Saturday, December 31, 2011

TTM Success - Penguin Pascal

After a slow start autograph-wise, 2011 finished strong for me.  Thursday saw Tony Esposito's signature added to my collection and then on Friday I added this one.

Pittsburgh Penguin forward, and last year's 24/7 funnyman (link NSFW-language), returned this card in about a month. I'm pretty sure I sent it out just before Thanksgiving and just got it back. He signed a 2011-12 Score basecard in blue Sharpie.  It's not the neatest signature, just a couple of swirls and the number 9, but hey it looks good on the card.

It looks like I'm going to try and complete the Score set this year.  I like the clean, white background and some of the photos are pretty cool. Any double I pick up will make nice autograph fodder as well.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fourteen Hundred Words on Why I Stood in Line

Nothing to do with the words below - just an awesome scene from Christmas Story The Musical

When you’re not working you tend to have a lot of free time on your hands.  So when certain opportunities arise, it’s not hard to find the time to take advantage of them.  On Thursday, Link dropped me a text to let me know that a certain Hall of Famer was signing autographs for free down at the Navy Pier (Chicago’s number one tourist destination). I checked my schedule and saw shockingly I was free.

I then embarked on the hardest part of the day’s journey – finding pants.  Well pants that I could wear in public.  After all, it was Thursday and Laundry Day wasn’t till Friday. It’s important to have things to look forward to when everyday is like the day before it.  After a little digging I found a reasonably clean pair of jeans, said good-bye to the cats (they didn’t even raise their heads) and went off to catch the El into the city.

From where I’m at in Lakeview, the Red Line was the easiest way to get to the Pier.  The Red Line runs north to south and attracts the most diverse crowd of all of the CTA lines.  If you sit on a chair that a bum pissed on, chances are you’re on the red line.  I snuggled into the last seat in the car, the single one in the back that is pointed toward the middle of the car instead of facing front or back.

The car was reasonably packed, and I did what all Chicagoans do – shrunk my personal awareness to just my seat. I whipped out a book (Sin in the Second City) and commenced reading. I tried not to pay attention to my fellow riders, but sometimes you can’t help but noticing them.  For instance the guy in front of me was using a mirrored compact to either put makeup on or snort coke.  I didn’t look close enough to be certain.

After a quick 10 minute ride I jumped off at the Grand location. I would not sit down again for the next 3 hours.  The escalator was out (as usual) so I followed the pack shuffling up the dirty stairs.  The city is working on upgrading the lighting and cleanliness of the downtown stops (gotta impress the tourists), and the Grand stop is about 60% finished. But the stairs are still dirty.

The walk from the Grand stop to the Navy Pier was a little over a mile, I think.  It was nice outside so the walk was enjoyable.  It’s always fun to walk downtown, lots of bustling action going on.  I got to the Pier in a decent amount of time, delayed only a few seconds by the kid running his new remote control car into my ankle.

The Navy Pier in the winter is entirely different than the Navy Pier in the summer.  For reasons unknown to me it is packed during the summer.  Vast multitudes of tourists walk from one end to another, ride the Ferris Wheel, buy overpriced beer from Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Harry Carey’s, The Billy Goat, or stuff their face with McDonalds and buy Chicago knick-knacks.  A hundred and one river cruise operators shill their boat as the best in the city (for the record the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour is the best) while the Navy boys walk their girlfriends down the long, concrete pier.

In the winter it’s subdued, like a kid who just got reamed out for knocking over the cereal shelf at the grocery store.  The tourists are still there staggering around aimlessly, but not as many.  The chain restaurants have closed up their patios, heck even the churro guy has moved indoors.  No one is hawking a river cruise, after all, who wants to sail down the Chicago River when it’s 20 degrees outside?

They do, however, have a Winter Wonderland around Christmas time, and that’s where I would be obtaining my free autograph.  If there is a 4th circle of hell for middle-aged men who don’t plan on having kids, it’s the Navy Pier Winter Wonderland (presented by Bank of America!).  Housed on the second floor of one of the main buildings on the pier, the Winter Wonderland is in essence free.  However, to do anything you have to pay.

 Inside there are all of the child entrapments – giant slide, photo with Santa, motion simulator,  a merry-go-round, and some sort of tilt-a-whirl/hang-glider ride whose sole purpose was to induce ear-splitting screams from pre-teen girls every 5 minutes.  There was cotton candy, sodas, popcorn, churros and I think pure sugar for sale everywhere.

There were families everywhere, so help me God so many families.  I understand why.  Most parents are on week two or three of winter break and need something to distract the children with. None of the parents looked happy to be there, they all looked so tired.  The noise was deafening – along with the screams from the rides, there were the parents yelling at kids, people yelling on their cell phones, random toddlers running around and screaming for no apparent reason.

I wandered over to the indoor ice rink where the autograph table was set up.  It was about 2:45 with the signing set to begin at 3:00. The line was already stretching back a quarter away around the rink.  Although, I think half of the people in line thought it was the line for renting ice skates. 

I took my spot at the end of the line and broke out the book.  Based on my autograph line standing experience I knew I was in for at least an hour wait, probably closer to two which would be cutting it close since the session was only supposed to last until 5:00pm.  Even with a strictly enforced “one item only” policy this was going to take some time.

Slowly we trudged along. The family behind me quickly abandoned the mother to go skating or ride a ride or something.  She was there alone with two bags, four jackets and some stuff to get signed.  She also had a camera and managed to take a photo of every person that walked by.  I pity the poor person that had to sit through that slide slow.

After 30 minutes or so we had moved about 10 yards.  It wasn’t looking good, but hey at least I got some good reading time in.  I also got to watch the zamboni clean the ice.  One thing I learned – little kids are fascinated by the zamboni.  If you ever to need to settle down a sugared up, hop-head five year old plant him in front of a machine that scrapes ice. They will be transfixed for a half-hour.

At the hour mark, the line picked up a little speed.  Either people realized they were in the wrong line or they got bored and wandered off.  Twenty minutes after that the count started.  If you’ve ever stood in the line you know what the count it is.  As the signing period draws to a close, the official looking people walk through the line and start counting people to figure out where to cut the line off at.  As they walk bye you hope that they don’t stop in front of you.

Luckily for me they didn’t.  In fact, there were probably another 100 people or so behind me that made it.  However, one unlucky couple who was friends with the mother behind me didn’t make it so they came up to complain – and to cut into the line.  Because, after all, rules are rules but that doesn’t mean they apply to you.

Finally it was my turn to get an autograph.  I pulled out a card, which looked kind of puny next to the sweaters and 8x10’s and poster that everyone else was getting signed.  I didn’t care, I like getting cards signed.  They’re small and portable, they don’t require planning on how to display.  Just throw ‘em in a page and in a binder.

The hockey player was pretty nice.  He asked me what I do for a living.  “Freelance copywriter,” I replied.  Hey, it’s true.  I’ve done some SEO copywriting over the last month.  I thanked him for the autograph and moved on.  Here it is:

Former Blackhawks goalie (and part-founder of the Tampa Bay Lightning) Tony Esposito.  I now have matching Esposito brother autographs.  I did have to break my completed Champ’s set to get the card, but I think it’s a perfect card to get signed in black Sharpie.

I hustled out of the Wonderland and walked back to the El. As it was now rush hour I squeezed into the car and rode it on home.  After a quick walk down to our apartment I was finally able to sit on the couch and rest my tired feet.  The cats hadn’t moved an inch since I left.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Playoff Push Starts Now

The difference in size between Marty and Vinny will never cease to amuse me - Getty Images

“We have to make a push now.” 

On Monday, Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier uttered those words, making it clear that the fight to make the playoffs cannot wait any longer. Despite the season not yet reaching its halfway point, the team finds itself battleing for its post-season lives. Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Flyers they found themselves 8 points out of a playoff spot with five teams to hurdle. 

So how did the team, the team that has been disappointing all season long, respond? With a 5-1 win over Philadelphia that eerily resembled a lot of their playoff wins last spring.  How so? Look at the numbers:

Playoffs: The Lightning played 18 games in the postseason and were outshot in 11 of them. Of those 11 games Tampa Bay won 7. 

Tuesday: The Lightning were outshot 32-16.

Playoffs: The Lightning averaged almost 19 blocked shots a game.

Tuesday: They blocked 22 shots (Eric Brewer led the way with 6)

Playoffs: Dwayne Roloson was epic goalie man.

Tuesday: Mathieu Garon was epic le gardien de but stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced.

There was some grumbling from Lightning fans on Wednesday morning about the team being “lucky” and only winning because of a humongous big bad effort from 24/7 sensation Ilya Bryzgalov.  As Tampa Bay area fans are want to do they focused on the negative. What they fail to acknowledge is the positive from the game.  Steven Stamkos scoring as a grinder (rebound in front of the net) and a sniper (one-time roofer from the post), secondary scoring from Steve Downie and Bruno Gervais, and a winning record in the face-off dot (Adam Hall winning 10 out of 15 was huge).

The Lightning played physical, blocked shots and won face-offs. They also took advantage of the limited offensive opportunities that they generated. In short, they won a playoff-like game against a tough opponent.  Being able to sustain that type of intensity for the rest of the season will be near impossible, but right now it’s the only way they can win.  They have to want each game more than the other team.

Not gonna lie - Simmonds handed Brewer his lunch - photo from Getty Images
Having to play that style for 47 more games will wear a team out mentally and physically.  Tuesday night’s game was a prime example.  With the defense already depleted Victor Hedman left in the first period with an undisclosed upper body injury (please don’t be a concussion) and midway through the second period Brewer was knocked woozy after a fight with Wayne Simmonds.  Brewer returned after getting a cut cleaned up, but is now listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury as well.  I’m sure that means Evan Oberg is repacking his suitcase for yet another plane ride from Norfolk.

Should the Lightning suffer any suspensions from the Scott Hartnell/Ryan Malone/Steve Downie spearing/stick-waving/angry words incident then the team will be extremely shorthanded going into a critical stretch of games against teams they’re chasing (Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto).

Tuesday night’s win against the Flyers was a good starting point for the Lightning’s playoff push. A win Thursday night against the reeling Montreal Canadians would be even bigger.   As Lecavalier (who scored a sweet goal at the end of the game on a 2-on-1 with Martin St. Louis) pointed out this team can’t afford to wait around any longer.  They need to get it going now.
Gotta have a Downie photo! - Getty images

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finally My Take on Realignment

So have you heard all about that realignment talk? Seems that down Tampa way it’s time to put Gary Bettman’s head back on the platter. The diminutive commissioner has it out for the boys in black and is working on a masterful plan to snatch the team from the comforts of Channelside Drive and deposit them in Kansas City, or Las Vegas, or Houston…basically anywhere but Florida or Canada (because if there’s any region that the man in charge hates more than Florida, it’s our maple syrup-loving neighbor to the north).  Feeling persecuted much, Lightning fans?

Let’s face it, when talks of shuffling divisions around it was predetermined that at least one time would find themselves with the short end of the hockey stick.  Whether it be Dallas and Detroit forced to play west coast opponents or long-time rivals being torn asunder, somewhere, someone was going to bitch about how the chips settled.  Unfortunately for Lightning Nation (16 strong and growing!) the Florida teams are the ones on the outside looking in.

Being grouped into a division with Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Florida does mean that the team will be eating more peanuts on planes and standing longer in customs lines next season.  To some fans, having the players earn extra stamps in their passports is proof positive that Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL hates Tampa Bay and would love nothing more than to move that franchise somewhere else.

To those folks, I say ne ne.  Instead I offer you two words. Jeff Vinik.  That’s right, the savior of the organization, the man who brought this team back to respectability, the very man who harnessed electricity and stored it inside the Ice Palace. That man, that god, is only in charge because of Gary Bettman.  After all, it was Commissioner Bettman who introduced the idea of buying the Lightning to Vinik and paved the way for a smooth sale between the northern businessman and Those Who Owned the Team Before But Shall Not Be Named.

Proof that Betts doesn't hate Tampa (not sure about Canada)

That simple fact allows for a lot of leeway in my book.  So let us not look down upon the new schedule and curse our fates.  Instead, look forward to new rivalries being forged in the playoffs.  Think about how many “Lecavalier/Stamkos/St. Louis Return Home” articles get to be written by the Canadian press.
Let’s embrace the fact that the Lightning get to compete against some of the most storied franchises in NHL history - and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Let’s not forget one thing.  I am a greedy hockey fan living in a different city than the team I follow.  With the new schedule allowing every team to play every other team at home and on the road I know that I will be able to see the Lightning at least once a season.  That is awesome.

Most importantly, think about how much fun it will be to follow the team on the road now! Gone are boring cities like Raleigh and Winnipeg (we hardly knew ya’). Instead of going to see the Lincoln Memorial three times a year, Lightning fans can now go to Montreal. It’s almost like a slice of Europe in North America.  The only two cities missing from my favorite places to travel are New Orleans and Honolulu, and there is a 36% chance that Bettman will expand to those cities in the next 6 years.

Let me give you a personal experiences breakdown of the cities where the Lightning’s newest foes are located.

Sunrise- Oddly enough, the only arena I haven’t attended and it’s the one closest to the Lightning.  I probably should have checked that out when I lived in Florida.  The closest I came was watching an Argentina/U.S. soccer match at Joe Robbie stadium.  Afterwards, we went to an Argentinean restaurant where not a lick of English was spoken, but the meal was delicious.

Montreal - In the top three of favorite cities to visit.  The first time I went was with legendary travel mate Hambone and I had a picture taken.  The bartender swore his name was Jimmy Walker and made us take a picture in front of  “The Jersey”.  I think it was Henri Richard’s jersey, I’m not sure because I got pretty drunk that night.

The jacket - real pleather baby!

On top of the drinking there is beautiful architecture, wonderful museums and a restaurant called Au Pied Cachon.  If you ever want to see if you can give yourself a heart attack with one truly exquisite meal then go to this place.  After all, it almost broke Anthony Bourdain.
I love having reasons to post pics of Downie fighting

Ottawa - Haven’t seen a game here yet, but did attend a session of Congress.  They were debating something about marijuana laws I think.  Cool city, would definitely hang out there again.

Toronto - Hockey Hall of Fame.  Clean city. Watched Zac Beirk take a puck to the throat in warm-ups. This would probably be the first city to take a weekend trip to watch the game for me.  I’ve been twice (once for business) but never stayed long enough to truly explore the city, although Link and I did have a robust game of air hockey in the basement of the CN Tower.  (Holy Crap! They have a rotating restaurant in the CN Tower, I’m a sucker for those things!) .

Link and I ended up getting standing room tickets to watch the Lightning and the Maple Leafs and I must say, we weren’t disappointed.  We had a decent view of the ice and a counter to lean against.  The beer was fantastic and we had a decent time.

Buffalo - On the same trip that took us to Toronto, Link and I stopped in Buffalo to watch a Sabres/ Pittsburgh Penguins game.  Based on my hazy memory the Penguins won in overtime.  I can’t say much about the city since we were basically there only long enough to watch the game, but it’s close to the border and there are casinos close by.  So is Niagara Falls, which every American should see at some point.

Boston - I've only been once, but I liked the city.  Although I will say Wrigley > Fenway.  There are tons of historical sites to visit and places to eat.  Why I didn't research the Freedom Trail Pub Crawl before I went is on the big regrets in my life.

So get ready to look at those calendars and book those flights Lightning Fans.  You have some new cities to start exploring!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One Goalie, Six Cards, A New Collection

There are a lot of cards out there in the world.  I don’t hope to own all of them, just all of the ones with Vinny Lecavalier on them.  I know that’s never going to happen (too many 1/1 cards and not enough PowerBall money) but that doesn’t mean I can’t try.  However, lately I strayed a bit, my eyes wandered and before I knew it I had another flame to keep an eye on.

It started innocently enough a rookie card picked up in a trade, simply because the other guy knew I liked the Lightning. It wasn’t all that special (although it was shiny) and I didn’t think twice about it.  Little did I know that the seed had been planted.

 The next card found its way into my collection on purpose, an eBay purchase that featured an auto and a jersey swatch.  I told myself that I picked it up because it was cheap and I had some extra money in the PayPal account.  It meant nothing to me, I liked auto/jersey cards and Vincent’s were way overpriced.

Then it happened.  I crossed the line.  One dark, rainy night, while surfing eBay, I bought a lot.  Six cards for basically the price of two (with free shipping!)  I couldn’t resist, I bid and I won.  Three days later the cards were in my hands and I was officially a Dustin Tokarski collector.

The first four cards are what I call fodder.  They weren’t the cards I was looking for, but they look nice in the collection.

What you see above are four ITG cards from four different years that all proclaim Tokarski a “Future Star”.  I can cross the 2008 through 2011 ITG Between the Pipes Future Stars cards off of my needs list now. The 2008 and 2009 cards feature him in his Spokane Chiefs uniforms while the 2010 and 2011 show him adorned in the Norfolk Admirals colors.

All four cards are considered “pre-rookie” cards since they were either issued before his NHL debut, or in the case of the 2011 card, were issued by a company that doesn’t hold a NHL license.  Nice cards to have as filler but not the real meat of a collection.

Next up is the secondary card, the card that made bidding on the lot worth it.  The card I really wanted could have been had on its own, but when I saw it paired with this card for almost the same price I had to pull the trigger.

A 2010-11 Upper Deck Rookie Materials from series II.  “Tic” is shown in his Lightning gear on the front of the card and it includes a nice black jersey swatch.   Game used? Nope.  On the back of the card Upper Deck’s Dick P. McWilliam lets us know that the card is from a rookie photo shoot.  So this falls under “even used”.

Finally we happen upon the money card.  I perused several eBay pages trying to decide which auction I should bid on.  The ones with free shipping were too expensive, and the ones with cheap shipping were being bid up beyond what I wanted to spend.  So I switched tactics and started looking to see if I could score a lot that included this card.  Low and behold there was.  So it became mine.

A 2010-11 Upper Deck Young Guns #246.  Its the hockey card cornerstone for any player collector. If you’re building a player collection and that player has a Young Guns card you have to have it.  No if’s, ands or buts about it, get that card as soon as you can.

So that’s how a player collection is born, or at least my Tokarski collection was born.  Will it continue?  Probably, as long as he doesn’t get traded by the Lightning along with a number two pick and a prospect for Tuukka Rask.

I’m not sure if he’ll be in next year’s releases.  It seems, despite their woes, the Lightning are committed to keeping Tokarski in Norfolk for a full season. So far this season, he’s been splitting time with fellow prospect Jaroslav Janus. Tokarski is 10-6 with 2 shutouts, a 2.43 GAA and a .901 save percentage.  The numbers are solid, but not spectacular. 

At this point, the Lightning might opt for steady and not spectacular as opposed to what they’re getting from Roloson and Garon right now.  There would be a big risk calling him up.  The team in front of him is not very responsible and could lead to him getting barraged with shots.  A couple of bad outings could damage his confidence and he could join the long list of failed Lightning goaltending prospects.

He is only 22 years old, so I can wait another season for him to get called up.  In the meantime I can look forward to some more ITG cards (maybe he can make Future Stars for a 5th straight year).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

C'mon Panini!

Even though I’m no longer a set builder I like to keep an eye on the products that the companies are releasing just to see if there is anything novel.  Last week Panini, one of two companies that have a NHL license, released some images from their upcoming 2011-12 Limited Hockey set.

Panini, long known in the U.S. for their sticker yearbooks, jumped back into the hockey market last season with mixed results.  They revived several defunct brands such as Score, Pinnacle, and Donruss while also offering collectors an alternative to Upper Deck’s monopoly.  They also flooded the market with thousands of pointless parallel versions of cards and inserts upon inserts. 

One of the new inserts for Limited Hockey is Back to theFuture. The card will feature autographs from two players from a team.  From their post they think the cards are a “compelling insert {that} unites one current superstar with one all-time great (along with their respective autographs)”.  That’s not a bad idea for an insert set.  Although I don’t collect vintage cards, it’s nice to see cards that tie the past with the present.

Their website features some pre-signed versions of the cards.  Some of the pairings are pretty cool: Brad Marchand/Ken Linesman, Claude Giroux/Tim Kerr and Jeff Skinner/Ron Francis. These cards should be a big hit for team collectors, especially since it appears the cards will be hand-signed.

As I was scrolling through the images I was delighted to see the Lightning represented in the set.  Even though I would be classified more as a player collector than a team collector since I focus most of my collecting budget on Vincent Lecavalier, it’s still nice to see the boys from Tampa included. 

The “current superstar” half of the card is Steven Stamkos.  As the most prolific goal scorer over the last three years, that’s pretty much a no brainer.  Stamkos is the best player on the team and does have appeal outside of the Tampa Bay area (enough so that he made the cover of NHL12). 
Look at the flowing locks! - From Panini's site

So who, out of the almost 20 year existence of the organization, did Panini pick to represent the “all-time great”?  None other than Steve Yzerman.  Holy crap do I have a problem with that selection. Not just a little problem, but a large-probably-overreacting-taking-too-personally-problem with it.

I don’t disagree with the notion that Yzerman is an all-time great, just not for the Lightning.  If you want to put his autograph in the set, put it on the flipside of Pavel Datsyuk.  Yzerman has done a good job of putting a professional product on the ice in Tampa, but he never donned the uniform for Tampa Bay.  Heck, he hasn’t even been with the team as long as Stamkos has. 
Sweet Suit Stevie - From Panini's site

Despite what some people in the media and in the stands believe, the Lightning existed before they drafted Steven Stamkos in 2008.  Hundreds of players, some good, a lot not-so-good, have skated for them since the franchise debuted with Chris Kontos banging in 4 goals against Chicago on October 7, 1992.  It strikes me as lazy and a bit of a shot at the organization that Panini would chose Yzerman to represent the other half of the card.

So who should Panini have tracked down to sign the cards instead of Yzerman? From looking at the other pairings it appears that Panini matched up players with similar skills, or at least ones that played the same position.  So that rules out Darren Puppa (and as a novelty, Manon Rheaume) since he was a goaltender.  Chris Gratton was more of a big, physical center, not the gifted scorer that Stamkos has developed into.  Rob Zamuner, Alex Selivanov and Dave Andreychuk were all wingers so despite their contributions to the team they’re out as well.

That leaves, as the only logical choice, Brian Bradley. The center from Kitchner, Ontario was the first true scoring threat, some would say the only threat, for the Lightning. He played 328 games for the Bolts from 1992 to 1998 and tallied an even 300 points.  He scored 111 goals in a Lightning uniform and provided some legitimacy to the organization in its infancy.

Overall in his career he also played for Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, logging 652 games and 503 during that time.  He retired during the 1997-98 season, a season prior to Vincent Lecavalier joining the team.  I wonder if Lecavalier’s transition to the NHL would have been smoother if Bradley had been around to help him out.

I don’t know why Panini chose Yzerman.  If someone over there reads this, feel free to let me know.  They imply that this insert is for team collectors so it would be nice if they actually picked someone who skated for them in the past.  They might not know it, but there those of us that remember folks who played for them prior to 2008.

If they were worried that no one outside of Tampa would know, or want to collect a card with Brian Bradley on it at least chose an organizational figure that has been tied to the team longer than a season and a half.  Throw Phil Esposito on the other half of the card and I would understand.  Like Yzerman, Espo never played for the Lightning, but unlike the current GM, he has been around since day one.

Either guy would be better, especially in those uniforms - Photo from St Pete Times

I would be remiss not to mention that the cards Panini posted on the website aren’t the complete set.  There is a chance that there is a second card that represents an actual player from the Lightning’s past. After all, the Alex Ovechkin card shown features Mark Messier as the other signer and while that is a cool card, not entirely indicative of Washington’s past. 

Despite being in the same area for 20 years having a hockey team in Florida still seems to be a bit of a novelty for the rest of the hockey world. That holds true for the collecting world as well.  Throwback sets rarely feature Lightning players, even if they feature other players from the 1990s.  Cards like the one Panini is producing don’t help the cause. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Time to Clean House - 2011 Topps Insert Trade Bait!

As baseball card collectors know, 2011 was the year of the insert glut.  Soooo many different insert sets were placed in Topps base product alone that it was nigh on impossible to collect all of them. Therefore, I chose to collect none of them.  Since they are taking up limited space, I've decided to trade/give away all of my non-Orioles inserts.  Check out the list below, let me know what you want and we'll work something out. 

Don't be shy in asking either.  If you want them all, tell me you want them all and we'll make a deal.

DS 23 - Josh Johnson
DS - 1 Evan Longoria
Diamond Parallels:
296 - John Buck
441- Rafael Furcal
459 - Frank Francisco
78 - Mike Stanton
180 - Paul Maholm
189 - Kerry Wood
191 - JayBruce

Kimball Champions:
KC-10 Ichiro
KC-1 Ubaldo Jimenez
KC-19 Brandon Morrow
KC- 28 Mike Stanton
KC -29 Jered Weaver
KC-32 Alex Rios

CMGR-20 Lou Gehrig 1932 U.S. Caramel
BTT2 - Christy Mathewson American Tobacco 1911: T205
CMGR - 8 Cy Young 1911 T205

HOT - 5 Topps Goes Public
HOT -7 Topps Reintroduces Bowman
MBC1 - Mickey Mantle Chrome Insert
THP26 - Pedro Alvarez
THP28 - Justin Upton
THP16 - Cliff Lee
THP7 - Chase Utley
Topps Gold -#554 Cedric Hunter 1786/2011

T60-2 Andre Dawson
T60-37 Stephen Strasburg
T60-100 Albert Pujols
T60-82 Shane Victorino
T60-8 Felix Hernandez
T60-63 Evan Longoria
T60-9 Ian Kinsler
T60-11 Troy Tulowitzki
T60-27 David Wright

DD-2 Utley/Cano
DD-12 Tulowitzki/Ramirez
DD-27 Johnson/Verlander
DD-10 Gonzalez/Youklis
DD-18 Halladay/Hernandez
DD-LJ Larkin/Jeter
DD-BY Boggs/Youklis
DD-CS Carlton/Sabathia
DD-KA Kinsler/Andrus

60 Years of Topps
Paul Molitor - Original Back
Mariano Rivera - Original Back
#140 Reggie Jackson
#695 Rod Carew
#193 Calrton Fisk
#595 Nolan Ryan
#97 Curt Schilling
#459 Mike Piazza/Ivan Rodriguez/ Jason Kendall

60 YOT #100 Vlad Guerrero
60 YOT #290 Stan Musial
DD-BW Berkman/Wallace

Not pictured - a slew of Topps Town cards:

TT-5 Roy Halladay
TT-7 Joe Mauer
TT-9 Adam Jones
TT-19 Andrew McCutchen
TT-25 Ryan Howard
TT-28 David Ortiz
TT-37 Billy Butler
TT-38 Justin Verlander
TT-41 Carlos Santana
TT-45 Hanley Ramirez x2
TT49 - CC Sabathia x2
TT2-12Justin Morneau
TT2-19 Victor Martinez
TT2-35 Ian Kinsler

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Card in The Mail - Low Numbered Edition

As you may remember, I recently acquired a Steven Stamkos emerald parallel of his 2010-11 Upper Deck Artifacts card.  Numbered to 50, it was the lowest numbered card in my collection.  I say “was” because a day ago I received a new card that is numbered even lower.


What you are looking at is a Vincent Lecavalier gold parallel of one of his 2010-11 Artifacts cards.  It’s not his base, despite having a card number of 174 on the back. It is, in fact, part of the Legends and Stars subset from that release.  The regular version of this card is short-printed and numbered to 999.  The one above is serial numbered to 35.

Over all I’m not really impressed with the design.  Sure, the writing is in a lovely gold script, but look at all of the wasted space.  I mean, really, could they use a smaller picture of Lecavalier?  I do like the background, but I don’t want it to be the focal point of the entire cards.

As for the picture itself, I like to think that Lecavalier has the puck at the end of his stick as he heads up ice.  Possibly, he’s on the power play and looking to hit Marty St. Louis for a beautiful one-time goal.  This is one of an inordinate amount of cards featuring Vincent with his mouth open.  When coupled with his raised eyebrows he looks mildly shocked.  Perhaps he’s shocked that he was still with the team (it was during those days when he was being shipped to Montreal for every player on their roster) or perhaps he’s surprised that he’s getting paid $10 million a year to skate around the ice.

I do like that he’s wearing the old, road whites, you know the “classic” ones that lasted about two seasons?  I hope the NHL goes back to having teams wear their white sweaters at home like the good ol’ days.  After all, how stupid is the Winnipeg White Out going to look when the road team is the one wearing white?  Granted, they have a few seasons before they have to worry about it, but you would have to assume that the ex-Thrashers make the playoffs sooner or later.

The back of the card doesn’t offer any stats, just a couple of sentences about his season.  2009-10 wasn’t one of Vincent’s better years and the only thing they could mention is that he played in all 82 games and was second on the team in shots on goal.  Ten million a year, folks!

I always felt bad for the copywriters who had to tackle the backs of the late-80s Score cards.  Coming up with three paragraphs on Mickey Brantley (former student of Coastal Carolina University - Go Chanticleers!) couldn’t have been easy. At least Topps had the decency to cram enough stats on the back of their cards so that they only had to write one or two sentences on the back.

The number 35 doesn’t play to relevantly in Lecavalier’s career.  He did score 35 goals in 2005-06, but that’s about it.  The number 11 plays even less a factor.  The best I could find was the 11 playoff games he played in 2002-03.  Like I said, not that important.
Such a great uniform!

How about in Lightning history?  Well, Tom Pyatt currently rocks the 11 on his sweater.  However, my favorite number 11 has to be Steve Kelly, or as he was known around the Ice Palace - Speedy Stevie Kelly.  Speed was really the only thing he brought to the ice.  In parts of two seasons, from 1997-99, he scored 3 goals and added 4 assists.  Somehow, in only 58 games he managed to end up a -24.  Those were some good times to be a fan!

The number 35 is currently unused, but has graced the backs of several players in Lightning history, all of them goaltenders.  The most famous would be Nikolai Khabibulin, the Russian net minder who led the team to their only Stanley Cup Championship.  As much as I liked the wild-eyed, puck stopper, he isn’t my favorite player to wear that number.

That honor belongs to Kevin Hodson, the backup goalie from the turn of the century.  Much like Kelly, he was a member of the organization during their darkest days and only managed 4 wins in his 36 games with the Lightning.  During those days he also sported number 30 and 31 on his uniform. I’m not going to lie, it was hard to keep track of who was who back in those days, not that it really mattered - they were all pretty bad,

Hodson, whose problems with a rapid heart beat earned him the nickname “Ticker” from his teammates,  came over to the Lightning at the 1999 trade deadline.  He was part of the blockbuster deal (at least to Lightning fans) that sent Wendel Clark to Detroit.  Clark, who actually had a decent year with the Bolts, was traded along with a 6th round pick to the Red Wings for Hodson and a 2nd round pick.  That pick would become Saint Leo Mike’s favorite Lightning player of all time - Sheldon Keefe.
Ben Clymer? Paul Martins? How did this team NOT make the playoffs?

While he never lived up to the potential Lightning fans hoped he would, Hodson was well-liked by the fans.  He habitually flipped pucks to fans following pre-game warm-ups and occasionally handed his stick to young fans following games. Oh, and he was nice enough to autograph a card for me one time!
Not in Lightning uniform, but still nice!

Overall, even though I’m not a big fan of the card, I’m glad I picked it up. If I didn’t have the need to collect every Lecavalier card ever produced I probably wouldn’t have bought it.  Heck, if the cost wasn’t less than a pack of 2011-12 Upper Deck Series One (the secret is free shipping, my friends!) I probably would have passed it by for another card.

The problem know is, since it’s a colored parallel, I must have all the different version to complete the rainbow!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Quarterly Review - Tampa Bay Lightning

Still a thing of beauty - Photo by Getty Images
With a quarter of the season gone it’s a good time to look in on the Tampa Bay Lightning and check to see how they’re doing.  The quick answer is….meh.  At 11-10-2 (that’s 11 wins, 10 losses and 2 overtime/shootout losses for those who aren’t hockey savvy) they’re good enough for 3rd place in the Southeast Division and 11th place in the Eastern Conference.  Unfortunately, both spots get you bupkus when it comes to the playoffs.

The good news is that with 24 points they are only 2 points out of the playoff race and 6 points behind the surprising Florida Panthers for the division lead (and the home ice advantage come playoff time). One solid hot streak and they’re right back in the hunt.

The not quite so good news is that this team, as presently constructed, is average at best.  A quick spin on the stats site shows them 16th in the league in goals per game, 22nd in the league in goals against, 19th in power play, 16th in penalty killing and so on and so on.

A lot of fingers have been pointed at the goaltending situation.  Through 23 games Dwayne Roloson (.887 saver percentage) and Mathieu Garon (.916) have put up Smith-Ellisian numbers (not very good).  Anytime you have to go to page two to see where they rank in terms of goals against and save percentage it’s not a good sign.

That lack of production would seem to lead to an easy fix.  Bring in a new goaltender.  A lot of names have been thrown around on the message boards.  Most of the names mentioned happen to be in other organizations.  Organizations that are wanting to extract a heavy price for their talent. The Washington Capitals set the bar in the off-season when they dealt Semyon Varlamov to the Avalanche for a first round pick in 2012 and a second round pick in 2012 or 2013.

So for all of you crying for Tuukka Rask or Corey Schneider that’s what the price is going to be.  It’s pretty steep for an organization that is looking to build up it’s in-house depth, something that GM Steve Yzerman has mentioned is pretty important.  Even if the Lightning can work a deal that has less of an impact it might not change the results.

For all of the talk of the 1-3-1 trap and how it shuts down offenses, the Lightning have been giving up a lot of goals.  As in over three a game.  Coach Boucher’s game plan relies on a “pack mentality” that involves the entire team playing as one.  Forwards helping defensemen, defensemen helping goalies, mascots helping water boys, etc.  When they don’t play that way, things get ugly in a hurry.

Roloson was not brought in because he is a technical goaltender who absorbs shots like a sponge.  He was brought in because he was athletic enough to stop the first shot, even on two-on-ones, and then let his defensemen clear out the rebounds.  The blue-liners control the front of the net, the forwards hang back far enough to get the puck on a short pass from the defense and counter with speed.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.

After losses you can usually hear Mr. Boucher talk about “gap control”.  The “gap” he is talking about is between the forwards and the defensemen.  When the Lightning are struggling (which seems to be far too often this year) the forwards are breaking out of the zone too early and forcing the defensemen to hit them with long passes.  While once in a blue moon it leads to the odd man rush, more often than not it leads to a turnover at the blue line or in the neutral zone.

Turnovers lead to more shots, which lead to more goals.  So, just switching goalies isn’t going to help.  They need to play better on defense.  Which is something I think they will do once Mattias Ohlund returns from injury and the new players they brought in fully adapt to the system.  Of the 7 defenseman on the roster only Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark and Vic Hedman have played more than one full season with the team. There is a learning curve to Mr. Boucher’s system that takes time.

One thing that can help right away is to  improve their special teams.  With the firepower they can roll out with the extra man, there is no excuse for them to be converting only 15.7% of their opportunities.  With the Lightning that means grinding more goals out from in front of the net.  They do get in ruts when they become infatuated with scoring the prettiest goal in NHL history.  That leads to a lot of passing when it might be a better idea to throw the puck on net and let the bangers like Ryan Malone and Brett Connolly put in a rebound or two.

There was a lot of worry in the pre-season about the lack of secondary scoring with the loss of Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne.  To the most part I think that concern has been alleviated with the play of Connolly and Vincent Lecavalier rediscovering his scoring touch. Marty St. Louis is down a bit in regards to his goals, but he is a streaky scorer who can pot 4 goals in three games and be back among the team leaders in no time.

The biggest concern in the lack of scoring department has to be Dominic Moore, Steve Downie and Ryan Shannon. Moore had 18 goals a season ago, and while that might be a bit much to ask for on a yearly basis, he should have more than one goal at this point.  Shannon needs to start contributing a bit more on the offensive side as well.  He’s been benched a few times already and he might start losing more playing time now that Dana Tyrell has been called up.
Too many shots into the goalie's pads - Getty Images

As for Steve Downie, this is a big year for him.  After suffering through injuries most of last season he found his scoring touch in the playoffs last spring and was a regular on the top two lines.  This season he’s regressed a bit and found himself on the third line and with only 5 points to his name.  Even worse he’s a team worst -12, not something you want to see out of one of your checking line players.  He has been a bit snake-bit, against Winnipeg last week he hit a post and missed a wide open net, so there is a chance that the breaks will start falling his way, but he needs to make sure he’s outworking the opponents and staying out of the box.

Actually, that would be good advice for everyone on the team. Through 23 games they’ve drawn 110 minor penalties.  Through 82 games last season they only drew 335 minor penalties.  As you can see they are on pace to draw way more penalties this season.  Most of the penalties have been of the “lazy” variety.  Those would be hooking, holding, or tripping. You get those penalties when you’re not moving your feet and you let the other players beat you to the puck.

Last season the Lightning made it to the Eastern Conference Finals by outworking their competition. That’s their biggest problem this year.  They’re simply not working hard enough to overcome their deficiencies. Not even the second coming of Patrick Roy would help them now.  I trust in Mr. Boucher to make his team realize this before it’s too late.  

Favorite Downie Photo of the Year - AP on this one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Card Showin' I Went

Before the holiday weekend I attended the Sun Times Sports Collectibles show.  There wasn't really a good reason for me to go since no vendors accept PayPal in person and that's where my card budget is located.  But I knew Sal and Tim would be there and they lured me in with the promise of free cards. 

So I went.  I browsed, but did not buy.  Finally I met up with my fellow bloggers - and blogger aficionado Nick B. and swapped out some cards.  I had one card for Sal and about 15 commons for Tim....I left with 52 new cards. 

I was also able to live vicariously through those two and watched them bust a couple of boxes of product I won't be buying this year (Upper Deck Base and Parkhurst Champions).  It's fun to rip packs even if I'm not keeping the cards.

Here is a sample of the cards that have been added to the collection:

From Sal - An ITG redemption from the National earlier this year and an Emerald Parallel of Steven Stamkos from Artifacts.  It's numbered 35/50 and is the lowest numbered card in my Stamkos collection.

Some more Sal cardboard goodness.  A Cedrick Desjardins Luxury Suite Rookie numbered72/899.  Sadly, Desjardins is no longer in the Lightning organization.  He could have helped out with their current goaltender conundrum.   Next to him is a Victor Hedman Rookie Materials card from Upper Deck.  The back of the card swears that he wore the jersey - at a rookie photo shoot. Big Vic is having a rough year so far, the Bolts need him to improve to have any chance of making the playoffs.

Just a small sample of the goodies that Tim provided.  First up is a retro-parallel of Dwayne Roloson from this year's O-Pee-Chee set. Next to Father Time is a card that Tim thought was just a base set at first.  Instead, it's an unannounced parallel version.  It's the playoff beard variant.  That's not a joke, the first 50 cards in the set have a variation featuring the player rocking his best facial hair.  Seeded at 1:9 packs it won't be easy to complete, but not impossible either.

Finally, a Jimmy Wright Young Guns card.  He made the team in his rookie year, but has yet to crack the line-up since.  Hopefully, after a solid season in Norfolk he'll be back up on the roster soon.

The generosity of fellow collectors never ceased to amaze me.  Thanks, guys!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's Mailbag Time!

That's right, the only time that's better than T-Shirt Time is mailbag time.  So let's delve into what Mr. Postman delivered this week.

We have a padded envelope from Mr. San Jose Fuji!  I unloaded a San Jose Sharks relic card that was collecting some dust on my desk and in return he knocked off a couple of want list cards.  Let's see what he sent:

First Up - the greatest calling card of all time.

Next - an autographed Fredrik Modin Be A Player card.  This is the main card I was looking for as it will contribute greatly to my double secret probation wantlist. Modin is definitely one of the most missed Lightning players from the Cup era.

A trio of Murray cards that I needed. Love the oddball sets from Kaybee and Woolworth. Top it off with a Members Only Stadium Club and I'm happy. For those keeping track, once card with double gloves and two with no batting gloves.

Not a card, but part of a card set.  It's a little, bitty Vinny jersey.  From the 2007-08 Upper Deck Mini Jersey set.  I busted one pack of this product and pulled a Mike Modano jersey, which I think I still have somewhere.

The card I specifically requested and forced Fuji to go hunting in his archives for- the 1981 Floyd Rayford rookie card.  Boom! That guy on the left had a pretty good career for the birds as well. Mark Corey, unfortunately, did not.  He appeared in 59 games over three seasons (1979-81) and hit .211.  He did hit one major league home run - so he can tell his grand kids that!

Thanks, Fuji!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The 1,312,004th Blog Written About Sidney Crosby’s Return

Islanders fans - at least your goalie didn't get hurt last night (photo stolen from USA today)

As far as comebacks go, two goals and two assists isn't a bad way to do it. Even if you're not a hockey fan you might have heard that Sidney Crosby, or as I like to call him "Canada's Tebow", made his return to the NHL after post-concussion syndrome sidelined him for more than ten months. So much ink has been spilled about the topic I figured another 1000 words wouldn't hurt.

Normally, I would pass anything Penguin related to occasional guest columnist and hockey guru, Link. Unfortunately, he's currently on the DL himself recovering from some off-season surgery and making him bang out a couple of pages one-handed on an iPad seemed to be a bit cruel. So like Dave Johnson filling in for Pete Harnisch with the 1989 season on the line, I'll try my best.

Mixed in with all of the deserved superlatives that Crosby's performance garnered was the typical backlash that followed along. As with most of the anti-Sid animosity it seemed to be directed at the media "over-hype" then his actually abilities on the ice. To a point, I can agree with some of the rage that fans across the country felt seeing the U.S. and Canadian media descend upon Pittsburgh as if it was the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. To listen to NBC/Vs. on-ice reporter, Pierre McGuire, spend most of the night in a state of rapture was particularly grating.

Why so delirious? Well, we can probably owe it to a couple of factors. First, the NHL has spent the last 10 months without knowing if its best player was ever going to lace up the skates again. Secondly, the never ending media machine needed something to feed on.
The NHL knows that with the NBA on an extended hiatus this is their best chance to garner the affection of the casual sports fan. They need their number one marketing tool on the ice, and that tool is Sidney Crosby. Link, despite his injury, did send me the following comment: "The NHL builds itself based on star players and rivalry matchups…no star (esp. in Canada) is bigger than Sid".

Look, I don't like it any more than the next fan. I rolled my eyes when McGuire rolled out his "one of the most glorious nights you can be a part of" line. However, I understand that NBC/Vs. doesn't care about me. I'm already hooked on hockey, I'm not going anywhere. They are trying to sell it to the mass public. If you know why "Alexander Semin plays the bongos" is funny, or follow BizNasty2point0 on Twitter, then the broadcast isn't aimed at you.

Should they sell other players in the league more? Of course. But, skilled Russians with limited English don't play in Peoria. For all of the magic that Pavel Datsyuk can wield with his hockey stick he isn't someone you plaster across a billboard. Alex Ovechkin had his shot to establish himself as the best player in the league while Crosby was out. Instead, all he led the league in was tramp stamps and time spent at Russian night clubs.

Crosby has the perfect blend of on-ice talent and off-ice humbleness that public relations folks drool over. The Duchess doesn't know the difference between icing and off-sides yet she knows who Sidney Crosby is ("Of course he's going to get attention. 'Cause he's hotter" were he exact comment). When you have a player you can market to everybody, it's in your best interest to do so. You suffer the discontent of your dedicated fans, because you know they're not going anywhere.

There are fans that argue Crosby isn't the best player in the league. They complain that he whines too much, or that he is a "diver". Heck, even I managed a "Crosby is a diver" joke last night at one point. Why? 'Cause it's an easy joke to make and I'm an extremely lazy writer. Does he yap at the officials? Of course he does, but so does Marty St. Louis and nobody calls him "Mary St. Louis". In fact, if you watch a lot of hockey, you'll notice that a majority of the stars in the league spend a fair amount of time jawin' with the refs. It's just part of the game.

The other reason everyone made such a big deal about "Merry Sid-mas" was the media itself feasting on whatever story they could. We have to live with the fact that moving forward, every news story is going to get blown out of proportion. When I was growing up, national coverage (i.e. Sportscenter) was in its infancy. Crosby's return would have gotten a lot of play locally, but only limited coverage across the nation. The Baltimore Sun probably would have devoted three A.P.-sourced paragraphs and moved on with what was wrong with the Orioles at the time.

Now, everyone gets to sound off about it. Look at me. I'm a Tampa Bay fan who lives in Chicago and I'll still get at least 40 page hits out of this post. And half of those hits will come because I'm posting a picture of Sidney without his shirt on (it's all about the page hits, folks!). So writers who actually have a large following need to cover the story and find new ways to do it.

Drink it in ladies. (photo stolen from GQ)

In my old industry, the phrase "trying to drink from a fire hose" was bandied about anytime a vendor came in to talk about the latest new product. Monday night NBC/Vs. did their best to fire hose the casual fan when it came to explaining why the game was so important. When McGuire interviewed Crosby between the first and second period I'm surprised he had the audacity to look his Penguin deity directly in the face.

Think of all of the words written while he wasn't playing. From February to November it seemed like a day didn't go by where there wasn't an article or two posted about his status. Was he coming back? Was he still sitting in a dark room? Should he retire? Will he be able to take a hit when he did come back?

The day he actually returned to play was predestined to be a spectacle. Now it's over and the hockey world can move on. We can also continue to hit the mute button anytime Pierre McGuire is talking.

I Need Help - With a Card

Hey folks....I'm wondering if anyone out there can do me a favor.  I'm working on a project and need a specific card - a 2002 Topps Gallery Ray Lewis (believe it's number 36 or 37).

If anyone out there has one they can spare, let me know and I'll see if we can work something out.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Two Men Fought and Nothing Was Decided

Goatee = evil Manny Pacquiao?

Pacquiao vs. Marquez III. A disappointment or more of the same?  To be honest, it was a little of both.  Twelve more rounds between two great rivals that should have been met with open arms by boxing fans. Instead, it was received with disgust and naked Mexicans in sombreros.  Where did it all go wrong?

Sure, this post is about a week late in being written, but I wanted to watch the fight again (this time on a feed that didn’t resemble a scrambled porn channel) and score along with the judges.  Was the outrage I heard immediately after the fight justified or was it part of a growing anti-Pacquiao bias?

So I tuned into HBO and watched their replay prior to the Julio Cease Chavez, Jr./Peter Manfredo tilt (I thought Chavez looked good against an outclassed opponent).  After twelve rounds of championship boxing between Pacquiao and Marquez  I scored the fight a draw. That’s right 114-114, right down the middle.

Could it have gone either way?  Definitely. I was on the fence about several rounds. For instance in the eighth round I gave it to Pacquiao because he landed a left right at the bell.  If he hadn’t landed that punch I might have had to score that round a draw.

 If you’ve ever sat down and tried to score any of the three fights you know how hard it is to judge on a round-by-round basis.  Pacquiao scores by being more aggressive and throwing more punches.  Marquez scores by landing clearer, harder shots. If you throw away the first round of the first fight (Marquez down three times) and the third round of the second fight (Marquez on the canvas) the entire trilogy has been pretty much a draw.

In their latest contest, Marquez fought his perfect fight.  He was more aggressive, he kept landing left hooks to the body and straight rights to the face.  He frustrated Pacquiao early in the fight and won most of the middle rounds. Several times during the night he landed big shots flush on the Filipino’s jaw. If he had fought this way in either of the first two match-ups I think he would have won either fight.

On the other side, Pacquiao seemed tentative (Kellerman accurately described him as “muted“). He bobbed and weaved like the Manny of old, he relied on the straight left hand like the Manny of old, and yet something  was missing.  We were promised a more complete Pacquiao, one whose right hand was as dangerous as his left.  He was supposed to be at the apex of his talent, having trained harder for this fight than any other fight in his career.

That’s where the disappointment comes from.  Instead of “Manny Pacquiao” the man who broke Antonio Margarito’s face, we got Manny Pacquiao effective fighter who did just enough to win.  We wanted to see New York City’s 4th of July fireworks and instead got sparklers in the back yard.

Perhaps the newer, more evolved Pacquiao just isn’t as exciting as the raw version.  If you watch the fight again, look at how much better his defense is.  A lot of Marquez’s shots are picked off by gloves and elbows.  Manny’s jab is better and more effective. The straight left is still there, but he’s not twirling around the ring after he throws it.

Technically, there is no doubt that he is a better fighter than when the two matched up for the first time eight years ago, but as fans do we want a conventional  Pacquiao who blocks punches with his gloves instead of his face? Are we bored with a Pacquiao who wins on points and not with a Tasmanian Devil-esque flurry of punches?

So, if Marquez was better and Pacquiao more traditional, then how did Manny win the fight?  HBO’s unofficial judge, Howard Letterman, hit it right on the nose during the 4th round when he said judges lean to the flashier fighter.  When rounds are close, they will give the edge to the fighter that is more active, be it throwing punches or moving around the ring.  In this case, that man is Pacquiao.  Marquez is more a victim of his conservative, counter-punching style than he is of any grand boxing conspiracy.

There are talks of a fourth match-up between the two pugilists.  Why? If insanity is doing the same thing again and again hoping for a different outcome then Marquez is insane to think a 4th fight would be any different than the first three. The only way the outcome changes is if Marquez puts Pacquiao on the canvas, and he’s shown that he doesn’t have the power to do so at any weight limit. It’s time for both fighters to move on.

For Pacquiao that means Floyd Mayweather.  However, it seems the dynamics of that possible match up seem to have changed.  Mayweather is a stronger, faster, more annoying version of Marquez.  A devastating counter puncher with superior defensive skills and the uncanny knowledge of when to finish a fighter.  If Pacquiao struggled so much with Marquez, what chance does he stand against a fighter who has the power to knock him out?

Perhaps the close win was the best thing for those who hope for a Pacquiao/Mayweather match-up.  Pretty Boy Floyd would never risk his perfect record in a fight he didn’t think he could win.  Did Manny struggle enough against Marquez to make Mayweather think his skills are deteriorating?  That’s the $100 million question.  One that needs answering before the end of the year if they want to fight on May 5th.

Meanwhile, what lies ahead for the defeated Marquez?  Hopefully, the last image we have of the great Mexican fighter is not him sitting naked in the training room with a sombrero over his private parts somberly answering questions from Kellerman.  There is a long list of pretenders like Timothy Bradley that he can knock off and then retire with one last victory.

There is some talk of a bout with fellow countryman Eric Morales.  If this was 2005, I’d be all over that match-up, but Morales is a faded version of his former self and watching Marquez pick him apart for 12 rounds wouldn’t be fun for anyone.

In all likelihood the money will be too much to turn down for both fighters and we’ll end up seeing a fourth fight some time late next year.  Honestly, these two fighters could probably fight every year for the next five years and it would be entertaining.  The only problem is, it wouldn’t solve anything,