Todd Uncommon's Tomb

Some relics, some shiny things, and lots and lots of dust.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


The pain continues for the San Jose Earthquakes (and me). After a tough 3-2 loss on Wednesday to the Chicago Fire on the road, the Quakes currently are losing 1-0 to the New England Revolution mid-way through the second half in Foxboro.

It's great that the Quakes could claim USMNT regular fixture Clarence Goodson to shore up the oddly error-prone San Jose defense, but the team probably won't see him until maybe just before Labor Day, depending upon his national team and other commitments.

Seeing this list makes me realize how easy MLB players really have it, in certain respects. When major leaguers groan about World Baseball Classic duty, at least it doesn't directly affect your own team's chances in reaching the post-season or not.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What? Soccer?

Yes, soccer. Or more specifically, MLS, and in particular, the San Jose Earthquakes.

Growing up, I was always in a soccer-first family in terms of physical activity, but of course baseball-first and football-as-a-close-second for spectator sports. Back in them thar days, the only regular soccer on TV was on the local PBS station on weekends, with Soccer Made in Germany (skip to 2:22 for the appropriate bits).

I always did like its colorful, 1970s Sesame Street-style countdown of the number of players on a side.

Admittedly, this also was where I learned that the world-famous team is not pronounced "Bay-yern Munchin'', as well as getting learning to pronounce Karlsruhe (carls-roo-uh) pretty close to correctly.  Knowing these facts ended up helping me in a very dramatic spot once, much later in life, but that story will have to wait for a future post.

However, today, this is the MLS that has teams that commonly exceed so-called "big four" pro sports individual game and annual attendance averages, and frankly, is on more meaningful sports broadcast channels than the NBA or the NHL.

[soapbox alert]
The lockout-crippled NHL can barely be mentioned in the same group anymore. Really, it's more like the "giant two" (NFL and MLB, only because each baseball team has 162 regular games in a year vs 16), and then pretty much it's anyone else hitting each other with whatever yardstick suits them best.

MLS has better attendance! *whack*
NBA Finals are still on a major network! *thwack*
NHL is still #1 in Canada! *whackamackthwakbackbrackadack*
(sound of everyone else hitting the NHL)
 [/soapbox alert]

Anyhow, I saw a few Quakes games here and there in the early 2000s, and then the team was basically hijacked to Houston where they promptly won two MLS Cup championships in a row with our guys. Since the expansion's return to San Jose, I have been a season ticket holder. It's fun, affordable, and soccer is a great spectator sport.

At least until the league has it out for your team.

Here's the lineup vs. today's game vs. the Chicago Fire

Who's missing?  Let's see:
- Chris Wondowlowski (US MNT duty)

2013 SGA Set - Chris Wondolowski #8
- Marvin Chavez (Honduras MNT duty)
- Victor Bernardez (two-yellow 1-game suspension)
- Shea Salinas (after-the-fact disciplinary committee 1-game suspension!)

2013 SGA Set - Shea Salinas #6

Nothing against the guys filling out the Quakes today, but Salinas' suspension is pretty dubious. It's ridiculous for the MLS disciplinary committee (no, they don't deserve capital letters) to cherry-pick as much as they do for suspensions, in particular for plays that did not evoke a yellow card at the time of the incident.

It even undermines the credibility of the league's referees (as if that were even thought possible), and only supports critical comments about the officiating, about which the DC United coach was fined this week as well.

It is my opinion that these mid-week after-action review disciplinary actions are as politically motivated as they are supposedly objectively concerned with rule enforcement. When there's a player like Salinas, a class act by any standard, who receives a suspension in a tussle with a known on-the-field hoodlum rapist like Robby Keane, it raises eyebrows.

Of course, I mean "hoodlum rapist" in the best possible context, as Keane is a world-grade talent, pairing a deft, finesse touch on the ball to go with his elbow-to-your-philtrum manner of play.

This is a philtrum. It does not suit elbows well.
See the altercation that earned the suspension for yourself, and see what you think:

It seems that the Earthquakes are often fighting the league office as often as their own on-the-field mistakes, dating back to the end of last season. The Quakes took the lead versus the eventual champion Galaxy in the first game of the initial home-and-home round of playoffs. The second game in San Jose was a disaster, and one I'm sure the head office wanted to avoid at all costs.

To paraphrase Wikipedia, for the first time in league history, the championship was not held at a previously selected neutral site (like an NFL Super Bowl). Instead, the match was held in the home stadium of the finalist with the best regular season record,  naturally, MLS League Office Comfy Chair (aka Home Depot Center) in Los Angeles. If the Quakes made it that far, the increasingly-prestigious MLS Cup championship game would have been held at 10,000 capacity Glorified Sardine Can Buck Shaw Stadium at Santa Clara University. That would not show well on TV.

The Current "Before" Picture

Although the Quakes' own mistakes, and Galaxy's superior play that night automatically nullifies even the die-hardiest(?) conspiracy theories, it was not hard to imagine a bunch of old white dudes clinking champagne glasses and laughing in nondescript accents over the result.  I guess when the Quakes get their new stadium running next year, we shall see if the league politics will remain the same.

Artist's Conception of the Soon-to-be "After" Picture

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Black and Orange Cat-Foot

A panda bear's scientific name is Ailuropoda melanoleuca.

It means "black and white cat-foot", and yes, I just copied and pasted that from Wikipedia. So, if I attempt to translate Pablo Sandoval with Giants colors into Latin, my best guess is that it might be (as the title of this post suggests) Ailuropoda melanofulvus.

Unless of course, we prefer Gastropoda melanofulvus (black and orange stomach-foot).

Addendum to tactic #4 from yesterday: Bochy, give your talented hackers carte blanche to swing away the entire game.

2009 eTopps, just before Sandoval received his ursine identity
I was very happy to see that it looked like that nearly all of the Giants were working along the lines of the tactics I thought about yesterday. Watching Angel Pagan force Verlander into more than one at-bat over seven pitches was a sublime and subtle thing of beauty.

However, I was even more pleased to see Pablo Sandoval do what he does best. Forget tactics, strategy, or even conscious thought. I am perpetually entertained and fascinated with players like Sandoval and Vladimir Guerrero (He Who Hits Without Gloves), whose idea of plate discipline is knowing when to wash the dirty ones in the kitchen.

Guys like Sandoval have supremely gifted hand-eye coordination and world-class bat speed. These guys in their prime are among the most fun to watch. They must be so hard to pitch to; you can't out-think someone who's not playing mind games back at you.  They'll swing at nearly everything close to the plate (high and down the middle, low and inside, low and away, for starters), and all too often, they'll get a piece of it, if they still don't get all of it anyway.

The sad part is that these supreme hackers, as they age, start to quickly lose that near supernatural ability on which they've become dependent. Watching Vlad's brown-out of power preclude his now presumably quiet exit from major league ball, is a little sad. It's like watching your favorite old cat just not be able to catch prey like it once did.

However, Kung-Fu Panda's ability to tag anything in the zone is exactly the recipe required last night. A bamboozled and incredulous Verlander was worth every second of footage on the Phantom Cam.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Beat Justin Verlander at Tetherball

One of my favorite Justin Verlander rookie cards is from 2006 eTopps. The photography in the 2006 baseball set from eTopps has a wide variation in quality. They range from nifty in-game action shots, to the outright laughable, such as this gem:

"This guy's angled tether ball attack is unbeatable."
At the time, the eTopps message boards called this the "tetherpole rookie". It looks like Topps hired one of those pony-pictures-with-kids guys to catch Justin at the Extended Stay America® after spring training practice. Luckily, they seem to have just missed the torrential rain that always seems to hit Florida daily around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Apparently, Curtis Granderson caught a ride back with Justin that day, too.

Some of the other photography winners in 2006 eTopps include "Field of Dreams" Jorge Cantu, Matt "High School Dance" Garza, and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" Jon Lester.

So, after striking out eleven Athletics twice over five games last week, the Tetherball King is set to take on the Giants tonight.  Do the Giants have hope?  The answer is yes.

Even though much of the roster is different than the 2010 Team Of Destiny Giants, that team of two years ago faced a season-perfect-game-then-postseason-no-hitter Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the NLCS, no less daunting than the situation today. That team wasn't afraid of Halladay (particularly Cody Ross), and there's no reason why the 2012 Giants need to be afraid of Verlander.

So what do the Giants do tonight?

1) Be patient early. What pitchers hate, above all else in the universe, is having to throw more pitches than they want to. The Giants will need to take pitches, even if that means that they may give up an initial strike. If they can get Verlander to 90 or more pitches through the fifth inning, that may help open up the chance for Verlander to make a mistake.  That's an average of only six pitches per out (not even per at-bat!) up to that point. If the Giants can make Verlander work for his outs early, then they have a better chance to see somebody else pitch to them later.

2) Be selectively aggressive later. The #1 commandment tonight I'd suggest is, "Never take a called third strike." An obvious truism is that a team, as a practical matter, will (almost) never score by leaving bats on shoulders. Up against a third strike? Anything even close, they should swing at it. They just might get a base hit. A foul ball at least helps extend tactic #1.

3) Lay off the (high) hard stuff. High strike zone fastballs from Verlander will (very possibly in a literal sense) kill you. They seem juicy, and then leave you thirsty. Wait for low zone stuff and hit it down. Station-to-station base hits can be enough. Building off of tactic #2, a hopefully somewhat tired Verlander will become lulled by getting so many first pitch strikes. After the fifth, unleash the best Giant first ball hitters, and be selectively aggressive at anything low that's at the right pace.

4) Determine patterns early. Pitchers rarely throw their repertoire in equal parts. It often works out to throw mostly whatever's working best that particular night. Good movement on the fastball? He'll throw that 80% of the time. Curveball really biting? He might throw that 70% of the time. Figure out from the first two innings which pitch is the foundation for the night, and ignore those. Wait for the change-of-pace pitch (change up, maybe?), and kill it when it arrives at the right spot.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I did watch Game 5 of the ALDS against the A's at Coliseum. The Athletics certainly stepped up to be aggressive at the plate, but often looked like they were Britney Spears trying to hit a fly with a golf club. A little more patience and tactical thinking may have made more of an offensive difference.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Blog is Laughing at Me

This blog has been looking at the back of my head for a year, daring me to put another post together before another year elapsed. As you can see from the date, I didn't make it.

That is why my blog is laughing at me. I guess it doesn't matter much, since nobody reads it anyway.

In any case, since I'm here, I might as well make my time worthwhile. I noticed that today is, according to some people, "Star Wars Day".  As in, "May the Fourth be with you."

While I was gathering breakfast yesterday morning, not long after I read that little calendar fact, this caught my eye on the fridge:

Although cute, I don't mean Squirt from "Finding Nemo".

This Star Wars magnet has been on my fridge for roughly four years. I remember buying some 2007 Topps Star Wars 30th Anniversary packs from Target back then, and I got this little flexible magnet chase card in one of the packs.  It feels a lot like the freebie magnets I got from cereal as a kid, and the kind  you can get now from dentist offices, restaurants, and sports teams.

Turns out, in 2011, boxes of the 30th Anniversary set are not terribly easy to come by. As of this writing, there aren't any on eBay, and a deeper web search will net you results ranging from $125 to $170 per box (Amazon and Blowout seem to have them the cheapest), though you also can find 8-pack retail blasters for about twenty bucks.  eBay also currently doesn't have any of the magnets from this set listed as singles either. It seems that they are a little tougher to find than I would have expected.

It got me to wondering, we've seen a lot of attempts at innovation with sports cards lately, including bulky video cards, giveaway websites, and augmented reality cards. With all that effort, where are the easy-peasy to make magnets that I would love to put on my fridge of some Giants or Oakland Athletics? Just even make them look like the base card, and I think collectors will be falling over each other to get them.

Here's to the future. May the Fourth be with you. Even if it's practically the Fifth.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mos Eisley es Mas Fina

As the day winds down, I was trying to come up with a novel way to mark Cinco de Mayo this year.

How about a little 1977 Topps Mexican Star Wars action?

How about another margarita in the cantina, Luke?  Yeah, he doesn't like you, either.

Too bad about the droids.

They don't serve their kind there.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Now is As Good a Time As Ever

So, I just made it in under the wire.  If I waited one more month, it would be the third year anniversary of solitude for this blog's first and only blog post, still waiting for another.  Looks like that anniversary won't be happening.  Probably a good thing, I guess.

I've been wanting to join dayf's Heritage Blaster Fantasy League for a few days now.  I finally got the time and excuse to go to Target with my wife last night.  We have something of an arrangement;  if I want to purchase sports cards (or anything in a similar frivolous category), I also have to buy whatever it is that we (or she) need(s) from the retail palace.

So, up I go to the checkout counter. In one hand, a Heritage blaster.  The other?  A box of what our nickname for it is: "fem-pro".  With my humility properly placed in its winsome, swaddling nest, we then proceeded home.  Managing some patience, I wait until today to crack open the blaster.  The results of the box break, and my own resultant Heritage Blaster Fantasy Team will wait until the next post.  I expect that post will happen much, much sooner this next time.

I have something else to write about first--a tragedy.  This post is about the Baseball Card of the Greatest Affrontery Evar.  It just so happens to come from the blaster of 2010 Topps Heritage that I just opened.

First, here's the front:

Let me think for a minute.  Why is this card so bad?

1) I can't see a damn thing on the field that this card is supposedly commemorating.  The only thing that stands out are the umpires.  Yep, one, two, three...and...four little black ants.

2) Is this photo even of the All-Star Game?  Is it even from 1961?  Is that Miller even on the mound?  As far as I know, this could just be a Giants - Phillies game from August of 1960.  Or 1959. Or almost whenever.  At least it is. Candlestick.  So, literally speaking, Topps is in the ballpark.  At least the photo is certifiably before 1971, as the stadium outfield perimeter wasn't enclosed yet.

3) The lamely colorized photo gives the guys lavender fedoras in the foreground, and an odd-looking pinkish mold tint in the stadium background.

If the event is Stu Miller's "blown off the mound" urban tale, why did we get this image?  Why not something more approriate, like, well, Stu?  Or an image from the game?  Topps, you have an exclusive license, it's not like using a fifty year old All-Star Game photo would have broken the bank.  Besides, with a history of finding any excuse to put Mantle, Clemente, or Mays on about every fifth card, what happened here?

If you're looking for hope you won't find it here on the back:

At least I get what occurred at the event, but the image on the front is almost completely irrelevant, other than yes, it is Candlestick Park, somewhere between 1958 and 1971 (and judging from the fashions, prior to sometime before 1965).  However, the back of the card manages a total fail with the cartoon.

"The '61 season will never be forgotten."

What?  How trite and lazy is that?  That's not even saying anything!  That's like saying, "You will never forget your first romantic prison encounter."

I've already forgotten the 2003 season, or the 1996 season, so why wouldn't I forget it?  Beyond me, though, seriously, will any MLB season ever be close to being lost to the sands of time?

I doubt if any sport gets more mileage out of micro-analysis of its history than the MLB.  Sabermetricians will be figuring out whether Maris or Mantle had the greater BLORP or SPAZ or TRAMP in 1961 long after I'm dead.  The only thing forgotten here, is the acquisition of a compelling photo from the 1961 All-Star Game, from this apparently unforgettable season.

All in all, though, the funny thing about this legend is that every retelling makes it sound like ol' Stu was whisked away over the stadium wall, just like hot dog napkins I would release like a butterfly at Giants games when I was a kid.  The actual notability of it, as the back at least suggests, is that Stu was penalized, maybe unfairly, for committing a balk because a typical Candlestick gust pushed him aside a couple of feet, and disputably off the rubber.

Why this is so enduringly "legendary" still eludes me, somewhat, at least in comparison to something like the Midge Game:

I wish I could be around for the 2059 Topps Heritage set, and see the "Toad Eats Flies for the Loss in 2007 ALDS" flashback card.

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