Espouse of Cards

I own a lot of baseball cards – thousands, in fact – that lie dormant in my basement, sleeved in nine large binders. I don’t actively collect anymore aside from the occasional pack here and there, but I realized the ones I do have are being too neglected. They deserve to be appreciated, each and every one of them (yes, even you, Fleer 2007 Jeremy Bonderman). This post will be about some of those cards.

Sporting News baseball writer Jesse Spector runs what he calls “Project Shaq Box,” where he finds cards out of his shoebox collection and sends them to other baseball writers. Then, they use the cards as a jumping point to talk about the players on a podcast. I don’t want to steal his idea…but I’m pretty much stealing his idea. Of course, I’m writing instead of speaking, because scouts have graded my writing tool at a middling 45, while the speaking tool remains a show-me 30 grade.

And to be clear: I’m not sending you shit.

That is, unless you want to trade some of your own (which I would be far too excited to do, actually). But I hope this will be a fun way to write about baseball, and hopefully only a marginal waste of your time. If I do this again, I’d welcome requests on which players you’d like to see. Otherwise, here are some rectangles.

Rich Hill – 2007 Topps

I recently found myself defending Rich Hill in my fantasy baseball group chat. Rich Hill’s career resurgence is great. It’s really great. Like, Tony The Tiger great. And if you don’t think it’s great then we’re gonna have some real problems. Take it away, Chance…

When Hill started for the Red Sox on September 13 last season, it was his first pro start in six years. He and his outlandish curveball have gone on to strikeout over 10 batters per nine innings since. Root for Rich Hill.

I always loved the black borders of this 2007 Topps set, and this one was an especially nice addition to the Cubs team set, mostly because I love(d) Rich Hill,  but also because its a great shot of what appears to be his curveball mid-flight.

The back features a pretty uninspiring trivia question – Dusty is now up to 3,325 games without a second rookie shutout and the Cubs haven’t had one since, if you were wondering – but some fun facts were found.

For instance, the last three Cubs rookie shutouts were Hill in 2006, Kyle “Swagger Goggles” Farnsworth in 1999, and Kerry Wood’s historic 20 strikeout game in 1998.

Even better, Hill threw his second career shutout last season for the BoSox. Despite being nine years (!!!) apart, the two outings are scarily identical. They both took place in September. They both featured 10 strikeouts, two hits, and one walk. They both had an identical game score of 92. He threw nearly the same amount of pitches in both – 116 and 118. Matt Murton doubled in both (ok, he only doubled in the first one. I miss Matt Murton.)

Uncanny.

LaTroy Hawkins – 1995 Topps “Future Star”

It’s crazy to think of LaTroy Hawkins as a “future star.” I mean, he was a 22 year-old rookie when I was born. This summer of 2016 is literally the first summer of my life that doesn’t feature LaTroy Hawkins in a professional baseball uniform.

It is in cases like these that I’m reminded how much of an intimate connection baseball and nostalgia have. Players, teams, jerseys – you name it, and they have the ability to trigger some intense memories. Just seeing or hearing the names of some players makes me feel young(er), warm, and reminiscent.

When I saw this rookie card, I remembered some things about him specifically – his season with the Cubs in 2004, for instance – but most of all, I remembered the baseball of my childhood. I remembered walking down the halls in elementary school, listening to the PA system play “Go Cubs Go” after postseason wins in the magical 2003 season. I remembered waking up before anyone else in the house on weekends to lay claim to the TV, playing High Heat Baseball 2004 (those graphics!!!), mostly spending my time trading and building my team. I remembered the sound of Linda Cohn’s voice detailing web gems and home runs on Sportscenter every morning before school.

LaTroy Hawkins was a lot of things – a fantastic name, a “future star,” a young man with his face overlaid on a card like one of those ridiculous old family portraits, the oldest player in the MLB from 2014 to 2015 – but most of all, he was a ballplayer during my formative years, and his name will always remind me of that.

Shawn Green – 2001 Fleer Genuine

Speaking of memories, I have an oddly selective one. I may not remember what I did last Thursday, but I remember this one trivial conversation I had in 4th grade. I may not remember how many games it took the Cubs to beat the Mets in the NLCS last year (that’s what happened, right?), but I remember what I was feeling when I bought the pack that contained this Shawn Greene card.

I was in Target, shopping with my mom around age 7, which meant that I could pick out a pack of baseball cards or two if I didn’t cause a scene. Similarly, my dad would buy me a bottle of Coke at the NASCAR themed vending machine at Home Depot. Child behavioral conditioning, man.

Normally partial to Topps, I thought the Fleer Genuine pack looked really nice and decided to switch it up. But when I opened it there were only three cards in there.

“THREE CARDS? I could get like a bajillion times more in a Topps pack!”

(I don’t think I’d learned multiplication yet).

I was pretty mad, but they did look really nice. I even pulled a Chipper Jones in that pack, but I was partial to Shawn, perhaps because I didn’t have a cousin named Chipper.

Plus, he was nicknamed “Squeaky” in Backyard Baseball 2001, which is dope.

Vladimir Guerrero – Upper Deck 2008

Many credit Dodgers teammates Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker with the first-ever high five in 1977. The moment is even detailed in a ten-minute ESPN documentary. When I first heard this, I thought it was a joke. It was like finding out that pizza was only invented like 25 years ago; it’s something so ubiquitous I couldn’t fathom a pre-high five world. But the facts are plain.

Unsurprisingly, early high fives lacked the kind of grace and smoothness (typically) found in today’s common versions. They’re certainly more intricate these days. I bring this all up because Vladimir Guerrero high fives his coach on this card as he trots a walk-off dinger. Yes, I found the actual moment.

It’s a beautiful card design, showcasing the photography by eschewing a border. Less graceful, however, (aside from the Carl’s Jr. photobomb) is the high five itself. Let’s break it down plus/minus style:

  • The first thing to note here is that Vlad is in motion for this high five, which significantly increases difficulty. +1
  • However, his stride is poorly timed, landing nearly three feet in front of his target. -1
  • He’s probably flashing that signature Vlad smile, as featured on the back of the card, at this point. +1
  • His left foot is just now starting to touch the ground, meaning he was likely in midair for a brief moment as hands first made contact. Much like in a baseball swing, this lack of foundation saps him of most of his power. -1
  • Vladimir Guerrero doesn’t need “most of his power” lol +1
  • As he bends his torso forward to make up the remaining ground, the right leg drags behind to maintain balance, which looks a bit awkward. -1
  • Looks like the hands made solid contact despite all of that. +1
  • Vlad’s right blinker (back pocket) seems to be semi-engaged. There are only two situations where this is justifiable: when it popped out accidentally from grabbing your batting gloves (not the case: Vlad was one of the few who never wore batting gloves), or if you’re using your left blinker as a signal that you’ll be rounding three bases (baller move, but that’s the wrong pocket). Though it’s barely untucked, I can’t give you this one, Vladdy. -1
  • Dude, it’s Vladimir Guererro. +∞

Vlad wins. Vlad always wins.

Rickey Henderson – 1990 Topps

The Vlad card choice was mostly because I bought his jersey (throwback baby blue Expos) shortly before this piece. Same goes for The Man of Steal (yellow A’s pullover). Whew.

If I had to choose one player to watch in their prime, it’d probably be Rickey Henderson. Mostly, I just fucking love the bluntness of the comment on this card. Sure, at that point in his career he had 871 career base thefts, 138 home runs, a .290 batting average, 67 WAR*, and some of the best quotes in baseball history. But most importantly: dude loves him some Luther Vandross.

Please take a moment and imagine Ricky Henderson singing this to himself in the mirror:

I also love imagining what he’s thinking at the moment of this snapshot. “Rickey don’t like when Rickey can’t find Ricky’s limo,” probably. Or maybe he’s pissed that he just struck out. In that case, “Don’t worry, Ricky. You’re still the best.”

Bonus card, because Rickey:

Thoughts About The Thoughts

Brian: It’s weird to see Rickey Henderson without a lot of triples. Like, intuitively, I understand that you have to hit the ball just right to get a favorable bounce or have the fielders completely screw up the play, but still, for somebody whose legacy was built upon speed, never leading the league in triples seems strange.

Brock, re: Brian re: Me: Rob Neyer of ESPN dug into this phenomenon a bit in 2003.

Benny: I have books filled with cards in the display sleeves that I haven’t looked at in a while. This makes me want to dig them out. My friends would always bring our books together and trade cards back in middle school, but I had two cards that were always off limits; the Shawn Green bat card, and the Willie Stargell jersey card.

*WAR according to FanGraphs

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