Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Club: Ty Cobb - A Terrible Beauty

OK, football season is finally over. The last football has been turned over, the last pass not caught and the last stupid penalty has been made (I'm talking of course about Super Bowl 50).

Now let's get back to baseball.

I like to read the ocassional baseball book, especially during the off-season. I just finished this (actually during the 1st quarter of the Super Bowl).

 So what do you know about Ty Cobb? I knew that he is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. That he was universally reviled for his style of play (spikes high to cause maximum damage), that he got into a lot of fights on and off the field. He is also believed to have been an unmitigated racist. Charles Leerhsen goes to considerable lengths to disprove much of this 'common knowledge' about Cobb.

I love reading about baseball in the early 20th century. It's so much like the game I love today but there are so many surprise things that are different. Not so much about the rules but the atmosphere and the time in which it was played.  You get a lot of that in this book.

That Cobb is one of the greatest players of all time, and that he had a hair-trigger temper and got into a lot of fights, is not disputed by Leerhsen. That he was hated, that he went out of his way to spike and injure players and that he was a racist, Leerhsen disputes. He uses testimony from players who played with him, people who knew him off the field, and contemporaneous news reports.

He gained a lot of this bad reputation while he played but never did much to dispel it. The newspapers often wrote embellished stories (maybe even untrue stories) to sell papers. When he played, Cobb was the most popular player in the game, at least in terms of stadium draw. Leerhsen estimates that in his early years he added 200,000 attendees a year across the American League.

Cobb didn't do much to save his reputation after he retired until late in life. He got a book deal to write his autobiography ("Ty Cobb: My Life in Baseball") which was ghost written by Al Stump and published after his death in 1961. Leerhsen and others have pointed out the many errors and lies in this book but it did everlasting damage. The Ty Cobb movie which came out in 1994 was largely based on this book and other writings by Stump about Cobb. At least not many people saw it.

In a lot of ways Cobb was one of the first modern players. He believed players deserved more (like no reserve clause, Cobb was about 70 years too early on that, and coverage for medical expenses when players were hurt). He studied opposing pitchers, keeping detailed notes. He had an odd batting style but he found what worked for him. In the so-called dead ball era he made the best out of bunts, slap hits and base running, but he could hit a home run when he wanted. One catcher is quoted as saying, if Cobb took off to steal second, he'd throw the ball to third. Cobb understood the psychology of getting into the other players' heads. He'd dance around on 1st base daring the pitcher to pick him off. When the pitcher tried, Cobb would often steal second and then third on the same play. Cobb holds the record for stealing home base at 54 times.

Regardless of your preconceived notions of Ty Cobb, I recommend this book.


Friday, February 5, 2016

2010 Topps Commerative Patches - Robin Roberts

I've never been a big fan of these Topps manufactured patch cards but don't mind getting them as a throw in in blaster boxes. And of course I like them a lot better if the cards depict either Phillies or Astros. I recently picked up these Robin Roberts two cards from 2010 Topps.

 The patches use the original logo from the games. I like this Liberty Bell inspired logo for the 1952 game which was, of course, played in Philadelphia. Robin Roberts, appearing in his 3th All-Star game in a row (of 7 total), didn't actually get in the game. It would have made more sense to have put Curt Simmons of the Phillies on this card since he was the starter. Simmons pitched 3 innings. Bob Rush of the Cubs pitched 2 innings and got the win in this rain-shortened game. The Nationals won 3-2. Notable new comers to the All-Star ranks were Mickey Mantle and Satchel Page, neither of which got in the game. Roberts and Simmons were the only Phillies' All-Stars in 1952



The 1953 game was played in old Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Robin Roberts was the NL starting pitcher. He threw 3 innings of 1-hit shutout ball, but so did the AL starter Billy Pierce of the White Sox. The Nationals scored 2 runs in the fifth leading to an eventual NL 5-1 win. Warren Spahn, who pitched the 4th and 5th innings got the win. There were three other Phillies in the game, Curt Simmons, Richie Ashburn and Granny Hamner.

This Robin Roberts card also appeared in 2010 Topps.

 One of my pet peeves is Topps' habit of using the same photograph for multiple cards, especially when they do it in the same year.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ready or not 2016 Topps - First Card

I'm not sure I'm ready for 2016 baseball cards yet but here they come anyway.

I bought a blaster box which has some kind of metal medallion card and a 72-card rack box which has a Target exclusive "Amazing Milestone Card". I suppose I'm going to have to get one of these rack boxes at Walmart.

Here's the first card out of the first pack.


Card front: The big news, of course, is that Topps has chosen to go full-bleed (or I think I read "partial" full bleed) on their flagship set. I'm in two minds on this. For one thing, there is a place for cards with borders (and that place has been Topps for 64 years) and there's a place for borderless cards (and it's called Stadium Club). On the other hand, I've always been a sucker for full bleed cards.

I don't care much for the big slash with the team logo hidden in it. It's too noisy. The player name block is fine, even if it is filled with fog. The team name is a little small, maybe to compensate for the logo being so large.

I'm pretty sure I don't like the how photo fades into fog at the upper left and lower right corners. It's hard to see on this card but I peeked at some others from the pack and it looks like the entire background is blurred. That's pretty common for Topps of any year, so no point in complaining about it now.

The card back: Topps has not significantly changed their card backs since 2007 when they pretty much dropped a decent sized photo on the back (except for 2010). The logo slash thing works better on the back. The team name is hard to read but the logo makes up for that. The card number is printed in a light gray which may be hard to read depending on the background color. The fog in the top part works better than on the back.

Overall impression. I liked 2015 Topps quite a lot. It was a daring change from previous years. I guess 2016 Topps is also a daring change from previous years but I don't like it as much as last year's set.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The blog turns 8!

Another milestone around my neck.


I started the blog with my favorite baseball card and I've shown it on every anniversary. No use stopping now.

As near as I can make out, I had about 65,000 cards when I started the blog. I'd been collecting since 1985, so roughly 2,800 cards a year. I have about 96,000 cards now so in the 8 years since I started the blog I added almost 3,900 cards a year. 

The other thing I usually do is link to my first post so here it is. Post #1.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2015 Topps Pro Debut Fragment of the Farm

I know it's only February but I've already have the most ridiculous card I'm likely to buy in 2016.

I don't buy much Topps Pro Debut since I never see it in retail and forget about it. I was trying to round out my 2015 Phillies want list when I came upon this.






Some of the 16 cards in this set have player relics but most have pieces of stadiums. My favorite one may be from the Staten Island Yankees which features a chunk of a storm-damaged dugout mat.

The Williamsport Crosscutters are a Phillies single A affiliate in Williamsport PA. The team as been affiliated with the Phillies since 2006. This little piece of wood is from the sign on the stadium souvenir shop. The card is absurdly thick, 1/8 inch, which probably means it won't fit into an album page.

The team as been affiliated with the Phillies since 2006. This card is only from last year, the ballpark already has a new name as the Susquehanna Bank is now BB&T Bank. Although I've never heard of them, apparently Branch Banking & Trust is one of the largest financial holding companies in the country.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review - January 2016 Reading List

I've taken the librarything.com 100-book reading challange for 2016. I'm already behind.

The second of the Harry Bosch police procedural published in 1993. It's interesting to read this sort of book from the long ago time of 1993. Whenever Bosch is driving around and has to contact someone, he has to pull over to a pay phone. He types reports into a computer shared with the entire squad room picking his way through the amber printing on the screen. Everybody smokes. Detective Bosch, trying to close cases of his own, takes on some cases from another detective recently dead through suicide. He starts to see connections between cases which leads him to places his superiors don't want him to go.  My library has this in paperback form published in 1994. The book is so worn it was hard to turn the pages.

I always like reading Richard Schickel's movie reviews, first in Life Magazine (a long time ago) and later in Time. The first part of this book delved into silent films, which I don't know too much about and which a largely skimmed. But he eventually gets to a more modern era (like after I was born) and the movies were more familiar to me and I'd actually seen many of them. Not so much movie reviews as Schickel's remembrances of his favorite movies and why he liked them.

I picked this up several times in 2015, decided to skip it, but eventually brought it home. The premise is that the war of two alien species, much more advanced than humanity, has rolled over the Earth. Caught in the crossfire, humanity is almost eliminated. From the wreckage, a seeming human savior arises. The story was a little slow at times, but kept my interest. As I neared the end of the book I was wondering if this was going to be the first of a series, as I couldn't see any possible salvation. The ending was a little bit deus ex machina but I thought it worked.

I read Vol. 1 of this last year and since I got it for Christmas, I'll also be reading Vol. 3 this year.  Cushman reviews the story behind each "Star Trek" episode from the series second season. He covers such things as where the idea for a story came from, who wrote it, the editing and re-writing, the sets, casting, production and response to each show. If you're a fan like me, I think you'll like it.

 I'm not much for short story collections but I'd read stuff by Mieville I've liked so thought I'd give it a try. It was a difficult book. Many of the stories start out as good ideas but he almost never delivers on the opening premise. Many stories just start to get interesting but end without any resolution. You may find this book frustrating. Many people on Amazon did. As did I.

This is Gillian Flynn's second novel. I'd read her third "Gone Girl" last year after having seen the movie based on it. The story is told in three voices. Libby Day is a 30-something woman whose family was brutally murdered when she was 7-years-old. As you might expect she's still a bit disturbed. She comes in contact with a group of people who are convinced that the convicted killer, Libby's brother Ben, is innocent. The second voice is Ben Day. His story is told from his perspective on the day of the murder when he was 15 years old. He narrates his day from when he got up until the murders happen after midnight. The third voice is Patty Day, Libby's and Ben's mother. She also narrates the murder day. In much the same way as she did in "Gone Girl", we see multiple parts of the story, Libby's memories of the day, and Ben's and Patty's views of the same events but through entirely different lenses. The ending felt a bit contrived as I don't think Flynn set it up well, but I liked the book. I plan to read her first book this year.

 This is a book that I abandoned halfway through. I hate doing that. The book concerns the well-developed lunar colonies 2-3 generations from now. The book was about 5 large corporate families that control all the industry on the moon. There seemed no good reason to set the story on the moon. It could have been anywhere. There were a lot of individual characters and complicated relationships among the families and I was having a real hard time keeping everybody straight. At about the halfway point I checked the ending and it seemed clear this was planned as the first of a series. That's when I thought, this is enough. It's too bad because I generally like Ian McDonald.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Random Cards From My Collection #80

Card #1951
2000 Stadium Club Chrome #1 Nomar Garciaparra





Comments on the card/player: Over the years Topps has applied their Chrome technology (or technologies, as the treatment has changed over the years) on many of their brands. I always thought that 2000 Stadium Club Chrome was one of their better attempts.
How/When acquired: I liked this product enough that I bought a hobby box of it at $0.46/card back in 2000. I don't buy hobby boxes often.

Card #20848
1994 Pinnacle #468 Pete Incaviglia





Comments on the card/player: Incaviglia joined the Phillies in 1993, the year they took an improbable trip to the World Series. Phillies fans like to think of the 1993 Phillies as a likable group of misfits and oddballs, and they were, but to give them credit, nearly everyone on the team had career years in 1993, including Pete. It was fun to watch.
How/When acquired: Don't know.

Card #49220
2015 Topps Heritage #154 Chris Johnson





Comments on the card/player: This 31-year-old former Astro infielder, was traded by the Braves in mid-season to the Indians for another former Astro, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher. He didn't see much playing time with either team. The Indians released him at the end of the season and he is now signed with the Marlins.
How/When acquired: Paid $0.35/card for a blaster of Topps Heritage in March 2015.

Card #31576
1996 Pinnacle Foil #240 Terry Pendleton





Comments on the card/player: The last few years of Pinnacle really went overboard with the gold foil. This 1996 Pinnacle parallel card which marries all the gold foil with a foil board background makes for an oddly unattractive card.
How/When acquired: On the other hand I only paid 5 cents for it in a 100-card Fairfield repack and I could add it to my reference album since I didn't have one.

Card #40723
2006 Ultra Feel The Game #FG-BA Bob Abreu





Comments on the card/player: This is a nice colorful relic card, and the uniform bit even has a stripe. I always enjoy reading the relic descriptions on the back of cards like this. According to Fleer (or maybe Upper Deck) this bit of cloth was certified to them as having been used at an actual Phillies game. What it was used for, and perhaps more importantly, who used it, is not explained.
How/When acquired: I paid $5.00 for this at a card show in June 2013.

Card #37819
2013 Topps Heritage #18 Adam Lind





Comments on the card/player: Perhaps my least favorite of recent Topps Heritage releases. The front is OK but I don't care much for that orange Popsicle colored back.
How/When acquired: I paid $0.32/card for loose packs at Walmart in March 2013.

Card #13614
1987 Donruss #630 Charles Hudson





Comments on the card/player: In 1987, Hudson was pitching for the Yankees, where he preferred to be called Charles Hudson. He was a respectable 11-7 with a 3.61 ERA for the Yankees in 1987, the only winning season of his 7 years in the majors.
How/When acquired: Don't know.

Card #35131
2009 Topps Heritage Clubhouse Collection Relics #CC-CU Chase Utley





Comments on the card/player: I always like the Topps Heritage Clubhouse Collection Relics. This uniform fragment was presumably worn by Utley during a game in 2008, which is the year the Phillies won the World Series. And a stripe!
How/When acquired: I got this during my 2012 Summer Clearance Trade. I promise only junk wax of your favorite team in these trades and sometimes I get back cards like this. Thanks. It's probably about time I do another one.

Card #29791
1994 Topps Gold #480 Albert Belle






Comments on the card/player: In 1994, gold foil and parallel sets were not so common. Topps was a trendsetter then. Nowadays, both are common. I don't mind a little gold foil on a baseball card, but I don't care for multiple parallel sets.
How/When acquired: Don't know.