Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Big Fun Game Leaves Me With Questions

Today in my office, we discovered that one of my law partners' Sonos system is accessible by anyone with a Sonos app on their phone so long as their phone is connected to the office Wifi. This led to a discussion about the proper way to prank him with terrible music. I offered up a couple of suggestions before doing a Google search and finding what might be the worst song ever.

Try this one on for size:

English bands have put out some of the best music ever. Unfortunately, England also produces some of the worst shlock in the history of music. This song is called "Fast Food Song" and it's by the unimaginatively named Fast Food Rockers. This band was a novelty act in 2003 and 2004. It's catchy, right? But is it catchy enough that it should have reached #2 on the UK Singles chart? It did, and it failed to reach #1 only because of the band Evanescence.

Moving to songs an American audience would recognize, there is one song that even the band that sang it has disowned -- or at least one of the singers has. In the 1980s, Jefferson Airplane had morphed into the pathetic excuse for a band called Starship and released this dreck:

It is such a bad song that GQ put together an oral history of the song discussing how it came to be. Basically, about everything in the song came together in stages and was written by an assembly line of songwriters. As Grace Slick said in "Vanity Fair" in June of 2012, 
I was such an asshole for a while, I was trying to make up for it by being sober, which I was all during the '80s, which is a bizarre decade to be sober in. So I was trying to make it up to the band by being a good girl. Here, we're going to sing this song "We Built This City on Rock & Roll." Oh, you're shitting me, that the worst song ever.
Yes, Grace, it's pretty damn awful.

So, why all this about the worst songs ever? 

I struck out badly in the "Big Fun Game" that ran on All Trade Bait, All the Time. I had two different lots stolen from me -- the 1960s lot and the 1950s lot. Rather than getting those -- both of which would have been excellent -- I ended up instead with a bunch of random stuff that I really could not use.

Such as?

Red Sox.

Lots of Red Sox.

Even Gypsy Queen Red Sox. With the luck I had in that game, of course, I got Rookie Star Andrew Benintendi at just the point when Benintendi disappeared from consciousness and Aaron Judge became the star outshining everyone on the planet and the only player in Major League Baseball, according to the MLB Network and Topps Now.

Complicating matters -- making them better or worse, depending on your position on weird oddballs -- was the main item on which the lot was focused:

For the Rangers fan who always thought Nolan Ryan should hang on their Christmas tree, I have just the item for you! A Nolan Ryan ornament!

It's not Oscar's fault, of course, that I happened to have the luck of picking two good lots only to see them stolen away from me. It's the luck of the draw. And I just had Bad Bad Luck.

Right, boys?

My thanks go out to Oscar for running the game, and my curses go out to my bad luck. At least Social Distortion doesn't suck like Starship or the Fast Food Rockers.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Card Show in June

About a month ago, my pal Joey a/k/a Dub Mentality tagged me and Dayf a/k/a Card Junk on Twitter with an announcement about a small card show at a local antique mall here in Atlanta. It gave me an excuse to get up and active on a Saturday morning when I otherwise might have just sat at home, so I marked the tweet and made sure to go.

I'm glad I did.

It had been a while since I had attended a local card show. In fact, it had been probably four or five months. As a result, the folks whose dime boxes I tend to clean out had restocked their supplies of Brewer cards. This led to a great show for me. I even found a non-Brewer I needed:

I know I have posted a lot of Pearl Jam songs here, but they are my favorite band. So, guess what? Y'all have to deal with them again.

While I know that "Last Kiss" -- a cover of a 60s song that PJ issued as a Christmas bonus vinyl to its fan club in 1998 before it was included on a charity album for Kosovar refugees in 1999 -- was PJ's highest ever charting song when it number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, "Even Flow" is to me one of the band's biggest hits. The band absolutely did not like the take that ended up on its album Ten, with guitarist Mike McCready saying that they redid the track 50 or 70 times and played it "over and over until we hated each other."

For what it's worth, Rolling Stone put this song at #77 on a list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time" and VH1 listed it at number 30 of the "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs." After 26 years of hearing the song, I still like it. There's nothing new about it, but sometimes having those classic hits to go back to is a good thing.

Speaking of classics, here are some new cards of classic players from the Milwaukee Braves. I teased the Hank Aaron bat relic card on Twitter right after the show, and it got rave reviews. It's an early relic in terms of baseball card history, so perhaps it is a bat that Hank actually used in a game at some point as opposed to a bat he picked up in Upper Deck's offices, swung it once, and then it got called "event used."

The Spahn Cy Young award card is a super-thick manu-relic from about five years ago. Topps has gone to thinner manu-relics these days. I'm guessing that is a cost measure to save a few bucks on not buying real metal for the relic and saving a few pennies on card stock. 

The Hank Aaron Hall of Fame card just made me realize that there is an error in the Cramer Baseball Legends set that I wrote up for the 1980s Oddball blog yesterday. On the back of Aaron's card, it lists him as being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981, but he was inducted in 1982. Perhaps that was meant to mean that he was voted into the Hall in 1981. Of course, the real issue I'm having is that his card was included in the 1980 Series 1 set. While he was certainly guaranteed of induction, did Cramer's first issuance of that 1980 card really say he would be inducted in 1981? I'm all confused now.

Finally, those chrome Bowman cards are all nice and shiny. I appreciate the effort at times from Topps/Bowman to keep baseball's past greats in our consciousness by including them in new card sets. It's fun to get new Spahn cards, even if it is the same photo from the 2015 Archives set. I do wish that Topps expanded its pre-World War II player list to go beyond just Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig to add some of the other greats of the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe an Al Simmons card? Or some of the guys in that Cramer Baseball Legends set that you never see in card sets these days like Rabbit Maranville. 

There's always room for improvement. As one law school professor I had once said, "There's nothing so impeccable that it can't be pecked at."

In 2009, Pearl Jam released its album Backspacer. The breakout hit from that album was this introspective ballad called "Just Breathe." Backspacer was a much more upbeat and optimistic and less political album than the band's previous efforts -- a fact that the band attributed to Barack Obama's election. 

The album was also the first time since 1998's Yield that the band worked with Atlanta-based producer Brendan O'Brien on a full album. Indeed, the album was finished at Southern Tracks studio here at Atlanta in April of 2009.

The show provided me an opportunity to stock up on some Ryan Braun cards. Braun is the longest-serving current Brewers player, having passed the ten-year mark with the team earlier this year. He's the team's all-time leader in home runs and, recently, became the team's all-time leader in grand slams. 

As far as other categories, he's third in career WAR (45.0), tied for second with Paul Molitor in batting average (.303), tied for sixth with Richie Sexson in OBP (.366), first in SLG (.544), second in OPS at .911 behind Prince Fielder's .929, fifth in games played with 1401, third in runs scored at 913, fifth in hits with 1642 (54 behind Jim Gantner), third in total bases, fourth in doubles, third in triples, second in RBI, fifth in walks, third in stolen bases, and second in extra base hits (having passed Paul Molitor earlier this year). 

He's creeping up on career totals that give him a potential Hall of Fame argument, or would had it not been for the Biogenesis stuff. Maybe that's what's preventing me from saying that I'd still collect his cards in another uniform, but he's not to that point yet. He's close.

This past Friday at work, four of us got into a very heated discussion about the fact that one of our co-workers did not see much difference between Pearl Jam and Journey. Needless to say, I lost a lot of respect for that misguided opinion coming from someone who otherwise is an educated man. 

I think the reason that he has such an incredibly wrong opinion is contained within another statement he made: that he's not a "live music guy." To me, that's the very essence of Pearl Jam. Their concert versions of songs simply are better than what gets laid down in the studio. The sound is warmer, less antiseptic. Vedder's vocals in concert are just better than what gets put down as a remixed studio track. 

Also, if you're not a "live music" guy or gal, your life priorities are wrong.

I found a vein of the Panini Diamond Kings as well. I think these were in a quarter box, which is slightly annoying for new issues but not as annoying as having a card called "originals" featuring Paul Molitor as a Minnesota DH. 

Still, if ever I were inclined to collect any particular Panini set, it would be the Diamond Kings set. I like the card stock with its canvas feel. The artwork and touch-ups taking these from being photos to make them into what look like paintings is of excellent quality -- much better than the garbage retouching that happens with the Donruss brand. 

On the other hand, that Aurora card of Jonathan Villar may be the most godawful insert of 2017. It's ugly as hell with all that orange coloration. Also, I am guessing that the Aurora insert is meant to signify some sort of sunrise or draw a parallel to a sunrise. If my sunrise has those colors appearing in that way, I'm thinking a nuclear bomb has been dropped.

This song is one that came off PJ's second album, Vs.. The song is a reaction to all the media coverage the band got in its early days, in part from "Spin", "Rolling Stone" and "Circus"; this led to the lyric, "SPIN me round, ROLL me over, f**kin' CIRCUS" in the song. The basic idea behind it is that the media used the band and bled them to "fill their pages."

I can understand how that would be a pain in the ass. No doubt. It's a rage song of guys tired of getting used to sell magazines. When PJ was at its height in the 1990s, people wanted that blood. They wanted that drama. Now that the band is more mature and its fans tend to be more mature, I think the band and its fans appreciate not the drama but the journey in getting there. 

But not the band Journey. 

The rich vein of Brewers cards I found also yielded some decent parallels, inserts, and autographs. Sure, the Carlos Lee card says he is on the Astros, and when the card was released he was. But he's shown on the Brewers so it's a Brewers card. For $1, I'll take that.
While I don't chase Wily Peralta cards and, therefore, have no real reason to pick up a silk card from 2013 serial numbered to 50, I think it was $0.50. For that, I'll take literally any serial numbered Brewers card that I don't have in my collection. Even a Gary Sheffield card.

The rest of these were all $0.50 or $1 or somewhere in that range. I got them all thrown in on a package deal with all the other dime and quarter cards, so I don't quite recall how much each was individually.  

Finally, "Light Years" was released in 2000 from the album Binaural. Recording this song was a chore from all indications. When it started out, it was too close to "Given to Fly" as a song. According to interviews the band has given, the song had its tempo changed, its keys changed, its drum part changed, and its arrangement changed dozens of times before it came together in its current form. 

The song itself is actually about the death of a friend. If you can find a copy of the lyrics, it is worth it to read them. At various times, the band has dedicated the song to Diane Muus of Sony Music (a friend of the band who died at age 33 in 1997) and to Gord Downie, whose band The Tragically Hip was playing their last show on the same night that Pearl Jam played Wrigley. Downie has been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.

While the song is a bit of a downer, these cards are all really uppers. All of these are player collection cards for me. I think the Fielder manu-patch may have run me about $2, but the rest were all very affordable. 

As always, I recognize I am really lucky with how many card shows there are around Atlanta on a regular basis. With the recent Judge-mania gripping the hobby, there's some hope that this moment could be a real turning point for our hobby in bringing in new collectors -- particularly kids -- who are big fans of the young superstars of the day like Judge, Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout. 

Let's hope that Topps doesn't view this rise like the media viewed the rise of grunge -- in it only to suck all the blood and fun out of everything.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Malaise Falls over the Crowd: Topps Now

I have been in a rut this year. At first, I thought it was because of being super busy with work and all that goes along with it. Then, I thought it was because my creativity in terms of blogging had slipped. I've come up with all kinds of reasons why I might be in a rut, but none of those reasons dragged me out of my rut.

Then, this morning at work, with my morning coffee, I read this fantastic post from Dan's Other World called "The Great 2017 Baseball Card Price-Out: A Commentary." It helped me put my finger on a few things that have happened over the past six months to a year that have really turned me off to modern cards to some extent. 

I suppose if I'm honest with myself, my malaise truly began with the introduction of Topps Now at the beginning of last season. The idea, in concept, is a good one as I have said on many occasions. In its execution, it's a money grab by Topps. Topps is happy to feature Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger walking on the field each day as a card in Topps Now, and those cards sell well even at their ridiculously overpriced $9.99 per card (or even at the $79.99 price per 20, or $4 a piece). 

There are signs that collectors generally are a bit tired of these cards. Last year, the lowest print run was a Chris Carter card near the end of the year, which had 178 total cards purchased. This year, that number has been surpassed on an incredible thirty-six  occasions so far, including a recent Marcell Ozuna catch card (Card 362) that just 113 cards sold. 

Before I go on, let me show you the Brewers Topps Now cards that came in from eBay recently. 

I still feel compelled to buy them right now. I have two more on the way, I think. I'm guessing that if the Brewers fall off (and by the way they are playing lately, they will fall off the pace quickly) Topps will fairly ignore them going forward.

I am quickly arriving at the point, however, of ignoring current cards. Sure, I'll collect them if they are sent to me, and I'll probably even buy them as team sets on eBay or at card shows. Even then, I'm not 100% committed to it. It's still "probably" because I'm kind of burned out on the decision making that goes on at Topps. 

For instance, there is the inexplicable decision making that went into the Archives set autographs -- particularly including Zack Hample as an autograph subject. If Topps did not have a completely tin ear, it would have known that Hample is an object of scorn both in the baseball card community and in baseball generally thanks to his ballhawking getting in the way of things like decency and letting military people go to the game at Fort Bragg last year. Similarly, Topps included a New York Yankees fan in the Archives autographs (Fat or Loud Vinny or whatever...who really cares what his name is). Even if those two were in Allen & Ginter, it would have been disappointing. 

Speaking of Ginter, I really liked this set when I first got back into collecting. Ginter & Archives. This year, the Brewers had three base cards in the set. How does that stack up? The Cubs and Mets have 15, the Reds have 9 as do the Diamondbacks, the Rays and Twins have 7, the Padres have 6, the Yankees have 17, and the Red Sox have 19. I know -- the world was clamoring for a new Johnny Damon on the Red Sox card or a new Henry Owens cards (since we sure didn't get enough of those last year /sarcasm). The only team close in terms of the small number of base cards is the Angels with 4 and the Montreal Expos, Milwaukee Braves, and Brooklyn Dodgers with 1 each. Of course, those last three teams no longer exist.

Where am I now with collecting? I don't know, honestly. I'm still grabbing Brewers cards here and there, but I'm more likely to find myself deep-diving on eBay looking for a new police department set to add than I am looking for the single Ryan Braun autograph from a set. I guess what that means is really that I will focus as much -- or more -- on the things that I enjoy in collecting: oddballs.

I'll keep posting here -- don't get me wrong -- but my attention may be spent more on the 1980s Oddball blog than here. 

This was more of a personal vent than anything, so I apologize if it made you upset or if you are the world's supercollector of Henry Owens for whom Topps is printing cards.