|Bob D'Angelo's Books & Blogs||
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a mint Michael Jordan rookie card that is coming up for auction next month. The card is owned by Tim Gallagher, an autograph collector with more than 50 years of experience chasing down signatures. His stories are fantastic:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the ongoing lawsuit between Upper Deck and Panini America over images of Michael Jordan on basketball cards:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1984 Topps USFL set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Immaculate Collection Collegiate football, a high-end set that will be released in late August by Panini America:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2020 Panini Black football set, which will be released in late August:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Rob Fitts' latest book, An Illustrated Introduction to Japanese Baseball Cards:
Here is a story I wrote about the 2020 Topps Triple Thread baseball set, which comes out in August.
Here is a podcast I did with Dr. Jonathan Gelber about his new book, "Tiger Woods's Back and Tommy John's Elbow" on the New Books Network:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 2020 Panini Elementa football set, which is due out in August:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the upcoming Panini Opulence basketball set:
To the casual baseball fan, the 1932 season revolves around one moment — Babe Ruth’s “called shot” at Chicago’s Wrigley Field during Game 3 of the World Series. But as Thomas Wolf notes in his new book, 1932 was a year that sorely tested the mettle of baseball fans and the American public.
Sure, the title catches your eye: The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & the Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (University of Nebraska Press; hardback; $36.95; 374 pages). But Wolf digs deeper and reveals the athletic and social turmoil that took place during the depths of the Great Depression.
For Ruth, life was “an endless succession of glimmering moments,” Wolf writes. The slugger’s called shot is the hook for the book, but Wolf does not address it until the late in his narrative. That’s a plus because there were so many other interesting subplots to examine. Wolf, a longtime baseball fan who has published four essays in The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, tackles those vignettes with zest in a smoothly written narrative rich with detail.
Ruth hit 41 home runs and drove in 130 runs in 1932 — but at 37, he was getting old. Lou Gehrig, who always seemed to play in Ruth’s shadow, had his greatest day as a hitter when he slammed four home runs in a single game on June 3. Typical of Gehrig’s luck, he was overshadowed by New York Giants manager John McGraw, who announced his retirement the same day.
Philadelphia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx, meanwhile, made a serious run at Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, finishing with 58.
In the National League, the Chicago Cubs suffered key injuries, particularly shortstop Billy Jurges, who was shot by Violet Popovich, a jilted lover, in a hotel near Wrigley Field. The Cubs also were held back by manager Rogers Hornsby, who gambled compulsively, borrowed money from his players and coaches and alienated them further with his blunt, undiplomatic style.
Wolf adds social context to his narrative, too. In 1932, the United States was deep into the Great Depression. Unemployment levels were on the rise, wages declined and businesses closed.
“It was a year of tragedy and conflict,” Wolf writes.
That was putting it mildly. Within view of the White House and the Capitol, World War I veterans who called themselves the Bonus Army marched into Washington, D.C., and camped out, demanding early payment of their bonuses promised after World War I. The money was not to be paid out until 1945, but hard times changed the dynamic, in the eyes of the veterans. They needed money in 1932 and were ready to fight for it.
That fighting spirit was prevalent in the major leagues that year, too. Umpire George Moriarty and several Chicago White Sox players tangled after a Memorial Day doubleheader, and a fight between New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey and Washington Senators outfielder Carl Reynolds on the Fourth of the July were two of the memorable brawls.
Hornsby, who was fired with the Cubs at 53-46 and trailing Pittsburgh by five games, was in deep financial trouble in 1932. He owed back taxes on his farm to the Internal Revenue Service, and his gambling debts were an open secret in baseball. Hornsby owed money to several players and coaches on the Cubs’ squad, and whether it was admitted or not, his firing was a product of that issue, especially in what Wolf called “a tense and joyous locker room.” Hornsby would be remembered, Steve Smart wrote in 1993, as “the man who couldn’t give up the horses.”
Wolf examines many of the interesting parts of the 1932 season, but two storylines are the most compelling. The first one involves Harry “Snap” Hortman, who was serving a life sentence in an Iowa prison. Originally sentenced to death for a crime-of-passion he committed in 1901, Hortman’s sentence was changed to life in prison via appeals. By 1932, he had spent three decades at the Iowa State Men’s Reformatory in Anamosa, a “model inmate” with a “spotless record.”
Hortman was a rabid Cubs fan and also managed the prison’s baseball team, nicknamed the Snappers. Charlie Ireland, the prison warden who also loved the Cubs, allowed inmates to listen to Cubs games on the radio. The warden then took the unprecedented step of buying World Series tickets for the games scheduled in Chicago in 1932 — one for himself and his son Charles, and tickets for Hortman and another prisoner, Shorty Wakeman. They watched Games 3 and 4 at Wrigley Field.
“Sometimes I feel that I am the only person who sat beside a prison lifer at a World Series game,” Charles Ireland would recall in 1990.
When it was revealed that two prisoners had gone to watch the World Series games with their warden, there was some consternation.
“This is the last word in the pampering of criminals,” Clyde Herring, running for governor of Iowa against incumbent Dan Turner in 1932, told The Associated Press.
But the Rev. G.O. Thompson of Colorado, writing in a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register that was published Oct. 16, 1932, said that Hortman “had paid an awful price for his crime,” and that he had “proved his desire and willingness to go straight.”
“If people know nothing about Harry Hortman, the story might sound like a terrible travesty of prison practice,” Thompson wrote.
Turner won the election but never followed through on his threat to have Ireland removed from his position as warden, Wolf writes. Ireland would die in June 1933, and Hortman died in August 1934.
The other compelling story was about Jurges, an up-and-coming star with the Cubs.
Jurges “had been a pleasant surprise at the plate” and had been a clutch hitter for the Cubs heading into July, Wolf writes.
Jurges had been seeing Popovich, “an aspiring showgirl” who had “survived a difficult childhood,” Wolf writes. She met Jurges in 1931 when the player was still a minor leaguer, and “a spark was lit.”
“Being with Billy satisfied Violet’s desire for stability and respectability,” Wolf writes. But the relationship soured and Jurges broke it off.
On July 6, Popovich met Jurges at his hotel room in Chicago. After a brief conversation she asked for some water, Wolf writes. When Jurges returned, Popovich pointed the gun at her head. The ballplayer lunged for the gun and the couple struggled. That’s when three shots were fired, wounding Jurges. Popovich suffered a minor injury.
Jurges did not press charges. Or, as a headline in the New York Daily News pointed out, “Jurges’ Assist Gives Girl Gun-Toter Out.”
It was great fodder for the tabloids nationwide. And Wolf tells the story wonderfully and with a flair for the dramatic.
That should not be a surprise. Wolf, who graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, earned a master in fiction writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has taught writing and literature courses at Carl Sandburg College and worked as a writing consultant on both the GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment and the MCAT Writing Sample.
Wolf and his wife, Patricia L. Bryan, collaborated on the 2005 book, Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland. Wolf also is a two-time winner of the North Carolina Writers’ Network’s Doris Betts Fiction Prize, with his short story “Distance” taking the title in 2007 and winning four years later with “Boundaries.”
It is interesting to note that Wolf’s interest in writing about the 1932 season came when he and his wife toured the Anamosa State Penitentiary in December to do research on what would become Midnight Assassin. He learned about Hortman and was going to write a short story, but the more he dug, the more he discovered.
“What started as a tour of a maximum security prison to research a book about a bloody murder turned into a quest to tell the story of the 1932 baseball season,” Wolf wrote in a blog last month.
Overall the book is error-free, but there were a few glitches.
One of the oddities in The Called Shot was the spelling of the name of Cubs outfielder Riggs Stephenson. Wolf spells it “Stevenson” throughout the book, but there is a caveat. There are discrepancies during the 1920s and 1930s over the spelling of the last name of “Old Hoss,” who was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.
Research in newspaper articles during that time period spell the last name both ways. At least Wolf was consistent.
There is also a mix-up over Hack Wilson’s breakout 1930 season, when he hit 56 home runs and had 191 RBI. Wolf gets the season right early in the book, but a passage on Page 145 seems to infer the slugger’s numbers occurred in 1929. A chart comparing Ruth, Wilson and Jimmie Foxx is definitely wrong, as it labels Wilson’s 1930 stats as 1929’s.
In his epilogue, Wolf correctly notes the Yankees played in seven World Series from 1935 to 1943 but errs when he notes New York won five Fall Classics. The Yankees’ lone World Series loss during that stretch was in 1942 to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Also in his epilogue, Wolf references Ruth’s three-homer day in Pittsburgh during the 1935 season, noting that “no one in the ten-year history of Forbes Field had ever hit a ball over the roof.” Forbes Field was built in 1909, but a grandstand was erected in fair territory in 1925; perhaps that is what Wolf meant.
These do not detract from the narrative and otherwise deep research in The Called Shot. Wolf draws information from books, newspapers, internet sites, archives and unpublished letters and papers. There are 37 pages of end notes, and Wolf concludes the book with “Extra Innings,” a compilation of “what happened to” notes of each key player in The Called Shot.
The Called Shot is a satisfying read and provides depth and context to a memorable baseball season. As the reader will discover, the 1932 season was more than just Babe Ruth’s most iconic moment.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a great storage locker find: Nearly 600 autograph redemption cards from the 1995 Action Packed basketball set, including signatures from Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Bill Bradley and Bill Walton.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a photo of baseball players weering masks for a 1919 game in Pasadena, California.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Panini America's response to a complaint filed in January by Upper Deck over background images of Michael Jordan that were featured in some Panini sets.
Here is a podcast I did on New Books Network with author Mitchell Nathanson, the author of the book, "Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original."
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collector's Daily about Michael Cipollaro, who, as a 12-year-old in 1947, got Babe Ruth to sign his World Series program at Ebbets Field.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is auctioning his ring from Super Bowl LI for charity:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Matt Neely, whose collection of Wheaties boxes tops 800:
XFL, we hardly knew you.
Vince McMahon’s second attempt at professional football was derailed by the coronavirus, which forced the league to lay off staffers and suspend operations. The XFL’s parent company, Alpha Entertainment, was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13.
McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, had some new ideas for the league, but COVID-19 doomed it from the start after league action began Feb. 19.
Bad timing. Topps released its XFL set on April 15, two days after the league filed for bankruptcy. For the second straight year, Topps put out a set of a league competing with the NFL — the Alliance of American Football had a set last year — that failed.
That is not Topps’ fault, of course. It is difficult to control world events, and coronavirus affected everyone and shut down sports.
Anyway, the XFL set contained 175 base cards, with one insert subset and autographs. I bought a blaster box, which had 10 packs and 10 cards to a pack.
The card design is simple, and many of the photographs show the player posing in front of a background that featured the Topps and XFL logos. The league logo is placed in the upper left-hand corner, with the team logo positioned in the lower left-hand corner.
The lower half of the card has three lines that intersect with the team logos from horizontal and vertical directions. The player’s name and position are underneath the horizontal lines. They probably could have been a little larger, but it still works.
The card backs list vital statistics and have the team logo in the upper right-hand corner, with that same intersecting lines concept. The player’s name is positioned to the left of the team logo. Finally, there are seven lines of type devoted to a biographical sketch. Interestingly, if a player competed previously on an NFL squad, the team name is not mentioned — just the city. So, when wide receiver Alonso Russell’s card notes he made his pro debut in 2018 with New York, some collectors might have to double-check to see which franchise (it was the Giants).
A blaster box contains 100 cards. I pulled 90 different base cards and six doubles. I thought the duplicates might have been parallels — after all, the set has parallels in green (numbered to 99), purple (50), blue (25), red (10), black (5) and gold (1/1) — but that was not the case. I did, however, pull one parallel — a green parallel of Russell.
Most of the players will not be known to the casual football fan unless you are heavily into the college game. It was nice to see a card of Aaron Murray, the former University of Georgia quarterback who starred at Plant High School in Tampa. The other “names” I pulled, predictably, were coaches and front office personnel — Winston Moss, Bob Stoops and Jerry Glanville.
I also pulled a pair of inserts from the 25-card Stars of the XFL subset — P.J. Walker and Rashad Ross.
The good news about the autograph cards is that they are not on stickers. The bad news (for me) is that I pulled linebacker Tre Williams, who decided to sign his card as “Tre W. #52” Seriously? It only takes a few seconds longer to sign your last name.
The Topps XFL set is nice, but it was undercut by events out of the control of the league and the trading card giant. Rest in peace, XFL.
He may be a former archaeologist, but Rob Fitts still enjoys digging.
For the past 15 years, Fitts has produced some of the finest books about Japanese baseball, and his fifth work combines his trademarks — anecdotal storytelling, backed by careful and exhaustive research.
Books about Japanese baseball might seem to fall into a niche group, but if you enjoy baseball and history — and by extrapolation, baseball history — then Fitts’ latest effort will be a satisfying read.
Issei Baseball: The Story of the First Japanese Baseball Players (University of Nebraska Press; hardback; $29.95; 309 pages) was inspired by an eBay purchase. In 2003, Fitts, an avid baseball card collector, bought a card that depicted a team of Asian players wearing “J.B.B. Association” jerseys. Intrigued, Fitts learned the Japanese Base Ball Association squad barnstormed across the United States in 1911.
Ten years later, while researching Mashi, his 2015 book about Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese major leaguer, Fitts learned more about the JBBA. He was hooked.
“Before I had even started writing Mashi, I had targeted the topic of my next book,” Fitts writes.
Issei Baseball is the culmination of four years of research and continues Fitts’ deep dive into Japanese baseball. He started with an oral history, Remembering Japanese Baseball, in 2005, followed three years later by a biography of Wally Yonamine, the first Asian-American to play pro football and the first American to play professional baseball in Japan.
Fitts’ best-known work, Banzai Babe Ruth, breathed new life into the 1934 goodwill tour of major leaguers to Japan, led by Ruth. The 2012 book earned Fitts a Seymour Medal from the Society of American Baseball Research.
In Issei Baseball, Fitts focuses on five men who would play a large role in shaping Japanese baseball in the United States before World War I — Harry Saisho, Ken Kitsuse, Tom Uyeda, Tozan Masko and Kiichi Suzuki. Japan had been introduced to baseball in 1871, and by the turn of the century, these men would come to the United States to start new lives. They found athletics as an outlet to showcase their and would later play big roles in barnstorming tours in 1906 and 1911.
They had a receptive audience in the Great Plains because major league baseball did not exist west of St. Louis. Guy Green, “a savvy businessman,” recruited Native Americans to form the Nebraska Indians, who played 103 games during an 1898 barnstorming tour. Green decided to do the same with Japanese players in 1906. He created a promotional card to tout players “direct from the schools and universities of Japan.”
When some of the Japanese players proved to be weak, Green replaced them with Native Americans, “probably hoping that most spectators would not know the difference,” Fitts writes.
Still, the advertised “Japanese team” would play for 25 weeks and travel 2,500 miles through eight states and two territories. There is no record, Fitts writes, that the team used an all-Japanese starting lineup for the rest of the tour after nearly losing to a high school squad in Frankfort, Kansas.
“The Japanese ball team was not what the Jap’s advertising manager cracked it up to be,” one reporter would comment later during the tour.
The 1911 team included many of the same players, with Saisho acting as manager and promoter. This time, most newspapers praised the Japanese players for mastering the game and showing good sportsmanship.
Fitts was hindered at times by the lack of newspaper coverage of the Japanese tour, but he kept digging.
The team played 128 games in 143 days, playing in front of tens of thousands of fans across seven states. Results from 87 of the games can be documented, and the JBBA squad had a 25-60-2 record, Fitts writes. The team earned $4,556.88 in gate receipts, but when the tour ended in St. Louis the balance had shrunk to $2.27 after expenses. The team had to borrow money to get back to Los Angeles.
What is particularly stunning about this Issei Baseball is how American newspapers were blatantly racist in their portrayal of Japanese players.
Fitts writes that Japanese people in the United States were banned from restaurants, barbershops and housing in certain neighborhoods. Finding jobs was also difficult.
In southern Colorado, a mining area “not known for its tolerance” of the Japanese, immigrants were treated harshly. The hatred grew when Japanese and Mexican workers were brought in as strike-breakers by mining companies. In 1911, for example, local men and boys attacked the home of George Ikeda, smashing windows and forcing the merchant and his wife to hide in their basement.
The Japanese were called the “yellow peril” by newspapers. One newspaper produced this gem of a headline: “Twirlers are Japanesy, but Not Easy to Defeat.” The San Francisco Chronicle warned in large headline type about “The Japanese Invasion, the Problem of the Hour for the United States.” Shortening their nationality to “Japs” was the norm. “Little yellow men” and “tricky Orientals,” were common descriptions.
Congressman Richmond Pearson Hobson, from Alabama, viewed Japan as a military threat and had little use for anyone of color. “The whole trend of events is … toward a content by the yellow race, aided by the other colored races, a struggle to wrest from the white man his present superiority,” Fitts quotes Hobson from a 1907 New York Times article.
Taziko “Frank” Takasugi would characterize Hobson as a “double bonehead,” Fitts writes.
Fitts’ narrative fleshes out the Jim Crow mentality of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He writes about the numerous “sundown towns” in rural Illinois and Iowa — where only whites could remain after dark. The JBBA squad played 43 games in Illinois; 12 of them were in sundown towns. The games ended before dusk.
The Japanese players’ behavior nevertheless earned them respect in the Midwest, “undercutting negative stereotypes,” Fitts writes.
The team was not a financial success, but it did lead to other Japanese-American squads.
Fitts’ research was based on sources in Japan, California and the barnstorming towns in the Midwest. He draws from archives, books and websites. His bibliography runs 10 pages and there are endnotes for every chapter. Schedules and game results, where available, are included in an appendix. A second appendix lists known Issei baseball teams from 1904 to1910, and a final appendix lists partial rosters of selected Issei teams.
Fitts’ research uncovers wonderful nuggets of information. Saisho, for example, was the eldest son of a samurai war hero and part of a family of warriors that can be traced to the 11th century. One of his possible relatives, Atsushi Saisho, was the grandfather of Yoko Ono.
As a postscript, Fitts follows the former players as they aged. Some of them suffered the indignity of confinement in Japanese internment camps during World War II. They were taken from their homes, limited to two suitcases apiece, and moved inland to inhospitable places.
The internment had an ironic effect, bringing “a respite from a lifetime of backbreaking work and struggle.” Athletics played a big part, as camp members built baseball fields and formed leagues to pass the time.
For the Japanese players of the early 1900s, the shared love of the game acted “as a bridge between people from different sides of the globe,” Fitts writes.
And in Issei Baseball, Fitts once again has unearthed valuable insights, adding to our knowledge and understanding of baseball history.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an autographed Babe Ruth book that includes a cnaceled check endorsed by the Bebe:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an item for bid at SCP Auctions Spring Premier Auction: an emotionally charged letter written by Muhammad Ali to the family of Mary Jo Kopechne, the woman who died in the Chappaquiddick incident in July 1969:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily, looking back at the 1988-89 Fleer basketball set, loaded with stars and rookies:
I’ve been enjoying articles about the upcoming NFL draft. There is not much else to watch sports-wise, so speculating on what players teams will draft is a nice diversion.
The same goes for football cards. Sage Hit Premier Draft 2020 Low Series football cards allow collectors to see some of the possible names who will be on the virtual draft board next week.
Granted, Sage does not carry any league or team licensing, so all logos are airbrushed from card images. Still, it’s nice to pull a Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa card.
What’s nice about the Sage set is that there are only 50 cards in the base set, and a blaster box can almost cover it. In fact, the blaster I bought had 48 of the 50 base cards. Why I didn’t get Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant (card No. 15) and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy (No. 48) remains a mystery.
A blaster box contains, on average, 60 base cards, eight silver parallels and three autographs. So, 12 of the base cards I pulled were duplicates.
The first 37 cards in the set are straightforward rookie cards. The next five are called Five-Star are feature Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. The remaining eight cards are part of a subset called Next Level.
The blaster box I bought had six packs, with 12 cards in five of them. The sixth pack contained all three autographs and eight silver parallels that included a silver Next Level card of Burrow.
The design of the cards is simple, with an action shot of the player framed by a zebra-stripe kind of border. The Hit logo is in the upper left-hand corner of the card front, and the player’s name is sideways, running down the left-hand side for the first 37 cards.
The card backs have a four-line biography with the lead-in headline, “Here’s Something.” The player’s name, position and vital statistics are placed near the top of the card, while statistical information is situated beneath the player biography.
The Five-Star subset features five different shots of Taylor during his football career, from a New Jersey prep star at Salem High School through his marvelous career at Wisconsin.
The Next Level cards feature a photo of the player on the front and bullet-item highlights on the back.
The autographs are on stickers. The cards have a horizontal design, with an action shot of the player taking up about 40% of the left side of the card front. The right side contains ample space for an autograph.
The autograph cards I pulled were of Jovante Moffatt, a safety out of Middle Tennessee State; Terrell Burgess, a safety out of Utah; and Tra Minter, a running back out of South Alabama.
Sage Hit Premier Draft 2020 Low Series football cards are a nice way to scratch that itch for the NFL draft. With so few sports options available, this is an easy set to collect. Will any of the players have fruitful NFL careers? It’s hard to say. But for now, it’s fun to speculate.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2020 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball:
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.