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.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Movie Review - The Man From U.N.C.L.E

The success of the early James Bond movies in the early 1960's spawned a host of spy movies and television shows. One of the best (at least in the early years) was "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." which ran from 1964 to 1968.  Now of course I was only 13 years old when this show premiered so I might not know what I'm talking about.

Now we have a new "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" movie.

The movie is sort of an origin story. In the TV show, the U.N.C.L.E organization already existed and Solo and Kuryakin were already partners and had apparently worked out any animosities between them.

In the movie, Napoleon Solo works for the CIA and Illya Kuryakin works for the KGB. Solo, as played by Harry Cavill, is a suave, urbane, well-dressed lady-killer, pretty much as played by Robert Vaughn in the TV show. Kuryakin is played by Armie Hammer. He's a big, quiet-seeming Russian who's apt to fly off the handle at any moment. Not quite the David McCallum Kuryakin I remember.

The two are ordered by their respective masters to work together on a threat that endangers both countries. If you've seen the trailers, you know that some former Nazi scientist (it's 1963 so we can still have Nazis) has perfected a way to produce weapon grade uranium much easier that it can even be done today. The big enemy in the TV show was T.H.R.U.S.H. Maybe they will show up in the second movie. Do you know that T.H.R.U.S.H was supposed to mean? For that matter, to you know what U.N.C.L.E means?

The movie was pretty good. The only real problem with it is that it's set in 1963 so we pretty much know that the world wasn't destroyed by some Nazis with atomic weapons. The movie has to create a plausible (and entertaining) way to get to the ending we fully expect. It was no less plausible than you might expect and it was pretty entertaining. It is played pretty straight, it's not meant to be a spoof on 1960s spy shows. At least I don't think it is. If it is, they missed by a wide margin.

For the most part, the movie succeeds. In the early part of the movie there is a little too much animosity between Solo and Kuryakin. Solo treats Kuryakin with open contempt and Kuryakin can hardly stop himself from punching Solo in the nose for it. Solo calls him "The Red Peril", or Peril for short, Kuryakin calls Solo, Cowboy (what else?).

Nothing builds team work like getting shot at, almost drowned, tortured, and betrayed together and saving each other's lives several times. You know where this relationship is going and they did a good job of it. Solo gets lot of female bed time, while Kuryakin never even gets a kiss.

U.N.C.L.E is not even mentioned until the very end of the movie when Mr. Waverly (played by Hugh Grant). tells them that they are now on his team and they're leaving tonight on another mission.

Harry Cavill is already in one movie franchise, Superman. The Man From U.N.C.L.E looks like it has a good shot at becoming a franchise. Armie Hammer was last seen as The Lone Ranger, which badly wanted to be a franchise but was so terrible I don't expect to see a sequel.

Oh, and by the way, the soundtrack is fabulous.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The 1990s Baseball Cards Face-Off - First Seed

Check this post to see my methodology.

Here's where we left off last week.

We've had head-to-head competition among 16 sets from the 1990s and are left with 8 sets to go forward in the 1st Quartile of the Babe Ruth Division. Since we'll be dealing with sets we've already I was going to run the table here and see who is the first seed of the final 16 cards in the overall competition. But this is a lot of cards to look at so we'll get to the Black level with a post next week. I can use that opportunity to explain the competition level from Black on forward.

Red Level head-to-head

1998 E-X-2001 vs. 1993 Flair

1998 E-X 2001 Craig Biggio #34

1993 Flair Willie McGee #145

Both these sets were great. Nice crisp graphics on the E-X 2001. A creamy smooth finish to the Flair. Gold foil, but not to much on the front and back of both cards. I think 1998 E-X 2001 could have beaten many cards and risen hight but it had the misfortune to come against 1993 Flair early on. In the head-to-head I'm giving the nod to Flair because ultimately plastic cards are a dead end design choice. There were a few plastic sets in the 1990s, but not much today. I imagine they were too costly to produce.

Results - 1993 Flair squeaks by. 

1995 Ultra vs. 1996 Studio

1995 Ultra Jim Thome #42

1996 Studio Juan Gonzalez #105

Both cards feature full bleed printing, multiple photographs, a little foil, and great photography.  I like the front of the 1995 Ultra but the back, with the funny shaded photo leaves me a little cold. The smaller color inset photo looks out of place.

The results: 1996 Studio by a back.

1991 Upper Deck vs. 1994 Collector's Choice

1991 Upper Deck Todd Zeile #164

1994 Collector's Choice Bret Saberhagen #250

What a difference a few years makes. In 1991, Upper Deck released another variation in it's 1989 set, but it was still way ahead of it's competitors that year. 1994's main problem is that it look's just like 1993 Upper Deck, with pin-stripes. Both cards feature good designs, but in 1991 Upper Deck's case, the design was still state-of-the-art. 1994 Collector's Choice was a copy of a great set.

Result: 1991 Upper Deck.

1994 Topps vs. 1996 Circa

1994 Topps Ivan Rodriguez #165

1996 Circa Curt Schilling #189

1994 Topps was Topps first glossy set and they did a good job. Good photography with a colorful title block with a good sized color photo on the back with a colorful stats/bio block. I'm afraid that 1996 Circa is just a mess. It only got to this level because it was up against 1994 SP, a card design I really dislike.

The Result: 1994 Topps

1993 Flair, 1996 Studio, 1991 Upper Deck and 1994 Topps survive the Red level.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2008 Phillies - Where are they now? (Outfielders)

A review of where all Phillies (at least the regulars) from the 2008 World Season have gone.

Pat Burrell - Left Field
2008 Bowman Gold #62

2011 Topps #546

Pat the Bat was in his 9th season with the Phillies in 2008. He had, for him, an average season. Not that that was a bad thing. He hit .250 with 33 home runs and 89 rbi. Pat did not have a good playoff season. He hit only 1 home run (in the NLDS) and only hit .071 (1 for 19) in the World Series. 2008 was his last season with the Phillies. He signed as a free agent by the Rays in 2009 and was released at the end of the season, and then signed with the Giants for 2010. He got a second chance at the World Series in 2010 but didn't perform any better than in 2008. He came back with the Giants in 2011 but spent most of the season on the DL with a foot injury. He signed a one-day contract with the Phillies so he could retire as a Phillie and was subsequently inducted to the Phillies Wall of Fame. He is currently a special assignment scout for the Giants.

Shane Victorino - Center Field
2008 Upper Deck #200

2015 Topps Allen & Ginter #336

The Phillies got Victorino from the Dodgers in the 2004 Rule 5 draft. In his first few years with the Phillies he spent time in all 3 outfield positions, but in 2008 and on, he primarily played center. He hit .293, had 14 home runs and 8 triples and won a gold glove in 2008. In the NLDS he hit a grand slam, the first Phillies slam in playoff history. In the NLCS he became a villain for the Dodgers fans after an altercation with Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda which resulted in the clearing of both benches. As an aside, you always hear that both benches cleared during an altercation. Is there ever a circumstance where only one bench clears and the other team stays in their dugout?  Anyway, in 2012 the Phillies traded Shane back to the Dodgers, where I'm sure they loved him. He signed with the Red Sox for the 2013 season when he had one of his best seasons, hitting .294 with 15 home runs and leading the league with 18 HPB. Ouch.  He has been in decline since then and was traded to the Angels earlier this season.

Jayson Werth - Left Field
2008 Topps Heritage #85

2015 Topps Heritage #295
After missing the entire 2006 season due to a wrist injury, the Phillies took a chance on him in 2007. In had 4 respectable years with the Phillies, from 2007-2010. On May 16, 2008 he had three home runs against the Blue Jays, a grand slam, a 3-run homer and a solo-shot, just missing the so-called "homer cycle". In the 2008 World Series, he was 8 for 18 with 3 doubles and 6 walks. After the 2010 season, Werth signed a 7-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals. His first 3 seasons with the Nats were productive, but he's struggling in 2015, hitting only .226.

Here are a few non-starters who made contributions to the 2008 Phillies

Geoff Jenkins - Right Field
2008 SP Authentic By The Letter Signatures

2008 Topps Allen & Ginter #317

After a successful 10-year career with the Brewers, Jenkins signed a 2-year, $13 million deal with the Phillies in Dec. 2007. He appeared in 115 games (all but two in right field) for the Phillies in 2008 hitting .246 with 9 home runs. He only had 4 at bats in the playoffs but his only hit, in the 6th game of the World Series, a double, helped the Phillies win the game and thus the series. The Phillies released Jenkins during spring training in 2009 and he decided to retire as a Brewer. He is currently on the coaching staff of the Peoria Explorers in the Freedom Pro Baseball League.

Greg Dobbs - 3rd Base
2008 Upper Deck Phillies World Series Champions #14

2013 Topps #356
Dobbs started 46 games for the Phillies in 2008 but made a real contribution as a pitch hitter. He led the majors with 22 pitch hits in 2008 for a .355 average. He also finished 2 in the majors with 16 rbi. He had 7 hits in 16 at bats in the playoffs. After disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, the Phillies released him and he spent a couple of years with the Marlins. He finished his career in 2014 with the Nationals. He is currently living in California and seeking a business degree.

Eric Bruntlett - Infield
2008 Topps Update #63

One last position player worth mentioning is Eric Bruntlett. Eric came over to the Phillis in 2008 from the Astros. He only started 48 games with the Phillies, ultimately getting into 115 games, playing the 3 infield positions in 2008. He had 6 at bats in the playoffs and only 2 hits, but one of those was a solo shot in the World Series. For a fairly short career, Bruntlett appeared in 3 World Series, 2008 and 2009 with the Phillies and 2005 with the Astros. After the 2010 season he decided to retire and be a stay-at-home Dad.