Thursday, July 20, 2017

Did Someone Say … the Stranger?

First off, cool title. I think it’s magnificently dorky. That’s the good news.

The bad news, aside from the art and a few cool moments, this book is a bit of a mess. We open with the Stilt-Man and Black Goliath are trading fists over Los Angeles. The Champions are coming back from last issue’s adventure with the Warlord Kaa.

Black Widow is driving so the rest of her teammates (Ghost Rider, Hercules, Angel, Ice Man and Dark Star) all get out and lend Black Goliath a hand. Go back and count how many heroes it takes to knock the Stilt-Man down. Stop, I’ll do it for you; it’s six. Six heroes (including one with Class 100 strength) to beat up a C-level villain that is normally laughed at by literally everyone.

(This is the Stilt-Man. Terrifying, isn't he?)

Aside from being really tall, Stilt-Man has a gun called the Z-Ray, which he proceeds to drop four panels into the story. Darkstar envelopes that thing into her Dark Force power and crushes it. So now, Stilt-Man is just a tall guy. Advantage Champions? You would think, but no.

Ice Man tries to put ice under the Stilt-Man’s stilts. It does nothing. Hercules knocks him over, but as the Stilt-Man (I love his name, BTW) lays on the ground, he telescopes his legs out donkey kicking Hercules AND Black Goliath. The Angel is like, I’m going down to kick his ass but Stilt-Man knocks him out of the sky with literally one punch. This was after being yelled at by Black Widow not to get too over confident.

The Ghost Rider takes a shot and rains hell fire. The Stilt-Man is like, eff this and takes off. Black Goliath tells the team that he’s going after them, so they should all go inside.

That’s where they meet Reggie Clayborne. It turns out that the Stilt-Man wanted a box that she had, but she didn’t want to give it to him because she thought it was bad. Reggie is an African American woman (stay with me, because this is kind of important to the point I’m going to make) and she tells the Champions about what’s in this McGuffin.

Turns out her “old man” Jerry was into drugs (of course he was) and he got “his-self messed up with a bunch of … well, gangsters, to get money, y’know? Anyway, he done stole this box from Stark International! I tol’ him to take it back, an’ I walked out on him when he wouldn’t! … An’ then I remembered hearin’ about the Champions on the TV. How you help the ‘Common Man’ an’, well I’m common, an’ I need help!”

First off, ugh. Secondly, from all accounts writer Bill Mantlo is a really nice guy, but he has to widen his social circle if he thinks that all black people talk like bit characters from “Good Times”. I mean, “he done stole”? C’mon man, that’s terrible writing. And way to boil down everyone to a stereotype: her boyfriend not only is into drugs, but he also steals. And he steals so indiscriminately that he takes something he has no idea what it is from Tony Stark. Alright. Sure. Fine. Let’s move this piece of shit along.

As if on cue, the cosmic entity known as the Stranger shows up. He’s like, I need that box because there’s a bomb in it. The Champions don’t even stop for a second to wonder whether this guy is telling the truth, they just start unloading on him.

Everyone except for Ghost Rider, because he’s still stuck as Johnny Blaze. Apparently Blaze can only turn into GR when there’s danger present—it’s kind of like his Spidey sense. The Stranger isn’t setting off any danger alarms, so he tries telling Ice Man that. Blaze starts to tell Bobby, but all Ice Man can say is, “Shut up Blaze! This big weirdo messed with a lady I like!”

Really? Fuck you, dude. Number one the lady that you like, Darkstar, a. doesn’t like you and b. started fighting the Stranger within seconds of him showing up. So he retaliated. Kind of sucks, but your “lady” shot first, Greedo. This is also not the first time that Ice Man is disgustingly hitting on Dark Star while they’re in the midst of a battle. Relax man, what is your deal. Wait until the fight is over before you start draping your icy meathooks all over her. Gross.

So Ice Man is being a dick to Ghost Rider. While they were fighting Stilt-Man, Black Widow warns Angel not to go into battle too over confidently. He responds by essentially telling her to get off his back, he’s done this a long time and blah, blah, blah. He gets his ass handed to him, really quick. So good job listening to your team leader, Warren.

By the way, Black Widow hasn’t done a hell of a lot of fighting during the last few issues. She’s either shouting vague orders, driving the Champion Car or hanging around in the background. I don’t think Mantlo had a plan for her yet.

Back to the fight, Ghost Rider tries going toe-to-toe with the Stranger who is like, forget this crap and just chucks GR out of 15-story window. Darkstar saves him before he snaps his neck and is Johnny Blaze happy? Nope. He accuses her of saving him because she’s a spy and she’s trying to get all of the Champions’ secrets. Darkstar is acting as a proxy for the audience because we’re all like what the fuck are you talking about, Johnny?

Black Widow is not too keen on Darkstar either. She’s a bit concerned as to how easy the team took her country woman in. It reads like she’s jealous, but that’s kind of dumb. Well, it should be dumb – but we just saw how stupid Mantlo managed to make a black woman sound. So it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that the first emotion a woman experiences when a new woman joins a group is jealousy.

As this is going on Reggie’s bomb, called the Null-Life Bomb, is growing bigger and bigger and bigger. According to the Stranger, it’s now triggered and it’s going to blow up. Not only will Earth be lost, but the rest of the universe will be too. The Stranger has seen this before, but some guy sacrificed his life to stop it. It is implied that that the guy who did that is Reggie’s boyfriend. At least, that’s how I’m reading it, they never come out and explicitely say it.

The Stranger says that in order to disarm the bomb, all six of the Champions have to go inside the Null-Life Bomb and fix it. The book ends with them inside the bomb, ready to fight whatever comes their way.

I said that there were a few cool moments in this comic.

One of them was the way that Mantlo handled the Stilt-Man/Black Goliath fight. It was broadcast over the Champion TroubleAlert TV screen. They trade punches until BG gets fed up, rips off one of the Stilt-Man’s legs and beats him with it. Once he gets him off the ground, he rips off SM’s mask and bashes him in the face. It is what should have been done by the six of these guys in the first half of the book.

We also got another great cover by Dave Cockrum. I know that when Byrne politicked to get Cockrum off the X-Men, Cockrum still drew covers and it used to infuriate Byrne. I wonder if the same thing went on here? Byrne is doing the yeoman’s work of drawing 20+ pages and Cockrum does the covers. That would probably piss me off too, now that I think about it.

This was a bad comic. Not just for the dialogue but for the logic of it. Six Champions couldn’t get out of their own way to beat up on a guy like the fucking Stilt-Man. Anyone can beat up the Stilt-Man, he’s just a dude who grows tall. Then the Stranger comes into their headquarters and they fight him to a stand-still. The Stranger. He’s not Galactus, but he’s a pretty big hitter in the Marvel cosmic universe.

The Stanger is a weird looking guy. He has a stark white pointy mustache, a weird white beard and a red shirt without sleeves, plus a speedo hidden by a towel. He kind of looks like your drunk uncle who forwards racist emails and posts a lot of Breitbart articles on Facebook, commenting, "Makes you think ..." In other words, he doesn't look like he's tough. But he is. 

Looks aside, how can the Champions fight the Stranger to a draw and get stymied by the Stilt-Man in the same damn book? That makes zero sense. And I get it, you need to make the villain appear to be powerful, but not the Stilt-Man. He gets tall, that’s literally it. If you put him in an Uncle Sam costume, he’d be like the tenth coolest thing at a fair.

And the constant bickering is getting old. I know that Marvel loves to make a big deal about how their heroes act like real people, so sometimes they don’t get along, but do these six jabronis even like each other? Why are they hanging around with each other at this point? It’s not like the Fantastic Four where they’re family or the X-Men where they’re classmates. They’re just a bunch of randoms who all happen to live in Los Angeles.

There is never any time when they seem to genuinely like each other.

I give this two vest-wearing Angels. And that’s being kind.

Next entry, I’m going to get into how the Champions should be a lot more powerful than how they are written. It’s kind of bullshit, to be honest.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1988 Topps Traded Brady Anderson

On May 23, 2016, I received the above card. Here is what I wrote about it on Facebook:

After taking the weekend off the Baseball Card Bandit strikes (Ha! Baseball pun!) again. 
Good old Brady Anderson he lasted a little bit with the Red Sox, a little bit on steroids (allegedly) and a lot in our hearts. 
Kudos BCB.”

At the beginning of the 1988 season, the Boston Red Sox were floundering. Most of the rookies that were inserted during the previous season were experiencing sophomore slumps and the leftover veterans weren’t doing much better. For a young squad, they were a dead-ass team and they were going nowhere, fast.

In the middle of the season General Manager Lou Gorman knew a change was needed, so he fired field manager John McNamara and replaced him with Joe Morgan. At the time, the Sox were nine games behind the Detroit Tigers and the Morgan hire was supposed to last long enough for Gorman and Cardinals pitching coach Mike Roarke to work out a deal bringing him to Boston.

The Red Sox won Joe Morgan’s first game as a manager and proceeded to win 12 in a row. They also set a Major League record by winning 24 straight home games in a row too. For a team that was buried at the All-Star break, a month later the Red Sox were sitting on top of the American League East standings. Walpole Joe wasn’t going anywhere and Roarke never got a chance to manage in the bigs.

Now Gorman had to change direction and build for a playoff run. He sent Anderson, who played in 41 uninspiring games with the Sox at the beginning of the season, to the Baltimore Orioles for starting pitcher Mike Boddicker. The Sox sweetened the deal by adding Curt Schilling to the transaction too.

There are times when you’re over a barrel and you have to do something, and for Gorman this was one of those times (though it wouldn’t be the first time he got fleeced by an opposing GM). Boddicker pitched very well for the Red Sox for the next few years and in 1988 he was slotted behind Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst as Boston’s number three pitcher. The Sox stumbled a bit in September, but held on to get crushed by the Oakland Athletics in four straight games in the American League Championship series.

Brady Anderson started slowly with the Orioles, this was the Orioles team that opened the season with 21 straight losses, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure on anyone to win right now. Anderson played a decent centerfield but didn’t hit over .231 or slug more than four home runs in the ensuing three seasons. In 1992, Anderson turned it on becoming an All-Star for the first time and jacking up his counting stats. He launched homers (21), stole bases (53) and went from being good-field, no-hit to good-field, good-hit. The Orioles found themselves a weapon.

The next two years, his numbers stayed about the same: mid-300s on base and mid-400s for slugging. But in 1996, Anderson went bananas, slamming 50 home runs on the season. It was a magical season for him, but it also brought a lot of eyeballs and suspicion.

His previous nine seasons, Anderson never came close to 30 home runs (21 was his high), never mind 50. Where did this power surge come from? When people talk about the Steroid Era, after you get past the Mark McGwires, Sammy Sosas and Barry Bondses, Brady Anderson’s name is usually the next one to be brought up. And I admit that it does look a little fishy. Brady Anderson was a speedy centerfielder type. He ran well, hit in the mid .260s and showed flashes of power. How did he hit 50 home runs?

I don’t know. All I know is that he did. If he did take steroids why did he only do so for one year? He wasn’t a free agent that season, he couldn’t shop his talent around until after the 1997 season – and he slumped big time then, only hitting 18 homers and seeing his slugging percentage tumble by 150 points. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep the juice going for one more year to quiet the nay-sayers and get an even bigger payday? It’s not like Major League Baseball even tested for steroids or anything, he could cycle whenever he felt like he needed a boost and goose his numbers higher and higher.

I don’t know and I think that’s why I’m not comfortable tossing him on the steroids pyre with the rest of the known steroids guys. Baseball is a funny game, every once in a while, players come along and outperform their career norms and then the next season they turn into a pumpkin. Before he gained fame as the manager who led the Mets to their last World Series victory, Davey Johnson hit 43 Ding Dong Johnsons for the Atlanta Braves in 1973. The following year he hit 15 and the year after that he hit zero. Prior to 1973, the second baseman’s career high was 18.

Things happen, sometimes the lightening you catch in the bottle lasts for the full season. Maybe that’s what happened to Brady Anderson.

The closest Anderson came to matching his career high in bombs was during the 1999 season when he hit 24. He was out of baseball three seasons later.

Did the Sox make the right move trading Anderson (and Schilling) for Boddicker? I say yes. Anderson was never going to be allowed to develop for four seasons in Boston. Fans would have been calling for his head by the end of the 1990 season. Plus, the Red Sox needed Mike Boddicker in 1988 and 1990. The Athletics lost to two huge underdogs the year that they crushed the Sox, so even though they looked infallible, they obviously weren’t unbeatable. Maybe if Clemens got Orel Hershiser or Jose Rijo hot, they could have snuck passed the A’s and played in the Series.

As far as Schilling goes, he got lit up in his stints with the Orioles and later the Astros, before he got his shit together with the Phillies. The Sox share the blame in not recognizing the talent of Schilling with Baltimore and Houston, but a lion’s share falls on Schilling’s shoulders too.

The story is, Schilling was messing around in a Houston gym during the winter when Roger Clemens was working out. Clemens saw what Schilling was doing and reamed him out and said that he was too good to be that bad. Schilling took the advice to heart and began to dedicate himself to pitching and all of the things that go along with it. The following year, he led the Phillies to the 1993 World Series.

Two quick thoughts:

The Red Sox did a pretty good job of scouting in the early 1980s: Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Jody Reed, Todd Benzinger, Sam Horn, John Marzano, Brady Anderson, Jeff Bagwell, two-time All Star Scott Cooper, Tim Naehring, Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, Phil Plantier and John Flaherty all made the bigs and experienced a bunch sort of success. Schilling was about the only pitcher the Sox signed during this time that did anything.

I wonder how that compares to the late 60s/early 70s run of developed players: Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, Ben Oglive, Cecil Cooper, Juan Beniquez, Ernie Whitt and Butch Hobson. Again, not a lot of pitchers in the mix here. But man, do the Sox scouts know how to pick hitters or what? Damn.

My parents brought my brother and I to a Sox/Orioles game in September 1988 and both of us were obsessed with getting autographs. We got to the park early and were trying to get someone, anyone to sign. My brother being smaller and more adventurous than me climbed on the Orioles dugout and stuck his head down and gave his and my baseball to someone for an autograph, who passed it along to some other guys before giving it back to my brother. I was excited about one signature: Brady Anderson, nonplussed about another: Joe Orsulak and upset with my brother for the third: Curt Schilling.

“Why did you get Schilling,” I asked. “He sucks. I’m glad you got Anderson because he’s going to the Hall of Fame, but we wasted a good spot on the ball for Schilling.”

Then, as now, I was a bit of a dick AND I act like I do, but I know nothing about baseball.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

1988 Topps Jody Reed

On May 20, 2016 I received this Jody Reed card. This is what I wrote on Facebook that day:

"Another day, another mystery card. 
Today's edition: Jerry Remy's younger doppelgänger in both looks and stats plus financial dipshit (which inadvertently paved the way for the Sox to land Pedro): Jody Reed. 
Mystery card leader, whomever you are I applaud that you are leaving cards from different years."

In 1984, Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy sustained a career ending injury. He worked hard for over a year, but the Sox cut him in December of 1985 and he never played again. He got a job in the team’s minor league system as a roving instructor, but for a number of reasons, Remy didn’t take to it. In 1988, the Red Sox made him their color guy teaming him up with broadcasting legend Ned Martin on some broadcasts and newbie Sean McDonough on others.

Almost 30 years later, Remy can still be heard on Sox broadcasts, when he’s not battling serious medical issues. Whether you love him or hate him, he’s an entrenched part of the Sox fabric now . Unless he wants to leave, nothing (and I mean nothing – including his son butchering his girlfriend) is going to remove him from Sox telecasts.

Unlike his minor league instructing gig, you can say that Remy took to this job.

You wonder what Jerry Remy’s reaction to Jody Reed was when the latter won the starting shortstop job in 1988. I wonder if Remy felt as if he was looking into a mirror, the two were practically twin: dark haired, mustachioed, diminutive middle infielders. According to, Reed checked in at 5’9” and 170 pounds, while Remy is listed as 5’9”, 165 pounds. Over his 11 seasons, Reed had a little more pop: 270/349/350 than Remy’s 10 at 275/327/328. But Remy was much faster and made an All-Star team.

Reed final WAR was 15.7 and the Rem Dog’s was 14.4.

By and large, they were the same player which must have been strange  for the Sox rookie play-by-play guy to essentially watch himself for four years.

(Look at these two guys, it's uncanny!)

Jody Reed played a handful of games in 1987, the year that the Sox went on a full youth movement with players such as Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger, John Marzano and Sam Horn. But he made up for it in 1988 when he played in 109 games and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Shortstop was his first position, but he looked too small at short to stay there for too long and eventually he slid over to second base.

Reed was a doubles machine. He used the Wall to his advantage as he led the league in two-baggers in 1990 with 45. But by 1992, he stopped hitting and was chosen by the Colorado Rockies in the 1993 Expansion Draft. The Rocks had no use for him, so they sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for future Red Sox pitcher Rudy Seanez.

That one season in Los Angeles seemed to recharge his batteries as Reed had a nice bounce-back year. He declined the Dodgers’ offer of a three-year contract extension of $7.8 million and decided to become a free agent. Unfortunately, no one bit and he had to settle for a one-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for $350,000. That’s a far cry from the average value of $2.6 million per year*. After playing a season in Suds City, he moved on to two years with the Padres before ending his career in Detroit as a Tiger.

* Reed may have been Remy’s equal on the field, but when it came to maximizing his value, the RemDog blew him out of the water. I don’t know whether Remy is a top-notch businessman, a guy who was simply at the right place and time, incredibly lucky or a bit of all three but he has done a terrific job of being able to wring out every cent of being Jerry Remy. The amount of stuff he’s involved with is completely insane.

The interesting thing about Reed saying no to the contract extension is that not only did it screw Reed in the wallet, but it messed up the Dodgers too. Since Reed decided to split, L.A. had a hole in the infield and needed someone to fill it. General Manager Fred Claire looked north and saw that Delino DeShields was having monster years playing in relative obscurity for the Expos. He asked his GM counterpart Dan Duquette what it would take to get DeShields. Duquette’s answer was that he wanted just one player: Pedro Martinez.

Claire said okay because of a couple of reasons. One, his manager Tommy Lasorda thought that Pedro was too tiny to make any impact as a starting pitcher. Lasorda was adamant that due to his frame, Martinez was always going to be hurt and he didn’t want to deal with that. Plus, Deshields was a stud. He hit close to .300 every year, he walked a bit and man, he could fly. He stole 187 bases in four years as an Expo*.

* It’s amazing that DeShields never was an All-Star during his Montreal tenure. I get that he couldn’t get in as a starter because of Ryne Sandberg, but in 1991, the backup second baseman was Juan Samuel, in 1992 the backups were Craig Biggio and Mike Sharperson and in 1993 it was Robby Thompson. That’s bullshit right there.

You know what happened to Pedro. But DeShields never really had any great years in Los Angeles. He was fine, but he wasn’t Montreal good. He played out the rest of his career in St. Louis, Baltimore (Delino DeShields was from Delaware – 3D!) and the Cubs.

Three things about that trade:

1. I  thought that the Dodgers got a steal (no pun) because all I knew of Pedro was that he was Ramon’s kid brother.

2. I thought that it was cool that Pedro and Ramon were on the same team. How awesome is it to be in the majors and have your brother be on the same team? I thought that was the coolest. And now he got traded, it must’ve been a sad day in the Martinez home.

3. Not as sad as it was at Ash Hall in Merrimack College. I’m not sure how I heard of the trade (this was 1993 before the Internet or texting or having cable in our rooms) but I knew. I was watching a movie with a couple of friend of mine and these two French Canadian goalies, whom I didn’t know at all. I knew that they liked the Expos, so I said to one of them (he understood English the best) that DeShields had been traded. He looked distraught and explained (in French) to his friend about the transaction. All of a sudden that guy screamed, “DELINOOOOOOOOO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and beat the crap out of a pillow. The two then proceeded to ask me 100 times if I was sure. Yup, I was sure mon ami. 

So because Jody Reed completely and totally misread the market for second basemen in 1993, he changed the lives of a lot of people. And that’s what I’ll remember most about Jody Reed.