Monday, July 17, 2017

A Big Stack of Arbitrary Brewers

I've traded in the past with Brian from the Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary blog in the past. I was recently pleased and surprised to get a package in the mail from him that contained a ton of Brewers cards. I've been neglecting my Brewers cards lately, opting instead for actually watching the team's performance -- which has continued to impress -- and spending more time binge-watching shows on Hulu and Netflix.

But that's really just excuses being made. Nothing in current cards is grabbing me today. I'm burned out on hearing about the latest stratospheric price that Aaron Judge cards have reached. To top things off, I tried to go out a couple of weekends ago to buy some packs of cards. I could not even find a single pack of cards in my local Walmart. Hell, they may not even carry them any more. And the Target wasn't much better either -- all the cards they stocked were ones I have all the Brewers for already thanks to case breaks. 

I guess I'll just stick to my classic, tried and true way of getting cards on eBay, COMC, and Just Commons. 

Speaking of classics, maybe some classic rock will help me dig out of this funk.

When I think classic rock, I think the rock of the 1970s and 1960s and maybe some early 1980s. Anything later than that is part of my "normal" rock and therefore isn't "classic." And speaking of classics, does it get any more classic than The Who and "Baba O'Riley"? This song is still used at UGA to fire up the crowd just before kickoff. That's pretty classic to still be in the rotation at least as of 2016.

Let's go really classic here. This 1977 Bill Travers is actual a 1977 cloth sticker from the original set that was deemed so classic by Topps that it was resurrected for use with Archives in 2012. Travers was a 6th round pick of the Brewers out of Norwood High School in Norwood, Massachusetts. He worked his way up through the minors -- making it to Triple A by the age of 20 in 1973 and to the Majors in 1974 despite only 61 decent innings in Triple-A in 1974. He stayed in the majors from 1976 on, and 1976 was his best season -- 2.81 ERA, 15-16 record, 240 innings, 120 strikeouts versus 95 walks and over 1000 batters faced at the age of 23.

He really didn't make it very far after that. He got injured and went through two ulnar transfer operations (transferring a nerve in his elbow). He rebounded in 1979 and 1980 to win 26 games in 52 starts over 341-2/3 innings. He played out his option after the 1980 season at the age of 27. He went on to sign what was recognized immediately as one of the worst free agent contracts in the early free agency era: a 4-year, $1.5 million contract that was seen in the same regard as that Pablo Sandoval contract with the Red Sox. For their money, the California Angels received 52-1/3 innings of 6.36 ERA pitching (4.54 FIP) with 72 hits allowed and 11 games started over those four years. 

Bill Parsons was even more unique -- so unique that Steve Berthiaume wrote up a story about him on ESPN identifying his career as completely unique. Parsons is the only pitcher since 1883 to win at least 13 games and start at least 30 games in each of his first two seasons, only to win 5 or fewer games the rest of his career. He was the rookie pitcher of the year in the AL in 1971. 

His career went into the tank because of coaching. No kidding. As the ESPN story discusses, manager Del Crandall hired former Milwaukee Braves teammate Bob Shaw as the pitching coach. Shaw was an analyst, breaking down mechanics into endless detail. But he messed with Parsons and his delivery and screwed him up. Parsons was a "grip-it-and-rip-it" kind of pitcher with a fastball and a change up. Shaw made him work from a full windup and learn a curveball. All of this had disastrous results, and Parsons never found his mechanics again. By the age of 26, he was out of baseball.

Sure, The Doors might not be a "classic rock" rock band, but their music is excellent. I know it's cliché to play this song, but it's a damn good one. In fact, I tried for a long time not to like The Doors due to all the reverence that the generations older than me have for them. 

That worked until I listened to their music. The keyboard solos are excellent and well-played, the chords are melodically interesting, and the music overall provides an atmosphere. Anything that has that much going for it will get into my playlists.

These cards strive for an atmosphere. They strive to give a sense of modernity, excitement, and action. Maybe I've become that "get off my lawn guy" but these cards really fall short in that regard. I like them for being cards I need, but the new card designs leave me wanting more. 

I like variety. I like a mix of photos. I like a sense of place or of being or at least some sort of differentiation. And, I think that is the problem I've gotten myself into with modern cards. Everything is either an action shot or it's from Heritage and its affected attempts to copy card designs and photographic flaws from 50 years ago. It's like Topps has become its own cover band.

I'll be honest about this song: I did not have a proper appreciation for it before I played Guitar Hero on PlayStation. It's an ass-kicking guitar riff around which the whole song is built -- that roaring sound that comes from the rhythm guitar while the lead noodles around -- that really grabs me. It's guttural, raw, even dirty, and it makes you feel like you're on a riverboat in the dirty Mississippi River somewhere south of Memphis.

Or maybe that's just me.

Brian sent some awesome oddballs, including a nearly complete set of the 1984 Waunakee Police Department Brewers set (he kept the Molitor for his own PC of the St. Paul native) and this Pinnacle/Denny's card from 1996 of Kevin Seitzer. With my new Oddballs blog up and running and focusing on the 1980s, I see this Pinnacle card and think that I've made a mistake by limiting myself to the 1980s.

However, there are so many oddball issues in the 1980s that I probably should not have wandering eyes for the 1990s.

When it comes to classic rock of my youth, nothing quite embodies that term better than two things. I'll get to the other in a minute, but this one is the first one. Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" -- and its opening guitar riff -- was the first song every aspiring metalhead in the 1980s seemed to learn. And the local rock station was more than happy to oblige those learning the song by playing it as if it were the new hot release. 

Don't get me wrong -- it's a great guitar riff -- but damn it got tiresome after about the 500th time that it got played in the high school weight room while someone screamed at me to "PUSH IT" when I was trying to max out my bench weight at something around 150 or 160 pounds (while I weighed 175). I haven't seen either of those weights -- either on bench or on the scale -- in quite some time.

In all, Brian probably sent me nearly 100 cards. These four cards were the some of the best. A Geoff Jenkins relic from the early 2000s? Yes, please! A Jeromy Burnitz Topps HD? Certainly. A Doug Jones "Minted in Cooperstown" parallel? I hardly ever see these!

The top card here, though, is that Prince Fielder. Topps's "Moment & Milestones" set maybe the one of the most diabolical sets ever issued -- along with Topps Tek. Moments & Milestones had a card number for each player -- let's say Fielder is 59 -- and then had a different card 59 for each of the 81 RBI that Fielder had in his rookie season. So, let's call this card "59-70." To top off the obnoxiousness, each card is serial numbered out of 150.

The other guarantee from classic rock stations in the 1980s -- and maybe today for all I know -- is that at an appointed time, usually 9 PM, it's time to "Get the Led Out." Led Zeppelin is a great band and did a lot to push metal forward with Robert Plant's vocals and Jimmy Page's grinding guitar lines. But every damn night? Really?

"Black Dog" always got a lot of airplay during those 30 minutes where the DJ could line up three songs, hit the head, smoke a cigarette, and line up his evening after leaving the station at 10 PM.

Let's close with youngsters -- two that really didn't make it, and one that is still working on it. You know who Orlando Arcia is already, so let's look at the other two guys.

Erik Komatsu is still only 29 years old, but it has been 5 years since he appeared in the big leagues for the Cardinals and the Twins. The Brewers drafted him in 2008 in the 8th round, then traded him to the Nationals in a rental trade for Jerry Hairston. The Nationals left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, so the Cardinals signed him. They tried to waive him, so the Twins took a shot on him in May of 2012. A little over 3 weeks later, they returned him to the Nationals. The Nationals released him in 2014, and he signed as a free agent with the Angels for a month. They released him, so the Brewers picked him up for the rest of 2014. After the 2014 season, the Brewers let him go, so he played in the Atlantic League for Long Island in 2015 before hanging up the spikes. He's now a music producer in Orange County, California

Chad Green was the Brewers 1st round draft pick in 1996 (eighth overall) out of the University of Kentucky. He made it to Triple-A with the Brewers at the age of 25 in 2000, but his hitting was poor, to be charitable. He struck out three times for every walk he took, and his overall OBP in the minor leagues was .310 (.282 at Triple A). As of 2014, Green -- who was just 5'9" tall and relied on speed over power...indeed, this article says he beat Bo Jackson's 60-yard-dash time -- was living and working in Lexington, Kentucky, running a day care company called "Wee Care." 

Orlando Arcia has already seen more action in the majors than either of these other two gentlemen. Arcia has a real chance to be something special in the end -- if he avoids injuries and keeps hitting.

Thank you to Brian for the great cards -- and the classic rock that has picked up my spirits a bit!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

One More Post from eBay

As many of you know, I decided to start a second blog to indulge myself in a bit of cataloging and, at the same time, in a bit of history and oddball love. My new blog, "Collecting the 1980s: Remembering the Oddballs from the Best Decade in Cards," focuses on the fun, offbeat, and forgotten cards from the 1980s. Of course I call it the best decade in cards because that is when I was a kid and cards are always best when you're a kid. I'd sure appreciate it if you would stop over there and read some of those posts and comment.

All that said, I'm trying not to neglect this blog more than I have already. I mean, my purchases are still focused on the Brewers as are my (dwindling) trades with other people. But y'all know how it is sometimes -- you need a little bit of extra spice in your life. That change or twist to keep things exciting and interesting. That's what the new blog is, really -- a new twist for me to keep writing about things I enjoy while paying little attention to new issues other than to note them for future checklists. 

So, I still surf on eBay looking for deals. Sometimes, it is just for a Topps Now card -- to pay $5.99 for a card that Topps would charge me $9.99 to get. I'm not super excited about that "deal" -- I mean, it's still one card for $6 -- but it's better than a $10 card. Other times, I can find the random lots that have cards I need. Today's post is one of those times. 

Powered by the prog-rock timeline at Strawberry Bricks, let's dig in.

Strawberry Bricks calls itself "a record guide to music of the progressive era of rock music." As is the case with a lot of genres of music, the timeline for prog rock starts with the Beatles -- here, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is incredible to think about all the different genres of rock music that the Beatles influenced. Everything from the prog rock of Pink Floyd and Yes to the grunge sound of Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was heavily influenced by the Beatles) to the blatant worshipfulness of 90s Britpop from Oasis is descended directly from the Beatles. And that is just a quick run.

This song, "A Day In The Life," has been called the 28th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone and, then, in a list of just Beatles songs, it was called the best song by Rolling Stone. I'm not sure how that is squared other than different writers at different times looking at different things. 


One of the impetuses for buying this lot were the Prince Fielder cards that I needed for my Fielder collection. Other than the one of him signing autographs -- which I think goes into my team set -- all of these were needed for the Prince book. As you might be able to see, the 2009 Upper Deck A Piece of History parallels are both serial numbered -- the blue one is 184/299 and the gold one is 48/50 -- and so is the 2009 Upper Deck Icons Future Foundations, which is numbered 750/999. 

Last year, I posted some Braves cards accompanied by jazz. One of the songs I included was "Blue Rondo à la Turk" by Dave Brubeck. The Nice, a London band from 1967 formed by Keith Emerson (later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), performed this prog-rock cover of the song and titled it simply "Rondo." 

Emerson is the keyboardist here -- as he always has been in his other bands prior to his death on March 11, 2016 -- but rather than using all kinds of different types of keyboards as he did later in ELP, he focused almost exclusively on using a Hammond organ. No less a music luminary than John Peel was an early champion of The Nice and infamously referred to ELP as "a waste of talent and electricity."

I'm hoping that these three guys don't end up as wastes of talent and electricity. There are troubling signs for each, however.

Gilbert Lara -- a die-cut card from the 2014 Elite Extra Edition set serial numbered to 200 -- does not turn 20 years old until October 20 of this year. He moved up to full-season Wisconsin this year and has struggled -- 7 BB and 73 Ks in 210 plate appearances, slash of .189/.219/.269 is not good even when you are 2 years younger than the average age in the league. Fangraphs has Lara rated as a 40 Future Value player and notes that "the quality of his at-bats is resoundingly poor, he looks tense and uncomfortable in the box, gets visibly frustrated when he struggles, and hasn't tapped into his considerable raw power in games, even in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League." Not good.

Nathan Kirby was drafted in the second round in 2015 out of the University of Virginia. Prior to that college season, he was seen as a potential top-10 talent. Injuries (strained lat) cost him much of that 2015 season, and he slid into the second round where the Brewers selected him #40 overall. He went to Single-A Wisconsin, threw 12-2/3 innings, and was promptly sidelined by a torn ulnar collateral ligament leading directly to Tommy John surgery. This year, he came back in spring training only to suffer from ulnar neuritis -- leading to ulnar nerve transposition surgery which will keep him out to at least the end of this month. He'll be 24 next year and really needs to do something as a pro pitcher next year.

Braden Webb was an oddball of sorts himself. He graduated high school in 2014 and had Tommy John surgery even before he graduated. Despite being old for his high school class -- he turned 19 prior to graduating high school -- he sat out and stayed out of college entirely in 2015 before enrolling for one season with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Due to his age, he was draft eligible after that season, and the Brewers picked him in the third round of the 2016 draft. As was the case for Webb in college, he is struggling with his control at Single-A Wisconsin this year -- walking 5 men every 9 innings. 

One thing you can count on from prog rock are super long, overly indulgent (at times) songs which seem to go on and on and on. Often, that is not a bad thing. This is especially true when the men (and in prog rock, it is almost entirely men) who are playing are virtuoso in their playing ability. 

This song, "Bare Wires Suite," is by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and comprised the entire first side of the album called Bare Wires. Embedded within this suite are seven individual songs: "Bare Wires," "Where Did I Belong," "I Started Walking," "Open Up A New Door," "Fire," "I Know Now," and "Look In The Mirror." Unlike some of the other prog rock here, there is a bluesy feel to this song. You can hear the blues chord changes flying by in each of the songs by listening to the bass line, the rhythm guitar, and, at times, the keyboards. Any jazz band member will tell you that the bass line is literally the most important sound within that jazz ensemble -- along with the drums -- because it sets tempo and key. Everything else from there is icing on the cake.

Before this season began, I expressed some concern that Arcia had the potential to turn into Rey Ordoñez 2.0 due to the significant questions about his ability to hit at the major league level. All indications from scouts were that Arcia would be a plus-plus fielder -- and that has definitely been the case. As it stands currently, he leads the NL in total zone runs, range factor per nine innings, double plays turned, assists, and putouts at short. Yes, he's committed 11 errors, but that happens when you get to a ton of balls.

The question was going to be his bat. This concern was highlighted after his .219/.273/.358 slash line last year (an OPS+ of just 66). Thankfully, he has improved significantly this year. He hit a low-water mark on May 17 with an 0-for-4 performance against the Padres that left his slash line at .208/.261/.352 (eerily similar to 2016). Since that game and over the past 7 weeks, Arcia has hit .356/.388/.494 with four homers and four steals. 

Sure, he's not walking a ton (10 walks in 170 plate appearances) and his contact hasn't been great (30 Ks) but he has been hitting 8th for much of that time, meaning that walks generally do not come into play with the pitcher hitting behind him. That burst has put him just about right at being an average NL hitter. With his glove, that makes him a very valuable player. 

And all of this has been done before he turns 23 years old on August 4. If he can stay at being a league average hitter for his whole career and fields as well as he has, he could quite literally end up being more Ozzie Smith 2.0 (career OPS+: 87) than Rey Ordoñez. I'm not making him a PC yet -- I'm still feeling a bit burned by Jean Segura's hacktastic ways -- but he will be soon enough if his development continues.

Before the band added Phil Collins and lost Peter Gabriel, Genesis was very much a prog rock band instead of singing pop songs like "Sussudio." The song "The Silent Sun" was Genesis's first-ever single from its first album, From Genesis to Revelation, and it was released in 1968. The album was not released until March of 1969 even though the single was released on February 22, 1968. 

If you listen to this short song -- it's only a little over 2 minutes long -- you will hear nothing that sounds either like anything Genesis or Peter Gabriel released in the 1980s. It's very much a piece of its time in the late 1960s.

And finally: lots of Ryan Braun. The fact that much of this lot is Braun-focused is appropriate since it seems nearly every set by every card issuer these days includes Braun and maybe Arcia and that's about it. Somehow, I'd missed that Topps issued Gold Label again last year -- it must have been an online exclusive or something -- so this lot helped me by getting me the parallel/variations of the "Class 2 and Class 3." There's also a 2008 Upper Deck Baseball Heroes Silver parallel serial numbered to 399 in there as well along with one of what is Panini's best set every year -- Diamond Kings from 2017. I'd still prefer hatless players from Panini rather than no-logo, but at least there isn't a fake autograph on it.

All of these cards fit well into my collection either for team sets or for my player collections. The great thing about this purchase was that I got a total of 38 different Brewers cards, including a couple of relics, a few autographs, and several serial numbered cards, for just $7.12 total with shipping included. Basically, that's less than 50 cents a card. For what I got, that seems like a good deal to me.

Thanks for stopping by and let me know if you want to trade.

Monday, July 3, 2017

An eBay Seller Comes Through

A couple of weeks ago, I had a problem on eBay. I won a small auction for a Brewers lot containing a couple of decent autographs and a low serial numbered card, but I kept getting errors every time I tried to pay for the lot. Because I got the lot for literally the minimum bid, I was concerned that this problem resulted from an unsavory seller.

Thankfully, that concern was misplaced. After a couple of messages with the seller -- who also could not figure out what was going on -- I contacted eBay customer service. We got it all worked out without a problem.

So, a nice little story, right? Well, this seller did one better and gave me some extra stuff as well in the envelope to thank me for my patience with the issues. Fast forward a month and I'm finally getting around to posting these cards.

I just got back from a planning retreat in Park City, Utah for the American Bar Association group for which I am in leadership. On our last night there, a few of us met randomly together and just blew it out. I'm usually a pretty buttoned-down person to anyone who is observing from the outside and does not know me that well. The reality is that I draw lines like most people and tend not to show a lot of my crazier side to people with whom I interact in a business setting.

What did I do? I showed my attention-hog side and started showing off my lyrical knowledge of random songs...while all of us were in our hotel robes drinking wine on this large patio. Yup. So, it was everything from "U and Dat" by E-40 to "Pompeii" by Bastille and "Funky Cold Medina" by Tone Lōc. It inspired me to hit some old rap songs from my college days to accompany this post.

We didn't sing or even listen to "Pop Goes The Weasel," but we should have. In preparing for finding songs for this post, I looked at some old Billboard rap charts and saw this song had topped the Rap chart in 1991. 

If you have never heard the song, take a listen and watch the video as well. It features Henry Rollins dressed as Vanilla Ice (seriously) and 3rd Bass basically was ripping Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer (among others) for being weasels who "go pop." The base sample track should be familiar to many of you as well, as the band built the song on the horns and bass line from "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel.

My purchase on eBay started with these three cards. Yeah, K-Rod is uninspiring to many including myself. But I am a sucker, after all, and when a Brewers cards serial numbered 2 of 25 is packaged with two autographs for $0.99 plus $3 shipping, I'm probably going to buy it. 

Jason Rogers, of course, was a part of the Great Pirate Robbery of December 2015. The Brewers received minor league pitcher Trey Supak and current starting centerfielder Keon Broxton for Rogers in a trade that probably seemed like a good idea at the time to the Pirates -- turning some outfield depth into a potentially useful first baseman. The problem was that Rogers was neither given a chance by Pittsburgh in the majors and, then, struggled when he did get 33 plate appearances (.080/.303/.160). The Pirates released Rogers on Friday from his minor league contract, and the report out of Pittsburgh was that Rogers will sign with the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese Central League.

Monte Harrison has moved steadily down the list of top Brewers prospects as the Brewers have acquired more organizational depth and players closer to the majors in trades and the draft. Harrison was promoted to the High-A Carolina Mudcats the day after the Midwest League All-Star game. He was the star of that All-Star Game: he hit two homers in the game the night after finishing second in the home run derby(oops, no he didn't). He did all kinds of weird things in that game, including hitting a home run while batting out of order and swapping jerseys with his first-base coach during his home run trot. It's good to see him having fun and fulfilling some of his massive potential. Before his promotion, he was hitting .265/.359/.475 with 11 HR and 11 SB in 261 plate appearances (though he is still striking out too much).

What's that you say? You haven't heard of the song "U And Dat"? Let's rectify that. I only wish this was the uncensored version.

Before I met my wife, I lived in Midtown Atlanta. No suburbs for me. My next door neighbor was an African-American guy named Bob who is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. Bob and I bonded over college football and sports generally, but we also talked a lot about music too. He introduced this song to me, and I really liked it. I used to crack him up by knowing all the words to it and being able to sing along with it.

I would imagine it would be humorous to see a blond, white, 35-year-old guy singing this song. 

As I mentioned, the eBay seller threw in some extra autographs for me. Man, did he come through. First up is that Wei-Chung Wang Panini card. I absolutely love the fact that he signed his autograph using the Chinese characters of his native Taiwan. I'm not sure why he wouldn't sign like that, but I like it nonetheless -- it looks sharp.

Wang, of course, was a Rule 5 pick after the 2013 season. The Brewers plucked him from Pittsburgh's rookie league roster, stashed him for a year in 2014 while using him sparingly, and then were able to sneak him through waivers. Wang has had great success this year in Colorado Springs working out of the bullpen, and I would not be surprised to see him up later this year in the Brewers pen. Also, I think that is probably where his future major league career will take him. He is only 25, so he has a little time.

Michael Reed, on the other hand, is struggling a bit this year. He has fallen behind the hot prospects in Colorado (Brett Phillips, Lewis Brinson, and Ryan Cordell) as well as the guys in Milwaukee already (Domingo Santana & Keon Broxton). To make matters worse for him, he's not making good contact in Double-A Biloxi -- .215/.352/.367 in 193 plate appearances. He's showing more power this year, but he probably needs a change in scenery soon. Maybe a minor deadline deal to shore up the bullpen?

Finally, there is the card about which I was more excited than any of the other cards I got in this deal -- the Ben Sheets autograph serial numbered 46 of 49. Too bad it is a Panini product and that Sheets apparently pitched before color photography was invented. In all seriousness, that Hometown Heroes product was (in my opinion) Panini's best product. It was ruined by the lack of licensing and discoloration issues resulting from that, but including the players they included in the set made it a winner.

Thanks for reading!