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 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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

My Unofficial 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot

Tough ballot, this year.

I mean, last few years I've wanted to write posts like these in advance because I've been eager to cover the umpteen nominees added to the ballot, because so many players from my youth are immediately worthy of HOF nomination. In working on this, there was maybe one name that was a lock, and a bunch more than I put on here to use up space.

There are six names on my unofficial ballot this year. I understand you can go up to ten. I don't think I could find 4 other guys that were HOF worthy on here. There are players I adore, like Soriano, Cliff Lee, Konerko and Raul Ibanez, but they're not Hall of Famers. And then there are players with great stats who are either A.) steroid abusers like Bonds and Clemens, or B.) pieces of human garbage like Kent and Schilling. A lot of people on here just don't fit for me, and I say this after Ted Simmons gained entry despite me not really thinking he was worthy.

But, nevertheless, here's my hastily-minimized 2020 Hall of Fame ballot.

Bobby Abreu:
Like last year, diciest call goes first. It surprised me that Abreu had the 2nd-highest career WAR of any newcomer to the ballot. So I looked further and, as it turns out, aside from being a fun little player, Bobby Abreu is a pretty formidable statistical athlete, sort of in the same way that a seemingly one-sided player like Mike Mussina twisted so many stats last year. Over 8.5 seasons in Philadelphia, Abreu averaged a 5.7 WAR. From 1998 to 2009, Abreu topped 150 hits every season. Abreu topped 100 RBIs 8 times without striking out over 150. Abreu also is third on the ballot in stolen bases, behind only Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel. Bottom line is that despite his career tail-off post-2009, Abreu is the second-most qualified player on the ballot among newbies, and is one of the few people who seem likely to stay on the ballot into next year. Not sure how well he'll do on this year's ballot, but he's definitely a more complex player than people give him credit for.
Team of Induction: Philadelphia Phillies
Odds of 2020 Induction: 10 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 8 to 1

Derek Jeter
I don't think I have a great deal to explain here, but still, let's go over some basics: 3000 hits, including league-leading numbers in two seasons, one of which he held when he was 38. Career .310 average and .817 OPS. Career 72.4 WAR, which was cool til Trout skipped over it. 5 World Series rings, 14 ASG appearances, a WS MVP, and the love and respect of every Yankee fan. He's in. It's a fact.
Team of Induction: New York Yankees
Odds of 2020 Induction: Even
Odds of Eventual Induction: Certain 

Scott Rolen
Yep, I'm still pushing for Rolen. Was last year, and even though support has grown from another ballot squatter, I still am. Scott Rolen's biggest detraction is that he was never a STAR per se. And yet despite that, he still has a World Series ring, 8 gold gloves, 7 ASG nods, 5 100+ RBI seasons and 316 home runs. And his .855 OPS is bigger than Jeter's, nbd. What made him so important was his infield corner ability, and his defensive ability in general at 3rd, while also being a multi-dimensional player with hitting ability. Rolen was a valuable part of the 2000s Cardinals, and if Pujols and Molina are both locks for the HOF when they retire, Rolen deserves a ton more support because he was always right there with them.
Team of Induction: St. Louis Cardinals
Odds of 2020 Induction: 7 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 4 to 1

Omar Vizquel
I echo an earlier sentiment- there's definitely been some HOF love for the 1990s Indians, as Jim Thome and Eddie Murray are in, so leaving out Vizquel because he was never the most apt offensive ballplayer is an insult to Luis Aparicio. Vizquel was impressive because of how quick he could be, how impressive his fielding could be even well into his forties, and how even as he would be upstaged on the marquee by Griffey, Thome, Ramirez, Hafner, Bonds and the like, he would still probably be the most talented ballplayer on the field. Vizquel still came within 200 of 3000 hits, and stole 4 more bases than Bobby Abreu, so even if he's still gonna get boosted this year because of his defense, and his 11 gold gloves, he's still a bit more well-rounded than most people think. He's probably not in this year, but he deserves eventual recognition.
Team of Induction: Cleveland Indians
Odds of 2020 Induction: 5 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 3 to 1

Billy Wagner
Another long shot, but I've come around on this guy. Maybe because Mo and Hoffman have come and gone from this ballot, but I feel like the 'WE'RE GONNA BREAK ALL THE RECORDS AND LAST FOREVER' reliever has spoiled the regular old 'I'm gonna be good in the ninth for 15 years' reliever that's gotten in no trouble for the last 30 years. Rich Gossage and Bruce Sutter took some time, but they found the traction eventually because of pure, unadulterated dominance. And that's what Billy Wagner had, which I can say with confidence after seeing him pitch the ninth a few times in Philadelphia. Wagner had that sort of lights-out scariness that not a lot of modern relievers (save for maybe Craig Kimbrel) seem to have anymore. Maybe after Lee Smith got in we remembered how easy it was for big strong guys to just intimidate batters in the ninth, but only for that moment. Wagner got 422 saves in 16 seasons, ended with a 2.31 career ERA, and managed to, like Mike Mussina, absolutely come to life in his final season, with a 1.43 ERA, 37-save year with Atlanta. We may have to wait a while to vote in another legendary reliever (K-Rod will turn some heads in a few years), so for now...I hope Billy Wagner finds a crowd.
Team of Induction: Houston Astros
Odds of 2020 Induction: 12 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 6 to 1

Larry Walker
Last year, I predicted that with the departure of Edgar Martinez from the ballot, that Mike Mussina would take his place as the fringe favorite of stat-twisty voters. Of course, Moose got in too. That leaves Larry Walker, a different kind of Canadian staple, whose insane batting numbers have sat on this ballot for 10 years, and are only now beginning to delight voters. My dad has the opinion that Walker belongs in the 'Hall of very good', but...he also thought this about Ted Simmons and Harold Baines, and Walker was better than both of them. Walker has an MVP with Colorado, and led them to several big years in the 90s, hitting 258 homers in Coors Field- regardless of the air quality, you have to admit that some human ability had to go into that. He also has a career .313 average, a career .965 OPS, topped 100 RBIs 5 times, and never let his batting WAR figure drop below 0 after his 1989 rookie year. Walker deserves to be in there alongside Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Ken Griffey, and he also deserves to be the first-ever Colorado Rockie in the HOF.
Team of Induction: Colorado Rockies
Odds of 2020 Induction: 2 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: Even

So, that's my ballot. Not much, but it's something. Let's see how right I am.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Tales From the Clearance Rack: A Blaster of 2014 Topps Football

A lot of months in between major card releases, for me, consist of scouring retail aisles for anything fresh or interesting even though I'll just be fueling my addiction anyway. I was in Wal-Mart, and in addition to nabbing another semi-successful rack pack of Archives (waitlist for that's in the sidebar, remind me again to talk about my anxieties about trading one of these days), I found...something kind of insane.

In the bargain bucket, a blaster full of Topps flagship Football...from SIX YEARS AGO.

2014 Topps Football, I believe, I must have nabbed like 1 or 2 packs of, as it was my first year of college and I was sort of fading out of football cards anyway. And yet there was a blaster at WalMart, just sitin there.

Since there is relevant football content this weekend, figured I'd bust it, regardless of my lack of attention to football cards. I'll award a point for each card that features someone who is not only still playing but I have heard of.

MANU-PATCH- LESEAN MCCOY OF THE EAGLES. 1 POINT RIGHT AWAY. This box is already off to a nice start, cause I adore Shady McCoy, even if he shat himself out of the league.

Pack 1-
174- PEYTON MANNING. Know him, but is a TV personality now.
7- Jordy Nelson. Definitely know him, but he retired this year.
67- JJ WATT. We're at 2 points. Had a hell of a night last week.
170- Mike Tolbert of the Panthers, GOLD #'D TO 2014. Heard of him, not still playing. I really wish Topps had done full stats on the back for these.
4000 Yard Club of TOM BRADY. 3 points. Ugh.
209- JASON PETERS. The immortal man himself. We're at 4 points, and I'm very impressed.
357- Cody Hoffman. Rookie that didn't make it.
366- Bradley Roby RC. 5 points. His Texans might sneak a bit further if they're lucky, but considering who they're up against, it's not certain.

Pack 2-
315- Ryan Kalil. 6 points, but I had no idea he was with the Jets.
244- Nick Perry
260- Mike Wallace. Heard of him, but he didn't play this year.
149- DeAndre Hopkins. 7 points. Man, this box has a lot of 2019 Texans so far
Greatness Unleashed of Knowshon Moreno of the Dolphins. Moreno's first season in Miami will be his last.
Power Players of Marvin Jones
415- Jalen Saunders. Didn't make it past 2014.
407- Josh Huff

Pack 3-
330- Justin Blackmon
52- Tom Brady. Well, at least we're at 8 points now.
129- Charles Clay
316- Kenbrell Thompkins
60s-minis insert of AJ McCarron. Well, he fulfills both categories, even if he's not good. 9 points.
Fantasy Strategies of...Tom Brady. Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. I appreciate the Shady, but...this is a lot of Brady, man. 10.
46- Domata Peko
389- Michael Sam RC. Okay, regardless of Sam's lack of NFL action, this is still a cool pull.

Pack 4-
148- Julian Edelman. I swear to god. 11.
277- Chris Johnson, who retired a few years ago.
228- Vernon Davis. 13 points, but I did have to check if he was still active.
1000 Yard Club of DeMarco Murray. Heehhh. Oh man.
14- ZACH ERTZ. 14. Good news is I'm pulling a lot of Eagles in addition to all the Pats.
375- Blake Bortles RC. 15. Tell Manny Jacinto.
397- Devin Street

Pack 5-
171- Sebastian Janikowski. Sadly retired last year.
45- Cam Newton. 16. Not bad.
104- Darrelle Revis. Another Patriot, even if it is a short-lived one like Revis.
60- Antonio Gates CAMO PARALLEL #'D TO 399. Sadly he retired last year, but this is pretty cool.
Fantasy Focus of NaVorro Bowman, which is a cool enough insert but, he's also inactive. A lot of inserts emphasizing fantasy football. Huh.
55- DARREN SPROLES. 17. I don't care how injury-prone he is, he's an Eagle and a favorite.
395- TIMMY JERNIGAN RC. 18. Man, the Eagles gods are smiling on me after last week.
428- Troy Niklas

Pack 6-
91- Anquan Boldin.
199- Janoris Jenkins. 19. Forgot the Saints nabbed him.
40- Calais Campbell. 20. Not only have I heard of him, but I met this man. Shared an elevator with him during Super Bowl weekend in ATL. Nice guy.
281- Cecil Shorts
Greatness Unleashed of Russell Wilson. Class act. 21.
60s Mini insert of...Johnny Manziel. Ahahahaha. Well, I've HEARD OF HIM..
334- Arthur Lynch RC
404- Scott Crichton RC

Pack 7-
18- Antoine Bethea.
169- Jermaine Gresham
150- Jairus Byrd
120- Marvin Jones. A few of these aren't big enough for me to have heard of them, sadly
215- Brandon LaFell. Another Patriot..
4000 Yard Club of Peyton Manning. Again, not bad
79- BJ Raji. Lovable kind of character.
349- Trent Murphy. If I was a Bills fan I'd probably know this guy

Pack 8-
270- Kiko Alonso, pre-Eagles. 22.
175- Carson Palmer. Love him, but Kyler Murray's now QB in Phoenix.
1000 Yard Club of Jamaal Charles. Another great  one who's now inactive
Play60 of Matt Bosher
300- Keenan Allen in a great shot. 24.
396- Shaquelle Evans
362- Marcus Roberson

Pack 9-
41- Tyrann Mathieu. 25, and he's playing tomorrow.
166- Bears TC
29- Sheldon Richardson. 26. Had no idea he was on the Browns
182- Broncos TC
60s Mini- Frank Gore. 27.
Fantasy Strategies of Vernon Davis. 28. Lots of Niners today, as they're about to play Minnesota.
268- Browns TC
382- Xavier Grimble

Pack 10-
246- Ndamukong Suh. 29. Forgot he was with Tampa
282- Brian Cushing. Inactive, but Texans hero
65- Mike Glennon. Well...I know him, and he's active, but...he's Mike Glennon. Point still applies. 30.
195- Robert Mathis
113- Garrett Graham
Greatness Unleashed of Clay Matthews. Painful to see him on the Rams. 31.
337- Davante Adams. That helps. 32.
375- Allen Robinson RC. 33. Not a bad card to end on.

Lots of good stuff here- lots of feel-good Eagles and star cards, a few interesting parallels, and 33 cards of active players I've heard of, which is more than I was thinking. Not a bad way to spend the card offseason.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A New Year's Day Blaster of 2019 Panini Diamond Kings

I went the entire holiday season without my local Walmart carrying a single Holiday Edition Megabox, in the one year where there was actually a conscious effort to make it different from the flagship set.

So, 2020 better aim higher than that is what I'm saying.

I did check once again, and...struck out YET again, but I did find a blaster of 2019 Diamond Kings, a set I didn't break very much of, and one that I was fine with in the few packs I did bust of it. Like previous DK releases, it's fine.

So, here's some blaster packs of a middling product to start 2020. Yay.

Bonus Insert Pack:
Squires insert of Forrest Whitley, a Houston prospect who has yet to make his ML debut, after a tumultuous season in the minors.
Team Heroes of Aaron Judge, which I am all for.
Blue Border of Tony Gwynn
Blue Border of SATCHELL PAIGE, which is pretty cool. Plus, this is a blue-border of the VARIATION, the kneeling image of him. So I got a variation of a legend like Satchell Paige. Already off to an awesome start.
And an Artist's Proof of a 2003DK insert of Jose Reyes. I kinda love these old school DK inserts.

Pack 1-
10- Smoky Joe Wood, which is a cool deep cut
68- Chris Shaw
Masters of the Game of Mookie Betts. Already very Sox-centric.
85- Rickey Henderson. Nice
43- Corbin Burnes

Pack 2-
26- Ty Cobb. Of course
116- Jesus Aguilar
Team Heroes of Juan Soto. He definitely is NOW
1- Stan Musial
18- Carl Erskine.

Pack 3-
83- Sam Crawford.
40- Ronald Acuna Jr. Glad he's patterned out a nice career for himself
DK205 insert of Bryce a National. Lovely
75- Salvador Perez
32- Brad Keller

Pack 4-
97- Cionel Perez
89- Rhys Hoskins. Nice
47- Paul Goldschmidt

Pack 5-
13- Grover Cleveland Alexander
2002DK insert of Jason Giambi. Love these
Team Heroes of JT Realmuto...still on the Marlins
'5- Roberto Clemente. Always a pleasure to pull a card of his
63- Josh James, as it is a 2019 product after all

Pack 6-
70- Giancarlo Stanton
JERSEY KINGS grey-swatch of...Patrick Corbin. I'm very happy with this one, considering Corbin's quality of play recently, even if it is a grey-swatch, and an outdated uniform. Still a great player.
21- Satchell Paige. There HE is again! This one's the base version
78- Jonathan Loiasiga

So...that was pretty nice. A pretty good relic, a SP of Satchell Paige, and some cool inserts and base. Maybe this year'll be pretty great if THIS is how we're starting.