Not Your Dad’s Topps Cards Anymore

How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.

 

The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when we look for Mike Trout or Bryce Harper to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.

 

Topps had a monopoly on baseball cards from 1956-80, but then the landscape changed dramatically. Other companies were given MLB licenses and the competitive environment almost ruined the hobby as too many product offerings and too much supply turned fans away from collecting. Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.

 

So, for someone who hasn’t collected in years, what do these new, upscale products offer? Recently, a friend of mine purchased some sealed boxes of 2016 Topps Museum Collection baseball cards. One box costs almost $200 and includes 20 cards (4 packs of 5 cards) and you are guaranteed to get at least one “hit” per pack. That hit could be an autographed card or a autograph / relic combo card or a jumbo relic (patch) card or a quad relic (memorabilia from four different players). Each of these cards has a limited print run and the number is stamped on the card so the buyer understands the scarcity of their new collectible Let’s see how this collector made out…

 

> Of the four signed cards pulled from the packs, the most valuable is a beautiful “Signature Swatch” card of the Mets young star Michael Conforto. It not only has the autograph, but also includes three uniform pieces and only five of these were produced…this one is numbered 5/5, making it the last one manufactured. There’s also a “Signature Swatch” of D’Backs Closer Brad Ziegler numbered to 25, as well as a combo game-used material and autograph of the Mariners SS Ketel Marte…that one is also limited to a run of five. The final one is a metal card signed by the Mets 3B David Wright numbered to only 15.

 

> The relic (uniform jersey) cards are numbered anywhere from 99 down to 10. The two lowest are of Mariners star Robinson Cano (02/10) and Athletics Catcher Stephen Vogt (01/10) and then there’s a multi-piece card numbered to 25 of Pirates All-Star Andrew McCutchen. There are future Hall of Famers like Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki along with a HOF member from the past, Orlando Cepeda.

 

> The quad relic cards are especially great for fans of a certain team. This group has the Royals (Gordon, Holland, Hosmer & Ventura), the Tigers (Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler & Castellanos) and the Dodgers (Kershaw, Greinke, Gonzalez & Puig)…each of these is numbered to 99 or less.

 

Oh sure, you can still buy “regular” baseball cards but having options is always nice. No, they’re not your Dad’s Topps cards anymore.

 

 

 

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Panic In April

For Fantasy Baseball players, April can be an excruciating month. All that research you’ve done since last October is no longer just analysis, it is reality. As many pundits have reminded us, being impacted by a “small sample size” is a fool’s game but when players you counted on have already started to let you down, emotions often trump logic (my apologies for using the words “trump” and “logic” in the same sentence).

 

In November, the Old Duck wrote some “Picks n’ Pans” for The Fantasy Baseball Guide – Professional Edition that were published around the start of Spring Training. As I look at the standings in my four leagues (1st, 2nd, 10th & 2nd), how are my predictions doing in the early going? And, in some cases, was I smart or dumb to not take my own advice from four months earlier?

 

> Matt Adams, Cardinals 1B – In November, I thought 2016 might be a comeback season for him, but by April he didn’t appear to have a steady job and I threw him back at $12 in a NL-only league. He still went for $14 at the table but, so far, he’s only had 27 AB’s.

 

> Trevor Bauer, Indians P – My feeling was that this former top prospect was ready to take the next step, but Cleveland’s brass decided he isn’t as good as Josh Tomlin or Cody Anderson. The team that kept him at $10 in my AL-only league before that decision was made is surely disappointed with him only pitching eight (8) innings so far this season.

 

> Zach Britton, Orioles P – My thought that he was significantly under-rated and should be in the upper tier of Closers. Now, he’s on two of my teams and has four Saves with only one run allowed in seven appearances.

 

> Jay Bruce, Reds OF – I panned him due to his inability to adjust to defensive shifting. His big first week raised his draft table price to $23 but it may just be a mirage.

 

> Nick Castellanos, Tigers 3B – A break-out pick of mine, he’s hitting .347.

 

> Patrick Corbin, D’Backs P – I liked the way that AZ brought him back slowly in ’15 and his ’16 performance looks great with three solid starts and a 2.75 ERA.

 

> Ian Desmond, Rangers SS/OF – Here’s where all your instincts can go awry. I panned him in November and then watched him up-close as he looked terrible in March. However, at a certain point in my AL-only Draft, he was the only MI left with any hope of getting SB’s. So, I paid an exorbitant price and he’s now hitting .158. Yes, there are smart ducks and dumb ducks.

 

> Yovani Gallardo, Orioles P – I felt that his ’15 was mostly luck and that some poor team (in reality & fantasy) would be sorry for signing him. His April ERA is 5.62.

 

> Jason Hammel & Kyle Hendricks, Cubs P – Despite numerous opinions to the contrary, I liked both of these guys. So far, in six starts, they’ve combined for a 2.50 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

 

> Joe Mauer, Twins 1B – Didn’t give him much hope of regaining past glory, but as a fan, I’m happy to see him hitting .339.

 

> A.J. Ramos, Marlins P – Really liked his numbers and was surprised that the Fish considered taking out of the Closer role before Carter Capps got hurt. Hasn’t allowed an earned run in April.

 

> Jean Segura, D’Backs 2B – Panned him based on two consecutive lousy years in Milwaukee. He’s only hitting .338 with three (3) HR’s and three (3) SB’s.

 

> Eugenio Suarez, Reds SS/3B – Said in November that his numbers could be as good as Troy Tulowitski’s in 2016. So far, his OPS is .833 and Tulo’s is .545.

 

Hang in there buddy, it’s just a small sample size.

 

Mauer

The Littlefield Effect – 2016

John Littlefield is now 62 years of age, but his name still resonates with baseball card collectors and Rotisserie League Baseball team owners. He only spent two seasons in the major leagues but what wouldn’t the rest of us give to always be known as “a former big league Pitcher”?

 

The baseball card connection is easy to explain, as Littlefield played in the early 80’s when the card industry exploded with new manufacturers. The Topps company had a virtual monopoly on baseball cards from 1956 – 1980 but in 1981, licenses were given to both Donruss & Fleer and despite the competition, all three companies were guilty of less-than acceptable quality control of their products. There were numerous examples all through the 1980’s of mistakes, misprints, corrections and embarrassments. The most infamous incident involved the now legendary 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card that was distributed with a picture of the player holding a bat that had an obscenity written on the bottom of the barrel. Fleer tried to correct the card quickly but never really got it right, producing a total of five different variations.

 

Littlefield’s card legacy was early in the cycle, as his 1982 Fleer card was originally distributed with a reverse negative of the picture, turning the 27 year-old right-hander into a southpaw. Fleer corrected the card, thus making the original a very scarce item. Even today, the corrected version is a “common” card worth about a nickel, while the difficult-to-find “error” card will set you back about $45.

 

Littlefield’s enduring legacy to Fantasy Baseball comes from the original 1984 “Rotisserie League Baseball” book that started this amazing hobby played by millions of fans. As the founding fathers of the game had actually started playing a form of the game in 1981, they shared many stories of the fun, camaraderie and strategy they had experienced in those early years. A segment of the book talked about “The Littlefield Effect”, an interesting factor that impacted the value of players at their first few Drafts. While the early 80’s isn’t really that long ago, it was long before the digital age of affordable PC’s, the Internet and instant information. The Roto inventors decided that the best time to have the player Draft was on the weekend following opening day in order to have reasonably valid information about the official MLB 25-man rosters. After all, stats were only published weekly in the USA Today and league standings were always at least a week behind the actual games.

 

The timing of the Draft, however, led to 4-5 games being played prior to the auction / player selection and box scores were readily available in daily newspapers. Could a few games really have a major impact on the value of a player in a 162 game season? John Littlefield answered that question in 1981. In 1980, he had a very productive rookie campaign with the Cardinals, appearing in 52 games with a 3.14 ERA, 5 Wins & 9 Saves. In December, the Cards made an 11-player trade with the Padres and Littlefield headed west. To say that the ’81 Padres were terrible would be a compliment. In the strike-interrupted 110 game season, they went 41-69 and the entire team only hit 32 home runs. Ozzie Smith was the Shortstop and despite leading the NL in At-Bats, he hit .222 with 0 HR’s & 22 RBI’s.

 

The Padres opened the year in San Francisco and Littlefield saved the 4-1, 12-inning win. The next day, he registered another Save in a 4-2 victory. So, by the time the Rotisserie owners showed up for the Draft, it seemed logical that the Padres had anointed him as their Closer. With Saves being one of only four statistical pitching categories in the standings, his auction price ended up being $34, equal to 13% of the total 23-player budget of the winning bidder. As you might guess, the remainder of the 1981 season was very forgettable for Littlefield, as he suffered 2 losses and a blown Save later in April and was replaced as the Closer by a Pitcher named Gary Lucas. He pitched in 14 games at AAA Syracuse in 1982 with an ERA of 7.49 and his career was over at age 28.

 

For those of us who still play “old-school” Rotisserie Baseball and draft our teams on the Saturday following opening day, we also have memorable “effects” of our own. One of the classics was in 1994, when a Cubs outfielder named Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hit 3 Home Runs on opening day. Even though he had never played more than 50 games in any major-league season, his price on Draft day was $22. He ended up with 8 HR’s for the season and never hit another one in his career.

 

This past weekend, we gathered for the 33rd annual Draft of our original Rotisserie league from 1984 and the Littlefield effect was still floating around the room. Using projections from a highly-respected Fantasy site, let’s see how things played out at the table. As this is a keeper league, we’ll assume that there could be an inflation factor of 20% added to the 4 x 4 projections.

 

> The most obvious example for 2016 is Trevor Story, the Rockies opening day SS. Only on the roster thanks to Jose Reyes’ attempt to go a few rounds with the spouse, Story hit 6 HR’s in the four games leading up to the Draft. Consequently, his $5 season-long projection turned into a $22 price tag at the table.

 

> The Dodgers new Japanese import Kenta Maeda pitched reasonably well in Spring Training but still had no track record in American professional baseball. Due to that uncertainty, his projection was in the neighborhood of $7. However, after pitching six shutout innings in a Win on 4/6, the Draft table price ended up at $19.

 

> Injuries also factor into this equation, as the DL trip of Ben Revere opened up playing time for Michael Taylor in the Nationals OF. Even with Revere’s time off in the calculation, Taylor’s projection was still only around $13. However, with speed & power in his arsenal along with the late timing of his nomination at the table, the final winning bid was $26.

 

> Denard Span is a good ballplayer, but injuries had derailed his performance last season and he is 32 years old. A HR, 6 RBI’s and a SB in the first week increased his value from $20 to $28.

 

> Jay Bruce has been horrible the last two seasons primarily due to his inability in adjusting to the shift. This Spring, he was rumored to be traded to the AL and the Reds are definitely in the re-building phase. Two HR’s and 5 RBI’s on April 7th buoyed  his projection of $18 to a winning bid of $23.

 

> The last two seasons in Milwaukee, Jean Segura had OPS figures of .614 & .616. A fresh start in Arizona and a first week including 3 HR’s & 2 SB’s gave his $19 projection a boost to $27.

 

> The effect also can work in the opposite direction. Starting Pitchers who have a bad outing prior to the Draft often go for reduced prices. An example is Andrew Cashner only costing $5.

 

> While “newbies” to the Roto game might think that we are dinosaurs, don’t forget that the timing also allows us to know who has the job on opening day. And the teams that were influenced by box scores may have to deal with the consequences as the seasons rolls on.

 

The good news for all of us is that whenever you hold your Draft, it’s your favorite day of the year.Story

Legal Supplements

How would you like to be invited to participate in the most unique Fantasy Baseball league in the industry? Looking back to 2002, the Old Duck was thrilled to be part of the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), the vision of Ron Shandler and the first industry keeper league. Some of the most respected pundits and players of the game were kind enough to invite three “challengers” to be included as part of the 12-team group. As one of these home-league players, I was nervous and excited to sit down at the draft table that November and test my skills against the best.

 

As we enter our 14th season, it has been a great ride for this lifetime baseball fan. We’ve expanded to 15 teams and the camaraderie established over the years has led to genuine friendships with a great group of guys. And, to my surprise, the Quacker has turned out to be a decent player with championships in 2005, 2009, 2011 & 2012.

 

The XFL is a 5×5 keeper league (with OBP instead of BA) that has an auction budget of $260 for 23 players. We conduct the draft only a month after the baseball season ends and no research (or computers) are allowed at the table. Utilizing just MLB depth charts handed out prior to the first player being nominated, it is a test of your player-pool knowledge and prognostication. There is a significantly high inflation factor because many of the players on the keeper lists have salaries much lower than their projected values. Here’s the roster of Donald’s Dux following the draft…

 

C – Francisco Cervelli $6 (K)

C – Devin Mesoraco $11 (K)

1B – Anthony Rizzo $23 (K)

3B – Matt Duffy $10 (K)

1/3 – Jose Abreu $7 (K)

2B – Cesar Hernandez $2 (D)

SS – Brandon Crawford $6 (K)

2/S – Eugenio Suarez $10 (K)

OF – Yasiel Puig $10 (K)

OF – Andrew McCutchen $22 (K)

OF – Odubel Herrera $11 (D)

OF – Ben Revere $18 (D)

OF – Colby Rasmus $6 (K)

U – Michael Brantley $17 (K)

P – Francisco Liriano $18 (D)

P – Zach Britton $15 (D)

P – Jacob DeGrom $15(K)

P – Jeff Samardzija $11 (D)

P – James Shields $15 (D)

P – John Lackey $8 (D)

P – Jason Hammel $5 (D)

P – Jerad Eickhoff $1 (D)

P – A.J Ramos $11 (D)

 

To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Cervelli was drafted for $1 the previous year. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Puig in 2013 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 4th season on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week), so at the end of March there is a supplemental, on-line, snake draft to fill the remaining slots. These legal supplements can have a huge influence on the success of your team because so much can happen between November & March. For the teams who drafted (or kept) Joey Gallo, Yu Darvish, Eduardo Rodriguez, Max Kepler, Trea Turner, Carson Smith, Greg Bird, Aroldis Chapman, Jhonny Peralta & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.

 

As the result of finishing 7th in 2015, the Dux had the 6th pick in this supplemental phase as the first of 14 players to be added to the roster. As always, it becomes a lesson in strategy as to the utilization of scarce resources from a pool where over 350 players were already rostered . Looking at the Dux team, there weren’t any glaring weaknesses because all the players were still in the major leagues. The minor issues were Brantley starting the year on the DL and needing to add some additional power. The priorities easily became crystal clear. Take the best “HR” player at #6, add pitching depth and acquire back-ups for 2B & 3B.

 

Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to rostering young players low in the minors and holding them until they’re ready. This is one of the key elements to a “dynasty” format and the owners in this league know everything about projectable minor leaguers, college players and even an occasional high-school phenom. In any given year, you could take a top-20 prospect list from your favorite publication or website and about 18 of them are already on one of the XFL rosters. The real gems in the 1st round of the supplemental draft are players who have rookie status and a major league job like Jose Abreu, who I selected with the first pick in 2014.

 

Teams have very difficult choices in the initial rounds, as they need to balance filling holes on their roster with also acquiring some long-term talent. This year, as we gathered at our computers on March 30th, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the 1st Round results…

 

> 1.01 Kenta Maeda – The perfect pick in a “Dynasty” format because he has rookie status and a major league job.

 

> 1.02 Blake Snell – A consensus top pitching product, he should contribute later this year.

 

> 1.03 Yulieski Gurriel – This Cuban veteran hasn’t signed yet, but scouts say he’s major league ready.

 

> 1.04 Anderson Espinosa – Another young pitching prospect but he’s only 18 years old.

 

> 1.05 Byung Ho Park – Like Maeda, a great pick due to rookie status and major league job. A little surprising to see him available at this spot.

 

> 1.06 Jonathan Schoop – This was the Dux “HR” pick. The others on the list for this spot were Park, Mark Trumbo & Domingo Santana. Santana doesn’t yet have a track record and even though Trumbo had a higher projection, 2B was the weakest position in this draft. This also gives the squad a back-up to Hernandez, who isn’t a proven commodity after only a partial season.

 

> 1.07 Trevor Story – Jose Reyes’ pending suspension and a spectacular Spring moved this player up the board.

 

> 1.08 A.J. Reed – Impressive young hitter who will probably be in the Astros line-up sooner rather than later.

 

> 1.09 Archie Bradley – A recent top prospect who lost some of his luster after a horrific injury in 2015. Could be significant upside in this pick.

 

> 1.10 Vincent Velasquez – Starting pitching was at a premium in this draft and the Phillies 5th SP has good stuff, but little experience.

 

 

 

> 1.11 Glen Perkins – There are always a number of Closers available due to all the bullpen changes between November & March. Passed over in the auction due to injury concerns, Perkins is a solid pick in this spot

 

> 1.12 Lewis Brinson – A very impressive young OF for the Rangers, he’ll be knocking on the door soon.

 

> 1.13  Brad Ziegler – Another Closer who wasn’t a lock back in November.

 

> 1.14- Domingo Santana – Has three projectable traits…HR’s, SB’s & K’s.

 

> 1.15 Delvin Perez – Another highly-rated international prospect, this 17 year-old should sign very soon.

 

The first half of Round 2 included two more Closers in Fernando Rodney & Jeremy Jeffress, some additional prospects in Andrew Benintendi, Bradley Zimmer & Victor Robles along with veterans Trumbo & Nori Aoki.

 

At pick 2.10, the Dux would have liked to add a SP but none of the choices seemed worthy of the spot. Instead, we opted for Steve Cishek who could get some Saves in Seattle if one of our SP’s goes down in April.

 

At this point, it seemed like the timing was right to add a prospect, so in Round 3 we took Willson Contreras of the Cubs. Catchers are always at a premium in this format and Miguel Montero is only signed through ’17.

 

Additional picks…

 

> Round 4 Andrelton Simmons – Even though he’s a SS, this pick essentially gives the team a back-up 3B because Suarez will qualify at the hot corner very quickly.

 

> Round 5 Tyler Naquin – Will start the season as the Indians CF and provides some insurance if Brantley’s return is delayed.

 

> Round 6 Colin Rea – Not much to choose from in the SP pool, he’ll be a fall back in case of injury.

 

> Round 7 Kurt Suzuki – XFL teams must have a back-up Catcher who plays enough to help, but not enough to hurt.

 

> Round 8 Gleyber Torres – By the time this 19 year-old SS gets to Wrigley Field maybe I’ll learn to spell his name.

 

> Round 9 Chase Headley – Everyday players on your bench can’t hurt.

 

> Round 10 Alex Verdugo – Only the #7 prospect in the Dodgers organization but he’ll play 2016 at age 19.

 

> Round 11 Darren O’Day – Britton insurance.

 

> Round 12 Seth Smith – Under-rated and overlooked.

 

> Round 13 Corey Knebel – This was done prior to his injury as a flier in case Jeffress has problems closing.

 

> Round 14 Tom Koehler – An innings-eater in the back of a rotation, you hope he’s not needed.

 

The 38th, 39th & 40th spots on the roster were filled by three supplemental picks from previous years who are still in the minor leagues…Willy Adames, Yoan Moncada & Julio Urias.

 

How will the Dux fare? Our stat website projects a highly competitive league with four teams having 95+ points. The Dux are in the group, so as Marlon Brando once said (sort of), “we could be a contendah”.

 

More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com

 

Schoop

Same Time Next Year

In 1978, there was a movie titled “Same Time Next Year” starring Alan Alda & Ellen Burstyn. It wasn’t a classic film but was certainly entertaining, which is confirmed by its 7.2 rating on imdb.com. The plot was about two people, both married to others, who meet by chance at a romantic inn and end up sharing a night together. The next morning, they are wondering how this could have happened but decide to an agreement. They will meet each year on the same weekend at the same place and renew their relationship. Originally a stage play, the story takes the audience through the years with the same couple in the same room. The episodes take us from the early 1950’s to the mid 1970’s, as the changes in the world and their lives impact their relationship.

 

As I sat behind home plate at Surprise Stadium for 25+ games this March, the title of that movie popped out of my aging grey matter and wrapped itself around this wonderful annual experience. The girl I love each year is named Spring…it just so happens that her last name is Training. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Of course, it was Sonnet 43, so she probably had a Dennis Eckersley jersey.

 

> The weather in Arizona this time of year is absolutely beautiful. Azure blue skies and emerald green grass greet you everyday at the ballpark.

 

> The ballpark is the most comfortable and fan-friendly of all the Cactus League facilities. Even though it opened in 2003, the newer parks with all the whistles and bells can’t compare with the sightlines and intimacy of this gem. It has a single concourse, allowing easy access for all fans. The concessions are on the concourse, so you don’t miss any game action while feeding your appetite or quenching your thirst. There are small upper-decks above 1B & 3B that hang out over the lower seats and add another viewing  perspective to the game. And, a local group of over 500 volunteers called the Sundancers are always there to assist you with everything from parking to charity raffles to wheelchair access for disabled fans to being at the top of every aisle helping fans find their seat.

 

> What isn’t apparent to most fans is that the ballpark has a second name…Billy Parker Field. When Billy Parker made his major league debut with a game-winning home run for the Angels on September 8, 1971, you probably could have completed the census of Surprise by yourself over a weekend. After his baseball career ended, Billy worked with youth programs for the city and was much beloved for his volunteerism before he passed away in 2003. Today, he would be proud to see the thousands of Little League players who attend youth day at the ballpark every March. The city’s current population is over 115,000.

 

> One of the first things you see when entering the leftfield gate for a game is a small tent hosted by Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and his charity foundation. Almost everyday in March, you will find great ballplayers from the past signing autographs in exchange for a donation to the foundation. This Spring, you would have seen Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry, Bert Campanaris, Willie Wilson, Mudcat Grant and many others greeting fans and talking baseball with them.

 

> Speaking of autographs, these games obviously offer fans greater access to ballplayers and many hope to get signatures from their heroes. Some players sign a limited amount, some don’t sign at all but the nicest memory is the generosity of Josh Hamilton during his first go-round with the Rangers (2008-12). Typically, the regulars come out of a Spring Training game around the 5th inning and head down the foul line toward the clubhouse. Fans congregate in the area hoping that players might stop and sign, but most just take a circuitous route to avoid the inconvenience. For those five years he spent with the club, Josh stopped every day and signed autographs for as long as he could, even standing in foul territory while the game proceeded just to accommodate the fans. We’ve all had someone in our life who has battled addiction and can clearly understand how difficult it can be to overcome. This is a guy we should all root for because he understands what the game is all about.

 

> The National Anthem is a traditional moment at every baseball game and we’re privileged to have talented people perform at the Stadium each day during March. At least a half dozen times each Spring, however, we’re treated to a very special moment when Jesse McGuire gives us his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the trumpet. He has played the Anthem in front of three U.S. Presidents and at the 2001 World Series, but this time of year, he is our special guest. No matter your background or political persuasion, you are guaranteed to feel chills and treasure the moment. Then, as the home team takes the field, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” pipes in over the loudspeakers and we’re ready to “Play Ball”.

 

> The other people in the ballpark also make the experience memorable. For me, it never gets old to engage long-time friends and new acquaintances in baseball conversation. My closest friend and his beautiful wife have had seats in the first row behind the 3rd base dugout since the ballpark opened. Sometimes I go down and join them for a couple of innings but even when we’re at a distance we’re still close. Each day, when he arrives at the park, we catch each other’s eye and say “hi” by flashing baseball signs to each other. My season seats are right behind home plate and even though they are about eight rows up from the field, they are on the railing above the tunnel used by visiting teams. The result is that there is no one in front of me to block the view…the best seats in the house! “Duke” is my wingman for about 2/3 of the games and we talk baseball for hours each day before reaching our pitch count and heading home for a nap (me) or “honey do’s” (him). For the other 8-10 games, the adjacent seat is occupied by golfing buddies, out-of-town guests or an occasional pretty girl who hasn’t figured out how old I am. This year was even more special, as my Son made the trek from SoCal to attend a sell-out with me between the Royals & Dodgers last week. Right across the aisle is another dear friend who makes an 11,000 mile round trip from the south coast of England each March to watch baseball. This same section is also where the scouts sit with their scorebooks and radar guns. This allows me the opportunity to visit with really smart guys like Deric McKamey, Kimball Crossley, Jason Grey & John Cox while also playing the recognition game by spotting former players like 1982 Cy Young Award winner Pete Vukovich.

 

> As most of the seats around mine are not season tickets, each day also brings new opportunities to talk baseball. There are always lots of Royals & Rangers fans in for a long weekend or extended visit. Just the other evening, the row in front us was filled with a group of ladies who came all the way from Texas to root for their Rangers. They were decked out in Ranger jerseys with all the accoutrements including team logo earrings We talked baseball for the whole game, agreed that people who are bored by baseball just aren’t very intelligent and pledged to see each other again next year. Of course, each visiting team is also represented by folks with jerseys from the Giants, Dodgers, Angels and others. Unlike pro football, there is never any animosity regarding loyalty. Everyone in the park is there for a good time enjoying the national pastime.

 

> Cactus League facilities have standard food menus and a few more upscale items, but this ballpark has two kiosks on the concourse called the Diamond Grill. They only have one item, a freshly grilled Italian Sausage on a soft bun with grilled onions & peppers. When the e-mail invitations are sent in February to my once-a-year guests, they seem more excited about the prospect of consuming this culinary delicacy than they are about the ballgame itself.

 

> As a Fantasy player, the games themselves are always exciting, interesting and informational. You can read all the scouting reports you want on the Internet, but the personal stories make the game a joy. This Spring, a former #1 pick from 2004 is attempting a comeback after battling alcoholism and serving a jail sentence for drunk driving. He hasn’t played since 2011 and was originally a Shortstop, but now he’s a Pitcher and the other day, Matt Bush hit 100 mph on the radar gun. You can’t make this stuff up.

 

> There is also the occasional sad moment. Two years ago, when Salvador Perez hit that screaming line drive that felled Aroldis Chapman, it was a surreal experience. Even with 7,000 people in the stands, there was total silence.

 

> And, of course, there are always a few enthusiastic fans applauding for an unknown prospect wearing #87 with no name on the uniform. You realize quickly that they’re members of his family and just hope he doesn’t strike out or give up a 3-run homer.

 

The Old Duck has only been in love a few times over the years, but the relationship with this girl I call Spring is the most enduring. She is beautiful, loyal, consistent and always in a good mood. I will miss her very much over the next 11 months, but knowing that she’ll be there “same time next year” makes it easier to bear.

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AL All-Stars Of The 1950’s

In our community, we have a very active and enthusiastic sports interest group. Headed up by a retired New York City schoolteacher, who is also the world’s biggest Giants fan, we’ve been fortunate enough to have visits from Fergie Jenkins, Josh Hamilton, Matt Williams, Hall of Fame Baseball Executive Roland Hemond and dozens of other sports luminaries. Each Spring, as our homage to Spring Training and the new baseball season, we host a baseball panel discussion on a particular topic. In the past, we’ve reviewed the “Golden Age of Baseball” (the 50’s & 60’s), debated the Hall of Fame, previewed the upcoming season, rated the top ten players at each position and discussed the ten greatest teams of all time. This time, we utilized the Sports Illustrated coffee table book about baseball to put together the decade All-Star teams of the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s.

 

Last week in front of an enthusiastic audience, each of the six panelists presented either the AL or NL squad from a particular decade. My responsibility was the AL All-Star team of the 50’s and my comments were as follows…

 

You’re probably wondering how I was chosen to present the AL All-Decade team of the 1950’s. Obviously, I’m much too young to have seen any of these players and would have very little first-hand knowledge of their talent and exploits.

 

That concludes the humorous portion of this presentation.

 

In reality, I spent many days & evenings at Fenway Park in the 1950’s watching my beloved Red Sox battle the other teams in the American League and had the privilege of seeing all of our All-Stars in person. So, let’s get started with the man behind the plate..

 

C…Yogi Berra, Yankees

 

One of the most beloved characters in the game, we lost him just last September at age 90. In later years, people knew him for his outrageously funny remarks, TV commercials and personal appearances. But unless you saw him play in the 1950’s, you can’t possibly appreciate his talent as a player. During the decade, he won three AL MVP awards and from 1950-56, he never finished worse than 4th in the MVP balloting. He hit over 20 HR’s in nine straight seasons and had 100+ RBI’s five times. This was all in addition to his defensive skills, the handling of Pitchers and incredible durability, catching as many as 140 games in five different campaigns. His salary in 1955, when he won his third MVP, was $50,000. Lawrence Peter Berra was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972. And don’t forget, when you come to the fork in the road…take it.

 

 

1B…Bill Skowron, Yankees

 

Another member of the Yankees dynasty, his nickname was “Moose” and he was the kind of gritty player that fans loved. A member of five consecutive All-Star teams starting in 1957, he was on the winning team in five World Series during his career. His highest salary in the 50’s was $22,500. As opposed to Catcher, where there were no challengers to Yogi, a number of other 1B could have easily been considered for this honor including Mickey Vernon & Ferris Fain.

 

 

2B…Nellie Fox, White Sox

 

At 5’10” and 160 pounds, this diminutive infielder exemplified the term “scrappy”. As the lead-off hitter for the Pale Hose, he made the All-Star team 11 consecutive times starting in 1951. He led the league in hits four times during the 50’s and won the league MVP award in 1959. He earned $45,000 that year. Three Gold Gloves gives you an idea of his defensive skills and he entered the Hall of Fame in 1997.  The next tier of 2B included Bobby Avila & Pete Runnels.

 

 

 

 

 

SS…Harvey Kuenn, Tigers

 

At age 22, he burst on the scene in 1953 and led the AL with 209 hits while winning the Rookie of the Year award. The following year, he led the league in hits again and made his second of eight consecutive All-Star teams. He won the batting title in ’59 by hitting .353. When you think of the way baseball is played today, consider this statistic…during the 1950’s, Kuenn walked a total of 320 times and struck out only 204 times. Other candidates for this squad would have been Gil McDougald & Ray Boone. His best paycheck with Detroit was $35,000.

 

 

3B…Al Rosen, Indians

 

The slugger nicknamed “Flip” only played seven full seasons in the big leagues and they were 1950-56. In that short time, however, his accomplishments were impressive. He hit 192 HR’s (leading the league twice), had over 100 RBI’s five times, made four All-Star teams and won the MVP award in 1953. Think about his ’53 season – he led the league in Runs (115), HR’s (43), RBI’s (145), Slugging Pct. (.613), OPS (1.034), Total Bases (367) & WAR (10.1). Other considerations at the hot corner were Eddie Yost & Billy Goodman.

 

 

LF…Ted Williams, Red Sox

 

Considered the greatest hitter in the history of the game, it’s easy to overlook the fact that he played the entire decade of the 1950’s in his 30’s. He also missed two full seasons (’52 & ’53) flying fighter jets in Korea. Even at this advanced baseball age, he led both leagues in BA with .336, OBP with .476 & Slugging Pct. with .622. In 1957, at age 38, he won the batting title with an average of .388. He earned $50,000 and finished second in the MVP voting to the CF on our team.

 

 

CF…Mickey Mantle, Yankees

 

Joe DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season and Mantle was ready to step in as the Bronx Bombers CF. A switch-hitting power hitter with speed and great defensive skills, the 50’s was his prime before injuries and life-style issues started to take their toll. He won the MVP award in both ’56 & ’57 while making the All-Star team every season starting in ’52. He won the Triple Crown in 1956 at age 24 with a .353 BA, 52 HR’s & 130 RBI’s. His WAR was 11.2! The Yankees paid him $32,000 for that season, but he got a raise to $60,000 in ’57. Known as “The Mick”, his legend still grows, passed down through generations of fans.

 

 

RF…Jackie Jensen, Red Sox

 

Originally a Yankee prospect, he was traded to the Senators in 1952 and achieved mixed results. Upon being traded to the BoSox in 1954, he exploded on to the scene. Led the AL in RBI’s three times in the second half of the decade, he won the AL MVP in 1958 beating out many of the stars already mentioned. An outstanding athlete, Jensen was an All-American Halfback at the University of California in 1948 before going into professional baseball. Other contenders for this spot were Vic Wertz & Al Kaline, who could have been chosen just as easily.

 

 

SP…Whitey Ford, Yankees

 

This slick left-hander went 9-1 as a rookie in the 1950 and then spent the next two seasons in military service. Once he got back in the Yanks rotation in ’53, he had the highest winning percentage of the decade with a 71% figure. “The Chairman of the Board” led the AL in Era in both ’56 & ’58 and continued his dominance well into the 1960’s. At the end of the decade, he was being paid $31,000. He’s still with us today at age 87. There were many great pitchers during the 50’s including Early Wynn, Mike Garcia & Bob Lemon of the Indians as well as Bobby Shantz & Billy Pierce.

 

 

RP…Ellis Kinder, Red Sox

 

The game was much different in the 50’s and bullpen usage was one prime example. Unlike today, where hard-throwers are groomed to become Closers, the bullpen guys of the this bygone era were usually former SP’s who could no longer handle the rigors of 35 starts in a season. Kinder led all of baseball with 96 Saves in the 50’s, but how he got there was a marvelous story. He didn’t get to the majors until age 31 and in 1949 (at age 34), he was one of the best SP’s in the game with a record of 23-6. By 1951, he had moved to the bullpen and led the AL in Saves in both 1951 & 1953 and was a major league pitcher into his 40’s. As the best reliever in baseball, his highest contract was $22,500. Other names in this category were Gerry Staley & Allie Reynolds.

 

The only 1950’s AL MVP not already mentioned was Phil Rizzuto in 1950, but his career was essentially over by ’53. Cy Young Awards weren’t given out until 1956 and even then, there was only one winner for both leagues. The only AL pitchers to win were Bob Turley in ’58 and Early Wynn in ’59.

 

 

Following our presentation, the audience added a very spirited Q & A session with lots of great input. Now, we’ll have to come up with next year’s topic…hope you can join us.

56 Berra

Charming The Snake Once A Year

If you’re even an occasional reader of this column, you know that the Old Duck is a 30+ year veteran of Rotisserie Style Auction Keeper Leagues. With over 25 championships in about 70 Drafts, it is what I relish and look forward to each year. However, once a year, the dreaded Snake Draft enters my life for one very good reason. The young man who hosts the league (on ESPN.com) is like a son to me and if he asked me to join a Camel Race Fantasy League hosted by Al Jazeera, I’d probably say yes.

 

Even though I know a beautiful girl who once had a pet Boa Constrictor named “Julius Squeezer”, I hate snakes…both in person and of the Fantasy variety. To me, having 10 or 15 or 20 players go off the board without the opportunity to bid, just penalizes me for doing solid research. And, if one of the Roto combatants forgets to show up on-line, you can bet the “auto-draft” spot will be right in front of me.

 

This time of year, if you follow Fantasy Baseball at all, it is impossible to avoid Snake Draft advice. It comes at you from everywhere…newspapers, websites, magazines, Satellite Radio and friends. The number of strategies are mind-boggling and include…

 

> Memorizing the average draft position (ADP) of every player in the universe.

 

> The “Don’t take Pitchers early” philosophy.

 

> The “Take Clayton Kershaw now” philosophy.

 

> The “Don’t take Closers until later” philosophy.

 

> Prioritizing position scarcity

 

> Getting 50 HR’s & 50 SB’s from your first two picks (50/50 Plan).

 

> Getting 75 HR’s & 75 SB’s from your first three picks (75/75 Plan).

 

> Picking two stud starting pitchers early, also known as the “Dual Aces” plan.

 

> Drafting players for their future instead of their past, also known as the “Upside” plan.

 

In order to avoid having my brain explode, I’ve used none of those strategies and still managed a championship and two 2nd place finishes in the short history of the league. In 2015, the Ducks 9th place finish was assured early when we chose Ian Desmond in Round 2 (choked in his walk year), George Springer in Round 3 (injured) and James Shields in Round 4 (gave up HR’s in Petco?). Then there were the injuries to Yadier Molina & Josh Harrison…well, you get the idea.

 

Part of my occasional past success is from a fairly good knowledge of the player pool, as I’m boning up for NL & AL only Drafts that take place in late March and early April. Logically, however, it seems that the overall approach of the last 30 years still works and it is a mind-set of “balance”. So, while the Long Island Ducks (we all incorporate the name of a minor league team) do have a tendency to wait on pitching, it is more about balancing the roster to leave flexibility as the Draft progresses. Ideally, after ten rounds, the roster should include at least one player at each position (C, 1B, 3B, 2B, SS, OF, SP & Closer) along with a 2nd OF & 2nd SP. After that foundation is established, looking for value is the priority. If you’ve already read columns from multiple sources about the players they drafted, this might be a cure for insomnia. With that disclaimer, my hope is that the strategies and player choices will be of value to you in your upcoming draft.

 

 

This is a 15-team mixed league with 22-man rosters (1 Catcher) and three reserve picks. The random order one hour prior to the Draft gave the Ducks the 12th pick, which didn’t seem great at first, but a close analysis of the top 15 players made me feel better. Even though this a Snake Draft, my logic is to use dollar projections as if it were an Auction Draft. What I found is that there were 14 players on my list that projected to be worth $30 or more…so I was guaranteed to acquire one of those guys. As we work our way through the results, you’ll see the ADP (Average Draft Position) for each player as a point of reference. The ADP rankings are as of the date of the Draft (3/13).

 

Fantasy players are always interested in the first round, so here’s how this league shook out…1) Mike Trout…2) Paul Goldschmidt…3) Clayton Kershaw…4) Josh Donaldson…5) Bryce Harper…6) Jose Altuve…7) Andrew McCutchen…8) Giancarlo Stanton…9) Nolan Arenado…10) Anthony Rizzo…11) Manny Machado.

 

At this point, five of my $30+ projected players were still on the board and considering that my team had another pick coming six spots later, there was an outside chance the Ducks might get two of them.

 

Round1, Pick 12 – Dee Gordon (ADP 20)

 

I liked him better than ADP because of the SB category and the middle infield scarcity. There was going to be power available in Round 2 and I had his value at $37

 

Round 2, Pick 19 – Carlos Correa, SS (ADP 8)

Miguel Cabrera was in the queue for this pick, but was taken right in front of me. It was Correa or Mookie Betts in this spot and I opted for the SS.

 

Round 3, Pick 42 – Jose Fernandez (ADP 37)

 

As expected, the SP run started early…Scherzer, Arrieta, Sale & Bumgarner all went in Round 2 while Harvey & G.Cole went ahead of me in Round 3. I had Fernandez rated ahead of three of those guys and couldn’t really wait any longer. deGrom & Keuchel went at the end of this Round.

 

Round 4, Pick 49 – Yoenis Cespedes, OF (ADP 42)

 

Had to have a power hitter in this spot and was looking at J. Upton when he went two spots earlier. Then CarGo was taken, leaving Cespedes for the rest of us.

 

Round 5, Pick 72 – Eric Hosmer, 1B (ADP 76)

 

Nine 1B has been taken by this time and he was far and away the best one left on the board.

 

Round 6, Pick 79 – Zach Britton, RP (ADP 96)

 

By this point, a run on Closers had begun and the Ducks couldn’t wait another 22 picks to make this decision. I had him projected as the 6th best Closer overall.

 

Round 7, Pick 102 – Matt Kemp, OF (ADP 82)

 

I’m not a fan of this player due to his inconsistency and injury history. He’s also a failure in the eyes of Fantasy players because he’s never duplicated that $50 Roto season of 2011. With that being said, if you didn’t know the name of the player and I told you that a 31 year-old OF had averaged 152 Games, 24 HR’s, 95 RBI’s, 10 SB’s and a .276 BA over the last two seasons, you’d probably take him with pick #102.

 

Round 8, Pick 109 – Danny Salazar, SP (ADP 82)

 

The Ducks second SP, he’s just emerging as a potential star.

 

Round 9, Pick 132 – Josh Harrison, 2B/3B/OF (ADP 242)

 

This looks like a real blunder compared to his ADP, but I have him projected as a $17 player and he qualifies at three positions. People forget that he was an All-Star in 2014 and he plays this year at age 27.

 

Round 10, Pick 139 – A.J. Ramos (ADP 151)

 

Hesitated taking another Closer this early, but the “pickens” were getting slim. With the injury to Capps, he should gather lots of Saves

 

At this point, the original strategy was almost in place…the Ducks had a 1B, 3B, 2B, SS, 2 OF, 2 SP & 2 Closers but no Catcher.

 

Round 11, Pick 162 – J.T. Realmuto, C (ADP 242)

 

Another reach compared to ADP, but I wanted to fill the Catcher spot on the roster. On my sheet, he’s the 7th best Fantasy backstop and could provide double digit HR’s & SB’s. With no position holes on the squad, it was now about value and reading the nuances of a particular draft.

 

Round 12, Pick 169 – Wei-Yin Chen, SP (ADP 200)

 

Not an ace, but should provide decent numbers moving to the NL and a Pitcher’s park

 

Round 13, Pick 192 – Alex Gordon, OF (ADP 192)

 

Isn’t it weird when your pick aligns exactly with the rest of America?

 

Round 14, Pick 199 – Jonathan Schoop (ADP 249)

 

HR potential at middle infield isn’t a bad thing.

 

Round 15, Pick 222 – Carlos Rodon, SP (ADP 169)

 

A little surprising to find him available at this spot. Just touching the surface of his enormous potential, he has #1 stuff.

 

Round 16, Pick 229 – Dexter Fowler, OF (ADP 189)

 

As the lead-off hitter for the Cubs, doesn’t he seem destined to score a “ship load” of Runs?

 

Round 17, Pick 252 – Jason Hammel (ADP 231)

 

A “Rodney Dangerfield” type pitcher because he gets no respect. All people remember is that he didn’t pitch well in the post-season, but he had 172 K’s in 170 IP in ’15.

 

Round 18, Pick 259 – Joe Mauer, 1B  (ADP 282)

 

Probably not a good pick, but would you rather have David Wright or Luis Valbuena instead?

 

Round 19, Pick 282 – Yasmany Tomas (ADP 305)

 

A real crap shoot here, but you have to think the D’Backs financial commitment to him equals a long leash.

 

Round 20, Pick 289 – Robbie Ray, SP (ADP 366)

 

#5 starters aren’t a good idea, but there wasn’t much quality left.

 

Round 21, Pick 312 – Hector Olivera, 3B/OF (ADP 335)

 

Another Cuban with a big contract, the Braves need to see what they have moving toward 2017.

 

Round 22, Pick 319 – Ervin Santana, SP (ADP 266)

 

Pitched effectively in the 2nd half of ’15…just throwing stuff on the wall at this point

 

Round 23, Pick 342 – Francisco Cervelli (ADP 239)

 

The first of 3 reserve spots, this guarantees not having to find a Catcher on the free agent list in case of injury.

 

Round 24, Pick 349 – Jerad Eickhoff, SP (ADP 311)

 

Will be a #4 or #5 starter on a bad team…this is definitely an end-game selection for depth

 

Round 25, Pick 372 – Max Kepler, OF (ADP 440)

 

Probably won’t make the opening day roster, so he might be the first player cut. (Note – two days after writing this, I replaced him with Alex Colome, who might get some Saves in Tampa Bay due to Boxberger’s injury)

 

At the conclusion of the draft, you can click on a link that shows predicted standings based on ESPN projections. The Ducks are shown in 14th place with 63 points. Did I mention that I hate Snake Drafts? So, is there a light at the end of the tunnel or is it a locomotive? My dollar projections say that the 22 active players have a value of $295 in a theoretical $260 league…that doesn’t seem like a 14th place team. When the stats are run for the 22 Ducks and compared to last year’s standings in the same league, it seems more like 95-100 points rather than 63. Who is correct? As always, only time will tell.

 

 

The really good news is that I don’t have to do this for another year. Best of luck in your Draft.

 

Donald Duck Snake