Sunday, February 28, 2016

How the Oscars are Exactly Like the MLB World

Tonight, at some eastern primetime slot padded out by an overlong red carpet special, the Academy Awards will take place. I don't usually work the sort of crossover from baseball to movies, because the last time I wrote a post that involved something other than baseball, I got several cries of "STOP!!" So at least I know what I'm up against here when I write a comparison post about how similar some of the major figures in baseball right now are to some of the fellows sitting in Hollywood, waiting for their award.

I did this with the Grammys a few years ago, and it was fun. Movies are fun to write about, and comparison posts are cool, so here we go.

Chris Rock (Host of the Oscars) is like Rob Manfred (MLB Commissioner)
The ringleader of the freak-show that is this year's festivities. Both are replacing highly-disappointing choices for the role (NPH and Bud Selig, and I refer to the last half of Selig's tenure as the disappointing part). Both have a lot against them right now, but have, so far, done pretty well given the circumstances.

Cate Blanchett (up for her third award tonight for Carol) is like Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers pitcher)
Both seem to have a superior knack for being amazing and winning awards every so often. Both have shown their versatility, and both have had a substantial period of time between some awards. Both are considered the best in their field. Both are plausible options for Rooney Mara to date.

Jacob Tremblay (the kid from Room) is like Corey Seager (rookie shortstop for the Dodgers)
Both have literally just arrived on the scene. Both are too young to make a full impression on. Both are adorable.

Sylvester Stallone (up for Best Supporting Actor for playing Rocky Balboa again) is like Albert Pujols (1st baseman for the Angels)
Last year nobody could take either of them seriously. Sure, they were amazing back in the day, belting out hit after hit for an entire decade. But it only took a couple of crappy years to bring them down. However, 2015 was a HUGE improvement for both of them, with Albert returning to his hard-hitting roots, and Sly teaching a new breed of boxer in Creed. Only sad part is that both of them are highly unlikely to make another huge impact after this year, but they're both definite standouts in their respective fields.

Mark Ruffalo (up for Best Supporting actor for Spotlight) is like Noah Syndergaard (long-haired flamethrower for the Mets)
Both are part of a versatile and powerful ensemble that has taken home many accolades already. Also, both Ruffalo and Syndergaard moonlight as members of the Avengers.

Alejandro G. Inarritu (director of The Revenant and last year's Birdman) is like Nelson Cruz (outfielder for the Mariners)
Have been around for longer than people could imagine. Only now have decided to become relevant, even if they both started making huge seasons 10 years ago. Have had two spectacular years in a row, though may come short of a big title this year. Probably have a ton of huge years ahead of them, but only if their tactic of doing the same thing every year doesn't tire the crap out of people.

Meryl Streep (not nominated this year but has 3 Oscars) is like Miguel Cabrera (first baseman for the Tigers
Both win at least something every year since they came up, however, both surprisingly had a very quiet 2015, as they're not really up for any of the big awards. One must think they're both warming up for a huge 2016.

Wes Anderson (not nominated this year, but directed The Grand Budapest Hotel) is like Adam Wainwright (pitcher for the Cardinals)
Both are quirky and divisive enough to have supreme followers, and supreme haters. Both took 2015 off. Both will probably make another madcap attempt at the big award sometime soon.

Eddie Redmayne (nominated for The Danish Girl after winning for The Theory of Everything last year) is like Mike Trout (2014's MVP and Angels outfielder)
Both have popped up in the last few years as absolutely insane talents in their respective fields, especially at their very young ages. Both have been consistently stellar since coming up. Both had an equally stellar performance in 2015, however both performances might be overlooked in favor of someone who deserves it a bit more.

Martin Scorsese (director of all of your dad's favorite movies, not nominated this year but his next, Silence, is out in 2016) is like Ichiro Suzuki (outfielder for the Marlins)
Both are revered by many, and both have started immense movements in their fields that have led to a ton of support, praise, and approximately one big award (that they deserved). Both are coming down to their last few big moments, yet both are headed for definite enshrinement and will live forever in the hearts of hardcore fans.

Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Joy) is like Bryce Harper (NL MVP and Nationals outfielder)
Both have won a prestigious award once, yet have been up for it many more times. Both are young enough, and talented enough, to make several subsequent runs at the big award. However, both are way too flashy for their own good, and need to do some serious public image work before they lose everybody too soon.

George Miller (director of Mad Max: Fury Road) is like Buck Showalter (manager of the Orioles)
Both have been around forever, and both are underratedly amazing at what they do, yet both haven't really gotten a chance to snatch the gold until now. Both probably have one more solid effort left in them, and this writer waits with glee for both of them.

Quentin Tarantino (nominated for directing The Hateful Eight) is like Aroldis Chapman (closer for the Yankees)
Both are supremely talented, and have been for years. Both pissed off a ton of people in 2015, yet this controversy was overshadowed by a supreme effort on both parts. Both are going to play to win this year, and hopefully this will get them somewhere other than jail.

Leonardo DiCaprio (nominated for the Revenant, and everyone's favorite heartthrob) is like Joe Maddon (manager of the Cubs)
Will do, and have done, anything possible for the big award. Haven't won one quite yet, though have been very close numerous times. Will likely get it this year, however there's always room for an upset.

That's enough for one night, but I think my point is clear- there are two completely separate entities that have a lot of similarities if you squint a little bit.

Enjoy the Oscars. Go Leo!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dexter Fowler's Cruel Twist of Fate

I love the fact that even the smallest players can make the biggest moves. Dexter Fowler, who was not really on anybody's mind two years ago, made a decision that impacted two teams at once.

Two days ago, after a week or so of speculation, a deal was made that would secure Dexter Fowler with the Orioles for a couple years. After getting Yovani Gallardo, the Orioles needed some outfield security, so they needed someone like Fowler who could take away some question marks back there, and a Jones-Fowler-(someone else) outfield would be a little better stomach. So people were already saying "man, the O's have a chance this season' and all that.

But then Dexter Fowler decided he would follow the example of his favorite Survivor players and completely jump ship on his plan, and pull a total blindside. Which he did, by deciding, at the eleventh hour, to re-sign with the Cubs.

A couple reasons why this move is amazing. First of which being that it allows Dexter Fowler to remain in the limelight. He goes to Baltimore, he sinks into an 'okay' team that skirts along the .500 line and doesn't make an impact (I assume). He stays in Chicago, he's a member of one of the best lineups in baseball. And last year, he was one of the difference makers. He stayed healthy, he kept hitting, he was a nice little outfield bat, something people were waiting for since he came up in Colorado.

Also, of course this helps the Cubs, because if I woke up one morning and discovered my outfield consisted of Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, AND Dexter Fowler...I'd cry. When Jorge Soler is your've got it good. They had an extra Chris Coghlan lying around, but they shipped him to Oakland, which is shaping up to a surprisingly coherent roster.

But this especially hurts the Orioles, because this hurts what would have been a sure thing outfield, and now they have to invest in maybe getting Nolan Reimold or someone who isn't as consistent as Fowler to play one of the corners. The Fowler move would have made them legitimate for 2016, and now that he's out...the Orioles are back to circling 4th and 5th.

Huge move that puts the Cubs in more of a sure shot to be a stellar team this season. And this is, like, INTO SPRING TRAINING. Huge roster moves are happening into Spring Training. That's how competitive 2016 is. Crazy stuff.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pitchers and Catchers: A Countdown For the Sake of Writing Something

The blog's been quiet for too damn long, so I figured I'd roll out a list/countdown, for the sake of starting a conversation. Last year I gave, in my humble opinion, the 10 best closers in baseball. I think I gave Aroldis Chapman the #1 spot, and lo and behold he's pitching for my team this year. I also didn't include Andrew Miller. More foreshadowing.

So, as Pitchers and Catchers have officially reported to Spring Training (as of a couple days ago), I'm going to make a list of the 10 Best Pitchers and the 10 Best Catchers in baseball right now.

Since I made a lot of people cry foul in my last list for putting people like Papelbon on the list solely because of past merits, I'm gonna make a rule that these ten people, on both lists, have to be on there based on what they've done lately. Miguel Montero is not on my list of catchers because he's slid to 'okay' territory, though let it be known that he came close. Justin Verlander's not on my list of the best pitchers because it's not 2011 anymore, and Verlander has had some down seasons, to humanize him a bit. So while Justin Verlander is one of the best active pitchers in the game, he's not currently one of the best arms in baseball. However, if some of these pitchers have only been unstoppable in 2015, that's definitely going to factor into their placement on the list.

People I cut at the last minute: Pitchers- Stephen Strasburg, Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, Corey Kluber, Adam Wainwright (solely because of the injury last year), Jose Fernandez, Cole Hamels, Sonny Gray. Catchers- Carlos Ruiz, Stephen Vogt, Yasmani Grandal, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta.

  #10s- Max Scherzer and Travis D'Arnaud. Now you see how divisive this list is going to be. Scherzer's an amazing pitcher, a great arm, and came close to pulling a Johnny Vander Meer last year.  Yet despite having a really great start to the season, people seem to underestimate him now, because of his second half, the fact that the Nationals didn't make it into the playoffs, and the fact that he barely placed on the Cy Young voting. Scherzer is still a great arm, and a guy who's basically the head of the rotation, even when Strasburg isn't wild.

D'Arnaud was contending with Yasmani Grandal for the last spot on the list, but Grandal was veering more toward year-long-fluke territory, so I went with D'Arnaud, who was wonderful whenever he was healthy last season. He can hit and play a pretty solid backstop. I'm putting him down here because I feel like he's more of a one-season fluke.

#9s- Jacob DeGrom and Matt Wieters.
DeGrom is here because, postseason notwithstanding, Matt Harvey's 2015 was not perfect. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom's last two seasons have been wonderful, and he's slowly popped up as one of the more impressive arms in the NL. Harvey does get a reputation as the ace of the Mets, but Jacob deGrom has the better arm, and the better consistency.

Matt Wieters is here, and Caleb Joseph isn't, which might be kind of controversial. Wieters is here because, in the period of time when he wasn't injured in 2015, he was pretty great at the plate, and even better behind the backstop. Wieters has been an impressive catcher since he came up in 2009, and I feel like he needs another full season of work to reestablish that fact.

#8s- Dallas Keuchel and Wilson Ramos.
Let me explain why the AL Cy Young is so low, because this is a pretty big deal. Keuchel is an amazing arm, and his 2015 was huge, but we're talking about one huge season here. His 2014 was...considerably nice towards the back end, but he wasn't behind a mega-roster like the 2015 Astros in 2014. Keuchel could have some amazing career numbers in the future, but if we're going by one huge 2015 season, that definitely puts him up a few spots, but I'm going to pick some people with some more (RECENT) success for higher spots. Keuchel is still wonderful, but there's a reason that Corey Kluber's not on this list...and it has a bit to do with his 2013 and his 2015, rather than his stellar 2014.

Wilson Ramos is the most underrated catcher in baseball. By far. He's had some pretty solid numbers for a few years in a row, in a consistently competitive roster, and people seem to overlook him in favor of bigger Washington stars like Bryce Harper. Ramos is an amazing defensive catcher, one I'd want on my team.

#7s- Madison Bumgarner and Yadier Molina. Two guys that would be up a bit higher if it weren't for their 2015 numbers.
Don't get me wrong, Bumgarner was wonderful in 2015, but in terms of the season as a whole, he was kind of an afterthought, kind of like the Giants. He, as usual, had some great strikeout numbers, and got a ton of wins, and reestablished himself as the Giants' ace, but didn't get very far into the Cy Young voting, and was overshadowed by a lot of NL pitchers like Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta, guys who made an impact this season by changing the game and bringing their teams forward as contenders as well. Bumgarner's a wonderful pitcher, and with a stronger Giants team in 2016 will likely go up in the rankings by next season, but he's at #7 because his 2015 didn't bring anything earth-shatteringly new to the table. That is pretty harsh, because we're still talking about a guy who threw 200+ strikeouts last year, and nabbed 18 wins, but I'm trying to be fair here.

Molina would have gotten higher had it not been, sadly, for the past two seasons. In 2014 he spent some time on the DL. And last year, Yadier Molina had his first real human season. He hit .270, and the rest of his numbers slipped with him. It's looking like Molina's beginning to decline in quality, as he's 32, and his days of staying behind the backstop without getting beaten up too badly are coming to an end, sadly. That isn't to say he's not a great catcher, as I'm sure his 2016 numbers are still gonna be pretty great, but they may not be as good as his late-00's/early-10's numbers.

#6's- Felix Hernandez and Russell Martin
Felix, if Corey Kluber hadn't have snuck out from out of nowhere and snatched one from him, should have two Cy Youngs by now. Actually, CC Sabathia deserved the one in 2010, so he should have one, the Corey Kluber one. But the world isn't perfect. Felix's numbers dipped slightly in 2015, but he still had 18 wins, a ton of strikeouts, and still dominated a losing team. I'm pretty sure this MadBum-Felix situation's going to be tricky to explain, because both are amazing, and both were swapped for each other multiple times during the making of the list, but Felix landed here because his recent career peaks are a little higher than MadBum's, near-Cy-Young included.

Russell Martin has been pretty stellar the last two seasons, hitting well and recapturing his numbers of LA yore. His reestablishment is actually helping his career numbers, because he's hitting more and farther than he did in the first half of his career. Plus, it helped that he was around a homer-heavy lineup in Toronto last year. Martin probably has some more good hitting years in him, which is why he's up this high, but isn't in his absolute peak as a defensive catcher, which is why he's at #6.

 #5's- Jake Arrieta and Francisco Cervelli
Arrieta at #5 is another ballsy choice, so I'll explain this one too. Arrieta was one of the faces of the comeback in Chicago, pitching some amazing games in the postseason, and a classic no-hitter in Chicago. There's no denying his numbers, especially his 2015 season. Thing about Arrieta is it took him a bit of time to find his footing, and his early numbers in Baltimore weren't great. Also, while Arrieta had a wonderful performance in 2015, it seems a bit more out-of-nowhere with the context of his past numbers, as opposed to a steady incline like Zack Greinke. And yes, Greinke's 2009 was out of nowhere, but from 2009 to 2015 the guy put up some consistently terrific numbers. I'm saying Arrieta has slightly less clout than my final 4, but is still a pretty wonderful pitcher, and will probably put up some fantastic numbers in the future.

Frankie Cervelli is another ballsy move, as a lot of people will say he's up WAY too high. My argument? This is Francisco Cervelli's first full season as a catcher, and it was absolutely wonderful. He was one of the more important pieces in making sure the Pirates made it to the top of the Wild Card race. Now, the reason this was his first season was the fact that since 2009, he'd been the professional backup catcher in the Bronx. So he really didn't have a full season, or any real chance to prove himself, aside from starting a game or two in place of Jorge Posada or Russell Martin or whatever. However, if the Yankees had plugged him in as a starter for a season, he would have done something awful similar to his 2015. Cervelli was a great catcher waiting to happen, and he finally happened in Pittsburgh. Now, from here on out is just him rewriting the legend.

 #4s- Zack Greinke and Brian McCann
Zack Greinke had the 2015 his career needed, an amazing, sub-2 ERA year where he ALMOST nabbed his second Cy Young, and almost stole the spotlight from the untouchable #1 starter. He also did a lot to prove his worth as one of the most intimidating right-handers in baseball. When he's on, he can give you an unlimited amount of strikeouts, and just forget to give up runs. He's going to be leading a rotation in Arizona this year, and while I'm getting some echoes of the last time he was trusted to head up a rotation (2011 in Milwaukee), I think he'll be better because the team is stronger, and the rotation looks pretty good. Greinke will likely have a few more killer seasons left before he peters off.

Brian McCann is definitely not where he was in his Braves days, but he's still one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, and is a much-needed bat in the Yankees lineup. I was worried when he signed, but he's done pretty well for himself. Him and Tex did a lot of the heavy-lifting last year, and while it's concerning that they're both over-30, it's still reassuring that they're hitting. McCann was a nice pickup, and while he's not ruling the league, he's a pretty impressive backup for a contending Yankees team.

#3s- David Price and Jonathan Lucroy
Price certainly deserves his high-placing on the list, because even as a late-season pickup for Toronto, he was pretty unstoppable, and was one of the main reasons the Blue Jays went as far as they did. Price is also one of the most dominating, hard-throwing pitchers in the majors. He can be aggressive as all hell on any team he pitches for, and his power doesn't seem to be slipping. His numbers as a Detroit Tiger, before the trade, were equally impressive. The guy is for real, and he's a current threat, especially as he suits up to be the new ace in Boston. This guy will be controlling a young rotation, and in a cutthroat division, so he's definitely going to be even trickier to defeat.

Jonathan Lucroy is a consistently smooth defensive catcher, and has been for the last few seasons. He's one of the few reasons to keep going to Brewers games. He's also a decent hitter, and a welcome presence in the lineup since the 2013 season. He's been outspoken in wanting a trade, as he wants to play for a competitor, so wherever he lands at the deadline, hopefully his numbers will go farther up, and his true power will come out.

 #2s- Chris Sale and Buster Posey.
Sale is a really gutsy pick, without a Cy Young or any accolades, but it is my opinion that Chris Sale is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball, and one of the most fearsome. I say this because I am Sale's height and weight. And I'm really tall, and really skinny. So to have a guy my height, throwing absolute fire, with a gigantic wingspan...that has to scare some people. The last four seasons have been consistently amazing for Sale, as he's been high on the strikeout charts for a while. He also led the AL in strikeouts last year, and has gotten Cy Young voting all four of the last four seasons. He's a Cy Young contender waiting for the perfect season to come his way. By the way, I know it's blasphemy to put someone like Sale up here while Bumgarner is 5 spots lower, but Sale has worked this ultra-intimidating, ultra-strikeout factor from the moment he became a starter. Bumgarner worked his way into a starting role. Sale was born into it.

Buster Posey is still as astounding a catcher as he was when he broke into the league in 2010, since nabbing 3 World Series rings, an MVP, and a Rookie of the Year. The guy's got some monster accolades to show, and his career's not even a decade old yet. He's a great hitter, a wonderful defensive catcher, and since his DL-stint in 2011 has had some pretty consistent healthy numbers. The only reason I placed him as #2 is because the guy at #1 has also had a slow build in terms of numbers since around 2010, and went even bigger than Posey in 2015.

#1s- Clayton Kershaw and Salvador Perez.
Kershaw...I don't even need to explain. Guy's got 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP. Last year he had his lowest Cy Young voting rank in his career...he ranked 3rd. He had 300+ strikeouts last year and didn't win the Cy Young. He's gonna be 28 this year and already has 114 wins, and 1700 strikeouts. His numbers are insane, and he's still on top of his game. Not calling him the best pitcher in baseball would be a mistake.

Salvador Perez over Buster Posey...if this was 2014, those would definitely be switched. But in 2015, Posey had a great season. Perez' was better. He hit well, was stellar behind the plate, and had some amazing postseason numbers, even better than he was in 2014. His whole career has been building to this high, and right now he's on top of his game. It's ballsy calling him the best catcher in baseball, but that's exactly what I'm doing. He's more of a big-game offensive player than Posey, more of a lineup tool than Posey. And he's a bigger asset in the postseason. And also, he had a bigger 2015. Posey can be #1 any other year, but I think Perez deserves it now.

So, those are my rankings. They're not meant to be definitive, or well-thought-out, or right. They're meant to be divisive. And plus, this gets me through another leg of spring training.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's Impolite to say 'Bunt': Why Topps Bunt is the Wrong Future of Collecting

I pulled this in one of my packs of 2016 Topps yesterday. It appalled me for a few reasons.

1. If people are saying the photoshop jobs are obvious in the 16T flagship, then they should get a load of these, especially the Correa insert. No effort to dial it back.
2. This brings forward an especially horrifying notion, one I'm going to talk about in this post.

2016 Topps has been criticized by literally everyone on the blogosphere, and for good reason. One of the most frequent criticisms is that the base design looks WAY too simple. Like, smog notwithstanding, it's just an MLB crawl and some shiny. There's not a ton to it.

And, as some people have pointed out, there's a reason toward this. Topps has realized that their business is coming less from people buying actual, physical packs of their products (you know, the way it should be), and is coming more from people using their digital app, Topps Bunt. So, in order to remedy this new direction of sales, Topps has made their base design simple enough that it can be reproduced for Bunt. Matter of fact, 2016 Topps is the first Topps Baseball Card set designed for the sole purpose...of NOT being collected as baseball cards.

It's painstakingly obvious. The lack of foil. The lack of originality. The zooming in of all of the photos. The even-more-boring inserts. The indistinguishable parallels. Topps has mass-produced and collated this set merely as an afterthought, knowing that they're only doing it for the older generation. Topps, who were so focused on attracting the younger demographic five years ago, through physical cards, have given up entirely, and have gone to just winning over that demographic by becoming something they very clearly are not.

Oh, sure. I talk so much shit about Topps Bunt, how it's detrimental to old-school collectors, and how it's ruining how Topps produces its cards. But I haven't even talked about how the app is from the inside, how it works, what it does. So I'm certainly one to talk.

(Clears Throat)

I was an avid user of Topps Bunt for approximately one month. I joined around January 2015, and deleted the app sometime around the middle of February 2015. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, so to speak.

Topps Bunt nearly derailed my savings account and damn near ended my blogging career. So yes, I am one to talk. And talk I will. Until my lungs freaking burst.

Like I said, I joined in January 2015, during the offseason. I had no choice but to start accumulating as many packs as I could, but there was no easy way about it. In-app credit was generated on a day-to-day basis, with a special bonus every Wednesday, and that was no way keep nabbing packs regularly. So, more in-app credit could be purchased with actual money. Now, Topps got this from other apps, I assume, as Temple Run or Angry Birds would sell things like hints, or more saves, or little extra items, for a couple actual dollars. But they weren't things that were invaluable to the game, like...all of the cards you were supposed to collect.

If Topps wanted people to actually collect the set without breaking the bank, they would go for the 1970's route, and put 20 or 30 cards into a 99 cent pack, or put 12 cards into a 3 dollar pack with parallels in it. But the Topps people, obviously, are not fools. They know that kids aren't buying physical packs, and they want money. So what they do here, which is genius and infuriating, is they stock packs at 5,000 coins, or 10,000 coins, or even 15 or 25,000, which is the equivalent of 25 bucks, so that the only way that kids can keep collecting the ultra-rare inserts is if they constantly have to borrow from their mom or dad's debit card, and keep feeding money into the cash cow that is Topps Bunt.

Now, replace mom and dad's account with a newly bolstered debit account, that I was saving for textbooks, and replace a 10-12 year old kid with a 19 year old kid who hadn't realized anything was wrong yet, and you have the makings of a disaster.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I had developed a small-scale gambling addiction. I would feed money into my Bunt account, at the promise of being 'with the times' and ripping digital packs just to have the latest insert sets completed, and then keep trading the rarer ones away for newer stuff, while keeping the autographs I would pull (on occasion) ultra-safe and locked. This process kept going on. I'd stomach the younger (or even older) kids who would ridicule me for "not knowing how to trade", even when I was trading my unwanted goods for their unwanted goods, which was, by Webster's definition, exactly what a trade means. I just kept going, kept getting more cards, and keeping in the bubble.

The problem was I didn't have time for many other things around that time. My blogging around that February slipped (just as bad as this February, only this February my excuses are "there was nothing worth blogging about" and "class fatigue"), because I had no real interest in writing, or picking myself out of BuntWorld. I collected some physical Topps, and I loved the 2015 set, but part of me was secretly wondering what it would look like in the Bunt app.

I honestly forget what caused me to delete the app, but I imagine it was a sudden realization of what it had done to me (and, more importantly, my bank account). I had allowed Bunt to scrounge itself into my brain and stay lodged their until I had no choice but to claw it out from the inside.

The main problem with Topps Bunt is that there's no moderation. There's no limit. A person can feed a lot of money into the app every day, and get more cards for themselves everyday, because there is nothing stopping them. There are packs available to buy everyday, with new and exciting bonus packs appearing at some times, and special, more expensive packs showing up randomly.

In real, physical life, there is a limit to how much Topps cards you can buy, because getting Topps cards involves going to a card shop, or a Target, and getting some cards, in moderation, and paying for them at the register. Topps Bunt didn't have that. There wasn't a register to pay for everything at once. You just pay whenever you want something, and there was nothing to stop you from wanting to buy the packs, because there was no geographical difficulty to getting more packs every day.

If I went to Target every day and bought $50 dollars worth of baseball cards, not only would it render me bankrupt very quickly, but there would be a social stigma about it. Because eventually someone would see me going to Target every day, and getting a lot of cards, and comment about it. In some semi-concerned-but-mostly-observant way, someone would say 'this isn't the first time I've seen you here', or 'welcome back', or 'that's a lot of baseball cards for one week'.

There's no social stigma in Topps Bunt because there are not other people around you when you buy packs. Nobody else in Topps Bunt can see how much you spend, how many coins you have. No one is there to stigmatize you for what you are doing except, eventually, you. And you don't realize it until you have to pull yourself away from the picture for a second, examine everything, and realize how wrong this is. Which is what I did.

Part of the problem is that I've never gambled, or had anything like this, so I didn't know going in that I needed to control what I put in. But, if I remember correctly, there is no disclaimer ANYWHERE in Topps Bunt that says 'remember to spend responsibly', or 'you should probably control how much money you put in.' Because anything that would end in Topps getting less money is bad for Topps.

So, in a way, Topps is promoting gambling, for their own personal gain, without a real care for what happens to people who put too much money into the app, especially if they're young kids spending their parents' money. They do not put thought into this, which is a horrible thing to grasp.

That somebody could go 'Yes, people are losing money, yes, kids are being conditioned to gamble at a young age, but on the plus side, we're finally winning the child demographic, so what's there to worry about?' This breaks my heart.

All of this in mind, Topps is restructuring their organization so that it's more geared toward things like Topps Bunt, and less towards actual, physical packs of Topps, which uses moderation, and is a lot safer for younger kids to get into than Topps Bunt. And yet Topps doesn't understand that it's got the exact wrong priorities, and that putting more emphasis on Topps Bunt is a mistake unless Bunt is restructured to be less of a cash cow and more of a direct simulation of actually buying packs of cards.

Topps Bunt cannot be 'the future of collecting', as Topps is leading us to believe, because if so, the next generations of card collectors are going to learn the lesson I learned eventually, and not want to collect cards at all, be it digital or physical. If this process, the one that I succumbed to, keeps going on unaddressed, Topps is going to lose a ton of prospective collectors, future and current, physical and digital.

They damn near lost me as a customer, and it took some overwhelming response from a grand majority of their products last year to keep me buying. But Topps needs to seriously rethink its priorities, or at least do something about this problem as soon as possible. I know it took me a year to report on this, but I wanted to wait until it would be relevant. It's relevant now, because Topps wants you to believe that Topps Bunt is the future.

Well, if that's the future, I think I'd be better off living in the past.

2 Hanger Boxes of 2016 Topps

I've already showed you a rack pack, but I need to be let down some more, so here are 2 hanger boxes of 2016 Topps. Let's see what the damage is.

Box #1-
183- Andrelton Simmons. Start with one of the best shortstops in baseball. Now on the Angels.
130- AJ Pollock. Proof that the D-Backs can potentially pull something off this year.
131- Adam LaRoche. Hopefully he'll have a better season in Chicago, now they've got a stronger core.
217- Lance Lynn. Will be sitting out 2016, but that's kind of a relief for most NL Central batters.
147- Dee Gordon. One of the most fearsome base runners in the game.
117- Liam Hendriks, one of the few ugly people to come out of Australia.
177- Gregor Blanco, who I guess is gonna be a starting outfielder again in SanFran?
345- Yonder Alonso, now in Oakland.
148- Yangervis Solarte. I really hope he hangs onto that 3rd base job in San Diego. He's a fun little player.
238- Orioles team card. Dousing Crush Davis with water. Fun stuff.
125- WHIP Leaders
204- Mark Teixeira, the guy who can still hit 30 homers on one leg. Wonderful. He's got a great card here, too. Happy to have him as a Yankee.
294- White Sox team card.
275- Ian Kinsler. People should buy packs of 2016 Topps just for the horizontals. They're worth it.
302- Astros tc, and they have every right to be excited, too.
337- HR Leaders.
297- Tigers TC GOLD #D TO 2016. Part of me wishes the little code thing on the edges was a real part of the design, instead of the smog.
Berger's Best of 1985 Doc Gooden.
Pressed into Service of Josh Harrison. I do like this insert set. Very unconventional.
Back to Back of Trout and Pujols.
Ah, of course, my first PERSPECTIVES card, of Bryce Harper. And man, do I love it.
mLB Debut of Jayson Werth as a Blue Jay. Cards like these, of Werth in an odd uniform, is why this set should exist.
Amazing Milestones of Ted Williams. Boring set idea, but can't resist another Ted card.
Walk off Wins of Ozzie Smith
261- Russell Martin. Still a pretty great catcher.
306- Jarrod Saltalamacchia
262- Ervin Santana. It's a great thought that Ervin might be heading up a rotation this year. Warms my heart.
2- Jerad Eickhoff. Man, if this is what the Rangers gave up for Cole Hamels, then maybe trading him was worth it. Eickhoff-Nola-Morgan is not bad at all.
81- Alexei Ramirez. Now the shortstop for San Diego.
325- Kaleb Cowart RC.
16- Rougned Odor, who has essentially made Jurickson Profar obsolete at this point.
257- Jake Marisnick, who's a nice little spare part in Houston.
240- Nick Markakis. Marky's bat coming alive again in Atlanta was a nice surprise.
101- Justin Turner. Man, a year ago nobody really thought this guy would be starting at third. What a world.
165- Adam Eaton. I happen to think this guy's a lot more of an impact player than Jose Abreu.
241- Freddie Freeman. Another gem of a photo from this set.
121- Roberto Osuna, who proved that coming out of absolutely nowhere and becoming a great closer is not an impossible thing.
44- David Freese.
225- Scooter Gennett. Poor guy.
255- Justin Verlander. I really hope he's still at 'best pitcher in the AL' caliber, because he was amazing in the early part of the decade.
291- Asdrubal Cabrera. I really hope nobody calls him 'Assie'. Assie's on the Mets this year.
31- Travis D'Arnaud. Looks like this will be the starting catcher in Queens this year, which is a very good sign. I just hope he can stay healthy.
324- Steven Souza.
49- Ike Davis. Are his 15 minutes up yet?
224- Billy Burns. A bit better for your semi-optimistic A's fans.
282- Scott Feldman. Looks like Scott's still gonna be a 5th starter in Houston, unless the re-sign somebody else.
36- Miguel Montero. I think he did pretty well his first year as a Cub.
69- Anibal Sanchez. Quietly one of the more versatile arms out there.
326- Kevin Plawecki. The Mets' other option at catcher.
120- WS Highlight Alcides Escobar.
187- Leaders
80- Carson Smith
79- Mariners TC, made even more fun by the inclusion of early 90's throwbacks.
307- Wade Davis, who has done more than admirably taking over for Greg Holland. Pretty cool card, too.
94- Checklist of Cabrera and Martinez. Nice shot, too.
245- Tommy Kahnle. I have never heard of this guy.
46- Jhonny Peralta, narrowly avoiding steroid allegations since his birthdate.
45- Ryan Zimmerman
150- Clayton Kershaw. Best Pitcher in Baseball? Best Pitcher in Baseball.
146- Stephen Piscotty
141- Colin Rea
280- Brock Holt, Spiderman Villain Extraordinaire.
54- Jung Ho Kang. OH, I SEE...So Jung Ho Kang has his Korean league stats here too. But...Jose Abreu didn't have his Cuban league stats last pack? I'm...I'm confused. And angry.
10- Nelson Cruz, who has had insane numbers every year since 2009. And will probably have more in 2016.
189- Jake McGee.
14- CRUSH DAVIS. Returning home to Baltimore in 2016. Very nice.
30- Yan Gomes.
197- Neil Walker, who will be taking over for Daniel Murphy in New York this year.
71- John Danks. Wow, thanks to everything going on in the rotation, he must be going WAY down in the order.
252- Jorge Soler. Hell of a player. I do want to see him play a full season, though.
272- Denard Span, who'll be playing with SanFran this year.

154- Hunter Pence. Plus side is I get a Hunter Pence card. Minus is it's kinda boring.
180- Kevin Gausman, lord of the goggles.
151- Jon Lester. Okay, this card is cool because it's filtered JUUUST enough, as opposed to TOO MUCH, like everything else in the set.
266- Jonathan Papelbon, the...CAREER SAVES LEAVED FOR PHILLY? OH, NO.
214- Chris Colabello, who became one of the unsung heroes of Toronto last year, which is wonderful.
210- Mike Zunino. To paraphrase a callout from Rocky Horror ,"HE CAN'T HIT...HE CAN'T RUN...HE CAN'T CATCH...TRIPLE THREAT!"
168- Nathan Eovaldi. Keep the magic flowing in 2016, buddy.
243- Luke Gregerson, who had 31 saves last year for the Astros. And yet they still decided it'd be nice to rob me of new-favorite-player Ken Giles.
231- Chris Coghlan, who MAY be out of a job this year? I'm not sure.
286- Joe Mauer. He's no longer at MVP levels, but he's still a great player, and a guaranteed Minnesota HOFer.
25- Brad Ziegler. Not sure if he'll be closing for the D-Backs this year, but I hope so.
76- Glen Perkins, another lovable closer.
100- Bryce Harper, our cover boy. Hell of a card for him, too.
301- Wade Miley, who'll be pitching in Seattle this year.
220- Leaders
195- A rather cool Jason Kipnis card nearly ruined by some excessive smog.
61- A rather cool Johnny Cueto WS Highlight card improved by being a gold parallel.
Berger's Best of A-Rod from '98.
Pressed Into Service of Mitch Moreland.
Back to Back of Fielder and Braun.
OH MY GOD. Perspectives Insert of Randy Johnson. THESE ARE SO COOL. I'M FREAKING OUT.
MLB Debut of Josh Donaldson. Nice to see him as an A again, at least.
Amazing Milestones of Warren Spahn
Walk of Wins of Bill Mazeroski. I like this because you don't pull a Maz everyday out of modern Topps.
88- Ubaldo 'The Frog' Jimenez.
283- Felix Hernandez. Phenomenal pitcher. It's good to be the king.
152- Kyle Lohse, who's still hanging in the league.
342- Jayson Werth. I hope he's healthy all year, because I still adore Werth as an all-around player.
32- Zach Greinke, the guy who almost won his 2nd Cy this year. Now a D-Back.
73- Ketel Marte
174- Jered Weaver
57- Adam Lind. His awesome 2015 season has granted him a season on a surging Seattle team, rather than another season in Milwaukee.
340- Victor Martinez. Hoping to see the return of his 2014 numbers.
288- Jake Lamb. Part of a surging infield.
52- Julio Teheran. How far into the year d'you think he's getting traded?
160- Chris Sale. He's gonna be 27 and already has 1000 strikeouts. Watch out, boys and girls.
244- Jonathan Lucroy. Again, poor guy.
193- Trevor Bauer. Throws more wild pitches than his fellow Cleveland rotation brethren, but still an amazing arm.
28- Brian McCann. Best thing to come out of Athens, Georgia since REM. Fantastic hitting catcher in the Bronx.
215- Adrian Gonzalez. I'm glad this guy's been doing so well in LA.
135- Colby Rasmus with another pretty nice card.
285- Pablo Sandoval. Unless he magically reverts back to his 2012 self, the Red Sox may have a big problem on their hands.
22- John Hicks
200- Josh Donaldson, the deserving MVP. Man, can't wait to see what he does this year.
87- Jorge de la Rosa, the anchor in Colorado.
207- Maikel Franco. Please stick around for a full season.
114- Brett Lawrie. Traded for an MVP. Then traded to the White Sox. Abreu-Lawrie-Sanchez-Frazier is pretty appetizing.
176- Brandon Phillips. Such a fun player.
95- Kole Calhoun.
155- Yankees TC, featuring congratulations for Carlos Beltran.
162- Leaders
170- An Altuve-Springer-Correa Checklist dubbed 'New Order'. I'm not sure the Astros are especially into Power, Corruption and Lies. I'll give it to them, as this is a pretty Blue Monday for me.
(Also...with the three of them posed like that...Bizarre Love Triangle much? I'll stop now.)
21- Mike Moustakas WS Highlight. Wide Enough that it works.
318- Nats TC, which is Harper slapping some fives.
299- Angel Pagan, during one of his few healthy moments. Great photo, too.
70- Kendrys Morales. Hell of a comeback.
97- Ender Inciarte, now with the Braves.
159- Erick Aybar, ALSO with the Braves now.
313- Martin Maldonado
91- Yasmani Grandal. Glad he's finally broke out big-time.
153- Jason Hammel, one of the most underrated members of the 2015 Cubs.
175- Manny Machado. Yeah, it's official- he's for real.
188- GREG BIRD ROOKIE. YEAH. I mean, he's gonna be injured this year, but STILL!
278- Evan Gattis, pounding the hell out of the ball.
231- HanRam. Hopefully first base will suit him a smidge better.
229- Jesse Hahn
242- Matt Wisler
89- Edwin Encarnacion. Guy's been unstoppable since joining the Jays.
203- Aaron Hill. Now on the Brewers. Poor guy.
161- Phil Hughes.
132- Joe Ross

Those were some hanger boxes, and I did get a bit fatigued after a while. There is still a lot to love about this set, but not enough of it. I still got some nice yankees and nice photography, though.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Looking for Optimism in a Rack Pack of 2016 Topps

I held off because I was afraid.

I usually go and grab a pack of the new Topps the second it's released. The second I know it will be there. But once it was released, everyone who DID pick it all said, in a unified voice, "NO."

It wasn't looking good. It, in fact, looked very unpromising, unoriginal, and some other uns. But, as a card collector, it was my solemn duty to at least pick up some packs, and try to find a silver lining.

I have a rack pack in front of me. 36 cards. Let's see if I can try to name some good things.

194- Chase Headley. Okay, so for for the first time (I think), my FIRST CARD OF THE SEASON is a Yankee, and it's a pretty good one, too. However, the design is impeding on what could be a pretty cool photo. This is close to 2008 Topps levels of a design interfering with perfectly good parts of a photo. If it was just the little MLB network crawl on the bottom, I'd be fine with this design. Not 100% happy, but fine. Instead, the smog on the edges are putting me off.
17- Billy Butler. The colorful smog on the backs of the cards is reminding me of 2015, and reminds me if this design wasn't so misty and over-elaborate, we could have had a pretty good extension of the 2015 ideologies, which were pretty refreshing.
300- Buster Posey, the poster boy. One of the plusses, like last year, is that there is VERY minimal foil. And I do like that, as it's very reminiscent of stuff like 1993 and 1994 Topps. Only thing is there's just too much going on design wise.
113- Aaron Sanchez. 41 games of relief work gets you an encore card, I guess.
9- Eric Hosmer, one of your World Series heroes.
267- Chris Heston. If you're going by patterns, Chris Heston could be one of your 2016 World Series heroes.
230- Ryan Vogelsong, who's back with the Pirates this season. Also, close cropping!
234- David Robertson. Okay, so every once and a while 2016 Topps can have a gem, and Robertson's is zoomed back far enough that it's pretty cool.
327- Anthony Rizzo. Man, Cubs fans must absolutely adore this guy. I even adore him; I snagged a Rizzo jersey-shirt while I was in Chi-Town.
337- HR Leaders. Jeez, even the leaders cards have the smog.
308- Brian Dozier. Okay, the sideways cards are a little better here, but there's more Miguel Sano on this card than Dozier.
156- Cameron Maybin. This is a pretty damn good shot too, also because it's zoomed out.
122- Melky Cabrera
248- Braves TC. Like everybody's been saying, the team cards have some awesome photography.
41- Josh Harrison. Another awesome card, and more zooming. Topps, do you see the pattern here?
Berger's Best Insert of 1996 John Smoltz. Eh.
Back to Back insert of Rizzo and Bryant.
One of the few consistently awesome inserts, First Pitch, with a Red Sox card of Mo'Ne Davis, which is pretty awesome.
mLB Debut of Ryan Howard. Yay, I guess.
Bunt insert.
43- Noah "Thor" Syndergaard. Future Stars are back. Dude, Thor's a pretty big star NOW.
20- Andrew McCutchen. 2016 Topps: The product that makes Andrew McCutchen look boring.
274- Ryan Goins
304- Charlie Furbush
347- Jason Grilli. Guy's turning 40 this year, and has made a late-stage comeback as a closer, which is awesome. Pretty sweet card, too.
104- Jeremy Hellickson. Phillies picked him up, which says a lot about where his career is at.
173- Jose Abreu. 2014 and 2015 Topps would combine MLB stats with Cuban/Japanese numbers. Here, we get two rows of stats. Beautiful.
4- Sonny Gray. Another cool card. Not saying 2016 Topps can't pull out some great ones, because they can, just not often enough.
103- Trea Turner.
143- Oliver Perez
219- Hector Oliviera. The big-time Cuban prospect the Braves got for Alex Wood.
129- Kendall Graveman
222- Homer Bailey
316- Jake Odorizzi 'FUTURE STAR'. Dude, he's been in the league since 2012. That's just degrading.
348- Seth Smith.
271- Kevin Kiermaier. This guy keeps it up, he'll be a bigger star than Longo.

So, that was a rack-pack of 2016. Not great, right? There are a ton of problems with this set, most of which can't be rectified in the same calendar year. I'm gonna be stuck with a lot of these problems until update, which is kind of sad.

I also got 2 hanger boxes of the stuff, which I will post later.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Super Bowl 50: Notes from the Inside

Five Years ago, in Dallas, TX, I witnessed one of the more exciting Super Bowls in recent history firsthand. The Packers took down Pittsburgh, and I was there to see it.

Three Years ago, in East Rutherford New Jersey, I witnessed one of the most boring Super Bowls in recent history firsthand. The Seahawks were winners from the get go, and they spent all four quarters mercilessly hitting the Broncos down. And I was there to see it.

Two days Santa Clara, California...yep, you're damn right I was there.

As usual, I'll detail my journey from my hotel in Milpitas to the game, and how everything went from the perspective of a lowly blogger in the 200 level.

My companion for this Super Bowl was my friend Evan, who I knew through the age old excuse of "our dads work together". Evan and I began the morning taking a shuttle out to the TLA stop. The TLA, which is a very cool little train system in the San Jose area, was smooth, and dropped us off with more than enough room to get to the stadium. Only problem is we got there a tiny bit before 11:00 AM, which means the gates technically weren't open yet, so we had no choice but to slam ourselves into a throng of determined fans.

Speaking of fans, if you were to measure from just the crowd waiting to go through security alone, you would think that the Broncos to Panthers ratio was pretty even. Where I was, there was an even amount of orange-navy and blue-silver. I, however, not one to join some bandwagon for a single game, took the historian approach- I wore an old Mitchell & Ness 1969 Bart Starr jersey. Like with my Strahan jersey at the '13 Bowl, I was approached with one or two 'you're at the wrong Super Bowl' messages. To which I'd cheekily respond "No, I'm a year early", or "Actually I'm 49 years late".

One guy, working for the stadium, was commenting on people's wardrobe as they went in, be it Broncos or Panthers. Once he got to me, his jubilance turned to confusion very quickly. "Oh, and here's a Broncos fan, go Broncos, oh, and here's the Packers...PACKERS?...I mean..." It cracked me and Evan up.

Once we got past security, we made our way around the stadium to the Tailgate Party (How we got in I'll never tell), which was pretty nice. Seal was the main entertainment, which...baffled all of us. At least he was pretty cool, and still performed well.

The Tailgate Party was a nice diversion, but we finally got to our seats about an hour before start-time, which, as they told us, was 3 PM. Our seats were in the corner of the Broncos' end zone, up a level. Prime position, given the circumstances. We sat, waiting, watching the people enter, watching more and more Broncos fans fill the seats, watching the roars grow louder and louder whenever a Broncos player appeared on the 'tron.

Inside the stadium, they'd momentarily cut to two CBS people, whose sole purpose was to repeat information that was already well-known throughout the game, like what had happened in each quarter, or what to do during the halftime show, which was a point that was already pretty hammered-in. It got to the point where, at their 3rd or 4th appearance, I was already shouting "GO AWAY!"

Speaking of the halftime show, the entire audience would be involved in a huge stunt where two huge-stadium-wide pictures would be shown. There was a video which, step-by-tantalizing-step, detailed the entire process of taking a poster-board card out of the package, holding it up at one point, putting it down, and putting it back up on the other side at the end. It was so dumbed down, with a video of an example audience cheerily taking party, that by the end someone in the audience sarcastically yelled "SHOW IT AGAIN, THAT WAS HYSTERICAL!"

Eventually we got to the National Anthem, which Lady Gaga absolutely rocked, and the unveiling of 50 years of Super Bowl MVPs. Surprisingly, the man whose number I was wearing, Bart Starr, was one of the few not in the building. There were boos at the arrival of Tom Brady, and cheers at Eli's arrival, save for a few people in my section. "What?", one said, "I'm from Philly." "So am I, but even I still think he's okay," I replied.

Eventually the game began, with both fan bases loudly making their cases known. There were several "KEEP! POUNDING!" chants from the audience going, and several chants from Broncos fans as well, more of them probably, because they dominated most of the audience. You could tell, because whenever the Broncos got a point, or the Panthers got a penalty, the audience would erupt in applause. This was a Denver-led crowd, of people that didn't travel as far and stayed together, and thereby helped decide the outcome of the game.

The first bit of the game did have a ton of really fun games. The Broncos sacked Cam Newton, he fumbled the ball, and the Broncos leapt into the end zone to grab the ball and score a touchdown. The Panthers scored their first (and eventually only) touchdown with a gigantic leap over the blockers into the end zone. Newton had a lot of huge throws, and the Denver Defense had a lot of great plays, smacking Cam around whenever they could.

Unlike the 2013 Bowl, one team stayed in control for most of it, but there was still intrigue and question, for most of the game, as to whether or not they'd stay in front. The Broncos started out ahead, but the Panthers came charging, not stopping until the end, and powering through some tough situations.

It was really exciting to watch, because both teams had some nice power plays, some great drives. It wasn't a blowout, it was a fair fight that ended because one guy was on top from the beginning.

I should probably talk about halftime, because I don't know how it came out on TV, but from Levis Stadium it was pretty damn cool. It helps that I'm a big Coldplay fan (I know), and that Chris Martin was more energetic than he's been since Gwyneth broke up with him, but also the big image that we helped create was pretty cool, too.

Once Bruno Mars showed up and did Uptown Funk the audience erupted and sang along in a big way. But then Beyonce popped up, and the day was hers. The tron stopped broadcasting for us when she went on, as if to say "just look at her for yourselves, dammit!" And yeah, even if I'm not a big fan of this Formation number, she was pretty awesome.

The very last part, when Beyonce, Bruno and Coldplay united to sing 'Up and Up' as kids ran around the field and the audience held up a picture reading "Love is Everywhere" or something, gave me chills. I don't care who you are- it was this big, colorful awesome moment that everybody must have eaten up, regardless of whether or not you like Coldplay.

The rest of the game was more of the same. The Broncos held onto the lead, the Panthers tried but fell apart. My section ended up starting a 'Fly Eagles Fly' chant out of desperation. And Cam Newton chose not to go for a fumble that eventually decided the outcome of the game.

Eventually the Broncos were deemed victorious, and Peyton Manning became the first quarterback to take two different teams to a Super Bowl and win. It was nice to see him win one more time, and even if I'd gone in rooting for Carolina, I could respect a Denver win simply for Peyton, and for the fans that had been waiting since the 90's. He hinted that he'd be mulling it over, but I'm pretty sure Peyton Manning's going to retire. He has to. He was already a Hall of Famer before he put on a Broncos uniform.

Evan and I stayed for the trophy ceremony, and we watched as most of the stadium booed Roger Goodell. We realized that we'd just witnessed a pretty awesome Super Bowl, 50 or no. And then we left to catch the TLA.

And that was how my Super Bowl went.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Nostalgic Box Break: 1999 Ultra (Part Three)

Two thirds gone. One third left. This box has been really fun so far, as it's always pretty nice to see a product in peak form, and the very late 90's were the peak years of Ultra. Last eight packs coming up.

 Pack 17- Man, those futuristic rookie card designs sure do stand out...

 AJ Hinch's reaction when he realized he had to manage the Diamondbacks a few years ago.
(Thankfully he's in a much better place right now.)

 Matt Williams, already mowing 'em down in Arizona, and Bobby Abreu, in one of his first few seasons as a Phillie.

 Carlos Baerga, who never really did anything out of an Indians uniform, looks stoic as a Met. And Jeff Bagwell hits another one out.

 Pack 18- Lots of very odd positions here.

 Edgar Martinez, world's greatest DH, squats in the batter's box, because...well, he's Edgar. He's allowed.

 Before Rafael Palmeiro took steroids, this card was not gold.

 Shawn Green, immediately before his trade to LA that would make him a hard-hitting superstar, and a The Book On insert of Chipper Jones.

 Maybe it's me, but Jay Powell's glove looks huge here.


 Both ends of the age spectrum. Alex Rodriguez, already ruling the league in his early 20's, and Rickey Henderson, still stealing bases at age 40.

 Two of the greatest third basemen of all time? And they both played in the same decade? Man, gotta love baseball.

 Two reminders of the 1997 ALCS. Man, the Yankees were close that year, but the Indians were a better squad. They should have won a World Series that decade.

 Pack 20- The horizontals take over!

 A bit blurry, but two hitting 90's stars, Bernie Williams and Todd Helton. I think Helton has a better HOF case than Bernie though.

 People tend to forget how powerful Mike Mussina was as an Oriole. This card cements it. He just looks beastly warming up.

 Pack 21- Some team heroes in this one.

 Two extremely 1998 figures. The Book on insert of Juan Gonzalez, still a Texas standout, and a futuristic surfboard of Kerry Wood, who had an OUTSTANDING rookie season in 1998.

 Derek Jeter, my once and future favorite player of all time. Robin Ventura's sliding next to him, and they'd combine their efforts for a World Series attempt in 2003.

 Of course, here's the closest thing they have to a modern diety on the South Side, Frank Thomas.

 Pack 22- Winding down but still some cards pop.

 I bet you forgot both of these guys played for these teams. Either way, Dean Palmer seems pretty happy about it.

 Trevor Hoffman's rushing to work, equipment in hand. Meanwhile, here's one of the few good rookies in the set with Eric Chavez.

 Freddy Garcia auditions for Cliffhanger 2.

 Pack 23- Another nice insert here, as well as some more cool shots. It still looks new and the box is nearly over.

 Rico Brogna reaching for a helmet. Such a cool shot.

 Raul Mondesi, right before being traded to Toronto and essentially whittling down the rest of his career. Also, Kerry Wood nabs a Season Crowns insert.

 This guy was intimidating even as he bled in front of you. Remind me why he's not a Hall of Famer yet?

 Pack 24- The last hurrah. We do get one last rare insert here though. know.
 Two hard-hitting Hall of Famers. Gwynn's is a really cool Gold Medallion. Frank's is the box's last futuristic surfboard.

Our big insert is a World Premiere one of Richard Hidalgo, who was just starting out in Houston in '98. Not the greatest subject, but still a very cool design, and it's incredibly shiny.

So that was 1999 Ultra. Wasn't that fun?

I might get back to some actual posting, and hopefully I'll nab some 2016 Topps soon.