Friday, January 04, 2008

Baseball Cards

One of the great tragedies of my life (said with some tongue-in-cheek) was coming home for the first time from college and finding out my mom had thrown out my box of baseball cards. The box was huge, probably four foot squared and filled with all the cards that had been purchased with paper route money and allowances over the years. I can definitely remember having at least five Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie cards. Woo boy, those were worth quite a bit during the golden years of collecting.

The post found here by Josh Wilker put me in this mind frame. I remember that card found on his post. The nostalgia from seeing that card was quite powerful. Of course, it was a Topps card and for me at least, that was the only brand that mattered. The others were pretenders, even if they later came out with shinier versions (which corrupted Topps when they had to keep up with those guys). Topps cards had the same feel as the old Sporting News. Recycled or unbleached paper and cardboard with a grainy feel. It was the stats on the back of the cards that I valued most.

For you youngsters, there was a time, not very long ago, when you couldn't get player statistics at the touch of a button or with a keyboard click. But a Topps baseball card had it all there at you finger tips. You could see a player's baseball life on that card.

Buying packs of baseball cards are a thing of the past. Some stores still sell them, but they are five dollars a pack. Heck, we could have gotten 50 packs for that amount of money. We flipped cards (a precursor to later gambling pursuits), clipped them on our bicycles to make a cool noise (another thing of the past as kinds now have ATVs which make real noise).

You had to buy at least two or three packs to make it worthwhile. The Topps logo was on the top of the paper wrapper (wasn't foil in those days). The wrapper sealed on the bottom and you simply pulled the pack open. I can't remember how many cards came in a pack...was it ten? fifteen? Anyway, it was always exciting to separate the cards from the wrapper, quickly throw the useless gum away and see who you got. The real dedicated ones like us used to also mark off those list cards where the players were listed along with the number of their card with a little checkbox to the left of each name. As we got a player for the first time, you took a pencil and darkened the box. It was cool to see which of us had most of the boxes darkened.

I seem to remember that Zoilo Versalles, the Cuban player who is most known for his years with the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins, showed up in every pack. Some cards were like that. Yankee cards were always valued, but for some reason, you could never get the ones you wanted. Mickey Mantle almost never showed up (nor Willie Mays for that matter), but you were sure to get a Mike Kekich or Steve Hamilton card.

I ended up buying a Mickey Mantle card (#500 in the series) from his last year that had his entire career listed. I bought it on eBay for $250. That sure would have bought three years worth of cards when I was a kid.

The very best cards were from players who played a very long time. Pete Rose played for 60 years or something, and the back of his card would be in really small print. Those were cool. Al Kaline had a cool card as did Ron Santo and others who played a long time.

I'm not saying this isn't a wonderful time to be a Fan with all the stats, box scores and analysis you have at you fingertips. But it sure would be great if you could get a pack of Topps card for a few dimes on that old feel cardboard. Those were great days.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Revisiting the Fan's Ripken Angst

The recent debate on Alan Trammell's career and his Hall of Fame worthiness made me revisit his career stats and compare them to the "legendary" Cal Ripken, Jr. The fact that Trammell compiled less statistics than Ripken because his career was so much shorter doesn't diminish that the career numbers are pretty similar...and wanting.

If you take away Ripken's iron man streak and view his career without that as a perspective, he was a pretty average player. Ripken did change the prototype of the thin and rangy, punch-and-Judy hitting shortstop to the power position it is today. But was he a great player? Not in my opinion. Let's look at some of the numbers.

Ripken had six years where his on-base percentage was less than .325. He had ten years (out of twenty) where he hit less than .270. He only slugged over .500 five times in his career. He had two brutal stretches in his career wrapped around his two career years, at a time when he was supposedly in the prime years.

1991 was Ripken's best year. He batted .323 with 368 total bases and a slugging percentage of .566. He hit 34 homers and drove in 114. The following year, he was just as bad as he was good the year before. In 637 at bats, he batted .251, had an on-base percentage of .323 and slugged an unbelievable .366. That was a direct result of having 145 fewer total bases than the year before!

The thing I always heard while he was playing was that he was so serious in his baseball study that he positioned himself in the field better than anyone else to make up for his range. Really? Would anyone guess that he made over 20 errors six times in his career, five times as a shortstop? Would you guess that his lifetime fielding percentage was almost the exact same percentage as Trammell and that Trammell made over 20 errors just twice in his career? How about that Trammell's double play percentage was at 13.3 percent of his total chances. The exact same figure as Ripken.

Ripken just wasn't that great a player. His streak was selfish at times and much like Bond's assault on Aaron's record, the thing became of a life of its own and overshadowed his teammates and their objectives while placing his managers in the position that they couldn't always do what was best for their teams. It is interesting that his best years were early and under Earl Weaver.

After looking everything over, it is my conclusion that Trammell doesn't belong in the HOF. But Ripken is in for similar numbers (except the totals which result from a longer career), so if he's in, then Trammell should go too. Bottom line: Ripken wasn't worthy to fit in Lou Gehrig's shoes.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Today is the perfect day for resolutions. In the year 2008, I, the Flagrant Fan, make the following baseball resolutions:

1. I resolve to take the cheaper way out and watch all MLB games on my computer in a little four inch box rather than buy the cable package and watch them on the big screen television.

2. I resolve to write this blog that hardly anybody reads nearly every day.

3. I resolve to quit trying to look at box scores on when they are much easier to view on

4. I resolve to not view Barry Bonds any worse than all those other players and dislike him purely for personality reasons.

5. I resolve to hope the Dodgers win the World Series this year despite the fact that I always hated them. Torre deserves his place as one of the great managers of this age.

6. I resolve to continue hoping that Tony LaRussa falls on his Brian Billick this year.

7. I resolve to acknowledge that the Boston Red Sox are the best team in baseball despite the bad taste it leaves in my mouth.

8. I resolve to find out what all those sabermatic terms mean so when I read Rob Neyer's columns I know what OPS+ means. Old dogs need to learn new tricks eventually.

9. I resolve to keep willing Willie Randalph a "fun" gene.

10. I resolve not to be surprised when the Bay Rays of Tampa become better than respectable this year.

11. I resolve to stop hating the Toronto Blue Jays for the sole reason of holding a grudge against their smarmy announcers of the 1980s.

12. I resolve the Fan's continued quest to see Bud Selig and Bill Gates at the same time so I am convinced they aren't the same person.

13. I resolve to try to like Alex Rodriguez and appreciate his amazing ability to hit a baseball.

14. I resolve to personally will Andy Pettitte to win 20 games so this amazing class act can put to bed one mistake in judgement.

15. I resolve to rejoice when Goose Gossage finally makes the Hall of Fame.

16. I resolve to finally prove to Jayson Stark that Cal Ripken Jr. should have been in his book.

17. I resolve to stop hoping that a batted baseball hits Curt Schilling in the mouth.

18. I resolve to stop being amazed at how stupid and obnoxious fan comments are on

19. I resolve to hope with all I am to root for the hated Kenny Rogers to win big this year for the sole reason that he fired his agent.

20. I resolve to finally write my baseball book this year.

21. I resolve to try and stay awake on those World Series games that end at 1:00 in the morning.

22. I resolve to not watch the Home Run Derby, which has become a lasting symbol of the steroid era.

23. I resolve to finally watch the Bronx is Burning episodes that have been saved in my DVR for months.

24. I resolve to remember that Willie Mays was the best player I ever saw play baseball.

May your new year be prosperous, healthy and full of fun baseball stories despite the clouds covering the game. Enjoy, Everyone.