Saturday, October 21, 2017

I stole this from a hockey card blog

I have been a fan of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip since 1992. That was the year the band released its landmark album, "Fully Completely," and '92 was also the year that a co-worker handed me a copied cassette tape of the album with his handwritten list of the songs.

It is one of three personal moments I think of when someone mentions The Hip.

Steve was from Buffalo, like me. He walked with a slight limp, the result of being pinned between two cars in the first few months of working his new newspaper job. Steve enjoyed alternative bands like The Hip and Pavement. He said I'd like The Tragically Hip, who hailed from across the river in Kingston, Ontario, and gave me the "Fully Completely" copy and a cassette of an earlier Hip album "Road Apples".

The second moment I think of is walking into the Clarkson University hockey locker room each time after a game from 1993-95. After most games, music played loudly in the new, spacious room. And since many of the players were Canadian, almost all of the music was The Hip.

I'd hear the songs while looking for the right players to interview and recognize the songs. I felt a bond with those players because they liked the songs that I had grown to like.

It started as bit of a ruse, I admit. I was trying to immerse myself in hockey culture. I didn't grow up a hockey fan or a hockey card collector. I bought a few cards back in the late '70s, that was it. After moving to Buffalo, I watched the sport off and on, but never cared about it much.

But now, hockey was my job. I needed to know the sport and the people in it. I watched the games, pro and college, learned the names, and began collecting hockey cards.

The set I collected happens to be one of the most pervasive hockey sets of all-time, 1991-92 Pro Set. I accumulated more cards from that set than of any non-baseball set in my life to that point. I knew all of the names, Horacek, Tinordi, Kypreos, Berube, stars and fourth-liners.

I focused on hockey rules and lingo and became quite proficient at describing the game, even though I never played it as a kid. I admit it was a struggle early on though, and I felt in those early days that I'd be discovered for being unknowledgeable and a fraud. I hoped if I ever did get accused, that I could sing my way out of it with a few bars of "At the Hundredth Meridian" or "Three Pistols".

As hockey card collectors know, the 91-92 Pro Set came in two versions. One set featured English card backs and the other set French backs. Where I lived, way in the northern hinterlands of the U.S., you could get both versions. I don't know if the packs weren't explicit enough on the front or I just wasn't paying attention in my pack-buying frenzy (I bought EVERYTHING in 1992), but I would come home with English cards sometimes and French cards other times.

I was kind of disappointed by the French, just because I couldn't read it. But it seems cool now.

To this day, no matter how widespread that set is, I still have great nostalgic memories for 91-92 Pro Set and really should collect it someday, because I got rid of almost all of my cards from that set years ago.

I did keep one though:

This is a card of the famous photo of the Maple Leafs' Bill Barilko scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1951. Barilko would die in a plane crash soon after scoring that season-ending goal and his body wasn't found until more than a decade later.

Barilko was immortalized in The Tragically Hip song "50 Mission Cap" off the "Fully Completely" album. I knew nothing about Barilko until that early '90s convergence of Pro Set and The Hip.

That's interesting to me because I also didn't know until The Hip's lead singer, Gord Downie, died earlier this week that the lyrics from "50 Mission Cap" came from the back of that very Pro Set Bill Barilko card.

I knew the lyrics -- "I stole this from a hockey card" -- but I just assumed it was artistic license by Downie or he took it from some card from the '50s back when Barilko played.

Then, while reading stories about Downie after his death, commiserating with fellow Hip fans (I know people in Buffalo, Rochester, Plattsburgh and Burlington, Vt., all pockets of Hip fandom here in the U.S.), I came across the blog Puck Junk's posting about The Tragically Hip and the Pro Set card from more than a year ago.

There, I learned from Sal, that Downie "stole" the lyrics from the back of that Pro Set card, which was in my collection!

The words on the back of the card: "Unfortunately, it was the last goal of Barilko's career. He disappeared that summer on a fishing trip, and the Leafs didn't win another Cup until 1962, the year his body was found."

The lyrics in the song: "Bill Barilko disappeared that summer. He was on a fishing trip. The last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup. They didn't win another until 1962. The year he was discovered."

And then Downie's admission: "I stole this from a hockey card."

"Awesome" I thought. I have that card!

I scrambled to dig up the card. I honestly couldn't remember where I stored it. But I finally unearthed the binder, looked with amazement at Barilko diving toward the goal, and then flipped it over to read those words/lyrics, only to find:


Dammit, I can't read that!

I've since reacquired a few of the 91-92 Pro Set cards, but they're all in English. I just assumed that all the Pro Sets I had were English ones. I must've saved the Barilko from back in '92.

I had given up my hockey card pursuit by the mid-1990s and then I stopped covering hockey and pretty much watching hockey, too. I keep urging myself every year to get back into the sport the way I did in the early '90s, but baseball just keeps taking more and more of my free time.

But with Downie's passing, I had to read the back of that card -- in English -- to make the comparison.

So I went back to Puck Junk.

There it is. I stole this from a hockey card blog.

Although my allegiance to hockey card collecting waned, my allegiance to The Hip didn't. I purchased several more of their albums -- "Day for Night," "Trouble at the Henhouse," "Phantom Power". I could always rely on them making their way across the border at least as far as where I lived.

The third Tragically Hip memory comes from 2002. That was the year "In Violet Light" was released, a Hip album I particularly enjoyed. We went to an amusement park that summer during the 4th of July. I've never liked the loudness of fireworks -- although I've gotten over it in recent years -- and when it came time to set them off, I'd go off to the farthest reaches of the park, as far as I could from the noise, to the darkened children's rides section.

There, on some metal bleachers, I'd listen to "The Dire Wolf," which best as I can determine is about shipwrecks, not fireworks, on full volume in my ear buds, as I watched the pretty colors above.

Now that I think of it, I should have played "Fireworks".

RIP, Gord.

Friday, October 20, 2017

10 reasons why it's great that the Dodgers are in the World Series in 2017

The Dodgers are National League champions. I'm still trying to absorb that.

It's been a long time and many painful "so close" and runner-up finishes and I had forgotten what it felt like all those years ago in the '70s and '80s when the Dodgers regularly made the postseason and even the World Series.

Now, for the first time since lights were a new thing in Wrigley Field, back when "are you on crack?" wasn't a rhetorical question, the Dodgers are in a World Series. Twenty-nine years ago, when I was two months out of college, the Dodgers last played in -- and won -- the Fall Classic.

It's good to be back. I'm assuming the Yankees will show up and spoil everything and turn the whole experience dark with despair and mourning, but for now it's hopeful and I have to remember that at the end, regardless of outcome -- the DODGERS MADE THE WORLD SERIES.

You can take your "1988" chants and stuff 'em in a sock.

Even though it's been a long wait, there are plenty of good reasons for the Dodgers to win right now, here in 2017. The timing is right and I came up with 10 reasons why, some that actually include cards:

1. I get to put stories about the Dodgers playing in the World Series into the newspaper.

I have waited to do this for my entire professional life. In 1988, I was a cub sports reporter, working part-time and trying not to get fired. I remember listening to one of the Dodgers-Mets NLCS games on a radio in the press box at a high school football game. It wasn't my job to decide layout and news placement at that time -- they'd never let a kid do that -- but that was as close as I got until now. I can't wait to direct big giant photos of Turner, Puig, Bellinger, Kershaw and the rest onto the front of the sports section (Again, if the Yankees win, they will get top billing -- even I don't have that kind of pull -- drowning out the good, once again. I really need to move somewhere else).

P.S.: If the Dodgers win the Series, the headline may be: DVPQUUUUULK@Y+?!!!!!AAAAAA in 200-point type.

2. There will be Dodgers World Series cards in next year's flagship set.

Hey, if I have to deal with bleeping Giants World Series cards THREE DIFFERENT TIMES then everyone can deal with the Dodgers for a year. There's no guarantee that the Dodgers will show up on Series cards if they lose -- Topps tends to focus on just the winners lately (part of the sanitized mind-set it's adopted with an MLB-exclusive license) -- but I'm hoping they'll squeeze in there regardless.

3. I can record all the games.

People take this for granted, but trust old Night Owl here, this is phenomenal. I have been able to record every single Dodgers playoff game and then watch them back when I can (the Dodgers have won so many times that I'm still on only Game 3 of the Diamondbacks series). Before TiVo and DVR and the rest, you had to punch out the numbers on the VCR, hope there was enough tape, make sure you had enough cassettes, etc. And before VCRs, good luck, buddy. If you weren't at home watching, buy a paper the next day.

4. The Dodgers will appear on a tribute to the greatest World Series subset ever made.

I'm most excited about this. Probably more excited about this than the Dodgers making the World Series (which doesn't make sense, if you think about it). I have loved the 1969 Topps World Series subset since I first saw it, long before I chose to enter the newspaper business. The look is appealing and it is designed magnificently. There is very little botching of the headlines in this set either. Someone knew what they were doing. Even though it will cause me great angst, I'm hoping the Series lasts seven games like the 1968 Series did so we can have seven of these babies in 2018 Heritage. Out of all the Heritage World Series subsets the Dodgers could have landed on, this is the jackpot.

5. This Series trip solidifies the players as ones I will always remember.

As early as this week, I had to explain to people -- sports fans -- who Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez are. That will never happen again. Thanks to the Series, everyone will know their names. And they will be cemented in my brain like all of those famous nonfamous Dodgers that appeared in past World Series, players like Franklin Stubbs and Burt Hooton and Joe Ferguson and Tracy Woodson. It doesn't matter who they are, they have all just graduated to a higher level among Dodgers in my brain. The legacy of Rich Hill and Brandon Morrow and Andre Ethier and even you, Curtis Granderson, is cemented forever.

6. I have the upper hand.

If you are a fan of a popular team, you'll always encounter detractors. I'm already hearing about "payroll" from some I know who don't like the Dodgers, discounting the fact that "payroll" hadn't helped the Dodgers make the Series for years and that although money is only part of the Dodgers' success, money is the way teams win, no matter what team you are. You don't want to do it with money, you won't win. But the best part is no one can taunt me with "1988" or "the Marlins have won two World Series since the Dodgers have been in the World Series." You know, the usual clever stuff.

7. I get to relive past Dodgers World Series cards.

As I've mentioned many times, Topps has jobbed the Dodgers on World Series cards perhaps more than any other team. I'm still waiting for 1965 World Series cards, 1978 World Series cards, 1981 World Series cards (stickers? really?) and 1988 World Series cards (thank goodness for Fleer and Upper Deck). I could also use more than one Yankee representation from the 1977 Series. And the reason this still bugs me is that when they do show up, they are excellent keepsakes. The cards above are some of my favorite cards ever. I've marveled over that 1975 card for more than 40 years. I'm glad I get to pull these cards out again.

8. I get to look at -- and ignore -- all the new Dodgers Topps Now cards.

I saw the Topps Now/Cubs lovefest last year. I know there's one coming for the Series winner this year, and that could be the Dodgers. I plan to sit out buying any of these things, even at a somewhat discounted price. However, I'm not making any promises. Certain moments could make me helpless to opening the bank account.

9. I could potentially post nothing but Dodger cards all Series and have a good excuse for it.

Someone is now saying, "isn't all you do is post Dodger cards?" ... No, I don't, thanks for noticing. But I won't ramp up the Dodger card coverage during the Series. There are no plans to do specific Dodger-centric posts, unless they win the whole thing, of course. This is a lot different than the early days of the blog when I posted about the Dodgers games a lot. But that's not me anymore.

10. My family is into it.

This wouldn't have been the case for them if the Dodgers had reached the World Series during the '90s or even a few years ago. As recently as the 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, blah, blah, blah, debacles, my wife couldn't be bothered. My daughter was too young and then didn't give a wit about sports. Then, I received the above text message last night. It came from my wife. I was at work and had turned away from the TV for a second only to look back and see four Dodgers crossing the plate. I looked down and the "grand slam" text popped up on my phone. I stared in bewilderment. She was watching! I didn't know she even knew what a grand slam was! Meanwhile, my daughter has been putting aside her laptop and actually staring at baseball on the big screen -- not vacantly, but with interest.

Today, just to get herself reacquainted with the situation, my daughter asked me what happens next for the Dodgers. I explained that they need to wait for the other series to end. It then dawned on her, "so after that there are two teams left and the Dodgers are one of them?" I nodded.

"Wow," she said. "Wow, wow, wow, wow."

Yup, 2017 is the right time for the Dodgers to reach the World Series.

Sorry about being so whiny all those other years.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trading with the mayor

I've traded cards with a wide variety of people since I started this blog. I've swapped cards with people living in England, France, Australia and several places in between. I've made deals with teachers, students, lawyers, writers and those with jobs that I'm sure I could never describe.

One of my most recent trades was with a mayor. The mayor of Cooperstown.

If I'm being honest, that sounds like a job out of fictional book for children. Cooperstown is already a magical place to many, myself included. And you're telling me there's a mayor of this fantasy land?

Yes there is. His name is Jeff. And I'm sure he lives in a regular house, not one with baseball-shaped hedges in the front and a doorbell that plays ballpark organ music. He is a well-known baseball fan and SABR member, and has written the book Split Season, which is about the 1981 baseball season (and we all know how that one ended!).

He also happens to be a collector.

We recently struck up a deal in which I'd send him a smattering of 1968 and 1969 Topps cards and he'd send me some cards for the 1973 Topps set I'm trying to complete.

I still need a whole bunch of the cards from this set, so I'm an easy mark. Jeff found several delightful cards for me including the above Luis Tiant card, which I believe is the first 1973 Topps card I ever saw when I was a kid. Tiant looked like a little doll figure to me back then -- one of those weird associations one makes when they're young.

Among the other cards were '73s that I once owned but then traded away.

Can you believe I traded away the Joe Rudi card that does not feature Joe Rudi? What was wrong with me?

But this is all part of the process of being a collector. You have to figure out what you really like through trial and error, sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back. The important thing is the non-Rudi Rudi card is back in the collection.

How about these heavyweights? I still have a thing about thinking New York players are more difficult to obtain than players from other teams. It's a product of where I grew up and where I live. But I'm sure happy to cross off Munson and Seaver.

More notables from the '70s. Hooton in a Cubs uniform still looks strange to me.

It's the '70s, so that means league leaders and team cards, as was written in the constitution. I think we should all write our congressman to get team photos back into sets. With all the bat boys included!

Lots of airbrushed Phillies pitchers in the 1973 Topps set. It looks like the logo on Wayne Twitchell's card is getting ready to run away.

Don Stanhouse's rookie card. That meant something before he came to the Dodgers. (And that reference means something only if you were a Dodgers fan in 1980).

The late, great Chuck Tanner and his coaches. I dig that manager silhouette. I don't think a manager has taken that pose in the history of this great game.

A bunch more '73s that authorities in the hobby would call "commons." But I can tell a story about almost all of them and get downright freakishly detailed about a couple. They're not common to me.

That's why I'm collecting this set.

For that reason, and, of course, the cartoons on the back.

Here are three cards with some cool cartoons:

The 1973 set features among the best cartoons that ever appeared on the back of Topps cards.

But the best of the group that Jeff sent to me is still the first 1973 card I ever saw:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

One-card wonders: update 6

Exactly 40 years ago, the king of novelty records during the 1970s released a so-bad-it's-good 45 called "In the Mood".

Ray Stevens released the song in 1977 under the pseudonym "The Henhouse Five Plus Too" (kind of makes me think of the blasters that advertise "seven packs plus one extra pack!"). It was a song that consisted entirely of Stevens clucking like chickens to the tune of the Glen Miller Band's "In the Mood".

Shockingly, it made the Billboard Top 40, peaking at exactly No. 40, making it officially a one-hit wonder.

Depending on your viewpoint, the song is painful to listen to or amusingly silly. I think the latter. It reminds me of something I would see on The Muppet Show back in the '70s and I was so convinced that I first heard chickens singing "In the Mood" on The Muppet Show that I looked for it online. What I found was the top 10 songs sung by Muppet chickens, but "In the Mood" wasn't one of them.

So how does this song tie into the latest One-Card Wonder post?

Well, since I'm focused on 1977, I have looked up all of the players in the 1977 Topps set who have their only card in that set.

There are five of them. And one of them, like The Henhouse Five song, is so bad it's good:

This painted gem is Rick Jones' only card in a major set. You can find him, looking much more realistic, in several minor league issues, as well as in a Red Sox team photo set.

I've often wondered what Rick Jones thought of this being his only Topps card. It's not even really him. And that's his only major card.

Here are the other one-card wonders from 1977:

The Chip Lang card is very cool, I've thought that since the moment I pulled it in 1977. It's the complete opposite of the Rick Jones card. If you're going to have only one card, make it look like Chip Lang's card!

Lang does have a different-looking card in the O-Pee-Chee set from that year. But it's nowhere as good as his Topps card, and for the purposes of this exercise, it does not count as a second card.

The last time I did a one-card wonder post, I covered 1978, which featured a whopping 10 one-card wonders.

I wanted to compare one of the years next to 1978 and I see that '78 still sticks out when compared with 1977. But there are probably two reasons for that.

The first one is that the '78 set is the first with 726 cards. The '77 set has just 660 cards. The second reason is the 1976 SSPC set effect. There are four players in the 1977 Topps set with only one other card, and that card is in the SSPC set. So I can't count them as one-card wonders.

There are also four other players whose only other card is on one of those multi-player rookie cards. But that disqualifies them as well.

So here now is the updated list:

1967 Topps

#344 - Ossie Chavarria, A's
#388 - Arnold Earley, Cubs
#489 - Doug Clemens, Phillies
#497 - Ron Campbell, Cubs

1974 Topps:

#8 - George Theodore, Mets
#33 - Don Newhauser, Red Sox
#37 - Dave Sells, Angels
#77 - Rich Troedson, Padres
#421 - Dan Fife, Twins
#457 - Chuck Goggin, Braves
#573 - Mike Adams, Twins 

1975 Topps

#288 - Bruce Ellingsen, Indians
#407 - Herb Washington, A's
#508 - Bob Hansen, Brewers
#524 - John Doherty, Angels
#587 - Chris Ward, Cubs
#651 - John Morlan, Pirates 

1977 Topps

#118 - Rick Jones, Mariners
#132 - Chip Lang, Expos
#137 - Jeff Terpko, Rangers
#616 - Tommy Sandt, A's
#641 - Dan Larson, Astros 

1978 Topps:

#224 - Jerry Tabb, A's
#303 - Sam Hinds, Brewers
#311 - Jose Baez, Mariners
#386 - Bob Gorinski, Twins
#502 - Pat Rockett, Braves
#516 - Gary Beare, Brewers
#521 - Steve Staggs, Blue Jays
#591 - George Zeber, Yankees
#667 - Jeff Byrd, Blue Jays
#719 - Randy Elliott, Giants

1980 Topps:

#59 - Eddy Putman, Tigers
#72 - Fred Howard, White Sox
#156 - Tony Brizzolara, Braves
#221 - Joe Cannon, Blue Jays
#233 - LaRue Washington, Rangers
#291 - Randy Scarberry, White Sox
#347 - Harry Chappas, White Sox

1981 Topps:

 #491 - Gordy Pladson, Astros

1982 Topps:

#356 - Denny Lewallyn, Indians

1984 Topps:

#116 - George Bjorkman, Astros
#159 - Darryl Cias, A's
#163 - Lorenzo Gray, White Sox
#337 - Kevin Hagen, Cardinals
#382 - Chris Nyman, White Sox
#474 - Greg Bargar, Expos

1994 Topps:

#491 - John Hope, Pirates

I will probably cover 1979 Topps next to gauge the follow up to 1978. Then I'll tackle some other brands besides Topps.

I apologize if you have that chicken-fed "In the Mood" song in your head now. Here are some other one-hit wonders from 1977. Maybe they'll work better:

"Torn Between Two Lovers" - Mary Macgregor
"Don't Give Up On Us Baby" - David Soul
"Undercover Angel" - Alan O'Day
"Don't Leave Me This Way" - Thelma Houston
"Smoke From a Distant Fire" - Sanford Townsend Band

Hmm, maybe chickens singing big band music isn't so bad.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Another natural enemy of baseball cards

Throughout the years of being a card collector, I've learned about the natural enemies of baseball cards.

Heat and moisture were the two biggies. As I read about collecting as a youngster, those wiser than me would warn about storing collections in attics or basements. And it didn't take much research to know what water could do. One drop into a puddle or a tour through a washing machine and I had my sad answer.

Legend said that mothers were a natural enemy of baseball cards. But although my mom didn't understand baseball in the least, she never threatened to do away with my cards.

During the early years of this blog I documented the conflict between dogs and baseball cards. My dog has chewed up cards in my collection a time or two. But he's older now and his willingness to chomp on everything he sees is diminished.

That's good, because my cards are dealing with another natural enemy right now: hardwood floors.

More than a year ago, we had all the carpeting taken out of our house (and by "we," I mean "she") to show off our "beautiful" (that's what all of my wife's female friends tell me anyway) hardwood floors. There is now rock, solid floors with no coverings in the living room, dining room, upstairs, downstairs. There is literally no place for a baseball card to hide.

It took me awhile to get used to the lack of carpeting, although it's no big deal now, except, of course, when I drop baseball cards.

This just happened to me today.

I was preparing to blog about a stack of cards sent to me by Julie from A Cracked Bat. I brought the cards downstairs and plopped them onto the computer desk on top of a padded envelope. As I was getting some stuff together to head out the door, the top part of the pile slid off the stack -- because everything has to be so damn shiny and slick -- and fell -- WHAP! -- onto the wooden floor.

"Oh no! Oh no! DINGS!" I said to myself.

There were five or six cards on the floor. I picked them up and sure enough, one had a brand new ding in the bottom right corner.

Chrome Kershaw. Come on, man, Kershaw?? Really, floor?

The scanner doesn't show it off well, but believe me, it's there.

I'll get over it, but I sure don't like carrying my cards around with the feeling that the floor is booby-trapped.

Let's take a look at some other cards from Julie to get my mind off of it.

Here -- here is another Kershaw card with all four corners safely sharp. This makes me feel better.

More shiny cards that made it past my hardwood floors unscathed and into my collection (although there's still the matter of carrying these cards on a trip back upstairs, where they could potentially squirt out of hands and fall to their sharp-corner death).

These mid-90's Score Summit parallels are as glittery and sparkly as the 2015 Topps Bolsinger bath beads parallel above (sorry, I forgot what they're actually called). They were 20 years before their time (or
Topps is rehashing ideas).

Speaking of natural enemies, Topps Triple Threads cards are the natural enemy of binder pages.

More shiny. Here is my first look at the revitalized Gold Label brand. I'm not anyone who longs for the days of Topps Gold Label, but I can see why collectors from that time are disappointed in these. The card stock is much thinner than original Gold Label. No self-respecting late '90s Gold Label card would curl.

Julie really loaded up on the shiny cards, no wonder things were slipping and sliding! Here are two cards of the always talked-about Yasiel Puig. As usual, we had to be dragged into a tired conversation about bat flips this postseason. At least Puig was able to smooth it over with his charm.

The '90s are all about filling holes in my collection I don't even know I have until I look up the cards. Here are two previously unknown needs from 1998 SP Authentic.

Some parallels that found a place in my collection. The less said about these the better.

Finally, another parallel of the guy who has turned the Dodgers' bullpen from semi-suspect to well worth the praise.

At the start of the postseason, when the national broadcasters talked about the Dodgers' excellent bullpen, I was confused. Despite being one of the better bullpens during the season, they still had issues, mainly they couldn't find a set-up guy.

But with Kenta Maeda's arrival in the bullpen and Brandon Morrow climbing to another level, the Dodgers are now 2-0 in the NLCS! The announcers do know what they're talking about!

However, I'm quite relieved I get a break from watching stress-filled games today. I'm now off to root for the Astros. There will be much less stress tonight.

Except ...

Wish me luck as I transport these cards to their proper home.