Thursday, July 24, 2014

Surprise PWE Club Delivery!

I got home from work today after my usual battle with Atlanta's traffic in a better mood than usual.  That was because, in large part, I was able to maneuver my little car through a few pockets in front off the usual idiots too busy talking on their cell phones -- or illegally texting, even -- and that made my ride go by more quickly. Of course, I know -- I'm that idiot weaving in and out of traffic whose impatience drives others crazy.  


Anyway, my mood got even better when I walked in the door and found a little white envelope from Jeff from 2x3 Heroes with some really cool stamps from the mid-1970s on it:

I'm not a stamp collector currently, but when I was a small kid chasing stamps was a family event for my brother, my mom, and me.  That Skylab stamp is one I remember well from that time.  I mean, how cool was the first floating science experiments in outer space?

Inside were six cards and a pink Post-It note:

Finer words have not been spoken.

Of the cards inside, two were Braves and four were Brewers.  First the Braves:

Marcus Giles had a stretch in the early 2000s where he was certainly in the conversation as one of the best second basemen in the National League. For whatever reason, though, Bobby Cox always jerked Giles around -- not playing him regularly for a while, playing him begrudgingly and only when Giles had forced his way into the lineup, and then yanking him out of the lineup the minute Giles went into a slump.  Now, some folks saw that timing and thought PEDs were the reason, but this "Sabernomics" article said he was incredibly lucky at first and his luck caught up to him.  For whatever reason, Giles never repeated his early success and was done by age 29.

Ryan Klesko, on the other hand, was awkward to watch while he played left field.  But, he came to bat either to "Evenflow" by Pearl Jam or to "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Music, please:

As for the Brewers, I had two of the four cards.  The two I had already:

Robin Yount playing first base while listed as an outfielder on a strange photo from Ultra, while Jean Segura is pictured playing for the Milwaukee "? and the Mysterians."  I am still torn about the Donruss. The borders are too thick and the "D" logo is too large, but at least the photo isn't cropped ridiculously closely as Topps is wont to do.

Finally, here are the two Brewers cards I needed:

The Fielder insert from a 2008 Topps set is nice and shiny while generously listing the heavy-set herbivore at 260 pounds.  The Rickie Weeks comes from the 2012 Bowman Platinum set, and the scan of the card makes him appear to be jumping off the card as if we are all wearing those old 3D glasses.

While I poked fun at the cards and the players pictured, trust me when I say that I am extremely pleased that the PWE Club is back in business.  Hopefully, this will motivate me not to obsess as much about what I am sending and simply getting me just to send the cards out!

Thanks a ton, Jeff!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mailday Post: Bob Walk the Plank

In marketing, brand recognition and brand awareness is everything.  Come up with a memorable jingle or name, and everyone remembers you and your brand.  I mean, if you watched the World Cup at all, you all saw the Bacardi "Untameable" Commercial with that kick-ass guitar line.  

That guitar line is from an Arctic Monkeys song called "Do I Wanna Know?" which is such a catchy song that I still like it even if I heard that guitar line about 5 times per halftime and in pregame per game I watched on TV...

Another marketing genius whose product -- like Bacardi -- truly delivers is Bob Walk the Plank.  Since Matt started blogging earlier this year with that memorable URL for his blogspot, I doubt that any one of us who has been going through cards since then and has seen a Bob Walk card hasn't mentally thought "Bob Walk the Plank."

It is, as I said, marketing genius.

But, as anyone who has bought anything based on an advertisement knows, no one will care about your catchy ads and music if you don't back up the flash with substance.  Matt does an excellent job of this as well, spreading relics and autos throughout the blogosphere with panache.

Luckily for me -- a person whose blog name is outdated nearly immediately after it started...maybe I should have gone with "Edsel" -- Matt is kind enough to include me on his mailing list of generosity.

So, when an envelope showed up from him a week or so ago, I was pretty excited to see what it contained.  Once again, Matt did not disappoint:

I believe this is my first ever card from the Topps Unique sets, and it is a doozy.  Braun is hitting a lot fewer solo -- or other -- shots this year, but at least he is keeping his batting eye and getting on base.

My Museum Collection purchases did not contain any Braun cards, so getting this Emerald or Green or whatever color Topps called it numbered to 199 was an excellent addition.

I'm not sure if I have many, if any, Topps Tribute cards, so to add a Yovani on-card autograph serial numbered to 99 was just phenomenal.

And, while I have this card already, I'll never turn down a Robin Yount card or drawing of him smiling.  Most of his cards after about 1981 show him either looking sullen, angry, or in action.

Matt, once again, you outdid yourself.  Thank you very much for your kindness.  I know I have a couple of cards for you here that I'll get out to you when I do another trade package binge like I did a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks, bud.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Memorabilia Monday: The Ball that Was My Pride and Joy

I like trivia. I especially like baseball trivia, but really, any trivia will do. Whether it's pub trivia, trivia websites, or trivia TV shows, I enjoy watching and participating in trivia contests. 

This has been true for most of my life. As a young kid subscribing to Baseball Digest, one of my favorite parts of the magazine was to test myself with the trivia questions and answers.  If the trivia related to a team or player I cared about, then there was no question that I would get the question correct.

In 1982, I remember there being one weekend -- perhaps in June, because the weather was not hot outside -- when Jim Gantner was making an autograph signing appearance at a marina in Pewaukee. I think that it was competing with another appearance at a location closer to Milwaukee at which both Paul Molitor and Robin Yount were signing autographs at a shoe store, but I may be misremembering that.

I think that was the case, though, because when we got to the location where Gantner was supposed to be signing, the place was dead. Now, I also seem to recall that Gantner's appearance hours were from 1 PM to 3 PM before a 7:30 PM game, and we were arriving at around 2:45 PM.  So, coupled with the fact that usually, a Brewer making an appearance would draw a line, we (my mom, my older brother [who had to come along], and me) thought that perhaps they had wrapped up the appearance a bit early.

We took a chance and went inside anyway.  We found Jim Gantner standing next to a boat, checking out its dashboard and talking to a salesperson who was pretty clearly his liaison of sorts for this appearance.  When we walked in, we must have looked a bit apprehensive, because the salesperson and Gantner both said, "come on over, good to see you!"

The salesperson then posed a trivia question: in 1980, what Brewer finished second in the American League batting title race with a .352 batting average? Even now, that would be an easy question for me, but for little ten-year-old Tony you might as well have asked for his name, address, and telephone number.  I knew that answer immediately and without missing a beat said quickly, "Cecil Cooper." 

The guy goes, "You're correct! Here's your prize!"

And he handed me a plastic covered baseball with the Brewers team name and logo on it, which Jim Gantner promptly signed.

That ball was my constant autograph companion for the next year or so.

The problem with a plastic covering, however, is the fact that ink fades pretty badly from plastic.  Only a few autographs remain legible.

Anyway, here are some photos of that ball, which I still have today.  It used to be my pride and joy, and in some respects it still is:

The Brewers name.  If you squint, you can see Roy Howell's signature on the left of the team name and a badly retraced Robin Yount signature on the right side.  Underneath the team name is Bob Gibson, the version who played in Milwaukee in the 1980s who was not very good.  On the far left side in black is Charlie Moore.

The fading old Brewers Logo.  The black sharpie signature there is Ted Simmons. Barely visible on the logo itself (and upside down) is Bob Uecker.

On this panel are three Hall of Famers.  Yes, once again, 12-year-old me was disappointed in how much the signatures had faded already at that point and took a sharpie to darken the signatures from Rollie Fingers and Paul Molitor. Under Molitor, of course, is Don Sutton.  Above Fingers in ink is reserve outfielder Mark Brouhard.

Finally, on this part of the ball, you see the badly retraced Robin Yount at the bottom.  Above his signature is now-Commissioner Bud Selig.  Above Selig is fifth outfielder Marshall Edwards, whose twin brother Mike played for the Oakland A's.  Above Edwards is the first ever signature on the ball from Jim Gantner.  Above Gantner is baseball arsonist Ned Yost, the backup to Ted Simmons at catcher in 1982.

Also on the ball but faded so badly I'm embarrassed to show them are Buck Rodgers, announcers Pat Hughes and Steve Shannon, Don Money, Sal Bando, Mike Caldwell, and a couple more that are so faded that I can't read them.

The enjoyment I got in chasing those autographs -- as I got them all in person -- was incredibly high.  I just wish that they were still legible.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Package from Chavez Ravine-ing

I received an envelope full of Brewers this past week from Alex at Chavez Ravining.  Alex and I have been swapping envelopes recently, so I was very pleased to get another jam-packed envelope from him. 

In honor of one of the items in the envelope -- my first ever Topps Chip (do you drop the "Z" off the end if you have just one?), I thought I'd start with a little music appropriate to that Chipz piece.  Yeah, it's an earworm and it's not from 1978, but Lady Gaga has a formula for her songs that work -- minor chords, lots of overdubbing and electronica -- you know instantly that you are listening to one of her songs.  It's like a piece of candy musically after listening to, say, Led Zeppelin or AC/DC.  And, it's fun.  Here's the video for "Poker Face":

So, that Chip:

Rickie Weeks may be down to, as the line in poker goes, a chip and a chair right now on his Brewers career. He's done well in a limited role, but the team is committed to Scooter Gennett at second -- so committed, in fact, that they are planning to have him play more against the lefthanders that Weeks has eaten alive this year.  With the team struggling lately, I'm good with switching stuff up.  The team needs it. But, Rickie's contributions to the organization cannot be ignored and deserve to be celebrated when he does leave.

I talk a lot about Rickie here, though, so let's move on to the rest of the cards.  First, there is a Paul Molitor from The Upper Deck Iooss Collection:

Walter Iooss is a true icon in American photography and especially in sports, having been Sports Illustrated's top photog for over forty years.  And, now he is selling photos himself on his website, like this Sandy Koufax beauty.  They are pricey as all get-out -- $2000 for an 11x14 print! -- but maybe you have a rich friend/relative looking for an excuse to spend a bunch of money on you.

Then Alex helped me out with a Robin Yount parallel from the mid-1990s that I did not have in my collection.  This one from Upper Deck is an "Electric Diamond" parallel, which for some reason makes me think of that seminal 1980s film: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.  My brain scares me some times.

Alex is the first person to send me a Carlos Gomez card of Gomez on the Twins since I said here and made the decision to collect all of Gomez's cards. These are both cards that I needed for my player collections.


This group of Braun are the final cards I'm going to highlight from the big package I got -- there are still probably another 30 cards in the package, but a lot of them are actually ones I had already in some form.  Now, the ones above, though, are ones I think I needed. The 2011 A&G goes to my team set, as does the Braun All-Star short print from the 2012 Topps Update set.  The other two go into the Braun player collection, as I did not have the Hometown Heroes or the Baseball Highlight Sketches inserts.

Alex, thanks again for all the cards.  I hope that we continue to swap cards with one another.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Contest Win from The Lost Collector

Back in June, A.J. a/k/a The Lost Collector ran a contest to give away a sketch card.  The contest was simple: follow his blog and then leave a comment with the player that you would want sketched.

I was lucky enough to win in the midst of my winning month, and earlier this week I got the results of A.J.'s hard work in the mail:

Well, A.J. is an amazing artist, but he did not draw a chrome card.  This was his packaging filler -- which, by itself, is a nice card to get in an envelope alone.

But, seriously, A.J. did a fantastic job:

Not to make anyone else mad, but I have to admit -- this has to be the best contest win I have had since I got back into baseball cards and started blogging back in February.

A.J., thanks again for the great contest and the great prize!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The 2000 All-Star Weekend Futures Game

As the baseball season has taken its midseason pause, I thought back to when the All-Star festivities visited Turner Field here in Atlanta in 2000. Because I did not have tickets to the actual All-Star game or to any of the Monday Night Home Run Derby, I bought much cheaper tickets for the All-Star Sunday festivities.  I roasted to a lobster red in the hot Atlanta sun that day watching both the "All-Star Celebrity Hitting Challenge" and the All-Star Futures Game.

The rosters for the Celebrity Hitting Challenge were, well, interesting:

To be quite honest, though, I remember nearly nothing from this hitting challenge. Couldn't tell you who won, couldn't tell you what the format was, and can't tell you now whether I even watched it.

I went for the Futures Game.  It was only the second time that they played the Futures game, and it ended with a 3-2 victory for the USA.  

Here's the US Roster from that game:

In retrospect, that is a loaded team in many respects.  A pitching staff with Ben Sheets, C.C. Sabathia, and Barry Zito?  Not bad at all.  An outfield of Josh Hamilton, Vernon Wells, and Brad Wilkerson or Jack Cust or Corey Patterson?  Pretty good too.  The infield was a bit rough, but even there Marcus Giles didn't have a bad (albeit short) career.

The World Roster is less impressive now, certainly:

That Ramon Castro is the guy who made it to 2011 with the white Sox, I think.  Carlos Pena had a couple of decent years, and Felipe Lopez made it to the All-Star game with the Reds in 2005.  The outfield...well, in retrospect, that was a car-crash of guys whose prospect status would fade to black within the next few years.

The pitching staff...ouch.  Danys Baez made the all-star game in 2005 as a closer with the Rays, which puts him as likely being the guy with the best season of any of his other fellow World pitchers. Tomo Ohka might be the second best pitcher on that staff. Carlos Silva had a 9-year career in which he finished 70-70 with a 4.68 ERA for four teams. Otherwise, there are some interesting stories there -- Anderson, for example, appears to have ended his career in 2011 pitching for Neptunus in the Dutch Major League.  Guzman was already 27 when he appeared in Atlanta for this game.

Who was the biggest superstar in this game? I would probably have to say that that title would go either to Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, or C.C. Sabathia.  And boy, do they look young:

The Futures Game was a lot of fun to see in 2000. I'm glad that I ponied up the money to get those tickets.  

As a postscript, on the morning of the All-Star Game, the woman in my office who was responsible for billing for the firm I was with at the time e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to go to the All-Star Game -- free tickets.  I grabbed another guy, and we went and enjoyed the game.  It was a great experience -- one I'd highly recommend for anyone who can pull it off.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Memorabilia Monday: Cecil Cooper Signs

As a ten-year-old, Cecil Cooper made me mad. 

It was a sunny Saturday in May in 1982.  It was the first game that I can remember attending, and my mom was patient enough that day in May to say that I could stay after the game to try to get autographs. Whether it was instinct or asking a security guard or asking any one of the dozens of other kids hanging out after the game, we figured out where the players parked next to County Stadium.  I had my ballpoint pen in one hand, my 1982 Brewers police card set in my other hand, and I was ready.

We autograph chasers had to cover two exits from County Stadium. An informal communication system was set up.  Kids were telling their friends and whoever else was in earshot who was signing, whether they were staying long, and whether they were being nice. I'm pretty sure that the players that day had the patience that Job longed for in the Bible, because I know I came home with a bunch of autographs.

But I came home mad too. I've said before that I think I may have related to Paul Molitor because he was a midwestern kid.  Robin Yount grew up before our eyes in Milwaukee. 

Cecil Cooper was a fully formed player by the time he got to Milwaukee.  He was the cool one. He was the guy whose batting stance everyone emulated from the left side -- the bat so loose in his hands that it looked like you could knock it out, weight poised over his back leg with his front leg in an open stance.  He would always take two or three practice loops with his bat in the box, point the bat at the pitcher, then slowly loop his bat back into place.  

You can see the very end of it here in one of my favorite hits of his entire career:

I saw Coop that May day in 1982. He was wearing a flat cap -- Samuel L. Jackson would call it a Kangol hat these days -- with the brim pointed forward.  He had his sunglasses on.  He saw those kids -- myself included -- who said, "Mr. Cooper, could you please sign an autograph?" or "Hey Coop, just one? Please?" or even "Cecil, come on man!"

He did not respond to any of our requests.  He just kept walking, head held high, to his car.  And that disappointed me.

Now, I won't say that Cecil Cooper lost a fan that day, because I still liked him a lot -- he was still one of "us" even if he was an African-American from Brenham, Texas, and all of "us" were white kids of pretty much all Northern or Eastern European descent.  He will always be the first baseman of the Brewers to me.  But he did make me mad, because he just could have said, "I'm sorry, I don't have time today."  

But he didn't.

In his last year in Milwaukee in 1987, Cooper was not even a shadow of the player he had been.  He only played in 63 games that season, and none after July 12 -- the Sunday before the All-Star Break. Cooper had been supplanted at first base by Greg Brock, so he was the designated hitter in that game.  The next time that the Brewers played was July 16, and in that game, the Brewers had a new designated hitter -- Paul Molitor.  July 16 was the first game of Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak.

During his last few months in Milwaukee, Cooper made a public appearance at a local department store or mall and signed autographs there. As I learned in May of 1982 and learned again several times after that over the next 6 seasons, Cooper was a tough person to get after games in Milwaukee. The lines for autographs were long that day in 1987, but I finally got a few cards signed by Cecil Cooper:

Cooper hung around a bit too long, frankly -- that .308 lifetime batting average as of 1984 fell to a .298 career average and killed whatever long-shot Hall of Fame argument he may have had.  

But, these cards signed in 1987 made the 16-year-old me a lot less upset about a day 5 years earlier.  Thanks, Mr. Cooper.