Thursday, March 23, 2017

If it didn't happen on a baseball card, did it make a sound?

I finally requested shipment of this card today. It had sat in my COMC cart forever and there is no reason that it should have escaped me for so long, too many card interests or not.

This card, to me, is confirmation -- proof, if you will -- that Mark Fidrych did, indeed, smooth the mound from his knees in the middle of pitching a game.

My brain, even without this act appearing on a card, knows that Fidrych did this. I read about it in the newspapers and The Sporting News when I was a kid in 1976. I saw it on television. I can go back and watch his mound maintenance on youtube. There might be even be a picture of him doing it an old Baseball Digest I have stashed somewhere.

But you know the media. Fake news. They lie. Cards is where you can find the truth.

OK, I'm being facetious. But, really, as a kid growing up in the '70s, visual evidence was limited. There were pictures in the newspaper -- and let me tell you, photos of Detroit Tigers in upstate New York were rare. There was Sports Illustrated. There was Game of the Week, and a few New York games if you had cable. That was it.

For true, lasting evidence, I needed my baseball cards. Back before "pics or it didn't happen," there was "cards or it didn't happen."

But, sadly, as I've mentioned many times before, cards didn't do a great job of capturing the baseball of my childhood. Thank goodness the uniforms were so goofy in the '70s -- at least I have proof on cards that happened -- but everyone was so trapped in batting and pitching poses, they didn't look at what was around them. (P.S.: this is why the 1976 SSPC set is so treasured, it captures the time so well).

These are the only two cards that I know of that showcase the cap-wearing bullpen carts that were so ubiquitous during the mid-to-late 1970s. But you'd never know they were so plentiful looking back at the cards now.

So it goes for other staples of the 1970s: MIA on cards are pillbox caps on teams other than the Pirates, the glorious golden-tinged scoreboard graphics, and Morganna the Kissing Bandit. And, of course, also absent on baseball cards was Johnny Bench's mustache.

"Wait a minute," you're saying.

"Johnny Bench didn't wear a mustache."

Yes, up to about a month ago, I would have agreed with you. Of course not. Of course, Johnny Bench didn't wear a mustache.

Here is just a selection of cards I own of Johnny Bench from his playing days:

Do you see a mustache on any of them? Of course you don't.

Because Johnny Bench didn't have a mustache. It's there in the cards. The Reds have carried a very strict rule against facial hair for years and it was in full force during Bench's playing days. Absolutely no facial hair, certainly no must ... ach ... es ...


Hi, he's Johnny Bench. He has a mustache.

You could have knocked me over with a 1981 Donruss card when I saw this image.

I'm going to admit to you right now, with no sign of shame, that I was watching a few old Hee Haw shows a little while ago. Hee Haw reminds me of growing up the '70s, too. It was on almost every Saturday evening after dinner. And although I was too young to appreciate corn-pone jokes, big-haired country singers or low-cut blouses, I didn't mind watching it. There was a lot of laughing on Hee Haw. I liked laughing.

Apparently, so did baseball players from Oklahoma.

Several baseball players appeared on Hee Haw. Bench, Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer all did and all were natives of Oklahoma. Dizzy Dean was also on the show. He was a native of Arkansas, which I suppose is close enough.

I don't know why Oklahoma-bred players gravitated toward Hee Haw, it's not the only country-fried state in the union. But never mind that, because, "You guys! Johnny Bench is wearing a mustache!!!"

There he is with Gunilla Hutton! Mustache!

The episode I was watching aired on Feb. 5, 1972. I'm assuming it taped much earlier, but it still likely taped during the baseball offseason, which I guess was when Bench figured he was free-and-clear to grow a mustache.

By the time spring workouts rolled around and baseball card photographers started roaming the field looking for ballplayers, Bench had shaved off his mustache to keep in compliance. And to let the kiddie collectors know that Bench was a clean-shaven follower of Cincinnati Reds' law.

We were all fooled.

I had no idea that Bench had a mustache.

I still don't know if I believe it. Because it didn't happen on a baseball card.

But there he is again with Barbi Benton (Bench is 6-1, which tells you how tiny and super-cute Barbi is).

Nice outfits.

Since I made my discovery, I've found a couple other references online to Bench's brief mustache appearances. They're as blown away by it as I was. I'm assuming they were also baseball card collectors.

Because baseball cards back then were proof of everything that happened in baseball. That's how we knew our players.

Cards or it didn't happen.

Cards or it didn't make a sound.

Until 40 years later.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Got me

As a writer, I have a relationship with the stories and posts that I write. You've probably heard writers describe their stories as their "children" and I can relate.

While some can pound out a post, hit "publish" and then forget about it once the sun goes down, it doesn't work that way for me. I write some posts that I want to forget, but can't. And I write other posts that I like ... a lot. I have favorites when it comes to posts.

Yesterday's post was a favorite. I couldn't wait to get the idea up on the blog. It didn't get the biggest response, but that's OK. The cool people know why I liked the post so much. I was writing to them.

But since I like to offer variety on my blog and because I knew I had probably bored the "what's new" crowd with last night's post, I thought I'd find something for them. I was getting a few birthday goodies for my daughter today when I ambled over to the card aisle and grabbed a single 24-card pack of this year's Opening Day.

Opening Day is virtually useless as a product, moreso than in years past when it could at least draw the anti-foil collectors. It's two selling points these days are price and inserts. That right there tells you the set doesn't need to exist.

I figured I'd show this pack, write some dismissive words and then show a few cards that I received recently from a fellow collector, cards that I really wanted. I even had a working title: "A pack of Opening Day plus some other cards I actually like". Snarky but effective.

But then something happened.

The card gods got me. They caught me being cynical and decided to teach me a lesson, using this very pack of Opening Day.

So let's see what was in that Opening Day pack that I was pretty sure before it was even opened that it would be the only pack of the stuff I would open all year.

First we have the cards we've all seen in 2017 flagship already. This is OD at its most sleepy. I actually do like these better because the Opening Day logo fills in that useless gray patch in the bottom right corner. But really these cards can't possibly register with collectors. Unless all they are buying is Opening Day.

Here are the cards of players you'll be seeing in flagship Series 2. These are always mildly interesting. You can see Edwin Encarnacion in his new (photoshopped) Indians duds. Many of these same photos will appear/are appearing in respective team sets.

The one Dodger in the pack. Now I know what Kenley's Series 2 card will look like.

As is customary, the inserts showed up in the middle of the pack. This is one of the mascot cards and it is a real live mascot. It's pretty amusing pulling an actual monkey on a card. Opening Day inserts are fun, which makes me wonder why flagship's inserts can't be as much fun (it has "First Pitch" and that's about it).

I was happy to pull one of the Incredible Eats cards. People are a bit up-in-arms about the accuracy of these, especially those who regularly attend ballparks. I go to MLB ballparks so seldom I couldn't tell you a single thing on the menu at any park. I just know that I now want a hot dog (but get that sauerkraut away from me).

This is an insert set, redundantly titled "Opening Day," that showcases opening days at various parks (with as little words as possible, apparently). This was an insert set in flagship like 10 years ago, so I can't get excited over this.

With the inserts out of the way, it was time to look at the rest of the base cards, which is almost always the most boring part of the pack. I did pull the Jansen in that second half (it was the last card), so it wasn't a total snoozer.

Plus the first card after the inserts was this:


They got me.

Dusty Baker here is walking away after slaying Bryce Harper with some humor. He got him good. It is an awesome photo for a card and I knew -- with very little knowledge of 2017 flagship or OD photos -- that this was a variation pic.

I have incredible luck with pulling Washington Nationals variations.

These aren't super-difficult pulls, the odds on the pack list base card variations as 1:75 packs. But, still, I can't afford to buy 75 packs in one shot, not even Opening Day.

This isn't the only Bryce Harper photo variation in Opening Day, because of course not. But it's the best one. I took a peek at what this is going for on ebay. Please, someone, hold me back from listing this.

That doesn't mean I will keep it forever. I'd trade it quickly for something cool.

The important thing for me in this is that I shouldn't be so dismissive of the cards. Even something like Opening Day. A pack of cards is a pack of cards. It holds a promise and some hope. It's up to you to decide how you will react to what's inside.

Happiness. Disappointment. Disgust. Elation.

It doesn't matter the product, it's all there for you. It's about the experience.

And that's what blogging is, about the experience. Some posts connect, others don't. People are different. Some are like you. Some are not.

Just as long as we keep writing and keep collecting.


Before all this, I scanned some cards I received from Chris, the Braves fan who regularly sends me envelopes. I don't want to scrap posting them just because a pack of Opening Day became a revelation.

So here they are:

A couple of Bills cards straight from 1975.

Another Bills card from that set I love so much, 1977 Topps.

Some 2017 Heritage Dodgers needs. I hope to have a want list up tonight.

And a couple more (I actually pulled the Kershaw card in an earlier pack purchase -- I saw it peaking through the wrapper and couldn't resist).

All great cards.

I like them.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Strange bedfellows

The phrase "strange bedfellows" may be an odd one to apply to baseball or baseball cards. The phrase first appeared in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," in reference to a man who was shipwrecked and took shelter beside a sleeping sea monster.

"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows."

But I am not referring to misery here. In fact, just the opposite. The "strange bedfellows" on this particular card were being honored for their exceptional year. It's a happy occasion. If there was any misery, the subjects kept it hid well, as Nolan Ryan and Steve McCatty led their respective leagues in earned run average.

However, the combination of the two, 36 years in retrospect, is "strange". Ryan is a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. McCatty played 10 years in the majors, struggled with injuries, and put together a single above-average season, enhanced by the 1981 strike year, to take the AL earned-run average title.

Then that very title was taken away from McCatty the following year as the method for calculating ERA changed after the 1981 season. Total innings pitched were no longer rounded to the nearest inning. That meant that the Orioles' Sammy Stewart, who finished behind McCatty by a mere hundredth of a percentage point in the original calculations, was now the ERA champ -- 2.32 to 2.33.

So McCatty didn't even merit sharing a spot with Ryan!

Strange bedfellows.

To me, these earned-run average leaders cards from the 1970s and '80s were the greatest because if you didn't pay close attention to the previous season, you never knew what wacky person would turn up on them what weird combination would be showcased.

With most of the other statistical categories, the selections were clear: superstars only.

On the strikeouts leaders card, Ryan dined with his NL counterpart and fellow star, Tom Seaver. There wasn't a McCatty for miles. Read the back for the runners-up: Blyleven, Eckersley, Blue, Palmer, Perry, Jenkins, Richard, Carlton, Sutton. No strange bedfellows here. These guys ... uh ... um ... belonged in bed together.

It was that way for many of the other categories, too.

Schmidt and Murray. RBI leaders. Yes, definitely, they belonged together.

Rice and Foster. Home run leaders. Peas in the same pod.

Parker and Carew. Batting leaders. Brothers from a different mother.

Then the ERA leaders card hits you -- bam -- with Catfish Hunter and ... uh ... Buzz Capra? Granted, probably the greatest leader card ever in terms of nicknames. But these are some weird bunkdudes we have here.

ERA leaders were fun for the crazy combos. You expected the stars. You expected the stars to receive multiple cards in the same set.

But Rudy May? No, you did not expect more than one card of Rudy May in a set.

Sometimes, the ERA leaders cards were so wacky that both players featured were strange and wonderful.

Atlee Hammaker and Rick Honeycutt for example. Tell me what they ever led the league in again.

The ERA cards were a place for your "Hall of Very Good" players. Guys you remember, but often forgotten by the casual baseball fans. The ERA cards often cost much less than the HR or SO leaders cards because of this, and that's a damn shame.

Most leaders cards between 1973 and 1984 displayed just two players, the top person for the AL and NL. Leader cards prior to '73 often featured three players -- the top three for each league. But even with the different presentation, you still saw some unlikely players showing up on the ERA cards.

1971, for example. Diego Segui and Clyde Wright dining with Jim Palmer. Wayne Simpson and Luke Walker sharing a table with Tom Seaver (maybe it should be "strange table partners," that sound a little less awkward than "bedfellows.")

That's not to say that there weren't players whose star flickered for just a year or two on other leader cards. There were. And there were ERA cards with nothing but superstars, too.

But the ERA cards, to me, seemed like the grab bag of leaders cards much more than any other category (you could make arguments for stolen bases and saves leaders, too). You never knew what you were going to get.

These guys probably looked like they'd be stars for a long time when this card came out. Some good years for Denny later on, but, overall, nothing on this card says "hall of famer". Just another fun card out of the grab bag.

After 1984, Topps dispensed with leader cards for awhile. They re-emerged during that period when I wasn't collecting. And then in 2008, they started appearing annually with three players per league for each category, much as Topps did during the '60s and early '70s and in 1976.

I've noticed something different with the ERA cards from the more recent years.

Every last player on the recent ERA cards seem to be the best pitchers in their field. There isn't a "what's he doing in there?" player in the lot.

This could be for a couple of reasons. One is it's possible not enough time has passed. We don't have the perspective we enjoy with cards issued 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

But I think it's more possible that the best pitchers in the game today are so much more dominant in every category. If they strike you out a bunch they also don't let you get any runs.

Time will tell. The careers of the more recent league leaders aren't finished. And players like Edwin Jackson and Alex Wood show up on the reverse side of the above two cards.

Personally, I'm hoping for a return of those "sometimes good" pitchers and a return to those two-player leader cards.

There's nothing quite as quirky as a strange bedfellows league leaders card.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

This fits into my schedule

There was a card show near me this weekend for the first time in months. I didn't go. This happens to be the busiest work weekend of the year (nice timing, card show). I've barely had time enough to blog, and you know how I must blog.

Pre-scanned, non-cards are about all I have space for today. Fortunately, there was just such a thing in the draft folder.

Julie, from A Cracked Bat, sent me this pocket schedule back in January and I showed it then. But I wanted to do a little contrasting and comparing.

This schedule is from the 1974 season, the year in which the Dodgers played in the World Series, falling to the A's in five games. It was the breakout season for Steve Garvey, the All-Star MVP that year, and other players like Ron Cey, Jimmy Wynn, Mike Marshall, Andy Messersmith and Bill Buckner vaulted the youthful Hollywood squad into an era that would produce four World Series in eight years.

But times were different then and all you have to do is look at the schedule.

For starters, this pocket schedule is not the only team pocket schedule issued that year. There were several others with several other different sponsors. I'm not an authority on pocket schedules, but I don't think that happens anymore.

There is now an "official" pocket schedule issued by the team. (Last year's Dodger schedule is very reminiscent of the team's 1978 yearbook).

Let's compare some more:

The 1974 folds open to three panels. The back panel is another ad for Olympia Beer and an inside panel listing the Dodgers' "days" for the '74 season.

Everyone in 1974 had Hank Aaron fever, and even though the Dodgers gave up his record-setting home run in April of '74, they still held an Aaron Poster Night on May 17.

The 2016 schedule folds open to eight panels and its packed with various packages and seating/ticket plans. The seating diagram is colorful and very useful even just for the fact that there are about five dozen seating options.

I don't know how many seating options there were in 1974 (the schedule doesn't tell me), but I'm guessing around four.

The left column lists what is now called "a promotional schedule" and includes "days' that 1974 would have never dreamed of, such as "Pups in the Park" "Kenta Maeda Fathead" night and a litany of bobblehead days.

Here is the 1974 Dodgers schedule. Road games are listed in gold, which was the 1970s default color. There are two scheduled doubleheaders (against the Astros on May 15 and against the Reds on July 3).

The 2016 schedule is not as colorful and contains modern inventions like interleague games and Diamondbacks. It does not contain any scheduled doubleheaders. But at least there's fireworks after every Friday Night home game! That's something they didn't have in 1974. Everyone thought Bill Veeck and his exploding scoreboard was bonkers.

 We live in the information age, which is why the 2016 schedule devotes an entire panel to all the radio stations that carry Dodgers games, in three languages.

And for those of you who think radios are old-fashioned and dumb, you can get your info on the Dodgers in a variety of ways -- some ways that I will probably never try -- but they are out there.

In 1974, you had a transistor radio or a television without cable. No point in devoting two whole panels to the options.

The back panel says it all. "Follow the Dodgers ... on KABC & KTTV." Take your pick.

Make sure there's beer involved, though.

Friday, March 17, 2017

'56 of the month: Dick Groat

During a rare, blissful moment of free time early this week, I took a peak at my PayPal account. It read "$3.68."

"Great," I said to myself. "Let's see what 1956 card I can get for less than three dollars and 69 cents."

I ventured on to ebay and started looking at 1956 Topps cards. I've never really conducted this particular search before and it was kind of an eye-opener for me, just because I've always assumed that people were selling '56 Topps cards -- all of them -- for outrageous prices online.

But I guess I just had to get serious about chasing the set. Because what I found during that search is there are lots of cards in the set, maybe around 60 or more, that can be had for less than 5 bucks. And they're in pretty decent shape, too.

That's what I was looking for: I wanted a '56 card that was in decent shape, something that fits into my collection. I wound up narrowing it down to three cards. One was a Billy Pierce card that wasn't in the greatest condition but good enough. Another was a card of Phillies catcher Andy Seminick, who was good pals with my late buddy, pitcher Frank Smith. The other was the Dick Groat card you see here.

Obviously, I chose Dick Groat.

I liked the Groat for the sweet sharp corners. The fact that it is off-centered doesn't bother me. I pulled off-center cards out of every pack I opened as a kid. I'd rather have the nice corners.

I also liked it because the action shot appears to show Roy Campanella in a play at the plate. You can't go wrong with a Dodger in the background.

Finally, I liked it because Groat is one of those stars from that time period who is almost completely overlooked.

Groat was an integral element of the Pirates teams that pulled themselves out of despair during the 1950s and formed a potent team that would eventually win the World Series in 1960. Groat was the National League MVP that year and led the league in batting.

He was also part of one of the best double-play teams in baseball at that time, combining with second baseman Bill Mazeroski.

I enjoy obtaining players' cards that were issued just a few years before the player broke out big. This is one of those cards, created four years before his MVP season.

As you can see by the center cartoon, Groat was one of those old-time guys who played major league baseball and in the NBA. He played one season for the Fort Wayne Pistons.

Groat was a star basketball player for Duke University and has been an announcer for the University of Pittsburgh's basketball team for decades. Just last month, he announced a Pittsburgh game against his alma mater, Duke, for the first time at Cameron Indoor Stadium. At the age of 86.

But getting back to baseball, that 1960 Pirates team was pretty good, with Groat and Mazeroski, Clemente and Skinner, Virdon and Stuart, Law and Face. Their third baseman was former Dodger Don Hoak.

I recently received this card of Hoak from Tom of The Angels, In Order. He said he had three 1956 cards for me.

As you can see, they have not held up quite as well as the Groat card. The Bob Miller card has scribbles, the Larry Jackson card has creases and the Hoak card, well ...

... the Hoak card was glued into something, because you know kids back then and their glue.

You can see by the note that Tom fully expects these to be place-holders and that they will be. It's nice to get a look at 56s up close even if they've been manhandled a bit.

Also, it gets me accustomed to what I will have to set as my condition standard for the stars in the 1956 set. Because even though I found plenty of '56 cards I could afford in that ebay search, I didn't find one, single card of a player who you could consider a superstar.

No offense, Mr. Groat.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Card collecting for me will end in 2041

In 2041, I will be 75 years old. I don't know if I will be alive then. But I do know that if I haven't already stopped collecting current cards by that point, I will do it in 2041.

Why is that?

Well, if the Heritage brand is still a thing in 2041 that is the year it will showcase the current robots ... er, players on the 1992 Topps design. And we all know what happened in 1992.

Topps stopped using the dark, thick, luxurious cardboard that had marked most of its sets in the decades prior. You may argue that Topps didn't really stray away from its roots until the 1993 set and you may point out that the cardboard used in Topps' sets through the '60s wasn't really "dark," but that's just semantics.

The point is, people are buying Heritage because of the cardboard.

Not everyone is buying Heritage because of that. Some are buying it because of the nostalgia of the design. Some are buying it because they like the weird variations and goofy stuff that Topps now places in Heritage. But I know for a fact that some are buying it for cardboard reasons because I've heard of collectors who consider Heritage the flagship brand.

The real flagship set doesn't exist for them. Because it's not made from the traditional card stock that existed from the early '50s until the early '90s.

And, more and more, I see their point.

I don't know how you gauge "hobby talk" these days. The blogs don't really keep up with the latest discussions anymore. I've never been a forum person, and I don't know if that's the most relevant place anymore either. For me, "hobby talk" shows up on Twitter.

And in the last couple of days, there's been a decent amount of talk about past Topps designs and about Heritage. People are talking about this year's Heritage. Still.

Maybe you're saying "Heritage was just released a few weeks ago, of course they're still talking about it!" But you know how fast the world and the hobby moves these days. Talk about 2017 flagship dried up in about a week. Flagship would love to be discussed the way Heritage is discussed.

The Heritage discussion is much more loving. There is a fondness. Sure, people bitch about the short-prints and other modern hobby gimmickry, but the tone is more respectful than it is for flagship. Heritage is not dismissed like other, flimsier sets.

And, I say, it's the cardboard.

I have a love-hate relationship with cardboard in my life. Every other Thursday -- this Thursday -- is recycling day at the night owl nest.

That means that every other Thursday I pull out the box-cutter, head out into the back hall, and toil over a bunch of cardboard boxes, getting them down to small enough squares so the garbage collector will accept them.

This time of year the boxes are everywhere. First there's Christmas and then birthdays and the boxes pile up. And it's damn cold in the back hall right now.

But if all of that cardboard had pictures on them? That's another story.

I need "heft" to my cards. They need to be substantial. They need to be "something." The cards in flagship don't feel like "something" much of the time.

A real cardboard card is chocolate cake. Flagship waferboard, or whatever the heck it is, is a rice cake.

Solid cardboard is so rare in sets now. You see it in Heritage. It's also in Allen & Ginter and Gypsy Queen, although maybe not quite as substantial. Other than that, it doesn't show up a lot.

A few days ago, it dawned on me that the best way to improve the hobby -- for me -- is if real cardboard would return to Topps' sets.

But that's not totally realistic.

For one, there are brands out there that never appeared on the cardboard stock that Topps used in the '70s and '80s. Stadium Club for example. That would be just weird on cardboard stock. Same with Finest. And Chrome.

But flagship? Face it, flagship needs help. I don't know what Topps is doing with its design, but that's not the help it needs. Thicker cards is what it needs.

The weirdest thing to me is that Topps has a hard-to-find parallel in which it prints a current card on traditional cardboard instead of the usual slightly thicker notebook paper. So Topps is restricting one of the best facets of its old cards to a parallel that a lot of collectors won't even see.

But this is something I've noticed over the years.

I was once a collector who would hold flagship above any other set. That was a holdover from the years when there was no other set to collect. But even when I returned to the hobby about 10 years ago, I still considered flagship as the primary set. And it would get most of my time.

This was the case in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2010, I completed the flagship set and ignored the Heritage set because Heritage featured the 1961 design that year and that design didn't appeal to me.

But in 2011 that changed. That was the year Heritage focused on the 1962 set. The cards with the wood paneling were wonderful. They were wonderfully thick. Wonderfully substantial. I instinctively collected the cards even without any plans to complete the set.

From that point, without really knowing it, I placed Heritage ahead of Topps flagship. I looked forward to Heritage more eagerly than flagship, even though flagship marked the start of the baseball card season.

Since then, Topps flagship has put out some designs that I don't like at all -- 2012, 2014, 2016 -- and one design I liked a lot -- 2015. I've had no problem ignoring the sets I don't like and I have very few cards from those three years.

In the past that would be unthinkable. Because I was "supposed to buy flagship."

But now it's the reverse. Heritage is "flagship." It's the set that reminds me of collecting when I was a kid. 2017 flagship certainly doesn't remind me of that.

I've got to think it's the cardboard.

And people are still talking about 2017 Heritage and I think it's because of the cardboard.

Over the years I've heard some collectors say things like "Heritage should end this year" or "Heritage has outlived its usefulness." I've never understood that.

Heritage is a better version of flagship to me. Sure the designs have been done before, but it's just a much more well-made card than flagship.

That's why I believe that in 2024 Heritage still will exist and that will be the year it is issuing its set on the 1975 design.

I am extremely excited for that year of Heritage. I've never bought a case in my life, but I think that will be the year I do. I may buy no other cards that year to focus on Heritage. I could drive myself literally insane pursuing a 660-card Heritage mini-set and an MVP subset that has tripled in size.

It might end me as a collector -- long before 2041.

But it will be a whole lot of fun, and I've got to believe part of that is because of the cardboard.