Auction of Rare Honus Wagner Baseball Card

Like a lot of youngsters growing up, I bought plenty of baseball and other sports cards — especially during a stretch of about three years from 1970-72 when I simply couldn’t get enough of them.  I still have all those cards too, though I pretty much lost interest in them as a teenager.

But baseball card collectors of all stripes probably will be interested in this story:  a rare ca. 1910 Honus Wagner card is currently being auctioned online.

Wagner (1874-1955) was an all-time great shortstop who won eight batting titles during a career that spanned between 1897 and 1917. 

Fewer than sixty cards depicting him from the T206 American Tobacco Company series are believed to have survived.  Among sports card collectors, the Honus Wagner baseball card has an almost legendary status — you might call it “the black tulip of baseball cards.”    

A few years ago a Wagner card sold for $2.8 million.  But the card currently up for auction at Heritage Auction Galleries is in poor condition, and it’s believed it won’t fetch more than $200,000 — still a nifty little sum for a baseball card!  The auction ends November 4th, by the way.  You can examine the card and read the description of it here.      

If you’re interested in learning more about the Honus Wagner baseball card, here’s a juvenile title kids out there might like.   Greensboro Public Library also owns an adult book on the Honus Wagner card, titled The Card:  Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card by Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson. 

And if you think you might have a valuable baseball card, you can check its value in our copy of Krause Publications’ Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

George Blanda Dead at 83

The death of George Blanda Monday brings back another one of those sports memories that I’ve always cherished.

Perhaps the old AFL’s greatest rivalry (a rivalry which remained heated long after the upstart league merged with the older NFL in 1970) was that between the Kansas City Chiefs and Blanda’s Oakland Raiders.  

And likely their most hard-fought meeting ever was a contest which occurred during that first season after the merger in the fall of 1970.

Late in the game, Kansas City had a 17-14 lead and the ball somewhere near the middle of the field.  It was third down, and all they needed was one more first down to run out the clock and seal the victory.

Chief Quarterback Len Dawson dropped back to pass and finding everyone covered scrambled for an apparent first down.  After he was brought down, Raider defensive lineman Ben Davidson (probably best remembered for his handlebar mustache) piled on Dawson with a late hit. 

That meant a fifteen yard penalty against Oakland, but the Chiefs took umbrage at Davidson’s cheap shot, a big brawl ensued, and Kansas City was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.  That was also fifteen yards, the penalties therefore off-set, and the down had to be played over again. 

This time the Raiders stopped them, and they got the ball back with just enough time for a couple of plays to get close enough to try a long distance field goal to tie it.

With 3 seconds left, on the field comes Oakland’s 43 year-old George Blanda (the oldest man in the NFL, the Raider’s field goal kicker and also back-up quarterback for starter Daryle Lamonica).  

Back then the goal posts were at the front of the end zone, i.e., right at the goal line.  The Raiders had made it to the Chief’s forty-one yard line.  Add seven yards to that for the distance between center and placement and that gives you a 48-yard attempt.

Knowing this was a pretty long attempt for old Blanda, and probably at the extremity of his range, Chief Coach Hank Stram had a big, lanky 6-foot-9-inch receiver standing right at the goal line should an opportunity present itself to swat the ball away.

Blanda’s kick wasn’t particularly pretty but was nonetheless true and just barely cleared that tall Chief’s outstretched hand as he leapt high in the air to try and knock the ball down.  The game ended in a 17-17 tie — no overtimes back then. 

And that was the second game of what NBC Sports called Monday

an insane five-week run where he [Blanda] either replaced Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica to lead the Raiders to a comeback victory or kicked a winning or tying field goal.  Every single week.

The book America’s Game describes how Blanda’s story in 1970 broke normal boundaries.  He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek.  He was joked about by Johnny Carson.  He symbolized a new kind of life after 40.

I was only eleven then, but as you can see it’s all still very vivid in my memory.  George Blanda’s streak in 1970 was truly one for the ages.

Here’s another article from the Associated Press on Blanda’s passing.

And if you’d like to revisit some of your football memories or just read more about this great American sport, try a subject keyword search in our catalog for “football.”   You’ll find literally hundreds of titles on football at Greensboro Public Library.

Passing of George Steinbrenner

Just a brief notice here on the death of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, reported today.

I don’t really follow baseball anymore, but I well remember the days of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.  Steinbrenner always seemed to be a magnet for controversy, but he was a winner — his Yanks won seven championships in all.

Anyway, if you’d like to remember George Steinbrenner with a good read, Greensboro Public Library may have some books for you.  Try some of these:  George:  The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire by Peter Golenbock; October Men:  Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and the Yankees’ Miraculous Finish in 1978 by Roger Kahn; and Steinbrenner:  The Last Lion of Baseball by Bill Madden.

A Personal Reminiscence About the Shot (Swish?) Heard Round the World — Or, At Least It Seemed That Way in Chapel Hill on the Night of 29 March 1982

Jordan's Memorable Jumper to Beat Georgetown, 63-62

I know some folks are complaining that Michael Jordan’s induction speech at the Naismith Hall of Fame Friday night turned petty and vindictive.  I even heard some Carolina fans talking about it at Ed McKay’s bookstore here in Greensboro on Saturday — and being very disparaging of MJ.  And maybe they’re right — he is pretty darn arrogant.

But whenever I think of Jordan it is always with a fondness for one of my most vivid sports memories, something I think must come to the minds of many Carolina fans when they hear his name, and especially if they were lucky enough to be in Chapel Hill and join in the celebrations the night the University of North Carolina won the NCAA basketball championship in 1982.

Jordan, of course, was the star freshman on one of the Tar Heel’s greatest teams, that of the 1981-82 season, which also included Sam Perkins, Jimmy Black, and the incomparable James Worthy.  They lost only two games that year en route to the championship, and I’ve always felt that team epitomized the unselfishness of the Dean Smith system with their defensive excellence and workman-like offense.

At any rate, after the ‘Heels whipped Houston in the first round of the Final Four on Saturday, March 27th, I made up my mind nothing was going to keep me from being in Chapel Hill for the national finals against Georgetown on the following Monday night.  Though the game was to be played at the Superdome in New Orleans, I wanted to be present for the anticipated celebrations on Franklin Street (in the event the ‘Heels won), and I was not to be disappointed. 

I was a graduate student at Appalachian in Boone at the time, and I really knew only one person in Chapel Hill — an undergraduate roommate whom I figured (with a fair degree of certainty) would be hanging out at The Cave, one of the town’s oldest and best known taverns, to watch the game.

So, I just hopped in my car and drove down the mountain, arriving in Chapel Hill unannounced about an hour or so before game time, and sure enough I wasn’t at the bar for long before my old roomie Tom and his buddy John showed up. 

Tom was no doubt a little miffed to see me (to think, he would have to watch Carolina vie for a national championship in company with this dull Appalachian boy!), but the joyfulness and excitement of the occasion soon mollified him, the beers flowed, and by game time we were all in the best of spirits.

Needless to say, it was one of the most exciting games I ever watched.  The teams traded the lead back and forth throughout, neither able to gain an upper hand; you just knew the outcome would come down to the final moments.  And there were lots of spectacular plays by Worthy, Jordan, and Georgetown’s star center, Pat Ewing.

Then Jordan, a mere freshman, rose to the occasion with the most important shot ever for Carolina basketball — at least, in my opinion.  Georgetown was ahead 62-61, and with :17 seconds left MJ drained a beautiful jumper from about 15 feet

Catching his defenders flat-footed with his quickness, and with his graceful form and God-given ability to seemingly float in air when he leapt vertically, Jordan simply towers over everyone as he prepares to release the shot in the immortal moment captured above.

Trailing now by one point, 63-62, Georgetown immediately made the inbounds play and pushed the ball up court without a timeout.  Then, at :07 seconds, a now obscure Georgetown guard named Fred Brown threw the ball right to Carolina’s James Worthy.  The game was essentially over and the Tar Heels, for the first time since 1957, were national champs! 

Though Chapel Hill was a long way from New Orleans’ Superdome, I think that as Worthy stole that pass and tried to dribble out the clock there must have been something like an earthquake as thousands and thousands of people across the State of North Carolina suddenly jumped for joy.

The Cave erupted in a chaos of shouts and leaping, totally unchoreographed of course, but nonetheless to my mind kind like some sort of primitive dance; in the melee, I remember a fellow gave me a high-five with such force that he nearly broke my hand — it was still a little numb later that night.

The game still wasn’t over.  Worthy was fouled, missed his shots and there was a full-court desperation toss by Georgetown that came down harmlessly into Sam Perkins’ waiting arms at the buzzer.

Everybody now spilled out of the bar into Franklin Street, and it wasn’t long before the main avenue through Chapel Hill was completely packed with a dense crowd — as it always is when Carolina celebrates championships. 

But, instead of merely joining in the crowd as it milled about, the four of us, Tom, John, another friend named Billy, and I, all for some reason decided to sit down (cross-legged) in the middle of Franklin Street — and there we sat for some time, all the while with a crowd packed like so many sardines pushing against us and around us.

Occasionally a sorority girl would say, “Oh, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up!”, or “You’ll be crushed, you’ll be crushed!”  But more often than not they just smiled and smeared Carolina blue paint on our faces and our clothes.  I still have my old army coat which I wore that night — a favorite coat from my college days — with blue paint smears on it.

We finally got up for some reason and made our way off Franklin Street, John and I becoming separated from Tom and Billy.  I crashed at John’s house; his mother, I recall, made him give me his bed, while John took the couch. 

As I made my way back to Boone on I-40 the next morning, passers-by would see the blue paint on my face and coat through the windshield and honk and yell — they knew where I had been last night! 

And so, when I think of Michael Jordan, who went on to become probably the greatest player in NBA history, it’s not really all those highlights and championships he had as a pro that I think of, and I’m certainly not going to bother myself with what he said at his Hall of Fame induction.

No, I will think of my journey to Chapel Hill to watch him make that great shot, ending a twenty-five year drought for the ‘Heels and giving Dean Smith his first championship — and the incredible love-fest which played out afterwards on Franklin Street. 

That he gave us Tar Heel fans that was quite enough — and just think, what if he had missed?!

Anyway, if you’d like to relive your own memories of MJ, Greensboro Public Library has got plenty of books you might enjoy (though, as you might guess, since Jordan’s been retired for a few years now, some of them are a little dated).  Try some of these:  Driven from Within by Michael Jordan with Tinker Hatfield; When Nothing Else Matters:  Michael Jordan’s Last Comeback by Michael Leahy; One Last Shot:  The Story of Michael Jordan’s Comeback by Mitchell Krugel; Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made by David Halberstam; For the Love of the Game:  My Story by Michael Jordan (oversize); Rookie:  When Michael Jordan Came to the Minor Leagues by Jim Patton; Second Coming:  The Strange Odyssey of Michael Jordan — from Courtside to Home Plate and Back Again by Sam Smith; Airborne:  The Triumph and Struggle of Michael Jordan by Jesse Kornbluth; Jordan:  The Man, His Words, His Life by Mitchell Krugel; and Hang Time:  Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan by Bob Greene.

And the library has also got lots of books on Carolina basketball, such as:  The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith by David Chadwick; Blue Blood: Duke-Carolina, Inside the Most Storied Rivalry in College Hoops by Art Chansky; The Best Game Ever:  How Frank McGuire’s ‘57 Tar Heels Beat Wilt and Revolutionized College Basketball by Adam Lucas; Blue Heaven:  A History of UNC Basketball (videorecording); The Carolina Corporation:  Inside Dean Smith and the Tar Heels by Steve Holstrom; A Coach’s Life by Dean Smith with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins; Dean Smith:  A Biography by Thad Mumau; The Dean Smith Story:  More Than a Coach by Thad Mumau; Dean’s Domain:  The Inside Story of Dean Smith and His C0llege Basketball Empire by Art Chansky; The Dean’s List:  A Celebration of Tar Heel Basketball and Dean Smith (juvenile) by Art Chansky, with a foreword by Michael Jordan; Going Home Again:  Roy Williams, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and a Season to Remember by Adam Lucas; North Carolina, 2005 NCAA Champions by The News & Observer; One to Remember:  The 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels NCAA Championship Team Then and Now by David Daly; The Road to Blue Heaven:  An Insider’s Diary of North Carolina’s 2007 Basketball Season by Wes Miller; Tar Heel:  North Carolina Basketball by Ken Rappoport; Tar Heel Madness:  Great Eras in North Carolina Basketball by Wilton Sharpe; To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever:  A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry by Will Blythe; University of North Carolina Men’s Basketball Games:  A Complete Record, Fall 1953 through Spring 2006 by Michael E. O’Hara; The Winning Tradition:  A Pictorial History of Carolina Basketball; and Three Paths to Glory:  A Season on the Hardwood with Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina by Barry Jacobs.

Brett Favre, a Minnesota Viking — Finally!

Well, ever since former standout Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre “retired,” there has been talk about him joining his arch-rival.  It’s been an on again, off again courtship, to say the least.  But last week Favre finally became a Minnesota Viking.

I must admit, I’m skeptical that Favre has still got it and can help turn the Vikings around.  For me rather, the whole Favre thing just brings back a lot of Vikings memories.

I guess in North Carolina most people these days follow the Panthers, but back when I was growing up here in the 1970s we Tar Heels didn’t have a pro team to cheer for — at least we didn’t have one in our backyard anyway.  So, for whatever reason, I became a Vikings fan. 

Maybe it was their purple uniforms, the reputation of the “Purple People-eaters” for defensive toughness, or maybe it was the fact that they simply had one of the best teams in the NFL when I was a kid, I don’t know — but I was a Vikings fan then and still am.

Of course, the thing about being a Vikings fan back in the ’70s was that you had to get used to the emotional rollercoaster of great victories but no Super Bowl rings — ’cause the Viks just couldn’t quite get the job done.  (And the last few decades they just haven’t been able to do the job at all.  Sometimes I think they lost their mojo when they went to that domed stadium in 1982!)       

The first year I followed the NFL and pulled for the Viks was 1969-70.  Their quarterback was an awesome, tough guy type named Joe Kapp, and he had a stellar season that year.  There were some incredible moments:  a great come-from-behind victory over the Rams in the playoffs and an amazing win over Detroit in the snow on Thanksgiving Day.  Kapp ultimately led Minnesota to Super Bowl IV, where they were heavily favored but suffered a disappointing loss to Kansas City, 23-7.    

Then quarterback Fran Tarkenton returned to the Vikings (in ’72 I think), and after he settled in they had a run of really good seasons, though of course they were never able to win a Super Bowl, losing the big one three times to the Dolphins (’74), Steelers (’75) and Raiders (’77).  And who could forget the great team that lost to Dallas with that “Hail Mary” pass in the first round of the playoffs in 1975?     

Returning to the here and now, I think the thing Brett Favre represents to old Vikings fans like me — and maybe young ones too — is another shot at a Super Bowl ring.  Just as we looked to quarterbacks such as Kapp and Tarkenton to make the difference 35-40 years ago, today we look to Favre.

But it’s a long shot, I know, especially with Favre now 39 years old.  And it comes as a real shock for me to realize that he was born (October 1969) during the season Kapp and the Viks had their great run!

Anyway, if the Favre story has peaked your interest in him, you may want to check out Brett Favre:  The Tribute by Sports Illustrated or Favre:  the Man, the Legend, edited by Joe Funk. 

Greensboro Public Library’s holdings also include plenty of recent books on pro football generally, including:  The Paolantonio Report:  The Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches, and Moments in NFL History by Sal Paolantonio with Rueben Frank; That First Season:  How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It On the Path to Glory by John Eisenberg (on order); War Without Death:  A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football’s NFC East by Mark Maske; Brand NFL:  Making and Selling America’s Favorite Sport by Michael Oriard; Pro Football’s Fifty Toughest Players by Neil Reynolds; Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps:  How the NFL Became the Most Successful Sports League in Sports History by Mark Yost; The Long Snapper:  A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for Life by Jeffrey Marx; Uncommon:  Finding Your Path to Significance by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker; The Score Takes Care of Itself:  My Philosophy of Leadership by Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh (on order); and The Glory Game:  How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever by Frank Gifford with Peter Richmond.

Oh, How My Heart Bleeds for Duke, State, and Wake Fans

Unless you reside on another planet or something, I suppose you’ve heard by now that the University of North Carolina Tar Heels won the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. 

I’ve been a Carolina basketball fan for nearly forty years, and I’ve never seen a Tar Heel team this dominant in the NCAAs.  None of their games in the tournament were even remotely close; they simply ran over everyone they played. 

Coach Roy Williams has now got two championships (2005 and 2009) under his belt in just six years at Chapel Hill, and if things keep going like this I think he may well win several more before he retires. 

But, you know, all this Tar Heel success got me to thinking about how sad the rest of the “Big Four” fans — those who root for Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest — must be feeling now.

Duke, for instance.  Alas, poor Duke.  Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils were once on top of the world — back-to-back championships in 1991-92 and another in 2001 — but they haven’t even been back to the Final Four since 2004.  Coach K. is a great coach, but, gosh darn, it’s beginning to look like his best days are behind him; Roy Williams is recruiting better talent, and the truth is all that floor-slapping Duke defense just isn’t what it used to be.  But we’ll see.  Krzyzewski might yet have a surprise or two up his sleeve.

A far more pitiful case is, of course, North Carolina State.  All that wonderful tradition, Everett Case, Norm Sloan, Jimmy V., David Thompson, but not a single championship since 1983 — 26 years ago!  I can hardly imagine how difficult this must be, and yet I admire the courage of these State fans in the face of this ceaseless adversity. 

For instance, I have a friend and co-worker here at the library who is a State fan.  Nearly every day he loyally dons his little red, Wolfpack sweater; I can see his smiling face now, always cheerful and upbeat in the face of defeat after defeat, disappointment after disappointment, year after year.  Nothing but misty memories of past glories remain for him, and yet he somehow clings on to hope.  Sad, how very sad.  But touching too.

And, finally, there’s Wake Forest.  They’ve fielded some fine teams over the years, but the Deacs just have never quite been able to win the big one.  Like the Steely Dan song, I guess that’s why they call them “Deacon Blues.”   

Anyway, if you’re a fan of one of those other programs and you’re becoming discouraged, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to join us up here in “Blue Heaven.”  We’d love to convert you!  (And yes, that holds true even for Duke fans!)  Of course, I understand that it’s a big move, especially if you’ve been loyal to one of those other teams for a real long time.  But I believe it’s never too late! 

One way to smoooooooooth the transition to that “Dean Dome kingdom” is to bulk up on Carolina basketball lore and “the Dean Smith way.”  And that’s where Greensboro Public Library comes in, because we’ve got plenty of books about the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team, it’s storied history, the Dean Smith years, Michael Jordan, etc., etc.  

Try some of these:  The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith by David Chadwick; Blue Blood: Duke-Carolina, Inside the Most Storied Rivalry in College Hoops by Art Chansky; The Best Game Ever:  How Frank McGuire’s ’57 Tar Heels Beat Wilt and Revolutionized College Basketball by Adam Lucas; Blue Heaven:  A History of UNC Basketball (videorecording); The Carolina Corporation:  Inside Dean Smith and the Tar Heels by Steve Holstrom; A Coach’s Life by Dean Smith with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins; Dean Smith:  A Biography by Thad Mumau; The Dean Smith Story:  More Than a Coach by Thad Mumau; Dean’s Domain:  The Inside Story of Dean Smith and His C0llege Basketball Empire by Art Chansky; The Dean’s List:  A Celebration of Tar Heel Basketball and Dean Smith (juvenile) by Art Chansky, with a foreword by Michael Jordan; Going Home Again:  Roy Williams, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and a Season to Remember by Adam Lucas; North Carolina, 2005 NCAA Champions by The News & Observer; One to Remember:  The 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels NCAA Championship Team Then and Now by David Daly; The Road to Blue Heaven:  An Insider’s Diary of North Carolina’s 2007 Basketball Season by Wes Miller; Tar Heel:  North Carolina Basketball by Ken Rappoport; Tar Heel Madness:  Great Eras in North Carolina Basketball by Wilton Sharpe; To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever:  A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry by Will Blythe; University of North Carolina Men’s Basketball Games:  A Complete Record, Fall 1953 through Spring 2006 by Michael E. O’Hara; The Winning Tradition:  A Pictorial History of Carolina Basketball; and Three Paths to Glory:  A Season on the Hardwood with Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina by Barry Jacobs.

And lest you should think of this as some sort of ACC basketball schadenfreude. . . . Well, I suppose you’re on to something there.