Monday, October 31, 2011

Awesome night card, pt. 127

I wouldn't be a proper night owl if I didn't post a night card of a terrified-looking Ernie Johnson on Halloween. I'm not sure what's happening to Johnson's batterymate during this particular moment, but it seems really heinous.

This artful '55 Bowman item arrived from dayf, of course. He's the only I know who has cards like this just lying around that he can send. The card is so phenomenal that it's uprooting the status quo:

1. If I'm going to alter the header on the blog a little, does EJ deserve a coveted spot up there?
2. If the card is going in the night card binder, I'm going to have to find an 8-pocket page.

I'll have to think about No. 1. I'm not sure who I'd boot off to add the Johnson card. I'll address No. 2 at the end of the post.

The greatness of '55 Bowmans does not end with the card fronts as the card back countdown taught us. Ernie's little story about the greatest hitter he's ever seen gives this card insider info that mere stats can't match. Plus, when was the last time you've heard someone refer to another person as a "fellow"? That doesn't happen often enough anymore.

This was just one of the cards that dayf sent. And you know I'm going to show a whole bunch more of them.

I'll start with another somewhat spooky card, only because of the way it emerged from the scanner:

Is that ... is that ... an EYE in Campy's catcher's mitt? Sportflic Campanella has a one-eyed catcher's mitt! The horror! (Spoiler: It's actually not Campy's eye, it's the ring under his left eye -- late night out apparently).

Here is another semi-creepy card. This is the gold parallel of Kemp's Bowman Platinum card. But the scanner turned the background green for some reason, and now all the fans in the stands look like they just got slimed.

This card isn't creepy at all, unless you're one of Garvey's many ex-girlfriends. Then it's both creepy and slimy, and a little infuriating.

A nebulous 9 need vanquished. Card companies are endlessly fascinated with displaying the uniform backs of players with really long last names.

Gold of a guy who's probably not going to mean much to the Dodgers after all.

Gold of two guys who mean a lot more.

Two shiny Jackies, but vastly different in nature. The first is a 2011 Topps sticker. My first one, actually. The Target I frequent has no stickers. The second is something from last year's Topps Tribute, I think. I can't tell you more than that, except it's thick and has a sheen to it that will light up the block after all the trick-or-treaters have slipped into sugar comas.

The Robinson card is a nice finish, but I ain't done.

Dayf's card mailings these days also include sketches.

Here is mine:

I dare you to stare into his eyes.

I've already done so many times. On good days, I can see Koufax's entire 1965 season. On bad days, I see outtakes from Billy Madison. Which really isn't so bad.

I grasped the 1975 Topps connection right away (I'm swift like that). But I had to turn the card over to appreciate its full message.

First, I'm somewhat impressed/disturbed/appreciative/quizzical/understanding that it took two days to produce this card.

Second, I love the '75 card back tribute. The perfect shade of red and green and pink.

Finally, and, of course! This is a Franken-Koufax! A mashup of the Koufax rookie and my favorite card set! On Halloween! ... It's ALIVE!

I'm somewhat of a drawer myself, although I don't have the time to do it anymore. I also don't have the accuracy that dayf has -- but he could see a certain artistic rendering in a return package. And, no, that's not a euphemism for anything.


Night Card Binder candidate: Ernie Johnson, 1955 Bowman, Card #157
Does it make the binder?: Oh, all right, I'll look for an 8-pocket page somewhere. Yes.

Orange cards ... that's Halloweenish, right?

This year is the first year that my daughter will not be trick-or-treating since she was a baby. And there goes my only reason for recognizing Halloween.

I do like the holiday, mostly because I really should be 499 pounds and I dearly love chocolate. I also like seeing the little kids running around in their costumes and orange glow-in-the-dark flashlights. I live in a neighborhood that is a trick-or-treating mecca. People practically bus kids in from the country to go trick-or-treating where I live. There are rugrats everywhere.

But that's about the extent of my holiday revelry. I haven't dressed up in a costume since I was 12 (I don't count what passed for clothing in the '80s). And I don't get horror films. I am never in the mood to be freaked out or repulsed. So that just wastes my time.

Without a kid to shuffle from house to house on the only day when it's socially acceptable to beg for food, I'll just head to work, where you wipe away the holiday spirit (and any other general good feelings) at the door. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Oh no, I've bummed out the Halloween lovers.

I feel bad now.

I don't want to leave you standing there in your grease paint and pillow case candy bag without anything. It's a very fine costume. Really. Very scary. You must've worked very hard on it.

Here are some orange cards for your trouble. They arrived from Andy of Community Gum. They're from the 1990 Score Traded set. I spent most of my adult life not even aware that Score had a traded set in 1990. The cards were orange and I didn't even know. I'm so sheltered.

But people have seen orange cards on Halloween before -- '88 Donruss Baseball's Best is big on this holiday. So, I'll just show what else came from Community Gum. Hopefully that'll keep anyone from teepeeing the house.

Some Topps 206 Dodgers from 2002. Collectors have a good deal of affection for this set. I don't. Not because I don't like it or anything. I just wasn't collecting then. I was probably videotaping (yes, videotaping) my daughter trick-or-treating in her bunny costume.

Mastercatcher!!!! The current-and-much-larger Mike Scioscia is, of course, the Angels manager and this wouldn't be a Dodger blog if I didn't mention how he could have been the Dodgers manager a long time ago. But we're letting that go so I can mention that this is my first Stadium Club Master Photo. Again, it's something I didn't know exist at the time. Probably because I was never a member of the Stadium Club. Clubs and I don't get along. Something about membership forms and hazings.

OK, we're in modern times now. You remember that Finest break I was in that refused to acknowledge that the Dodgers existed?

Well, Andy and John took pity on me and had some Dodgers available from their Finest break. Cool sparkly stuff. like this Andre Ethier one.

And this one of the soon-to-be-named National League MVP. Terrific card.

And, lastly, this sour-apple green refractor of future star Jerry Sands. Isn't that cool?

I'm still upset that there doesn't appear to be any blue refractors in Finest this year (not like I have a shot at any of them). But this card puts me in mind of 1994 Finest, which, as you know, is very, very green. And I love that year of Finest a whole bunch. So I can't say that I don't enjoy this card to the fullest extent that you can legally enjoy a card.

Of course, green isn't a Halloween color. That's another holiday coming up. That's draining all my money.

But I'm bumming you out on the holiday again.

Enjoy the night.

Don't eat all your kid's candy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A banner day

Perhaps you've noticed.

I've changed my banner. Or header. Or whatever you call the image that leads off one's blog.

Good gosh the thing is big, isn't it? I don't know if I want to keep it that way. I kind of like that it's the FIRST THING that people see when they hop on the blog. But it's a tad alarming. If anyone knows how I get the image to be like it was before -- a little smaller and subdued -- please let me know.

Aside from that, I like the card arrangement. I've been meaning to change it for awhile. I finally got the chance, what with the family out of the house, baseball done for the season, and no cash to blow.

So let's move on to the agonizing breakdown of why I chose the cards that I did:

1. Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Topps Traded: One of the first cards I ever pined over. It took me decades to land it, too.
2. Mr. Met, 2011 Opening Day: I had to get a night card up in the banner. It was one of the old banner's greatest flaws. This is one of my favorite quirky night cards, so it's perfect.
3. Clayton Kershaw, 2008 A&G: My favorite player on my favorite card set. Perfect.
4. Ron Cey, 1975 Topps: My first favorite card. No-brainer.
5. Jim Fregosi, 1971 Topps: I had to get a '71 card up there as it's one of my all-time favorites. The horizontal cards are a special treat in the '71s.
6. Roy Halladay, 2009 OPC: Probably the best card in the OPC set, which is perhaps one of the last modern sets that I'll ever complete.
7. Jackie Robinson, 2010 National Chicle: A lot of people bagged on Chicle, but when it was good, it was very, very great.

So, here's what I like about the new banner:

1. It's a better representation of the cards I collect and the cards that I like. Many of my favorite players and sets are pictured here.
2. It's presented better. It drove me nuts that the lettering in the old banner blacked out Greg Maddux's eyes. So I made sure that Halladay's Robinson's eyes were peaking through the "D."
3. It's not drastically different from the old one. I like to keep things consistent.

Here's what I don't like about it:

1. The "Night Owl Cards" lettering is shifted too far to the left. I think this banner takes up more room, left to right, and I didn't realize that when I started the lettering at the same point that I started the old banner.
2. The lettering isn't as bold as it was before. But I'm lazy, so I don't want to go back and do it again. So I went back and did it again.

If you have any issue with the new banner -- it's too big, it's got a Mets card on it, there aren't enough ponies -- let me know. I do have the old banner around and you may see it back again. Especially if I don't like the new one anymore. In fact you could see the old one before the day's done.

But for reading through all that banner talk, here's your reward:

It's an Awesome Gloamin' Card from slangon!

It's been a long time since I've received a homemade card. I love me a custom-made night card.

Very nice work.

All right, I'm going to ponder this new banner some more.

'56 of the month: Max Surkont

Max Surkont accomplished a number of things in his 64 years on earth that I would like to achieve. But I never will.

He played major league baseball from 1949-57. He struck out eight straight Cincinnati Reds in a game in 1953 to hold a major league record for 17 years until Tom Seaver struck out 10 straight Padres in 1970. After his retirement, he ran a restaurant/bar in his native Rhode Island called, aptly, "Max Surkont's Cafe."

All of this sounds very appealing to me, although I've been told -- about both playing baseball and running a restaurant for a living -- that each occupation is all-consuming.

But Surkont's achievements, and my consequential envy, weren't what attracted me to his card.

It was his name. And his face.

Take a look and give a read of what's on the card.

Max. Surkont. He looks like a Max. He looks like a Surkont. But he does not look like a baseball player.

Max Surkont has a name and a face that seem like they belong in a 1950s football game. He would be the end, or maybe a smallish offensive lineman. Surkont was a big Polish kid from Pawtucket, R.I. He served in the Navy during World War II. Arm trouble derailed his status as a top prospect in the Cardinals organization. After bouncing through a few clubs, he landed with the Braves in the early '50s.

When the Braves moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, the timing couldn't have been better for Surkont. The large Polish population in Milwaukee made him a fan favorite. Then he tied a major league record on May 25 with the eight consecutive strikeouts. Before he knew it, the Braves were holding "Max Surkont Night" and his son was riding off with a new tricycle.

But in the offseason, Surkont was dealt to the bottom-feeding Pirates. (His wikipedia page says Surkont ate his way off the roster). He went 9-18 and 7-14 for Pittsburgh with soaring ERAs. His career sputtered out in '57 with the Giants. He'd stay on in the minors for six years, playing mostly in Buffalo, which also has a huge Polish population.

Surkont then began his second career as a restaurateur. Max Surkont's Cafe was not much more than a barroom with a pool table, cigarette machine and jukebox, a "where everybody knows your name" place in a Pawtucket working class neighborhood. It opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 1 a.m. His mother made golabki on the weekends, and patrons would arrive on Saturday and Sunday to watch football.

The son of Bronislaw and Malwina Surkont lived in Pawtucket and ran the cafe for most of the rest of his life. He retired to Florida in 1984 and died two years later.

The big Polish kid lived the American dream, playing major league baseball and operating a modest, yet popular restaurant. It's my American dream, really.

I'm officially jealous.

He even said things that I wish I had said -- that is if I ever played in the major leagues.

In former pitcher Dave Baldwin's memoir, "Snake Jazz," Surkont receives the headline quote on the book's web page:

"Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously. If it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball."

Well said, Max.

And, well done.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A rack pack break in honor of the best World Series in a decade

Thanks to our English language, "best" can be interpreted in a number of ways.

This wasn't the "best" World Series in terms of quality of play. Too much "Oh no" for that. This wasn't the "best" in terms of the winner. The Cardinals inspire as much thoughts of "dynasty" as the Giants did last year. Even less so.

But in terms of drama, excitement, stuff of which World Series Are Judged, then, yeah, this is the best World Series I have seen in 10 years, since Luis Gonzalez's barely there flair against Mariano Rivera in 2001. In fact, after a quick run through my brain of all the World Series I've witnessed since I started actively watching them in 1976, this series is in the top 10, easily.

After the insanity of Game 6, which we can rank up there with Game 6's from 1975, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993 (and 1981, if I get very biased), I settled in for Game 7 hoping to break a rack pack of 2011 Topps Update here on the blog, inning by inning.

But there's only one computer in our household and that was immediately commandeered by someone who didn't care about the World Series. No big loss, as I really wanted to focus on the game anyway.

So, here is what you missed when you should have been watching Game 7. A rack pack that has 2011 World Series references all over it:

Top compartment:

#US69 - Gerald Laird
#US190 - Alexi Ogando

These really were the first two cards out of the pack. A Cardinal and a Ranger. Now you know why I wanted to do a live break.

Ogando just didn't have it in the World Series. I don't know what happened to him. Not many of the Rangers pitchers seem all that impressive (Derek Holland, an amazing exception). But Ogando was one who did impress, until the last seven games or so.

Also, see if you notice any similarities between Laird's Update card and his card from the 2009 Topps set (one of two cards he had in that set):

There's no photoshopping going on, but ... wow.

#US48 - Scott Hairston
#US213 - Louis Coleman

Hairston is going to be like his dad. It's going to be 10 years from now, I'm going to see Hairston playing for some team. and I'm going to say, "I thought he retired eight years ago!"

#US96 - Ryan Hanigan
#US205 - D.J. LeMahieu

I dropped the Hanigan card just now. Rats, dinged corner.

#US239 - J.J. Hardy
#US280 - Kyle Farnsworth

I didn't know Joe Maddon wore No. 70. I'm sure he wears it for a reason. Maddon doesn't seem to do anything without there being a reason.

#US251 - Justin Turner
#US245 - Kevin Correja

Here come the horizontal cards!!!!!

#US142 - Alex White
Diamond Giveaway code card

Please look at the front of Alex White's card. A bunch of stuff about Rockies, right?

Here is the back:

White is a Rockie on the front and an Indian on the back. I don't know if I've ever seen that before.

White was dealt to the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade at the end of July. Perhaps Topps photoshopped the front but forgot about the back? Maybe there's a corrected version of the back out there -- although Topps doesn't seem to do that anymore.

Oh, yeah, I have a code to enter. Almost forgot.

I'll be right back.



I'm back. Here's the redeemed card:

1974 isn't too bad, but I've got it already. I'll match it up with a '79 Pete LaCock and see what Royals fan I can entice.

#US45 - Peter Moylan (gold)
#US287 - Matt Joyce, Rays (all-star)

The Moylan card will be headed to dayf, because he sent me a nice drawing that I've been derelict in posting. Of course, by the time I get around to sending the Moylan card, dayf's murals of ponies will be selling for millions and he'll have little use for gold parallels.

#US292 - Mike Adams
#US50 - Jered Weaver (all-star)

Another Texas reliever. I'd rather not be reminded.

#US230 - Miguel Cabrera (all-star)
#US268 - Yadier Molina (all-star)

I'm officially tired of the Molinas.

Done with the top half. So far, there are 2 Cardinals and 2 Rangers for the first 18 cards.

Bottom compartment:

#US269 - Sergio Santos
#US99 - Carlos Villanueva

Orel Hershiser is mentioned on the back of Santos' card because Santos had a scoreless inning streak of 30 last year. Then Topps backtracks and says, well, 9 2/3s of those innings were in spring training, so it was really only 20 1/3. ... Orel is officially insulted.

#US221 - Jamey Carroll
#US295 - Wilson Ramos

Oh, good. I've ripped only one loose pack of Update prior to this rack pack and I'm already getting doubles.

#US135 - Grant Balfour
#US308 - Kyle Seager

Balfour (another dupe) is wretching all over Seagar's shoes.

#US73 - Juan Nicasio
#US136 - Brandon Crawford

The "rookie debut" date is nice. But both of these guys play for junk teams so I don't care.

#US164 - Hector Noesi
#US197 - Brandon League

This is the start of the Brandon League hot pack portion of the rack pack.

#US167 - Brendan Ryan, diamond parallel

Ryan was with the Cardinals at this time this year. That means he's a member of the unfortunate club that I've been tracking. Each year I list players who missed out on a title because they were dealt away from the team that would go on to win a title the next year. But they had to be traded within a year before their old team won the Series.

Here is the list with 2011 added. Remember, free agents and released players don't count:

1988 Dodgers: Pedro Guerrero
1989 A's: Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, Luis Polonia
1990 Reds: John Franco, Ron Robinson
1991 Twins: none
1992 Blue Jays: Jeff Kent, Rob Ducey, Greg Myers
1993 Blue Jays: Kelly Gruber, Darrin Jackson
1995 Braves: Tony Tarasco, Roberto Kelly
1996 Yankees: Sterling Hitckcock, Bob Wickman, Gerald Williams, Ruben Sierra
1997 Marlins: Dustin Hermanson, Joe Orsulak
1998 Yankees: Kenny Rogers
1999 Yankees: David Wells, Graeme Lloyd
2000 Yankees: Chad Curtis, Jim Leyritz, Hideki Irabu
2001 Diamondbacks: none
2002 Angels: Jorge Fabregas
2003 Marlins: Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson
2004 Red Sox: Brandon Lyon, Casey Fossum, Nomar Garciaparra
2005 White Sox: Carlos Lee
2006 Cardinals: Hector Luna
2007 Red Sox: David Murphy, Kason Gabbard
008 Phillies: Michael Bourn
2009 Yankees: Wilson Betemit
2010 Giants: Fred Lewis, Omar Vizquel
2011 Cardinals: Colby Rasmus, Brendan Ryan, Blake Hawksworth, Trever Miller

Still plan to research pre-1988 some day.

#KC-108 Lance Berkman Kimball mini (my scanner detests Kimball minis)
#652 - Edwin Jackson, liquorfractor

Two guys playing for other teams last year who now have World Series rings. (I still think the Rangers should have pitched to Pujols).

#T60-115 Nolan Ryan, topps 60
#US134 - Michael Bourn

The best part of the offseason may be the fact that I no longer have to see Nolan Ryan making faces in the stands. I have no problem with Nolan Ryan. I like him. I have no problem with him making faces. Fox, on the other hand ...

#US130 - David Robertson (all-star)
#US91 - Brandon League (all-star)

Two Brandon Leagues in one rack pack!

#US88 - Orlando Cabrera

Last card.

And a look at your future, Cardinals. I hope you at least make the playoffs next year.

But thanks for an entertaining series. I actually emerged from the Series liking the Cardinals more than when the World Series began. Congrats to former Dodgers Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot and Edwin Jackson, too.

Once again, money doesn't always buy a championship in baseball.

I guess that's good news for the Dodgers.

Bring on 2012.

Friday, October 28, 2011

There is no Game 8

This is not 1919. There are no nine-game World Series anymore. So later tonight (or early Saturday morning), we will experience the final day of the baseball season.

Thanks to David Freese, I will be able to witness Game 7 of a World Series for the first time since, well, the last one, in 2002. I was off on that night, too.

But since I don't have a huge rooting interest to distract me, I will spend too much of the game mourning the fact that this is the last major league baseball game I will see for five months. We are about to enter the less happy portion of the year. Big fat bummer.

As usual, I have a baseball card connection for this bittersweet experience. It is called "the last card in the set."

The last card of any set -- well, any traditionally large set -- is the final chapter in a novel that you never want to end. The greatest baseball card sets are epic in nature, colorful and fascinating from beginning to end. When you turn to the final page -- or reach the last card -- you don't want to read what lies on that last piece of paper or cardboard. Because when you do, that's it. That's the end. There is no more. There will never be another story, book, card set or season like it. Ever, ever again.

During my early days of collecting, when Topps was the only thing around, I prized the player that brought up the rear. There were several Dodgers -- Davey Lopes, Rick Monday, Bill Russell and Steve Yeager -- that won that final position during my first collecting period. I considered the final card to be a place of honor, a card that tied the set together. I liked to think that this card was somehow representative of the rest of the set, whether that was actually Topps' intent or not.

I have a feeling it wasn't. Because there are a lot of years in which the last card in Topps' flagship set seemed like an afterthought. This is especially true in the last 15 years or so as Topps has littered the last card with throwaway "awards" cards or checklists.

Only in the last couple of years has Topps returned to the days of my childhood and placed a player's base card at the back of the set. The Jacoby Ellsbury card from 2009 is a terrific example of what the final card in a set should be.

I suppose you've been wondering while reading this whether I have looked up the final card for every one of Topps' base sets from 1952 to present.

Well, duh, of course I have. I've already done so for the first card in each set. I don't want the last card to get a complex.

So here you are -- Game 7 in cardboard form:

2011: Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
2010: Brandon McCarthy, Rangers
2009: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

(this is where Topps gets funky or just plain stupid)

2008: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (no, I refuse to count the Johan Santana fake no-no card)

2007: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (I refuse to count the Barry Bonds short-print)

2006: Ervin Santana/Francisco Rodriguez, Classic Combos, Angels
2005: "Sox Win" (Damon/Lowe World Series Game 4), Red Sox
2004: Josh Beckett, World Series MVP, Marlins
2003: Anaheim Angels, World Series
2002: Albert Pujols, Cardinals, Rookie of the Year
2001: Carlton Fisk, Golden Moments, Red Sox

2000: Alex Rodriguez, Milestone Moments, '98 Batting Leader, Mariners
1999: Checklist
1998: Alex Rodriguez, Mariners
1997: Checklist
1996: Checklist
1995: Checklist
1994: Checklist

1993: Checklist

(Back to normalcy)

1992: Dave Winfield, Angels
1991: Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
1990: Gerald Perry, Braves

1989: Rafael Santana, Yankees
1988: John Tudor, Cardinals
1987: Checklist
1986: Charles Hudson, Phillies
1985: Darrell Evans, Tigers
1984: Bill Russell, Dodgers
1983: Chris Chambliss, Braves
1982: Frank Tanana, Red Sox

1981: Rick Monday, Dodgers
1980: Steve Yeager, Dodgers

1979: Giants Future Stars (Greg Johnston, Joe Strain, John Tamargo)
1978: Wilbur Wood, White Sox
1977: Willie Horton, Tigers
1976: Davey Lopes, Dodgers
1975: Hank Aaron, Brewers

1974: Larry Dierker, Astros
1973: Fred Scherman, Tigers

(Now we're getting into the high-number, crazy prices stuff)

1972: Ron Reed, Braves

1971: Dick Drago, Royals
1970: Rick Reichardt, Angels

1969: Ron Hunt, Giants
1968: Jerry May, Pirates
1967: Tommy John, White Sox
1966: Gaylord Perry, Giants
1965: Al Downing, Yankees
1964: Bennie Daniels, Senators

1963: Johnny Temple, Colt .45s
1962: Rookie Outfielders (Al Luplow, Indians; Manny Jimenez, A's; Ed Oliveras, Colt .45s; Jim Hickman, Mets; Howie Goss, Pirates)
1961: Warren Spahn All-Star, Braves
1960: Johnny Antonelli, All-Star, Giants

1959: Billy Pierce, All-Star, White Sox
1958: Herb Score, All-Star, Indians

1957: Yankees Power Hitters (Mantle/Berra), Yankees

(Don't get excited. I don't have this card).

1956: Mickey McDermott, Yankees
1955: Duke Snider, Dodgers
1954: Ted Williams, Red Sox
1953: Milt Bolling, Red Sox
1952: Eddie Mathews, Braves

There you go.

Once you got through all the checklist and award/milestone gobbledygook, wasn't that fun?

A few notes:

  • Alex Rodriguez and Yadier Molina are the only two players to be the last card in the set more than once. Rodriguez also happens to have had the first card in a Topps set more than any other player. Topps is under the mistaken impression that collectors actually like the guy.
  • The Red Sox have finished off a Topps set more than any other team. It's done so seven times. The Braves and Dodgers are next with five each.
  • That 1963 Johnny Temple card has just made it to No. 1 on my Christmas want list.

I hope everyone enjoys Game 7. It's the last baseball you're going to see for awhile. After that, we'll all pretend to like football, hockey and, blaaarrgh, basketball, for the next five months. But we all know it's just for show.

We're really waiting for baseball to start again. And looking for card No. 1 in the set.

When it finally comes, we'll never want it to end.