The First Three Months of 2023 Have Been More Interesting Than I Wanted Them to Be

What a crazy three months it has been.

January started with a trip to the doctor, only to be given test results indicating a major problem. This caused significant stress within the family, but follow up testing and persistent focus on a few inconsistencies in the paperwork showed we had received someone else’s bad news. This turned out to be a false alarm for my household, though it hit close enough to home to be incredibly sobering.

While things worked out at my household, a neighbor was not so fortunate. The Brooklyn Dodger fan I referred to as “Mugsy” in an earlier post fell ill in January and died a few days later.

February began with our Volkswagen making some strange noises (my wife is fond of saying, “the car is speaking German”). We dropped it off with a mechanic for review, and ended driving through a hailstorm of construction debris as a repair truck lost its load of safety equipment in front of us on the Interstate. Nothing came through the windshield, but a folded up “men working” sign came under our car and did some damage to the underside of the vehicle. An 18-inch piece of metal lodged itself into the undercarriage, and is shown below with a Griffey rookie for scale.

Our vehicular issues did not end there. The next day we were informed that our VW would need fairly expensive repairs that would likely need to be repeated at intervals in the future. We had it patched up and then traded it in for a completely different vehicle. Our cursed Tiguan apparently had not forgotten about us, as an older gentleman promptly ran into the new car just two weeks after delivery in a library parking lot.

Remember last year’s news that I finally moved into my dream job? That proved unexpectedly exciting as well. I work in a role focused on investing large sums into investment grade bonds. This part of the market went nuts earlier this month with the collapse of Silcon Valley Bank and the related fallout. Credit conditions remain unsettled a few weeks later and have prompted a rapid deterioration for Credit Suisse, an institution that I used to regularly work with. Fortunately, part of my winning the current role was based on a recommendation I made a year earlier to end our involvement with the firm. I ended up on the right side of these developments, but am all too cognizant of how easily things could have gone another way.

Financial pitfalls were not solely limited to the capital markets. My neighborhood’s homeowners’ association suddenly stopped receiving financial statements. An investigation revealed a terribly mismanaged sale of a local real estate management company to a fintech trying to grow as fast as possible. Our HOA’s records (and related cash) became comingled with several dozen other entities and the new accounting team had no idea how to disentangle the mess. A meeting last week seems to have brought some closure, including news that our group’s funds have been successfully retrieved and moved to a new, unrelated management company.

Every month this year has been filled with close calls, and I am not eager to press my luck with any more.

Relaxing with some Baseball Reading

I enjoy reading and managed to pull a few baseball titles into my regular rotation during this period. I enjoyed a pair of books with the total rising to three if you count a nearly wordless collection of Charles Conlon photos.

Luke Eppelin’s Our Team was a title that someone recommended to me when it was first published in 2021. My local library has a rather extensive baseball collection due to some very specific bequests and this book joined the stacks when the library began its acquisitions for the current year. It follows the Cleveland Indians from the time of their 1946 purchase by Bill Veeck through their World Series championship two years later. I had become interested in this particular series after listening to recordings of the ’48 World Series radio broadcasts. Both natural showmen, Satchel Paige and Bill Veeck combined to generate one of the sports’ largest crowds. The sound of the 70,000+ seat Municipal Stadium can be heard throughout the game and is something I simply found arresting. Having read the book, I am looking forward to listening to the series a second time.

The library also was kind enough to provide Jay Jaffe’s Cooperstown Casebook. I like Jaffe’s approach to ranking players and am a sucker for any well-argued numerical list of players. This book pretty much does exactly that while acknowledging that the somewhat arbitrary standards of the Hall of Fame produce a much different list of the game’s best players. Jaffe popularized the JAWS system for balancing a player’s most productive period against the statistical effects of longevity, an approach I generally find compelling. Backed by this approach, the book is better than most that follow this general formula of simply listing the game’s best players at each position or era.

Card Shop/Show Report

Our local card show promoter has expanded his calendar for 2023, adding a handful of shows in cities outside of the largest population centers in Virginia. That’s welcome, as I got the chance to visit one here in my home town. Going into the show, I hoped to find a handful of 1952 Topps commons and some sort of unopened junk wax to open with the neighbors. The result: Nothing. Only one table had anything from a set I collect, and these turned out to be a handful of mid-grade ’52 Topps high numbers at $400+ price points.

The show was a bust from a personal collecting perspective, but it turned out to be an overall positive experience. My kids came along on this excursion and thought it was fantastic that over a third of the floor space was taken up by Pokemon vendors. Both added cards, with my daughter in particular chatting up dealers and walking away with tons of cards.

Pictured above is the new cornerstone of her Pokemon collection. She saved her allowance, held out until she found exactly the card she wanted, and negotiated for the purchase on her own. The dealer did a great job himself and seemed to have the best foot traffic of any table at the show.

It finally hit me why Pokemon cards are doing so well at card shows. Sports cards benefit from nolstagia, but their appeal is largely limited to males. Baseball cards (and the sport) have been seen for decades as boys’ domain. Pokemon, on the other hand, entered the world as card game enjoyed by both sexes. The card show wasn’t 98% male, it was a much better mix with every single female seemingly going straight to the Pokemon booths. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out in the future.

In addition to the card show, I discovered a new card shop a few towns away from me. It was located in excactly the same strip mall spot as had been inhabited by another in the 1990s, but was unaffiliated with its predecessor. I walked in and found its focus was almost entirely on Magic The Gathering, an effect emphasized by a dozen people actively engaged in some sort of tournament near the back of the store. Sports offerings were limited to a small shelf with unopened boxes of current year Topps cards. I left with a distinct feeling of being some sort of dinosaur.

New Wallet Cards

My birthday was in February and included the annual renewal of the wallet card project. Well worn rookie cards of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa were finally removed from my wallet and incongruously placed in protective holders for storage. They were replaced by a selection of Ken Griffey, Jr. cards, including the famous ’89 Upper Deck rookie. That particular card already has a good number of creases in it, but a ’93 Topps Finest Griffey that is in the mix has so far been indestructible.

New Cards Added to the Collection

I’m super happy with the progress made on three big set building projects. The ’93 Finest set is almost complete and the ’52 Topps set surpassed the halfway mark. I guess I can say I have a whole set if I round up.

1993 Finest Refractors: I started the year eight cards away from completing this monster of a set. That gap has narrowed to just three cards with the additions of Tom Glavine, Alex Cole, Howard Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Brady Anderson. A fellow set collector helped me locate one of those cards and is visiting shows looking for the rest. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about getting the want list down a bit further as the year progresses. Only Willie Greene, Don Mattingly, and Ivan Rodriguez are left to go.

[Note from early April 2023: I now need four refractors. The Maddux card turned out to be a misidentified base card. I am now working my way through the return process to send it back]

1952 Topps: Great progress here! Three more high numbers were checked off the list. These included a key card in the form of Roy Campanella via Robert Edward Auctions, as well as a pair of commons. One of these commons was a near perfect looking Dick Rozek card. The previous owner sent it my way after he submitted it to PSA only to discover it had been trimmed. A mid-grade Enos Slaughter and an EX-MT looking Bob Lemon with a pinhole filled out some of the set’s star power while two dozen commons from easy to find series found their way into my storage box. Things were briefly even more interesting when I became involved in bidding for a trimmed ’52 Topps Mantle before being left in the dust by other buyers. I plan to attend a major card show in June that should provide another 50+ commons for this project.

1949 Leaf: Yep, this is the first time I am acknowledging that this set has become a collecting goal of mine. I’ll write more about it towards the end of 2023 when I catch up with the ’52 and ’93 write-ups I am working on. Last month I added mid-grade rookie cards of Ted Kluszewski and Larry Jansen.

Other sets: There were no new additions to my other in-progress sets. No ’91 Donruss Elites and no Topps Archives Sandlot autographs came around at prices I was willing to pay. There was enough new material that at least got advertised in the first few months of the year to give hope to my goal of adding one new card for each project by the end of 2023. Pricing on the remaining Sandlot needs might force a decision between adding to that set or getting more ’52 Topps commons, a choice that I am likely to let fall in favor of the vintage cards.

Card Storage Project Completed

What good are all these new cards if you can’t store and display them? I finished building a storage box for the ’52 Topps set. Site Updates

The old checklist tables for 1991 Elite and 1993 Finest were dumped in favor of much more visually appealing pages. The 1952 Topps page will follow in the same fashion but will take a bit of time given the need to generate 400+ images. I have also been trying to increase the pace of writing individual card profiles in order to catch up with the current state of the collection. Once those are out of the way I will focus on putting out some of the research I have conducted. I also did some light automation of data collection on 1952 Topps cards and am seeing some interesting sales trends that may shed light on relative availability of specific cards. I plan on letting this ride a few more periods to see if these patterns hold.

I plan on reaching out to a handful of card bloggers that I have enjoyed following and hope to help them out with their collections later this year. Stay tuned.