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 cope 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!

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!


maandag 10 juni 2013

Collecting the Dodgers: Baseball Cards

One of baseball’s surest ‘can’t catch ‘em all’ collections is baseball cards. Nowadays all kinds of card sets from numerous brands flood the market. Some of them are okay, some of them really awesome with autographs, pieces of game used bats or even pieces of jerseys. But baseball cards have been around for nearly as long as the game itself. You got them with cigarettes, candy, gum or even meat! Since baseball cards are small and flat they're great to collect, but where to begin and where to end?
First of all I only wanted older Dodgers cards, so that made it easier, but not a whole lot. Then I decided I wanted a set from one brand and I always had a weak spot for Bowman. I think it’s the name… and I like gum. The Bowman card series ran from 1939 to 1941 (Play Ball sets) and from 1948-1955. In 1956 Topps bought out Bowman. That narrowed it down considerably! Still, if I wanted to collect only Dodger players from 1948 to 1955, I’d be spending lots of time and money on Ebay. One Dodger player then! I decided to go with Roy Campanella only. Campy has been one of my favorite Dodgers ever, so the choice wasn’t very hard. The fun in collecting baseball cards is that everybody can do it. There are loose cards that don’t cost a lot and even graded cards won’t cost you an arm and a leg when you buy lower graded ones.
Now I knew what I wanted: Campanella Bowman cards and since his rookie card came out in 1949 there would only be seven cards to collect. That seemed to me as a pretty narrowed down set. I got lucky and scored my first three cards in one deal. The 1950, 1952 and 1953 cards. All graded by PSA and all in EX-MT (which is a 6 in grades) condition. I'll talk about the cards later on.
Since all the cards were PSA graded I decided on another limiting factor. I would get this set complete with only PSA cards in EX-MT condition or higher. I visited the PSA site and listed my cards. 'Would you like to begin a set?' was one of the questions that popped up. Sure, I thought. I clicked on a set option that said: Campanella Basic Set. Yes, the Bowman cards were there but... so were four Topps cards. This was a point where I could easily have decided to go over my limit and collect the set including the cards by Topps, I did not. I was stong! Just the Bowman's!
I got me a 1954 Campy in the next deal and right about that time I realized I had kind of broken one of my rules: 'collect what you think is worthy to collect'. Sure, I think these cards are worth it, but some of them just aren't great visually.
A few weeks later I saw a Campanella rookie card (the Bowman card is the only recognized rookie card of the legendary Brooklyn Dodger catcher) for way to much money, but I decided to do a 'best offer' and to my amazement got the card. It's a GAI rated card and I'm not too sure about GAI so at the time I write this it's on it's way to PSA for a crossover. I gave them carte blanche so I might get a lower rated card back, but I got a pretty good feeling about it. The corners are crisp, the image is pretty much centered. So, fingers crossed.
Now, about the images... I still have to get the '51 and '55 card, but I know what they look like. I like the simplicity of the rookie card. Campy looks a bit like 'I made it to the bigs'. There is no 'B' on his cap. Just plain old (or young, at that time) Campanella. The 1950 card is perhaps my favorite one. You see the team name on his jersey and he smiles. The only other card in this series he smiles on is the last one from 1955.
In 1951 they went with an action shot. I don't think the guy on the card looks like Campanella, but this time his name is on the front of the card, so I think it's him after all. It's a bit of a sad card. Look in the background... there is only one spectator.

The 1952 card is Campy at bat, he looks very serious and to my surprise, looks like Babe Ruth on his 1933 Goudey card. Maybe every batter looks like that after a hit (or was it a miss?).
The 1953 card is a photograph, a serious looking Campy, again. I like the size of the card.
The 1954 is my least favorite, it's almost like he's caught and is now posing for a police photo.
The last Bowman card is the 1955 one. Campy looks happy, like he knows he's gonna win the World Series, finally! I like the image but the tv border is something I could do without.
All in all a very diverse set, in size and in depiction.

dinsdag 4 juni 2013

Dodgers Past & Present: Review

Dodgers Past & Present is a book by Steven Travers. It caught my eye in the first place because of it's slimness. At only 144 pages it seems like an easy way to get the fan's bucks but once you open it up Dodger history comes alive, mostly in the way of big color and black&white photos, but also because of the accompanying text. Photos of the Brooklyn Atlantics, Superbas and Robins, World Series program covers, the Boys of Summer in action, Zach Wheat, Ebbets, LA Coliseum and Dodger Stadium. You name it, it's there. A word of caution, since this book was published in 2009, there is a photograph of Frank McCourt in it as well. The chapters are Logically arranged. Dodger rivalries, managers, outfielders, ballparks, to name a few. It makes the reading and viewing very pleasant. What I like most about this book is it's size. It's an 11.2 inch high hard cover that asks to be leafed through again and again. If only it had a bit more than 144 pages.

vrijdag 17 mei 2013

Campy: the Two Lives of Roy Campanella: Review

Behind Jackie Robinson an army of black players was waiting on their chance to play in the Major League. Some of them already played in the farm systems of the big teams. One of them was Roy Campanella, the future MVP catcher of the Brooklyn Dodgers. 'Campy, the two lives of Roy Campanella' by Neil Lanctot tells the story of Roy from his childhood days in Philadelphia, always looking for a game of street baseball. His teenage years when he started to play in organized games. His rise through the ranks in the Negro League. The years behind the plate for the Dodgers and the tragic car accident which ended his active baseball playing career. Neil Lanctot has made this a very easy to read, enjoyable book that makes you love that somewhat overweight catcher. Every year you hope the Dodgers will win that World Series title, although you know it was only in 1955 when they finally did. My hat off to Lanctot for keeping the suspense and making this a gripping read. One of the most interesting things is the difference between Jackie Robinson and Campy. Jackie, who went to UCLA, was the guy who broke through the color barrier first and always stayed serious about equal rights. Campy, who grew up poor and did not go to college and quit school to follow his heart and play baseball, always thought himself lucky to be playing in the majors. This eventually leads to a falling out between the two. Because this ia not an autobiography the writer can take some distance from his subject. At times Lanctot is critical about Campanella. For instane how he had a knack for changing his stories or beef them up to make them more interesting. Never with bad intentions, though. Campy wanted to entertain! The part about Campy's revalidation is much shorter. But it's interesting to read how the always smiling Campanella also had his lesser moments, but he always tried to keep them to himself. He became a speaker for the handicapped and even, at long last, a voice for civil rights, this to the delight of Jackie Robinson. Still, most of the 428 pages are about the happy, smiling, catching Campy. He once said: "You have to be a man to be a big league ballplayer, but you have to have a lot of little boy in you too'. That is Campanella spot on. He is and will always be one of my favorite Dodgers.

dinsdag 7 mei 2013

It's Good to be Alive: Review

Browsing for stuff about my favorite ballclub I recently stumbled on ‘It’s Good to be Alive’. I never got the change to read Roy Campanella’s autobiography but when I looked closer, the picture wasn’t of a book cover. It had Lou Gosset Jr. in it. My curiousity was triggered and had to see it. It’s a made for TV movie and the directorial debut of Michael Landon (yes, the guy from Little House on the Prairie). It stars Paul Winfield and, obviously, Louis Gossett Jr. I don’t spoil anything when I say the biggest chunck of the movie is about Campy’s struggle after his car accident in 1958 which left him a quadriplegic. There is some footage of Campy playing at Ebbets Field though. Since Campanella had been playing baseball since he was a kid, starting in Negro league Baseball when he was only 15 it was hard not to be able to move anymore. It's a seventies movie so it's a bit slow at times, but in this case it fits the story. Paul Winfield’s performance is good, he makes you (the viewer) live the pain along with him. Since the movie retells Campanella's autobiography it's a very personal movie. Campy shows us how he quits life, which is no wonder when all you want to do is catch and throw baseballs. Gosset as Roy's attendant is stern and once in a while funny. The end of the movie shows us the real Campanella and his family for a minute. That moment send shivers down my spine. As a Dodger fan you should see this. It's on dvd, so pick it up sometime.

donderdag 2 mei 2013

42

Although Jackie Robinson was a big star with the Dodgers long, long before I was born, I still have the feeling I've 'known' him. Thanks to April 15th and the numerous books written about him and his rise to the Major League. Without him another black player would have scaled the wall of segregation in sports. But it was him who did it first, not someone else and although he was black he's been blue his entire carrire. He even ended his active playing days when he was traded to the hated New York Giants. There are many statues of Jackie all around the USA. At UCLA Jackie Robinson Stadium for instance or the one in Jersey City. I've seen two of his statues myslf. I really like the one at the Cyclone Stadium at Coney Island. He looks like a guy without a care in the world and is flanked by another Dodger great: Pee Wee Reese.
I have mixed feelings about the statue in Pasadena, the city where he spend a big chunck of his life. It's just his head. It would make me sad if he wasn't accompanyed by his brother Mack, who won silver (200 meters) at the 1936 Olympic Games.

I turned 42 in december, for more than eleven months I will be 'Jackie's number'. It was great to see the huge '42' in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field.

So for me it was extra special when I heard about the movie 42 coming to movie theaters. My girlfriend and I had planned a trip to New York City and I just had to see the movie there. It was great. A historical document about a big step in baseball and Dodger fans. It gave me a very nice idea of how Ebbets Field must have felt like in its hay days. Nowadays it's a sad place. The appartment blocks that occupy former Ebbets Field are humongous and ugly. There is a reminder, though, of the spot where 'Dem Bums' played so many great games. It's a simple plaque, but I can recommend every Dodger fan to take a pilgrimage walk through Prospect Park and along Empire Avenue to Bedford Avenue 1705 and just stand there for a bit. Thinking of Robinson, Campanella, Reese, Erskine, Branca, Snider and many more.