Saturday, October 27, 2007

Book Review: The Card by Michael O'Keeffe and Teri Thompson

The Card, which carries the subtitle, "Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History's Most Desired Baseball Card," is about the recent history of the famous 1909 T206 Honus Wagner card. More accurately, The Card is about The Card - the Gretzky T206 Wagner, which was the first, and as far as I know, only, baseball card to sell for more than a million dollars (it sold for $2.35 million earlier this year). The card earned its nickname when hockey great Wayne Gretzky became part owner of the card in 1991.

The Card is a fun, quick book, just over 200 pages long, including appendices. Chapters detailing the history of The Card since its discovery in 1985 are intermingled with chapters about the business and history of baseball cards, players' compensation for use of their image, the history of card collecting, and, of course, Honus Wagner. The authors even make a case for Wagner as the greatest baseball player of all time. While there is some validity to their argument, it would likely be accepted by few fans outside Pittsburgh. Along with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, Wagner was one of only three offensive players in the National Baeball Hall of Fame's inaugural class (1936). In fact, Wagner received the same number of votes as Ruth, and more than twice the votes of Cy Young, who failed to make the cut. So while those who saw him play counted Wagner among baseball's greatest legends, very few of today's fans remember him for more than his appearance on an expensive piece of cardboard.

The T206 Wagner, while not the rarest baseball card, is the rarest card in what is probably the most desired set for collectors of vintage cards. Without going into too much detail, the controversy surrounding the card stems from its almost pristine condition. How can a piece of cardboard survive in such great condition for so many decades? Further adding to the debate, there have been questionable practices and conflicts of interest among the original buyer, auction houses, and the company and individual graders that authenticated the card.

O'Keeffe and Thompson attempt to prove that the card has been altered, and, although there is no smoking gun, I think they succeed. My guess is that most people would agree, but it will probably have little impact on the value of the card. The card's recent fame is based partly on the mystery and the controversy and partly on the intriguing cast of characters who have owned it, Wayne Gretzky being the most famous, but not necessarily the most interesting. In fact, Gretzky sold the card to Wal-Mart for use in a give-away promotion. The winner of the promotion was announced on an episode of Larry King Live, featuring a panel that included Tommy Lasorda and Barry Bonds. Other owners of the card have ties (having nothing to do with the card or the controversy) to such people as Rudy Giuliani and George H.W. Bush. All of these things, but especially the controversy, only serve to make The Card more interesting, more collectible, more valuable.

The only problem I had with the book was its National Enquirer-like tone. I shouldn't have been surprised, though, since the authors work for the New York Daily News, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of dredging up dirt on as many people as it can. That tone makes me wonder if they presented the evidence in its entirety or if they are only telling part of the story. On the positive side, the authors spent just the right amount of time on each chapter, providing sufficient information to move the story along without getting bogged down in details. I recommend this book for any fan of baseball history, even those who don't collect cards.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 11: Scattered, Smothered, Covered, or Chunked?

You'd think that once you've seen one Waffle House, you've seen them all. This Southern institution of the interstate is like McDonalds in that way - they all look the same, inside and out. But, every once in a while, you come across one that's different, and the Waffle House on Catawba Avenue in Cornelius is that one. The inside is all the same; so is the menu. But the exterior is much different - nicer - than the typical Waffle House, and that's why we call this one the Nice Waffle House. Remember, though, before you slip on your wingtips and knot your tie, it is still a Waffle House - good waffles, eggs, sausage (and, now, flavored sodas!! I was so excited, I had a cranberry coke with my All Star Special breakfast) - but not much else in the way of comfort and coziness.

There was also a great selection of music on the jukebox, including some songs about Waffle House, some of which you can buy on-line. Wonderfully enough, the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" came on during our breakfast. If any song is a Waffle House song, it's "Ramblin' Man."
Before you laugh, check out these fun facts about Waffle House. They really do have some impressive numbers.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 10: The Ride

It's about this time, after I've driven a few miles, I realize I'm sitting listening to the wind whistle through the windows. Music! I need some music! The best place to turn for music in Charlotte is The Ride, 95.7 FM. The reason it's the best is that it's not the same old stuff you can hear on any number of stations in any city. The Ride is a classic rock station that plays the same artists as anyone else, but not the same songs. Listening to The Ride, you're more likely to hear "Eleanor Rigby" than "All You Need Is Love", "Tupelo Honey" than "Brown Eyed Girl", or "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" than "Piano Man."

The station seems to be especially fond of James Taylor and Thin Lizzy, but that's okay, although Taylor can be a downer if you're looking for something more upbeat.

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