Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Evolution of a Baseball Fan

Ever, even for a fleeting moment, wondered what it would be like to love watching a sport but not feel an emotional attachment to the success of one over an other? Sure, this is a common if you do not feel an affinity to a sport you just happen to be watching but what if you were a fan of a team, lost interest, but still love the game?

I'm sure this happens to some. I was an avid Yankee fan since 1986.I suffered through the obsessive overbearing whims of Steinbrenner. All but two players from the '88 team were still left by 1990 and that was one of the worst teams in the club's history.

The Steinbrenner "agreement" to not be involved in day to day operations led to a rebirth of the team's fortunes. The 1994 Yankees did something I never dreamed could happen to a Yankee, team, they swept an entire West coast trip. I believer they were 11-0 on the trip. Just 4 years earlier, the Yankees couldn't even compete against Oakland. By August 11, 1994, the Yankees, though losing to the Blue Jays in extra innings, finished the day well in first place. The Yankees in '93 may still have the record for most times being in a first place tie without ever leading the division.

I didn't cry over the '94 strike but it did change how I felt about the game. If I were rooting for a team that was having a lousy season, I might have felt different but I longed to see the Yankees dominate like they did before my time. The day had come, but it still never arrived.

I won't go over what happened after the strike. It's clear what happened, The size of the market seemed to dictate the success of a club more than the play on the field. Over time, it became more obvious as player salaries were free to grow to limitless heights. These heights could be reached and teams can still build around the player on large market teams. Smaller markets, get the big start and he's like a giant stuck on a Triple AAA roster playing in the Majors.

The Yankees rose to heights they may have never reached. 125-50 record including the post season in 1998 may be the greatest season they ever had. It has to rival 1927 or 1961 with a record like that. Salaries really began to explode in the 2000's and the difference in quality of talent between large and small markets was blatant. The league found a cheesy wealth redistribution scheme to help level the talent out around the league. It's cheesy because as a team benefits from that money and becomes good, they cease to be a major beneficiary of the funds. The team shines for 2 or 3 years then plummets for the net 8 to 10. I see the Marlins,Reds,Rays,Phillies all experience this and I believe I am seeing the Royals begin to go through this. Is it fair? No, but that's the point of salary caps and they don't have that in the Majors.

So, being disgruntled over the business end of MLB and dispassionate about a team which no longer has an identity because it no longer has any homegrown talent playing a vital role in their success, I am left with, the love of the game itself. I see a player, his talent, what he can contribute to a team but no longer care which team. PEDs are a nice distraction from what I feel is a chronic decaying issue in terms of the competitiveness of MLB.

So, the game. The game itself. Put one on, the strategy is there from pitch to pitch. How a pitcher tries to trick a batter, how the batter tries to out  fox the fox. Where the ball ends up if hit, how it's fielded, where do you throw it if two are on? Is the runner taking an advantage of an outfielder with a weak arm or is he taking a chance with someone strong out there who could throw from right field to 3rd base with one authoritative bounce? If you're a manager, do you go with the right to right matchup late in the innings or risk going right to left just to bring your closer in who happens to be lefthanded? How long do you go with a pitcher who doesn't have his curve working that day? How long before you learn that pitcher doesn't have the curve? I could go on for an entire book of questions like this. The chess game that happens in every baseball game and it's all there if you are paying attention.

The game is the same. My love of teams is dead but the game lives on.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

#47 Ken McMullen - Washington Senators - A Solid Ballplayer.

This is another card that never made it beyond being noticed from all the rest common cards in the '67 set. Looking at this card now, I find the darkened sky interesting and I can't begin to guess where this photo was taken. That towering sign looks like something you'd see in a big league stadium hawking Roy Rogers chicken or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. For some reason, I want to say that's Memorial Stadium, home of the Baltimore Orioles because it looks like you can see trees in the distance. The distance looks like beyond the outfield wall.

The time of day this picture looks to be taken makes the image unique for this set. It may just be the moments before an impending spring or summer storm was to strike or just a plain ole cloudy day. But still, unique for this set.

The W logo denoting Washington, for the Washington Senators, was meaningless to me as a boy. It was some years later that I learned that both the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers were both former Washington Major League baseball clubs.

I honestly knew nothing about Ken McMullen's career before reaching his card in this blog. McMullen had a lengthy career,enjoying the bulk of his playing time with Washington.

He had an average .248 batting average and was a rare infield with some power. Eight years of double digit home runs was not the norm for infielders in the 60's. Bobby Richardson, Jim Gilliam never did it. Brooks Robinson managed double digit home runs 11 times in his career.

McMullen showed good power and good fielding enough to hold down a regular job as a starter during his prime with the Senators and Angels. He was a quality bench player for the Dodgers from '73 to '75 before finishing his career with the A;s and Brewers. A solid career in the Majors even if it was overshadowed by the headline grabbing stars.

#46 Lindy McDaniel - San Francisco Giants. What Faith and Good Attitude will do for you.

 Up next is a pitcher who, some would call a journeyman for appearing on 5 teams but it was 5 teams over the course of 20 years, Lindy McDaniel.

McDaniel is a player I came to learn more and more about as I grew older. As a kid, I saw this card and it was like looking at hundreds of others in the set. Only Giant cards I cared about were McCovey's, Mays' and Jesus Alou's who when I was a boy thought it was pronounced the same as Jesus Christ.

I remember reading either in Jim Bouton's Foul Ball or Was It Something I Said how McDaniel was someone who wore his religion on his sleeve. I remember Bouton writing that he was perhaps annoyed by that in his short time teammate. (Both were on the '68 Yankees team). I may be wrong but I don remember his mentioning McDaniel's deep faith which clearly served him well in his career and I would hope, his life.

McDaniel put in the time in the Majors. 21 years, 987 games pitched, 2139 innings pitched. Throughout all of those years, he never pitched for a team that made the post season but he managed 141 wins, mostly in relief. His finest stint came with the Yankees. by then, in his early to mid 30's, he hit a groove, with a 2.89 era and had a 38-29 record for the Yankees. He went on to round out his career with the Kansas City Royals who hadn't yet become the force they would become in the late 70's.

Anyone who can roll along in the Majors for that long must be blessed with good health and a good attitude and for many, the best way to reach that attitude is a strong belief system.

As I said, this card was run of the mill to my younger eyes. San Francisco Giants might as well have been playing in a different country when you're a Jersey kid. I never saw their games and I grew to loath the team in 1989 for knocking out the Cubs decisively in the National League Championship Series.

The team logo on the hat, and road jersey looks plain and uninteresting on this card. The green lettering for the team name wasn't eye grabbing. The picture looks to be taken on a spring training field. There's nothing but a barren blue sky, a dull looking wall and grass. Lindy looks good in the picture, the pose is standard had he pitched for the Yankees and were featured with them, it would have made an impact but, the Giants?

#45 Roger Maris - St Louis Cardinals (Pictured with the Yankees)

 Here is the first star card (but I guess it could be called semi star card) I had that I saw regularly because I was allowed to have the doubles in my own collection.

When I was a boy, I was an avid Yankee fan. My Italian-American parents had Sinatra playing in the house often (records in those days) and the majestic resonance of his voice somehow made me think of the Yankee logo even before I started to follow the game when I was 9 years old. When I started watching them, and heard "New York,New York" echo in the background during a telecast, that sense reawakened in me from when I was too young to understand the sport.

Roger Maris' '67 card was not only a double but it was a triple. I had several. Looking at the card, it's clear Maris is pictured in a Yankee uniform and while I knew, Cards, meant Cardinals (says as much on the back) I liked to pretend this was a Yankees card and Cards simply meant ,Baseball Cards. No disrespect of course to the World Series champs of the '67 season but my love of the Yankees and especially their heritage out shined all other teams in those days. The Yankees I watched were usually disappointing. The team in the 80's won more regular season games than any other team in the Majors, but they accomplished no championships and when I was watching them, they couldn't outlast other teams to make it into the playoffs. I fell back, naturally on the team's heritage. Hence, what made this card great. The single season home run king with 61 in '61.

I think time has been kinder to Maris' 61 in '61. At the time, there was squabbling over the length of the season being longer for him to achieve the goal of passing Ruth. That seems minor now since his record has been broken repeatedly by players who have been suspected of using PEDs. I can't say I share in the media hysteria over PED usage but to say that hasn't left a major taint on players and records set by said players is an understatement. None of the players that past Maris are in the Hall of Fame and neither is poor Maris but definitely not because of performance enhancing drugs allegations.

This blog could go on for thousands of words if I wanted to get into his start in Cleveland, over to KC and how the Kansas City Athletics seemed to be a Major League farm club to the New York Yankees. Seemed like, every time the Yankees, wanted to unload a vet for a prospect or a quality player, the A's were more than happy to accommodate them. Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern, Enos Slaughter, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin were all KC bound when the Yankees dropped them. Hector Lopez, former rookie of the year Harry Byrd, Enos Slaughter(resigned after releasing Rizzuto), Bobby Shantz, Roger Maris all ended up heading to New York from the Athletics. Those are just off the top of my head but as I said. This post would be a field of words if I went into detail. The point is Maris was a Yankee and his impact was immediate and lasting. A 4 time all star and back to back MVP. When he was healthy, there was no one better. The problem is that he never really was the same player after the injuries got him. His last season of near regular work would be the last time the Yankees appeared in a World Series for over a decade, 1964. Losing his power, left an ailing Mantle unprotected in the lineup and the aging sqaud collapsed in '65. Rebuilding started in '66 with new President Michael Burke and new GM Lee MacPhail at the helm. The casualties had to be the old guard. The Yankees fans came to love but were shadows of their former selves. If they weren't retiring, they were traded or released. Maris by '66 was traded to the Cardinals for Charley Smith. A largely unknown utility infielder. If I was a kid in those days, I would have been disgruntled to say the least.

Maris' totals with the Cardinals were respectable and much better than his final years with the Yankees. He went on to two pennants with the St Louis. Was an invaluable presence in the '67 series, collecting 10 hits in 26 at bats. His fortunes, like the Cardinals fortunes were not nearly so valuable in '68. The Tigers outlasted the dominant Cardinal pitching and Maris, in his last plat appearances managed on only a .158 average. 3 hits in 19 at bats for 1 RBI.

As I said, this card had a special place in my collection. A card of one of the memorable Yankees from when they were champions. Clearly, it features Maris in a Yankee uniform. Topps liked to use what pictures they could and this one worked because we don't see the Yankee logo on  the hat, just under the bill. The low open air pat of the original Yankee Stadium is visible in the background. It's anyone's guess what year the photo was taken. I think Maris looks younger (and thinner) than how he looked on the '66 and '68 Topps cards.

Radio personality, Jean Shepherd once said during his radio show that he felt that the Yankees of the early 60's were getting offered a few too many speaking engagements which meant they were having a few too many free dinners. They might have gotten a little too heavy and while people freely buy new clothes, they seldom buy new underwear and the weight and constriction caused by their older now ill fitting underwear affected their playing. Maybe he had something there.....

#44 Joe Nuxhall Pitcher Cincinnati Reds from a 15 year old rookie to a 37 year old vet.

I can't imagine any Reds fan not being enthused with having this classic card. Not only was Nuxhall a fan favorite player, he was also their radio/TV color commentator for literally decades after retirement. His rough voice was often paired with play by play man Marty Brennaman.

Nuxhall's initial claim to fame occured during the World War Two years. A mere 15 years old, probably with knees shaking and nerve swallowing when he got the call to take the mound at the Reds old par Crosley Field, Nuxhall debuted. I only assume he was nervous. He managed only 2 outs while giving up 5 earned runs in a 18-0 route loss to the Cardinals. You'd think with the game already well out of hand in the top of the 9th, the pressure might have been off but all the Reds arms were feeling it against that Cardinal team which went on to win the World Series that year.

Nuxhall was done in the Majors for a good many years after that appearance but to prove his drive was still in tact, he came back to have a long respectable career with usually under performing teams. It was just his luck to miss out on the Reds trip to the Series in '61. The Reds traded him off before that season but would bring him back for keepsin June '62

The southpaw was a 2 time All Star and had longevity in the league. What makes this '67 Topps card special for Reds fans is, that it's his last card. Nuxhall finished his playing career in '66 and was on to broadcasting while kids were pulling his cards from the $.05 packs.

I never cared much for this card. I never liked the pea green color used for the team name and I felt the picture wasn't striking. There's plenty of sky, what looks like drying grass during the early stages of an extended drought and, frankly, Nuxhall's graying hair in his mid 30's makes me equally self conscious having the same salt and pepper, I'll call it quality in my hair.

I've grown to appreciate this card more though, if only because it is one of the many final cards of a notable player's career and checkout the uniform! A vest with what looks like a windbreaker under the vest.

I recommend Reds fans to pick THIS card up. It is a great piece for any Red fan. Not only is it Nuxhall's last card, it's not so expensive. A nice piece of team history that is both affordable and valuable to a fan.

Back in the Swing of Things

This has been in the running as one of the least updated actively used by blogger blog pages on the internet in recent history.

Various things always happen. The weight of challenges isn't always easy to gauge before taking them on. If you find it hard to maintain balance, then the true you shows itself because you are tested and the people who pass this exam know how to meet life on its terms when it's necessary to do so, and make things happen and work toward goals while managing to get by.

That said, I've been busy working on a writing project (not online because it's experimental),looking after my elderly parents and trying to earn a buck and pay my bills. The experiment is on hiatus now, my parents now have my sister and I looking after them and I'm now looking for a job to earn a buck to pay my bills.

That's my summation of my recent history though I did manage to post on the hotly anticipated (but ultimately neglected) Topps Heritage set devoted to the 1967 Topps card design. Topps tried to address modern design interest for fans (action photos, candid pictures, etc) with original (poses from players either in spring training parks or big league stadiums of previous years).

My collection of '67 Topps card photos is back on my new used laptop and I'll be good to go soon/

But the love of the game, baseball. That's what made my return to this inevitable. The simple pleasures of watching the games, the happy memories of playing, enjoying them on TV, the handful of games I've seen in person and of course, card collecting. I am blessed with happy memories of childhood, all children should be so blessed and I hope as many as possible are in today's day of age.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 Topps Heritage Review

Since this blog is about the classy appearance of a vintage Topps set, I thought I would spend a few words on Topps' latest Heritage set since it honors the appearance of the '67 set.

About 15 years ago, Topps saw the need to fill the collector's demand for vintage looking sets. Other manufacturers jumped in like Fleer Tradition and whatever Upper Deck was trying to do with their vintage looking designs. Since Topps was the only vintage card company to create more than a handful of sets, their series proved to be the most successful. In '01, they started with '52 and now that it's '16, we are up to 1967.

All I ever wanted from these Heritage sets were the right pictures of players being used for these cards. In the 50's and 60's, action shots from games came from newspaper photographers, hence they were either in black and white or they painted the black and white photos over like the World Series cards or the player highlight cards from '59 or '61 or '62. Topps had to make do with asking players to pose for their photographers either during training camps in the '60s or before games as they did regularly in the '50s. Topps Heritage dropped the ball in this regard for me early. I became deeply disappointed (well as deeply disappointed as one could be over baseball cards) to see the following below.

Instead of these from 1957 to the left,

 Topps made SOME cards like this on the left.

Granted the majority of the cards were close to what the originals represented (see right) but any action shot used ruined the authenticity of the original

Now, Topps has acknowledged this and here are three examples. 

 You can't go wrong with these cards if you are looking for accurate images to match the card design because it is impossible to capture the feel of those old cards without these types of images. Using action shots makes these vintage designs look like what they are with those photos, new cards trying to look old and not doing a good job of it.
Granted, not everyone is a purist and feels the same as I do so Topps decided to add cards with action shots as short print parallels to the types of cards above. 
 I don't hold these types of cards in high regard but they are not the common cards in the set. 

A pet peeve in these sets cards where players appear to be in candid shots.
The rookie dual player cards capture the look and feel as the originals as well. Since I am blowing this up with photos, I ask that anyone wanting to compare to please see the other cards featured on my blog. 
Other modernized variations can be found with the World Series highlight cards. The originals use black and white photos to highlight the games of the one sided '66 World Series (Baltimore swept LA) 
The common card captures the feel well with black and white images but there are rare variations with color photos as well. 
The color photo variant is definitely not the common version in this set. 
What I don't see are the checklist cards. The originals feature a prominent player in the top left corner, bright red letters denoting the type of card it is and the series and a yellow box listing the players and card numbers. 
Unfortunately, the great team cards are nothing like the originals in the Heritage set. The originals featured the team posing for a team photo and the card is filled out with a color. Some with blue, some with red, most seemed to be yellow, below is what they did. Candid shots of some players after a victory. Instead of the backs containing interesting head to head stats with other teams, you just get a checklist of the players from the team included in the base set. These types of team cards are more in keeping with team cards from the 80's. Either the checklist was on team cards or manager cards.

The combo cards feature candid shots of two players during games for the most part. That's not in keeping with the originals which were players posing together, usually at training camps.

As always with Heritage cards, there's tons of variants, either different images being used, either different cardboard stock, either multiple cards of single players, autographs, jersey or bat cards.Flashback cards featuring players from the '67 season and on and on. 

All and all, as a purist, the cards aren't as much a disappointment as older sets but there's still enough missing that makes me wish it could have been better.