Outcasts, antique stores and Larry Bird

Rare is the instance where I can recall myself as a little kid and not instantly cringe with regret. So bear with me while I hang onto one of those moments. All it took was a glance out a window while driving around in Tennessee, of all places.

Pigeon Forge, specifically, is where I spotted a sign reading “OLD BASEBALL CARDS” in the window of an antique shop this week, and I filed it away as an activity for later. I was hoping to find a cache of 1970s or early ’80s baseball cards, something where I could walk away with some cool, weird stuff without having to break a $10 bill.

Instead, sitting near old Life magazines and tin Coke ads, were dozens and dozens of Larry Bird basketball cards. And I cannot undersell the incredible percentage of Bird cards — all from between 1990 and 1993 — in this box. If there were 400 sports cards in top-loaders up for grabs at a dollar apiece, about 100 featured a mullet-free Bird at the end of his career. Fleer, Topps, Upper Deck, Skybox and NBA Hoops were all present and accounted for. There were a lot of duplicates and a few I remembered picking up in fifth grade, but none of them hit me until I noticed this one, a 1992-93 Fleer card. I don’t know if it’s even worth the dollar. Obviously, I grabbed it. Continue reading

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Searching for Bobby Orr and the other great Bruins

A few months ago I finally crossed “Searching for Bobby Orr” by Stephen Brunt off my reading list, and it was fantastic. It painted a vibrant picture of rural Ontario in the 1950s and early ’60s, and set the stage for how Bobby Orr was able to remake hockey forever. And it began at the earliest stages, when a coach with incredible foresight realized the benefit to taking his most talented young player and having him anchor his team, rather than merely placing him at center like any other coach would.

The result was the greatest player anyone had seen to that point, and only Wayne Gretzky has a true argument as a better one. For nine years, Orr was an offensive force from the blue line the likes of which the NHL had never seen, and he was as good at reading defenses and skating back to stop oncoming rushes as anyone.

Reading it made me wish I could’ve been born about 15 or 20 years earlier to watch Orr take over Boston and turn New England on its head. But it also pushed me to wondering about other eras of Bruins hockey, and then comes the inevitable sketching of imaginary rosters, all-time teams and the like. Continue reading

I stole this from a hockey card

I’ve gone through a revival with the Tragically Hip in the past couple of years. I’d seen them live about a decade ago and kept a few of their albums close, but obviously, the news about Gord Downie’s condition and ultimate fate spurred a re-inspection.

In what’s sure to not be a shocker, there was a lot more there than I’d initially found all those years ago. There was a depth to the lyrics that was much richer than I’d realized, the music was at once involved and catchy … the Tragically Hip was a goddamn great band. This shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone who cares about rock and roll.

Obviously, a song that’s captured my attention in the past year is “Fifty Mission Cap.” It’s one I knew, but I clearly listened to Day for Night a lot more than Fully Completely. So it found its hooks into me in a new way — I catch myself singing it to myself constantly now, and I also decided to finally dig into the story. And so we meet Bill Barilko, a 24-year-old defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who scored the decisive goal in the 1951 Stanley Cup Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. In a still that almost previews Bobby Orr’s famous, Cup-clinching goal 19 years later, Barilko is seen lunging forward on a loose puck, firing it past Montreal’s Gerry McNeil. Continue reading

Hanley Ramirez doing Hanley Ramirez things

I feel like I wind up writing about Hanley Ramirez a lot. I don’t know when or if he became one of my “favorite” players — those select few who get cataloged and immortalized in t-shirts and stupid toys that surround my desk because I am, you see, an adult — but I damn sure find myself fascinated with him. I saw him play shortstop in Portland in 2005 and his trade just about sealed a World Series for the Red Sox two years later. And then he was the best player in the world for a couple of years. It’s quite a backstory.

That’s not how it gets told, though. It’s that he’s difficult, he can’t play in the field, he’s weird, he’s whatever.

What he’s been at his best, though, is a hitter with a flair for entertainment. And through the first seven games of the 2018 season, Ramirez — fully healthy and enjoying the moment — has spent most of his time delivering the Red Sox from possible early losses. Continue reading

Jim Ed

I didn’t really think about baseball cards for a long time. They were an early obsession, but between the ages of about 12 to 26, they weren’t much of a thought. Sometimes I looked at the boxes I had stored in the closet, sometimes I flipped through the assembled binders and looked reverently on random images of Andre Dawson or Scott Cooper I’d accumulated. But otherwise, it was a past hobby, replaced by CDs and whatever else.

There were little flickers of that old impulse through that dormant period, though. I picked up a Pedro Martinez card in a cereal box while I was in college somehow, and I’ve hung onto that ever since. And one day while I was combing through a flea market looking for records, I came across two cards for a dollar each that caught my eye — Carl Yastrzemski’s 1981 card, and this one, of Jim Rice in 1977.

He’s smiling and happy to be posing for the photographer in this shot, likely before the Red Sox played the Yankees in some brutal division tilt. He looks like an easy going guy. And he was the most quietly terrifying dude in the game at the time. Continue reading