Monday, May 18, 2020

The Oddest of Oddballs

Life's big questions.

Collecting trading cards would seem to be a simple, easy to understand hobby.  When I first got into it, back in late 2010, with my Paul Blair player collection, I certainly would have thought so. I did not know of such things as relic cards, sticker autos, short prints and serialized cards. I was quite the naïf.  In the near decade since, my collecting has taken me in multiple directions: set building, set building for sports I don't even follow, autographed cards, even non-sport tobacco cards.  

But, still at the center is that Paul Blair player collection.  It has been somewhat stagnant these last few years, but occasionally something gets added.  In my COVID19 quarantine, I have spent more time at Net54Baseball and came across a long thread of Orioles and Brooks Robinson collectors and caught a glimpse of some Blair memorabilia. I introduced myself and one thing led to another and a trade deal was closed.   In exchange for one of my 1993 Nabisco Blair cards, I got a handful of team issued Paul Blair postcards (which are still in transit) and this:

I didn't get the 1976 Topps card in the trade, I only included it here to give a sense of the size of the item above it.    What is it, you are probably asking?  It is a 1976 English's Chicken lid.  You are probably wondering if that is really a lid to a bucket of chicken?  If you are, you would be correct. 

My God! What have I done?

If you had told me in 2010 that I would have added a lid to a cardboard bucket of fried chicken to my collection I would have thought you were crazy. But, here we are.  I have a 44 year old chicken bucket lid and I am excited beyond belief.  I have occasionally searched for one of these; always unsuccessfully.  To have it fall into my lap like this is a nice bit of serendipity.  I thought I might explain about English's, but I found out that the late, great, Bob Lemke had beat me to the punch. You can read his blog post here.  And the collector he got his information from?  The same person I traded with!  Small world.

Hopefully, the post cards will be here by the weekend, so I can show them off.

What I am listening to: A Tout Le Monde by Megadeth (yes, I probably should have posted "Once in a Lifetime," but I am in the middle of a thrash metal phase, so you get this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

New Blair Additions

I'm still mostly on the sidelines waiting for COVID-19 to abate and the oil & gas industry to pull out of it's tailspin. But, I did manage to add a couple new things to my Paul Blair player collection.

As you can see this is the O-Pee-Chee version of his 1968 card.  With this, I have ten of the eleven OPC Blair cards. The only one I lack now is card number 153 from 1967, which is the World Series Game #3 card - Blair's Homer Defeats L.A.   There is another such card he appears on, 1971 Topps/OPC #195, the AL playoffs game 1 card. However, while he appears on the card, he is not the subject, which is Boog Powell. Blair is just congratulating Powell after he hit a home run. So, I'm not going to consider that part of the PC.

This is a team issued photo from 1975.  I know have 4 team issued photo cards.  In addition to this one, I believe I have 1969, 1971, and 1973.  There isn't a lot of good resources out there for these types of issues, but there are a number of Orioles team collectors on net54. I'm hoping they can help me know definitively which years they are.

Added in edit: I am told by a long time Orioles collector that the photo was actually issued by the team in 1973-1974.

What I am listening to:  Rock Me Baby by B.B. King, Susan Tedeschi, and Derek Trucks

Monday, May 4, 2020

1970 Card Back Follies, Part 2

Okay, I really need to get back to this.  I laid out the skeleton of this post about two weeks ago, but have been putting off doin the research and write-up.  So, without much further ado, here is part 2 of my examination of random, interesting card back cartoons from 1970 Topps.

David Nelson (#112) - Dave's hobby is saving clippings of his favorite athletes

I really didn't find much else about this other than Nelson was born at Fort Sill, Oklahoma (about an hour and a half drive from my home here) and his favorite athletes growing up were Oscar Robertson and Jackie Robinson.

Sparky Lyle (#116) - Sparky once struck out 31 men in a 17 inning game

This feat was accomplished in American Legion ball in his hometown of DuBois, PA and it was the thing that caught the attention of a major league scout, George Staller of the Baltimore Orioles, who signed him to a contract. It should be noted that Sparky only pitched in 14 of those 17 innings and manned frist base the other three,  There wasn't much primary source information I could find.  The local newspaper, The Courier Express, is indexed at, but there is a complete gap in the records between 1946 and 1969. By 1969, he was on his third major leagues season with the Red Sox.

Joe Coleman (#127) - Joe has particular success vs. the White Sox

This was a hard one. Not because of a lack of information, but because of too much information. I had a hard time deciding how to test this one. It is probably the sole reason that it has been over two weeks since my previous post on this topic. Finally, I just had to fish or cut bait.  I have a good idea why this was the cartoon caption.  Prior to 1970, Coleman had a 3-1 record in in 8 starts and one relief appearance against the White Sox, with all three wins being complete games.  However, that is where it breaks down.

So, I downloaded his entire career from Baseball Reference and did some analysis of his pre-1970 statistics.  Using the traditional pitching statistic of ERA, I calculated Coleman's results for each team and overall, then sorted.
So, you can see that Coleman's ERA is particularly poor against Chicago; worse even than his overall performance.  Now, I know that ERA can be affected by factors outside the players control, so I thought I would look at the modern Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).  However, FIP is adjusted by a yearly league factor and I quickly decided I didn't want to put *that* much effort into this, so I backed off to using WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched.)

As you can see, Coleman was better against the White Sox than his overall average against the league. However, it was only marginally better than average and certainly worse than his performance against a number of other teams.  So, my last effort to understand this was to look at Win Percentage Added (WPA.) I understand WPA conceptually, though I don't know how it is calculated.  In general it looks at an individual players contribution to a game.  A positive number means they contributed towards a win (even though the game result may not have been a win.)A negative number means they were a negative influence on the game outcome. In order to control for the fact that the amount of playing time versus each team. I looked at average WPA per appearance.

So, my impression is that, overall, Coleman was a neutral contributor to the Senators.  Interestingly, based on this metric, he wasn't particularly successful against the White Sox. In fact, it was probably more accurate to say (accounting for all three above metrics) that he has particular success against the Angels, Athletics, and Tigers.

Richie Scheinblum (#161) - Richie's 1st homer in pro ball was a grand slam in the 13th inning

Scheinblum first pro homerun was with the Burlington Indians of the A level Carolina League in 1964.  The homerun referenced was in a game on June 14 against the Greensboro Yankees. It was hit off of pitcher Joe Riccardo.  Riccardo never made it out of A ball, with the 1965 season being his last.

What I am Listening to:  Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

1970 Card Back Follies, Part 1

In my last post, I featured the 1976 Topps Record Breaker subset, I was surprised (not surprised) to find that Night Owl also had featured them in the past. His particular focus was on the great information on the back of the cards. That got me to thinking.  I have to admit that I don't pay enough attention to the card backs as I should.  At least partially due to the fact that they are often very hard to read, combining small print and colors that don't necessarily contrast well.

1970 Topps is different, though.  My old eyes can actually read it well with the high contrast colors.  So, a couple Saturdays ago, while waiting for the sun come out and the ambition to get outside and do yard work to strike me, I paged through my 1970 binder backwards. As I did so, I tossed around ideas for posts around the card backs.  My genius (not genius) idea was to identify cards backs with interesting or odd cartoons and see if I can find any information on the internet that supports the cartoon.

So, without further ado, here is the first 4:

Tito Fuentes (#42) - Tito's hobby is playing ping-pong

I've not had much luck finding anything about Fuentes table tennis hobby. It seems as if the only relevant link goes to a post about this card on the defunct "Stats on the Back" blog from May of 2009.

I'm not off to an auspicious start here, am I?

Paul Casanova (#84) - In 1961, Paul played for the Indianapolis Clowns

After a short, and unspectacular, 1960 in the Indians chain that saw Casanova appear in 10 games and rack up 9 plate appearances for Class C Minot, he was released. He did spend 1961 with the erstwhile Negro League Indianapolis Clowns, by then a barnstorming team.  While he did come to the attention of some MLB scouts, he left baseball behind at the end of the season to pursue a more remunerative  career in construction.  However, a couple  years later, a scout for the Washington Senators brought Casanova into training camp. In 1965, after two years in the minors, Casanova was called up and embarked on a 10 year career as a catcher for Washington and, later, the Atlanta Braves.

Juan Rios (#89) - Juan has amazing speed

There isn't any metric that I am aware of that objectively measures speed, though I am not, by any means, a sabermetric guru. So, I made my own up: stolen bases divided by total bases.  It's not  perfect, but I also didn't want to spend any more time on it.  I also didn't do exhaustive research on modern era performance, but did look at the career stolen base leaders, under the assumption that they, at some level, set a benchmark for speed. Among those, I found  Vince Coleman at 40.3% (752 SB and 1863 TB), Rickey Henderson at 30.6%, Maury Wills at 23.3%, Lou Brock at 22.1%, and Tim Raines at 21.4%.  So, let's set 20% as the benchmark.

So, how did Rios do? Difficult to say. By the time this card came out, he had played his last MLB game. In a major league career spanning 87 games and 208 plate appearances, he had a total of 1 stolen base and 54 total bases, for a miserly 1.8%.  In 8 minor league seasons, he swiped 49 bases and tallied 706 total bases, for a 6.9%. So, Rios may have had blazing speed, but it didn't translate on the base paths.

George Culver (#92) - George likes to wear "Mod" style clothes

I didn't manage to locate any pictures of Culver in his finest, but I did find some wonderful text from an article written by Bob Broeg in the St.Louis Post Dispatch about him:

“Culver is a good-looking, green-eyed guy who resembles his idol, golf’s dashing Doug Sanders, in physical appearance and sartorial splendor,” Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch observed."

On the day they met, Broeg reported, Culver was wearing “white shoes, cream-colored trousers and a brilliant orange sweater.”

Culver told Broeg he liked to wear purple or pink. “I know those colors aren’t very manly,” Culver said, “but they’re beautiful.”

According to the Bakersfield newspaper, Culver had a “purple Edwardian-style suit,” but he said, “I don’t wear that purple outfit anymore. I favor all-white suits now.”

Culver said he had 150 pairs of slacks and 50 Banlon shirts. “I’d rather spend 50 bucks on clothes than on a date,” he told Broeg.
Good stuff.

Anyways, that is it for now.  It was fun researching this, so hopefully I'll keep the series going on the regular.

What I am listening to: Here and Now by Letters to Cleo

Friday, April 3, 2020

1975 Record Breakers

I don't know about you, but I'm struggling right now. It isn't so much the working from home. I did that for years on a previous job.  I think it is the non-stop grim news. I know logically that things are going to get worse before they get better. But, there is something about the situation that makes it hard to not live in the moment.

Though I hate the term, I am trying to exercise some level of self-care. I've stopped drinking alcohol as it degrades the quality of my sleep and, consequently, I tend to be distracted and more susceptible to negativity the next day.  I'm still not eating as healthy as I should, but I am trying.  The convenience store/gas station/bait shop across the street added a kitchen, so it is hard to not get junk for lunch a couple days a week. Though, to be fair, their Friday fried catfish special lunch is quite excellent.

Since I've cut out hobby spending, I am going to try to spend more time appreciating what is already in my collection. The other day, I just pulled a random binder off my shelf.  It was 1976 Topps and the first 6 cards of the set memorialized the record breakers from the previous season. It made me wonder how many of these records still stand. Someone else may have done this, but I am not going to look. I need something to do and this is as good as anything.

Hank Aaron is still the all-time career RBI leader, though he tacked another 35 on to the total in 1976, his final season.  I actually am surprised by this. I would have though Barry Bonds would have passed him, but he is actually 301 behind Hammerin' Hank. Speaking of the Bonds family...

It is hard to find statistics on lead off home runs. I am sure there is a way to figure it out in Baseball Reference, but I haven't figured it out.  All I can determine is that the all time leadoff homer hitter is Rickey Henderson with 81, followed by Alfonso Soriano with 54 and Craig Biggio with 53. Ian Kinsler is 4th with 48.  As near as I can tell, Bonds ended his career with 34.  Whether there is anyone between him and Kinsler is unknown to me.

Bobby Bonds is the all-time 30-30 Club co-champion, retiring with 5 such seasons. Who also has five 30-30 seasons? His son Barry Bonds. Keeping it in the family!

Mickey Lolich, currently 20th on the all-time strikeout leaders list, is now only 4th in that category amongst lefthanders.  He has been surpassed by Randy Johnson (4875), Steve Carlton (4136), and the recently retired CC Sabathia (3093.)

Lopes no long holds this record.  Vince Coleman had 50 in the 1988 and 1989 seasons, Ichiro had 45 between 2006 and 2007, Tim Raines swiped 40 in a row successfully over a three season span (1993-1995), and Jimmy Rollins had 39 successful steals in a row between 2007 and 2008.

Tom Terrific still holds this record.  He even managed to extend it to 9 seasons and came 4 strikeouts short of a tenth. Even Nolan Ryan, who had fifteen 200+ K seasons in his career, never managed to string together more than 5 in a row, though he did it twice including once between his age 40 and 44 seasons.

Stennett still holds this record, though he really is tied for it with Wilbert Robinson who did it on June 10, 1892.

What I am listening to: Dig a Hole by Marcel Botempi

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Pandemic at the Disco

Life has gotten weird in a hurry, hasn't it?

In a way I was there at the beginning. No. That isn't quite right. I was there at the inflection point. It seems like forever, but it was less than three weeks ago. On March 11, I was at the Oklahoma City Thunder-Utah Jazz game. Or, more specifically, what was supposed to be the Oklahoma City Thunder-Utah Jazz game. My wife and are Thunder season ticket holders and this was an important game. After preseason speculation that they would be cellar dwellers, our Thunder were in the playoff picture. Firmly in the 5th seed in the Western Division, a win over the Jazz would move them up to the 4th seed.

Before that point, opinions on the coronavirus, COVID-19, were split. You could see it on the news, where political leaders downplayed the threat even while doctors and scientists were sounding the alarm. I even saw it on the Facebook page for my rural city ward. The ward, often described as a mélange of aging hippies and survivalists, was at each others throats about the severity of the situation.

Then, the Thunder-Jazz game happened. I got to the game about 15 minutes before tip-off, grabbed a hot dog and fries, and settled into my seat. The pregame ritual of introductions and the national anthem took place and then...nothing. I won't go into details. If you are a suscrcriber to The Athletic, there is a well written article about the evening.

Just a bit under three weeks ago.

The world has changed since then.  I am now working from home indefinitely and have cut back my hobby spending to almost zero. You see, I work in the oil and gas industry and, even apart from the global pandemic causing a collapse in demand, the Saudis have decided to open up the valves and start a price war to punish recalcitrant members of OPEC+ (mostly Russia) So, while the combination of the two don't represent an existential threat to my future, it does seem prudent to cut back on discretionary spending.

One thing that did filter in was this 1978 New York Yankees Picture Album that I snagged for $5 delivered.

As I built my Paul Blair player collection want list I would check eBay to see if any of the needs were for sale. I mostly struck out, but when I looked for something described as "1978 Photo Album", this came up.  I bid on it and won.

As I pulled this out of the shipping envelope, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I realized immediately that I had this album when I was younger. I've always been a bit forgetful, so I have no idea how I got it or what ever happened to it. If I had to guess, my mother threw it away, along with my high school letterman's jacket sometime after I went off to college.  In any event, I have it again.

This copy is in great condition, which is probably a rare thing 42 years later.  It was not built for the long haul. The covers are thin cardboard and the binding isn't particularly sturdy.  In fact, it seems like it was designed for the pages to be pulled out individually easily. I won't open it up wide enough to scan a page as that would be a bit too much stress on the binding. I will however leave you with this picture of what I think is the 126th unique item in my Blair PC.

What I am listening to: We Take Care of Our Own by Bruce Springsteen

Friday, March 20, 2020

Player Collection Status

So, my recent new addition to my Paul Blair PC had me wondering how my collection looked in the larger scheme of things.  So, starting with the Trading Card Database, I decided to start to compile a list of cards and cross reference it against my collection. With the advent of unlicensed products, high quality custom cards, serialized parallels, a whole bunch of early 21st century Topps cards that look identical but are from different sets, and a set of similarly identical 1970s team post cards , it is really hard to come up with a comprehensive list. 

I am still working through it and trying to get my haves and wants buttoned down.  But, I am pretty close and, as of this moment, I have 123 unique Paul Blair cards in my collection and have constructed a want list of 58 cards.  Honestly though, I am not sure it is a real want list as there are several categories on there that I am ambivalent about:

1. Stamped Buybacks - 9
2. Cut Signatures - 7
3. 1 of 1s - 8

I am not necessarily ambivalent about 1 of 1s, but as a practical matter, I am unlikely to ever acquire any of them. So, I don't really count them.  I have actually seen one on eBay. But, it was a Four Barrel bat card from 2006 Upper Deck Epic where the 4 subjects where Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, and Paul Blair.  The seller wanted $5,000.  Nah, man.  That ain't happening.

Also,  have two team issued post cards that I haven't yet been able to figure out what year they are from. So, taking these four categories out, I get down to 31 cards on my want list.  As I have worked through this process, I spot checked eBay to see what is available and I've been able to add a few more cards cheaply.

I had been aware of the MCI (remember them?) Ambassadors of Baseball sets from 1992 to 1994.  But, I hadn't done a great deal of research and was blissfully unaware of the 1995 set. MCI, an erstwhile telecom company that became part of Verizon in 2006, issued these sets in conjunction with a tour of overseas military bases by retired baseball players. Paul Blair was the only player to appear in all 4 sets.

I swear I had this card. I've been overlooking it on eBay for years. Guess why.

That is why. Multiple, virtually indistinguishable cards issued during a short period of time using the image from Blair's half of the rookie card he shared with Davey Johnson in the 1965 Topps set.  I can only imagine how hard it must be for collectors like Night Owl when there are probably dozens of cards using the same image for all-time greats like Jackie Robinson.

I'll probably end up publishing my want list in the next few days, though I don't expect much luck in finding these needs that way. But, we'll see.

What I am listening to: Lady Labyrinth by Ludovico Einaudi