Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1979-80 Topps hockey, which features the Wayne Gretzky rookie card and the final main set card of Gordie Howe:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Ellen Kelly, a Maryland woman who found a 1916 M101-4 Babe Ruth rookie card in an old family player piano:
Topps is separating its flagship WWE card product into two distinctive sets. Raw is the first half, while the WWE SmackDown Live set will be released later in the year.
While some collectors might see it as excess, or watering down the product, it’s not a terrible idea.
The design for Raw follows a good plan. While action shots would seem to be ideal, it works out better for more posed or standalone shots. Professional wrestlers — the best ones — know how to project their personalities while on the microphone doing interviews, and the poses in the Raw set reflect that confidence. Just looking at the cards of Curt Hawkins (No. 19), Nigel McGuinness (No. 85), Charly Caruso (No. 17), Samir Singh (No. 64), Nikki Bella (No. 54) and Gentleman Jack Gallagher (No. 80) show the strength of personality. And in pro wrestling, it’s all about perception and image.
The base set for Raw consists of 90 cards. The blaster box I bought contained 45 base cards, so that is definitely a nice start for a set builder. A blaster box has 10 packs, with seven cards to a pack. In addition, there are five Raw women’s Revolution cards in a special pack.
Complementing the base cards were five bronze parallels, which collectors will find in retail boxes and packs.
The main insert in the blaster box I opened was Hometown Heroes, which falls one to a pack. There are 48 cards in the set, and the blaster produced 10 cards, including Ruby Riott, Lince Dorado, Natalya, Rhyno and Jinder Mahal.
The other main parallel is Legends of Raw, a 20-card set that includes stars like Bret Hart, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Mankind, Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. I pulled eight cards from the blaster box I bought.
The other inserts in the set are the Ronda Rousey Spotlight cards. This 10-card set picks up from the 2019 Road to WrestleMania cards, and there will be 40 cards total when all the Topps wrestling products are released. I was able to pull two cards in the blaster I bought.
While Rousey is probably not the greatest current woman wrestler — others, like Bella and Charlotte Flair have paid their dues — she certainly has marquee value and the WWE is quite content to use her notoriety. It’s a win-win for the WWE, Topps and collectors. Since Rousey just announced she is stepping away from the WWE for a while to start a family, it will be interesting to see if Topps continues the Rousey insert set.
The blaster box did provide one hot card — a Raw commemorative gold parallel of the Miz, numbered to 10. It depicts the Intercontinental Champions belt.
The blaster also included a four-card pack of Women’s Revolution cards. I found cards of Flair, Bella and Paige, which is a nice haul.
The Topps Raw set is a nice set for collectors who enjoy the WWE. There is enough old-time stuff, but plenty of new cards that should keep the interests of new collections alive.
I am not a huge fan of shiny cards, but it’s hard not to like the Prizm sets put out by Panini America. These cards are slick-looking and seem to gleam. When you can see your reflection in the card, well, that’s impressive.
Combine that with some of the all-time greats in college football who went on to productive careers in the NFL, and that’s a nice combination. And so it is with Panini’s 2019 Prizm Draft Picks football set, which returns after a three-year hiatus.
A blaster box contains six packs per box, and five cards to a pack. What’s great about the blaster is that Panini includes an autograph card in each box, so that’s a nice plus for collectors who shop retail.
There are 135 cards in the base set. The first 100 are former college players who have gone on to stellar careers in the National Football League. The final 35 cards are draft pick rookies.
Of the first 100 cards in the checklist, I pulled 27. That includes two All-American cards (Emmitt Smith and Anthony Miller) three Stained Glass cards (John Elway, Barry Sanders and Baker Mayfield), three Mascot cards and one Crusade card (Will Grier). The “regular” cards included Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Payton Manning, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Patrick Mahomes and Earl Campbell.
There also was a blue parallel card of Bo Jackson, and while I did not pull any of the high number base, I did find a blue parallel of Kelvin Harmon.
Of the base cards, the Stained Glass subset is the most attractive. It sports a horizontal design with an action shot of the player against a background of stained glass. The team’s logo is to the right of the player, with a football and Prizm logo making up the final two components of the card front’s right-hand side.
The All-Americans cards show a vertical design with an action shot of the player against a backdrop of what looks like an American flag. The Crusade subset features the player against a shield-like background.
The base cards also have a vertical design on the front, with an action shot of the player set against a blurred background that can either be fans or teammates on the bench, depending on the shot.
The back of the card shows the same photo, with the college logo underneath the shot and his position directly beneath in small black block letters. A five-line biography completes the elements.
The autograph card I pulled was a purple parallel of University of Washington defensive tackle Greg Gaines. The autograph was on a sticker, but it’s fairly legible with the G’s in his first and last names prominently displayed.
Overall, the Prizm Draft Picks set is interesting. I enjoyed revisiting some NFL greats from their college days, and the gleaming finish on the cards made them look that much nicer.
Here is a review I did on Roberta J. Newman's book, "Here's the Pitch," via University of Nebraska Press:
Whenever I heard the 1972 song “Beautiful Sunday” by Daniel Boone, I’d think about Ernie Banks.
The Cubs’ Hall of Famer seemed like the epitome of sunshine and happiness, much like the buoyant lyrics co-written by Englishman Daniel Boone and Rod McQueen (“Hey, hey, hey, it’s a beautiful day.”).
That was the carefully crafted persona of Banks, lovingly known as “Mr. Cub” during his 19-year career in Chicago. “Let’s play two” was more than a catchy slogan. It was a mantra for Cubs fans who streamed into Wrigley Field, the last major league baseball stadium to install lights. When Banks played at the Friendly Confines, there was always sunshine.
But with all of our heroes, there seems to be a darker side. And that’s what Ron Rapoport captures so well in his latest biography, Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks (Hachette Books; hardback; $28; 454 pages).
Rapoport, a former columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Los Angeles Daily News, originally was going to collaborate with Banks on an autobiography. However, Banks’ death Jan. 23, 2015, ended that project. But armed with hours of taped conversations with Banks, Rapoport began calling people that knew the Hall of Famer, or played with or against him, and wound up speaking with more than 100 people, including Marjorie Lott, the third of Banks’ four wives; and Regina Rice, his friend and caretaker during the final years of his life.
Rapoport notes that the closer people were to Banks, the more they shared the frustrating notion that this “joyful, melancholy, humble, complicated, companionable, lonely man … remained imprisoned in an image of one simplistic dimension.”
Banks was not a one-dimensional player. He hit 512 home runs and was a graceful shortstop before his bad knees forced him to play first base over the final decade of his career. He was a back-to-back National League MVP on teams that finished in fifth place both years and was selected to play in 14 All-Star Games. Banks was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1977 and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. He was the one shining star on some lousy teams during the 1950s and ’60s, but in 1969 it looked as if he might finally get to play in the postseason. The New York Mets shattered that dream, and that had to be an empty feeling for Banks.
Banks, author Howard Bryant wrote in his 2010 book, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, “carried that heavy and unfortunate asterisk of being the greatest player never to take his team to the World Series.”
Rapoport traces Banks from his youth in Dallas, when he lived in poverty and was subjected to racism. He missed a year of school because he helped his father pick cotton. Banks learned one lesson from his father, Eddie Banks, that made him uncomfortable, Rapoport writes.
“I don’t want my son working for no white people,” Eddie Banks told his wife. “Whatever he does in life, I want him to do it on his own.”
Banks did it on his own, jumping from the Negro Leagues to the major leagues and becoming a star in the National League.
Rapoport draws a parallel line from Banks’ career to the fate of the Cubs from 1953 to 1971. He devotes a good chunk of Let’s Play Two to Banks’ teammates, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley, the College of Coaches, the tragedy surrounding Ken Hubbs, the Bleacher Bums and the self-destructive leadership of manager Leo Durocher.
But to understand those deviations from a traditional biography is to grasp the essence of what made Banks such a beloved figure in Chicago.
He even weathered the criticism of Durocher, who openly wanted to get rid of him.
“Unfortunately,” Leo Durocher wrote in his 1975 autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last (which Rapoport also uses as a source), “his time was not my time.”
“He did love to play. That part of the Ernie Banks legend is true.”
Players were “dumbstruck” when Durocher, who became the Cubs manager in 1966, challenged Banks, Rapoport wrote. Durocher would nitpick about Banks’ base running, his fielding and his inability to take a longer lead at first base. And in classic Durocher style, the manager would call out his star in front of the team.
He also complained to the writers, and even in his autobiography, Durocher could not resist taking a mocking shot.
“All he knew was, ‘Ho, let’s go. Ho, babydoobedoobedoo. It’s a wonderful day for a game in Chicago. Let’s play twooo,’” Durocher wrote.
Rapoport devotes a chapter to Banks’ signature phrase and its variations, trying to determine the origin of “Let’s play two.” While it presented Banks as a positive player with a sunny disposition, there were those who thought it was a sham.
“Maybe it’s sacrilege, but I believe Banks was a con artist,” former Dodgers catcher John Roseboro said. “No one smiles all the time naturally unless they’re putting it on and putting you on.”
Rapoport then goes on a tangent, showing how “Lets’ play two” has been blended into areas of American culture other than sports. Singers, politicians, writers, rock ’n’ roll bands, playwrights and even economic experts found a way to work the phrase into their vocabularies.
With a pair of Ernie Banks biographies on the market this year — Doug Wilson wrote one with a similar title — baseball fans might be tempted to say, “Let’s read two.”
But that’s an extreme case.
Despite the criticism from his manager, or the skepticism about his optimism, Banks never groused publicly. That was not part of his DNA. “Banks was, after all, the boy who never complained about the poverty and segregation in which he was raised,” Rapoport wrote. He also was the player “who never complained about wasting his finest seasons with a team that had no hope of winning the pennant.”
Rapoport’s Let’s Play Two has some unexpected nuggets, too. He writes about a 2002 family reunion Banks’ mother, Essie Durden Banks, attended in Louisiana. Walter Banks, Ernie’s younger brother, was stunned to see O.J. Simpson there, and even more surprised to learn his mother was first cousins with Simpson’s mother, Eunice Durden Simpson.
Rapoport’s writing is smooth and easy, and he covers all angles of Banks’ personal and professional life. Married life was not sunny, as Banks went to the altar four times. His children hardly saw him during the regular season, but that’s a byproduct of baseball’s nomadic nature.
As he got older, Banks would make commitments for speaking engagements and appearances that he would either forget about or simply not honor. Even in death, there was a melancholy ending, as Banks’ family got into a legal tussle with Regina Rice over the player’s will.
“The man can’t die in peace,” Banks’ teammate, Billy Williams, told Rapoport.
While most authors compile a bibliography, Rapoport chose to label it “Sources.” It works well, because the reader can look how each chapter was formed. Rapoport lists the people he interviewed and the publications he used as source material. It’s unorthodox, but I found it fascinating. It overrode the concern of no bibliography or formal, detailed end notes.
Banks had a dark, sad side the public never saw. Rapoport does a nice job balancing that conflict with his persona.
“He had a great skill at building a façade around him,” Marjorie Lott told Rapaport. “I think a lot of his ‘It’s a great day, let’s play two’ was a cover-up of his sadness.”
“He was a tortured soul,” one prominent Chicagoan told Rapoport. “He just hid it very well.”
But with a statue of Ernie Banks now standing outside Wrigley Field, it will always be a beautiful Sunday at the Friendly Confines. And beautiful every other day, too. A smiling Banks on the cover of Let’s Play Two cannot convince you otherwise.
Collectors looking for future gems enjoy cards depicting members of Team USA national teams. You never know when one of them might pan out and become a big star. Clayton Kershaw, who was part of the 2005-2006 Upper Deck Team USA set as a member of the junior national team, is an excellent example.
So, who, if anyone, will emerge from the 2019 version — Panini America’s Stars & Stripes baseball?
It’s hard to say, but the 100-card base set contains cards from the 15U, 18U and collegiate national teams.
A blaster box contains seven packs, with five cards to a pack. Panini is promising at least two autographs per blaster, so it’s not a bad deal.
The box I opened had 12 cards from the 18U squad, eight from the 15U team and 11 from the collegiate national team. There also was one checklist of the 18U team.
The cards are printed on thin stock, and silver foil frame three sides of the players’ photos. The bottom of the card has red foil, with a Stars & Stripes logo. The players’ names are stamped in gold foil in the bottom right-hand part of the card.
The card back features the player’s name in large block white letters near the top, with his position in smaller, black italic type directly underneath. The center of the card back is dominated by a large shield depicting the player’s national team.
Vital statistics are located directly beneath the shield in small, red type. A five-line biography finishes off the design.
The blaster I opened featured one parallel — a ruby card of Luke Leto, numbered to 249.
As promised, there were two autograph cards. The first was a 16U national team signatures development program card of Kennedy Jones, numbered to 165. The autograph — can you really call a card that is initialed “KJ” an autograph? I sure don’t — is on a sticker.
The second card is a USA BB Silhouettes Signatures Jersey of 17U infielder Nate Clow, numbered to 199. This autograph is also on a sticker, but at least it is more than a set of initials.
Perhaps if their careers blossom, they will learn how to solve their full names.
The Stars & Stripes set is basically a look into the future, almost like an investment. One shiny moment, if you will. It will be interesting to see what players will take it to the next level.
Topps’ Gypsy Queen baseball is a marriage of new stars and old-time designs, and the 2019 version follows the same pattern.
The design is slightly more ornate than in previous years, particularly in how the card front is framed. The main image for this year’s set is not blended into the borders with a feathering effect, but rather use framing to contain the main art work.
Unlike the 2018 set, this year’s set centers the player’s name underneath the artwork in a turquoise, ribbon-like nameplate. The letters in the player’s name are all the same size; last year, the player’s last name was larger. The distinctive GQ logo is positioned directly above the player’s name, shifting from the left side of the card, while the left and right bottom corners feature the team logo and the player’s position, respectively.
The artwork is detailed and very attractive.
The card backs have the player’s nameplate at the top of the card, also in turquoise. That same color is also used as the background for the five-line player’s biography, which is presented in ragged center type.
What is nice about the card back design is that there is a lot of open space; Topps does not try to crowd too many elements, and that makes for a much cleaner presentation.
The base set has 300 cards, plus 20 short prints of retired players. The short prints will fall one to a hobby box but can also be found in blaster box. A blaster box contains seven packs, with six cards to a pack. In addition, blasters have a special five-card set of parallels that have green borders.
If you buy a hobby box, there will be a chance to score other parallels, including missing nameplates, indigo (numbered to 250), hobby exclusive black & white (50), red (10) and black (1/1). The base set also will have short-printed cards and black 1/1 parallels that feature former major-league greats.
Topps is also promising two autograph cards per hobby box, along with a three-card, chrome box topper. There also will be refractor parallels in indigo (numbered to 50), gold (50), red (5), SuperFractor (1/1) and autograph (25).
I did not pull any autographs. So, there were 39 base cards (although one was a double), a short print of Jackie Robinson, the pack of five special parallels, and two inserts.
The inserts I pulled were a Fortune Teller card of Rays’ left-hander Blake Snell. The card back makes a prediction about some feat the player might achieve during the 2019 season. In Snell’s case, Topps believes the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner will throw a no-hitter. That would make him the second Tampa Bay player to turn the trick; Matt Garza tossed a no-no in 2010. There are 20 different mini-cards in this subset.
The other insert came from the 25-card Tarot of the Diamond subset — a Two of Wands card of Boston’s Xander Bogaerts. The date of issue for the card in Roman numerals in the top left-hand corner is a nice touch.
The Gypsy Queen set has its good points — nice design, excellent artwork and a clean look. If you’re buying retail, don’t expect too many hot cards, but if you are set builder, this could be the way to go.
Here is a story I did for Sports Collectors Daily, the second of a two-part interview with sports memorabilia appraiser and authenticator Les Woolf. On Sports Collectors Daily:
The 2019 Leaf Draft football set gives collectors a taste of some of the likely players to be taken in the NFL draft, which begins April 25.
A blaster box gives collectors a nice yield, too, including the promise of two autograph cards.
The 100-card base set is broken down into 69 cards, with an additional 11 All-American cards, 10 Touchdown Kings and 10 Draft Flashback cards.
There are some good things about this set. Collectors will get some early looks at projected draft picks like Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Josh Allen, Devin White and Ed Oliver. Besides any set that contains a player named Greedy Williams is tops in my book.
Andraez Williams got the nickname “Greedy” from his grandmother when he was young. If he gets drafted by an NFL team and makes the roster, he will rise to the pantheon of great pro football names along with Happy Feller and Fair Hooker.
The two autographs per box is also a plus, and while it’s nice they are in top loaders, it would be a good idea to also put them inside penny sleeves since they are loose in the box. They seemed to be snugly inside the top loader, but they were open-ended.
The most glaring negative about this set is that Leaf had to airbrush logos and team names from the players’ helmets and uniforms. It’s a licensing issue, and while understandable, the washed-out look does detract a little bit from the design.
The card front design features a vertical, color photo (except for the Flashback cards, which are black-and-white). The Leaf logo is positioned in the upper left-hand corner of the card, while the Draft logo is situated beneath the photograph. The player’s name is listed in white, block letters underneath. The team name is not mentioned on the card front.
The line patterns on each side of the card create a hexagon effect, and if you put two cards side by side, the lines will match up perfectly. It’s not a bad look.
The team name is listed on the card back within a six-line biographical sketch that is placed underneath the player’s photo in an octagon-like shape. The card number is at the top middle part of the card back.
Those parallel lines are also prevalent on the reverse of the card, and one gets the same effect when placing one next to another. This holds true with the patterns at the top and bottom of each card, too.
A blaster box contains 10 cards, with 10 cards to a pack. It’s very possible one could finish the base set with perhaps two – or three – blasters. Each pack contains a gold parallel.
I pulled 54 of the 59 “regular” cards, eight Touchdown Kings, 10 All-American cards and eight Flashbacks. The Flashbacks are interesting cards because they are in black and white, which gives them a nice retro feel. Some of the Flashback cards I pulled included John Elway, Roger Staubach, Dick Butkus, Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman and Brett Favre.
There was one insert -- one Murray Touchdown Kings card, which is part of a three-card subset.
The two autograph cards were signed on stickers. One was a base card — Ole Miss offensive lineman Greg Little — while the other was a gold parallel of Missouri tight end Kendall Blanton. The team names are nowhere on the card, nor is the player’s position. I had to look those up. Ugh.
Overall, however, the 2019 Leaf Draft set is a nice snack heading into the NFL draft. There is a good chance that many of the players in this base set will find their way onto an NFL squad, either on draft day or later as a free agents.
Time will tell.
Here's a first installment of a two-part series I wrote for Sports Collectors about sports autograph dealer and appraiser Les Wolff and his advice for collectors on how to keep their cards and memorabilia safe and protected:
Here is a conversation I had with Ron Keurajian, author of "Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide," on the New Books in Sports podcast, part of the New Sports Network:
The Alliance of American Football is a new professional league, but the company making its sports cards is a familiar name to collectors – Topps, which secured an exclusive trading card deal with the fledgling football league.
Topps unveiled its debut AAF set on March 22, showcasing players, coaches, assistants and league personnel in a 175-card base set. The eight teams in the league the AAF’s inaugural season are the Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet.
It is the first time Topps has had a license for a pro football league since 2016. It’s not the first time Topps has produced cards of a league other than the NFL. It had sets for the old AFL during the 1960s – exclusively from 1964 to 1967 when Topps lost its NFL license to the Philadelphia Gum Co. — the USFL in 1984 and 1985, and the XFL in 2001.
The league is so new and the names are so unrecognizable, except for coaches and AAF executives. Marquee names in the set are coaches Steve Spurrier (Apollos), Mike Singletary (Express), Mike Martz (Fleet), Dennis Erickson (Stallions) and Rick Neuheisel (Hotshots). Troy Polamalu (Head of Player Relations) and Hines Ward (Head of Football Development).
Those are the big names pulled from the blaster box I bought. Players with NFL experience included Christian Hackenberg, Trent Richardson and Denard Robinson.
While Topps promises three autographs per hobby box, the odds are much less for blaster boxes. Nevertheless, the blaster I bought contained an on-card signature of Stallions running back Sam Mobley. Collectors can also find parallels for autograph cards, with purple (numbered to 5) and black (1/1).
There are 10 packs in a blaster, with 10 cards to a pack. The design is vertical on the card front, with a full-bleed color photograph. The posed shots are crisp, but some of the action shots lean toward the murky side.
The logos of Topps and the AAF are positioned in the upper right-hand corner of the card, and the player’s name appears in white block letters on a template that gradually slants upward from the lower left corner to the right side of the card. The team logo appears to the left of the player’s name, while player positions are tucked into the bottom right-hand corner of the card.
The card backs also have a vertical design, with the card number in the top right-hand corner. The team logo is directly below the number, with the player’s name and position slanted. Vital statistics appear to the left of the player’s position. The type is small, but readable.
A seven line biography dominates the center of the card back, and the type is larger and has a sharper look. The type, set inside a hexagon, is black against a marble-like background.
The blaster I bought had 98 base cards, which is a plus for set builders.
In addition to the autograph, the other non-base card was a Future Stars insert of Arizona running back Larry Rose. This 25-card insert set also has parallels in gold (numbered to 25), green (10), purple (5) and red (1/1).
Overall, the 2019 Topps Alliance of American Football is an intriguing set. Some of the names may appear obscure now, but if the league gains more traction, some of the players could become more familiar to fans and collectors alike.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2019 Topps Heritage High Number baseball set:
I can still see Cleon Jones genuflecting after catching Davey Johnson’s fly ball to left field, ending the 1969 World Series and ending the New York Mets’ most wonderfully improbable season on a joyous note.
Taking a knee had a more religious tone 50 years ago. That’s because the Mets winning the World Series was nothing short of a miracle. The ragtag franchise, which debuted in 1962 with 120 losses and had never finished better than ninth place in the National League, was on top of the baseball world.
“Good memories,” Tom Seaver tells Bud Harrelson when some of the Mets gathered to meet the pitcher and swap stories in 2017.
There are plenty of good memories in After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the ’69 Mets (Simon & Schuster; hardback; $28; 325 pages), but the book, written by former major leaguer Art Shamsky and author Erik Sherman, is alternately happy and sad. The book takes on added poignancy now in the wake of Seaver’s dementia, announced March 7 by the Hall of Fame pitcher’s family.
The book begins with Shamsky organizing a mini-reunion of some of the 1969 Mets, including himself, Harrelson, Jerry Koosman and Ron Swoboda. The foursome traveled to California in May 2017 to meet with Seaver, who had been suffering from Lyme disease since 1991.
What happens in between the first and final chapters is magical, as Shamsky, Harrelson, Koosman and Swoboda piece together the Mets’ 100-62 regular season, their three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, and their shocking World Series victory against a Baltimore Orioles team that won 109 games during the regular season and swept to victory in the ALCS.
Shamsky and Sherman team up well in this book. Shamsky, 77, played eight years in the majors, including four with the Mets (1968-1971), and was particularly productive during the miracle season, batting .300 in 100 games with 14 home runs and 47 RBI. Shamsky was platooned in right field with Swoboda, who hit against left-handers that season.
While both players chafed in their part-time roles, they accepted them, especially since Mets manager Gil Hodges was not going to budge.
“We knew who the boss was, didn’t we?” Seaver asked his former teammates.
It was Hodges, the first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the late 1940s and 1950s who regrettably has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.
After baseball, Shamsky worked in New York as a sportscaster and later joined ESPN. In 2004, he wrote The Magnificent Seasons: How the Mets, Jets and Knicks Made Sports History and Uplifted a City and the Country.
Sherman, meanwhile, has written a book about the 1986 Mets (Kings of Queens) and co-authored autobiographies with Johnson, Glenn Burke, Steve Blass and Mookie Wilson.
In After the Miracle, Sherman wisely steps back and allows Shamsky to drive the narrative from his own point of view. His conversations with Seaver and memories with his three traveling partners create a warm nostalgia and some great dialogue as they trade anecdotes. Sherman comes in at the beginning and end, helping to prod the players’ memories and bring back vivid stories from a half century ago.
The Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by nine games in the NL East by Memorial Day, but then ripped off an 11-game winning streak in June and early in the season.
Seaver pitched a near-perfect game against the Cubs on July 9, allowing a single in the ninth inning to rookie Jimmy Qualls, and the acquisition of Donn Clendenon put some more pop into the Mets’ lineup.
“Clink,” as Clendenon was called, liked to have himself paged every five minutes “just to hear his name.” His direct opposite, third baseman Ed Charles, was the team’s oldest player, read poetry and was nicknamed “the Glider." Anyone who saw Charles dance in the infield after the final out of the 1969 World Series would be hard-pressed to argue.
The Mets finally caught the Cubs in September, rolling past a talented but obviously frazzled squad worn out by the divisional race and the tense clubhouse atmosphere created by Chicago manager Leo Durocher.
That tension contrasted sharply with the youthful, free-wheeling Mets, Shamsky stresses that while the Mets had diverse personalities, “we had practically no genuine friction at all.”
That free spirit kept the Mets loose, and that’s what Shamsky said he misses most. Swoboda, a “flower child,” argued politics with ultraconservative pitcher Don Cardwell. Pitcher Ron Taylor sat on the clubhouse floor “reading Socrates or some medical journal.” Catcher Jerry Grote was avoided for his grumpiness, while ebullient young reliever Tug McGraw was liable to say or do anything.
“It’s the friendships, the camaraderie, the characters, the freedom to say anything you wanted, and the ability to deal with adversity in whatever way worked best for you where I feel the greatest void,” Shamsky writes.
Seaver was the staff ace, winning 25 games en route to his first of three NL Cy Young Awards, but Koosman was the toughest of the young pitchers, not afraid to throw high and tight to send a message to opposing teams. It was Koosman who pitched two gritty victories in the World Series, including the clincher in Game 5. And yet, infielder Wayne Garrett called the left-hander “our comedian.”
The book also sheds some light on the game when Hodges walked out to left field to remove Jones from a July 30 contest against the Houston Astros. The players still speak with reverence of Hodges, who died during spring training in April 1972, two days shy of his 48th birthday.
When Shamsky and his teammates met Seaver at his California home, the memories flowed like the wine the former pitcher bottled from his vineyards. They argued whether Game 2 or Game 3 of the World Series was more pivotal for the Mets and needled one another like all ballplayers do. Sherman does his part, asking questions and making statements that acted as effective prompts for the aging players.
But the emotions crest when Seaver asks Shamsky, “how the hell did I get to be seventy-two years old? How did that happen to us, Art?”
It happens to all of us, but as Shamsky writes, the memories of what the Mets did in 1969 will never fade.
“We were the closest teammates during the best of times,” Shamsky writes.
Fifty years. It seems like only yesterday that the Amazin’ Mets were kings of baseball. In After the Miracle, the reader goes down memory lane with some of the men who made that season amazing.
The 2019 Topps Heritage set follows the same pattern as its predecessors, spotlighting a vintage product and copying the subsets and inserts from the older set. The 2019 product uses the design of the 1970 Topps set, which is one of the more austere designs of the 1970s.
Some fun facts about the 1970 Topps set: The price of packs doubled from a nickel to 10 cents. For the first time in a Topps set, the player’s nameplate was in script, rather than the block letters that had been part of the annual run since 1952.
Also, for the first time, card No. 1 in the set was a team photograph of the previous season’s World Series champions. In the case of the 1970 set, the photograph was of the 1969 Mets, who stunned the Baltimore Orioles by winning the Series in five games. The card was adorned with “World Champions” at the top of the card.
Topps had experimented with the champions format before. Card No. 1 of the 1967 set was called “The Champs” and featured Baltimore Orioles manager Hank Bauer flanked by Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson.
The 2019 Topps Heritage set follows the template of the 1970 set, putting a team photo of the Boston Red Sox as its first card. The difference this time around is that the top of the card reads “World Series Champions,” making the proper distinction between 1970’s more provincial “World Champions” designation.
As I’ve done in the past, I buy a blaster box for $19.99 and describe the contents. A blaster box contains eight packs, with nine cards to a pack.
The base set has 500 cards, with the final 100 cards designated as short prints. Within the first 400 cards there are several subsets that mirror the 1970 version: league leaders (Nos. 61-72), NLCS (Nos. 195-198), ALCS (No. 199-202), World Series (Nos. 305-310) and All-Stars (Nos. 351-369).
The card fronts sport a vertical design, with a posed shot of a player batting or pitching. The team name is in block letters at the top, mostly in the left-hand corner and overlaid over the player’s photo. A gray border frames the player’s photograph. Rookie cards contain two players, stacked one on top of the other in a vertical design. These are probably the best-looking rookie cards Topps has put out; certainly, the best they had during the 197os.
The card backs are dominated by blue and yellow backgrounds. The blue square contains a biographical summary of the player, printed in white ink. The player’s name is in white block letters at the top of this box, with vital statistics beneath it. A yellow rectangle contains year-by-statistics, and the top right of the card features a cartoon against a white background.
The inserts I pulled from the blaster will be familiar to collectors. In my box, I pulled a News Flashback card of Janis Joplin. That card is part of a 15-card subset. Baseball Flashbacks, another staple of Heritage sets, also contains 15 cards. The insert I pulled was of Rod Carew.
New Age Performers, another old standby, is a 25-card insert set. The card I pulled was of Juan Soto. Then and Now, a 15-card insert that spotlights a player from the past with a current star, also was included in the box I opened. My card featured Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew and J.D. Martinez of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Some blaster boxes contain relics, and I pulled a Clubhouse Collection card of Edwin Encarnacion.
While I did not find them in the blaster box I opened, some collectors may find Story Booklets and Scratch-Off cards. The booklets can only be found in retail stores. The scratch-offs originally appeared as inserts in 1970 and 1971 packs.
Walmart and Target have their usual retail exclusive cards. A Walmart-specific insert is a set of cloth sticker cards, while Target has small, rounded candy lid inserts.
For those who buy hobby boxes, top loaders mirror the thick Topps Super cards of 1970. Other top loaders include 1970-like posters, numbered to 70.
Topps opened the 1970s cautiously with its first flagship product of the decade. The wrapper design for packs used for the 1970 set are also used for the 2019 Heritage set, although the price is much higher than 10 cents now. The original set contained 720 cards, which was a record for Topps. Topps was still producing high series cards, so the 100 short prints for the Heritage set reflects the difficulty of completing the set.
While the 1970 Topps set may seem solemn and non-descript, it comes to life in the Heritage series. The card stock is nicer and the photography is much sharper. Collectors can now look ahead to the 2020 Heritage set, which will pay tribute to the black bordered cards of the 1971 Topps set. Condition was a challenge back then, but it will be much easier in 2020.
Here is a podcast I did with Cesar Brioso, author of "Last Seasons in Havana," on the New Books Network:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a San Francisco-based company that gained a license to producd MLB action figures:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2019 Bowman Sterling baseball set, which hits the stores in August:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about NHL great Ted Lindsay, who died March 4 at the age of 93. This story focuses on seven vintage hockey cards featuring "Terrible Ted."
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1989 Topps baseball set:
Here is a review I did for Sport In American History of Cesar Brioso's new book, Last Seasons in Havana, by University of Nebraska Press:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about former major league pitcher Don Newcombe, who died Tuesday at the age of 92.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Justin Cornett, a collector in Houston who matched a Ted Williams glove to a photograph from his rookie season.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2019 Topps Stadium baseball product, which will be released in late June:
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