Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spanning the Borders of North America - It's Trading Time!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted around here.  I’ve been struggling with a bit of writers block, and a huge amount of sheer laziness.  Now that I know I’m going back to work in a couple of days, the need to be productive with my time has flown out of the window.  I’m not going to lie, it feels a little like the last week of summer of vacation.  It’s time to start squeezing in as much laziness as possible (Monday’s schedule consists of sitting on the couch and mainlining Cheez-whiz straight from the bottle while watching the Star Wars trilogy).

One of the few productive things I HAVE been doing is rocking the card trading world.  From Canada to California the cards have been streaming in.  Actually, just those two places.  Still it’s not bad.  The best part is that the two traders have really helped knock out some needs from the ol’ Heritage want list. There is nothing I like more than getting cards for nothing…or what I consider nothing. 

First up some cards from the fine gentleman from the north – Captain Canuck.  He saw a couple of Heritage cards that I had on my trade list and promised to send some in return that I needed.  After receiving his envelope, I’m glad that I found some extra cards on his want list that he claims he needs.  What did he send me?

In addition to the Heritage and some 1990 Topps that I needed he threw in a couple of extra Lightning cards capped off with……

Nice card of the captain (image from zistle)

How’s that for a sweet swatch of sweatery goodness? The card comes from one of the few ITG higher-end sets that includes Lightning relics. It’s a silver level black piece of jersey from the “Captains” set that ITG released earlier this year. Now that’s how you do non-licensed cards. my friends!

Also received this week from Woody – a reader who I’m not sure has a blog – a straight up Heritage for Heritage trade.  For some of the dupes that I had he offered to let me pick six or seven cards that I needed. 

Chances are this pitch was 90 MPH and a strike - image from personal collection

My boy Koji had to be one of them! Even if he’s not in an O’s uniform it’s an awesome card, especially since it’s designed as a “night card”. 

Thanks for the cards, guys!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Of Smudges and Do-Overs: Lightning Card of the Week

I was hoping to put up a Marc Bergevin card today in order to honor the former Lightning defenseman’s new job as the Canadians General Manager. However, I don’t have any.  Actually, I probably do have some but due to the great monster box tragedy of 2012 I can’t find it right now. So instead we will go with another member of the pre-Cup era.

Mikael Renberg 1998-99 Be A Player

Good lord is this is an interesting card.  Actually, not really. It’s just really foily.  I’m not sure it scans well enough to show how much silver (and bronze?) foil covers the front of this card.  God forbid you need to send a card from this set in to get grade on it. There is no way a card could get a perfect grade after sitting around in a box somewhere for the last 14 years. I imagine there are stacks of these cards stuck back-to-front in closets all across Canada these days.

The back is a little better (and glossy). It has a nice picture of Renberg looking glum and provides us with the following biographical information:

“Off the ice, he enjoys a host of water sports including boating, water skiing and windsufing.”

With those activities you’d think he would have stuck around longer.

Renberg rose to prominence in Philadelphia as part of the famed “Legion of Doom” line with John LeClair and Eric Lindros. Following the Flyers Stanley Cup loss in the 1997 to the Red Wings, Renberg would become entangled in one of the more “interesting” moments in Lightning history.

Looking to get bigger on at the center position Flyers GM Bobby Clarke signed Restricted Free Agent Chris Gratton to an offer sheet.  Unbeknownst to him or Gratton, Lightning GM Phil Esposito was working on trading Gratton to the Blackhawks.

Esposito received the paperwork regarding the offer sheet, but claimed he couldn’t read the numbers because they were smudged by his fax machine (oh the 1990s!). The league didn’t buy his claim and the Lightning had seven days to match the offer or let Gratton go for draft picks.  Esposito knew he couldn’t match the 5-year, $25.5 million deal, but also knew that he couldn’t sell the fan base on waiting around for the draft picks to develop. 

So he let Gratton go and then traded the draft picks BACK to Philadelphia for Mikael Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis. Despite working his way into the mess, Esposito did a decent job of getting young talent back instead of the picks. All he needed was for Renberg to keep up his goal scoring ways.

To say it didn’t work is an understatement. Despite being handed the “C” immediately upon his arrival he never really had a chance to break out the water skis in Tampa. Injuries and a dearth of overall talent overshadowed Renberg's tenure in Tampa. By December of 1998 he was on his way back to Philly for Mike Sillinger and yes, you guess it, Chris Gratton.

While he was in Tampa he scored 20 goals in 88 games. After suffering a hand injury during the season he was never really the same shooter.  Injuries and Renberg definitely go hand in hand.  Throughout his career he’s broken a thumb, sliced the muscles in his bicep in a boating accident, was hospitalized with an infected blister and fractured his jawbone while playing in the Swedish Elite League.  Hopefully he’s walking around in bubble wrap these days.

Renberg wasn’t the only one to struggle during his tenure with the Bolts. Despite missing 14 games in 1997-98 he still tied for the team lead in goals with 16.  That’s right, 16 goals was the team high. To put that in perspective Steven Stamkos had 16 goals in 19 games in March and April this season.  Needless to say the 97-98 Lightning weren’t very good.

I’m not sure if his stint in Tampa broke his will or if the injuries were too much to overcome, but Renberg would never be the same player.  After scoring 109 goals in his first four seasons with the Flyers he would only score another 81 goals in the next six years playing in Philly, Toronto and Phoenix.

After the lockout in 2004-05 he would return to the Swedish Elite League (where he would play with a young Johan Harju) and finished out his career.

While most people will always remember him as part of the Legion of Doom, I choose to remember him as the guy who best rocked a turtle-neck under his Lightning uniform.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Hyping of The Harper: Bryce Harper and Expectations

Hype Thy Name is Harper

got the most power, the most speed and the best arm in the league,” said the manager. “It’s scary to think what he could do some day.”

You’re thinking Bryce Harper, right? Nope.  Those words were spoken to Peter Gammons over 23 years ago about another young outfielder – Bo Jackson.  Then Boston Red Sox manager Joe Morgan uttered those superlatives about a 25-year-old Jackson who was entering his third full year in the big leagues and, to use Bill Simmons’ parlance, ready to “make the leap”.

 Hype has been around forever. Keith Law would have raved about David’s fastball before he slew Goliath if he’d been around back then. What we’re seeing with Harper isn’t new, there is just more of it.  Had Twitter, the Internet, and a baseball-focused channel existed when Jackson was making his mark, or when Ken Griffey, Jr. was a 19-year-old prodigy with a backwards hat we would have had to deal with the same stories.  Instead we had Sports Illustrated, the USA Today and This Week in Baseball (and we wore onions in our belts, which was the style at the time).

I’ve never understood not liking a player because of the hype surrounding a player, aka the Jeter Effect. If there is one player in the major leagues that is constantly named as the most overrated it is Jeter. Why? Let’s just say it wouldn’t happen if he was the Indians starting shortstop.  He’s a decent shortstop, not the best, not the worst. Yet, if you surf the Internet you’ll find pages and pages of rancor and misspellings detailing his failings. You would think that Jeter had personally insulted these critics just by picking up his glove.

As far as I know he never called himself the greatest, never wrote a column praising his own indefinable leadership qualities or voted lobbied to be inducted into the hall of fame.  All of this was done by the press, by folks trying to sell newspapers or page hits.  He just went out and played the game. Yet fans continue to say they hate him because he’s overrated.

Which brings us back to Harper. Hate him because he acts like a petulant child from time to time or because he wears eye black like he owns a charcoal powder company, but don’t hate him because Sports Illustrated lumped him in with Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Wayne Gretzky when he was only16-years-old. The same hype that allowed him to sign a $9.9 million, 5-year contract will also be a 2-ton shadow following him around for his career.

If “with great power comes great responsibility” then with great expectations comes great burden. No matter what Harper accomplishes on the field there will be some critics who steadfastly believe he could have done better. If he hits 700 home runs, someone will say he should have hit 701.  Lesser prospects don’t have that issue. If Christian Colon (drafted 3 sports after Harper) only averages 20 HR’s a year in his career no one is going to call him a bust, if Harper does someone will.

Matt Wieters went from “Mauer with Power” and “the Perfect Catcher” to one of Baseball Prospectus’ “Most Disappointing Prospects” before his 25thth birthday.  The Catching Jesus is now winning some of those accolades back as it appears he’s improving on his 2011 All-Star/Gold Glove season.  Will we see a similar wave of hype/derision/credit if Harper struggles early on? Probably, just magnified by a factor of 300.

Yeah, I own a couple of copies of this.

For some reason we’ve become a sports society that values potential more than actual production. What someone is actually doing on the playing field isn’t as important as what he could be doing. Because a scout or writer labels someone as “great” we expect him to be the minute he laces up his shoes.

Vincent Lecavalier has put together a very strong NHL career. More than likely he will finish his career with over 400 goals and 1000 points; in fact there is no reason to doubt that he won’t get to 500 goals. If he does he’ll be among the top 50 goal scorers of all time, yet it’ll still feel like his career fell short.  Why?  Because when he was drafted his owner billed him as the “Michael Jordan of hockey” and some felt he would be the next great offensive weapon in the NHL along with the hallowed names of Gretzky and Lemieux.

When he struggled out of the gate (because his early teams were horrible) some of the hype fell away and fans were quick to anoint Patrick Stefan or Marian Gaborik the next great sniper. Then he started scoring and the hype returned. Now, limited by injuries and the expectations of a $10 million a year contract the kudos have faded again. He’s discussed not as a player capable of scoring 25-30 goals a year, but as a contract liability.

 We get bored easy as fans. Even if you follow a team with a possible hall-of-famer on it fans are more concerened with the future. Who cares about James Shields rolling to 15 wins every year, how many will Matt Moore or Alex Cobb win in 2014? Everyone is in a rush to see if a prospect has “got it” or not.  So what if they are only 19 and have never been away from their childhood for more than a week at a time before.

Who cares about the legions of young pitchers who can throw 98 mph that have been burned out and blown out before their 25th birthday, let’s rush last year’s draft pick through the system as quick as possible.  Why waste time in Aberdeen or Fredrick when he can be standing on the mound in Camden Yards trying to strike out Jose Bautista with a good fastball and a change-up he learned two weeks ago? Who cares, it’ll sell tickets. And then when Bautista hits one off of the ivy we can all say, “Heh. I knew that bum was a bust. Now, this other kid, the one down in Single-A, he’s got the stuff. I can’t wait till they call him up.”

So here’s how am I dealing with the Harper Hype – I’m sitting it out. I’ll watch some of the games, maybe check out the highlights the next day, but I’m not changing my life to see how he does. I’ll read the papers and the SI articles but I’m not going to judge the kid’s abilities. I’m not going to call him a “bust” or a “stud” based on a handful of games.  I’m not going to value his doubles over anyone else’s doubles, they are no more or less tremendous than Wilson Betimet’s. 

I won’t write him off if he gets demoted to the minors, nor will I demand he’s named rookie of the year because he hits 15 home runs and doesn’t look like a fool against major league players. If he earns the praise, I’ll praise him (the most impressive part of his game so far has been his arm strength. A couple of throws have been down right  Ichiro-ian) and if he does something stupid I’ll comment on that.

A part of me hopes he does succeed. Watching a super-hyped prospect succeed is always more enjoyable than watching one fail.  Hopefully, he does do tremendous things in this game and 20 years from now I’m condemning people for calling some kid the “next Bryce Harper”.