Friday, January 30, 2015

The Warrior

I was very fortunate to be able to add a great autographed baseball to my collection - Paul O'Neill!

I hated it when O'Neill and the Reds swept the Athletics in 1990. I was a huge fan of the Bash Brothers, Dave Stewart, Henderson and The Eck back then, so the National League's domination wasn't what I was hoping for.

In November of 1992, the Reds sent Paul to the Bombers in exchange for Roberto Kelly. He displaced Donnie Baseball as the #3 hitter and began contributing right away. He was having a fine season (as many of the Yanks were) in '94 when a strike ended the season, batting over .350 with 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI in only 103 games. The Yankees were 6.5 games ahead in the East when it all ended that season...dammit.

He'd go on to be a big part of the Dynasty and their four titles from 1996 through 2000. He went tot he All-Star game four times as a Yank and brought home the batting title during that shortened season in 1994. His send-off in Yankee Stadium at the end of Game 5 of the 2001 Series was something I'll never forget and his hard work in pinstripes over the years earned him the "Warrior" label from 'ol George.

So this ball is pretty sharp, right? I have a great friend who dated a very nice young lady a couple years back...her family happened to be good friends with the O'Neills. Knowing I was a Yankees fan, my buddy couldn't wait to tell me about the connection. And in return, I couldn't wait to ask him if he thought his girlfriend might be able to get a ROMLB into the Warrior's (or "Uncle Paul" as she knew him) hands on my behalf.

No shame in my game, I suppose. Never hurts to ask, though, and as luck would have it - he was happy to oblige me, she was happy to oblige him and Uncle Paul was happy to oblige her.

Job changes kept us apart for a couple of years and my friend's romance with the young lady from Ohio didn't last either. The timing was precarious but in the end, he left town to begin a new career in Chicago with this O'Neill baseball stuffed somewhere in his belongings. We joked about it from time to time, bantering back and forth in emails, texts and messages through our fantasy baseball league.

"Someday I'll get this baseball to you, my friend."

That day came last fall when the stars aligned for us to rendezvous in South Bend for a Notre Dame football game. Picking me up from O'Hare, we made our way into town for a festive reunion with other friends, old and new.

"Hey man, check out the glove compartment! Got something for you in there."

Good friends and baseball - it doesn't get any better than that! Mr. O'Neill was even kind enough to add the personal inscription, a real treat that I always enjoy.

A big heart-felt thank you to my good friend for going above and beyond the call of duty. Grateful for your time as well, Mr. O'Neill. To the young woman who connected us all - fare thee well, madame. You will always be a part of this story.

Welcome to my Yankees' Collection, Warrior!

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend, everybody -


Friday, January 16, 2015

2013 Topps Archives - Gary Gaetti Certified Autograph

This is a great example of the type of autograph cards that I referred to in my 'State of The Collection' post. Gary Gaetti isn't a particular player that I collect, nor am I a huge Minnesota Twins fan. I do LOVE the 1987 Topps set but I think it's a safe bet that I would have scooped up this card for a couple bucks regardless of the design.
Gaetti was one of those good, solid players that I can remember being aware of as a kid. He was pretty well known after his heroics with the Twins during the '87 post season, or at least known enough by me to be a player that I would set aside when rifling through freshly ripped packs. Gary Gaetti didn't elicit the traditional "YESSSSS!" that accompanied each Mattingly or McGwire that I discovered, but he was certainly treated with care and saved for potential trades with my friends.
"Well, I DO have this Gary Gaetti card..."
A quick review of Gaetti on the interwebs reveals some cool facts:
Nickname(s):          "G-Man", "Rat" and "Zorn"
Feat:                        1st player to hit two home runs in his first two post season at-bats  
Signed w/ Twins:    Two months after I was born
The '2 homers in first 2 ABs' record was tied by Evan Longoria in 2008. ZORN retired as the Home Run King of players who had homered in their first career at-bat. I wonder who holds that title now? Baseball historian/writer/statistician Bill James has cited RAT for two particularly unusual trends over his 19 year career: that his walk-rate never improved and that his rate of productivity decline was exceptionally low. Huh.
At any rate, this card is pretty sweet! As I mentioned, I love the '87 design. The vintage Twins logo looks great along with those wood-grain borders and the (Archives?) foil stamp in the upper right doesn't detract from the card as a whole. This card is in great shape with good centering, terrific edges and sharp corners. The best part in my opinion? Zorn's signature is beautifully slanted, legible and bold.  

I really want to dig out Rat's actual '87 card to compare any differences. I believe Topps has used a different image for this Archive version, but I'm just shooting from the hip with that claim. Here's the back:

His son Joseph would grow up to make a solid run at following in his Dad's footsteps but fell short of making it to the Show. No word on Jacob...notice the denotation of being tied for league leader with his 162 games played in 1984. I wonder how many players he's tied with?

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Mattingly Collection - 2002 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Bat Relic Card

There's nothing I enjoy more than a relic card for one of my Player Collections. I came across this Mattingly Sweet Spot for a little less than $10 and decided to - not buy it. Yes, in a rare feat of self-control, I recognized that this was probably a little too much to spend on another bat card of Donnie Baseball.
Don't get me wrong, I WANT THEM ALL. But Mattingly, for better and for worse, demands curiously high rates for any/all of his cards due to his loyal and passionate fans. So, often I find myself on the sidelines as I watch so many terrific-looking, higher-end releases go to good homes elsewhere. 
Fortunately, nobody else had their eye on this Hit Man because the card was re-listed at a discounted price of just over $5 - an amount I could happily accept! I like Upper Deck's design on this one, with emphasis evenly divided between the relic and a great follow-through image of Maatingly.

Yep, it's Don and the bat, no more, no less. It's a sharp card in person and is in really good shape. Sometime these relic cards that are listed on the cheap come with hidden dings near the relic or banged up corners and edges. For the most part, it's tough to get too upset over the condition of relic cards in my book. Which does beg the question, why? These are cards too, so why do I care so much less about their condition? Very interesting thought. If I had forked over $5 for a mid-90's Mattingly insert, for example, I would be disappointed if it showed up with dinged corners and crushed edges. Is this a normal double-standard for any you?

The back recycles a zoom-in on the front side's image with a standard accompanying relic card "CONGRATULATIONS!" statement.

I need to total up my Mattingly relic cards. I'm sure it's way less than what it needs to be right now.


At any rate, I'm pumped to add this one to my Mattingly Collection!

Thanks for reading!


Monday, January 12, 2015

My Hall of Fame Collection - Class of 2015

That's IT. I'm done - and I couldn't be happier.
I've let go of my anger surrounding the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
I love a friendly and logical debate regarding the admittance policies for our game's highest honor. Like most things in life, black and white fades into gray for a great many things - including the comparisons between baseball players throughout history. Statistics can be mixed with memories, feelings and perceptions. Some things can be measured while other aspects are completely subjective. And when you only allow these musings of a select few to determine a very real, quanitifiable and final outcome?
Controversy will always ensue.
Heck, I've even jumped into the ring with my own two cents. My views have changed since then, and I consider myself to be a fairly steady and consistent person when it comes to my beliefs and views on the world around me. This personal shift alone has been enough to slap me in the face and say, 'let it go.'
And let it go, I have.
Now, I look forward to each and every Hall of Fame announcement. I fill in my own fictitious ballot and relish the great conversations and debates on TV and radio while the BBWAA have their votes tallied. I get to relive all of my childhood memories involving each of the players, whether they are elected or not. That's a precious gift that isn't dependent on votes.
In fact, for the first time in 15 years, I get to shrug off some weight and stress that has encumbered me since I first began to hope for something that always seemed a little improbable. I can make peace with that failure of fruition and move on, focusing on the positives instead of the negatives or, worse, the 'could have's' and 'should have's'.
More on that in a later post. For now, I'd like to honor this year's class with a little help from the Ryan's Pitch Collection!
The Unit. Randy Johnson. Man, this guy was larger than life for a young collector and baseball fan like me. Heck, he was larger than life for most of the guys he played with! I had a good buddy when I was growing up that was also a great baseball player. In fact, he ended up playing in college and made a trip to the College World Series. A great guy - and he was HUGE, too! So, for awhile, we all called him the Unit.
I can remember watching John Kruk make us all laugh in the '93 All-Star Game when a fireball from Johnson flew errantly over Kruk's head.

Or who can forget when Johnson's old Expo teammate and lefty, Larry Walker, turned his helmet around backwards and took a pitch as a right-hander in the '97 All-Star Game?


Randy Johnson was a helluva pitcher, one of the finest I was lucky enough to watch pitch as a youngster, and is very deserving of his election. Oddly, Johnson (as well as the rest of this class) never held much power within the hobby and by power, I mean card "value." Yes, a truly relative term in so many ways, but you all know what I mean. His cards were never "hot" or considered the "must have" items among my friends. We knew who he was and how awesome he was...and yet, the cardboard appreciation just never carried over for The Unit.

I wonder why that is? Because he was an Expo/Mariner/D-Back, perhaps? Doesn't explain The Kid's place in the Hobby. Of course, pitchers were/are always, in most cases, treated differently than home run hitters. Especially in The Unit's time...

Anyways, I went digging through my old collection and came up with these two beauties. 1989 Donruss was a colorful treat back then and these black/blue/purple bruisers are an EXCELLENT example. The hallowed "Rated Rookie" logo still makes me smile today - I love it. And int his case, it works really well with the Expos' blue. Not a great picture of The Unit by any stretch, but I dig this card. Wouldn't you know, I didn't even find these two (now) HOF RC's in my rows (upon rows) of top-loaded "good" cards from my youth. Nope, no room for one of the fiercest pitchers of the day when you have guys like Chad Mattola, Tim Salmon and Brien Taylor to reserve top-loaders for. Yep, found these two Johnson rookie cards completely raw, in a little 200 or 300-ct box of random cards. No penny sleeve. Nothing.

But not any more.

I'm sorry, Randy. Please forgive me and step out into the light...

Next, we have John Smoltz. Loved Smoltz as a Braves fan, of course. He helped guide us through the early years of nearly-but-not-quite dynasty success after years of mediocrity in the 80's. Part of a rotation for the ages, Smoltzy now joins Glavine, Maddux and Bobby Cox as wonderfully nostalgic reminders of my sports-crazy youth.

It's been just as wonderful to listen to Smoltz call ball games for Fox this past season, too. By all accounts, he is a great human being. Charitable with his time for good causes, he is also an avid golfer - my second favorite sport. While my claim to fame is an ancient high school match-up with Bubba Watson, Smoltz is a very close friend with Tiger Woods. I was watching MLB Netowrk the other day and he stated that he's probably played around fifty rounds with Tiger since they became friends. Tiger has been quoted as saying that he believes Smoltz to be the finest golfer he's played with that is not on the PGA. Powerful compliment, right there.

I could go down the long list of accomplishments from Smoltz's career but I'll leave you with this little factoid: he plays the accordion, just like my grandfather did. Need I say more?

After digging through the archives, I found these two Upper Deck cards - which I find to be very, very nice-looking cards. Man, Upper Deck really blew our minds in 1989, didn't they?! Unlike The Unit, these two HOF RCs were respectfully tucked into weird looking, yellow-tinted top-loaders.


I don't know if I have any Pedro Martinez cards. Seriously, not a clue. I wish I did and I promise to be on the lookout for them when I conduct cardboard expeditions...but I make no promises. I can verify that there are no Pedro's in my rows of "top-loaded good players", but the fact that he's a Red Sox and not named Boggs, Yaz, Clemens, Greenwell, Fisk or Rice means that he very well might be drifting in the abyss of the dreaded COMMONS box!

Don't get me wrong, it would be great to discover some of his cards! I had the privilege of watching Pedro face Pettitte at Fenway back in '03. It was one of the finest pitching match-ups I've ever seen in person and extra special to witness in such a historic setting.

Doesn't hurt that the Yanks won, too.

Now, the Astros' KILLER B? That's a different story. I can vividly recall chasing down Biggio cards with gusto and relishing them in my collection. The Astros weren't my team but boy, were they fun to watch and collect! I can picture several in my head without even looking.

Here they are!

Oh my. Wait a second.....NO Biggio cards in the "top-loaded good players" section? This can't be!? Surely, I picked up some Biggio cards along the way. I remember the name. I remember the team...I remember...well, what exactly DO I remember? I know, let's check my alpabetized "Star Player Album"!

Here we are with Jorge George B-E-L-L..... next should be....Boggs?!

Seriously!? Do I not have ANY Biggio cards, RC or not? Have my memories betrayed me THAT much?

My friends, a serious excavation into the cardboard tar pits is in order after this deficient HOF post. No Pedro and no Biggio is both unbelievable and unacceptable. I'm not sure what I'm most upset with- my memory or my adolescent baseball card judgment calls.

This is an OUTRAGE!

I take it back - my anger is NOT gone when it comes to the MLB HOF. It is back with a fervor! This will not stand! This injustice will not STAND! I want Pedro and I want Biggio and I want...I want....I want to step back and smile and enjoy this moment. This is the kind of faux-anger I can handle. Cardboard anger will trump current-event anger every time, and in so many ways. I can actually DO SOMETHING about my lack of Biggio's and Pedro's.

I can't, on the other hand, do a darn thing about the BBWAA!

And you know what? I'm finally okay with that. Congratulations to this year's inductees! I look forward to the induction ceremony in July and what looks like some fun pursuit of (affordable, for once) HOF cardboard to plug holes in my collection in the coming months.

Let the hunt begin!

Thanks for reading -


Friday, January 9, 2015

1954 Bowman - #147 Joe DeMaestri and #19 Bobby Shantz

Joe DeMaestri and Bobby Shantz will always hold a special place in my collection. They were both very kind in their respective responses to my autograph requests, sending additional photographs and answering some of the questions I posed in my letters. I will forever be grateful for their generosity.
My interest in both players stems mostly from their time as Yankees, of course. But just as with most of these characters from the golden age, they each have some amazing stories. Whenever I have the chance to pick up cards for either of these guys, it becomes a very easy decision. I had just such an opportunity when these two '54 Bowman cards came up on a sales list.
DeMaestri found himself on the field for Mazeroski's home run in Game 7 of the 1960 Series. This was an epic moment lamented by Yankees fans but I find myself fascinated with the event itself. Joe only found his way into the game after Tony Kubek was struck in the head by a line drive in the 8th inning. Timing is everything, as they say.
"Froggy" began his career in '51 with the White Sox but had found his way to the Philadelphia in time for this '54 issue. The A's would venture west to Kansas City for the following season, where they would remain until the late 60's. Joe would leave in 1960 for the Yankees, a fateful trade that not only led to his view of Maz's shot from the field but facilitated the delivery of Roger Maris to New York.
1954 Bowman is a simple design and this particular card is playfully off-centered, but the coloring is really fantastic!    

Interestingly, the write-up on the back of the card cites a nickname of "Oats" for DeMaestri. He was a little tall for those days at six feet, so perhaps there was some kind of horse comparison? Bowman also cites a 'big player deal' that sent Oats from the Sox to the St. Louis Browns. A quick review of this trade shows:

Browns received: DeMaestri, Gordon Goldsberry, Dick Littlefield, Gus Niarhos, Jim Rivera

White Sox received: Sherm Lollar, Tim Upton, Al Widmar

Boy, if that batch of ballplayers doesn't scream for an internet research session, I don't know what does! I'm pretty sure I've seen a few of those guys in my collection before. In fact, I know I have! Yes, I recall blogging about Sherm after I picked up his '60 All-Star card for my Dad's set. I'll have to dig through some cards to see if I can connect some more cardboard dots - always a fun time!

In the meantime, here is the back of the card. A very logical layout that flows easily and provides a lot of solid information:

Check out that Presidential trivia question, folks! Now for Mr. Shantz...

Bobby Shantz had a fantastic career that spanned fifteen seasons of major league ball with seven clubs. He had his finest season with the A's in '52 when he claimed the AL MVP by going 24-7 with nearly 280 innings pitched. The Athletics finished in 4th place that season, enjoying their final winning season in Philadelphia. Shantz participated in the All-Star game at Shibe Park that year and notched a terrific line in the history books by striking out three NL sluggers in a row in the 5th inning: Whitey Lockman, Jackie Robinson and Stan Musial. His duel with Jackie plays a part in one of the items Mr. Shantz sent back to me in response to my TTM request. Have I shared that with you guys, yet? Definitely one of my favorite pieces.

Bobby was injured during the '53 campaign and endured a slow return to form, hurling only eight innings in 1954. That might account for the peaceful but tired look in Bobby's eyes on this Bowman card. Another simple portrait here and the centering is off top-to-bottom, but the edges/corners are AMAZING and the color is even better. There are no hints of a stadium to be had in this card as there was in DeMaestri's, but I kind of dig the field and wooded background. Looks like a warm spring day to me.

The back of the card describes everyone's hope for Bobby in 1954 and adds a curious "great little fielder" comment at the end. The reference to his stature was well deserved, as Mr. Shantz was only five and a half feet tall - but I view the great fielder portion of the comment with much curiosity and awe because it is quite prophetic. Shantz would go on to win eight CONSECUTIVE gold gloves in his career, an amazing feat! It's just incredible to me that he didn't win his first award until three seasons AFTER this Bowman card was issued.

Nice job, Bowman!

I'm excited to add these two cards to my collection. As I mentioned above, it's always a treat to add cards of players I've been able to interact with personally. I don't have very many 1954 Bowman cards but I might very well be approaching a full page now! Does this constitute an official set-build declaration? Hmmm...

Thanks for reading!