Thursday, June 14, 2018

2018 Topps Tier One Review - Topps takes a mighty swing at the fences with 2018 Tier One Baseball

Baseball card collectors searching for a guaranteed hit have to look no further than 2018 Topps Tier One Baseball. Promising two autographs and one relic card in each box, the only question is whether 2018 Topps Tier One packs home run or warning track power.

2018 Topps Tier One Baseball / Topps 
The true treat to this year’s product are the flagship Tier One autographs set. Coming in at one per case (Bronze /25, Silver /10, Gold 1/1), fans have a chance to pick up signed cards by the likes of legendary figures Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, and Sandy Koufax, as well as modern marvels Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout.

Digging further into the signatures, Tier One Talent offers a solid blend of current stars, legends, and Hall of Famers, and the Break Out autographs feature many of the top prospects and new faces in the majors. The sought after multi-player autographed cards feature pairings such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, as well as Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux.

2018 Topps Tier One Talent Autograph / Topps

While the baseball card community is not often excited about relic cards, Topps provides an enhanced experience with their 2018 Tier One Baseball Dual Autographed Relic Book Set, and rare single copy Autographed Bat Knobs and Limited Lumber (Bat) cards. The raised look and feel of the Bat Knob and Limited Lumber cards are sure to pique interest in the release.


2018 Topps Tier One Prime Performer Autograph / Topps
The box provided for this review was a “hot box” of sorts, yielding two autographed cards and two relics. While I was not fortunate enough to land one of the aforementioned fancy limited signed relic cards, the Tier One Talent Dellin Betances and Prime Performer Jose Berrios autographs were aesthetically pleasing on multiple levels.


Collectors who pull one of the limited dual signed cards or autographed 1/1 relics will be touting 2018 Topps Tier One Baseball as a circuit blast; however, if the two autographs are in quantities nearing 300 (as was the result of this box), they may be left feeling that the $120 price tag barely beat out a base hit. When delving into guarantee hit products this is the risk you take; you swing for the fences, but you just might end up hitting a Texas Leaguer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Chuck Stevens, the oldest major league baseball player, dies at 99

Chuck Stevens, a former first baseman with the St. Louis Browns who had the distinction of being the oldest living major league baseball player, passed away Monday in Long Beach, California. He was 99.

Stevens played three seasons with the St. Louis Browns in the 1940s; however, his biggest impact on the sport came from the decades he spent helping former players in need as the director of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America. Serving as the organization’s director from 1960-1988, Stevens helped thousands of players (both major and minor league) as scouts and team personnel get back on their feet in the face of hard times.

Chuck Stevens / Author's Collection
“The situations often were someone having a rough time who just needed a hand up to take care of the necessities of life,” Stevens said in February 2018 to the Long Beach Press Telegram. “One player called us and all he wanted was enough money for a bus ticket home. I never dwelled on how bad some of the situations were, but I was proud we were able to help, and do it quietly.”

Well before Stevens was on a quest to provide for so many that were involved in the game, he etched his place in baseball lore during of the most infamous debuts in major league history. On July 9, 1948, he stepped into the batter’s box as the Cleveland Indians brought Satchel Paige in from the bullpen. A familiar face from their winter ball duels in California, Stevens greeted Paige to the majors with a single to left field.

“I played against him about ten times before that night. I played against him when he could really smoke it,” Stevens told me in 2012 via telephone from his California home. “When Satch relieved against us [in Cleveland], he was just spotting the ball around. [It seemed like] he had lost 60 mph off of his fastball. He threw his breaking stuff and he had great control so you knew he was going to be around the plate all the time. He wasn’t going to overpower you like I had seen him in his earlier days.

“The ballgame in Cleveland was not a big deal for me because I was just hitting off of Satch. I singled into left field, between [Ken] Keltner and [Lou] Boudreau. … I always had pretty good luck off of him.”

Shortly after the interview, I was able to travel to California to meet Stevens and his wife Maria at his home. He told me about his military service in the Army Air Force during World War II, as well as playing baseball in the service with Joe DiMaggio. While certainly proud of his major league career, he still made it a point during my visit to note the work of the APBPA and invited me to return to their annual dinner.

Mr. & Mrs. Stevens with the author (r.) in 2012 / N. Diunte
While I was not able to make the return trip, Stevens’ generosity was evident from the time I spent with him on both the phone and in-person. Some may look at his 184 career major league hits and assume that he had only a small impact on the game, but those who truly knew Stevens’ behind the scenes work with the APBPA will certainly recognize that his career stats grossly underestimate his footprint within the baseball community.





Thursday, May 17, 2018

2018 Bowman Baseball Review – How 2018 Bowman is setting a fever pitch in the industry

Immediately following the release of 2018 Bowman Baseball, prominent sports card dealers were placing five-figure bounties on the coveted Shohei Ohtani Superfractor card. As of this writing, Blowout Cards has ignited the offer to $100,000; therefore, it is of little surprise that collectors nationwide are posting photos of empty retail shelves in their quest to hit the big time.



While Ohtani has provided the necessary mania to give the sports card industry a shot in the arm, Bowman shows that their 2018 release can stand well on its own despite the hype surrounding one vaunted card. With a clean design and attractive inserts, 2018 Bowman Baseball furnishes a product that has staying power for years to come.


The 100-card base set features the aforementioned Japanese phenom, as well as a keen mixture of rookies and veterans. Ronald Acuña, Hunter Greene, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. all lead the charge of the 150-card prospect set, with their chrome cards serving as sought after treats for those lucky enough to get their hands on an entire box.


Digging into the parallels and inserts, traditional serial numbered colored parallels will keep fans busy tracking down their favorite player’s rainbow, while the new Bowman #Trending and Bowman Birthdays insert sets give a new flavor for collectors to dine upon. Equally pleasing are the Bowman Sterling, ROY Favorites, Scouts Top 100 and Talent Pipeline inserts, with each providing another nuance for consumers to pour into while digging for their golden ticket.


Even though this box did not add six figures to my annual income, it did yield a complete base set, a host of inserts, three numbered parallels, and a refractor autograph of New York Mets prospect Andres Gimenez. Just going through each pack was exhilarating, as there was tremendous excitement on social watching many post stories of their frantic searches for the product.


With box prices trending near $150 due to the increasing reward placed on the Ohtani Superfractor, 2018 Bowman Baseball is still worth diving into just for the exciting ride that could end with a life-changing hit.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Review - A mysterious vibe worth catching

Sliding in on the heels of 2018 Topps Heritage Baseball, this year’s release of Topps Gypsy Queen Baseball series serves as formidable follow-up a heralded product. The set features a design that contains elements of the old and new school, giving collectors a tasty treat to start the season.

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Variations and Short Prints / Topps
Immediately noticeable is Shohei Ohtani’s rookie card. With the two-way phenom taking the baseball world by storm, his presence in the set alone will draw fans to this product. Beyond Ohtani’s solo appearance in the base set, 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen has an attractive offering of parallels and variations that add excitement to opening a box (or case) of this product. The Jackie Robinson Day variations, numbered color parallels and rare Bazooka backed cards all give 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen a flavor of its own that will go down smoothly with hobbyists.

2018 Topps Gyspy Queen Bazooka Back / Topps
Each box guarantees two autographs and staying to true form, Topps provided sleek on-card autographs that pop. This box yielded rookie autographs of Garrett Cooper and Anthony Banda, with the latter a limited edition black and white variation. While neither are top prospects, Derek Jeter, Kris Bryant, Sandy Koufax, and the aforementioned Ohtani are some of the high impact names that comprise the autograph subset. For collectors who have better fortunes, their venture into 2018 Gypsy Queen may uncover rare autographed patch books (1:2877 packs) and the interesting pull-up sock relics (1:7920 packs).

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Garrett Cooper Autograph / Topps
Staying consistent with last year’s release, the Fortune Teller mini insert cards return to feature 20 of the top young talents in Major League Baseball. The Tarot of the Diamond inserts follow along with the gypsy theme, an additional insert set that Topps should continue to preserve for future releases.

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Tarot Card Inserts / Topps
While the presence of Shohei Ohtani’s autograph will lure many fans to 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen, the set’s pleasurable aesthetic and crisp on-card autographs creates a mystique that will keep fans chasing after it throughout the season.

Don Lund, legendary University of Michigan baseball coach, passes away at 90

Don Lund, a three-sport star at the University of Michigan, and a major league outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, and St. Louis Browns for seven seasons, passed away Tuesday due to natural causes. He was 90.

Much of Lund’s acclaim comes from his status at Michigan where he was revered not only for his athletic prowess, lettering nine times in baseball, basketball, and football, but also for succeeding the legendary Ray Fisher as the head baseball coach at his alma mater. He coached there from 1959-62, winning the Big Ten Championship in 1961, and the National Championship in his final season.

Don Lund / Author's Collection

Mike Joyce, who went on to pitch two seasons with the Chicago White Sox in the major leagues, was one of the aces for Lund’s Big Ten Championship team in 1961. Speaking with Joyce shortly after the news of Lund’s death, he displayed tremendous pride to have played under his tutelage.

“While he was not a pitcher, he was a pretty good student of the game,” Joyce said via telephone. “He used to say, ‘The secret of pitching is to relax and concentrate.’ Fifty-four years ago he suggested that and I still haven’t forgotten that. He made the execution a lot simpler without trying to be the master of everything.”

Despite only coaching at Michigan for four seasons, Lund had a profound impact on the program, developing future major leaguers such as Bill Freehan, Fritz Fisher, and Joyce. Never during his playing days did he imagine that he would be the part of the link from Branch Rickey to Fisher.

“I never thought it [coaching at Michigan] would happen when I signed with the Dodgers,” Lund said in a 2009 interview. “Branch Rickey was the coach of the University of Michigan when he was in Law School, then it was Ray, and then I. It is such a small world; you would never think that it would happen.”

Lund almost went professional in another sports, as he was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears, but turned down that offer to sign with the Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed for a $7,500 bonus right out of Michigan and three weeks later he was in Leo Durocher’s clubhouse. That three week delay included a few trips to New York, as well as his college graduation, which left him little time to be ready for his major league debut.

“Our college season ended and then there was graduation,” Lund said. “It was another two-to-three weeks before I played another game. I had gone to New York, signed a contract, came back home, and then went back to Brooklyn.”

He made his debut July 3, 1945, without stepping foot in the minor leagues. His first ride in with Brooklyn wouldn’t last very long.

“It was just a token thing,” he said. “I pinch hit, but they could see I wasn't ready to play and they sent me to St. Paul.”

He worked diligently in the minors, and was rewarded with another stay in Brooklyn at the start of the 1947 season, just in time to be on the bench for Jackie Robinson’s debut. About a week before Robinson made history by breaking baseball’s color barrier, Lund homered in a spring training game and was greeted by Robinson at home plate. The photo is immortalized on the cover of Lund’s 2009 biography, “Playing Ball with Legends.

Lund played in the major leagues through 1954, with his best season coming in 1953, when he batted .257 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 421 at-bats for Detroit. After working with the Tigers as their farm system director from 1963-70, Lund returned to Michigan for a 22-year stay as an assistant athletic director until his 1992 retirement.

Spending nearly 50 years in a wide encompassing athletic career, Lund’s greatest accomplishment may not have been anything that he did on the field, but the impact that he left on the young men under his watchful eye.

“He was first and foremost a gentleman; somebody who made you proud to be associated with, whether or not you were a baseball player or a normal person,” Joyce said. “What I most appreciated was that he respected people that worked hard, he did not play favorites, and on top of everything else, he made it fun to play baseball.”

* - This article was originally published for Examiner.com on December 10, 2013.