Wednesday, November 26, 2008

2009 Topps Turkey Day Gimmick

There are a few baseball player names that my wife just finds funny - Coco Crisp, Pujols, Colon, Putz, and of course Gobble. In the spirit of tomorrow's holiday, here's a little something I put together (all in good fun of course). Who knows, maybe this is next years gimmick card from Topps:
Green Monster wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe and enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Score, Conigliaro, Florie, Clement...

Two weeks ago, former MLB pitcher and broadcaster Herb Score passed away (I've been meaning to get to this post for some time now, but things have conspired to keep me from it until now). I mention this, not in an attempt to eulogize Score's life (if you want to read a good eulogy post, try here), but because of the catastrophic event that occurred on May 7, 1957. But first I must admit something. Despite having a 1956 Topps card bearing his likeness, I knew nothing about Herb Score until I read the accounts of his passing. I now know that Score was ROY in 1955, went 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA and 263 strikeouts in 1956, and that in 1957 his career was derailed when he was struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald. As a Red Sox fan, I immediately thought of Tony Conigliaro and the similar event that all but ended his career.

The following excerpt from Rico Petrocelli's book, Tales From the Impossible Dream Red Sox, details the brutality of Conigliaro's beaning:

“Tony set himself in the batter’s box, crowding the plate as always, while I knelt in the on-deck circle. I always believed there was a spot where Tony couldn’t see the inside pitch. If you threw it to the right spot, he’d hit that ball nine miles. But then there was this blind spot, a little more inside. Sometimes he moved too late to get out of the way, and sometimes he never moved at all.

I saw Hamilton’s first pitch coming in and knew it was head high. But Tony didn’t start to react until the last fraction of a second. Instinctively he threw up his hands to protect his head, but not nearly in time.
The ball crashed into the side of his face with a sharp crack that I swear could have been heard clearly all over that noisy ballpark. It sounded like the ball hit his helmet, so my immediate reaction was relief that the ball had struck plastic instead of flesh. But the sound was probably his cheekbone breaking.
In his desperate scramble to get out of the way of the ball, Tony had dislodged his helmet, and the ball struck him flush in the left side of his face, just below the eye socket. Tony went down like he’d been clothes-lined by an NFL cornerback and didn’t move.

Except for umpire Bill Valentine and catcher Bob Rodgers, I was first on the scene. I didn’t like what I saw. Tony’s face was swelling up like there was somebody inside his skull blowing up a balloon. The first thing I thought was he was going to lose his left eye. Blood was pouring out of his nose. I didn’t know what else to do, so I knelt down beside him, loosened his belt a little so he could breathe easier, and whispered into his ear that everything was going to be all right....

Tony became fully conscious in the trainer’s room. “It hurts like hell,” he told the doc. “I heard a hissing sound, and that was all....”

The diagnosis was a shattered cheekbone. Doctors would have to wait until the swelling went down to determine if there was any permanent damage to his eye. Dr. Dorsey said that if the ball had struck Tony an inch higher and to the right, he might have been killed.”

I’m not old enough to remember either Herb Score or Tony Conigliaro's playing days. I have however witnessed a couple of similar plays (none live fortunately – blood and bone type injuries make me go all jell-o legged). In 2000, Bryce Florie, a relief pitcher for the Red Sox was hit in the face by a line drive and in 2005, Matt Clement, starting pitcher for the Red Sox was struck in the head by a line drive. Both plays were sickening to see. A human body should not crumple like both Florie’s and Clement’s did. Most sports fans do not consider baseball to be a contact sport. Basically their arguments revolve around how baseball is less dangerous, less physical of a sport than football (the fact that they delay baseball games due to rain is frequently mentioned). While I will agree that baseball can’t compare with the repeated brutality of football, I do think the physical, and sometimes dangerous, aspects of baseball get unfairly downplayed. Outfielders run into walls (and occasionally teammates - ie Johnny Damon & Damian Jackson in 2003) in full pursuit of fly balls, base runners are constantly sliding hard into defenders in attempt to break up close plays, and catchers are always in peril of being bowled over by runners trying to score (a play that I would argue rivals any full force NFL hit). And as the four incidents noted above show, the most basic components of baseball, the ball and bat, can become lethal projectiles capable of horrific results.

Score, Conigliaro, Florie and Clement all made come backs once they had recovered from the physical damage they had suffered, though none of them was able to match the success enjoyed before their injuries. In the case of Conigliaro, he suffered structural damage to his eyesight that prevented him from being the same player. The others all claimed to not suffer any psychological effects, though their results might suggest otherwise. So while baseball may not measure up to football when it comes to overall physicallity, it has the potential, with any individual play to be just as violent and dangerous.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Monster Card of the Week - Green Monster's Friend

It's time to introduce another feature that will make regular appearances on this blog - the Monster Card of the Week. This feature will showcase cards that are slightly out of the mainstream, players who weren't necessarily well known stars, and cards that I think are just plain cool. Today's feature falls into the last category, a 1991 Fleer Pro Visions Mike Greenwell.
If you haven't already figured out from the name of my blog, I have a jones for the Green Monster in Fenway Park. In my estimation it is one of the most iconic landmarks in all of sports. Do a Google images search for Fenway Park and virtually all of the results feature the famous left field wall. I owe my fascination with the Monster to Mike Greenwell. When I was younger, the Gator was my favorite Red Sox player (I remember reading once that he got this nickname because he liked to wrestle alligators in Florida - not sure I believe that though). I've always kind of shied away from the biggest stars when it comes to picking favorites. Greenwell played the game hard and had a few great years, but was never really the star of the team (that would have been Boggs and then Vaughn).

The '91 Pro Visions card is one of my all-time favorite cards. The use of art rather than photos was something I had never seen on a baseball card before (In all honesty, I'm still a sucker for this gimmick, which is how I got sucked into collected UD Masterpieces despite the dreaded short prints). And then there was the Monster. I loved the anthropomorphism of Fenway's most famous feature - that devilish, devious smirk and the predatory eyes. Opposing players beware! And yet there stands Greenwell in front of the Monster, calm and cool as could be. Because he knows that he has tamed the beast, he is the Monster's friend.

So long, farewell...

I was so busy the last two days that I was completely unaware that the Red Sox traded Coco Crisp until this morning. Crisp will end up as one of those ex-Sox players that I'm not sure how I feel about. I remember being excited when the Red Sox first acquired him. He was a good defensive outfielder who was lightning fast on the basepaths - something Red Sox teams have always lacked (Johnny Damon not withstanding). He seemed destined to live up to the hype too during the first few weeks of Spring Training in 2006. But then he broke his finger stealing a base and the wheels seemed to come off. Crisp struggled as a lead-off hitter and instead of being the table-setter at the front of a potent Red Sox lineup, he spent most of his time with the Sox at the bottom of the order. Defensively however, Coco was one of the most dynamic players ever to play for the Red Sox. The highlight-reel, diving catches that he made on a regular basis are some of the best I have ever seen. And so I have mixed feelings about Crisp as a Red Sox player. I don't harbor any ill feelings towards Coco and wish him well in Kansas City.

In exchange for Crisp, the Red Sox get a relief pitcher, Ramon Ramirez, that I freely admit I know very little about. has the following scouting report on Ramirez:

"Throws 92-95 [mph] with a heavy, late-life fastball . . . Gets away with mistakes over the middle of the plate because his fastball has so much late life . . . second-best arm in that bullpen [to Joakim Soria] . . . Likes to challenge hitters . . . Definitely a setup man with potential to be a closer down the road . . . Plus fastball, plus slider, has a splitter or something that resembles a splitter . . . Average command . . . Deceptive delivery makes it hard for righthanded hitters to pick up his fastball . . . Hitters can't pick up his arm slot on the backside . . . Needs to tweak his off-speed pitches . . . Can throw his slider too hard . . . Very athletic. Fields his position well . . . Has an above-average 1.22 [second] release point [from the breaking of his hands to catchers mitt] on his slide step, 1.3 from the windup . . . Works fast."

One of the Red Sox weaknesses last season was their bullpen - Okajima wasn't as good in his sophomore year, Delcarmen struggled to be consistent and Timlin was done (God I hated seeing him come into games last year). Sure Papelbon was as dominant as ever, but getting to him was difficult. Good end-of-game pitchers are hard to come by, so if Ramirez performs as advertised, then I applaud the Red Sox for this move. I've seen a lot of speculation that this is the first domino in a bigger game Theo Epstein is playing. I'm not sure I buy it. Epstein has had a history of stocking up on pitching during the off-season. I think his 2006 blunder with Bronson Arroyo taught him a valuable lesson - there's no such thing as too much pitching.

Enough talk though, what will be will be. Lets get to the fun stuff - cards! First up if the former Sox doing one of the things that made him exciting to watch - motor around the bases.

Next up is a Green Monster special. Since Topps didn't produce an image of their 2009 base set design featuring a Red Sox player, I came up with one for them. Introducing the newest member of the Red Sox, Ramon Ramirez (may he have as much success for the Sox as the last guy with that last name):

Original photo by G.Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
Original card design by Topps Company Inc.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blog Bat Around - Why do we collect?

I find the psychology of collecting fascinating. What drives human beings to spend time and money stockpiling things that have little to no real value (isn't that what we really mean when we say something is priceless) - things that are not essential to everyday survival. Art, cars, baseball cards, coins, books, rocks, stuffed animals. We clutter our houses, our lives with these purposeless pursuits. Sure collecting is fun and serves as a distraction from the everyday pressures of life, but is that what really drives us to collect? Or is it the thrill of the chase; the feeling of satisfaction when a long sought after piece is finally attained; the hope that the items we hoard will become valuable? Why do I, a (relatively) normal man of 32 years old, store thousands of cardboard rectangles depicting others playing a game in boxes, binders and specially designed plastic sheaths in my closet?

When I was younger I collected every type of card imaginable – baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and even non-sports cards. In 1982, the year I started collecting, there were approximately 50 baseball card products issued, including small run and regional releases. No one I knew labeled themselves as a player collector, or a set collector. We didn’t have to. We were just card collectors. By the mid-1990’s there were six times the number of products being issued. As a collector, I could no longer keep up with the quantity of products being issued. I also couldn’t afford my collection habit any more, as the early 1990’s saw the genesis of high end products. It was depressing to not be able to afford the best looking and most desirable cards being produced, so I stopped.

Fast forward 15 years. While the number of manufacturers has decreased (RIP Donruss), the number of card products has continued to rise exponentially. In 2007, there were over 700 baseball products, including parallels, inserts and 1 of 1s, issued (granted this is a marked improvement from over 2,100 products in 2005, the year before MLBPA contracted to two manufacturers). It is impossible to collect everything unless you are lucky enough to have nearly unlimited resources. As a result, we as collectors have to limit what it is we collect. The type collector is a product of today’s sports card industry more than anything else. We are forced to limit our collecting to one team, to one player, or even to one type of card (
game used for example) to make collecting manageable. This is the hobby I returned to in 2008. I’ve come to realize that my original collecting goal (to collect one Red Sox card from every set ever produced) is laughable in its impossibility and that I need some guidelines to keep from getting in over my head. These are my new Collecting Rules of Engagement:

1. I will only collect baseball cards
2. I will only collect (1) base product, inserts not included, per year (I picked Topps since that’s what I collected most when I was younger)
3. I will only collect 2-3 additional products per year (I picked Topps Chrome – what can I say, I like shiny – and UD Masterpieces this year)
4. I will only collect Red Sox cards only of all other products

Basically, I’ve decided that I want to collect as a set builder who dabbles as a team collector on the side. To me, this model is as close as I can get to how I collected when I was younger (I’m sure this says something on a psychological level about why I collect baseball cards). Also, as I noted in my first post on this blog, I find that set building feeds my love of baseball's history. In the end though, no matter what label we as collector's use to identify ourselves, be it set collector, team collector or autograph collector, it all goes back to the psychology of collecting. We all have the same itch, the same addiction - to fill our closets with rectangular pieces of cardboard!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pedroia wins AL MVP

After months of rampant speculation, it's official - Dustin Pedroia is the 2008 AL MVP (read it here).I'm sure there will be lots of posts about whether Pedroia should have won the AL MVP award this year. I'm not much of a stat junkie, so I really can't argue for or against the others who received votes based on stats. I will say this however, I don't know that any other player means more to his team than Pedroia does to the Red Sox. Now I should point out that I am a Red Sox fan and therefore probably not the most unbiased voice. I watched just about every Red Sox game this year (God bless MLB Extra Innings), and Pedroia was the motor that kept that team running for long stretches during the season. There were times when he was virtually impossible to get out. And in those rare instances when he did struggle, his presence on the field (Gold Glove anyone) and in the clubhouse more than made up for the lack of offense. If that's not the definition of an MVP, then I don't know what is. And its not like his offense wasn't worthy to start. He did leed the league in hits, runs, doubles and multi-hit games after all. In the absence of a standout performance from anyone in the American League, I think Pedroia is as worthy as anyone of winning.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, here's some historical trivia to share at work tomorrow. Pedroia is only the third player to win an MVP award the year after being named Rookie of the Year. The others:

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1982 AL ROY, 1983 AL MVP
Ryan Howard, 2005 NL ROY, 2006 NL MVP

Pedroia is the first AL second baseman to win the MVP since this guy won in 1959:

(This is one my favorite 56 Topps cards. There are a lot of 2008 Topps cards that don't have this kind of an action shot on them!) No position has won fewer MVP awards.

Congratulations to Dustin Pedroia for joining some elite company.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ghosts of the Past - Tris Speaker

In my first post I mentioned the idea of featuring players from the earliest days of baseball’s history. A lot of these players, though stars in their time, have faded from memory and are completely unknown to today’s fans. They have become nothing more than ghosts of the past, ephemeral spectres that lurk in the dark shadows of time. Tris Speaker, though not an unknown name by virtue of being in the Hall of Fame, is the first of these ghosts I want to illuminate.

Even though Speaker is in the Hall of Fame and baseball fans may recognize his name, I would guess that most know little to nothing about how good a player Speaker was in his time. Speaker's Hall of Fame plaque proclaims him to be "the greatest Centerfielder of his day." Indeed, during his 20 year career (1907 - 1928) Speaker led all American League outfielders in putouts 7 times, and is still the all-time leader in assists (448), double plays (139) and the AL leader in total putouts (6,706). To put this in perspective, Willie Mays, who many consider to be the best outfielder of all time only recorded 195 total assists and 51 double plays. And while his total putouts (7,290) exceeds Speaker's, Mays played nearly 10 years longer than Speaker did. Let that sink in for a minute. Speaker has nearly as many DOUBLE PLAYS as an outfielder as Mays had total assists! Speaker was famous for playing so shallow in Centerfield that he was almost a fifth infielder. In fact, recorded 6 unassisted double plays by catching a line drives on the fly and beating runners back to second base.

Speaker was not just a defensive specialist though. He was also one of the era's great offensive threats. Speaker put up such incredible numbers that he still ranks in the top ten all-time in batting average (5th), hits (5th), triples (6th), runs (8th) and is the all-time doubles leader with 792. He led the American League in batting average only once (1916), though he batted over .380 five times, and finished behind Ty Cobb multiple times. Speaker never struck out more than 25 times in a season, and even led the AL in home runs in 1912 (with a whopping total of 10). Remember too, that Speaker achieved these numbers in the "dead ball era" when the league wide batting average was .243, entire teams only hit less than 10 home runs in a season, and pitchers were allowed to scuff, spit on and manipulate the ball in ways that are illegal in today's game. Speaker's best offensive year came in 1912, a year in which he won the Chalmers award, the predecessor of todays MVP award.

Tris Speaker played the first nine years of his career with the Boston Red Sox. In his prime he was part of the "Million Dollar Outfield" with Duffy Lewis and fellow Hall of Famer Harry Hooper - considered by many the best outfield trio ever assembled (look for more on Hooper and Lewis in future posts). Speaker helped guide the Red Sox to World Series victories in 1912, 1915 and 1916. Following the 1916 World Series, in which he led his team with a .300 average, 9 hits and 4 runs scored, Speaker had a falling out with the Red Sox President, Joe Lannin, who wanted to cut Speaker's salary from $15,000 to $9,000 due to his declining batting average. Speaker refused and was traded to the Cleveland Indians for two lower tier players and $50,000. Speaker went on to play eleven years for Cleveland, guided them to a World Series in 1920 (Cleveland's first) and averaged over .350 during that span. Baseball experts rank it among the worst trades ever, including the Babe Ruth debacle (why does it seem like the Red Sox have been on the losing ends of so many of these bad trades?). Tris Speaker's career in Cleveland ended with a gambling scandal involving Ty Cobb (Speaker and Cobb were ultimately granted amnesty by Judge Kenisaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner of baseball). Speaker went on to play one season each with the Washington Senators and Philadelphia A's and his statistics during those years were subpar.

Tris Speaker retired from baseball at the end of the 1928 season and was elected as the seventh member of Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1937. There are a number of annecdotal stories about Tris Speaker. My favorite is that he was the first player to test the wind by throwing grass into the air. He also had one of the best nicknames - Spoke, which supposedly is a play on his last name. In terms of baseball cards, Speaker is featured in many of the iconic sets of the early 20th Century, including the T206 set made famous by Honus Wagner. I've included some images of some of the more interesting and iconic cards featuring ole Spoke.

Image key (I'm still figuring this blogger thing out - its totally different than the desktop publishing programs I'm used to) from top:
1. 1909 T202 Hassan Triple Folder
2. 1909-1911 T206
3. 1911 T201 Mecca Double Folder
4. 1913 WG5 National Game
5. 1911 T3 Turkey Red
6. 1911 T205

Monday, November 10, 2008

...the beginning remains always the most notable moment


It seems like every day someone is starting a new baseball card blog. And while the internet probably doesn’t need yet another, I think I’ve got an angle that may make Green Monster a little bit different from the others.

I love the history and tradition of baseball. Baseball has such a rich tapestry of stories, stories that are shared from generation to generation. The game that is played today is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago. The bases are still 90 feet apart, pitchers still have to throw the ball over home plate for a strike, and batters still have to be able to hit said pitches. The great players of decades past - Ruth, Williams, Cobb, Young - would most likely be great players today. Which allows for debate among fans as to a favorite player’s place among the pantheon of baseball immortals. The same cannot be said of the other pro sports. This heritage, the statistics and milestones that form the individual threads of the tapestry that is baseball, is endlessly fascinating to me.

Which brings me to baseball cards. Part of the reason I collect baseball cards is that they help me to connect with the individual threads of baseball’s history. A 1987 Topps card of Mark McGwire calls to mind the post-home run forearm collisions that earned he and fellow juicer slugger Jose Canseco the nickname “Bash Brothers”. The back of a 1992 Topps Julio Franco card reminds me that he was the AL batting champion the previous year. A 2005 Topps Traded Jacoby Ellsbury reminds of what year he was drafted.

I am primarily a set collector and I’m pretty sure that this connection between cards and baseball’s heritage is the reason. Each set is like an archive of the previous baseball season - the record breakers, the all stars, the rookies. (I also collect Red Sox cards, but I think it’s obvious why people collect their favorite team.)

I have a ton of ideas for this blog that will explore the rich history of baseball as viewed through baseball cards. Most of the threads I will explore will revolve around the Red Sox because… well frankly because that’s what I’m interested in. I’ll spotlight cards of players who moonlighted with the Red Sox or who are better remembered for playing elsewhere. There will also be features on players from the dead-ball and pre-war eras (1901 – 1940 or so), and on favorite cards and players from my personal collection. Regardless of the topic, the baseball cards will be the stars of this blog. Hopefully my words can do them justice and that others will enjoy what I think is a different twist on baseball card collecting.

Scott C.