Sunday, January 25, 2015

There is only one Boog Powell

I really try not to be one of those people who has difficulty adjusting to the changes that are inevitable with advancing age.

As someone who was born in the '60s, grew up in the '70s, went to college in the '80s, and started a family in the '90s, I've seen the world shift a time or two. Sometimes I hop on board and travel along. But there are other times when it is very obvious that I'm too stuck in the past and things happen by which I simply cannot abide.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A's completed a trade that sent Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to Oakland. The Rays received John Jaso and a couple of prospects. One of those prospects is named Boog Powell.

Yes, Boog Powell.

If this doesn't strike you as everything that's wrong with the world today then you're too young to read this post.

I don't follow minor league baseball very closely or I probably would have come across this particular fellow's name before. But it's a good thing I'm a little slow because everyone now has been spared about six months of me crabbing about this. "Boog" Powell had been in the A's organization for a few years, was the MVP of one of those low level all-star games last year, and was even banned for 50 games last summer for taking a banned substance.

But I don't care if he becomes the most famous baseball player to ever walk the earth, he should not be named "Boog Powell."

There is only one Boog Powell. He played in the major leagues for 17 years, mostly with the Orioles. He won the MVP award in 1970, grabbed a couple of World Series rings, starred in Miller Lite commercials, and became an icon in Baltimore, where he is as well-known today as he was when he was playing.

And now some 21-year-old is walking around as Boog Powell.

Obviously, I don't blame the kid. I'm sure he never heard of Boog Powell when someone started calling him "Boog". I've read that the story goes that his father wasn't even a fan of Boog Powell but did follow baseball. And here's the funny thing, according to media people who have written about this, his real name -- ha, ha -- isn't even "Boog". It's Herschel.

Well, guess what? The real Boog Powell's first name isn't actually "Boog" either. It's "John". But he made "Boog" "Boog". There can't be another Powell named "Boog". An MVP and two-time World Series winner with a damn fine barbecue made it his own. Find your own nickname that isn't part of baseball lore already.

This is even worse than that guy calling himself Reggie Jackson and playing NBA games. OK, so his actual name is Reggie Jackson. BUT HIS FOLKS SHOULD BE PAYING ATTENTION! THERE IS ONLY ONE REGGIE JACKSON!

This boggles my mind. If my last name was Fawcett and I had a daughter, I would do everything in my power not to name her "Farrah". I'd serve jail time before I did something like that. I know and respect the '70s too well. Or at the very least don't want my kid answering endless questions about her name.

I guess this is what it comes down to though. Either people are too young to know the '60s and '70s or just don't revere the famous figures from that time as much as I do. This is all about me again and probably less about people who are calling their kid "Boog".

But I'm still not exactly rooting for a second "Boog Powell" in the major leagues.

Tell 'em, Boog:

All righty then.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cardboard appreciation: 1971 Topps Ernie Banks

(Greetings. Today is Beer Can Appreciation Day. It recognizes the day when beer first became available in cans in 1935. And they say The Depression was a terrible time. Pop open a cold one and appreciate beer in a can AND cardboard. It's time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 220th in a series):

This is the first Ernie Banks card I ever owned.

Well, not this particular one. When I was first getting back into card collecting, a guy I knew at work liked Banks a lot and wanted my 1971 Banks card. Even though the '71 set was a distant collecting goal of mine at the time, I traded it for a bunch of '75 Topps cards, and regretted the deal only slightly.

But it was enough regret to cause me to trade for another one not long afterward. This card isn't in as fine of condition as my previous Banks -- it was quite a feat that one of the first '71s I owned was a well-conditioned Ernie Banks card -- but it served my purpose, the set is complete, and I ain't feeling no pain.

Until last night anyway.

The news of Banks' death broke around 10:30 p.m. Friday. I was working. The guy next to me said "uh oh" in that way that means "there's a story coming that's going to force us to ditch a lot of the work we just did for the last hour-and-a-half."

From there, I checked the wires and the online media for news of Banks and waited impatiently for stories and photos to come in, so we could squeeze some sort of recognition of the passing of a baseball icon into the paper before deadline.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I felt a little bit sad when I was doing this.

Amid the frenzy, I felt the need to look at a Banks baseball card. I didn't remember posting the '71 Banks on my blog, so I searched out the 1956 Topps Banks card that I nabbed at a card show just last year. I have this need to gaze upon a card of a player who has just passed because it somehow makes me feel better. And that's what I tweeted, just to get some of the pain out.

I have no real connection to Banks. He retired before I even knew what baseball was. I'm not from Chicago. I'm not a Cubs fan -- far from it, in fact.

But the loss of Banks is devastating to baseball, perhaps more so than the passing of other Hall of Fame greats.

Banks' attitude about baseball, his "let's play two" mantra, and his sheer love and joy for the game is something we need.

Today's baseball world isn't as sunny as Banks was. Sure, there are players who enjoy the game and are grateful they get to play it, but how grateful would they be if they made the money Banks did and played doubleheaders as often as he did?

Oh, the grumbling you would hear.

We live in an age of a much more cynical ballplayer. A ballplayer who values his time, his body and his space. "Playing a doubleheader? How will I be compensated for that?" But this isn't just about today's baseball player, it's about today's world. You've seen Twitter, chat forums, YouTube comments, Facebook rants and the general sarcasm and satire in today's most popular movies and TV shows. The bitterness. The entitlement. The relentless criticism. I'm just as guilty on this blog and in real life.

"It's a great day to play two." Yeah, this would fly with some people. We could handle it and favorite it the first time or the second or third. But that sunny disposition over and over? Imagine someone coming in to work every day saying, "Isn't it a great day?" Would we be able to handle that? If Ernie Banks was an office worker, we'd be plotting for ways to get him fired.

I need players -- and everyday people -- like Ernie Banks to show me how to act, how to behave, how to talk about the game in a positive manner and not be ripping every manager, umpire, player all the time. Sure, joking is how we deal and I'm sure Banks joked a lot, but I never got a mean-spirited vibe from him. And I certainly never heard him whine. If he did, he hid it well.

Banks was -- and still is -- a role model. We need veteran players from the '50s and '60s, who played when the money wasn't there and the field conditions and hotel accommodations were merely adequate, to show us what true love for the game is.

I guess what I'm saying is these players have wisdom and we need it.

Banks was baseball. He played the game in a way that none had seen before. A shortstop with 47 home runs in a season (note that the 1971 Topps card has him playing first base. So do his 1963-70 Topps cards; he played more games at first than at shortstop).

He played the game right. But he also talked the game right. He gave voice to that time when all of the annoyances of life were just incidentals because they got to play baseball every day.

No stories about not being respected. No demands to be traded. No plotting team against team to get an extra 20 million.

Just a living, breathing example of how we should regard this game.

It's a game. The sun is shining and look at all that green grass. Put down your devices, and let's play two.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Face percentage

It's difficult to explain Twitter to those who are not on it. Sure, it can be a time waster. Sure, it's filled with spastic people. Sure, it's not for everyone.

But as someone in the media business and someone with a blog, it's a necessity. In my job, Twitter is how we get the word out. We're in the information business, people come to us for it, and more and more people are on Twitter. Ergo, get the information on Twitter! You want to make the daily newspaper relevant to teenagers? Just start tweeting high school scores at them. They'll never forget you.

But in my blog, Twitter is where I go for ideas, man. Twitter is an idea factory, there are thousands of conversations producing millions of ideas at any time.

A few weeks ago, when a couple of Twitter accounts started discussing "face percentage" on baseball cards, I thought, "hey, that's an idea I had!"

Like so:

"Face percentage" refers to the amount of territory that a player's face takes up on a baseball card. Phungo had referenced the 1977 Topps Catfish Hunter card, which I know and love and is almost entirely face.

Those super-tight close-up shots on a player's face are a staple of the mid-1970s, a period that I also know and love. I can shout out the cards with the greatest face percentage on cue:

1976 Topps Pete Rose!
1974 Topps Garry Maddox!
1975 Topps Jesus Alou!

1974 Topps Bill Melton!

1976 Topps Lou Piniella!

And on and on and on.

But Upper Deck also relied on tight shots of players' faces during the 1990s, most notably in its earliest sets. And because every card company copied Upper Deck during that decade, you can find cards with notable face percentages in other sets, too. For example the 1995 Stadium Club Eric Karros card.

This is a former Nebulous 9 need that was sent to me by Lifetime Topps and completes my 1995 Stadium Club team set.

Face percentage is a funny thing. Some of the cards are awesome, and you can tell the card company intended for them to be awesome. Others are uncomfortable, and although the card company probably didn't intend for that to happen, they still are. I consider this Karros card to be in the "uncomfortable" category.

But whether uncomfortable or not, it has to be way up there in face percentage.

So, in a future post, I'm going to find the cards in my collection with the greatest face percentage and feature them here (for those of you who thought I was going to do that now, you have to keep in mind I waste a lot of time on Twitter).

As I said, this has been an idea of mine since the first few months I started this blog. It's been scrawled on a little notebook for six years now under the working title of "big heads". So I can't wait to get to it with a proper title, and you can be sure I won't forget it.

Now, for some more cards from Lifetime Topps with photos that were taken from a more reasonable distance.

There is Karros again and you get to see his whole body now, which is much less disturbing. At right is knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. For a brief second I thought I was getting a Jesse Orosco card.

More Finest from one of the finest Finests from 1994. My love for a super-green set cannot be explained, but it's not the only green set that I love (see '93 Select).

You can tell that Charlie checked my want list because it's loaded with 1990s cards. Here are early SP diecuts that were so loved Upper Deck devoted a retro set (Timeline) to them.

A goodie from the very first SP set. While people were chasing these things back then, I had no knowledge of them. None. And for like another 15 years. Don't think you're so tough now, SP, huh?

Lastly, another elusive 2014 Topps Archives card. Just a bunch of Dodger SPs left that I'll probably ignore for months/years.

The last seven cards there I showed have lousy face percentage. You won't be seeing them on the post that is nothing but faces.

No on that post you'll see nostrils and beard stubble and skin blemishes. Get ready.


Thanks to Twitter pals High Heat Stats MLB and Phungo for moving the idea along.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The coral snake effect

If you have some knowledge about cards from the 1980s -- particularly the most featured cards from the 1980s -- then this card, even if you have no idea who Bob Pate is, probably looks vaguely familiar to you.

It is a card that leads to the "Coral Snake Effect".

I didn't make up that term. It was mentioned on my 1985 Topps blog by hiflew from Cards from the Quarry. And it didn't have to do with this 1981 Donruss card of Bob Pate, it had to do with this card:

Yeah, I know, "who the hell is Keefe Cato?" You've got to read my '85 Topps blog and then you'll know.

But this post isn't merely about nobody ballplayers. It's about how these players resemble someone else much more well-known in the set. In hiflew's and Keefe Cato's case it is the Eric Davis rookie card.

They don't really look like each other, but they share some other characteristics. They're both Reds, they're both featured cropped at the chest, they're both wearing chains, they're both turned toward the right and both looking off to the right.

For a youngster just starting out collecting cards in 1985, it would be easy to confuse the two if you weren't familiar with their backgrounds.

This is the "Coral Snake Effect". As any herpetologist knows, there are many, many species of coral snakes. Some are venomous and dangerous. Some are harmless. But all of the snakes look similar except for an identifying clue in the pattern of their color band ("red on yellow will kill a fellow, but red on black is a friend of Jack").

Eric Davis' card is the "cool" dangerous snake. He's potent. He's powerful. He means business in the form of a productive career. And his card was worth a bit of change back in the '80s. You could see how mixing him up with someone named Keefe Cato could be a terrible mistake.

Keefe Cato's card is the imitator. He's harmless. And his card has always been worth pennies.

Now, when hiflew brought this up, I couldn't believe it, because I had a post in mind for several weeks regarding my own encounter with the "Coral Snake Effect". I already had the cards scanned and ready to go, but without the cool snake analogy.

So let's go back to that Bob Pate card:

For me, Bob Pate was the harmless coral snake. The lookalike who was pretending to be tough and valuable.

Which card did he resemble?

I'm sure you know by now.

Tim Raines is the poisonous coral snake. His rookie card has bite. It will cost you a couple of bucks and even more should he ever in our lifetimes make the Hall of Fame.

Don't get the two mixed up.

Stupid Donruss and its similar poses.

Stupid Expos and their similarly striped sweatbands.

And what's with all the black bats?

When I was collecting in 1981, I mixed up these two cards all the time. I was a multiple victim of the Coral Snake Effect. Then when I discovered I had the wrong player identified, I chuckled about how similar they were. They were two of the most similar-looking cards that I had seen in my seven years of collecting cards.

By 1981, I did have an idea of who Tim Raines was. He started off that season by stealing bases at almost a per-game rate. But, as far as I was concerned, at the point that I pulled the Raines and the Pate cards (no doubt, back-to-back, knowing Donruss), these two guys' futures were a complete mystery.

I would look at them and wonder what path each of them would take. What was in store for them? Who would be the better player?

Well, it turns out Raines was a base-stealing bad ass who played for 20 years and even sent a son to the major leagues.

Bob Pate?

Uh, Bob Pate would have only six more at-bats after his '81 Donruss card was issued. He was released after the 1981 season and then played for the Astros in the minor leagues for a couple of years.

He did have one thing on Raines in 1981.


Pate's 1980 major league statistics are on top.

But don't you believe those stats.

That's just the non-venomous coral snake trying to get you to believe he can hurt you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Getting somewhat serious about the '70s countdown

While waiting and waiting for last night's post to appear on everyone's blog rolls -- the post was inexplicably delayed by Blogger for three hours -- I went through the cards that I had featured, cataloged them, filed them ... and discovered I had five of them already.


Then it hit me. No matter how well you prepare and research, something's going to go wrong. You're going to acquire a card you already had. Blogger's not going to publish the post at the time you scheduled. Despite your best efforts, you're screwed.

Planning and preparation merely ensures that there are fewer issues, not no issues.

This brings me to my long-ago announced Best 100 Cards of the 1970s countdown. Since I decided I was going to do this, I've kind of lost focus and I still don't know when I'm going to pull this off.

But at least there are small spurts of effort interspersed with all of the uncaring. For example, I have researched the cards from one of the sets from which I own few cards. I now have the majority of 1973 Topps committed to memory and know which cards might make the countdown.

A few weeks ago, I made more progress and ordered some of those '73 cards that could make the countdown. I would prefer owning all of the countdown cards. Maybe that's not possible for a legitimate countdown, but that is the plan.

So here are some of the cards you might see whenever this little project comes to pass:

Lots of good stuff here. A player looking to the ump for the call is instant photo gold. And it appears we have the guy who placed the tag in the photo, too. For more on this game (some say it took place on June 28, 1972), you'll have to wait to see if this card shows up on the countdown.

One of the epic dust cards of the 1970s. I can tell you that the Mets player sliding into home is Cleon Jones. But I have so many more questions that will only be settled if it appears on the countdown. That dust, however, will never settle.

OK, this is where we get into a discussion of "best". How can a card featuring someone with no team name across his chest be considered for a "Best 100 Cards of the '70s" list?

Well, as is often the case with my lists, "best' does not merely include "best quality photograph." "Best" means "memorable", "iconic" "most capable of generating a discussion." You want a list of cards with photos that are perfectly exquisite then wait for me to be able to afford a box of 2014 Stadium Club. But that's not what I'm going for here.

I want cards that are the most memorable. The John Ellis card qualifies.

So does this monstrosity. Everything about this card is comically awful. Bob Locker is airbrushed -- poorly -- from an A's uniform to a Cubs uniform. But they didn't include a uniform number on the back of his jersey. The A's outfielder in the background is also airbrushed to look like a Cub with a giant red "C" added to his chest because why not? However, the shoes -- which I think are Oakland A's gold -- are left untouched. Throw in the fact that Topps wants you to believe that the Cubs played the Twins in 1972 and we've got something to tell the kiddies.

The only problem is this card isn't the only example of such bizarre artistic behavior in this set. And that will have to be carefully considered when whittling down the candidates.

I still have a couple of '73s to order. And then I will study that other Topps set that has been off my radar -- 1970.

After that, I need to decide what I'm going to do with the 1976 SSPC series. Or whether any Hostess cards should be added. Because if that's the case, I still have a lot of work to do.

I know, I know, all this planning doesn't mean the countdown is going to go perfectly.

But it makes me feel better about the final product.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Junk wax smiter

Before I go back in time, here is the 2015 Topps Series 1 checklist, which was released today. My quick reaction to it is:

Lot of the same stuff we've seen in recent years. ... Kershaw has to stop hogging awards so I can stop collecting those league leaders things with guys I don't care about. ... Oh, look, Derek Jeter is card No. 1 in the set, that will cause people to flip out -- oops, they already did. ... The inserts have card numbers (instead of letters) on them again --- weeeeee! ... The first-pitch insert is interesting in a D-list celebrity kind of way.

But real reaction will have to come when the cards hit store shelves near me. Right now, today's excitement came in the haul that arrived at my doorstep this afternoon.

I made it a mission to clear out as many junk wax-era Dodgers sets as I could. I have no desire to continue chasing cards from this time period. It's not particularly memorable for me and the cards are far too plentiful for me to still neeeeeeeeeed them. So I found as many rinky-dink sets from Fleer and Score as I could, ordered them up, and crossed off a whole mess of Dodgers from this period. It feels good. It feels real good.

So let's see what I killed off:


Two Baseball's Best team sets finished. The Halloween set from 1988 and the Dammit 1990 Donruss Should Have Been Blue set. Both are officially smitten.


I don't know if 1985 should be lumped in with junk wax, but this kicked off the period when Fleer started issuing cards in tiny boxes and if your store didn't like tiny little boxes TOO BAD FOR YOU. I considered this an unlevel playing field. I grew up in a period where all cards were available to me, at stores or in cereal boxes. But with Fleer boxed sets I've been paying for some store's decision not to stock them for almost four decades now.

This is from 1986. Yeah, I don't care that it's off-center. It's OFF THE LIST!

From 1987. I should like this card more than I do. BUT IT'S CROSSED OFF!

Ah, yes, Fleer did the sticker thing in '87, too. FINITO!

And in 1988, too. DONE!

A 1989 set wasn't worth anything if it didn't have Kirk Gibson in it. OVER!

Same goes for Orel Hershiser in '89. KAPUT!


Score's sets from this time period are difficult to pinpoint because of all the "Stars" in the title. There were sets devoted to "Rising Stars" and "SuperStars" and "Chase Stars".  This one is from 1991 Rising Stars. Yeah, I know, 1991. Can you believe I needed a card from 1991? What was wrong with me?

SuperStars, also from 1991. SAY GOODBYE TO THE WANT LIST!

Moving on to 1992. Shouldn't have needed any card from 1992 either. CROSS IT OFF!

This one was a little trickier. When I tried to land all of the 1992 Score Traded Dodgers, Eric Davis was conspicuously absent. No longer. CONQUERED!


Of course we are talking about the time period when more than one company was allowed to make cards, so there were a few random junkies that I found, too.

Another Orel Hershiser from Classic III. ELIMINATED!

This was a mash-up between the toy store and Stadium Club. And both cards are mine. ERADICATED!

Isn't that glorious? I wasn't even looking for it, it wasn't on my want list. I just heard something announce itself -- in French, of course -- and it had my attention instantly.

Canadians work so much harder on their card backs.

By my count, I completed 16 team sets with that package. Sure, a number of those were one-card sets, but why bring that up when I'm having so much fun?

This doesn't mean I don't have anymore junk wax Dodgers to get. There are still some floating around, and there is stuff like tiffany parallels, which I don't know if I'll ever work up enough enthusiasm to track. But I'm happy that most of the heavy lifting is done and I can move on to other things.

Speaking of which, you didn't think I'd order a bunch of cards and it'd be nothing but junk wax, did you?

I left a little for a few other things:

1984 Fleer Update Dodgers. Boy, these are elusive bastards. I haven't seen one of these in my seven years of blogging. The Mike Vail card is still out there laughing at me. But I'll find it.

More elusive nonsense. What's a collector have to do to get a pink parallel from his favorite team? This is my first pinkster and since these are so annoyingly pricey, I made sure to make it good in the event I never bother to get another one.

Two high 700s cards from the 1972 Topps set. These are high, high HIGH numbers. You might get a nosebleed looking at these.

Oh, yeah, and a Koufax.

I always forget about him.