Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Going to Wichita

Remember way back in the early aughts, when garage rock was king?  I can't blame you if you don't - the genre's reign was blink-and-you missed it brief.  Back when bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes, Jet, and the Hives were the choice of music taste-makers.   Back then, a throwaway line in a gibberish song based around Jack White's inability to say Salvation Army could make Wichita, Kansas seem like the most badass, rock and roll hive this side of New York.  Those were the days

Of course, the way the world is today, being able to travel anywhere, Wichita included, seems like an exotic adventure.

Anyway, a good 25 years before White boasted of travelling to the middle of nowhere, Cubs' minor leaguers also spent a lot of time there, as the Wichita Aeros were their AAA affiliate throughout most of the 1970's.  Thus, as a rabid Cubs collector and lover of minor league memorabilia, it should come as no surprise that the above 1973 J.B. Kelly Bank Wichita Aeros team set above piqued my interest when it showed up in my saved searches on Ebay earlier this month.

While the collation in incomplete - the nine above are missing 12 brethren - I was okay with that seeming black mark.  These over-sized cards (about the same dimensions as the 4x6 photographic prints you used to pick up from Walgreens) don't pop up very often.  The coyness is probably due to the fact that vintage MiLB cards are rare in and of themselves and the checklist contains a novelty card of Hall of Famer, Tony LaRussa (yup, he spent some time in the Cubs system).  That being said, I'm not chasing the future Cardinals manager; rather, I have long been chasing after a different card found in the set and it happened to be part of the lot:

I know, Pete LaCock is cool and all, but it was Jose Ortiz who captured my attention.  You might be asking yourself, why is that?  Who the heck is this guy?

You see, if you're familiar with Wrigley Roster Jenga, you know that my main collecting focus for nearly two decades now has been my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection (CATRC) - one card of every single player to suit up in Cubbie Blue pinstripes.  Ever.  Seeing as the franchise stretches back into the Reconstruction Era, you might expect that the early days of the team's sprawling history would present the most obstructions to my lofty collecting goals and you would be right.  That is, mostly right.

The first half of the 20th century and earlier contain, by far, the most gaps in my CATRC binder for reasons that should be obvious.  Thus, these black holes in my collection are not all that frustrating, I know obtaining tobacco cards of roster fodder from 100 years ago isn't a quick process.  However, the gaps aren't limited to those long bygone days of jazz, flappers, and Model T's.  In fact, the most frustrating missing pieces in my most treasured tome are from a much more modern era, when bubblegum card collecting was one of the most popular childhood hobbies and Topps was doing a pretty good job of documenting our nation's pastime on cardboard.

Until recently, with just two exceptions, I had at least one card of every single Wrigley inhabitant since 1970, making those two MIA's all the more annoying.  Now, thanks to this Aeros lot, it's just one.

Sidenote - if anyone know of a Wayne Tyrone card, please let me know.  As far as I can tell, the 1976 Cub has never appeared on a pasteboard product.  Or perhaps you know of a TTM address where I can send this custom creation?  Either way, any help would be greatly appreciated!

Like Wayne Tyrone, Jose Ortiz has never appeared on a single traditional baseball card.  Unlike Tyrone, he did at least showed up on a small handful of oddballs when he was still plying his trade.  According to the Trading Card Database, there's a 1971 Picture Pack set that was sold at Wrigley Field which includes him, though those oddities are closer to photo prints than baseball cards.  Also, there was spot for Ortiz in the 1972 Puerto Rican Winter League sticker set, but that release obviously has no connection to the Cubs.  Thus, I settled for chasing the '73 Aero card, seeing as it's the best of both worlds.

Even though Topps did a decent job of documenting baseball, as the only game in town, a few of the more obscure players did slip through the cracks.  It's not really a surprise that Jose Ortiz and his brief, three-year career was one of those unfortunate men.  Please allow me to properly shine the spotlight on the forgotten Cubs outfielder, in honor of my latest acquisition.

Jose Ortiz's other two cardboard options, courtesy of the Trading Card Database

In the winter of 1969, on the heels of one of the most infamous implosions in sports history, the Cubs were left licking their wounds.  Centerfield had been a primary weakness for the team which ever-so-politely yielded to the Miracle Mets, with scrubs such as Don Young, Jim Qualls, Adolfo Phillips, and an afro-less rookie by the name of Oscar Gamble cycling through the position without making much of an impression.  Obviously, the club was looking for answers as to why they wilted during the heat of the pennant race and centerfield was targeted as a prime area for improvement.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the remedy to their outfield woes was already on the roster.  The aforementioned Gamble would go on to star in the Majors throughout the next decade and a half; unfortunately, the most famous follicles in the game would be found under an assortment of non-Cubbie Blue caps during this time.

Looking for a shakeup, on November 30th, the talented newbie was swapped to the Phillies for Johnny Callison, who by then was decidedly on the other side of the proverbial hill.  Much bellyaching is heard in the Northside bars of Chicago about an assortment of egregious trades - Brock, Madlock, Maddux (although he technically left in free agency) - but the quick punt on Gamble is rarely heard during these bootleg therapy sessions.  However, we're not here to talk about Oscar and we've already devoted far too many lines to his tale.  Instead, let's shift our focus to the another outfield-related transaction made exactly one-year later.

With Callison having proved to be to old and injury prone to handle center, the Cubs found themselves leaning on a Rule 5 pick (Cleo James) to pick up the slack. This sad trombone left the team having to upgrade the position after a near postseason miss for the second year in a row.  Luckily, they had veteran, mid-season acquisition, Joe Pepitone, still in the fold; but, the club still lacked a long-term solution.  Thus, the Cubs sheepishly turned to their South Side neighbors for assistance.  In what was just the third trade between the ballclubs during their then nearly 70 year-long rivalry, the Cubs acquired a promising young centerfielder by the name of - you guessed it - Jose Ortiz.

All told, the summation of this transaction can be found listed in Webster's Dictionary under "obscure;" but, at the time, Ortiz was seen as a legitimate prospect.  The Puerto Rican stole a whopping 79 bases in the minor leagues in 1967 and rose to the Majors for the first time just as the Cubs were dropping down the standings in September of '69.  Ortiz was largely a singles hitter, as his 1969-70 slash of .314/.375/.381 suggested; however, those stats were accrued in just 25 at-bats.  Perhaps with a little more seasoning on the farm, the speedy youngster's bat would develop enough to allow the Cubs to fill that gap in the center of the diamond.

Come 1971, the future quickly became now.  Nearing the end of his MLB road, injuries forced Ernie Banks to start the '71 campaign on the disabled list and brought Pepitone in from center to cover first base duties.  Suddenly, Ortiz no longer had time to figure things out in the minors - rather, he was #1 on the depth chart, #20 on the roster, #8 on the scorecard and starting on Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

Sadly, it was all downhill from there - 1971 was to be his last season in the Majors.

Jose spent the month of April as the starter in centerfield, but was kicked back to the bench in favor of fellow prospect, Brock Davis, come May.  Ortiz maintained a spot as a regular pinch-hitter and extra outfield glove that month; however, playing time became sparce by June and he was back in the bushes by July.  All told, Jose posted a slash line of .295/.347/.398 seemingly stunted as a slappy, singles hitter and the team felt they could do better.

Alas, centerfield continued to be a problem for the Cubs throughout the rest of the 20th century and well into the next one.  Much was made of the team ineptitude at the hot corner before Aramis Ramirez came along, but sustained success in center has been every bit as rare.

While Jose was done in the Bigs before 1971 was out, he hung on the Cubs chain as a minor league journeyman through '76.  At first, he played with the Cubs' AAA affiliates in Tacoma and Wichita (as my baseball card attests) but was then further demoted to AA Midland before he was granted release.  After one more go-round in the Mexican League in '77, Ortiz finally hung up his spikes without clawing back up to the top.

And that's the story of Jose Ortiz.  He was an Aero longer than he was a Cub, so I guess the card I ended up with is quite appropriate.

While Jose represented my chase card - one of my most desired and longest sought after, at that - he was not the only intriguing pasteboard in the stack.  In fact, among the oddballs, there was a card of a guy who never appeared on another card, before or after, and also saw time with the Major League club:

Like Ortiz, Compton's time in Major League Baseball was already over with by the time he posed for this photograph, he just didn't know it.  The hurler pitched in a single game during the 1972 season and that was the end of his MLB tenure.  Clint drew mopup duty in an eventual 11-1 loss to Philadelphia on October 3rd, the second to last day of the season.  Two innings pitched, two earned runs allowed, and that's all she wrote.

The 3rd round of the 1968 MLB June amateur draft played one more season in Wichita and then abruptly retired at the age of 22.

Were he to have played today, the high draft choice would have had a million Bowman cards on his ledger before he even took the mound on that fateful October afternoon.  As it stands, being a one-game wonder in an era where baseball cards were still all about actual Major Leaguers, Mr. Compton never made it onto a Topps piece.  In fact, according to my sources, this Aeros single is the only card that Compton ever appeared on.  Thus, I should also need this one for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?  It's not like there's another option, right?  Well...

As it turns out, I already have Compton in my binder, as a Cub even.  How is that possible?

You may or may not be familiar with the Rookies App.  This iPhone program allows users to create custom baseball cards from pre-built templates, just add photos and text to the front and back and *bam* you have a brand new, unique to you baseball card.  Then, you have the option to order a bonafide wax pack filled with your creations, printed on quality cardstock all professional-like and everything.  You honestly wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a Rookies App card and your average Topps or Panini product unless you scientifically studied them.

The first pack I ordered through the Rookies App back in 2014

Also, unlike Topps' card creator, this one doesn't block you from using photos with MLB trademarks.  So, I created a few pasteboards of guys who didn't have any previously or only had realistically unattainable pieces to their name.  At the time, I though Compton fit that profile.  It appears as though I was quite wrong and now I am at a crossroads.

On one hand, cards which feature players in a Cubs uniform always receive priority in my collection and, though you can't truly tell from the photo I originally selected, Clint is in his Cubbie duds.  However, the Wichita Aeros card feels more like a "real" card, i.e. not a bootleg creation I whipped up to fill a gap that actually doesn't exist.  So, I don't know what to do.

Which card would you chose to represent Clint if you had a CATRC?  Please help me to decide!

All inner turmoil aside, the rest of the cards won from this Ebay lot feature a bunch of eventual or former Cubs already found in my CATRC, including the aforementioned LaCock:

These will slide nicely into my "Nothing Major" collection, made up of minor league cards of Major League Cubs.

Lastly, there was also a former MLB moundsman in Floyd Weaver.

Weaver spent time in the Bigs with the Indians, White Sox, and Brewers by never made the trip from Wichita to the North Side of Chicago.  Interestingly enough, Weaver made only one appearance with the '73 Aeros, which marked the end of his pro career.  Anyway, this card will be inserted into my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder, made up of players who were under contract with the Lovable Losers but never suited up with the MLB club, for one reason or another.

Do you have any favorite off the beaten path type-minor league cards like these '73 J.P. Kelly Bank Wichita Aeros in your collection?  If so, what makes them worthy of your collection?  Is it because they're just so obscure and/or peculiar?  Do they show a favorite player in a "before they were famous" bush league uniform?  Or, perhaps they depict a PC player who doesn't have much in the way of a cardboard footprint, like Mr. Jose Ortiz?  I highly encourage you to share your stories in the comment section below.

At any rate, the highlight of this purchase - far and away - was finally being able to cross Jose Ortiz off of my "needs" list.  Once I figure out a way to get a custom TTM out to Wayne Tyrone, I will have a card of every single player to suit up for the Cubs since 1970 and I can shift my entire focus on vintage and super-vintage targets.

And the best part was that I didn't even have to go all the way to Wichita to get that bad boy - I made Wichita come to me.  I didn't have to worry about Seven Nation Armies holdin' me back - take that, Jack White!

Monday, May 4, 2020

I've Gotten Corona... Monarch Corona, That is

Hey ya'll - I'm back.  Did I miss anything while I was gone?

I mean, besides the fact that we are now living in an entirely different world than when I last updated Wrigley Roster Jenga way, way, WAAAAYYYY back in February.  Honestly, while that was just a little less than three months ago, it feels as though it's been more like two years.  My blogging and collecting sabbatical started as a result of being discontent with the state of baseball and it's sign-stealing, minor league contracting, labor dispute looming drama (as well as the Cubs satisfaction with the status quo) and now I hardly remember any of that noise.  In fact, I'm now quite desperate for America's pastime to come back, going so far as to wake up at 5:30 in the morning so I can watch Twitter broadcasts of the recently rebooted Chinese Professional Baseball League.  When my alarm went off for that, I think my wife was ready to have me committed.

In my defense, I think life under quarantine has us going all a little nutty.

Needing a healthy outlet, my desire to delve back into the hobby has started to return, as well.  Thankfully, I have been able to mostly work from home, which has afforded me time to peruse Ebay during the afternoon lulls.  In fact, just last week, I made my first baseball card purchase since before Valentines Day.  It wasn't until I received the envelope in yesterday's mail and ripped it open that I realized what I had done... I accidentally contracted Corona...

...Monarch Corona that is!

Monarch Corona was a collector-issued and moderately popular, oddball brand that put out a few different series of cards in the late 2000's/early 2010's.  They, in fact, had nothing to do with the highly contagious and clandestinely dangerous virus that currently has the entire world on it's head.  I don't mean to make light of what is a deathly serious matter, but I couldn't help but laugh at the realization.  I honestly did not intend to make my hobby return in the Corona Virus era with a Corona card, despite my affinity for black humor and puns.

At any rate, this is not the first Monarch Corona card to enter into my collection.  These cards often focused on niche subjects within the rich tapestry that is the history of our national game.  Without Monarch Corona, I would likely have to plunder a museum for a 150+ year old cabinet card of Bob Ferguson, who only played one season for the franchise in what was their second year of existence (1878).

However, "Death to Flying Things" here (is that not the most bad-ass nickname in the history of the sport?) comes from Corona's "flagship" equivalent.  Meanwhile, the pasteboard that I most recently acquired hails from MC's 104-count Centennial Series checklist:

This set comes complete in a plastic protector and only 200 copies are known to exist. These two factors make finding singles from broken up sets quite difficult to come by.  Additionally, the dimensions on this 2011 product were shrunk from standard size to tobacco size, owing to their focus on ballplayers who were active during the 1911 season (hence the centennial branding).

As wonderful as this faux-back set looks, there is only one card that truly captivates me, thus making it the longtime object of a saved search on Ebay.  That card features "Long Tom" Hughes as seen in the beginning of this post and again below:

Although Mr. Hughes spent the 1910 season with the minor league Minneapolis Millers, he began the 20th century as the ace of the Chicago Orphans, better known as today's Chicago Cubs.  Unless you're new here, you had to have known there was some kind of Cubs connection to be made here, right?

"Long Tom" was exceptionally tall for his era (6'1"), thus earning him his over-sized nickname.  A Chicago native, Hughes began his Major League career with a three-game audition for his hometown squad in 1900 and then found himself leading the staff by 1901.  That season, he started 35 games for the would-be Cubs and completed all but three, posting a solid 3.24 ERA along the way.  Unfortunately, Tom's debut came during the beginning of the Deadball Era AND he pitched for a sixth-place club, which contributed to his abysmal 10-23 record.  Perhaps seeking greener pastures, our hero made the jump to the newly-christened American League for 1902.

Tom went on to win 20 games for the Boston Americans in 1903, who would go on to win the first modern World Series.  That's pretty nice feather to stick in the ol' cap, ain't it?  The inaugural World Champ would then spend most of the rest of his thirteen year career with the Washington Senators before hanging up his spikes in 1913.

"Long Tom" taking some cuts during his time as a Senator.

This card has sat in my watch-list for what seems like eons.  The price was good - one measly buck - but, I just never pulled the trigger.  Perhaps, I subconsciously felt like I needed a specific reason.  Perhaps this Corona pun was rattling around in the back of my head and the connection isn't so accidental... Either way, this glorious little oddball is finally all mine.

As far as I can tell, despite having a lengthy career in the Majors during a time which tobacco cards proliferated, this Monarch Corona card is one of but a small handful of baseball cards to have been printed with his likeness.  It's also by far the most affordable, as it's the only one that isn't 100 years old.  Complicating matters is that there have been two other hurlers of the same name, one of which was active during the same era and both also have a few cards to their name.  Thus, sorting through the wheat and the chaff has required extra attention, lest I add the wrong Tom Hughes to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Such snafus have occurred before.

All these factors considered, it was imperative that I finally pull the trigger on that watched listing before someone else took advantage.  MC singles don't pop up often, especially for this set, owing to the fact that it was sold as a complete package.  Luckily for me, despite my lengthy dawdling, no one beat me to the chase.

 Same name, same occupation, same position played, but neither are the Tom Hughes I'm looking for.

And there you have it - the card that brought me back to blogging.  Who knew it would take me "getting Corona" to come back while sheltered in place?   In all seriousness though, I hope everybody out there reading this is doing well, as well as being smart and safe.  If we all do out part to flatten the curve and curb the spread, maybe we'll actually get to watch some Major League Baseball by July. 

Being quarantined right now sucks - there's little debate about that - however, if we do what we're supposed to, it'll be relaxed sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, here's hoping that the only Corona you're exposed to is the kind that's actually baseball cards!

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Monkey's Out of the Bottle

I have a laser-focused collection.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy miscellaneous Cubs cards, fun photography, and mysterious oddball pasteboards.  However, after nearly two decades worth of collecting the way I do, I don't think I'll be shifting my collecting focus anytime soon.  In short, I am set in my ways, I love my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, and that binder get 99% of my hobby time.

On the bright side, the fact that I am so preoccupied with one mission (collect one card of every man to take the field in a Cubs uniform) keeps me grounded.  I'd much rather spend $20 on a super vintage tobacco card than a blaster of random, modern day product.  On the negative side, it also keeps me grounded.  By that, I mean that I don't get much joy out of buying packs, blasters, and boxes of cards because I know that my collecting needs will almost never be met by such purchases.  After all, I'm not going to find a strip card of some Depression Era benchwarmer in a rack pack of 2020 Topps, am I?  Heck, even if there is a Cubs rookie or first appearance in a North Side uni in a new set, it's infinitely more economical to purchase them secondhand rather than play the Topps lottery.

When the new cards first hit the shelves each year, it should be an exciting event for any hobbyist, but my supremely narrow collecting focus keeps my exuberance mostly in check.  Parade, meet rain.

That said, I am not made of stone.  While both my brain and my wallet know that spending money on modern product will not provide much benefit to my CATRC, that doesn't keep me completely on the sidelines.  I'll still buy a stray pack or two each year - I have to see what the new stuff looks like in person, after all.  Therefore, when I found myself in Target over the weekend, I decided to loosen my collar a tad with a rack pack of 2020 Series One.

Now, like I said, modern products rarely have any carrots to dangle in front of my face and this year's Flagship is no exception.  While the checklist is 350 cards long, there is only one, single bullet point which captures my attention, #103 Danny Hultzen - it's like being a Rangers fan or something.  Anyway, despite landing fifteen cards in the set, Hultzen represents the only Cub making his first pasteboard appearance with the team, thus making it a chase card for my CATRC.

Despite this fact, I still plopped down the five dollar bill - despite the long odds of adding anything to my binder - because sometimes you just have to...

Little did I know, I was in for a surprise.  Without any further ado, let's bust into this 34-card pack of 2020 Topps Series One - my very first pack of cards on the calendar year:

Upon shedding the wrapping, it was Tony Gonsolin's face (or his trendy mustache and flowing mane) which initially greeted me.  I don't know who this guy is. but he's definitely got a good first name.

Second out of the packet was a card that could be of potential use.  The Cubs have brought in local hero, Jason Kipnis, on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invitation.  He represents a cheap (an emphatically important quality for the front office this winter), veteran stopgap at second base that could allow blue chip prospect, Nico Hoerner, to spend some time refining his game at AAA.  So, maybe I'll be adding this card to my CATRC binder soon and actually get something useful out of my "treat yo'self" impulse purchase.

Also, maybe the hometown hero can redeem himself for very nearly ruining the Cubs' party in 2016.

I think I lost about 5 years off of the back end of my life when I saw that ball leave the bat.  Yikes.  My skin still crawls when I watch the video 3+ years later.

Speaking of startling moments, the next card in the pack was a massive surprise.  Like I said, there was exactly one card on this fairly large checklist that I actually "needed" for my collection.  One.  One out of 350 possible pulls and I had only bought 34 cards.  Yet, only three cards into my first sampling of the product, there it was staring back at me:

Danny Hultzen makes his first appearance in a Cubs uniform; in fact, he makes his first appearance on a card as a Major Leaguer, period.  As you might infer, that means this card will slot right into my CATRC binder.

The lefty was one of the few bright spots for the Cubs during the latter half of the 2019 season.  The second overall pick (by Seattle) of the 2011 amateur draft was the only player taken in the first 29 selections who hadn't reached the Bigs. This draft class is widely considered to be the greatest of all-time - for apparent reasons and Hultzen was expected to be one of the bigger names from it.  However, while names like Gerrit Cole, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez went on to stardom, Hultzen battled an onslaught on injuries and washed out of baseball on two separate occasions.  Yet, come last September, there Danny was in a Cubs uniform, striking out the side in his maiden Major League appearance.

Some might question the validity of putting a minor league lifer who had only made six appearances in the preceding season onto the checklist of Topps Series One and - honestly - those people would be right.  It doesn't make sense - it's just a symptom of the over reliance on rookie cards that Night Owl eloquently studied not so long ago.  Plus, while he is back with the club for 2020, the chances of him making much of an impact are quite slim.  The new three batter minimum rule and his lack of a 40-man roster spot see to that.  You'd think Topps would want a proper representation of the Major Leagues in their Flagship set... but rookies.

Of course, with all that being stated, the homer in me is thrilled to find a proper Cubs card of the guy.  After all, LOOGY-type relievers rarely get any love and he looks so much better in Cubbie Blue than Mariners Teal.  Does this make me a hypocrite?  Probably.  Maybe.  Yes. C'est la vie.

While this pack was already a odds-defying, massive success, I was thrilled to discover another Cubs card just a few flips later.  Since "the Professor" is known for his intelligence and attention to the finer points of pitching, let's now take a moment to examine the design used for 2020 Topps.

In short, I like it.  While, like many who would bemoan this era of collecting, I would prefer a return to borders.  However, that horse is dead, buried and decaying.  Others complain about the sideways orientation of the nameplate and it's seemingly Bowman-inspired layout.  In regards to the former, I also agree, but I find this to be much easier for my brain to comprehend than having the last name printed above the first, like in 2019 Topps; so, at least it's an improvement.  In regards to the latter, some scream Bowman rip-off; but, to me, the layout and design harkens back to video games like MVP Baseball or to graphical elements used in mid-00's television broadcasts, which tickles my nostalgia bone.  

Also, I enjoy the color coding used in the nameplate  Any attempt to get more blue and red into my Cubs cards is welcomed.

As for the back, they're pretty standard fare, although the heavy reliance on gray is a bit drab.  Also, I find it odd that they included Danny Hultzen's minor league numbers rather than his MLB stat-line.  I'm sure it has something to do with print deadlines or whatever.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's see what the rest of the pack produced:

Here we have a pair of former Cubs, or at least a former Cub and a former North Side farmhand.  I don't miss Aroldis Chapman, but this otherwise standout pack had to damped my enthusiasm by reminding me that Eloy Jimenez is blossoming on the other side of town...  Oh well, nothings truly perfect, I suppose.

On the plus side, the latter does represent my first Eloy card whatsoever, so it'll fit in nicely with my "Coulda Been a Cub" side project.

Next up, a trio of cool photos, including a special "Maryland Day" Orioles uniform (anyone else think soccer when they see this?), a hovering Gregory Polanco, and an intimidating perspective not seen nearly enough on baseball cards.

Oh hey, this guy has been in the news a lot lately, hasn't he?...

On a brighter note, I think I might have the market cornered on the second generational talent in Toronto.  Well, almost - I'd just need Vlad Jr. to complete that "set."  Still, that's a lot of family ties for one pack.

That does it for the base portion of the packet.  Moving on, let's examine the "special" cards:


As I mentioned earlier, this particular pack of cards came from a Target, so here are my retail-only Turkey Red inserts - two regular and one Chrome.  Like the return of crimson birds, but a whole lotta meh here with the backgrounds and the players pulled.  Also, I'm just now noticing how poorly these inserts photographed, especially that shiny Sale.  Although, much like Chris' Sawx and Yordan Alvarez's Houston Astros, I probably should have seen that coming.


And finally, to close out the pack-busting experience, here's a 35th Anniversary of 1985 Topps insert.  Seems like Topps likes to dip into the well of 80's nostalgia quit often; but, the '85 set is actually one of my favorite designs of all-time, so I'll let it slide this time.  I can't quite put my finger on why I get such a kick out of this set (perhaps it's the simple geometric design, prominent use of team logos, and bold colors), yet I find the originals representing a fair amount of 80's Cubs in my CATRC.

Of course, Pete Alonso is a fully-grown "Polar Bear" and not a "Cub."  Thus, as much as I will cape for '85 Topps, this one will be going into the trade stacks.

With that, we've seen all there is to see with this odd-defying hanger pack.  Within the plastic wrapping, I was able to uncover the one and only card from this product that I declared a target (and, again, within three flips) which served as a Cubgrade for my CATRC, one potential further addition to said binder, a bonus Kyle Hendricks, and an Eloy for my "Coulda Been a Cub" collation.  Considering my narrow scope of cardboard interests, that's an exceptional haul.

All in all, my dip into 2020 Series One went even better than I could have possibly expected and I'm thoroughly satisfied with the brief abandonment of logic that facilitated the purchase.  Granted, there's not a shred of doubt that I could still purchase the single Hultzen RC on Ebay or at my LCS for a fifth of the price I forked over for the pack, though nothing compares to that childlike thrill of pulling it yourself, right?  I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one who feels that way - I encourage you to share a story about the last time you experienced such a rush and/or your feelings about 2020 Topps Series One in the comment section below.

In the meantime, now my wallet and brain have to get together and work twice as hard to repress the urges of my yearning heart to try and replicate the magic.  What have I done?

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Cubgrading Castellanos

Unlike the real Cubs, the other day, I actually spent some money and brought back Nick Castellanos.

Okay... so paying a dollar on Ebay for a 2019 Bowman Heritage base card a couple of months after the product's release isn't really the same thing as inking a highly sought after, star player to a massive four year, $64 million dollar contract.  But, then again, I am not part of the Ricketts family, rolling around in Ameritrade money a la Scrooge McDuck, either.  They were outspent by the Reds... the small market Reds... who have also stolen Pedro Strop away from us and spent all winter getting better than us...

Meanwhile, as I was saying before I got sidetracked on an emo tangent,  I have finally "Cubgraded" my Nicholas Castellanos representation in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  In case you're new to Wrigley Roster Jenga, that means that I have upgraded a player included within the binder from a non-Cubs card to the proper blue pinstripes.

From his acquisition at the trading deadline on July 31st until this week, "Big Stick Nick" was wearing a Tigers jersey in my most treasured collection.  I was supremely disappointed that he didn't show up in North Siders uniform in last fall's Update checklist and mildly worried that - upon his seemingly inevitable free agent departure - he wouldn't get a proper, pack-pullable Cubs card at all.  Sidenote - how did he not make an appearance in Update?  A big name swaps spots on two heritage franchises, one of which is in the middle of the playoff hunt, at the trade deadline?  Isn't that Update's wheelhouse?  WTF, m8?

Luckily enough, Bowman Heritage was rebooted just in time to save Nick from Tiger purgatory.  Although, it should be noted that he also popped up in blue and red in Topps Gallery, as far as pack-based, retail products go.  However, the photograph of Nick looking imposing as he strides up to the plate in the home pinstripes set against the clean, "keep it simple, stupid" design of 1953 gave it the edge over Gallery's hit or miss "artsy fartsy-ness."

As far as Gallery cards go, Nick's isn't too bad - I've seen some real horrors since the product was rebooted a couple of years ago.  However, when it comes to documenting the entirety of the Chicago Cubs all-time roster, I'll take a photograph of a player over a drawing any day.  Plus, the home pinstripes look so much better than the blue "softball" alternates.  I don't think that's much of a hot take, but I know that certain sectors of the Chicago fan base thinks that the blues are the best uniforms of the bunch.  I am not among them.

Anyway, I definitely feel like the Bowman is better than the Gallery, which is why the former is comfortably resting in my All-Time Roster tome and the latter is a scan that I swiped from Ebay.

Anyway, Nick is now a Cubs, if in my silly little collection and not in real life.  I guess that's an okay consolation prize.  However, I will not be thrilled when I inevitably see Castellanos wearing Red in Topps Series II...  Nick may have only been a Cub for half a season, but he made a huge impact.  One could say he carried the team on his back during the later summer and fall of 2019, posting an absurd .321./.356/.646 slash line with 16 home runs in just 212 at-bats.  Needless to say, the team floundered in spite of his Herculean effort.  Plus, by all accounts he was an enthusiastic and positive clubhouse presence, seemed to want to stick around, and would have slotted nicely into what is now a rather week outfield rotation at Wrigley Field. 

Alas, the Ricketts have to same some money so that they can abide by this broken luxury tax system which actively encourages the sport's largest money makers to shed salary.  Just look at the Mookie Betts/David Price trade that went down last night...  if I were a Red Sox fan, I'd be lighting some torches right about now.  Of course, I might need to keep some of those handy anyway in case Kris Bryant gets dealt.  We shall see.

In the meantime, at least I now have a proper Cubs card to commemorate Nick's electric and all too brief time on the North Side of Chicago.