Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Joy of a team set, chapter 9 (World Series edition)

Happy Game 1 of the World Series everyone. We have a real old-fashioned one on our hands. Two teams that have been around for ages and have been terrible for almost as long, are playing each other for a championship. The winner will party like it's 1948 or 1908. Wouldn't it be a hoot if they played music from that time at the victory parade? Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee for the Indians and Tin Pan Alley songs for the Cubs -- Take Me Out To The Ball Game, over and over.

Anyway, I thought far enough ahead to take a vacation around the World Series this year. It would have been a stroke of genius if the Dodgers had made it (perhaps the reason I'm especially bitter this time around). But it's still nice to be able to devote all my attention to the World Series instead of high school soccer playoffs.

With my extra time, I was flipping through some cards online (yes, you can "flip" online), making all kinds of cool card discoveries when I remembered something:

In the 1972 Topps set, there were just two teams to receive pink borders:

The Cubs and the Indians.

How truly visionary of the Psychedelic Tombstone set!

I couldn't let this go, of course. This was the perfect opportunity to present a World Series edition of Joy of a Team Set!

Here we will examine the two teams that had the courage to display pink borders and are now playing in the World Series, probably because of that very fact.

Let's start with the Cubs first. Here is the '72 team set:

The '72 set also gave four In Action cards to the Cubs and one Traded card. It kind of throws of the pink motif, but here they are:

And  now the rundown:

Favorite card runners-up: 5. Leo Durocher; 4. Milt Pappas; 3. Jose Cardenal Traded; 2. Cleo James

Favorite element on the back:

Read the cartoon. IN YOUR FACE, REDS. IN YOUR FACE!

Famous error cards: The Pizarro, Bonham, Beckert and James cards are noted for having team letters with yellow or green on the bottom of the "C" and the "S" in "Cubs". Mine all have yellow, which I believe is the more common version.

Team's claim to fame: The first Cubs team since 1952 not to feature Ernie Banks.

Players I've talked to: None.

Most interesting card:

Topps really wants you to believe that the Cubs wore vest uniforms. They did ......... in the 1940s.

Former or future Dodgers: Leo Durocher, Jim Hickman, Burt Hooton, Rick Monday, Paul Popovich, Phil Regan.

Favorite card in the set:

Of course.

Now, it's the Indians' turn. Here is the team set:

There were no In Action or Traded Indians cards in this set because, no surprise, the Indians sucked.

Favorite card runners-up: 5. Graig Nettles, 4. Ted Ford; 3. Ray Fosse; 2. Chris Chambliss

Favorite element on the back: It's a tie.

The write-up on the Jack Heidemann card is very Indians. Watch out for those pop-ups! The cartoon on the Milt Wilcox card is fascinating as I only knew Ray Lamb as the guy who last wore No. 42 for the Dodgers before it was retired. Although I can find no mention of Ray Lamb acting in movies. Too bad.

Famous error cards: The Indians' Jerry Moses is listed as "Gerry" on the front. It was not corrected.

Team's claim to fame: The first Indians team without Sam McDowell since 1960. The guy they got in exchange for him, Gaylord Perry, won 24 games for the Indians in 1972.

Players I've talked to: None. But only because I was too lazy not to assign myself to cover a Graig Nettles appearance.

Most interesting card:

For all you do, this Bud's for you.

Former or future Dodgers: The aforementioned Ray Lamb.

Favorite card in the set:

I know others would pick Chambliss or someone else, but I just love the houses and trees in the background of this photo. It reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in a little, and you can't beat the memories of a '70s card.

Which also explains why I'm reviewing the '72 Topps cards for these two 2016 World Series teams instead of something more appropriate -- like the 2016 Topps cards.

But you don't expect me to actually collect 2016 Topps do you?

Enjoy the World Series.

I know I will. For the first time since 1982, I will not be at work.

Monday, October 24, 2016

From the other side

I was talking to the night shift maintenance man at work last night. We were discussing the World Series opponents and how each of them hadn't won a Series in a looong time, how the two teams had waited a combined 176 years to win a World Series. Then he dropped a heavy thought on me.

"I just feel sorry for whoever is going to lose," he said.

I hadn't even thought of that. Wow, that's devastating. Somebody is going to this Series after such a long wait and -- dammit -- they're going to wait even longer. I will never be one of those people who says, "it's a shame someone had to lose" but it's a shame someone is going to have to lose.

Perhaps I'm feeling so connected to this future loser because my team just lost.

It's been pretty difficult I am surprised to admit. It isn't difficult in a "real world" sort of way, but in terms of the teams that I root for and the severity of heartbreak when they do eventually lose, I would put the Dodgers' loss in the NLCS right up with "wide right" and "Jack Clark."

I'll use some cards sent to me from Brad at Red Sox Fan In Nebraska to illustrate what I've been feeling for the past week. With each card I'll list each player's postseason appearances with the Dodgers and the outcome.

1947 World Series: Loss; 1949 World Series: Loss; 1952 World Series: Loss; 1953 World Series: Loss; 1955 World Series: Win; 1956 World Series: Loss

I had a good feeling about this Dodgers team. That's saying something because if you know me, I never have a good feeling about a Dodger team in terms of their postseason or championship chances. You'd have to go back to maybe the early '80s for when I had any degree of confidence. That's what happens when the Yankees beat you down at the age of 11 and 12. And then the Astros, Phillies and Cardinals remind you of why you're down there.

I don't suppose that is much different from the way most fans feel about their teams' histories. But let's face it, the Dodgers have one of the best resumes when it comes to getting to the big stage and failing.

2013 NLDS: Win; 2013 NLCS: Loss; 2014 NLDS: Loss; 2015 NLDS: Loss

However, the Dodgers have gotten to enough postseasons in my lifetime where I've been able to gauge teams and compare them to past teams. And, to me, this team reminded me more of the 1988 World Series champion team more than any other Dodger team since.

This team hit better than the '88 team. There's no way the 2016 team would be starting Franklin Stubbs. But both teams overcame obvious holes in their roster and not merely dealt with problems but overcame them so well that as a fan you began to have confidence in any situation. The team would find a way to overcome it because they always did. They made up 8 games on the Giants without knowing who was going to start on the mound from day to day.

2004 NLDS: Loss

So the Dodgers get to the postseason, outlast the Nationals and land the top team in the league, the Cubs, in the NLCS.

I was actually pleased that the Dodgers would play the Cubs and not the Giants. I don't think I could handle the Giants beating the Dodgers in the NLCS.

So I got my wish. And for three games, everything was working out OK. It was a very stressful three games, and, of course, Joe Blanton has to give up a grand slam from one of my least favorite people from 2013, Miguel Montero, but a 2-1 lead can diffuse a lot of hatred and concern.

1995 NLDS: Loss; 1996 NLDS: Loss

Then the series started to turn in the Cubs' favor. Game 4 was the game that the Dodgers needed and they didn't get it. It started with every single play going the Cubs' way. The play at the plate (I'm one of the few Dodger fans who think Adrian Gonzalez was out), balls barely eluding fielders, stuff like that.

Then the roof fell in, and the Cubs cruised through the rest of the series. The Dodgers' starting pitching problems, an issue all season, proved to be the team's demise. The bullpen, while solid since May, always had holes and they were uncovered in this series.

2006 NLDS: Loss; 2008 NLDS: Win; 2008 NLCS: Loss

One of the worst parts of Game 4 was that I was assured of watching the rest of the series from work. This is particularly painful for several reasons.

The first is there is a large TV above my work station. It sounds heavenly, I know. Most of the time I'm too busy to even look up. But during times when I have a vested rooting interest, it's brutal to watch a game with co-workers who have no opinion on who wins. Gah! Can't you see I'm about to die here????

 1995 NLDS: Loss; 1996 NLDS: Loss

Even worse, one of my coworkers is a Cubs fan.

He's a young Cubs fan. Corey Seager's age. So even though he'd like to tell you about all of the heartbreak with his team, he has only read about it in most cases. He wasn't even born the last time the Dodgers won the World Series. I myself have experienced more Cubs heartbreak than he has and I don't even like the Cubs.

But he's a good kid and a decent worker and a baseball fan. So I tried to be easy on him.

But let me tell you, it is so difficult to sympathize with someone who is rooting against your team.

Zach Lee: None
Gil Hodges: 1947 World Series: Loss; 1949 World Series: Loss; 1952 World Series: Loss; 1953 World Series: Loss; 1955 World Series: Win; 1956 World Series: Loss; 1959 World Series: Win
Corey Seager: 2015 NLDS: Loss; 2016 NLDS: Win; 2016 NLCS: Loss

And this is life from the other side.

This is what nobody else is paying attention to when they are celebrating the Cubs, and how they have made it to the World Series after 71 years away. Yeah, yeah, the Dodgers, that team that was in the way.

I was in the awkward position of not being happy when everyone else -- many of whom weren't Cubs fans or even baseball fans -- was happy.

It's not a fun place to be. You almost have to keep your mouth shut for fear of how you'll sound. And the loss was too painful -- still is, really -- to say, "congratulations, Cubs".

Joc Pederson: 2015 NLDS: Loss; 2016 NLDS: Win; 2016 NLCS: Loss
Adrian Gonzalez: 2013 NLDS: Win; 2013 NLCS: Loss; 2014 NLDS: Loss; 2015 NLCS: Loss; 2016 NLDS: Win; 2016 NLCS: Loss
Kenley Jansen: 2013 NLDS: Win; 2013 NLCS: Loss; 2014 NLDS: Loss; 2015 NLCS: Loss; 2016 NLDS: Win; 2016 NLCS: Loss
Ross Stripling: 2016 NLDS: Win; 2016 NLCS: Loss
Joe Blanton: 2016 NLDS: Win; 2016 NLCS: Loss

No matter what I said, no matter how lousy I felt, it could never match the pain and misery that the Cubs have felt over the last 100 years.

Haven't been to a World Series in 28 years? Try 71 years, pal. Spent a ton of money year after year but never get the title? Try having your owners completely dump on the fan base for decades, buddy.

So I just scrolled through Facebook posts (I have four or five Facebook friends who are Cubs fans and none who are Dodger fans) and blog posts (many, many Cubs bloggers) and stayed quiet.

This will be the last time I write about the Dodgers' loss (Yay! They were No. 3!) on this blog. Because who wants to read about that?

Nobody wants to talk about the loser right now.

Until your team loses.

The maintenance man is right: I wouldn't want to be that team on Nov. 3.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Brush with greatness: Craig Conroy

I am not in the mood to look at my Dodgers cards. And I think you can understand why I'm not showing any Cubs cards either. I'm one of the few not caught up in Cubs hysteria.

In fact, baseball doesn't mean a lot to me right now. Oh, I'll get over it in a day or two. But right now it seems like baseball's dead and hockey season is here. So, why not bore you all with a hockey card?

To extend my Brush With Greatness series a little longer, I finally picked up a card of Craig Conroy, the former U.S. Olympian who played in the Stanley Cup finals with the Calgary Flames and also played in the NHL for the Canadiens, Blues and Kings.

Conroy grew up in an extreme northern New York outpost called Potsdam. It's a college town and since it is so far removed from civilization and civilized weather -- I've often wondered why college-bound kids would pick such a remote location for four of the finest years of their lives -- one of the most popular leisurely pursuits in the area is hockey.

Conroy's dad played Division I hockey for Clarkson University, which is in Potsdam. Craig also played for Clarkson. That is when I first came across him . I was the team's beat writer for his senior season in college, a year in which he finished runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. (The Hobey Baker doesn't release vote totals, but there are ways to find out who finished second).

Before I started covering the beat, people told me how accommodating Conroy was. And he was. He is the most cooperative professional athlete -- perhaps athlete, period -- that I have ever interviewed. His personality has a lot to do with it. He is personable, happy, easy-going and a good conversationalist. Always a smile on his face. He was very popular during his college days and it didn't go to his head.

We followed Conroy on his way to the pros -- his struggles early on with Montreal, his emergence with St. Louis, his breakout years with Calgary, his detour to L.A., and then back to Calgary again, where he retired in 2011. He was always approachable as far as I can remember and not difficult to contact. Wherever he went, stories would mention his popularity. It wasn't a surprise to me.

To this day, he is the only Brush With Greatness athlete I have interviewed in his home.

I feel a bit odd when I am let into the home of someone I am profiling. It's happened a number of times and I feel both honored and like I'm infringing on someone's territory. But Conroy, like many who I've interviewed in their homes, was a perfect host.

It was a little over 10 years ago, during the NHL strike, after the Flames had reached the Finals. It was Christmas time and I talked to him at his summer home by the lake, a Christmas tree with boxes underneath in the background.

That's the photo we took of Conroy, his wife, Jessie, and his family for that story. All of his daughters are teenagers now.

Conroy would go on to play over 15 years and more than 1,000 games in the NHL, and as someone who was there when he was first starting out in the pros, there were plenty of people who thought he'd never get that far.

I'd like to think that his friendly nature had something to with that.

Today, Conroy is an assistant general manager for the Flames, which seems weird to me, since he always seemed like just one of the guys. I've kind of lost touch with him as we don't do a lot of "general manager stories."

But I'm happy I finally have a card of the most pleasant athlete I've ever interviewed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Awesome night card, pt. 267: 41 years ago tonight

There's no baseball on TV tonight, which is probably a good thing for me. I could use the rest from all the bad (and deliberate) relief pitching and every last close play going against the Dodgers.

During the welcome break I've been watching Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. It happened 41 years ago today, and as I mentioned before, Carlton Fisk's game-ending home run in the 12th inning is my first baseball memory.

I've been trying to determine whether the photo on this card from 2001 Upper Deck Decade 1970s is of Fisk's swing on his famous home run. I know Upper Deck wants you to think it is, right down to the fact that it made this card No. 27, Fisk's uniform number with the Red Sox.

But everything about the photo matches with that moment. It's the right helmet and uniform. Fisk was wearing those exact batting gloves on both his hands and the black undershirt.

Here are just a few screen shots of Fisk after his home run at the height of his backswing:

None of them are from the same angle as the Upper Deck photo, but I don't have time to search for every angle. It's enough to confirm it for me, that it is indeed a photo from that epic at-bat.

(Phungo weighs in and says it is definitely from that at-bat).

But I don't need to have this card showcase that home run, as there's already a night card in the binder of that play.

But you can never have enough reminders of what the team you're rooting for can do during a Game 6.

Go Dodgers.


Night Card Binder candidate: Carlton Fisk, 2001 Upper Deck Decade '70s, #27
Does it make the binder?: It does.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The only Panini set that matters

Panini has issued a number of popular sets in other sports, or so I've been told. I don't collect basketball or soccer or any of the sports where Panini seems to thrive.

I collect baseball -- major league baseball only, please -- and, lordy, does Panini struggle in that area.

I'll try not to regurgitate all of the issues that I have with Panini here, because this is a happy Panini post. Or as happy as I can get about Panini anyway. This is a post about the only Panini set that matters -- to me. The Panini Hometown Heroes set from 2013.

Hometown Heroes is one of a handful of retro sets that Panini issued at that time. There was Cooperstown, which thought it could crop off the tops of heads of players in its photos and I wouldn't notice. There was Golden Age, which had limited appeal for me because I just don't care about race horses from the 1920s if it's not Allen & Ginter.

But Hometown Heroes? Hometown Heroes appealed to me in a variety of ways. It was a retro set. Its subject matter was current players and retired players, but usually not the players you think of when you think retired players. It featured players like Pat Tabler and Kevin Seitzer and Tom Brunansky. Best of all, this set featured a design that minimized the fact that Panini couldn't show logos. The design is so colorful and basic, that a logo would almost (almost, let's not get carried away) be too much for the design.

It was as if Panini had finally figured out how to produce a major league baseball set.

The set is so appealing to me that I've considered collecting it more than once, but never went through with it.

Well, Tom from Waiting 'Til Next Year (I am really hoping right now that he doesn't have to change his blog title), gave me the push that I needed. He posted some surplus available from several sets and I jumped on the HH extras. He responded by sending me about 170 cards from the 300-card set, plus several parallels and inserts.

This probably means I have to try to collect it now. And I likely will be putting up a want list for it.

I'm not super enthusiastic about this because the final 40 cards in the set are short-printed, which really irks me. Panini thinks it can do cynical, grown-up card company things like short-print base cards but still can't produce a decent card back (the HH card back is typically unreadable). But it'll give me something to do in my retirement years.

So let's see some visual examples of what I've been writing about:

Here is my favorite part of the set: Retired players from my formative years. You don't see cards of players like this these days. This part of the set is very similar to one of my all-time favorite retro sets, Topps' All-Time Fan Favorites series from 2003-05.

I've already completed the Dodger portion of this set and am delighted to have more cards of Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Fernando Valenzuela, etc. And Hometown Heroes doesn't leave out the greats, issuing cards of players like Banks, Brock, Jenkins and Brooks Robinson.

As I mentioned before, the lack of logos barely bothers me. I do think that the more colorful the team's uniform, the better the cards look.

Teams with blue uniforms do quite well with this set.

But I think teams with red uniforms do the best.

Teams with black or dark-colored uniforms don't do as well. The Mike Mussina card gives me flashbacks to the blacked-out caps in the 1969 Topps set. The Glenn Davis card with the '80s piping left in looks too much like some long underwear get-up.

One of the very few duds in the set. Give Buddy some popcorn and a program, because he's a fan in the stands in this photo.

Hometown Heroes has some useless gold-foil parallels (as well as border parallels). I was aware of the state parallels, but I didn't know there were zip-code parallels, too.

Those are some of the insert cards. Nice and colorful. They're kind of fun, just don't bring up that Ron Cey nickname card with me, especially now.

This was one of the parallels, but I'll be putting it with my Dodger collection.

Tom went above-and-beyond by adding some cool Dodger cards with the Hometown Heroes. I'll try to get through these quickly:

A couple of needs from Pinnacle Aficionado, of which I am not.

Completes the 2000 Ovation team set for me -- what's that 3 cards?

More Sheff. I am hoping this will be the World Series matchup.

An autographed card! "How 'bout that?" Harry would say. Tom Windle pitched in Double A with Philadelphia last year, and not very well.

This is a jackpot card. I don't see 1989 Sportflics cards from my want list very often.

I've been very lax on recording my '80s mini-leaders needs. Here are two that had eluded me.

A few '90s Piazza cards, invented before card blogs and scanners.

A couple of "bonus" versions of Piazza's 1992 Classic Best card, one a blue parallel and one a red. I had no idea these existed.

And, lastly, a first for me. This is my first Operation Desert Shield card. I've read about these cards for a long time. I never bothered to look into them because I guessed they were too much cash for a parallel card, judging by the fact that I've never seen one arrive in a card package.

A quick glance shows that they're no more expensive than your average buyback card, which means I should get on my horse.

But I'll probably get the Hometown Heroes list up before a Desert Shield list.

Panini dropped Hometown Heroes after just the one year, which was the wrong move. My guess is it had to do with expense, licensing and such. It's too bad because it's all I'm interested in from that company. Panini makes some pretty good college baseball cards, but I don't collect that either.

To me Hometown Heroes was the only Panini set that mattered.

I guess it's another one-hit wonder.