Thursday, September 29, 2016

A David Ortiz card and a COMC cautionary tale

David Ortiz made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium tonight, and I'm not sure what was more surprising - the (mostly) positive ovation he received from Yankees fans, or the 0-10 batting line in his final series against the Yanks. 

Usually when a player is in the news I'll write a quick blog post about him and scan up some of his cards from my personal collection. This time I'm going to talk about a card that is not in my collection, this 2016 Topps Tier One Patch/Auto:

Sweet card, right?

The reason I do not own this card, despite being a die-hard Red Sox fan and collector (and a frequent COMC shopper) is a sad but short story.

A couple months ago I was scrolling through recently added cards on the baseball page of COMC and this gem popped up. The seller listed it at $25, and his port was discounted at over 50%. So this card (valued at $100 in Beckett, fwiw) would be a no-brainer pickup at just over $10.

And I had a no-brainer moment. I immediately added the card to my shopping cart...and I had enough cash in my COMC account...but instead of clicking 'make offer' to purchase the card I wanted to see the back of the card for reasons that cannot be explained.

So I clicked on 'turn over'...I looked at the back of the card... and then I noticed that my shopping cart no longer had any cards in it. W
hile I was checking out that all-important card back someone else was checking out.

With the Ortiz card.

You snooze, you lose.

That card was flipped for $75 a short time later. So let that be a lesson to all you COMC shoppers - if you see something you like don't overthink it, don't stare at it too long... just grab it!

Now to cheer myself up a bit, here's an old video from MLB Fancave where Big Papi attempts to make friends with Yankees fans by giving them all a hug. Enjoy!


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pitch - Episode 1 recap

duplicating this post here for all my baseball-loving readers

So...who wants to talk about last night's presidential debate? Yeah, me neither. There was nothing else on TV and so I decided to re-watch one of my favorite new shows, Pitch.

Pitch is the story of Ginny Baker, the first female to compete in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues.*

Ginny is played by Kylie Bunbury, who also starred in another one of my favorite shows, Under The Dome. This show is of particular interest to me, not just because I like baseball and not just because Kylie is gorgeous. About 18 years ago I wrote a story about a girl who becomes the first female major league baseball player. It was much too long and terrible, but one professional critique called it "a story whose time has arguably come" or something. And that time is here.
Let's see what the pros can do with "my" idea...

*Manon Rheaume played goal in two pre-season games for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning

If you're interested in the show and you're DVR'ing or planning to bingewatch at a later date I feel obligated to shout SPOILER ALERT at this time. Otherwise, read on...


When we first meet our heroine she's waking up in a hotel room full of fruit baskets. So many fruit baskets. One of them is from Ellen DeGeneres, another is from Hillary Clinton. Nothing from Oprah though. Hmm...

Flanked by security (and her agent) Ginny makes her way from the hotel room down through the bowels of the stadium while clips of Fox Sports commentators set the stage for her major league debut. Ginny blocks out the noise with headphones, reminiscent of a Beats By Dre commercial.

We learn through such commentary (by MLB network) that Ginny has been pitching in the San Diego Padres minor league system for the past five years and has been called up to start today's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Also, her agent's assistant thinks she's 'like Elvis'.

Ali Later plays Ginny's agent Amelia Slater. Very bossy, kinda of a snot. I will not like her.

Ken Rosenthal, Mr. Bowtie himself, says that Ginny's fastball tops out in the "high 80's" which is about the minimum acceptable speed for a major leaguer. Unless you've got good breaking stuff...

Ginny and her handlers arrive at the players' entrance, and a huge crowd of adoring fans are waving and cheering. a big deal. Ginny starts to look overwhelmed, until she spots an adorable little girl holding a sign that reads: "I'm Next"

You ready, G?

Flashback. Overbearing dad trying to teach his boy how to play ball. He's scared off and runs inside the house. Meanwhile, the man's daughter (who can't be more than three years old) picks up a ball...and throws it waaaay over the fence. This man has himself a ballplayer.

Back in the present, Ginny meets the Padres general manager and team owner, and passes through more adoring fans. Her debut is the hottest ticket in town. The owner (who looks like one of the attorneys I work for) tells Ginny the team is excited to meet her. "No they're not." she quips. "Seventy five percent of them think I'm the next San Diego Chicken. The other twenty five just want to see me shower." Um, selling yourself short there, miss.

Padres manager Al Luongo (played by Dan Lauria) addresses his men. Gives them the old "It's 2016, be professional, treat her like a professional" speech. But one quick look around and you can tell this is an old-school group. Not exactly friendly confines.

Except...she does have one ally in the room - an old minor league teammate named Blip Sanders (played by Mo McRae). Where did the writers came up with a name like "Blip", you ask? My guess is, it's a nod to former Padres fan favorite Leon "Bip" Roberts.

Ever wonder where a woman would dress in a locker room clubhouse designed for men? Yup...they put Ginny in the supply closet. Oh sorry, the "clubhouse attendant's room." As her agent gripes to management about the substandard quarters, the owner indicates Ginny's jersey:

Amelia is annoyed that the Padres brass has subjected her to a pre-game press conference (highly unusual for a starting pitcher, though the show doesn't mention that.) Oscar Aguella, the Padres GM (played by Mark Consuelos) thinks it's no big deal - but that only earns him further lecturing from Amelia. While she describes Ginny as "Hillary Clinton with sex appeal" (ooh, tough visual) and "a Kardashian with a skill set." Oscar just smiles and pictures her naked. Amelia I mean.

Also, her assistant Elliot advises Oscar that he has "no chance". Something tells me that's not going to stop him.

Ginny takes the field at Petco Park and meets the Padres' veteran catcher Mike Lawson (played by Mark-Paul Gosselar.) She tells him that he's her favorite player- "I have your rookie card" -but he cuts her off for making him feel old. How's this for old: Saved By the Bell ended in 1992, which is a year before our 23 year-old heroine would have been born.

Lawson informs Ginny that she's the second prettiest teammate he's ever had. Who's number one? Leonardo DiCaprio.

Oh hell no, don't be slappin dat ass. Ginny gets tough with her hero about the old baseball tradition of ass-slapping--she's not having it.

Lawson gives an equally convincing rebuttal - and he's the captain. No special treatment, right? I could see how feminists might hate this exchange but I loved it - Mike lets her know she's one of the guys without giving an inch. Ginny gets it, lightens the mood with a Leo question, and slaps his ass right back.

After pre-game warmup, Ginny overhears the guys' locker room talk and recognizes Lawson's voice. He initially defends Ginny's place on the team...but only to needle the injured pitcher she's replacing. "She's a gimmick." Mike tells his teammates. But is he being loyal - or being candid? Ginny assumes it's the latter.

The big moment is nigh. First pitch is moments away, and television announcers Joe Buck and John Smoltz give us authentic (if a little sarcastic) play-by-play. Mike enters the bullpen to catch Ginny's warmup pitches. She puts a little extra oomph on her last one, just to let him know what's up.

When she takes the field in front of 43,000 fans the gravity of the moment hits her. She looks out into the crowd and sees her father - which ignites another flashback. This is where he teaches his young girl the screwball, her ticket to the majors.

Now she's here, on a major league mound, ready to make history. Will she rise to the occasion, or succumb to the incredible pressure of being the first female major leaguer?

Guess you'll have to tune in and find out...or wait till next week's recap. I'm running out of room here. if you liked this post and you want me to continue with these episode recaps, let me know in comments!


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jose Fernandez 1992-2016

I'm absolutely shocked and saddened at the news that Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez has passed away in a boating accident. I couldn't believe it; I thought it was another internet hoax.

Fernandez was one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and one of my favorite players to watch. He always took the mound with such joy and exuberance - which was sometimes misinterpreted as showboating. But the guy just loved the game.

After two injury-plagued seasons Fernandez was back in top form this year, leading an improved Marlins team that stayed in the playoff hunt up until this week.

His Cy Young caliber performance this season re-ignited the Hot Stove talk that he would eventually sign a huge free agent contract with the New York Yankees. I really, really did not want that to happen because I enjoyed watching Jose pitch and I wanted to cheer for him, not against him. But God would I have preferred that scenario.

Some of my favorite Fernandez cards

What a sad day for his family, his teammates, and baseball fans everywhere.

Friday, September 23, 2016

It Ain't About The Loot

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett announced his retirement tonight after 21 seasons on the NBA - fitting for a player who wore #21 for most of his career. Garnett joins fellow NBA legends Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan who also called it a career this off-season (man, that's going to be one heck of a Hall Of Fame class.)

I haven't been much of a basketball fan through the bulk of KG's career, but it has been interesting to watch him mature from the kid who signed a record-breaking contract and insisted "It ain't about the loot" to a highly-respected veteran and mentor for the next wave of young NBA superstars. After leading the Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008, Garnett had a much different message:

I only have about a hundred basketball cards in my collection, but I try to pick up at least one card of every superstar. This is my "Big Ticket" item, from 1999-00 Stadium Club Chrome:

True to their name, the True Colors inserts are very colorful, especially the refractor parallels. Not sure how much I paid for this but I know I got it on COMC because I buy all my cards on COMC (other than a few cheap blasters at Target.)

I might look for another Garnett card next time I'm browsing, perhaps a Celtics card or one of his low-end RC's.

Congrats to KG on a fantastic career.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Canada Is Just Better Than US

Team Canada won a hockey game against Team USA last night.

In other news: the sun came up, someone died, and Donald Trump said something offensive. 

Actually, the big news was that the game was on ESPN (flagship!) in the United States. John Buccigross and Kevin Weekes, two of the best in the business, called the game. I know this because I watched about ten seconds of it. I saw Joe Thornton still hasn’t shaved, I saw the score wasn’t 7-0 USA, and I turned it off. I've seen this movie before.

The World Cup of Hockey was an interesting idea in theory - especially this year, with the weaker European countries like Slovakia and Switzerland merged into one Frankenteam, and an equally artificial squad of "young guns" from North America. More than half of this team is comprised of American-born players - which is great for the future of USA hockey. But the loss of 23-and-under talent disproportionately affected the American side for this tournament and handed Canada yet another advantage - as if playing the entire tournament on their home ice wasn't helpful enough.

Much has been written about USA hockey's roster mismanagement and John Tortorella's questionable coaching - but the Americans were already behind the "8-ball" without Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, and #1 overall draft pick Auston Mathews. Leaving Phil Kessel off the roster in favor of "gritty" players like Justin Abdelkader was a head-scratcher; no other country (except Canada) can win a tournament without its second- and third-best player.

Let's be real here - you could make the age limit whatever you want and Canada would still win. Their overall population might be one tenth of the US but 90% of their best athletes are playing hockey. In the US, 90% of the best athletes are playing football, basketball, baseball, and olympic sports such as track and field or swimming. Tennis, soccer, golf, and extreme sports probably take up another 7% or so, leaving hockey with about 3% of all the elite athletes in America.

Basically, it would take a miracle for the US to beat Canada in a best-on-best hockey tournament.

That's right Canada. You're the Soviet Union now. 

Which is probably why Upper Deck produces so many Team Canada cards and so few Team USA cards. A quick COMC search yields 5,706 cards labeled "Team Canada" and 1,005 cards labeled "Team USA" (and 75% of those were from the 1990's.)

Look at all these cool cards for Canadian collectors:

Where's our Team USA "Program Of Mediocrity" subset?

The only cool-looking USA-themed cards I've managed to find from this decade are part of the 2014-15 Fleer Ultra National Heroes set. It's not an American-only set of course, but until the US wins a gold medal in any hockey tournament, it will have to do:

The would-be heroes of the 2010 Olympics: Zach Parise, whose late 3rd-period goal tied the Gold Medal game and forced OT, and Joe Pavelski - who had the golden goal on his stick before the hockey gods woke up:

Oh well. There's always the World Baseball Classic...


Monday, September 19, 2016

33's are a tease

A few months ago I was browsing sales on COMC when I saw this vintage card:

COMC's condition notes described this card as such:

1933 Goudey Big League Chewing Gum R319 #44
Jim Bottomley [Poor to Fair]

It had always been my goal to own a pre-war card,
but halfway decent examples of halfway decent players were way out of my budget. When I first saw this Bottomley card it was priced at around $30. Very reasonable, and within my budget at the time. Not only that, Bottomley is a Baseball Hall Of Famer (albeit a lesser known member.)

But...that "Poor to Fair" label though. It's an 83 year old card. There's got to be something wrong with it that I'm not seeing.

I looked again...and again...and again. I didn't want to get stuck spending $30 on fool's gold.

As you can see from their scan, the centering isn't great. The corners are soft and there's some slight edge wear. Still not seeing a disaster here.

Maybe there's a clue on the back of the card? the front bleeds into the back in some places (you can see part of his name in the top left) and the right edge is kind of dirty looking. But it still looks like a G-VG, not a PR-FR.

I added the card to my watch list, where it sat for a week or two. As the seller's prices continued to drop I began obsessing over this Bottomley card. What is wrong with you? I asked of the card - and myself.

Finally, the price dropped below $20 ($19.15 to be exact.) I couldn't sleep. I had to know what the major damage was with this card. And the only way to find out for sure...was to buy it.

Once the card was in my hand I knew exactly why COMC had given it such a tough evaluation: the back of the card looks... cracked. Not creased per se - a crease would show through on the front of the card. But the back was definitely damaged.

It still looked decent enough to get graded, and I sent it in to PSA with a minimum grade of Good 2. That's exactly what I got:

(I tried scanning the back so you can see the cracks, but they just don't scan well - especially now that the card is encased.)

After that modest success I was open to taking another chance on pre-war vintage. Two weeks ago I saw a Luke Sewell card from 1933 Goudey on COMC. Sewell had a long, successful career but he wasn't a Hall of Famer like "Sunny Jim". No matter. Sewell's card appeared to be in much better shape than the Bottomley.. and COMC appraised it accordingly:

1933 Goudey Big League Chewing Gum R319 #114
Luke Sewell [Good to VG‑EX]        

I grabbed this card with far less hesitation. At $24.45 it cost a bit more than the Bottomley, but I think it was well worth the gamble:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

Looks clean, eh? The only thing that concerns me is the back has some impression marks that look like words when held up to a light (you can see a straight line along the top of the words WASHINGTON SENATORS under his name. It wouldn't surprise me if PSA gave it the dreaded "MK" designation. Still, I'm thrilled to add a second Goudey to my collection.

What's the oldest card in your collection? Have you had any pleasant or unpleasant surprises when buying condition sensitive cards online?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Buying Back My Childhood: Starting Lineup

Not much sports card news from me lately. I've got another COMC order on the way but it only has 22 cards (including the Nomar Mazara Chrome) and it wont be shipped for another ten days. However, I do want to share my thoughts on another childhood collecting favorite, Starting Lineup figures. 

How many of you collected these as a kid (or an adult)? I absolutely loved them. I was eight when the first baseball and football sets were released in 1988, just old enough to be obsessed with sports and still young enough to enjoy playing with action figures. The stores near me - many of which are long gone like Child World, Ames, Bradlees, and so on - always had dozens of Starting Lineup figures in stock. Original price was about $4.99 as I recall.

My allowance was probably $5 a week back then, and I had so many interests at the time (Nintendo games, Garbage Pail Kids, baseball cards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... probably some other stuff, too) that I almost always had to settle for one SLU per toy store trip. This was always a difficult choice, and I had some epic fights with Mom over having to put one back - especially when I found a "rare" figure of an out-of-market player.

I soon noticed that 90% of the figures were from local teams - Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets, and Patriots. (There may have been basketball figures on the shelves but I'm not certain I saw any - except possibly a few Celtics.) At first I was happy to own any player from any team: Dwight Gooden, Rickey Henderson, Roger Clemens, and Wade Boggs were among the early additions to my collection. But once I studied the checklist on the back I realized that there were so many more players available that I had never seen. 


This fascinated me as a young fan of sports in general but not yet one specific team. The least popular teams and players were even more intriguing - and it became my goal to hunt down as many as I could find. Unbeknownst to my young self this was difficult by design; Starting Lineups were distributed in regional cases and the only way to acquire an out-of-market player was either through the Starting Lineup catalog (which I forgot had existed until this Uni Watch article) or an "all-star assortment." I have to assume that this was how I was able to purchase SLUs of players like Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Mike Singletary, Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, Fernando Valenzuela, and sooo many more. 

But how the heck did I end up with Sid Bream, or Kent Hrbek, or Darrin Nelson? Was it the mail-order catalog? And if so, why did I choose those players? More likely I just lucked out with a few random finds. That was always my goal - to find the most random player possible. Even as I got older and found new ways to collect SLUs - hobby shops, card shows, and a mail-order list from the Kenner Kid (which I still have somewhere) - I always had more fun collecting the tough out-of-town pieces. 

As you probably know, Kenner/Hasbro ceased production of Starting Lineup figures around 2000-01, which ceded the sports action figure market to McFarlane SportsPicks. I collected a ton of those as well - and by then I was an adult with much more disposable income. The McFarlane figures were much larger and more detailed (and more expensive), and even though it was fun to chase "variant" pieces it wasn't the same feeling as I had being 8 years old and finding a Miami Dolphin in a sea of New York Giants. 

When my daughters began accumulating toys of their own, I had to purge some of my memorabilia to make room for their toys. The hardest thing to part with were my action figures - but they took up the most room.  Half of my McFarlane collection was shipped out through eBay sales - and it was a nightmare dealing with UPS and their crappy rates. One day the shipping would cost $14, the next day it would be $22 for the exact same size and weight. I didn't know if the distance made a difference or the cashier at UPS, but I got sick of letting my sports figures go for practically nothing. 

The good news (at least for me) was that my Starting Lineup figures were worth practically nothing. Most of them were common baseball and hockey pieces, none worth more than $25 or so. But to be honest, I've never really found a sports figure price guide that I trust so it's all sentimental value to me. I know the first and second year figures ('88 and '89) are most valuable, and after that the value drops like a rock. 

Much to my amusement, the handful of SLUs that sell for hundreds of dollars today are the most obscure players from the most obscure teams - Marc Wilson, Bill Fralic, Scott Fletcher, any Utah Jazz player, and so on. Even if I had been able to find these rare gems back in the day I'm certain that I would have opened them and played with them so frequently that they'd be practically worthless now. For example, I lost my Marino figure in my sister's backyard (it was later found with much of his head and arm missing - possibly due to her dog using it as a chew toy.) 

Some of the SLUs in my collection were submerged in the bathtub; the lettering on my Bernie Kosar figure practically dissolved. And, for some reason, I covered Tony Gwynn's foot with white-out and stuck him on my roof (what did Tony do to deserve that?) It wasn't until 1993 that I was able to resist opening my SLU figures - I thought that if I kept my Ken Griffey, Jr. figure sealed in its original packaging that it would be worth $100 by now. It's not even his first piece so I doubt it's worth more than $20 - but I still can't bring myself to open it. 

not my pic, couldn't scan mine and I don't have a digital camera

As I watch my girls grow up (way too fast, I might add), I'm growing more and nostalgic for my own childhood. I've often said that I want to take a year off from collecting sports cards and do other things instead - buy more music, read more books, and collect pieces of my youth such as Garbage Pail Kids, Nintendo games, and Starting Lineup figures (I'll skip the TMNT toys and maybe collect Simpsons figures instead.) I do have a couple loose SLU's and the girls pick them up and pose them even though they have no interest in sports (yet?) It makes me wonder if I should open more of my pieces - to share my childhood with them and to save space in my upstairs room. 

Recently I shopped for early issue SLUs on eBay and found a 1989 Mike Singletary for a low price. The package was pretty beat up and if my best offer had been accepted I would have seriously considered opening it. But the seller wouldn't budge and neither would I. A much nicer Singletary was available for about $25, and I also considered a 1988 John Elway and a 1989 Jerry Rice at about the same price. Instead I fit two football figures in my budget, Ickey Woods and Bubby Brister:

I thought about calling this "The Ballad of Ickey Bubby"

The Brister was in my collection about fifteen years ago, along with a few other football pieces I purchased from a local dealer. I never had the Ickey Woods, and I'm not sure I have ever owned any Bengals. I like the idea of buying one piece I used to have and one that I didn't. Maybe next week I'll purchase a pair of baseball SLU's - Paul Molitor (had it) and Vince Coleman (didn't have it.)

Do you collect Starting Lineup (or McFarlane SportsPicks) figures? If you have any in your collection, are they sealed or loose?