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.