Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Fire Is So Delightful.

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling ring ting tingling too
Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you
Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling "yoohoo!"
Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap let's go, Let's look at the show
We're riding in a wonderland of snow.
Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap it's grand, just holding your hand
We're gliding along with a song of a wintry fairy land

Our cheeks are nice and rosy and comfy cozy are we
We're snuggled up together like two birds of a feather would be
Let's take that road before us and sing a chorus or two
Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.

There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray
It'll be the perfect ending a of perfect day
We'll be singing the songs we love to sing without a single stop
At the fireplace while we watch the chestnuts pop. pop! pop! pop!

There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy
When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie
It'll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives!

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling ring ting tingling too
Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you
Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling "yoohoo!"
Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.

It's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.
It's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hear Them Roar.

       I was as surprised as you are right now to see that I am posting to hear that last night, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were elected to the Hall of Fame. First of all, I was completely unaware that the Modern Baseball Committee was even meeting much less that their results would be given a good month before the usual main announcement.  Second of all, this tickles me because they were two of the best players of their time and their exclusion was a glaring omission (and I am not even a Tigers fan). 

The best percentage of the vote Alan Trammell ever got from the writers was 40.9% in his last year of eligibility. This is pretty damn ridiculous.

I believe poor Alan retired and became eligible for the hall at the absolute wrong time possible for a player of his type.  While his career was winding down, A-Rod, Nomar, and Jeter were all the rage and spending their time destroying the cliched concept of what a shortstop could be.  Even though Alan spent 2 decades as the best all-around shortstop not named Cal Ripken Jr. in the American League, with the Big Three as the new hotness, Trammell's career seemed somehow lacking - even though his 1987 stacks up with any shortstop season of those guys (that he didn't win that MVP is proof that baseball writers in the 1980s were all huffing paint or something).  Luckily, it didn't take until he was an old man (or dead) for perspective to sink in.  I always feared that sometime in 2060, some future baseball historian would look at the beautiful double play combination of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell and realize a horrible injustice had been done and their grandchildren would have to accept their enshrinement.  Now, all someone has to do is realize that Lou Whitaker's numbers are also very hall worthy.  The fact that he fell off the ballot in his first year is a travesty.

The best percentage Jack Morris ever got from the writers was 67.7% in his second to last year on the ballot.  When you get that high a percentage in your 14th year, it is usually practically a guaranteed springboard to induction.  Somehow though, in his last time around, he only got 61.5% and didn't get in.  Obviously, the paint huffing among baseball writers continues unabated.  

The knocks always came hard against Jack Morris: his 3.90 ERA was terrible for his era, his 105 ERA+ meant he was only a slightly above average pitcher, he didn't have a great peak, he didn't win 300 games, his mustache wasn't as cool as Rollie Fingers' - the list was long and got even sillier than that.  First and foremost, I am a firm believer in looking at the legacy of Hall of Famers in context among and against their peers, though.  Suddenly, Morris starts to look pretty remarkable: 14 consecutive opening day starts, highest paid pitcher several years, started game one of the World Series twice and of the LCS four different times.  Not to mention that minor trifle of game 7 of the 1991 World Series when he threw 10 shutout innings and was the winning pitcher (I am pretty sure he would have thrown 20 innings that night if Tom Kelly had asked).  In short, he was an ace, a horse.  The guy who said "jump on my back boys, I'll carry you home."  The Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson type guy.  Those guys belong in the hall and I am glad they came to their senses and put him in Cooperstown where he belongs.

Monday, April 3, 2017

First Things First.

       Ah, Opening Day.  There is nothing else like it.  Except, well, it is now stretched out over a few days so I guess MLB should just trademark Opening Few Days and get it over with.  But enough with the awful march of commerce, let us embrace the wonderful march of time.  The sun is up, the sky is blue (etc.) and the Mets are out in Flushing adding to baseball's best record on Opening Day.
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This year at CitiField, the ceremonial First Pitch was very emotional.

My favorite meaningless statistic is that the Mets are now 36-20 on opening day, the best percentage in baseball history.  Also quirky - and often pointed out - is that they won a World Series (1969) before they actually won on opening day (1970) which means they are 36-12 since that Miracle happened.  Fascinating and stupid.

On a more card related point, this is what the 2017 Topps page ended up looking like:
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I am still not crazy about the design and it has yet to grow on me.  That along with this year's Heritage being the burlap abortion that is 1968 Topps, I am not in a collecting happy place right now (and let's not even bring up that Panini decided that the 1990 Donruss design needed to be brought back, ugh).

I did, however, follow through on my threat to tweak the Salute inserts into a better looking base design:
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My photoshop skills are weak at best, but I think by making the photo a tad larger by dragging out the half-border and replacing the insert title with the position, you have at least a good starting point for a much better and cleaner design than the inception angle boxes Topps gave us this year.  With a little more skill and time, I am sure the gold stripe could match the team colors and the city name in that right border could be something else as well (though I kinda like the half-font thing going on there).  But this is what I was driving at when I critiqued the 2017 base design and in a rare instance, I don't think I am crazy or wrong here.  What do you think? Has anyone else done something similar recently?  Let me know since this is the first year I have been that turned off by the Topps design since I started the blog.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Blizzard Blaster Box.

       I saw earlier in the week that it was going to snow today. Then as the days went by, the forecast got more and more dire and while it is not exactly Snowmageddon '17 out there, it is pretty bad.  In a rare case of thinking ahead, I stopped at Target yesterday early in the afternoon before the full French Toast Alert System panic set in and grabbed a box of the newly released 2017 Topps cards.  So now that I am housebound until the storm passes, let's take a look at what the flagship is giving us this year.

I wasn't posting last year when the 2016 stuff came out but I did see that the design was not at all lauded.  Pity because I kinda liked it.  I like the full bleed, I liked the photography, I liked the homage to 1988 and 1966 in the diagonal stripe. Yes, the white misty bits were distracting, but Topps made up for it, in my opinion, with the Snowflake release late in the year.  I am not sure if Topps was making up for a mistake or mocking itself, but it was a nice little quirk on the holiday design that helped out the one flaw in the original.  This is what we have this year:
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I haven't really read up on this yet but I have a feeling this is going to be slammed as well.  I like the big photos and I like the layered look but the busy lines and the awkwardly angled logos are bound to bring out the haters.  I like that Topps once again showed some restraint on the foil usage only going with the Topps logos itself.  The only thing I really don't like is the font - it is too modern looking and bound to look dated in a few years.  Topps is also trying to get away from the glut of 3/4 action photos that ruined the 2015 set and while they are obviously there, the majority of the pictures look sharp and well chosen for the most part. 

This is the 'Salute' insert series, which includes a number of ideas: Jackie Robinson Day, Throwback Jerseys, and the Legends.  I am going to throw this out there right away though: isn't this a much better and cleaner looking design than the base card?  It is less awkward, less likely to look dated in 5-10 years, and very easy on the eye.  Really, I think they should have considered swapping out the Salute insert design with the base design.
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Also, why are there players on the Jackie Robinson Day cards where you can't see them in their #42 jerseys?  Doesn't that kinda defeat the purpose?  Legends is self explanatory, it is yet another excuse to shove in some old time players but at least the two I got here are different photos than the usual ones they use for Palmer or Koufax. Throwback Jerseys is an excellent theme for an insert set as long as you don't put the throwback jersey photos in the base series.  From what I have seen, this is not the case.  Oh well, they tried.  That last Stanton card is one of the foil parallels and you know how I like the shiny.

Here are the Mets players I got, all four of them out of 100 cards in the blaster. I must have gotten 9 or 10 Pirates and somewhere in Pittsburgh there is a dude with a shit load of Mets angry at the collation gods.  Such is life.  The Nolan Ryan is a reprint with an ad on the back for Bunt and Topps Now.  I am not 100% sure what that card is supposed to be, but hey, I'll take it.
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Topps also made the choice to go with single League Leader cards rather than combo cards. I don't like this as I like multi-star cards and we get all the All Star and Home Run Derby cards in the Update set to highlight single players to give them multiple cards.  I hope this is just a one year detour.  I also didn't get any All Star Rookie Cup players.  Send me yours. 

While the photography on the vertical cards is okay, Topps seems to have gone out of its way to choose dynamic shots for the horizontal ones - plays at the plate, diving fielders, full wind-ups and follow-throughs, etc.  I also find the design less distracting sideways; maybe they should have done the whole set this way? These are some good looking cards...
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One last complaint about Topps' tone deafness sometimes.  That combo card is called B'more Boppers.  I have never heard Baltimore called B'more ever really but they could have amused many in and out of Charm City by calling it Balmer Boppers. Anyone in Merlin wanna dispute my thinking here?

Topps has a 30th anniversary insert for the 1987 set.  Topps seems to use this design a lot but I am not certain there is some kind of universal love for it. Or is this a new 30-year flashback thing they are going to do with sets?  This one has me perplexed.
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One thing I will say is that Topps got the look of those 1987 backs correct. The right font, the right kind of write-ups.  But the deciding fatal flaw of the these and the flagship base cards is right there to see.  I hope you folks missed Donruss cards that much because they're back and their 'recent major league stats' are haunting the back of Topps.  This is would be a poor choice for some one-shot release in early June and it is inexcusable on the regular set.  These are the cards of record, they should have full major league stats.  It's a shame too, because the colors and design of the backs are legible and aesthetically pleasing.  Leave the uniform, half stat nonsense for the Lineage or Top-Tens of the world.  And the less said about the amount of space devoted to the Twitter addresses, the better.

Here are the other inserts and parallels that were in my box. Some new things and traditional favorites are here:
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The Bowman Then and Now cards are almost like advertisements.  I am not a fan.  The Five Tool cards, however, are the right kind of busy and colorful with a sturdy baseball-related premise.  This is what an insert card should be. The Award Winners cards devote entirely too much space to the team name, and I guess that Topps got tired of giving Rawlings free advertising because they are just calling them 'Fielding Awards' which looks terrible. I am a huge fan of the First Pitch set and I am glad they are back.  I will be completing a page of them as I have the last couple years so if you need to get rid of yours, you know where to send them.  Last and least is the venerable Gold Parallel which I could hardly tell was a gold parallel. They probably should have retired these by now.  Do we really need rainbow foil and gold numbered parallels (much less all the other colors)? 

I was promised a Jackie Robinson Day manu-patch card and I pulled Madison Bumgarner (clearly not showing he is wearing #42).  If Night Owl has taught me anything over the years, it is no one wants to have Giants on their Dodger cards or Dodgers on their Giants cards.  They are the two great tastes that DON'T taste great together. 
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If there is any card you have seen (including this one) that you would like to trade for or if you have a want list of base cards, feel free to email me or comment here and I am sure we can work something out.  Otherwise most of these are destined for eBay or Listia after I make a page, separate the Mets, and decide if there are any specific insert pages I want to make.  Now I have to go shovel and daydream about using those coupons in the warmth of spring.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Sobering Reminder.

       I woke up to the awful news this morning that two young baseball players died yesterday in car accidents in the DR.  No one wants to be a cautionary tale so please, while we all have a lot on our minds all the time, when you are driving pay attention and be patient and safe.
Andy Marte was 33, Yordano Ventura was 25.  Added together that is way too young to die.

If you are drunk, call a cab. If you are tired, pull over and sleep. If some jackass cuts you off, take a deep breath and let it go.  And if you are passing the other cars like they are standing still, slow down.  Your life literally depends on it and your loved ones will always appreciate you arriving alive and well, even if it is 10 minutes late.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Three Bad Nicknames For The Hall.

       One of the problems with restarting the blog at the beginning of January is there's just not a lot going on, both in the hobby and life in general.  Luckily, along comes the Hall of Fame to give me something to write and rant about.  Four years after not bothering to elect anyone, the writers continued their unparalleled generosity by humbly decided to allow three men into their sacred realm

Jeff Bagwell.
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Bagwell was named on 381 of 442 ballots (86.2%) in his 7th year of eligibility. 
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I am a little biased when it comes to Bagwell as he is one of my birthday boys, born on the same day as me and the exact same day as Frank Thomas - May 27, 1968.  I am pretty sure this is the first time Hall of Famers have been born on the exact same day, and though my internet research didn't prove this for certain, I am going to make this bold proclamation.  I easily have as many Bagwell cards as I do Frank Thomas cards and it is a secret part of my collection that has somehow not seen much exposure here.  Expect a similar post like the Big Hurt's there with his cards before July.

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Bags (or Baggy or Bag Pipes) had his election delayed as so many have due to unfounded rumors of PED use.  Given his amazing and amazingly consistent numbers, his inclusion in Cooperstown is long overdue.  And given his quirky batting stance and fantastic facial hair, he deserved a better nickname than a simple twist of his name. 

Ivan Rodriguez.
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Pudge was elected with 336 votes out of 442 for a narrow 76% of the vote in his first time on the ballot.  He somehow overcame the incessant PED rumors (and out right admissions) and got in without years of nonsense.  I hope this is a sign of things to come. 
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Rodriguez was a teenage marvel and a 40-year old wonder and pretty damn good in between.  He set the record for the most game caught, threw out runners from his knees, stole an MVP award from Pedro Martinez, led teams with fiery gusto and ended a playoff series about as awesomely as possible.  The man was unique and deserved his own fitting nickname rather than a recycled one, though he did do Carlton Fisk proud in its appropriation.

Tim Raines.
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Raines was checked off on 380 of 442 ballots (86.0%) in his 10th year on the ballot.  Given the new rules, I am pretty sure this would have been his last year on the ballot before being turned over to the veterans committee.
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Why it took 10 years is pretty mystifying but given the writers usual biases, Raines found himself in a perfect storm of "why players don't make the Hall of Fame when it is obvious they should."  Raines began his career in obscurity in Montreal, hardly a media hot bed.  He was great at one thing and really good at a lot of things, but he was not the greatest at that one thing so the other things got lost.  The things he was best at are kind of obscure and not very glamorous.  Plus rather than stay on one team for his whole career, he bounced around at the end and settled for being a role player on winning Yankees teams rather than compile sexy numbers like 3000 hits or 1000 stolen bases.  The strongest argument as to why Raines should be in Cooperstown is the simple, yet overlooked, figure of times on base: he is right *ahead* of Tony Gwynn, a sure-fire first ballot guy, on that list in practically the same number of plate appearances.  But they don't give fancy awards for on base percentage and they do for batting titles.   He also was the second guy to ever play on a team with his son, and you can ask Larry Doby what the Hall thinks of dudes who do things second.  He even got sick at the end of his career but it was this time, it was lupus, a disease that can kill you but also brings out the jokes rather than the telethons.  And finally, it all comes back around to the nickname Rock, which while it innocently brings an image of a strong, sturdy guy (which Raines most certainly was) that nickname probably did not have such simple origins.  I seriously doubt you will see it on his plaque.

While these are three very deserving men to be inducted, as usual, there are a few elephants in the room.  One is the awful fact that Bud Selig was elected a few months ago by the Today's Game committee, which was inevitable given the penchant for long time commissioners to be elected no matter what the circumstance.  Some of the writers saw through this slight hypocrisy and the votes for many of the PED poster boys went up.  I really wanted Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to go in with Selig to add to his embarrassment but alas, they will have to wait.  My other issue is with how Edgar Martinez has been treated by the writers.  Follow me here, Trevor Hoffman has been on the ballot for two years and came very close to getting in this year and will probably get over the hump next year.  Closers have been all over the map on the writers' radar - some have to wait, some skate in - but all in all, they have been pretty generous to them.  The writers have accepted that closers are part of the game.  But what did poor Edgar Martinez do?  It's not his fault the American League instituted the DH rule in 1973 and never rescinded it.  And it is certainly not his fault the Mariners were too stupid to give him a starting job before he was 27 years old.  He just played by the rules of the game.  The designated hitter is part of the game and has been for more than 40 years.  They are real baseball players.  Seriously, you can look it up.  Would Edgar Martinez be that much better a candidate if he had played a mediocre third or first base for most of his career like Harmon Killebrew did?  It comes down to a simple question, if you were going to start a team and have a player for 15 years, would you rather have Trevor Hoffman or Edgar Martinez?  Exactly.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Complete Set Sunday: 1919 Chicago Black Sox Team Reprint Set.

       One of the many things I missed posting about during my long hiatus was the Chicago Cubs finally getting over the hump and winning the World Series after 108 years. Personally, I could not care less about the Cubs or so-called curses but I do have a good friend from college who is a big Cubs fan, so I was ecstatic for him when they won (I also mocked him as best I could from a hospital bed in 2015 when the Mets swept the Cubs in the LCS, but I digress). All you heard from the media during that 2016 run was how much Cubs fans were tortured and how Chicago hadn't seen a championship since 1908.  This always made me irrationally angry. Chicago has two teams last time I checked.  The White Sox once went 88 years without winning a championship and broke that schneid only a few years ago in 2005.  I have always felt a strong kinship to White Sox fans because it must suck to live in a vacuum like that where you are barely an afterthought in your own city, much less on the national stage. Being surrounded by the Evil Empire on all sides, I think Mets fans can sympathize.
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This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest teams every assembled, the 1917 White Sox.  That team steamrolled the American League, winning 100 games and then taking the World Series from the Giants in six games.  Alas, no one remembers that team at all because of what happened two years after that. I present to you the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, in "reprint" form.

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This 25-card set (with one bonus Shoeless Joe card in color) is not so much a reprint as a retrospective set, done in faux-vintage form by a company called TNTL in Toms River NJ.  I have never heard of them before and they haven't done anything since, so I imagine this was a vanity or personal set specifically done by a Black Sox nut.  I think they were going for the look of the old E121 Caramel cards and they came pretty close.  The cards aren't standard size but closer to the size of those old ones.  This is a true oddball set and right in my wheelhouse. I think I picked this set up on Listia a few years ago and I scanned it right away and now comes its time to shine.

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The backs have a little write up rather than a candy advertisement, and while not poetry, they certainly capture the feeling of the team and the scandal.  As you also may have noticed, since the cards aren't numbered, I put the infamous Eight Men Out together on the same page.  The stats they quote certainly paint the picture of a great team having a bad week.  The book (and I recommend both the book and the movie if you haven't indulged yourself) isn't quite a perfect history as much as it is a JFK-esque what-if group of scenarios.  I personally believe in the grey area story that the team threw the first couple games but never got paid past the first game, but by then it was too late for them to mount a comeback.  We'll probably never know the whole story since everyone involved in the scandal is long dead and the incident makes for a great and sad piece of baseball lore.

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The Black Sox are one of those issues that brings out many passions in people.  Did Joe Jackson really understand what was going on?  Did Buck Weaver deserve the treatment he got since he didn't take any money?  Was the tight-fisted ways of Charles Comiskey as much to blame for the scandal as the players themselves?  I see wonderful parallels right now in the whole Steroid Era kerfuffle that has been going on for the last decade or so.  The hall of fame just elected Bud Selig, who pretty much stood by as the owners profited from the players at the time and then decided to "get tough" when the winds of opinion changed.  Those players made the owners countless millions and made fans happy but then got vilified after the fact, a post hoc nightmare if ever there was one.  So now that Selig has been enshrined, I would like to see the Bondses and Clemenses and McGwires get their chance to go in too.  And with that said, you can then deduce that I also think that if Charles Comiskey is in the Hall of Fame as an owner, then Shoeless Joe Jackson should finally be allowed in as a player, warts and all.