22 March 2021

In Defense of the Rookie Card

Hey there. How've you been? I mean really - how have you been?

It times like these I feel like I have to ask, but I ask beyond pleasantries, I am expressing a genuine interest. After thirty years of trying to avoid people and conversations and close relationships and poorly lit parties I've softened in my days, and in my most recent count of near-isolation, that tallies about 373 days, I've grown at times apathetic but also more compassionate than ever I ever expected and can hold eye contact longer than before and can now take a breath, think of something other than my own comfort and are you?

Take a free moment for self-reflection. Assess. It's unhealthy keeping your head down and your face covered and your jaw clenched for so long. Breathe (safely). Take a clean breath. Stare at the sunset, any bold celestial object or a bird in the yard or your dog's muzzle and relax.

Welcome back, Plain Gray Swatch.

This blog was most active in the days from 2011-2015. Those days were different than whatever we find ourselves in now, certainly much simpler and cheaper, there was a lot more toilet paper available and for the most part I think we all slept a lot easier at night. In our little world, only semi-corrupted with exclusive licenses and on the precipice of a motley of color-coded parallels and disorganized card isles, it was simply an easier time than today. There were no shortages of the paper products we adore, no lines or knife fights to flip unlicensed memorabilia on the online auction site. Things were easy, indeed, but were they better? And in our ongoing theme of self-reflection, were they necessary?

I'm inclined to say no, at least for me 5-8 years ago. A quiet young 'professional' still able-bodied enough to play three baseball games every weekend, a new apartment in a new/old city and a new dog and a tree to sit under and drink the first craft beer I could ever afford, no it was all so unnecessary and luxurious and simple.

It doesn't feel like that anymore. At times the constant refreshing online retail outlets or ebay saved searches or waiting on PayPal payments or repurposing bubble mailers can feel like a chore or even worse -  a second job. All just to sustain, sustain, sustain. For many it's become a job. The past year has forced many out of work, into the relative danger of the public to buy children's play things and flip them online for a 5% profit an unspeakable risk, riding this wave with will eventually crash and disperse across the beach of human interest, like every other wave that came before it and every one that will follow.

Yet, through this ongoing slog of the current human condition, there's something else, an additional appreciation of the way things used to be, the reason many of us ended up in this space in the beginning. The chase. The rookies.   

This isn't my card. As a Bowman Prospects 1st Bowman 1st Edition Firsty Firsty Lasty Lasty a lowly civil servant like myself cannot possess such a piece of cardboard. This would first require a reduction in amount of groceries. Three less tanks of gas for my truck. Five legs from selected pairs of jeans, which seem impractical enough as it is. 

Or I can just wait it out a few days, weeks, months - however long the current fad lasts. 

Austin Martin was The Toronto Blue Jays' first overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, or what symbolized it, this past June. Many expected AM to go 1-2 after He of the Arizona Sun Devil Power, Spencer Torkelson, who went to the Tigers. But Martin slipped, with some concerns for his defense or whatever nonsense the Orioles and others managed to cough up in defending their own picks, and my favorite college player to watch ended up on my favorite professional team and that just floats right by me. 

Since June I've tracked down Austin Martin cards here and there, mostly through Panini Prizm Draft and Leaf Metal Draft, the first a sign of just how much Panini could do - with or without the license - and the later a crime against nature but appreciated nonetheless. Bowman Draft proceeded without the young Floridian in late 2020, but word broke recently that he'll make his licensed debut in 2021 Bowman "First Edition" - which is, I don't know...extra first, or some other nonsense.

I've been looking forward to this one for many months and to be frank, I don't care for it. 

The card is busier than my Wednesday meeting schedule. Despite this it's overwhelmingly colorless and devoid of heart, typographically mediocre and thoughtlessly photoshopped. It feels like a malfunctioning local news app set on bright mode. Like the endless concrete of an abandoned Rust Belt downtown. It just sold for $125.

I've recently taken to  clearing out old boxes of cards searching for Topps rookie cards. I've had no luck buying and ripping my own, so I wandered into the dusty closet in search for some forgotten lads to chase.

If you remember anything from this blog in recent years you'll recall that this is generally not a Topps-friendly environment. I find their exclusivity a bane of the baseball card collector, creating an ugly caste systems of competing brands. Their designs and attention to detail have grown careless as they wallow on a license based on baseball's most defining characteristic and shared shortcoming: tradition. 

But one tradition I'll continue to buy in to, lay my precious (scoffs) time into, is the rookie card. I am hear to defend the rookie card in all of it's simple glory. 

This is, of course, a Bowman - once home to the rookie card and current object of my ire. I've no idea if it's been photoshopped or not, I hope not, but I also have doubts. This came up in my recent rummaging and as a new Blue Jay I thought it might be a nice debut for Marcus Semien here. Unfortunately, like newer Bowman, you can hear the borders from three towns over and foil seems unnecessary, but that little red and blue logo in the upper left provides undeniable comfort. "This is Marcus Semien's Rookie Card." It's capitalized, so it must be true.

But the Semien represents a low bar. There's so much more out there.

I've bagged on tradition a lot in this post, and while we're already a few years into the Topps Fire Universe, the set remains a refreshing sight for bored eyes after the torrents of Topps and Bowman and Donruss derivatives. But is it a true rookie? Almost any ebay seller will guarantee you as much, and promise you a 1000% return on investment and good health and better libido and World Peace in whatever country assembles your iPhone but again, we fall short of the true rookie feel.

So we move on.

And we get a lot closer. The Gurriel short print or super short print or insignificant tall screenprint or photo variation or whatever this was seeded into every 1200th pack of whatever print run of Topps flagship is close to the real thing, and at least comes from the player's rookie season and features them in a uniform they wore in their rookie season and even features a fun waterslide. But no, we're not quite there yet.

And then it arrives. There's always that feeling after a long car ride, of finally laying your feet down on your grandfather's front yard, the smell of hot blacktop during the peak of summer vacation as a fifth grader. Fresh cut grass, the chatter of new birds and showing Joe Nextdoor this year's big thing, this guy from Japan who can throw better than anyone here and hit an aspirin into left center for a triple and pull a home run down the line just because he feels like it, playing out on the west coast so you can only see him on early mornings on ESPN when you try to wake up with the sun but Dad's always already up with his milky coffee so you watch the highlights on low while Earl Pitts plays in the other room. And you fall in love again with baseball, the envy in Joe's eyes, the rookie card especially, the one that's setting the world on fire while you're in bed fretting over tomorrow's math test but you know one number you'll never forget when you get home and that's .350, the stunning, impossible batting average that rookie from Japan just posted in his first MLB season  and you won't forget it because you've got his rookie card, stained brown around the edges because you can never get the baseball diamond dirt quite out of your finger prints and dinged around the edges because you love it, it's yours and you'll never apologize for it.

That's this card. To me. It's quite possibly the ugliest Topps set of all time but on card No. 726 is the most perfect spring training photo of quite possibly the most perfect human being to ever play the game, just playing catch, like you and Matty Mc will Tuesday night at practice and you'll stretch like him and tuck your jersey in tight just like him and hold the bat towards the batting practice pitcher just like Ichiro does and you'll strike out, but that's fine, you're here to pitch and you can always go home after the game and sort through your cards with that ugly teal green one on top, but the light will glance off that gold stamp that says ROOKIE CARD, on your card, your Ichiro Suzuki 2001 Topps No. 726.

But what you see above isn't it, friends. a poorly airbrushed rendition of a uniform never worn by an amateur player is not, to me, a rookie card. Let it be a prospect card or a firsty firsty Bowman but to me, it is no rookie card. It is a lifeless, colorless, misguided attempt to capitalize on the ravenous jackals of this industry, and it's not for me. 

1 comment:

  1. That paragraph on Ichiro's rookie card is awesome! Love that card.