Saturday, March 23, 2019

Art Mazmanian | USC College World Series hero and legendary baseball coach, dies at 91

Art Mazmanian, the star second baseman from the University of Southern California’s 1948 College World Series championship team, died March 22, 2019, in San Dimas, California. He was 91.


Mazmanian’s USC squad faced off with future President George H.W. Bush’s Yale team during the 1948 College World Series. Six decades later, he eagerly shared the details of their legendary match up.

“In 1948, we won the first national title for USC,” Mazmanian told Baseball Happenings during a 2009 phone interview from his California home. “We beat George Bush’s Yale team. He was their first baseman and captain. I remember everything. I have a good memory; it was just like yesterday. He got two hits in the three games. He batted seventh in the lineup, and both of hits were doubles.”

The New York Yankees signed Mazmanian in 1949. He marveled at the thought of a 120-pound college freshman becoming a pro prospect.

“I shouldn’t have been signed,” he said in 2009. “You don’t know how blessed I’ve been. You know how much I weighed? When I played at USC, I went there when I was 17 years old; my first year I weighed 121 lbs.”

As unbelievable as it sounds that a slight infielder would fill out in a few short years to attract the New York Yankees, even more amazing was how he earned a full baseball scholarship without USC coach Rod Dedeaux ever seeing him play.

“[Rod] Dedeaux gave me a full scholarship and never saw me play,” he said. “I introduced him at a banquet for our letterman’s club as a senior in high school. … My high school coach got Rod Dedeaux to come and speak. That was the first time I met him. At the banquet, my high school coach talked to him. I weighed 119 lbs and I didn’t make all-city, I made all-league. I didn’t hit over .260, [but] the principal talked to him, and a week later, he gave me a full scholarship. Of course, the war was on, because without the war, I wouldn’t have been noticed. I was the only civilian in classes because I was [just] 17.”

The reliable infielder played from 1949-1954 in the Yankees farm system, reaching the Triple-A level for three of those seasons. While the spray-hitting Mazmanian never made the major leagues, he had a brief taste of the major league life when Casey Stengel invited him to spring training with the parent club in 1952.

“In 1952 I was there for only two weeks, but I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I really liked Casey Stengel. I didn’t deserve to be there, and I knew that, but I loved it. I was tickled to death to be in the organization. I had been playing second base throughout the minors and when I got to Triple-A, they moved me to shortstop. They thought [Phil] Rizzuto was retiring. I didn’t have a shortstop's arm, but I did all right there.”

Mazmanian returned to his alma mater, Dorsey High School in Los Angeles where he coached football and baseball for 13 years. He took the reins at Mt. San Antonio College in 1968, holding the position for 31 years, amassing 731 wins in the process.

During the summers, Mazmanian moonlighted as a minor league coach, taking on rookie ball teams for 17 years, as the short-season fit in with his teaching and coaching duties. His prized prospects included Jack Clark, who he converted from a pitcher to outfielder, and a nubile Don Mattingly in Oneonta.

“I hit it lucky with Mattingly, he was 17,” Mazmanian recalled. “He hit two home runs that year in Oneonta, but we had a tough park. I wrote on the report that I projected him to hit 15-20 in the majors. I saw that Mattingly hit .349 in that league. You don’t know how hard it is for a high school kid to hit in that league. Eddie Williams the number one pick in the draft; he hit about .220 in that league.”

Even after Mazmanian stepped down from his position at Mt. San Antonio College to care for his ailing wife, he could not stay away from the field. He volunteered at South Hills High School from 2011-2015 and finished his coaching career as an assistant at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College in 2016.

“Money-wise, I’m right back where I started,” Mazmanian said in 2011. “I started as a volunteer at Dorsey and now am a volunteer helping out Coach (Kevin) Smith at South Hills.”

Saturday, March 16, 2019

2019 Topps Heritage Baseball | Checklist, Box Break, Inserts, Autographs, and Review

The metallic borders of 2019 Topps Heritage baseball cards rekindle visions of the concrete architectural designs that were popular in the 1970s. While some collectors passed on the 1970 Topps Baseball card set due to its cold feel, Topps attempts to accentuate its minimalist features in 2019 Topps Heritage Baseball.
2019 Topps Heritage / Topps

Base Set / Checklist / Short Prints / Parallels

Topps marks the 500-card base set with the presence of 100-card short prints that are sure to drive collectors on a season-long mission towards completion. Topps makes an interesting turn with the set checklist, leaving a load of stars within the 100 short prints, which means collectors will have to be either very lucky or pay up for the likes of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Long-time collectors will note Pat Neshek's tribute to Lowell Palmer's 1970 Topps card in the picture below.
2019 Topps Heritage Base Set / Topps

Base set parallels are difficult to come by, with hobby boxes offering black (#/50) and flip stock (#/5) versions, while Walmart Mega Boxes serve up a variety of serial numbered chrome cards.

Variations and Refractors

One of the Topps Heritage annual features that draw collectors towards the product is the nuanced variations that demand a detailed look at each card. This year’s twists include French-language OPC versions, image, name, error, and throwback variations, as well as a 100-card set of both chrome and silver metal cards.

The box provided for this review landed a Mike Trout image variation card, as well as an Alex Bregman serial numbered chrome refractor.

Mike Trout Image Variation & Alex Bregman Chrome Refractor / Topps

Inserts

Topps stays true to form with their inserts, honoring the time-tested Then and Now, Flashbacks, and New Age Performers series. Another tip of the cap to the 1970 set comes with the Scratch-Off insert set. All of these inserts are a strong complement to what collectors expect annually from Topps Heritage.

2019 Topps Heritage Then and Now Inserts / Topps

2019 Topps Heritage Inserts / Topps

2019 Topps Heritage 50th Anniversary Box Topper / Topps

Autographs and Relics

Each 2019 Topps Heritage Baseball box guarantees either a Real One autograph or a relic. The Real One autographs include two mystery players and red ink parallels that are numbered to 70 or less. Fortunate fans will be able to land coveted dual and triple Real One autographed cards, which are limited to 25 and 5 respectively.

The 1970 Milwaukee Brewers are in focus with a 10-card autographed set including Hall of Fame owner and Commissioner Bud Selig, as well as pitcher-turned-author Dave Baldwin.

Autographs also dominate the relic space, as Topps reserves star power for its Clubhouse Collection signed relics. These hand-numbered autographs of Aaron Judge, Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout exist in quantities of 25 or less. Topps links a further connection to the 1970 season with the Flashbacks autographed relics, celebrating the likes of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, Bob Gibson, and Steve Carlton.

2019 Topps Jose Ramirez Clubhouse Collection Relic / Topps
While the box used for this review did not yield one of the spectacular aforementioned signatures, a neat relic of Cleveland Indians All-Star slugger Jose Ramirez rounded out the box.

Box Break Video

If you want to get a feel of the fresh excitement that 2019 Topps Heritage has brought to the 1970 Topps design, check out our entire box break in the video below. Click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel for future breaks and interviews.


Wrapping up 2019 Topps Heritage Baseball

Topps has created the 2019 Topps Heritage Baseball for the patient collector, starting with the old-school details, to the extended time needed to complete the entire run of short prints. The experience is an epic that starts well before the regular season that will keep playing out well through the All-Star break. As Major League Baseball attempts to write new rules to quicken the pace of play, 2019 Topps Heritage is a reminder that baseball cards collecting is not something that needs a time clock to get to the next release.





Monday, March 4, 2019

Cholly Naranjo shares fabulous Bobby Maduro memories at SABR baseball meeting

Bobby Maduro had his fingerprints all over Cuban baseball, supporting a generation from the 1940s and 1950s that jump at any chance to tell his story. Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Cholly Naranjo was just a teenager when he first met Maduro after a high school baseball competition.

Cholly Naranjo - Almendares Baseball Card - AutographAddict.com

“I’m walking out behind home plate, and Bobby walked into me and said, ‘Hey Naranjo, what do you think about baseball?’ the 84-year-old Naranjo recalled at a recent South Florida SABR meeting. “I said Bobby, if I [make it] good enough to come out to professional baseball, I will try to see what the best offer is [that] I get in order to make the next step.’ He said, ‘Hey Cholly, you’re too young; you’re thinking about money already?’”



Apparently, Naranjo wasn’t too young to be thinking ahead. He signed with the Washington Senators at 17 in 1952 under “Papa” Joe Cambria's guidance. One year later, Maduro summoned him to join fellow teenager hurler Camilo Pascual on his squad. Together, the Cuban pair made a formidable one-two punch for Maduro’s club, leading the team in winning percentage.

“When Maduro bought the franchise [in 1953], he asked for me to come to the Havana Cubans,” Naranjo said. “When the big people talk, the little people go. When I got to the ballclub, we had Camilo Pascual, one of the greatest Cuban pitchers of all time. [He was] a particular friend of mine because we lived in the same neighborhood and played in the same sandlots.”

Naranjo revealed a hidden detail about Pascual's career that few knew; he battled arm problems his entire career en route to his 2,167 strikeouts.

“Camilo, all his life, since he was 13 years old, he had a sore arm,” Naranjo said. “The story of that guy is incredible — how he has accomplished what he has done in baseball, all with a sore arm."

Maduro would beckon Naranjo to accompany Pascual to get regular treatment no matter where in the Florida International League the team was playing. Naranjo proudly carried that responsibility over 55 years later.

“[When] we went on the road, Maduro used to call the traveling secretary to tell me to bring Camilo with me away from wherever we were playing,” he said. “[I would] take him to Miami to go see this famous trainer. I would take Camilo with me to see that guy, and that was my relation directly with Maduro as far as I was concerned.”

* Special thanks to Sean Holtz at Baseball-Almanac.com for the video.

Friday, February 22, 2019

2019 Topps Series 1 Baseball | Checklist, Box Break, Inserts, Autographs, and Review

As baseball fans flock to 2019 Topps Series 1 Baseball, it is another signal that spring training is in full swing. The flagship Topps product brings forth the abundant optimism and possibilities that come with the anticipation of the upcoming baseball season. A fresh design that has a slight nod to 1982 Topps makes 2019 Topps Series 1 an attractive treat for collectors.

2019 Topps Base Set / Topps

Base Set / Parallels / Checklist

The 350-card base set has Ronald Acuña Jr. in the leadoff spot, christening the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year with the coveted first card honors. The hobby box provided for this review came about 40 cards short of a complete base set.

2019 Topps 150th Anniversary Parallels / Topps
A few new twists include the 150th anniversary parallels and the hobby exclusive clear parallels for the first 100 cards. Click here for a complete set checklist.

2019 Topps Gold / Topps
Topps keeps collectors busy with a range of colored parallels that go beyond the Rainbow Foil inserts. For those wanting a serial numbered experience, 2019 Topps Series 1 delivers similarly to its 2018 predecessor.


Gold (#/2019), Vintage Stock (#/99), Independence Day (#/76), Black (#/67 - Hobby/Jumbo only), Mother's Day Pink (#/50), Father's Day Blue (#/50), Memorial Day Camo (#/25), Platinum (1/1), and Printing Plates (1/1)

2019 Topps Carlos Rodon SP Variation / Topps
In an effort to keep collectors on their toes, Topps has both SP and SSP image variations, with the latter including only retired legends. The SSP variations are difficult to track down and have made it very challenging to build a master set.

Inserts

The standout insert for 2019 Topps Series 1 is the 1984 35th anniversary set. The updated gloss finish with the white background makes today’s talent pop in the 1984 designs, while also giving Don Mattingly’s iconic rookie card a new look with different photos. Sticking with the nostalgic insert themes, the 150 Years of Professional Baseball, and Iconic Card reprints further serve to connect generations throughout the hobby.

2019 Topps 1984 35th Anniversary Inserts / Topps

2019 Topps 150 Years Insert Set / Topps
2019 Topps Inserts / Topps

Autographs / Relics

With almost 20 different autographed insert sets, Topps strives for diversity with this year’s offerings. They range from signed versions of the insert sets to highlights of the 2018 World Series Champion Red Sox, as well as 1/1 cut signatures from icons Cy Young, Roberto Clemente, Satchel Paige, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams.

There is no shortage of relic variations many coming with serial numbered parallel versions. Topps guarantees each box will contain either relic or an autograph. The box provided for this review yielded a Miguel Cabrera Major League Material Relic.



Postgame

Opening 2019 Topps Series 1 Baseball is an annual bonding experience for fans, collectors, and families alike. Digging through these baseball cards is a ritual that celebrates the hope of a new baseball season.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Don Newcombe's memory celebrated by Nashua teammate Billy DeMars

Don Newcombe was instrumental in breaking down barriers when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1946. Instead of sending him to join Jackie Robinson in Montreal, they sent him along with Roy Campanella to play for the Nashua Dodgers where they integrated the Class B New England League. In the wake of Newcombe’s recent passing, I reached out to the 93-year-old Billy DeMars for the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss the experience of playing with his pioneering teammate.




Click here to listen on Spotify.
Click here to listen on iTunes.

“The one thing I remember about Don was he was a helluva great pitcher,” DeMars said from his Florida home. “We were playing in Manchester New Hampshire one night, and Walter Alston was our manager that year. He brought him in the ninth inning. ... He didn’t hold anything back, he struck out all three batters. Just to watch him throw, he let the air out. He was tremendous!”

Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella in Nashua, 1946 
DeMars also noted that in addition to being lights out on the mound, Newcombe was a force at the plate. He led the team in with a .311 batting average, even besting his future Hall of Fame teammate Campanella.

Branch Rickey sent both of Negro League talents north to New Hampshire, as he could not place them in the hostile cities of his other southern minor league affiliates. DeMars said the Nashua team readily accepted both players and treated them like family.

“We had absolutely no problems whatsoever on the team," he said. "They were just other players. We got along absolutely great with Don [Newcombe] and [Roy] Campanella. In fact, Campanella had a little boy who was five or six. We used to put him on an iron crate and let him play on the pinball machine.”

The Brooklyn native wound up on the Nashua team after returning from his World War II service, where he played with Ted Williams and Charlie Gehringer at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The trio of future major leaguers, as well as player-manager Walter Alston, helped guide the team to the championship. Some seven decades later, DeMars chuckled at the reward.

“Another funny thing about that season, we lost the pennant on the last day of the season,” he said. “We went into the playoffs, and we won that to [become] the champions and our winning share was ten bucks apiece!”

Long removed from his playing and coaching days, DeMars marveled at the amount of money, or lack thereof, that he made while in the minor leagues.

“I signed and went up to Olean New York in 1943 just before I went in the Navy,” he said. “I tell everybody I made $3.50 a day. It was $100 a month — $25 a week, which came out to $3.50 a day. It is a little bit different than today.”

He cited a broken current minor league system that continues to underpay both the players and coaches. He explained that with record-setting major league contracts, baseball needs to reach down into the minor leagues and improve salary conditions.

“That’s what’s wrong with the game,” he said. “I just saw [Manny Machado] signed for $300 million and the guys who have to take cuts in salary are the minor league managers and the players. They are not paid as much as they should be [making]. The scouts and minor league managers need to make good money too. They are developing the players, and they have to work hard as hell down there.

"I spent 11 years as a minor league manager, and I was married and I had children at the time. You had to write up the whole league twice a year, the players once a month. At that time, I used to drive the team. We used to have cars; me and two other players would drive the club around. It wasn’t easy but we made it.”

DeMars played parts of three major league seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Browns. After 11 years as a minor league manager, he spent the next 19 as a major league coach with the Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and Cincinnati Reds. He has managed to outlive most of his peers, with Newcombe’s death serving as a mortal reminder of his place in history.

“In August, I will be 94,” he said. “Now with Newcombe gone, I moved up to 22 [he is currently the 23rd oldest living former major league baseball player]. It’s a helluva a list isn’t it?”

Still, the nonagenarian is popular with the fans due to his status as one of the few remaining St. Louis Browns alumni.

“I get a hell of a lot of mail,” he said. “I think there are 12 of us left from the St. Louis Browns. St. Louis was great, everything about St. Louis was great.”