Feb 29, 2020

Leaping Into History

Hank Aaron
Milwaukee / Atlanta Braves (1954-1974)
Milwaukee Brewers (1975-1976)
The greatest baseball player of all time signed his final contact with the Atlanta Braves on Leap Day 1972.  It was a three year contract worth $600k, and it made Hammerin' Hank the highest paid player in baseball at the time.

Feb 28, 2020

I Ain't Afraid Of No Twinkies

Limited Edition Ghostbusters Twinkies
Hostess (2020)
I haven't been able to find the original source of this photo, but I don't doubt its authenticity.  I worked for a grocery food manufacturer and had the opportunity to work at a trade show, and this looks like the type of cardboard mock-up packaging that companies use to promote a new item before the final product and packaging are ready to ship.  It appears that Hostess had been working on these before the final name of Ghostbusters: Afterlife was chosen for the upcoming film.

So, we have three different Limited Edition Twinkies to look forward to this summer: Original, Fudge Covered, and my all-time favorite flavor - Movie Inspired TBA.  I'm hopeful that they also release a giant sized Twinkie with Egon and Winston on the box with the name "That's A Big Twinkie".

Feb 27, 2020

You Woke Me Up For This!

Photo by: Rodrigo Kunstmann
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - February 13, 2020
A couple hired a birth photographer to capture the earliest moments of their child's life.  They got a little more than they bargained for with this incredible photo of their baby girl angrily staring at the doctor that delivered her.

Feb 26, 2020

McEvocation Kit

Quarter Pounder Scented Candles
McDonalds (2020)
Hey kids... you, too, can summon Ronald McDonald.  Simply draw a pentagram on your kitchen floor and place the ketchup, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame seed bun candles at the points.  Then, sit in the center holding the 100% fresh beef candle.  Light each one, then chant the McDonald's Menu Song and presto!

Feb 24, 2020

Jimmy's Cheesesteak

Sliced Steak & Cheese Hoagie
Jimmy's Quick Lunch - Hazleton, PA
They weren't kidding on the menu.  This had some pretty thick cuts of steak!

Feb 23, 2020

Hostage Negotiations

2009 Phillie Phanatic (left) and the 2020 Phillie Phanatic (right)

Phillie Phanatic
Philadelphia Phillies (2020)
At the end of the 1977 season, the Phillies hired Bonnie Erickson and her husband, Wayde Harrison, to design a new mascot for the team.  They created the Phillie Phanatic, who quickly became one of the most recognizable characters in all of professional sports.  At the time, the team paid $3,900 for the costume and allowed its creators to retain the copyright.

Five years later, Erickson and Harrison accepted an offer to sell the Phillie Phanatic copyright and intellectual property to the Philadelphia Phillies for $215,000.  The contract, which has been published by Sports Illustrated, is dated October 31, 1984 and it states the following:
"(Erickson/Harrison) sells, transfers and assigns to the Phillies all of its rights, title and interest in and to the mascot and in and to all reproductions and portrayals of all or part of the mascot in any medium whatsoever, everywhere and forever."
Fast forward to today: Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison have seller's remorse and they're attempting to back out of the deal that they agreed to in 1984 and shake down the Phillies for more money.  They're demanding millions of dollars to be paid again for something that they have already sold, and the result is that the the Phillies are being drug into court in a fight to defend their rights to property that they've already purchased.  Experts aren't sure which side is going to walk out of court with the rights to the Phanatic.

The Phillies haven't released a public statement on this issue because it's a matter of open litigation.  However, they have introduced a new, redesigned Phanatic today, presumably in an effort to allow the team to continue to use the mascot until the court matter is settled.  I'm not in love with the changes (particularly the weird scale-like things under the arms), but if it allows the team to continue to use what's rightfully theirs, I can live with it.

Good luck to the Phillies and the Phanatic to put this ridiculous issue to rest in court.  Bonnie and Wayde, you can both go to hell.

Feb 22, 2020

Mona's Lunch Break

Mona's Lunch Break
by David N. Corrado
This is hanging on the wall at Jimmy's Quick Lunch in Hazleton.  Notice that Mona has mustard on her face, but she hasn't taken a bite out of the Jummy Dog yet.  I guess no one can stop at just one.

Feb 21, 2020

Hawaiian Spam Lockdown

Spam is in such high demand in Hawaii that it is being stolen by the case and resold on the streets.  Many Hawaiian stores now stock the delicious canned meat in special locked boxes, similar to what is used for displays of electric razors and video games on the mainland.  (Source: Washington Post / Reddit)

Feb 20, 2020

Down On The Farm

This photo of my mother, my maternal grandmother and my dad is from the first half of 1980 when my mother was pregnant with me.  It was taken at the Tom Family Farm in Weatherly, PA.

Feb 19, 2020

You're Living In Your Own Private Riverdale

Archie Meets The B-52s
Archie Comics (2020)
The comic book that you never knew you needed has been released to the public today.  Archie's band has a chance to jam on stage with the B-52s, but they just broke up.  Can he get the band back together in time?  (Spoiler: yeah, probably)

Feb 18, 2020

Dr. Wily Needs A New Pair Of Shoes

Mega Man 2 posters
Capcom (1989)
The top poster was published in the German Club Nintendo magazine.  The bottom was in Nintendo Power magazine in the United States.  I found it kind of funny that the American version only features the villains, with Mega Man nowhere to be seen.

Feb 17, 2020

New Bats In Clearwater

Spring Training is here.  Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater on Wednesday and the rest of the team starts today.  While there are some questions around the diamond that need to be answered this spring, the lineup has pretty much been determined.  However, the bench is another story.  Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Andrew Knapp will be back this spring to compete for a job with Phillies prospects and these nine new members of the organization.

Josh Harrison: The longtime Pirate was the Phillies first free agent acquisition after the end of the 2019 season.  The 32 year old has run into a bit of bad luck with injuries over the past two seasons, but he's a damn good ballplayer.  Harrison is a two-time All-Star and came within an eyelash of winning the 2014 National League batting title.  He spent most of his time at second base, but he's logged a significant number of innings at third base and the corner outfield spots, and has even filled in at shortstop at the major league level (though the latter was many years ago).  He's versatile and a good clubhouse presence, and has the potential to be a sneaky good pickup.

Matt Szczur: This was an interesting pickup.  A quad injury limited Szczur to 44 games last season (all for the Diamondbacks Triple A affiliate Reno Aces), but he had an excellent .322/.309/.577 slashline in 172 plate appearances.  Additionally, he can play all three outfield positions and has traditionally hit well against lefties in five seasons with the Cubs and Padres.  It wouldn't surprise me a bit to see an Szczur succeed in Philadelphia.  Presently, our options in center field are Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery.  Quinn is injury prone, and Kingery will be needed in the infield.  Haseley doesn't hit lefties all that well, so a platoon wouldn't be out of the question.

Mikie Mahtook: The Phillies signed Szczur and Mahtook on the same day.  In 2011, Mahtook was a first round compensation pick by the Tampa Bay Rays and was once a top 100 prospect in baseball.  Now at age 30, the OF is working his way back to the big leagues after failing to get a hit in 25 plate appearances for the Tigers last season.  He had a productive 2019 in the minors playing for the Toledo Mud Hens, but he struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances in Triple A.  He's a depth signing, and I don't expect to see him in Philadelphia unless something goes horribly wrong.

Ronald Torreyes: The Phillies signed Torreyes to a minor league contract on January 7th.  The non-roster utility infielder previously played for Joe Girardi on the Yankees.  When he was asked about him, Girardi responded by saying "he's a ballplayer".  I think that sums up his chances of starting the season in Philadelphia.  I expect he'll start the season in Lehigh Valley and be called up only if someone goes on the DL.

Christian Bethancourt: I'm not sure that I understand the logic of this signing.  Eight years ago, Christian was one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball, but that was a long time ago.  He spent parts of three unimpressive seasons catching in Atlanta before the Braves traded him to San Diego.  He spent the 2016 season working as a catcher and outfielder for the Padres, and was converted to be a full-time relief pitcher for the El Paso Chihuahuas in 2017.  His work as a pitcher wasn't any better than his time as a position player.  He finished the season with an 8.21 ERA at Triple A and was back to working as a position player in 2018, this time for the Brewers organization.  He had a productive 2018 for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and was named to the Triple A All-Star Team in 2018, but he wasn't called up to play in Milwaukee.  Last season, he signed to play for the NC Dinos in Korea, which is said to have a level of competition similar to Triple A.  He spent time as the team's catcher and in the outfield, but after a half season, he was batting .246 and was released from his contract.

Bethancourt has a career .222 batting average with a -1.1 WAR at the major league level, and his defense isn't a lot better than his offensive production.  His contract in Korea was for the maximum league salary of $1 million dollars and they chose to eat the expense and release him.  That doesn't inspire a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his chances in 2020.  I suppose the Phillies could use him for depth, but unless literally every catcher in Reading, Allentown and Philadelphia gets hurt, I can't picture a scenario where he plays in Philadelphia.

Nick Martini: This 29 year old left fielder has bounced around quite a bit over the past 12 months.  He began the 2019 season on the disabled list with the Oakland Athletics after a grade 2 PCL tear in a spring training game that cost him about two months of the season.  He worked his way back and spent some time in the big leagues before A's placed him on waivers in August.  He was picked up in less than 48 hours by the Padres.  He finished the season playing for San Diego, and was placed on waivers again.  He was claimed by the Reds just before Thanksgiving, but his time in Cincinnati was over before it even began.  The Reds waived him after the new year, and the Phillies picked him up on January 14th.  To make room for him on the 40 man roster, Philadelphia designated Odubel Herrera for assignment.  I suspect that moving Odubel off of the roster and giving other teams the opportunity to claim him was the reason Martini was acquired in the first place.  He can only play left field, his bat isn't particularly valuable, and he has had trouble staying healthy, so I didn't really think he was part of the Phillies plan.  Sure enough, the Phillies traded for Kyle Garlick (more on him later), and Martini was once again placed on waivers.  So far, he's still with the organization, so he might end up playing alongside Odubel for the Iron Pigs unless he's claimed off of waivers for the fourth time in eight months.

Neil Walker: The 34 year old switch hitting journeyman began his career with the Pirates where he finished 5th in the 2010 NL Rookie Of The Year voting.  Since then, he has spent time with the Mets, Brewers, Yankees and most recently, the Miami Marlins.  The majority of his past two seasons have been at first base, but he has also played at second, third, left field and right field.  He's entering camp as one of the favorites to earn a spot on the Phillies bench.

Logan Forsythe: The Phillies signed this utility player on February 5th.  He's a veteran journeyman who has divided his 9 years in the big leagues between the Padres, Rays, Dodgers, Twins and Rangers.  His best seasons came with the Rays (2014-2016), and had the second highest WAR of any second baseman in 2015.  Like Walker, Forsythe's value is in his versatility.  He has seen regular time at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B and in the OF corners, but he hasn't been very productive at the plate since leaving Tampa Bay after the 2016 season.

Kyle Garlick: The 28 year old left fielder was acquired in a last minute trade two days ago.  He was a late pick in the 2015 draft and has worked his way through the Dodgers minor league system to make his major league debut in 2019.  Garlick went 12 for 48 with four doubles and three homers in Los Angeles, and he hit .314 with 23 home runs in Triple A playing for the Oklahoma City Dodgers.  He was added to the 40 man roster and has two options remaining, so even if he doesn't break camp with the Phillies, he'll remain with the organization and could be called up from Lehigh Valley when he's needed.

The big position player pickup this winter was shortstop Didi Gregorius.  He signed a one year contract which I think will work out for both parties.  Didi will have a chance at a full season on the field to re-establish himself following his injury, and the Phillies will have a productive veteran at shortstop while first round pick Bryson Stott continues to develop in his path to the majors.

Unless the Phillies manage to find a trade partner to move Jean Segura, I don't expect that Didi will stay with the Phillies after 2020.  A small part of me wonders if they might shop him at the trade deadline for pitching, but he's a hell of a ballplayer and he's got all of the motivation in the world this season.  I'm glad that he's on the team, and I hope he can be part of a championship team in Philadelphia.

The wild card of the 2020 season is third base prospect Alec Bohm.  His bat certainly seems like it's the real deal, and although some are questioning his ability to play third base at the major league level, I don't think it's as big of a detriment as others seem to believe.  His combined fielding percentage at 3B last season was .938.  That's not good, but it's a huge improvement from 2018 (.870).  To put it in perspective, his defensive metrics last season grade out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his trajectory of improvement in this area throughout his time in the minors are very similar to that of Kris Bryant.  In fact, from a defensive perspective, he's not far off from Bryant right now.  I don't expect Bohm to ever be a contender for a gold glove at the hot corner, but he's competent and if his bat is what we hope it will be, it's an acceptable tradeoff.


Now that Spring Training is about to begin, this is the team that I believe the Phillies will take up north to begin the 2020 season:

Conspicuously absent on this chart is Vince Velasquez.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, while I believe he'll be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation this Spring, I don't see him outperforming Eflin or Pivetta.  I also don't believe that he was a good fit in the bullpen in the opportunities he's had to pitch in relief last season.  He hasn't been consistent in the opportunities that he's had in the bullpen.  He has two options remaining, and I feel that he could best help the team in 2020 as rotation depth, to be called up in case of injury or to see if he can live up to his potential and earn a spot in a major league rotation (with the Phillies or elsewhere).

I was torn when it comes to Ranger Suarez.  While I think he's good enough to make the team, I have him slotted to begin the season in Lehigh Valley because he has one option remaining.  It's very likely that he earns the spot ahead of Tommy Hunter or Jose Alvarez, but I think they have a little more rope if only because they're able to stash Suarez without the risk of losing him to another team.

As for the position players, the elephant in the room is Roman Quinn and his health.  I'm rooting for the guy.  However, I expect that 2020 will be his last chance in Philadelphia.  If he remains healthy and productive, there's a chance he could be our starting center fielder, or he could be shopped in a mid-season trade (Kris Bryant?).  If he can't stay on the field, I believe that a Haseley / Szczur platoon in CF might be an interesting proposition.

I think it's likely that Kyle Garlick finds his way to the majors before the All-Star Break.  I only hope that he's brought up to replace Jay Bruce as the 5th outfielder and not as a replacement for an injured McCutchen or, god forbid, Harper.

Barring health concerns, I expect Alec Bohm to be starting at third base before the end of July.  In all likelihood, that would mean shifting Segura to 2B and moving Kingery back to his role as the team's super utility player.  I would prefer it if they could find a trade partner for Segura and keep Kingery as second base full time, but it doesn't seem likely.

Finally, like Bohm, I expect Spencer Howard to be playing a prominent role in Philadelphia.  They're going to limit his work at the start of the season to keep him fresh, so I think his call up would likely be held off as late in the year as possible.  I don't think they'll go down this road, but I think it's worth exploring a six man rotation when rosters expand in September.

Feb 16, 2020

Rea & Derick

Rea & Derick
Stroudsburg, PA (1970's)
My grandmother worked at a Rea & Derick drug store in Hazleton when I was a kid which looked very similar to this location in Stroudsburg.  It was located at 578 Main Street and closed sometime in the 1990's.  In more recent years, this building was home to Rock 'N Willy's Tea and Hookah Lounge and a tattoo parlor on the second floor.  These businesses closed after a fire damaged the property in the summer of 2018 (source: John Bender and The Pocono Record).

Feb 15, 2020

Take It To The Bank

The Pines Eatery and Spirits
Hayden Tower - Hazleton, PA
This restaurant opened late in 2014 by the DeAngelo family.  It's in the first and second floors of Hayden Tower at the old Markle Banking and Trust.  The ceiling is original from when the building was constructed in 1910, and the bar is built in front of the old bank vault, which the restaurant uses as its wine cellar.

We went for dinner, but I'm definitely going to come back to try some other things from the lunch menu.  They have a collection of specialty hamburgers which are named after historical Hazleton businesses and buildings.  They also purchased the Knotty Pine barbecue and rice pudding recipes.  I had the latter for dessert today.  For dinner, I had a caprese martini, which included a mozzarella ball, basil and a tomato, and broiled scallops with a baked potato.  Everything was delicious.

Feb 14, 2020

Power Pellets Are Aphrodisiacs

Pac-Man Valentine
Bally Midway (1982)
Naked except for shoes, gloves and headgear, and surrounded by fruit.  That's the way Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man roll on Valentine's Day.

Feb 13, 2020

Super McMario Toys

Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal
McDonald's (1990)
This is the tray liner used by McDonald's in 1990 to promote the Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal.  If you go to any flea market in the United States, odds are that you'll find one of these four toys on sale for a quarter in a cardboard box.  It'll probably be Raccoon Tail Mario with a broken spring.  If you take home the flipping Goomba and find out that you can't make him flip, don't be too disappointed.  It didn't work most of the time back in 1990 either.

Feb 12, 2020

Three Turns Thirty

Super Mario Bros 3
Nintendo (1990)
One of the most iconic video games of all time was released in North America 30 years ago today.

I saw this game for the first time when I went to see The Wizard at a theater in Wilkes-Barre back in January 1990.  The game was revealed to American audiences for the first time in the Video Armageddon contest at the end of the film.  The adults who brought us to the movie laughed about it and called it a two hour commercial for Nintendo.  They weren't wrong.  I walked out of that theater wanting a Power Glove and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3 more than anything else in the world.

I was living with my maternal grandparents when the game came out on February 12th.  Normally, I wouldn't get a new Nintendo game unless it was my birthday or Christmas, but Mom Mom was a Nintendo fan so we went out to buy it as soon as it was released.  Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy.  This was a decade before video games could be ordered online, and the demand for the game combined with Nintendo's infamous "chip shortage" made it impossible to find for months after it was released.  I got to play it on the PlayChoice 10 machine at the Aladdin's Castle arcade in the Laurel Mall, but it took a few months before we found it for sale.  We brought it home and played it almost every day through that spring and summer.

Nintendo Power: Issue 10 (January 1990)
Whether you're like me and you grew up with this classic or if you've never played it before, today is the perfect opportunity to log onto Switch Online and play one of the best video games ever made.

Feb 11, 2020

What Me Wookie?

Mad Spoofs Star Wars
Mad Magazine (2020)
This is a great collection of Mad's Star Wars comics through the years, including several that were published from the 70's through the 90's.

Feb 10, 2020

Wood Paneled Deli

Acme Supermarket 
American Stores Company (1978)
This photo of the deli was taken from the American Stores Company annual report from 1978 (via Acme Style Blog).  It shows the colonial decor with the wall lamps and maroon colors with dark wood paneling that was used throughout the 80's in the Acme on Broad Street in Hazleton.

Feb 9, 2020

A Cruise Through The 80's

NEPA Big 80's
Wilkes-Barre, PA (1988)
This home video was shared by mmm671 on YouTube and it's a true walk down memory lane for anyone who grew up in or around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the 80's.  Even if you aren't from this area, it's a genuine glimpse of life in the 80's that's sure to take you back in time.

A few friends took their camcorder out when they hung out with their friends back in 1988.  They start out going to the K-Mart on Blackman Street.  That location closed their doors for the last time earlier this month.  After K-Mart, they drive up Mundy Street to the Wyoming Valley Mall in the years before Sam's Club, Wegmans and Mohegan Sun Arena.  Highland Park Blvd hadn't even been built yet.  The footage in the mall moves pretty fast (try to remember the size of a video camcorder back in the 80's), but it's remarkably clear considering how old it is.  You can see Walden, Pomeroy's, Wall To Wall Listening Booth, Gallery Of Sound and The Orange Bowl pizza parlor.  The camera makes a brief stop at Denny's on the way to Public Square.  They stop for a soda at Orloski's and then head over the Market Street Bridge.

Keep your eyes peeled for the 80's hair and fashion, pay phones, Camel cigarette ads, glass soda bottles (including VeryFine Juice and Grape Crush) and guest cameos from Quiet Riot and Robin Williams (star of Good Morning Vietnam) while Simple Minds play in the background.

Feb 7, 2020

Greetings With Great Taste

Alpine White Birthday Card
American Greetings (1991)
In the early 90's, Nestle partnered with American Greetings to release a line of candy themed greeting cards.  Each card included a full value coupon for a free candy bar.  This card featured one of my favorite candy bars of all time, the Alpine White.  It was discontinued sometime in the mid 90's.

Having worked for Nestle, I can confirm that there were no plans or interest in bringing this product back to store shelves.  However, the Nestle USA confections division has since been sold to the Ferrara Candy Company.  I'm not sure if the deal included the American rights to the Alpine White, but if so, perhaps there's a chance that it makes a return someday.  Until then, have a look at the rest of the card.

Feb 6, 2020

Tender Memories

Chicken Tenders
Burger King (1985)
I really miss these.  Burger King originally came out with their Chicken Tenders in 1985, and they were absolutely delicious - much better than Chicken McNuggets, and a million times better than the chicken that Burger King sells today.  They had a peppered breading, and they were served in neat little flip top boxes that had a caddy that held your dipping sauce.

They were sold for a few years and were eventually discontinued sometime in the mid 90's.  I'm not sure exactly when they stopped selling them, but they were already gone by the time I started working at Burger King in the fall of 1996.

In the years that followed, Burger King came out with other bite-sized chicken products, including crown shaped nuggets, larger chicken tenders and Chicken Fries, but none of them could compare to the original.  With the ban on trans fats, I don't expect that the original Burger King Chicken Tenders recipe will ever come back, so they'll remain a fond fast food memory.

Feb 5, 2020

Seattle's Mystery Soda Machine

The Mystery Coke Machine
Capitol Hill - Seattle, WA
It's not common for a soda machine to be featured by USA Today or to have its own Wikipedia page, but this one is worth the attention.  This Coke machine from the 1970's has sat outside Broadway Locksmith on the corner of John Street and 10th Avenue East in Seattle for at least 30 years.  Eric Hayes, who owns the Broadway Locksmith, said that the machine was there when he bought the building and opened his business in 1986.

In all of the years that the Mystery Coke Machine has been here, no one has ever reported seeing it being filled with new soda or emptied of money, but it was always full and in perfect working order.  However, that's only the beginning of the mystery.

This machine used to have five traditional soda buttons and one Mystery Button, but over the years, all of the buttons have been converted.  Buying a soda really is a mystery because there seemed to be no pattern to it other than the fact that what comes out is always a Coke or Pepsi product.  For example, Hilary from HilaryStyle.me (from whom I "borrowed" some of these photos) reported that she and her family got two Cokes, a Peach Fresca, a Mountain Dew, a Seagrams Ginger Ale, a Cherry Dr. Pepper, a Tab cola and a Strawberry soda.

People have reported getting a few oddities from the machine, including foreign sodas, discontinued flavors (including Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum Soda and Pepsi AM), and can designs from the 80's and 90's.  Others have said that their can of soda had three quarters taped to the bottom of the can, giving them an instant refund for their purchase  There's no word on if this happened with the soda that had allegedly been decades old.

Sadly, Seattle's Mystery Soda Machine disappeared in the summer of 2018, but it will live for many years to come on YouTube and in countless blogs, all of whom have beat me to the punch as of the time of this writing.