Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 44th anniversary of Reggie Jackson's immortal three-homer performance in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a Sotheby's auction involving a pair of sneakers worn by Michael Jordan during the fifth game of his illustrious NBA career.
I saw Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris together at the University of Florida’s baseball field in 1977. The New York Yankees were in Gainesville to play the Gators in a spring exhibition game to christen the lights being installed at Perry Field — compliments of George Steinbrenner — so the two former Yankees were at the field as guests of Gators coach Jay Bergman.
The two men stood on the field behind a fence and answered questions — here it was, 1977, and the first question to Mantle was about Jim Bouton’s 1970 book, Ball Four — Mantle did most of the talking. Maris, who owned a beer distributorship in Gainesville, remained mostly quiet.
Perhaps that is the perfect analogy for Tony Castro’s latest book, Maris & Mantle: Two Yankees, Baseball Immortality, and the Age of Camelot (Triumph; $28; hardback; 297 pages). Castro has written several books about Mantle, including 2019’s Mantle: The Best There Ever Was, 2016’s DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers and 2002’s Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son.
Castro also wrote the 2018 book, Gehrig & the Babe: The Friendship and the Feud, about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, the original deadly tandem in the Yankees lineup.
This month marks the 60th anniversary of Maris’ record-breaking 61st home run, hit at Yankee Stadium off Tracy Stallard into the right-field seats. It is the perfect time to revisit Maris — and Mantle — without the romanticism of calling it “a simpler time,” because that summer was fairly complicated for Maris. A quiet man who shunned the spotlight, Maris, gifted with a strong arm and that picture-perfect swing tailored to Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, endured unbearable scrutiny for his time. As Castro writes, the perception that this pressure “broke” Maris that year was merely a great hook for sportswriters as the right fielder chased Babe Ruth’s “unattainable” record all season.
“That kind of superficiality shows just how little the sportswriters … truly knew the man — or how they just failed to understand that it was that very pressure that had historically brought out the best in Roger Maris in personal circumstances far greater than the chase of a home run record.”
Maris was more than a one-dimensional player. His powerful throw kept the San Francisco Giants from scoring in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. Willie Mays doubled to right field, but Matty Alou, who was on first base after a bunt single, was forced to stop at third base because of Maris’ relay. The play most historians recall happened next, when second baseman Bobby Richardson snared Willie McCovey’s line drive to preserve a 1-0 victory and give the Yankees a World Series victory.
Still, imagine if ESPN, Twitter and podcasts had been around in 1961. The strain — perceived or real — could have been worse for Maris.
Many authors have written about Mantle — including Castro, of course — but there are few works about Maris. Castro had known Mantle from the 1970s until his death in 1995. For his latest book, Castro dug out notes of conversations he had with the Hall of Famer that had not been published.
If there is a weakness to Maris & Mantle, it is that the book is heavily tilted toward Mantle. Every author worth his or her salt who has written about the post World War II Yankees have included all the stories about Mantle, and Castro recounts the obligatory anecdotes. Mind you, I enjoy reading and rereading them; whether people who did not cherish the Yankees or Mantle felt the same way is a matter of debate.
I wanted to know more about Maris, but in fairness, Castro dug out as much as he could about the reluctant star. Castro benefited from the kindness of fellow author Peter Golenbock, who sent him a copy of unreleased material from his 1973 interview of Maris.
Castro never had the chance to have the relationship with Maris that he did with Mantle. He had been assigned to follow Maris around during the mid-1980s, but the former player was receiving treatments for the cancer that would kill him in December 1985. So, that never happened.
The book has extensive memories from Holly Brooke, who was Mantle’s “love of his life” during his rookie season in 1951 and beyond. Her memories added more depth to Castro’s work; Brooke had been elusive for years, but a friend connected her to Castro in 2006 and that started a wonderful flow of information from a source who knew Mantle intimately.
But Maris is who I wanted to learn more about, and Castro does a good job in bringing out his parents’ turbulent marriage, his eastern European heritage (Croatian ancestry), and the reason why he changed his last name from Maras.
Maris was not content to bow to the wishes of baseball executives, a trait that could be traced to his high school days. As a minor leaguer, he demanded — and got his wish — to play near his North Dakota home.
“He would either play for Cleveland or Fargo or not at all,” Castro writes.
The decision had nothing to do with money. Maris wanted to stay close to his girlfriend, Pat, who he would eventually marry.
hen Maris was benched by his football coach at Fargo Central High School, Castro writes, he “especially took it personally” and demanded to play or he would transfer to another school. When the coach refused to comply, Maris and his brother transferred to Fargo’s Sacred Heart Academy.
“I have never been the type of person to let anyone give me the business,” Maris would write in his memoir years later.
Castro notes that many of Maris’ friends believed that hostility against the player was exaggerated.
“In re-examining Roger’s life, this is a common thread that runs through his personal narrative,” Castro writes. “An incessant paranoia that the world, or someone in it, would is out to get him and the need to fashion, if not a new identity, then at least something different than the real one.”
Mantle was loved by his teammates, and Maris was certainly respected. That did not seep through in the sports reporting back then; indeed, Castro writes, reporters tried to pit the two stars in a feud during the 1961 season. They were the “imperfect pair of buddies” during that season, previewing the counterculture of the 1960s. The supposed rivals, meanwhile, roomed together in a Queens apartment as the home run race heated up.
Mantle was “the hard-drinking, devil-may-care slugger,” while Maris was “moody, petulant and seemingly angry at much of the world,” Castro writes.
This sets up Castro’s best line in the book.
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would have only one thing they didn’t; they robbed banks,” Castro writes. “But Mantle and Maris would steal the hearts of American sports in their few brief years together.”
Mantle was loved, but Maris was “the all-business ballplayer ideally made for the corporate image of the Yankees.” Roger was more like Joe DiMaggio than the man who replaced the Yankee Clipper in center field: Coldly efficient, private, and a man who did not suffer fools easily.
In his 1962 memoir, Roger Maris at Bat, Maris wrote that “if people are going to like me, they are going to have to take me as I am. If they don’t like me, then there’s no way I can change them. In fact, I wouldn’t even make an attempt.”
Not everyone was enamored with Maris. Bouton wrote in Ball Four that Maris was one of “the great non-hustlers of all time,” who ran to first base “like he had sore feet.”
But when Maris’ home run record was challenged by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, even Bouton softened his position, saying he was “ambivalent” about the home run record tumbling.
“It was not the angry Roger of Ball Four that I was pulling for,” Bouton wrote in his epilogue to Ball Four that was published in 2000. “But the small-town kid from Fargo, North Dakota, who had signed out of high school, and never had help dealing with the big city media.”
The McGwire-Sosa home run duel of 1998 brought Maris back into the spotlight and introduced him to a new generation of baseball fans. The Maris family became close to McGwire and applauded when he broke Roger’s mark. However, revelations of performance enhancing drugs and McGwire’s dodgy testimony before Congress was hurtful to the family.
Castro draws from many sources, including his own notes and interviews. That includes conversations he had with Mantle’s widow, Merlyn, which he promised to keep confidential until she died. Merlyn Mantle passed away in 2009, and several years later Castro unearthed his notes and used them, along with other material that was not included in his previous works on Mantle.
The Mantle narrative is good, but to me, it was Maris who was the most intriguing character in Maris & Mantle. Many book titles about Mantle reference him being a hero or the best ever, and many are written with reverence and awe.
Mantle deserved that on the field. He was my favorite player when I was growing up, and his off-the-field charades did not matter to me — mainly because they were not reported.
As for Maris, the title of Tom Clavin and Danny Peary’s 2010 book, Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero, is poetically appropriate.
But a decade later, Castro gives Maris the attention he has deserved. Maris would not have cared during his lifetime about the limelight; he was content to stay quietly in the background, just like he did that day in 1977 at the University of Florida when he watched Mantle field question after question.
Maris had seen the glare of publicity before. Allowing someone else to enjoy the spotlight was fine with him.
“As a ballplayer, I would be delighted to hit 61 home runs again,” Maris said shortly after breaking Ruth’s record. “As an individual, I doubt if I could possibly go through it again.”
ere's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2022 Topps Gypsy Queen baseball set:
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For collectors who enjoy the shiny stuff, Prizm is a go-to product. This is the second year Panini America has put out a Prizm product for the WNBA, and the second version looks to be just as impressive as the first one.
Of course, you are paying more for Prizm, even at the retail level. I bought a blaster box of the 2021 WNBA Prizm set at my local Walmart for $34.98. The price was only topped by my amazement that there were even blaster boxes at Walmart — they have been scarce there and mostly nonexistent at Target (occasionally one will slip through at Target).
Heck, Walmart even had complete sets of 2021 Topps baseball available, so I grabbed one quickly.
Back to Prizm. The 2021 WNBA product has five packs and four cards in a blaster box. Panini is promising five inserts or parallels in each blaster, and they were slightly off with just three inserts and one parallel.
The base set contains 100 cards. I pulled 16 base cards, which included rookie cards of Shyla Neal, Aaliyah Wilson and Kysre Gonrezick. There was also a green parallel of Katie Lou Samuelson. Two of my favorite names for WNBA players — Epiphany Prince and Diamond DeShields — were among the 15 base cards I found.
There were no signature or relic cards in the blaster box, but I was not expecting any. The best insert was a Fireworks green pulsar card of Candace Parker, numbered to 25.
There was also a Far Out insert of Sabrina Ionescu, one of 10 in the set.
Emergent is also a 10-card insert, and my blaster had a green parallel of Jewell Loyd.
So, nothing to write home about, but the design is attractive and the cards are shiny. If you are like me and starving to open a box of something, well, this fits the bill nicely.
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6The Allen & Ginter set has always been one of my favorites. It has enough history, pop culture, politics and offbeat subjects to keep my interest.
This year is no exception.
Every year, my wife asks me what I want for my birthday, and invariably I request a hobby box of the newest Topps Allen & Ginter set. And that’s what happened this year.
A hobby box typically yields three hits, but mine had four, so I was lucky in that sense. Three were memorabilia cards and the fourth was a Murad T-51 framed cloth card, numbered to 51.
But first, the basics.
The A&G set contains 300 base cards and 50 short prints. It is a nice touch that card No. 1 this year is Hank Aaron, since “The Hammer” died earlier this year. There are 24 packs to a hobby pack, and eight cards to a pack. Every pack has a least one mini card — either a parallel from the base set or an insert.
The box I opened had 126 base cards and 12 short prints. What is wonderful about Allen & Ginter sets is the attention paid to the Hall of Famers. The box I opened had 26, including three short prints.
What has set this product apart from others is its diversified checklist. In addition to the current stars, rookies and Hall of Famers, there is a broad spectrum of other celebrities to collect.
For example, my hobby box included Alissa Nakken, the first full-time female baseball coach. There were also comedians (Roy Wood Jr., Jimmy Pardo and Sarah Tiana), hockey announcers (Mike Lange), actors (Mark Anthony, Jason Biggs, Steve Carlson and Jeff Garlin), baseball announcers (Daniel Kim), baseball GMs (Kim Ng), football players (Trevor Lawrence and Jaylen Waddle), chefs (Jose Andres), BMX stars (T.J. Lavin), reporters (Jesse Sanchez), softball players (Kelly Wrangham) and soccer players (Rose Lavelle).
There’s even an alter-ego (Uncle Larry, played to the hilt by Andrew McCutchen).
And for odd uniform choices, Jose Canseco is featured in a Devil Rays uniform (who remembers the “Hit Show”?)
This year’s design is not as blocky as the 2020 product. Last year, players were framed in a rectangular gray outline, with the Allen & Ginter product name flush left at the bottom of the card. This year’s version features the player in a more ornate setting, with his photo placed inside a rounded design. The Allen & Ginter product name is centered and bolder looking in gold lettering. The background surrounding the player is a subdued gray.
The design for the card backs remains the same, with plenty of information. As always, statistical numbers are always spelled out, which has always been kind of a snooty nod to the Gilded Age of U.S. history — from which the original 1887 Allen & Ginter set was a part.
There were 10 base mini parallels in the box I opened — including one short print — plus six others with Allen & Ginter advertising backs. There were also three black-bordered parallels.
Collectors should be on the lookout for other parallels, including No Numbers, of which there are 50 copies pers player; gold-bordered retail; Brooklyn backs, numbered to 25; a hobby exclusive wood parallel, numbered 1/1; and 1/1 glossy and framed printing plates.
As usual, there is an eclectic mix of inserts.
The T51 Murad Reimagined set contains 50 cards, and I pulled six of them. The set pays tribute to the college series sets of the early 1900s, complete with a team pennant and seal.
Historical Hits is a 50-card subset that highlights some of the most significant hits in baseball history. I pulled six inserts, which included cards of Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Scott Podsednik, Magglio Ordonez, Cal Ripken Jr. and Salvador Perez.
Tree lovers will enjoy the 15-card Arboreal Appreciation insert. I pulled four of these inserts. Deep Sea Shivers explores the various species of sharks with a 16-card insert set, and I also had four of them.
Birds of a Feather, meanwhile, is a 10-card subset that concentrates on parrots. The hobby box I opened had two of these inserts. Rallying Back also concentrates on animals, but on endangered species. There are also 10 cards in this insert set, and I also pulled two of them.
There are mini inserts, too, and I found two Far Away cards, one Good For You card (gotta love those green beans), one World’s Largest card and one Mascots in Real Life card.
The big hits in the hobby box were two uniform swatches (JaCoby Jones and Gio Urshela), a framed bat card of Nolan Arenado and a T51 Murad Cloth frame card of Jose Altuve, numbered 11/51.
Every hobby box also offers several times of boxloaders. I pulled a large card of Giants catcher Buster Posey.
All in all, a very nice haul.
The Allen & Ginter set is always fun to collect, although completing the short prints can be a pain. Some collectors even like to chase and complete the base and SP parallel minis, which can certainly be a chore.
But since 2006, Allen & Ginter has been my midsummer night’s dream. This year is no exception.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the Fanatics deal with MLB nd MLBPA in securing baseball card licenses:
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Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing the 2021 Bowman's Best baseball set, which will be released in December:
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Speaking about earning a victory after a long drought, former University of Florida football coach Charley Pell once said that his team “was like a thirsty man in the desert.”
I felt the same way when I went to my local Walmart and saw blaster boxes of sports cards on the shelves for the first time in months.
So I grabbed a blaster box of 2021 Panini Contenders Draft Picks, since NFL minicamps are coming up soon.
The Contenders product line features current draft picks, of course, but also established NFL players pictured during their college days.
A blaster contains seven packs, with six cards to a pack. Pulling an autograph from a blaster is unusual, but the fates were with me as I found a College Ticket insert red parallel of Cal defensive back Camryn Byrum, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Doesn’t matter to me that the autograph was on a sticker, although like any collector, I prefer an on-card version.
Remember: Thirsty man on a desert. That card was a nice oasis.
The base set has 100 Season Ticket cards, and I pulled 35 from the box I bought.
The design is clean, with a lot of foil, and, as the product name implies, has a ticket theme. The photograph on the card front shows the player in action, with the college team logo in the upper right-hand part of the picture.
The player’s name and position appear across a small black banner, framed by a white border and positioned underneath his photograph.
“Season Ticket” is in bold black, italic letters beneath the player’s name, with a seat, row and section randomly chosen and stamped in silver foil. There are three diagonal bars stamped in foil above the team logo, which breaks up the white border that surrounds the photograph.
The card back features a smaller, but uncropped photo of the player on the left-hand side. A UPC bar code above the photograph lends more credence to the “ticket” concept.
The player’s college team logo dominates the upper-right hand side of the card and is positioned under the card’s number. The player’s name is featured in white type inside a black box, and there are 10 lines of ragged right type that provide highlights and statistics about the player’s college career.
In addition to the base cards and autograph, the blaster box I bought had two Game Ticket red parallels and four inserts. The Game Ticket cards featured Big Ten rivals Tom Brady (Michigan) and Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State). The ticket “stub” is stamped in red foil.
The inserts include two Legendary Contenders cards, which are part of a 20-card subset. The cards I pulled were Peyton Manning (Tennessee) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin). Unlike the base cards, the photographs of the players in this insert set are displayed in black and white against a blurred reddish background. The Wilson card was a red parallel.
Interestingly, the type detailing the players’ careers were ragged left, a slight change from the base set.
Draft Class is a 40-card insert set, and I pulled a Zach Wilson rookie card red parallel. Ragged right type on the back of this card, too.
The final insert I pulled was a Front Row Seats card of Terrace Marshall. This insert also has 40 cards, but the design is horizontal on the front. Back to ragged right for the type on the back.
Overall, a clean-looking set. Collectors who enjoy delving into the past of NFL stars and upcoming rookies will enjoy this concept.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1962 Topps Football Bucks insert set:
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