Monday, February 28, 2011

It's going to be one of those weeks

Today starts a week in which my workplace has decided that days off are highly overrated. Why do we need days off when it's such a blessing to work where we do?

Their solution for anyone who is ill-mannered enough to whine about this arrangement is to "take a day off some other time." Well, March is habitually and wonderfully stuffed with crap, so "some other time" will end up being in April. Let's hope I make it that far.

That means posts on this blog will be remarkably devoid of content. I'm not organized enough to plan posts days ahead of time, so keep your expectations low. For example, what you're getting here is a listing of a few one-card trades.

Think of it this way: how many times have you cursed me for too many images on one post? This is the opposite of that.

First, here's a card from Chris at Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz:

Very simple. It's a Finest card from 2009 of Andre Ethier. I have a parallel or two of this item, but not the base card. I do things backwards like this all the time.

Chris actually did send me a second card. It's that Ethier Co-Signers card in which his uniform number is featured as "61" on the front and "16" on the back. But I've shown it before.

Oh, hell, let's show it again. It's always good for a laugh:


The second one-card trade, actually wasn't a one-card trade. But there was one card that touched off the trade:

I've seen several of these "Shirt Off My Back" Leaf cards, but this is the first one I've owned. Justin from Justin's World was nice enough to ship it off to me for some mere Cubs (redundant, I know).

He also sent some night cards. I'm saving those for when it's nighty-night-card time.

He also sent these:

I believe these were sent to you if you requested a fan pack from the Dodgers this past year. They're 8x10ish and I really need to buy myself some pages for larger items like this.

A deal with Justin also means I get to knock Louisiana off the trade map:

Thirty-nine states down! It's really ticking me off that I haven't traded with anyone from Vermont. I mean it's RIGHT THERE. I should just get in a car, drive over the border and accost the first person I see with "wanna trade cards?"

The final one-card trade is from Chris of Nachos Grande.

He's one of many trying to complete the all-diamond parallel set (I can hear Topps cackling right now). He had an extra card that I wanted:

Oooooooh. It's hallucinogen-a-rific!

I still need to send Chris his cards. But I don't receive "snow days" so it's going to take a little bit longer.

Speaking of which, that's all I have time for. In fact, how dare I spend this much time away from my job?

What was I thinking?

I'm such an ungrateful employee.

A good egg

Most card collectors I know are "good eggs." Sure, there are rotten people in every line of work, but somehow collecting pictures of ballplayers -- especially baseball players -- draws folks that I consider "likable." They're my kind of people.

This presents an interesting situation, because if you haven't noticed, there are a great deal of athletes who are definitely not good eggs. They are horrid, putrid eggs that emit a foul odor in every direction. Why we are collecting cards of these people I haven't a clue.

Whenever I think about that, it gets disheartening. If there ever occurs a time when I stop collecting cards, it won't be because of card company shenanigans. It will be because I believe that there is not one professional player worth admiring, and consequently not worth collecting.

Fortunately, that hasn't happened yet.

The example that I'm getting at is Clayton Kershaw. There have been a few articles written lately about my favorite current ballplayer. He's got a lot going for him other than being my favorite player. He's a Dodger, filled with talent and promise, and an all-around good egg. He was just named as the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers against the Giants on March 31.

In December, he got married to his childhood sweetheart.

His new wife, Ellen, is a good egg, too. She went to Zambia as a college student. Since then, she has been back several times, helping to take care of children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in that country. During the offseason, she convinced Clayton to visit Zambia.

Clayton was reluctant, but once he went, he couldn't help but be affected. "It changes you," Kershaw said in a New York Times story published Saturday. "And that's good."

But because this is 2011 and this is the internet, Kershaw's offseason of do-gooding naturally was met with a few snarky comments from the usual crowd. You know the type: insecure, insignificant, self-absorbed, self-amused do-nothing trolls who stumble out of their suburban hole long enough to tap out something wildly unfunny.

If that's what they want to do, fine. I would think reflecting on a talented ballplayer marrying at 22 years old, going to Zambia to help orphans, coming back with a feeling of gratitude about how fortunate he is and we are as a country, is slightly more constructive.

But anyway, here's the comment that I want to make: Good for a ballplayer, spending his offseason not hoarding vehicles or hanging out with strippers, but starting a family and helping improve the lives of people he doesn't even know. At least someone out there is playing against type and not self-destructing in public, as entertaining as that is to so many sad, needy, empty people.

I admire an athlete who instead of showing how much he has, shows us how much we have, and how little others have. An athlete that may cause someone to think, "Hey, I have two SUVs in the garage, maybe I'm really not struggling as much as I think I am."

I'm not gullible enough to think that Kershaw will always be this squeaky clean. People change and money changes people.

I'm also not clueless enough to think that Kershaw won't be beset by injuries or even always be a Dodger. Stuff happens.

But as of right now, this moment, on Feb. 28, 2011, at 3:30 in the morning, there isn't a better player that I can think of to receive my rooting allegiance.

And that's why I collect his cards. I don't have to say, "I know he's an asshole, but ..." All I have to say is, "I know some consider him a little dorky, but here are some cards of his that people sent me":

A masterful refractor from Mr J Mel at Closet Full of Cardboard.

A diamond dazzler from Greg H. at Wolverine Musings.

And a manu-patch item (yes, I know Kershaw wasn't alive in 1953) from Baseball Dad at All Tribe Baseball.

Each of them sent other cards that you'll probably see someday, but I am the happiest about the three Kershaw cards.

Listen, my favorite player hasn't always been the model citizen. I've rooted for drug abusers and womanizers. Vigorously.

I rip on ballplayers, too. I've done it plenty. Sometimes they deserve it, maybe sometimes they don't. But to rag on someone immediately after being informed that the topic of their derision has just done something that the fool commenter wouldn't even think to achieve is simply not cool. It makes me ... well, it makes me write this post.

I suppose that's what the trolls want. A reaction.

Typical. That's always what the bad eggs want.

After all, it's the best that they can do.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Duke and my card collection

Duke Snider died today from natural causes at age 84.

I was not old enough to see Snider play. To me, Snider was a picture on a baseball card and photos in Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer." I first got to know of Snider the person when he was a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos. I'd watch him on television when I was a kid summering in Buffalo, N.Y.

That's what I see when I think of Snider, a guy with a microphone, long sideburns and a garish '70s television broadcasting jacket.

As I got older, Snider became something else. He was the picture on the oldest card I had, a 1951 Topps. It didn't come into my collection without some pain, but to this date, it is one of the key parts of my collection.

A couple of years after that, I landed the 1957 Duke Snider card and that also became one of the centerpieces of my collection.

In college, I read "The Boys of Summer" for the first time. Snider was never my favorite player from those teams -- I'm thinking Pee Wee Reese might be my favorite -- but he was always in the top three or four.

Snider played a key part in another stage of my collecting. He was among the first successes in my foray into TTM autograph requests.

Here are the cards he signed for me:

As you can see, Snider has meant quite a bit to my card collection -- I just posted about him two days ago --  even if I didn't see a single game that he played. The man stopped playing before I was born.

But that was the power of Snider.

Snider was a point of pride for me -- from a collecting standpoint and also from a rooting standpoint. The Terry Cashman song "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke)," addressed a player from one of my favorite teams. Fans of only two other teams can say that.

Rest in Peace, Duke.

And thanks for all you did for this fan and collector.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

'56 of the month: Pete Runnels

When I was in elementary school, teachers would line the kids up by height when we were headed somewhere as a class. Before arriving at the lunch room or the library, it was imperative that we positioned ourselves in order by declining height. I can remember teachers getting very worked up over this.

I could never figure out why it was necessary -- maybe to keep an eye on the tall troublemakers? But I know I didn't like the practice because I was a short kid (a perk of Italian ancestry) and found myself in the back of the line every time.

While the home room teacher waved her hand over our heads, sizing up our stature, and helping to brand the stereotype in our heads for life that tall was "good" and short was "bad," I pouted over never being able to be the first to walk into the cafeteria or the gym locker room.

This is why I was drawn to players like Pete Runnels.

Runnels actually wasn't a short man. He was just shy of 6 feet tall. But he played "short." He was a singles hitter. A terrific singles hitter. He was a good fielder, although teams never really could figure out where to play him.

But, most importantly, Runnels knew who he was, even as he was battling the best players in the major leagues for the batting title.

"A guy like me doesn't win batting titles with his muscles. He does it with his head," he was quoted as saying. "Recent champions like (Ted) Williams, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Harvey Kuenn and Hank Aaron can scare opposing pitchers. I don't scare anybody. I have to out-think and outguess the fellow on the pitching mound."

I didn't have the athletic talent that Runnels had. But I did figure out -- probably while I was standing in line in elementary school -- where my strengths were in life. I was never going to be first in line and I was never going to play professional sports for a living (I found that out long before some other poor saps did who had less time to figure out what they were really going to do to make a living). So, I relied on what I had: smarts, a sense of humor, and the ability to work as hard as hell.

For seven years, Runnels worked as hard as hell for the basement Washington Nationals. He was a rare gem in a woeful lineup. He was known as a gentlemanly player, someone who got the job done, even if he was toiling at the end of the American League line.

In 1957, he slumped to .230 and even Washington had had enough. He was traded to Boston, a team with some problems, but not as many as the Nationals. Runnels thrived with the Red Sox. Fenway Park was more suited to his hitting than Griffith Stadium. New teammate Ted Williams recommended that Runnels try to spray the ball more, rather than pull it as was his tendency. Fenway Park benefited that type of hitter.

Runnels took the advice and very nearly beat Williams out for the A.L. batting title in his first year with the Red Sox even though he was battling stomach ulcers the final month of the season. In 1960, Runnels did win the batting title, hitting .320. For the five years he was with the Red Sox, Runnels did not fall under .300, and he hit a home run as an All-Star in 1962. He had figured out how to utilize his talents, even if no one was "scared" of him.

Runnels' given name was James, but he was nicknamed "Little Pete" after his father, and the name stuck.

Runnels finished his career with the Houston Colt .45s, as he wanted to play close to home and Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey obliged. Runnels returned to Boston to work as an interim manager after Billy Herman was fired in 1966. Players campaigned to have Runnels named the permanent manager, but Runnels declined.

In retirement, he opened a sporting goods store and founded a co-ed summer camp. He died from a stroke at age 64 in 1991.

My favorite part of this card is the seeming smirk on Runnels' face. I don't believe it's a smirk at all, looking at his other baseball cards. I think that was his "photo smile." If he was anything like me, he didn't enjoy having his picture taken and the most difficult part was smiling when you were forced to smile.

I also like the full-color action photograph, which was new for the 1956 set.

Runnels may not have been muscular, a star or the first one in the room, but as far as I was concerned when I obtained this card as a teenager, he had one of the best cards in the entire set.

Sometimes that's how the cards fall. No matter how you try to line them up.

(I realize Randy Newman's song is about prejudice. But it's hard to explain that to an 11-year-old, especially if you keep getting sent to the back of the line).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Eh, what's up, Duke?

Did you know Bugs Bunny has a connection to the Brooklyn Dodgers? I didn't until I was looking up the origination of the nickname "Duke of Flatbush."

Flatbush is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, mostly populated by African-Americans and West-Indians now, but during the times of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the residence of Italian, Irish and Jewish Americans. People who lived in Flatbush rooted for the Dodgers, naturally.

Bugs Bunny featured a Flatbush accent, according to the original voice of Bugs, Mel Blanc. Also, according to Bugs' biography, he was born under Ebbets Field.

So, this card ...

... makes perfect sense. Bugs is a Dodger, and ain't he a stinker?

But the reason I went off on this cartoon tangent is because Shane of Off the Wall sent me the Snider card from the 1984 Donruss set. It's a former Nebulous 9 need, and I was beginning to wonder if it was rare, since it sat there on the list for so long.

It turns out it's not so rare, because Shane sent me more than one version of the card.

That's perfect, because I need one for my Dodger collection and one for the 1984 Donruss binder. That Shane. He's so thoughtful.

And he didn't stop there.

He sent me seven more for my friends!

This card was the puzzle in the '84 Donruss set. I don't have all the pieces for this puzzle yet, but with the uncut sheets I just received, I'm not in any hurry to create something else to occupy wall space I don't have.

Shane also sent several other thoughtful items:

Two cards that saved me shipping charges. Each of these were in my Million Card Giveaway portfolio, and thanks to the cards Shane sent, that's exactly where they'll stay until Topps' snatches them away for Diamond Card Giveaway leftovers.

Three or four night cards (one is up for debate). Here is one of them, of I-Rod staring down the runner. I'm saving the others for night card posts.

1980s stickers! I will reserve comment on Popeye's stance.

And, of course, some plain regular Dodgers that I needed.

Great stuff, Shane, and you'll be happy to know I braved the snowstorm and sent out some packages today. (Unfortunately, the storm did cut down on me sending all of them. But that's what Monday is for).

Awesome night card, pt. 102

It feels great to return to the Awesome Night Card segment. The polls were fun, but we need to look at something fresh! Roll out the new night cards!

This is a great one of Marty Cordova from 1996 Fleer Ultra. It was sent to me by Michael, who is an avid Dodger collector and a great trader.

This card was supposed to kick off a post about rookie sensations who after one or two big seasons slowly fade away. It was supposed to address how I knew all about the sad stories of Mark Fidrych and Joe Charbonneau, but when it came to the 1990s, those rookie stories became more elusive.

It was supposed to be how I heard about Marty Cordova winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award in 1995 and enjoying an even better 1996, and then, as far as I was concerned, dropping off the face of the earth. I didn't pay a lot of attention to baseball in the late 1990s and I had no idea that Cordova suffered through back injuries that cut into his playing time, eventually ended up with the Blue Jays, enjoyed a brief resurgence with the Indians and Orioles and then disappeared, only after another try with the Devil Rays.

It was supposed to be about me asking "hey, whatever happened to that guy? You, know, that guy? He hit a lot of home runs and stole a lot of bases for the Twins in the mid-'90s. Marty something. Corolla? No. But something like that. What happened to him?

Then I looked up what had happened to Cordova. And I read about how his 15-year-old daughter was involved in an automobile accident in December. A truck hit her vehicle, in which she was a passenger, as they pulled into school. Cordova's daughter, Ashley McAdam, was knocked into a coma with a broken jaw, elbow and arm.

Cordova's wikipedia page ends there. But there's more. McAdam has emerged out of her coma and is undergoing rehabilitation. She is walking, talking and trying to relearn many of the things she took for granted two months ago. She has a Facebook page with more than 4,000 followers. She was the subject of a television interview last week.

So, that's what Marty Cordova is doing now. He's thankful that her daughter didn't die that day in December, even though she probably should have. Thankful that she is talking about playing baseball again. Thankful for all the prayers and well-wishes.

I'm sure his baseball career seems so far away now.

Oh, but before I forget, here are some other baseball cards Michael sent:

Sorry about that, Michael. I got a little derailed there.

Sometimes life does that.

(Good luck, Ashley).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy crap ... what is THAT?

I can't hold back this post any longer. I might burst, and you don't want that. It's ugly. Feathers everywhere.

So, even though there are many trade packages that arrived at the owl's nest before this one, I've got to get this out of my system. It's a crazy one.

On Tuesday, I was upstairs when I heard my wife open the door and what sounded like a postal vehicle driving away. She pulled in a package shaped like nothing that would be for me. I'm terrible at measurements, but I'd say it was about 20-by-30 in dimensions. I immediately dismissed it as some decorating item until I heard someone say, "It's for you."

To which I immediately responded with, "holy, crap ... what is THAT?"

I do not order large, wide, flat packages. There is a reason why I collect items that are 2 1/2-by-3 1/2. They're manageable. I can keep them under my thumb without fear of an uprising. That was my thought process as I was opening the package until I saw what was inside, and then those thoughts ran away.

Inside were 10 individually wrapped "packs" that looked like this:

Now, I don't ever remember the packs that I opened as a kid being encased in tin foil, but that's a minor detail. All that mattered was that this was from the Aardvark Trading Co., meaning Kris was involved, and I couldn't wait to see what was inside.

This was what was inside:

A whole mess of totally far out 1972 Topps -- fresh from my just updated want list.

Oh, joyous, stupendous day.

Each pack contained about 10 '72s, meaning there were about 100 cards off the want list. Most of the cards are in excellent shape for my purposes. Small corner wear, a few of the backs are rough. But I really like the '72s that way. Some of the cards are off-center or a little miscut, which is excellent because back in the '70s, you would pull miscut cards out of packs on a regular basis. It was part of the whole experience of being a collector then.

And when I was opening these packs, I felt like I was a kid from the '70s again, looking at these '72s for the first time. The 1972 set came out three years before I started collecting, but it was one of those sets that was everywhere in the collective consciousness of little boys who collected cards. This set was kind of the standard of what cards should look like because it was a very recent and unique set. So, when I see '72s now, I still think "that's what a card should BE."

I'm not going to show all of the '72s here, but I'll feature a few:

I love the Cardinals cards from this set. And Sizemore was one of my favorites when I was a kid.

As mentioned before, Carlos May got his thumb blown off in a military accident. You can see it on his right hand, just to the northwest of the "C" in May's first name.

Speaking of appendages, there is Billy Martin, flipping off little kiddies around the world.

The '72 set is excellent for revealing how basic field conditions were back then. Also, Abernathy was a pitcher. I don't know why he posed like that.

Now that is a leaders' card.

Now THAT is a leaders' card.

The Red Sox never wore a cap that color. Harper looks like he's fighting for the North in the Civil War.

There are baseball players in action and then there are baseball players levitating. Darrell Evans is "In Levitation."

Here is one of those miscut cards. Isn't that great? You'd really pull cards like this out of packs on a semi-regular basis. And, no, we didn't write angry letters to Topps.

The scanner cut this card off. But it's Gil Hodges, so I'm showing it anyway.

Scipio Spinks' first solo card. No, you can't have it.

There were many, many more that came out of the packs, but you get the idea.

Also, each pack came with this:

Perhaps Kris was really trying to kill me.

I don't know how old the gum is -- all card gum kind of looks the same no matter how old -- but I am not even close to daring enough to throw that in my mouth. Still, it sure reminded me of the old packs, right down to some of the gum being pulverized.

OK, by now, some of you are getting impatient.

I can hear it:

"A few packs of old cards wouldn't be shipped in a package that large unless the guy's a fool. What was in the rest of the package? Out with it!"

Well, you cranky, cranky people, I assure you there was something else.

These aren't the greatest pictures, but hopefully it gives you some idea:

Uncut sheets!!!

Wow. I do not have any uncut sheets -- or any with more than three cards on it anyway -- because I haven't the slightest idea how you acquire such things (although a second of thinking about it makes me assume that ebay is filled with these things).

The first two sheets were instantly familiar. They are the 2009 and 2010 sets of the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers' Triple A team. I recognized them because Kris previously sent me the actual sets for each year.

The third sheet is from a Pacific Coast League issue from 2010. Among the more notable players there are Buster Posey (first guy on the top left), Madison Bumgarner, John Ely, Jhoulys Chacin, Andrew Cashner, Ivan DeJesus Jr., Jonathan LuCroy, Cole Gillespie, Michael Saunders, Kila Ka'aihue, etc.

Isn't that cool?

Well, it's about to get downright frigid:

This is a fold-out uncut sheet celebrating 100 years of the Dodgers. I'm assuming this was some sort of take-off or supplement to the Target issue from 1990 that had like a thousand cards. They look identical to those cards, including some -- if not all -- of the same pictures.

All of the Dodger greats until 1990 are there, including some of the not so greats (Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson and Juan Marichal have Dodger connections, but they were not Dodger greats).

That is beyond awesome.

And, of course, because I am the way I am, there is a problem.

These sheets are meant to stay intact. That is not a problem for the Triple A Dodgers because I have sets of those already. It's not really a problem for the Pacific Coast League issue, although I really want to cut out that card of DeJesus Jr.

But where it is really pulling me apart is with the Dodger Century team. The sheet is even perforated. It would be nothing to have all those cool little cards ready to go.

Perhaps that's sacrilege, but I do not have a lot of wall space in the card room. I can display some of these, but not all. And I don't want to stick the others in the attic.

So, any suggestions?

As for Kris, many thanks for the awesome surprise. I'll have to scrape up something meager in return, but know that I am more grateful than the cards could ever show.

So, that's what's new around here.

Pretty cool, huh?

Oh, what the hell, here are some more '72s ...

I think I need to find a binder.