cincinnati reds

Baseball Card Lessons

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Life lessons that baseball cards taught me as a kid:

  • When I was a kid, I managed to accumulate several thousand baseball cards.  Obviously, I had no money back then, so I would try to persuade my mom to buy me cards by telling her that they were a good investment.  This was boom-time for the sports card industry, and I think the whole cards-as-investment thing was a lie that the card manufacturers foisted on children to sell more cards.  I mean, they knew that these cards were going to end up being worthless.  If you’re printing millions of cards at a time, I don’t care how many years go by, how are any of these cards going to be worth anything?  (I encourage everyone in the world to throw their baseball card collections away.  Only then could my cards possibly be worth anything.)  Lesson learned: the basic economic principles of supply and demand.
  • Baseball cards were the original form of fantasy baseball.  I still remember the first trade I ever made:  Eric Davis for Don Mattingly.  Davis was a rising star for the Reds, and I had his rookie card.  But I really thought Don Mattingly had a cool sounding baseball name, and he was really good and he looked sweet with that eye black.  But it wasn’t his rookie card I was getting back, so it wasn’t worth as much.  I didn’t care; I just really wanted a Don Mattingly card, so I got one.  In hindsight, this was a fair trade, since both cards are now worth exactly zero dollars.  Lesson learned: that Don Mattingly was once awesome and that the dude currently managing the Dodgers is some sad impostor.
  • I was also a huge fan of Jose Canseco.  I thought he would be the greatest baseball player of all time, especially after his 40 homer / 40 steal season in 1988.  So I decided to go all-in on Jose.  I traded a Dwight Gooden rookie card (plus other cards) for nine various Jose Canseco non-rookie cards.  I really liked Jose, and I figured that when he eventually broke every record and went to the Hall of Fame, I would be rich. Lesson learned: the perils of not diversifying one’s portfolio. (I was kind of obsessed with Jose Canseco.  When I was bored I would just randomly call the operator and ask for Jose Canseco’s number.  Then I would hang up giggling.  I don’t know why, but I thought this was great fun and the pinnacle of daredevilry.  Yeah, I was a weird kid.)
  • One of the most valuable cards I owned wasn’t a baseball card, but this Wayne Gretzky card (as further described below, I didn’t have many valuable cards).   This was worth something like $15 according to the Beckett price guide, which seemed like a ton of money to me at the time.  So I went to a local card shop to try to sell it, but failed because my negotiation skills were even worse than they are now.  I then forgot that the card was in my coat pocket, and of course my mom then washed my coat and ruined the card.  Lesson learned: that doing laundry is bad.

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Despite having so many cards,  my cards all sucked.  Everyone else had all the hot cards.  The rookie cards of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Bo Jackson.  The cool Mark McGwire Team USA Card.  Older cards from the 70’s that my friends had gotten from their dads or older siblings. Cards from Canada.  Autographed cards.  I had none of these.  Every pack of cards I got brought new promise and turned out to be crap.  Topps used to have these stupid checklist cards, those were the worst.  I had hundreds of those.

It was embarrassing how terrible my collection was.  I would meet with my friends to trade baseball cards and I would just sit there while they ignored my sad cards and traded with each other while I sat there alphabetizing my cards by team name and deeply pondering whether “A’s” goes before “Astros”.  I was sick and tired of it.   So I told my friend Mark that I owned a Mickey Mantle baseball card.  I was smart about it (or so I thought); I didn’t claim that I owned THIS Mickey Mantle card, I just said I owned a Mickey Mantle card.

Mark was impressed but he wouldn’t let it alone.  He asked to see it over and over again until I realized he wasn’t going to stop asking.  So I told him I would bring the card over to his house and then biked over there.  When I arrived I pretended to check all of my pockets and said, “Oh no…it  must have fallen out of my pocket when I rode over here!”   Mark freaked out and insisted that we go look for it.  Now, if I really wanted to commit to this lie, I should have gone outside during the middle of a Michigan winter to scour the streets for a few hours.  I should have shed a few tears.  But that all seemed like too much work to me.  So I just said, “No, it’s okay.”  Yes, this is the best method I could conceive to resolve this situation.  Lesson learned: don’t lie; not because lying is bad, but because I suck at it.  (Once, I didn’t feel like doing my work at school so I just threw my worksheet away and then went to the corner to read Curious George.  My teacher came over to ask me where my worksheet was.  I went to the turn-in basket, did a poor job of pretending to look everywhere, and said “I don’t know.”  She then proceeded to pick my crumpled worksheet out of the wastebasket.  She asked me, “Is this yours?”  I said, “No.”  She then uncrumpled the paper to reveal a blank worksheet.  Blank except for my name fastidiously scrawled at the top of the paper.  Thus, this lesson was reinforced; I suck.)

Opening Day 2014: Bold Predictions

1.  The St. Louis Cardinals will win more than 100 games.

Let me just say first of all that I kind of hate the Cards.  I hate Ozzie Smith, who is one of the most overrated players of all time.  He’s in the Hall of Fame (on the first ballot, to boot) and Alan Trammell isn’t?  Seriously?  Dude contributed virtually  nothing with the bat for his entire career, I don’t care how good he was with the glove (and come on, is there really that much of a difference between Ozzie and Omar Vizquel?  For that matter, is there even much of a difference between Ozzie Smith and Ozzie Guillen?)  I hate Tony LaRussa, who is going into the Hall of Fame despite being a complete dick of a person and managing players who were some of the most egregious steroid abusers.  I hate the 2006 version of the Cardinals, who didn’t deserve to win a World Series over my beloved Tigers and are the worst World Series champion of all time based on winning percentage.  God I hate them.

But it’s been awhile since the franchise has really given me anything to hate, so my feelings are returning towards ambivalence, and with that comes objectivity.  Entering the 2014 season, the Cardinals are the only team that are an absolute lock for the playoffs.  If we fast forwarded to October and you told me that any other team (say the Red Sox or the Dodgers) missed the playoffs, I wouldn’t be too surprised.  But there isn’t any way in hell that St. Louis doesn’t make the postseason this year.  This team not only has a stacked rotation, bullpen, offense and defense, they have a loaded farm system and depth all around the diamond.  No other team is as prepared to handle the inevitable injuries that can pile up during the course of the long regular season.  Combine all that with their relatively weak division, and I think it’s completely reasonable that this team just runs away from everyone else in the National League.  No team has won 100+ games since Philly in 2011 and overall there might be even more parity this year, but the Cards, as much as I hate to say it, will be the exception.  I take no joy in this prediction whatsoever.

2.  The Oakland A’s will finish with the most wins in the American League (and get to the ALCS).

In 2012, no one picked the A’s to do much of anything, but they finished one game shy of the best record in the AL.  In 2013, very few people picked the A’s to repeat, but they again finished one game shy of the best record in the league.  I think most prognosticators have learned their lesson, so no one is picking the A’s for a complete collapse this year, but most are not picking the A’s to match their 96 wins from last year.  But I like their chances of not only winning their division, but having the best record in the league.

There’s still a lot of upside on this roster that wasn’t captured in 2013.  So while Josh Donaldson likely won’t match his MVP-caliber performance, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are both primed to improve on poor 2013 season.  Coco Crisp won’t fall off as much as people think as long as he stays healthy (see previous post), and the A’s are getting close to perfecting the art of the platoon at both first base and at catcher (where I like both Derek Norris and John Jaso to have good seasons).  The real question with the A’s is with their rotation, after losing Jarrod Parker for the year and Bartolo Colon to free agency.  On top of that, A.J. Griffin is out for the first few weeks of the season.  But Sonny Gray looks like he could be a legitimate ace, something the A’s didn’t really have the last two seasons, and if they need another starter mid-season, I trust Billy Beane to go out and get one.  Moreover, I think any deficiencies in the rotation can be overcome by what looks like an even stronger bullpen than the 2012 and 2013 versions, which were both pretty damn good.

As for the postseason, the A’s deserved better than their two consecutive first-round exits at the hand of the Tigers.  So, I’ll say that they win the ALDS this year and exorcise some demons…but then lose in the ALCS in seven games to the Tigers, with Justin Verlander winning games 1, 4 and 7.  Sorry A’s fans, but hey, it’s one step further than last year.  I love Justin Verlander.

3.  The Toronto Blue Jays will contend for a playoff spot.

In the past two years, all four of the other teams in the AL East have made the playoffs.  It’s the Blue Jays’ turn!  Okay, well, baseball (and life) doesn’t exactly work like that, but I loved this team on paper last year and I like them even more this year.  The offense was fine last year and should be even better this season if Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes can stay somewhat healthy; I also like Melky Cabrera to come back and contribute, well, anything.  The bullpen, led by Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil, should be nails.  Like the A’s, the question marks are in the rotation. I’m a huge R.A. Dickey fan, so I think he has a good year, though maybe not quite Cy Young caliber.  Mark Buehrle is consistently mediocre, but at least he’s not going to kill you the way Josh Johnson did last year.  So really it comes down to Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan in the back half of the rotation.  That’s an injury-prone strikeout artist with control issues, a high-upside rookie, and one of my favorite breakout fantasy candidates…from 2008 (and who has pitched less than 100 innings total at all levels since then).  That’s a ton of question marks, but I like the upside potential from this group.  If the Jays can get even league average performance from their starters, I like their offense and bullpen enough to keep them in the mix for a wild-card slot all year.  I’m not saying they’ll definitely make the playoffs, but they’ll get close.

4.  The Detroit Tigers will win less than 90 games.

Ahh…my Tigers.  I don’t even know what to do with these guys right now.  After an offseason and spring training where it appears ownership and upper management have gone collectively insane (Fielder-Kinsler trade, Fister trade, trading for two garbage shortstops to cover for Iglesias injury, failure to re-sign Scherzer, WTF Cabrera contract), this team just has a really bad juju to it.  I’m now prepared for the worst, but of course still hoping for the best.  But there is a ton of downside to this team.

– Offense:  With Prince Fielder departing, it looks like Miguel Cabrera could lead the league in homers…and the Tigers could finish last in the AL in home runs.  Where’s the power coming from in this lineup?  Even if you disregard power, however you set this lineup, spots six through nine in the batting order just look like black holes to me.  I expect Nick Castellanos to struggle to make contact his rookie year and I don’t have much hope for Alex Avila to be anything more than okay.  Granted, as long as the Tigers have Miggy they’ll at least be average, but will average be good enough?

– Starting pitching:  Despite the horrendously bad Doug Fister trade, I still think this could be the best 1 through 5 rotation in baseball if everyone stays healthy, even accounting for declines from Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, but the Tigers have been pretty fortunate the last couple of years health-wise.  If even one of these guys goes down, there isn’t a single guy in the organization who can step in as a serviceable starter.  Jose Alvarez could have been that guy, but we just traded him for SS A. Romine (can’t remember whether he is Austin or Andrew) in a panic move.  One injury will be tough to recover from; two and the season’s over.

– Bullpen:  The Tigers’ achilles heel the last two postseasons has been the bullpen, though maybe more due to Jim Leyland’s mismanagement.  But as mediocre as last year’s bullpen was, this year’s is stacking up to be much worse.  The best three guys from the Tigers’ 2013 bullpen (Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras) are gone (or, in Smyly’s case, moved to the rotation) and have been replaced by Joe Nathan and a bunch of garbage.  Now, Joe Nathan is a pretty good closer, but there’s no way that one closer makes up for three solid bullpen arms.  Despite having the big names on their roster, the Tigers have underperformed during the regular season the last couple years, largely due to bullpen weaknesses.  This is only going to get worse this year.

The Tigers aren’t going to win 90 games.  Their only hope really is that 88 wins or so is enough to win the AL Central.  I think it just might be enough, but if the Royals or Indians get a little lucky this year, we could be looking at the end of the Tigers’ three-year postseason streak.

Postseason Predictions:

AL East: Boston
AL Central: Detroit
AL West: Oakland
Wildcards:  New York, Toronto

NL East:  Washington
NL Central:  St. Louis
NL West:  Los Angeles
Wildcards:  Honestly, I would not be surprised if it were any teams other than New York, Miami or Chicago.  Let’s just say Cincinnati and San Francisco.

ALCS: Detroit over Oakland
NLCS: St. Louis over Washington

World Series:  Detroit (88 wins) over St. Louis (101 wins).  Revenge for 2006!  Suck it St. Louis.