maandag 29 juli 2013

The Echoing Green: Review

The Echoing Green: the untold story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the shot heard around the world by Joshua Prager is a book first published in 2006, 55 years after that heartbreaking moment.
It's 350 pages are not easily digested. The writer painstakingly introduces every character and fact that had something to do with the moment itself and the period leading up to it. Sometimes you think 'what do I care', sometimes the background information is very interesting. The history of baseball signs and the act of sign stealing make for a great chapter. The half a page spent on the description of the Wollensak used by the Giants during part of the 1951 season is boring. Page after page about people like Schenz, Yvars and Franks, their history and their role in the scheme is a bit dry, but it's the positioning of the pawns that lead up to the foul play. Then the book turns into a biography, weaving the lives of Branca and Thomson alinea after alinea. To my taste a bit too detailed since I didn't choose this book to read so much about the two leads in the drama but about the drama itself. Still, I guess you can't give a dramatic ending to any drama when the leads are like card board. And the book ís called 'Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the shot heard around the world', so I could have known.
After the biography chapter (12) comes the story of the play off games between Brooklyn and New York which ends with that blast to left that was heard around the world. After this, the books sort of runs out of steam. As a Dodger fan I don't really care what EVERY newspaper in the world had to say about the blast by Thomson.
Then the aftermath. How Thomson and Branca coop with this moment in time for the rest of their lives. Great insights in their lives, especially after the rumors of sign stealing get louder. Their friendship and animosity through the years and the awareness that they will be, forever, linked to that moment and through that, to each other.
Like I said: not an easy but it's a very well researched book, could be a thesis, with 66 pages of notes, 41 pages with bibliography!

vrijdag 19 juli 2013

Graded Baseball Cards: A Warning

If there was ever a concept sensitive to counterfeiting it’s autographs. It’s been around for ages. Players of the New York Giants had kids perfect their signature and let them sign balls for them. I’m sure loads of other teams did/do that. There are baseballs out there being auctioned as ‘signed by the player’. Who knows, even some of the Babe Ruth ones might be fake after all. One way to determine if a signature is fake or not is to have it authenticated and graded by one of the companies providing said service. There are a bunch of them out there. Some of the biggest/best known:

- Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)
- Beckett Grading Services (BGS)
- Sports Cart Guaranty (SCG)
- Global Authority Inc (GAI)

I’ve never been an autograph collecting guy. Only when I get the chance to meet with the signer him-/herself I’m sure that it’s real. Other items that pop up often being fake or tampered with are baseball cards. They, like autographs, can get you big bucks, hence a lot of forgeries or pimping of an original card. Now, again, if you want to make sure you’ve got the real thing, send your item to one of the companies listed above and they’ll do an authentification and can grade it as well. A few weeks ago I blogged about the Bowman Campanella cards I wanted to collect. A big step for me because of the possibillities of cards being fake or tampered with. So I decided to go with PSA graded and encapsulated cards only. I did find a 1949 Bowman Campanella Rookie card on Ebay that was graded by GAI with a 8.5 and judgeing by the picture it looked great. Sharp corners, centered picture. I even thought it might be a 9 if I had it regraded by another company. I checked on the Internet and the company’s reputation looked rotten. But I thought: it’s no autograph and if it’s graded it at least is original, no reprint. I took a chance, did a best offer and it was accepted.

The day I bought the card I filled out a form to have it regraded by PSA. I could choose what minimum grade I wanted the card to receive. Which I thought was weird, because they are the experts. If I say ‘give my GAI 8.5 at least a 8.5’ how is this independed grading? So I filled in: Minimum Grade ANY. If it’s a 7, it’s a 7. No problem.
A few days ago I received the results. My GAI 8.5 was graded N1 by PSA: ‘Evidence of trimming’, which made my card worthless. Now, what I don’t understand is how GAI could ever have graded a trimmed card with a 8.5! What I díd understand now was why the picture was so nicely centered! So the fact that a trimmed card got a high grade made me doubt grading companies. I send an e-mail to PSA asking how it’s possible a company gave a trimmed card an 8.5. The answer I got shocked me and made my distrust in ALL grading companies complete. The reply read: ‘Different grading companies have different standards and opinions.’
NO company should EVER have such low standards as to admit a trimmed card let alone give it a high grade! No surprise I’m done with baseball cards, graded or not.

maandag 15 juli 2013

Fernando Nation

A friend of mine drew my attention to a documentary on YouTube. Knowing about my love for the Dodgers he was sure I would enjoy ‘Fernando Nation’. I guess most of you have seen it, but I only heard about it and never found it online. I must confess I never tried to find it on YouTube. Turns out it was uploaded only two months ago. Fernando Nation is part of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series telling sports related stories during the first 30-year existence of ESPN-network (1979-2009). Fernando Nation was the 27th episode, originally aired on October 26th 2010 and was directed by Cruz Angeles. He gives us the historical lowdown of Chavez Ravine and how the Dodgers turned a negative image among the Mexican community to a positive one by signing this Mexican kid from Etchohuaquila.
Angeles loves his subject, that’s clear from the beginning of the 53 minute long documentary. Loads of people get their say and Fernando himself talks a lot about his time with the Dodgers an even his stint with the Orioles. It’s very heart warming to see how people still love him.
Best scene? The one in which Tom Lasorda wrongfully translates Valenzuela and tells the press how happy he is to be with the Dodgers, loves the Dodgers, loves the stadium. After a while Fernando looks at Tom like ‘what the fuck? That doesn't sound like what I said’. Funny! If you love the Dodgers and haven’t seen it yet, do! You can find it here!

woensdag 3 juli 2013

Roogie's Bump: Review

I came across this movie when I was scavenging Ebay for nice Dodgers related items. I never heard of this... ever! I searched for it at Amazon, but found out it never had a dvd release. On IMDB the movie gets a 6.3 and the price on Ebay was $15.- so, my curiosity won and I bought the VHS tape. Some spoilers below.

The 1954 black and white movie is about Remington, who wants to be called Roogie, a boy who just moved to Brooklyn. None of the other boys want to play ball with him. Then, after he sees the ghost of fictional Hall of Famer Red O'Malley he gets a bump on his throwing arm. Okay, ghosts we've seen in 'Angels in the Outfield' and 'Field of Dreams', so nothing weird there. But after this it gets a bit absurd. Roogie throws a baseball through a wall and from the Brooklyn side of the East River throws a stone that breaks a chimney of a power plant on Manhattan.
Roogie writes the coach of the Dodgers, telling him about his power. A fictional coach reads the letter to real Dodger players Campanella, Hoes, Erskine and Meyer. They all have a good laugh. Roogie gets two tickets for a game, catches a foul ball and throws it back to Campy who tumbles back into the dugout because of the power of the throw. Roogie gets a contract but at the end of the season when he tries to pitch the Dodgers to the pennant, his bump disappears. He becomes the team's mascot and the Dodgers win the pennant.
Acting wise it's not a very good movie. The kid who plays Roogie never acted in another movie again, but he's not bad, I've seen worse kid actors. The Dodgers players are a bit stiff but clearly enjoy the experience. Campanella is the only one who gives a good performance. The other actors are of no importance. There is the beginning of a love story between Roogie's widowed mother and the Dodgers coach. The story is a bit slow, there is much talk about exploiting the kid just to earn a buck and too little actual baseball.
The scenes of games we see are stock footage, which is okay because we see Ebbets Field in it's glory days, Jackie Robinson at bat and a roaring crowd. There's a sound of a crowd cheering looped over and over and once you notice it gets on your nerves.
Conclusion: fun for Dodger fans to see some of the boys of summer act. Other than that there is no reason to watch it.

maandag 24 juni 2013

Carl Erskine's Tales from the Dodger Dugout: Review

Carl Erskine’s ‘Tales from the Dodgers Dugout’ is exactly what the title promises us. Erskine’s tales are, more often than not, less than a page long so you can read some of the many put the book away for a while. On the other hand, the 230 pages can all be read on a rainy day. The short impressions, stories are written in an easy way and when you finish one, you want to read the next one.

One of the fun things is that Oisk doesn’t stop with the stories when his active career ended. He recalls meetings of old-timers games as well. I learned about statistics and players I never knew. Which is always nice! I liked this collection of personal observations by one of the Dodgers’ legendary pitchers.
There are so many fun stories, but it’s not easy finding that story you liked because there is no index, so that’s about the only negative point. A final positive point, at least in this copy, is Erskine's autograph on the title page.

zaterdag 22 juni 2013

Miracle Men: Review

Miracle Men by Josh Suchon... It took me some time to decide if I wanted to read this or not. Suchon is a big A's fan, as a kid he cried when the Dodgers won the world series in 1988, he's been a beat writer for the Giants and has written a book about Barry Bonds. But I really liked him on 790 KABC Dodger Talk. Most Dodger home evening games are over just when I go to work, so I listened to quite some of the post game shows. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
The cover of the book is awful! It has too many fonts and pictures and color. Looks like a 90's webpage (those with animated gif's) or was made with a'Fun with Fonts' computer program. But I learned not to judge a book by it's cover.
The title is a bit generic: Miracle Men! They should have used a term out of Scully's call during Game 1 of the World Series. Something like: Impossible Men or the 1988 Improbable Dodgers.
My last complaint: someone should have proof read this thing. There are quite some weird sentences in the book. Now for the good stuff...
The foreword is by Orel Hershiser. The Bulldog gets a special treatment in this book. Every chapter chronicles some of the important games of one month. Chapters about Hershiser's streak alternate those chapters. Besides an out by out description of his climb to 59 scoreless innings we get a cliffs notes version of Orel's autobiography 'Out of the Blue'.
As for the 'regular' chapters, rather than just summing up some important plays and games, every chapter gives us some background of one or two of the players. Read about Belrcher's yoyo-like career, why Guerrero was traded for Tudor and much more. For me the highlight of the book is the 36 page chapter about game 1 of the World Series. Goosebumps!
It's a great book about a rag tag bunch with some big names and some lesser ones, but everybody contributed that year.
If you want to (re)live that improbable season and learn some forgotten or never known facts about players and games, pick this one up and you'll agree with Lasorda and say: "what a fucking team!"

donderdag 13 juni 2013

Gil Hodges: Review

Gil Hodges' biography by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary tells us about the guy born in Indiana, son of a miner. A guy who grew up playing sports and wanted to play basketball and later in his life be a basketball coach. He got famous in another sport: baseball. Not only as a player of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, but also as the coach of the World Series winning 'Miracle' Mets.
I found it hard to get into the book at first because the writers use a lot of people to describe Gil as he was in his childhood and high school years. Many people's names I could care less about are printed and there is too much 'recalls', 'remembers', 'tells us', 'according to'.
But after a few chapters it gets better and it's fun to read about that silent, hard working guy with the big hands. How everybody in Brooklyn learned to love him and even during his slumps cheered him. Also interesting is to read about the move to LA and the years they played in the Coliseum.
Hodges' last few playing years with the Mets and his first managerial job with the Senators is a bit sad. It's obvious he had problems with players who didn't give it 100% like he did when he played. It's interesting as well because that quiet, hard working and obeying player turned into a coach who would be ejected more than once.
The march to fame of the Miracle Mets is great to read. The World Series win in 1969 was the crown of a great life in baseball. I agree with the writers: it's weird Hodges has never become a Hall of Famer. Maybe 2014 is his year? I certainly hope so!