Sunday, June 27, 2021

Mullen Brothers

Picture the streets of Manhattan in the late-1960s. Tough. Grimy. Steam coming from manhole covers. Taxi cabs. Cars. Buses. Noise. Attitude.
Got that image in mind? Okay. Now look down a side street and picture two kids out there playing roller hockey. Does it sound absurd?
Well, it happened. And maybe just as absurd, both kids would go on to play in the National Hockey League.
Here they are.


1991-92 O-Pee-Chee Premier #153 Joe Mullen and #166 Brian Mullen

Joe and Brian Mullen did indeed grow up in Manhattan, playing hockey in the street, using clamp-on roller skates and a roll of electrical tape as a puck.
Back when I was learning to play hockey in the early 1990s we did the electrical tape thing too, as I'm sure many kids did. The only factory-made roller hockey puck available at the time came from a company named Mylec. It was bright orange and made of a soft, rubbery/plastic type of material—much too light to glide flat on the concrete or asphalt for very long, and sometimes your slapshot would sail way up in the air and over the goal if it caught a slight breeze. (Mylec also made a bright orange hockey ball, but who wanted to play hockey with a ball?)

In any case, both Joe and Brian give a tremendous amount of credit to those early roller hockey–playing days, noting that the rough playing surface and makeshift pucks helped to develop their stickhandling and shooting skills.
As for making the successive leaps from roller hockey to juniors to college to the pros? Well, the first couple of steps went well, but that last part of it didn't come easy. After a fantastic four years at Boston College, for example, older brother Joe actually went undrafted.

You see, at the time, most scouts didn't have interest in looking for players in nontraditional markets like Manhattan. Add the fact that Mullen was 5' 9"—which was considered a little small, even back in the 1970s—and the tough road from college to the pros is more easily understood.
But in the summer of 1979, after his senior year at BC, two doors opened. Both the US Olympic Team and the St. Louis Blues showed interest. 
Mullen opted to sign with the Blues, which meant he had to give up his amateur status and pass up the Olympic opportunity. Can't blame him for that, though, as few would have ever predicted the Miracle run that the 1980 Olympic team made in Lake Placid. 
The next year, while he was cutting his teeth in the minors, younger brother Brian was drafted in the 7th round by the Winnipeg Jets. Joe would begin his NHL career soon enough (the 1981-82 season), and Brian started his the very next season.
Here are some numbers.





(16 seasons)

(11 seasons)





















(Career highs in bold)



(1988-89, Calgary)

(1984-85, Winnipeg)























Younger brother Brian had a solid career, playing across 11 seasons for Winnipeg, the Rangers, San Jose, and the Islanders. He's part of NHL history, as he was one of the original San Jose Sharks and recorded an assist in their very first game. He'd finish that year second in team scoring, with 18 goals, 28 assists, and 46 points.

A responsible player who was excellent on the defensive side of the game and the penalty kill, he put up 13 career shorthanded goals. If you're looking for other players who had comparable playing styles and numbers, Brian has similarity scores on with Mike Ricci, Brandon Dubinsky, Josh Bailey, and Frans Nielsen.
As for big brother Joe, you can see from the table above that his career was one for the ages. He played on three Stanley Cup–winning teams (1989 with Calgary, then 1991 and 1992 with Pittsburgh), and was a huge contributor on all three. Here are his numbers during that playoff run with Calgary, for example
21 games played, 16 goals, 8 assists, 24 points, 4 penalty minutes, 6 power-play goals, 10 even-strength goals, 91 shots
Those 16 goals led the league, as did his 10 even-strength goals and 91 shots. He won the Lady Byng trophy that year, as well. (He'd also won it after the 1986-87 season.)
Joe became the first American player to score 500 goals and 1,000 points. He was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000. Over his career he suited up for St. Louis, Calgary, Pittsburgh, and Boston.
Overall, two incredible careers from a couple of New York City kids.

Here's to the Mullen brothers. Or as a native would say, Good job, youz guys!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Catchers, Custom Cards, and Carolina

Here's Andy Etchebarren, happily exhibiting his throwing pose for a Topps photographer.

1967 Topps #457, Andy Etchebarren

Something about that face reminds me of a Spanish actor who rose to fame in the 1990s, and continues to ply his trade today. If the name isn't coming to you, here are some hints:

If you'd like to picture this actor in his heartthrob heyday, just add some long, flowing, dark hair.

You can also insert a guitar case next to him that may (or may not) contain a guitar.

While Etchebarren donned a catcher's mask, this look-alike actor donned the mask of Zorro in two separate films.

Enough hints?

Here's the custom card.

Through his career, Antonio Banderas has played a few mysterious characters who harbored vendettas, such as the aforementioned Zorro as well as the mariachi character in Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And those characters certainly wouldn't be smiling like Banderas is here. But playing baseball is much more fun than brooding and seeking vengeance (unless maybe you're Al Hrabosky). And besides, it's a sunny day at the ballpark. You can even see palm trees and a Yoo-hoo advertisement in the background. Why wouldn't Banderas be smiling?

As for the rest of the card, I left the player position as catcher, because the catcher's mitt is evident at the bottom right and the fictitious Banderas is clearly ready to throw out an equally fictitious baserunner. The only other change was to remove Etchebarren's facsimile autograph and replace it with Banderas's.

Let's get to the man on the original card now. Andy Etchebarren had a solid 15-year career, highlighted by two World Series championships with the Baltimore Orioles (1966 and 1970).

His first two full seasons, 1966 and 1967, were quite fruitful. In fact, he was named an all-star both times. In 1966 he put up 91 hits, 14 doubles, 6 triples, 11 home runs, 50 RBI, and 49 runs scored. Not bad for a 23-year-old getting his first shot at consistent major league at-bats. 

Interestingly, however, those would all end up being single-season highs. Why?

Well, starting in 1968 Etchebarren (right-handed batter) would split the workload with fellow Orioles catcher Elrod Hendricks (left-handed batter). Despite the reduction in playing time, it was a pretty successful platoon for a few years, and together the two catchers helped Baltimore capture that 1970 World Series title.

But combine that platooning situation with some injury troubles over the years, and Etchebarren only averaged about 63 games per season. His career numbers: 948 GP, 615 H, 101 2B, 17 3B, 49 HR, 309 RBI, .235 avg
On the defensive side, Etchebarren was known as a pretty reliable guy who knew how to handle his pitchers. (The Orioles had some studs at the time like Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar.) He threw base-stealers out at a career rate of 39%. That puts him right next to guys like Lance Parrish, Manny Sanguillen, and teammate Elrod Hendricks. Overall, Etchebarren nailed a total of 244 would-be swipers. That puts him around names like Buster Posey, Mickey Tettleton, and Kurt Suzuki.


Of all the characters Mr. Banderas has played, I thought the mysterious mariachi would make for the best-looking card—especially if it depicted him toting that guitar case.

For the team name, I figured I'd go with Desperados. The playing position is listed as guitarist and vocals. (It reads much better in Spanish next to the player name of "El Mariachi", don't you think?)


I couldn't create a custom card featuring El Mariachi without creating one for the film's leading lady and Mariachi's love interest, Carolina. (She of such beauty that she caused a fender bender just by walking across an intersection.)

In the film, Carolina owned and operated a book shop. La librera translates to "the book seller".

There were many stunning images of Carolina (Salma Hayek) to choose from online, but this one was top of the list for me. I suppose I could create even more cards using some of the other photos. I mean, remember those Donruss sets of the 1970s and 1980s that featured individual TV shows or films? If they'd created a set for Desperado, there would have easily have been 7 or 8 cards of Carolina in the set to collect. Maybe a sticker, too.

Project for another day. 

For now, I hope you've enjoyed these three custom cards. Thanks for reading, as always. 

If the information and custom cards in this post have piqued your interest in Desperado, please note that there are a number of rather graphic scenes in the film that involve guns and violence. I'm not a fan of that kind of thing, and if you're not either, consider this a warning/disclaimer.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Completed Set: 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey

Even as a young collector in 1990, I was kind of a traditionalist. I'd mainly collected Topps cards throughout my short existence to that point, and I enjoyed the brand over others like Donruss, Fleer, and Score, right down to the type of cardboard that Topps had always used. 
So, the thing I remember most when I opened those first packs of Upper Deck cards (baseball in 1989 and then hockey in 1990-91) was feeling unimpressed. And a bit critical. 
"The cards feel flimsy", I can almost hear my young self exclaim.  
"There's a hologram on the back, big whoop", I might have also muttered. 
Well, I must have gotten over that initial reaction, because I opened a whole bunch of hockey packs that year and came pretty close to completing the set. And I'm sure soon enough I began to appreciate the other aspects of Upper Deck's first try at hockey. After all, the extra full-length photo on the back of each card was cool. 
And the photography on the front?


The company seemed to understand that hockey was a dynamic, action-packed sport. "Go nuts", they must have told their photographers.


Granted, there are still headshots. (These guys don't look too happy about that.)


And some "standing around during warmups" shots.

And face-off shots. (Two Miracle on Ice teammates are squaring off in that middle card, look.)


But even those seem to be better than standard. Besides, in a set of 550 cards (400 in the low number series and 150 in the high numbers), you need some of those. 
So let's get back to the gems.
Quite a few cards capture the battle for position and fight for every inch of space that's an integral part of the game of hockey.


And Upper Deck managed to sneak some rough stuff into the set, with a bloodied Basil McRae yapping at an opponent across the penalty boxes, and Bob Probert sporting some wounds from a recent battle. Even goalie Rick Tabaracci got into the action!


There are also some great goal celebrations

As well as some interesting camera angles.


Another thing Upper Deck seemed to realize about hockey right from the start is that goalies were separate-but-cool creatures who needed to be captured in their element.

As was fitting for the time, this set also contains numerous subsets. 
There were the All-Stars.


And the Award Winners. (Because who didn't want a few extra cards of superstars in tuxedos, I guess?) 

There was also a nice "Heroes" subset, featuring legends of the game who'd participated in the all-star festivities that season.


Then there were the rookies. 
First, Upper Deck decided to set some of the new guys apart with a "Star Rookie" label. They received a special logo on the bottom right in place of a team logo, along with a little blurb on the card backs.

Next, to show they were really cashing in on the rookie craze, Upper Deck created a separate "All-Rookie Team" subset, with yet another special logo at the bottom right and an even longer write-up on the card backs. There were only six players in this subset: three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie.

Oh, and don't forget the First-Round Draft Pick cards. The top ten picks were included here.


Then there was a subset commemorating the Canadian National Junior Team, which took the gold medal at the 1991 World Junior Championships.

And perhaps most recognizable, even to modern collectors, the Young Guns.

I'd forgotten that Young Guns were a thing from the very beginning! It's pretty cool that Upper Deck is still running the subset to this day (although they took a few years off here and there). Even more impressive is just how popular the feature has become.
Aside from the studs shown above, the 1990-91 Upper Deck set has a stellar rookie class. Look here:

Along with those three, you've got Alexander Mogilny, Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, Mats Sundin, Scott Niedermayer, and Peter Bondra, to name a few.

Oh, and don't forget the team checklists, which contained some pretty impressive artwork on the front. 

By now you can see that there were many, many great cards in the 1990-91 Upper Deck set. Just imagine being a kid back then, opening a pack, and finding some of the beauties above in your hands.
But wait, there's more!
The full-length images on the card backs weren't just a novelty, meant to take up space or set a trend. Some great photography can be found there, as well.

Just like on the card fronts, there were goal celebrations.


Upper Deck sneaked in some rough stuff on the backs, too.

But they also made sure to let us know that the referees would be there to break it up.


 The horizontal images were great for capturing hockey action.


And more excellent goalie photos.


And finally, here's a victorious, happy team partaking in a high-five, plus a card front featuring Mr. Frank J. Zamboni.


It's hard to believe 30 years have gone by since Upper Deck jumped into hockey. But taking a look back at it now—having finally completed the entire set of low and high numbers—has been a lot of fun. Maybe I'll buy a couple of foil-wrapped packs and open them to recreate the full experience.
Do any of you hockey collectors have memories of this set and the buzz it generated back in 1990? 
Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Look 'N See, Times Three

A couple of years ago, I discovered a cool little set of cards put out by Topps way back in 1952 called Look 'N See. The 135 cards in the set feature famous authors, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, and more. Some were contemporary at the time. Many others were from history.

Quickly I found one of my favorite authors, Jules Verne, and snatched up his card for a bargain. 

A year and a half later, I grabbed a card featuring Samuel Morse, as it brought back a great childhood memory involving my grandfather. 
Recently I looked through the checklist again and found three more cards I thought I'd like to add to my collection. Even better, after a search on eBay, I found all three being offered by the same seller—and for just a few dollars each.
Now, these three cards don't quite qualify for Favorites Box entry like the first two, but I did purchase them for various reasons of admiration that I'll describe here.
First up is American author Washington Irving. Fond memories of reading his stories go all the way back to my childhood. Many folks are familiar with his works like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle". I'd also highly recommend a collection of short stories called Tales of the Alhambra
Another reason I like this guy is that he's a native New Yorker like me, and that I currently live on the Hudson River, not too far from the actual village of Sleepy Hollow (yep, it's an actual place) and another town called Irvington, named after the author himself.
Notice the question on the back: What character who slept for 20 years was created by Washington Irving?

Here's the decoded message, done by placing a digital version of red cellophane paper on top of the card back.

Next up is the incredible Isaac Newton. I admire this man for the sheer width and breadth of his knowledge and brilliance. Science, mathematics, optics, gravitation, laws of motion, you name it. He was also quite a philosopher and even delved deeply into the Bible, citing, for example, how the stars and planets—as precisely as they moved about the solar system under the law of universal gravitation—could not have been placed in their orbits without the help of some intelligent creator.

The question on the back of his card: What led Newton to discover the laws of gravity? 
And here's the decoded message.

And finally, we've got Wilbur Wright. More nostalgia factor here, specifically involving the field of aviation. I grew up on Long Island, very close to the famous airstrip that was used not only by Amelia Earhart, but also by Charles Lindbergh when he began his remarkable trans-Atlantic flight in The Spirit of St. Louis. (Lindbergh has a card in this set as well, but it can be a bit pricey.)
The little town in which I grew up even has a few streets named after pioneers of the field like Curtiss, Lansdowne, Lindbergh, and Wright. In addition, a couple of towns away there are some wartime-era airplane hangars that have since been converted into The Cradle of Aviation Museum. Lots of cool exhibits there, especially if you're an airplane/spaceflight buff.

The question here: How long did the first flight of an airplane last?
And here's the decoded message. 

Brother Orville didn't receive a card in the set, but maybe that's him running exuberantly after the plane.
I've really enjoyed adding these Look 'N See cards to my collection. Not only are they some of the oldest I own, but they've been more than affordable so far. On top of that, they feature some great luminaries from history. And on top of that, I get to do some cool secret agent–style decoding work for each card. That's a win-win-win-win.
Thanks for reading, as always.