Category Archives: The Side Panel

The Danger of Pitchers Signing Autographs

Ink and arms don’t mix

Here at Collect the Mets, we guarantee you one card-related crackpot conspiracy theory every year.  It’s part of the differentiated value we offer in our efforts to deliver content that you won’t find anywhere else (often with good reason).  Last year, we broke the story about the Curse of the Pinstripes, which has yet to claim any victims in 2013.  So far, no current-year Mets players have had Mets pinstripe jersey cards released in 2013, though at least Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner are known to be out for 2014.  If either of them has a Mets pinstripe jersey card in one of the final products of the year, that provides retroactive validation of the curse.  If not, well, then we don’t get any nice pinstripe jersey cards, which is frustrating for collectors.

This year, the Mets suffered injury after injury from even before Day 1.  Johan Santana was the big question mark for 2013, but it turns out that he was little more than an underscore.  After an injury in spring training, Santana went back under the knife and was lost for 2013.  That’s how it went for Mets pitchers for the rest of the year, right up to Matt Harvey’s postseason announcement that he would be undergoing Tommy John surgery and would miss 2014.  With bookends like that, much will be written about the Mets’ injury woes in 2013, but most blogs will leave out one crucial element: the fact that so many pitchers signed large quantities of autograph cards right before their injuries.  Can this be a coincidence?  In a word: absolutely.  Everyone is looking for a pattern in pitcher injuries (see our own Good Pitcher Effect), but their commonality masks any clear causality.  Which makes it just as likely as anything else that signing autographs leads to pitcher breakdowns.

Injured With Autographs

Jeurys Familia (Topps Series 1, Topps Gypsy Queen, Bowman, Bowman Inception, Panini Pinnacle, Topps Tier One, Topps Chrome, Topps Finest)

Jeurys Familia was once considered one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects alongside Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.  By the time he made his MLB debut in 2012, he was projecting more as a late-inning reliever or closer than a starter.  He entered 2013 as one of only two Mets eligible for Rookie Cards but was no sure bet to make the team out of spring training.  While he did just barely make the Opening Day roster, he made only eight appearances before going on the 60-day DL on May 9 in need of elbow surgery.  After three months of rehab, Familia returned to Queens for his final appearance of 2013, giving up one run on two hits and two walks while striking out one to open the 9th in an 8-5 Mets loss.

Familia was the go-to guy for Mets autographs in 2013.  His Rookie Card eligibility made him a safe bet to appear in most of the products released in 2013 and an attractive option for autographed inserts.  With autographs in Topps Series 1, Topps Gypsy Queen, and Bowman, he must have been signing well before the start of the season.  The timing lines up, but were the autographs a factor in his injury?  Let’s just say yes for the sake of the narrative.  His continued presence in just about everything else this year means that he must have been signing autographs during rehab.  Could that sabotage his recovery?

Luis Mateo (Bowman Platinum, Bowman Chrome)

As part of the 2012 Brooklyn Cyclones all-star rotation, Luis Mateo saw his prospect status rise considerably.  While not as polished as teammate Gabriel Ynoa, Mateo was the highest-regarded pitcher from that Brooklyn rotation and made the jump to St. Lucie for the 2013 Season.  After one start for St. Lucie, he was called up to AA Binghamton to make a spot start, which is where everything went wrong.  He suffered an elbow injury during the game, spent more than a month rehabbing in an attempt to avoid more severe injury, and then had Tommy John surgery in June after a pair of relief appearances for St. Lucie.

And then he had his first autograph cards released in July in Bowman Platinum.  As with Familia’s first autos, these were almost certainly signed before the start of the season.  Mateo would also have autographs released in September in Bowman Chrome, but it is not known when he signed these (Rafael Montero and Matt Reynolds signed theirs in the summer).  That’s two big autograph signers and two busted elbows.  But wait, there’s more.

Shaun Marcum (Topps Series 2, Topps Tier One)

There were many people who doubted that Shaun Marcum would ever throw a pitch for the Mets.  With a reputation for being injury-prone, Marcum’s signing came at significant risk.  So it came as no surprise that his season ended in July with shoulder surgery.

And then he had 670 autograph cards released in Topps Tier One the next month.  He was also supposed to have autographs in Topps Series 2 in June, but those were issued as redemptions.  Did his spring training injury delay his signing until May or June?  If so, the timing lines up with his injury.  That’s two elbows and a shoulder now, though we have no causative link.  But when has that ever stopped anyone?

Corey Oswalt (Topps Heritage Minor League Edition)

Knee injury, only signed for one product late in the season – let’s just mark this one “Not Applicable” and move on.

Matt Harvey (2011 Bowman Platinum signed in July 2013)

And the big one.  Matt Harvey was one of the few reasons to watch the Mets in 2013, so the news in August that he had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) was devastating.  Harvey drew out the decision of whether to have Tommy John surgery until October, when he announced that he was opting for surgery.  That takes him out for all of 2014 and makes it questionable as to whether he will be back at full strength in 2015.

Matt Harvey has no autographs in any 2013 products.  He signed about 500 total autograph cards for Panini’s 2012 products, which were released into this spring.  Before that, you have to go back to 2010 to find any Matt Harvey autograph cards.  So why is he here?  It turns out that Harvey signed his 2011 Bowman Platinum autographs on July 25, almost two years to the day after that product was released.  And about a month before his injury was announced.  Based on a carefully-selected small sample of cases, we can conclude that autographs kill elbows and maybe shoulders.  What happens if we widen our sample a bit and take a look at a few more 2013 Mets pitchers?

Injured Without Autographs

Johan Santana

Let’s just all agree that the Curse of the Pinstripes has been working overtime here and take Santana out of the running for this one.  In fact, of the three Curse victims, Santana is the only one to ever play for the Mets again afterward, throwing the Mets’ first no-hiter in the process.  Before getting stepped on and having it all come crashing down.  Maybe the Curse is stronger than I thought…  Santana has never been a big autograph signer, so he doesn’t really fit here.

Jonathon Niese

The 2013 (and likely 2014) Opening Day starter, Niese had high expectations this year even with the emergence of Matt Harvey as an ace and the anticipated arrival of Zack Wheeler.  Now in the role of the veteran following the trade of R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana’s re-injury, it was up to him to stabilize a rotation out of control.  So it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see him hit the DL in June with a partially torn rotator cuff.  The injury only sidelined him for a month and a half though and Niese closed out the 2013 season at Citi Field.

After having plenty of autograph cards from 2009 to 2012, Niese has been a no-show so far this year except for a few multi-player sticker autograph cards (numbered to 15).  With no recent autographs, we can’t blame any injuries from this year on signing.  Maybe not signing autographs is the culprit here.

Jeremy Hefner

2013 was Hefner’s opportunity to step up and claim a spot in the Mets’ diminished rotation.  After securing the spot start / long reliever role in 2012, Hefner found himself at the back end of the rotation when Santana and Marcum were unavailable to start the season.  After a shaky start in his new role as a regular starter, Hefner dominated over a 6-week stretch starting in the beginning of June, pitching 51 innings over 8 starts with an ERA of 1.76, 40 strikeouts, and just 8 walks over that span.  His next start would be the shortest of the season, lasting only two plus innings with 8 runs and 10 hits given up.  His next four starts weren’t much better, going no longer than 6 innings and giving up no fewer than 3 runs in any of them.  By mid-August, Hefner was on the DL with Tommy John surgery looming in his future.

You sure can’t blame this one on autographs because Hefner doesn’t have any.  He remains one of the most prominent Mets without a certified autograph card, a problem that won’t be helped by elbow surgery.

Bobby Parnell

After Frank Francisco went down with injury, the Mets needed a new closer.  Bobby Parnell stepped up and pitched better than the results indicated, falling victim to blown saves resulting from the actions of the players behind him on more than one occasion.  And then a neck injury sidelined Parnell, with his season ending in surgery.

Parnell hasn’t signed autographs in a few years, plus this is a neck injury and not an arm injury.  There’s no connection here, so this is another one to mark “Not Applicable.”

Update:

Well, that escalated quickly…  Parnell seemed to recover from that neck injury without incident, but something didn’t seem quite right going into the 2014 season.  After an Opening Day blown save, it was revealed that Parnell had a partially torn UCL.  And in case you missed it, he also had autograph cards in 2013 Panini Select, released during the offseason.  Looks like we’ve got another one.

Jenrry Mejia

Once considered one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects (sound familiar?), Mejia made his debut in 2010 when Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel were desperate to keep their jobs.  Mejia became the sacrificial lamb, called up to pitch middle relief in low leverage spots as you would expect competent management to do with one of your top starting pitching prospects.  Or not.  Mejia’s development was further derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2011, making the fact that he even still existed news for Mets fans when he returned to the majors in September 2012.  His 2013 spring training injury on the other hand was nothing unexpected.  Injury #2 had him working his way through the minors on rehab until late July, when he made his 2013 debut with a trio of sevens: 7IP, 7H, and 7K to go with zeroes in the runs and walks columns.  Top prospect Jenrry Mejia was back, and not a minute too soon for a rotation with a rotating cast on the DL.  Which Mejia would rejoin a month later with bone spurs in his elbow for injury #3.

Mejia hasn’t signed autographs since 2010, so there’s no way to connect them to his 2013 injury unless Topps is sitting on an unused stockpile somewhere.  But did those 2010 autographs, combined with his erratic use on the mound that year, contribute to his 2011 injury?

Michael Fulmer

Ranked as one of the top prospects in the Mets system at the start of 2013, Fulmer has endured setback after setback.  A torn meniscus during spring training delayed his start to the season, then just nine starts in he was hit by a batted ball and removed as a precautionary measure.  Following that, he returned to the DL with a shoulder strain.  He is expected to be ready to go for spring training next year.

As the 44th overall pick in 2011, Michael Fulmer made the rounds in the draft pick autograph products that year.  Since then though, we haven’t really seen much from him.  Topps used a few of his sticker autographs in 2013 Bowman Chrome, but those were almost certainly old stock.  Unless he did some signing for an upcoming product over the summer, there’s nothing to see here.  Except for a series of unfortunate injuries.

Cory Mazzoni

Speaking of a series of unfortunate injuries…  Elbow neuritis in April, strained hamstring in July…  It sure seems like a lot more than that.  Mazzoni only appeared in 13 games in 2013, none of which were any of the times I saw the B-Mets.

As for autographs, Mazzoni is another one with lots of 2011 autos and not much since then.  The only 2013 Mazzoni autograph I’ve seen is the one I got from him in person at a game (while he was on the DL of course).  Another unrelated case.

Taylor Whitenton

After an injury in spring training, Whitenton has completely dropped off the map.  Let’s just call this the bottom of the barrel and stop here.

Not Injured With Autographs

A few prominent pitchers made it through the 2013 season without injury and with a few autographs to show for it.  Do they provide evidence disproving our hypothesis or do they have injuries coming in the near future?  Only time will tell.

Zack Wheeler (Bowman Platinum, Topps Chrome, Topps Finest)

Scouts reported that Wheeler was MLB-ready in spring training, but a strained oblique during batting practice caused him to lose key prep time, making a start in the minors inevitable.  From there, it was just a matter of which money-saving deadline the Mets would hold out for.  Wheeler made his MLB debut in June and nearly reached his innings limit when he was shut down for the season in September after complaining of shoulder stiffness.  The injury wasn’t considered to be serious and likely would have only caused him to miss a start if it had taken place earlier in the season.

Wheeler only had about 30 total autograph cards as a Met released before his MLB debut, then had hundreds between Bowman Platinum, Topps Chrome, and Topps Finest.  Was the impact of these signings starting to catch up to him in September?  He’s one to keep an eye on next year.

Rafael Montero (Bowman Chrome, Leaf Metal)

Montero is one of the next top pitching prospects due to debut for the Mets, assuming that he isn’t traded first.  After a year split between AA and AAA, Montero could be ready at any time in 2014.  This past July, Montero signed his first certified autograph cards.  No injury followed.  So there’s that.

Domingo Tapia (Leaf Metal)

Tapia has been one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects in the low minors, though his 2013 wasn’t quite in line with his past performance.  A cooking injury sidelined him for a bit in May, but otherwise he’s been fairly consistent at 100+ innings over each of the last two seasons.  Tapia was a surprise to see with an autograph in 2013 Leaf Metal.

Conclusion

Inconclusive.  There’s really nothing that can be said with any certainty without a more comprehensive analysis.  For our purposes though, we can come to a completely unscientific sensationalistic conclusion based on a carefully-selected set of data points and declare that signing autographs contributes to pitcher injury.  I was joking when I started this, but the timing in some of these cases makes me wonder if there might be something to it after all.  While it certainly isn’t a direct cause, could autograph signing be one of many factors that make pitchers susceptible to arm injuries?  There’s so much we don’t know about pitcher injuries that it could be possible.

The Amazin’ Mites?

The Mets receive an unflattering Joe job

Over at Mets Police, they covered the The Amazing Spiderman and the Amazin’ Mets in honor of the new Amazing Spider-Man film.  Well, Spider-Man isn’t the only Marvel comic franchise that was supposed to have a movie opening this summer.  Until somebody noticed that 3D movies have higher ticket prices (even if the 3D is from a second-rate conversion), we were due to get the second installment of the “Does Channing Tatum really have to be in everything that Shia LaBeouf isn’t working on?” G.I. Joe movie franchise.  And as you might have guessed, G.I. Joe also has a Mets connection.

Back in the late ’80s, G.I. Joe comics were in high demand.  In search of more money (some things never change…), Marvel added a second Joe comic to the monthly rotation: G.I. Joe Special Missions.  The Special Missions series often featured standalone stories that were unrelated to the main comic storyline and/or documented events that were kept secret from the bulk of the Joe team.  Published toward the end of the 28-issue run in August 1989, G.I. Joe Special Missions #24 was a story that most fans wish had been kept secret from the public.  Titled “Ladies’ Day,” the issue takes place at a baseball game between “the World Champion New York Mites and their fierce cross-town rivals, the New York Dandees.”  The game is attended by the newly-elected President, setting up the preposterous action that follows.  Don’t try to make sense of the timing, this issue has much bigger problems.

I don’t know if they changed the team names because of rights issues or because of how terrible this issue is, but they kept the thinly-veiled Mary Sue fanfiction naming convention for the player names too.  The Mites lineup includes Wooky Millston, Seth Kernandez, and Darren Blueberry.  They don’t mention any of the Dandees, but we do see a uniform with the name (yeah, I know…) Beachum on the back, so I guess that would make him Mobby Beachum.  So who is responsible for these, um, creative names?  It’s not the comic’s usual (and, after 30 years, current) writer Larry Hama, who is known for crafting engaging stories that still hold up decades later.  No, the writing credit goes instead to Hama’s usual artist, Herb Trimpe.  And what happens when you let a comic book artist write?  Well, for starters, this:

Well, the intended audience is young boys…

We open a baseball game with leggy dancing girls griping about being objectified by assholes like whoever wrote this crap.  And what are the guys disguised as?  Batboys?  Hot dog vendors?  Nope, Cobra called dibs on those:

Exploding hot dogs. Exploding hot dogs…

The Joes, a (poorly-kept) secret military organization, were in full uniform standing next to their toys outside the stadium, where they are sure to be a lot of help.  Until Crystal Ball, one of Cobra’s hokiest gimmick characters, hypnotizes them by showing them his accessory disc thingy.

Nothing gets by these guys

Cobra’s ranks also include Raptor (the guy who dresses like a bird) and a Cobra Commander impostor in battle armor in addition to the aforementioned Firefly disguised as a hot dog vendor and Zarana dressed like a Mites ball girl.  Everybody gets a stupid costume!  Even the blimp got in on the fun.

What, no Yood Gear?

As for the action, um, there were some smoke bombs, some fighting in a blimp, the baseball-themed Joe pitching a smoke grenade that gets batted up to the blimp, and a Presidential rescue.  All of this would add up to a mediocre episode of the mediocre ’80s cartoon, but the comic series was held to a higher standard (at least as much as Hama could get away with it, selling toys was always the main reason for the comic’s existence).  Ladies’ Day is widely considered to be the worst issue of the original comic run and possibly the entire G.I. Joe franchise.  I usually enjoy having something from the Mets show up in my other collections, but this is one I could have done without.

Clearly this is predicting the reaction to this issue

#FIXTHEIKE

Mets Police Twitter campaign to neuter Ike Davis gains support

Ike Davis’s woes at the plate this year are the stuff of legend, presuming that we’re talking about legends that make us sad and worried.  Mets Police, coming off such successes as de-blacking the Mets’ uniforms and bringing back Banner Day and following in the format of the widely-adopted #IMWITH28 Twitter hashtag campaign, has struck again with the #FIXTHEIKE Twitter hashtag campaign.  While I’m not sure if neutering is the proper medical procedure to improve hitting performance, anything is worth a try at this point.  To do my part, I’ve enlisted the support of a prior recipient of the procedure to help spread the word.

This has also appeared in a post at Mets Police.

The Side Panel: On sibling teams and other anniversaries

Leftovers from a Mets series in Houston 26 years ago

Back in 1986, the Mets celebrated their 25th anniversary.  Yeah, it was really their 25th year, not their 25th anniversary year, but they weren’t the only ones who had trouble figuring out those details.  Their fellow 1962 expansion team in Houston (originally the Colt .45s, now the Astros) also celebrated their 25th anniversary a bit early in 1986.  For the first time since the 1986 NLCS, both teams are celebrating a major anniversary in Houston this week.  They even got the year right this time.

Two days after hosting the 1986 All-Star Game, the Astros opened a four-game series against the Mets at the Astrodome.  This would be my first time seeing the Mets play in person, though I don’t know which game it was.  It could have been the 13-2 blowout against former Met Nolan Ryan or any of the three losses that followed (I’m hoping for the former, not that it matters now).  In the days before we externalized all of our memories with Facebook and Twitter and cell phone cameras, the details of our past are shrouded in faded memories.

Quickly discarded memories of seeing the Mets play from way down the right field line (Ooh, gift shop!) weren’t the only thing I left that game with.  As luck would have it, there was a free 25th anniversary hat given out as a promotional item that day.  I don’t know if this was a one-time giveaway or what, but I left Houston that year up two hats (this and one from the All-Star Roundup, sponsored prominently by Chevrolet).  And for those of you following on Twitter, this is the hat I was looking for when I found that other hat we shall not speak of.

Still looking for whitening tips...

This was quite the classy hat in its day, with the full cloth back and metal rings around the holes.  It’s a one-size-fits-all plastic snapback, as were most hats back then.  It hasn’t aged particularly well; there’s a lot of discoloration and the foam liner started breaking down about 20 years ago.  It’s clear that these hats weren’t made to last for the team’s next 25 years.

The Side Panel: Visual guide to spotting jersey variants in the wild

As I start accumulating posts, they will inevitably sort themselves out into various categories based on content.  For everything else, there’s The Side Panel, a collection of random rants and ruminations and musings and mutterings on minutiae.

For this first official appearance of The Side Panel (not to be confused with my earlier piece on The Number 18, which is unofficially the first, perhaps the zeroth), I’ll be looking at this feature’s namesake, the often overlooked side panels in modern high-tech jerseys.  If talk about armpits is your thing, um, welcome.  Or not.  Anyway…

Baseball uniforms have come a long way from the heavy flannel uniforms of the sport’s early years.  As competition got tougher with more fans and more revenue, teams looked for every possible advantage the rulebook allowed (and a few it didn’t).  In the days of synthetic material, changing the uniform has provided a way to both improve performance on the field and attract the attention of fans, now more likely to watch on television (either the physical box or the feed streamed over the internet) than in person.  The modern baseball uniform is made as much to appeal to fans as it is to the player who wears it, so the ideal uniform is colorful, stylish, comfortable, and able to handle dirt, sweat, and the occasional fastball.

The big trend in uniforms over the past decade has been the introduction of Cool Base materials.  The Cool Base jersey uses multiple different types of fabric to presumably perform different functions appropriate to the location of the material.  Look, I’m no fashion expert, I’m just guessing here.  It can’t be a coincidence though that the areas most likely to see lots of moisture are made of a different material than the rest of the jersey.  And having panels of different materials makes it easy to mix different colors on a jersey, resulting in the common color patterns that have been seen on countless batting practice and special event uniforms.

Futures Game and All-Star Jersey Variants

When you add in the inclusion of jersey swatches in baseball cards, these side panels, sometimes differently colored, sometimes not, introduce possible variants among the boring sameness that plagues today’s game-used offerings.  These variants were first sighted in quantity in the 2005 All-Star workout jersey swatches featured in 2005 Topps Updates and Highlights (the 2003 All-Star and Futures Game jerseys featured a smaller secondary material section around the sleeves, but pieces of this are hard to come by).  While the main colors of orange for the NL team and blue for the AL team were common, blue NL and white AL jersey swatches were occasionally seen.  These were pieces from the jersey’s side panels and this was the start of a trend that would continue through All-Star, Futures Game, WBC, and regular MLB jerseys in years to come.

So does anyone care about these “rare” variants?  Not really.  I’m pretty sure it’s just me.  Looking at the prices I’ve paid for the variants vs. the normal versions, there’s really no premium based on material type/color (though the same is true for most serial-numbered parallels, so it could just be that the market is generally indifferent towards things that aren’t sufficiently different).  I like some variety in my collection though, so I set out to get as many of these variants as I can find.  And so can you!  Here are some helpful hints to get you started.

Know the Game

Pedro Martinez WBC jersey ariants and Blake Forsythe Team USA jersey variants

Baseball uniforms today come from a variety of sources.  In addition to regular season MLB games, spring training games, the annual All-Star event (with its associated Futures Game), minor league games, the World Baseball Classic, Team USA, and various other random events produce jerseys that could make it into cards.  Identifying the sources is the first step toward finding variants.

Know the Uniforms

2010 Futures Game jersey photos with all three colors visible

The colors of the uniforms themselves will often provide clues about the source of the materials in cards.  Knowing the colors of the uniforms in question will help to determine whether variants are commonly available and will let you know when to stop looking for more.  It can take years to find some of these variants, so knowing what you’re looking for is essential.

Know the Materials

Not all variants are conveniently color-coded.  For the Mets blue Cool Base jerseys (I’m guessing these are batting practice and/or spring training jerseys), the side panels are the same color as the main body of the jersey.  How are you supposed to spot them from the tiny out-of-focus pictures people post on eBay?  The simple way is to look for white or otherwise lighter colored spots in a regular pattern in the jersey swatch.  Mesh side panels have holes in them, so the card’s backing will show through from certain angles.

Know the Products

The most obvious products to search for jersey variants are the annual Topps Update and whatever Bowman product gets Futures Game jerseys.  Other fall releases are also good places to look, primarily Topps Triple Threads.  It is common to find Triple Threads triple jersey cards with two or three of the different color variants from a special event jersey.

One-off products like 2009 Topps Unique and 2009 Topps Ticket to Stardom are also a common landing spot for whatever extra material Topps finds laying around from the last decade or so.  Above are pieces from a Jose Reyes 2002 Futures Game jersey, a David Wright 2004 Futures Game jersey, and a side panel from a Johan Santana 2007 All-Star workout jersey.

Know the Players

Sometimes, interesting pieces can show up in strange places.  When Topps took over distribution of All-Star workout jersey material in 2004 (starting with pieces from the 2003 All-Star event), their All-Star Stitches insert set became the default home for everything All-Star.  Swatches from various 2003 All-Star workout jerseys appeared elsewhere in 2004, but Topps has since managed to corral at least the first use of just about every jersey into what is now the premier game-used insert set in the annual update product.  There are exceptions though, so it pays to know who was at the All-Star event but didn’t make it into All-Star Stitches, as was the case for Paul Lo Duca in 2005.  Instead of showing up where you would expect, his 2005 All-Star workout jersey appeared in 2006 Topps Turkey Red.