Thursday, October 20, 2016

A 2016 postseason trip down to the farm with Topps Heritage Minors

With the attention of baseball fans focused on the postseason, Topps takes a trip through the minor leagues with the release of the 2016 Topps Heritage Minor League set. Crafted in the vintage design of the 1967 Topps motif, the stars of tomorrow are given the major league treatment with the look and feel of classics pieces of cardboard.

Headlining the set is Atlanta Braves phenom shortstop and first-overall draft pick, Dansby Swanson. Accompanied by the likes of Red Sox upstarts Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, as well as Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and Houston Astros rookie sensation Alex Bregman, collectors will find immediate familiarity with the prospects in the 215 card set.

2016 Topps Heritage Minors Yoan Moncada / Topps

Those purchasing the product might notice that Topps reduced the amount of cards per pack to eight cards, one less from last year’s product. The significant difference will put consumers much farther away from a complete base set than last year, with the box provided for this review falling well short of yielding a base set compared to 2015’s product.

2016 Topps Heritage Minors Drew Jackson Autograph
Topps attempts to make amends for the reduced amount of product with on-card autographs. The blue ink on the vintage backgrounds jumps off of the cards, providing an attractive addition for this year’s release. Sticking with the blue theme, Topps also inserted blue parallels numbered to /99, giving fans of the Heritage line even further incentive to make a purchase.

2016 Topps Heritage Minors Jorge Mateo 61 Mint Insert / Topps
The box opened for this review yielded two autographs (including a blue parallel autograph limited to 50), a jumbo coin relic card, a half dozen short prints, ten sticker inserts, and three blue parallels. With a retail price of $50, 2016 Topps Heritage Minors is an entertaining value product, as collectors can hedge their bets on prospects of the future, while looking forward to a box packed with inserts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

2016 Topps Heritage High Number is a perfect bookend for the collecting season

Topps bookends what is quickly becoming their flagship set with the release of the 2016 Topps Heritage High Number series. This second issue of Topps Heritage features exciting rookies who were excluded from the first set earlier this year, as well as players who changed teams mid-season. This combination of top prospects with players who might have their only on-card appearance with their new team, makes the High Number series a coveted asset in collecting.

The 225-card High Number set features a 200-card base (501-700) with an additional 25 short prints (701-725). Topps gave the short prints an added touch of flair with a slightly brighter color on the card backs, making them even easier to differentiate from their base card counterparts.

2016 Topps Heritage High Numbers Box / Topps
Collectors will enjoy finding the rookies featured in this set are on their own individual cards, as opposed to the first series which had prospects sharing cards together. With the likes of Julio Arias, Lucas Giolito, Aledmys Diaz, Trevor Story, Nomar Mazara, Kenta Maeda, and Seung-Hwan Oh all getting the rookie card treatment, this set has the potential to be one to watch in the future as these players become the superstars of Major League Baseball.

The variety of inserts to chase is enough to keep the product interesting, but not so much to overwhelm the average collector. The box Topps provided for review yielded an image variation, a Chrome parallel, a gum stained back, and three of each of the following series: Now and Then, Award Winners, Clubhouse Combos, and Rookie Performers.

2016 Topps Heritage Inserts / Topps

The collation of the product was excellent. Each pack yielded some type of insert or short printed card. The 24 nine-card packs were just nine cards shy of yielding a complete base set. The box advertised either one relic card or one autographed card as its main hit. This box revealed an autographed card of Hall of Fame pitcher, Phil Niekro.

2016 Topps Heritage Phil Niekro Real One Autograph / Topps

Collectors will enjoy the 2016 Topps Heritage High Number series for both its value and collectability. With boxes priced at $60 that yield almost a complete base set with valued inserts in every pack, fans will have a tough time passing on this release. Whether their attraction to the High Number series is due to nostalgia, or the fun of scoring the next big hit, this product is a win that comes just in time for the World Series.

2016 Topps Heritage is as close as it comes to a sure bet with baseball

When it comes to a sure thing in baseball cards, nothing comes closer than the Topps Heritage series. Continuing with the trend of merging the current with classic, Topps makes a smash hit with their 2016 Topps Heritage set.

Paying homage to the 1967 Topps card design, this year’s Topps Heritage series is perfectly timed with the start of the spring training season. As the 2016 crop of veterans and rookies take the field with fresh faces and the uniforms of new teams, fans and collectors can get a similar rush of excitement by delving into the 2016 Topps Heritage set.

2016 Topps Heritage Mike Trout Clubhouse Collection / Topps
Staying in line with past Topps Heritage releases, this year’s series will keep collectors busy trying to pursue a master set, with 75 short prints, as well as a myriad of image variations to chase down. The design of the base set also has a fine touch of including dual rookie cards of the top young talent that will impact the major leagues in 2016.

Going past the base set and its variations, there are also Flashback inserts paying tribute to significant happenings of the 1967 season, as well as the classic Then and Now inserts that help to merge the stars of 1967 with 2016.

Each box guarantees either one autograph or one relic card. The autograph checklist for this year’s product is rather strong, featuring Real One single, dual, and triple autographed cards, as well as rare cut autographs of deceased players from the 1967 set. The box provided for this review produced a Mike Trout Clubhouse Collection Relic, highlighting a game used jersey from arguably the top young star in the game.

Whether it is the nostalgic design of the 2016 Topps Heritage set, the many layers of their master set, or the desirability of their autographed inserts, this year’s Topps Heritage set proves that if there is one Topps product that you have to put your money on, it’s this one.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jim Zapp, Negro League teammate of Willie Mays, passes away at 92

Jim Zapp, a star outfielder for the 1948 Negro American League Champion Birmingham Black Barons, passed away Friday September 30, 2016 in Harker Heights, Texas. He was 92.

Born April 18, 1924 in Nashville, Tennessee, Zapp attended a Catholic school that lacked a baseball team, so ironically his first real exposure to the game wasn't until he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. Stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1943, Zapp played third base for their black baseball team. His abilities caught the attention of Edgar “Special Delivery” Jones, a former All-American football player at the University of Pittsburgh who was coaching the white team on the base. Zapp made history when Jones selected him to integrate his team.

Jim Zapp with the Birmingham Black Barons / Author's Collection

After returning to the United States in April 1945, Zapp was stationed in Staten Island, New York. Due to the good fortune of a recommendation from a base teammate, Zapp had his first taste of the Negro Leagues when he joined the Baltimore Elite Giants to play on the weekends. His teammates included Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella, whom Zapp recalled in Neil Lanctot’s “Campy,” that the catcher used to, “like to sit on the back wheel,” during bus rides.

Zapp played with the Elite Giants through 1946 before returning home briefly as a member of the Nashville Cubs. After one season with the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1947, he joined the Black Barons in 1948 off the strength of a recommendation of a player in the league. It was there in Birmingham in 1948 that things came together for Zapp and his teammates. Buoyed by a squad that included an outstanding double play combination in Piper Davis and Artie Wilson, Zapp provided much needed power to a lineup that included a 17-year-old center fielder by the name of Willie Mays. Zapp was one of many mentors to the talented teenager, and the news of his passing greatly touched the now 85-year-old Hall of Famer.

“Willie took it really hard,” his son James Zapp Jr. said in during a phone call Sunday afternoon. “His secretary e-mailed me yesterday; he’s going to write a letter that he wants read at my dad’s funeral.”

Zapp saved one of his greatest performances for the 1948 playoffs. In Game Three of the Negro American League Series against the Kansas City Monarchs, Zapp hit a game-winning ninth-inning home run to lead the Barons to a 3-2 victory. Unfortunately, he could not carry that magic into the World Series, as the Barons succumbed to the Homestead Grays 4-1 in a best of seven series.

At the close of the season, members of the Barons were invited to barnstorm with the Jackie Robinson All-Stars as well as the Indianapolis Clowns. Zapp was offered a spot with the Clowns, which he declined on the basis of a reduced draw. Years later, speaking with author Brent P. Kelley in, “The Negro Leagues Revisited,” Zapp lamented about his decision to leave the team.

“I told them to just give me my release,” Zapp said. “That’s probably one of the biggest mistakes I made in my life.”

He came back to Nashville to play semi-pro ball after parting from Birmingham. Not completely done with the game, he went for another round with the Elite Giants for two years from 1950-51 until he was signed into organized ball.

Zapp with the Big Springs Broncs / Author's Collection
Right away Zapp turned heads with his prodigious power while playing for the Class D Paris Lakers, crushing 20 home runs with a .330 batting average in 1952. Zapp’s terror of minor league pitching continued in 1954 when he set a Longhorn League record by swatting 32 blasts in only 90 games for the Big Springs Broncs. He played one more season in 1955 with Port Arthur and Big Springs before hanging it up for good.

Zapp stayed involved in sports after finishing his professional baseball career, serving as an athletic director at multiple military bases until his 1982 retirement. He continued to share his knowledge of the game through coaching and umpiring for an additional 20 years. With the Negro Leagues experiencing a resurgence in popularity throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Zapp frequently attended reunions and was honored with multiple baseball cards, including one in 2010 by Topps, as well as his own Hartland statue.

Within the last year, Zapp experienced a renaissance of sorts rarely seen by nonagenarians. In January 2015, Zapp Jr. sent correspondence indicating that due to his father’s advancing Alzheimer’s condition, that his grim prognosis could no longer allow him to accept fan mail. Amazingly, 18 months later, not only was Zapp alive, but Bill Nowlin reported in a July 2016 National Pastime Museum article, that Zapp’s condition had actually improved due to his family stepping in and altering his treatment.

“It’s been a little over a year since I took him off that medication and it worked out great,” Zapp Jr. said. “It got to the point where it was great to come see him because he was back to himself.”

Early in the morning on September 30, 2016, his son received a call from his father’s caregivers that his dad passed away. Sadly, the elder Zapp had premonitions that it was soon to be his time to go.

“He said he wanted to lay down awhile before he had breakfast,” Zapp Jr. said. “They put him back in his bed in his clothes and 20-30 minutes later, he was gone. He made a comment to them the night before that he wasn’t going to be around much longer. He was at peace.”

To be able to have that last year with his father’s improved condition and care meant the world to the Zapp family. They watched in amazement recently as Zapp reconstructed memories 70 years ago about his baseball career.

“He could remember things in the past that I was astonished that he could remember,” Zapp Jr. said. “A great era just came to an end.”

Funeral services will be held at Heritage Funeral Home in Harker Heights at 10AM on October 6, 2016.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 Bowman Chrome gives a fresh look at a September baseball card release

September is one of the most exciting times in the baseball season, as contenders furiously battle for a spot in the playoffs, while second-division teams get a chance to show off their top prospects as rosters expand. Both breathe life into every game of the final season of the month, giving each team the opportunity to write their own final narrative. The release of the 2016 Bowman Chrome baseball card series only adds to the drama of fall baseball, offering collectors the opportunity to chase the prospects that are on the verge of stardom while getting a fresh look at the current stars of the game.

2016 Bowman Chrome / Bowman

Bowman highlights two rising young players on the cover of the 2016 Chrome product, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Michael Conforto of the New York Mets. The latter is contributing to the Mets playoff run, while the former had a torrid start to his first minor league season that finished before his 18th birthday. This year’s product came in the form of two mini boxes, each guaranteeing two autographs as part of the 60 cards contained therein.

Unlike its Topps Chrome sister set, Bowman Chrome adds new photos to the players featured in the 2016 Bowman set, while revamping the 100-card condensed base set checklist. A host of new minor leaguers populate the prospects in the set, giving Bowman Chrome a fresh appeal to those who purchased Bowman earlier this year.

2016 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Base Card / Bowman
Some fresh eye-catching inserts highlighting the Arizona Fall League All-Stars and an update to the Bowman Scouts Top 100 series allow collectors to find something new to enjoy in this late season release. The box provided for this review yielded one base Chrome Prospect autograph, as well as a green refractor autograph that was limited to a run of 99 cards.

Trayce Thompson Bowman Chrome Green Refractor Autograph / Bowman

While outside of Guerrero Jr. and Gary Sanchez, there aren’t many hot prospects in the set; however, that shouldn’t stop collectors from giving 2016 Bowman Chrome a look. With today’s frontline players captured in new photos on their patented Chrome stock and the chance to catch a sleeper pick in the mix, 2016 Bowman Chrome fits snugly into the theatrics of late season baseball.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How Vin Scully predicted he would broadcast Fordham Prep classmate Larry Miggins' first MLB home run

With Vin Scully’s incredible 67-year run as a broadcaster for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers coming to an end, one of his more inspirational stories involves his Fordham Prep classmate Larry Miggins. In 1952, Miggins was a reserve outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and Scully was splitting broadcast duties with the legendary Red Barber. During a 2013 interview with Miggins, he explained to me how the Fordham Prep alumni crossed paths at the major league level in a most unlikely way.

“I was a senior and he was a junior,” Miggins recalled. “We had an assembly for some reason and he ended up sitting right behind me. He grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘Larry, you’re going to be in the big leagues and the first time you hit a home run, I’m going to be the announcer to tell the world about it.’ Can you imagine that? He’s 15 years old. I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen.”

Vin Scully / Wikimedia Commons
During the 1952 season, Miggins found sparse playing time behind two Hall of Famers in the Cardinals outfield, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. As the Cardinals started a 16-game road trip, manager Eddie Stanky gave Miggins a rare start. His spot in the lineup on May 13, 1952 set the stage for Scully to earn his stripes as a thinly veiled fortune teller.

“I hit the home run off of Preacher Roe and it just so happened that he only had two innings out of the nine innings of the ballgame because Red Barber took them all," Miggins said. "He had the microphone when I hit that home run and told the whole world about what he had told me back in school in 1943.”

Larry Miggins Signed Baseball Card /
For many years, Scully’s improbable tale of predicting that he would broadcast his schoolmate’s first major league home run was one that he told at a multitude of speeches he’s given around the country. Of the myriad of rich baseball experience that Scully’s had throughout his career, Miggins pondered why his was chosen.

“I asked him, ‘Why do you tell that story?’” Miggins said. “He said, ‘What am I going to tell these guys? I’ve got a science degree from Fordham. These guys have masters and doctorates, and are highly educated. What can I tell them that will inspire them? I tell them that story for one reason; it puts something out there that you can shoot at. It may not happen, but it can happen. Have something to drive you to excel in your work to do better and have a goal.’ That’s why he tells that story, so you’ll have a goal to do something that’s almost impossible, and when you strive hard enough, it will happen.”

Comedian Ari Shaffir fulfills childhood dream of being on a Topps baseball card

Thumbing through a pack of 2016 Topps Allen and Ginter baseball cards, the tally of superstars read like a who’s who of baseball. Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Kris Bryant, Ari Shaffir, Albert Pujols … wait whose organization has a top prospect named Shaffir? A quick flip of the card reveals that Shaffir is not in the set for his mammoth home runs or his unhittable curveball, but for his prowess at making people laugh.

2016 Topps Allen and Ginter Ari Shaffir / Topps

Shaffir is a comedian best known for his Comedy Central series, “This is Not Happening.” Continuing with Topps’ efforts to diversify their Allen and Ginter set, Shaffir’s inclusion in the set represents Topps’ eye for highlighting rising stars. After a recent performance at The Stand in New York City, Shaffir sat down to discuss the experience of being immortalized on a baseball card. The opportunity arose from a recommendation by a fellow comedian who was in last year's set.

“Sal Vulcano had one [2015 Topps Allen and Ginter] and he knew some people [at Topps] so he recommended me,” Shaffir said. “They e-mailed me and I thought it would be cool.”

Shaffir performing at The Stand in NYC / N. Diunte

Growing up, Shaffir collected Topps baseball cards. The hallmark of his collection was an iconic card of Hall of Famer George Brett.

"I was into baseball cards," he said. "I always had Topps when I was little. My favorite was a 1975 George Brett rookie card; it was the center of my collection.”

One of Shaffir’s favorite players growing up was Frank Thomas. Never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would be in the same baseball card set as the Hall of Famer, but with the advent of 2016’s Allen and Ginter set, that dream became a reality.

“I was really into Frank Thomas,” he said. “I followed his career all the way up, from being drafted all the way to the Hall of Fame.”

Part of Shaffir’s inclusion in Topps’ set involved him autographing cards, as well as providing event worn memorabilia for limited edition inserts. He went behind the scenes at Topps' iconic headquarters in New York City to meet with their representatives to fulfill his duties for the set.

“I went to the office in Manhattan and signed a bunch [of cards],” he said. “I ended up giving up my shirt that I wore from my [Comedy Central] special. They gave me a Topps shirt too; it was cool.”

Now that Shaffir has an official baseball card, he is receiving major league treatment from fans. When he recently returned from touring, his mailbox was full with unexpected requests to sign his rookie card.

“I’ve been getting people sending me stuff,” he said. “I got back from two months on the road and I had 6-7 letters waiting in my mailbox. I sign them, ‘S--k it, Love Ari.’”

Shaffir welcomed fans to send him his new card to sign. He offered time-tested advice for making a mail request; send return postage.

“My address is up on my website,” he said. “People can send me some as long as there is a self-addressed stamped envelope; otherwise the card’s never coming back.”