Friday, December 19, 2014

End-of-the-Year Sci-Fi Movie Reviews - "Parts Per Billion"

Last year around this time I found myself watching a bunch of relatively new but not very good science fiction movies on Netflix. I wrote reviews of them on the blog. Since there isn't much going on in baseball cards at this time of the year, I thought I'd do the same this year.

Our first feature is "Parts Per Billion", a direct to rental, released in May of 2014.
The movie follows the fate of three couples, Erik and Annie (top row), Len and Mia (middle row) and Andy and Esther (bottom row) as a biological agent is used in the Middle East.  It has a pretty well known, including Frank Langella, Gena Rowlands, Rosario Dawson and Josh Hartnett. The phrase "parts per billion" is used twice in the movie, which hardly seems like a reason to use it as the title.

The movie opens with Erik, a musician, noodling on his guitar while his girl friend Anna is watching faux CNN on her laptop.  Scenes of Erik and Anna arguing about dirty dishes, going to dinner, meeting an old girl friend of Erik's are inter-spaced with news flashes concerning first the rumors of biological warfare, the denial by everyone involved, and people dropping dead in the street. At first the US looks safe but, according to one newscaster, the "trade winds" are blowing the pathogen across Europe.

Here's the first, for me, real problem with the movie. In the northern hemisphere, the trade winds are called the "westerlies" because they blow from the west. This movie would have you believe the westerlies blow toward the west. A minor error perhaps but the entire movie relies on the pathogen reaching the US East Coast relatively quickly. If the movie had been more engaging, I'd care less about this.

The movie jumps from current time scenes, like the one described above, to flashbacks presented in confusing order and, at least in the beginning, no awareness for the viewer that a flashback is happening. Through these flashbacks we learn that these three couples are connected, although that connection ultimately does not matter.

Andy is the original inventor of the pathogen although he claims to believe he didn't know if it's potential use as a weapon. This brought much money to Andy. Erik is Andy's grandson, who was only born as a result of Andy's ill-gotten wealth keeping his daughter, who had some unnamed disease, alive long enough for Andy to be born. Mia is Andy's lawyer. He's being sued for disclosing trade secrets of the company that developed the pathogen from Andy's work. It's through this connection we learn that Andy was sorry he'd ever worked on the project. Mia has to practically slap him in the face to keep him focused.

The flashbacks for each couple intermingle with each other and with the present scenes. Erik and Anna, seem to take no precautions for the pending disaster, even though Anna was pretty worried about it in the beginning of the movie. Andy and Esther were in the hospital due to an apparent Esther heart-attack. As people in the hospital are dropping like flies, Andy has rustled up some small oxygen canisters to keep he and his wife alive. He tells Esther that the pathogen is only deadly above a concentration in the air of 30 parts per billion and that after 8 days the pathogen will expire (or something). Len and Mia, who apparently had miles of plastic sheeting in their house, have sealed up all the windows and doors and prepare to wait out the 8 days in the basement. They hear on the radio, apparently the last thing before the radio dies, that it's 45 parts per billion they have to worry about.

That this wasn't a very good movie wasn't for lack of trying. There are some good actors in this and I'd say that the acting was pretty credible. But ultimately these people weren't very interesting and all the effort that went into tying their stories together meant noting.

By the end of the movie, they may all be dead. Erik and Anna who spent the last few minutes of their life making love sure look dead. Andy and Esther, after having made a trek from the hospital they were in to another hospital looking for more oxygen, go out on the hospital lawn and take off their oxygen masks (which probably weren't protecting them anyway) and gaze expectantly into the sky. Len and Mia, who seem to have the best chance to survive, get into an argument over if they should do the 'Adam and Eve' thing. On the second or maybe third day of their hiding, Mia wants out. Len begs her to stay. The last we see of them is Mia on the basement stairs with Len on his knees begging.

Throughout the movie, Anna was having visions (or psychotic breaks) where she was seeing a young blond girl running barefoot through he woods wearing a white shift and a necklace of flowers.  Since Anna is blond, I thought it was some childhood memory. The last scene has the little girl running down to a river where a woman, also dressed in a white shift, is apparently about to clean some clothes in the river. The little girl shows what she found in the woods - Anna's engagement ring.

Make of this what you will.

Two interesting facts about the movie. One, it was filmed in Detroit. The State of Michigan granted the film company about $300,000 in state tax incentives. It was never made clear where the story was taking place and the director seemed to be taking pains to not reveal it was Detroit. A local may have known. The second fact is that the movie had 16 executive producers, including actor Dennis Hopper, who died 4 years ago.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do you know Chad Gaudin?

I can't claim to know him either, but I believe he may be the player who has appeared on more Topps Traded and Update cards than any other. I make that claim pretty lightly and without a lot of research.

I recently pulled his 2012 Topps Update card from a repack. As I was cataloging it I noticed that I had 9 cards of his and that most of them were either Topps Traded or Topps Update.  We all know players who move around a lot. These tend to be marginal players who didn't appear on a lot of cards.

A former Phillie, Terry Mulholland, is a guy with a 20-year career who changed teams about 13 times between 1986 and 2006. Yet (according to he only appeared on 3 Topps Traded cards. Chad had an 11-year career between 2003 and 2013 and played for 9 different teams. He appeared on 6 Topps Traded or Topps Update cards. I've got 5 of them.

2004 Topps Traded #106
Gaudin was the Devil Rays 34th round pick in 2001. He made his major league debut with the Rays on 8/1/03. He appeared in 26 games for the Rays in 2004 and spent some of the year in the minors.

In December 2004 he was traded to the Blue Jays and spent 2005 with the Jays splitting time between the majors and minors. All his 2005 cards (pretty much all Donruss sets and Topps Total) have him as a Devil Ray.

In December 2005 he was traded to the A's. He spent 2006 and 2007 with the A's. 2007 was his best year when he was 11-13 in 34 starts with an ERA of 4.42.  He doesn't appear on any cards in 2006 except some minor league issues.

2007 Topps Update #126

This is the one I'm missing. His 2007 Traded card shows him with the A's.

2008 Topps Update Gold Border #85
In July 2008 he as traded to the Cubs where he went 4-2. 

2009 Topps Update #208
In April 2009 he was released by the Cubs and signed by the Padres where he was 4-10 with an ERA of 5.13. The Yankees must have saw something in him, or had a very specific need because they bought him from the Padres in August 2009. He was 2-0 for the Yankees.

In March 2010 he was released by the Yankees and picked up again by the A's. The A's released him in May and the Yankees resigned him. He was a combined 1-4 with a 5.65 ERA in 46 appearances, but no starts.

He was a free agent in November 2010 and the Nationals signed him in December 2010. He was 1-1 with the Nationals before being released in July. The Blue Jays picked him up again in August but only pitched in the minors. He was a free agent again in November 2011.

He appeared on no baseball cards in 2010 and 2011.

2012 Topps Update #252
He signed with the Marlins in January 2012. He was 4-2 in 46 relief appearances for the Marlins. He was a free agent again in October.

2013 Topps Update #86
The Giants picked him up in December 2012 and he was 5-2 in 42 appearances (including 12 starts) in 2013. Topps Update was the only set he appeared in in 2014.

The Phillies signed him in January 2014 but released him in February when he failed a physical. He did not appear on any 2014 cards and did not play for a minor league team in 2014 so it appears he is out of baseball.

In his 11-year career Gaudin was 45-44 with 87 starts and 344 relief appearances. He had 2 saves and a career ERA of 4.44. His career salary was $7.4 million. A well-travelled career but I think any pitcher who can leave after 11 years with a winning record has done a good job.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Edgar Martinez Award

You probably knew there was an Edgar Martinez Award. I didn't. Because I'm a National League kind of guy, maybe an award for the designated hitter of the year didn't crack my consciousness. The Designated Hitter of the Year Award was renamed the Edgar Martinez Award in 2004.  The Award has been given out since 1973.  Here are some past winners.

David Ortiz (2014 Stadium Club)

 Ortiz has won the award 7 times. They may have to rename the the award. He's won the award in 2013 (.309, 30 HR), 2011 (.309, 28 HR), 2007 (.332, 35 HR), 2006 (.287, 54 HR), 2005 (.300, 47 HR), 2004 (.301, 44 HR), 2003 (.288, 31 HR). With a .263 average with 38 HR in 2014, he's got to be in the running to win it again.

Billy Butler (2012 Topps Chrome)
Butler wrested the award away from Ortiz in 2012 with a .313 average and 29 home runs.

Vladimir Guerrero (2010 Topps National Chicle)
Vlad the Impaler won the award with a .300 average and 29 home runs in 2010. He was also an All-Star that year.

Adam Lind (2009 Topps 206)
Lind won the award in 2009 with the best year of his career. He had a .305 average and hit 35 Home runs.

Aubrey Huff (2008 Topps Opening Day)
Huff also had a career year to win the award in 2008. He hit 34 home runs with a .304 average.

Ellis Burks (2002 Fleer Tradition Update)
Ellis Burks had a pretty good career, primarily as an outfielder, but spent the last few years of his career as a DH. In 2002 he had a batting average of .301 with 32 home runs, good enough to win the award.

Edgar Martinez (2001 Topps Fusion)
Martinez won the last of his 5 Designated Hitter of the Year Awards in 2001 with a .306 average and 28 home runs. His previous winning seasons were 2000 (.324 and 47 HR), 1998 (.322 and 29), 1997 (.330 and 28), and 1995 (.356 and 29).

Rafael Palmeiro (1999 Pacific Prism Holographic Gold)
Although Edgar Martinez also had a pretty good year in 1999, at least as good as his other winning seasons, Palmeiro had a better one with a .324 BA and 47 home runs.

Paul Molitor (1993 Pinnacle Cooperstown)
Molitor won the award twice, in 1996 with a .341 batting average and 9 home runs. He lead the league that year with 225 hits. He also won in 1993 with a .322 average and 22 home runs

There doesn't seem to have been a winner for 1994.

Dave Winfield (1992 Ultra)
Dave Winfield is another guy who significantly extended his career as a DH. His .290 BA and 26 home runs got him the award in 1992.

Chili Davis (1991 Upper Deck)
A .277 average and 29 home runs made Davis the best designated hitter of 1991.

Dave Parker (1990 Classic Yellow)
Parker won the award in consecutive years with two different teams. In 1989 he hit .264 with 22 home runs for the A's. In 1990 he .289 with 21 home runs for the Brewers.

Harold Baines (1987 Donruss)
Baines won the award in consecutive years in his last two full years with the White Sox, 1987 (.293, 20) and 1988 (.277, 13).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Youngest players with cards in 2014

This is a post I do every year around this time. I guess the youngest players aren't really any younger than kids in past years, it just seems that way from this old timer's perspective. I've only included players for whom I have 2014 cards.

2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects #20 Leonardo Molina
Born on August 1, 1997, this kid really is young. He was signed last year by the Yankees when he was 16. He's an outfielder who hit .193 in 53 games in the Yankees Rookie team in 2014.

2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects #32 Lewis Thorpe
born on November 2, 1995, Thorpe, the next youngest player is almost 2 full years older than Molina. If he makes it to the majors, he'll be one of a small group of players born in Australia. In his second professional season, Thorpe made it to Single A where he was 3-2 with and ERA of 2.96. Unfortunately, at the end of the 2014 season he was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow. Tommy John surgery could be in his future.

2014 Bowman Prospects Purple Wendell Rijo
 Born: September 4, 1995. In his second year, Rijo played 111 games, hit .254 and had 9 home runs for the Greenville Drive, a Single A affiliate of the Red Sox. 

2014 Bowman Platinum Chrome Prospects Refractors #21 Raul Mondesi 
 Born: July 27, 1995. If his name sounds familiar it's because he is the son of former major leaguer Raul Mondesi. Pre-2014 he was the #47 rated prospect by Baseball America. He only hit .211 for the Wilmington Blue Rocks Single A+ team in the Royals system, although he also hit 12 home runs.

2014 Bowman Prospects #46 Jamie Westbrook
 Born: June 18, 1995. Westbrook was the Diamondbacks #5 draft pick in 2013. He hit .256 with 10 home runs for the South Bend Silver Hawks. 

2014 Bowman Prospects #59 Tucker Neuhaus
 Born: June 18, 1995. The Brewers #2 draft pick in 2013, Neuhaus hit .233 for the Helena Brewers, the Brewers Rookie level team. The name, Tucker Neuhaus has a nice ring to it.

2014 Bowman Platinum Prospects #89 Christian Arroyo
 Born: May 30, 1995. Arroyo played for the United States national baseball team at the 2013 18U Baseball World Cup, where he was the MVP of the tournament and helped the US win gold. The Giants made him their 1st round draft pick in 2013. Arroyo struggled for the Augusta GreenJackets Single A team, hitting just .203 in 31 games. The Giants moved him down to the Single A- Salem-Kiezer Volcanoes where he hit .333 for the rest of the 2014 season. 

2014 Bowman Platinum Chrome Prospects Purple Refractors #39 Austin Meadows
 Born: May 3, 1995. Another 2013 1st round draft pick, this time by the Pirates. The Pirates moved him up to the Single A West Virginia Power where he hit .322. Before the season Baseball America rated him the #49 prospect. The Pirates signed him for $3,029,600. 19 years old and he's already made more money than I've made in my entire life. Good luck to him.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The best of the rest from that repack

Last week I made a post about 3 cards I pulled from a recent repack I had bought. There were 100 cards in the box and I needed 42 of them. That's a pretty good ratio. Of course most of them were just cards to fill in holes in various sets and nothing special. But I believe every cards is special in it's own way. Since I know most of you may not agree with that, I'm just going to post some of the cards that a just a bit more special than the rest.

1978 Topps #244 Expos
I have almost no cards from 1978 Topps that aren't Phillies so a team photo/checklist card is special. The card has some creases but still worth keeping.

1979 Topps #646 Rick Sweet
I'm gonna just go ahead and say it, "What a sweet card!"

1988 Topps #388 Wade Boggs
I'm pretty near to completing the 1988 Topps set through repacks so it was nice to pull this card that I needed. I always like the 1988 All-Star cards.

1989 Upper Deck #438 Bob Walk
A two-fer. A 1989 Upper Deck card I needed and Bob Walk (no relation although I did have an uncle named Bob Walk).

1991 Stadium Club #258 Kenny Rogers
A 1991 Stadium Club card I needed. Too bad it's got some condition issues. This is a sour reminder that The Night Owl beat me to a post I'd been thinking about making.

1992 Donruss Coke Ryan #15 Nolan Ryan
This was a 26-card set honoring Nolan Ryan, available with Coke products in 1992. It uses the 1992 Donruss base card for the design. Although I never got one of these in 1992, I did pick up from a local store a poster featuring all the cards. I wish I knew what happened to that.

1994 Upper Deck Minors #190 Steve Gibralter
 This guy didn't have much of a career but it wasn't for being afraid to get his uniform dirty.

2010 Topps 206 Bronze #2 Willie Stargell
In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a WIllie Stargell card.