Tag Archives: print culture

Magazine Acquired Recently: Baseball Cards, April 1990

My favorite hobby as a boy was collecting baseball cards, and in my infinite nerdiness–present even then–my first-ever magazine subscription was in 1990 to the now-defunct Baseball Cards magazine. I have been unable to ascertain when Baseball Cards stopped publication, though a safe guess is that the major mid-1990s sports card market crash caused its downfall. Its publisher, Krause Publications, is still in existence and publishes magazines and books on various hobbies.

I subscribed to Baseball Cards after receiving an advertisement in the mail for it sometime toward the end of 1989 (How was I already receiving junk mail as a nine-year-old? I suppose it is in junk mail’s [and now spam’s] nature to be all-pervasive. Maybe my Little League sold the address list of their players to vendors of children’s magazines?) and actually had enough allowance saved up to subscribe. It was something like $14.95 for a year’s subscription, which included twelve issues plus six special-edition cards per issue. The cards used the 1969 Topps design to showcase current players, and were the major selling point for me. Unfortunately, they came in sheets rather than separately, and my young hands mangled some of them pretty badly when I tried to cut them out.

I read the magazine thoroughly, and I still remember some of the articles vividly. However, unfortunately at some point I got rid of my copies. I still buy baseball cards occasionally, mostly for nostalgia’s sake, and during a recent card-hunting session on ebay decided to buy an issue of Baseball Cards as a part of this nostalgia. I bought the April 1990 issue because I found it for a good price (less than $5.00 including shipping).

While this issue does not have any of the articles that I remember (so I might have to buy more…), reading it was thoroughly enjoyable. Nearly a quarter-century after it was published, three points stood out to me from the issue:

1. I had a horrible sense of foreboding as I read the generally well-written and light-hearted articles knowing that in a few years all of the hype about rookie cards, limited-edition sets, and cards as investments would be proven hollow as the hobby came burning to the ground. The emphasis on cards as monetary objects, as business, rather than as an enjoyable hobby pursued because of the love of sport is what ultimately gutted the market (as Karl Marx says, capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction…) because it got too glutted with, not just special issues, but with cards in general: the card companies were to blame for the collapse just as much as dealers were. The hobby forgot its roots as a pastime for children, thus losing its fiscally-essential base along with its soul as it became over-professionalized by adults.

2. The hype about all of 1990’s rookies, the special focus of the issue, is hilarious because so much of it is inaccurate in hindsight, which goes to show how elusive baseball success can be. Todd Zeile was hot stuff in 1990, and he had a very respectable career, as did Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker, but players such as Eric Anthony, Andy Benes, and Jerome Walton, all of whom get fawned over in the issue, did not. The only player mentioned in this section of the issue to make the Hall of Fame (or to have a legitimate shot) was Frank Thomas.

3. The numerous ads were a delight to read (unlike when I was a child and mourned my lack of funds), in part because they illustrate how different the card-collecting landscape is now than it was then, and in part because they make me wonder what happened to all of the businesses and their proprietors. Some might still be hanging on as dealers via the internet, but a good number must be out of business. What did their owners do once the bubble burst a few years later? Where are they now? Does anyone remember the businesses, or are they basically lost to history (thinking about this question always makes me depressed when thinking about businesses that close)? Answering these questions would make a fantastic research project, albeit one with a limited audience. My favorite ad, which is for The Card King in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, urges customers to make their purchases quickly because “These stunning… cards are disappearing faster than communist dictators.” Ah, those halcyon days.

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The All-Star Game and Baseball Fandom

The All-Star Game is tomorrow in Minnesota. I have loved this game since I became a baseball fan, and still try to watch it every year. Honestly, I make more of an effort to watch it than to watch the World Series some years, depending on who is playing. I love the pageantry of the All-Star Game, how each player wears his own uniform (it is a travesty that this year they will wear league caps instead of their own caps), how the players get introduced individually along the baselines before the game, how the ballpark is festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. I love how, even though it is an exhibition game, the players clearly take pride in playing in it and trying to win it.

In thinking about how I grew to love the All-Star Game as a boy, I realize that part of my fanaticism for it resulted from the rarity of, not just that game itself, but televised baseball in general when I was growing up in the 1980s. My family did not have cable, so there would usually only be two or three games on per week that I was interested in watching: NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday (I would watch no matter who was playing; I remember being crushed one April Saturday in 1988 or 1989 when there wasn’t a game because both games that NBC was going to show were cancelled due to weather. One was in Chicago, with the Cubs getting snowed out, and the other game was rained out. I still remember Marv Albert in the studio saying “No game today” like a death-knell.) and the Mets on WWOR channel 9 on Sunday. Sometimes the Mets would also be on Friday night (though I couldn’t watch the entire game because I had an early bedtime), and if I got desperate the Yankees would usually have one or two games a week on WPIX channel 11 (it is still incredibly weird to me that WPIX now televises the Mets). During the postseason it did not get much better because, even though all of the games were on network television, I was usually only able to watch the first half hour or so before bed.

As result of this limited television exposure, my baseball fandom took a much different form than it does now. I learned much more about the game from print media—especially from the newspaper and statistics on the backs of baseball cards—than from television, whereas now the ratio is switched. These days I almost never watch baseball aside from the Mets during the regular season because I am now fortunate enough to have cable and they are on SNY nearly every night (and my cable package even shows the games when they are on WPIX). Every once in a while I might watch a bit of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball to close out the weekend, but, unless the Mets are playing, I no longer watch Fox’s nationally-televised game on Saturdays. (A necessary aside: one reason I do not watch regular season baseball on Fox is that Joe Buck is their play-by-play announcer, and he is pedestrian at best. In hindsight, I realize that I was lucky to grow up in an era when Vin Scully was the national play-by-play man for NBC and Al Michaels was the primary play-by-play man for ABC’s postseason telecasts. It kills me that an entire generation of fans has grown up with Joe Buck as the voice of baseball. No wonder young people are not drawn to the game!) These viewing habits mean that I follow the Mets closely, but the rest of MLB much less so until the pennant races heat up in September. As a kid, aside from my favorite Mets I was also a fan of other good players such as Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn (R.I.P.), but now, although I appreciate the feats of players such as Miguel Cabrera in a general way, I do not feel any connection to them, and whereas I liked and respected Mike Schmidt growing up because I viewed him as a baseball player rather than as a divisional rival, that viewpoint has flipped and I have nothing but hatred for present-day Phillies like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.

Thus the All-Star Game is the one time during the summer when my baseball gaze widens to observe the game in all its glory. I root for the National League, I hope the Mets’ representative (Daniel Murphy this year) gets a hit, and I remember why I fell in love with the sport in the first place: it is fun to watch, and it is a national language that, at its best, brings us all together.

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It’s World Cup Time!

I am incredibly excited for the men’s World Cup that begins today. It is my favorite sporting event because it is long enough that one can get completely ensconced in it and because of its global aspect: I love knowing that I am sharing the experience with hundreds of millions of people around the world. This happens to a certain extent each summer, as there is the men’s World Cup-women’s World Cup-men’s European Championships-Confederations Cup (along with men’s World Cup qualifiers) tournament cycle, but the men’s World Cup is the most satisfying because it is the longest and because it gets the most people talking. I also have a nostalgic attachment to the men’s World Cup because the first soccer match I ever watched on television was the semifinal between West Germany and England (Alas, Paul Gascoigne! Alas, West Germany’s classic green change shirts! Alas, England’s newly begun tradition of losing on penalties!) at Italia ‘90. This is when I found out that the next World Cup would be in the United States, and I became a soccer fan following the buildup to the tournament both on television (mostly via matches on Univision and Telemundo, though sometimes ABC would show a U.S. match) and in print via a subscription to the now-defunct Soccer Digest.

Although the marquee matchups usually come in the knockout stages, the group stage is my favorite because of its unpredictability and inclusiveness. There is something exciting about watching a team like Honduras or Greece play because it is their one chance on the big stage that is missing when you are watching a perennial powerhouse like Germany or Brazil who are all but guaranteed to move on in the tournament. Games from previous group stages are some of my most vivid World Cup watching memories. The U.S. versus Switzerland in 1994 when Eric Wynalda scored an excellent goal off of a free kick just before halftime, Belgium against Holland in 1998 when Patrick Kluivert was red carded, the U.S.’s stunning upset of Portugal in 2002 when the Yanks went up 3-0 before halftime, the U.S.’s bizarre draw against Italy in 2006 in which three players were sent off, and, of course, the U.S.’s thrilling last-minute victory in 2010 against Algeria.

I love the drama of the matches themselves, but my favorite thing about watching the group games is the pageantry: the fans dressed in their jerseys, scarves, and crazy hats, the teams parading out onto the pitch, the national anthems. International soccer tournaments are always a reminder that the U.S. has one of the worst national anthems. It sounds so ugly and uninspiring compared to the others. Generally, it seems like the less amount of geopolitical clout a country has, the better their anthem sounds. It is always interesting to see which players sing their anthem, and which are so ensconced in mentally preparing themselves for the match that they stay silent. One of the reasons that I love watching the anthems (which is also true about the matches in general) is that there is a single television feed that is broadcasted everywhere around the world. Each country simply has its own announcers (and sometimes its own graphics) for the pictures. The knowledge that I am seeing the same exact video as someone in Europe or Africa makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity in a way that I do not normally experience.

Along with being excited about the tournament itself, I also feel good about the U.S.’s chances. I expect them to get out of their group even though it is the “group of death,” and if they do so their potential opponents from Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Russia, and South Korea) in the second round are all beatable, thus it is conceivable that the U.S. could match their best-ever modern World Cup showing from 2002 (they reached the semifinals in 1930, technically finishing joint third-fourth [the third place playoff was not instituted until 1934], but at the time the semifinals were the first knockout stage, so one could argue that the fact that the U.S. won a knockout round game in 2002 makes it their best showing ever).

The answer to one major question will go a long way toward determining the U.S.’s fate: just how group-of-deathy will the group of death be? The most group-of-deathy group of death ever was 1994’s Group E, in which all four teams, Mexico, Ireland, Italy, and Norway, finished with a win, a draw, and a loss, and a goal difference of zero. In 2014’s Group G, will there be lots of draws, or will there be lots of decisive results? The former will benefit the U.S., and the latter will not unless it is them getting the wins. One middle of the road scenario that would be favorable to the U.S. is if Germany wins its first two matches and the other three teams spend time drawing each other. The Germans would have little to play for in their final match against the U.S., which might make it easier to get a result. It is really up to the U.S. and Ghana to make the group a true group of death. If they can get some results, the group will be very interesting. Germany and Portugal will probably be content to draw one another in their first match, thinking they can get the necessary points in their final two matches, but this could be a risky strategy. If Germany and Portugal draw and the U.S. beat Ghana, then Portugal will feel some pressure for a result against the U.S. in the second game. Of course the key for the U.S. is to get a win against Ghana. If the U.S. does this then they only need a result against either Portugal or Germany, but if they lose to Ghana, getting results against both Portugal and Germany is a tough ask. Because it is the group of death, it is quite plausible that a win and a draw will be enough to advance to the second round.

I will not predict a champion yet (I think Germany, Argentina, and Spain are top contenders), but I will predict a loser: Brazil will not win the World Cup. I do not think they have enough talent in their squad from top to bottom to do it, and the pressure from their home fans will be a negative influence on them. But for me the best thing about the World Cup is the experience of going through it during one glorious month rather than the end result of who becomes champion (unless the U.S. makes a miracle run to win it!).

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Book Acquired Recently: Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight

Hampton, Michael Wayne. Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight. Oregon: Artistically Declined, 2014.

A pre-order advertisement for this book showed up in my Facebook feed a few months ago, and I ordered it because I loved the title, and I also like to support small independent publishers (Artistically Declined Press’s website is here; I must say that it vexes me that they do not list a specific city of publication, only a state. But the book did come with a nifty “Books Are Better” bookmark). I love roller derby and thought it would be cool to read a novel about it. The self-proclaimed “novella” (it is only 108 pages) showed up in my mailbox today and I read it immediately.

Unfortunately, Hampton’s story is a dud at best and offensive at worst. The premise is promising: a down-on-her-luck single mother and her younger daughter arrive in a small Kentucky town where her older daughter has just bought an old skating rink in order to stage roller derby bouts; hilarity ensues. But the story is never interested in these women as people, only as tits-and-ass. If the book had been written by a woman, it would be a fun story of female empowerment, but written by a man the female characters are just exploitative cardboard cutouts. They love flaunting their fantastic curves, are super heterosexual (which is frankly not an especially accurate portrayal of the roller derby world), and are desperate to find men to complete them even though the men in their lives are all terrible. They all use language that reads like an Onion parody of the dialogue from Steel Magnolias.

It is clear that Hampton is trying to make some sort of aesthetic statement about fiction with these simultaneously overly stylized and utterly flimsy characters, but he fails miserably. The writing isn’t thought-provoking, it’s just, well, dickish. This is sad because the novella has the potential to be so much more. The resurgence of roller derby over the past twenty years is a significant social development that deserves to be chronicled in literature, and Hampton’s observation that “[c]hicken fighting, boxing matches, football games, if it’s got honest people hurting each other these folks will eat it up” is an astute one about the role of sports in American society (57). But he fails to consider these subjects in any kind of thoughtful manner, instead using them as props for his misogynist tale.

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Books Acquired Recently: Sports Edition

Lions, Bernard. 1000 Football Shirts: The Colours of the Beautiful Game. 2013. New York: Universe, 2014.

One thing I love about football (i.e., soccer) are the uniforms, and I have also been obsessing about the sport even more than usual lately because of the upcoming World Cup, so when I found out about this book I bought it immediately. It is difficult to find good books here in the U.S. about soccer, so I am especially attracted to books such as this that attempt to offer comprehensive histories of various elements of the game.

I will begin reading the book this afternoon, but I must note that I am immediately skeptical of it after looking at its cover. There are 130 shirts total pictured on the front cover, back cover, and spine, but none of these are from the biggest club in the world, Manchester United. There are two Liverpool shirts, a Chelsea shirt, a Manchester City shirt, an Everton shirt, and eight shirts from MLS (including the LA Galaxy home shirt twice, along with their change strip: blatant proof of David Beckham’s continuing commercial power). I love MLS, and I like Everton because I hate Liverpool, but there is no way that any of these nine shirts are more important than Manchester United’s. This is a ridiculous omission which makes me question the biases of Lions and his publisher’s designers. I hope that the text itself meets a higher standard.

Slocum, Frank, and Red Foley. Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection: A 40-Year History, 1951-1990. New York: Warner, 1990.

I collected baseball cards seriously as a boy between 1987-1990, and always preferred Topps over Donruss or Fleer. While I am no longer an avid collector, I will still buy a few packs (always Topps) every once in a while for nostalgia’s sake, and I buy a Mets team set each year. As a result of this fondness for the hobby, I have had my eyes on this book for several years, and finally found a copy for a reasonable price. It is much larger than I expected, which is exciting; I can understand why it was so difficult to find a copy for less than $50.00.

Both books were acquired from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

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Some Thoughts on Periodicals and Books

Today’s Uni Watch post is another edition of “Question Time,” in which site creator Paul Lukas answers questions from readers about himself. For the first time, I sent in a question, which asked about his favorite New York City bookstore (it’s the fourth question listed).

His answer that while he likes bookstores (and he names the Strand as his favorite, which made me happy), he prefers newsstands and magazine shops struck me because his approach to print culture is so different from my own. This difference is of course not a bad thing, because as long as you are on the print side of the print/electronic wars you are my friend, and Lukas is one of my favorite writers because his work always makes me think, and frequently helps me to see things (often literally things, i.e., objects) in new ways. But Lukas’s answer made me think about why I am not nearly as attracted to the periodical realm of print culture as I am to the book realm. Part of the reason is that my job is to analyze books, and this reason would also explain Lukas’s preference: he’s a journalist, so he’s attracted to other workers in the trade.

But I have to admit that one of the other reasons I am attracted more to books than periodicals is that books feel more permanent. They can sit there on my shelf and tell the story of my intellectual pursuits over the years, and when I buy one I feel a sense of accomplishment, and get that adrenaline rush that capitalism trains us to have when we acquire goods. While I have subscribed to the New Yorker for more than ten years along with a smattering of other periodicals here and there, there isn’t that feeling of excitement when it arrives in the mail that there is when a package containing books does. In fact, though I enjoy reading the New Yorker, it often feels like a task that I have to get through rather than a recreational endeavor like reading a book. So my preference says something about my reading habits: I am more willing to lose myself in a book because I know I will have to invest a lot of time in it, whereas with a magazine I feel like it will only be a quick, disposable interaction.

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Books Acquired Recently

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Valerie A. Smith, eds. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 3rd ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 2014.

I recieved an exam copy of these books from my local W.W. Norton representative. It took quite a while for Norton to update the first edition, so I am glad that they are now updating the book on a frequent basis. I am keeping my copy of the first edition, though, for sentimental reasons: I used it to study for my Ph.D. exams. This is one reason why I have so many books. I value them as pieces of my history, not just as sources of enjoyment or information.

Witkowski, Michal. Love Town. Trans. William Martin. 2010. London: Portobello, 2011.

I learned about this novel depicting the LGBT community in Communist Europe during the 1970s and 1980s from a colleague, and found a copy of it on sale from Better World Books for less than $4.00, so decided to buy it because my knowledge of queer literature outside of the U.S. and England is sorely lacking. The book has a pricetag from the Strand on it, which makes me happy.

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