Sunday, December 10, 2017

2017 Topps Gallery delivers museum grade design to collectors

Topps's selection of artist Mayumi Seto to design the 2017 Topps Gallery set has paid immediate dividends for baseball card enthusiasts everywhere. The 200-card base set contains vivid portraits of MLB’s finest talent, largely due to her artistic vision expertly capturing the spirit of each ballplayer. Collectors will be drawn to the cards by her designs, making it a popular addition to shopping carts during the holiday season.

2017 Topps Gallery / Topps

The base set is comprised of 150 cards and an additional 50 short prints, narrowing the focus of the set to the top stars and prospects in the game (including both Rookie of the Year Award winners – Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger). By Topps limiting the players included within the set, this exclusive group further contributes to the excitement of opening each five-card pack.

The short prints create an interesting quandary for set collectors due to their relative scarcity. The box provided for this review yielded only one of the 50 short prints in the set. Mixing current players with retired legends for the short prints will drive collectors to complete this attractive set on the secondary market.

Each box contains two autographs, both which illustrate how even more impressive Seto’s portraits look behind a sharp signature. Due to the post-season release of this set, the cards contain sticker autographs, which will undoubtedly give collectors mixed feelings about adding them to their stockpiles. Some will pass on them, giving less discerning fans the opportunity to make a fine display of these autographs. As collectors move into the offseason, look for the hardcore autograph collectors to get the base cards signed in-person throughout spring training and beyond.

2017 Topps Gallery Autographs / Topps

A deeper dive into the inserts reveals even finer artwork by both Seto and Dan Bergren in the form of the Masterpiece and Hall of Fame Gallery sets. The Hall of Fame Gallery set is minted with a glossy finish that captures the essence of the game's legends at the pinnacle of their careers. The Masterpiece set could easily double as large portraits that are worthy of a museum display.

2017 Topps Gallery Inserts and Short Prints / Topps

The 2017 Topps Gallery set is a welcome shot in the arm for collectors that are looking for a different feel from the standard Topps releases during the season. While the obvious stars of this set are the artists and their handcrafted designs, 2017 Topps Gallery is designed with the reminder that baseball cards are created to be on full display for all to admire.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tracy Stallard, surrendered record setting home run to Roger Maris, dies at 80

Tracy Stallard, a seven-year major league pitcher who was best remembered for surrendering Roger Maris' record-setting 61st home run in 1961, has passed away at the age of 80 according to an announcement by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

During the 50th anniversary of his fateful meeting with Maris in 2011, I sat down with Stallard at a charity event in Pennsylvania for MetroBASEBALL magazine to discuss his place in New York baseball lore, both for his role in the famous home run, as well as his tenure with the New York Mets. Below is a modified version of the article that originally appeared in the magazine.

Tracy Stallard (l.) with Mets teammate Jack Fisher (r.) / N. Diunte
Fifty years after he faced off with Roger Maris, Tracy Stallard was just glad to be remembered. On the last day of the 1961 season, the strapping 24-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox stared down Maris behind in the count 2-0. Stallard reared back for his fastball and with one swing of the bat, Maris eclipsed Babe Ruth’s mark for home runs in a season. Forever linked due to the events of October 1st, 1961, Stallard doesn’t shy away from his connection with the Yankee slugger.

“Well it seems to be now that it’s bigger now than when it happened,” Stallard said in 2011. “I’m glad it happened. I did my best and he was doing his best and he came out on top. That’s about all you can make out of it.”

Stallard had little time to get caught up with Maris’ chase as he was informed close to the start of the game that he would be taking the mound. The short notice gave him little chance to ponder the complexities of the Yankees powerful lineup.

“I went to the ballpark and we didn’t know who was pitching," he said. "We got there about 45 minutes before the game and [while] we were getting dressed Sal Maglie threw me the ball. That’s when I knew I was pitching. I didn’t think that much about it. They had a great team. He got a lot of good pitches to hit simply because of the guys hitting behind him. Mickey Mantle didn’t play that day; however, they had some good players [in the lineup], Skowron, Howard, Blanchard, and Berra.”

Lost in the celebration of Maris’ record-breaking home run was a strong pitching performance by Stallard. He gave up only one run in seven innings while striking out five batters, including Maris the next time he came to the plate. In fact, Stallard would face Maris seven times in his career and yield only that home run.

Ironically, Stallard found himself wearing a New York uniform shortly thereafter; however, it was on the other side of town. The New York Mets acquired Stallard in a trade prior to the 1963 season. For the next two years, Stallard was a mainstay in the Mets starting rotation, leading the team in complete games and strikeouts in 1964. Despite shouldering many of the losses, Stallard had fun playing in Queens.

“I was received very well,” he said. “The fans in New York are like no other. I pitched some pretty good baseball then. I enjoyed every minute of New York. The people were great and they treated us good. It’s hard to put up with a losing ballclub, but they did pretty well.”

Over his seven-year career, Stallard pitched with the St. Louis Cardinals in addition to the Mets and Red Sox. He pitched in the minor leagues until retiring from professional baseball after the 1969 season. He returned to Virginia and ran a successful coal stripping business for many years.

In retirement, Stallard shunned the spotlight, but in recent years he became more accepting of his place in baseball history.

“I don’t know that much about whether it’s changed my life or not," he said. “I played in a lot of golf tournaments because of it. I’m sure if I hadn’t been the pitcher at the time, I wouldn’t be invited. I’m certainly not that naive.”

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bobby Valentine to headline second annual IABF fundraiser in Brooklyn

While Bobby Valentine wasn’t in the race for the New York Mets or Yankees managerial positions, he will return to the baseball spotlight on Thursday, December 7, 2017, when he will be honored by the Italian American Baseball Foundation at Carmine’s Sports Bar and Restaurant in Brooklyn. The current Sacred Heart University athletic director will be celebrated during the foundation’s second annual fundraiser for his role as a global ambassador within the sport.

Bobby Valentine / N. Diunte

Carmine Gagnone, the owner of Carmine’s in Brooklyn where the fundraiser will take place, is also one of the organization's founding members. Speaking with Gagnone at his restaurant Sunday afternoon, he felt that Valentine’s record of community involvement made him a perfect choice to be recognized Thursday evening.

“Anybody I speak with, when they talk about Bobby Valentine, they say the work he does off the field is tremendous,” Gagnone said. “From 9/11 on, he was all over the place night and day.”

The nubile foundation was formed as the brainchild of Gagnone and Mint Pros founder Joe Quagliano as an opportunity to further the game of baseball in Italy through the establishment of baseball clinics and educational partnerships.

“We started the foundation about two years ago,” he said. “We want to eventually have baseball clinics in Italy, and we want to bring former and present major league players to run both clinics and tournaments. We hope we can offer good athletes [in Italy] a chance to get scholarships to play in the United States.”

Their inaugural fundraiser honored Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, who spent time as Team Italy’s hitting coach during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Gagnone expressed how having a player of Piazza’s status support their initial efforts lent immediate credibility to the IABF’s mission.

“Having Piazza there helped tremendously,” he said. “We go to other events and they heard about us and what we do [just from Piazza appearing].”



This year’s event will have continued star power, with the list of confirmed attendees including current New York Mets and Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo, as well as former Mets and Yankees stars John Franco, Jim Leyritz, and Rick Cerone. Brooklyn Cyclones Assistant General Manager Gary Perone will receive the IABF’s 2017 Executive of the Year award.

A limited amount of tickets remain for the November 7th, 2017 IABF Fundraiser. Each $500 ticket includes a cocktail hour from 6:30-7:30 PM, and then a two-hour dinner from 7:30-9:30 PM. For more information about the IABF, or to purchase tickets, visit their website, iabf.foundation

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Can 2017 Bowman High Tek break into the ranks of the minor league elite sets?

The Bowman brand is dipping its hand into the High Tek series with the release of 2017 Bowman High Tek Baseball. Each box of the prospect focused set delivers four on-card autographs, enticing collectors who are looking to get ahead of the curve on next year’s breakout stars. In the tradition of the Topps High Tek releases, collectors are kept busy with a seemingly endless variety of parallels and designs. As collectors pursue the depths of 2017 Bowman High Tek, will the combination of autographs and parallels be enough to keep them in the game during its late-season release?

2017 Bowman High Tek Baseball / Bowman
Perusing the list of prospects included in this set, collectors will be able to get their hands on sought-after autographs of National League Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, Philadelphia Phillies power-hitting phenom Rhys Hoskins, Boston Red Sox rookie sensation Rafael Devers, and former Atlanta Braves prospect now turned free agent, Kevin Maitan. That grouping by itself should be enough to get collectors interested in the product, as with only 60 prospects included in the set, the odds are favorable to pull a signature of one of these coveted upstarts.

2017 Bowman High Tek Autographs / Bowman
The box provided for this review uncovered autographs of two of the top four prospects from this year’s Arizona Fall League, third baseman Francisco Mejia of the Cleveland Indians, and pitcher Mitch Keller of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2017 Bowman High Tek Designs / Bowman
While 2017 Bowman High Tek attempts to capture eyeballs with their autographs, the real intrigue is the array of designs in the set. Bowman advertises over 10 different patterns for each player, making the chase for each design a mission for individual player collectors. The box provided for this review yielded four different patterns, with one being a rare circuit board pattern of New York Mets shortstop Amed Rosario.

2017 Bowman High Tek Amed Rosario Circuit Board Parallel / Bowman
Released at the end of October 2017, Bowman High Tek has heavy competition from 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball for those who are seeking their postseason fixes for the game’s top prospects. While the assortment of autographs and designs are intriguing with Bowman’s foray into this new product, at a price point of $110 per box, Bowman is asking collectors to take a leap of faith that their selection of prospects is indeed on the money.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bobby Doerr remembered as a calming influence on the Blue Jays franchise

Bobby Doerr built a Hall of Fame career as the “Silent Captain” of the Boston Red Sox from 1937-1951. The humble nine-time All-Star second baseman, died November 13, 2017 in Junction City, Oregon. He was 99.

Bobby Doerr / Blue Jays

An icon with the Red Sox organization as both a player and a coach, Doerr also helped to build the foundation of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Starting with the Toronto franchise during their inaugural 1977 campaign, Doerr served as their batting coach for five seasons. His profound impact went well beyond their hitters, as former Blue Jays All-Star pitcher Dave Lemanczyk recalled just how vital Doerr was to their operation.

“He just gave us the opportunity to compete,” Lemanczyk said Thursday night at the Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner in Long Island. “That was the big thing. He never got excited, [he was] very low key. … Sometimes as a baseball player, you let your emotions get a hold of you, and you try to compete at a level you shouldn’t be at and you end up screwing the pooch a little bit. He probably had a calming, almost like a grandfatherly influence on most of the guys he came in contact with.”

In addition to his easy demeanor as Lemanczyk observed, he said that Doerr’s reserved nature kept him from boasting about his legendary career. Even though Doerr wouldn’t be elected to the Hall of Fame until 1986, few of the players knew of his standing among the greats of the game.

“He was just a class, soft spoken guy,” he said. “I don’t think any of us realized that he was a Hall of Famer. He was just a kind gentleman who absolutely knew the ins and out, especially hitting, of baseball. Somebody who could put up with Ted Williams his whole career had to be pretty in tune with everything.”

Upon reading the news of Doerr’s passing, Lemanczyk’s memory was triggered by visions of a photo shoot they shared for a local department store. He dug up the photo and was immediately filled with emotion confronting the permanence of his former coach’s death.

“As soon as I read it in the paper, [I remembered] Alan Ashby, Jesse Jefferson, Bobby Doerr, and myself did a photo layout for Eaton’s department stores for a father’s day catalogue,” he recalled. “I happen to have that catalogue in the house and just looking at that brought an eerie chill.”