Thursday, September 20, 2018

Coming Out Of Hibernation

This recent uptick in work activity that has kept me from blogging has also, sadly, kept me from keeping up with my collection.  I'm terribly far behind on recent releases from Topps and Panini and crew and I have yet to collect the first cards of names like David Bote (hot rookie premium prices aren't helping either), Steve Cishek, Tyler Chatwood, etc. in their Cubs uniform.  However, as my first Wrigley Roster Jenga post in three weeks yesterday indicated, things are finally starting to slow down to a manageable pace and now managing my baseball card collection doesn't feel like another extra chore.

I love my cards, but when work gets crazy, I don't want to do anything but nap, snack, and binge watch Friends on Netflix during my fleeting free time.  Super sedentary.

However, my energy has been on the up and up this week and with Heritage High Numbers having been out for more than a week now, I finally decided to stop by my LCS on the way home from work rather than beeline straight to my sofa.  HHN includes all of those Cubs debuts that I mentioned and I still enjoy the minimalist design of 1969 Topps - thus, it was the perfect Burbs bait.

Lo and behold, apparently my LCS has been falling behind as well, as there was no trace of the latest Topps product on the proprietor's shelves.  In fact, it wasn't even listed on his chalkboard of recent releases.  *womp, womp*

Curses, foiled again!

Rather than immediately retreat back to my hidey-hole at home and dive head first into a bag of popcorn, I decided to mill about the shop and see what else I might be able to dig up.  After all, I was already there, I might as well.  I'm glad I did too because, while the shop's baseball stock was a little behind, there was a completely up to date selection of cards for another sport.  While my Cubs binder has been ignored lately, this box of cards proved to be exceptionally fruitful for a far more neglected collection of mine:

Da Bears!

The Monsters of the Midway were well-represented in the shop's football section, with a healthy selection of 2018 releases to choose from.  Seeing as how I had to brush the dust off of my Bears All-Time Roster Collection binder when I put these new finds into their proper slots, it'd been a minute since I last cracked open that tome.  I mean, with as embarrassingly bad as they've been over the past few years, I can't say that I've been motivated to keep up with the tire fire.

However, things are looking up this year, thanks in no small part to young, high-ceiling quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.  Although, the Bears have mauled the careers of many a young signal-caller,  so maybe, subconsciously, that's why I've waited until now to finally pick up a card for the second-year player.

Allen Robinson offers a veteran target for the aforementioned Trubisky, a position which has mostly been a revolving door since the departure of Alshon Jeffrey.  On Monday, the former Jaguar went out and caught 10 passes on 14 targets for 83 yards - that'll get the job done!  His very first Bears card comes as part of the 2018 Donruss release and his bug-eyed facial expression makes this card a gem!  

Meanwhile, the Bears managed to pull their biggest blockbuster trade since they traded for Jay Cutler when they managed to pry defensive beast, Khalil Mack, away from the Raiders.  This trade had fans dancing in the streets and, so far, the Mack Attack has been a godsend for the team.  Unfortunately, this transaction didn't go down until late in training camp, so Panini wasn't able to get him in the blue and orange for their newest stuff.  So, this 2017 Donruss single, from his days in Oakland, will have to do for now.

Josh Bellamy has been with the Bears since 2014, yet it took me until now to finally track down one of his cards... and he'd been one of the few bright spots during the John Fox-era. I told you that I've been slacking on this project!  Those he's been bumped down a few sports on the depth chart, here's hoping he continues to contribute during the Nagy-reign.

Javon Wims is a rookie, so I'm excused here.  The seventh-round draft selection hasn't seen any game action yet, but he did make the 53-man roster out of camp.  I hedged my bets and picked up a card for my BATRC... hopefully he doesn't get cut before making it onto the field!

Lastly, I picked up this pair of young stars, as well, thinking it was strange that I'd ignored them.  Well, as it turns out, not only am I behind on acquiring cards, I'm lacking in tracking my cards too.  While my Google Sheets document made no indication that I'd already hunted down Jackson and Cohen, my nine-pocket pages indicated otherwise.  Oh well.  As they say on the gridiron, I guess I now have "double coverage" on this Bears duo.

And so, even though the shop didn't have what I came for, the journey turned out to be well-worth skipping out on Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe in the end.  That said, with only a 21.71% completion rate on my Bears All-Time Roster Collection, I still have a LOT of ground to make up.  Good thing work has finally slowed down enough to let me enjoy cards again!

With that, I think (knock on wood) I might finally be out of my blogging and baseball card funk.   Now if I could just find some of those Heritage High Numbers packs or blasters to keep this momentum rolling.  Otherwise, even though work appears to have finally normalized, I might just end up disappearing back into the bottomless abyss that is Netflix.... a marathon of The Office is always tempting...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Playing Catch Up

Just when you think everything has calmed down, the flood gates re-open things get crazy all over again.

Working in IT for a local school district is usually a pretty sweet gig... except for the first few of weeks of the school year which is basically hell month.  Forgotten passwords, broken and missing equipment, rushed implementation of new technology... it's pure chaos.  It doesn't help that I've assumed command of a second school either and we've seen massive turnover on the staff district-wide.  In short, work has been bonkers and the last thing I want to do after a long day at the office is log onto yet another computer and blog.

However, things seem to have *knocks on wood* finally settled down... of course, I've said that before.  With a tenuous peace at hand, I'm going to take full advantage and bang out a quick blog post to cover what I've neglected during my unintended hiatus.  With that in mind, let's get to it before a server blows up or something and I get sucked back into the technological madness.

This will be my first blog post this month... I know, it's been a while.  Of course, September is a big month in the world of Wrigley Roster Jenga as rosters officially expand to include up to 40 Major League players per team.  Of course, no club activates their full forty-man roll-call; but, all teams supplement their core with top prospects and veteran depth pieces, whether they're battling for a playoff spot or just trying to make it to the the end of the regular season.  My Cubs are no exception, meaning this expansion puts me on high-alert for new faces to add to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

While in years past the lovable losers would use this expanded roster to audition minor leaguers for upcoming campaigns in a low-pressure setting, these ain't your daddy's Cubs.  Now on the verge of their fourth straight 90-win campaign and playoff berth, Theo and Co. are using September baseball to find any competitive advantage that can be gained over the 30-day period, valuable tools that just don't quite fit onto the regular roster.  During this golden era of Cubs baseball, they've almost always made sure to add a speedster, a guy who can swipe that extra base late in close games.

2018 is no exception.  On September 1st, the team activated Terrance Gore from AAA-Iowa with no purpose other than to run like the wind.  With 26 stolen bases in 57 career games, Terrance is pretty good at that; he was even good enough to earn his way onto the playoff roster for the World Series Champion Royals in 2015.  Hopefully he can "steal" another ring in 2018.

Gore's contract had actually been purchased from Kansas City back in mid-August, although he was told he'd be activated as soon as September rolled around.  Theo and Jed always plan ahead and so do I.  When I read about the transaction, I went right out and "swiped" the 2015 Topps single you see above from my LCS - now it rests comfortably in my CATRC binder.

So far, in a Cubs uniform, Terrance has already nabbed five bases in just eight contests.  Also, just for good measure, he's 1-for-3 at the plate.  Having seen partial MLB action since 2014, the famously inept hitter was 0-for-his career before blowing into the Windy City.  Then, on September 8th, he uncorked a single in our nation's capital, against Max Scherzer, of all people.  Baseball is weird.

While Gore had already been in the Cubs system for half a month before the roster expansion, the Cubs also did some last-minute shopping.  Not only do rosters expand on the first, but anyone eligible for the postseason roster must be with their respective organization by then.  So, in an effort to make sure all of their needs were covered with layers and layers of depth, the Chicago front office did some late dumpster diving as August wound down.

Having just been designated for assignment and released by the Blue Jays after a horrid season in their starting rotation, on August 31st, the Cubs inked Jaime Garcia to a minor league deal at the league minimum.  While his ERA was over six and half in the Toronto rotation, the former Cardinals star still managed to hold lefties to a meager .186 batting average along the way.  It never hurts to have an effective LOOGY stashed away, just in case.

He wasn't activated right away, but he was eventually activated on the fourth, after an intended audition with Iowa was rained out.  So far, he's made three appearances in Cubbie blue - one disastrous spot start in which he was only able to record a single out and two scoreless appearances out of the bullpen. Moral of the story - keep him away from the starting rotation and he can still be effective.

Having been a former top-of-the-rotation presence for the Cardinals, unlike Terrance Gore, I did not have to make a special trip just to purchase a Jaime Garcia card for my CATRC.  Alternatively, I had a trio of options stashed away in my trade boxes because the universe always seems to taunt me with Red Bird cards when I rip packs.  Oh well, I guess it sometimes works out in the long run.

However, the decision on which single would be added to my marquee binder was a difficult one.  My favorite of the three is, by far, is the 2012 Opening Day card which showcases a fantastic throwback to the Negro League St. Louis Stars.  Unfortunately, my OCD tendencies just would not let me include a horizontally-oriented card in the binder when I had vertical options.  In the end, I went with 2016 Topps, just because I'm not a huge fan of last year's design.  Hopefully, Jaime does something super awesome in the last couple of weeks here and earns himself a Topps Now card, making this whole inner struggle moot.

Now, Gore and Garcia weren't the only September call-ups made by the Chicago National League Ball Club.  However, so far, all of the rest had already recorded their names in the Cubs' all-time ledger before this month - i.e. Dillon Maples, Taylor Davis, James Norwood, etc. - necessitating no further action for my CATRC.  Of course, despite already being half done with September, the team probably isn't quite done with additions just yet.

Enter the Cubs' new third-string catcher... or, rather, soon to enter, the Cubs' new third-string catcher.

Filling this role for most of 2018 was Chris Gimenez.  Although he had a strong defensive and game-calling reputation and a strong working repertoire with his former Rangers teammate, Yu Darvish, Chris' short time with the North Siders did not go well at all.  The backstop was ineffective with the bat and behind the dish, and got into some hot water with the front office and the clubhouse when he took to the media to say that Darvish felt like "Chicago hates him."  Thus, when it came time to add another catcher for the stretch run, rather than call Chris back up from AAA, they swapped him to the Twins.  It was time for a change of scenery.

Coming back from Minnesota was another signal-caller, Bobby Wilson, who has served as a respected second fiddle with the Angels, D'Backs, Rays, Rangers, Tigers, and Twins, the Cubs over the last decade.  However, as of now, the trade acquisition has not yet been placed on the active roster, despite being acquired back on August 30th.  Why is that?  Why would they trade for him and not utilize him?

Well, Bobby was actually on the 10-day disabled list when the Cubs and Twins got together.  An ankle injury has had him on the shelf since 8/24 and there has been no timetable set for his return.  While the Cubs knew what they were getting, I have to wonder if they didn't understand the extent of the problem, seeing as we are rapidly running out of schedule.  The aforementioned Taylor Davis has been serving as the third catcher in the meantime; however, the Cubs brass still must plan on utilizing Bobby before the month is out, as a locker with his nameplate has been seen in the clubhouse.

Other than that, it's been radio silence in regards to  Mr. Wilson.  Of course, there probably isn't a lot of demand for information about the third-string catcher by people who aren't obsessed with Cubs roster history.

Nevertheless, I decided to hedge my gets and, like with Gore, make a run over to my LCS and pick up a Bobby single for my roster binder.  Like many a backup backstop, Wilson doesn't have a ton of options, so I took what I could get.  That being said, the awkward high five/fist bump found on his 2010 Update rookie card is a fun get.  Also, I should take this opportunity to thank the proprietor of Baseball Dreams & Memories for being a boon to my collection over the last 15 years and for always humoring my odd collecting habit.  Also, thanks for having all of the Topps Flagship sets from this millennium ready and able to be picked apart.  He's the real MVP.

With that, I do believe we've covered all of the Cubs roster movements since I went on my unintentional blogging "vacation."  Nothing too exciting, but a couple of role players were added as part of the annual September call-ups, allowing for a few new faces to be added to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  They may not be super exciting names, but it's always fun for me to add to my favorite collection!

Surprisingly, I was able to get through this entire post without anything going haywire - fingers crossed that this relative calm continues for the foreseeable future and I can get back to blogging with consistency.  I'm sick of playing catch up!

Oh the IT life...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Well, I Tri'ed

Every year, the school district that I work for partners up with a local developmental needs services & support organisation in order to compete in the annual Chicago Triathlon.  Taking part in the Super Sprint, we get together to full out relay rosters so that these students can enrich themselves in a team-building, physical activity and have some fun outside in doing so.  In 2017, I was approached to join this program by a member of the school district staff because they knew I spent my high school and college years competing in cross country and track.  Knowing the motivation, I couldn't say no to this request.  However, the invitation came with a twist - instead of legging out the 1.5 mile portion of the triathlon relay, I would be taking to the water in a swim just under a quarter mile.

Here's the kicker, I can't swim.

Well, I can swim... but only enough to prevent myself from drowning.  While that seems like a recipe for disaster, I was assured that the course stayed close enough to the shoreline that Lake Michigan was barely up to my waist.  Therefore, I was able to swim/aqua jog for the duration of my leg so that our partners could compete in the biking and running portions.  Plus, it was a fun change of pace from my normal circuit of 5k's and road races with a fun group of people in a non-competitive atmosphere.  All in all, it was a positive experience.

This year, the program again found themselves in need of help and I was again asked to help out.  The event took place yesterday morning and, to put it succinctly, it did not go nearly as well.

This time, we had heavy rains all night leading up to the triathlon.  The tide was higher and the water, which had been waist deep the year previous, was no up to my ears.  While I could fake it the first time, I actually had to swim for it this go 'round since my toes barely scraped the sand.  As I was flailing wildly, all I could think about was how embarrassed I was going to feel after being fished out by the teenage lifeguards on watch.

Thankfully, it did not come to that and I was able to slowly (super slowly) make my way through all 0.23 miles of water.  It wasn't pretty and I was being passed by people leisurely doing the backstroke, but I made it.  But, this experience confirmed what I had been saying for years - I am simply not a swimmer.

Speaking of swimmers...

In order to calm myself as I slowly splashed my way through the course, I tried to think about anything else besides the distance ahead of me.  The first thought that flashed through my mind involved the NASCAR driver that you see above - Scott Wimmer.  Why did this random, not connected to triathlons in anway athlete pop into my panicked brain?  Well, all you have to do is look at Scott's last name and his first initial: S. Wimmer aka "Swimmer."

Scott Wimmer was an up-and-coming talent during the years I dove headfirst into the NASCAR scene.  The Wisconsin native made his name on the local short tracks and the old ASA late model series before signing with Bill Davis Racing (BDR) to compete in the second-tier Busch Series.  Both my father and I simply referred to this potential star of the future as "Swimmer" and this portmanteau amused us way more than it should have.

When I decided to reboot my NASCAR card collection a couple of years ago, I was happy to recover this neon Racing Champions "Swimmer" single from a little-used drawer, making it one of the few originals that survived the purge of racing cards from my binders.

Hailing from his "prospect day" in what is now the Xfinity Series, this mini card originally came paired with a 1:64 diecast model of his 2003 Stacker 2/BDR Chevrolet Monte Carlo.  During the halycon days of my race fan years, I spent tons of my allowance funds on a diecast collection, so my racing card collection was made up mostly of these premium pairings.  As you can tell from the scan of the card back, Racing Champions put far more effort into their cars than they did their cards.  That said, today, that toy car has long since been lost to the sands of time while the corresponding card still represents Scott Wimmer in my All-Time NASCAR driver binder.

Since I no longer have the diecast model, here's an image of the ride that I swiped from the internet:

Man - if you looked at that car without sunglasses, I'm pretty sure you could burn your retinas.  It definitely stood out on the track!

All in all, as I was bobbing up and down in Lake Michigan, I thought about how Scott's racing career was squashed by sponsorship problems.  Despite showing his capability in high-end NASCAR competition, by the time he was promoted the Cup series to replace Ward Burton in the famous Caterpillar car, the once powerful Bill Davis Racing squad was barely staying afloat.  A third place showing in his first Daytona 500 (2004) became his career highlight as the quality of his equipment diminished. "Swimmer" had the same problem when he moved on the Morgan McClure Motorsports, another former top-flight team that was scraping for cash and barely "treading water."  The once heralded prospect became a career journeyman, going back to the Busch ranks, and eventually moving from behind the wheel to the spotter's stand.

Anyway, this is what I was thinking about as I struggled to swim a quarter mile through the cold waters of Lake Michigan yesterday morning - Scott "Swimmer" Wimmer's NASCAR career.  This is how my brain operates.  I guess it worked though, as I was eventually able to make it back to the beach and hand off my timing chip to the biker on my team's roster.  No need to call in the teens!  However, I think it's time for me to officially retire from triathlons... or at least practice my swimming form.  Either way, I now have another full-year to decide on one of these two options.

Thanks for saving me, "Swimmer!"

Friday, August 24, 2018

Belated Buddy

Way back in October, The Lost Collector made contact with MLB agent Joshua Kusnick.  No, TLC isn't thinking of making the jump to the Major Leagues (don't go chasin' that waterfall) - rather, the topic of conversation centered around the 1988 retrospective set of stars from yesteryear, known as Pacific Legends.  You see, Joshua has completed the popular, junk wax-era set and gotten the cards signed by everyone who was alive when the set was released.That's an incredibly impressive feat and I would bet my bottom dollar that having industry connections helps with such an endeavor.

Even still, that's not to say that this collecting milestone was easy - it did still take Mr. Kusnick 29 years to acquire all 171 signed cards, after all.  That's literally as long as I've been alive!

Anyway, TLC conducted an enlightening interview with the collecting agent for his blog (read it here) and shared it that November.  In addition to the Q&A, Josh and TLC also graciously offered up one of the former's duplicate signature cards in a comment raffle.  The specific card being dangled was a tantalizing mystery, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring for good measure.

Then, radio silence.

The Lost Collector ran into some logistical problems that kept him from being able to give the prize away until July.  This is completely understandable, life happens and free baseball cards for strangers on the internet are hardly the first priority.  In that time, I'd almost immediately forgotten about entering this contest because I have the memory of a goldfish with Alzheimer's.  So, imagine my surprise when I saw my name announced last month as the winner of TLC's long-awaited drawing!  Confusion mixed with giddiness makes for quite the strange cocktail. 

Of course,  this summer has been a particularly busy one for me, as well.  Work has been chaotic and the impending start of the school year only makes that worse.  As such, my blog post count has been way down and I have been sitting on my winnings since they arrived in the mail, wrapped in the nightmare-inducing, Sports Illustrated cover above, for several weeks now.  But, I feel like things are finally starting to calm down a little bit and it's about time I get around to showcasing The Lost Collector's graciousness.

So, in summation, that's an interview conducted in October with a prize announced in November that wasn't given away until July or written about until the very end of August, nearly September... nearly a full calendar year.  But, you know what they say, good things are worth the wait!

Anyway, it's actually pretty appropriate that the scary mug of Slammin' Sammy should come with the Pacific Legends prize, as the picture used for that card is also a tad unsettling:

While Pacific would later garner a reputation for gaudy, drug-inspired card designs in the mid-to-late 90's, they were much more laid back and simplistic in their early days, as evidenced by the stately layout you see above.  Additionally, they covered a wide swathe of baseball history in compiling the player checklist, stretching back beyond the days of color photography.  With that in mind, Pacific opted to used colorized black and white photographs throughout, in order to liven up the cards, perhaps foreshadowing the explosions of color to be found on their products a decade later.

Unfortunately, the colorization on many of these pieces make Topps' airbrushers look like Michelangelo.  It looks like somebody used Microsoft Paint to turn poor Buddy Lewis into a comic book character who fell into a vat of acid.  

On the other hand, standing in stark contrast to the unsettling, inhuman image, we have a beautiful flowing, and most importantly, legible signature.  Penned in blue ink, it perfectly compliments the navy bunting which frames Buddy's unnaturally pasty complexion.  This autograph truly saves the card.

I should note that I don't mean to disparage Josh, TLC, or their generosity in my critiquing of this card.  It's a wonderful prize and I'm positively stoked to add it to my collection - however, I feel as though I have to address the oddly-colored elephant in the room.  Sorry if I am coming across as ungrateful!

On that note, speaking of TLC's generosity:


The legendary Yankee blogger was so kind as to enclose an unexpected bonus card as well.  What's better than bright, blue skies, a smiling Mr. Cub, an old school windbreaker, and a variation that I'd never otherwise get my hands on?  Numbered as #384 in the most recent editions of Topps Series 2, this beauty parallels another Cubs shortstop's base card, Addison Russell.  I'll take Ernie over Addy any day of the week, for a cornucopia of reasons!

Meanwhile, another pachyderm that I should probably address is the fact that I honestly had no idea who Buddy Lewis was before I won this card.  As a student our national pastime's history, I feel rather ashamed.  After spending only two seasons in the minor leagues, Lewis became the starting third baseman, at the age of 19, for the original incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1936.  He would go on to make the All-Star team in 1938 and twice earned MVP votes before going off to War in 1941, losing three prime years of his career.

He returned from duty as as a transport pilot in the Air Force to place another four years with the Sens, making another All-Star game in 1947.  Unfortunately a series of leg injuries hampered his effectiveness, cost him the entire 1948 season, and eventually caused him to walk away from the game at just 32 years of age.  Buddy is cited by Bill James as a player who likely lost their shot at the Hall of Fame due to their wartime service. 

 Lewis gets hit by a Yankee pitch  in 1949 (with a young Yogi Berra cameo).  Image courtesy of Getty Images.

After retiring from the game, Buddy shifted his focus to business, pursuing such interests as a bowling alley and a Ford dealership.  Plus, the former AL All-Star became area commissioner for the American Legion and spending his time as sponsor and coach of the Gastonia Post 23 team.  He was elected to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame before his eventual passing in 2011, having lived a full and exciting life, at the age of 94.  This left a 23 year window for Joshua Kusnick to acquire an IP Buddy Lewis John Hancock for his 1988 Pacific Legends autograph project.  I have to wonder, was it acquired in-person?  TTM?  Via trade?  The mind wanders...

What a fun (and laborious) project it would be to acquire a signature from every old-timey baseball player included in that set!  The stories associated, the research required, the connections across history... I love everything about this idea.  I truly am a tad envious of Mr. Kusnick and all of the hard work he put in to complete his daunting project.

Thanks to Josh for offering up this extra for raffle, to The Lost Collector for selflessly giving it away and hosting the contest.  It may have taken a while for all of us to wrap up this saga, but, in my eyes, this prize was truly worth the wait!...

...even if Buddy and Sammy's faces will now haunt my every dream.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wine, Women, and Song

This weekend, my wife and I celebrated our sixth year of being together; we don't ignore our dating anniversary despite having upgraded to marriage a year and a half ago.  We did so the only way we know how - with lots and lots and lots of wine.

Back in January, we joined a wine club through August Hill Winery in Utica, IL, in order to celebrate the other notable anniversary in our lives together.  Utica is a cute, little slice of small town America, located just down the road from Starved Rock State Park and it's "downtown" strip is chock full of places to get a drink.  Being behind several months in our club selections, we decided to make a day of it by picking up our bi-monthly bottles and then celebrating our big day with a few wine tastings, a couple of bonus glasses, AND buying even more bottles of adult grape juice.  By the end of the festivities, we were buzzed at 1:30 in the afternoon and had 10 new bottles of wine sitting in the backseat of our Kia.  Despite all signs to the contrary, I assure you that we are not alcoholics.

However, we did more than just imbibe to celebrate our half-dozen milestone.  Besides being full of wineries, wine-tasting rooms, and hole-in-the wall bars, Utica also has a charming secondhand shop called Clarks Run Antiques.  My wife and I always make sure to stop by this outpost when we blow through town, just as we did on our way to the altar and when we revisited the site to celebrate our one-year.  This trip would be no different.

Thankfully for our wallets, we decided to do the antiquing first because drunk-shopping rarely leads to good decisions.  The place is your standard fare for antique shops - a bunch of independent vendors that rent space within the building and hawk their unwanted, vintage wares.  Old train sets, stamp collections, records, books and magazines, and tchotchkes galore lined the shelves and display cabinets with nary a baseball card in sight.  I've found some good cardboard in this shop before; so, initially, I was a bit disappointed.

Then, something in my still-sober mind clicked - the postcards!

You see, Clarks Run has a huge bin that is stuffed to the gills with souvenir and photographic postcards.  Every time I venture inside, I take some time to flip through a few stacks of these collectible memos in the hopes that I might come across an oddball baseball card or two, maybe a TCMA oddball or something of the sort.

Back in January, during the same trip in which we signed up for the wine club at August Hill, I actually did come across a baseball-themed postcard in the Tupperware tub of missives.  Sadly, after a casual glance, I put it right back in the stack and went about my merry way because... I guess cheapskate me didn't feel like spending a buck.  Plus, on that particular trip, we did the wine tastings first and the shopping second, so.... like I said, bad decisions.  Ever since that day, I've regretted that frugal decision.

The odds were against me ever finding it again in the large and since-shuffled box, seven months further down the road; not to mention the fact that someone could have purchased the thing.  Nevertheless, I pulled up a chair and set about trying to locate the oddity from my fleeting memory.  In an amazing stroke of luck, it didn't even take me ten minutes of flipping to reclaim my lost treasure:

It's a little worse for ware, but this slip of paper looks pretty damn good for being over 100 years old.

I think you fellow card-collectors can see why his particular piece of ephemera has fascinated me from the moment that I laid eyes on it.  Is this an early bit of memorabilia featuring women's baseball?  Where or what is this mysterious "Elmwood" club?  What's the story on "Roth & Langley," printed in the bottom right corner?  Why is this young lady perched on a fence?  What the heck do those pencil markings actually say?  There are so many intriguing questions associated with this piece.

On that latter inquiry, we may never know for sure.  The send of this postcard had some rather sloppy handwriting:

From this chicken scratch, all that I can make out is that someone appears to have taken a trip somewhere and they "will go some where all day..." something, something, "...and baby."  Is there anyone out there on the blogosphere who can make heads or tails of the full message inscribed on the back of my antique market find?

While the meat of the writing might be mostly illegible, luckily, I can clearly make out the rubber stamp slapped over the top by the postal service - "Chicago June 29, 7:30PM 1910 ILL" - as well as the intended recipient's name and address (Mrs. R H Van Matre at 221 Douglas Ave. Freeport, IL).  Wow - this little bit of paper was sent by mail over 108 years ago!  While I can't find any records of the mysterious Mrs. Van Matre via a cursory Google search, I can pull up that address on Maps and see where this lady baseballer was headin':

Sadly, it looks as though the Van Matre residence has since been demolished in favor of public parking.  *Womp, womp*

I'm sure if I were to dive in head first into researching this project, combing local libraries and the public record with a fine toothed comb, I could dig up a little bit of information on the recipient and the plot of land on which they lived.  However, I am much more interested in the postcard itself and the fence-hopping, young woman in uniform showcased on it's front:

So, what's the story here?

In searching for the name Roth & Langley, which appears to be the name of the company which printed this exhibit over a century ago, I've discovered that they were the mastermind's behind several postcard issues during the early half of the 20th century.  Based in New York, it appears as though they printed up a full set of "risque" baseball postcards, circa 1910, which featured "pearl clutching" moments of women throwing themselves at baseball players or suiting up themselves and striking double entendre-ready poses.  Seemingly designated as PC798-10, I found several closed auction listings for lots of these "lewd" photographs via a site called

These screen captures from the 2015 listings appear to show additional, similar cards that sure look to be from the same set - it looks as though we found my long sought after oddball's siblings.

So, while I was hoping that I had found photographic evidence of perhaps an early women's baseball league, a local girls' collegiate or high school nine, or even a rag tag group of lady barnstormers, what I have here appears to be part of the long tradition of sexualizing women (however tame it may be to our eyes today) and sports for the expressed purpose of hawking merch.  Merp.

While I am disappointed that my research indicates that my find is much less exciting to this feminist mind, it is still a captivating piece of Americana.  Not to mention, it was a minor miracle that I was able to re-discover this specific slip of paper in a massive shopkeeper's bin after several months of shoppers likely flipped through later than I originally did.   Plus, no matter what the context of the image, I was still able to add another super vintage baseball card to my collection for the low, low price of a single dollar bill.  It's not everyday one gets the opportunity to do that!  Thus, I still confidently consider this antiquing find a massive success.

After my wife I checked out, in order to celebrate my purchase, I made sure to down plenty of spirits at the winery and the tasting room down the street.  Of course, we were already looking for any excuse to do that!

Anniversaries, antiquing, wine, more wine, and extremely old baseball cards.... God, I love Utica!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Daniel Murphy is a Cub and I Am Not Thrilled

Yesterday afternoon, the Cubs made a trade that I, ostensibly, should be giddy over.  In exchange for a non-ranked, A-ball prospect and a PTBNL, the Chicago National League Ballclub acquired second baseman, Daniel Murphy, from the dumpster fire that is the Washington Nationals, after claiming him on waivers.  Murphy has thrice been an All-Star for both the Nats and the Mets and finished as high as second in league MVP voting (2016), all while regularly making a challenge for the batting title.  Acquired for basically peanuts, due to some injury hiccups and a clubhouse in disarray, Murphy (the ballplayer) makes for stellar addition to any offense.  Especially that of the Cubs.

After all, in the last five (!!!) games, the Cubs have been limited to just a single run per game and all came via a solo home run.  The Northsiders' bats have been maddeningly inconsistent and injuries to infielders Kris Bryant and Addison Russell aren't helping matters.  Thus, on paper, the acquisition of Murphy makes perfect sense.  Yet, despite this seemingly perfect match, I am not thrilled.

Why is that, you ask?  Well, there is a goofy, irrational reason for my distaste for the deal and then there is a reason more grounded in reality.  Please allow me to elaborate, starting with the lighter, meatball thoughts.

In a time before the Cubbies won the World Series, after suffering through a painful rebuild, the young team surprised everyone in baseball by making a playoff run.  Then, the club doubled-down and astounded even the most arduous of doubters by offing the heavily-favored Cardinals in the NLDS and punching their ticket to the NL Championship Series.  Suddenly, they were within reach of a World Series berth for the first time since 1945 and the Windy City was whipped up into a fervor.  I, like many a Cubs rooter, thought that the team was actually going to make good on Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis' prediction in Back to the Future II.

Then, the New York Mets happened. More specifically, Daniel Murphy happened.

While the Cubs' bats did unexpectedly disappear, leading to their eventual four-game sweep at the hands of the Metropolitans, Mr. Murphy seemingly sealed their fate.  The then-unheralded infielder made mince meat of the Chicago pitching staff, posting a video game-esque slash line of .529/.556/1.294 on his way to NLCS MVP honors.  At the time, it seemed like he was swinging a tennis racket while our hurlers were lobbing beach balls... he was truly an unstoppable force and a symbol of our perpetual torment.

Cubs fans of a certain age might equate Murphy's performance to that of "f*cking Steve Garvey" in 1984, when the Padre pulled a similar trick in the NLCS.  Or maybe a comparison is more apt to "Will Clark must die" cries in 1989, when the Giant single-handedly crushed our dreams in the NLDS.   Or, even still, maybe the Diamondback's Stephen Drew and his 16 total bases in the 2007 division series is more equivocal.  At any rate, the point is that these taboo names are equivalent to cuss words throughout the Second City and Daniel Murphy became yet another "he who shall not be named."

Now, one of those Voldemorts is a Cub and that just feels weird.

Realistically, this isn't actually a big deal and I am well-aware of that fact, especially in today's age of player movement.  After all, the bedeviled Jim Edmonds became a Cub and we all got over it pretty quickly.  Had any one of Garvey, Clark, or Drew ended up in the home clubhouse of Wrigley Field later in their career, their narratives would have eventually changed, as well.  In a few weeks, Daniel Murphy in Cubbie Blue won't be such a strange sight.  Of course, the fact that the Cubs won the World Series just a year after the Murphy Show definitely makes that process easier.

Anyway, that's the irrational, sports meatball reason why trading for Murphy gives me pause.  With that out of the way, it's time to delve into the more serious apprehension:  his beliefs.  I warn you now, this is going to be a bit heavy for a baseball card blog.

For those who may not be aware, a few years ago, the then-Met was asked in an interview with NJ Advance Media about whether or not he'd be accepting of a gay teammate.  As part of his response, he stated that he “disagree[s] with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”  There was a little more to his statement and you can read the full piece here, but that quote is extremely troubling, no matter how it's rationalized.

First of all, by stating that he "disagrees," he is implying that being homosexuality is a choice, which is simply not the case.  Who would possibly choose the lifestyle of one of the most historically persecuted segments of the world population, one that faces extreme hate and violence from all over today?  Furthermore, does any heterosexual person remember the day or moment they chose to be straight?  No - you're born the way you are, you like who you like, and there's nothing wrong with consenting adult relationships.  Love is love, people!

Murphy's statement is akin to saying that he theoretically disagrees with a teammate physically being black.  It's daft and it's a thought process that injures the acceptance of gay people as a whole.  Even if Daniel isn't actively striking out against the gay community, it's downright demeaning, backwards and not the kind of thought process I want to associate with my favorite baseball team.  For those saying it's just his beliefs and he has a right to his opinion, these are homophobic beliefs and opinions that propagate hate.  Full stop.

Granted, this interview did take place three years ago and it's been reported elsewhere that Murphy has become somewhat more enlightened since that time after some work with MLB's Ambassador of Inclusion, Billy Bean.  Nevertheless, it's hard for me to believe that he's suddenly made a complete 180 degree turn.  I am going to have a much, much, much, much harder time getting over or around this than his being really good against the Cubs that one time.  Much like when Aroldis Chapman was added to team, to say that I am conflicted is an understatement - I don't think I'll miss Daniel when he becomes a free-agent this winter.

One of the cards you see in this post will dutifully represent Murphy in my Cub All-Time Roster Collection, alongside other problematic players of the past such as Chapman, Milton Bradley, Mel Hall and others.  I can't ignore the fact that he is a Cub, but I don't have to do anything more than that.  Which card will go into the CATRC binder has yet to be decided because I honestly do not care, at this point.  Feel free to offer your opinions, I guess.

To summarize, that is why, despite the fact that he is an excellent addition on paper, I am less than okay with Daniel Murphy moving from Washington, D.C. to Chicago.  I am certain that there are plenty out there reading this who think I am making a mountain out of a molehill or that I should only worry about the play on the field; however, I can't simply ignore this elephant in the room.  That elephant can be a damn destructive force, if left unchecked.

In short, Daniel Murphy is a Cub and I am not thrilled.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Busting Through the Block

So, in case you haven't already noticed, I've been in a bit of a blogging slump.  Inspiration has been running low, motivation has been fleeting, and time has been a bit of a constraint.  Even when I have gotten around to writing, the last few months have seen posts in the single digits.  Without delving too much into my personal life (because, honestly, who cares) my mind has just been elsewhere lately... well, several elsewheres, actually.  As a result, I guess you could say that Wrigley Roster Jenga has been on a bit of a unintended hiatus.

That's a damn shame too, as I have yet to get around to highlighting several generous mail days, including those from P-Town Tom, Korean Cardboard, The Lost Collector, et al.   These acts of kindness deserve their moment in the sun and I promise that I'll get around to showcasing them before the shine has completely worn off.  Sorry guys!

In the meantime, another thing that I've missed in the last few days is a roster move... a roster move that involves a brand new addition to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Seeing as that binder is the bread and butter of my blogging and collecting, I simply cannot let that go unrecognized, lest I anger the wax pack Gods.

Last Friday, in the early hours of the morning, the Cubs signed reliever, Jorge De La Rosa and placed him immediately onto their active roster.  The lefty had recently been designated for assignment and released by the Diamondbacks before winding up on the open market.  The veteran has been in the Majors since 2004, though you might best remember him from his days in the middle of the Colorado Rockies' starting rotation from 2008-16.

As you might expect from someone who has just earned their walking papers, Jorge has been struggling through a rough season.  All told, in 42 appearances out of the Arizona pen, De La Rosa has posted a 4.63 ERA with a 20% home run rate while averaging nearly five walks per nine innings.  With such disappointing results, why then would the Cubs be interested in the former D-Back? 

Well, honestly, it's mostly because he's a southpaw.  With Mike Montgomery spending most of the year in the starting rotation, that has left the Jekyll and Hyde-like Justin Wilson as the only "dependable" lefty in the pen.  Plus, Jorge comes with a Major League track record, little financial investment, and no waiver strings attached.  This is a pure depth move that should help fortify the oft-used bullpen as the Cubs plow through the dog days of summer.

In order to make room on the roster for the free-agent acquisition, the Cubs transferred Yu Darvish to the 60-Day DL (a procedural move - he's already been out that long) and demoted Randy Rosario to AAA.  Randy, aka "the GOAT," is another lefty who has been something of a social media darling and mostly effective when called upon; that said, the rookie has been vastly outperforming his peripherals.  Before the shoe could drop, Theo and Co. went out and grabbed another, more experienced option from the left side.  At any rate, it's all but assured that Rosario will be back by September anyway.

During Saturday night's blowout at the hands of the Washington Nationals, De La Rosa made his Cubs debut at Wrigley Field.  Things got off to a great start too, as he he struck out four men (and walked one) in his 1.1 innings of work.  That'll play - here's hoping that Jorge can keep that up!

Meanwhile, with De La Rosa has officially recording his name in the Cubs' record books, I needed to add him to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection book.  Luckily, with so many years spent near the top of the Colorado rotation, Jorge has been in a steady stream of Topps products in the last decade.  As such, I wasn't surprised to find a couple of his cards in my Rockies trade stacks:

Here we have the 2016 Topps Flagship single which kicked off today's post and Jorge's entry on the 2011 Topps Flagship checklist.   It's not exactly an embarrassment of riches, but at least I have options.  Which of these two cards would you select to represent Jorge De La Rosa in the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?

In the end, I opted for the pasteboard on the left.  While I might have a strong distaste for foil text, the green grass background contrasts nicely with the hurler's dark road uniform.  Plus, I prefer the overall design of 2011 compared to 2016 and the crop job on the photo of the latter leaves a lot to be desired... like, his pitching arm, for example.  Do you agree with my assessment or is my thought process as thick with fog as the corners of the 2016 card?   Please feel free to let me know in the comment section below!

Welcome to Chicago and to the CATRC, Jorge.  Here's hoping that you earn a permanent spot in the Cubs bullpen and thanks for providing me with some needed inspiration to blog on this dreary Monday morning.  Hopefully I can keep this momentum going!