Thursday, March 29, 2018

RIP Le Grand Orange.

        Rusty Staub 1944-2018.


        Opening day is supposed to be a joyful day and instead it is a sad occasion this year because of the death of Rusty Staub.  Rusty was a great player and a great man.  He led many baseball lives: teenage phenom for the Colt 45s, expansion star Le Grand Orange for the Expos, World Series catalyst for the Mets, all-star DH for the Tigers, washed up fat guy for the Rangers, and then reborn pinch hitting specialist for the Mets (again).  He is also part of one of my favorite bits of useless trivia as one of only four men to hit homers as both a teenager and a 40-year old (with Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr. and Gary Sheffield)***. 


Rusty is one of those players who I always use as an example of being not-quite a hall of famer (along with the likes of Rocky Colavito, Harold Baines, and Vada Pinson).  This is no insult what-so-ever; there is no shame at all in being in the top 3% of baseball players of all time but I like to imagine the hall being reserved for the best 1 or 2% at most.  And sure, there are players much much worse than Rusty in the hall of fame (Ross Youngs? Rabbit Maranville? Bill Mazeroski? I'm looking at you...) but there is a line that has to be drawn and it is a sad fact that Rusty would be on the outside of that line.  But few players in history are as beloved or will be missed more that they are gone.  I hope Jesus has a rack of ribs cooking for you up in baseball heaven.  Godspeed Le Grand Orange.


***It was not Griffey Jr., it was A-Rod who became the 4th person to pull this trick. Starting Nine regrets the error. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day

       From the third best manager the Mets have ever had...


...and the sixth best basketball player of all time.


Monday, February 12, 2018

COMC Badge and Pages.

       Pitchers and catchers report today! Simply one of the best days of the year and not a moment too soon.  The weather has been rainy and dreary and football is over so the dead of winter is at hand.  But nothing combats and destroys the wintry blues like pitchers and catchers reporting.  A close second is going to the mailbox and seeing a big ass box from COMC.com full of all the weird shit that site has to offer. Sticking with the sorting theme from last post, here you see the layout of the grid of goodness that going through a box of 206 cards that were all chosen for their specific nature to my collecting needs.  Each pile is a player collection or a photo collection or a theme collection or a sport collection.  I cannot think of a better way to spend my afternoon where my clothes stay on (not that I am above sorting cards in the nude).
The packing list covers up my nephew's blocks, which I was too lazy to remove from the coffee table.
There is far too much here to highlight each card so let's stay on message and look at the pages that were created and/or completed from this batch. 

Here is a page of 2002 Topps Ten that was completed with the acquisition of a Rangers-clad A-Rod card.  I found a small vein of these cards in an old shoebox and a moment of weakness made me find a few others and when I got to 8 I dejectedly decided it needed a ninth for a page.
Not this is a terrible set in and of itself, mind you.  It's just, well, boring.  It's like one big league leaders subset and the design is underwhelming. It is also an orphan set in that they only did it one year, though I think they did basketball the same way in 2002 as well.  Sports card companies just couldn't help themselves at the turn of the century and just cranked out whatever they felt like it.  Not every page is a winner.

Oh, but then there's this one, the diametric opposite of that Topps Ten page.  These are the 2016 Topps Bunt Program cards. 
I can't say I quite understand the Bunt online cards but I do like their physical manifestation.  They are everything a kid-centric set should be: bright, bold, colorful, and imaginative. These inserts have big logos, a fun baseball theme, faux wear, and good backs (which I neglected to scan ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).   I got the Papi in a lot I got on Listia and decided to find him 8 buddies to make a page.  This was a joyous one to put together. These Bunt cards are everything Opening Day isn't (and that's a good thing).

And to complete a bizarre trio, here is a page of the 1991 Pepsi Flavor of Baseball Superstar cards. 
I am not a big Pepsi drinker in the first place but I never knew these cards existed until one day recently I was looking for Dwight Gooden cards and found his (gloriously bad) version from this set (click on that, it looks like he's pitching in a rec league).  They are everything you want in an oddball food issue.  They have a gaudy product logo, a dense and inexplicable title, no official MLB logos, poor photos, poorer cropping, and a derivative design reminiscent of one of the most terrible over-produced sets of all time.  And as a topper, due to what I can only imagine was crappy cutting, they are all a little wider than 2.5 inches so they barely fit in a standard page (I had to look for one that was a tad bigger, owing to Ultra Pro's sometimes awful quality control).   This page is like good camp, it couldn't be planned for, it just had to exist. 

***

And as a total non-sequitur, I recently earned my red founders badge on COMC.com doing their infamous challenge. 

I doubt many of you are impressed but if there is anyone anywhere that I could brag to and get a positive response from this information, it would be on a baseball card blog.  Most people given this fact would tilt their head at me and stare like a confused dog.  All it really means is I need to sleep better and/or leave the house more.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sorting things out.

       A few leftover notions from my 2018 Topps post from Sunday.

I spoke of the look of the new flagship set and while I don't hate it as much as I have 2017 or 2016 since Topps has gone to a borderless design, they have started to take on the vibe of late era Donruss base cards and this is not necessarily a good thing.  I think one thing that always made Topps special is that they had a specific feel and natural progression and the border is one of those things that now seems is lost. I feel this year's design, unlike the last 2 years, would look great with a border.  My awesome, utterly professional and in no way amateurish photoshop skills came up with this:


You can add a border and they look much more like classic Topps cards (think 1996 perhaps) and if you need to have things extend out a bit, you can see I took the ribbon to the edge of the card and continued the disintegrating name plate into the border as well as the team logo (where applicable).  I am sure somehow Topps thinks borderless cards are all "futuristic" but they have been around since 1990-91 and used on regular base cards since 1994 Donruss and Upper Deck.  I am not sure those are touchstones to be aspiring to. Flagship Topps always had a classic look and they seem to love to celebrate their history, so why have they turned their back on it the last few years in the name of "the future?"

***

We all recognize what this is:


I have collated cards for as long as I can remember yet I have never given it much thought.  I don't know if it is like scoring a baseball game but I suspect a lot of people have quirks to the way they do it, as I have seen folks in card shops and at shows do it their own way.  If I have a few dozen cards, I just do it in my hand like shuffling a poker deck.  If I have a few hundred, I sort them as you see above, into blocks of numbers of 50, e.g. 1-49, 50-99, 100-149 etc.  Then I sort them further.  If there is a few thousand to do, I so the same thing, then break them down into the 10s as I do it and then hand sort.  It is a monotonous activity but I have always found something relaxing and a little zen about it.  When I was a kid, my mom referred to it as me "playing solitaire" (which I supposed when you are 10 has a whole different meaning than when you are 15, but I digress).  And this is just numerically.  Anyway, does anyone have any different way they do things?  Let me know since I am momentarily obsessed with whether there's a whole different system I have never been privy to.  Not to mention there is also the classic 8x4 grid of sorting things by team, another issue all together.  I always do the teams alphabetically but maybe you do them by league and/or division?  I must know!  

***

And finally, a wonderful bit of card serendipity that I am sure we've all had or hoped to have at one time or another.  As I was searching for the new Topps on Friday, I was also meeting a friend for coffee at a Dunkin Donuts I don't normally go to.  I was a little early and there was a comic book shop next door, so I ducked inside there to kill the 10 minutes I had to wait.  Now, I am not comics guy but I can always enjoy a comic book shop just for the nerdy vibe, the toys, and there's always a chance they have some sports stuff stuck in among their wares.  They had a few long 5000 count boxes full of MTG and Pokemon cards and the like but then my eye caught the unmistakable dull gray cardboard color that can only be vintage Topps cards.  There was only a couple hundred of them, but what a vein of joy it was.  They weren't in sleeves or priced but going through them, there were some I just had to have...


How often does a coffee date turn into 1975 Topps?  More than that, was some of these...


I love the 1973-74 hockey design and there are a couple of wonderfully miscut ones as well.  So I only had a few minutes with these cards and I had no time to go through them all.  These are the few I nabbed while I was there initially.  When I went to check out, the n̶e̶r̶d̶ dude behind the counter said, "oh, anything in there without a sleeve is 10 cents"  I had lucked into a 10 cent vintage box in the middle of Wayne NJ on a Friday afternoon!  I had my coffee and caught up with my friend, and then you better believe I marched back into that shop and bought just about every one of those cards that even remotely interested me.


All because of my efficiency in finding the new Topps and over-promptness in meeting my friend, I now have a few hours of bliss ahead of me this week.  Oh, and I also have this:


If you need an explanation, I don't think we can be friends.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Beirut.

       Today is Babe Ruth's 123rd birthday which had he lived past 1948 would make him the oldest person to ever live. This makes a bit of poetic sense because Ruth set records that don't make much sense even today.


I make fun of the Yankees at any opportunity but let's face facts, Babe Ruth is the greatest there ever was and the best there ever will be.  In fact, his numbers are so screwy people often just forget about him when arguing who the best player of all time is because he is such a conversation killer.  It's as if there is Babe Ruth and then everyone else. 


I remember in college, and this is 25 years ago before there was internet based smartphones to answer every argument immediately, one of my roommates was kind of ignorant of Ruth's overwhelming numbers.  When I said he once hit .390 and was in the top ten in career batting average, he laughed and said "there's no way that fat tub hit .390!" and right then and there we had to march to the library where I pulled out the Baseball Encyclopedia and gave him a humbling education.  And while there are some hitters who have approached his greatness, there is one thing that is one of the all time trump cards in history.


This last page here is one of my favorite pages in my collection.  For all his mythical qualities, the one thing that always slips through the cracks is that Ruth was well on his way to being a hall of fame pitcher when he decided that he was better at that hitting thing.  By the age of 24 his career marks were 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA. Even at the end of the deadball era, those are Walter Johnson/Christy Mathewson type numbers over 6ish years.  One can only wonder what the end result would have been if he had pitched in the majors for 22+ years instead.  If anyone ever points out the exploits of Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, or Barry Bonds and tries to make them out to somehow be better than Ruth, just ask them if they ever won 94 games as a pitcher as well.  It is a joy to watch the life in their eyes die because there's just no counter move to that argument.

“How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball... The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.”

We were all lucky to get 53 years of Babe Ruth since he lived as hard as he played.  I think one can easily say he lived 123+ years in that time.   Happy Birthday ya big lug.