Friday, November 27, 2015

The Look

I have had a number of changes in recent weeks in how I "do the hobby." My collecting habits for the time being have shifted more towards football, I have adjusted the amount I budget for cards (scaling back on costs) and I have tried to move away from purchasing on eBay- using Sportlots instead.

My most recent Sportlots purchase arrived last week, and my excitement was soon brought down a notch.

The first thing I noticed as I began thumbing through the stack of cards were the facial expressions on the three cards from the 1987 set. If I were asked to describe the looks in one word it would have to be "Intense."

Though I can't see their facial expressions, I'm sure that Curt Warner and David Hughes each had an  intense look on their face.

As I mentioned earlier, my excitement at this point soured as I got to card number four.

I had ordered card number 196 from the 1985 Topps NFL set, featuring the leaders in interceptions during the 1984 season. One of the two players on the card was a Seahawk legend, Kenny Easley. Instead, I got this card...

That look when you discover the seller sent the wrong. freaking. card.

I soon got over the error and moved on to the rest of the package.

Another card to feature an appearance by one of my childhood favorites- Jim Zorn.

While he was not a very well known name, David Hughes was another of my favorites. The back played collegiately at Boise State, helping lead the then I-AA Broncos to the National Championship during his senior season (1980). Hughes was the 31st overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft and would spend five seasons in Seattle before finishing his career with the Steelers.

More intense looks...

It took me a couple of days, but I finally got the time to contact the seller and explain the card I received in error- Ken was gracious enough to send out the replacement immediately, and it arrived in the mail three days ago.

My look turned from the frown of Easly, to the satisfied look of Flynn.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Return

Jonathan Houghton~ Edgar Lee Masters

There is the caw of a crow, 
and the hesitant song of a thrush. 
There is the tinkle of a cowbell far away, 
and the voice of a plowman on Shipley's hill.
The forest beyond the orchard is still 
with midsummer stillness;
And along the road a wagon chuckles, 
loaded with corn, going to Atterbury. 
And an old man sits under a tree asleep,
And an old woman crosses the road, 
coming from the orchard with a bucket of blackberries.
And a boy lies in the grass
near the feet of the old man,
and looks up at the sailing clouds,
and longs, and longs, and longs
for what, he knows not:
For manhood, for life, for the unknown world!
Then thirty years passed,
and the boy returned worn out by life
and found the orchard vanished,
and the forest gone,
and the house made over,
and the roadway filled with dust from automobiles-
and himself desiring The Hill!

I was recently informed that the house of my childhood is up for sale and that photos of the inside are available to view online. The news caused me to immediately Google the address and have a look at the place I called home from 1976 until early 1994 (less probably 30 months).

I have long desired to see what had become of the inside of the place my dad had put so much work into over the course of about eleven years. After my parents purchased it (the first and only house they would own during their marriage), dad began the process of not only an addition to the front of the house, but a complete remodel. He also custom built all the cabinetry in the kitchen, all the furniture in my room (bed, dresser, desk, bookshelf- all built into the walls/floor), sandblasted & stain glassed windows, bathroom vanities, entertainment centers. To say it was a labor of love would be a major understatement.

Upon flipping through the twenty-five or so photos, I realized just how much things can change from the way we remembered them. The basic elements are still there: wood, glass, paint, sheetrock, but the way all of it is presented caused me to feel as if I had been robbed of a part of my childhood. Sure, much of it remained the same- the kitchen cabinetry, for instance (with the exception of the detailed wooden countertop, with all of its patterns. It had been replaced)- but gone was the carpet, the interior colors (replaced by a lot of wallpaper- yuk!), the french door in the front entrance and perhaps what had changed most of all: my old room. All the beautful furniture had been torn out; gone was the door and its large window featuring a sandblasted lions crest design and the words that declared, "Private". At that moment I realized how disappointing it was going to be to show the photos to my wife and children; something I had waited twenty years for them to see was no longer all that special.

Those of us who collected cards anywhere between the 50s and early 80s, left the hobby and then returned as adults know the feeling of how different things were upon their return. At least that was the case for me- first after a hiatus from '84 through '90 and then again after my second hiatus that lasted from 2001-2009. Speaking of hiatus'... I'm sure Tony, from Off Hiatus cards, experienced the same confusion upon his return. Of course, I'm getting old and can't remember any specifics- but if you read his blog, I'm sure you've read of some of his hobby happenings.

I'm a little- okay, a lot- behind, but a trade package from the Brewers fan included a mixture of stuff old and new, as well as those 'lost years' as I call them.

And, in typical Tony fashion, he knows his trade partners, providing them with those treasures near and dear to their hearts- or at least their collections. This latest trade package from Tony was no different.

First up were two cards of my childhood favorite, Dale Murphy. I was just out of high school when these two were released (well, the '87 probably came out right before graduation) and was not collecting at the time, so these were just two of many I picked up when I re-entered the hobby in '91.  While I already have them, it's always nice to get doubles- for either trade bait or upgrading my own copies.

There was another player from my childhood in the envelope but, to tell you the truth, I never liked him while he played. I was able to finally come to appreciate George Brett after his playing career had ended and at one time thought about starting a pc of him. I believe I had commented on Tony's blog about this particular oddball of the former Royals third baseman, as that's the only reason I can think of why it would have come my way. But like I said earlier, my mind isn't what it used to be. Cool card, regardless. 

Andruw Jones's career may not have ended as the Hall of Fame candidate many had expected, but he's still one of my all-time favorites. 

Keeping up with the Jones'. There were plenty of Chippa's included. 

Movin' on from Chippa's to....Stickas. The best things Fleer ever produced in their flagship brand, as you can see in one of the earlier photos. 

And as far as the cards of Simba... What to do with these things now? I guess I might just have to continue picking up cards with the wizard in his new duds. Too bad he'll probably enter the Hall with the wrong 'A' on his melon.

Sorry for such a delay in saying thanks, Tony. I had actually drafted a majority of this a couple weeks ago, but the Simmons trade has just killed my interest in baseball right now- and that includes cards.

I think I've put this song on the blog before, but who cares? It's one of my all-time favorites. And I'm thinking that lyrically, Neil Peart was inspired by Masters' poem Jonathan Houghton.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Worth the Price of Admission

I might be in the minority, but there are very few professional athletes that I would consider to be worth the price of admission. These are the guys that you stop what you're doing when they're in the field- or at the plate- because you don't want to miss what they might do. When it comes to my Braves, there have been three in my lifetime that fall into that category: Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons.

I was just finishing up with work Thursday afternoon when I received a text from a friend who is an Angels fan. "Dumb move for the Angels. Congrats to you," it read. I had been extremely busy at work that afternoon and had not had a chance to check the twitter feed on my phone, so I replied with a generic, "huh?"

Rick broke the news to me that the Angels had traded Erick Aybar, their two top prospects and cash for my favorite Braves player, Andrelton Simmons. The only word to describe what I felt at that moment (and for the next two hours) was crushed. 

Crushed in spirit. I had not even felt this way when Atlanta had traded away Dale Murphy, who was on the downside of his career, to Philadelphia. Simmons, on the other hand, was only four years into his career and has plenty of good years ahead of him.

After the initial shock wore off, anger began settling in. In the past twelve months, almost the entire roster has been made over- most of which I understood why they were doing so. You get players coming upon free-agency, so you trade them instead of getting nothing in return; you also have bad contracts that you try to get out from under; you take areas of strength and trade them for areas of need. None of which describe Simmons. 

With the team entering their final season at The Ted before moving into Sun Trust Park in 2017, popular thought was that you can not endure another horrible season like the team just finished having. Braves brass said that they would not- could not- endure another season like 2015. At this point, however, I don't believe a single word they say. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Big Red

I received a call from my dad on Monday night, informing me of the passing of his younger sister. Death is never easy but there are times when it's not a shock, ya know? My aunt had been battling lymphatic cancer for about five years and had just recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Her youngest daughter had spoken about hospice care only a few days before, so, while saddened, it certainly wasn't unexpected.

About an hour later I started seeing the tweets regarding former Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson. It was being reported that he was in a coma in an Atlanta area hospital due to what was described as 'catastrophic organ failure.' A short time later, Tommy's friend and former teammate Jordan Schafer tweeted 'RIP TH.' Although there were no reports of Tommy's death at that time, Schafer's tweet seemed to confirm our fears: the death of a young man whose once promising career had been derailed for physical and, apparently, personal problems. Tommy Hanson should have been in his pitching prime; instead, a wife is morning the loss of her husband, his children, the loss of their daddy and his parents, the loss of a son.

I returned to the hobby in December of 2009 and one of the guys whose cards I sought after was Tommy Hanson. Big Red had rocketed through the Braves farm system- including a brilliant 14-strikeout no-hitter at class AA Mississippi in 2008 (in only his second professional full-season). Later, in the fall of '08, he would dominate the hitters in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League and become the only pitcher to win league MVP, all the while cementing his status as the top pitching prospect in baseball. 

Tommy made his highly anticipated major league debut in June of 2009, and despite getting hit hard in his debut, went on to finish 3rd in the NL ROY race after going 11-4, with a 2.89 ERA and a 3.9 WAR over only 21 starts. Blessed with a mid-90s fastball, devastating curve, solid change-up and slider, the 6'6 Hanson looked like he would develop into an ace and anchor the staff for years. 

While he would never post a higher WAR during his career, Tommy continued to develop as a pitcher at the major league level and was a workhorse for the Braves 2010 staff. The first half of his 2011 campaign was worthy of being named an N.L. All-Star, but for some reason he was snubbed. I got the privilage of seeing him and Seattle's Michael Pineda duel on a trip to the Emerald City. Tommy had turned in probably the best performance of his major league career prior to that start (a 7 innings, 3-hit, 14 strikeout performance against Houston), so the excitement I felt was unreal. He threw okay against the M's, picking up the win, and would have two more great starts immediately following the game I atteneded. After that, though, Hanson's career seemed to have started its descent. A major drop in velocity got many fans worried and there wasn't much consistency during the 2012 season for the big righty. I remember many a night being totally frustrated as I watched Hanson pitch, but what I would give to watch him pitch one last time.

I didn't know Tommy Hanson, but by what his teammates and those who covered him during his days in Atlanta say, he was a very affable, generous, kind and gentle soul. He certainly left his mark on the game and on this fan and collector.

RIP, Big Red.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sans Bubblegum

Sometime back, I received a package from Jeff over at Wish They Still Came with Bubblegum. Jeff's a fellow Braves fan/collector and was the recipient of a Braves care package I had sent out. In return, not only did he send me some Braves cards- but he also sent me some much needed (and appreciated) Seahawks cards. The only thing missing from this great pack of cards? Bubblegum.

Having passed up this year's Allen & Ginter set meant no Andrelton Simmons-or any other Brave, for that matter. And so it was a nice surprise to see a card of the Braves defensive wizard and will be a nice addition to the binder. A second Ginter card, of Nick Markakis,  was added as well. Does anyone know why one would have brown/bronze colored fonts, while the other has blue? Is it a parallel thing?

Other cards included the victim of horrible offensive run support- Mr Shelby Miller-

a card of Doggie


and A.J. Minter, the 75th overall pick in the 2015 draft and who was considered to be a first-round talent prior to the Tommy John surgery that prematurely ended his junior season at Texas A&M.

Jeff also included this awesome 1997 Collector's Choice Team retail team set

Among the many Seahawks cards, I was most excited to see three from the 1993 Topps set:

and these two from Upper Deck's first two offerings:

and a local guy, of sorts. Though he was born in Missoula, Mt., John Friesz spent much of his early life in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho before going to school at the University of Idaho- where he was an All-American quarterback and winner of the Walter Payton Award (given for the nation's most outstanding player at the 1-AA level). John would eventually be named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. San Diego would draft Friesz in the 6th round of the 1990 NFL draft and he would go on to have an 11-year career, spent with four teams (San Diego, Washington, Seattle and New England).

Thanks again, Jeff, for the nice bunch of cards!

Friday, November 6, 2015

No Experience Necessary

I had only been back into the hobby for a year or so, when I decided to try my hand at putting on a card show. It was 1992- the glory days in the hobby, as far as card shows go- and there were about two per month in our area. It might not sound like a lot, but when you consider the how much smaller the Boise area was back then, it was actually unbelievable. Surely there would be interest in one more.

I had no experience in organizing and promoting an event, but how difficult could it be to find a venue, advertise in hobby publications, shops and newspapers, and collect table fees? Turns out, it wasn't that difficult at all. In today's hobby, I'm sure it would be much more challenging, but remember: these were the glory days. 

I had quite a few connections in the local card scene, from the card shows I had attended and set up as a seller, as well as friends that owned card shops (one of whom sold some of my stuff on consignment), and so I had a number of resourses to draw from in selling the tables. The most difficult decision I would face was where to hold the show. I decided against doing it in the larger cities of Boise or Nampa, opting instead for Caldwell- the place I called, and still call, home. I really don't remember why I chose the smaller town, other than probably the logistics were easier and rent would be much more affordable. But once I decided on Caldwell,  there was only one place to even consider for the potential location: Trolley Square.

Trolley Square had its origins in the early 80s, when it housed a bunch of small shops. You had your shops that sold jewelry & hair accessories, party stuff, a candy store, a floral shop, a clothing store, and my favorite (as a 13 year old jr higher)- rock band accessories such as buttons, pins and wallets. It later housed an Adventure Land video store, a law office, counseling office, health district office, as well as the room that I wound up renting. This room had been used for catering luncheons, banquets and conventions. It was the perfect place to hold a show and was easily accessible from the freeway. 


It's not uncommon for managers or general managers, for that matter, to be hired in today's game without any prior experience. Every team seems to want you if you're a young Ivy League grad with no prior experience as a GM; established guys seem to have a more difficult time getting the call. Likewise, are you a former mlb player without any managerial experience? No problem, we'll hire you to manage our team, as long as you're tight with the GM. 

Now, managerial hirings being done based on the 'buddy system' has been around for decades, but the young, inexperienced GM hirings have not. 

Despite having no front office experience, Atlanta hired a forty-four year-old Bobby Cox as its general manager following the 1985 season. An Ivy League grad he was not, but Cox had been a baseball lifer and had plenty of on the field experience- most recently as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays at the time of his hiring. The move turned out to be a stroke of genius by owner Ted Turner, as Cox would oversee the rebuilding of the franchise's minor league system. 

And it was that minor league system that provided the team with key components for its decade and-a-half dominance. Hopefully recently name Braves GM John Coppolella will have similar success.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Turning the Clock Back

Instead of doing the Halloween or something scary theme, I thought I'd do something else that's appropriate for this October 31. It's time to turn the clock back...

I recently showed off a few cards that had been purchased with my COMC credit and noted that I still had some credit remaining. So last weekend I got on their site to see what other goodies I might find. 
Okay, I'll do it: it was a little like trick or treating. Only I didn't have to dress up.

If you're like me, you probably use 'free money' to look for things that you might not normally spend your card budget on. It's not like these cards aren't worthy of my hard earned cash, it's just that I rarely spend $8 or more on inividual cards- being on a pretty limited card budget and all. And so this was a perfect opportunity to look at some autographs from Topps Archives.

Rather than going the baseball route, I decided that I would look for some former Seahawk greats. One in particular (Jim Zorn) was on my radar.

There were two Zorn cards that grabbed my attention: the 1997 Upper Deck NFL Legends autographed card and the 2013 Topps Archives auto. As much as I like the Upper Deck card, I had to go with Archives and its tribute to the 1979 Topps set. The '79 design is one of my favorites and, being in a somewhat nostalgic mood lately, I knew I'd regret it if I had gone with the other card.

I still had some credit left in my account after the seller accepted my offer so I decided to add an auto of another former Seahawk, John L. Williams.

Williams currently stands in fifth place on the team's list for all-time leading rushers. While he wasn't a spectacular back, he was a solid one- averaging 3.99 yards per carry over his 8 seasons in the pacific northwest. As far as the card, it was an easy choice for me because it fit into the remaining money in my account and because I really like the 1990 Topps design. It fits into the catagory of underappreciated designs, imo. 

Thanks for reading, don't overdose on the candy and don't forget to set your clocks back tonight.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Long Season, and Musings on Update

I received a bit of a shock last Wednesday. We had just finished lunch and were about to head to the zoo, but first my daughter ran out to the mailbox to retrieve the junk mail (that seems to be all we get on Wednesday's). She came back in and let me know there was a package for me. The only thing I could think of it being was either a trade package or the Braves Topps Update team set I had just bought a few days before. And with the release date supposedly being that same day, it couldn't possibly be that, right?

Turns out it was the Topps Update team set that I had just ordered off of the 'Bay on Sunday. To say that I was surprised is a bit of an understatement. To get to Idaho on Wednesday from Iowa means the seller had to have shipped it on Monday. And on a product that wasn't supposed to be available until the 21st... Someone got their cards a little earlier than you would think.

Anyway, I wasn't expecting such a large number of Braves in this year's Update set- so when I saw the advanced checklist I was a little disappointed. Normally I would be bummed if there were, say, five or six Braves cards in the set. Eighteen seems a little excessive for any set. Especially when you consider that Series 1 & 2 combined for a total of 24 Braves.

Like so many other collectors, I really don't think we need all the All-Star cards in Update. Player cards. Home Run contest cards. I'm surprised they don't include an All-Star Game Snubs insert set. Let's get back to the N.L. All-Star (or A.L.) reference on the player's base card and be done with it, already. And we really didn't need the reminder of the horribly designed 'pillbox' caps.

Of the 60 players to appear in a game for the Braves this year, 36 were pitchers. And so it's understandable that many of the players donning the A in this year's Update set are those who take the mound.

Brandon Cunniff began his career by setting a Braves record for most appearances to start a career without allowing a hit (4- over four innings). Things could only go downhill from there- and they did, as Brandon would go 2-2 with a 4.63 ERA, 1.400 WHIP and a 1.68 SO/W ratio.

You know it's been a long year for your team when, upon examining the checklist for this year, you say, 'He wasn't a Brave!' I'm speaking of Ross Detwiler (pictured above) and Jason Frasor (below). Fraser only had 6 appearances between July 18 and August 1st, allowing 3 hits and 3 walks over 4.2 innings. Detwiler was horrible: 15.1IP in 24 games with a 7.63 ERA, a 2.348 WHIP, 16 walks to only 13 strikeouts. 

I haven't read many reviews of this product on the blogosphere, yet- but I can't imagine the 'Rookie Combos' being very popular among collectors. Personally, I don't mind split cards. I always had a soft spot for the prospect quad cards of yesteryear. Even if it meant a RC being shared with other players. My only complaint on these is the lack of any kind of vital stats/info (Year drafted, height/weight, career stats, etc) for the players. Instead, we get a paragraph with a little info that we could do without. The Combos work much better horizontally than they would had they been done vertically.

I have to voice my displeasure at what has become the norm the past three flagship releases: cheek-puffing and other facial features. Look through older sets, say 1984, and this isn't a thang. At least, it's not as noticeable. It might have something to do with today's cards having a much closer zoom on the player, where as earlier cards didn't have as many close-ups.

Speaking of all those close-up shots... doesn't anyone at Topps realize that in doing this, all the cards tend to blend together? There's no uniqueness- no diversity whatsoever to their sets anymore. I've mentioned recently that this very well might be the end of me pursuing the flagship team sets. Perhaps I need to add Stadium Club to my annual purchase- they still get that right, photography-wise. Can't we have both a unique design and unique photos? Apparently not.

This year's Update set will be remembered for its strong rookie crop. Correa, Buxton, Lindor, Rodon- among others. Will they live up to their potential? Only time will tell. I'm hoping that Braves rookie starter Matt Wisler (acquired in the Kimbrel trade) will be one of the key rookies from this crop. Matt had his ups and downs his rookie season, but finished strong after a summer swoon. 

You can't see me right now, but I'm still shaking my head as to why Topps felt compelled to include Eric Young Jr. in this set. If you can include players who were added to a team at the trade deadline, then why can't you pull a player such as Young from the checklist? Now, he didn't get sent to the Mets until August 22nd, but he had not been in Atlanta since June 3 and there was no way he was going to come back up to the Braves from Triple-A.

I guess I didn't thoroughly read-up on this product in advance because I had to do a double take when I looked at the back of Jace Peterson's card. 399? What? Doesn't Update contain the same number of cards as the first two series (330 350)? Eleven Hundred cards between 3 sets? Too many damn cards.