I speak, of course, about the most important series in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays. Today, on June 30, 2008, the Rays stand alone on top of the American League East with the best record in all of baseball. Oh how sweet it is to say those words! Take a look at the standings if this sounds too far-fetched to believe:
The Rays have now played 81 games, and exactly half the season has gone by. The Rays are just six wins away from tying the number of wins that they had in the entire 2002 season, their worst ever. Heck, they are only 21 wins away from matching their all-time best season of 2004 when they finished 70-91. On Baseball Tonight last night, Steve Phillips was predicting that the Rays would make the playoffs. As great as this season has been, it still sounds funny to hear the words “Rays” and “playoffs” used in the same sentence. I am loving every minute of this season!
So anyway, the series that I speak of is the one that starts tonight in St. Petersburg against the Boston Red Sox. I believe that there is a real possibility of a Rays sweep as their top three starters (Shields, Garza, and Kazmir) will be pitching and Josh Beckett will not be. Sweep or no sweep, this is the Rays’ opportunity to prove to the baseball world that they are for real. Even a 2-1 series win would increase their lead over Boston with Kansas City coming to town next. This is truly the most exciting time in history to be a Rays fan, and this week’s battle for A.L. East supremacy is their most important series to date.
I will be glued to the TV for the next three nights watching the games. I really hope that DirecTV offers the Rays announcers from FSN Florida, because I am sick of hearing Boston’s confused announcers talk about how they think they’re in Tampa when they know damn well they are in St. Pete. Oh well, either way at least it won’t be White Sox announcers. And we will not have to deal with Coco Crisp trying to intentionally injure second basemen and charging the mound to incite a brawl. He is rightfully serving a suspension, so we can focus on baseball now.
Let’s Go Rays!
My wife, Rebecca, and I during our invasion of Fenway Park in December.
In my very first post I told you that I am a Don Mattingly collector and that I owned 923 different Mattingly cards. I am happy to say that number is now up to 937. I’ve been focusing on trying to collect every Mattingly card that was produced within his playing career (1996 and earlier) and I am now tantalizingly close to achieving that goal. There are now only 31 cards that I still need. Most of these have proven to be very hard to find on eBay, Sportlots, and Beckett Marketplace, so I figured that I’d take advantage of having a blog and ask my readers if they know where I can find these cards. So if you own any of them, please contact me if you would be willing to sell or trade them. Also, if you know where I might be able to find any of these for sale or trade anywhere online, I would greatly appreciate any information.
Here’s my list:
- 1987 Sports Reading #21 (I’m not sure what exactly this is but it’s listed in Beckett’s Mattingly checklist and I’ve never seen it anywhere)
- 1989 Scoremasters Promo
- 1990 Donruss Aqueous Test #190
- 1990 Yankees Topps TV #25
- 1992 High 5 #89
- 1992 Triple Play Previews #4
- 1992 Yankees WIZ 80s #111
- 1993 Donruss Elite Supers #6
- 1993 Finest Refractors #98 (I know that I can easily find this one on eBay but it’s just too expensive for me to buy right now)
- 1993 Select Samples #24
- 1994 Stadium Club Members Only Super Team #ST24
- 1994 Stadium Club Team First Day Issue #181
- 1995 Classic Phone Card #38
- 1995 Donruss Checklist Press Proofs #220
- 1995 Donruss Checklist Press Proofs #440
- 1995 Finest Refractors #126
- 1995 Pinnacle Artist’s Proofs (Swing Men) #295
- 1995 Stadium Club Members Only (Ring Leaders) #RL33
- 1995 Stadium Club Members Only (Super Skills) #SS5
- 1995 Stadium Club Members Only (Virtual Reality) #200
- 1995 Stadium Club World Series (Best Seat In The House) #212
- 1995 Stadium Club World Series #381
- 1995 UC3 Artist’s Proofs (In Depth) #139
- 1995 Upper Deck Special Edition Gold #145
- 1995 Upper Deck/GTS Phone Card #MLB11
- 1996 Collector’s Choice Gold Signature (Traditional Threads) #100
- 1996 Collector’s Choice Gold Signature #237
- 1996 Collector’s Choice Gold Signature (You Make The Play) #23
- 1996 Collector’s Choice Gold Signature (You Make The Play) #23A
- 1996 Stadium Club Members Only #73
- 1996 Topps Chrome Refractors #56
Eventually I’ll scan some of my Mattingly collection for the blog. It would be cool to be able to scan every card someday, but that would take an extreme amount of time.
A few weeks ago, I was killing some time reading Cardboard Junkie when I came across a link that looked interesting. It was 1952 Topps Baseball Cards. The 1952 Topps set is legendary among all baseball card sets as it is considered the first “modern” baseball cards. Its place in the history of the hobby is analogous to Elvis Presley’s place in the history of rock n’ roll. Most guys my age can remember seeing it listed on the first pages of Beckett price guides when we were kids and marveling at the list prices of the cards. We naively dreamed that one day our 1987 Topps cards might be worth as much.
I didn’t know anyone who owned a card from the set. 1952 was the year that both of my parents were born, so my dad didn’t have any cards from it. I saw some of the cards at card shows, locked up in glass cases with high price tags attached. They seemed so out of reach that I didn’t even imagine that I would ever be able to own one.
But I digress; back to the 1952 Topps Baseball Cards web site. I found the site to be a treasure trove of information, and I learned more than I ever knew about the set. If you have some free time, I’d highly recommend checking it out. Anyway, after reading it, I wandered over to eBay just to see how much a card from the set would cost. Obviously, the Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews cards are far beyond my price range. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to buy a card of an unknown player just to have one.
I noticed that cards of two Hall of Famers, Bob Feller and Monte Irvin (misspelled Monty on the card) were selling for reasonable prices. In other words, PSA 6 cards of those players were selling for prices below the Beckett book value for those cards in EX-MT condition. I started “watching” an auction for a Feller card, but the price jumped too high at the last minute. Then I set my sights on an Irvin card and won it!
I received the card in the mail this weekend, and I can now say that I am the proud owner of a 1952 Topps black back card of a Hall of Famer, Monte Irvin! This card immediately becomes one of the jewels of my collection and it is one that I will definitely pass down to my kids one day. I figure that a PSA graded card of a Hall of Famer from such an iconic set is as good a bet to increase in value as any card out there.
It is amazing to think that this card has been around for 56 years now. I wonder about its story and who opened the pack in 1952 and got the card. I wonder where it has been since then. Was it part of a collection that was stored in a shoe box in someone’s attic for a few decades? It is a true piece of history.
Here is the front and back of my card:
Check out that Giants hat; it looks just like a Mets hat today.
If you don’t know much about Monte Irvin, check out his Wikipedia page. He had quite an interesting career as a Negro League star, and later a star for the New York Giants. At the age of 89, he is still alive today and serves on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, campaigning for former Negro League players.
I edited my blog links today, adding links to several good baseball card blogs that I have recently started reading. They are all worth checking out. Let me know about any other great blogs that I should check out or link to. If your blog isn’t listed, please don’t take offense. It’s probably because I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. There are an incredible amount of high quality baseball card blogs out there to enjoy!
I also discovered an oversight in my list of blogs that I visit daily. I had forgotten to list Sports Cards Uncensored, which I started reading a few weeks ago and now consider to be one of the most essential blogs about the sports card hobby. I must warn you that it does contain some explicit language, so you might want to avoid it if you are easily offended. I also readily admit that I do not agree with all of the commentary on the blog. However, Gellman and the other writers on the blog are always entertaining and never afraid to expose some of the problems in the hobby. Whether it’s controversies regarding Beckett, complaints about the latest sets produced by Topps or Upper Deck, warnings about fake patch cards, or the hilarious rants about “Joe Collector”, they offer a critical perspective that you don’t encounter often on other blogs. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You may discover that once you’re hooked, it’s hard to stay away!
People who know me well can tell you that I am a notoriously opinionated person. Whether it’s sports, politics, movies, the I/T industry, or any other subject that I know well, I form opinions about what I like and don’t like. I’m always open to new ideas, and my opinions do change over time, but I love to take a position on something and have friendly debates about it with people who have opposing views. It’s not often that I can’t make up my mind about anything.
When it comes to baseball players, there I players that I love to cheer for and others who I love to hate, and there’s usually very little ambiguity. I love to cheer for Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, and I love to jeer ex-Rays Aubrey Huff and Elijah Dukes. I marvel at the accomplishments of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Greg Maddux, while I am infuriated by the performance-enhanced records of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. It is usually easy for me to decide whether or not I like a player. But there is one man who is truly an enigma for me, and he is Joshua Holt Hamilton.
I first became aware of Josh Hamilton shortly after I moved near Raleigh, North Carolina in 2001. He was a local sports celebrity, having played at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh before being chosen with the #1 overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Devil Rays gave him a $3.96 million signing bonus and counted on Hamilton to play a major role in building a winning team. He was very successful in the minor leagues in 1999 and 2000, and local sports fans were buzzing about the possibility of seeing him play for the Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate) in the near future. As my interest in the Devil Rays began to grow, I thought about how exciting it would be to see this local kid starring in Tampa Bay’s outfield.
Before the 2001 season, the hype for Josh Hamilton was at an all-time high as he was rated as the #1 prospect in the game by Baseball America. Unfortunately, Hamilton was involved in a car accident before the season and he was limited to only 27 games between Single-A and Double-A due to the injuries that he suffered. It is believed that Hamilton first began to experiment with drugs during that season. The future looked a little bit brighter in 2002, when he hit .303 in 211 at-bats in Single-A before the injury bug struck again.
By 2003, everything began to fall apart for Josh Hamilton. He abandoned the organization and his teammates during spring training. He showed up again at different points during the season only to disappear again shortly thereafter. He didn’t play a single game that year, and fans began to wonder if something was seriously wrong with the prized prospect. The only thing that we knew was that Hamilton was being affected by “personal problems”. It became obvious that the Devil Rays were worried about Hamilton’s future when they drafted Delmon Young with the #1 overall pick in the 2003 draft. People began to talk about a future outfield of Carl Crawford in left, Rocco Baldelli in center, and Young in right instead of Hamilton.
Before the 2004 season, the details of Hamilton’s “personal problems” began to come out as he was suspended by MLB for violating its drug policy. He was suspended for the entire 2004 and 2005 seasons. Tampa Bay fans began to believe that Hamilton was a lost cause and few believed that he would ever be able to come back and advance to the major leagues. It was common to hear Rays fans lament that the team had chosen Hamilton with the #1 pick over Josh Beckett, who had already developed into a star pitcher in the major leagues. The decision to draft Hamilton was considered to be one of the two worst moves the team had ever made; the other was trading Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker immediately after acquiring Abreu in the expansion draft in late 1997.
By 2006, Josh Hamilton was all but forgotten. Then in early in 2006, Tampa Bay newspapers began to report that Hamilton was trying to turn his life around and become clean. He began to work out at a baseball academy in Florida. Midway through the season, he had made enough progress that he was allowed to return to baseball and he joined the roster of the Hudson Valley Renegades, a short-season Single-A team that mostly included players who had just been drafted. He hit only .260 with no home runs and 5 RBI in 15 games before injuring his knee. It was good to see that Hamilton had been able to make somewhat of a comeback, but most people believed that it would take several years for him to regain and hone his skills in the minor leagues before he’d be ready for the majors, and that was assuming that he didn’t return to his drug addiction or fall victim to injuries.
It was within this context that the Rays left Josh Hamilton off of their 40-man roster prior to the Rule V draft in December 2006. Despite having players like Damon Hollins and Travis Harper on the roster who they would soon release, the front office didn’t think that any MLB team would want to take a player in the Rule V draft who had played only 15 games since 2002, was injury prone, and had a drug problem. They were proven wrong when the Chicago Cubs drafted Hamilton and sold him to the Cincinnati Reds. Still, the rules of the Rule V draft dictated that the Reds would need to keep Hamilton on their 25-man roster for the entire season or they would have to return him to the Rays. Few people believed that he was ready for the majors.
As we all know, an amazing thing happened after that. Josh Hamilton played well enough in spring training to make the Reds roster and he had a great rookie year, hitting .292 with 19 home runs and a very impressive .922 OPS. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers after the season, and he has become one of the most productive offensive players in baseball this year. Hamilton has also seemingly beaten his drug addiction and he is trying to become a positive role model for kids.
My feelings about Josh Hamilton are very conflicted. On one hand, I am very happy for him that he has beaten his drug addiction and turned his life around. It is great to see that he is finally fulfilling his vast potential and he has truly become an All Star caliber player. I am also very relieved for his family, especially his wife and his daughter. Hamilton is also setting a good example for kids by working hard to overcome adversity (even if it was self-inflicted) and have success. He takes a lot of time to talk to kids about the negative affects of doing drugs, and I fully applaud him for those efforts. I truly hope that he continues to stay clean and have a very successful major league career, even if he is not playing for my favorite team.
On the other hand, Josh Hamilton severely disappointed the entire Tampa Bay Rays fan base. The Rays’ success this year makes it more bearable, but can you imagine how much greater the Rays would be if they had Hamilton in right field? It’s almost unfathomable. Hamilton basically took $3.96 million from the Rays and they got nothing in return for their investment. I assume that he spent a sizable portion of that money to feed his drug addiction. He abandoned the organization and his teammates at a time when they really needed him. The Devil Rays were an awful team during the years that Hamilton did not play. If he had stayed clean, he probably would have made the majors sometime around the start of the 2004 season. He would have lived up to his potential and he would have helped the team win a lot more games than they did in the ensuing seasons.
When I think about Josh Hamilton, I think about players like Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Steve Howe from my childhood. All of them had similar drug addictions. They all made several comebacks after getting clean, but each time their addictions got the best of them, and they were continually suspended for their drug use. I fear that the same thing might happen to Josh Hamilton, and that would be a terrible thing, not only for Hamilton and his family, but also his large fan base that includes many kids.
I was at the RBC Center in Raleigh for a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game in late 2007. It was “Josh Hamilton Day” at the arena and Hamilton was there to be honored by his hometown fans. I began to wonder if Hamilton was really worthy of being honored. Do his positive accomplishments outweigh his failures? Is he someone who kids should look up to? What happens if and when Hamilton relapses back to his drug addiction and lets down his new fan base? These are very difficult questions, and I don’t have the answers yet. As Hamilton was introduced to the crowd at the arena, the fans erupted in loud cheers. I couldn’t figure out if I should cheer him or boo him. I finally decided to just remain silent.
During one of the intermissions between periods, Josh Hamilton was available to sign autographs for fans. I decided to wander over to the table where he sat, but there were over 100 people in line and I didn’t want to wait so long. As I walked away, I caught a glimpse of Hamilton posing for a picture with two young kids, a boy and a girl, who I imagined were siblings. Their faces lit up with glee as they met their hero, much like my face lit up when I met Don Mattingly at a Toronto hotel in 1988. I couldn’t help but think about the reactions that those two kids would have if Hamilton ever resumes his drug use.
I saw Josh Hamilton again this past Friday as he was playing for the Texas Rangers in the game that I attended in Washington against the Nationals. When he came to the plate, I still hadn’t figured out if I should cheer or boo. I suppose that only time will help me to decide how I feel about Josh Hamilton. If he is able to stay clean for many years and continue his success, then I will gain a lot of respect for his ability to work hard to overcome his problems. If he goes down the path of Gooden, Strawberry, and Howe, then I’ll have no reservations about booing him as loudly and proudly as I boo Elijah Dukes.
What do you think about Josh Hamilton? I hope that this post will be thought-provoking and will elicit some good discussion. Also, I’d encourage you to check out a very good blog about Josh Hamilton’s cards, The Hamiltonian. And finally, check out my best Hamilton card, an autographed card that I pulled from a hobby box of 2007 Upper Deck Masterpieces:
In light of Matt Garza’s brilliant performance today, I decided to check eBay for certified autographed Garza cards that I don’t already have. I found a good looking card with what appears to be an on-card autograph from the new 2008 Upper Deck Legendary Cuts set. Here’s what the card looks like:
What do you see that’s wrong with this picture? It’s a picture of Matt Garza in a Twins uniform! As most MLB fans are aware, Garza was traded to the Rays as part of a major 6-player deal back on November 28, 2007. That is six and a half months before the Legendary Cuts set was released. Upper Deck had all of spring training and the first couple of months of the season to snap a picture of Garza in a Rays uniform. They could have even airbrushed the Rays logo into an old picture like Topps did for Garza’s Heritage card. But instead they chose to take the lazy route and used this old photo of Garza with the Twins. Let’s face it, Twins fans probably do not want Garza cards anymore and Rays fans want cards of him in a Rays uniform. Topps didn’t have this problem; I bought a Co-Signers dual autographed card of Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine about a month ago and Garza was pictured in a Rays uniform.
So Upper Deck, I am calling you out. I don’t want to see any more cards printed of Matt Garza in a Twins uniform, Scott Kazmir wearing number 26 (which he hasn’t worn since 2006), or any Rays in their old green uniforms. We’re almost at the All Star break, and collectors deserve cards of their favorite players in their current uniforms!
No offense to the king and queen of the baseball card blogosphere, but how ’bout those Rays? They finished off a sweep of the Marlins in Dolphin Stadium this afternoon to improve to 47-31 and 1/2 game behind the Red Sox for first place in the A.L. East. I have to pinch myself almost every day to make sure that I’m not just dreaming about the incredible season that the Rays are having. I was expecting that they’d be better, and win 80-85 games this year, but I wasn’t expecting anything close to the success we’ve seen so far.
Big time props to Matt Garza, who pitched a masterful complete game 1-hitter while striking out 10. The off-season trade with Minnesota is looking better and better every day. Besides being a “recovering emotionalist” (as Joe Maddon describes him) Garza has been a terrific #3 starter, and Jason Bartlett has been a defensive wizard at shortstop, preventing tons of runs and winning games with his glove and his range. Meanwhile the sulk master, Delmon Young, and Brendan Harris are doing a whole lot of nothing for the Twins.
Another big contributor to today’s win was our Longlorious rookie third baseman, who went 3-5 and hit his 14th home run. Take a look at Evan’s stats and see if you can give me a good reason why he shouldn’t be on the All Star team.
Next up is a three-game series at the magnificent PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Let’s go Rays!
There are a lot of great blogs about baseball cards out there. There are some that I check every day, and some that I check every once in a while. However, I feel confident in saying that there is no more eloquent writer out there than JV from Treasure Never Buried. I have enjoyed his blog since its inception, but three recent posts by JV have left me absolutely in awe of JV’s skills as a writer and of the high quality human being that he is. You would be doing yourself an incredible favor by reading his entire blog, but especially these posts:
Thanks JV, for finding ways to capture the magic of baseball and baseball cards in words. You are a great inspiration as a writer and you are also the type of father that I hope I will be someday.
Yes, the image that you see here is of the immortal Casey Kasem. I figured that I should point that out since most of us are more familiar with Casey’s voice than his looks. Much like baseball cards, hearing Casey Kasem’s voice on “American Top 40 Countdown” reruns on XM radio brings back happy memories from my childhood…
Anyway, as you’ll recall from my post yesterday, the three finalists for the title of “The Best Baseball Stadium that Dave has been to for a game” are Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
So here we go…
3. Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia) – Since I was just there on Sunday and blogged about it on Monday, I’ll just say that I really, really liked Citizens Bank Park. I have a feeling that I’ll be attending many more games there in the future since my dad lives relatively close to Philly (in Baltimore) and my wife and I both have friends in the Philly area.
2. PNC Park (Pittsburgh) – As much as I loved Citizens Bank Park, it can’t match its counterpart from the other side of Pennsylvania, PNC Park. Although I was only there one time in 2001, the memories of this baseball cathedral are still etched in my mind. It has that classic ballpark feel with all of the modern conveniences. Everything that I like about Citizens Bank Park applies to PNC Park, but PNC has even more good things going for it. For one, the food selection was better than any park I’ve ever been to. I remember walking around the stadium in awe of the variety and unable to choose what I wanted to eat. And then I saw the Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand, and my mind was instantly made up. If you’ve never eaten at Quaker Steak & Lube, let me tell you that this place features some of the best Buffalo wings that you’ll ever taste (and this comes from someone who grew up near Buffalo). My favorite are the Buckeye BBQ wings, which have a spicy hot barbecue sauce that is absolutely incredible. Anyway, when I got to have some of these heavenly wings while watching a baseball game, I was ecstatic. The other great aspect of PNC Park is its perfect location, with the Allegheny River right behind the outfield, and a great view of the Pittsburgh skyline right behind the river. PNC Park is just an awesome place to watch a baseball game, and if you are ever anywhere near Pittsburgh, you should definitely check it out. Now, if the Pirates could ever have a winning team…
While PNC Park is tops on my list of modern ballparks, it has a long way to go before it can compete with:
1. Yankee Stadium (Bronx, NY) – No matter how you may feel about the Yankees (and I have been both a huge Yankees fan and a huge Yankees hater in my life), any fan of baseball has to have respect and admiration for Yankee Stadium. Simply put, more historic moments have occurred at Yankee Stadium than perhaps every other major league stadium combined. The Yankees franchise has won 26 World Series championships, 39 American League pennants, and has 41 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. When you walk into Yankee Stadium, you can’t help but think about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, and so many other legends playing on that field. One of the best moments of my childhood occurred in the summer of 1992 when I was able to see a game in Yankee Stadium for the first time. I also got to tour the stadium (and Monument Park) and sit in the Yankees dugout. The memories send a chill down my spine to this day. Sadly, 2008 will be the final season for Yankee Stadium, as the team will be moving into a new billion-dollar facility next year. Eventually, Yankee Stadium will be demolished. As if the Steinbrenner family doesn’t make enough money from the Yankees, they’ll soon be able to line their pockets even more money and throw even more outrageous contracts at star players to lure them away from smaller market teams. I am hoping to be able to see Yankee Stadium one more time before the end of the season to say goodbye to a true American icon.
One final note … there is one more stadium that I have been to for a tour, but I have not yet been able to see a game there. It is the 96-year old Fenway Park in Boston. Needless to say, Fenway would rank near the top of the list if I had actually seen a game there. I am hoping to change that this September as I have tentative plans to visit my sister-in-law in Boston and see the Rays play the Red Sox in an important battle for the AL East title.
I’m proud to report that after 10 days of existence, the hit count for Fielder’s Choice Baseball Card Blog stands at 342. That number is dwarfed in comparison to more established blogs, but considering that I haven’t really done any promotion or outreach to other blogs (which I plan to do), I’m pleased.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Mario from Wax Heaven as the majority of my hits have come from his blog. Mario has plugged Fielder’s Choice a couple of times and I’ve also gotten a bunch of hits from the link to my blog that appears in the comments that I’ve left at Wax Heaven. Also, thanks to Treasure Never Buried, For The Love Of Baseball, and Cardboard Junkie for linking to Fielder’s Choice. If anyone else has linked to me, then I definitely appreciate it; I just haven’t noticed it yet.
A bigger thrill than the hit count was doing a Google search this morning for “Fielder’s Choice” and finding this blog as the 10th result. Then this evening I did the same search and it was up to the 7th result! Things certainly move quickly with Google!
Stay tuned for more great things from Fielder’s Choice and let me know if you have any feedback, positive or negative. Up next will be the conclusion of my baseball stadium countdown, a post on the reasons why I left The Hobby in 1994, and my special commentary on the good side and the dark side of Josh Hamilton. I’ll also be actively seeking trades to complete my 2008 Topps Heritage set soon, and I’ll be asking for some help to locate some very hard-to-find Don Mattingly cards that I need.
Finally, I want to thank all of the people who have left comments to my posts. Seeing your comments makes taking the time to write the posts worth it, and I hope that the number of comments only increases as time goes on. Also, if anyone out there is thinking about starting their own baseball or baseball card blog, I would encourage you to go for it. It’s been a lot of fun blogging so far!