It’s official – Baseball is BACK!
The long, cold offseason is behind us and the nice spring air brought leather and wood with it. I do understand that some parts of the country haven’t experienced the nice spring air yet but as you will find out shortly, I don’t feel too bad for the folks in Minnesota – wink, wink. I love Football and Basketball but each for their own reasons and my love for Baseball is unique as well. It was the first sport I watched on TV and it was the first sport I played as a kid.
My family is a baseball family at heart. My Papa is a huge football fan and my love for football grew from being around him. But other than him, the rest of my family has always been all about baseball. My dad and my Uncle Speedy both played growing up and were on teams with Ray Knight and Harry Spilman as kids. And I’m going to say this right here and right now; based on conversations I have heard over the years, my Uncle Speedy may have been the best of the entire group. He got a tryout with the Boston Red Sox but received orders to go overseas during Vietnam and wound up playing on the Air Force team.
When I was in little league, I played SS and 2B depending on who was pitching and my cousins Corey and Jared played 3B and C, respectively. I was much more of a defensive star than an offensive weapon. I was pretty slick with the glove but I struggled to stay above the Mendoza line in the average department. Corey was a very solid hitter but his arm from third base was similar to that of Chuck Knoblauch or Mark Wohlers. He had a cannon but it might just fire right over the first base fence just as often as our first baseman caught it. And our first baseman, David, was about 6’5 at the time.
Jared was probably the best all around as he was an amazing defensive catcher and could also hit with the best of them. He put several balls into the O’San parking lot, which was famous in our league as the destination for all home run balls. We had our other best friends on the team too, an ace pitcher named Jason and outfielder named BJ. And of course, Uncle Speedy was there in his high and tight coaching shorts that were all too popular in the late 80’s. Those summers built lasting friendships and created unforgettable memories. That is what baseball was to me as a kid. It was the sport that brought us together and made a group of kids feel like superstars.
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As much as I loved playing baseball in the late 80’s, my favorite year of baseball has to be 1991. As a lifelong Georgia resident, I spent most of my childhood watching the Atlanta Braves get destroyed. I would watch them on TBS every night with my mom and dad and even have some photos of me in old Fulton County Stadium with those baby blue uniforms in the background on the field. Before all of the nationally televised games, I had the Braves and the Cubs (because of WGN) and neither were very good. I watched Dale Murphy, Gerald Perry, Bob Horner, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Shawon Dunston play almost every day but I saw them lose a lot of games. So with that as the backdrop, you will start to understand why 1991 is my favorite baseball year.
I was 14 in 1991 and was entrenched in baseball card collecting, which I had fully started in 1989. I was really starting to learn about all of the players in the league that we would be playing against throughout the season. I knew the stats of Tony Gwynn and Daryl Strawberry and Barry Bonds. I was also beginning to focus heavily on the two young big bats for Atlanta; Ron Gant and David Justice. Besides those two bats, the Braves also had three young arms that were very lively in John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery. Glavine was a rookie in ’88, Smoltz in ’89 and Avery in ’90.
We finished dead last in 1990 but we had a young nucleus and our new GM, John Schuerholtz was adding some veteran talent in the offseason between 1990 and 1991. We added Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders, giving us leadership and speed. We also had a very nice middle infield with Jeff Blauser and Mark Lemke. While I didn’t have World Series expectations, I specifically remember a different vibe around the team as we entered that season.
It got off to a rough start as we were swept by the Dodgers and John Smoltz was rocked. Smoltz would eventually go 3-11 during the first half of that season and even though the Bravos would find themselves in 2nd place at the All-Star Break, we were still 9 games behind those Dodgers that swept us to open the season. This was back when we were in the NL West for some reason. There were some positive things happening though. Tom Glavine would be the starter in the All-Star game and Otis Nixon had 40 stolen bases at the break (6 in one series vs the Expos), only one off of the all-time Atlanta record. He would get that record in the first series of the 2nd half of the season in a sweep against the Cardinals.
Gant and Justice were mashing the ball, Blauser was playing better than we anticipated and Terry Pendleton was an absolute star. There were also some negatives though with Sid Bream and Justice fighting injuries for large chunks of the season. But that 4 game sweep of the Cardinals to start the second half was matched by the Dodgers losing 4 games in a row and we would find ourselves back within 5 games. Mr. Smoltz turned his season around as well and Nixon continued his tear, stealing his 58th base in late July to break the franchise record.
The second half of the season was simply magical! The Braves were “comeback kids” with thrilling come from behind wins almost every time they took the field. I got so used to hearing Skip Carey say “Listen to this crowd”, I could hear it in my sleep. We got an early glimpse at the type of heroics a player by the name of Francisco Cabrera could put up when he hit a 3 run homer to bring the Braves back against dominant closer Rob Dibble in late August. Finally, on August 27, the Braves won and Dodgers lost and the team completed their “Worst to First” mission. They would take over sole possession the next night with Glavine’s 17th win of the season.
The magic wasn’t over though because another tremendous feat was set to be accomplished on September 11. That night against the Padres, Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena would combine for a 3 man no-hitter in a 1-0 win. I still have the Fleer baseball card with those three pitchers on it. That no-hitter was not a small feat considering that the final out of that game was Tony Gwynn. Pena induced a fly ball to left field and Otis Nixon sealed the no-hitter. That would be Nixon’s last highlight as he would be popped for a failed drug test and suspended for 60 days, the rest of the 1991 season. This would introduce Lonnie Smith into the starting lineup and set up the season altering moment in the World Series to come.
Before we get to that World Series though, the Braves had to hold off the Dodgers for the rest of the month and they had 6 games left against each other. The Braves took 2 out of 3 in Atlanta and then the Dodgers took 2 out of 3 the very next weekend in LA. The season came down to the final weekend with the teams tied for first on October 2. On the next to last day of the season, John Smoltz sealed the pennant and sent the Braves to the postseason. While we were beyond elated, that just meant we were set to face the team with the most wins in the league, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While the Tomahawk Chop was introduced earlier in the season, the Pirates playoff series saw it reach a fever pitch! Once again, the Comeback Kids found themselves down 3-2 in the series to the Pirates. After 26 consecutive scoreless innings during that series, the Braves finally plated Ron Gant in the 9th inning of Game 6 to take a 1-0 lead. It was only appropriate that the series would go 7 games. Smoltz pitched a complete game shutout to bring a World Series opportunity to Atlanta. And as fate would have it, we would meet up with another team that went “Worst to First”, the Minnesota Twins. Remember that comment at the beginning of this piece about Minnesota?
The Twins opened up the series with a Game 1 victory but it was Game 2 that made me turn on Minnesota forever. I always liked Kirby Puckett and remained a fan of his until he retired, but their first baseman, Kent Hrbek, became the most hated man in baseball to me that night. My favorite player, Ron Gant, smashed a line drive into left field and as he was retreating back to first to avoid a throw, Hrbek pulled him off of the bag and tagged him. The umpire called Gant out and alleged that he came off of the bag on his own. Worst call in Major League Baseball history! The Braves would lose that game as well and found themselves in a 2-0 hole.
3-1/2 x 8 x 1/4″. Lucite SCREWDOWN. Crystal clear.
The Braves came storming back and won 3 in a row in Atlanta to take the 3-2 series lead. Game 6 would see Kirby Puckett hit an extra inning home run to tie the series and send the Braves to yet another Game 7. This is when the Otis Nixon suspension reared its ugly head as I mentioned above. Lonnie Smith played extremely well in the second half of the season and I can’t take anything away from him there. But Game 7 saw an epic battle between John Smoltz and Jack Morris with each pitcher going scoreless through 9 innings and it could have had a much different outcome if not for one major mistake by Lonnie Smith.
With the score tied 0-0 in the 8th inning, Lonnie Smith led off with a single. With Smith on 1B, Terry Pendleton laced a double into the left field gap. But as Lonnie approached 2B, Chuck Knoblauch faked a throw from his position and Lonnie hesitated before advancing to 3B. I maintain to this day that Lonnie would have scored if he had been running the bases full speed. Of course, the Braves threw away an opportunity with runners in scoring position and no outs but still. The Twins needed 10 innings to win it 1-0 but we never should have been in that position. It took me a long time to forgive Lonnie Smith for that mistake but in time, I was able to appreciate the season as a whole, as opposed to boiling it all down to that one play.
What a season that was for Atlanta Braves fans! That is the type of season that every team is thinking about at this point in April, except for maybe the Marlins. Everyone has a chance when April starts because you just never know what is going to happen during the season. Now is a time of optimism and excitement. Now is also a time of baseball card releases and we have a new one to review today. This release is 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen. GQ is a classy looking set with a lot less to chase than Heritage but there are still a few Easter Eggs to find.
2018 Topps Gypsy Queen
Before we rip this box and look at the cards, let’s cover the basics. Gypsy is a 300 card main set with some high numbered SP’s to be found from 301-320. The hobby box has 24 packs and 2 autographs per box. There is also a box topper with the hobby box that could possibly be an autograph as well. Inserts include Fortune Teller and Tarot of the Diamond Cards, paying homage to the Gypsy Queen name. There are also some variations within the set; Capless Image, Jackie Robinson Image and Team Swap Errors. These are easier to spot than Heritage because of the obvious photo but also the card is turned around in the pack.
Let’s see what we find in this first box of the season!
The Glassworks Box Toppers are beautiful. These are major improvements from a few years ago. Francisco Lindor is a nice pull too!
Here are some of the hot rookies I’m collecting this year. I’m hoping that Albies lives up to all the hype behind him. Hoskins is in the division with one of our rivals but still a hot rookie. Finally, Rafael Devers is getting a lot of love in Boston.
Here is a good selection of stars that I pulled from this box. I pulled the 4 big players from the Bronx and Didi Gregorius might just be the hottest of them all right now. Ichiro is back in Seattle for a farewell tour while Benintendi is just getting his career started in Boston.
One of the returning inserts from last year is the Fortune Teller series. These are interesting cards and they feature young players in the game that have bright futures ahead of them. I think KB is already established but he is here too.
Another insert set that fits the “Gypsy” theme is the Tarot of the Diamond cards. Stanton and Judge made these pulls exciting.
Satchel Paige was the high number SP I pulled in this box. Very sharp looking card!
I pulled two of the missing team name plate cards with Trey Mancini and Matt Chapman. While these are considered base cards, they are clearly not quite correct.
This Kyle Schwarber is missing the GQ logo in the bottom left corner and instead has an actual Gypsy. I can’t find much on these as of yet.
This Andrelton Simmons Blue is numbered to 250 on the back of the card.
This Luke Weaver Black and White is numbered to 50. This is a nice low numbered pull!
Although this is a base version, I have finally pulled my first Shohei Ohtani. The hype is overwhelming right now but I am glad to finally have one.
This might be my favorite card in the box. This Nolan Ryan Bazooka is a high number SP and also the Bazooka parallel. These are found 1:43 packs on average. I’m very happy with this one!
Last but not least, we have the two autographs in the box. These are very sharp looking cards as the autographs are on card and the blue really pops on the color scheme. Tommy Pham has a very nice looking autograph!
I am a fan of Gypsy Queen year in and year out because of the design, the on card autographs and the inserts. This year is no exception and I actually like it more than most years previous because of the color infusion. Topps started that last year and turned it up a notch this year. I am excited that baseball is here and I’m excited that new baseball card products are hitting the shelves. I may not be quite as excited as I was in October of 1991 but I don’t know if any baseball season can ever top that.
What do you think of 2018 Gypsy Queen?
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