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Morning Briefing

Rising to the Topps wasn't that special

October 19, 2006|Mike Penner | Times Staff Writer

Dream jobs in sports aren't what they used to be. Take, for example, playing quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. Or goalkeeper for England. Or third base for the New York Yankees.

Or being the guy who writes the blurbs on the backs of baseball cards.

When David Roth arrived for his first day as a baseball card writer for Topps, he entered "a place I'd always imagined as a gum-scented, Willy Wonka-fied dream palace," as he recently recalled on Slate.com. "I pictured packs piled in leaning towers, slides of long-ago Darryl Strawberry photo shoots, game-worn Mickey Tettleton jerseys.

"When I showed up, I found a standard corporate office: cubicles, recycled air, bad carpeting, worse lighting. There was plenty of candy -- Topps makes Ring Pops, Push Pops, and Bazooka bubble gum -- but few cards in sight. There was little indication that this place churned out baseball cards and not, say, bath mats."

Roth portrayed his brief stint at Topps as a mind-numbing, repetitive exercise in grind-it-out typing, burdened by tight deadlines and interoffice tension. But occasionally he'd find a pleasant surprise, such as the card for the St. Louis Rams' Harvard-educated quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"The back text dealt with a question posed to him by his offensive line," Roth wrote. "Figuring that perhaps he'd covered this in Cambridge, they asked Fitzpatrick what would hurt more: getting kicked by a donkey or whipped in the face by an elephant's trunk."

Fitzpatrick went with the elephant's trunk. Roth did some research and found the nugget to be true.

"At times like that," Roth said, "the job was something very close to fun."

Trivia time

Which was the first baseball card to be sold for more than

$1 million?

Fernandomania: The next generation

Twenty-five years after he pitched the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series championship, Fernando Valenzuela has reached another career milestone: Playing professional baseball long enough to play on the same team as his son.

Fernando Valenzuela Jr., a 24-year-old first baseman in the San Diego Padres minor league system, has decided to play winter ball for the first time, joining Dad on the Mexicali Aguilas of the Mexican Pacific League.

Fernando Sr., who spends his summers providing color commentary for the Dodgers' Spanish-language radio broadcasts, has played 14 seasons in the Mexican Pacific League. The 46-year-old left-hander is in his third season with Mexicali.

Monday Night Barkley

"Good television" defined: Getting Charles Barkley to talk about Terrell Owens on "Monday Night Football." Asked by Tony Kornheiser what he thought of Owens as a teammate, Barkley replied, "I don't think it would have worked with me because I would have hit him in the head a long time ago.

"He's a great player, obviously. I like T.O. But if I was a teammate, I would have hit him in the head with something."

Trivia answer

A famous T-206 Honus Wagner card, printed circa 1910, was sold for $1.27 million to collector Brian Seigel in 2000. The card was once co-owned by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall.

And finally

Detroit Tigers closer Todd Jones recently revealed the secret of his success to the San Diego Union-Tribune. It has to do with Jones not overstaying his welcome -- pitching one inning and nothing more than that.

Said Jones: "By the time they realize I don't have anything, the inning's over."

mike.penner@latimes.com

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