Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bullpen Time Machine

The 1939 New York Giants finished with a 77-74 (.510) record, good for fifth place in the eight-team National League, 18.5 games behind the pennant-winning Cincinnati Reds. So they weren't playing particularly meaningful ball over the final two months of the season. Yet, play ball they did.

On August 1, the Giants played ten innings in Cincinnati. Three days later, it was eleven innings in Pittsburgh. And they played another eleven-inning game against Boston when they returned home to the Polo Grounds.

Okay. Big deal, right?

The series in Pittsburgh ended with a double header, and the Boston series started with a twin bill. Next up, the Phillies came to town. That series ended with a double header. By the middle of September, the Giants had done double duty seven times since the beginning of August.

Tough. But still reasonable. Until...

September 13, at Pittsburgh: Double Header
September 14, at Cincinnati: Double Header
September 15, at Cincinnati: Double Header
September 17, at St. Louis: Double Header
September 18, at St. Louis: Double Header
September 24, vs. Boston: Double Header
September 26, vs. Brooklyn: Double Header
September 28, at Philadelphia: Double Header

The Giants rotation included future Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell, two-time all-star Hal Schumacher, former 20-game winner Cliff Melton, and promising youngster Bill Lohrman. But the workhorse of the staff was 29-year-old Harry Gumbert.

In 1939, Gumbert started on three days of rest eight times. He started on two days of rest seven times (or so the records say). He even started the first and third games of an August three-game series in Brooklyn, with just a single day of rest in between.

Naturally, it fell to Gumbert to take the hill on the final day of the season, October 1, in Boston against Casey Stengel's Bees. But Gumbert's arm was toast. In fact, not a single Giants pitcher could raise their arm above their head that day, let alone pitch in a big-league ballgame. Manager Bill Terry was in a real bind.

Let's fast-forward 54 years by flipping the digits, from '39 to '93. The Giants now call San Francisco home. And, unlike their counterparts, they are playing fantastic baseball. They already have 101 wins with three games left in the season going into their October 1 matchup against the rival Dodgers in Los Angeles. But they aren't running away with a division title. In fact, the Atlanta Braves have matched their record to this point and the Giants find themselves in a real dogfight.

They have the right guy on the mound for them on this Friday night at Chavez Ravine in 21-game winner John Burkett. Or so manager Dusty Baker thought. Times are different. The Giants only double header of the season came and went on June 1. Burkett hasn't made any starts on two days rest. In fact his last start was the first time he'd gone on just three days of rest, which is what he will have going into this game. But, like I said, times are different. And even this workload has taken its toll. Moments before game time, Burkett informs Baker that he can't go. There's nothing left in the tank.

This is where it really gets interesting...

Fortunately for the Giants, 80-year-old Manny Salvo was at Dodger Stadium that night. The California native was one of those tired-armed pitchers for the '39 Giants. As a 27-year-old rookie, Salvo had gone just 4-10, and was not used again after taking the loss in the first game of their September 15 double header at Cincinnati. Most people thought that Salvo got his nickname of "Gyp" (for Gypsy) because of his itinerant baseball career. Not so.

It turns out that Salvo was of Romani descent. In other words, a real Gypsy. Not only that, he was the son of a powerful Chovano (sorcerer). Remembering that October 1, 1939, when his manager Bill Terry was forced to forfeit his team's final game of the year in Boston, and watching Dusty Baker scramble to come up with a starter for this crucial October 1, 1993, matchup with the Dodgers, Salvo set to work...

I don't know exactly how he did it. Salvo passed away three and a half years later, having told no one of what he had done that day... no one but me. I had met Manny at Dodger Stadium in September of 1996, having enjoyed a really nice conversation with him when I found myself in the seat next to his on a Tuesday night game against the Giants. (I think the Dodgers won behind Ramon Martinez, but I'm not sure.) We exchanged numbers that night, and I was pleased when he called me in early February of '97 and invited me to his home in Vallejo for lunch. What he told me that day shocked me.

Manny "Gyp" Salvo claimed that he was able, on the night of October 1, 1993, to somehow "exchange" Harry Gumbert for John Burkett for that day, healing their tired arms in the process. He says that's why "Gumbert" was able to pitch a complete-game four-hit shutout to beat Boston 5-0 on two days of rest to end the 1939 season for the Giants. And that's why "Burkett" was able to tell Dusty Baker that he could take the mound on the night of October 1, 1993, to win his 22nd game of the year and help the Giants keep pace with the Braves.

There were so many questions that I wanted to ask. How had he done it? Couldn't he have simply healed Burkett's arm without "switching" him for Gumbert. How is it that nobody, including Burkett, knows or remembers anything about what happened? Why hadn't he done the same for Solomon Torres two days later? But Manny, whose health was failing, was too tired to continue. We made plans to meet again later in the month, but he passed away shortly thereafter. It was a fascinating story. You can look up the game info, and the information about Salvo, such as it is, and it will all match up. But, naturally, I could never bring myself to fully believe the story. Until I saw this...

If only Manny Salvo were still with us. There's a certain Don Newcombe (1956) for Clayton Kershaw (2013) switch I'd like to try out...

I have to fess up. I made up one or two of the details in this story. But it was for a good cause: an attempt to win a contest! This is my Round One entry in Chris' 2013 Blogger Bracket Challenge at Nachos Grande. Do yourself a favor and hop on over there this weekend to read all of the great entries and cast your votes. A good time is guaranteed for all.

Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Banks on It (Castro, Too)

Remember that redemption card that I pulled out of a pack of 2012 Topps Heritage last month? It turned into this much better looking piece of cardboard:

2012 Topps Heritage Real One Dual Autograph Ernie Banks/Starlin Castro CHC #RODA-BC (17/25)

Nice. So far, I'm deviating from my standard practice and keeping it in its toploader, rather than throwing it into the scrum with the rest o' the cards. It's perdy. I really like the retro design for this. Better than a bunch of foil and stickers and refraction and whatnot.

One of the fun things about getting this card is that I have the matching base cards to make for a nice little group of happy Cubbie cardboard.

1963 Topps Ernie Banks CHC #380
2012 Topps Heritage Starlin Castro CHC #193

I like that they used the same photos. Nice touch. Naturally, I'd prefer this to be a Koufax/Kershaw Dodger fest, but I'm not complaining. Let the investor types worry about what it's all worth. Doesn't matter to me. This was just plain fun to get, and that's all the value that I'm looking to get out of it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Looks Like We Got Us a World Serious

It didn't look good after game one.

The last two times we were "treated" to the Red Sox in the World Series, the Fall Classic became the ultimate anticlimax. The previous Sox-Cardinals matchup, in 2004? The Series was over before we'd even had a chance to catch our breath following their stunning comeback in the ALCS against the Yankees. And remember that masterpiece against the Rockies in '07? Remember anything about that series at all? Did you forget that the Rockies ever made it to a World Series until I just reminded you? I wouldn't blame you.

It didn't look like 2013 was gonna be much better after game one's snooze-fest.

But give credit to St. Louis (and to anyone in a Red Sox uniform trying to throw from home to third). The Cards haven't allowed Beards to have the same power as Idiots or Bloody Socks. And now we really have a Series, or as my Grandpa always liked to call it, the World Serious. When your team isn't part of the action, all you can ask for is entertaining games and a competitive series. And it looks like we're gonna get that. We've finally got a piece of the pie.

Considering how close we are to the end of meaningful baseball for five months, we should be thankful for it. Even with the unfortunate lack of Dodger Blue on display.

No boring Rex Sox sweep this time. It's good to be "movin' on up." Did I say Serious?

A couple of questions. (Almost certainly rhetorical, given the state of this blog's readership, but I'll ask 'em anyway.)

Why is the play that ended game three being called a "controversial call that will be debated for years to come?" The call was obviously correct from the moment it was made, and none of the constant analysis that we've been subjected to all night and all morning has done anything to change that. Bizzare? Incredible? Frustrating (to Sox fans)? Miraculous (to Cards fans)? Unforgettable? Yes. Controversial? No.

With just two-to-four games left in his Hall-of-Fame-recognized career as a broadcast analyst, I have to ask why there has been so much hatred of Tim McCarver, or at least of the job he has done in that capacity over the years? I can see why he may not be everyone's cup of tea. He certainly has his head-scratcher moments, at times. But I like him. Always have. He certainly doesn't fall short in the category of first-hand knowledge of the game, whether you agree with what he has to say or not. And it's clear that he's passionate about the game we love, and isn't afraid to express his sentiments about it.

Does anyone still think American League rules produce a game anywhere near as exciting as a game played under baseball rules (aka, National League rules)? The designated hitter is great... in the All-Star game. That's about it. But I have a very real fear that the DH will be adopted league-wide in my lifetime, which would be like installing Astroturf in every big-league park, or banning hot dog sales at games. Please don't. Pretty please.

Besides, with the DH in play, rookie pitchers could no longer joyously proclaim "Now we're up in the big leagues, gettin' our turn at bat."

Last question:  Who's got the smaller strike zone, George Jefferson or Ken Rosenthal?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta get in the kitchen, fry up some fish, keep my beans from burning on the grill, and get ready for game four.

[Edit: As Gavin of Baseball Card Breakdown points out, I managed to confuse Esther Rolle (Big Papita?) of Good Times with Isabel Sanford of The Jeffersons. So, I guess this post ain't as DY-NO-MITE as I'd hoped it would be.]

I Was There: The Aaron Boone Game

This is Part VI of a series (and a contest) that was introduced here.

2003 ALCS Game #7, Boston Red Sox @ New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 10/16/2003: The Aaron Boone Game

It looked like we were going to see the World Series that broke a famous curse. Either the Cubs were going to win their first championship since 1908, or the Red Sox were going to get Yankee Stadium crowds to stop chanting "1918," the year of their last taste of the title. But Babe Ruth and a billy goat proved too strong to submit to the will of the majority of baseball fandom in 2003. (Who knew that the goat would prove to be stronger than the Bambino? Answer: Cubs fans.)

Steve Bartman, Mark Prior, and one of the Alex Gonzalezes had already done their thing, and the Marlins put the nail in the Cubs coffin the night before. It was time for another game seven, and another opportunity for a curse to reassert its power. Fortunately for me, although it may not have been with the Cubs or the Red Sox, luck was squarely on my side.

It all started on a dreary late-September day at Yankee Stadium. I'm not sure what day it was. The game I'd gone to was meaningless. The Yanks had already clinched the division title. But they were playing and I had the day off, so I went. I don't remember if there was a rain delay, or if I was just kinda bored, but I found myself wandering around the stadium. I'm not sure why I hadn't even considered trying to get tickets for the post season. I guess I figured they'd all be sold out in a matter of minutes and it wasn't worth the hassle. But when I came upon an advance ticket sales window with nobody in line, I figured, what the heck, it can't hurt to ask.

As I'd expected, there were no longer tickets available for the Division Series. World Series tickets weren't on sale yet. Nothing was available for games one or two of a potential Championship Series either. But there were a few left for a game six or seven. So I picked up two tickets for a potential game seven, high above third base in the upper deck, and figured that there wasn't much chance that I'd get the opportunity to use them.

But the Yanks beat the Twins in the Division Series and lined up to face Boston in the ALCS. With the Bombers leading the series, three games to two, I was conflicted about game six. By this time I was an unlikely Yankee fan. I didn't want to see them lose to the friggin' Red Sox. But I sure wanted to go to a game seven. In the end, I got what I wished for.

Cathy, my wife-to-be, was also a Yankee fan. In fact, she was a new baseball fan. She'd only arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines about a year before, with no interest in the game whatsoever. But by the time I'd secured these tickets she was already sporting her Hideki Matsui jersey and ready to cheer her team to victory that night.

I won't rehash the game in detail, because you almost certainly know all about it. Grady Little decides to stick with a tiring Pedro Martinez, and the Yanks rally. Cathy gets to see her favorite player slide across the plate with the tying run in the eighth inning and leap into the air in celebration. Mariano Rivera tosses three scoreless innings...

And by this time, I have to report, my Cathy, the new baseball fan, has run out of steam. It's cold. She's tired. It's been exciting, but she wants to go home. I have to inform her, politely but firmly, that there's not a chance in hell that we're leaving game seven of the Championship Series before it's over, even if it goes 247 innings and lasts another week and a half.

Fortunately, on the first pitch of the eleventh inning, Aaron Boone sends us all home happy.

We've got a real barn-burner in the Surreal Seven contest. Here's the leaderboard as it stands at the end of game six:
SURREAL SEVEN STANDINGSCorrect GuessesDifficulty Points
Al Kawamoto25
Bo @ Baseball Cards Come to Life!23
Nick @ Dime Boxes00
Marcus @ All the Way to the Backstop00

With one game left, Bo has pulled even with Al, though Al currently holds the tie-breaker on difficulty points. Can Nick or Marcus make a miraculous comeback? (Well, no, actually. That would be impossible.) Can Bo overtake Al at the last moment? Or does Al Kawamoto, mysterious hockey fan, hold on to his lead to take the (long-awaited) prize? Stay tuned.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Just Commons: Just O-Pee-Chee

Yesterday I showed off the Kershaws from my recent Just Commons impulse buy. The idea was to ease the pain of the Dodgers' playoff ouster by throwing $10 worth of inexpensive cardboard into the virtual shopping cart, hitting the minimum purchase for free shipping.

I forgot to mention that the impetus for that mini shopping spree was a post by Nick at Dime Boxes. I'm a little sheepish about mentioning that because it's not the first idea that I've stolen from Nick. I shamelessly pilfered the mini-collection concept from him, as well.

But this time, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I did some of my thinking for myself. I had the great idea to target O-Pee-Chee fun for the the non-Kershaw half of my little spree.

And I had a great reason for this. It has to do with one of the advantages (which many would consider a disadvantage) of the setup at Just Commons. There are no images of the cards on their site. And I'll tell you why I think that's great. I've mentioned it in passing here, a time or two. But it's something I feel quite strongly about. I would really rather not see a card, or an image of a card, until I'm holding it in my hand, accepting it into my collection. That, of course, is impossible to accomplish in many cases. Particularly since I enjoy reading baseball card blogs, which are chock-full of pictures of cards that I don't have, and therefore that I want.

I realized that, without doing any prep work (this was an impulse buy, remember), O-Pee-Chees provided an excellent opportunity for me to get some Dodgers cards that I've never seen before. There is a caveat, though, and a rather huge one at that. I have seen all of these cards. At least I've seen (and have) their Topps equivalents. In some cases, that meant very little in terms of the desired "newness" factor.

1986 O-Pee-Chee Orel Hershiser LAD #159
1990 O-Pee-Chee Fernando Valenzuela LAD #340

For example, in the case of the Bulldog here, the only real difference from the Topps issue is the somewhat unsightly box with the O-Pee-Chee logo slapped over the corner of the photo, with its overlarge white backdrop sticking out all the more for the card's black-dominated design. As for the '90 Fernando, there's actually zero difference in the content of the card's front. The only difference, and it's actually a rather pleasing one, is the enhanced clarity of the photo. I've always railed against the brighter stock that Traded sets from this era were printed on, but that's only because I was lamenting the inconsistency between the flagship base set and the update. These aren't supposed to be a continuation of the Topps base set, but an alternative version. As such, I really enjoy seeing some of the fuzziness of the photos sharpened up.

But what made OPC a peachy target is that the little player movement notes that appear on some of the cards also appear next to the player names on the Just Commons site. That meant that I could simply scan the list for cards that said "Now With Dodgers," or some equivalent. Here are some of the results:

1979 O-Pee-Chee Andy Messersmith LAD #139
1982 O-Pee-Chee Mark Belanger LAD #42

One of the fun things about these is seeing the odd color combinations. The card design is updated to reflect the new team, while the photo is unchanged. Of course, in the case of new Dodgers, that means giving them the ol' pink treatment. It doesn't look quite as odd with the Yankees uniform because Topps has subjected the Bombers to pinkification on occasion. But that Belanger card, with it's pink and purple in contrast to the Orioles orange is particularly jarring.

From a baseball standpoint, these are a pair of fantastic cards. Messersmith had been a very successful Dodger pitcher early in the decade. But this might be the only Dodgers card from his brief return to the club to end his career. I've talked about my connection to Mark Belanger and his stint in Blue at the (hibernating) Top of the Topps.

1988 O-Pee-Chee Alfredo Griffin LAD #42
1990 O-Pee-Chee Mike Maddux LAD #154

As the incorporation of the team name into the cards' design became more complex toward the end of the '80s, OPC had to settle for using the little blurbs to update the players' team status. That makes these less interesting, visually. But they're still additional Dodgers cards, so I'm all over 'em.

1990 O-Pee-Chee Steve Davis LAD #428
1991 O-Pee-Chee Greg Smith LAD #560

Stars and impact players are cool and all. But I dig the obscure, as well. And these are a couple of great examples. Steve Davis never made the step up from Albuquerque to the Dodgers before retiring at the end of the 1990 season. Greg Smith did manage to find his way into five games for LA in 1991 (all Dodger victories, for what it's worth).

1992 O-Pee-Chee Tom Candiotti LAD #38
1992 O-Pee-Chee Gary Carter Tribute LAD #399

That's a great Candiotti, displaying his knuckleball grip as he leaps off the card toward the batter. And now it's a Dodgers card instead of a Blue Jays card. Sweet! I probably should have picked up all of the Gary Carter tribute cards from this set, but one of them features him with the Giants, so I just got this one.

Finally, I couldn't help sampling a couple of these player movement variations going in the opposite direction.

1982 O-Pee-Chee Dave Lopes OAK #218
1982 O-Pee-Chee Dave Lopes AS OAK #338

These are a couple of my favorites from the '82 Topps set, so they made for an obvious choice. Particularly with the base card, it's another example of getting a much sharper image of a very familiar picture. You also have to dig the crazy OPC logo they used here, with its odd lump jutting into the photo frame. Plus there's the French position translation on the front. I may have to consider chasing this set, the more I think about it.

Great idea to go after some O-Pee-Chees, right? In fact, it turns out that Nick beat me to this one, as well. A couple of days ago he posted again about his Just Commons booty, featuring... a whole mess of O-Pee-Chee.

Oh well. I guess I'd better swing on over to Dime Boxes to find out what I'm going to be up to next...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Just Commons: Kershaw Therapy

Sandy Koufax lost the last start of his career, 6-0 to Jim Palmer in game two of Baltimore's 1966 World Series sweep of the Dodgers.

Bob Gibson lost game seven of the 1968 World Series to Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers.

Orel Hershiser lost games one and five of the 1997 World Series to rookie Livan Hernandez of the Florida Marlins.

And Clayton Kershaw lost the decisive game six of the 2013 NLCS, in a big way, to the Cardinals behind rookie Michael Wacha.

Heroes, even big-time post-season performers, sometimes lose big games. It's never expected. And it always hurts if you're on the wrong side of the decision. But the occasional stumble should not diminish our respect and admiration for who they are and what they do.

Clayton Kershaw is still my favorite active player, even if he did give up seven runs in a game that ended the Dodgers' season short of the Fall Classic. Life is tough. It's not fair. You don't always win, no matter how hard you try, or how much you may deserve to taste victory... etc., etc.  You know, all of those good lessons that you try to prepare your kids with for the curveballs that life can throw your way.

With that in mind, half of a recent $10 Just Commons retail therapy impulse buy was devoted to celebrating my favorite player, rather than dwelling on the negativity of his final start of 2013.

In my world, last night's game one of the World Series was a far more interesting pitchers duel between Lester and Kershaw. You can guess who came out on top in my little fantasy land. Speaking of childish pursuits, let's play...

2013 Topps Allen & Ginter Clayton Kershaw LAD #88

I hadn't managed to pull this gem out of a pack yet, and it's a must-have on a few levels, not the least of which being its brilliance as a Getting a Grip gem. Just Commons didn't have the 2009 Ginter available, which is also a need of mine for the same reasons. So that one's still on the table for some generous blogger out there on the lookout to make an impression by way of trade or random PWE (hint, hint).

2009 Topps Unique Clayton Kershaw LAD #88
2009 Topps Unique Red Clayton Kershaw LAD #88 (514/1199)

Although I only bought a pack or two of these in the day, I kinda liked 'em. So I was happy to snag the base and red versions of The Claw. (Does anyone really call him that? I'm not sure I've seen the nickname referenced anywhere other than Baseball Reference.)

2012 Topps Mini Clayton Kershaw LAD #600
2012 Topps Gold Sparkle Clayton Kershaw LAD #600

I had no idea that 2013 wasn't the first year of the return of the Topps mini experiment. I've been contemplating ordering a box of that stuff, but I'm not sure I can justify spending that kind of cash for the same cards I already own, just in slightly smaller proportions. Grabbing the Kershaws at some point will probably be enough. I'm happy to now have this '12 sample. And the gold sparkle version came with the nice surprise of scanning well. Pretty unusual for shiny cards.

2010 Bowman 1992 Throwbacks Clayton Kershaw LAD #BT97
2009 Upper Deck Goudey Clayton Kershaw LAD #94

I got six more Kershaws besides the ones I'm showing here. These two are probably my favorites (other than the Grip card). I'm a sucker for simplicity and retro cool. Is spiffy cardboard better than seeing your favorite pitcher start game one of the World Series? Probably not. But it sure helps to ease the pain a bit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bye-Bye, Celebrations With Pie

This card, with its image provided by Chris of Nachos Grande for his 2013 Blogger Bracket Challenge, makes it look as though Chris Coghlan had been sent to play for Satan on the Hades company softball team. If so, it would undoubtedly have been the result of the mortal sin (or at least error in judgement) that he committed on the afternoon of July 25, 2010.

You may remember the day. Not long before, Kendry (now Kendrys) Morales of the Angels (now Mariners) ended his season (and the next) by arriving at home plate with a little bit too much exuberance following a walk-off grand slam. Perhaps jealous of that headline-grabbing cry for attention, Coghlan out-moroned Morales. Following a walk-off hit by teammate Wes Helms, Coghlan injured himself delivering a celebratory shaving-cream pie to the face of the Marlins hero. No, I'm not making this up. Need proof? It can be found here.

Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, is still playing big-league ball. Well, he's still with the Marlins, so I'll let you be the judge of whether that's true or not. But he's never been able to recreate the success of his rookie season, thanks in part to the day that his 2010 season died. It's a cautionary tale, and if one less douche bag thinks it would be entertaining to celebrate anything by shoving a pie into someone's face, then it will all have been worth it. So, listen well to the ballad of Chris Coghlan.

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how the ball used to jump off my bat
And I knew that I had a chance
For my contract status to enhance
And for the front office to still like my stats

But I acted just like an idiot
Took some Barbasol and I ran with it
Bad news came when I leapt
I couldn't take one more step

I can remember that I cried
When the doctor told me that I'd fried
My knee's support down deep inside
The day my season died

So bye-bye, celebrations with pie
Torn meniscus, I won't risk it, I'm no longer that guy
And if the other boys start to ask of me why
I'll tell 'em all about the day that I cried
That would be the day my year died

I may not have had much power
And my average had begun to sour
But I could still run well
Can you believe that I would risk my goals
For a moment on the post-game show?
And now I'm stuck here playing in Hell

Well, I was the best young player in the game
That award done said so when it came
Some people said it didn't show
I guess now we'll just never know

I was a peppy little singles hitter
Now my career is in the shitter
Yes, I knew I was out of luck
That day my season died

So bye-bye, celebrations with pie
Torn meniscus, I won't risk it, I'm no longer that guy
And if the other boys start to ask of me why
I'll tell 'em all about the day that I cried
That would be the day my year died

Happy Thoughts!

As part of my ongoing effort to use this blog as a place to work through the angst of seeing my Dodgers fall short of reaching the World Series for the twenty-fifth consecutive season...

...deep breath...

Sorry, that sentence had me looking for a razor blade before it could even finish its thought.

...stay positive...

Let's try again.

Hey, remember when the Dodgers won the 2013 National League Division Series, three games to one over the Atlanta Braves? Sure you do. Good times.

Every year I make my own virtual baseball cards of the Dodgers. Maybe this year I'll actually finish the set. Knowing myself, I wouldn't bet on it. But I started the 2013 set recently, and since I have a blog now, I might as well subject my two readers to the results of my grown-up cut-and-paste play time. Actually, I've already forced a couple of TBall Productions on you last week with the optimistic pre-game-six Kershaw "base" card, and the depressing post-game-six post-season "highlight" card.

Let's hop into the Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to before St. Louis made me so depressed that I'd even drink Budweiser if it was the only way to help me forget the NLCS.

2013 TBall Virtual 2013 NLDS Game 1: Kershaw K's 12 #88

This was how the post-season started for the Dodgers. This was the way it was supposed to start. Of course, it was also supposed to end this way...

2013 TBall Virtual 2013 NLDS Game 2: Comeback Stalls in 9th #89

Dee Gordon's shock at being called out on a ninth-inning steal attempt wasn't so funny at the time. It would be funny after a couple of Dodger wins. It is once again not so funny. Given time, I'm sure it will get me to crack a smile again... someday.

2013 TBall Virtual 2013 NLDS Game 3: Power Proves Pivotal #90

The former Red Sox were supposed to return to Fenway on Wednesday and loudly proclaim that every little thing was most certainly not gonna be all right in Boston when they got through with them. I'm sure nobody wanted that opportunity more than Carl Crawford.

2013 TBall Virtual 2013 NLDS Game 4: Uribe Clutch in Clincher #91

Yeah, I know, I have an irrational interest in alliteration. See, I'm working to break the habit. steps...

This was not supposed to be the only series-clincher card in the set.

...happy thoughts...

Next year! We'll get 'em next year!

G@& D^#? #U+#R FU>:G C^%):N[S!!!!

...maybe electro-shock therapy is the way to go...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Early Bird's Night Owl Haul: Pack #13

What's this? Find out here.

Let's play. Today is going to be Opposite Day here at Playing With My Cards. Remember Opposite Day? I have so many blog readers! I'm a millionaire who already has all of the baseball cards I could ever want. Please don't send me my first Vin Scully card. I would hate that!

You get the point. Of course, if I could simply declare a real Opposite Day, that would have happened sometime last Friday evening at about the time it became apparent that Clayton Kershaw had run out of gas so close to the finish line.

So what's Opposite Day gonna mean here on this blog? It means that instead of showing the front of the cards in this "pack" of the Night Owl's childhood stash, I'm gonna feature the backs this time. It's going to be really exciting! (I'll let you determine whether or not that assertion comes filtered through the Opposite Day translation device.)

1977 Topps Ray Burris CHC #190

Turns out that we're gonna start with three Cubs hiding their faces, which is quite appropriate circa the late '70s. I remember Ray Burris better as the Expo whose two brilliant starts against the Dodgers in the 1981 NLCS went for naught, thanks to Blue Monday. Remember when the Dodgers would occasionally win a League Championship Series? Those were the days. And speaking of looking back, legendary Ebbett's Field character Hilda Chester gets some love in this cartoon. Based on some of the anecdotes I've read about her, "rabid" is not an inappropriate word choice.

1977 Topps Bill Madlock CHC #250

The back of the Mad Dog's card has a cartoon that hearkens back to an age when fans were interested in the umpires, even when they didn't miss a critical call. Which brings up the point that I think I'm going to hate the expanded replay system that we're going to be subjected to next season. Baseball is just not about precision in the same way that, say, tennis is. I'm glad they're not moving to use technology to call balls and strikes. I wish they would apply their reasoning for avoiding this, possibly the easiest of calls to automate, to the rest of the game that they're going to try to "get right." I am not looking forward to managers using replay as a way to delay the game, either to get relievers warm or to cool down or piss off an opposing pitcher. We got a preview with John Farrell trying to get Max Scherzer's goat on the obviously foul drive by Pedroia at Fenway. Get ready for the excitement of sitting around waiting for the obvious to be confirmed on a regular basis.

1977 Topps Steve Swisher CHC #419

Nick's dad was coming off of his lone All-Star Game appearance. Naturally, being a Cub, he didn't sniff the post season. Nick has had his opportunities, but his post-season numbers stink. Part of me was hoping that the Indians would advance in the playoffs so Terry Francona could face off against his former club. It's good for me to talk about the playoffs. It can be dangerous to bottle up so much angst. Better to let it out. I wonder if Phil Roof was traumatized by the experience of being on a team with no teammates. If so, he should talk it out. Blogs are great for that sort of thing...

1977 Topps Willie Monantez ATL #410
1977 Topps Marty Perez SFG #438

See? Here's Marty Perez, instructing me to look to my childhood for clues about how to deal with the Dodgers' loss. No, I don't need a teddy bear to make me feel better. But the cartoon reminds me of my Grandfather, who was always a big fan of the story of Joe Nuxhall, the kid who was too young to fight in the war, but not too young to get a crack at wartime baseball. My Grandfather was an Angels fan. He passed away shortly after the 2000 World Series. His Angels, for whom he had been rooting since their arrival on the big-league scene in 1961, didn't reach their first Fall Classic until their 2002 Championship. My Dodgers won the World Series in my first full year as a fan, in 1981 when I was eleven years old. I can handle losing game six this year, even without a teddy bear!

1977 Topps John Candelaria PIT #510
1977 Topps Rick Manning CLE #115
1977 Topps Jay Johnstone PHI #415
1977 Topps Dave Collins SEA #431

I find myself looking for ways to justify not letting the Dodgers' failed World Series bid get to me. Talking with my friend and Giants fan (jumbo shrimp, anyone?) Raymond, I found myself spouting some mumbo jumbo about wanting the next championship to come from a more home-grown team. The '81 champs were essentially the veteran products of the early '70s Dodger farm system, with new true blue kids like Fernando and Scioscia added to the mix. The '88 champs were underdogs lead by their own Bulldog. I've grown to like Greinke, A-Gon, Crawford and even Hanley. But I'd rather see our farm system (the invention of a certain sore-armed cartoon catcher, for those of you looking for the baseball card tie-in) produce the pieces to complement Kershaw and Kemp when they get their rings. That's why I don't care that they didn't win it all this year, for the first time in a quarter of a century. (No, I'm not buying it, either.)

1977 Topps Dan Meyer SEA #527

We usually end these Night Owl posts with a cartoon. But since this is Opposite Day, and we've already been showing the backs, we'll end this one by showing the front of the last card. Appropriate, since the new-franchise airbrush job makes Dan Meyer look like a real-life cartoon. It also cheers me up a little to look at a Mariners card. They've been around since the Night Owlet pulled this thing out of a fresh pack, but have still never been to the World Series. My Mariners fan friend, Michael, went into the hospital today and might require colon surgery. There are worse things than your team falling a couple of wins short of a World Series appearance.

Good luck, Michael. Good luck with your radioactive cap, Dan Meyer. Good luck with no longer needing to hide your faces in shame, Cubs. Good luck to umpires, fans, and everyone connected with the game in dealing with replay review next year. Good luck to Terry Francona and the Indians. Good luck not sucking in the playoffs if you make it that far next year, Nick Swisher. Good luck with dealing with PTSD from your solitary confinement in Toronto, Phil Roof. Good luck to my Grandfather's Angels, and Michael's Mariners... And best of luck to Raymond's Giants.

I think you know the point at which I remembered that it was Opposite Day here on this blog.

May the Dodgers sink into a spending-induced malaise that sees them go another 25 years without a championship. May Yasiel Puig eschew the learning process in favor of relying on his innate baseball instincts. May Clayton Kershaw never recover from his game six performance. May Ned Colletti think it's a great idea to trade blue chip prospects for Brandon Phillips and pick up his salary to improve the team's on-base percentage and clubhouse chemistry. And may Vin Scully change his mind and call it a career.

Happy Opposite Day!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nacho Blog, But a Grande Contest

No, I haven't retired. I haven't surrendered. I'll be back at this, in earnest, shortly. It's just that I have a microscopic attention span. And with my team engaged in nail-biting post-season drama, I simply can't concentrate on anything else.

But I do plan on returning to this blog thing with a vengeance when the gaping hole left in life by the end of the baseball season opens its dark and dreary maw. And when that time comes, I will have nachos with which to feed the void. Not nachos pequeño, either. No. Nachos Grande!

That's because, to jump start my post-post-season posts, I will be joining in the fun of the 2013 Blogger Bracket Challenge, presented by Chris at Nachos Grande. The goal of the contest is to write interesting posts, which means I'm gonna have to step up my game, big-time. Expect some spicy jalapeños, and lots of extra cheese!

2013 TBall Virtual Clayton Kershaw LAD #22

In the meantime, I live or die with Kershaw tonight. My life couldn't be in better hands. But I'll have the defibrillator handy on Saturday for game seven against Wainwright in St. Louis...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Give Me a Break (With a Side of Repack)

Hello baseball fans. Long time, no write. Been busy doing the same thing you all are probably doing as well. Parked in front of the boob tube, with the volume loud enough to make the neighbors think a ballpark sprang up next door, missing not a single pitch of post-season baseball. In addition to my incredibly understanding family, I need to also thank an inanimate object (DVR) and a workplace concept (PTO, paid time off) for aiding in appeasing my OCD.

With my time being spent watching moving players instead of looking at still pictures, and the need to avoid pesky scores on the internet before I'm ready to know them, activity has ground to a near halt around these parts. It's actually been a nice little break. Since I joined in this whole card blogging deal at start of this baseball season, I've managed to make some trades, win some contests, get and send some PWEs, knock off some want list needs for a few people, and write a lot of words that may or may not have been read by anyone other than myself.

But there remained a few new things to try, and Chris from View from the Skybox presented a couple of opportunities that I couldn't resist. First, he had the brilliant idea to solicit "repack" swaps. That is to say, he suggested that a random hundred (or so) cards be assembled, repack style, for exchange. So it's a trade, but without the high and specific expectations that usually come with that concept. The idea being to deliver something more akin to a dollar store repack: a little fun, some junk wax, and an occasional minor "hit." I love repacks, and I have plenty of random duplicates, so I was wholeheartedly in. And Chris delivered on the fun. Let's play...

There was the usual stash of overproduction-era cardboard, with the occasional unexpected new addition for my collection.

1995 Fleer/Panini Stickers Lee Smith CAL #17
1992 Donruss Fred McGriff SDP #283

I don't think I had any of these '95 stickers before getting a few from Chris. And the Crime Dog (with cameo Nails) was new to me, too. Chris also sent a healthy helping of more recent fare.

2007 Fleer Ultra Felix Hernandez SEA #174
2010 Topps Black Chad Billingsley LAD #401

He appeared to target pitchers, knowing of my affinity for moundsmen. There was more than one King Felix card in my repack. And the black Bills is pretty sweet, too.

2010 Upper Deck Troy Tulowitzki COL #180

Chris also sent a goodly sum of 2010 Upper Deck, which was great because I don't have many cards from this set yet. I love the design, but the obscured logos licensing issues meant for some inferior photo choices, especially for UD.

Here are my two favorites from the repack:

1993 Leaf Bob Tewksbury STL #44
1993 Bowman Edgar Martinez SEA #515

Turns out Bob Tewksbury kept some pretty detailed and interesting game notes/personal scouting reports during his pitching days. And this guy was a pitcher. His fastball (or should I say, "fast" ball?) topped out at just over the mid '80s mark. And yet the man was an all-star who won 110 games in a thirteen-year big-league career, most notably with the Cardinals. He wasn't throwing the ball past anyone, so he must have been doing some serious pitching. For anyone, like me, who loves this part of the game, the ongoing series of posts by David Laurila at FanGraphs based on Tewksbury's recollections and reminiscences while reviewing the notebooks is a gold mine. Well worth checking out.

As for Edgar, he's the greatest designated hitter the game has seen to date, not to mention a class act. The '93 Bowman set has fast become one of my retroactive favorites from that era, and this card didn't show up among those I'd acquired in the Craigslist boxes I got a few months ago. In fact, I'd never seen the card until Chris's repack. And it's a gem. To top it all off, the doughnut makes it a mini-collection hit! Mmmmmm... Doughnuts!

I can only hope Chris got as much enjoyment out of the (Royals-intensive) repacks that I sent him.

I said that Chris had two great ideas. The second was a Prizm break. I'm not sure I ever picked up a pack of 2012 Prizm, so when Chris announced that he was holding a break, I pounced on the opportunity to join in. In fact, I made the Dodgers the first team selected in the break. A group break was one thing that I knew I wanted to try, and the Prizm thing seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Now, it turns out I actually have some negative things to say about this, which is pretty rare around this playground, with its emphasis on fun. But I want to stress that absolutely none of the negativity is directed toward Chris. The break was a lot of fun, and he did a great job with it. I've just never been much of a gambler. And my luck in this break didn't do anything to improve my attitude in that regard.

First, let's look at the cards in question. They're thick. And shiny. Really shiny. I am only slowly coming to enjoy shiny baseball cards. I'm an old man in the disguise of a middle-aged man (which amounts to the same thing to all of you kids out there, including my own). As a result, I like my baseball cards made of dull and mushy cardboard. This Prizm thing is really just a bit too much for me. In fact, I think I enjoy the way the pictures look on the back better than I do the front.

2012 Panini Prizm Bob Gibson STL #137

They're baseball cards, though. Which means I want them, whether I love them or not. Buying in for the Dodgers was a no-brainer. But when there were still quite a few teams left, and discount bulk prices were on offer, I jumped in with three additional teams, which proved to be a decent idea... even though I fumbled it a bit. I told Chris I'd buy in with the Cardinals, Reds and Giants. I was feeling pretty good about that decision after the first couple of boxes (there were four, total) because I'd managed to score a Pete Rose, a Johnny Bench and a Joey Votto green parallel.

Except that I didn't. Gavin, of the excellent Baseball Card Breakdown (with its must-see Refractin' Action!) commented on a break post that he was glad he picked up the Reds at the last minute. Naturally, I replied with a "you must be mistaken, my good chap," and then went to my original email to Chris to confirm my Big Red Machine ownership. Yup, I purchased the Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants and... Cubs. The Cubs? Seriously? I thought Reds and typed Cubs. Friggin' genius. That did nothing to add to my fun. Neither did my "luck" with the Dodgers. Here's the breakdown from my first time at the baseball card roulette wheel:

Cardinals: 23 Total Cards

2012 Panini Prizm Stan Musial STL #125
2012 Panini Prizm Top Prospects Shelby Miller STL #TP3

The Cardinals won the 2011 World Series. So they were very well represented in this 2012 set. And even better represented in my haul from the Prizm break. The numbers after the names represent how many copies I netted of each card. If the number is higher than one, and it's a card you want/need, let me know. As you'll see, I still have some needs of my own, and I'd love to work out a trade or two.

Allen Craig (3)
Matt Holliday (2)
Kyle Lohse (1)
Lance Lynn (1)
Yadier Molina (1)
Jason Motte (1)

Matt Adams (1)
Adron Chambers (1)
Joe Kelly (3)

Bob Gibson (3)
Stan Musial (3)
Ozzie Smith (2)

Shelby Miller Top Prospects (1)

Giants: 13 Total Cards

2012 Panini Prizm Buster Posey SFG #1
2012 Panini Prizm Green Hunter Pence SFG #37

Some of you may have been asking yourselves why on Earth I bought in for the Giants. (Isn't it cute how I still think someone's actually reading this?) Well, it's just too painful to talk about... yet. It's a problem, and a serious one. Perhaps only the impending Dodgers World Championship will enable me to come clean about it. Stay tuned.

Matt Cain (1)
Hunter Pence (3)
Buster Posey (2)

Sergio Romo (3)
Hector Sanchez (1)
Eric Surkamp (2)


Hunter Pence Green Parallel (1)

Cubs: 14 Total Cards

2012 Panini Prizm Ernie Banks CHC #124
2012 Panini Prizm Elite Extra Edition Albert Almora CHC #EEE9

So, yeah... I got the Cubs. Anyone need a shiny Darwin Barney?

Darwin Barney (3)
Tony Campana (2)
Anthony Rizzo (1)

Brett Jackson (2)
Josh Vitters (2)

Ernie Banks (1)
Ryne Sandberg (2)

Albert Almora Elite Extra Edition (1)

Dodgers: 9 Total Cards

2012 Panini Prizm Fernando Valenzuela LAD #128
2012 Panini Prizm USA Baseball Clayton Kershaw USA #USA6

Okay, here's what I was really after. Let's see how I did...

Carl Crawford (2)
Andre Ethier (1)
Matt Kemp (1)

Elian Herrera (2)

Fernando Valenzuela (1)

Elian Herrera Green Parallel (1)
Clayton Kershaw USA Baseball (1)

The Kemp came out of the second-to-last pack of the break. So it was almost Crawford, Ethier and Herrera.

Let's take a look at the Dodgers base cards that I didn't get:

Adrian Gonzalez (0)
Hanley Ramirez (0)
Zack Greinke (0)
Clayton Kershaw (0)

Now you know why I don't like gambling.

I guess I was actually lucky to get a parallel (of, by far, the least exciting Dodger in the set) and the Kershaw insert (which, technically, is a USA card, not a Dodgers card, so thanks for not getting technical, Chris). But it would be difficult to classify my first experience with a group break as anything other than a disappointment.

Chris to the rescue. He told those of us who bought in that we'd get some "extras" along with our break booty. It was the extras that managed to turn my frown upside down.

2001 Upper Deck Hall of Famers Bob Gibson STL #75

Gibson was one of my favorites from the Prizm break, and also from the extras.

2012 Topps Gold Standard Willie McCovey SFG #GS-9
2012 Topps Chrome Pablo Sandoval SFG #139

More Giants. I need help. Why? Why did I ask for Giants? Well, it's because... oh, I just can't talk about it! Not yet, at least. Let's just say that I'm starting to understand what Patty Hearst went through...

2012 Topps Gold Futures Starlin Castro CHC #GF-7
2011 Topps Chrome X-Fractors Starlin Castro CHC #17

These were the best of the extras. I guess being a Cubs fan has its benefits. There must be very few of them out there for these to be readily available to perform throw-in duty. Maybe Chris wanted to compensate for my not landing Starlin in the Prizm break.

1986 Topps Mini League Leaders Mike Scioscia LAD #46
2009 Upper Deck Takashi Saito LAD #202
2011 Topps Chrome Matt Kemp LAD #24

Of course, while it's bonusville being a Cubs fan, the opposite is true for us (non-Night-Owl) Dodgers fans. There are just too many of us out there. Certainly can't complain about getting Scioscia or Saito, and the Chrome Kemp is actually pretty sweet for shiny. But I guess I have to resign myself to the fact that the Scullys and Kershaws are probably gonna be long gone by the time people get around to this eccentric and fickle blogger.

Fortunately, in addition to being a Dodgers fan, I am a devotee of the Random. And Chris hit one out of Random Park with this shiny card of a 19th-century Hall-of-Famer.

1995 The National Pastime Phil Rizzuto's Baseball Jake Beckley PIT #76

Dude played his last game in 1907. He's a Hall-of-Famer, though no casual fan will have ever heard of him. And here he is, in a photo that looks like it was lifted directly from an old tobacco card, slapped on top of 1990s shiny silver foil! Awesome. Random. Perfect. Thanks for tons of fun, Chris!