Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Draclea vs. Frakenstein

Let me start off by answering a couple questions that the title "Draclea vs. Frakenstein" might understandably raise. First off, no, the title is not misspelled or a typo (even if I'm seeing the little red lines under the words as I type them, indicating that I need to fix them!). And, no, this is not a post about the 1971 movie "Dracula vs. Frankenstein". And, to be honest, this post actually isn't even about either Dracula OR Frankenstein at all! I'm sorry for any confusion and I apologize if anyone feels misled or is concerned that this entire post might be some sort of clickbait. So, let's get to what this post really IS about, shall we? Hopefully all will become clear very soon...

Today is The Little Monster's birthday. As some long-time readers may recall, the biggest impetus for the launch of this blog was to share my experiences raising our two daughters as a stay-at-home dad. In June of 2010 (when Monster Dad went online) The Little Monster was actually little. She was only five years old at the time, with a lot of growing and life experiences ahead of her. We've had a lot of adventures since then and she has already done a lot of growing. She has had quite a few birthdays since then too. What makes this particular one special enough to write about? Well, it's actually a pretty major one, and one that I'm finding a bit scary to think about and even kind of hard to fathom. Today The Little Monster turns THIRTEEN! Today she is a TEENAGER! Where has the time gone? How has this happened? And, what the heck does all this have to do with "Draclea" and "Frakenstein"?

Well, I've chosen to celebrate The Little Monster turning into a not-so-little teenager by remembering something she used to do when she still WAS little. Since a big part of being home with her for me was to share some of my childhood interests in movies, music and TV shows with her, it's probably not too surprising that she would gain a certain knowledge or awareness of both Dracula and Frankenstein. Most of that knowledge came from the movies "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (which featured Dracula and the Werewolf in addition to Frankenstein) and "Young Frankenstein". We used to watch films like those pretty regularly back in the early days.

But, as happens to many kids, my Little Monster had a tough time pronouncing some words when she was young until she figured out what they were supposed to sound like. One of her little quirks was that for some reason she had a tough time with certain words that featured a "U" in them. And another thing she would sometimes do (also not particularly uncommon for young kids) was to randomly drop a letter or two from some words.

I noticed both of these traits pretty quickly after she started talking. When a word had a "U" in it she would skip the "U" and then change the sound of the word after where the "U" should have been. I think she must have just thought she had heard some of these words a certain way and stuck with that as her pronunciation. After all, she wasn't spelling or reading yet, so it's not like she'd say "Wait, this isn't how the word is pronounced, it's spelled completely differently!" Everything was pretty much based on sound at that point. The most obvious example of this quirk was when she'd mention "Dracula". Instead of saying it the familiar way, and how it's spelled, she'd pronounce it as... "Draclea" (Drak-Lee-Uh). And this wasn't the only word with a "U" that this happened to. She also pronounced Regular as "Reglea" (Reg-Lee-Uh), and Ambulance as "Ambleance" (Amb-Lee-Ance). Those are the only examples that I can thing of, but you can probably get the point.

The dropping of letters when pronouncing words seems to be a pretty common thing for a young kid just learning to speak to do. I can imagine that the word Frankenstein would probably be pretty intimidating for one of those new-talkers. It's quite a long word that has many letters and three syllables. And if you saw that word spelled out on a TV or movie screen it would probably look kind of scary (from a pronunciation standpoint), especially when you DON'T even know how to read yet! The Little Monster would drop the "N" and pronounce the word as... "Frakenstein" (Fray-ken-stine). I don't have too many examples of other words that she would do this to, but the one that I can think of is very similar. I used to always read books to her at bedtime (a ritual that I really miss, though at the moment I'm still doing it with the Tiny Creature--at least until she decides she's too old and grown-up to be read to). Some of the books we used to read included the series that featured Franklin the turtle. You can probably guess where this is going. Yes, The Little Monster pronounced Franklin's name as "Frakin" (Fray-Kin). She went ahead and dropped both the "N" AND the "L" for that one.

Here's our copy of the book Franklin's Halloween:

In which Franklin goes to the Halloween party as "Franklinstein"

Time passed and The Little Monster continued to grow, learn and experience life. She eventually found herself in Preschool and then Kindergarten. By that point she was starting to really learn her letters and words, as well as how to read. I was constantly surprised that as she aged she continued to use her "Dracleas" and "Frakensteins" in conversation. When I first heard them there was an impulse to correct her. But it just sounded so cute that I didn't want to "ruin it" by making her grow up too fast. However, after a while I did start to get a bit concerned that she wasn't figuring out the correct way to pronounce certain words. It didn't seem like too big of a deal (like a learning disability or something like that), but I was kind of wondering why she hadn't grown out of it. And I was getting worried that maybe I should have stepped in earlier to correct her. But in the end it STILL sounded kind of cute to hear her talk about how something was "Reglea" and that an "Ambleance" was coming down the road.

She did continue to grow though, of course. As her age was reaching double-digits and she was learning all kinds of new things at school something happened that I managed to miss in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. Somewhere along the line she did indeed correct herself and started pronouncing the words correctly. I have no idea exactly when it happened or how it happened. Did she realize her mistake and correct it on her own when she was able to read? Did a teacher or friend at school correct her? Did she simply "grow out of it"? Whatever happened, the days of "Draclea" and "Frakenstein" were suddenly over and she was just that much less of a Little Monster. I'll always be her Dad of course, but I do find it kind of sad to think that at this point she's closer to things like college and getting married than she is to the days when we'd hang out and watch stuff like "Draclea" and "Frakenstein" movies together.

...even if you're not so little anymore!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Marking a Minor Milestone for Monster Dad

2018 has become the year of The Return of Monster Dad, to some extent. I have made a lot of noise about the fact that I have NOT been making a lot of noise around here for some time now. While I never intended to stop writing Monster Dad posts, it just kind of happened. As chronicled in many posts over the past year (including "The 2018 State of the Blog Address") Monster Dad has always remained in my mind, and I've have many, many post ideas in my head over the years--even if they've never managed to get out of my head and posted here.

So what "milestone" are we marking here? Well, it's admittedly a pretty minor one, but one that I think is a good sign for things to come. On Halloween (October 31) I posted the blog "My Favorite Halloween Costume of All-Time (Ben Cooper Star Wars Stormtrooper)". It was the fourth post of October and the 11th post of 2018. Those aren't very impressive numbers by any means, but those numbers are exactly what the minor milestone is all about. Please allow me to explain why those seemingly meaningless numbers mean so much to me.

Monster Dad started in June 2010. I was new to the world of blogging and didn't really know what I was doing at that point. But I considered it a success that I was able to write 23 posts over the last six months of that first year. 2011 was the highlight year of Monster Dad. I kind of got into a groove and ended up writing 62 posts that year. My unofficial goal was to average a post a week, so with 62 I was actually over that target by ten posts! But then things began to change...

I was still writing regularly at the beginning of 2012, but my YouTube channel really began to take off. The focus of that channel (mostly videos reviewing military rations) was quite different from the kinds of things seen at Monster Dad, but I really got caught up in the numbers and statistics there (video views, subscribers, comments, likes...) and ended up spending a  lot more time filming, editing and posting videos than writing blogs. Then in September 2012 we moved to a new town and I just couldn't seem to find the time to write any more--despite the fact that the ideas for blogs kept flowing. 2012 ended with 35 Monster Dad posts. That was a huge drop-off from the 62 in 2011, but still the second highest monthly total to that point.

By the time 2013 rolled around it probably seemed like I had pretty much completely abandoned Monster Dad. That was never the intention, but it certainly did appear that way. In 2013 I wrote a grand total of four posts. 2014 saw a complete year without a single post (I still find that kind of hard to believe). There were three posts in 2015, followed by two each in 2016 and 2017. So after totaling 23, 62 and 35 posts over the first three years, I was only able to muster a total of ELEVEN posts total over the next FIVE YEARS combined. That's an average of barely over two posts per year--a far cry from the one-post-per-week target from a few years earlier.

So now perhaps the reader can start to see why I'm celebrating the fact that I've written eleven blog posts this year (2018). That number--while pretty lean by any account--actually equals my output over the past five years combined! And, the four posts from October equals the highest number of posts for any complete YEAR between 2013 and 2017. I'm certainly not suggesting that those numbers are good or acceptable, but it definitely counts as a good start--or should I say a good "re-start" (and there's still two months left in 2018). In Hollywood this might be considered a reboot of Monster Dad. Or, in computer terms, maybe I should think about re-naming the blog Monster Dad 2.0? However it might be classified, I think the bottom line is that the blog is finally moving in the right direction for the first time in a long time. And that makes me very happy!

The totals for each year that Monster Dad has been online

And the output for the month of October 2018 (which equals or exceeds the total for any year between 2013 and 2017)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My All-Time Favorite Halloween Costume (Ben Cooper Star Wars Stormtrooper)

I grew up as the youngest of nine siblings. In our attic we had a big box of all kinds of random clothes and costume elements that we would use to make up Halloween costumes each year. I always pined for the store-bought costumes that I would see so many kids Trick-or-Treating in on Halloween. But with all the kids in our family it was just unrealistic to think that my parents would be able to afford to buy that many costumes every year. For the most part I was always able to find something to wear each year without much difficulty. Probably my favorite costume from the box was the Prisoner or Jailbird one. This was basically a black and white striped shirt and pants set that would be paired with a plastic ball on a chain attached to an ankle. Here's something pretty similar that is sold in stores today, just to give an idea.

To complete this costume and others we would usually burn the end of a cork and smear the ashes on our faces to give us a nice, intimidating approximation of a growth of beard stubble. Adding that touch was probably my favorite part of the costume! This method was also very effective in creating a DIY pirate costume.

The only other costume I remember really enjoying enough to wear multiple times was that of a soldier. We didn't really have anything for this costume in our big box, but I liked to play Army as a kid (not realizing that in a few years I'd be in the Army for real!) and had a pretty good assortment of Army stuff myself ready to be pressed into service. Here I am (in the middle) with two of my nephews at a Halloween party in 1982:

Halloween was always a fun thing for me as a kid. I can't say I really recall any particularly "bad" ones, regardless of what costume I was in. But one year really does stand out BECAUSE of the costume that I wore. I almost feel bad saying this (because the costume was so cheaply made and didn't even look very impressive compared to the homemade ones we were usually "forced" to wear) but my favorite Halloween getup of all time was my store-bought Star Wars Stormtrooper costume from Ben Cooper. Ben Cooper costumes are a whole story unto themselves and I may have to write a separate post just about them to really cover the phenomenon. But suffice to say, anyone who grew between the 1950s and late 1970s probably remembers them. They were generally a thin plastic mask and a cheap "smock" that usually had a picture of the character on it (in case the mask didn't give the identity away).

C-3PO costume with a picture of C-3PO on the front
These cheaply made costumes were also pretty flammable at one point. I don't know if it was specifically the Ben Cooper costumes but I seem to remember the flammability of this type of costume being a big concern and in the news when I was a kid. At some point they made a law or something saying that costumes had to be flame-retardant. And by the time I got mine Ben Cooper was definitely touting the flame-resistant nature of their costumes!

We got the stormtrooper costume at the great, now defunct,  toy store Child World. I still remember being very excited to have it and wearing the mask on the way home. Looking at my reflection in the truck's window in the dark I couldn't really see my eyes peeking out through the holes in the mask. Despite only being a cheap, face-only mask I really thought I looked just like a REAL stormtrooper from Star Wars!

I don't really seem to be able to remember just how I managed to finagle a store-bought costume that year. I will admit that there was probably a good amount of pleading and whining involved in trying to convince my parents to make the purchase. But the fact that it only cost $3.99 (pretty cheap even back in the late-70s) certainly couldn't have hurt either.

There are a number of reasons that this post is kind of special for me, and the first one was just kind of teased by showing that price tag. Yes, that's the actual price tag from my very own Stormtrooper costume from Child World. So I guess now would probably be a good time to drop the big bombshell. Last year while cleaning up the attic of my parents' house my sister found my old Stormtrooper costume (which I had no idea still even existed)! The photo of the C-3PO costume above is just an image I found online, but the Stormtrooper one at the beginning of the blog is actually the EXACT SAME ONE that I wore on that Halloween all those years ago. It's a little (actually a lot) worse for the wear, but there it is.

It's kind of amazing to think that something as cheap (and to be honest, kind of crappy) as these Ben Cooper costumes were officially licensed merchandise, but for whatever reason Ben Cooper seemed to be the official Halloween Costume of nearly EVERY sort of character, show or movie you can think of from the time. Both the box and costume have numerous images from Star Wars and many copyright notices all over them.

The image on the vinyl smock is in surprisingly good shape

The mask doesn't seem to look all that bad in these photos, especially considering the fact that it's made of very thin plastic and has not been stored with any sort of care for the past forty years. It does have a permanent warp to it that I can't seem to get out, but overall still seems to look like a Stormtrooper helmet overall. But in reality when I first pulled it out of the box (or actually the box top--as the bottom of the box was not with it and presumably lost to time many, many years ago) it was not only warped, but also had several large and small cracks and splits all over it. I wasn't sure if there was anything that could be done to save it. While I didn't take any "before" photos of it prior to trying to salvage it, here is what it currently looks like on the inside after I attempted to repair it with...duct tape. The elastic has also long since snapped and needed replacing.

What the mask is supposed to look vs. how mine looks today
Okay, so I mentioned the fact that there are a number of reasons that this post is pretty special for me. The first and most obvious one is, of course, the rediscovery of the old costume. But what makes that rediscovery even more special is the fact that I wore the costume (and I believe I only wore it one year) in 1978, which is exactly FORTY years ago this Halloween! And finally, it's hard to imagine what I would have thought on that Halloween in 1978 if someone had told me that in forty years I would be all grown up and have two Little Monsters of my very own. But in 2005 we did have our first daughter, and three-and-a-half years later we did it again. And now that second daughter is...nine years old. Just like I was in 1978! Crazy. Well, perhaps you can figure out what will come next. Yep, I just had to convince the Tiny Creature to put Papa's musty old Halloween costume on for a few photos. She wasn't terribly excited by the idea by any means, but was a good sport about it. I don't have any photos of myself wearing this costume, but this is probably pretty close to what I would have looked like in it!

Another member of the family dons the costume 40 years later!

What a good sport!
And, just for a final bit of slightly awkward nostalgia, I decided to "try on" the costume myself. Needless to say the smock wouldn't fit on my slightly larger than 53" to 58" frame, but I did put the mask on once again and held the costume up in front of me while the Little Monsters snapped a couple pics. This part wasn't as much fun as I was hoping it would be, and might have even been just the slightest bit depressing. But how could I not at least give it a try?

The costume and I have both aged a bit since 1978
And I've also grown some as well!
If the reader can stand one more bit about this costume I'll close this post out with something I discovered last week while watching what has become a bit of a Halloween season tradition for me and the Little Monsters. For the past several years we've enjoyed watching a Halloween episode of the show "CHiPs". It's the episode "Trick or Treat" from the second season. And wouldn't you know, it first aired on October 21, 1978. As we watched the show this year I realized that nearly all of the extras playing kids out Trick-or-Treating on Halloween are wearing cheap Ben Cooper costumes! My guess is that the costume people had to outfit a bunch of kids with Halloween costumes and simply gave an assistant a twenty dollar bill and told them to go to the nearest store and pick up a bunch of cheap costumes. So now that I've become familiar with the whole Ben Cooper thing after researching this post I just had to go back and analyze the costumes a bit. I might end up writing a whole post just about that episode and the costumes used in it, but suffice to say, it was kind of fun picking out several familiar characters portrayed with cheap plastic masks and "flame-retardant" smocks. And in addition to Darth Vader, C-3PO, Batman, Superman and several others I was actually able to spot not one, but TWO examples of kids wearing the very same get-up, the Ben Cooper Stormtrooper costume, that I would be wearing on Halloween that year! Two different girls wear it at different points in the show, so I'm not sure if they had two costumes or just one that was used multiple times. But either way, there they were. And, here they are! First up, while Ponch and Jon are talking to a group of Trick-or-Treaters two other kids walk by in the background. Admittedly this one was pretty hard to spot, but look at the blond-haired girl next to (and partially obscured by) the kid in the skunk costume. While they are only on screen for a couple of seconds you can clearly see the blue top and white bottom of the Stormtrooper costume. And when the girl turns her head you get a pretty good glimpse of the mask. Score! Needless to say, these are just photos taken from a TV screen showing the the episode on DVD, so they're not perfect, but they will have to do.

And then, a little later, a group of five kids and an adult chaperone are walking by a liquor store that is about to be robbed. These kids are all wearing Ben Cooper costumes. There's a Devil, a Witch, a Clown and two Star Wars costumes: C-3PO and...a Stormtrooper. This time it's a dark-haired girl wearing the Stormtooper mask. Once again she's partially obscured by the Clown next to her. But once again, there's that mask and the blue and white smock!

Can you see the Stormtrooper mask in this group?
In this one our subject is almost completely obscured
But check out that mask peeking out from behind the clown!
Here's a great side view of the mask
And here's the back of the costume
It's so strange to think that episode aired in time for Halloween in 1978. And that very same Halloween I was wearing the same Ben Cooper Stormtrooper costume seen in the episode--a costume that would go on to become my favorite Halloween costume of all-time! It's forty years later and I think there's one more thing I need to do. It might embarrass the Little Monsters, but I believe that I'm going to have to go out and wear the Stormtrooper mask while I accompany them on their Trick-or-Treating this year!


Sunday, October 28, 2018

My All-Time Favorite Sports Card (1973 Topps Carl Yastrzemski)

While I'm certainly not suggesting that these two things are mutually exclusive by any means, I was a big fan of monster movies as a kid and was NOT a fan of sports. When I was still pretty small I enjoyed playing soccer and basketball. But as I got a little older sports just weren't really my "thing". In high school I never played any organized competitive team sports (outside of gym class of course). And I didn't even enjoy watching sports much, either in person or on TV. There were a few exceptions. Growing up in the Boston area in the 1970s and 80s I did find myself getting caught up in the excitement of the Boston Celtics going to the NBA finals in the Larry Bird era, the New England Patriots going to (gulp) Super Bowl XX and the Boston Red Sox (double gulp) going to the World Series in 1986. I did watch a good portion of those games on TV, but for the most part my Boston TV watching was reserved for cartoons, sitcoms and monster movies on the Saturday afternoon show Creature Double Feature on WLVI Channel 56.

So, we've covered the fact that I didn't play sports as a kid. And also, the fact that for the most part I didn't really follow any sports teams or watch sports on TV either. A good example of all of this is how in the early 1980s I would tune in to ABC to watch the show "That's Incredible!" at 8:00 on Monday nights. I can still recall the disappointment I would feel during the football season when "That's Incredible!" was followed by "Monday Night Football". Pretty much any other sort of network programming would have been preferable before going to bed on a Monday night. In addition to not playing sports and not watching sports on TV I also did not collect sports cards. I enjoyed collecting cards like many other kids, but the ones I got were of the non-sports variety. Probably my favorite ones to collect as a kid were the many different series of Star Wars cards that accompanied the releases of the original trilogy.

I also remember collecting stuff like Wacky Packages stickers and cards from various Movies and TV shows (Star Trek, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard...). Funny thing is, I never once purchased a pack of baseball cards or other sports cards (and in fact I don't even have a memory of seeing them on the shelves of stores where I'd buy candy and non-sports cards). A number of my friends had a similar lack of interest in following sports in their childhood and still don't like them to this day. But a funny thing happened to me on the way to becoming a lifelong sports-hater. And that unexpected game changer was...the United States Army!

When I was in the Army stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky (1988-89) I had a number of fellow soldiers mention to me how lucky I was to be from an area (Massachusetts) so laden with professional sports teams and rich in great sports history and tradition. I had never really thought of this before (it's the kind of thing you can just take for granted when that's all you know). At the same time I saw people around me rooting for teams like the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Bengals WERE in Super Bowl XXIII and had Ickey Woods (and his Shuffle!) during the time I was stationed in KY, they just didn't seem like a team that I'd think to be a fan of. Then it occurred to me that Kentucky didn't have ANY professional sports teams. There was a lot of great college sports there, but you had to go out of state to find a nearby pro team to root for. As if to drive home how lucky I was to have so many teams to call my home teams back in Massachusetts, I was at Fort Knox in the summer of 1988 when the Red Sox won 19 out of 20 games under manager Joe Morgan (a run that became known as "Morgan Magic"). I made a decision that I would become a fan of my "home" teams, especially the New England Patriots. Keep in mind that I made that decision many, many years before Tom Brady and all the Super Bowl wins. I got out of the Army and went back home in 1989--just in time to see the Patriots go 5-11. And in 1990 they followed that up with a record of 1-15.

But, regardless of records, I was now a fan. And in addition to watching the games I also started doing something I had never done before; I started buying and collecting football cards. Not long after I added basketball and baseball cards as well. I ended up becoming a pretty big-time collector in fact. Fortunately and unfortunately for me I just happened to join the hobby right at the time that there was an explosion in sports card manufacturers and sets. Cards and sets were grossly overproduced and pretty much every card produced in the first decade of my new pursuit ended up being worthless, or close to it. But I didn't know that at the time and it was still fun to buy packs of cards and see who you'd get in them. I was getting a chance to experience a great childhood tradition that I had missed out on when I was a kid myself. I eventually had to give up the hobby when I was more or less priced out of the market as more and more super-premium sets were introduced and more overpriced and (supposedly) limited insert cards became the focus of the collecting hobby.

So I was no longer a regular collector. But I did have a LOT of cards. There were lots and lots of common cards that took up a lot of space but weren't really worth anything. I also had bought a lot of older vintage cards of great players, especially from our home teams of the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots (I never really got into hockey, so I didn't have many Boston Bruins cards). With the thousands of cards I had it seems like it might be tough to pick a favorite one. I had a few really "good" cards that were actually worth a little bit of money (at the time). And I had quite a few cards that weren't necessarily worth much, but which were special to me. But it's actually pretty easy for me to pick what is probably my favorite card of all-time. Now, if I was to suddenly find a Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams rookie card in near-mint condition in my possession I might change my mind, but it doesn't seem very likely that I'll be getting cards of that caliber any time soon. So, what IS my favorite sports card of all-time, and WHY is it my favorite?

The winner is the 1973 Topps Carl Yastrzemski baseball card (number 245). There are a number of reasons why it is my favorite, and they are rooted in both my adult sports-loving side and my childhood sports-hating side.

Carl Yastrzemski is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Red Sox players of all-time (not to mention the fact that he has one of the most epic last names in baseball history). Picking him for my favorite sports card subject doesn't seem all that surprising. But it's actually only partly because of who Yaz is and the fact that he played for the Red Sox. And even if I were going to pick Yaz as my favorite just based on his baseball pedigree, I could certainly pick a better, more interesting and more valuable card from his long career. 1973 was a little past the halfway point of his playing days. His rookie card came out in the 1960 Topps set and is worth many times more than my cherished 1973 card.

I was alive in 1973 (four years old), but certainly didn't follow the Red Sox (or any sports for that matter) at that point. I think I actually even saw Yaz in action in the first Red Sox game I ever attended in 1978. But I was just a kid who didn't really know the first thing about baseball at that point so it didn't have much impact on me. When I started collecting sports cards in 1989 I DID find myself very interested in the 1973 Topps baseball and football sets for some reason. They both had such a 1970s look to them and they reminded me of a time when I was just a little kid and when The Brady Bunch was on TV. Both sets were full of all kinds of big name old-school stars that I was becoming more familiar with via my new interest in sports and sports cards. For a while I had a notion that I'd put together a set of 1973 Topps baseball cards, but other than a bunch of common cards and some minor stars that weren't in very good condition I never really got close to finishing it.

So, if the card in question isn't my favorite because of the subject of the card (even though I do now love Yaz!) and it isn't because of the value or condition of the card or some special meaning from my youth, just WHY is it my favorite? For that we have to go to my non-sports side. My love of this card actually really has nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with cartoons--or one cartoon in particular, The Simpsons.

1989 was not only the year that I got out of the Army and the year I started collecting sports cards, it was also the year that The Simpsons premiered (the "pilot" episode, the Christmas special "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" first aired on December 17, 1989). The Simpsons quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and it still remains one nearly 30 years later! While I would no doubt have felt having a 1973 Carl Yastrzemski card in my collection was a good thing in general, The Simpsons would make it an absolute must have, and it ended up becoming my favorite sports card of all-time.

The second season episode "Three Men and a Comic Book" (first aired May 9, 1991) was an early favorite of mine for many reasons. And despite being 28 years old it's still a strong, and very funny, episode. Even though I also didn't really collect comic books much as a kid, the comic book convention that opened the episode tapped into my geeky past and reminded me of going to science fiction/comic conventions as a teen (See Creation Convention--25 Years Later and Creation Convention II: Geeks on Parade for more on that). I loved Bart's obsession with trying to acquire issue number one of his favorite comic book, Radioactive Man. And I especially loved the Comic Book Guy character (who was introduced in this episode) because he reminded me VERY much of the rotund, somewhat gruff owner of a comic book/sports card store that my friends and I would visit in a neighboring town back in the day.

While the story of this episode is really all about Bart's pursuit of the Radioactive Man comic book, there's a small moment in it that really cemented the Yaz card as my favorite. As Martin Prince and Bart try to haggle the price for the comic book down from $100.00 Milhouse enters and has a special request for Comic Book Guy. He asks "Excuse me. Do you have the Carl Yastrzemski baseball card from 1973, when he had big sideburns?" After Comic Book Guy retrieves the card he says to Milhouse "Here you go, Mutton-Chop Yaz."

As you can see, the "Simpsonized" version of the card isn't an exact duplicate (Yaz's hat and undershirt are red instead of Red Sox blue and his sideburns are a bit exaggerated to match the "Mutton-Chop Yaz" description), but it's not a bad facsimile, and it's pretty obvious that this IS indeed the 1973 Yastrzemski card (while there's no text on the card it is the same 1973 design, Yaz is striking the same pose and the batting practice cage around home plate can even be seen in the background). One other thing that shows the producers of the show knew what they were talking about is the fact that Comic Book Guy was selling the card for $30.00, which is not an unrealistic price for that card in nice condition in 1991. I still wonder just how they settled on using that particular card in the episode. Out of the thousands of options for sports cards (and that number would still be pretty large even if we are just talking about cards that feature players with big sideburns) why pick this one? And, to be honest, Yaz's sideburns aren't really even all that outlandish in size, considering that it was 1973 and all.

That short moment was the card's only appearance in the episode, but it is referenced one more time toward the end. Bart is clutching Milhouse who has fallen out of the tree house in the Simpson's back yard. As he pleads with Bart not to let go of him Milhouse laments that "I didn't even want the comic. I wanted Carl Yastrzemski with the big sideburns!"

At that point in time my sports card collection didn't include a 1973 Topps Carl Yastrzemski card. But once the episode ended, not unlike Bart scheming to acquire his treasured Radioactive Man comic, I began my quest to find one of the Yaz cards for myself. This was in the days long before the Internet and eBay, so looking for a specific card like this was a much longer process. I looked around at a nearby flea market that I frequented on Sundays and probably also visited that comic book/sports card store I referenced earlier (the one with the owner who was almost an exact duplicate of Comic Book Guy). I eventually found one and was very happy to add a star Red Sox player in the 1973 Topps set to my collection. The fact that the card had been featured on one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons just made it an  even sweeter acquisition.

That could be the end of the story. We've pinpointed my favorite card, gone over the reasons why it is my favorite one, and the fact that I was able to add one to my collection made for good closure. But even though it was already my favorite one soon after the "Three Men and a Comic Book" episode aired, the 1973 Carl Yastrzemski card made one more appearance on The Simpsons. In the third season episode "Bart's Friend Falls in Love" (aired May 7, 1992) Bart's friend Milhouse, well, falls in love with the new girl in town. Bart is pretty annoyed by all the attention Milhouse is pouring on the girl and the fact that he brings her to his tree house to make out with her. He takes advantage of the situation by making some very uneven baseball card trades while Milhouse is otherwise occupied. First he offers to trade his Omar Vizquel card for Milhouse's... yep, Carl Yastrzemski card! Apparently at some point between the "Three Men and a Comic Book" episode and this one Milhouse was finally able to acquire his coveted Carl-Yastrzemski-with-the-big-sideburns card from 1973!

It's a very quick moment, but full of all kinds of Simpsons small detail greatness. First off, we get another reference to the 1973 Carl Yastrzemski card. It looks a little different in this episode (Yaz's hat and sideburns are now blue), but it's pretty obvious we're still talking about the same Yaz card (and they even added the text to this version of the card).

As if that wasn't enough, the card that Bart "offers" in trade is another real-life card. Omar Vizquel was a very reliable shortstop who had a very long and successful career, but he was never what one would describe as a "superstar". He certainly wasn't in the same league (no pun intended) as Yaz. While he ended up with some very impressive career numbers, in 1992 he was just in the early part of his career. This card is pretty recognizable as being from the 1990 Topps set. That means it was only a couple years old at the time, and definitely a common card, worth only a few cents at most. But Bart's card isn't even in good condition. It appears to be pretty mangled and is missing a huge chunk of Vizquel's head.

Just as I did with the 1973 Carl Yastrzemski card, I wondered how the Simpsons writers decided upon the Omar Vizquel card out of all the worthless common cards that Bart could have used in a lopsided trade like this. Unless it was simply a completely random thing or maybe someone on the Simpsons writing staff was a fan of the Seattle Mariners and/or Vizquel, my best thought is that his last name happens to include a "Z", just like Yaz's. Who knows?

And there's one last thing to mention about The Simpsons and the 1973 Carl Yastrzemski card. I haven't seen or read it, but apparently there is a story in the Simpsons comic books called "Bart's Pal Milhouse: The Quest for Yaz". This one again features the 1973 Yastrzemski card (once again with a little bit of a different look from the original and the two previously seen examples from the show). And the cover of the comic even features a picture of Milhouse on a baseball card very similar (right down to the big sideburns) to the same Yaz card we've been discussing. Here's the third "Simpsonized" version of my favorite card and the Milhouse version from the comic:

It's interesting to think that the Yaz card was introduced in a Simpsons episode about a comic book and now it is found IN a Simpsons comic book! I think I might need to track down a copy of this comic. It makes me wonder if this story is possibly the "missing" part of Milhouse's Carl Yastrzemski baseball card saga, taking place between the first episode where he passed up the opportunity to buy the card from Comic Book Guy and the second episode where it was apparently part of his collection. Just how and when did he acquire it?

Here's one more look at the original Yaz card and all the different versions of it as seen in the episodes discussed here and The Simpsons comic book:

On a final note, I'm writing this blog while the Boston Red Sox are playing in the 2018 World Series. Before Game One in Boston the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by a true Red Sox legend. That legend was none other than...Carl Yastrzemski!