Monday, February 29, 2016

You have my attention

I've been around the blog world for awhile now, and I'm pretty well-known, as much as a faceless somebody with a pseudonym can be known anyway.

But I don't feel anymore important or "special" than I did when I first started writing this. Sure, I own more cards than I did back then, but I still collect the same. Nobody needs to impress me with over-the top folding book cards, or shadow-box patches, or acetate rainbow parallels only found in a pineapple under the sea. Just a single base card from off my want list will do. I'm happy with that.

The other day I received a package from fellow supertrader Brett. I've never dealt with him before, so you know how that goes. You have no frame of reference so you don't know what you're going to get. But, really, unless it's a stack of '91 Donruss in the envelope, there are no worries.

Yet, Brett, apparently, wanted to make sure.

That's a mess of autographed Dodgers from the '70s, plus a special card of '50s star Carl Erskine.

Brett, you have my attention.

I own a few certified autographs of Hooton and Russell, but it's nice to get the in-person kind, too (at least I think it's in-person, maybe it's TTM). When I was briefly doing the TTM thing I was lucky enough to receive an autographed card from Erskine, but this special card is different than the one Erskine sent me.

As far as Downing and Osteen? Those are the first ones in my collection. Always great to add new Dodgers to the autograph binder.

Brett sent some cards that were the whole other end of the spectrum, too. Lowly minor leaguers on Heritage stock. None of these guys are doing much for the Dodgers these days. Reed and Erickson have moved on to different teams. Stripling and Gould are treading water in Double A. But at least I have that fun Chattanooga Lookouts logo in my collection.

This is the foil parallel Heritage Yasiel Puig. I am rooting for a quick and painful death with these things. They've already hung around two years too long.

Finally, a plain, ordinary base card. From my want list! All right, Brett! You get me!

It's always nice to add another trading partner. I guess that's what the Supertraders is all about.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

I have nothing to say

The bad part about writing an almost daily blog is that sometimes you beat a topic to death so relentlessly that not even the scavenger owl that I am can retrieve anything from its lifeless carcass.

I believe I've done that for 2016 Topps, and for 2015 Topps as well.

So when two people -- Steve of The Card Chop and Julie of A Cracked Bat -- each send cards that are overwhelmingly packed with the latest from the last two years, there's just no more words. All that's left are semi-pretty pictures (or in the case of 2016 Topps, downright homely pictures).

I'll make this quick.

Cards from The Card Chop: The McCutcheon Perspectives card is fantastic. I don't understand the complaints about the lettering. If it looks like a cheap mid-1990s graphic, just pretend it's retro. ... The Kershaw, on the other hand -- bleeeaah. I don't need to see my superstars in action that close. And the gold netting is just not getting the parallels done. ... Meanwhile, this is my fourth parallel of last year's Jim Johnson card. So I am officially the premier Jim Johnson supercollector, which I probably should be because he's from my hometown.

Cards from A Cracked Bat: As you can see, Julie unloaded a whole bunch of update into my grateful hands. I was happy to see only one gross All-Star cap in the whole bunch. Also, I dare Topps to start using Ichiro's last name. It's not like they haven't already experienced not being able to print his card.

Plus, Julie threw in this black parallel Dusty Baker from Stadium Club.

Annnnnnnnnnd ...


That's right. I'm down to one-word exclamations.

I guess I did have a few things to say. But I better find some more words. Because I still need 15 cards from 2015 Topps Series 2, 16 cards from 2015 Topps Update, and a several of the many Dodgers in 2016 Topps.

I'm gonna need a ghostwriter.

Friday, February 26, 2016

'56 of the month: Bob Grim

It appears that Robert of $30 a Week Habit is controlling programming on Night Owl Cards lately, but I'm bracing for another freaking high school sports Friday, so I'll take all the help I can get.

Growing up in upstate New York, just a half day's drive from Yankee Stadium, I knew the Yankees of that period better than the players on my own favorite team. They were in the newspaper, on the TV and part of the conversation in the schoolyard. Plus, the talk was louder than usual because these were the Bronx Zoo Yankees. So there were World Series games, and special ABC Thursday Night Baseball, and magazine articles, and books, for crying out loud.

I accumulated as much knowledge about the team than any Yankee fan (more knowledge, in the case of many of them).

The prevailing theme about the Yankees during that time as I was growing up is that they were always good. Everyone. Sure, there were a couple of bench scrubs named George Zeber and Mickey Klutts, but they never played. Everyone who played was good. Very good.

And that's all you heard when talk turned to the Yankees' history, too. On WPIX, Phil Rizzuto was always talking about Mantle or Ford or Berra. Everyone back then was good, too. Everyone in the '50s. Everyone in the '60s. Everyone in the '70s. All of them good. No wonder everyone I knew was a Yankee fan.

But the interesting thing is they never seemed to bring up the failures, the abbreviated careers, the players who never panned out. Everyone was a star or was going to be a star.

So it was a long time before I found out about Yankees players like Bob Grim.

Grim started on the path of every other amazing Yankee. After going 16-5 for Binghamton in Class A ball (my hometown), he entered the Marines during the Korean War, and didn't return to pro baseball until spring training 1954.

Grim wasn't even on the roster, but worked his way onto the team. By mid-April he was starting. He won 11 of 13 decisions. Then he won 9 of 11 decisions. By the end of the season he had won 20 games (against 6 losses) and won the AL Rookie of the Year award (Al Kaline finished a distant third). Grim and Pedro Martinez are the only pitchers to win 20 games with less than 200 innings pitched.

This is where Rizzuto, and others who loved to extol Yankees greatness, would end the story.

And, I'm sure sometimes Grim wished it could end there. But it didn't.

He started feeling pain in his arm the very next year. His pitching coach said it was in his head. But it wasn't. After struggling through his sophomore year, the arm problems continued until he was sent to the bullpen. He did all right for the Yankees in 1957 as a relief pitcher, but he was soon traded to Kansas City, and spent the rest of his career bouncing between teams.

After his baseball career, he worked as a bartender at his father's bar in his native Brooklyn. He also worked on a fishing boat, sold newspapers door to door, and became a liquor salesman. The stories of the next Yankee great had long since disappeared, replaced by just one great season in 1954.

Grim later said that the slider, a relatively new pitch in the 1950s, helped ruin his arm. He was a hard thrower, not a finesse pitcher, and he didn't know how to master the pitch.

Even though he was a native, Grim didn't feel comfortable playing in New York, disliking the crush of people. "People were always bugging me for tickets," he once said. And a few years after his retirement, he moved to Kansas City.

Grim died of a heart attack in 1996 after getting into a snowball fight with neighborhood kids. He was 66.

We often hear about the rookies who shined brightly for a year or two and then crashed and burned. Mark Fidrych, Joe Charboneau, Bob Hamelin, Herb Score, Steve Howe. Their stories are told over and over and over.

What do they all have in common? None of them won their rookie of the year award as a Yankee.

This could be that the Yankees have enjoyed tremendous luck, or are terrific at bringing along top-notch talent, or are equally terrific at extolling their best players and whisking the ones that didn't pan out under the rug.

I have a feeling it's a combination of all of those.

While other organizations embrace their failures, some to a disturbing degree (i.e. the Cubs), the Yankees seem to have an incredible fear of failure. Do you know how long it took me to figure out who Jerry Kenney and Horace Clarke were? They played a mere handful of years before I grew up on the late '70s Yankees. Yet it was as if they never existed, because the teams they played on didn't succeed.

I guess that's what makes them the Yankees. And why people both love and hate them.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Putting buybacks in their place

I came across an interesting question yesterday on Robert's $30 a Week Habit blog. He was wondering how to file these buyback cards. For instance, is the card here a 1978 card or a 2015 card, like the stamp says?

I had always considered it a 1978 card. It was made in 1978. It gets recorded and filed with 1978 cards. There was never a thought it could be anything else. But I was easily outnumbered in the comments. They filed their buybacks with the year it was stamped, considering it an insert from that particular year.

I'm trying not to get riled up about this, but --- aaaarrrrrrrghhhhh, you're playing right into Topps hands!!!!

This is not an insert -- and definitely not a hit -- no matter how Topps packages it! It is a regurgitated card ruined by a stamp! It is not a 2015 card, no matter what it says on the stupid stamp or how it was presented! It is a 1978 card, and nothing that a stamp says is going to change that for me!

OK, really, you can file your cards how you want. I'll try to calm down.

But just look at the back of the card, please.

There in tiny type, just below the Play Ball game, there is the copyright, which says --- 1978! (Uh-oh, here I go). Be your own collector! Don't let Topps tell you when a card was issued with a magic wave of a foil stamper thingy!!! Do you open a box of 2004 Topps Heritage in 2016 and then write them all down as 2016 cards???

Yeah, I know it's not the same thing, but it is to me.

All my buybacks go with the years in which the card -- you know, the thing that I collect -- was made. And the stupid buyback should be grateful that's what I do with it, because what I really want to do is throw it in the giant dupes box.

OK, that's enough ranting for today, let's see what cards Robert sent me recently.

It's actually two separate envelopes sent a couple of weeks apart. I don't know how people do stuff like that, but I'm grateful.

That card is pretty. It may be dismissed as some card designer's nostalgia trip back to inserts from 1999, but we all know that no one has nostalgia for 1999. Or shouldn't.

Robert is helping me with my 2016 Topps Dodgers since I refuse to buy them for myself. This one is fare enough, although I don't understand the "energized by battery power" line. Kershaw's face is kinda goofy, too.

Here is Yasmani Grandal again, who is a "future star" even while entering his fifth year in the majors.

This also is a night card. It's exceedingly difficult to pick out night cards in the 2016 set (yet another strike against this thing). With tight cropping, blurred out background and smoke covering the rest, I have to look for either a glistening helmet or a yellowish tint in the background.

I consider the Perspectives cards an apology from Topps for making my night-card identifying so difficult this year. This is an obvious night card. And awesome.

Robert sent three Bills cards (the scanner cropped the other card in half and I don't feel like recropping it). This is my first Doug Flutie card. Until this moment I had more cereal boxes of Doug Flutie than cards. I'm glad Robert fixed that.

Here is a trio of Buffalo Sabres stars. I really get a kick out of the Guevremont card. Every '70s card ruled, no matter what the subject.

Fantastic. This is the card that will spur me to put up a 1976 Hostess want list. I have enough now for it to be an actual compulsion. Look at that thing. I am in complete shock that the Star-Spangled Banner is not on the reverse.

A couple of '56 wants for what will be the longest set-build of my life. I love that Ellis Kinder card. It's also cool to get cards of people who played in the 1940s.

Thanks, Robert for the cards -- and the post idea.

I'm perfectly calm now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Match the song title: Pretenders

I am a member of the MTV generation. There is no mistake about that. MTV was born a month before I entered my junior year in high school.

It was the latest, greatest invention, at least according to the most receptive market for these kinds of things: teenagers. MTV videos made up the daily conversation in the cafeteria, where it was mixed with movies, homework, girls, TV shows and idiot teachers in a hormonal stew.

For me, and others of that generation, what has happened to MTV is criminal. The station that proclaimed the death of the radio star with its very first video, also killed what made it great, what the people who worked there were so excited about in the first place: music on your television, all day and all night -- and in stereo.

The videos that MTV played during those first few years were exactly what we wanted to see. They spoke to us. And the ones that spoke the loudest were the new groups that we were witnessing for the very first time on music television. Even today, more than 30 years after MTV first launched, I am the most comfortable when I am listening to music from that time.

Bands like the Pretenders, Cars and Talking Heads are mine. They are what I listen to when I want to reconnect with what I enjoy about popular music. And I've been listening to what's considered '80s alternative nonstop for the last two months.

The Pretenders skew more toward rock, even though they were lumped into that nebulous "new wave" category at the time. But there was no doubt they were new and interesting. In looking at the first 20 videos to ever play on MTV, the Pretenders is the only artist to show up twice (Brass in Pocket - 7, Message of Love - 20).

The Pretenders' first album, self-titled, is one of my favorite albums of all-time. It celebrated its 36th birthday just last month (wow!). It changed lives, and although two of the artists in the group would die a couple of years after the record came out, it remains relevant to me to this day. I can quote lyrics from songs on the album like most people quote movie lines. And it sums up perfectly those restless days of youth.

But before this turns into a music blog, let's steer it to the post's intent. The challenge is to match a baseball card to each song title on the album -- and believe me, it is a challenge.

Here is the song list.

Now let's see what I came up with for Chrissie and the boys.

Match the song title: "Pretenders, Pretenders"

Track 1: Precious: An outstanding song, full of sex, aggression and guitars -- perfect for developing minds. My first thought was the Precious Gems cards put out by Metal Universe in the late 1990s. I just did a search for some of the cards and they're still going for outrageous prices. I will never spend more than 40 bucks for a card that is younger than my daughter. All of those cards, to quote Chrissie Hynde, can "f*** off."

Track 2: The Phone Call: I must trot this card out at least once a year. It's 1980 calling, Brett. It's saying your music sucks in 1997.

Track 3: Up the Neck: "Lust turns to anger, a kiss to a slug." Most of the Pretenders' songs are full of punk attitude -- just presented in a more melodic way. They are considered a bridge between punk and new wave bands like R.E.M.

For some reason I started searching out players with long necks for this song. Hunter Pence came to mind immediately. Such a goofy dude.

Track 4: Tattooed Love Boys: If I was doing this series even five years ago, I don't know what I would have used here. These days, however, you can find tattoos on every other ballplayer. I don't pretend to understand it, but it makes this track the easiest for finding a card.

(P.S.: James Honeyman Scott is why you don't do drugs. A guitar great).

Track 5: Space Invader: And then there are tremendous leaps in logic like this card. Let me explain:

The instrumental is a nod to the "Space Invaders" arcade game (I sure did love it), which was at its height of popularity in the late '70s. Around the same time, Atari -- the makers of Space Invaders -- put out a baseball video game called Home Run Baseball.

These were the graphics:

Isn't that wonderful? I would have no problem playing this today. I quit video games by the late '80s. So I'm not spoiled on today's graphics.

But anyway, the point:

The box for home run baseball featured generic ballplayers on the cover. I saw generic drawings like this everywhere in the '70s. The guy fielding the ball could be Sal Bando. The guy swinging the bat could be Billy Williams. And the guy pitching in the center is Jim Palmer. Because the generic sketched pitcher in the 1970s was always Jim Palmer.

I told you it was a stretch.

Track 6: The Wait: I adore this song. Waiting is what being a teenager is all about. Heck, that's what baseball is all about, what life is all about.

Track 7: Stop Your Sobbing: Sam Dyson was taken to task for criticizing Jose Bautista's batflip/staredown after giving up the deciding home run to Bautista in the AL Division Series last year. I don't need to pile on, and perhaps he's rethought his comments in the months that have passed, but one player did their job in that situation and the other one didn't. The one who didn't shouldn't be critiquing anything, except himself.

Track 8: Kid: Of course, it's The Kid!

This was the start of Side 2 (when Side 2 meant something, back in those early MTV days). The prettiest song of the bunch. Harks back to the '60s.

Track 9: Private Life: I like every song on this album, but there are a couple on Side 2 that go on a little too long. This is one of them.

It's interesting that the first player I thought of for Private Life is Joe DiMaggio, just because he was so determined to keep his private life private. And what did he get? People constantly talking about DiMaggio's private life. By the way, the 1960s piece on DiMaggio by Gay Talese, "The Silent Season of a Hero," might be the best there is.

Track 10: Brass In Pocket: The Pretenders' biggest hit off the album and my introduction to the band. The video is still amusing.

Most of the Pinnacle Mint coins were made out of brass, I believe. Pinnacle suckered people into becoming coin collectors and looking for silver and gold coins (I believe the gold were redemptions only). I always stuck to the cardboard.

Track 11: Lovers Of Today: Look! It's a Rookie Card and a Rookie Cup and on a 2016 card! It's got "THIS IS NOW" all over it!

For me, the Lovers Of Today are most of the people on Twitter. There are like 5 of us on there who remember what the '70s were like and stay on there only to annoy the people who were born after Kurt Cobain died for god's sake. My love for today is the fact that I'm still in it. Otherwise, give me one of those 3-D Kellogg's cards.

Track 12: Mystery Achievement: The LP's last song and my favorite song on it. It's a bass-heavy masterpiece.

For this song, I chose Alexander Cartwright, who was officially recognized as the creator of baseball over half a century ago, yet Abner Doubleday still lives on for his mystery achievement of thinking up the sport.

And that's where the needle comes off the record.

The fact is, we don't need MTV anymore. There are so many other venues for listening and watching music that I could play nothing but Pretenders for the rest of my life.

But that doesn't mean that this album isn't special. Sooooo special.