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:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing Panini's high-end Flawless basketball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about SCP Auctions President/CEO David Kohler's Type I photograph of one the NBA's legendary photographs -- Jerry West sinking a 63-foot shot at the buzzer to send Game 3 of the NBA Finals into overtime:
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.