Friday, March 27, 2020

RIP Toy Cannon

      James Sherman Wynn 1942-2020

I recently wrote of my decades-long dislike for the Houston Astros but I will always make an exception for a great nickname and they don't come much better than The Toy Cannon.  A vastly underrated ballplayer way ahead of his time in terms of on base percentage and power, he routinely cracked 20-30 homers out of the Astrodome at a time when most of his teammates had trouble hitting double digits. He only hit .250 but walked 100 or more times a year six times (sound familiar? told you he was ahead of his time).  He bounced around the league in his 30s to the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, and Brewers but he was so good for the Astros in the 1960s that they retired his #24 in 2005.  Godspeed Jim.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


       Well, I have been home from work for the last 8 days.  I spent the first two exactly how one would expect when they have been furloughed from work indefinitely: I sat around in my pajamas and watched movies and did little to nothing.  And while that certainly sounds ideal, after a while, it gets a bit boring.  So I then dove into my collection and really started working on things; a full spring cleaning.  I did a little documentation of it and it will no doubt show up on a later blog post, but right now I have a specific situation that I was hoping to get some advice on.   

I found in a pile of cards with these two autographed beauties.  A 1972 Carlton Fisk rookie done in ball point pen at a card show in the 1980s and a 1983 Fleer Superstar Special of  Fisk and Gary Carter with the Carter signed in blue sharpie.  I am not a big autograph collector but I am a huge Carter guy and a big Fisk fan so it makes sense that I own these two cards.  So what's the issue?

I put that 1983 Fleer aside a long time ago to send to Fisk to hopefully get his autograph on it.  I believe this was right after Carter had died.  I decided not to for two reasons: I don't want to lose the Carter card and Fisk asks for a $40 donation to a cancer charity for him to sign through the mail.  I am not keen on either thing.  This is not to say I am a fan of cancer (I mean, who is?) but I am not big on paying for autographs, even if it is a donation to charity (I did check on the charity and it is legit and highly rated).  And obviously, the Carter card is not easy to replace since he is dead.  Carter was a prolific signer so I have seen it before but this is one of my favorites and it is a very tight and clear signature.  I can mail the card certified or insured or whatever to make sure it gets to Florida at Fisk's address but things do get lost.  Plus, sometimes when you mail something to a famous person, it gets misplaced or you get a different card back, or it gets lost on their pile of things never to be seen again.  I have seen my stacks of mail so I can only imagine what a hall of famer's looks like.  

I mean, I own a Fisk autograph (above) so it's not like I need to have one.  I own several other Carter autographs on cards, balls, photos, etc. so it's not like I will be losing the only one I have.  But it is a risk and a charitable investment.  I can afford $40 (for now) so cost is not the biggest problem, only principle.  So, what do I do?  Do I take the chance and mail the Carter card to Fisk and hope it gets there and hope he signs and returns this card to me.  Or do I forget the whole thing and enjoy my collection as is and do nothing.  This is not a binding poll or anything, but if you have an opinion or any advice, please leave a comment or drop me an email. And I hope you are staying safe and sane if you are stuck in the house for a while or worse, if you are out in the world dealing with people.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Love In The Time of Corona.

       Last Monday morning, I went to Costco and Target and it was a very quiet, uneventful trip.  Little did I know that in the next few days, going to the store would become something like a cross between old Woody Woodpecker cartoons where the women kill each other, bridal day at Filene's Basement, and the Road Warrior.  Lucky for me, I am a slight hoarder at all times and don't need soap, sanitizer, or toilet paper any time soon.  Also, I did stop in the card aisle in Target and grabbed some Heritage packs (they had no blasters) and impulsively grabbed a blaster of Star Wars Skywalker Saga cards while looking in vain for Heritage blasters.  This would prove very fortunate and unfortunate but not in the way I thought.  Kind of like how most of our weeks went.

I rarely buy single retail packs of baseball cards because I find all you ever get are base cards and maybe an odd parallel but very rarely do you ever get something of substance.  I figured since all I wanted was some examples of the Heritage, I would just grab 6 packs and go about my business.  These might have been the luckiest six packs of retail cards I ever bought.

One thing I collect in totality is Topps rookie all stars.  I love me some fancy trophies on my baseball cards and I got five of them in these six packs, including two short prints.  The two short prints I got were Pete Alonso and Vlad Guerrero Jr., the two cards I figured I'd have to pay through the nose for on eBay if I ever wanted them, and here I got them in back to back retail packs.

I even got one of the two Alonso league leader cards and three of the postseason cards.  And we are just getting started.

I got five inserts.  That's practically one per pack but it didn't quite come out that way because I got two Tom Seaver Flashbacks stuck together in one pack.  I also got another Flashbacks insert, Rod Carew, and two Then and Now cards - one of them also with Tom Seaver.  Look him up, kids, he was pretty good.  I did get one other base double in the five packs - it was Michael Conforto, a Mets player.  This never happens.  I always get doubles of San Diego Padres or Milwaukee Brewers.

There was one other Met and one other league leader card.  Not too shabby. 

I am pretty sure the 1971 set is in my top five all time designs and the Topps people really nailed the look of it.  The colors, the lower case ee cummings style names, and the random action photos - which were new in '71 - are all here.  Even the random rookie cards and odd position designations are here.  I didn't scan the backs but the backs all look right with the head photos and esoteric write ups. They even have SSPs of the OPC backs, which are some of my favorite OPC variations.  Alas, I did not get one of those.

I also love poses where the hitters are swinging and pointing the bat at your face, I got three of them in three different styles.  I saw that the Alvarez/Aquino rookie card is hot.  I am not one for hot rookies, so if anyone wants to trade for this thing, let me know.

This is the page I ended up piecing together from the five packs, I think it looks great.

I went with just about all posed shots but got a variety and the one action shot is decidedly inactive (I picked a Luke Voit action shot for the vertical example, that's on the back, the back I didn't scan).  I chose a few teams that didn't exist in 1971 just for a little timely juxtaposition.  I was thrilled with my choice to lower myself to retail packs.  I know it will never turn out this good again.  If anyone is putting the set together and has a wantlist, drop me a line and I'll see what I can fill before these go to ebay or Listia.

On the other hand, the Star Wars cards were...underwhelming.  The blaster had 10 packs and 60 cards but no indication on the outside what they looked like; this seems to be on purpose.  The design is very staid.  I prefer a little color and whimsy in my Star Wars cards and all I got here is some stars from a NASA chart or something off of a Battlestar Galactica poster. 

The photos and subjects seem to cover all eight movies, I assume this set was leading into the ninth.  All the cards are vertical and none of the captions are puns or anything.  I am falling asleep just looking at them.

I scanned a second group to continue the monotony.  Not even Natalie Portman can make these more exciting.

Though I gotta say, I do love that middle card, it is a great shot from the climax of the Force Awakens.  Lightsabers and snow, more of that please.  One out of 60 is a very bad ratio.

Each pack had a parallel base card where, oooo pinch me, they changed the color of the thrilling border to a rusty orange or a royal blue.  I suppose the blue is a slight improvement but I got two of those and eight of the rusty orange.

Seriously, the write ups on the front and backs of these cards is more boring than my write up here.

Each pack also had an insert.  These were at least a little more interesting, if slightly repetitive.

Five of them were from the Path of the Jedi set, which were almost exactly the same as the style and substance of the base cards.  I do like that Han Solo card because the highlight of the seventh movie to me was the fact that Harrison Ford didn't mail in his performance as he has in a few of the other movies he's done in his old age (I'm looking at you, Indiana Jones 4 and Blade Runner 2049). So that's 2 out of 60.

The blaster's special insert was a manu-patch and I got A Princess Leia.  I actually have a use for that card so it is staying in my collection.  I might cobble a page of these together but it will hardly find a place of honor in my Star Wars book. 

That was the other Path of the Jedi card, which looks like the other one on the other page.  The best looking card in the whole blaster was the advertisement card with that borderless shot from the first movie.  If anyone wants to use that 10% off code, be my guest.  It really had been an odd week indeed.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Life of Pie.

      Things have gotten a little, um, weird, this week for most of us.  But really, is there anything going on that can't be solved with a hot cup of coffee and a beautiful slice of pie?  Alas, my love of Twin Peaks will have to wait for another time (my best friend got me this for Christmas and all that will show up here eventually).  I also was going to post my American Pie sets but I checked and saw that I did already.  That left me with the very obvious choice of Hall of Famer Pie Traynor.

Long ago I made a threat to put together a page of ol' Pie here and in the subsequent five years, look, I actually did.  Pie Traynor, despite his wonderful nickname, is one of those hall of famers that I don't know much about.  I know he was considered the best third baseman in history until Eddie Mathews and then Mike Schmidt and George Brett came along...and that's about it.  I couldn't even tell you his real name (Harold Joseph Traynor).  So a little bit of card back reading and SABR and wiki research has made a ten minute expert in the life and times of Pie. He was considered a wizard with the glove.  He only hit double digits in homers once and hit just 58 in his career.  He did, however, hit 164 triples and while that is a ton, it doesn't crack the top three in Pirates history - Honus Wagner, Paul Waner, and Roberto Clemente all have more.  In fact, those 164 would lead all but five teams in MLB history, including some very old ones (The Yankees and the Giants to name two - I also learned that Lou Gehrig leads the Yanks with 163, a number I wouldn't have come close to guess for him). He is the only player to steal home in an All-Star Game.  He was a player manager for a time and resigned as manager after the Homer in the Gloamin' (one of my favorite event nicknames in all of sport) ruined his confidence in himself and the team.  I also learned that he grew up in Somerville MA (a town I know well) and his nickname came from a grocer who called him Pie Face due to of pie.  I am not sure what I was expecting from a nickname like that, but hey, that'll do. 

Happy Pi Day everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Pain in the Astro.

         My glorious lazy Sunday will consist of me (still) in my pajamas, a huge Dagwood sandwich, and the Mets spring training game.  And, oh look, they are playing the Houston Astros this afternoon. I wonder what's been going on with them lately?

Obviously, that is a bit of shade and sarcasm since this off season saw some major shit hit the fan with a scandal over sign stealing and trash can banging and video taping and maybe buzzers?  It is all a bunch of nonsense that if you have listened or watched anything about sports in the last two months you have heard about it ad nauseum.  Now, full disclosure.  I am not an Astros fan.  I have never liked nor will ever like the Astros.  In fact, if I were to do the 30 Teams lineup that is a wonderful tradition of Night Owl, you would no doubt find the Astros in the bottom ten and maybe in the bottom five.  I am still mad and bitter about that 1986 NLCS (more on that later) which explains my historical animosity towards the Houston nine but also just scratches the surface over why I cannot remotely get worked up at all over this latest bit of endless overreaction and pearl clutching by the media and fans. 

Let's start by making sure we have a common ground of understanding, so let's jump into the WABAC and go to the turn of the century when the Patriots started winning Super Bowls.  Remember that? Remember when there was a time when they didn't win anything at all?
Forget ice cold nerves of steel, the only reason Tom Brady won six times is cheating.

A lot of folks will try to tell you that the reason the Pats started winning is that they are a bunch of dirty cheaters.  That they were filming the signals of the Rams on the sidelines during practice.  You know, something every other team in the league did at the time in one way or the other.  And then the commissioner's office told everyone to stop filming the sidelines of opponents practices.  Some teams did and some teams didn't and the Pats, well, they didn't. And somehow millions of fans and hundreds of media idiots decided that this is the reason for the Pats sustained two decades of success.  Not having a brilliant coach, not having a hall of fame quarterback, nope, it's because they cheated (there is also something about deflated balls, but the less said about that, the better).  Do you want to know what everyone harps on the Pats and their cheating?  Because they win, that's why.  Off the top of my head, the Falcons, Colts, Raiders, and Browns also were fined for various infractions of rule breaking but no one ever constantly beats you over the head with that.  Do you know why, because the Falcons, Browns, and Colts never win anything!  Okay, the Colts won a Super Bowl recently, only after their quarterback complained about everyone and everything and had all sorts of rules changed in his favor - including one where the quarterbacks were allowed to handle the game balls before games.  Hmmmm....  Anyway, the point is, everyone looks for an edge, every team pushes the envelope, and yes, your football team cheats.  A lot. 

That brings us back to the Astros.  The Astros sin here is that they were stealing signs.  Okay, I am going to assume that if you are reading a baseball card blog that you follow baseball.  Chances are you even played baseball.  I seem to remember that once we got out of the tee ball and little leagues and into the pony and travel leagues and high school and such, one of the first things the coaches taught us is to look for the other teams signs.  And steal them.  When you were on second base, you better be looking at the catcher and you better be relaying to the batter where he was lining up or if he was calling for a fastball or a curve.  You did this with your own signals, where you put your hands on your knees, etc.  Baseball and signs and sign stealing is an elegant dance.  Heck, there's a reason why there are signs in the first place.  So you don't let on what you are doing.  And it is your job to figure out what the other team is doing.  And if you get caught, you might get a fastball in the ribs.  But that is the (in)famous unwritten rules of baseball.  And it is one of the things that make the game wonderful to play and watch. 
Jose Altuve is one of the few Astros players I have ever liked and rooted for.

I played no higher that division III college (and I was terrible) but once you get to the big leagues, you can not imagine how high the stakes are. You need to find every advantage you possibly can.  I don't blame any team for looking for some corner to cut or some rule to bend.  The Astros used live video to try to gain such an advantage.  So did a lot of other teams and (and this will sound familiar) eventually the commissioners office told teams to knock it off.  Most teams did and some teams didn't.  The Astros didn't.  They had a glorious system in place that included the height of technology (live HD TV feeds in the clubhouse) and the lowest of low tech (banging on freaking garbage cans).  They also won the World Series doing it in 2017.  And that is why everyone lost their minds.  Remember a few years ago when the Cardinals hacked the entire Astros scouting computer system?  You vaguely do, and do you know why?  Because the Cardinals didn't win anything when they did it.  Everyone got fined and folks lost their jobs but it all got quickly forgotten.  Yet here the Astros have become the poster boys for baseball malfeasance and for one reason and one reason alone.  They won the damn series. And every single media member has seemingly tried to outdo themselves with what should happen to them.  Even though they were fined the maximum amount of money ($5 million) and the manager and GM both got suspended and lost their jobs, that's just not good enough for some people.  In the grand tradition of the Patriots and turning a speeding ticket into first degree murder, I have heard everything from the players should be banned for life, the Astros should give back their trophy, they should lose their charter in the league, if Jose Altuve was wearing a buzzer, he should be brought up on fraud charges.  I swear, sports media people fall all over themselves trying to one up the morality chain, completely forgetting that sign stealing in baseball is not just done, it is expected.  It doesn't even fall under "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" it is literally part of your job as a player.  That the Astros crossed an imaginary line seems to be besides the point of everyone trying to out opinion everyone else.  Perspective, both historical and current, is completely lost.  So let's try to put some of this into better perspective than we already have. 

Scene: October 3, 1951.  Not only was Mrs. Winfield in labor, great things were afoot at Coogan's Bluff.  The Dodgers and Giants were playing for the NL Pennant and with the Dodgers winning in the bottom of the ninth, up came Bobby Thomson and hit what I am sure you know, is The Shot Heard 'round The World.  The Giants won the pennant (though eventually lost the series).
I hate having to use this page for this shit and not on October 3rd.

What time eventually told us and most of us seem to have completely overlooked is the Giants at the time had an elaborate sign stealing system in place in the Polo Grounds.  They had spotters in centerfield with binoculars who then used buzzers to relay the information in real time to the dugout.  This was 70 freaking years ago.  And there is little to no doubt that Thomson knew exactly what Ralph Branca was throwing and where when he took that mighty hack that won the Giants the pennant.  Why aren't these same people demanding the Giants give back their National League pennant from 1951?  Why aren't they demanding Willie Mays and Leo Durocher and Monte Irvin be removed from the Hall of Fame?  Or maybe such sign stealing has been romanticized over the years as just one of those things teams did to get an edge.  Maybe this kind of scandal and cheating has always happened.  Maybe on the very first pitch in 1869 someone signaled what they were throwing and on the second one, someone was trying to steal that sign. 

I am not one to Judge...

...pun intended, but the most horrible and egregious reaction to all the Astros hullabaloo was by Yankees fans and players.  Somehow, as usual, they felt very offended that some other team won besides them in 2017.  And, lordy lordy, they might have cheated to do it?!?!? How dare they?!?! How dare some other team cheat the great and mighty Yankees out of their birthright, which is winning the World Series every single year.  I cannot think of a group of people with worse perspective or short term memory than Yankees fans.

Somehow, they can't seem to recall, all the way back 11 long years ago, to the last time they won the Series that the major star of the team was this man. 

Gee, I think I want to list the players who have lied about using PEDs and then gotten busted for it twice after that.  But really, that list would be very short because it begins and ends with Alex Rodriguez.  Say anything you want about the use of steroids and their effect on the game but by 2009, there were some very set and strict rules in place about them and Arod eventually ran afoul of them to the tune of losing his entire 2014 season.  If the Astros have to give back the 2017 title, then we should only start with giving back the 2009 title for the Yankees.

Let's also think about giving back those 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 titles too.  Remember who was the star pitcher on two of those teams?  This guy:

Not only was Roger Clemens on the 1999 and 2000 Yankees teams, but Andy Pettitte was on all five of the most recent Yankees World Series winners and he's one of the few guys who has admitted to using PEDs and apologized for it.  Being contrite, however, does not remove responsibility for your actions. Pettitte at the time might have just been trying to heal or he might have been trying to get an edge. Either way, his guilt is unquestionable and it is only fair that if the Astros need an asterisk, then all five Yankees winners need one too. You can even give it elegant pinstripes if you like.

One other moronic argument I have heard, and you hear this usually when any baseball scandal happens, is What About Pete Rose? Isn't it time to forgive him?  The answer to this, as always, is no.
I get 3-1 odds that Rose defenders will always chime in when you talk baseball scandals.

Say what you want about steroid cheats, or sign stealers, or baseball scuffers (such as Mike Scott of those aforementioned 1986 Astros, who basically cheated his way to the Cy Young and the 6th game of the NLCS, why aren't people demanding he give back his award?!?) or cocaine users, or computer hackers or any other of the myriad of ways there is to cheat in baseball: at least they were trying to improve themselves and help the team win.  Pete Rose bet on baseball, which is the one absolute no-no deal breaker rule baseball has.  Even though he has said that he always bet on the Reds to win, it is also a fact that he didn't bet every day.  That means every day he didn't bet on the Reds to win, he was betting on them to lose.  His betting no doubt affected the way he managed the team both on days he bet as well as on the days he didn't.  He ruined the integrity of the game in the worst way imaginable.  Gambling is the only one of those sins that has a negative outcome to the sport - which is why it is the cardinal sin.  So every time I hear someone bring up Pete Rose during any of these baseball kerfuffles, I roll my eyes and shake my head at the complete lack of understanding.  And say what you will about Roger Clemens (and my tag says it all) but he was a hell of a pitcher when he was juiced up.

Okay, so is there anyone here who does have a beef?  I will sort of reluctantly say the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They lost that game seven of the 2017 series to those Astros although they did it at home, which means the Astros weren't using their magical sign stealing system at the time. And lord knows what the Dodgers were or weren't doing to steal signs.  After all, no one is going to investigate them because they didn't win the series.

Plus, if Clayton Kershaw had started that game, the Dodgers might have won, given his four scoreless innings after Yu Darvish blew up earlier in the game.  The 2017 postseason was the best one he's had (which isn't saying much considering his overall record in the playoffs is, well, not good).  The point here is, as with all things in sports, you can't go back and change what happened, only put it into perspective what did for both the present and the future.  The present is not being very kind to the Astros and I hope future baseball fans will be able to get their heads on straight and understand that they weren't cheating, they were just cheating better than anyone else at the time.  Now that I have spent an hour and a half ranting all this, I am going to finish my beer and watch the rest of this baseball game and hope to never have to bring up this sad, sorry subject again.