Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2022 Topps Definitive baseball set:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a south Texas collector who bought a Babe Ruth photo, then photo-matched it to the Babe's 1915 rookie season:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Grey Flannels auction next month that will include several key items from the collection of basketball great Pete Maravich:
Now that the World Series is over and the hot stove league is in full swing — and as baseball fans cast worrisome glances toward labor talks and a possible lockout — a good book about the game’s history is appropriate and desperately needed.
Not only a good book, but also a work that will get the juices flowing and the arguments going.
That’s what Joe Posnanski achieves in The Baseball 100 (Avid Reader Press; $40; hardback, 871 pages), a massive book of 100 chapters that ranks baseball’s greatest in descending order from No. 100 (Ichiro) to No. 1 (Willie Mays). There are 88 Hall of Famers in the book and plenty of big names in between, including 13 men who played in the Negro Leagues.
And there’s lots of room for discussion. Besides, any dyed-in-the-wool baseball fan loves to argue.
I’m being honest here: I read every chapter in order and did not skip ahead. I also did not peek to see who was ranked No. 1, although the temptation was great. Some readers will skip around, and that’s their right. It was more satisfying that way because it prevented me from developing any early biases. And in history, that’s crucial.
“The trouble with retelling history,” Posnanski writes, “is that it’s hard to fully capture the times and the stakes and the danger.”
Posnanski does it perfectly, viewing each player from the lens of his contemporaries. He crafts wonderful stories and tells them engagingly. There are no snoozers in this book. And there are some interesting revelations.
Who, for example, thought Napoleon Lajoie was as hot-headed and feisty as Ty Cobb? Lajoie once spiked three fielders in the same inning, and was suspended for throwing a wad of chewing tobacco in an umpire’s face. And yet, Posnanski writes, everyone “adored” Lajoie.
“See, beyond the rough and tumble, Lajoie was just so friendly and fun-loving, he was irresistible,” Posnanski writes.
Writing about Frank Robinson, Posnanski notes, that “Frank Robinson, for me, will always represent what it feels like to be eight years old.”
“The mind teeters between what’s real and what is magic,” he writes.
Those are the kinds of insights that make The Baseball 100 such a pleasure to read.
Posnanski’s writing is punchy, witty with occasional snark, and filled with statistics and personal observations. He has been a sportswriter (at The Kansas City Star), magazine writer (Sports Illustrated and The Athletic), blogger, podcast host and best-selling author. The Baseball 100 oozes with irresistible joy about baseball and memories of the game, and that is due to Posnanski’s curiosity about the players on and off the field.
He is also not afraid to throw in some offbeat pop culture references. The Baseball 100 might be the first time (and correct me if I am wrong, please) that a book about baseball history referenced Romeo Void and its 1982 New Wave hit, “Never Say Never.” If he had also mentioned lead singer Debora Iyall, I probably would have fallen out of my chair.
Posnanski even references Cliff Dapper, who played in only eight major league games but has the highest career batting average for any player with at least 15 plate appearances (.471 in 17 at-bats). He also is the only player ever traded for announcer, as Dapper was traded by the Brooklyn Dodgers to the minor league Atlanta Crackers for Ernie Harwell.
Some of the choices in this book may seem out of left field, but only for where a player is ranked. But the reader soon realizes that ranking is not necessarily Posnanski’s ultimate goal. Sure, he had a framework for deciding who made the top 100: Wins above replacement, peak wins above replacement, how multidimensional a player was, the era in which they played and intangibles (postseason excellence, sportsmanship, leadership, years lost to military service and overall impact on the game). That raises the bar and gives Posnanski’s choices some heft.
But he cannot resist ranking several players by numbers that we associate them with. Joe DiMaggio is ranked No. 56, a nod to his 56-game hitting streak, Grover Cleveland Alexander is No. 26 because of his famous strikeout of Tony Lazzeri in the 1926 World Series. Mariano Rivera is No. 91 because of Psalm 91, the Psalm of Protection. Fitting.
Uniform numbers are the reason for ranking Bob Gibson at No. 45, Jackie Robinson at No. 42, Tom Seaver at No. 41, Greg Maddux at No. 31, Mike Trout at No. 27 and Rickey Henderson at No. 24. Frank Robinson and Mike Schmidt, who both wore No. 20, are tied at No. 20 in Posnanski’s book.
“The point is that I tried to attach a number that fit the player,” Posnanski writes
And Posnanski has a great sense of humor about some of his rankings. Nolan Ryan is No. 50, but after reciting the right-hander’s monumental records (positive and negative), Posnanski confesses that “trying to find a place for Ryan on a list like this is a bit like trying to figure out where the Beatles belong on your list of favorite pastas.”
In other words, relax and let it be.
Some players, like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson are not on the list, and Posnanski left No. 19 blank to remind fans of the 1919 Black Sox.
Pete Rose, meanwhile, is at No. 60.
“You can lose yourself in Pete Rose’s numbers,” Posnanski writes. “You know how Pete Rose played? He played the way old ballplayers imagine they had played.”
Gambling history notwithstanding, you cannot keep Rose out of a book of baseball’s greatest, although writers will keep him out of the Hall of Fame. The same goes for Barry Bonds (No. 3), and Posnanski presents his chapter by breaking it up into passages “for Bonds critics” and “for Bonds fans.”
Controversy has its privileges.
Other players who are most likely persona non grata for Cooperstown include Roger Clemens (No. 13) and Alex Rodriguez (No. 16), who is making his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot.
“There’s no point in trying to clean up Alex Rodriguez’s brilliant, infuriating, dazzling, inauthentic, breathtaking, destructive, and altogether messy baseball career,” Posnanski writes. A-Rod was a three-time MVP and “a tabloid back-page tabloid.”
Curt Schilling missed out again in Hall of Fame balloting last year, and he comes in at No. 88 in the book — although Posnanski concedes, “I can’t quite figure him out.”
Schilling is a guy who retweeted a post about a T-shirt advocating the lynching of journalists, but also sent Posnanski a thank you email about his column after the Diamondbacks pitcher won Game 1 of the 2001 World Series.
“Yes, he would pick fights, say offensive things, push the boundaries of taste and compassion. But he was also deeply generous. In his career, he won the Branch Rickey Award, the Roberto Clemente Award, the Lou Gehrig Award, and the Hutch Award, all of them for charity, community service, and displaying admirable character on and off the field, Posnanski writes. “He gave tirelessly of his time to support the military, to support children’s charities, to support people in need.”
The most controversial pick in the book might be Oscar Charleston, at No. 5, but not if you read Jeremy Beers’ excellent 2019 biography, Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player. He is ranked one spot behind Henry Aaron and one ahead of Ted Williams, and Posnanski admits that he wants this ranking “to make you angry.”
“I want you to feel the fury of this ranking, feel it down deep,” Posnanski writes.
Because Posnanski writes with such joyous flair, it is appropriate that his No. 1 player is Mays. That’s hard to argue, but baseball fans will do that because, well, they love to argue.
“Who was the greatest player of all time? You know. Maybe your father told you,” Posnanski writes. “Maybe you read about him when you were young.
“The greatest baseball player is the one who lifts you higher and makes you feel exactly like you did when you fell in love with this crazy game in the first place.”
There are 100 players tapped in Posnanski’s book. There is something to love about each one of them. And there is something to love about a book you can put down and read again and again.
The Baseball 100 deserves that kind of love.
Topps Archives is always a fun set to collect, particularly for vintage card fans. It is cool to see what current stars might look like in a retro design. Bryce Harper, the newly crowned National League MVP, fits perfectly into the 1962 card design. The same is true for a Reggie Jackson card that is displayed in the 1957 design.
The base set contains 300 cards and is broken into subsets with the various years. Previously, Archives has focused on three vintage sets — and to be honest, I have not always liked the choices. To me, there was not as much emphasis on the 1950s and 1960s sets. They were represented, but my perception is that Topps played up the later designs.
You might disagree, but that’s OK.
The designs for 2021 Topps Archives cover seven retro sets — one for each decade of the company’s 70-year involvement in baseball cards.
o, this year’s 33-card base set has throwback designs from 1957, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1991, 2001 and 2011.
Not content to look at the past, Topps also included a look into the future with a 2091 design. To be honest, the design appears to be rather conservative for a set that will drop 70 years into the future. It’s too streamlined and safe for my taste.
As usual, I bought a blaster box. I visited my local Walmart and found to my delight that there was a full shelf of baseball blasters, along with complete sets of the flagship 2021 Topps set.
Say what you want, but to me, that’s a sure sign that things are returning to normal somewhat.
Here is the breakdown for the “vintage” cards I pulled. There were 53 base cards and six inserts in the blaster. My box had six cards with a 1957 design, 11 from 1962, six from 1973, five from 1983, six from 1991, eight from 2001, six from 2011 and five from 2091.
There is a nice, yet ironic touch on the 2091 cards. In the upper left-hand corner of the card front is a logo that touts “Topps, 140 Years of Baseball.”
The irony is that in August, Topps learned that it lost its exclusive licenses with MLB and the MLBPA, so the 2091 cards will not have logos and team names. Perhaps Fanatics, which won the exclusive rights to produce cards, will have a deal in place that allows Topps to continue to churn out cards (under the Fanatics umbrella). Time will tell.
The MLB deal with Fanatics begins in 2026, while the MLBPA partnership begins after 2022.
Blaster boxes include three “exclusive” 1989 Topps Big foil cards. They are part of a 50-card insert set, and the three I pulled were Buster Posey, Mike Mussina and Miguel Cabrera.
Even with 2021 technology, it can be difficult to make the 1957 Topps design look good. The players’ names — in white and yellow, or red and blue — blend in with the players’ uniforms, making it difficult to read.
The other sets are much easier to read. Out of the bunch, I’d have to say the 1962 “woodies” are my favorite.
There are variations in the base set, although there were none in the blaster box I opened. In the 1962-style cards, there are green tint variations, just like the original set.
As one might expect, the variations are for some of the bigger names, like Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani, Babe Ruth, Mike Trout and Harper.
Other variations include cards that include a Topps emblem, and a “father-and-son” card. As an example, a current player such as Bo Bichette is the main photograph on a 1983-themed card, while his dad (Dante Bichette) is featured in the circle photo beneath the main shot. It’s a nice touch.
There were three inserts in my blaster box. A Topps Peel-Off card of Juan Soto, one of 15 that mirror the 1963 Topps insert, was one of them. I also pulled a Movie Poster Card of the 1995 Seattle Mariners, which “advertised” Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson. The card carries the title, “My Oh My.”
The final insert was a Shining Stars card of Jarred Kelenic. This 15-card subset is a nod toward the 1991 Bazooka set put out by Topps.
Archives has something for everyone. It’s cool to see Bob Gibson and Ernie Banks featured on cards with a 1991 design, or Frank Robinson on a 2001-themed card. Cy Young on a 1973-style card is priceless, although, why is his team name on the back of his card in the stats called “Americains”? I can understand “Americans.”
It's also nice to see the 1991 designs that include Mike Trout and Ichiro, or David Ortiz smiling in a 1957 card design.
It’s just a fun set.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing Panini America's 2021 Obsidian football set:
Here's a story I wrote about the Rose Hill Gymnasium, which has been home to Fordham University basketball since 1925. Pieces of the floor are being offered to collectors:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Nov. 5 robbery at The Bullpen, a card shop in Los Angeles:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the December release of Panini America's Impeccable football:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the pitching rubber at Yankee Stadium used during Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, when President George W. Bush came out in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and threw out the first pitch:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1974-1976 Topps Wonder Bread football card sets:
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.