The Great Baseball Card Bubble of 1987


I saw this tweet the other day and I had to laugh because it brought back memories of the time in my childhood when I was deeply invested in the baseball card collecting hobby.  I can’t remember when I started collecting baseball cards, but sometime in the early 80s my uncle gave me a large number of cards from the 1978 Topps set.  To this I added current cards from wax packs my parents would buy me, hoping to get cards of the two New York City teams and some of the big stars of the day like Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Murray, George Brett, and Fernando Valenzuela.

Oddly, my baseball card hobby actually preceded my baseball fandom by several years, but by 1985 when I started following baseball intensely, my card collecting also picked up. Now I I would my money from birthdays and such at corner stores on wax packs hoping to get my favorite team (now solely the Mets), the best players of the day, and hopefully complete the set.  I started getting Baseball Cards Magazine and learned a lot about the history of baseball cards going back to the 1950s when Topps started, and even earlier cards made by no longer extant companies.  I also learned that Topps was not alone, but had competitors named Fleer and Donruss, and soon a company called Score would release a set with color photos on both sides of the card!

Baseball Cards Magazine informed me that older cards were most valuable, but there were also error cards from more recent sets that were rare and valuable.  I searched my cards, but alas, never found the rare variants. Another type of card considered valuable is the rookie card, which is the very first card issued for a particular player by any company.  Sometimes rookie cards were issued before a player even made their Major League debut, and I found I had a Mark McGwire card from when he was on the USA baseball team in 1984. The Baseball Cards Magazine price guide said my card was worth $15 (I never sold it though).

Towards the late 80s, the baseball card hobby began shifting more and more toward emphasis on collecting rookie cards.  It helped that a large number of young players began emerging as potential stars at that time.  Wally Joyner, pictured above, was the first rookie player elected to start in the All-Star Game ever in 1986, and in 1987 even more rookies made the All-Star rosters.  Soon the ads in the back of Baseball Cards Magazine were all selling lots of rookie cards by the 100s for players like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Mike Greenwell, Mark McGwire, Gregg Jeffries, Benito Santiago, Kevin Seitzer, Ruben Sierra, Cory Snyder, Danny Tartabull and of course, Wally Joyner. The hope for collectors is that by buying up lots of cards of players when they were young would make them more valuable for resale when they became Hall of Famers. The hobby became less appealing to me the more it became an investment vehicle like the stock market.

Of course, none of these players were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and most of them weren’t even superstars.  Bonds, Canseco, and McGwire were superstars but are also among the most prominent players to have their legacies tarnished by using performance enhancing drugs. I avoided buying the lots of rookie cards, although I was convinced to save up my money to buy the 1987 Topps Traded set, which had 132 cards of players traded since the original 1987 set was published and included the first cards of several “prominent rookies.” I believe I saved up $15 plus shipping & handling to get this set by mail order.  This spring when I was in a baseball card shop in Cooperstown, I saw the exact same set for sale for $10.  The lots of rookie cards that my fellow hobbyists invested in 30 years ago have similarly not appreciated in price.

These days, my son – and to a lesser extent, my daughter – has taken up an interest in baseball card collecting.  Baseball cards have come a long way, and following the innovations of that first Score set now have color photos on both sides on high-quality card stock.  Unfortunately, this means one can no longer buy a pack with pocket change at the corner store, but have to spend several dollars for a pack at a specialty shop.  Instead of a rookie card bubble, my son is drawn in by the chance of getting limited edition cards inserted into packs that have actual player autographs and swatches of game-used uniforms and equipment (which strikes me as eerily like the relics of Christian saints).  While I can’t say these cards are worth what my son is paying for them, it is nice that they are actually something unique and pleasant to look at. You can’t say that for a lot of 100 Wally Joyner rookie cards.

Remembering Tony Horwitz


I just learned that journalist and author Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite writers, died today at the young age of 60.

Horwitz’s writing was part history, part participatory journalism,  and part travelogue – three things I love to read, so naturally I enjoyed reading the combination of all three.  He had a way of bridging past and present, and shaking the assumptions we have about history.  He will be missed.

Here are the Horwitz books I’ve read with links to reviews:

I also learned that he just released a new book earlier this month called Spying on the South, which is about Frederick Law Olmsted of all people, a strange confluence of my interests.  Rest assured I’ll be reading that soon!

Baby Shark: An Appreciation


This week, the Billboard Top 40 chart included an unusual debut song, with “Baby Shark” ranking at 32 on the list for January 12.  If you’re not familiar with “Baby Shark,” it is a children’s song sung at camps and preschools about a family of sharks accompanied by appropriately shark-y hand gestures.  I first heard this song in the early 1990s on a college beach trip, and since the people singing the song remembered it from their childhood, it goes back to at least the 1970s.  Stranger still, the version of the song on the chart is not by a famed popstar, but is from a video made by the South Korean education company Pinkfong in 2015.  The popularity of the song has been aided by the viral meme of the  where people film themselves performing the song’s choreography.

I’m tickled by the “Baby Shark” song’s chart success, because we expect the Top 40 to be filled with finely crafted pop recordings from internationally famed musicians.  “Baby Shark” instead is a song performed everyday by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, especially children.  It turns everything we know about chart success on its head.

More personally, when my son was a baby, my wife & I sang a version of this song we called “The Magic Shark Song,” because sometimes it was the ONLY thing that would soothe him when he was fussy.  Our version had a slightly different tune and lyrics.  Most significantly, instead of the famed/notorious “doo doo doo doo doo doo” chorus, we sang:

“Baby shark, baby shark, ba, ba. Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba,
Mommy shark, mommy shark, ma, ma. Ma, ma, ma, ma, ma…”

And so on, with the repeated sound being the first syllable of each member of the shark family.  As time went by, I varied the song to sing it in the style of Ethel Merman and Carol Channing (RIP).  Trust me, singing “shark teeth are a girl’s best friend” was a hit with the infant!

So, I lift a fin to “Baby Shark” this week.  Long may it chomp!

 

MASSACHUSETTS: VOTE NOVEMBER 6th (or earlier)!!


Once again, I’m sending out a message to my fellow Bay Staters to get out and vote in the upcoming elections.  A Senate seat, congressional representatives, the governorship, and numerous state and local positions are up for the vote this year. We will will also be voting on three ballot measures.

  • Make sure to Register to Vote by October 17th!!!!
  • Visit My Election Information to see the candidates on the ballot in your district and find out where your polls are located.
  • Consider taking advantage of Early Voting. Early voting in Boston runs from October 22nd to November 2nd, and will be available in other Massachusetts’ communities as well.

When you get to the polls, please consider voting for Jay Gonzalez for Governor.  He is a progressive and will advocate for bold ideas to challenge great amount of inequality in the Commonwealth.  He is focused on supporting public education, repairing and expanding public transportation, improving healthcare (and cutting healthcare costs), and addressing serious environmental problems that contribute to climate change. As the national political scene deteriorates, it is ever more important that “blue states” mobilize to do what needs to be done to protect our people locally and be a model of progressive values.

Which is why Massachusetts definitely cannot continue under a Republican governor.  Charlie Baker is often presented as a moderate and is inordinately popular with Massachusetts Democrats, but he is still a Republican whose conservative ideology benefits the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable. Baker has refused to take a stance against the Trump Administration’s worst offenses, and in fact continues to fund raise money for Republicans that is funneled to Trump.  His “reform before revenue” plan for the MBTA has done nothing but allow public transit to further deteriorate.  His Board of Education chair Paul Sagan made illegal campaign contributions to efforts to privatize public education.  And Baker used taxpayer money to make a deal with General Electric, a company whose stock value is crashing and may never build their headquarters in Massachusetts, but will still cash in on Baker’s sweet deal.  Baker is not good for Massachusetts, don’t vote for him!

I also encourage you to vote YES on all three ballot measures:

  • Question 1 – Sets limits on the number of patients a nurse can be assigned to.  It is important that patients receive quality care and attention in Massachusetts’ hospitals and that nurses are not overextended.  I know a lot of nurses – some of the hardest working and compassionate people I know – and they all say to vote YES ON 1.
  • Question 2 – Creates citizens commission to advocate for changes to the U.S. Constitution regarding political spending and corporate personhood. It’s vital to begin to reverse the trend toward oligarchy and make our state and national government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Vote YES ON 2.
  • Question 3 – Maintains a 2016 a law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. We shouldn’t ever have to vote on the basic human rights of any group of people, but since this question is on the ballot, I implore you to defend equality, dignity, and livelihoods for transgender people by voting YES ON 3.

Happy voting! Let’s all get out and vote for a better future for Massachusetts!

Rally for Transgender Equality #YesOn3


Today I’m attending the Rally for Transgender Equality at Copley Square. Hundreds of people are making it known that our transgender friends, family, children, coworkers, and neighbors deserve equal protection against discrimination in public places such as restaurants, hotels, and hospitals.

In reality, we shouldn’t have to be here as transgender people should not be discriminated against and their rights have been protected under Massachusetts law since 2016. But people acting on ignorance and prejudice have put forward a ballot referendum asking Massachusetts voters to repeal the laws that protect our transgender neighbors from discrimination. No ones human rights should ever be put to a vote, but since they’re bringing this fight to us, we’re here to show our love for transgender people and defend their rights and dignity.

Learn more about why you should vote Yes on 3 at the Freedom for All website.

VOTE on September 4th! Massachusetts Primary Elections


If you live in Massachusetts, you have a Primary Election one week from today on September 4, 2018.  Yes, that’s the day after Labor Day!  As general elections in Massachusetts are often uncontested or with minimal opposition to the incumbent, the primary election is YOUR opportunity to have YOUR voice heard.  This year there is an opportunity to vote for several progressive candidates to shake up the complacent Democratic Party establishment.  Despite a clear majority in the Commonwealth’s legislature, Democrats have been hesitant to challenge Republican governor Charlie Baker, and failed to pass popular legislation such as the Safe Communities Act to protect immigrants’ rights or reform the FBRC school funding formula.

If you are a registered member of the Democratic, Libertarian, or Republican parties, you may vote on your party’s ballot on the primary election day.  If you’re an independent – or, “Unenrolled” in official parlance – you may select the ballot of any ONE party to vote on.

Use this tool to find your ballot and where to vote: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/WhereDoIVoteMA/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx

You can also find a list of candidates for state primaries in Boston here: https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/2018_-_09-04-18_-_state_primary_candidates_all_parties.pdf

I am an independent and will be voting on the Democratic Party ballot. Here is who I will be voting for:

(NOTE: I’ve not included endorsements for Governor’s Council, Clerk of Supreme Judicial Court, Clerk of Superior Court (Civil Business), and Clerk of Superior Court (Criminal Business) because I have not been able to find enough information about the candidates)

Candidates who are not in my district, but have my support, include:

  • REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS (EIGHTH DISTRICT): Brianna Wu
  • REPRESENTATIVE IN GENERAL COURT (NINTH SUFFOLK DISTRICT): Jon Santiago
  • REPRESENTATIVE IN GENERAL COURT (FIFTEENTH SUFFOLK DISTRICT): Nika Elugardo

The Numbers Favor #Resistance


Lately I’ve been seeing some fatigue from among those of us fighting for American democracy against Trump, the Republicans, and those who support them.  It feels like that somehow they outnumber us and they always win.

I think it’s important for people to remember that the population of the United States is currently around 328 million. Fewer than 63 million people voted for Trump. That’s less than 20% of the US population. Some of the people who voted for Trump are people who always vote Republican, some hated Clinton, some were angry and wanted to stir shit up. None of these things are particularly defensible reasons to vote for Trump, but the point is that there is a portion of the Trump vote that did not come from Trump devotees.  Two years later, a portion of the people who were actually favorable to the idea of Trump as someone they’d actually like as President now feel betrayed and regret their point.  Some of them regret their votes now that they’ve seen Trump in action. Thus, the number of people who are devoted supporters of Trump is less than that 20% and getting smaller. Trump supporters are outnumbered 4 to 1, at the least.

Now obviously, there’s a large portion of that 80% + that cannot vote: children under 18, non-naturalized immigrants, & people disenfranchised by incarceration, even after they’ve served their time. But if there’s anything we’ve seen in the last 2 years it’s that those three groups – children, immigrants, and communities most affected by felony disenfranchisement – who have provided some of our most powerful leaders and activists. So if you’re feeling hopeless right now remember this: it’s not going to be easy but the numbers are GREATLY in our favor! Don’t give up, we need each and every one of you!

No Such Thing as Free Parking in Boston


A recent article in the Boston Globe asks “Are the days of free residential parking in Boston numbered?” Unlike neighboring cities like Brookline, Somerville, and Cambridge that charge $25 to $40 a year for parking permits, residential parking permits in Boston are “free.”  Of course, nothing is really free, and as the research of UCLA Urban Planning professor Donald Shoup shows in “The High Cost of Free Parking,” the costs of a city providing “free” parking are often shifted in inequitable ways.  This is why Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu is investigating charging an annual fee for Boston residential parking permits, an idea that I’ve long considered a good one and believe the city should pursue as soon as possible.

This is an issue of equity.  In a city where land is at a premium, a considerable amount of the public commons is given over for “free” storage of private property.  And it is a use of public land that benefits wealthier people who are more likely to own a car than poorer people, and in fact wealthier people are more likely to own multiple cars, as the article notes “at least 300 residences have more than five parking permits.”

With a major winter storm coming up, this is a time when many Boston residents are concerned with a shortage of on-street parking.  And yet this is a time when we can most see the negative effects of free residential permits.  Go down any street after a snow storm and you will find at least one car that remains unshoveled for days, or even weeks after the storm.  The owner of that car probably rarely drives but because there is no cost to them to store the car at the city’s expense, they keep the car there just in case.  Similarly, people who typically keep their cars off-street on driveways and in garages will move their cars on to the street before a storm because they know the city will plow the street, but they are responsible for clearing their own driveways.

Charging an annual fee for a residential would not be primarily for revenue, but a means of regulating the behavior of on-street parking in the winter and all year round.  It need not be an onerous amount, just priced enough to make someone who has one car that they rarely use but are keeping “just in case” to take the plunge and go car free.  Or for someone who has two cars to decide to go car-light.  Neighborhoods that are higher density, have higher property values, and/or have a shortage of on-street space would also obviously pay a higher annual rate than a neighborhood that is low-density, low income, and/or has surplus space. Major arteries can also be priced to reduce on-street parking and allow for dedicated bus and bike lanes. I’d also propose that while the annual rate for a single residential parking permit be relatively affordable, that permits for a second, third, or so on car be increasingly and prohibitively expensive.

The income that is raised from parking permits can be redirected into the neighborhoods.  Money can be invested into repairing and widening sidewalks, planting trees and improving greenspace, and constructing protected bicycle lanes.  In some places, the recovered space may even be used to construct new housing or retail spaces.

I hope that Councilor Wu and others in our community embrace paid residential parking permits as one means of increasing the quality of life for all residents of the city.

Resistance Mixtape: Veterans Day


Veteran’s Day is the time we honor people who served in the military.  These are people who often have seen the horror of war and try to express this to those of use divorced from its reality, and even today are among those most opposed to war. My hope for this and every Veteran’s Day is that our military is used wisely and that there we don’t end up with more people to remember on future Memorial Days.

Bruce Springsteen :: “Born in the U.S.A” – The bombastic chorus is often misinterpreted as blind patriotism, but the verses tell of the long lasting effects on a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Creedence Clearwater Revival :: “Fortunate Son” – Who goes to war often has less to do with patriotism and more to do with one’s position in society.

Eric Bogle :: “The Green Fields of France” – November 11th commemorates the end of The Great War which was supposed to be “The War to End All Wars” but still young people are sent off to fight.

Phil Ochs :: “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” – Tells the story of a veteran of all the United States’ wars who decides to refuse to fight any loner.

Bill Withers :: “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” – Another view of the lasting damage on a veteran of war.

 

The Clancy Brothers :: “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” – The families and friends of veterans also suffer the iniquities of war.

 

Previous Mixtapes:

Vote November 7th: Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston


Hello Boston residents!  There is a municipal election next Tuesday, November 7th.  Please commit yourself to voting on Tuesday and encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to vote as well.  You can find your polling location online at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/WhereDoIVoteMA/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx.  You will be voting for Mayor of Boston and City Council.

Learn more about the candidates and their issues:

I’d like to encourage you to vote for Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston.  Tito is a lifelong resident of Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood and since 2011 he has served on the City Council as the representative of District 7 (all of Roxbury, parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway neighborhoods).  I’ve come to know him in recent years primarily through being active with Boston Public School parents and students to defend against three consecutive years of severe budget cuts from the Walsh administration and the threats of corporate education reform organizations, and advance a just and equitable model of public education.  As Chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education, Tito frequently meets and works with parents and students of Boston Public Schools.  He recognizes the good work that BPS teachers and students are already doing, at a time when it is fashionable to attack public education as failing.  He understands that schools will get better only if every school and every student receive equitable resources and we address problems due to poverty, inequality, and physical and mental health.

As you might imagine, education is one of the key issues on Tito’s platform.  But he is also very concerned with housing.  If you’ve tried to rent or buy a home in Boston in the past couple of decades you know it’s an extremely competitive housing market where an increasing demand for a static supply of housing stock has forced rents and mortgages through the roof.  Members of Boston’s working and middle classes are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the city.  And when new housing is built, developers inevitably target it to high-end buyers.  Tito is committed to making housing economically viable for all by increasing the number of truly affordable housing units.

Of course it’s easy to make promise that look great on a webpage, but there’s something about Tito that sets him apart from other candidates: he is truly a representative of the people who listens to them and works to resolve their problems.  A couple of years ago, Boston was selected as a candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.  I had mixed feelings on the issue myself.  On the one hand I enjoy the Olympics and it would be a treat to have it in our great city, but on the other hand I know that the cost of the Olympics can be economically devastating to the host city.  Although the supporters of the bid promised that no public funding would be used for the Olympics, many citizens were concerned about the lack of transparency around the contents of the actual bid documents.  Tito was initially supportive of Boston 2024 but listened to the growing concern of his constituents and filed a subpoena forcing the Boston 2024 organizers to release the full, unredacted bid.  As feared, the bid put Boston on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money, and that was before any inevitable cost overruns.  This is just one instance of Tito listening to his constituents, acting on their concerns, and working toward greater transparency and equity in Boston government.

Ok, so you may be saying to yourself, why change horses midstream?  Isn’t Marty Walsh nationally recognized as a progressive leader?  Doesn’t Walsh have box full of prominent endorsements?  How is Tito any different?

If that’s the case, here are five reasons why you should not vote for Marty Walsh:

  • Walsh has repeatedly put Boston on the hook for the costs of big monied interests coming to Boston, from the Olympics to Indycar, and General Electric to Amazon.  While bringing these megaevents and corporations to Boston may not be bad in themselves,Walsh’s complete lack of transparency in all of these negotiations is bad for the city, especially when Walsh doesn’t even read the fine print of what he’s committing the city to.
  • Walsh’s vision for Boston is one based on prioritizing single-occupancy motor vehicles, an autopian view that we have at least 70 years of evidence won’t work.  Walsh has openly stated that he’s a “car guy” and declared that pedestrians and bicyclists are responsible for their own deaths, “You have to understand, cars are going to hit you.”  He recently minimized problems with the MBTA that features daily delays and overcrowding on crumbling infrastructure, showing how out of touch he is with the average Boston commuter.  Walsh’s pro-car stance and indifference to public transit, bikes, and pedestrians doesn’t even take into the account the effects of climate change on a coastal city like Boston if we keep pumping pollutants into the air.
  • In one of the most heartbreaking incidents in Walsh’s term, he closed the city’s largest homeless shelter on Long Island in October 2014, just months before one of the most severe winters in recent memory.  Walsh was given the option of ferry service to Long Island to replace the unsafe bridge, but instead the homeless (many of them suffering from addiction) were distributed through the city.  Not coincidentally, the homeless encampment at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard (a.k.a. Methadone Mile) has swelled in recent years.  The Walsh administration only attempts to address this is to put up a tent across the street to hide the homeless and addicted from view.  Meanwhile, a farm on Long Island once used by homeless Bostonians to raise food for themselves was given over by the city to a for-profit fast food chain.
  • Mayor Walsh has slashed the budget for Boston Public Schools every year since he came into office forcing schools to cut teachers, nurses, librarians, and important programs to make up the gaps.  The most recent budget cut support for students with autism by 21%.  Walsh is a major supporter, an effort to funnel public education money to privately run schools that have none of the accountability of public schools and frequently work to break teachers unions, ignoring the expertise of teachers and principals to follow untested education innovations proposed by corporate backers.  Walsh has introduced the Boston Compact, a dark-money funded effort to force all students enrolling in BPS to have to accept assignment at any school, whether a public school or private charter.  BPS students twice staged walkouts in protest of the Walsh administration’s education policy, but Walsh insulted these students and refused to meet with them to discuss their concerns.
  • For the predominately white, college-educated, professional class the Walsh years are boom times in Boston.  But Boston also has growing levels of inequality that place it among the worst cities for equality in the nation.  A recent report card on the Walsh administration from the NAACP gives the Walsh administration a D for equity, access, and opportunity.  In 2015, Walsh fired a City Hall employee who participated in a Black Lives Matter protest on her own time, yet did not fire a racist Boston police officer who posted a video stating the “Black people have met their match” and continues to let this officer to patrol in communities of color.  Rising rents and housing costs are forcing mass displacement of Boston’s working class and middle class communities, particularly the Black and Latin communities of the city.

The Walsh administration has failed again and again on these issues that are important to me: economic growth, transportation, public safety, homelessness and addiction, education, and rising inequality.  I guarantee you that Tito Jackson has solutions to try to address all of these problems, but most importantly he will listen to the people of Boston – all of the people of Boston – when he does so.  We need to move past the king mayor who haughtily dismisses the citizens of Boston while working with monied interests from outside the city, and elect the mayor of the people.  I believe Tito Jackson will best represent the people of Boston.