Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 Bowman Chrome gives a fresh look at a September baseball card release

September is one of the most exciting times in the baseball season, as contenders furiously battle for a spot in the playoffs, while second-division teams get a chance to show off their top prospects as rosters expand. Both breathe life into every game of the final season of the month, giving each team the opportunity to write their own final narrative. The release of the 2016 Bowman Chrome baseball card series only adds to the drama of fall baseball, offering collectors the opportunity to chase the prospects that are on the verge of stardom while getting a fresh look at the current stars of the game.

2016 Bowman Chrome / Bowman

Bowman highlights two rising young players on the cover of the 2016 Chrome product, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Michael Conforto of the New York Mets. The latter is contributing to the Mets playoff run, while the former had a torrid start to his first minor league season that finished before his 18th birthday. This year’s product came in the form of two mini boxes, each guaranteeing two autographs as part of the 60 cards contained therein.

Unlike its Topps Chrome sister set, Bowman Chrome adds new photos to the players featured in the 2016 Bowman set, while revamping the 100-card condensed base set checklist. A host of new minor leaguers populate the prospects in the set, giving Bowman Chrome a fresh appeal to those who purchased Bowman earlier this year.

2016 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Base Card / Bowman
Some fresh eye-catching inserts highlighting the Arizona Fall League All-Stars and an update to the Bowman Scouts Top 100 series allow collectors to find something new to enjoy in this late season release. The box provided for this review yielded one base Chrome Prospect autograph, as well as a green refractor autograph that was limited to a run of 99 cards.

Trayce Thompson Bowman Chrome Green Refractor Autograph / Bowman

While outside of Guerrero Jr. and Gary Sanchez, there aren’t many hot prospects in the set; however, that shouldn’t stop collectors from giving 2016 Bowman Chrome a look. With today’s frontline players captured in new photos on their patented Chrome stock and the chance to catch a sleeper pick in the mix, 2016 Bowman Chrome fits snugly into the theatrics of late season baseball.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How Vin Scully predicted he would broadcast Fordham Prep classmate Larry Miggins' first MLB home run

With Vin Scully’s incredible 67-year run as a broadcaster for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers coming to an end, one of his more inspirational stories involves his Fordham Prep classmate Larry Miggins. In 1952, Miggins was a reserve outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and Scully was splitting broadcast duties with the legendary Red Barber. During a 2013 interview with Miggins, he explained to me how the Fordham Prep alumni crossed paths at the major league level in a most unlikely way.

“I was a senior and he was a junior,” Miggins recalled. “We had an assembly for some reason and he ended up sitting right behind me. He grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘Larry, you’re going to be in the big leagues and the first time you hit a home run, I’m going to be the announcer to tell the world about it.’ Can you imagine that? He’s 15 years old. I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen.”

Vin Scully / Wikimedia Commons
During the 1952 season, Miggins found sparse playing time behind two Hall of Famers in the Cardinals outfield, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. As the Cardinals started a 16-game road trip, manager Eddie Stanky gave Miggins a rare start. His spot in the lineup on May 13, 1952 set the stage for Scully to earn his stripes as a thinly veiled fortune teller.

“I hit the home run off of Preacher Roe and it just so happened that he only had two innings out of the nine innings of the ballgame because Red Barber took them all," Miggins said. "He had the microphone when I hit that home run and told the whole world about what he had told me back in school in 1943.”

Larry Miggins Signed Baseball Card / Baseball-Almanac.com
For many years, Scully’s improbable tale of predicting that he would broadcast his schoolmate’s first major league home run was one that he told at a multitude of speeches he’s given around the country. Of the myriad of rich baseball experience that Scully’s had throughout his career, Miggins pondered why his was chosen.

“I asked him, ‘Why do you tell that story?’” Miggins said. “He said, ‘What am I going to tell these guys? I’ve got a science degree from Fordham. These guys have masters and doctorates, and are highly educated. What can I tell them that will inspire them? I tell them that story for one reason; it puts something out there that you can shoot at. It may not happen, but it can happen. Have something to drive you to excel in your work to do better and have a goal.’ That’s why he tells that story, so you’ll have a goal to do something that’s almost impossible, and when you strive hard enough, it will happen.”

Comedian Ari Shaffir fulfills childhood dream of being on a Topps baseball card

Thumbing through a pack of 2016 Topps Allen and Ginter baseball cards, the tally of superstars read like a who’s who of baseball. Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Kris Bryant, Ari Shaffir, Albert Pujols … wait whose organization has a top prospect named Shaffir? A quick flip of the card reveals that Shaffir is not in the set for his mammoth home runs or his unhittable curveball, but for his prowess at making people laugh.

2016 Topps Allen and Ginter Ari Shaffir / Topps

Shaffir is a comedian best known for his Comedy Central series, “This is Not Happening.” Continuing with Topps’ efforts to diversify their Allen and Ginter set, Shaffir’s inclusion in the set represents Topps’ eye for highlighting rising stars. After a recent performance at The Stand in New York City, Shaffir sat down to discuss the experience of being immortalized on a baseball card. The opportunity arose from a recommendation by a fellow comedian who was in last year's set.

“Sal Vulcano had one [2015 Topps Allen and Ginter] and he knew some people [at Topps] so he recommended me,” Shaffir said. “They e-mailed me and I thought it would be cool.”

Shaffir performing at The Stand in NYC / N. Diunte

Growing up, Shaffir collected Topps baseball cards. The hallmark of his collection was an iconic card of Hall of Famer George Brett.

"I was into baseball cards," he said. "I always had Topps when I was little. My favorite was a 1975 George Brett rookie card; it was the center of my collection.”

One of Shaffir’s favorite players growing up was Frank Thomas. Never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would be in the same baseball card set as the Hall of Famer, but with the advent of 2016’s Allen and Ginter set, that dream became a reality.

“I was really into Frank Thomas,” he said. “I followed his career all the way up, from being drafted all the way to the Hall of Fame.”

Part of Shaffir’s inclusion in Topps’ set involved him autographing cards, as well as providing event worn memorabilia for limited edition inserts. He went behind the scenes at Topps' iconic headquarters in New York City to meet with their representatives to fulfill his duties for the set.

“I went to the office in Manhattan and signed a bunch [of cards],” he said. “I ended up giving up my shirt that I wore from my [Comedy Central] special. They gave me a Topps shirt too; it was cool.”

Now that Shaffir has an official baseball card, he is receiving major league treatment from fans. When he recently returned from touring, his mailbox was full with unexpected requests to sign his rookie card.

“I’ve been getting people sending me stuff,” he said. “I got back from two months on the road and I had 6-7 letters waiting in my mailbox. I sign them, ‘S--k it, Love Ari.’”

Shaffir welcomed fans to send him his new card to sign. He offered time-tested advice for making a mail request; send return postage.

“My address is up on my website,” he said. “People can send me some as long as there is a self-addressed stamped envelope; otherwise the card’s never coming back.”

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Trying to hit Bob Feller - 'All you saw was a leg, a face, and an arm!'

For any major league hitter, facing Bob Feller was never an easy task. Armed with a fastball that hovered around 100 miles per hour, Feller made even the most dangerous hitters just another notch in his rising strikeout totals.

Philadelphia Athletics shortstop Al Brancato was barely 19 years old when he first squared off against Feller during 1939 spring training. During a visit to the late Brancato's Upper Darby, Pennsylvania home in 2007, he shared just how difficult it was to hit Feller, who was then a grizzled veteran of three major league seasons at the ripe age of 20.

Bob Feller at the 2009 MLBPAA Dinner / N. Diunte

"With Feller you never knew where the ball was going to be," Brancato recalled. "He hid the ball behind his body and all you saw was a leg and an arm coming. His ball moved a lot and he threw very hard; he had everything. ... The first time I faced him, I was on the bench and Mr. Mack called me to pinch hit. I went up, he threw three balls past me and I’m standing like a statue. You saw a leg, a face, and an arm. ... You didn’t see it until the last minute. He hid the ball and you never saw it until the last moment, and then boom!" 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ryback's athletic roots trace back to baseball

With his hulking figure manning the third base coach’s box, WWE superstar Ryback appeared to be out of place at MCU Park in Brooklyn; however, the current Intercontinental Champion couldn’t have been more at home than on the baseball field. Ryback, aka Ryan Reeves, played baseball in college at the College of Southern Nevada, the alma mater of Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, before a leg injury derailed any hopes for him following in the family trade.

“That was the first real skill I learned sport wise as a kid growing up coming from a baseball family,” Ryback said at MCU Park.

Ryback at MCU Park / N. Diunte

His baseball lineage is traced to his mother’s side, as both his maternal grandfather and uncle played in the major leagues. His grandfather Ebba St. Claire was a catcher for the Boston Braves in the 1950s, and his uncle Randy St. Claire pitched for five major league teams in nine seasons. Ironically there was a family connection for Ryback at MCU Park, as New York Mets Hall of Famer John Franco who was also in attendance, was his uncle’s teammate in 1988 with the Cincinnati Reds.

Ryback was at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones as part of MCU’s Second Annual Civil Servant / Celebrity Softball Challenge, which benefited WFAN’s morning radio show host Craig Carton’s Tic Toc Stop Foundation. While fans wanted to see Ryback relive his old glory and swing for the fences, his recovery from a recent injury and preparation for Sunday’s SummerSlam limited him strictly to coaching duties.

“Unfortunately with SummerSlam around the corner, just coming back from a serious staph infection, and having shoulder surgery years ago, Sunday is where my focus is at. Coming out today, showing face, and letting all the kids have a good time out here today is all in the name of a good cause.”

*Note - This piece originally ran in August 2015 on Examiner.com

Can Topps Chrome offer more than a shiny finish on proven product?

Consumers have been traditionally willing to trade in tried and true reliability for the newest shiny gadget on the market, whether it is a car, a phone, or a pair of sneakers. Topps hopes that they can capitalize on collectors’ obsessions to scoop up the latest glistening gadget with the release of the 2016 Topps Chrome set.
2016 Topps Chrome / Topps

Adding a premium touch to the 2016 Topps base set design, Chrome takes the this year’s classic release up a notch with an enhanced stock and a condensed 200-card checklist in an attempt to attract customers to the product.


With only four cards per pack, Topps Chrome aims to have the feel of exclusivity; however, that feeling is quickly lost with the myriad of parallels that includes nine different types of base card refractors. Building a set is a challenge, as collectors would have to dig into three boxes of the product to even have a chance at compiling a set. With the price of boxes hovering around $70, going through $200 of product just to have the chance to collate a set seems like a daunting task, leaving collectors to focus on the bigger hits in 2016 Topps Chrome.

Each hobby box boasts two autographs, with the majority consisting of almost 80 different rookie selections, including the likes of Michael Conforto, Aaron Nola, Kenta Maeda, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias. An intriguing pull is the 2015 Carlos Correa Topps Chrome Autograph, which missed the cut from last year’s product. Collectors lucky enough to pull a dual autograph could wind up with one of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, or Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.




While a varied list of autographs, and a smaller set filled with stars and rookies is certainly appetizing, that alone cannot save 2016 Topps Chrome. One thing the hobby needs less of is duplicity, and with what is essentially a chrome finished base card with no change in design, Topps has unfortunately done little to give collectors a reason to chase this one down.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

How Pete Nice brought Double Duty Radcliffe into the hip hop realm

Peter Nash, known to many as Pete Nice from the legendary hip hop group 3rd Bass, posted on Twitter a copy of a letter he penned to Def Jam executives for payment to Negro League legend Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe for his appearance on Nash’s 1994 solo album, “Dust to Dust.” The track, “Double Duty Got Di**ed,” which featured Radcliffe dropping knowledge on the segregated league over a funky drum break, put some hip hop flavor behind the ruminations of one of baseball’s greatest storytellers.

Nash, whose love for baseball and collecting memorabilia extends well before the advent of his 3rd Bass days, found it only natural to involve this chapter of baseball history in his music. Speaking with Nash recently via telephone, we discussed the origins of the Double Duty track, which was spawned from an attempt to include a song about Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell on their 3rd Bass album.

“It was almost like I had two songs,” Nash said. “I changed the song to ‘Cool Papa Got Di**ed Down.’ I had the idea I was going to do a Negro League song. I pitched it to [MC] Serch and he was interested.

“We both wanted to do this song and then we got through the second album and the concept didn’t make it; then we broke up. Ultramagnetic MCs came out with their Negro League song (The Saga of Dandy, The Devil, and Day), so I was like they already did it. Back then it was competition; you didn’t want to bite. They beat us to it. That was in 1993.”

The ensuing break up of 3rd Bass allowed Nash to revisit the idea of paying homage to the Negro Leagues on his solo album. He linked up with a New York City lawyer, Richard Berg, who was the President of the Negro Leagues Players Association, an organization created to help the living Negro League alumni have proper financial dealings as the league experienced a resurgence of public interest and popularity.

“I contacted Richard Berg to get in touch with him about getting in and recording something with [Radcliffe],” he said. “Richard Berg said that it was going to be really tough because [Radcliffe] was so old and not really traveling a lot. He said, ‘Hey I have all these interviews I did with him and other guys.’ He gave me the master tapes and I listened to it and I pulled right off there. You couldn’t get any better than that!”

Double Duty Radcliffe Signed Photo / National Pastime Museum

Nash still had to wrestle with the idea of how to differentiate his effort from that of the Ultramagnetic MCs. During that era, anything considered copying or being labeled with the tag of “biting,” was the genre’s curse of death. After listening to Berg’s tapes, Nash’s vision became much clearer.

“Going into my solo album, I thought how I could do this in a totally separate manner,” he said. “That’s how I came up with the whole spoken word idea. That’s how it changed to Double Duty when I got the vocals from Richard. I was looking at a lot of different players, but his was the best. You can’t beat Double Duty.”


The preservation of Nash’s letter requesting Double Duty’s payment is an important link to the Negro Leagues and the hip hop community. Nash recalled Double Duty initially balking at the amount of money involved because of Nash’s ethnicity, but when all things were settled, both sides walked away with a smile.

“When it came down to actually paying him, the record company was willing to pay $500 or $1000 out of the budget,” he said. “They were really just licensing part of this interview that Richard did. Double Duty said something like, ‘Who’s this white boy doing this?’ He said he wanted more money because I white. He said a whole bunch of dismissive stuff. I didn’t really care; I was glad that he was getting some money. He was happy that it was useful and he liked the song too.”

The ability to access Berg’s master tapes was as close as Nash could get to having Radcliffe in the studio. In some ways, it was a blessing for Nash to be able to keep Radcliffe from the studio, as he felt the nonagenarian’s penchant for chasing women would have kept him from ever reaching the recording booth.

“It would have been cool to have him in the studio, but he would have been trying to pick up every woman that he saw on the way,” he said.

When Nash met Radcliffe in Cooperstown, New York in the early 1990s, he watched as Radcliffe tried to hit on the waitresses at the Otesaga Hotel. Sports Illustrated later noted that even when Double Duty turned 100, he was trying to charm the waitresses at his favorite lunch spot. It is this colorful way that he lived his life that made the story of Double Duty even that more vivid. Radcliffe passed away in 2005 at the age of 102, but the tales that Duty spun have further spread the legend.

“You never knew what Double Duty would end up saying if you sat him down and let him roll.”