Sunday, January 22, 2017

Awesome night card, pt. 269: RIP ... again

I haven't done much with my Awesome Night Card series the last two months. It's not easy spinning a post off of a single card. And while I get inspired periodically to produce something meatier than "hey check out this night card!", it usually doesn't get much play because I'm guessing the readership thinks, "oh, here's just another night card again."

So I've moved on and nobody seems to mind.

But it's taken something awful for me to return to why I do these things in the first place.

As you likely know, Royals flamethrower Yordano Ventura was killed in auto accident Saturday night in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25. This is happening far too often.

Ventura was a controversial figure in baseball. He was animated, some would say combatant, and not afraid to provoke. Sure, he could be considered over the top, but basically, he was my kind of player.

As you know, I like pitchers. I like pitchers who are confident in their stuff and are not afraid to actually pitch. I like pitchers who don't care what batters think. I like pitchers who think they're the boss of the pitcher-batter relationship. I like pitchers with style as long as they don't take it too far.

Ventura had style. His pitching motion ended with a high, swinging leg kick. He probably took his bravado too far, provoking in certain situations, although in some cases if he was ignored we wouldn't have the on-field fights we do. But everyone has to pay attention every little "slight."

It's a fact that Ventura's talent helped the Royals win a World Series. He had many fans in K.C. and his native country. They liked his energy. He was one of those beloved people who could draw people to him. It's those kinds of people who can achieve great things.

It's also a fact that Ventura's style made great baseball cards. The above card is one of my favorites of all of 2015. If Stadium Club hadn't been around that year (Ventura has another nice card in that set), I would have been tempted to crown it card of the year.

Strangely, I never dedicated an Awesome Night Card post to it although I have shown the card at least four separate times and praised it just about every time.

So, now, it's an Awesome Night Card, headed to the night card binder.

And so is this card, as miscut as it is.

I don't know the details of Ventura's accident, other than to look up the rate of auto accidents in the Dominican Republic, which is alarming (former player Andy Marte also died in an auto accident the very same day). I hope I'm wrong, but there seems to be an even greater sense of immortality among the young these days. More and more youngsters think they're a superstar. Live fast, die young. As much as I admired Ventura's swagger, the ego is a double-edged sword.

The online community has flipped out about the rate of deaths of celebrities in the last year or so. I can't help but notice that if famous people would take care of themselves a little better, famous people wouldn't be dropping on us as quickly. (Same goes for non-famous people).

We need a few more Tom Hanks. Or at least pay attention more often to the Tom Hanks.

Living slow and dying old is cool, too.

RIP, Ace Ventura. Too young, too young.


Night Card Binder candidate: Yordano Ventura, 2015 Topps, #78, 2014 Topps, #265
Do they make they binder?: They do.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

SSP: Super SP or Stupid SP?

I mentioned in the last post that I received some cards from Royals and Randoms. The star of the package was this short-print of Clayton Kershaw from last year's flagship set. Josh pulled it out of a repack, which doesn't amaze me too much anymore as I've seen all kinds of cool things come out of repacks over the years.

This card is more rare than your average Allen & Ginter/Heritage short-print. It's known as an "SSP" in hobby abbreviation lingo, which stands for "super short-print," although many times I've called it a "stupid short-print."

I am conflicted about these like I am about many modern day inventions in the hobby. On one hand the card is indisputably stellar. I've been a fan of card variations since the late 1970s when I first saw Burger King cards. There is nothing that will turn my head quite like a different photo of the same player on the same design.

But on the other hand -- the stupid hand -- there is the intentional rarity, the selecting of a photo that is quite appealing but limiting it in order to get people to spend more money for it. That kind of cynicism is what killed the hobby that I knew in the '70s and '80s.

I would much rather have photos like this in the base set. Flagship sets are filled with action photos, no doubt fully supported by MLB, which wants to make sure we think these players are superheroes (but with hearts of gold). But growing up collecting in the '70s and '80s, I saw a mix of action, candid and posed photos. I still prefer that.

But in order to get candid photos like players hanging out in the dugout blowing bubbles, I have to shell out extra money.

We did not shell out extra money for blowing bubbles in the '70s and '80s. Heck we didn't even do it in the '90s.

Those are all cards of players blowing bubbles ... in the base set. There was no need to spend $12 to buy one of these cards.

Don't get me wrong, Clayton Kershaw's 2015 Topps base card is terrific.

I called it "beautiful" the moment I pulled it from a pack.

I also known that there are still some candid photos in Topps flagship. I guess I'd just like more of a mix. When I see an SSP of a player blowing a bubble or juggling baseballs or wearing goofy glasses, my mind goes right to the hundreds of closeups of pitchers efforting on the mound, one weird strained face after another with nothing to differentiate the players except the uniform colors (i.e. their superhero cape).

Saving all the cool cards for the super/stupid short-prints just says that Topps (and many collectors now) doesn't care about the base set.

I'll still say variations are cool -- because dammit my brain still says they are -- but I sure wish I didn't have to pay the asking price for those.

Fortunately, with Kershaw's SSP I was able to work out a trade. Writing this blog pays off again.

I got a few more cards in the package to go with Stupid-Super Kersh.

Josh must've been eating a lot of sunflower seeds in the early '90s. These never cease to crack me up.

Woooo. Prospects in logo-less uniforms! That was a bright idea.

A clean white swatch from former hobby sensation Kaz Ishii. If you want to know how little people care about 2002, just look up the prices on Kaz Ishii cards.

This is one of my favorite Shawn Green relics. And I've seen a lot of Shawn Green relics.

Finally, a pocket schedule. From last year's Dodger season. Yay!

This is reminiscent of a Dodger yearbook from my youth:

Note the price on that yearbook.

That's not going to buy any SSPs.

Friday, January 20, 2017

My records have always been cooler than me

I've been trying to fill up one of the itunes gift cards I received for Christmas. I tend to search for obscure pop music from my younger days when I get one of those things, and it's a process. I usually head right to the '70s or '80s and start scanning old charts.

Then, the other day, I thought "why don't I try something in the '90s? How about 1993? I still liked pop music in '93, maybe there's something obscure there." So I pulled up a chart from that time and started scrolling. And then I stopped scrolling, because it was one song after another that I never liked. I think my separation with pop music began when artists started purposely misspelling song titles and their own band name. I couldn't relate anymore.

Today, I don't even bother keeping up with popular songs, not even more adult-friendly issues. And it's been a recent development. Instead, I've hauled a bunch of old records out of the attic and started playing on the new record player I received as a gift last year. I may be accused of being stuck in the past, but you'll get there, too. After awhile, it's just too much work to keep up, what with everything else going on, and it's nice to revisit the music that made sense.

Earlier this week, I saw on Twitter that people were sharing the 10 albums from their teenage years that made a lasting impact on them. Then I saw the same thing on Facebook. Then I saw Gavin from Baseball Card Breakdown do the same.

Only Gavin incorporated baseball cards with his 10 albums, because just 10 albums wouldn't be a baseball card post now would it?

His post is something like what I do with "Match the Song Title," in which I pick out a certain album and then try to pair up a card with each song on the album. So I know I could do this 10-albums-from-high-school-that-made-a-lasting-impact-with-baseball-card-to-match thing. It was just a matter of compiling everything.

I decided to limit the 10 to my high school years. If you're talking the span from 13 to 19 years of age, that covers a wide territory in which tastes very greatly. Too much to choose and reconcile. So we're going with 10 from high school. That's tough enough.

The music world was very different at that time than it is now, or even during the '90s. When I was in high school, there was no youtube to share the most esoteric band in the world, most people didn't even have cable. MTV was born halfway into my high school career. You listened to the latest music on the radio -- the pop station or the rock station. That was about it.

That means just about everyone you knew shared the same music. There was no splintering of musical tastes into 78 subcategories. The album you played in your bedroom was likely the same one being played in five bedrooms on your block. Sure there was still variety, but it was Topps-Donruss-Fleer variety, not Pacific issuing 14 sets in one year variety.

So that's enough set-up. The cards I found to go with the albums are my own and ones that I've had for awhile. I'm too poor to show "latest pick-ups" like Gavin did.


1. TUSK, Fleetwood Mac (released Oct. 12, 1979)

"Tusk" was released amid much anticipation. There was no bigger pop band at the time and it had been three years since Fleetwood Mac released its biggest LP, "Rumors". Tusk was a double-album and a departure for the group, not as melodic as previous efforts. I didn't have a lot of experience with pop music at the time, but the first single, "Tusk" with its nearly mumbled opening, its marching band finale and musicians belting out "TUSK" seemingly at random was about as weird as anything I had heard at the time. Still, there are songs on that record that have stayed with me for decades. "Sara" in particular is that weird song that I will never get sick of, and I will never hit "skip" when I hear it on my ipod.

Why this card goes with this album: The marching band in the "Tusk" song is the USC marching band. Bobby Mitchell, a big prospect for the Dodgers in the early '80s, played at USC when this album was being made.

2. THE WALL, Pink Floyd (released Nov. 30, 1979)

As a teenager, you couldn't find a song that spoke to you more directly than "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)". To hear "we don't need no education, we don't need no thought control" coming out of the radio when I was a freshman in high school was the greatest high. Yes! Rise up! Damn teachers! The rest of the album was a bit beyond me at the time, but songs like "Comfortably Numb" and "Hey You" resonated through all of those teen-angst years to come. The tale of "Pink" is a dark one full of weird and familiar sounds and voices. In a strange way, it felt like home.

Why these cards go with this album: Did you know six people with the last name "Wall" have appeared in the majors and two of them were Dodgers? And both Dodgers were pitchers? And each of their careers lasted three years?

3. CRIMES OF PASSION, Pat Benatar (released Aug. 5, 1980)

I was a fan of Pat Benatar from the first time I heard "Heartbreaker" on the radio in the first days of 1980. That song arrived on Benatar's debut LP, "In the Heat of the Night," with "Crimes Of Passion" arriving later in the year. "Crimes" was Benatar's biggest album and is known for her biggest song "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." I prefer her other two singles "You Better Run" (the second video ever played on MTV) and "Treat Me Right." Then the radio station would play "Hell Is For Children" and I still don't know what my parents thought of hearing some woman scream "HELL is for HELL!" from my stereo.

Why these cards go with this album: I've seen many a baseball brawl in my day, but I don't think I've ever seen a punch connect so clearly with the face of another player than when Jose Bautista was hit with Rougned Odor's best shot.

4. MOVING PICTURES, Rush (released Feb. 12, 1981)

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took the bus to and from school. It was about a 7-mile drive each way. There were two or three kids in the back of the bus who played tapes on the boom box they brought on the bus. It was always the same groups: Styx, Genesis, Loverboy and Rush. I must have heard "Tom Sawyer" every day for 88 days that year. I really had no idea who Rush was before those bus rides. But I owe those kids my fandom today. Rush's most popular LP is my favorite Rush album to this day.

Why this card goes with this album: Bob Rush never knew during his playing career that he would have such an awesome last name. P.S.: If I had a card of Rob Zastryzny, I'd add him here as he might be the only major league player with "YYZ" in his last name.

5. PARADISE THEATER, Styx (released Jan. 19, 1981)

Another album played by the boys in the back of the bus, "Paradise Theater" was a visually cool album with its "time passage" front cover/back cover and the band's name "Styx" etched on the actual vinyl. I never liked the single "Best Of Times" (it annoyed me when I heard it on the radio). But I loved "Too Much Time On My Hands," a song that I may get nostalgic over more than any other given my current state. This album began a love affair with Styx for a couple of years. The band gets ripped as one of those over-the-top arena rockers, and their concept albums were maybe too earnest. But teenagers at the time ate it up.

Why this card is with this album: Willie Wilson was one of the cocaine addicts outed by the Pittsburgh Drug Trials in the mid-1980s. One of Paradise Theater's most famous songs is "Snowblind," a song about cocaine addiction. If you played the song backwards, the rumors said, you'd hear satanic messages. I played it backwards. I didn't hear anything evil. But I was freaked out that I might have messed up the record.

6. TIME, Elo (Released July 1981)

By 1981, I had purchased six previous ELO records -- seven if you included that embarrassing Xanadu soundtrack. "Time" was the first ELO album whose arrival I anticipated. I was pretty damn excited. "Time" is a concept album about a man trapped in the year 2095, and all the songs have futuristic aspects, which I thought was totally cool. I probably play ELO now as much as I did as when I was a teenager in my room. "Rain Is Falling" is still one of my favorite ELO singles. There is a lyric in "The Way Life's Meant To Be" that says "I wish I was back in 1981." It's not 2095 yet, but I know exactly how the singer feels.

Why this card with this album: "Ticket To The Moon" is a track on this album. Thanks to baseball cards, I have a ticket to Wally Moon. Several of them.

7. TOTO IV, Toto (released April 8, 1982)

This album is here for really one reason and one reason only. The first time I heard the song "Africa" on the radio I could barely take it. The next day, I walked the two miles to Kmart and bought Toto IV. I don't know how many times I played "Africa" after that, but I don't think I was more pleased with owning one single song than I was with that song. The rest of the album didn't do much for me, although I probably liked it better back then. "Africa" though has stood the test of time. People 20 to 30 years younger than me love the song, my daughter included.

Why this card is with this album: To date, no native African has played in the majors. But thanks to the World Baseball Classic, I have a card of a baseball-playing African.

8. RIO, Duran Duran (released May 10, 1982)

The pop musical landscape was changing in the early '80s -- from disco and arena rock to new wave and sappy duets. I naturally leaned toward new wave. "The Second British Invasion" was right in my record groove. I used to listen to a countdown show from England to stay up on bands like The Jam, Slade and Ultravox. Although Duran Duran was criticized as super polished and shallow, the slick, worldly songs appealed to me. I played "Rio" a lot. It appeals to the romantic in me. And the videos were cool.

Why this card goes with this album: I admit I don't pay much attention to Duran Duran lyrics, and for the title song "Rio," the only thing I know off the top of my head besides "cherry ice cream smile" is "across the Rio Grande." The Rio Grande travels through El Paso, Texas. There have been several players from El Paso, Texas. I picked Frank Castillo because his 1993 Upper Deck card is kind of different.

9. WAR, U2 (released Feb. 28, 1983)

By 1983, I had migrated completely to album-oriented radio, soaking in new bands like The Fixx, Zebra and Planet P. One of those new bands was U2, who actually had released a couple of albums already. But my introduction to U2 was "War," an album that embodies its title vigorously. It is not a happy album. Hopeful in parts, but pretty dismal. Its strident message of peace amid war appealed to me and I set out to find previous U2 albums. It wasn't long before U2 was my favorite band, and if you were to ask me now who my favorite band of all-time is, after going on about how I couldn't possible name one, I'd probably settle on U2. Even if you find the band's earnestness off-putting, there is so much awesome in their career. And it all started for me in the winter of 1983.

Why this card is with this album: The second song on the album is called "Seconds" and it's about nuclear proliferation and destruction. ("It takes a second to say goodbye. Say goodbye."). The sad tale of Tommy Hanson comes to mind here, only because I was astonished by how little was said about Hanson when he died at age 29 in 2015. There were a few stories about him, sure, but this was a guy in 2009 that I read about like he was the next Nolan Ryan. Odes to him on the blogs and everywhere. And now, next to nothing? It takes a second to say goodbye.

10. SYNCHRONCITY, The Police (released June 17, 1983)

"Synchronicity" was released the week I graduated from high school, so it barely qualifies here. But I can't leave a Police record out of the top 10. Zenyatta Mondatta and Ghost in the Machine both came out when I was in high school, but I didn't get into those albums until later. Synchronicity I listened to from first song to last over and over. Every song on this album is like a book unto itself. There are lots of differences between songs. The album was insanely popular but I bet a lot of people who bought it for "Every Breath You Take" were quite surprised.

Why this card goes with this record: I've mentioned before that one of the Police band members, Andy Summers, shares my birthday. Well, on the day I was researching this post, I received a package from Royals and Randoms that contained the above Barry Sanders card. Barry Sanders also shares my birthday. Is that synchronicity or what? (Actually, I don't think that fits the definition of synchronicity at all, but it's still cool!).

So those are 10 albums that left a lasting impact. Back when albums were a big deal and more than 17 people bought them.

Like Baseball Card Breakdown, I invite you to do the same. Although it's a lot of work.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Long may he Raines

I'm taking a bit of risk by assuming about three hours before the announcement that Tim Raines has been selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame today and compiling an entire post about him with absolutely no backup plan.

But the signs have been overwhelmingly positive for Raines' selection, so I don't feel too out on a limb. Besides, the other guys with the best chance of entering are '90s guys, and I have so little to say about most of those players. Certainly not enough for an entire post. I don't want all those mullets all over my blog.

Raines is different. He is a holdover from the '80s. When he first reached the majors, I was 14 years old. The rookies of that period were my people, the new stars that I could witness from the start, not some hand-me-downs from an earlier era.

Raines, if you don't remember or amazingly haven't heard, was an eye-popping star from the start. He stole 71 bases his rookie year in 1981, which sounds not that astonishing until the next part of that sentence, which is " ... in 88 games!" There was a strike that year, you know. And he sat out with a hand injury near the end of the season.

But don't let me say it. Here, take a look at the back of Raines' 1982 Donruss card:

Yup. Keep in mind Rickey Henderson showed up just 2 years earlier. And Fernando Valenzuela was a rookie in '81, too.

I've dedicated several blog posts to Raines, from the sudden decision to call him "Rock" on his baseball cards to his rookie card's remarkable resemblance to another teammate's card the very same year. So, it's about time he be recognized in the Hall.

And there is nowhere else you can go to see Raines' finest baseball cards (at least the finest in my collection), but here.

So let's take a look at 10 of my favorites, in honor of the 10 years it took Raines to be named to the Hall. I  definitely have more than 10 favorite Raines cards, so I fully expect this list to change while I am making it.

Also, I am starting with the my favorite Raines card -- which also happens to be the best Raines card -- and working my way down, as opposed to the reverse order I usually do. I simply can't bury this card:

1. 1993 Upper Deck

That might be one of the best cards to come out of the last 25 years. I cannot find a single thing wrong with it ... other than that he should be in an Expos uniform.

2. 1981 Donruss

I was there when Tim Raines' 1981 Donruss card was released, so let me tell you how it went down.

I pulled it out of a pack, obviously, probably at Monroe Market. Young baseball fans like me knew who Tim Raines was at the time. He was one of the new stars of baseball, but it was strange hearing all of that praise for Raines contrasted against the back of his baseball card that said his lifetime batting average was .050.

3. 1981 Topps Traded

This is a beautiful card. Colorful as an MTV video. As full of promise as ... well, spring training. And it took a long time to land, because the '81 Traded set was not available in stores. You had to have a subscription to Baseball Digest or some similar baseball publication and spot an advertisement so you could fill out an order form and wait for it to come in the mail in like 8 weeks.

4. 1986 Topps

Another hopeful card. I don't think I've ever seen Raines happier than on this card, regardless of what appears to be a gigantic bandage on his elbow. He's ready to go.

5. 1984 Fleer

Would you like to know the first time Tim Raines is shown in a red Expos batting practice jersey on a baseball card? You're looking at it. Oh, sure, he's wearing the red jersey in a couple of 1983 stickers, but those don't count. I need Raines in red in a batting cage in the vicinity of a random dude in slacks shown ON cardboard.

6. 1992 Stadium Club

If you can get baseball players and scenery together in one photo, you're living right. Raines' White Sox uniforms weren't the most colorful, so I get the feeling the photographers had to work a little more to make pictures interesting.

7. 1984 O-Pee-Chee All-Star

The best aspect about Expos players in the '80s is that they almost always had OPC cards, too. This one is particularly great because there is French on the front of the card (please note the color contrast between each card).

8. 1989 O-Pee-Chee

More OPC. This time it's the first time that Raines is referred to as "Rock" on a baseball card. This habit would continue with Topps (and also OPC for a bit) into the '90s. It was all very weird and I think everyone realized the insanity of it all around 1993, but, man, it was a strange four years.

9. 1995 Topps

Until now, you haven't seen Raines on the basepaths. Those cards do exist (1983 Topps, 1991 Upper Deck and a bunch of others). But they just didn't make the cut. This is a staged photo of Raines on the bases. By now he was long a veteran and something like this works for someone who had well over 600 stolen bases at the time.

10. 1982 Topps Highlight

Who doesn't like having their achievements preserved on paper? As someone lucky enough to win a couple of awards, I know I am a sucker for plaques and parchment. And if I was a baseball player, I'd be a sucker for a highlights card. There it is for everyone to see. 71 stolen bases as a rookie. No need to turn the card over. It's right there. Forever.

OK, that didn't feel nearly complete in terms of my favorite Raines cards, so here are some more:

That last one is great. Tim Raines is 5-8. But you get the feeling he is 5-4 in this photo (Eric Davis is 6-2).

Raines is a throwback in a few ways. He was short. And his calling card was the stolen base, something highly valued and praised in the '80s but not so much now. Plus, he played for a team that doesn't exist anymore.

I'm quite happy he'll be in the Hall of Fame. As an Expo. And, sure, I'm happy for those other guys, too. No mullets on the plaques please.

Oh, and I apologize about the title for this post. That was a risk that didn't really pay off.