I'm more than a little late for this Blog Bat Around, and I've shared some of these stories in the past. But why not?
Why do I collect the players I collect?
When I was a kid, I didn't have player collections, but I did pick up a few things for some of my favorite players - I got a "collectors kit" with a record and card set of Jose Canseco, and later I collected the Nolan Ryan sets issued by Pacific. I also kept magazine covers and newspaper clippings of the stars and teams I liked. Those kinds of things went by the wayside as I became a teenager and just busted tons and tons of wax. And then I quit collecting.
When I returned in 2003, I knew I needed a focus, and I started with Nolan Ryan (again) and Tony Gwynn. It quickly became apparent to me that it was impossible to get all of the Nolans and all of the Gwynns, but eventually my player collections evolved into what they are today - Topps flagship and Update regular cards, with one bat relic, one jersey relic, one autograph, and a figure or bobblehead. There are a couple players with a different "formula" but this style of PC works for me - easy to maintain and representative of any player's career.
That doesn't answer why each player is in my PC. Let's go player by player. All 32 of them.
Standard collection, 1991 Pacific, 1993 Mothers Cookies , and 1999 Topps and Topps Chrome
When I started collecting, in 1989, Nolan was one of the biggest names in baseball. In 1990, Topps devoted the first five cards of its flagship set to him, and he is one of the best, most powerful pitchers ever to take the mound. It didn't hurt that his last name is my first name (pure coincidence). His drive and determination are commendable, at the very least.
Standard collection, plus 1992 Ultra Gwynn and 2015 Donruss Gwynn
Mr. Video is the kind of hitter that doesn't really exist anymore. If I was writing this about 10 years ago, I'd say Ichiro, but he's reaching the end of his career as well. I first got interested in Gwynn after reading an article about him in either a sports magazine or a book about great baseball players. I collect Gwynn because of his devotion to excellence, studying tape and always trying to better himself.
Standard collection plus 1989 collecting kit
I grew up in the SF Bay Area, and my entry into card collecting was right in the middle of the A's dynasty. Canseco was huge back then, though he would quickly fall from grace due to injury and scandal. Through the 1990s he was more of a humorous anecdote - let's not forget the home run off his head and a disastrous pitching performance. But I collect Mr. 40-40 now because he was the first star I followed as a kid.
Sure, he's cocky, but like Gwynn, Henderson worked hard to achieve greatness. And he was a superstar as I was getting into baseball and card collecting. And he was on the A's, my team at the time. (To be fair, I was also a Giants fan, and my first baseball game was at Candlestick Park, but the A's were better.)
Ken Griffey Jr.
Let's face it, no player better defines the 1990s than The Kid. I only got to see him play in person once, in 2006, but he was always on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight. I collect him because he's exciting.
Sometimes The Big Hurt was hotter than Griffey, sometimes Griffey was on top. But I was always happy pulling a Frank Thomas card out of a pack.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Completing the trifecta of 1990s stars, Ripken is another player I value for his determination and stick-to-it-ness.
Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Andruw Jones, and John Smoltz
I moved to Atlanta in early 1992, and quickly became a Braves fan. These players are my favorites from my teenage years and beyond.
Extended collection (All base and inserts, no parallels)
Similar to the players above, Bobby Cox defined the Braves success in the 1990s and on into the 2000s. Due to managers' lack of consistent cardboard love, I decided to collect "all" of the Bobby Cox cards, giving his collection a much bigger catalog.
Sure, he's not in the Hall of Fame, but Bonds was amazing. I saw him play seven times during his career, and at one game he hit a pop-up to center field that kept going, and going, and going, finally landing in home run territory.
When I was teaching in America and an assistant coach for the baseball team, O-Dog stopped by on the way to Spring Training for a couple days. Being on the same field as a Gold Glove-winning All Star major leaguer was a dream come true. He's a great guy, too!
I first knew about Franco thanks to his unique batting stance, but I got to see him play with the Braves toward the end of his career, and he's in my PC because of his longevity and devotion to the game - I think he'd serve as a good role model. He's played and managed here in Japan, and I saw him during his minor league stint in 2007, too.
The newest player in my PC, Manny is here only because of a brief interaction I had with him last summer in Shikoku. He's known as much for his personality as his playing ability, and I guess that's what puts him here.
I didn't like Lincecum at first, but the more I learned about him, the more I liked him. He was a part of the 2010-2012 Giants that I followed when I moved back to California and got seriously back into card collecting.
Like Lincecum, I started following Posey while I was living in SF. He's a Georgia boy, and a great player both at and behind the plate.
I saw Geary pitch a couple times when he was with the Phillies, but I collect him because I always saw him in the outfield during batting practice interacting with the fans. He made jokes and goofed off with Braves fans and just put off great vibes out there. Because he has so few cards, I want a full supercollection. Finding the printing plates and some of the parallels is not easy!
Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda
Maeda was one of the first active Japanese players I learned about back in 2012, and while he isn't a starting superstar, he has proven himself to be successful at the MLB level. And I saw Tanaka pitch during his "perfect" season, just before heading to the US to pitch in New York.
Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander
Three of the greatest pitchers of today. I saw Hernandez pitch on Opening Day, 2011, and I got to see Verlander pitch in Detroit in 2010. I've never seen Kershaw in person, unfortunately. But seeing them perform on the mound put them in my collection.
Plain and simple, Markakis and I both went to high school in the same town. His high school, Woodstock High School, opened up just after I graduated, just down the street from my high school. It's highly possible that he stopped in my Blockbuster Video, or that we crossed paths at some other point.
When I got back into collecting in 2003, Pujols was already huge. I was impartial to him until I read about his determination and dedication, and his approach to hitting.
Standard collection including BBM, plus Topps 3000 Hits
Another superstar from the moment I returned to baseball, Ichiro isn't here because he's Japanese, but because of his devotion to success. And like Gwynn, Ichiro is a singles hitter, getting on base with hustle, not power. I have some power hitters on this list, but the scrappy guys are the ones I like more. (Yet, no Pete Rose. Go figure.)
I collect Charlie Hough because he's Charlie Hough. I first saw him pitch on TV when he was the Marlins Opening Day pitcher in their Inaugural Season. Here was an old guy just tossing a ball up to the plate, and it wasn't getting hit. How cool is that? I'd see him pitch in person the next year, too. I decided to do a super collection for Hough because he's obtainable. I'm still missing a ton of cards, but I could eventually reach 100% with him. Printing plates will again be the biggest challenge.
I saw Altuve play a couple times when he was playing in the A-Advanced California League with the JetHawks in early 2011. He would make his MLB debut that year and quickly achieve success. I mentioned Altuve in my game report back in May that year. Seeing someone play in a lower-level minor league game and then seeing them make the majors is pretty cool, and I liked Altuve from the beginning.
As far as supercollections go, this is as super as it can get, I think. I have 29 1/1s, of 56 that I know about. 63/68 autographed non-1/1, and 124/129 non-1/1 parallels. Plus 27/27 base cards. There are few things more I would like for my Buck Farmer collection - a game-used jersey and ball, mainly. I've written about Farmer before, but long story short, he's here because he was my student and I coached him through his entire high school career (as an assistant coach).
And those are my player collections!