Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Fast And The Spurious

From the Department of Amplifications, a correction.

When I was referring to a crew member pictured on a Traks racing card with the statement, “This is what hand-fishermen do on their off hours,” I was mistaken. The Clyde Booth card shows what feed-mill operators do on their off hours. The Greg Moore card shows what hand-fishermen do on their off hours.

The Times regrets the error, and so do I.

In a previous edition I mentioned how the 1992 Score Baseball All Star subset created a series of caricatures that “was less distorted, anthropomorphically, than Woody Allen.” Here is more proof. Ramon Martinez was roughly 90 percent head and 10 percent body, with the body stretched along a six-foot-four-inch frame. All the warnings plastered to buckets aimed at head-heavy two-year-olds applied equally to Ramon Martinez. Many’s the day when the aftereffects of Ramon bending over to tie his shoes was a call to the paramedics. Had R-Mart been able to use his head as a counterweight, as is suggested in his card, he might have been able to throw the ball 120 miles an hour without his shoulder disengaging from his body, the condition that ultimately killed his career.

Somewhere out there is a Score All Star where the huge head is bestowed on someone so entirely bottom-loaded, so Bozo-bop-bag-shaped that the caricature actually has some sock.[1] But I’m still looking.

I realize that those also serve who sit and wait, but by the same token, I always thought of trading cards as the one playing field where everyone plays at once. Happy Feller gets a card just the same way that Walter Payton gets a card. Even the special cards deign to include the proletariat. Ted Shows How features Ted Williams and Mike Epstein. There’s a Boyhood Photos of the Stars card of Wilbur Wood. The SkyBox Slammin’ Universe subset includes Tony Dumas. Like Sly Stone said, everybody is a star.

So is it right to single out Detlef Schrempf not as the top player, not as No. 2 or No. 3 or No. 4, but as the sixth man? I realize being the next guy in after the starters have played can be a special thing in basketball, but it’s really only a basketball thing. The twelfth man in football is only relevant in Canada and College Station. The 10th man in baseball is Casey Candaele. The seventh man in hockey gets you a two-minute penalty for delay of game. The fifth person on a relay team gets you disqualified.[2] And even in basketball the sixth man doesn’t always come into the game on a winged chariot of fire trailing clouds of rosin dust. (cf., the sixth man on the 1989-90 New Jersey Nets was Purvis Short.)

My other problem with this card is that I have a personal bias against haircuts whose sole reason for being is to simplify headstands.

Detlef Schrempf was a fine basketball player whether he started or came off the bench. Should we really draw lines on an endless green expanse?

In my rather lengthy treatise on umpire cards several months back I danced around the nasty truth of cards showing officials: Officials really don’t do much, even when they’re doing their job, and when they do something interesting you can’t show it. This goes for managers and coaches, too. I can think of only one exception: The 1972 Topps Billy Martin In Action card shows the volatile manager chewing out an umpire while pointing to a spot where someone was safe or out or went to their mouth or caught the ball or dropped the ball or missed a called strike or a foul tip or a balk or catcher’s interference. There are no cards of Jim Mora ripping off a headset, Buddy Ryan flying into apoplectic shock, Slick Leonard tossing a chair, Don Cherry getting unhinged, or Lou Piniella repositioning second base. Similarly, there are no umpire-and-official cards showing Dale Scott getting it on with Martin, Mendy Rudolph teeing up Bill Musselman, or Don Koharski going after Jim Schoenfeld.

Instead, we get this: Pat Dapuzzo bent over at the waist.

While I admire completeness (and do appreciate the fact that Pat is an avid weightlifter and karate enthusiast, like several million other individuals worldwide), the wages of completeness in Mr. Dapuzzo’s case are a lifetime of autographed-set completists chasing him through hotel lobbies and cornering him in restaurant restrooms.

Was it worth it? Pro Set is out of business and Pat Dapuzzo’s image is frozen in thousands of collectors’ minds as the guy who looks like he was just gut-punched by Superfly Jimmy Snooka. Upon further review … nah.

Talk about excitement. For several years before Fleer got a Major League Baseball license (and for several years after, actually) this was Fleer baseball: A team logo and clip art on the front on the front, and a baseball quiz on the back.[3] Fortunately Fleer picked a fairly animated piece of clip art to suggest action and canted the letters in “Baseball Quiz” at odd angles so we knew it was all in fun and didn’t misunderstand. Otherwise we might have thought that it was, you know, a colossal waste of cardboard.

I give up – which one is this?

If I'm Vin Diesel, I'm royally hacked off right now.

I understand the problems with checklist cards in the pre-computer era. You want to know all the cards in the set because you want them all, even the elusive Derek Livernois card. However, the card you want least is the card that shows you all the other cards you want, and that’s a conundrum.

Cardmakers have been wrestling with this forever. They’ve put facsimile autographs on checklist cards, team logos, head shots of stars, or photos of players milling around batting cages comparing runs in their doubleknits, all in hopes of sparing the cards from a painful death at the business end of a Daisy Red Ryder. However, most of the time they’ve cut their losses and put as many players as would fit onto cramped, ugly checklist cards. They were a cost of doing business.

Like everything else associated with trading cards during the Handful O’Landfill era, this cost of doing business went up, too. There may be more unattractive, inefficient checklist cards than the checklists from the 1990 Best minor-league set, but I haven’t seen them. It probably doesn’t help to note that there are six of these cards, each in a different color, and the job could have been accomplished with two.

Sometimes three of these cards would show up in a pack, filling the spaces between cards of Scott Plemmons, Sam Ferretti, and Jeff Mutis. They added negative value even under that scenario. And that truly is as low as you can go.

It’s fantasy-football-draft time again, and this card emerged from the floor to remind me of my best fantasy-draft experience ever.

It’s the afternoon of April 4, 1994 – Opening Day – and a fantasy-baseball draft is being held at The Lakeview, in Iola, Wis. The Cubs game is playing as the draft begins, and Cubs centerfielder and leadoff man Tuffy Rhodes is having the game of his life. Rhodes goes four-for-four with three home runs off of Dwight Gooden in a losing effort, but Rhodes’ effort is enough to get him drafted, and highly, by one of the fantasy managers, to a chorus of groans, shouts, flung french fries, and pelted pretzels from everyone in the room – even the Norwegian bachelor farmers at the end of the bar who hardly knew English, much less baseball, fantasy or otherwise.[4]

Two weeks later Rhodes was out of fantasy baseball, and he was out of the majors not too long after that, but he had accomplished his purpose: In one game, he had won a week for his owner.

Speaking of stupid things, printing a player’s name in six-point type and burying it inside a rainbow-colored bar has dubious merit from aesthetic and practical standpoints, so naturally Topps was all over it for its retro-styled Bowman set, which dearly wanted to appropriate the no-name-on-the-front aesthetics of the original Bowman set without actually going there.[5]

Rhodes was the fantasy-ball equivalent of the stretch-drive rent-a-player, a body employed to produce but designed to be cast aside as soon as conveniently possible. As long as everyone’s good with that we’ll move on.

The reality is that Brad Daugherty is seven feet tall and Larry Nance is 6-11. The impression is that Mark Price has the dimensions of Billy Barty and is holding Mr. Wiggins’ prize pumpkin.

Some cards do their subjects no favors. In the case of this card and Mark Price, it doesn’t even insult him well.

Good to be back. We’ll talk more soon.

[1] Current Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado comes to mind.
[2] Though the fifth Beatle, George Martin, was knighted.
[3] Sample question: “True or False? The Mets played their home games at Ebbets Field in 1962.” If I’m an eight-year-old kid, I’m saying, “I don’t give a crap.”
[4] He wasn't our most popular owner. I'll leave it at that.
[5] It helped that the original Bowman photographs were generally so stunning they needed no embellishment.

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