|Bob D'Angelo's Books & Blogs||
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily, previewing the 2021 Topps Series 2 baseball set:
Steve Dalkowski was the hardest throwing pitcher you’ve never heard of. Oh, there is a certain generation of fans who remember the hum and hiss of the lefty’s fastball, but Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel or Kelvin Herrera have plenty of gas today.
Throw in Hall of Famers Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan, and the overpowering fastball is well-represented in major league history.
Dalkowski might have been faster. But “Dalko,” who died earlier this year at the age of 80, never made it to the major leagues.
“Every pitch was an all-or-nothing effort, an unhittable strike or an uncontrollable ball,” authors Bill Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikander write in Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher (Influence Publishers; hardback; $26.95; 304 pages).
It’s true. Dalkowski almost seemed offended if a batter managed a loud foul ball. Unlike the 1949 movie, “It Happens Every Spring,” Dalkowski did not need a mysterious chemical that repelled wood to make him a strikeout king. He was scary fast. He was closer to writer-director Ron Shelton’s fictional erratic pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh, in the 1988 movie, “Bull Durham.” Shelton had been a player in the Orioles’ farm system and had heard the legendary tales about Dalkowski.
“In his sport, he had the equivalent of Michelangelo’s gift but could never finish a painting,” Shelton wrote about Dalkowski in 2009.
Blessed with an easy motion and a fastball that exploded out of his hand, Dalkowski could never find his control. He would strike out 18 batters in a game, while also walking almost as many. Pitching for Stockton in the California League, Dalkowski struck out 262 batters in 1960 — but he also walked 262. In nine minor league seasons, he struck out 1,324 while walking 1,236. But he hit 37 batters and uncorked 145 wild pitches.
As an 18-year-old in 1957, Dalkowski set an Appalachian League records with 39 wild pitches and 129 walks. However, he set a league record on Aug. 31 for left-handers with a 24-strikeout performance against Wytheville — but also walked 18. That came two weeks after Dalkowski walked 21 batters and had six wild pitches in 7 1/3 innings during a 9-7 loss to Wytheville.
Dalkowski advanced to the Triple-A level twice and even appeared on the brink of cracking the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles in 1963.
“Ex-Wildman Tames Tigers,” The Miami News noted in a March 13, 1963, headline.
Nine days later, Dalkowski threw three straight strikes past Yankees slugger Roger Maris.
“I’ll bet Maris never names one of his kids Steve,” Steve Barber observed.
Barber was correct.
However, near the end of spring training, Dalkowski felt something pop in his elbow. The injury would prevent him from heading to the majors.
“Zeus quietly took back his thunderbolt,” Shelton would write.
Dalkowski still managed to have a Topps baseball rookie card — No. 493 from the 1963 set. He would not earn a solo card.
Dembski, Thomas and Vikander set out to debunk the myths surrounding Dalkowski, and they do a workmanlike job. They spent four years researching and interviewing, sifting through 55 newspapers and interviewing 27 subjects.
“The true story of Steve Dalkowski — as opposed to the legend — is out there, but it took some doing to find it,” the authors write.
One legend attached to Dalkowski was that his fastball was so explosive, it ripped a player’s ear off.
Not true. As the authors note, Dalkowski, pitching for Kingsport on June 30, 1957, hit Bluefield Dodgers batter Bob Beavers on the top half of his ear, “crushing” it.
“Though the ear was smashed and bloodied, it was not torn off,” the authors write.
According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph’s story the next day, the incident, reported in the second paragraph of the story, occurred during the sixth inning, and Beavers was in “fair condition” at an area hospital.
The recurring theme the authors put forth is that opposing batters were amazed by Dalkowski’s velocity but were reluctant to step into the batter’s box against him. A batter never knew if a pitch was going to be a letter-high fastball or a pitch that sailed over everyone’s heads and into the stands.
That began when Dalkowski pitched for New Britain High School in Connecticut. He threw back-to-back no-hitters, but kept batters bailing with his unpredictable aim.
“When he was throwing strikes, nobody could touch him,” the authors write. “When his control was off, he didn’t know what to do to get it back.”
As it turned out, nerves and a lack of confidence derailed Dalkowski’s hopes to reach the majors. So did his love for alcohol.
His father drank heavily, and it was not unusual to see Dalkowski accompanying his father to area bars. Some teammates knew about the drinking, believing he was influenced by older players. The young southpaw, “ever friendly and eager to please,” was happy to go drinking, believing it was a way to be accepted.
As events would show, it was the wrong decision.
“I didn’t drink to forget. I just drank,” Dalkowski would say.
The authors hint that on the field, Dalkowski may have been the victim of overcoaching. Several coaches tried to tinker with his mechanics to help with his control, but that only tended to make the situation worse. The only manager or coach who really had a positive influence was future Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, who was Dalkowski’s manager in Elmira, New York.
Weaver believed that Dalkowski “was easily distracted and confused,” adding that the reason he did not improve is that coaches “were trying to tell him too much at once.”
Dalko would eventually resent the attention lavished on his fastball and his legend when he would join a new team or league. “Like I was a freak or something,” Dalkowski told Mark Fleisher of the Elmira Star Gazette in 1979. “I look back at it all and I’m a little disgusted.
“But you can’t cry over spilled milk, can you?”
By 1966, Dalkowski was out of baseball. That began a long decline as the former pitcher battled alcohol, a failed marriage, and finally, the onset of dementia. Several friends tried to rehabilitate him, but Dalkowski always slipped back into a haze of beer or liquor.
The authors note how during his baseball career, Dalkowski was forever broke, borrowing money from his teammates to go drinking. However, on payday, he would make good on his debts, only to borrow money again in a continuing cycle.
Dalkowski died in April 2020 after spending the last 26 years of his life at a nursing home with alcohol-induced dementia. The cause of death was listed as COVID-19 related. He lived long enough to be inducted into the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame.
Dembski, Thomas and Vikander do an excellent job in piecing together the life of a man who had all the physical tools to be a major league pitcher but could never overcome his wildness. Baseball’s hardest thrower lived a hard, sad life.
“A God-gifted rookie who was a lost soul,” the authors write. “Maybe (his gift) was too much. Maybe he never got comfortable with it. Maybe he needed other gifts to handle it.”
“Dalko” is a gift for the baseball historian’s library.
Panini America’s Rookies & Stars set is back, with its colorful design and a background that simply jumps out at you.
The nice thing about buying a blaster box is that Panini promises a memorabilia card, and the blaster box I opened was no exception. I received a Year One relic card of Buffalo Bills rookie Zack Moss, one of 42 possibilities in this subset.
The 2020 version of Rookies & Stars has a base set of 100 veterans and 100 rookies. For the blaster product, there are seven packs, with 10 cards to a pack. Each pack contains one rookie card, and collectors can expect to find at least 10 inserts and two red parallels. There is also an Optichrome parallel.
For those collectors who buy the more expensive Longevity retail product, there will be more parallels.
In the blaster box I opened, I pulled 48 base cards and seven rookies, along with a red base parallel and a red parallel base card of Chandler Jones and a rookie card of Jerry Jeudy. The two Tampa Bay Buccaneers I pulled were of Tom Brady and Mike Evans.
The base design features and action shot of the player, with a star background and spoke-like swatches of color. The effect really assaults your senses, especially since the spokes take on the primary colors of the player’s team.
“Rookies & Stars” is stamped in gold foil beneath the photo, with the player’s name and team on the next line — also stamped in gold foil.
The star design also prevails on the back of the card, using the same photo of the player but cutting it off at the waist. The player’s name is in capital letters beneath the photo, and a seven-line biography presents some career details along with the occasional corny description. Aaron Rodgers’ biography notes describes the Packers’ quarterback this way: “A glacier in shoulder pads, only a lot more mobile, Rodgers stays cool no matter what. He can ice a defense by heating up through the air …” Enough, already.
Or this bit on Dalvin Cook: “One can have too many cooks in this kitchen.” Or Ezekiel Elliott: “Keep him well fed and productive, and the Cowboys won’t go hungry in the wins column.”
OK. Waving the white flag.
The card back also has the team logo in the upper right-hand corner, with NFL and NFLPA logos in the upper left-hand corner.
The blaster I opened had 10 inserts and an Optichrome card. There were two Ticket Masters, featuring Dak Prescott and DeAndre Hopkins. As you might expect, the card design replicated an elaborate football game ticket complete with a bar code. There are 20 cards in this insert set.
Touchdown Club inserts are a 10-card subset featuring the game’s top scoring threats. The card I pulled was of Titans running back Derrick Henry.
Rookie Rush is a 20-card insert set, and I pulled two cards: the Colts’ Jacob Eason and Cee Dee Lamb of the Cowboys. The players’ names are stamped in red foil, and the “Rookie Rush” logo at the top sports a lime-green color scheme.
Another 20-card insert set is Standing Ovation, and I pulled Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes II and Packers running back Aaron Jones. The cards make good use of player jubilation shots, with a background that hints at fans standing up to cheer. It’s a nice idea because the photos are very expressive.
Action Packed insert cards sport a horizontal design on the front, with the familiar “Action Packed” logo. Each card has an action shot, with an insert photograph from the main shot that is cropped to look like an oversized head shot. The photo on the back mirrors the main shot on the front.
The Crusade insert is an attractive card, with a shiny finish and silver-etched outlines. The card I pulled was Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Overall, not a bad-looking set. It’s kind of loud and brassy, and the puns make even a punster like me cringe at times. But there is a good selection of players and the base set should be easy to collect. Rookies will make it more difficult, but not impossible.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a pair of black Air Jordans worn during the 1991 NBA Finals. The sneakers are part of a Goldin Auctions-Sotheby's sale that began this week and ends Dec. 7:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Charles Conlon photograph from May 1909 at New York's Hilltop Park that is coming up for auction:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Eddie Healy, a Baltimore native who is selling 23 unopened 1974 Topps rack packs owned by his late father:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Mile High's December auction, which will include several key cards and some interesting memorabilia:
Talented and tough. On paper, the New York Knicks of the 1990s should have won at least one NBA title. They failed because Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six NBA crowns during the decade.
That’s the short history, which gained more weight with the airing of “The Last Dance,” the ESPN miniseries released earlier this year. The perception became even clearer when Charles Smith’s shots were rejected four times by the Bulls in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals.
Doc Rivers would compare that sequence to “the sudden death of a family member who was perfectly healthy,” Paul Knepper writes in his meticulously researched book, The Knicks of the Nineties: Ewing, Oakley, Starks and the Brawlers That Almost Won It All (McFarland; hardback; $35; 288 pages).
The Knicks certainly came close. They qualified for the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons from 1987-1998 to 2000-2001. They lost in the finals twice (1994 and 1999) and fell in the conference finals five times.
Knepper, a Jericho, New York, native who now lives in Austin, Texas, rooted for the Knicks as a youth.
“I think about the Knicks more than I should,’’ Knepper told the New York Post. “I’m one of those people who long for those days in the ’90s.”
Knepper, an attorney who graduated from the University of Michigan and earned his juris doctor from the Fordham University School of Law, has a lawyer’s eye for detail. For his first book, he conducted 88 interviews with former players, coaches and executives. The insights of former Knicks and Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts give Knepper’s work plenty of depth and context.
Knepper’s bibliography includes 31 books, five newspapers, two magazines and websites such as ESPN.com and Basketballreference.com.
Knepper, who began researching Knicks of the Nineties three years ago, peppers his narrative with brief stories about key players — and bit part actors. Coach Pat Riley, for example, was a gym rat and a basketball junkie despite his slicked-back look and expensive Armani suits. “If ‘The Boss’ was ‘Born to Run,’ Riley was born to coach,” Knepper writes. Riley was also a “master motivator,” sometimes turning his back on a player in an elevator or sending messages through the media. Other times, he would challenge players directly.
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Riley “had his finger on the pulse of his team” and embraced analytics long before it became common in sports. Riley’s assistants kept track of “hustle stats,” and the coach posted the results and praised players who excelled.
As for his players, Riley loved John Starks’ competitive spirit, even though “he played at full speed all the time, had questionable shot selection and was reckless with the ball,” Knepper writes.
Charles Oakley was the Knicks’ “thug,” Knepper writes, a 6-foot-9 enforcer who put fear into opposing players. He became a franchise cornerstone, a player beloved by fans because “he collected as many floor burns as baskets.”
After a few misses, the Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994, employing a strong defense and a workmanlike ethic. New York took a 3-2 series lead against the Rockets in the Finals and headed to Houston needing just win to earn the NBA title. They lost both games.
Starks, who scored 16 of the Knicks final 22 points in Game 6, went up for a shot from the left corner with New York trailing by two and seconds remaining. Somehow, Hakeem Olajuwon managed to get a finger on the ball, and it fell short of the hoop. Ewing was open but Starks did not pass to him.
Before Game 7, Riley spent the afternoon at his hotel with close friend Dick Butera, Knepper writes. As they waited for an elevator, Riley said to Butera, “Well, buddy, I know three guys that are gonna show up tonight.”
“Who?” Butera asked.
“You, me and John (Starks), Riley said.
Riley stuck with Starks in Game 7 despite poor shooting (2-for-18, and 1-for-10 in the second half). “Feast or Famine shot the Knicks out of the game,” Knepper writes.
After Riley he left for the Miami Heat — and started a heated rivalry with the Knicks — New York failed in its experiment with Don Nelson as coach, replacing him after 59 games with longtime assistant Jeff Van Gundy.
Van Gundy, short and underappreciated, seemed to be “a polar opposite” to Riley, but shared his mentor’s fiery competitiveness. He was a tireless worker who was detail-oriented and obsessive about basketball.
The players knew Van Gundy had their backs. A memorable brawl between the Knicks and Heat included Van Gundy, knocked to the floor during the fight, hanging onto Alonzo Mourning’s leg. “It remains the most recognizable image of Van Gundy’s career with the Knicks,” Knepper writes.
Van Gundy also knew how to work the officials. After the Knicks eliminated the Heat in the playoffs to become the second eighth seed to knock off a No. 1 in the postseason, Van Gundy was still arguing with a referee.
“What are you doing?” Checketts asked. “We won.”
“Coaching for the next round,” Van Gundy said.
Knepper also highlights the bizarre and drama that always seemed to swirl around the Knicks. For example, in 1999, Checketts invited Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s general manager who had been with the team’s front office for nearly a decade, to dinner and fired him “over biscotti and fresh fruit.”
Knepper’s narrative about Ewing, who he calls “The Big Fella,” is also interesting. Ewing was one of the most coveted players coming out of college after starring for Georgetown, and he was a force for the team for a decade. All he lacked was a championship ring.
Ewing was “respected, but never loved,” Knepper writes.
Readers are fortunate that Knepper did not write The Knicks of the Nineties in lawyer-speak. His prose is insightful and filled with colorful anecdotes, written mostly with an impartial approach, but also at times exposing his original allegiance. Sometimes Knepper gets too familiar, referring to players by their first names or nicknames, but it is part of the book’s charm.
The Knicks of the 1990s may not have reached the pinnacle of the NBA, but they sure came close. Knepper brings that exciting era of New York basketball back to life.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the memorabilia collection of Johnny Bench that sold at auction Saturday night
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the Topps Tier One baseball set, which will be released the first week of May 2021:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1971 Arco set, which included large player cards of the Yankees, Phillies, Pirates and Red Sox:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Florida artist who found a box full of paper dolls, children's toys -- and a near-set of 1916 M101-4 Sporting News cards that included a Babe Ruth rookie card.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Goldin Auctions sale that will feature the jersey Connor McDavid wore the night he scored his first goal in the NHL:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about some Michael Jordan memorabilia that is coming up for auction in November through Sotheby's auction house. Proceeds will benefits the foundation named for Jordan's father:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Tampa Bay rookie sensation Randy Arozarena:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Heritage Auctions sale that will feature a handwritten letter from Cy Young to Walter Johnson.
I received a copy of the latest Yogi Berra biography as a birthday present. So many books have been written about Berra, and yet Jon Pessah’s work stands out because of its thorough, insightful look at a baseball player who was downplayed as a cartoonish character.
That is an unfair assessment, particularly for a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Berra played 19 years in the major leagues and was a three-time American League MVP (he finished second twice). He was an essential piece of the New York Yankees machine that won five consecutive World Series titles from 1949 through 1953.
A workhorse behind the plate, Berra caught no fewer than 109 games in a season from 1949 through 1957.
Berra bridged the eras between the Yankees of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, but he was a star in his own right and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
That is what shines through in Pessah’s Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask (Little, Brown and Company; hardback; $30; 567 pages). Pessah spent 4½ years doing research and conducted more than 100 interviews.
“It felt like he was sitting on my couch the last year I was writing the book,” Pessah, who writes for The New York Times and was a founding member of ESPN the Magazine, told Newsday earlier this year.
Berra, who died in 2015 at the age of 90, was baseball’s Everyman. He did not look like a major leaguer, standing 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing 185 pounds in his prime. His physical appearance and Italian heritage made him an easy target throughout his career.
Berra had “a round face dominated by a big nose, heavy brow, and toothy grin,” Pessah writes. Opponents — and some of his teammates and managers — bought into the image that Berra was almost Neanderthal-like. Opposing players would swing from the dugout, imitating an ape.
But Berra’s first manager counseled him to ignore the slurs, reasoning correctly that if the young player responded, the bench jockeying would only get worse.
So, while Berra let the taunts slide, he never forgets them, Pessah writes.
Berra’s reading material may have been confined to comic books, but he was a savvy businessman and a tough bargainer at contract time, Pessah writes.
Still, there was always a question about whether Berra said many of the things attributed to him.
I have a sign on the wall in my office that has phrases attributed to Berra — “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” “It gets late early out there,” “It’s déjà vu all over again,” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“Every time Yogi hiccupped, he was answered by gales of laughter,” Bill Veeck once wrote. “Boy, you said to yourself, nobody can hiccup as funny as that Yogi.”
That image was manufactured by the writers who followed the Yankees, who were trying to turn a quiet, almost dull personality into a savant of baseball witticisms. Pessah does a nice job of sifting fact from fiction.
Berra has all the qualities a kid could look up to — friendly, thrifty, brave, loyal, helpful and trustworthy. All those traits come through very clearly in Pessah’s narrative.
Berra was a serious, quiet man who enjoyed playing baseball. He did not have to be flamboyant or colorful, and he shunned the spotlight. Berra was, however, a solid hitter who held the career record for home runs by a catcher (now owned by Mike Piazza.). Berra was a tough out and a dangerous clutch hitter who would swing at any pitch.
In George Vecsey’s 1966 book, Baseball’s Most Valuable Players, Detroit pitcher Hal Newhouser was told not to worry — Berra was a bad-ball hitter, and he should have no problem getting the catcher out.
“Yeah,” Newhouser said. “But I defy anyone to throw him a good pitch.”
Berra was intense, too. Watch that video clip of Jackie Robinson stealing home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. When umpire Bill Summers called Robinson safe, Berra’s furious reaction became a video highlight. Until his dying day, Berra insisted Robinson was out.
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, during the mid-1960s, Berra remained popular even though he was retired. The catcher on my Catholic school’s baseball team was naturally nicknamed “Yogi,” for example, and all of us enjoyed Yoo-hoo, a chocolate drink endorsed by Berra.
Berra was gold for advertisers, too, from Yoo-hoo to Aflac. Berra showed his business acumen by skipping a salary for representing Yoo-hoo, electing instead to be paid in company stock. It made him rich, Pessah writes.
“When Yogi bought stock, the market went up. When he sold, it went down,” Yankees pitcher-turned-author Jim Bouton wrote in 1973. “Yogi got into the bowling business (with teammate Phil Rizzuto) just before the boom and got out just before the crash.”
Pessah traces Berra’s life from the Italian neighborhood of his youth in St. Louis known as The Hill. Lorenzo Pietro Berra, known as “Lawdie” during his childhood, was obsessed with baseball. He and his boyhood friend, Joe Garagiola, were easily the best two players in the neighborhood, but it was Garagiola who got the to the majors first.
Berra, like many sons of immigrants, had to convince his father that baseball was not frivolous, and that was not an easy task. Even though his older brothers picked up the slack and brought home extra money, Pietro Berra remained unconvinced that baseball was a way to make a living.
Pessah chronicles Berra’s youth, his career in the Navy and his harrowing landing at Utah Beach at Normandy on D-Day. Later in 1944, Berra is wounded in his left hand while manning a machine gun in Marseilles, which would earn him a Purple Heart.
Compared to Berra’s military service, playing baseball was a cakewalk.
For all the teasing and indignities he suffered early in his professional baseball career, Berra remained resilient — and stuck to his guns.
When a clubhouse man for the Newark Bears hands Berra a well-worn uniform that lacked a number on the back and the city name on the front, the young catcher “wraps the uniform into a ball, strides angrily over to the clubhouse man” and tosses it at the worker.
“Hey, give me a damn new uniform,” Berra says, “I’m not trying out. I play for this club!”
Berra got the new uniform.
Berra was always a natural hitter, but “agile and unpolished” behind the plate. His throwing arm was erratic, but he was quick to pounce on bunts and cutting down lead runners. It was a matter of learning the proper technique, and Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey would prove instrumental in honing Berra’s defensive skills.
Pessah tracks Berra’s career with the Yankees, where he played in 12 World Series and won 10 titles. Berra was the glue that kept the team together. For example, in August 1951 he caught all but one game and both games in five out of six doubleheaders, Pessah writes. Five days after the birth of his son, Tim, Berra is poised to help Allie Reynolds make history when he settles under a foul pop. Reynolds is one out away from his second no-hitter that would also clinch the 1951 pennant, but Berra drops the ball.
Considering that the hitter was Ted Williams, giving the game’s best hitter a second chance seemed like an invitation to disaster. But Williams popped up again and Berra caught the ball, to his everlasting relief.
The great moments keep coming: more postseason glory, catching Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and eventually becoming the manager of the Yankees in 1964. That one-year stint did not go well. Even though the Yankees won their 29th pennant, it was a difficult year for the rookie manager. Lacking respect from his players and support from the front officer, Berra was fired after one season.
Pessah does a good job in writing about chunks of Berra’s career, but the chapter called “A Second Chance: 1965-1972” is a curious one. Instead of recapping what took place when Berra joined the New York Mets in 1965 — including a stunning World Series win in 1969 — Pessah jumps to 1972, when manager Gil Hodges died, and Berra was named to replace him.
I’m not certain that anything of note took place in Berra’s world from 1965 to 1971 that would have added to the book, but it just seemed a bit incongruous, given that every other era of his life was covered so thoroughly.
Berra led the Mets to the World Series and took the defending champion Oakland A’s to seven games before losing. However, Berra’s fortunes would shift back to pinstripes after he was fired by the Mets and hired by the Yankees as a coach.
Berra would be named the Yankees’ manager in 1984, but when owner George Steinbrenner fired him 16 games into the 1986 season, the wounded legend boycotted his team for 13 years. Until Steinbrenner apologized — on Berra’s turf, face to face — the former star stayed away from Yankee Stadium. Interestingly, Berra and Steinbrenner became good friends after the boycott ended.
Pessah delves deep into the family relationships Berra had with his parents and siblings, his longtime love affair with his wife, Carmen, and the turbulent times caused by the drug use of his son, Dale. Through it all, Berra remained stoic and enjoyed his later years, particularly the opening of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.
Two months after his death, Berra was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
"We know this for sure: If you can't imitate him, don't try to copy him," Obama said in a nod to one of Berra’s famous sayings.
There is no doubt that Berra lived a long, full life. Pessah presents that life in a warm narrative that will resonate with baseball fans.
The book is thick, but it is a fast read. And the best part? It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Charlie Hustle will never stop hustling.
Pete Rose may never be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but his marketing skills place him among baseball’s elite. The all-time hits leader’s latest exposure to collectors comes through Leaf’s Charlie Hustle Baseball Edition.
A blaster box is pricey at $29.99, but that was at Target. I have seen some boxes go for as low as $24.95 online. The price is the bad news. The good news is that collectors will get the complete 10-card base set, plus an autographed card to boot.
Granted, Rose’s signature is on a sticker, but he is a diligent signer, and if you cough up enough cash, he is more than happy to sign.
Rose had a chain of restaurants in South Florida some years back. In 1998 I went with my dad to the one he had in Boynton Beach, Florida. Memorabilia all over the place, and Rose did a radio show from a soundproof booth inside the restaurant.
The food wasn’t bad, either. The cool part was that there were newspaper clippings —good and bad, because after all, even bad publicity is publicity — bats, balls, uniforms and gloves on display.
In the gift shop, if you bought an item that cost more than $20 (I am guessing on the price now, but in that range or higher), Rose would autograph it for you if he was there. Not a bad deal.
This year’s model is like a Leaf product from 2012: Pete Rose, The Living Legend.
There are 10 cards in the base set, with each card detailing Rose’s achievements at certain points during his career. The cards show Rose during every stop of his career — with the Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos and Philadelphia Phillies. Because Leaf does not have a license with MLB and the MLBPA, all logos are airbrushed off the photographs.
The card design is nice, with mostly action shots of Rose. A photograph is inset against a feathered background, with the name of the brand in large block letters at the bottom of the card. There is a capital “R” about the brand name, topped by a crown to signify Rose’s status as major league baseball’s career leader in hits.
The card backs utilize a horizontally cropped version of the photo on the front, with seven lines of type discussing his career.
The biographical sketches list his achievements and tend to push for Rose’s election to the Hall of Fame.
An example: “Despite allegations of gambling while a manager of the Reds, he deserves to be acknowledged for his accomplishments as a player by being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Another example: “His work ethic once represented everything that was great about America.”
And: “There wasn’t anything Rose wouldn’t do to help his team win.”
You get the idea.
The autograph I pulled was on a sticker and penned with a red Sharpie. I get it: Rose is a Red. This shot was like base card No. 10, when Rose was with the Phillies. There are 10 different autographs in the set — one for each base card.
It’s a nice little set and keeps Rose in the spotlight. Charlie Hustle turns 80 on April 14, and he hasn’t stopped hustling yet.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about 85 different rare 1995 Action Packed autographed basketball cards that will be opened during a Facebook Live mystery break on Tuesday night.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an investigation that forced an sportsbook company to turn over more than $46 million in assets, including a rare George Mikan rookie card:
If you covered baseball for any amount of time, there is a good chance that you got pranked by Jay Johnstone.
So, it was sad to read about Johnstone’s death, which was announced Monday. His daughter confirmed the outfielder’s death on Facebook. Johnstone, 74, who died Saturday, suffered from dementia and was in a California nursing home when he died of complications from the coronavirus.
Johnstone batted .267 during his 20-year career in the majors from 1966 to 1985, but I figure he batted at least .300 in pulling pranks on teammates, managers and members of the media.
He caught me during spring training in 1981. I was a young sportswriter at The Stuart News in Florida and went to Vero Beach to take pictures and do a feature story. I was walking from the Dodgers’ clubhouse toward the field at Holman Stadium and wandered onto a fenced-in practice field, where several players were stretching.
I took out a camera from my bulky bag and began snapping away when Johnstone, in the front row, chirped at me.
“Hey, you dropped some film,” he said. “Behind you.”
Naturally, I turned to my left to look.
“No, the other side,” he said, as I spun the other way.
“Nope, you’re still missing it,” he said.
By now, I was doing pirouettes and my bag was swinging around my waist. The players were snickering loudly, saying “rookie,” and “clown” and a few other choice words.
I must have turned red, because Johnstone finally said, “Don’t worry, kid, I do that to everyone.”
What he did to other major leaguers was much funnier and inventive. After all, this was a guy who wrote a book in 1985 called Temporary Insanity (with Rick Talley) and had a bit part in the 1988 comedy farce, “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” playing a member of the Seattle Mariners.
“If there was a tax on the amount of fun we had, we couldn’t afford to live,” Reuss, 71, told the Los Angeles Times. “There are so many different memories … but unfortunately, a lot of them you can’t print.”
Johnstone would randomly nail teammates’ cleats to the floor or set them on fire. Along with Dodgers teammate Jerry Reuss, he once replaced the celebrity photos Tommy Lasorda with pictures of himself, Reuss and Don Stanhouse, according to the Times. Johnstone and Reuss dressed as groundskeepers and dragged the infield during the fifth inning of a Sept. 2, 1981, game at Dodger Stadium.
Lasorda chewed them both out and sent Johnstone up to pinch hit for reliever Terry Forster to lead off the sixth inning. Johnstone hit a leadoff homer off Pittsburgh’s Mark Lee, the final run in the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory.
“Who in the history of baseball has dragged the infield in the fifth inning and hit a pinch-hit homer in the sixth?” Reuss asked the Times.
Some other notable pranks. Johnstone once gave the Phillie Phanatic one of Lasorda’s uniforms, and the mascot placed it on a blow-up doll. Another time, Dodgers executive Fred Claire was walking from the field to the press box before the first pitch when he noticed Johnstone ordering a hot dog at a concession stand near the team’s clubhouse.
“I screamed at him, ‘Jay, get your butt in the clubhouse!’” Claire told the Times. “I don’t know if that was Babe Ruth-like or Jay Johnstone-like, but it was great.”
Johnstone also once put a soggy brownie in Steve Garvey’s glove, according to The Orange County Register.
Johnstone’s first roommate on the road when he joined the California Angels in 1966 was outfielder Jimmy Piersall. That might explain a few things.
“(Piersall) went nuts twice and used to walk around saying, ‘I’ve got the papers to prove I’m sane,'” Johnstone told the Register in 2011. “He’d wake me up at night and ask me baseball questions … because he said he wanted to get to my deep inner id. I still have no idea what he meant by that.”
Johnson’s nickname, which I learned from his APBA baseball card when I owned the game in 1973, was “Moon Man.” He would imitate Lasorda by stuffing pillows in his uniform shirt and meet with a pitcher on the mound before the game.
Temporary insanity, indeed. Johnstone was one of a kind.
“I’ll be honest,” Reuss told the Times. “There was nothing temporary about it.”
We’ll miss ya, Jay.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily, previewing the high-end, 2021 Topps Sterling baseball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Brett Favre signing a Bucs T-shirt while attending Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. The shirt, featuring Tom Brady's face superimposed over a vintage "Bucco Bruce" logo, is headed to auction:
It is usually a midsummer classic, but the Topps Allen & Ginter set was released several months later this year. A pandemic will do that.
So, instead of July, the venerable A&G set made its debut in mid-September. The formula has not changed: While the set concentrates on baseball players, it also includes stars from other sports and pop culture favorites.
I finally found blaster boxes of A&G at my local Walmart, so it was fun to buy one and open it. I originally was going to pass on collecting this year’s set — trying to fill in the holes on other UV sets has become more of a priority — but like the mythical Greek Siren, the Allen & Ginter set sings enchanting music and I cannot resist the lure.
The fact that I also pulled an autograph from one pack might have influenced my decision, too.
A blaster box contains seven packs, plus an extra pack. It is a silly concept card companies use. The eighth “bonus” pack was not a special set of cards, just the regular assortment of product. So, why not simply advertise “eight packs”? Must be a marketing ploy, like noting that a product costs $19.99 instead of $20.
The base set contains 300 cards, plus the usual 50 short prints. The blaster I opened had 28 cards and two SPs (Moises Alou and Bert Blyleven). Each pack contains a mini card. Three of the minis were base cards and one had an A&G back. A fifth one was a black parallel of Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, while the final three were inserts.
The design for the base set is slightly different this year, but only on the card front. A&G cards traditionally have wonderful artwork, and the 2020 version is no exception. But instead of the full bleed look, this year’s card fronts frame a photo. The frames are a thin gray color, so the appearance is not quite like previous Turkey Red issues, for example.
Speaking of frames, the big hit from the blaster was a framed, on-card autograph of Indians pitcher Zach Plesac. Those mini cards always look nice when they are framed.
I picked up several insert cards. There were two Digging Deep cards. This 20-card subset is dedicated to treasures you might find in the ground, and the gems I pulled were a diamond and chrysoberyl. Reach for the Sky contains 15 cards of famous skyscrapers and I pulled two cards — the Steinway Tower in Manhattan and the Shanghai Tower in China.
Down on the Farm is another 15-card subset that focuses on barnyard animals, while Field Generals is a 20-card set that pays tribute to some of the game’s greatest catchers. I pulled one insert from each. Longball is a 50-card set that highlights baseball’s greatest sluggers. I pulled a Carl Yastrzemski insert. A Debut to Remember is a 30-card set that features memorable first games by major leaguers.
I pulled one card from three of the mini insert sets — Booming Cities (Dhaka), Behemoths Beneath (Beluga Whale) and Where Monsters Live (Under the Stairs).
Once again, the lure of Allen & Ginter is too tough to resist. It’s always a nice-looking set, with maddeningly difficult short prints and an eclectic group of inserts.
Guess I will collect them again.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a 1941 Double Play card that had an interesting message written on the back by Massachusetts resident John Lawsky.
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.