Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Yankees Collection - 1998 Topps Gold Label Roger Maris

I cam across this card of Roger Maris and had to have it for my collection. 

Roger has become one of my favorite players since I returned to collecting and baseball itself a few years ago. His "unsung hero" story strikes a chord with me and as I continue to read books about his career and life, he always comes across as just an all-around good guy.

This Gold Label issue from Topps is not one that I am familiar with, but I like the design. Colorful shots of Roger in his prime as a Yankee are always welcome, and the subdued colors of this card's foil construction enhance the view for me.   Here's the front of the card:



Connecting the dots between the "98 Home Run Race" and Maris' ownership of the single-season record until that summer (or despite it), the card mentions Roger's 61st long ball in 1961. As most of us know, he made history on the final day of the season - a campaign that became almost unbearable for Maris to endure as many baseball fans refused to believe that the legendary Babe Ruth could be dethroned. Even a certain portion of Yankee fans gave Roger a hard time, both for threatening the Babe and for never (in their minds) living up to their favorites like Mantle, Gehrig and DiMaggio. It was a heartbreaking situation in so many ways, and one that I truly believe can be seen in the eyes of Maris.

Here's the back of the card: 


I'm not sure what Topps meant with the "HR1 Black Label" stamp on the right-hand side? Perhaps there were 61 different versions of this card that could be collected? I love the fact that the card back gives us the name of Tracy Stallard, off of whom Maris knocked #61. This gives us a little bit extra in the way of detailing the epic achievement, a feat not often achieved.



Trace Stallard was hurling for the Red Sox in 1961, and has stated that he was having the best game he ever pitched that fateful day, until Maris took him deep in the 4th inning. When all was said and done, Tracy took the 1-0 loss with Maris' solo shot providing the only run of the day. Stallard recorded 5 K's, 5 hits and allowed the single run over seven innings of work.   It would be the only hit that Maris would record against Stallard in seven AB's. As luck would have it, his involvement in record has endured as his best-known association with the sport he played for a couple of decades, but Tracy has kept a positive outlook on things:

        "I'm glad he did it off me. Otherwise, I would never have been thought of again. 
That was about all I did, and I've had a good time with it." 

You have to admire that perspective! Interestingly, Tracy was traded to the upstart Mets in 1963 along with Pumpsie Green and Al Moran. He did enjoy some success but was involved in another amazing baseball feat in 1964, Jim Bunning's perfect game, an event that I wrote about in May of last year. Once again, Tracy was on the losing end of somebody else's 'best day'. Despite another downer for his personal story, perhaps Tracy can always come back with a wink and reminder that, through the tough days, he managed to date Julie Newmar while playing ball and living it up in New York for a few years.



Nicely done, Tracy.

And nicely done, Topps - I'm thrilled to add this Maris card to my Yankees Collection!

Thanks for reading!






Friday, June 20, 2014

My Yankees Collection - 2003 Upper Deck "Standing O" #54, Derek Jeter

Well, I always say that I am eager to explore cards of my favorite players and teams that I missed out on during my Hobby Ice Age....

FOUND ONE!

From 2003, here is a very unusual, very cool looking "Standing O" Jeter card from Upper Deck.   I have no idea if these were inserts in normal packs or special edition whatevers, but I knew I had to have this card as soon as I saw it!  


 It's in pretty good shape, though it does have some rounded corners.

Thanks, I'll be here ALL night......

The card is fairly simple, consisting of a background baseball image for the front.   The colors are great and the ball's seams pop nicely.   In front, we have a much younger-looking Captain, grasping a bat and looking....a bit confused.   Perhaps this was during his Mariah Carey years?

What does the back of a card like this look like?



OH, HECK YEAH!   We get a bonus for Ryan with a great Mattingly reference! And although it is slightly inaccurate (Mattingly officially announced and retired in January of '07, if I recall correctly), it is a WELCOME addition in the middle of this quick summary of Jeet's accomplishments.   32 STEALS!   Way to go, Derek.

Cool card and glad to add it to my collection.   Now....how to store it?

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My David Robertson Collection - 2012 Topps Gypsy Queen Mini Sepia Parallel, #27/99

How about this guy!

D-Rob is having a very quiet, successful season as the Yanks' closer.   He scared us all with an injury and short stint on the DL a few weeks ago.   I was almost sure that somehow his strained groin would translate into another Tommy John surgery.

Alas, Robertson returned and has gotten the job done in all nine of his save chances this season.   His numbers are solid too, if not dominant: 1.42 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, 17/2 K/BB ratio.   SWEET!   As we all know, the closer role is one of the toughest roles in baseball, especially in this day and age of zero forgiveness.   The expectation of impossible and unending perfection can be maddening, so for David to handle things so well after taking over for Mo......this has been a real treat so far.   It won't last forever, but I'll be cheering him on the whole way!

I started a Player Collection of Robertson a couple of years ago, and it has been a lot of fun to build.   His stack is quite a bit smaller than my other favorites, as relievers don't often get awarded as many card appearances as position players and the starting rotations.   So, when Robertson does appear on a card, I try to jump on it immediately!   

In 2012,  Robertson was coming off a terrific campaign that earned him a spot in the '11 All-Star game and really cemented the expectation that he would take over for Rivera when the time came.   This resulted in a few more cards being available, including a base card in the abbreviated 300 card Gypsy Queen set!   That is saying something....add to that the wide variety of size and colored parallels, and we have some great Robertson cards to chase down.  One of them was this mini-sepia variation:





The simple, vintage design didn't really do much for me in the normal versions of the base cards, but this sepia version is really cool and I am quickly becoming a sucker for tobacco-sized mini variations.   It has great contrast and comes off as a nice artistic rendering of "high-socks" Robertson in mid-delivery.   Pinstripes and all, this card is fantastic!

Let's flip it over:




Check out that card back!   #27 out of 99 makes me feel a tad lucky to have found a copy for my collection.   Aside from the very attractive (in my mind!) and vintage-feeling sepia color scheme, we have the sharp-looking foil serial numbers.....and a GREAT write-up.   How great?  

Well, Topps gives us a very juicy little tidbit about an exclusive group of pitchers to which David is a member.   I haven't fully vetted their statement yet, but as you can see, David is one of only three pitchers with at last 10 strikeouts per 9 IP in each of their first three seasons - along with Mark Prior (Cubs) and Troy Percival (Angels, Tigers, Cardinals and Rays).

After some quick research, though, I was able to find out that both Prior and Percival maintained their level of 10+ K's/9 IP for their first four seasons before dropping below the mark.   That's PRETTY impressive - until you take a look at Robertson's CURRENT streak (and record?!?!) of SIX seasons!   Yessir!   He also currently holds a 12.1K/9IP mark this season.   Will this be year #7 in a row?   Is my understanding of this record correct?

Let me check a few names real quick.   Beginning with heir first seasons in which they appeared, these famous pitchers averaged:

                                          Walter Johnson -     5.8, 5.6, 5.0
                                          Nolan Ryan -        18.0 (2 games), 8.9, 9.3
                                          Pedro Martinez -    9.0, 10.0, 8.8   
                                          Trevor Hoffman -   7.9, 6.6, 8.8

Wow. Some terrific perspective on David's accomplishment!   I was able to finally find some company for David.   I believe we can bid a tearful farewell to our friends Troy and Mark - there is clearly a new generation of arms in The Show, and here are some prime examples that include names I am sure we all recognize:

                                           Craig Kimbrel -      17.4, 14.8, 16.7, 13.2, 16.5 (in progress)
                                           Aroldis Chapman - 12.8, 12.8, 15.3, 15.8, 16.5 (in progress)
                                           Yu Darvish -          10.4, 11.9, 10.8

Hmmm.   What did I say about Tommy John surgeries?  I'm just saying.....at any rate, I'm very thankful to Topps for putting this stat on the back of this card.  It is something I hadn't considered and is definitely special - a stat that I can brag about whenever Robertson comes up in conversation.

Pumped to add this card to my David Robertson Collection!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Freddie Freeman Collection - 2012 Topps Tier One Relic #3/399

Here's one of the few relic cards I've been able to add to my Freddie collection over the past year or so.   It's a standard Tier One relic offering from Topps - a release that I truly don't have much access to beyond picking up singles in the after-market.



While the jersey swatch is a plain gray, the card itself is pleasantly designed and constructed with a nice, thick card stock.   The colors are bold and match up very well with Freddie's sleeves while contrasting sharply with the red and white of the home Braves uniform.   I believe all Tier 1 cards are numbered, and this one is #3 out of 399.   Nice low number, I suppose.   Here's the back:




I really like the write-up that Topps went with on this one.   We are denied enjoyable facts on most relic cards in exchange for the generic statement about authenticity and relic anonymity, "We have no idea what this piece of equipment was from....but we know it's legit."

This one is different, though, and.....perhaps this is a bonus feature of the pricey Tier 1 release?   Can anybody confirm?   Either way, we get to enjoy this one, which highlights the tumultuous tenures of Atlanta first basemen prior to Freeman's arrival.   It also draws a parallel between Freddie and the Baby Bull by citing their record-setting hit totals as first baseman who were 21 years of age or younger.   For the record, Cepeda notched 371 hits before his 22nd birthday.   Yo!?!

A welcome addition to my Freddie Freeman Collection!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Yankees Collection - 1964 Topps #259 Harry Bright

Slowly but surely I have amassed a healthy sampling of 1964 Yankees.   Undoubtedly, I am chasing down the complete team set - if not the entire thing.   I am well on my way with at least 15 cards in the bag.   How's that for some collecting optimism?

Here we have Mr. Harry Bright.   If I'm being honest, I had never heard of Mr. Bright until I picked up this card for a couple of bucks.   It was a vintage baseball card and it was a Yankees vintage card at that - so this was a no-brainer for me, regardless of whose card ti actually was.

First off, the card is really beautiful.   The colors are vibrant with great clarity and focus, no creases and some solid centering.   The corners are even fairly sharp if but for some typical slight rounding from its half a century of existence.   I haven't even been around for half a century yet and I know I have some rounding issues....

There's Yankee Stadium in the background!   Always a plus.   It looks like a fabulous sunny day in the Bronx even if Harry doesn't look so sure.   A batting cage is also present in the picture, with some unknown Bomber waiting patiently to take some rips before the big game.   I am sure it is the Mick.

But who is Mr. Harry Bright? 



The first clue we receive is the "inf-of" designation bestowed upon utility players in the days of yore.   To the back we go!



Ah, here we are.   Topps agrees with my appraisal of Harry's ability to be utilized by the Yanks and admits that he has, in fact, played all NINE positions throughout his career.

ALL NINE?

Indeed!   Bright started with a MUCH anticipated cup of coffee for the Pirates back in '58.   This was after twelve long years in the minors for four different organizations.   Harry clearly had a dream, and it was realized on July 25, 1958.   Along with more than thirty thousand fans at Forbes Field, Mr. Bright watched his team pound the visiting Giants for ten runs through eight innings of play.   Willie Mays swiped second base after a walk in the top of the first inning, and really only threatened to score once more in the seventh inning- when Orlando Cepeda stroked a single into right field, resulting in a throw to the plate that nailed Mays who was trying to score from second.

Yup. These two guys...but NOT on that day (card not in my collection)!


So, the game was in hand as San Francisco came up for their last chance in the final frame.   The  Bucs' third baseman, Frank Thomas, had enjoyed a busy afternoon going 2 for 5, including one of Pittsburgh's three triples that day.   I suppose he needed a breather and the rest was history - Manager Danny Murtaugh made the move and Harry ran out to play third base!

"Get in there, kid!"
The Giants went quietly in the ninth with one last-gasp single by Mays before Baby Bull struck out to end the game.   What a thrill that must have been for Harry!   He would go on to appear in 14 more games for the Pirates that season and even belted his first home run, a 2-run shot against the Reds, on August 9th.

Bright would appear sporadically in '59 and '60 before being sent to the Senators, with whom he had his most successful years.   In particular, Harry batted .273 with 17 HRS and 67 RBI in '62.   During the off-season, Bright was sent packing once again.   This time, he found himself in a Reds uniform for only one at-bat (a strikeout, unfortunately) before being sold to the.....Yankees!


He played the rest of the season with the Yankees and probably enjoyed being a part of the post-season runs of '61, '62 and '63 that we all know so well.   He would eventually get his shot at fame in the '63 Series against the Dodgers, when he was called upon in by Ralph Houk to pinch hit for the pitcher, Steve Hamilton.

Against Sandy Koufax, who needed ONE more strikeout to set a new, single-game World Series record.

In the bottom of the 9th, with two outs....in Game 1 of the World Series.

Joe Pepitone was on first and the Yanks were hoping to close the 5-2 gap.......reportedly, the hometown fans, aware of the historic ledge upon which Koufax stood, began cheering for the hurler to......strike out Harry.   Tough crowd, but Bright obliged them - going down swinging and becoming Sandy's 15th K on the day.

  

Harry Bright would actually get another shot in Game 2, entering the game as a pinch hitter in the 5th inning for pitcher, Al Downing.   The Yanks were down 3-0 at that point and I suppose Houk was hoping to both get some offense going and bring in a fresh arm for the 6th frame.   Unfortunately, Harry made it a 1-2-3 inning for Johnny Podres, who shutout the Yanks through one out in the 9th inning, by watching a called third strike zoom past him.   The Dodgers would go on to win the '63 Series by besting the Yanks in four straight games and Bob Gibson would break Koufax's mark



Like Bright's career, I finally found a subtle flaw that had eluded my initial appraisal of this terrific card.   There is a 'jammed' edge along the front's left side that you can clearly see above.   However, Harry and I probably share a common ability to enjoy the greatness of reality.   Though his brush with greatness was swift and cruel, he had realized his dream and would go on to close out his career as a professional, playing his final 27 games as a Cub in 1965.  



Similarly, this simple baseball card, a card of a player who was previously unknown to this fan, can now be carefully placed in my Yankees Collection.   It is not perfect but it is clearly special and comes complete with a great story.   Praised to be a valuable utility man and labeled as an "inf-of", in the end, Harry Bright was a part of history - the man who was Koufax's 15th strikeout.

And now, I'm proud to say that he is a part of my collection!

Thanks for reading and keep collecting.



Monday, June 9, 2014

My Hall of Fame Collection - 1961 Topps #141 Billy Williams Rookie Card

Billy Williams was one of the first legends of the game to respond to my Through-the-Mail (TTM) surge in 2007 and 2008.   I was reconnecting with the game back in those years, and while I wouldn't get back into cards or following current seasons until 2011, I was once again enchanted with the game's stories and history.   Specifically, I had started working with and befriended another fan who had enjoyed a lot of recent success with TTM requests.   He gladly shared mailing address information with me and I soon had a make-shift, cottage industry memorabilia pursuit factory running out of my office.

During breaks and after hours, of course!

Anyways, I organized a complete list of all living members of the Hall of Fame.   Working forward from the oldest, I began sending letters and cards and baseballs as frequently as my budget allowed (and often more frequently than that).   I would pick up Rawlings Official MLB's from the local sporting goods stores and send them off without a moment's pause....you see, I was always an optimist AND my wife and I were still enjoying the fruits of our DINK era.

(Sigh)

Sweet-Swinging Billy Williams was one of the first to respond and so he has always held a special place in my collection.   I'm not a Cubs fan, but with the combination of constant childhood WGN telecast exposure and my recent adoption of Anthony Rizzo as an official paisan....the Cubbies are right up there.   All this to say that I always try to pick up a Williams card when I can for my vintage collection.

Then I spotted this beauty for less than half the cost of blaster..... 


This card is gorgeous.   It was listed as GOOD/VG in its listing but I have a feeling it would grade out as a VG if that grading ever went down.   There is a hairline crease to the right of Billy's right hand.   It slants upward from left to right, ending where the edge of the photo meets the top of Wrigley's brick wall.   Hmmm.

No matter, this is a sweet copy of Billy's rookie card!   A Hall of Famer's rookie card!   These are few and far between for me, particularly when you start stretching back to the 60's.   The card itself is in great shape.   It presents very nicely with some excellent centering (a challenge for some '61s) and eye-popping color.   I know, the red and yellow standard that Topps decided to go with here does absolutely nothing in combination with the blue and white of Williams' uniform....but the color itself is nice and bright, which makes for an awesome vintage enjoying experience!   The corners aren't too bad, either.

The Star-Rookie logo is as simple as it gets, but it's perfectly placed in the top right corner.   IN fact, while action shots are always preferred over these posed nuances, the total outcome for the front of this card is fantastically balanced and suits my OCD-tendencies very nicely.   On top of everything is a great sneak peek at Wrigley Field in the background (I'm 99% certain....can anybody confirm?).   I'm sold!

Was the back mangled?



Let me know if you see something that I have missed (unless it's a fake....just let me go to my grave with that one), but the back looks just as sharp as the front!   Williams was a fairly tall fellow at 6'1" and, on an unrelated note, I had no idea there is a Whistler, Alabama.   I've been to a Whistler in Canada before, though.   It's a fabulous ski-resort town where did not skit one freaking bit!   It was a Valentine's Day getaway for me and Mrs. Ryan's Pitch after I returned from deployment back in....oh, it had to be 2004?   My God, 10 years.   She wasn't even 'Mrs.' yet.....but that trip was some of my finest campaigning!

Sorry.

As we can see, Billy's debut in Chicago for 18 games during the '59 campaign was quite the tepid cup of coffee.   He returned again in '60 for a nice showing, slugging 2 long balls and batting .277 over 47 plate appearances.   This was more in line with the domination he had displayed in the farm system, as you can see in both his stat line with Houston along with the always welcomed card back cartoon!

This back is well-centered, too and doesn't show any staining or discolorations that I can see.   Beautiful.

You just can't go wrong with a vintage card, that is a rookie card, that is in decent condition, that is of a player who is now in the Hall of Fame, for less than ten bucks.   You just can't.

Welcome to my Hall of Fame Collection, Sweet-Swinging Billy!   Mighty glad to have you home!

Thanks for reading and KEEP COLLECTING!

Friday, June 6, 2014

My Mattingly Collection - 1995 Donruss Diamond Kings #4758/10,000

I've been trying to put forth a little more effort (and a little more hobby fundage) towards my Mattingly collection lately.   It's a lot easier for me to chase and seek out newer cards for my modern day player PC's (Kimbrel, Freeman, Robertson and Rizzo).   Their cards fall into my current collecting period and deal in terms, brands and sets that I can understand.

Mattingly cards that I require for my collection (which yes, include any and all Mattingly cards.....ever!) do include modern release issues, but a lot of these are highly priced autographs, relic cards and parallels.   The bulk of missing Mattingly cards, for me, completely span the 15+ year Hobby Ice Age that I unknowingly suffered through from about 1993 until 2011.   A quick glance through a Beckett for these years is enough to make my head spin.   There were so many brands and sets and inserts and....God only know what else produced during these years that included Donnie Baseball!   I know that I will never conquer them all, but I aim to make a pretty good dent whenever I can.

Just such an opportunity came up for me when I was able to snag this '95 Diamond King for less than $5.   Coming during the preface of my Hobby Ice Age, the Diamond King insert is definitely something I am familiar with.   DK's were a frequent pull for us back in the day and, unfortunately, reached a saturation point where they elicited minimal excitement from us whipper-snappers.

It looks like Donruss stepped up their DK game after I checked out:   



A basic design for an incredible rendering of The Hit Man from Mr. Perez. I love this card and it even appears to be in pretty good shape.  I'm not quite so sure how production quality rated back in '95, but the centering on a card like this is key due to the very discernible (and comparable) borders.   Fortunately, it looks like we're good to go with these golden beauties - looking good, Donnie!

Here's the back:




AH!   It's even numbered!   The extremely high production for this "limited edition" card gives me a little chuckle when compared to modern day serialized statistics - I'm sure it does for most of you, too.   That being said, it does add a little dose of 'special' to an already impressive card.   I'm glad they added another nice color shot of Mattingly on the back in those wonderful home pinstripes.

The write-up on this DK is superb.   While Mattingly's career highlights are easily summed up in '84, '85 and '95 for sportswriters, I feel like Donruss pays some wonderfully balanced homage to Mattingly's value as a Yankee and one of the game's best for more than a decade.   Every time I read about his ill-fated postseason debut in '95, I can still feel the bitter-sweet joy of childhood dreams born and destroyed within a matter of months....to be followed by huge "what-if's" the following October.

But for now, I digress.   What a great card to add to my Mattingly Collection!   I hope to be adding more as often as possible.

Thanks for reading and keep collecting!

Ryan