Sunday, July 25, 2021

Punch Buggy!

Back when I was a kid in the 1980s, Volkswagen Beetles were still rather prevalent on the roads. And why wouldn't they be? Aside from being affordable and giving you decent miles per gallon, they were fun to drive, iconic, and eye catching. And remarkably, after more than 40 years of production and assembly worldwide, new Beetles were still being produced in a factory in Mexico.  
Of all those qualifications, though, it was the eye-catching part that got to us kids. 
First, it was the size and shape. Beetles were unlike any other car out there.

Then it was the sound. Those engines (50 horsepower, wow!) sounded like nothing else. On a quiet summer day you could easily hear a Beetle coming down the street.
And of course there were the colors. Beetles seemed to come in all variations. (I think my grandparents had an orange one. And before that a blue one.) 
If you've been punched four times already and you're not sure why, well, that stinks for you. Tough luck. You were too slow. But let me explain.

Back then, we used to play a game called "punch buggy". This game had no time limit. And there was no starting point. I don't think anyone ever said, "Let's play the punch buggy game". It was just assumed. And perpetual. And as such, you always had to be ready. 
Punch or be punched.
If your mind was elsewhere, you didn't feel like playing, or you just didn't care, you also had to accept the fact that you might, at any time, take a hit.
The rules were simple. Be the first kid to see a Beetle, and you could yell out "punch buggy!", followed by its paint color, and punch the kid next to you in the arm. (In some regions, I've heard the exclamation was "Slug Bug!")
The Beetle in question could have been in motion, or it could have been parked on the street, in a driveway, or in a parking lot. The way we played, the Beetle could have even simply been on a billboard or on TV.

During back-seat car rides, punching suspense was raised to the maximum, as you knew you couldn't simultaneously look out every window of the vehicle. If your sibling or friend sitting next to you happened to see a Beetle on their side of the car, you were finished. They'd call out the color and hit you, and while the pain was still registering in your arm you'd have to quickly strain your neck and look around to confirm that they'd indeed seen the Beetle they claimed. After that, there'd be nothing to do but lick your wounds, heighten your awareness, ready your fist, and hope the next Beetle would zoom past your side of the car.
Now of course there were times when no one was thinking about the game. You could have been busy talking to the other kids about any number of things. You could have been tired. You could have been daydreaming. You could have been opening packs of baseball cards. But if a Beetle happened to appear, you'd suddenly find yourself in a reflex action, yelling out and punching the kid next to you. That's just how it was.
The cards you've seen throughout this post are from two little seven-card VW Beetle sets released in 1999 by a British printing company called Golden Era. The first set covers a few models from 1949 through 1966. The second set does the same for the years 1967 through 1980.
Note the slightly squatter size compared with a standard 2.5 x 3.5-inch trading card. These Beetle cards measure about 2.5 x 3.1 inches.
The artwork on the front of each card is pretty sharp, as are the write-ups on the back.

Altogether, both sets put me back about $12 including shipping, and for the dose of nostalgia they've given me, it's a win for sure.

Did any of you readers play the punch buggy game during your childhoods? Do kids today play the same game with the new versions of the Beetle? Have any of you seen a classic Beetle on the road lately? (Billy from Carboard History, I'm looking at you.)

Share some experiences in the comment section, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

1991 Fleer Baseball: A Redesign

About a year ago I tried a redesign of the much-maligned 1992 Fleer Baseball set. It was a thoroughly enjoyable project, and the new design generated a lot of clicks and favorable comments. Some folks even went so far as to suggest that I try a redesign of another infamous set of the era:
1991 Fleer!
Jack Clark ponders the meaning of all this
yellowness and says he's staying in the dugout
It's remarkable to look back and realize that a year before 1992's sage green borders, Fleer went with an even more ostentatious bright yellow.
But it was the early 1990s. Card companies were pushing the envelope. Competition in the market was increasing. I say kudos to Fleer for taking that leap of boldenss (or lunacy) and trying something new. 
Still, many would agree that it would be good to give 1991 Fleer a new look. 
I started tinkering around, and figured I'd set a goal similar to last time: Try out a couple of different ideas on a handful of cards, choose which design I liked best, and then use that design to create one card for each MLB team.
To start off, here are six cards from the original set in all their yellowness.

And you know what? Similar to my thoughts on 1992 Fleer when I see them next to each other, nine-pocket style, I don't think the 1991 design is completely awful. But flipping through an entire binder of them, page after page? That might be a bit much.
So let's get on to the redesign ideas. 
First I thought white could work, so I gave it a try on the same six cards. 

Paired with a matching text color for each team, it's not bad. I'd call it clean. Light. Simple.
However, the overall design of 1991 Fleer is also simple. It's just a plain Times New Roman font and a few horizontal stripes. If you add an equally simple white border to that, maybe there's just not quite enough to it. 
Besides, Fleer used white borders in their baseball card design two out of the previous three years (1988 and 1990). By the time 1991 rolled around, designs of the new premium brands like Leaf and Stadium Club were starting to stand out. I'm not sure going with simple white borders yet again would have generated much more interest among collectors than the yellow borders did.
So the next thing I did was to go back to a similar charcoal color that I used for the gradient in the 1992 Fleer redesign. (Swapping out Cerone for Bonilla to show an example of a yellow version.)

I like this one more. It's sharp. It's a little more elevated. The colors really stand out against the charcoal. I think a lot of kids would have been psyched to find these cards inside their Fleer wax packs in 1991.
However, I'm also a little bit hesitant with this one. Is it too much of a premium look for Fleer's flagship set? Remember, they debuted their own premium brand, called Ultra, in 1991. Ultra's card backs that year were indeed premium, with lots of color, not to mention three (THREE!) additional images of the player who was featured on the front. But the card fronts were a bit bland, with a very neutral and thin silver border running across the top and bottom of the card.  

How could the card fronts on Fleer's flagship set look more premium than the fronts on their premium set?

I'm sure I'm thinking too much about this. I like the charcoal borders better, so why not just create a card for each team using the charcoal design?
Well, it's because now that I look back at the white borders, I'm kind of liking them more and more. And there's my conundrum. I'm still not sure which design I want to use on all 26 teams. 
Maybe it's time to ask you, the readers.

Which design do you like more, white borders or charcoal borders? 
Or maybe I should do something different, like set American League teams in the white border and National League teams in the charcoal border? (Or vice versa?)
Leave a comment and we'll go from there.

Thanks for reading, as always. I look forward to your answers!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game (Episode 18)

Welcome back to The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game, where we'll randomly select three eligible bachelors from the set and you, the reader, will choose which one wins that date with a special lady. How do we know they're bachelors? Why, it says so right on the back of their hockey cards, that's how!

Previous episodes are available here.

Episode 17 is currently stuck in a tie between Brent Sutter and Mike Foligno. Feel free to go back and cast a vote so we can break the tie.

Now, let's start the 18th round and introduce the bachelors chosen by the randomizer! [APPLAUSE]
Bachelor number 1: Center/Right wing from the Washington Capitals, Chris Valentine
Bachelor number 2: Defenseman from the New York Rangers, Barry Beck
Bachelor number 3: Center from the Los Angeles Kings, Doug Smith

We've got a couple of nice haircuts here, folks! Let's find out more about all three gents from the back of their cards.



We haven't had such bashful bachelors in quite some time! But our nice young lady this week still looks forward to the results, so get your votes in now. Who will it be?
Bachelor number 1: The appropriately named Chris Valentine, who scored a whopping 142 points in the QMJHL just a couple of years ago.

Bachelor number 2: Barry Beck, who's settling in nicely in New York City after a few years out west.

Bachelor number 3: Doug Smith, the fresh-faced rookie who also broke the 100-point mark during his amateur career.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

From the Favorites Box: Manny Trillo, 1981 Topps #470

A series where I post some thoughts about favorite cards. Previous cards in the series are available here.
Who else loves afternoon games?
To me, the fresh-cut grass smells better, the crowd feels more lively, the hot dogs taste better. Many would say it's simply baseball as it's meant to be. And I get all of that when I look at the 1981 Topps card of Manny Trillo above.
Put yourself in that ballpark and activate all your baseball senses. Fresh-cut grass, hot dogs, sunny afternoon, everything. 
Now the batter has just hit a bloop toward short right field, and the crowd is holding its collective breath. Will it fall for a base hit? Will it? 
With three-time Gold Glove winner Manny Trillo roaming the area, the likely answer is no. 
Just look. He's about to flip down his shades, turn back, and give chase. I think he's got a pretty good bead on it.
And why wouldn't he? Trillo had some of his best years around that time. Along with the 1980 World Series championship and three Gold Gloves ('79, '81, and '82), you can add two Silver Slugger awards ('80 and '81) and three All-Star nominations ('81, '82, and '83).
As for a best overall season, you might look to 1980. He went .292 at the plate with a career-high 155 hits, 25 doubles, and 219 total bases. In addition, he was the MVP of the NLCS that fall, driving in 4 runs and going 8-for-21 at the plate for a nifty .381 average. 
Mr. Trillo's fielding was solid that season too, leading the NL in putouts and finishing second in assists. And if it weren't for Doug Flynn of the Mets snagging the Gold Glove award for NL second basemen, Trillo would have added even more 1980 hardware to his trophy case. (Trillo topped Flynn handily in games played, putouts, assists, and double plays turned that year, but Flynn edged out Trillo in fielding percentage and committed fewer errors.)
Regardless, Trillo's Gold Gloves in '79, '81, and '82 were certainly enough to show who the real stud was. 
And for wielding that glove like a stud on a classic sunny afternoon at the ballpark, tracking down just about everything hit to you—in a powder blue uniform no less—1981 Topps #470 has a spot in my box of favorite cards.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Mullen Brothers

Picture the streets of Manhattan in the late-1960s. Tough. Grimy. Steam coming from manhole covers. Taxi cabs. Cars. Buses. Noise. Attitude.
Got that image in mind? Okay. Now look down a side street and picture two kids out there playing roller hockey. Does it sound absurd?
Well, it happened. And maybe just as absurd, both kids would go on to play in the National Hockey League.
Here they are.


1991-92 O-Pee-Chee Premier #153 Joe Mullen and #166 Brian Mullen

Joe and Brian Mullen did indeed grow up in Manhattan, playing hockey in the street, using clamp-on roller skates and a roll of electrical tape as a puck.
Back when I was learning to play hockey in the early 1990s we did the electrical tape thing too, as I'm sure many kids did. The only factory-made roller hockey puck available at the time came from a company named Mylec. It was bright orange and made of a soft, rubbery/plastic type of material—much too light to glide flat on the concrete or asphalt for very long, and sometimes your slapshot would sail way up in the air and over the goal if it caught a slight breeze. (Mylec also made a bright orange hockey ball, but who wanted to play hockey with a ball?)

In any case, both Joe and Brian give a tremendous amount of credit to those early roller hockey–playing days, noting that the rough playing surface and makeshift pucks helped to develop their stickhandling and shooting skills.
As for making the successive leaps from roller hockey to juniors to college to the pros? Well, the first couple of steps went well, but that last part of it didn't come easy. After a fantastic four years at Boston College, for example, older brother Joe actually went undrafted.

You see, at the time, most scouts didn't have interest in looking for players in nontraditional markets like Manhattan. Add the fact that Mullen was 5' 9"—which was considered a little small, even back in the 1970s—and the tough road from college to the pros is more easily understood.
But in the summer of 1979, after his senior year at BC, two doors opened. Both the US Olympic Team and the St. Louis Blues showed interest. 
Mullen opted to sign with the Blues, which meant he had to give up his amateur status and pass up the Olympic opportunity. Can't blame him for that, though, as few would have ever predicted the Miracle run that the 1980 Olympic team made in Lake Placid. 
The next year, while he was cutting his teeth in the minors, younger brother Brian was drafted in the 7th round by the Winnipeg Jets. Joe would begin his NHL career soon enough (the 1981-82 season), and Brian started his the very next season.
Here are some numbers.





(16 seasons)

(11 seasons)





















(Career highs in bold)



(1988-89, Calgary)

(1984-85, Winnipeg)























Younger brother Brian had a solid career, playing across 11 seasons for Winnipeg, the Rangers, San Jose, and the Islanders. He's part of NHL history, as he was one of the original San Jose Sharks and recorded an assist in their very first game. He'd finish that year second in team scoring, with 18 goals, 28 assists, and 46 points.

A responsible player who was excellent on the defensive side of the game and the penalty kill, he put up 13 career shorthanded goals. If you're looking for other players who had comparable playing styles and numbers, Brian has similarity scores on with Mike Ricci, Brandon Dubinsky, Josh Bailey, and Frans Nielsen.
As for big brother Joe, you can see from the table above that his career was one for the ages. He played on three Stanley Cup–winning teams (1989 with Calgary, then 1991 and 1992 with Pittsburgh), and was a huge contributor on all three. Here are his numbers during that playoff run with Calgary, for example
21 games played, 16 goals, 8 assists, 24 points, 4 penalty minutes, 6 power-play goals, 10 even-strength goals, 91 shots
Those 16 goals led the league, as did his 10 even-strength goals and 91 shots. He won the Lady Byng trophy that year, as well. (He'd also won it after the 1986-87 season.)
Joe became the first American player to score 500 goals and 1,000 points. He was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000. Over his career he suited up for St. Louis, Calgary, Pittsburgh, and Boston.
Overall, two incredible careers from a couple of New York City kids.

Here's to the Mullen brothers. Or as a native would say, Good job, youz guys!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Catchers, Custom Cards, and Carolina

Here's Andy Etchebarren, happily exhibiting his throwing pose for a Topps photographer.

1967 Topps #457, Andy Etchebarren

Something about that face reminds me of a Spanish actor who rose to fame in the 1990s, and continues to ply his trade today. If the name isn't coming to you, here are some hints:

If you'd like to picture this actor in his heartthrob heyday, just add some long, flowing, dark hair.

You can also insert a guitar case next to him that may (or may not) contain a guitar.

While Etchebarren donned a catcher's mask, this look-alike actor donned the mask of Zorro in two separate films.

Enough hints?

Here's the custom card.

Through his career, Antonio Banderas has played a few mysterious characters who harbored vendettas, such as the aforementioned Zorro as well as the mariachi character in Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And those characters certainly wouldn't be smiling like Banderas is here. But playing baseball is much more fun than brooding and seeking vengeance (unless maybe you're Al Hrabosky). And besides, it's a sunny day at the ballpark. You can even see palm trees and a Yoo-hoo advertisement in the background. Why wouldn't Banderas be smiling?

As for the rest of the card, I left the player position as catcher, because the catcher's mitt is evident at the bottom right and the fictitious Banderas is clearly ready to throw out an equally fictitious baserunner. The only other change was to remove Etchebarren's facsimile autograph and replace it with Banderas's.

Let's get to the man on the original card now. Andy Etchebarren had a solid 15-year career, highlighted by two World Series championships with the Baltimore Orioles (1966 and 1970).

His first two full seasons, 1966 and 1967, were quite fruitful. In fact, he was named an all-star both times. In 1966 he put up 91 hits, 14 doubles, 6 triples, 11 home runs, 50 RBI, and 49 runs scored. Not bad for a 23-year-old getting his first shot at consistent major league at-bats. 

Interestingly, however, those would all end up being single-season highs. Why?

Well, starting in 1968 Etchebarren (right-handed batter) would split the workload with fellow Orioles catcher Elrod Hendricks (left-handed batter). Despite the reduction in playing time, it was a pretty successful platoon for a few years, and together the two catchers helped Baltimore capture that 1970 World Series title.

But combine that platooning situation with some injury troubles over the years, and Etchebarren only averaged about 63 games per season. His career numbers: 948 GP, 615 H, 101 2B, 17 3B, 49 HR, 309 RBI, .235 avg
On the defensive side, Etchebarren was known as a pretty reliable guy who knew how to handle his pitchers. (The Orioles had some studs at the time like Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar.) He threw base-stealers out at a career rate of 39%. That puts him right next to guys like Lance Parrish, Manny Sanguillen, and teammate Elrod Hendricks. Overall, Etchebarren nailed a total of 244 would-be swipers. That puts him around names like Buster Posey, Mickey Tettleton, and Kurt Suzuki.


Of all the characters Mr. Banderas has played, I thought the mysterious mariachi would make for the best-looking card—especially if it depicted him toting that guitar case.

For the team name, I figured I'd go with Desperados. The playing position is listed as guitarist and vocals. (It reads much better in Spanish next to the player name of "El Mariachi", don't you think?)


I couldn't create a custom card featuring El Mariachi without creating one for the film's leading lady and Mariachi's love interest, Carolina. (She of such beauty that she caused a fender bender just by walking across an intersection.)

In the film, Carolina owned and operated a book shop. La librera translates to "the book seller".

There were many stunning images of Carolina (Salma Hayek) to choose from online, but this one was top of the list for me. I suppose I could create even more cards using some of the other photos. I mean, remember those Donruss sets of the 1970s and 1980s that featured individual TV shows or films? If they'd created a set for Desperado, there would have easily have been 7 or 8 cards of Carolina in the set to collect. Maybe a sticker, too.

Project for another day. 

For now, I hope you've enjoyed these three custom cards. Thanks for reading, as always. 

If the information and custom cards in this post have piqued your interest in Desperado, please note that there are a number of rather graphic scenes in the film that involve guns and violence. I'm not a fan of that kind of thing, and if you're not either, consider this a warning/disclaimer.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Completed Set: 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey

Even as a young collector in 1990, I was kind of a traditionalist. I'd mainly collected Topps cards throughout my short existence to that point, and I enjoyed the brand over others like Donruss, Fleer, and Score, right down to the type of cardboard that Topps had always used. 
So, the thing I remember most when I opened those first packs of Upper Deck cards (baseball in 1989 and then hockey in 1990-91) was feeling unimpressed. And a bit critical. 
"The cards feel flimsy", I can almost hear my young self exclaim.  
"There's a hologram on the back, big whoop", I might have also muttered. 
Well, I must have gotten over that initial reaction, because I opened a whole bunch of hockey packs that year and came pretty close to completing the set. And I'm sure soon enough I began to appreciate the other aspects of Upper Deck's first try at hockey. After all, the extra full-length photo on the back of each card was cool. 
And the photography on the front?


The company seemed to understand that hockey was a dynamic, action-packed sport. "Go nuts", they must have told their photographers.


Granted, there are still headshots. (These guys don't look too happy about that.)


And some "standing around during warmups" shots.

And face-off shots. (Two Miracle on Ice teammates are squaring off in that middle card, look.)


But even those seem to be better than standard. Besides, in a set of 550 cards (400 in the low number series and 150 in the high numbers), you need some of those. 
So let's get back to the gems.
Quite a few cards capture the battle for position and fight for every inch of space that's an integral part of the game of hockey.


And Upper Deck managed to sneak some rough stuff into the set, with a bloodied Basil McRae yapping at an opponent across the penalty boxes, and Bob Probert sporting some wounds from a recent battle. Even goalie Rick Tabaracci got into the action!


There are also some great goal celebrations

As well as some interesting camera angles.


Another thing Upper Deck seemed to realize about hockey right from the start is that goalies were separate-but-cool creatures who needed to be captured in their element.

As was fitting for the time, this set also contains numerous subsets. 
There were the All-Stars.


And the Award Winners. (Because who didn't want a few extra cards of superstars in tuxedos, I guess?) 

There was also a nice "Heroes" subset, featuring legends of the game who'd participated in the all-star festivities that season.


Then there were the rookies. 
First, Upper Deck decided to set some of the new guys apart with a "Star Rookie" label. They received a special logo on the bottom right in place of a team logo, along with a little blurb on the card backs.

Next, to show they were really cashing in on the rookie craze, Upper Deck created a separate "All-Rookie Team" subset, with yet another special logo at the bottom right and an even longer write-up on the card backs. There were only six players in this subset: three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie.

Oh, and don't forget the First-Round Draft Pick cards. The top ten picks were included here.


Then there was a subset commemorating the Canadian National Junior Team, which took the gold medal at the 1991 World Junior Championships.

And perhaps most recognizable, even to modern collectors, the Young Guns.

I'd forgotten that Young Guns were a thing from the very beginning! It's pretty cool that Upper Deck is still running the subset to this day (although they took a few years off here and there). Even more impressive is just how popular the feature has become.
Aside from the studs shown above, the 1990-91 Upper Deck set has a stellar rookie class. Look here:

Along with those three, you've got Alexander Mogilny, Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, Mats Sundin, Scott Niedermayer, and Peter Bondra, to name a few.

Oh, and don't forget the team checklists, which contained some pretty impressive artwork on the front. 

By now you can see that there were many, many great cards in the 1990-91 Upper Deck set. Just imagine being a kid back then, opening a pack, and finding some of the beauties above in your hands.
But wait, there's more!
The full-length images on the card backs weren't just a novelty, meant to take up space or set a trend. Some great photography can be found there, as well.

Just like on the card fronts, there were goal celebrations.


Upper Deck sneaked in some rough stuff on the backs, too.

But they also made sure to let us know that the referees would be there to break it up.


 The horizontal images were great for capturing hockey action.


And more excellent goalie photos.


And finally, here's a victorious, happy team partaking in a high-five, plus a card front featuring Mr. Frank J. Zamboni.


It's hard to believe 30 years have gone by since Upper Deck jumped into hockey. But taking a look back at it now—having finally completed the entire set of low and high numbers—has been a lot of fun. Maybe I'll buy a couple of foil-wrapped packs and open them to recreate the full experience.
Do any of you hockey collectors have memories of this set and the buzz it generated back in 1990? 
Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!