Monday, February 24, 2020

The First Custom Card of the 2020s is...


....yeah, I know it's a self-indulgent pick, but...come on. One of the biggest signings of the offseason was a Yankee, and he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. AND I get an awesome photo of him early in the photo priming phase. How could I not?

2020 customs are officially here. All's right with the world.

What I'm doing this year, which I sort of started last year but the photo thing happened, is giving Spring Training customs their own design, separate from season customs, so if they end up having a good season I can make another 'actual' custom of these people, just so I don't waste their only custom of 2020 in spring training uniforms.

So, if Gerrit Cole's awesome as a Yankee, which he hopefully will be, you might see another custom of him later in the year.

I'm gonna start my two-a-day pace tomorrow, most likely, meaning...yes...I plan on outdoing last year's already-herculean total of customs.

Anyone Can Pitch: 2019

 That's right- I still have to post some of these.

In 2018, I did a recurring series called Anyone Can Pitch, where I documented examples of the growing trend of position players being brought in to pitch, and it went well enough that I decided to collect photos for it throughout 2019.

...but I was too lazy to MAKE any of these customs until last week.

Right. As 2020 customs are right around the corner, might as well finish off the last of the 2019 ones, so let's examine each of these, as well as how well they did on the mound.

Pablo Sandoval made a pitching appearance in 2018 as well, so this is not his first appearance in this subset, but his inning of work was a bit more well known this year, as it went with Pablo's scorching May and June in SF. Sandoval had a pretty immaculate frame, not allowing any hits or runs, but also letting the defense do most of the work. Hope he winds up doing another inning some time in 2020.

 Mike Brosseau was one of the many Rays rookies to grace the infield this year, and as impressive as he was at the plate, he was a little more refined on the mound. Brosseau, interestingly, had 3 appearances this year, averaging a 4.50 ERA while giving up 2 earned runs total. For the Rays, it's interesting having a guy like Brosseau as a potential two-way guy, especially considering the presence of Brendan McKay, a more pronounced two-way pitcher. Still, at least his ERA isn't too bloated.

 No, a more bloated ERA would belong to Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini, who came in for 2 appearances as a pitcher this year, additionally giving up 2 earned runs with a 9 ERA. Surprisingly, given the team's split records, both of these snakebitten appearances came at home.

 Similarly, Chris Davis, aka the single most useless player in the major leagues right now, took a break from batting under the Mendoza line and stinking up the Orioles lineup in order to take the mound early in the season against the Twins. Given the potency of the Twins' lineup, it shouldn't shock you that Crush allowed a home run himself. Said homer he allowed over the course of an inning of play is made even more pathetic by the fact that Chris averaged 105 innings in between hitting home runs this year. He finished the year with 9.

 Now, if you want a home-run hitter who can actually...HIT home runs, I direct you to Yankee first baseman Mike Ford, who allowed two himself, and 5 earned runs, during 2 innings on the mound. Ford finished his appearance with a 22.50 ERA. Take THAT, Luke Voit.

 These Anyone Can Pitch cards also give pictures of players who're just trying to get innings for teams that may not be their most well-known. Caleb Joseph, former Orioles catcher, was a backup for the Diamondbacks in April, and his playing time went so well that he found himself pitching to the person who took his job, Carson Kelly. In two appearances, one to Kelly and one to John Ryan Murphy, he faced four batters and allowed no hits or runs, which is all you can ask for from a position player pitching.

 Russell Martin being in this series was good, as I had a lot of photos of him to choose from on the mound, considering that he made four appearances over the course of the season. He only allowed 2 hits over the course of 13 batters, ANNNNND had two strikeouts, which is a pretty big deal not only for a position player, but for a guy who might be playing his final season (no one has signed him yet for 2020).
 As his role as an infielder in Boston continued to lessen, Eduardo Nunez found himself making his first pitching appearance last year, giving up one earned run in four batters, and earning a 9 ERA.

 Meanwhile, as he was in the midst of a come-up in Pittsburgh, Jose Osuna took time out from his solid bench work to pitch 2.1 innings over the course of the season, coming up with a relatively human ERA of 3.86, and giving up a few hits and an earned run. I was going to end this paragraph with a badly-worded Felipe Vazquez joke, but then I decided it'd be in poor taste.

 Onto happier pastures here- Gerardo Parra, deified in Washington along with the use of a truly annoying song for two-year-olds, also made a pitching appearance in 2019, though it didn't go especially well, as Parra allowed a run for each of the five batters he faced, leaving with an infinite ERA. Thankfully, things would get better for the Nationals.

 Another guy in likely his last season, Mark Reynolds distracted from his subpar hitting off the bench for the Rockies in order to try the mound again (it went alright in 2018). His 2018 numbers were way better, as Reynolds endured an 18 ERA, and 2 earned runs over an inning.

 Another Rays infielder trying his hand at pitching, Daniel Robertson had a frame IDENTICAL to a similar line of pitching from 2018. 1 inning, 3 batters, no earned runs. Only difference is he allowed a hit, but a double-play righted things.

 Before being traded midyear, Max Stassi was struggling at the plate as the backup catcher for those...formerly-lovable Astros. Also, let's face it, with a face like this, Stassi belongs as a goon in a James Cagney film.
Anyway, pitching. He did that. He faced one batter, got them out. This kind of stat won't be appearing at all in the future.
 Jared Walsh was brought up as a potential two-way successor to Shohei Ohtani and Kaleb Cowart. This being said, Walsh's five appearances bring a stat line that looks a lot like one you'd see from a  professional reliever- a 1.80 ERA, 5 strikeouts, and 3 hits over 23 batters. Not bad for a start.

Finally, Baltimore bench favorite Stevie Wilkerson also made some mound appearances in 2019, 4 to be exact. While Wilkerson was responsible for a strikeout AND a save (rare for Baltimore pitchers), he did balloon his ERA to 6.75 due to allowing 4 earned runs.

Already. That's all the 2019 content I've got. Soon enough, you will see some 2020 CUSTOMS ON THIS BLOG. SPRING TRAINING CUSTOMS. WOO-HOO.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Stars Are Out 2019: Everything Else

 Yeah, these are....VERY LATE, I know.

Look, let's be very honest, haven't been very good at the blog over the last few months. Or, years maybe. Lots of posts I need to write concerning anxiety and trading, and just my addiction to cards in general, but...I owe y'all some content.

I'll lampshade that I've recently begun collecting images for the 2020 baseball season of customs, right from spring training. Odds are, first custom of 2020 is gonna come very soon.

...which means all this stale 2019 content NEEDS to go. By any means necessary.

So we're knocking out the rest of the Stars Are Out project. These desperately need a redesign, as it's the new decade and I need to stretch some graphic design skills and find something knew for this to be without seeming amateur.

Worst team goes first, so here's HOFer Ed Reed at Camden Yards. Dude's a Ravens legend, a defensive superstar, and a face of a Super Bowl win. Not bad, Ed. Looks good here, too.

 Kal Penn left a job at a high-class FOX procedural in order to work for the Obama administration, and is one of the smartest media personalities out there, but odds are you know him best as Harold's bud Kumar. Kal's a Mets fan, because of course he is, and chucked one out in September.

 Yankee Stadium doesn't get many kitschy first pitches. Lot of BIG STRONG SPORTS STARS. Julius Randle, right after landing in Manhattan, got to throw one out for the Yanks with his kids, and then proceeded to be one of the few bright spots in a predictably dire Knicks lineup.

 Yep. Had to do a Big Papi.
Everything the guy's gone through since retiring, coming back from some violence last year, and he still returns to Fenway deified. Gotta love it. Sad he could throw this out in the playoffs, but the last game of the year had to do.

 Into the playoffs we go. Gotta be odd if you're the Rays, and you make the playoffs, and you wanna call upon the greats to throw out first pitches but you've only been around for 21 years. So you get people like Grant Balfour, who, while a pretty important Rays figure for a previous round of playoff appearances, is still an obscure get compared to some other people in this post. Still, Rays fans love Balfour, and what's not to love- a scrappy reliever from Oz who gets 'em looking. Liam Hendriks wishes.

The Braves were only in the playoffs for a week, but at least they had time to get PHIL NIEKRO to throw one out. Genuine Atlanta legend, and undoubtedly the greatest knuckleball pitcher of all time. Looks happy here, too.

 Cardinals got a few contemporary heroes out, including Jason Isringhausen AND Scott Rolen, who should be getting into Cooperstown one of these years. Seems to fit right in at Busch, like no time has passed.
Yep, a non-cheating Astros sports star. Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, who relishes the applause at Minute Maid, and is still as freakishly tall as ever. Glad they got him out there, wished it was for a more lawful team.

 We end on a Yankee, because it'd be weird if I didn't with this blog. Pettitte is still a loyal Yankee hero despite the diminishing returns on his Cooperstown ballots. Still did a lot of good stuff for us, deserves respect, of course he got some nice audience response from this first pitch. Wish said playoff series went a little better for us, though.

Tomorrow...the entirety of Anyone Can Pitch from 2019. Yeah.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Two Blasters of 2020 Topps Series 1

It's become as much of a tradition for me to scour the retail shelves on the day the new flagship is released and lament upon the lack of any new product to open than it is for me to eventually find a few boxes of it sitting hidden because WalMart doesn't know how to restock their card aisles.

I was literally about to leave WalMart in sadness when I found a the 2020 Topps stuff tucked into a corner next to the yu-gi-oh cards, just taunting me. This is the thanks I get for wasting precious gasoline on trekking to numerous big box stores on my off day three days ago and coming back empty-handed, without even finding a bottle of the only flavor of conditioner I like, and then testing fates and going to the one store I think will have the stuff, not finding any, and then going back to WalMart and thinking it's a similar situation? This is how you repay my blind consumerism and baseless addiction?

...anyway here's some cards.

Blaster #1-
Guaranteed Rookie Logo Medallion Card: Ernie Banks, 54T. Very nice

Pack 1-
46- GARY SANCHEZ. A YANKEE IS MY FIRST CARD OF THE YEAR. I DID IT. I BEAT THE ODDS. I- okay, I'm not gonna be manic this whole post, let's calm down.
150- Ronald Acuña Juña. Glad this guy's the real deal
210- Mitch Garver
331- Kevin McCarthy
114- Ildemaro Vargas, who may be a bit strapped for playing time this year in AZ.
165- Matt Boyd
47- Dansby Swanson. Very cool action shot
10- Austin Meadows. I've decided that I do like the sideways shots overall, even though they illuminate the fact that this design rotated 90 degrees is just the 2018 design. Other than that, I'm fine with the design this year, even if it's not as good as 2019's.
83- Yankees team card.
87- Cardinals team card. Good and evil, back to back. Also, the team cards are just group shots and no longer sweeping stadium shots, which is definitely a move
CHROME Turkey Red of Charlie Morton. I am very happy Turkey Red is back, and even happier that they're seeded so generously
Turkey Red of Jose Ramirez. Might be chasing a bunch of these this year. They're hella fun.
296- Whit Merrifield
12- Sam Hilliard

Pack 2-
328- Chris Davis. I can name 10 Rangers who deserved a card over another one for the sub-.200 hero. WATCH I'MMA DO IT- Gallo, Choo, Pence, Minor, Lynn, KLUBER, Odor, Andrus, Mazara, RENDON. There. Eat it.
136- Amed Rosario
153- Andrew Cashner
332- Jacob de Grom. You ask me, this is the Met that should have been on the cover of the product
123- Seth Brown
24- Kenley Jansen
292- Gavin Lux, one of the few rookies I care about in this set.
31- Goodrum close call CL. Man, Niko Goodrum gets a checklist and the Rangers can't even get a non-rookie base card?
216- Scott Kingery. GREAT photo.
279- MASAHIRO TANAKA, in such a great dramatic shot.
2010s Decade's Best Teams of THE YANKEES. If they're the best team of the decade, why can't they get a ring? Answer- cause the Astros are cheaters.
Turkey Red of Ozzie Albies
135- Enrique Hernandez
130- Michael Chavis. We're still doing Future Stars, I guess?

Pack 3-
311- David Bote
59- Chris Archer
287- Jose Peraza. As awesome as this uniform is...OUTDATED CARD #1. YEP, I'M DOING THIS AGAIN. Peraza's on the Red Sox right now.
81- Ryan Yarbrough
42- Lewis Brinson. Another guy Topps keeps giving a chance rather than letting the Rangers have base cards.
242- Alex Young
268- Ian Desmond. I'll give the horizontal cards this- they're very good at letting photos that'd normally be truncated on a vertical breathe, and giving more depth into a simple shot
107- Luis Castillo. This one as well
91- Yolmer Sanchez. Outdated Card #2, he's now with the Giants
208- Zack Collins
228- Logan Allen GOLD #'D TO 2020. Man, the gold denotation on these cards is too minimalistic.
Turkey Red of Shohei Ohtani. Nice
41- Brian Anderson
189- Mike Moustakas. Outdated Card #3, now on the Reds.

Pack 4-
25- Kirby Yates
288- Jon Gray
133- Michael Brosseau. Pretty sure he goes by Mike, Topps
320- Austin Hedges
252- Aaron Hicks. VERY cool card.
5- JaCoby Jones
113- Matt Carpenter. Again, the photography is definitely improved over usual releases.
177- Craig Kimbrel. Yeah, they give him a horizontal to do his full hunched over pre-pitch pose. That's pretty great
27- Brewers TC
HOSKINS insert, because I got these at WalMart and they spoke right to my Philly-ness
85T insert of CAL RIPKEN. A guy who was ACTUALLY IN THE 85 SET. FINE THEN.
Turkey Red of Pete Alonso. Nice that I pulled this one instead of having to overpay for it at a show.
112- Max Stassi
358- Adrian Morejon

Pack 5-
323- Tyler White. Something something Rangers.
235- Dustin May rookie, so at least that's pretty nice
54- Hunter Dozier
70- Nico Hoerner, one of the other big rookies I was hoping for in this set
214- Trea Turner
139- Jose Quintana
68- JAMES PAXTON. Sucks he'll be out for a bit, but still a powerful Yankee weapon
160- Arenado/Yelich TC
61- Biggio/Bichette TC
327- Cavan Biggio. Nice timing there
Home Run Challenge of GIANCARLO STANTON.
Turkey Red of Rafael Devers
307- Daniel Palka
34- Ian Kinsler. Glad he got a sendoff card. Also, FULL STATS ON THE BACK, GUYS. WE GOT IT BACK.

Pack 6-
316- Justin Turner
225- Oscar Mercado
247- Garrett Cooper. Glad someone finally gave him a starting gig
326- Dylan Cease RC, another necessary find
318- Omar Narvaez. Outdated Card #4, now on the Brewers
109- Reese McGuire
52- Yasmani Grandal. LOT of catchers in this pack. Great shot here. Also, Outdated Card #5, now on the White Sox
291- Tyler Naquin
175- Lucas Giolito
207- Zac Gallen RC. As nice as this is, it's a shame Topps couldn't document Gallen's equally-stellar tenure on the Marlins
Decade of Dominance Die-Cut of ICHIRO. This, at least, is a nice insert
Turkey Red of Anthony Rendon, still on the Nats, so Outdated Card #6
60- Matt Barnes
144- Jake Arrieta, who better have a comeback year with the Phils this year.

Pack 7-
101- Brad Hand
322- Dario Agrazal. Outdated Card #7, now on the Tigers
197- Raisel Iglesias. I kind of love the zoom in on this one.
115- Matt Thaiss
99- Dan Vogelbach. Cool, fun picture here.
86- Hyun-Jin Ryu LEADERS
169- Jacob Waguespack
19- Angels TC
298- Hollywood Heroes TC
HOSKINS insert, flashing back to Players Weekend 2017
Turkey Red of Buster Posey, which is a nice one
63- Christian Vazquez
92- Blake Treinen. Outdated Card #8, now on the Dodgers

Box #2
Guaranteed Rookie Logo Medallon- Rhys Hoskins 2018T. A very Rhys-centric break, which I'm fine with

Will do highlights from here on out, as there's a few dupes in each pack because Topps sucks

Pack 1-
171- Kole Calhoun. Outdated Card #9, now on the D-Backs
110- Jesus Luzardo
349- Carlos Correa
36- Sean Doolittle in a VERY COOL closer shot.
176- Brandon Belt
Decade's Next insert of Rafael Devers
Turkey Red of GERRIT COLE. Outdated Card #10, now on the Yankees. However, this is a cool card, so I'll deal

Pack 2-
80- VERY COOL SHOT of Austin Barnes
273- Bryan Abreu
336- Miguel Cabrera
53- Pete Alonso Leaders. Card 53, because 53 homers. Not bad
137- Merrill Kelly
84- Ken Giles
305- Tyler Glasnow
HOSKINS insert. I'm still fine with these
Decade's Best Award Winners of Aaron Judge. I'm fine with the Judge love, but this is a lazy photo
Turkey Red of Cody Bellinger, which looks AWESOME

Pack 3-
217- Amir Garrett
321- Eduardo Rodriguez
163- Ryan Pressly. One of the best bullpen assets in the league
116- Daniel Murphy
66- Andrew Heaney
192- Yusei Kikuchi. I really hope he has a better sophomore season
324- Mike Soroka
315- Adam Frazier
184- Mychal Givens SHINY
Turkey Red of Charlie Blackmon

Pack 4-
9- Trent Grisham. Cool card, but outdated card #11, traded to San Diego
89- Kurt Suzuki. Tagging out a Phillie at the plate here, which is the 2nd most infuriating thing Zuk was documented doing last year.
200- Christian Yelich. Glad he got a hero card
251- AJ Puk rookie
71- Sandy Alcantara. Led the league in losses and still had a solid year. That's Miami for ya
201- Francisco Lindor
44- Tommy Edman. Sneaky little player right here.
102- Josh Phegley. Good to see we're embracing catcher's gear cards again
286- Blake Parker. One of the many Phillies that somehow didn't get updated cards last year
85T JD Martinez
Turkey Red of Eloy Jimenez

Pack 5-
57- A VERY COOL SHOT OF Travis Demeritte. That's how I want my rookie card to look.Detroit Stars uniform and everything
185- Johnny Cueto
124- Jose Berrios
215- Luke Jackson
21- Shane Greene, who looks good in a Braves uniform
55- Jose Martinez, Outdated Card #12, now on the Rays
231- Randal Grichuk. I wonder how much longer the Jays will need to keep him around until the youth movement is ready
343- Carson Kelly
HOSKINS insert
Home Run Challenge of 'rookie' Yordan Alvarez. Friggin Topps...
Turkey Red of Willson Contreras

Pack 6-
309- Robbie Grossman
259- Jaylin Davis RC. I'm so glad Topps is NAILING landscape shots again
301- MIKE TAUCHMAN.
299- David Price. Outdated C-...well, the deal technically hasn't gone through yet, and how could they have known, so this doesn't count
256- Roman Quinn in SUCH A COOL 80S THROWBACK
93- Alex Colome keeps the throwback train going
143- Christian Yelich Leaders
145- Paul Goldschmidt
263- JP Crawford looking great in the field
Topps Choice of Babe Ruth on the 1956 design. Not bad!
Turkey Red of ZACK GREINKE AS AN ASTRO. FINALLY

Pack 7-
206- Tommy Pham. Outdated Card #13, now on the Padres
11- Anthony Rendon Leaders. Outdated Card #14
222- Andrew Chafin
159- Jorge Soler. Still cannot believe he led the AL in homers.
257- Joey Lucchesi
243- Jeimer Candelario
69- Brendan McKay
334- Kevin Pillar. How has nobody signed him yet?
64- KYLE LEWIS RC. Very cool.
74- Bubba Starling RC
65- Indians TC GOLD NUMBERED TO 2020
Turkey Red of Justin Verlander. 3 Astros pitchers in Turkey Reds in one box. Good thing they weren't in on the cheating...

So, that's 2020 Series 1. It's...fine. Not as good as this years. Better inserts, better photography, but same general monotony to it. I'm definitely gonna get more, because I wanna chase the Turkey Reds, but it's...nothing TOO spectacular.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Mook Before You Leap


11 or so years of doing this blog, following baseball...I'm still so gullible.

The past week, I've been hearing rumors of the Red Sox trying to trade Mookie Betts to LA, and the whole time I'm just going '...yeah, RIGHT.' Like, from a logical standpoint, there's no way you trade your star player to a team with an unbeatable lineup. But from a financial standpoint, sometimes you have to do that sort of thing, and this is the second time in the past eight years the Sox have been forced to do something like this to clear payroll.

Now, last time...the Sox gave away Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. All 3 of them are currently out of baseball. Beckett has already been booted off the HOF ballot. With the exception of maybe A-Gon, none of them made huge impacts on the Dodgers.

So now we have this entire flurry of moves, and at the end of it, I'm gonna ask if it's any better than that firesafe deal that LA relieved Boston of in 2012.

So...the initial deal, which is pretty simple in itself, is Mookie Betts and David Price, two very large contracts, in exchange for Alex Verdugo. Betts for Verdugo alone works because there's no vacancy in the outfield, and they just take each other's place. Betts fits in pretty well with Bellinger and Pollock in that outfield, and Betts and Bellinger together is a pretty insane high-WAR combo. Also, having Betts alongside Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Max Muncy and Will Smith will make for a hella intimidating lineup in 2020.

Then there's the Price question. Since landing in Boston, Price has been hit and miss. On one hand, he's gotten a high of 17 wins and 228 strikeouts, but on the other, his 3.84 ERA is his highest team ERA. Either Price is losing his luster, OR he's just not suited for Fenway, which is something we've been suspecting since that deal was made. Price in Dodger Stadium is an intriguing prospect, and it'll be nice to see what he has left in the tank. I do think it's a Josh Beckett situation where they'll use him late in the rotation and he'll have occasional sparks of his former self, but he could surprise the shit out of me and have a 20-game year.

And then Verdugo in Boston is something that could definitely work. It's a little odd now because the youth movement has sort of grown up, and now fitting Verdugo, himself a product of a different youth movement, in there beside Benny and Bradley (unless they trade him too) might make for a interesting dynamic. I definitely think Verdugo will have a fuller, more fleshed out year now that he's not pushed into either starting or a bench role in the crowded Dodger climate. But again, what will he perform like outside of LA? Will he fit into this roster? I think the two team dynamics are very different.

After this, the deal got a little trickier, as a third team was added to the mix, and the Twins pitched in Brusdar Graterol to go to Boston in exchange for Kenta Maeda. Maeda in Minneapolis is interesting, as, again, there's a less crowded rotation picture, and Maeda could fit behind Berrios and Odo. However, you also have to think about Rich Hill, Randy Dobnak, Homer Bailey, Michael Pineda and Devin Smeltzer, all of whom want rotation spots. AND you have to remember that Maeda is the kind of guy who'll be pushed to the bullpen come September due to being the sole rotation asset to have an ERA over 4 or something like that. Hopefully he'll regain a bit of control in Minnesota?

Graterol in Boston works because Graterol is probably gonna compete for a rotation spot in Boston, now that there are so many, and because the Twins have been touting Graterol for the last few years.

AND THEN, the Dodgers decided to clear up the outfield picture a little by trading Joc Pederson to the Angels in exchange for Luis Rengifo. Both pieces of this deal are gonna be crucial, by the way, so it's kinda funny that this aspect has kinda been minimized,

So, Pederson in Anaheim means he'll be essentially taking Kole Calhoun's place, and sharing an outfield with Justin Upton, Mike Trout, and occasionally Brian Goodwin. Trout-Pederson-Upton is actually a pretty great outfield, and if all three hit over 30 homers in 2020, that'll be insane for the Angels. Pederson seems to be finding his way again after a few middling seasons, and had career highs in homers (36) and average (.249). Maybe he keeps the momentum going as a starter in Anaheim.

Rengifo, meanwhile, is another interesting piece of the Dodger infield picture. Rengifo is a factor at 2nd base and shortstop, and clearly is a rival for Chris Taylor at both of those positions. He's also a rival to Enrique Hernandez, whose average has been flighty ever since getting the starting job. Rengifo is going to jumpstart a bloodthirsty Spring Training battle for those positions. It might end kind of bloody- I'm predicting that Chris Taylor might not be a Dodger for much longer after the dust settles. That or Rengifo gets waived or demoted. But it's gonna make things interesting.

At the end of this, I honestly do think it's bigger than the 2012 deal. The 2012 deal was simply 'we have the payroll, we'll take 'em', and then fitting them into a preexisting picture. Now, the Dodgers are reforming their entire team around this deal, getting rid of Kenta Maeda, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo to make way for Price and Betts, which is a pretty big statement.

A very huge move by LA. I'm interested to see the ramifications of this throughout the year.

Friday, January 31, 2020

What To Do When Your Sentimental Favorite Retires


So...tough day so far.

It's not like I didn't see Curtis Granderson's retirement coming. I mean, after last season, it was kind of inevitable, and the Marlins were basically keeping him around for the mythology rather than the talent. But either way, logging onto ESPN today and seeing that Grandy had finally hung up his cleats...hurt.

I have no idea why Granderson, of all people, spoke to me, but something about his Yankees era, especially his 41-homer 2011, just made me happy to have him around. My dad always worried that his status as a slap-hitter and strikeout-prone batter would doom him to a shorter shelf life, but even if that was the case, I welcomed every moment of his tenure in the Bronx, especially during the postseason, where he averaged .232 as a Yankee, bolstered by his insane numbers in the 2010 postseason. Also, it helped that Topps made a ton of cards of him as a Yankee, and I stockpiled as many of them as possible.

Like other players I've rooted for, changing teams didn't exactly hurt the overall legend for me. It helps that I don't hate the Mets as much as most Philly residents do, but seeing him continue his hard-hitting ways in Queens also helped, and I did get to see him play at Citifield in 2015, where he proceeded to reward my fandom by knocking a homer off of Shawn Kelley. In a game where Syndergaard had a no-no into the 7th, seeing Grandy have the best day of anybody in the Mets lineup was definitely a pick-me up. It was even cooler seeing him in the World Series that year, and seeing him knock 3 homers over the 5 games.

Granderson bopped around a bit for his last few seasons, joining postseason efforts in LA and Milwaukee, neither of which amounted to a Topps card (rrrrrrgh), but my fondest memory of his waning years was, again, one I was present for, in 2018. During a game in Toronto, the novelty of Grandy wearing a Jays jersey wore off quickly, as he proceeded to go 4-for-5 against the Orioles, including a home run, and SIX RBIs. It was almost as if he knew I was there, and he knew I'd be wanting him to do something awesome. In addition to the Yankees #14 jersey, I also have a Jays #18 shirt, and I plan on wearing one of them tonight.

The coolest part about Curtis Granderson is the nationwide respect that pretty much everyone has for him. He's a humanitarian on and off the field, having won the Clemente award in 2016. He's also one of those genuinely humble baseball presences who people just want to have on the team. Last year, he may have struggled to hit above .200, but no one dared send him down. Just having him on a young-leaning team, spitting out nuggets of goodwill was enough for Don Mattingly.

I'm gonna miss seeing Granderson play, and I'm gonna miss seeing him on cards. I realize that there's a slim chance of him making the Baseball Hall of Fame in 6 years, but he'll definitely stay in my binders as long as I collect.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Uncut Gems, and Sports Movies Exploring the Inverse of Fandom

It is 2012, and I am madly in love with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Call me a bandwagoner, call me frustrated with the Phillies and Flyers, but the Sixers are stronger than they've been in years, they're worth more than the cheap tickets, and they finally have a strong core with Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Elton Brand and, of course, JRUUUUUUUE Holaday.

Therefore, the 2012 Eastern Semis against the Boston Celtics was a very big one in my house. The team that snuck into the series vs. the big bads, led by Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. For the first, and arguably only, time, I followed this series very closely, watching full games and growing impressed with my team for hanging in there for seven games.

And then Game 7 happened, and Garnett came alive, Rondo had his moment in the spotlight, and the 76ers lose by ten points. It was a crushing defeat, because this team had given me the illusion that winning was a possibility, especially against the unstoppable Celtics. From this perspective, the perspective of a war-weathered Philadelphia sports fan who'd already seen the Flyers and Eagles fail at a national level to this point, and was about to lose the Phillies into the abyss again, the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Semis evokes only the emotion of crushing defeat, anguish, and disappointment.

Now what if you were to frame that series from the opposite direction. What if you were made to want the Celtics to win, and not only win, but win BIG?

This is the question that the Safdie Brothers' insanely engaging film Uncut Gems asks. Okay, granted...Uncut Gems asks a lot of questions, and a lot of the film is about some really messed up interpersonal things that have nothing to do with sports. It's really just a drama about a single person going further and further down the rabbit hole, and it's hard to recommend to a group of people who write feel-good posts about baseball cards.

But the movie is technically a sports movie, because it's kinda about sports betting. Since it is 2020, and sports betting is now legal, ubiquitous and over-heralded, it makes sense that there can be a movie about sports betting, and about people getting so tied up in interpersonal transactions and putting his hands in every single pocket, and vice versa, that extreme sports betting is the only way he gets satisfaction. And it's a very alarming portrayal of sports betting, especially in the statement the film's ending makes.

But...the film is centered around the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Semis. Celtics-Sixers. And Kevin Garnett is a major character in this film, because his entire wellbeing is tied to a rare Ethiopian gem that our central Adam Sandler gem guy is going to sell to him. It's very cool just having KG moseying around the film as himself, and he's great in it.

But...the climax of the film is Game 7. And because Sandler's character has put a large bet on the Celtics, and KG, and because the entire movie revolves around this bet saving our hero...as we watch this game in the film...I had to root for the Celtics.

The movie Uncut Gems was so good...that I found myself cheering every time the Celtics scored a point in this movie. About a game from 8 years ago whose outcome made me want to kill Rajon Rondo.

I find it very revolutionary that a movie can do this, take a game you remember from your childhood and make you learn to see it from the other perspective. And it's not like Uncut Gems was the first to do this. Moneyball was about a season where the goal was to beat the Yankees, a team that ousted them a year prior, and seeing the 2002 season like the A'S were the most heartbreaking playoff departure was odd.

I do think it's very interesting that sports films, and filmmaking in general, can make the viewer have a vested interest in whatever central figure or team is depicted, regardless of whether or not said central figure correlates or is contradicted by the viewer's pre-existing bias. Cubs fans must still get sad at Eight Men Out. Giants fans must still cheer at Jackie's climactic hit in 42. Hell, even Mariners fans can get behind being the villains in Little Big League.

There's something to be said about good sports filmmaking then. You can even root that back to NFL Films, a company that knows how to give any team an inspirational story and let any fan, regardless of bias, root for them over the course of the film. There's a reason Steve Sabol just got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sometimes you have to tell a story a certain way in order to win the viewership of countless people.

Anyway. Just my two cents about a sports movie that's only barely about sports. As you were.