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.