Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the outcome of a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in December by Panini America against Pennsylvania resident Jamie Nucero:
If there is a silver lining to safer-at-home sanctions, it is that I get to read more — even more than usual, if you can believe that. I’ve spent the past week trying to finish several books that have been in various rooms, and now I can write a few reviews.
Let’s start with a book from last fall by Matthew C. Ehrlich, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ehrlich takes a look at the rivalry between the cities of Kansas City and Oakland, particularly in sports, in his latest book, Kansas City vs. Oakland: The Bitter Sports Rivalry that Defined an Era (University of Illinois Press; paperback; $19.95; 240 pages).
The rivalry between Kansas City and Oakland was one of pro football’s best during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both teams had wide-open offenses bolstered by hard-hitting defenses.
The Chiefs were the first American Football League representative in the Super Bowl, and Oakland followed suit the following season. Both teams lost to Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, but the Chiefs would return to stun the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The Raiders were 1-2 in AFL title games and 1-5 in AFC Championship Games through the 1970s, winning Super Bowl XI.
In baseball, the two cities shared a special dislike. Kansas City felt like a jilted lover after the Athletics, who had been mediocre for a dozen years, fled west to Oakland after the 1967 season and then won three straight World Series titles from 1972 to 1974. Then the expansion Royals, who debuted in 1969, challenged the A’s for supremacy in the American League West during the mid-1970s, with Kansas City eventually gaining the upper hand.
Both cities carried a chip on their shoulders, and an inferiority complex to boot. Like their teams, Kansas City and Oakland wanted to be taken seriously, and civic leaders believed sports was the first step toward legitimacy. So did the sports editors of the newspapers in both cities, who pushed hard to gain franchises. In particular, Joe McGuff of The Kansas City Star was instrumental in securing the expansion Royals after the Athletics headed west.
As Ehrlich notes, both cities had a lot to overcome.
“For Oakland, the problem always had been that it was not San Francisco,” Ehrlich writes. Kansas City, meanwhile, desperately wanted to shed the image of being a cow town with “corn-fed girls and good ole boys.”
Kansas City vs. Oakland is a scholarly work, with excellent research and detailed notes. There are five chapters and a conclusion — the actual text is 180 pages long, but the notes cover an additional 41 pages — but Ehrlich packs a lot of information into his work. Being a scholar, Ehrlich uses his introduction like a syllabus, to tell the reader what to expect.
The book might be scholarly, but the prose is not stuffy. Ehrlich does not talk down to his audience and shows his sports knowledge. He enjoys football and baseball and has ties to Kansas City, where he grew up. His father was an urban historian, who in 1979 published an architectural history of Kansas City.
Ehrlich knows media, working in radio while he was in college. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1983 from the University of Missouri and earned his master’s at the University of Kansas in 1987.
For his 1991 doctorate at Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Ehrlich wrote “Competition in Local TV News: Ritual, Enactment, and Ideology.” His published mainstream works since then were also media-based, including Journalism in the Movies in 2005 and with Radio Utopia: Postwar Audio Documentary in the Public Interest published in 2011. In 2015, Ehrlich teamed with University of Southern California journalism professor Joe Saltzman to produce Heroes and Scoundrels: The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture. This is a living document, as there is an online database connected with this work that references more than 90,000 items about journalists, news media and public relations professionals.
Ehrlich notes that Kansas City vs. Oakland “broadly addresses” the rivalry between the two cities from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. So while sports are a starting point, it is not the total focus of Ehrlich’s work. The time frame of this book also was a time of sweeping social and political change.
Racism was a national issue during the 1960s and ’70s, and both Kansas City and Oakland struggled. Kansas City experienced “white flight” to the suburbs as the racial makeup of the inner city changed. In the words of one Kansas City sportswriter, Ehrlich writes, going to old Municipal Stadium was viewed as a place where fans could end up “with missing teeth and missing pocketbooks.”
In Oakland, a citizens group tried to organize a three-day boycott of the city’s schools in 1966, Ehrlich writes. The protest, aimed to expose the inequitable conditions between the inner city and affluent neighborhoods, would deteriorate into violence.
Both cities would construct gleaming new stadiums that were situated in the suburbs, making it difficult for minorities to attend. Some disgruntled citizens believed the money could have been better spent on schools and other services, rather than propping up sports franchises.
Ehrlich also focuses on urban regeneration, including Oakland’s ambitious City Center project, touted as “a major urban retailing, office, hotel and public open-space complex” that would create jobs and bring people into the downtown area. Those ambitions were unrealistic, Ehrlich writes.
However, the sports rivalry is what carries Kansas City vs. Oakland, and Ehrlich has some colorful personalities to draw from. Charlie O. Finley had connections to both cities because of the Athletics, once holding Kansas City’s heart “in the palm of his hand” after becoming owner because of his promotional skills — he got the Beatles to add a date to their 1964 tour so they could play in Kansas City, for example.
But Finley’s battles with city leaders over stadium issues quickly soured that relationship. Meanwhile, the Raiders had swagger and oozed toughness from the Oakland Coliseum, from owner Al Davis down to the water boy. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said Davis made Darth Vader “look like a wimp” — and he was right. Both teams could have fit the description of Athletics outfielder Joe Rudi, who said his squad looked like “a biker gang on a three-day bender.”
While Lamar Hunt, who owned the Chiefs, was a quiet man who helped found the AFL, his coach, Hank Stram, was ebullient and cocky. Stram was miked up during Super Bowl IV, and his glee after calling a 65 Toss Power Trap running play that allowed Mike Garrett to score a touchdown remains an NFL Films Classic. Hunt had moved the franchise from Dallas to Kansas City after the 1962 season, reasoning (correctly) he would not be able to compete against the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Other larger than life personalities Ehrlich mentions include George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Willie Lanier, Daryle Lamonica, Ewing Kauffman and John Madden.
Ehrlich, who has been influenced by the writings of Jim Bouton (Ball Four), David Maraniss (When Pride Still Mattered) and McGuff (Winning It All), gives readers a detailed, absorbing look at the teams and players pleased fans in Kansas City and Oakland during a tumultuous decade.
The Chiefs returned to the pinnacle of pro football by winning Super Bowl LIV in February, and the Royals won the World Series in 2015 after a 30-year hiatus. The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas for the 2020 season, but the Athletics remain in Oakland and have made the postseason nine times since 2000. While Oakland has not won a Fall Classic since 1989 — fittingly, defeating the San Francisco Giants — the memories of those glory days of the 1970s remain.
Ehrlich does a nice job of meshing the stories of both cities and their franchises together.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about former pitcher Dan Haren, who is auctioning off his bobblehead collection to help raise funds for charities during the coronavirus pandemic:
If you can’t watch baseball on television or online during this new quarantine era, at least you can simulate it.
Thank goodness I received a copy of the latest version of Out of the Park baseball last week. Here is a game that can satisfy fans of current players and baseball historians who want to stack their managing talents against the immortals.
I’ve always enjoyed baseball simulation games. When summer temperatures rose too high when I was a kid growing up in South Florida during the 1970s, my brother and friends would go inside the house and play APBA Baseball, a game that included dice, cards, and situation boards.
It was one of the best games around — and I am sure I will hear from my Strat-O-Matic friends who argue their game was better — but I loved the APBA concept.
Now, nearly five decades later, computers — and not tabletops or living room floors — are where baseball lovers can scratch their itch for game simulation.
You can buy the game here. It normally sells for $39.99 but was discounted for what would have been the opening week of the baseball season, coming in at $35.99.
The game was conceived by German programmer Markus Heinsohn, whose first edition of OOTP was released in 1999. He has tweaked it through the years and beginning with the release of OOTP 16 in January 2015, the game has had licenses with Major League Baseball, the players association and Minor League Baseball.
This year’s version is called OOTP 21.
Heinsohn said he began playing baseball in 1991 when he was 14.
“My friends and I founded our own club and played organized baseball, and that's how my obsession with the sport began,” Heinsohn told Vice.com in 2016. “I read everything about it that I could find, studied its rules and its history, and watched as many games on TV as possible.”
The game is easy to learn and allows participants to play the role of general manager, buying, selling and trading players, firing managers or hiring batting, pitching and bench coaches.
During the game, a player can set the game to pitch by pitch, batter by batter, or even click a button to completely simulate a game, finishing it in seconds. Batters have several options — swing away, hit and run, run and hit, take a pitch, while pitchers can hold runners, throw pitchouts, pitch around a hitter or walk them intentionally.
Lineups have little flame or ice icons next to batters who are playing well or poorly.
Drop-down menus allow the manager to make substitutions, get a pitcher warmed up in the bullpen, check transactions around the league and even take a peek at the league standings.
As a general manager/team owner, you can build your own ballpark, tailoring it to modern or classic looks.
I played the batter-by-batter version for about 20 games before switching to simulation — the game can take about 20 minutes to play, and with baseball’s long schedule, I wanted to write something about this game before April rolled around.
Participants can replay the 2019 season or even go back as far as 1871. This year’s game also includes the projected starting lineups for the 2020 season.
Being a baseball history nut and a fan of the old New York Yankees dynasty, I decided to be the manager for the 1927 squad. In real life, the Yankees went 110-44 and won the American League pennant by 19 games over the Philadelphia Athletics. Then, they swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four straight games to win the World Series.
I wondered if I could match the managing genius of Miller Huggins, or prepare a lineup that would allow Babe Ruth to hit 60 home runs while Lou Gehrig added 47.
OK, so I wasn’t a genius. But I did pilot the Yankees to a 101-53 record and a World Series victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. The Pirates would finish 73-81 in the National League, 23½ game behind St. Louis
Unlike the real-life ’27 Yankees, who were in first place every day of the season, the squad I managed did not sniff first place until Aug. 17. In fact, the team got off to a terrible start, losing a spring training game to the St. Louis Browns before opening the regular season with a 1-4 mark.
After 40 games, the OOTP Yankees were 21-19, eight games behind the Athletics. At the midpoint of the season, New York was 45-32, and even as late as July 27, the Yankees were 60-40 but trailed Philadelphia by 10½ games.
Then, the Yankees caught fire, going 41-13 the rest of the way and clinching the pennant on Sept. 25.
As in real life, the team lived up to its nickname of Murderers’ Row, with Ruth, Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri driving in at least 123 runs (Gehrig led the team with 149). It became clear that while Ruth was going to lead the league in home runs, he would finish nowhere near the 60 he swatted in 1927. The OOTP Ruth would smack 39, while Gehrig and Lazzeri had 24 apiece.
Interestingly, Gehrig’s .373 average in the simulated game matched his actual average in 1927, while Ruth’s .353 was only slightly lower than his .356 in real life. Interesting note: in the game, Ruth did not top the .300 mark in hitting until July 5 — a span of 75 games.
On the mound, Waite Hoyt was the ace in real life (22-7) and in simulation (24-8). Herb Pennock was 19-8 in real life and 17-8 in simulation, while Wilcy Moore, who was 19-7 with 13 saves during the 1927 season, was 10-3 with seven saves in OOTP.
If there had been a Cy Young Award in 1927, the OOTP winner would have been Philadelphia’s Lefty Grove, who went 25-5 with a 2.65 ERA. In 1927, Grove went 20-13 with a .319 ERA.
The World Series, like the regular season, was not a cakewalk for the 1927 Yankees in OOTP. But after splitting the first four games with the Cardinals, New York won the next two by scores of 14-7 and 10-2 to earn the Series title.
I plan to simulate other memorable seasons, managing the 1961 Yankees, 1969 Mets and even the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays. On the masochistic side, I might even try to see if I could win more games than the abysmal 1962 Mets — or the even more abysmal 1899 Cleveland Spiders. I mean, anyone can win a pennant with the 1927 Yankees. It might take a little more strategy and moxie to improve a loser, even by one place in the standings.
Regardless, Out of the Park baseball is a much-needed diversion during these trying times. The numbers in OOTP are the kind of statistics I want to follow.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a recently uncovered 1914 Baltimore News card of Dave Danforth, one of baseball's more interesting players in the first 35 years of the 20th century:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a bungled attempt by four men to rob a card shop in New Hampshire:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily, previewing the 2019-2020 Panini Obsidian basketball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Ben Foster, a North Carolina man who found a long-lost T210 Old Mill card of Joe Jackson from 1910 among his father's effects.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2020 Panini Noir basketball set:
Here's story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a legal settlement between Panini America and a Pennsylvania man accused of violating trademark laws:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Upper Deck producing a hockey card of David Ayres, the part-time Zamboni driver who played as an emergency goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22:
Baseball is a wonderful game, but baseball writing can be even better. Especially when the writer is engaging, informative and likes to have a good time.
That is what makes D.B. Firstman’s self-published book, Hall of Name: Baseball’s Most Magnificent Monikers from ‘The Only Nolan’ to ‘Van Lingle Mungo’ and More (DB Books; paperback; $12.60; 312 pages) such a fun read.
In the book, which is due out March 17, Firstman has selected 100 unique baseball names. Firstman's prose has a winking, smirking, joking tone and has a good deal of snark. But Firstman also educates the reader about players’ names that have made us laugh, snicker and even cringe.
I was sold when the first player Firstman wrote about was St. Petersburg native Boof Bonser, although I was disappointed Piano Legs Hickman was not included. That doesn’t matter; Hall of Name is the kind of book where you can turn to any page and be entertained.
“I’ve always been inquisitive and a lover of words,” Firstman writes.
Firstman also enjoys anagrams, which are an integral part of every biography.
The book is divided into four sections, with players listed alphabetically: Baseball Poets and Men of (Few Different) Letters, Dirty Names Done Dirt Cheap, Sounds Good to Me, and No Focus Group Convened. As free-wheeling as Firstman is, the book has a very consistent structure to it. Each player’s capsule includes his full birth name, the pronunciation of difficult parts (where applicable), height and weight, birth/death date, position, years active and the player’s name/etymology.
After every biography, each player capsule ends with the player’s best day, “The Wonder of His Name,” not to be confused with, fun anagrams and ephemera. The final category contains fun facts and trivia about each player.
Having gotten all the formalities out of the way, one can tell Firstman did some wonderful research and had a blast with the anagrams. For example, by using the full name of Josh Outman (Joshua Stephen Outman), the anagram is “Oh Jesus! A potent human.” Or, Orval Overall is “Roll over lava.”
Another fun fact about Overall: His first and last names contain 11 letters, but only six of them are unique.
Some of Firstman’s comments are almost better than the trivia that was dug up for the players. Gene Krapp, for example, died from cancer of the bowels (I am not making this up). Doug Gwosdz is a “competent catcher; bad Scrabble draw.” Jennings Poindexter “apparently read liquor bottles more than books.” Scarborough Green “sounds like the name of a British detective from the 1930s.”
Roll some of these names off your tongue. From the first section there is Callix Crabbe, Scipio Spinks (“Now, there’s a name,” Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four, while incorrectly misspelling his last name as “Spinx.”), Greg Legg and Ugueth Urbina (the only player in major league history with the initials UU or UUU, Firstman writes. From the second: Tony Suck, J.J. Putz, Rusty Kuntz and Johnny Dickshot. Names gracing the third section include Milton Bradley, Drungo Hazewood, Razor Shines, Biff Pocoroba, and of course, Van Lingle Mungo. And the fourth section includes Harry Colliflower, Purnal Goldy, Grover Loudermilk, Dorsey Riddlemoser, Joe Zdeb and lastly, Edward Sylvester Nolan, better known as The Only Nolan.
Firstman decided to self-publish Hall of Name after being rejected by small publishers in 2012. The publishers basically said, “Privately we love the concept .. but it just won’t sell enough to be worth our while,” Firstman writes.
Publicly, I believe Hall of Name will sell quite well. D.B. Firstman has produced an entertaining, funny and interesting look at baseball names. Not nicknames, for the most part (we’ll concede The Only Nolan), but real names. Yes, Pocoroba’s first name really is Biff, and Bonser had his first name legally changed to Boof in 2001.
I look forward to another edition in the future; with so many baseball names out there, there has to be enough for Volume 2.
I am just hoping Piano Legs Hickman makes the cut the next time.
I’ve made it a habit to read every piece of literature I can find about Lou Gehrig, and it’s been rewarding.
The first sports book I ever read as a child was Paul Gallico’s 1942 book, Lou Gehrig: Pride of the “Yankees.” Since then, I’ve read books by Ray Robinson (Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time), Jonathan Eig (Luckiest Man), Dan Joseph (The Last Ride of the Iron Horse), Tony Castro (Gehrig & the Babe), John Eisenberg (The Streak), Eleanor Gehrig (My Luke and I).
Those are the ones I can remember.
But reading something by Gehrig himself? Now, that’s fresh.
Thanks to historian Alan D. Gaff, readers can enjoy Gehrig’s story in his own voice — at least for one season. But what a season — 1927, the year of Murderers’ Row, the New York Yankees team that went wire-to-wire to dominate the American League and then swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four straight games in the World Series.
Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir (Simon & Schuster; hardback; $24.99; 240 pages), is a book in two parts. The first half of the book reprints (with errors and grammatical mistakes cleaned up for clarity), the columns Gehrig wrote that were printed in the Oakland Tribune beginning Aug. 18, 1927, under the title, “Following the Babe.” Makes sense, since Gehrig batted cleanup behind Babe Ruth in 1927 and hit 47 home runs, second only to the Bambino’s 60 that season.
The columns were also printed in the Pittsburgh Press and Ottawa Daily Citizen, but the Oakland columns are used in Gaff’s book because it was the only complete run of the series.
Gaff said he found the Gehrig columns while “researching another topic,” but then leaves the reader guessing by not revealing what he was looking for when he stumbled upon the first baseman’s narratives.
The second half of the book is a biographical essay about Gehrig written by Gaff, 71, an Indiana native who graduated from Indiana University in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in American history from Ball State University the following year.
Gaff also publishes a blog, and he is looking forward to the May 12 release of Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir.
“Reading Gehrig’s life story ninety-three years after it appeared is a real treat for baseball fans,” Gaff writes.
He’s right. Gehrig, humble to a fault, was 24 in 1927 when the columns were published. Whether he wrote the columns, or whether a ghostwriter stepped in, can be debated. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
Christy Walsh, who represented both Gehrig and Ruth, pitched the idea to the newspapers outside New York figuring (correctly) that the metropolitan area was already saturated with Yankees’ coverage. Publishing columns in the hinterland would generate more interest.
Gehrig’s modesty shines through. “As a high school ballplayer, I was no bargain,” he writes. “As a hitter, I was a bust.”
Gehrig’s admiration for Ruth is evident in his writing. “Talk all you please about (Ty) Cobb and (Tris) Speaker and the rest of the great hitters, the Babe is in a class by himself.”
Gehrig also writes about the route he took to get to the Yankees, kick-started when his father became ill in 1920. He talks about bench jockeying, and how Ty Cobb would ride him mercilessly.
“The tamest thing he called me was a ‘fresh busher,’ and from there he climbed upward,” Gehrig writes.
However, Gehrig writes that once he became established, Cobb became “one of my best boosters.”
Gehrig also counted Speaker and Eddie Collins (“he’s a wonder”) as friends and praised Walter Johnson’s sportsmanship (“he’s just about the finest and cleanest character in baseball”). He also describes his teammates, their habits and hobbies.
Long before Gehrig and Ruth had a disagreement during the 1930s that led to silence between the two men, Gehrig had nothing but praise for his teammate.
“He is no plaster saint, and he admits it,” Gehrig writes. “But through it all, he stands out as the greatest of the great in baseball; a wonderful all-around ballplayer and a corking fine fellow."
At times, Gehrig gets a few of his facts wrong when it comes to game day events. Gehrig notes the first time he got into a box score as a hitter was when he pinch-hit against Washington and struck out against John Hollingsworth. That would have been July 2, 1923, and while Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp at first base to start the sixth inning, he did not bat until the seventh inning, when Hollingsworth struck him out.
However, Gehrig’s first appearance as a hitter actually came June 18, 1923, when he pinch hit for Aaron Ward and struck out against Detroit pitcher Ken Holloway.
I can’t fault Gehrig for forgetting; after all, I have the benefit of Retrosheet.org, and Lou did not.
Still, Gehrig’s narrative is interesting and informative.
Gehrig’s observations during the 1927 World Series are instructive and to the point. So are his conclusions.
“We won by grace of superior pitching, timely hitting, and a fine defense,” Gehrig writes. “We simply won because we had more stuff than the Pirates.”
The final half of the book contains Gaff’s biographical essay about Gehrig. Gaff’s bibliography contains 24 books and articles about Gehrig, and he draws from authors like Gallico, Eig, Robinson, and Yankees historians Marty Appel and Harvey Frommer. Gaff also researched 66 different newspapers for his essay.
His narrative is concise and flows nicely. There are plenty of nuggets of information, the essay provides context and balances well against Gehrig’s humble, optimistic outlook about baseball and life.
Gaff’s effort is a real treat for fans of Lou Gehrig, and for baseball fans in general. The Iron Horse remains a heroic and tragic figure, but Gaff’s discovery of Gehrig’s memoir from 1927 — when he was just blossoming as a power hitter and everyday star — is a valuable baseball treasure.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily, previewing Upper Deck's 2019-2020 Ultimate Collection hockey set.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Justin Cornett, who photo-matched a Babe Ruth game-used bat from 1921 to an iconic photo of the Hall of Fame slugger:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2019-2020 Panini Court Kings basketball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2020 Bowman Sterling baseball set, which goes on sale in August:
Here's a review I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about "The Wax Pack," by Brad Bulakjian. On the heels of the podcast done with NewBooksNetwork:
Here is a podcast I did with Brad Balukjian for his upcoming book, "The Wax Pack."
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Gregg Garfinkel, a California attorney who makes gifts out of baseballs:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the lawsuit filed by Upper Deck against Panini America:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the huge Avron Fogelman memorabilia collection that will be housed at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about five notable rookie cards of newly elected baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a photo for sale at the RMY Auctions site. It shows Jackie Robinson during spring training in 1947, looking dejected as he checks a Brooklyn Dodgers roster and does not find his name on it.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a RMY Auctions photo of Jim Thorpe and the 1907 Carlisle Indians that is being auctioned:
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.