Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Classic card of the week

Michael Jordan, 1986 Faux Topps

Though the move flew somewhat under the radar, in 1993 Michael Jordan suddenly retired from basketball at the height of his career to pursue his first love, gambling. (I think I’ve made that joke before, and it sucked the first time. Sorry.) Then he decided to try his hand at baseball. The bizarre nature of this career decision -- softened by Jordan’s reentry into the NBA and reestablishment of his dominance -- has, for me, only increased with time. The rationale of, “Hey, I’m 6’6” and on the verge of becoming, unequivocally, the greatest basketball player of all time. I think I’ll try baseball,” is quite astounding, especially when one considers that Michael Jordan was not good at baseball. That a generation’s greatest athlete spent significant time floundering around on bus trips with a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox is truly remarkable, and not in a good way.

Of course, the big question surrounding this decision at the time was: How are we going to capture this in baseball card form? Enter whoever created this masterpiece. This card amazes me on so many levels. For starters, I think it adequately captures the overall experience of Michael Jordan playing baseball, with his hat about to fall off as he struggles to hit a ground ball to short…during batting practice. (If Jordan had the humility to wear a helmet, I imagine it would be turned around completely on his head, blinding him after another ferocious swing.) Secondly, Jordan also apparently broke the barrier of minor league baseball players getting their own cards, which would eventually lead to cards featuring “Draft picks” and “Future Stars.” (Ironically, this particular card might as well have read “Past star.”) Also, why the 1986 Topps knockoff? I don’t get it. Jordan’s rookie year was 1984, and he started his baseball “career” in 1994. I’m not sure where 1986 falls into that scenario. But of course, the single most amazing aspect of this card is the back:

If Michael’s Statistics were converted into Baseball Stats they would read as follows

Incredible. I don’t even know where to start here. But I will say that I love the definitiveness of this statement. This is exactly what Michael Jordan's baseball stats are, regardless of the fact he has yet to play a baseball game. There will be no argument as it relates to this data. I just don’t understand how one begins to convert stats from one sport to another. How is this accomplished? I mean, if you’re going with the rationale that Jordan will dominate baseball like he did basketball -- a ridiculous premise in its own right, but probably the most logical in this case -- then wouldn’t these stats be a little better? (Jordan’s ability to play 185 games in a 162-game season notwithstanding.) And if you’re not giving Jordan the benefit of Ruthian numbers sight unseen, which this card obviously is not, then what is the criteria here? Nine triples? Where did that come from? Regardless, whoever it was that had the foresight and wherewithal to convert Michael Jordan's basketball stats into baseball stats obviously viewed him as a taller, quicker, slightly blacker David Wright. Makes sense.

I should also include my personal opinion that Jordan’s strikeout total of 32 seems remarkably low, considering he can barely keep his hat on in batting practice.

Did you know?
Michael Jordan was awarded a 1250 on his SATs based on his ability to do a pop-a-wheely on his bicycle.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Classic card of the week

Joe Carter, 1996 Upper Deck

So then I said, “Three fifty? Three-hundred-and-fifty dollars? For an exhaust pipe? Oh, noooooooooo.” Now you know me, right? You know me. I ain’t the one to be throwing my name all out there like that. But I’m talking to dude IN MY UNIFORM. Just like this. You see me right now? Just like this. In fact – IN FACT – when dude told me the price, I turned my back to him, like I was all frustrated, like I was thinking about what I was going to do, JUST so he could check the name on the back of the jersey, so there was no confusion, ya' know? Now you know me. I ain’t the type to do this. But I wasn’t havin’ it. So I turn back around, and dude’s still standing there…no reaction. So finally I’m like, “Bro – you watch baseball?” And you know what he says? You know what dude says to me? “I like hockey.” So I throw my hands up in the air, like “I give up,” ya’ know? Then I say to him, I say, “Alright, alright. What if I was say, Dino Cicarrelli, right? How much would I pay for this exhaust pipe?” And you know he says to me? YOU KNOW WHAT DUDE SAYS TO ME? “$500. I hate the Red Wings.” True story. Freakin’ Canada, man. Hey, you know a good mechanic?

Joe Carter did not even get the proper respect on the back of his own baseball cards, as evidenced by this particular card, where Stumpy the Degenerate Quizmaster asks this question:

Who hit a ninth inning homer in Game Two of the 1992 World Series to propel Toronto to its first championship?

Oh, Ed Sprague. Hmmm, that’s nice. Game Two, you say? Riiight. Hey Stumpy, I was wondering, do YOU know who hit a ninth inning homer in Game Six of the 1993 World Series to propel clinch Toronto its second consecutive championship? I’ll give you a hint: He’s right above your fat face, trying desperately to prevent a triple from happening.

I hate Stumpy.

Did you know?

On the back of a 1998 Cal Ripken Jr. card, Stumpy wondered what New York Yankees' player once played in 2,130 consecutive games.

Easom hopes to take Peoria Sports Complex to next level

Note: This column appears in the 2/28 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/29 issue of the Peoria Times

Five steps into my tour of the Peoria Sports Complex, Chris Easom’s cell phone went off. Somebody needed his input. After providing just that, somebody needed to know how long he’d be available for. “I’m supposed to be here until five,” Easom said calmly into his phone on an overcast Friday afternoon. “But I’m sure I’ll be here until at least six, as usual.

It’s that time of the season.”

Easom is the new sports stadium manager at the Peoria Sports Complex, and it’s exactly that time of the season -- this time of the season, to be more specific -- which is where he thrives.

The soon-to-be 32-year old is a Fort Pierce, Florida native whose almost decade-long career has included the position of director of stadium operations and events at the spring training home of the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, a.k.a. Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. When asked how he got into this line work, Easom’s story is a familiar one.

“I played baseball in high school, and Legion ball after that,” he said. “When I graduated college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew I loved baseball.”

I joked with him that his path sounded like the famous “Seinfeld” episode, where an out-of-work George Costanza tells Jerry, “I like sports. I could do something in sports…like the general manager of a baseball team or something.” Only Chris Easom actually did just that; he served as general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league affiliate back in his home state.

It’s that type of drive and dedication that led Easom to Peoria and to this new position, which he saw as a great career opportunity. Now that he’s here, one of Easom’s goals is to not disrupt the fan-friendly environment that has already been established at the Peoria Sports Complex, and it’s quite apparent he has a great respect for the atmosphere that existed before he arrived.

“You look around here, and you can’t help but be impressed. This is one of the best sports complexes in the country. So right now, I’m just trying to learn the system, get to know the staff, learn the service contracts, things like that. I know they’ve always stressed customer service here, so right now we’re just trying to take that to the next level.”

Part of that service is making the complex even more kid-friendly. Easom showed me the almost-finished wiffle ball field located inside the gates, its infield exactly 1/3 the size of a regulation major league version. (As I stared out onto this miniature field, I’m pretty sure I heard, “If you build it, he will come,” and now I’m trying to convince my wife of a new plan for our backyard.) Behind the field is a concession stand that caters strictly to kids, offering such delicacies as peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and frozen treats. It’s all part of the new “Kid’s Fun Zone,” a feature that distinguishes Peoria from other sports complexes throughout the state.

In fact, Easom is well aware of the competition for fans throughout Arizona, especially considering a new facility is on its way to Glendale next year. And it’s part of his plan to see to it that the Peoria Sports Complex continues to evolve in its appeal. “I really believe that we have a lot to offer here that other places just don’t have,” he said. “But we have to remain competitive.”

One of the many features that, if Easom himself didn’t initiate, it’s his job to implement, is the introduction of Autograph Alley, a beautifully landscaped area on the east side of the complex that serves as the prime spot for baseball fans to encounter their heroes during spring training. Easom also informed me that, in 2008, the Peoria Sports Complex will feature a VIP tent -- not hidden within stadium confines, away from the action, but directly behind the right field bullpen in the outfield. With his experience planning various tournaments, baseball camps, and other events, Easom also has his eye toward possibly bringing more concerts to the complex during the summer and fall seasons. “It’s all about finding the right act,” said Easom. “But it’s something I really think we can do again here at the complex.”

It’s hard work planning this much fun, but Chris Easom seems up to the task. After all, Easom himself – baseball fanatic that he is – certainly isn’t above taking part in all the fun. As we passed the wiffle ball field again on our way out, I noticed the gate surrounding the stadium confines doubled as a very short right field porch. “Man,” I said. “This field really caters to the lefties, huh?”

“Yeah, I know,” said Easom, smiling from ear to ear. “And it’s perfect too, because I’m a lefty.”

Breakfast with champions...and the Royals

This morning I was fortunate enough to attend the 2008 Cactus League Breakfast, held over here at the Peoria Sports Complex. Basically, it was a gathering of MLB personnel and executives, various city constituents, myself, and bagels. It served as an introduction to the start of spring training, and a representative from each team within the Cactus League stood up to say a few words about the upcoming season.

There were a few actual general managers there -- most notably the Cubs’ Jim Hendry and Doug Melvin of the Brewers -- but most of the other speakers were assistant GMs or directors of player personnel. (Pfffttt.) It was pretty cool to sit there and listen to actual baseball guys talk about their actual teams, even if what they were actually saying was fairly insignificant. In fact, there seemed to be a bit of a pattern:

If your team was bad last year: (A's, Giants, Rangers, White Sox, Royals)
1) Thank everyone for everything: And I can’t say enough about the eggs this morning…delicious! Let’s give a hand to the catering crew as well!
2) Make self-depreciating joke about how bad your team was last year
3) Insist the team is making progress in 2008, say the word “young” several times
4) Mention a few players’ names
5) Thank everyone for everything

If your team was good last year
: (Angels, Brewers, Cubs, D-Backs, Rockies)
1) Thank everyone for everything: And Bill, our equipment guy…Bill, where are you? Stand up Bill! Bill? Does anybody know where Bill went? Is that him? There he is! Let’s give Bill a round of applause!
2) Make humble remark about the successes of your team last year, expressing your disbelief about how it happened, considering the greatness of the other teams represented at this breakfast
3) Mention a few players’ names
4) Thank everyone for everything

When it was time for the Royals’ representative to stand up and speak, I joked with my coworker that he was just going to stand up, wave, make one of those rolling hand gestures as if to say, “You all know the situation, so there’s no need to bother,” and sit back down. He didn’t do that. But ya’ know what? After listening to him, I don’t think the Royals are gonna be half bad this year! Seriously! They have Jose Guillen! What could go wrong? I mean, besides his already-imposed suspension? (Which was curiously not mentioned, by the way.)

The event was emceed by the Seattle Mariners’ broadcasting due of Rick Rizzs and Dave Niehuas, who seem exactly like the Yankees’ John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, except the complete opposite, in that they consistently made sense throughout, and somehow managed to avoid crying. But the coolest part of the morning was the fact that the Los Angeles Angels (alright, alright…”of Anaheim’s”) owner Arte Moreno was in attendance. For those who don’t know, he’s one of the richest and most popular owners in sports, and he’s the first Hispanic owner in MLB history. Anyway, I got to shake his hand on the way out, and now I am never going to wash my hand again!

Until lunch of course. I mean, I brought a sandwich, and that would be disgusting.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Classic card of the week

Chris Kaman, 2005 Bazooka Joe

I have a new favorite basketball player, and his name is Chris Kaman.

As many of you know, the “classic card” segment is normally reserved as an opportunity for me to have a little fun with ridiculous sports cards, and the players featured on them. Now that Chris Kaman has gone out his way to sign a card for me, I have absolutely nothing to provide except praise. (By the way, this is yet another example of why I could never be a legitimate, professional journalist. I do these classic cards from the comfort of my own quarters, so I can’t imagine how I would handle the real world. I could just see myself entering into an interview with a professional athlete, prepared to ask all the hard-hitting questions, only to melt like a Quizno’s sandwich the second said athlete smiles and shakes my hand. So, ummm, it says here your favorite color is red. Me too!*)

Anyhoo, for those who are unaware, Chris Kaman plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’s widely considered one of the best centers in the NBA. His name consistently surfaces in the discussion of the best white players in the league, which is appropriate, because, while it may be difficult to tell, Kaman is white. When Reggie Evans is not hanging from his testicles, Chris Kaman can be found averaging 16.4 points per game for the Clips, and enjoying his breakout season.

This autograph came about because I happen to live next door to a close relative of Kaman, who had this card signed for me during a recent visit with him in L.A. I realize that the signature is somewhat unintelligible, but here is what it reads:

Dear Mike,
Thanks for teaching me the robot. I love your blog thingie. My number is 35.
Best wishes always,
Chris Kaman
P.S. Please don’t post this

*It's blue

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pitchers, catchers, die-hards report to spring training

Note: This column appears in the 2/21 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/22 issue of the Peoria Times

The Padres’ Trevor Hoffman pulls up in a sleek, black, Mercedes Benz something or other. (Sorry, I am not a car guy…Mercedes I30? Sounds good.) Minutes later, Brian Giles pulls up in a different car I will never be able to afford, followed by hitting coach Wally Joyner. I was standing at the gates of the Padres’ players’ entrance, deriving an inexplicable joy from watching multi-millionaires report to their jobs, feeling fortunate that I was, at the moment, technically at mine. Next to me stood Scott, an autograph seeker from Kansas City who was giving me the rundown on which major leaguers were a hit with the fans because of their accessibility. He especially liked Padres’ ace Jake Peavy, as did the other four baseball fanatics standing with us. One of the guys, a regular at this spot, even knew what Peavy’s car looked like, and from which direction he’d be driving in from. He pointed: “He’ll pull in from over there, and he’ll be driving a black Hummer H2.”


On this day, pitchers and catchers -- and a few position players, as evidenced by Giles’ arrival -- reported to Padres camp, and at 8:30am on Valentine’s Day morning, I stood there, feeling like an eight-year old kid camping out for tickets to a Hannah Montana concert, hoping for just a glimpse. I’m not sure what other sport inspires this type of dedication. Or insanity. Whatever you want to call it.

The previous day, many of the Seattle Mariners had reported to spring training. I ventured over to their side of the Peoria Sports Complex, happy to see that they were already in full swing, or at least full sprint. On one practice field, Mariner hopefuls ran sprints in the outfield, absorbing the curious gazes of the fans walking by who wondered whether these guys were good enough to approach for an autograph later on. Apparently, they weren’t. At least not yet. Who knows what future stars were passed by without a second thought today.

One day, one of these guys will be good enough to pull a Strahan, and skip camp altogether

On another practice field, a large group of Mariners’ pitchers and pitching prospects -- remember, you can never have enough pitching -- stretched out and began tossing the ball around. I am consistently amazed by the effortless force with which a professional baseball player throws a baseball, and so I stood there in awe. Until, that is, an errant throw almost hit me in the head. Literally. Missed by about a foot, hitting the fence right behind me. I picked it up, tossed it back -- I participated in spring training! -- and glanced over to the judiciously gathered coaching staff, secretly hoping that the offending player would get cut from the squad right on the spot: Bedard, you’re out! Pack your bags. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and hey -- a little rust could be excused on this particular day.

If I were standing one foot to the right instead, this would be the last thing I would remember seeing

As I was walking back to my car, satisfied by the morning’s events, a Mariners’ player (I couldn’t see who) was just finishing off a pleasant conversation with an elderly woman. He shook her hand, thanked her for being there, waved goodbye, and caught up with a teammate who was on his way for some early batting practice. They walked together behind me, their spikes loudly clanging on the concrete sidewalk. The player turned to his teammate and marveled, “Man, that lady is here every year! I mean every year…


But why wouldn’t she be? It’s pitchers and catchers! This woman just shook hands with a friend, a ballplayer. Down the road, Jake Peavy was asking Scott, “Who should I make this out to?” There’s nothing better anybody could possibly be doing right now.

Alright maggots! If you can dodge a wrench, you can catch a slider!

Geez, I wonder why Clemens would lie like that...

Ya' know, Jack -- that white guy over there in the blue shirt looks pretty good...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Classic card of the week

Albert Belle, 1991 Upper Deck

Let’s get this out of the way now: Albert Belle was to pleasant as Roger Clemens is to honest. There is too much to even cover here -- the “Controversy” section of Belle’s Wikipedia page is longer than the Internet itself.

Albert Belle was such a legendary prick that his baseball career was dismissed before the revelations of the Steroid Era occurred, and when they did, it resulted in the instantaneous -- and undeniably true -- realization that, yeah, he did that, too. (I mean, he corked his bat. It’s pretty safe to assume that he corked himself as well.) Albert Belle made Ty Cobb look like Yogi Berra. In fact, even the most despised professional athletes can elicit sympathy; John Rocker’s reputation (as an a-hole, not as an idiot) has softened with time, just wait until it’s time for Michael Vick to return to the NFL, and “60 Minutes” gave even Bill Romanowski a forum. It could feasibly be argued that O.J. freaking Simpson -- a guy who probably murdered two people -- is a more likable character than Belle, simply because Simpson has regressed into a punch line, while Belle remains an unprecedented sports villain.

But I’m not here to bash Albert Belle. In fact, I’m here to salute him. Why? Well, a) I am scared, and b) nobody has tried this before. I mean, who else in the universe has these accomplishments on their resume:

- Chased and ran down trick-or-treaters who egged his house, hitting one of them with his car
- Threw a baseball into the stands at a heckler, hitting him square in the chest
- Smashed Kenny Lofton’s boombox to pieces with a bat
- Had this to say in the aftermath of shouting a tirade of profane insults at a group of reporters who had the audacity to be in the Cleveland dugout during the World Series: “The Indians wanted me to issue a statement of regret when the fine was announced, but I told them to take it out. I apologize for nothing.”
- Attached a GPS device to the car of a former escort he was stalking

Nobody, that’s who. Have YOU ever smashed Kenny Lofton’s boombox? I doubt it. But how many times have you wanted to smash Kenny Lofton’s boombox? If you’re like me, at least 20 times. (I always wondered what Lofton’s reaction to this was, and, using his present state of “breathing” as Exhibit A, I have concluded that he reacted by not saying a damn word.) That is, in essence, why I salute Albert Belle.

Don’t get me wrong -- I don’t condone anything he’s ever done. Almost all of it is pretty awful. But here is how I figure it: Along the journey of his extreme assholiness, Albert Belle, by pure default, surely pissed off some people that deserved to get pissed off. You think you’re funny egging Albert Belle’s house? Bam -- you’ve just been hit by a car. Think you’re hot stuff, with your parachute and gold chain, Kenny Lofton? Oops, looks like you need a new boombox. You want to hurl insults from the safety of the stands at a guy going through alcohol rehab? Here’s a fastball to the chest. Don’t want to return Albert Belle’s phone calls, former escort? Guess you forgot about satellites. And don’t even get me started on the array of surly, cranky sports reporters, who have the arrogance to believe a good relationship with them translates directly into a Hall of Fame vote, that Belle left in his wake. For that, I salute you, Albert Belle.

Of course, the problems occur when you consider the extremity of Belle’s particular brand of justice, and the fact that he often doled it out in unwarranted situations, with innocent bystanders being the victims. But that’s not important.

Also, the back of this card features the only known picture of Albert Belle smiling. Unfortunately, not pictured is the fact that he’s urinating on the Indians' mascot.

(Who is, by the way, pretty offensive. I'm just saying.)

Albert Belle, 1991 Upper Deck

Did you know?
I apologize for nothing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A celebrity affair proves to be the perfect ring-in for the season

Note: This column appears in the 2/14 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/15 issue of the Peoria Times

It’s 11:30am on Sunday morning, and I find myself sitting in the visitor’s dugout at Scottsdale Stadium, the dugout steps guiding my eyes towards the crystal clear blue Arizona sky, surrounded by former big leaguers as I inhale the smells and listen to the sounds of the world’s greatest game.

The perfect view

I am minutes removed from meeting Buddy Schultz, former big league pitcher for the Cubs and Cardinals, current executive director of Arizona Baseball Charities, and architect of what everybody in the stands is gathering to enjoy -- the Arizona Baseball Charities Celebrity Baseball Game. Down to my right sits Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame pitcher and Honorary Chairman of this, the 16th installment of the celebrity game that serves to ring in the new season and benefit the association of Arizona Little Leagues.

Gaylord Perry...chillin'

Kids hang over the walls of the stands, outstretched and holding out baseballs and gloves and programs to be signed by the engaging Perry, NFL Hall-of-Famer Bobby Bell, and an array of former big leaguers including Eddie Leon and Tony Phillips. A rusty bunch of former professional athletes begins warming up, until a few players in the dugout notice that there aren’t enough baseballs, which causes one of them to joke that they’re on a “Bud Selig budget.” The entire scene only serves to turn good moods into great ones.

"You're sure you're not ADAM Eaton, right? Even I know that guy's overpaid...and I'm six."

I am now nestled in the stands as the game gets underway, merging into the thousands of fans who are here to excitedly watch the 2008 baseball season get unofficially underway. The game itself is oftentimes an exercise in self-deprecating humor, and includes fake brush-back pitches, underage pinch runners, and easy pop-ups lost in the piercing Arizona sun. It is also oftentimes baseball at its purest and unadulterated best, not corrupted by egos and featuring players who were once very good, and players who were once very great, playing for nothing else but charity and just because. In the third inning, the 70-year old Perry steps on the mound and strikes out the first two batters he faces, one of whom had earned the chance to play in this game by winning a raffle, and who would go home for the first time in his life bragging about being struck out.

Before the game, Buddy Schultz had announced that 100% of the revenue from this event -- including everything from tickets sold to pretzels consumed -- was going towards Arizona Baseball Charities, to be distributed to Little Leagues throughout the state with the hope that every child who wants to play baseball can. Now it’s midway through the fourth inning, and Buddy is announcing that the game has already earned $37,000, which is great news for every baseball-loving kid from Maricopa to Glendale to Anthem and everywhere in between.

In 1978, Gaylord Perry was quoted as saying, “The trouble with baseball is that it is not played year round.” He may be right, but if baseball never ended, then we’d never be able to experience the pure joy of watching it start up again. This is what I am thinking to myself as I sit here basking in the sun, watching some old guys turning triples into singles, just happy to be playing again.

What February 10th looks like in Arizona

Classic card of the week

Smokey Joe Williams, 1993 Ted Williams Card Company

“Smokey” Joe Williams played baseball in the heyday of the nickname. In fact, Smokey himself was nicknamed Smokey because he smoked a lot. Brilliant! (This nickname also separated Smokey from the players of that era who did not smoke, which was no one.) But back at the turn of the century, even teams had witty nicknames, best exemplified by the array of ballclubs that Smokey himself played for: The Leland Giants, Chicago Giants, Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Bacharach Giants, and the Brooklyn Royal Giants. In 1928, a teammate of Smokey’s named Big Teeth McGee suggested that the team change its name to the Brooklyn Royal Mighty Ducks, and was subsequently kicked in the groin by seven guys named Rusty. But let’s find out more about the extraordinary use of nicknames back in that era:

Smokey Joe Williams played in an era when the best black players had nicknames that compared them to the best white players. Buck Leonard: “The Black Lou Gehrig.” John Henry Lloyd: “The Black Wagner.” Cristobal Torriente: “The Cuban Babe Ruth.” Smokey Joe Williams: “The Black Walter Johnson.”

All told, history will remember him simply as Smokey The Black Walter Johnson Joe Williams. Many baseball fans will also recall that, when he rose to early stardom with the Cubs at the turn of this century, Mark Prior was often affectionately referred to as Mark The White Smokey The Black Walter Johnson Joe Williams Prior, giving a nod to the era when a nickname actually meant something. (Prior once injured his jawbone while referring to himself in the third person.)

So let’s remember Smokey Joe Williams -- who was also, by the way, one of the best pitchers like, ever -- the next time you want to give up and name someone (blank)-Rod. Ask yourself these questions every time:

Does he smoke?

Big teeth?

Could he be reasonably compared to a player of a different ethnicity?

For example, back in college I was often referred to as The White Smoke-Rod.

Did you know?
When Frank Robinson suggested that the comparison of Black Player A to White Player B -- or vice versa -- was pointless, and disallowed certain players to forge their own identity, he was labeled as the Black Debbie Downer.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Classic card update

Some good news for this here blog...

About a month ago, I received an email from Eric, who runs the fantastic NBA site He liked the "Classic card" segment, and he was even the guy who sent along this beauty.

So we teamed up, and now many of the NBA cards that I have featured and will feature right here will run on his site as well. As a matter of fact, the Truehoop feature on ESPN even gave a nod this morning to the Shaq card that ran on Eric's site. (Somehow, I doubt ESPN will ever recognize this one.)

Pretty cool stuff. Anyway, check out Roto Evil if you get a chance, and thanks to everyone who takes the time to stop by here every now and then. All eight of you.

Seriously though, thanks!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Classic card of the week

Mark the Beer Guy, 2008

Okay, so here's the story: I'm at a celebrity baseball game yesterday in Scottsdale, and I go to get a beer. (Weird, I know, but stay with me here.) The line was too long to wait at the concession stand, so I left, but on my way back to my seat I run into Mark the Beer Guy, who I didn't know at the time was running for beer-related office. After pouring me an ice cold brewskie, he says, "And here, take my card." I'm thinking to myself, "Geez, beer guys have business cards? Freakin' Scottsdale," until I actually looked at the card, and saw this.

Now, I don't know what the chances are that a random guy who blogs about silly sports cards would run into a beer guy who hands out a silly sports card of himself, but there must have been some divine intervention going on here. You should also know that the card was in the plastic protective sleeve inside the hard plastic cover, as if he were handing Mickey Mantle rookie cards. Just amazing.

Intrigued by the electoral theme, I had a hunch this wasn't the first Mark the Beer Guy sports card. So I went over to his website and discovered that, yep -- Mark the Beer Guy has cards of himself related to various point of the calendar year, most notably St. Patrick's Day. I can say without hyperbole that running into Mark the Beer Guy is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.

As for this particular card, it's hard to pick out my favorite aspect of it, but this certainly doesn't hurt:

And remember when Mark is near to make a toast and cheer; because he'll never give you a bum steer.

You just can't find poetry like that these days. And in case you are wondering, yes, I am obviously voting for Mark the Beer Guy in 2008. Anyone whose platform includes a foreign affairs policy of "Drink imported beer" will always have my vote. That should go without saying.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Roger Clemens, revisited

With all the talk surrounding Roger Clemens over the past few weeks -- and in lieu of actually writing something new (who has the time?) -- I think it may be a great opportunity to revisit the exclusive interview I conducted with our hero way back in May of last year. Time Magazine claimed this interview was better than Mike Wallace's!*

*Not true

The New York Giants won the Super Bowl

Ya' know...just a reminder.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Classic card of the week

Don MacLean, 1993 Topps

Like Tony Bennett before him, Don MacLean was an NBA phenomenon who just happened to share a name with one of the more prominent stars of extremely Caucasian music. As you’ll recall, the singer Don McLean had a string of hits, including the song about bringing your Chevy to the levee, only to find out that the levee, unfortunately, is dry. (Stupid levee!) Contrary to what I previously mentioned, Don McLean had no other hits, but the song about the Chevy was 68 minutes long, so that in itself was a “Greatest Hits” album.

Don MacLean the basketball player’s Greatest Hits album would definitely include the time he became the Pac-10’s all-time leading scorer while at UCLA, a record that may stand until the end of time, considering that many of the nation’s top basketball talents have surprisingly chosen the immediate riches of the NBA over the opportunity to outshine Don MacLean. But let’s find out more about Don MacLean’s early NBA career:

MacLean, another piece in the Bullets’ rebuilding puzzle, was already well-traveled before he played an NBA game.

Interesting to me how the 1992-93 Washington Bullets were describing their basketball transactions as “rebuilding,” as if they were coming off consecutive championship seasons. There was never a building. The more accurate word in that snippet is “puzzle.” Nevertheless:

He was drafted by the Pistons, then traded to the Clippers, who swapped him to Washington.

Nobody wanted Don MacLean, a fact that is very apparent in the picture of MacLean you see below: “…so I’ll eat worms, I’ll eat worms!” One could even say that everywhere Don MacLean took his Chevy, the levee was dry. Until that is, he arrived in the dark, cold, rough and tumble streets of Washington, D.C., a place that seemed an obvious fit for the coifed UCLA grad, and Palo Alto native. Don MacLean would go on to win the NBA’s “Most Improved Player” award for the 1993-94 season, jumping from a 6.6 points-per-game average the previous season to 18.2. He name was curiously absent from the recently released Mitchell Report.

Did you know?

The Washington Bullets were forced to change their name to the “Wizards” after Don MacLean was arrested for firing shots into the air at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse after hearing “American Pie” on the Muzak system.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

In Arizona, the sports scene keeps chugging right along

Note: This column appears in the 2/7 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/8 issue of the Peoria Times

Of the many reasons why I moved to Arizona -- the weather, better cost of living, an adventurous new time zone -- none may be greater than this very moment right here, right now. As a sports fan, this is why I moved here.

As the rest of the nation recovers from its Super Bowl hangover, Arizona, ironically, being the Super Bowl host and all, moves right along. My favorite part about living here is that, from a sports perspective, everything simply segways into the next thing.

Let me be more specific. If I were back east right now, though still high off a Giants’ victory, I would eventually settle into a state of depression. Not only would I be brutally cold, chipping away at the frost and ice on my car’s windshield at 5:30 on a Monday morning, but I’d be miserable because February is traditionally the worst sports month. Football is over, baseball seems like a world away, the NBA and NHL are droning on in the merciless monotony of their regular seasons, the pinnacle of the college basketball season is more than a month away, and even the Masters can barely be seen on the horizon. Weekends would be spent looking for deals at Old Navy (buying a discounted bathing suit was always an instant pick-me-up) and attending various family functions that have specifically been scheduled so as not to coincide with major sporting events. (At which point my cousins, brothers-in-law and I attempt to revive the dead sports scene by making fun of the fantasy baseball draft picks we have yet to make.)

Not anymore. Take last weekend for example. On the eve of the big game, I found myself soaking in the sun, overlooking the seventeenth green at the FBR Open. On Sunday, we got together with friends to watch a Super Bowl that was being played just minutes away. And on a Monday morning that had typically involved three aspirin, a call-out of work, and the realization that the shortest month felt like the longest, I instead skipped and whistled my way to the office (not really -- I drove -- but still), looking forward to the next thing, which in this case, happens to be a celebrity baseball game we were able to score tickets for in Scottsdale this Sunday.

Ah, baseball. Back home, no term greater lifted the moods of those caught in winter’s wrath than “pitchers and catchers.” It represented a dream of greatness to come, and when pitchers and catchers did report, die-hard baseball fans like myself read about it, talked about it, and were happy. It’s a baseball fan’s Groundhog Day, and serves as a more gratifying example that spring is close. I even recall getting so excited about Spring Training itself, and then wondering why, as my own involvement in it was limited to brief and uninformative television highlights.

Here? Pitchers and catchers are a reality. Spring Training is a reality. They’re reporting here, to Peoria. To Surprise. To Mesa. (And next year, to Glendale.) Pitchers and catchers are reporting next Thursday, the concrete date of February 14th, Valentine’s Day. In fact, I may even express my love for my wife by taking her over to the Peoria Sports Complex to watch a handful of professional athletes stretch, and then throw a ball around for a few hours. I think she’d like that.

And then maybe we’ll head over to Old Navy. Just for old time’s sake.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Classic card of the day

"Am I ready to be a head coach in the NFL? I think I am, but time will give everybody else the answer. I've been involved in some aspect of coaching for 30 years. I was breaking down film for my dad, a coach at Navy, when I was eight. Coaching is ingrained in me. I've done all the jobs you can do--typing, driving people to the airport, lining the field, scouting, the works. I've coached defense, offense, and special teams. You win by getting everybody working together.

Oh,and by cheating. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go for it on 4th-and-13."

David Tyree for president

This is the happiest I have ever been on a Monday morning. I cannot stop smiling.

Nothing I could ever say or write would begin to do justice to what happened last night. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try a little something…

These days, we’re so quick to label things as “the best ever,” without ever really taking the time to think about what we’re saying in a historical context. Everyone wants to make grandiose statements to make what it is they’re saying sound better, and more profound, even if what they’re saying doesn’t exactly warrant such attention. That was the best meal I have ever had!

Realizing that makes it all the more special to say, with supreme confidence, that that was the best Super Bowl ever. That was the greatest Giants’ win ever. That was the best catch ever. And never before has a sports team elicited in me such a feeling of pride.

I can’t stop thinking about the game, about the dragons and Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Eli Manning has slain on his way to glory, about Amani Toomer’s sideline footwork, about how Tom Brady will be seeing Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora is his nightmares for years to come, about the toughness of Ahmad Bradshaw, about how Randy Moss’s shadow looks a lot like Corey Webster, about how the New York Giants just won the Super Bowl.

I’m just so happy. I’ve never felt so compelled to do this, and I know it’s corny, but still: thank you, Giants, for that. That was the best.