Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fork In The Road To Immortality.

       Last night, it was announced that two men had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza.  I am going to get my favorite quirky statistic about this out of the way first:  Junior is the first number one draft pick to be chosen, and as a 62nd round pick, 1390th overall, Piazza is (by far) the lowest draft pick ever granted membership to Cooperstown.
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Ken Griffey Jr.
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Ken Griffey Jr. set a record with 99.3% of the vote, getting named on 437 out of 440 of the ballots. Whoever the three dudes are who decided not to vote for him should be publicly shamed, stripped of their vote, and kept in the stocks on Main Street in Cooperstown during induction weekend.

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I have shown my pages of Griffey before so I dove into the boxes for his inserts for this occasion.  Above you see two of my favorite food issue oddballs of all time.  Not that getting cards out of Oreos or Ritz Crackers is all that bizarre and they certainly are as plain looking as possible.  No, I am tickled every time I look at the back of the cards and see the height and weight measurements.  Every. Damn. Time. I am a simple man.

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Griffey is one of the saddest "What Might Have Been" baseball stories of all time.  Yet, he is also one of the most complete and beloved figures the game has ever known.  The only people who didn't like Junior are really old curmudgeonly writers back in 1991 that hated that he smiled and wore his hat backward.  How dare a man have fun playing a child's game!  Luckily, all those men are either retired or dead now. 

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It is hard to imagine that had Griffey stayed healthy in the second part of his career, we wouldn't be celebrating him as the all-time home run king.  With the Reds over 8-plus years, he missed 480+ games with various injuries and given the conservative average of a homer every 4 games, that adds about 120 homers to his total.  As it is, he hit 630 dingers which is good for 6th on the all-time list.

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I have collected and cherished Griffey's cards since he hit the scene in 1989.  I am not saying I was ever a supercollector or anything, but I do seem to have a lot of his cards laying around and I seem to find more every time I look.  Given his status and statistics, Ken Griffey Jr.'s election to the hall of fame is the very definition of a no-brainer.

***

Mike Piazza.
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Mike Piazza was also a no-brainer choice for the Hall of Fame, alas it took the BBWAA four freaking years to find their brains.  He was elected with 83.0% of the vote, named on 365 of 440 ballots. 

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I wish I could claim some kind of nonpartisan point of view when it comes to Mike Piazza, but alas I cannot. He has been my favorite player since May 22, 1998 when he was traded to the Mets.  He had been someone I admired before then but the moment I found out he was a Met, it was head-over-heels, love-at-first-sight, you-and-me-forever.  There had never really ever been a player like this in team history and unfortunately, there hasn't been one since.   

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Unlike Junior, I have been a crazed Piazza Supercollector since that day.  What you are seeing right now is just the game-used and fancy encapsulated cards I own of him.  I have done huge player collection posts before, but doing ALL of my Piazza cards at once will require 102 pages and another 1800+ inserts in top loaders to be sorted and scanned - not to mention random assorted memorabilia like lunch boxes, figures, 8x10s, bobbleheads, etc.  Yeah, I should have anticipated this day and had it ready but that just didn't happen after a few years of crushing January disappointment.  You will have to wait until July and his actual enshrinement for me to tackle this massive project.  For now, you'll have to make do with the 15 scans here of some high end goodies. Like that Leather Bound card above, which is one of my whales; not only is it a rare type of relic, but it has a lace hole right in the middle of it.  Just a wonderfully neat card.

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I never got into the eTopps craze much but I did snag in hand versions of Piazza's cards, some of the very few encapsulated cards I own that have stayed in capsule.

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Here you see some later bat cards of him as not-a-Met.  Everyone seems to be arguing if he should go into the Hall as a Dodger or a Met - and joking that he should go in as a Marlin - yet no one has referenced his last couple years on the west coast as a Padre and Athletic.  My view is simple: he made his legend as a Dodger and cemented that legacy as a Met so it is an absolute toss up as to which is appropriate as either one could be (see Jimmie Foxx).  In a case like this, it should then come down to the player's preference and Mike has made it clear he is far more fond of his time as a Mets player and of the Mets fans and organization.  That should end the discussion right there. (Note: as I was writing this post, it was announced that he would, in fact, go in as a Met)

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Mike Piazza's offensive statistics are overwhelming.  396 home runs as a catcher - most all time (427 overall).  Highest single season batting average for a catcher - .362 in 1997.  Five 100 RBI seasons in a row - 1996 to 2000 - and an average of over 100 RBIs over 10 years - 1993 to 2002.  Highest lifetime batting average in Los Angeles Dodgers history - .331.  Ten Silver Slugger awards.  Twelve time All Star. 

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Conversely, he is known as a horrible defensive player.  This reputation is way way waaaay out of line.  Yes, it is undeniable that he did not have the best arm in the world; his career caught stealing percentage was 23% when the league average was 31%.  But remember that he played in the most drastic offensive slugging era ever so the stolen base was not the weapon it was in, say, Johnny Bench's day and therefore Piazza's arm was not a grand liability.  If his defense was truly as terrible as it is reputed, he would have been moved to 1st base in 1995 and not 2005.  Early in his career, he did lead the league in passed ball twice.  But he took great pride in and worked very hard to improve his defense.  By the year 2000, he led the league in fielding percentage for catchers - bet you didn't know that.  People somehow forget that throwing is not the only thing a catcher does.  Other than his bad arm, all he did was frame pitches well, go back on pop ups quickly and vigilantly, call a game brilliantly, and get down and block pitches in the dirt like a fiend.  And that's not me talking, that is Bobby Valentine his manager.

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Enough about the player, let's focus on some of these nifty cards.  Mike's trade to the Mets coincided with the explosion of game used cards, so just about all the stuff he has is in Mets gear.  This makes me very happy (and broke).  I usually only pick up the very best or most interesting relic cards of a player to have one or two to represent him, but I have been a little more loose with that rule when it comes to Piazza.

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This scan shows a rare hat patch card and a jersey card that is just filthy and I mean filthy in the true real 'dirty' meaning of the word, it is the filthiest jersey card I have ever seen.  It also shows four manufactured patch cards, including one that I gave quite a famous write up.

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There are hundreds of Jersey relic cards of Mike Piazza, of that I am certain and I somehow have had the restraint to only own a couple dozen.  I try to keep it, like the above, to interesting subjects, photos, or even cut outs to showcase the swatch.  There is also a piece in this scan with a teal stripe on the piece, meaning it came from his week long side-trip as a Marlin.  One marvelous little statistical blip in his line is that he hit a triple for all five teams he suited up for, including one of the five total hits he got as a Florida Marlin.

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Here are five of the most interesting die cut jersey cards and one of the most staid and plain looking one's in my collection.  The piece is even gray.  That is more than made up for by the round, square, crownish, cartoonish nature of the other cards. 

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I have not one, not two, but three of his swatches from the Topps 206 sets of the early aughts.  I think there are bat cards from this set too but I like that these cards showcase the front and back of the pieces, something very few cards actually do, and that is more interesting with the jerseys.  They are color coded to each series of that vast set.  I often wonder if they would fall apart if I took them out of their plastic holders...alas, I am too chicken to test this out.

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Jeez, I just realized, seeing them all laid out like this, that I might have enough jersey cards to sew together an actual patchwork Mike Piazza jersey.  But then I would have to pick up some of the rare button cards from ten years ago that were all the rage and I refuse to spend that much money on anything less than a used car. 

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Now we've reached some multiple swatch cards.  Here you see him paired twice with battery mate Al Leiter, who was very excited on MLB Network about Mike's election.  There's also one with Mo Vaughn from that one year the Mets thought Mo Vaughn was going to be good for them.  There is also three cards with my all-time all time favorite player, Gary Carter.  Chances are if you play for the Mets and play catcher, you are going to get my attention/affection.  I also love the one there with Piazza, Carter, and Rickey Henderson - that is three Hall of Famers on one card.  I think that is a first for my collection.

Last but not least are a few other multiple player swatch cards below.  One of them is a Mets themed one, the others with various guys like Carlton Fisk (makes sense), Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Kendall (sure, okay), and Sammy Sosa (um, what?).  By my count, that is 73 game used cards, 4 fake manu-patch cards, and 3 magic encapsulated cards.  I am insane - and remember I sold off a lot more than I have bought in recent years.

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Each year Mike did not get elected to Cooperstown, I promised to write a scathing diatribe denouncing this folly.  And every year, I got so mad trying to put together this post that I abandoned it in self-righteous frustration.  I am now so pleased with the result that I am going to forgive and forget and let it all go.  Mike Piazza has been given his rightful place in Baseball's Hall of Fame, what is there to be upset about?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hallelujah.

       About four years later than I should have been, I am finally able to go from this...
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To this...

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It is a subtle but important distinction.  And if you know anything about me, you know that I am very particular where my binders are on the shelf, so this is a big deal both historically and aesthetically.  There will obviously be more to come about this later.

Friday, December 25, 2015

How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes,
He stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos,

Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town,

For he knew every Who down in Whoville beneath
Was busy now hanging a hollywho wreath.

"And they're hanging their stockings," he snarled with a sneer.
"Tomorrow is Christmas! It's practically here!"

Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,
"I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know all the Who girls and boys
Will wake bright and early. They'll rush for their toys!

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And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There's one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

And they'll shriek squeaks and squeals, racing 'round on their wheels.
They'll dance with jingtinglers tied onto their heels.
They'll blow their floofloovers. They'll bang their tartookas.
They'll blow their whohoopers. They'll bang their gardookas.
They'll spin their trumtookas. They'll slam their slooslunkas.
They'll beat their blumbloopas. They'll wham their whowonkas.
And they'll play noisy games like zoozittacarzay,
A roller-skate type of lacrosse and croquet!
And then they'll make ear-splitting noises galooks
On their great big electro whocarnio flooks!

Then the Whos, young and old, will sit down to a feast.
And they'll feast! And they'll feast! And they'll FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!

They'll feast on Who pudding, and rare Who roast beast,
Raw roast beast is a feast I can't stand in the least!

And then they'll do something I hate most of all!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

They'll stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing.
They'll stand hand-in-hand, and those Whos will start singing!"

    Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays
    Welcome Christmas! Come this way
    Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays
    Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day

    Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus
    Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus
    Christmas Day is in our grasp
    So long as we have hands to clasp

    Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays...

"And they'll sing! And they'll sing! And they'd SING! SING! SING! SING!"
And the more the Grinch thought of this Who Christmas Sing,
The more the Grinch thought, "I must stop this whole thing!

Why for fifty-three years I've put up with it now!
I must stop Christmas from coming! But how?"

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!

"I know just what to do!" The Grinch laughed in his throat.
"I'll make a quick Santy Claus hat and a coat."

And he chuckled, and clucked, "What a great grinchy trick!
With this coat and this hat, I'll look just like Saint Nick!"

"All I need is a reindeer." The Grinch looked around.
But since reindeer are scarce, there was none to be found.

Did that stop the Grinch? Hah! The Grinch simply said,
"If I can't find a reindeer, I'll make one instead!"

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So he took his dog Max, and he took some black thread.
And he tied a big horn on top of his head.

Then he loaded some bags and some old empty sacks
On a ramshackle sleigh and he whistled for Max.

Then the Grinch said "Giddyap!" and the sleigh started down
Toward the homes where the Whos lay a-snooze in their town.

All their windows were dark. No one knew he was there.
All the Whos were all dreaming sweet dreams without care
When he came to the first little house of the square.

"This is stop number one," the old Grinchy Claus hissed,
As he climbed to the roof, empty bags in his fist.

Then he slid down the chimney, a rather tight pinch.
But if Santa could do it, then so could the Grinch.

He got stuck only once, for a minute or two.
Then he stuck his head out of the fireplace flue

Where the little Who stockings hung all in a row.
"These stockings," he grinched, "are the first things to go!"

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took every present!

Pop guns, pampoogas, pantookas, and drums!
Checkerboards, bizilbigs, popcorn, and plums!

And he stuffed them in bags. Then the Grinch, very nimbly,
Stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimney.



Then he slunk to the icebox. He took the Whos' feast!
He took the Who pudding! He took the roast beast!

He cleaned out that icebox as quick as a flash.
Why, that Grinch even took the last can of Who hash!

Then he stuffed all the food up the chimney with glee.
"Now," grinned the Grinch, "I will stuff up the tree!"

As the Grinch took the tree, as he started to shove,
He heard a small sound like the coo of a dove.

He turned around fast, and he saw a small Who!
Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was no more than two.

She stared at the Grinch and said, "Santy Claus, why,
Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?"

But, you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick,
He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!

"Why, my sweet little tot," the fake Santy Claus lied,
"There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side.

So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear.
I'll fix it up there, then I'll bring it back here."

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And his fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head,
And he got her a drink, and he sent her to bed.

And when Cindy-Lou Who was in bed with her cup,
He crupt to the chimney and stuffed the tree up!

Then he went up the chimney himself, the old liar.
And the last thing he took was the log for their fire.
On their walls he left nothing but hooks and some wire.

And the one speck of food that he left in the house
Was a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.

Then he did the same thing to the other Whos' houses,
Leaving crumbs much too small for the other Whos' mouses!

It was quarter of dawn. All the Whos still a-bed,
All the Whos still a-snooze, when he packed up his sled,

Packed it up with their presents, their ribbons, their wrappings,
Their snoof and their fuzzles, their tringlers and trappings!

Ten thousand feet up, up the side of Mount Crumpet,
He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!

"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinchily humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!

They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry boo-hoo!

That's a noise," grinned the Grinch, "that I simply must hear!"
He paused, and the Grinch put a hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low, then it started to grow.



But this sound wasn't sad!
Why, this sound sounded glad!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing without any presents at all!

He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

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And then the true meaning of Christmas came through,
And the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!

And now that his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light

With a smile to his soul, he descended Mount Crumpet
Cheerily blowing "Who! Who!" on his trumpet.

He road into Whoville. He brought back their toys.
He brought back their floof to the Who girls and boys.

He brought back their snoof and their tringlers and fuzzles,
Brought back their pantookas, their dafflers and wuzzles.

He brought everything back, all the food for the feast!
And he, he himself, the Grinch carved the roast beast!

- Dr. Seuss 1957

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Day Nine Years In The Making.

       Well, 8 years, 11 months, 21 days to be exact, but who's counting, right?  After 3278 days in the desert, the Mets get to play in a playoff game tonight.  Your starters are Jacob deGrom...
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...who I had never even heard of two years ago.  Now he is slated to start the first and fifth game of the Division series.  Since this is his first postseason start, I will cherry pick the smallest of samples from the All Star game this year and guess he is going to throw a 90 pitch 27 strikeout perfect game. Yeah, that's the ticket.

The opposing side is putting three time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw on the bump.
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Kershaw started the season 1-5 but finished up 15-2 to end up 16-7 with 301 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA, which wasn't even the best ERA on his team.  I kinda like that first stat, though; his record in 11 postseason games?  1-5 with a 5.12 ERA.  I hope this trend continues. 

It's nice to have the Mets back in the playoffs but I don't want this team to be satisfied with just making the postseason, I want them to use all this great young pitching they have and make some noise and shock the world.   My prediction for the series?  Mets win 3-1.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Division Champs.

       I hope this is the first a few celebratory posts I get to do in the next 6 weeks or so, but I am happily shouting from the rooftops today that...
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The 2015 New York Mets are National League East Division Champions!

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Yeah, I know, it's not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but for the Mets, it is a huge deal because of what they've gone through the last nine years - especially 8 and 7 years ago.  That team should have been three time champions, instead, well, it was horror show after horror show.

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But let's not dwell on the past but embrace what will hopefully be a grand future.  These are all the 2015 cards I could put together in any sort of cohesive presentation.  Plus...

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Let's start by celebrating the man who is, IMHO, responsible for bringing this whole team together...

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...and lastly give a huge batch of respect for the man who has brilliantly finished off all the games, including the clincher Saturday night. 

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There is no time to rest on this little laurel, though.  There is still the matter of wresting home field advantage in the NLDS away from the Dodgers and keeping everyone sharp for the playoffs.  Wow.  That's fun to say.  The Mets are in the playoffs.