Tuesday, November 30, 2010

That kind of attitude will get you somewhere, mister

I am not the most positive person in the world. Even when the Dodgers make seemingly intelligent decisions like they did today -- scrapping Scrappy McScrapperson, Ryan Theriot, after only a couple of months to land a much needed middle reliever -- I expect it to come with a catch. Instead of being relentlessly upbeat, I am relentlessly examining the fine print.

So even though I haven't been as happy to see a former Giant come over to the good side since Brett Butler changed his evil ways, I'm certain the bad news will come in the form of a pudgy strikeout machine that is now the Dodgers' starting second baseman. Sure, Uribe can come through in the clutch -- he's demonstrated that against the Dodgers -- but there is a whole lot of padding his un-base percentage in between.

But that's me being negative again. I'm trying to cure that character flaw. It's hard to do so when being negative actually produces positive results. In fact, very recently, I won a bunch of cards because I was at my negative best.

You probably remember a postseason contest put on by Ryan at The Great Orioles Autograph Project. He asked people to select which team they thought would win each round of the playoffs. The entrant with the most correct guesses would wins some cardboard goodies.

I tied for the most correct guesses. But since Brian of Play at the Plate refuses to lose any contest he enters lately, I lost on tie-breakers. Fortunately, Ryan considered us co-winners and set me cards anyway.

But here's the back story on how I won:

I am terrible at predicting the outcome of sporting events. I've always been like this. I don't have much interest in placing bets or gambling at all, but I will enter Super Bowl pools, etc. I never win.

So it's useless to pick that way. I decided instead, why not select the teams that I don't want to win? I know this means embracing the very irrational and very negative viewpoint that the teams that I dislike will somehow win just to spite one solitary fan living in upstate New York. But I had always wondered if that tactic would work. It seemed like an awful lot of teams that I didn't want to win were winning anyway, so why not try to ride that pony and see what happens?

For each playoff series, I selected the team that I didn't want to win. So for Yankees-Twins, I picked the Yankees. For Braves-Giants, I picked the Giants, etc., etc. At the end, I said the Yankees would play the Giants, and the Giants would win, and I would pretend the World Series never existed.

Well, the only thing that got in the way of my plan is the Rangers -- a team I like -- found their way into the World Series and mucked things up a little. But the Giants ended up winning and I ended up pretending the Series never existed, and what do you know, I WON ME SOME CARDS!

Good ones, too. Let me show a few:

A shiny Heritage Chrome of the Dodgers' first baseman for 2011. It's already been decided.

A mini 2009 OPC of likely the Dodgers' closer for 2011, if he gets his act together.

An '89 Donruss Traded -- a set that's been totally out-of-sight-out-of-mind for me -- of bad-ass himself, Steady Eddie.

One of those cards of a dude in a Dodger uniform but listed with another team. That kind of card is one of the most difficult parts of being a team collector.

A 2009 Topps 206 mini of Andre Ethier. This is the more common Piedmont version, which I didn't have, even though I've got two other Ethier backs already ... and I can't believe I'm talking about back variations again. I hate myself.

Two of those Dem Bums insert cards from Topps a few years ago. It's probably not even 1/50th as difficult completing this team set as the actual 1955 Topps Dodgers team set, but it feels like it sometimes.

Here come the autographs (It's the Great AUTOGRAPH project. You were expecting bits of jersey?).

This is a card of the Orioles' possible third baseman of the future, if he gets his act together. Bell was once the Dodgers' third baseman of the future until L.A. decided it needed George Sherrill. Gee, did that sound negative? I'll try to stop that.

An '87 wax box card of my favorite player wearing totally the wrong uniform. Notice there's no "10" in Cey's signature, as he only adds that with Dodger cards. I would understand if he refused to sign non-Dodger cards altogether, but I guess he's too great of a guy for that.

Ooooh, a signed 1975 card. I like that a lot, even if it appears that Bumbry is drooling the second "B" in his last name. This is my third signed 1975 card. If I had all the money and the time in the world, I'd try to collect a signed '75 set. But that would be right after I won a million dollars.

Ryan sent a bunch of other great prize items, too, including a much-wanted card that I'll save for another time. But I'll just show these to finish up:

Those aren't even close to all the Piazzas. I don't know what an Orioles fan is doing with all those Piazza cards, but I'm sure glad he's holding contests that I can win. I thank him kindly.

And that's the story about how negative thinking can win you some contests. If you want to try it next postseason, be my guest.

But it's not all good. After all those cards, I'm actually wondering what I did to deserve this and when payback is arriving. (I'm guessing it will come in the form of massive snowstorm or homeowner calamity).

Delino and I will be over there cowering in the corner, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Slow motion replay

My blog is a happy oasis away from the idiocy that I deal with in everyday life. I work damn hard in just about everything that I do, but it doesn't seem to pay off a lot of the time.

It pays off more often with my blog. The blog is my baby, my creation, and I try to make sure it's working as smoothly as I can. The successes on Night Owl Cards far outweigh the failures.

But there is one issue that my diligence can't seem to fix.

I have received complaints periodically that it takes a long time for my blog to load. At first I shrugged off these comments. Anything worth having is worth waiting for, right? Besides, this blog was for me, not anyone else and their damn computer.

But as blogging continued to connect me with collectors around the country and beyond, I began to place greater importance in what others had to say, to the extent that the periodic complaints of the "slow-loading" Night Owl Cards started to bother me.

Finally, I decided to do something about it. About a month ago, I gutted half of my sidebar. I removed images and categories. I moved some of the stuff to the tabs that you now see underneath the banner. I think things are now easier to find and the blog looks better, too.

After getting things the way I wanted them, I tested and re-tested the blog. It seemed to load a lot more quickly. No more spinning wheel or circle or whatever device you have that tells you that, yes, jackass, you're STILL WAITING.

I tested it on my computer at work, too, and got the same result. It loaded more quickly there, too.

Problem solved. I thought.

Yesterday, a couple of comments on this post made me think the slow-loading problem may never go away. It was deflating.

Perhaps it still loads slower than other blogs because of all the card images I use. If that's the case, I'm just going to have to be a slow, backward hayseed, because I'm not cutting back on the images.

But I'm also wondering whether people are remembering the old days of Night Owl Cards -- one whole month ago -- and haven't truly noted the changes of the last month. Maybe the quicker speed hasn't registered yet.

Or maybe it's just as slow as before.

So, what's the deal? Have you noticed any change in the loading speed of this blog recently? Are things quicker, the same, or slower?

Would you like it if I took more drastic action to make it quicker? Or doesn't it matter?

I'll take your comments under advisement, but realize that I may chuck any recommendations for a new, shiny, sparkly blog gadget that I found that means my blog will load sometime in 2017.

Oh, and as a thanks to the person who inspired me to ask for some advice instead of quietly sulking, here are some cards recently sent by Brian at Play at the Plate:

Thanks, Brian.

And thanks for your kind comments, too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Team colors: Tigers

I haven't written one of these "team colors" posts for a little while, so how about if I slap one on here while I'm still recuperating from ... well, just about everything?

The Tigers' team colors interest me because both of their primary colors are up for debate. Officially, I believe, their team colors are navy and orange, as you see displayed on the 1974 Topps Al Kaline card here.

But the "navy" part always threw me off. Much like the Yankees, which also lists its primary team color as "navy," I don't read the color as navy. I read it as black. All during my time growing up, I thought the Tigers wore black caps and white uniforms with black piping.

Stuff like this didn't help:

In 1981, Topps used caps of each respective team on its cards. It attempted to replicate the color of the cap, too. But that cap there is definitely not navy. It is black.

It's not until you get right up close to a Tigers player that you realize, "hey, that's blue he's wearing there."

As for the "orange" part of the Tigers' team colors, sometimes I see it as red, and I bet a few other fans do, too. It wasn't even until the early 1970s that the orange color appeared in Tigers uniforms. Detroit starting using it on its road uniforms. But sometimes that "D" in the road cap logo looks red to me.

As for the colors Topps used for Tigers cards through the years, it eventually came around to using navy/blue and orange, but it took awhile. Topps leaned on yellow in the early years. There was a period in the mid-to-late 1970s when Topps went with brown and yellow. This was when Topps used the same two colors with two teams. Topps used brown and yellow for both the Tigers and the Padres, who knows why. But thanks to that move, all the world was in harmony when those two teams met in the 1984 World Series.

So here's the list on what colors Topps used for the Tigers during years in which it dedicated colors based on which team was displayed:

1964: red and yellow
1965: red and blue
1966: yellow and red
1967: pink
1968: yellow and red
1969: yellow and red
1971: yellow and red
1972: gold and yellow
1974: orange and blue
1976: brown and yellow
1977: brown, yellow and red
1978: brown and orange
1979: yellow, brown and red
1980: brown, yellow and red
1981: pink, yellow and black
1982: blue and purple
1983: orange and purple
1984: blue and gold
1985: blue and orange
1986: blue
1987: blue
1988: gold and green
1989: blue and orange
1991: orange, blue and gray
1992: orange, red, blue and yellow
1993: orange and blue
1994: blue, orange and yellow
1998: blue
2000: blue
2002: orange and blue
2003: orange
2004: blue and orange
2005: blue and orange
2006: blue and orange
2007: blue and orange
2008: orange and blue
2009: blue
2010: orange

Tigers' team colors: navy/blue and orange
What Topps says are the Tigers' team colors: blue and orange!

Yeah, I guess those caps aren't black after all.

(The tally: Blue-21, Orange-17, Yellow-12, Red-9, Brown-5, Gold-3, Pink-2, Purple-2, Black-1, Gray-1, Green-1)

Awesomest night card, round 1, part 11

The Awesomest Night Card Tournament continues to put up impressive numbers, if you consider "impressive" to mean lopsided results usually reserved for September college football scores.

This latest week of night card voting was another merciless beatdown. It turns out we have many Johnny Vander Meer fans. Or fans of dimly-lit 1930s ballparks.

The '94 Upper Deck card celebrating Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hit achievement advances easily and might do very well in future rounds. Here is the tally:

1. 1994 Upper Deck Johnny Vander Meer's 2nd no-hitter: 40 votes
2. 2005 Topps Fan Favorites Joaquin Andujar: 7 votes
3. 1975 Topps Game 4 of 1974 World Series: 5 votes
4. 2002 Topps United We Stand Astros vs. Giants: 3 votes
5. 2007 Upper Deck Jason Bay: 2 votes
6. 2004 Topps Tim Worrell: 1 vote

Thanks, as always, for voting. I appreciate every last vote and voter. Even the guy who voted for the Worrell card.

All right, onto to part 11. Here are the next six candidates. I anticipate another exhibition in voting annihilation.

1. 2007 Upper Deck Masterpieces Carlton Fisk: It's Masterpieces. It's one of the greatest moments in baseball history. It's the first baseball moment that I ever experienced. It will be a tragedy if this card doesn't get every last vote.

2. 2008 Topps Wilson Betemit: Conversely, with this card, it's 2008 Topps, it's a Yankee, it's Wilson Betemit. Voting is not recommended.

3. 2008 Topps U&H Ken Griffey Jr. Season Highlights: Griffey never played in a World Series. What's that about?

4. 1974 Topps Game 4 of 1973 World Series: Rusty Staub, pictured here, was 4-for-4 with 5 RBIs and a home run in this game. Impressive.

5. 2005 Fleer Tradition Adrian Beltre: What are the chances of Beltre returning to the Dodgers? Probably not very good.

6. 1987 Fleer Superstar Specials Dave Parker and Ryne Sandberg: You've got to love the catch-all label. "Former MVP's." I wonder how big a card set you could build using all of the possible combinations of former MVPs? I'd say it would be pretty massive.

That's it for this grouping. I might start pairing up 7 or 8 cards the next time. We've got to get to Round 2 someday.

Poll is up on the sidebar. Be a dear and vote.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where am I?

I've just returned from my journey over the river and through the woods. I'm totally disoriented and will never eat pie nor watch the Detroit Lions again.

For me, the Thanksgiving holiday is a series of tests regarding how much self-control I can exhibit in a given situation:

a) Will I have a third helping of pumpkin pie after downing practically an entire bag of fun-size, autumn-themed, dark chocolate candies?

(Yes, I will. Self-control loses that battle)

b) Will I finally tell a certain in-law to stop complaining incessantly about their lot in life and shut the hell up?

(No, I won't. Score one for self-control)

c) Will I stand in a parking lot at 4 a.m. with a group of ill-behaved strangers the following day?

(You've got to be kidding. That's not self-control. That's drawing the line at "crazy.")

During my time away I barely blogged, but tried to view other bloggers' holiday posts. I commented very sporadically, because it's a pain in the app to comment remotely.

I am ridiculously behind in just about every area having to do with cards, but completely incapable of addressing it today or even tomorrow.

Instead, I will leave you with the simplest of trade posts. Long ago, Jason sent me a few Dodgers in exchange for some Orioles. The prize of the dozen or so cards was the Matt Kemp orange refractor up at the top of the post. I realize it looks red, but I have no time or patience to figure out why it scans red, so you'll just have to believe me.

I still have yet to pull an orange refractor of a Dodger. It's possibly the most vexing problem I've come across in the hobby in 2010. Really. Other people are lamenting the lack of Upper Deck baseball and whatever the hell Panini is doing (I'm not paying attention). But I'm getting all indignant about the team collation of parallels in retail rack packs. I guess we can't all be big dreamers.

Here are a few other cards from Jason:

Turn of the century Dodger needs. Arranged haphazardly.

Many thanks to Jason. That gets me about 1/12th through the trades that I need to feature here. ...

OK, I've just spent 5 minutes staring at the screen trying to figure out how to end this silly thing.

So, I'll just say bye.

See ya in the wee hours.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Worst card of 2010: contestant #5

Trying like mad to catch up on these "Worst Card" posts after slacking just about the whole year. So, either you'll see a whole mess of these in the next month, or I'll just give up and ignore the thing -- which actually sounds like the more probable option right now.

But I can't wrap up the Worst Card segment without addressing dear Topps Update/Traded & Highlights. It always has some clunkers in it.

This is a classic example. It's not even the only one in the set. There are several of these "dudes just standing around" cards. And Topps has been doing it in Topps Update/Traded & Pick a Name and Stay With It for a few years now.

It's a big reason why I don't collect this set (well, besides the "no money" reason). Why would I go out of my way to collect cards that look like they were taken by some fan in the stands? Even if the fan showed me the photo that they took -- if it looked like this -- I'd say, "it looks like two dudes just standing around."

I can go to any golf course anywhere and take a photo that looks like this. The golfers will even have more normal clothing than Vladdy and Miggy.

I also like the painful reaching that was performed to come up with a title for this card. "NL East Origins." I wonder how long it took for some copy writer to unearth that?

Boss: We've got another one of those "two dudes standing around photos."
Copy Writer: Good god, another one? Nobody's going to want that crap.
Boss: I don't care. It needs a title.
Copy Writer: I quit.
Boss: You can't quit until I get a title.
Copy Writer: OK, fine. Um ... "NL East Origins." There you go. I'm out of here.

I realize all this card is is a checklist. Someone could say, "at least they put a photo out there. They could have done what they used to do and just made it a checklist, front and back."

You know what? I'd like that better. I like the old checklist. It didn't try to hide behind two dudes and pretend it was something it wasn't. It was proud. "I'm a Checklist, dammit. Write on me!"

No chance of being a "Worst Card" candidate if you're a checklist and you're proud. But there is no pride in this card.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cardboard appreciation: 1978 Topps Doug Ault

(A very happy Thanksgiving to everyone that I've come in contact with through this blog. On the ultimate Appreciation Holiday, I hope everyone is thankful for the people they have in their lives. I know I am. This is Cardboard Appreciation. It is the 91st in a series):

You may have gathered that I'm not a fan of expansion teams. I think they dilute major league talent. I think they water down the game. I think they play in areas of the country that can't necessarily support the team.

However, I do understand why people feel a connection to an expansion team.

I felt that connection in 1977.

For me, the Toronto Blue Jays were "mine" in the sense that I was a witness to their birth. All of those other major league teams had been around long before I was born, or at least began when I was barely out of diapers. But the Blue Jays were different.

The Blue Jays presented the chance for me to chart the progress of a team from Day 1. I would be around for every moment, every milestone. The first player on an All-Star team. The first postseason appearance. No one would tell me, "this was before your time," because the Blue Jays were OF my time. It was like seeing the birth of your own child. I would watch this team learn to crawl, walk, drive and leave for college.

The Blue Jays instantly became one of my favorites. It helped that they were now the closest team to me. And in April of 1977, I was in Buffalo at my grandmother's where you could watch Canadian television. I was seated on the floor of the living room in my grandmother's apartment to view the Blue Jays' first game in franchise history.

It was April 7. Easter time. I distinctly remember looking up at the television and watching the snowflakes fly across the screen as the Blue Jays and White Sox began play at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. It was a frigid day for baseball, but the game was played and the Blue Jays won their organizational debut.

Doug Ault, a player that I had never heard of before, hit two home runs in that game. He became an instant Blue Jays hero. He was one of the expansion team's better players that season, and I adopted him as my favorite player on one of my new favorite teams.

When Ault's 1978 Topps card came out, I didn't notice Thurman Munson squatting behind the plate in the photo. My eyes were focused on Ault, as he gazed toward the pitcher, and on the rookie cup in the bottom right corner. It was one of my favorite cards from the set. The card was filled with promise -- as all cards with a rookie cup are -- but this one was different. I was a witness to that promise. I saw his two-homer game in the snow on opening day.

Surely greatness waited for Ault because I was there at the beginning. I looked forward to greater achievements and greater cards that Topps would make of Ault in the future.

But in 1978, Ault played in only half the games that he did in 1977. He didn't play in the majors at all in '79, and he hit .194 for Toronto in 1980.

His major league career was over.

Ault later coached and managed in the Blue Jays' organization. I remember him being named the manager of Toronto's Triple A team in Syracuse. The thought of seeing him so close to my home again made me smile. "I remember when he hit two home runs in the snow," I'd say.

Ault disappeared from my consciousness after that. I didn't hear much about him until news of his death came just before Christmas six years ago. He was 54. He killed himself while seated in his car in the driveway of his Florida home. He left a suicide note for his wife.

This article documents Ault's spiral into hopelessness in painful detail. A gregarious, impulsive individual, Ault endured tragedy after tragedy. He became addicted to pain killers, which basically ended his career. His loved ones -- a wife and two sisters -- died too young. Eventually, Ault couldn't see a way out and left everyone behind.

Ault never had the career that I had expected of him. During that 1977 season, I charted every home run I saw, and I still remember writing "Doug Ault, Blue Jays, vs. White Sox, 1st inning, April 7" as the first homer I documented that year. But as the seasons went on, I got older, and Ault's career grew colder. I stopped paying attention. I pulled his card in the 1979 Topps set and scolded myself. The guy wasn't very good anymore. What an idiot I had been in 1977.

It's been more than 30 years. My grandmother is gone. Doug Ault is gone. I don't like the Blue Jays as much as I once did. I don't like expansion teams as much as I once did.

I still have the 1978 Ault card. But what it says to me is different, too. Instead of the promise of greatness to come it says this:

Be thankful for what you have now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Here's your top 60, part 3

Sadly, my own little diamond anniversary party is coming to a close. That went by awfully quick, didn't it? That's the way I like it. No long, drawn-out affair like that Awesomest Night Card thinga-ma-role. When's that ending?

Anyway, I have cards 41-60 coming up in a second. I'm just showing ol' Don Mossi here to illustrate that there are many, many, many cool cards that I do not have that would be just as worthy contenders for bumping out half the Mantles that Topps has nominated as anything else I'm featuring. It's just that my collection is focused mostly in the '70s and '80s so that's what I happen to think is the best. Feel free to nominate your own top 60. Then Topps can take credit for spawning a thousand lists and everyone will be happy.

OK, the final cards on the list. Again, these are in total random order.


41. 1975 Topps Steve Yeager: First Dodger card I ever pulled from a pack purchased with my own money. A "big boy" moment. Simple as that.

42. 1974 Topps Steve Garvey: This card deserves to be hanging in an art gallery somewhere. It's surrealistic and awesome. It's surrawesome!

43. 1974 Topps Paul Lindblad: More cardboard art suitable for framing. Can a baseball card be profound? Let me think about that for awhile, while I stare at this card some more.

44. 1982 Topps In Action Carlton Fisk: For the most part, I thought Topps' In-Action revival in '82 was lame. But not this card. Tilting the card was a wise move. Putting the card on its edge puts you on the edge. Will he catch it? True action in action.

45. 1971 Topps Thurman Munson: Speaking of action, this might be the card that spawned a thousand play-at-the-plate cards. One of the few cards that Topps got right on its voting site. Shockingly, it's a Yankee.

46. 1980 Topps Gorman Thomas: If you view Thomas' cards through the years and note his grooming habits, you'll realize that all of the cards lead up to this one. This is Gorman as we remember him. Bad-ass and using a bat like a sledgehammer. Not even the baby blue uniform can bring him down.

47. 1996 Upper Deck V.J. Lovero Showcase Hideo Nomo: Final Upper Deck card of the bunch (See, Topps? There wasn't that many). It is a chore picking out "the best" Hideo Nomo card, but I think this one does the job.

48. 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken: I like that I obtained this card merely because I wanted the traded set. I sent away for it, received the tidy little blue box, and before I knew it, the Ripken card had blossomed into this monster rookie card. And I didn't even have to lift a finger. It was like owning a Chia Pet, except you don't ever want to water a box of cards.

49. 1957 Topps Dodgers Sluggers: Card companies today feature a lot of combo cards in homage, I guess, to these old cards of the '50s and '60s. But they rarely achieve the effect that Topps did back in the day. I guess that might be a reflection on today's cynical society. But really, objectively, this card beats the shit out of any "combo card."

50. 1976 Topps Jerry Reuss: This was already a childhood favorite before Reuss answered my TTM request and then commented on my blog. Now I have a reason to carry this card around in my wallet.

51. 1973 Topps Luis Alvarado: Several months ago, I knew nothing about this card. Today, it represents a snapshot of my childhood. Minus the palm tree.

52. 1988 Score Reggie Jackson: Oops, here's another non-Topps one. This card comes from one of the best subsets of the '80s. But that's not why it's here. It's here because there is (or was) so few cards of Jackson as an Oriole. The card is endlessly fascinating. It makes me want to read up on everything about Jackson and the Orioles.That is the pinnacle of what a card should be.

53. 1975 Topps Ron Cey: Favorite player when I was 9. Favorite player now. Favorite card when I was 9. Favorite card now. The photo does have a "last batter on earth" vibe to it.

54. 2009 Topps Allen & Ginter Clayton Kershaw: From one favorite player to another favorite player. I've got to have a current card in the top 60. This is a great one.

55. 1977 Topps Frank Tanana: From an early age I favored the pitcher over the batter. Especially when one appears to be literally throwing smoke on their baseball card.

56. 1971 Topps Rookie Stars Pitchers: Now, this card is funny. Much funnier than putting a squirrel on a card and short-printing it to kingdom come. This shows you a card company is having fun, that they are almost one with the collector, not trying to put their hand in the collector's pocket.

57. 1961 Topps Sandy Koufax: Yup, that's a card with an autograph. I tried to keep it to cards only, since this is about "the card." But this card represents a milestone moment in my collecting career. It was the first time I bought a card because it had an autograph. Still have no idea if it's real (my hunch is that it is), but that doesn't bother me.

58. 1991 Topps Roger Clemens: As someone who is constantly sending photographers out on assignments for portrait shots and hoping, hoping that they'll come up with something good, I say, "well done" to the person who took this. There are a lot of great cards from '91 Topps that I left out, but I can't leave this one out.

59. 1962 Topps Walter Alston: Alston received just one at-bat in his major league career. Yet I count at least 18 bats in this picture. I think somebody is making fun of him.

60. 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson: Jackie ends it! Yes, this one is on the Topps voting site, too. I think it's one of five that I selected that are also on the site. But don't hold that against those cards. Topps just got lucky.

Topps thinks a card must feature a superstar, a rookie or be gimmicked up to be one of "the best."

I hope most collectors don't think that, but some of them probably do. Probably more than I want to believe.

But to me, you can be Luis Alvarado or Dal Maxvill and achieve true greatness on cardboard. They may be listed as commons in the price guide, but they're actually as rare as they come.