Monday, June 13, 2016

Review - 2016 Topps Archives Baseball: A fresh look on a vintage product

The instant gratification of opening a pack of baseball cards has never been more apparent than with the experience that comes along with Topps’ 2016 Archives Baseball series. Fancied in the molds of the 1953, 1979, and 1991 Topps releases, Archives beautifully blends the stars of today with the designs of yesteryear to create an even fresher look for 2016.

2016 Topps Archives / Topps

Click here to read an in depth review of the 2016 Topps Archives Baseball series.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Review: 'Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain' by Kevin D. McCann

Ken Boyer holds a significant, yet often unheralded position in St. Louis Cardinals lore. Playing during the intersection of the careers of franchise cornerstones Stan Musial and Bob Gibson, Boyer’s stabilizing at the hot corner is understated in its importance in Cardinals history.

Boyer is finally given his proper due in Kevin D. McCann’s new biography, “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain.” Boyer’s rise starts rooted in the small town of Alba, Missouri, as one of 14 children to Vern and Mabel Boyer. He grew up in a household deeply rooted in athletics, as all seven boys in the Boyer clan became professional baseball players, including brothers Clete and Cloyd who also became major leaguers.

The man who went on to be regarded as the best third baseman of his era was originally signed as a pitcher by the Cardinals in 1949. He pitched two years in the minor leagues before the Cardinals shifted him to third base due to a combination of his hitting prowess and lack of control on the mound.

McCann explores the details of Boyer’s transition from a moundsman to a Gold Glove third baseman, a ride that had its fair share of bumps in the road. His development was initially hampered by two years of service in the Korean War. Upon his return, the Cardinals shifted Boyer among the third base, short stop, and center field positions, trying to best utilizing his superior athleticism.

Once the Cardinals settled on Boyer playing third base, a star was born. Starting with Boyer capturing the first National League Gold Glove at third base in 1958, he reigned over the next seven seasons as the premier player at the hot corner in the perhaps all of baseball, culminating his run with National League Most Valuable Player honors in 1964.

While Boyer was making his triumphant ascent in professional baseball, McCann chronicles Boyer’s ups and downs with the management and press, who thought at times the third baseman appeared to lack hustle and vigor on the field. McCann quickly quells those notions from interviews with his living teammates, as well as pointing to his iron man status on the field, missing only 18 games during the aforementioned seven seasons, including playing the full 162 games during his MVP campaign.

Almost as quickly as Boyer’s career ascended, his MVP season became the pinnacle of his career. Slowed by injuries to his knees Boyer was traded to the New York Mets after the 1965 season, when he posted totals that were nowhere near his 1964 MVP performance. Boyer spent parts of two seasons with the Mets before moving to the Chicago White Sox. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969. While the latter stages of Boyer’s playing career are relatively a mere footnote in his career, McCann treats them with respect, giving them the same depth of coverage as his Cardinals days.

Clocking in at 463 pages, Boyer’s biography is incredibly well researched, although at times a bit too detailed. Each chapter of his playing career has details of almost seemingly every game he played in; crowding the lesser reported events of his playing days that are the true gems of this book. McCann manages to dig up rare details of his amateur career; including time spent playing against Mickey Mantle in amateur leagues before either signed a professional contract. Fans will also enjoy seeing photos from Boyer’s personal family collection, giving readers a deeper look into the details of his life.

His name continues to come up many times for the Hall of Fame, including the newly formed Golden Era Committee. McCann presents the entirety of his life, in what will be considered the definitive work on Boyer’s life and career, without waving the flag for Boyer’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Boyer passed away at the age of 51 in 1982 after suffering a bout with lung cancer. After reading “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain,” one will get the feel that they were watching the events of his life unfold right in front of them from the homemade ball field on the farms in Alba to his bedside during his final days of his life.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bartolo Colon joins unlikely group with first career home run

Bartolo Colon made history of sorts Saturday night when he hit his first major league home run off of James Shields of the San Diego Padres. The 42-year-old Mets pitcher joined a select group of major leaguers to homer in their age-43 season or later, a list that includes Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, soon-to-be Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel, 2000 American League MVP Jason Giambi, and All-Stars Julio Franco and Andres Galarraga. Unlikely company for a pitcher with a lifetime .089 career batting average.

Bartolo Colon hitting his first major league home run

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Joe Durham, 84, first African-American to hit a home run for the Baltimore Orioles

Joe Durham, the first African-American position player in Baltimore Orioles history, passed away April 28, 2016 in Randallstown, Maryland. He was 84.

Joe Durham
Durham followed pitcher Jehosie Heard, who broke the color barrier for the Orioles earlier in the 1954 season as a pioneer during the team's inaugural season. Prior to joining the Orioles, Durham was an All-Star in the Negro Leagues with the Chicago American Giants.

In my column for The Sports Post, I profiled Durham from a 2010 interview that I conducted with him, where he explains his career experiences from playing in the East-West All-Star Game, to the hardships he faced integrating the Piedmont League in 1953, one year prior to his major league debut.

"Joe Durham was a Negro League All-Star Before he made History with the Baltimore Orioles." - The Sports Post

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 Topps Gypsy Queen and Museum Collection keep things hot for collectors

Now that the obligatory release of the 2016 Topps Baseball set is in the rearview mirror, the famed baseball company has opened up the season with two products that are primed to set the table of any collector’s lineup. The 2016 Topps Gypsy Queen and Museum Collection sets are next on deck in Topps’ expanding baseball card line.

This year’s Gypsy Queen set blends a classic retro portrait design with the clarity of modern card manufacturing to create a truly wide appealing collectible. With exciting action shots frozen in time by the masterfully painted canvases, the cards make for a journey worth pursuing. The 350-card checklist gives a nod to the past by honoring almost 50 Hall of Famers with a dazzling subset of short prints, while all the major stars and rookies are covered in the base set.

The box provided for this review provided an array of inserts including two autographed cards and two relic cards. In addition to the two dozen mini cards that were randomly inserted into the packs, the box also yielded a pack of 10 parallel mini cards, which are part of a more limited set of 100 mini cards.

2016 Museum Collection (l.) & 2016 Gypsy Queen (r.) / Topps
For collectors seeking a fancier indulgence, the 2016 Topps Museum Collection will satisfy their hunger. Each four pack box boasts one on-card autograph, one autographed relic, one quad relic, and one prime relic.

The thick glossy design of the Museum Collection cards are similar to Topps’ other high-end products, giving collectors a heavier feel that a premium product deserves. Each of the relic inserts that came in the box had vibrant patches that equally highlighted the relic and the player featured on the card. Especially attractive was the quad relic card that came in the box, featuring four prominent players from the same organization with a mix of bat and jersey pieces.

As collectors dig deeper into Topps’ releases during the baseball season, both the 2016 Gypsy Queen and Museum Collection products are worthy of a look. Whether it is a collector searching for a set oriented product in Gypsy Queen, or a guaranteed-hit product like Museum Collection, both issues offer satisfying returns for the purchase.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Medgal explores 'The Cardinals Way' of success in new book

Author Howard Medgal peels away the layers surrounding the long-standing mystique of the St. Louis Cardinals system of player development in his new book, “The Cardinals Way.” Detailing the history of the storied franchise that has garnered 11 World Series Championships, Medgal connects the dots from over a century of innovation that started with the legendary Branch Rickey and continues today under the watchful eyes of general manager John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt Jr.

Click here to read a complete review of Medgal's inside look at the Cardinals system of success.

The Cardinals Way / Thomas Dunne Books

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Start the 2016 baseball season with Topps Opening Day

As fans turn their attention from watching prospects and non-roster invitees compete during Grapefruit League games to the performance of their favorite team’s franchise players, the Topps Company celebrates the journey into the 2016 season with the release of their Opening Day product.

2016 Topps Opening Day Baseball / Topps

The 2016 Topps Opening Day Baseball set is a perfect complement to the excitement surrounding the calls of the umpires summoning the major leaguers to play ball. Topps brings back a fun simplicity to collecting by making it easy for fans to compile an entire set by purchasing a box of cards.

Click here to read more in depth about Topps' 2016 Opening Day Baseball card set.