When we ususally write our end-of-the-year summeries, they tend to focus on the last 365 days. However, if you've been reading my blog - know know the word "ususal" need not apply.
As we close another decade we will take a look at some sports teams from the past - as in defunct, gone, moved, folded and non-existent.
One of the saddest chapters unfold in New York baseball where the Brooklyn Dodgers toiled. When the club of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges moved to California, baseball changed.
While baseball has tried over and again to become "international", it never quite seems to work out. In 1969 MLB expanded to its first and only foreign country - CANADA. There, the Montreal Expos - a former farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers, showcased the American game to a bi-lingual audience. To this day, only one Hall of Famer has been inducted in an Expos uniform. His name is Gary Carter.
Winner - Brooklyn Dodgers *1932-1957 (titles in 1955)
Honorable Mention - Montreal Expos 1969-2004
Team Set to Own - 1956 Topps Dodgers
For the grid iron game, the modern era takes off with the most recognizable helmet in the game - The Los Angeles Rams (By way of Chicago - St. Louis). With all due respect to Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, the post war years belong to Bob Waterfield and "Crazy Legs" Hirsch.
A close second goes the team that left by moving van in the dark of night . The Baltimore Colts made the transformation from the postwar era to the TV age. Unitas, Moore, Berry et al became household names.
Winners - Los Angeles Rams 1946-1994 (titles 1951)
The Winnipeg Jets won 3 Championships in 4 consecutive Cup final appearences during the 1970's. The selection of defunct teams listed here were only supposed to be from existing leagues. Technically, the clubs from the World Hockey Association [WHA] are gone - yet because one still exists as the Edmonton Oilers, I decided to chose from there. (**Add an asterist if you must**)
As a breakaway hockey league, the WHA lured NHL legends Gordie Howe (Houston) and Bobby Hull (Winnipeg) to the new circuit. The WHA continued to purge up and coming NHL stars - many who would make a name in the new league.
One such player was Montreal Canadien's young gun Marc Tardif. Already a Stanley Cup winner with the Habs, he went on to become the WHA's all-time leading goal scorer with Los Angeles Sharks (see jersey below), Michgan Stags and eventually with the Qubec Nordiques.
Ironically, Tardif returned to Quebec - not to Montreal, but the Nordiques. When the Nordiques, along with the Jets, Oilers and Whalers joined the NHL in 1979, Tardif was their Captain. His number was subsequently retired.
Gordie Howe joined the Hartford Whalers - sporting one of the coolest hockey logos ever - the "H" hidden within the "W" of the whale tale.
Honorable Mention - tie Quebec Nordiques / Harford Whalers
Team Set to Own - 1976-77 O Pee Chee Quebec Nordiques
The newest of the pro sports leagues featured is the MLS which began in 1996. After the setback of folding two of its clubs in 2002 (both from Florida) the league has been gang busters ever since.
There were many international players that suited up for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion - including MLS stars Steve Ralston, Eric Wynalda and Nick Raimondo. But one player stands out who appeared for both clubs - the great Colombian World Cup star - Carlos Valderrama.
Winner - Tampa Bay Mutiny 1996-2001
Honorable Mention - Miami Fusion 1998-2001
Team Set to Own - 1997 Upper Deck Tampa Bay Mutiny (plus inserts)
Continuing on with Florida, I always found these ABA basketball cards to be strange. although there is no longer an ABA, much like the WHA, many of the clubs were merged into the existing NBA. Florida now has two teams, but the Floridians are hardly remembered.
Long before the red, white and blue basketballs - way before the satin shorts and big afros were cool - the Argentina Basketball Association was playing hoops in South America back in 1965. The "other" ABA - American Basketball Association would peak in the 1970's.
Some of the Argentine basketball pioneers were pictured on gum card made by Tarjton - a subsidary of Topps in Argentina. A closer look at 1965 Tarjeton Sports set the design hints of the 1960 Topps football cards. WARNING - the following samples are not PSA material.
The set also includes boxers, track & field (world record runner Osvoldo Suarez- below), automobile sports and of course - soccer. About 75 % of the set is soccer teams from the Argentine 1st Division.
The highlites of the set include the top club players from River Plate, Independiente and Boca Juniors. However, included are members of the Italian Champions - Inter Milan (aka Internationale) with Spanish star Luis Suarez and Brazilian "Jair".
These cards are very rare compared to any American issues. They do not appear often and a complete set in mint condition would be priceless. As you can see from these samples above, condition is a major factor in foreign issues with binders, card holder and card savers a luxury.
It looks like World Cup fever is catching up with the soccer card collecting hobby. Several rather hefty prices have been realized for modern cards. Top of that list, in the American market, is still David Beckham. Oh, what a goof the Upper Deck people made when they omitted Beckham from the autographed sets of Major League Soccer cards.
The above 2002 Upper Deck Manchester United card - numbered # 31 of 50 - sold on ebay recently for a whopping $386.65 plus postage.
Not to be outdone by the new HEROES - Futera has made a big impact on the hobby with exclusive 1/1 autograph cards. However, the real surprise is the non-autograph cards that are bringing triple digit prices.
The French superstar Eric Cantona fetched $170.00 for his 2009 LEGEND card (above) while another English World Cup star - Bobby Moore brought $172.50 for his card (below). Moore played briefly in the old NASL during the 1970's and appeared in America with West Ham United when they played in the ISL of the 1960's summer league.
In other news ...
Reports that MLS' 2009 Most Valuable Player - Landon Donovan will go on loan to Everton F.C. for 3 months before the MLS season starts next year. He joins fellow Yankee - Tim Howard with the Liverpool club.
Another former player - ex-Tottenham, Inter and Bayern Munich player, former Germany national team coach - Jurgen Klinsmann (below -1995 Merlin pogs) is returning to the USA. He lived in California for some time. Can we speculate that he will take the New York Red Bull vacant coaching job ? Time will tell ...
In a wonderful holiday gesture, I was sent this card by a fellow blogger - 2009 Goodwin ChampionsAlex Ovechkin. I am happy to see other athletes in these sets but also disappointed with the lack of soccer players. The unassuming pose is refreshing in the avalanche of action shots that flood todays' sets.
Team mates who play side by side will face off opposite one aqnother when nations clash in the next FIFA World Cup. The earth will stand still in 2010 South Africa - and the recent draw (3 1/2 hours on ESPN) decided the group lots from which countries will compete.
The most notible of course was the former colony - The United States being drawn in Goup C with England. This means the once disagreeable (see The Beckham Experiment) and then befriended Los Angeles club mates - David Beckham and Landon Donovan - runners up in MLS Cup 2009, will be trying to cancel out each other when their countries meet on June 12.
But they are not the only club member who will change allegience during the summer of 2010. Real Madrid's two multi-million dollar signings - Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka' are drawn in Group D with Brazil and Portugal respectively. Not to be dismissed is Ivory Coast - whose duo of Micheal Essien and Didier Drogba will ace both of the above in Group D.
Drogba may arguably be the hottest striker in the English Premier League right now. Previously that title was credited to Ronaldo, who was with Manchester United last season.
This by far, is just the first view of what should be, a powerhouse tournament.
Sometimes a team looks so good on paper ... er, um ... cardboard - that the odds are being favorite to win are overwhelming. A Chicago vs. Los Angeles matchup for the MLS Final would have been great. But if the NFL had thought that about a franchise in Wisconsin as we do about Real Salt Lake - the Packers would have been sent packing ...
The Utah soccer club are upstarts - not quite the David to Goliath (actually David vs. Kyle), but they are led by a very young coach in Jason Kreis (above) who finished his career at RSL and was the first player in MLS to score 100 career goals.
His counterpart, veteran coach Bruce Arena, (former US National Team) has World Cup experience. He has also solidfied a club that was dead last - last season. Bringing in World Cup veteran Greg Berhalter (2006 Panini card above) and Jamaican international goalkeeper Donivan Ricketts was part of the deed.
But the man with the edge between the pipes has to be Nick Rimando - MLS vet and one MLS Championship ring better.
In the Midfield match up of Beckham vs. Beckerman (David vs. Kyle), and Mathis vs. Donovan - the edge goes to Los Angeles. Kyle Beckerman has had a banner year and former SI cover boy Clint Mathis is in his golden years. Clint got his start with the Galaxy (1999 Upper Deck rookie card below right)
The wild card has to go to the new generation - Real has two up and coming strikers in Yuri Moysisian and Robbie Finley. And a wild card in Fabian Espindola.
This should be interesting going up against the Galaxy's top draft pick defenders Omar Gonzales and Sean Franklin -back to back rookies of the year in 2008 and 2009.
Seattle will be the venue - a great one at that. The weather will be .. well, as usual, rainy and cold - as it has been since the first MLS Cup in New England back in 1996.
Experience, experience, experience ... and then some awesome goalkeeping by Nick Rimando turned the 2009 MLS Playoffs upside down.
The dream final of Los Angeles vs. Chicago came to an end last night at the Fire's home stadium - Toyota Park.
No Beckham vs. Blanco ... no Galaxy vs. Fire ... no Hollywood vs. the Windy City ... instead it's the upstart Cinderella REAL SALT LAKE going to the final in Seattle.
While Chicago's veterans - Brian McBride and Cuautemouc Blanco played the entire 120 long minutes into extra time - RLS' no name players stood firm shutting down the home team FIRE.
Nick Rimando, winner of MLS Cup 2004 - then with DC UNITED, faced seven penalty kicks in the shootout - because the pressure looked to get to both Fire and RSL takers - each team missing two in the appointed round of five kicks. But Nick Rimando had different plans.
When it looked bleakest - after the first miss by Salt Lake's Javier Morales, Nick was the first to run up to him and seemed to say "don't worry, I'll win it". He was spot on correct.
Amazingly, Rimando guessed correctly ALL 7 times which way the Chicago penalty kicks went. He got close on several occasions and in doing so saved a whopping 3 of the PK's ! (like his fantastic GOAL GUARDS card above)
REAL SALT LAKE will appear in their first MLS Cup final and take on the stars of the Galaxy - at least the ones in Los Angeles.
On a card note - MLS has original photos available (with hologram) on line. I just happened to find one that was used for Nick Rimando's 2008 Upper Deck card. How cool is that ?
Taking a closer look at vintage cards has become a hobby. If we examine many of these before the days of whacked photographers and egocentric superstars (i.e. pre-upper deck) - the TV GUIDE reads as follows:
Preston vs. the Love Bug:
The vintage VW bus in the background fits in with the swinging 60's although it would be another decade before the afro-sporting Frenchy Fuqua and Franco Harris rocked Pittsburgh.
The Amazing Floating Lamar:
The Chicago QB was caught wearing a pair of Air Jordans and had to return to reality. Forget the fact that the Cards were playing in a baseball stadium. They were soon banished to St. Louis.
Poor Jack Butler:
A lonely farmboy who was so destitute that he had to throw passes to himself in the pasture. Not a bleacher nor hashmark in sight.
Before he got the Tonight Show in Hollywood, John was seen at old Griffith Stadium snagging tossed albino footballs.
Carr's Chicago Cards Cards:
Just to prove that it was a baseball stadium (Wrigley Field), here is better look at the box seats along the 1st base line.
C.B.'s Used Cars:
More Cardinals - more cars. C.B. had a long name - it would have been a fortune to put it on a sign. The Cardinals could have used a lawnmower. So they moved to St. Louis ... and finally Arizona where there is no grass. Problem solved.
Was Zeke was auditioning for a part in L.A. - otherwise how do you explain the palm trees and the bungalow ?
The West Wing Back:
One of my favorite team photos - the Washington Redkins showing some cool architecture in the Capitol.
The Peeps of San Francisco:
Good old John Broadie sneaks into the family photo of Coit Tower. He retires to become a pro golfer.