Not PeeChee (nor O-Pee-Chee)- but Topps

My daughter will begin her final year of high school in a few weeks, which means it’s time to get those senior photos done. To add insult to injury, new clothes and school supplies will need to be purchased, making our pocketbook noticeably thinner. But before dishing out those funds, I did get a little bit of spending money and was able to put it to good use on eBay. In this instance, even my hobby purchase had a school-theme to it.

I was a year out of school by the time Topps rolled out its first set of pocket-folders, so I never had the pleasure of showing off my nerdery. All my friends and I had known growing up in our earlier years was the PeeChee pocket folder that was ubiquitous in schools (and grocery stores) west of the Rockies. For those of you who are not aware of the PeeChees, they were a goldenrod folder (later available in blue) with illustrations on both the front and back- and were just ripe for student doodling. The genius of the PeeChee folders was that they contained vertical pockets- not horizontal, like the competitors products- which trapped the student’s papers inside. This design would later inspire the more well-known Trapper folders and the binders that would house them: the Trapper Keeper.

Anyway, the final few months of my senior year (Class of ’87!) coincided with the beginning of what is referred to as the ‘junk wax era.’ Phenoms such as Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson, Mark McGwire and Will Clark had already made their major league debuts and while they had also made their cardboard debuts, none- with the exception of Mac’s Team USA card- had been available in packs; the only way to have their cards were from the update/traded sets. That changed in ’87, when collectors were finally able to pull cards of these freshman and sophomore sensations, leading to the feeding frenzy of collectors and speculators alike.

Taking advantage of this new interest in baseball cards, Topps saw an opportunity to cash in on the craze and partnered with Sheaffer Eaton to create pocket folders for those whom its cards were originally intended for: kids.

Checking in at over 9x the size of the standard-sized sports card, the folders captured the front of its subject’s card, as well as the back of the card. Available in retail stores, the Topps/Sheaffer Eaton pocket folders were produced for two years and featured the 1988 and 1989 designs, respectively. I have yet to find a complete checklist for these oddities but with there being 5 Mariners, I’m guessing that might be a safe number available for each team, with perhaps more for the most popular teams?

 

 

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Why is This Man Smiling?

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If losing takes its toll on you, as the old adage goes, then why is this man smiling? After all, from 1975-1980, Dave Heaverlo pitched for the Giants, Athletics, and Mariners, three teams with a combined record of 404-569 during that stretch (Oakland and Seattle were especially bad during those years, with 62 wins being the most either team would get).

Could that smile be the result of knowing he’s (numerically) the first Mariner in a Fleer set? Possibly. Perhaps Dave, known to keep things loose in the clubhouse, just pulled off an epic prank on a teammate. Or maybe he had some innate feeling that his days with a horrible Mariners team were numbered- that brighter days were ahead.

The beginning of the end happened during a stop on the team’s offseason caravan, when Mariners skipper Maury Wills was approached by a former college teammate of Heaverlo. Upon being asked what his plans were for the righty, Wills responded by saying that he would move Heaverlo to a long reliever role and give Mike Parrott the closer role that Dave once held.

News travels quickly in small circles and Dave wasn’t pleased when he heard this piece of information from his ex-teammate. Instead of approaching Wills about the changes, Heaverlo contacted Tracy Ringolsby, the Mariners beat writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The next day, team officials woke to the headline that read, “Heaverlo Refuses to Carry Parrott’s Jock.” If Heaverlo was disgruntled, Mariners brass were irate.

Though he made it to spring training, Dave wouldn’t make it to Opening Day with the Mariners. As the pitcher was shagging balls in the outfield one day towards the end of spring training, he was approached by a clubhouse attendant, who informed him that he was needed in the manager’s office. The news came as no surprise: the team was releasing him.

 The release came as a blessing in disguise for Dave, who would land back in the Bay Area after signing with the A’s. This Oakland team was far different than the 100-loss teams of his first tenure. Now under manager Billy Martin, the A’s took the A.L. West in the first half of the split-season, qualifying them for the playoffs.

After defeating the Royals in the first round, Martin’s team ran up against their leader’s former club, the New York Yankees, in the ALCS. This time there would be no advancement for the team playing ‘Billy Ball,’ as they were swept by the Bronx Bombers.

Despite falling short of its goal of reaching the World Series, Heaverlo later called the year- his final season in the majors- the ‘most fun [he] ever had in pro ball.’ The reason? He knew that when he went to the ballpark each day that the team had a shot to win. Their mercurial manager would find a way to quench his thirst for victory.

 

Big League Expectations

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If you give me the opportunity to play every day, I think I’m the best shortstop in baseball…As long as I’m playing every day, I’m going to be a star player.” ~ Tim Beckham, in a 2018 interview with the New York Times

After an off-season in which the front office ‘re-imagined’ (to use Jerry Dipoto’s words) the roster, I found myself tempering my expectations for the Mariners 2019 season. Play fundamentally sound baseball, show some stability in the pitching staff (instead of the merry-go-round of the past couple of seasons), and play competitive ball. I don’t think that’s asking too much in order for a fan to keep his interest.

Well, my expectations were more than met early in the season but it didn’t take long for disappointment to settle in. Defense has been a problem since day one and the pitching, after that early success, has been atrocious. The sum of all of this is a team that seems to get blown out- or sees the bullpen blow a lead- on a nightly basis.

One of the main contributors to the Mariners early success is also one of the culprits of their shoddy defense. Signed as a free-agent to hold the shortstop position until J.P. Crawford is ready, Tim Beckham began the year hitting the ball like what one would expect of a former #1 overall draft pick. But enough at-bats, not to mention time out in the field, and a player’s weaknesses will be exposed. As of this writing, Tim’s errors have outnumbered his homers (12 to 11).


When Topps announced last year that it was replacing Bunt with a different entry-level product, my expectations weren’t set very high, either. I was not a fan of Bunt and thought its demise would usher in another yawner of a product. Thankfully, I was mistaken, as I was pleasantly surprised with Big League.

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Fast forward to earlier this calendar year when the sell sheet for 2019 Big League was released. Judging from the sheet’s very small sample size, I was not impressed. But upon further review, once the product started showing up on eBay, I decided to pick up the Mariners team set. The front of the card seems a little too busy for my liking (but I don’t hate it) and it reminds me of something you’d receive at a minor league stadium, or as a Stadium Giveaway at your local big league ballpark. What impressed me, however, was the back of the card. Beautiful design. Clean, with not only the vital and career stats, but it also includes a paragraph as well as a ‘Did You Know?” about the player. 

Hopefully this set will receive more than just a cup of coffee or two, and will become a regular in Topps’ lineup.

 

 

Fool Us Once…

Deke: “to fake (an opponent) out of place (as in ice hockey)” ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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The spelling might be different, but the message still applies to this 1993 Topps Stadium Club Team Mariners card: we’ve been fooled. Somehow, Topps fooled us in to thinking that Brian Deak was (or would be) on the big league club for the 1993 season.

Looking for organizational depth, the Mariners signed Deak as a minor-league free-agent in November of 1992 and brought him to spring training, where he found himself in a battle to back up the Mariners starting catcher, Dave Valle

The former JUCO masher (and college teammate of Curt Schilling), whom Atlanta picked in the third round of the 1986 draft, had plenty of competition that spring: Bill Haselman, whose career at that point consisted of just 33 plate appearances and a .219/.242/.219 line; Chris Howard, another player with little experience at the major-league level (7 plate appearances at that point, all coming in 1991) and a veteran, Mackey Sasser, who was on the downside of his career. So despite his lack of experience at the big-league level, Brian had to like his chances at winning the gig for the upcoming season.

It didn’t happen.

Deak was optioned to AAA Calgary on March 22, where he would spend the entire ’93 season before being given his unconditional release in November.

Though he never would get even a cup of coffee in the majors, Deak wouldn’t be denied a trading card in a major league set. In all, Brian appeared on less than two dozen cards- all but one coming in minor league sets.

The Bigger They Come, the Harder They Fall

The 1988 card calendar saw Topps releasing a new major set for the first time since 1981, when it had introduced its Traded and Stickers sets. Unlike those sets, which were standard (Traded) and smaller than standard-sized (Stickers), this new release took on a different shape, as well as a different look and feel.

1988 Topps Big #107 Steve Trout

Paying homage to the 1956 Topps set, Topps Big was considered the first ‘Premium’ set the company produced. Featuring bright white card stock and a high gloss finish, Big was the first all-horizontal set since the iconic ’56 set was released thirty-two years earlier (the 1960 set was primarily horizontal, but did have a few cards with vertical layouts).

Like the vintage ’56 Topps set, Big came in at 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4″, larger than the standard 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ size that was introduced in 1957. This increase in the size of the cardboard hurt the set’s popularity among collectors, who found the cards too difficult to store.

1989 Topps Big #38 Mickey Brantley

 

One of the only shortcomings of the 1956 set is that, other than Luis Aparicio, there is a conspicuous absence of key rookie cards. This is also a problem with each of the three Big offerings. In fact, there are no rookie cards in the ’88, ’89, or ’90 sets. Because of the smaller number of cards on the checklists, Topps reserved space for only established players. As a Mariners fan and collector, I can’t help but think how much I would like to have a Big Junior rookie card in my collection.

 

1990 Topps Big #266 Dave Valle

 

Now that we’ve pointed out a couple of negatives things about the set, let’s look at what’s praise worthy.

By the time Big was release, the fun-element had been slowly phased out of the hobby. Tamper-proof packaging and counterfeit-proof cards were being introduced, signaling that this was no longer a kids pastime. You don’t get that with Big. No inserts. No high price points. No short prints. What you do get is a small, affordable set with plenty of color, cartoons that hearken back to Topps’ earlier days and simplicity that has sadly disappeared from the industry.

One final nod to vintage cards: distribution. Like its predecessors, Big came in multiple series. Remember, the flagship product at this time was released in one 792-card set, but this new set was released in three different series. For its Big debut, Topps offered three series, each featuring 88 cards. The card giant offered larger sets for the ’89 and ’90 sets, with 110 cards in each of the three series.

As far as my collection of the Big team sets, I have just eleven of the 34 Mariners cards issued between the three seasons.

(Re)Discover

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I remember the joy of first discovering baseball cards. It was the bicentennial summer of 1976 and I made a trip to Buttrey’s- a grocery store located in the Karcher Mall- with my mother. Having caught the baseball bug only a year earlier at the age of six, the red wax pack with a baseball jumping off the front of the pack caught my eye. Curious, I asked mom what it was and she explained the contents, to my bewilderment. I asked her to buy me a pack, to which she obliged. I was her baby- how could she say no?

That same summer, a pitcher in the Mexican League posted a remarkable season in which he finished 20-4 with a 1.89 ERA while striking out 239 batters over 233 innings. With an arsenal that included a good fastball and equally impressive screwball, Enrique Romo had helped lead the Mexico City Reds to the 1973, 1974 and 1976 league championships. And with 50 new jobs on the horizon due to Major League Baseball’s expansion, it was only a matter of time before someone signed the Reds’ ace.

Romo had actually attracted the attention of Mariners GM Lou Gorman when the executive was still with the Kansas City Royals and remained on his radar for the next few years. Gorman, acting on a tip from a scout who told him that Enrique was major-league ready, contacted Reds owner Angel Vasquez, whom he had dealt with previously, and was able to work out an agreement to purchase Romo. It was a coup for an expansion team looking to add cheap talent. Players taken in the expansion draft cost $175,000; Romo reportedly cost the Mariners only $75,000.

Enrique’s arrival at spring training 1977 was delayed because of visa issues and when he did arrive, did so with a slightly pulled hamstring. There were also questions about his true age. The Mariners media guide had him listed at 29; Enrique stated he was 27; others around the sport said he was more like 31. Whatever his age, there was no denying the righty was going to be a welcome addition to the staff.

Once the season began, the fiery righty was slotted in the #2 spot in the rotation, right behind the Ancient Mariner, Diego Segui. Unfortunately, his hamstring injury would force an early exit from each of his first three starts. After his third start was cut short, the team placed Romo on the 21-day DL. Upon returning to the team on May 10, Enrique found himself in the bullpen. Yes, he had thrown well as a starter- but the team desperately needed relief pitching and by limiting his innings they could nurse him back to health. The move paid dividends. Enrique became the Mariners top reliever- and one of the best firemen in the American League. In fact, once the offseason arrived, Gorman received a number of inquiries about the availability of his diamond in the rough. As tempting as it might have been to move him for depth, Romo wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet, anyway. Club officials (as well as manager Darrell Johnson) considered Romo one of the game’s elite relievers and were underwhelmed by the offers they received. And so he

Enrique reported to camp in better shape for the 1978 season but would still battle back and hamstring issues early in the year. Unfortunately, the pitcher also encountered early season struggles on the mound, something those close to him attributed to all the trade talks involving the mercurial right-hander. Despite an improved disposition once the trade deadline passed, Romo’s struggles continued and he would finish the season with significantly fewer strikeouts per nine-innings and more walks/9 than the previous season. Also up were his home runs allowed per nine, going from 0.6 in ’77 to 1.0 in ’78.

Having failed to maximize their return while his trade value was at its peak, the Mariners jettisoned Romo to the Steel City following the 1978 season, getting back pitchers Odell Jones and Rafael Vazquez and infielder Mario Mendoza. There had to have been regrets about not pulling the trigger earlier; Jones and Vazquez each lasted one season in the northwest (and were abysmal), while Mendoza (yes, he of the “Mendoza Line”) contributed a career worse -1.7 WAR to the 1979 Seattle squad.*

The trade worked out really well for the Pirates, who entered the 1979 season short on left-handed relievers. Though Enrique was a righty, his screwball was a great neutralizer on left-handed hitters and he allowed the team to reduce the workload of its primary left-handed reliever, Grant Jackson. As a strikeout pitcher, Enrique was a nice complement to the ground ball-inducing Kent Tekulve.

 


I rediscovered the joy of collecting in 1991, after a seven-year absence. A lot had changed since the cards of my childhood. New brands (Leaf, Score, Sportflics and Upper Deck), the concept of insert cards, autographed cardboard. Even the packs were- for the most part- different than the wax ones I had purchased in 1983. There was so much to learn about this new endeavor. I can’t imagine how confusing it would have been for me if buybacks were a part of those first packs I opened up in the spring of 1991. An old, worn out card from 1979 in a pack of 1991 Topps? That would have confused the hell out of me.

* The shortstop was better in 1980, his second and final season in Seattle, hitting for a career-high .245 batting average and improving his WAR to -0.6

1991 7-Eleven Coins: Northwest Region

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At one time, our humble little town of (what was at the time) 17,000 residents had three different 7-Eleven convenient stores. Two store closures and the buyout from a locally-owned corporation has left us with zero. What was the last 7-Eleven in Caldwell is now a Jacksons. Hell, they also own what were the Circle K’s, Chevron, Shell stations, etc.

And while a local ownership may have a greater impact on our local economy, there’s a bit of sadness in the realization that a Big Gulp or a Slurpee isn’t just a couple of miles away. Call me nostalgic. It was at one of the three 7-Eleven stores where I discovered a new brand of baseball card (Donruss) that Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1981. And, as weird as it sounds, it was a great place to get a slurpee on a Sunday morning after tying one on the night before. The sweet, cold drink seemed to help a hangover. Don’t miss hangovers- but like I said, I’m nostalgic.

Anyway, on to the coins…

The 1991 7-Eleven Coins were produced by Score and were available in the company’s Slurpee drinks. Like 4 of the 5 previous Slurpee offerings (the inaugural release in 1983 being the exception), the ’91 set was released regionally. This year’s set stretched out over 8 different regions (Atlantic, Florida, Metro Northeast, Midwest, Northern California, Northwest, Southern California, Texas), each having a distinctly colored border and consisted of 15 discs. In total, there were 81 different major league players spread out over the 120 coins.

1991 7-Eleven Coins Seattle Mariners

3 Alvin Davis

4 Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr.

5 Ken Griffey Jr.

6 Erik Hanson

9 Randy Johnson

11 Edgar Martinez

12 Tino Martinez

13 Harold Reynolds

15 Mike Schooler

 

I won a lot of 16 coins on eBay for $1 plus shipping (a couple bucks). All were from the red-bordered Northwest Region set and included eight of the nine Mariners players featured in the set. The one missing coin- Erik Hanson- is on its way, thanks to a Twitter trade for the Ryne Sandberg that was included in my eBay purchase.

Unnecessary

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I was a little perplexed with the Mariners acquisition of Ryon Healy from the A’s during the 2017 offseason. His low OBP and high strikeout numbers didn’t square with the team’s mantra of ‘controlling the zone’- and his defense (at first base anyway) was considered suspect at best. Plus, let’s face it: the team had Daniel Vogelbach waiting in the wings to take over first. And Seattle had given up a pretty good arm in Mike Montgomery to acquire the power hitting/high OBP first baseman (not to mention suspect defense) from the Cubs. Healy- in my opinion- was unnecessary.

Speaking of unnecessary things… 2018 Topps Holiday edition is the third edition of what appears to be an annual release. As reluctant as I was to buy any of the cards from this set, I felt compelled to trade for the Ryon Healy. And so I did.

Why trade for such an unnecessary card? Well, it wasn’t because of Healy; instead, this is the one card I can think of where the snowflakes don’t seem out of place. The hitter with his long sleeves; the distorted figure in the background sporting a team jacket; the fan on the right side- just above the dugout- who appears to be wearing a beanie. It all works well with the wet, white flakes. And just as ridiculous as the team signing Healy is the fact that the whole cold-weathered setting is juxtaposed with a water slide.

Refunds and Returns

Like many Boise State and Boston College fans, I tuned in to Wednesday’s First Responder’s Bowl game with great anticipation. While I don’t consider myself a big college football fan, I do try to tune in every time my Broncos are playing. That the game was played with an 11:30 am (Mountain Time) kickoff didn’t faze me; I just logged in to ESPN at work and figured if nothing else, I’d listen to the play-by-play. My excitement was put on hold briefly as BC struck for the first score. And then, once again, as the weather delay took effect. Nearly two hours later the game had not yet resumed and the announcement was made: the game was canceled.

Two irony’s struck me. First, the sponsor, SERVPRO, is known for cleaning up after disaster strikes “Like it never even happened.” Unfortunately for those who traveled for the game, the disaster of lost travel and lodging expenses is something that SERVPRO can’t cleanup. Secondly, the day the game took place (or was to take place?) is known for being the busiest day of the year for retail returns. The only return/refund those fans are getting back is the ticket price- if purchased through the schools. Sucks for them.

All of this led me to ask myself: what is the one card I purchased (or traded for) in 2018 that I would like to return? I will occasionally suffer from buyer’s remorse- but that typically comes from opening a box (which I rarely do anymore). To find a single card took a little bit more thought.

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If there is a set that screams Buyers Remorse, it’s Topps Now. Watching an event, getting caught up in the moment and then riding high off of last night’s emotions certainly can drive collectors to overpaying for a card from said event. But that’s not the reason I chose James Paxton’s No-Hitter Topps Now card as the one I’d like to return. Instead,  I somehow had a brain fart and bought a second one about a week after my first purchase. In fact, the duplicate arrived before the first one I had purchased. Not to mention, Topps included basically the same damn thing (the lite version, if you will) in the Update Series as a checklist card. Same photo, with an abridged copy of the text.

Trade, anyone?

Favorite 2018 Card

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The proliferation of trading cards the past few years has turned a lot of collectors off from new products. While I don’t consider myself one of those who are put off by the deluge, I do find it difficult to keep up with all that’s released- especially the on-demand products Topps has been putting out. One such set contains what I’m submitting as my favorite card of 2018, a contest sponsored by P-Town Tom over at Waiting til Next Year.

I was totally oblivious to this set until someone on Twitter mentioned a new lenticular card they had received in the mail. As soon as I saw it, I checked the Trading Card Database and discovered that Seattle had three players (Felix, Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon) included in the 100-card set. A press run of 269 sets was surprisingly low in my opinion and, because I had decided to start a collection of one card from as many sets as possible, I decided I had best get over to eBay as quickly as possible.

The reason for choosing this as my favorite card of 2018 is purely nostalgic- it takes me back to my childhood. I ate a lot of cold cereal as a kid and those Kellogg’s cereal boxes from ’78 through ’83 provided me with my morning breakfast as well as a treasure trove of information on what was- and what will always be- my favorite sport.

When the card arrived with a rubber band holding it in the top loader, it was yet another reminder of my youth (although I always ran the rubber bands from side-to-side).

Now if only Felix could rediscover the stuff of his earlier years in the majors.