Saturday, May 18, 2019

Nostalgic Box Break: 2004 Upper Deck Series 1

So yeah...haven't done a NBB in a while. And I figured I should stay away from Stadium Club and Collector's Choice, considering what happened...LAST TIME with CC.

So DACW had a box of '04 Upper Deck lying around, so I jumped at it. For a few reasons, too. I think that early 2000's Upper Deck flagship is very underrated, solely because you never see a lot of it in dime bins and in card shows. Because it doesn't really allow itself to an era of overproduction, it's become sort of lost to collecting time, and not a lot of people know about how great it is. That also means there's still a few unopened boxes of the stuff lying around holding some pretty great stuff.

I've already broken boxes of 2002 and 2003 Upper Deck, and both of those went relatively well. So I figured I'd try this one. Normally I'd be ripping 36 packs, but there's a good reason we only have 24:

Each box comes with a factory traded set of the previous year's Update set...which I didn't know existed. Maybe they did a late pack promotion for them that didn't work, but each hobby box of '04 UD seems to come with a 'previously on' of the last season, tying up any loose ends before getting right into the new incarnation of the product.

 As you can imagine from a fifteen-year-old update set, it's very hit-miss. A lot of these rookies and late-trades haven't aged well, like Ryan Wagner and Joe Borowksi. But the photography is there, especially on the Linden card. Those cars look so happy.

 Hell, you could even happen upon a cool throwback uniform every once in a while, like when the 2003 Orioles...paid tribute to their mother organization, the St. Louis Browns? Damn, how is that not more documented? Why don't they still do that??

 Some have aged sort of well, like Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb, who'd have success during the later part of the decade, before fizzling out early in the next one.

 Some rookies would have great success, like these well-photographed stars. Haren would have the shortest career, followed by Weeks, then Reyes and Utley retiring last year. Impressive stuff, though.

 Some more rookies. Delmon Young's must have been huge when this came out, and while Jhonny Peralta's and Edwin Jackson's don't really have a market, Miggy's certainly does.
And, as an added bonus, this one. A...semi-sunset issue of Rickey Henderson's final season, in Los Angeles. Well done, UD.

Anyway, onto the first 8 packs of '04 UD's actual box:

 Pack 1-
Royals: 2/8
Borderline HOFers: 1/8
 As you can see, the base design is along the same vein as the previous two, taking up the bottom fifth or so of the card. These cards do have a nice little facade of the team's city lurking in the design, which is a nice touch, as well as minimalistic foil along the facade, and in logo-ing and lettering. And, as expected, the photography is still great. This Febles card is a nice one.

These are the closest we get to star cards in a 15-year-old box, but Durham was in the middle of some nice years in San Fran, and Billy Wagner was ending his massive Houston tenure by heading to Philly to do some damage there.

 Pack 2-
Memorable 00's closers: 3/8
Finalists in the 2003 NL Cy Young race: 2/8

 Billy Koch is one of those closers that you forget was insanely overpowered for a spell. He closed games for that impressive 2002 A's team, then lost his way a bit as the Chicago ninth-inning man. By 2005, his job was taken over by Bobby Jenks for the WS run.
And then there's Eric Gagne. Proof that throwing harder than hell in 50+ ninth-inning appearances a year while being on steroids still hurts like hell.

The 2nd place finisher in the previous year's Cy Young voting, Jason Schmidt, didn't fare much better after the fact. He had a few more solid seasons in San Francisco, signed with the Dodgers and subsequently made a permanent home on the IL.

 Pack 3-
2008 Dodgers: 2/8
 Oh yeah, I always forget that Derek Lowe was one of the most consistent starters in the game for a few years. Damn.
Jose Hernandez' shot looks hella cool.
And Tony Batista...who had the herculean task of following Cal Ripken in just kinda doing his thing. Hell, Batista didn't even play for the O's in '04: he'd spend his season in Montreal rounding out the Expos' existence.

These shots are cooler though. That Valentin is one that feels so pensive that it should be hanging on a wall. Andruw's and Zito's are equally dramatic.

 Pack 4-
Unsuccessful relatives of MLB heroes: 2/8
Borderline HOFers: 2/8

 One of the few inserts in this set was a National Pride one, showcasing members of the USA baseball squad for the 2004 Olympic games (I think?). Brent Lillibridge, one of the first stars of this blog, is showcased here, making this an XRC of the...perennial bench player. Not bad. The one thing about Team USA cards is that not all of them really amount to rookies of players that make it.

 Jared Sandberg is Ryne's nephew. Larry Walker is...okay, Todd's brother, but Larry is better than Jared, I guess. I cut off his photo, but Kelvim Escobar is next to them, and his cousins include Alcides Escobar, Edwin Escobar and RONALD ACUNA. So move over Todd and Jared...there's a new disappointing other relative in town.

 Jorge Posada being awesome as usual, and a killer shot of Mark Sweeney. I checked, and Mark Sweeney is not related to Ryan or Mike. Damn.

Javy Lopez would follow his breakout 2003 season with a move to Baltimore. David Bell would continue his infield dominance over the Phils for another few years before becoming the manager of the Reds.
 Pack 5-
HOFers: 1/8
Personal Favorites: 2/8
2002 WS Champs: 1/8
2010 AND 1997 WS MVPs: 1/8
 Bet a lot of you forgot Sean Burroughs existed til just now. I doubt Edgar Renteria has that problem. Edgar would make his way to Boston shortly after this.
 Jarrod Washburn would eventually settle into mediocrity in Seattle after this. Ben Grieve had already settled there as this issue was released.
And then these two, who I'm happy to collect any day. Biggio looks stoic on his, but that Abreu catch shot is a fun one. Looks Florida-esque.
 Pack 6-
HOFers: 1/8
Guy that a lot of people think should be a HOFer: 1/8

 Andy Ashby was a Dodger? I always forget that.
2 perennially solid 2000s pitchers in Joel Piniero and Jeremy Bonderman.

 Hideki Matsui was the cover boy, as Topps wouldn't get to make cards of him for another year. Looks great here.
And...a Highlights card of Barry Bonds. Thrilling.

VLAD!!!! In his last issue as a Montreal Expo. Yes, this'd be rectified in many subsequent UD Products, but it is kind of poignant seeing him in Montreal colors one last time.

 Pack 7-
Hall of Famers: 1/8
Future HOFers: 1/8
Guy a Lot of People Thinks Should be a HOFer: 1/8
Guy Baseball Reference dot com thinks should be a HOFer: 1/8
 Three people who will never make the HOF. Arguably Jason Kendall has the best shot?

 And then these two, among the best to ever play the game. Johnson looks fantastic in that Chase Field shot, and Pujols looks so young and happy to be sprinting around the bases.

 Pack 8-
Postseason Heroes: 5/8
Philly Heroes: 2/8
 Lots to like here. Shane Halter's mid-catch. Juan Pierre being himself. Omar Vizquel still being one of the best defenders of his era.

 Gonzalez, still in his prime in Phoenix, high-fifing everyone. And a semi-rookie of Cliff Lee, with one of those early attempts at a replacement for Chief Wahoo. This one did not work.

We finish off with a 25 Salute insert of Troy Glaus. I think this is an insert set dedicated to people who wear #25? Weird choice UD, but okay.

I'll post the next third in a few days, but I'm already enjoying this set. And we've yet to hit either of our promised hits.

Gallo's Pole

Nice getting to do a custom of this guy during the season again, instead of just waiting until December because he's not even gonna begin to hit for average.

Joey Gallo currently has a 2.1 WAR. Which matches his entire 2018 WAR totals, and is .9 away from his 2017 totals. He also currently has a .269 batting average, which is sixty points higher than his previous season high.

...what I am trying to say here is that Joey Gallo, for the first portion of his career, has not been especially good at all aspects of baseball. He had bad fielding numbers in 2017, has finished twice with over 190 strikeouts, and...well, is already leading the AL in strikeouts with 58. BUT Gallo is finally figuring out how to hit for contact, and for average, rather than just hitting home runs.

And it's not as if the home-run hitting has ceased. He already has 13 of those, which is a nice start, especially given his two straight 40+ homer finishes. But he's never finished a season with over 100 RBIs, which makes his 31 after the first quarter of the season a promising start. He's also doing alright with his positional change (from third to left field). I don't know what happened during the offseason, but new life has been breathed into this once-mediocre player.

And in Arlington, it's not just him. Willie Calhoun has been on fire since been called up from AAA, Danny Santana is playing better than he has since his rookie year in Minnesota, Logan Forsythe is continuing his numbers from the second half of last year, and Mike Minor and Lance Lynn are giving nasty stuff in the rotation. Hell, I thought Hunter Pence was done after last year, and he's hitting better than he has in YEARS. The people that a lot of teams had counted out are the ones leading this Rangers team to a better than expected (read: third place) standing for right now.

Now...with Elvis Andrus back on the DL, things may falter a bit heading into June, and the back half of the rotation is still pretty uneven, but this is still an impressive start for a team everyone thought was going to finish in last this year.

Coming Tonight: Will this year be the year he finally gets an MVP? Judging from the impressive start he's had so far, it's an intriguing guess.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Cardinal Misdirection

Midway through the incredible 2019 Cardinals come-up...the pitching gave way.

A team that had risen to the top of the standings thanks to some crucial hitting and solid lineup capabilities crashed right back down to third thanks to the rotation's inability to keep runs from scoring. Not to say anything bad about people like Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas, who are still doing well enough in terms of pitching numbers. But guys like Michael Wacha and Dakota Hudson are giving up too many runs and blowing games, and even Wainwright has a 4.75 ERA.

It's not like there's not another pitching option to take over for Hudson, as Daniel Poncedeleon did a bang-up job in a start a few weeks back. But the Cardinals rewarded him for said start by demoting him again and keeping Hudson in the rotation. And yes, Carlos Martinez is said to be back tomorrow, but the rumors are saying that they might shift Martinez to the bullpen, which...I'm not 100% on board with, but...they're the Cardinals, and they make the playoffs nearly every year, so they seem to know what they're doing.

Right now the Cardinals are ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings, and they're honestly around the same levels of competitiveness, considering that both are coming off of two straight losses. But...the Pirates at least have some pitchers that aren't completely waterlogged by their ERAs. The Pirates are a lot more balanced, and a bit less streaky, than the Cardinals.

The Cardinals thankfully do have some late-career highlights from Yadier Molina, including some record-shifting stuff, to keep fans occupied. And this is still a relatively good team, but...they just need to figure out how to fix the rotation, because that could keep them from catching any of the top 3.

Coming Tomorrow- We knew he could hit home runs, but now he's FINALLY able to hit for average.

Miggy Carries On

Miguel Cabrera is definitely going to the Hall of Fame in a few years. There's no doubt. Miggy has always been one of the most elite ballplayers, has been in MVP conversations for the majority of his career, and his only seen his productivity wane since 2017, but...he's 44 home runs away from 500, 282 hits from 3000, and has 1400 career runs. He's an all-time talent, and there's no doubt.

But...what happens when an all-time talent like Cabrera can't really help a so-so Tigers team? This is a guy who used to be the centerpiece of a burgeoning, consistent roster, and now...that honor sort of has gone to Nicholas Castellanos. Miggy, once a strong first baseman, is now the everyday DH, fine, as he can still hit (.282 with 15 RBIs so far this year). But...the team no longer completely revolves around him. We've gotten to the point where Miggy missed a game, and might miss one or two more, but...the team will go on. John Hicks will play DH.

But that also chalks itself up to the...blandness of this current incarnation of the Detroit Tigers. Miggy and Castellanos are the only remnants of the playoff squads, and the remainder of the team is stacked with a youth movement without a real leadership figure. Lots of solid young players like Spencer Turnbull, Ronny Rodriguez, Christin Stewart and Niko Goodrum, but...none of them really stand out other than for practical reasons. We're a few years away from getting to Casey Mize and some of the prospects from the tanking years, but you'd think that some of these guys would be able to lift the team just a bit.

I'm not saying the Tigers are wasting the rest of Cabrera's contract, as he's definitely been worth the money, but...I just wish he was on a better team to round out his career.

Coming Tonight: Another guy who's been around forever, and another potential Hall of Famer. This one's a catcher.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Two Fun-Filled Blasters of 2019 Topps Big League

I may have been very vocal about this last year, but Topps Big League grew on me like no other Topps product has last year. I was initially very lukewarm on it, but the more I got, the more the bare-bones appeal got to me. This was a simple, relatively collectible, basic set that worked on a number of levels.

I never thought that Topps would hit one out by emulating 1999 UD Choice, and not any other Collector's Choice issue.

So, the 2019 edition came on shelves yesterday, so naturally I raced to Walmart and picked some up. For 20 bucks I got 2 blasters, which is a nice enough deal. Here are the results:

Blaster #1-

Pack 1-. This is the base design. This has a very early-2000s vibe, and I mean it in the best way possible. The photos are simple but slightly inspired, like the Molina. No filtering, which...takes some getting used to, but I'm fine with it. No foil, which is good. Overall, I'm a fan.

 Pack inserts. Gold parallels are 1 per pack, and unnumbered. Glad Adrian made it in to one last Topps set.
Wall Climbers is a cool-ass, SIMPLE (notice the theme?) insert set, which reminds me of a toned down version of a GQ insert. Dickerson's a good subject for it, as well.

 ...I sometimes question my retail luck.

I don't TRY to pull low-numbered stuff out of retail packs. It just ends up happening, and I'm fine with it.

Jeff McNeil's the best player in Queens right now, and this is a shiny blue foil parallel numbered to 100. So that's hella nice.
Three more base cards to round out the pack. Other thing I like about Big League: updated uniforms. Mallex Smith is still in Tampa on Flagship I think, but he's rightfully in Seattle in this set. Much appreciated.

Pack 2- Oh, I love that this set'll go for unusual uniform shots. Corey Dickerson's is great. And hell, this Darvish card actually makes Cubs Darvish look accomplished before he actually got good in Chicago.

The sketch inserts are back, this one of Gleyber, and...I still love these. Almora's our gold parallel.

 And here's Almora again! Can't really blame collation, as gold parallel collation moves differently than base collation. Also, great '68 throwback on Greene.

Pack 3-
Morales' card hasn't aged well, as he's already played for two other teams since print. Last night he debuted for the Yankees. Am hoping for good things, but...I also know who we're dealing with here.
Molina's is an Award Winners subset, which...does that mean that there weren't enough players to showcase in a base set that you had to do award winners? Curious.

 That Blast-Off insert is one that's excited me since the sell-sheet. Just looks super cool, and very kid-friendly. The Teoscar photo is a nice one.
Mostly inconsequential roster pieces, these, but Boxberger's is an amusing photoshop failure, and Nunez' is a definite Yankee stadium shot.

Pack 4-
Great base subjects. Plus, Pujols gets a cool highlight for hitting his 3000th.

Nicknames is also back, and thankfully these ones are a bit more complex than just 'Tony', for Anthony Rizzo. For instance, Shohei Ohtani's is Showtime, which is pretty nice. Greinke is the gold parallel.

Some central fun. Zo and Contreras are nice for Cubs fans, and the Willson is a cool photo, too. Alonso's is...sadly a photoshop job. The 'Sox' on the cap just doesn't feel real to me. Fulmer's would be better if he wasn't injured.

Pack 5- Again, not sure if we needed stat leaders cards in this set, but...sure. Whatever. At least these [sigh] Cardinals look good in this set.

I love that Wall Climbers card, but it'd be better if Odubel were having a better season. Garver's shot is awesome, but it'd be better if he didn't just get injured.

And we end this box with FINALLY some Yankee stuff. Aaron Judge will definitely do, alongside a Mullins rookie and a rejuvenated Seager.

And each blaster comes with a four-pack of blue unnumbered parallels. Some work well with some teams, like the Rosario. Some, like the Archer...don't work as well.

Blaster #2:

Pack 1-
A lot of these guys are bit players, or injured, this year, but Souza's does look pretty good.

THERE is an effective Players Weekend nickname. Walker 'Ferris' Buehler. I love it so much.
Jansen's is a nice showcase for the Jays rookie, too.

 Some definite base highlights here. Yelich is still strong as hell, and Hicks is FINALLY back in the Bronx.

Pack 2-
I frigging love Holt's card. Such a fun photo. 10/10.
Corbin's...if it's a photoshop job, it's a really, really good one.
Another really cool Wall Climbers insert. Max Kepler's the subject of this one, and it reminds me that he's actually pretty good in the field. And Starlin's our gold parallel.

Some more concrete stars in succession. Kershaw is back to his old tricks, while Jansen is blowing a few too many saves. Torres hit 3 home runs yesterday, which always helps. And...I'd really like to see Cespedes healthy again.

Pack 3- Another reason why I love this set: my first two cards of Bryce Harper as a Phillie and Manny Machado as a Padre. And I believe they're not photoshop jobs.
Plus, Gordon and Manaea look awesome in these.

A cool sketch card of Nick Castellanos, and an even cooler shot/parallel of El Torito.

Standard commons here, though it's nice to see a genuine Royals uniform on Billy Hamilton.

 Pack 4- Some home-run-hitting royalty, an injured Yankee, and a Cards bench player.

 Another welcome Blast Off insert of a photoshopped Avi Garcia on the Rays. Plus, gold of hitting Gallo.

Two genuine stars in Kiermaier and Arenado, and two genuine Reds. Looks to be like a real Reds uni on Dietrich, so maybe the only photoshopping was taking out the Spring Training patch.

Pack 5- Guzman and Berries' are standard, but Pujols is a genuinely cool photo choice and card. I'm very impressed by it.

A very fitting gold parallel of Hader and his throwback, and another effective nickname for Ronald Acuna. Glad they're better this year.

We end with some standard base shots. Nice of Topps to make a Johnny Cueto card even though he probably won't play til very late this season.

And we end with this box's blue parallels. Martinez' has the best shot, but the star power of Thor, Castillo and Tanaka also works pretty damn well.

So...I still really like this product. I'd put this one on par with last year's, as there weren't many improvements, but...didn't need many either. Will probably get more before S2 and SC come out, as it's worth it.