Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SIGnificant Cards - Bob Feller 2003 Fleer Rookies & Greats The Naturals

A Bob Feller auto might be easy to find
but it is a must have.
Bob Feller. Where do I start? If you regularly listen to my show Cardboard Connection Radio you know we have a few good stories about Bob. But the one thing that all collectors know is that there are a boatload of Bob Feller autographs out there. I pulled 14 Feller autos out of packs over my years of collecting.

On one show not to long ago, we gave out a prize to the person that showed us the most ridiculous thing Feller ever signed. We did this in jest because there wasn't anything Bob wouldn't sign and collectors loved him for it. It's not often a man that has Feller's career stats still liked to sign his autograph. Well we got a lot of entries but by far the winner was a kid. Yes, you read that right, Bob once signed a kid. You can't make that up and you certainly can't pull that out of a pack!

Among the Feller autos I found in packs, the one pictured here is my favorite.It comes from 2003 Fleer Rookies & Greats. I really like the vintage image and the grayscale and black combination on the card. I think it hearkens back to the days Feller played the game and it didn't need color to be classy. It's also a nice clean and legible signature. Why they opted to do a cut-out auto instead of on card befuddles me a little, but compared to some of the ridiculous autographs you see out there today, Bob had a really great signature.

Now while Feller autos might be pretty easy to come by, there is no denying his greatness on the field. He's an 8-time all-star, hall of famer and many have said he was the best pitcher of his era. With 266 career wins, many write him off because he isn't a member of the 300 club. He is a must have for any real baseball fan that respects the greats of the game.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1941-1954 and there is not a doubt in anyone's mind that he'd have eclipsed 300 with those additional years in the majors. I have more respect for the fact that he was the first active MLB player to sign up for the military after  Japan attacked Pearl Harbor than I have for him as a player, and he was one hell of a player.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

SIGnificant Cards - 1975 Topps Hank Aaron

Possibly the best $10 I ever spent
at the National.

In my last SIGnificant Cards piece, I wrote about searching for J.R. Richard cards at the National. I also mentioned that I've attended many of the National Sports Collectors Conventions. When I take my time and try to fill set lists, seek singles, etc. sometimes you find something you weren't expecting to find. This is the tale of the 1975 Hank Aaron card I wasn't looking for, but found.

I am working on finishing up a couple of my all-time favorite sets -- 1974, 1975 & 1977 Topps. About 5 years ago I found a great dealer that had a bunch of the 75s from my want list and I was having a field day filling in the gaps. Flipping through the cards, one caught my attention, it was card #1 in the set, the Hank Aaron '74 Highlights card. The card all by itself is an all-time classic. It celebrates "Hammerin' Hank" setting the all-time home run mark by slamming his 715th and eclipsing Babe Ruth.

Any true baseball fans knows how great Hank was. They also know the incredible hardships he faced as a black man overtaking one of baseball's elite figures -- Babe Ruth. From heckling to death threats, Hank put up with an awful lot to live his dream and he did it with an extraordinary amount of class.

Al Downing was the victim, I mean pitcher that gave up the homer and Hank would add another 40 before retiring with 755. An interesting fact about that night in '74... Hank Aaron wore the #44 and so did Al Downing. Cool right? Ok now watch Hank break that record and make the home run title his beeyotch.

In my eyes, Hank is still the champ. While on paper Barry Bonds might be the current record holder, Hank was never accused of using performance enhancing drugs, nor was he brought into court to defend himself, he did it with heart, intensity and determination.

Ok, back to the card. It wasn't that I needed that card for my set, I had it already, what caught my eye was that in addition to the facsimile signature, it was signed again in blue ink. I have a handful of Hank Aaron autographs in my collection. I met him a few times as a kid and I know his signature. I pulled it out of the box and asked the guy what he wanted for it. He said $10. I said, I'll tell you what -- I have a free authentication from Global and if it comes back authentic, you've got a deal. As you can see by the image, it was indeed the real deal.

SIGnificant Cards - 2005 Topps Retired Signature Edition J.R. Richard

I have been to the National Sports Collectors Convention several times. I've only missed one since 2001. I honestly am not sure that I'd continue to go to the yearly event if I wasn't involved in the industry. That's not to say that the show is not good, it is great, but I have other avenues to purchase cards and supplies.

I used to get pumped up to get the exclusive cards produced only for the show and the great list of autograph guests, but many of the cards from the National are not even recognized by the trading card bible and are not known beyond the circle of people that attend the National. This year, I was more excited about the TNA Wrestling package than almost any of the athletes that have been staples at the show for many years. Not only was it more affordable, but the package offered more bang for the buck than any previous one at the NSCC, but alas that is another story.

When I do go to the National, I always look for certain things. One is a Kurt Warner autographed card from a leading manufacturer. To date in all my years, I have only found one and it wasn't from a dealer on the floor. He wanted way too much, so I passed. I did find one of the cool cards that Kurt sells on his website and picked one of those up. Again, another story.

One of the other players I collect is former Houston Astros fire-baller J.R. Richard. Richard was a true phenom. First of all he threw nearly 100 mph and in his first game he struck out 15. That was just the beginning of a stellar, though short career. In 1976, he won 20 games (1/4 of the Astros 80 from that season) and his salary was only $40,000! Today, he'd be making $15M. Richard won 18 games in three consecutive years from 1977-79. He led the NL in strikeouts twice and what was even more impressive was that in the 79 season where he won 18 games, he has 19 complete games! Does anyone do that anymore?

Clearly, he was overworked and in 1980 his body told him so when he suffered a stroke while on the mound. Here's a great article from the Sports Illustrated Vault about the tragedy.

He tried many attempts at a comeback, even getting released by the Astros to have a surgery. They re-signed him, only to cut him again. It was a horror story for the pitcher. He was complaining about arm issues and pain and it turned out to be a blod clot. It went undetected and it cost him his career.

With baseball out of the picture he made some poor investments and went through an expensive divorce. When it was all said and done, he was broke and found living under a highway bridge. Here's a great piece from ESPN about J.R that can let you inside his story from his perspective.

Richard's plight eventually garnered some mainstream attention and with the help of friends and his church, was able to get his life back on track. It is to date one of the most heartbreaking MLB stories.

I have all of J.R.'s basic Topps cards. I was ecstatic to pull this uncirculated autographed card of the Astros' legend. It comes from the 2005 Topps Retired Stars Signature Series and is card #TA-JR. There are so many what if's with J.R. it isn't funny. Would he have won 300, would he be the all-time strikeouts leader, would he have been better than Nolan Ryan, we will never truly know, but we can celebrate what he did accomplish and his true comeback, the one called life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

SIGnificant Cards- 2009 Panini NFL Draft Matthew Stafford

The Detroit Lions are 4-0. Right along side of the Green Bay Packers, they are the best in the NFL. Interestingly enough, I chose the Lions to win their division. I know I just jinxed that, but I did.

For the past three years, they have been building on both sides of the ball. Drafting Matthew Stafford #1 overall in 2009 was a huge move. Each time the payoff looked solid, Stafford got hurt, mainly due to a pretty weak offensive line. For two years they've waited and it seems that after the first quarter of the season, they are finally reaping the rewards of a few strong drafts.

Stafford has a lot of targets to hit, mainly Calvin Johnson who already has 8 TDs, 4 shy of his entire 2010 total. Javid Best already has 5 TDs, he's a result of the Lions second 1st round pick of 2010 (Ndamukong Suh was their first at #2 overall), and he also has Brandon Pettigrew (22 catches) who was drafted behind Stafford at #20 in 2009.

They are a talented young group and that's not to say they aren't going to make mistakes, but that was their undoing last season, well that and the injury to Stafford.This year, they have cut down a little (not a lot) on the stupid penalties and they are taking advantage of turnovers.

Here's a look at the hit from Julius Peppers that put Stafford out:

I was a fan of Stafford while he was at the University of Georgia, it was hard not to be. He was hyped like crazy and he was THAT good. So I was pretty pumped when my Cardboard Connection Co-Host Russ Cohen called me up and told me he was sending me a present. It was a pretty awesome one that he won via a social media contest from Panini. The card pictured here is 1 of only 7 in the world.It was made for the 2009 Draft, contains a full NFL logo patch and a beautiful, hard-signed auto from Matt Stafford. What I really like about the card in addition to its rarity is that it is also stamped with a seal authenticating the autograph, something I think would be great on ALL autograph cards.

By now you are probably thinking, man this guy is a Lions fan. The answer to that is yes and no. I root for a few football teams. I grew up on the Jets, like the Raiders and sometimes root for the Da Bears. Like baseball, I like specific players. There is no loyalty from many players to stay on a team, so I think I should enjoy my fan free agency and be comfortable liking whoever and whatever I like. Besides Stafford, I collect Aaron Rodgers, Matt Forte, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, LaDainian Tomlinson, 70s Cowboys & Raiders and a few Jets.

Now all I need to do is hope Stafford survives the season and the Lions don't choke. I'm not expecting a Super Bowl win or even an appearance, but ya never know.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SIGnificant Cards - Don Cheadle Upper Deck Iron Man 2 Auto

On one side you have Iron Man, on the other War Machine. Friends or enemies? They've been both over the years, but in the motion picture Iron Man 2, you get the first look at James Rhodes in his armor. Upper Deck, not known for producing great non-sports products has delivered a couple of really strong ones recently with Iron Man 2, Captain America and Thor.

If I had to rate them, I'd give them 4.5 out of 5 on the designs, but 1 star for content because they just didn't nail some autographs of the bigger stars from the films. Captain America was missing Chris Evans and Tommy Lee Jones, Thor was missing Natalie Portman, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins and Iron Man 2 was missing Scarlett Johansson, Sam L. Jackson, & Robert Downey, Jr.

When I got my initial box of Iron Man 2 cards, I didn't know what to expect because original solicitations included the big names on the checklist, then as it drew closer only Rourke & Cheadle were touted. They were joined by director Jon Favreau and the smoking hot Leslie Bibb.

I was actually pretty bummed because when you get a non-sports set you expect the best. Sometimes because of the cost an actor could desire for autographs or a lack of interest in even signing cards, it can get very pricey, but there is no excuse not to put at least 1 cut sig (if not more) of the big stars in the mix of a product of this magnitude if they don't want to sign, go freaking buy one.

That said, after seeing the list, I actually wanted a Bibb or Cheadle more than all of the others. Bibb because of this:
and Cheadle because of this...
I was happy when I got the Don Cheadle. I mean it is Rhodey for crying out loud. I've been a lifelong Iron Man fan and Rhodey has been along for the ride for a long time. Contrary to what the movies portrayed, the character of James Rhodes has a much deeper relationship with Tony Stark, taking over the reigns of the specialized suit when Tony lost his fortune and alcohol took precedence over saving the world. It wasn't until after Stark regained control of his company and did battle with Justin Hammer that War Machine was born.

War Machine was Iron Man on the juice. He looked cooler, was gun metal grey and had a big ass missile launcher and a flamethrower to boot. It was unreal to see both of them in action on the big screen and Favreau did a fantastic job taking them from the pages of comic books onto the big screen.

From the West Coast Avengers to the adult-oriented War Machine MAX series, I've been to hell and back with James Rupert "Rhodey" Rhodes. I can only hope he has a cameo in the Avengers and is signed on for Iron Man 3.

Card A4 is an absolutely awesome looking card. UD killed it with the designs on this set. It is a sticker auto, but its a clear one and doesn't take away from the design at all. I am not a fan of the sticker, but I see how it is necessary in rare cases. This one in particular doesn't bother me that much, but I hope in the future UD can do away with them in non sport products and also bolster up the products with the best possible autograph content they can get.

Oh and while Iron Man might have the jump on War Machine by many years, they both have a kick-ass theme song. You already know Iron Man's... Here's War Machine's courtesy of AC-DC.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SIGnificant Cards - 2005 Justin Verlander Topps Chrome Auto

1/3 of the way to 300 at age 28 = success.
The trading card industry is funny. Some guys get super hot before they even play a game at the major league level, some are at an all-time high and then they get caught by TMZ cheating on their wife or by the police for a DUI. It can all end in a minute. Sometimes though, there are the ones that you just know are going to be iconic and you have to make a choice -- keep or sell.

I generally don't like selling cards. I think the market is soft and I don't like putting a dollar value on a piece of cardboard. Cards for me have some meaning, that's why I began writing SIGnificant Cards in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I love money and you can pay me lots for my opinion, creativity, skills, and knowledge. But when it comes to cards there are just some you know you've gotta keep and some you can just get rid of.

In 2005 Justin Verlander was the talk of the town. The Tigers drafted him #1 and at 22 he was closing in on tossing the ball at 100 MPH. He won Rookie of the Year Honors in 2006, I thought that was the first real sign that I was a smart guy for keeping his card. In 2007 he pitched the first of two career no-hitters and went 18-6, another good sign. So 2008 rolls around and I am thinking is now a good time to part with his card. I thought maybe I could trade it for something else, but I didn't, I held on. My gut instinct pushed me to keep it awhile longer.

Verlander finished with a dismal 11-17 record in 2008. Was my instinct wrong? I had to suck it up and hope for a return to form in 2009. I am very glad I did. He won 19 in 2009, 18 in 2010 and a whopping 24 in 2011 proving he is a cut above many others. With 107 career wins at only age 28 he is well on his way to the 300 club if he remains healthy. Today's game is so different and the longevity for pitchers is nowhere near what it used to be, but Verlander seems to be in a league of his own.

Just before Verlander pitched his second no hitter, my Cardboard Connection co-host Rob said to me, "Man you missed the boat on that one." I told him that boat didn't even leave the dock yet, he's got a lot more to accomplish, he's a keeper. I am glad my big ole' gut told me so.

Card #242 from the 2005 Topps Chrome set is hard signed and limited to a run of about 500, but Verlander sports a weak signature, it's sort of sloppy and not recognizable, but at least it is legit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

SIGnifcant Cards - Don Sutton, Tommy John, Burt Hooten 2004 UD Legends

A Dodgers Legendary Triple Threat
Not long ago I wrote about my passion for the 1977-1981 NY Yankees. The impression left on me was one that hasn't been matched by any baseball team since. They had talent, swagger and a knack for making headlines on and off the field. Their primary opponents during those years were the Kansas City Royals and the LA Dodgers. The Royals were always tough in the ALCS and when they played the Yanks, you knew it would be good hard-nosed baseball.

The Yankees faced the Royals in playoffs in 1976, 77, 78, and 80. The Royals defeated the Yankees in 1980 to move on and lose to the Phillies in the World Series. In 1977, 78 and 81 the Yankees advanced to face the Dodgers.

Back then I despised the Dodgers. I didn't care about their history in Brooklyn, I didn't care that they were dominating the NL, all I knew was that they were in the way of the Yankees winning the World Series and they had to go DOWN!

Of course, as I grew up, I learned to realize and appreciate that they were also a fantastic team and somewhat of a dynasty as well. They had some great talent in their lineup too like Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Reggie Smith, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker, Rick Monday & Manny Mota... Mota...Mota.

It was the pitching staff that made the Dodgers the total package, well when they faced the Yankees, they were almost... the total package. Three of the aces on the Dodgers staff are featured on this card from the 2004 Upper Deck Legends Baseball product. Combined, these guys put up 97 wins in 1977-78, that's strong, especially in an NL where you were facing Rose, Schmidt, Carter, Bench, Burroughs, Stargell, Foster and Dave Parker.

I also really enjoy the design of this card. There are three clear, nicely-sized photos of each player, clean autos that are on parchment stock and it has good descriptive authentication information on the back of the card.While I might not have ever rooted for the Dodgers, their stellar play certainly left an impression on this collector, so did the Upper Deck baseball card, something we might never see again, but that is another story for another day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The World Needs More Sith

Sith Happens!
Continuing to work on my Star Wars custom figures happens a lot less frequently than I'd like. I have to fit it in between family duty, work, my radio show, writing and other junk I find myself doing. Usually I like making characters that Hasbro just haven't gotten around to making yet, but sometimes I just see some part of figures and want to create my own characters.

Here are two original characters I put together using parts from a variety of figures. The Sith soldier is a Darth Maul top torso and waist, Darth Sidious legs and arms and a GI Joe Storm Shadow head. The Sith Lord is a custom head I got from a fellow customizer, the lower torso and upper legs & arms of a Star Trek Spock, the lower legs and lower arms are from two Prince of Persia figures, the feet are from a Han Solo figure and the top torso is from a Celebration Luke Skywalker. The staff is from a Aliens vs. Predator play set and the blade is from one of Star Wars Imperial Knights comic pack. Add in a little paint and BAM!

I thought they both turned out pretty nice.

SIGnificant Cards - Manon Rheaume 1993 Classic Hockey Art

Rheaume was the hottest hockey
commodity in 1992.
Back in the day. Heh. I hate that term. What day? Possibly the dumbest term for simply saying, "in the past" -- EVER! In 1992 hockey history was made when Manon Rheaume signed a contract with the NHLs Tampa Bay Lightning. What was so special about it? Well for starters, Manon wasn't some fresh-faced, pimply kid from Quebec. Oh wait, yes SHE was. Rheaume is the only woman to ever make it to the NHL level and while she never played in a game during the regular season, she did put on the gloves for a couple of preseason match-ups. She didn't just bend the gender myths, she owned them.

Her other accolades include Olympic silver and she was the goalie on not one, but two IIHF World Women's Championship teams. She was the hottest hockey commodity in that year and the excitement sprung from her Canadian lore, also made its way to the United States.

In 1992, and it wasn't that long ago, the whole equal playing field in sports was nowhere near what it is today and it STILL has a long way to go. Today you see it more frequently, there are more women making as big or bigger impacts on their respective sports. Look to athletes such as Danica Patrick, Maryeve Dufault, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Angela & Amber Cope in NASCAR, the tough women that play real football in the Lingerie Football League, and the amazing women in the WNBA are just a few that quickly come to mind.

I was living in Las Vegas in 1992 and there were some great trading card shows in Vegas at the time. She was the talk of many of those shows. In 1994 she signed with the Las Vegas Thunder of the IHL and Rheaume fever hit Vegas. It wasn't long before she was doing autograph signings at shows and she drew some big crowds.

I was fortunate to meet her and have her sign one of her most recognizable trading cards. The 1993 Classic Hockey Art card is #112 from the set and with a clean and personalized sig in blue, it remains one of my all-time favorite cards.

What's your favorite card? I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

These Are Not The Droids You're Looking For

These are not the droids you are looking for.
I am a Star Wars fan. It was a huge part of my childhood and it has stuck with me as an adult. Sure, I see all the flaws and all the awesomeness that the saga has. I think that the original trilogy is so much better than the prequel trilogy it isn't even funny. However, while the prequels are weak storytelling, big budget, green screen atrocities, they are amazingly beautiful films. I make no excuses, I would've rather had three more movies with an aging Luke Skywalker then to see some wussy kid become Darth Vader.

That said, one of my hobbies is customizing Star Wars action figures. Yup, I refuse to grow up. I started customizing figures when I was about 10. I wanted to pose Stormtroopers in different poses and they were stiff, molded plastic. So I used the stove to soften them up. One time, one of the legs caught on fire and melted into my Mom's linoleum floor. She didn't find out for a year, but when she did, she whipped my ass.

The other day I was reading a Star Wars novel from the Fate of the Jedi series. The book is called Conviction by Aaron Allston. The backstory is about a force derived being that is so powerful that Sith and Jedi band together to stop the threat. It's not as good as the previous 9-book arc New Jedi Order.

Anyhow, within the story, R2-D2 and C-3PO have to go undercover and they are repainted. 3-PO is painted orange and R2 has all of his blue painted black. I figured that would look cool and that Hasbro would never make the figures, so I made them myself.

In The Navy

I'm a lifelong KISS fan. To me there is no better live concert on earth. They've set the stage and influenced many artists over the years. Musically, the current band is the best they've ever been. I recently had a great opportunity to work on a project for their upcoming KISS Kruise.

After seeing an interview where Paul Stanley casually mentioned that KISS Army members are now going to get a chance to join the KISS Navy, it seemed like a great idea. Kruisers got a look at the official KISS logo that I got to work on with direction from Paul and they recently posted the official KISS Navy t-shirt.

Click here to see the shirt.

I can't wait to get mine!

SIGnificant Cards - Michael Jordan 2003-04 UD SP Signature Edition Authentic Signatures

You know that funny but kind of annoying Tootsie Roll pop commercial with the owl trying to count how many licks to get to the center of the pop?

Well, when I first started collecting Upper Deck basketball cards I wondered how many packs I would have to open until I pulled a Michael Jordan autograph. I began opening UD basketball products in 2001. I opened at least one box of every UD NBA product from 2001 through 2004. That's a lot of packs. Products ranged from MVP to SP Game-Used. I really thought they were some of the very best products made during that time frame. I really thought that Sweet Shot was and still is one of the best looking autographed collections ever. My favorite was UD Glass. Those plexi-glass cards are some of the most visually appealing cards ever made. That kind of creativity made me want to work in Carlsbad. However, the cost of living did not.

During those three years I found some great cards, autos of Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, John Stockton, Pat Riley, Reggie Miller to name a few. I found a lot of junkie ones too. Ndudi Ebi stands out as one that I have plenty of and well... check out this article to get an update on where he is playing (at least he IS playing -- hear that Stern?).

So let's look at some numbers. In 2001 alone there were nearly 20 NBA products by UD alone, with one offs, there were more than 20. In 2002 there were 21. You get the picture right? I opened a crap-load of packs and the Jordan consistently evaded me.

Until 2004.

SP Signature was released that year in a tin. The tin contained a great photo of Air Jordan airborne and ready to jam full well knowing he was the greatest of all-time. It included a facsimile of Michael's signature. And that... was the closest I got.

JUST KIDDING! It was the 04-05 tin that contain the imprinted auto.

I opened that 03-04 tin with a feeling in my gut. If you've ever opened a high-end product. You know what I mean. It's a tingly feeling like opening a present on Christmas when you are 5. It's a thrill like pulling a slot machine and winning a jackpot or scratching a lottery ticket and instant winning. It's not as good as sex, and it isn't like the high you get from drugs. It's a unique feeling of finding something great within a pack among common cards and I know collectors all can identify.

I honestly cannot even tell you what else was in the tin because when I peeled back those cards and saw the color of the card and kept inching it back, revealing the last name... N...A...D... I knew what I had. Finally! I had gotten the exact card I wanted to find. Card AS-MJ from the Authentic Signatures insert set contained a early photo of Michael with the Bulls and a really clean autograph on card, no stickers! The card was signed by Michael in front of UD reps and it was from a terrific set.

So while I can't tell you exactly how many packs it took to get to the center of a Michael Jordan autograph, I can tell you it was worth it, every single pack, the time, all of it. Oh, and if that Owl tries to bite my card, I will kick him in the nuts.