Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Topps Heritage

Like last year when I reviewed the 2014 Topps Heritage I'm again disappointed with the 2015 Topps Heritage.  This is not a knock against the cards themselves.  I love the retro but I'm not a fan of those early Topps cards with nothing but head shots and little thought behind the cards themselves.  This may be pretty narrow minded but that is me.  The one surprise this year was the team cards like the one to the left of the Angels.  I've always enjoyed highlight cards for teams whether that was some of the NFL cards that highlighted certain games or their defense or offense.  Here the Angels celebrate first place in their division.  The design of the cards themselves were pretty plain but not bad.  I'd say better than last year.  I actually like the backs.  The little cartoon with a nifty fact in the upper right hand corner, the card number in the baseball and all the stats.  I think this definitely a win for the set and an improvement over last year's offering.  While I won't be purchasing anymore of these I think everyone should check them out.  You never know what you might find and I am obviously looking at a small sample of the cards with my own ideas of what I like.  Enjoy the pictures and I'd love to hear what others think of the set.   

2015 Donruss Baseball

Grabbed a rack pack of the 2015 Donruss baseball which amounted to 30 cards for $4.99.  Last year when I blogged about the 2014 Donruss baseball I lamented a lack of subset inserts.  Not this year.  Plenty of subsets to enjoy this time.  The fronts again have a classic Donruss feel to them with the giant Donruss logo adding to it.  The fronts are sharp with the name prominent at the bottom while the borders are white with primary team colors interspersed on the sides and bottom.  The "team name" at the bottom of the card doesn't include the mascot since Panini doesn't have the MLB license which also explains why you won't find the logos on the cards anywhere.  Twenty years ago that would have been a deal breaker for me.  Not anymore.  I can push through that and enjoy the cards for what they are.  Would have liked to see the player's position on the front of the cards but that is about all it was missing.
I pulled five former players and you know I enjoy players from yesteryear in today's sets.  I pulled Pete Rose (above), Frank Thomas, George Brett, Ernie Banks, and Bo Jackson.  All great cards and it is nice to see Rose on new cardboard.  I also pulled a Frank Robinson all-time Diamond King.  I've always love the Diamond Kings from the Donruss brand.  Different subsets or inserts I pulled were a Buster Posey press proof numbered 256/299, Yoenis Cespedes elite, Mike Trout grand stand, Rusney Castillo "The Rookies" (also pulled his rated rookie base card), and a Kennys Vargas studio card.  All were very good looking cards and having that many non-base cards was a pleasant surprise.  My big pull was the BatKings Ryan Zimmerman card shown at the top of this post.  I've only pulled two relic cards before with both of those being NBA jersey cards so pulling a bat card was pretty cool.  Not sure what I'll do with it but I really got excited seeing the card. 
 The backs again harken back to the old Donruss style. I'm ok with that but I prefer having more than one years worth of stats plus the career totals.  The backs have a red background with the player's name, personal data and a disclaimer at the top.  Below that are the stats and a quick write-up.  The card number is in the upper left inside the outline of a baseball.  This is a detail I definitely like. 

This set isn't perfect but I like it.  Where Topps' Heritage set fails I think these cards do a great job of combining an older style with good photography to give us a nice looking set.  I had a great time with the variety and style I found in this pack.  I recommend these to everyone. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Collectibles Show Finds Part III - 1991-1992 Hoops Basketball Series II

By far my favorite box of cards I picked up at the show were the 1991-1992 Hoops basketball.  Again for $5 I received 36 packs of 15 cards each for a total of 540.  Nice design and great subsets.  Supreme Court cards were stars that might not normally be found in a series two set.  There were art cards for each team which I really liked as well as draft pick cards, all-time leader cards and cards detailing the Finals series between Chicago and Los Angeles.  My favorite by far though is the USA Basketball subset.  I had recently read, and reviewed, Jack McCullum's Dream Team book so this was great timing.  All of the 1992 Dream Team and coaches were in the set.  There were also players from past Olympic teams who were currently in the NBA.  Again a great box and loads of fun.         


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Collectible Show Finds Part II - 1990-1991 Hoops

More great cards.  540 total from a wax card box.  This set had a little more variety with the rookie cards and gold bordered All-Star game cards.  I really like the latter cards in sets especially with photos from the games themselves which is what we have here.  Not a flashy set but it works.  The backs had decent stats and write-ups.  The photos were very good as well.  More great fun for me. 
Rick Mahorn leaves the Detroit Pistons and all of a sudden he and Larry Bird are smiling buds?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Collectibles Show Finds Part I - 1990-1991 SkyBox Basketball Series II

The Larry Bird show!
Want to show off some of the cards I picked up last month at the card show.  For $5 I picked up a box of 1990-1991 Skybox series two basketball cards.  A nice looking set I've always liked but the lack of subsets is a little disappointing.  But to their defense that wasn't the big thing at that time.  There were 36 packs with 15 cards per pack for a total of 540 cards.  It was great fun opening all those packs and the price was right. 
The backs of these cards lacked many stats which is also somewhat of a negative.  Still there is something I like about the fronts and loved going down memory lane. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 Boston Red Sox Preview

Hanley Ramirez
After their 2013 World Series win over St. Louis Boston struggled to a 71-91 record last year.  Enter two big bats to help turn things around.  Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval join the team to help solidify third base and the outfield respectively.   These two will add quite a bit to a lineup that struggled last year.  I like the additions and how it makes the lineup look.  Rookie Mookie Betts will get a chance to show he is the real deal at the major league level.  A big time prospect, Boston would really like him to stick after apparently striking out with Jackie Bradley Jr.  The ageless one, David Ortiz, will anchor the middle of the lineup with first baseman Mike Napoli also back to add power.  I do believe one of the keys to the lineup will be Dustin Pedroia.  While it wasn't a bad year for him last year it wasn't typical.  Hopefully he can rebound and hit with a little more power and average.  With a lineup that might look like this from the two through sixth hole offense shouldn't be a problem - in theory:  Pedroia, Ortiz, Ramirez, Sandoval, Napoli. 

The pitching staff is more of an enigma for me.  There are some good pitchers there but I'm not convinced they can carry the team to the playoffs.  The starting five will probably look like this though the order will differ some:  Rich Porcello, Clay Bucholz, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly.  Buchholz struggled last year (8-11 5.34) and he needs to be at his career 3.92 ERA to give the Red Sox a year worthy of a number two starter.  That said Porcello was the only one of the five to have an ERA below 4 last year.  Doesn't exactly make me feel great going into the year.  Again all 5 are solid but if Porcello and/or Bucholz struggle this could be bad.  I don't see much depth to pick them up. 

The bullpen is in good hands with 40 year-old closer Koji Uehara as long as age doesn't catch up to him.  Junichi Tazawa had another good year and will hopefully be back with the same in 2015.  Otherwise the rest of the bullpen is average with some like Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow needing bounce back years to make a positive impact. 

Some say this will be a down year for the American League East and Boston should vault their way to first place.  I'm not so sure.  Baltimore was very good last year and Toronto is always retooling.  If nothing else this will make for a lot of very tough games.  For me that also says that everything needs to go right for this team to reach first place.  Not saying they can't but I'd be surprised.  I do think they can win another eight to ten games but for me it all hinges on the pitching.  I like the moves the Red Sox made and hope they all work out.  Just not sure this is a team built for long run. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Atlanta Braves 2015 Preview

After a 79-83 2014 season the story of the off season for the Atlanta Braves was change.  Gone are Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, David Hale, Tommy La Stella, Emilio Bonifacio, and Gavin Floyd among others.  Many of these players were major parts of last season's team.  Change is part of every new year but to me most of these will really impact the 2015 Braves in a negative way.  Specifically the offense struggled last year and it definitely isn't better now (14th in runs in the NL last year).  The pitching staff adds starting pitcher Shelby Miller but loses key parts to their rotation and bullpen.

I understand why many moves are made.  Mostly due to money.  Some players were due new contracts after this year and some became free agents after 2014 and weren't affordable.  Still it hurts.  It is hard to look at this team and think it will even reach 79 wins.  The offense was bad last year and lost two huge parts in Upton and Gattis.  Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes fill the outfield slots around Melvin Upton Jr. (formally B.J.) who only hit his weight once (.208 last year) in two years with the Braves.  I don't know why he is still on this team.  This lineup just isn't that scary.  I love franchise guy Freddie Freeman but I'm not sure he has much help around him this year.  Hopefully 3B Chris Johnson can regain his hitting stroke and stud defensive SS Andrelton Simmons can find his bat or any bat for that matter. 

Pitching might not be too bad but they definitely lost some quality arms.  Still the front of the rotation of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Shelby Miller should provide some stability.  It is what Mike Minor and the 5th starter (TBD) will bring that will determine how the staff really performs.  The bullpen is anchored by five star closer Craig Kimbrel who I don't see slowing down anytime soon barring injury.  Veterans Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli are looking to have bounce back years after once being closers.  They'll need to be steady hands to help get to Kimbrel with consistency.  I'm just not sure what Atlanta will get from them. 

I'll be surprised if Atlanta reach the 79 wins they got last year.  The good news is the Braves will have a new stadium in a few years and the thinking is more money will be available to spend.  I hope so.  There is other good news in we'll see catching prospect Christian Bethancourt start this year.  He isn't a can't miss prospect but hopefully he can learn to call a good game and provide a decent bat.  The big buzz is all around second baseman Jose Peraza though.  He could be a pure lead off hitter the Braves haven't had in a long time and would hopefully bring stability to second base.  I'm thinking we'll see him sometime this year.  Again we'll see how everything plays out and hopefully some things will go better than I think.  But I'm looking at it being about 75 wins this year.
Jose Peraza

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Westport Sports Collectible and Autograph Convention - February, 2015

I headed over to the latest sports show in St. Louis last weekend with my buddy.  Great show as always.  I was able to pick up six boxes of cards for $5 each.  I won't send any kids through college with these cards but that isn't the point.  It is all about the fun and six boxes at that price is great.  I enjoyed the heck out of opening all those packs.  It brings back memories and opening packs is a favorite part of the hobby for me.  I'll post more on each of the goodies I was able to score but my favorite box was the 1991-1992 Hoops series II.  I didn't have a ton of these cards before now and having just read the book on the '92 Dream Team I was excited to see the Dream Team inserts.  I'll definitely keep that sub set.

I also grabbed the hardback book Unfinished Business by Jack McCallum which chronicles the 1990-1991 season of the Boston Celtics.  I had just tried finding this on Amazon the week prior and couldn't do it so getting this for only $5 was nice.  I also grabbed some single "wax packs" as well as got to rummage through some quarter bins grabbing quite a few singles, the majority of which were NBA cards from the 70's.  Another great show by the After the Game Inc. guys.  They did have a few of their signers that cancelled on them and weather probably put a dent in the Sunday portion of the show but it was still fun.  My buddy and I look forward to their next show in October which looks to have a little more variety to include Jose Canseco and Ric Flair.   More information can be found on their Facebook page

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Review: Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever by Jack McCallum

I was finally able to pick up Jack McCallum's Dream Team book which was published in 2013.  I've looked forward to this for quite a while and snagged a used book through Amazon.  The book chronicles the 1992 Dream Team which allowed NBA players to participate in the Olympics for the first time as a reaction to college players not winning gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.  McCallum doesn't disappoint as he chronicles the forming of the team, the behind the scenes that made that possible, the marketing, international impacts and most importantly the players themselves.  From who wanted to be on the team, to who was selected and why, their relationships and stardom in Barcelona that transcended the lives these players already lived.  I love the back stories the behind the scenes goodies and this book delivered.

About the only thing this book won't provide is detailed analysis of the games themselves but they don't deserver to be front and center.  They weren't as important as the players and the stories.  The one game that stands out the most when the Dream Team is brought up is a scrimmage the team had which pitted Michael Jordan dueling Magic Johnson.  That was more important than the drubbing the team laid upon opponent after opponent.  Bottom line is I loved this book.  If you are an NBA fan of any sort this is an easy read.  The world's greatest players were on this team.  All, sans college player Christian Laettner, were future hall of famers and had either led the revival of the NBA (Magic Johnson and Larry Bird) or helped build on the momentum through 1992.  But not only were they great players, many were great personalities.  Some were exactly as I've known (John Stockton, Chris Mullin) but some surprised me some (Patrick Ewing).  It was great getting to know these players on a different level.  McCallum spoke to every player, coach, executive, competitor, or other writers who could bring the story more to life.  And it came together wonderfully.  Every NBA fan needs to read this book.