Category: Sportswriting

My Vin Post

I’ve had nearly the entire calendar year to internalize the impact of Vin Scully’s retirement.

It’s different than when an athlete opts to end his playing career. Kobe Bryant & Derek Jeter received the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar treatment with tours, gifts, roasts, etc.; others, such as Barry Bonds or Allen Iverson, are forced to abandon their ride into the sunset. Magic Johnson, Barry Sanders & Bo Jackson are examples of retirements that were shocking in their suddenness. Each fantastic playing career carries specific moments over a generation – or if the athlete was particularly transcendent, generations plural – and defines a city, an era, a specific way of playing the game; something that entrenched the athlete in the milieu to the extent that their retirement itself was notable.

But for many Dodger fans and Los Angeles natives – and for me, specifically – the career of Vin Scully is inextricably intertwined with Life in L.A.

There was Vin when I was doing my homework in Mrs. Saunders class in first grade. There was She Is Gone. . .In a Year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. There were the sombreros being thrown to the sky when old friend Pedro Guerrero made the last out (a GIDP) of Fernando’s no-hitter. There was Vin in Spring for Henry Rodriguez’ four-homerun game. Vin was there when I came home from my first JV game as a 14-year old sophomore. It was Vin, as my Dad would kick back on the floor with his Golden Retriever, Doc, the two of them laying with the screen door ajar, letting the dulcet tones of Vinny complement the perfect San Fernando Valley summer breeze.

Vinny introduced me to Mike Piazza. Hideo Nomo. Ramon and Pedro Martinez. Omar Daal. Ismael Valdes. Vinny was serenading me as Eric Gagné, the mediocre starting pitcher morphed into Eric “Game Over” Gagné, still the most dominating pitcher I’ve seen, asterisk or not. Vin was in love with the O-Dog. Vinny ushered in Mannywood. Yasiel Puig became The Wild Horse.

In recent years, Vin was not there for the playoffs; first because of organizational ineptitude in the 90’s and subsequent Fox era, but mostly because of the Business of Baseball, which precluded ‘local’ broadcasters from doing much of the TV postseason work. Also, Vin’s age (the voice is truly timeless; humans, even a Saint, are not) demanded that the rigors of a baseball travel schedule were simply too much and the road games were increasingly narrated by Rick Monday, Ross Porter, Steve Lyons. Or Charley Steiner. Eric Collins. Recently, L.A. legends Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra have seen more TV work as Vin only works home games and the occasional trip to San Francisco. And Joe Davis, The Man Who Has to Follow in Scully’s Shoes, does a great job – but he’ll forever live with the moniker he’s no Vin Scully. So there’s less Vin now than ever.

And that’s okay. I’ve become busier. We all have. My son, Felix, is nearly 3 years old. And besides, “baseball is too slow.” But maybe that’s a good thing? When I do get to hear Vin, which I did about 30 times this season, I’ve flashed back to those serene summer nights in Sepulveda. I’d get off of a three-way call on my parent’s landline, run out to do a cannonball in the pool, careen back in the house, grab some Cap’n Crunch and Get Back to This One. You could always Pull Up a Chair, but if you couldn’t, that was okay. Vinny was going to see you again tomorrow night.

I really began to appreciate Vin and think about the dreadful and imminent end of Scully’s magical run a few years ago. I wondered if I’d enjoy Dodger games, or the Dodgers, or honestly, baseball, as much when he was gone. I didn’t want to find out, but knew it would happen. And when Felix was born, I wanted him to be able to hear and recognize Vin’s warm voice and that musical cadence. We sit and listen to games – a few innings, in Felix’s case, and I’m always sure to emphasize Vin Scully. He’s not likely to remember these nascent memories, especially of some old broadcaster, but I’m glad that I did have these years to share, and pass down the tradition.

Vin Scully is the narrator of this City I Love. Vin Scully is not just the voice of Los Angeles, he is Los Angeles. He came west as the city was just finding it’s sea-legs, a post-Baby Boom bastion of suburbs and planned communities that required you to have a car. No, really – that was a novel concept in 1958, and it’s exactly why Vinny became Los Angeles. You were, and still are, in a car all the time, and Vinny was painting games nine months out of the year. Until he’s not. And then what? Life goes on. L.A. will be here, Vinny and my Dad will hopefully live well into retirement, and the Dodgers will continue drawing 3 million fans per year. Baseball will certainly move forward. So will I, so will Felix.

But it will be different, an impact unknown. There may be a void, there will definitely be a ripple in the fabric of my fanmanship. But I do know that Vin Scully’s retirement will be more poignant and powerful than any I’ve experienced in sports.

I sent a letter to Vin during the first Dodgers season after Felix was born. I didn’t expect nor receive a response, and was told that he actually receives more mail than anybody in the organization. Maybe he read it, likely he did not, but the copy is below and the sentiment still holds.

Because Vin Scully really enhanced my life. And proud Los Angeles native or not, I’ve never said that about any type of celebrity before. And I certainly haven’t said it about an athlete. I do have a sombrero, but I’m not going to throw it to the sky, Vin. I’m just hoping that I can enjoy and cherish your five remaining telecasts and maybe, just maybe, the Baseball Gods will reward you and the fans whom you’ve impacted with one more improbable October.

July 15, 2014

Mr. Scully –

I just want to reach out and thank you for your presence within the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles. I am a second generation Los Angeles native, and recently had a son (Felix) that will be the third Lovett male to be serenaded by your voice from April to October of each year. 

You are truly the voice that defines summer and provides the soundtrack to our great city. I am proud to be able to pass on the tradition of ‘listening to Vin’ to my son. 

In short, your legacy and influence is immeasurable and I cherish each of your broadcasts, and I appreciate your commitment to pulling up a chair and ‘getting back to this one’ in beautiful Chavez Ravine.

Enclosed is a picture of the three of us – my father, Stu; my son, Felix & me.

With admiration and appreciation,

 

Evan Lovett

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2015 MLB Predictions

Let me start by saying I don’t think any team wins 95 games in all of MLB. Very competitive and not so much parity as a lack of dominance. The game doesn’t lend itself to one team – or a handful of teams – asserting themselves, so you’re going to have the upper tier, and everybody else is going to battle. A good brand of baseball, if you will.

AL East – good or bad, and this year trends more to the latter, this is a fun/competitive division. I am loathe to pick the Orioles because, cmon, but they might STILL be the best team here despite losing Markakis and Cruz. Sheesh. I love the Yankees but there are sooooooo many question marks. The Red Sox pitching is underwhelming though their offense is thunderous. The Blue Jays probably have the best team, the loss of Stroman hurts, but they’re incapable of playing any extended periods of good ball under Anthopolous (sp). 87 winsOrioles (uuggghh).
 
AL Central – Tigers are the easy pick, but probably wrong with both Sanchez and Verlander iffy. Also later Max. The Indians are all chic and fun and honestly a good team and I like Francona a ton, but no. The Twins are going to be the team next year, but not yet. The Royals, maligned as they are, are my pick – and I think they win it going away. 91 wins. I think that top to bottom, it’s a team. Kind of reminds me of the 80’s Dodgers. People thought Lasorda was a dunski but a helluva players’ manager and ended up being HoF. That’s Yost?
AL West – going to be some fun baseball played in this time zone, so post-Felix bedtime I may have to binge. The Astros and Rangers are out of the conversation, the A’s should be but they’re still the A’s so I’ll give them a soft letdown by saying ‘not this time,’ thus leaving the Angels (sigh) and the Mariners (yay but no). I love the M’s, they just feel too bandwagoned too soon. I’d be happy to be wrong on that one, but for now Angels win the division with an AL best 94 wins.
WC – Indians, Mariners. I don’t love the White Sox. I love Sale, Quintana is a creep that can roll, and Abreu is the real deal. They’ll be in the mix, but fall just short.
NL East – It’s so hard to not pick the Nationals here. So I won’t. They will win this division with an MLB-leading 95 wins, and somehow feel like a slight disappointment despite Bryce Harper’s 37 homeruns. The Mets would be a fun pick, the Marlins will be competitive, but the Braves and Phillies are the worst two teams in baseball.
NL Central – I’ve always hated the style of baseball that comes out of this division, and that means especially the Cardinals. And the Reds. And the Pirates. But seriously, emphatically, the Cardinals. And those jerks are going to win the division again with a tooth-and-nail 89 wins, as the Pirates and upstart Brewers combine to form a .500 ball trio in games played against each other. Some would say it’s a intra-division bloodbath, but most of those people won’t live in Chicago because the improved Cubs will win 81 games, but never really be a serious division contender.
NL West – Does this Kimbrel trade put the Padres over the top? I’m not as high on the Dodgers as I ‘should’ be, but that lineup is stout. We know the Dbacks and Rockies are out of it, but 1-8, the Dodgers have the best bats in the West. But what about the Padres pitching? Ross, Cashner, Kennedy, Shields, Despaigne, wowzers. Good stuff. But still, the Dodgers win it with a robust92 win season. Also, the Giants have a nice staff, will make an annoying run, will win 88 games, and steal the last WC slot.
WC – PadresGiants. I just don’t like the Pirates rotation, I don’t think the Brewers have quite enough, and the Marlins are a win and a Jose Fernandez full season away.
Indians win Wild Card, face the Angels.
Angels vs Indians – Angels
Royals vs. Orioles – Royals
Angels over Royals
Giants win the Wild Card, face the Nats.
Nats vs. Giants – Nationals
Dodgers vs, sigh, Cardinals – Dodgers
Winner of this series likely wins the WS. VERY difficult decision, personally and objectively. Had to sleep on this one. Finally, I was thinking about this during my morning “commute” to Sherman Oaks:. How can you beat the Nationals? Fister is the number four Gonzalez is their number five? My man Bryce who I’ve been hyping shamelessly this entire off-season? I really don’t see how a team beats them, unfortunately. Luckily baseball comes down to magic, mojo, and moments of greatness. You can’t rely on these things, but they occur. Keeping in mind I do not love this Dodgers team – I think this is more a reflection of the league itself, not in subpar fashion but the lack of a dominant team. The Rizzo Curse is real, and as much as I don’t want to be a Homer, Simpson, I have to pick the Dodgers.

Dodgers Winter Meetings 2014: This Is What I Think

I have no isolated insight, no secret sources, no magic metrics on the Dodgers flurry of activity under the Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi/Josh Byrnes regime. What I do have is an objective fan’s outlook about both the Chavez Ravine management team and the club that will perform there this coming summer (and autumn).

I first want to address Matt Kemp, as he is the largest name involved in these transactions. For me, I’ve enjoyed his talent but have not consistently praised him as some (many) have. With effortless speed & power, we saw what Kemp could do – nearly a 40/40 season in ’11 when he finished second in MVP to Ryan Braun (Granada Hills HS). We saw the precociousness after the ferociousness, literally moping upon his move to left field. He was disinterested at times, downtrodden at others, and along with Andre Ethier, formed a really needy core.

Especially for really good players. Both of these guys needed to play, but they also needed to be loved. Ethier was nearly despised by some fans, though that chapter will be closed come January or February, when Friedman engineers that deal. In fact, I think both Ethier and Crawford are going to be moved prior to the first pitch of 2015, with management taking a wrecking ball to The Team That Ned Built. But I digress. . .We know Kemp is an undeniable talent, and in fact – I think he will play well in San Diego. The relaxed environ, the spacious field for him to gallop in Center and Right, the Man status; this will all play well to his soul, and he’ll perform. Plus, .280/25/90 on the Padres is performing, so good for him.

And good for the Dodgers. I don’t think the overhaul is so much due to lack of capable ballplayers on Colletti’s roster; I think the entire club ethos needed to change.

Letting Hanley walk, and I LOVED Hanley, was a must. He was the most exciting hitter I’d seen at Dodger Stadium since another Ramirez (99 on his jersey), and has a laserbeam line drive ability (I’m talking absolute screamers, check out his 2013 homer in San Diego, coincidentally) that I’d only seen previously with Gary Sheffield. But he had to go. He needs to have the option to DH, and the Dodgers needed to look for a real shortstop. That bat is irreplaceable, but he commanded too many years; 120 games played would soon be his highwater mark, and the Dodgers don’t need that albatross.

One deal that went nearly unnoticed is the acquisition of Joel Peralta. A professional; unspectacular and easily overlooked, Peralta is more a signal than anything – the bullpen is not a place to invest outside the organization. You can make prudent acquisitions, guys that will calm the ship, eat innings & understand their roles, but as evidenced by the Royals, Giants and Cardinals, you need to build your bullpen from within. Develop guys as starters in the minor leagues and let them hit their preordained innings mark through a variety of roles. But honing in on the pen – especially during formative years – is the most productive way to build pitchers and a safety net.

The Cardinals, in my mind, pioneered this with Adam Wainwright (he was their closer during the ’06 pennant run), converted Rosenthal to perma-pen status, but have brought up the youngsters this way. It’s smart, and it needs to be stated – the bullpen is for guys that aren’t good enough to be starters; they are inherently worse than the guy they’re replacing. Or at least that’s how it was, and why so many bullpens implode. But if you use it as a platform for your best arms, you’re making the bullpen a strength. It makes a ton of sense, and that, along with LaRussa’s inning specialization, will make the biggest impact on the makeup of ballclubs in the last half century.

In short, the Dodgers simply had too many old, crappy arms on the books (Wilson, League, Perez), which weren’t allowing the maligned Scott Elbert, the injured Chris Withrow, and the overlooked Paco Rodriguez to slide into natural roles that could have enhanced the team. I think that Peralta and Friedman acquisition Juan Nicasio will provide a stopgap for the pen while they’ll look to build in 2016 and beyond from the inside, which was luckily left fruitful by Logan White.

And speaking of stopgaps – Jimmy Rollins. What a dude. At least in the 00’s. He still seems like a good guy, a leader type, but is older than the guy the Dodgers let walk. Now, we’re talking a different iteration of player, as Rollins game is/was predicated on quickness & speed with a burst of pop instead of all brawn with a flash of speed. Rollins has been slightly above average for the past four years, yet is remarkably consistent. In today’s game, you don’t need your shortstop to light up the scoreboard, and Rollins’ .260, 14 hr, 55 RB, 29 steals will suffice until Corey Seager snatches the position.Seager, Julio Urias, Joc Pederson. That’s the future right there and Friedman, et al, understand that. The ability to make so many maneuvers (10 trades in 25 days at one point) and upgrade without dealing the three kids is a major coup for this team. I really think the underlying statement that was made is the following:

we have a huge budget and aren’t afraid to use it, but we realize that the future is built on the backs of SABR-minded individuals that also understand that baseball is, and always will be, based on the eyeball test. 

Which brings me to Dee Gordon. Talk about a likable ballplayer; always smiling, always improving, a genuine good person on and off the field. Dodger fans loved his improvement this year, after teetering on the precipice of being a 4A player. “He was an All-Star,” they’d say. Shoot, I said it too. He was exciting. Sixty four stolen bases this year! But the dude couldn’t hit, and I worry that he’d end up being a .262 guy with no pop, and – well, there’s a reason Pat Listach didn’t have a long career. I wish him well in Miami, but most of all I thank him for turning into Andrew Heaney (who’s going to be damn good, ps, and really made me crack up on Twitter), who was flipped for Howie Kendrick.I’ve always likened Howie Kendrick to Kirby Puckett, my favorite player growing up. Free swinging, joyous dudes that came out of junior colleges to light up the big leagues with their smiles & their sticks. Kendrick, of course, isn’t the hitter Puckett was but he can swing it. Especially for a second baseman – and in my mind, the jump offensively from Gordon to Kendrick offsets the perceived drop from Ramirez to Rollins on the other side of the second base bag. Kendrick has a decent glove, and with only one year left on his contract leaves the Dodgers with options heading into 2016, the first real year of the new regime.

Lastly, the Dodgers aren’t done. I don’t know if that means David Price, Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann, James Shields or all of the above (just kidding, I think?). I do think that Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw are untouchable, and Adrian Gonzalez, Kenley Jansen & AJ Ellis aren’t going anywhere.

Anything else is up for discussion.

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photo via fansided/lasportshub

Ranking the Baseball Card Sets of the 1980’s

Special shout to @nightowlcards (http://nightowlcards.blogspot.com/) for indirectly inspiring this post.

Ranking the Baseball Card Sets of the 1980’s

Based 99% on aesthetics and 1% on arbitrary & subjective judgement, I present my descending order of ‘nicest’ baseball card sets of the 1980’s.

#32 – 1981 Donruss.  an absolute bush league attempt at a baseball card. Everything from the proto-dot matrix font to the generic stock border looks amateur. Extra points for stamping the year on the front of the card; as a kid I didn’t notice that and in retrospect it’s very cool.

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#31 – 1983 Donruss.  aahhh, Donruss. Every time I see this set I think ‘printed at home.’ Again, just a continuation of the ’82s which were a continuation of the ’81s, and here we are. Didn’t really do much, and if the ’84s continued down this path, I’m positive Donruss would not have made it to ’85.
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#30 – 1982 Donruss. Donruss basically created a bolder version of the ’81s. Added a little flair with the bat, and came with some nice fonts. Still overall very generic.
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#29 – 1981 Fleer.  another freshman effort with very little frills. Generic font on the name, position and most appallingly, the team name. Very minimal, perhaps to prevent further embarrassment.
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#28 – 1981 Topps. the cap in the corner really makes the cards look generic, and is essentially the same design as Fleer. The card stock was thicker and the design was a tad bit more assertive but realistically 1981 was the worst overall year for cards, at least aesthetically, in the decade.
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#27 – 1988 Score. this is just hilarious. Score, through no fault of their own, debuted their collection during what was quite possibly the worst single season for rookie cards in modern history. Sure, there’s Glavine, and the Traded set was nice, but the multi-colored card backgrounds were just too bright, too distracting. Combine that with a mediocre run of players, and Score kind of established themselves as a good break when you’re done opening real packs.
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#26 – 1982 Fleer. again, a pretty poor effort from Fleer. They really approached this business ‘no-frills’ and it shows. I remember more than a handful of the cards being blurry.
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#25 – 1988 Donruss. This Jeffries card was the most sought-after common card I can remember. And the set is kind of ugly, to boot. It’s trying to do too much with the random pattern on the border, and the font gets lost in the shuffle, as does the logo (how is that possible). Also, some really lousy Diamond Kings in this issue (take that, Johnny Ray!).
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#24 – 1989 Score. the cards aren’t hideous, but they still feel like second class citizens. Kudos to Score for the unique layout, but it just seems too ‘new-fangled’ for the industry. Harumph.
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#23 – 1989 Donruss. Donruss goes fully off the rails again. I love the color purple, but not on my cards. This was tough to differentiate from the Classic board game sets that came out a few years early, but at least these could legally utilize team logos. Really, just an ‘updated’ version of what they were doing when their cards were generic computer printouts in the early decade.

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#22 – 1986 Donruss. Man, this Canseco card is awesome. Does any card from any era capture a singular persona with one photograph as this Canseco rookie? The design is pretty ‘futuristic’ with the dizzying horizontal lines backdropping a 100% horizontal/diagonal layout. A little trippy, but it was something new. Content of the set aside (this was a powerhouse at the time), it’s a set that did not age well.
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#21 – 1986 Fleer. basically ’85 Fleer but they balanced it out; the bubble is now at the bottom. A bit more optimistic than the ’85 set, but still fairly dour. Fleer’s photographers had either the best access or the best eye, because they captured the most candid of shots of any card company. This set is slightly nicer than average.
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#20 – 1988 Topps. probably the most baseball card-y of all baseball cards. They nailed everything from the moment it came out of the wax pack. Colorful yet unpredictably colored team names; a horizontally diagonal stripe; the strong, thick-lined border; a scripted font for the position. Through all that, managed to set the standard for the Truly Generic. It’s not a bad-looking set, it’s just that it comes off like a Ford – it’ll get you to where you need to go but there’s nothing special about it. At all.

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#19 -1987 Donruss. Donruss returns to Earth with a comic-inspired border that detracts from what would otherwise be a really clean design. Again, clean team logo and sharp use of black, but the player name/color coordination effort is a bit too much, as is the stripe-lined animation.
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#18 – 1985 Topps. The Disneyland of card sets. Happy, colorful, fun, everybody’s having a good time look at us!!! Clean look, and one of the first mass, mass, MASS produced sets that foreshadowed what would be the ultimate downfall of the hobby.
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#17 – 1989 Topps. Topps salvaged generic and gave it a twist. A wavey player name line enforced a script team name, and that’s it – yet somehow the card looks professional. Came out clean and understated and a good way to head into the 90’s.
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#16 – 1983 Topps.  I like this set more than I should, probably because of what it meant – the constant Gwynn & Boggs rookie card debate, as who is really the better hitter.  The inset picture is a really neat feature, but the overall design is a bit too line-y. Good cards, though, and fun to open.
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#15 – 1986 Topps. I had a ton of fun with this set, and opened about a half dozen boxes with my best friend Jared at his Mom’s house after the turn of the New Year. Seemed like a really accessible set with the huge letters on top and the dual border color, but is pretty bland in retrospect. Kudos for some humorous photos, though.
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#14 – 1984 Fleer. Fleer strikes again, yet with a completely different design. Bold stripes line the top and bottom, and the color team logo and sharp pictures ensure a strong set. The fact that their Update edition set the hobby on its ear didn’t hurt. Hall of Famers in a set-only limited print run? Yes, please!
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#13 – 1985 Donruss.  Oh Donruss, don’t hurt ’em! Black borders, so ahead of their time and sooooooo obnoxiously nicked, specked, ticked, and otherwise flawed, permanently putting the kibosh on any chances at keeping your Puckett rookie in PSA10 condition. Bold move with the team logos, but a great layout makes this an upper echelon design – except for the red ‘stairs’ on the border, which take it down to average.
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#12 – 1989 Fleer. again, Fleer takes a chance, this time with pinstripes. On grey, of all colors. But it works, yet again. It helped that there were some notable cards (ahem, Billy), but a well put together set that would rank higher if it had more elite players.
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#11 – 1989 Bowman. Really cheap cardboard. I mean, this set felt like those cereal box cards my dad handed down to me from the early 60’s. I think it was Kellogg’s or Post. Either way, I despised these cards at the time but probably didn’t ‘get’ what they were trying to do. Though the formula changed dramatically, when Bowman took over the 90’s with their elite design (backed by a very limited print run), it was backed by these, which are essentially recreations of the late 40’s and 50’s Bowman shortrun. Very understated, with solely the signature and Bowman logo, and some decent if not predictable photography. Clean, thin red line leads out to the border, inversely representing the baseball field.
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#10 – 1984 Topps. I loved this set more as I was younger, but it’s still a good look. A little dated, but definitely with the ‘retro is cool’ cachet. A strong focus on mustachioed players was a Topps hallmark, and the inset photo made sure to enable a pack run of 8, 9 or even 10 players in a row with ‘staches. Cool stuff, and probably everybody’s first Mattingly rookie.
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#9 – 1987 Topps. this actually is a beautiful set, only I’m desensitized because I’ve seen more 1987 Topps baseball cards than any other card set on the planet. I think I opened a box of ’87 Topps every year from 1986 (Christmas release) through 1999. Then when I ‘got back into’ pack ripping in the 2000s, I bought another five boxes. It’s so nice, just like the wood in your kitchen. And just as played out. But really, it is a good looking card if you take it for face value.
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#8 – 1988 Fleer. The total antithesis of their ’85 issue, as this one screams big happy balloons. It’s the first clean white backdrop we’ve seen in the decade, and the pops of blue and red are not only election/Olympics-friendly, but they add a good touch. Some first-rate photography and collaborative photos (Puckett and Matt Nokes?) make this a pleasant, higher-rated set.
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#7 – 1985 Fleer. Fleer strikes again. For me, this set captured the 1980’s better than any; it was foreboding, and the photos contained a bleakness that spoke volumes about the various controversies in the middle of the decade. The design itself is a bit top-heavy, but the unedited, sweaty pictures that are featured on several cards provided a window into the dark soul of the game.
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#6 – 1982 Topps.  the first really cool set in the 80’s. The cards look modern (for the era), with the Tron-esque track navigating the side and bottom of the card. The fonts are strong, and the added faux-signature was both a callback to classic Topps and always a fan favorite. Again, thick stock and some nice photography.
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#5 – 1987 Fleer. This set shouldn’t work. The blue is obnoxious (hey, at least they run a reverse downward gradient prior to smacking your them with a final horizontal bold streak) and the card is basic. But it’s awesome. I don’t know if this is the set that captured the spirit of the go-go 80’s, or was prescient toward the pastels and bright colors of the early 90’s, but it stands out. And it’s nice. The Bonds rookie is an iconic card and somehow, someway, the blue resonates without being dated.
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#4 – 1980 Topps. Pretty gorgeous, from the ribbon position/team design to the late 70’s cinematic color wash. The pictures were fairly low quality at times, but they did well capturing greatness – and one of the last true awesome rookie cards.

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#3 – 1983 Fleer. I looooooooooove this set. I didn’t at the time, and I even overlooked it during my pack-opening renaissance in the 00’s. Yet within the last half decade, I’ve come to appreciate the first colored border (beige, how striking) of the decade, and a legitimate team logo on the card. Fleer also stepped up their photography with some higher-quality portraits, and the colorwash they utilized makes the cards timeless. Very underrated set and one of my favorites.
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#2 – 1984 Donruss.  Saved the company, revolutionized the hobby. Was it the quadruple wave on the front? Was it the borderless photos? Was it the barrage of close-up portraits? Or was it simply Donnie Baseball, the right man at the right time in the right place for this card company to capitalize on being the first limited-print (due to perceived financial constraints) run in modern collecting history? All of the above, probably. Great set, great aesthetics and opening a pack today still gives me chills.
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#1 – 1989 Upper Deck. You knew it was coming. So did I. The Griffey rookie took the baton from Donnie Donruss and armed with outstanding photography (Walter Iooss), post-modernism (Gary Pettis), a legendary error card (Dale Murphy RevNeg) and a sweet crop of players, this set blew everybody out of the water. And foil wrappers. And a baseline running down the side of the card. And $1/pack charge. These were the first cards that made the hobby a real business of Now. Unfortunately, it also was the impetus for making it a real business of yesterday as well. ’89 Upper Deck, you were fine, you were fun, and you made the hobby and subsequently ruined the hobby. Thanks for the memories.

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2014 MLB Hall of Fame Ballot Straw Poll

Below you will find the link to the2014 Hall of Fame ballot names from Baseball-Reference.com, along with a full range of statistical measures for all players on the ballot. ‘Years on Ballot,’ % of Ballots named in 2013, Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFm – the system is flawed, 100 is ‘likely’ in this metric) and Bill James Hall of Fame Standard (HOFs, in which 50 is the ‘average’ Hall of Famer, a score that exceeds that is considered superior than Hall of Fame average). This is definitely one of the more ‘crowded’ ballots I can remember, so I’ll make my piece snappy.

My opinions have not changed dramatically from last year’s lackluster HoF class. This new crop is pretty incredible, though. Here’s my “ballot” for 2014:
with apologies to Jack Morris on his final attempt, the crop of:
Greg Maddux

Frank Thomas

Tom Glavine
are first year shoo-ins for me. I’m sure Glavine will have the most pushback, but 300+ wins and reinventing himself as a late-career pitcher help greatly.

My next wave of entrants are holdovers that were slighted for one reason or another:
Craig Biggio
Mike Piazza
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Tim Raines
Raines has been a lightning rod for a few years and I imagine he won’t get in for a while. That said, he’s one of the prototype leadoff hitters in the modern era and was completely overlooked in Montreal. The 80’s were a tough era for elites, and his measurables stack up well.

I think Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina eventually get in, but not this year. People hate Kent, but his numbers are top five ever as a second baseman. He’s in. Mussina is frustrating because he was never an Ace or even a Cy pitcher, but he racked up wins and had longevity in an era defined by arm injuries.

Curt Schilling is a total cusp guy for me, probably more than most, because of his postseason success as well as the few big years. I ultimately vote ‘no’ – because he’s an asshole? – because the stats just aren’t quite Hall-worthy.

Hideo Nomo will probably be enshrined eventually as a special contributor type, as he really ushered in the era of Asian crossover.

This crop deserves it’s own mention, because NONE of them receive my ‘vote’ in 2014 and they were all really good first basemen:
Jeff Bagwell
Don Mattingly
Fred McGriff
Mark McGwire

I could see myself likely ‘vote’ for McGwire in the future, but Bagwell – despite his similarities to the Big Hurt – just doesn’t have that brand recognition that I’d like. I’m probably shorting him and reserve my right to ‘vote’ him in down the road, but not now. My guess is he DOES ride with the first wave and get in this year, however. Mattingly somehow gets in on the Veterans Committee one day. His reputation as ‘everybody’s favorite player’ is just too strong, and when history shines back on him with the moustache in the pinstripes, he’ll be enshrined.

I refuse to listen to cases for:
Lee Smith

Alan Trammell
Edgar Martinez
because none of them were ever the best player at their position, much less Hall-worthy.

Regardless, good ballot and i’d love to hear your opinions.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/hof_2014.shtml

It Takes a Giant Man. . .and some Giants Fans

Kudos not only to the classy Matt Cain, but the wonderful fans of Pac Bell – nee, AT&T Park – in San Francisco last night.

After Matt Cain’s truly enthusiastic, humble, charmingly bewildered reaction to his own Perfect Game, the packed house by the Bay was filled with appreciative supports, who remained well past the last pitch. With nary an empty seat in the house, the most beautiful stadium in baseball was filled with raucous Giants diehards.
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It was honestly an incredible moment as Cain held is breath as third baseman Joaquin Arias backpeddled on a hard-hit ball from Astros local Jason Castro, only to deftly field and fire a bullet to first baseman Brandon Belt. Belt astutely pocketed the ball and the celebration ensued.
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Even as a Dodgers fan, this was an indelible moment on the baseball landscape. Continuing the renormalization of baseball in the post-PED era, the second perfect game this season (and fourth in two years, NOT including the Galarraga/Joyce incident) showed yet again that baseball is best at its purest.

Congratulations Matt Cain, and kudos to the San Francisco Giants and their wonderful fans.

postseason comments (Yankees)

i thought that pitch before the strikeout to jeter was a strike, but the ump had been inconsistent all night. . .and it’s jeter.
i think valverde is smoke and mirrors, but that really good weed smoke and the disney funhouse mirrors.
i think verlander is quite literally amazing. first inning throwing 94mph, by the 8th he threw five 100+ in a row.
and his CURVEBALL was checking in at 89.
i think cabrera is a fatass that was born to hit. think manny, but in even worse shape.
i think cc is a workhorse, and almost akin to eli manning in that he beats the bad teams like he should but just isn’t REALLY elite.
that said, i love the guy and think he’s still a top ten pitcher.
i think jim leyland is a DAMN good manager.
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i think granderson has a disgusting approach/swing but is still a fine player. literally ugly to watch, though.
i think teixiera is even more pronounced than cc in his disparity against good teams & bad teams.
.162 batting average in 25 postseason games with yankees!
i think a-rod has to be the most frustrating player for a yankee fan. he’s good, so good, and has ‘just’ enough clutch moments to completely NOT hate for being so lackluster the majority of the time.
i think girardi is a good manager for a season, not necessarily a postseason.
i think its awesome that the yankee season comes down to aj burnett.
i think that burnett wins tonight, and the yankees still win in 5.
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