(Poor) Roger Maris, 1964 Topps

Poor Roger Maris, 1964 Topps, ed

Pocket-weary, scuffed, and battered, Roger Maris gazes skyward in defiant optimism. More than anyone, he should know how pinstripes can suppress the ecstasy of flight. At age 29, the navy blue cap sits atop a ravine-furrowed brow, conceals bald patches and tufts of gray—distressed vestiges from 1961. An expanse of black netting looms behind his back. In high, deserted tiers, no crowd of a thousand empetalled faces quivers with applause. But even bold trajectory always dips eventually. So Roger plays with bone chips, a broken hand; he wracks his knees on grandstand dives; and, come retirement, he combats the Hodgkin’s lymphoma whose cytology reveals periwinkle profusions among white blood cells. What history has since transpired: wrinkles extend in cellulose varicose veins from center to edges frayed. Yet still he stares through folds of time; he lifts his head, as if to trace the measured beat of ash wood—its resonant, aerial song arcing through the pale-blue down above.

*Previously appeared in Harpur Palate 13.2 (Winter/Spring 2014), page 63.

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Best Worst Mickey Mantles, Part II

It’s time to expand the digital collection of the best worst Mickey Mantles. Some of these appear just mildly, colorfully marred–while others belong in a category specially reserved for the utterly wretched, shipwrecked, and weather-wracked. . . . And, again, if you happen to have a beautifully ruined Mickey Mantle that you’d like to share, then by all means please feel free to comment to this post with a link to your own poor Mickey Mantle.

 

1956 Topps 135 Mickey Mantle

1957 TOPPS BASEBLL #95 MICKEY MANTLE YANKEES GREAT LOOK

1959 Topps Mickey Mantle 10

1961 Topps Mickey Mantle 300

1962 Topps 18 Managers Dream Mickey Mantle Willie Mays

1962 TOPPS 200 MICKEY MANTLE

1962 TOPPS BASEBALL 471 MICKEY MANTLE ALL STAR

1963 Topps 2 A.L. Batting Leaders Mickey Mantle

1963-mantle-bombers-ed1

1965 Mickey Mantle 350

1965 Topps 350 Mickey Mantle

1965 Topps Micky Mantle

1968 Topps 280 Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle 1959 Topps Bazooka

Mickey Mantle 1968 TOPPS GAME 2 Baseball Game Card - Needs a good home

 

Best Worst Mickey Mantles

Here follows a collection of the best worst Mickey Mantles that I have ever laid eyes on. I think this should be a post in-progress. And if you happen to have a beautifully wrecked Mickey Mantle that you’d like to share, then by all means please feel free to comment to this post with a link to your own poor Mickey Mantle.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle RC Yankees 311, crop.

Mantle Jello 15, 1963, front

300 1961 Topps Mickey Mantle

1952 topps Mickey Mantle

1954 BOWMAN MICKEY MANTLE

1957 Topps 407 Yankees Power Hitters,Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle - 1957 Topps #95, v2

Mickey Mantle - 1957 Topps 95

MICKEY MANTLE 1966 TOPPS 50

1958 Topps 418 MICKEY MANTLE - HANK AARON

1958 Topps 418 MICKEY MANTLE - HANK AARON back

1958 Topps 487 Mickey Mantle

1959 TOPPS 461 MICKEY MANTLE

1962 Post Canadian 5 Mickey Mantle

1951 Bowman 253 Mickey Mantle

1954 BOWMAN COLOR MICKEY MANTLE

1961 Topps 475 Mickey Mantle

1960 Topps 563 Mickey Mantle

1955 BOWMAN MICKEY MANTLE 202

A Tale of Two Sams

“Who are these people? Where do they come from? What do they do? What’s in a name?”

—Harvey Pekar in the film adaptation American Splendor (2003)

Harvey Pekar’s quasi existential musings in his now famous “What’s in a name” monologue felt like an appropriate start here. I recall feeling the same vaguely pensive sentiments about identity, chance, and fate not long after I first encountered pitcher Sam Jones and his salient, doleful visage. To this day, Sam’s lachrymose expression seems to cause the very cardboard to warp and sag on his contradictorily brightly colored 1958 Topps card. Printed in typical four-color halftone on customary compressed cellulose, his portrait exhibits a poor imitation of a happy ballplayer; indeed, the tortured smile that drags his eyes down appears to be more grimace than grin. This is the illustrated definition of a long face. One compatriot baseball enthusiast whom I know even jokingly suggested a more than suitable nickname, “Sad Sam.” Actually, it turns out that Sam’s teammates and fellow players similarly christened him: “Sad Sam Jones.”

1958 Topps 287, Sam Jones

Sad Sam it would be. Naturally, curiosity next propelled me to do some casual research (as if the baseball almanacs, biographic blurbs, and statistical ebbs and flows would so easily illuminate some secret tragedy in Sam’s past).  I was but barely on my way to discovering the origins of Sad Sam’s woes and melancholy when I soon confronted a wall of confusion in the form of another pitcher—named Sam Jones. At first I assumed an error had somehow occurred in the annals of ash wood and leather. In fact, I swore that some editorial oversight was culprit for the following, more startling duplication: that this other, early prototype (highly regarded by players and fans in his time) was also infamously hailed as none other than “Sad Sam Jones.”

1933 Goudey, Sam Jones

Two Sam Joneses. Two “Sad” Sam Joneses. Both pitchers. But wait: the coincidental or preordained links in the chain do not end there—not by a long ball. For while each Sad Sam clearly lived his own individual life, possessed no shortage of inimitable eccentricities, and earned some fine distinctions in the game, some additional and curious parallels exist. . . .

Sams converge

The Sad Sam Jones who lived from 1892 to 1966 (henceforth Sam Jones I) was a pitcher who threw right and batted right.

Likewise, the Sad Sam Jones who lived from 1925 to 1971 (henceforth Sam Jones II) was a pitcher who threw and batted right.

Sams diverge

Sam Jones I played in the MLB from 1914 to 1935—near the end of the dead-ball era and into a new chapter for pitchers.

Sam Jones II played first in the Negro leagues and then in the MLB from 1951 to 1964—near the end of the era of exclusion of African Americans from baseball and into a new chapter for black ballplayers.

Sams converge

Among other teams, Sam I played for the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns.

Among other teams, Sam II also played for the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Baltimore Orioles (formerly known as the St. Louis Browns).

Cleveland was the first team for both Sams.

Sams diverge

Sam I’s achievements include winning three World Series Championships (with the New York Yankees).

Sam II’s achievements include appearing in two All-Star games.

Sams converge

Sam I was born in Woodsfield, Ohio.

Sam II was born in Stewartsville, Ohio.

Approximately forty miles apart, Woodsfield is less than an hour drive from Stewartsville.

Sams diverge

Sam I earned his nickname on account of his “downcast” exterior when on field, no doubt exaggerated by the style in which he wore his baseball cap very low over his eyes. (While other players wore their caps high so they could more easily admire the female fans, or so he jocularly criticized, Sam defensively attributed his peculiar cap-donning fashion to the desire to play with focus.)

Sam II earned his nickname due his shy nature and “mournful-looking” appearance (often with a toothpick in his mouth, which earned him a second moniker).

Sams converge

Sam I threw a no-hitter in 1923 but with the dubious distinction of failing to make a single strikeout (a first for a pitcher with a no-hitter).

Sam II threw a no-hitter in 1955 (making him the first black pitcher to accomplish this feat in the MLB).

Sams meet

After his time playing major league ball was over, Sam I remained involved in baseball. Whether by kismet or serendipity, his charitable work among youths in baseball would bring two paths to a cross, as SABR reports:

He kept busy, teaching kids in Woodsfield how to play ball (and securing donations of major-league equipment from some of his old teammates), according to his friend, Ronald Turner; one of those children, from nearby Stewartsville, Ohio, was another Sam Jones, nicknamed “Toothpick Sam.”

Credit: 1958 Topps Sam Jones courtesy of COMC.com.

Commentary Classics, Part 3: “Faúl Raúl,” or “the Ancient Mariner”

During the Cubs vs. Mariners national game broadcast on Friday night (6-28-13), I felt my brain do an odd, auditory version of a double take. It was a reaction to WGN’s commentating duo of Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies and something they said: “Faúl Raúl,” Len (or was it Jim?) mused after Seattle’s Raúl Ibañez hit a foul ball. “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” chimed Jim (or was it Len?).

“Ding!” went the culture couch critic lounging in my heart who leapt from his Cairn Terrier’s hair-covered chair. Led by my heart’s excitement, I followed suit and heedlessly jostled a drowsy pup. I was astounded. Something awoke within the former, mediocre college student of “English Language and Literature.” (That’s what my dusty B.A. degree says I studied, implying lofty tomes of Shakespeare and Chaucer, though in truth I partook of a far stranger, less canonical cocktail of Michael Chabon, Dawn Powell, and John Fante.) Did I just catch a literary reference from the professional sports expositors and scriveners, the loquacious appreciators of all things baseball? Hotdogs, sabermetrics, and Coleridge–oh my! What sounds from out of the mouths of babes!

But I’m veering towards the facetious–indeed, the mean-spirited. In fact, upon further analysis, this brief and jocular exchange between Kasper and Deshaies proves even more surprising and complex, especially considering its spontaneity.

Whether intentional or not, Len (or was it Jim?) seemed to intuit the double meaning or at least pun in the title of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lyric epic, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (emphasis added). For the now somewhat archaic word “rime” alludes not only to the frost that Arctic seafarers experience but also to the homophone, rhyme–of course a popular literary device, and one which Coleridge’s poem utilizes.

So Jim’s comment (or was it Len?) feels all the more appropriate and even remarkably erudite. Remarkable, I say, not because of any elitist prejudices against sportscasting but, quite the contrary, due to the utterly impromptu and often challenging nature of its quick-witted business and craft. Consider first the very occurrence and circumstances of this unlikely literary reference; remember this is a nationally televised broadcast of a baseball game. Next understand how the reference draws on at least a passing familiarity with late 18th-century British literature, romantic poetry at that. Now please don’t mistake my meaning: I believe that most baseball fans possess all of the same intellectual capacity and potential to literary pursuits as anyone else, insomuch as they desire, and the Ken Burns PBS Baseball series (1994-2010) with its sample social strata of varied interviewees can attest enough to that. Nevertheless, I hazard to guess that British romantic poetry is about as endemic to baseball crowds as ballerina slippers in the NFL.

Finally, in addition to the previous rime vs. rhyme distinction, observe the playful manipulation of the off-rhyme word, foul, for the preferred perfect rhyme of “Faúl” to better agree with Raúl. And compared to Coleridge’s own pun on “rime,” the WGN commentary offers two further puns in the employment of this specific reference: not only is Ibañez a re-returning deckhand (ha, there’s one of my own!) for the Mariners–this being his third stint with the team–he is indeed quite the veteran of professional baseball at age forty-one.

While I won’t go so far as to call Ibañez ancient, his grizzled and frosty visage today certainly offers a stark comparison next to the striking fresh face on his minor league card issued during his time with the Appleton Foxes. . . .

Raúl now:

2013 Topps Gypsy Queen, Raul Ibanez

Raúl then:

1993 Fleer ProCards, Raul Ibanez, Appleton Foxes

Images courtesy of COMC.com.

Holy Cardboard & Kryptonite, Batman! Superman trading cards go back to the 1940s?

Last night I interrupted what may well have been my 100th viewing of Superman II (which yields feelings of both joy and shame) because something suddenly, seemingly miraculously occurred to me during the scotch o’clock witching hour. The impetus was a typically cheesy, Salkind-produced sequence—completely overblown yet at the same time touching—when a limpid-eyed Christopher Reeve halts an elevator in freefall on the Eiffel Tower just in time to save none other than Lois Lane. For a brief moment, rescuer and rescued stare deeply and smile before Superman flies off to hurtle the elevator’s hidden hydrogen bomb into outer space. Something about that shared, intimate instant amidst chaos compelled me to freeze the frame on Reeve’s charismatic, young face. Then as if I was the very first to ever contemplate it, I felt struck with wonder by the power of the still image: if profiteering manufacturers of 1980s pop culture schlock managed to mass-produce and circulate trading cards of trendy franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ThunderCats, then at some opportunistic, product tie-in juncture surely someone did the same  with Superman trading cards (and many times over). Oh boy, did they ever.

Check out the listings on the PSA registry for “Non-Sports” trading cards. You will see that their records include over half of a dozen company sets for Superman listed between 1940 and 1978. And as PSA maintains some stricter standards, doubtless more card issues exist. Certainly, the individual “1940 Gum Inc. Superman R145s” come with the higher price tags in online auctions, but they nevertheless remain vastly more affordable than individual comics of the era.

For example, this raggedy #1 card of the 1940 Gum Inc. series went for nearly $30 in an online auction. That cost still pales in comparison to a $300, poor-condition Superman comic book (likely sans cover) from this year.

1940 Gum Inc. Superman Card 1 Superman

But personally—and wallet-wise—I prefer something more along these lines. . . .

1978 TOPPS, TREBOR UK SUPERMAN MOVIE

Typical low-ball asking price for a similar 1978 Topps (US) or “Trebor” (UK) issue: $12 plus shipping—and that includes an entire set of more than 60 pulpy specimens from the Carter-era!