92-93 Ultra Buyback Auto Ray Bourque (#'d /25)

I have seriously cooled off on collecting autographs over the years, and have been trending more in the vintage and shiny card directions of late.  Nonetheless, there was no way I could leave this amazing on-card autograph of one of the NHL's all-time best defensemen off this list.  I'd love to pick up a few more of these Ultra buyback autos, but at just 25 copies each they are tough little buggers to track down in the wild.

#16 - 2011 Topps Chrome Atomic Refractor Freddie Freeman RC

This gorgeous Freddie Freeman rookie card kicks off a streak of shiny cardboard here on the countdown.  This was a satisfying pick-up because I'd been after an affordable copy for oh so long, yet finally hauled one in just months before Freeman won the NL MVP, decreasing the odds of finding a cheap copy even more.  I'm determined to complete the 2011 Topps Chrome set in Atomic Refractor format someday, and this card was a huge win on that particular front.

#15 - 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee Platinum Traxx David Pastrnak RC

Feels like it's been forever since we saw any NHL hockey, doesn't it?  Well, things are going to start back up in a couple of weeks here, and one of the players that I'll be most excited to watch is David Pastrnak, who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in last year's abbreviated season with the great Alex Ovechkin.  Still just 24 years old, David has already established himself as one of the elite scorers in the league.  I flat out stole this card at under $40 last winter.

#14 - 2018 Panini Prizm World Cup Mosaic Lionel Messi

Arguably the world's greatest soccer player over the last 15-20 years, in the top 2-3 players by anyone's account.  This is also one of my favorite soccer sets ever, and just a gloriously shiny, retail-exclusive parallel.  These Mosiacs are really tough to find, much more so than many of the other great colored parallels from this release.  I stumbled upon it as a Buy-It-Now just minutes after it was listed, and I'm glad I did because at the bargain price that it was listed at, it would not have lasted very long.

#13 - 2015 Topps Buybacks 1968 Topps Manager's Dream Oliva/Cardenas/Clemente

Roberto Clemente makes his second and final appearance in today's countdown.  2020 was another steady year for my long-running Buyback Franken-set project, and the best buyback that was added to the set by a country mile over these past twelve months was this 1968 Manager's Dream card.  '50s and '60s combo cards are just amazing, and to get one with Clemente into my project was more than I could have hoped for when I started it.  There's no way that this card ever gets bumped from the franken-set binder as far as I'm concerned.

#12 - 2005 Upper Deck Baseball Heroes Emerald Auto Carl Yastrzemski (#'d /99)

I know I said that I've cooled off quite a bit on autograph pick-ups, and I truly have, but it's more that I seek out quality over quantity I guess.  My first ever Yastrzemski autograph certainly fits the definition of quality!  What a bold, amazing signature it is, too!  Pretty amazing that it took me this many years of collecting to finally add Yaz's name to my autograph collection, but I'm happy that when it finally came it was from one of my favorite baseball autograph sets ever.

#11 - 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle

The first nine cards were great, but I have to say that the top eleven cards this year really took my collection to a whole new level.  I used a lot of my downtime during the pandemic to sell unwanted or under-appreciated cards from my collection on eBay, using the proceeds to land some big fish instead.  It worked out amazingly, as this card and basically everything that come after it could have easily fit into the top three in any of the previous years' countdowns.

One of my biggest long-term collecting objectives is to complete a run of Mantle's playing era Bowman and Topps cards.  While I cannot afford the 1951 or 1952 Bowman cards, or the insanely expensive 1952 Topps release, I'd like to get all of his other flagship Bowman and Topps cards from '53 through '69.  This is a lifelong project to be sure, but I'm pleased to say I came one card closer in 2020 with this nicely centered '68.

This was the first of five cards that I acquired in my greatest card flip ever, funded by a $5 soccer pick-up, if you can believe that!

#10 - 1985-86 O-Pee-Chee Mario Lemieux RC

It just so happens that the next two cards came in the same flip as the Mantle.  In retrospect I should have ranked this particular card higher, as Lemieux is a top-10 hockey player all-time in my opinion, and his rookie is also one of the most iconic hockey cards of the 1980s.  When I acquired this, I commented that I thought Super Mario's rookies were criminally under-priced.  I guess I was correct, as they've skyrocketed in the months since, as have many sports cards to be fair.  A definite case of "I'm sure glad that I picked this up when I did".

#9 - 1956 Topps Willie Mays

Yet another card that came in the epic $5 soccer card flip.  I'd love to complete both the 1955 and 1956 Topps sets someday, but I've been pursuing '55 with more vigor to date.  The price was right on this '56 though when I had the flip funds to spend, and I knew I wanted to add a significant Willie Mays card to my collection, so here we are.  I still get a smile on my face that's similar to the one Willie is flashing here whenever I look at this card.

#8 - 1971-72 Topps NHL Goalies Win Leaders Auto Esposito/Johnston/Cheevers/Giacomin

This year's highest-ranking autograph card is easily one of the most unique autographs in my entire collection.  I just think it's beyond cool that somebody put in the effort to have this one signed by all four subjects, and it helps that it's from one of the most iconic hockey sets ever produced and features multiple HOFers.  I may not be as into autographed cards as I used to be, but I'll always appreciate a unique collectible like this one!

#7 - 1955 Topps Hank Aaron

The sports card market was an insane place, full of ups and downs this past year.  Sure, there were negative aspects to this, like the fact that I didn't see any retail packs available even once after early March.  On a positive note though, there were ways to capitalize on the insanity.

Case in point, I sold a 1993 Finest Michael Jordan when his cards went bananas.  Not the refractor or anything, just a plain ol' base card.  Got enough money for it that it funded this second year Hammerin' Hank, one-for-one.  Yep, that's just plain crazy.  Since even a relatively beat Aaron RC is a four figure card now, this is likely the oldest Aaron I'll ever own, and I effectively traded a '90s basketball base single for it.  2020 was a crazy year, indeed.

#6 - 1955 Topps Ted Williams

This was the fourth of five cards acquired from my epic $5 soccer flip, and to date is my oldest card of The Splendid Splinter.  I probably should have had this ranked behind the Hank Aaron that we just looked at a moment ago, but I guess my Red Sox bias bumped this one up a spot.  As with the Hank Aaron, once I had this card in hand I felt like my 1955 Topps set pursuit was truly starting to get serious.

#5 - 1950 Bowman Yogi Berra

Here's the final card from my $5 soccer card flip, and honestly the one that I was most excited about out of that grouping.  I've adored this card since I was a kid, as I just love the image of the game's greatest catcher.  I'm a total sucker for 1950 Bowman as well, since the set provided the first truly vintage card I ever owned as a kid (a Maurice McDermott, given to me by my dad).  This card would have placed #1 in either of the last two years of these countdowns, but in 2020 it only ranked #5.  Yep, some truly special cards are coming up here.

Completing a '50 Bowman set feels like a pipe dream still, especially given what guys like Jackie Robinson go for, but even if I never get there I'll always treasure this beauty.  Speaking of Jackie Robinson...

#4 - 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson

The top four cards in this year's countdown are a cut above the rest in my mind.  Each of them is very special to me for a particular reason, and in this case it's because this is my first playing-era Jackie Robinson card!  A vintage Robinson is a great cornerstone to any baseball card collection, and I was pumped to clear out some cards I no longer appreciated to make space, and to finally acquire my first one with the resulting funds.  My 1955 Topps set is in hyper-drive mode after landing Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Jackie here all in the past year!

#3 - 1968 Topps Jerry Koosman/Nolan Ryan RC

2020 saw me pick up another card that I've coveted since childhood, the Nolan Ryan rookie.  This purchase is special to me for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it was funded by gift cards provided by my parents and my mother-in-law, which I'll always remember.  I'm 100% certain that I will keep, and treasure, this card for the rest of my life.

When I posted it all the way back in January, I predicted that it might finish in the top spot on this here countdown, and it certainly would have been a fitting choice.  Amazingly though, I ended up with two others before the year was out that I'd put above even this wonderful RC!

#2 - 1940 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio

The first of those would be this 1940 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio.  I never in my life thought I'd own a playing-era card of Joltin' Joe.  Once again though, the craziness that was the sports card world in 2020 allowed it to actually happen.  I sold a soccer card that I pulled myself from a pack in 2018, that had no patch or autograph on it, and wasn't even serial-numbered, and made enough off of it to buy this Joe D straight-up.  I really question whether we'll ever see some of the insanity in sports cards that we saw this past year ever again.

What on earth could top an authentic vintage card of The Yankee Clipper?

#1 - 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan RC

Arguably the most iconic basketball card ever produced, that's what.  This was the pinnacle of my mantra of selling quantity to fund quality this past year, as I spent many hours over many weeks, and many trips to the post office listing, selling and shipping over three dozen separate graded singles to fund the purchase of this one card!  My timing was perfect too, as I picked this up just weeks before Jordan cards went bat-shit crazy as far as prices on the market.  The greatest basketball card I have ever owned, or will ever own, and a very fitting choice for the top spot in this year's countdown.

So, that's a wrap for the Top 20 of 2020.  Looking back at the past twelve months like this makes it pretty clear that this was the single best year for my collection to date.  2020 was a trying year in both my professional and personal life, but it sure was a good one for sports cards.

As nice as all these acquisitions are, what I appreciate more is the great camaraderie that exists between collectors, and in our sports card blogging community in particular.  In addition, I'm more grateful that ever to have my family happy and generally healthy, even if I don't get to see them much of late.  Let's hope 2021 is a brighter year ahead on many counts.

Thanks as always for stopping by, and I hope you'll join me for yet another great upcoming year here on Shoebox Legends!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Itch to Rip - Topps Super '70s Baseball!

Like many collectors, I have been almost completely shutout from buying any unopened product at retail locations in 2020.  Between the pandemic reducing my trips to these locations drastically, and the flipping vultures who purchase every bit of product the second it hits the shelves, it's been hopeless.  In order to satisfy my itch to rip, I've had to modify my tactics a bit.

It was for these reasons that I recently succumbed to an offer in my daily email digest from Topps.  Most of the time I scroll quickly through the available items, click Delete, and move on with my day.  A few weeks ago though I saw a product that looked intriguing, and that was the Super '70s box (read: pack) you see above.

Each box features a single pack of 20 cards, at a price point of $24.99.  Yes, you're paying $5 more than a retail blaster would set you back, but shipping is free, and as I said above good luck finding a retail blaster these days even if you wanted one.  

Though I was born in the early '80s, and thus missed the '70s entirely, I still have an admiration for the decade and its baseball cards.  I mean, just look at the awesome logo that Topps used on this box:

Sorta looks a little like Reggie Jackson meets Mr. Met to me.  Long hair, a great mustache, tequila sunrise jersey, some cool shades, and blowing a nice bubble too.  I'm no expert, but this is just about a perfect 1970s mascot if you ask me!  This is the first time in a long time that I was impressed enough with the packaging that I couldn't bring myself to toss the box away.  It's small enough anyway, and kind of a fun display piece in my home office/card room.

Opening up the box, you can see that there's an air-gap on the two sides, with the single "deck" of cards in the center.  The cards come in a clear acrylic holder, and there's some black Styrofoam padding there to keep things fitting snugly.

It would have been nice to see Topps design a wax wrapper for these as an excuse to use that fantastic logo once more, but instead it's just some tamper-proof tape around the clear holder.

As you could plainly see in the above photo, the first card out for me was the great speedster Rickey Henderson.  A satisfying first pull.  I really just picked this up for the pure enjoyment of opening something.  I don't plan to complete the set at this point, even though it is somewhat enticing at just 90 cards deep.  Mostly I'm just hoping to get a few favorite players, and Rickey certainly qualifies.  A cool opening card too, given that Henderson debuted in 1979 with Oakland.

It's obvious to me that Topps used the 1977 through 1979 flagship baseball sets as inspiration for the design here.  The little position flag in the lower left is lifted right from '77 Topps, the cursive team name from '78, and the banner with the player name from '79 (though the colored banner contained the team name in that set, rather than the player name).  As expected, this amalgamation results in a very '70s feel for these cards.

If a little over a dollar a card sounds pricey to you (and I agree that it is), I will at least say that Topps took it upon themselves to actually create card backs for these, which I have not always found to be the case with their online-only releases.  They're very well done too, including cartoons (a must-have for a set paying tribute to the '70s), and they managed to fit that awesome Super '70s icon on there too!  I have zero complaints about the design here, bravo Topps!

Second card in, and one of my top five favorite players from childhood.  This one's a keeper for me.  It does introduce one of my first gripes though about this release; I wish Topps would've stuck with subjects who appeared in at least one Major League game between 1970 and 1979.  I get that they have to keep modern fans of the game interested, and that they'd never dare to release a set without a Mike Trout in it these days.  Oh well, is what it is.

This Frank Thomas is just not an attractive card.  A little surprised, and a little disappointed, that more effort wasn't made to find a better photograph of Big Hurt than this one.

I'm sure a more seasoned Dodgers collector might look at this card and say otherwise, but this doesn't seem like an image of Sandy Koufax that I recall seeing used very often on modern cards.  Not bad, though I wish it was cropped out a bit wider so we could see more of that interesting ballpark backdrop.

Al Oliver has the distinction of being the first card on the checklist, and the one used in some of the promotional material for the set.  Something a little different at least, not to mention someone who played throughout the entire decade that is this set's inspiration.

I was going to complain that this Brooks Robinson card looks a little grainy, but then I remembered that photography wasn't perfect in the '70s either.  Besides, we've got a Walt Disney advertisement on the fence back there.  Yep, I like this one after all.

A decent cartoon on this card too, referencing Brooks' great nickname.

Alan Trammell's card is nice enough, but the best part is actually the back...

...because it references the iconic Paul Molitor/Alan Trammell RC from 1978 Topps!

With Robin Yount's card, we've now settled into a nice little streak of players who actually played in Major League Baseball during the '70s.  As I said with the Koufax above, I don't feel like this image has been over-used by Topps or other card companies over the years.  Nice Yount card, for sure.

Very happy to land a Montreal Expos card in this first pack.  The Hawk's looking pretty mean and muscular here, ready to crush a ball outta the park.

I thought his cartoon was kinda cool as well, with Andre playing up his fans at Wrigley.  A little odd in that he's depicted with the Expos on the front, but I won't be too harsh on Topps for that I suppose.

I am always thrilled to pull a new Clemente card, one of my favorite players from before my birth for sure.  Easily one of my favorite cards in this pack.

Roberto got a pretty good cartoon, too!

Since I don't have much to say about Eric Davis, I'll just point out that these are on a very appropriate Topps Heritage-like card stock.

My least favorite card in the pack.  I'm not even an Astros hater or anything like that, have just never been a big Bregman guy.  It's somewhat jarring to see an active player on the design after all of those retired greats also.

One of the game's all-time great contact hitters, the late Tony Gwynn!  Love the stylin' wrist-bands and that Starter-branded zipper!

Yeah, the active players just don't do much for me.  Guerrero Jr. and Bregman will probably head out the door in trade packages at some future date.

As current players go though, I do like Nolan Arenado.  Don't know if others will agree with me, but I feel he has a shot at Cooperstown if he can patch together another few good years here.

Awesome!  Not only did I get a new Red Sox card for my collection out of the box, but it's also a very appropriate subject for the set.  Fisk had some great baseball cards in the '70s, and this one will certainly have a home in my collection.

Great shot on this card of The Kid, smiling as usual.  Not one, but two Expos cards in this pack!  

That does it for the 18 base cards I pulled, but there were also two inserts to be had...

First up, a Magnificent Mustaches Wade Boggs.  Great idea for an insert set for this release in concept, but a bit short of great in execution, I'd say.  There are only five cards in this insert set.  Think back to all the fantastic facial hair of the '70s, yet this fuzzed-out photograph of Wade Boggs with the Devil Rays (and with a pretty standard, boring mustache, to boot) made the cut?  You can do better than that, Topps!

In addition to the 1970s designs mentioned above, 1975 Topps inspiration comes into play with the inserts for this release, with different colored upper and lower borders on each card.

If I was a little bitter over my first insert, the second one made up for it.  Nolan Ryan was my absolute favorite player growing up, and I was happy to see this Ultimate Uniforms insert in my pack!  I believe this is the same photograph used on Nolan's 1981 Topps flagship card, but I could be mistaken.  Either way, a great end to the pack for me personally.

Topps really loved alliteration when it came to naming the inserts in this set, as aside from the Magnificent Mustaches and Ultimate Uniforms inserts that I pulled, there are also Happening Hairdos, Memorable Managers, and Spectacular Spectacles insert cards that you can pull from these packs.

All in all, that was a fun break for $25.  Are there things I'd change about the release?  Sure, it's not perfect, but it was an entertaining rip and made for a good blog post.  At just $25, it's a lot cheaper than many of the products that Topps is peddling online these days, and brought me more satisfaction than many blasters I've opened in my day.  I actually picked up a second pack of the stuff, but am keeping it unopened for now.  Maybe I'll tear into it on a rainy day in the future, or maybe I'll sell it if prices keep going up over time.  Not sure yet...

What's your take on Topps' Super '70s release?  Interesting?  Over-priced?  Have you purchased any of these packs, or any other online products from Topps in recent months?  Do you think they're a viable solution at a time like this when it's fairly impossible to find packs in stores?  I actually found the price point and free delivery to my door in the COVID age pretty attractive, enough so that I purchased two packs of another online-only product that I'll be showing as soon as it arrives.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments though.

In case I'm not back tomorrow with a post, I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone who stops by here, and to all collectors out there!  Enjoy the holiday, and be safe as well as merry!

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