Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Gary Carter, who made his MLB debut on Sept. 16, 1974. Plus, a story I wrote for The Stuart News in 1981 about Carter and his love of collecting baseball cards:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Mile High Card Company's September auction, which ended on Sept. 8:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a collector who found -- and is now selling -- a rare 1921 Asahira Sporting Goods postcard from Japan of Babe Ruth:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2023 Bowman Chrome baseball set, which will be released next month:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the Panini-Fanatics dueling lawsuits. I interviewed collectibles attorney Armen Vartian:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Leaf's upcoming debut card set for --- Pickleball!
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a convicted card scammer in western New York who was sentenced to prison:
The 2023 Score football set by Panini America is the first gridiron release this year, and it makes a good impression.
A large checklist that includes a base set supplemented by a 100-card rookie set, is enough to whet any NFL’s fan’s appetite.
The Score set does have 300 base cards that feature veteran players and all-time greats.
I bought a blaster box, and even though I bemoan the rise in prices for cards, I at least felt better after buying the 2023 Score blaster at $24.99. That is because there are 132 cards per box — six packs, with 22 cards to a box.
As a blaster exclusive, Panini is also promising one numbered parallel per box.
A note about the set: For some reason there is no card No. 331, but two players share No. 301 — Bryce Young and Camerun Peoples.
The box I opened yielded 72 base cards, although it was disappointing that there were three duplicates — Myles Garrett, Zach Martin and Isaiah Hodgins.
The blaster also included four gold parallels, and the numbered card was a Lava parallel of Deuce Vaughn, numbered to 565.
The card front design is vertical, which I love. The player’s name is tastefully presented in yellowish-gold block letters set against a black nameplate.
The photograph that dominates the card front is an action shot that is framed by a thick, angling black line that gives it a die-cut look.
The team logo is beneath the photograph, with the Score logo stamped in silver foil below that.
Flanking the Score logo is the player’s position and his uniform number.
The card backs are also vertical, with the team logo dominated the upper part of the card.
The player’s name is beneath the logo and an eight-line paragraph detailing highlights and fun facts. The type is ragged center, which is kind of disconcerting, but it is not a distraction — except to me, of course, who prefers ragged right type.
The 2023 Score set features some nice inserts.
Huddle Up is a 15-card subset that sports a horizontal design and features teams huddling up for a play. I pulled five cards, including the Bears, Broncos, Dolphins, Steelers and Titans. The back of the card presents information of each of that team’s starting quarterbacks, who command the call-playing in the huddle.
Celebration, as the name implies, shows players in various stages of celebration after a key play or a clinched victory. There are 25 cards in the subset, and I pulled five of them. The players reveling in my blaster box were Ezekiel Elliott, Danielle Hunter, Aidan Hutchinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and George Kittle.
The cleverly named Protential insert set includes 25 cards. I managed to pull six of these cards, including Bryce Young, Max Duggan, Michael Mayer, Jahmyr Gibbs and Bijan Robinson.
Sack Attack features defensive stars getting to the quarterback. I pulled four of the 15 cards in the subset — Hutchinson, Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa and Von Miller.
The 10-card 2003 Throwback Rookie Set, uses elements similar to that year’s design from score. I pulled a pair of cards – Young and Will Anderson.
First Ballot features 10 players who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first season of eligibility. The card I pulled was of LaDainian Tomlinson.
The 2023 Score football set is attractive and should be fun for set builders. It should not be too difficult to complete this set.
With NFL training camps already in full swing -- the Hall of Fame Game was already played on Thursday -- this set is a good way to ease back into football card collecting this year.
Ed Kranepool was known as “Steady Eddie” during his 18 seasons with the New York Mets. He joined the club as a 17-year-old late in the franchise’s first season and played his entire major league career in New York.
The nickname is a tribute to Kranepool’s consistency, and also his demeanor as he withstood the Mets’ early growing pains, enjoyed their miracle 1969 season and then endured some lousy seasons after the “You Gotta Believe” pennant-winning season of 1973.
My father, a big Mets fan when my family lived in Brooklyn, New York, during the 1960s, twisted that consistency to some extent. To this day he notes that batting left-handed, Kranepool would “hit a two-hop ground ball to the first baseman” every time he connected.
This is of course, an exaggeration. Kranepool collected 1,418 hits during his major league career. For context, my father also used to complain about “how terrible” the 1972 Miami Dolphins were after every game when we lived in South Florida during the 1970s. “Did you see the Dolphins? They were terrible.”
Yes, the worst team in NFL history with a perfect record. And the only one.
Those are the kinds of expectations that Kranepool faced. He was an all-star at age 19 during the 1965 season when he wore No. 7 for the first time, which in New York meant Mickey Mantle and the Yankees. And Kranepool grew up in the Bronx, too, rooting for the Yankees and Mantle.
But Kranepool, 78, has a fascinating perspective on his baseball career and of life, particularly after needing a kidney transplant several years ago. He tells his stories frankly and pulls no punches in his narrative with the assistance of longtime sportswriter Gary Kaschak in The Last Miracle: My 18-Year Journey with the Amazin’ New York Mets (Triumph Books; $30; hardback; 235 pages).
Kranepool chronicles the ups and downs of his career. He chafed at being platooned and being labeled a role player, but he also excelled. In 1974 he set the all-time season record for average by a pinch hitter with 30 at-bats or more when he hit .486. During his career, Kranepool would collect 90 hits — including six home runs — off the bench.
Kranepool grew up playing baseball in the Castle Hill Playground in the southeastern section of the Bronx, “a melting pot of race, religion, color; you name it.”
He also grew up without a father. Sgt. Edward Emil Kranepool Jr. was killed World War II at Saint-Lô, France, on July 28, 1944, nearly four months before his son was born. The elder Kranepool was 31.
That left Kranepool in a home with his mother, Ethel Hasselback Kranepool, and an older sister, Marilyn. The father figure in Kranepool’s life would be his next door neighbor and first Little League coach, Jimmy Schiafo.
Kranepool has a unique perspective about the Mets, since his career began during the team’s infancy. He watched as Casey Stengel deflected the team’s miserable play and put the focus on himself as the franchise brought in over-the-hill players who still had marquee value.
“He’d battle for you and protect you and take all the heat from the press when he had to,” Kranepool said.
Kranepool is candid in his belief that he was promoted to the majors too quickly, that he needed more seasoning “physically and mentally.” Because of his age, some of Kranepool’s teammates were twice his age, and he concedes that the Mets “force-fed me to the major leagues.” Not that he objected at the time, but an older and wiser Kranepool understands now how more time in the minor leagues would have helped his development.
Besides, he saw some bizarre things with the Mets: Jimmy Piersall running backward for his 100th career home run; witnessing a no-hitter on his first day as a major leaguer (Sandy Koufax won a 5-0 gem on June 30, 1962), and watching a triple play on the final day of the ’62 season (the Cubs pulled off the triple-killing in the eighth inning at Wrigley Field to stifle a rally and preserve Chicago’s 5-1 win – and clinch New York’s 120th loss of the season).
Kranepool had a precarious relationship with Gil Hodges, the manager who took the Mets out of mediocrity and led them to a World Series title in 1969.
He credited Hodges for teaching him “so much about the game and being a man” and wishing he had been his manager early in his career.
But the relationship was not always smooth.
Kranepool had an outburst against Hodges in 1968 after going 0-for-3 against Chris Short in a Sept. 21 game at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. After he was lifted for a pinch hitter, Kranepool said he told Hodges, “if you’re so smart, you should have done it four hours ago.”
Bad move. Hodges kept him on the bench for the rest of the season, except for a pinch-hitting appearance on Sept. 27 in which he struck out.
“I could have kicked myself for mouthing off because then I spent the whole winter wondering if I was gonna get traded or if they’d acquire another first baseman,” Kranepool writes.
But when Kranepool got into a scrap with infielder Tim Foli in 1970, Hodges took his side.
“Hodges wasn’t the kind of manager who’d actually say things are good now,” Kranepool writes. “But I knew that as long as I performed and didn’t mouth off, from that point on, he was in my corner.
“Hodges made a difference,” Kranepool said on the eve of his former manager’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022. “He was the leader we sorely needed.”
Kranepool brings the reader into the locker room for the Mets’ unlikely run to glory in 1969 and spins warm, funny stories along with great detail about the games.
He hit a home run in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series and would deliver a key two-run single in Game 5 of the 1973 National League Championship Series.
There is fun stuff, too. Kranepool writes about his appearance doing counting segments with teammate Art Shamsky on Sesame Street. Kranepool said he became very popular with the children in his neighborhood after that, not because he was a baseball player, but because he was Big Bird’s friend.
He also writes about an April 4, 1979, skit on Saturday Night Live, when he participated in a spring training “interview” with Bill Murray about fictional baseball player Chico Escuela (played by Garrett Morris in halting English – “baseball been berry good to me”) and his “controversial” book, Bad Stuff About the Mets.
“Well, you know Chico was a pretty good player for us in ’69 and ’73, but that book he wrote – a couple of us got hurt pretty bad from that,” Kranepool deadpans. “He shouldn’t have wrote it.”
He also debunks Escuela’s contention that Tom Seaver “always take up two parking places” and that Kranepool “borrowed Chico’s soap and never give it back.”
In real life, Kranepool pulls no punches. He expresses disdain for the late Karl Ehrhardt, the “Sign Man” who used to flash witty (and sometimes critical) placards at Shea Stadium. Kranepool said that Erhardt held up a sign that read “Big Stiff” every time he came to bat.
“He was nothing but a negative person, and I didn’t think what he did was funny,” Kranepool writes.
Kranepool said he also “held resentment” against Gene Mauch, who managed the National League in the 1965 All-Star Game and “hardly substituted at all,” meaning the Mets’ all-star watched the entire game from the bench.
The NL won the game 6-5 and had a roster containing 13 future Hall of Famers.
After that, “I tried to beat him, I tried to impress him,” and at the end of his career, when Kranepool received a telephone call from Mauch about possibly playing for Minnesota, he turned him down and retired instead.
“I held a grudge until the day I retired,” Kranepool writes.
He would dabble in the restaurant business with teammate Ron Swoboda (who wrote the foreword to Kranepool’s book), and was a stockbroker for five years during the offseason.
The blockbuster trade that sent franchise pitcher Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds, in 1977, was unpopular with Mets fans and players. And Kranepool called it a key moment in franchise history.
“That was really the dagger of the many turning points to the Mets’ downfall,” Kranepool writes, placing the blame for the trade on then-general manager Joe McDonald.
Kranepool also has salty words for Joe Torre, his former teammate, roommate and manager. He writes that he had a handshake agreement from his manager that he would be a starter in 1978, but it did not happen.
“He pushed aside a few people like me and never gave me an opportunity,” Kranepool writes. “He let you rot.”
When Kranepool wanted to be a player/coach on Torre’s staff, he asked the manager to intercede on his behalf with the front office, but “he couldn’t help me,” he writes.
Words were exchanged, and “he went one way, and I went the other way,” Kranepool writes.
“And to this day, I want nothing to do with him.”
Kranepool’s departure from the Mets left a bitter taste. He was 35 and had spent 18 seasons in New York, and the way his career ended “never sat well with me,” as he was never considered for a place in the organization.
“I’d given 18 years and just like that was an afterthought,” he writes.
But health issues pushed those emotions aside. Kranepool had diabetes, three foot surgeries and would require a kidney transplant.
Finding a match for the kidney was a miracle in itself, and Kranepool’s gratitude shines through as he tells an unlikely but heartwarming story that involved a police officer, a firefighter, the fireman’s wife and a retired baseball player.
Then, Kranepool’s wife, Monica, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a frightening prospect. But six hours of surgery and four more treatments left her without any signs of cancer.
“I’d had my miracle with my kidney transplant, and now my wife had hers,” Kranepool writes.
There are a few glitches in this autobiography. One concerned the 1969 division races, when Kranepool mentions that victories against the San Diego Padres were crucial, especially with the Giants and Dodgers in the running for the NL West title.
“We knew we’d be facing Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry and possibly (Sandy) Koufax later on,” he writes.
Koufax retired after the 1966 season, and the only way he would have been in the ballpark was as a color commentator for NBC Sports.
Kranepool eventually healed his rift with the Mets and was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1990. He also was inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.
It is true, Kranepool writes, that he was a survivor — on the field and off. He was with the Mets when the only entertainment came from Stengel’s ramblings and Bill Gallo’s cartoons in the Daily News featuring the disheveled but loyal fan, Basement Bertha. He tasted sweet victory with the Mets’ World Series win in 1969, even though he was a platoon player, and endured the years of mediocrity after the Mets reached the postseason again in 1973.
He was never traded and still holds several team records, and his health has improved since his kidney transplant.
In a July 7, 1975, feature, Sports Illustrated noted that Kranepool was “more a Met than any other man who has worn the uniform, more than the Throneberrys and Kanehls who made them amazin', and the Seavers and Koosmans who made them successful.”
Truly, Ed Kranepool is the ultimate Met.
“I had my share of miracles on and off the field,” Kranepool writes. “I finally realized that I wasn’t the odd man out. I was the odd man in.”
Steady Eddie forever.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a T206 "Slow" Joe Doyle error card heading to auction:
Here's a story I wrote foe Sports Collectors Daily about several Tall Boy cards selling at a PWCC Marketplace auction. Among them was a Pete Maravich rookie card that sold for a record $552,000:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2023 Topps Chrome baseball set, which is scheduled to be released in late July:
At first blush, the 2023 Leaf Draft football set sounds good. There are 20 packs in a blue blaster box, with a guarantee of two autograph cards.
The problem comes with collation. A collector these days has become spoiled by card companies’ collation. You don’t see duplicates very often, even in a blaster.
Well, it happened in the one I bought. The 20 packs yielded 51 base cards out of the 100-card set, but eight of them were duplicates. And considering that there were mostly two — and sometimes three — base cards in each pack, that means about four packs contained doubles.
Call me spoiled, but if I get 51 base cards, I expect them all to be different.
For set collectors, this can be maddening, particularly when there were 49 parallels in the blaster — plus two autograph cards on stickers.
The parallels can be found in blue, gold, green and red.
Leaf has a nice breakdown of cards into different subset. The first 10 cards are called “First Overall” and feature players selected No. 1 in the NFL in certain years. Not sure if starting off the set with O.J. Simpson as card No. 1 is a great idea, but that is certainly a conversation starter.
Other No. 1s include the three I pulled, like Bruce Smith, Bo Jackson and Peyton Manning.
Card No. 11 features Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, as an All-American, while Nos. 12-17 are Award Winner cards. I pulled Bijan Robinson (Doak Walker winner), Brock Bowers (John Mackey recipient) and Max Duggan (Davey O’Brien winner).
Card Nos. 18-31 are designated as base cards, and I pulled five of those, including one of draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
Cue up the “Who in the hell is Mel Kiper, anyway?” video from the 1994 NFL draft, when Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Tobin ripped into ESPN’s draft guru.
As a side note, one of the gold parallels I pulled from one of the packs was of NFL draft expert Todd McShay, who was one of nearly two dozen ESPN personalities laid off on Friday.
Tough times in TV land.
The next subset consists of base ARC cards, from Nos. 32-38. That is followed by base XRC cards (Nos 39-75); I pulled 17 of those cards.
The next two subsets focus on upcoming draft classes. Class of 2024 (Nos. 76-81) is followed by Class of 2025 (Nos. 82-86). I pulled three cards from the former — including Williams — and one from the latter.
Nos. 87-94 are dubbed QB Kings and I had five of those, including Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson and Stetson Bennett.
The final six cards in the base set are called TD Kings, and I pulled two cards. The design for these cards are kind of punky, with the quarterback set against a backdrop of bricks and a graffiti-sprayed crown.
That was the only sketchy design. For the most part, Leaf’s design choices are simple and look good. The card fronts for many of the base cards feature an action shot of the player framed by a gray-white border. The Leaf logo is beneath the action shot, with the player’s nameplate anchoring the bottom of the card.
Most of these cards have vertical layouts for the card fronts, which I prefer.
The card backs feature the same player photo, but with player position and vital statistics. A short biography, about seven or eight lines, gives the collector some highlights or fun facts about the player. The design is also vertical, and it works nicely.
The card stock is thin, unfortunately, so be careful handling these cards.
As for parallels, there were seven blues, 12 golds, 16 greens and 14 reds.
To be honest, I liked the parallels better than the base cards because they were more colorful. But the restrained color pattern for the base cards is nice, too.
The two autographs in the box were a base card of Isaiah McGuire, the former Missouri defensive end who was picked in the fourth round by the Cleveland Browns; and Khalan Laborn, a running back who played at Florida State and Marshall and was signed as a free agent on May 1 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Overall, I’d call this set average. If you’re big into rookies and future stars, this is a good way to get started. The set is probably easy to complete, although those duplicates are kind of annoying.
If you are not into set building, Leaf does offer two other options in its Draft product. Red blasters have three autographs and contain 20 packs, while Gold blasters have three autographs and a 10-card set. Purple blasters have two signature cards and a 10-card set.
The choice is yours.
Writers who accept tough challenges fascinate me. I admire their determination in bringing some clarity to a murky subject.
Robert F. Garratt admits up front that writing about the life of Charles Stoneham, who owned the New York Giants baseball team from 1919 until his death in 1936 at the age of 59, was “a distinct challenge.”
That is an understatement. Stoneham, who bought the New York Giants from the Brush family with partners Francis X. McQuade and Giants manager John J. McGraw, formed the National Exhibition Company.
McGraw, the face of the Giants since 1902, would win four consecutive National League pennants and two World Series titles in the early 1920s. Stoneham, meanwhile, was a shadowy figure at best, content to stay in the background. The Stoneham family would own the franchise for nearly 58 years, moving it west to San Francisco after the 1957 season before selling it to Bob Lurie in 1976.
Stoneham was a complicated figure, and Garratt makes a strong attempt at sharpening the hazy perception of the franchise owner in Jazz Age Giant: Charles A. Stoneham & New York City Baseball in the Roaring Twenties (University of Nebraska Press; $29.95; hardback; 215 pages).
Garratt does not succeed completely, but his work is definitely the most thorough look at Stoneham to date. Stoneham had a shadowy past and became wealthy through his Wall Street business dealings because “he had an uncommon talent for the ‘Street,’” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote in his obituary.
Garratt, an emeritus professor of English and humanities at the University of Puget Sound, grew up in the San Francisco area and was a fan of the Giants. He initially researched the Giants’ move from New York to San Francisco and its impact on the Bay Area.
That resulted in his 2017 book, Home Team: The Turbulent History of the San Francisco Giants. The book, which examined the Giants’ relationship with San Francisco, the legacy of treacherous Candlestick and the team’s success during the 2010s, earned him finalist honors for the Seymour Medal.
He was pitted against some stiff competition for the 2018, award, including winner Jerald Podair (City of Dreams) and finalists Marty Appel (Casey Stengel), John Eisenberg (The Streak) and Debra Shattuck (Bloomer Girls).
It is interesting to note that Steven Treder’s 2021 biography of Stoneham’s son, Forty Years a Giant: The Life of Horace Stoneham, won the Seymour Medal in 2022. There is something about the Stoneham family that intrigues baseball history lovers.
Garratt takes an interesting approach to Charles Stoneham’s life, suggesting that there was a parallel between the Giants owner and Jay Gatsby, the main character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. And he hammers the comparison home in every chapter, with a lead-in that contains a quote from the novel.
Stoneham’s lavish parties and love for the night life gave the New York tabloids ample fodder during the Prohibition Era. The fact that he had two distinct families at the same time also had tongues wagging, even during the hedonistic Roaring Twenties.
Stoneham got rich through the stock market during the first quarter of the 20th century, running “bucket shops.”
According to the Cornell Law School, bucket shops in the early 1900s were gambling operations that permitted “common people” to bet on stocks and other markets. Ordinary citizens were able to invest in markets, but their purchases were highly speculative and businessmen like Stoneham were easily able to turn a profit.
Stoneham began his career as a board boy in a brokerage firm but eventually formed his own company. When he took over the Giants, his Wall Street background was a major topic.
“Curb broker to be president,” the New York Tribune wrote in January 1919.
But Stoneham got out of the brokerage business by 1921, because he wanted to devote “full-time attention” to the sporting life, and specifically, the Giants, Garratt writes. The other reason was more in tune to Stoneham’s business acumen.
He realized that because the stock market was “heating up,” it would no longer favor his “bucket shop” style of investing.
“Stoneham’s company depended on a falling market to maximize its profits,” Garratt writes.
Stoneham made no secret of his relationship to men like Arnold Rothstein, the man credited as the mastermind behind the 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal. Stoneham would be indicted three times, tried for perjury and acquitted. His battles for control of the Giants with McQuade, and lawsuits over his connections to various brokerage firms that had failed, would sap the joy of winning four pennants from 1921 to 1924.
In 1924, Stoneham was indicted for mail fraud in the transfer of accounts to E.D. Dier and Company. Two years earlier, he was awash in legal battles with the firm of E.M. Fuller and Company, a business that had filed for bankruptcy and claimed that Stoneham was a silent partner.
“For the foreseeable future, Stoneham would find his world turned upside down,” Garratt writes.
The Fuller-McGee case (named for owners Edward M. Fuller and William McGee) took four years to resolve, and Stoneham would be indicted for perjury in August 1923. On the positive side, Stoneham was acquitted of mail fraud charges stemming from the Dier case in February 1925. Stoneham’s indictment for perjury in the Fuller case was dismissed in early 1927.
For those reasons, baseball executives like American League President Ban Johnson never hid his distaste for Stoneham. As a possible gambling scandal loomed on the eve of the 1924 World Series, Johnson blasted the Giants owner as “the worst influence we have in organized baseball,” according to the New York Daily News. “He and John McGraw must be driven from the game.”
Garratt notes that Stoneham and McGraw were “Jazz Age dreamers,” and the move that typified their pie-in-the-sky hopes to bring the Giants back to prominence in the late 1920s was the trade that brought Rogers Hornsby to New York.
The Giants were looking for a player to match the star power of Babe Ruth in New York, and while Hornsby could hit, his demeanor and penchant for bluntness made him few friends — if he cursed, the Rajah’s favorite four-letter word was not “tact.”
The experiment lasted a year, until Stoneham traded Hornsby in a ridiculously one-sided deal that favored the Boston Braves — on paper, at least. Hornsby would wear out his welcome in Boston as well before landing with the Chicago Cubs.
Stoneham’s squabbles with McQuade, which simmered during the early 1920s, boiled over in 1928 when the owner got enough votes to remove McQuade as team treasurer.
While McQuade’s removal was “personally satisfying” for Stoneham, the legal entanglements over the next six years would be a “continuing distraction” for the Giants, Garratt writes. Stoneham would prevail after appealing a lower court ruling against him as McQuade’s complaint was dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court.
On the field, Stoneham would have one final year of glory when the Giants won the 1922 N.L. pennant and then rolled past the Washington Senators in the World Series.
Stoneham also finally received some respect from his fellow owners as a “wise senior counselor,” Garratt writes. That was a far cry from his entrance into the owners’ club, where he was viewed as “an interloper, a monied, shady businessman with a fondness for horses and gambling.”
Stoneham will always remain a hazy figure, feeling no need to call attention to himself, Garratt writes. Even as his health declined, Stoneham remained a silent figure.
His business deeds, however, spoke loudly.
“As the generous host, he was often in the background,” content to let others grab the spotlight, he writes. In a city like New York, where the spotlight shone brightly on public figures, that was quite a feat.
Garratt describes Stoneham as a businessman who was “unscrupulous and ruthless,” a serial philanderer and a quasi-bigamist and a private man without a close friend.
“He was paunchily fat, and his collar met his jowls,” sportswriter Paul Gallico wrote in November 1934, comparing the Stoneham to the 1920s to a slimmer version in the 1930s.
In Garratt’s final analysis, Stoneham’s complicated and spirited life “epitomized the Jazz Age.”
Jazz Age Giant is well-researched, complemented by plenty of notes. Garratt writes simply and smoothly, explaining complicated subjects in a clear manner.
The life of Charles Stoneham may never be crystal clear, but Garratt helps bring it into focus.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1950 Scott's Potato Chips cards and the man who desigmed them:
It is mind-boggling that Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the major league baseball scene more than 40 year ago.
It seems like only yesterday that the 20-year-old left-hander from Etchohuaquila, Mexico, was baffling hitters with his screwball, looking skyward as he wheeled toward the plate.
As a young sportswriter in South Florida with The Stuart News in May 1981, I got to sit in on a national telephone conference call that included Valenzuela; his interpreter, longtime Spanish broadcaster Jaime Jarrin; Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda; and several members of the team.
Valenzuela had begun the 1981 season with a 7-0 record and a ridiculously low 0.29 ERA.
“To be honest with you I didn’t think I’d get that far,” Valenzuela said at the time through his interpreter. “Before the season it never came to mind.”
“You can’t do that with mirrors or with luck,” Lasorda added. “Amazingly, nothing seems to rattle him. The guy makes the right pitch at the right time.”
It was an exciting time. Valenzuela would post a 13-7 record during the strike-marred split season of 1981 and pitched to a 2.48 ERA. He would win the National League Cy Young Award and was the third consecutive Dodger to win Rookie of the Year honors (pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Steve Howe preceded him and infielder Steve Sax would win in 1982).
Valenzuela spawned what would be known as “Fernandomania,” a baseball and cultural phenomenon. “El Toro” pitched in the majors for 17 seasons — 11 in Los Angeles — and earned 141 of his career 173 victories while wearing Dodger blue.
That is what author Erik Sherman captures so well in his latest book, Daybreak at Chavez Ravine: Fernandomania and the Remaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers (University of Nebraska Press; $32.95; hardback; 249 pages)
Baseball needed Fernandomania. And more specifically, the Dodgers needed it.
The team performed well on the field and won National League pennants in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977 and 1978, but the franchise had never found a way to soothe the bitterness of the Mexican American community. Latinos in the Los Angeles area had never forgiven the city of Los Angeles and Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley for cutting a deal to build a stadium at Chavez Ravine, which displaced hundreds of families during the late 1950s.
During the early 1950s, the city evicted approximately 300 families so a low-income, publicly funded housing project could be built. However, Los Angeles sold the land to O’Malley and the evicted residents — who had been promised the first pick for apartments in the proposed Chavez Ravine housing projects — were left holding the bag and were not reimbursed.
It came down to a contentious referendum, called Proposition B, to build the stadium, and O’Malley — who had pulled up stakes in Brooklyn to move west — won by 24,293 votes out of a total of 666,577.
O’Malley built Dodger Stadium, a magnificent complex that opened on April 10, 1962, but Mexican American fans stayed away in droves. It did not help that in May 1959, television cameras recorded deputies carrying residents from their frame houses in Chavez Ravine as bulldozers knocked down the structures, according to Andy McCue’s 2014 book, Mover & Shaker.
Bad for public relations, although city officials blamed the media for turning the eviction into “a cartoon morality play,” McCue would write.
Despite the Dodgers winning six pennants and two World Series at Dodger Stadium, Mexican American fans were hard to find. Even the three pennants during the 1970s did not help.
Valenzuela changed that. Here was a humble man who did not seek the spotlight, yet he possessed the kind of charisma that turned Dodger Stadium into a citadel of Mexican American pride. His physique and looks reminded many Latinos of “a Mexican uncle or cousin,” Sherman writes. “But he was an everyman who was doing incredible things. And he belonged to them.”
Valenzuela’s impact on the Latinos “was more impactful and profound than any no-hitter or World Series he ever pitched,” Sherman writes.
Longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully would observe that Fernandomania looked like “an almost religious experience.” Sportswriter Lyle Spencer told Sherman that “Fernandomania was a full-on festival every time he pitched.”
Pressed into action in 1981 when Jerry Reuss was scratched due to calf injury, Valenzuela became the first Dodgers rookie to start on Opening Day. It was also his first major-league start and he pitched a five-hit shutout.
Sherman guides the reader through Valenzuela’s blazing impact, when he first 12 starts at Dodger Stadium were sellouts. He is familiar with writing about baseball and digging nuggets out of his extensive research, which is also on display in Daybreak at Chavez Ravine.
Sherman has written books about the 1986 Mets (Kings of Queens), the 1986 Boston Red Sox (Two Sides of Glory) and co-authored autobiographies with Davey Johnson, Glenn Burke, Steve Blass and Mookie Wilson.
Sherman’s 2019 book, After the Miracle, with Art Shamsky, was a warm and poignant look at the 1969 New York Mets.
Valenzuela declined to participate in Sherman’s latest project, but that enabled the author, podcaster and 2023 inductee into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame to interview former teammates and opponents. Those interviews provided a fuller, more analytical look at Valenzuela.
Sherman pulls out rich, insightful observations from a diverse group of players, including Valenzuela’s teammates — Dusty Baker, Rick Monday, Jerry Reuss and Steve Garvey, to name a few. Dodgers scout Mike Brito, Jarrin and even opponents like pitchers Bill Lee and Jeff Reardon also offer valuable perspective.
“He captured everyone’s attention,” Monday told Sherman. “Not right away, but when he did, he owned it.”
Valenzuela’s success in 1981 caught all of baseball flat-footed.
“I wasn’t thinking he was going to be the ace of the staff — that’s for sure,” former Dodgers executive Fred Claire told Sherman.
Sherman writes about Valenzuela’s lunch with President Ronald Reagan and Mexico’s president, José López Portillo, a monumental day for a 20-year-old rookie who still took it all in stride. Valenzuela’s career was much more successful than that of Portillo, who was Mexico’s leader from 1976 to 1982. The New York Times reported in Portillo’s 2004 obituary that he brought Mexico to “the brink of economic collapse” and “was considered one of the most incompetent leaders of Mexico's modern era and his government among the most corrupt.”
Fernandomania, on the other hand, did not seem to have any limits, Sherman writes. Remember, he starred in the era before social media and modern marketing savvy, but it was not unusual to see homemade images of Valenzuela on T-shirts, posters and murals. Valenzuela was selective in what products to advertise but became wealthy.
The baseball strike certainly prevented Valenzuela from winning 20 games in 1981, but the eight-week stoppage, which forced the cancellation of 713 games, also afforded him a chance to rest and recharge. After an 8-0 start, Valenzuela was 9-4 but still led the league in complete games, innings pitched shutouts and strikeouts. The man needed a break.
The Dodgers got one too, as it was determined that teams leading their divisions when the strike began would be declared first-half champions and would earn a spot in the playoffs regardless of how they performed. It was a quirk that prevented the Cincinnati Reds, who had the league’s best record but finished second in both halves — from competing in the postseason.
When baseball returned, Valenzuela was the starting pitcher for the N.L. in the All-Star Game. He would be named to the All-Star team six times during his career.
As for the Dodgers, the 1981 playoffs would be a study in determination. Down 0-2 to Houston in the divisional series, Los Angeles would win the next three games at Dodger Stadium to advance. That included a Game 4 complete-game victory pitched by Valenzuela, as the left-hander had a 1.06 ERA against the Astros.
Against the Montreal Expos in the NLCS, the Dodgers prevailed in five games when Valenzuela pitched a gritty 2-1 victory that was helped by Monday’s clutch home run that snapped a 1-1 tie with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
The Expos were managed in the playoffs by Jim Fanning, who took over for Dick Williams. Sherman described Williams as having a “vinegary personality.”
That’s an understatement.
During spring training in 1981 I approached Williams at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach because I was writing a story about Gary Carter, specifically about his baseball card collection. I introduced myself and started to ask if he had a minute to talk about Carter. He looked at me and asked, “Who are you with again?”
When I told him, he shook his head, turned on his heel and walked away, saying, “Nahhh.”
I must have looked shocked, since New York Yankees manager Gene Michael was standing nearby, laughing.
“Don’t worry, kid, he’s always like that,” Michael chuckled.
Well, that was a nice consolation. He certainly lived up to his name.
In the 1981 World Series, Valenzuela helped the Dodgers dig out of a 2-0 series deficit with a 5-4 victory in Game 3 against the New York Yankees. It was Valenzuela’s final appearance of the season, and while he was not sharp, he still battled with grim determination.
Reuss told Sherman that the effort was impressive because he did not have his best stuff.
“I imagine every time Van Gogh picked up a paintbrush, he didn’t create a masterpiece,” Reuss said.
Valenzuela had plenty of them in 1981, and the Dodgers would win their first World Series title since 1965.
The losing pitcher in Game 3, George Frazier, who died on June 19 at the age of 68, became an unfortunate answer to a trivia question. He would become the first pitcher to legitimately lose three games in the World Series, as he was also saddled with losses in Games 4 and 6.
Claude Williams, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series, also lost three games, but the team was later found to have thrown the postseason series, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Williams was not one of the eight “Black Sox” players implicated in the scandal, by the way.
Of course, Valenzuela’s career did not begin and end with the 1981 season. There were other seasons, other accolades and other feats — 21 wins in 1986, a no-hitter in 1990, and 13 wins in 1996 as he helped the surprising San Diego Padres win the N.L. West.
But the 1981 season was magical.
The only glitch I saw in Sherman’s work was his statement that Hideo Nomo was the first Japanese-born player to reach the majors. That honor actually went to another pitcher, Masanori Murakami, who made his debut with the San Francisco Giants in 1964, according to MLB and documented by Robert K. Fitts in his wonderful 2015 biography, Mashi.
Sherman ends his work by wondering why Valenzuela’s No. 34 had not been retired, although no one has worn it since he has left the Dodgers. That oversight will be corrected in August, when his uniform will be retired during ceremonies and events during a three-game stretch.
Sherman’s research, coupled with his interviewing skills, makes for a compelling narrative.
Valenzuela “was like a composite of the Beatles — only in Dodger blue,” Sherman writes in his preface. “His appeal was universal. “He wasn’t just a baseball player, he was a healer in a time when, much like today, many Americans viewed Mexicans as second-class citizens.
“He was to Latinos what Jackie Robinson was to Black Americans. And their feelings for Valenzuela have only grown stronger over the years.”
“He’s for real,” teammate Davey Lopes said during that 1981 conference call.
He still is, and remains a revered figure in Dodgers history. Sherman does a wonderful job of piercing through Valenzuela’s quiet shell to paint a complete picture of a beloved figure.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about eBay's new Collectors Camp concept, a way for collectors to hone their skills and make better deals:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collector about a man who was reunited after more than 50 years with a 1952 Topps card of Mickey Mantle. The card was kept safe in a Wisconsin home in a -- wait for it -- cheese box.
Topps Series Two baseball has finally come to my area, and the flagship set is mostly a continuation of Series One.
On a side note, it is gratifying to walk into a Target or Walmart these days and see countless rows of blaster boxes and packs from all sports. Thank goodness. Card shortages at stores or registering to view boxes of product was an aggravating experience.
While Target still limits the number of items you can buy, Walmart does not.
I no longer chase the Topps flagship set, although I do buy a complete set when those boxes are released. Got to keep that complete set streak from 1968 intact, you know. And if not for 11 high numbers from the 1967 set and seven from 1963, I’d have every set done since 1960.
Of course, some of those cards I may never get, like the Pete Rose rookie card from 1963. But I am reconciled to that.
Anyway, the 2023 Topps Series Two set is a continuation of Series One, with 330 cards in the set. Cards are numbered from 331 to 660, featuring veterans, rookies, future stars and team cards. Series Two features the rookie cards of Kodai Senga, Anthony Volpe and Jordan Walker.
A blaster box costs $24.99 plus tax and contains seven packs with 14 cards to pack. There is also one commemorative Father’s Day Team Patch cards in each blaster. These cards have blue logo cap patches. Lucky collectors could find the signed version of the patch card, which is limited to 25 copies or less.
I do like the design that Topps has chosen for this year’s set. There is an action shot on the card front that dominates the space, with a white border and a thin line containing the primary color of the team’s uniform.
A mug shot of the player is positioned in the lower left-hand corner, with his name in white block letters below the smaller photograph. His position is anchored in the bottom right-hand corner of the card when the design is vertical, while slightly more toward the bottom center for horizontal layouts.
I have made no secret through the years that I prefer a vertical design. That goes back to when I began collecting in 1965. All of the player cards had vertical layouts, and the only exceptions were team, World Series and league leaders cards.
To me vertical always looked better in binders.
As far as card backs go, I never minded the horizontal layout. There are columns of statistics to present to the collector, and horizontal is a much better look. Series Two follows the same pattern, highlighting the player’s vital statistics and year-by-year numbers. Where there is room, a short biography or a paragraph explaining a career highlight is included.
Just like I did when I bought my first blaster of 2023 Series One, I pulled 84 base cards from the blaster box of Series Two I bought at Target. There was also a Royal Blue parallel of Evan Longoria; the Royal Blues can be found in one of every 10 blasters. I also pulled an Orange Foilboard parallel of Orioles pitcher Keegan Akin that was numbered to 299.
The third parallel in the box was a Rainbow Foil card of Pirates pitcher Rodney Contreras.
Every pack in the blaster had a Stars of MLB insert, a 30-card set, so I pulled seven of them.
Another insert card I pulled was a World Baseball Classic card of Sandy Alcantara. There are 60 cards in this subset.
In its tribute to the 35th anniversary to the 1988 Topps design, the blaster had one of the 1988 Topps card insert and one of the 1988 Topps All-Star Baseball cards. Both insert sets contain 50 cards.
I pulled a 1988 Topps Baseball card of Julio Rodriguez and a 1988 Topps All-Star Baseball insert of Buster Posey.
There was also one Home Run Challenge card, a promotion that features 30 of the game’s top sluggers. Each card has a scratch-off code that collectors enter on the Topps website, and contestants then pick a specific date when the player might hit a home run. If you win, you receive a Home Run Challenge Winner card.
The card I pulled was of the Mets’ Francisco Lindor, who already has 12 homers this season.
The final card I pulled was the commemorative Father’s Day Team Patch, a manufactured relic. My card featured Hunter Greene of the Cincinnati Reds, along with a blue logo against a white patch background.
Consistency is the hallmark of Topps’ flagship set, and Series Two follows that pattern. There are few surprises that I saw, but if you are set collector, this is the must-have set. Now, collectors will await the Update set.
Here is a review I wrote for Sport in American History about Dyed in Crimson by Zev Eleff:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a joint temporary restraining order agreed to by Panini America and Fanatics. The case involved former Panini employees starting work with Fanatics, and issues about possible trade secret violations:
There is plenty of nostalgia for me after buying cards from the 2023 Topps Heritage set, which was released this week.
This year’s edition, which pays tribute to the 1974 Topps product, was the last set I actively collected as a youth. I had always said that when I completed an entire Topps set, I would stop. In 1973 I came within five cards of finishing the set (I have since found them), but in 1974 I managed to collect all 660 of them.
So, I decided to stop collecting.
That, and I was heading to college soon, made the decision easier. Never mind that in 1975, Topps put out one of the more memorable sets of the decade, with great rookies and colorful designs.
That’s the luck of the draw.
I decided to collect again in 1996, in part because the death of Mickey Mantle made me revisit my collection.
The 1974 set was also the first time that Topps released its baseball card set all at once, rather than staggering it in series. It was always tough to find the high series Topps cards in 1973 and before, simply because not as many were printed and local stores selling the baseball cards shunted him aside for the football cards that were hitting the market in late summer.
But here’s a look at the 2023 Topps Heritage set.
This year’s model has 400 base cards and 100 short prints. Like all Heritage sets, the design remains true to the original card set. The color scheme for the teams that were around in 1974 remains the same for the 2023 version. Naturally, the teams that have been added to MLB since 1974 have their own distinct colors.
Like the ’74 set, the card fronts have vertical and horizontal layouts. The backs are horizontal and include facts about the player when space allows.
There were 64 base cards in the blaster box I opened, plus three short prints (Matt Duffy, Mike Minor and Keegan Akin). This must have been a hotter box than usual, because I also pulled four inserts and a relic card.
There are parallels and variations in the set, but not in the retail version. Hobby boxes contain flip cards numbered to five and black border cards numbered to 50.
The hobby set also has image variations.
The first six cards of the 1974 Topps set were a tribute to Hank Aaron, who was poised to became MLB’s all-time home run king. For the 2023 Heritage set, Topps paid special attention to Aaron Judge, who became the American League’s single-season home run record holder when he smashed 62 last year. The first four cards of this year’s set are devoted to Judge.
There is a quirk in collation this year, as card No. 100 does not exist. Meanwhile, there are two players occupying card No. 327 — Kolten Wong and Andrew Chafin.
The 2023 set does have league leaders (card Nos. 201-208) and nine All-Star cards (card Nos. 331-339), just like its 1974 counterpart. But there are no manager cards — of course, the 1974 manager cards looked kind of silly with the skipper’s photo taking up most of the card while his coaching staff was represented by cutout head shots. That was a slight improvement over the 1973 set, which had coaches featured against a brownish backdrop to the right of the manager’s photograph.
Come to think of it, they both stunk. Perhaps it was better that Topps decided to skip the manager cards this year after all.
This year’s set has Playoff Highlights and World Series cards, but surprisingly as short prints. The playoff cards are from Nos. 434 to 441, while the World Series cards are represented from Nos. 472 to 479.
The inserts will be familiar to Heritage collectors. There is a 10-card Baseball Flashbacks subset, which features the top events on the diamond that year; News Flashbacks, a 10-card set that concentrates on major events in ’74, like Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency; New Age Performers, a 25-card feature that is tailored to current stars in the game; and Then and Now, a 15-card subset that pairs a top player from 1974 with a 2022 star.
A new insert is a Stamps card that features four players. If you wanted to, you could break each card into four separate stamps. There are 20 cards featuring 80 subjects.
Heritage retail includes 1974 Deckle mini cards, which are limited to 600 copies.
The inserts I pulled from the blaster box I bought were a New Age Performers card of catcher Shea Langeliers; a Then and Now card of pitchers Steve Carlton (Phillies) and Corbin Burnes (Brewers); a News Flashbacks cards of the world topping 4 billion in population; and stamps of Atlanta Braves stars Henry Aaron, Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson.
As a bonus, I pulled a Clubhouse Collections relic card of the Phillies’ Nick Castellanos. It’s a nice powder blue swatch, although it is not necessarily game-used, as Topps writes in a disclaimer on the back of the card.
Certainly, technology has changed a great deal since 1974. It will be rare, for example, to find a miscut Heritage card — that seemed to be a thing with Topps during the 1960s and ’70s — and the card stock is firmer and the photography is sharper.
Heritage collectors will enjoy the blast from the past and the nod toward the future.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing Series 2 of the 2023 Topps baseball set:
Professional wrestlers tell the best stories. Been saying that for years.
It is particularly true of wrestlers who cut their teeth in the ring during the 1970s and 1980s. Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Bret Hart are a few who come to mind, and even announcers like Jim Ross know how to spin interesting tales.
Those years driving from town to town, when pro wrestling was still a sport that thrived in “territories” nationwide, gave competitors plenty of fodder to have fun, tell stories and scratch out a living.
Add Steve Keirn to the mix.
Keirn Chronicles Volume One: The Fabulous Wrestling Life of Steve Keirn (WOHW/Darkstream Press; paperback; $24.98; 419 pages), written with Ian Douglass, is an unvarnished look at his career. Keirn is an engaging storyteller, and he is alternately funny, blunt and at times quite harsh. But there is no doubt that Keirn, now 71, is a straight shooter about his life experiences and the pro wrestling business.
Looking behind the curtain and into the booking offices always makes for fascinating reading.
Fans of Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling From Florida promotion will remember Keirn as a young babyface. Later, Keirn would excel in tag team wrestling as one-half of The Fabulous Ones with Stan Lane during the 1980s.
Douglass is no stranger to wrestling, having collaborated on autobiographies for Buggsy McGraw, B. Brian Blair and Dan Severn. He also wrote Bahamian Rhapsody, a history of pro wrestling in the Bahamas from 1960 to 2020.
The reader hears Keirn’s voice throughout Keirn Chronicles, which is the mark of a good collaborator.
Keirn had a wrestling angle that was irresistible. His father was a prisoner of war during World War II for eight months, and then for nearly eight years in North Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a perfect angle because heels like Bob Roop could criticize Col. Richard Keirn for “allowing” himself to be captured, or to question his courage.
Steve Keirn would take umbrage, a fight would ensue, and grudge matches would be held. As any wrestling promoter will tell you, the bottom line is making money.
Keirn’s father was amenable, so the angle worked. It is certainly not the most tasteless wrestling angle ever, but definitely one of the edgier ones.
While Keirn was growing up, Graham would take a role in his development, turning into a “father figure.” Keirn would do odd jobs, picking up wrestlers at Tampa International Airport, serving as a ring announcer and even serving as a referee.
Years later, Keirn and Graham, along with the promoter’s son, Mike Graham, would have contentious issues over business deals. Keirn said he sank money into several ventures that left him poorer but wiser.
But Keirn and Mike Graham were friends in high school and also had some success as tag team partners in Florida before business outside of the ring got in the way.
Keirn attended Robinson High School in Tampa, the closest high school to MacDill Air Force base. He would become a member of the school’s “Junior Mafia,” which included future wrestlers Mike Graham and Dick Slater. It becomes apparent after reading some of Keirn’s stories about Slater that he was as wild and unpredictable in real life as his wrestling character was. Slater, who died in October 2018, certainly earned his nicknames of “Dirty Dick” and “Mr. Unpredictable.”
“Slater’s got the best right hand I’ve ever seen,” fellow wrestler Ron Fuller once said. “Slater’s got the best punch I’ve ever seen.”
Another acquaintance of Slater was a young Terry Bollea, who would rise to fame as Hulk Hogan. Keirn writes that he tried to dissuade Hogan from wrestling, even when the teen would watch enthusiastically at Tampa’s steamy Sportatorium, a nondescript building where television tapings would occur. Keirn urged Hogan to stick to playing the bass guitar, but was ignored. The decision was a good one for the Hulkster.
Other wrestlers have written about Eddie Graham’s obsession with maintaining “kayfabe” — presenting the staged wrestling matches and interviews as if they were genuine — Keirn confirms that. Graham was a stickler for keeping the heels and babyfaces apart, even in public. For opponents to be seen together away from the ring was grounds for dismissal.
After doing the menial work for Graham, the promoter decided it was time to break Keirn into the business.
“I’m gonna break you into the business the real way,” Graham told him.
Keirn trained with Hiro Matsuda and received some sage advice from Jack Brisco — my favorite wrestler while growing up, by the way — to pay attention, watch and learn.
“You have to be like a sponge, because you’re a minnow in a sea of sharks,” Brisco told him. “And if you don’t like somebody, never let them know it. Be kind and humble.”
Wrestlers during the 1970s and '80s had to travel, usually by car. In Florida, that meant seven nights a week on the road, plus there were interviews to tape. Grueling stuff. In Georgia, Keirn would have a scary flight with fellow wrestler Ronnie Garvin piloting a small plane in southern Georgia. Years later he would have even scarier experiences with Graham piloting planes around Florida with wild abandon — and not always while sober, Keirn writes.
Competing at venues like the state mental hospital in Georgia could also be like insanity for a young wrestler.
Keirn paid his dues as a young wrestler, being a “jobber” in the early matches and traveling to Guatemala to wrestle as a masked heel. But he persevered and even was named rookie of the year by The Wrestling News in 1974.
As a promoter, Graham “was such a genius,” Keirn writes. Meticulous to a fault, Graham was detail-oriented and adept at “creating great wrestling moments,” including the buildup to the end of the match.
When I was a young wrestling fan, main event matches in Florida always were intense, even if it was an hourlong draw between Brisco and then-world heavyweight champion Dory Funk Jr. at the West Palm Beach Auditorium. I saw plenty of those title matches at the “leaky tepee,” and was excited every time.
Keirn tells a hilarious story about Dusty Rhodes getting a traffic ticket after bragging that “there’s not a highway patrolman, not a sheriff, and not a police officer in the state of Florida who would give the American Dream a ticket.”
Except this officer, who did not watch professional wrestling. I won’t give away the punchline, but Rhodes’ retort was priceless.
Keirn does write about wrestling territories other than Florida — Memphis and the AWA areas, for example — but I was fascinated with the Sunshine State stories because I grew up watching many of the wrestlers and wanted to know more of the inside stuff. I was not disappointed.
At one point, Keirn said he borrowed $50,000 from his future father-in-law to buy 2.5% percent of Championship Wrestling from Florida. But when he received cash in bags after shows, he became suspicious and confronted Eddie Graham. Keirn got his initial investment back and got out of the ownership business in Florida.
Eddie Graham eventually committed suicide in early 1985. Keirn is harsh in his assessment.
“People need to come to grips with the fact that your idols and mentors will always let you down, and that’s a scenario that played out in my life,” Keirn writes.
To be fair, neither Eddie Graham, nor Mike Graham, who would also commit suicide in 2012, are unable to rebut what Keirn has written. I wrote the Mike Graham story for The Tampa Tribune in October 2012, and that was a tough one.
But I did not do business with them or were as closely aligned (I did take calls at the Tribune’s sports desk when Mike Graham called in boat racing results), so Keirn’s assessment is obviously from personal experience and perception.
Keirn also writes about wrestling in Georgia for Jim Barnett, the Mid-Atlantic territory for the Crockett family, and even throws in stories about a stint in Japan.
Keirn learned the sleeper hold from former wrestler and Jacksonville promoter Don Curtis, writing that “I got so much more respect from the fans seemingly overnight.”
Keirn would put the hold on opponents, and also execute the move on audience members at wrestling venues and people who would challenge him in bars. Even a doubting television host was not immune. The hold helped his credibility and allowed him to rise from the bottom of the wrestling card toward the top.
Keirn can be blunt. Evaluating the Fabulous Freebirds, he notes that Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy were great workers but that Michael Hayes “was more interested in moonwalking rather than having a technically sound wrestling match.”
Roberts, Keirn said, never washed his tights.
Some wrestlers in Memphis “seemed to be locking up with all the aggression of two feeble old ladies.”
Harley Race “could put the fear of God in you” because he protected the wrestling business “at all costs.”
Nick Bockwinkel “was all show to me.”
My bias here is about Florida wrestling, and I eagerly read every word about the promotion, but Keirn’s greatest success came when he teamed with Stan Lane to form “The Fabulous Ones” from 1982 to 1987. Keirn goes into great detail about his partnership with Lane and their battles against the Moondogs and the Road Warriors.
The Fabulous Ones wore suspenders, bowties, top hats and jackets to the ring. It was an update to the Fargo Brothers gimmick that flourished in the Tennessee territory years before, and it worked for the MTV generation.
They would strut to the ring with songs like “Everybody Wants You,” by Billy Squier, and they cut a silly video that mimicked ZZ Top’s popular video at the time, “Sharp Dressed Man.” With their Nashville connections, Keirn and Lane got to escort Kenny Rogers to the stage during a concert. They even met Mike Love of the Beach Boys at the airport in Memphis.
The pair became wildly popular and profited from the sale of merchandise, a concept that was still in its infancy in the 1980s. They even started a wrestling school, but that venture did not pan out. However, the most notable pupil was future wrestler Tracy Smothers.
What really shines through in the Keirn Chronicles is Keirn’s devilish side. The guy was a prankster who loved to pull a rib, or swerve, on fellow wrestlers. No one was immune.
He once turned off Jerry Brisco’s air supply when they were scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico. Keirn enlisted an off-duty police officer in Daytona Beach to “bust” Mike Graham at a hotel room and stuffed a live armadillo into Prince Tonga’s wrestling bag.
The best prank Keirn pulled was on Curt Hennig at Memphis International Airport. Keirn got a police officer to serve an arrest warrant on Hennig as he exited a plane, and the startled and confused wrestler fell for the ruse hook, line and sinker.
“I loved to get guys arrested,” Keirn writes. “Because of the great relationships I formed with cops, I was able to regularly rib guys by having them arrested during my career.
“After all, who is going to argue with a cop?”
While wrestling may be scripted, the injuries were real. When he broke his ankle and could not wrestle, Keirn had to borrow money from his parents to stay afloat financially.
“One injury had taken me from being on the top of the world to the depths of unemployment,” Keirn writes. “All I do was sit around while waiting for everything to heal up.”
Like many wrestlers, Keirn has had some close calls. He nearly died after he was cut in the temple with a blade from another wrestler while “getting color.”
The Keirn Chronicles is another wrestling book worth putting on the shelf. A new generation of fans may see the WWE’s slick production and angles, but the wrestling business Keirn saw when he began was still raw, unpredictable and very Darwinist.
“It was simultaneously exciting, and more than a little bit scary, because anything could happen in this business,” Keirn writes.
His wrestling autobiography helps fans understand the life of a truly fabulous one.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the nearly 500 Goudey cards that Pittsburgh sports card shop owner Chad Weldon made a deal for:
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.