I am back blogging on tbo.com, so here is a link to a story I wrote about 2015 Topps Platinum football:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1970 Topps football set. The set was pleasant to look at and offered many stars and Hall of Famers in its 263-card offering, but airbrushing was the norm and team logos would be distinctly absent.
Here's a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily on the 1950 Bowman football card set. This was the first all-color card set in football, and it contains more than 20 Hall of Famers.
Books that tout “the greatest” of a particular sport are always vulnerable to spirited debate.
But when it comes to hockey, it’s hard to dispute what the editors of Sports Illustrated have done.
“Hockey’s Greatest” (Time Inc. Books; hardcover; $32.95; 258 pages) is a large, lavishly illustrated book with stunning photography and relevant stories. Their lists of greats will please most hockey fans.
The book draws from the expertise of Sports Illustrated’s writers, editors, reporters and photographers. Seven writers and editors voted on 16 categories, with 10 points awarded for first place, nine points for second, and so forth down the line.
Players were ranked by position (center, left wing, right wing, defenseman, goalies), toughness (enforcers), ability (skaters, “snipers,” clutch performers, shootout specialists) and color (most entertaining). Coaches also were ranked, along with best games, rivalries, single-season games and franchises.
An additional seven topics also were included, under the category of “Best of the Rest.”
This book follows the pattern of other SI “greatest” books in baseball, football and basketball, but with one exception. Hockey is “unabashedly international.” SI’s list includes two men who never played in the NHL — Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak, who starred during the 1970s; and Russian left winger Valeri Kharlamov, a 1970s star whose life was cut short by an automobile accident. Also included in the lists is Anatoli Tarasov, who coached the Soviet Team from 1958 to 1974.
Both men belong there.
I’m not going to play spoiler here and reveal the final rankings, but devoted hockey fans — and even the casual ones — should be able to figure out the top 10 players in each category. Who’s the best? In some categories it’s a no-brainer, while other subjects are open to debate.
You know that Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito are there. Who else made the grade?
That's what makes this book fun.
There is no question about the focus of the 2015 Bowman Draft baseball set put out this month by Topps.
Players who were selected in the 2015 draft take center stage, and a 200-card base set includes them and a few other prospects.
A hobby box contains 24 packs, with seven cards to a pack. Price range should be in the $55 to $65 range, depending on the retailer.
Topps is promising one on-card autograph per hobby box. A typical pack will contain three base cards, along with two chrome cards that mirror the base set. The configuration is slightly different when inserts, paper parallels and chrome parallels are thrown into the mix.
The box I sampled yielded 115 base cards and 40 chromes. It also had an orange paper parallel of Twins pitching prospect Kohl Stewart, numbered to 25. The orange parallels are hobby exclusives; other parallels include silver (numbered to 499), blue (150), green (99), gold (25) and red (5). There also are 1/1 metallic and printing plate parallels.
I also pulled a green refractor chrome parallel of Mets pitching prospect Chase Ingram, numbered to 99. There also was an unnumbered refractor and blue sky refractor. Blue refractors also come numbered to 150. Like the regular parallels, the gold (numbered to 25) is a hobby exclusive card. A red refractor (numbered to 5) and 1/1 SuperFractors and printing plates round out the parallels.
The autograph I pulled had some local ties to Tampa — pitcher Jake Woodford, who compiled a 7-0 record and 0.67 ERA at Plant High School. The signature was on-card and fairly legible, with well-defined penmanship.
There were four different inserts that I found in the hobby box I opened.
Draft Night is a four-card subset that shows players photographed at the MLB venue (Studio 42) on the night of the 2015 draft. The cards I pulled were of Rays prospect Garrett Whitley, chosen 13th overall; and Rockies prospect Mike Nikorak, picked 27th overall.
The other two players in the set were Nikorak’s possible teammate, Brendan Rodgers (also taken by Colorado) and the Royals’ pick, Ashe Russell.
This insert set also has parallels in orange (numbered to 25) and red (5).
The second insert set, Draft Dividends, is a 15-card set making its debut this year. This focuses on players who were drafted out of high school but decided to go to college, waiting for perhaps a higher draft possession after playing at the college level. The two cards I pulled were of Mike Papi (drafted by Cleveland in 2014) and James Kaprelian (chosen by the Yankees in 2015).
There are autograph and auto parallels of this set in orange (numbered to 25) and red (5).
Bowman Scouts Fantasy Impact is a 20-card set geared toward rotisserie league players. Each card explains how the player could make an impact, what strengths and health issues are evident, and what current major-leaguer is comparable.
For example, Cubs prospect Ian Happ was compared to Ben Zobrist — which is bad news for Happ, since the former Rays sparkplug signed a four-year, $56 million deal with Chicago two weeks ago, reuniting him with former manager Joe Maddon.
And Kyle Zimmer is compared to Max Scherzer, with Topps’ copy writers noting that his “fantasy ceiling is towering.”
There is also a 15-card autograph parallel for this subset.
The final parallel I pulled was from the 20-card Teams of Tomorrow insert set. This is a die-cut insert, featuring a drafted player with another prospect from the same team. There are four parallels collectors can chase: gold, a hobby exclusive orange (numbered to 25), red (5) and a 1/1 SuperFractor.
Bowman Draft is a dream set for those collectors who enjoy chrome cards, autographs and prospects that might make an impact down the road.
One pack, one card, one autograph.
And in my case, one slack-jawed, “wow” moment.
The 2015 Topps Archives Signature Series baseball set is a limited-run product with one autographed buyback card per box. Topps announced a checklist of approximately 65 signers, and their autographs are hard-signed and featured on a buyback card from a Topps or Bowman set from the past. The cards are encased in a special holder with a serial number and a special sticker at the top.
Cost per box is in the $50 range, depending on the retailer.
The box I opened featured a 1982 Topps Kmart 20th anniversary card. Ugh, I thought. Then I noticed it was a card featuring Sandy Koufax, showcasing his 1963 Topps picture. Wow, very nice, I thought, a Koufax autograph. Now that was exciting.
But then I looked in the upper left-hand corner and saw “1/1.”
I’m still picking my jaw off the ground.
It’s not the prettiest card I’ve ever seen. But the autograph is bold and distinctive.
True to the buyback theory, this card is not in mint condition. The corners are soft and there is chipping on the right side of the card.
But getting a Koufax auto overrides those defects.
Topps Archives Signature Series has other top-tier signatures — autographs by Hall of Famers like Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Steve Carlton, Ernie Banks, Nolan Ryan and Frank Robinson, to name a few. Several other “name” players also grace the list — Fred McGriff, Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Garvey, Paul O’Neill and Edgar Martinez.
Whether the $50 price tag is worth it to you will depend on the card you pull. If you spend $50 and are happy with a Len Dykstra card, then that’s great. This set covers a spectrum of players from Hall of Famers to everyday stars, and that makes it interesting.
As the Super Bowl hurtles toward its landmark 50th game, the tribute books continue to roll off the presses. But one that combines excellent writing, sharp photography, snappy headlines and witty captions? Now, that would be golden.
The editors of Sports Illustrated have put together that kind of book. Simply put, it's a treasure.
“Super Bowl Gold: 50 Years of the Big Game” (Time Inc. Books; hardback; $40; 336 pages) is a wonderful coffee table-sized book, with a nice blend of the past and the present.
Each Super Bowl is allotted six pages, including two full-page color photographs, and an excerpt from the Sports Illustrated article that was written for the issue following the game. It’s not the complete write-up, but enough of it is included — and skillfully edited — to give the reader the full gist of the story.
The articles were written by some of pro football’s most gifted and astute writers — Tex Maule, Dan Jenkins, Paul Zimmerman, Rick Telander, Michael Silver and Peter King (who wrote the foreward).
Maule wrote the main SI story for the first eight Super Bowls. Jenkins wrote the next five, followed by a 14 from “Dr. Z” — including 12 in a row. Silver wrote the game stories from Super Bowls XXX to XLII.
These weren’t just game stories — SI readers had seen the game, listened to the commentators’ opinions and had read the next-day accounts. Sports Illustrated’s writers provided the insight and analysis gleaned from careful observations and interviews where good questions were asked — and good answers were given. They told the what, for sure — but they also told the why.
Zimmerman’s prose after John Riggins led the Washington Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XVII is a perfect example. What Riggins had done, Zimmerman wrote, “was grab modern NFL football by the scruff of the neck and toss it a few decades back into a simpler era — big guy running behind bigger guys blocking.”
Each chapter is formatted to include the coaches’ names, the game conditions, time of the game, point spread and television audience. Facts like statistical leaders, behind the scenes notes and notable quotes also are included. Every game also had two boxes called “The Way It Was,” with the viewpoints from a player from each team.
Attendance figures, halftime entertainers, national anthem singers, game MVPs and ticket prices are included, along with images of each Super Bowl game ticket and winners’ ring.
The book opens with a feature by Austin Murphy about three fans that have been to every Super Bowl and are about to witness their 50th. They are referred to as members of the “Never-Miss-A-Super-Bowl-Club.”
The book is divided into “quarters,” and at halftime are three feature stories. The subjects are halftime entertainment, media day and Super Bowl advertising. The halftime show originally featured high school bands and groups like Up With People. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle didn’t think a glitzy halftime show would work.
“Why would we spend all that money,” he asked. “That’s when everybody goes to the bathroom.”
It did, culminating with Katy Perry atop a 1,600-pound, 16-foot high golden animatronic lion during Super Bowl XLIX. The halftime show survived the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and old-time acts like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Prince, Bruce Springsteen and The Who allowed Murphy to write the best line of this book.
Murphy referred to those geriatric rock ’n’ roll greats as “AARP With People.”
A section in the back of the book rates the games from most exciting to totally boring. That should spur some lively debate.
The photography in “Super Bowl Gold” is stunningly beautiful, but that’s not a surprise. Through the years, SI photographers always seemed to have the right angle for that great play or defining moment.
Football fans who revel in the Super Bowl will revel in “Super Bowl Gold.” It brings back plenty of memories, and readers will enjoy — or re-enjoy — the game accounts, photographs and statistics.
It’s a super-sized tribute to the biggest event in sports.
Here's a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1968 Topps football set, which was full of Hall of Famers and key rookies.
Here's a piece I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a new edition of Vintage Hockey Collector, compiled by hockey card guru Bobby Burrell:
Here's a story I wrote for Smack Apparel about Steph Curry and five other "regular guys" who lit it up during their NBA careers.
Topps Triple Threads football has remained a consistent product through the years, delivering high-end cards that give collectors autographs and interesting relic cards.
This year is no different. A master box will cost a collector anywhere from $180 to $200, depending on the retailer. Each master box includes two mini-boxes, in which there is a pack containing seven cards.
Topps promises that each mini-box will include an autographed relic card and a “plain” relic card (the quotations are mine), one of which is a triple relic. For set builders, there are 100 cards of veterans and retired players. But this is not a product that caters to set builders. Autographs and relics? Indeed.
But if you are interested in base cards, there are some parallels to chase: purple, emerald (numbered to 199), gold (99), ruby (50), sapphire (25) and 1/1 onyx and printing plates.
Looking for rookie cards? Triple Threads has them incorporated into Rookie Autographed Triple Relics, numbered to 99. There are purple parallels (numbered to 70), emerald (50), gold (25), ruby (15) and sapphire (10). There are 1/1 onyx parallels that include football gear; Pigskin parallels are also 1/1s and add football pieces to the mix. White Whale Printing Plates have patches.
The design for Triple Threads football is vertical in the base set, with some nice applications of gold foil. The team logos are stamped in the upper left-hand corner of the card, the player’s name position and team also are in gold, and there are some nice gold lines that frame the photo of the player are nice. The team logos are anchored toward the bottom right-hand corner of the card front.
The background has a burnt orange look to it, but it still reminds me of a linoleum floor. Topps used a similar idea in its Tier One baseball product earlier this year.
It works to a better effect in Triple Threads football, perhaps because it is more subtle.
The card back utilizes seven lines of type to give player highlights and information in a Triple Take format: three major pieces of information are given for each player. The first two facts are game-related, while the third item focuses on a player’s interest, goal, or personal fact; for example, T.Y. Hilton’s third take is a wish — he would like to have (or have had) lunch with LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. Or, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a fan of the Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” series.
Imagine that — a Dolphin enjoys watching sharks.
True to its word, Topps provided the promised big hits in each mini-box. The first mini contained a Triple Threads Relic Autograph card of Browns running back Duke Johnson. This card had a sticker autograph with a gold background, and the horizontal layout had a dark, circular swatch.
The second hit was a Triple Threads Relic card of Packers running back Eddie Lacy, numbered to 18. This card contained three different swatches in a vertical layout. The white swatch (which had a touch of green) was sandwiched between two dark green swatches.
There were two emerald parallel cards, numbered to 199. One was of Packers Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung, while the other one was of Tannehill.
Two emerald parallels also graced the second mini-box. These were cards of Lacy and Redskins running back Alfred Morris.
The big hits were a Triple Relics Autograph purple parallel card of Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon, numbered to 70; in fact, numbered 1/70. This was a horizontally designed card with three generous swatches.
The other big hit was a Triple Threads Jumbo emerald parallel relic card of Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess, numbered to 50.
The other big hit was a Triple Threads Jumbo emerald parallel relic card of Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess, numbered to 50.
Topps has put another nice design with Triple Threads. There is nothing terribly different in this year’s product, but Triple Threads collectors know what to expect. And that can be comforting, too
If wild patterns on acetate stock fascinate you, then the 2015 Topps High Tek football set will be something to check out.
High Tek is making its football debut in 2015, a year after Topps brought back the product for baseball in 2014. The original Tek, a baseball product that ran from 1998 to 2000, was a real challenge to collectors.
Variations? Tons of them. The original Tek product in 1998 was a 90-card base set with 90 different background patterns, presented on acetate stock. If you wanted a master set, that meant collecting 8,100 different cards. Plus, there were 90 parallels with diffraction foil.
Whew. That's a lot of bombardment to the senses.
Topps toned it down in 1999 with 45 base cards that had 60 background variations, a mere 2,700 for a master set, and by 2000 the 45-card base set had 20 variations per card.
Variations are the theme again in High Tek football, but there are not as many. The mix of acetate and foil brings out some crazy designs, though. One drawback: the cards are rather thin and could conceivably bend or curl easily. Be careful when handling them.
A hobby box will contain one pack, with eight cards to a pack. Topps is promising one on-card autograph card per pack. The price range will be $55 to $70 for a hobby box.
The set is broken down into patterns, with a Group A and B example of each. Pattern 1 is grass and waves; pattern 2 is spiral and dots, and pattern 3 is circuit board and pipes. Pattern 4 consists of cubes and chain links, and pattern 5 showcases pyramids and diamonds. Pattern 6 includes stripes and grids, while pattern 7 is a blade. The blade is the rarest design, falling one in every 24 packs.
The base set contains 112 cards, with a mixture of rookies, veterans and Hall of Famers. Plus, all those patterns.
There are even retro variations, featuring 10 players in their teams’ throwback uniforms. Parallels will include Red Orbit Diffractors, numbered to 5; and a 1/1 Black Galactic Diffractor.
In the base set, expect to see multiple cards of players with different patterns.
That was apparent in the hobby box of High Tek football that I opened. I found two cards of Lions running back Ameer Abdullah, featured with dots and pipes backgrounds.
The autograph card was a Gold Diffractor grass pattern card of Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton, numbered to 50. The signature was clear and distinctive, and he even included his number on the card. Nice touch.
By the way, other diffractors collectors can find include Tidal, Clouds, Red Orbit (numbered to 5) and 1/1 Black Galactic and printing proof cards.
The other cards I pulled were grass patterns featuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a wave pattern card of Saints quarterback Garrett Grayson, and a spiral pattern card of Browns running back Isaiah Crowell.
The final card was of Giants linebacker great Lawrence Taylor featured on a grid pattern.
Topps Tek football is geared to autograph collectors (because they are on-card and look very nice), and those you enjoy a more avant garde, contemporary look. It’s not for everyone — traditionalists might cringe — but it’s definitely an artistic-looking set.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Russ Havens, who has published a price guide for ticket stubs. The stubs cover most sports and even include concerts.
Here's a story I wrote for Smack Apparel about the Army-Navy football rivalry and why it's still relevant even if one or both teams are not having a good year:
Here's a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily about Chuck and Matt Durka, who run a card shop in Hamilton, Ontario. The Durka brothers run box breaks for hockey, and they take the base cards that the bidders don't want, box them up, and sell them to raise money to buy toys for needy kids. They raised $4,000 (Canadian) this year and are going to make a lot of kids happy at Christmas.
Here's a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily about a five-card, 19th century trade card set called Merchant’s Gargling Oil Linament. Amusing drawings on cards that were passed out during the dawn of color lithography:
My favorite memory of Tony Nathan came after the Miami Dolphins’ epic playoff loss to San Diego on January 2, 1982, at the Orange Bowl. I was a young sportswriter and covered the game, roaming the sidelines with a small camera and notepad. I also had locker room access.
Nathan had rushed for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and was on the receiving end of Miami’s famed “87 circle curl lateral” touchdown play that came at the end of the first half. The trick play pulled the Dolphins to within 24-17 at the half after trailing 24-0 after the first quarter.
Miami eventually lost in overtime 41-38 in one of the NFL’s greatest games. In the locker room, a television reporter framed a question to Nathan. “Have you ever been involved in a game like this where you came back from such a big hole?”
Nathan looked at him and didn’t hesitate. “Sure. In high school and college,” he said, matter-of-factly.
The TV reporter was too stunned to ask a follow-up question. Lots of dead air at that point.
What was instructive is that Nathan wasn’t bragging. He was just stating a fact. Nathan, as a player and a man, always has been a humble guy.
And that’s what shines through in Nathan’s autobiography, “Touchdown Tony: Running With A Purpose” (Howard Books; hardback; $24; 238 pages). Nathan’s work ethic, faith and sense of purpose helped him through a difficult period in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that came to symbolize segregation and racism during the 1960s.
Nathan’s story hit movie theaters in October when “Woodlawn” was released. That was Nathan’s high school in Birmingham, and the school retired his number earlier this season. Nathan reciprocated with a $25,000 scholarship donation to his alma mater.
“Touchdown Tony” is a book about breaking barriers, perseverance and handling difficult decisions with grace and class. He had many role models, beginning with his parents. His father instilled a dogged work ethic in him, and Nathan never stopped trying to be the best player he could be.
Nathan’s high school coach, Tandy Gerelds, “was my mentor away from home.”
Hank Erwin, the team chaplain at Woodlawn, helped nurture Nathan’s religious faith.
“When you play for yourself, you can be great,” Erwin told Nathan and his teammates. “But when you play for a purpose higher than yourself, well, that’s when extraordinary things can happen.”
Nathan and his Woodlawn teammates helped bring Birmingham together, nudging a city that was known for its commissioner of public safety (Bull Connor) opening fire hoses and unleashing police attack dogs against civil rights activists — including children — in 1963.
Birmingham also was the city where four girls were killed and 22 people were injured when the Ku Klux Klan planted and exploded sticks of dynamite at the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963.
A decade later, Nathan and his integrated high school football team played against rival Banks High and star quarterback Jeff Rutledge. Although Banks won 18-7, a barrier had been broken down. Whites and blacks packed Legion Field to root for their team, and both races exulted in a well-played game and exhibited sportsmanship and brotherhood.
“… On that night, something tangible changed in Birmingham,” Nathan writes. “That night, a divided city came together; a wounded city began to heal.”
It’s a poignant story.
Nathan helped Alabama win a national title in 1978, and was part of two Super Bowl teams with the Dolphins in the 1980s, scoring 32 touchdowns — 16 rushing and 16 receiving. He writes of his coaching mentors — Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama and Don Shula at Miami — and of his time at Tampa Bay, where he worked as an assistant for Tony Dungy (“an amazing coach and an even better man.”).
Raising a family during the 1980s changed Nathan’s perspective on life. And becoming an assistant coach, working from the bottom up, was humbling, too.
“You have to sweep the floors before you can run the floor,” Nathan writes. “Learn to take out the garbage.
Shula was tough to work for, “but his work ethic rubbed off on me.”
There is one glitch I found. Nathan references a 23-12 victory against Florida on the road in 1978, when in fact, the game was played in Tuscaloosa.
Surprisingly, Nathan does not write about that famous lateral he grabbed from Duriel Harris in that 1982 playoff game. Typically, he preferred to shine the limelight on others, and always held himself accountable. Nathan now works as a bailiff in the court presided over by Ed Newman, his former Dolphins teammate. And earlier in 2015, he fulfilled the promise he made to Bryant when he earned his degree from Alabama.
“I was never the kind of guy who deflected blame to someone else,” Nathan writes. “You have to admit your errors, realize what they were, and correct them.”
“Touchdown Tony” is Nathan at his best. He had a solid college and professional career, but he excelled as a gentle, humble man who benefited from solid family values and worked hard to achieve success.
Here's a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily about several items up for bid at SCP Auctions' Fall Premier, which ends Saturday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has several items on the block, and partial proceeds from the sale will help his foundation:
Here's a story I wrote for Smack Apparel about the December conference title games, and how some of them have really made an impact on the national picture.
Who says a book for kids can’t be read by adults?
Hockey fans of all ages will get a kick out of the latest “list” book put out by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids.
“Face-Off! Top 10 Lists of Everything in Hockey” (Time Inc. Books; hardback; $19.95; 80 pages) is not a thick book, but it has more 29 top 10 lists that are certain to spark some debate among hockey fans. The book is geared toward readers who are 8 to 12 years old, but some of the lists will even intrigue adults.
The lists cover the expected subjects, like the top 10 greatest players and coaches, rivalries and traditions. But there are some fun lists, too, like top 10 smiles (10 toothless grins of stars from Bobby Clarke to Gordie Howe. Or top 10 hairstyles, like the mullets of Jaromir Jagr (“The man. The myth. The mullet.”) and Barry Melrose.
For more colorful lists, there are the top 10 Don Cherry suits and the top 10 goalie masks. And the top 10 terrible sweaters.
As one might expect from a Sports Illustrated production, the photography is crisp and vibrant. The nuggets of information are great for young readers.
“Face-Off!” is a book that young hockey fans can share with their parents and friends. It’s also a great way to learn about hockey’s greats and the sport’s traditions.
Here is a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1960 Nu-Cards Baseball Hi-Lites set. These were postcard-sized cards that depicted great moments in baseball history by using a newspaper's front page format.
I love to blog about sports books and give my opinion. Baseball books are my favorites, but I read and review all kinds of books