Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday Night at the Movies - The Dark Knight

There has probably been more than enough written about this movie. You'll have made up your own mind by now. But if you haven't seen it yet, you can believe the hype. Go see it.

I give it 5 capes (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

2008 Beep Baseball World Series

The 2008 Beep Baseball World Series started Monday, 7/28, in Houston. I'd never heard of this but apparently it's been around for 20 years. Beep Baseball is baseball for blind people. The ball is about the size of a softball and has a beeper inside. In the picture you can see a beep ball getting crushed. The game makes some concessions but generally follows the rules of baseball. A pitcher throws the ball and a batter hits the ball. The batter runs the bases (which also beep), the fielders field and try to make the outs. According to the Houston Chronicle article, the game is pretty competitive. The batters wear blindfolds as you can see as the game is open to the visually impaired, not just the completely blind. The blindfolds level the playing field, so to speak. I can't even begin to imagine how hard it must be to hit a baseball if your only clue to its whereabouts is the sound it makes. I expect that nobody is throwing 95 mph fastballs, but even still. Good luck to all the teams. You can find the the National Beep Baseball Association website here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Baseball and the USS Arizona

Here are some more photographs from my Grandfather's collection of navy photographs from when he was in the Navy from 1916 to 1922. These photos are from a baseball game, apparently some sort of championship game played in 1917 between the team from the USS Arizona and another team. I believe that the game was played at the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although my Grandfather's naval record is incomplete, we believe that he served on the Arizona around this time. Please click on the photos to get a larger view.

"AT 'EM ARIZONA". I have another photo showing a large crowd of people carrying this banner to the field. The Arizona had a crew of over 1,000 men, so a large crowd could be mustered.

It's impossible to say but I believe this is either the second baseman or the shortstop waiting for a throw at second base. Maybe the start of a double play.

This my favorite photograph of the set. You thought that Pete Rose invented the head-first slide? The best part is that the base runner has raised a great cloud of dirt but he's still at least a foot from the plate, and the catcher already has the ball and is waiting to apply the tag. Notice also that there is no umpire in sight, and there is a batter standing there. Was this an attempted steal of home? A botched hit and run?

This picture is what makes me think it was a Championship game. Unfortunately, I can't tell who won. The large banners in the background just say "Championship Baseball" on them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Book Club - 3 Nights in August

I like to try to read at least one baseball book a summer. 3 Nights in August was released in 2005 and I'm finally getting around to it.

The book is about a 3-game series in St. Louis between the Cardinals and the Cubs in August 2003. At this point in the 2003 season, the Cubs, Cardinals and the Astros were all vying for first place in the Central and for the Wild Card spot. This 3-game series was important to both teams because the race was tight.

The book takes place almost entirely from La Russa's vantage point. The author, Buzz Bissinger, was granted unprecedented access to the Cardinals locker room, dugout, and to La Russa himself. Bissinger goes into quite a lot of detail, at times he gives a pitch-by-pitch account. He reminds us, if we need reminding, that baseball is as much a mental game as a physical game. La Russa's approach to the game, not just these individual games, but the game in general, is described. La Russa comes across as a driven person, maybe too much driven by the game. But that's what it takes to reach the levels La Russa strives for (and has attained). Bissinger takes numerous side trips from the immediate game, almost always in response to something in one of the games. For example, the Cardinal's Kerry Robinson, normally a bench player, is a started in this series. When Robinson comes to bat in the 3rd inning of the 1st game, Bissinger takes the opportunity to talk about Robinson and contrast him with J. D. Drew, who should be starting but isn't, because he's hurt, again. Robinson is a guy who has all the drive in the world but not a great deal of talent. And for most of this series, he builds for himself an elaborate doghouse for failing to produce and for failing to practice baseball fundamentals (at lease the fundamentals according to La Russa). Drew is a guy who has all the talent in the world, but not much drive. La Russa sees him as a guy who should be better than he's shown but doesn't because he doesn't have to. And since this is baseball, Robinson hits a walk-off home run in the 3rd game to give the Cardinals the series.

The Cards win 2 games of the series and take over 1st place in the NL Central. But it doesn't last. The Cardinals finish 3rd behind the Astros and Cubs. The Cubs beat the Braves in the Division Series but then run into the buzz saw that was the 2003 World Series Marlins and that's the end of them.

If you're like me and mainly follow baseball games by listening to them on the radio while you're doing something else, this book will remind you of how complex, entertaining, and perverse baseball can be.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Song of the Week - Step Right Up by Tom Waits

I've wanted to post a Tom Waits song a couple of times, but the videos for the songs I wanted to post were all live versions. Tom Waits is an interesting character, with a deep and raspy voice. He's sometimes hard to understand in his studio recordings. Live, he seems to be nearly impossible to understand what he's singing. This song is from his Small Change album released in 1976. The song is composed almost entirely of advertising slogans. Waits has released 20 albums since 1973, the latest in 2006. I'm not real familiar with is later work but love his early albums. He has written some beautiful songs, which, when sung by him, take on a poignant quality.

As a point of irony concerning this song, Waits has steadfastly refused to allow his songs to be used in advertising and over the years has successfully sued advertisers who have used sound-alike singers singing sound-alike songs.

I chose this mash-up video instead of a live video of him singing it live. There are a lot of lyrics in this song, Waits sings it live like a jazz scat song rather than a song with actual lyrics.

Step right up, step right up, step right up,
Everyone's a winner, bargains galore
That's right, you too can be the proud owner
Of the quality goes in before the name goes on

One-tenth of a dollar, one-tenth of a dollar, we got service after sales
How 'bout perfume? we got perfume, how 'bout an engagement ring?
Something for the little lady, something for the little lady,
Something for the little lady, hmm
Three for a dollar
We got a year-end clearance, we got a white sale
And a smoke-damaged furniture, you can drive it away today
Act now, act now, and receive as our gift, our gift to you
They come in all colors, one size fits all
No muss, no fuss, no spills, you're tired of kitchen drudgery
Everything must go, going out of business, going out of business
Going out of business sale
Fifty percent off original retail price, skip the middle man
Don't settle for less
How do we do it? how do we do it? volume, volume, turn up the volume
Now you've heard it advertised, don't hesitate
Don't be caught with your drawers down,
Don't be caught with your drawers down
You can step right up, step right up

That's right, it filets, it chops, it dices, slices,
Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn
And it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school
It gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots,
It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens
And it finds that slipper that's been at large
under the chaise lounge for several weeks
And it plays a mean Rhythm Master,
It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar
And it's only a dollar, step right up, it's only a dollar, step right up

'Cause it forges your signature
If not completely satisfied, mail back unused portion of product
For complete refund of price of purchase
Step right up
Please allow thirty days for delivery, don't be fooled by cheap imitations
You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it
Swim in it, sleep in it,
Live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it
Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that's right
And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet
Tired of being the life of the party?
Change your shorts, change your life, change your life
Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife,
And it walks your dog, and it doubles on sax
Doubles on sax, you can jump back Jack, see you later alligator
See you later alligator
And it steals your car
It gets rid of your gambling debts, it quits smoking
It's a friend, and it's a companion,
And it's the only product you will ever need
Follow these easy assembly instructions it never needs ironing
Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff,
Gives you dandruff, and it finds you a job, it is a job
And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange,
And it gives you denture breath
And you know it's a friend, and it's a companion
And it gets rid of your traveler's checks
It's new, it's improved, it's old-fashioned
Well it takes care of business, never needs winding,
Never needs winding, never needs winding
Gets rid of blackheads, the heartbreak of psoriasis,
Christ, you don't know the meaning of heartbreak, buddy,
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
'Cause it's effective, it's defective, it creates household odors,
It disinfects, it sanitizes for your protection
It gives you an erection, it wins the election
Why put up with painful corns any longer?
It's a redeemable coupon, no obligation, no salesman will visit your home
We got a jackpot, jackpot, jackpot, prizes, prizes, prizes, all work guaranteed
How do we do it, how do we do it, how do we do it, how do we do it
We need your business, we're going out of business
We'll give you the business
Get on the business end of our going-out-of-business sale
Receive our free brochure, free brochure
Read the easy-to-follow assembly instructions, batteries not included
Send before midnight tomorrow, terms available,
Step right up, step right up, step right up
You got it buddy: the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away
Step right up, you can step right up, you can step right up
C'mon step right up
(Get away from me kid, you bother me...)
Step right up, step right up, step right up, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
Step right up, you can step right up, c'mon and step right up,
C'mon and step right up

Saturday, July 26, 2008

300 All-Time Stars Baseball Cards in 1988 (3)

This is a continuation of a series of cards listed in the 300 All-Time Stars Baseball Cards published by Consumer Digest as an investment guide for baseball card collectors. See the previous post here. To recap, any text in quotations is a direct quote from the book. I give an inflation adjusted value for the 1988 price in parentheses. And a note on price comparisons from 1988 to now. I don't know where Consumer Digest got their prices but I'm using Beckett for current prices because it's convenient. If you really want to know what a card is worth try looking for it on eBay.

In my last post, I missed 2 players, so let's pick them up and go on. One thing I noted is that they completely missed Barry Bonds.

Bert Blyleven - "Though not as hot as the cards of other pitchers, Blyleven's pasteboards are attractive to collectors because of their low prices now and their potential for increased value in the future". "Pasteboards"? Blyleven was a pretty good picture who amassed a 287-250 record over a 22 year career, which ended in 1993. The book speculates that he might reach 4,000 strikeouts, which I think, is what they are basing their supposition that his cards would increase in value. He didn't reach 4,000 but a respectable 3,701, good enough for number 5 on the career all time list. They list his 1971 Topps card at $5.50 ($14.61). Beckett lists this card at $20.00 today, easily beating inflation.

Wade Boggs - "His most recent cards start out at about 90 cents and climb upward quickly. With little room for upward price movement, we can't recommend buying his cards. But hang onto those you find in packs - they're like money in the bank". Maybe more like money in a failed savings and loan perhaps. Boggs had an 18-year career and a life time batting average of 0.328. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2005. Despite the book raving about his stats, they make no mention of a possible HOF berth. They list his 1983 Topps card at $23 ($42.50) which they say isn't worth buying. Well, Beckett lists that card currently at $15, so I guess they were right. You can get an ungraded card on eBay right now for less than $10.

Gary Carter - "If he should make it into the Hall of Fame, those who invest in his cards now will enjoy a nice profit at that time". I sure don't have any definitive data on this, but its not been my experience that getting elected to the Hall of Fame automatically helps a player's card prices. It didn't seem to do much for Wade Boggs cards. Carter was an 11-time All Star whose career spanned 19 years. And he was elected to the Hall of Fame, in 2003. How has his rookie card held up? The book lists his 1975 Topps card at a hefty $32 ($59.19). Beckett says $15. So much for the HOF bump. Although maybe if you had a real nice copy of the card you'd be happy. There are 2 PSA 9 cards on eBay with an asking price of $450. Sounds way over priced to me.

Joe Carter - "Wise collectors will snap up his cards while they are still ten to 20 cents as Carter undoubtedly has a great future". In Beckett land, Joe Carter is a minor star so those mid to late 1980s cards are still ten to 20 cents. Carter retired in 1989 after a 16-year career. His 0.259 BA and 396 homer runs are probably not going to get him into the Hall of Fame. They list his 1984 Donruss rookie card (a nice looking card for sure) at $6.50 ($12.02). Beckett lists it at $8.00 so not much of an investment in 1988.

Jack Clark - "Cardinals' fans and card collectors can look forward to further heroics from Jack Clark in coming seasons - it they can keep him healthy - which would do good things to the value of his cards". Clark actually played for the Yankees in 1988, hitting 27 home runs and batting 0.241. He also struck out 141 times. Clark hit 340 home runs in his 18-year career, good for 81st on the all time list, but he also struck out 1,441 time, good for 51st on the all time list. With a career batting average of 0.267 and having retired 16 years ago, he seems unlikely to get into the HOF. The book lists his 1977 Topps rookie card at $10 ($18.50), which Beckett lists today at $3.00.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Topps Cracker Jack Bonsai Plants

You've never seen one of these before.

I've seen other blogs with doctored baseball cards with their own photo or comic likeness on it. Its wonderful what can be done with Photoshop.

I thought I try my hand at this, but with a twist. This didn't turn out to bad even though I don't really know what I'm doing. This was done with Photoshop Elements, a pared down version of Photoshop. Elements is designed as a photo editing tool, for amateurs, like me. I mainly use it to crop and color correct scanned baseball cards and digital photos.

The hardest part really, was trying to match the type font of the BONSAI PLANTS and the name at the bottom. I didn't have a font that exactly matched, but I think I got close. The difference would be noticeable compared directly to an actual 2004 Cracker Jack card.

You may recognize the photo, it's the same one I used in the blog banner.

I'm listening to the Astros-Brewers game on Friday night (the 25th) while I'm making this post. Prince Fielder just hi a foul ball into the Astro's booth and hit the Astro's play-by-play guy right in the stomach. They're having a good laugh but its gonna leave a bruise.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mike Schmidt - 1976

1976 was the Bicentennial year in Philadelphia. With all of Philadelphia's history, there was a lot of Bicentennial year stuff going on in the area. It was a great time to be living in the Philadelphia.

It was a great time to be a Phillies and a Mike Schmidt fan as well. Mike had another great year. He was once again an All-Star and the All Star game was played in Philadelphia at Veteran's Stadium. The Nationals won 7-1 (remember when there was a time when the American League didn't win every year). In addition to Schmidt, other Phillie All Stars included Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Dave Cash, and Bob Boone.

Schmidt hit 12 home runs in Philadelphia's first 15 games, including 4 in one game on April 17. The Phillies beat the Cubs at Wrigley that day 18-16 in 10 innings. Mike won his first (of 10) Gold Gloves in 1976. Statistically he was at or near the top in most NL offensive categories: 1st in home runs (38), 3rd in RBIs (107), 3rd in walks (100), first in total bases (306). He also led the league in strike outs with 149.

The Phillies finished the season with a record of 101 and 61 and captured the National League East title for the first time. In those days there were only 2 divisions per league. Schmidt had a decent series, going 4 for 13 with 2 rbis, but the Phillies lost in 3 games to the Reds, losing the first two games of the 5-game series at home. The Reds went on to sweep the Yankees in the World Series.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fairfield Repack - 3

This is the third and last (and probably least interesting) report on box of repackaged cards from The Fairfield Company. To recap. In this package I got one pack each of 2007 Bowman, 2007 Artifacts, 2005 Donruss Leather & Lumber, and 2005 Skybox Autographs. I was fairly satisfied with these packs. The box also had a pack of 1990 Donruss as a "Bonus" and 100 loose cards.

1990 Donruss

I'm not a big fan of 1990 Donruss so I wasn't exactly thrilled with the "bonus", but the pack did have this card:

Giamatti was the National League President from 1986 to 1989. In 1989 he was made the Baseball Commissioner. He only served 154 days as commissioner before dying of a massive heart attack. He was 51. Giamatti is probably best known for banning Pete Rose from baseball after it was found that Rose was betting on baseball games. As far as I know he is the only baseball commissioner to appear on a baseball card (he is also on a 1990 Topps card). Giamatti was a life-long baseball and Red Sox fan. Both the Donruss and Topps card quoted the same passage from his essay "Green Fields of the Mind".

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."

Of the 100 loose cards, I kept 35. Most were junk (as far as I'm concerned, or cards I already had that I didn't need 2 of). There were two cards however, that I didn't have and knew nothing about.

1993 Pinnacle Home Run Club

This was a boxed set produced by Score. The sets were numbered to 200,000. The card is pretty attractive with a metallic finish called "Dufex". I'd be happier if the card was someone else other than Dean Palmer.

1997 Select Company Red

1997 Select looks to have been a complicated set by 1997 standards. The first 150 cards were designated "Red" and had a red foil insignia. The high series cards were called "Blue" with a blue foil insignia. There were a number of parallel sets (like Gold, Artist's Proof and the like). Select Company was one of the parallel sets that were issued, 1 per pack, in the high series packs. The cards have a silver foil background. The 'rays' coming out of the red foil circle are textured.

Select had started life as a Score product but by 1997, Score was owned by Pinnacle. After the 1998 season, Pinnacle went out of business. I'd never seen a 1997 Select card before.

Monday, July 21, 2008

300 All-Time Stars Baseball Cards in 1988

This is a continuation of a series of cards listed in the 300 All-Time Stars Baseball Cards published by Consumer Digest as an investment guide for baseball card collectors. See the previous post here. To recap, any text in quotations is a direct quote from the book. I give an inflation adjusted value for the 1988 price in parentheses.
Bob Boone - It's ironic that Bob Boone is next on the list since I just made a post about a 1952 Ray Boone (Bob's father) card I just acquired. Bob had a 19-year career as a player and a 6-year career as a manager. He was the starting catcher for the Phillies in the 1980 World Series. The book doesn't give any advice on Bob's cards except to say that his most valuable card is his 1973 Topps rookie card at $2.50 ($4.62). The current Beckett book value for this card is $15, making this the first card in the book to actually have a higher book value today then it did in 1988. They should have told us to buy some of his rookie cards. I'm getting the pictures of these cards from Couldn't they find a better Boone card to post? Maybe its been signed by Iveie, right across his face.

George Brett - The book said that Brett probably had a few good years in him. He played until 1993 and had a 21-year career. He was a 13-time All Star and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1999. "It is a foregone conclusion that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, making all of his baseball cards hot properties". They list his 1975 Topps card at $40 ($73.99). Beckett currently lists this card at $80, so its done slightly better than inflation. 2 cards in a row which beat inflation. Although as an investment, you'd like to do better than just beat inflation.

Casey Candaele - Did you know that Casey's mother played professional baseball during World War II? Neither did I. "Despite the fact that he hit 0.272 in 1987, collectors seem to have virtually ignored his only rookie card". This card was in the 1987 Donruss set which they list at $0.30 ($0.55). This card is a common today. Its a mystery to me why they included Candaele. A 0.272 BA doesn't seem too impressive to me. He hit 0.170 in 1988. Casey was in the majors for 9 years, but only played in 754 games with a career batting average of 0.250.

Jose Canseco - Let's not get into Jose post-career antics (or for that matter, his career antics). In 1988, he was still hot. "The appearance of Canseco's rookie cards in the Fleer and Donruss packs that year (1986) marked the first time that a brand-new baseball card could be taken out of a gum pack and immediately sold for $3 or more". Ah, those innocent days of 1986 when $3.00 was a lot of money. And how much do these Consumer Digest people know about baseball cards? Fleer and Donruss didn't have gum in their packs. They list Jose's 1986 Donruss at $8.75 ($16.88). Beckett says $10 today so another poor investment. His 1986 Fleer card hasn't done any better.

Steve Carlton - Steve's career finally came to an end in 1988 after 24 years, mostly with the Phillies. He spend the last few years in the majors bouncing from team to team claiming that he could still pitch. But he finished his career with 329 wins, 4 Cy Young Awards, and two World Champion titles to his name. And 10 All Star games. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1994. "His baseball cards from the current sets are most affordable and well worth the investment as long-term mementos of an amazing career". They list his 1965 rookie card at $110 ($203.40), the highest priced card so far in the list. Beckett lists the card today at $200, so its kept pace with inflation.

That's it for now. One note about card prices. I'm using current Beckett catalog prices because it is a handy reference. The real arbiter of price these days, IMHO, is eBay. For example, you can get Carlton's rookie card, graded a PSA 7 for about $100. You'll probably be able to get a non-graded card for considerably less than that. His PSA 8 cards are currently going for closer to $300.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Song of the Week - Satin in a Coffin by Modest Mouse

Many of you (well, actually none of you) have asked how I pick the songs for Song of the Week. It's simple. I set iTunes on shuffle play and click the next song button until something interesting comes up. Then I have to be able to find a video for it, which hasn't been too difficult. The fun part of this (for me that is) is learning about the band. I first heard about Modest Mouse when they appeared on the The Late Show with Dave Letterman sometime after their album Good News for People Who Love Bad News CD came out in 2004. I liked them so much I went right out and bought the CD. Until now, I had though that this was their first CD, but it fact it was their 4th and that they'd been performing together since 1993. The very definition of overnight success.

I fall pretty easily for quirky bands and Modest Mouse, in my opinion, does quirky very well. Let's see, they've got a lead singer with a scratchy voice; a bass player who not only plays an upright bass, but he plays it with a bow; the keyboard player is playing a weird looking instrument that appears to be built into a wooden box; they've got wordy lyrics; and the song is has a lot of moving parts. Yep, quirky.

You were laying on the carpet
like you're satin in a coffin.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah right now, but not that often.

Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
God I sure hope you are dead.

Well you disappeared so often
like you dissolved into coffee.
Are you here right now
or are there probably fossils under your meat?

Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
God I sure hope you are dead.

Now the blow's been softened,
since the air we breathe's our coffin.
Well now the blow's been softened,
since the ocean is our coffin.
Often times you know our laughter
is your coffin ever after.
And you know the blow's been softened,
since the world is our coffin.
Well now the blow's been softened
since we are our own damn coffins.
Well everybody's talkin' about their short lists.
Everybody's talkin' about death.

You were laying on the carpet
like you're satin in a coffin.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah right now, but not that often.

Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
Are you dead or are you sleepin'?
God, I sure hope you are dead.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

100th Post

1952 Topps Ray Boone

I've been obsessed with obtaining a 1952 Topps card for several weeks. Somewhat inspired by what the Poor Old Baseball Cards blog has been able to find. I wasn't too picky about who since I probably have not seen anyone who was in the set actually play. I was looking for Phillies, obviously, but not having much luck. Then this Ray Boone card popped up. Ray's son, Bob, played for the Phillies and was the starting catcher for the Phils in the 1980 World Series. He went on to the Angels and Royals and eventually became a manager of the Royals and later the Reds. He has 2 sons (Aaron and Bret) who also played in the major leagues. There may be a 3rd Boone brother who never got out of the minors. Ray, Bob and his sons form one of the few 3-generation baseball families. The Boone family represent 63 years worth of baseball careers.

Ray had a pretty good 13-year career mostly with the Indians and Tigers. He was a 2-time All Star.

The card is not in great shape but considering it's almost as old as I am, it's not too bad. You can see it has a stain on the upper left corner. There are some more stains on the back and a piece of the surface is missing. It actually looks like someone had previously glued it into a scrapbook. That's ok. I only paid $2.00 for it (plus $3.25 for shipping). In mint condition this card has a book value of $60.00.

When I started this blog in February, 2008, I had no idea how long I could maintain it. Along the way I've gotten in contact with some pretty nice people who have other baseball card blogs. My intent was not to make just a baseball card blog and I think I've been successful in that. Although its pretty hard to tell, I think I have maybe 25-30 readers. That's great as I didn't know if I'd get even 1. I read somewhere that the average blog has a readership of 1, so I'm way ahead of average.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday Night at the Movies - Hellboy II The Golden Army

When the first Hellboy movie came out in 2004, I wasn't too interested. I didn't know the comic book, and I guess the trailers didn't do anything for me. But, one weekend at the Blockbuster, when I was having trouble finding just one movie I wanted to watch, I picked up Hellboy.

Although today I can't really remember much about the movie, I do remember that I liked it and that it was fun. So I was looking forward to Hellboy II.

You can already feel where this is going can't you? That's right, I was disappointed by II. A movie, with a plot like this one, can either be fun or grim. I think they were trying for fun and ended up with grim. I'm not going to give you any pspoilers but, also, this is the sort of movie that you pretty much know how it's going to end. After all, they surely want a franchise here, so the movie isn't going to end up with the world's population mostly dead and the rest enslaved by evil elves, is it? Especially not when they're trying for a fun movie. So between the beginning of the movie and the ending you already know, they have to make it interesting, they have to make you care about the characters, they have to give you at least a little suspense. Well, they don't. So that's the other problem, it's dull. Grim and dull, I can hardly think of anything worse, unless it also had Rob Schneider in it, which, thankfully, it doesn't.

I give it 1.5 capes (out of 5).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fairfield Repack - 2

I posted the first part of a review of a box of repackaged cards from The Fairfield Company. I was attracted to the box because showing were 4 pretty good packs of cards: 2007 Bowman, 2007 Artifacts, 2005 Skybox Artifacts, and 2005 Donruss Leather & Lumber. I already posted the 2007 cards. I'll post the 'bonus' cards from the box is a few days.

2005 Skybox Autographics

2005 was Fleer's last independent (independent from Upper Deck anyway) year. Fleer produced 10 sets in 2005. It was the 2nd and last year for Skybox Autographs. Right off the bat we get:
#5 Chipper Jones

You can't have too many Chipper Jones cards. And I didn't have this one.

#39 Alex Rodriguez
#59 Bobby Abreu
#58 David Ortiz
# 19 - Travis Hafner.
Pretty good pack and I didn't have any of the cards. Abreu is a Phillie on this card and I didn't have any Phillies from this set.

2005 Donruss Leather & Lumber

2005 was the last year that Donruss produced baseball cards before Major League Baseball pulled their license. There were about 18 Donruss sets in 2005. Donruss was the king of parallel inserts and everyone of their sets had multiple parallels. It was impossible to keep up with them. It may have been responsible on Donruss losing their license. MLB said they wanted to cut down on the number of cards produced. Dropping Donruss would sure do that. What did I get?

#88 Lyle Overbay
#46 Geoff Jenkins
#111 Rafael Furcal
#124 Shawn Green
#138 Brooks Robinson

The Robinson card is part of a subset of Retired players. I didn't have one of these so I'm happy with it but the rest of the pack is a disappointment. Brooks Robinson, of course, was the great third baseman of the Orioles from 1955 to 1977. Some say he was the greatest third baseman ever. I'll concede he was the best third baseman in the American League. I'm sort of partial to Mike Schmidt of the Phillies as the best of all time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Book Club - Buying In by Rob Walker

This is a book about modern marketing. I know, sounds pretty dull, but its not a textbook. It's really a pretty good book on popular culture and certainly taught me that I'm kinda of out of touch. We'll I am 56 years old. I don't consider myself a fuddy-duddy, at least not yet, so I'm happy to read something like this. The premise of the book is that old-fashioned mass marketing doesn't work with young adults (the people who apparently have all the money) anymore. The author presents a number of case-histories, in lively and entertaining fashion about what does work. About how people are embracing brands more and more, but in such a way that the consumer gives meaning to the brand instead of the producer.

Did you know that Pabst Blue Ribbon (or PBR) was a dying beer brand until it was embraced by the bike messenger culture (really, there's a bike messenger culture?) in the Pacific Northwest? Pabst was smart enough to take advantage of it and has managed to increase sales.

Did you know that Timberland work boots are really popular with the hip-hop culture (this I've heard of)? Timberland didn't know it at first, it didn't understand this new market it was given at all. But they got on the bandwagon and moved from a $200 million company to a $2 billion company. And they've come out with a new line called Timberland Pro for their original marked.

Did you know that Red Bull created a whole market segment called energy drinks out of nothing, with virtually no advertising. Instead they sponsor various events. One is going on in Houston right now. It's an art contest where the contestants make objects out of Red Bull cans. There have been two big spreads in the local paper, and Red Bull got the space for free.

Did you know that there are several companies in the US that specialize in word-of-mouth advertising? How does this work? You sign up on a web site and they send you stuff. You talk the stuff up to you family and friends and send a report back to the firm. Why do you do this? Because you think its fun. Do you get paid for this? Prizes are available but hardly anyone who is involves bothers to get their prizes.

If you're interested in pop culture and in marketing and reading about how really smart people, like Mark Ecko, yeah, the guy who put the asterisk on Barry Bonds record breaking home run ball, made millions of dollars doing what was fun for them, read the book.

And, speaking of home runs, how 'bout that Josh Hamilton?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

300 All-Time Stars Baseball Cards in 1988

While looking through the sports shelves of my local library the other day I came across this book. I was published by Consumer Digest in 1988 and is "a guide to making intelligent and profitable decisions in the baseball card hobby". Wouldn't we love to have a book like this today? It's divided into 3 sections. The first features current (that is current in 1988) players; the second features players from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s; and the third features the Stars of Yesterday.

So how did the book do on making predictions about 1988 players? For each player they give a short biography, major league total stats, career highlights, a list of "representative baseball cards", and and some card pictures. The players are listed alphabetically, except, for some reason, Don Mattingly is listed first. I'm going to eventually get through the whole 100 Stars of Today at about 5 cards at a time over the next few weeks. Anything in quotation marks is a direct quote from the book.

Don Mattingly - In 1987, a survey of 100,000 readers picked Mattingly as "the most popular current player" in baseball. "Investors should be wary of any 1984 Donruss Mattingly card which has a glossy surface". They list this card for $65. Beckett currently lists this card at $30. Just to have kept pace with inflation this card should be worth $119.03 today. The book doesn't make any career predictions. Of course Mattingly had a pretty good career, but probably not a Hall of Fame career. Of the 5 cards I'm listing here, this one has held it's value the best (but still not real well).Harold Baines - "Collectors are finally waking up to the long-term potential of this perennially underrated slugging outfielder". The best card they list is his 1981 Topps rookie at $3 (Inflation adjusted to $5.49). Beckett still lists this card at $3.00. Another pretty good player who, despite the efforts of Steve at White Sox Cards, may not make it to the HOF. He retired in 2001 after a 22 year career.

Jesse Barfield - "Barfield's card stock can only continue to accelerate - we believe his best years are yet to come. Purchasing his cards for the long term would be a wise investment." They list his 1982 Topps rookie card at $4.00 (inflation adjusted at $7.32). Although he continued to play until 1992, it looks like his best years were already behind him by the time this book was published. Beckett lists this card as a common at $0.15.

Buddy Bell - It lists his 1973 Topps rookie card at $2.50 ($4.58 after inflation) but suggests it wouldn't be a good investement. "Wiser speculation strategy might be to invest in his newer cards out of the commons boxes, because they too will increase several times in value if he makes the Hall of Fame, and the downside risk per card is only pennies". So let's say you bought 100 1988 Buddy Bell cards for, I don't know, 10 cents a card in 1988. Today they are worth 5 cents a card. But the downside risk was small. His rookie card is a common as well, at $0.50. In 1988, did anyone besides Consumer Digest think Bell at a shot at the HOF? Sure he was a 4-time All Star and a 6-time Gold Glove, but he'd hit only 200 home runs and a career batting average of about 0.280. And 1989 was his last season.

George Bell - I always like George (or Jorge) Bell and collect his cards, but his cards were never a good investment. The book lists his 1982 rookie card at $4.50 ($8.24). He was originally drafted by the Phillies but they left him unprotected and the Blue Jays got him in 1980. "The consensus is that superstardom is right around the corner for Bell and that his card prices will escalate rapidly in the near future". Maybe in the near future they did but in the far future of 2008, his cards are commons, which makes is 1982 card worth 15 cents. Did he become a superstar after 1988? No. His post 1988 stats are similar to his pre-1988 stats with one exception. In 1987 batted 0.308, hit 47 home runs, and had 134 rbis. He never approached anything like that again.

Song of the Week - It's a Beautiful Day by Sarah Brightman

I have 5,436 songs in my iTunes library. This is one of them.

Sarah Brightman is an artist I knew nothing about until I looked her up on Wikipedia just now. I have a couple of her CDs that I acquired on a whim. According to Wikipedia she "is an English classical crossover soprano, actress, songwriter and dancer". She was formerly married to Andrew Lloyd Weber and has appeared in some of his stage shows, notably The Phantom of the Opera. This song is from her 2003 album Harum. Although she has enjoyed much success in England and other countries, she is not well known here in the US.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bonsai - Japanese Maple

Japanese Maples make lovely bonsai. You can find many pictures of them by doing a Google image search. I purchased this tree from a local nursery back in March. It's about 3 feet tall and I paid $11.95 for it. I chose this particular tree because it has some curvature in the trunk (which I hoped to accentuate) and because it has a split trunk.

You can click on the pictures to see a bigger image.

Here it is removed from its nursery pot laying along side the bonsai pot I'm going to put it in. You can see that I've lined the bottom of the pot with some nylon screen. This to prevent the dirt in the pot from running out the drain holes.

You can also see that the roots are never going to fit in this pot without some serious trimming.

Well, here it is after trimming. You can see an indispensable bonsai tool along side the leaves - a chopstick. It really comes in handy in trying to get the old dirt from around the roots. It is also helpful when putting in the new soil, to help get the soil down between the roots. Just like planting a tree or shrub in your garden, you don't want to have too many voids in the root system.

I've transplanted it to the bonsai pot. For a bonsai this would be way too tall, So some trimming is necessary. Some of the bonsai books suggest leaving the trimming until the plant is used to its new surroundings. I don't usually do that and have been successful in every transplant I've done.

Along side the pot is a bag of bonsai soil. I purchased this on-line, through eBay. There are all different kinds of potting soil for bonsai. You shouldn't use regulat potting soil as this will retain too much moisture. I have a couple plants in regular soil and they seem to be ok, but I plan to get them all transplanted eventually. Not really knowing much about the differences between one type of soil and another, I picked one which seemed to be for general service.

After trimming. It's about 15 inches tall. This will be a tall bonsai unless, of course, I trim it further. The next picture is the look I'm going for. I left the split trunk to give me some flexibility later depending on how it grows. Prior to working on this I had it sitting outside. I had nipped off the growing ends on the top. Within 6 weeks it has sprouted branches which were about 18 inches long. These I cut off (prior to the first photo) and I'm hoping to root them.

Here's what I'm hoping for. I looked at about a hundred Japanese bonsai photos and only found two which would work with what I had to start with. This tree doesn't have a split trunk but I think the look will still work.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday Night at the Movies - Across The Universe

Well, we didn't actually go to the movies this Thursday but we did rent Across the Universe last weekend so I thought I'd share my thoughts. This movie came out last year, and for some reason I'd been avoiding it. Perhaps it's because the time frame in the movie corresponds to my own early adulthood (or at least late teen years) and the characters in the movie are roughly the age I was then. As Jude in the movie would say "I donno". But the movie is wonderful. In case you don't know anything about the movie at all, its a musical based entirely on Beatles music. For the most part it works without too much contrivance (there is a girl in the movie named Prudence, who I think is in the movie just so they can sing "Dear Prudence").

If you don't like the Beatles, then you might as well click away to another site.

The movie does not feature any actual Beatles recordings, all the songs are sung by the cast. The cast is composed largely of unknowns but the singing and acting is first rate. There are some wonderful cameos (Joe Cocker, Bono and a hilarious Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite).

It's not a particularly original story: boy meets girl in a New York City co-op apartment after girl's boyfriend is killed in Vietnam; boy looses girl when she gets radicalized against the war and he gets deported back to England; boy gets girl when he sings in an impromptu roof-top concert. You know, same old stuff.

There are a lot of cultural (like the roof-top concert) and historical references built into the movie which you may not get if you're much younger than 50, but there are many layers of enjoyment in the movie. My wife is too young to recognize many of the references but she loved the movie anyway. Rent it, you'll like it.

I give it 4.5 capes. Here's the trailer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

2008 MLB A Piece of History

On the box it says "2008 Artifacts A Piece of History". Upper Deck's web site calls the set "MLB A Piece of History". The cards are nice looking although I think I like last year's Artifacts set better. According to Upper Deck's web site there are 100 player cards.

There are several different colored parallel sets. I got 1 silver parallel in each pack (I bought two blaster boxes with 7 packs each). The silver cards and the regular cards are different only in a slight color difference in the background color. I also got the Manny silver card and they are hard to tell apart. They both have the same the exact same game code on the back which seems a bit fishy to me.

Not mentioned on the web site is that there are Historical Moments cards which appear to be cards 101-200 of the set. These are, as you might expect, illustrations of historical moments. These sort of history cards have been showing up in sets for a few years now. Did someone's marketing research indicate that baseball card collectors like to have a bunch of non-baseball cards in their packs? The cards I got range from Juan Ponce De Leon, to the Alamo, to the Human Genome Project.

The two boxes I bought have 49 player cards, 16 Historical Moments cards, three Yankee Stadium Legacy cards, and two memorabilia cards. The box promised ONE MEMORABILIA CARD IN EVERY BOX ON AVERAGE.

I got a Manny Ramirez "Stadium Scenes" jersey card in one box, and this below in the other.

A Piece of Hollywood Memorabilia card. It's a shirt from the 1991 movie JFK. More non-baseball. The card is a bit vague on the back. It promises it was worn by "Kevin" in the movie. The problem is, according to IMBD, there were three people named Kevin in the movie, Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon and Kevin Beard. Beard was a stunt man so it's probably not his shirt. On the back of the card is a photo of the shirt showing the collar tag. On the tag is KC, so I'll assume it's Costner's shirt (for all the difference it makes to me).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fairfield Repack - 1

I was in Target Sunday morning and there was nothing new on the baseball card shelves. But they had some new repackaged cards by The Fairfield Company. The box has 4 packs (which you can see through the box windows), another 100 cards, and, be still my heart, a BONUS INSIDE! The 4 packs I can see are 2007 Bowman, 2007 Artifacts, 2005 Donruss Leather & Lumber, and 2005 Skybox Autographics. These were all nice cards so I say, what the heck? I'll probably do this in three posts.

Ths 100 cards inside were the usual collection of late 1980's Topps, early Upper Deck with a mix of random Fleer and Donruss cards. 20 of the cards were these 1988 Topps UK Minis which seem to be in every repack I buy these days. I've already written about these here. I have 42 of these already and the 20 in this box contain 10 dups. The "Bonus" turned out to be a pack of 1990 Donrus cards. Not really what I'd call a bonus. The pack does have a Bart Giamatti card which I didn't know existed. I have the 1990 topps Giamatti card.

2007 Bowman

Here's what I got:

#197 - Derrek Lee
#1 Hanley Ramirez
#119 Hideki Matsui

What's the deal with Matsui? I don't know too much about him. He seems to have decent stats, but Beckett doesn't rate him above a common.

#44 Mark Buehrle
#122 Greg Maddux
#128 Carlos Lee (Gold)
#74 Randy Wells (ChromeProspects X-Fractor) 227/250

#92 Neil Sellers (Chrome Prospects)
#63 Brandon Mann (Prospects)
#37 Brandon Roberts (Prospects)

Twp prospects named Brandon in a row. I'm pretty happy with this pack. The only dup I got was the Sellers card, but he's an Astro, so that's alright. And I didn't have a single X-Fractor card.

2007 Artifacts

I like these cards and don't have too many of them. Right out of the pack is:

#77 Daisuke Matsuzaka

#32 Vernon Wells
#35 Stephen Drew
#69 David Eckstein
#40 Ken Griffey, Jr.

If it wasn't for the Matsuzaka card, I'd have been unhappy with this pack as I had Drew, Eckstein, and Griffey in the 50 cards I already had. But Matsuzaka makes up for that. I had Andrew Miller (the 2nd best card in the set) so now I also have the best card in the set.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Song of the Week - Who by Fire by Leonard Cohen

I have 5,352 songs in my iTunes library, This is one of them.

Leonard Cohen is a complex singer-songwrite who has been recording since 1967. Prior to that he was a poet. He has released 11 albums between 1967 and 2004, and has a new album due out this year. His best known song is probably "Suzanne" from his 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen. It has been covered many times, most notably by Judy Collins. Cohen writes about difficult themes: love, hate, suicide, war, and the aloneness of people. He has a very deep voice, which has gotten deeper and raspier over the years. He has been one of my favorite performers since his first album. I got to see him live in a small theater outside Philadelphia in 1993.

There were a good number of songs on You Tube to choose from. I decided not to use "Suzanne" as it is well known. This song, "Who By Fire" is from his 4th album, released in August 1974 called New Skin for the Old Ceremony. I hope you like this song, and it you don't know Leonard Cohen, I hope this song inspires you to search out his work.

And who by fire, who by water,
who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
who in your merry merry month of may,
who by very slow decay,
and who shall I say is calling?
And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
and who by avalanche, who by powder,
who for his greed, who for his hunger,
and who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
who in solitude, who in this mirror,
who by his lady's command, who by his own hand,
who in mortal chains, who in power,
and who shall I say is calling?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thursday Night at the Movies - Wall E

Happy 4th of July. Here in southeast Texas it is raining like mad at the moment. Not that we actually had any outdoor plans except that the lawn service was supposed to come. It's been 10 days since they last mowed and the grass is now about 8 inches tall. But that's now why you called.

Last night my wife and daughter and I went to see the new Disney-Pixar movie, WALL E. A WALL E is a little trash-compactor on wheels, left behind on Earth to clean up the trash while Earth's population takes a 5-year vacation aboard luxury space liners. It's 700 years later and only one WALL E is still operating, and the job is far from done. He spends his days compacting trash into cubes and then piling them up into skyscraper sized piles. At night, he plays with the collection of items he's rescued and watches the movie Music Man on a little television. Oh, and he has an indestructible cockroach as a companion.

This is a great kid's movie but you'll like it too. It's cute, has a good story (it made my 23-year-old daughter cry and little kids in the audience yelling "Oh, no!" at certain parts), and, as usual for a Pixar movie, the animation is just a wonder. And be sure to stay to the end of the credits. There are the usual Pixar inside jokes (see if you can spot the dinosaur from Toy Story).

Trailer of the week. Most of the trailers were for the same lousy movies we saw last week. But one was new. Later this summer a baseball movie calle The Perfect Game will be released. It is about a Mexican Little League team in 1957 which becomes the first non-US team to win the Little League World Series. If you're going to see one baseball movie this summer this is probably going to be it.

I give WALL E four capes (out of 5).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Me and Willie Mays

1997 Topps Mays

There have been a few nostalgic posts on several of the baseball card blogs lately so I thought I'd offer my own.

As a kid I wasn't much of a baseball fan, but one of my strongest memories from childhood was my first baseball game. My Uncle Joe took me to see the Phillies play the Giants in old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. I don't remember exactly when this was but I think I was about 8 years old, which would put this game in 1959. I have two great memories of this game.

One concerns Willie Mays. Most probably the only time I saw him play in person. I remember nothing about the actual game, not the score, not a single play, nothing. What I remember is that several times during the game, fans ran out onto the field to shake Willie's hand in center field. Was this a common occurrence when he was a player? I have no idea. Anyway, as a child, I thought this was terrible. Willie Mays was on the other team. He was the enemy. Later in the game someone ran out to shake Johnny Callison's hand. Johnny was the Phillies' center fielder. That made me feel better.

The other memory, even stronger, is of walking into the stadium. Up until this time, I had only seen baseball on a black and white television set. Those of you out there who are less than 40, probably don't have too many memories of b/w TV. I had certainly seen enough things on TV and later saw them in real life, in full color, without much comment. But walking through the shadowy Connie Mack Stadium tunnel to the field, the greenness of the grass was stunning to me. I don't think I have ever seen anything so green as the grass of that baseball field. In my memory it's like the rest of the scene is in black and white so over powering is the green of the grass.

Going to that game didn't make me any more of a baseball fan than I was before the game. That would come later. My next baseball game was probably when I was about 16, and Connie Mack was a shabby old place soon to be replaced by the sterile Veteran's Stadium. But I've been a big fan for most of my adult life and I cherish that childhood memory.