Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Mets and Yankees are my childhood

Last month, I joined Johnny's Trading Spot's edition of the Big Fun Game despite being extraordinarily busy with little time to pay mind to baseball card drafts and such.

My fear in joining was that I'd be so distracted that I'd end up with basketball cards or Garbage Pail Kids cards, something that I look at the way my dog looks at me when I tell him he can't have the grape that fell on the floor because it might kill him.

I think Johnny feared that's exactly what had happened when my pick yielded a bunch of 1975 SSPC cards of the Mets and Yankees. My dislike for the Yankees goes way back and is well-known. My dislike for the Mets is much milder but spikes wildly anytime they face the Dodgers in the postseason.

However, the 1970s is the great neutralizer, especially the mid-1970s, especially 1975, the very first year I started buying packs of cards. These are cards and players straight from the first time that I started making an association between the players on the picture cards and the ones on the TV in the rec room.

Not to fear, Johnny. These are the two teams I saw most often when I was a kid.

I grew up with the Mets and Yankees of the 1970s.

Like any young baseball fan of that time, I saw baseball on network TV twice a week -- the Game of the Week on NBC on Saturdays and Monday Night Baseball on ABC on Mondays. Half the time Monday Night Baseball wasn't even on, so it was Game of the Week and that's it.

But when I'd go to visit my grandparents about 20 miles down the road, their TV carried WPIX and WOR out of the New York City area. PIX carried the Yankees and WOR the Mets. When we'd visit, we'd try to watch the Mets as that was my grandfather's team and -- duh -- why watch the stupid Yankees? But the Yankees were on more often so I ended up watching more of those games.

So Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer are my childhood, just as Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy are. Kiner's Corner and cannolis and Holy Cow, that's what I think of when I see the cards I received from Johnny's Big Fun Game.

Living in Upstate New York in the '70s, you're raised on the Mets and Yankees, even if your favorite team is 3,000 miles away. You had no choice. It tested your allegiance. But I was strong. Because there wasn't 500 cable stations and internet streaming.

These are the Mets cards I received:

There are 22 cards in the Mets set, so this is basically a starter's set. I'm missing some the key cards: Jesus Alou, Tom Seaver, George Stone, Bob Apodaca, Felix Millan, Yogi Berra and Joe Torre.

But I do have the Gene Clines, glove-on-head card!! For a long time, I thought that card was in the main 1976 SSPC set (since all SSPC sets lack a design on the front during this time period), and I was disappointed when I figured out that wasn't true.

For those curious who these guys are, in order, from top to bottom: John Milner, Hank Webb, Tom Hall, Rusty Staub, Wayne Garrett, Del Unser, Ed Kranepool, Dave Kingman, John Stearns, Gene Clines, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones, Mike Phillips, Ricky Baldwin and Jon Matlack.

The '75 season is just before I started watching games on TV, so I associate more with the more recent Mets acquisitions like Stearns and Kingman. However, the '75 Topps Mets were some of my favorites, thanks to a friend of mine who was a Mets fan, so it's great fun to have another '75 version of Wayne Garrett and Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman and John Milner.

Now, here are the Yankees I received:

Again, this is a starter set, so out of the 23 cards, I'm missing Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella and Fred Stanley.

But I have some tremendous ones in childhood favorite Roy White, "No-Neck" Williams and that incredible outlier Dick Tidrow, taken at a spring training park at dusk.

This was very weird time in Yankees history as old Yankee Stadium was being overhauled and the Yankees had to play all their home games at Shea Stadium. That's why most of the pictures are at Shea Stadium (SSPC managed to crop out the Mets logo on the scoreboard, or just make sure the players weren't posed in front of the scoreboard). I wonder how much shock and babble would occur if the Yankees had to do something like that today?

Anyway, you want to know the names of the players. From the top: Ron Blomberg, Ed Brinkman, Bobby Bonds, Ed Herrmann, Larry Gura, Roy White, Rick Dempsey, Elliott Maddox, Bill Virdon, Pat Dobson, Chris Chambliss, Doc Medich, Sandy Alomar, Jim Mason, Alex Johnson, Sparky Lyle, Walt "No Neck" Williams, Graig Nettles, Dick Tidrow.

By this stage, owner George Steinbrenner had begun acquiring players at a rapid rate, although a lot of the early guys, like Brinkman, Bonds, Dobson, Johnson and Williams didn't stick. This is before the Bronx Zoo era so I don't hold much animosity for this crew. There's no Jackson. No Rivers. No Randolph. Way before Gossage. But the signs are there with Chambliss, Nettles and Lyle.

It was fun actively rooting against the Yankees while watching the Yankees' own broadcast as a kid. I felt like I had thwarted all of their propaganda. Say all the nice things about the Yankees you want, boys, I'm still rooting for the Red Sox. Or the Brewers. Or the Royals. Anybody other than you, really. Good times.

When we watched the Mets at my grandparents, it was much more relaxed. Unless they were playing the Dodgers, I merely took in the game, with no real rooting interest. It felt more like what watching a baseball game should be.

First discovering baseball as a kid, anytime I was aware there was a game on TV, I had to watch it. Who knew when that time would come again? Often, I'd have to wait an entire week for the chance to see another game. Thank goodness the Mets and Yankees were there for me.

So, yeah, these cards are as perfect as Mets and Yankees cards could be.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

🌟🌟🌟 Still excited 🌟🌟🌟

The other day, I let someone sucker me into following a link about how we can "fix" the All-Star Game.

I think you know, I loathe this kind of "fixing" talk, especially when it comes to baseball and especially when it comes to the most exciting game of the summer for me. The author of the article is not one of my favorites (famous baseball card collector, former SportsCenter host, you know who I'm talking about), so I knew where this was going right away.

His suggestion for "fixing" the game was to copy what the NHL is doing for its All-Star Game now. Honestly, I'm not 100 percent sure what they're doing, but it's not a real hockey game. It's some sort of one-period playoff involving some all-stars, and then there's another one-period playoff with other all-stars and then we eventually reach the final and a winner, without ever really playing an actual game.

So he says, play two three-inning "games" with four separate groups of all-stars and then the winners play each other in a winner-take-all three-inning "game."

I think we've found the gimmick of all gimmicks.

I know it's an exhibition game. But this?

I get why the NHL is doing this. Almost nobody pays attention to their league in the U.S. and especially their All-Star Game, so they need to create some sort of buzz. But even though the baseball All-Star Game doesn't hold the thrill that it did back in the 1970s and the 1980s, thanks to interleague play, there's no reason to blow it up and re-portion it into baby-sized pieces for the ADD crowd. (How about get rid of interleague play instead? No chance of that I suppose). No other All-Star Game can match it.

Despite all of the tinkering that's happened to baseball's All-Star Game, I still enjoy it immensely. Ask my family. It's all I've been talking about all day. And contrary to this particular baseball progressive's opening premise on "fixing" the ASG, I still do remember stuff about recent All-Star Games.

He asked whether I remember the MVP of the All-Star Game last year. I sure do. Robinson Cano hit a home run in the 10th inning to take the honors. It was kind of notable.

He asked whether I remember where the game was played. It was in Miami. Every 2017 Topps Update All-Star card has that fish fin logo pictured on the front.

He asked whether I remember who managed the AL last year. Well ... I knew it wasn't Terry Francona because I remembered he had health issues last year and couldn't do it. But I confess I didn't recall who his replacement was (Brad Mills).

However, memory doesn't prove anything. Half the time six months after the Super Bowl I don't remember one of the finalists. Who won the college football championship in 2016? No idea. The Masters winner in 2017? Couldn't say. I'm assuming I'll forget who won the World Cup by November.

The test for me is: am I still excited? And that answer is definitely "yes." I will watch the entire game, as I do most All-Star Games. The game may be interesting or ho-hum, the same prospects for every baseball game. But the opening thrill is still there, no matter how many pitching substitutions, no matter how many MLB-mandated sponsor interruptions. As long as it's a baseball game filled with star players, then I will be watching.

I've written several posts over the years about the All-Star Game and all-star cards. It's a way to keep that excitement that I felt for the game and the cards alive.

I'm starting to run out of topics, but I was able to latch onto one idea earlier today:

This was in reference to the 1979 Topps Don Money card. And when Phungo asked about players with just one All-Star card, I remembered I had this thought once upon a time, too.

However, it's not the easiest question to answer.

Topps has recognized All-Stars in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it creates a separate card for the All-Star, sometimes it puts an All-Star notation directly on the player's card. Sometimes it names its own All-Star team instead of recognizing the All-Star starters. Sometimes it does both in the same year. Sometimes it makes a card for everyone who played in the All-Star Game, starter or not. Sometimes it ignores All-Stars completely.

With all those variations, finding out which players had just one All-Star card is not that easy.

So, I did what Phungo probably wanted me to do in the first place -- restrict this exercise to the glory years of the All-Star card, from 1975-81. Going outside that time period just creates complications.

When I looked through the cards between 1975-81, I found 25 players who received just one all-star card.

Eight of those players were pitchers, which is understandable as pitchers are not voted in by fans but selected to start at the whim of the manager. You're bound to get someone different almost every year. So here are those eight:

Each of those pitchers started one All-Star Game. There actually should be one more, but Topps didn't give a banner to 1980 NL starter J.R. Richard in the 1981 set (instead selecting Jim Bibby).

I did go through many of the Topps 1980s sets before deciding it was much too confusing to determine which starters had one and only one card. There was Steve Rogers in 1983 (he received both an All-Star card in the 1983 Topps flagship set and 1983 All-Star glossy card). There was Charlie Lea and Lamarr Hoyt in 1985 (just a glossy card for each). Then I gave up.

For starting position players, here are the players who received just one All-Star card between 1975-81:


Jeff Burroughs and Dick Allen, both American League starters.

Dick Allen actually received another start while a member of the National League in 1967. But he didn't appear on an All-Star card. He's also on a 1974 Topps All-Star card when Topps featured both position starters (AL and NL) on the same card. But that's sharing a card so that doesn't count.


Another big year for first-time and only-time All-Star cards. Besides Jerry Reuss, we have two Yankees and two A's with their only All-Star cards.

Nettles did start another All-Star Game in 1980, filling in for elected starter George Brett, who suffered a fractured ankle.


The 1976 season was a big one for the Tigers as they received three All-Star starts (Fidrych included). But the one I was most excited about was Toby Harrah.


Besides Don Sutton, Rick Burleson is the only one-All-Star card guy. The National League was filled with established All-Stars in the 1970s (Bench, Rose, Morgan, Garvey, Luzinski, Bowa, Cey, Parker, Concepcion).


Here is the Don Money card that kicked off this post. And I still remember being blow away by Rick Monday's start to the 1978 season.

There should be one more card here. Freddie Patek started at shortstop for the American League in 1978 but did not get an All-Star banner on his card. That was his only chance, too. Poor Freddie.


A few more personal All-Star favorites with the very 2004 Topps-esque Frank White and Roy Smalley cards.


The two one-time position starters from the 1980 game are both Dodgers and the team received a big All-Star boost by hosting the game in 1980.

From there the All-Star cards get a bit muddled. In the 1982 Topps set, Fernando Valenzuela rightfully receives an All-Star card as he started the 1981 All-Star Game. But then what do I do with the 1987 Topps Valenzuela All-Star card? He didn't start that game, Dwight Gooden did.

I didn't even bother with the 1990s. Most All-Star recognition during that period was relegated to one-off cards or insert sets.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why so many people younger than me are so dismissive about the All-Star Game and why every year at this time I have to hear how the All-Star Game is boring and they don't care (the ASG is not nearly as boring as hearing about how someone doesn't care).

Perhaps for them, the All-Star Game does need "fixing," and maybe, hopefully after I'm long gone, we'll have three-inning "games."

But right now, tonight, I will be sitting in front of my TV, ready for nine innings or more. I'll have my snacks ready just like I did when I was 13 years old, and I will hope the players on the field create a new memory for me -- Dave Parker gunning down Brian Downing at the plate; John Kruk ducking out of the batters box against Randy Johnson; Fernando striking out five straight AL batters; Brian McCann's bases-loaded double in the 7th to give the NL a long-awaited victory in 2010.

I don't remember all of them. But I do remember some.

And I remember enough to want to keep coming back for more. 🌟

Monday, July 16, 2018

My day, my way

Today happens to be my birthday.

As I get older, the best aspect of my birthday is not the gifts or the cake or the party or the fawning. The best part is doing what I want to do and doing only what I want to do. There's really only two days like this on the whole calendar -- Father's Day and my birthday.

Most of the time, when someone asks me what I want to do, the word "baseball" is part of my response. Most often it's something like this: "watch baseball," or "go to a baseball game." That will take care of what I want to do.

But today -- on my birthday -- there is no baseball.

Oh, MLB thinks they have a dandy set up for my birthday: the made-for-TV Home Run Derby. But that, to me, is not baseball. It's a gimmick. If I'm bored, I'll switch it on. But this is my birthday. It's not a day for being bored. And if baseball isn't going to cooperate, then I'll take care of it myself.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the 1991 ProSet MusiCards. I had obtained about two-thirds of the set and I am intent on completing it. I also mentioned that there was a different version of this set issued in the United Kingdom. After getting a look at the checklist for the U.K. set and noting quite a few variations, I knew I had to obtain those cards, too.

I found a box of the stuff online for like 10 bucks and it arrived on my porch last week. Inside are 35 packs of music stars from the early 1990s -- U.K. style. (You know what that means: Cards of EMF! Unbelievable!).

Look at that! Isn't that wonderful? Thirty-five packs to open, filled with music stars from my youth, but with British accents.

So, since there is no baseball on TV for my birthday, I decided that I would open this wonderful box of UK cards tonight and see if I can complete the set of 150 cards (the U.S. version is 340 cards). While batters are launching their fake home runs, I'll be searching for the likes of George Michael, A-Ha and Cliff Richard.

I actually couldn't wait to get started (I have no ability to leave packs unopened in my home). So I've opened four packs already and I have to say I couldn't be more pleased with what I found. There are quite a bit of differences between the U.S. and U.K. versions, and I don't just mean the subject matter.

Let's go through the first pack to get an idea:

The first card is of Neneh Cherry of "Buffalo Stance" fame (and brother of Eagle-Eye). I don't believe she's in the U.S. set, so the U.K. set is an automatic win with the first card.

The next two cards are cards that can be found in the U.S. MusiCards set as well, except they're not quite the same.

The U.S. version is on the top. You can see that the Pro Set logo is in the top left for the U.S. set and the bottom right for the U.K. set, that's the way it is for all the cards I've seen so far. Also, you'll note that the photos are cropped differently.

The two Belinda Carlisle cards are also cropped differently but a bit less so, and you can see the U.K. card (on the left) has the Pro Set logo in the bottom right.

But the real differences come on the backs of the cards:

The U.S. card on the top features a yellow-spotted background while the U.K. cards go with a clean white background. The U.S. card adds a second photo while the U.K. set is spare. But the big difference for me is in the writing. This underlines the differences between music PR in the U.S. and the U.K. The U.S. tries to put the artist in the most favorable light possible, while the U.K. script is full of bad jokes and cheeky writing.

I found this fascinating as the difference appears on virtually every card I've pulled so far.

Let's see more from the pack:

Oh, boy, lots of goodies here.

I've added the U.S. Extreme card above the U.K. Extreme card. You'll note different photos as well as the switched logo. But that's not the most interesting difference (as the U.K. photo may also be in the U.S. set -- like I said I don't have all the U.S. cards).

The big thing for me is the change in border colors.

In the U.S. set, the border colors signify a different genre. The gold-framed cards are legends, the lime green-and-pink cards are pop stars, the green-and-purple cards are rap and soul singers, and the black-and-pink cards are rock singers and bands.

In the U.K. set, there is none of that segregation. Every card gets a lime green-and-pink border. That is awesome because that's what I know about the British music scene (or at least the way it was then, who knows what's going on now). The U.S. was/is heavily programmed. You have your rock stations, country stations, pop stations, urban stations, etc. But I remember listening to British radio back in the 1980s and there was none of that. Everybody partied together.

So Vanilla Ice may be programmed into the green-and-purple rap category in the U.S. set, but he's just a regular lime-and-pink Pro Set SuperStar, just like Madonna and Michael Jackson in the U.K. set.

Oh, and did I mention, you can't find Michael Jackson in the U.S. set?

The final four cards in the first pack are John Lennon's son, the creators of "get on, get on, get on, get on, get on my Groovy Train," some British TV personality, and the singer who invited you to Touch (Her) All Night Long in her sherbet-colored clothing.

That was tremendous fun to open and it was just the first pack.

Pack 2 yielded a card of the Divinyls, which is awesome considering that alternative acts are virtually ignored in the American set (Edit: that Divinyls card  is also in the U.S. set).

It also produced a Public Enemy card and this interesting British-styled write-up:

Ah, the days when cursing was an exception in music.

Here is another difference between "similar" cards:

No mention of yogurt or dippy-hippy times on the American card!

The fourth-and-final pack I opened featured the greatest star power thus far. Check out this run of cards:

There's no way a baseball pack can match that star power (Also the above four are not in the American set).

Plus, the U.K. set is very helpful:

Just in case you ran into Prince back in 1991, there's a spot for his autograph!

Many of the U.K. cards feature an autograph line on the back but I don't think any of the U.S. cards do.

Also in the fourth pack, I pulled my first card of Kylie!

I hope there's many more.

So, yes, during my birthday today, I opened gifts. I ate cake. I partied just a very small amount. And I'm getting ready to open a whole bunch of music stars from before the scourge of autotune and Pro Tools (Is a glitzed-up home run derby baseball's version of autotuning? Discuss).

Baseball isn't helping much today, but I'm still doing things my way. On my day.

(Unfortunately there's no card of Frank Sinatra in either set).