Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #01: Welcome Home

The moment we've all been waiting for... the unveiling of card number one in our countdown, with tomorrow being the official release date for 2017 Topps Series 1.

My initial choice for card number 01 (501) was John DeMerit from 1961 Topps, setting up a comment along the lines of "You're not excited about 2017 Topps, so here's a DeMerit for ya". Yeah, I know, it was a slam dunk- until I realized it was reported that Rod Carew returned home over the weekend, seven weeks after undergoing heart and kidney transplants. And while a new baseball card season is exciting, hearing the news about the Hall of Famer is even more welcomed news.

"They found me a 29-year-old heart," Carew told Fox Sports. "You never know, it could be time for a comeback."

You might remember that 29 was the number Carew wore during his career, but did you know about his partnership with the Minnesota Twins on the Heart of 29 Campaign? It was year-long campaign to  help raise funds for the American Heart Association and raise awareness for heart disease and heart failure?

The other (lesser) reason for picking this card: I think the 'In Action' subset found in 1982 Topps is one of, if not the, finest subsets ever produced. In short, it's a classic. Just like #29.

Welcome home, Mr. Carew.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #02: Hypnotized

You're getting sleepy, very sleepy.... now think about the sheer excitement you're feeling for a new baseball season that's upon us; think about how excited you are for the release of 2017 Topps 1; think about how you must rush out and buy a pack, a box, a case, when it's released on February 1st...

There are times when I wonder if I haven't been somehow hypnotized by The Topps Company, Inc. How else do you explain my devotion to their flagship product? When it seems every other collector/blogger is being hyper critical of everything produced by the company, there I am, drinfing the Kool-Aid. That's not to say that I've liked every flagship issue produced, but I buy it, add it to my collection and move on. I guess some might call it a blind-allegiance.

Perhaps at some point in my young life I saw this card- which, to me, looks like a hypnosis wheel. Could I have seen it in the spokes of some bicycle; watching, fascinated as it went 'round and 'round, and 'round and 'round. All the while giving myself over to complete mind-control.

Yet another floaty-head thing. What was it with Chicago Cubs team cards from the 70s and early 80s? Did the team not believe in team photos? Were they indoctrinated by some cult, convinced that team photos were evil? And, bear with me as I go off an a tangent...didn't someone with Topps know that if you put a card like this out there, that some twisted youth would take a red ball-point (or felt-tip) pen and draw blood pouring out of their necks.

Not that I'd ever do anything like that or anything.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #03: In the Cage

If they haven't already, major league teams will soon be packing their trucks and heading to their spring training destinations. But first- before spring training - we will see the arrival of 2017 Topps baseball, which kicks off the baseball card season. Now only 1-2-3 days away.

The town where I live has a small liberal arts college that is known not only for its academic excellence, but also for its rich athletic tradition at the NAIA level. Among its Board of Trustees is the president of the company I work for.

Mr. Boss man came up to me a couple of months ago and asked if I thought we would have room in one of our warehouses for the baseball team to set up a hitting cage and pitching mounds for their offseason program, and if so, to create a space for them to use. A couple of weeks later, I was introduced to the assistant coach and showed him around the facility- giving him a key and the code for arming the building. I didn't know it at the time, but turns out the guy was a former Mariner prospect (reaching as high as AAA) who later went on to become their bullpen catcher (even serving as catcher for the HR Hitting Derby and AL All-Star team one year). He eventually went in to coaching and, here he is, coaching in my hometown.

I've been known to say more than once *if* I were to have a mini collection, I'd collect... Barrel shots...Signing shots...  I know there are others that I'm forgetting. Another of the "mini collections" that would be fun to do would be Cage Shots- photos of guys in the batting cage. Off the top of my head, I can't think of many- but this Jeromy Burnitz card would definitely make the cut. Not only is it a great shot of a guy taking a massive hack, but look at that Cubbies patch. And those socks, with the pants tucked in. There's so much to like about this particular card.

Getting back to our NAIA team... they've just begun their 2017 schedule (seems so early!) and I'm not sure how much more they will use our facility, but I'm debating on whether or not to pick up a 2005 Bowman card (his only inclusion in a major card release) of their assistant and ask him to sign it. That, or see if I can ask him a few questions to feature in a blog post. I just hope I wouldn't swing and miss on that one.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #04: Inventory

Topps released the checklist for 2017 Topps Series 1 Baseball this past week and upset a few people in the process. There were those who were looking for numbers but couldn't find any, those who appear to be upset that the 00s mean nothing anymore, and yet others who question why Topps gave Gary Sanchez the un-retired card #7 in flagship. I could list many, many other complaints- but we have only 4 days until its release, and I doubt I'd have time to list all of them.

My wife and daughter were gone for the better part of this past week, which meant a lot of extra time on my hands each evening. Man must eat, so there was dinner, with episodes of Big Love on Amazon Prime thrown in. The rest of the time was spent with cards. YAY! Amid the number of hobby-related activities were collating cards, listing cards on Sportlots, blogging and updating my want lists.

The want lists are still far from completion; I have a few lists on my Google spreadsheet that I need to clean up by removing inserts that I am missing. I had the best of intentions in wanting to put together master sets but have come to realize that it's only a pipe dream. Time, money and space (the 'BIG THREE' in collecting obstacles) play a part in that decision. Inserts from the 90s would be do-able but master sets are becoming more of a behemoth, and after looking at the checklist for '17 Topps... forget it. Plus, I still have a desire to put together Topps NFL sets from the 80s-early 90s, as well as a few NBA sets, which would not be possible if I were to continue down the master path.

Anyway- checklists, er, want lists...  what better way to stay organized, become more efficient in time spent on the Hobby, and keep myself accountable to the goals I set?

As I mentioned, I have been using Google spreadsheets for a couple of years- and will continue to do so- but am also in the process of writing my want lists on recipe cards. I find it easier to use something like that while searching out cards on Sportlots, COMC or eBay. I have a recipe card box that I have used for a few years with all of my contacts for trading, etc. and it makes sense to use it for my lists, as well. The spreadsheet will be more useful for accessing at card shows, so I'll continue updating them as I need to. I might also go back to having a page on the blog dedicated to want-lists, instead of linking the page to my Google Docs page. Hopefully any potential traders will find it easier to use rather than trying to navigate through a bunch of sheets.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #05: Courage

Winter blues got you down? Fear not, 2017 Topps Series 1 hits the shelves in just five days.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."~ Nelson Mandela

"I play the game hard but would never try to hurt someone"~ Dave Parker

Looking at this photo of Felix Millan has me convinced he was a very courageous man. Look at how nonchalant he appears in the face of adversity. A Pittsburgh threat, ended with a twin-killing. Ho-hum, just another day at the office for the Mets infielder.

At first glance, this probably doesn't seem to be that big of a deal, until you realize who it is bearing down on Felix. Yes, it's the Cobra, Dave Parker. This was the man former LA Times staff writer Mike Downey once called "the only man in the ballpark large enough to be playing for the more popular team in town, the Steelers." That would be the same Dave Parker whose facemask, undoubtedly, scared the hell out of children attending Pirates games. You see, Parker suffered a fractured cheekbone and jaw during a 1978 game against those same Mets and was left wearing a hockey mask that looked a little too much like something out of a horror movie. BTW, this was prior to Friday the 13th, Halloween and the rest. Don't believe me? Well, get a load of this:

Yeah, we're talking scary. The mask lasted only one game (and batting practice), before he traded it in for a two-bar face guard, much like something a Steelers player would have on his helmet.

It doesn't even seem fair, does it- that one average-sized man (listed at 5'11, 172 pounds) would have to face the 6'5, 230 pound Cobra. But Felix did, and he lived to tell a story- even if it were just on cardboard. And this particular card- the 1978 Topps card- would be Felix's final appearance in an MLB set. Though issued a card in this set, Millan did not appear in the majors during the '78 season- nor any other season following that.

If I might be so bold to re-interpret the Mandela quote..." the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who faces the Cobra and does not crap down his leg."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #06: C'mon, Bill!!

Though we mere mortals might refer to an umpire as 'blue', that's not the case in major league baseball, where they are referred to by their name. Flagship (or Topps Series 1, if that's what you prefer to call it) is set to hit the shelves in just six short days...

Why shouldn't I feature this card? After all, how often do you see a card of a manager with his hand cupped over his mouth? Is he yelling at one of his batters for missing a bunt sign? Perhaps he's shouting at the opposing pitcher for drilling his star hitter. The answer, of course, is neither, as it's obviously a staged photo. 

The narrative I want to believe is that it is July 18, 1965, and Mele is screaming at umpire Bill Valentine for calling Angels infielder Jim Fregosi safe on an infield single. Sam left the dugout and confronted Valentine. An argument ensued, followed by incidental contact. At some point, Sam is believed to have thrown- and landed- a punch in the area of Valentine's jaw. Though he argued that he didn't throw any punches, photos suggest otherwise. The manager ended up with a $500 fine and a 5-game suspension. Mele later said that he had tripped and stumbled into the umpire.


The funny thing is that this incident sounds more like one of the coaches on his staff. Some guy named Billy Martin.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #07: Throw Down

It's been a long, cold, and wet winter, but I've fought the good fight. The winter blues may have thrown its best combination at me, but it hasn't put me down for the count. We're only 7 days away from the official baseball card season opener. Ding. Ding. Okay, back into the ring...

According to the back of his 1963 Topps card, Rollie Sheldon was "a basketball star in college." Topps didn't mention it, but he played at the University of Connecticut, where he averaged 13.5 points per game (or 10 ppg, depending on the source) during the 1959-60 season. The back of Roland's 1966 Topps card also mentions his basketball career, stating that he appeared in the NCAA tournament. Judging from the photo on the front of his '63 card, I would have thought Roland to be a boxer. Just look at that squared stance! If Roland throws one up and in and hits you, just take your base. You don't want none of that.

Speaking of free bases: Sheldon finished 5th in the league in hit batsman (7) during the 1965 season.

Roland's basketball past very well may have helped him break into the majors. Following high school, the righty served four years in the Air Force before enrolling in Texas A&M for a semester. He then transferred to UConn, sat out a year, and then played ball for the Huskies for a year. Later, when offered a contract with the Yankees, Sheldon filled in his age as "23" on the questionnaire. Harry Hesse, the scout that signed Sheldon, knew that the Yankees brass would not be interested in signing an older player of Roland's age with very little experience, so he altered the document to read "20" years old. After a 15-1 debut at class D, Yankees manager Ralph Houk invited the pitcher to spring training, where a reporter for the Hartford Courant recognized Sheldon from his days playing basketball. The reporter saw an age discrepancy in the Yankees media guide and pointed it out Yankees PR Director Bob Fishel. So instead of having a 21-year old first year player in need of more minor league experience, New York had themselves a 24 year-old pitcher whom they were willing to consider for a spot on their roster. Rollie would head north with the Yankees that 1961 season and pitched extremely well for someone with only one professional season under his belt. He also got to witness history being made that season.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #08: Pagan Feasts

The following post originally appeared on my since-retired thecardchop.wordpress blog. The only thing that has changed is the card (the original featured Pagan's 1977 Hostess card) and a little revision in the text...

They say that food plays an important part in the pagan festivals- of which there are eight. I don't know much about the festivals, nor the rituals- and I don't really care, either. What I do care about, however, is cardboard. We're now only eight days from feasting on new baseball product; to be more precise, we're eight days from 2017 Topps 1.

I also want to mention another part of ancient pagan culture: the, um... *face blushing*... orgies. This practice was about the cult of fertility and the gods associated with the cult. The participants thought that by copulating on the ground, the fertility of the soil would improve, ensuring good harvests. I don't know if the practice is still going on in modern neopagan cults or not, and the only thing even remotely close to these orgies in our modern day (that I can think of, anyway) would be the 'swingers' and wife-swappers of the 70s.

I can't help but think that upon his arrival in the Bronx Zoo, Dave Pagan felt as if he were in a completely different world. Originally from a small farming community in northeast Saskatchewan, Canada, Pagan arrived in the major leagues in July of 1973- just months after Yankee starting pitchers and roommates/best friends Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson announced they had swapped wives families during the 1972 season.

While Kekich was no longer with the Yankees by the time the small-town boy arrived in New York (he had been traded to Cleveland), it appears that many fans didn't know the free spirited Kekich had left town. Pagan was given the former Bomber's number 18 to wear, and because the team didn't place the player's last name on the back of the uniform, many fans mistakenly thought Pagan was the wife-swapper- and let him hear about it, too.

Unfortunately for Pagan, a torn rotator-cuff (coming in his first major league win) would prevent his career from possibly great things. Yankees manager Ralph Houk once told journalist Dave Perkins that Pagan was "going to be the next Bob Gipson." Instead, he became another player that leaves people asking, "what if?"

The Yankees eventually dealt the Canadian righty to the Orioles in the 1976 mega-deal which involved Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May and Scott McGregor for Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander and three other players. New York, looking to make the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, sought after veteran pitching and Holtzman had plenty of postseason experience with the Oakland A's during their glory days (although, manager Billy Martin never used the lefty during the '76 postseason. Holtzman watched from the bullpen).

Baltimore left Dave unprotected in the major league's expansion draft following the 1976 season, and he was drafted by Seattle in the 29th round- bringing him back to the area where he played college ball. Dave's time in the Emerald City would be short lived, however. In High and Inside, the memoir of Seattle's first-ever GM, the late Lou Gorman, Pagan is mentioned as a pitcher whom Pittsburgh GM Pete Peterson coveted. The Pirates were contending for the N.L. East title with eventual East champion Philadelphia Phillies and were looking for a veteran pitcher who could help the team in their stretch run. Without much time to agree on players, the two executives agreed that Dave Pagan would go to Pittsburgh for a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Rick Honeycutt, who went on to a pretty solid major league career. Pagan, on the other hand, only had one more major league game in him- throwing three shut-out innings against the Mets on July 27, 1977.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #09: Alternative Facts

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period." ~ White House press secretary Sean Spicer

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that." ~ Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, speaking to Chuck Todd while on Meet the Press

"We're only nine days from 2017 Topps but no collector looks forward to a new baseball product being released, period."~ Said no one, ever.

2002 Topps, with its orange/mustard colored borders, is the finest looking baseball set ever produced, period.

Shortstop Jack Wilson made Pittsburgh Pirates fans ask, "Honus Wagner, who?" Period.

Shortstop Jack Wilson will make Seattle Mariner fans forget all about Alex Rodriguez, period.

Wilson, the 2004 N.L. Silver Slugger award winner for shortstop, was actually a very good defensive player during his major league career. In fact, he ranks third in defensive runs above replacement in Pittsburgh Pirates history- behind only Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski (and ahead of Roberto Clemente). 2002 Topps... not so good.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #10: Who Ya Dig? VIDA BLUE

We have a listener-supported, independent community radio station in the Boise area that I try to listen to every Sunday (late) morning and (early) afternoon. The two programs I'm referring to are called Spoonful, which features "vintage rock 'n roll, heavy blues, twangy rockabilly, righteous surf, classic country and early gospel", and Sunday Soul Party, which features "a cross section of lesser heard Soul, R&B, Funk, and Jazz". One of the songs on today's playlist was the Honey Dripper's Impeach the President, which I found quite humorous, having just witnessed Donald J. Trump being sworn in as President just two days ago. Anyway, we're now 10 days away from the release of 2017 Topps Series 1 Baseball...

One thing I love about the internet is the ability to discover new music. This is especially important to a guy like me who's stuck in (for the most part) classic rock from the late 60s-70s and 80s rock, metal and new wave. I do like other genres of music, although I'm far less-versed in the area of funk, soul and r&b, and so apps like Spotify, Pandora and Youtube are a godsend for a change in my consumption and appreciation of music. One genre I've been listening to more of recently is funk.

I can't help but think how appropriate it is that it would be a couple of soul and funk artists who would be the ones to pay homage to a pitcher like Vida Blue. Not rock; not country- but soul and funk.

Born out of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues music, funk music places an emphasis on a strong groove and less on melody. It's percussive style is very similar to Blue's pitching style: power pitcher who worked fast and pounded the zone with his heater. You want melody? Try Greg Maddux. Blue was all funk.

James Brown introduced us to the genre aound the time Vida was nearing the end of high school and saw the genre reach its high point during the late '60s and early '70s- the same time that Blue began his career and ascended to stardom. The artists of this time period were a colorful, flashy bunch (much like Blue's '75 Topps card) and often wore crazy outfits. While I know nothing about the two artists that paid tribute to the pitcher, I do know that they could lay down a groove.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #11: Mail Day!

I missed another day in our countdown yesterday. A long day started on Thursday when my daughter telling me she had water coming in to her room. We had been blasted Wednesday with another 8 inches of snow, to go with all the other we have on the ground. I cleaned the roof off last Friday but between all the new snow (and rain)  and freezing temps the past week, we ended up with a bunch of ice buildup on the roof. Somehow water found its way into the attic... So, my day was spent outside trying to clean off all this stuff, moving snow, etc. A stop by work late in the afternoon turned into an hour up on the roof there, as we began having water coming in at a couple of spots. So yes, I'm tired and cranky as hell and missed a post (I usually write these the day before publishing). Had I posted, it was going to be featuring that funky musician, Thad Bosley. 

There is probably nothing more near and dear to the collector's heart (at least within our blogging community) than a mail day. No, this isn't when you get the bills that are due, nor that blasted junk mail- I'm talking about a MAIL DAY, where you get a PWE or bubble mailer filled with cardboard goodness. Now, I don't have one to share today (unfortunately), but I do have a card that shows a player reading some of his fan mail.

Most of you are aware of the concept of TTM. If you're not, that would be through-the-mail, where a collector sends a card(s) and a SASE to a player, requesting an autograph. Proper etiquette calls for the collector to include an extra card, offering it to the player to keep for himself. The practice became popular with publications such as the Sports Collector's Digest, which would publish regular articles dealing with who's signing and what the expected turn-around time was. The explosion of the internet saw with it forums for collectors to share their TTM stories and then websites that sell address lists. 

One player who TTM collectors might want to avoid is seven-time Gold Glove centerfielder Devon White. A quick search of success rate shows that White is not very accessible, with one site showing just a 5% success rate. The consensus among collectors and fans is that the man isn't very friendly, either- which very well may explain lack of successful returns.

Perhaps White was more fan-friendly in his earlier days; my guess is that he wasn't. That apparently didn't stop him from looking like the greatest guy in major league baseball on this card photo. He's just so happy to get all that mail! I'm sure he rushed immediately to his desk, grabbing pen and paper to answer all that fan mail. Or perhaps those envelopes weren't even addressed to him.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #13: Remember

One of the saddest things I have ever experienced was seeing a loved one robbed of their ability to remember a familiar face. My late grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's, and one of my last memories of seeing her alive was going to see her in her assisted living apartment and realizing she did not know who I was. Now, five years later, I find myself scared as hell whenever I fight to remember a name or to retrieve information that should be easily accessed from my short-term memory. This I do know: we're 13 days from 2017 Topps 1, a set that will probably be labeled as 'forgettable' by its detractors. 

Just because I have no idea who Dave Marshall was doesn't mean that there are not others who remember the one-time outfielder. A search of his name on Google pulls up very few hits, but one helpful site I found was the Ultimate Mets Database. "Share your memories of Dave Marshall" reads a header. And while there wasn't very many entries, the few that were posted fondly recalled a player hitting a homer, robbing a homer or having a cousin wishing to score with Dave Marshall.

"I was sitting in Sec. 4 in the Loge at Shea when Dave Marshall hit a foul ball that nearly broke my hand. 30 years late, I still have not touched a foul ball hit at Shea."

" I remember him leaping for a ball over the wall in RF and coming down without a glove."

"My cousin Wendy used to go to sleep dreaming of Dave Marshall."

"Dave Marshall was my favorite player on the Mets while he was there. Don't ask my why, he just was... Funny, I remember him scaling the right field wall to try and grab a home run, and coming down without a glove. I saw that game on tv. I wanted to run to Shea and be the first to get it from behind the wall...Dave was always good for a grand slam every now and then. And I also remember that one he hit where he put up his arms in triumph."

" I do not know why, but my all time favorite Mets player was Dave Marshall. I remember a game where he came up in the 9th inning with the Mets down by 4...and he hit a grand slam to tie the game."

I share none of those memories (or any others, for that matter)- not because I'm aging and losing my cognitive skills (although that's certainly a concern!), but because I was only four years-old when Dave retired.

I only wish someone would have remembered to air-brush out the pinstripes on the front of the card. Between the jersey and the hat, it's got me thinking it's a Pittsburgh Pirate on the card, circa early to late '70s.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #14: On the Heels of Greatness

It's not easy to follow greatness. Just ask Aaron Rodgers. Or Steve Young. Or... well, maybe it's not as difficult as we might expect. On second thought, for every John Elway, there's a Tommy Maddox' for every Steve Young, there's a Jim Druckenmiller. We're now officially two weeks from new 2017 baseball product hitting the streets. The bar was set low last year, in the eyes of many collectors. Will Topps 'top' last year's flagship? 

Not many professional athletes who are looked upon to succeed a legend have a choice in the matter. Sure, there are free-agents who get to decide where they will be playing for the next x years, but I would say most of those replacing a legendary player are brought in via the draft. And as we all know, the pressure put on such draftees is enormous, with not many living up to the expectations placed upon them.

Topps painted itself in a corner for card number 514 in the 1979 set and it had nothing to do with the design or the player featured on the card. Well, I guess that, in a sense, it did have to do with the player. Let me explain.

For its 1977 and 1978 releases, Topps featured players wearing the quintessential '70s uniform- that glorious Tequila Sunrise worn by the Houston Astros. After featuring Cliff Johnson on card number 514 in the '77 set, there was no way they were going to be able to do better than the orange and red for its '78 set, so the company maintained the status quo and used another Astro for the 'cursive script' set. I don't think the company had high expectations in the player succeeding Cliff, a far lesser-known player by the name of Rob Sperring.

When the time came to plan the 1979 Topps baseball checklist, what should they do? A Tequila Trifecta? Topps had a history with three-year runs where they used players from the same team on the same card number, so it wouldn't have surprised anyone. Instead, the card company went with the second iconic 1970s uniform: the Chicago White Sox' collared V-neck pullover. Unfortunately, it wasn't the version with the shorts, but the 'knickerbocker' version.

As for the player to be pictured on this all-important card? Chet Lemon...Ralph Garr...Wilbur Wood... any one of those three would have been perfectly acceptable. Topps decided to go with....Mike Proly?

Would I have done it differently, were it my decision? Proly. No, most definitely.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #15: Before Harvey's Wallbangers- The Wall

My dad was, by trade, a commercial artist. And a damn good one, at that. That's not just a biased son speaking about his father (we haven't had a close relationship since I don't know when), it's just the truth. He did a lot of lettering and sign painting during his career, but where he really shined was in the use of an airbrush. Race cars, boats, motor cycle tanks and a couple of my guitars all bore his signature. His incredible talent extended beyond just paint and brush: the custom woodwork, stained glass and sandblasted windows that made up part of what we called home all pointed to a talent unlike any other.

One other area of our house that bore his mark was my bedroom. Shortly after purchasing the house in the fall of '77, my dad went to work on an extensive remodel (as well as a later addition to the house) that would last until my senior year- 1987. Part of that process included a makeover of my bedroom. A bed frame, desk, dresser, and cabinet- all custom built by him- would have their place in my living quarters. But the thing that made that room distinctly mine (other than the sandblasted window on my door that declared 'Private') was the 'Wall'. The wall had to have been done sometime after the winter of 1977, because of a painting he did on it.

This Wall included a mural of a scene from the gridiron- a running back running into the defensive line, stopped by a defender. On the other half of the Wall were three 'blocks', each featuring the logo of a professional team: the Seattle Supersonics, the Denver Broncos and the Milwaukee Brewers. These 'blocks' were all a part of some larger design that I can not describe (it's been 23 years since I last saw the old room) and were somehow connected. Anyway, the choice in teams was simple: besides being a fan of the Portland Trailblazers, I also rooted for the other regional team- the Sonics; on the gridiron, the Seahawks and Buccaneers were just infants and I was still rooting for the Broncos at the time- but just barely, as my allegiance shifted shortly after the painting was finished; on the diamond, I was never a Brewers fan, but the upstart Mariners had just completed their first season (I was just becoming a fan) and the Braves and TBS were still a few years away.  I loved that Brewers logo, however. Oh, how I loved that logo.

Probably the most favorite logo among Milwaukee Brewer fans, the yellow and blue mitt logo was first introduced during the winter of 1977 and would be a fixture on team hats and helmets for the next sixteen years. The usage of this logo coincided with the most successful seasons in team history, so perhaps the team's success- not nostalgia- explains the popularity. I like to think it's because it's just a great design that incorporates the teams initials (and a ball) to form a baseball glove. Pure genius on the part of Tom Meindel, the Art History student at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, who earned a $2,000 first place prize for his creation.

It never occurred to me until now, but there has been some kind of six degrees of separation taking place in my baseball interests: Milwaukee had a baseball franchise that moved to Atlanta; Seattle gains an MLB franchise that exists for one season- which just happened to be the year I was born (1969); Seattle loses franchise when it moves to Milwaukee and the team becomes known as the Brewers; Seattle gains another franchise, with the Mariners' first year of existence being the same year I become a full-blown baseball nut (as well as a fan of their team); about that same time I get a Milwaukee Brewers logo on the Wall- although I'm not really a fan; shortly thereafter, we get TBS and I become an Atlanta Braves fan (that team that had moved from Milwaukee). In the meantime, the Seattle Mariners was always on the peripheral, taking a backseat to Braves baseball until Atlanta management decides to deconstruct the roster and trades away my favorite player. And here I am, now rooting for the M's. 

Where do the Milwaukee Brewers fit in all of this now? I have no idea. I was just some kid with their logo on my wall.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #16: Bake

I might be in the minority of collectors, but my decision to collect a set is not rooted in its design or whether or not it contains borders; appearances and checklists are nice, but ultimately I collect what I do because...well, Topps. It's what I started out collecting as a kid and that's good enough for me. We are down to just sixteen days until the company's newest flagship hits the streets.

Was it his ability to hit? Perhaps. Or maybe it was the speed that he brought to the field. He was exciting, after all. But odds are that if you were a fan of Bake McBride- or you collect his cards- it was for something other than his play. That's not to say that his on-the-field performance didn't warrant fandom, it's just that we are often drawn to personalities and appearances.

The Nickname:
Born Arnold Ray McBride, Bake's nickname was also the moniker of his father (Arnold Sr.), who was a pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. McBride was given the nickname early in life, and it stuck through his playing days. He was also referred to at times as "Shake 'n Bake".

The 'Fro
When I think of afros from the 70s and 80s, Bake ranks right near the top of the list- probably second to only Oscar Gamble in terms of its magnitude. And if you followed the Phillies teams of the late 70s, you might remember Bake being a member of the 'All-Hair Outfield' that comprised of McBride, Garry Maddox and Jose Cardenal. Thanks to Dick Allen HOF for that treasure.

Body Language
Whether it was a smile or eyes that made him looked, er...baked, Mr. McBride was always a photogenic fellow. And if he wasn't looking stoned or offering up a smile, well there was always that hair!

McBride's 1977 Topps card is one of the earliest cards I remember pulling from a pack. I think what made it so memorable was the name of the player and the pillbox hat upon his head. I didn't know anything about him as a player, and my experience with baseball cards was limited- but I did know a great card when I saw one. And this was is a great card.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #17: Busting His Balls

Rarely will I read a book twice, but one that I have read and am wanting to revisit is Jim Bouton's classic Ball Four. I was in either sixth or seventh grade when I first read the memoir and do not remember anything from it (we're talking 36, 37 years ago, folks). But thanks to the magic of the world wide web, I was able to glean at least enough information from it to use for today's post. We're now only 17 days from the release of 2017 Topps 1.

"Talbot was the book's biggest victim-of Bouton's putdowns and of regional prejudice, but nothing more so than clubhouse pranks."~ David J. Markowitz

I don't know much about former major league pitcher Jim Bouton, but I do know this: he must be (or at least, was at one time) insecure about himself. Why else would he constantly denigrate and demean Fred Talbot, his teammate adversary of only three months while with the Seattle Pilots?

Bouton wasn't alone in busting Talbot's balls. One particularly cruel prank that had been attributed to Bouton was later revealed to have Merritt Ranew behind it. In this hoax, a policeman hand delivered a letter (on attorney stationary) informing the Pilots pitcher that he was recipient of a paternity suit.

“(Talbot) opened the letter,” wrote Bouton, “looked at it, put his head down, looked at the floor for a while, gazed up into the air, shook his head slowly from side to side, started to read the letter again. Then he folded it, put it back in the envelope, tossed it onto the shelf in his locker, lit a cigarette and stared around the room . . .
“Talbot stomped out his cigarette, reached up into his locker, opened the envelope and read the letter again, as though he was hoping it would say something different this time. Finally after he’d devoured both pages, put them back in the envelope and thrown it on the floor of his locker, (teammate Gene) Brabender felt he had to tell him it was a joke.”

According to Bouton, Talbot was mentioned 48 times in Ball Four. I only hope that he (Talbot) was able to get beyond any grudges he might have held before his death three years ago.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #18: In the Field, On the Bases

Many (most?) collectors are critical of the photo variations that have found their way into almost every low-to-mid level set. While I understand their frustrations with the card manufacturers for producing such cards- referred to by many as 'gimmicks'-, it doesn't damper my enthusiasm for chasing them (given they're somewhat affordable). One of the reasons I'm such a sucker for variations is that they often offer a much more interesting photo than the base card.

Occasionally, though, both the base and the variation card offer equally interesting photos of the card's subject. One such example is found in Topps' 2015 set, card number 518.

Best known for his dramatic game-tying homer in game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Rajai has been on the receiving end of much criticism for his work in the field over the course of his career. As an aging center fielder, that doesn't bode well for the Oakland A's, who recently signed the free-agent to a one-year contract. Davis had his best season as a major leaguer in 2009 (his first go-around with Oakland), collecting a 3.5 WAR. While not the best defensive centerfielder in the majors, Davis is, at least, an average major league defender and should be the best CF option for the A's- at least initially.

Rajai led the American League in steals during the 2016 season, becoming the fourth-oldest player to do so. For his career, he's just under an 80% success rate while attempting to swipe a base and is still one of the fastest men in the league, despite being 36 years-old; his success rate last year for the American League champs was 87.8% (43/49). The most value Davis brought to the Indians in 2016 was his aggressiveness on the base paths- Fangraphs rated him second only to Billy Hamilton in their Base Running (BsR) statistic. 

It's pretty simple, really- the more successful a runner is in stealing a base (thus getting closer to home), the more likely his team will score. The flip side to this aggressiveness on the base paths: getting caught stealing is more damaging to a team because it not only eliminates a possible score but adds an out. 

A's fans can only hope that Davis will continue to enjoy the same type of success on base during the upcoming season.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #19: The Other John Edwards

As I've mentioned previously, it's a winter time like none I've seen before here at Collating Cards headquarters. Trying to keep the snow clear outside (as well as my day job) has this dude a little tired, with not much energy to even think about blogging. I missed #20 on the countdown yesterday, but am making a half-assed attempt here today. We are now 19 days from Series 1.

Can you imagine having the same name as someone famous? Perhaps you can- if so, are there any advantages? Do you really get mistaken for that celebrity? I don't know if there would be any advantages, but I can just imagine the mail one must get from 'haters'.

"Dear Senator (John) Edwards: I can't believe you cheated on your lovely wife. You are scum..."

"Dear Senator Edwards: That you knowingly obtained and used contributions to conceal your mistress and the child you had together reveals the kind of man you are. Never before have I been so disgusted with a politician- or another human being, for that matter. I hope the jury shows no mercy."

Do you supposed former catcher John Edwards ever gets hate mail intended for the two-timing
time Presidential candidate? It's probably unlikely, but you never know.

This John Edwards was a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove award winner behind the plate while a member of the Cincinnati Reds. John caught two no-hitters during his career (Jim Maloney-Reds, Ray Washburn-Cardinals) and was involved in a third gem, in which Jim Maloney had pitched 10 no-hit innings before the Mets broke it up in the 11th.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #21: The Most Overrated Stat

An MLB record was set this past season- one that I wasn't even aware of being broken. I wonder if the 2017 Topps Series 1 checklist will include Caleb Joseph? We're down to three weeks left on our countdown...

While the Arizona Diamondbacks may have changed opinions about how quickly an expansion team can compete, sports franchises in their first few years of existence historically have not had high expectations placed upon them. There is, after all, a reason why players are available in the expansion draft. Bad contracts are more commonplace in recent drafts than they were in earlier expansion drafts, when the available players tended to be aging vets and- as in the case of today's featured player- replacement level players.

As I look at this photo of Steve Staggs, I'm left wondering what exactly is going on in his head. Is he extremely focused on what's taking place in front of him? Is he in the middle of a slump at the plate and trying to find some way to make an adjustment? Perhaps spending the first few years of your career with two different expansion teams (the Royals being the first) takes its toll on you. For all we know, he knew his time in the bigs was short. Whatever the case might be, Staggs wouldn't even be with the Blue Jays for 1978- his final season in the majors.

Traded by the Blue Jays to the Oakland A's for Sheldon Mallory, Staggs broke camp with the Athletics and spent the first three months on their major league roster, accumulating 97 plate appearances. Though his BA was nothing to get excited about (neither was his power- a .321 slugging percentage), Steve did reach base 38 times (19 hits, 19 walks), good enough for a .392 OBP. 

So what legacy did Steve leave for us? Well, for one there is his 1978 Topps card, which, along with his O-Pee-Chee counterpart, is his lone major league card. He also left us with a record that stood for 38 years. His 97 plate appearances without registering an RBI were the most ever for a non-pitcher, until the Orioles Caleb Joseph accumulated 141 PA in 2016 without any of that most overrated stat. 


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #22: Potential

There have been only two periods of my life where I did not collect cards (well, three, if you count from my birth year of 1969 until I began collecting in 1976), both being self-imposed exiles from the Hobby. Interestingly, I missed seven card-calendar years (1984-1990 and 2002-2008) during each time away from the Hobby. The upcoming 2017 card season will mark the ninth consecutive year of collecting since my return- and I don't expect to undergo another exile anytime soon. We're now twenty-two days from the pure bliss that accompanies the new card season.

I don't really remember Dave Bush, but I do remember some of the cards from my earlier days in the Hobby. I might be alone here in my opinion, but I believe the photo on this card of the former Blue Jay is reminiscent of the ethos of '70s Topps baseball. Biff Pocoroba's 1976 card, in particular, comes to mind.

While I'm a fan of the photo choice, I'm not much of a fan of the design Topps used for its 2005 release. Eliminate the player's last name in large, silver foil-stamped lettering, and tighten up that top border, and there would have been a lot of promise. Instead, it's just another set that gets lost in anonymity.  

Hopefully card #521 (21) in our countdown will allow for more commentary. I brought work home with me tonight, leaving me very little time to dedicate to write about baseball cards.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #23: Complete Game Fulgham

I came across an interesting article while researching today's subject, John Fulgham- former pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals. In the piece, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revisits (rather briefly) an unbelievable pitching performance by Fulgham. As it turns out, the box score page on Baseball Reference recorded Fulgham as having thrown a 39-pitch complete game shutout against the Giants on August 17, 1979. You've heard of 'The Maddux' (a 76-pitch complete game), well I think that should be replaced with 'The Fulgham'. With an asterisk, of course.

While Baseball Reference might be off just a *bit* on their box score pitch count, John does hold the distinction of having pitched a complete game in every one of his career victories. Granted, Fulgham, whose career was cut short due to an injured rotator-cuff, only recorded 14 wins over 2 seasons (35 starts); but, still, that's quite an accomplishment.

John's final game in the majors came against the Houston Astros on August 27, 1980, in a start that lasted only one inning. By the time his 1981 Topps card landed in collector's hands, Fulgham's career was as good as over- no pitcher had undergone the surgery performed on John and made a successful return to the mound. The Cards were told it would be 18 to 24-months before he would pitch again and manager Whitey Herzog spoke in the past tense when speaking about the pitcher. "He could've been a No. 1 pitcher," the Hall of Fame manager said about the promise that would never be realized.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #24: Better Call the Plummer

I don't know about where you live, but here at Collating Cards (which happens to be in southwest Idaho), we're enduring our harshest winter in decades. The past couple of mornings have seen negative 14 degree temps and about 14 inches of snow on the ground, with up to another 10 inches (followed by freezing rain) in the forecast for the next few days. Now, Night Owl might not feel sorry for us, but I am concerned that once the weather warms and all this stuff melts I will see water finding its way into this old house's basement. What I need to take my mind off of all of this is a box of cards to break; unfortunately, the roads are lousy. I'm also saving my money for 2017 Topps. We're only 24 days from its release...

I've often thought the toughest job in the major leagues belongs to the pinch-hitting specialist. I mean, to sit there on the bench for (sometimes) days at a time- and then be called upon to get a base knock... not very many people can do it successfully. No wonder you won't find many on MLB rosters. But I'm going to include players in that statement who don't fit the definition of a 'pinch-hitting specialist', guys whose careers span many years without accumulating many plate appearances. Guys like former catcher Bill Plummer.

After three seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, Bill Plummer found himself exposed to the Rule 5 draft, where he would be drafted by the Chicago Cubs. Rather than risk losing the young backstop, the Cubs carried him on their roster for the entire year; he would play in only two games, making only one plate appearance per game. Surely this lack of playing time significantly hindered Bill's development. That didn't stop the Cincinnati Reds from trading for Plummer (along with Kenneth Myette and Clarence Jones) that off season. With a fine young backstop at the major league level, the Reds could afford to have Bill to spend the next three years sharpening his skills at AAA Indianapolis.

Bill broke camp with the Reds in '72, with his role clearly spelled out: he would backup future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. And so, yes, playing time would be tough to come by.

Though he was praised for his work ethic and being an exemplary teammate (as well as being highly respected by opponents), you have to wonder how much better Bill would have been at the plate had his playing time not been so sparse; among all National Leaguers, Plummer holds the record for lowest batting average (.189) during the 1970s. But when he did get regular playing time (such as filling in for an injured Bench in 1972 and 1976), Bill more than held his own at the plate.

Teammates were confident of his ability to fill in behind the plate when needed. Ken Griffey, Sr. commented once that Bill "could have been a starter for anyone else." The Hit King, Pete Rose himself, saw enough of backstop to comment, "I've always wondered how Bill would do if he played two months straight." That ability was displayed during the first two months of the '76 season, when Bill hit .290 while filling in for an injured Johnny Bench.

 Find yourself in need of help during a difficult situation? Call a plumber Plummer. William Francis, that is. Just ask former pitcher Clay Carroll, whom Bill rescued once in a bar fight by throwing a right cross that "floored one rambunctious soul as well as two or three others packed tight behind him."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #25: Blake Street Baserunners

One of the best things in sports is the element of surprise. An underdog beats Goliath during March Madness; a 5'7 guard defeats the Human Highlight Film for the Slam Dunk Competition; a trade following their 4th Stanley Cup in 5 years sends the Great One to SoCal. Today we are at number 25 in our countdown to 2017 Topps.

Following two disappointing seasons marred by injuries and inconsistencies at the plate, no one expected Andres Galarraga to do the things he did for the first-year Colorado Rockies. Despite missing 40 or so games with injury, El Gato Grande flirted with .400 much of the season before taking the N.L. Batting Title with a .370 mark- the highest for any right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio led the majors at .381 during the 1939 season. Galarraga would never hit for that high of an average again (who would?), but subsequent years would prove that '93 was no fluke.

Pulling a card of Galarraga from a pack of 1994 Topps would bring with it an element of surprise. The defending batting champ was also a slick fielder, so one would expect to see a photo of the former Gold Glove first baseman picking a low throw from third or stretching to grab a ball just before a runner crosses the bag. Collectors would be even more likely to expect a photo of the Cat at the plate, unleashing his fury upon a 92 MPH fastball. But instead, Topps threw us a curve in a fastball count and gave us this photo of Andres sliding in to third base. But upon further reflection, perhaps the photo selection wasn't so strange. Though not a burner, the large man did possess surprising speed for his size and finished his career with 128 stolen bases, with a career high of 18 coming during the 1996 season.

When watching football, we are not surprised to see a very large athlete who possesses a lot of speed. In fact, it's almost a given these days that a defensive lineman will run a low-5/40 during the NFL combine. But, for some reason, a large slugger with 'sneaky speed' is unheard of. And that's the beauty behind this 23 year-old piece of cardboard.