Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cal Neeman, played seven season in the majors, came up with Mantle in Yankees system

Cal Neeman, a former major league catcher with five different teams in the 1950s and 1960s, passed away Thursday at his home in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. He was 86.

Signed by the New York Yankees in 1949 out of Illinois Wesleyan University, where he also competed in basketball, Neeman was assigned to their Class C farm team in Joplin. During his second season in Joplin, he was joined by an erratic, but powerful shortstop in Mickey Mantle.

Cal Neeman / Author's Collection

Click here to read Neeman's view of Mantle before they hit the majors, as well as his reflections on his Korean War service and major league career.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Topps Triple Threads Review

Any product that features Ichiro in a Miami Marlins uniform immediately has my attention. Topps’ 2015 Triple Threads impresses before you even open it up by placing the future Hall of Famer prominently on the cover of their box. Finally able to bring the Suzuki to the Topps family after years of being under contract with Upper Deck, Panini, and Leaf, Topps brought tremendous excitement to their Triple Threads line with exclusive Ichiro autographed memorabilia.

2015 Topps Triple Threads

Upon opening the first pack, it is quickly apparent that you are holding a premium product in your hand. With their thick and heavy stock, high resolution photography, and a wide range of rookies, veterans, and retired superstars, each card feels like it is special piece of memorabilia worthy of the $150 hobby box retail price.

Click here to read the full review of the Topps 2015 Triple Threads, which includes a slideshow of the hits from the box that Topps provided for review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How my mom was challenged to a fight to meet Yogi Berra

I caught wind in 2008 of Yogi Berra's annual appearance at the stadium named in his honor on the campus of Montclair State University. For the meager price of an $8 ticket to the New Jersey Jackals game, you had the opportunity to meet Berra for an autograph ... if you got there early enough. With show promoters charging upwards of $100 for the same signature in person, I felt it was worth the hour trip from Queens to New Jersey for a few moments with the Yankee legend.

My mother, who also was a big baseball fan, decided to take off from work early that day to come with me. She saw it as her way of supporting her son's endeavors and she was also genuinely excited about the prospect of meeting the Hall of Fame catcher. It wasn't the first ballplayer we've waited in line to meet; during a good chunk of my childhood, she would make an effort to get me to Shea Stadium early for batting practice, or to some local grand opening (and often hang out there with me to the dismay of my sister) so I could get something signed.

I met her at her job around one o'clock and she was delayed a bit from leaving as she had to finish up some last minute odds and ends. We probably left about thirty minutes later than expected and I knew that didn't bode well for our chances, as when it comes to getting to New Jersey during the middle of the day, it seems that travel time grows exponentially in relation to the how late you left after your expected departure.

We made relatively good time, arriving somewhere between two-thirty and three o'clock. With Berra scheduled to sign in the neighborhood of 5:30, I felt that we still had enough lead time to get one of the coveted 300 passes. When we got out of the car, there was a sizable line, so we hurried to the end of it and played the waiting game. While my mom held our spots, I did an informal count starting at the front of the line and after counting 200 people, I felt confident that we would be able to meet Berra.

Our ticket from Yogi Berra Autograph Night in 2008

I brought a folding chair for my then 67-year-old mother and we sat and talked baseball and collecting among the fans near us. The people a few spots behind us drove all the way from Boston to meet Berra. As we got closer to Berra's start time, representatives from the Jackals started walking up the line and giving instructions for the signing. You could feel the anticipation of everyone in the line, as some had started their wait as early as 10AM to get their moment with Yogi.

Just before the Jackals personnel started to give out the autograph vouchers, suddenly the line grew from in front of us. People made their way out of their cars and joined their friends and family members who were waiting in line. Out of the woodwork came wives and small children holding various pieces of memorabilia, each taking up one of the coveted spots in front of us. That 100 person buffer didn't feel so comfortable now four hours after our departure from Queens.

Tension began to build as you heard the people giving out the tickets counting off numbers. A line that was once straight had now become a mass of people wading towards the Jackals employees at different angles, hoping they could get their pass before three hundred. We waited as patiently as we could as we heard calls of, "Two-fifty, two-sixty, two-seventy ..." People began pointing out the line cutters and those that were waiting almost three hours were growing restless.

The count was less than 10 away from 300 when the employees were in reach. There was a lady with some kids that were next to us in line who looked pretty unprepared for the signing. Everyone in line had large photos, artwork, baseballs, and baseball cards, everything one would expect for a player of Berra's magnitude. She and her kids had loose pieces of paper; I don't even think they had one piece of memorabilia.

For some reason just the team employees approached with the last two tickets, that lady wasn't paying attention. My mother, who was closely watching the person with the tickets, walked right up to her and got the last two tickets after identifying that we were together.

Within moments, our elation became everyone else's dismay, including the people we met from Boston, and the lady who was next to us who had a very untimely lapse of concentration. The poor college students that were the Jackals employees began to incur the wrath of the 100 people behind us, while the girl who was next to us in line with the kids grew irate at my mother.

The young lady, who was at least thirty (if not more) years my mother's junior, cursed out my mother for allegedly cutting front of her for the last two tickets, and demanded that we give her one of our tickets because it was the fair thing to do. As much as I am for parity, after that trek, neither of us was going to give up our tickets. We kept our cool, as we had the tickets, but this lady would not relent. She attempted to challenge my mother to a fight, of which I dutifully made sure wasn't going to happen.

The people in line near us, as well as the Jackals employees saw this all unfold, and they quickly got team security to escort this lady and her children out of the park. It was laughable to me that this lady was incensed enough to challenge my sixty-seven year old mother to a fight over an autograph.

Once Berra started signing he was like a machine. Quickly the line in front of us evaporated as we moved into the stadium. As the people in front of us got their autograph, there was a small reward for us in addition to getting Yogi to sign our things. With nobody behind us, Yogi relaxed a little bit and my mother and I each asked him a question about his baseball career. He took the time to answer us both and thank us for coming. We held that experience as close to us as the autographs we acquired on the ride home.

One of the items Yogi signed for us that day
While we were driving back to Queens, my mom turned to me and left me with this gem.

"Nick, one day you will have kids, and you will tell them how your mother waited hours in a line to meet Yogi Berra, and at the same time nearly got in a fight for doing so. Remember that when your kids ask you to do something."

My mom passed away due to lung cancer on September 20, 2014, almost a year prior to Berra's death on Tuesday. While I don't have my own kids to tell the story to now, I felt the timing was appropriate to share it. Maybe she can join the line again to greet him in Heaven and tell him her version of this story.

Hank Workman recalls the overlooked talents of Yogi Berra

Hank Workman was just a wide-eyed rookie with the New York Yankees when he was called up in September 1950. The University of Southern California star only played two games for the eventual World Series Champions, spending most of his time watching Yankees legends Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto lead the Yankees to the pennant. Despite being surrounded by those established veterans, the player he was most impressed with was their upstart catcher, Yogi Berra.

Hank Workman

"He was one of the best late-inning hitters," Workman told me in a phone interview from his California home in 2008. "Nobody says anything about that. ... He was a fabulous ballplayer, the best catcher I think."

Click here to read the full account of Workman's experiences playing alongside Berra in 1950.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ken Griffey Jr. recreates 1989 Upper Deck rookie card in hip hop video

Ken Griffey Jr.'s 1989 Upper Deck rookie card remains one of the most iconic baseball cards ever. The first card in Upper Deck's inaugural release, the future Hall of Famer's rookie card skyrocketed to values of over $100 during his first season. Widely collected as the premier Griffey Jr. rookie card to own, it can be found in baseball fan's collections worldwide.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.  / Author's Collection

Seattle based hip-hop artist Macklemore paid tribute to Griffey Jr.'s infamous rookie card by having him recreate the pose (at 1:43) in his new video for, "Downtown," featuring Ryan Lewis, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jake Taylor's Major League advice for Matt Harvey

While Matt Harvey isn't out there tanking games for the New York Mets, there has been quite a buzz about the potential decision spurned on by his agent Scott Boras, and Dr. James Andrews to force the Mets shut him down for the rest of the season when he reaches his 180 inning limit. As the Mets are approaching the playoffs and a potential run at the World Series, you can only wonder if one of the veterans will be pulling him aside in the locker room and giving him a talk ala Jake Taylor did to Roger Dorn in Major League.

2015 Topps Football celebrates a rich NFL tradition spanning 60 years

Topps is celebrating the 60th anniversary of their NFL partnership with the release of their 2015 football series. With a mix of vivid graphics, a wide range of NFL rosters, and insert cards featuring retired legends, Topps’ 2015 football set is sure to please both the avid football fan and sports card collector.

The base set contains 500 cards, featuring 99 rookies alongside 240 veterans. There is a tremendous focus on the impact of fantasy football reflected in the set. Subsets include cards ranking the Top 60 players in the league, as well as one dedicated solely to Fantasy Studs.

There is a dizzying array of inserts that are sure to keep the avid collector busy. There are four base set parallels: Gold (#2015), BCA Pink (#499), STS Camo (#399), and Platinum (1/1). There are also close to 100 short printed variations that are sure to leave set collectors chasing for quite some time.

Their 60th anniversary insert set delivers a nod to the past, putting both active and retired players on cards designed in the spirit of past issues.

Staying with the theme of honoring their rich NFL tradition, other inserts include Road to Victory (Super Bowl), Past and Present Performers (current stars paired with franchise legends), and All-Time Fantasy Legends (past high-end fantasy sports performers).

The major hits in each hobby box are an autographed or memorabilia card, as well as a stamped vintage buyback card embossed with their 60th anniversary logo. This box drew a Melvin Gordon patch card, as well as a 1980 Topps buyback Jerome Barkum card.

With their 2015 football release, Topps has celebrated their rich tradition with the NFL by giving fans both old and new a product to share and get excited about.