Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bipped by an eBay seller?!?!?!

I had recently bought a lot of Adam Dunn cards on eBay. Package came in the mail this morning and I recognized the return address as the seller. I opened up the package and there is a thick stack of cards, just as expected. But the top card is a hockey player named Benoit Hogue. Flip the stack over, there's Hogue again. The cards are taped around the stack. I remove the tape and there are a bunch of Hogues around a bag of cards that contain the Dunns.

Did the seller use these valuable Score hockey cards as padding or was I Bipped?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hall of Famer Paul Quantrill

Every year there is much debate over who should be in the Hall of Fame and who should not. This past year, for instance, there was heated argument over the merits of several potential candidates. Andre Dawson made it, Bert Blyleven and former second baseman Roberto Alomar both fell short. Teeth were gnashed, radio talk shows were bombarded with callers and many, many blog posts were written over the injustice of it all.

Perhaps things would be much more peaceful if the Hall of Fame took its cue from their counterpart to the North. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame added Alomar to its ranks with no problem. But it was also visionary in its election of Paul Quantrill, who wasn't even on the ballot for that Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

To me, there is only one explanation for the difference. Bias against middle relievers. Name one middle reliever whose plaque hangs in Cooperstown. Can't do it, can you? While the BBWAA, who votes for those to be inducted into the (non-Canadian) Baseball Hall of Fame, struggles over Blyleven's win-loss record and Alomar's spitting at umpires, the Canucks look at Paul Quantrill's 449 appearances in the 8th inning (let me write that out because it is so amazing -FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY NINE APPEARANCES IN THE EIGHTH INNING) and they say, "That there is a Hall of Famer, eh!"

Some of you might be saying, "Oh, you're one of those stat nerds who lives in a house out with the Amish and you don't even have electricity to power your laptop" or something like that. To which I say, that's why I don't have a vote and the Canadians do. They brought us the +/- in hockey. They know what's important. But stats don't tell the whole story. Baseball people knew how good Quantrill was.

Rich Aurilia: "I remember back in 2003, it seemed like Quantrill was in there every other game. He'd come in and we would all be mildly distressed. It might be tough to tie up the game and then we'd only have one more inning after that against some other pitcher to have a shot. Yes, Paul had TEH MILD DISTRESS."

Anonymous Boston Red Sox executive: "There was that game in September of 2009 when the Blue Jays were just trouncing us at home. I think they were up by ten or so runs. Fans were leaving and we were really worried about the money we were going to lose in concessions. But that's the kind of pitcher Quantrill was. He was always thinking outside of what was going on on the field. He gave up three straight hits and had Homer Bush drop a ball and the fans were back buying popcorn. He was amazing."

Fans, too, will tell their grandkids about the day where they saw Quantrill come in with a man on first and a two run lead and he would protect that lead so another, better pitcher could get a "save" in the following inning. That is sacrifice.

Yes, add it all up; the shutout, the All-Star Game appearance, the five innings of postseason performance. It's pretty clear that he belongs with the other greats like Dave McKay, Reggie Cleveland and First Recorded Baseball Game.

And to think some fool is selling Quantrill's rookie card for only a dollar. You can also get the pants from his legendary 2004 season (when he went 7-3 with a save).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Red Baron

I read an article online somewhere recently that listed ten interesting badasses or something like that. One of them was Manfred von Richthofen, more commonly known as The Red Baron. There are books on him but I was pleasantly surprised to see we had a copy of his autobiography in the library system. It also played in to my continued pursuit of reading non-American authors.

There were many things about this book I found interesting. One was Richthofen's Dimaagioesque luck (no idea what I'm talking about? Read this article by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Should be required reading for anyone interested in baseball (Transfixed Ingress's Dad gave me a copy of the original back in 1988 which I still have)). Richthofen had 80 confirmed victories (shooting down opposition planes) as a World War I fighter pilot for the Germans. By contrast, his hero and mentor, Oswald Boelcke, had 40 before he was killed. The German with the second most victories had 62. To stay alive long enough to shoot down 80 took extreme amounts of skill and luck.

I was also amazed by the attitudes during the early part of the war. Richthofen began as a member of the cavalry (he had a love for horses throughout his life) until he was tabbed to join the Flying Service. Encounters between the two sides were haphazard. Everyone seemed to think the war would be ending soon. Battles weren't taken too seriously. Conversations seemed to occur between the two sides. It seemed like it took Richthofen a few years before he really took the idea of war seriously.

Beyond that, though, the whole idea of air combat seemed entirely too gentlemanly. Most battles were 1 on 1. When you shot someone down, you followed him to the ground to make sure he was finished. If the plane landed on your side of the lines, you'd go out after you landed and try to find the pilot and plane. Sending confirmation on your downed foe to the opposition was commonplace. All very strange seeming to me for war.

Richthofen enjoyed hunting and I think he viewed being a pilot as an extension of that. He had close calls throughout his life before he was finally shot down just short of his 26th birthday. As a cavalry officer he waltzed into an ambush and somehow came out alive. A grenade landed near him in another conflict and shrapnel went into his saddle but missed him. As a pilot, a bullet went through both his pant legs but missed him. He took a shot to the head and survived. Just amazing luck.

The book itself was a compilation of things. Lots of photos. Half the book is Richthofen's autobiography. Early reaction to the book was that Richthofen was very egotistical. Living in an era of Ochocinco's, I didn't find it to be that bad. And it ain't bragging if you can do it and Richthofen could certainly fly. The next 15% of the book is my favorite part. It is the account of Richthofen's middle brother, Lothar. Lothar was a very good pilot, too, scoring 40 victories before his death. He also was a better writer and a lot more analytical.

Lothar helps paint the picture of just how amazing Richthofen was. But he also has a better grasp of the war and its tensions. The writing from Lothar is much more entertaining. Another ten percent of the book is written by the youngest Richthofen brother, Bolko. It is largely genealogy and then some reaction as what life was like after the war and Richthofen's remains were returned to Germany.

The other quarter of the book is mostly information on planes and a timeline of the war.

Reading this book rekindled a longing I have had off and on over the last couple decade to play the old TSR Game, Dawn Patrol. Apropos of nothing, here's a list of the five childhood games I find myself wanting to play the most:
1. Talisman
2. The Great Khan Game
3. Strat-O-Matic Football
4. Dawn Patrol
5. Flashing Blades (or any role playing game, really)

And even more senselessly, the three games I would have liked to have had opportunity to play more than I did:
1. Champions
2. Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes
3. Formula De

I might have to blog on games at some point. We pretty much only play Settlers of Catan and Citadels anymore. I digress.

Back to the book review! Good book if you're interested in World War I. Nothing special otherwise.

If you want to see what combat was like:

Lastly, the Royal Guardsmen. I actually had this on a 45 record. Don't ask me how or why and yes, I've been singing this song for the last several days.

Oh, one more thing. The copy of the book pictured above is not the edition I read. It has been been republished many times. I read the 1969 Air Combat Classics edition.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another Damon Rutherford contest entry

Matt from Number 5 Type submitted his entry for the Damon Rutherford card design contest going with a father/son card.

First entry in the Damon Rutherford card design contest

Mark submitted the first entry into the Damon Rutherford card design contest.

Still time to enter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #6 - In Dreams

I knew when I started this project that there would be a clunker or two but I never imagined anything like this. At the risk of seeming hyperbolic, this was the wrost movie I've ever seen. The best thing you can say about this movie was Robert Downey, Jr. was adequate.

Annette Bening plays a woman who is plagued by these bizarre dreams throughout her life. As the movie begins, the dreams are getting worse. Children in the area of her home have been abducted and found drowned in the reservoir (which we learn in the beginning of the story was formed by flooding the town that existed there). Bening's dreams are of the children being abducted. Her husband goes to the police (the chief is That Guy from CSI (not Grissom, the head honcho guy) and he is told that the most recent girl, who Bening thought she was dreaming of, was found drowndeded.

We find, though, that Bening's dreams are actually of the future when her daughter gets abducted by this mysterious serial killer. When her daughter turns up dead, she goes off the deep end (pun intended). The dreams get worse. She dreams her husband's death. She gets locked up. We discover that her dreams are being fed to her by the serial killer who had been chained up as little boy and left to die when the town was flooded.

That's really enough of the "plot" to share. This movie was messed up. Very far-fetched. Very stressful. Probably my biggest problem with the film (and there were many, many problems) was the way that mental health institutions were portrayed. Just horrible.

As for Downey, he plays the serial killer. He appears in fragments in the dream scenes but we don't really get to see him until minute 70 (of 100). He's not really convincing as insane. He's supposed to be a redhead (to feed a stereotype (another problem)) but the dye job is horrendous. There's supposed to be some family issues that have contributed to his insanity but it's just not well done. He's really more goofy than insane. And he's the best character in the flick. Ugh.

I'm not even putting a link up for it. I don't want you looking for it or watching it. There is ANYTHING that you can do to make better use of 100 minutes. I think watching 20 minutes of Carlos Mencia five times in a row would be better. I'm not sure if sticking my finger in an electrical socket for 100 minutes would be better. See, I was being hyperbolic. It's just really, really, really, really bad.



Monday, January 25, 2010

Paganini's Ghost

First, a shout out to Mark who wrote me expressing that he felt my reading list was hard to read and that there was no way to link to easily find past reviews. I agreed wholeheartedly but felt that the sidebar widgets were too restrictive. Mark sent me some code which I finagled and stuck in and voila, a much more accessible reading list (I also changed the link colors throughout the site). Thanks for your input and code, Mark!

On to the review. I'm a sucker in a lot of ways. Pretty women. Turkey Hill ice cream feature flavors. Seriously, with the exception of Egg Nog (which is right there with mushrooms as things I will not consume), I'll try whatever Turkey Hill puts out. Rancid Squirrel? Hey, why not? Let's give it a shot. Chocolate Squid Delight? It's a feature flavor for a reason, right?

Then you have the more cerebral ways of influencing me. This book for instance. Slap Paganini's name on it and I'm all over it. Granted, the writing could be Rancid Squirrelesque but I'll give it a shot.

With Paul Adam's book, I am very glad I did. I sort of grew out of mystery novels in my twenties. None ever seemed quite right. Either the author kept things hidden and then revealed it all at the end which I found terribly unsatisfying (I want to try and solve it, too) or too much was revealed and it was just too simple to figure out whodunit. Also, I never much enjoyed reading about police solving crimes. Give me Sherlock Holmes or Rabbi David Small. Ratiocination outside of the legal system, that's what I liked!

And that's one of the reasons why I liked Paganini's Ghost. The hero of the story is luthier (violin maker) Gianni Castiglione. Gianni is a widower in his sixties and is regarded as one of the better violin repairers. The story begins with a a fleet of cars bearing down on Gianni's home. Yevgeny Ivanov, a young Russian violinist who just recently won the Premio Paganini contest in Cremona, is there to have Gianni fix Paganini's famed Il Cannone violin. Performing on the violin is one of the prizes the winner of the Premio receives and the concert he is to play it in is that evening. Gianni fixes the violin and a grateful Ivanov invites him to attend the reception following the concert.

At the reception we meet almost all the other characters in the story including Gianni's police friend and fellow quartet member, Antonio. The action then picks up. An art dealer is murdered and in his possession is found a box made out of gold with an unusual lock. Yevgeny disappears. The art dealer's partner is found murdered. Antonio and Gianni discover that the gold box belonged to Paganini and that a priceless jeweled violin once was held by it but is not there now.

Gianni and Antonio roam Europe trying to fit the pieces together. The novel is fast-paced. The characters are incredibly developed and human (Gianni is constantly worrying about whether Antonio is eating enough, for example) but the details are well blended into the story.

As for the ability for the reader to solve it, Adam does a pretty good job with that as well. I figured out the secret to the lock as soon as it was described and even predicted the twist when Gianni and Antonio think they solved it but do not. There is a good deal of predictability but the end has an interesting turn and the true mystery extends over hundreds of years.

Huge amount of historic detail as well. Adam does a great job at taking what is known about Paganini and putting in some fictions to make an interesting new story without altering the truth about Paganini.

Despite my enjoyment, I can't quite bring myself to rate it two stars. At no point did I ever say "Wow! This is the best mystery I've read". I enjoyed it immensely but I only rate 6-8 books a year two stars and this just didn't fit into what I consider a two star book. If you enjoy mysteries, you might disagree. It's certainly worth a read, especially if you have any interest in music.

Oh, and my streak of non-American books continues (deliberately). Adam is a British author.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Theory: Sean Casey isn't all that nice (a misguided sabermetric analysis)

Thorzul posted today when going through one of his group breaks that Sean Casey is pretty universally recognized as one of the nicest guys in baseball. I don't know Sean Casey. Have never met him. Never interacted with him. But I have a theory that he really isn't the nicest guy in baseball. He's just sort of average nice but given the circumstances of other players' interactions with him, he is made out to be extremely nice. Let me explain.

As with any good theory, we have to make assumptions about the conditions in which we are operating. Assumption 1 is that Sean Casey did not become recognized as a nice guy until 2001. Up until 2000 he was still a young guy, probably kept quiet, maybe even went unnoticed. Then things changed in 2001.

What happened in 2001? The Reds pitching fell apart. Here is the Reds staff ERA rank in the NL out of sixteen teams by year:
2001: 14
2002: 11
2003: 15
2004: 15
2005: 16

That is five years of subpar pitching. Five years where opposing teams hitters were getting hits and drawing walks at a frequency not encountered anywhere else in the National League. Now imagine you are an opposing player facing the Reds in a three game series. Chances are you reached first a lot. Chances are you were feeling good about yourself and how your team was doing. You get down there and the first baseman says "Hey, nice hit". Next time up you draw a walk and you hear "Good eye up there". Maybe you get out the next time but the next time up you single again and you get a word of encouragement again. By the end of the series, you might have had 7 or 8 encounters with this "friendly" first baseman. Maybe you say something to one of your teammates and they have experienced the same thing.

This goes on for five years. Five years, every time you face the Reds you seem to have a good game and there is Sean Casey with his two or three little words of encouragement waiting for you down at first base.

Who do opposing players encounter more than the first baseman? The catcher but the umpire is always there too making things awkward. Plus, Casey was there ALL THE TIME. The only National League first baseman to play more games for one team during that time was Todd Helton and Helton always had that scary beard going on.

Maybe Casey is really nice but let's not discount the possibility that he just had more opportunities to than anyone else and that even a modest level of friendliness seems like a lot when you're having your third straight three hit game and your team is winning 12-2.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My first contest for all you card designers

I have long admired the creations that people have come up with on the various baseball card sites for cards or card sets of their own. Whether they are fictional cards like Cardboard Junkie's Collect Like a Pirate Day, something like Stale Gum's National Chicle Parody cards, or just filling a need or desire to have a different set like Goose Joak, I've been impressed by the creations and imaginations of the folk who develop them.

As you know (or can find by looking at the sidebar of my page), books are a passion of mine. I was thinking today about Robert Coover's excellent book The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. about a man obsessed with the players in his tabletop baseball game and thought how neat it would be to see a card of Waugh's favorite player, Damon Rutherford.

So there's the contest. Create a Damon Rutherford card. Rutherford is a fictional character so there are no photos of him. You don't even really need to read the book for the contest but if you've ever played Strat-o-Matic or Diamond Mind or APBA or any other baseball simulation game, you'll really enjoy it.

Deadline for the contest is tentatively February 4th, which will be Robert Coover's 78th birthday.

If you would like to read the book, here are some links for you:
To find a nearby library that has it, go here and enter your zipcode. You may want to double check with your local library if you don't find a nearby copy on this site.

You can pick up a copy from eBay.

Or help support this website financially and buy it through Amazon:

The winner of the contest will receive a selection of baseball fiction and cards.

If you have questions, feel free to post them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How I solved the Thorzul Rebus

Thorzul requested that I explain how I solved his rebus so here goes.

Keep in mind that I make a living as a librarian and as such am paid big bucks to research fun stuff. I am a trained professional. Do NOT try this at home.

First, why on earth would anyone think of Kevin Mmahat (which is pronounced Momma-Hat) unless you were making a list of over-hyped New York prospects (and there are so many better options than Mr. Mmahat)?

Once I saw the next two cards, it seemed obvious to me.

Momma, Daddy, Granny. We've got a family thing going on here.

Then the next three get tricky:

My first thought was that there was some sort of Jewish connection. Portman is Jewish. Stein is a common Jewish surname. And people thought Greztky was Jewish. But he's not. Couldn't come up with anything there.

I thought for a while that the fact that the Gretzky card was a "Trilogy" card might be something since we had a trio of family members. That seemed redundant, though.

Were the trio the family? Portman is Momma, Gretzky Daddy and Frankie is Granny? Doesn't make sense.

Gretzky and Portman both state they are limited edition cards. Something there? Probably not.

Portman is hot, Frankie is not. Gretzky is not. No relationship again.

The Gretzky card is numbered 15/30 which is 1/2. Frankenstein is half man, half machine. No wait, that's a cyborg. Scratch that.

Sticking with the numbers, maybe the 15/30 is really 1530, the year of the Augsburg Confession and also the year Julio Franco was born. Julio Franco would be 476 in 2006, the year on Portman's card but then once again there was no connection to the Frankenstein card unless Franco went to high school with Mary Shelley.

By this time I was getting frustrated. So I did what anyone would do. I Googled Momma, Daddy, Granny. First result had the number 99 (Gretzky was the anti-Lemieux) and it all fell into place.

Interestingly, if I hadn't typed Momma as Momma and had typed Mama, I might not have figured it out and then we would never have known the answer. I don't think anyone else stopped looking at the Portman card long enough to try and figure out the rebus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Investment Grade" pack break video

Hit up another Dollar Store to wipe out their 2008 Upper Deck X and I don't think there are many more places I can go without a considerable drive to get more at this point (not that I need. I almost have the base set complete). But it was the two special packs I also picked up that were the most interesting and entertaining.

Turns out I was 1 for 2 on the headphones references. Master Blaster did not wear one in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. If you ever wanted to hear what he sounded like in Russian, though, check this out:

I was right on the other count. Kurt Harland most definitely did wear a headset during the Think video:

I'm not the only one putting on weight in their old age. Kurt also has filled out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Chess Machine

I approached Robert Lohr's The Chess Machine with a bit of trepidation. I was familiar with the 18th century chess automaton known as The Turk largely through Tom Standage's excellent book The Turk. I thought the true story of the The Turk was far more interesting than anything anyone could create about it.

I was right. Lohr doesn't really add anything to the story. The novel is mostly about a creation of Lohr's, Tibor, the dwarf that supposedly plays inside of Wolfgang von Kempelen's machine.

It's a nice enough novel. Too much time is spent on boring details that don't add to the story. The action of the story and the plot often times feel forced and convoluted.

The strength of the book is Lohr's creation of heavily flawed yet sympathetic characters. Everyone seems to have a skeleton that they don't want out of the closet and they go to great lengths to protect them but suffer much guilt for doing so.

When it comes down to my rating, the character development isn't enough for me counter the flaws and the twisting of a solid true story so I'm not giving it any stars.

I do have to recommend Standage's book again. It has been years since I've read it but it is a really entertaining and informative bit of non-fiction. Lohr mentions in the afterword of his book another book on the Turk by Gerald Levitt. Levitt's book was reviewed by Scientific American of all places. It's going on my "to read" list because the story of The Turk is really good.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #5 - Chances Are

I didn't have very high hopes for this one. It looked like a cheesy late eighties romantic comedy that relied on the overused Hollywood reincarnation theme to carry the flick.

I was right and wrong. It is a cheesy late eighties romantic comedy that relies on the overused Hollywood reincarnation theme. But it's still good and very watchable.

Best of all as far as this project goes, Robert Downey has the lead although he doesn't appear immediately.

The movie begins with Corinne (Cybil Shepherd) marrying Louie (Chris McDonald (who despite acting in almost 150 vehicles will ALWAYS be Shooter McGavin to me)) and the best man Philip (Ryan O'Neil) expressing his love of Corinne to Louie as Corinne is walking down the aisle. A tad bit odd and inappropriate, don't you think?

The movie jumps forward a year to Corinne and Louie's first anniversary where we find Corinne is pregnant. Philip swings by to give them a cherry tree as a gift and is just too uncomfortably buddy-buddy with the both of them for my liking. It's a tight relationship.

Corinne and Louie are to have dinner together that evening. Louie is crossing the street to get to the restaurant and he is struck and killed by a car. He goes to heaven where he throws a tantrum about having to go back. Heaven accommodates him by allowing him to go back as a newly born baby boy in Cleveland. The bonehead administrator fails to give Louie the inoculation that will erase the memories of Louie's life.

Louie is reborn as Alex (Robert Downey). The movie fast forwards 20+ years where Alex is graduating from Yale (of course. No movie character ever graduates from St. Olaf College). He works as a page at the library (liking him already) and he helps out the always attractive Mary Stuart Masterson (who plays Miranda) by waiving an $83 fine (not as big a fan all of a sudden). Love the line where he gets the head librarian to go check out an emergency where someone is messing around with a Shakespeare tome ("They are fooling with the folio! And fiddling! Fooling and fiddling with the folio").

Alex gradumatates and goes to D.C. to try and land a job as a reporter with the Washington Post (apparently mailing resumes hadn't been invented yet). He is turned down but it turns out Philip is a writer there (and has won a Pulitzer! who woulda thunk it). Philip mysteriously befriends him and invites Alex over for dinner at Corinne's house where, it turns out, Miranda is Corinne's daughter.

Miranda falls for Alex. Being in his old house triggers Louie's memories and Louie sort of possesses Alex's mind. Corinne still pines for Louie, even seeking psychiatric help to try and get over him. So Alex, as Louie, still wants Corinne. Corinne wants Louie but isn't so sure about Alex being Louie. Philip has been sitting patiently for 20+ years waiting for Corinne to stop mourning and wants Corinne. Alex wouldn't mind having Miranda but as Louie is, appropriately, very much against the idea. Crazy antics ensue. The five of them get everything worked out.

It's a cute movie. I don't care much for Ryan O'Neal's character. The inability to make people average bugged me (forgot to mention that Corinne is a big whig at the Smithsonian). The clingy behavior of Philip rubbed me wrong, too.

Downey was good. He had to sort of play two roles. He could at times be convincing as Louie and he did alright balancing his desire for Miranda as Alex and his being protective of his daughter/not being creepy as Louie. Funny. Extremely charming. Definitely the most developed of all the characters in the film.

It surprised me how much I liked this. The ending seemed thrown together without much thought and there was all the other stuff that I didn't like. I'd recommend it, though.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

First TTM of 2010 - Group of 79 Project - Steve Balboni

What a great way to get this project moving again. I really enjoyed Steve Balboni when I was younger. Keep in mind that a lot of my enjoyment of players in the early 1980's came from playing Statis-Pro Baseball. I lived in a rural area and we didn't get cable television in our house until 1989. The only televised baseball I got to see were Phillies games and way back then we didn't have the newfangled interleague play. Nonetheless, I have fond, fond memories of Balboni's incredible power. Besides that, this was the quickest turnaround time on a TTM I've had. I sent it out on a Friday and got it back Wednesday of the following week.

Balboni is one of those "What if?" players. On the one hand, what if he played now? I don't think he's a major leaguer now. Career .293 OBP. Even Andre Dawson had better (Aw, snap!). But cow holy, could Balboni clout a ball. Even with that sorry OBP, his career OPS+ was 101. That's some serious power, especially when you factor in he played most of his career in Kansas City. Which is the other big, "What if?". What if he played in a more home run friendly stadium? Only 48 of his career 181 home runs came at Kaufmann Stadium.

Balboni was drafted out of Eckerd College in the second round of the 1978 draft by the New York Yankees. He struggled in his first season as a professional, hitting just .205 with a single home run in 62 games. Ugh. From there, though, he got into the swing of things. He led the league with 26 homers and 91 RBI at Fort Lauderdale in his first full season as a pro. Moved up to the Southern League in 1980 and again led the league in homers and RBI. He made it three leagues in a row, three years in a row as he pounded the International League for 33 homers and 98 RBI in 1981.

With his fourth consecutive home run title in 1982 (in only half a season of play) he earned some playing time with the Yankees. He did not fare well and repeated the scenario in 1983 (minus the home run title. He "only" hit 27 homers in 84 games at Columbus) - devastated AAA pitching, struggled in the majors.

The writing was on the wall for Balboni as a Yankee in 1983. A young upstart by the name of Don Mattingly had been converted from an outfielder to a first baseman by the Yankees and the Yankees opted to go with his high average, contact approach (Mattingly didn't develop home run power until he hit the majors). The Yanks dealt Balboni to the Royals in the offseason.

The Royals made him their starting firstsacker and he continued with his home run hitting, belting 20 or more in four straight seasons. Balboni slammed 36 home runs in 1985 which is STILL the Kansas City Royals single season home run record.

The end came fast and hard, at least from the major league standpoint. Released from the Royals, he signed with the Mariners. The Mariners sent him back to the Yankees who then released him following a season where he hit .192. The Texas Rangers picked up Balboni and he spent the next three seasons in the minors, winning two more home run titles (how many players can you name that won six home run crowns on ANY level?). Balboni went out with a bang in his last professional game, as a designated hitter for the Texas Rangers. Balboni finished his career with a 3 for 4 game.

A prodigious yet forgotten power hitter, it's a great honor to have an autographed card of his.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Autograph from a Dollar Store Pack

First, the backstory. I picked up Doodle from a sleepover and we proceeded to go shopping for a new white dress shirt for him for his choir concerts as he had outgrown his previous one. We went to ELEVEN different stores before we were able to find one. Don't children dress nice anymore? Don't kids go to church? It should not be that difficult to find a button down dress shirt in a child's size.

Shout out to Burlington Coat Factory for finally having a selection of dress shirts at nice prices. You rock!

In our travels, I hit the Dollar Store and bought out their remaining five packs of 2008 Upper Deck X. Amazingly, in the fourth pack I opened, I got this:

Pretty sweet. No Mat Latos but a nice Padres prospect nonetheless.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm with Coco (plus some vintage baseball reminiscences)

I like Conan O'Brien. The Colbert report went on hiatus for so long over the last few months that Conan became the only show I was watching online. Now there's all this nonsense about moving him back to midnight and him potentially quitting. It's just a shame.

How can you not like Conan? How can you not like a guy who will play in a vintage baseball game.

Conan said in the final episodes before he took over The Tonight Show that this was one of his most favorite times. I'm with him there, too. Way back in the 1990's I had the opportunity to take on the Virginia Military Institute in a game of vintage baseball as a member of the Ohio Village Muffins. I was living in North Carolina and saw that the Muffins were playing up at VMI. I gave them a call and they let me suit up. What a blast!

Dug up my old photographs (talk about vintage! Images on film? How quaint!). Here is mighty Mad Guru at the bat:

I get ahead of myself. Before the game you have to get together with the team and sing the victory song:

Fifteen plus years later and I still remember the chorus:
Hail to the Muffins!
Huzzah for the Muffins!
Victory for the Muffins!
We will win this base ball game!

Would you argue a call with an umpire as imposing looking as this:

Of course, you play the game for the ladies. Chicks dig the vintage ball:

Lastly, our hero with his superhero gaze:

Keep Conan hosting The Tonight Show and keep playing vintage baseball!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #4 - Zodiac

My first exposure to the Zodiac Killer was in the eighth grade. A classmate of mine, Ken, who wasn't quite right in the head (he once took a stapler to his arm and also burnt the back of his hand trying to make homemade napalm) was a big fan of The Zodiac. So much so that when our grade had a mock presidential election, Ken campaigned for Zodiac and, if memory serves, drummed up a couple dozen votes (which probably beat Mondale). I don't recall Ken moving on to high school and always assumed he was either dead or institutionalized.

Nothing like recalling fond memories before watching a movie on a serial killer, right?

I enjoyed this movie. I have a vague recollection of seeing part of it before. Probably slept through it the first time (I do that sometimes). It is painfully long (162 minutes) which makes sense since Zodiac was never caught and so many, many years are covered in the movie. Despite this, the intensity carries throughout most of the film. The biggest downside is that there are a lot of characters in the movie and they don't get the in-depth treatment they really need to flesh the story out. For instance, one of the cops leading the investigation just hangs it up one night saying he's had too much of being on call and that he wants to watch his kids grow up. It comes out of nowhere, we wonder how much the Zodiac case plays in it, heck, we don't even know how many kids he has or how old they are.

Likewise with Robert Downey's character. Downey plays a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Avery. Unlike recently viewed movies, Downey shows up early on in this movie, at about eight minutes in. He is very nicely dressed, very professional looking and stylish. This is important to note because as the movie progresses, he battles alcoholism, develops emphysema (which, we find at the conclusion of the movie, kills him) and everything about him deteriorates over the course of the film. But because there are so many characters and the movie takes great jumps in time, we're left to wonder what drives his falling apart. Was it Zodiac? Was it addiction? What?

We see Downey using a respirator (shades of Fur) and we see him as an alcoholic (as in Charlie Bartlett) so there's not a whole lot new here. Somewhere between I-have-my-life-together Paul Avery and I'm-wasting-my-life-away Paul Avery is probably the most entertaining. He's bold, takes risks, pulls off that Downey smarm real well. Solid but because his appearances are scattered throughout and inconsistent, I cannot really give him a great rating.

The movie mostly follows Downey's colleague, cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who obsesses over the case and eventually publishes a book about it. Pretty gripping flick but much too long for my liking.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book review - The Spare Room

Continuing with my foreign writer kick, I read Australian Helen Garner's book The Spare Room. It is about a woman named Helen who cares for her friend who has developed cancer. The friend, Nicola, has been Helen's friend for fifteen years and is in the final stage of the cancer. In desperation she seeks out a quack doctor and spends three weeks staying with Helen while she receives the treatments.

The treatments don't help but with Helen's guidance, they find an oncologist who conducts a surgery that adds a few months to Nicola's life. The story is largely about Helen's frustrations in caring for her friend as the charlatan treatments and the cancer ravage Nicola.

Really, that's it. This won awards in Australia and was Garner's first work of fiction in sixteen years. I just wasn't that dazzled by it. The writing is nice but nothing about which to get excited. The story is stressful. It does make you wonder a bit about older folk who don't have family and don't want to be institutionalized. What happens to them when they can't care for themselves any longer?

Once again, I'm left wondering about my sense of humor. Two of the dustjacket blurbs call this book funny. What?!?! Death by cancer is hysterical! Having my friends clean up my urine and feces and vomit at all hours of the night is hilarious! As a matter of fact, I stopped going to comedy clubs and like to hang out in the intensive care wards of hospitals for laughs now. Come on....really? Go with heartwarming. Go with charming. But funny? Pass.

Not a whole lot to recommend but not a whole lot to not recommend either. It's a very quick read so no harm there. I can see women liking it more than men. Nothing else to add.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Spending the day in three vehicles with 100,000+ miles on them

A benefit of being semi-employed is that you learn a thing or two about thriftiness (says the guy who bought a bunch of Adam Dunn cards at the baseball card show a couple weeks ago). My car, a 1998 Olds Cutlass, is falling apart. On Saturday, while taking Doodle to choir practice, there was this big bang from the front of my car. The car started pulling to the left, smell of burning rubber. Good times. I knew the ball bearings were bad in both front tires and I figured that was the problem.

Dropped my car off at the mechanics this morning. My car has almost 125,000 miles on it. Come home, get a call asking me to come down (it's walking distance (benefit of small-town living)). The bang I heard was the spring from the suspension breaking. Having new ones put in requires having both front wheels done which is costly in parts and labor. BUT, if I can find a used spring and strut it can be done much more cheaply.

Head home and start calling auto salvage places. Find a guy who will sell me the whole mechanism for $45. Only problem is he is about 40 minutes away. Call my friend Dave who picks me up and takes me there. On the way Dave's car tops the 103,000 mile mark. Bring the part to the mechanic, find that the tire is messed up and I need a new tire. Back to the phones.

No one has those tires (apparently they are pretty hard to find). Find a place that can give me a new one for $58. I go to my neighbor to she if she can drive me over. She gives me her keys and lets me borrow her car. It has 154,000 miles on it. Get over there and the guy has found a nice used tire and sells it to me for fifteen bucks.

My car should be as good as used come tomorrow. But it's not too often that you get to ride in a trio of cars with that much mileage on them, especially in a single day. And not too often you save as much money as I did on car repairs. Of course, I bought seventeen hobby boxes of 2008 Upper Deck X on the way home (no I didn't, I bought a KitKat bar) so it sort of balanced out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book review - A Fraction of the Whole

I don't know how this book got published. Debut book by Steve Toltz is a sprawling 530 pages and details the lives of an extremely misanthropic family. The characters are anti-society, anti-government, anti-religion, and often anti-each other. They struggle to find meaning in love, life and freedom. Not a fun bunch. Who would want to read about that?

Well, me. And I loved it. The book begins with Jasper Dean writing in a prison in Australia (Toltz is Australian). Jasper's father, Martin, has recently died and Jasper is writing to set the story straight. How did the story get crooked? Martin unknowingly embezzled millions of dollars from the Australian public. Yet Martin is the good brother of the family. The other brother, Terry, was arguably the most infamous criminal in Australia. Terry was noted mostly for cleaning up athletics in Australia by killing or injuring corrupt players, coaches, referees, etc.

Although the story starts with Jasper, Jasper begins by relating things Martin had told him. We then get to read a journal Martin wrote which changes the perspective of things. We find that Martin and Terry had difficult childhoods. Terry was an athletic prodigy, recognized for his prowess on the field before he was a teenager. Martin spent several years of his childhood in a coma. When he comes out of it and returns to a "normal" life, he is picked on, his only friend is a woman with whom he is enamored but who loves his brother, and he has already begun to establish the viewpoints that will plague him throughout his life.

Terry gets stabbed while defending his brother from some bullies. He ends up joining them and starts a life of crime. He's eventually caught and sent to prison. He dies when a fire that is indirectly Martin's responsibility burns down the town, taking Terry and their parents.

Martin flees to France to follow his female friend but encounters an odd woman who goes by Astrid (but never states her real name). They end up together for a long period of time and Astrid gives birth to Jasper. Astrid takes her own life when she shows up on a boat dock where there is to be a gang war and she is caught in the crossfire.

Jasper, brought up by Martin and his warped philosophies, struggles to find himself and his own ideas. Martin puts him in school, takes him out, puts him in. Jasper fights to establish his own identity and eventually does.

The dustjacket labels this book as "hilarious" and "hysterically funny". Once again, I'm not quite sure about that. It is funny. But it is awfully dark. To me, Dave Attelle is hilarious and hysterically funny. This book is not Dave Attelle. Some of the blurbs are more in line, though. One compares it to Confederacy of Dunces (an apt comparison), another calls it "a nutty tour de force". Those are more on the money.

I loved it. Toltz's writing is very clear and crisp. The book moves constantly. He has very interesting thoughts on religion, philosophy, life, society, etc. and expresses it all very elegantly. It is clearly the early favorite for my 2010 Book of the Year.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #3 - Baby It's You

I thought this one might be a pretty good movie. It was one of John Sayles' first films. Love story set in New Jersey in the 1960's. Rosanna Arquette is an aspiring actress in high school, has friends, president of the drama club, liked by the teachers, apparently a pretty good student. Vincent Spano is the guy from the wrong side of the tracks. A greaser, he dresses nattily, got kicked out of a private school and is supposed to be attending a new one but his only presence at the institute of learning is to stalk Arquette. He goes by the moniker Sheik (because of the prophylactic of the same name).

Despite Sheik being a crazy stalker guy, Arquette can't resist him. Their off-again, on-again relationship through senior year of high school ends in an off-phase when Sheik robs a tuxedo rental shop and leaves for Miami to pursue a singing career. Arquette goes off to college at Sarah Lawrence.

Neither adjust well to their new settings. Aruqette visits Sheik out of loneliness. Sheik reads it the wrong way, stalks her back at college, they decide they must split for good but the movie ends with them dancing to their song at a college mixer.

Point? Beats me. The movie states it is a "fresh and funny comedy". Once again, I failed to see the humor. A crazed ne'er do well stalks a young lady. Hysterical!

Music plays a big part in the movie. In a trend that must have started with this movie back in 1983, because the movie was set in New Jersey, it had to have songs from Bruce Springsteen in it. Also had some tunes from the fifties and sixties. Nice soundtrack if you're into that sort of thing (which I'm not, really).

What about our hero? This was his first credited movie appearance not counting his role as Puppy in his father's 1970 movie, Pound. How did he do? Well, maybe the "fresh and funny comedy" on the case is an outright lie because the movie case also states "Also a featuring a star turn by Robert Downey, Jr.". Do you know what a star turn is? Apparently it is when someone who is a star from other movies has a fleeting appearance where he turns and faces the camera. Seriously. The movie ended and I did not recall seeing Downey. I checked the credits which were in order of appearance. He was Stewart. Who the hell was Stewart? Went back to the spot where some of the other names in the credits around that area occurred. Could not find him. Scanned through another section. Nothing. Finally found him. He makes his first appearance about fifty minutes in at the senior prom. He is dancing with his date and turns and is in the camera's sight. Thus, the star turn. He then has a couple lines in a bar after the prom where he discusses his fake ID. His face and body are partially blocked and there are other people talking so it is hard to even tell it is him unless you are really looking. He could be anybody.

Very difficult to believe that over the following five years John Sayles turned out such fantastic films as Eight Men Out, Matewan and Brother from Another Planet.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book review - The Story of My Baldness

I didn't intend on this book being the first one I finished in 2010. I only had a handful of pages to go in Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole but wanted to take a book with me to Doodle's choir practice and figured instead of bringing a second to start once I finished Toltz's book, I'd just start a second. So I did. But The Story of My Baldness went so quick I almost finished it at rehearsal and so decided to wrap it up before returning to the other.

I don't know if I am old, humorless, have a different sense of humor than most (I think that is the one) or some combination. The dustjacket calls this book "fresh and funny-neurotically, claustrophobically funny". Uh, no. The book, written by Marek van der Jagt (which is a heteronym for Arnun Grunberg), is far from funny. I did enjoy it, mostly the style of it, but found it to be sad and did not find any of the characters to be likable.

The book is narrated by Marek, a handsome Austrian student in his early twenties, who has come under the impression that l'amour fou (essentially, mad, passionate love) is the reason for living. This impression originates largely from his mother, who while married, has a jillion, zillion lovers.

The story begins with Marek stating that he will talk about his baldness, which is noted as being one of his many shortcomings. The story then jumps back several years before moving back to the starting point. Along the way, Marek (who lives in Vienna), has his first encounter with women. That encounter in itself is disappointing for Marek as he comes to discover that his member is of a size unsatisfying to most women (described as half a pinkie).

He has other sexual relationships, presumably murders his mother (the details get jumbled in his head), his brothers are very successful. No matter how hard he tries, Marek can never seem to overcome his mediocrity. He gets through life by repeatedly telling himself that "two weeks from now, you'll be happy", counting down the two weeks and then telling himself that again. Oh, we discover that he is probably not the offspring of the man he thought was his father (big surprise there) and the ending suggested to me that Marek finally finds some level of ability when it comes to assisted suicide. A laugh riot, right?

Why on earth did I give this a star? It's bizarre. But mostly, the writing moved like I think. Marek will say something, then jump to something it reminds him of, then jump back to present time, then jump back to the memory and the yo-yoing continues throughout. It took me a while to get used to it (especially since I had been reading Toltz's very clean and direct prose for 500 pages) but when I did, I found it to be refreshingly different from most books I've read. Add in the fact that it succeeded despite being translated from Dutch and I think there is some merit to reading it, even if I didn't much care for Marek's embarrassingly open discussion of his failures.

Maybe the funniest thing about this book was that it initially won an award for best debut novel until it was discovered that van der Jagt was a fake name for Grunberg, who won the same award years before. I found that amusing, even if the story wasn't.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #2 - Fur

I had checked Fur out from the library last year but never got around to watching it. I wasn't really missing much.

This movie is supposed to be "an imaginary portrait of famed photographer Diane Arbus" but it could have been about anybody. We never see any photos that Arbus took, the movie is fictitious, so why not say it's an imaginary portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt or Joan of Arc?

Nicole Kidman plays Arbus and the movie begins with her arriving at a nudist camp. Nudist camps are never good things for viewing pleasure. You never see a nudist camp populated by Arizona Cardinals cheerleaders, for instance. It's always people who don't look that great in clothing, let alone nude. Why is Arbus at a nudist camp? Good question, and one that is quickly not answered by sending the story back three months. Arbus is married to a fellow who does photography, largely marketing shots for Arbus' parents who run a fur business. Ah, fur! Thus, the title! Nope. She helps out as her hubbie's assistant but is pretty unhappy with her lot in life.

Arbus becomes interested in her mysterious new neighbor who has just moved into the apartment upstairs. She first sees him from her window. He is standing in the street and is wearing a shroud over his head and has a bad cough. Arbus works up the courage to see him and when she does, she discovers that he is covered in hair, part of some disorder he has. Thus, the title. She tells her spouse that she wants to be a photographer and do portraits of people in the apartment building. Instead, she spends all her time with furry Lionel (Downey's character) who asks her bizarre questions and takes her to places where they hang out with fellow freak show performers (as Lionel once was).

We find out that Lionel is dying from a respiratory problem. Ironic, in that every other character smokes. Not only do they smoke but whatever they smoke sizzles. Every time someone inhaled, whoever was working the soundboard went nuts and made it sound like bacon frying. Drove me bonkers. Anyway, Lionel breaks the news to Diane, Diane gets sad, Lionel asks her to shave him, she does, they have sex, they go to the beach and Lionel drowns himself in the ocean. Diane then leaves her family and goes to the nudist camp.

This was just an odd flick and I didn't much care for it. It was over two hours and Downey doesn't speak until a half hour has passed (he has the appearance in the street several minutes before that). We don't really understand why Kidman is so attracted to him and the others although we can speculate since her parents are asses and her husband is dull. She's not much of a mother. She's really not much of anything which I guess makes up part of her being attracted to Lionel. Nothing in her life was anything to write blog posts about.

There is a good deal of nudity in the flick but that is as irritating as the cigarette sound. Kidman disrobes a couple of times but it is blatant that a body double is used. This bothers me from a vanity standpoint. You have people in this film who don't look good naked. You're Nicole Kidman. Your body is above average and compared to everyone else in this, you're going to look sexy regardless. But no, a double has to be used. I don't know. Not really worth being bothered about, but it did bother me.

As for our hero, well, when you're covered in hair, it doesn't really matter how well you act. No facial expressions can be viewed. Seeing him next to Kidman was odd. She towers over him. Downey was solidly average in a part that really didn't allow him to do much.

The best part of the movie was the soundtrack. Carter Burwell composed it and brought a nice blend of selections to the table, fitting the mood changes very well. His music is very understated (I always felt that the work he did for Fargo best exemplifies his style). Here, check out a smidge:



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Group of 79 project - Don Demeter

I have to admit, my baseball knowledge is shaky in some places. If I had to rank my knowledge of 20th century baseball by decade, it would go:


I was born in the 1970's and grew up watching, reading, learning, working in/around/about/(preposition of choice) baseball. The Deadball Era is my favorite era in the history of the game. So the top four make a lot of sense. the rest, not so much. I dislike the 1930's as much as I have disliked the game of the 21st century. Too much offense, not enough pitching, slugfests. Yuck.

Which makes my lack of knowledge of the 1960's all the more baffling. Not an offensive era, one of the greatest pitching parks ever in the Astrodome, it is the decade right before I was born so there were players who played in the 1960's who I watched. Doesn't make a lot of sense but my choices in life often don't make sense.

My ignorance of the era means that I was largely unaware of Don Demeter and his accomplishments. As I was researching him, I discovered an interesting thing about him. He is the only player in history to have received MVP votes while playing 80 or more games at third base one season (1962) and then received MVP votes the following season while playing 80 or games in centerfield (and only seven players have played 80+ games at 3B one year and then 80+ in center the following). That's quite a move along the defensive spectrum.

Also interestingly, those two seasons were the only two where Demeter was an everyday player.

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel on this one. The tastefully named Jonathan Arnold did a nice biography of Demeter for the book The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium On The Field and you can read that bio here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Browsing my library - The 1884 Kansas City Unions

Since my reading for pleasure is already going downhill, I thought it would be nice to randomly select a book from my baseball library to feature once again. This one is a dandy and holds a spot in my heart for many reasons.

In 1977, H.L. Dellinger self-published three books on baseball in Kansas City. This was back in the day before Lulu or XLibris. Heck, this was before Kinko's or Staples. If you wanted to self-publish, you typed out all the copies you wanted and then stapled them together. Maybe you could find a photocopier to make life a little easier. Needless to say, print runs were pretty tiny. This book was limited to 250 copies.

This particular book is about the Kansas City entry in the Union Association (UA) of 1884. The Union Association was a league that lasted only one season. Because of its short existence, the lack of quality players, and the lack of major league caliber cities comprising it, there are many folks who think that the UA should not be considered a major league. It was created as a rival to the National League and American Association in an effort to abolish the reserve clause which allowed teams to renew a players contract each season thereby capping what a player could earn. It wasn't until Curt Flood challenged the notion of the clause in 1967 and Andy Messersmith became a free agent in 1975 that the clause was abolished altogether. It was this intent, as much as anything, that created the perception of the UA as a rival major league.

One of the reasons the UA struggled was because the creator of the league, Henry Lucas, made his team the most talented of the bunch. His St. Louis Maroons had the best record in the league with a 94-19 record.

The reason why this book is near and dear to me, in part, is because the Union Association launched my interest in baseball history. When I was a young lad, I received a copy of Total Baseball for Christmas. In it, I discovered my birthplace, Altoona, Pennsylvania, had a major league team for one year. Any guesses as to the year and the league? Also, Delaware's only major league team happened to also play for the 1884 Union Association. Learning more about the Altoona Mountain City and the Union Association sparked my interest in baseball history, led me to joining the Society for American Baseball Research and is the impetus for my love of baseball today.

Interestingly, the Kansas City team joined the Union Association as a replacement after the Altoona team folded. It didn't make much difference. Teams folded left and right, no one cared because the Maroons won no matter who they played. Chaos reigned.

There aren't many books out there on the Union Association. This is one. It isn't easy finding Dellinger's books because of the print runs but sometimes you can and they aren't too expensive because people overlook them based on the perceived quality. If you ever get the chance, I recommend taking a flyer and picking it up.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Hall of Fame ballot

Assuming I had the opportunity to vote on this year's class of Hall of Famers, here's my picks.

Barry Larkin
Jimmy Wynn
Bert Blyleven
Tim Raines
Dave Parker
Alan Trammell
Dale Murphy

Fun while it lasted

Fun while it lasted.
The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay.
Ignorance is bliss.

Choose your trite saying, it probably applies.

If you're a reader and/or know me, you'll know last semester, my third in my pursuit of my third master's degree, kicked my butt. I was miserable, despondent, dragged my heels, turned in assignments late, did a lackluster job and was so incredibly grateful when it ended that I completely blocked it out. In part because I expected the results to be indicative of my feeling.

Turned out I was wrong. I finally logged in last week and checked my grades. Three A's and a B (including an A+). Yes, it still sucked. Yes, I suffered more mentally/emotionally than I had in a long time. When all was said and done, though, I got through it pretty good.

I had registered for four classes for the next semester which will give me one course to take in the spring to graduate. I figured I've done it twice, once with not as much angst, why not knock it out.

Until I logged in I had not realized that the semester starts today. Ugh. Week 1 has me doing in excess of two hundred pages of reading. Then the assignments start.

This may put a damper on other things blog related. I don't know. My priorities are the boowahs, food on plate/roof over head, health, school. Anything left after that will be gravy.

So we'll see. I never did get organized last semester and I am pretty well organized already this semester. I knocked out thirty pages of reading last night before classes even started. I've always needed an outlet and like writing anyway so maybe things won't change much. Worst case it is only ten weeks and come March I can get back to doing the things I want to do in this space. Stay tuned, I guess.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #1 - Charlie Bartlett

My lack of interest in watching movies is well-documented. Nonetheless, I find my attitude changing a little bit. I watched a number of good ones in November and decided that maybe I'll expose myself to some more. Being as I like to have projects and objectives, I thought it would be fun to try and watch all of Robert Downey, Jr.'s movies this year.

Why Robert Downey, Jr.? I just like him. He's been around a long time, has been through some tough spots in his life, and is entertaining. So why not?

I picked up Charlie Bartlett at the library. Fun movie. A kid, Charlie Bartlett, played by Anton Yelchin, finds himself dismissed from yet another of a long list of private schools. His father is in prison for tax evasion and his wealthy mother (Hope Davis) is a nutjob. Charlie isn't a bad kid, just misguided. He has had to step up to be the man of the house and has lost his sense of being a kid.

Charlie falls for a girl (Kat Dennings) whose father, played by our hero, is the principal of the public school in which Charlie is now enrolled. Downey is an alcoholic and a single father, his wife having passed away. He's quirky, maybe even neurotic, and has a difficult time keeping the kids in his school under control.

The movie is pretty funny. I laughed out loud in several spots. Charlie is a little ridiculous in his precociousness. I also thought he looked much older than the character he plays. Turns out he's much closer than I thought. The bully-nerd play gets a nice twist. A little too heavy on the psychobabble which ultimately brought down my rating.

Downey is solid but is definitely a tertiary character. I thought he did a good job pulling off the role of the difficult role; father of teen daughter. Add in the extra difficulty of being the school principal and he would have had a tough life. I think he showed that.



Saturday, January 2, 2010

More fun with the NFL standings

Last week I looked at the possibility of eight teams finishing with an 8-8 record in the AFC and competing for two playoff spots, which, miraculously, can still happen. By now, though, everyone has broken down the playoff possibilities and you can find that anywhere. But what about the first pick in the 2010 draft?

Right now the St. Louis Rams are the worst team in football with a 1-14 record. The Detroit Lions are still in the hunt, though, at 2-13. If the Rams win and the Lions lose, the tiebreaker goes to the team that had the weakest strength of schedule.

Interestingly, once you get rid of common opponents and assume a Lions loss and a Rams win, it comes down to how ten teams perform tomorrow.

The Lions would want the Vikings, Steelers, Packers, Browns, Bengals and Ravens to lose.

The Rams would want the Jaguars, Colts, Cardinals, and Texans to lose. Seattle and Tennessee play each other which give the Rams a 1-1 start.

The big games are the Packers-Cardinals and Jaguars-Browns matchups which affect both Detroit and St. Louie.

If you're looking for a reason to watch the last game of the season, now you have two. One, to see if the Jets make the playoffs. But two, if the Jets do win, they could very well give the Lions the top pick in the draft. Fun stuff!

My first card show in over twenty years

Until today, I don't think I had been to a baseball card show since I was a freshman in college. Last month, I started looking at show calendars to see if there might be any near where I live and sure enough, there was one at a Ramada hotel in Lancaster today.

Strangely, this was the first and last time the show would be held there. Apparently this is a regular show and they had just moved to this venue from another one. Someone took over the Ramada and the new management told the card folks that they would not be willing to have them there in future months. Go figure.

What I found annoying about the show is I wish the shows I had gone to as a kid were more like this one. This show had tons of vintage stuff, which I'm not really interested in at this point. The other option was high end cards. Only one dealer had packs. There were probably about 15-20 dealers in all and the show was doing some good business.

Interestingly, one of the dealers is a regular patron of the computers at the library and he was selling baseball books. He had a couple I was interested in but wanted fair value for them which I refuse to pay for baseball books. Thought maybe he would give his ol' librarian buddy a break but no dice.

I did pick up a bunch of cards and with the $1 I had left, I bought a pack of 2008 Upper Deck X. The guy had the one pack left, it was marked as $3 and he had it in a half off box. Even still, he gave me grief about asking for it for a buck. Dude, you can get this stuff at the dollar store. Nice to know card shows are still the same in that regard.

So what did I get? Seventeen Adam Dunns:

I got my first two autographed cards of Dunn. The one is on card. The other is a sticker and bat and is number to 25 copies. The double jersey one is numbered to 62. I was pretty jazzed, all in all.

I also picked up four 2008 Upper Deck X inserts for when I get around to building the set, an Obak card of native Delawarean Spook Jacobs, a pair of Mat Latos cards, and two cards for the day when Dave is willing and able to work a trade with me. Don't know if he needs them but I thought the Chipper was sort of cool looking and Bob Horner is one of the all-time greats. I mean, the guy is 53rd all-time in AB per HR despite playing in an era when 30 HR was a great season.

It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Had some fun, got some nice cards, didn't break the bank. Would have liked to have had an opportunity to get a box of Upper Deck X or some cheap baseball books but you can't have everything. The new location of the show is such that I don't know if I will go back to it in the future. Just to have look for some other ones.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Group of 79 project - Greg Brock

Without a doubt, the greatest major league baseball player to come out of the University of Wyoming is Greg Brock. This isn't too surprising. The school doesn't even have a baseball team anymore, they didn't induct Brock into their Hall of Fame until 2002 (and inducted Bill Ewing, who reached AA before a shoulder injury ended his career, before Brock), and the main rivals are Art Howe and Jeff Huson.

I always liked Brock. He split his career pretty much evenly with the Dodgers, where he was given the gigantic shoes of Steve Garvey to fill, and the Brewers, where he was to fill the possibly larger, but not as flashy, shoes of Cecil Cooper.

One has to wonder how Brock would have progressed through the minors in this day and age. His very brief minor league career was played in stadiums and leagues that inflated batting numbers and he was old for his leagues so when he reached the majors, his performance seemed pretty disappointing. What he did, though, was pretty awesome.

He made his professional debut at Lethbridge of the Pioneer League. He hit .356/.472/.640, was second in the league in RBI, third in 2B and HR, was named to the All-Star team at first base and led Lethbridge to the league championship. 1.112 OPS in your first year as a professional? Nice.

In 1980 he was promoted to Lodi of the California League. He led the league in homers, was third in RBI and hit .299/.391/.567. He claimed another home run title in 1981 at San Antonio, slugging 32 homers with 106 RBI (third in the league) and putting up slash numbers of .295/.352/.549. In hindsight, this was the first real test of Brock. He was a reasonable age for the league and for the first time as a pro, his strikeouts exceeded his walks. He still looked like a strong prospect by this point.

His final full season in the minors came at AAA Albuquerque in 1982. If you hit 44 home runs and knocked in 138 runs in 1982, you were something special. Brock didn't even lead the league. Ron Kittle (who might possibly be a part of this group (keep your eyes out to find out)) belted 50 home runs and drove in 144 to top Brock in both categories. He also had a higher average than Brock (.345). Brock's .310/.432/.663 (he led the league in walks and intentional walks) made Brock an All-Star and Albuquerque gave Brock his second championship in four years of being a pro.

When Brock reached the majors, though, he was never able to hit for average. His first year after being traded to the Brewers he hit .299. Otherwise, he never hit much better than .250, ending his career at .248. He continued to draw walks and showed a good eye at the plate, especially for someone with power. His walk/strikeout ratio was close to 1-1. He just was never able to really reach expectations whether they were based on his minor league performance or the players he was trying to replace.

He still had a nice career and is one of those guys I look back upon fondly and am glad made this list.

Layout update and technology frustrations

Mark e-mailed me to let me know the comments weren't working right in the new format and sure enough, they weren't. I tinkered endlessly and still cannot get them to work in the style they were so I went with a popup box for comments. I don't like it but I like using my time to figure it out even less.

I also made pages for my 2009 and 2008 reading lists. They are in the Things I Have Stashed Online section. 2008 is only partial. I think I have lists for some other years somewhere but I cannot get my old hard drive to work to look for them. Ah, technology.