51, with Dignity

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Despite being a sports fan, I’ve never associated a birthday with the number of an athlete. I mean, is this even a thing? Some of my favorite players (Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Dale Murphy) wore their numbers after I turned the corresponding age. David Justice and Ken Griffey Jr are two exceptions, who wore no. 23 and 24, respectively, when I turned 23 and 24 year old. But I never thought of those birthdays as “I’m turning Ken Griffey Jr today.” This game of association changed today.

Turning 51 is a letdown. Fifty was the last of the ‘landmark’ birthdays until I turn 65- the age where I’ll qualify for medicare, which will effectively (well, hopefully) usher in my retirement. Or at the very least, semi-retirement. Anyway, 51 comes in what has to be the worst year of our lifetime. And while I have much to be thankful for, I’m looking forward to the calendar year ending and year number 52 on this earth.

My ‘birthday association’ with 51 is probably pretty obvious. After all, how many teams can claim to have had two iconic, Hall of Fame players wear the same number? But yet that’s something the Mariners can claim. Sure, Randy Johnson didn’t enter the Hall wearing the blue and teal but he did pitch in the Northwest for 10 seasons (more than for any other team), won a Cy Young, pitched a no-hitter, and left the team as its all-time leader in victories, strikeouts and innings, among other stats. 

When Ichiro came over from Japan, Mariners management wanted to give their imported star the number that he wore in his homeland. But being the student of the sport and its history, he knew that the number had been worn by Johnson during his time in Seattle– and he didn’t want to bring shame to the star pitcher. Ichiro sent the Big Unit a letter, vowing to “keep this number with dignity.” And with Ichiro headed to the Hall of Fame one day, I’d say he did a pretty good job honoring that vow.

Prior to Suzuki and Johnson, there was another uber-talented player who wore the number for the Mariners. A highly-touted prospect in the Red Sox organization, Rey Quinones found himself as part of what became a huge trade for Boston’s pennant chase. Acquired for Dave Henderson and Spike Owen in August of 1986, Rey was touted by none other than Ted Williams as having a “classic hitting style” and that “he might be Frank Robinson at shortstop.” Many raved about his talents in the field: the bazooka of an arm, the ability to make sparkling defensive plays. But Rey also was guilty of being lackadaisical, of not having much of a desire to play. 

A few ‘gems’ from Quinones’ time with the M’s:

  • When asked why he showed up late for spring training (1987), Rey’s response was that he had Visa problems. The infielder was from Puerto Rico, and he wasn’t required to have one. 
  • On his first day in Seattle, told the writers covering the team that he didn’t need baseball, that he had a liquor store in Puerto Rico.
  • Told manager Dick Williams, GM Dick Balderson and team president Chuck Armstrong that he didn’t think he needed to play everyday because he was good and there were other, lesser talented players who needed to play in order to get better.
  • Wasn’t available to enter a game as a pinch-hitter because he was nowhere to be found. He was in the clubhouse playing Nintendo.

During his four seasons with the Mariners, Rey slashed .251/.289/.371 while sporting a field percent that hovered around .950. Seattle traded the enigmatic shortstop to Pittsburgh seven games in to the 1989 season.

As for me, well, I hope to ‘wear 51’ with dignity, not shamefully.

Attax

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Don’t have any plans on picking up the latest iteration of Topps Attax. Never cared for it when it was an insert- but it was something that was found in packs of flagship, so it was a ‘must’ for this master team-set collector. I’ve pretty much given up on the on-demand stuff, save Topps Living Set. That is, unless a Topps now card comes out for a player who has no other Mariners cards.

I’m More Like Dexter than You Think

Note: This article is a revised version of a post that originally appeared on an old blog of mine.

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…and you very well might be, too.

 

If you’re not aware of the Showtime series Dexter, the premise is this: Dexter Morgan is a blood splatter analyst for the Miami-Metro Police Department. He also happens to be a vigilante serial killer whose victims are murderers that beat the system. Dexter’s desire to kill isn’t necessarily rooted in justice; he has an insatiable thirst to kill and just so happens to direct those urges towards ridding the world of those said scumbags. Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, and the character- so well performed by Michael C. Hall, is a complex one, to be sure.

So, you ask, just how am I like this butcherer? Well- let’s cut to the chase, shall we? (See what I did there?!)

The Trophy Case Dexter keeps blood slides from each of his victims in a nice oak box that he keeps hidden in the a/c unit in his apartment.

Just as each of Dexter’s blood slides tell a story, so too do the cards that I keep in my boxes.

Like that time that Richie Zisk came to the rescue as Julio Cruz was chasing a record.

Or the sad story of Rodney Craig.

Even the stories involving the lunkhead who refused to catch for the man whose name means ‘Peace’

The Code Dexter operates within a framework known as “The Code of Harry”- a set of guidelines his step-father, officer/detective Harry Morgan, set up for young Dexter to satisfy his need to kill and to channel those impulses for good. Other than a few exceptions (self-defense, mercy killing), he sticks closely to them. I, too, operate out of a set of guidelines. If I am going to go after a Mariners card, it must be:

  1. Topps’ flagship base set or an insert set from the flagship brand
  2. Be an odd-ball, food-issue, or regional issue
  3. Heritage or Archives Mariners base/inserts
  4. A player who appeared in a game with Seattle but didn’t make it in to one of the team sets I collect.

The Secrets People don’t know who -or what- Dexter is. It’s not like he goes around wearing his hobby on his sleeves. Even in the most intimate relationship of all- marriage- there are secrets. His wife doesn’t know how he spends his evenings- or where he really is (his old apartment). She thinks he’s overworked by the department and that he’s a recovering drug addict- not knowing his real addiction. I have a friend who, at one time, had a card shop and leased out a case to me to sell some of my stuff. I remember a co-worker of his, a fellow collector, who would come into the shop and would talk about the secret checking account that he had for his hobby dollars, which his wife was not aware of. Now, I haven’t gone to that extreme- but my wife probably doesn’t know the amount of time and money I spend on this hobby. Not that it’s a large sum that I try to keep hidden from her; she just knows that I keep a little out of our budget to play with. She would probably be more surprised to find out how much time I spend online in my apartment office, reading blogs, writing on my own blog, investigating the next potential victims for my collection. And, oh, I don’t have the burden of not sharing my hobby with others. Those closest to me couldn’t care less about it (they probably view it as childish- only are too charitable to say that to me); others, were they to find out I collect baseball cards would probably gasp in horror, as if I were some sort of…serial killer. I guess I could always order me a Topps Future Stars T-shirt, or a Panini/Donruss Rated-Rookie tee. That would probably get those looks of horror, alright.

Is there a television character that you would compare yourself to, as a collector?

Pat Rice

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As much as I enjoy adding Topps Update to my collection each fall, it has become a bit bloated. Too many All-Star cards (let’s get back to adding the designation to the player’s base card the following season), Home Run Derby cards and Pro Debut’s. I actually like the concept of the Pro Debut cards but would much rather it be like back in the day, when it was a stand alone set called Major League Debut.

Undrafted out of the University of Arkansas, Pat Rice played for the Pioneer League’s Salt Lake City Trappers team (unaffiliated) during the 1986 season, one year before the Trappers won a professional baseball-record 29 straight games.

At the time he signed with the Trappers, Rice was about to begin working in pharmaceutical sales for Parke-Davis. The pitcher gave up what would have been a $2500 a month gig for $500 a month and a chance to live out his dream. It was a gamble that paid off. Rice capped off his one season in Salt Lake by pitching the team to victory in the game that decided the Pioneer League championship. Later that night, Pat was contacted by a scout for the Mariners, who informed the righty that Seattle was interested in signing him.

Pat’s ascent through the Mariners minor league system was a slow one, taking him from Wausau (’87) to San Bernardino (’88) and Vermont (’89) to Calgary (’89); then from Triple-A Calgary back to Double-A Williamsport (’89-’90). Patience paid off as he finally received the call to the majors during the 1991 season and an opportunity to make his MLB debut in the Bronx, of all places.

Pitching against the Bombers on May 18, Rice- going on one hour of sleep, having flown from Calgary-to-Dallas-to New York, started and went 5.2 innings, allowing 0 runs and just two hits while striking out three. His next three appearances were all in relief and he extended his streak of scoreless innings to 13. Not a bad way to start a career. The success he enjoyed over his first four games wouldn’t last.

Pat’s next two appearances, both coming in relief, saw him give up 1 and 3 runs against the Tigers and Red Sox, respectively, over a total of 5.2 innings. Six days after his outing against Boston, Rice faced the Tigers again- only this time starting. Pat’s second (and final) major league start wouldn’t go as well as his first one, however. Lasting just 2.1 innings, the clock struck midnight for the Mariners Cinderella man, who gave up 3 walks and 2 hits, resulting in 5 runs allowed (3 earned). It would be the final game in Pat’s MLB career.

The Mariners organization did see something they liked in Rice and offered him a coaching job following his 1992 campaign at Triple-A Calgary. Pat would spend a number of years in the Mariners farm system, working as both a pitching coach and as their minor league pitching coordinator before leaving in 2007 to work for the Giants. Rice would later become the minor league pitching coordinator for the Angels (2015-2017) before finding his way back to Salt Lake, where it all began. Only this time instead of wearing a Trappers uniform, Pat donned the yellow and black of the Bees.

 

Gold Rush

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We collectors often lament the disappearance of the informative card back. Whether it was it was the copy found in the summary or the cartoon(s) located on the back, there was a much greater effort put in to creating the backs of vintage cardboard than what we see today. But that doesn’t mean that current cards can’t be educational. At the very least, there are cards today that cause the collector to search out more information.

As much as I liked the First Pitch insert set that Topps ran out for a few years, I have no idea who probably 70 percent of these people are. Ben Gibbard is one such example.

I label myself a music lover but had never heard of Gibbard or his band, Death Cab for Cutie. You see, like my cardboard, I prefer my music to be from another era. Most modern rock (or what’s labeled ‘rock’) just doesn’t do it for me. But this card led me to check out a tune of theirs called Gold Rush. Afterward, I found an interview that Gibbard did with NPR radio’s All Things Considered, where he described the lyrics as not necessarily a complaint about how things were better prior to the development in his (Seattle) Capitol Hill neighborhood, but rather an observation about ‘coming to terms with the passage of time and losing the people and the moments in time in [his] life all over again as I walk down a street that is now so unfamiliar.” Gibbard discovered that as he had gotten older, had become ‘acutely aware’ of how he connects his memories to his geography and how the landscape of the city changes.

And then it hit me: what a perfect metaphor for the landscape of today’s hobby.

My complaints about the hobby today are not because today’s cards are somehow intrinsically worse than vintage cards. No, the landscape of the hobby has changed and it’s unfamiliar to that seven year-old who fell in love with the sport and became obsessed with baseball (and football) cards back in 1976. True, today’s hobby landscape has (once again) become a Gold Rush, with investors moving in, looking to profit and driving up costs exponentially. But the thing is, it reminds me, rather cruelly, that the people whom I shared great hobby memories with have died or have moved and are no longer a part of my everyday life.

The neighborhood has changed and there are some great new neighbors. But to tell you the truth, I miss the old ones.

Coin Shortage

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Perhaps you’ve heard the news that our nation is undergoing a coin shortage. It’s more of a problem in the circulation of coins rather than an actual shortage. The disruption, of course, is attributed to the ongoing pandemic which has caused many businesses to shutdown, which in turn stops the currency from being in circulation. With many areas re-opening, experts expect the situation to improve soon.

I’m experiencing a coin shortage of my own- on two fronts.

First, I have a container in which I place all of my pocket change. I then take it to the bank every three months and use the cash at the quarterly card show. It certainly isn’t enough to buy me a Mantle card, but $20-$30 goes a long way if you can find quarter boxes. And with being out in the marketplace a lot less these days, my coin container is a bit light. With no shows, I haven’t noticed it too much- yet. Once shows get back up and running, well, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Second, I’ve had a shortage of a different kind of coin for much longer than four months. Topps Coins are noticeably absent from my collection, save this lone 1987 Alvin Davis. I will at one point take steps to resolve this problem. There are far more important pieces missing from my collection, however, and I’ll be working on them first. If one should come my way in a trade, great. Otherwise, I’ll patiently ride it out.

A few facts about the coin shortage:

  • Some businesses have gone so far as to request debit/credit card purchases only due to the coronavirus. Others have said they would accept cash, but only if the exact change is given.
  • The U.S. Mint has had to decrease production and staff have been cut because of the pandemic.
  • Nearly 1/3 of all in-person transactions in our country are done through cash
  • Who does this hurt the most? The poor, who are more likely to use cash than the middle-class and upper classes are.
  • The shortage has caused many fear mongers to warn that this will lead to a cashless society. Undoubtedly, many will see this as the ushering in of the “Mark of the Beast.”

 

Reflection

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We live in an amazing time in history. You and I have the ability to watch just about everything imaginable and listen to any album of our liking though numerous streaming platforms and satellite or cable providers. And with all the social media options, we can connect to anyone in the world, losing track of time in the process. This doesn’t leave much room for personal reflection. Even in the midst of a pandemic, when many are home-bound, prisoners of a virus, we should have more time for this all-important discipline. Instead, we lose ourselves in our things. And yes, that includes our hobbies.


If I didn’t know better, one look at this card and I would think, “hey, cool. I didn’t know managers were included in ’92 Bowman.” Except Lennon wasn’t a manager. The photographer just happened to get a picture of the Mariners outfielder while perched atop the dugout steps, appearing to be assessing the play of some fringe-player who’s fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Lennon, the Mariners first round pick in 1986 (8th overall) never tasted the stardom many predicted. If a slow start to his career wasn’t bad enough, his off the field behavior nearly cost him his career- and his freedom.

Patrick faced an attempted murder charge following a July, 1989 incident in which he was involved in a late-night shooting in a parking lot after a night of drinking. The shots, Lennon claimed, were fired in the air as a warning and were never intended to harm anyone. Still, for a man who was awaiting trial on an assault charge after striking a man with a gun during an argument following the 1988 season, the fading prospect gave the Mariners more than enough reason to question their decision to draft (and stick with) such a troubled young man.

Lennon would eventually make it to Seattle for two brief stints in 1991 and 1992, and would accumulate just 13 plate appearances before his release following the 1992 season. The expansion Colorado Rockies signed the free-agent but would release him towards the end of spring training.

It was on the cross-country drive back home to North Carolina that the disgruntled player had time to reflect and realized his life was out of control and that he needed to make some changes (one would think that 57 days in jail would have sufficed, but I digress). Raised in a Christian home, Pat returned to the faith he once abandoned. And while his career never reached the star status many had predicted, he at least found peace

 

American Graffiti

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There’s just something about listening to that old familiar voice on a hot summer night. It doesn’t matter who you are, all are welcome. Nerd; intellectual; prom queen; class president; gear head.

And we’d be out late at night, cruising.

My favorite muscle-car might be going up and down the streets of a different city, but I can still hear that familiar voice calling out, “Boomstick, baby!”

Wives

Carlos Peg

My wife saved a life two days ago. It was a kitten- but a life was spared nonetheless.

It started when she heard a terrible crying sound; she then realized it was a kitten that was being used as a play toy by the neighbor’s dog. After a couple of attempts to get the dog to let go of the cat (it had it in its mouth, spinning it around and then doing a ‘death’ shake), my wife went and got a noisemaker that we have for dog training. She finally got the dog to drop the terrified (and injured) kitten. And though we are ‘dog people’ who’ve never been overly fond of cats, we are now owners of a feline. Not sure where it came from; we suspect it was the baby of a stray.

This is who my wife is. It’s not the first time she’s rescued an animal in distress. Growing up, she spent a lot of time on her grandparents ranch, wanting to become a vet. A horrible, coma-inducing car accident while in college forced her to put those plans on hold. She became pregnant, got married and never went back to school. As our daughter was finishing up the last couple of years of high school, my bride- who’s been a stay-at-home mom for most of our marriage- decided she needed something that would fill the void and took an online course for Veterinary Technician. Then COVID hit and she’s been waiting for a position to open. She’s hoping to get hired at our vet’s office in the next few weeks.

As much as I didn’t want another animal in the house, things could be worse- like having a wife who’s a thief. And yes, I realize that the kitten we kept could belong to someone, but I’m not going to search out possible owners.


 

There are some players whose career is remembered for an on-the-field incident. I think of Steve Lyons and I remember him absent-mindedly dropping his pants while trying to shake out the dirt after sliding into first. For others, it’s a body of work. The name ‘Chipper Jones’ conjures up a Mets killer, who just so happens to be one of the best switch-hitters of all-time. Any success Aubrey Huff may have attained on the field will forever be blotted out by him being a social media asshole/shitty human being.

And then there’s Carlos Peguero.

I wish I could remember a specific on-the-field play or incident during his tenure with the Mariners. Better yet would be if his body of work in Seattle was memorable. Hell, I’d even settle for remembering him for an off-the-field incident. But no, we’re left with remembering his wife, daughter of former big league pitcher Pedro Borbon. Her bloodlines, however, isn’t of importance. No, we remember Carlos because his wife was found guilty of fraud- and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in jail- because she used the credit card information of Felix Hernandez’ wife to accrue over $191,000 in online purchases after Sandra Hernandez had asked Maria Peguero to help her navigate through some online shopping. The wife of the M’s ace apparently was having a difficult time because she didn’t understand the English language used on the websites she was visiting. Three months and 60 transactions later the fun ended for Peguero when a red flag was raised with Saks Fifth Avenue questioning a discrepancy in the shipping and billing addresses. It must have been a real slap in the face for Mrs. Hernandez, who opened up her house to Maria when the team was on the road.

Yeah, I’ll take a new cat any day. It’s much cheaper.

LoAttendance

“For me, it’s not going to be that difficult. I played for the Rays and the Marlins” ~ Logan Morrison, when recently asked about playing with no fans in the stands. Thankfully he didn’t mention the Mariners in the same breath.

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I have to admit, the labor dispute between owners and players during the pandemic caused me to swear off watching any games upon their return. “I’ll give my support to independent, minor leagues and college ball,” I said. Well intended, I suppose, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t follow through with the threat. 

And so when the intrasquad games began on Friday, I was there in front of my television, watching a ‘game’ with no fans in the stands (at least there was an announcer calling the action- and Dave Sims was in mid-season form). The next game to stream live on the Mariners YouTube channel was Monday, only this time there was no announcer. It did feature piped-in crowd noise which was absolutely ridiculous. The production crew needs to work on what I’ll call ‘situational noise’ – and hopefully this will be fixed once the regular season begins. I guess it’s ‘Summer Camp’ for them as well.


Morrison spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Mariners and played in front of over 4,000,000 home fans during those two seasons. Though the team would finish in the bottom third for attendance those two years (23rd and 21st, respectively), the crowds were still larger than what LoMo was accustomed to in south Florida.

I can neither confirm nor deny the rumor that Bonanza Sports, the Jupiter, Florida card shop where LoMo worked in the offseason during his minor league days, would attract more customers than the Marlins. Given the woeful attendance figures the Fish have been known for, nothing would surprise me.