Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Review: Press Box: Red Smith's Favorite Sports Stories

Red Smith is considered one of the greatest sportswriters of all time. I can't say I've read any of his work, other than this book's foreword. And in that foreword, Smith claims that the works included aren't necessarily the greatest, but that they are enjoyable.

Press Box is a digest of sports stories, as you might gather. The stories were originally found in newspapers, magazines, and books. And all are fairly long - all 18 stories average about 10 pages each. Some are written by sportswriters, others by other authors. Some written literally as the events unfolded in front of them, others compiled decades after the stories were first created.

"Dempsey vs. Carpentier" follows a major boxing event; the story begins describing patrons flowing into the arena to take their seats, moving through all of the lesser fights bit by bit, before reaching the big fight everyone came for. Written by Irvin S. Cobb, it was an interesting read that painted a vivid picture of the day; his words really help the reader visualize not only the match itself but the surroundings and atmosphere. Cobb wrote the story on the spot, with individual portions being sent as they were written to the newspaper to be prepared for publication.

On the other hand, Red Grange's story was told in "The Ghost of the Gridiron" by W.C. Heinz nearly 40 years after Grange played football in Chicago. Grange wasn't necessarily proud of his accomplishments on the field, and that sentiment is portrayed well in Heinz's biography.

This is a sports story book, and most of the stories aren't baseball. But there are a few:

"The Best Team Ever" idolizes the 1927 Yankees, while the 1962 Mets are called "The Worst Team Ever". Grantland Rice wrote "The Big Fellow" when creating a tribute to his friend, Babe Ruth. And Ted Williams' final game was reported on by John Updike.

The topics are some of the biggest in their respective sports, especially early in the book. But I'm not jaded; I'm glad to read yet again about the 1927 Yankees. And I'm happy to hear even more about Babe Ruth, despite him being mentioned in almost every single baseball book ever written. I've never read about boxing or football, either.

The writing, however, leans toward hyperbole. When you're writing about the "greatest" or the "worst" in a sport, and when you're trying to paint a certain picture of your subject, the language and writing style becomes almost formulaic. A nearly-Sopranos episode-style ending. The 18 stories in the book all look at the greatest or the worst. There's so much amazement. Such attitude, talent, and pride.

With 18 stories by 18 authors, each "chapter" has its own style and flow. And this is seen most in "Dempsey vs. Carpentier". Here's an example:
Conspicuous at the front, where the lumber-made cliffs of the structure shoal off into broad flats, is that type which is commonest of all alongside a fight ring. He is here in numbers amounting to a host. There must be thousands of him present. He is the soft-fleshed, hard-faced person who keeps his own pelt safe from bruises, but whose eyes glisten and whose hackles lift at the prospect of seeing somebody else whipped to a souffle. He is the one who, when his favorite pug is being hammered to a sanguinary Spanish omelet, calls out: "That's all right, kid, he can't hurt you." I see him countlessly repeated. For the anonymous youths who in the overtures are achieving a still greater namelessness by being put violently to sleep he has a listless eye. But wait until the big doings start. Then will his gills pant up and down as his vicarious lusting for blood and brute violence is satisfied.
This paragraph is describing the fans attending a boxing event. Reading this particular story was painful. I had to read entire paragraphs multiple times just to understand what is happening. That paragraph, and the fight it attempts to describe, happened in 1921, nearly 100 years ago. Did the people of 100 years ago use words like hackles? saguinary? vicarious? My autocorrect dictionary doesn't even recognize countlessly or namelessness.

It is writing like this that made me put down the book. I just had no interest in reading about sports I don't have an interest in, in a headache-inducing style, full of over-importance. To be fair, most of the book is written more accessibly. But every article puts its subject on a pedestal. Every subject is an idol to be worshiped.

I read all of the baseball stories and a few from other sports. But I've found myself having no interest in reading many of the others. Too much toasting, not enough meat. In the end, the writers were too invested in glorifying their subjects. Perhaps if I had read one chapter - one story - every month from this book, I could have enjoyed it more.

Let me sip my Jack and Coke. Don't force your straight, aged whisky down my throat by the bottle.

This was my third book of the year. I didn't finish it from cover to cover, but I consider it finished. And as February comes to a close, I'm moving right along in my quest to read at least 12 books this year. In fact, I'll finish my current book soon; if not this weekend by the end of next week.

Until next time...

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Book Review: October 1964

My posting has been sporadic for a few reasons. First and foremost, I've been suffering from allergies the last couple of weeks. It's just left me feeling uninterested in thinking (despite what you might think, writing my posts do require some brain power). Second, I've been working on projects instead of writing - the projects I've been working on have been generally low effort, and I might not be at home next month or later in the year; now is the best time to get things done, right? Finally, there aren't many things to write about. I have post ideas but I'd rather just save them for later due to the two previous reasons.

Not getting in the way of posting is reading. I set a goal this year to read at least one book a month, and I've almost exclusively been reading while riding the train, with some reading during lunch at work. I started the year off with a quick trivia book that I polished off in just a few hours. And a few weeks later I finally started my second book.

This post is quite long; there is a very brief summary at the end if you just want to know my opinion of the book.
David Halberstam got his start as a journalist in the 1960s, covering the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement, before focusing more on history books, especially sportswriting. His 1981 book The Breaks of the Game, about the 1979-80 basketball season, was his first entry in the field; this was followed by a book about rowing before he wrote his first baseball book. Summer of '49, published in 1989, is a book I've seen several times on the shelf; I own the book, after all, though it's sitting in the US so I've never read it. His second book is the one you see above; he would write one more baseball book about the 1940s Red Sox in 2003.

October 1964 is mostly about the World Series that year between the Cardinals and the Yankees, but the actual games themselves feel like almost an afterthought in the book itself. There are 31 chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue, over 373 pages (in my book's printing, at least). But the six World Series games, which take up six chapters, fill less than 10% of the book (about 35 pages). Granted, an average of six pages or so per game is a lot; the text in this book is pretty small and close together, so a six-page account of a single game has a lot of detail.

The first 25 chapters, instead of talking about October 1964, talk about the events leading up to that year's championship tournament. There are plenty of recaps of teams' months; game scores, stats, and gameplay narrative has its place. But a large portion of this book takes place off the field or between the pitches. And many of the stories take place before the 1964 season, and sometimes afterward.

Take chapter 11. At first glance, it appears to look at how St. Louis' remedied their troubles in June. In fact, the first sentence in that chapter is: "In mid-June the St. Louis Cardinals were struggling." The first five (of 20-plus pages) in the chapter discuss the timeline of how the Bill Devine attempted to fill a hole in the outfield.
From that point, the narrative turns to Lou Brock, his struggles in Chicago from 1962 to mid 1964, and his adjustment to playing for the Cardinals. That's seven pages. The story then shifts to Buck O'Neil, the man who had scouted Brock, and how he came to be a scout after playing in the Negro Leagues. There go another seven pages, traveling all the way back to the 1940s. The remaining seven pages are about O'Neil's scouting of Brock in the 1950s and Brock's progression through the minor leagues, leading up to his debut in 1961.

Reading the book written in this fashion definitely took some getting used to. It's not a linear progression of events. The main narrative goes off on tangents, almost like cutaways in a Family Guy episode, except these cutaways actually have to do with the main story. If the book were to be turned into a movie, I suppose those would all be flashbacks, with the occasional flash forward.

That said, Halberstam's stories are interesting. Never once did I think "Man, I he should have left out this entire section on Buck O'Neil" or "Do I really need to hear about Mickey Mantle's struggles in so much detail?"

He discusses a lot of the social issues taking place in the US and in baseball around that time as well; there is mention of the changing press style, a lot of discussion about racism, and many pages are devoted to front office and salary issues.

I think if Halberstam had just written about the season itself, or just focused solely on the World Series itself, there wouldn't be so much interest in the outcome. Yes, I could easily search Wikipedia for the results of the 1964 World Series, and I'm sure I could piece together some of the stories of the teams and the players from that site and perhaps some others. But as I read the book, I found myself actually appreciating many of the players more than I ever did before.

Bob Gibson was a great pitcher; I've known that for a long time. He was a fierce competitor and he went through a lot given the time he was playing and where he was playing. But I feel that, after reading the book, I understand him a lot more and respect him even more than before. The same can be said for Lou Brock and any of the other players Halberstam goes into detail about. And even many of the players he only "mentions" a few times.

The extra stories - the details about the front office, the players' histories, the personalities - slowly build to the relatively quickly discussed Series itself. While there is a moral message against racism in his story (and how racism in the Yankees organization might have been a contributing factor to the end of their dynasty), the book's strongest point is its painting of the personalities, and that kept me going from page to page.
In fact, as a result, I've been inspired to add a few more cards to my collection. Bob Gibson is already there, but lately I've added cards of Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, and Casey Stengel, and have been looking for others mentioned in the book.

October 1964 and Summer of '49 by Halberstam bookend the Yankees dynasty, and probably would be best read as a set. I'm not sure how exactly Teammates, about the 1940s Red Sox, would fit in as a trilogy. But I am much more interested in '49 at this point, and the stories I hope it has to tell as well. And as a bit of a history fan, I have to think that some of his other books might be worth checking out at some point as well.

TL;DR: October 1964 is a great read, and I highly recommend it for the stories about the personalities, even more so than the overall story the book tells. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

BayStars B*Spirit Team Issue Cards 2016-2019

Many teams have their own card sets; MLB teams have had card giveaways for decades, and Japanese teams have their own sets.

The BayStars sets seem to be comprehensive, containing every player on the roster at the time of issue. I call these "B*Spirit" given the notation on the backs. This also distinguishes them from other BayStars sets; the past two seasons saw team-issued (or at least, team-sanctioned) pack based sets. (I opened a box of one of these a couple months ago; they are technically issued by Produce216, but don't carry TIC logos or copyrights.)

I was happy to grab a big lot of cards from the past several years in hopes of finding some Rami-chan singles I didn't have and filling in some gaps. I was successful on both fronts; you'll see the Ramirez cards included below, and for several of the years, I grabbed one card from the stack for the type collection.

Note that, to save space, I've left these images pretty small. But you can enlarge them by clicking on them, or right-clicking and opening in a new window for the full size window. Of course, if you're on mobile, that might be more difficult. Sorry.
 The 2016 set was the most represented in this lot. It is my favorite set, so that was a bonus.
 If you didn't notice, the backgrounds are images of Yokohama Stadium. What I didn't notice until now was that the cards could actually be pieced together like a puzzle to make a big stadium image.
 Not exciting are the poses. I bet you can tell who all of the pitchers and catchers are just by looking at the photos. The straight-on mug shot on the back is pretty plain, too, though I like the isolated facsimile autographs. There are interesting inspirational quotes on the back. I don't know how or why they were chosen.
 There's Rami-chan (Alex Ramirez). And two backup backup backup catchers. It's a nice set!
 I only have eight cards from 2017. But there's another Ramirez. This time, the background is black-and-white, though it looks like you could make a full stadium image by piecing the right backgrounds together. Backs are similar to the year before, including the same quotes for each player.
 Here's 2018. I have 14 of these, but none of Ramirez. The quotes seem to have changed, though again the front has an image of the stadium. I can't tell for sure, but there might be two different angles.
 I think the cards look better overall because the backs have more color, though the quotes are back, in the same place. Those numbers, by the way, are jersey numbers, and are the only numbering on the cards, making BayStars B*Spirit sets skip-numbered.
Finally, 2019. And finally, no more stadium puzzles. Instead, we have giant players standing in the Yokohama skyline, with a background of the entire stadium. Between the player and the stadium is a giant WordArt rendering of the player's name, fitting on two to four lines. The backs have another angle of the skyline with a second pose instead of just a headshot. And the quote lines are back. Again.

I still feel 2016 is the best design of these four years. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Thirty Eight: Last of the Card Show Pickups

Here's the rest of the singles from last month's card show pickups...
 Three printing plates and an /15 autograph. But that Leaf Matrix card looks the coolest in this scan! The Platinum autograph is nice. But I gotta go with Matt Harvey as the best card here thanks to the colors.
 I was surprised to come across a Goodwin Champions printing plate. But that's why I go to card shows! I really like that Eddie Murray dual relic card too. But Pedro Martinez is my favorite card here. I'm a sucker for art cards, if you didn't know.
One of the dealers has occasional Korean cards. I don't know why; perhaps he builds sets for himself, or he looks for certain big hits or players. I got a bunch of cards from the 2019 SCC Premium 2 set for my type collection from him. Dan usually hooks me up with singles but I didn't have any from this set. Jeon Sang Hyun is the best looking card in the lot, if you ask me. You didn't, but it's my blog. So I'll just pretend you asked me.
 After Korea, let's look at Japan. I do live in Japan, after all! One seller had a bunch of numbered Epoch singles, which I gobbled up for my type collection. Epoch's issues are usually so limited that most inserts are numbered less than 100 copies each. I've been gobbling up Calbee singles to finish off a little mini-collection I'm working on; I'm down to mostly 1980s cards. Soon, that project will be completed! Beste card here: Tokutsu, though it didn't scan well.
Finally, some more type collection singles. I lined these cards up so well that the Glory and Legendary Player cards look like single big cards! The two Tashiros are different; you can't tell it in the scan, but they are parallels of the base version. Best card: Asuka Teramoto, because any time I can get a gymnast out of a pack of baseball cards, that set is a winner.

What do you think of this scanning style? Nine cards per scan in an extra-large image size? Usually I have single card images, and put up to three in a row, but I thought I'd go back to this format to see how it works.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Fifty Four

One of my favorite things to find at the Tokyo Collectors Show is a dealer selling cheap MLB singles. Usually, someone's there with a 10-yen box, and I certainly get more cards than I need. In fact, that's where I usually get a bunch of doubles from. But that's fine with me, because it's fun just poking through the cards in the first place.
 I was surprised to get the Ohtani and Acuna for 10 yen each. And I was even more surprised to walk away with cheap Trout and Bellinger SPs, too. I enjoy the gimmicky SPs in Holiday, to the point that I've considered trying to find one of each type of SP (belt, hat, tree, etc.). And one set I chase each year is the Canvas Collection series in Topps Museum Collection. Best card: Bellinger Claus.
 I gotta say, I'm so glad that Stadium Club is back. It's much more enjoyable to flip through a set with unique, varied photographs than a set with batter after batter standing at the plate, and pitcher after pitcher in their motion. Best card: Giancarlon Stanton (the card stock makes this card)
 One of these cards is not like the other! I snuck a printing plate in with some Heritage. I've said it before: I get the concept of Heritage, and I get that many people enjoy it. But it's just not for me. There are some insert sets that pique my interest, at least. Best card: Velasquez for the view of the stadium.
 This is the "cards I don't know what to do with" scan. I like the Stadium Club Legends die-cut set, but I don't really need another set to collect. Best card: Nolan for the color matching.
 These cards fit into my type collection. I love the Score cards that pay homage to the 1990-ish All-Stars subsets. That is a set I will put together. Best card: Cole Tucker for the high jersey number.
Parallel city! It's like Geometry class all over again. Best card: Travis Swaggerty, because 'Murica.

Do you see any standouts here? More coming soon!

Until next time...

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Inspired: The Immortal 10,000

Sean over at Getting Back into Baseball Cards... in Japan recently discussed his thoughts on the ideal card collection size. As he mentions, Japan is a small country, with small houses. His thought connects to a Persian army unit known as the Immortals: a group of 10,000 soldiers which was supposedly Persia's best. Any time a soldier left the army due to death, injury, or illness, he was replaced immediately from another unit, maintaining that unit's strength. And, apparently, the unit was comprised of Persia's 10,000 best soldiers.

So, Sean figured that for him, a collection of 10,000 cards might be the ideal target. Big enough not to cramp his style, but manageable enough to fit in a small space - he says two monster boxes, though I'm sure with sleeves and given the thickness of some older cards, it might be three 3200-count monster boxes, or even three 5000-count boxes.

But what if I had my own Immortal 10,000 cards - across all of my collections, across an ocean and a continent?
My player collections come to a bit over 1000 cards. The majority is actually just Jose Altuve, followed by Buck Farmer, Charlie Hough, and Bobby Cox. The other players are very minimal collections.

Add another 1000 cards for my random singles. Many are from outside baseball or even sports in general. That includes some regular base or insert singles along with my autograph and relic cards.
Next would be Japanese singles, which when push comes to shove would probably be about 1000. And 1000 more cards for my two player collections (actually just over 600 now, but that gives me room to grow). Plus another 1000 cards for some specific Japanese sets I'm pretty sure I'd want to keep.

There's still another 5000 cards to go. The only thing I would probably keep to fill that up is the awards collection I put together. That is a lot of cards, and I might not be able to keep both the Japanese and US collections.

Honestly, keeping the awards collection just to have 10,000 cards might be a silly idea; I'd probably just go with everything else above and expand on some of those as I see fit.
So, what would I be giving up? My type collections (the hardest things to let go, but both are quite large), a couple very large singles collections, and almost all of my sets. I would be getting rid of many, many more cards than I'd end up keeping.

The funny thing is this: cards do take up space, but that's not my biggest (literally) problem. I have many other souvenirs from my travels and knickknacks for baseball and entertainment. If I needed space, those would probably be the first things I'd work through. In fact, I did that a couple years ago, and I'm planning to do it again this spring!

Until next time...

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The (Temporary?) End of a Japanese Baseball Institution

Attending a Japanese baseball game brings with it a few differences from Major League baseball. But for the time being, at least one of the "quirks" of Japanese baseball has been banned.

Fan experience in Japan essentially means interactivity. Or at least, perceived interactivity. Japanese fans cheer in unison, chanting "unique" songs for every player (really, many of them have the same melody, and just include the player's name and a couple other words).

Fans in Japan - anime, idol girl music groups, and baseball - often feel like they are a part of the production. The word "supporter" often comes up when I talk to my students. They "support" their favorite anime (or anime character) by buying merchandise. They "support" their favorite girl by buying her souvenirs, or buying lots of CDs to give her more votes. And they "support" their baseball team by singing and clapping.

One song you'll always hear is sung when their team comes to bat in the seventh inning. Similar to the seventh inning stretch in the US, at the top of the seventh, the visiting team's fans sing their team's fight song, and in the middle of the seventh, the home team sings along.
For many teams, the song's climax is celebrated by releasing long phallic balloons into the air, resulting in a loud screeching sound as they deflate and flutter around the stands.

But thanks to fears surrounding the coronavirus, the balloon release has been banned by the Tigers and the BayStars. There are teams that don't use balloons at all anyway - the Swallows fans wave little umbrellas in the air. And I'm sure other teams, like the Hawks, Buffaloes, and Golden Eagles, will also ban the balloons in the near future if they haven't already. 

And while this ban seems to be only during the teams' spring training games, I could see it continuing on for a while into the season. And while it's a spectacle to see in person, it's quite wasteful - something like 20 million balloons (assuming 40,000 balloons at 500 games) per year. (It probably brings in some big cash for the teams, though - the balloons tend to run about $1 each.)

Friday, February 7, 2020

Have Nots and Haves...

Let's finish off these thick cards from that show last month, huh?

A few more hits were picked up for the type collection:
 I bet you Upper Deck went to a used bookstore or eBay or Amazon or whatever, bought the cheapest map book they could find, and have then been cutting it up since then to make this series of relic cards. I still like World Traveler, though, since I enjoy traveling the world. With 250 cards, the set would be extremely difficult to complete - finding the cards would be the first big challenge, and visiting all 250 locations would cost a fortune. But what a trip that would be, eh?
 A Big Grey Piece of a Shirt. But this one is numbered out of 10 so that makes it more special, right?
 Hey, this one has colors! The green dot means I forgot to take it out of the sleeve before scanning... oops. This is a pretty cool relic because each swatch is a different color, and the patch has four colors too!
 I remember these guys, back when I lived in Atlanta. When this card came out, it was probably a $100 card, at least in Atlanta. I think I paid a couple bucks for it. Boy how things have changed.
 The last card that actually fit into my collection was this patch; it only has a couple colors but it's a big piece. I wouldn't mind having a piece of the S on that logo from his jersey.

I picked up some more cards that ended up not fitting in my collection, as usual.
 I knew I wouldn't need these Civic Symbols state flag manu-relics. But I like novelties, and these are novelties. And they cost me $1 each, so I'll just go to Starbucks one less time this month. At a dollar each, I'd be interested in building the entire set of state flags.
 Two more World Traveler cards puts me over the 1% mark for set completion! Yeah, still not happening, unless, again, I can get the cards for $1 each. Oh, and Walla Walla, Washington! How can you not love Walla Walla, Washington?
 A few days ago, I posted one of these cards. But I bought three in all. Honestly, I wish the colors were bolder, but these have a kind of cross-stitch/needlepoint feel, which issomewhat admirable.
Two horrible signatures. I didn't need either of these in the end. (Yes, I already have a #/5 card from that Tier One autograph set somehow. I might actually have another Odorizzi.) Crawford actually signed all the way down to the relic window.

While not every card I picked up found a home in my collection (yet - perhaps they will fit in somewhere) what I did need certainly was worth the extra expense.

Until next time...

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Baseball Season Is Here! 2020 Topps Series 1 is Out!

The first baseball cards of 2020 have hit the shelves in the US. Topps Series 1 is out, and people on Reddit are talking. Because that's what people on Reddit do.

If I'm lucky, I'll get my hands on a few cards at the end of the month. There's a card show in Nagoya that I'm hoping to attend as a part of an overnight trip, and it's possible that someone will have the new hotness. 

Perhaps I'll revisit these thoughts in the future, but my first impression is a lack of impression. I'm not impressed.
The Fox Sports Infographic design is constrictive, making the image area too narrow on vertical cards. Horizontal cards still have the design on the vertical size, making the area more like an old TV than a widevision movie screen. I'm glad that player images go over the design. I can handle the sideways player names, but when the name is on the right, it really feels like the card should be sideways.
I think the Topps Now year in review cards are a waste of cardboard and more of a shameless marketing ploy. Really, most of Topps' cards showing images of cards in the past few years have been tacky. Decade's Next is very boring. Turkey Red, a set I've collected many times in the past, is just tired now. Based on the images I've seen, they just don't look impressive. I have nothing nice to say about the Home Run Challenge cards, and are the 1985-style inserts any different from what we'd expect?
Source Link
The Rookie Card logo medallion cards are odd because of the placement of the medallions. They're not in the place where the original cards had the logos, or would have the logos in the case of rookie cards of days yore. Stephen Strasburg's 2010 Topps card has the RC logo right over the Nationals logo, with the medallion above that, right next to his chest. This might be because of how they have to assemble these kinds of cards. But no sir, I don't like it.
Baseball Stars reminds me of 20-year old Bowman. Decades of Dominance only has one active player (to be expected, I suppose) but has a modern design. With a more "classic" feel I think I could have been behind this set from the beginning, though after seeing them in person I might change my mind. Why does Topps have 30-card sets for Hoskins and Guerrero other than a cash-grab? 

After all this old-man-complaining, what is good about Series 1?
The Global Game Medallion set looks interesting. I won't be chasing the set, but it's got a nice idea and the horizontal design suits big manupatches and medallions. Usually, I am happy with the medallion sets Topps creates. The manufactured sleeve patch cards are neat as well, though I think the vertical design makes the photo seem squished. Furthermore, I actually like the triangle/pyramid/up-arrow design of the Postseason and World Series hits.
And Decades Best is my favorite. I probably won't go after the 100-card set; it's just too big. I could be interested in one card from every decade (it's a shame they only seem to go back to the '40s or '50s - surprisingly there's no Ruth, Wagner, Cobb, or Gehrig). The team cards might fit somewhere in my collection, too. Honestly, if I could built this set for about 25 cents a card, I'd be interested. (I could do without the Chrome parallel. Unless it's a full set that can be had for $25... then I'm in.)

As always, I pick up a full flagship set once Series 2 hits shelves. But beyond my type collection, I think my want list will remain safe for a few more weeks.

How tired is Turkey Red? Did you notice that the card above is really from the 2006 set? Here's some 2020:
By the way, if you didn't infer it from my earlier comment (I don't have any 2020 Topps yet), none of these cards are mine, and many are promotional images.

Have you picked up any 2020 Topps Series 1? What are your thoughts?