Sunday, January 28, 2024

A Holy Grail Custom Card. Literally.

Some trading card collectors use the term "holy grail" to describe a card that they covet. A card that's quite rare, or that might be out of their price range. A card that's only a dream. 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle. 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky PSA 10. Stuff like that.
You know what I say to those collectors?
Because one of my holy grail cards is no longer a dream. Check it out:  

If you're a Monty Python fan, you might have recognized that "elderberries" taunt I shouted above as the one that a French soldier originally hurled toward Arthur and his knights of the round table. It's one of many, many quotable lines from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

As for the origins of this custom card, I don't know exactly how it came together. I hadn't seen the film in quite a while. But somehow I thought about those five characters. Then I decided to watch the film again. Then I thought about custom cards. And there you go. It wasn't long before I found the 1963 Topps design and got started. I think it works out perfectly that Arthur gets the middle spot, in that red diamond, while his knights surround him on all sides. For the text on top, I simply swapped out the "1962 National League" and "Home Run Leaders" with a more fitting date and text. (932 AD is the year in which the film takes place).
Now here's a look at the card back.

Similar to the 1980s film stars set, I added a movie poster–style graphic across the top. However, I couldn't find good data for the box office gross, high weekly ranking, number of theaters, etc., so I decided to list the actors' names and which characters they played instead. The front of the card doesn't list the actors' names anyhow, so it all works out.

Now here's a clip from the film showing the French soldier taunting Arthur and his knights.

And if you haven't seen the film, well. . . 

But no. I'm not really taunting you. It's fine if you haven't seen the film. There are more custom cards in this style to come, anyhow. So stay tuned.
And thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Embracing the Best and Worst of the Junk Wax Era

This past summer, a couple of bloggers shared their personal rankings of junk wax–era baseball card sets. Dime Boxes started it off with a worst list, and then Night Owl followed with a best list. Once I finished reading those two posts, I thought it would be a fun exercise for me, too. The junk wax era was part of my childhood, after all.
Let's go with the span of years from 1987 to 1993. And note that by 1992, my collecting focus had mostly transitioned from baseball cards to hockey cards. (Hockey was having a junk wax era of its own at that time. Maybe I'll come up with a list for hockey next. Pro Set and Score, I'm looking at you.)
Anyhow, let's start with my bottom 5 junk wax–era baseball sets, in no particular order.

1991 Fleer
You could probably light up a dark room simply by opening a binder of 1991 Fleer. I think it's safe to say that the bright yellow borders, which ran from card #1 all the way to card #720, caught just about everyone by surprise back then. A couple of years ago, I revisited the set and did a redesign, suggesting that it might have been a better idea for Fleer to go with white borders or charcoal borders. I still stand by that suggestion.
1988 Donruss
Did you know that when a group of zebras feel threatened, they begin running around in zig-zag patterns? All those black and white stripes moving in different directions are bewildering to a predator, which gives the zebras a better chance of escaping unharmed. 
Well, the blue, red, and black card stripes moving around those 1988 Donruss card borders can be equally bewildering to a collector. In fact, after looking up current ebay prices for full wax boxes of this stuff, it seems that quite a lot of collectors must have avoided '88 Donruss back then. And although it is true that sometimes the stripes line up in symmetrical ways when the cards are next to each other in a nine-pocket page, it certainly doesn't save this set from the bottom 5. Neither does a fairly strong rookie class (Roberto Alomar, Mark Grace, Tom Glavine, Matt Williams, Al Leiter, Ken Caminiti, Ron Gant, Gregg Jefferies.)

1990 Donruss
In all fairness, some of the trading card companies of the time were really going for it. And that's commendable. The market was more saturated than ever, and premium brands like Stadium Club and Ultra were appearing on the scene. For the flagship sets, there was pressure to really stand out. And listen. Sometimes you swing hard and hit a homer. Other times you swing hard and whiff. And your helmet flies off. And you fall down. That second scenario was 1990 Donruss. From the redder-than-red borders to the black and white paint speckles to the facsimile script to the clashing bright orange card backs to the litany of errors, it just hurt to open packs of these cards.

 1992 Leaf
Speaking of premium sets, there were a few years of Leaf designs in the junk wax era. And they started out well. 1990 Leaf was different and exciting with those silver rays shooting out of the bottom left corner of the card front. Then 1991 Leaf had those make-believe photo album borders, which were a little cheesy, but not terrible. Then 1992 Leaf came along, and it was just . . . boring. If I didn't know which year was which and you asked me to put all three of those "silver border" sets in chronological order, I would have guessed that the 1992 Leaf design came first, then they tried to do a little more with it (1991 design), and then they found their stride (1990 design). Note some of the odd photography and cropping in the 1992 set as well, featured on the three cards above.

1988 Fleer
The 1988 Fleer design seems unfinished to me. Or maybe it's that the designers had a few different ideas saved on a template, and just mashed them all together and called it a day. Some of those red and blue stripes are so short that they look out of place. They're really more like random dashes. Whatever they are, I want to tell them to follow through and go all the way across the card and to the edges of the borders. There are some memorable cards in this set, like San Diego's Tim Flannery posing with a surfboard, but there are also way too many photos of players standing around and looking sad. Or bored. Or nonplussed.

Now the top 5, also in no particular order.
1989 Bowman
Many collectors seem to loathe this set and would readily include it in their bottom 5. However, it's all about nostalgia for me. I was a kid collector back in 1989, and the uniqueness of '89 Bowman—from the larger size to the "stats by opponent" on the card backs to the reprints of the golden-age Bowman cards (an era that I was learning about for the first time)—conjures up a lot of good collecting memories for me. I also think this was the first set I collected that featured facsimile autographs on the front. It was fun seeing the penmanship of the pros.
1991 Topps
The 1991 Topps set marked the company's first concerted effort to keep up with the great photography of the newer brands like Upper Deck, Score, and Leaf. They did an excellent job, and the set has held up so well that I decided to complete it a few years ago.


1989 Fleer
1989 Fleer has a solid design. There are some great action shots, and the 3D effect of the players overlapping the interior card borders works very well. Add the color-matched diagonal stripes, which really stand out against the surrounding light gray and white, and the coolness factor increases even more. You've also got many of the same rookies as '89 Topps and '89 Donruss, along with a couple of memorable errors and all their variations. (Billy Ripken and Randy Johnson.) And as usual with Fleer, the card backs were interesting and informative, showing some of the player's stats before and after the All-Star break. Just as with '89 Bowman, I have good memories of collecting this Fleer set in my young days. 

1989 Upper Deck
I think to this day, a lot of young collectors of the time will remember the feel and sound that came with opening those foil wrappers. But is it weird that I remember the smell, too? Regardless, 1989 Upper Deck changed the game. The crisp, bright white card stock, the hologram and full-color photography on the back, the Griffey Jr. star rookie. Upper Deck was a sensation. It's hard to leave it out of my top 5.


1987 Topps
I know The 1987 Topps design has been done, and redone, and redone again over the years. (Even the '87 set itself is a not-so-subtle redesign of 1962 Topps.) However, this is the set I collected the most when I was a baseball-loving, baseball-playing kid in New York. The Mets had just won the World Series with their fantastic cast of characters, and the Yankees had a good bunch of their own with Mattingly, Rickey, Winfield, Righetti, and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto on WPIX channel 11. I still get a big dose of nostalgia whenever I see a Mets or Yankees card from this set. All those fond memories outweigh the fact that Topps has exhausted this design.

Let's take a minute to talk about the term "junk wax".
I can understand that many folks automatically take it as a negative—enough to be upsetting, or insulting, even. But I also pause, and ask why
I mean, think about it. Junk can be a positive. Some of the coolest dudes out there are junk collectors. Have you ever watched the show American Pickers, for example? Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz meet some authentic people with some authentic junk, that's for sure. There's nothing negative about that. And besides, there's almost always potential to find some gems within the junk. A 1991 Topps Chipper Jones Desert Shield. A 1990 Topps Frank Thomas no name on front. A 1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy reverse negative. So how about we start thinking of the term junk wax with more positivity? With more fondness? Let's enjoy the term in all its junkiness. Put mustard on junk wax and eat it. (Not literally.)
And if you're so inclined to come up with your own best and worst lists of the junk wax era and post them on your blogs, go for it!

Thanks for reading, as always.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

2023 Golf Season Review

This past year I got back into golf. In fact, I enjoyed it enough early in the season to want to install a nifty little app on my phone called Golfshot. It's designed to help a golfer keep their scores and also track a number of informative stats throughout the year.

Now if the paragraph you've just read has made you groan, this post might not be for you. And that's fine. Golf isn't everyone's cup of tea. And golf stats and terminology definitely aren't everyone's cup of tea. (Feel free to scroll down to the bottom of this post to see some cool golf cards in my collection.) However, there will be some fun graphs and charts next, so if that stirs your interest, great!
Let's get to the data from the Golfshot app, and see what it revealed about this past season of golf.
This is an analysis of the percentage of fairways I hit from the tee. I could be a little better here, but the fact that my misses were about half to the left and half to the right indicates that I don't have one big swing flaw that rears its head all the time, so I'll consider that a positive.

GIR (greens in regulation) means that you've hit the green with at least two shots remaining to make a par. For example, on a par 4, it would mean hitting the green with your second shot. That way, you have two putts to make your par. The bottom line is that if I want to shoot lower scores, I've got to hit more than 30% of the greens. Doing so would give me more putts for birdie. Currently, I'm scrambling too much just to make a par.
When I don't hit a green in regulation (which usually means I'm near the green, but have to chip the ball on and try to make that first putt to save par), I'm only successful 33% of the time—even lower from sand traps around the green. I've got to do better here, too. Saving par from around the greens is an art form. It requires lots of feel and imagination. And even after you visualize the shot, you've got to actually pull it off. I enjoy this part of the game, so I was a little disappointed to see the low percentage here. I'm motivated to do better next season.
I'm pretty happy with my putting stats. The fact that I'm averaging less than 2 putts per GIR means that I'm making more one-putts (birdies) than 3-putts (bogeys). For the record, I can't stand 3-putts. You can be 175 yards away from the green and hit a beautiful shot that lands 20 feet from the hole, and then proceed to take out your putter and dink the ball 3 times from that 20-foot distance. Blechh.

  Anyway, back to the stats.


I've never looked at my scoring numbers this way—average score on par-3s, par-4s, and par-5s over the course of the entire year. It's really interesting. The par-5 data isn't that bad, but on the par-3s and par-4s, on average I need an extra half a shot in order to finish the hole. That's also not bad, but I think I can bring those numbers down a little bit next season.
I like that a majority of the pie chart consists of pars and bogeys. (As a simple example, putting up 9 pars and 9 bogeys on an 18-hole, par-72 golf course would give you a score of 81, which I'd be very happy with.) If I can bring the birdie numbers up and the bogey+ numbers down next season, I'll also be happy.
Finally, here's my best score of the season.

I had a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 79, but just missed it. I'm determined to break 80 next year.

Okay, stats portion over. 
If you've been reading all the way up to this point, thank you. Here are a couple of golf cards that I added to my collection recently.
1981 Donruss #2, Lee Trevino

1978 Sportscatster #38-05, Tom Watson

Tom Watson and Lee Trevino are two legends of professional golf who influenced me while I was first learning the game as a teenager. I even had a couple of instructional books written by Mr. Watson that really helped shape my game back then. Here are some stats for both players:
Tom Watson
British Open champion: 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983 
Masters champion: 1977, 1981
US Open champion: 1982
Total PGA Tour wins: 39
Lee Trevino
US Open champion: 1968, 1971
British Open champion: 1971, 1972
PGA champion: 1974, 1984
Total PGA Tour wins: 29
So why such a detailed post about golf?
Well, similar to the softball season reviews that I've done here on the blog, I'm posting this golf version so I can have a checklist to look back on next season. That way I can see if I'm improving in the areas I've resolved to improve. 
Another reason is that I hope some of you folks who have been thinking about getting into golf can take some encouragement from it. Golf is a great activity. You're out in the fresh air. You're with friends or family. You're challenging yourself mentally and emotionally even more than physically. You're learning life lessons. For example:

There you are, on the golf course. You're on your own. The golf ball is just sitting there. All the decisions are yours to make. All the golf swings are yours to make. If you make a good decision, make a good swing, and that golf ball sails through the air and lands right where you wanted it to, you can claim that. You did it. You can feel good about it. However, if you make a poor choice or make a poor swing and your golf ball ends up in the woods or in the water, guess what? That's on you as well. You can't blame anybody or anything else. You've got to hold yourself accountable.

Handling Random Situations
With golf, sometimes you hit a good shot and get a bad bounce. Other times you hit a bad shot and get a good bounce. The sooner you learn not to allow any of that to frustrate you or cause you to lose your focus, the better. Get a good bounce? Don't feel guilty about it. Take advantage of it. Get a bad bounce? Don't get upset about it. Figure out a way to recover from it and get yourself right back on track.

Accepting the Challenge
One of the great things about golf is that you can play the same golf course 10 days in a row, and it's going to present a different challenge each time. The flagsticks might be placed in different locations on the green from one day to the next. The tee markers can be moved forward or back to a certain extent, making some holes play longer than the day before, and others play shorter. One day it might be windy. Another day it might be rainy. Another day it might be hot and sunny. It's easier to play golf under perfect conditions, of course, but when the wind is blowing, or it's cold, or you're just not playing your best, do you tell yourself there's no way you're going to shoot a good score and just mail it in? Or do you accept the challenge and push yourself? Golf is such a mental game, and if you're up for it, the whole experience can strengthen your mind, and you can carry that strength over to the real world.
It's really a fantastic game.
Okay, I've done enough talking. I hope some of you enjoyed this post. And I hope some of you will get out there on the golf course next season. If you do, let me know!

Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Real, Actual Favorites Box

The very first series I created for this blog is called From the Favorites Box. Each entry provides a look into why one of my favorite cards is, in fact, a favorite. And guess what? All of those cards are stored in a box that I call . . . my favorites box!
That's right. The favorites box does actually exist.

I will say, however, that it's not the original favorites box from my young collecting days. That one was a shoebox. And when I say "shoebox", I mean an actual shoebox that, at one time, contained a pair of shoes. (It was a green Thom McAn box, if I'm remembering right.) And you see, during most of my 20s and 30s—the span of ages when I wasn't interested in collecting—that original shoebox was in an attic, getting pummeled by humidity in summer months and chilling temperatures in winter months. When I rediscovered my collection all those years later, the thin cardboard walls of that particular box were not exactly sturdy and stable any longer. 
So, since that time, I transferred those cards into . . . 

. . . another shoebox! 
You'd figure I'd want to keep the cards a bit safer, in a standard storage box designed for trading cards. But no. I guess nostalgia won out. It's fine, though. As you can see, each card is safely tucked into a semi-rigid card holder, and the box is now stored in a much more temperature-controlled environment.
Interestingly enough, the favorites box is not just filled with my favorite cards. There's also a space for the small amount of autographed cards in my collection, as well as some rookie cards, general vintage cards, and a few oddball/food issue cards that I really like (7-Eleven coins, Burger Chef discs, menko, etc.). The current total comes to 509 cards—about 50% baseball, 40% hockey, and 10% other, which mirrors my overall collection pretty well.
What all that means, however, is that not every single card in the box is really a candidate for the Favorites Box series on the blog. But most of the cards in the box are, either because they're linked to a fun childhood memory, have great photo content, or whatever other reason. So I'm not going to run out of subject matter any time soon.

Stay tuned for more good selections. And let me know in the comment section if you've ever had a favorites box of your own—crusty old shoebox or otherwise!