Monday, March 2, 2015

Zen and the Art of Card Collecting

A few years ago, my mom delivered a few boxes of my childhood things. There were a few items worth holding onto, but most of it was going to end up at a donation center or the trash. The highlight of those boxes was my card collection.

This was no ordinary collection. By 6th grade, I had arguably assembled the best card collection of any kid I met growing up. Years of buying and trading had left me with two massive binders (a major and minor league one, if you will), a couple sets, dozens of individually slabbed rookie cards and other miscellaneous gems.

Barry Sanders, Cal Ripken, Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Michael Jordan were all very well represented. I literally spent hours going through every single card that day, appreciating the history of each one as well as the lot as a whole and feeling as though I was on the winning side of sports betting. Even from an adult’s perspective, I had to admit that this was one hell of a collection – regardless of who put it together.

My main binder was sorted by player, and each individual page was perfectly balanced by a combination of book value, sentimental appeal, and perceived coolness of the card. It contained only the elite versions of the player’s card from each card manufacturer. These were cards of players I kept and admired for their longevity and consistency, which was clearly evident by their accumulated statistics on the back of the card. Think Nolan Ryan, Dan Marino, George Brett, Wade Boggs/Tony Gwynn (essentially interchangeable but slight edge to Gwynn). Even my box of “commons” could contend with other kid’s collections. It was full of All Stars, Pro Bowlers and future HOFers but players I couldn’t get too excited about: Roger Clemens, Emmitt Smith, Karl Malone and Thurman Thomas, for example. 

The truly amazing cards – 1950s Mantles, Mays or Clementes, the Lew Alcindor Topps rookie, a Babe Ruth Goudey – you never saw those outside of card shop or show. Only once did I come across a kid whose dad miraculously kept some of his cards from his own childhood, and we only saw those beauties once or twice in secret while his dad was out of town. If some kid actually owned one of these historic cards, their credibility was instantly lost because you knew Mommy or Daddy bought it for them, and now they were just being spoiled braggarts.

No kid owned this card.
An honest collection was acquired through mowing lawns, allowance, birthdays, chores, trades and dedication. That’s what made the impact of the binder, especially, all the more significant when comparing. It was really a representation of the passion for your collection. It didn’t necessarily need to be huge and expansive (quantity does not equal quality), but it needed to be appreciated. Were the cards centered in their sleeves? Did he handle the pages with care? Could he insert a card into a case without damaging the edges? These were legitimate concerns, especially if you were to engage in the art of trading where you were going to trust him to potentially handle your cards and ask him to put that trust back into you.

And you could also see what the guy’s interests were. What era, what sport and what player card you were into said a lot about you. If the heart of your collection was full of Score Tim Raines and Jim Kelly, I’d probably just keep that to yourself. If you somehow compiled a page full of 1986 NBA Fleer rookies, you definitely had my attention but then we would have to chat why those cards weren’t in individual cases.

A good friend, John, was obsessed with his precious 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly. To be sure, it was a kind of a classic looking card and Mattingly was a solid player, but the card didn’t exactly blow my hair back. But the fact it was always off limits interested me. Any discussion of moving it – no matter how ridiculously advantageous the offer for John was – sent him into a heated defensive retreat. No trades. No way. End of conversation with immediate change of subject! And therefore, I had to have that card. Can’t say I ever pried it away from John, but months later acquired it elsewhere for a Tony Gwynn Fleer rookie. I realize now I didn’t want the card as much as I wanted the memory and story behind the card.

For fun, I decided to research some of their current day prices online. It would be an understatement to say this process left a bad taste in my mouth. Time after time after time cards that were bought and sold at market prices while I was growing up were selling for a fraction of what they cost today. A Walter Payton rookie for $40? A Yount rookie for $10? You have GOT to be kidding me.

This is a joke, right?
I learned that the card manufacturers mass produced these things like crazy. They got away with it because nobody outside the industry really knew. Cards you were led to believe were scarce and valuable were printed by the boatload, and things really got inflated in the late 80s and early 90s. That time period was both the height of the card collecting craze and the time period I grew up collecting. It was nothing more than a money-making scene that millions of kids bought into. Hundreds of dollars. Cards. Binders. Sleeves. Cases. Price guides. Certificates. A joke. The Internet literally made people aware of the surplus, slapping our faces, essentially saying “Oh, you thought your card was special? That’s cute…”

I often still get asked to evaluate someone’s childhood collection for its monetary worth and it kind of breaks my heart to tell them. I see ads all the time for collections. They cite the names and the years and I know immediately: junk. The only cards that still fetch high premiums today are the ultra-rare old, often graded ones. It really is unfair.

In 2011, I sold my collection for $100 to some guy on Craigslist. The ad said “someone is going to have a great time going through all of this.” This random guy, with zero connection to the cards, was thrilled to “take them off my hands.” It was painfully obvious that he was only thinking he struck gold with some sucker’s cards who knew nothing about their true value.

He was right.

Regardless of its monetary worth, a card’s overwhelming inherent value is the history to the owner. It’s the reason I took such pride in that collection and also the reason I regret selling it. Each and every card was purposefully kept and organized because of my unique personal connection to it. Like that Mattingly. Or like the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card my dad and I bought at the card shop on my 10th birthday that I never once took out of the plastic holder.
My favorite card of all time.
I could re-purchase some of my favorites, I suppose, at a fairly low cost. But they’d be someone else’s story. And buying them now would cheapen the legitimacy of the effort it took to acquire them back in the day. It wouldn’t be the same – not even close. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Send a Raven...a Hand May Have Been Named

A lot has been made about the whisper coming out of Green Bay yesterday that Mike McCarthy could be relinquishing his play-calling duties for the upcoming Packers' season. This has, undoubtedly, made some folks very happy. The problem is, too much is being made of the word, relinquish. "You think a crown gives you power?"

I think the proper term to describe this potential shift in authority is, bestow. The fact of the matter: Coach McCarthy will not be laying down his sword; rather, he is entrusting his power to the hands of another. The men his successor will be commanding will be the same. The tactics this man will be using to command them will be the same. And in the end, they all swear fealty to McCarthy. "I think armies give you power".

I neither agree, nor disagree, with this prospective change. However, I think it shows prudence on behalf of McCarthy. He is able to look at his performance in battle and reflect on it, critique it, learn from it. Coach McCarthy is able to celebrate and recognize where he has prevailed, and yet, he can also acknowledge where he may have had shortcomings. "Once you've accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you."

I liken this move to naming a Hand of the King. The Hand of the King is the most powerful position on a team's offense. He claims the full trust and authority of the King. His station allows the King to address matters elsewhere, as he sees fit. The Hand also makes decisions on the King's behalf at the Small Council, and yet, he is always and forever beholden to the King. Instead of being an independent voice and an instrument of free will, he is a proxy...albeit one of great power. Any act that is not like-minded and meeting the King's approval, will be amended swiftly and, presumably, with great vengeance.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you celebrated in Flea Bottom or scoffed from the Red Keep at this potential change, when you play the game of thrones, you win, or you lose. There is no middle ground.

The King is still the one in power, and he is still the one playing the game.

...also, "It's not easy being drunk all the time. If it were easy, everyone would do it."

Friday, December 12, 2014

These are a Few of My Favorite (Packers) Things

Rainbows from Rodgers to Jordy or Randall
Favre speculation and outings to Lambeau
Pro shops and tailgates and parking for free
These are a few of my favorite things

Ted Thompson pressers and crisp charcoaled bratwursts
Throwbacks and fullbacks and Super Bowl curses
Face-value tickets with no hidden strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Color-coded mock drafts made in Excel
Angry young trolls who can’t even spell
Pictures of Packers on bikes meant for tweens
These are a few of my favorite things

On a bye week
In the offseason
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things

[Repeat all verses.]

It really works. What things do you like?

Friday, November 7, 2014

McCarthy Contract Extension Photo Shoot

In case you were not aware, Robert does some photography in addition to his work here at the Ranter. He does weddingssenior pictures, trophy bass, the usual. Well, he passed a photo on to me last night. It was taken shortly after Mike McCarthy signed his recent contract extension. McCarthy told Robert he had seen some of Robert’s previous work here on the Ranter, and he wanted to memorialize this career accomplishment with a few photos. "You know just a few classy shots, maybe something I can hang office or in my den back home, and a couple that could go in the Christmas card to the guys."

The first few poses were fairly standard. Mike sitting in his office, hard at work. Mike standing in his study next to a roaring fire, one hand on the mantel, the other holding a glass of Scotch, thoughtful look on his face. Casual family portrait enjoying the day at the lake home. Robert said Coach McCarthy's favorite might have been the one he took on his tractor. (Robert significantly dirtied up the tractor and McCarthy to make it more gritty and realistic. McCarthy loved it.) Then, as they were finishing up, Robert saw something sticking out of Mike McCarthy's closet in his office. "What's that?" he asked. 

"That? That was a gift from Ted after we beat the Bears last year to go to the playoffs. It's a bearskin."

"Whoa. That's awesome. You should wear it. In honor of Bears Week."

"Ha! Well...I don't know....Ah, what the hell?! I do love beating the Bears."

"Oh, Mike, it's, a scowl. Scowl. Think about a polluted mindset. There you go, got it. Brilliant."

"Damn, that's so good, it might have to go in my living room."

The result:

Might have to hang in the Hillside living room too. Go, Pack, go!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Offensive Dominance Quotient

This summer Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers' declared their goal of speeding up the offense and running 75+ plays per game. Play fast, keep the defense from substituting, keep it pedal to the metal. To this point in the season, after seven games, the Packers have run 410 offensive plays, a 58.5 play average. Now, I'm no mathlete, but I think that's about 20 plays less than McCarthy's target. The result? A 5-2 record and 28.4 points per game, good for 4th in the NFL.

So despite not achieving the play per game goal set this summer, the Packers' offense is humming right along at a nice clip. In reality, it is almost unreasonable to expect Rodgers to run that many plays per game when he is throwing the ball to Jordy Nelson who simply refuses to be bothered by defenders and just decides to score when he touches the ball.

"Oh. Sorry, coach, was that too fast?"

Now that the Packers are closing in on the halfway point of the 2014 season, I think it is a good time to review where they are now and adjust some of the goals and measurements for the second half of the season. Self-reflection and analysis are traits of a healthy and successful organization and also traits of highly successful individuals.

While a target of 75 plays per game should remain a goal, I don't believe it to be the best measuring stick for Mike McCarthy to judge his offense. I have to believe that since the Packers have only achieved this benchmark once, yet remain successful, there must be a better metric to use to evaluate an offense's success, say an Offensive Dominance Quotient-ODQ (I made that up. Just now. Kind of like some intern at ESPN made up QBR on his lunch break.)

ODQ is an extensive set of statistics, formulas and algorithms designed to exactly measu...bwahahaha...just kidding. Like I said, I'm no mathlete. I couldn't even wake up for my 9 a.m. stats class, so ODQ is about as superficial as you could get. It is simply a tally of....{drum roll}....the number of snaps that the Packers' backup quarterbacks play in a game in relief of Aaron Rodgers. When QB1 has directed the team to a sufficient enough lead where McCarthy is able to send in Matt Flynn, as was the case versus Minnesota and Carolina, victory is imminent, and the Packers' offense has been dominant.

I look forward to seeing more Matt Flynn in relief mode during the course of the season. In fact, I would challenge Mike McCarthy to make Scott Tolzien active on all game days. When you are able to send in TWO backup quarterbacks to close out a game, your ODQ is roughly the size of a Twinkie 35 feet long and approximately 600 pounds.

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