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Most valuable baseball cards of the 1980s

In the 1980s, almost everyone I knew collected baseball cards, at least briefly. When we think of the 1980s today, baseball cards aren’t what comes to mind but they probably deserve to be up there with video games, Rubik’s cubes, G.I. Joe, and Star Wars. With so many of us buying and preserving cards during that decade’s baseball card bubble, there aren’t a lot of super-valuable cards from the 1980s. But that doesn’t mean all 1980s baseball cards are worthless. So let’s take a look at the most valuable baseball cards of the 1980s.

If you’re like me and thought you’d fund your retirement with baseball cards someday, this could be depressing. More depressing than 1970s baseball card values. Possibly more depressing than 1990s baseball card values, even. But there’s a flip side too. If you didn’t have all of these cards back then, you probably can afford all of them now. None of the most valuable baseball cards of the 1980s are worth what we thought they’d someday be worth.

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The hall of famer lets me down

My check engine light came on this morning. I’ve been driving this Honda Civic since May 2003, and this is only the third time that’s happened. But the other two times were nuisance lights. The car ran fine, so I bought a new gas cap, replaced the cap, and the light went off.

This time was different. I confirmed it when I turned the corner and tried to accelerate to 25 miles per hour. The car acted like I was asking it to go a hundred and twenty-five.

After 10-plus years and 194,000-plus miles, I had my first mechanical problem. For the first time, I was going to the mechanic for something other than arbitrary, mileage-based maintenance.Read More »The hall of famer lets me down

Albert Pujols, mercenary

I’m a Royals fan living in St. Louis, so my perspective on Albert Pujols has always been that he’s the one who got away. He went to high school and college in Kansas City, but somehow Royals scouts overlooked him. The Cardinals signed him, and he became a once-in-a-generation player. Even if he never plays another game in the majors, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Fans loved him, because, well, who doesn’t like a guy who hits .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs in the worst year of his career? He’s always been detached and distant, but St. Louisans will forgive that for wins and numbers. He talked about being a Cardinal for life, but then St. Louis woke up on Thursday morning, drove to work, and found out on the rush-hour radio that he was gone, signed to the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim, the Tikki Tikki Tembo Nosa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Pen Pembo of baseball.

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When will we learn to ignore Pete Rose?

I’d really rather not acknowledge that Pete Rose is in the news again. I love baseball, and Pete Rose did a lot to hurt it, and talking about him doesn’t do much to help it.
I’d much rather talk about how the Royals just signed Juan Gonzalez and he’s a huge upgrade over anything the Royals have ever had in the lineup to protect Mike Sweeney. With Beltran, Sween and Gonzo in the lineup, this looks like it’s going to be a good year.

For that matter, I’d rather talk about Tug McGraw, one of the great characters of the game and probably the first of the great colorful relief pitchers, who died this week of brain cancer, much too young at 59.

But Rose’s half-hearted confession will appear tomorrow, so nobody’s going to be talking about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. Some people would argue that Rose’s never betting against the Cincinnati Reds somehow excuses his gambling, and his betting on his own team, while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It does not.

Contrary to what one might think, a good manager does not set out to win every game. You can’t. You have to pick your battles. You might rest your star players when you’re playing a team like the Detroit Tigers because chances are you could beat that team with your 92-year-old grandparents in the lineup. Or you might play your star players against Detroit, in order to ensure victory, and rest your stars when playing a strong team you’re not likely to beat, such as the New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners.

The reason is pretty simple. The season is 162 games long, and not everybody is Cal Ripken Jr. Play everybody every day, and your team will break down. Witness the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. Fiery manager Billy Martin came in, and in 1981, it looked like he’d succeeded in turning that young team into another dynasty. He had young, energetic players, and he played them hard. In fact, he played them too hard. Within a year, all of his talented young pitchers had sore arms and while most of them stayed in the majors for a few more years, none of them ever lived up to their initial promise. For that matter, outside of Rickey Henderson, none of the 1981 Athletics’ everyday players had particularly and distinguished careers either.

It’s in the best interests of a Pete Rose who’s not betting on baseball to manage his team wisely by resting his star players when they look tired, pulling his starting pitcher after he’s thrown about 110 pitches, and using opportune times to give his inexperienced young players some playing time. Betting on your own team changes the equation. Suddenly meaningless games become must-win games. You leave your 20-game winner in the game longer because winning that bet becomes more important to you than the risk of hurting his arm. You take other unnecessary risks.

Rose tries to justify his actions by saying he never bet from inside the clubhouse. Well whoop-dee-do. I’m sure he never beat his wife or cheated on her in church either. That doesn’t make those action OK either. When asked why Rose bet on baseball, he said it was because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. There’s a long list of illegal things that I could do and not get caught, but that doesn’t make any of them right either.

It’s like a little kid, caught in the act of bullying, forced to tell the other kid he’s sorry. So he lets off the words, insincerely, and does the minimum, and spends the rest of his time trying to justify his wrongdoing.

Now Rose says he’s confessed and he wants reinstatement, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Some people argue that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because he hit the ball between the opposing fielders 4,256 times. Fine. Let’s look at what constitutes a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Fame rules state that induction is dependent upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

One at a time: Record. Rose has more hits than anybody else, partially by virtue of having more at-bats. But his statistics, while not as great as his fans remember, are better than some people who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ability. His playing ability is probably adequate. But Rose was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a particularly good fielder, he hit for very little power, and he was at best an average baserunner. Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Ryne Sandberg, three players on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to make it in, all had far more ability than Rose. Pete Rose was Wade Boggs with a character disorder.

Integrity. Besides betting on baseball, Rose served prison time for cheating on his taxes. He beat his wife and cheated on her. Pete Rose isn’t the kind of guy you want hanging around your daughter, if you catch my drift, nor is he the kind of guy you want your son to model his life after. Pete Rose ain’t no Roberto Clemente.

There are lots of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame, yes. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and even Joe DiMaggio all have skeletons in their closets. But last I checked, none of them ever stooped as low as Rose, and they also had Rose beat in the other categories.

Sportsmanship. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star Game, Pete Rose plowed over American League catcher Ray Fosse, dislocating his shoulder and destroying his career. It was a game that didn’t even count. Fosse, who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench, was never the same.

Character. See integrity.

Contributions. To Rose’s credit, he moved around a bit on the field to make room for other players. The Reds had a young power-hiting outfielder named George Foster sitting on the bench. Rose was playing the outfield. The Reds’ weakest position was third base. At the request of his manager, Rose learned how to play third base, which opened the door for Foster to get into the lineup, giving additional protection for Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. In 1980, Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a Hall of Famer named Mike Schmidt playing third, so Rose moved across the diamond to first. Philadelphia was a better team with Rose than without.

Late in his career, this changed. An aging Rose became a part-time player in Montreal. When Cincinnati traded for him and made him player-manager, Rose made himself a regular again, at the expense of playing time for younger players like Nick Esasky and Eddie Milner, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Esasky, who usually would have played first base, instead played left field, where he wasn’t as good defensively. Milner was a better defensive player, had good speed, and was at least as good at getting on base at that point as Rose. The Reds had a better lineup with Esasky at first base and Milner in left field, possibly in a platoon situation. People were more likely to buy a ticket to see Rose play than Eddie Milner, but the Reds were a better team with Rose on the bench.

Milner was never much more than a fourth outfielder. Esasky fared better, putting together a couple of really good years after the Reds traded him to Boston, before an injury ended his career.

Playing ability tends to get judged higher than all the rest, so I’ll grudgingly admit that if Rose were eligible, he’d probably get elected.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s my Solomon-like solution. Rose has been banned for life. What’s banned for life mean? He’s banned until he dies. So reinstate him after he dies. Then the Veteran’s Committee can evaluate him on his merits.

But there’s no precedent for reinstating a player banned for life.

Fine. Make one.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by his own admission took money to throw the 1919 World Series. He was one of the eight Black Sox who so accused. There’s also some indication that Jackson, unlike some of his teammates, played to win anyway, because he put up good numbers in the series, although his detractors point out that in the games the White Sox lost, Jackson never drove in any runs. Of course, it’s harder to drive in runs when there aren’t people on base.

Jackson may not have known what it was he was agreeing to do. Jackson was uneducated, and, by some accounts, not terribly bright. Even dumber than Pete Rose.

After the series, Shoeless Joe, like six other players who took money from gamblers and like one player who knew what was going on but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for life. Thus the owner of the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, and the youngest player ever to hit .400, was denied his otherwise certain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson has been dead for 52 years. Baseball still has never seen fit to put him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball has never seen fit to clear the name of Buck Weaver, the teammate who found out about the conspiracy but didn’t report it.

So reinstate Jackson and Weaver. For that matter, reinstate the other six guys as well. Let the Veterans Committee evaluate them for Hall of Fame entry. Then, when Rose dies, they can do the same for him.

Meanwhile, the best thing to do is just ignore the jerk.

Pete Rose, that is.

Telephones and World Series

Cable guy. My phone rang Friday night.
“Hi, this is [I didn’t catch the name] from Charter, the cable company. How are you doing tonight?”

I knew I should have forked over the extra bucks for privacy guard. “I’d be a whole lot better if you’d take me off your calling list,” I said.

“You don’t even want to hear about our special offers?” he asked.

“Nope. I don’t watch TV,” I said.

He sounded disbelieving. “You don’t watch TV?”


“You mean to tell me you haven’t watched one second of TV today?”

“Right.” I hadn’t. Actually I hadn’t watched one second of TV since I fell asleep during the playoffs and was rudely awakened by Frank Sinatra singing “New York” at high volume after the Yankees steamrolled the Mariners. Disgusted, I turned off the boob tube (that’s all it shows during the commercials) and went to bed.

“What are you doing now?” he asked.

“Getting ready to go out.”

“Oh, you’re going to a party or something?”

Close enough. “Yep.”

“Oh. Sorry to bother you, sir.” And he hung up.

This is the one time of year I do watch TV. That’s World Series time. Unless it’s Yankees-Braves, in which case I have more important things to do, like clean my toenails. My phone rang last night right after Curt Schilling plunked Derek Jeter. “That’s my phone,” I muttered to no one. “Don’t they know better than to bother me during the World Series?” No one answered. I picked up the phone. “Hello?”

Whoever it was must have wised up. There was no one there. Good thing. If it’d been the cable guy again, I’d have had to tell him it’s not worth $35 a month just to be able to watch seven baseball games with a clearer picture.

A few random World Series observations:

Yeah, I know Curt Schilling beat the Cards, and I wanted a Cardinals-Mariners series. Even still, he’s one cool guy. He doesn’t care who sees him praying just before each start, and he bought a ticket for his dad, who died in 1988 and never saw him pitch in the big leagues, for this game. Having lost my dad at a similar age, I empathize. And he’s just a class act. At the end of the game, as his teammates were coming off the field, he ran out to give them handshakes and hugs. Starting pitchers almost never do that. I have to root for him. Baseball needs more good men like Curt Schilling.

Baseball also desperately needs another commissioner like Bart Giamati. Is it just me, or is baseball commissioner Bud Selig the worst public speaker in the history of public speaking? It really bothered me that he had to refer to a script to present Barry Bonds with his worthless Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award or whatever it’s called. Selig’s speech could be summed up as, “Barry, you had a fantastic season, taking a record that once belonged to Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Mark McGwire, joining the ranks of three of the greatest sluggers of all time, while also having one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons of all time. It’s my pleasure to present you with this award, previously awarded to McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Congratulations.” But it took him what seemed like several torturous hours to say that. What I just wrote isn’t particularly eloquent, but compared to Selig’s speech, it’s practically Shakespearean.

At any rate, I was happy to see Arizona win. I can’t root for the Yankees. Used to be the only team I disliked more than the Yankees was the Mets. But if the Mets were playing the Yankees, I’d have to root for the Mets just because they aren’t the Yankees. Yeah, I know, that sounds un-American this year. But two people I respect–one of whom I respect so much, his picture hangs in a frame in my living room, across from a picture of Abraham Lincoln–feel exactly the same way.

So here’s to Arizona. And to the American League, who next season will hopefully put the Yankees in their proper place.


A flair for the dramatic

Writing about baseball two days in a row? Hey, it’s my site.
We played a doubleheader last night and won both games. I caught the first game; the second game the manager shooed me over to first base. I haven’t played first since one inning in high school, which was a disaster. I last played semi-regularly when I was 12, and that was mostly as a joke. I could make the catches but I was just over five feet tall so I sure couldn’t stretch to get the ball a split second sooner.

I did decent; I made 3, maybe four putouts. There were two bad throws, one I would have nabbed if I’d been six feet tall; the other I got the glove on but really awkwardly and I couldn’t keep control of it. I was pretty mad about that one. I’m a whole lot more comfortable in right or left field these days.

Enough about my reliving the glory days I never had. What about that All-Star game? Ripken has a great flair for the dramatic. First, A-Rod, elected to play short, shooed Ripken over to his old position and moved to third. And Ripken homered in his first at-bat.

That’s the story of Ripken’s career. Ripken had no business playing short at age 40. Ripken really had no business starting the game. But Ripken spent 14 years doing what he had no business doing. He was always too big and too immobile to play short, but he played it and played it well. Shortstops have no business playing uninterrupted for 14 years. Ripken did that.

And really, that’s what defines an All-Star. Yes, the numbers are a big, big part of it, but Ripken’s a star, whether he’s hitting .320 or .220, and Ripken’s a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer whether he hits his way into winning his old job back (Ripken’s not even a regular on his own team anymore) or whether he goes hitless for the rest of the season.

And Commissioner Bud Selig made a total ass of himself, not knowing the difference between home runs and RBIs when talking about Cal Ripken’s achievements, and mispronouncing Honus Wagner’s name when talking about Tony Gwynn one-upping his impressive career batting stats.

It was tonight’s All-Star game that reminded me of what makes baseball such a great game. Baseball is full of great moments like that–great players, sometimes running on fumes, coming back and showing us one last time what made them great in the first place.

So what’s wrong with baseball? I honestly think baseball needs another Lyman Bostock. Lyman Bostock wasn’t a great player. He didn’t have time to become one, because he only played four seasons. But after making runs for the AL batting title in 1976 and 1977, Bostock signed with the California Angels, becaming one of the first of the high-priced free agents, and he immediately fell into a slump. He didn’t even hit his weight his first month, so he went to the owner of the team and tried to give back his salary, saying he hadn’t earned it. When the owner turned it down, he announced he was giving the money to charity instead. Thousands of requests came in, and Bostock went through them himself, wanting to determine who needed the money the most. Tragically, Bostock was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana, near the end of that season. He worked his tail off trying to get his batting average up over .300 by the end of the year. He was batting .296 when he died.

We’ve had tons of great stories since 1978. Ripken, of course. McGwire and Sosa’s friendly rivalry as they chased Roger Maris’ home run record. Orel Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless innings. The emergence of Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux when it appeared the era of truly, truly great pitchers was over.

But without another Lyman Bostock, they just look like a billionaire boys’ club. Emphasis on “boys.”

I’m back.

Very interesting. Just as everyone’s proclaiming Linux dead, Red Hat goes and turns a profit for the first time. Yes, there are too many Linux companies. Yes, there’ll be consolidation. No, I’m not convinced that selling it at retail is necessarily the best way to proliferate the system.
I also find it humorous that people like ZDNet’s David Coursey can struggle all weekend setting up a Windows server, yet state that Linux is no threat to Microsoft, even as a server. The implication is that Linux is too difficult. Give me a weekend–actually, more like 5 minutes, if you’ll spot me TurboLinux and a 50X CD-ROM drive–and I can have DNS going on Linux, easy. Give me a day, and I can have a lovely mail server going too. (I intended to do that just this past weekend, actually, but I couldn’t come up with a working ISA SCSI controller to pair up with my army of SCSI CD-ROMs to make it happen.)

Needless to say, this past week I lost most of what little respect I had for Coursey. VMWare runs Windows under Linux better than VirtualPC runs Windows on the Mac, and Coursey’s obviously never heard of it (see that second link).

Don’t get me wrong, Linux setups drive me up the wall sometimes. But I’ve had instances where Windows flat out wouldn’t install on perfectly good hardware, for no good reason, too. And since Linux servers are unencumbered by a GUI, multimedia, Pinball, Internet Exploiter, and other desktop stupidity that has no business on servers, they’re a whole lot easier to troubleshoot. You’ve got a kernel, a daemon or two, and a plaintext configuration file. That’s not much to break. Actually it’s good engineering–a machine should have no unnecessary parts.

So long, Cal Ripken. Cal Ripken announced he’s hanging it up yesterday morning. I had the pleasure of seeing Ripken play shortstop a couple of times in the early 1990s when the Orioles were in Kansas City. Today, in this era of A-Rod and Nomar and Jeter, Ripken’s offensive stats don’t seem so hot. But in the 1980s (and before), if your shortstop could hit .270 and steal the occasional base, you counted yourself very, very lucky. In those days, Ripken not only hit .270, he was consistently one of the best defensive shortstops in the American League. He was never as flashy as Ozzie Smith, but how many shortstops ever fielded .996? You’re happy to get that kind of a fielding percentage out of your first baseman, and first base is the easiest position to play. Not only that, Ripken was also good for 20-25 homers and 80+ RBIs. These days that doesn’t sound too impressive either, but remember that Ripken played the bulk of his career in an era when people rarely hit 40 homers–someone who could pop 30 was considered a real power threat.

And besides all that, Ripken played 2,632 consecutive games, shattering Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130. Ripken played the majority of those games at shortstop (he also played some third base at the beginning and at the end). Gehrig played his games at first base and in left field, both much less demanding positions. And while Gehrig played every inning of every game just once, Ripken did it four times, in consecutive years (1983-1986).

Ripken’s really slowed down the past three years, but he did end his streak on his own terms before being cut down by injuries his final three seasons. He’s nowhere near the player he used to be. Then again, at the end of his career, Ernie Banks couldn’t hit or field, and he was playing first base. Ripken refuses to move from third to a less demanding position–partly out of pride, but partly because he’s still capable of playing third.

And we can’t forget his loyalty. Ripken’s played his entire career, from 1981 up until now, with Baltimore. You don’t see that much anymore.