Monday, August 7, 2017

The Amen Break Featuring Cards from Angus

Over the course of about three weeks, I got several packages from my Canadian friend Angus of Dawg Day Cards. Angus first introduced himself to me about two years ago and immediately waded in on my card war with the legendary Jaybarkerfan. This summer, it seems that Angus found himself on a driving tour of the United States with stops in Ohio, Arizona, and parts in between. In the process, he stopped at card stores and bought things -- hopefully plenty for himself to get his blog reignited -- and a few things for other collectors.

I thought about this post as I was driving home today -- that I needed to get off my lazy butt and post some samples of the cards that Angus sent my way. I had no idea, however, what I was going to say about them or whether I would have music to go along with the cards.

Then, NPR's All Things Considered had a fascinating five-minute story about one of the most famous -- and most frequently sampled -- drum breaks in the history of rock: the "Amen Break." The break was played by the late Gregory Sylvester Coleman of a DC funk band called The Winstons, and it was in a B-side called "Amen, Brother." The song itself is a simple enough piece -- only 2-1/2 minutes of funky jazzy sounding beats. The break is located at about 1:25 in the song:

If you are a music fan, you'll recognize that break soon after you hear it. According to NPR, it's been sampled more than 2000 times. According to the exhaustive "Who Sampled" website, that total is actually in excess of 2500 (2661 and counting). 

That ought to give me enough options for songs to select to accompany the cards from Angus. So, let's get to it.

N.W.A., "Straight Outta Compton"

Needless to say, that song is NSFW. It's the most popular song according to "Who Sampled" to have sampled the Amen Break. It is pretty obvious in the song too -- literally the whole drumline on this song is the Amen Break on loop. And this is almost always the way that the break is used -- as the foundation for the entire song.


Speaking of foundations, the foundation of my baseball card collecting truly came from chasing police card sets. I know I have said it on many occasions, but these police cards created my love for oddballs and comprise a large portion of each player collection I have for players before about the year 1996. The police sets continued after 1996, but they just are not as easily available. 

As an aside, the Jerry Augustine above was the first new addition to his player collection since June of 2016 -- when I added another police card to my PC for him. 

Snow, "Informer"

Canadian rapper Snow used the Amen Break as the base for his famous song "Informer." Once again, as with N.W.A., the drum break -- here, slowed down a bit -- is basically the entire base for the song. I had to use Snow, after all, since he is Canadian -- having grown up in the North York district of Toronto.  

I have always liked this song for its fast, mostly incomprehensible lyrics and the reggae sound incorporated in it. That sound comes honestly -- Snow's neighborhood in Toronto was a heavily Jamaican area, and he is well respected in Jamaican-Canadian music circles for his music. It's also incredibly catchy -- thanks in part to the Amen Break.


I think this is perhaps my second Topps Pristine card and the first one that I have that is encapsulated by itself. I'm very tempted to take Richie out of the hermetically sealed package for ease of storage more than anything. Still, it's tough to disturb the Topps hologram seal on it. My little kid voice in my head keeps screaming, "You'll ruin it if you take it out of that case! Don't do it!"

I listen to that kid, usually. I mean, I still collect cards thanks to that kid, so why wouldn't I?

Yaz(oo), "Situation (The Aggressive Attitude Mix)"

This one takes a little bit more listening. Slowly but surely, however, that drum fill becomes clearer as the underneath drumline again. I've always been a big fan of Yaz (Yazoo in the UK). As I have mentioned before, Vince Clarke of Yazoo came out of Depeche Mode and formed Yazoo with Alison Moyet. After Yazoo, he teamed up with Eric Radcliffe as a band called "The Assembly." Later in his career, he joined up with Andy Bell to form Erasure. 

If you want to hear something truly cool, do a YouTube search for "Foreigner vs. Yazoo Urgent Situation". It is what it says it is -- a mashup of "Situation" and "Urgent" and it is fantastic.

I'm not sure that Warren Spahn would have ever heard of Yazoo, though he certainly heard of Yaz from the Red Sox. I have my doubts that Spahnie would have even cared about Foreigner either.

Before the advent of at-bat music and music for guys coming in from the bullpen and, well, the wall-to-wall music that now assaults our senses at every sporting event because God forbid fans be allowed to cheer organically for their team, how did fans know what music that baseball players liked? I find myself assuming that Spahn would have been a fan of Frank Sinatra or Guy Lombardo or something similarly big-band and tuxedo-clad. But does anyone know?

And what makes me contemplate this stuff, anyway?

Jay-Z featuring Mary J. Blige, "Can't Knock the Hustle (Desired State Remix)"

This song is a remix of Jay-Z's third single from his debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Mary J. Blige appeared on the track as a favor to Damon Dash. But, by the time that Jay-Z's album was about to drop, Blige had already blown up and her label did not want her associated with some unknown punk from New Jersey. So, Combat Jack a/k/a Reggie Ossé (a lawyer for Def Jam/Island) tells the story that he basically had to beg for her to remain in the song. The whole story is intriguing to me, and you can read it on the song's Wikipedia page because why should I type the whole thing again!

Hostess cards rule. These were all condition upgrades to the ones I had in my collection already from my little kid days. Those days saw me as a 6-year-old learning how to cut along lines to get the cards off the box. I wasn't always successful. Actually, I was downright terrible at it and have a bunch of Hostess cards that are miscut, cut crookedly, or have weird scissor cuts from a jagged-edge fabric scissors getting used.

Pete Broberg is an interesting guy. He went to Dartmouth from Palm Beach County and is the son of a one-time Palm Beach municipal court judge. He grew up surfing off Palm Beach island. He loves sci-fi books and movies, and spent much of his time at the theater on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach watching Saturday sci-fi matinees. 

He excelled in baseball in high school, and the Oakland A's made him their first round pick -- second overall -- in 1968. He was selected one spot behind Tim Foli, two spots ahead of Thurman Munson, and 126 picks and 5 rounds ahead of future Brewers star Cecil Cooper. He didn't sign, so the Washington Senators made him the first overall pick in the 1971 June Secondary Draft out of Dartmouth.

His career was not what one would have hoped for -- 41-71, 4.56 ERA in just under 1000 innings pitched. But, Pete was a smart man and attended Nova Southeastern Law School. He made Law Review and was published in the Nova Law Journal. Even more wisely, all he does is draft and administer wills and estates and handle residential real estate closings in the law firm that still bears the name of his dad's law partner and his dad. So, maybe some day in the future, he and I will run into each other at a Florida Bar Association meeting. After all, Construction Law falls under the Real Property and Probate section of the Florida Bar.

The Theme from Futurama

Perhaps I should have put Pete Broberg's card with this song.

You can hear the Amen Break for the first time around the 12-second mark of the song, and it appears on and off throughout the song. 

I've watched a few episodes of Futurama. I never started watching it regularly, probably because I never watch much of anything all that regularly unless my wife wants to watch something with me. I really have never been a big TV watcher -- I was always wanting to be outside or reading or listening to music or organizing my baseball cards. I also like silence a lot too.

To close things out, Angus sent me these Leaf Certified autographs from 1996. I believe that this is my first David Nilsson autograph, so that's really cool.

Mike Potts jumped out at me as being interesting in this group. Potts was born in Langdale/Valley, Alabama -- just across the Chattahoochee River from Georgia and south of I-85. He went to high school in Lithonia, Georgia -- a town just outside the I-285 "Perimeter" and just north of I-20 in Eastern DeKalb County. The Indians drafted him from Lithonia High School in 1989, but he did not sign. The Braves then drafted him in 1990 from Gordon College in Barnesville, Georgia and signed him. The Brewers signed him off waivers before the 1996 season, and Potts pitched in 24 games for the Brewers that year.

Potts was done with baseball after the 1996 season. He decided at that time to follow in his father's footsteps and became a police officer. He worked for a couple of years for the Durham Sheriff's Office before he joined the North Carolina Highway Patrol in 2001. Potts was injured in the line of duty in February of 2013 when, on what seemed to be a routine traffic stop, he was shot in both of his hands, in his shoulder, and in his face. 

Mikel Edward Brady II was sentenced to 20 years in prison as part of a plea deal for the shooting. Thankfully, Potts was able to return to his position within a year and by February 2014. Potts saw his bravery and resolve to get back to work as nothing more than just doing his job. In May of 2014, he received the North Carolina Purple Heart for injuries received in the line of duty. 

Here's a photo of him receiving that award:

Angus, thanks for the great cards -- and especially for the excuse to find out about Patrolman Potts and Pete Broberg!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Two More Crackin' Wax Breaks

Greetings from sunny and humid Ponte Vedra, Florida. I'm attending a trade organization meeting this weekend, which will leave me with a fair amount of downtime -- it will almost be like a vacation of sorts in some respects.

Of course, I still need to dodge the local fauna.

So, as I have written about a few times here on Off Hiatus, I subscribed to the "Topps Package" with Crackin' Wax as part of the charity case break series. The last two products in the package were Topps Series 2 and Museum Collection. 

I tend to forget about Series 2 being separate from Series 1. I'm still stuck in the 1980s, when all the cards were issued at once and had 792 cards in the set and had checklists without front photos and had prospect cards and team checklists. You know -- the good old days of wild overproduction! So, getting the guaranteed team set from Series 2 from Chris was a good thing. 

As for Museum Collection, I splurged on a box of it for myself back in 2014 when I got back into collecting. I like the product in many respects, but there are problems with it too. I like the base cards -- the high quality, thicker stock with a classier looking design appeals to me. I wish it could be a standalone product with just the base cards and two or three parallels sold in packs of 6 cards for $5 or something. The problem with it is the problem with all of Topps's non-flagship sets (other than 2017 Stadium Club for some reason): the Brewers generally get ignored. 

The Brewers really got shafted by both Series 2 and Museum Collection in terms of hits this year. It was so bad that I got money back from Chris on both breaks because of the lack of chances at a Brewers hit. So what did I get?

Let's hit up some music and introduce the cards!

How about a cover of a Loverboy song that sounds like it is being played in a drainage pipe? Sure, everybody is working for the weekend. No question about it. And there's nothing like a cover artist from Saskatchewan playing it to make it awesome!

These are the rest of the base cards from Series 2 that I didn't show in the break that Peter did. It's a mixed bag. Taylor Jungmann has spent most of the year in Triple-A. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been added to the 40-man roster twice and designated for assignment twice so far this year. Matt Garza has been as good as you'd expect a mid-30s starter in a contract year who can't stay healthy to be. 

Chase Anderson was developing into a guy who could be an ace earlier this year before straining his oblique and being put on the DL on July 1. His injury arguably was as big a turning point in the NL Central race as the Cubs getting Jose Quintana was -- he was pitching that well. Don't believe me? Check this out: in his last 7 starts before the injury, he pitched 41-2/3 innings, giving up 21 hits and 8 walks, striking out 44 and allowing 6 earned runs (1.30 ERA, 4-1 record for him, 4-3 for the team with two losses blown by the bullpen). Those are ace numbers.

Finally, we have Eric Thames, who has cooled down (as you would expect) since April. He has been okay, but his April stats have obscured a slash line of .221/.338/.450 since May 1 (14 HR, 27 RBi in 293 plate appearances). That's acceptable based on the OPS, but that is a factor in why Jesus Aguilar is getting more playing time as the season goes on.

I'm not sure if this counts as "trip hop." It's pretty relaxing, even if the guy in the video wears too much eye makeup and yells at us all the time and even if the song is called "Dummy." 

Wait, I'm not a dummy, and neither is Chris. What is going on here?

Okay, now I get it. Parallels are for dummies. Well, if there are too many parallels its makes us all feel like dummies, I guess. This one is out of 65, if I recall correctly. You'll have to forgive me for being dumb and not noting that on my scan file even though I knew I would be doing this remotely.

Maybe I am a dummy?

This song was originally written by Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernandez Marin, who was given the name "Mr. Cumbanchero" by President John F. Kennedy. Hernandez is a hero in the Puerto Rican community. There are schools in the Bronx, Boston, and Newark named for him, as is the airport in Aguadilla, PR. 

Always good to have a little bit of upbeat music on a Thursday to get you heading in the right direction for Friday and the weekend, right?

I'm pretty sure that Topps has been stamping "buybacks" just to get rid of its inventory of 1990 Topps cards from its warehouses. Perhaps I should try to put together a 1990 Franken-team-set of Brewers from these buybacks, but I really just don't like the idea of chasing the cards. I'll take them if people want to send them, but dang...actively seeking out the 1990s? No thanks.

Also, Robert Flores is a native Houstonian and a huge wrestling fan who apparently owns a Louisville Slugger autographed by Ric Flair. 

This song strikes me as a bit uninteresting. Alexa Goldie is a Canadian artist whom some were thinking might be the next Avril Lavigne, except that these songs just weren't all that great. 

I'm not sure if anyone has picked up yet on the theme uniting the songs I've used here today. Perhaps it would help if I told you that Topher Stott is the drummer on this song for Alexa Goldie? 

Right, Chris?

In reality, I've saved the best for last. For the first time in a long time, I beat the odds in a break and got legitimately great cards for my collection:

The "Meaningful Materials" serial numbered to 50 beat the odds for me. Getting a gold parallel for Braun was nice too, but Brewers hits have been sparse this year. In fact, they have been fairly nonexistent this year in the breaks in which I've been involved. So, when I finally had the opportunity to check in on the break and see what happened with it, I was incredibly excited to find out that I got a nice serial numbered patch. 

Still, I'd rather that there be a separate product for the base cards away from all the hits -- I mean, these designs are excellent and look sharper in hand -- even if the photo cropping makes the card look miscut. 

Chris...Topher...whichever....thanks for running these breaks and enjoy the Topher music!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Series 2 Break with Sylvia Plath

I really enjoy the diverse group of people that I encounter through the baseball card blogs and baseball card twitter and baseball cards generally. As with any group as diverse as ours, we all tend to find people that we are most like -- or at least with whom we get along best based on similar backgrounds, similar current lives, or even just similar dislikes. 

One of the people whom I feel like I truly get along with well is Peter from Baseball Every Night. I think we really bonded first over the dislike for the Ortiz-gasm that Topps had last year. Then I found out Peter is a serious, real-life scholar who focuses his scholarly life on the life and times and work of Sylvia Plath. 

I've never asked how or why that happened, but it's pretty cool to me to say that I actually know a real life world renowned expert in literally anything.

Peter broke a box of Topps Series 2 recently and was kind enough to send out the cards from the break on a per-team basis to whomever would pay the $3 shipping to get them. That sounded like a good deal to me, so I joined up immediately. Even though I had already joined Crackin' Wax's break (that will be my next post hopefully over the weekend), I told Peter I'd take the Brewers. After all, you never know when that single Brewers hit might come.

To honor Peter's generosity, let's go to music...inspired by Sylvia Plath. Now, I'm not 100% sure that these songs are all inspired by her or reference her. I'm just taking a Tumblr post's word for it.

1. Belle & Sebastian, "Enter Sylvia Plath"

I figured I'd go with a song that clearly is about her or references her -- Belle & Sebastian's "Enter Sylvia Plath" is pretty obvious about it. I chose a version that had the lyrics imposed on the video in case those help. 

This is a very long song -- over 6 minutes long -- and I have to admit that it got a bit repetitive to me. While the ballet dancing used in the video is cool, the vocals on this song start to meld together -- especially around the 4:15 point where the lyrics simply say, "From my faith [x36]." 

Let's start this Brewers post with two guys who have both had really top-notch seasons who might not get the publicity that other guys get. First, Travis Shaw, whom people know thanks to his having been with the Red Sox for two years. I don't know if it is just that he developed further since he is in his age-27 season or if it is that the Brewers had enough guts to just let him play third. 

One thing I will say that I don't like about his card is the attention to detail. Apparently, Topps Photoshop team couldn't be arsed to think about the fact that Milwaukee doesn't have red in its color scheme and, as a result, Shaw might just wear anything but red batting gloves. I have found photos from this year of him with pink, white, gray, blue, and black batting gloves...but not red.

The other big surprise story might just be "Sunday." Domingo Santana (for you non-Spanish speakers, Domingo in Spanish is Sunday) came over to Milwaukee from Houston in 2015 in the Carlos Gomez & Mike Fiers trade. Last year, he had some injuries that plagued him all year and limited his time on the field to just 77 games. This year, he is hitting .285/.374/.494 with 18 HRs and 9 SBs (in 12 attempts) while playing at a league-average level in right field. 

By the way, he doesn't turn 25 years old until Friday, has played 236 major league games, and yet he does not reach arbitration eligibility until 2019. 

2. The Bangles, "Bell Jar"

I'll admit it. I had no idea that this Bangles song existed. The Bell Jar, of course, is Plath's only novel and was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The book is said to be semi-autobiographical and shows parallels between Plath's own experiences with what might have been clinical depression and the protagonist's mental illness.

But I'm not a Plath scholar, and I have not read the book. Thus, I defer to Peter's wisdom and statements about it.

I will note that I'm not sure how a movie based on the book directed by Kirsten Dunst and starring Dakota Fanning will do. Hopefully, it will be a better movie than the 1979 version starring Marilyn Hassett and directed by Larry Peerce. No, I've never heard of them either.

Corey Knebel started the year as the setup man to Neftali Feliz. Neftali Feliz was a complete disaster in Milwaukee (27 innings, 23 hits, 8 HRs, 15 BB, 21 K, 5 losses), so Knebel took over as the closer in May. He's done fairly well, but the bullpen for Milwaukee has lost a lot of games for the team. I keep reminding myself that this is a growth year. 

Zach Davies has had a Pete Vuckovich in 1982-style year this year to date. His ERA is slightly worse than league average, his strikeouts are down by over 1 per nine innings, and his walks are up 0.7 walks per nine, and yet he has gotten such crazy run support that he has a 12-5 record. Pitcher wins are such a bullshit stat.

Again, I have to remind myself that Zach Davies only turned 24 before the beginning of this season. He needs to keep developing and improving, certainly, and we Brewers fans have to hope that he stays away from the injury bug.

3. Tears for Fears, "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams"

This song was a B-side for Tears for Fears initially before being released as a single in 1991. Apparently the song was conceived of as taking a verse from the song "Sowing The Seeds of Love" sung as a rap, combined with a Talking Heads-style chorus, and put over the chord structure from one of Tears for Fears biggest hits, "Shout." 

The song title was pulled from a collection of short stories that Plath wrote that was published posthumously in 1977. The second print edition was split into four parts and included a number of new stories not available in the first edition.

Hernan Perez is like a Swiss Army knife. He's got tons of different uses -- even having pitched an inning this year -- but he is never the exactly correct tool for any particular situation. You need that knife's corkscrew in case you need to open a bottle of wine, but it's not an ideal corkscrew and there are far better ones available. You need that little scissors every once in awhile, but it's better to have a real, full-sized one. You get the picture. Perez is useful to have around to give guys around the diamond a break, a day off. If he starts every day, though, he's playing too much.

Jesus Aguilar was a surprise waiver claim from Cleveland before the season started. He played well in spring training to force his way onto the 25-man roster and has split time with Eric Thames at first base. He's a player that is nice to have around -- he's a good hitter who gets on base -- but he should be seen as expendable to improve the roster in the offseason.

Finally, those throwback uniforms on the team card are sweet, aren't they?

4. Breathe Owl Breathe, "Sylvia Plath"

Breathe Owl Breathe is a folk-rock band with a pretty unique sound. I mean, not many rock bands have a cellist playing pizzicato cello. Well, not many rock bands have a cellist. This show is from a series called "Sleepover Shows." The song is actually pretty cool, to be fair. Just very laid back. And, this video is 100% hippy. The band has an album called Passage of Pegasus that was produced by Eric Johnson of The Shins, for what it's worth.

The final cards I'm highlighting from Peter are these two. First, we have a Blue Jays-era Eric Thames photo in foil. It's odd -- I don't think I got any foil parallels in the Crackin' Wax case break, but I got one in this single box break.

The other card is, of course, the Legend Eddie Mathews. I think that's Mathews photo 3 that Topps always uses. Of course, Peter did not have to send me this card, but he knows I collect Mathews and was kind enough to make an exception.

Peter, many thanks to you for hosting the break. One more song for you: "Crackle And Drag" by Paul Westerberg.