Grand Cards: January 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Start From The Start

Life is all about balance, right?  I've been frantically trying to solidify 2009 Checklists and find pictures of all the cards and trying to keep tabs on 2010 Topps and pull pictures from there and trying to find room for new cards that come in and sorting through all of the old cards that are still unsorted and getting cards to send out in trades and it just gets...tiring.

I'm guessing you know the feeling.  Amidst all of this hustle and bustle, mostly centering around cards that are new(ish), I realized that I needed to balance things out.  It's time to take a step back and start at the start.
1886 Lorillard Detroit Wolverines Team Card

This, my friends, is the first known baseball card of a Detroit-based club. This card predates the Tigers by a good 15 years. The back makes it feel as much like a promotional schedule or poster as it does a card (it is not a card, per se but falls into that category of old cabinet cards and the like):
1886 Lorillard Detroit Wolverines Team Card (Back)

And that's really all that I have to say about that. I just wanted to take a step back and see where this whole crazy hobby began.

These images come from Old Cardboard which, based on my initial observations, is the preeminent site for vintage card information. I strongly recommend a visit over there to learn more about the origins of these cards that we spend so much time collecting

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tigers Checklist: 2009 UD A Piece of History

Hmm...seems like Upper Deck has gotten themselves in a bit of hot water with MLB with their latest shenanigans which, contrary to my rudimentary analysis, are explicitly not authorized by MLB according to a statement printed on the box. Wow. I hope you're sued out of existence you brazen asses. It's funny that I can say that even while I love the cards in these releases, but rules are rules and you're a bunch of dicks.

Anyway, turning to happier times, here's a set that Upper Deck produced in 2009 that was perfectly within the letter of the law: A Piece of History. I've found this title kind of funny for the last two years, simply because it's not particularly relic-heavy like Ballpark Collection, and the cards don't seem to have much of anything to do with "history" at all. But whatever. There's some good and bad in the set from a Tigers perspective.

Base Set This teeny tiny base set includes the big guns that you would expect, for the most part plus a rookie that both card companies were infatuated with for some reason when the year started. The number of times I've seen a rookie with no future included in a set just so that they can add another rookie to the set is shocking to me, but that's a topic for another post. The cards are nice enough, with colored parallel version that either pop and look great or are overwhelming and cause spontaneous eye bleeds. I'll show you the regular versions:

#33 Miguel Cabrera

#34 Magglio Ordonez

#35 Justin Verlander

#121 Chris Lambert RC

#132 Dusty Ryan RC

Inserts The inserts are cool. I'm not going to lie. They take the underlying design premise of the base cards, remove the bland and end up looking pretty snazzy. Additional upside is serial numbering on the front, which I'm a sucker for. Downside is meaningless parallel versions (even moreso than the base set) that don't align with base set parallel versions, making display of these cards feel disjointed. Common versions of the inserts are shown where possible, with a Turquoise (#/99) Magglio substituting for the more common, and ironically harder to find a picture of, version.

#BSM-GS Gary Sheffield (#/999)

#CSC-PC Pujols/Cabrera (#/999)

#FM-OCGG Ordonez/Cabrera/ Guillen/Granderson (#/999)

#FH-MO Magglio Ordonez Turquoise (#/99)

#SS-CG Curtis Granderson (#/999)

Autographs & Relics Splat. This is where the set falls flat for me. Autographs and Relics are the same design as un-autographed or un-autographed versions. Lame. So, here's the same cards you've already seen, but with the addition of a signature or a little piece of a jersey.

#121 Chris Lambert RC Auto

#BSM-GS Gary Sheffield GU

#FH-MO Magglio Ordonez GU Red (#/180)

#SS-CG Curtis Granderson Auto/Relic (#/25)

#SS-CG Curtis Granderson GU Red (#/180)

Like so many sets, I don't have a whole lot more to say about this. It is what it is. It's got goods and bads, ups and downs. It's not the stuff that I actively pursue, but when one falls into my hands, I find I like it more than I'd expect. That's just the way things are for me with these small sets that rely on artificial scarcity and "hits" to sell. They don't really appeal to me, and now--as a former player collector--I'm relieved that I don't feel compelled to track down cards from them.

The Grand Scheme Isn't Game Used

No, You’re Kidding. I’m not going to lie to you—2009 was the year of Topps releasing more Ty Cobb relic cards then I’ve ever seen and I started to wonder, “Geez, have they just had these lying around? How is there so much Ty Cobb stuff all of a sudden?” I’m not going to say that I thought there was any sort of nefarious activity, but I made a mental note.

Topps has confirmed that the following 5 memorabilia relic cards from the recently released 2009 Topps Tribute Baseball Set include pieces of stadium seats rather then actual game used memorabilia belonging to a particular player:

Babe Ruth Dual Relic Bat / Old Yankee Stadium Seat
Babe Ruth Triple Relic Old Yankee Stadium Seat / Uniform / Old Yankees Stadium Seat
Ty Cobb Dual Relic Bat / Tiger Stadium Seat
Jackie Robinson Triple Relic Ebbets Field Seat / Bat / Ebbets Field Seat
Mickey Mantle Triple Relic Old Yankee Stadium Seat / Uniform / Old Yankees Stadium Seat

Yes kids, our faithful sole-licensee pulled the old bait and switch. They showed us this:
2009 Topps Tribute #41 Ty Cobb Dual Relic

Without letting us know that it was half-this:
2004 Topps #SSSR-AK Al Kaline

Now, I'm not one who complains about Tiger Stadium seat-relics. In fact, I think they're awesome. I love the Al Kaline card above for this very reason. But if you're going to shell out a good chunk of change for a Dual Cobb relic, I think that it needs to be crystal clear that one of those little bits of wood is from a stadium seat.

Now that Topps has officially clarified the "situation" here, and has offered to replace the offending cards for unsatisfied customers, I'd like to give credit to Stale Gum for bringing this to my attention over a week ago. In his review of Topps Tribute, he quotes the response from Topps that was sent in by one of his readers who questioned the authenticity of these "bat pieces.":
Thank you for the inquiry, please note on the back of the card it says memorabilia. We apologize for any confusion but memorabilia can include a wide array of items and is not limited to just a bat piece. Again we apologize and thank you for your continued support of Topps."
Is this for real? This is an actual response from the company?? I am now infinitely more suspicious of every vaguely worded memorabilia/relic card that I have. If anybody has one of these cards and can find exactly what it says on the back and let me know, that would be great. Granted, Topps has admitted the problem and offered a refund/replacement, but that's probably only so they won't get the pants sued off them because of how dishonest this practice was. A stadium seat is not memorabilia of Ty Cobb--and nobody is paying hundreds for pieces of stadium seats.

Pants on the ground That is to say, Topps pulled shenanigans, begged for forgiveness and still has their pants. Meanwhile, Upper Deck nearly lost their pants entirely:
Konami sued Upper Deck last year, accusing it of illegally printing more than 600,000 Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards, which are based on an animated show in Japan.

The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company had a distribution deal with Konami dating back to 2002, but allegedly began making and selling fake Yu-Gi-Oh! products on the side.

The settlement amount is confidential, but Konami had been seeking between $50 million and $150 million in damages.

Upper Deck executives, including Chief Executive Richard McWilliams, took the Fifth in court, refusing to answer questions about their involvement in the fraud. But as part of the settlement, the company admitted that it willfully counterfeited the cards.
A settlement in this case means that Upper Deck has to pay out a hefty sum but is otherwise doin' fine. Which is shocking considering the allegations implicating CEO Richard "Squeaky Clean" McWilliams:
In criminal cases, the court is not allowed to draw any inference from a defendant's refusal to speak. But in civil suits, that's not the case.

Speaking of McWilliams, for instance, a court order in November noted: "In the face of allegations that he shredded cards in a meeting, instructed an employee or a third party to forget where the counterfeit cards came from, and made plans for future counterfeiting, he has said nothing. The court infers from McWilliams' silence that those allegations are true."
How has a criminal case against McWilliams not been filed at some point. This guy is Sleazy McSleazybag. Not just because of Yu-Gi-Oh stuff, but remember all those Razor Shenanigans?

By and large, I consistently enjoy the card that Upper Deck produces. They tend to include nice photography, crisp designs and high-end autographs. But Jesus, this guy is just so...awful that I don't even know what to think. I'm kind of glad that they lost their MLB license just so that he can shove it.

But wait, there's more And you thought I had already summarized the ethically dubious Upper Deck dealings of late. Fools. Seems as though Upper Deck, which lost its right to produced Licensed MLB cards for 2010, has released two separate sets of cards that appear to make no attempt to hide team logos--which they're not allowed to use.

Exhibit A: 2009 Ultimate Collection (released Jan. 2010)
2009 Ultimate Collection #110 Rick Porcello Auto (#/135)
Please to note: A big, honking, unobscured Old English D on his cap. The same goes for the rest of the release, as well as cards released in 2009 UD Signature Stars, which also came out in January.

This, understandably, has raised the eyebrows of collectors, like Trader Crack's and A Cardboard Problem both of whom seem to think that this is Upper Deck giving the longest finger to Topps and the MLB. And they are, kind of.

It's kind of strange, actually. I'm about 90% sure that 2008 Ultimate Collection was released in January of 2009--aka in the exact same situation as the releases this year--and although some people might have said "hmm, that's weird" it was generally dismissed as not a big deal and just the release of a set that wraps up 2008. In one sense, Upper Deck is doing the same thing here. Cards sets take months of advanced planning etc., and it is likely that since their set was wholly designed and sent to production in 2009 that they can get off without raising the ire of Topps or MLB.

But if that's the case, why did they get all shady about things?  For one, look at the Porcello card again. What the hell is this?

If you're going to argue that this is a legit set because of pre-production time or what have you, then why would you invent a fake rookie card logo that differs from every other rookie card logo you put on your 2009 cards? Additionally, all the teams are referenced by their city name only and the cards, by and large, seem to avoid logos/defining marks on team uniforms. These all seem to be signs of a company that is sticking to the rules of not being a licensed producer of cards. Yet at the same time, logos plaster the hats/helmets of all the players, and they occasionally make use of teams names on inserts etc. It appears as though they're not avoiding team marks at all.

So what gives? Honestly, I'm not sure what Upper Deck was thinking. My best guess is that UD has a legitimate claim to calling these 2009 cards and that neither Topps or MLB is going to huff and puff too much about it. Knowing this, the company is using the opportunity to wean collectors onto their unlicensed offerings. New RC logo (which I abhor, in both design and principle. The point of this was to make things less confusing for people. These are a disaster), gradual lessening of logos, elimination of team nicknames, by and large. This is a market test. They think that if people are compelled to buy these cards because of the content--spectacular autos and patches and the like--then they can keep their foot in the door with collectors. That's true, to an extent. But watch out. I've got the feeling that they've invited more scrutiny from Topps and MLB than they might guess and that this isn't going to fly with whatever their next release is. Remember, MLB already sued Donruss--and later settled after the company was sold off--over the same basic thing. They alleged, among other things:
1. Donruss' cards depict certain Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball players in their team's proprietary uniforms. The trademarks featured on the uniforms (as well as the overall trade dress of the uniforms) remain visible and identifiable to consumers, despite Donruss' calculated attempts on some cards to have such marks modified or partially obscured.
So, good luck with that one, Upper Deck. May NFL v. American Needle Co. treat you right OR, stop pulling these antics and accept the fact that you are license-less. This is supposed to be a creative industry, so get those juices flowing.

Counting Down Spring training is almost here and I'm starting to get ready for it. Apparently, the Tigers might be looking at adding an "insurance infielder" in the form of Adam Kennedy and there's still talk that a cheap Johnny Damon might be a good pick up. Believe it or not, I agree on both fronts. Damon is a valuable player and if he can be had for $4-5M then he will make the team much better. Yes, I'd rather have Curtis Granderson for that exact same amount, but you know...bygones. Personally, I think that the fact that this team will rely, to some degree, on Rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore (coming off injury, no less) is worrisome.

If I had my druthers, we'd have Sizemore starting at second, but with a serviceable backup in place (Yes, Ramon Santiago will do the trick) and have Austin Jackson start the year in AAA. Honestly, why start him in the Majors. Barring a breakout in spring training, I just don't see the point of bumping a hollow .300 hitter up to the bigs. Let him work on his hitting with a hitting coach who is apparently so much better than Lloyd McClendon that some Tigers were DRIVING DOWN TO TOLEDO to meet with him during the season last year. Is there any risk here, honestly? You let the player develop in a low-pressue situation--he has already acknowledged that he's been told that he has "big shoes to fill" with Granderson's departure. Let him show off in AAA and bump him up when he's ready. There's no reason for him to try and fix his swing in the Majors. That's what the minor leagues are for.

For that matter, put Alex Avila down in AAA too. Despite his power surge when he was called up last year, he needs some more seasoning too. Gerald Laird is the man behind the plate and I think that Avila will benefit more from playing every day in AAA than he will as a part-timer on the big club. I think the signing of career backup Robinson Diaz signals that the Tigers are thinking the same way. 

On a semi-related note, all I've heard about Ryan Streiby is that he can flat out hit, but doesn't have a place in the field. I know that the Tigers are trying to move him to left field, but why bother? They have a bunch of defensively able prospects that would fit better there. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see him flounder as they move him around, only to come into his own when they realize that the man is a hitter. He is Billy Butler, Tigers-style. The sooner the team embraces that fact, the sooner they can benefit from his production.

Again, things can change in spring training, and I'm sure there will be surprises and breakouts that change the composition of the roster, and that is all great. Barring that, though, let's make some sensible decisions about the future of this club, no?

Misc.  There is a fantastic new blog that is totally not related to cards but will give you all sorts of little fun quips and tidbits throughout your day. Stick it in your RSS feed and you won't regret it. Four of the Six members of the 2010 US Olympic team in Ice Dancing are current students at Michigan. I know what you're thinking: C'mon, it's ice dancing. Fine. You hate America, I understand. Speaking of ice, ever wanted to watch an outdoor hockey game with 110,000 other people? Here's your chance. Fellow Tiger Card blogger RobbyT pulled a Kaline commemorative patch from his 2010 Topps blaster, and Marie just pulled three throwback Tigers (in only two packs!) out of hers. What's with the Tiger love? Last year, when I bought three target blasters for my Topps Throwback break I only pulled SIX TIGERS TOTAL, and two of the same freaking Jimmie Foxx patches. I've had the Tiger-luck that these two had this week.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2010 State of the Blog Address

I had no intentions of doing a comprehensive “State of the Blog,” so to speak, but with the State of the Union on tonight and the fact that there has been quite the shakeup in this collector’s world over the last few months, I felt it would be appropriate. Yes, I know that I can be long-winded at times so I will try to restrain myself here. [ed. note: to no avail, having just finished writing]

The State of the Blog is strong. I started writing here about one year and one month ago with a simple mission: to talk about my experience as a Curtis Granderson and Detroit Tigers collector. What has surprised me is that many of you have chosen to listen. In the last year I have had over 20,000 visits here, from over 7,800 different visitors. What’s more, over 60% of the people who have stumbled across this blog have decided to come back more than once. In fact, my visitor distribution stats show something rather awesome—yes, 38% of people have visited only once. 5% of people have visited just twice. But if you come back a third time, odds are you’ll become a repeat visitor: 14% of visits are from people who have come to this site over 201 times! Cos-tan-za! So to everyone who has read this blog, whether it has been just once, or every time I pop up in your RSS feed or on another blogger’s sidebar, thank you. I hope that you’ve enjoyed my various ramblings, and I appreciate that you’ve chosen to spend some of your precious, internet-browsing time (or slow work days) reading what I have to say or looking at the pretty pictures. The state of the blog is strong, because of you.

Yet we are faced with challenges that threaten to derail what we’ve built in this past year. We have faced crisis these last few months, but did you know that the Japanese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity? Please, please tell me, that at least one person just went “Yes, Crisitunity!” in their heads. Anyway, this hasbeen a crisitunity, and not one that I expected to happen so soon.

When I started writing this blog I wanted to track and preserve the career of Curtis Granderson via little cardboard pictures. I truly believed that I would be able to spend the next three to four years watching the heart and soul of the Detroit Tigers franchise develop into a national star and a beloved hometown hero. That dream came crashing down abruptly at the Winter Meetings and I was left dumbfounded—searching to explain away the trauma for baseball reasons, or financial reasons, or any reason at all and got…nothing. I felt like the Tigers made the wrong move—I still do—but I can’t justify dwelling on the past.

It’s time to move on and find new ways to keep this site fresh and fun. For one, this means branching out and accepting the fact that I think Curtis Granderson is one of the few players in baseball who can transcend team lines. He is a lovable Yankee. With his media exposure poised to explode, I dare you not to love everything that he stands for. That said, my days of collecting Granderson cards are over.

I dabbled with the idea that I could simply try and collect all of Curtis’ cards that show him as a Tiger, but quickly realized that I’ve been trying to do that all along and it was already nearly impossible and prohibitively expensive, and that now I’d be competing with a new generation of Granderson fans as legions of NY collectors attempt to snatch up cards showcasing his humble roots. I can’t compete with that. But I can do what I’ve really wanted to do all along. I will attempt to get images of—and create galleries for—every single Curtis Granderson card ever produced. Yes, I know this is impossible, but so is being a player super-collector. Consider this my way of living vicariously through collectors with more ample means. In so doing, I want to continue to be a source for information on Curtis Granderson cards, his general goings on (to a degree), and sing his praises as a player and person to high heaven.

But in my heart I am a company man. I’ve lost favorite players before—and even acknowledged early on that Granderson was perhaps just the “next in line.” The constant has always been, and will continue to be, the Tigers. That’s where my collecting interests have always been and that’s where my passions lie. Over the last few months I have started crating galleries and checklists to record the Detroit Tigers in each 2009 card release. This will continue. It will continue into 2010. I will also begin working backwards, to the best of my ability, to do this for releases of years past. This is a substantial undertaking—and one that may ultimately prove too big for my britches—but it is one that I’ve truly begun to enjoy.

To me, this blog is a resource. Yes, you get commentary on cards and baseball and this and that, but I like to make a contribution to the greater good as well. Since I got back to collecting a few years ago, I have been consistently disappointed by how difficult it is to get reliable information on cards, checklists etc. Sources are disparate, checklists inaccurate and unknown/oddball/stealth cards abundant. I want to clear that up. Not for everyone, mind you, but for the small yet devoted subset of Tigers collectors out there. We only have so much time and so much money—why not come here to see what’s available and browse the galleries to see what you like.

And while the appeal here is primarily to Tigers fans, I invite the rest of you to look as well. Come and find a card you like, or a parallel you didn’t know about or a set that you hadn’t considered until you see how they look grouped together. The world of card collecting is big and complicated. I’m just hoping to make things a little simpler.

It’s time to reach out to fellow fans, collectors, bloggers and so forth. I’ve gone from a rabid trader to near-isolationist over the course of this year. This is largely the result of my money supply squeezing to a drip that eliminated my ability to buy packs, boxes or non-essential items. Whether that will change this year, I don’t know. However, I want to make the effort to reintroduce myself to the community. Expect new contests on the site, a renewed trading interest, and more commentary about Tigers cards but also the team in general. To that end, this is really just an odd-duck niche Tigers fan blog. I hope that fans of the team—even those that couldn’t care less about cards—can find something that you like here.

So where do we stand in 2010? How are things going to change? I’d like to present a list of my goals for this year:
  • Streamline the collection. You know the feeling, yes? This time it includes a partial liquidation of my Curtis Granderson collection.
  • Complete my annual “master set” (which is really a modified master set that allows me to avoid difficult to find or expensive cards e.g. Serial numbered under 100 without feeling bad about myself) of Topps Detroit Tigers , and continuing to fill the holes in my Topps sets going all the way back to the start.
  • Find other cards I like and collect those too. A&G is a standby. I’ve like Topps Heritage a lot. National Chicle looks like a winner, by and large. I’ll take the (presumed) loss of Upper Deck as an opportunity to fill in holes in those old sets. There’s a lot out there that I can choose from.
  • Crete photo galleries of all Tigers cards (parallels excluded) of every card release of 2010
  • Continue my “M in the MLB” series that tracks the careers of University of Michigan alumni in professional baseball
  • Place a renewed emphasis on developing “Grand Galleries” to catalog all the Curtis Granderson cards that I can find
  • Continue to write about whatever comes up and hope that you’ll continue to read it
It should be fun. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? This blog is fun for me. It is a hobby, a distraction, a thing that I like to do. As long as it remains that way I’ll continue on. I’d love it if you’d stick around while I do.

But there’s one more thing: What do you think of the blog? How’d I do in year one? What do you like? What not so much? The reality is that this site isn’t much without the people who read it and I’d like to do what I can to keep you around. Any thoughts you have, just throw them in the comments. In the mean time, let’s kick off 2010 with a bang. I think I already found my chase card for the year: [Update: Got it!]

2010 Topps #LLR-GB Hank Greenberg/Ryan Braun (#44/50)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Card Cameos: 2000 Topps Chrome Roberto Alomar featuring Cat

Cat?  You mean Big Cat?

Oh, you mean Little Cat then?
2009 Topps #CBA-AG Armando Galarraga

Nope. Just Cat. This Card Cameo was recently posted by Baseball Dad, as one of many Tribe Cards he showed off in a painfully Ohio State-centric post. Take a look:
2000 Topps Chrome #140 Roberto Alomar featuring Frank Catalanotto

This is another one of the fine action shots that Cameo Cards are made for--and another "safe or out" mystery like we saw in the Cameo Card to end all Cameo Cards. So what do you think, is this Cat--former Tiger Frank Catalanotto--late in applying the tag on Alomar or is he raising his glove up after cutting him down?

Either way, a nice crisp cameo shot from the very nice set that is 2000 Topps Chrome. As I've said before, being a Tigers collector, it is not often that I find Cameos of Tigers on other teams' cards, so I want to thank Baseball Dad from showing this one off to the world and bringing it to my attention.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yeah, I don't think I'm there yet.

Sorry for the quick, multiple posts.  I Found this via mgoblog after the Grand Scheme of a few minutes ago, otherwise I would have included it.  If you're a Tigers fan or Curtis Granderson fan, I assure you that you're not ready for this.

The Grand Scheme Rejects That Weak Sauce

Get that weak s**t out of here  Have you seen it?  Tell me you’ve seen it.  From Jaybee,  thanks to a tip from friend-of-the-blog Drizz:

Quoth Jaybee:
“Somewhere, Detroit fans (and the guy at Grand Cards) are weeping.”
Nope, not this guy.  When images of 2010 Topps were first released and I saw that there was a Granderson Tigers card I was pleasantly surprised.  But surprised was really the operative word.  This is a company who has given me photoshopped Tigers cards of Gary Sheffield, Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and others over the course of the last three years—now you expect me to believe that they have a reasonable opportunity to photoshop a marquee player as a Yankee and they’re not going to take it?  I find that hard to believe.

Then, as the SPs started leaking out and various alternate versions arrived and I recalled them creating a Sabathia SP card in last year’s set, I thought to myself: “it’s only a matter of time.” 

The card companies are gaga over Yankees/Red Sox stuff.  That’s fine, whatever.  I don’t take issue with a Curtis-as-Yankee card in Series 1.  He was traded with at the winter meetings (aka long ago), and Topps has a history of photoshopping/airbrushing players into their new uniforms.  What’s more, I don’t have an issue with them creating a Tigers Granderson card—which is good for me—and a Yankees SP version, which I don’t care about at all.

What I care about is this:  that is the most pathetic Tigers/Yankees photoshop job that I’ve seen this side of Ralph Houk.

When you think of the Yankees what do you think.  Is it pinstripes?  It’s pinstripes, isn’t it.  Raise your hand if you thought of something other than pinstripes.  Right.  And what is notably absent from our new Curtis-as-Yankee card?  You got it.

So, they blew an otherwise easy photoshop job by neglecting to add the requisite striping.  Perhaps that’s too hard for entry-level card designer X?  No worries, why not just give him a grey road uniform—that would even make sense in the context of the Comerica Park shot!  But no, that 2nd level thinking doesn’t fly at Topps HQ.

And so, I weep not for the state of Granderson and Tigers fans the world over, but for Yankees fans and Topps collectors alike, who have to suffer this sad, sad depiction of Curtis.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen…  This was a big weekend as far as send-offs were concerned.  Well, not multiple send-offs, but the big one.   What appears to be the last Grand Kids Charity Basketball Fundraiser, featuring our departing star center fielder, went off swimmingly—and was chock full of bittersweet notes.

It was one of those bittersweet days, though -- evident in the requests of fans who asked that Granderson sign his autograph with No. 28, his number as a Tiger, instead of No. 14, which will be his new number in New York.

"Not yet," he said, when asked if it has sunk in that he's a Yankee. "But once I get to Florida, start working, play in the first spring game, wear the uniform, each step will solidify it."

This entire weekend was a step. But a difficult one.

"To see the turnout at an event like this, that's when I see how much (he's meant to the fans)," Granderson said. "I also saw some of the guys who were in town this weekend like Carlos (Gullen) and Magglio (Ordonez).

"Hey, I've not done anything else yet for another team, so they're still my teammates."

From Mike Brudenell at the Free Press:
From the screams of the three young girls waiting in line together at Seaholm High School in Birmingham on Sunday, it could have been the Jonas Brothers entering the building.

Turn back the clock more than 40 years, and it might have been the Beatles.

And it wasn’t long before the praise started coming from all angles.  Seeing as how Curtis is about to join the club of departed sports celebrities who’s legacies become more pronounced and endearing after their gone, Lloyd Carr had this to say:
"I have so much respect for him and what he has done for the community," Carr said. "The way he handled himself on and off the field was wonderful."

And Michael Rosenberg summarizes just why this has been so hard on all of us:
Mostly, though, Granderson talked about how much he appreciated Detroit. And I think this gets to what bothers people, more than anything, about the Granderson trade.

It might make baseball sense. It might make financial sense. But no Tiger of this generation understood and appreciated the community more than Granderson. And he got shipped out.

…Good Riddance?  With all the goodwill and fond memories surrounding Curtis Granderson this weekend, statements from the Tigers—and Dave Dombrowski, specifically—speak to a disconnect between the team’s management and its fans.  From Steve Kornacki via The Core Contrarian:
Dombrowski didn't hedge on his decisions Saturday during TigerFest at Comerica Park. During an hour-long Q & A session with announcers Dan Dickerson and Mike Stone and fans, he was asked who would replace Granderson in the leadoff position.
"You know," Dombrowski began, "we didn't really have a leadoff hitter last year."
The fans grew restless. A few said in hushed tones, "Wow."
He picked on the negative reaction, adding, "I'm not taking anything away from Curtis Granderson." He quickly complimented Granderson's many abilities, most notably his power.
Burn.  Dombrowski clarifies his statement in Beck’s blog, but still.  Dude.

Back to Rosenberg for a second:
Worse, the one thing that everybody should have loved about Granderson -- his off-field work -- started to be held against him. There were whispers that his full plate was hurting him at home plate. Granderson said he didn't know if those whispers came from the Tigers or not, but he was being diplomatic.

"It's amazing how so much is talked about, about players not doing something," Granderson said. "Then I do something, and it's the reason why I was playing bad. My book took two days. That's it: two days. If I did an autograph signing it was on an off day. If I was mentioned with (the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program), it's really just my name.
Beck fleshes it out even more.   With all of the off-the-field stuff that Granderson did, and took unreasonable amounts of heat for from the likes of Lynn Henning and others, his busiest year was 2007 which, oddly enough, was his best: 
"I was doing two school visits a day and then coming to the ballpark, and then two more the next day," Granderson continued. "Then we had all the Tigers events. We were establishing the [Grand Kids] foundation. We were doing autograph signings. I had the blog I was doing three times a week versus one time a week. All these different things, and it was arguably the best season. So I can't put too much into what's happening off the field correlating with on the field."

Thank you.  I couldn’t believe how much crap Granderson got for his community work while he was in Detroit.  I realize that players may have a tendency to understate the impact that off-the-field commitments have, but this seems to provide a nice counterexample by offering a comparative assessment of community work.  He did the most in 2007 and that was his best year.  He did less later on, when he struggled more.  I say that equals no correlation, for those keeping score.

Speaking of extracirriculars  I’m going to mention this once again, just so that I can say “I told you so” if the opportunity ever arises.

Curtis Granderson is the type of player that doesn’t have overflowing natural talent, but has enough talent and a strong work ethic such that he can excel at anything, provided he puts in the time to work on it.

To wit:  In 2006 there was concern about the amount of strikeouts he compiled.  He cut his total from a league-leading 174 to 141 in 2007 and further, to 111 in 2008.  In 2007 there was concern that he couldn’t hit lefties.  He went from .160/.225/.269 in 2007 to a .259/.310/.429 in 2008.  Similarly, concerns about his defense were put to rest in 2008 after he spent extra time working on his routes and jumps.

These are tangible, significant improvements that occurred in every off-season since his rookie year.  Every time there was a major or perceived major flaw in his game, Curtis spent the offseason and all of Spring Training working hard to improve in those areas.  And every year he showed progress and improvement in his areas of focus.

But in 2009 many would have you believe that the wheels fell off.  Granderson regressed in strikeouts, ability against lefties and defense.  Some of these gripes were legitimate, others were a bit out there.  From the horse’s mouth (and Terry Foster):

Granderson is also a Gold-Glove caliber center fielder. The Tigers will miss his glove more than his bat. He felt so comfortable in center field that he mentored and lectured younger outfielders on how to run toward angles and make plays. But he made two mishaps in the outfield last season and Granderson began reading how his defense slipped.

"It is amazing," he said. "You misjudge two balls and you can't play the outfield anymore. It is very funny. And those were two games we won. I don't know how that turns into I can't play the outfield any more."

So what did happen in 2009?  Why the severe regression that so many people claim?

Prior to this season, Granderson’s spring training was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic.  I know, I know—the WBC argument is a cop-out and it has no impact and blah blah blah.  Except that Granderson isn’t some Ken Griffey clone with natural talent oozing out of his pores.  Granderson is the type of player that needs to work hard to improve and stay sharp.  He needs spring training.  Instead, he was shuttled off to the WBC given very limited playing time and forced to spend the pre-season without any cohesive training plan or roadmap to improvement.

Many will say that my reasoning is specious and that the WBC argument is bunk.  That may be, but if so, I really encourage the Tigers to stop making the exact same case

Armando Galarraga might have had a sour 2009 season after his 2008 Tigers breakthrough. But expectations within the Tigers front office are that Galarraga will counce back nicely now that he doesn't have to contend with the World Baseball Classic, which is being blamed for his rocky 2009. It's because in the Tigers' view Galarraga never was able to properly prepare for '09.
Funny how you can make that argument on the one hand and never once suggest that this could have been an issue with Granderson.

So that’s my opinion on the matter.  I think that the WBC is partially to blame for Granderson’s struggles this year, simply because I don’t think that he has the natural talent to compensate for that lost training.  That’s not to say that he’s not talented, it’s just that—like the rest of us—he needs to work hard to succeed. 

That’s why we like him—and that’s why I’m so surprised that people were so quick to dismiss this season as the reality and not the outlier.

Misc.  Ernie Harwell is still writing and today is his 92nd birthday.  Tons of good notes from the Tigers winter caravan.  A Cardboard Problem runs down some of the good and bad from 2010 Topps so far.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tigers Checklist: 2009 Upper Deck

Upper Deck's swan song. Little did we know at the start of the year that Upper Deck would lose it's MLB license and effectively end it's 20 year run as the producer of full-bleed, photography-centric sets. Myself, I always preferred Upper Deck in my early years of collecting, but there was the whole issue of "money" that drove me in the direction of Topps (and more realistically Fleer and Donruss) for the bulk of my early-90s collecting life.

When I returned to collecting in 2007, I was 1) impressed with how great Upper Deck's photography was and 2) disappointed with how bad their design looked. 2007, it turned out, was a bit of an anomaly, yet even still I found that in subsequent years the trend continued. Designs that weren't memorable but cards that were gorgeous nonetheless. Imagine my disappointment then, when the 2009 set was chock-full of studio shots and other unremarkable or recycled (ahem, Granderson's card) pictures.

Still, it wasn't until I started looking back through my binder and putting this gallery together that I realized how nice these cards really were, all things considered. Look at the Guillen, Sheffield, Polanco, Willis and Jones from Series 1 or the Clete Thomas and Brandon Inge cards from Series 2. These are the things that make Upper Deck great, and they are, sadly, the things that Topps has struggled to achieve in all but the rarest of sets.

So now, as we wait to see Upper Deck's next move without a MLB license and simultaneously immerse ourselves in 2010 Topps, let's take a moment to reflect on Upper Deck's last stand.

Base Set This is really what makes Upper Deck great. A huge checklist, full-bleed pictures and unique photography that has an uncanny ability to capture moments of the game that are worth remembering. The Todd Jones card does this best, as if to allow him to gracefully retreat into retirement. This year's set was marred by ugly studio shots, but the Tigers were largely spared of these. The last two cards--Wilkin Ramirez and Fu-Te Ni--were part of the "Update" set, which was only available via retail fat-packs.

#125 Armando Galarraga
#126 Miguel Cabrera
#127 Placido Polanco

#128 Edgar Renteria
#129 Carlos Guillen
#130 Gary Sheffield

#131 Curtis Granderson
#132 Marcus Thames
#133 Magglio Ordonez

#134 Jeremy Bonderman
#135 Dontrelle Willis
#136 Kenny Rogers

#137 Justin Verlander
#138 Nate Robertson
#139 Todd Jones

#140 Joel Zumaya
#428 Chris Lambert RC
#437 Cabrera/Granderson /Verlander TL

#495 Miguel Cabrera
#633 Fernando Rodney
#634 Justin Verlander

#635 Bobby Seay
#636 Clete Thomas
#637 Placido Polanco

#638 Ramon Santiago
#639 Adam Everett
#640 Gary Sheffield

#641 Curtis Granderson
#642 Freddy Dolsi
#643 Magglio Ordonez

#644 Zach Miner
#645 Brandon Inge

#945 Rick Porcello RC
#995 Gerald Laird CL
#1006 Ryan Perry RC

#U4 Wilkin Ramirez RC
#U39 Fu-Te Ni RC

Inserts I don't collect Upper Deck's inserts because I find them to be rather pointless, unimpressive and non-cohesive. From what I can tell these 2009 inserts are no exception. There is nothing here that really stands out as being impressive. Upper Deck "previewed" it's O-Pee-Chee and Goodwin Champions releases here, and repeated it's "Starquest" line of unnecessary parallel inserts. Meh.

#R17 Miguel Cabrera/Joe Mauer
#RDCL Chris Lambert RC
#GGMC Miguel Cabrera

#GN41 Miguel Cabrera
#OPC15 Magglio Ordonez
#OPC37 Magglio Ordonez

#OPC42 Miguel Cabrera
#OPC48 Miguel Cabrera
#SQ19 Miguel Cabrera

#SQ36 Curtis Granderson
#GCP-5 Gordie Howe (Goodwin Champ. Preview)

Autographs I got on the ball a little late with the autograph cards and don't know what they look like. When I find them I'll add them here, but for now "no comment." Sorry.

#??-CT Clete Thomas
#GMBI Brandon Inge (#/99)

Relics There wasn't too much in the way of Tigers relic cards in 2009 Upper Deck. The main offering was a Curtis Granderson jersey collection--single, double, triple, quad and patch versions that are differentiated by the cutout for the swatches. I'm showing you the Triple swatch (#/99), because it's my favorite. Other than that, there are two "20th Anniversary" Memorabilia cards and a non-autographed version of the Brandon Inge "Game Materials."

#GJGR Curtis Granderson
#MLBCG Carlos Guillen

#MLBJU Justin Verlander
#GMBI Brandon Inge

In all, this is generally what I expect from Upper Deck and it has the one thing that I have come to expect year-in and year-out: A huge, beautiful base set. I'm hoping that Topps can pick up where Upper Deck left off and deliver all the Tigers that my little heart desires, but I have the feeling that Upper Deck will be missed more than any of us realize.