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!