Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cards from an Award-Winning Writer

I forget exactly how it was that I started reading Matthew Prigge's articles on the Shepherd Express website about the Brewers. I would venture to guess that I was researching one of my posts and happened across one of his articles. It may have been his "Best 20 Brewers baseball cards ever" article, or it might have been looking at the Brewers Free Agent signings. I just don't recall.

I'm very glad that I did find his article, though. I commented on his post and started following him on Twitter. Since that time, he's started getting integrated into our online baseball card community -- even starting up his own blog called Summer of '74 where he is working on two Brewer-related projects: collecting the all-time roster of Brewers and, in addition, collecting the all-time roster of Brewers in autographs.

Matt's also an award-winning history author. Earlier this month, he received an award from the Milwaukee County Historical Society called the Gambrinus Prize, which is awarded each year to the best book-length work on Milwaukee History. Receiving that award also allowed him to meet Bud Selig.

Being a fellow Brewer collector and being a fair amount younger than me means that Matt had a bunch of Brewers cards from the late 1990s and early 2000s that I did not have. He also threw in a few extra autographs. So, without further introduction (because this one is getting long already), let's get to the stars of the show: the cards.

Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so I'm going to intersperse music that the Shepherd Express brings to my mind...which means music from about 1994-1995, the year I lived and worked in Milwaukee between college and law school. Get ready for songs from Alternative Music's best year ever.

We'll get this started with the underrated Dinosaur Jr. Lead singer J Mascis formed this band in Amherst, playing their first gig as "Mogo" at a party at UMass. While originally this was a band, by the time the mid-1990s hit it literally was just Mascis. Previously, Lou Barlow was a member of the band before he quit and formed two excellent bands -- Sebadoh and Folk Implosion.

Barlow and Mascis have put their bad blood behind them now and began playing together again in 2005 and have since. They are touring Europe right now before coming back to the US to tour this fall.

These 2002 Fleer Triple Crown cards are not anything special or fantastic or wonderful, but at least it is a different look and sound and type of card from what goes on now. This set featured some parallels that sound familiar if you collect any of those "Donruss" cards: they had three sets of parallels numbered to each hitter's batting average, home runs, and RBI.

As Baseball Card Pedia points out, it goes without saying that the pitchers did not get any parallels. Consider the hitting environment in 2002, that's probably appropriate. Otherwise, it appears to be a pretty nondescript set. It's the usual suspects in terms of inserts of that era and features the usual allegedly game-used items being hacked up into little pieces and put into cards, with some dual relics, some triple relics, and some autographs.

1994 was the year that Soundgarden jumped into the American musical collective consciousness. Grunge music -- the "Seattle" sound -- probably hit its apex in 1994. You had Kurt Cobain's death in April of 1994, which caused that band to be frozen in time as my generation's parallel Beatles. Pearl Jam continues on today as the Rolling Stones counterpoint. I guess that makes Soundgarden something like Herman's Hermits or The Yardbirds and Alice In Chains is like the Dave Clark Five or something. 

I am not a big fan of analogies like those, to be honest. There will ever be only one band like the Beatles. I don't know the other bands well enough to make proper comparisons. In fairness, ever since the Beatles came onto the scene, bands have been trying to be "the Beatles meets (fill in the blank)." In an interview I saw very recently, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) said that Soundgarden's song "Black Hole Sun" nailed the combination that Nirvana in particular was trying to hit: The Beatles meet Black Sabbath. 

All that said, I know that Chris Cornell's voice was unique, and his lyricism underneath the loudness and occasional angriness of his singing was incredible. 


As to falling on Black Days, let's talk about the Milwaukee Brewers farm system for much of its history. The Brewers have had perhaps three to four major influxes of talent based on their own farm system. You had that first successful team of 1978 through 1983, built off the early drafts and a few crucial trades by Harry Dalton. Then, you had the meteoric rise of the 1987 to 1992 teams -- punctuated by inconsistency due to key pitching injuries.

After that, the team farm system lay fallow for the better part of a decade (1992 through 2005) thanks to poor drafts and player evaluation by Sal Bando's GM team. These cards above come from the very midst of that famine of talent. The "Black Days" of the farm system came thanks to a run starting in 1991 and ending in 2002 where the only real major league players that the team drafted in the first round of the draft were Geoff Jenkins and Ben Sheets.

Example: with the fourth overall pick in 1994, the Brewers selected Antone Williamson. Later that round, the Red Sox picked Nomar Garciaparra, the Dodgers selected Paul Konerko, the Mariners chose Jason Varitek, and the Mets signed Jay Payton. Add to that incompetence in trades -- not selling assets like Geoff Jenkins because he was a fan favorite until it was far too late -- and in signing Jeffrey Hammonds to a contract based on what Hammonds might have been rather than what he was, and you have a recipe for ugliness.

To finish the thoughts above, after 2005, you had the group of Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Corey Hart that came of age in 2008 and were supplemented thereafter by Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez. The fourth influx of talent, of course, is the next one based off all the tear-down trades.

Okay, I talk about Bando's screwups a lot. Maybe I should take just one blog post and destroy his time as GM. I'd probably be the only one who'd read that.

I've featured music from Pearl Jam here probably more than any other artist. I guess that's just an indication that they really are my favorite band.

I saw them play at Summerfest in 1995 for $10, and it was a fantastic show. It was both a great day and a bad day, though. It was a great day because I saw an excellent band with a great opening act. It was a bad day because I got heat stroke that day (probably because of mixing too much heat with too much beer and not enough water) so it ruined a date with a really attractive woman whom I never went out with again.

C'est la vie.

These were the last of the Fleer cards that Matthew sent to me. A reflection on the poor farm system and poor state of the team in the late 1990s and early 2000s is the fact that the Brewers were ignored pretty regularly by card companies. Basically, it was Burnitz and Jenkins, occasionally Cirillo and Sexson, and then add in random young players.

Is this different from the Brewers of 2016? Not particularly, except for the fact that the 2016 farm system seems much healthier and is held in higher regard than those days 16 to 18 years ago.

The waiting right now, though, is driving me mad.

One of the albums of 1994 that reflected perhaps a pinnacle of a band but at the same time showed a band nearing its end was Monster by R.E.M.  When 1994 started, if you had told me that I'd be moving to Athens, Georgia, in August of 1995 for law school, I would have been very surprised.

I had not really considered Georgia as an option until I started looking at the U.S. News & World Report school rankings in the Fall of 1994. Once I saw that it was a top-30 law school and fairly inexpensive for an out-of-state student, I applied. It was the last school to send me my acceptance letter, and it turned out to be my first choice when it was all said and done.

There's always the counterfactual "what could have been" type questions I could ask. What if I'd gone to Wisconsin instead? Would I be working in Milwaukee? Chicago? Somewhere else? I rarely think that way though.


My "what could have been" questions tend to relate more to things outside my own life. What might Rickie Weeks have been had he not had wrist injuries constantly early in his career which took away key development time and sapped some of his bat speed and power from him? What might Ben Sheets's career looked like had he not thrown so many innings and pitches for teams going nowhere? What might have been in 2008 had Sheets not blown out his elbow just before the playoffs, taking the Brewers down to CC Sabathia as a top-level starter?

Those kinds of counterfactuals are fun. Well, fun to think about and rewrite history, at least.

In 1994 and 1995, I worked with a guy, Bill, who really introduced me into the depths and best of Britpop. It coincided with Oasis becoming huge here in the U.S. thanks to their debut album, "Definitely Maybe." I got to see Oasis play at The Rave in Milwaukee in March of 1995. Bill got a group of his friends together, and we all went to the show. It was a great show, definitely.

But it got better.

One of Bill's friends was this woman who was a DJ for WMSE -- the college rock station broadcasting from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She talked to some of the guys on the soundboard about where the band would be hanging out after the show, and she talked me into trying to find them. So, we went to the hotel where the manager types said they'd be, and we waited for maybe 20 or 30 minutes. Seeing nothing, she suggested that we go back to The Rave and see if the band was still there.

We parked literally right in front of the front door and walked in. A cleaning guy looked at us and we just said, "We've got some friends backstage that we're waiting on." So, we walked straight back and there was Liam Gallagher (the lead singer) just talking and hanging out. He insisted that we go get a beer, and we started talking to him. Being the geek I was, I brought up the press's reports of arguments with his brother ("Those tabloids love to talk shite, don't they, right?") and his love of Manchester City ("Y'go anywhere in town, right, and no one supports that other team. They're all Citeh all the time!"). The DJ asked for his autograph on a CD liner notes, and I got my ticket stub signed. We got everyone in the band to sign both items, had a beer with the band, and left. 

I learned an important lesson that day -- just act like you belong and you'll go far.

Here's the Upper Deck cards that Matt sent me. Much like my encounter with Oasis, Upper Deck just acted like they belonged. It's too bad for baseball collectors that they have been cut out of the baseball card business by MLB. I'd guess they pissed MLB off with that 2010 effort that didn't do enough to avoid the use of logos and color schemes. Upper Deck did great things in baseball card designs, but all we get now is just whatever Topps throws out there. Too bad.

Punctuating that year in music for most alternative music fans, of course, was Kurt Cobain's death followed by the release of the "Unplugged in New York" CD. That Unplugged was a master class of sorts in how lyrical Cobain and Nirvana really were. 

"Pennyroyal Tea" was always one of my favorite Nirvana songs too for its self-centered lines about being on my time with everyone -- I think that was the start of my real understanding that the less that I cared about what others thought about me, the better my own mental health would be. Yes, I still care about what others think -- just not so much that it makes me do things that I'm not comfortable doing.

The final four cards here were well worth the wait. A Milwaukee Braves team card from 1962 and then three autographed cards of PC guys Jeff Cirillo and Ben Oglivie and my personal point of wonderment for 2017 Topps in Chris Capuano on a card that comes from 2006 -- you know, when Capuano was actually a key member of the team.

My thanks to Matt for the great cards, for the great writing, and my congratulations once again for the award!


  1. May be your best music post yet! Anything with Oasis is a winner from my point of view. I was surprised to see the news of Cornell's passing. Nice cards, too, as usual, by the way.

  2. Hammonds made around 31 million in his career. The Brewers paid around 22 million of it!

    Great post Tony!

  3. Yeah, great post! These songs are all in my wheelhouse, though I never got around to seeing any of these bands live, unfortunately. Very cool you got to hang with Oasis for a bit.

  4. Ahh... the grungy-ness of it all. We seem to be about the same age, and I too drank too much at a Pearl Jam concert in the mid-90's. No heat stroke tho, thankfully. Great post!