Category Archives: Stanford

Stanford Project

While focusing on Giants team sets is something I foresaw when I felt myself being pulled back into the hobby, I quickly found that I was interested in anther project—namely collecting cards of Stanford Alumni.

Stanford was the local college team I grew up with and is my alma mater. I used to love going to games and getting autographs from the players. I only stopped when I became a teenager and the age difference started to feel too close.  I realized that there was a high probability of my going to a different college and so I figured continuing to be a Stanford fanboy wasn’t the wisest course of action. When I did get in and attend Stanford, it just felt weird to treat classmates that way. And then once I got older than the players it felt even weirder.

Getting back into card collecting made me realize that searching for cards of the guys I went to school with would be a fun project that could help me get more acquainted with the baseball card landscape that I missed after I quit in 1994. Since I’ve got all of 1987–1993 covered as well as a decent amount of 1986 and 1994, I also figured that I may as well include the guys who played before 1986 as well. So I put together a list and have even received some maildays already as a result.

I’m concentrating on Topps (and 1948–1955 Bowman) as the cards of record here. I’m not against or excluding cards from other brands, it’s just that they’ve often had their own distinct niches and I don’t feel like growing the wantlist that much yet.

Also, any players who predate 1948 Bowman are outside the scope of this due to there not being a proper card of record then. Though yes, getting a Bert Delmas Obak card* or an Ernie Nevers Zeenut card would be awesome even though they’re not even Major League cards.**

*Such as the one at The Met.

**I do have the Conlon Collection Nevers card however.

I’m also focusing on distinct Stanford people which is why I haven’t included Bobby Brown (despite him being in the Stanford Hall of Fame). It’s not just that his cards are a bit more spendy because they carry the Yankees surcharge. He also only played for Stanford for one year and ended up playing for two more schools before he went pro.

And there’s a grey area of baseball guys who went into football (Elway, Lynch, Hutchinson, Gerhart, Gaffney) which I should think about. I wouldn’t want a complete set of football cards of these guys but including a few of them might be fun.

Anyway, I figured it would be fun to start this project off by getting cards from the 1950s. This is a decade from which I had zero cards when I was a kid and so I get a little giddy still when I handle any of these. Also, there appear to be only four guys on the list who played in the 1950s. I bought three of them but decided to leave Chuck Essegian for the 1960s.

Lloyd Merriman

Lloyd Merriman 1950 Bowman Lloyd Merriman 1950 Bowman
Lloyd Merriman 1951 Bowman Lloyd Merriman 1951 Bowman
Lloyd Merriman 1953 Bowman Lloyd Merriman 1952 Bowman
Lloyd Merriman 1955 Bowman Lloyd Merriman 1955 Bowman

I’ve been a Topps only guy for ages so these are also the first vintage Bowman cards I’ve ever had. They’re fun. Printing is nice. It’s interesting to see how different the backs are compared to what I’m used to from Topps. I particularly love how the backs specifically mention Stanford—especially because these stem from a time before Stanford had become the academic powerhouse it is today.

Lloyd Merriman is also a nice throwback to when players routinely went off and did other things. That he was away in the military for a few years explains the gap between his 1952 and 1955 card. I’m a bit sad that I didn’t have an excuse to get a 1953 Bowman card but I’ll figure one out eventually.

Jack Shepard

Jack Shepard 1955 Topps
Jack Shepard 1955 Topps

Jack Shepard is an other example of a player doing more than just baseball. He continued his education in the offseason while he was playing pro ball and ended up going into business instead. As a result he has only one Topps card from his career.

Dave Melton

Dave Melton 1958 Topps Dave Melton 1958 Topps

Dave Melton on the other hand only played a dozen games in the big leages and spent most of his career bouncing around the Pacific Coast League. I do enjoy though that this card does double duty as both a Stanford Alumni card and as a sample of the Kansas City Athletics project I mentioned last week.

Anyway I wrote this post a while ago* and I’ve since acquired a bunch more Stanford Alumni cards. Many of them are more-recent players as I’ve been using this project as a method of catching up on the 1995–2016 baseball card landscape that I missed when I was away from the hobby. But I’m also gradually filling in the 1960s and 1970s guys and hope to be able to put together more posts like this as the project progresses.

*I blog in spurts and schedule them out well in advance.


Mailday from @mjpmke

A great mailday from Matt Prigge (@mjpmke) which manages to hit a bunch of different projects I’m working on. Matt’s a Brewers fan whose All-time Brewers project seemed daunting until I found out about his Brewers Autograph Project. He also has some cool history writing about Milwaukee.

This is one of those rare cards which satisfies two projects at once. This fills a hole in my 1974 Giants but it’s also a record of the Padres aborted move to Washington DC. I’ve been sort of working on a moves/expansion project for a while now and the 1974 Washington cards are a key part of that.

I’m also working on a project of Stanford Alumni. I’ve not gone after any of the cards from after I stopped collecting in 1994 so this stack is fantastic. It’s a good mix of players like Sprague and Hinch who I collected (and chased autographs) when I was still a kid and players like Lowrie and Storen who I’m older than and would’ve felt really weird about trying to get their signatures.

Some Junk Wax Giants, most of which I’m pretty sure I don’t have. 1988 Donruss is one of those sets which, as nostalgia-inducing as it is, looks worse and worse each year. 1990 Donruss and 1990 Fleer though are growing on me. I love the Topps Gold Righetti card and that Upper Deck Triple Crown subset is also brand new to me.

And a half dozen holiday cards. I have to admit that these confuse me greatly. Googling suggests this was a Walmart exclusive set released around Christmastime. The idea of replacing the smoke effect in 2016 Topps with snowflakes is mighty weird. Baseball is, after all, a summer game so the resulting look was never going to make sense.

For some reason though I find myself kind of liking these. I don’t know, maybe the holiday tackarama hits a different sort of feel for me. Yes I think they’re stupid but they’re kind of gloriously self-aware and embracing of the stupidity. The only thing that could have made things better was replacing all the caps with Santa hats. Maybe that’s what we’ll get this winter.

Anyway thanks Matt! I’ve got a handful of 1975s I need to send your way in return.

Junk Wax

When I was a kid I lived off of cheap packs of common baseball cards. I didn’t have the budget for buying old packs* so instead I saved up for the packs of random commons which always seemed to have fallen off the racks at Toys-R-Us. The majority of these packs were 1985 or later but they always had a handful of cards going back to around 1979. It was always exciting to discover which old cards I got—to a 10-year-old kid anything five years old was old—and the idea that I could find a card which was almost as old as I was was especially exciting.

*Old in this case being anything before 1987.

A week or so ago I was at the Dollar Store and I noticed they were selling packs of 30 random baseball cards. Of course I bought one. When I opened it up at home I was surprised and pleased to find that it was just like I remembered.

Almost literally.

Around a fourth (eight of the 30 cards) of the pack were new-to-me post-1994 releases. But the rest were an assortment of cards which I could’ve discovered 25 years ago. Twenty from the peak junk wax era (1986–1992) which made up most of my collecting and two from 1983. I still got excited to find the 1983 cards.

So the next time I was in the area I bought a handful of packs.* They were even better. This time I got cards going back to 1981. How cool is it for a kid, for just a buck, to be able to buy a pack of cards which comes with cards that are over three decades old? I can’t imagine. Anything in the 1960s was basically untouchable for me—my goal as a kid was to have one, just one card from each year. And pre-1960? Forget about it. Not possible. Not even conceivable.**

*What can I say, I’m in a pack-buying mood right now.

*Yes I know this isn’t a fair comparison but from a kid’s point of view there’s something compelling about old that “rare” can’t come close to.

And yeah, seeing all those old cards with their mid-1980s logos and uniforms—especially the old Twins and the elb Expos logos—made me think of and remember all kinds of things.


It surprised me how the players I liked when I was a kid are the cards I still get excited to see in a pack. Whether it’s a purely-local favorite like Jose Uribe, whose name every Giants fan from the late 80s chanted whenever he made a good play or came up to bat. Or Scott Garrelts, our closer-turned-starter whose almost-no-hitter is still one of the games I remember distinctly 27 years later.

Or the stars of the team who I ended up liking even after they left the Giants. Jeffrey Leonard was The Man when I first became a fan. Our power hitter with the special one-flap-down home run trot and the double-zero jersey who was my first favorite player. I love how you can see in the card that he kept the 00 on the Brewers.

And Will Clark was a rookie the year I first started paying attention but he quickly became The Thrill, the player we all loved and sang Happy Birthday to at spring training. I coveted his jersey when I was a kid. I’m still giddily happy to have a throwback version of it now. And every time I wear it I get comments from other fans my age about how he’s still their favorite player too.


I used to look forward to the Stanford Baseball Alumni game every year. I’d collect baseball cards from Stanford alumni and cross my fingers that they’d show up each January. This meant that I also used to be on alert for their cards in every pack or set that I acquired.

It turns out that those instincts are still there. When I came across Mike Aldrete and Al Osuna, I found myself realizing that I was comparing every card against my Stanford Alumni checklist. It’s a pretty random group of names which I’m surprised I still remember.

Mike Aldrete was the first autograph I got in the field. I had no idea what I was doing. Wrong kind of pen, way overawed and nervous, put the card away before the ink dried, etc. etc.  I’ve still got the card somewhere (1987 Topps) and I should dig it up to see if it’s as bad as I remember. I enjoyed that he played for the Giants in addition to being a Stanford guy as it felt like I was killing two birds with one stone by getting his signature.

The Al Osuna rookie card on the other hand reminds me of one of the things I did—and do—love about rookie cards. When getting autographs, especially at Stanford, it was always a treat to have a player’s first baseball card ever. Getting your own card is a tangible sign of having made it to The Show and it was apparent to me how much the players enjoyed seeing them at the alumni game.


I totally forgot about these. I didn’t even recognize them at first when I came across them in the packs. I had to let the Leaf name sort of percolate through my brain for a while before I remembered why it was different from the mainline Donruss set.

It was always exciting to find a random Canadian penny or quarter. It was just as exciting to find a random Canadian baseball card. That Donruss had a parallel Leaf edition of their cards was a little weird* in the same way that Dreyers/Edys and Oroweat/Arnold still kind of weirds me out. But I loved the dual-language backs and the idea that there were “foreign” cards which featured the same players I was collecting.

*This got weirder when Leaf became Donruss’s upmarket card brand.

Also, while I know Topps had the O-Pee-Chee Canadian cards I can’t recall ever running across them. Part of me feels like I must have encountered one of them at some point. But even with the prodding of the Leaf cards nothing comes to mind. Maybe Leaf was more common in California? Or maybe, because I collected Topps sets I wasn’t as tuned in checking for the O-Pee-Chee logo.

Dave Magadan

Sometimes a single card triggers a lot of memories. The Dave Magadan Future Stars card is one of the first cards I specifically remember getting. I’m pretty sure it’s because of that Future Stars label which I must have taken at face value in a “Look mom he’s going to be a star!” kind of way. But I remember pulling it out of  the pack and treating it as something special.

Looking at the card now and I suspect that a lot of the appeal was also in how the card itself is representative of the best of Topps photography. It’s not necessarily a great photo, but it’s the kind of photo that makes a great baseball card. Decent light, bright sunny day, a sense of the location where the photo was taken, and a clear view of the player’s face.

What‘s funniest now is that despite this card being something that caught my attention as a young collector, I paid literally no attention to the rest of Magadan’s career. Yes he never became a star but he did have a decent career—sixteen seasons, an MVP vote in his best year—even if he never became an established starter.

Turn back the clock and team leaders

I’d totally forgotten about these too. The Team Leaders cards are like the Future Stars cards in how I remember enjoying finding them. I still like them from a nostalgia point of view but the cards themselves are a horrible mashup of design elements.

The Team Leaders card also reminded me of the Topps Minis—another set I’d completely forgotten—which used the same design to feature the individual team leaders.

The Turn Back the Clock cards though I never liked. Yes it was nice to see the old cards, but having baseball cards with pictures of baseball cards on them still confuses me. Pairing 1962 with 1987 at least looks sort of okay, but most of the times the designs clash horribly and the weird drop shadow on the card and the T is just awful.

Topps backs

I always preferred the backs of Topps cards to the other brands. It’s not just that all the major league stats were on there, Topps was very generous in including minor league stats. It was rare to come across a card with fewer than five seasons on the back and in addition to finding cards with the oldest stat lines, I also just compared stats and learned about where minor league affiliates were located.

Of all the statistics though I remember being most infatuated with Game-winning RBIs. It’s an admittedly awful stat* but the apparent simplicity of it combined with the way that Topps always listed them in their own line at the bottom of the table made it the stat I compared the most between cards.

*I’m not alone in wondering why hasn’t its awfulness destroyed our trust of pitching Win-Loss records.

It’s such a compelling thing. Who won the most games? Who’s won the most games in a career?

As a kid, where “you lost the game” is the ultimate post-game insult, the idea that you could quantify those things suggests a magic wand to settle all playground arguments forever.

Donruss backs

Donruss’s backs also had full stat lines but the fact that they always looked the same meant that I ended up kind of ignoring them. The bright colors are nice and I can certainly appreciate not messing with a functional layout.* But being able to recognize what year a card is just by the back design is important. I don’t like having to check a stat line or copyright date and with Donruss that’s what you had to do.

*Not that Topps’s different designs really changed anything either during these years.

Fleer backs

Fleer kind of split the difference between Topps and Donruss. The vertical bars which highlight important stats were Fleer’s trademark look and I appreciate the way that they kept the bars consistent between pitching and batting stats. I’m a little sad that Fleer no longer exists since I’d be curious how they would have changed this look to deal with things like OPS and WAR which have become more important than traditional stats.*

*One thing I neglected to mention in my previous post was how the current Topps backs have OPS and WHIP and WAR on them and it’s nice to see how the statistics on baseball cards have evolved. 

And new things

About a third of the cards were completely new to me. New designs, new sets, new players, new everything. It’s been two dozen years since I stopped collecting and, for everything that feels the same, there’s a whole lot which has changed as well. Most of the new cards are the ones which came out after I stopped collecting. But I was pleasantly surprised to find some cards from my era which I had never seen before

The Swell Baseball Greats cards are one example of this. I didn’t recognize the set. I’d never heard of the set. I didn’t even know about the brand of gum. Looking at the checklist for this set I’m even more confused. It’s a decent list of all-time greats but some of the inclusions—such as the two cards I got—are just bizarre.

The other weird thing about these is that they’re fully-licensed. I collected my fair share of cards which felt like these except someone had airbrushed out the team logos because of licensing reasons. I’d probably like these more if they were like that. Those oddball non-licensed cards are one of the most fun parts of this hobby since they hearken back to the way that cards used to be packaged with food and other product.


I don’t have a lot to say here on top of my previous post except to admit that I’m kind of shocked at how few of these designs do anything for me. Laying them out like this allows me to see the progression toward all action all the time. Some of the most-recent designs are disturbingly close to looking like HDR photographs* too which suggests that Topps has been trying to pump up the intensity in every aspect.

*2015 is especially egregious here.

I can also see that there was a period where Topps really lost its way and I didn’t miss much at all in terms of card design. If most the 1980s—or, well arguably, 1973–1993 with a few exceptions like 1975, 1986, 1987, and 1990—are mostly conservative and trend toward boring, 1994–2010 is mostly a disaster of “I have a computer and glossy finishes and foil stamping but no discipline.”

Yes I like some of the designs in there but on the whole it’s like Topps lost faith in the product and kept trying to distinguish itself in some way. The post-2010 sets* are mostly better so that’s some degree of comfort.

*Except 2015.

It was interesting to see how, once Topps went to white card stock and glossier finishes, that the Stadium Club cards no longer felt as upmarket. The full-bleed photos are still nice but other than that there was nothing distinct about them. Meanwhile there was one Topps Total card which felt like the old-school cards of my youth but I don’t understand the point of that set at all.

Upper Deck

Oh man. I loved Upper Deck as a kid. Great designs. Great photos. Nice coated white card stock. Everything an upmarket set should be. I wish I could’ve afforded more of them.

Looking at the newer Upper Deck cards was super disappointing. All the nice photos have been ruined with computer graphics and effects and, while each card on an individual level still looks kind of cool, as a set they all look kind of the same and generic. Also, from what I can tell on Google, Upper Deck went all-in on the relic card bullshit* to the point where it feels like the regular cards are packaging waste for the special cards.

*The act of cutting up uniforms or equipment for inclusion in a baseball card offends me on multiple levels.

While I’d normally call those special cards inserts, in this case it’s clear that you just paid a ton of money for a pack, always got something “special,” and discarded the rest of the regular cards. Looking into those checklists reveals a bunch of 200-card sets consisting of a mix of stars and rookies. Such a set feels optimized for collector interest, but mine completely evaporated after looking at a bunch of similar checklists where the only difference is what special cards they came packaged with.


Speaking of sets of stars and rookies, I’m not sure I get the idea of any of the Bowman sets. I remember when Topps relaunched the brand and it became the ROOKIESROOKIESROOKIES set. I’ll even admit to kind of liking them at the time. Now though? It looks a lot like Upper Deck’s offerings where there are now a bunch of small 200-card sets which feature the same players over and over again with just different designs.

And I think that’s probably my biggest problem with these sets. I’ve come to like the common cards and recognize that not only is it impossible to get rid of them, dropping 75% of the cards in a set order to get rid of most of the commons results in an awful set.

As a fan it’s not just the star players we like. Every fan I know forms attachments to minor players on their team. Heck, I even started this post by being happy to get random Giants or Stanford players. A set is so much richer by including the complete 25-man roster rather than just the starters or stars.*

*That late-1990s Topps are only ~500 cards and include only a dozen or so players per team makes me very glad I wasn’t collecting during those years.

Fake retro

Which brings me to the fake retro cards. I will readily admit that I would’ve loved these as a kid. But now? Oof. I can’t help but see these as an indictment on the modern card designs.

The Fleer Tradition, Bowman Heritage, and Topps Heritage cards aren’t awful. They at least recognize that it’s not just the card designs which are retro and that, in the age where the base sets are all action photos, posing the players traditionally is just as important. These three designs are also not particularly dated—more generic than anything else—which helps make their updates work acceptably well.

The Fleer and Bowman cards though could still use better uniforms. One of the reasons to reuse the simpler, older designs is because they appeal to baseball’s sense of tradition and nostalgia. The dark batting-pracitice uniforms and the way that colored polyester tends to shine totally ruins the nostalgia effect.

The Topps Heritage card on the other hand—even with a Reds jersey that doesn’t look at all like the vests which the Reds wore in 1966—looks really good because the jersey is traditionally-designed. That there’s no spot for the team logo means that this card design is also a lot more likely to work for all teams.* The only problems are the ® symbol after the REDS,** the Topps Heritage branding,*** and that stupid RC badge.**** And those are all enough to bother me.

*Logo design is one of those areas where super-slick new logos don’t work that well on old-fashioned card designs.


***I understand why this exists but part of the charm of the old card designs is that they aren’t branded.

****Hate, hate, HATE this. There’s no reason for it to be there. At all.

I’d much rather see cards which take the lessons of the older cards with their clean portraits, simple designs, and large photos and create a new set which understands what it is about baseball cards that pulls people into the hobby beyond just collecting rookie cards and short prints.

In other words, do the exact opposite of whatever Topps is doing with the Gypsy Queen cards. Holy. Crap. Those. Are. Awful. I understand the look they’re going for and I’d love to see cards done in a proper old-time style. But good lord it’s like Topps doesn’t trust the old designs at all. Instead of black and white studio photos, we have action photos which have been HDR’d beyond all recognition and then given a pseudo-painted look. Then we have a bunch of graphic design gingerbread trim around it. These are like a bad snapchat filter with too much going on. It’s a shame that these don’t disappear after a few minutes.


On to the random cards. These are from another set where I don’t understand the checklist but reminded me of TCMA cards which I managed to accumulate as a kid without ever really buying any of them. They just showed up in grab bags like this or as starter-sets in a “my first baseball card binder” kind of way. I never knew what to do with those cards either. I didn’t “like” them because they didn’t feel “real.” But I couldn’t help reading and rereading them either.

I think I like them better now. It is indeed nice to see cards of the old guys. I’m glad that these kinds of sets still exist and that kids are still getting a few “who the hell is this” history lessons in their packs.

I got one post-1992 Donruss card. Good lord what happened? Googling shows that the 1994 strike (and the NHL lockout the same year) kind of crippled the company but wow. That I found more pre-1984 cards than post-1994 cards is kind of an amazing drop off.

I laughed out loud when I found a Wizards of the Coast collectible card game card. I’m not surprised that such a set existed. I am curious how they planned to make that game work. With games like Magic or Pokemon, my understanding is that each new set gets added to the previous years’ sets and you keep building and evolving your deck. With baseball this kind of approach seems impossible.

The Bazooka card also made me laugh. I really hope these came with gum and a proper wax pack. I also remembered realizing that buying Bazooka, collecting the comics, and sending those in for a complete set of Topps baseball cards was a more cost-effective way of getting a complete set than buying packs of cards.

And speaking of Donruss’s disappearance. Fleer is basically non-existent too. a bunch of single cards which hint at a bunch of tiered options* none of which feels like a proper mainline set. Googling here suggests that their merger with Skybox kind of killed the brand.

*Fleer Ultra, Fleer Premium, Fleer Focus, and Fleer Tradition.

And that’s probably the weirdest thing about poking through this grab bag. I grew up with Topps, Donruss, and Fleer as the big three. The idea of a Topps-only world was something I couldn’t imagine as a kid. That we’re back in such a world—even with Topps releasing too many parallel products* now—is taking a bit of getting used to.

*From what I can tell: Topps, Topps Heritage, Topps Archives, Bowman, Gypsy Queen, Allen & Ginter, Topps Tribute, Topps Opening Day, and Topps Now.

I’m glad that with all those sets that Topps has a mainline set of around 700 cards where you have a good chance at getting most of the players on your team. We’re still not back to the mid-70s when you had close to 30 cards on the team checklist but things are better than they were in the late 1990s.

Weaning from football

For a while now, I’ve been trying to wean myself from football. This is due to a combination of multiple things.

I hate the way it’s corrupting colleges. The number of teams with lousy graduation rates is embarrassing. The way players are used, essentially for free, is appalling. I’m glad that my school is doing things the right way. But it’s one of very few and I think things are going to get worse before they get any better.

The ongoing concussion/brain injury situations are scary and depressing. Why would anyone let their kid play this sport? How can I watch, let alone root for, an activity which is literally killing its participants. This is not something I want my sons to do. Nor is the behavior anything I want them to model.

The complete lack of interest in any drug testing is astonishing. No one’s asking these questions now. We’ve been aware of the issue for over 40 years. Other sports have, to various degrees, been addressing the issue. Soccer is getting flak in Europe for being too lenient. Baseball is also a bit of a joke. But both of those sports seem to have their houses in much better order than football.

The way football teams are demanding public financing for stadiums or TV deals which then stiff the public is disgusting. Best-case scenario is a dozen games a year at a football stadium. That’s a lot of money to spend for 12 days. It’s not even 25% of the weekends. Yes you can do other things at the stadium. But that involves having to go out and bid on those events. That the public is expected to recoup its costs due to increased business to the area just doesn’t add up. Especially when the teams are raking in the luxury box deals and advertising revenue.

The amount of money and attention lavished on the Super Bowl is obscene. What are we up to, $4 million per advertisement? Craziness. The entire country has a holiday which consists of watching TV for 4 hours and talking about the commercials we’ve seen. What is wrong with us?

I don’t even really like the games anymore. I can appreciate the tactics—in fact, this is really all I still like—but I’m finding that neither the violence or the athleticism is appealing. Besides, most of time during a football game does not involve playing football.

Weaning though is hard work. Football is so engrained into the fabric of America that it’s difficult to not be aware of the NCAA or NFL seasons and top teams. Super Bowl Sunday is, at this point, as legitimate an American Feast Day as Thanksgiving. It’s especially hard if the local teams, my teams, are doing well. In this case, it’s the curse of being a local.

Stanford won the Rose Bowl. And the 49ers went to the Super Bowl. I found it hard not to root for them.  However, I can report progress.

When Stanford won, I was happy, but not the way I used to be. I felt no compulsion to blog about it. I was not worried about the game (one way or another). I did not feel like I had to purchase anything to celebrate. I didn’t even brag about it to anyone.

When the 49ers lost last weekend, I realized that I’ve made even more progress. I was not nervous during the 4th quarter when things got tight. I felt no anger in the loss nor any sadness. I did not even have any of the stomach-punch feeling I’m used to getting as a long-suffering Giants or Barça fan.*

*Not recently for either of those teams but I’m talking about my long-term experiences.

It’s liberating to not care.

I’ll try to stick on this path. I may always have a residual rooting interest but if I don’t feel it in my gut, it’s not a real one. We’ll see what happens when my sons get older though, I fear they may pull me back in.


True to his word, Miguel followed it up with a post which has me thinking a bit both on why I started following Barça as well as the greater implication of what it means to take part in a rivalry.

I’ve told my Barça origin story before but I haven’t been completely honest about it. I’ve always had an affinity toward the underdog and a tendency to avoid the most-popular choices. When I chose to be a Barça fan, it was with the full knowledge that the team I was choosing was somewhat dysfunctional and carried a lot of historical baggage. Yes, it was also a successful big club with big stars, but it wasn’t the big bandwagon club.

This is also due to soccer’s relative unimportance in America at the time. But I really came of age as a fan during the Gaspart years and learned a lot about how the club is expected to sabotoge any success and can break the hearts of its fans in the cruelest ways possible.

Where Real Madrid was the Yankees, Barça was the Red Sox.

While this analogy still holds, it means something completely different now than it did before 2004. I kind of miss the previous world even though I enjoy the current one where the former ne’er-do-well teams are now yearly contenders and the former top dogs have had a long run without ultimate success despite their payrolls.

In short, I miss the Real Madrid from the early 2000s. It was nice to have a rival which I respected and which I knew would approach the game in the correct manner. There were no players I actively hated for how they played the game* and I looked forward to the clásicos even though I was never at all confident of a result.

*The Figo situation was about betrayal, not about playing style. I understand the fan anger but I do not condone the pig tossing and abuse.

It was an honor to be able to call them our rivals and contrasts greatly with the current situation where there is so much bad blood between the players and in the press that it’s almost impossible to stay above the fray. All of us risk getting pulled into the trap of fanaticism and hate and it’s getting to the point where many of us are actively wishing to avoid playing our rival.

It’s not even too much of a good thing. It’s just too much.

Some of my thinking may be helped by the fact that I’m not Catalán and so do not understand the history and hatred which resulted from the Franco years. Barça is not a proxy for any of my politics. But most of my sense of what a proper rivalry is comes from my college years.

Stanford and Cal are rivals, but they don’t hate each other. Not really. The rivalry cuts across all aspects of the universities—sports, Nobel Prizes, Robber Barons, etc.—and most of the people associated with the schools realize that maintaining a rivalry like this requires mutual respect. It’s no great achievement to do better than something which sucks. The quality of your rival should push you to do even better.

Which means that I root for Cal whenever they’re not in direct competition with Stanford and appreciate Cal’s academic achievements since I know that they’ll force Stanford to keep pace.

Where’s the fun in a rivalry dominated by hate and cheating? It’s far more enjoyable to be better because you were pushed to do so.

Sports School

Despite pretty much owning the NACDA Directors’ Cup, that excellence is rooted in the breadth of athletics offered at Stanford. It’s not about being a big-name-sports school. I’ve written about gloryhunting and bandwagoning as they relate to the professional teams I follow. I tolerate stuff like that in professional sports because I know it’s a business and understand that winning is goal number one.

Not so in college. Yet.

With college sports at Stanford, athletes are expected to be students first.* Athletic excellence, especially in the big-name sports, is nice but cannot be relied upon. Alumni appreciate the great teams because of how infrequently they occur. The fundamental weakness to Stanford athletics is that all the stars have to align correctly for greatness to occur.

*And good people second.

Non-alumni and students lucky enough to be undergraduates during a period of greatness often miss this truth. This gets them into trouble.

Expect good coaching and smart players only.

Do not expect athletic excellence. Do not talk trash. Ever.

Fate can always trip you up. Do not assume victory. Ever.

Next year is a completely different class of students who had to be admitted to Stanford on their own merit. This is not large pool of kids. It will be different than this year’s group. It has to be.

If you can’t handle the unknowns and enjoy the few transcendent teams for what they are, don’t even get on the bandwagon.

Well rounded

One of the hardest things about being a sports fan is coming to terms with the larger-picture societal impact of sports and the money pumped into it. This is especially important when it comes to sports and children. While modern society protects children from being exploited by business before they’re old enough to make an informed decision on the matter, we have a curious tendency toward treating the business of sports as exempt from these protections.

In the US, the college athletics system does a decent job at protecting a lot of athletes from being taken advantage of. Most athletes end up in college for four years and the NCAA at least tries to emphasize graduation rates and academic progress as a priority. That we have articles each year decrying and publicizing those programs which have lousy graduation rates also shows the general public awareness and expectations regarding the issue.

All that said, we don’t have many college athletics programs (especially in the sports which generate professional athletes) which are truly excellent academically. So it’s nice when an article praising a college team I support comes out. It’s one thing to support a team. But I get an extra boost of pride knowing that my team is more than a team.

“Every player I have thinks he’s going to be a major league player, but I’ve only had five or six who have made enough money to never have to work again,” Marquess said. “Obviously, we want to go to Omaha and win the national championship.

“But what I tell all our players is I could be the worst coach in the world, and I won’t keep you from being a major leaguer if you’re that good. The thing that I have to make sure happens is they get their Stanford degree. That’s my job and that’s my greatest reward.”

As much as the baseball program is intended to train professional athletes, Stanford realizes that its duty is really to the large percentage of kids who don’t make it to the show.

Which takes me to international soccer. As much as I am a fan of soccer, it has bothered me for a long time that many of the best players become professional around age 17 and that anyone over 25 is borderline old—very different to how US athletes are expected to progress with their professional careers (which start at age 22 once they leave college). I’ve never really understood how the youth programs work and what happens to those kids who are effectively failures by age 20.

I may not have wanted to actually know the answers. There is a whole shadow industry set up to traffic kids to the big soccer teams. It’s especially bad in Africa but it’s clear that the quest for youth from Europe isn’t looking too closely at the source of the youth.

Across Europe and in the Middle East, makeshift soccer “academies” are cropping up, promising to take in promising young African athletes and transform them into world-class players. But these academies are often far from what they seem. The recruiters prey on families who need money, who have worked hard to give their children opportunities, and who believe in the natural talent of their sons.

The system is bad enough that some soccer fans are rethinking how they should invest their fandom. I can see the point. Beyond the emotional investment, we spend a lot of money on jerseys and gear for the teams we support. I have a hard enough time with the Nike swoosh on my jerseys. It’s gutting to think that that may actually be the least-evil of the logos on the shirt.

As a fan of FC Barcelona, the integrity of the youth academy is especially important. La Masia is in many ways the heart and soul of the club. It, its style of play, and that the first team consists of such a large percentage* of trainees is what we take the most pride in. With Barça’s on-field success, there have been dozens of articles about how well La Masia trains soccer players. I’ve finally seen an article about how it treats its residents in non-soccer matters.

*eight of the usual eleven starters. Plus the coach.

I was very pleased to see how similar the point of view is with that of Stanford Baseball.

Interestingly, comparatively little time is spent playing football: training takes around 90 minutes a day, with a 90-minute game at the weekend – half the time, Folguera says, spent by top youth academies in England. The rest is spent on education and a few leisure activities, with the idea being that given about 10 per cent of La Masia make it to the senior team (although another nine per cent play in first division sides worldwide), the years spent there for those fail to make the grade are not wholly wasted.

“One of the things that makes me proudest is that so many of our young players have university educations,” Folguera points out. “In England, when a team selects a young talent, they don’t take care of that side of things. We aren’t just there to teach them football, we’re there to educate them. “From 11 to 18 La Masia is their home, we have to get to know them and teach them, be their family.”

And I felt the same surge of pride when I read that article. Like everyone else, I ended up supporting the teams I do for various non-rational circumstantial reasons. It’s very nice to find out that my trust has not been misplaced. I enjoy being proud of my teams for their behavior both on the field and off of it. It keeps me from treading the dark path toward being a hyperpartisan fanatic.