Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meet The Brewers #35: Bob Humphreys

Marvin Milkes' track record as a General Manager left a lot to be desired. I have noted before how he seemed to confuse activity for progress and began shifting players in and out in Milwaukee and, a year earlier, Seattle like an ADHD kid who didn't take his Ritalin. I mean, Milkes is the guy who decided that Lou Piniella would be of no use to the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and traded him to Kansas City for John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker. Piniella then was named Rookie of the Year for 1969 (even if Ken Tatum and Mike Nagy both probably were better choices).

Another series of transactions in 1970 for Milwaukee might fall under that same category. Milkes chopped and changed out pitchers and hitters seemingly randomly. The team picked up three pinch-hitters (as noted in the Tito Francona post) around the June 15 trading deadline. At the same time, the team sent Ray Peters down to the minors, sold John O'Donoghue to Montreal and Bob Locker to Oakland, and then signed Brewer #35, Bob Humphreys, as a free agent after the Washington Senators released the 34-year-old.

1971 Topps
Robert William Humphreys was born in Covington, Virginia, on August 18, 1935. Covington is in the middle of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest along Interstate 64, about 15 miles from the West Virginia State Line and about 45 minutes from Lexington, Virginia (the home of Washington & Lee University). His family migrated southward -- moving closer to Roanoke -- where he graduated high school in Montvale, Virginia. He then attended Hampden-Sydney College -- an all-male military college about an hour away -- and starred in both baseball and basketball.

Humphreys is a smaller guy -- under 6' tall -- so he relied on intelligence and guile as a pitcher. He was never a fireballer, and more than once he was told he had no chance to be a major leaguer. In fact, as his SABR biography begins, he once wrote "YOU CAN'T MAKE IT!" on his glove wristband after being told that by a major-league talent evaluator.

But, he did make it. He signed as an amateur free agent out of college in 1958 with Detroit and got to the major leagues in September of 1962 at the age of 27 years old. The next spring training, his contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals. That was fortuitous for Humphreys, as it meant that he got a World Series Champions ring in 1964 as part of the Cardinal team that overhauled Gene Mauch's collapsing Phillies and then beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
1971 Dell Today's 1971 Milwaukee Brewers
Most of Humphreys's career was spent as a member of the second incarnation of the Washington Senators. He got there by way of the Chicago Cubs, who obtained the rights to his services thanks to a trade with St. Louis in the spring of 1965. The Sens traded for him in April of 1966 and kept him until Humphreys was released on June 13, 1970.

As his career progressed, he suffered through various arm injuries and ailments. For example, in 1965, he hurt his elbow. Rather than that being the death knell for his career, he changed his pitching to incorporate a slider and cutter taught to him by Tigers teammate Frank Lary. Later in his career, when his shoulder started hurting, he learned a knuckleball from a teammate in the Cardinals minor league system, Bobby Tiefenauer. When he arrived in Milwaukee, manager Dave Bristol told Humphreys to rely on the knuckler.

For most of his career, Humphreys was a reliever. He started just 4 games in his career. Oddly enough, one of those four starts was his final appearance as a major leaguer: Game 2 of a doubleheader between the Brewers and the Chicago White Sox before 3,826 of the White Sox' closest friends at Comiskey Park on September 25, 1970. Humphreys pitched five innings and got the win in that game.

He was released by the Brewers at the end of spring training in 1971 before being signed to a minor league contract. He pitched terribly there -- 7.11 ERA in 19 innings (14 walks, 10 strikeouts) -- and asked for his release as a result. That request was granted and that was the end of his playing career.

1994 Miller Commemorative Set
If you have looked at the three cards I have here, you might be wondering why Humphreys appears to be so old on his 1994 Miller Brewing commemorative set card. That would likely be because of what he did after his career ended. He spent five years as the head coach at Virginia Tech before joining the Toronto Blue Jays for five more years as a minor league instructor. 

But then, starting in 1984 and extending all the way through 1995, he was in the Milwaukee Brewers front office. He served through 1994 as coordinator of player development and then two seasons as the coordinator of pitching and field development in 1994 and 1995. As the great St. Louis Cardinals site Retro Simba mentions, Humphreys served as a mentor to long-time Cardinals catcher and current Cardinals manager Mike Matheny while Matheny was coming up with the Brewers. 

Humphreys later coached a year at Hampden-Sydney before returning to the minor leagues with the Cardinals. These days and at the age of 81, he is still involved with teaching youngsters baseball, as he is a pitching mentor with Home Run Club Virginia, an organization owned by one of Humphreys' former Hokie players, Orvin Kiser. Another two familiar names to baseball fans are attached to this organization: former Astros pinch-hitter extraordinaire Denny Walling and former big-league pitcher Tom House.

Based on what Trading Card DB has available, I have three of the four Bob Humphreys cards showing him as a Brewer. I am missing the 1971 O-Pee-Chee card of him.

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Motion for Reconsideration

Lawyers like to file motions. When we do it, we are asking the Court to do something. We are literally saying to the Court that we would like the Court to act -- to move -- and do something that is to our client's benefit. So, we might file a Motion to Compel Responses to Discovery when the other side in litigation refuses to answer a particular question or produce certain documents. Or we might file a Motion to Dismiss a complaint if we want to test the sufficiency of the facts and allegations contained in the complaint.

Sometimes, we will even ask the court to think about the issues all over again. That is when we file a Motion for Reconsideration. We ask the Court to look at what was argued, try to add some new twist or citation to a case that the Court missed, and say that the Court's original decision -- how the Court approached the issues in a previous motion -- was wrong. 

The thing about these motions is that they rarely succeed. Courts do not simply "change their minds" -- the judge came to his/her decision for a reason. Courts hate these motions, too, because the motion says, in essence, "judge, you came to the wrong decision, and if you weren't such an idiot and found this case, you would have gotten it right."

These motions are not fun, and making a reconsideration of things and admitting that something went wrong is even less fun. 

And yet, I'm at that stage with my baseball card collecting.

I'm reconsidering how I am approaching collecting, what I'm collecting, and why I'm collecting. This is for a few reasons:

1.  Topps's Flagship Flogging 

Topps is taking all the fun out of new cards to me because all Topps seems interested in doing is extracting every last dime it can out of every collector while spending as little as possible.

Earlier this week, I did a count on the number of different avenues this year that Topps recycled the photos from their flagship set and design. Assuming we are talking about a player who appears in every Topps set, we are talking about nearly sixty different variations. That includes (you ready?): 

Flagship, Team Sets, Gold, Vintage Stock, Black, Pink, Platinum, Rainbow Foil, Clear, Framed, Black Printing Plate, Cyan Printing Plate, Magenta Printing Plate, Yellow Printing Plate, Black & White/Photo negative, Factory Set Sparkle Foil, All-Star Game Silver, 5x7 Red, 5x7 Blue, Chrome Sapphire, Chrome Sapphire 65th Anniversary, 10x14, 10x14 Gold, 65th Anniversary, Toys R Us Purple (1st Series only), Mini, Mini Blue, Mini Red, Mini Gold, Chrome, Chrome Refractors, Chrome Green Refractors, Chrome Orange Refractors, Chrome Red Refractors, Chrome SuperFractors, Chrome Black Plate, Chrome Cyan Plate, Chrome Magenta Plate, Chrome Yellow Plate, Chrome Prism Refractors, Chrome Black Refractors, Chrome Purple Refractors, Chrome Gold Refractors, Chrome Sepia Refractors, Chrome Pink Refractors, Chrome Blue Refractors, Chrome Blue Wave Refractors, Opening Day, Opening Day Blue Foil, Opening Day Purple Foil, Opening Day Black, Opening Day Black Printing Plate, Opening Day Cyan Printing Plate, Opening Day Magenta Printing Plate, Opening Day Yellow Printing Plate, Opening Day 10x14, Opening Day 10x14 Gold, Topps Holiday, and Topps Limited.

That, of course, does not include the multiple varieties of Topps's available factory sets -- which includes Hobby, Retail, Retail with an Ichiro Chrome insert, Retail with an Ichiro Coin Relic, Retail with a Mike Trout Chrome Insert, Retail with a Mike Trout Stamp Relic, and Retail with a Mike Trout Gold Stamp Relic. Those don't count separately above because the base set cards in each of these varieties are the same.

This also does not account for the fact that a truly complete flagship set includes one hundred five photo variations. It also does not account for the reuse of the same card design on the Update and Chrome Update sets.

Finally, it also does not account for all of the digital cards that use the same photos. For 2016, BUNT had one base card and 10 base card parallels. So, to be completely accurate, Topps actually used and recycled these photos literally seventy times.

2.  Why Would Topps Flog Its Flagship Photos?

The complaints about photo recycling on cards over the past several years are numerous. We collectors hate it when Topps is lazy like this. Using the same design on multiple products is just as annoying and boring and lazy.

Why would Topps do this? 

It's simple math, of course. Since it has been ages since Topps actually had its own photographers, Topps has a contract with Getty Images to get its photos. Getty charges Topps for each photo. I don't know how much Topps pays per photo -- it may be less than the $575 that you or I would pay for Editorial Rights, though I'd bet it is higher, since getting the rights for one photo for a double page cover spread with 1 million in circulation for 5 years would cost nearly $11,000

These numbers are what came up for this photo:

If we assume that Topps has a deal with Getty to pay Getty something very reasonable per image -- say $100, since Topps is agreeing to use Getty almost exclusively other than limited situations like that Ben Zobrist Topps Now card -- then your Topps Flagship base set without short printed photos costs Topps $70,000 in image rights to create. With the short-print photos, we're now looking at $80,500. In all likelihood, Topps is probably paying more per image than $100 but we are not privy to that information.

In any event, it is very much within Topps's monetary interest to recycle and reuse each image as much as possible. This includes using the same photos across the various products that Topps issues, which again is something that we collectors have complained about on multiple occasions. 

Then, add in the fact that it costs money for Topps to employ graphic design teams to come up with new card designs or to work on replicating old product designs. Reusing the same card design for multiple products allows the design cost to be spread over those products, including physical cards and the digital platform. This also reduces production costs, as replicating printing plates for the cards is made easier by having a template that can be adapted to multiple platforms fairly easily and reusing the flagship templates over and over and differentiating sets by applying gold foil.

It's lazy. It's all about the money. It's all about extracting as much money from those of us in the collecting world as much as Topps can. While I do not begrudge Topps making money, I do hold a grudge when Topps does it in a way that is ridiculously cheap while trying to play it off as being cool, innovative, and keeping the best interests of collectors in mind. They aren't doing that.

3. Tracking Parallels Is a Pain in the Ass

This goes without saying in many respects. I've been working on cataloguing my Bowman parallels. I was cruising right along up until I got to 2012. That's where things started breaking down and parallels started proliferating like rabbits in a cage. I've been trudging forward in fits and starts ever since.

4. Topps Is Focused on High-End Cards

Another reason that the Flagship images get flogged and repeated over and over is that Topps cares less and less about the average collector's experience and cares more about the "Sick Hitz" crowd who chase the high-end hits and buy stuff like that Topps Chrome Sapphire Edition set that costs just $1,500

5. The Fall Is Always a Time When My Focus Is Diverted

I know a lot of you are not college football fans. I am. I have season tickets for UGA Football -- a not inconsequential thing, since the cost for season tickets requires an annual contribution for each of my two seats over and above the actual cost of the tickets. Then, factor in that going to games for my wife and I leads to going to Athens the day before the game to meet up with her uncle and grandmother to have dinner. That means a hotel stay -- 2 days, in fact -- at the highest rack rate that Athens will allow for hotels. 

It's fun, and it's expensive. I wouldn't change it -- especially when you get moments like the one shown at about the 2 minute mark below.

In person, it was even cooler to see. That was our "Fourth Quarter" hype. It actually is pretty quiet in the stands, but the crowd goes nuts after it and so does the team. 

So, What Are You Saying?

What I'm really saying right now is that I'm in my late year doldrums. I am tired of fighting against Topps's continued exclusion of the Brewers from its sets -- such as including just one player in the "Holiday" set at Wal-Mart in a set of 200 cards and having ZERO players in the Chrome Update set...again. 

Topps's exclusive license in baseball has been terrible for collectors and good only for Topps. Topps has put less and less effort into its flagship sets and is more focused on the higher margins of selling JPEG files on its BUNT platform. That's why we have the set designs we have had for this year and next year. It's also why I would expect the number of reuses for the Topps photos/design from the flagship set to increase next year. It will be more and more gimmicks using the same cards -- perhaps a release of just a vintage stock set with the flagship design and incorporating Heritage gimmicks like gum "stains" and intentional errors?

I would put nothing by Topps.

That said, I'm still thinking about where I go with my collecting. One of the things I'm looking at focusing on is trying to add more of those police sets from the 1980s to my collection. In some respects, those sets are no different than the proliferating parallels that Topps has now -- same photo and only a minor difference in what police department/local business sponsored the set. But I enjoy that chase a lot more than the current chase.

The good thing here for me, though, is that I am judge and jury on my own motion. I can reconsider my collecting any time I want.

Yes, I'll still go after the base sets that Topps farts out each year. But, I'm going oddballing more and more now. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Topps Now: The Numbers

As the world changes and information becomes available at everyone's fingertips, a lot of companies have fallen way behind or by the wayside entirely. Nearly everyone who is old enough to have been able to turn on a computer in the 1990s probably used America Online to first get online. I certainly did. Yet, now, AOL struggles for relevance and the guy whose voice welcomed millions of us online (after the obligatory cracks and beeps of our modem connecting) now is an Uber driver in Ohio.

In our little world of baseball cards, the card companies, too, have struggled to stay relevant. Ever since the heyday of the early 1990s, companies like Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss/Playoff, Pinnacle/Score, MLB Showdown, and Topps have tried various gimmicks to get new collectors interested in cards. Let's be honest -- the new gimmicks were not really aimed at existing collectors, though if those things helped get people to buy more packs, then sure, that would work too.

The latest craze, of course, is Topps Now, which was so successful so quickly that Topps expanded it almost immediate from baseball into MLS, UFC, WWE, politics, and television shows I've never watched. Indeed, Topps is continuing to issue cards even today -- issuing cards for the Players Choice Awards (I guess issuing 18 for the Gold Gloves would have been too many, or maybe they didn't notice the Gold Gloves being awarded on the night of the election...morons in MLB).

Anyway, as many of you know, I've been tracking Topps Now. I tracked the cards all the way through the end of the regular season to tally up numbers on which teams were seen most frequently and which were ignored the most. I stopped at card 536 -- the "Giants clinch Final NL Wild Card Spot" card.

I was going to do more with it in terms of classifying the cards into "reasons for issuance" but man is classifying the reasons nebulous at best. Sometimes it would be just rookies hitting homers, sometimes it was a good pitching performance, sometimes it would be good pitching crossed with hitting, and sometimes it would be just a long home run. Throw in the cards for trades, retirements, all-stars, a no-hitter, and random cutesy stuff, and that became nearly impossible to track.

So, let's go to the lists instead, counting backwards from 30 to 1 in terms of fewest to most.

30. Arizona Diamondbacks: 2 cards

The Diamondbacks got only two cards all season -- Zack Greinke's 3-hit shutout for career win #150 on June 7 (281 purchased) and Paul Goldschmidt's walk-off homer on August 22 (294 purchased). Arizona finished 69-93 and cleaned house after the season, so perhaps the low number should not be a surprise. But the D-Backs did have 8 walkoff wins (including 3 out of 5 games in August on the 22nd, 24th, and 26th), so perhaps they should have gotten a few more.

29. Tampa Bay Rays: 3 cards

The only reason the Rays have three cards is that Matt Moore featured on the "Traded" card along with Jonathan Lucroy and others. The Rays had three walk-off wins, none of which featured on a Topps Now card.

28. Milwaukee Brewers: 6 cards

To get to 6, you have to include the Prince Fielder retirement card and the Jonathan Lucroy traded card. The other four were Aaron Hill, two team cards (one for the team's second triple play and one for scoring in every inning in a game in August), and one for Chris Carter hitting his 40th home run. The Brewers had only one walk-off win all year, and it was lost in the All-Star shuffle.

27. Toronto Blue Jays: 8 cards

Considering this team went to the playoffs, finished 89-73, and led the American League in attendance with 3,392,099 people at their games, it's hard to believe that they got only 8 cards. But it is pretty easy to understand why this might be: shipping costs to Canada being what they are might have limited sales of their cards. The top seller in the regular season was a Josh Donaldson card at 524. Still, there should be more.

26. Philadelphia Phillies: 9 cards

One of these was for having the first overall pick in Mickey Moniak. Three went to rookie pitchers. Ryan Howard only got one card.

24T. Oakland A's: 10 cards

Oakland gets to 10 by including Jimmy Foxx showing up on one of the 7,402 David Ortiz Now cards (more on that in a minute). 

24T. Cincinnati Reds: 10 cards

The Reds got to 10 by having a player on the traded card, a player on the "MLB Turn Back the Clock" card (#270), and with Frank Robinson showing up on an Albert Pujols milestone card.

23. Minnesota Twins: 13 Cards

The Twins count includes another Pujols milestone card (with Harmon Killebrew) and a card for the batting titles being renamed for Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.

21T. David Ortiz: 14 cards

Topps should have just had a separate ToppsNow program just for Ortiz. 

I don't know why I find that funny, but I do.

21T (for real). San Diego Padres: 14 cards
21T. Seattle Mariners: 14 cards

From here on out, I'm just going to comment where appropriate. I'd like to end this post tonight, after all.

19T. Atlanta Braves: 15 cards

The Atlanta Braves were absolutely terrible until literally the last month of the season and finished just 20.5 games worse record-wise than the Blue Jays. But they got 15 cards.

19T. Kansas City Royals: 15 cards

Topps paid attention to the Royals as long as they had to. Almost all of these cards were before the end of July. Also, the Royals were the only team to feature an insect.
18. Pittsburgh Pirates: 16 cards

This includes sharing the Eric Kratz card with the Astros and a Roberto Clemente appearance on an Ichiro card. 

16T. Chicago White Sox: 17 cards
16T. St. Louis Cardinals: 17 cards

One of the best rookies of the season was Aledmys Diaz of the Cardinals. The 25-year-old from Cuba was an All-Star immediately and hit 17 HRs while slashing .300/.369/.510. He got 2 cards, or as many as David Ortiz had in April.

14T. Detroit Tigers: 18 cards
14T Texas Rangers: 18 cards

That counts Prince Fielder on both teams, since his card showed him in all three uniforms he wore. It also includes an Al Kaline cameo on an Ichiro card.

13. Colorado Rockies: 19 cards

The Rockies finished two games better than Milwaukee, 6 games better than the Diamondbacks, 3 games worse than the Pirates, and 11 games worse than the Cardinals. But apparently it was a memorable season nonetheless, apparently. That might be because Trevor Story -- the Topps poster boy for April who signed off on a splashy exclusive signature contract shortly after a good start -- had 3 of the first 9 ToppsNow cards and 6 total before getting injured. Topps loved them some Trevor Story.

11T. Miami Marlins: 20 cards
11T Cleveland Indians: 20 cards

Is it surprising that the Indians were relatively ignored? Just six more cards than David Ortiz? I don't think it is. After all, Cleveland is in the Midwest and is not the Chicago Cubs.

The Marlins lept up the charts for cards thanks to the Ichiro-gasm around his 3000th hit (I'm not saying it was unjustified, mind you).

10. Baltimore Orioles: 23 cards

The Orioles had the same record as the Blue Jays -- 89-73. Mark Trumbo hit a lot of homers that ended up commemorated on cards. He appeared on 6 cards total.

9. San Francisco Giants: 24 cards

The Giants edged out the Orioles thanks to a Willie McCovey cameo on a David Ortiz card. 

8. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 25 cards

Lots of Albert Pujols in the set too. While I picked on David Ortiz for being on 14 cards, Pujols wasn't far behind -- he was on 11 of the Angels 25 total cards.

7. Houston Astros: 26 cards

Carlos Correa appeared on 8 cards, including one for a "dramatic walk-off single." Of course, that was in May, when seemingly every walk-off got a card.

6. Washington Nationals: 27 cards

This one is a little surprising with the star power on the team. Daniel Murphy appeared on five cards, Bryce Harper was on seven, and Max Scherzer was on just two. Of course, 27 cards is still a lot.

5. New York Mets: 31 cards

Yes, we're getting into the major media market teams now, i.e., the teams that Topps pushes because they sell cards and make money. Especially Bartolo Colon (5 cards), Curtis Granderson (4 cards), Noah Syndergaard (4 cards), and Yoenis Cespedes (3 cards). There are probably others with more here, but the Mets are fairly evenly dispersed.

3T: Los Angeles Dodgers: 34 cards
3T: New York Yankees: 34 cards

Clayton Kershaw was on 6 cards. 

Gary Sanchez was on eleven, and that doesn't count the two different relic cards Sanchez had. That is 11 cards for fifty-three games in which he played in 2016.

Look, Sanchez was excellent in his first 55 MLB games (his 0-for-2 in 2 games last year getting factored in there by me...not sure if Topps did), hitting 20 homers in 201 at bats. He's 23, so maybe this is a new level of performance for him. It is not, however, consistent with his minor league performance. Just saying.

2.  Chicago Cubs: 40 cards

Kris Bryant was on 8 cards. Gary Sanchez was on 11. I think Topps overdid the Gary Sanchez. 

1. Boston Red Sox: 42 cards

It should come as no surprise that the Red Sox got so many cards. David Ortiz's retirement after an excellent season helped that, as did the young talents like Mookie Betts, Yoan Moncada, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. Hell, Andrew Benintendi got more cards (3) than the Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt got.

Topps pushed the Red Sox, though -- the Sox appeared on the Father's Day card, the Turn Back the Clock card, and the September 11 card -- oddly enough, from Rogers Centre in Toronto -- in addition to their own player cards.

These numbers should not be surprising, in the end. The better teams get publicity and accolades and have more positive moments than the bad teams do. But I can't help but feel that Topps is infected with some of that elitist bias on which some people are blaming Hillary Clinton's election loss. 

For Topps, it's being based in New York City that leads to a lot of groupthink about what games or events are worthy of being on cards. Yes, I get it -- it's about the money. But even the least purchased baseball Topps Now card (my man Chris Carter's card #523 sold just 178 cards) would be the second highest selling Topps Now MLS card, being behind only Frank Lampard's hat trick for NYCFC selling 255 cards on July 31 (The lowest selling? Toronto FC's first playoff win sold a terrible 34 cards on October 26).  At $10 a card, Topps is still making almost $1800 (gross, not net) on the Chris Carter card. 

As always, Topps can do better. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Thanks Again to Matt from BWTP!

It has to get boring to Matt from Bob Walk the Plank to read all the thanks and kudos and homilies about the cards that he douses all of us in the blog world with. I mean, is there a blogger out there who has made Matt aware of his/her presence that Matt has not sent cards to? 

It had been a while for me in getting cards from Matt. That's my fault, really, since I have been serving as opposing counsel to him in his war with JBF. It's also my fault because I let my supply of padded envelopes disappear, leaving me unable to get many things out in the mail to anyone. 

But I did get a little envelope recently from Matt. As always, it had some fantastic cards inside. I'm in a musical mood today -- perhaps it should be more sturm und drang than light and airy with the election tomorrow and all . . . I'm a bit scared for our future with the two candidates we have running, to be honest. But, I need a musical pick-me-up. So, let's turn to the music of West Virginians. 

Let's start with the most unusual of these artists:

Wilber Pan a/k/a Pan Weibo a/k/a Will Pan is a Taiwanese Mandopop singer-songwriter and rapper. Pan was born somewhere in West Virginia (according to his really messy Wikipedia page) but moved with his family to Taiwan at the age of seven. I say his Wikipedia page is messy because it contains the following sentence:  "He was offered an athletic scholarship in basketball by a NCAA Division III college, (which do not offer athletic scholarships) but chose to continue his education at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (aka Cal Poly Pomona) in the United States."

The thing is that the scholarship story came from a now dead link from a Chinese language website -- so there is absolutely no way to tell how right/wrong/mistranslated this "offer" may have been. He has won lots of Chinese language music awards, though, so he must be popular.

Jean Segura had a really good year this year for Arizona. Like many Brewers fans, I honestly believe that there is no way at all that Segura has the rebound year he had in Milwaukee. His time in town was marred by his son's death, and you have to think that he needed a change in scenery to help him through that grieving process. 

I mean, it's nowhere near the same, but my grieving process when I had to put my dog Clea down due to multiple health issues in 2010 was aided immensely by moving in with my now wife. It helped me not to go to the condo where Clea and I lived and find it empty. I can only imagine what it would be like with losing a child. 

Also, I'd bet that Segura feels more at home in Arizona with its much larger Hispanic/Latino population over what Milwaukee has. 

Who's next?

So, the former host of Hollywood Squares, Peter Marshall, somehow got himself inducted into the West Virginia Hall of Fame. This video is from March of 2016 for Peter's 90th birthday. Peter Marshall is really named Ralph Pierre LaCock, and he was born in Huntington, West Virginia. The above is a funny interview that Fred Willard did with Peter.

Marshall actually did make a number of appearances on Broadway and on London's West End in a number of musicals. In fact, Marshall appeared in the musical Bye Bye Birdie -- a satirical send-up of America's reaction to Elvis Presley -- for its entire 268 performance run.

Also, something I am sure I knew at some point in the past but I had forgotten: Peter's son is none other than former Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Yokohama Taiyo Whales first baseman and outfielder Pete LaCock. I think Marshall is actually pointing out Pete in the audience at the beginning of this clip.

Another fine Jean Segura autograph gets added to my collection. If Segura had not been traded, he would have been fighting with Scooter Gennett for time at second base and with Jonathan Villar for time at short this past season -- at least until Orlando Arcia was called up in August. Segura spent most of his time at second for the D-Backs this year. Again, he had a great year -- 6th in the NL in WAR for position players, according to Baseball Reference -- but I don't think there is anyway that happens in Milwaukee.

Plus, Jonathan Villar is actually a year younger than Segura.

Hawkshaw Hawkins was also born in Huntington just five years earlier than Peter Marshall was. But Hawkins died a long time ago -- on March 5, 1963. The song here, "Lonesome 7-7203," was his only number 1 song, and it probably got there because of his untimely demise. 

Hawkins was in Kansas City with a group of artists doing a benefit concert for a DJ's family. One of the other artists, BIlly Walker, got a call and had to get back to Nashville, so Hawkins gave Walker his commercial airline ticket. Hawkins then hitched a ride back to Nashville with the other two artists, Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline. After stopping to refuel in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the plane took off and hit bad weather about 20 minutes later. The plane crashed near Camden, about 90 miles from Nashville.

While this excellent card does not deserve such a morose introduction, well, someone had to get it. This is a 2015 Topps Tribute Green Relic card serial numbered to 150. These Topps higher end cards tend to get lost to me when it comes time to put team sets together. 

It's not like I see too many Tribute singles just laying around at the card shows I attend, and any relic serial numbered to 150 never comes terribly cheaply on eBay or any other outlet. It's a shame that there are so many of these types of cards around because it makes all of them less desirable. 

There is something to be said for scarcity of products just as much as there is scarcity of a particular card. If there are 6 different sets issued and each has 5 parallels serial numbered around 100, you're looking at 3000 "higher-end" cards available. People still expect a premium -- even if that is not really that scarce and even if the only reason this one is numbered to 150 and some other card with the same photo and a similar cloth swatch is numbered to 175 is that this one is green and the other one is blue.

Bill Withers was born in someplace called Slab Fork, West Virginia -- a place that apparently has 202 people in Raleigh County not very far from Beckley. Slab Fork is in the heart of coal country, and there are some incredible photos you can see when you look at the Google Image Search for it. 

Maybe it was this rural upbringing that led Withers to record his best known song -- "Lean On Me." I know a lot of children of the 1980s know this song for the Club Nouveau remake, but this version from Soul Train is just more soulful and seems almost more meaningful too. 

I went through Bill Withers's part of West Virginia back in 1993, when I had a summer job working for a guy who contracted with furniture companies to install furniture on institutional projects. My first ten days of working with him was spent at seven different state parks in West Virginia -- Bluestone, Babcock, Canaan Valley Resort, Lost River, Cacapon Resort, North Bend, and Tygart Lake.

It's a beautiful state, and this song really gives a feel for the kind of people that Bill Withers sang about. Yeah, there were a lot of mountain folk. Many of them were not well educated, and most of them had not spent much time outside of their hometowns (well, other than at Cacapon, which is about 2 hours from Washington, DC). Most of them worked hard, scratched out a living as best they could, and were as excited to meet someone not from their town as I was to be in West Virginia. 

Actually, they were far more excited than I was. But I was scratching out my own living.

Speaking of excited, how about these 2014 Brewers/2016 Texas Rangers? This is one of those framed cards that Topps has been doing with its flagship set, and it is serial numbered 17 of 20.

Word came out today that Carlos Gomez is apparently seeking a long-term deal -- up to five years in length -- as a free agent. Scott Boras, in his effort to sell ice to Eskimos, thinks that Gomez can get a big payday because Gomez is a "rare player" coming on the market. Boras is correct about that -- there aren't too many players who would think that they deserve a five-year contract just two months after getting released. As the Rangers website I linked to says, it's possible that Gomez could end up hanging out on the market for a while thanks to this type of talk.

Okay, last one:

Brad Paisley is 10 months younger than me, and he was born in Glen Dale, West Virginia, near Wheeling. My wife likes Brad Paisley a lot -- not as much as she likes Luke Bryan or Carrie Underwood, mind you, but she likes Brad Paisley. He has a number of hits, of course. I like this video and song for the world travel involved and for the point it makes -- that as much as he enjoys all the great stuff he has seen around the world, he still misses his home.

It's one of those songs that can make people wistful for wherever it is they live, come from, or wish they were.

A guy who understands a thing about Southern Comfort Zones is Jonathan Lucroy. He turned down a trade to Cleveland -- and what might have still been a trip to the World Series -- and instead got to go nearly home to Texas. Lucroy grew up in Florida, but really is a southerner despite that. I can totally understand that mindset too. While I enjoyed growing up in Wisconsin and enjoy getting back up there every once in a while to see family, the fact is that I'm much more of a southerner than a northerner -- 21 years in Georgia with 4 years in college in Tennessee will do that to a person.

As always, Matt, many thanks for the great cards. I'm sure most of these bands aren't really in your musical wheelhouse, but I hope you liked them just the same.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman

I love to read. I have literally hundreds of books in my house -- some of which I've read, others I have not yet read. I've been slogging through a dense biography about Karl Marx over the past several months, for instance, and it reminded me why I put it down the first time I started reading it -- while interesting, it is not a fast-paced book.

Often, though, I will have two or three books going at once. Over the summer, for example, I had a weekend where I had to be in Florida for a trade association meeting and had most of Saturday free. So, I read Jonah Keri's book Up, Up & Away about the Montreal Expos and that team's time in Montreal -- and how it fell apart. It's a great book that I can highly recommend, and it's a fast read -- I read it basically in one sitting over about 4 hours (I read very fast, usually).

Another very easy book for me to get through is one that just came out last week: Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre by Jeff Pearlman. 

This is actually a scan of a 4" x 6" card that replicates the book's front cover and, on the back, has a couple of the book-jacket quotes that publishers like to use to validate how great a writer or book is.

Pearlman has written several sports books, including the book about the cocaine-using Dallas Cowboys called Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty (which I have also read). He also is the writer who wrote the Sports Illustrated story about John Rocker that led to Rocker's suspension and ultimate downfall.

Pearlman is active on Twitter, and it was on Twitter that he made an offer much like the one that Molly Knight made for her book, The Best Team Money Can Buy about the Dodgers -- if you emailed a screenshot of proof that you preordered the book, then he would send an autographed front plate to paste into the book.

And that's what I did:

Not sure where Jeff is getting the Southern Cal influence here (he went to Delaware, I went to Vanderbilt and Georgia...) but hey, thanks for the cool autograph for the book. I stuck that into the front of the book, and that's where it will stay.

Now, for the book. There have been a couple of excerpts published online already if you want a flavor for how the book reads. This one on Sports Illustrated talks about how much of a wastrel Favre was during his one-year tenure with the Falcons. A second one on Bleacher Report pretty much confirms what a complete dick Favre was to Aaron Rodgers when Rodgers was drafted -- though Rodgers certainly exacerbated the issues by being cocky and tone-deaf himself. 

For me, a lot of the book covered familiar ground. If you knew anything about the behind-the-scenes world in which Favre ran in Wisconsin, you knew that he was a big-time drinker. A number of stories later in his career mentioned his womanizing in past-tense terms until, of course, Favre started sending pictures of little Brett to Brent Musburger's FSU Cowgirl crush/internet sensation/New York Jets sideline eye-candy/Deanna Favre lookalike Jenn Sterger. 
Brett & Deanna Favre
Jenn Sterger
Favre and his Hamlet act on retirement over his past several years in Green Bay had worn on me. By the time he was traded to the Jets, I was relieved. It was time for him to go, and it was time for the team to move on. Simply put, Favre viewed himself as bigger than the team by that point, and he loved the attention that his continued on-again, off-again retirement drew to him.

Pearlman did not speak to Favre for this book, but he did speak to over 500 other people in and around Favre's life -- everyone from Brett's mother to drinking buddy and wingman Mark Chmura to Jets OC and destroyer of the Georgia Bulldog football program Brian Schottenheimer.

As with most public figures and professional athletes, there are any number of negatives about Favre. He was an arrogant prick to rookies, he believed he deserved (and he received) special treatment from the Packers in his later years -- to the point of getting to dress in the coaches' room rather than with the other 52 players on the roster -- and he was an alcoholic womanizer who treated his high school sweetheart Deanna like complete crap. 

On the other hand, you also get the good -- the arrogance often leads to an ability to overcome setbacks, and Favre needed that cockiness early on in his career. In Favre's second year in Green Bay, the Packers had drafted Mark Brunell out of Washington. Favre was so stubborn at times that Coach Mike Holmgren was perpetually one series away from benching Favre and giving Brunell a shot to play. While a less confident player might have been shaken by that, Favre was motivated by it. 

Similarly, any number of stories about the good stuff Brett Favre did -- like the stories that Pearlman put into his prologue about Favre befriending little kids with cancer -- don't sell as many books. Those likely fell by the wayside early on. This is not to say that cutting the feel-good stories was an intentional act meant to make Favre look bad. Rather, it's more an indication that the "juicy" stuff is more interesting; we sort of expect the nice stories more than some of the negative.

In the end, Favre comes across as a complicated human being, sort of as you would expect. He was petulant, caring, obnoxious, vindictive, insecure, annoying, cocky, warm, loving, hateful and hated all at once. In other words, he really is a human being and not some caricature drawn by John Madden on a Sunday afternoon talking about how Favre just plays like a kid with joy and all that. It is an interesting portrait, and it is a good read -- especially if you are a Green Bay Packers fan.

One last thing: I have two of those 4 x 6 cards of the cover. If you want one of them, let me know by commenting below. If more than two people let me know that they want them before Monday, November 7, at 7 PM Eastern Standard Time, I'll do a randomizer giveaway. Otherwise, I'll just give them away. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Behind the Scenes at SunTrust Park

Sometimes, you get lucky. I got lucky this week. One of my friends here in Atlanta seems to know about everyone in the legal industry in town. One of his good friends asked him if he wanted to take a tour of the construction of the Braves' new stadium, SunTrust Park. He said, "of course!" and then was asked to put a group together for a tour.

Our group included 4 or 5 judges and a number of prosecutors and former prosecutors. I fell into the group of "played fantasy baseball," but that did not matter to me. Being a construction lawyer, though, getting to go on this tour was like the clich├ęd kid in a candy store. I was so excited for the tour, and it did not disappoint.

The thing that excited me most was the fact that I could take photos in the stadium. I didn't hear any restrictions on posting pictures either, so here goes.

First, here are some photos from across the street of the outside of the stadium from behind center field:

My first thought on seeing the stadium was that, from the outside, SunTrust Park is Turner Field plopped down in the suburbs. It's the accoutrements that do it -- the red brick exterior, the Delta sign on top of the scoreboard, and, as I found out on the tour, many of the same amenities that the Ted has are echoed at SunTrust Park.

The construction geek in me would like to point out the very attractive precast concrete architectural panels on this portion of the stadium. 

The construction lawyer who is a member of the Florida Precast Concrete Association also would like you to look at the very attractive precast parking deck to the east of the stadium.

The small blue crane-like extension under the big tower crane is actually a concrete pour taking place. That building is going to be an Omni Hotel right outside the stadium. While it is not a part of the stadium, like the hotel at Rogers Centre in Toronto, this hotel will be tall enough to where rooms above the 8th or 9th floor will be able to see into the stadium and watch the game. Just be sure to close your blinds if you and your mate get amorous, though.

I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, and I'll ask the question again (as did everyone in our group): why would millionaire athletes be so okay with showering in gang showers as if they are in middle school or prison? I mean, my freshman and sophomore dorms in college had shared shower facilities, but even there we had separate stalls. Maybe it's just the high quality showerheads that make it all better.

The electricians apparently had just finished installing and electrifying the lights over the lockers in the Braves locker room yesterday. It's a pretty nice locker, certainly. It will almost certainly be the only time I am ever in the Braves locker room in person, so it was pretty cool to see this. They have enough lockers in here for the full September rosters plus a few DL guys. 

Across the hall from the players' locker room is the bat boy's locker room. That facility had a few bigger lockers for the somewhat older kids and then a couple of small ones for the "junior" bat boys. 

SunTrust Park actually has far fewer corporate suites than most stadiums. As this story points out, there are only 32 suites -- the second-lowest number in baseball ahead of only Kauffman Stadium's 25 suites. The Braves made the decision to increase club seats instead. 

The top photo here shows the Delta Sky 360 Club area. That Delta sign was constructed using reclaimed wood, which certainly gives it a cool effect. This club will be available to the people whose seats are in the lower deck right behind home plate. 

The bottom photo shows a wine rack in the SunTrust Club. That's the super-high-end club for the 375 fanciest season ticket holders who will have the first row or two along the field as their seats. The SunTrust Club will have these wine racks for its members to bring along their favorite bottles of wine, check them in, and have them at their disposal at any time they want during a game -- and possibly even outside of regular game days.

The closest cone is where home plate will be; the far cone is second base. The distance from home plate to the backstop is tiny -- it's probably as small as the area that Wrigley Field has behind home plate. Throughout our tour, we kept hearing that the goal for this stadium was to feel more intimate and have people feel closer to the action than Turner Field does. As this shows, that goal will likely be achieved -- at least behind home plate. 

And yes, I'm standing at the wall behind the plate and not on the field.

That intimacy does come at the price (for the cheap seats) of being higher above the field -- though any upper deck seat tends to inspire feelings. You can see what I mean in this next photo:

The view down the third-base line. While foul territory looked small to me, that's a bit of an illusion -- as this story mentions, there may be a little bit more foul territory at SunTrust Park than at the Ted. Braves GM John Coppolella expects it to play slightly better for hitters than Turner Field does, I would agree thanks to the fact that the right field power alley is 15 feet closer to home plate than Turner Field's similar dimension.

Another amenity for the high rollers are these mesh seats. A company called, of all things, 4Topps manufactures these. The mesh seats are becoming popular these days at stadiums around the country as a way to incorporate more comfortable seating -- and breathable seating, which is very important in Atlanta's hot summers -- to improve the experience for patrons. A lot of stadiums have used these with half-moon tables (see below for the artist's rendering for SunTrust) for patio seating. 

One of the more fun places to watch games at Turner Field is the Chophouse. It's a bar inside the stadium where people can stand or sit after getting into the stadium for cheap -- it was $5 at Turner Field for such access. At SunTrust Park, the Chophouse is getting an upgrade. It's closer to the field, for one thing. It now also has multiple levels, including party suites at field level behind the right field fence that can be rented out for parties.

This view from behind home plate shows you where those party suites are.

In front of the Chophouse, there is a great seating area featuring those mesh seats but also tables with beer taps and which include a food and beverage cost in the price of the ticket. It's not an all-you-can-eat/drink area, but it is a pretty cool amenity. But think about this: with that many seats and beer taps at each table (probably about 40-50 tables, as a guess), it will take one heck of a beer keg to keep up, right?

Or, maybe it will just be one heck of a huge storage tank in the bowels of the stadium. I would estimate that the fatter of the two pipes is maybe 5 or 6 inches in diameter. There are pipes for soda as well, but those aren't nearly as interesting as the beer pipes.

I hope you enjoyed this little behind the scenes tour. I certainly did. I think the new stadium will be a nice upgrade in many respects for the Braves.