Saturday, February 17, 2018

Top Five: Ted Williams


My birthday is coming up on Monday, and even though I don't celebrate it as much as I once did, I still took the next few days off work to commemorate the event.

The main reason for this mini-vacation is that I'm treating myself to a card show tomorrow afternoon as a birthday present to myself. A couple of my coworkers are baseball fans, and after I told them I was heading to a show this weekend, a couple of them asked me what specific cards I was looking for.

Really I don't have any set goals in mind for tomorrow -- hitting one of my "Keep Dreaming" wants would be ideal, I suppose. In a perfect world, I might even knock out one of the bigger suspects like, oh, this '57 Ted Williams I've been dreaming about for years now. Chances are I probably won't find it (at least not at a price I can afford) but, like most card shows, you just never know...

In the meantime, I thought it'd be fun to comb through my Top Five cards of Teddy Ballgame on the blog today.




#5 -- 2016 Topps Archives #271 Ted Williams

One of the better examples of just how well-done the '91s were in 2016 Archives.




#4 -- 2017 Topps Update #US-18b Ted Williams SP

I didn't mention it on the blog at the time, but I did go out and buy one of the much-discussed Williams SPs from last year's Update.

Though the ubiquity of them watered down the usual joy I get from Update, I had absolutely no qualms about the short-prints themselves -- many are absolutely fantastic, including this one of Williams out on the waters.

Strange as it is, it's still a somewhat fitting image: Teddy Ballgame was actually a prolific fisherman in his day, once catching a 1,235-pound marlin(!) in Peru.




#3 -- 1959 Fleer Ted Williams #19 Ted Williams

I received this one in a forum trade when I was first getting back into baseball cards many years ago, and at the time I specifically remember thinking: Wow, I have a REAL Ted Williams!

I'd later find out that these '59 Fleer Ted Williams singles are fairly cheap and not at all hard to come by (I've since acquired a few more), but even knowing that now, the thrill of getting that first one has never quite worn off.




#2 -- 1994 UD All-Time Heroes #1 Ted Williams

My first thought whenever I see this one: Oh my god, it's Ted Williams PITCHING!

I've viewed this card a countless number of times since I first got it years and years ago -- the only one I've ever seen commemorating Ted's lone big-league pitching appearance on August 24th, 1940 -- and yet I can still feel that sense of excitement run through me whenever I pass it in my Red Sox binder.




#1 -- 1971 Topps #380 Ted Williams

My top pick for Teddy is kinda out of left field (quite literally, in his case): his '71 Topps Senators manager card remains my all-time favorite.

This is one of those rare items that unleashes a funnel of memories whenever I see it. I purchased the elder Williams (with allowance money) from the legendary card shop I used to frequent in my youth (long since closed) following a daytime bus ride with my dad (on a route that no longer runs). It's been a cornerstone of my collection ever since.

I don't know where my card collection will be decades from now -- all I know is that, no matter what, I'll still be able to perfectly picture that smile, slightly off-center and cocked to the left.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Short Term Stops: The All-Star Team


It's been about four-and-a-half years since I debuted the Short Term Stops theme on this blog.

Now I'm tasked with whittling those four-and-a-half years down to one single post, one single roster. For here tonight, I'll be presenting you with the best of the best: the All-Star Team. The brevity of the stints isn't necessarily the deciding factor in creating an eternal Short Term Stop (though the shorter, the better) -- it's more the sheer unfamiliarity than anything, however that unfamiliarity might manifest itself.

Before I start, I'd just like to thank all of you who have come along for the ride -- I hope you had as much fun reading these posts as I did writing them.

And now, here they are: The Short Term Stops All-Stars.



Pitchers

2009 Topps Update "Legends of the Game Updates" #LGU-3 Christy Mathewson

Christy Mathewson (1916 Reds, 1 game, half-year stint, sunset season)

We begin with a hallowed one-game wonder in Christy Mathewson.

"Big Six" appeared in 636 games during his illustrious career, the first 635 of which came with the Giants. The 636th and final one came with the Reds in 1916, where he won a 10-8 "duel" with Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (also his final game) to pick up his 373rd win, also the last of his career. 

That one game may be a distant memory now, but it's certainly the stuff of legend when it comes to Short Term Stops.



1983 ASA #9 Juan Marichal

Juan Marichal (1975 Dodgers, 2 games, sunset season)

Juan Marichal is the lone write-in candidate on this team, as he didn't appear on the Dodgers' roster when I built their squad a few years back.

The only reason for that is that I didn't own this card at the time of my Dodger post, and my rules stipulate that I must have at least one card of a guy in a given uniform in order to be eligible for a Short Term Stops roster. So no Marichal.

Only later did I discover this magnificent specimen in a flea market dime box, the only card I have of Marichal in full Dodger garb. Obviously past his prime, Marichal retired after just two games with the 1975 Dodgers, lasting only six innings combined in those two starts and posting an awful 13.50 ERA.

It's a stint even more puzzling when you consider Marichal had literally taken a bat to the Dodgers only ten years before.



1978 Kellogg's #8 Goose Gossage

Goose Gossage (1977 Pirates, 72 games)

Goose Gossage makes the All-Star Team despite having appeared in a whole 72 games with the 1977 Pirates, which is something like a lifetime considering the brevity of the first two stints on this roster.

I think part of what makes Gossage's stint with the Pirates so unfamiliar to me is the fact that he never had a Topps card issued with the club: Kellogg's and Hostess were the only companies to document his brief -- and now legendary -- time in Pittsburgh. 

Honorable Mentions:

Fergie Jenkins (1965-66 Phillies, 8 games)
Dwight Gooden (2000 Astros, 1 game, third-of-a-year stint, sunset season)



Catcher

1998 Fleer Tradition #391 Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza (1998 Marlins, 5 games, third-of-a-year stint)

What more can be said about Mike Piazza's Marlins career?

I'd say it's far and away the most memorable Short Term Stop of my baseball lifetime, and what makes it all the more fascinating is that Piazza was at the prime of his career when he jumped from the Dodgers to the Marlins to the Mets, all in a span of eight crazy days in 1998.

Piazza's time as a Marlin lasted all of five games -- five games which will live on forever.

Honorable Mentions:

Yogi Berra (1965 Mets, 4 games, sunset season)
Elston Howard  (1967-68 Red Sox, 113 games, sunset season in '68)



First Base

2002 Topps American Pie #94 Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg (1947 Pirates, 125 games, sunset season)

Whether one game (in the case of Christy Mathewson) or 125, Short Term Stops are exponentially more legendary if the player in question had, prior to that point, played his entire career with a single franchise.

As was the case with Hank Greenberg, who'd spent his first 12 big-league seasons with the Tigers before suiting up for the Pirates for his 13th and final campaign. It was a decent season for Hank: he'd post a .249-25-74 line, but decided enough was enough and retired after the '47 season.

It's hard to say for sure, but Hank Greenberg as a Pirate may be my all-time favorite Short Term Stop, and he's definitely a giant on this squad.

Honorable Mentions:

Pete Rose (1984 Expos, 95 games, half-year stint)
Keith Hernandez (1990 Indians, 43 games, sunset season)



Second Base

2010 Topps National Chicle #253 Ryne Sandberg 

Ryne Sandberg (1981 Phillies, 13 games)

But the Mathewson/Greenberg Effect can work the other way, too: take Ryne Sandberg, who spent all but the first 13 games of his career with the hometown Cubs.

The fact that Ryno spent the remainder of his baseball life on the North Side of Chicago makes that brief cup-of-coffee with the Phillies all the more jarring.

Honorable Mentions:

Willie Randolph (1975 Pirates, 30 games)
Bert Campaneris (1983 Yankees, 60 games, sunset season)



Shortstop

1998 Ultra #300 Ozzie Guillen

Ozzie Guillen (1998 Orioles, 12 games, half-year stint)

All I'll say about this one is that, statistically, it's probably the worst stint on the roster: Ozzie Guillen and his dazzling .063 average were released just 12 games into his Orioles career in 1998.

Honorable Mentions:

Julio Franco (1982 Phillies, 16 games)
Shawon Dunston (1997 Pirates, 18 games, half-year stint)



Third Base

1975 Topps #35 Ron Santo

Ron Santo (1974 White Sox, 117 games, sunset season)

This should never have been allowed to happen -- plain and simple. 

Honorable Mentions:

Eddie Mathews (1967 Astros, 101 games, half-year stint)
Ron Cey (1987 A's, 45 games, sunset season)



Outfield

1992 Conlon Ruth #93 Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth (1935 Braves, 28 games, sunset season)

This may will be the most famous Short Term Stop in baseball history.

Babe Ruth, a man famous for his larger-than-life career on and off the ballfield, was an out-of-shape shell of his former self when he joined the Boston Braves in 1935. Not surprisingly, his performance fell off a cliff: he hit just .181 in 28 game with the Braves, clubbing the final six of his 714 career homers in the process.

This may well have been the first Short Term Stop I discovered as a young baseball fan, and I've been an avid devotee of unfamiliar uniforms ever since.



2017 Topps Archives #255 Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson (1976 Orioles, 134 games)

Sandwich stints are also prone to creating hallowed Short Term Stops.

Reggie Jackson became a star during his time with the A's and a superstar after signing with the Yankees. Tucked in between those years, however, was an odd season with the Orioles that never gets talked about. 

Though his 134 games with the 1976 O's are the most of any player on this roster, that doesn't stop Reggie's stint in Baltimore from becoming a cornerstone in the world of Short Term Stops.



1993 Upper Deck #706 Dale Murphy

Dale Murphy (1993 Rockies, 26 games, sunset season)

I admit it: part of the fun of collecting Short Term Stops comes from the miserable failures of once-great players at the end of their careers.

Dale Murphy is a prime example of this. I'm sure it was painful for a lot of fans to see Murph go out the way he did: he hit an anemic .143 in 26 games for the expansion '93 Rockies before retiring, a quiet end to a loud career.

But boy are his Rockies cards fantastic! 

Honorable Mentions:

Duke Snider (1964 Giants, 91 games, sunset season)
Willie Mays (1972-73 Mets, 135 games, sunset season in '73)



Designated Hitter

1976 SSPC #168 Harmon Killebrew

Harmon Killebrew (1975 Royals, 106 games, sunset season)

The DH position was the toughest choice for me to make on this roster, probably because so many former stars wound up becoming all-hit, no-field players in their golden years.

But in the end, I went with Harmon Killebrew, whose unspectacular sunset season (see: .199 batting average) with the Royals will never, ever look right to me. 

Honorable Mentions:

Hank Aaron (1975-76 Brewers, 222 games, sunset season in '76)
John Kruk (1995 White Sox, 45 games, sunset season)



Pinch Runner

1975 Topps #407 Herb Washington

Herb Washington (1974-75 A's, 105 games, sunset season in '75)

This is the only pinch-runner card in baseball history, and you better believe I was gonna find a way to sneak it into this post (because someone has to pinch-run for Babe Ruth).

Long live Herb Washington! 



Pinch Hitter

2006 SP Legendary Cuts #5 Eddie Gaedel

Eddie Gaedel (1951 Browns, 1 game, sunset season)

And finally, every good team needs a reliable bat off the bench -- who better than the 3'7" Eddie Gaedel, a man who's basically guaranteed to draw a walk in every at-bat?

You probably know the story by now: as part of a publicity stunt by none other than Bill Veeck, Gaedel was signed to a contract and appeared as a pinch-hitter for the lowly Browns on August 19th, 1951. Not surprisingly, he drew a walk on four pitches. Also not surprisingly, Major League Baseball banned any further stunts of the sort, ending Eddie Gaedel's career after one memorable at-bat.

So there you have it. The Short Term Stops All-Timers. While I've covered every team, this theme isn't quite done yet -- I've got a couple ideas for posts in the future (probably starting with notable Short Term Stops that were never commemorated on cardboard).

Now, and as always, thanks for tuning in.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Legendary


A couple months ago -- and after more than a year of searching for one of its 550 existing copies -- I finally stumbled upon the final piece I needed to finish off my 100-card 2007 SP Legendary Cuts "Legendary Americana" insert set with Charles Lindbergh here.

Completing the set was, for me, both a rare and major event: rare because you can count the number of sets I've finished on one hand, and major because it was the joyous final chapter of what'd easily been the single longest card project I've ever undertaken.




I can't remember when exactly I started building this beautiful insert set -- I'd place it around 2009 or 2010, if I had to guess -- but I do know that Walt Whitman was the man who convinced me that such a task was worthwhile.

I acquired the great poet himself in a random lot I bought on the forums many years ago, and I was shaken by the massive beauty of this card upon its arrival in the mail. So shaken, in fact, that I stuffed it into my pocket to show my dad at lunch later that afternoon (note the dinged top corners).

Even though acquiring the multitude-containing Walt Whitman predated my current literary bend by several years (perhaps a premonition of things to come?), it was then and there that I decided to chase the other 99 cards in the Legendary Americana set.




It's been a fun ride, to say the least, one that has satisfied my craving for both baseball cards and historical knowledge.

Elegant design aside, one of my favorite things about the set is the sheer diversity of the names included in it. You get everyone from Johnny Appleseed to Robert Johnson. Obscure presidents (Chester Arthur?) and, yes, even a couple giants from baseball lore (Robinson and Babe Ruth are the only ones in the set).

But all right, enough milling around: here's the moment I've been anticipating for so long now -- here, in its entirety, is the complete (ah, that word: complete!) 2007 SP Legendary Cuts "Legendary Americana" insert set in all its glory.















From George Washington Carver to Mary Harris ("Mother") Jones, I can now say that I've polished this set off once and for all.

I may not be much of a set-builder, but even I can see that there is indeed joy in a completed set -- and that goes infinitely so for one that has taken virtually my entire adult life to collect.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Top Five: Yu Darvish


For many reasons, working at one of the country's busiest airports is often surreal, not the least of which is because I sometimes bump into celebrities.

As was the case last week, when I looked at a customer who'd just handed me a Richard Scarry children's book and thought: Wow, that guy looks a lot like Theo Epstein. That's because it was Theo Epstein, as confirmed by the name on his credit card.

Awestruck and generally speechless as I was in that moment, I first could only spit out the words No, thank you! to Theo after he thanked me for the transaction. I managed to compose myself enough to tell him I was a big fan of his and that I'd be watching in 2018 as he was walking away, to which he then responded: It's gonna be a fun year.

I'm starting to think there was a coded message in this sentence, perhaps something along the lines of We're signing Yu Darvish, which the Cubs did today -- a move which, in turn, inspired me to compose a Top Five list of the newest Chicago Cub.




#5 -- 2013 Topps Heritage #125 Yu Darvish

2013 Heritage was kind of a mess, but wow are those vintage Rookie Cups fantastic.




#4 -- 2013 Topps Archives "1972 Basketball" #72B-YD Yu Darvish

You wouldn't think inter-sport design crossovers would work all that well, but I sure think they do.




#3 -- 2012 Topps #660 Yu Darvish RC

My memory's a bit hazy on the matter, but I'm pretty sure this was my first Yu Darvish card.

I remember it being a big deal at the time, and also being quite satisfied that I managed to pull it from a pack and thus wasn't forced to have to chase it on the secondary market since Yu-mania was going strong.




#2 -- 2017 Topps Update #US-156b Yu Darvish SP

Press conference shots are terrific and rarely utilized in the hobby, which made me glad Topps snuck this one into their SP checklist in 2017 Update (look at all the boom mikes!).




#1 -- 2015 Topps #50b Yu Darvish SP

I don't know how I feel about the fact that my two favorite Darvish cards are both photo-variation SPs, but it's true.

I paid $8 for this at a card show a few years ago, which is a nearly unheard-of sum for a non-vintage item for me. But I felt it was a fair price to pay since you don't often see pitcher-at-the-plate shots these days, much less ones featuring American League pitchers.

Darvish saw his first regular at bats during his late-season trade to the Dodgers last year, and I look forward to watching many more with the Cubs in the considerable future.

Thanks, Theo!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Nightmares


I use baseball cards for many reasons, one of which is pure solace.

The hobby works wonders for maintaining a calm day, or returning balance to a hectic one. So it shocks me, then, when a select piece of cardboard like this one comes along and scares the ever-living bejesus out of me.

I met up with Tony of "Wrigley Roster Jenga" fame at a card show late last year, and this night terror was amongst the otherwise brilliant stack of goodies he gifted me. This demented (and hopefully defunct) minor-league mascot is the type of thing that winds up in my nightmares wielding a bloody butcher's knife.

But it's far from the first card in my collection to send chills down my spine.




In fact, it got me thinking about other nightmarish cards I own, and while most of what you'll find in my binders is nothing more than innocent joy, a few never fail to freak me out.

Like this one, in which some sick artist under the employ of Mother's Cookies managed to transform Rusty Staub into something from a sinister episode of Barney.




My mom usually keeps a safe distance from my cards, and I'm convinced this is one of the reasons why.

Long ago, she dubbed Brooks here as the Burn Victim Card -- a name which has stuck over the years -- and she still shudders at even the thought of it (can you blame her?).




And then there's this one, which wouldn't be so scary if it didn't depict Rube Foster's face...and absolutely nothing else.

Instead, there's Foster's decapitated head staring straight into your soul atop an eerie Halloweenish orange, which good luck pushing that out of your brain.




Thankfully, the other cards Tony gave me weren't so scary.

These two filled some gaps in my 2017 want lists, though the Mattingly made me realize that I still somehow didn't own his original '87 Topps issue.




Tobacco-era reprints are always welcome here.




One can never have too many Bartolo Colon cards (especially considering he's the last active Expo).




And finally, here's a stellar shot from 2001 Stadium Club, which now that I think of it, is probably the least-represented year of Stadium Club in my collection (seriously, it's darn near impossible to find anything from this set these days).

See? Most baseball cards are just plain comforting.




But not all of them.