Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2002 SP Authentic Prospects Baseball #P-MS, Marco (Marcos) Scutaro

Born in Yaracuy, Venezuela on October 30, 1975, World Series champion Marco Scutaro. Like many good glove infield journeymen before him, this year's success follows ten years spent in a multitude of uniforms, cities, and hotels; even his Prospects card can't decide between the Brewers and Mets.

Today's card shows Marco as a Brewer because he spent 2000-01 in their farm system, but names him as a Met, where he debuted as a big leaguer in 2002. Not sure how Upper Deck planned this release, as Scutaro's signature is just a white card under that windowed cut-out; collectors almost always want on-card signatures with photos that match the team. I suspect card makers anxious to get rookies on the market try to get autographs from everyone with a pro contract and put less concern into the set design itself.

Scutaro's 14-for-28 hitting and solid fielding against St. Louis netted the 36 year-old his first hardware, the 2012 NLCS MVP, a nice shelf companion to the Giants championship ring. March's go-ahead knock in game 4 was the first World Series RBI in extra-innings by a Giants player since Dusty Rhodes in 1954, who won game 1 with a walk-off homer (box score). Topps honored his august accomplishment with their first card in 1955.

1955 Topps #1, Dusty Rhodes

Topps had good reason to salute Dusty, as they and the Giants were both still in New York. Putting a relocated team hero like Marco on 2013 card #1 is wishful thinking, but would make a nice birthday present. Congrats to San Francisco fans; the rest of us look forward to next spring!

Friday, October 26, 2012

2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary Baseball #555, Madison Bumgarner

Hats off to Madison Bumgarner and his SF teammates for a 2-0 win over Detroit last night. That the Tigers managed no runs against a pitcher who posted league-average peripherals (103 ERA+ in 2012) is an ill omen for a (normally) strong lineup that no doubt hopes to feel more comfortable back in Detroit.


This triple-5 card is one of many 2011 Topps parallels. According to a Series 1 checklist, there are several Diamond versions (for their Diamond Anniversary), with some real stones thrown into the mix. Did anyone here wrap one up as a gift for that special collector in your life?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Ruthian Feat of Pablo Sandoval

On October 6, 1926, Babe Ruth powered New York to a game 4 win over St. Louis with three homers at Sportsman's Park. Some called his third the longest ever hit there, as it cleared the stadium's center field wall and smashed a shop window across the street. It also marked the first time a World Series batter slugged three homers in one game. (PinstripedBible posted a nice feature this year to honor the anniversary.)

Pablo Sandoval put his own Ruthian stamp on the 2012 series by sending three shots out of Candlestick Park Pac Bell Park AT&T Park tonight. We can assume cards of Kung Fu Panda are lighting up eBay and COMC as you read these words.

2011 Topps Heritage #40, Pablo Sandoval

Ruth hit three homers in one game several other times, but his second-best known might be as a Boston Brave on May 25, 1935. That afternoon saw him club career #712 off Pittsburgh starter Red Lucas and #713 and #714 off reliever Guy Bush, the last three Babe would hit. His final homer cleared Forbes Field's 89-foot roof, a first for the 25 year-old ballpark.

Guy Bush was so impressed with Ruth, he gracefully accepted his part in the slugger's final chapter; this 1966 letter to a fan captures that sentiment.

"I feel proud that Babe Ruth hit his last 2 Home Runs off of me – as he more or less made Base Ball what it is to-day. He was by far the greatest of all players."

Ruth appears several times in the #5 type collection, often in sets dedicated to his larger significance as its first transcendent superstar. Each link goes to a set profile.

Thanks to all who've followed along this far; this post marks #714 for the type collection. I can confirm that writing that much about baseball cards makes you feel more like Guy Bush than Babe Ruth!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Will Luera

Friends and blog readers may not know I've taken a lot of comedy classes recently at the ImprovBoston theater here in Cambridge, MA. It's a great way to decompress from office work, goof off on stage, and meet like-minded people.

My latest teacher is Will Luera, who works as both engineer and improv instructor now, but served up some baseball history for me in an 11-minute story about one of his first jobs as a high schooler in Chicago.

Five things I learned from Will's story.
  • "New" Comiskey Park opened before construction was complete
  • You can move quickly up the stadium usher ladder
  • When luxury boxes go unused, the food shows up anyway
  • Baseball outfield grass really does feel amazing
  • Bo sounded reserved as a player (and remains so today, doing selective interviews or appearances)

Will couldn't ID the precise date he ushered for Bo Jackson, but did recall a big homer by current manager Robin Ventura, then a young 3B for the Pale Hose. That's an easy one to find, because of the drama. It was a game-winning, two-out slam off Ranger closer (and future Hall of Famer) Goose Gossage. That happened on July 31, 1991 and here's the full video experience.

Every collector would love to replicate Will's story of seeing a big money card in the store's display case (Michael Jordan's 1991 Upper Deck baseball rookie) and pulling it from a pack in person for a hundredth the price.

Anyone else find this in a 1991 pack? Jordan's sporting a bright color combo you don't see often these days. Thanks for the baseball stories, Will!

Monday, October 22, 2012

2012 Topps Heritage Baseball #5, NL ERA League Leaders (Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Lincecum, Vogelsong)

Congratulations to Ryan Vogelsong in pitching San Francisco to a 6-1 victory and forcing game 7 in the 2012 NLCS. Defensive miscues behind opposing starter Chris Carpenter put the Cardinals in a hole early and Vogelsong pitched like he belonged on this League Leader type card.

Heritage sets match what Topps used 59 years ago, so you're looking at primary color backgrounds and floating head designs first seen in 1963, this time with lots of planned variations, subsets, and inserts (full checklist at SportscardRadio). The original version included guys named Koufax, Drysdale, and Gibson.

The 2012 card back lists all 49 pitchers to qualify for the 2011 ERA title by throwing 1 inning per team game played. Pittsburgh teammates Jeff Karstens (3.38 ERA) and Paul Maholm (3.66 ERA) both tossed 162.1 innings to barely make the cutoff. At the other end, our aforementioned Chris Carpenter led NL hurlers with 237.1 innings, despite winning only 11 games and posting a slightly-above-average 108 ERA+. (Halladay and Kershaw turned their 233+ innings of work into 19 and 21 wins, respectively.)

So how did the top 5 ERA guys for 2011 do in 2012?
  • Clayton Kershaw led the NL again at 2.53, with a slightly-lower 150 ERA+
  • Roy Halladay fell off a cliff to 4.49 and below-average 89 ERA+
  • Cliff Lee did everything but win, going 6-9 with a 3.16 ERA and 127 ERA+
  • Ryan Vogelsong won 14 games (up 1 from 2011), "despite" a 3.37 ERA and pedestrian 103 ERA+
  • Tim Lincecum doubled his ERA to 5.18, worst of all qualifiers, and still led the league in starts.

If the Giants win another World Series, that Lincecum thing will drive SABR people to drink.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Baseball Photo Identification, Red Sox vs. Indians, 1937

Grabbed another baseball photo from the Leslie Jones collection to look at, in part because it's the first action shot I've seen of catcher (and sometimes government agent) Moe Berg behind the plate.

The August 4, 1937 date attributed to this photo would be game one of Boston's doubleheader against Cleveland, since Berg didn't play in the nightcap. The library's original photo summary names the home plate umpire but leaves both Indians unidentified.
Boston Red Sox catcher Moe Berg (#22) attempts to tag unknown Cleveland Indians base runner at home plate during the August 4, 1937 game at Fenway Park. Home plate umpire is Bill McGowan.

This photo shows the unusual situation of a hitter watching, bat in hand, as a teammate tries to score from third. A Flickr commenter proposed this is a straight steal of home by shortstop Lyn Lary, who scored twice during the August 4 game, once after doubling and again after a walk. The box score does credit Lary with a steal (base not specified) and only one hitter following him in the lineup has an RBI, so I follow that rationale.

There's no play-by-play for the August 4, 1937 game at Retrosheet.org, so I checked Google News Archives hoping for original coverage. Several papers from August 5 picked up an AP story about Tom Yawkey's $3 million lineup investment and their winning streak, but said little about the game, so didn't help pick out the play itself.

My alternate theory: the runner is actually Cleveland catcher Frankie Pytlak (note the angular face), who was no slouch on the base paths and would have more reason to run for home with the bottom of the order behind him than leadoff hitter Lyn Lary.

If Pytlak's the runner, this situation could also come from an earlier June 18 Fenway game, when Pytlak and Berg both played. (Rains limited that game crowd to 4,500 and would explain the photo's sparse attendance.)

According to June 18's box score, Pytlak reached based twice, scoring once in the second inning. This time, there's original newspaper coverage.

It doesn't say what the "error by Berg" is here, but fumbling the ball away and allowing a runner from third to score can be an error instead of passed ball. That might make our batter starting pitcher Johnny Allen, who finished an amazing 15-1 for Cleveland that year, but was pulled mid-game and didn't figure into the final decision. (Don't feel bad for Moe himself, who knocked in 3 runs, keying a 5-4 comeback win.) The home plate umpire would be George Moriarty. Does anyone but me like that alternate theory better?

FRIDAY UPDATE: Players and game identified!

I found this comparison for Cleveland pitcher Johnny Allen (posing with Bob Feller and Mel Harder), which made it clear Leslie's original photo wasn't Allen batting, so I'm only half-right. My game date of June 18 is wrong, but I'm correct that it's Frankie Pytlak sliding. The batter is our aforementioned Lyn Lary, shown in close profile below.

Short story, the pictured players are Frankie Pytlak sliding, Lyn Lary batting, and Bill McGowan as home plate umpire. Hard to pick out the exact circumstances with just a box score, but Boston made two infield errors that game, so perhaps Frankie ran home after SS Joe Cronin or 2B Eric McNair muffed a pick-off attempt and threw home too late to catch him.

Thanks for following along with the photo research--back to type cards next week!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Baseball Photo Identification, Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers, 1950-54

Ready for some baseball detective work? Let's dive into a moment in time captured by Massachusetts-based photographer Leslie Jones, who spent decades building a huge catalog of Fenway Park images that now live physically in the Boston Public Library archives and online as the Leslie Jones Collection. For vintage fans, this is just a peek into that treasure trove of classic players--and one filled with unknowns.

Many baseball photos show readily recognizable stars, but this shot's a mystery beyond the teams at play (Red Sox hosting Tigers). Archive notes for the larger original photo labeled everyone in this shot as "unknown," a level of intellectual rigor I'm unsatisfied with. Can we do any better? I think there's enough context to pin it down.

I started with an assist from SABR, who corrected the archive's "August 1955" date based the presence of Detroit coach #36.
"[D]ate from information provided by Leslie Jones or the Boston Public Library on the negative or negative sleeve...research by the Society for American Baseball Research in 2010-2012 disputes the date of this image. They suggest that, because the opposing team is the Detroit Tigers who had a coach wearing #36 from 1950 to 1954, the image was more likely created sometime during those years."

ID work continues with these basic facts.
  • Tigers visiting for midday game at Fenway Park (sun near-direct overhead)
  • Red Sox third baseman wearing #1
  • Tigers 3rd base coach wearing #36
  • Slide and tag at third base (probably no force)
  • Third baseman received throw from infield side (not outfield side)
  • Base coach positioned "inside" third (not coaching in line with a throw from RF)

If we assume SABR's accurate with that 1950-54 time range, let's check Boston players to wear #1 between 1950 and 1954.

That narrows us down to 1952-54; SABR already knew that Detroit #36 went to coaches Rick Ferrell (1952-53) and Johnny Hopp (1954).

How many 1952-54 games have a Boston #1 making a tag play at third?

Only three potential plays in three full seasons! Guess we've learned that people don't get tagged out at third very often.

So which of those four is it? The sharp eyes of avid Detroit fans at OldBaseball.com threw their weight of opinion behind Harvey Kuenn, 10-time All-Star and future manager of Milwaukee's only World Series team. That makes our game the last candidate, August 25, 1954. Here's an updated caption for the photo itself.

"Third base coach Johnny Hopp (#36) looks on as Grady Hatton (#1) tags out larceny-minded Tiger shortstop Harvey Kuenn (#7), completing a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double-play and squelching Detroit's 3rd-inning threat. At left, umpire Eddie Rommel prepares to make the call. The Red Sox tallied 5 in the 5th and tamed the Bengals 5-3."

I like the (reverse) scripted note on Leslie's photo, too: "A perfect tag out."

Mystery solved! Check out the archive and let me know if you find other images worth diving into.

Friday, October 12, 2012

2010 Topps Baseball Factory Set Bonus Philadelphia Phillies #PHI5, Jayson Werth

Congratulations to our latest post-season walk-off homer hero, Nationals OF Jayson Werth!

As noted by Jeff Passan, Werth's blast helped in two ways, both distracting Washington fans from fellow OF Bryce Harper's 1-for-18 slump and guaranteeing all four division series would go the 5-game distance. SO MUCH BASEBALL, PEOPLE.

Hot on the heels of Raul Ibanez's heroics for New York, Werth makes it two former Phillies doing good work in the type collection. This particular card's one of the "bonus" subsets, which BaseballCardpedia lays out in their 2010 Topps Factory Sets entry and includes these Phillies, all prefixed PHI.
  1. Roy Halladay (167 ERA+ in 2010 vs. 89 ERA+ in 2012)
  2. Ryan Howard (127 OPS+ in 2010 vs. 91 OPS+ in 2012)
  3. Chase Utley (just 83 games in 2012)
  4. Jimmy Rollins (2.3 WAR in 2012 vs. 2.0 in 2010, the only "improved" Phillie)
  5. Jayson Werth (now in Washington)

As Phillie fans can unfortunately confirm, there's no sure thing in baseball. And no crying, either!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 Topps Museum Collection Jumbo Lumber Baseball # to 5, Raul Ibanez

My mom has a soft spot for Raul Ibanez after his two tours of duty in Seattle (career stats), a place he briefly wore uniform #5...way back in 1999.

New York thinks highly of him right now, too--how often do 9th-inning pinch-hitters end up homering twice, let alone in the post-season? (Story and clip of the walk-off homer at SBNation.)

Today's card isn't technically number 5, but at least it's numbered to 5. Thanks to 14K Phillies for these scans.

This 2012 Topps Museum relic subset includes slices from 75 bats swung by both active players and retired HOFers. SportsCardRadio's checklist lays out the whole set; Miguel Cabrera might be its best pickup this year, given his Triple Crown win.

Friday, October 5, 2012

1948 JDM4 Kagome Die-cut Menko Baseball #5, (multiple players)

Today's fans are familiar with Japanese players coming stateside, an outgrowth of the sport's long history in Asia and MLB's willingness to scout further and further afield. It  Many collectors also know this card of the first big-league Japanese player, Masanori Murakami, who debuted for San Francisco in 1964.

Murakami's 12-month taste of success didn't lead to a sea change of imported players, as few teams believed Asian leagues contained enough talent to be worth scouting (and negotiating across cultures). It took 30 years for Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki to set the modern model for Japanese recruitment and several dozen players have suited for big league teams since Nomo's debut in 1995.

Japan's vintage card sets predate Murakami by several decades and reflect the rapid outgrowth of baseball at the college level and its professional debut in the 1920s. Many early sets were modeled after circular menko, a chip-tossing game; the round ones might look like Pogs to stateside collectors.

Kagome made their 1948 die-cut set, cataloged as JDM4, during America's post-war occupation of Japan and their wave-edged design straddles circular menko on one side and rectangular cards on the other. Hand-drawn and -tinted fronts show players from the revived professional league. The American occupation pushed to quickly restore Japanese college and pro leagues, in part to raise local spirits after the devastating effects of war.

The front's pennant and back's blue bar show the player name, written vertically on back as Japanese traditionally is. (Today's Nippon Professional Baseball sets closely resemble those familiar to US collectors; find an excellent history of Japanese cards at RobFitts.com and check out his books.)

The tinting's a little odd on this next scan; its original coloring would look the first. Head to Rob Fitts's web site or pick up the book Sayonara Home Run! : The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card to see many more examples if you like the style.

Backs show uniform number, so these guys are #5 for their respective teams. Haven't seen a full checklist online yet; Internet researchers will probably fill out vintage overseas cards as time goes on.

Team names run along its right edge and the six-pointed star is Kagome's logo. The spectacled guy on my first type card played for the Daiei Stars and this one suited up for the Tokyu Flyers. Both teams have since relocated (league  info at Wikipedia).

Value: A friend traded me these vintage types. OldCardboard estimates singles at $20 in VG condition.

Fake / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace. Demand would be low outside of niche collectors like me or people who specialize in overseas issues.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1995 Fleer Rookie Update Baseball #5, Chipper Jones

Presenting a man who needs no introduction. Great job, Chipper, and congrats on another playoff run!

That's a great baseball card swing and glad Fleer went with the horizontal format.

"Ballyhooed" on a baseball card! "The Show" is both capitalized and quoted! That kind of stuff makes my day.

Good luck to all the playoff aspirants. Here's how I imagined my Mariners planned for the off-season.

BIG SHOT #1: So, the team still can't hit. What do we do? 
BIG SHOT #2: Move in the fences for 2013? 
BIG SHOT #1: Great, let's do it. 8am tee time tomorrow? 
BIG SHOT #2: Works for me.

It's official!