Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankfully Short

So it's the day after Thanksgiving (or as my Canadian boss would say Thanks Giving) and there is still a ton to be thankful for. My Significant Other, family, friends, a job, bacon chocolate chip cookies, etc.

What else am I thankful for? How about Steven Stamkos' mustache?

Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI

Is that not a thing of beauty? It's not as lush as some of his teammates (Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and Nate Thompson to name a few), but it's the embodiment of a teenage mustache. Yes, I know he's no longer a teenager, but still. Wispy and whimsical. Hopefully, it stays past Movember. After all, who messes with a hot streak?

Also, thanks to an extra slow day at work I was able to read a few hockey blogs and think it's time to anoint Stamkos with a new nickname. Stammer is nice, as is Spicoli and Seen (both compliments of the fine folks at Raw Charge ).

Those fine folks had their weekly link dump that contains a few Stamkos related tidbits. It seems like almost everything hockey is Stamkos related at this point.

First nominee - The Butcher

ESPN's - Scott Burnside

Stamkos asked to be quizzed on the stats printed on the back. He worked at a butcher shop in downtown Toronto where he learned to interact with the public

With his cherubic face it works nicely on an ironic level. Kind of like "Killer" for James Wright. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any relatively famous hockey players nicknamed "The Butcher" so he can lay claim to it.

Second nominee - Smiles

From CBC's Eliot Friedman-

5. One referee, on Steven Stamkos: "No one in the NHL plays with a smile on their face like he does." I think that's so important. You can't be great at anything unless you love it.

"Smiles" Stamkos. Not as menacing as "The Butcher" but definitely catchy and alliterative. Again, I couldn't find a notable hockey player with the nickname so I guess it's open.

As I've mentioned before I'm not a hockey historian so if I missed someone let me know. It would be nice to anoint the kid with a halfway original nickname in this era of A-Rod's and "Greenie's".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One Man, A CTA Pass, $50 and a Card Show.

So I finally got myself together in time on a weekend and made it to a card show. While it wasn’t like traveling to the top of Everest, it did require a journey of modestly epic proportions. Was it worth it? Did I blow the rent money on a Gem Mint Floyd Rayford rookie? Did I get stranded in Rosemont? Were there cheerleaders there? Were there any women there? Let’s find out!

The first task on my hero’s journey was to actually wake up before the stroke of noon. For some that might not seem to tough, but those some hadn’t cracked a new bottle of Jamison’s and downloaded the original Legend of Zelda on their Wii the night before. (Sorry ladies, believe it or not, I’m already spoken for.)

Despite a night that ended at 2:30 AM ( I made it through five levels before calling it a night) I was up and raring to go at about 8:30. With a hangover surprisingly absent I pulled myself together in fairly quick order, grabbed some shoes, my white “Pele” edition adiddas (a decision I would rue in the hours to come), and stumbled out in time to catch a westbound bus on Belmont. About 40 minutes later it dropped me off at the blue line “El” station that would carry me the rest of the way to Rosemont.

The ride was uneventful, mostly because I had my nose buried in a book for most of the ride. By the way, I recommend checking out Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. For a book written in the 1930’s it’s a rather relevant, satirical take on wartime journalism. Along the ride I did spy, Kuma’s Korner, a local, rather well-renowned burger joint that I thought about hitting up after the show.

Getting off the Blue Line about 30 minutes later I hiked the 3-4 blocks to the convention center and came up with a game plan. With admission at a respectable $10 (that was covered by the $13 I had found on the sidewalk the night before) I had to decide how much I was willing to spend on cards at the show. It would only be cards since all I had was a messanger bag to carry my loot around in. I didn’t want to be “that guy” carrying a six-foot cardboard sign of Cal Ripken on the bus.

Fifty dollars sounded like a reasonable sum, more importantly an affordable sum. Now that I was spending my nights getting bombed at home, I wasn’t spending that much money at the bars so I figured I could get away with that and not have to suffer through ramen noodles and soup for the rest of the month.

I didn’t have any of my want lists with me, or even a vague idea of what to buy. I was going to allow myself to be open to all of the possibilities that a card/memorabilia show on the second floor of a convention hall near the airport would be open to.

One other reason that I was heading to the show was to meet another blogger. Sal from Puck Junk had inquired about a card I had pulled from my Leaf Certified box and I told him it was available. He mentioned that he could take care of a significant chunk of my Upper Deck Champs wantlist. A deal was struck and we agreed to meet at the show for the exchange.

It was interesting to meet a fellow blogger. And by fellow, I mean better and more prolific blogger. After all, so far my contact with other bloggers had been through e-mail, comments, trades and a fantasy hockey league. To meet one in the flesh would blur the line between cyber and real life.

We met by the food stand, introduced each other and made some small talk. We hit a couple of booths together and then drifted apart. We were each looking for different things and spent time sorting through different areas. He was on a vintage mission and I was on a…well....browsing spree? We would reconvene just before I left (about 3 hours later) and he showed me what he got…excellent stuff that I’m sure he’ll post on his site at some point.

So enough build up, what does $50 buy you at a card show when you have no plans? Well this….

Let’s break it down:
1990-91 Upper Deck Set (with High Number Series) $4.00. My first purchase. Sal talked me into it. I probably have a couple of hundred of these cards, when I first broke into hockey collecting, boxes for this set were insanely cheap on eBay. I split a couple with a buddy, but never seriously finished the set. Tons of rookies in the set with added benefit of mullets galore!

Carl Crawford Personal Collection - $.50

A 2010 Topps 206 Crawford. Nice portrait of the soon-to-be ex-Ray. I’m at a crossroads with my Crawford collection. Due I end it? Do I get rid of it? Do I keep collecting his Rays only cards? It’s a decision I’m postponing until he signs with a new team.

Random O’s Rookie - $.50

Brian Matusz Bowman Chrome. I’m a big fan of the lefty, and I think he’ll develop into a top of the line starter in the next year. I didn’t spend too much time sorting through baseball. Maybe it was the cold weather, but I was definitely in a hockey mood. There were plenty of booths selling baseball singles for reasonable prices. If I was better prepared I could have made a killing on completing sets.

2010-11 Upper Deck Lightning cards - $.90

For less than a dollar I picked up all of the Lightning base cards from the flagship series this year. No need to spend $60 bucks on a box now!

Random Stamkos card $.10

I needed to make it an even dollar so I picked up a Steven Stamkos Leaf Certified base card. It is currently the only Certified card that I own that isn’t serial numbered.

Vincent Lecavalier Personal Collection $3.00

From the shiny to the relatively old I actually managed to pick up seven cards that I didn’t own. I consider that a win!

Random Project that I’m working on that I haven’t told anyone about $8.00

Two autographed Lightning cards. Could I have talked the dealer down a little? Probably, but I was in a good mood so I didn’t. He was engaging and friendly and didn’t take things too seriously. That was worth the buck or two I could have saved.

One Box of 2010-11 Score - $25.00

I have been seeing this box for about $35.00 on the internets and was getting close to pulling the trigger. Being able to get it for ten bucks cheaper and not having to worry about shipping made it a no-brainer. I’ll put a box break together later. Needless to say nothing exciting was pulled, but it was fun to bust an “old school” box.

Total Damage - $41.00

I did look around to see if there was any one item I could blow the other $9.00 on, even to the point that I was looking in glass cases. There just wasn’t anything that screamed “BUY ME!” so I didn’t. I had made it a point not to buy cards just to but them. They all had to have a purpose. Look at me, I’m becoming responsible.

To sum up. I had a good time. I will do it again the next time a show of that size rolls around. What I won’t do is wear shoes with no support or come unprepared. Want lists are a must - this is one place where you can sit down (or stand) and sort through commons until your heart is content.

I will probably also take the plunge and buy a vintage baseball card. There were countless vendors there displaying vintage (pre 1960’s) cards. Even if I just picked up a common it would be cool to own a card from the 1930’s or 1940’s.

In addition to the millions (AND MILLIONS) of cards for sale, there were various other great pieces of memorabilia for sale. Unfortunately the $40 for the 1970 Baltimore O’S pennant would have put me over budget.

Throughout the day various ball players were signing and posing for pictures. I almost dropped $75 to get something from Eddie Murray signed, but I showed some more restraint and passed. It was tough, I really, really wanted to add a nice Eddie signature to the collection. While the rest of Baltimore was gaga over Ripken, I was a fan of Squeaky Clean Eddie Murray. He was smooth, he hit for power and he was responsible for 30,000 fans screaming “ED-DIE, ED-DIE” at the top of their lungs.

Sadly there were no cheerleaders, but there were women. Mostly wives of older gentlemen who tagged along and looked like they’d rather be anywhere else on earth. You know the look ladies, it’s the one your man gets when he’s shopping with you!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hey Hockey Card Fans


Thanks to the kindness of Sal over at Puck Junk, 36 cards have been eliminated from the want list. For all of those that mentioned you might have some extras, drop me an email at to see if we can work a deal out.

Have some extra 2009-10 UD Champs? Send them to a good home! See the attached link for my needs list....

Click Here!

By the way it's currently 7-7 after two periods in the Lightning/Flyers tilt. Most entertaining game I've ever watched.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Free Agency? Ain't Nothin' Free About These Players!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well one of several I guess. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve written about the NHL trade deadline being the best time of the year. Along with NHL free agency and the MLB trade deadline. Oh and Christmas! I love me some Christmas. November 14th would be the day I heard the first Christmas carol of the year. Oddly enough, not too early in my book. Any day past Halloween is open season for as far as I’m concerned.

Where was I? Oh yeah, best time of the year. MLB free agency is officially under way. For the second year in a row the O’s sign an Atkins. Hopefully, Mitch pans out better than Garrett did last year. After putting up decent numbers in the minors last year, 8-3 with a 3.63 ERA, he’ll have a shot at making the club as a spot starter or long relief in the bullpen. Atkins is another former Cubs’ prospect brought in by GM Andy McPhail.

Now that they’ve broken the ice with their first new player what else lies in store for the Birds over the next four months or so? Probably not as much as O’s fans are hoping for. With a few exceptions, this isn’t a remarkably deep free agent class. Which means the game changing players that are available are probably going to be priced out of Baltimore’s comfort zone.

The days of throwing out money willy-nilly to bring in a “big name” are gone. Though some fans might not agree with it, McPhail has a plan. It involves rebuilding the farm system, developing talent and making wise free agent signings. He’s been quoted as saying that his plan is to “grow the arms and buy the bats”. In this year’s class there aren’t that many bats out there to be bought.

The good news for O’s fans is that there are less and less positions to fill every year. Let’s take a look at the positions as they stand right now:

Catcher - Matt Wieters
First Base - ?
Second Base - Brian Roberts
Short Stop - ?
Third Base - ?
Left Field - Felix Pie
Center Field - Adam Jones
Right Field - Nick Markakis

Now some folks will grumble that Pie isn‘t a lock for the starting leftfield gig. Well go ahead and grumble….on your own blog. Injuries are the only thing keeping him from being thought of as an everyday player, and this could be the year he shakes that stigma.

What I’m going to do for in the next few minutes is give you my wish list to fill the empty spots AND the more likely free agent signing. So here we go!

First Base:

My wish list - Derrick Lee

Yes, he’s getting older (35 years old) and the power has declined a bit over the last couple of years, but he’s still a good fit for the O’s. He has 25 homerun potential and is a 3 time Gold Glove winner at first base.

How nice would it be to have a natural first baseman on the roster again? No more outfielders or third basemen trying to learn the position. Scooping errant throws saves outs, more importantly it saves pitches. Cutting down on the outs young pitchers needs to helps them immensely.

Plus, he adds middle of the order power to the line up. Wouldn’t his right handed bat look nice after Markakis’ left handed bat? Perhaps Nick the Stick will find some of that power he lost last season not having a consistent home run threat behind him.

What would it take to sign him? 3 years - $35-ish million? Maybe with an option for a fourth year?

Who are they going to sign instead? Xavier Nady A couple of years younger, undoubtedly cheaper and just not as good. If they sign him to a one year deal I’m not mad - anything longer that that is just money wasted.

Shortstop - DEREK JETER!!!!! Just kidding. There is no way he signs with anyone other than the Yankees. So my choice would be. Bring back Julio Lugo. Right now the only viable option on the 40 man roster is Robert Andino. While he’s shown promise in short bursts, he hasn’t proven to be an everyday player. Lugo isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done - cheaply.

Who will they sign? Lugo.

Third Base - Joe Crede. Yes I know, another player coming off a bad year. The O’s at this point aren’t a destination for marquee free agents. Adrian Belte is not coming to Baltimore. Nor are they going to match the 5 year $65 million that the A’s have thrown out there for Beltre. Crede can be had for one or two years (time enough for Josh Bell to get more at bats at AAA) and could provide power in a hitter’s park.

Who will they sign? Eric Chavez. History of back injuries? Former superstar? 61 total games played in the last 3 seasons? Sounds like 3 years and $28 million to me!

Of course, my dream free agent pick up would be Carl Crawford. My favorite player playing on my favorite team? Yes please! Unfortunately, he is the marquee non-pitcher on the free agent list this year which means the wealthy teams will be bidding against each other and driving his cost up into Teixerian regions.

Justin, you say, what about pitching? There has to be at least one pitcher out there you’d like to see in the black and orange. Well, yeah. Cliff Lee would rock the bird, but it’s not happening. There is one guy that, if they can get him for the right price, would help anchor the staff.

Brandon Webb. There is some worry about his shoulder. His agent is kicking the tires on the idea of a $10 million deal. Not exactly making him a slam dunk, but there is enough upside to make him worth a look.

He’s a ground ball pitcher (Camden Yards eats fly ball pitchers for brunch), in his prime (31 years old), and a winner (22 and 18 wins in his last two full seasons). He could fill both the mentor role that Kevin Millwood provided last year along with the added benefit of actually being able to win games.

I don’t expect the O’s to make too many big splashes this off-season, to do so would be to deviate from a plan initiated two years ago. One that started to show some progress over the second half of the season. It might have been Buck Showalter’s magic wand, but it could be the fact the young players had 80-90 games under their belt and were gaining their footing.

The team has potential, especially if the arms continue to develop. Overpaying for a mediocre crop of free agents would delay or destroy their progress. They won’t be competing for the division crown next season, but they won’t be languishing in the basement either.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mailbag Monday

I’m not going to lie. This week’s Monday Mail Day is a bit depressing. Not because of the card I received, but because of who is on it. From the world’s marketplace, by way of Canada, I acquired a shiny new jersey card of Vincent Lecavalier.

A single, decent sized piece of his jersey adorns the front of the card. The back has it’s serial number, 215 out of 250. The significance of the number 215? Last week, Vincent picked up the 215th nagging injury of his career.

No that’s not right, it just seems like it. Lecavalier did suffer an injury to his hand as he batted a puck out of the air. A play that happens 3 or 4 times a game led to him suffering an “unstable fracture” in his right hand. He had surgery Monday, having a plate inserted, and is expected to miss 4-5 weeks.

It comes at a particularly inconvenient time for a team that has suffered a plague of injuries of a biblical proportions over the past month. First it was Dominic Moore and Matt Smaby. Then it was Simon Gagne and Steve Downie. Moore, Smaby and Downie returned to the ice just in time for Lecavalier to get knocked out.

Downie is back on the ice, but not 100% and Gagne is out indefinitely. With Lecavalier out that means half of the top six forwards are out or less than their best. So it’s probably not a wonder why their goal output for November looks like:

November 3rd - 2
November 4th - 0
November 6th - 2
November 9th - 4 (but it was against the Leafs)
November 11th - 3
November 12th - 1
November 14th - 1

Seven games and 13 goals. Oh by the way, they’ve lost 6 of those 7 games.

Losing Lecavalier isn’t going to help reverse those numbers. While he isn’t the 50 goal scorer anymore, he is still a valuable offensive threat on the ice. He anchors the power play and centers the second best line on the team. Now who is the number two center? Dominic Moore? Nate Thompson? The ghost of Brian Bradley?

The next 4 weeks are going to be the first really big test for the team. The shine of the new season has worn off. The non-stop praise about Guy Boucher’s innovative system has simmered down a bit. The team has dipped to a 8-7-2 record. They were 2 points behind the Capitals and are now 9.

If they are able to tread water until Lecavalier and Gagne return then things might be alright for the season. Should the tailspin continue, GM Steve Yzerman will have to see what kind of magical moves he can pull off during the season. Can he shore up the blueline, find a scoring threat and maybe find a goaltender that’s a little more consistent?

But hey I got a nice card to add to the collection.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chicago Photo 8

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Has it really been two months since I posted a Chicago Photo? Wow, time flies when you're broke and sitting at home. Well not broke (don't worry Mom I'm not eating Ramen noodles just yet) but cash flow impaired. Yeah that sounds about right.

I dragged my but out of bed last Saturday and headed down to Grant Park for the satellite broadcast of the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity. It wasn't too bad at first, funny signs, relaxed easy going crowd. They played the first 10 minutes or so of Stewart's monologue before switching over to local speakers.

First the Progressive Party, then some Mitch Hedburg wannabe comedian who closed his act comparing abortion to making a sandwich (which the crowd booed, which brought a security guard to the mike who cursed out the crowd), then someone dressed as FDR and I finally left when the immigration guy started speaking.

I didn't go to hear a bunch of local politicians spout their agenda, I kind of went for the exact opposite. So I wandered around the rest of the park, snapping some photo of Buckingham Fountain before heading back to the train.

That's where this photo came from. He is one of the two indians that guard the Congress Drive entrance to the park. I believe this one is called The Bowman. An almost identical statue is across the street and is the Spearman.

Erected in 1928, and standing 17 feet above the street, these twin bronze statues present a rather dramatic scene set against the blue sky and park behind them. Walking from the park back to downtown they get a little lost in the buildings behind them, but up close it's nice to admire the details crafted by Ivan Mestrovic.

If you notice, the proud Indian is posed as if drawing the string back on his bow, yet there is no bow. At first I thought that over time the bow had broken and never been replaced, but my in depth research (upwards of 6 minutes!) indicates that Mestrovic intentionally left the weapon out of the sculpture.

Grant Park is full of statues and memorials, and makes for a nice place to wander around on a mild fall day. Oh and it's free!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Post About Head Shots? It's Only Two Weeks Two Late - And It's Not Even About Football!

I just wrote a whole article about boxing trying to compare it to the recent pseudo-outrage from the sporting press about head shots in the NFL. After two and a half pages of typing I scrapped it. It didn’t flow very well and I wasn’t in the mood to post it because I didn’t think it represented the best I can do. Which, after reading some of the posts on here is saying something.

There was one phrase I really wanted to use. I really liked the way it sounded in my head, and the way it looked on the screen. So I guess I’ll just use it here. Noble Sadness. There ya go. Enjoy it, breathe it in. Let it resonate in your skull. Say it out loud, don’t worry your co-workers won’t mind.

The phrase popped into my mind toward the end of a Vic Darchanyan / Rodrigo Guerrero replay on Showtime I watched the other night. Darchanyan (who I thought was named D’Artagnan for the first two rounds) dominated the younger Guerrero, a Mexican fighter who was fighting on U.S. soil for the first time.

Who are these guys, you ask. Bantamweight fighters I reply. That means the two of them combined weigh less than I do. Darchanyan, an Armenian by way of Australia (Yossarian the Assyrian) is an aging champion possessing tremendous power for a fighter his size. He was defending two titles against the unheralded, unknown Guerrero and outclassed him at every turn.

The young Mexican fought valiantly, but ineffectively. Despite landing early shots on the older fighter Guerrero couldn’t hurt him. By the end of the fight he kept throwing punches, but it was visible, even to an amateur critic like myself, that there was no steam in them. His jabs lacked any snap and his power punches had no body in them.

Darchanyan would shrug off any attempted offense and then launch into a multi-punch attack that would stagger, but not drop the younger fighter. Round after round the onslaught continued, until it was kind of uncomfortable to watch. Yet he still kept coming, blows reigning down on him and the only thing I could think of was how sad it was to watch, yet there was something noble in the way he kept working at it.

By the 8th round there was no way Guerrero could win the contest. He was waaaaaaayyy behind in points (the final scores would be 120-108, 118-110 and 117-111 which means even the overly optimistic judge gave him three rounds) and there was no way he was knocking Darchinyan out. Still he kept coming forward, looking for a way, anyway, to hurt the champion.

When it was over Darchinyan’s hand was raised as the winner he looked a little disappointed that he wasn’t able to give the crowd what they wanted - a knockout. Later he would admit that Guerrero was one of the toughest fighters he had ever fought and was surprised that he hadn’t been able to floor him.

Throughout the fight the Showtime commentators wondered out loud if Guerrero’s corner was doing him more harm then good by letting the fight continue. He is young, 21 at the time of the fight, and absorbing that much damage could be detrimental to his career. Imagine James Harrison slamming into Josh Cribs not once, but 35 times a game.

Having that happen can be more damaging then the big knockout. The one punch knockout looks great, but for the most part it’s just causes temporary damage. Suffering repeated shots, jarring the head back repeatedly in a short period of time is what causes permanent damage, that’s why boxers don’t age gracefully.

Sports fans tend to skew towards gladiatorial displays of violence. Which is why I found all of the rabble-rousing about one week of violent hits in the NFL so perplexing. Yes, some of the hits were illegal and unnecessary, but if they had happened over the course of a season instead of just a few hours would there have been such a hue raised? I submit to you that it would not.

So goes the duality of sports, punching someone in the face until they fall down is ok, but hitting them in the helmet with your shoulder pad is not. This is probably why my girlfriend thinks I’m insane for watching so many sports…..