Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Christmas in July, Celebrated in September

Back nearly two months ago, my Gator loving friend John from Johnny's Trading Spot sent out a ton of packages to people around the card-collecting world to celebrate "Christmas in July." I was one of the recipients of one of those packages, and I now am here to celebrate the autumnal equinox with Christmas. It's just over 90 shopping days until Christmas, after all.


Just proving that it really was Christmas in July. John sent a massive package of cards, so I'm going to share some of them. In the past with cards from John, I've written them up with everything from a comparison to the local cougar lounge (Johnny's Hideaway) to comparisons to old cars to music drawn from John's blog.

How about I just show the cards and talk about them?


Let's start with Orlando Arcia's coin from 2017 Topps Archives. I like the coins from the original issue back in 1987 through 1990, which themselves were throwbacks to the 1971 coins, which themselves were throwbacks to the original 1964 coins. Each and every one of those issues is a great oddball that needs those cardboard and plastic cases to be able to display them properly.

Arcia has improved greatly this year. He might be a cornerstone. His OBP has improved this year, though he has not hit for as much power in the second half as he did in the first half (which was driven by his excellent June). He obviously needs to continue developing, though he seems to have the right attitude and his fielding is already among the best in the league.


Next up, we have some 2003 Fleer Hardball discs. I'm pretty sure this set was created by a Fleer card designer who wondered to himself or herself what those MSA discs would have looked like if MSA issued 200 of them and had licensing and had parallels. The answer: not bad, but oddballs should be kept as oddballs for a reason. Weird shapes and sizes of cards are best kept in small doses for fear of overdose.

Parallels? Really? Come on. I mean, it's cool if it was a "parallel" that was exactly the same except for the fact that, instead of "Fleer Hardball," the disc said, "Donruss Superstars" and another said "Upper Deck Dandies" and another said "Topps Lemons" or something like that.


According to Baseball Card Pedia, 1997 Pinnacle Inside came "inside one of 24 collectible player soup cans."

If that happened today, I'd have the same look on my face as Dave Nilsson has on his face on this card.


I have not paid any attention to what Panini has been doing this year in cards. Should I?

Based on this card, I'm thinking I'm okay with being a collecting version of Joe Barry Carroll a/k/a Joe Barely Cares when it comes to Panini. I'll pick up Diamond Kings and the like at card shows if I see them cheap. Otherwise, I'm not going out of my way to find them.

As for Ray, 2016's #1 pick for the Brewers struggled in the Carolina League this year, hitting just .238/.311/.367 in 503 plate appearances with 7 HR and 24 SB in 34 attempts. He struck out too much too. That said, he still is his toolsy self...we'll see what happens.


Out of these two cards, let's talk about Kevin Barker. He made it to Milwaukee at the age of 23 in 1999 and performed decently in 127 plate appearances -- .282/.331/.385. In 2000, he hit similarly -- .220/.352/.330. But, in their infinite wisdom in 1999, the Brewers played Mark Loretta and Sean Barry instead of Barker and, then, traded for Richie Sexson in 2000. That led to his eventual trade to San Diego in spring training in 2002 (where he got 7 games and 20 plate appearances). From there, he bounced around yearly -- to Detroit, to Florida, to Philadelphia, to Toronto (where he got into 12 games with 18 plate appearances) for two years, to Cincinnati (29 games, 36 plate appearances in 2009). 

I mean, he grinded out 323 plate appearances across 11 years with four teams. There's something to be said for that sticktoitiveness.


These test proof cards that Panini put out last year are just plain awful. Other than photo comparison, I couldn't tell you from this scan that this is Orlando Arcia. Combine a single color with no logos and discolored uniforms, and you have what should otherwise be thrown away except for that serial number and the hint of it showing a baseball player on it.

UGH.


It wouldn't be Christmas without 1995 Fleer. It really wouldn't. It's like the bow on the present. The star on the tree. The asbestos substituting for snow on the tree.

No, really.


Pure, white, fireproof asbestos snow. 

It's weird packaging for baseball cards, but I'm not surprised that Fleer used it in 1995.

John -- many thanks for the great cards. I hope that your home and your family are all safe after Irma.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Eventful 14 Days

It's been an eventful couple of weeks since I last had the time and opportunity to write about cards I've received. Since I last posted, we've had the long Labor Day weekend, two weeks of college football, a hurricane making landfall, I've been in three different states, I bought a blaster of Topps Heritage High Numbers, and my house lost power for nearly four full days.

Like I said, it's been eventful.

Let's take a look at the 2 weeks that were.

I didn't take any pictures over Labor Day, but it was a relaxing time. I posted here and on the 1980s blog, and then I got ready for my trip to Chicago and South Bend, Indiana -- with good reason.

The University of Georgia's fans invaded Chicago. Seriously, everywhere you went inside the Loop or just north of the Loop, you saw fans clad in red and black with their Georgia Gs on their hats, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. The flights between Atlanta and Chicago and Atlanta and South Bend were crazy. Everyone was wearing their Georgia gear.



That's just the gate area in Atlanta to get on the Boeing 717 at 8:50 in the morning. The flight was so full of Georgia fans that one of the flight attendants commented that it looked like a charter:


As always, the flights were overbooked. This is common because there are always a few stragglers who miss the flight or take an earlier flight. Normally, all that works itself out. In some situations, though, Delta ends up offering Delta voucher money good for use on another flight to volunteers to be confirmed on a later flight. Usually, it only takes a few hundred dollars in vouchers to get people to say, "okay, I'll take that later flight and I'll have a little money to take a vacation flight later in the year." This is, of course, as opposed to what United does -- dragging people forcibly off flights to make room for whomever they want to get on a plane.

Anyway, Delta had tons of trouble getting volunteers to get off flights to Atlanta and South Bend on this weekend. No one wanted to miss a thing, it seems, and the amounts for the vouchers to get volunteers proves this. For my flight to Chicago Midway, the gate agents got all the way up to offering $2,000 in Delta vouchers to volunteers who were willing to take a flight a few hours later with a guaranteed seat. They got their 5 volunteers for our flight at that price. That amount was eclipsed on another flight a couple of terminals away when a woman received $4,000 in vouchers just to give up her seat on a flight between Atlanta and South Bend.

My wife and I were traveling on award miles at an exorbitant cost -- 80,000 miles a piece, which usually will get you to Europe for a coach seat or, for some airports, in first class. If we had not had a scheduled tour in Chicago for early afternoon, we almost certainly would have doubled down at $2,000 and taken that money for a later arrival.

We arrived in Chicago and got to my wife's uncle's condo. He and his wife recently moved there for a job change for him, and he's doing quite well. Here's the view from his condo.



Too bad it wasn't sunny when I took this. That's Lake Shore Drive along Lake Michigan that you see. It was on that walkway right next to the lake that I saw Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ana Ivanovic walking arm in arm on Sunday morning after we had an early lunch.

So, back to Friday. We went and had lunch and then went to our tour -- one of those "architectural boat tours" along the Chicago River. I had taken one of those tours in 2008, but it was pouring rain half the time and sucked as a result. This one was much better -- no rain, and the clouds even lifted midway through the tour so we got some great views of landmark buildings like the Willis Corroon Tower f/k/a the Sears Tower:


We had a great dinner that night at Gibsons Steakhouse (thanks to my wife's uncle pulling a few strings to get a reservation).

The next day, we got up early and made our way to South Bend. It's about two hours from Chicago along Interstate 94, and we were surprised at the fact that traffic wasn't terrible for the ride out.



We got parked, and immediately we were greeted by Notre Dame fans parked on either side of us. Notre Dame has a national following, of course, being the most successful Catholic university in sports during much of a 20th Century when being Catholic would be brought up openly as a possible way to disqualify a person from serving as president. We met Notre Dame fans from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina, and California in just a few minutes. It was really cool.



Even so, UGA took over Notre Dame and its campus. Everywhere I went, we were greeted by Georgia fans. The Notre Dame folks wore expressions somewhere between bemusement and annoyance -- bemused at the fact that Georgia fans were treating the trip like a tourist event, annoyed at the fact that there were so many Georgia fans as to nearly outnumber the Notre Dame fans. To give you a sense of what it was like on campus, this is the reflecting pool in front of the library mural of Touchdown Jesus:



Of course, my wife and I had to get our obligatory tourist shot of us in front of Touchdown Jesus. The photo was taken by a very friendly Notre Dame fan from California, who joked with us -- rightly so -- that the reception in Georgia may not be as friendly for the Domers as it was for UGA in Indiana:


Then, there was the game. Georgia really could have and should have won the game by two touchdowns had they simply (a) had a wide receiver catch one ball that hit him in the hands on a long pass play, and (b) caught an interception inside ND's 20-yardline that the defensive back had hit him in the hands twice before it hit the ground harmlessly. That said, UGA still won and, in the process, really took over Notre Dame Stadium.



Lots of red everywhere. Some Notre Dame folks were a bit salty about the whole thing in the week after, but really -- if someone is offering you a $500+ profit on a ticket for a game, wouldn't you be tempted to sell out?

The whole time we were in Chicago, though, we also had Georgia on our mind (and I'm not talking about the song). We were watching Hurricane Irma's track to see what it was going to do. Was it going to hit Atlanta? If so, how strong would it be? As the weekend developed, we knew we would get back to Atlanta without a problem -- even if it was a bit windy when we landed on Sunday night. It was a matter of how long, though, we would have without problems.

As it turned out, my office closed on Monday per the request of the local and state governments asking businesses to close. It was nice that I got a day off that I sorely needed after the weekend's festivities. The power flickered a couple of times during the day, but I was hopeful that we would get through things without much problem.

My hopes were dashed, however, when the power went off at about 4:30 PM on Monday. At first, it was kind of fun. I got out my headlamp that I use for fire site investigations to be able to find my way around the house more easily. I ended up using it to cook dinner on our gas stove:


We did not get power back Monday night, and Georgia Power did not even have an estimate for us to get power back at that point. I learned through Twitter and using my phone for news that my part of town was probably the hardest hit thanks to the combination of strong winds and having a lot of tall trees.

I did not know why we lost power, though, until Tuesday. I took a walk to the grocery store on Tuesday morning to get some coffee and some cold cuts to eat and saw our problem.


I'm told that a transformer snapping off the top of a power pole is a bad thing. You can see that transformer on the opposite side of the road from the actual pole here. It took until Thursday afternoon -- fully 3 days after we lost power -- for our power to be restored.

Thankfully it was and no one around here got hurt by the storm. But, my Friday afternoon and Saturday mornings the last two days were spent taking care of our cleanup. We had a bunch of limbs and one small tree that we had to cut up and put into yard waste bags to dispose of in the trash. We still have some more to do, but the bulk of the work is done.

Still, it's been an eventful two weeks. Of course, this coming weekend is a big football game in Athens too -- one I'm going to with a couple of friends -- so radio silence over next weekend might result too. So, I'm pushing myself to write more during this week to catch up more on things I should have thanked people for weeks ago.

So, how's your September been?


Thanks for stopping by and, to those of you who have sent me things, thanks for your patience.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Cards from Night Owl

I had a slow day at work yesterday. It wasn't because I did not have anything to do, but it was just one of those days common before a long weekend when I have mentally declared myself on a break. Despite the desire to leave the office pretty much at any point after 10 AM (having arrived at 7 AM), I ended up staying until 3 PM. 

Because I had no desire to work, I ended up doing a little project that I've been meaning to do for quite some time: catalog all the songs that I've posted here. I mean, what good is a collector if he or she can't handle another spreadsheet to catalog a collection?  

The results of my work surprised me somewhat -- I didn't think that I had posted 16 different songs twice, for instance. In total and to date, I've posted a total of 766 different songs, including 22 different songs by Pearl Jam, 6 different songs by REM (including posting "So. Central Rain" twice), and 7 different songs by Weird Al Yankovic (inflated by a theme post...what can I say?). 

Shockingly, though, I've only posted 3 songs by one of my favorite bands of all time -- a favorite that I share with the man who sent me the cards in today's post. That band is U2, and that notable collector with good taste in music is Night Owl. Now, Night Owl has led me before to an all-Foghat post, but today's U2 post is definitely going to top that one. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite U2 songs and some Brewers cards.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday"


I could relate to what Night Owl was talking about with how good the album War is on his post about "The Last Beloved Set of the Masses" comparing 1987 Topps to music in the 1980s. To be fair, I could relate to the whole post, but it was especially true about War. I was an isolated kid in the country 35 miles from downtown Milwaukee -- which, in the era before the internet, might as well have been somewhere in the middle of Montana. So, I was a little late to the U2 bandwagon, but I still caught it before U2 got huge in 1987.

It took participation in high school debate starting in 1986 and interaction with a whole different group of people to open my eyes to all the good things the city had to offer. If I think more deeply about it, I probably would not have become a lawyer without debate, and, going even deeper, I probably would not have joined debate had I not accidentally put my foot through a window playing baseball behind my house a week after my grandmother passed away in 1986. I would have been playing football instead -- badly, mind you, because, even in the 1980s, a 175-pound offensive lineman was destined for backup duty at best.

At any rate, one of those eye-openers was meeting people whose musical tastes were different from mine. A teammate of mine introduced me to The Dead Kennedys and The Dead Milkmen, while another introduced me to Depeche Mode and U2. I'm grateful to both of them for those introductions.


Speaking of introductions (and 1987 Topps, which our friendly neighborhood monopoly is beating so hard into the ground that they are trying to make sure none of us ever wax nostalgic about it again), Orlando Arcia is quickly growing in my estimation as a player whom I may decide to make a player collection. 

The thing about my player collections at this point is that I am trying to stay away from that early commitment mistake that occurred with Jean Segura. Looking at their batting eyes in particular, there is a distinct possibility that that could happen. At the same time, that minimizes the mental aspect of Segura probably needing to get out of Milwaukee so he could stop being reminded of his young son's death in mid-2014. 

So, while I have my eye on Arcia as a possibility, I continue to focus on looking long term. When the position player with the second-most tenure on the Brewers team behind Ryan Braun is Domingo Santana -- who made his Brewers debut on August 21, 2015 -- you can see why I'm hesitant to jump in feet first. There are still a lot of players to sort through, to develop, and see what impact they make on the team's history. I mean, I'd have left Jimmy Nelson for dead last year, and look what he's doing this year.

"Pride (In the Name of Love)"


It's probably a bit of a cliche to say that the two songs I've listed so far are my favorite U2 songs. Yet, these songs hold up -- much better, it must be said, than Bono's massive mullet in the video for this song. A song about the impact that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made on America and the world has nearly as much relevance today as it did thirty years ago. 

Arguably, his message of nonviolent protest in the face of injustice should be even more important today with how fractured American society has become thanks to highly publicized Neo-Nazi demonstrations being met by alleged anti-fascists looking for violence. Who knows what those two groups really are trying to do -- if they are true believers or if they are lost souls who will grow out of their violent ways or what have you -- but Dr. King's message is to meet these protests on both sides with civil disobedience. . . . Let me stop there, because I didn't come here to try to solve our current situations, and you probably didn't come here to read about my thoughts on it, so I'll get back to the cards now.


Night Owl cleaned out some Allen & Ginter minis that he had stored up in his upstate New York baseball-card bunker. Everyone from Prince Fielder to Corey Hart to K-Rod to Segura to Mike Cameron was included. 

Mike Cameron's 20-year-old son Daz was in the news recently for being a part of the bounty that the Detroit Tigers extracted from Houston in exchange for Justin Verlander. Daz has spent parts of the last two seasons in the Midwest League, which sounds like he's stalled except for the fact that, again, he's just 20 years old. He's likely to hit High-A Lakeland next year in the Florida State League. He apparently has a defensive profile like his father -- meaning that Daz is one hell of a good centerfielder.

"A Sort of Homecoming"


Okay, so here's where I stray from the "big" songs to one of U2's slightly lesser known songs. Because I couldn't always afford the complete cassette tapes, I bought U2's Wide Awake In America, which included four songs: "Bad" and this song live and two B-sides of "The Three Sunrises" and "Loves Come Tumbling." 

This song is the perfect album-opener, which is its place on The Unforgettable Fire. It starts softly and slowly, only to build to something akin to a church praise song -- loud, happy, joyful -- and then resolves itself at the end with talk of "coming home" in a decrescendo, slowing to a stop. Much of U2's music has interpretations that could be put in the context of Christianity. That, itself, is an important backstory in the band's history, and it is one that many Christian websites glom onto -- with, for example, a countdown of U2's "top 10 faith-fuelled songs." This song didn't make the cut for that list, but it could be read that way.


This card gets written up by itself because it was the one and only Milwaukee Brewers card in the 2016 Topps Holiday card set. 

Bunch of snowflakes.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"


In my high school days, this song really hit me as a search for more meaning in life. You know how you are as a teenager -- everything in life is on the table and the idea of being the one person to make a huge difference in the world is not as remote as it becomes later in life. As a 15-year-old when the album came out, it made me happy that even Bono hadn't figured out what his search in life was going to yield.

It's a catchy song, too.


Stadium Club cards sort of remind me of this song in some respects. I really like the product. I really like the photos. Even the fact that more than just a couple of Brewers made the setlist makes me like it. Yet, while it is a good set, I am still looking for something to grab me, to shake me and make me say, "Yes, this is it. This is the modern set of cards that I have been waiting to collect." While I like Stadium Club, it's still not what I've been looking for.

"One"


This very well may be my favorite song -- single song -- of all time. When I first heard it on Achtung Baby!, it grabbed me immediately. Again, I'm a guy who loves lyrics. This song is such a great breakup song, but in an introspective way. The internal questions that everyone goes through when a relationship seem to come spilling out in this song. Match it with the building guitar line from Edge and the light touch on the drums, and it just seems like a perfectly constructed song to me.


On the other hand, Topps Opening Day is far from being a perfectly constructed set. Any number of improvements could be made to it to make it a far more collectable set. I know I talk about it frequently, but if this is the set intended for kids to collect, then make the set one that kids in every major league city will want to collect. Not every kid is an Aaron Judge fan. Not every kid is a Bryce Harper fan. Some kids are Twins fans or Brewers fans. I've even heard rumors that there are 12 kids that are Rays fans. 

If the intent for this set is to be one to draw in the youngsters, then make it draw in the youngsters and not say to them, "we'd care about you if you were a Yankees fan or a Cubs fan."

"Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own"


The one song beyond U2's true heyday that grabbed me by the heartstrings and made me listen is this one. If you're a U2 fan, you know that this song was written by Bono in the wake of his dad's death. Just listening to it with that little bit of context makes it far more personal. Literally, the song makes me tear up if I haven't heard it in a long time because I can put myself into the position Bono sings about with respect to family members who have passed away. 

It's a beautiful song.


To close on a lighter note, here are some of the extra 1975 Topps buybacks that Night Owl received in his quest to build a buyback set from 1975. I can envision that the Robin Yount and George Brett rookie cards will be very difficult to find.

The weird thing is that I don't listen to U2 now all that much. I loved this band 30 years ago -- still know all the words to every song on War, The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Rattle And Hum, and Achtung Baby! -- so why don't I listen to them more? To be honest, I wore myself out on them. I have listened to War on cassette and later on CD enough times to number into the thousands. Same goes for the other CDs/tapes of those other albums. Plus, U2's foray into electronica with Zooropa and all that stuff kind of lost me for a while. I really did not like that album, even though it's eminently more listenable today than it was at the time.

Nonetheless, the fact that one of my favorite albums of all time is now 30 years old is a bit frightening in a mortality sort of way. 

Night Owl, thanks for the great cards.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Buying from Brent with The Music Machine

I've mentioned it before that I've purchased a fair amount this year from Brent Williams on eBay. Pretty much any set where I was not in a break, I was picking up team sets and sometimes parallels from Brent through eBay. As I have bought more frequently, Brent has seemed to pack the packages up to me more quickly.

This time, I got some Stadium Club and some Allen & Ginter. 

You know me well, though, if you think I need music to go with it. I mean, I even snuck in a marching band video in the Ray Nitschke post to get music in there. And the fun thing? After that last post where I took Ray Peters's suggestions for music, he sent me a few more names of bands. The first one I listened to blew me away -- so I felt like I wanted to share a few songs from Sean Bonniwell and his band, The Music Machine.

"Sufferin' Succotash"


This song is listed as being a previously unreleased demo by the person who posted it on YouTube. It was released as part of the 1999 compilation album called Turn On: The Best of the Music Machine, which included the original Turn On album and a bonus disc of unissued material, including two vintage TV performances. 

I'll admit that I had never listed to The Music Machine before Ray mentioned them in his recent email. My first thought was, "Holy crap, this is where punk music came from." Then, I read the Wikipedia article on them, and they are referred to as being "proto-punk" and "one of the groundbreaking acts of the 1960s." 

The group started off in the folk music scene in California, starting with Bonniwell's background as a folk singer. Then, Bonniwell, along with Keith Olsen and Ron Edgar, formed a folk trio called the Wayfarers. That sound petered out, so they became the Raggamuffins, playing with a more unorthodox style. Then, in early 1966, they decided to expand the group to a quintet and added Mark Landon and Doug Rhodes to become the Music Machine.


Sufferin' succotash -- it's Ryan Braun in Stadium Club! It's three variations of the card -- the base, the black foil, and the gold foil. Most everyone in the hobby knows that Susan Lulgjuraj a/k/a Sooz a/k/a Yanxchick is one of the minds and sets of eyes behind the Stadium Club set in terms of photo selection. I have to thank her for the fact that she chose a Ryan Braun card that doesn't have bulging eyes. That's two years in a row that Sooz picked a Braun photo that was actually fairly complimentary. 

So, thanks, Sooz!

"No Girl Gonna Cry"


"No Girl Gonna Cry" is another of those B-sides that did not get released during The Music Machine's heyday but, instead, was simply a great song. There's a brief intro from Halliwell on this song that says he hopes the listener finds it "interesting." I definitely do. This song would fit in well on a Ramones album right after "I Wanna Be Sedated."

Interestingly, those who knew Bonniwell found him to be an extremely engaging person. As this blogpost from 2012 recounts, the writer first heard "No Girl Gonna Cry" when he let a German traveler crash on his living room floor. The German had found Bonniwell in California. Bonniwell gave the traveler a tape of unreleased songs, demos, and alternative versions of Music Machine songs, and it included this song.


The rest of my purchases from Brent are from Allen & Ginter. A&G was one in a long line of recent Topps releases which essentially told Brewers fans, "give us your money so you can get dozens of Yankees and screw you, you midwestern asses." Okay, perhaps the last part is a bit excessive. 

When I got back into collecting in 2014, I really liked A&G and Archives. I liked the mix of people in A&G, along with a decent number of Brewers being included in the set. This year pretty much killed my appreciation of both of those sets. Oh well. I'll just pick up team sets of these uninspiring cards (and the bottom card, which is one of those foil background cards) and ignore the packs in the stores...despite really wanting to have a reason to buy the packs in the stores.

"Talk Talk"


"Talk Talk" was The Music Machine's big hit, charting as high as number 15 on the Billboard charts. Clocking in at just under 2 minutes (1:56), it is considered a garage rock classic.

Sean Bonniwell passed away in Visalia, California, on December 20, 2011 from lung cancer at the age of 71. He remained active musically his entire life despite being so displeased with how little his label supported his solo album in 1969 that he left the music industry completely. He went on a spiritual quest, travelling around the country in a VW bus in what he called his "transcendentalized western guru period." 

It's funny -- all you have to do is listen to their music to hear how much influence their sound had on later bands. Yet, it's rare to hear them referred to these days. 

But, at least Marky Ramone admits that "Talk Talk" is one of his 5 favorite punk songs (along with the Kinks, The Trashmen, Love, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids).


Yes, this is a complete Allen & Ginter X team set. 

I'm hopeful that the Brewers might get a bit more respect from Topps next year. After all, no one thought they would stick close with the Cubs this year. Heck, the Brewers may yet make the playoffs. If that happened, would Milwaukee get more cards in next year's A&G set?

Probably. I'd bet they'd get at least 4 cards. At least.