Thursday, August 30, 2007

1981 Topps Tournament -- Round of 16, Match 3

Seed #3 Ellis Valentine (#445)

Ellis Valentine is sporting some sort of device of which I have no prior knowledge. It looks like some sort of NFL placekicker face guard, but half of it has been removed. It also seems like it could be some sort of Super Sipper contraption. I'm not sure what the beverage of choice was in Montreal circa 1981, but it seems like Mr. Valentine has unlimited access to a refreshing liquid delight, even while at bat.
Going back to the half facemask thing, it reminds me of all of the half stuff that Willy Wonka had in his office at the end of the movie where he briefly led Charlie to believe that he lost the contest for stealing Fizzy Lifting Drink: the half clock, half cup of coffee, half safe that could just be reached into from the side... "Good Day, sir!!!"


Seed #14 Milt Wilcox (#658)

It's late and all I have to say about Milt is that the high placement of his cap indicates the presence of an extra large brain pan. Apparently, when questioned about his hat height during Spring Training, Wilcox reportedly originated the phrase, "That's just how I roll." If I recall correctly, Wilcox grew a sweet mustache by 1986 at the latest. So what's under the hat? I'd like to hear some conjecture.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

1981 Topps Tournament -- Round of 16, Match 2

Let me start today's matchup by referring any new readers to my August 28 posting, wherein the rules of the 1981 Topps Tournament are explained. Keep in mind that you can post a vote on any head-to-head competition before the current round is over. That way, if you miss a day you can always go back and vote for the best card.

Seed #2 Dennis Eckersley (#620)

Dennis, you are a stud. Not only did you pitch 17 complete games in 1979, but you also achieved a hairstyle young girls all over this great nation can only dream of. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Carl Yastrzemski refused to talk to you in the locker room. Well done, sweet, valiant prince.

Seed #15 Joe Strain (#361)

"Creepy" is the first word that comes to mind with this card. While I'm sure that Strain was a nice guy, well-regarded by his teammates, kept things on an even keel...there's just something about the look on his face that screams "child molester." I'll keep my fingers crossed that he never cruised the neighborhoods of San Francisco with a bag of lollipops and Barbie dolls on the front passenger seat. After all, a guy who can be similarly compared to other batters with names like "Spook Jacobs" and "Pee-Wee Wanninger" on can't be all bad, right?

Alright, let's hear your verdict!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

1981 Topps Tournament -- Round of 16, Match 1

The purpose of this blog over the next couple of weeks or so will be to allow my readers to determine the single greatest card of the 1981 Topps set. Not too long ago I acquired a huge lot of 1981 Topps baseball cards. The lot in question was about 50 cards or so shy of the full set, so I've been spending part of this summer trying to complete it. While not new to the set, I must say that I had no idea of its spectacularness. When I was very young, I "owned" several of these cards. In the mid-'70s and early-'80s my mom would buy a couple of packs of cards a year to "get Brewers." While there were a few gems in the bunch (Winfield rookie, Mike Schmidt 2nd year, George Brett 1984 Nestle/Topps) most were junk. However, this was junk that had etched itself upon my young memory. While assembling this set, I recognized the faces of California Angel Joe Rudi, 1980 A.L. Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau, and N.L. All Star Johnny Bench. Then, of course, new faces of beloved and unfamiliar players alike started to emerge, poses and expressions, glasses and haircuts, uniforms and moustaches that became icons of their time.

Enough of the backstory, let's get started. Each day (hopefully) I will post a matchup between two cards that you, the readers, will vote on. I'm asking you to choose the superior card, based not on worth, rookie status, or Hall of Fame membership. No, I'm asking you to let the reptilian part of your brain take over as you judge each card based on the visual image alone. You will not find, for example, any Rickey Henderson cards in this 16-card showdown. Nor will there be a matchup between the rookie cards of Mookie Wilson and Harold Baines. These cards are not worthy of this competition. Based on looks alone, leave a comment with the name of your preferred victor. Votes will be accepted and tabulated until the end of the current round. All 16 participants have already been selected through the use of a painstaking process of elimination, so don't bother making any suggestions. All cards are seeded from #1 to #16, and matchups will take place according to a process similar to each of the four regionals in the NCAA basketball tournament. Upsets, should they occur, will not alter the matchup schedule. For example, should #1 defeat #16 and #15 defeats #2, #1 will still play the winner of the #8/9 matchup. I'd like as many people as possible to vote on this, so tell your friends and relatives!

Alright, let's get started:
Seed #1 Jack Clark (#30)

Holy Living Fuck! I had no idea Jack Clark let his eyebrows get this much out of hand. Based on his late-1980s cards, I suppose a group of teammates must have taken Clark aside and let him know that he was ruining their game when it came time to hit the clubs. Although, there are Cardinals cards of Clark that show similar thistle, though not to this extreme.


Seed #16 Mike Norris (#55)

Crane your neck at a slight angle to the left to get the full effect of this card. The foreshortening of his leg makes it look like Norris used the fabled "splitz" pitching delivery. Spectacular photo.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

1987 Topps Archive #2

1987 Topps #384 Johnny Grubb

This card...well, not this EXACT card, but one of the many that have come before it...has played a big part in my journey as a collector.

Let me set the scene. I had arrived at the age when I was deemed by my parents responsible enough to be left in charge of my brother and sister (whom I am five and three years older than, respectively) while they were away for one of the first times. It must have been summer, since there was a large orange-paneled box fan running in our living room. Knowing this was our chance to get away with doing something stupid, the three of us decided to experiment with baseball cards in relation to the fan. Our evil scheme (of which I was certainly the mastermind) involved inserting the cards into the fan while it was running. I suppose we had visions of one of those game show prize vaults where they lock a person into a transparent box roughly the size of a telephone booth and blow air into it to create a tempest of U.S. currency of varying denominations, only substituting the dollars with doubles.

What transpired couldn't have been further from this ideal.

Several obstacles stood in the way of our dream scenario, the first being that there was no way a whole, unaltered, mint condition card was going to fit through the protective grate of the fan. While typical card width is 2 1/2 inches, the slots in the fan maxed out at an inch, inch-and-a-half tops. Did we let this stand in our way, though? Never! The commitment to the plan was too strong. We were going to find a way. Sure, there were naysayers, but that group of kids who rescued their dads in the movie "Russkies" had their detractors as well ("We're going into North Korea, not North Dakota!"), but they didn't let that stop them, and neither were we. All we needed was a guinea pig.

My collection of cards at this point in my life was not huge. They were kept in a single Etonic shoebox, further protected within that by...get this...Ziploc bags. The Ziplocs each held two team stacks, which may have held 20 cards apiece at this point. The only exception to this rule were my beloved Brewers cards. These cards deserved better than the baggie treatment, so they were kept inside of a rubbery plastic Ghostbusters pencil case that came from some fast food restaurant. Obviously I had not yet heard of Ultra Pro yet, so I took my Dad's storage suggestion. (This leaves me wondering about something. Since there were an even number of teams, one other team must have gotten its own Ziploc bag, but I can't for the life of me remember what team it was. Part of me thinks it was the Yankees, because my meticulously catalogued cards were arranged alphabetically, and by the end of the arrangement, the Yankees would have been the odd man out. The world may never know.)

The paragraph above is meant to illustrate the sacrifice I was willing to make in the name of tomfoolery. From out of this meager collection, there had to step forth a sacrificial lamb, a good, honest man who would take one for the team. No star would do. No manager either. And certainly not a Future Star (B.J. Surhoff was off the table). No, we needed someone anonymous, someone who would not be missed, someone with a name evoking grunt work, life in the trenches, an air a filth. That man was Johnny Grubb. Despite the fact that he sported a respectable lifetime .280 average, and probably wore a 1984 World Series ring, Grubb was asked to make the sacrifice of a lifetime.

While I'm not sure who did the ripping, let's just say it was me. Seconds after its selection, this Topps masterpiece was torn into four-to-eight pieces small enough to fit through the grate of the fan. Next came the moment we were all waiting for: insertion.

With steady fingers and bated breath, the pieces were sent into the fan, hoping to mingle with the spinning blades where they would be flung in all directions, creating a deluge of cardboard and stats, laced with a hint of bubblegum.

The pieces sunk to the bottom of the fan, where they stayed. Switching the setting to HI did nothing to change their final resting place. Deeply disappointed (and without any sort of exit strategy from this campaign), the three of us quickly moved onto other means of allaying our boredom. Upon their arrival, the parents struggled to make sense of the ripped up baseball card lying within the housing of the family box fan. The pieces were somehow removed at a later date, and a punishment was probably handed down (most likely removal of trip-to-the-drugstore privileges, thus denying me additional cardboard reserves).

The lesson: Any card can become a sacred object in the eye of the beholder. And DO NOT mess with 1987 Topps.

Any time I run across this card, the fan incident replays itself in my mind. This is why I'm a collector.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Great Facial Expression Contest of 2007

These two cards have found their way into my personal collection. Due to the bizarre facial expressions, a duel is in order.

2007 Topps Heritage Boone Logan #347


2007 Topps Allen & Ginter Torii Hunter #261

Let's break down the competitors:

First, there's Boone Logan. Boone's penetrating stare indicates that he's in some sort of a trance. Seconds after this picture was taken, his eyes most likely turned into alternating concentric black and white circles. Whatever master of mysticism induced the trance then had him climb the backstop net while meowing like a cat. Manager Ozzie Guillen was able to break the trance shortly before the start of 2007 spring training.

Second, we've got Torii Hunter. His portrait makes it look as if the game he was playing in was contested in three feet of water. Now, before you go and say to yourself, "That doesn't make any sense," stop to consider the strong possibility that a lobster had clamped onto Hunter's below-the-belt junk right at the apex of his follow through. This prognostication may not be too far off, since his facial expression indicates that this may be what hapened. You be the judge.

What I'm now looking for is an impartial jury to judge who the winner of this contest is. A simple "Logan" or "Hunter" in the comments will suffice, though additional insight would also be appreciated.

The winner will go on to face a very special Houston Astro from 1992 Topps for the All-Time Most Insane Baseball Card Face.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dead Giveaways

A couple of weeks ago I left the friendly confines of Milwaukee's Miller Park to see the Brewers play the Reds in Cincinnati. The atmosphere there was really generic, there were smokestacks in the outfield, and the scoreboard was impossible to see from our left field seats. Yet, something during the Brewers' loss to the pathetic Reds stood out: A few bars of music repeated at semi-regular intervals that made my testosterone levels drop drastically. "Doo-doo-DOO-doo doo-DOO-DOO-DOO, Doo-doo-DOO-doo doo-DOO-DOOOOOOOOOOOO-DOO."

Now, I realize that not all baseball entrance music can be as exciting and fist-pumping as Francisco Cordero's "Click Click Boom!" but...honestly...I think my adrenal glands strated to run in reverse whenever Ryan Freel came to bat. That's right, his at bat music was "Tom's Diner." What's next, Vladimir Guerrero copmes up to bat and Lisa Loeb's "Stay" starts to blare over the loudspeakers?

To me, the Freel situation brought to mind the scene during "The 40-Year-Old Virgin":
"You know how I know you're gay? Your at bat music is 'Tom's Diner' by Suzanne Vega."

Not that Freel is gay, but I think it would be nice if his teammates would stage an intervention in the clubhouse, maybe take his to Best Buy to select something a little tougher.