Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fifth Anniversary Giveaway: the Envelope Please

Thanks to the long list of nominees for my fifth anniversary giveaway theme, Almost, But Not Quite. They covered the gamut from famous to personal, beginning with one of my favorite games, being a big fan of LA's two World Series wins in the 1980s.

1. The Bash Brothers, 1988

1988 Fleer #624, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco

For his nomination, reader Stealing Home relived the heroics of Kirk Gibson, who set the World Series tempo by overcoming McGwire's game 1 grand slam and nigh-unhittable Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley for a 5-4 Dodgers win and eventual 5-game title win.

The Bash Brothers didn't have to wait long for a title, overcoming San Francisco just one year later, but 1988 wasn't quite it.

2. A Pitch-Out Is Werth A Thousand Words, August 23, 2010

Richard Nebe grabbed this sharp play by Phillie catcher Jose Quintero.

Michael Jordan said great players motivate themselves by using every failing, criticism, or perceived slight to push their performance forward. If this 2010 lapse made Jayson Werth what he is today, it was worth it. Because otherwise...ouch, man, ouch.

3. Angels One Strike Away, 1986

Dave Henderson's homer is the flip side of Mookie Wilson's World Series grounder through Bill Buckner's legs, as this two-strike, two-out blast sent Angels pennant dreams into extra innings and on to eventual defeat.

Thanks to MLB Classics, you can watch this entire game on YouTube and this crucial 9th-inning at-bat starts about 2:29:30. ("You're looking at one for the ages, here!" - Al Michaels calls Hendu's tying homer.)

Jeff also made this nomination for its image of 40 year-old Reggie Jackson standing on the dugout steps, Mr. October poised for one more World Series, only to be denied at the last.

4. LA's Future Stars, Eventually, Maybe

GCRL echoed Reggie's dugout step frustration as an indelible image, but kept his nomination close to home with LA's parade of mid-80s AAA "almosts."

1982 Topps #681, Dodgers Future Stars

The Dodgers farm system seemed unstoppable in the early 1980s, as Steve Howe (1980), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Steve Sax (1982) all took home Rookie of the Year trophies and a 1981 World Series win helped shift the New York power balance away from the Bronx (and towards Shea Stadium) for several years.

What LA's 1988 team won with smoke and mirrors, 1981's squad helped take with promising young stars. Next up, Mike Marshall! Candy Maldonado! Greg Brock! Except...not really. The hyped superstar promise never materialized as superstar performance, leaving fans with that empty feeling you get when "dessert" turns out to be a tray of burned cookies.

5. The Curse Of Todd Van Poppel, 1991-2004

1991 Studio Bust #32, Todd Van Poppel

The younger version of blog reader Fuji invested in TvP cards, a mid-90s prospect who did his best work a half-dozen years later as middle reliever for the Cubs. If your career high point is middle relief in a city far removed from your "future Nolan Ryan" expectations, you too might inspire a page like The Curse Of Todd Van Poppel.

6. I Shake My Fist At You, Alex Gordon, 2006

"...to the last, I grapple with thee; from Hell's heart, I stab at thee; for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee." - Moby Dick, Herman Melville

2006 Topps #297, Alex Gordon

Night Owl returned to purchasing cards in 2006 and cascaded dollars and enthusiasm upon pack after pack until all checklists were checked...save one. Still missing from his collection is #297, this Alex Gordon RC now valued in the four figures thanks to Topps' last-gasp decision to pull a player with no MLB experience, which should've precluded his appearance in non-minor league sets.

Did Topps make a mistake or calculated gamble that a "pulled" Gordon would generate disproportionate collector interest? Keith Olbermann added his own context (and a rare proof scan) in The Heritage of Alex Gordon, which explains without making people like Night Owl feel any better about the situation.

7. Billy Ashley, 1992-98

Given its AAA level, winning the 1994 Pacific Coast League MVP award should mean big league stardom lies ahead, not that fans and front office executives now have a measuring stick for future frustrations.

"Guess I won't be needing this..."

Greg Zakwin nominated this "sure-thing" Dodger superstar for finishing with below-average fielding (-1.5 career fWAR), slugging (91 OPS+), and on-base percentage (.302) in parts of 7 MLB seasons. Even his Baseball-Reference page sponsor laments that Billy's prodigious minor league power never clicked anywhere else. Then as now, buuuuuuummer.

8. Montreal Expos, 1994

Speaking of things from 1994, check out the solid, young lineup fielded by Montreal's Expos, where Pedro Martinez was just 2nd or 3rd-best on his team's pitching staff.

Mark Aubrey notes how far ahead of MLB competition Montreal stood at 74-40 (a full 3.5 games better than AL-best New York), only to be derailed without a post-season by the MLBPA strike. They'd never finish first again. I felt bad for them then and doubly regret it now that Les Expos have gone the way of the Seattle Pilots and St. Louis Browns.

9. Roger Clemens, Sept 18, 1996

Thanks to a friend with tickets in Detroit, Potch could've attended this Tigers game, one of the last Roger Clemens would pitch in Boston red-and-grey. If he'd made it, all would've enjoyed the Rocket's second 20-strikeout performance, a taste of history and achievement that made me feel slightly better about his 20 punch-outs against my Seattle Mariners ten years earlier.

The Real, Not-Almost Winner

With so many good choices, I had to randomize the winner or risk getting sentimental and declaring all 9 nominations a winner. Thanks to Random.org, here's who doesn't have to wonder what could've been!

Our number generator selected #4 (retired for Duke Snider), so that means Dodgers fan GCRL wins the selection of vintage cards from his favorite team. I'll go out on a limb and assume that team is the Dodgers.

Congrats to him and thanks to everyone for sharing and following along these last five years!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fifth Anniversary Giveaway

As baseball's dog days soon breeze into harvest season, so did I miss recognizing this blog's eponymous fifth anniversary earlier this season. How could this happen! Did I forget my glove?

Always, always bring your glove

With nearly 800 posts under my belt, it might be the shrinking number of vintage (pre-1981) sets to profile that left my brain unawares. By the numbers, only a few dozen type cards remain unaddressed and several of those prove so obscure that I've yet to see even a photo to represent them, let alone put my hands on a real card.


The good news is that even if we run low on vintage stuff, modern companies printed everything under the sun thereafter, so there's no end of potential post-1981 profiles. (Indeed, I have a plethora of potential post-vintage profiles.)

THE THREE AMIGOS! *hip thrust*

...or perhaps I'll segue into a multiplayer type collection. THERE ARE SO MANY GOOD ONES. (Including this one in part to remind you September 17th is baseball's Roberto Clemente Day!)

In belated honor of the fifth anniversary, let's give something away in the theme of giving things away. Readers might know Spike Owen's one of my favorite players from his days with Seattle, his first of several teams in a long, productive career.

The Mariners ultimately sent Spike and teammate Dave Henderson to the Red Sox in mid-1986 and that's the pair of them celebrating a near-title in Fenway Park. So close, but not quite!

Seattle received this gentleman in return, who took over Spike's position at short, and went on to frustrate both my adolescence and the Mariners and Pirates franchises.

Pitchers & Poets covered the complicated on- and off-field life of Quinones in A Hard Man To Understand. In short, Rey couldn't focus enough to play at short. What he had in skills, he lacked in consistency. Those impressed with flashes of success also felt blocked with inscrutable obstacles. So close, but not quite.

HOW TO ENTER: What's your favorite story of almost, but not quite? Add a comment with the ignominious card goof, near-perfect game you attended, or other famous (or in-famous) baseball stumble, as in "1986 Red Sox" or "Rey Quinones" or "blog that forgot its own anniversary."

WHAT YOU WIN: Selected cards from your favorite vintage team (and I'll try to include a Hall of Famer)! That's the next best thing to a prospect that delivers on his promise.

I'll take "almost, but not quite" nominations until the end of Friday (Sept 20) and pick a random winner from all entries. Good luck and thanks for reading!

Friday, September 13, 2013

1975 Caruso Salt Lake Gulls Baseball #5, Dan Briggs

If you've never been to Salt Lake City or studied Mormon history, it's good to file away the knowledge that Utah settlers credit seagulls with a miraculous saving of their 1848 crops from insect devastation. Locals celebrated those heroic gulls with multiple monuments and other honors, including an eponymous renaming of their AAA franchise in 1975.

At the time, those Gulls farmed for California's Angels--appropriate for their miraculous reputation--but I know them better as early 1980s stewards for up-and-coming Seattle prospects. Personal favorite Spike Owen first appeared on a baseball card wearing their bright duds.

Caruso treated today's Salt Lake City issue like their other 1975 PCL team sets, with apparent exception of their hand-drawn logo next to Dan's name. That's no disrespect, as I enjoy its primary school charm: we could all use 15 minutes of recess Wiffle-ball at one time or another. Compare it to Phoenix, though, and you assume SLC didn't provide an "official" version in time for card publication.

1980 Topps #352, Dan Briggs

Dan Briggs started playing pro ball in 1970 at age 17 (!), so owned significantly more experience than your typical 22 year-old by 1975. His ensuing 7-year tour of duty in the majors included a 104-game effort for San Diego in 1979 that stands out as underpowered for someone who played nothing but 1B and OF, with 77 OPS+ and just 8 homers (career stats). He reputedly played through injuries throughout that season and hopefully found it worth the pain. (Most pros choose that path at some point during their careers, a lingering fact of the sporting life.)

Caruso printed 20 cards for this team, including manager (and former Dodger backstop) Norm Sherry. Those with MLB experience are in bold.
  1. Rusty Torres
  2. Dave Collins
  3. John Balaz
  4. Ron Jackson
  5. Dan Briggs
  6. John Doherty
  7. Frankie George
  8. Mike Miley
  9. Darrell Darrow
  10. Rocky Jordan
  11. Ike Hampton
  12. Gary Wheelock
  13. Charlie Hockenberry
  14. Gary Ryerson
  15. Barry Raziano
  16. Luis Quintana
  17. Sid Monge
  18. Charlie Hudson
  19. Steve Blateric
  20. Norm Sherry, Manager

Value: This #5 cost $2 at MinorLeagueSingles.com and team sets run $10-20. 1970s & 80s collectors will recognize some of the roster names, but none achieved enough MLB success to drive up its overall price.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

1976 Caruso Spokane Indians Baseball #5, Ron Jacobs

The first time I bought today's #5, it seemed like one of those minor league type cards that turns out to be unnumbered and gets filed in the trade box. Ron looks like a nice 1970s guy, but my type collection does adhere to one standard. It needs the number.

Card front (blank back)

Sometime later, I (accidentally) bought a second, lighter-inked Jacobs card.

Oh, there it is. Subtle.

Ron Jacobs might have the #5, but probably confused young collectors by never appearing for Spokane. My hunch is that Milwaukee thought about sending Ron to AAA after the 1976 collegiate draft and ultimately farmed him to single-A Newark and AA Berkshire for the summer. He reached AAA by 1979 with Vancouver without quite making the final step to the bigs (career stats).

Caruso created numbered team sets for most of the Pacific Coast League in 1975 and I assume they covered the league again in 1976, but this is the first set I've seen in person. The bunting around Ron's picture is a nod to America's bicentennial, much like Hostess went red, white, and blue.

1976 Hostess #5, Bob Watson

Caruso's Spokane set covered 21 players, many who reached the majors and several well-known to 70s-80s Topps card collectors (in bold).
  1. Bobby Sheldon
  2. Jimmy Rosario
  3. Sam Ceci
  4. Tom Widmar
  5. Ron Jacobs
  6. Bob Ellis
  7. Juan Lopez
  8. Kevin Kobel
  9. Bob Strampe
  10. Moose Haas
  11. Perry Danforth
  12. Art Kusnyer
  13. Frank Howard, Manager
  14. Gary Beare
  15. Kurt Bevacqua
  16. Tommie Reynolds
  17. Bob Hansen
  18. Steve Bowling
  19. Len Sakata
  20. Toby Bianco
  21. Rick Austin

That's the same Kurt Bevacqua Topps immortalized for his off-field skills.

1976 Topps #564, Bubble Gum Blowing Champ

And lest you think Bevacqua shies away from his 1975 celebrity moment, check out Cardboard Gods' Books, Bubbles, and Bevacqua.

Value: This #5 cost $2 at MinorLeagueSingles.com, typical for non-star type cards. Team sets remain affordable at $15-30, given Spokane's lack of big names. (Manager Frank Howard's arguably the best-known player.)

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Strike Four: Mariners vs. Orioles, June 12, 1981

My dad found this vintage ticket in a discarded Seattle library book, looking OK for 30+ years on the lam. Just $5.50 for first level loge seating! Those were the cheap ol' days.

I tweeted the ticket and Phungo noticed right away that this (and all) June 12 tickets weren't torn because MLB players went on strike after June 11, a work stoppage that lasted for two months. Players sought resolution of lingering ownership dodges around free agency and most at issue were owners wanting compensation for "losing" players to higher contracts elsewhere (summarized at Wikipedia).

The lengthy mid-season strike also meant an unusual "first half winner vs. second half winner" playoff compromise, with some teams knowing they were "in" based on a good first couple of months, leaving them unlikely to play as hard in August and September. Cincy claimed MLB's best overall record without leading at either end, so their only consolation was this banner.

1981: The Year Baseball's Best Record Wasn't Good Enough

As a young fan, I enjoyed MLB's second half "reset" for a chance Seattle would play meaningful games in September. They improved from .368 first half ball to .442, a notable change, but still several games off the pace. It'd be another 14 years before 1995's squad achieved their amazing mid-season turnaround and playoff run. In the meantime, I did my best to enjoy being part of the "Pepsi Jr. Mariner" fan club. Joining cost about $15 and came with kids tickets to a half-dozen games and an on-field photo day with Seattle players, posing pretty much like you see here.

Seattle chose a young lefty in a striped polo shirt for their model, about as close to me as you could get in 1981. Does it go without saying All-Star first baseman Bruce Bochte immediately became my favorite player? Bruce was the man.