Monday, February 19, 2018

Running the Ball, Running the Race

Happy belated Daytona Day - sorry for being a day late and a dollar short.

Yesterday was one of the most important days on the automobile racing calendar:  the 60th running of the "Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing," otherwise known as the Daytona 500.  The season-opener for the NASCAR Cup circuit is considered to be one of the crown jewel events in all of motorsports, on par with events such as the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Grand Prix of Monaco.  The 200-lap event held on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway is one of the very first events on the yearly motor racing schedule, thus making the anticipation even more palpable as the green flag approaches.

Speaking of auto sport, for a time in the late nineties and early aughts, Cubs baseball and Bears football were supplanted in my heart by race cars and racing cards.  I would binge watch off road racing and rallycross events on the Speed Channel, attend as many races as I could afford at the local tracks, and play NASCAR Thunder on my XBox until my eyes were ready to fall out.  My collecting habits were reflected accordingly, as trips to my LCS were focused exclusively on packs of the latest Press Pass products.  Diamonds and gridirons were old hat.

However, at that same card shop, there was one football card that caught my attention:

Long gone Double Play Sports Cards decorated their walls with their most eye-catching merchandise.  I vividly remember taking a trip there with my father and seeing the above card mounted just above the cash register.  Standing there confused and probably with my mouth agape,  my dear old dad explained to me that the greatest running back of all-time and Windy City God, Walter Payton, once moonlighted as a race car driver.  My mind instantly shattered into a thousand pieces and I knew I had to have that card.

Unfortunately, that shop was unaware that the junk wax bubble had burst and the hometown markup was strong, so it took me another fifteen or so years to finally acquire it.  Thanks, Jeff!

After he retired from the NFL, Payton was invited to drive in Toyota celebrity races in 1988 and 1989, events which whetted his racing appetite.  Shortly thereafter, "Sweetness" officially became a two-sport athlete and formed NFL Team 34.  With his race team, the football legend raced at various levels in the Sports Car Club of America, winning a pair of races and even won the SCCA GT-1 championship during the 1990 June Sprints.  As you can see, Payton was just as speedy on the track as he was at Soldier Field.

For 1992, Walter moved up the Trans-Am series, then the uppermost level of the SCCA, racing for Paul Newman and road racing legend Tom Gloy.  The learning curve was steep, and in 18 events, Payton finished no higher than 8th place.  Then, at Elkhart Lake in 1993, the former Bear flipped his Ford Mustang several times and it burst into flames; luckily, he was able to escape with only minor burns, but he was sufficiently rattled.  Soon thereafter, Payton stepped out from behind the wheel permanently, and instead opted to pursue his second love as a team owner.

 Payton wheeling a Mustang for NFL Team 34

Walter then bought into Daly Coyne's racing team, a Plainfield, IL-based CART (Indy Car) entry, forming Payton-Coyne Racing.  Right up until his sickness forced him to step away in 1999, Walter was a familiar sight in the pits and he never missed watching his drivers on the track, according to one race official.  Some of those more notable drivers included Johnny Unser, Robbie Buhl, Roberto Moreno, and eventual '96 Indy 500 winner, Buddy Lazier.  However, unfortunately, victory lane eluded the team at this time.

Despite the relative lack of success, Payton's influence was felt across the garage area, as all the cars which competed in the 1999 CART season opener carried a decal, reading, "Get Well, Sweetness."  This decal also featured a football helmet with No. 34 in the Chicago Bear colors.

18 years later, Coyne driver, Ed Jones, sported a special helmet for his team's former co-owner.

And that is the story behind Walter Payton's second sporting career.  I'm curious, how aware of this bid of sports trivia were you aware of?  Were you as shocked and impressed as wide-eyed, pre-teen Tony was?

Walter Payton may not have competed in NASCAR; however, the day of the Daytona 500 still seemed like an appropriate time to share this story.  It's just too bad that I forgot to do just that, yesterday afternoon.  I was far too caught up in Austin Dillon, a third generation racer, outlasting the field in a crash-filled contest, taking the iconic number "3" car to victory lane twenty years after the legendary Dale Earnhardt did so in 1998.  I think the folks at NASCAR were quite happy with the result.  Sorry, Walter.

Of course, from everything I've read, I think it's safe to say that Mr. Payton would probably have been just as enthralled with the race as I was!

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Darwin Awards

While you might have been aware that today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday (this public school employee got the day off to celebrate), did you know that February 12th is also the day of birth for another prominent figure of the 19th century?  Today marks the 209th birthday of English naturalist, biologist, geologist, and author, Charles Darwin - you might know him for his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, and his theory of evolution.  In honor of this momentous occasion, since about 2001, the day of Darwin's nascency has been declared International Darwin Day, in honor of his momentous contributions to the fields of science.

Additionally, based upon his concept of natural selection (a characteristic of evolution), the Darwin Awards were launched in 1993 to "recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death or sterilization by their own actions."  These award winners showcase the peak of black humor.

Here are some knuckleheads that just barely "failed" to make the cut for the real Darwin Awards

Furthermore, during the first half of the current decade, the Chicago Cubs employed a scrappy second baseman who bore the name of today's hero, Darwin Barney.  In 2012, the caretaker of the keystone put together a career year, stealing the Gold Glove Award from perennial favorite, Brandon Phillips, and looked to be part of the ongoing youth movement in the Windy City.  Alas, it was not to be, but, nevertheless, Darwin remained a popular player (especially with our friend, Wrigley Wax) until his trade to LA in 2014.  As of today, after stints with the Dodgers and the Blue Jays, Mr. Barney remains in the league, as a spring training invitee of the Texas Rangers.

Anyway, what does any of this mean?  Well, it means that, in honor of International Darwin Day, I'll be conducting my own version of the Darwin Awards.  However, instead of paying tribute to those who offed themselves in unique and dimwitted ways, I'll be showcasing my top five favorite Darwin Barney baseball cards.  Honestly, it's quite surprising how many quality pasteboards exist of a guy who is essentially a "one season wonder."  Anyway, this is the type of high quality and relevant content you should have come to expect from Wrigley Roster Jenga by now.

Without any further ado, let's jump right into the countdown with my fifth favorite Darwin card:

#5 - 2013 Topps Archives Cubs SGA 

In 2013, the Cubs partnered with Topps to create their own special set of Archives cards, centered around their franchise history and given away in four chunks at Wrigley Field.  Darwin made the first series, coming off of his 2012 GG-winning campaign and looking to be a star of the future, on this 1965 template.  While I wasn't able to make it to any of those games, I did come across a cello pack at a local Goodwill a couple of years ago.  Thankfully I did because I love the pennant-based design of '65 Topps and oddballs rock, making this Barney impossible to leave off of my list.

#4 - 2014 Topps Factory Team Set 

In the course of drafting this post, I was surprised to discover that I did not have the regular base card of this particular single in my collection.  That's okay though, seeing as the Factory Team Set version (which, ironically, I had to chase down in Philadelphia, of all places) changes nothing about this card that I enjoy.  Cocked and ready to fire to first for a double play, Barney shows off his fielding prowess with old school flipdowns, eye black, high socks, and a phenomenal 1908 throwback uniform.  It's an appropriate photo choice, seeing as the scrappy second baseman was something of a throwback himself.

#3 - 2012 Topps Flagship

Ordinarily, I have something of an aversion towards horizontal cards (they screw with my orientational OCD), there's no denying just how majestic Darwin's 2012 Topps base card is.  Racing full bore into second base, Barney has left his feat in a desperate dive to beat the tag, caught completely parallel to the ground by an astutely aware photographer with quick reflexes.  You don't see a shot like this on baseball cards all that often!  The stirrups and the ivy-walled background only serve to punctuate just how phenomenal this card is.

#2 - 2013 Topps Flagship

Our penultimate Darwin Barney pasteboard is another single where the photograph is the star of the show.  An absolutely jubilant Barney rounds first base, with his fist in the air, presumably after drilling a home run high into the bleachers - a rare occurrence for the slap-hitting, glove-first middle infielder.  A quick consultation with Getty Images reveals that this roundtripper was of the walk-off variety, finishing off a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres, coming off of the heels of a 12-game losing streak for Chicago... no wonder everybody is so elated!

With that, we've now reached the moment we've all been waiting for - what Darwin Barney card will win the Wrigley Roster Jenga Darwin Awards??!!

Drum roll please:




Right - sorry, God.  Believe me, the irony of that guy showing up in a post tied into Darwinism is not lost on me.  Anyway, behold my favorite Darwin Barney card of all-time:

#1 - 2013 Aunt Millie's Bread Great Moments in Cubs History

Like I said, oddballs rock and there are few better such sets than Aunt Millie's 2013 regional release based around the Cubs.  The Indiana-based bakery issued a set of eleven rounded-corner cards that year, paying tribute to "Great Moments in Cubs History."  Riding high off the wave of Darwin's improbable Gold Glove win and likely looking for a recent event, Barney made the cut.  After all, in the throes of their controversial rebuild, the Cubs didn't have many great moments to chose from, at that time.  I failed to find out about these cards util after they'd left the market; but, luckily I came across this single at my LCS a few years later.

It's tough to beat a rare, regional, oddball such as this one, though those other Darwins gave it their best shot.  It was all in vain though, as I knew that Aunt Millie's gave me my absolutely favorite from the starting gun.

So there you have it, the Wrigley Roster Jenga Darwin Awards - an impromptu idea that "evolved" out of International Darwin Day.  I hope you enjoyed the countdown and it's firmly tongue-in-cheek nature.  Are there are fellow Cubs collectors out there who feel that I slighted a certain Darwin card?  Do you take issue with my rankings?  Please feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below!

In the meantime, happy Darwin Day!  Please do try to celebrate accordingly and keep your name out of the actual Darwin Awards.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Which Yu Would You Choose?

Back in April of 2012, I was sitting in the restaurant section of the Bottom Lounge, a popular Chicago concert venue located on the near west side.  After a long day of work, I was waiting on a group of friends to meet me there, so that we could enjoy the musical stylings of Bowling for Soup and Patent Pending on the cozy stage.  However, these friends were running late, so I plopped down at a booth, ordered a cheeseburger, and took in the baseball game that was playing on the TV in front of me - the Texas Rangers vs. the Toronto Blue Jays.  You might be asking yourself, why was a lounge in Chicago showing a Rangers/Jays game?  You see, the Rangers were starting a high-profile rookie who had just been imported from Japan, a pitcher by the name of Yu Darvish.

In that contest, the young phenom carved up the opposition, striking out nine Texas batters in seven innings while earning the win.  As I took in the action, I was simultaneously upset with my friends because we ended up missing all of Patent Pending due to their tardiness, but also pleased that I was able to take in such a dominant performance.  Since then, Darvish has been one of my favorite non-Cubs... well, now, six year later, you can officially drop the "non."

After months and months of seemingly endless hemming and hawing, labor saber rattling, and column after column about how the dearth of free agent signings could last into March, Yu Darvish signed a contract with my Chicago Cubs yesterday.   Basically, since connections were made in late November, we rabid North Sider fans have been obsessively refreshing Twitter, living for updates on MLB Trade Rumors, and even got so desperate as to turn to a cat for hot stove news, all in hopes of seeing the headline that popped up in our feeds last night:  "Cubs to Sign Yu Darvish."  Due to the stale market, they were able to get him on a six year, $126MM contract - roughly $34MM less than projected.

All I can say is, "it's finally happened - can Yu believe it?"  Also, get ready for an endless stream of terrible, low-fruit grabbing puns like that one.

This ace-caliber pitcher has an impressive resume.  The four-time All Star has posted a career 3.42 ERA, a career 3.30 FIP, and regularly ranked near the top of the league in strikeouts for the Texas Rangers.  After a late-season trade to the Dodgers last year, Yu helped to lead the powerhouse into the World Series, including a masterful start against the Cubs in the NLCS (6.1 IP, 1 ER).  Seeing as he is essentially replacing fellow free agent holdout, Jake Arrieta, in the Cubs rotation, Yu is going to have some big shoes to fill

Of course, as with any hurler signed to a lengthy deal, there are many risks associated with the move.  First of all, Darvish previously missed the entirety of the 2015 season when he went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery.  While he has obviously come back strong, there will always be questions about the durability of his right arm.  Furthermore, the true elephant in the room has to be his dreadful performance in the 2018 World Series - 2 starts, 3.1 IP, 8 ER - which lead many to wonder if those numbers were giving teams pause.  Although, during the course of the off-season, reports from the Astros leaked out that Yu was tipping his pitches, a problem that the Cubs coaching staff should easily be able to help their new TOR starter work through.

All in all, the Darvish deal has plenty of risk associated with it; however, there's no way that Theo and Co. were going to be able to acquire a pitcher of that caliber at a lesser cost.  Personally, I cannot wait to see Yu suit up in Cubbie blue when pitchers and catchers report, this Wednesday, February 14th (I feel like there's something else going on that day too... hmmmm....).

Now, with this big transaction officially in the books, it's time for me to update my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  Seeing as the Cubbies' new moundsman spent a lot of time as a big-time star for a club that I have yet to establish a regular trading partner with, I have a small handful of Texas Ranger Darvishes in my possession.  Yesterday evening, I took delight in digging through the Rangers section of my trade box in search of the new North Sider.  In the course of my excavation, I was able to uncover five different options for inclusion in my CATRC tome.

Of course, whatever card I ultimately decide to use as Yu's representation is obviously going to be a place-holder.  You know that Topps is already scrambling to get his name on the Cubs portion of the checklist for Series II - big name and big team.  On a related note, I am curious to see how the backlog of upper-echelon free agents will affect the cardboard releases of 2018.  Will Topps actually be able to get Darvish and his fellow holdouts into Series II?  Did they wait so long that they'll have to settle for Update?  Was Topps preparing for this eventuality when the market freeze became undeniably apparent?  I guess we shall see.

Meanwhile, as all of that is being straightened out, I'm left asking myself which Yu Darvish should hold down the fort until he makes his Cubs cardboard debut?

As I've done with big free agent/trade additions in the past, I'll pose that question to you loyal readers - which of the above five cards should I use for Darvish in my marquee binder?  Which Yu would you choose?

I look forward to responses - I'm having a hard time making a choice, though I think I'm leaning towards either the Archives card or the GQ parallel.  Please let me know what you think!

In the meantime, here's hoping that this major signing will help kickstart the extremely stagnant free-agent market... not that we haven't been saying that every time anyone signs a contract this off-season.  Although, this move is a little different as it officially sets a bar for the top-tier starting pitchers; thus, maybe this will cause some movement on the Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, etc. front.  Personally, I believe that all this talk about a free agent spring training camp and potential labor stoppage has driven us fans to the proverbial edge.

At any rate, welcome to Chicago and to the CATRC, Yu Darvish!

(Here's a little taste of what I missed out on that chilly April evening in 2012)

Friday, February 9, 2018

Oscar Gamble and the Cubs

Last week, the baseball community lost an underappreciated hero from the 1970's and 80's - Oscar Gamble.  Only 68, the former MLB star passed away on January 31st, due to complications from ameloblastic carcinoma, which is essentially jaw cancer.  This depressing news crawled across my Twitter feed while I was on a plane to Dallas, TX,  as I was en route to a busy, four-day work conference.  Thus, I didn't really have time to delve into this unfortunate loss until now.  However, despite my tardiness, I felt as though I should still pay tribute to Mr. Gamble, as he and the world of baseball ephemera will be forever be intertwined.

The slugger plied his trade with seven different teams over the course of a 17-year career, lasting from 1969 through 1985.  "The Big O" bashed 200 career home runs in just over 4,500 at-bats, including a single-season high of 31 with the 1977 White Sox.  Additionally, Gamble didn't strike out all that much, usually walked more than he K'ed, and his .265/.356/.454 career slash line shows him to have been quite a productive player, despite injuries limiting his time on the diamond.  All that considered, typically, it is not for his on-field performance that most fans remember the name Oscar Gamble; rather, it's for what he futiley attempted to stuff under his cap:

Oscar Gamble's big afro played a key role in creating one of the most iconic baseball cards of all-time, the 1976 Topps Traded single that you see above.  You have certainly seen this card on the blogosphere before, even if you do not have it in your own collection, and it's kept kids and adults alike entertained for 42 years now.  How can you not crack a smile when you see that poor hat holding on for dear life upon a mass of thick, curly hair?  There's enough bounce to make the eclectic lefty look more like a member of the Jackson Five than the Yankee Nine - it's just groovy, man!  I mean, baseball cards are kid's playthings and are supposed to be fun; what's more fun than that?

Of course, this wasn't the first or last time that Oscar's folicular fortitude would show up on cardboard; however, I would say that this airbrushed Yankees pasteboard captured it's era-defining volume best.  That's why, for several years now, the card has represented Gamble in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, bringing me joy every time I flipped through the "G" section of said binder.

Yup, in case you didn't know it, the most famous hair in baseball history once rested under a Cubbie Blue cap - although, it was much tamer back then:

Oscar (sans locks) during his only Spring Training with the Lovable Losers.
Image courtesy of AAA Sports Memorabilia.

It's easy to forget, since he hopped around from team to team fairly often, but Oscar was originally drafted (scouted by the legendary Buck O'Neil) by the Cubs in the 16th round of the 1968 draft.  The prospect would make his Major League debut in the Windy City the very next year, during a fateful 1969 season that saw the Cubs come oh-so-close to ending their World Series drought.  At age 19, he appeared in limited duty for 24 games during August and September, batting .225 in 71 AB's and watching helplessly as the Miracle Mets dissolved an 8-game division lead and blew by the scuffling Chicagoans late in the campaign.  Clearly Gamble was like Samson and his yet-unrealized skill was inextricably tied to his hair - remember, as a Cub, the rook had yet to let his inner Chia bloom.

That following November, in a futile attempt to plug a consistently gaping hole in the outfield, the Cubs front office dealt the promising young rookie and Dick Selma to the Phillies in exchange for the aging Johnny Callison and a PTBNL.  Needless to say, that deal did not work out in my team's favor.

 The other two major pieces of that November 17, 1969 trade.

Being that his stint on the North Side of Chicago was so brief and Topps was pretty much the only name in the baseball card game at the time, I'd long assumed that no cardboard rectangle existed which commemorated his short term stop in the Second City.  Therefore, I was more than happy to let the famous 'fro be repped by a (fantastic) card from his Yankee days.  Cursory research backed up this assumption.  But, you know what they say when you assume....

Okay - if you truly wish to split hairs, this is technically a stamp and not a traditional trading card.  Nevertheless, Dell Stamps have far more in common with contemporary bubblegum cards than the postmark you would include on the front of a letter.

At any rate, Dell released several team sets of stamps and corresponding albums in 1971, under the banner of  "Today's Team."  As you can plainly see in the scan above, stolen from the Trading Card Database, Mr. Gamble appears in one of these team checklists and is clearly sporting Cubbie Blue.  However, while a few Dells populate my card collection, I had no idea that Gamble was included in this release.  How could I miss this?  Welllllllll.... it's not technically a Cubs card; just read the brief write-up on the card's... errr... stamp's backside:

"Signed off the sandlots by the Cubs.  Traded to the Phils after the 1969 season."

Your eyes might deceive you, but this is officially classified as a Phillies card and was part of the Philadelphia booklet, despite it's photographic front.  Lot's of technicalities with this bad boy, eh?  Despite what the official catalogs might say, the photograph is the main course on a baseball card and, thus, this absolutely counts as a Cubs card, in my eyes.  Though I am curious as a kitten as to why, in 1971, Dell had to dig back into the archives for a three-year old snapshot for use on Gamble's stamp. Weird, right? Licensing issues, maybe?

Now, here is where I really proved that when you assume, you make an ass out of "u and me."  Shortly after I came across the Dell Stamp while Googling pictures of Oscar in a Cubs uniform, I discovered yet ANOTHER card of Gamble in Chicago digs:

Courtesy of a scan lifted from Ebay, here's our hero on the second Cubs card produced with his likeness (again, minus the big ol' floof of hair); there's no tom foolery with this one, that he shares with Larry Bowa, either.

In 1998, for the 13th annual Cubs Convention, the team offered a set of over-sized (3.5" x 4") cards for use in obtaining autographs - the massively popular event has always offered a great opportunity to meet team heroes.  This pack of 30 cards included a selection of the current players, team personnel, and alumni who would be attending the con.  Many of the cards forced the players to share real estate, in the manner demonstrated by Gamble and Bowa above.  After all, paper doesn't grow on trees... wait a minute...

When I discovered an entry in this set  for Oscar on TCDB, I frustratedly gave myself a hefty kick in the ass.  First of all, this set was definitely not new to me and I had been aware of it's existence for many moons, though they aren't particularly common.  Additionally, only a few months ago - at the 2017 National, I came across a thick stack of discount singles from this set, but neglected to give them my full attention as I was distracted by the sprawling pageantry of my first NSCC.  Did I accidentally miss out on what would have been a rarely seen boon to my marquee collection?  *Sigh* - the world may never know.

There was sooooo much to see and do - did I miss out on an uncommon opportunity?

Either way, both the 1998 Cubs Convention Gamble (plus Bowa) and the previously covered Dell Stamp are now each comfortably residing on my "want" list as highly desirable "Cubgrades."  If anyone has a lead on either of these oddballs, I'd graciously appreciate any assistance with the matter.  As much as I adore the outfielder's celebrated Traded card, a Cubs card still trounces a Yankees card any day of the week.

In the end, I'm just happy to be able to pay tribute to Gamble with my baseball card collection, even if I don't have one of his Cubs cards just yet.  The man was a quality ballplayer, a good and gracious man, a large personality, and symbolic of an entire era of baseball history.  Though his time as a member of the Cubs franchise was relatively brief, I think I speak for all of Cubs Nation when I say that the man under that massive afro was one of a kind and he was definitely taken far too soon.

R.I.P., Oscar Gamble

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

"Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to."

From what I've seen on the internet during the build up to and immediate aftermath of the release of Topps' 2018 Flagship offering, many a card collector is applying TLC to their collection this year.  By that, I don't mean "tender love and care," because obviously we all do maintain those principles with our favorite fragile strips of paper.  Rather, I'm referring to Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez and company and their ubiquitous little ditty known as Waterfalls.  The 90's R&B classic tells the story of a mother imploring her daughter to stay grounded, not to chase waterfalls, and to stick with what she's used to.

Of course, the song is actually a commentary about the HIV/AIDS epidemic; but, that's another story for another blog.

At any rate, I've noticed many a collector voice their distaste with what's become known as "the waterfall" set; making note of how the release has inspired them to stick with vintage cards (aka, what they're used to).  In their second year of no-borders, Topps has made use of a colored swirl, which has been mocked mercilessly by vociferous collectors, as part of the "lower-third graphic" in the design, appropriate for a set which (again) looks like a TV visual put together by ESPN.  I must admit, that general displeasure had kept me from getting too excited about it's release... well, that and a few other factors.

After all, this is a busy time of the school year, with the quarter ending and report cards being due.  Additionally, I was in Texas for four days last week for a conference, including the day Topps dropped.  Between the airports, convention centers, and late night food runs, I couldn't find the time or desire for another side jaunt to a Walmart or Target in the Lone Star State.  Furthermore, while many were preoccupied with the new visuals of the card set, I was left unimpressed with the checklist of the product. Considering my ultra-niche collecting habits, I suppose this shouldn't come as much of a surprise; nevertheless, I was disappointed that there were no Cubs debuts in the product (plus Koji Uehara, for some reason).  All of this considered, I was in no rush to taste the new stuff.

But, eventually sirens' call of new baseball cards wormed it's way into my head.  Yesterday (after a loooooooong day at work), a week after it's hitting store shelves, I made an impulsive trip to my LCS in search of Waterfalls - sorry, TLC.  Anyway, since I wasn't thrilled with the checklist and I'm a cheapskate, I was pleased to discover that my longtime baseball card provider had a small bin of 2018 singles near the register, especially this one:

"Q" appeared in the Update set last year and even had a Topps Now card printed in his name after his trade across the Windy City; however, I still had yet to track down a proper Cubs card to represent one of the most underrated hurlers in baseball for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

In the meantime, I had to settle for this 2014 White Sox Factory Team Set single that my brother gifted me with for my marquee binder:

Personally, I think blue and red suit Jose much better; but, that's just me.  After his strikeout rate exploded to 28.3%  post-trade in 2017 (normally around 20%),  I cannot wait to see what the lefty does for the North Siders over the course of a full season in their rotation.

The reverse side makes note of Jose's phenomenal Cubs debut, where we whiffed 12 Orioles on July 16th - he was absolutely masterful. Along with that that tidbit, we get Jose's vitals, social media handles, five years of statistics, and lots of impossible to read legalese.

For a couple quarters (hometown markup), I was quite content having chased down this "waterfall" for my CATRC.  That being acknowledged, there were still a few Cubs to be had in that bin of 2018 singles and the sirens compelled me to add one more card to my small purchase:

How could I pass up this image of Willson Contreras, soon to surpass Yadier Molina as the best catcher in the National League, looking so positively jubilant?  For spare change, might as well throw this beauty into the CATRC, as well, seeing as that epic photograph perfectly captures the spirit of the young backstop.

A quick search of Getty Images fills us in on the context of the scene - Contreras had just jacked a late-inning solo shot to tie their June 19th tilt against the Padres, a game they would go on to win 3-2.  In that situation, I'd be pretty pumped up too!

WillCo is a wonderful talent to watch at the plate and behind it, but the emotion he brings to the game makes him perhaps the most electric player on the roster.

The fun fact given on the back of Willson's card is about as obscure of a baseball stat as you can get.  If you cannot read that text, the gist of it is that Contreras was the first catcher in Major League Baseball history to lead off a game with a home run in his first ever start from the lead-off position.  I want to know who tracked that tidbit down!

In the end, these two 2018 Flagship singles ended up being the only cards that I purchased from the LCS yesterday.  It might have been a decidedly low dollar day, but I was much happier to spend a dollar and change on two cards that I know I wanted rather than almost three bucks on a random pack and hoping the baseball card gods shined down upon me favorably.  Yea... as much as I like this particular shop, I definitely do not enjoy the fact that he pumps up the prices on all of his new stuff.

 As far as the controversial design of the cards themselves, I must admit, I don't hate it.  While it did look a little silly when the initial sell sheet dropped a few months back, in hand, these cards look pretty darn decent.  That much-maligned waterfall that cups the team logo is color-coordinated with each franchise as well - a characteristic that I always appreciate.  In fact, I think I like it better than either the 2017 or 2016 layouts.  That said, I do kind of miss borders.

Overall, is it my favorite Flagship design of all-time?  Noooooooooooooooo way - far from it!  Is it my least favorite design to ever hit the market?  Also, decidedly not.  But, if the player selection varies a little more to my liking for the Factory Team Sets, Series II, and Update, I wouldn't be opposed to chasing down a few more waterfalls for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

In the meantime, in the comments section below, please feel free to let me know what you think of the 2018 edition of Topps' Flagship offering.  Are you one of the collectors who will be sticking "to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to? Is the waterfall goofy?  Are you lukewarm on the whole thing, as I am?  Or, are you the rare bird who actually adores this design?  Curious minds want to know!

As for me, I'll be spending the rest of my day hopelessly trying to get TLC out of my head...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

You're Undeliverable

Several months back, I came up with an idea to fill some slots in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection that would otherwise be impossible.   With a history that dates back to the days of President Grant, I always knew that completing my ultimate collecting goal of one card of EVERY Cub would be, to put it bluntly, impossible; so many short-term Cubs lack any sort of cardboard representation.  However, I don't completely suck with Photoshop and a large handful of these players from the 50's and 60's are still alive.  Therefore, why not whip up my own baseball cards featuring their likenesses and send them off TTM?  I feel as though a signature by the depicted athlete makes the piece a legit collectible and, thus, more desirable for my collection than a fantasy piece.  Certainly better than a vacant slot.

So far, I've had a pair of successes during the course of this mission - both Footer Johnson and John Pyecha kindly obliged.  However, after a few months of inactivity, I was disappointed to find my first failure sitting in my mailbox 😞:

Rationally, I knew that not everything was going to come back successfully; but, nevertheless I was kinda proud of how this particular custom turned out and I had high hopes for this return. C'est la vie.

For the heck of it, here's a closer look at my take on Thomas "Duke" Simpson:

I went to the trouble of colorizing the only photo of "Duke" that I could find on the internet, a black and white original.  Then, I attempted to mimic the "hand-painted" style of 1953 Topps - a template I chose because Simpson's only MLB action came during that season.  A painting of Fenway made the perfect background, even if Mr. Simpson never actually took the mound in Boston.  Overall, I was mildly happy with my colorization and thought my custom mimed the style of the original card set well enough to cross my fingers and hope for TTM success.

Heck, I even went to the trouble of creating a back side for my custom "Duke":

According to the write-up that I included on the back:

"Thomas attended the University of Notre Dame for just one semester before enlisting in the U.S. Army.  After his service, he enrolled at The Ohio State University, where he starred in both the classroom and on the pitcher’s mound.  After graduation, he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics organization, tossing a seven inning no-hitter for Savannah in the Sally League in 1950.  The Cubs took over his contract this winter in the Rule 5 Draft and hope that the young hurler can earn a regular spot in their rotation or bullpen for 1953 and beyond.  When “Duke” takes the mound at Wrigley Field for the first time, the tall, lanky moundsman will be making his Major League Baseball debut."

As you can tell, I wrote it up as it might read had he actually occupied a slot in the second offering of Topps' checklist.  After making the team out of spring training in '53, Simpson stuck with the Big club all season, making 30 appearances coming mostly out of the bullpen.  All told, his next theoretical baseball card would show a 1-2 record, with an 8.00 ERA in 40 innings for his only MLB season.

With such a dud of a season, it's no surprise that Mr. Simpson was ignored by Topps and Bowman and, best as I can tell, he never appeared on any sort of trading card.  Thus, when I came across a TTM address on the Sports Card Forum with a recent success, I whipped up the above custom in hopes of his authenticating it with his signature.  Obviously, that did not work out - apparently the 90 year old has moved in the last year.  Hopefully all is well for the former Cubs moundsman.

Previous to this disappointing "return to sender," the last sight of my initial round of TTM's came back on November 10th, courtesy of John Pyecha.  So, of course - after months of inactivity - the very next day after Simpson came back, I found another familiar envelope in my mailbox:

And wouldn't ya know it, it's another failure - I guess when it rains, it pours.  😞x2

Of course, this may be a case of the cosmic forces of the universe protecting me from myself.  Upon further examination of my work upon return, I noticed that I made some pretty glaring errors on this card, which was based on 1966 Topps (Bob's maiden campaign). So, perhaps it's better off that Mr. Raudman never actually saw it and it's rather embarrassing mix-ups.

For whatever reason, I decided that Bob was a pitcher when I put this card together; the reality is that he played 16 games in the Chicago outfield, from 1966-67.  In fact, I can find no record of Raudman having ever taken the mound in a professional setting; thus, I have no idea what I was thinking when I drafted his card.  Maybe his name just sounds "pitcherish?"

Furthermore, that wasn't even the worst error - I wasn't careful enough with my image search and the photo culled from the internet is actually of former Cubs catcher, Randy Bobb.  Therefore, I managed to both screw up his position and his photograph on the card I created to "properly" represent him in my collection.  It's a damn wonder that I spelled his name right... I did spell his name correctly, right?

As if that wasn't enough, I got lazy and didn't even bother with drafting a back, in an attempt to get the monstrosity into the mail more quickly.  Egad - yea, I'm definitely glad that the USPS was unable to deliver this monstrosity... I likely would have insulted the man!

Here's the real Bob Raudman, during his brief Cubs trial.

"Shorty" Raudman stood 5'9" and posted a .200/.228/.236 slash line in 57 plate appearances.  The purported slugger once popped 20 long balls (1966 with Tacoma) in the PCL, but never went yard with the Cubbies.  Maybe he should have tried pitching?  Anyway, although his Major League career was quite short, his time with the Cubs organization was quite long, as the minor league vet toiled in the minors with the franchise from 1961-67, plus one bonus year in the Cincy chain in 1968.  Also, fun fact, the thrill-seeker was a professional dirt bike racer during the off-season and one manager described him as a "Hell's Angel."

Being that his time in the show was so brief and relatively unsuccessful, it should come as no surprise that Topps never honored "Shorty" with a spot in their Flagship set.  Plus, to my knowledge, he never appeared in a retrospective or regional oddball checklist, necessitating my "hail mary" attempt at getting his signature on my custom creation.  That said, after doing some further research, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that, just like Tom Brady in Super Bowl LLI, I came up empty.

According to this article from the Duluth News Tribune from back in 2011, Mr. Raudman has fallen on hard times.  In the fall of that year, the local hero (then 69) was arrested for allegedly striking his wife at their Minnesota home.  It was then discovered that complications from dementia had left him incompetent to understand the charge against him and unable to assist with his own defense.  From there, the domestic assault charge was dismissed and Raudman was civilly committed to a secure mental health facility.  Yikes.

We can only hope that Raudman got the help he needed - dementia is a terrible and debilitating disease.  On the bright side, he again turned up in the public record in October of 2016, when he was interviewed by the local Fox affiliate about his former club's World Series run - “It’s great they finally made it to the World Series,” said Raudman.  It's also implied that he and his wife were able to reconcile.

Here's hoping that all is well in the Raudman clan and things have settled down.

"Shorty" giving an interview in 2008 with The Average Guys.

Thankfully, the streak of failures ended at two days.  As of now, I have had two successes, two failures, and I still have two more outstanding requests.  Here's hoping those other two that are still in the care of the United States Postal Service actually made it to their intended targets.

Now, after all of that, I'm left with a few questions.  Barring the possibility of tracking down new addresses to send out my customs to Simpson and Raudman (I don't think I'll be bothering Bob, though), what do I do with my custom cards?  Do I include them in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, sans autograph?  Should they count towards my ultimate total of Cubs players acquired?  Do I disregard them because custom cards aren't "real" cards?  What would you do in this situation, eh?

One thing is for certain though: those error-ridden Raudman cards are going straight into the recycling.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Broders, Popcorn, and Wine

If you've been in the hobby for any significant length of time, especially if you collected in the late 80's, you're probably familiar with the term "Broder cards."  Although they are far less common today, as baseball card collecting became a major business in the decade of Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, and hairspray, a wannabe photographer by the name of Rob Broder saw an opportunity to get his work into the public eye.  Broder snapped photographs at Major and minor league ballparks across the country and began to print his work as minimalist baseball cards, under various pseudonyms, and let them loose into a card-hungry market.  Card shows and shops across the country hawked Broder's work as "promos," when they were really more akin to counterfeit and lead to several cease and desists from the powers that be.

Though this strategy did not lead to success in the field of photography for Rob, he was able to make a lasting impression on the baseball card world.  To this day, his surname is used as a catch-all descriptor, applied to all manners of unlicensed cards produced without the approval of Major League Baseball and/or the MLB Players' Association.  I mean, there are certainly worse things to be remembered for, right?

However, this is all fairly common knowledge to the veteran card collector -  these oft-rounded corner oddballs have been lurking in or around our binders for a few decades now.  That said, did you know that trading cards are sort of a Broder family business?  That's right - Rob Broder was not the first of his clan to dabble in the baseball card market... but, we'll get back to that.

First, allow me to introduce you to Frank Ernaga, who, in turn, had one of the greatest Major League introductions of all-time.  Debuting for the Cubs in  May of 1957, the young outfielder homered in his very first at-bat, tripled in his second, and then drew a walk just for good measure.  The pitcher that day -  Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.  From there it was off to the races.

In his next start, Frank went 2-for-3 with a homer, a double, and a walk in a 5-4 Cubs victory. Then, the very next day, he tripled in a pinch-hitting cameo.  All told, the wunderkind's first week in the Bigs produced an astounding five extra base hits (and two free passes) in just eight at-bats.  Surely the Cubbies had a special talent on their hands, eh? Of course, since you probably don't recognize his name, you likely have put it together that it was all downhill from here for Ernaga.

His propensity to strike out is what eventually did him in (16 K's in 52 career AB's) and Frank was back in the bushes by summertime.  After a September recall and a brief cup of joe in '58, that was all she wrote for Ernaga's MLB stat line.

Our shooting star trots home after hitting a home run during his 1st AB. Image courtesy of Lassen County Times.

After that debut for the ages, Frank found himself back in the PCL for a little more seasoning, playing for the Cubs-affiliated Portland Beavers.  It is in a Beavers uniform that Ernaga is pictured with in the photograph which kicks off this post.  Despite his initial smash, Frank was never pictured on a Major League card, due to his fleeting glory, and this Portland oddball represents his only baseball card appearance.  Thus, it has been a target for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection for many years and, after searching high and low, I was finally able to track down the slippery devil on Ebay last week.

This 2"x3", black and white oddity is printed on super thin cardstock, barely a step above index card quality.  Also, it's hard to tell in this scan, but we know that it was printed as part of a sheet, seeing as remnants of the cards on either side were left behind when Frank was sliced out.  Frank doesn't seemed too bummed about that - he is absolutely beaming in this posed sideline shot, even though the shadows are creeping across his face.

Overall, the simplistic card is extremely basic, devoid of even text.  The backside continues this minimalist theme:

No stats, no write-up, all we get is Frank's name, position, team affiliation. and the set information, type-written and centered in white space.  Based on the info presented, one can thus be forgiven for thinking that this oddball hails from 1957 and being distributed with bags of popcorn.  After all, cards of this very size and "design" were handed out in that very manner by teams across the Pacific Coast League in the mid-50's.  However, despite the simple design, there is actually more than meets the eye going on here.

Remember how we were talking about Rob Broder capitalizing on the trading card boom and how he wasn't the first in his family to enter the business?  Well, Frank Ernaga's only known baseball card is an example of the work of Rob's father, Ed Broder, who issued several semi-legitimate collector's issues during the 1970's.  Like father, like son.

Some of Ed's most famous work includes his sets based around the '74 Mets and the then-current lineups of the Nippon League; additionally, his portfolio included this PCL "Popcorn" set, which intentionally mimicked the originals, though it was released circa 1974  (it's like an unlicensed Heritage project).  Thankfully, his projects shined the spotlight on many forgotten players from the days of yore - i.e., Frank Ernaga and the player who accompanied him in my Ebay mailer:

Here we have a more forlorn-looking Portland Beaver- though, again, it's kind of hard to tell due to the shadows drawn across his face.  Maybe his mood is due to the fact that there's no one in the stands or because his Major League career would only amount to 32 games, from 1956-57, and an anemic .209/.243/.299 batting line.  This third baseman was a Chicago native and a teammate of Ernaga in both the Windy City and Portland and a fellow member of Ed Broder's Popcorn checklist:

The same seller who had Ernaga's Broder had whole heap of them for sale.  Before pulling my hair trigger on the purchase, I made sure to check out the rest of the bunch and, honestly, until I came across the listing for Ed Winceniak's (misspelled) single, I had no idea he was part of the set.  In fact, I had no idea that Ed had ever appeared on a baseball card of any type whatsoever.  Color me surprised!

At four bucks a pop(corn), I was able to cross two extremely obscure names cards off of my CATRC "needs" list, one of which on a card that I didn't even know existed.  Needless to say, I was one happy camper... of course, it probably didn't hurt that I was a little wine-drunk at the time too.   Normally, purchases I make while intoxicated don't seem so great in retrospect; but, I definitely do not regret this one.  Plus, despite my state, I was able to remember that I had a Xmas gift card leftover and charged the purchase to that Visa; so, they were basically free.  

Nevertheless, I probably shouldn't shop for baseball cards while drunk anymore... that situation has disastrous potential:

"Yea, I... *hiccup*... deserve this!"

Has anyone else ever purchased cards while tipsy?  Do you have any horror stories?  Does anyone else have a few of these original Broders?  How do you feel ab out these unlicensed, oddball trading cards?  Do you view them as legit cards or something akin to counterfeit?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Adding Ernaga and Winceniak to my CATRC binder now leaves me with 1,534 Cubs cards out of 2,075 all-time players - this is good for a 73.93% completion rate.  I'm nearly three quarters of the way through my lifetime quest!  

All I can say is thank goodness for Ed, Rob and their unlicensed Broder baseball cards.  Without their work, I'd have never been able to fill those slots.  Also, wine and Visa gift cards are pretty cool too.