$20 in Junk Wax

It was a simple task really. I was supposed to go to the store and come home with some milk.

As I pulled the car back into the driveway, I realized that I had forgotten the milk. Instead, the trip to Target had yielded me this:

$19.99 will get you this

The box boasted the “World’s Greatest Card Chase”. I may even pull a “Diamond Pack” which would gain me an entry to win the “The Big Find” which according to the box would be a framed autograph and photo of Hall of Famer Cy Young.

I couldn’t have cared less about winning that card.

I just wanted the 14 packs of worthless junk wax inside the box.

It’s no wonder I forgot all about the milk right?

Inside the box was a good variety of packs. Mostly from the 90’s, a few 80’s, some Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Score and Fleer and just as I suspected, no Cy Young autograph which was fine by me. I’m always looking for cards to either mail off with an autograph request or add to my mini collections. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite pulls from each pack.

(1991 Leaf) – Possibly one of the most forgettable sets of the early 90’s. You can get the entire 1991 Leaf set for about $6 these days. Leaf spotlighted the 1991 rookie crop through a 26 card “Gold” set. Bagwell, Mussina, Van Poppel, and Klesko were among those featured. This pack awarded me with one Gold Rookie – Scott Leius – but it was the card of Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes that will end up in my “Wrigley Ivy Covered Wall” mini collection. Here you can see him warming up in front of the lush ivy covered wall of Wrigley Field.

(1990 Fleer) – Another snoozer of a set from the early 90’s and also, the same cards that I see the most of at garage sales and thrift stores. Not being particularly thrilled to open this pack, I was happy to pull this Mattingly. I’ve decided to start a player collection for him and I’ve always liked cards that feature players at the old Comisky Park. You can always tell it’s Comisky from the bright yellow aisle railings in the stands.

(1987 Donruss) – It had been 32 years since these cards had seen the light of day. A testament to the sheer number of cards produced around that time I guess. I’ve heard stories of entire warehouses full of master cases of cards from the late 80’s and early 90’s. The result of dealers and collectors hoarding them with hopes of one day flipping them into boat loads of cash. Today, they sit there collecting dust with no one showing them any interest. My pack was so absolutely unremarkable that this Joe Cowley was the only one that sparked my interest. Cowley is known for the no-hitter he threw when playing for the Chicago White Sox. It would be the last game he would win in his career. Cowley now works in sales for a text message marketing company. A few years ago, my company had partnered with his company and his business card was passed along to me. I immediately recognized the name but figured it was another Joe Cowley. I ended up giving him a call one day and asked if he was the same guy. He was! Sadly, he wanted to talk business more than baseball. Of course my agenda was the opposite. Adam over at Cardboard Gods also has a cool story about Joe. Click here to give it a read.

(1989 Donruss) – Despite not pulling a Griffey Jr., Sheffield, or Johnson rookie card, I was pretty happy to pull this Rickey Henderson for my player collection. I have been meaning to upgrade the one I already had. I remember being in 6th grade when this set came out. A few of my buddies and I agreed that the design was an improvement from the 1988 Donruss set. Not only was the design much better but Donruss also increased the weight of the card stock which was nice. I particularly enjoyed the Baseball’s Best subset that came out later in the year. The Griffey Jr card is much more beautiful than his regular issue Rated Rookie. Donruss also made sure to feature an additional Rickey card as he was traded to Oakland mid-season.

(1988 Fleer) – Some people will tell you that Fleer had a print run in 1988 that was far less than its competitors but I would disagree. These cards are not only everywhere, but as ugly as they come. This pack was quite unremarkable with the exception of this Andre Dawson. Here you can see the future Hall of Famer watching a fly ball take off at Wrigley Field.

(1990 Upper Deck) – I love this card of Andy Allanson and it will go right into my catcher mini-collection. The 1990 Upper Deck set has a few fun cards to chase. The 10 card set of Reggie Jackson was popular and we all used to purchase packs with the hopes of pulling a signed and numbered Reggie card. I think this may have been the start of the modern day “chase card”. There are also a few error cards to look for. The Nolan Ryan high number card #734 can be found both with and without the “300th Win” flag on it. Ben McDonald’s rookie card #54 was printed with either the Oriole’s logo or the Star Rookie logo on the front.

(1991 Topps) – Another “Donny Ballgame” upgrade for the player collection. Topps really outdid themselves with their 1991 set as they celebrated 40 years in the baseball card business. The 1991 set features a few of my all-time favorite cards. These include Benito Santiago, Wade Boggs, Walt Weiss, and Rickey Henderson.

(1990 Score) – I’ve always liked Score baseball cards. I particularly liked their effort to include a thoughtful paragraph or two about the player on the back of most cards. The full color photo on the back was also a nice touch. This particular set’s popularity was driven by card #697 which featured a horizontal black and white photo of a shirtless Bo Jackson sporting shoulder pads and holding a baseball bat. At the time, he was a phenom on both the football and baseball fields and was starring in his own Nike commercials. He was the man. There was no Bo Jackson in this pack but I did pull this Bob Geren for my catcher mini-collection.

(1989 Topps) – The fact that this Chili Davis card is the “best” card in this pack should tell you something about the other cards. I have actually always liked the design of the 1989 Topps set. I don’t always like designs where the team name is featured without the logo but in this case it seems to work okay. Davis was a three time All Star with 350 home runs in his 19 year career. He also won three World Series. This year he will work with the New York Mets as their hitting coach. The nickname “Chili” came from a particularly bad haircut he received from his father. His classmates asked him if his dad had put a “chili bowl” on his head before he trimmed his hair.

(1991 Leaf) – Another unimaginative design for collectors to suffer through. We can be thankful for this great action shot of young future star Gary Sheffield recording a force out on Oakland’s Carney Lansford. This photo appears to be from the May 12, 1989 game between Milwaukee and Oakland. Lansford lead off the bottom of the 6th with a base hit. As Walt Weiss poked a ground ball into right field, Lansford made his way to third base. A strong throw from right fielder Rob Deer gave Sheffield just enough time to tag the bag and avoid the slide. This card will go into my double play mini-collection. (Yes, I know it’s not a double play – the shot is just too good to pass up.)

Three cards for the “Catchers mini-collection”.

(1990 Score) – The 1990 Score pack provided not only the Bob Geren above but also this card featuring Gary Carter at Shea Stadium waiting on a throw home. Score had already gone to print with Carter in his Met’s uniform for this set. He was actually a San Francisco Giant in 1990. In November of 1989 the Mets released Carter batting only .183 in fifty games.

(2018 Topps Opening Day) – Topps put together a nice Opening Day card of Salvy Perez. He would go on to be elected to his sixth All Star game last year and has won Gold Gloves in the last five seasons. This year, the Royals will not have their beloved catcher behind the dish as he will be out with Tommy John surgery for the year.

(1988 Score) – I’m always happy to pull an Ed Hearn card. He was a crowd favorite here in Norfolk when he played for the Tidewater Tides in the mid 80’s. He would not be with the Met’s during their championship season. Barry Lyons beat him out for the backup catcher job in 1986. He was then traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1987 for pitcher David Cone. A shoulder injury sidelined Hearn after only nine games into the 87 season. He would spend the next six years trying to make his way back to a major league team before he decided to hang it up. Hearn is remembered most for his personal health battles after his baseball career. In 1992 Hearn was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. Hearn immediately underwent a kidney transplant and was required to take several types of medication on a daily basis. Due to the debilitating effects of the disease, and mood swings caused by the medication, Hearn almost committed suicide, but was able to fight his way past it through faith and a chance request for him to give a motivational seminar. He has also been treated for skin cancer twice, undergone two more kidney transplants, and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Despite all of the challenges and taking more than fifty types of medication on a daily basis, Hearn travels the country as a motivational speaker.

(1992 Babe Ruth Collection) – Kind of a cool set with 162 cards highlighting the life and times of Babe Ruth. I’ve seen a million of these cards over the years but was never compelled to give them a second look or attempt to complete the set. There is one listed on Ebay today for $3 with free shipping. This particular card caught my attention due to the horizontal photo of what appears to be a spring training game in Florida. After some digging, I learned that this photo was taken in St. Petersburg Florida during an exhibition game and features Babe sending one over the fence against the Boston Braves. The back features a great story by pitcher Wes Ferrell. He said that pitching against Ruth was like “looking into a lion’s jaw.” He would go on to say:

“Hell man, you’re pitching to a legend! You were nothing out there when Ruth came up. You would look around and all of your infielders were way back and your outfields have all but left town. Here you are, 60 feet away from him. You also get great encouragement from your infielders. The first baseman will tell you to pitch him outside while your third baseman will tell you to pitch him inside. After all, they didn’t want Babe to knock their legs out from under them. I used to say ‘take it easy guys, I’m closer to him than you are and I’m not worryin” — I actually was though.”

Hank Aaron

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1974 Topps #1

It was 43 years ago today that Hank Aaron became baseball’s all-time home run king.   Aaron awoke that morning perched atop baseball’s most coveted leader board; tied with the larger than life and most legendary sports figure in the world, George Herman Ruth. The world had been watching and waiting for months as all ears and eyes became focused on the bat in Aaron’s hands.  It would be those hands and the flick of those wrists that would propel the game’s most talented yet unassuming men into immortality.   For years, Aaron had been chasing the record with his particular brand of quiet excellence. Often in the shadow of the flashier talents of the era – players like Mantle, Mays, and Robinson.

Pitcher Claude Osteen once said of Aaron, “You have a better chance of slapping a live rattlesnake across the face and getting away with it than you do trying to fool Hank Aaron.”

Aaron could often be seen sitting on the bench in the dugout staring at the opposing pitcher through the tiny hole in his ball cap.  This was his way of isolating his adversary and studying him.

He never saw a single one of his home runs clear the fence.  Instead, Aaron kept his head down and focused on touching first base.  Aaron once said, “watching the ball go over the fence isn’t going help.”   It was this insurmountable focus and drive that helped Aaron to endure the challenges of chasing Ruth.  Aaron told a reporter once, “I’m not sure who is chasing who these days.  All I ever hear about is Ruth, Ruth, Ruth.”  Aaron received a lot of fan mail as he made his way towards the top of the home run leader board – much of it racially motivated.  Aaron received death threats from those who didn’t think a black man should ever hold the record.  He was surrounded by security guards for much of the 1973 and ’74 seasons and on the road, he often booked several hotel rooms under his name as well as assumed names.  Aaron was even forced to take up temporary living quarters in Atlanta because he was not safe in his own home.

Number 715 came on April 8, 1974 during the Atlanta Braves home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The evening was unusually cold for early spring in Georgia.  It was a full-house at Atlanta Stadium with Los Angeles’ Al Downing on the mound; hoping to not become any part of history if he could help it.

It was the second inning when Aaron stepped into the batter’s box for the first time. Before walking to the on-deck circle, Aaron turned to Dusty Baker in the dugout and said, “Man, I’m going to go get this over with right now.”  The anticipation from the crowd at hand and the rest of the world was immense.  Downing dealt Aaron five pitches, none of which produced a swing, and walked Aaron.  Aaron would score that inning, breaking Willie May’s National League record for runs scored.

In the fourth inning, with Darrell Evans on first base, no outs and the Dodgers leading, 3-1, a high fastball left Downing’s pitching hand and as quickly as it was delivered, Aaron turned on it and deposited into the left-center field bullpen.  The time was 9:07 PM and coincidentally, that is also the EXACT time of this writing (weird!).

As Aaron rounded first base, the scoreboard flashed “715” in bright lights and the

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1983 ASA The Hank Aaron Story #6 – I sent this card to Mr. Aaron when I was 8 years old.  He was nice enough to sign it for me.  It was one of my first TTM autographs.

stadium erupted into pandemonium along with a series of fireworks exploding overhead. As Aaron circled the bases, two fans who had made their way past security guards and joined him briefly between second and third. When Aaron rounded third, the sight of his teammates waiting for him at the plate gave the world a rare glimpse of emotion from the stoic Aaron as his intense focus broke into a wide grin.  The glorious yet often painful journey was finally over.

Monte Irvin, who stood in for  baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (who was in Cleveland attending a meeting of the Wahoo Club), congratulated Aaron. When Irvin mentioned Kuhn, the crowd booed relentlessly, showing their scorn that he was the one person who had chosen to ignore the evening.

“I just thank God it’s all over,” said Aaron.  The incessant media interviews, near-constant scrutiny, death threats and hate mail could finally be moved aside.

Braves reliever Tom House, who caught No. 715 in the bullpen, raced to greet Aaron and present him the ball. The crowd roared for a full 10 minutes as Aaron was mobbed by teammates, relatives, friends and well-wishers.  Aaron recalled the moment like this:  “I don’t remember the noise or the two kids that I’m told ran the bases with me.  My teammates at home plate, I remember seeing them.  I remember my mother out there, and her hugging me.  That’s what I remember more than anything about the home run when I think back on it.  I don’t know where she came from, but she was there.”  

House likely had the best perspective on the scene:  “I’ve got a master’s degree in marketing, and I don’t supposed my professors would give me high marks for opportunism, with so much being offered for the ball.”  But I’m not at all sorry.  What made it worthwhile was what I saw when running in with the ball in my glove.  I ran so fast that my teammates joked that it was the fastest they had ever seen me run.  I just wanted to get rid of it and get it into Henry’s hands.  In the crowd at home plate, I found him looking over his mother’s shoulder, hugging her to him, and I suddenly saw what so many people have never been able to see in him – deep emotion…  It looked like he had tears hanging on his eyelids.  I could hardly believe it.  ‘Hammer, here it is,’ I said.  I put the ball in his hand and he said ‘Thanks kid.’ and touched me on the shoulder.  I kept staring at him and it was then that it was home to me what this home run meant, not only to him, but to all of us.”

After the ceremony, play resumed and Aaron played the entire game, which the Braves won, 7-4.

Dusty Baker shared his humorous take as he stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the sixth.  He noticed the crowd noise dying and the loud clanking of the gates in the bleachers.  He stepped out of the box, looked around and saw that nearly everyone was leaving!  “I realized then that they had just come to see Hank!  Not me, not the Braves, but Hank and his pursuit of Ruth.”

As Baker stepped in, the phone in the dugout rang.  It was for Hank.  President Nixon had called to congratulate him on his achievement.  Afterward, Aaron told hundreds of reporters, “The home run wouldn’t have really meant that much to me if we hadn’t won the game.”

Eddie Robinson

As we head into Game 6 of this year’s World Series, I knew the Cubs had more to add to this storybook season.  The top of the 4th inning has certainly proved that to be the case.

A home run by Bryant in the 1st and now a grand slam by Russell in the top of the 4th has put the Cubs up a cool 7 runs.  Because these two teams have never faced each other before in a World Series, the grand slam was the first hit in Cubs World Series history and the first given up by the Indians in their World Series history.  I’m sure most will say that putting Cleveland’s Tomlin on the mound with only 3 days rest was a mistake by the manager Francona.  Regardless, Francona hasn’t made any mistakes yet in this World Series and I think that Chicago knows they need to flip the switch in this game if they are going to stay alive and make history.

Chicago pitcher Jake Arrieta has cruised through the Cleveland lineup for most of the night and seems to be locked in.  Arrieta played his triple-A ball here in Norfolk for the Tides, starting 46 games between 2009 and 2013.  Here is a pretty cool clip from our local news channel spotlighting Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta back in 2009.

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They did a pretty cool spotlight on Eddie Robinson who is the last surviving member of the 1948 Cleveland Indians championship team.  Robinson played first base and knocked in the winning run in game 6 of that World Series as they went on to defeat the Boston Braves.

In an interview, a reporter referenced how much the game has changed since 1948 and asked Robinson if he ever thinks about how much stars like Bob Feller and Bob Lemon would have gotten paid today.

He calmly said, “No.  I only think about how much Eddie Robinson would have gotten paid today.”

picture-17Interestingly, Robinson was with the Indians on June 12, 1948 as they played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  Babe Ruth was on hand to help the Yankees celebrate the 25th anniversary of their stadium.

Dying of cancer and struggling to walk, Ruth put on his Yankee pinstripes one last time and slowly made his way up the dugout steps.  Seeing that Ruth was weak and struggling to support himself, Robinson handed him one of his bats to use as a crutch.  Ruth would die 2 months later.

That bat can be seen here in this photo.

Robinson later had Ruth sign the bat and held on to it for the next 40 years.  He called a memorabilia collector in the 1980’s and asked if he was interested in purchasing the bat. Having no idea what the value of the bat would be, Robinson threw an arbitrary number of $10,000 out there as the purchase price.  The collector quickly said, “I’ll have the money to you tomorrow.”

The bat has since gone on to sell at auction for over $100,000…twice.

You can purchase Robinson’s autobiography “Lucky Me: My 65 Years in Baseball” here.

In closing, the Cubs are currently leading 7-2 in the top of the 6th.