Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Back/Looking Forward

  I have never really said it much before, but I am glad to see this year come to a close. During the past twelve months we experienced the deaths of my dad's wife and of my beloved grandmother, as well as the historic collapse the Braves experienced in September. We saw our oldest son graduate high school, our middle child begin drivers training, and our daughter-well, there's always something when you have a little girl in the house! I did get to see the Braves live for the first time since '93, as we vacationed in Seattle this past June-that was without a doubt one of the highlights of 2011. As far as the collection goes, I knocked out quite a few dozen off of my Braves' Topps team sets, as well as add to my Chipper and Maddux PC's. The 1977 Topps set has been a fun project, and I am perhaps 20 cards from completing it. I had my sights set on acquiring more vintage cards of Hall of Famers, but I picked up far fewer than I had expected to.

As the calendar is about to turn to 2012, I thought it would be fun to look back at a few of my favorites from the past year. Please feel free to comment on what your fave's were!!
   **Note:  I will try to limit the choices to that which was released during 2011.

Favorite Card Designs- (tie) Topps Kimball Champions & Allen & Ginter's Minis
 As I have stated before, I'm not a real fan of the Allen & Ginter standard-sized cards; but I love the minis,  and the Kimball Champion minis inserted into this years Topps were absolutely beautiful. If I were to work on any other set(s) besides the 2011 base Topps set, one of these two would be my choice.

Favorite Movie-The King's Speech
  Yes, it was released in the U.S. during 2010, but I didn't see it until this year. With superb acting, cinematography, screenplay, and the musical score, what's not to like about it?

Favorite Album and Song- Gillian Welch's The Harrow and The Harvest / "Scarlet Town", from same album
  There's nothing more American than baseball, and no one is better in the Americana music genre than Gillian Welch. Released eight years since her last studio album, The Harrow and The Harvest once again contains the dark themes found on Welch's other works, as well as the hope for redemption in the middle of brokenness. Welch and partner David Rawlings are top-notch musicians and storytellers, whose music isn't easy to classify. If her name isn't familiar, but you have seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? then you will have heard her voice, as she contributed vocals to the songs I'll Fly Away and Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby (as well as serving as an associate producer for the soundtrack).

Favorite Book- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
 This book was actually released towards the end of 2010, but again, I didn't get to it until this spring. It is the true story of Olympic runner and WWII POW Louis Zamperini, whose will should have been crushed a hundred times over with what he experienced between 1943-1945. Despite beatings, starvation, and imprisonment, Zamperini, by the grace of God, made it back home-only to discover his struggles were not over with. Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit, is a masterful writer, and I will be looking to read her future works. 

  Looking ahead for 2012, I would like to continue adding to the Maddux and Chipper collections- and possibly adding one or two other players to my collection, blog more consistently, and continue working on my Topps Braves collection (which I am missing about 300 cards from '52-'03). One thing I might try is to keep track of the cards I am able to mark off my list-it might be fun to see how far I've come by the end of the year.
  I hope your New Year is a safe and happy one, and that the coming year is a successful one for your collecting endeavors (not to mention family, work, etc- you know, the ones that really matter!)


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Van Horner

  Beginning with an opening track that featured car horns (recorded and played at a slower speed) and a bass line that made your windows vibrate, Van Halen exploded onto the music scene in 1978 with its debut album simply entitled Van Halen. The band, which in three years of playing the L.A. club scene had become somewhat of a local legend, would see that legend grow even more as guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen would quickly redefine the instrument- influencing thousands of aspiring musicians/guitarists. And while not gifted with much of a voice, Diamond David Lee Roth became known more for his vaudeville-type antics on stage and his sexual escapades off stage than for his musical talents. The first of six studio albums (in six years!!) featuring Roth wasn't their best, in my opinion (that would be Fair Warning), but it is definitely a 'classic.' Nineteen Eighty-Six's "5150" was the first to feature Sammy Hagar; it also marked, again-in my opinion, the end of the band's career...until now. Yes, that's right- if you haven't heard, the boys are back with an upcoming tour and album. I didn't catch them on their 2007/2008 reunion tour, but I will be interested to see if they've got anything left in the tank. It's been a long time since an album (esp. with Roth!), and I'm really hoping that their upcoming release contains the same fire and "brown sound" that accompanied their first four albums.

Though I prefer the original line-up, I did get an opportunity to meet the Van Hagar lineup (thanks to winning a contest at the local music shop) on October 19, 1986 during their 5150 tour, which for a guitar-playing teen was a dream come true! 

 Former Brave Bob Horner had a meteoric rise much like Van Halen's, as well as a career that somewhat parallels that of the band. Horner was the 1978 Golden Spikes Award Winner (the first to win the award), which is given to the top collegiate baseball player each year, and MVP of the 1977 College World Series. Taken by the Braves with the first overall pick in the June 1978 amateur draft, Horner went straight to the majors upon signing his professional contract-and never appeared in the minor leagues. During his rookie season, Horner hit 23 home runs (which led all N.L. third basemen) and won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award. The slugging third baseman would go on to be a productive hitter, when he was healthy. Various injuries plagued Horner throughout his career, limiting him to only 960 games while in a Braves uniform (from '78 to '86)-and only twice did he even appear in 140 games during a season. When collusion took place prior to the 1987 season, Horner was forced to go to Japan, where he played for one season. It was a move that reminds me of that of Van Halen once Diamond Dave was fired and Hagar was hired: it just wasn't the majors, baby.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cards

In what I'm hoping will be an annual tradition (2 years running now), my beloved wife surprised me with a couple of vintage Topps cards. The good folks at supplied the goods, once again.

1959 Topps #212 Fence Busters /Aaron-Mathews


"I didn't remember Aaron at first, and there was no reason I should have. Regulars don't pay much attention to rookies, and he wasn't even on our roster." ~ Eddie Mathews on rookie Henry Aaron during Spring Training 1954.

1962 Topps #588 Birdie Tebbetts George Robert Tebbetts- nicknamed "Birdie" due to his high-pitched voice and being very talkative. A catcher during his major league playing career, Tebbetts was an exceptional defender, being named to the All-Star team four times.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 2011 Card Show #3

1954 Topps #68 Sammy Calderone/ 1953 Topps #197 Del Crandall

  It ain't easy playing second fiddle to a man who is an eight-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, as was Crandall. Having been traded from the New York Giants to the Milwaukee Braves (along with Bobby Thomson) in February of 1954, Sam Calderone found himself in that very position. As a Giant, he had appeared in 69 games over two seasons (1950 & 1953-missing the '51 and '52 seasons while serving in the military),while logging in only 141 at-bats. His stay with the Braves would be for only one season, as he would spend the next four seasons in the minors, never returning to the Majors.
  Two of Calderone's career highlights: (defensive)- he started both games of an Opening Day doubleheader for the Portland Beavers, catching all 26 innings (the first game went 9 innings, the second went 17 innings).  (Offensively)- His only major league home run came during the second game of a double header on August 17, 1950. Oh, yeah, it just so happened to be an inside-the-park home run, and it came two innings before Dodger great Pee Wee Reese hit his inside-the-park homer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1969 Carlton Fisk

"In '69 I was twenty-one and I called the road my own"-  Running on Empty (Jackson Browne)

 Carlton Fisk made his major league debut on September 18, 1969 at the age of twenty-one, just two years after being the fourth overall pick in the January phase of the amateur draft. Pudge wouldn't make his cardboard debut until 1972, when he appeared on a Topps card with two other Red Sox rookies (Mike Garman and Cecil Cooper). So in honor of #27 (or, 72-depending on which team you're a fan of), I've done a 'pre-rookie' card. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 2011 Card Show #2

One of the biggest surprises during the Braves' 2011 was the emergence of Cristhian Martinez as a dependable long-relief guy. In his forty-six appearances, Cristhian went 2+ innings twenty times- which was huge, given that manager Fredi Gonzalez overworked the O'Ventbrel. Perhaps his most memorable moment this past season was the six-innings he provided during the June 26th marathon against the Pirates- a 19-inning affair that Atlanta won. In that game, Martinez only allowed two hits, while striking out six. Martinez entered the game with runners on base in sixteen of those appearances, and for the season allowed seven of his 27 inherited runners to score. Not only was he fairly effective in preventing inherited runners from scoring, but he was also prevented hitters from getting on base: his K/BB rate was around 3, his WHIP at 0.966, and had a line of  .197/.255/.331

2011 Bowman Platinum Cristhian Martinez #BAR-CM
I have had my eyes on some Martinez auto/relic cards on the 'bay for some time, but hadn't pulled the trigger yet. Thankfully, I found one at this past weekend's card show, picking it up for a meager $4.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hey Kiddies, Eat Your Baseball Cards

The first eight cards in the 1977 Topps baseball set were ones which featured League Leaders, and so for the first card in this year's set to feature a single player, Topps chose Doug Rader of the Padres.

Wild. Eccentric. Flake. Intelligent. Those are just some of the words used to describe Rader. The Red Rooster, as he was nick named, was a third baseman known for his great defense and his mercurial temper. Peter Gammons wrote a great piece for SI back in '89 that paints a much better picture of the guy than I ever could. You can read it here.

Perhaps my favorite Rader story: when asked by former pitcher Jim Bouton if he had any advice for Little Leaguers, the unpredictable Rader said, "Sure, they should chew the gum that comes with baseball cards, and then they should eat the cards. Bubble-gum cards are very good in a Little Leaguer's diet."

``Just any bubble-gum cards?`` Bouton wondered.

``No,`` Rader replied. ``They should only eat the cards of the good ballplayers. Say you got a kid who`s 5-foot-1. Let him eat a Willie McCovey card. Willie`s 6-4. The kid may grow. You never can tell.``

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 2011 Card Show #1

Being the week before Christmas must mean that it's time for our quarterly card show. That's right, instead of shopping for gifts for my wife, I spent the morning shopping for myself. Thankfully, I took care of my Christmas shopping already so I needn't feel guilty. On to some of the purchases...

1969 Topps Deckle Edge #17 Felipe Alou
This is only the second Deckle Edge I have ever owned. As a kid, my aunt gave me one of Rod Carew; I no longer have it, but you can't forget the scallop-like sides of the cards. I think my wife and daughter have a pair of scissors for doing scrap booking that will give you the same effect. Perhaps I should try it out on a cheap common card. Anyways, this card is from my birth year, so I'm not old enough to remember Felipe as a player. Always respected the man as a manager, and his kid was one of my favorite players while he was active.

1963 Post Cereal #157 Tony Cloninger
What seemed to be a common practice in my childhood (as well as before and after), this 'value added' feature isn't so common anymore. I can't recall the last time I saw a cereal product, cheese, pizza, etc. offer a trading card either inside of the box or as part of the box-as these Post Cereal cards were. It's too bad. You want to introduce kids to cards? Do this again, and forget about the stupid Topps Attax- type of garbage. You hear me, Topps? If you can't do it right, then maybe someone else should.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2558 Plus 1

So, the career leader in walks has added to his total, huh? It must be tough having to be confined to 30 days of house arrest-especially when you live in a mansion the size of a small country.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

1977 Topps #8 Leading Fireman

Beginning in the year 1960, The Sporting News magazine awarded its annual TSN Fireman of the Year award to the top closer in each league. And while it was the first award to officially recognize relievers as a specific class of players, the voting was based solely upon subjective criteria-unlike its counterpart, MLB's Rolaids Relief Award, which was based upon a points system. The Fireman of the Year Award was a tradition that continued for 41 years, until the name was changed to Reliever of the Year, which allowed all relievers to be eligible. I personally think they should have stuck with the original name. Looking at the Reliever of the Year winners from 2001-2011, I do not see any one that wasn't a closer the year in which he won.

After having his best major league season in 1976, in which he went 11-5 with a 2.06 ERA and 26 saves, Eastwick began the 1977 season in Cincinnati-appearing in 23 games. Eastwick, however, became embroiled in a contract dispute with the front office and was traded in June to St. Louis. Rawly struggled in his only season in St. Louis, and spent the next season in New York (Yankees) and Philadelphia.

Bill Campbell appeared in a league high 78 games for Minnesota during the 1976 season. While he only had 20 saves that year, he did put up 17 wins for the Twins (not to mention a league high .773 winning percentage). Then, prior to the 1977 season, Soup signed with the Red Sox as a free agent-where he actually had a better season than the one he had for the Twins. Campbell would win his second straight (and final) Fireman of the Year Award in 1977, while earning his only All Star appearance.

New York City/1989 Topps Mets Leaders

I saw a rainbow stretched across the ocean
Crashed the Big Apple
So I took a bite, found a taste I like
but she bit me back.

I jumped across the ocean
Found a Big Apple
So I took a bite, she teased me with a taste
Laid my soul to waste
Stabbed me in the back.

Pressure never stops
Pressure never drops....

....Hell's Kitchen is a DMZ, I ain't never comin' back...

"New York City" from The Cult's 1989 Sonic Temple album

and so went the career of Darryl Strawberry.

One of the more well known feuds between teammates took place during the New York Mets' 1989 photo day. Team captain Keith Hernandez and slugger Darryl Strawberry had been at odds for some time, but the final straw (pun intended) came when writer Bob Klapisch, in a moment of spite, informed Straw that Hernandez had, in 1988, tried to persuade reporters that teammate Kevin McReynolds deserved the MVP. That same evening, the two teammates nearly came to blows at a Port St. Lucie bar. The next day, which was team photo day, a photographer tried to position the two next to one another-only to have a fight break out in which the two threw hooks that may not have been as strong as the hook in The Cult's "New York City", but hooks none the less. How appropriate it was then that Topps captured the two on its 1989 Mets' "Leaders" card (along with the aforementioned Kevin McReynolds).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

1977 Topps #6 ML Strikeout Leaders Ryan/Seaver

It's interesting that these two friends and former Mets teammates are featured together on a 1977 card-which happened to be the year that Seaver forced his way out of New York after a Daily News article by columnist Dick Young claimed, among other things, that Tom and his wife Nancy were jealous of Ryan making more money than Tom Terrific. It was a column which Seaver claimed "was the straw that broke the back." Prior to the publication of the article, Seaver had agreed to a contract extension and had told Mets GM Joe McDonald, who was in discussions with Cincinnati about a trade for the ace, not to continue any further in trade talks. Needless to say, after being informed of the article, Tom was enraged and demanded to be shipped out of town. Traded to Cincinnati for four young players, Seaver would start 20 games for the Reds in '77-going 14-3 with 14 complete games, 4 shutouts, a 2.34 ERA, and 124 Ks in 165.1 IP.

The Ryan Express won his fifth strikeout title in '77, finishing with 341 Ks in 299 IP and completing 22 of his 37 starts. Ryan finish with double digits in strikeouts twenty times during the season, including tying his career-high of 19 on June 8 against the Blue Jays.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


"Well I'm southbound, Lord, I'm comin' home to you. Well I'm southbound baby, Lord, I'm comin' home to you..." 'Southbound' - The Allman Brothers Band

In August of 1973, the Allman Brothers released the album Brothers and Sisters, which was the first album they recorded completely after the 1971 death of guitarist and leader Duane Allman (1972's Eat A Peach included songs with Allman, recorded before his death). The album would hit number 1 in the U.S. in September, and spent the next five weeks atop the U.S. albums chart. The band's two biggest hits, Jessica and Ramblin' Man (which peaked at #2 on the singles chart), were included on the release-as was the song Soundbound- a fast and lively uptempo song with its guitars and piano churning out bluesy licks.

Acquired off waivers on August 7th of 1973, just two days after brother Phil pitched a no-hitter verses the Padres, Joe Niekro found himself southbound. Having spent three seasons in Detroit, where he worked as both a starter and reliever, Joe had actually spent the first four-plus months of the '73 season in AAA Toledo, pitching in 26 games before the wire claim. Once in Atlanta, Joe was re-acquainted with the knuckleball that his father taught he and his brother-and his career would never be the same. While he would not use the knuckleball as his primary pitch, it did allow him to mix it in with his fastball, change-up, and slider-and he would go on to win 221 games over the course of his 22 year career.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Barry Bonds is...Simon the Magician

Simon Magus sought to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit in order to draw paying "customers" to see him display his "magic". Sound familiar?

Acts 8:9-22 (ESV)

9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then, they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Palmer & Jones: Junk, Hair, and the Cy Young Award

1977 Topps #5

This card features two pitchers who, despite being the Cy Young Award winners while leading their respective leagues in wins during the 1976 season, are perhaps best known for something other than their on the field performance.

Palmer, whose career was a model of consistency, was known for pitching Jockey underware. Unlike Palmer, Jones' junk was on display out on the field-not a poster. Ask most collectors what they remember about Jones, however, and you will probably hear a reference to his 'fro. While we only get a sneak peak of it here, Jones' regular card in the '77 set shows it in its full glory. Palmer, on the other hand, looks every bit the "pretty boy" with his feathered hair. Palmer would later pitch Brylcream. Figures.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Terdo at Third is Worth Two at First Base

or something like that.

As Chipper's career is racing towards the end of the finish line, there's been a lot of talk about who his replacement will be. Should the team look to eventually package prospects for a veteran or perhaps trade for a guy who is on the cusp of being a productive starter at the major league level? Would Martin Prado be the guy? Of course, there's also a great prospect in the lower minors-Edward Salcedo, who was used quite a bit at third base for Class A Rome this year. The guy who I find intriguing, however, is first baseman-turned third baseman Joey Terdoslavich. "Terdo", as he's affectionately known as, is a switch-hitter who absolutely killed the ball at high Class-A Lynchburg this season, where he had 74 XBH and a .867 OPS. Oh yes, I forgot to mention he hit 20 homers and 52 doubles-breaking the 65 year old Carolina League record for two-base hits. The Braves sent Terdo to the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, where he has continued to see his stock climb. As of Monday, Joey had 11 XBH in 80 at-bats and a .427 OBP. Apparently playing in the spotlight doesn't affect him either: Turdo went 3-3 with a double and a three-run homer in the recent AFL Rising Stars game, which featured the "cream of the crop" in terms of prospects. If you're looking for a "J-Terd" (another great nickname!) card from Topps 2011 Pro Debut or Heritage Minor League Baseball, forget it-they didn't include him in either set. And while he entered the season as a relatively unknown prospect, I'm sure Topps won't overlook him again next year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Michael Bourn--2012 Topps Team USA Cards

I really like the design for the upcoming 2012 Topps USA Baseball cards, which Beckett previewed today. I liked it so much, in fact, that I used its design for this Michael Bourn card. It will be interesting to see what kind of production Atlanta will get from the Bourn Identity in 2012 as it will be his free-agent year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rookies of the Year

Congratulations to Jeremy Hellickson and Craig Kimbrel, this year's AL and NL Rookies of the Year, respectively.

Just a few tidbits about Braves players and ROY voting:

~Kimbrel became the fifth Atlanta Brave to win the ROY. Past winners include: Rafael Furcal (2000), David Justice (1990), Bob Horner (1978), and Earl Williams (1971).

~By finishing 1st and 2nd this year, Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman became only the second teammates to finish 1-2 in the voting. The others? Remember Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith with the '89 Cubs?

~This is the forth straight year that the Braves have placed someone in the top 3 for NL ROY. The others have been Jair Jurrjens (3rd in 2008), Tommy Hanson (3rd in 2009), Jayson Heyward (2nd in 2010).

With Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino still maintaining rookie status for 2012, it will be interesting to see if Atlanta can add any more names to these lists. One darkhorse to consider: shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who some Braves player development personnel believe is ready for the majors-according to ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

1966 Topps #168 Dan Osinski

Osinski, who played for six teams during eight seasons in the majors, was a hard-throwing relief pitcher whom the Braves acquired from the Angles prior to the 1965 season. During his only season in the Braves organization, Osinski pitched in a career high 61 games while recording a career high in saves (6) and posting an ERA of 2.82 (second lowest of career). As noted on the back of the card, "Dan was traded to the Red Soxs December 15, 1965." Yes, they actually printed Soxs. As an added value, Topps also threw in a different font on the date. Nice touch.

Perhaps Topps should have included this as the write-up on the back of his card: "[Dan]...forever etched his name in Angels lore one night when he picked up sportswriter Bud Tucker and dangled him by his heels out of the window of a 15th floor hotel suite. Tucker, who was famous for his one-liners, later said his only fear was that somebody would hand Osinski a drink and the pitcher would drop him reaching for it." (from Tales from the Angels Dugout by Steve Bisheff)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011 Bowman's Chrome Future Die-Cut Arodys Vizcaino

In a radio interview with ESPN radio yesterday, Braves GM Frank Wren commented that the Braves currently have eight starting pitchers on the roster: Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Kris Medlen. The one name not mentioned was super prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who Baseball America just rated as the number 2 prospect in the Braves system. Vizcaino moved up the ladder quite quickly in '11 after missing a chunk of 2010 with an arm injury. He began the year at High A Lynchburg, where he started 9 games before moving on to AA Mississippi. Eight starts and three relief appearances later, the kid found himself at AAA Gwinnett-where he appeared in all of six games (all in relief, as he was being prepared to help the big league club down the stretch). Summoned to Atlanta on August 10th after Scott Proctor was released, Vizcaino ended up with seventeen K's in 17.1 innings and a WHIP of 1.442-which the twenty-year old righty should improve upon with experience. With a log jam of starting pitchers ahead of him, Arod's future very well may be out of the 'pen- where he could be very dominating with his mid-high 90s fastball, sharp curveball, and solid changeup.

In picking up this card, I went a little bit out of the norm since I primarily buy base Topps products. The card itself is reminiscent of those insert cards of the 90s. Interesting fact from the back of card: Vizzy hails from the same Dominican hometown as Michael Pineda. How would you like to have been opposing those two while growing up?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1962 Topps #289 Mike Krsnich

Former Milwaukee Brave Mike Krsnich could be defined as a well-traveled baseball player. Mike began his professional career in 1950 as an 18 year-old infielder with the Bradford Phillies of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York league. Over the course of his seventeen year career Krsnich played in about every minor league imaginable. Those leagues included teams in America, Canada, Japan, and Mexico-where he ended his career in 1969. Oh, yes-he also spent time in Korea during 1952 & 1953 as he performed military service in the Korean War. His big league service was very short lived, as he appeared in only 15 games during the 1960 and 1962 seasons. By making the Braves team in 1960, he became the first player from the immediate Milwaukee area to make the Braves major league club.

The back of his 1962 card states, "this season he is determined to stick." Well, Mike made the team coming out of spring training but was done by May 19th. For the year, he had only 1 hit in 12 at bats.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1977 Topps #4 1976 Stolen Base Leaders

One of the great things about baseball is that it is played in small town, USA as well as in larger metropolitan areas. Having grown up in the former, we didn't have access to major league games- but whenever on vacation in Washington or California, my dad would make sure we were able to take in a game(s). During one such summer, 1980, we attended a Giants and Astros game in San Francisco, where I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Giants lead-off hitter Bill North. Being an eleven-year old kid (and a person who's generally shy), the thought of striking up a conversation with a major-league player should have terrified me; but as North was signing an autograph for me, I somehow summoned the courage to ask him if he remembered playing ball in my hometown of Caldwell, Idaho. An affable fellow (well, perhaps Reggie wouldn't agree), he replied that he did; in fact, he played his first year of minor league ball there, in 1969, while with the Cubs. What a small world, that was the year I was born! Surprised that a kid would know such a thing, I explained to him that I had read it in that staple of my youth, Who's Who in Baseball. I don't remember what else was said, but I really treasured that ball-for a few years, at least.

Four years prior to my encounter with him, Bill North led the A.L. in stolen bases for the second time in three years. Seventy-Six would be the last time he would be a league leader in stolen bases-which meant that this '77 card would be his final claim to cardboard fame as someone other than a "common." A year after meeting him, Bill North would retire from baseball with 395 career steals, while being caught 162 times. Good for a stolen base percentage of .709-a number which, quite frankly, surprised me.

Lopes, on the other hand, was far more successful at stealing bases than was North. Of players who have stolen over 400 bases, Lopes ranks third all-time in stolen base percentage, at 83.01% (trailing only Tim Raines and Willie Wilson). And, like North, 1976 was the second and final time that Lopes would be a league leader in steals. So successful was he in the art of base stealing, that in 1975 he broke a 53-year old MLB record by stealing 38 consecutive bases without getting caught. His record would last until 1989, when Vince Coleman would steal 50 consecutive bases.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Lopes, but the one thing about him that has always stood out in my mind is that cool cop 'stache. The day that Davey began sporting that thing was the day that Phil Garner met his match.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Knucksie Nameplate

Today's mail included a Knucksie Nameplate:

2011 Topps Leather Nameplate MGL-PN

Known primarily for the knuckleball that would help prolong his career and contribute to his 318 career victories, Niekro actually had a really good glove. Whether this is the reason Topps included him in this insert set, I know not-but the man did win 5 gold gloves over the course of his career and ranks fourth in putouts by a pitcher.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sweet Shots- Ryan Roberts

2011 Topps Update #US237 Ryan Roberts
One of the advantages collectors have had during the past thirty years has been the use of action shots (with regularity) by the card manufacturers. No longer does our collection consist of just portraits and posed shots. Sure, there were some actions photos prior to that-but they were few and far between; for the most part the cardboard back then was pretty plain (which, in my opinion, isn't necessarily a bad thing). Looking back at those vintage cards, you won't find anything like this card, and I certainly can't recall many action shots on more recent cards that are better than this one of Ryan Roberts. In it, the D-Backs third sacker looks as if he is about ready to plant his face into the railing, which makes the viewer want to brace himself for the whiplash Roberts would have to endure. A look at Ryan's glove reveals what appears to be the ball seen through the webbing-there's no doubt that he grabbed this one! The picture also captures the awesome facial expression and body language of the fan who probably wet himself during this play-how would you like to be captured on this one? A quick search on Google, and I found that this play took place during the April 26th game in Phoenix against the Phillies. With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the third, Daniel Hudson got Raul Ibanez to foul out to Roberts as the Diamondbacks righty escaped the inning with only one run being scored. And like so often happens after a great defensive play, Roberts came to bat in the bottom of that inning and plated a run, giving the D-Backs a 5-2 lead.

Monday, October 24, 2011

2011 Topps Update Silk Collection- Joe Mather

Why Topps decided to include a Silk card of Joe Mather in the Update set is beyond me. The Braves claimed Mather off waivers from the Cardinals last fall, hoping he would provide depth in the outfield (as well as possibly the infield), and a power right-handed bat they so desperately needed. I heard some comparisons to Jason Werth (would that be the Philadelphia JW, or the guy who played in Tor, LA, and Wa?) Well, that experiment lasted about three months, as he was gone by late June. The Braves might have done better by going after Jerry Mathers (aka The Beaver), since Joe hit 2 points under his weight (.213) with 1 home run and 9 RBI. The sad thing is, most of his "damage" was done in a three-game series at Anaheim, were he went 7-12 with a homer and 5 RBI. I attribute his success that weekend to it being an A.L. team facing him for the first time. Take away those three games and he hit .143 during his time in the ATL. Not exactly the kind of performance that warrants being included in such a limited numbered insert set (no-he's not even included in the base update set). And since I normally don't mess with the Silk Cards, I had no intentions of trying to pick up a card of this short-timer. And yet, the guy did provide a little bit of magic this season while on the team, so when the card came up on an auction, I took a flyer on it and grabbed it for $3.25. He certainly wasn't the first player to be included in my team set despite his lack of production, and Lord knows there will be others after him.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

1977 Topps #3 RBI Leaders

1977 Topps #3 1976 RBI Leaders Lee May/George Foster
In my mind, George Foster and Lee May (the league leaders in 1976 for RBI's) stand out more for their side burns than for their bats. That being said, Foster did win the 1977 N.L. MVP award after hitting 52 home runs and driving in 149 runs, and in doing so became the only man to hit over 50 home runs in a season since 1965 (when Willie Mays 52). No one else would reach that feat until 1990-when Cecil Fielder clubbed 51. Foster would go on to hit 348 homers during his career while driving in 1239 runs and hitting .274, but the first thing that still comes to mind are those "L"-shaped sideburns. The style was a good one for Foster's facial features: long face, high cheekbones, and pointed chin. May, on the other hand, sported the "Lamb Chops"-which seemed to compliment his round (very round!) face. While his side burns were distinct from Foster's, Big Lee's career numbers almost mirrored George's: 354 home runs, 1244 RBI's, and a .267 avg.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The New McKenzie Brothers: Boston Brew

It's been almost thirty years since one of my all-time favorite movies (Strange Brew) was released, and I believe a whole new generation needs to be introduced to the McKenzie Brothers. Let's hope there's not a remake featuring these two hosers, ah.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jon Lester Highlights

That Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester reportedly admitted to drinking beer in the clubhouse with teammates Josh Beckett and John Lackey neither surprised nor shocked me; I was shocked to find out that they were drinking Bud Light while playing in a town known to have better alternatives with it's many local breweries. Bottoms up, boys!

Maddux Milestones Win #1

1993 Topps Traded #54T Greg Maddux

At one time I had far more cards of Greg Maddux in my collection than I currently have. When I got out of collecting around 2002 or so, the only items I kept were my Braves base Topps cards, with everything else being dumped as a lot. Thus, I wasn't left with very many cards of the Professor. I'm hoping to change that, though, as I am going to start picking up some (hopefully as large lots for cheap on the 'Bay). My goal is to get one for each of the 355 wins that Maddux picked up over the course of his illustrious career. Might do the same for each of Chipper's home runs; would choose Eddie Mathews, but I don't think he has that many cards.

Anyways, back to the Professor. Maddux made his major league debut on September 2, 1986 as a twenty-year old. He pitched one inning of relief and took the loss that day against the Astros-the first of only four games in which the future hall of famer would pitch out of the bullpen. Entering the tied game in the top of the 18th inning, Greg got Craig Reynolds to ground out to second base to start off the inning. The second hitter, Billy Hatcher, took Maddux deep for the go-ahead (and game-winning) home run. Five days later, he picked up a win in his next appearance-which also happened to be his first start. Pitching in Cincinnati on September 7th, Greg went the distance, allowing 3 earned runs on 11 hits, while picking up the first of 355 wins. I don't have the cash to pick up one of Mad Dog's minor league cards from 1986, and couldn't find a good color photo to create one. So, that left me with using my favorite Maddux card for his first career win. Why a base Topps? Well, it was the first card from the base Topps (my fave cards to collect) featuring Maddux in a Braves uniform.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Non-Sports Custom Card: Sweet Johnny

I've recently got hooked on the Netflix reruns of My Name is Earl, and one of the funnier episodes I've seen is the one entitled "Sweet Johnny". Guest star David Arquette (the former Mr. Courtney Cox) plays the character of Sweet Johnny, a local stuntsman who at one time had quite the following in Camden. Johnny's 'sweet' stunts often left him laid up in bed with injuries, but little did he know that Earl was behind it all- encouraging ridiculously dangerous stunts so that he might have relations with Johnny's girlfriend. And so we know which bad deed 'karma' wants Earl to make up for. Problem is, when Earl goes to confess, he finds out (the hard way) that Johnny has suffered too many head injuries and has a hard time with short term memory. This leads to scenes similar to Groundhog Day-where the character seems to be encountering the same scene day after day. I guess I ought to built upon this and make a relic card, featuring a piece of Johnny's SWEET rat-tail.

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011 Chopps Update #17 Jose Constanza

We have seen many protests against the war and against Wall Street in recent weeks, but I am going to address another protest here today- a protest against bouncers who prevented dancers from pogoing in clubs in the early 80's. Written as a protest against the aforementioned bouncers, as well as a call for freedom of expression, "The Safety Dance" by Canadian band Men Without Hats peaked at #3 in Billboards Hot 100 chart. The video, featuring a disturbing midget (who has his own Facebook page, apparently), a maypole, and Punch and Judy puppet show (among other things) is pure 80's, and checked in at #17 on VH1's 100 Greatest One Hit
Wonders of the 80s. While I had not heard of "Boom Boom Boom, Let's Go Back to My Room" or the guy who sang it, I am familiar with this song. So familiar with it was I, that my wife and I spoofed it when my daughter was just a toddler. Our version, The Baby Dance, was much better. Believe me.

The only protest that surrounded 2011 Braves one-hit wonder (?) Jose Constanza had to do with the fact that he came up from AAA in July, caught lightning in a bottle, and caused phenom
Jason Heyward to ride the bench for a few weeks. Certain fans didn't like it, and voiced their opinion loudly. Who knows, perhaps time will show that Heyward was a one-hit wonder in 2010. Anyway, like the previous one-hit wonder, Bob "Hurricane" Hazle, Georgie (Jose's nickname, after George Constanza on Seinfeld) toiled in the minor leagues for years before getting his shot at the major league level. Making his Braves debut on July 29th (which was the same date Hazle made his Braves debut), and wearing #17, Constanza made the most of his opportunity while providing a much-needed boost to the team. Utilizing his ability to put the ball into play, Georgie used his greatest asset (his speed) to put pressure on opposing pitchers and defenders- and that success at getting on base translated into Braves wins. Until an ankle injury on August 22nd forced him to the bench, Constanza had hit .372 and stole seven bases. After the injury, Jose hit only .129 in 31 at-bats (over 19 games), and was 0-2 in stolen base attempts. I won't say that the team's collapse was due to its hottest hitter getting injured, but it is interesting to see the success of the team when Constanza was healthy and starting (16-7) compared to after his injury (11-21). I was very disappointed that Topps didn't include a card of the speedy Constanza in its recent Update set-perhaps a card that featured him licking his bat would have been a popular one.
Since they overlooked him, I've decided to give him his own card; unfortunately, I had a heck of a time trying to match the font used for the players' names.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

One Hit Wonder- Bob Hazle

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were watching VH1's "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s." Having spent our teenage years during that forgettable time period, we had a good laugh reconnecting to some of the awful music from our adolescence. While my primary musical interests lie in classic rock, I am fairly eclectic in music tastes-so, I am familiar with much of the cheesy stuff from those teenage years (thank you, MTV). One artist I was not familiar with is Paul Lekakis, whose one hit wonder "Boom Boom Boom, Let's Go Back to My Room" came in at #83. The song peaked at #43 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1987, which led Lekakis to a record deal with Sire Records ("Boom Boom Boom" had been released on a German label). Subsequent releases by Lekakis also fell into the dance music genre. No wonder I had never heard of him! And-surprise- a visit to his official website reveals that he is, indeed, trying to live off of the past fame of his only US hit. Lekakis in later years revealed that he was at one time a male prostitute who had tested positive for HIV. I guess his music wasn't all that blows.

1958 Topps #83 Bob Hazle
Thirty years earlier, there was another 'one-hit wonder' who blew into town- not on the streets, but on the diamond. In the midst of the tight 1957 pennant race, Milwaukee lost outfielder Bill Bruton for the rest of the season when he suffered a torn right knee ligament. Two days later, his replacement Andy Pafko was injured while making a sliding catch. Desperate for help, the Braves were about to call up Earl Hersh from AAA as insurance, but instead brought up Bob "Hurricane" Hazle per the recommendation of AAA manager Ben Geragty. Hazle, a South Carolina native, was primarily a career minor leaguer who had a handful of appearances for the Reds in '55. Bob had been given the nickname "Hurricane" in 1954 while playing winter ball in Venezuela. (The coast between North Carolina and Hazle's South Carolina had been hit by a category 4 hurricane- Hurricane Hazel- that October). Despite a career best in average, homers, and RBI during the 1955 season, Cincinnati traded the hurricane to Milwaukee during spring training, 1956.

During that '57 season, there was no stopping Hazle once he got into the Braves lineup. From July 31st through August 24, Hazle was torching NL pitchers for a .526 average, and the Braves had gained a 6 game lead in the Senior Circuit. Bob went on to record eight games that summer in which he recorded at least three-hits (three of those being 4-hit games), including a 3-3, 2-HR, 6-RBI performance vs. Philadelphia, and a 4-7 game with 3 doubles and 2 RBI against the Cubs. At the end of the regular season, Hazle finished hitting .403/.477/.649 with 7 HR, 27 RBI, and 18 walks compared to only 15 Ks. All of this led Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews to say, "I don't know what happens to suddenly make a minor league ballplayer into Babe Ruth, but Hazle was right out of the 'Twilight Zone.' We were hangin in there pretty well before he arrived, but he just picked us up." Another Hall of Famer, Red Shoendienst commented, "He was hotter than a firecracker. Every time he swung the bat, it seemed like he got a base hit." Despite his torrid August and September (well, for half of it, anyways), Hazle cooled off once the Braves reached the World Series. The Yankees held Bob to a .154 average in 13 at-bats. His only two hits came in game 7, albeit they were crucial ones, as the Braves went on to win their only title while in Milwaukee. After that magical year, Hurricane Hazle would record only 114 more major league at bats (in '58, split between Milwaukee and Detroit), and then spent the following two seasons in the minors before calling it a career.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Squirrel Card Variation

Chopps cards wouldn't be legit without producing variations-so, I present to you...the @BuschSquirrel's (aka rally squirrel) rookie card variation!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Down Goes Schafer! Down Goes Schafer! Down Goes Schafer!

Is that a jailhouse jumper suit-or have the Astros gone to an all-orange jersey top?
Well, I hate to admit it, but I was one who thought that former Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer had turned a corner in his career by overcoming a wrist injury that plagued him for a year and a half, as well as by maturing in character. Well, apparently he's still got a lot of growing up to do. The latest "Red Foreman Dumbass of the Month" was pulled over last night due to expired tags on his Range Rover, only to be busted with a joint in his left hand, three marijuana-laced peanut butter cups, and 25.9 grams of Mary Jane in the rig (of which he took ownership of). Forget injuries and struggles at the plate, Jordan's got worse problems now- he's being charged with felony drug possession.
Kind of makes one question his claim of innocence after testing positive on a drug test (HGH) in 2008, in which he served a 50 game suspension.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Who Said Derek Lowe is a Bum?

Derek Lowe- in happier times

Perhaps the least popular member of the Atlanta Braves today is Derek Lowe. Well, manager Fredi Gonzalez is a very close second, but he's the manager-and is apparently not to blame (still being employed, and all). After the colossal collapse that occurred over the course of the final month of the season, Lowe seems to have become the whipping boy for many Braves fans. He is, after all, the $15 million dollar man. Problem is, while he did eat almost two-hundred innings, he only turned in thirteen quality starts (many of which came in the first three months of the season) and completely tanked during the final stretch run. To add insult to injury, the dude is still owed $15 million next year-which should make him the highest paid relief pitcher in the majors, save Mariano Rivera (no pun intended). GM Frank Wren has pretty much all but guaranteed a change concerning Lowe. Let's hope that they can find someone to take him off of their hands.

I guess Lowe should be thankful that Fredi ran him out there to make his final start of the season-it may have sealed the Braves fate, but least Lowe became the first pitcher in baseball history to at one point in his career lead the league in Wins, Losses, and Saves. That's gotta be worth something-right?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

1977 Topps #2 (1976) Home Run Leaders

Here's a little trivia for you: There has been one slugger since 1989 who has led both the American League and the National League in home runs during a given season, and whose home runs numbers in each of those respective years are the fewest for a yearly leader in that same time period? (Sorry, I hope I didn't give you a headache with that! Sentence construction nightmare.) I'll give the answer at the end of the post...

For many of the younger fans/collectors out there, it may seem hard to imagine a major league season passing by where the league leader for home runs hit fewer than 40 in a single season. Coming out of the PED era, perhaps a leader boasting only 37-39 home runs will be more common place-who knows? I can tell you that the last time we had a season where both league leaders had fewer than 40 homers for the year was in 1982. Prior to '82, there was a 'power shortage' in 1981 (which was shortened due to the players strike), as well as in 1976-where the leaders were Graig Nettles and Mike Schmidt, who hit 32 and 38, respectively.

Everybody knows about Mike Schmidt: his leading the N.L. in home runs 8 different seasons, the 10 Gold Gloves, and the 3 MVPs, but Nettles seems to be a relatively unknown to much of the younger generation. While Graig was known primarily as one of the best defensive basemen in his playing days (and how did he not win more than 2 gold gloves?!), he also happens to own the A.L. record for most career home runs by a third baseman (with 333). I bet that will surprise most folks-it did me! In fact, this card features not only the leader for most American League home runs by a third baseman, but the N.L. career leader as well.

The answer to the trivia question: Fred "The Crime Dog" McGriff, who, while playing with Toronto in 1989, led the A.L. in bombs (w/ 36). Then, in 1992-as a member of the Padres-Crime Dog hit 35 to lead the National League.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Braves Country, Revised

Well, after another a** kicking tonight (along with a Cardinals come-from -behind slaughtering of the Astros), my confidence level has hit an all-time low-which is really saying something, as I by nature am a very pessimistic person. So, Braves Country finds itself tied with the Cardinals for the Wild Card, with one game remaining. Time to break out the "Braves Country" Billboard-revised.

I would like to be a "cup half-full" type of guy, but there's a hole in the bottom of my glass.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Old Milwaukee: 1958 Topps #283 Ray Shearer

Collectors often complain of the inclusion of career minor-leaguers in sets; players who take up a spot on the checklist, while that utility player or relief pitcher who has had five years of major league service is left out. And while we see that in today's card market, it's not just a recent issue-as evidenced in today's subject: Ray Shearer.

Shearer spent the 1957 and 1958 seasons at AAA Wichita, where he went from hitting .316 to .283- not to mention a sharp decline in HR and RBI production. Not a very good thing when you're 29 years old. So, why did he have a card in the '58 set? Well, his 1957 numbers were good (but remember, he was 28 at the time), and he did hit .500 with a .667 OBP for the big league club during their championship season. Granted, he only had two official at-bats (three plate appearances). His only hit came in the last game of the '57 season, in his final major league at-bat. By 1959, Ray had moved on to the Red's organization before playing for the Yankees, Indians, and Red Sox organizations as well.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 Topps Chrome Auto Craig Kimbrel

What appeared to be a season in which our post-season failures of the past would all but be erased is now turning into a disaster. The situation in the ATL is looking more bleak with each passing game, and I guess that I am actually looking forward to the postseason awards for N.L. ROY tells the whole story.

There's no doubt in my mind that the ROY award will go to today's subject- Craig Kimbrel. As you probably know, Kimbrel has set the record for most saves in a season by a rookie, with 46. I would throw in the "and counting" part, but the cynic in me says he won't have an opportunity for another one. The ending of this season is one save that Kimbrel won't be able to pull off. So anyways, I have forgone the experience of opening up Topps Chrome packs/boxes in lieu of trying to pick up the autographed Braves cards from the set-which is the only reason I would even bother with this product. As I was on eBay recently, I then was faced with the decision: do I bid and try to get it low, or do I just set a limit on what I'm willing to spend on a BIN? Well, I chose the latter, and when I saw this card for $20, I was on it faster than one of Craig's heaters. As much as I would like to get autographed baseballs for my collection, I've become skeptical on much of what people are trying to sell, and have decided Topps might be the way to go. What about you- have you found any dealers that you feel comfortable purchasing autographed balls from?