Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Return of: He Was A Pirate?

When I launched this blog back in 2013 under a different name, I began segment called "He Was A Pirate?" which I had a lot of fun writing. I've been back to blogging pretty consistently since July and I still feel committed. And hey, baseball was supposed to start today! It feels like a good time to bring this back.

The inspiration here is quite simple. The Pirates, like all MLB teams, experience a multitude of transactions throughout the year. And, you know, since it's the Pirates... no one really knows or cares about those moves.

As a Pirates fan growing up in New York it was rare that I would come across anyone who shared my love for the black and gold. My Yankee-supporting counterparts were never aware of the frequent changes occurring a few hundred miles west in Pittsburgh. Oftentimes during friendly baseball-themed conversation, the question “He was a Pirate?” would arise. I’ve decided to honor this ever-occuring inquiry on my blog. 

The posts are be sequentially numbered. Each post features one former Pirate who stint in the Steel City. Some will be somewhat obvious, and some will come as big surprises. There will be stars, there will be Joe-Schmo’s, and everything in-between. I will, of course, have at least one card from my PC to represent each player.

Today's feature is a decorated pitcher that has a place in Pirates history, but he's much better known for his 17-year tenure with the Red Sox. The story is a good one.

Tim Wakefield was drafted in the 8th round of the 1988 Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was drafted as a first baseman out of Florida Tech, where he set a number of home run records. After being told by a Pirates scout that he would never make it past Double-A as an infielder, he learned how to throw a knuckleball and began pitching in Single-A. He was effective and began to progress through the minor leagues.

Fast forward to July 31, 1992. A 25 year old Tim Wakefield makes his MLB Debut, where he throws a 146-pitch, 10 strikeout complete game shut-out against the Cardinals. The Pirates won 1-0. The win improved the Pirates record to 55-48, and with Wakefield's help (he went 8-1 during the stretch), they went on to win 96 games and the NL Central.

1993 Fleer Ultra #104 Rookie Card

All Pirates fans - and many baseball fans - remember the 1992 NLCS where the Pirates lost to the Braves in dramatic fashion. That playoff appearance was a turning point for the franchise. For the next 20 years the Pirates would finish each season under .500 and miss the playoffs. What most baseball fans don't remember is that a rookie Tim Wakefield pitched both Game Three and Game Six of that series. In both games he went a full nine innings, out-dueled Tom Glavine, and got the win. How's that for your first season?

Turns out the 1992 season was Wakefield's prime as Pirate. In 1993, he struggled at the Major League Level. He spent most of the year in the minors. 

1993 Upper Deck #66

He spent all of 1994 in the minors, and was eventually cut by the Pirates at the beginning of the 1995 season. A week later he signed with the Boston Red Sox and was assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Legend has it that he worked with Phil Niekro on his knuckleball while in the minors. Due to an injury to Rodger Clemens, the 28 year old Tim Wakefield made his Red Sox debut - just a month after being cut by the Pirates. In his first 17 games with the Sox, he complied a record of 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA. Talk about a hot start.

1994 Topps Tim Wakefield #669

The rest, as they say, is history. Wakefield went on to have a long an successful career. He appeared in an All-Star game, won two World Series, and was an 8-time Roberto Clemente award nominee and one-time winner.

As for the cards, I don't have anything too special. I only own three cards - all base cards. The Fleer Ultra Rookie is my favorite. I do love the photography on all of them. I imagine it's way easier to photograph a knuckleballer than any other type of pitcher. An interesting note is that Wakefield wore #49 with the Pirates - the same number he wore with the Red Sox. It's a very unique number and is clearly meaningful to him. I wasn't able to find any backstory behind that but I'm curious.

Thanks for reading this edition of "He Was A Pirate?", many more to come!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Quarantine Cards

"I miss baseball." A phrase that many of us will utter many times over the next several months. I was just starting to get the baseball itch before all the craziness hit. It's going to be a long time before we see America's favorite pastime again. How this affect our collecting habits? Will we collect more? Less? Will we write and blog more? It remains to be seen. I'm going to use my added downtime to try and show off some of my favorite cards and get some trades going.

(L) 2020 Topps Heritage Bryan Reynolds Refractor #/571
(R) 2020 Topps Heritage Bryan Reynolds Black Refractor #/999

Heritage refractors: A very polarizing style of card. The general consensus seems to be more against these cards than for them. If that's the case, I'm in the minority. I'm sucker for refractors and I totally dig these cards. Reynolds broke out over the summer and his first card was printed for 2019 Update - so seeing him printed on cards is novel to me and frankly... I want them all.

2017 Bowman Chrome Josh Bell Refractor #/500

Another small eBay purchase. I was able to grab this for less than $10 shipped. Like Reynolds, JB really broke out last year. It seems people are still sleeping on him a bit, but the guy hit 37 dingers and knocked in 117 runs last year as was selected for his first All-Star game appearance.

2012 Bowman Chrome Josh Bell Gold Refractor #/50

This is card is, for the time being, the crown jewel of my ever-growing "Pirates Gold Room." AKA, my collection of Pirates Gold Refractors. The scan didn't quite do this card justice - but it's gold, and it's shiny, and I love it. I've been looking to get my hands on this card for quite some time. There were a few listings on eBay with pretty outrageous prices. Finally a seller came through a totally undercut his competition (by about half the price) and I was right there to scoop it up. Win/win.

2020 Topps Heritage 2020 Rookie Stars Yordan Alvarez / Aristides Aquino

2019 Donruss Devin Bush Red Press Proof

These two came my way via PWE from Max at Starting Nine. I won't be buying any Heritage packs this year so anything I'll be acquiring will be via single card purchase or trade. I was reading through Max's post about opening ripping Heritage and the Alvarez/Acquino caught my eye. I think both of these guys are for real. I'm pretty sure I'll be watching Aquino terrorize the Bucs for years to come. I had some random team set needs for Max, and we cooked a up a PWE trade quickly. The Bush rookie was a surprise - and an awesome one at that. Thanks Max, this was a pleasure!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 6, 2020

More from the Pirates Gold Room

A few weeks ago I wrote about an informal project I’m working on to collect as many Pirates gold parallels as possible. The post generated more comments than usual, so I’m going to give it an encore with a few more Pirates gold parallels that are currently living in my collection.

(L) 2016 Topps Chrome Joe Musgrove Gold Refractor #/50

(R) 2016 Topps Chrome Joe Musgrove Gold Refractor Autograph #/50

2017 Topps Chrome… I could take it or leave it when it comes to the design. 2017 was certainly not my favorite design year – but it delivered some key rookies for the Pirates with Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, and Joe Musgrove – although he made his debut with the Astros. 

2016 Bowman Chrome Joe Musgrove Gold Refractor #/50

Musgrove has been very inconsistent as a major leaguer but hasn’t come close to hitting his ceiling. Three years of average play is plenty to drive the value of your cards down. I was able to grab all three of these rookies for just about the price of a blaster.

2018 Topps Chrome Trevor Williams Gold Refractor Autograph #/50

Trevor Williams is your typical fan favorite. Family family, likable, and funny on Twitter.  He was fantastic in 2018, and really struggled with an injury-plagued 2019. Pirates fans are praying he can return to form this year and anchor the rotation. I believe I grabbed this for less than $10.

2013 Topps Chrome Update Pedro Alvarez Gold Refractor #/250

I have way, way too many Pedro Alvarez cards. “El Toro” as he was known to many Pirates fans was a true flash in the pan. The hype was real from the beginning. The Vanderbilt product was drafted #2 overall in 2008, and for a time was ranked higher in the Pirates farm system than Andrew McCutchen.

Pedro’s biggest year was in 2013 when led the NL in home runs with 36. He made his first (and only) All-Star team and participated in the Home Run Derby. With that kind of success comes a lot of cards! Topps printed the hell out of Pedro in 2013, and I have just about all of them. In fact, I could probably dedicate a whole post to him. Interestingly enough, he never signed for any Topps products. The only Alvarez autographs you’ll find are from non-licensed products – so I have very few.

Out of all the Alvarez cards I own, this is my favorite. This card is living proof of why borders are so awesome. Unlike the two Musgrove cards, you KNOW this puppy is a gold parallel right off the bat. It absolutely screams GOLD and I love that. Add on the Home Run Derby logo and a sweet action photo and you’ve got a really pretty card.

The scanner didn’t doesn’t do the card justice, it has a really great refractor shine to it:

My favorite part of the card is that Pedro isn’t wearing a hat or a helmet – a look that’s become somewhat of a Homerun Derby-specific appearance. I guess we have Bryce Harper and his glorious hair for that. Think about it though. Aren’t baseball players wearing caps or helmets in 95% of baseball card photos? The only consistent exceptions are short prints/variations, which are basically just a type of baseball card that features non-action photography. Ya know, players smiling on the bench and whatnot.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Collecting the Departed

Pittsburgh Pirates fans seem to be an ultra-critical fanbase. Frankly, sometimes I find it to be exhausting. The fanbase is a generally whiny group, readily armed with countless criticisms of the front office and particularly the ownership group.

This doesn’t come without merit. The Pirates haven’t been to a World Series since 1979. That’s a forty year drought, with no end in sight. It doesn’t help that the 70’s were a Golden Era for Pittsburgh Sports where the Pirates won two World Series, the Steelers won four Super Bowls, and the Penguins began to appear in the playoffs after joining the NHL in 1967. The bar was set very high.

So I get it. I understand the frustration. Winning cures all, and aside from some success in the early 90’s (thanks Barry Bonds) and a magical streak from 2013-2016, there hasn’t been much winning. A lack of winning will create a surplus of criticism from the fans. That criticism comes in many shapes and sizes. In the Pirates case, there are two main themes: It’s all the owner’s fault; and we can’t hold on to any of our most talented players, particularly younger players.

I'll spare you feelings on ownership. As for the latter – “not keeping good young players” – it often feels real. The recent examples include Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. Throw in Starling Marte. Going back a decade, see: Nate McClouth. The exception was Andrew McCutchen, who famously took a hometown discount to remain in Pittsburgh.  

From where I’m sitting, it seems to me that Pirates fans often get trapped in the bubble that surrounds Western Pennsylvania. What Pirates fans perceive to be “Pirates problems” or even “small market challenges” happen to be baseball challenges. The free agency system is broken. Players are under team control until their mid-late 20’s when they’ll peak physically and command big contracts - contracts which their current team can rarely afford. It often makes more sense for a team to sell these young assets while they still have a value and get something in return. Otherwise, they walk for nothing. Mookie Betts, anyone?

Bottom line: Yes, the Pirates do lose a lot of their good young players. So do most other teams. 

But that’s not going to stop me from collecting them!

2018 Topps Chrome Austin Meadows Rookie Auto Refractor #/499

2019 All-Star Austin Meadows, a guy I’ve been following pretty closely since he was drafted #9 overall out of high school in 2013. 2013 was the year when the Pirates began to rise to relevance again. They also seemed to have a roster that could enjoy some sustained success, so Pirates fans started to pay more attention to the draft. Upon being drafted he was immediately labeled as the heir apparent to Andrew McCutchen, seeing as his projected arrival in the majors would correspond with the expiration of McCutchen’s contract. Five years later this actually proved to be true, and the timing lined up… until he was shipped to Tampa in the Chris Archer deal.

2017 Bowman Chrome Tyler Glasnow Rookie Refractor #/499

Speaking of being shipped to Tampa in the Chris Archer deal... Tyler Glasnow was the other big league piece sent south. He was one of the most exciting pitching prospects up through 2016 when he finally broke into the bigs. His big league career got off to an extremely rocky start – his career with the Pirates is *just* 5.79. He seems to have figured it out in Tampa - Glasnow finished the 2019 season with a 6–1 record and a 1.78 ERA in ​60 2⁄3 innings.

I picked up the gold parallel of this and showed it off earlier this month. I may continue to seek these out and see if I can put together a small collection of parallels.

2013 Topps Chrome Gerrit Cole Rookie Blue Refractor #/199

My love for 2013 Topps Chrome Blue Refractors strikes again. I already own this card as part of the complete set, but when I saw it pop up on eBay for very reasonable cost I couldn’t help but jump on it. I'm still hoping the best for Gerrit but I'll never be able to root for the Yankees. I hope he goes nine innings with 15 K's every game but loses 1-0.

2019 Topps Update Chris Archer Independence Day Parallel #/76

On an entirely unrelated note, here's a really badass card that was sent my way by Matt at Diamond Jesters. I sent him a small stack of Red Sox a month ago in return for a Bryan Reynolds parallel, and I guess he still felt like he owed me something. I really love this card and it showed up out of nowhere for a total surprise - so even better. We all love surprised in this hobby, don't we? Thanks a million, Matt.