Monday, March 30, 2015

"Faith, Hope & Charity": Cards from Bob Walk the Plank

Writer's block is a weird thing.  For me, it usually applies in one of two ways. Sometimes, I'm uninspired to write or blog. In those times, either I plow through and write something that probably feels as uninspiring to read as it was to write, or I just don't write at all. Other times, I have writer's block because I know that I have a very difficult, uphill argument to write. That issue alone can make it difficult to get inspired, so writer's block in that case is often just avoidance.

Lately, I have had some writer's block when it comes to work but not to blogging. I feel very inspired by my hobby currently, while my work has a few difficult arguments to handle right now.  

The inspiration here, though, is easy to come by. Fellow bloggers keep sending me such excellent envelopes filled with cards that blogging is fun.  It keeps me thinking about ways to talk about the cards that are more than just, "hey, look, got these. Thanks." There's nothing wrong with that, but I like themes for my posts.

Today's theme came as the result of a problem posed to me by Matt of Bob Walk the Plank. You see, he sent me a Robin Yount card that I really needed, but, it came with this note:

What is a guy to do when his player collection is trapped inside lucite with an interloper? 

I didn't use a paper clip, like MacGyver would have, but I did free the Yount card from his plastic prison.  That act, though, inspired me to use titles of MacGyver episodes to present the cards.

Back in the decade and a half when the Astros were in the NL Central, that would have been a fair assessment of the Astros from the Brewers perspective...if the Brewers really mattered at that point.  So, here's Mike Scott in the lucite lockup that Yount left behind:

Yes, it's a Topps Pristine from 2005, serial numbered to 549.  Bru, do you want this? Otherwise, it is up for grabs and features the shiniest looking sunglasses/glasses I've ever seen on a card.  It's downright eerie sometimes.  I had to put it into a box so the light wouldn't reflect in my face.


Oops. Didn't show the Yount!

The Brewers tried to get Richie Sexson to agree to a contract extension.  When it became apparent that Sexson would not sign, the Brewers traded him to the Diamondbacks and unleashed the power of the Overbay in Milwaukee.

Of course, both the team and the player would tell you that this was all strictly business. It's disappointing when a player you like is pushed out the door before he is shoved, but it happens.  Remember -- we cheer for laundry or, in this case, white and blue swatches of fabric.

This humorous plot synopsis tells us that the episode was about an awkward female hacker who is wanted by both the US Government and the bad guys because she can crack the launch code on some top secret missiles.  Awkward?

While not a female hacker Johnny Estrada was an awkward stopgap at catcher for the Brewers.  Estrada stayed in Milwaukee for just one season and came over in one of the Brewers/Diamondbacks trades from that mid-2000s time period (Estrada, Greg Aquino and Claudio Vargas for Doug Davis, Dana Eveland, and Dave Krynzel was this one).  Estrada's batting average was so empty and bereft of value (.278/.296/.403 slash line in 2007...) that the Brewers traded him to the Mets for Guillermo Mota and replaced Estrada with the late career Jason Kendall.  You know -- the Jason Kendall with a SLG south of .325.  

So, yeah, kinda awkward.  Everyone was waiting on Lucroy, after all.

Hindsight is great -- we all say, "yeah, well, hindsight is 20/20 vision." It's easy to second guess things when you know the result that will follow, after all.  

A perfect example of this is Jose Capellan.  Throughout his minor league career with the Braves, Capellan was a starter who tended to put up some very good peripheral numbers. The trade that brought Capellan to Milwaukee -- Capellan and a minor leaguer for Danny Kolb -- seemed like a steal at the time.  With hindsight, we know that neither club truly did all that well in the process.  

Kolb was the Braves closer in 2005 on the heels of his All-Star season in 2004 (hey, everyone gets a representative!), but a look at Kolb's peripheral numbers screamed "DANGER!"  Those numbers: 3.3 K/9 in 2004 as a closer with a FIP a full run higher than his ERA.  He sucked.  Trust me. I saw a lot of those games.

For his part, Capellan spent part of 2005 with Milwaukee in the bullpen.  The Brewers saw his stuff and said, "This guy is a reliever." 71-2/3 innings of 4.40 pitching and a FIP of 4.95 said otherwise.  Unhappy in 2007, Capellan demanded a trade. By the end of 2008 at the age of 27, Capellan would never return to the big leagues.  He last pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2013 for Tigres de Aragua.

The plot summary on VUDU is short and to the point: "In Chicago, MacGyver tries to help Roxy, an old friend, during her shoot of a Rock Against Drugs video. She believes her twin sister is trying to kill her, fueled by jealousy over her music career."

Rock Against Drugs?  Two Times Trouble?

We get two cards of Ryan Braun, of course. Now these two cards are hardly trouble, but Braun's two issues with steroid accusations/positive tests somehow makes this far more perfect than I could have expected based solely on the episode title.  The Prizm is a "42 parallel" meaning that it is numbered to 42.  I guess that makes it the meaning of life.

Matt, thank you very much for the cards and for the excuse to link to a bunch of dodgy websites with questionable claims as to the legality of hosting complete episodes of MacGyver.  

In all seriousness, your generosity is just incredible, and I greatly appreciate the cards.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Group Trade/Box Break: Subjectively Great

With my recent job change, I have been attending a number of networking events. Networking can seem painful at times -- being the new guy means you are never sure whether the person you are talking to is a good person or a schmuck.  

Being the new guy, though, means I have to put more work in at these events. I want to make a good first impression on people so that they will be happy to talk to me at another event, to introduce me to someone that they think would be a good contact, or to think of me when they need a lawyer.

While the interpersonal dynamics are different online, there is not that much difference when it comes to the blogging community.  It takes time to build up a network, to build up trust in others that you will be as generous as they are when it comes to trading, and that you can be trusted to be honest and, frankly, to be the person you say you are.  As in the "real" world, it can take a long time to build up a good reputation, and that reputation can be ruined quickly.

Someone who understands how blogger networking works is Brian from the still-fairly new Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary.  To make a big splash and build up trading partners immediately, Brian did what he called a Group Trade Box Break: he opened boxes of 1996 Pinnacle, 1999 Fleer Ultra, 2002 Topps Gallery, 2002 Fleer Greats, and 2003 Topps Stadium Club and offered up teams to anyone who would send him cards from the years between 1995 and 2004.  I joined in and got a great bunch of cards in return.  

To highlight the cards I got and because keeping with the "networking" theme would be tedious, I'm going with my old, reliable "music from that year" theme.

The year 1983 was in the days where we were transitioning from the late 1970s-early 1980s disco dancing into a weird melange of electronica, reggae, soft rock, and imported one-hit wonders such as Taco:

Baseball cards in 1983 was a year of transition as well. It was the year when Fleer and Donruss went all in with respect to starting to produce multiple sets in multiple formats -- and not just those full size "star stickers" that Fleer had.  It also had some imports, though it's unfair to call an O-Pee-Chee card of Jim Gantner a one-hit wonder:

Music started fracturing into more subgenres in 1987 than before.  One of the major chart influences that year came from the rising popularity of hair metal.  Yes, metal bands had enjoyed some chart success in the past -- notably Van Halen in 1984 with "Jump" -- but 1987 saw the emergence of Bon Jovi as a chart force -- notably, the number 10 hit of the year and now a required karaoke sing-along song:

Baseball in 1987 was dominated by a sudden surge in home run hitting -- you know, the year that Wade Boggs hit 24 homers and then never again hit any more than 11 in any one season.  Leading the way for the Brewers was Rob Deer:

Hip hop dominated the charts in 1992.  Admittedly, I listed to very little of it -- except "Tennessee" by Arrested Development...because I was going to college there in 1992:

Baseball cards were in the midst of the overproduction era. Topps (and everyone else) started pushing as many gimmicks as they could to keep their bottom line going up.  This included issuing "1993 Pre-Production Sample" cards for certain players, including Gary Carter, for the supposed reason of raising interest in the next year's set:

The first time I heard the #1 song of 1996, I was in Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, waiting for the women's soccer bronze medal game to begin.  I can't recall how I got tickets for the two women's medal games -- I think a friend got some and offered me one. It is still one of my favorite sports memories to say that I was able to see my country win a gold medal in the Olympics in person when, in the second game of the doubleheader, the US beat China 2-1 in front of 77,000 people.  That song?


I was pretty out of the loop in 1996, with the good reason for that being that I finished my first year of law school that year and started my second year.  So, please forgive me for not having seen these Pinnacle cards in person before:

By 2002, music had fractured completely into rap, alternative, country, pop, and dance. Looking at the Top 10 hits from that year is just a mess.  I mean, Nickelback had the number 1 song of the year!  Of that top 10, though, I can find two songs I listened to without cringing.  #10 was "Blurry" by Puddle of Mudd and number 7 was this song:

That song hit home for me that year because I went through a pretty tough breakup from a woman I dated for a year.  So, in the end, it really didn't matter.  

On the other hand, Paul Molitor's baseball career mattered a lot:

By 2006, the alternative music I favored had itself splintered into more mainstream alternative, emo music, and electronica dug in as well.  Looking at the list of Top 100 songs from that year, I can recall hearing about 15 of them...and that includes songs I heard only years later.  My 2006? I was in my own little world musically, but I did like this song featuring an Atlanta resident/native:

Topps's 2006 Allen & Ginter was the original offering for the set, and it arguably is the nicest looking version:

Last year's musical chart actually had more songs on it that I liked than many previous years did. I couldn't possibly use Bastille's "Pompeii" again here, even if it is the highest charting song that I really liked.  So, the following song came in at #23 -- a song that I saw Jennifer Nettles cover live in a concert I took my wife to see last year for Valentine's Day:

To follow that cross-over hit, how about a blue-bordered and serial numbered card?

Brian threw in a couple of hits in the baseball card sense as well that need to be highlighted as well:

Two former Brewers -- one at the beginning of his career, one at the end -- who are both known or remembered for their play with other teams.  Sort of like the music from this earworm:

I shouldn't end a post about Brian's very original (to me) idea of a group-break-trade with such a derivative song (as per the jury; musicians disagree and, for the sake of musical composition, I hope that verdict gets overturned), but there it is.

Thank you, Brian, for the great cards and the great idea.  Welcome to the blogger group....which is a group I'm still working on being a part of!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Don't Get Too Comfortable There: Cards from ARPSmith

I've talked some in the past about how the Milwaukee Brewers moved Paul Molitor from position to position. Molitor was a good enough athlete to pull off the moves defensively, but it probably contributed to the injury problems that he had in the 1980s.  It got me to thinking about how the Brewers seem to have moved many of their better players around the diamond with incredibly frequency.

Using some cards from a trade package that came in from ARPSmith's Sportscard Obsession, I'm going to highlight a few of those players who stayed around a while in Milwaukee but always seemed to be learning new positions "to help the team."

1.  Paul Molitor
As the cards made clear in yesterday's post and like a lot of the best players in major league history, Paul Molitor began his baseball life as a shortstop.  

The reason for that is simple: teams in little league and high school start by putting their best players generally in one of two positions: shortstop and pitcher.  If the kid can't field well at short but hits a ton, he ends up in the outfield or at a corner infield position.  If the kid has a great arm but can't field at short well enough and isn't a great pitcher, that can mean getting put at catcher.

Molitor came up as a shortstop to fill in for Robin Yount in 1978 when Yount was injured and contemplating a pro golf career.  When Yount returned, Molitor was moved to second base and, later, even got a start a third base that year. Second, though, was his primary position for his first three years in the major leagues.  Then, as Daniel Okrent's excellent book Nine Innings mentioned, the Brewers realized in 1980 during one of Molitor's early stays on the disabled list that Jim Gantner was a better fielding second baseman.  

So, in 1981, Molitor came to spring training and started learning to play centerfield.  That allowed Molitor to get out of the middle infield and to move Gorman Thomas -- never a swift man -- to right field.  The move, though, was a disaster because all it succeeded in doing was taking Molitor's focus away from hitting the ball well and, further, pissing Thomas off. When the strike ended and Molitor recovered from an ankle injury he had suffered early in 1981, he was moved to right field.

Come spring training in 1982, Molitor was told he was going to be the third baseman (thanks in large part to Roy Howell being a horrible free agent signing).  Molitor was tired of being moved around and was assured by owner Bud Selig that the move would be his last.


While a move to DH wasn't a major move, by the time 1990 rolled around, he was learning first base -- both to keep his bat in the lineup with new acquisition Dave Parker in town and because the Brewers had whiffed on another big acquisition (Greg Brock) not being what he was cracked up to be.  After 1990, Molitor only appeared at DH or first, and, after 1992, he made his appearances on the field for teams other than Milwaukee.

2.  Charlie Moore

While his moves were not nearly as dramatic, Charlie Moore also found himself being switched amongst positions to make room for new players coming on board.  Moore came up as a catcher, but his athleticism allowed him to play a corner outfield role as well. His bat was not good enough to be a corner outfielder, though, so he served as a backup catcher even when starting as a outfielder.  

Two of the three years in which he played the most games in his career -- 1982 and 1983 -- featured him as the primary starting rightfielder because Ted Simmons was acquired from St. Louis in 1981 to be the starting catcher.  The Brewers had sufficient pop in those lineups from other positions to carry him.

3.  Jim Gantner

Gantner came to the major leagues as a third baseman in 1976.  That was back in the days when third basemen who were hitters first (or at least third basemen that were expected to be good hitters) were considered something of a novelty.  Gantner got his first real chance to play second in 1978 alongside Paul Molitor during Robin Yount's injury, and he did a very good job.  He was more of a utility infielder at that point, though, filling in wherever he was needed, and he was not considered a starter until 1980 with Molitor's injury.

From 1981 through 1984, Gantner played only at second base.  As he aged and new players came up, Gantner primarily played second but started appearing against at third, in a few innings at short, and, in what can only be seen as desperation or ridiculousness, as the designated hitter in nine games (2 starts).

4.  B.J. Surhoff
Surhoff famously was the first overall pick in the 1985 June Draft -- ahead of Will Clark, Barry Larkin, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro (in just the first round) and Randy Johnson (round 2).  Surhoff was drafted as a shortstop out of the University of North Carolina, though he was destined to play just three innings at that position in the major leagues. 

The Brewers put him at catcher, and that's where he spent much of his Milwaukee career (playing 704 total games there).  Like Molitor before him, Surhoff was a good enough athlete such that he found himself being moved around the diamond to make room for other players coming in.  So, in 1993 and for an absolutely dire Milwaukee team (69-93 record), the Brewers brought up Dave Nilsson to be their starting catcher and installed Surhoff as the starting third baseman.

Unsurprisingly, Surhoff spent much of 1994 on the disabled list with shoulder and abdomen injuries. In the meantime, the Brewers signed Kevin Seitzer as a free agent and, in addition, brought up prospect Jeff Cirillo.  

So, in 1995 and in Surhoff's last year as a Brewer, he played 55 games at first, 54 games in left field, 18 games at catcher, 9 games in right field, and 3 games in center (along with 3 games at DH, 5 games as a pinch hitter, and 2 games as a pinch runner). Given the opportunity to get out of town as a free agent after the 1995 season, Surhoff did just that -- joining the Baltimore Orioles where, in 1999, he enjoyed his only all-star season as a major leaguer while serving as the Orioles starting left fielder.

5.  Dave Nilsson
Nilsson's moves around the diamond weren't nearly as rapid or as dramatic as Molitor's or Surhoff's moves, but he too went through a number of positions.  In his 8 seasons as a Brewer, he made 309 appearances at catcher, 166 appearances at first, 163 appearances as the designated hitter, 105 appearances in right field, and 80 appearances in left.  

I'm only surprised that he wasn't tried at third base.

6.  Ryan Braun

Braun's positional changes are based more around the fact that Braun was an outright dumpster fire as a third baseman. His fielding at third made Charlie Dorn in the beginning of Major League look like Brooks Robinson.  It was that bad.  Even using the "old-fashioned" fielding percentage metric, he was horrible -- an .895 fielding percentage means he made errors on more than 10% of all balls hit his direction in 2007.  Fangraphs put him as being 42.8 runs below average over 150 defensive games at third that year.

No wonder he was put in left field.  There, he was competent -- just 3.7 runs below average per 150 games over 7071-1/3 innings in left.  He was okay in right field last year as well.

There is talk -- as well there should be -- about moving him to first base. The Brewers have a number of decent outfield prospects but have literally no one of any merit at first base. Frankly, the Brewers never replaced Prince Fielder, and they should have thought about moving Braun to first shortly after Prince left in 2011 and, then, keeping Norichika Aoki for another year or two instead of employing a dead rat and a ham sandwich in the form of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds at first.

These guys didn't change positions, but these cards need to be shared
Speaking of Prince Fielder...people frequently claimed that Fielder was a better athlete than people would otherwise believe when looking at his physique. That's all well and good, but he isn't such a good athlete that any team has been willing to put him anywhere but his natural positions of first base and designated hitter.

The Brewers hoped that Mat Gamel would replace Fielder at first base in 2012 after Fielder left.  Gamel was moving around the diamond in the minor leagues trying to find a position he could field. He tried third base and put up fielding numbers that made Ryan Braun look like a Gold Glove candidate -- for example, an .826 fielding percentage in the Florida State League at Brevard County in 2007 (53 errors in 305 chances) means that he did not make the play on almost 18% of the balls hit his direction.  Gamel tore up his knee, and by 2013, the Brewers started former shortstop Alex Gonzalez at first base on Opening Day.

Adam, thank you for the great cards that you sent to me. They are greatly appreciated, and I'll have another package for you soon!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Imploding Want Lists: Incoming Cards from "Remember the Astrodome"

My headline is misleading. The Astrodome has not been imploded -- just some ramps that were added in 1989 to ease internal traffic in the concourses and to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The "Eighth Wonder of the World" opened to great fanfare in 1965 -- a symbol that man could build buildings which would allow baseball to be played in the syrupy humid, regularly raining, and stultifying hot climate that is Houston, Texas, by creating an indoor stadium that is air conditioned, dehumidified (somewhat), and, eventually, employed fake grass (since real grass would not grow in the Dome).  

The Dome was a trendsetter.  Within 15 years, circular multipurpose domes popped up in Detroit, New Orleans, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis.  The Dome was also the first to feature an animated scoreboard -- a feature which sounds quaint in today's "largest HD screen on the face of the planet" systems such as the one in Jacksonville's EverBank Field.

This year -- specifically, April 9 -- marks the 50th anniversary of the Astrodome's opening. Despite being closed for building code violations in 2008 by the City of Houston, no one knows quite what to do with the building. 

Voters in Houston in 2013 turned down a bond referendum that would have provided money enough to turn the Astrodome into a multipurpose entertainment facility. Yet, neither implosion nor demolition appear to be in the cards, as even that option would cost a significant amount of money.  Noted land use think-tank The Urban Land Institute yesterday released its report that made several recommendations regarding the Astrodome's future.  It does not sound much different than previous recommendations, which means it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement.  

Still, it's worth saving in many people's eyes. Indeed, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the Astrodome to its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2013.  Rest assured, something will be done with the Dome soon -- the adjacent "NRG Stadium," the corporate-sponsored home of the Houston Texans that sits right next door to the Astrodome, is scheduled to host the 51st Super Bowl in 2017.  The City of Houston does not want a derelict hulk next door.  

But what will be done?  What should be done?

In the spirit of revitalization -- and to end what might be my most labored introduction to a trade post ever -- I received a great bunch of cards from Bru, the man responsible for putting me on the National Trust for Historic Preservation website, for his excellent blog, Remember the Astrodome.  Nearly a month ago now, I received an incredible package of cards from Bru with the following note:

Houston's loss of a card shop turned into a MAJOR gain for me.  How major?  Let's start with the recent cards -- which, to be fair, were certainly the lesser lights in this package.

The Segura is just a regular Topps Heritage card -- one I did not have, of course, but just a base card.  The Lohse is the Blue serial numbered Opening Day Parallel from last year. Again, another card I did not have. 

I've told on myself sometimes in the past that, as a little kid in the late 1970s, my cards were toys and not "save the card good condition money money money value worth something some day" as cards became later.  So, a lot of my cards from as late as 1982 had some wear and tear that necessitates some upgrades.

So, Bru helped there too.  A couple of 1982 Donruss cards to help upgrade a Hall of Famer and add the Brewers' first Diamond King to my team collection:

Gorman was all about those homers.  And, let's be fair -- in 1982, Dick Perez still had his fastball in terms of his drawing ability.  He scribbled those suckers out as time passed, and the players started looking more like the Panini Triple Play stickers from 2012 than like themselves.  But 1982 -- even though it was just the start -- were some of the best.

Bru also upgraded a ton of 1979 cards for me:

Not a bad haul at-- wait, there's more?

Oh yes, there is more.  A second year card of Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.  At some point in the near future, I am going to feel the need to look into the incessant position shifting that the Brewers seem to enjoy putting their best players through, but note for now that Molitor came up as a shortstop.

Bru also sent a card from 1975 that I needed to complete my team set from Topps Regular Sized from that year:

Where's that kid who drew the beards on the rookie pitchers to fix this card?  There's all kinds of weird going on here.  Gorman Thomas being clean shaven.  Gorman Thomas wearing #44 -- and yes, he wore it just before Hank Aaron joined the team.  Thomas then switched to #3 -- visible on his 1977 card -- before switching to his later trademark #20.  

In many trade packages either the 1979 Molitor or the 1975 Thomas would be the piece de resistance.  But not when we are talking about remembering an iconic building such as the Astrodome.  Oh no. 

Remember, Paul Molitor came up as a Shortstop.  So did Alan Trammell and the very aptly named Mickey Klutts and the for-once toothpick-less U.L. Washington.  

When I laid eyes on this card -- the last one I needed for my 1978 Topps Brewers team set -- I was blown away. The card I have in my Molitor PC is the same one I have had since 1978, and it was always a cherished card because of that fact.  From the earliest date that I had real 9-pocket sheets -- sideloaders, in fact -- that Molitor card was always in the sheets.  

And now, thanks to Bru, I have two.

Bru, thank you for the great package of cards and for the excuse to dig into things like urban preservation issues!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Tweet Trade with @nmhdogg33

Imagine it's 1985 again.  In 1985 -- 30 years ago -- many of you weren't born or were so young that you really have no recollection of that year.  

For those of us who can remember that time (I was 13 years old and turned 14, so I definitely recall it), there are a number of things about that year that are reasonably similar to life now.  Cable TV had expanded to most cities and towns in a primordial form, and already wives and mothers were complaining about husbands and sons flipping through forty channels and not being able to find anything to watch.  

Still, technology had advanced far enough to where it was not out of the realm of understanding that we would one day be able to communicate by computer. I mean, just five years after that -- in 1990 -- I had my first e-mail address when I got to college.  

But, you would have been hard-pressed to imagine the ubiquitous nature of social media. The very thought of Facebook would have absolutely blown my mind in 1985, and I probably would have thought that Twitter was pointless -- what can you possibly say of any importance in 140 characters?

We've come a long way.

Now, we chat back and forth @ each other, with others joining in the conversation sometimes. We repeat by retweeting, we reinforce others by favoriting, and we sometimes feed the trolls 140 characters at a time.  

I get much of my news -- sports and otherwise -- from it.  If I see someone's name trending, I assume either that they died, signed a new contract, or hit 3 homers in a game.  But I click on it.  

A couple of weeks back, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a tweet that interested me:

RT for a chance to win this 1987 Sportlics Paul Molitor card. . Will pick winner SAT

I retweeted this and another tweet from Nathan where he was giving away a Robin Yount Sportflics card, and I was the winner!

Here both cards are:

Yeah, Sportflics still don't scan very well.

This turned into a trade when I sent Nathan some cards of one of his guys -- Andre Dawson. Thanks for the cards, Nathan, and enjoy the Dawsons.  

Maybe even tweet about them.