Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the discovery of a "Partial Diamond" variation on the front of the 1955 Topps card of Jackie Robinson:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Prizm football, which will be released in October:
Here is the link to the podcast I did with Skip Desjardin, author of "September 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series" on the New Books Network:
The Topps Archives set offers a nice combination of different years from the Topps set, splitting a 300-card base set into three distinct designs. Some years, I really enjoy the selection. Other years, not so much.
Last year, for example, I liked the 1960 designs and tolerated the 1982 look. But putting “1992” and “Archives” in the same sentence still seemed rather foreign. I realize that those cards were 25 years old in 2017, but still …
However, I do like the choice of Topps designs for the 2018 set. Split into 100-card sets are designs from 1959 (cards 1-100), 1977 (101-200) and 1981 (201-300). The cards do come with parallels, with purple numbered to 1975, silver (99), hobby-box exclusive blue (25) and gold foil (1/1).
As has been my habit over the past year, I bought a blaster box to sample. A blaster contains seven packs, with eight cards to a pack. The box also includes two Topps coins from the 1980s.
This year’s Archives set also pays tribute to the 25th anniversary of the 1993 film, “The Sandlot.” If you remember “The Beast” behind the fence and the autographed Babe Ruth baseball that was put into play, you will relive some nostalgic moments with this. Topps put together an 11-card insert set featuring the actors, and even put five of the actors in its 25-piece coin subset.
The blaster box I opened had 16 cards featuring the 1959 design, 18 from 1977 and 18 from 1981. Overall, the design was nice, but I had to question two photographs used in the 1959 set. Red Schoendienst is featured wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, but the second baseman played for the Milwaukee Braves from 1957 through 1960. Interestingly, Schoendienst only played five games in 1959 because of his battle with tuberculosis, so including him in the set was a puzzling choice.
The second photo from the 1959 set featured pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm in the uniform of the Chicago White Sox. In 1959, the knuckleball specialist played for the Baltimore Orioles. Known later in his career as a reliever, Wilhelm went 15-11 for the Orioles in 1959 and led the American League with a 2.19 ERA.
One other photo caught my eye, and that was a 1959 design that featured Carlton Fisk — in a White Sox uniform. Yeah, I know he played 13 of his 24 seasons in Chicago, but I’ll always remember Pudge as a member of the Red Sox.
The base set does have some subsets. For 1959 it is a 10-card Combos set, and I pulled a Bashers by the Bay card of Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen. The 10 special cards from the 1977 mimicked the “Turn Back the Clock” cards from that set, and the card I pulled featured Nolan Ryan setting the all-time strikeout mark in 1983. Do you remember victim No. 3,509? It was Montreal Expos hitter Brad Mills, who whiffed at a curveball to help Ryan pass Walter Johnson on the all-time strikeout list. The 1981-style specialty cards showed 10 rookie combination “Future Stars,” and the card I pulled featured Austin Hays, Chance Cisco and Tanner Scott of the Orioles.
In addition to the base cards, I also pulled a silver parallel of Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, numbered to 99.
On the insert front, I pulled one of the 25 Topps Rookie History Set cards. The guy I pulled was featured on a 2008 design of Dodgers’ star pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
And from “The Sandlot,” I unwrapped a card of actor Chauncey Leopardi, who played the role of Michael “Squints” Palledorous. It was comforting to know that Squints was still happily married to the former Wendy Peffercorn.
Another alumnus of “The Sandlot” was included among the two coins in the blaster box. That was Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. The other coin featured Mets’ shortstop Amed Rosario.
Overall, the Archives is a pleasant set to collect. Other than a few photograph choices, the set has a clean look and this year provides enough nostalgia for collectors who remember the original runs of Topps cards in 1959, 1977 and 1981.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1949 Remar Bread set, which included a young Billy Martin:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a letter Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley wrote to a concerned Brooklyn fan in early 1957 about the team's rumored move to Los Angeles:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1988 Little Sun Legends of Minor League Baseball, which included Pete Gray, Joe Hauser and even Fidel Castro:
It’s been a tough four weeks for professional wrestling fans. The death of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart on Aug. 13 came slightly more than two weeks after the July 29 passing of Nikolai Volkoff, Brickhouse Brown and Brian Christopher (the son of Jerry “The King” Lawler).
For fans of Neidhart and Volkoff, the appearance of both former stars in the Big Legends insert set of the new 2018 Topps WWE Heritage set will be bittersweet.
This year’s WWE Heritage set features today’s stars and old school stars from the 1980s, when the organization was known as the World Wrestling Federation. The blaster box I bought touts the base set’s “Iconic 1989 Topps design,” but that layout simply reminds me of the height of the baseball card glut of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
While the ’89 design might be one of the cleaner ones of the 1980s, there weren’t many challengers from that decade. The best was arguably the 1987 wood design, but that was used for the 2017 Topps Heritage set.
The wrestler’s name is part of the swirl that dominates the bottom of the card front, with the division logos (NXT, SmackLive, Raw and WWE) above them. The design is vertical which limits the action shots except in very tightly cropped body slams or leaps from the ring.
A $19.98 blaster box contains 10 packs, with six cards to a pack. In addition, there is one relic and an exclusive Shawn Michaels card included in each blaster. Some boxes — and mine was one of them — included one of the 10 manufactured coins. My coin was of Seth Rollins.
The WWE Heritage set has 110 base cards, and the blaster box I opened yielded 24 of them. Copper parallels fall one in every two packs, and I pulled five of them to meet the average.
Big Legends is a 50-card set that comes close to duplicating the 1989 Topps Big baseball sets. There is an inset of the wrestler, plus a semi-action shot that highlights the competitor. The only major departure from the 1989 Big set is that the wrestler’s last name is not separated in Scrabble-like letters. The 2018 version looks cleaner and less jumbled.
Typically, there are two Big Legends cards in every blaster box pack, and I pulled 20 of them. This is a nice cross-section of the stars who helped Vince McMahon take over the pro wrestling market during the 1980s — Sgt. Slaughter, the Iron Sheik, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, to name a few.
Another insert, Tag Teams and Stables, is a 20-card subset that pays tribute to the great wrestling teams. Those include familiar names like The Hardy Boyz, The Shield, The Miz and the Miztourage, and SAnitY. I pulled five of these cards.
The 10-card Rookies insert set also brings back memories of the 1989 design, and I pulled four of them: Asuka, Scott Dawson, Tye Dillinger and Pete Dunne.
There were two Rick Flair Hall of Fame tribute cards in the blaster box I opened, part of a 10-card set (Nos. 21 to 30) that will eventually total 40. Anther tribute set, featuring Shawn Michaels, was packaged with the relic card. There are 10 cards in this subset, following the same numbering pattern as Flair’s; there also will be 40 in the entire set. The Michaels card I pulled reflected back on WrestleMania XIX, when The Heartbreak Kid” defeated Chris Jericho.
The relic card was an authentic NXT Takeover War Games mat relic from Nov. 18, 2017, when that WWE event was held at the Toyota Center in Houston. Adam Cole is pictured on the front of the card.
Cole wrestled with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly as the Undisputed ERA that night against Sanity (Eric Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe) and The Authors of Pain (Akam, Rezar and Roderick Strong).
Cole pinned Eric Young in that match as the Undisputed ERA emerged victorious.
There are plenty of stars and familiar names in the 2018 Topps WWE Heritage set. I wish there had been some more old, older school wrestlers, like the ones who starred during the 1960s and ’70s. I’d love to collect a set that included Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Fred Blassie, Pat Patterson, George “The Animal” Steele and Baron von Raschke.
But that’s just me, showing my age. This generation’s fans will find plenty to like about this year’s set.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the weekend of great memorabilia sales at Goldin Auctions:
As a biographer, Mark Ribowsky’s talents are threefold: deep research, picking interviews with key subjects and a conversational writing style that can be serious, snarky, funny or critical.
All these elements come into play in Ribowsky’s latest biography, In the Name of the Father: Family, Football and the Manning Dynasty (Liveright Publishing; hardback; $29.95; 378 pages).
The Manning family can safely be considered a football dynasty, with three quarterbacks who have combined for four Super Bowl rings, 1,003 regular-season touchdowns, 147,533 passing yards and 332 victories. Peyton Manning is the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage (71,940) and touchdown passes (539). His younger brother, Eli Manning, is eighth all-time in TD passes with 339 and has thrown for 51,682 yards.
heir father, Archie Manning was an electrifying college quarterback, scrambling and passing Ole Miss to prominence from 1968 to 1970.
Named the Southeastern Conference’s player of the year in 1969, Archie was pummeled as a pro. He was saddled with playing for some awful New Orleans Saints teams from 1971 to 1981 before ending his career in 1984 after brief stints in Houston and Minnesota. He threw 125 touchdown passes but was sacked a bone-rattling 396 times — 340 of them coming as a Saint.
As soon as Archie took the snap, “he was runnin’ for his damn life,” former Saints teammate Derland Moore tells Ribowsky.
Ribowsky not only recounts the history of Archie and his two sons, but also gives good play to Peyton and Eli’s oldest brother, Cooper, a wide receiver who had a promising career before he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
Each Manning owned different personalities. Peyton was obsessed with perfection and attention to detail during his playing career. As a high school football player, he’d ask his father to show him films from his days at Ole Miss and constantly watched film.
“Son, go get a girlfriend,” Archie would tell Peyton. “Go to a movie. You need to get out more.”
Eli was inscrutable and always under control, his work habits not as disciplined as Peyton’s but his desire to win just as intense. Archie was “the rosy-cheeked, freckle-faced one-time quarterback of the future” who “begat and handed down all the glory, glitter, and agita of fame.”
Ribowsky’s mission is flesh out those personalities, and he does a credible job.
He has had plenty of practice. Ribowsky’s catalog of biographies is diverse and hopscotches between sports figures and musical icons. He has published biographies of Al Davis (1991), Satchel Paige (1994), Josh Gibson (1996), Phil Spector (2000), The Supremes (2009), Stevie Wonder and the Temptations (2010), Howard Cosell (2012), Tom Landry (2013), Lynyrd Skynyrd (2015), Otis Redding and James Taylor (2016), and Hank Williams (2017).
In his biography about the Mannings, Ribowsky’s prose is direct and insightful.
He certainly has a way with descriptive language and does not hold back. He refers to former New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo as “a mustached mannequin,” Drew sheriff Snake Williams as “a Buford T. Justice type” and Indianapolis coach Jim Mora as “gaunt and crazy-eyed.”
Archie’s high school and college careers dovetailed with the civil rights movement, and tiny Drew, Mississippi, was his home ground. Ribowsky writes about Manning’s experiences with the first black children to attend Drew High School — or rather, lack of experiences. There was no violence and no ugly incidents, he said; the Carters were “simply ignored.” He saw he town not as racist, but neutral, Ribowsky writes.
“That he could construe ignoring black people with black people in defense of his town is revealing of a conditioned form of racism,” Ribowsky writes.
Elisha Archibald Manning, known as Buddy, was not among the parents who wanted to boycott a district basketball game when it was learned that Drew High School’s opponents had black players.
Buddy was “built like a fireplug” and cut from the cloth of southern men who rarely “let their soft side show,” Ribowsky writes. And when he found out he had lung cancer, he meticulously planned his suicide, shooting himself while his family was attending a wedding on Aug. 16, 1969. Archie found his father sprawled on the couch, and the family’s grief was balanced “by either shame or Southern stoicism,” Ribowsky writes.
Ribowsky’s attention to detail is evident in that incident and in many others during the football careers of the Manning family. He traces the Manning line to the family that came to Virginia in 1745. In 1803, Elisha Archibald Manning was born in South Carolina and would travel west as an adult to Mississippi during the 1840s. His great-grandson, Buddy, lived in the small town of Drew, was Archie’s father.
The book has plenty of sports detail, too, as Ribowsky chronicles the football triumphs and failures of Archie, Peyton and Eli. The emphasis on Archie’s career is weighted toward his spectacular career at Ole Miss, while the pro careers of Peyton and Eli get stronger treatment. After all, they had much more success at the pro level than their father, thanks to better teammates and better coaching.
The highs of Peyton’s two Super Bowls and his rivalry with Tom Brady receive the full treatment. Eli’s two Super Bowl wins, including the “helmet catch” by David Tyree that led to an upset win against the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, are also highlights.
All is not rosy, however. In addition to Buddy’s suicide — the darkest moment in the book — Ribowsky writes of Manning’s 1996 encounter with Jamie Naughright Whited, an assistant trainer at the University of Tennessee whose sexual harassment lawsuit against the city of Knoxville had Manning’s name redacted from documents released to the public. Despite a settlement and a gag order, Peyton “just could not let it go,” as he would refer to it in a book he wrote with his father. That would lead to more money lost and embarrassment sporadically over the next two decades.
There are plenty of end notes but no bibliography. In his biography on Cosell, for example, Ribowsky had both. Still, the end notes include research from a wide range of newspaper articles, magazines, books and internet sources. Ribowsky interviewed Archie’s NFL teammate, Derland Moore; Peyton’s high school coach, Tony Reginelli; Eli’s high school coach, Frank Gendusa (who was Reginelli’s offensive coordinator when Peyton played); Peyton’s college teammate, Marcus Nash; and family friend Frank Crosthwait.
The Mannings continue to stay in the spotlight. Eli is still active, although his surprise benching last year by McAdoo not only broke a consecutive-game streak, but also brought questions about his playing career to the fore after fourteen seasons. Peyton, a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2021, remains “hopelessly addicted to attention,” Ribowsky writes, as evidenced by the commercials he continues to appear. Intense on the field, Peyton’s ability to poke fun at himself in commercials and skits have become YouTube classics.
As for Archie, “the real world went only as far as his family, his only real refuge,” Ribowsky writes of the patriarch, who “is not regal, wears no championship rings,” but chairs the National Football Foundation and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Ribowsky has meshed three distinct personalities into an entertaining biography that should have appeal even to those who are not necessarily fans of the Mannings. It’s a book about football, and about life. And, it’s a fun read.
Here is my review of "The Age of Ruth and Landis" by David George Surdam and Michael J. Haupert published by the University of Nebraska Press. The review appears on the Sport in American History site:
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.