Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sorry For The Lack of Posts

We're in the middle of moving so all of my energy has been directed to cleaning and scrounging up boxes. Yea.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post more next week. I just found out that Comcast can't hook up my cable until next saturday, as in 11 days from now. So unless one of my new neighbors gratefully provides free wireless I'll be participating in my draft from Starbucks.

Oh well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Little Bit of Hockey Talk

For most teams in the NHL the season is about three weeks away. Which, much like The Miz, IS AWESOME! Most training camps will open around the 15th of September and our long, hot summer will officially be over. Before the puck drops for the season opener I will have some sort of season preview posted (probably) detailing the Southeast Conference (maybe) and focusing on the beloved Lightning (of course). In the meantime, let us take a quick look at what transpired over the last 3 months or so of off-season.

If last season was the summer of Kovalchuk, then this season was the summer of unneeded worry. It started with the Steven Stamkos contract status and is drawing to a close with another round of Sidney Crosby concussion drama. For the 18th summer running the Phoenix Coyotes were in the running to move to Canada and were being courted by people with more money than me. Yet, they’ll be playing at least one more season in the desert.

In the end the biggest news was a team actually moving to Canada and a team blowing up it’s core to overpay a Russian goaltender. Unfortunately for Antero Niittymaki and his 176-0 record against them, the Atlanta Thrashers are no more. In less time then it took HP to release and then discontinue their iPad Killer, the team was sold and moved to the Great White North to the delight of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians.

Will they survive? Who knows? As a matter of fact, who cares? For the next three seasons at least the novelty of NHL hockey in Winnipeg will keep the team rolling along. Once they figure out the re-alignment issues next year the Jets won’t really be the Lightning’s problem any longer. As for now, the long commute for Southeast teams will make plenty of fodder for columnists all along the south.

As for the Flyers, well that was a busy off-season, eh? They cleared some cap space by trading away Jeff Carter and their captain Mike Richards. That space was promptly taken up when they traded for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov and signed him to a nine year deal. Despite blowing their wad on a goalie that was only marginally better than the one the had the year before it didn’t stop them from being the number one thorn in Lightning fan’s sides for most of the spring/early summer.

Why is that? Well because they were going to sign Steven Stamkos to a 10 year $120 million offer sheet. Remember that? Now, in the aftermath, doesn’t it seem a little ludicrous? Doesn’t it seem like we all wasted a lot of thoughts on something that really wasn’t going to happen? Steven is happily signed to a reasonable deal (although it doesn’t seem he’s wasted any of it on a haircut) and no GM performed career suicide by sending in an offer sheet.

The Stamkos pseudo-drama was really the highlight of an off-season that GM Steve Yzerman put together in an efficient and lack luster manner. There was no mesmerizing of other teams in cap-dumping deals or deals that brought back beloved ex-Lightning players. Well unless you really liked Michel Ouellet, which I’m going to guess isn’t many of you.

Sure, play-off hero Sean Bergenheim took the money and his talents to South Beach but, for all he did last year, in the end he was a third line winger. Third line wingers are replaceable and hopefully Ryan Shannon shows that. Oh yeah, he re-signed ageless net minder and instant local hero Dewayne Roloson. So now we don’t even have a goalie controversy to bitch about during the pre-season. No fun at all that Yzerman guy.

Since there is nothing really exciting to talk about in the NHL right now (soccer kits!) the focus has returned to young Mr. Sidney Crosby and the condition of his brain. Depending on whose Tweets you read first he is:

A. locked in a dark room and moments away from retirement
B. scaling back his workouts as the new season approaches and there is nothing more to see here, move along, move along. Hey is that Sean Avery beating up a cop over there?
C. a whiney, untalented, poster boy for a league run by a midget megalomaniac who wants to annex Canada.

We can all agree that if the worst is true and he does have to retire, it will make for the greatest “What if” in hockey since Mario hurt his back. As in, “What if Sidney hadn’t gotten hurt, would he have challenged for second place in all the record books?”

“What if Crosby hadn’t gotten hurt, who would have had more goals- him, Stamkos or Ovechkin?”

“What if he hadn’t gotten hurt, would all of that Crosby-hate not been turned on Stammer?”

You can imagine the rest of the awkwardly phrased scenarios yourself. Go ahead, I actually have to go make lunch so I’ll give you some time.

OK. Where were we? Oh yea, now I remember. So despite him having missed anymore time since the end of last season we’re experiencing another round of Crosby Concussion Concern. Let’s face it folks, no one other than Sidney Crosby himself knows if he’s going to miss any games next season. As a matter of fact, he probably doesn’t even know.

Unlike a knee injury or a broken nose, there is no physical benchmark to know when you’re completely over a concussion. One day you can’t workout without seeing spots, the next day you can. There really is no rhyme or reason, and most frustrating no way to rehab it. If you blow out your knee you know that you can get surgery and then it’s a matter of doing your physical therapy and it will heal.

What can you do for a concussion? Nothing. Literally. That’s what you do. Nothing.

I don’t think Crosby’s career is over. It might be delayed, but I think he will be back. In the end, this will be a tale of a team and a player taking the safest possible route to dealing with an injury. Unfortunately, with the insatiable need for news that dominates sports these days, doing nothing is sometimes bigger news than doing something.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

If It's About the O's It Must Be About Next Year

The other day I was watching the Rays play someone. OK, I wasn’t really watching it, more like it was playing in the background while I was goofing around on the internet. Normally, I would have the O’s as my white noise, but as of late the quasi-legal website I use hasn’t been streaming their games. Not that I blame them. I probably wouldn’t waste my server space on them either at this point.

What the heck happened since those heady days of April? Do you remember way back then? The team was 6-0. Zach Britton was the rookie darling of the American League. Brian Roberts was in the lineup. Now, it’s so different. All of that mojo is gone and they’re back on pace for another 100 loss season.

The bulk of the failure can be placed on the shoulders of the pitching staff. Injuries and lack of effectiveness from the young prospects doomed this team to a last place finish. Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Brian Matusz have all suffered time on the DL and frankly the organization didn’t have enough depth to replace them.

Without the core of their staff being able to pitch deep into games the less than average bullpen was taxed beyond its limited capabilities. In a perfect world, the starters would be able to work into the seventh inning on a regular basis and then the triple-headed monster of Jim Johnson, Koju Uehera and Keven Gregg could finish out the game. Sprinkle in Mike Gonzalez for the occasional lefty and things would be alright. Needless to say that didn’t happen.

While the bulk of the problems can be heaped onto the pitching staff, there were other factors in play as well. In the off-season the O’s made four big moves. The results would be 50/50. They hit expectations on one (Mark Reynolds), exceeded with another (JJ Hardy) and missed on two (Derrick Lee and Vlad Guerrero). The good news on the Lee and Vlad moves is that neither move was long term. Lee has already been moved and Guerrero won’t be back next year. However, not having them provide the offense expected hurt the team’s chances to get to .500 or compete for postseason play.

Being in the bottom third of fielding percentage didn’t help them this year either. Every missed grounder, every errant throw made it harder for the young pitchers to work deep into games. Almost as damaging are the plays that don’t go down as errors. The missed double plays and pop-ups that drop between players can be what separate good teams from below average ones. If maximizing the outs you get on offense is important, so is minimizing the outs you give your opposition. The Yankees are tough enough to beat when they get 27 outs, if you give them 2 or 3 more a game then they are almost impossible to beat.

With this year done, I guess it’s not to early to talk about next year. There is a more than reasonable chance that Andy McPhail might not be back as GM. Even if he is back I would expect the pressure from management to make a big splash, not only to improve the team, but to improve the attendance. The best way to do that is with a free agent signing.

With first base still an unsettled position, expect the O’s to make an attempt at a big splash with Prince Fielder, and to a lesser extent Albert Pujols. Personally, I think Big Al will re-sign with St. Louis for an astronomical sum. A sum that is going to do nothing but drive up the price for Fielder.

Will they make a run for him? More importantly, is there enough in place to make Baltimore an enticing place for him to land? Working in the O’s favor is the fact that the two big boy, the Yankees and Red Sox, are set in that position as well as DH. I would assume that Cubs, and whoever becomes their new GM, will make a big push for the portly slugger. Milwaukee and the Dodgers might make a play as well.

For fun’s sake let us say that he does sign with the O’s. In which case, I predict he will be the first player to hit the warehouse in live action. More importantly will it do more than ignite the fan base? Are they in a position where one big name could make a difference?

The positions that it looks like the O’s have set for next year are:

Catcher - Matt Wieters
Shortstop - JJ Hardy
Right Field - Nick Markakis
Centerfield - Adam Jones
Third base - Mark Reynolds

With Fielder it would for six out of eight positions filled. Second base would remain the biggest question point. At some point everyone is going to have realize that Brian Roberts is no longer the answer. Even if he returns from his neurological issues he won’t be the same player he was simply because he will be two years removed from his prime.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there in the free agent market for them to pick from and none of the internal options they tried this year (Blake Davis, Robert Andino, and Ryan Adams) made a case for being a starter. Their best prospect at the position, LJ Hoes, spent the bulk of his year in Bowie playing in the outfield. So barring a trade it doesn’t look like that problem is going away any time soon.

Whatever they end up doing, defense should factor in more than offense. With a young pitching staff it is imperative that the infield be as strong defensively as possible. There is enough pop in the lineup to afford a .250 player who posses some semblance of defensive talent. I wish I had a name to throw out there, but at this point I don’t.

Left field isn’t as glaring of a problem as they can hopefully roll out a healthy Luke Scott and Nolan Reimold next season. Played right they could form a lethal platoon along the lines of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke.

Let me go off on a tangent here for a moment. Right before Scott’s season was ended prematurely because of shoulder surgery I read that he was “due for a raise” in arbitration. Isn’t there something wrong with the system when a player making $6.4 million dollars is “due” a raise after a year in which he only appeared in 64 games, struck out 25% of the time and only reached base 30% of the time? That’s not even an average season and he gets to negotiate how big his raise is? The arbitration should be for how much lower his salary should be, not how much higher.

OK, back to the issue at hand. Which I guess is how the O’s will improve over a disappointing season. At least that’s what I think I’m writing about. The rain outside is making me sleepy, and I’m upset that the air show is being delayed. Stupid rain!

There is enough talent in the outfield right now to be able to sacrifice a gold glover for some offense, and honestly, if they promote from within Reimold should be given the job to lose. He can hold his own out there and would provide some much needed right-handed power in the lineup.

Next season, like this season, will live and die with the pitching staff. The bullpen has to be shored up with people who can work the sixth and seventh innings. Two innings which will become even more important if Jim Johnson finally makes his long awaited appearance in the starting rotation. Perhaps swapping him with Alfredo Simon would be an option, but they still need something other than warm bodies sitting the bullpen.

I predict and extremely negative off-season from O’s fans on message boards and radio talk shows unless GM Andy McPhail can pull off something in a hurray. The fan base will no longer be placated by uniform changes or stadium improvements. Even if they welcome Cal Ripken back in some sort of management role, the fans will scream for on the field improvements. Honestly, after sitting through this season I can’t blame them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's a Festival/Celebration/Jamboree of Minis

I don't like mini cards. They fall out of packs. They require special pages I don't have. My failing eye sight doesn't do well with the small text. They're small.

So I offer them to you, the great mini-loving masses. Please take one or all of these cards of of my hands.

Go here

Find a card you like. Drop me a comment or shoot me an email. We'll work something out. In case people want the same card we'll work that out as well. Usually, first come first serve works best.

If you've never seen 62 minis stacked on top of each other....well now you have.

Look at the pretty minis. Now take them off of my hands!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Did I Miss Ovechkin Playing For The Lightning?

Oh Upper Deck, how I love your mock-ups.

I was wandering around Upper Deck's facebook page the other day looking at product I will never, and I do mean ever, get my hands on. Namely, the 2010-11 version of their highest end product, The Cup.

Religious overreaction aside, they should just name this product "The Holy Grail". Most collectors would love to have the rookie patch/auto cards of their favorite players from this product. However, most collectors probably can't afford them. For instance, Stamkos' rookie from 2008-09 recently closed for a cool $1000. Even the non-auto base cards routinely close for many more ducets then people are willing to part with.

Every year the set is released to much anticipation among the higher end set and Upper Deck is taking to social media to help fuel the drool. On their Facebook page they have been posting pictures for the last month or so.

Despite the description clearly labeling the image as a mock-up several commentors don't quite get the concept. For instance:

Niko K - "Haha ERROR!!!"
Jacob C - "Dang this makes me think that all of my jersey cards are screwed up like this! I'm not gunna trust you anymore, upper deck!"

The cynical among us think it's laziness. I think someone in the art department is having a little fun, perhaps a subtle dig at Ovechkin and the Caps elimination from the playoffs last season.

There is no chance that a card of this magnitude (biggest release of the year of a marquee player) would make it past their quality control, but what if it did. Would it fetch a premium on the secondary market? Would Upper Deck offer a replacement? Would they announce who the swatch actually belonged to?

Imagine a Stamkos swatch on an Ovechkin card, could it fetch more than $1000 on the secondary market? If I pulled this card I'd get a huge laugh about it. Then I would write a lame-ass post about it, contact Upper Deck and see what they would offer for it.

I like that Upper Deck is using social media to generate interest in their product and interaction with the fans. Folks need to relax about previews in general. It reminds me of the hoopla that surrounded the Stamkos free agency saga earlier this year. There is a lot of noise about something that doesn't exist. Wait till they actually screw up before burying them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Favorite Card From The National

I promise you that there are only two more National posts left. Then we’ll return to the usual half-hearted hockey analysis that you‘ve grown to expect from this cozy spot on the internet! Today we’ll go with my favorite pickup from my weekend of card spending debauchery. Hint, it’s not even a sports card.

It is, however, my first ever authentic tobacco card. I think I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I don’t like the current infatuation with mini cards. Some collectors love them, which is cool, I just don’t happen to be one of them. As a matter of fact look for a post some time this week where I offer all of the mini cards I have for trade.

On the other hand I always wanted to own a real tobacco card from the turn of the century. At The National there were rows and rows of cards from the popular tobacco sets like Allen & Gineter. All were slabbed and selling for decent coin, and frankly I would rather spend my money on a 2005/06 Upper Deck Victory Peter Bondra

So I walked past those vintage dealers and settled into one of the endless number of quarter boxes. Finding 4 or 5 Murrays (Murraxen? Murrai?) I needed, I paid the dealer and was about to move on when I noticed he had some loose tobacco cards in a case. I asked to see the stack and flipped through them.

None of the cards he had were sports related, but there were some cool ones. The coolest, in my opinion, was this one.

Napoleon Leaves For Paris, 1812.

I had no idea what set this card was part of until I got home and did a little research. Apparently it was a 25 card series based around Napoleon’s exploits issued by John Player & Sons in 1915. From what I can find this set was issued in Great Britain.

I was hoping that it was a little older, as one of my goals is to have a card that is over 100 years old. Still, due to the decent condition of the card I’m not too upset. Oh and the fact that it only cost me $2.00. So yeah, not a bad investment as far as I’m concerned. Besides, 2015 isn’t that far away.

Will a pursue the other 24 cards in the set? Probably not. Will it start a new direction in my collecting? Probably not. Is it pretty cool to own? Yup.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back to the Loot

It’s a rainy day here in the Windy City. After a day out in Oak Park I figure it’s time to get back to the haul from The National while I wait for dinner to arrive. The cards are sitting on my desk and need to be packed up in time for the move. So lets go ahead and take down the two big hits from my weekend excursion.

2002 Fleer Classic Cuts Eddie Murray Bat Relic. We know it’s real because Lloyd J Pawlak, Senior VP from Fleer/Skybox says so on the back. I like everything about the layout of the card except for the tiny picture of Murray’s face. Also, it would have been nice if they used the cartoon bird logo for the O’s.

That card was just the appetizer for the main course though.

2011 Topps Tribute Dual Relic # 03/75. It’s shiny, had two bat slivers and is the lowest serial numbered card in my collection (my $10 bid on the Lineage Canary 1/1 fell well short). There really isn’t anything I dislike about this card. From the shiny green background to the gold facsimile auto on the front everything ties together pretty nicely.

While no one is giving me there personal guarantee on the back of the card, Topps does “pledge to bring [me] closer to the game from the Past, Present, and Future.” I’m not sure how they’re going to bring me closer to the future, but hey it’s a nice thought.

There’s been a lot of internet talk lately about relics and their values. I think most of the world would agree that the single swatch jersey card can barely be considered a hit these days. The National was filled with dollar boxes full of these cards that people were skipping over like they were commons.

We can’t be that far away from Topps or Upper Deck releasing a 200 card set in which every base card has a piece of jersey on it. Heck, they could probably pull it off with a $4.99 per pack price.

Should the manufactures take a few years off from these single, white jersey cards that collectors are turning their noses up at? Perhaps by killing the supply completely the infatuation will return within a few years. That’s not to say they should do away with the jersey card altogether, just spice it up a bit. Multiple swatches, multiple colors, patches with dirt or grass on them, etc.

In the vein of a silk card, could they make an entire card out of a piece of the jersey? Imagine a swatch the size of a card with an action photo on the front and stats on the back. Frame it like the Ginter cards and that would make for a pretty sweet hit.

Sorry for the digression. For what it’s worth the Tribute joins my Murray rookie as the highest valued cards in the collection. So I’ve got that going for me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Panini's Big Pull

As I was whiling away the hours on Wednesday I took a gander at Panini's site and noticed they had posted a preview of 2011-12 Certified Hockey. Normally, I'm not one to comment on card previews as I think it's hard to judge a product without seeing it in hand. However, one of the inserts that they have included in next season's set is Big Pulls

Pretty cool. An insert with a fairly large autograph on some sort of textured background (not sure if it's a relic or not). And who doesn't like Jeff Skinner? No really, is there anyone that doesn't like him?

But wait! There's more!

The autograph actually slides out of the card, hence Big Pull becomes a devilish play on words.

I'm not going to lie, me likey this insert. As in I might break my $15.00 per card self-imposed eBay limit should a certain center that hails from Ile Bizard be featured in the checklist.

It will also be interesting to see if this set evolves in future generations. For instance, perhaps include an action photo in the space behind the auto so that when it's pulled out there isn't white space showing.

Honestly, an insert like this does more for me then a video trading card. Nice to see Panini bringing something new to the table. At least I'm assuming they're bringing something new...does anyone else know of a similar product from the past?

(photos pulled directly from Panini's blog, please don't sue!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chicago Photo 12

Taking a break from The National loot to wander around downtown today.

Hey, look it's a 26-foot tall Marilyn Monroe statue holding her skirt down a la "The Seven Year Itch".

It's the newest oversized public art project downtown. Located in the heart of tourist town on the southern end of the Magnificent Mile, Forever Marilyn went up in July to mixed reviews. Chicago critic Richard Roeper called it "beyond-kitschy" and "hideous". He's also miffed that it recreates a movie scene filmed in New York instead Chicago.

Sculpted by Seward Johnson, it has attracted more than it's share of gawkers and tourists snapping photos. As I was clicking away a business woman stalked by complaining to here friend about the "5000 tourists that get in her way everyday" because of it. Hey lady, if you don't like tourists move to North Dakota.

Johnson is no stranger to public art in Chicago. A few years ago he erected an American Gothic inspired sculpture called "God Bless America". The artist, a spy 80 years old had this to say about Marilyn in an article on EON:

I am trying to discover what makes an image stick with us; become something more than its one moment in time. Marilyn has come to represent beauty, and the white dress blowing up around her is a type of teasing sensuality... There is something about her pose; the exuberance for life without inhibition, which is quintessentially American. It expresses an uninhibited sense of our own vibrancy.

As far as I'm concerned it's got a nice whimsical look to it. It's crass in an old-fashioned kind of way. "OMG YOU CAN SEE HER UNDERWEAR!" Well guess what, keep wandering down Michigan Ave and you'll see a lot more risque photos in the shop windows. No one seems to have a problem with Abercrombie & Fitch having shirtless or pantless models hocking their goods.

If it really bothers you, just don't go downtown for a few months. It's only going to be on display until some time next year.

Another view to show the scale. In case you were wondering, the smaller sculpture in the foreground is of legendary broadcaster Jack Brickhouse.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The National, The 1980s, a Box, a Hit

The other box. If you’ve been paying attention you will remember that I mentioned that I purchased two boxes of cards while I was at The National last weekend. The first one was planned and has been reviewed already. The other box wasn’t planned, consider it my little miracle box.

Sal, master of all thinks hockey related, convinced me to pick up a box of In The Game’s Decades 1980s. A follow up to their highly successful Decades 1970s from last year, this product is littered with the stars from run and gun 1980s. I paid a little bit more than I normally comfortable for what is a box in name only. As in the cards
come in a cardboard box. For my investment of $90 –ish I could look forward to:

1 Decades Rookie Card
1 100 years of Hockey Cards
1 Non-Memrobilia Insert Card
3 Authentic Autograph cards
3 Authentic Game-Used Memorabilia Cards.

As a bonus, if I ripped the pack…err box at the ITG booth I would receive an exclusive 1/1 National only card and a ticket for a free autograph from 1980 Olympian Mark Wells.

So along with Sal and fellow hockey card blogger Tim from the Real DFG we sat down and opened up some high end hockey. What did I walk away with?

The Rookie Card –

Ron Hextall. He was one of the better goalies from an era that was known more its offense. The card itself isn’t very exciting with way more text then actual player photo. I think this is one of the drawbacks to ITG not having a NHL license. Which in and of itself is a travesty.

The 100 years of Hockey Cards

Guy Lafleur. A nice reprint of a tobacco card featuring the Hall of Fame Canadian

Non Memorabilia Insert –

Mike Vernon/Grant Fuhr Battle of Alberta. More head shots. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to put together a master set of this product.

Now we get to the fun stuff

Memorabilia Cards

Mike Bossy Game Used Jersey Black. If I’m not mistaken there are three levels to relic cards – Black, Silver and Gold. Speaking of Gold…..

The big hit of the box

Mario Lemieux Game Used Gold Jersey. To say that this is one of the better hits I could have pulled is an understatement. We think the jersey might be from the 90s though as that is the only one we can remember that had gray in it. Tim, a Penguins fan, also pulled a Lemieux Jersey card which made me feel better. I would have hated to think I bought a box that should have been his.

What about the redemption?

A Bernie Federko Game Used Silver Jersey with a pretty nifty seam running though it. As you can see (hopefully) on the lower left hand corner ITG stamped “1/1 The National Chicago” in gold lettering. Look at that 'stache and the hair. This is definately a 1980s card. Pretty sweet.

But wait you’re saying. Where are the autos? Where is the other memorabilia card. Holy crap, Justin G. did you get screwed. Well not really.

Let’s get one thing straight. Until ITG releases Decades 1990s I don’t have a dog in the fight. There are no Lightning players to be had in this set….at least while they were Lightning players. So it wasn’t hard to talk me out of a couple of the hits, which Sal did.

I traded the three autographs which if I remember were Kelly Hrudy, Billy Smith and someone else along with a quad memorabilia card of the Blackhawks to Sal for future considerations. One of those considerations are a Victor Hedman rookie patch card.

This isn’t a box I’ll be breaking too much more of. It’s a little out of my price range, and as I mentioned there isn’t too much I would consider valuable to my personal collection. However, I can definitely see the appeal, especially for people my age.

ITG does hockey right. To a collector who grew up with the sport in the 1980s to be able to get the high end inserts from their childhood heroes would be epic.

As usual, ITG knocked this one out of the park.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The National Loot Review Rolls On

Next up on the list of this weekend's card spending spree is the vintage portion of the collection. Something my collection severely lacks would be Orioles cards pre-1985. So one of my goals was to rectify that. I didn't go gung-ho, but did manage to pick up the below 7 cards. The average amount spent per card is $0.56.

In that photo you see are five 1960 Topps. They're in pretty decent condition with no major creases or blemishes. A little off-center here and there, but definitely worth the investment.

Hidden in the corner is a 1961 Dave Philley. The Philley and the 60 Arnie Portocarrero are both cards that I've briefly held onto electronically via Topps Diamond Giveaway, but have traded them away for other cards. So it was nice to actually get a hold of them.

The last card was one that I got almost as a throw in with a couple of cards that you'll see later. A 1968 Brooks Robinson Topps Game card. Poor Brooks is a Hit By Pitch.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Post-National Box Break

The National is over, it’s raining and a have a splitting headache. Hopefully, some typing about cards will dull the pain for a bit. This will also serve as the first of several posts on what I walked away from the National this year. Did I go over my budget? Yes. Was it worth it? I think so. The reason I went over was entirely based on one of the boxes I bought. This one isn't it.

Up for review is the cheaper of the two boxes I picked up, and something of a change of pace. If you’ve wasted anytime at all on this site you know I collect hockey and baseball cards. No basketball or football (don’t forget - good teams still can be had!) for me. Having limited space here in Chicago I’ve taken a focused approach to collecting over the last year or so, rarely buying any boxes at all.

Another thing you might have picked up on if you’ve read this drivel is that I enjoy a good boxing match or two. Unfortunately, my boxing collection is severly lacking. The only card that I know I have is a Oscar de la Hoya Olympics card that Saint Leo Mike gave me years ago.

Part of the reason is that there isn’t really that much out there to collect that is recent. A quick search of The Card Collector shows one set in their database - APBA Boxing from 1997. I would say the popularity of MMA has probably kept the major companies from releasing a boxing set. Also, I would imagine getting the rights to present and past fighters is complicated.

Lucky for this post one card manufacturer did jump through the hoops to put a set together. In April of 2010 Sports Kings released Ringside Boxing Round One. According to the product info I pulled up on sportscardradio.com it was released in two forms - the Knockout Box, of which only 2500 were produced and would get you:

12 base cards
2 autographs
1 Fight Worn Memrobilia card or 1/1 insert
3 Mecca Turkey Red Inserts
1 Limited Edition Base Card

I did not get that version. The best price I could find was $150 bucks and that was waaaaaaaay over my budget. So I went with the less expensive version - The TKO box.

10 packs
4 cards per pack
1 auto or memorabilia card per box (on average)

For $39 I was willing to see what it yielded.

If you’re wondering, Floyd Mayweather is in the set, but Manny Pacquiao is not.

After a flurry of ripping what did I end up with?

Thirty-nine of the thickest base cards I’ve ever seen in a set and one sticker auto card (yea! I was average!)

The 100 card base set is broken up into several different subsets and features boxers from all eras. The first 50 cards are:

Subtitled “Round 1”. These cards feature you basic boxing photo cards. On the back is a quick bio and two or three sentence blurb about the fighter pictured on the front.

The cards numbered 51-60 are part of a subset entitled “Weigh In” I didn’t get any of those. Boo.

Next up 61-68

Tale of the Tape. They took a particular fight, slapped pictures of the opponents on the front and on the back - yup the tale of the tape (age, record, height, reach, etc). Personally I think this would have worked better if the front of the card was horizaontal and featured a photo from the actual fight.

Next up

“In My Corner”

This is my favorite subset by far. Nothing like slapping some photos of boxers who've been punched in the face for the last 30 minutes on some cards and selling them. Look at the above card and tell me Roy Jones isn't contemplating a career change.

From the three cards I got it seems this subset features boxers sitting on stools. Ok then. On the back it features what I think is advice Angelo Dundee would have given if he has in the fighters corner. For instance, card 68 featuring Roy Jones:

On November 8, 2008, Roy Jones fought Joe Calzaghe at Madison Square Garden. If I was in Roy Jones Jr.’s corner this what you might have heard:

“Roy, you gotta keep busy, keep busy.
Remember no manno a manno.
Don’t back up, he picks up momentum when you do.
Keep him turning.”
Angelo Dundee

Roy Jones Jr. lost the fight in a unanimous 12-round decision.

Double OK then.

Cards 76-92 are the final main subset

“Victorious”. A subset with boxers raising their arms in victory (or holding a belt). The back of the card gives a brief rundown of whatever win their celebrating.

The final eight cards are dedicated to Muhammad Ali.

I know why you’re waiting around this long. Who did I get for an auto?

How about Junior Jones? The name doesn’t ring a bell? How about Ivy Jones? Or "Poison" Ivy Jones? It took a while (and a quick internet search) for me to place the name as well. Jones biggest claim to fame was being the first man to beat Marco Antonio Barrera inside the ring.

In November of 1996, at the Ice Palace in Tampa, he stopped Barrera in the fifth round to win the WBO Super Bantamweight belt. There was a bit of controversy to the end of the fight as it was unclear wether the ref stopped the fight as the bell rang because Jones was beating Barrera into submission or because Barrera’s corner man entered the ring before the bell.

The official decision was that Barrera was DQ’d because his corner entered the ring. In reality it didn’t matter, there was no way the Mexican fighter was going to come back from the beating he took in that round.

What do I think of the set? I like it. I’m not adverse to picking up another box for the same price point. The front of the cards are crisp, the different subsets mix things up a bit and allow them to recycle fighters without being too obnoxious about it.

The drawback (other than no Pac-Man) is the size of these cards. I’m not sure why they have to be the thickness of three normal trading cards but it makes them slightly unwieldy.

There ya go. A quick box break. Anyone else out there break this product?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Zach Britton's Latest Outing - a Running Diary

It’s time to bring back a very non-regular feature from my previous blog incarnations. Stolen directly from ESPN’s Bill Simmons – it’s the Live Game Diary! Of course, by the time you’re reading this the action has long since passed, but trust me when I say I’m typing it live.

What’s the occasion? Just a random August start by the left-handed rookie for your Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton. It has defiantly been a strange season for the lefty from Panorama City, California. He had a dominating spring training only to be cut at the end of camp. Then he was immediately called up and started the second game of the season replacing injured ace Brian Matusz.

Things went swimmingly for the first two months as he racked up 5 wins in his first seven outings. Perhaps his finest outing was a 2-1 win for the O’s against Seattle on May 12th. Despite going 9 innings and allowing only 3 hits he didn’t get a decision as Baltimore waited until extra innings to score some runs.

Since that outing things haven’t been so swell. It seems he hit a bit of a wall, actually crashed into a wall and the wall fell on top of him. He’s won only once since May while suffering 7 defeats. His last outing lasted one-third of an inning. It was an adventurous one-third as the Yankees managed seven hits off of him which led to nine runs. But hey, only six of those runs were earned!

As the O’s have slumped this summer the pitching staff is largely to blame. The young arms haven’t developed as consistently as management (and the fan base) would have liked. Britton is the crown jewel of the “grow the arms, buy the bats” philosophy of GM Andy McPhail. The only hope that sustained the O’s through the last few seasons was that the pitchers were coming, and those pitchers would vault the Birds up the standings. So far that hasn’t happened.

So with some ribs marinating in the fridge and the Royals TV feed streaming on the computer let’s see what happens!

7.21 - His first pitch to Alex Gordon catches the inside corner for strike one. It’s a strike but nowhere near where Matt Wieters wanted it. After working the count full, Gordon doubles off the right field wall. What a fantastic way to start.

Royals play-by-play announcer Ryan Lefebvre points out that not only did Britton only last one-third of an inning in his last start, he didn’t make it out of the first in the start before that against the Red Sox.

7.24 – Britton mishandles a bunt attempt by Melky Cabrera. It wasn’t even a good bunt. Mistakes like those add to pitch count, add to runners on base and makes life difficult for young pitchers. Shortly thereafter Billy Butler takes a 1-2 pitch the other way for a run scoring double. Jeebus this could be a short diary.

7.28 – A nasty 0-2 slider to Eric Hosmer gets Britton his first strikeout of the day. Just realized I’m wearing an Eric Hosmer t-shirt. Way to support the O’s, blogger! A bit of bad luck for Britton as Jeff Francoeur bounces a wicked slider off the plate for an infield single.

7:32 – Mark Reynolds makes what is known in baseball circles as a mental error. He charges a slow roller and instead of getting the play at the plate he fires over to first. Reynolds has been a little better with the glove as of late (not that he really could have done worse), but no one is going to confuse him with Brooks Robinson anytime soon.

7:33 –Chris Getz grounds out to short to end the inning. Britton survives!
His line after one: 24 pitches (15 strikes), 3 runs (one earned), 2 hits, and 1 error. He struggled to locate his fastball and I don’t think he threw a single slider for a strike. Experienced hitters are going to lay off that pitch until he can show that he can occasionally get it over the plate. They will sit on his high-80’s fastball and make life miserable for him.

7:43 – Britton starts off Escobar with a breaking ball for a strike. Working quickly he gets him to fly out to right. Manny Pina bounces to Andino for the second out.

7:45 – After an Alex Gordon single, Britton throws a ball to Cabrera. He had previously thrown seven strikes in a row. It seems he’s settling into a groove.

7:48 – Britton finishes the inning with a professional approach. With two runners on he works carefully to Billy Butler and falls behind 3-0. With the left handed Hosmer on-deck Britton isn’t giving Butler anything good to hit. He nips the inside corner for strike one and then gets the slugging righty to chase a pitch just off the plate and he flies out meekly to right.

Two innings are now in the book. Despite giving up the two hits, Britton definitely looked sharper. He mixed his pitches well and had several hitters off balance. He’s thrown 38 pitches through two innings, 26 of them were strikes.

7:54 – With Robert Andino hitting, Lefebvre brings up Brian Roberts and his concussion. Perhaps you don’t know how Roberts became concussed. He hit himself in the head with his bat in disgust at the end of last season. He hasn’t been the same since.

8.02pm – JJ Hardy is fun to watch at short. He might be my favorite defensive shortstop since the great Ripken patrolled the infield. Hardy makes a nice play on a short hop grounder up the middle. Having an infielder who can make those tricky plays can help a young pitcher just as much

8:03pm – Francoeur lines a single to right.

8:05pm – Britton might have got a break as Yamaico Navarro bends away from a called third strike. The pitch caught the plate, but looked a little high. Britton is working ahead in the count and working quickly. Sometimes when you do that you catch a few breaks.

8.12pm - Britton works his way out of another two-runner on jam. He’s not doing anything to help his WHIP, but he’s making the pitches he needs to.
He’s through three innings now. The Royals have amassed seven hits against him, but other than the first-inning double to Butler they haven’t really been making solid contact against him. He’s not facing the 1927 Yankees (by the way isn’t it time to pick a new team for this cliché),

8:20 – Catching Jesus with a RBI single off of Jeff Francis! He’s hitting .338 with runners in scoring position this year. Which, by the way, is 30 points higher than the guy he’s always compared with. That’s Joe Mauer, kids.

8:30 – Remember how I mentioned that Britton wasn’t throwing his breaking stuff for strikes? He snaps off a couple of nice ones to the sleep deprived Manny Pina for his third strikeout of the match. According to Lefebvre, Pina was up till 3.30 in the morning talking to his family about his major league debut Wednesday night via a video conference on his computer. Let me drop a little

8:31 – Alex Gordon rips his third hit of the night into right field. Looks like he’s starting to live up to some of that potential he was burdened with early in his career.

8:35 – Britton induces a ground ball from Billy Butler to end the inning. As the game progresses, the lefty is looking more and more comfortable on the mound. He worked his way through the top of the Royals order in only 11 pitches.

8:38 – JJ Hardy rips a 3-iron into the bullpen to tie the game at 3. Nice, I might be developing a bit of a man crush on Mr. Hardy. The telecast cuts to the dugout and shows Matt Wieters for some reason instead of Hardy. Nick Markakis follows with a smoked double over the third base bag. Francis might be starting to tire, the O’s are squaring up on him this inning.

8:45 – And now a mental error on the base paths by Markakis. With one out in the inning, Vlad hits a ground ball right at the shortstop. Markakis breaks immediately to third and is an easy out. Yes Guerrero would have been an easy out at first on the groundball, but the O’s would have still had the runner in scoring position where a base hit would have given them the lead.

It’s the lack of fundamentals like this that is most frustrating about this team. Manager Buck Sholwalter has a reputation as a guy whose teams don’t make those kind of mistakes. It’s been a year now since he took over the team, it’s time they corrected those things.

8:50 – Eric Hosmer lines a 1-2 pitch into right field. Britton tends to fall in love with his off-speed stuff when facing lefties. That pitch was a hanging breaking ball that Hosmer was able to square up on and drive.

8:52 – Check on the ribs in the oven. They smell delicious.

8:54 – Britton bounces back to get the next three hitters in order on a pop-up, a grounder to the mound, and a weak grounder to first.

It’s another 11 pitch inning for the lefty. Through five innings his pitch count is at 77 which is pretty good considering the long first inning. Having a strong inning after the O’s tied it up is encouraging. Too often the O’s scratch back to tie or take the lead and their pitchers immediately cough it back up.

Speaking of taking the lead….

8:58 – Back to back doubles by Wieters and Davis give the O’s the lead and knocks Jeff Francis out of the game. He gave up 10 hits in five innings plus – seven of them were extra base hits.

9:05 – Just basted the ribs. It’s a homemade recipe with a little Hoison sauce. Thanks for asking. Nice sideburns Blake Wood. He uses the power of the burns to jam Hardy who pops up to the infield.

9:16 – Zach Britton with a lead lasts a total of four batters. With one out Pina doubles off the wall and then Alex Gordon picks up his fourth hit of the night with a line drive to right. Cabrera knocks in Pena with a ground ball through the left side.

9:19 – Britton’s night is over. Jim Johnson is summoned from the bullpen.
So what should we take away from this outing? Was it good, bad, indifferent? It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure. I would say it was encouraging. First of all, he made it out of the first inning. He threw strikes. Of his 87 pitches, 59 were strikes and he didn’t walk anyone.

He wasn’t dominant, but that’s not the type of pitcher he is. He isn’t a 95 MPH, blow ‘em away fireballer. He has to have command and mix up his pitches. When he is on, he will induce a lot of awkward swings and ground balls.

It was a step forward, not a leap. His next start, scheduled for Tuesday against the White Sox, will be just as important. It is important that he is on in the first inning. With the start tonight he has now given up 20 runs in the first inning of his last three starts. Seeing those crooked numbers so early in a game kills a team’s morale.

9.31 – Jim Johnson air mails a throw to first base. It’s now 9-4. I’m going to eat my ribs now.

A Quick Recap of The "Preview" Day at the National

I caught the Blue Line up to Rosemont to check out Day One (maybe Day -1 since things really got into swing on Thursday) of The National Sports Collectors Convention.

Enticed by the chance to get a couple of free autographs and the chance to see everything without a huge crowd I wandered into the convention center around 3.30p. A lot of folks were wandering around aimlessly until they herded all of us General Admission into line. Twenty minutes in line (mostly spent ignoring the folks talking politics) and they let us into the main floor.

A smart person would have studied the map to know where the autograph signings would be taking place, since the quicker I got in the line the less time standing would leave more time for spending. Luckily, I wandered around in the right direction and quickly found the Lee Smith line. He was signing for free courtesy of the fine folks from Freedom Cardboard. At that point it was about 40 folks deep and about 15 minutes before Smith was scheduled to sign.

I whipped out the iPad and checked to see if there was free wireless in the convention center - there wasn't. So I had to resort to reading a downloaded book. The iPad is perfect for The National. I have a book or two loaded on it for the train ride up and for killing time in line. I also have all of my want lists loaded on spreadsheets - no binders for this guy!

The line was across the aisle from the PSA authentication booth so I would occasionally pop my head up and check out what was getting authenticated. Mostly older cards, but one guy did have a sweet collage of an older White Sox team (circa 1919 I think) along with a piece of paper with some of the players autographs. Joe Jackson's was definitely on there.

We waited about 30 minutes or so before the line started moving. Apparently, Mr. Smith was a little late and they had forgotten pens for him to sign with. That was the bad news. The good news, once he started signing it went quickly and they even allowed us to get multiple items signed.

Once I was done with that I wandered over to the next autograph area to get Bill Madlock's signature resigned to the fact that I would be spending the next 30-45 minutes standing in line. How wrong I was. My wait had to have been less than 5 minutes. I love it when I expect the worst and it turns out to be not so bad.

One table over Olympian Dick Fosbury was signing....or should I say waiting to sign. No one was in his line which led to the following exchange between me and Mr. Madlock.

BM(to nobody in particular): "He's an Olympian, right? What's his name?"
Me (since no one else answered): "Dick Fosbury."
BM: "What's he famous for?"
Me: "The Fosbury Flop, you know, the first one to go over the high jummp bar backwards?"
BM: "Oh yeah"

After that it was off to check out some of the booths. As I meandered I ran into a guy in a Blackhawks jersey. The one and only Sal from Puck Junk was picking up some hockey stuff at a booth. We had pre-arranged a meeting either Wednesday or Saturday to exchange some cards (which we did).

He went his way and I went mine. Another 30 minutes or so of wandering and I was done. Total money spent: $8.00

The haul:

The free autographs. That's right I sacrificed a 1988 Donruss for Lee Smith's autograph. Unfortunately, I didn't have any cards with him in an O's uniform up here in the Chicago command center. I figured everyone would by handing Madlock Pittsburgh or Chicago stuff so I went in a different direction.

The free stuff from Sal. Way more than I expected. In exchange for some minis and an Eric Daze auto I received the following:

A Baltimore O's sticker - can't have too many!
2010-11 Donruss Press Proof Martin St Lous #85/100 - the back of the card said he's "far from over the hill"
2010-11 Boys of Winter Relic Teddy Purcell - nice swatch from the newly re-signed winger
2010-11 Artifacts Vincent Lecavalier #72/150. Two blue swatches from the Captain!

Thanks, Sal!

The cheap stuff:

Since I really didn't have anything better to do on a Wednesday afternoon

A couple of Kellog's 3D Eddie Murray cards. Two cards knocked off the want list for less than $1.00

The Big Purchase:

2010-11 Winter Warriors Vincent Lecavalier Relic. It cost a whopping $5.00 which is cheaper than I've seen it online.

Not pictures - a set of Crown's collection of Orioles that was released in 1991 at their gas stations or at selected games. I had them all when I was kid, but have since lost them.

There ya go...We'll see how Saturday goes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top Five Chicago Cubs Rookie Cards

You’re headed to Chicago for the National because it seems like the perfect family vacation. You can look at stuff for your man cave while the wife enjoys the sites. Or the reverse. I don’t judge. You know you want to pick up something to remind yourself of your excellent trip to the Windy City. Why not stock up on your Cubs cards?

The Hopeful Chase is here to provide you with a handy-dandy guide to the top five Cubs rookie cards that should be in your collection (and alternative cheaper priced options for those lacking in money). For financial sake I’m keeping it to modern era (post WWII) cards.

If you’ve already knocked off these five players, feel free to take a gander at some Cap Anson cards. Maybe you brought enough cash to put together a nice Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance collection. If that’s the case, don’t worry - there will be plenty of vintage dealers at the show to help you.

All of the prices were pulled from e-Bay from auctions that closed with bids in the last 30 days. Shipping costs are not included

With that in mind lets get rolling!

5. Fergie Jenkins - It came down to Jenkins and Greg Maddux. Both are Hall of Fame pitchers (well Maddux will be soon) who spent a significant portion of their career in the Friendly Confines. Jenkins gets the edge because he’s Canadian (hey it’s my list).

1966 Topps. The only non-Cubs uniformed card in the collection, Jenkins collectors (or Bill Sorrell collectors!) will usually have to pony over about $30 for a decent copy of this card. For about a third of that price you might be able to pick up this card:

A 2011 Topps Tribute Bat Relic/Auto numbered to 99. A lucky e-bayer picked up this card for $11 last week. Not too shabby for a card with a Hall of Famer’s signature on it.

4. Ryne Sandberg - Another Hall of Famer who began his career with the Phillies, Sandberg is the guy I remember as the face of the Cubs when I was growing up. To me he seemed like a National League version of Cal Ripken - a power-hitting middle infielder who played solid defense.

1983 Topps. Despite getting a cup of coffee with the Phillies in 1981 he didn’t get his face on cardboard until 1983 where he joined Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn in a pretty good set for the 80s. This card can be had for as little as $2 on e-Bay so there is really no reason not to get one.

So in addition not instead of, pick up his Donruss and Fleer rookies from that year as well. You should be able to pick up the trifecta for $10-$15.

3. Ron Santo - If Ernie Banks is “Mr. Cub” then Santo has to be “Mr. Cub Fan”. The younger generation of fans probably know him best as the radio color man for the Cubs on WGN, a position he held for over 20 years. He never hid his love for the team, yet never came across as off-putting as his south side counterpart “Hawk” Harrelson.

Cubs fans and sabermetricians argue for his inclusion into the Hall of Fame based on his numbers, which were better than most people outside of the Chicago area realize. He was a nine-time All-Star who hit 342 home runs and collected five Gold Gloves (back when that award actually meant something).

1961 Topps. Another one that isn’t that expensive. His rookie will set you back anywhere between $8 and $12. However, if that’s a little too pricey for you I offer you this alternative.

His 1974 Topps. You shouldn’t be hard pressed to find this card for around the $1.50 mark. It’s a hot mess of what the heck is going on. Honestly, if you told me this was taken at a Sunday rec league softball game, I wouldn’t argue with you. If I’m not mistaken this is also his last card in a Cubs uniform as he was traded to the Cubs that season.

2. Starlin Castro - The youngest player on the list, Castro is the cornerstone for the next wave of Cubs rebuilding. One of the few players on the roster that’s branded as “untouchable” is matching his rookie year almost stat-for-stat. No sophomore slump here!

2010 Bowman Chrome Auto. This card can be had on the internet for between $50 and $80. Based on collectors love for young prospects (and Bowman Chrome) it’s actually a rather decent price for a higher-end rookie card.

2010 Topps Chrome. For those of us stuck in a lower-end rookie card price range this is a decent alternative. At a $1.00 his Topps Chrome rookie is a must for any Cubs fan. Keep an eye out for the Topps Debut version which his a similar design, but features him hitting. Heck, pick that one up as well while you’re at it. They make a nice pair.

1. Ernie Banks - Could it have been anyone else?

1954 Topps. Mr. Cub will set you back anywhere from $300-$800 for a decent version of this card. The occasional beat-to-hell copy shows up online from time to time as well, but even those go for $25-$40.

If that’s out of your league take a gander at his 1969 Topps. Again, condition can have a huge effect on the price, but a card with sharp corners and good centering can be had for less than $10. Look at that smile, we can assume someone had just told him that they were gonna play two that day.

Hope you enjoyed this quick recap. If you have any other suggestion, feel free to let me know in the comment field.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The National

Yeah, I broke down and bought my ticket this afternoon. Looks like I'll be rolling up there on Wednesday and Saturday...now if I can just find a printer to actually print them out on.

Ticket bought - check
Ticket printed - working on it.
Want Lists created - check
Loaded onto iPad - check
Budget set in my mind - check
Realization that I will exceed said budget - check.
Disapproving eye roll and deep sigh from significant other - check.

Will this guy be at the National this year? Who know? Check out hiscolumn on the 2009 National ......