Let's face it - the card-collecting hobby would be pretty boring if the only options for collecting came from the major companies (Topps, Panini, UD, etc.) at the normal sources (LCS, big box stores, etc.). Oddball trading cards inject a little variety into the collecting landscape with their miscellaneous sources and off-the-wall distribution method; as the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life.
As such, I think we all have a little soft spot in our heart for the promotional cards, food issues, broders, police sets and non-mainstream companies that pop up from time to time. They're certainly more interesting than Archives or Gypsy Queen anyway.
I am no exception to the oddball lust; thus, when I came across Anthony Nunez's wonderful blog, The Oddball Card Collector, I tumbled down the proverbial rabbit hole and didn't see the light of day again until I'd read nearly every single post. This oddball archive captured my attention fully and completely.
In the first post to go live after I subscribed to his feed, Anthony showed off a pack of promo cards he picked up on a recent trip to Sin City:
Lo and behold, since all of the cards in the pack were the same, he graciously offered to send me a couple of the standard-sized promos... along with a nice stash of other auto racing and baseball flavored oddities. How could I turn that down?!
When his package hit my doorstep, I was absolutely floored - I don't think it's physically possible to cram more fun and entertainment into a manila envelope than Anthony did. It took me several hours just to process it all.
For instance, I'm familiar with the old police-issue baseball/football sets printed to entice kids to respect authority and encourage good behavior; however, I had no idea that the practice continued beyond the early 90's, let alone that NASCAR got into the mix.
These blue beauties shine the spotlight on some notable drivers heading into the 2004 event at Infineon Raceway, including a rookie card of Kasey Kahne. Also, they're of the same measurements and quality of your standard Topps release, rather than the thin and over-sized police sets of the 80's. Super cool!
There's was another, similar set included that dated from the 2004 race at California Speedway. I prefer the blue background to the orange, personally; however, bonus points to this set for including my guy Casey Mears. My family and I have been fans of the Mears racing family since my father's former employer sponsored Casey's father Roger in his Indy 500 exploits and invited them to take in Pole Day from Gasoline Alley in the 80's.
Oh, speaking of Indianapolis...
There were also two, sealed sets of these promotionals sponsored by Firestone Tires, given out during the month of May in 2002.
Talk about star power - four of the five drivers included are Indy 500 champions (Sam Hornish, Buddy Lazier, Al Unser, Jr. and Arie Luyendyk)... and then there's Felipe Giaffone keeping the "Firehawk" mascot company.
For a giveaway set, I was blown away by the quality of these cards. The stock is thick and solid, reminiscent of a high-end set like Tribute, with a nice glossy finish and high quality photos (much higher than those used in this post, oops). This promo set was far from a mailed in effort.
That did it for the racing portion of his envelope; but, it was from the end of his mind-blowing stash. Allow me to shift gears (puns!) to baseball:
There was a thick stack of miscellaneous Wrigley Field giveaways that immediately caught my eye. Included therein was this small collation of cards honoring Billy Williams, from his playing days through his coaching stints. I can't find the exact date these were given out, but that last picture appears to be from his third go-round on the staff, which was from 1992-2001. I'd guess somewhere in the latter half of that time,
Next up was a complete set of the "All-Time Relief Pitchers" in franchise history, as of the mid-90's. They got two definites right here in Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter; however, Randy Myers and Mitch Williams weren't around very long nor did they have sustained success, That said, no one better (at the time) really jumps out at me, except maybe Phil Regan.
As of today, I think Hector Rondon is well on his way to dethroning either of Myers or Williams!
The last of the Wrigley stadium giveaways were these components of the Cubs' All-Century Team, sponsored by Old Style and distributed some time in 1998 (I believe). I adore this set and it's frame so evocative of the Wrigley Marquee. Furthermore, the almost golden-brown borders really work well with the sepia-toned photos of the old-timers. Overall, just a lovely set that I might have to complete someday.
While that did it for the Cub-centric oddballs, there was still plenty of more baseball fun to be had:
Food-issues! With all the love Topps has been getting for the Marketside promotion, despite the fact that the pizza is barely that and it's through Walmart, it's apparent how much we bloggers love our food-issue sets.
Denny's did a yearly hologram (is there any card gimmick more 90's than holograms?) set paired with their famous Grand Slam breakfast. Believe it or not, event though I was a card-collecting kid throughout the 90's, these are my first such cards. We were more of the IHOP kind of folk.
Anthony appears to have sent me the full 1993 checklist - hot damn! Ryno is my favorite card included (for obvious reasons); former-Cub Joe Carter, future-Cub Benny Santiago and almost-Cub Marquis Grissom will also slot nicely into my collection.
Minor league cards!!
Even better, a complete collation of red parallels from the 1992 Classic Best set. As you can see, there were some pretty big future HOFers (including Nolan Ryan, for some reason) to be found in this checklist.
Of course, I'm in this for the Cubs connections found above. All three of these men were briefly Cubs at some point after they made the ultimate ascension to the Major Leagues. Additionally, Scott Bullett has always been one of my favorite baseball names. Is there a more perfect name for a speedster?
However, the card that most caught my eye was this one:
Here we see future-Cubs third baseman Shane Andrews during his days as a Polecat. Why does this team name catch my eye? Well, where I'm from, the name "Polecats" is associated with a far different business:
Although, I guess you might "hit a homerun" there too - if'n you're really lucky.
My initial thought upon seeing that team name was, "Damn, I knew minor league pay was pretty low, but I didn't know it was SO bad that poor Shane had to take up a side job."
But, enough about my disturbed mind.
Wrapping up the excellent trade package from one of the blogosphere's most preeminent oddball collectors was this 1986, multi-sport ode to Brigham Young University printed by a company called Utah Sports.
As a Bears fan, the "Punky QB" known as McMahon catches my eyes first. As I mentioned above, I love adding minor league cards of my teams and a collegiate card is as equivalent as it gets for football. Also of note, the backs of the Joyner and Ainge cards have been transposed - Anthony, if you're reading this, do you know if this was an error found throughout the entire print run?
With that, I've finally reached the end of this seemingly endless supply of oddball goodies. What a ride!
Thank you for the generosity Anthony - it has been extremely appreciated. You should be finding a nice package of off-the-beaten path stuff in your mailbox is the very near future; hopefully some of it is new to even your eyes!
Seriously, if you haven't already, go check out The Oddball Card Collector right now - you won't regret it.