Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Of Cards, Ceilings and Commander's in Chief

So on Tuesday I decided it was a historic enough day to play hooky from the No Limits Fun Factory. After all it’s not every day that a president is inaugurated. I’m as optimistic/ liberal as the next person but even I admit NBC’s coverage was a bit over the top. You would have thought that the entire government had been thrown out with the trash and a new day of enlightenment had descended upon us with the chosen one at the head of the table.

Err sorry about that. I didn’t realize how cynical that came off until I wrote it down. I feel kind of like a conservative talk show host now. Honestly, it was an awesome spectacle. The shots of the crowd in front of the Capital were impressive. Truly an amazing show of support for our new president. A lot of people have invested a tremendous amount of hope in Mr. Obama. Hopefully he can pull through. You never know, after all in the last year we’ve seen Michael Phelps live up to the hype, the Rays make it to the World Series and the Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Why couldn’t a politician rise above the cynicism and lead a nation to greater glory?

After watching the prayer meetings, coffee meetings, introductions, YO YO MA, and the speeches I decided to spin by Target and treat myself to some cards. By the way, I didn’t spend the day just watching TV. I also spent the day scraping popcorn off of my ceiling.

Gosh home projects are fun.

Standing in the card aisle I was debating on buying a couple of rack packs of UD Hockey (almost done series I) or some of the high series Heritage baseball. I haven’t collected Heritage all year, but have heard good things about it so I thought “What the Hell?” So I went with the Heritage.

I think it turned out to be a good move. As I got home I ripped the first pack open. Flipping through the cards I was happy to get an Oriole rookie - Dennis Sarfate. As awesome of a card as that is - and it’s pretty freakin’ awesome! - it didn’t compare to the card right behind.

A Nellie Fox Clubhouse Collection Relic Game Used Bat card.

One pack and a nice hit. Having been out of the hobby during the time when game used relics exploded on the scene I still get a kick out of game used cards. Growing up in the hobby during the mass produced, low insert days of the late 80’s and early 90’s relic cards are still a bit of a novelty to me. I’ll admit some of the charm is fading with the glut of relic cards that is now available. After all getting a guaranteed hit out of every UD Blaster Box tarnishes the luster a bit.

Pulling a card like this out of a back is pretty cool. It definitely showed me why there is a growing trend of collecting older players and vintage cards. Pulling a hit of a Hall of Famer is a lot cooler than pulling a hit from a 3rd string minor leaguer.

Other than the fact that he played for the White Sox and played second base I didn’t know much about him. A quick trip to the fact factory that is Wikipedia revealed that he was a 12 time All Star and 3 time gold glover. He was also the first member of the White Sox to be named MVP in 1959 when he led the Sox to the World Series with .309 average. In 1997, 22 years after his death from lung cancer, he was enshrined in Cooperstown.

On the back of the card it mentions that striking out Fox was “not unlike trying to bottle the sound of a Comiskey Park cheer.” Not sure where they’re going with that. Let’s check in with the Chairman of the Board Whitey Ford and see what he has to say, “In 12 years I struck him out once, and I think the ump blew the call”. Ah so he was a good contact guy. In over 9,000 career at bats he struck out only 216 times in his career. How good is that? Well in only 610 at bats Ryan Howard stuck out 199 times. Howard is going to make about $15 million at least next season. Fox probably made 4 bits and a free meal over his career.

So on a day when a Chicagoan was elected to the country’s highest office I pulled a relic card of a Chicago player - pretty cool.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Trade Vinny? Sacre Bleu!

So it begins and so it will continue day and night until March 4th. The annual “Trade Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal” rumors have begun. Much like the “Trade Carl Crawford to the White Sox” rumors this has become an annual tradition in the TBA. The Lightning struggles on ice and the current financial situations worldwide have only added fuel to the fire.

So will this be the year that Young Vincent makes his triumphant return home to Montreal? After all he has spent a decade in the hockey wasteland that is Tampa. Well I’m sure that’s how the average Habs fan looks at it. Let’s take a second to ask the virtual Magic 8 ball…it looks like the answer is a definitive “No”.

Well that’s good.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for lively talk radio or witty internet banter. So let’s delve into it a little further. There are several signs that point to him being traded and several reasons why he wouldn’t/shouldn’t be traded.

Let’s start with the positive. Why shouldn’t he be traded:

1. He is the Lightning. Mike Smith may be the MVP and Steven Stamkos may be the future, but for now Vincent is the team. If you look at the billboards and the advertising flyers in the area you see Vincent’s face plastered all over them (especially with the demise of the “Seen Stamkos” campaign). He is the captain and the first line center. Even in a down year he’s tied for the team lead in goals and has been named to the All Star team. At 28 he should be entering his prime playing years. Years that should be played in a Lightning uniform.

2. He is going to be making a lot of money for a lot of years. It’s going to be hard for a team to accept a 9 year contract with a salary cap hit of $7,727,273 per year for a player that has topped 90 points only twice in his career? A team would have to decide that Lecavalier is as much as Alex Ovcehkin ($9,538,000) and Sidney Crosby ($8,700,000). A team picking up Vincent would risk losing future payroll flexibility signing onto that large of a contract. So far the Lightning have been lucky enough to deal away two of the highest contracts in the NHL (Dan Boyle and Brad Richards) it would be a lot to expect them to get away with it a third time.

3. Believe it or not the Lightning still have a shot at the playoffs. Halfway through the season they are 13 points out of the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference. Flash back to last season when the Washington Capitals were mired in 14th place midway through the season and then caught fire to win the division and make it to the playoffs. Over the past 9 games the Bolts have shown flashes of life going 5-3-1. If they go on a 7-3 or 8-2 stretch they are right back in the race.

Now the negative

1. He is going to make a lot of money pretty soon and have a no trade clause. Once his extension kicks in this summer he has the right to veto a deal to any team. While that doesn’t preclude a deal being done (see Boyle, Dan) it does make it a lot more difficult. It limits the amount of teams they could deal with, although the best fit, Monteal, would presumably be a team Vincent wouldn’t mind playing for. That would add motivation to get a deal done now.

2. For the first time in years actual names are being bandied about on Montreal’s side. Normally the rumors are “Vinny is being traded for prospects and draft picks” with no actual names being thrown out there. Darren Dreger of TSN lists Christopher Higgans, Tomas Plekanec, prospect PKSubban and draft picks as components of a possible deal. Once names are out there it becomes more than an internet rumor (it becomes a mainstream media rumor!)

3. The Lightning aren’t exactly a money making machine. Attendance is down, the owners are restructuring their deal with the Davidson group and the economy in general is, too be optimistic, experiencing a bit of a downturn. Jettisoning Lecavalier’s contract for two soon to be restricted free agents in Higgans and Plekanec would free up a lot of salary next season along with freeing up some cash this season/.

So there are some pros and cons to moving Young Vincent. If I had to hazard a guess at this point I would say he is staying. Right now Montreal is really the only destination that would have interest in him (although that could change as the trade deadline approaches) and with them comfortably in the playoff hunt it would be hard for them to justify blowing up their team just to pick up a hometown boy.

I think this will be a big year for Lecavalier. He is coming off his first major injury, which he admits is still bothering him, he is the captain of a struggling team and he is entering the phase of his career that will define his career. Will he fulfill the offensive potential of a former first overall pick or like he did from 2006-2008 or will he be a mediocre scorer that shows the occasional flashes of brilliance?

He does seem to be showing signs of coming along with 3 multiple point games in his last 7 played so perhaps his shoulder is gaining strength. It also looks like he is starting to grow accustomed to Coach Tocchet’s style of play. During Barry Melrose’s Reign of Confusion Lecavalier often looked lost and frustrated out on the ice. Lately he is starting to look like the Young Vincent of old, initiating contact and making the tape to tape passed that lead to easy goals for his line mates.

One more minor note. Oren Koules has taken a lot of heat as an owner so far. While he may be finding team ownership a little more daunting then he first imagined he is a Hollywood guy. Which means he knows the importance of publicity. Trading the franchise player in his prime is not the type of publicity he needs in order to put fans in the seat.

Interestingly enough not only do we have to deal with Lecavalier trade rumors now we also are seeing Marty St Louis’ name coming up. According to a report on The Fourth Period, a website I honestly don’t know it’s accuracy, there is interest in Steel City for the sniper. The only reason I mention this is because it’s a trade I’ve talked about with Link, a Pittsburgh native who is 95% responsible for my being a hockey fan.

St Louis would be a nice fit with Sidney Crosby, a superb playmaker who excels at creating opportunities for his teammates. Unlike the Lecavalier rumors there haven’t been any names thrown about on the Penguin side although I’m sure they’d like to pry a young talent like Jordan Staal or Alex Goligoski (hey a fan can dream right?), but would probably end up with a mid tier prospect or draft pick.

In the past I have advocated trading St Louis especially at the deadline for a couple of reasons. T 33 he is the oldest of the offensive talents (let’s call them the Dynamic Duo since Brad Richards is gone now), he is on the downside of his career, but still a sought after commodity. Any team in a playoff race would be willing to take a proven scorer who has scored 25 or more goals in the last 5 seasons.

This year I have changed my tune. In the last few weeks Marty has shown that while Vincent may wear the “C” Marty is emerging as the true leader of the team. He was the first player to call out his teammates and overall is more vocal in the press than Lecavalier. Moving him at this point would be detrimental to the small steps the team has made at reclaiming this season of futility.

The next few months will be nothing if not exciting. Hopefully a lot of talk and little action will be the end result and Young Vincent will continue to skate in the black and blue, not the Bleu, Blanc Rogue of the Canadians.

Since I’m no good at this html thing. Here are the links for the TSN article and the Fourth Period report:

Friday, January 9, 2009

What the best cards? Free ones of course!

Over the past few months I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of people out here on the internets. Complete strangers, bound only by our collective desire to own pieces of cardstock with photos of athletes, have been more than willing to send me stuff I don’t have -- for free! Not only that but they let me give them cards I don’t need or want for just the price of postage. What a great world we live in! Check out the links along the side of this page for some of the websites of those generous enough to send me cards.

I’ll do a better job of posting about these trades as the year winds on. Some Christmas gift cards will finally allow me to pick up a scanner so that I can show off the additions to my collection. For this first post you’ll have to use your imagination, ‘cause there ain’t gonna be no pictures!

A few weeks ago I was perusing the usual suspects when I stumbled across A Cardboard Problem Sooze had bought a blaster of Upper Deck Documentary and decided it wasn’t worth keeping. There were some O’s cards available so I threw my name in the hat for them. On Monday they showed up.

I hadn’t heard much about the set and what I have heard made it sound a little too gimmicky for me. 166 cards for each team each representing a different game throughout the season. An interesting idea that probably could have been embraced in a Topps Total like fashion by set builders. However, they made one miscalculation. Instead of taking their time to feature different players who contributed to different games they focused on pretty much the stars of the team and repeated them throughout the set.

For instance card 4002 which I received from Sooze features Melvin Mora on the front. The game it is recognizing is game 136 played on August 31st. The O’s, in their typical August swoon, lost to the Rays that day 10-4. How did Mora do in that game? He didn’t even play. Aubrey Huff started at 3rd base that day. If they had to feature a player from the O’s why not Luke Scott who drove in 2 runs or Randor Bierd who threw 2/3 of a scoreless inning (trust me for Baltimore that was a notable stat last season).

If they feel the need to release it next year I hope they tweak the set to show more players. It would be nice way to include some late season call ups / rookies in one of the last sets released in the year.

Along with that card I also received card 33 (another Melvin Mora, 1837 (Adam Jones) and 1839 (Ramon Hernandez). Both of the those cards detailed games against the Pirates in June. That reminded me, hey I attended a game in Baltimore in June against the Pirates! Maybe one of these cards represents the game I saw.

So I dug into my ticket collection and wouldn't you know it - the cards showed the game the day before and the game the day after the one I attended. so by my calculations card 1838 would be the one that showed the June 14th game I attended. That card must be mine.

Not only was it the only O's game I attended in 2008 ti was also the first outdoor major league ballgame my better half attended. She had been with me to several games down here at the Trop, but that was her first at a “real” park as she described it.

The game itself was pretty good. After some late afternoon showers (which we avoided by quaffing a few adult beverages at The Wharf Rat in Fells Point) the weather cleared in time for the recently retired and future Hall of Famer Jonathon Ogden to throw out the first pitch. The game went back and forth and the O’s prevailed in the ninth on a game tying home run by the immortal Oscar Salazar and a game winning single by Ramon Hernandez.

There were six home runs total including a 440 foot BOMB by Xavier Nady ( he had yet to be traded to the Evil Empire) that almost hit the ivy climbing up the backdrop in centerfield. Nick Markakis also put one onto Eutaw Street which was only the 43rd home run hit out there since the park opened in 1992.

There is something about sitting outdoors on a clear summer night watching a ball game that makes everything seem alright with the world. I think it’s the clock free nature of the game. In all of the other major sports the fact that there is a time limit seems to add a little tension to the contest. In theory, a baseball game could last forever and there is something soothing about that.

All in all it was one of the best at the ballpark moments I remember from last season. As a matter of fact I think only game one of the World Series topped it. So thank you Upper Deck and thank you Sooze for reminding me of that fun night. And if you happen to have that card sitting alone in your closet feel free to send it here, it will be loved.