Sunday, March 17, 2019

ALS


We received the diagnosis on my mom last Wednesday.

She has ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Lou Gehrig's Disease.

We already knew that she had it. We've known since January. Before that we thought she might have Alzheimer's, or a nerve disease, whose complicated name I once had memorized but so much has transpired since that there's only room for knowledge of what can help my mom right now.

It's taken so long to get to this diagnosis because for so many years, my mom was in perfect health, a literal walking example of how to behave physically and mentally when you're in your 70s. My siblings and I now believe -- with the benefit of hindsight -- that she probably had this disease for two or three years already and either didn't realize it or kept it hid (we have found indications that she knew something was wrong).

So, even though it feels like it took forever for a diagnosis to be made, many others have said, "it happened so quickly."

And, yes, it's been a whirlwind since last April. And the weeks and days are now whipping by because we don't know how long we have left with her. Meanwhile, my dad, who is several years older than my mom, I don't know what to make of him. He's confused, bitter and who knows how much he's absorbed of what my mom has, even though he's completely capable of thinking for himself.

The good part -- and that's what this disease does, makes you think that there's a "good part" in all of this -- is that hospice will take over soon and we won't have to go through the financial/government dance with nursing homes. Some people diagnosed with ALS have five, seven, 10 years left to live. My mom doesn't have that kind of time, barring a miracle. She's also dealing with advanced dementia, because some people with ALS get that, too.

I'm over the shock. That probably came last summer and the endless trips home and to doctors appointments have placed me firmly into the land of reality. That's not saying that it's not tough for me and for others in my family. It's just that meltdowns don't do any good. Everyone has their problems. I just happen to have a problem that when I say what it is, everyone else stops talking about their problems.

For years -- decades -- the only person I knew with Lou Gehrig's Disease was Lou Gehrig. Then I read about another person or two. There was Tim Green, the former Syracuse and NFL player who recently made his ALS announcement. And here and there I'd hear about somebody that a friend of a friend of a friend knew.

Now my mom -- with absolutely no appreciation for baseball, not that she can absorb concepts like this anymore -- has Lou Gehrig's Disease.

I'm going to miss her.

Friday, March 15, 2019

How Upper Deck did the '70s


I said several posts ago that now that I've completed the 2001 Upper Deck Decade '70s set that I'd conduct a full examination of the set that covered the time period when I first became aware of baseball, first watched games on TV and attended them in stadiums, and first collected baseball cards.

I like this set a lot because of its colorful tribute to the '70s. It had to be something special to grab my attention during a period when I had no idea what was going on in card collecting. But, like I said a few times before, I spotted it while shopping for something else in a drug store and became fascinated with the cards.

One of the things I find most interesting about them is that it is Upper Deck paying tribute to the '70s. That was amusing to me. It's still amusing to me. I always thought of Upper Deck as believing that baseball started when they put Ken Griffey Jr. on a card and that anything before that was not important.

And if you look closely at this set, you will realize that, yeah, that is kind of the case. This is actually a deeply flawed set.

How deep?

Here are some of the players who are not featured in this 179-card tribute to the '70s:

George Brett, Rod Carew, Sparky Lyle, Mark Fidrych, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Vida Blue, Lou Whitaker, Bill Buckner, Larry Bowa, Jim Rice and Dick Allen.

That is a lot of the '70s to leave out.

I didn't realize that this was the case before examining this set for this post. I was kind of aware that Brett was nowhere to be found and also Fidrych. But I became appalled when I discovered that Carlton and Palmer and Rice were missing. As someone who grew up reading about those guys during the '70s, I can safely say that they were everywhere that decade and actually were the '70s.

But this explains a lot about the set. For anyone who has collected it, they know that several players are repeated throughout the set. Some players have 3 or 4 different cards. But I'll get into that in a little bit. Let's take a look at some of the set's basics.


The base set is 90 cards, the first 90 cards of the set. As you can see, it is numbered in alphabetical order according to team name. It is also ordered with the American League teams first, followed by the National League. This organization decision reveals what I consider another indicator that Upper Deck doesn't know the '70s so well.

Here is a page that shows some of the National League order:


Catch Upper Deck's goof?

The Brewers are grouped with the National League teams. Yes, the Brewers were a National League team in 2001, when the set was issued. But they were NOT a National League team in the '70s. They were as American League an American League team as you could get back then. It's bizarre seeing Gorman Thomas and Robin Yount grouped with notable National League players. Upper Deck just didn't have a firm handle on the '70s.

It did try though.

The set is an obvious tribute to my favorite set of all-time, 1975 Topps. It riffs off of '75 Topps' two-tone border design and offers up several border combinations just as '75 Topps did.

There are six with this set.


Green-blue


Green-purple


Yellow-orange


Yellow-green


Orange-blue


Orange-purple

Many of these are well-known '70s colors. As I write this, I can see that orange, yellow and lime-green flower-printed wallpaper in my parents' kitchen back on Chadwick Road in 1974.

I also enjoy that Upper Deck -- although missing several stars of the '70s -- did not forget some of the notable players that often get overlooked when people discuss '70s baseball.


These are all '70s standouts who rarely get credit for their '70s abilities. So, thank you Decade '70s for getting these guys in here.



The set also included several of the top rookies from that decade, even if Fidrych and Blue and Whitaker are missing.

Upper Deck covers every team that existed in the '70s in its base set. Here is the card-total breakdown according to the divisions that existed at the time:

AL East

Blue Jays - 2
Indians - 4
Orioles - 4
Red Sox - 5
Tigers  - 2
Yankees - 6
Brewers - 3

AL West

Angels - 3
A's - 6
Mariners - 1
Rangers - 3
Royals - 2
Twins - 3
White Sox - 2

NL East

Cardinals - 4
Cubs - 4
Expos - 4
Mets - 5
Phillies - 4
Pirates - 3

NL West

Astros - 2
Braves - 2
Dodgers - 5
Giants - 3
Padres - 2
Reds - 4



The set makes sure to note that baseball added two teams during the 1970s with two respective players for the Blue Jays and Mariners.

As you can see, I've shown a couple of cards with black-and-white photos. This is a drawback to the set that I noticed right away when buying those first cards. It's obvious that Upper Deck had a limited supply of photos for this set. It wasn't used to digging into the history files for its cards and it definitely didn't have the experience that Topps had.


So you got some black-and-white shots on your very colorful border design. I do like that Aparicio card, though.

Some of the set seems a bit tilted toward the early part of the '70s, although that may be my personal biased view. I didn't start following baseball until the middle of the decade, so that early '70s stuff doesn't really seem "70s" to me. But I suppose it belongs. It's just disturbing that there is no card of Cesar Cedeno or Darrell Porter or Dave Winfield.


Then there are photos that I don't even know if they're from the '70s. Especially that Seaver shot. He looks waaaay too young for the '70s.



That's more like it. Don Baylor was the 1979 MVP with the Angels. It's interesting the choices UD made because Baylor spent a lot of the decade as a member of the Orioles. He also played for the Yankees and the A's during those 10 years.

The more I examined the cards the more I noticed the missing players and the repeated photos and that Upper Deck was probably hampered by licensing.


These are the Dodgers in the base set. Where is Davey Lopes? Where is Don Sutton? Reggie Smith? Dusty Baker? Bill Buckner? Tommy John? I could do without Maury Wills, he was gone from the Dodgers by 1972. But how about Bob Welch or Joe Ferguson? (I'd ask about Mike Marshall, but he was notorious for not allowing his photo to be shown).



Then there are the Reds, the "Big Red Machine". Outside of the A's and the Yankees, they were the biggest deal in the '70s. But there are just four base cards. There is no Pete Rose (probably for MLB-legal reasons). No Davey Concepcion. No Tony Perez.

Also please note that Ken Griffey is referred to as "Ken Griffey Sr." even though nobody called him that in the '70s. That is very Upper Deck, indirectly referring to Griffey Jr.

The Griffey Sr. card is the last of the base cards. Then we get into subsets.


First there is the Rookie subset, which is 20 cards. It's mostly a regurgitation of some of the cards in the base set, but there are several new photos, like this fun one.

There are also several repeated photos. This is where you notice that UD ran out of material.


Sheesh. At least the Ron Cey image used in this subset is different from his base card.



The next subset is the "Decade Dateline" subset, which is 30 cards and my favorite of the subsets.

I like this group because it lists a bunch of notable moments from the '70s, events that I remember well and that were larger-than-life to my 11- and 12-year-old brain.


Here are several of them. All of these were BIG, BIG, NEWS.

But Decade Dateline doesn't dodge the repetitive photos.


You can see that some of the photos were recropped in a bid to give the same photo a different look.

This is especially useful when you need to use the same player three times and have only one photo:


Oh, brother.



The Award Winners subset is also 30 cards strong and recognizes '70s awards for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and in one bizarre case, a Gold Glove.

Most years from the decade get 3 different cards. For example, the 1970 awards are recognized with cards for NL MVP (Johnny Bench), AL MVP (Boog Powell) and AL Cy Young Award (Jim Perry). But there is no NL Cy Young Award card, so there is no Bob Gibson card (he does show up in the base set).

And so it goes for the rest of the years. Three awards cards for 1971 but no Vida Blue. Two awards cards for 1972 but no Dick Allen or Steve Carlton.

The 1973 awards are especially amusing as the AL MVP gets a card (Reggie Jackson) and the NL Cy Young winner gets a card (Tom Seaver), but nothing for NL MVP (Rose) or AL Cy Young Award (Palmer) or the Rookies of the Year (Gary Mathews and Al Bumbry). Instead we get this:


Out of nowhere, a card for Thurman Munson's 1973 Gold Glove, the only Gold Glove mention in the set.

Also, that is a repeated photo:


The final subset recognizes the World Series of the 1970s. It is my other favorite subset because it's another moment-in-time subset.


Also, the black border pinstripes are so cool.

There is one card for each World Series of the decade (save for one) and Upper Deck does a good job recognizing the notable moments and players for each Series.


I do not understand why there is no card for the 1979 World Series, though. This is upsetting as it's the first World Series I watched from start to finish. Also, there are several Willie Stargell cards in the set and I don't believe any of the photos were repeated so it's not like UD couldn't have come up with one more ... or, just recropped one, given its habits in the set.

The '70s Decade set also contains four different insert sets. I am attempting to complete those, too.


I have completed my favorites, the Bellbottomed Bashers and the Disco Era Dandies. But I still have a couple needs for both the Arms Race and Decade Dynasties.

Many of the insert photos are different than those for players who appear in the base set and subset. Then there is stuff like this:


However, I've always known about this with this set and I've been willing to give it a pass.

Yeah, some of the photos aren't great, and yeah, there's black-and-white pictures, and, yeah, there's a lot of guys missing, and, yeah, there's a lot of photos repeated, but ... it's THE '70s, MAN!!!!

I can spot new stuff every time I look at these cards because that's what the '70s were like.


Three different Indians uniforms, because it's the '70s.



Guys with the same team from opposite ends of the decade that might as well seem like they're opposite ends of the century because that's how long the '70s were to me.

I hope I'm not coming off too critical of the set because even though it is wildly inconsistent with a lot of inperfections and very Upper Deck, it's still one of my all-time favorite sets.

That's what happens when you focus on the '70s. You have my gratitude.

And one super-long post. That could've been much, much longer.

Peace.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

C.A.: 2019 Topps Heritage American League HR Leaders

(Greeting on National Pi Day. I am woefully unprepared for this occasion and I have no pie. I am sad. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 279th in a series):


Baseball announced today a set of rules changes, which are mostly minor enough that I have little problem with any of them.

Forcing a reliever to face at least three batters is perfectly OK with me. I can't stand how pitching changes drag out games. The move to a single trade deadline is good with me, too. That trade waiver deadline thing has confused me since I was a young fan in the '70s. Also, one uniform roster of 28 players each September is fine. The million dollar prize award for the home run derby doesn't matter to me because anything that isn't related to "get rid of the home run derby" doesn't register. It's a non-factor in a non-event.

The one thing that I don't like is sticking a runner on second in extra innings in the All-Star Game. That is just foolish talk and isn't helping anything. I also see myself growing tired with the "stages of voting" for all-stars.

All of this is meant to help grow what some consider a stagnant game and also to help negotiations with the Players Association ahead of the next collective bargaining agreement.

That's a good thing -- I don't think anyone wants a strike -- but none of these announced changes fix what I consider the most annoying part of the current game:

All the home runs.

The "blast-off" mentality of the current game -- mostly about how offense seems to be all home runs and nobody can perform basic hitting tasks, like an opposite-field single -- is ruining my watching enjoyment. I do not like how I'm forced to wait for someone to hit a home run for any team to have a rally. That is not my idea of baseball and it makes every hitter appear one-dimensional.


Here is the back of the 2018 Heritage American League Home Run hitters card. It documents in great detail the 50 top home run hitters for the AL in 2018.

As someone who grew up during the so-called "second dead ball era" of the 1970s and early 1980s, seeing the 50th-place hitter with 20 home runs is shocking.

The average number of home runs hit by those 50 players is 26.44. There are a total of 1,322 home runs. The high-end of the leaders is not exceedingly high. There are just three players with 40 or above, and 13 players with 30 or above.

The stunning part to me -- again, this is someone who as a kid was watching players lead the league with 36 homers -- is the sheer number of players with between 20 and 29 home runs. That total is 37. Thirty-seven! That seems insane.


Here is the borrowed image of the 1970 Topps Home Run Leaders card (I don't have this card yet). Those are three, well-known fearsome sluggers.

Here is the back of that card:


There are 52 players listed on the back of this card -- two more than on the Heritage card. But you'll notice that the last players on the list have just 11 home runs. Even though there are more players with 40-or-more home runs on this card, as compared with the 2019 Heritage card, the total home runs amount to just 1,056, nearly 300 less home runs in 1969 than what happened in 2018. And the total home runs average to 20.31.

Also, there are just 14 players with between 20-29 home runs. That says to me that the amount of super-sluggers are the same, but all those guys who used to hit 12 or 13 or 14 home runs have now graduated to 25 or 26 or 27.

I don't really like that.

Still I can't justify my perception that all I see is home runs when I watch games these days.

I checked out the hitting averages for a typical game in 1969 and in 2018 for the American League on baseball-reference.

In 1970, there were 0.85 home runs per game. In 2018 there were 1.19 home runs per game. That's a difference but 2018 isn't an exceptional average. AL players averaged 1.30 homers every game last year and even 1.21 HRs/per game as far back as 1996.

So I thought, maybe the HR is a greater percentage of the number of hits in an average game these days. I don't have time or the ability to do an exhaustive study of this, but I didn't find the home run swallowing up all the other forms of hitting either, at least not comparing 1969 with 2018.

In 1969, AL teams were averaging 8.28 hits per game. In 2018, they were averaging 8.48. In 1969, teams averaged 1.76 doubles per game and 0.16 triples per game. In 2018, the AL teams averaged 1.23 doubles per game and 0.19 triples per game. I don't see a lot of difference.

However, the home run totals on that 2018 Heritage card still aggravate me. They aggravate me because I keep hearing about how hitters are having more and more problems countering the specialized pitching. Yet I see all the home runs and the average batting average for a game in 1969 was .246 while the batting average for a game in 2018 was .249.

That .249 batting average marks a steady decline from the late 1970s, so maybe hitters have a point. But I would have more sympathy for them if I saw more singles in my games today and fewer home runs. And eliminating the shift is not the answer. Hitters should learn to counter the shift other than just hit the ball over the wall.

Lowering the mound isn't the answer either.

I understand that this may be just me stuck in the past, wishing baseball could be played the way it was when my favorite '70s and '80s ballplayers roamed the field.

But you can't change the way I feel about the current game. It looks like some video game and I don't watch baseball for video game highlights. I want to see five-single rallies and it feels like I never see that anymore.

If this is the way the game is trending -- if this is the way to attract "younger viewers" -- then I am pretty sure I will stop watching. I don't mind things like pitch clocks and roster adjustments, etc. But anything that tilts the game in favor of one side or another will lose me for good.

I appreciate baseball scrapping the one-batter reliever. I think moving away from specialization is a good thing. I would like the same thing to happen to all the hitters who specialize in only hitting home runs.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

When technology fails


Today, I'm told, is the 30th anniversary of the birth of the World Wide Web.

What a wonderful invention that was. You wouldn't be reading blog post No. 4,222 of Night Owl Cards without it. Where would I be, where would my collection be, where would my bank account be (that's debatable) without good, old WWW.

That said, I'm fully prepared if this all breaks down tomorrow. I'm ready to collect by myself with a notebook and a pen, 1988-style, when somebody pulls the plug on the internet and we can't get it back. I'm prepared because I just plain expect technology to fail.

I think many of us are like that. We rely on technology. We think technology is great. We sing its praises. But underneath it all, we're waiting for it to fail. There is a well-known and immensely popular book titled "When Technology Fails," which is one of those lighthearted disaster-survival reads. There are oft-repeated throw-away lines about technology such as, "(insert gadget name) were made to fail." People expect technology to eventually be unreliable.

I expect my computer to fail ... someday. I had to upgrade my phone after less than four years of owning it and everyone thought that was a no-brainer decision. "They're made to fail." I'm perpetually surprised when I turn on my printer and it still works.

Cars, appliances, every gadget you can imagine, we're waiting for the day for when we flip that switch and ... nothing.

That's why when people laud baseball cards of the '90s for their "technology" and "innovation," I either ignore it or look at it side-eyed. Firstly, I've never collected cards for "technology" or "innovation." That '90s stuff can be fun, but I grew up believing a baseball card was a photograph slapped onto actual cardboard with some typewritten numbers on the back. That was innovation from the turn of the century -- the 19th century -- and I was fine with it. I AM fine with it.

Besides, I know, that eventually, technology will fail.

I have an example (of course I do).

In 1993, Topps introduced the world to Finest, a brand that brought us shiny cards and "refractors" and artificial scarcity.

Refractors were a new concept and they were introduced using the phrases "refractor technology" or "chromium technology." To this day, I don't know what that is. I know what it looks like, but I don't know how Topps makes chromium or refractors. Maybe it's because I was out of the card loop in the '90s and still am not that interested, or maybe it's some trade secret, but everything I read describes those Finest cards as consisting of "refractor technology" and that's where it stops.

Finest was so popular that it quickly branched out into other products, like the still-popular Chrome and things like Bowman's Best.

The first Bowman's Best set was issued in 1994, the year after Finest came out. Recently I receive most of the '94 Bowman's Best Dodgers set from Kerry of Cards on Cards.


Here are some of those cards. One of the "fails" of this particular technology is they still don't scan very well.

I had all of these cards already as I believe I own the full '94 Bowman's Best Dodgers set, save for the refractors, which can go for too much money.

But I'm glad I received a bunch of extras from this set because a couple of my Bowman's Best Dodgers look just a little off.


That's the '94 Bowman's Best Todd Hollandsworth that I owned before getting a nifty updated one from madding. Note the ghostly spread across his face and arm and hands. Creepy. My guess is this is caused by some sort of "technology breakdown," probably similar to when Kellogg's 3D cards crack. It's a little unpleasant.


I like this one much better. I will try to prevent it from getting the same disease as the previous Hollandsworth.

Here is an even scarier one:


Chan Ho Park's face has been fully consumed by whatever toxic plague infects '94 Bowman's Best. Part of me thought that this was just the way these cards were supposed to look -- given how odd the set is to me anyway.


But nope. After receiving this card from Cards on Cards and looking around a bit, I know that this is how the cards are supposed to look, when "chromium technology" doesn't fail.

Kerry also sent me some more recent Dodger needs, actually a few more traditional-type cards.


And here's another card I needed with that "chromium technology":


I scanned this card twice, because the first scan picked up on too much dirt on my scanner, which "chromium" cards do. And that scanned image still can't capture what chrome cards are all about -- the shine.

But I accept it. Technology is bound to fail, eventually. Sometimes you get lucky. My desktop computer is going on 11 years. (Yes, it has issues, which is why there's a laptop, too -- and a work computer -- and a phone).

And I'm happy to have this approach. I've seen too many people -- usually older people -- who get much too upset when technology fails -- or at least fails to do what they want it to do for them. This is mostly about the world passing them by, and me telling them "nothing is perfect, even technology" isn't going to soothe them.

But, really, that's just the way it is.

The card technology of today will eventually be the failure of tomorrow. The best you can hope for is a few good years that people will remember fondly when they look back. Maybe you'll get lucky and be considered "groundbreaking" or "a landmark."

You know, the way people do with Finest (I don't know if anyone does that with Bowman's Best).

And the way I do with baseball cards from the 1970s ... using that technology from 1887.