Monday, October 5, 2015

2015 Trevor Cahill and Topps Heritage

Trevor Cahill used to be a decent pitcher. With any luck, he'll be a decent pitcher again as it doesn't seem as if injuries are the problem. He was a combined 43-47 the first 4 years of his career with the A's and D-Backs. That maybe doesn't sound that great but the A's were a sub-.500 team for the three years he was with them. The Diamondbacks were 81-81 in his first year with them (2012). After that things rapidly started going downhill. Cahill ended the 2014 season with a 3-12 record and a 5.61 ERA. But he was still a Diamondback at the end of the 2014 season so his first (that's right, his first) 2015 Topps Heritage card shows him as a D-Back.

2015 Topps Heritage was issued around the beginning of March, much to early to account for the Trade of Cahill to the Braves on April 2nd. Somehow, the Braves looked at Cahill and decided to offer him a 2-year $26,000,000 contract.

So you might think, that if Topps decided to put Cahill in the High Number Series set he'd appear as a Brave, but not so.

In 15 appearances with the Braves, including 3 starts, Cahill was 0-3 with an ERA of 7.52. The Braves released him (remember he has a 2-year $26,000,000 contract) on June 19th. He later signed with the Cubs (on August 18th) much too late to appear in the High Number Series as a Cub.

So what team is Cahill with in his High Number Series card - The Dodgers, of course.

Here's where it takes a little effort to find out why this is. does not show and transactions involving the Dodgers although they do show him in the Dodgers minor league system. According to Wikipedia, he signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers on July 2nd. He pitched 1.6 innings for the Arizona Dodgers with an ERA of 16.2. From there he went to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes for 4 innings and then to the Oklahoma Dodgers but didn't get into any games before he decided to become a free agent. He sure travelled a lot this summer.  I'm guessing that the photo is either from his time with the Arizona Dodgers or is Photoshopped.

Friday, October 2, 2015

2015 Topps Heritage High Number Series

After trying two Targets, I found blasters of this product at Walmart. They had 3 boxes and I bought them out. I was really hoping to get this card.

2015 Topps Heritage #563 Carlos Correa

I finally pulled it from the last pack in the third blaster. Whew!  Correa is the Astros entry in the AL Rookie of the Year sweepstakes. As of when I was writing this, Carlos was .281 with 21 home runs and 61 RBI. He was called up in June and has been the regular shortstop. And he plays great defense at short. This card is going for $8-$10 on eBay. There is also an "action" variation of this but I didn't to see any of those in a retail box.

I had already pulled this card from the first blaster I opened.

2015 Topps Heritage Chrome Purple Refractor #563 Carlos Correa
Notice that the Purple Chrome and the regular card are cropped differently. This was in the second pack I opened. Every pack in that 1st blaster had a Purple Refractor in it with no indication on the box that such a thing was possible.

I also pulled this from that 3rd box,

2015 Topps Heritage Clubhouse Collection Relic Gold Chris Davis

According to the box, the gold relics are seeded 1 in 267 packs. I love getting relic cards in retail boxes. Not that this is such a hard card to get. You can go on eBay right now and get it for about $5.

I also pulled this from the first blaster.

2015 Topps Heritage Bazooka Yasmany  Tomas

There were 25 of these in the regular issue although I never saw one. There are 10 in the High Series. 

So I'm pretty happy with the boxes. All-in-all, there were 216 cards of which 26 were inserts or parallels. I haven't actually gotten through all of them yet but it looks like I only got a handful of dups. So maybe I got 190 of the 250 card set. Not enough to tempt me into trying to collect all of them. Also, I think I pulled all the Astros in the set and maybe all the Phillies. Not bad.

On the other hand there was entirely too much of this sort of thing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Reading List - September 2015

September seemed to fly past. Now it's Fall. Cool crisp days and chilly nights. Well, not in Houston, where I live. Hopefully it's different where you live.  Here's what I read in September.

Ty Hauck is a former cop who now works for a private investigative firm that he founded. After a particularly rough case, he's on a long vacation in the Caribbean. He gets a call from an old friend. The friend's daughter (Haycks goddaughter) is in some kind of trouble in Colorado. Ty decides he's had enough sun and fun and heads out to help her. The girl, Dani Whalen, had found the body of a friend in a local river. The friend had been running the rapids and apparently had an accident. But Dani knows that he's an expert on the river and didn't believe his death was an accident. By the time Ty arrives, she'd learned some stuff which she brought to her step-father, the local police chief. He had his own reasons not to investigate too closely. Ty and Dani eventually unravel the plot involving a giant oil operation and a fracking operation.  A little far fetched but I liked the writing.

"Prador Moon" is an early entry in Asher's Polity series. The Polity is a star-spanning human government run by a group of Artificial Intelligences. Except for space pirates and criminal underworlds, it's a pretty peaceful society. Then the Polity runs into the Prador, an alien crab-like race with no interest in human beings beyond what they taste like. Asher writes good hard science fiction that I like.

I had just read the audio book of one of the later Indridason novels about Inspector Erlendur last month. I went looking for earlier books in the series and found this. It's actually the newest Erlendur novel, but is a prequel of sorts. It deals with Erlendur's earliest days as a policeman when he was still a beat cop. He gets involved in the death of a homeless man that he'd known. Erlendur starts wondering about the man and his life and starts. The more he learns the more he comes to believe that the man was murdered. Pretty good and even more interesting as it takes place in Iceland where things are different than around here.

I wouldn't have thought that quantum mechanics would make for a good basis of a novel but here it does. Eric Argus is burned out as a quantum physicist. A brilliant mathematician, the implications of the math of the quantum universe drove him to drink. Due to the intervention of an old friend he gets a job for a research startup. He has 6 months to find some fruitful branch of research. After weeks of indecision, he decides to recreate the famous double-slit experiment that showed the duality of light, it's both a particle and a wave. As he tries more sensitive photon detectors, he makes the unexpected discovery that if an animal makes the detection he would get a different result than if a human being made the detection. At this point, Kosmatka is, in my opinion as a chemical engineer, taking a lot of liberties with the theory. The story leads to a discovery of multiple universes and an age-old struggle between those who would try to collapse the universes and those who would not. A little confusing at the end.

Adam Price is a pretty ordinary guy, although on the high side of ordinary. He's a property lawyer with a beautiful wife, two wonderful sons and a big house in the suburbs. One night, a stranger approaches him in a bar and tells him a secret about his wife, something that Adam didn't know. The secret was devastating. It causes Adam to question his whole life. Meanwhile, this stranger is approaching other people with similarly devastating secrets. Adam's wife disappears and Adam attempts to find her and to also find the guy who has ruined his life. His and the other stories come together in a bloody confrontation. A pretty good who-dun-it and well written.

This is the second Ted Williams biography that I've read. The other was "Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams" written by Ed Linn in 1993. This second book was written in 2004 and therefore includes the last 8-9 years of Williams' life. If you're a baseball fan then of course you know the salient points of William's life. The last man to hit over .400 for a season. A brilliant career interrupted by two stints of war service (WWII and Korea). A multiple All-Star and Hall of Famer. If you're not a baseball fan the only thing you may know about Williams is that his head is frozen in a vault in Arizona. This book takes you through all the baseball stuff plus his fishing and hunting, his troubles with various wives, his troubles with the Boston sportswriters. It also details his decline after a stroke in 1994. I last remember seeing Williams at the 1999 All-Star game where he looked so bad. The last years of his life were pretty sad as he came more under control of his son John Henry.

This is the second novel in the Ty Hauck series when he was still a detective with the Greenwich CT police force. I couldn't find the first but I have it now and will report on it in October's book list. "The Dark Tide" isn't written as well as "One Mile Under" but was still a good story. As with the latter book, the story begins with a seeming accident, the hit-and-run of a young man in Greenwich. It looks like an open and shut case. Murder for sure but the police have no leads on the suspect. On the same day as this death there was a terrorist attack in NYC on a commuter train. Months later, the widow of someone killed in the attack comes to Ty with her suspicions about her husband's death that somehow seem to tie into the unsolved hit-and-run.

Just look at that cover. This should be the kind of book I like. It's the second book in a series. I read the 1st book a few years ago and didn't remember any misgivings about it, so when I saw this I snapped it up. Unfortunately it's a mess. It has a good, if not original, plot involving a coalition of several alien species with humans against an implacable alien foe that desires to wipe out all life in the universe. But the writing will keep me from picking up the next book in the series. I nearly abandoned this 600-page book several times but kept with it for some reason. Here's an example of the bad writing. Nearly every time Anderson returns to a character, he feels it's necessary to tell us something about that character. Something he's already told us several times. The book might have been only 300 pages without all that revisiting.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The 1990s Baseball Cards Face-Off - Babe Ruth 2nd Quartile

Check this post to see my methodology.

Let's get back to the 1990s. Here's the opening bracket for the 2nd Quartile of the Babe Ruth Division.

To me this looks like a weaker division then the 1st Quartile. Too many gimmick cards (like 1996 Pinnacle Aficionado). We'll see.

1996 Leaf vs. 1999 Upper Deck MVP

1996 Leaf #42 Mickey Morandini

1996 Leaf #68 Travis Fryman

1996 Leaf starts out strong with bright full bleed photography on the front then blots out the left and bottom edges with team-color coordinated foil. The player name is hard to read in the foil bottom and the team name is almost impossible to read, wrapped around the Leaf logo. The backs aren't too bad with another full bleed photograph about as large as the photo on the front. There is also a porthole photo which seems to have been popular with the 1996 Leaf-Donruss family (see 1996 Studio from the 1st Quartile). Current year and career stats in too small printing, especially since they had room to make it larger. The cards are glossy front and back.

1999 Upper Deck MVP #202 Fred McGriff

1999 Upper Deck MVP #27 Mike Mussina

There is a lot of design on this card. The photo shades into a team color-coordinated blur on the left. A pixelated MVP is picked out in silver foil, plus MVP is spelled out in dots in the background. Silver foil lines and circles are all over. Player and team names are hard to read. The back has a small headshot in a circle with full career stats and some bio information. The card number is small in the upper left while the player's uni number is in larger font near the bottom left. This can be confusing. There are more lines and circles. The cards are glossy front and back. 

The results: I don't really care much for 1999 Upper Deck MVP, the cards are needlessly busy. But I really dislike 1996 Leaf. So I'm giving it to 1999 Upper Deck MVP as the lesser of two evils.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Movie Review - The Intern

Most of the movie reviews I do here seem to be about superhero, science fiction or action movies. That's because it's hard to find a movie that isn't about one of these themes that I want to see. After seeing both Robert DiNero and Anne Hathaway on the talk shows last week, we decided to give "The Intern" a try.

Robert DiNero plays 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker. He's been retired for a few years, and although he manages to keep busy, he feels there is "a hole in his life". He sees a flyer for a "senior intern program" at a local (Brooklyn) startup and decides to go for it.

Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, the founder and creative genius behind that local internet startup, called  "About the Fit", an e-commerce fashion company. She reluctantly agrees to take on Ben as her intern even though she, who is clearly busier than a one-armed paper hanger (to turn a phrase), doesn't think she can find anything for him to do.

It's mainly a fish-out-of-water story. Ben, who was formerly a VP of a telephone book company, is a can-do guy, who just so happy to be out of the house, so he'll do anything that looks like it needs to be done. You've seen this story and you know how it ends. Ben becomes everyone's friend and even cold, hard Jules is eventually won over.

What sets this apart for the run-of-the-mill story is the writing, and Robert DiNero. DiNero has certainly shown is comic chops before, in fact he got offered this part after Nancy Meyers saw him in "Silver Linings Playbook". Anne Hathaway is no slouch either, having appeared in a variety of roles in her career. There are very nicely paced sections of dialog between Ben and Jules that just carry the story along and establish them as real people.

DiNero is great a Ben. Ben is "old-school" but not a dinosaur. He may be a bit behind the technology curve, but he's eager to learn. He gets submerged into a chaotic office full of people younger than his children but always keeps his head up. The reaction shots of DiNero to his coworkers and their troubles is great. There is a scene during one of the interviews where he is asked about college. "What was your major? Do you remember?" DiNero's look is perfect.

There is one scene where the movie almost gets out of hand. Jules accidentally sends an unflattering email to her mother. She wants her IT people to retrieve it but is told it's impossible. Ben, in what sounds like a joke, suggest that he take a couple of guys over to the mother's house, break in and delete the email before her mother gets home from work. Then they do it. About 5 minutes of slap stick comedy follows, but director Meyers (who also wrote the story) manages to not let the scene take over the entire movie.

The only weak link in the film is Jules' husband, Matt, played by Anders Holm. It's not that Holm plays the part badly it's just a little hard to believe that Jules would have married this guy.

Jules and Matt have a young daughter (6 maybe?) played by JoJo Kushner. Young Kushner steals every scene she is in, basically playing a grade school edition of Jules.

The movie brings up a lot of important themes about women in the work place, older people in the workforce, mother-daughter relationships, and the expense of apartments in New York City. It doesn't do much with any of these bit it's not trying to be an issues movie. It's trying to be a story about how people cope with a lot of these issues and it does a good job at that.

I'm a retired guy, not quite as old as DiNero portrays here, but I'm pretty satisfied with retirement. If Anne Hathaway offered me a job, however, I'd seriously consider going back to work.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Van Landingham vs. Isringhausen

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know. According to Wikipedia a major league baseball record was tied on May 29, 1996 when William Van Landingham of the Giants faced off against Jason Isringhausen. The record?  Longest combined names of starting pitchers in a game.

1997 Topps

This record is actually mentioned on the back of Van Landingham's 1997 Topps card only it says the game was on April 13, 1996. It also mentions the pitchers in the previous record game, Pittsburgh's Fritz Ostermueller vs. the Phillies' Ken Raffensberger in 1944.  Remember those guys? This looks like it was a game for the ages. The game was on 9/29/44. Raffensberger who finished that season 13-20 with the 61-91 Phillies beat Ostermueller (13-8) for the 62-90 Pirates. There were 1,000 people packing Shibe Stadium to see this game. At least it was short, only 1:43 long. 

1995 Collector's Choice Special Edition Silver

I don't own Isringhausen's 1997 Topps card (or any 1997 Isringhausen's) but checking an image on-line I see that this important record is not mentioned on his 1997 Topps card.

So when was this game, 4/13/96 like Topps says or 5/29/96 like Wikipedia says?  Wikipedia has it right.

Van Landingham pitched 7 innings to get the 4-2 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium. Rod Beck got the save. 

Both starters gave up all the runs. After the game, Van Landingham was 3-7, and Isringhausen at 2-7. Not exactly a game of pitching titans.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The 1990s Baseball Cards Face-Off - Babe Ruth 1st Quartile Finals

Check this post to see my methodology.

Here's were we were last week:

1993 Flair vs. 1996 Studio

1993 Flair Willie Blair #36

1996 Studio Craig Biggio #41

In my opinion, there is little wrong with 1996 Studio. Crisp colors, full bleed printing, head in a porthole. But, also in my opinion, there is everything right with 1993 Flair. I have loved this set since the fist day I saw them in the last local card shop in the southern Houston suburbs. I only have about 20 of them. They were darn expensive for 1993, a 5-card pack went for $5. 

The Result: 1993 Flair

1991 Upper Deck vs. 1994 Topps

1991 Upper Deck Roger Clemens #655

1994 Topps Darren Daulton #380

Man, I like both of these cards as well. Superficially, there's not much difference between them. Both feature good photography, white borders and a color photo on the back. 1994 Topps is higher on the evolutionary scale than 1991 Upper Deck, as it is glossy, but in this case, that doesn't matter much. Nobody was producing glossy cards in 1991 whereas everybody was by 1994. Two things I've always liked about 1991 Upper Deck: the baseball colored photo borders (green for grass, light brown for dirt) and the placement of the photo on the back.

Result: 1991 Upper Deck

Final Round

1993 Flair vs 1991 Upper Deck

1993 Flair Hal Morris #29

1991 Upper Deck Tony Gwynn #255

When I started this I didn't realize how difficult it was going to be to make some choices. I obviously like like 1991 Upper Deck, but I love the overall look and feel of 1993 Flair.

The Result: 1993 Flair

So let's fill out the rest of the bracket.

So where does 1993 Flair fit into the overall scheme of the competition? 1993 Flair has reached the "Sweet Sixteen" level of the Face-off. You're probably going to have to click on this image to understand it.

Next week we'll start the 2nd Quartile of the Babe Ruth Division.