Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pretty Damn Good Mail Day Part II: '81 Topps Baseball Stickers And The Summer Of Mike Norris

This one's pretty near and dear to my heart, and is kind of long.
I got a sweet deal on an '81 Topps Sticker set last week, and it came in the mail yesterday. Talk about memories. Unless the Mego Teen Titans figures (man, I wish I still had those) counted, the 1981 Topps Baseball Sticker Set was probably the first thing I ever collected to completion in my life. I really loved those white-bordered little bastards, and can remember tearing open untold numbers of sticker packages in search of the missing ones. Sometimes, I'd do it just for the sake of it, completion be damned. All of the stickers got placed in albums (I had multiple '81 albums) and eventually, one day, I did actually finish an album with this sticker...

Yep, good ol' Mike Norris, sticker #6, was the most elusive of them all!
I'm getting ahead of myself, though, skipping to the last sticker I found before I've even started. Let's spend a little more time talking about Mike, as he was sort of the alpha and the omega in the sticker-collecting world that year. Mike, under Billy Martin's tutelage (or abuse, depending on your point of view), had a fantastic, should've won the Cy Young-kinda season in 1980 (look it up here), so when designing the sticker album, there were a whole bunch of spots for him in it. Mike had 4 stickers in total in the '81 set, or 3 and a half if you don't give him full credit for the sticker he shared with Tommy John. He pulled this off without even being part of the foil All-Star subset!
As a kid who collected these stickers, despite it being a year removed from the peak of his career, and despite no recollection of having seen the man pitch until his brief comeback in the early 1990s, I can tell you with all certainty that 1981 was The Summer Of Mike Norris.

Sticker #4, for instance is the one I think of first when I think of the '81 set, and it's pretty much perfect. It's got nothing but sky and what looks like a white picket fence (!) as a background. Mike's got this weird, awesome A's uniform on (Was that actually regulation, uniform experts?). Mike's young here, whole life ahead of him, really. Hope springs eternal.

Here's #122, Mike as part of the A's team page. This is him in-game, with that crazy bubblegum card mosaic of people in the stands behind him. Can anyone identify the 3rd base umpire?

And here's Mike's 3rd and a half sticker in the set. He looks like he's in a much better mood than Tommy John is here. Mike's like "Hey, I got on another sticker!", where Tommy looks like he's thinking "I only get to be on half the sticker? Jeez."

As I mentioned above, despite it being The Summer Of Mike Norris, Mike didn't make it onto an All-Star foil sticker, which would've been his 5th sticker. Just like he was in the 1980 Cy Young voting (stats at that link so you can compare their seasons), Mike was foiled (*groan*) by his arch-nemesis,

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

Remember what I said about Stoney in my "Saturday's Haul" post? I swear he looks like a different guy than he did on his '80 Topps card. Anyway, while I decided to scan the base sticker rather than the foil one, Steve Stone did indeed beat Mike Norris out of not only the Cy, but also an '81 Topps foil sticker! That scoundrel! (Disclaimer: I actually like his broadcasting work, so he's done at least something to make up for his crimes.) I don't wanna dwell on this for too long, so let's move onto someone else who looked a little "stoney" in the '81 set...

Seriously you guys, it's probably just glare from all that sun or something, but Ted Simmons (who'll hopefully be voted into the Hall Of Fame next week) looks BAKED here.

"Someone lookin' for me?"

No, Bake McBride, we said "baked". Can you call Pete over here, though?

"The hell you want?"

Interestingly, this shot of Rose, while not quite as surly as his '89 Topps card picture (I'll get to that one someday), is still pretty unfriendly lookin', yet it ended up being the sticker example picture for the front cover. If I'm the Topps marketing guy, I have the layout guy swap it out with the shot of George Brett that they used for the back cover...

...and go with a different guy for the main cover picture, maybe Mike Schmidt (since the Phils won the Series in '80) or even Reggie, even though everyone outside of the Tri-State area (and half the people here) hated him by then. Better to be hated and feared than to be made fun of by little kids for having hemorrhoids, as poor George was so often on the playgrounds of America in the early '80s. OK, let's make a left turn here...

This Ed Farmer sticker, #64, was a real pain for me to get, too. I think I ended up mailing away for it. Topps had an offer on the '81 stickers, where you could send them money and a SASE or something like that, and they'd send you sticker fills. This offer was reprised and abused in '84, when people sent away for a ton of Mattingly and Strawberry rookie cards, but it got me my Ed Farmer, who I thought was a funny lookin' dude as a kid.

While we're on the White Sox page, let's talk about an important life lesson I learned from the '81 sticker set.

"Mom, it says that this guy's name is Jim Morrison, but he doesn't look anything like him! Is Jim Morrison playing baseball now, under a secret identity?"

...and that was the day that I learned that two very different people could have the exact same first and last name! I didn't even have to wait until "Office Space" came out!

Speaking of "Office Space": Gorman Thomas, who is quickly becoming the patron saint of this site for reasons that should be obvious just from looking at this picture, kinda looks like he's thinking about asking Bud Selig for a raise here, so he can have two girls at once.

Hey, check out Carew's mustache!

I think Dan Driessen digs it. I loved (and still love) this sticker as a little guy. The dude just looks so happy.

Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, is SRS BUSINESS. Not only that, but he also looks like an astronaut (guess those uniform designs worked!), a member of Clutch or both.

I bet Joe Charboneau likes Clutch.

Yaz, on the other hand, is just busy being clutch. The crowd mosaic on this sticker leaves some of the faces almost recognizable. How cool would it be if you went to a Red Sox/Tigers game in 1980, had good seats, and then found out later that you were immortalized on the 1981 Topps Carl Yastrzemski sticker? Talk about bragging rights...

...I mean, you couldn't exactly call yourself "the greatest of all time" like Rickey did, but it'd still be pretty cool. Rickey hasn't really aged much in 30 years, has he?
As we round the corner into the home stretch: the lowly Mets. As a young kid, even though they were in my '80 Topps cards, I couldn't even grasp the concept of the Mets.
"Wait! There's a second team in New York? And they're bad?"

With hair like Neil Allen's in this shot, though it was common for athletes of his era (I see it more in old football and hockey pictures, though), it was even harder for a 6 or 7 year old kid to believe that the Mets were actual baseball players. I don't think I actually admitted to myself that the Mets existed until Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks showed up, and that was mostly because they had such great names. Not long after that, though, Dave Kingman returned to the Mets, and in my eyes, they were finally a real team, because Kong was a real baseball player.  Before then, they were just Lee Mazzilli, trapped on an island with some dudes who couldn't play baseball very well, practicing his DeNiro impression.

"Are you talkin' ta me?"

For the final part of the visual portion of today's very long program, here are two examples of those foil All-Star stickers that Mike Norris was so cruelly denied.

Willie freakin' Wilson. Man, this guy was fast. I was stunned when, in about '86 or so, I read that he ran as quickly as he did despite being a cigarette smoker. I don't know if Willie still smokes. I hope not. But man, hats off to him for being the kind of athlete who could fly on the bases despite putting all that gunk in his lungs. I'd sit here and wonder "what could've been" on that front, but honestly, I don't know if Willie could've gone much faster than he did.

And finally, fresh off his tour with Earth, Wind and Fire, here's George Hendrick! Seriously, the gold foil and the All-Star frame only add to the EWF-ness of this sticker.

To finish up my story about finishing the set, I was actually in The Hobby Shop (yes, even back then; next Thursday will be 30 years that I've shopped there), and despite the discouragement of looking through their sticker singles and not finding Mike Norris (after a long summer, I really thought I was never going to find this guy), I decided to buy a few more packs. First pack I opened, not even out of the store, there he was.

I felt like I'd won the lottery.

Sadly, my full, completed '81 sticker album has gone MIA. It may still be here, buried under a bunch of stuff, but it's not with the rest of my sticker albums, nor did I find it in the containers where I have my complete sets, which was where I thought I had it. I've got the set now, though, and I'll probably pick up a new, empty album sometime soon. I do still have a second, near-complete album, so I think I'll leave the album clean and the backs on the stickers this time, but it's definitely nice to have Mike Norris around again, regardless.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pretty Damn Good Mail Day Part I: '71 Topps Thurman Munson

Here's the scan I saw of the card before buying, which will give you a better look at the corners than my Crop-Fu allows (and I hate the look of whitespace around scanned cards).

I figured "What the heck? It's cheap, it doesn't look too bad, and I'll be able to cross this one off the list."

Now, here's my scan of what showed up today. Again, you can't see all of the edge and corner damage in mine because I'm just not a scanner ninja yet, but these aren't intentional shenanigans when they happen in my scans. My scan, on the other hand (not retouched, I promise) is a much better representation of the flatness, the color brightness and the crispness of the black borders. Plus, it's not crooked in my scan, so the "Is the centering/cut not-so-great?" question has been answered. It's just slightly skewed left horizontally, but otherwise, a great card.

And here's the back, from the seller's scan for now (just noticed that my friggin' scanner cut off the bottom border, rackin' frackin'...)

I'm not taking anything I said about Sheriff Pudge the other day, don't get me wrong, but actually having this card in your hands and really, really looking at it gives you a whole new appreciation for it.

Infinite Card Set Cyber Monday!

 A heads-up to those of you who read my review of The Infinite Card Set Series 1, to those who are fans of The Infinite Card Set and to folks who just missed out on getting a set when they were available: sets are available again for the low, low price of $20 shipped from today, 11/29/10 until Wednesday, 12/01/10! This is a limited run of 1000 to begin with, and creator Gary Cieradkowski hasn't had these available for sale for a little while, as he's been focusing on his next project, 21 (which should be out any day now). To order your Series 1 set, go here!

(Full disclosure, since I've posted about him and his work a lot: I'm not affiliated with Gary in any kind of a bidness way. I'm just a big fan of his work, and he's a nice guy.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More answers and questions about the '73 Gamble from earlier...(UPDATED)

Remember this? C'mon, it was less than 12 hours ago. 

Anyway, I found it! (Assuming that this was a pickoff play rather than Gamble trying to stretch a single into a double in one of 6 Phils/Reds games pre-'73 at the Vet, anyway.) The outfield was Pete Rose, Bobby Tolan and Cesar Geronimo from left to right. The outfielder looks like he's in left center from the angle of the picture, but given that Rose was playing left, he could either be there, or he could be that disembodied head in the cloud of dirt. Actually, 1972 Pete could've been in both places.

If it's not Pete in the cloud of dirt, it's either Denis Menke or Don Gullett, who's credited with the 2nd half of the pickoff with the sheriff, Johnny Bench, making the throw. I can't figure out, for the life of me, how a pitcher would get from the mound to there on that play, though. So, we're not all the way there, but we're getting there.

Strike that, Smed found it! From the 6/4/72 Phillies/Reds game at the Vet:

PHILLIES 1ST: Doyle grounded out (second to first); Gamble
singled to right; Montanez flied out to left; Luzinski singled
to second [Gamble to second]; Hutton flied out to right; 0 R, 2
H, 0 E, 2 LOB.  Reds 2, Phillies 0.

So, Oscar was safe!

Also:  as seen in the comments, Darrel Chaney played the role of the disembodied head.

We're still trying to confirm who the guy running in from left center is. It's either Pete Rose or Bobby Tolan, though I'm leaning toward Tolan, as Pete had his hair helmet by the time '72 rolled around

I'm really surprised that people haven't written more about this card. (I got no hits from a Google search.) It's got all the elements of a card that you lot would love: it's a horizontal '70s action shot, it's got a green, multipurpose stadium background, Oscar Gamble's involved, there's a cloud of dirt, a disembodied head floating above the cloud of dirt, and I'm pretty sure that Topps airbrushed the Phillies logo off of Gamble's uniform, since he'd switched teams by the time the card was printed. Johnny Bench is even involved in the play, offscreen!

It gets even better: this exact card, circle of ink by Concepcion and all, has been added to the booty for the "CAPTION THIS CARD!" contest!

Saturday's Haul

It started before I'd even left the house. I was eating breakfast, and the girlfriend's mom comes downstairs with something in her hand. "I found this laying on someone's front lawn near our old house about 20 years ago, and I've just had it in the bottom of a drawer since. Can you use it?"

That would be a resounding "HELL YEAH!", folks. Thanks, girlfriend's mom!

(Note: if you lost a '56 Topps Walter Alston about 20 years ago, please pretend that you never read this. I'm tryin' to put together a team set here, man.)

 From there, I went out to the flea market near here, to see if I could get a second chance at the '91 Topps Football factory set that I passed on the day before for some reason (probably because I really didn't need another brick of cardboard I'd be unlikely to ever actually do anything with, but it nagged at me after I left it there). The set wasn't, but a couple of card dealers (and my mailman, who apparently collects; I smell a really interesting trading opportunity there) were. Here are a couple of the highlights from my first stop:

1970 Topps Catfish Hunter, one of the few Topps base cards of his that I was missing (I still need the '65 rookie, '69 and '78, which is weird, but all the '78s I have/had were Burger King). Wearing a great flannel uniform here. Definitely not the world's best centering, but for $3, I'm cool with it.

A Fleer Unit Update card. I got the Fleer rookie too, both for a buck a piece. Had the update set already, but it's shrinked. See what I mean about bricks of cards? Anyway, the reason I'm posting this is that, length of mullet and injuries that'd happen to anyone who throws that hard aside, I'm not sure Randy Johnson ages. Seriously, this picture was taken in the '80s, and the guy still looks the same.

From there, I went on a drive with the missus, hit a bunch of book stores and such, but stopped on the way back at The Backstop, where I'd found a bunch of cool stuff about a month or so ago. Great little store if you're in NJ, and the owner's good people. It's tiny, but packed to the gills with stuff, there's always new stuff coming in, and the prices are awesome. On this visit, I got 18 cards for $10. Some highlights, starting with some cool '72 Topps Football cards:

An unmustachioed, unbearded Johnny Unitas card, in played-with but OK shape. I looked it up on eBay just to get a feel for what '72 stuff goes for, and that's what led me to that awesome card graffiti I posted yesterday.

Bubba Smith! I really should start a collection of trading cards of people who were members of the "Police Academy" cast.

"Thanks, Mean Joe!"

The recently departed George Blanda, who probably could've used Brett Favre as a toothpick (and don't get me wrong; in addition to being one of the best punchlines on Earth, I've always had fun watching Favre, no matter what he did. OK, maybe not those camera phone pics, but everything else, sure). I didn't know a lot about the guy, aside from that he was one of the greats, until he passed, not having delved too deep into f00'ball history, but my word, did he have a career.

Last, but not least, here's Broadway Joe! I actually got two of these, this one being a little worse for wear, but it's a '72 Topps Namath, and I'm sure someone will be happy to know that it's the first announced prize in my "CAPTION THIS CARD!" contest. Yep, this card's going in the pile for whoever comes up with the best caption. While I'm not a Jets fan by any means, I have always had a soft spot for Namath and the '68 Jets for some reason, maybe because he was on TV a lot when I was a kid, then maybe later because I'd kick the crap out of people with them on Madden '94. His Twitter/Facebook is a lot of fun, too, especially during Jets games if they're losing. He sits there and yells at his iPhone like most football fans do the TV.

These '72 football cards were a total impulse buy, kinda like that '91 set would've been. (I got another shot at it, being that The Backstop had one, too, but I passed, as I found cooler stuff there.) I still haven't figured out what kind of focus my football collection will have, if any. I have complete '84 and '86 Topps sets, I love anything Bo Jackson (got an '07 Fleer Ultra Gridiron Legends card at the flea market, actually, but I've got a migraine right now and didn't want to scan *everything* I got yesterday), I've got a modest pile of Refrigerator Perry cards, I do like Namath and Don Maynard, I'm working on this year's Score set for some reason, and I grab guys who are on my fantasy teams when I run into them. Beyond that, it's been a "whatever I find that's cool" deal. Maybe I'll leave it like that, as, if I focus on things too much, I'll end up picking up too many things.

Onto the baseball stuff!

This '73 Oscar Gamble is fantastic, even with the light pen mark near Dave Concepcion's glove that I didn't notice before I bought it. Gamble's slide took his helmet off, exposing us all to the glory of The World's Greatest Afro. You've got a nice Concepcion cameo, some dude (Bobby Tolan? Cesar Geronimo? Bernie Carbo? I don't think it was Rose, as he was playing LF that season.) running in from the outfield even though I think Gamble was safe here. Also, for some reason, Denis Menke appears to be standing in a hole in ground. We've got pandemonium here, people, and that's even before you get to the fact that Oscar's listed as a Cleveland Indian on the card, even though he's clearly in the National League as a Phillie! Has anyone ever done Retrosheet detective work on this card? I'd love to know what the hell is going on here.

Willie Horton, pre-mustache...

...and Willie Horton post-mustache! Willie's another one of those "guys I never saw play that I've become fascinated by". He was a great, star player who didn't quite get to Hall Of Fame numbers. He played the majority of his career for his hometown Detroit Tigers. He stood on top of a car in the middle of a Detroit race riot, in uniform, and tried to calm people down! He just seems like a great guy all around, and I've been enjoying tracking his cards down.

Second year Dewey with some pencil marks! Might even delicately be able to erase those, if you're feeling lucky. I say "you're" rather than "I'm" because this is also going in the "CAPTION THIS CARD!" contest pile!

Awwwyeah. Gorman Thomas rookie! It's hard to believe that he was ever this young.

"We've secretly replaced Steve Stone with a deranged caveman. Let's see what happens." As a kid, looking at this and the '81 Topps card, I couldn't believe that it was the same guy. Nice facsimile autograph, though. Good penmanship for a caveman!

And, finally...

I'm really kinda getting into this Pedro guy this week. This is two really cool cards of him I've come across in no time at all. '81 Topps was one of the better "players hanging out in the dugout" sets, wasn't it? There's some great dugout action in '77 too (Munson and Catfish both come to mind), but '81, it seems like half the set's in the dugout.

Man, that's a lot of cards. I done good! (I've also got to stop buying so many damn cards!)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sometimes, you just have to.

Despite getting a better condition copy of this '72 Topps Johnny Unitas just a few hours ago, upon checking eBay for pricing, I saw this and could not pass it up for $1.50 shipped. I have problems.

10 bucks says Joe Namath did this to the card.

More on the rest of today's card haul as soon as I can get to a scanner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

OK, let's get some Mantle over with here.

I love this '64 Topps Giant Mickey Mantle card. It's probably my favorite playing era Mantle card, and not just because it's the only one I own or will own barring a lucky break. (I'm not even remotely seriously in the market for anything other than maybe the '67 or '69 cards, but those still hurt.)

On this larger than life card of a larger than life guy, Mick looks like he's midsummer, mid-game, middle of a flask, and most importantly, in the middle of a story about either the rack on a deer he and Whitey bagged, or the rack on the girl he took home last night. He looks more like the Mantle I grew up with, the off-color, half-lit, mischevious storyteller who'd show up on Letterman in the '80s and hold court, than he does the Superman Mantle revered by baby boomers. This is the Mantle who'd drop an F-bomb on an autographed baseball from time to time, the renowned beaver shooter of "Ball Four", the guy who was more like one of the guys my dad would hang out with at the bar than a boyhood sports idol.

Maybe, given the mess he made of his life and his family's, I shouldn't like that Mantle (or people like him) so much, but like quite a few people who knew him and plenty who didn't, I just can't help it. Eventually, in the face of his own mortality, Mick repented and did as much good as he could given the circumstances, but I feel like this card gives us a terrific glimpse of the unrepentant Mickey Mantle.

It's time to play...CAPTION THIS CARD!

When I started work on this site and began scanning cards, I looked at this 1959 Topps Larsen-Stengel card and thought "This card is BEGGING for a caption contest!" Perhaps one's been done somewhere else already, but I don't have time to read everything, much as I wish I do. Plus, these are good fun. So, here goes:

Write a caption for this 1959 Topps Larsen-Stengel "Words Of Wisdom" Card. Favorite entry, as chosen by me, gets the prize package posted below (more items to be added throughout the month of December). It might not be amazing stuff, but I think it's fun stuff and hey, you're only required to come up with one line of funny to win it, right?

This contest opens now and ends December 31st, 2010 at 11:59 PM Eastern Time. One entry per person, no creating pseudonyms to try to win or I will end you.

And now, the full prize package, updated as of 12/22/10!

A well-loved '72 Topps Broadway Joe!

A slightly less well-loved but still cool '74 Topps Dwight Evans!

The mighty '73 Topps Oscar Gamble!

'87 Topps Mini Blyleven gettin' funkay! (Note: actual card is well-loved.)

'10 Topps Update Runnin' Vlad!

'10 Topps Update Jim "Man that guy is huge!" Thome!

'10 Topps Update ZOMG TEH PUDGE!

'10 Update GOMES :D

Weirdo Whitehall Collection Hologram Set, including Cy here, as well as...


The Babe...


...and Honus friggin' Wagner. Oh yeah, this too..

(Just a reprint, kids, don't have a heart attack, but it's included!)

And a weird Photoshopped, standard card-sized version, for you Wagner reprint mega-collectors.

2010 Absolute Memorabilia Tom Brady (I hate this guy...)

'87 Topps Gorman Thomas (you knew I had to include one), home at last...

Little Bobby bunting! Yep, for those who can't read silver lettering on scans, it's a prospect card of Bobby Abreu from 1994.

"I got mad hits, like I was Rod Carew!"


Amazingly, this is currently my only duplicate copy of Roberto Alomar's rookie card. It's still about three too many, but your mileage may vary!

Yep, that's Cal. It's a well-loved '82 Fleer Cal (capturing the condition of the corners wasn't happening easily, but I can assure you that they're worn), but it's still a friggin' Cal Ripken, Jr. rookie card!

And finally...

'10 Absolute Memorabilia Football White Monolith Of I Hate You Panini, I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! Not an ordinary decoy card, though. This one will be personally signed, numbered 1/1 and, if you like, drawn on or inscribed by me! Goth girls would've paid good money for this 20 years ago, but it's yours along with all the other prizes for the low, low price of being wittier than the other 3 people who've come up with a caption for the following 1959 Topps card:

Seriously, though. Two posts about this (now three), the link all over the place, and only three entries so far? I read a lot of your stuff, and I know you folks are really, really funny. Get to work!