How Long Has This Been Going On?

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“Um, Jeff, you know this is a baseball card blog, right?”

Yes I do, but bear with me. Those two cards are short printed rookie cards from the 2000-01 Topps Heritage basketball set. Why are they relevant? What’s the deal with those rookie cards? Why are they limited to 1972 of each, when the retro design is the 1971-72 set? Why not short print 1971 of each?

All good questions. When this set came out I was smitten. I love the original cards and I fell in love with the Heritage throwbacks, so I bought a box and went down the rabbit hole of short prints. There are 36 of them. I got the two above yesterday. I still need two to finish the set.

For those keeping score at home, that’s 16+ years working on one set. To be fair, I could’ve bought a complete master sett about 9 years ago, but I was already way deep into purchasing the SP’s. To be further fair, I have passed up on cards that were too pricey. My price point is $4-5 each. I will not pay $10 for Hedo Turkoglu or Mark Madsen. So some of this is on me.

What’s too long? I’m working on a 1949 Remar Bread set and a 1952 Parkhurst set. It may take years for me to find the flimsy paper card of Oakland Oaks broadcaster Bud Foster. Funny thing, the supply/demand balance is out of whack. It may take five years to get the card but when I get it it will cost me $8. I realize I may have to wait out these out of the mainstream sets.

I’ve been working on the 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D set and, while more scarce than their other issues, they’re out there. The time it takes me to finish this set will be determined by the deals I get. I’m a patient person. I recently got my wife a Wilco poster that I’de been looking for for seven years.

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There’s a frustration in not being able to fill a want list at one’s own pace. I’m realizing that if the only sets I’m working on are harder to find, I’ll be spinning my meals, getting no further in my collecting, and I don’t want my renewed passion for the hobby to wane. I decided to work on the 1960 Topps set. There’s never a lack of supply for any Topps base set, no matter how far back you go.

I see collectors who are working on a lot more sets than I am and wonder what their time frames are? Do some seek to complete, say, all the Topps sets by the time they die? Do others give themselves a year to finish something? Do some simply save up and buy a complete set when they can afford it?

Am I willing to take years to finish the 1960 set? Yes and no. I won’t overspend, and I have found the joy in trading with other collectors. I’ve never done that before. But knowing I could be done with a few clicks and a few PayPal payments does make it hard to wait and I need to wait. If I finish it too fast then I’ll need to search for another plentiful set to keep me occupied while I wait for a 1952 Parkhurst Aaron Silverman to show up.

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Dr. Zaius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Thou – The Greatest Villains in Cinema History

Joan Crawford wielding an enormous wooden coat hanger. Blofeld stroking his fluffy white cat. “Blue Velvet’s” Frank Booth reaching out to touch Camilo Pascual on the AL Pitching Leaders card. You can almost hear him say, “Hi, neighbor!”

I love movie villains and the 1964 Topps, and thought it would be fun to combine the two to create a themed set. The Yankees and Dodgers are two of the most reviled teams, so they collectively house this rogues gallery.

Roll Call!

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Freddy

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Blofeld

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Role reversals would be interesting. The devout Bobby Richardson as Hannibal Lecter. Jim Bouton as the Wicked Witch of the West (instead of ending up in Munchkin Land, it could be the Pilots’ locker room, with Joe Schultz as the Mayor). Good ol’ Doug Camilli terrorizing teens in their dreams with a demonic catcher’s glove.

A few years back, Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary invited me to share some of these as part of his “Son of Cardboard Fetish” exhibit at a local Los Angeles library. Suddenly, there was controversy. The librarian, a big baseball fan himself, scotched the inclusion of these villain cards in the exhibit. He deemed them too scary for soccer moms and their kiddies. Poor “Baby” Jane Hudson and Henry F. Potter would have to wait for their moment in the limelight.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at Sports Collector’s Digest, who printed some of the cards for everyone to enjoy in their national publication. I do worry about those soccer moms, though.

Butch Wax

 

Mid-twentieth century men wore their hair short with some type of hair dressing. A tube of Brylcreem or a bottle of Vitalis could be found in medicine cabinets all over America. Those who wanted a real “clean” look opted for the crew, butch or flattop cuts. These extra-short styles often required a thick pomade–oddly pinkish in color–known as “Butch Wax” to make the short hair in front stand up. I know this first hand due to childhood trauma resulting from forced crew and flattop cuts in an era of increasingly longer hair styles.

The well chronicled emergence of the counter-culture in the late 1960s sparked a revolution in personal appearance with men sporting long, undressed hair, beards and mustaches. This movement toward the “Age of Aquarius” didn’t sit well with my parents and it certainly didn’t jive with the hidebound traditions of baseball.

Players were expected to be clean shaven with short-cropped hair. 1970 baseball cards started to show players with lengthening sideburns which served as a harbinger of the “hairy” poses we are familiar with as the ‘70s progressed. However even after the zeitgeist overtook baseball in the ‘70s–starting with the hirsute “-Swingin’ Oakland A’s–some teams, like the Cincinnati Reds, remained adamant when it came to “old school” grooming. A vestige of this school of thought still remains with the Yankees prohibition of facial hair.

But the “far out” and “groovy” new looks on display during the ’67 “summer of love” in San Francisco or at “Woodstock” in ’69 were nowhere to be seen in baseball card photos at this time. It was still “squaresville” as far as Topps was concerned. The players’ boycott of Topps in ’68, expansion in ’69 and many trades led to the use of older photos and many bare-headed shots. As a result, decidedly “un-cool” hair styles would greet the “tie-dyed” clad kid when he laid down some “bread” for a “stash” of wax packs.

Here’s a look at some “squares” you can really “dig.”

This ’68 Pete Richert shows off a great flattop. It appears that Pete was wearing cap before the photo was taken which resulted in a slightly “mussed” look. There had to be some Butch Wax in use since the hair still stands up in front. Pete would be a valuable lefty out of the Orioles bullpen during their ’69-’71 run as AL and World Series (’70) champs.

“Fat Jack” Fisher shares a similarly disheveled flattop look in his ’68 photo. The “level headed” look came in handy for Jack, since he could find barbers in all the cities he ventured to in his journeymen career who could “top him off and wax him up.” He served up Ted Williams’ final home run in ’60 and Roger Maris’ 60th homer in ’61.

Eddie Fisher’s ’68 card bares a striking resemblance to my high school baseball coach who we knick-named “Bristle Bob.” Eddie floated his “knuckler” for 15 seasons.

Another well-traveled hurler with Butch Wax in his locker was Stan Williams. The ’68 and ’69 cards show the freshly barbered hurler in all his “buzz cut” glory.

Perhaps this classic flattop in ‘68 kept Tony LaRussa’s head cool, allowing his brain to absorb all the nuisances of baseball in preparation for his Hall-of-Fame managerial career.

This ’68 Astros had a pair of “close cropped” relievers in Fred Gladding and Dave Giusti. Fred pieced together a decent career with Houston and Detroit. Giusti would go on to be a “palm ball” tossing bullpen ace for the Pirates.

In this ’67 Danny Cater shows off an impressive flattop. He was second in the AL in batting in ’68-“The Year of the Pitcher”- hitting .290 behind Yaz’s .301.

Hall-of-Famer to be Jim Bunning shows his adherence to the conservative baseball culture with this flattop in ’69, foreshadowing the conservative positions he would espouse as a two-term US Senator from Kentucky.

This ’70 card shows Jim Bouton’s foil in Ball Four, Fred Talbot, with his signature “waxed up” flattop. The conservative southerner took exception to the “mod perm” style worn by Pilots catcher Merritt Ranew in a memorable exchange in Ball Four.

Lou Piniella styles this “sweet,” “bristle cut” on a ’70 Topps Super.

“Tough-as-nails,” ex-Marine Hank Bauer has a “military ready” cut in this “sweaty” ’69 manager card.

Although he grew some sideburn during his time with the short-lived Pilots, Wayne Comer’s ’69 card still has a nice “burr” cut from his days as Senators property.

Phil Roof displays a really “high and tight roof” in this ’70 card. Alas, Phil would take his well-barbered noggin to Milwaukee.

The Yankees only got Charlie Smith and his “crew cut” in exchange for Roger Maris.

1969 World Series hero Al Weis is as “square” as it gets in this ’68 card.

Chuck Cottier’s look in ’69 would have made “Sergeant Carter” proud.

It’s time to stop “waxing nostalgic” and cut this “follicle farce” short. But no late ‘60s “short hair styles in sports” retrospective could be complete without showing the quintessential “flat-topped” athlete: Johnny U.!

“Skipped Parts”

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A couple of years ago I was watching the 1966 movie “Penelope,” starring (peak) Natalie Wood, when I came upon a brief scene in which Wood casually opens a pack of 1966 baseball cards. Here, read this.

One of the best minutes in movie history.

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So last night I watched the 2000 film “Skipped Parts,” with an ensemble cast led by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Its kind of a coming-of-age story, set in 1963, in which Leigh plays the unwed mother of a 14-year-old boy. Leigh’s father is a wealthy citizen considering a run for governor in some unnamed southern state, who exiles his daughter and grandson to a house in Wyoming so that they don’t embarrass him during his campaign. Leigh is a bit “wild”, even with a son. She also has never worked a day in her life, so she pretty much has to do whatever her father says.

65962There is a scene near the start of the film where grand-dad summons the boy into a room and makes him toss a stack of baseball cards into a raging fire. Something about “setting aside all childish things.” Prior to the summons, we see the kid (who knows what is coming) palm a 1958 Don Drysdale and slip it into his back pocket. When he tosses in the stack, we see (with a bit of freeze framing, several rewinds, and several minutes of Google image searches) that the top card is a 1962 Felix Mantilla, and below that is a 1961 Alvin Dark managers card. For the rest of the stack we can just see the backs in the fire, and they include a 1961 Willie Mays. The cards looked to be in good shape, though deteriorating by the second.

All of this is soon forgotten, and lots of interesting stuff happens for the next 90 minutes. It is sort of a proto-Juno, except the teenagers (Bug Hall and Mischa Barton) are 14, rather than the 17-18 year olds in the later film.

In the final scene, which takes place a year or so later, the boy is sitting on the front porch of the Wyoming house, next to (SPOILER) a baby in a bassinet. Above the baby is a mobile constructed out of baseball cards. (How did I not have one of those, or make one for my kids?)

54f5c4680cdc4_66095nThese are also 1961 and 1962 cards. I can make out a 1962 George Alusik (took me a while to figure this out, as the cards were literally spinning in a light breeze), a 1961 Gary Geiger (I think), and, still surviving, the 1958 Drysdale.

The movie was made in 2000, and the cards were obviously meant as a period device. We never saw the kid actually do anything with his cards other than near the start when he has a stack on the table that grandpa makes him destroy. I appreciate that the movie makers made the effort to get the correct vintage, even though very few people likely took the time to notice.

I am likely going to buy this DVD so that I can make clips out of these two scenes to add to my “collection.”

Oh, and the movie’s not bad. (I had no idea about the cards when choosing it.) Its not Casablanca, but the characters are interesting and Leigh, typically brilliant, is worth a couple of stars just by herself.

Please let me know if you run across any other baseball card scenes in movies, or if you have any insight into this one.

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Orlando Cepeda Made Me a Criminal

Does one crime make you a criminal? Does a momentary act of desperation make you a bad person?

There’s the literary case of Jean Valjean, stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. The theft marked him for life, first with imprisonment, then with non-stop running from the grasp of the relentless Javert. A lifetime of suffering for satisfying an urgent need.

If you’ve ever tried to complete a set from packs, you know how horrible it feels as you get towards the end. Pack after pack, dollar after dollar, wading through card after card looking for that final one. In 1973, I was Valjean and Orlando Cepeda was my full loaf.

I needed a few cards to finish my set, the first set I’d assembled only from packs. I know I needed Dave Lemonds, probably a couple of others from the dreaded last series, but, really, the now rare high numbered cards were plentiful and available. (Not like the third series of 1972 Topps football, which I don’t think ever made it to Suffolk County. If they had, I would have bought them and I don’t have any!).

Orlando Cepeda was impossible to find. Orland friggin’ Cepeda, on the final leg of his career, was more sought after by an almost 11-year old kid than he was by any big league team when his card was made. By the end of ’73, when the last series emerged, “The Baby Bull” was finishing up a big comeback season as a Red Sox DH in Year One of the experiment. His Topps card though had him as an Oakland A. Did I know that yet? No.1973toppsbox

I bought pack after pack, scouring the front of cello packs – the one and three window varieties – looking at the fronts and backs in a mad search for “Cha Cha.” No luck.

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Living in Lake Grove in the early 1970’s was interesting for a boy from Brooklyn. It felt like the 1950’s still, except for the Smith Haven Mall. The mall was uber modern, very exciting in its own way. Less exciting was McCrory’s, a pretty nondescript budget department store, but McCrory’s had cards and I bought a lot of them there. Near the candy section was a three-tiered rotating wire rack of dangling three-pack cellos. On yet another trip to kill suburban time, I headed to the mall with a friend to hang out and stopped to continue my card quest.

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Spinning, spinning, top section, second section, third section, nothing – wait! Spinning in reverse to focus my eyes on what I’d seen and missed in my first go around, there he was! Cepeda, right in the front, right in the middle.

“What if I want it more than the person who has it?” Rocket Raccoon was still a few years from his debut but he summed up my situation best. I wanted, I needed, that card. I can’t remember if I had any money on me, probably not, because if I had I wouldn’t have stolen it.

I’d never stolen anything before, and didn’t quite know how it worked. I positioned my friend in front of me as I got to work. Now I didn’t take the whole three-pack, which would have been easier. Why? Because I didn’t need the three-pack, I needed the middle pack. See, I wasn’t really a thief, because I only was going to take what I needed. I tore the bottom pack off, tossed it under the display, and tore off the middle and skedaddled. Fast.

Whenever I see that Cepeda card I cringe a bit.  I have a few now, even one listed on eBay, but it’s not that one. That one is safely tucked between Von Joshua and Jim York in my set. Still, it hurts a little to know what I did, and confession is good for the soul, but only slightly. The 1973 Topps Orlando Cepeda card, number 545, is my bread and my conscience is my Javert.

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More bunting, please

“Boys, bunting is like ******* ***. Once you learn how, you never forget.” Joe Schultz from Ball Four (Since this is a “PG” forum, you can look up the missing words.)

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All too frequently baseball broadcasters will comment on “modern” players’ inability to bunt. Supposedly, every player used to spend hours “catching” the ball with the bat and placing perfect bunts at will. The exact time players stopped trying to perfect their bunting technique is never articulated; however, it had to be after Brett Butler retired since his name is synonymous with the art of bunting.

Of course much has been written about the lack of correlation between bunting and run production. Earl Weaver, the Orioles Hall-of-Fame manager, recognized the folly of excessive bunting prior to advanced metrics and famously eschewed the bunt in favor of the three-run homer. Dan Levitt presents a good case against frequent bunting in this analysis: http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2006/07/empirical_analy_1.php

No matter what side you come down on in the bunt debate, it is true that teams did bunt more frequently in the past. All this bunting “back in the day” is reflected in the numerous “bunting cards” found in the ‘60s and ’70s. The bunter pose was usually reserved for light hitting, middle infielders with slight builds or Whippet like outfielders. These frail but speedy types could “lay down” a sacrifice bunt or “drag” one for a single in their sleep. They constantly put the opposition on guard for a “safety” or “suicide squeeze.” Occasionally, a slugger would strike the pose as well. Now, let’s look toward the third base coach, get the “sign” and “roll one down” memory lane.

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The weak hitting “poster child” for the bunting pose has to be Ray Oyler. His inability to hit Major League pitching is legendary; best exemplified by his benching in the ’68 World Series to get Kaline’s bat in the lineup. His lifetime average of .175 and a .258 OBP confirms his “weak wand.” Ray peaked with 15 sacrifice bunts in ‘67. My unhealthy obsession with the Seattle Pilots compels me to mention that Ray was the opening day shortstop in ’69.

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Being a big Orioles fan in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s explains why the ’70 Paul Blair is my favorite bunter pose card. The Gold Glove centerfielder hit second and frequently used his speed to get on base which allowed the Robinson boys and Boog Powell to “knock him in.” He led the AL in sacrifice bunts in ‘69 and had a career best 17 in ’75.

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Giraldo “Chico” Ruiz assumed the bunting stance in both ’68 and ’71. He was a speedy utility infielder who posted 12 sacrifice bunts in ’64 with the Reds. Ruiz is remembered for an infamous incident where he allegedly pulled a gun on Alex Johnson in the Angels clubhouse in 1971.

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Ruiz’s ’68 teammate, Leo “Chico” Cardenas, had an almost identical photo. The slick-fielding shortstop “moved them over” 95 times in his career.

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This ’70 Angel “Remy” Hermosa shows him attempting drag bunt. Angel recorded six sacrifice bunts in 91 career games.

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Another early Expo shown “squaring around” is Charles “Boots” Day in ’72. Boots’ stats were less than exemplary, but he has to be enshrined in the “Best nick-name Hall-of-Fame.” Since he was primarily a catcher, the bunt pose is unusual but not unprecedented.

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Tom Satriano’s cards in ’67 and ’69 feature the same bunt stance photo. Like Boots, Satriano did occasionally play in the field. He had 14 career sacrifice bunts.

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Shortstops Jackie and Enzo Hernandez very much fit the prototypical bunter stereotype. Here we have Jackie in ’72 and Enzo in ’76. Those of you who attended the Miami SABR Convention in 2016 had the privilege of hearing Jackie reminisce as part of the Cuban player panel.

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When the Royals dealt Jackie to Pittsburgh in 1970, they received “Little” Freddy Patek. The diminutive shortstop was the perfect player for a bunt shot. His career successful sacrifice rate was 75%.

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Although he would later “muscle up” and slug 43 homers for the Braves in ’73, Davey Johnson modeled his bunting technique in this ’67.

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Some guys were so associated with the bunt that they were depicted multiple times in the stance. Bert Campaneris shows up three times (’66, ’72, 76). Also Sonny Jackson put down a “bunt triple” in 70, 71 and 74.

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Although he had some power and good RBI production, Topps put Jim Fregosi in the pose in ’68 and repeated the picture in ’69. The player boycott of Topps undoubtedly explains the usage of the same photo, but maybe Topps just liked that cool turtle neck undershirt. Jim led the AL in sacrifice bunts in ’65.

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Being the complete player that he was, Joe Morgan undoubtedly mastered the art of bunting. He doesn’t fit the profile of the light hitter, but Topps had him pose bunting nonetheless in ’70.

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Jose Cardenal must have kept a packed suitcase since he was constantly being traded. He is shown bunting in ’71 with the Cardinals.

I could “drag” this bunt theme on longer, but I will close with a few more examples.

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As action photos became the norm for cards, actual “in game” bunts show up regularly. This ’74 Pete Rose is a classic shot.

From the ‘90s to the present there are countless examples. As long as mangers continue to “flash the signs” and pitchers bat in the NL, the bunt shot will not be “sacrificed.”

Ponder This

I want to remind everyone that this blog is part of SABR’s Baseball Cards Committee.  I urge any of you slackers to join SABR , an organization filled with lots of great groups like this one, people who love to talk about (obsess over) biographies, records, the Negro Leagues, the 19th Century, statistics, poetry, board games, and dozens more.  You are free to join any or all of these groups, and you are free to start your own.  This group started last fall because Chris Dial and I said, “Hey, I wonder if anyone would be interested in a Baseball Cards committee?” Yes, in turns out.

After less than four months of work, this is our 100th post — a pretty fine output for a bunch of part-timers. I want to stress that this blog does not take an editorial position on what people should collect, or how people should collect.  I have my likes and dislikes, and I am one of the more active posters, but the only thing keeping your favorite sets (or your favorite collecting habits) from getting their due is that you aren’t writing about it.

So step right up!

If you are a frequent blog reader, you might have noticed an annoying tendency to write disrespectfully about high-end collecting: extreme grade-sensitive cards, using grading services, and storing cards in lifeless albums and blocks of plastic.  Qui, moi?

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If I am guilty of anything, it is that I want to spread the message that high-end collecting is not the only game in town.  I would suggest that the rise of grading services and condition-sensitive collecting drove a lot of people, people that didn’t want to spend $125 for this Jim Davenport card, out of the hobby.  One of the reasons I was motivated to start this committee and blog was to show people that you don’t have to be rich to collect and enjoy your childhood hobby.  (I have heard from many of these people in the past few months.)

Put away the price guide for a second and find out what cards you actually like, and how you enjoy your cards.  That’s what we want to blog about.  (You can buy a perfectly excellent 1965 Davenport for $5, and for $10 you can get one that would require a magnifying glass to find its flaws.)  If you like collecting high-end graded cards, great, write a post about it and we’ll run it.

Thought of the day: “Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ would be such a cool painting, but two of the frame corners are chipped, so meh.”

So: if you want to want to build a set of 1961 Topps, all Near Mint, knock yourself out. If you don’t have 100 grand laying around, there is still a place for you in the hobby.

The card below would run you about $50 because (oh, the horror) it is only in “EX-MT” condition.  The Davenport above, I remind you, is $125.

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Ponder this question.  If you woke up tomorrow and every baseball card in the world was suddenly worth 10% of what it is worth today, would this make you happy?  Your collection just lost 90% of its value — that is horrible!

Despite a sizeable collection of vintage cards, I would be thrilled.  I like getting more and different cards, and in this alternative universe I would be able to afford a lot cards that I can’t afford now.  This would be wonderful.

I have read blog posts that “review” old card sets, and I am struck by how often I read: “A fine attractive set filled with stars, but the lack of a tough high number series drags the set down a bit for most collectors.”  In other words, the set is less popular because the cards aren’t expensive enough.  Pardon my French, but WTF?

My message is: if you like baseball cards, there is a place for you.  Collect the cards you like.  And for God’s sake, play with them.