Triple Digits

I used to love summer. Now, I hate it.

Growing up, summer meant a break from the daily routine of school. It meant finishing the baseball season and then spending the month of July traveling to All-Star tournaments. Early August meant family vacations up and down the west coast to see family and to visit the Kingdome, Candlestick, Angels Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium. I was young and carefree; what’s there not to like about that?

Things changed quickly as an adult. The summer breaks stopped. Instead of playing baseball I began coaching it when my sons played (kids were great; some of the adults, not so much). Those annual trips to major league ballparks stopped too. And of course, the older I get, the body has a more difficult time acclimating to higher temps and being directly out in the sun. It doesn’t help when you spend a number of years working in hot conditions during your company’s busiest time of the year. So, yeah, I no longer enjoy summer the way I used to.

This dislike of this time of year has grown exponentially this year, as we have already endured record-breaking temperatures in southwest Idaho for about two weeks, with no end in sight. Day after day of temperatures in triple-digits can wear on you, fast. As I type this, we’ve just had our 8th straight day of 100+ degree temps, one short of the record for Boise. And when overnight lows ‘only’ dip in to the high-70s or low-80s… yeah, it sucks.

There are some numbers in the 100s that don’t suck- namely, those that appear on Topps cardboard.

100

101

103

104

105

106

108

109

I’ll completely avoid any cards above #109 because God help us if it gets over 109 degrees.

I’ll Never Get My Fill

I’ve long considered (and proudly proclaimed) myself a ‘Topps Flagship Homer.’ That’s not to say that I like every set that’s been released or that I haven’t been critical of any releases. But it was the only game in town (other than food-issues and oddballs) when I began collecting in 1976, so it holds a special place in my collection.

As much as I love flagship, one thing I have not done yet is chase after all the colored parallels, or the older Canadian counterparts (O-Pee-Chee). I do have some parallels that were either sent to me, pulled or picked up for cheap and have thought about trying to acquire one of each of the different colors/themes for the different team sets. I also have a few O-Pee-Chee’s- cards that feature different photos (or players not included in the Topps set for that year), but I don’t attempt to put together the team sets. The stamped buy-backs? Nah, no interest in those. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t turn down any such cards that are offered to me in trade or as a gift. After all, a Topps homer can never get his fill of cardboard from his favorite manufacturer. One thing I had never thought about until recently: attempting to get a signed copy (in person or TTM) of every Mariners base Topps card. With only a handful of such cards in my collection, it would definitely be a labor of love.

The two cards you see above came from a friend, whom I mentioned in a previous post. In fact, I think every signed Mariners Topps card (other than those that are pack-pulled) I have came from Rick. So if you’re reading this, Rick, I think you’d better get busy on mailing out TTM requests. After all, you seem to have pretty good luck.

Steelheads

Tonight’s Mariners/Rays game will feature a different look for the team, one that’s been on display twice prior to this season. To celebrate Juneteenth, the team will honor the Seattle Steelheads of the short-lived West Coast Negro League by wearing throwback uniforms.

For those who’ve never heard of the league or the team, the Steelheads played in the West Coast Negro League during the 1946 season and was owned by WCNL creator Abe Saperstein, who is best known as the man who founded the Harlem Globetrotters. Saperstein recruited track star Jesse Owens and other investors in October of 1945 and hurriedly organized the league, which held its first meeting in January, 1946 and began an 18-week, 110 game season in May of 1946. Unfortunately, the season was cut short due to financial problems among most of the six teams.

Seattle would open its season on May 12, playing the Portland Rosebuds in El Paso, TX and would host its first home game in Seattle on June 2, when it attracted 2500 fans to Sick’s Stadiums. The team would also play home games in Bellingham, Bremerton, Spokane and Tacoma during its short life and averaged 1500 fans per home date. Though the league disbanded in early July, the Steelheads, along with the Oakland Larks, began a barnstorming tour of the midwest that included games in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. A July 19th column in the Seattle Times announced that “the Steelheads…will play here no more for a while as they found Middle Western exhibition games more profitable.”

A few months later, the team would drop the Seattle Steelheads name and revert back to their original name, the Harlem Globetrotters. 

The Mariners first paid tribute to their long-lost brethren on September 9, 1995, donning what was believed to be a replica of the Steelies uniform. Kansas City, their opponent that night, honored the Kansas City Monarchs team of the Negro American League.

The M’s most recent tribute came on May 16, 2015 against the Boston Red Sox Royal Giants. And from this game we got the photos for today’s cards. Bill Withers, the late singer/songwriter best known for the hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me”, threw out the first pitch that night.

Projects

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my 51 years on this earth, it’s this: our plans can- and often do- go awry.

I had scheduled a week off in late May for a two-day stay in St. George, UT and three days in Vegas. But an unexpected family crisis with one of the couples we were going to meet up with caused a change of plans. So, we cancelled the vacation and decided to go to my mom’s place in the mountains for a couple days. The rest of my time off would be spent doing a number of outside projects around the house. So of course once we got home from my mom’s (where the weather was beautiful) we had cooler, wet weather with lots of wind. So much for my projects.

House and yard projects aren’t the only ones that can take an unexpected hit. Hobby projects often have their own obstacles to overcome: costs, availability, being sniped on that hard-to-find item. And being one whose primary card project is to collect one card of everyone who’s played in at least one game for the Mariners, I’m particularly vulnerable to the hard-to-find minor league cards of guys who didn’t have a major league card, or who don’t have one with the team. There are times when I wonder if this project will ever be complete. And who wants to start something and not complete it?

Two of my most commonly-used resources for acquiring these hard-to-find singles for the A-to-Z project, eBay and COMC, are becoming more and more difficult to utilize. This probably is not news to you but there are a number of eBay sellers who feel the need to charge $4+ shipping for cheap cards; others like to charge astronomical prices for singles. COMC, on the other hand, is still undergoing a lot of internal issues, causing months(plural)-long delays in shipping. I have an order I’ve been waiting on since February or March (with an August delivery date) and I’m not spending another dime until they get it together. Anyway, I have found some of the much needed minor league cards on the TCDB website. Problem is, for those cards that are actually available for trade on the site, my trading material is pretty thin and I often can’t find a match. This was the case with user MungoHungo, whom I reached out to about two much needed minor league cards. I didn’t have anything off his wanlist, so I offered to pay for the cards. The response I received was a pleasant surprise.

“Hi Steve- I can’t accept any money, but if you give me a couple of days, I’d be glad to send those two cards to you. I actually have a set like yours — except it’s a card of every Royal. I know how hard it can be to track down some of those obscure cards.”

Jeff also is working on a different project, with cards of every player since late 1977, and the few remaining needs are proving to be difficult to find. And because of his generosity, I thought the least I could do (with his approval) is post this link to his wantlist. So reader, please take a look at Jeff’s list and see if there’s something you can help him out with. He said he’s willing to pay or send cards “substantially in the other person’s favor.” Or better yet, pay it forward like he did for me.

A Gift (& it Wasn’t Even My Birthday!)

My wife just turned 50 and to show my love and appreciate for her, I decided to throw a surprise birthday party. So I sent out texts, made phone calls and even did a few in-person invites to family and friends, and then, because I did it only a week prior to her birthday, scrambled to get everything together. And despite 100 degree weather only 4 days earlier, we enjoyed a beautiful day for the outside gathering.

As is customary in our part of the world, gifts were brought for the birthday girl- each, something that she enjoys. Plants, Pioneer Woman kitchenware, and of course, money. But she wasn’t the only one who reaped from this get together. I, too, was surprised with a handful of cards from a friend whose family attended the festivities. And one of the cards stood out above all the others.

Topps’ 2008 set featured the 75-card Trading Card History insert set that included cards done in pre-War, classic and modern designs. The first 25 cards were issued in packs of Series 1, the final 25 cards could be found in packs of Series 2, and the other 25 cards (#26-50) were distributed exclusively at hobby shops which participated in the HTA (Home Team Advantage) program.

With so many inserts in modern Topps sets, I’ve found that most of my purchases these days are of current chase cards that are needed to fill out the master team set. That leaves little room for older inserts that are missing in my collection. And so whenever I can be gifted (or trade for) one, you can bet that I’ll gladly accept. Thanks again, Rick, for not only the cards- but for sharing this special day with our family.

Topps of the Class

A ‘Memory’ popped up the other day on both my wife’s Facebook page as well as my own, reminding us of the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s high school graduation. While most 2020 graduates were not able to enjoy the traditional ceremony, my daughter attended a small private school and other than some of us wearing masks, it was business as usual. Tonight, we’ll go to our first (and only) graduation for the Class of ’21, as our daughter’s best friend walks the stage.

I don’t recall hearing about Topps’ Topps of the Class promotional cards that were offered through hobby shops last fall. Seeking to introduce kids to the hobby (or reward those who already collect), Topps’ approach was simple. Bring your report card to your local hobby shop and you can get a pack of the cards. And unlike 2019, where the set design was based upon the Big League Brand, the 2020 version featured its own unique design. It was a small reward for not only the hard work put in by the student, but also for persevering through the end of the 2019 and beginning of the 2020 fall semesters which, as we know, were unlike any other before them.

Mariners included in the set:

6- Randy Johnson

65- Kyle Lewis (still need)

73- Mitch Haniger

Inserts: Topps of the Class Greats (Foil, #/299)

TCG-20 Ken Griffey Jr

TCG-21 Ichiro

The BGees

For the life of me I will never understand why anyone at a trading card company would think it’s a good idea to use the same number (or abbreviations) for multiple cards in an insert set that’s spread out over multiple series. Today’s cards are not the only ones in my collection that suffers from this idiocy. And in case you’re thinking that one is just a ‘Variation’- it’s not. The top card is from 2018 Topps Series 1; the bottom, from 2018 Topps Series 2.

I’ve Got Lefebvre

Scan 134

It was one of the most memorable moments in television history. Or at least it was to my nine-year old self.

In the pilot episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, radio disc jockey John Caravella is informed by new program director Andy Travis that, effective immediately, the station was changing its format from easy listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Caravella, who once worked at one of Los Angeles’ most successful radio stations but was fired for saying “booger” on the air, suddenly became unsure of himself. It had been quite some time since he had worked at a rock station. After the firing, he had been a nomad on the radio dial and eventually landed in Cincinnati, at the only station who would hire him. So he told Travis that he didn’t have any records. Andy then handed him a stack of vinyl and, after further objections from Caravella, gave the veteran DJ his vote of confidence.

What came next was spectacular. The breaking of an ‘elevator music’ record; the diabolical laughter while queuing up the next (rock) record; the pulling of the needle across the easy-listening LP he had just played.

Caravella, suddenly alive, becomes a rock and roll evangelist.

“Alright Cincinnati, it is time for this town to get down! You’ve got Johnny- Dr. Johnny Fever- and I’m burning up in here! Whoo! We all in critical condition, babies, but you can tell me where it hurts, because I got the healing prescription here from the big ‘KRP musical medicine cabinet. Now I’m talking about your 50,000 watt intensive care unit, babies! So just sit right down, relax, open your ears real wide and say, ‘give it to me straight, Doctor. I can take it!'”  

Fever then goes into full geek-out mode as he begins blasting Ted Nugent’s Queen of the Forest. A few seconds into the song, the Doctor mutes the record, grabs the mic and throws on his shades. “I almost forgot, fellow babies: BOOGER!” 


Like the fictional Johnny Fever character, Jim Lefebvre enjoyed success in the City of Angels.

A native of Los Angeles, Jim Lefebvre signed with his home-town Dodgers out of Morningside High School in Inglewood and would rocket through the team’s farm system.

Debuting just three seasons after graduating high school, Jim won the 1965 N.L. Rookie of the Year award while starting at second base for the team that would go on to win the World Series. Unfortunately for Jim, an injury to his foot limited him to only the first three games of the Series.

Avoiding the “sophomore slump,” Lefebvre actually improved upon his award-winning rookie campaign to help lead the Dodgers back to the World Series. There would be no parade this time, however, as the Dodgers were swept by the Orioles in the Fall Classic. Jim did provide one of the few bright spots for the NL champs, who hit a collective .142 and scored but 2 runs during the Series, by homering in game 1 off of Orioles ace Dave McNally.

Jim’s career would forever be changed come the 1967 season, when the Dodgers moved him off second-base and over to the hot corner. The shift, triggered by a concern over his lack of range, left the golden boy feeling uneasy- and his offensive production began to slip. The Dodgers also used him for a few games at first-base that season, ushering in his new role as a utility player. It would be his role for the rest of his major league career.

It should be noted that it was during his Dodger career that Jim began acting, with roles on television series such as Batman and Gilligan’s Island, as well as the movie Riot on Sunset Strip. Following his playing career, Lefebvre returned to the screen, landing roles on Alice, M*A*S*H, Knight Rider and St. Elsewhere. Unfortunately, a role as Dr. Johnny Fever’s brother never surfaced.

Anyway, after learning that the Lotte Orions (Japanese League) were interested in him- and tired of his role as a part-time player- Jim was able to come to an agreement for a buyout with the Dodgers following the ’72 season.

Like his time with the Dodgers, Jim’s career in Japan didn’t quite live up to expectations. Jim’s new manager (Masaichi Kaneda) predicted his new import would win the league’s Triple Crown his first year with the Orions. It wasn’t to happen, as he fell short in all three categories. A leg injury – not to mention a demotion to the minors- cut short his 1974 season, but Lefebvre was able to come back and play in five of the six games in the Nippon Series, which the Orion won 4 games to 2. In winning, Lefebvre became the first player to win both a World Series and the Nippon Series.

Like so many other players, Jim’s journey led him in to scouting, coaching and eventually, managing following his playing career. After stints with the Dodgers, Giants and A’s organizations, Jim was hired to manage the Mariners, whose sinking ship he captained from 1989-1991. Frenchy, as he was known, took a bad Mariners team and guided them to an improve record each of the three seasons he spent there, culminating in the franchise’s first-ever season above .500 (83-79 in 1991). The improvement made under Jim’s watch wasn’t enough to save his job, as the team handed Jim his pink slip following that ’91 season.

Shortly after his dismissal, Lefebvre was hired to take over a Cubs team that was worse than the club he left in Seattle. And just like the improvements his Mariners team showed, Jim’s Cubs team improved upon each previous season.

Despite winning 84 games in 1993, the Cubs fired Lefebvre after just two seasons and, like Caravella, he became a nomad himself…taking jobs as an instructor or coach with the Brewers- where he would eventually serve as interim manager in 1999, as well as with the A’s, Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Padres organizations.

In 2005, Jim was hired to coach the Chinese national team, whom he led in both the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Summer Olympic Games at Beijing.

United We Stood

Three words that meant so much. Today, nineteen years later, they ring hollow. They’re like three other words once spoken by an ex-spouse. Empty words, after a bitter divorce.

Today, our country is enduring the worst civil unrest since the ’60s, in the middle of a pandemic, nonetheless, and we are more divided than at any other time in my lifetime. We’ve let a conman slither his way into the highest office of the United States and destroy what little peace and unity we might have had; we have a House and a Senate whose members refuse to work with one another and accomplish absolutely nothing; and we booed football players standing unified, locked arm-in-arm, as they took a moment of silence prior to the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season. And mind you, it wasn’t even during the national anthem.

United We Stand once meant something. Today, it does not.

Thinking of those who lost their (or a family members) lives on 9/11/2001.

Apocalyptic

I watched the Mariners and Giants game last night and at one point during the broadcast, they showed a photo of the city from earlier in the day. There was a glowing-orange sky that was quite apocalyptic looking. The background of this Buhner card is a little foreboding as well. Perhaps Bone just crushed a fastball.

I’ve never been much of a ‘road warrior.’ My parents were both self-employed and the only time we would travel would be for a one or two week summer vacation up and down the west coast. But it did give me the opportunity to attend games at every ballpark on the ‘Best Coast.’ Jack Murphy Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Angels Stadium, Candlestick Park, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and of course, The Kingdome.

As an adult, I would visit Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the early ’90s as well as Safeco Field a number of times the past decade. One ballpark I have yet to visit but that is on my ‘must-see’ is Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Maybe one of these days.

The back of today’s card tells us Jay’s five favorite out of town parks, based upon his 1995 season. There’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards (7/17 w/ 1 homer), Fenway Park (8/26 w/ 2 homers), Jacobs Field (5/19 w/ 3 homers), H.H.H. Metrodome (7/23 w/ 5 dingers) and the Ballpark in Arlington (6/29 w/ 2 homers).