Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a June sale held by RR Auction that included a 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series ring and a 1966-1968 game-used road jersey worn by Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo.
Consistency remains Topps’ calling card with its flagship baseball set. In many ways, the 2018 Series 2 set mirrors Series 1, with a 350-card base set and the continuation of several insert sets. And yet, there are still a few new wrinkles as the major-league season approaches its midway point.
A hobby box contains 36 packs, with 10 cards to a pack. Hobby boxes also come with a promotional silver pack that contain four chrome cards that are designed like the 1983 Topps set. Some promo packs limited edition parallels and/or autograph cards. Topps also promises either one autograph or relic card per hobby box.
Since I enjoy collecting the flagship set, I bought a hobby box of Series 2. The design, as one might expect, is very similar to Series 1, with full bleed photography and some nice action shots. The design is mostly vertical, although it seemed as if at least three base cards from every pack had a horizontal design.
I pulled 320 of the 350 base cards from the hobby box I opened. In addition, there were four rainbow foil parallels, a gold parallel of Asdrubal Cabrera numbered to 2018, and a Memorial Day camo parallel of Ryan Rua numbered to 25.
Other parallels include Vintage Stock, numbered to 99; Independence Day, numbered appropriately to 76; black, a hobby and jumbo box exclusive (67), Mother’s Day pink (50); Father’s Day powder blue (50); Clear, a hobby-only parallel (10); Negative, exclusive to hobby and jumbo boxes; and 1/1 Platinum parallels and printing plates.
The big hit in the box was an autographed rookie card of pitcher Keury Mella. The right-hander began spring training with the Cincinnati Reds this season but was optioned to the Daytona Tortugas of the Florida State League in March. He has since been promoted to the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Southern League.
Mella is scheduled to be the starting pitcher for the South Division squad in Tuesday’s Southern League All-Star Game, as he sports a 6-3 record with a 3.10 ERA.
The stats are nice, but something better than a sticker autograph would have been nicer. However, the signature is bold and written in a blue Sharpie, and while Mella’s handwriting is so-so, the autograph card is not so bad.
The inserts are a mixture of old and new. Returning for Series 2 is Topps Salute, which fall one in every four packs. My hobby box was a little above average, as I pulled 10 of these inserts.
Also returning are the inserts that bear the 1983 Topps design. Also returning for Series 2 is the Home Run Challenge, a 50-card promotion that allows collectors to scratch off a panel on the back of the card and enter the code on Topps’ website. If a player homers in the game you’ve chosen, you win a prize.
Topps All-Stars is a 99-card subset, with 75 designed like the 1983 All-Star cards. The backs of these cards describe a great moment from an All-Star game. The remaining 24 are rookies and sports the 1983 base design. In the box I opened I received six All-Stars and three rookies.
Instant Impact debuts with a 50-card set. These cards describe how a player made an immediate difference when they reached the major leagues. I pulled five of these cards.
Longball Legends, also making its first appearance, is another 50-card insert that chronicles prodigious home runs. I pulled five of these cards, too.
The 2018 Topps Series 2 set provides continuity for collectors and throws in enough wrinkles to make it interesting. It remains a set builder’s delight, and chasing the inserts is still challenging but not impossible.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1976 Goofs set for the Tulsa Oilers, a minor-league product that included autograph cards of Satchel Paige and Paul "Daffy" Dean.
Panini America’s 2018 Classics Football lives up to its name, with a great cross-section of legendary NFL players mixed in with veterans and rookies. A 300-card base set offers set chasers a chance to build a set of big names from the past and present. There are 100 veteran, 100 legends and 100 rookies in the base set.
As has been my pattern lately, I bought a blaster box to get a taste of the set. A blaster contains eight packs, with eight cards to a box. Each blaster also offers an exclusive Saturday Swatches card.
The box I opened yielded 33 legends, 24 veterans and three rookies. I really enjoyed this breakdown because it was fun to find cards of legends like Barry Sanders, Mike Ditka, Ken Stabler, Charlie Joiner and Fred Biletnikoff, to name a few. Legends are not limited to skill positions, either. Guards Larry Little and Larry Allen, center Mike Webster and tackle Jonathan Ogden also have places in the set.
The design is horizontal, with mostly color action shots; the Ditka card sports a black-and-white photo of the Bears’ tight end in action. The Classics logo is in the upper left-hand corner of the card front, with the player’s name in black block letters in the lower right-hand corner.
The team name appears above the player’s name, with smaller white block letters set against a black strip. A pennant is placed in the lower left-hand corner of the front, with Legends and Rookies inside. For veterans, the team name is placed inside the pennant and not above the player’s name.
The design for the card backs are horizontal, with the player’s name in golden letters set against a black background that strips across the top of the card. The player’s number and the team logo are directly beneath his name, with a biographical sketch included. Statistical boxes are included for veterans and rookies. The card number is in the upper right-hand corner of the card, placed inside a football helmet icon.
The set does have parallels, although I did not find any in the blaster box. But for collectors who buy hobby boxes, there are parallels in red (numbered to 299), blue (175), blank back (50), green (40), no name (10) and full name (5). There are Timeless Tributes parallels in gold (numbered to 99), orange (25), blue (10) and black (1/1).
The prime hit in the blaster box I opened was the Saturday Swatches insert. I pulled one of Rams running back Todd Gurley, with a red swatch from his days at the University of Georgia. The swatch is a square on the card front, with a photo of Gurley during his college days. The same photo graces the back of the card.
There were several inserts in the blaster box. Composers is part of a 30-card subset that pays tribute to those quarterbacks — past and present — who orchestrate drives for their teams. The card I pulled was Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Instant Classics is a 10-card set that recalls iconic moments in NFL history. The card I pulled was Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” from the 1972 AFC playoffs.
The final insert I pulled was a Classic Clashes card that featured tight ends Kellen Winslow and Tony Gonzalez. The horizontally designed card is part of a 15-card set.
Panini Classics Football gives collectors a nostalgic look at the past and a glimpse into the future. The present is well-represented, too. For me, the Legends cards are what make this set special, because it scratches my itch for collecting great names from the past.
Plenty of baseball fans relish the opportunity to have a player sign an autograph for them, whether it’s on a baseball, a program or even a pennant.
I got my first baseball autographs in 1970 at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach. The Atlanta Braves were playing a spring training game and had a table set up with players to sign programs. I got pitchers Pat Jarvis and George Stone.
Seven years later I attended another spring training game in West Palm Beach, this time between the Braves and New York Yankees. I saw Yankees manager Billy Martin leaning against a rail near the dugout and approached him. He took my Atlanta Braves program, signed it and handed it back without saying a word. I still have the program.
That’s amateur stuff compared to Kevin Keating, who is two years younger than I am but had already amassed thousands of autographs by 1977. Keating was motivated, fearless and showed plenty of creativity as he got players to sign whenever the Illinois resident ventured into downtown Chicago. He has collected his favorite autograph stories and compiled them into a very readable memoir.
In Waiting for a Sign, Volume 1: Highlights and Inside Stories From a Lifetime of Collecting Baseball Autographs (Word Serve Press; paperback; $21.95; 348 pages), Keating describes his adventures in 18 vividly written chapters. It is only fitting that now, Keating is the principal autograph authenticator for Professional Sports Authenticator. After all, he spent most of his youth collecting signatures and had more than 10,000 by the time he graduated from high school.
Keating would stand at the entrance to old The Executive House hotel in downtown Chicago, where visiting teams played. He always had a plan worked out and usually knew the players he sought by sight. Keating also sent letters to former players — including a self-addressed, stamped envelope — asking them questions about their careers. It was a sure-fire method of getting a response, and Keating shares some of the letters he received from men who played during the time of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
The memorabilia craze was still decades away in 1969, so players and managers were more likely to sign autographs, particularly for kids. In that sense, Keating was fortunate. But even after he grew up and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Keating pursued his hobby.
What resulted were Charles Kuralt-type “On the Road” journeys, where Keating would visit former players. He developed some warm friendships, and, in addition to collecting autographs, compiled some dynamite interviews.
Keating opens Waiting for a Sign with autograph memories from his childhood, and how Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Greene profiled him in a piece that got the 14-year-old in trouble (he was playing hooky to get autographs and the column blew the cover off that tactic).
The best chapter in the book is Keating’s interaction with Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell. Keating not only became friends with Sewell and his family, he also learned a great deal about the game and found answers to baseball questions that only a veteran of the 1920s and ’30s would know.
The trip to visit Sewell was part of a Deep South excursion, as Keating also traveled to meet Hall of Famer Johnny Mize at his Georgia home. He played a memorable round of golf with the “Big Cat” just a few weeks before Mize’s death in 1993.
The story about Hall of Fame shortstop Lou Boudreau, who signed a scorecard on the day Keating’s brother was born, was a fun read. Boudreau was more than happy to sign the same scorecard on ensuing years to commemorate the birth of Keating’s younger sibling.
Anecdotes about Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford show that Keating not only secured some classic autographs but made some lifelong friends. These are stories that young fans can only dream about.
A particularly funny chapter involved Joe DiMaggio. Keating discovered that the Yankee Clipper’s sister signed most of the autograph requests, so he bought a large poster and asked DiMaggio to sign it. Fortunately, a friend was there to take photos, and when DiMaggio realized he would be violating his contract because the poster was made by a competitor, his expression was priceless. Keating includes those photos in an amusing series.
Keating’s autograph collection reads like a who’s who of baseball: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ford and Berra. Keating managed to get a Mickey Mantle autograph but never met the slugger. In fact, Keating made the mistake of sending cards to the Mick and never saw them again. For $95, an associate Keating trusted got Mantle to sign a photograph of himself with his former teammate, Roger Maris. Maris had passed away, so the inscription Mantle wrote on the photograph was touching.
With so many autographs — and stories — a second volume made sense and it will be published in the future. Keating is promising stories about Casey Stengel, George Sisler, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Feller, George Brett, Chuck Connors, Buck O’Neil and even actor Charlie Sheen.
Waiting for a Sign is a fast, pleasant read. Keating does not go into the technical aspects of autographs, although his expertise in the field would probably reveal some fascinating details. Instead, Keating takes a more personal and informal approach, and it gives the reader a front row seat as the expert autograph collector spins stories from his past.
By the way, Keating autographed my review copy of Waiting for a Sign and personalized it, too. The signature, in case you wondered, was magnificent.
Here is a link to the first review I've contributed to the Sport in American History blog. The book is by Amy Essington and examines minor league integration in the Pacific Coast League. It's called "The Integration of the Pacific Coast League: Race and Baseball on the West Coast," by University of Nebraska Press:
Some days are etched in a person’s memory.
It could be because of love, a favorite sports team, or even a hobby you’re passionate about. Or all three of them.
Co-authors Marc Peter Reyna and James Harmon Brown blend those elements together nicely in a novel that is a tender love story, a nostalgic look back at childhood and a sobering but hopeful view of the present.
Diamond Stars: A Novel of the 1934 All-Star Baseball Game (Dog Ear Publishing; paperback; $12.99; 222 pages), is a work that bookends a pair of major league baseball all-star games as a historical backdrop. The authors switch back and forth between 1934 and 1984 to tell the story of Solomon “Solly” Manus and his family.
July 10 held a special place for Solly. As an 11-year-old baseball-mad fan in 1934, he and his friends rode a train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and sneaked into the All-Star Game, where they saw Carl Hubbell strike out five future Hall of Famers in a row. That same day at the Polo Grounds in New York, Solly also connected with a neighborhood girl, Abby Sellers, who was equally obsessed with baseball and her favorite player, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Van Lingle Mungo. Solly and Abby, after awkward beginnings, would marry years later — on July 10.
Fast forward to 1984. Abby has been in a coma for six weeks after an automobile accident. Solly will be attending the 1984 All-Star Game in San Francisco — on July 10 — which would serve as a reunion of the players from that 1934 classic. Solly dug through his old baseball card collection and found the card with Mungo, hoping to get an autograph to show his wife, hoping the old connection would break the coma.
Back to Diamond Stars. Former major-league catcher Tom Haller, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations in 1984, was teammates with Solly in 1960 when both played in the Pacific Coast League. He knew the pain his former teammate was experiencing.
“Tom had never known two people more curiously well suited than Abby and Solly,” the authors write. “They were soul mates, best friends and had baseball between them like no other couple he’d ever known in the game.”
The book’s focus bounces from one game to the next, with accurate play-by-play accounts of both games sprinkling the narrative. The authors use the play-by-play from both games, drawn from Retrosheet.org, and include it in an appendix.
That’s not surprising. Not only is Reyna a baseball fan, he also is a devoted baseball card collector and belongs to internet trading clubs (in the interest of transparency for this review, I belong to the same club, Old Baseball Cards). His Dodgers collection is extensive, going as far back as the gold-bordered T-205 cards from 1911. Reyna, 65, collected baseball cards from 1962 to 1964 and then put them away. In 1988 he found an old shoebox full of Topps cards from 1957 to 1965 and became hooked again. The ideas that are incorporated in Diamond Stars were ignited when Reyna discovered that long-lost box of cards.
He also has a special affinity for Mungo and is currently performing in a one-act play he co-wrote, “Mungo!” In his 1975 autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, Leo Durocher wrote that Mungo “had been considered as fast as (Dizzy) Dean, maybe as good but nowhere near as funny.”
Harmon, 69, was a staff writer for The Los Angeles Times from 1970 to 1983 but was noted for his writing partnership with Barbara Esensten on soap operas and dramas such as Dynasty, All My Children, Days of Our Lives, One Life to Live, Guiding Light and Port Charles. The pair were nominated for five Emmy Awards and won for their writing in Guiding Light.
There is drama in Diamond Stars. Manus grew up to become an infielder who excelled at the Triple-A level for 16 years and even made it briefly to the major leagues — twice. He worked as a scout for the Giants before being phased out. But Haller, who is one of the heroes of this book, finds another spot in the scouting department and brings Solly back into the fold.
What makes this novel work is the dialogue. It is fast-paced and jaunty, and characters’ personalities are introduced quickly and effectively. There is a memorable conversation between Solly and Joe DiMaggio at the 1984 game, and the banter between Solly and his childhood friends while at the 1934 game keep the action bouncing along. Even though baseball fans know the outcome of both games, the dialogue sustains the plot.
Solly’s meeting with Mungo at the 1984 game is less than what he expected, but the old pitcher famous for his fastball manages to throw a curve at the end of the novel to neatly tie everything together.
In 1969, Dave Frishberg wrote and performed a jazz song on piano, “Van Lingle Mungo.” He referenced 36 different players in a bossa nova style, but lingers over Mungo’s last name as the last word in many of the verses, in a melancholy, almost dirge-like litany:
Heinie Majeski, Johnny Gee
Eddie Joost, Johnny Pesky, Thornton Lee
Van Lingle Mungo
The last surviving player from Frishberg’s list is Eddie Basinski, who is 95. Frishberg turned 85 in March.
That’s just an interlude. Diamond Stars does not need a song to sustain itself. It is a sweet love story that is timeless — just like a baseball fan’s love of the game.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about 2017-18 Panini Opulence Basketball, a high-end product that will be released in early August.
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.