Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Rance Pless, Kansas City Athletics infielder, dies at 91

Rance Pless had 2,037 hits and a MVP award to his credit during in his 14-year professional baseball career. Yet, with only 23 of those hits coming in the major leagues, Pless’ talents were largely hidden in small towns across the United States in the 1950s by a system that was controlled by the reserve clause.

Pless, who did finally make major league debut with the Kansas City Athletics in 1956 as a 30-year-old rookie, passed away Saturday, November 11, 2017, at the Laughlin Healthcare Center in Greeneville, Tennessee. He was 91.

Rance Pless / Author's Collection

Before his baseball career started, Pless enlisted in the Navy in March 1944 and after basic training, was part of a Landing Craft Infantry that was sent to Okinawa in 1945. While battling in Okinawa, Pless received the news that the United States had bombed Hiroshima. The former WWII veteran who in a sad twist of fate, passed away on Veterans Day, recalled the euphoria amongst his infantry.

"We started celebrating, shooting off guns, flares, etc," Pless said to the Greenville Sun in 2015.

His crew was tasked with capturing the surviving Japanese soldiers. Where they went after they were captured were of little consequence to Pless, he just wanted to get back home.

"The Japanese, we put them on the big ship and don't know where the hell they took them to and we didn't care," he said.

Pless worked his way into the New York Giants system in 1947, starting among many who were also returning from military service. At the plate, Pless shined, batting over .300 six of his first seven minor league seasons with the Giants. Unfortunately, Pless’ main position was third base, where he had competition from Bobby Thomson and Hank Thompson at the major league level, and future Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge with their AAA Minneapolis club.

In 1952, Pless was having a breakout season, leading the Southern Association with a .364 batting average. Just when Pless was on the verge of possibly being called to the major leagues, a fastball aimed squarely at his head drastically altered his path to big league stardom.

“I lead the league that year in 1952,” Pless told me during a phone interview from his home in January 2015. “I got beaned that year. We were playing down in Atlanta and I got hit on my cheekbone. I was afraid that it would destroy my eye.”

He ignored medical advice and returned to the team after a few weeks against the urging of team personnel. With his team in a pennant race, Pless wanted a taste of postseason riches.

“I got back and played in about a week or two,” he said. “They didn’t want me to play, but we got in the playoffs and that was extra money! I was not gun shy. I guess I was more mad [than anything else]. I got up there and I just felt like that they were going to be throwing at me. A few of them did and I hit them over the wall and they quit throwing at me!”

The Giants rewarded Pless with a promotion to AAA Minneapolis where he replaced Dandridge who left for the Pacific Coast League. He responded with another tremendous season, batting .322 with 25 home runs; however, the Giants left him beating the bushes once again. Determined to impress the Giants brass, he signed on with Caguas to play baseball in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

“That meant a lot to me,” he said. “Number one, we made pretty good money playing over there. You go over there and pick up that extra money. … They treated us good. It was just a good place to go in the winter time. I looked forward to going every year.”

One of his teammates during that 1953-54 winter league season was a skinny infielder from the Braves organization named Henry Aaron. More than 60 years later, recalling his memories of playing with Aaron at such a developing stage of his career brought him tremendous excitement.

“I don’t know if you’ve got enough paper to write on now,” he said. “He was one of the better prospects with a bat in his hands than anybody I’ve ever seen come down the pike. The harder they threw, the harder he hit it. He could hit the curve ball too (laughs) – he was almost unreal.”

At the time, baseball’s future home run king was trying to break in as a second baseman. Pless explained why he felt Caguas manager Mickey Owen made the right move to convert Aaron to an outfielder.

“I hate to say this, but he was a better outfielder than he was an infielder,” Pless recalled. “He [Mickey Owen] made a good move, and it was good for Henry too. In the outfield, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him misplay a ball. He was just uncanny, that’s all I can say.”

Behind the firepower of Aaron, Jim Rivera, Vic Power, Tetelo Vargas, and other Puerto Rican Winter League mainstays, Caguas won the 1953-54 Caribbean Series. Pless helped to lead them to victory with a home run during the third game against Almendares of Cuba.

1953-54 Caugas Team Photo

Despite all of his offseason accolades, the Giants never pulled the trigger on bringing Pless to the major leagues, missing out their 1954 World Series championship team. Now approaching his late 20s, Pless continued his maturation as a ballplayer in Minneapolis, batting .290 in 1954, and then earned American Association MVP honors in 1955 after he posted Triple Crown worthy numbers with 26 home runs, 107 RBIs, and a .337 batting average.

The Kansas City Athletics took notice of Pless’ stellar season, purchasing him from the Giants for $35,000 during the offseason. The Athletics had high hopes that Pless would bring some power to their sputtering lineup; however, he didn’t hit a single home run in 46 games with the club, used sparingly as a backup to Hector Lopez and his former Caguas teammate Vic Power.

Pless returned to the minor leagues in 1957 for four more seasons. While he never returned to the big leagues, he faced the likes of Satchel Paige and Luke Easter, played alongside Tommy Lasorda, and played in Cuba under heavy security while Fidel Castro was coming into power.

After he retired from professional baseball, he worked for the Magnavox Company until 1987. He remained in the game as a scout for 25 years with the Atlanta Braves.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2017 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball showcases the top prospects waiting on deck

With the 2017 Major League Baseball season under wraps, baseball fans still looking for their fix can look towards the Arizona Fall League and Caribbean Series to keep an eye on the game’s top prospects. Topps attempts to further the discussion of the next prospects to take off with the release of the 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball set.

2017 Topps Heritage Minors / Topps

Designed in the mold of the classic 1968 Topps set, 2017 Topps Heritage Minors aims to catch the nostalgic senses of veteran collectors while attracting fans who fill minor league ballparks in every corner of the country. Leading off the base set is New York Mets phenom Amed Rosario, who gave the team a much needed shot in the arm after tearing up the Pacific Coast League. Building upon Rosario’s newly minted fame, Topps has followed up with the likes of Mickey Moniak, Nick Senzel, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Victor Robles to add to the ranks of the top prospects in this set.


2017 Topps Heritage Minors Inserts and Short Prints / Topps

The 200-card base set is also supplemented by an additional 20 short prints as well as four different colored base card parallels. Topps cleverly kept more of the sought after prospects in the short prints including Tim Tebow, forcing collectors to dig deeper to round out their sets.

2017 Topps Heritage Minors Green Parallel / Topps

Diving into the inserts, minor league All-Stars are neatly highlighted in the Baseball America subset. Topps shows its lighter side with the 1968 Topps mini discs. The discs are a throwback to a time when cards were exchanged and played with and not cut to exact size to fit neatly into 9-card binder pages.

2017 Topps Heritage Minors 1968 Mini Discs / Topps
Each box guarantees one autographed card and one relic card. The box provided for this review yielded an autograph of Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect T.J. Friedl and a relic card of Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez. While both of those hits were of the more common variety, collectors have a chance to scoop up autographed cards of Derek Jeter and David Ortiz as part of the Looming Legacy series, and autographed 1968 Mint relic cards of top organizational prospects.


While the hardcore collectors would like to see this set come out during the minor league season so they can track down their favorite local player before they move up their organizational ranks, the timing of 2017 Topps Heritage Minors provides fans and collectors the opportunity to track a wide range of next year’s future stars unencumbered by the heat of the postseason baseball.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017 Topps Archives Signature Series brings fans closer to current superstars

For autograph collectors, scoring a signature of an active player has becoming increasingly difficult with limited access at Major League Baseball stadiums due to seating restrictions, shortened batting practice, and protective netting. Long gone are the days of buying a cheap bleacher seat, arriving to the park early, and going anywhere in the field level seating with the prospect of being able to walk away with a variety of autographs from the superstars to the players on the end of the bench.

2017 Topps Archives Signature Series / Topps

Topps has attempted to stymie this frustration for hobby enthusiasts with the release of 2017 Topps Archives Signature Series. Each single card box carries an encapsulated autograph of one active major league player at the price of what it would cost to attend a game. With a checklist that includes Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Ichiro, Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout, many fans would be elated to walk away with their signatures after a purchase of this product.

The box provided for this review yielded an autograph of former Cleveland Indians first round pick, Tyler Naquin, which is numbered to a limited edition of 99 cards.

2017 Topps Archives Signature Series Tyler Naquin / Topps

Certainly not every player included in this set is of the caliber of the aforementioned group; however, the guarantee that one will walk away a guaranteed signature of an active MLB player is an attractive feature for this product. While some might wait until the masses put their hits on the secondary market, most fans would enjoy receiving a box of 2017 Topps Archives Signature Series gift wrapped for the holiday season.


2017 Topps Archives Signature Series Autograph List


Aaron JudgeDan VogelbachJoe PanikNomar Mazara
Adam JonesDavid PriceJose AltuveOdubel Herrera
Adrian GonzalezDellin BetancesJulio UriasOrlando Arcia
Albert PujolsDerek NorrisJustin TurnerRobinson Cano
Alex BregmanDexter FowlerKelvin HerreraRyan Braun
Alex ReyesDidi GregoriusKenta MaedaRyon Healy
Andrew BenintendiDustin PedroiaKevin KiermaierSonny Gray
Ben ZobristFrancisco LindorKris BryantStarling Marte
Brandon PhillipsFreddie FreemanKyle SchwarberStephen Piscotty
Bryce HarperGeorge SpringerLucas GiolitoSteven Matz
Buster PoseyHenry OwensLuis SeverinoSteven Wright
Carlos CorreaIan HappManny MachadoTrea Turner
Charlie BlackmonIchiro SuzukiManny MargotTrevor Story
Chris SaleJ.D. MartinezMashiro TanakaTyler Austin
Corey KluberJacob deGromMatt CarpenterTyler Naquin
Corey SeagerJameson TallionMax KeplerWade Davis
Danny DuffyJason HeywardMichael FulmerWillson Contreras
Danny ValenciaJavier BaezMiguel SanoYoan Moncada
Dansby SwansonJeurys FamiliaMike Trout
Noah Syndergaard




Saturday, November 4, 2017

Al Richter, former Boston Red Sox shortstop passes away at 90

The plight of baseball players like Allen Richter was an all too common theme in the 1950s. Labeled as one of the best shortstops of his era in the minor leagues, Richter treaded water in the Boston Red Sox farm system while Johnny Pesky cemented his position as a franchise cornerstone. Bound to the Red Sox by the reserve clause and his path effectively blocked by Pesky, Richter played his best baseball away from the Major League spotlight, appearing in only six games during two separate stints in Boston.

While Richter’s major league career never fully materialized, he outlived most of his Boston counterparts, remaining active by playing tennis a few times per week into his late 80s. Sadly, Richter passed away October 29th, 2017 at his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was 90.

Al Richter / Author's Collection

The Red Sox signed Richter in 1945 from Maury High School, where they placed him with their team in Roanoke. His time with the club was short lived, as he only played three games before he fulfilled his military duties in the Army Air Corps.

“I went in 1945 right after high school,” Richter told me during a 2009 phone interview from his home in Virginia Beach. “I got out in 18 months. They allowed me to be discharged a month early. I was in Germany. I did my basic training in Kessler Field in Mississippi and shortly thereafter I went to Denver for photography school. From there I went overseas in the Army occupation after the war was won. I was coaching a baseball team that we organized over in Germany.”

Richter returned to the Red Sox in 1947 and he moved briskly through their farm system, reaching AAA by 1949. He impressed with his eye at the plate, walking 100 times in 1950, while only striking out 36 times in 589 plate appearances. He took pride in the fact that he consistently put the ball in play.

“When I hit the ball, I hardly ever struck out,” he said. “If I were up 400 times, I struck out maybe 18 times and some were called out.”

Richter had his breakout season in 1951 batting .321 with Louisville while carving a niche as one of the top shortstops in the American Association. His teammates took notice of his tremendous play, including Charlie Maxwell who was another young talent that later joined Richter in Boston.

“I felt sorry for him because he hit over .300 a few years in a row in Louisville,” Maxwell said to me during a 2009 phone interview. “They would never give him the opportunity to go to Boston. Finally, he went up there and that's when they had the Coast League. … There was nobody else, outside of Don Zimmer at St. Paul, Richter was probably the best shortstop in the minors and nobody would give him a shot at the majors. … It was rare a shortstop would hit .300 in the minors but nobody gave him a shot. There weren't that many shortstops hitting .300 anywhere! “

Tearing up the American Association in 1951, Richter forced the Red Sox hand, as they called him up when rosters expanded in September. They were in the heat of a pennant race with the New York Yankees, so he had to wait until their fate was determined until he was able to make a start at shortstop.

“That was the best year for me,” he said. “I was a .260 hitter, which was okay for a shortstop, but I had a great year for Louisville, I hit .321. I was really on that year. I hit the best by far I ever had. I went up with the Red Sox at the end of the year at the end of ‘51. That’s when the Red Sox was battling with the Yankees until the last two games at Yankee Stadium to see who was going to be the champions of the American League. They kept Pesky at shortstop who was an All-Star.”

Manager Pinky Higgins placed Richter in the starting lineup during the last game of the season with many of the other Red Sox rookies. He responded by getting his first major league hit off of Eddie Lopat, a memory that was crystal clear more than 50 years later.

I was in the last game of the season that Harley Hisner pitched," he said. "That was the last [Major League] game other than the World Series for Joe DiMaggio. I got my only hit off of Eddie Lopat, a left-handed pitcher for the Yankees. … I always made contact and I hit that one up the middle of the diamond on the ground. The thing was, Phil Rizzuto was at shortstop and I thought he was coming close to it. I ran real hard down first base and I ran straight through just trying to beat out the hit. When I looked up running past first base, I discovered the ball went all the way through and it went out to center field. I should have made the turn and gone to second in case the center fielder missed it. That was the first time ever in my life I did that. That stood out in my mind and still does. I thought I had to beat it out because Rizzuto had gotten to it. I just had my head down and was racing hard to get first base.”

Richter’s lone hit capped a promising season, giving him a glimmer of hope for a return to Boston; however, those dreams were quickly dashed when they sent him to San Diego in the Pacific Coast League for the 1952 season. The Red Sox brought him back for one more appearance as a defensive replacement in 1953 and two years after that Richter was out of baseball at 28. During our 2009 interview, he explained how frustrating it was for players in his situation due to baseball's reserve clause.

“At that time when you were signed with a ballclub, they owned you for life,” he said. “It’s not like it is today. They had the reserve clause. For example, I was with the Red Sox. There was no three-year or five-year contract. When I signed with them out of high school, I belonged to them for life. I was like a slave for them. Even if they didn’t want to get rid of me, even if I did well or I didn’t do so well, if they didn’t want to get rid of me they wouldn’t let me go to any other club that wanted me.”

After his baseball career, Richter transitioned to becoming a television sports reporter in Virginia. He later moved on to careers in the real estate and food service businesses.

Richter was honored in 2012 by the Boston Red Sox when they invited him back to Fenway Park to take part in the franchise’s 100th anniversary celebration of the legendary stadium. Even though his time with the franchise was brief, he held the experience in the highest regard.

"It was just a privilege to have been around so many great players," Richter said to the Virginian Pilot in 2012, "and it will be a privilege to share a little in the history of a special place."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Topps takes a mighty cut at the fences with 2017 Update Baseball

One look at Aaron Judge’s stoic glare on the cover of 2017 Topps Update Baseball and it is evident that Topps has lofty goals for its postseason product. Topps has loaded the base set with the two most desired young players in the game, with the inclusion of three additional rookie cards of Judge, as well as four of Los Angeles Dodgers upstart Cody Bellinger. Packed with the magnetism of these two power hitting young superstars, Topps is hoping that the abundance of their cards in the set will draw collectors to 2017 Update as the World Series championship hangs in the balance.

2017 Topps Update / Topps
With Judge’s dominating performance in the 2017 Home Run Derby serving as the first card in the set, Topps also highlights his rookie debut and his All-Star Game selection. Bellinger gets the same treatment, as well as his official Topps rookie card in their flagship product, further increasing the attraction of this set for collectors in both the near and long term.

2017 Topps Update Cody Bellinger RC / Topps
Outside of the two aforementioned likely Rookie of the Year selections for their respective leagues, Topps Update provides lesser known players to get their first shot on major league cardboard, as well as team collectors finding their team’s recently acquired 25th men having their moment in the sun after potentially being passed over in Topps Series 1 and 2 releases earlier this year.

Topps forces collectors to pay attention to detail with 2017 Update as there are well over 100 variations of the short print and super short print varieties that include legends Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams. The lengthy set of variations could easily excite collectors to dive into a few boxes or chase a master set well into the offseason, giving this product room to run well after the World Series champion has been determined. Conversely, collectors craving simplicity could easily face burn out at this point in the season of having to track all of the different inserts within 2017 Update.

2017 Topps Update Variations / Topps
The box provided for this review yielded a complete base set with a few doubles to spare, an array of rainbow foil and Gold parallel cards (#’d/2017), nine of the aforementioned variations, and an All-Star relic card of Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak.




At a price point of $65 per box, collectors will find value in the fact that 2017 Topps Update Baseball will yield a complete set that includes a combined seven rookie cards of both the likely Rookie of the Year winners from each league. Add on the assortment of potentially scarce variations, parallels, inserts, and a guarantee of either an autograph or relic card, Topps has scored another winner with 2017 Update Baseball.







Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pat Kelly recalls the Yankees 1995 post-season heroics

Former Yankees infielder Pat Kelly was in New York recently to help give an assist to the fundraising efforts for the Jason Krause Kick Cancer Scholarship, signing autographs along with his Yankee teammate David Cone at their annual community event. As soon Cone explained to Kelly his endearment for the people who are involved with the organization, he came right on board.

“Andrew Levy our agent discussed it with me,” Kelly said during an interview at the fundraiser. “I discussed it with David Cone who has been here several years and it was something that we all wanted to get involved with and come back to as well.”

Pat Kelly / Yankees
Kelly, who played seven of his nine big league seasons with the Yankees from 1991-1997, helped the Yankees transition from a team mired in mediocrity, to one that would rise to dominate the latter part of the 1990s. He credited the late Gene Michael for being the wise architect of the new Yankees dynasty.

“Stick was the ultimate Yankee utility guy,” he said. “Stick did everything from manage, to coach, to [serve as] general manager. He really put together the Core Four, all of those guys in the early 90s who eventually turned into those great teams that we all know today. … He was fair and honest – a true Yankee.”

While serving as the Yankees primary second baseman from 1992-1995, Kelly had the opportunity to mentor a nubile Derek Jeter. He recalled a spring training encounter with Jeter during his early career that caused him question if the Yankees did the right thing in giving Jeter such a large signing bonus.

“Derek was quite the young lanky skinny sorta guy,” he said “I remember they brought him in 1994 and I was my prime then. I remember myself, Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, and Mike Gallego sitting at second base and saying, ‘This kid’s never going to make it. They wasted $700,000 because he was just this lean kid.’”

After playing three seasons with Jeter, Kelly quickly changed his tune about their future captain. Taking a moment to reflect on Jeter’s Hall of Fame career, he surmised that he was just proud to be there to help instill the rich Yankee traditions in the young shortstop.

“The projection of the scouts to be able to predict that he was going to be the greatest Yankee that ever played was phenomenal,” he said. “His progression from the young Derek Jeter that we saw in Fort Lauderdale to what he is now is truly amazing. You give credit to Gene Michael; you give credit to us, because we taught him everything, all the stuff about how to be a Yankee. I take a lot of pride that I played with Derek and that a bit of whatever he turned into was because of the Yankee tradition.”

While the Yankees were giving Jeter his first taste of the big leagues in 1995, Kelly helped lead the Yankees to their first playoff appearance since 1981. While Kelly scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning of Game Five of the American League Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, he is probably best remembered for being on base when Jim Leyritz hit his infamous walk-off home run in the 15th inning of Game Two to put the Yankees ahead 2-0 in the series.

“I just talked to Jim Leyritz about it yesterday,” he said. “It was all because of me I told him, because I walked and they thought I was going to steal. [Tim] Belcher is worried about me stealing, so he wasn’t worried about Jimmy, so it was all my doing. He hit that ball and it was raining. I remember just the feeling of getting goose bumps running around those bases knowing what we were doing. It was a long time since the Yankees had any success in the playoffs. The people just went nuts. What happened after that, you wouldn’t guess, right? The success we had all the way to those World Series after that, it was the start of something good. I was very proud to be a part of it and to get at least one World Series in 1996.”

Kelly battled injuries during the 1996 season, limiting him to only 13 games while the Yankees finally broke through to win the World Series. As exciting as it was for Kelly to be a part of that championship club, little did he imagine just two years later that he would be alongside Mark McGwire as he challenged Babe Ruth’s all-time single season home run record.

Signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998, Kelly rekindled a long standing friendship with the famed slugger that started when he played alongside another of McGwire’s close friends, Mike Gallego. Kelly detailed how they spent a lot of time together away from the field that most baseball fans aren’t privy to.

“We were great friends before that,” he said. “It came through Mike Gallego. Mark used to come out to eat with us when Gallego played with the Yankees. After Gallego was traded, when Mark was in New York, I hung out with him; that was how the friendship evolved. We would go away with my wife and his girlfriend on holidays. We went to Africa the year before he broke the record. The year he broke the record, we went to Australia because I was living there.”

Being one of McGwire’s confidants on the 1998 Cardinals, Kelly was an eyewitness to the rock star treatment that McGwire received throughout the season. He said it was an unimaginable spectacle for a baseball player.

“Playing with him in 1998, it was like hanging out with Elvis or the Beatles; it was a flash mob all the time,” he said. “When we were in Milwaukee, there was nobody at the bar, just out for a quiet drink. Before you knew it there were 2,000 people there, just like that. It was crazy making history like that.

“As a spectacle, like playing in New York and winning the World Series, it was right up there because it was something you never saw before. He hit two on the last day and we were celebrating the night before and I knew how many [drinks] we had; I couldn’t even see straight, let alone do anything and he hit two home runs that day! It was just a magical season.”

Peeling back the curtain of his wild ride with McGwire in 1998, he recalled that McGwire was able to put on his game face every day, but not without enduring the pressure that came with the increasing media attention.

“Every day he worried about it; he worried about losing the home run race,” Kelly said. “He didn’t want to lose to Sammy Sosa. The stress that he was going through physically he didn’t show it like Roger Maris with his hair falling out, but the stress was there. Every day we were together and he did intimate to me that it was stressful for him. Tony LaRussa was the one who made him that comfortable. We had a pretty good team. We were all there for Mark; we were doing everything for him.”

Kelly capped his major league career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999 and quickly moved to Australia in 2000. He has since worked as an international scout for the Dodgers, helping their operations in the Pacific Rim. It was a career move that he made sure that he took care of before leaving the United States.

“I married an Australian girl, moved there in 2000, and stepped into scouting,” he said. “I set myself up before I left, as I knew the writing was on the wall. I talked to the Dodgers and I’ve been there 16-17 years now. They have a league down there that is good and they bring former players in and I see the kids that progressed, the American minor leaguers that get to the majors and the handful of Australians too. The biggest thing that I’ve seen is the Asian market booming, the Japanese players that get posted and signed. I helped to sign Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu for over $60 million.”

So who does Kelly think is the next big star that will come from Japan? He quickly singled out two-way player Shohei Otani, who is blessed with a 100-MPH fastball and a bat that carried him to over a .300 average for the Nippon Ham Fighters during the past two seasons in the Japan Pacific League. His success comes as little surprise to Kelly, who has watched Otani since he was in high school. The larger quandary Otani presents for MLB executives is how they can take advantage of both his powerful bat and pitching arm.

“I saw him as a 15-year old,” he said. “He can hit and pitch. He was 15, hitting and pitching! I told the guy I was working for that I didn’t know if he was a hitter or a pitcher because he’s that good at both. How do you deal with that as a general manager? He’s 0-4, but he pitched okay; how do you manage that when taking him out? It’s going to be a logistical nightmare dealing with it as a manger to deal with the Monday morning quarterbacking. It will be interesting to see how it goes.”

Saturday, October 7, 2017

2017 Topps Triple Threads is an exciting albeit expensive ride through baseball card collecting

Looking at their artistic relics, colorful design, and limited edition autographs, collectors are sure to be tempted to pull a box of 2017 Topps Triple Threads off of the shelves and get busy diving into its array of memorabilia driven baseball cards.

2017 Topps Triple Threads / Topps
Each master box contains two autograph cards and two relic cards, providing for multiple opportunities to walk away with a classic collectible. Exciting inserts for this product include autographed relics, as well as the coveted autographed relic combos, which feature multiple signatures from prominent franchise favorites with embedded game used memorabilia pieces. These combos are rather scarce, ranging from the singular white whale printing plate, to the base issues which are only made in quantities of 36.

2017 Topps Triple Threads Chris Sale Relic / Topps
Digging further into the depths of 2017 Topps Triple Threads uncovers cut autographs of Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams, or even rarer dual cuts of the pairings of Williams and Stan Musial, or Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. The idea of having even the slightest chance of scoring signatures for those who rank among the pinnacle of the sport is enough to tantalize hobbyists into taking a peek behind the Derek Jeter themed boxes.

2017 Topps Triple Threads Base Cards & Parallels / Topps
As for the 100-card base set, the colors pop right off the front, enhanced by the golden tinges in the background. Multiple parallels of the base set will send collectors chasing further for limited versions of their favorite player. Those who are searching for breadth in the base set might wind up dissatisfied, as half of the set honors retired legends, and the lists of current players leans towards the upper echelon of MLB, excluding this year’s hottest rookies, Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi, and Cody Bellinger.

The box provided for this review yielded the Chris Sale relic card, as well this Tyler Austin autographed rookie patch card.

2017 Topps Triple Threads Tyler Austin Autographed Relic Card / Topps
With Topps’ Triple Threads brand legacy firmly established, collectors know the risk they’re taking with this product. At a price point near $200 per master box, a strong leap of faith is needed, as a box could easily yield common rookie autographs and relics; however, one could find their fortunes quickly turned around if they can hit one of the aforementioned coveted inserts.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

John 'Mule' Miles, Negro League star, dies at 90

John “Mule” Miles, an outfielder / third baseman with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues, passed away Friday May 24, 2013 at his San Antonio home. He was 90.

Miles earned the nickname “Mule” from Giants manager “Candy” Jim Taylor after a display of power led him to remark, “You hit as hard as a mule kicks.” He upheld that reputation by blasting home runs in 11 consecutive games in 1947.
John 'Mule' Miles in 2010 - Steve Thurow

In addition to being one of a dwindling number of remaining ex-Negro League players, he was also one of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African-American aviators in the United States Armed Forces.

Miles served with the Airmen in World War II starting in 1942 for a three-year period. He returned to San Antonio after his discharge to work as an aircraft mechanic.

"We had it hard at Tuskegee; buildings weren't completed when we got there, it was hard, but we made it, I wasn't complaining, because at Tuskegee, I learned a trade, I learned how to work with my hands - to do something," Miles said in a 2009 interview with the United States Army.

It was shortly after his return that he was approached fellow San Antonio native Clyde McNeal, who just finished his rookie season with Chicago.

“He was the one who enticed me to go,” Miles said to the San Antonio Express in April, 2013. “If I had to go by myself, I don't think I would have done it.”

He played three seasons for the Chicago American Giants from 1946-1948, playing against the best the Negro Leagues had to offer. One of his favorite subjects was Satchel Paige.

“Satchel was a great pitcher. He could throw hard and he was smart. Nobody could touch Satchel when he didn’t want ‘em to,” Miles said in Brent Kelley’s “Voices from the Negro Leagues.

Miles left the Negro Leagues to after the end of the 1948 season to return to his mechanic job. He continued to play in local leagues and the lure of professional baseball drove him to try out for the Laredo Apaches of the South Texas League in 1952. He made the team, becoming the first black player in the league, batting .281 in limited action. At the age of 30, Miles was past prospect status, and returned home to his job that he would keep until his 1971 retirement.

As the Negro Leagues experienced a renewed interest in the 1990a, Miles’ career returned to prominence. He made frequent appearances across the United States at reunions and speaking engagements.

In 2007, Topps honored him with a baseball card in their Allen and Ginter set. The release of the card caused him to be showered with mail requests daily for his signature, something he relished in his later years. He would often send back signed cards with inspirational phrases such as, “I’m not complaining, just explaining,” or, “Without those passing yesterdays, there can be no bright tomorrows.” It was no surprise that his 2009 autobiography was titled, “A Legacy to Leave Our Youth.

“I loved baseball and I was willing to play it anytime, anywhere. … When I started playing for money, it wasn’t enough to make a living on. You’ve got to understand this was during the forties and fifties. The only baseball players making any kind of money were the ones in the majors," said Miles in Dick O’Neal’s “Dreaming of the Majors."

"We just loved the game, and if someone was willing to pay to watch me, that was fine.”

* This was originally published for the now defunct Examiner.com on May 25, 2013.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tom Wright, 93, Major League pinch hitter extraordinaire and World War II veteran

During the years following World War II, an outfielder who posted batting averages of .380 and .368 in the minor leagues should have found little trouble getting a starting role in the Major Leagues. That is of course unless you played for the Red Sox and two of those outfielders were Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio. This was the tough reality for Tom Wright, one of North Carolina’s finest, who filled the role of pinch hitter extraordinaire for the Boston Red Sox right at the start of the 1950s.

Wright, who went on to play parts of nine big league seasons, passed away on September 5, 2017 at his home in Shelby, North Carolina. He was 93.

Tom Wright Autographed Red Sox Photo / Author's Collection
Growing up on the sandlots of Shelby, Wright caught the attention of Boston Red Sox scout Eddie Montague, who signed him to his first pro contract in 1941 while he was still in high school. Wright left behind the opportunity to get his diploma in order to start his career.

“Eddie [Montague] was in this area and signing all of the prospects in this area,” Wright told me in an interview on New Year’s Day in 2009. “I signed with him during high school. In 1941, I went down into the Palmetto State League and I took Virgil Stallcup's place playing shortstop. I stayed there half of the season. They had a split season. Lawrence, the team I was with, hired the manager of another team, and he was an infielder and I got released. I was hitting about .340, they moved me to third base and I made room for him.”

Fortunately for Wright, his release didn’t put a premature end to his career, as he signed on with Boston’s team in the Class D Bi-State League in 1942. While he wavered at the plate, his manager noted his good arm and gave him a few chances on the mound, albeit with mixed results.

“I came on back home and in 1942, I went up to Danville,” he said. “I relieved 2-3 games and pitched a whole game. When I wasn't hitting well; I was chasing the high ball. I hit good and I had a good arm, so they were trying to make something out of me. They put me in relief a few times, and they let me start against one of the top teams. I pitched a real good game. George Ferrell, one of the Ferrell boys hit a homerun over a short fence over left field. I slipped on a curve and let it get where he could reach it and he beat me to win the ballgame.”

Just as Wright was trying to figure out if his baseball career would continue in as a position player or a pitcher, he was drafted for military service after the season ended. For the near future his career would be navigated by the Army Air Corps.

“I flew well, but if I knew I was going to fly three days from now, my nerves would get up,” he said. “I'd be thinking about that more than playing the ball game.”

His time in the Air Corps was short lived. He sustained an injury during training that dissuaded him from continuing to fly.

“In the service I was supposed to an aerial gunner,” he said. “I had to bail out of one, and on an emergency jump, I tore my leg and my foot up. I stayed out in Wyoming for a year before they ever put me back on flying status. By that time, I made up my mind I wasn't going to fly anymore, just be on the ground crew.

“I told them that in 1943-44. I spent 1944 on the disabled list because I had a bad foot. When they started to put me back on, I told them, ‘I don't want to fly them things no more. They took my stripes and told me I'll be on the next boat overseas. I said, ‘I think that boat will be slower than that airplane.’”

His switch to the grounds crew proved to be a life altering decision. While Wright was lucky enough to return from service with some injuries that plagued him throughout his baseball career, many from his original Air Corps crew didn’t come back at all.

“Our crowd went to Italy and flew up over Germany,” he recalled. “The best I could find out, they lost about all of them. My radio man came back and was down in Florida after he got his mission. He wrote me a letter and told me to get out because it was hell over there. I did catch that next boat. I spent all of 1945 overseas. I went to the Philippines and I went to South Seas. We were ready to go closer to Japan when the big bombs dropped. You just sat still and waited. When they said the war was over, we quit flying missions.”

Wright returned to professional baseball in 1946 and after three years of only playing recreationally during his World War II service, he jumped right back into the game. The time away from the field took a toll on his throwing arm.

“I got out in spring of 1946 and went right to spring training,” he said. “I messed my arm up down there. It was rainy and cold in South Carolina. I flung the ball rather than throw it. It didn't have enough snap; it hurt me too bad. I carried it on through with me. I'm sure they knew I couldn't throw real good. Nobody tried to talk to me about it or tried to work on it or do anything else.”

If Boston’s brass was aware of Wright’s arm injury, it sure didn’t show at the plate. Wright’s 1946 season was nothing short of amazing. He amassed 200 hits en route to a .380 average for Class C Durham Bulls in the Carolina League. It was the start of his rapid ascent to the major leagues. After batting over .300 for the next two seasons in the minor leagues, the Red Sox called up Wright for a cup of coffee at the end of 1948, a move he thought came too late.

“They called me up in 1948 at the end of the year too, but they had an agreement with Louisville that they wouldn't take ballplayers until they were mathematically out of the playoffs,” he said. “I thought I could have helped them as they didn't have a left-handed pinch hitter.”

With veterans Williams, DiMaggio, and Al Zarilla firmly entrenched in Boston’s outfield, Wright remained at Louisville, where won the 1949 American Association batting title, edging out future Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, .368 to .362.

“Nineteen-forty-nine was an easy, easy year,” he said. Sometimes you have those. I was one of those hitters who hit all over the ball field. I hit from the left field line to the right field line. That way you get some hits you couldn't get if you were a pull hitter. I went with the ball the best I could.”

For Wright’s efforts, he was awarded another September call up, and in 1950, he finally got a full-time shot with the club, spending the entire season with the Red Sox. He proved valuable as a pinch-hitter, filling that role until Williams injured his elbow. Pressed into more regular duty, Wright hit .318 in 107 at-bats. He explained just how difficult it was to stay sharp with the platoon situation that the Red Sox employed.

“It didn't bother me because it was my job,” he said. “It was the only time I'd get to play most times. I'd go 2-3 weeks and not even get to hit. They ran a funny schedule. You would go on the road and the regulars got all the batting time. I was a left-handed hitter. If there was a right-handed pitcher starting against us, I'd get three swings in batting practice. If there was a left-hander which they pitched on the account of Williams and a few other left-handed hitters, we didn't get to swing.

“It was sort of a one sided deal with them. I always criticized them for it. They didn't keep their players up to date. You see [Casey] Stengel in New York, he put in their extra players and let them play and kept them ready. That's the way they ran it. Normally, when you are on the road, you don't get much time because the home team is taking much of the practice.”

Despite Wright’s dependability as a pinch-hitter, the Red Sox had plenty of young outfield talent in their minor league system and wanted to shuttle Wright between the minor and the major leagues. After proving himself with multiple .300 seasons at both levels, he finally put his foot down.

“I started with Boston until the last spring training day,” he said. “They sent me out and they had a boy Karl Olson they wanted to see, because I think he had to go into the service and I was the one that had to go and make room for him on the roster.

“I was sitting on the bench too much, so I wasn't going to start complaining about nothing. I was going to do the best I can. In 1951, they wanted to send me to Louisville again. I told them they were pushing me back and forth and not to bring me back up here no more. And they didn't. That's the way it went over there.”

The Red Sox traded Wright to the St. Louis Browns, giving him a fresh start with the second division club. The Browns were helmed by Rogers Hornsby in 1952 and Wright quickly found out why the legendary second baseman was disliked by the entire team.

“I opened the season hitting cleanup for Hornsby,” he recalled. “He liked me as far as hitting. If you missed a ball [in the field], you were out of the lineup. We were playing up in Chicago and I wasn't used to those double decker stands and that sun setting. They hit a fly ball behind third base that he might have been able to catch. I called him off, pulled my glasses down and ran into the shade. When I did, everything went black. He pulled me out of the lineup.

“He was not a good people person for the ballplayers. You would get to arguing with an umpire and he would tell you to get back to your position. He did that to me once in New York. There was a pop fly down the line that was interference on it. The boys were arguing like everything and he said, ‘Go on out to your position.’ He'd do that all the time and wouldn't stick up for the players. They called Bill Veeck and told him what he was doing. He came to New York and fired him. I left them about that time. They boys got him [Veeck] a plaque made up saying, ‘The greatest thing since the Emancipation Proclamation.’”

Wright went from the Browns to the Chicago White Sox where he spent part of 1952 and the entire 1953 season in a reserve role. The White Sox shipped him to the Washington Senators in 1954, which was his last full season in the majors. He played nine games in the majors between 1955 and 1956, with the last two coming as a favor from Clark Griffith that didn’t sit well with his manager Chuck Dressen.

“In 1956, I went back to get my few days I needed to get my retirement,” he said. “Calvin Griffith gave me my last 28 days. He told the manager that I was going to get it. He got mad at me and didn't even let me play in spring training or exhibition games. My first at-bat was opening day against the Yankees. I was the first pinch hitter he used. He was sorta dirty with me.”

Those final two games in 1956 proved to be a tremendous help for Wright later on in life. Those 28 days of service qualified him for a major league pension which gave him added security during his post-playing days.

“The pension is helping me in my retirement,” he said. “They sent me to Chattanooga. That was their top team. I went out there and they told me, Griffith said if you play and help this ball club, they'll bring you up at the end of the year. At the end of the year he didn't bring me up. I kept my mouth shut and about Christmas time or so I got a contract to come to spring training in 1956 and it all worked out.”

Wright played one more season with the Birmingham Barons in 1957, and that was only after some serious negotiation with his parent club. His old flying miseries from World War II caught up with him and the air travel became too much to bear.

“The minor leagues even started flying. And I asked them out there, ‘Put me somewhere they don't fly.’ They put me in Charleston, West Virginia and the only way you could make schedule up there was to fly. They had a little Purdue line, a C-47. They would cram the ballplayers on there and they'd have to shuffle them around to have to get the plane balanced. They'd fly nine hours. I wouldn't go with them, but I got to hitting and helping the ball club. They offered me everything to stay, but I needed to get away from those airplanes. If you didn't fly, you had to pay your own way, but I never did. The few times I flew, they took care of that. They sent a pitcher or someone who wasn't going to play to ride with you and keep you company. It is two days to get to Omaha from Charleston on the train. They were trying to be good to me. I was hoping to play a little longer, but those planes got me so nervous and shook up, I didn't want to do it.”

After baseball, Wright went into the clothing business, making polyester until he retired in 1982. He stepped away from the game, but still enjoyed the interaction with baseball fans through the letters he received in the mail.

“I never had a desire to coach,” he said. “They wanted me to coach kids, but I didn't want to put up with families. I still watch some games. Normally Atlanta, Boston if I can get to see them. I'm not a great big fan, I wasn't a fan when I played. You lose a little bit of your drive [after you stop playing].

“I get autographs all the time. Topps maybe gave you a watch or something like that. They have given us more since. They want us to sign the 1954 cards. They sat and watched me sign every one of them. It was about 250 of them. I got paid good for them. I was glad to sign them. I would have signed them for nothing, I was never one to ask for anything to sign an autograph.”

Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017 Topps Clearly Authentic is a fresh look for card collectors

Topps is taking a new product for a spin with 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic Baseball, featuring on-card autographs on acetate in fancy encapsulated holders. As each box only contains one of these signed cards, collectors are banking on unearthing a gem once they get past the plastic wrapping on the box.
2017 Topps Clearly Authentic / Topps

A majority of the autographed acetate cards are in the design of 2017 Topps with new pictures from the base set. To up the ante for collectors, Topps has added four colored parallels (Green, Red, Blue, and Gold) to track down.

2017 Topps Clearly Authentic Andrew Toles / Topps

For those who are searching for a vintage touch, Topps has created Clearly Authentic reprints of major rookie cards, including those of Al Kaline, Hank Aaron, Bo Jackson, Ichiro, Mike Trout, and Sandy Koufax. These autographs are markedly scarce compared to their modern counterparts in the set, coming at the rate of one for every 10 boxes.

2017 Topps Clearly Authentic Rookie Reprint  Bo Jackson / Topps
As the list of signers is loaded with nubile rookies, the odds are weighted that you are more likely to come away with the likes of Dan Vogelbach, Jharel Cotton, and Jacoby Jones, instead of Bryce Harper, Ichiro, and Mike Trout; however, that should not deter you from checking out this product.

The acetate is an attractive diversion from traditional Topps products, as both the images and signatures stand out against the clear background. The chase of snagging one of the reprinted rookie cards at a fraction of the cost of buying a signed original rookie on the open market is also an exciting play for this product.

With any guaranteed hit offering, collectors are taking a risk by hoping that the one card in the box turns out to be a winner. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response by collectors since its release, signs point to getting a box of 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic is one that is not only worth pursuing, but an enjoyable one at that.



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: They Call Me Pudge - Ivan Rodriguez with Jeff Sullivan

The intense emotion displayed on Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez ‘s face on the cover of his new biography “They Call Me Pudge," perfectly captures the spirit with which he played throughout his 21-year major league career. Newly minted in 2017 as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rodriguez became part of an exclusive group, joining only Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Mike Piazza as the living catchers currently enshrined in Cooperstown.

They Call Me Pudge / Triumph Books

It is obvious after reading through the early chapters of “They Call Me Pudge,” that Rodriguez’s story is one of commitment to the game. From a young age, he showed an insatiable desire not only to play the game, but to love the training that made him into a Hall of Famer. His legendary workouts including making 150-mile roundtrips from Key Biscayne to Key Largo, kept his engine pumping when many thought he was out of gas.

Rodriguez stressed that it was his dedicated training and not anything else that kept him as the top player at his position for two decades. Multiple times during the book, he vehemently denied using steroids.

"Let's make that as crystal clear as possible — I never took steroids," Rodriguez said. "If anyone says differently, they are lying. Here's what I did do: I worked my ass off. I was a guy who played the game the right way. I was disciplined in my workouts and my diet. I worked as hard as I could to do the best that I could - every day for 20-plus years. I loved the game of baseball."

Perusing deeper into Rodriguez’s book uncovers the strategies of the Hall of Fame catcher, as he carefully breaks down how he handled a nubile World Series pitching staff with the Florida Marlins, as well as how he approached Barry Bonds during their faceoff in the 2003 National League Division Series.

“If you don’t have to pitch to him — meaning it’s not bases loaded in a tie game in the ninth inning —put him on first base,” he said. “If you need to pitch to him, our deepest sympathies. And don’t strain a neck muscle or anything turning around.”

When the Texas Rangers thought that Rodriguez was on the decline, he bet on himself, signing a one-year deal with the Marlins in 2003. His leadership steadied their pitching staff, guiding them to an improbable World Series Championship.

Once again left to fend for himself at the end of the season, Rodriguez proved doubters wrong when he signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2004. Detroit’s team doctors felt that Pudge was only worthy of a two-year contract due to his injury history. In order to make the deal work, he gave up guaranteed money to sign a four-year, $40 million contract. This time, Pudge came out a winner, as the Tigers went to the World Series in 2006.

“I knew I was healthy,” he said. “I know I could play the five years, depending on if they picked up the option. And I played eight more years after that. I mean, the doctors can tell you whatever they want to say, but it’s how you feel that counts.”

Omnipresent throughout the book is the fact that Pudge was always a gamer. When he wasn’t playing baseball, he was breaking down video, going over scouting reports, or watching highlights on ESPN. If you are looking for tales of carousing, innuendo, or hi-jinks, look elsewhere, but if you want an inspirational story of how a kid with a golden throwing arm made it to the Hall of Fame all the way from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, feel free to step in the batter’s box with “They Call Me Pudge.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

2017 Topps Chrome - Boom or Bust for Collectors?

With the meteoric rise of Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, it was of little surprise that collectors bum rushed stores nationwide to pick up boxes of 2017 Topps Chrome Baseball. Whether was in search of the first Topps rookie this season of the second-generation Dodgers upstart Bellinger, or an insert of the 2017 Home Run Derby champ, this year’s Topps Chrome literally flew off of the shelves. Collectors almost immediately went online post-release either sharing photos of the joys of their finds, or desperate shots of empty shelves at nationwide retailers.

2017 Topps Chrome Box / Topps
Topps struck gold with this release due to the timing of the success of the two power-hitting rookies, as well as the anticipation of Bellinger’s first official Topps major league card. Many looked to jump on the heels of their ascent with the anticipation of turning a quick profit or snagging a rare parallel for their personal collections. With prices easily eclipsing those of suggested retail, collectors hoped for a huge payout knowing they might come up short of the big “hit” that they’re searching for.

With each of the 24 packs in the box yielding only four cards, there was a feeling of urgency going through each quartet, hoping that a coveted variation of the aforementioned East and West coast supernovas emerged. In between the anticipation of the big names also sat a host of refractors, a rainbow of colored parallels, glossy 1987 Topps themed inserts to keep the excitement level high while perusing the contents of the box.

2017 Topps Chrome / Topps
After the dust settled, we had good reason to shout, “All Rise,” as an Aaron Judge rookie was among the dividends, as well as a chrome refractor of fellow Rookie of the Year candidate, Andrew Benintendi. Unfortunately, Bellinger’s debut issue was absent, as well as a high end autograph, with the box serving up two rookie autographs of Donnie Hart and Eddie Gamboa.

Donnie Hart Topps Chrome Autograph / Topps

There are a bevy of reasons why baseball card collectors should be excited about 2017 Topps Chrome; the design is outstanding, the parallels are worth chasing, and the narrative of the young stars will have fans coming back to this product as the pennant race heats up. For the few left on the fence deciding whether to take the plunge into 2017 Topps Chrome, it’s an exciting dive that collectors hopefully know the risk of the waters they’re jumping into.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Does 2017 Topps Allen and Ginter have enough to keep collectors on the ball?

Topps’ Allen and Ginter product has always been a source of mixed emotions for collectors. On one hand, it has perennially been a highly anticipated release due to its design and cultural variety; however, in the midst of a baseball season filled with an extraordinary amount of young superstars, those looking for a pure baseball play are growing frustrated with paying a premium to wind up with inserts of obscure celebrities and fishing lures.

For collectors who have embraced the widening scope of the set, 2017 Topps Allen and Ginter continues to deliver in the tradition of one of Topps’ most popular issues. Baseball die-hards will get their fix whether it is in the form of rookies from Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi, and Yulieski Gurriel, adored veterans Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Clayton Kershaw, or retired legends such as newly minted Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell.

2017 Topps Allen and Ginter Aaron Judge / Topps
The part of the set that annually attracts both excitement and controversy are the non-baseball inclusions in the series. Remember when MySpace dominated the social media landscape? Well Tom Anderson, everybody’s friend, now has his own baseball card to boot. Media personalities Stephen A. Smith, Peter Rosenberg and his wife Alexa Datt, Jay Glazer, Sage Steele, and Jayson Stark made their Topps debuts as well.

Inserts for the set went well off the landscape of the diamond, paying homage to the World’s Fair, Constellations, Magicians, Famous Revolutionary Battles, and yes, Sport Fish and Fishing Lures. While Allen and Ginter has always been about showcasing a diversity of interests, when half of the inserts culled from the box provided for this review fell into the non-sport category, it deflated some of the excitement that preceded this release.

2017 Topps Allen and Ginter / Topps

Looking at the baseball inserts for 2017 Topps Allen and Ginter, it is clear that Topps played to its strengths. The What A Day inserts beautifully chronicle remarkable single-game performances, such as Kyle Schwarber’s dramatic 2016 World Series return, Bo Jackson’s three home run performance against the Yankees, and Ozzie Smith’s improbable 1985 NLCS walk-off home run. The sequentially numbered rip cards continue to be sought after, as they yield low numbered parallels and the choice of keeping or opening these inserts have them actively trading hands. Also, the framed autographs and cloth inserts provide a regal touch for collectors looking for an affordable card they can easily put on display.

Each box guarantees three hits in the form of an autograph, relic, printing plate, rip card, or book card. The box provided for this review yielded a framed autograph of actor Joe Manganiello and two relic cards of Ryan Braun and Javier Baez.


At a price of $120 per box, 2017 Topps Allen and Ginter is a proposition that could give collectors a pause before adding it to their shopping carts. If you hit it right, a box could yield some attractive inserts, on the other hand, one could be left with oddball autographs and relics of disc golfers and B-list celebrities. If collectors intend to open their wallets, they must be more than willing to accept and embrace the assortment of genres in 2017 Topps Allen and Ginter, otherwise they might be more content picking apart singles on the secondary market.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How Jorge Posada was almost traded for Ivan Rodriguez

Jorge Posada was once dangerously close to becoming a member of the Texas Rangers. Going through recently-minted Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez's new book, "They Call Me Pudge," Rodriguez explains how right before the 1997 trade deadline he was going to be traded to the New York Yankees.

"I was sitting with Juan [Gonzalez] on the flight, and he was begging me to talk with team president Tom Schieffer," Rodriguez said. "I later found out that I was about to be traded to the New York Yankees for catcher Jorge Posada and pitcher Tony Armas Jr."

Posada / Rodriguez 2008 Upper Deck Card / Upper Deck
The next morning Rodriguez met with Schieffer and signed a five-year, $42 million contract, avoiding the exchange of franchise catchers. While the two would later become teammates with the Yankees in 2008, both Rangers and Yankees fans would have a difficult time imagining their franchises with out their star catchers at the peak of their careers.