Friday, July 29, 2011

Chicago Photo 11


What a difference a few months make. The photo on the left was during the Blizzard of '11 in February. On the right, a photo taken almost in the same place during the heat wave of July.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Umps, Outs and Replays.....

It seems the latest topic of the day is replay in baseball. With a sub-topic of “oh my god umpires are horrible at their jobs and probably kill kittens on their days off”. In case you missed it, the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates (this season’s little small-market team that could) played a rather long game Tuesday night. Fans in Atlanta were treated to almost 7 hours of baseball. Unlike a typical Red Sox/ Yankees matchup this one went more than 9 innings. In fact, it went 19.

In the 19th, former Ray/Oriole Julio Lugo broke from 3rd on a ground ball hit by reliever Scott Procter (the best part of this whole thing is definitely Procter falling on his face leaving the batters’ box). Pittsburgh third baseman phenom Pedro Alvarez fielded it cleanly and fired home. The ball beat a sliding Lugo by plenty and catcher Michael McKenry nonchalantly swiped at Lugo and looked up to see if he could get another out at third assuming that Lugo was out at the plate.

Unfortunately, the most important man in Turner Field had a different opinion. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals emphatically called Lugo safe and just like that the game was over. According to USA Today, Meals, after the game, said, “I saw the tag, but it looked like he oled him, and I called him safe for that….I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”

First of all kudos, to Meals for speaking to the press after the game. So many times officials are herded off the field and are “unavailable for comment” after making a close call that decides a game. He even admitted after the game he watched the call on replay and that it “appeared he might have got him on the shin area”.

The internet/twitter/talk show hounds were unleashed. The general consensus was that Meals blew the call and cost the spunky Pirates an important game. More importantly this play was proof that it was time for baseball to exit the dark ages and institute instant replay! At the time of this writing a poll on has 36% of its responders stating that the play changed their mind on replay. Another 32% said that the play didn’t change their mind because they had always wanted replay.

Apparently I disagreewith 68% of USA Today’s reading public. First of all, I’m not 100% sure Meals missed the call. What I am sure is – he made the call that he put himself in the right position and made the call he saw. My good buddy Link (you might remember him from the Penguins/Lightning series) is a proud supporter of Pittsburgh sports. I talked to him the morning after the game and brought up that point. Meals called what he saw.

He might have been wrong, he might have been right, but he made the call as he saw it. He had no agenda, he wasn’t trying to go home early or screw the Pirates. He watched the play unfold and didn’t assume anything. Despite the fact it looked like Lugo would be out by a country mile, he made sure to watch the entire play. You can’t fault a guy for that.

The proponents for replay would argue that is why it’s necessary. Go watch the replay again. Watch it with the same requirements the NFL has – there has to be indisputable evidence that the call on the field was incorrect. Watch it. Watch it again. Can you honestly say that there is indisputable evidence the tag was applied?

This is the slippery slope that baseball started itself down when the allowed replays on homeruns (a decision that I agree with). I see people saying that replays should be allowed for close plays at home since it involves a run scoring or not scoring. Ok, so they approve that.

Then they’ll be a close play at third, the advocates will say, “third base is only 90 feet away, that’s pretty close and could lead to an important run that changes the game”. So that’s approved. Then having replays on close calls on all of the bases is approved, because runners on mean scoring chances! Heck, K-zone has now approached 100% reliability so why not just replace umpires all together?

Call it the human element or call it human error, the judgment of an umpire has been part of the game as long as chalk foul lines and spitballs have been. Baseball is not an automated game, or even a modern game. That’s part of what makes it baseball. Just because the technology is available, doesn’t mean it needs to be used. Heck, the technology exists to make players stronger and more durable and I don’t see anyone on ESPN calling for Major League Baseball to allow that.

There is also the notion that umpires today are worse today than ever before. I don’t think that’s true, it’s just that games are dissected more these days. If the internet and multiple replays were available in the 50’s there would be the same complaints we see today.

Another myth that I see repeated is that umpires want the spotlight. Even before this incident I saw a post from a commenter on a baseball site that stated all umpires were frustrated failed athletes who were jealous of the players. For the most part, umpires are professionals doing a job that isn’t easy under perfect conditions. If you were to ask them, I’m sure most of them would say that their best games are the ones where they weren’t even noticed.

There are things that baseball fans are always going to complain about and umpires are one of them. They aren’t perfect, no one is. They do strive for perfection and hit it about 99% of the time. It’s just unfortunate that the 1% of the time they are wrong it’s magnified a thousand times. Over the course of a 162 game season the wrong calls get balanced out. Somewhere down the road the Pirates will get a break. Unfortunately, it will probably be buried by whatever cause the media adopts that day (my money is on concussions).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Two New Cards For the Collection

Last week I mentioned that I didn’t see any personal cards on e-bay that I felt like bidding on. Well that might have been a little white lie, a minor distortion of the truth if you will. I actually had just won a bid, but didn’t have the card in hand.

The card in question is my first relic for the Eddie Murray collection. Here it is:

A 2006 Upper Deck Epic Materials Jersey.

Orioles Uniform – check
Shiny – check
Numbered – check (88/145)
Uniform matches card - err no.

As any Oriole fan knows they’ve never sported pin stripes in their history (orange pin stripes, hmmm, maybe that will bring the winning). If I had to hazard a guess I would say it was from his days as a New York Met. He played two seasons in the Big Apple and hitting 43 home runs and drove in 193 runs. Not too shabby.

Despite the Mets association I still like the card. It was the right price and hey – he rocks the O’s uniform in Cooperstown and that’s the most important!

Card number two was an impulse buy. I was looking for more “Steady Eddie” cards and stumbled across one of his teammates from the good ol’ days (you know when the O’s were the pride of the American League?)

A 2003 Topps Fan Favorite Jim Palmer (1975 Topps design).

I really like the Fan Favorites concept. Topps took alternative photos of iconic players and put them on their most recognizable sets. Let’s compare it to the original card:

The original is definitely from the 70’s, I mean look at those side burns! I’m not sure how the card collecting public would receive this card, what with the dark shadows covering 90% of his face. Jim is also showcasing the best hat in the history of the franchise. Now that they finally put Baltimore back on the road uniforms let us start a campaign to bring back the bird logo!

I didn’t notice it when I bought the card, but the photo used for the Fan Favorite is definitely not from the70’s. Palmer is lacking the side burns and his face is a little bit weathered. He kind of reminds me of Sam Malone in this photo.

Upon further review I’m pretty sure this is from his aborted comeback in 1991. After being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, “Cakes” showed up for Spring Training the next year. His comeback lasted two innings in which he gave up two runs and five hits (which would probably get him a spot in the bullpen this season).

So two more cards for the ol’ personal collection!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Time For More Page Hits! It's a Trade Bait Post! 2011 Topps Series II

Curses Target and your value packs. You know the drill. Let me know what you need and we'll work out a trade. Check out the other ones if you haven't already.

Diamond Stars
DS-1 Evan Longoria

554- Cedric Hunter

Diamond Duos
DD12- Tulowitzki/Ramirez
DD29- Aaron/Heyward

Sixty Years of Topps
60YOT-90 Steve Garvey
60YOT-80 Nolan Ryan
Mariano Rivera Original Back

TT2-35 Ian Kinsler

Target Red
THP26 Pedro Alvarez

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Some Thoughts on Stamkos

So what should we talk about now? The Bolts are really trying to get me to talk about the O’s aren’t they? They've polished off almost all of their off-season business with almost two whole months before training camp opens. Whatever will we discuss? I already blew my wad on the Ryan Malone to Toronto trade post so I can’t bring that up again until it actually happens (my prediction August 13th).

If you’ve been away from the internet for the last 48 hours then you might not be aware that Steven Stamkos is once again a member of the Lightning in full standing. He is also an extremely wealthy young man having inked a contract that pays an average of $7.5 million a year for the next five years.

I wonder what the first thing he’s going to buy with his new contract? It’s not like he was playing for minimum wage the last three seasons so he’s got the nice car (apparently Ryan Malone’s old Mercedes SL500) and big screen TV. What now? Steve if you’re interested feel free to bid on some of my auctions - help a blogger out, eh?

Hopefully, some of the dough is spent on whatever equipment helps him rehab from whatever injuries he picked up last season. A little less then a year ago I mentioned that he was hurtling his way into a can’t win situation by being so talented so early in his career. He’s also been known to press a little when things aren’t going right so will the hefty contract add to the pressure or will the security of a semi-long long term deal ease his mind and let him focus on the ice?

Speaking of the contract, it really is a perfect deal for both sides. Stamkos gets paid, and the chance to make another big pay day when he should be in the prime of his career and the Lightning aren’t bound to a long term commitment that might be damaging when the new CBA is rolled out following next season (or if the higher ups are learning anything from their fellow leagues - sooner).

There are a lot of relieved fans in the Tampa area now that Stamkos (and Teddy Purcell!) have signed their new deals. Personally, I was pretty confident that he would stay with the Bolts, but there were some moments when enough lingering doubt crept in that I verbalized scenarios involving him signing an offer sheet with another team. It was probably around the 29th of June or so when I had the most doubt, but once free agency came and the biggest rumored names out there spent all of their money on players not names Stamkos I knew things would be alright.

I think fans forget how important losing four first round draft picks would be for a franchise. After all, look how much flack Brian Burke is getting for trading away two for Phil Kessel. Add to that the lack of maneuverability in the cap (I always thought the Bolts would match any contract up to $9 million a year) and the cons just really outweighed the pros.

So where does that leave the Lightning? The main core of last season’s squad is back. Sure some spare parts have been jettisoned, but their production should be replaceable. Should this team be expected to return to the Eastern Conference Finals? Should they contend with the Caps for division glory?

On paper all signs point to yes for all of those questions. The Lightning are a very well built team. Mr. Yzerman has quietly improved their defense over last year and while resigning Roloson doesn’t do much for the long term net minding issue, it does at least give them stability for next year.

I fully expect the Bolts to score more goals next year. Stamkos should be good for 45-50 (if not the pessimists will surely call for his head), Vincent should return to his 25 goal plateau and Marty St. Louis - well I’m never going to count that guy out. Even when he’s 50 I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pot 30 and get 60 assists. With increased time on the top lines I wouldn’t be shocked to see Purcell put 25 goals in the net as well.

Shocking the league for one year isn’t that hard, continuing that success when everybody expects it is. The Lightning aren’t going to be the fun, scrappy team with the new coach and his exotic offense any more. They are entering next season as the team that was one goal away from the Stanley Cup Finals last year. They are the team that knocked two of the NHL’s most heavily promoted teams out of the playoffs last season. The target is now on their back. How they respond will show if they’re a team to be truly reckoned with or a one-year fluke.

There will be a lot of speculation and ink spilled over the next few months in regards to this team and it’s expectations. What do you guys think? Are the Lightning a real contender next season or were they over their heads last year?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thanks Lightning.

You couldn't wait a day before making half of my last post irreverent?

Another Annual Tradition - Let's Trade Ryan Malone!

The thermometer is hovering around 95 and for the first time in my life I live in a building that doesn’t have central air. So in order to cool off I’m typing this with a Lasko box fan on high two feet from my face; and I’m thinking about hockey.

Unfortunately, in the middle of July there isn’t much going on in the hockey world. The major free agents have signed and the dust seems to have settled on big trades. Still it’s better than writing about the O’s. Other than a glaring hole the size of Steven Stamkos on the roster, the Lightning are pretty much going about business as usual. Most of their recent signing have been depth moves aimed at filling out Norfolk’s roster.

Teddy Purcell’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, and barring a last minute compromise it appears the two sides will get a chance to state their respective cases. These types of dealings can get contentious, after all, the Lightning front office will be making their case against paying him what he thinks he’s worth, and really the only way to do that is to bring up the negative aspects of his game. The good news is, no matter what the outcome he will be skating on with the Bolts next season.

Reports of changes underway at the Ice Palace are encouraging, it seems Lightning fans will enjoy most of the upgrades once they get a chance to attend a game in October. While I doubt I’ll be there for the home opener, I do hope to see at least one or two games at some point next season. Once I do, I’ll be sure to pass along my opinions. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Vinik is able to recoup any of his expenditures from the city of Tampa once the upgrades are done.

Even in the Twitter-verse things are relatively quiet, especially when compared to hysteria that accompanied the free agent frenzy at the beginning of the month. The only thing that popped up in the last couple of days was a rumor that had Tampa talking with Toronto. Normally, I don’t engage with speculation from unconfirmed sources, but with the overall landscape being quite bare let’s indulge a little shall we?

Any time trade speculation comes up the first thought is that Tampa Bay is giving up and dealing the rights to Stamkos to another club. In this case that’s highly unlikely. The Leafs aren’t exactly dealing with tons of cap space so in order to afford Stamkos they would have to move a rather large contract back to Tampa Bay.

In scouring their current roster, I must say there really isn’t all that much to choose from. Their biggest cap hits are: Phil Kessel ($5.4million for three more seasons), newly signed Tim Connolly (2 years at $4.75), Dion Phaneuf ($6.5 for three more years), and Mike Komisarek ($4.5 for three more years).

No one in that group would be worth taking on in exchange for Stamkos even with a top prospect and a high round pick or two. Sure, Phaneuf would provide some big hits and the occasional goal, but that’s a steep price tag for a player who is basically Mattias Ohlund, without all of the oldness.

Kessel would provide some scoring, but he has garnered a reputation as a sullen player who might not be the best clubhouse fit. The Lightning appear to be a tight-knit group and instilling a negative influence might not be great for team chemistry.

So in all likelihood the players being discussed don’t involve number 91. More likely, this is the emerging of the yearly Ryan Malone to Toronto trade rumors (now entering its third season!) Malone’s $4.5 million cap hit and declining salary might be more enticing to the Leafs than the $7.5-$8 million it will take to sign Stamkos. Malone, when healthy can provide 20-25 goals and be the big presence in front of the net that teams seem to desire these days.

The “when healthy” qualifier is important. He hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since signing with the Lightning in 2008-09 and for some stretches, even when he’s been in the lineup it’s apparent that he hasn’t been 100%.
His role with Tampa Bay is hard to define as well. When most of the press talks about the type of forward that coach Guy Boucher prefers they use adjectives such as quick, fast-skating, hard working, defensive minded, two-way, back-checking, etc.

Those aren’t exactly Malone’s strong points. While he isn’t a horrible skater, he also isn’t going to win many fastest skater competitions either. His place is in front of the net where he can use his strength and natural pestering abilities to redirect pucks and stuff home rebounds. That takes skill and determination that I’m not sure many hockey fans appreciate. However, it might not be as important for the Lightning as it is for other teams.

What could the Lightning expect back for Mr. Malone? Well a draft pick and a mid –range prospect or third line NHL’er. The Lightning won’t be at the cap when they sign Stamkos and Purcell, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to save some money. Turning that $4.5 million hit into a $1.5 million hit would give them some payroll flexibility should they need it down the road.

Who would replace him on the roster? With the loss of Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne it’s accepted that Malone would return to his role as one of the top six forwards on the team – a position he had and lost at the end of last season.

My immediate thought would be that he would be replaced from within. Recently Damian Cristodero had an article in the St. Pete Times that discussed Carter Ashton and his chances for making the club out of camp. The argument was that his best chance would be to change his game and become more of a third line center. If a Malone deal happens, wouldn’t it make more sense to have Ashton and his offensive skills on the
top lines instead of mucking it up for 8 minutes a game with the grinders?

Granted, it would be a big adjustment for Ashton to jump from juniors all the way to the NHL, but isn’t that why you trade up to draft elite talent? At some point these prospects are going to have to have their mettle tested against the big boys. Why not next season?

In all probability this is just speculation and Malone will be skating alongside Vincent next season on the second line. Still, that’s what these summer months are for. Well that and ice cream.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Steven Stamkos (is only mentioned briefly in this post)

It wasn’t headline news around the NHL. Heck, I doubt it was even headline news in Tampa. On Thursday, Matt Smaby formally became ex-Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby as he signed a one-year deal with Anaheim. That news came about a week after Mike Lundin signed with Minnesota. With the acquisitions Steve Yzerman made in the off-season, seeing them go wasn’t a huge surprise.

It did get me wondering about something though.

Without peeking, how many players on the current NHL roster were developed through the Lightning’s minor league affiliates? Go ahead think about it. I’ll give you a minute.



The answer is:


Dana Tyrell.

Granted has Dustin Tokarski listed as well, but I’m making an official blog decision to not count him since he’ll be playing in Norfolk to begin the season due to the Mathieu Garon signing that apparently isn’t official yet.

Of the twenty-four names listed on’s official team roster only Tyrell was drafted by the Lightning and spent significant time in the minors. I understand that this isn’t baseball, where prospects spend 3-4 seasons developing in the lower leagues before making it to the dance. High end talent like Steven Stamkos and Vincent tend to get playing time right away.

Still, for a small market team, developing those players you draft in the 3rd and 4th rounds has to be a key factor in staying competitive. Mr. Vinik has been extremely generous with his money so far, but its just not financially viable for him to chase big name free agents year after year. The team just doesn’t generate enough revenue to go that route.

This isn’t intended as a slam on the ownership or the fans. It’s just the facts. Some markets generate more money then they know what to do with and others don’t. There is so much going on in the Tampa Bay Area that the team is always going to have to keep the ticket prices at the low end of the league spectrum, and that handicaps their ability to generate a large amount of revenue.

Those are the cards that the organization have been dealt, and to Mr. Vinik and Mr. Yzerman’s credit they have accepted that and are doing an excellent job of building a competitive team based on those financial restraints. That’s why you see them let Sean Bergenheim walk instead of paying him $2.75 a year. Bergenheim did an excellent job for the Bolts last year, but he is, at best, worth about $1 million a year. So they let him go and replace him with Ryan Shannon who put up similar numbers last year and is a fraction of the cost (1/4th to be exact).

For this post’s sake let’s say that Stamkos signs for the rumored amount (5 years $37-ish million). Now continuing down the hypothetical path that I’m creating for my own sake, let’s say Ted Purcell gets about $3 million in arbitration. That would put the Bolts at about $60 million, well under the cap, but probably a little more than Mr. Vinik was looking to spend on payroll.

Now more than ever the Lightning need to be able to fill out their roster with home grown (read cheaper) players. God forbid, should a Big Six forward miss any significant time this season, can they call a player up from Norfolk that will have an impact? It’s easy to call up Blair Jones and have him play 8 minutes a game, but what about someone that can play 15 minutes and actually find the back of the net?

The optimist in me says yes. Looking at their organizational depth, names like Carter Ashton, Mitch Fadden and James “Killer” Wright all pop out. Brett Connoly and Alex Hutchings are probably a year away at best, but still for the first time in forever it seems that the team has prospects waiting in the wings that can actually contribute.

For all of the good Jay Feaster did in putting together the Cup team he didn’t exactly draft well early in his career as a GM. His inability to find impact players in the drafts from 2002-2006 played a big part in the team’s downfall following the Cup year. Once the lockout ended and the team was handcuffed by the cap, they had no one in the organization to replace the depth players they lost. To give him credit, his last two drafts were much better as they involved some of the names I mentioned above.

The teams that succeed year over year (Detroit, Pittsburgh) are the ones that build their base from within and then add the appropriate pieces through free agency. A team can win by buying up free agents (cough, cough Blackhawks), but there is no way to sustain the success. At most you can hope for a two or three year window before the cap catches up with you. I have news for Flyer and Ranger fans; those players that signed the big deals this year will be on the trading block within two years.

In the long run, resigning Stamkos is easy. Sure the final details might be a little complicated, but a deal will get done. What’s harder is finding and developing those players that will skate alongside number 91 and the rest of the big names. If Mr. Yzerman is able to do that, then Lightning fans have a lot of years of success to look forward to.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mail Day! Cards Older Than Me! And I'm Old!

After successfully unloading some cards on the ‘bay the other day I figured it was time to invest my proceeds into some new cards for the ol’ personal collection. I wasn’t thrilled with the prices I was seeing on the Murrays and the Lecavaliers so I didn’t get to knock down those want lists (actually I did end up bidding on a Murray, but as usual I was sniped at the end).

With money burning a hole in my Paypal account I decided to take another approach. I put the iPad down and picked up the notebook. I fired up my Card Collector program and did a quick summary inventory. I quickly discovered that the oldest card I have in my collection is a 1957 Topps Stan Lopata, a card I believe I picked up at a flea market, or in a trade, or off the street, or at gunpoint. Actually, I have no idea how I got it come to think of it.

Anyway, I figured it was time to rectify the situation. Time to get some older cards into the house, at a reasonable cost, of course. So doing my due diligence (5 minutes of searching) I settled on a 3 card lot of 1956 Topps. The cards were a little beat up, but most importantly they were cheap. With shipping (and $.03 in eBay bucks!) I think my total was less than $5.00.

The three cards didn’t depict any stars so I’m not going to be able to flip them for a profit. As a matter of fact the only thing I knew about them (to paraphrase the great Cliff Claven) is that they are three men who have never been in my kitchen. So with the help of Wikipedia and Baseball I decided to learn a little bit more about some former players.

I received the package in the mail on Wednesday - lets see the newest (oldest) members of the collection!

133 - Ray Narleski. A reliever for the Indians in the 50’s he was a two time all-star and named as one of the Indians top 100 players of all time.

45 - Gus Zernial - “Ozark Ike” what a fantastic nickname. Looks like he beat he throw, but the catcher is doing an excellent job of blocking the plate. According to the back of the card he won the home run and RBI crowns in 1951. According to Wikipedia he has the second most career home runs hit by a player whose last name starts with a “Z”. He finished his 10 year career with 237. Former Orioles Todd Zeile is the leader with 253. Victor Zambrano - 1834th on the list.

60 - Mayo Smith - The card that sold me on the auction. Smith only played a couple of seasons and wasn’t particularly outstanding. He turned to managing and coached in Philly, Cincinnati, and Detroit (where he took them to the World Series in 1968). But look at this card, what is he doing? Holding up a runner? Surrendering to unseen police officer? Playing defense for John Thompson?

There ya go. My latest mail day. Will I collect the rest of the cards in this set? Probably not, after all it’s taking me forever to finish the couple of sets that I’m working on right now (and they’re not even vintage!)

Still it’s always nice to own a couple of pieces of cardboard that are almost as old as my dad.

Please note that the photos posted are not of the actual cards. With no scanners I had to “borrow” some images.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hatton Hangs Them Up. (Yea! More Boxing!)

Lost amidst the bean ball wars in Boston, the improbable US victory in Germany, the release of this year's Allen & Ginter, and the ongoing Stamkos dilemma, a boxer quietly retired in England. Ricky Hatton, once thought a challenger to Manny and Mayweather hung up his gloves for good. Coupled with the unmasking of heavyweight David Haye on the weekend prior, it wasn’t a good seven days for English boxing, but hey at least they still have Tyson Fury!

Hatton, “The Hitman” who wasn‘t Tommy Hearns, hasn’t fought since 2009. Unfortunately, the most recent news of the former welterweight champion was for entering rehab instead of the ring. His struggle with substance abuse and lackluster performance in his final two matches dull the shine of what was a rather brilliant boxing career. A career that would span 47 professional matches, 45 of those he won, and of those 45 wins 32 by way of knockout. He wasn’t a hall of famer, but damn it he was fun in the ring.

There is a moment in his fight with Kostya Tszyu, where after suffering several low blows from the rat-tailed Russian, Hatton proceeds to deliver one of his own. Instead of complaining to referee Dave Parris he took matters into his own hands. Well, at least into one hand as he delivered a perfect left hook right on the cup of his opponent. The ref warned him, but the message was sent. Tszyu never attempted another questionable punch.

That night, that fight in Manchester was probably the pinnacle of Hatton‘s career. It was the 38th win in his career, and the most important because it made him known across the Atlantic and opened up an opportunity beyond the light welterweight division. Despite being undefeated in that weight class, in 2007 he decided to bump up in weight (never a problem for Hatton) to the welterweight division to take on Floyd Mayweather for the WBC title. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the best career choice.

Hatton entered the ring serenaded by his passionate fans. Despite looking a little puffy, he pressed the action against the champion, determined to prove that he could bully his fleet-footed challenger. He forced Floyd to fight him on his terms, not allowing the slicker Mayweather his customary running room. Through the early rounds things seemed to be going “The Hitman’s” way. He was landing big shots against the champion, something few boxers are able to do against the elusive boxer. Yet, the Brit’s straight forward style was also opening himself to vicious counterpunches from Mayweather.

In the 10th round, those counters would prove to be Ricky’s undoing. A devastating left hook from Mayweather would send him to the canvas. He was able to beat the count, but “Pretty Boy” Floyd sensed blood and poured on the onslaught. After landing several damaging combinations, referee Joe Cortez stepped in and called the fight.

The perfect record was gone, but American fans embraced the fallen fighter. After all, who wanted to see a fighter dance around the ring for 12 rounds (as Mayweather was wont to do)? Hatton’s straight forward style and easy going nature was a perfect combination. Something that his hometown fans had known for a long time.

What great fans they were. After the Mayweather fight, a rumor circulated that the traveling caravan of British fight enthusiasts had drunk Vegas dry. In the end, more reliable reports stated that they had cleaned out the MGM’s stock of beer, not the whole Strips, and it was quickly replenished. But still, what an accomplishment! His crowds weren’t quiet, respectable celebrities in tuxes and gowns, growing noisy only at the moment of a knockout. Rather they were the working class folks who chanted football-esque anthems at their hero.

Therein lies the appeal of Ricky Hatton. If there ever was a people’s champion it was him. A boxer whose favorite sports team is his hometown club Manchester City (that’s like a New Yorker choosing the Mets over the Yankees), who regularly is seen a local pub drinking with common folk and playing darts and isn’t afraid to mock himself (he’s appeared in fat suits as “Ricky Fatton” in response to claims about his weight gains between fights).

Perhaps it’s due to the relative late worldwide popularity. Most of his career he fought in relative obscurity rarely fighting outside of his native England. His fight with Tszyu came almost eight years into his professional career, a lifetime for most boxers.

Following the loss to Mayweather, Hatton would move back down to 140lbs for his next two fights taking out Juan Lazcano in an unanimous decision and then TKO’ing Paul Malignaggi. Those two wins would set up his next super match against the red-hot Manny Pacquiao in May of 2009.

This was to be power vs. power. Pacquiao, needed to win to cement his place as Mayweather’s number one challenger. Hatton needed it to prove he was back. In the end, his straight forward brawling approach was no match for the quicker and stronger Filipino. In less than two rounds it was over, Pacquiao’s trademark left hook leaving Hatton on the canvas unable to beat the count. The beating, probably the worst six minutes of Hatton’s career, was so severe that the former champ spent the night in the hospital to ensure no permanent damage was done.

There might not have been any lingering physical injuries, but apparently the mental ones never healed. Never one to say no to a pint or two Hatton’s drinking reached new levels. There was also reports of regular cocaine use. A little more than a year after his fight with Pacquiao, Hatton entered rehab for help with depression and alcohol abuse.

In a profession where boxers fight well into their late 40’s it’s not impossible that Ricky Hatton will un-retire. It’s hard for a fighter to end his last fight on his back, even if it is in a loss to one of the best fighters the world has ever seen. Hopefully, he the pain of that loss and the one to Mayweather fade away and are replaced by the echos of his adoring fans crying out,

There’s only one Ricky Hatton,
One Ricky Hatton.
Walking along,
Singing a song,
Walking in a Hatton Wonderland

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Morning Trade Bait

Good Morning. It's the last Sunday before the All Star break so I figured I'd throw some bait out there for you Topps fans out there. Here we go:

In the first batch we have:

Diamond Stars:
DS-1 Evan Longoria
DS-21 Carl Crawford

Topps Ruby Gimmick
THP28 - Justin Upton

Topps 60
T60-85 Johnny Bench
T60-100 Albert Pujols

60 Years of Topps
60YOT-117 2009 Topps Longoria/Price

Dynamic Duos
DD-2 Utley/Cano
DD-18 Halladay/Hernandez

Batch #2

TT2-18 Brandon Phillips
TT2-45 Martin Prado

60th Anniversary Shiny Parallels
416 Everth Cabrera
541 John Jaso

Before There Was Topps
BTT6 Gum Inc Playball 1939

Let me know what you want and we'll work it out!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beheadings and Bleeding? No it's Not About Stamkos' Negotiation, It's Boxing!

There was a heavyweight boxing match last Saturday. You probably missed it. That’s ok, there were a lot of things going on this weekend. And, after all, it didn’t feature any Americans and it was on at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, not exactly prime viewing time. If you did watch it (probably forgetting to change the channel after HBO’s 432nd viewing of Inception) you saw a debacle, basically a representation of all that is wrong with this generation’s heavyweight division.

A rain fell for most of the day at the outdoor venue where the fight was held at in Germany. It’s hard to be a menacing fighter when you have to wear little, blue booties over your boxing shoes to keep them dry on the walk to the ring. Elaborate entrances were delayed by both fighters. There was something to do with great heavyweight champions that didn’t really make sense, but ended up with Lennox Lewis looking like a chauffeur and a gaunt George Forman having a door slammed in his face.

The fight itself went the distance yet there was little sustained action. One of the contenders dove so much that the ref got fed up and gave him a standing eight count. It was so boring that announcer Larry Merchant started to make sense, and I’m pretty sure they had to wake Harold Letterman up to give his after nine rounds, unofficial scorecard. In short like most heavyweight fights in the last decade it sucked.

There was hope that this fight would be different. There was actually some animosity between the combatants. Most of the pre-fight fodder was brought about by undersized challenger David Haye. The British champion showed up at a press conference sporting a t-shirt that depicted him holding the severed heads of his opponent (Wladimir Klitschko) and Wlad’s brother Vitali. Haye also promised that it would be the “most brutal execution of a boxer that you’ve seen in many, many years”.

For good measure the talkative Englishman blamed the Klitschko’s for destroying the heavyweight division by being boring champions (Haye held the only title not controlled by Wladimir or Vitali). Haye, an aggressive fighter that depends on landing big shots seemed like a young up and comer that had the power and the quickness to beat Wladimir. Most importantly he had the will to stand toe-to-toe with someone who hadn’t lost a match in 7 years.

Unfortunately, like so may matches over the last few years it was a let down. The only way it could have been more disappointing is if people had paid to watch it on PPV. Klitschko beat his smaller opponent, but proved Haye’s point in doing so. The Ukrainian stalked Haye throughout twelve full rounds, landing multiple jabs and occasional big right hands. His most effective punch of the contest, a lead left hook that surprised Haye every time he saw it, showed up about as often as I pay for the check when I’m having dinner with my parents.

Watching Klitschko fight it’s not hard to imagine what boxing will be like when the bleeding hearts win and humans aren’t allowed to hit each other any more for sport. In this future world, lab-bred robotic clones will fight each other for our entertainment. And they will all be descended from a Klitschko.

His size lends him a certain awkwardness in the ring that masks his athletic ability. At 6’6, 245lbs it’s hard to be graceful at anything, much less moving around in the ring. His doesn’t rely on moving his head or body from side to side for defense. Instead, he lurches back and flails his left arm out hoping his 80” reach keeps his opponent far enough away to avoid damage.

As ungainly as it is, it works. Haye had to lunge and pray that his looping right hooks would catch the big man off guard (they didn’t) allowing him time to find his balance to throw a follow up shot (he couldn’t). Post-fight, Haye would blame a broken toe on for sapping his ability to land his desperate shots at the champion. He wanted us to believe him so bad that he took off his boot and pleaded for us to look at it. Fact is, even if he had ten healthy little piggies he would have still lost, and lost just as bad.

On offense, Dr. Steelhammer (his brother Vitali definitely won the nickname battle with Dr. Ironfist) fights with a cautiousness unbecoming of his size. Having been accused of a weak jaw early in his career, it’s as if the Ukrainian fears opening himself up to a big shot from the fighter in the ring with him. So he moves forward behind his left jab, his thunderous right hand cocked and loaded, but rarely fired. Not quite the charming peek-a-boo style of a young Iron Mike Tyson.

Watching Klitschko early in the fight you can almost see him running through distance and speed calculations in his head. He is gathering data about his opponent. The punches he throws have little conviction, almost as if they are just being put out there in trial and error. Rounds one through five are a study in cause and effect. If I throw Punch A he reacts like this, punch B and his head moves like this.

Later in the fight he puts the data to use. His jab is crisper and lands with more ferocity. Haye’s head starts to snap back when it collides with Klitschko’s big left paw. Wladimir’s shoulders relax, his legs aren’t as stiff and he moves with confidence. The power shots start to flow and connect, it’s at this point that Haye realizes he can’t win. All the while Klitschko’s expression never changes. He never shows frustration when Haye falls to the ground with the slightest pressure on his shoulder. Nor does he show satisfaction when the Brit repeatedly uses his face to stop Klitschko’s punches.

After it’s over and the unkillable Michael Buffer has announced victory, the Ukrainian champion’s veneer finally cracks and you get a sense of one emotion - disappointment. He is upset that he wasn’t able to knock out the 220lb pest that spent months insulting him and his family. That despite the dominant victory, he is as disappointed as the fans that watched the flight. It is a fleeting emotion, soon he is back to assuring the fighting fans that he isn’t retiring anytime soon.

Yet I wonder, is that a good thing? I’ve always liked the Klitschkos and think they don’t get enough credit among the all time great heavyweights. But, at 35, what worlds does Wladimir have left to conquer? The only man that would give him a challenge is his brother and they have sworn that they will never fight each other (reportedly at the behest of their mother, which is kind of sweet). So short of Wladimir having an affair with Vitali’s wife and having to settle it in the ring, who is he going to spend the next 10 years fighting?

According to Ring Magazine in February these are the top heavyweights fighting:

1. Wladimir Klitschko
2. Vitali Klitschko
3. David Haye - soon to be falling down the list
4. Alexander Povetkin - A Russian with only 19 fights on his record
5. Tomasz Adamek - intriguing at 41-1. He will fight Vitali in September.
332. Blog favorite - Tyson Fury!

Not exactly a hall-of-fame lineup awaiting him. Adamek is probably the great American (by way of Poland) hope for a heavyweight champ, but he faces an uphill battle in having to face and beat both Klitschko brothers. Something, that I believe no one has ever done. “Fast” Eddie Chambers, the highest ranked born and bred American challenger, had his shot at Wladimir in 2008 and got knocked out in the 12th round.

While we wait for the Klitschko’s to retire fight fans will have to content themselves with the Pacquio/Mayweather “will they or won’t they” drama in the meantime. The better boxer won the fight on Saturday, but the heavyweight division continues to lose the war.