What is Project 54?

Late last night I was indulging myself in some pre-bedtime eBaying!

Earlier that day I’d put together a post on cheating in Baseball and while trying to find a good image of a vintage Whitey Ford I came across a listing by Portland Sports Card Co. for a 1954 Topps in incredible condition for around $11 with less than 24hrs to go. I emailed for further details and Bill confirmed some really good shipping rates to the UK ($3.50 for 1-2 cards and $4.00 for up to 10). Interest piqued I started having a look through some of his other cards of HOFers from around the same era.

As an aside, if you have a real hankering for some vintage cards I’d suggest you go and have a look at Bill’s store on eBay. There’s a great selection of cards at pretty reasonable prices, including the shipping costs!

I eventually put several 1954 Topps in my watchlist – Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider – to go along with the Ford. ALL cards were in amazing condition given their age and all were between $11 and $20. “Bargain” I thought!!

Around three hours ago (just after I’d put the lasagne in the oven) I sat in front of my laptop to watch the time on these cards tick down.

It’s safe to say, thanks to a flurry of last minute bidding, that I didn’t win any of them!! All of them went, except for the Eddie Mathews, for upwards of $40, exceeding my PayPal budget by a fair few dollars! Win some, lose some I guess!!

However this short visit into the world of vintage Baseball left me yearning for more. I’ve always wanted to collect a set of vintage Topps but have always concentrated on sets from the 60s and 70s due to the heavy coin involved in putting together a set from the 50’s. But when I started to investigate things a bit further I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

The 1954 Topps Baseball set has been a personal favourite for a long time and has a grand total of 250 cards (including two Ted Williams), the majority of which are infinitely affordable if you’re prepared to bend a little with regard to the condition of the cards. Now if you ask me 250 cards is pretty achievable, even more so when you take out the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Aaron, Banks and Kaline rookies, and the Williams cards that bookend the set! I’ve looked on eBay and have found that you can even pick up the likes of Jackie Robinson at a reasonable price with a bit of patience and shopping around!

So, after giving the logistics some consideration, ‘Project 54’ is born!

Heaven only knows how far I’ll get with it? Given my previous track record with building collections the odds are pretty much stacked against me, but I’m going to give it a go anyway! If it all amounts to a failed exercise it will be worth it just to get my hands on some ’54 Topps!

And if one day I do go on to finish the whole set at least I’ll be able to say I own this beauty –

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#whatisproject54

Disgraced

“But I’ve gotta say, if it had been me and I thought that somebody else was getting a little bit of an edge, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have done the same thing. I just don’t know … I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision. You guys would be talking about me instead of them.”

“I don’t know what I would have done, so I can’t be holier than thou.”

Bob Gibson at the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee Weekend, Cooperstown

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This weekend SHOULD have seen one of Baseball’s greatest ever power hitters and one the games greatest power pitchers inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say ‘SHOULD have’ because instead the only inductees who actually made it this year are no longer with us – player Deacon White, umpire Hank O’Day, and executive Jacob Ruppert, all of whom died in the 1930s.

Last week Ryan Braun accepted a suspension of 65 games (effectively the remainder of the 2013 season) for his part in the Biogenesis scandal that’s been sweeping the sport for the last few months. By all accounts we’ll be seeing further suspensions this week as MLB is allegedly going after several of the other names from the case, including the scalp of Alex Rodriguez. Braun’s suspension, after swearing outright that he’d never taken PEDs, has enraged many, from the press through to the fans and even through to the players themselves.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports made a couple of interesting comments on Twitter last week about Braun’s suspension –

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I love that second one 🙂

I’m not going to use this post as a soapbox for a rant against the whole PED/steroid debacle that currently blights Baseball. There’s more than enough opinion out there already for me to bother throwing my two cents in, but I did want to look at the nature of cheating in Baseball and the fact that the very act of trying to get ‘an edge’ in the game has been going on for a lot longer than you’d probably imagine.

So whether it’s anything from gambling to ball tampering, corked bats to PEDs, there are dozens of stories out there highlighting Baseball’s more dubious and duplicitous side!

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The ‘Black Sox’

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If you’ve never seen John Sayle’s excellent ‘Eight Men Out’ then go do yourself a favour and find a copy! It’s a great film about a subject and sport that’s very close to our hearts!

The ‘Black Sox’ Scandal took place during the 1919 World Series when the Chicago White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from organized baseball, including one of Baseball’s greatest hitters ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson!

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Preacher Roe

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How did Preacher Roe pitch successfully until the age of 39 for the Brooklyn Dodgers? It was all thanks to what his teammates called his “Beech-Nut Curve.” Beech-Nut was a type of chewing gum, and in a 1955 article for Sports Illustrated Roe explained that the spit that this brand of gum produced was the best for affecting curve balls.

During his playing days everyone knew that Roe was doctoring the ball but no-one knew exactly how he was achieving it. He used to fool batters into thinking he had a substance secreted in the bill of his cap (despite the fact that there was never anything there) and so he could fake batters out that much easier whenever he ran his fingers over his cap.

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Whitey Ford

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Yankees legend and Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford admitted that he used a variety of “techniques” to enhance his pitching. Sometimes he would scuff the ball with his wedding ring or belt buckle. Other times he would rub it a special substance of his own creation made of baby oil, turpentine, and pine tar – a substance his teammates christened ‘gunk’!

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Pete Rose

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Peter Rose is perhaps one of the most well known ‘cheats’ to those outside of Baseball. Nicknamed ‘Charlie Hustle’, Rose was a switch hitter and is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053) and outs (10,328). He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, the Rookie of the Year Award, and also made 17 All-Star appearances.

Despite this unparalleled level of success on the field and his passion for the game, Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball amidst accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds, including claims that he bet on his own team.

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The Bash Brothers

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The A’s pairing of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco was infamous in the late 80’s and early 90’s for the huge power output and home run hitting ability. Canseco became Baseball’s first 40-40 player while McGwire went on to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record in 1998.

Today they are synonymous with the origins of the “Steroid Era”! In 2005 Canseco went on to write the book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big which was his personal account of steroid use in Major League Baseball. In the book he named several other players as being steroid users and he went on to become a pariah in the Baseball community.

In 2005 McGwire famously refused to answer questions under oath when called to testify in front of a congressional hearing on steroid usage in Baseball. His performance was ridiculed by the media at the time but he later admitted steroid use when he became the hitting coach for the Cardinals in 2010.

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Albert ‘Joey’ Belle

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The infamous Cleveland Indians corked bat incident took place on July 15, 1994 at Comiskey Park. In the first inning of the game between the Indians and the White Sox, Sox manager Gene Lamont was tipped off that Indians outfielder Albert Belle was using a corked baseball bat. The bat was confiscated by umpire Dave Phillips, and locked in the umpires’ dressing room.

The Indians knew that Belle’s bat was corked so they dispatched reliever Jason Grimsley to retrieve it. Grimsley took a bat belonging to Indians player Paul Sorrento and accessed the area above the false ceiling in the clubhouse, crawling across with a flashlight in his mouth until he reached the umpires’ room. He switched Belle’s bat with Sorrento’s and returned to the clubhouse.

The theft was later discovered and the AL threatened to get the FBI involved unless Belle’s original bat was produced. Complying with this request the bat was indeed found to be corked and Belle suspended for 10 games. It all came to nought though as the season ended early due to the 1994 players strike.

In his 2002 book, Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel confirmed that all of Belle’s bats were corked!

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Barry Bonds

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What can you say about Barry Bonds?

Holding many MLB records, including most career home runs (762), most home runs in a single season (73, set in 2001), most career walks (2,558), and most career intentional walks (688), Bonds led a controversial career, notably as a central figure in Baseball’s steroids scandal.

In 2007, he was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury during the government’s investigation of BALCO, by testifying that he never knowingly took any illegal steroids. He was convicted on April 13, 2011 on the charge of obstruction of justice and despite his Baseball accomplishments, Bonds was not elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (this year) on the ballot.

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I truly hope that the PED issue is finally coming to an end. I might be somewhat naive to believe that this could be the case, but more stories are starting to appear all the time about players speaking out around the issue, about a desire to finally clean up the game! Matt Kemp was one of the first to stand up and come down hard on Ryan Braun’s suspension, and surely more will follow!!

What’s interesting to note is that the ‘level’ of cheating, and how acceptable it is as part of the game, does tend to vary somewhat. Pitchers such as Preacher Roe and Whitey Ford, who have openly admitted to tampering with the ball during games, are still hailed amongst the greatest pitchers to play the game and are still enshrined at Cooperstown.

Are we to say that the Pete Rose’s betting, which led to his lifetime ban from Baseball, is any more serious as the lies and cheating that have occurred during the steroid and PED era? Admittedly Rose didn’t do his own cause any favours in the years following his ban as he maintained for years that he never gambled on Baseball, despite finally coming clean in 2004.

On a personal level I don’t think that Rose’s ‘crime’ is in the same league as what’s happening with PEDs at the moment! However Pete Rose DID break the rules of Baseball and is currently paying the price for that infringement still to this day!

Baseball will move on from this, the same way that it has moved on from other scandals that have rocked the game in the past. But while the sport will prevail please spare a thought for the fans and collectors who are affected by these events, as each of them has their own story to tell too.

The Traveller Returns…

A few of you (my wife, my dog, my barman) may have noticed my absence of late. This was due to a family wedding in Norway – the single most expensive land I’ve ever been to in my life. 22 quid for a pint of stout and a bottle of cider in Trondheim!! When I think of the cards I could have bought with what I’ve spent this past week…

Anyway, I did return to a nice little treat in the mailbox. No, the neighbour’s cat hadn’t been up to his tricks again. It was a card from Jim & Steve’s Baseball Card Shop – a dealer on Beckett Marketplace. The card in question was the toughest of the five remaining 1966 Topps on my wantlist – #561 Choo Choo Coleman. I was lucky enough to be viewing the site at just the right time and was able to nab ol’ Choo Choo in EX condition for just under 20 bucks.

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1966 Topps #561 Choo Choo (Who Who?) Coleman

Now who the hell is Choo Choo Coleman you may well ask. Well, I may well ask the same thing! Coleman didn’t really amount to much in his major league career. He played just over 200 games over four seasons with the Phillies and Mets, popping nine homers and garnering a lusty batting average of .197

For some reason though, Coleman’s 1966 card sells for three figure sums in NrMt condition. Why? Well, there seems to be two trains of thought on this. One is that the card is a genuine “super” short print – a card that is printed not only in shorter numbers than the rest of the series, but also in shorted numbers than the rest of the short prints! There are one or two other cards among the 1966T high numbers that are thought to be among this group and as a result, prices tend to be notably higher than the other SPs. The other possible explanation is an interesting one…

There are rumours that a collector (or collectors) in the States are creating an artificial premium for these cards by cornering the market on them… in other words, buying up as many of them as possible over the past few years, forcing prices up by making an already scarce card even harder to find. Now this may or may not be true. Perhaps its just speculation based on similar situations which are generally acknowledged to be genuine. Read here about the 1966T #591 Bart Shirley/Grant Jackson RC. There is also a guy who seems to buy every 1964T #103 Curt Flood card… seemingly he has well over 1000 of them.

Whatever the reason, I’m just glad that Choo Choo now resides in my 1966 Topps binder.

Just four more spaces to fill…

2013 Panini Cooperstown Baseball Preview

Over the months since starting this blog I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Panini’s old school Baseball products. A BIG fan!

No-one else out there makes ball cards in a similar way. Sure, Topps has its retro-themed products such as Heritage, A&G and Gypsy Queen, but they don’t produce any sets that specifically deal with the players from the Dead Ball Era or that are themed around the denizens of Cooperstown. You know the sort of thing that mean!

Last year’s Panini Cooperstown Baseball was one of the best kept secrets in the card release calendar, with a great base set, a multitude of inserts and an exemplary on-card autograph set (including the incredibly popular and hard-to-find sig of Dodgers veteran broadcaster – Vin Scully).

With their 2013 release I’m hoping for much of the same, and from early release information it doesn’t look as if I’m going to be disappointed.

Click here to view the sell sheet for a more detailed breakdown of the product and here for some early shots of some of the cards themselves, courtesy of Tracy Hackler over at The Knight’s Lance!

Personally I can’t wait for this one!!!! The base design and the selection of players is fantastic, and those autos – well, what can I say? It’s sets like these that will make people sit up and take notice of what Panini has to offer.

And that can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned!

Look for 2013 Panini Cooperstown Baseball in the middle of August!

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Panini America Offers Extended First Look at 2013 Hometown Heroes Baseball

How did I miss this?? Guess I’m not keeping up with Mr Hackler’s scribblings of late!!! This looks like another sure-fire winner for Panini’s ever-growing portfolio of Baseball products, once more with an emphasis on old-school fun! Hope to see some more soon!!!

The Official Panini America Blog

Hometown Heroes Main

Boasting a breadth of old-school design quirks, timeless throwback collecting nuances and an abundance of good, old-fashioned fun, Panini America’s 2013 Hometown Heroes Baseball looks to jettison collectors back in time when the product releases in early October.

Each hobby box of 2013 Hometown Heroes Baseball (12 packs per box, 24 cards per pack) will deliver three autographs, three SportDiscs (yes, those SportDiscs), five State parallels, one ZIP Codes parallel and an assortment of creative inserts that includes three Curtain Call, two City Hall, two Defining Moments, one Nickname, one Rivalry and one Homegrown Heroes.

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Code Breakers

With the release of 2013 Allen and Ginter’s just a couple of weeks away it’s safe to say that the excitement and anticipation levels for the fans of this particular product are probably escalating round about now!

Renowned for it’s striking, if somewhat repetitive design, and its mixture of Baseball and popular culture, A&G is one of Topps’ most eclectic releases in its Baseball card calendar!

Personally I find it a really interesting product, full of SPs and great-looking inserts! I’m aware that some collectors are often put off by the non-Baseball side of A&G, but for me that’s part of the charm and I’m more than happy to let it slide!

But perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects to A&G, certainly since it was first introduced in 2008, is ‘The Ginter Code’!

So – what the hell is The Ginter Code?

With each release of Allen & Ginter’s, as well as giving us a deep and varied card set, Topps also goes the extra mile and weaves into the product a complex code, cypher or mystery that, when solved, usually nets the victor a complete set of autographed cards from the set itself.

Since its inception in 2008 The Ginter Code has proved to be an enthralling diversion in what’s already a highly anticipated release. I first became aware of it shortly after my return to collecting in 2011 and it really appeals to my mystery-loving side! I mean ‘Hey’!! Who doesn’t like a good mystery, eh??

The codes have varied in complexity over time, with some taking days to complete, others weeks and even months! I know that deep down I’ll never be in a position to take a stab at one of these things but this doesn’t stop me going along for the ride!

So whether it’s hidden messages buried deep within the card set itself, or even a murder mystery style ‘whodunit’ that played out through Twitter, The Ginter Code has something for everyone who’s intrigued enough (and who has enough time on their hands) to take part.

Nothing has been released so far about the nature of this years Code, but here are some links to previous years’ solutions for you to have a read through if you’re at all interested in this sort of thing!

The 2008 Ginter Code Solution

The 2009 Ginter Code Solution

The 2010 Ginter Code Solution

The 2011 Ginter Code Solution

The 2012 Ginter Code Solution

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2013 Topps Allen & Ginter’s is released on 7th August, and will contain the first official rookie card of this guy –

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Excited yet?

Why I Love Evan Gattis

First off I’m not a Braves fan!

I don’t hate the Braves, far from it!! If I wasn’t a Cardinals fan then who knows? I may well have been drawn to the Braves in a different life! As it stands I’ll leave it to my buddy Chris Mays to spread the Braves love!

However, many months ago I read an article about Evan Gattis.

At the time I had no idea who he was – but his story intrigued me! I couldn’t help but be drawn in to what had happened to this guy and how he’d gone about his journey to the majors!

The notion of a ‘journey’ is a somewhat overused cliche these days, especially in the world of celebrity. Anyone who’s anyone has to go on some sort of ‘journey’ – some sort of voyage of self-discovery. To suffer for one’s art, to toil, to know sacrifice, only to come out the other side stronger and somehow transformed!

The thing is, this idea of a journey is something that perfectly sums up the life of Evan Gattis! One long, incredible journey!

Here’s the main part of a great little article from back in April by Monte Burke, a feature writer for Forbes Life, that provides us with a succinct insight into the man that Evan Gattis was, and the man he’s become –

The best story in the early stages of the 2013 baseball season is, to my mind, the odyssey of Atlanta Braves catcher, Evan Gattis.

Gattis, a very large man at 6’4” and 230 pounds, made the Braves big-league roster this year primarily, it was believed, to keep the seat warm for Brian McCann, the team’s All-Star catcher who is on the disabled list until later on this month. But Gattis has done much more than that: He has started the season batting .333, with 3 home runs and 6 RBIs. He is a big reason that the Braves are off to an 9-1 start, despite the fact that two of their stars—Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton—are off to horrid starts (.097 and .091 batting averages, respectively), and another (Freddie Freeman) is on the disabled list. The Braves clearly want his bat in the lineup as much as possible: He played at first base last night, a bit shakily at times.

But his production alone is only a small part of the story. Gattis, 26, is baseball’s spiritual wanderer.

At age 18 Gattis was a hot college baseball prospect in his hometown of Forney, Texas. He signed to play at Texas A&M, but never showed up, the result of an early-life existential crisis. Gattis, at the urging of his mother, entered a rehab facility to help kick a developing habit for marijuana and alcohol. He then played a season with Seminole State in Oklahoma, but got hurt. He quit baseball. Then he set off on his journey.

He went west, initially to Boulder, Colorado. He worked odd jobs, as a cart boy at a golf course, a ski-lift operator and a janitor (he uses his janitor ID as his Twitter avatar). He sought out various spiritual advisors, and after consultations, felt like he was back on track and done with his wanderings. “I was just done looking for whatever it was I was looking for. I was done with it. It cleared up in kind of a final way where, without a shadow of a doubt, I just knew I didn’t have to do that anymore,” he told USA Today.

And then in 2010 he decided to give baseball another try. He played a season at the University of Texas-Permian Basin, where his stepbrother was a pitcher. He mashed the ball. The Braves took him in the 23rd round of the MLB draft. He didn’t make the team that year. He lost weight (he had ballooned to 270 pounds). He played winter ball in Venezuela, where the fans called him “El Oso Blanco” (the white bear).

Then he came to the Braves camp this spring. McCann, the team knew, would be out for an extended time. The Braves brought in a veteran catcher, Gerald Laird. But Gattis refused to be ignored. He batted .357 with 6 homers and 16 RBIs in the Grapefruit League. He made the big-league roster. He hit a home run in his very first major league game, as the TV announcers were interviewing his father. Right now, he’s a bargain for the Braves, with a salary of $490,000.

There is no way to know how this will all play out. Sluggers come and go quickly in the majors. Pitchers find a weak spot and exploit it ruthlessly. Gattis could be a flash in the pan, despite suggestions that he could take McCann’s spot for good. Or, just maybe, his unlikely odyssey could continue. Either way, we should enjoy this story while it lasts.

My thanks to Monte Burke for that piece. It was far better than anything I could have put together and perfectly encapsulated how great Evan Gattis’ story is!

If Gattis does indeed end up being a flash in the pan then so be it! If that’s what the great tapestry of life has in store for him then I guess he’ll just start on his next journey all the richer (metaphysically speaking) from his time spent with the Braves!

Personally I hope he succeeds beyond measure! I’m sure in his own eyes he already has.

Tales such as Gattis’ don’t come around all that often, but when they do they just enrich the great game of Baseball ever further. Gattis’ story serves as a great reminder to us all in the power of self-belief, self-reflection and especially in second chances!

And that’s why I love Evan Gattis so much!