Friday, December 2, 2016

Somebody Check My Brain

The other day, during an increasingly rare fit of boredom, I decided I was going to re-organize my collection.  Excepting my bindered, declared collections (the roster collections, minor league,  etc.), I emptied my miscellaneous Cubs cards box and decided to sort the endless varieties of cards by player last name.  Previously, they had been stashed in there all willy-nilly, as they came into my possession and without even the slightest hint of organization.  Obviously, that made finding things quite difficult.

In short, you might say that I didn't even really know what I had.  This point was exemplified by the fact that, as I was flipping through the massive amount of cards, this card turned up in one of the seemingly endless stacks:

Mid-90's Pacific baseball cards are fairly significant on their own, although this 1994 Crown Collection single hails from the time just before their set designers started dropping acid.  The card design, though much simpler, is quite visually appealing to this Windy City fan.  The elegant, blue marble nameplate makes for a perfect frame on a Cubs card.  Furthermore, the photo may be otherwise pedestrian, but the fact that it was snapped at Wrigley Field with the home pinstripes more than makes up for it.

Anyway, setting the visuals aside, the true significance here (at least for me) is that I was completely unaware that Doug Jennings had ever had a a Cubs card issued in his honor and yet, here it is. 

After all, the outfielder/first-baseman played in only 42 games for the Northsiders, all during the 1993 campaign and he batted a mediocre .250 with very little power along the way.  Even during the tail-end of the junk wax era, it wasn't a farfetched notion to think that Jennings might be ignored.

For the longest time, I had operated under this assumption, as cursory searches turned up no contradictory information.  In the place of a true Cubs card, the above '89 UD single from Doug's pre-Wrigley days in Oakland represented him in my CATRC binder, largely due to the set's iconic status and the gloriously garish, yellow A's uniform.

I'm assuming that when I originally obtained the Pacific single (how, I don't recall), I knew that I'd already had a Jennings card, but didn't stop to consider the team affiliation.  So, I filed it away and promptly forgot about it.  Silly, lazy me.

Well, Doug's representation has now changed -  the banana yellow outfit goes into my newly-sorted miscellaneous Cubs box and the Cubbie blue Pacific single slides into it's vacated pocket.  Cubgrade, ftw!

Doesn't that look better?

Doug was your typical Quad-A player - you know, the type that puts up good numbers in the highest levels of the minors but can never translate that success to the Majors.  As a top prospect in the A's chain, Jennings rode the shuttle between Oakland and their top affiliate Tacoma from his initial call-up in 1988 through the 1991 season, never getting into more than 71 games or batting any better than an anemic .208.

Needless to say, the brass in "the Bright Side of the Bay" eventually grew tired of waiting on Doug and gave him his walking papers.  After a year playing in the minors again, this time for Baltimore, Jennings got his last taste of Big League baseball with the Cubs during the 1993 season.  He was granted free agency that November.

Despite that last fact, Pacific decided to include him in their Crown Collection release for 1994, a head-scratching decision, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  However, there was one other questionable call with this card that an eagle-eyed observer might have already noticed:

The folks at Pacific bestowed the quad-A journeyman with their bilingual version of the coveted "rookie cup." Hmmmmmm.....

Besides the fact that Doug was clearly not a notable newbie by the time this card was produced, he had actually exhausted his rookie eligibility way back in the 1990 season, several years and two franchises before this card went to market.  Of course, the folks behind this decision couldn't have just pulled up back then, though fact-checking is always a good idea.  Oopsy-daisy.

I guess you could say the same thing about me assuming that Doug never had a Cubs card... or that I didn't even bother to crosscheck the titular card with my CATRC binder... D'oh!!

This isn't the first time I was able to add to my collection from within my own collection... heck, it wasn't even the second... or third.  Anyway, my sloppy record keeping has allowed me to retrospectively add several new names to my CATRC over the years.  Annoying though it may be, it makes for a nice little bonus surprise.

I like to think of it as a karmic reward for finally sitting down and doing some organization -  a can that I've kicked down the road time and time and time again.

I'd also like to think that I'm not the only one who discovers cards previously thought needed hiding within their own clutches.  Surely this is an experience that others on the blogosphere have experienced before?  If so, please feel free to share in the comments section below - it may just make me feel a little less silly.

In the end, if I've learned anything from this (and the year 2016, in general) it's to double and triple check your facts.  Also, organization is an ally.  Who knew?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Would You Like Some Pie with Your Pie?

A very happy National Pie Day to everyone!  This hallowed day is not to be confused with National Pi Day, which occurs annually on March 14th (math nerds get it).  No, no - apparently on December 1st, we come together to celebrate one of America's favorite sweet temptations and not mathematical constants.  That said, I'm pretty sure Baker's Square sees a nice uptick in business on both holidays.

 It must be like Christmas twice a year for these folks!

Speaking of pie, we Cubs fans can remember when all of our hopes and dreams hinged on Pie.  Not pie in the apple, cherry or banana creme variety, but Pie in the uber-prospect set to carry the franchise on his shoulders variety.  That's Felix Pie... pronounced pee-yay.

Of course, like a countless amount of top prospects in the Windy City, Felix didn't amount to much at Wrigley Field, though he was a minor component of two Division Championship clubs in 2007 & 2008.  Despite his relative disappointment, I can't help but think of Felix every time I hear about pie.  It's an unfortunate and inextricable connection.

On that note, in celebration of National Pie Day, I've decided to show of my modest Felix Pie inventory and pair each card with a corresponding type of pie.  This should make for a fun little exercise, right?  Well... at least it will for me.

What do Cracker Jack and caramel pecan pie have in common?  Caramel, of course!

The nostalgic and briefly resuscitated Cracker Jack brand has long been one of my favorites; especially the 2003 edition, which used the original design found with the confection in 1915.  For that reason, for many years this card represented Mr. Pie in my CATRC, but it was eventually booted for another found later in this post.  Also, this isn't the last time we'll see Cracker Jack.

Mmmmmm.... caramel.

Both of these subjects feature pairings.  The card depicts Cubs outfielders Pie and Alfonso Soriano, while the cherry pie is matched with a big, ol' scoop of ice cream - a la mode, if you will.

In both instances, I greatly prefer one to the other.  In the case of the 2008 Topps Finest Team Favorites insert, Alfonso Soriano, for all of his flaws, gave us Northside fans much more to cheer about than his counterpart.  Likewise, I am not at all a fan of cherry or cherry flavored anything.  However, a fresh scoop of vanilla ice cream always hits the spot.

That said, I do like the Warrant song; so, there's that.

On the left, we have today's star during his post-Cubs days, after he was jettisoned to Baltimore, on Topps Flaghsip offering from 2010.  On the right, we have a slice of traditional apple pie.  What's the connection?

Well, I would say that Topps Flagship is the most iconic, recurring product in the trading card industry - certainly the most widely known.  Correspondingly, the phrase "American as apple pie" didn't come about by accident; this tasty, cinnamon-y treat is pretty iconic itself.

How 'bout them apples?

Pie as a promising minor-leaguer and a key lime pie - how do these match up?

Well, Felix is shown here busting out of the box during his days in high-A ball with the Daytona Cubs.  Daytona, of course, is a city in the always interesting state of Florida.  Care to take a guess as to the official state pie of the Sunshine State?  That's right - key lime.  This is appropriate, seeing as this tart dish's origins lie in the Florida keys.

Also, like the main ingredient in this temptation, Pie's promise eventually soured.  Hey-oh!

The second consecutive MiLB Pie, this time as a member of the World team during the annual Futures Game, courtesy of 2004 Bazooka.  I have it partnered with... and I assure you this is a real thing... bubblegum pie.

Honestly, I was having a tough time coming up with a pie to pair with this Pie - but, after a quick Google search on a hunch, I came across a recipe for this odd marriage of tastes.  Don't believe me?  Take a quick swing over to the Baking Banquet blog and check it out; tell 'em Wrigley Roster Jenga sent you.  I'm not going to lie, I kinda wanna try this.

Oh - and if you don't get the connection here, Bazooka Joe would like a word with you.

Here we have another two-player card for Felix, this time seen with fellow bustee Angel Guzman and a fruity strawberry pie.

I truly miss the Topps Total brand, seeing as it was a low-end set which put unheralded players on cardboard who might otherwise be forgotten - exceptionally helpful for my CATRC.  Oftentimes, Topps even sent a photographer to spring training, just like in the olden days, to get photos of these oft-ignored men.  Perhaps while these lens-masters were in Florida or Arizona, they treated themselves to a sweet strawberry pie, since it is generally a spring seasonal specialty.

Okay - that was a tenuous connection, at best.  But, it connects.

Bland, uninspired 2007 Fleer baseball along with a bland, flavorless custard pie... what do you suppose these two things have in common?

They're both bland... bland, bland, bland, bland.  In fact, the best custard pie I ever experienced didn't even come from a bakery - it came from a Zeppelin of Led.

With that, we've reached the grand finale - the crowning jewel of my Felix Pie collection.  I know you're mind is absolutely churning with wonder and anticipation.  What card will it be?  What kind of pie goes best with it?  Where can I go during my lunch break and get my hands on a good slice of pie?...

Remember how I said Cracker Jack would be back?  Well, it came back with a vengeance (and an autograph)!  I may be the only person on the planet who gets super excited over a certified auto of an extra outfielder, but I yam what I yam.

This John Hancock came as a "secret surprise" in a trade package from Shane of Shoebox Legends fame.  Thanks again, bud!

Seeing as this is, by far and away, my favorite Felix Pie card, I went ahead and matched it up with what is, by far away, my favorite type of pie - french silk.  Fluffy chocolate filling, flaky crust and sweet whipped cream, all topped with a swirly sliver of chocolate on top... my stomach sounds like a  pack of incensed junkyard dogs or the starting grid of the Indy 500 just thinking about it!

An accurate representation of my stomach, at the moment

With that, I've officially exhausted my Pie supply and I don't think it's fair to tease you with images of delectable pies any longer.

All in all, a very happy National Pie Day to you all and here's hoping you have the opportunity to celebrate this momentous occasion appropriately, with a big glass of milk and a slice of the pie you most enjoy.  Maybe even with a big scoop of ice cream too.  I wonder if Felix Pie will be stuffing his actual "Pie hole" with pie today?

I leave you with a question - what type of pie is best?  Do you prefer something sugary sweet, or perhaps something a touch more fruity?  Please, share your opinion in the comments section below.

It's as easy as pie!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

He's Got Two First Names

The Cubs have officially made their first big move of the off-season (excluding minor waiver claims and such) by signing a man with two first names.  Here's hoping that the signing of Jon Jay works out as well as the discovery of a certain NASCAR driver with two first names, as seen above.  I mean, I know he's not real and all, but anytime I can cram a reference to one of my favorite movies, I'm going to take the bait.

Getting back on track, luckily I had a card of this brand new Cub sitting in my trade stacks, queued up and ready to slide right into my CATRC binder.  Although, I was kind of surprised I only had one:

I normally have a penchant for pulling cards of Chicago's biggest rival.

The Cubs have inked Jon Jay to a one-year, eight million dollar deal, despite already dealing with a glut of outfielders:  Heyward, Schwarber, Zobrist, Almora, Soler, Szczur.  With that in mind, the centerfielder's acquisition all but rules out the return of spark plug Dexter Fowler, unless a few more big, unforeseen moves lie ahead.  That said, as we Cubs fans learned last spring, with Dex, anything can happen.

As for Jay himself, he's a lefty bat that's good for an above average batting average, decent OBP, few strikeouts and almost no power.  He's also widely considered to be one of the top defensive outfielders in the National League.  On the down side, he's coming off of a couple of down years; but this was mostly due to injuries to his wrist in 2015 with the Cards and a broken right forearm in his lone year for the Padres.

I really thought I had this one.

Prior to the plunking that took out his forearm last June, Jay had been putting together a solid campaign, leading the league in extra base hits and the Padres with 80 hits, all with a .299 batting mark.  

Jay provides a cheap, low-risk insurance policy and could either become a decent starter in center or a top-notch fourth outfielder.  Plus, with Jay, Albert Almora and Jason Heyward, the Cubs outfield defense as the potential to be phenomenal.   The biggest downside is that the move likely signals the end of the Dexter Fowler era; however, one must remember that Jay will not be a direct replacement.  Rather, he serves as an upgrade from Chris Coghlan, who is now a free agent.

Jay does everything that pseudo-starter Coghlan brought to the table, except that he also provides excellent defense at all three outfield positions (in fact, he's tied with Jacoby Ellsbury in fielding percentage, .995, by active players) and, specifically, is a capable center fielder.

Taking all of that into consideration, the motivation for the Cubs' signing of Jay appears to be as a contingency plan or platoon partner for would-be-centerfielder Albert Almora, something Coghlan would not have been able to handle.

The platoon naturally comes to mind for these two since they both bat from opposite sides of the plate.  With that stated, neither player shows significant platoon splits and each can seemingly handle opposite-handed hurlers.  However, if Theo and Co. don't feel as though Albert is quite ready to take on the role of a full-time starter at the Major League level (he's only played 47 games at AAA), the platoon could still be on the table.  Otherwise, should Albert stumble, Jon Jay will be right there to take over.

For his part, Mr. Almora doesn't appear to be miffed at all with this development:

Rather, Albert seems quite excited to have a fellow Miamian on the roster.  I mean, look at all the exclamation points and emojis.  Good to see.

Furthermore, "The Federalist" brings a strong nickname game to the Chicago Cubs roster and that is one intangible that simply cannot be ignored.  Jay earned this moniker due to the fact that he shares him name with one of our founding fathers, though it's spelled slightly different:

John Jay (with an "h") was a signatory of the Treaty of Paris, President of the Continental Congress, a Governor of New York and the first Chief Justice of the United States.  Additionally, he authored five of the Federalist Papers, which helped lead to the adoption of our Constitution and, correspondingly, served as a leader in the Federalist political party.

Quite the highbrow nickname, eh?

All things considered, I'm very much in favor of this move and think Jon Jay will perform rather well in a Cubs uniform, provided that he's able to stay healthy in 2017.  He's not exactly a marquee name, but he'll make for a useful spare part/part-time starter on a team that really doesn't need anything more than tinkering and tweaking.  After all, they did win the World Series last season!  😀😀😀

 Welcome to Chicago, Jon Jay!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A True Cyber Monday

In honor of America's second favorite shopping holiday, I present to you my latest custom "card" - a true Cyber Monday, if you will.

In recent years, the Monday immediately following Thanksgiving has become dedicated to Black Friday-esque sales from online retailers.  Thus, you get all of the crazy deals that drive people nuts on Black Friday; however, you lose all of the fun of camping out at midnight, fighting with rabid and frenzied customers, and parking lots filled with more cars than a NASCAR infield.  Actually, it's kind of hard not to see the appeal there.

Anywho, with that in mind, I decided to blend the ill-fated Topps Cybr Card football release, which was a series of CD-ROM "cards" put out from 1995-96 in an attempt to be on the cutting edge of technology.  These oddities were full-sized CD's chock full of video highlights and stats; thus, they weren't really anything like cards and thus failed to grasp the attention of the target audience,

Swiped off Ebay, for frame of reference

Copycatting Upper Deck perfected this idea a couple of years later (1999) with their multi-sport Power Deck release, which was built on the same concept, but used mini, card-sized CD-ROMs, which could be slid into a CD drive or a nine-pocket sheet with ease.  As Hannah Montana might say, you get the best of both worlds.

Please excuse the Hannah Montana reference, it's been a long day.

This image swiped from the Trading Card DB because, much to my consternation, I have none of these

In the end, the pun-tastic marriage of cyber trading cards and former A's/Cubs/Dodgers outfielder and part-time American flag rescuer seemed too good to pass up.  It's certainly not my best work, but I think it gets the message across - a true Cyber Monday.

If you partook in this particular retail holiday, I hope you found some steals of deals.  If you didn't, well... ummm.... happy Monday?  Hopefully your Thanksgiving holiday was full of good company, conversation, tasty food and plenty to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Barely Bearing Da Bears

 Do the Bears even still play in Chicago?

I mean, what with the continuing after glow of the Cubs World Series win, the continued excellent play of the Blackhawks and the surprisingly resurgent Bulls, the Bears are easily the redheaded step child of the Windy City sports family.  Of course, rampant injuries like that to much-maligned QB Jay Cutler, PED-induced suspensions to multiple key players and the stagnation of the John Fox/Ryan Pace led rebuild haven't exactly helped the franchise's relevancy.

The future isn't looking particularly bright either, with the development of key young guys like Kevin White and Kyle Fuller hitting stumbling blocks.  As such, one has to dig into the past to find anything remotely worth talking about when it comes to the Monster of the Midway.

With that being the case, it's appropriate that today's trip to the LCS in support of Small Business Saturday produced nothing but vintage additions to my Bears' All Time Roster Collection:

When it comes to baseball, I'm always gung-ho about cards that feature extra infielders, lefty specialist and other 25th man type players; thus, it's only appropriate that I be most excited about crossing a pair of vintage kickers off of my football needs list.

Roger LeClerc was a linebacker in addition to being Chicago's primary kicker in the early 60's.  Most notably, he kicked the winning field goal in the 1963 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants.  Meanwhile, Percival was acquired by the Bears to replace LeClerc in 1967 and stuck around through the '73 season. He is the last Bears kicker to make five field goals in a game and is known for his basketball career at Texas Tech, where he never played a down of football.

Here we move from special teams to the offensive squad with a guard and a center from the days of yore.

Jim Cadile stuck around the Windy City from his being drafted out of San Jose State in 1962 through the 1972 season - a full decade with the Monsters of the Midway, opening holes for names like Sayers and Piccolo.  With LeClerc, he was part of the Bears squad which won the pre-Super Bowl NFL title in 1963.  Rich Coady wasn't yet around at the time that occurred, but the hometown kid probably cheered from home.  The Second City native eventually suited up for his local heroes from 1970-74, playing in 67 games along the way.

Now, we flip to the other side of the ball, courtesy of one Dave Whitsell.

Sporting my favorite number, 23, and one that's done well in Chicago sports (Sandberg, Hester, Dye), Whitsell dressed as a defensive back from 1961-66, making him the third member of those '63 Champions to appear in this post.  Prior to the '67 season, Whitsell was lost in the expansion draft to the New Orleans Saints, a fact that you might have already caught if you looked closely at the above card.

That was all of the vintage football that I came away with from the LCS; however, I did make one more recent addition to my Bears All-Time Roster Collection a few days prior that I might as well showcase now:

A topical one too, since Orlando Pace was inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

I was lucky enough to pull this shiny, Pinnacle single of Pace from an impulse purchase of a Dollar Tree repack.  Of course, "The Pancake Man" is enshrined in Canton for his exploits with the St. Louis Rams; however, let's not forget that, in 2009, Pace finished up his storied career with a single season in Chicago, a stint which ended prematurely due to injuries.

Controversially, during the broadcast of Pace's acceptance speech, the NFL cut out the portion which thanked St. Louis fans, the city from which his Rams abandoned for LA this offseason.  The NFL seems to have fists permanently made of ham.

With that, we've seen the extent of my football additions so far during football season.  Like I said, it's kind of hard to get into the gridiron with the backyard tire fire that is the 2016 Chicago Bears. However, cheap vintage football cards are always going to catch my attention, regardless of the team's standing.  My Bears collection is severely lacking pre-1980.

As great as reminiscing with the 1963 NFL Champions was, here's hoping that the current iteration of the franchise can get this thing turned around in the next couple years.  In the meantime, I'll gladly keep my focus on the perennial Stanley Cup contenders that are the Blackhawks.

After all, Ryan Hartman and Co. are much more fun to watch.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Borders on Black Friday

I do not believe in going out and blowing money on material things the day after we celebrate family and being thankful for what we have in our lives; also, since I work for a school district, I have the day off as well - yay for long weekends!  As such, I have nothing better to do today than blog and since it's Black Friday and I have no intention of going out into the retail hellscape, no matter how good the deals are, why not celebrate by showing off my favorite black-bordered cards?

Now, that I can get behind!

First off, here's a couple of early 90's oddballs which came with magazines.  That perforated Dave Smith came from the official Cubs periodical, Vineline, and was part of a larger set which came with one of the monthly editions in 1991.  Whichever one that was, I have no idea.  I can't find a lot of info on this regional set and I only found the one in my LCS several years ago.

Meanwhile, Donovan Osborne is represented in my CATRC binder by this Investor's Journal. Like the Vineline set, this was part of a recurring set issued in panels within the magazine.  Is there anything more 90's than a card of a hot rookie contained within a magazine which touted baseball cards as investments?  Methinks not.

Next up, we have a pair of cards which shine the spotlight on players of yore.

The Ned Williamson black bordered beauty hails from the 2012 edition of UD's Goodwin Champions.  It's not too often that stars from pre-20th century baseball show up in modern products; thus, any time that they do I can't help but do a little happy dance.  Personally, I'd say it's an era that deserves a retrospective set of it's own - I'd buy that.

Also, we have Hy Cohen - short-term Cubs hurler of the 50's - courtesy of the Jewish Major Leaguers set, which was released in installments since 2003 (this one is from the first).  The concept behind this set is pretty obvious and was put onto the market through a partnership with Fleer.

Throughout it's long history in the baseball card market, Topps has had a thing for white borders, minus a couple of exceptions.

While black borders make for a sleek set which truly makes the colors of the picture pop, they are quite prone to chipping, as you can see with this 1971 Topps single of Bob Miller.  It's for this reason that I'd wager that Topps generally shies away from dark-colored borders.  Nevertheless, '71 is still one of my favorite vintage sets.

In modern times, Topps went "back in black" once, this time with their 2007 Flagship set, as modeled by "he was a Cub?" Craig Monroe.  While the Cubs were winning the NL Central, I was chasing these beauties down.  The only thing that bugs me about these cards is the foil text - with dark borders, these become nearly impossible to read.

In an attempt to be different and set themselves apart from the industry leader, other baseball card manufacturers have opted for black borders as well.

Here we have a couple examples of this phenomena from 1985 Donruss and 1993 Pinnacle.  In all honesty, I don't have too much to say about these particular releases.  Although, especially with the latter set, I will say again that the black borders make for a sleek design.

More modern oddballs featuring players from days long gone by - battery mates from the days of the last Cubs World Series Champions.

I've made it abundantly clear that Conlon Collection has been, hands down, the most helpful set when simply-designed beauts featuring the imagery of Charles Conlon which populate my binder.  Without this set, it would have been drastically more difficult to get as far with this collection as I have. Thus, I will always consider this product one of my favorites of all-time.

Next to Archer, we have a "Origins of Baseball" single from a highly under-appreciated 1994 set produced by American Archives Publishing.  This is my most preferred card of ol' "Three-Finger" since the inset photo shows off exactly why Mordecai was slapped with that moniker.  A very nice touch!

We're almost done here, but what would a discussion about black-bordered cards be without a Bowman dump?

So many Bowman sets, so little time.  Suffice it to say that pre-rookies from Bowman and it's product-defining black borders from 1997 through 2011 have proven to be most helpful in keeping up with obscure, roster jenga players the Cubs have employed over the years.  I mean, does anyone but me remember Brad Snyder or Jose Ascanio played on the Northside?

With that, I've exhausted my black baseball card supply, at least in terms of my CATRC binder.  You might say that I have none more black.

I hope you enjoyed this little color-coded exercise in honor of Black Friday.  After all, it's a much safer way of spending this retail holiday - no shoppers foaming at the mouth, no around the block lines, no NASCAR parking lot mayhem, and much less bloodshed.

Sounds good to me!