Media: music, Broadcast, and Print
In addition to my card and autograph collecting, I graduated with a B.S. in Journalism from Emerson College in December 2005. I also have worked as a play by play broadcaster in the hockey, football, and floorball world, serving as the voice of the North American Hockey League's Wichita Falls Wildcats in 2006-2013. In all likelihood I will be handling play-by-play duties for the World Floorball Championship Qualifiers in February 2022 between the Canadian and American National Teams.
I've also made two interview appearances on the autograph collecting podcast TTMCast with Jeff Baker, and took over the role of co-host in June 2021. We also have taken over the airwaves with Sports Collectors Club, airing Sunday mornings at 7 am Eastern on your local SportsMap Radio affiliate.
I also play music. I puttered around with some short-lived bands in middle and high school before becoming the drummer for Boston punk band CC40 from 2003-2005 while in college. After some time off and a lot of solo playing, I was the drummer and later guitarist for Dallas folk punkers Death Before Breakfast from 2016-2019. You can hear my drum work on their 2018 album "Destroy Everything." I also briefly handled lead guitar and backing vocals in Dallas punk outfit The Nothing, and currently am drumming with Beethoven's Bastards, which made its debut in October 2021.
I mostly play drums and guitar, but also piano, bass, mandolin, and all things percussion. I'm always looking for other local musicians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to jam and write with. Mostly garage, punk, 90s alternative, classic rock, anything in that vein, but I try to stay flexible with almost anything rock related from the 1950s to today. I write my own music once in a while, but it's rare.
Lastly, what you'll find most in this section is that I enjoy writing on all sorts of sports-related topics, mostly sports collecting. Some of my pieces have been featured in Tuff Stuff, Uni-Watch, USA Floorball, the North American Hockey League, and most recently Nine Inning Know-It-All. I was a co-founder, writer, and podcast host for the erstwhile Sports Fans Online in the mid-2000s and its also-now-defunct reboot Broken Bat Media in the late 2010s, and served on the Writing Staff of SportsCardForum (SCF) for the better part of the past decade. I also wrote several blogs related to autographs.
Below you can find some of the pieces I've written over the years for those various sites, mostly SCF. Mostly, you'll read a lot of think-pieces and personal stories more than any deep research.
Autographs: A Two-Part How To
Here's To You, Mr. Avery
The Greatest Pitcher You Don't Know
Enough Already! Fighting Needs To Stay
If I Were NCAA Dictator
A Man(ning) On A Mission
Finding Myself Through Borje Salming
For Me, For You, For Cleveland
2016 World Cup Of Hockey Previews
In 2016, the World Cup of Hockey made its return following events in 1996 and 2004. Originally seen as a follow-up to the erstwhile Summit Series, Super Series, Canada Cup events, it never quite took off with any sort of regularity and its future is uncertain with the cancellation of the 2020 games. The staff of Sports Card Forum was asked to handle previews of all the teams, and I was put in charge of Finland, Sweden, and Team USA.
* * * * * * * * * *
Finland: Inching closer to the top
&#@% It Dude, Let's Go To Cleveland
On Graphing Etiquette
On Graphing Etiquette: a list disguised as an essay
Feel Free To Take A Knee
Chief Wahoo: A No-Win Situation
Dark Sky, Dark Water, A Dark Night
The CL: Alternate MLB History
A Preview of the 2018 National
East Meets West In Grand Prairie
East Meets West in Grand Prairie
The Chinese National Baseball Team takes the field in North Texas
By Drew Pelto
Written for Broken Bat Media, June 2018
Containing three of the 50 largest cities in the United States among its 9,000 square miles, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country. Dallas sits to the east, Fort Worth to the west, with Arlington, Plano, Denton, Irving, Carrollton, Lewisville, and more scattered about.
The east side meets the west side in Grand Prairie, home to the American Association's Texas AirHogs. The independent minor league baseball team often gets lost in the shadows of some bigger counterparts: the major league Rangers play five miles down the interstate in Arlington, right next to the NFL's Cowboys and a short drive from the WNBA's Dallas Wings; the NHL Stars and NBA Mavericks play just the other way in Dallas; Frisco has the Ranger-affiliated RoughRiders, G-League basketball's Texas Legends, and FC Dallas of the MLS; and Allen and North Richland Hills have minor and junior level hockey.
Typically the American Association has some strict roster limits, including when and how many players can be added and dropped, how many can be veterans versus rookies, and of course how many can be on a team at a time (typically 22). Most teams have only two, three, or rarely four coaches.
But the AirHogs have nearly that many pitchers alone-- 19 in fact. Their staff list contains twelve coaches. When it comes to position players, there are a more-typical two catchers, seven infielders, and five outfielders, plus another three on the inactive or disabled lists. That's 36 players. Whereas many players in the American Association have their previous team listed as another independent minor league squad, a college, or an affiliated minor league team, only a true international baseball afficionado will recognize the teams on the AirHogs' roster: Jiangsu Pegasus, Shanghai Golden Eagles, and the Sichuan Dragons.
In Grand Prairie, East is meeting West in more ways than just geographically: The entire Chinese National Baseball team is on their roster.
A month into the season, it's been a slow start. The AirHogs are permitted to have 22 players activated per game out of those 36. So lineups are constantly in flux to make sure everyone gets a share of playing time. As of June 17, the AirHogs are mired in last place in the AA South with a 5-23 record. Only one victory has been by more than one run, and they've allowed ten or more runs six times.
The season hasn't been without its bright spots though: outfielder Dillon Thomas leads the team with a .313 average, 5 homers, and 20 RBI, and infielder Chu Fujia has led his countrymen with a .269 average. Meng Weiqiang has struggled at the plate, going 5 for 54, but he has a decent excuse: he's basically pulling an Ohtani, both pitching and playing the outfield and DH. He has two of the AirHogs wins and his 3.24 ERA is best in the starting rotation-- even better than former MLB first round draft pick Tyler Matzek.
Of the twelve coaches, four have significant big league experience, which is also a rarity at this level. Many coaches and managers played in the minors or had short major league careers like Brent Clevlen or George Tsamis. The AirHogs have former Mariners and Phillies skipper John McLaren at the helm, who managed Team China at the World Baseball Classic in 2017 and 2013 alongside AirHogs' hitting coach Jimmy Johnson and assistant coach Yi Sheng. Pitching Coach Larry Hardy threw for the Padres and Astros in the 1970s, followed by over twenty years coaching in the Blue Jays, Giants, and Rangers organizations, serving as an umpire observer for Major League Baseball, and even a stint as a coach for the Republican Congressional Baseball Team for their annual game in Washington. Bullpen Coach Kevin Joseph pitched for the Cardinals and their affiliates. And the longest tenured of them all is Garth Iorg, who spent 1978-1987 with the Blue Jays as an infielder, followed by coaching and managerial stints in the Blue Jays and Brewers organizations, as well as with the German National Team.
Regardless of the results, it's been fun getting to see the interactions between players and coaches of different backgrounds. Kevin Joseph actually speaks some Chinese himself; after he signed some cards for me before a game, he had a brief conversation with a player who looked at me and asked him something.
"He wants to see the cards," Kevin said.
So I showed Kevin's cards to the player and said slowly "That was him playing fifteen years ago," which got a wide-eyed "Whoa!" and a laugh from the player.
Some expressions are universal, just like the game of baseball.
How To Resurrect A Career With One Swing
Tales Of A Little League Washout
What Baseball Means To Me
What Baseball Means To Me
By Drew Pelto
Written for Nine Inning Know It All, April 2020
Baseball is about so many things. Strategy. History. Diversity. The smell of freshly-cut grass on a local park diamond and the stale cigarette smoke of an old ballpark. It’s about the feel of flipping through vintage cards, of a ball hitting a mitt, of sitting on hard, hot bleachers. Stadium Mustard on a Kahn’s footlong – only Clevelanders will understand. It’s about adaptation – whether it’s adapting the game to be played in your back yard instead of a three-acre space, or adapting to a new position because your knees can’t handle it behind the plate anymore, or adapting the entire gestalt of the sport into a simple card-and-dice format (I’ve been playing a lot of MLB Showdown during isolation).
For me baseball is about family connection. The sport has been a part of my family from the first moment my ancestors came to a new country.
On July 4, 1909, my grandfather arrived in his new home of Boston in Upper Michigan’s Copper Country, following a six-week journey from Tervola, Finland with his mother, two older sisters, and a younger brother. Northern Finland had little in the way of sports: pesäpallo wouldn’t be invented for another fifteen years, hockey wouldn’t appear on a wide basis for another twenty, and eukonkanto didn’t have a championship until 1992.
But weeks after arrival, my grandfather turned into the biggest baseball fan you could find. The neighborhood boys, many from immigrant families like his own coming from Finland, Italy, Germany, Croatia, Quebec, Ireland, and England, created their own team. Their creation of the Boston Pirates lasted as an amateur baseball organization well into the 1950s. Baseball as a player didn’t last long for him: by the time he was 15, Grandpa was working in the copper mines due to a lack of workers in the World War. But he was a fan for life, watching the Pirates and catching major league games on the radio and eventually TV whenever he could pick up games from Detroit, Chicago, or the future Milwaukee Braves and Toronto Blue Jays.
On my grandmother’s side of the family, baseball wasn’t quite as big as it was for my grandfather, but her oldest brother played on those same Boston Pirates in the 1940s as a top first baseman and pitcher. When Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio hosted a camp in Florida for returning soldiers and other young prospects to be seen by scouts, a group of businesses in the Copper Country paid for him and a teammate to travel down and participate in it.
Needless to say, my father followed in Grandpa’s footsteps. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a pitcher, outfielder, and middle infielder for the local Little League on the Pirates as well – total coincidence. But like my grandfather, that didn’t last long. Being a lefty and only about 5’7″ severely limited where he could play. Aside from Little League and some company softball teams, he too was limited mostly to being a fan.
I didn’t make it any further than they did: I could play almost any position in Little League, but couldn’t hit a beach ball. After four years mostly as a catcher and middle infielder, my .077 average was enough to tell me I should hang up the spikes and stick to weekend lob-pitch pickup games and eventually the Emerson College Wiffleball League, where I was a Cy Young finalist. However, I too ended up as a Pirate coincidentally.
I never met my grandfather much. They moved from Boston to Laurium and finally to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it New Allouez. I was seven when he died, and we only got up to see him once a year for a week. But I remember him watching in the summer of 1989, and in his aged, weary, Finnish-accented voice telling this five-year-old how “Dere was dis little kirl down ta road, she play Little League, she hit tat pall way out to da trees dere. You konna let da kirls peat you?” before I’d go up and try to crush a plastic ball over his flowers, past the neat rows of raspberry plants, and into the precisely-planted jack pine trees. And a year after his death, as I watched a 1992 Blue Jays-Rangers game on a black and white TV, rabbit ear antennas pointed north toward CKPR in Thunder Bay, Grandma reminisced about how Grandpa always watched the Jays any time he could, since they had the clearest signal in the Copper Country. In the offseason, Major League pitcher George Brunet lived next door.
I turned six years old in 1990 and later that year I went to my first two ballgames. By this point, my family had relocated. My grandparents were still in Upper Michigan: unless he got to a game in an early 1920s trip to Chicago, my grandfather died without ever attending a Major League game. My dad had moved down to Lower Michigan, then onto Iowa, and finally Ohio where I spent most of my life. Dad used to try to get to a ballgame in any Big League city he visited. He saw Kaufman when it was still Royals Stadium; another favorite in Steve Carlton pitching against the Cubs at Wrigley; and a 1966 game at Yankee Stadium when he saw New York and Washington when visiting his sister. In Iowa, he and my mom often attended Cedar Rapids Reds games, getting to watch some big prospects for the Reds including Eric Davis, Paul O’Neill, and Chris Sabo.
It was while living in Ohio where I became a fan, cursed with cheering for some terrible Indians teams. I don’t know how I ended up a fan of his, but Cory Snyder was my favorite player from the moment I first saw a game. Even now, coming up on 36, I have a huge collection of Snyder cards – over 200 different ones, plus a game-used bat, and a few autographs. In 1990, I went to my first game, seeing the Indians beat the Tigers 12-4. A month later, we saw Dave Stieb finally complete a no-hitter after two failed attempts in 1988, beating the Tribe 3-0.
I got started as a serious collector in 1991. My dad had been a card collector too, 35 years before, having nearly-complete sets from 1957 all the way up to about 1964; at some point though, he gave them all to a friend. I had a few cards before then, but nothing major; just some that I had gotten as random gifts. But one day with some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, I went with my dad to K-Mart and paid $1.49 for a rack pack of 1991 Donruss cards. That first pack of cards had a card of our lone star in Cleveland in Sandy Alomar Jr., plus Dave Stieb, and Cory Snyder. Needless to say, I was hooked. Nearly 30 years later, I’m still at it.
The Indians lost every game from the Stieb no-no all the way up to the final game we saw at the old Stadium where they blew a 7-2 lead to the Yankees, dropping it 14-8. Fortunately our first game at the all-new Jacobs Field featured Albert Belle cranking a walk-off grand slam off Lee Smith.
I’ve been to far more games in Texas now, along with a game each in Montreal, Minnesota, Boston, St. Louis, and Detroit. But for me, the two stadia in Cleveland will always bring a sense of home and a sense of connection to my family. I don’t get back to Cleveland much more often than every couple of years, but my dad and I always try to get to a game together, typically the A-level Lake County Captains as they’re a fifteen minute drive for him.
In 2014, I made it up for the National Sports Collectors Convention, and as I stopped by my dad’s house, he handed me a box. Just before my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility in the early 90s, we went through her house to make sure there wasn’t anything left that we wanted. And somehow, surviving 20+ years in the attic, we came across two bags of 1962 and 1963 Topps cards from my dad’s collection as a kid. He was giving them to me. Since then, I’ve mailed off about 40 or so to players to sign; only two never came back to me.
There are a lot of things I don’t have in common with my predecessors. My grandfather was a union copper miner who never took a day off for fifty years. My dad is a Reagan-era Republican with a masters degree in electrical engineering. I border on being an anarchist with a nearly useless journalism degree. But the one thing we all could always agree on was baseball.
TGC: The Series Finale
TCG: The Series Finale
By Drew Pelto
Written for Texas Graphing Chronicles, October 2020
NOTE: This was the "farewell address" for my old Texas Graphing Chronicles blog.
After seven and a half years of writing, nearly 250 posts, and over 67,000 views, I believe this will be the final post I make on this blog. When I started it in 2013, I was excited to have a place to write every few days about my doings in the autograph world: the good/bad/ugly of in-person outings, TTM successes and failures, interview profiles of other collector friends, and really anything else that came to mind. I was about to return to a hobby I greatly enjoyed in a way that I hadn't been able to do since 2005 and I wanted to go all-in.
In that first year I was typically putting up multiple posts a week. For the last couple of years, it's been one a month. In 2015 and 2016 I was getting hundreds of reads per post within hours of posting. My latest one got 8 in six days. I'll be shocked if even fifty read this in a month. Print-only media is dying. Blogging isn't what it used to be, at least not on a larger platform without loads of links and non-text content. Microblogging, sub-300-character tweets, images, and videos have taken control, as we are first-hand witnesses to a Mooreheadian paradox of our attention spans growing shorter but our lives growing longer. To quote my wife's favorite musician Kacey Musgraves, "Mary Mary quite contrary, we're so bored until we're buried." We as a culture have grown tired of any information that's larger than bite-sized and not entertaining enough. It's why the insultpolitik of Donald Trump & Co. is effective now after it spent decades failing: it's memorable, quick, to the point, and provokes immediate visceral reaction. Riding it to victory proves that the end justifies the means in American culture. Talking about the important things – policies, plans, ideas – at length gets boring and forgotten even though it's the meat of the future.
It's easier to have daily (or near-daily) updates elsewhere. So that's what I'm going to do.
Over the last few years especially while leading a Facebook group, I've had to endure doxxing, accusations of playing favorites, threats of litigation, use of my life and views outside the hobby as ammunition against me, threats of violence, and more "fuck you, Stalin" type of messages in my inbox than you can possibly imagine. I even had someone make ridiculous accusations of me showing up at his friend's job and getting him fired via a sexual assault claim – either a case of recklessly mistaking my identity for someone else or an attempt at a completely fabricated hatchet job against me. It has gotten to a point where especially over the last two months I have had to ask myself numerous times if it is really worth waking up and wondering what sort of crap I'm going to end up taking from people. And all of this over a personal autograph collection!
I've hit a point where I can't make fair criticism and raise concerns without fear of overly-strong retribution. I'm even sitting here wondering who's going to take offense to this as I write it. Welcome to journalism in a post-Trump world.
Trying to put yourself out there to be a force for positive feels great until it turns on you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Trying to constantly fight against me-first negativity and unethicality in our hobby has led me to bordering upon paranoia about deciphering the meaning behind people's actions and words. I don't particularly enjoy that. I always joked I'd have a heart attack by 40 but this week has made me think it might not be a joke. The victories in this pro-hobbyist battle are largely Pyrrhic.
It's weird to call Twitter and YouTube positive places but in the autograph hobby they are so far. None of them have the cobwebs of a mostly-text blog. Disagreements I've had with people on YouTube have remained remarkably civil discussions of opinion; via Twitter I'm trying to avoid and unfollow accounts that are not 100% about the hobby; whereas the Facebook flareups I've seen and been involved in get out of hand quickly, and if I lay the hammer down from a position of authority I'm automatically the bad guy. Enough already! I've been banned from groups and accept that I probably deserved it when it happens. Many people I've dealt with while working with similar situations from the other side refuse to ever make that concession. The old "They hate us 'cause they ain't us" line is a load of crap: they probably hate you because you're an ass.
I've tried to be a positive in the autograph hobby. I want to keep out those who would do it harm, reduce the number of those who act solely with self in mind, and educate newcomers wherever possible. My favorite phrase is "The overall health of the hobby is more important than the size of your collection." And I truly believe that: the size of your collection won't matter if the hobby is dead or at least unattainable for most.
And the number of positive comments I got from people about the effort I put in for so long following my decision to step down from the Facebook group is evidence to me that at least my intentions have been understood and appreciated. In fact, I have not had a single negative one put to me directly from it, and that means a lot in something that has largely been a thankless job for four years. You're never going to please everyone, so all you can really focus on are those who are important to you and those who appreciate your efforts.
If a hobby is getting to where it's not as fun for you anymore, you have to ask why you're trying to preserve it for others at such a cost to yourself. I already lost all enjoyment in my previous sports broadcasting career, something that has just now started to come back after leaving it for most of a decade. I haven't hit the point I did when I left it, but I want to stop any potential skid before it hits that crash point: I don't want to have my preferred avocation completely ruined for me too.
Every collecting world seems to hit a point of unsustainable growth. How many booms and busts can you name? You had the sports card boom of the 80s and early 90s where every product had cards and every town had multiple card shops, followed by its bust in the late 90s as overproduction brought about a diluted market; Beanie Babies had their boom in the late 90s that went bust just as fast; comic books, antiques, stamps, coins, toy fads... Even each of these areas has their own internal mini-booms and busts – Kevin Maas, anyone? Cards are seeing a crazy boom again as well: is it reaching critical mass?
We're seeing a huge bubble happen in the autograph world in terms of participation. When I came down to DFW in 2013, Rangers games had a dedicated group of maybe 20-30 collectors at the average game. I knew most of them by name quickly and we helped each other out. The last game I was at, there had to have been over a hundred, and the only ones I recognized were a few I didn't like much. When I went to an Angels-Indians game in 2018, I didn't bother graphing and I'm glad I didn't: watching from a distance, the group was ten-deep all the way down the fence. The minor leagues are getting overrun by prospectors. People who had never TTMed before or hadn't in years are getting back into it during pandemic boredom. Players are getting swamped with mail to where many excellent free signers have stopped (Rick Reuschel) or are charging fees (Jerry Browne and Tom Brunansky), and many who already charged small fees are raising those (Bob Grich). While it has brought a few tough signers out of the woodwork (Harold Baines), is it worth the cost of losing so many others? A comment from a person helping to go through five years of Dave Stieb's mail mentioned that he has gotten numerous requests of 8 or more cards, some with lazily copied letters with another player's name crossed off and his written in, return envelopes with no postage (perhaps even no envelope at all), and even one person that requested a heap of both cards and index cards with specific inscriptions requested on each with no compensation – and sent it twice. Billy Sample said he now tends to get an average of five requests a day whereas a decade ago, it was maybe five a week.
You may not care since you already got Reuschel, Browne, Brunansky, and Grich, or you're okay with paying for the latter trio, but what about a newcomer to to the hobby? What about a kid who loves baseball history but whose $10 a week allowance would take him almost a month to get Grich? They no longer have that ability. And someday you might end up in their shoes and miss out on someone who stops because it's gotten to be too voluminous, or whose fee is through the roof. This is why I think fighting to limit hobby greed is such an important enterprise. The hobby should be accessible to all who want to participate. Think before you act out of self-interest.
Unfortunately, there will always be those who care about the monetary profit more than the hobby enjoyment, and those types will be its downfall. Collectors who go in with profit in mind first tend to have a problem with self-control when it comes to milking their newfound cash cow, much to the hobby's detriment. It's the same with riding any other boom to (or past) its bust point.
Even non-monetary gains: do you really need 20 cards a year signed by Rick Reuschel, Frank Tanana, Danny Darwin, Charlie Hough, and Tom Foley? I've sent to Tanana twice in my life. I probably have another 50 cards of him sitting here. I have no desire or need to mail out even 1/10th of them. I gave four to a friend to mail off. If someone else wanted a few, I'd give to them too.
I know I'm not going to reach every collector with my reasoning, nor am I trying to be the autograph police, nor do I think I'm going to somehow spark a worldwide change (no matter how many times people try to strawman that those delusions of grandeur are somehow my goals). All I've ever wanted to do is whatever is within my grasp to help keep the hobby civilized and thriving. Think globally but act locally; be the change you want to see in the world; we not me; you know the clichés.
So, I'm scaling back. I'm focusing on my own collection and on continuing to practice those ethics myself. And that's going to mean less public involvement and leadership. If you get anything out of this (besides off my lawn), I hope it's heeding my request to exert self-control. Take those ten cards you want to send and pare it back to four.
Thanks for reading Texas Graphing Chronicles. As the great Hal Lebovitz used to sign off: "Stay well, and see you somewhere, I hope."
Standing Up, Standing Out
Standing Up, Standing Out
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is a writer, podcaster, musician, and card collector in North Texas. He is a Cory Snyder Supercollector, though this man-crush is of the asexual variety.
Anxiety: Better Safe Than Sorry for Simone
Anxiety: Better Safe Than Sorry for Simone
By Drew Pelto, aka *censored*
Written for SportsCardForum, July 2021
Simone Biles is an absolutely incredible athlete. The feats we have seen her pull off in the last decade have been nothing short of phenomenal. To have one gymnastics skill named for you is a sign of greatness. To have FOUR named for you across three different elements is absolutely unprecedented. She is truly a generational talent.
Anxiety can take on many forms. And it can make itself known to you when you least expect it.
I've worked in careers that have put me in a bit of a spotlight. Radio, TV, and internet broadcaster. Writer. Musician. Elite-level floorball goalie. Aside from having to go in and vomit before every concert I play, I typically am confident in my skills in all these areas.
Simone Biles talking about her feelings the morning of the final team event brought me back to my own experiences with unexpected anxiety. I know what I was capable of as a floorball goalie in my prime. In 2015, I was considered by many to be the best American-born goalie in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and one of probably the top five in the state: not bad for someone who had only played between the pipes full-time for a few months. I backstopped a team to a major tournament championship and led the local league in every goaltending category. I had the only shutout in another major tournament. I stopped the most skilled forward in the state coming in on a breakaway.
And a year later, two days before a tournament, I sat in my office at work, heart pounding, shaking, and feeling sick anytime I thought about playing this sport that I enjoyed and was considered to be quite good at. Self-doubt is a killer, and I didn't even know where it was coming from. And that part-- the not knowing-- is the scariest part.
Simone Biles has been through a lot. She's a survivor of Larry Nassar's crimes. She's been unfairly punished by her sport changing scoring systems because she's just that ridiculously good. She has a legacy of winning that will likely never be matched. And that is a heavy burden to bear. The expectation of greatness can be almost impossible to live up to, and the pressure of that impossibility is immense.
Witnessing that loss of confidence is jarring. I heard about her withdrawing from the team event on Tuesday morning and didn't think much of it. Injury, frustration on not getting a fair shot in scoring, there are lots of possible reasons. But watching on video, seeing it 12 hours later on tape delay was more shocking than I expected it to be. The look on her face didn't show the confidence of a world champion. It was fear. Wide-eyed, stone-faced, an attempt to not show that anything is wrong, but with an overplayed rigidness that betrays the fact that something is in fact quite wrong. And it seemed to come out of nowhere. It was a look I had seen before because it was one that I'd had.
Flash back to 2016. I went into the bathroom breathing heavily, shaking, just wanting to be where no one could see me. Looking in the mirror, I had that same expression of bewilderment of where this came from, while also trying to act like nothing bothered me. I messaged my wife that I didn't know what was going on, that I couldn't calm myself. I didn't want to play in the tournament. I didn't even want to play in the league that was still three weeks away. I couldn't hang my team out to dry, but I knew that if I played I was going to break: it was just a question of whether it would be mentally, physically, or emotionally. I talked to my team's captains and they were able to find a new goalie. And the sense of relief from that was enormous. I was fine the rest of the day, all the way on into the tournament where I coached from the bench. I even suited up to play the final game when there was no pressure.
Simone Biles is a million times the athlete I could ever hope to be. She is far tougher physically and mentally that I will ever be. And if I can be paralyzed from fear of the unknown and fear of failure for something as small as a meaningless local tournament in a sport that no one cares about, then I sure as hell am sympathetic to it hitting her on a stage with the eyes of the entire world upon her. For her to know that something wasn't right and that an alternate would be a better choice in her spot takes a great degree of self-sacrifice and self-awareness.
Time will tell if her withdrawal will be enough to calm things and get her back to the sport that she has dominated. Everyone varies in what they need; there is no basic and standard cure-all. Temporary relief turned out not to be enough for me. A month later, that alluded-to emotional break came when I snapped on a referee and was hit with an indefinite suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct, verbal abuse, and physical assault of a league official. The ban was lifted after three and a half years. I am now at five years since my last game and have not played since that moment. I don't know that I ever will again.
I hope we'll get to see Simone make a triumphant return at the individual events and fight back to defend her gold in the individual all-around. But if we don't and that was her last vault ever, let's all focus on everything that came before it. We got to watch greatness the past decade. Don't let the possible ending overshadow that.
Mental health is important. We're finally seeing it focused on in the world at-large, and no longer looking at it solely as being a point of weakness. I'll be pulling for Simone Biles' return, but won't lose any respect for her if she can't. You shouldn't either.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is a writer, podcaster, and autograph collector and couldn't perform a cartwheel if you promised him a million dollars for doing so. He lives in North Texas with his wife and two cats who have medaled in the kitchen counter balance beam.
Fanatics In the Hobby: Boon or Boondoggle?
Fanatics In the Hobby: Boon or Boondoggle?
by Drew Pelto AKA *censored*
Written for SportsCardForum, August 2021
NOTE: The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author as a sports card and autograph collector and historian, and are not reflective of any other person, business, or other entity.
Thursday afternoon, the other shoe dropped. In the midst of a booming economy in the card world on both the industry and hobby sides, sports apparel and collectibles giant Fanatics has bought the rights to large portions of the card production market.
According to the Wall Street Journal, their move comes as a partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the National Football League Players Association, and the National Basketball Players Association, as well as the NBA and MLB, starting at various points as early as 2023 and as late as 2026. It is not yet known if the NFL is involved, or any other leagues, associations, or athletes.
Currently valued at close to $18 billion, Fanatics is an absolute giant in the sports world. They own a significant minority share in hat provider Lids, they bought Majestic in 2017 (then the official provider of jerseys to Major League baseball), and purchased the biggest player in autograph and game-used memorabilia in Steiner Sports in June 2019.
Until this deal, the majority of the card and autograph hobby was a tug-of-war between three parties: Topps, Panini, and Upper Deck. Over the last decade, Topps has controlled baseball, Upper Deck has had hockey, and Panini has had basketball, football, Nascar, college sports, and more recently gained control of the majority of soccer and UFC. A few individual athletes have deals outside of those companies' main sports, but this is where the concentration lies. Recent figures put the valuations of Topps and $1.3 billion, and Panini at $3 billion; current numbers for Upper Deck are not known.
So... what does this mean for... well... everyone? Collectors, companies, the very existence of the hobby: what is in our future?
To tell you the truth, I don't know.
The fact of the matter is two-fold: Fanatics doesn't have a staff that has a deep understanding of card design, production, and markets, and the card companies are up a creek without the big three sports leagues. What Fanatics does understand is marketing, sales, and the value of brand name recognition. Note that they still use the site and branding for Steiner, Autograph Warehouse, Majestic, Lids, and others. NFL Shop, MLB Shop, NBA Shop, and NHL Shop all carry Fanatics logos and site design styles as well. All of these existed well before Fanatics and they are carrying on their logos and names even following their buyouts and mergers.
Could we see the same happen knowing the brand loyalty and name recognition that come with Topps? With Panini? With Upper Deck?
If Fanatics merges with or buys out the big three card companies, what actually changes? Sure, there's a different name on its ownership, but so what? If it has the same staff of workers who have created the juggernaut that we're seeing in the card industry right now, how can this be a negative?
Both Topps and Panini have hinted to various levels that they are for sale. Topps of course announced in April that they were going to be bought by Mudrick Capital (a deal which officially fell apart Friday morning with this announcement and saw Mudrick's stock take a 10% tumble in the final hours of Thursday trading; Mudrick has now lost all of its market gains since its January 2020 start). Meanwhile Business Insider reported that Panini was in talks with a SPAC led by Alex Rodriguez in July. There have been no updates on this potential deal and its present status.
So if both have weighed potential sales, this could be the perfect storm for some sort of a massive merger.
A major merger also could bring about a resurrection of discontinued brands. If Fanatics somehow takes over all of these, you could see Michael Jordan in Hoops, National Treasures, Prizm. You could see Upper Deck making a 40th anniversary baseball set in 2029. Donruss baseball with logos. Fleer football. Topps Chrome basketball. Prime hockey featuring Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Gordie Howe.
Sure, some near-duplicate products might get eliminated, or merged, or have years skipped, upsetting those collectors who focus on specific products. Unfortunately change is inevitable. But the hobby has survived it and will continue to do so.
Of course, the fatalist in me realizes that this could very well be the end. Topps, Panini, Upper Deck, all could potentially just disappear with Fanatics controlling it all under their own name and creation of new brands. But considering Fanatics' recent history of scooping up well-known and well-respected names and still using them, I don't see this as being very likely. Instant brand recognition and credibility is gold.
Personally, I believe Thursday's news is just the start to this story, that many more dominoes will fall between now and 2026-- but not necessarily in a bad way.
My biggest concern is for the local card shop. Fanatics primarily operates via a direct-to-consumer model. If you can get boxes shipped straight to you, what does this do for card shops? We're already seeing online shops take over, with the likes of Dave & Adam's, Blowout, Steel City, and others dominating in sales with the mom and pop shop in every town scaling back and even closing up. Will this be the final nail in their coffin?
Change is inevitable. The question is what will those changes be? One thing is for certain, there is no stopping them; Fanatics will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords. I'd like to remind them as a trusted collector and media personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to buy into their new products.
In all seriousness though, the card industry and hobby are in a time of extreme uncertainty with this news. Hold on tight, and let's all hope for the best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto has spent the past 30 years collecting cards and autographs, and is a veteran of both the hobby and industry side of the collectibles world. He hopes that Topps Heritage will continue, Donruss Retro will be enhanced, and Upper Deck Vintage will be resurrected.
Do Better, Indians (No, That's Not Better)
Do Better, Indians (No, That's Not Better)
by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*
Written for SportsCardForum, October 2021
Three and a half years ago, I wrote an article in favor of removing the Chief Wahoo logo from the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe had announced the 2018 season would be their final usage of it, but also said at the time the Indians name would remain.
And now, today, the name is officially gone along with it. I get it; and once again, I don't mind it. As my previous article said, I'm going to support the Cleveland baseballers no matter what their name is. If you're freaking out over the name change then it makes me wonder how big a fan you were to begin with. Did you boycott Pepsi when they changed to blue cans in 1997? Did you lose it when the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards? If not, then why freak out over this one?
But at the same time, the Guardians' name and logo are just... bland.
I like the fact that they made a nod toward Cleveland history with the name. But the Art Deco bridge it's named for is a bit of Cleveland minutiae to which even the most die-hard local might not get the reference. I lived in Northeast Ohio from 1985 to 2005. The first time I ever drove over that bridge? 2014, almost a decade after I left-- and only because I took a wrong turn trying to pick up I-71 leaving Downtown while very tired after the Panini VIP Party at the National at about 1 am.
Even if the name is kind of boring, the logos are just bad. If your name is Art Deco inspired, use some Art Deco imagery. The wings on the baseball look out of place. The text is the same as the current script, just with the first two letters removed and five new ones stuck on. Hmm, maybe that's why they did it: Dolan was too cheap to pay for a new name and he could just recycle pieces of the old one.
If I made a depth chart of names I liked, it would go something like this.
1: Cleveland Cyclones. Why was this not pitched (no pun intended) by more people? First off, you get alliteration: though two different C sounds, the block C can mean either the city or the team. Second, Cyclones are scary: ever been in one? I've only been near one and that's more than enough. Third, it has history related to Cleveland baseball as there was once a pitcher for the old Cleveland Spiders known as the Cyclone before it was deemed too long as a nickname. He was pretty good too, he has an award named after him, but you'd know him better as Denton True "Cy" Young. Because, wouldn't you want a pitching staff composed of Cy clones? It references a former player while also not being as sleepy sounding as the old Cleveland Naps moniker. Cleveland Cyclones. This was a massive missed opportunity.
2: Cleveland (something that actually honors Louis Sockalexis). Let's forget about the trite story of how some little girl said they should honor the great Native player. There is no evidence of that ever having happened. Sockalexis was largely forgotten within a few years of his career ending. You can find very few references made to him from then until well into the 1940s. No matter how hard people want to cling to the story, there is no evidence from the time of the name's adoption that mentions Sockalexis: American society at large was still trying to force Natives to be more white. The name was not adopted to honor him; if anything, uses of it even in his day as an informal reference to the club were disrespectful and based around the idea of Natives as savages. So to claim the name was created to actually honor him, put your money where your mouth in: meet with the Penobscot tribe of which Sockalexis was a part. Meet with the Erie tribe who once inhabited the lands of Northeast Ohio. Ask how they can be accurately depicted and honored. Find a name that comes from a word of their language. You could keep the theme while being respectful, much in the same way that Florida State University regularly meets with Seminole leaders. But that would require a significant degree of humility from team ownership.
3: Cleveland Blues. Cleveland baseball clubs went by the Blues moniker from 1879-1884, 1887-1888, and 1901. Blues played into the creation of Rhythm & Blues, which Leo Mintz renamed Rock and Roll at his Cleveland-area Record Rendezvous stores (before a corrupt glory-hog disc jockey took all the credit). The city has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a case could be made that the electric eels were the very first punk band-- and they hailed from Cleveland. It's something musical to point out the city's mark on it, while also keeping to a baseball tradition. Of course the MLB's Toronto Blue Jays and the NHL's St. Louis Blues may want a word with team ownership about this.
4: Cleveland Buckeyes. Surprising winners of the 1945 Negro League World Series, upsetting a Homestead Grays squad that had won back -to-back World Series and featured future Hall of Famers Jud Wilson, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, and Cool Papa Bell. It's the state tree and the state candy (even if it started out as nothing more than an accidentally-deformed peanut butter ball). The name for a baseball team actually predates The Ohio State University adopting it for sports-- which it did in 1950. But that still could be a point of legal contention.
5: Cleveland Generals. Okay, hear me out. I heard calls for the Naps name to be resurrected, which I didn't like. Sure, it would reference a former leader much like the Browns reference Paul Brown because before the Indians, they were the Naps, named for future Hall of Fame player-manager Napoleon Lajoie. But as I said above, Naps sounds like they're going to lie down for a rest. So, how about another Napoleon? Napoleon Bonaparte was a famous French general. Cleveland Naps, to Cleveland Napoleons, to Cleveland Bonapartes, to Cleveland Generals. Yeah, not even the girl at the Dairy Queen counter has grasped at this many straws. Never mind, move on.
6-Pentultimate: Anything else, Guardians included, except...
Last: Cleveland Spiders. Look, I actually like the Spiders name. It's different, and spiders have a sneakiness about them which is perfect for a sport rife with cheating. It clearly has loads of history in Cleveland baseball as the name from 1889 to 1899. They had six Hall of Famers. But the 1899 squad is enough to ruin the name for me. That year, the team's owners also bought the St. Louis Perfectos (now Cardinals, no relation to Mr. Telles) and in an epic conflict of interest took all of Cleveland's top players, shipped them to St. Louis for the Perfectos' worst, and treated the Spiders like a sideshow. They finished 35 games out of 11th place in the 12-team National League with a 20-134 record. Teams refused to play in Cleveland due to the dismal crowds. The pitcher for their final game was 18-year-old Eddie Kolb, a counter boy at a cigar shop in the Cincinnati hotel where the Spiders stayed. The kid told the manager he would give him a box of cigars if he could pitch the final game of the season. He went on to allow 19 runs (9 earned) on 18 hits across eight innings, with five walks, and one strikeout. He somehow got a hit as well in their 19-3 loss. The identity of the hapless Cincinnati Red who struck out is not known.
Hmm, Cleveland Kolbs? Okay, that one might be worse.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto, a lifelong Cleveland sports fan after living there for 10 years, lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. If you are considering trashing all your Cleveland cards, apparel, and other items in protest of the name change, he humbly asks that you mail them to him instead.