When Topps Got Lazy: 1972 & 1973 Mickey Rivers

“Just zoom out a bit and sharpen the photo. Maybe a little color tinting on the sky, yeah, that’s it…. NONE OF THOSE LITTLE KIDS WILL EVER NOTICE.”

Oh YEAH TOPPS????

I NOTICED!!!!

And he wasn’t even on the Yankees yet. You lazy BUMS. Get off your fat bubblegum stained asses and take a new photo of the man.

OR – perhaps you could use the exact same photo every year for his career, and when he switches teams, simply write in the new logos with a crayon.

The Yankees got him & Ed Figueroa from the Angels before the ’76 season for Bobby Bonds, which turned out better for NY over the next three seasons where both players were instrumental to 3 pennants and 2 world championships.

When Reggie Jackson told a reporter he had an IQ of 160, Rivers responded “What, like out of a thousand?”

But then the Yankees traded Mick the Quick to the Rangers in the awful summer of ’79, when the Yanks struggled to catch the Orioles and Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. They got Oscar Gamble & his impressive hair back, but Gamble only really served as a platoon outfielder. Rivers played a good centerfield and was a great leadoff hitter, averaging .300 or better and distracting pitchers with base stealing and general speed, back when hit and run still existed.

He trained horses for a while, now he’s back in the Yankee organization (yay!) You can read more about him at his spiffy website here.

Just look at all those photos…. JUST LOOK AT THEM, TOPPS! Gawd.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Topps 1972 Rich Reese

Back before the times of ubiquitous digital photos and wall-to-wall television coverage of every game, the majority of the photos on baseball cards came from posed sessions with Topps usually done during spring training or even the previous season. Older cards have players in obvious staged poses faking a pitching windup or fielding stance or whatever.

I like this one of Rich Reese and his gigantic Freudian bat.

Is he trying to bash the photographer’s head in? Was he psychically predicting a light saber battle pose five years early? Was he doing his impression of Al Capone? Or is he merely illustrating a phallocentric interpretation of baseball’s emphasis on male virility via a cross-cultural archetype of traditional masculine power within the extradiogetical space? Well, that last part is what it says on the back of the card, right after how much he enjoys hunting & fishing during the off-season and before his stats. But I’m still leaning towards the light saber theory.

No big surprise that Reese would rather pose with a bat than a glove – he spent a bunch of years, mostly with some decent Twins teams, as a backup infielder and premier pinch-hitter. He’s still tied for the all-time pinch hit grand slam record with 3.

He did better after he left baseball. He went to work in sales in the liquor industry, first for the old Hamm brewery (long since bought out by Miller/Coors) and eventually became CEO of Jim Beam brands before retiring some years ago.

I’d like to think he swang that bat against his competitors in the booze biz the same way Al Capone did.

And now I’m thinking about having a bourbon. Thanks Rich!

So Long, MAD Magazine

A post-war American institution, really… MAD taught the entire boomer generation irony & satire (along with Rocky & Bullwinkle, I guess) and became a regular staple of American popular culture.

And now it’s going away.

A few more issues of new material, then they’ll rerun old material until all existing subscriptions run out, then…. they are done. Over. Kaput.

Partly due to the declining readership of print magazines in general, partly due to over-dilution of their brand among far too many other outlets for their younger target audience, and saddest of all, partly due to the overall dearth of satire and cancer of hypersensitive offense and humorlessness pervading our zeitgeist.

Fancy words for NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO JUST LAUGH AT CRAP ANYMORE.

MAD started out strong in comic book form under Harvey Kurtzman – the throw-everything-at-the-wall style of satire from those early issues holds up beautifully today. While some of the genre parodies are dated, the comic art and execution of the jokes still hit their marks. When MAD transitioned post-Kurtzman’s fallout with William M. Gaines into the b/w magazine format, the types of pieces varied somewhat, though the direct parodies of movies and television shows remained. The “usual staff of idiots” each stood out in their regular pieces for the magazine in the days I grew up with it – the observational humor of Dave Berg, the weirdness of Don Martin, the offbeat dark humor of Al Jaffe, the distinctive comic art variances of Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs Spy juxtaposed against the boxiness of Paul Coker’s people… the magazine was always well designed and very rich visually.

Before the age of video and before they got bought out by Warners for even more access, they’d parody movies a few months after they hit theaters, with uncanny reproductions of specific scenes by brilliant artists like Mort Drucker.

Continue reading “So Long, MAD Magazine”

Truly Reliving My Childhood

Ah, Topps baseball cards… how much money and time did I spend buying wax packs of you back in the day? Chewing that cement-like gum sometimes, throwing it out more often… and sorting through the seemingly endless variety of benchwarmers to cull the great players, hall of famers and stars that I’d want to make sure I had in my collection?

Nowadays, a pack of Topps cards ain’t 10 cards for a dime, that’s for damn sure. And if I as a mature adult (cough) decided to buy this year’s set, I’d probably just buy some factory set on amazon or ebay and then enjoy parusing through it.

But then I’d miss all the fun of wax-pack-discovery…. what I experienced as a kid ripping open pack after pack and seeing the random assortment of cards inside. Maybe there was a Reggie Jackson or a Frank Robinson… more likely there were multiple Fred Lashers and Jim Gosgers.

Nothing against you personally, Fred & Jim, but I lost count of how many hard-earned-for-a-7-year-old dimes went across the counter in pursuit of that Ernie Banks.

AND THEN I MISTAKENLY TRADED IT AWAY…. oh GOD, that’s a sad story for another time.

Anyway, today I was in the local Target checking out some housewares as a diversion from the other grocery store in the same strip-mall, and found myself browing through the packs of sports cards.

They were to the left of the numerous packs of non-sports cards for all sorts of crap I’d sort-of heard of, like Pok√©mon type stuff, and other stuff I had no clue about.

They had hockey cards and baseball cards. (Surprisingly, no basketball cards). Topps puts out what they call a “Heritage” set every year, where they produce cards of today’s players with yesterday’s clearly better, memory-poking and altogether wonderful card designs. This year’s heritage set are styled like the 1970 Topps set, with the gray framing and cursive handwriting.

Not one of my favorite old designs, I must admit… (I’m especially partial to the look of the 1967 and 1973 sets, if you must know) but I prefer it to the new modern themes.

So I started looking through the various cello-wrapped cards out there hanging on those racks…. and found myself doing EXACTLY what I used to do as a kid – I carefully examined each back to see if I could identify the top and bottom card in the stack by looking through the wrapper.

We used to cheat & peel back the wax paper, returning reject packs to the counter & grabbing any pack that revealed a Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Tom Seaver or whoever. Today I found myself, a supposedly responsible adult, standing in Target holding cello-wrapped jumbo packs of Topps Heritage cards up to the light & pressing down on them to see enough of that cursive writing to find out if Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar or any other Yankee I’d feel like a happy 7 year old getting in a pack were on the top or bottom of the damn thing.

The only thing missing was some annoying clerk coming over with a “Hey, this ain’t a library, kid” or some other such witticism to completely bring back my childhood.

I woulda shelled out the five bucks if they were. I came up empty, noticing more than one pack with Chris “I get paid even if I suck” Davis and Nick “Who?” Pivetta in more than one pack on the top, CONFIRMING MY LONG STANDING CONSPIRATORIAL BELIEF ABOUT TOPPS that they print WAY more cards for players who SUCK versus the players who don’t.

Funny… I don’t think any of today’s baseball cards featuring big stars will attain the value of the cards of olden days stars. The players’ stats might all be competitive… Hell, Mike Trout puts up numbers that evoke Mickey Mantle with healthy knees, but I know that Trout’s cards will never be as valuable as any Mantle card. I’ll hunt for & buy old cards here and there, every so often… I’d only buy today’s cards for collection filler…. and that’s why I’d much rather they’d still be 10 in a pack for a dime, to be honest. An inflation calculator tells me that 10 cents back in 1970 is pretty much equivalent to a dollar now, and I think a dollar now would feel a lot less to me than ten cents did when I was a kid…. but there’s no friggin way I’m spending five bucks for only a chance at players I’d like to have with only Chris Davis as the guarantee.

The child in the image of the man, after all….

A Pair Of ’70s Crime Capers: The Silent Partner (1978) and St. Ives (1976)

The vast majority of the crime ‘n’ mayhem category in my to-watch list are old black & white b-movies from the ’40s and ’50s, and I was more in the mood to see some out of date fashion and even more out of date social mores in living color, so I watched these two. One was very good nearly great, the other not so good but not terrible.

Do you like my precise review categories? Why, you’re welcome.

Let’s start with the good-to-great The Silent Partner, directed by long-time TV director Daryl Duke and scripted by none other than Curtis Hanson, from the novel “Pick Any Number.” Gould plays a nerdish bank teller in Toronto who puts himself into a chess-like battle of power and brains with a psycho robber played by Christopher Plummer. Gould figures out that Plummer is casing the bank, sets it up to skim money from the robbery, but then Plummer finds out, and wants his money…. and then the two of them keep trying to screw the other one over. And it’s wonderfully clever and fun.

Continue reading “A Pair Of ’70s Crime Capers: The Silent Partner (1978) and St. Ives (1976)”

That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 2

After starting off with XTC’s final two albums, I thought I’d go all the way back to the beginning of their career and focus on their first few records.

It’s a lot like listening to Abbey Road and then going back to Please Please Me and reminding yourself it’s the same band, although the difference between early/late XTC and early/late Beatles is fairly stark. XTC evolved a LOT over a longer period of time.

Other than the distinctive quality of Andy Partridge’s voice, the debut album White Music sounds like a completely different band than the XTC of Apple Venus/Wasp Star. And to a large degree, it was a completely different band, also featuring the keyboards of Barry Andrews and the drums of Terry Chambers, but mostly featuring an earlier and rawer Partridge and Moulding at the center.

While there are hints of the literate quality of Partridge’s lyrics to come, the songs here are simple and quick. Some of them seem rushed and unfinished. But it doesn’t matter – White Music from 1978 overflows with energy, fast nervous beats, overdone affected singing styles and a lot of really good songs. It matches up nicely with the first/early albums of their contemporaries in the New Wave/Postpunk material that certainly flooded my record collection at the time – debut albums from Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, The Cars, Joe Jackson, Devo, Blondie, The Jam and others all came out around this time. And like White Music, they all stand as bursts of energy from acts that evolved, developed, mellowed and altered their sounds and styles over the years, some more than others, and some more successfully than others. The brash we-don’t-care youthful attitude of the brand new rock band permeates this record, and it’s a wonderful listening exercise in tracing the band’s evolution, finding the little hints of what was to come, and hearing a lot of what got left behind. A lot of it is quick and forgettable, but the better cuts like Radios In Motion, This Is Pop, or Statue of Liberty stand out, as well as the lone cover in XTC’s catalogue, an odd version of All Along The Watchtower.

Continue reading “That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 2”

That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 1

I got treated to the 2017 documentary XTC: This Is Pop via a free promo weekend of Showtime. It’s a solidly made doc following the history of the band from its earlier Helium Kidz incarnations to its 1977 album debut, personnel changes, rise, fall, re-rise, strike, sputtered comeback and eventual demise. It’s a great intro to the band if you’re not at all familiar with them or only know them via “Dear God” or wonder whatever happened to that offbeat sounding band with the odd sounding lead singer who sang “Senses Working Overtime.” Lots of music and old wonderfully cheap-styled circa 1980 rock video is presented, along with interviews with musicians, critics, and principal band members, notably Dave Gregory, Colin Moulding, and Andy Partridge.

The band’s history, song by song, is covered in Neville Farmer’s authorized 1998 band bio XTC Song Stories (a book evidently later trashed by Partridge, can’t say I’m surprised for reasons I’ll go into shortly). A lot of the same material is covered in the film visually, but the film adds one amazing scene that’s a true revelation for longtime fans of the band like me.

Andy Partridge has synethesia, where perceptions get mixed up – colors become tastes, sounds become pictures and so on – and this mixed up/associative way of seeing the world is how he writes songs. He strums a guitar and finds a strange sounding chord he claims he’s never heard before…. starts strumming it… says it makes him think of the color brown, but sad, like a brown puddle… and then comes up with lyrics about a sad brown puddle and it all comes together. And all at once the seemingly limitless styles of arrangements, sounds and tones of the vast catalogue of XTC’s music suddenly made perfect sense to me. This scene alone makes the movie worth seeing.

So I thought I’d go back and listen to it all again, bearing in mind Partridge’s synesthesia and seeing (well, hearing…. I don’t have synesthesia) if I could pick elements of it out of his songs. The Moulding songs? No problem, I’ll go along for the ride with ’em… I always liked his stuff too.

Continue reading “That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 1”

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