Sunday, October 29, 2023

Introducing Nine Pockets Wax Packs (and a Giveaway)

A pretty cool milestone is on the horizon here at Nine Pockets Headquarters:
I've designed almost 100 unique custom cards.
Actors, musicians, rock bands, cartoon characters, athletes. There's a good variety of star power and nostalgia for collectors to choose from. And when those collectors do choose a few customs and provide kind feedback—expressing what the cards mean to them and their collection—it's quite a rewarding experience.
When those things happen, it makes me wonder about other ways I can make the custom card experience a nostalgic one. And when I think of trading cards and nostalgia, I think about wax packs. At some point a few months ago I thought, How cool would it be to have an actual wax pack filled with Nine Pockets custom cards?

The idea isn't new. These sorts of customized packs are already out there in the trading card world, whether it's a card shop that re-packs a variety of vintage cards, or a YouTuber who creates custom packs to send to friends, based on their collecting preferences.
Regardless, I wanted to try it out. After all, with almost 100 different cards to choose from, the ability to create a good, random selection for each pack was there. So I gave some thought to all the variables—the design of the wrapper, the number of cards per pack, what costs would be involved, and what sort of special inserts I might be able to include—and I'm happy to say I've come up with a final product.
Here it is.


Fresh off the heat sealer, it's the Nine Pockets wax pack!
As shown on the front of the wrapper, each pack comes with 8 randomly assorted Nine Pockets custom cards, plus one sticker. (I thought long and hard about adding an individually wrapped stick of gum instead, like Doublemint or Black Jack, but ultimately decided against it.)
The stickers come in three different types. They're also randomly inserted.

Excitingly, there's also a chance for collectors to pull a special "hit". Odds are listed on the back of the wrapper:

The Samurai Jack menko has 1:4 odds, while the Sadaharu Oh stained glass card is a bit tougher to pull, at 1:8. Both of those cards are more expensive for me to produce, and they are sort of mini-sized, so it's fitting that they'd be the hits.

So far I've created 16 packs. They're listed in my eBay store now. Truth be told, I'm wondering whether they'll be popular sellers or not. I feel like most collectors would rather look through my store and choose the specific customs they want. But I could be wrong. Collectors also like the thrill that comes with pulling random cards from a pack. So we'll see.
In any case, as a way to thank you readers for the custom card support and inspiration you've given me over the past few years, I'd like to hold a giveaway for one of these packs. Because of the value involved, I can't just give the pack away to the first person to comment below. It wouldn't be quite fair. I'm going to have to do one of those fancy randomizer things instead. So if you're interested in the chance to win a pack of Nine Pockets customs, just add a comment below and let me know that you'd like to be entered in the giveaway. I'll give everyone until next Sunday (November 5th) to enter, and then I'll figure out a time to run the randomizer and post the results here on the blog.
Looking forward to this one!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Baseball in French, Lesson 10: La Balle Tombante

Welcome to Baseball in French, Lesson 10. Previous lessons can be found here.
Today's term is la balle tombante.
In English, that translates to "the falling ball" or "the drooping ball". What's the baseball translation?


Here's pitcher Steve Rogers on his 1981 O-Pee-Chee poster (one per wax pack), perhaps receiving the sign for a sinker from an imaginary catcher.

The classic Expos uniform. The inspired pose. The mustache. The poster design. Pretty high coolness factor all around.
And Steve Rogers was a pretty cool customer out there on the mound. The sinkerballer with a good slider to boot pitched his entire career for the Expos, and in 1982—a year after the poster above was released—he led the majors in ERA (2.40). It was one of his best seasons overall, as he went 19–8 with 14 complete games, 4 shutouts, and 179 strikeouts. He finished second to Steve Carlton in the N.L. Cy Young race, and made the All-Star team. (The All-Star game was in Montreal that year. Rogers got the start and was the winning pitcher.)
Unfortunately, Rogers didn't get much playoff action with those late-70s and early-80s Montreal teams. In 1981, however, he did go 2-0 in the NLDS against Philly, starting two games, with a 0.51 ERA and 17.2 innings pitched. Then he went 1-1 against Los Angeles in the NLCS, starting one of those two games, with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings pitched.

But overall, the guy had a super-solid 13-year career with 5 All-Star appearances. And a pretty good "falling ball".

What do you think of the French terminology?
Jeffrey Leonard at the plate. Here's Rogers to the wind-up. The pitch . . . 
. . . and Leonard swings right over the falling ball!

Yeah. I like the English version better this time, for sure. 
Share your thoughts in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Completed Set: 1991-92 Red Ace Russian Stars in NHL

Full disclosure, right from the start: 
This isn't a typical "completed set" post, in the sense that it didn't involve months (or years) of picking up a few cards here and there until I had all of them. The truth is, I just bought the boxed set of 17 cards.

One and done.
But I wanted to do a write-up regardless, because this set hearkens back to a very interesting time in the NHL, and in the world. Only a couple of years before the cards were released, the first Soviet players had defected for the NHL. Their brand of hockey—an astounding combination of speed, strength, finesse, calculated maneuvers, and puck possession—was quite different from the dump-and-chase, north-south, physical punishment style in North America. Quickly the average hockey fan would discover that the Russian game was something to behold. And with the end of the Soviet regime in 1991, which allowed Russian players to freely join the NHL, it's no surprise that trading card companies like this little Russian brand jumped in on the action to promote the new stars.
Instead of showing some of my favorite cards in the set and spending time describing the various subsets and design features, like I would do with a more typical, larger set, I'm just going to post all 17 cards below, along with a brief description of each player's NHL career. Because the cards are not numbered on the back, we'll go in alphabetical order by surname. Let's see how many of these guys turned out to be "Red Aces".

Pavel Bure 
Well, that started off with a bang. Bure's first season in the NHL was 1991-92, and he lit things up in Vancouver with 34 goals in only 65 games played. The 20-year-old took home the Calder trophy as rookie of the year, and terrorized defenses and goalies from his first NHL game to his last. Knee injuries limited Bure's career to just 12 seasons, but "The Russian Rocket" still put up 437 goals in 702 games played, and earned a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Evgeny Davydov
After having good success with CSKA Moscow for 6 seasons, Davydov joined the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93. The winger didn't disappoint, posting 28 goals and 21 assists for 49 points in 79 games played. He didn't repeat that performance the next season, however, and after bouncing around from the Panthers to the Senators for a couple of years, he went to Europe, where he exhibited his hockey skills in professional leagues from Sweden to Switzerland to Germany to Finland to Italy to Russia, all the way through the 2002-03 season.

Sergei Fedorov
Sergei might be the biggest Ace here. What a skill set on this guy! He was one of the fastest skaters in the league, a two-time Selke Trophy winner (best defensive forward), and a three-time Stanley Cup winner who put up almost 500 goals and 700 assists in his career. During the 2017-18 NHL season, Fedorov was named as one of the NHL's top 100 players as part of their 100th anniversary celebration. The word "dynamic" might be overused in sports, but I'll say it anyway: Fedorov was a dynamic player, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him during my high school and college hockey-playing days.
Viacheslav Fetisov
Slava might be the other biggest Ace in the set. This was already well known in 1991-92, however, as he was a vital defensive part of many Soviet "Red Army" championship teams throughout the 1980s. Later in the 1990s he'd help Detroit win two Stanley Cups, along with Sergei Fedorov. And just like Fedorov, Slava is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Alexei Gusarov
The defenseman had a solid 11-year career in the NHL, starting out as a 26-year old in 1990-91 with the Quebec Nordiques. He'd move with the team to Colorado, and would help them win their first Stanley Cup in 1995-96, alongside the next guy in this set. 

Valeri Kamensky
Kamensky joined the Nordiques one year after Gusarov, and after a couple of seasons in the league he really started to show his offensive skills. The winger hit his peak perfectly, putting up a career-high 38 goals and 47 assists for 85 points in 81 games played during the Avalanche's Stanley Cup season. He rolled right into the playoffs that year, too, adding 22 points in 22 games (10 goals, 12 assists).

Alexei Kasatonov
Like Fetisov, Kasatonov was a defensive stalwart on those nearly unstoppable Soviet National teams of the 1980s. He slotted right in with New Jersey in 1989-90, alongside Fetisov, and put up some very good numbers there. He was selected by the Mighty Ducks in their 1993 expansion draft, however, so he missed out on New Jersey's first Stanley Cup by just a couple of years.

Now that we're a few cards into the set, let's talk about the design. There's really not much to describe for the fronts. However, the full-bleed image was still a pretty new thing for trading cards in 1991-92, and I think it works well here. Listing the player's surname on top of their first names is an interesting touch. But the photography is decent, and there's some good hockey action captured throughout the set.
And the card backs? They're so-so: Not as chock-full of information as 1988 Score Baseball, but not too sparse, either. For such a small company that only appeared to produce this hockey card set for two seasons, I'm not going to be nitpicky about that, or other things like the thin card stock. (The cards are quite flimsy.) Besides, the full-color headshot is a plus, for sure. Now let's get back to the players.

Ravil Khaidarov
Khaidarov is the only player on this list who didn't log any NHL games. He left Dynamo Moscow after the 1991-92 season for the German professional leagues, and played there for a dozen years. In 1995-96 he put up some gaudy numbers with Freiburg: 46 goals and 81 assists for 127 points in just 51 games played.

Vladimir Konstantinov
Konstantinov was a talented defenseman who joined the Red Wings as a 24-year-old in 1991-92. He helped the Wings to their Stanley Cup Championship in 1996-97, along with fellow Red Aces Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, and Igor Larionov. Sadly, he suffered injuries in a car accident soon after the Cup victory that ended his playing career.
Igor Kravchuk
Kravchuk was a solid defenseman for numerous NHL teams over a 12-year span. In 1993-94 with Edmonton, he put up a career-high 12 goals and 38 assists for 50 points in 81 games played. "Igor Kravchuk" is a fun name to say, too.

Igor Larionov
Larionov was one of my favorite players of the 1990s because of the way he "thought" the game. So smart. So crafty. After many phenomenal years with guys like Fetisov and Kasatonov on the Russian Red Army teams, he joined the Canucks in 1989-90 as a 29-year-old, and did well from the start. He seemed to be a perennial nominee for the Lady Byng and Selke Trophies, and put up good offensive numbers as well. He was traded to the Red Wings in 1995-96, and became part of what was dubbed "The Russian Five" (Larionov, Fedorov, Fetisov, Konstantiov, and Kozlov). He'd play a big part in helping Detroit take home three Stanley Cups, and retired as a 43-year-old after the 2003-04 season. Not surprisingly, he's also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Andrei Lomakin
Lomakin joined the Flyers in 1991-92 as a 27-year old, and although he put up more than respectable numbers, he left for European pro hockey after just four NHL seasons. His best NHL season was in 1993-94 with the Panthers, when he posted 19 goals and 28 assists for 47 points in 76 games played.

Sergei Makarov
Along with Igor Larionov, Makarov was one of the most dangerous members of the Soviet Red Army teams of the 1980s. He Joined the Flames in 1989-90, and averaged more than a point per game (24 G, 62 A, 86 PTS in 80 GP). He was awarded the Calder Trophy that season as rookie of the year—as a 31-year-old—leading to a new rule which set the eligible age ceiling at 26.

Alexander Mogilny
Mogilny is certainly one of the biggest Aces of this set. In May of 1989, he defected from the Soviet Union to play in the NHL—the first Russian player to do so—and took Buffalo (and the league) by storm from the start with his blazing speed and phenomenal wrist shot. In 1992-93, he tied Finnish player Teemu Selanne for the league lead with a whopping 76 goals. In 1999-2000, he helped the New Jersey Devils win a Stanley Cup, which is another feather in his cap. He finished his NHL career just short of 500 goals and 1,000 games played, and is not in the Hall of Fame yet. But I think he should be. 

Sergei Nemchinov
Nemchinov has the great distinction of being one of the first Russian players to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. He accomplished this with the Rangers in 1993-94, along with countrymen Alexei Kovalev, Alexander Karpovtsev, and Sergei Zubov. A few seasons later, he'd have his name engraved on the Cup again, this time with the New Jersey Devils. All in all, Mr. Nemchinov was a very solid, dependable two-way player, and had an excellent 12-year career. 

Anatoli Semenov
Semenov joined the Oilers at the start of the 1989-90 playoffs and got some ice time in two playoff games, so he did have a very small part in helping the Oilers to their Stanley Cup that season. However, he didn't play enough games to meet the requirements to have his name engraved on the Cup itself. His next three seasons in the NHL were pretty solid, but overall he bounced around to 5 different teams in 7 years, and didn't really regain that spunk he had to start off his career.

Mikhail Tatarinov
Tatarinov joined the Capitals in 1990-91 as a 24-year-old, and put up his best numbers the following season with Quebec, where he teamed up with fellow Aces Valeri Kamensky and Alexei Gusarov. However, after a couple more seasons he was out of the NHL. It appears that injuries forced him into retirement.  

So that's that. Another completed set to add to the collection.
I think you could say that more than half of these guys had NHL careers worthy of "Ace" status. You've got a few Hall-of-Famers and Stanley Cup winners in there as well. Not bad projecting skills by this small, Russian company that produced a set of flimsy yet cool hockey cards.

If you were a hockey fan back in the 1990s, who do you think the biggest Ace in the set is? Are there any players in the set you'd forgotten about? Any who surprised you? Any you would add? 
I'd say that Igor Korolev, Dmitri Kristich, Andrei Kovalenko, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Vladimir Malakhov, Dmitri Yushkevich, Alexei Zhamnov, and Alexei Zhitnik were all young Russian players of the era who would have been great additions. (They could have at least added one more guy to make a total of 18, which would have filled out the second 9-pocket page, right?)

Share your thoughts in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 8, 2023

I Know You Know Some of These Catchphrases

Ah, the TV shows of yesteryear. So classic. So memorable.
Sure, they were usually a little more predictable than modern-day examples. In fact, some of them seemed to flat-out follow the same formula each and every episode. But that's not always a bad thing, especially when you consider that those cookie-cutter formulas brought us some of the most memorable catchphrases in the history of television. Take these three, for example:

For those of you familiar with these characters, some vivid sights and sounds are likely rolling through your mind right now. A small group of words can be a pretty powerful thing, when you think about it.

Now of course, catchphrases didn't stop in the decades that followed (think Steve Urkel's "Did I do that?", Joey Tribbiani's "How you doin'?", or even Michael Scott's "That's what she said"). But those previous decades can't be beat. Why?
Well, even if you didn't grow up watching TV shows of the time, it's very likely you've at least heard some of their associated catchphrases used in casual conversation—maybe even all three shown on the custom card above, which becomes the third card in this growing collection based on the 1971-72 Topps Hockey set. (High School Absence Leaders is card #1, and Cartoon Catchphrase Leaders is card #2.)
Let's look at who rounds out the top 10 on the card back.

Similar to the Cartoon Catchphrase card, I tried to make the top 10 for this card fairly accurate based on the character's popularity, how long the TV show ran, and how well known the catchphrase seems to be. 
The column on the right shows the fictitious number of times each character uttered their catchphrase. (I'm sure someone out there has catalogued exact totals for some of these characters, but I'm not that guy, and contrary to what that guy would say, I don't think accuracy is really needed here.)

As for characters who may have been snubbed? If you go back a little farther in time, Ralph Cramden's "One of these days, Alice..." would have to be up there. Same thing for Ricky Ricardo's "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do..." 
But I think the card has a pretty solid list as is.

So what do you say? Do you have a favorite catchphrase from the list? Did I pick a worthy group of TV characters for the top 10? Is there anyone else you would have added?
Let me know in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 1, 2023

"Now with [insert team here]"

Pop quiz, card collectors:
It's the late 1970s, and you're working down at the O-Pee-Chee trading card factory. A pro hockey player changes NHL teams at a time of year that throws a bit of a monkeywrench into the print schedule. There's no time to airbrush him into a new uniform.
What do you do?



That's what you do.
And you do it because you didn't have much else of a choice back then. Photos were taken with cameras that contained a roll of film. That film had to be developed and sent to the printing or design facility through the mail. If it was the off-season, you weren't exactly going to send a photographer out to the player's home to ask him to put on his new hockey jersey for a photo.
But I like the printed text solution. It's short. Sweet.
However, sometimes the explanation that you needed for the card wasn't quite as simple as "Now with [insert team here]". And that's where the rest of this post is going. Check out this next card, for example, which was the catalyst for the entire thing:

1976-77 O-Pee-Chee #86, Dennis Maruk
Team transferred to Cleveland.
You don't see that on a trading card every day. But the late-70s was an interesting time for hockey. The WHA, a new rival league to the NHL, was all over the place, with teams starting up, folding, or being consolidated and moved one after another.
And Dennis Maruk's card is evidence of that, as were some of his teammates in the same 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee set (but not the Topps version).
From my hockey card–collecting experience, O-Pee-Chee usually did contain more of these "notes of interest" in their sets than Topps did in their versions, even when the cards were exactly the same otherwise. Perhaps O-Pee-Chee's print schedule fell just a bit later on the calendar than Topps' did, giving them a little more room to make adjustments before the cards went to print. Or maybe they just cared about hockey more than Topps did. Either way, it's led to some very peculiar notes. 
Now that we've seen the most curious example from the 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee set, let's review some examples from the next 10 years of cards. (A span that includes the prime years for these sorts of text updates.)

1977-78 O-Pee-Chee #285, Bob Plager

Well that's rather specific. It may seem like a shame that Bob Plager wasn't given a coaching job with the big club. However, he did some excellent work after his playing career came to a close. As one example, he is widely credited with developing the method we all currently know as advanced scouting.

1978-79 O-Pee-Chee #119, Tom Edur

"Now with Blues" 
"Retired from active playing" 
This card makes you wonder if the O-Pee-Chee design department typed all their text updates directly onto the photo, and couldn't delete them. But I don't know. If they first typed "Now with Blues" and then at some point later on were informed that Mr. Edur had retired, couldn't they have just airbrushed that first note out? Strange.
1979-80 O-Pee-Chee #150, Ken Dryden

O-Pee-Chee got more plain and simple this time. Dryden had a phenomenal career, though, winning multiple Stanley Cups and Vezina trophies, plus a Conn Smythe and a Calder, and it's nice that he went off into the sunset with a "retired" note. Dryden has had an equally remarkable career in his post-playing days: author, commentator, lawyer, politician, and executive.
1980-81 O-Pee-Chee #369, Pierre Plante

"Now with Nordiques"
What makes this example curious is not the note itself. It's the fact that Mr. Plante is pictured in a Nordiques uniform! So why the note? I guess Captain Obvious must have been working at the O-Pee-Chee factory that day. To add even more oddity to the story, Quebec had claimed Plante from the Rangers the previous year, and that one year in Quebec turned out to be his final NHL season. So by the time this card was released, he had retired.

1981-82 O-Pee-Chee #20, Danny Gare

"Traded to Red Wings" Dec. 2/81
O-Pee-Chee has gotten more specific now, providing a month, day, and year for Danny Gare's trade. They had just enough white space to do it, too. Gare spent his peak years with Buffalo, putting up a career-high 56 goals in 1979-80, which tied him for the league lead with LA's Charlie Simmer and Hartford's Blaine Stoughton. It's no wonder that he looks a bit down on the card above. Detroit was not a good team at all in 1981-82, finishing at the bottom of the Norris Division with a record of 21-47-12.

1982-83 O-Pee-Chee #44, Bill Clement

Free Agent As Of Nov. 9/82
It was very nice of O-Pee-Chee to try and help Bill find a new team by advertising on his card that he had become a free agent. However, it didn't help. Bill Clement's final NHL year was 1981-82, so this was his sunset card. The guy did win two Stanley Cups with the Flyers in the 1970s, though, and was a long-time broadcaster. In fact, he just recently retired (2021).

1983-84 O-Pee-Chee #142, Merlin Malinowski

Playing in Europe
We're back to much more general information here. The conversation at O-Pee-Chee must have gone something like this:

OPC employee 1: Hey, Malinowski is playing in Europe now.

OPC employee 2: Oh, really?

OPC employee 1: Yeah, want to know the specific country or team for the text blurb?

OPC employee 2: Nope.
To add some specifics to the note on the card above, Merlin Malinowski played in the Swiss professional league through the 1989-90 season, and represented Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. His best NHL season was 1980-81, when he put up 25 goals, 37 assists, and 62 points in 67 games played for the Colorado Rockies. He finished second in team scoring to Lanny McDonald.
1984-85 O-Pee-Chee #306, Terry Martin

This rather specific note refers to the Waiver Draft that occurred at the end of training camp and just before the season started. Teams would submit a list of protected players, and a few unprotected players could be claimed by other teams off waivers. As for Martin, after a few good seasons in Toronto, the Leafs left him exposed at the Waiver Draft, and Edmonton picked him up. He would only play a few games with the new team that season, and then a few more with the North Stars before going back down to the AHL for a couple of seasons to finish out his pro career.

1985-86 O-Pee Chee #220 John Garrett and #134 Bob Manno

There was no way I was leaving this note unresearched. It turns out that John Garrett was offered the Canucks' GM job by Harry Neale, the team's active GM at the time. However, Neale was fired before Garrett accepted the role, and the offer was withdrawn. Did Mr. Garrett sulk? No. The following year he became a hockey broadcaster and color commentator—and he served in that capacity all the way up to the end of the 2022-23 season, when he announced that he was retiring from Canucks regional broadcasts.
After he left the Red Wings, Bob Manno played for quite a few years in Italy, all the way through the 1993-94 season. Not only did he play in the professional league there, but he also suited up for the Italian national team on numerous occasions, including the 1992 Winter Olympics. If you're interested in the specific Italian pro teams that Manno played for, there were five of them: Merano, Fassa HC, Milan Saima SG, Milan HC, and Bolzano HC. Want to hear an absurd stat line? In 1985-86, his first year of Italian pro hockey, he put up 28 goals and 78 assists for 106 points . . . in 38 games played!

1986-87 O-Pee-Chee #104 Bob Nystrom and #128 Reijo Ruotsalainen

Bob Nystrom retired and went straight into coaching. He remained a coach for a couple of years, then did some broadcasting, and for years represented the Islanders in various community relations events and initiatives. It's one of the many reasons he's referred to as "Mr. Islander."
I think it's humorous that the card doesn't say Reijo Ruotsalainen is playing in Finland. He's just in Finland. It's possible that he's playing pro hockey there and waiting for a call from an NHL team. Or maybe he's just out fishing, or something. 
Regardless, there's a chance the note on his card did help him land a job. The talented defenseman did play in Europe during the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons, and then came back to the NHL for the 1989-90 season—first with New Jersey for 31 games, then with Edmonton for another 10 to end the regular season. After that, he made the postseason roster and helped Edmonton win a Stanley Cup. He put up 2 goals and 11 assists in 22 playoff games. Good timing.

So there you have it. A decade of intriguing text updates on cards. Can you think of any other memorable notes on cards, regardless of the sport or era?
Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!