Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The end of cool


My guess is that everyone who came of age near the end of a decade has experienced this. But this is my story, and it revolves around Frank Tanana.

As a child of 10, 11, 12, I thought many of my cards were cool. Those cards featured players in action. Ralph Garr in 1975, Mike Schmidt in 1976, Bob Tolan in 1977. They also featured players with mustaches. Ron Cey in '75, Bob Grich in '76, Al Oliver in '78.

I would sit in my bedroom, or in the back patio, or on my friend's porch and shuffle, stack and stare at the cards from the mid-to-late '70s. My greatest concern, other than schoolwork, the jerky neighbor kid, or making too much noise in the house, was where I could find my next pack.

With nothing to clog my brain, I could evaluate which cards were the height of cool. And this 1977 Topps Frank Tanana card was the pinnacle.

This blog is not complete without a detailed dissection of everything that is great about this card.

First, let's consider Tanana himself. He is left-handed. I am left-handed. He was a second-banana to Nolan Ryan. I gravitated toward second bananas. Why pay attention to blowhard Fred Flintstone when his buddy Barney Rubble was so much more pleasant and funny?

Now, let's consider the card. It is a well-framed look at a fastball pitcher completing his delivery. It's difficult to tell, because of the shadow running across Tanana's face, but his expression appears to say, "here it is, try to hit it." He's almost smiling at the thought of what the batter can't do.

The best part of the card -- the part that drew my attention when I was a kid -- is the white blob to the left of Tanana's left hand. It is probably just background glare, but it looked to me as if there was actually SMOKE emerging from Tanana's hand, as if the ball had left a fiery trail.

This was too awesome for an 11-year-old like me to put into words. But I treasured that card like no other non-Dodger in the 1977 set, even the ones with the All-Star bars on the bottom. I didn't even know that Tanana was the reigning ERA champion at the time or the strikeout champion the year prior. All I knew was this photo and the fact that he was No. 200 in the set. I would trade this card for nobody.


1978 came and I was a year older. Tanana remained at the top of his game, a 200-strikeout pitcher with a ERA around 2.5.

When I saw this card, it disappointed me slightly. No action. However, the mustache, which was actually new for Tanana, erased my concern. What a terrific photo. Tanana, brooding -- GLARING -- in the dugout. I thought this card was cool, too.

Tanana was quickly becoming one of my favorite players. And, unbeknownst to me, he was becoming one of the ladies' favorite players. (That article explains the '70s better than I ever could).

Not only had I proclaimed him cool, but the whole world apparently had also. After all, he was card No. 600. Still throwing those double zeroes. Try to hit him.


Then came 1979.

Tanana hurt his arm. He pitched just 90 innings. His ERA soared. And while all of this was going on, I saw THIS card.

What the hell was this? Where was the action? Where was the mustache? Where was the brooding? Is this guy -- who you CLAIM to be Frank Tanana -- LAUGHING? Frank Tanana doesn't laugh. Except after striking people out. He broods, drops guys with a 100-mph burner, and then laughs. But he doesn't laugh in an empty stadium with one eye closed like a goofball.

FRANK TANANA IS NOT GOOFY, HE IS COOL!!!!

I was going through a rough time. I turned 14 in the middle of the year, and everyone knows that when you're 14, nothing is the same anymore. You are too aware. The world and everything you once thought awesome and heroic now sucks.

Add to that, it was the end of a decade. And it wasn't a very good ending. Gas lines and hostages. The decade, my childhood, was ending and never coming back, and neither was Frank Tanana. Or at least not the Frank Tanana that I knew.

It was the end of cool. His 1979 Topps card was the dividing line. For him, for the decade, for everything. God, the '80s were going to suck.


Tanana did come back, but with permed hair. I didn't like permed hair. Every guy with permed hair looked like my mom's female friends.

He also didn't have his old fastball anymore.


And then he didn't have his mustache anymore.

He later left the Angels and went to the Red Sox. His mustache returned, but he was a new pitcher with an array of junk instead of smoke. He couldn't throw fire. So what was the point of showing him in action?

Tanana actually lasted a lot longer after his injuries than anyone ever guessed. He also cleaned up his life and devoted himself to his religion.


I guess the dad in me, the grown-up in me, is required to consider those things cool, too.

But I'm sorry, this picture of a clean-shaven, junkball-throwing, 35-year-old guy would never be considered cool by a certain 11-year-old who was fascinated by his 1977 Topps baseball card.


This will always be the epitome of cool.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fans do the strangest things


I hate to be the one to break it to you, but wearing the same shirt five days in a row just because your favorite team won the first time you wore it, isn't going to cause the team to keep winning.

Neither is turning the TV off when your team isn't doing well and then turning it on again hoping that their fortunes have magically changed.

You can sit in the same place in the living room to watch the game for 14 straight days and it's still not going to yield 14 straight victories for your team.

No matter what you do, no matter how much you believe it, no matter how often it appears to work, there is one thing for certain:

You have no effect on your favorite sports team.

I know, because I've done most of the above and several other tactics, including drinking "magical" potions and watching the game upside down (I've probably done both at the same time). And it doesn't work. Your favorite team is going to screw up ... eventually.

Yet, we persist.

Not too long ago, I received a package from Adam of ARPSmith's Sportscard Obsession. I'd like to say he sent it out of the goodness of his heart. But his note blew his cover. It said:

"Here are a few Dodgers I need to get out of my house -- hopefully this might turn around the NL West as the Giants tanked around the time you sent me cards."

AH HA! So he's trying the old "I'll send a fan of my team's rival some cards in hopes that the good karma will be felt by my favorite team and they'll suddenly start winning again" trick! I'm wise to that one.

It's true that the Dodgers did start winning about the same time that I sent some Giants to Adam. But actually that had nothing to do with cards. That had to do with the fact that the Dodgers are sort of good, and that the Giants are built on pitching and pixie dust. (I could see that Michael Morse implosion coming in March).

And that's why I haven't quickly sent some Giants back in return. There's no need. The Giants are continuing to fall apart, while the Dodgers are doing OK -- until they blow up their farm system in some spastic effort to get a No. 4 pitcher.

So, I'm going to take my time. I'm not going to send out a karma package of my own. I'm not going to eat the same kind of sandwich for three days in a row while the Dodgers play the Braves. I'm just going to show some cards that Adam sent, all rational like.


Here is my favorite one out of the envelope. Topps is doing the Spring Fever thing at the card shops again this year and I had no idea until I saw this card. The design is a little different this time, but still tropical. I like it.


The Dodgers' horrible set-up man and impressive closer, all in their cherry cola glory. I now have almost as many Series 2 red parallel Dodgers as I do base card Dodgers. How about I put up a want list one of these days, huh?


Panini Prizm is out again this year. Did you know that? I barely did. Can you tell it apart from Prizm '12 or Prizm '13? I can't. You seen one guy in a medical worker jumper surrounded by a silver border, you've seen them all.


Here's more Panini of the Donruss variety. Donruss saved its best-looking cards (by far) for the inserts, or the short-prints, or whatever these are. (Can you tell I'm losing interest in modern cards?). The Gibson is fantastic given my recent infatuation with '89 Donruss.


We rational Dodgers fans still like Matt Kemp. We don't want to see him traded. We don't like media people who keep trying to trade him. But we're resigned to something terribly awful happening very soon.

So let's distract ourselves and say that this Topps Archives Kemp is very similar to last year's Topps super short-print Kemp.


Now don't all of you who ran out and bought the SPs at crazy prices in 2013 feel silly?

I think Topps doesn't have enough photos to go around for all the things that they do, but I guess that's just me.



A shiny, numbered Greinke. I thought he was weirdly pumping his fist when I saw this card, but I think he's just adjusting his uniform. Excitement.



More night owl befuddlement here.

This is one of those buybacks that appear in hobby boxes. I don't know what the purpose of putting a beat-up, creased 1977 Manny Mota card in a hobby box is when you can go online and buy this same card in terrific shape for probably 30 cents.

I suppose this is only a mystery that could be figured out if I shelled out money for a hobby box. I guess I'll just have to remain ignorant -- and put this card in my Dodger binder, because I'm a stupid team collector, too.


I'll end this post with one of those large-sized cards that Pinnacle and other card companies liked to do in the late '90s.

That's some good stuff, as always.

But it didn't work, Adam. The Dodgers swept the Giants last weekend, which I'm sure you know.

It never works.

Except when I refuse to check the results of the Dodgers game when I'm at my job until an hour-and-a-half after the game starts.

That always works.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Still some life left in this little card show


I'm not sure how much longer the card show that I went to on Saturday is going to last.

It's not even really a card show, it's actually a collectibles show that caters to the old money vacationing river people that arrive here every summer. It's mostly lots of elderly people trading coins and combing for postcards.

A year ago, the show was cut from the traditional two days to one day. I missed that show because I didn't know the change was made. This year, I was wise to them and headed up bright and early on a Saturday.

When I walked in, the table where I usually paid my three bucks was empty. In place of people taking money was a donation jar to raise funds for foreign exchange students at the local high school. "That's odd," I thought.

When I turned the corner into the hall, I saw more indifference. There were far fewer people looking over wares than I had seen in past shows. And most noticeably, an entire one-fourth of the hall that once featured tables was now empty. This wasn't good.

I gulped quickly and squinted, anxiously looking for the guy who sold me the '56 Duke Snider card two years ago. I saw him in his usual spot and marched right for his table.

I've picked over his table so much that most of what he has available are either cards I own already or cards that are way too expensive for me.

I settled on two cards:


This was a card I owned when I claimed it out of the large grocery bag of 1950s cards given to us by a friend of my father's in the early 1980s. Then, somewhere along the way, it disappeared. I'm pretty certain I foolishly traded it away, an action that mystifies me to this day. But I don't need to think about that anymore.


I always get Eddie Miksis confused with Eddie Waitkus, the ballplayer shot by an obsessed female fan. I'm sure there was part of me that jumped on this card because I thought it was Waitkus, even though Waitkus never played for the Dodgers.

The other part of me jumped on it because it was a 1951 Bowman. I love these more and more.

From there I wanted to see if I could fill some 1972 Topps set needs or maybe find another random '56 -- something anything, because I had the feeling this might be the only table with baseball cards.

The dealer said he didn't bring anything other than star cards because lugging around full sets of commons was "a pain". Wrong answer. But I agreed to take a tour of the tables and return to at least drop him my email so he could check the '72s he had at home and see if he had some for me.

I left there and ambled around a little bit. It wasn't long before I saw a table with a variety of items (I couldn't tell you what they were, anything that is not a baseball card automatically fades into the background). To the right of the guy manning the table were stacks of vintage cards tied together with rubber bands. A sign on the table said "$5.00 per stack or $12 for three".

The cards were mostly from between 1959-1973, but a good 80 percent of them from the '60s. They were in very good shape. But I could see right away that there was something wrong with most of them:


They had writing on them.

Whoever had these in their collection felt the need to personalize almost all of them with a single letter. In most cases the letter was "W".


Mostly Ws, anyway. There some Rs and some Ss and a few numbers, too.


The previous owner was also obsessed with noting when the position marker on the card needed updating. There were so many cards in the stacks with positions added. I hope this helped the young collector sleep at night.


And sometimes, along with marking his territory with a big "W", he made sure to add the city names, for reasons that I cannot deduce right now, or current major league affiliations.

I also came across several of these cards:


They were stamped with the name "Bill Wetmore", who I am assuming is the "W" on all of these cards.

What would possess somebody to stamp the front of their cards with their name? As a modern card collector, I was baffled.

There was also another name stamped on fewer of the cards.


Someone named "Bob Bolton" insinuating himself on a perfectly fine card of Pumpsie Green.

This was getting discouraging.


I mean this card was a semi-high number from the 1961 set, now scribbled on with the word "Rochester" across it!


Card after vintage card -- all in terrific shape, except for writing or stamping on the front. Shuffling through them, I didn't know whether I would bother with these.

The guy behind the table chuckled as a I picked up the stacks. "A few pen marks," he said.

Then he added with disgust: "I'd like to find the kid that did that. I mean that was a really great collection."

I laughed in agreement, but then I saw something that made me change my mind.

Some of the cards featured no writing on the front at all.

And one of those cards was this one:


It was just sitting there in the middle of one of those rubber-banded stacks. Probably the most iconic card of the early 1960s. Roger Maris' card the year he hit 61 home runs and broke Babe Ruth's record.

Sure the card featured a few rips and wrinkles at the bottom -- and there was a tape stain on the back -- but it was 1961 ROGER MARIS --  IN THE $5 STACKS.

I decided then and there I was buying at least that stack.

Then I saw a handful of unscrawled cards in some of the other stacks. A few of them featured a small "A" on the back, but that was hardly a deal-breaker.

So I bought three of the stacks -- including the Maris one -- for $12.

I did another tour of the remaining tables and saw only one other table with cards and they were horribly overpriced ($8 for one of those Gold Standard inserts from 2012 Topps????). So I decided to go back to the guy with the scrawled-on cards and snagged two more stacks for 10 bucks.

Each stack had around 50 cards. In total I purchased 284 cards from that table for 22 bucks. That averages to a little over 7 cents a card. A 1961 Roger Maris cost 7 cents.

Here are a few other relatively clean cards that cost 7 cents:


A Bobby Murcer second-year card from 1967 Topps. That should make a few Yankees fans jealous.



More 1967 Topps goodies. I'm picking up 1967 cards where I can and 7-cents per '67 card is the best deal I will ever find.



Two stars of the 1965 World Series runner-up Minnesota Twins. For a dime and four pennies.



A few more 1966 Topps cards for dirt cheap. I've never been a fan of this set, but seeing a few of them all at once, they don't look that bad. Maybe it's the bargain talking.



These two cards -- sure there are a few creases -- allow me to recreate one of those classic 1975 Topps MVP cards. For cheap.



This is the first '68 All-Star card I've ever owned.


Look: Yaz is open-mouthed aghast over how little his card cost.



Another set that has never thrilled me. But look how nice they look, and I will buy anything short of 1991 Fleer for seven cents.



Two very fine '69s. One has a small "H" on the back and one a small "A". And to that I say "Ha!" I'm still buying them.



Here is another set that I've never cared for, but I am helpless to cheap vintage cardboard with a solitary pen mark on the back.



Yes, I have all these cards already. But for 56 cents, you damn well better believe I'm taking them home again.


This was the only 1973 Topps in the lot. I just like 1970s choke-up cards.

Those were the highlights of the non-scrawled cards. But when I look at some of the marked up cards, I find that a lot of them don't really bother me.


A small "S" at the bottom of super colorful card isn't enough to give me facial ticks, especially since I have virtually no 1964 Topps that aren't Dodgers. These will represent the year well.



And since I want all the '67s I can find, some pen marks on Hondo, Hawk and a rookie cup aren't going to deter me.


Still not bothering me.


I mean look how glorious that card is. I barely see the penmanship.



Sure, this is a little annoying (yes, I acquired another card of Cap Peterson the day after posting about him).



And this is regrettable.


And, damn, I just feel sorry for Mike Fornieles.



But when you get down to it, stamped name or not ...



... pen mark or not ...


... I was pretty happy with what I acquired. Some of these cards that I landed without any expectation of finding something like this, will stay in my collection a good long time.

I was so happy, in fact, that I never went back to that first table to leave my email address.

I walked out of that dying card show full of life.