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Archive for February 2011


Blyleven Ball

A friend recently attended the Twins Fantasy Camp. He had a great time, playing several games over a the span of a week, meeting current and former Twins, and mixing it up with some old-timers after hours. When we got together with he and his family last night, he presented me with this very thoughtful gift:

A signed ball by soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer, Bert Blyleven. Cool, huh?

Blyleven ranks high in two categories that show a pitcher’s dominance: strikeouts (fifth, with 3,701) and shutouts (ninth, with 60). Every other pitcher in the top 20 in shutouts was in the Hall of Fame, as was every other eligible pitcher in the top 17 in strikeouts. He'll be inducted at a ceremony in Cooperstown this July.

I gotta get me a display case for this, and soon.

Blyleven anecdote: I just wrote extensively about my older brother, Karl and his early influence on me, including but not limited to baseball cards and sports. Years later, probably the mid-'80s, we had a large group of family and friends for a day at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago. It was a beautiful, crowded day. We had kids running around, I was sketching apes and other animals, we've got ice cream cones dripping down our fingers, trying to take in all the exhibits, trying to keep track of all in our group. Amidst all this, Karl taps me on the shoulder. "Hey. Look over there. It's Bert Blyleven." And by God, he was right. It still floors me! Bert wasn't in his uniform, didn't have a baseball cap atop his head, we're totally out of context, and my big bro picks out from the throngs and recognizes a major league pitcher! LOL!

Good eye, Karl.


Baseball Cards, Big Brothers, Sparky Anderson and The Big Red Machine

At eight years old, kids are impressionable, and that can really be a good thing. I looked up to my big brother, Karl and followed his lead in so many things - with toys, humor, music, drawing cartoons and comics...and in collecting baseball cards. One Saturday I hopped on my bike and joined him on a trip to KARS "dime store" (the type of variety/novelty store I don't think exists anymore). It was only two miles from our house, but it felt like a Major Expedition. When cards became scarce or were sold out at stores near our house, It Was Told...that KARS had full boxes on their shelves. Full boxes. And it was true. I'd only seen or bought a handful of single packs at any given time, in a display box near checkout. But down dark aisles at KARS they had those boxes, and more than one., stacked with twenty packs of cards. Of course, I wasn't old enough so didn't have enough money to afford a full box (which cost like $2 - $2.50), but Karl sure could. I was in awe. I couldn't wait to grow up, have the cash to afford such an extravagance, such an embarrassment of riches. I was so jealous. When I could, I'd snap up a box, tear through those packs in a flurry, stiff rectangular sticks of powdery pink bubble gum piling high, and dive into the heap of cards, swimming in them like Scrooge McDuck in his mountains of money.

KARS "five & dime" near the corner of Montrose & Central on the NW side of Chicago. "Live every day as if it were the Last Day!"

And so began my obsession with baseball cards. Now, cards didn't just give you close-up or action shots of all players and your favorite stars, but flip 'em over and there's listed all their vital info, maybe a mug shot, maybe a cartoon with a special bit of knowledge, and then all their career stats. You could, at a glance, take in when players started their careers, and where, what position(s) they played. And with series within the larger series, there were cards that told of the all-stars, division leaders, playoff games and exploits, team cards of championship teams and the World Series winner.

The Cincinnati Red team cards; Topps 1970 and 1971.

The Cubs of 1971 had some great players, like Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and the soon-to-retire Ernie Banks. But they just missed their chance at glory in 1969, and as I was becoming aware and watching games on WGN, they were on the wane. So, much as I loved the Cubs, the door was open and it was through baseball cards I was introduced to Sparky Anderson and his team, the Cincinnati Reds.

Sparky Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati Reds; Topps 1971.

I learned that the Reds had gone to the World Series in 1970, losing in five to the Baltimore Orioles. I learned of their stars, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Lee May and Johnny Bench, who was then and forevermore to become my favorite major league player of all time. I was dismayed they lost, but attached myself to a winner. There was something about those players, their look, the red uniforms and their solid manager. I was hooked.

1971 was the first year I bought baseball cards. They looked new, sharp, modern and fresh with the black border, bold titles and the intro of action photography, less of the posed and mug shots that had been used up til then. The card designs and templates for the sixties Topps cards and even 1970 (with its boring, gray border) looked old to me, from another era. By 1972, I was buying those full boxes of cards, even though the design was garish and even then looked dated and "'70s." I recall flying through packs, looking for my Johnny Bench card, and finding it. I was alone, in my grandparents house on their vacation land in Holyoke, Minnesota. There he was, slugger Johnny Bench, in all his glory, surrounded by stars - oh, the elation!

Sparky with Bench, conferring on strategy.

The 1972 Topps card series announced the era of free agency with a mini-series of TRADED cards, perhaps the most important card and trade being Joe Morgan's move from the Astros to the Reds. With his addition and a few other moves, the Reds had a great season (Bench named the NL MVP again; also in 1970) and went to the World Series, only to lose in seven to the detested Oakland Athletics. I ran home from school those days that Fall to catch as much of the playoff and Series games as I could, ball in mitt, Reds cap atop my head, kneeling in front of the TV, rooting for my Reds. Alas, the loss made me sad, it also made me (and the Reds) hungry.

Morgan, TRADED, Rose and Perez; Topps '72, '73 & '76, respectively.

We lived not far from Wrigley Field, so attended games there regularly with my family, Grampa, and mostly my Mom and brothers. I especially relished the Cubs/Reds match-ups, getting to see all my baseball heroes taking batting practice, playing the game, Bench hitting homers, and usually with the Reds victorious over the Cubs. My mom had loved baseball for years, being a White Sox fan having grown up on the South side, and she was and is full of trivia. She taught us how to fill a score card as we followed the game, and pointed out to me how baseball players could be superstitious. When Sparky visited the mound, which was more often than most managers, he never stepped on the white first base line, always changing his gait to avoid the bad luck.

At home, all Spring and Summer, behind our house and garage in the narrow back alley, Karl and I would face off in one-on-one softball games. He'd always be the Cubs and I'd always be the Reds, copying and setting the line-up, mimicking the players' stances at the "plate." So we learned to bat both righty and lefty, learning how to hit up the middle, down that long and slender alley. 3 1/2 years my senior, he nearly always won, but what joy it was when I'd win a game, sometimes epic battles that'd go extra innings into the twilight with 50+ runs each. With my older bro in that alley during those countless hours for years, I got tips and absorbed the game, learned how to play, always trying to raise my game to keep up. And as we grew older, the tradition continued, but across the street in the Sears parking lot, strike zone taped to the brick wall, upgrading to fast pitch.

With all this personal history, then, it was only fitting that it was Karl who informed me that Sparky had died in November, 2010. I traversed the Web, sussing out stories, tributes and obituaries, the best at Redleg Nation, finding this superb piece by John Erardi about what great and nice guy Sparky was. He was indeed one of a kind, the manager and leader of perhaps the greatest team ever assembled, his Big Red Machine (in my book, only the 1927 Yankees also vie for that title).

I highly recommend The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. It tracks the golden'75 Reds' season, Sparky's worries, inventions, strategies and speeches to the team, culminating in one of the greatest World Series of all time, including the famous Game Six, ending in extra innings with that Fisk home run over the Green Monster at Fenway, extending the Series to a game 7, which my Reds won. Sparky managed his team like no one else had managed before, utilizing his bullpen, changing the game forever (for better or worse) with his use of specialty pitchers. Fourth on the wins list for managers with 2,194, and a fine .554 winning percentage.

Thanks to my big bro, and here's to Sparky Anderson, skipping over baselines in the Big Baseball Field in the Sky.


O Come, Emanuel

The next mayor of Chicago:

O Come, O come, Emanuel

Your residence, official

The Second City now your domain

Tho Daley-free, the Machine remains

Rejoice! Rejoice, Emanuel!

Chicago is your crown jewel


TothPix: Space Page

What a doozy of a page from Alex Toth!

A gorgeous page in space. The top tier we're inside the craft. I love the inking, the spacesuits, the exaggerated features, shadows, the over-the-shoulder shots, the third shot from below, smoke bellowing form the foreground.

The middle semi-splash panel establishes the scene outside the ship, giving us context and catching us up on the action. Just look at those figure-8 and circular swoops of the trail of one of the ships and Saturn's ring. The circles and curves create a wild, spinning composition, as one of the ships makes a straight shot through it all from the left like an arrow, the background awash in a glittery sparkle of stars.

In the lower tier, Toth presents the action in the simplest terms possible, so readers can follow the story easily. But the drawing and inking is no-nonsense, the chiaroscuro separation within the panel compositions nearly abstract. Pretty stuff.

Outlaws of Space, inked by John Celardo, has been reprinted in Setting the Standard, a large, restored collection of Toth romance, war, horror and sci-fi comics.


Reagan: 100


More Mall Sketching

Sketching more during my Sunday trip to the mall, this guy sidled up to a comfy chair and settled in for a lap lunch.

Me and the girls took a break from shopping & drawing for a slice of pizza, then my daughter and her friend treated themselves each to a Dairy Queen Blizzard. I got a couple bites; cookie dough and french silk - yum!

I caught only a glimpse of this guy for 3-5 seconds, so soaked in what I could in that time and scrawled this memory sketch.

I had more time with this man at work, who was obviously intent, 'cause he didn't budge. This is one of my faves from the trip.

That was fun! I gotta bring the sketchbook back to the mall - and soon.