Thursday, August 24, 2017

Book Review: Sadaharu Oh

Title: Sadaharu Oh

Author: Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner

Genre: Autobiographical

Ease of Reading: Small margins and what seems to be 11-point font initially made this 279 page book a little more intimidating to me than what it should have been. There's a four page glossary, eleven page appendix and two pages of stats at the end of the book. Plus, there's sixteen pages of pictures in the middle of the book. In total, that cuts it down to only about 246 pages about one of the greatest baseball players ever not to play in Major League Baseball. It took me only about five days to knock this book out, but I was reading large chunks at a time hoping to find some Zen-like tips to help me get through the new school year. LOL

Synapse: The book starts with Oh's early sandlot days and how he was recruited to play at the Waseda baseball school. His dad didn't want Oh to play baseball, but he finally relented and actually wound up supporting him and providing medical aid during a pivotal time in his young career. There was no draft in the Japan Central League, which I found to be very interesting, and Oh was signed by the Yomiuri Giants. He struggled mightily early in his career, especially considering the expectations the Giants placed on him from the onset. He found his way with his hitting instructor, Arakawa-san, and the two of them put in many long days and nights of baseball and martial arts before Sadaharu Oh finally was pressured into trying his famous one-legged "flamingo" hitting stance during a game. The new stance required immense balance, but it also helped rid Oh of a hitch in his swing which didn't allow him to reach his perceived potential. The rest of the book talks about his relationships with the press, his teammates, the fans, and his chasing Babe Ruth and then Hank Aaron.
Comments: I've always been intrigued by baseball leagues in foreign lands and the Nippon Professional Baseball League would be the biggest and most popular not directly tied with Major League Baseball. I was hoping to learn a lot more about Japanese baseball, but I was only able to glean some things here and there from the text about how things were back in the 1960s and 1970s. This book is an autobiography, not a history of Japanese baseball, so I guess I shouldn't be too disappointed. Nevertheless, it was a fun read and I learned much about the all-time home run king. For instance, here's an interesting paragraph from the book:
The press has told stories about how, when I had a bad year, I voluntarily went into the front office and asked for a pay cut! Well, not quite. I never asked to have my salary reduced. If I had a bad year, I took the attitude that I didn't deserve more for the following year, and I also took the position that I didn't want multiple-year contracts -- not for any selfless wish to deprive myself but because I believe that making things too comfortable takes away the challenge. And everything I do, including salary talks, has only one goal - to keep my mind focused on the challenge.
The "challenge" at first was becoming the best hitter he could be, but Arakawa-san set the goal from very early in Oh's career for him to top Babe Ruth's home run record. Eventually, Oh saw in himself what his mentor and hitting instructor did and the "challenge" soon changed to becoming the all-time home run king. Sadaharu Oh was a very driven man to say the least.
Grade: I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. It was a nice way to cap-off my summer and I'd like to thank my first cousin Mark for gifting me the book. I give this book an 'A-' overall, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys autobiographies or someone looking to learn more about Sadaharu Oh and his baseball career.

I'd be happy to pass my copy along if you're interested. Just let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Winnings from It's Like Having My Own Card Shop

Daniel, the proprietor of It's Like Having My Own Card Shop, recently asked a question to the blogging community about the last time we purchased a Beckett magazine. I volunteered my answer and he decided to give away some cards to a group of random bloggers to thank us for participating. I wasn't expecting anything in return, but free cards are cool. But then I saw this comment:
So, I sent off a quick e-mail suggesting Daniel send my cards to JediJeff.

Then I found a PWE in my mailbox with the following note inside:
Daniel is a swell guy. I'm not sure what he's referring to about the Russell, but it seems like a good enough reason for me to retaliate and send this one Goldy card to him that I've been sitting on for most the summer.

Let's take a gander at the cards that came with the nice note.
 Man, I remember when this Carlos Marmol rookie was all the rage in P-town.  Now I finally have a copy of my own!
 Speaking of being all the rage...  Brett Jackson, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner were supposed to form the core of the team which would break the World Series drought on the north side of Chicago. Then Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod.   Fast forward about six years or so and . . .
 Yep, the hiring of that triumvirate gave Cubs fans something to celebrate!  Woo-Hoo!
 Daniel, thanks for the cards!  Totally unnecessary, but very much appreciated. I will hit you back as soon as my schedule allows for a quick run to the post office!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Coaching Baseball Every Night

Well, that's not necessarily true. First off, I'm coaching middle school girls softball right now, not baseball. Secondly, I'm not coaching at night because we don't have access to the lights. Lastly, I get Sundays off.  I guess this should have been titled, "Coaching Softball 6 Days a Week." 
Me with my 6th grade team and two HS helpers after a recent game.

But, then where would the connection to Peter come into play?  Peter's is the author of the Baseball Every Night blog and he sent me a Quick & Easy PWE this week.

I haven't seen this stamp before, but it is definitely right up my alley!

Boom!  I've been Schwarbombed!
 This is the second year in a row I've failed to build a set . . . and I call myself a set builder. SMH. The Topps Bunt sets are nice and at my price level. I don't do digital cards, but I penciling in Bunt as a collecting goal for 2018.
 Cheers to you, too, Peter!  Thanks for the quick trade and Happy Collecting!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A 10-Case Player Break: A Review

When Yonder Alonso was traded to the Mariners, further extending Dan Vogelbach's stay in AAA, I was pretty bummed. I decided to treat myself to a Topps Chrome 10-case break of The Vogelmonster.

In total, the break would consist of 8 hobby cases and 2 jumbo cases. I did a little math, because that's what I do, and found that there would be 11,712 cards in the break overall. Take away inserts, parallels, and autos and I concluded the break should yield me in the neighborhood of 44 base rookie cards of my favorite current baseball player and probably 2 or 3 base autos.

Base rookies and autos are nice, but I was hoping for some refractors, parallels and maybe, just maybe, a low numbered autographed parallel. After all, I've gone all super collector and what not... I need to complete the rainbow somehow!

I opened my wallet and waited. The break was scheduled to be done over the course of two days and in all it wound up being over 10 hours of box breaking entertainment. I only watched about a half hour of the break, because I wanted to see what the product was like and because the host was ripping packs pretty quickly, which kept my interest. When I logged off there were about three dozen others watching the break, which made feel like I could trust this particular Ebay seller. He'd have many angry customers, who watched he break firsthand, knocking on his door otherwise.

Everyone knows baseball cards are akin to lottery tickets, which is something Kin mentioned at  A Pack to Be Named Later earlier today. You may be looking for that base common to finish your set or maybe you're chasing an Aaron Judge rookie, but once you open the pack it's either in there or it's not. Very hit or miss, and like the lottery, it's often miss. An added bonus to baseball cards is there is some sort of trade or resale value to the cards you don't want. You don't get that with lottery!

In my situation though, signing up for a single player in a large break, it's going to be all hit or miss. I was full of anticipation as I waited for my package. I suppose I could have went back and watched 10+ hours of break video, but that did not sound appealing whatsoever. About five days after the break concluded the cards arrived. Now that I think about it though, considering the seller opened and had to sort nearly 12,000 cards, this was a pretty quick shipment!

I was a little surprised my Vogelmonster cards arrived in a white soft padded bubble mailer. I was hoping all my cards had arrived safely.  Guess what was used as additional padding around the stacks of cards? Card supplies!

 This was a surprise indeed! A day before the break started the seller sent out a mass e-mail and announced that all rookie cards would be placed into a penny sleeve and all parallels, inserts and autos would go into a top loader because he knew many of the cards would be sent out for grading.  So, I was expecting some supplies, but the unopened packs of supplies were quite over the top!
 Allen and Ginter?  What in the world? The seller included a free pack of A&G in the middle of two large team bags of Vogelmonster cards. I'm not an A&G fan, so this will go into my pile of packs reserved for Pack Wars.

Here's a picture of the aforementioned team bags of cards.
 I opened the one on the left first and found 36 base rookies. Hmph. Not quite what I was expecting.
 I opened the one on the right, and 7 more were found. I guess they couldn't fit in the other team bag!
The math said, with perfect collation, that I would receive 44.16 base rookies. 43 is pretty darn close!  So far, so good!

 I only need one for my Vogelmonster player collection, but I won't complain about having a couple of extras.

 The blue wave is numbered out of 75 and the purple refractor is out of 299.  Nice!

Bring on the autos!  I was hoping for two or three base autos, but I came away with FIVE!
I hate to admit it, but I think the Vogelbach autos are "filler autos."  You know, there's a higher number of them than the hot rookie of the day everyone is chasing. Price and Demand... blah blah blah. Whatever.  Send me all your Vogelmonster autos!

Unfortunately, I didn't luck into any autographed parallels. It is what it is: a lottery ticket.

So, I didn't recoup in cardboard value what I sunk into the auction initially. Looking at the larger picture, I did have fun watching the half-hour of video and it was fun anticipating what would be in the package before it arrived. Also, opening the package was similar to finding that certain present under the Christmas tree. Overall, I think I got my money's worth.  Plus, I've been watching auctions and slowly picking up the cards I need when the price is right, which is something I really enjoy doing.

I'm happy with my purchase, and some of that happiness is due in part to the seller. Really good customer service seems to be a lost art these days and this seller came through big time. I appreciated the e-mail about the care he was going to take with the rookie cards, I was pleasantly surprised by the unopened card supplies, and floored he would throw in a free pack of cards. Plus, he shipped out very quickly. Honestly, it doesn't get much better than that! Give hobby_legends a look on Ebay if you're interested in participating in a player break. I don't think you'll be disappointed.   I just checked, and he's doing another five cases of Topps Chrome... auctions end in about two hours!

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Topps, Feel Free to Steal My Idea

I've been in a writing funk as of late, so let'sget those creative juices flowing!  What type of set would you like to see produced in 2018?  Make sure to note important elements like checklist size, types of players included (prospects, retired), and price point.

Personally, I'd really like to bring back Topps Total in 2018, but I'm going to take a different route.

I was reading the blogs the other day and a post on Bob Walk the Plank gave me pause:
"I have my fingers crossed that Francisco Cervelli and Felipe Rivero get an auto soon!"
Matt's desires for more variety in the world of certified autographs got me thinking: how about an autograph set of non All-Stars?  Topps certainly has its favorites, and I can't really blame them. As long as Aaron Judge continues to move the needle he's going to have an autographed card in nearly every set. In fact, a quick Ebay search will show you he has ink in the following sets in 2017: Heritage, Finest, Tier One, Museum, Archives, Inception, Bowman Chrome, Stadium Club, Topps Chrome and of course, Topps Now. I know I'm probably missing a few. Again, it's a business and Aaron Judge autos are good for business.

On the flip side, there's a running joke about 2016 product around the blogs and within many box breaking circles concerning the omnipresent Henry Owens autograph. Owens had certified autographs in at least eighteen different Topps products, including many high end products such as Strata, Five Star, Tier One, Triple Threads, Tribute, High Tek, Gold Label and The Mint. I'm sure there was a collective eye roll when an Owens card was pulled in a group break.

Some may be thinking, "What about the Red Sox fans? Surely they were happy for the chance to acquire another Henry Owens auto!"

Honestly, I don't know about that. I'm a team collector and the volume of the Carl Edwards, Jr. autos in 2016 very much falls on side of overkill in my book. For the record, fifteen different Topps sets featured the Cubs' right-hander. Having Edwards represented in two or three different Topps sets would be fine by me.  Fifteens? No thanks. Talk about a player collector nightmare!

Boy, I wish Topps would spread the love around to other players.

In an effort to add some variety to the certified autograph stable I'm proposing a new set for 2018 and beyond.  Obviously, this is me just spit balling here, but I've been mulling this over and I think I have a model that could work.

Here are the specifics in bullet point form for easy digesting:
  • The set would contain 100 cards in all and consist only of autographed cards, with each team having a minimum of three cards in the set. Three times thirty is ninety. We'll talk about the remaining ten cards in a little bit.
  • Topps seems to love to bring in older designs, but Heritage is already doing its thing, so lets spin things into the future a bit. This set design will always be twenty-nine years ahead of Heritage, which will use the 1969 design in 2018. Our 2018 set will have the 1998 design, 2019 will look like 1999 and etc.
  • Why twenty-nine years? Expansion, of course! 1998 was the first season for the Diamondbacks and Rays and the '98 Topps set featured the first cards of the new expansion teams. 
  • The name of the set, should follow the theme of adding variety, so I'm going to suggest Topps Variance.
  • Two of each of the team's three cards would be fan favorites from the 1998 season. Again, we're thinking about players who don't have much in the way of certified autographs, so every effort will be made to stay away from the "big" names. The third card would be reserved for a current player who is a solid contributor, but who generally doesn't get much love from the card industry. 
  • The remaining ten cards to fill out the 100-card checklist? These ten cards will represent the cash cow for Topps: hot rookies (Judge and Bellinger) and budding superstars (Correa and Bryant) can comprise the last ten cards with other perennial All-Star types (Trout & Harper). 
  • Ideally, the names wouldn't repeat from year-to-year. This way team collectors can continue to seek out singles of players from their team and slowly increase their certified autograph portfolio. 
  • Price point? No, this set would not be priced for your average set-builder, not with those last ten cards being high-end talent. I was thinking it would probably have to be something along the lines of Topps Museum, which is generally twenty cards per box for a little over $200. Granted, Museum isn't an autograph only set, but only 10% of the Topps Variance checklist have serious star power. So, maybe Topps could put a MSRP of $200 on a twenty card box.
Again, I'm just tossing ideas around, but it's a product I definitely would be interested in. Please, keep in mind, I am a team collector on a very modest budget. Would I ever buy a pack or a box of Topps Variance as I've laid it out above? Nope. Would I look forward to its release each year and then hunt down all the Cubs autographs? Heck yeah!

Here's a sample checklist I would be looking at as far as the Cubs go:

I laid out three players for 2017, only because that's the current year. (And, because it's fun to go back and try to choose players.) I could have chosen Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, Ryne Sandberg or Sammy Sosa for 1997, but I'm staying with the theme here. All of those guys have certified autos.  Rod Beck was the first guy I wanted for 1998, but that's just not possible. Obviously, there are some obstacles in making a decent checklist.  Maybe I should have held off on Jon Lieber until 2021, because in 2001 Lieber made his only All-Star appearance and won twenty games. I know I stated the desire to stay away from All-Stars, but I like Lieber as a choice at some point because he doesn't have any certified autos in circulation that I know of. It's all about Variance.

Also, I know Topps has issued sets like Fan Favorites in the past and last year Topps had Archives Signature Series All-Star Baseball Cards. These sets, when produced, always re-use older designs and always have an autograph component. So, not too different than what I'm suggesting. Remember, Variance is focused on the B-side type players... a way to add some variety to the certified autograph world!

Actually, do you remember when these hit retail stores last winter?

Archives 65th Anniversary Edition is a product very similar to what I'm suggesting. The main differences being Variance would be one consistent design, contain no base cards, and have more autos to chase. Plus, it's a set which wouldn't be produced during big anniversaries, but every year instead.

What do you think?  What you buy a box of Variance? Build the set? Or just cherry pick some singles like myself?

I look forward to your responses to my set idea and reading about many more throughout the blogs!