Monday, June 30, 2014

First Place Sure Smells Sweet -or- How Don Mattingly Saved The Dodgers Season

I was originally going to post yesterday when the Dodgers tied the Giants for first place, but I figured the Boys would win today and take it all. I held off for a First Place post.

At the beginning of June they said the Dodgers were done, finished, kaput! 

The Dodgers had the worst defense in the big leagues, the shabbiest bullpen, and the most underachieving bats in the game. Heck, even their own manager said they were playing like shite. 

They said we smelled like rotten fish. Well, nobody really said that - that's called puffery and artist's liberty - but you get my point. 

The pundits annointed the hated Giants to be the magic team of 2014. SF was steamrolling teams right and left and the writers were all hopping into the bandwagon.

The Dodgers were down by 9 1/2 games; they said it was an insurmountable mountain. The Dodgers would need another 42-8 tear like last season, and that wasn't going to happen again. 

At least they got that part right. It didn't happen again, and yet the Dodgers found a way to chug and scrap and bash their way past the Giants and to return to the top of the division. On the last day of the month, after Dodger pitchers retired the final 18 Cleveland batters in a row, first place belongs solely to the Dodgers. 

But the beginning of the month was another story altogether. On June 4th, clearly showing frustration and barely masking anger in his voice, manger Don Mattingly abruptly called off his post game press interview and retired to the Dodgers clubhouse. It was the end of another horrific homestand and the Dodgers had been knocked around yet again.  

The next morning he refused to answer questions about the team's lousy performance, said the Dodgers were not playing as a team, and directed the reporters to ask the players themselves why they weren't getting the job done. 

Bloggers and some writers were proclaiming Mattingly had given up on the team and started gathering nails for the Dodgers' 2014 coffin.  

That day I wrote a post  addressing Mattingly's statements. I took the opposite route and read it as Mattingly's genius/crazy roll of the dice play.  I figured Mattingly was repeating a play he tried last season when he called out the Dodgers for lacking grit. It worked then to turn the team around, and I bet - along with Mattingly - that it would work again and his team would catch fire. 

It was a brilliant strategy. I don't know if it will work every season, but it sure worked now. It worked because Mattingly threw his Hail Mary pass at precisely the right time. There were three crucial factors that created the perfect storm that Mattingly's plan needed to succeed.

1. He uncharacteristically allowed his frustration and pointed words to be exposed following that final homestand loss,which probably shocked a few Dodgers as much as it shocked me. It was the last thing he left with his players that night. Perhaps a few of them went to bed with those words and images on their minds.

2. The next day was on off day, allowing Mattingly's words to permeate and settle into the players as they posed for modeling gigs and worked with their charities away from the stadium lights and its press corps. I'm sure a few Dodgers spent that day opening their eyes to the ugliness that was the 2014 season up to that point.

3. The Dodgers then left on a road trip, leaving behind the Dodger Stadium press as well as their "Woe is me" recliners and "I'm the only guy working hard on this team" whirlpools in the clubhouse. They were far from the comforts and enablers of home and only had each other to rely on. 

They had one choice. They were either going to all pull together on the rope or lose it all.  

Slowly but surely Brandon League started improving, Matt Kemp accepted his new reality as a left fielder and began hitting again, Justin Turner stepped in for injured Juan Uribe and more than held his own, and the bullpen stopped blowing leads. All the while the starting pitchers were keeping their rhythms and getting stronger. Beckett threw a no-hitter, the Dodgers started scoring runs in bunches and then Kershaw threw a no-hitter.  

 You know how crazy good the Dodgers are right now? Yes, "No-Hitter" Kershaw is great, and Grienke and Ryu and No-Hitter Becket, but there's more. Dan "First Inning Dinger" Haren pitched tonight without giving up multiple home runs. In fact, he pitched shutout ball. 

Even the wounded Hanley Ramirez played a role in tonight's first place win.  He couldn't start, but Mattingly used him as a late inning pinch hitter in a 0-0 game. Cleveland blinked and walked the dangerous Ramirez, to get to our latest rookie call up, Clint Robinson.  The kid got his first major league hit - and RBI - knocking in Andre Ethier (after his triple) to give us the only run we needed to win.  Yup - it's now 24 straight scorelss innings for the Dodgers.

Tommy Lasorda must be proud- the Dodgers are all on the same side of the rope now, and all pulling together.

I'm not a stats guru, but it sure feels like the Dodgers have won every series since Mattingly's roll of the dice. All of this paired with a very welcome meltdown by the Giants has led us to where we are today - 

Planting the Dodgers flag on top of the mountain, all alone in


Sunday, June 29, 2014

How about a Sunday Night Baseball Poem?

Tonight's post was borne from a couple of inspirations.  One was a recent post by Hackenbush over at Can't Have Too Many Cards.   In his post, Hackenbush presented a poem about angels - and a pretty good one at that - although I felt the poet could have used an editor and a few less lines.  Then again, what do I know about poetry? 

My armchair criticism reminds me of a line from the film Amadeus. In the scene Mozart plays his masterpiece opus for the king (no, not Elvis). I can't recall the name of it, but most of us would recognize the tune if we heard it. 

The king says to Mozart that he doesn't like it. Mozart, shocked by this, because he knows the work is dang good, asks the king what he doesn't like about it.  The king, baffled by being asked to explain himself, and having no legitimate criticism responds, "It has too many notes".  Too many notes! What a maroon.

But I digress, my post is about a poem too.  The second inspiration came from that shoebox that I recently wrote about. Among the cards, were a few other odds and ends. One of them was a piece of paper I had apparently cut out of the newspaper long ago. On that folded and yellowing paper was this poem:


am just 
a girl but I 
can see me stepping
to the plate. C'mon, show
your best curve ball. My weight
                       flows right to left as I step into the pitch, 
                    smack it so hard, it flaps its leather wings 
and flies into the blue mitt of the sky, and I'm running 
1st, 2nd, past 3rd, and heading home. I'm every fan, anthem, inning,  Mitsubishi scoreboard, gut bumping gut at the mound, 
knee-high sock, knot-holed fence, wadded ticket in a kid's 
sweaty fist. That's me, the green grass of night games, tobacco 
spit, spilled beer, Dodger dog, peanut tosser, the sun bleaching 
      the bleachers at Chavez Ravine as my finger tip arrives 
before the ball in the catcher's glove, and I AM SAFE.

Good night, everybody, and welcome home - SAFE - Matt. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rediscovered Vintage - The Last Of The Cardboard Gold

We've made it to the final installment of my rediscovered vintage - cards that I found in a long forgotten shoebox.  

Thanks to those of you who read along with this series and especially to those of you who commented on the coolness of what I found. I was just as excited to reexamine and reread each card as you were to see and read about it here. It was great bounty, indeed. 

 Let's see what other cardboard surprises await.

One of the best things about these cards is the number of iconic players on classic cardboard images I found. 

I saved Brooks Robinson's 1969 Topps issue for today's installment because it should stand on its own, away from the other cards of the decade.  

The circle of the name balloon mimics the rounded old time batting helmet, which matches the cartoon Oriole's logo. And how about Brooks' mother-lovin' smile? 

For some reason the contents of the shoebox completely skipped the '70's (all of the Dodger cards skipped the 70's as well), but they pick up again in the 80's with a couple of doozies...

 How about a Rickey Henderson Rookie Card for a doozie? 

Talk about a card that defines the hobby.  Young Rickey silhouetted at the plate, full of promise and potential, coiled and ready to strike at the entire league.  

But one RC doesn't make a great shoebox, how about one more...

I'm not a big fan of Damn Mattingly, the manager, but I'm certainly a fan of Donnie Baseball.  No, this one doesn't have the highest "book value" of his three RC's (Fleer, Donruss, Topps), the big money card is the Donruss release, but this one is my favorite. 

This card has everything for a lover of the 80's on cardboard. We get a portrait in the insert and a full image of Mattingly at the ready, on the bag. Old time stirrups and flip-down shades complete the look.  

Finally, a couple of inserts from the 90's. I recall back in the day these Topps Finest refractors were the shite. And you couldn't do much better than refractor reprints of these next two guys.

 When I first got into collecting, Mickey Mantle was the king of cardboard. 

Conversations went like this - 
 Collector A: "I got a Big Hurt Lumberjacks insert!"
Collector B: "Yeah, that's cool and all, but I got Mickey Mantle!!"
All other collectors (in unison): "WOOOOOOOOOW!!" 
And the Mick hadn't touched a baseball diamond in more than 25 years. However, I don't think he has as much juice with this generation of collectors. 

Batting cleanup for the box of rediscovered cardboard...

Bat barrel - Check!
Roberto, not "Bob" - Check!
Old timey stadium tiers - Check! 
One of the greatest to ever play the game - Double Check! 

That closes out the old shoebox.  Thanks for readin', gang!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rediscovered Vintage - The Other Teams

Time to show the other cards I found in that forgotten shoebox

As you know, although my primary collecting focus is on my beloved Dodgers, I also collect Hall of Famers and vintage that is just plain irresistible to my collector's eyes.

So let's take a look at a few more goodies that were hidden away in that old shoebox...

Leading off is this 1953 Topps absolute beauty - on a few levels. 

First of course is that Norman Rockwell-ish portrait of Sid and the great stadium tiers complete with flying flags behind him. I also dig the old-timey logo for the Braves. Finally, although off-center, the card is in pretty good shape for a '53. 

 I've never heard of Gordon, but his Wikipedia page says Sid hit a home run in every stadium he played in - for three straight years.

Next up is 1954 Topps.  I must be attracted to that Braves logo as it's here on another card, but I'm not a big fan of the pea soup. 

Another beauty, this time from 1956 Topps.  I remember picking up this card because of the stadium backdrop. This card also fits the Games Played On Tatooine subset.

Next up are a couple from 1964 Topps.
Aparicio was the measuring stick for shortstops in the '60's. He's on MLB's All-Century Team. Never mind those scratches, they're on the plastic holder, not the card itself.

Back in the days I was gathering these cards (the early 90's), one of my collecting goals was chasing rookie cards of HOFers. Of course, that can be impossible without Donald Trump money, so I would often settle for the next best thing - their second year cards. 

I couldn't afford a Stargell RC, but his second year issue was right in my wheelhouse.  Furthermore, Stargell shares his RC with three other rookies, and this card features a great solo shot of Pops.

It's amazing how much the price can drop from RC to second-year issues.  It drops even further for third year cards.  IMO grabbing second year cards is a great strategy.  

That's all for today, folks.

Next time: The final installment!



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rediscovered Dodgers Goodness 60's - 90's

Here comes Part 2 of the Dodgers goodies I found in a long-neglected shoebox. Yesterday we saw the Brooklyn Dodgers on cards from the 50's.  Today, we move forward to Los Angeles, the 60's, and beyond.

The Dodgers have a long history of big-time, home run hitters, but the heart that pumps their Blue Blood is that of a pitcher.  The Dodgers have long been a team built around pitching.  

They left the 50's and Brooklyn behind, and were fully embraced by their new home town.  Below is a card that symbolizes that changing of the team from the old bums of the borough to the shiny new stars in Hollywood...

 Although Koufax played for Brooklyn and Podres pitched in L.A., nobody really pictures them in those roles. Soon enough Podres would move over and the Dodgers became Sandy's team.  

Of course, Koufax had a little help...

Topps gives us a great portrait of Drysdale with an iconic old-time stadium in the background. 

The shoebox also contained some old stadium giveaways.  Leading off with1987, here's some highlights from a team set...

 These team-sponsored giveaways are great because they always contain lots of old Dodger Stadium scoreboards and seating colors from the past. 

Here's one of those multi-colored Astro's unis.  Any Astros fan out there know who the catcher might be?

Below is one of the card backs, followed by a card for Matt.  Recognize that guy, buddy? 

Next, a team set from '92. First up, Tim Crews, who was killed in a tragic boating accident...

 Seeing Davis here brings back my point of the Dodgers being in love with traveling home run hitters, but Orel is the heart...

  The final team set is from Mother's Cookies. Again, some great background Dodger Stadium lurkiness...

 Look at how young The Tornado looks! 

 I think that's Brett Butler's batting helmet lurking. 

You think only today's players can rock the shades? Check out Raul Mondesi looking ready to hit PCH after the game...

I'm unsure when this next giveaway took place, but I'm guessing around '95 or '96 because Hideo Nomo was included in this refrigerator magnet set of three.  I haven't opened the package, but I moved the magnets and we can see it contains 1990's Dodgers stars Karros, Nomo and Mike Piazza. 

  Of course there were more than Dodgers in that shoebox, so the next post or two will contain those finds. 

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rediscovered Vintage Dodger Goodness

Hey everybody,

I was recently sorting through my collection - for reasons that I think you will appreciate soon enough - when I came upon a shoebox that I hadn't opened in quite a while.  While it wasn't chock full of big money cards that I forgot I had, it did contain a fistful of almost forgotten cardboard, priceless to me.

I bought all of these back in the early 90's, the days that I first got seriously into collecting.  I picked them up from various dealers at various shows, although most were probably had from the famous Frank & Son's shows out here.  In those days my collecting goals were "always pay the lowest price for the best condition possible". 

Let's open with the oldest cards, from 1955 Topps, the year the Dodgers won their first, and Brooklyn's only, World Championship...

When people write about Dee Gordon, they never refer back to Jim Gilliam, the brilliant second bagsman for the Brooklyn squad.   

Gilliam also batted leadoff and led the league in triples once, and won the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. Gotta love the fashionable Dodger blue turtleneck - Dodger gear the team dropped after moving to sunny LA.

Podres, my favorite pitcher from Brooklyn.  He was the MVP of the 1955 World Series and shut out the Yankees in Game 7.  

If you've seen the Ken Burns documentary, BASEBALL, then you've seen one of my all time favorite sports clips.  It's in the "7th Inning - The Capital Of Baseball", which is a great stand alone segment from the series.  

The Brooklyn Dodgers had been to the Fall Classic numerous times, only to lose and crush the dreams of their devoted fans time and time again.  Podres and the Dodgers finally won in '55, and in a post game clip a reporter asks Podres if he was nervous during that final 7th game.  

Podres immediately responded, with his ever-present grin which we see on the card above, "Nervous? Nah. I was a real pro out there today." I just love Dodger southpaws.

Finally, from '55 is Joe Black. Joe was the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game, back in '52.

Next up is my lone 1956 Topps Dodger. I only have the one, but it's not too shabby...

Furillo got a great PATP card.  

When we think about Dodger right fielders with rifle arms, we usually think of Puig or Raul Mondesi.  
Move over boys - Mr. Furillo's nickname was "The Reading Rifle".  

He led the league with assists from RF twice, and had double digit assists for nine straight seasons. 

Now the "newer" cards from 1957...

Erskine pitched a Dodgers no-hitter and struck out 14 in the '53 World Series. 

I wonder who's lurking on the mound back there? 

Finally today, a classic card from a classic Dodger.  Topps has used this shot countless times over the years, but at least, this is the first time it was put on cardboard. 

Not only was Hodges one of Brooklyn's big boppers, he was a heckuva first baseman.  When they invented the Golden Glove awards, Hodges won the first three.  

Next up: The Rediscovered LA Dodgers

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Humble Tony Gwynn Story For A Sunday

I'm far from a San Diego Padres fan, but I'm most definitely a Tony Gwynn fan. 

I grew up watching Gwynn compete against my Dodger heroes.  I respected him as a player, and I recall he played very well in his only shots at World Series titles. I thoroughly remember when all of baseball watched his batting average as he flirted with hitting .400.

In the days since Tony's passing, I've read and heard numerous stories about Tony Gwynn being a kind, personable and all-around nice guy. I'd like to now add my small testimony to that fact. 

I actually have one and "a half" stories attesting to Tony's great attitude toward us, the fans. The half story is a simple one.  Gwynn was nice enough to sign a couple of cards TTM for me. Not a big deal, really, but a big enough deal for me, a true Gwynn fan.  

My other breif brush with Mr. Padre occured a couple of years ago when the All-Star game was held in Anaheim (not Los Angeles - An - a - heim).  Although I didn't attend the game, I grabbed the family and we headed out to the All-Star Fanfest held at the Convention Center. 

The day we were there, Gwynn was holding a hitting clinic for kids.  They had a small baseball diamond set up inside the Convention Center, and although I could see Gwynn working with the kids, he was certainly busy, and there was no way I was going to get close to him.  

After a couple of hours seeing the great exhibits and waiting in line for different Fanfest treats, we left the boys to stand in line for something or another, and my old lady and I plopped down at a table in the food court area to enjoy a cold drink and a bit of rest. 
Our table was right at the edge of the food court roped off border and close to some rear exit doors leading out of the convention center. 

At one point I looked up and who was walking toward those exit doors- and toward us? It was none other than Tony Gwynn (and a few other folks surrounding him).  

As the group approached us, I caught Tony's eye and said, "Hey there, Mr. Baseball!"  Tony looked over at me and smiled.  He slowed a bit and said hello and asked if we were enjoying ourselves.  I said yup, we waved so long, and he was on his way past us and out the doors.  

It was a small moment in time, a breif encounter with a Hall of Famer, and one that will remain with me for the rest of my life.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Kershaw Card For Each K + 1 For Hanley

How about that Kershaw kid? Wow, just Wow! 

I first tuned into last night's game at the start of the sixth inning. Kershaw had been manhandling the Rockies for the previous five, and he had an 8-run cushion under him.  

Kershaw was more than halfway to a perfect game, Vinnie was calling it live from Dodger Stadium, and I quickly gathered up my boys to come and see something magic happening. 

Kershaw was absolutely dominating.  The umpire seemed to be on automatic pilot, just calling out, "Striiiiiiiiiike!" again and again as Public Enemy Number One dipped from the top of the stadium and into the strike zone in one beautiful rainbow curve after another. 

 At the bottom of the seventh, Scully sagely acknowledged what all Dodgers fans were silently thinking, but hesitant to voice. 

We all wanted the Dodger batters to hurry up with their ups so our hero could get back up on the mound. 

 The strike outs piled up, and everyone in my living room felt we were watching history unfold. 

Alas, in stepped fate in the form of Hanley Ramirez and his infamous throwing error.  The perfect game was not meant to be. 

I've seen many a pitcher stumble and unravel after a wonderfully pitched gem was otherwise marred by a mistake behind him.

 The next batter, the best in the N.L., Troy Tulowitzki, rapped a screamer down the third base line. What could have been trouble was quickly snuffed out by an outstanding snag and one-hop throw across the field by rookie Miguel Rojas to get the runner and preserve the no-hitter.  

Hanley definitely owes that kid a dinner and a new suit.  

Kid K just seemed to get stronger as he struck out two more in the eighth. 

 We hung on absolutely every pitch in the ninth. The first batter knocked one back to a charging Adrian Gonzalez, forcing Kershaw to run over and cover first for the out. A lot had to go right on that play and it was handled perfectly. 

Kershaw got the second out on a fly to Puig; say what you will about The Wild Horse, he was baseball savvy enough to use two hands on that can of corn.  

The last out was appropriately, a strikeout. 

Kershaw was nothing short of magnificent.  He was EPIC! 

The numbers crunchers are telling us that was the best game ever pitched, by anyone, ever.  

My gut tells me there are plenty more thrills to come from Kershaw that just might top that one.