|Bob D'Angelo's Books & Blogs||
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a second baseball with 11 of the living Hall of Fame class members who signed a ball for a 22-year-old New Jersey fan in June 1939 when Cooperstown opened its doors:
Topps continues to excel with its pro wrestling products. The 2018 WWE Women’s Division set offers collectors an extensive look of the women who are beginning to command as much attention in the wrestling world -- if not more -- as their male counterparts.
A blaster box contains 10 packs, with seven cards to a pack. There is also a hit in a silver pack that is included in the blaster.
She’s not featured on the blaster box, but Ronda Rousey has a presence, adorning packs with the former MMA champion dressed in a “Rowdy” top and a kilt. She certainly cuts a better figure in that outfit than the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper did in his version.
The base set for the WWE Women’s Division product contains 100 cards, and like last year are divided into two distinct sections. Fifty of the cards showcase wrestlers from the WWE and NXT — including four legends like Wendi Richter, Lita, Alundra Blayze and Trish Stratus. The other 50 are broken down into 30 NXT cards, 10 Raw and 10 Smackdown Live.
The blaster box I bought yielded 30 of the WWE/NXT stars, six Smackdown Live cards, 15 NXT cards and four Raw cards.
The photographs in the set are a mix of posed and action shots. While Rousey may draw some crossover interest, the set gives plenty of attention to established stars like Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Naomi, Nikki Bella, Sasha Banks, Asuka and Bayley, to name a few.
There were two different inserts I pulled from the blaster box. One is available to all, and one was a Walmart exclusive.
Royal Rumble is an all-inclusive insert. There are 24 in the subset, and I pulled five from the blaster box I opened.
Women’s Champion is a Walmart exclusive that has 25 cards. Each pack from a Walmart blaster contains one of these cards. True to the average, I pulled 10 of these cards.
The “hot” card in the blaster was a Worn Shirt relic card of Ember Moon, a purple parallel that was numbered to 99. Other parallels in this subset come in silver, numbered to 50; blue (25), gold (10), black (5) and red (1/1).
Pro wrestling continues to maintain its popularity, and the card sets from Topps are certainly helping to keep the WWE stars in the mainstream for a new generation of fans.
As the holiday season approaches, books for the coffee table are always coveted gifts. And for baseball fans, a book full of beautiful photographs fits the bill perfectly.
Visual beauty and compact history lessons greet the reader in The Story of Baseball: In 100 Photographs (Time Inc. Books; hardcover, $30; 224 pages). Picking merely 100 photos to tell the story of baseball is tough, but the editors of Sports Illustrated were judicious in their choice of photographs, particularly in the era before the magazine was founded in 1954.
The book is broken into five sections, with each chapter representing a different era of baseball. “Beginnings” covers the 50-year period from the first professional baseball team in 1869 until 1919. “From Ruth to Robinson” bookends the emergence of the lively ball championed by Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s modern color line in 1947.
“The Golden Years” covers the two-decade period from 1948 to 1968, and “Expanding Influence” ushers in the game’s expansion, labor strife and cherished records broken. Finally, “Wildness” covers the steroids era and the re-emergence of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox as baseball dynasties.
Every picture tells a story, and the one page of explainer type completes the visual.
There’s Christy Mathewson, Cy Young and Walter Johnson in classic pitching stances, and a photograph of the Holy Grail of baseball cards — the Honus Wagner T-206 tobacco card. Ty Cobb is sliding hard into third base and Babe Ruth is launching one of his 714 career home runs. Night baseball makes its debut and Cooperstown opens its doors.
A dying Lou Gehrig proclaims he is the luckiest man on the face of the earth, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams ooze grace and power, and Ralph Branca could not be consoled after allowing one of the game’s most famous home runs. Willie Mays made “The Catch,” Jackie Robinson dared pitchers and fielders to throw him out on the bases and Bill Mazeroski brought down the house in Pittsburgh.
The pictures showcase the smooth (Vin Scully behind the microphone) and the rough (Juan Marichal hitting John Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat), along with dignity (Roberto Clemente) and class (Hank Aaron). Carlton Fisk willing a home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series was dramatic, while Mark Fidrych and Fernando Valenzuela inspired crazes. Cal Ripken high-fived fans as he became baseball’s ironman, and Steve Bartman turned the Friendly Confines hostile when he reached for a foul ball during the 2003 NLCS.
And finally, there is the exhilarating moment when the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 seasons.
The black-and-white photos are stark and use shots from Charles Conlan, the Bain Collection from the Library of Congress (an archive of photographs archived by George Grantham Bain for his news service), the Bettmann Archive from Getty Images, the Life Picture Collection, the New York Daily News, The New York Times and the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
The subject matter also wanders away from the major leagues, with photos from the College World Series, the Negro Leagues and the All-American Girls Professional League.
Color photos tell wonderful stories, too. There’s Casey Stengel deep in thought, Fidel Castro going into his windup, the intensity of Bob Gibson as he follows through on the mound, and Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse at the plate to win the 1970 All-Star Game.
The Rose photo is taken from a different angle than baseball fans traditionally see, and what makes Herb Scharfman’s photo so compelling is the expression of Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who served as third-base coach. Durocher, fists balled and yelling, has a satisfied look as Rose scores the winning run. It’s the kind of play Durocher loved, and the photograph captures it perfectly.
Some of the photographs seem a little out of place, but since they are from the archives of Sports Illustrated the authors are at liberty to use them. For example, the story of Sidd Finch was fun, but it was a concocted one and the accompanying photograph does not really symbolize the story of baseball. At least, not to me.
However, the photo of an animated Ted Williams demonstrating hitting techniques to Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly at a restaurant in Clearwater during spring training is Sports Illustrated at its photographic best. And the photo of George Steinbrenner astride a horse and dressed as Napoleon is laugh-out-loud funny.
One of Sports Illustrated’s strengths through the years has been the ability to create compelling and relevant headlines to go with its photographs. This book showcases that ability, with short, punchy phrases. “A Master Stroke” is the headline for the photo of Wee Willie Keeler “hitting ’em where they ain’t.” “Bright Idea” heralds the first night game in major-league history, and “Taking it to the Streets” immortalizes stickball games, and “Inside Baseball” immortalizes the day the Astrodome opened in Houston.
Telling the story of baseball in 100 photographs is a daunting task, but the editors of Sports Illustrated are equal to the challenge.
Here is the link to my podcast with author Howard W. Rosenberg on the New Books in Sports channel of the New Books Network:
One could stock a library with books written about the New York Yankees, the team’s players and the team itself. This storied major-league baseball franchise has a proud and rich history, with 40 American League pennants and 27 World Series titles.
Lyle Spatz, a baseball historian and author of several books about the Yankees, takes a look at every season-opening game in the team’s history. In New York Yankees Openers: An Opening Day History of Baseball’s Most Famous Team, 1903-2017 (McFarland; softback; $39.95; 471 pages), Spatz does more than present a dry listing of every Opening Day game. There are scene-setting descriptions, political and social issue that faced Americans every year, and nuggets of baseball trivia that will please both novices and experts of the game.
This book is a second edition. Spatz originally covered the Opening Days from 1903 through 1996. This update adds in the season-openers from 1997 to 2017, with a short paragraph about New York’s 2018 opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s a chronological look, but it’s the type of book where a reader can skip around to a favorite year and see how the Yankees did.
There is a loose narrative that references previous years, but each opener can easily stand alone as a capsule of that year’s season.
The Yankees have played in five homes during their existence seasons, beginning at Hilltop Park in 1903 when the franchise was known as the Highlanders. The team moved into the Polo Grounds in 1913 and officially became known as the Yankees, and 10 years later opened Yankee Stadium. While the old ballpark was being renovated during the 1974-75 seasons, the Yankees played at Shea Stadium. Returning to a fixed up Yankee Stadium in 1976, the team remained there until opening a new Yankee Stadium across from the old location in 2009.
Here are some fun facts that a reader will glean from Spatz’s research:
“I have tried to convey to the reader the flavor of the period — what people were thinking, feeling and saying then — while also attempting to add some historical perspective,” Spatz writes.
He succeeds. Through research from box scores, newspaper articles—and in later years, from Retrosheet — Spatz gives the reader an insight into the pageantry and anticipation that has always accompanied Opening Day games.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2019 Gypsy Queen baseball set, which comes out in March:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a photograph featuring Roger Maris and the fan who caught his record-breaking 61st home run in 1961, Sal Durante:
Topps ends another successful run with its flagship product with its 300-card Update series. The design remains consistent with the Series One and Two sets, and from my standpoint, I really enjoy when the cards fronts are displayed with a vertical design.
Certainly, there are horizontal layouts in the base set, but vertical is my preference.
The nice thing about the update set is that it emphasizes up-and-coming rookies and players who have been traded during the 2018 season.
I bought a blaster box, which has 10 packs containing 10 cards. There is also an additional card — one of 50 Jackie Robinson Day Manufactured Patches. The card I pulled was Dee Gordon.
Out of the 100 cards in the blaster, 73 were base cards. The rest were either inserts or parallels. There were two parallels — one gold and a foil — and one variation card of Lou Gehrig. As usual, Topps has SP variations and SSP variations to make the chase that much more difficult. There are 52 SP variations and 25 SSP variations for this set.
One interesting parallel was a vintage stock card of Craig Kimbrel, numbered to 99. This card uses the heavier, paper-like stock used in Topps’ vintage sets. It has a distinctive feel to it. It also has the vintage Topps logo from years ago, stamped in silver foil.
Topps has included a generous supply of inserts, retaining a few from the two earlier series while introducing some new ones.
Topps Salute returns with a 50-card set, and I pulled cards of Jackie Robinson and Ichiro.
Another carryover is Legends in the Making, a 30-card set that also comes in a baffling array of parallels in blue, black, gold (numbered to 50), red (10) and platinum (1/1). I pulled three base inserts, plus a blue parallel. J.D. Martinez and a black parallel of Juan Soto.
The 1983 Topps 35th anniversary set returns again with a 50-card offering. The cards bear the 1983 Topps design, and I pulled a pair of Cardinal – Marcell Ozuna and Jordan Hicks.
Some new inserts are introduced into this set, and there are some nice ones.
Storybook Endings is a 10-card set that features the swan songs of selected major-league greats. I pulled a card of Mariano Rivera.
An International Affair has 50 cards that showcases the grip major-league baseball has around the world, highlighting stars from many different countries. I pulled a card of Astros star Jose Altuve.
Don’t Blink is a 25-card subset that emphasizes players with speed. The card I pulled was of former Kansas City Royals star Bo Jackson.
Another blaster box exclusive is Postseason Preeminence, which summarizes the playoff and World Series feats of 30 different players. I pulled seven of these cards from the blaster I bought, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Chipper Jones, Kris Bryant and Randy Johnson.
As usual, Topps saves inserts that are exclusive to retail giants Target and Walmart.
If you buy your blaster boxes at Walmart, a 20-card 2018 Hall of Famers Highlights set awaits, with memorable moments from the careers of new Cooperstown inductees Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman.
Since I bought my blaster at Target, I received four cards documenting Bryce Harper’s career.
There were no autograph or relic cards in the blaster I bought, but I wasn’t expecting any. Such hot cards generally would come from hobby or jumbo hobby boxes.
Still for set collectors like me, the Update series is the perfect way to end the 2018 baseball season. There are enough inserts to keep me interested, and the base set is generally easy to complete.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the story behind a 1924 bat signed by Babe Ruth:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1952 Cleveland Indians Num Num set:
My podcast with JackGilden, author of "Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the Modern NFL" via University of Nebraska Press on the NewBooksSports channel of the New Books Network:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing Upper Deck's The Cup hockey, which will be released sometime this month:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1955-56 pro wrestling set:
Here is a review I wrote for Sport in American History about Jack Gilden's new book, "Collision of Wills," about the dynamic and struggle between Johnny Unitas and Don Shula when both were with the Baltimore Colts during the 1960s:
To say I love Topps baseball cards from 1967 to 1972 would be an understatement. Those years represented the highlights of my youthful collecting career, so I always look back on those designs fondly.
That’s why it is fun to tear through Topps Heritage this year, since it utilizes the company’s simple and clean design from 1969. The Topps Heritage High Number set picks up where the main Heritage set left off, with a 225-card base set that places more emphasis on traded players and rookies who have made an impact this year.
As has been the norm with these reviews, I am looking at blaster boxes of the product. But for the Heritage High Numbers I bought two boxes, so I will draw from what I pulled from both of them. I am flush with success after completing the base and SPs from the 2018 Allen & Ginter set strictly from blasters and packs and will try to do the same with Heritage High Number.
A blaster box contains eight packs. Topps tries to make the deal sound sweeter by advertising seven packs plus a bonus pack, but any way you slice it there are eight packs in the box. There are nine cards in each pack.
By the way, if you decide to buy a hobby box, Topps is promising either an autograph or relic card.
The design is faithful to the 1969 Topps design, with a bubble at the top of the card that lists the player’s name and position. Some of these circles are positioned at the top left-hand corner of the card, while others occupy the top right. The team name runs across the bottom of the card in large block yellow letters.
The card backs are a pinkish color with the Topps logo and card number in the upper left-hand corner. The player’s name and vital statistics are to the logo’s immediate right, and at the far right of the card is a small cartoon drawing.
The bottom half of the card is reserved for the player’s year-by-year and total career statistics.
The high number series starts at No. 501 and ends at No. 725. The last 25 cards in the set are short prints and can be found every three packs. I pulled five from the two blasters I opened. I also pulled 125 base cards between both boxes, or just over half the set. The way it worked out was 65 base and short prints per blaster, with the other seven being parallels or inserts.
Some of the old standbys are visible in the High Number set. Now & Then takes a key achievement from a 2018 date and compares it to the same date in 1969. For example, the Albert Pujols card recaps his 3,000th hit, collected May 4, 2018, and honors the Houston Astros, who turned seven double plays against the San Francisco Giants during a 3-1 victory on May 4, 1969.
There are 15 of these inserts in the Heritage High Number set, and I pulled one from each box.
Award Winners is a 10-card insert that recognizes players who had outstanding achievements in 2017, and I found one in each blaster (Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber.) There also was Rookie Performers card in each box (there are 15 cards in the subset).
Combo Cards is a 10-card insert set that celebrates two players on a particular team, and I found cards for the Indians and Nationals.
The 1969 Collector Cards, with a photo framed by a large yellow border, is a retail-exclusive product and contains 15 cards. I found one card in each blaster, pulling Nolan Arenado and Gleyber Torres.
Rounding out the inserts was a Deckle card of Jordan Hicks in one box, and a Miracle of 1969 insert in the other. The “Miracle” refers to the 1969 Mets, who shocked the baseball world by winning their division, the NLCS, and finally the World Series. This is a five-card insert, and the card I pulled featured a young Nolan Ryan.
The Heritage High Number set depicting the 1969 Topps design is slick, clean — and for me — sentimental. I’ll be heading out for more blaster boxes soon.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1963 Sports Hall of Fame Busts set:
Here is a book review I wrote for Sport in American History, where I look at "Ty Cobb Unleashed," by Howard W. Rosenberg.
If you like foil and cards that have a mirror-like shine, then the 2018 Panini Absolute Football set by Panini America should fit the bill. And for those who do not want to spring for a hobby box — which would cost upwards of $130 — a $19.99 blaster works just fine.
That’s because Panini is promising at least one autograph or one relic card in every blaster box. The box I opened had a relic card — a blaster-exclusive Newcomers card of Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst. There are 35 cards in the Newcomers set.
A blaster box holds eight packs, with eight cards to a pack. The base set includes 100 veterans and 50 rookies, and there are 40 Rookie Material Autograph cards.
The blaster box I opened had 53 base cards and four rookies. The design on the card front is vertical, with the team name running up and down the right side of the page with letters perpendicular to the cutout action shot of the player. The team name is printed in an italic block font, with one of the team’s primary colors used to fill in the letters. In most cases, another team primary color is used as the background on the card front.
The player’s name is stamped in gold foil underneath the player’s photograph. The city and team nickname appear beneath the player’s name in tiny white block letters. The background on the card front also includes the team’s helmet logo.
The design for the card back borrows the front photo but tints the background with a primary team color. The photo runs down the left-hand side of the card. In the middle of the card is a seven-line biography, and beneath that are stat lines from the 2017 season. The team logo is in the top right quarter of the card.
There are plenty of elements at play with this set, but it surprisingly is not intrusive or busy looking. The only complaint I have is for player cards whose teams have gold as a primary color. The player’s name blends into the background too easily. Cards featuring Washington Redskins players are a prime example.
The design for the rookie cards is different than what is used for the veterans’. Instead of a team name running down the right side of the card front, the word “Rookies” runs down the left side. The cutout action shots of the players show them wearing the logos of the teams that drafted them. The rookies I pulled were Logan Woodside (Bengals), Vita Vea (Bucs), Jordan Whitehead (Bucs) and Kurt Benkert (Falcons).
A rich, red background is a nice enhancement for the rookie cards, as it helps make the player’s gold-stamped name shine through more easily. A silver shield with red cutout “RC” and “Rookie Cards” designations dominate the right-center area of the card front.
The card backs are similar to the designs used for the base cards, with red a dominant color.
There were four different inserts inside the blaster box I opened.
Introductions is a 20-card subset that gives information on rookie players. The two cards I pulled were of No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield and the Steelers’ Jaylen Samuels.
Late Game Heroics takes a horizontal design and showcases a player’s clutch performance; there are 20 cards in this set, and I pulled a Russell Wilson card that showcased a 41-38 Seahawks victory against the Texans.
The 1-2 Punch insert set also consists of 20 cards. This subset highlights player combinations that have been effective in the NFL. The card I pulled featured Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey.
Another insert card I found was a Revolutionaries card of Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. This 20-card insert set features players who were groundbreaking players during their NFL careers.
That plays into the final insert card I pulled, appropriately called Covering Ground. This insert features running backs and receivers who chew up chunks of yardage every time they touch the football. The card I pulled is an excellent example: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.
The 2018 Absolute Football is shiny, with lots of foil and plenty of vibrant colors. There is a good mixture of veterans and rookies, and collectors who prowl retail stores can pick up a nice hot card from a blaster box. It’s a nice guarantee.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Tom Daniels, a longtime card shop owner in Madison, Wisconsin, whose shop was flooded after heavy rains last month:
Here is the link to the podcast I did on the New Books Network with David George Surdam, co-author of "The Age of Ruth and Landis," which I reviewed in print on Aug. 4:
Here is a review I did for the Sport in American History website about "The Presidents and the Pastime" by Curt Smith, from University of Nebraska Press:
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.
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.