Monday, May 2, 2016

Phil Dixon's Negro League Set Part 1

Way back in the fall I spent a little bit of time searching for some cards of former St. Louis Stars player Willie Wells.  Wells was one of the superstars of the Negro Leagues back in the 1920s and also spent time playing in Cuba where his play is also legendary.  I found a Perez-Steele postcard of Wells, but several of his other cards were really difficult to find.

One of the best sets of Negro League cards were produced by author, and speaker, Phil Dixon.  He has a few books out, like Wilber "Bullet" Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs, and you can find some of his public appearances around the internet.  I have found single cards from the set floating around on sites like COMC and Ebay, but I have never been able to track down certain singles.  Most of the single cards that I have been able to find have run north of $5, especially on COMC, and I had never really tried to find the set.

Well, after letting the Willie Wells card slip down my list, I did a little looking a week or two ago and was able to land the entire 45 card set including a Willie Wells card.  Here's a look at my newest card of the St. Louis Stars Hall of Famer....

The cards are on white postcard quality card stock.  The Dixon cards are a quarter inch wider than the standard card and an inch taller.  The pictures are all black and white photographs.  Really simple design, but I like the look of these cards.  The backs of the cards feature a short biography.

I am not sure that I want to cram 45 cards into one post.  After all, I am sitting here trying to complete sets, show off the sets as I finish them, and take a little time to display my accomplishments.  Sure, I just bought all 45 cards, but it's still a completed set and you're not going to see many blog posts about Negro League cards.  So, I am going to split the set up and display a few at a time over the next two or three weeks.  We've done Willie Wells, here are four more including the bios on the backs of the cards.  The scans are aligned top and bottom.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Venerable Old Card Part 11

It has been a long week of baseball in my world.  The Durham Bulls had a rough week and the Cardinals did not fair much better.  While both teams have had a great run of success in recent years this season has not started as expected.  Honestly, I think that the Durham Bulls will turn it around at some point.  There are a few players off to a slow start who will eventually turn it around and the team will be fine.  The Cardinals are a different story......

There have not been many lean years of late as a Cardinals fan.  In fact, over the last 20 years the Cardinals have finished below .500 a grand total of three times: 2007, 1999, and 1997.  The 1997 team was easily the worst of those three teams finishing with just 73 wins.  That team still had McGwire for half of season and Ray Lankford hit 31 home runs.  The top three starting pitchers, Matt Morris and the two Benes brothers, won a total of 31 games with ERA+ all over 130.  They didn't lack talent, they just did not win.

The worst Cardinals team I remember was actually the 1995 team.  The outfielders were good with Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, and Bernard Gilkey all putting up good splits with a good blend of power and speed.  Lankford and Jordan both hit more than 20 home runs and stole more than 20 bases.  However, the rest of the position players and pitchers were a complete disaster.  The only regular position player, outside of the outfielders, with an OPS+ above 100 was John Mabry.  He was at exactly 100.  Pitching?

The team employed six different starting pitchers.  Allen Watson lead the group with seven wins.  No, he did not get screwed out of a bunch of wins, he wasn't really that good.  In fact, Rich DeLucia lead the team in wins that season with 8.  In summation, the 1995 Cardinals had three position players and a relief pitcher.

The relief pitcher was the best part of watching the Cardinals that summer.  Well, Lankford.  Name player from the 1980s and 1990s, but I am not sure many people remember playing for the Cardinals....

"The Terminator" spent his last season playing for the Cardinals in order to be closer to his hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri.  Henke ended his final season with 36 saves, an ERA+ of 229, and 2.3 WAR.  A great last season and one of the few highlights of some of the Cardinals team sets from the 1995 and 1996 seasons.  Well, Lankford.  Anyway, if you are a Cardinals collector and looking for some sort of positive from the mid 1990s Tom Henke, don't forget Ray Lankford, is a great choice.

An Online Set? Why not.

The baseball season starts and I always have to check out the rosters for my teams to find a few projects for the season.  New players, new cards.  Old players, new cards.  All sorts of combinations of those words.  So, this post started sometime last fall when the Cardinals brought up outfielder Tommy Pham.  He's been in their system forever, just never stayed healthy.

He had a good end of the season and had a nice Postseason moment when he hit a home run against the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS.

and all of the Cardinals collectors lost their minds over Tommy Pham cards.  He has an autograph in the 2015 Topps set, but they are fairly expensive.  I decided to wait for the excitement over Tommy Pham to die down a little.  I went on Ebay, put a few of his cards on my watch list, and kind of ignored them for awhile.  

Prices came down a little bit on a few of his cards and I found a really cool looking Topps card of Pham that I thought looked really cool.  There was a Buy It Now and also one or two floating around in auctions.  

Pretty nice card.  I didn't know much about this card when I first started watching it, so I did a little digging and found that there was also a Stephen Piscotty card in this set.  Then I found out there were only 13 cards in the whole set.  Then I found a set for $10.  I bought them all.  They are all numbered out of 99 and are print run 99.  Pretty cool.  I guess Topps sold these sets in their online store.  Kind of cutting out the card shops there big guy....

The cards are also oversized at 5x7.  Not only are they postcard sized, but they also appear to be made out of the same material as the common postcard.  Perhaps an Office Max Brand index card.  The cards are really thin and the George Springer card has a little ding on the bottom right corner.  Here's a look at the other 12 cards...... 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

We Need To Catch Up...

Baseball season has started, I have ended games, and I have not written about any of them.  So far I have been to four different games and seen some really good players and cool things along the way.  Let's go ahead and scratch one of the cool players off the list this evening.

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to attend Opening Day for the Durham Bulls.  The park always looks great.  The Bulls have a deep and talented roster this year, but the clear top prospect on the team is starting pitcher Blake Snell.  The southpaw was impressive Opening Night against the White Sox Triple A team.  His fastball was in the mid 90s and wicked curve ball in the mid to low 70s.  Great combination.  In past game posts I have included some short videos, but it was a rainy wet night.  Only pictures for this post.

Here a look at Snell working early in the game before the rain completely cleared out.

Having watched Snell pitch the last half of the season in Durham last year, I knew he was going to be a player I would try to collect this year.  He has had a few autographs over the years, but the majority of them have appeared in the later months of 2015 and a few of the new 2016 issues.  My first Snell card of the year is a nice autograph/jersey combo out of this year's Donruss......

I know I am going soft on the unlicensed card thing.  Two posts in a row. I like that Donruss put a nice sized jersey chunk on the cards and the Snell signature is pretty nice on this card.  Snell had a good Major League debut last weekend against the Yankees before returning back to the Bulls.  I am hoping for good things out of Mr. Snell.  He seems like he could make an impact on the AL East later this summer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Rays Book

Y'all know my feelings on unlicensed products if you have been following my blog for awhile.  In summation, I am not a fan.  However, I am still opening to looking around at cards from Panini and Leaf from time to time.  They are capable of making some nice cards.  Not sure what it is about having logos on cards and uniforms, but it's just the way it is with me.  I think a lot of other people too.

One of my favorite unlicensed products every year is the National Treasures set.  No, I do not buy any boxes, but I do enjoy finding some really nice cards of players who fit into my collection: Cardinals, Rays, former Durham Bulls.  This year I have added a pair of cards from this product and I have to share one here this week from one of my favorite former Minor League players Steven Souza.

Here's a look at the outside of the book:

Really nice looking outside to the booklet.  I do not have too many of these in my collection, but a few of them feel like the outside part of the card was totally neglected in the design process.  I like the cover on the right with the serial number and the back cover on the left with the player bio.  I especially like that they made mention of his time in the minors.  I know it's tiny print: In summary Souza spent a long time in the minors with the Nationals.  (not included on the card) He was the International League Player of the Year before he was traded to the Rays.

Now, the inside of the card.....

I like the two different color patches on each side of the card with Souza diving across both jersey swatches.  It's so cool I can almost ignore the fact that his batting helmet doesn't have a Rays logo on it.  Add in the fact that I paid around $10 for a card numbered to 10 (Yes, it's Steven Souza) and this is a sweet card.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Venerable Old Card Part 10

We are now a few weeks into the 2016 baseball season.  I have watched a bunch of games and been thoroughly frustrated with the start that my Cardinals are off to this year.  It's early and I still hold out hope, but it's clear that there are a few holes on the roster and they are not really being helped by the fact that Mike Matheny seems to regress every year that he manages the team.  

One of the best stories on the Cardinals so far this year has been rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz.  He is on the roster at the moment because Jhonny Peralta hurt his thumb in Spring Training.  Peralta was then replaced by Ruben Tejada who managed to also end up on the DL at the end of Spring Training.  Enter Diaz, all he's done is hit.  Right now he has a .480/.509/.860 slash line with 3 home runs, 8 doubles, and 11 RBIs.  

It would be nice to have an Aledmys Diaz card, but right now they are only Minor League team set cards available.  Given that slash line you'd think that Topps might throw him into their now ToppsNow cards, but no.  Anyway, the Cardinals ended up with Diaz after he defected from Cuba and was signed as a free agent.  While Aledmys is currently the only Cuban player on the Cardinals roster, the team has dabbled into the world of Cuban players before.  

In fact, 23 years ago during the 1993 season, the team actually had two Cuban players on the roster.  Let's start with the name player......

Everyone remembers Ozzie Canseco, the less successful twin brother of Jose.  I am always puzzled as to how Ozzie Canseco ended up with a few Cardinals cards considering he played 6 games for the team in 1993 and 9 games in 1992.  He was a career .239/.352/.348 hitter for the Cards with no home runs.  Clearly the popularity of Jose at this time helped out Ozzie with his appearances in baseball card sets.  On to the better player......

I am pretty sure not many people remember Rene Arocha, but he was not a total scrub.  First, he pitched on some really thin Cardinals teams in the early 1990s.  I know people do not think of the Cardinals as bad, cannot remember a time they were bad, but they were bad in the early 90s.  Much of their misery was caused by the owner, August Busch the something, because he did not spend any money on the team.  The Cardinals had some promising prospects and some cheap veteran fills.  Arocha was one of the veteran pickups.  

In three seasons as a Cardinal Arocha pitched a total of 124 games, started 36, and won 18 games.  He posted an ERA+ of 104 for the Cardinals.  While that does not sound like anything that is too great, given the state of the Cardinals at the time, it was not half bad.  Scary as it sounds, Arocha was actually the Cardinals staff leader in ERA+, came in second in wins, and second in strikeouts.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Five: My Top Five No-Hitters

I got into the no-hitter game tossed last night by Jake Arrieta and thought no-nos would be a good topic for my weekly Friday Five countdown.  I have been fortunate enough to see a few no-hitters in person, been on a roll the last two summers, but I am going to toss those aside.  Partly because they were minor league, or in the case of last summer an international game, plus I could tell you to just Google search Durham Bulls and no-hitter and you'd have two of the five.  Not very fun.

I am picking Major League no-hitters.  I have found over the years that I always end up getting attached to a no-hitter at some point during the baseball season.  Some years I start watching a game and the next thing you know, it's a no-hitter.  Or I am watching a game, a no-hitter is taking place somewhere else, and I follow along via Twitter or MLB Network.  Something.  Such is the case with Arrieta's no-hitter last night.

I started paying attention to the Cubs always entertaining Twitter feed around the fifth or sixth inning.  After some long half innings of offense, I would focus in on the Reds half of the inning.  All the way to the last Eugenio Suarez pop out.  Great game.

So, I sat down at lunch today, scrolled through a list of no-hitters, and picked out a bunch that I had followed along with at the time they happened.  There have been 96 no-hitters thrown during my lifetime and by my count there are about dozen that I followed in progress or sat down and watched for whatever reason.  I narrowed it down to five......

5.  Philip Humber April 12, 2012 

I really wanted to put this perfect game a lot higher, but I could not figure out a way to justify it being any higher than this.  I always loved this performance simply because it was Philip Humber.  I remember the day this happened.  I was off of school for my spring break and was shocked to hear that he had a perfecto going into the sixth inning.  I have probably seen Philip Humber pitch half a dozen times in my lifetime in the International League.  He was a huge prospect at one point, but he just never really panned out into the pitcher he was supposed to be.  However, for one day he was incredible.  Philip Humber has only won 16 career games and has a career ERA over 5, yet he's one of a few pitchers in the history of baseball who has ever thrown a no-hitter.  I was pumped when he got the last out.

4.  Fernando Valenzuela June 29, 1990

After watching years and years of winning baseball under Whitey Herzog, the summer of 1990 was a tough one as a baseball fan in St. Louis.  The team underperformed for the most part, Whitey quit in the middle of the season, and the Cardinals actually finished the season in last place.  I am in my late 30s and this is the only last place Cardinals team I have seen during my lifetime.  To top it off I went and spent a week with my grandfather, who lived about thirty minutes from St. Louis in Illinois, while my parents were at a conference out of town.  We stayed up late the one night to watch a Cardinals/Dodgers game and the next thing you know there is a no-hitter.  The 1990 version of Fernando was not very good, but he managed to pull of this gem.  Added bonus of Vin Scully calling a game in a post.

3.  Mark Buehrle July 23, 2009 

Similar to the Cardinals/Dodgers game in the Fernando no-hitter, I actually sat down to watch this game because of the Rays.  As a Durham Bulls fan, it is always fun to sit down and watch all your favorite minor leaguers in the bigs.  Well, except when they get no-hit in a perfect game.  This was a no doubter after the Dwayne Wise catch in the 9th inning.  

2.  Jack Morris April 7, 1984 

I am not sure if I knew what a no-hitter was before this game.  Back when I was a kid there was baseball on every Saturday during the afternoon.  Not for just part of the season, but every Saturday on NBC.  I don't remember all the details of this game, just the ending.  Where was Lance Parrish's cool catchers glove with the orange cushioning?

1.  Jose Jimenez June 25, 1999

I watched this entire game start to finish.  Randy Johnson vs Jose Jimenez and the Cardinals scrapped out one run to win.  I believe Jimenez two-hit the Diamondbacks in his next start, also against Randy Johnson.  I had never seen a Cardinals player throw a no-hitter before watching this game.  Bud Smith threw a no-hitter in 2001 for the Birds, but I missed it because it was a West Coast game on a school night.  If you do not remember Jose Jimenez he was actually a pretty talented pitcher for the Cardinals, Rockies, and Indians.  After the Cardinals traded him to the Rockies for Darryl Kile they converted him into a closer and he ended his career with more than 100 saves.  Bonus for a Joe McEwing sighting at second base and Willie McGee in the pile of players at the end of the clip.