Friday, April 21, 2017

The Best of the Best - Ron Santo

First of all, stupid Blackhawks... what a pathetic showing... first round elimination at the hands of the Nashville Predators with nary any offense to speak of.  That was just not a pretty series.

I need a good palate cleanser.  Luckily, Peter from Baseball Every Night recently commemorated the first anniversary of his stellar blog (congratulations, Peter!) and the celebration of which includes a contest based around a fun and thought provoking writing prompt.  I love a good writing prompt!  The concept here is to show off your favorite card of your favorite baseball player of all-time - sounds simple enough, right?  However, there's a small twist (not M. Night Shyamalan-level, but a twist nonetheless):  the card selected must be book at less than fifteen bucks.  We're not looking for "mega mojo hits" here, just your favorite baseball card of your favorite baseball player.

The guidelines here shouldn't be too hard for me to follow, seeing as I'm a decidedly low-end collector and it would be tough to find any cards worth more than a couple bucks in my possession.  Therefore, I've decided to add a little extra challenge.  Instead of simply showing off my favorite of favorites, I'm going to do a top five countdown.  This allows me to rack my brain a little more, milk the post concept for all that it's worth, and show off a few more cards that haven't made it from my binders to the internet just yet.

First, allow me to officially declare my favorite baseballist of all-time, something I don't think I've ever clarified:




While I've waxed poetic about Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, and even Sammy Sosa - the stars of my childhood - the king of kings in my baseball almanac is, without a doubt, Ron Santo.  While his playing career had been over for fifteen years before I was even born, this belated Hall of Famer was a favorite of my grandfathers and it was he who imbued his love of the Cubs into me.  Furthermore, Ronnie's struggles with diabetes, his perseverance and undying positive spirit, and his giving back to the community through ADA walks were a constant inspiration of hope and good faith, which made him an excellent role model.






Of course, Ronnie is best known as the emotional color-commentator on the Cubs' WGN radio broadcasts.  While he was not the best broadcaster, in the technical sense, and he was about as big of a Cubs homer as could be, one could not deny that the man was entertaining.  His emotional outbursts, goofiness, and clumsiness in the booth paired perfectly with Pat Hughes' straight-man persona on play-by-play, making for a radio call that I'd often mute the television for.  As an aspiring radio professional, this was another aspect of Ronnie that I glommed on to.

Thus, good ol' number 10 is certainly my favorite baseball player to ever take the diamond.  With that established, let's jump right into my countdown, shall we?  Before we go, I just want to note that the IP autograph that you saw above is not being included in the list (story on that card here).  While, uncertified autos might not generally be worth the requisite fifteen bucks, the John Hancock of a Hall of Famer still feels like cheating.

Okay - now, let's begin:





#5


That picture look familiar?

The sight of Ron Santo in White Sox colors (even airbrushed) might seem bizarre and sacrilegious to many Cubs fans.  However, I'm a big time fan of short-term stops - Ryne Sandberg in Phillies garb, Sammy Sosa in Orioles duds, Kerry Wood in Yankee pinstripes, Billy Williams in the bright yellow of the Oakland Athletics, etc. - I find such odd sights to be absolutely fascinating.  I'd say that Ron Santo, a Cubs icon and nearly a franchise mascot, in the uniform of their South Side rivals certainly qualifies.

With this "Traded" card from 1974 Topps, we have Ronnie's only true, vintage White Sox card and it's attached fascination makes it an easy selection for this list.  I hold no ill will towards our South Side brethren.





#4


As much as I love the oddity of seeing famous players in unfamiliar uniforms, I love the oddity of oddball trading cards.  This five of diamonds hails from the 2004 Cubs edition of the recently-featured Hero Decks product, the caricatured checklist of which included Mr. Santo.

Many thought Ronnie made a cartoon out of himself in the broadcast booth, so I guess this is somehow appropriate.  The only way this artist's rendering could have been more apropos is if it depicted "This Old Cub" in the midst of his iconic heel-click, the way he celebrated each Cubs victory in 1969.





#3


Speaking of oddballs, while the embossed All-Star cards of 1965 were produced by industry standard Topps, they certainly are "out of left field" when compared with other baseball cards of their era.  These slightly slimmer than standard, shiny inserts have been often maligned for their susceptibility to chipping, odd size, and the profile portrait bearing only a passing resemblance to the corresponding player.  Nevertheless, when I saw this card in the discount bin of my local card shop, many moons ago, there was no way I was going to pass it up.

It's different and I like different.  Not to mention, it was a shiny, vintage, unfamiliar card of my favorite player, as well.  I'll bite on that every time.





#2


Three oddball cards in a row - this one of the team-issued variety.  In 2003, with the Cubs having just clinched the NL Central Division title and just about to embark on a memorable playoff run, the Cubs honored Ron Santo by retiring his number 10.  As part of his unjustly long battle to get into the Hall of Fame, Ronnie had been denied Cooperstown induction by the Veteran's Committee earlier in the year and this was the franchise's way of saying, "hey - you matter to us!"  As part of the festivities, the team passed out these standard-sized trading cards to commemorate the retirement ceremony.

Speaking of which, this is an event which was also retrospectively featured by Topps in a recent insert set:




Santo appeared in a Topps product (along with his wife Vicki) for the first time in a long time, as part of their 100 Years of Wrigley insert set from 2017 Flagship.  This card just missed my top five, but I'm going to take this opportunity to show it off anyway.

Now, I was not so fortunate as to be able to attend this event and I picked this card up several years later at an antique mall in Volo, IL.  That said, I remember attentively watching the event on television and the unfiltered emotion that came from Santo ("this means more to me than the Hall of Fame")  left a lasting impact on me.  Plus, it was the first number retirement of my lifetime.  As such, this card is an easy selection for number two.

And now, the moment of truth - what Ron Santo card is the best Ron Santo card???  Drumroll please:




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Okay, okay... I was just trying to build up some dramatic suspense.  Without any further ado, my favorite card of my favorite player is:




#1


A 2003 All-Time Fan Favorites single.  This reworking of Topps Archives used the same basic concept, cards done in the style of classic Topps sets but with different photographs.  Especially in today's retro-crazed card market, this technique is overdone and wholly uninteresting; however, this card will always and forever stick out to me.

You see, it was this very card that got me back into baseball card collecting.  When I was a child I built my baseball card base; but, when my grandfather passed away, the cards were shoved into boxes and banished to the back of my closet.  We all grieve in our own way I suppose.  In the ensuing years, my focus shifted from our nation's pastime and onto NASCAR racing and my card-collecting habit transferred over to that sport. Until I was mid-way through my teens, all I collected was NASCAR cards and memorabilia; baseball stayed stashed behind my forgotten t-shirts and beat up running shoes.




For a long time, these were the only kinds of cards that I chased.



Then, one day, my mother decided to stop into my childhood LCS (RIP Double Play Sports Cards), for old-time's sake, and picked up the ATFF card you see above.  Like I said, he has always been a familial favorite.  When she brought it home, the blue sky, the clean photograph, the awesome Cubbie bear sleeve patch, and those glorious sideburns reminded me how much baseball once meant to me.  Within a few days, those old boxes came out of their thick coat of dust and, just like that, back into baseball I did delve.

In short, this Ron Santo card is responsible for my rediscovery of baseball and baseball cards.  While it's quite a nice card in it's own right, what it represents makes it impossible to pass up for the number one spot.

So, there you have it - my favorite card of my favorite player of all-time, along with a gaggle of other neat Ron Santo cards.  I hope you enjoyed this wild ride.  I also highly encourage you to participate in Peter's challenge along with me - the prize is promised to be exceptionally unique and picking out my favorite card turned out to be a notably fun diversion.  Plus, I'm curious to see everybody elese's selections.  Bang out your post and drop a link on Peter's original post and *BOOM*  you're entered.

What's your best of the best?





Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Tisket, a Tasket - There's Cards in This Basket


As I mentioned in my post about postage stamps, Hobby Lobby, and the Sex Pistols this past weekend, my wife and I may be in our mid-to-late 20's, but we still exchange Easter baskets with each other.  After all, we both enjoy putting together gifts and we're also both giant, overgrown children - so, it's only natural that we continue this childhood tradition.  What can I say?

So, come Easter Sunday, I whipped up a basket filled to the brim with rubber ducks, picture frames, Reese's products and Peeps (all of her favorite things), hid it under the sink, and made her search it out.  At the same time, she had also hidden a basket of goodies with my name on it; thus, we were both on the hunt for some holiday treasures.  Hopefully, she was satisfied with what I put together for her because she absolutely knocked it out of the park with what she assembled for me:




T-Shirts, Cosmic Brownies, Tootsie Rolls, new flip-flops to replace the same pair I've had since 2007, a spiffy polo for work wearing and other assorted goodies.  Needless to say, I was absolutely ecstatic with the bounty that turned up inside the dresser.  Of course, being the cardboard addict that I am, the first thing that I noticed in this basket full of awesome was a hanger box full of baseball cards.  I guess that's just how my eyes are wired:




Kris Bryant bid me a happy Easter before I ripped into this packaging.  He also wished me good luck with my pack rip - hopefully the hanger would be as bountiful as the Easter basket itself proved to be.

As my wife dug into her giant Reese's egg, I tore into this 72-card sampling of 2017 Topps Series One with Easter cheer:




Not a ton of Cubs or Cubs-related content, but there was a few cards to be had.  Unfortunately, all except the Geovany Soto "Cubs of a Different Color" exhibit were doubles in my collection and, boy oh boy, does Geo look proud of himself.  Although, admittedly, I don't recall offhand what cards I actually still need from this particular product.  Nevertheless, Cubs are always better than no Cubs, even if they're doubles.

As for the rest of the notable cards from the hanger:




Here are the inserts which came within, of which there were a few, including the Target exclusive "Fielding Awards" (Keuchel, Arenado, Kinsler) which the pack boasts of on the front.  I had to do double take on the Luis Coronel "First Pitch" single, as he's so well-dressed for the part, that I didn't realize that he wasn't an actual pitcher on an actual base card.  Apparently, Mr. Coronel is a popular singer of regional Mexican music and not an MLB hurler.

Also, in the bottom right, we have the obligatory buyback - this one featuring Brewer Bill Schroeder from 1987.  See, Tony L.?  There ARE Brewers in Topps 2017 products. *sarcasm alert*





Speaking of 1987 Topps, I also walked away with another tribute to the wood panel set (from the 30th Anniversary checklist) this one re-imagining Don Mattingly's card from the force-fed set.  As tired as I am of the tributes to this set, I cannot deny that this is a wonderful dugout shot of the mustachioed "Donnie Baseball."

This wrapped up the hanger box of 2017 Topps.  If you see anything you like, just let me know - it's all up for trade.

After we wrapped our personal Easter celebration and we cleaned up the Reese's and Cosmic Brownie wrappers which were already strewn about our floor, the wife and I made our way over to my parents to celebrate the holiday with that side of the family.  Apparently, I got my love of gifting from my mother, as she also prepped a pair of Easter baskets for the both of us.  This was quite a lovely surprise.




Nestled among even more snack foods like pistachios, Riesen's chocolate caramels, and a large package of Twix bars, were some treats for the eyes.  Apparently, my mother went so far as to actually visit my favorite LCS and pick up a few items for my collection, including this baggie full of miscellaneous former Cubs.  It certainly doesn't hurt that it starts off with Ryne Sandberg - that has to be a good portend of what's to come.  I guess my mothers knows me pretty well.




The baggie was full of mostly junk wax era singles, plus some cards from the mid-to-late 90's and the early aughts, my favorites of which are showcased above.  One of these is not like the others... can you figure out which one?

Here we have Derrek Lee showing off his Gold Glove-winning defense ('07 Fleer Ultra), Eddie Zambrano mid-throw ('95 Score), a Carlos Marmol All-Star commemoration ('08 Topps), a rookie card of the eccentric Turk Wendell ('95 Score) and Sammy Sosa beaming at the bat rack ('96 Donruss).




 
Then we have Willie Smith, via a minor league ProCards single, posing for the camera.  However, the AAA uniform he's sporting is not that of the Iowa Cubs, it's a Columbus Clippers get up.  This is a switcheroo that this LCS proprietor makes fairly often, as the "C" of the Clippers cap looks quite similar to the iconic Cubs "C" at a quick glance.  Oopsy daisy.  For the record, Smith briefly reached the Majors in 1994, with the Cardinals, for eight games.

That concluded the repack baggie of past Cubs; however, that was not the end of the Easter baseball card madness.  In fact, my mother went ahead and brought out the big guns for this basket case.  As a special holiday treat, she also selected a pair of vintage Hall of Famers from the glass display case in the front of the store (a selection of cards from which this cheapskate almost never picks from).  She choose well, going with a pair of familial favorites going back to my grandfather, to put an exclamation point on this Easter holiday:




 

Hot damn - a 1970 Kellogg's Ernie Banks and a 1968 Topps TSN All-Star Ron Santo!  My jaw was literally agape when I saw these, tucked away next to the Twix bars and stored safely in top-loaders.  In fact, the Kellogg's card of Mr. Cub is my very first vintage Banks, as playing day cards of the franchise icon hold an imposing premium in the Chicago market.  The same can be said for vintage Santos as well, even when they come in burlap.

It's a good thing I found these last, as there's no way that these could have been followed up.

In short, I had one heckuva Easter and ended up with a surprising amount of cardboard, in addition to my traditional junk food.  The only thing that could have made the holiday better was if I also got a bag of licorice jelly beans.  The rest of the world might hate them, but they are by far my favorite pieces of Easter candy.  That said, the oddball Banks and the All-Star Santo are pretty swell consolation prizes.  My wife and my mother are pretty awesome.

Did anyone else find any baseball cards in their Easter baskets on Sunday?






Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Taxing Day





Allow me to walk you through the range of emotions I feel on Tax Day, after discovering that I've checked the wrong box on my employment paperwork and that I owe the Government and TurboTax some hard-earned dinero.

Here is a visual representation, in baseball card form, of how both my wallet and I feel:



Confused...







  ...annoyed...









...pained...








...and beaten.



Always remember to make sure you you fill out pedantic paperwork correctly - if you glaze over it, that will almost certainly come back to bite you in the butt.  I've learned this lesson the hard way.

Okay, I'm probably (definitely) being overly-dramatic here.  While it's uber-frustrating to owe the government money after grueling through my taxes and disappointing to not get a tax return for the first time in my life, it's not a huge amount of money and I can easily absorb the unexpected expense.  I just needed an outlet and this blog is my most trusted place of fairly anonymous expression.

However, I hope Tax Day goes better for all of you reading this than it did for me.





Saturday, April 15, 2017

Going Postal at Hobby Lobby

It's the day before Easter and I'm just now putting together a small basket of goodies for my wife. Since I'm a bonafide guy, of course I waited until the day before to assemble this gift - isn't that the grown man tradition?  Although, I must admit, I did do some early preparation for the good deed.  A couple of days ago, I strolled into the local Hobby Lobby in search of some crafting supplies, as I'd decided to get crafty with parts of said Easter basket.

However, I didn't take into consideration what I was wearing while wandering around the notably conservative craft store.  I could feel eyes on me as I meandered up and down each aisle.  I know what you're wondering, what could I have possibly worn that upset the crowd of old retirees and rich soccer moms that populate such an establishment?




The answer is a t-shirt for a band that's been around for 40 years now and whose frontman apparently has spoken fondly of Donald Trump in recent weeks.  But, they have the word "Sex" in their name; so apparently, they are still lewd, scary and threatening to the patrons of Hobby Lobby.  Also, the sheer oddity of a bearded man in a punk rock t-shirt buying beads and colored jewelry wire could have also been the reason for the stares.  My demographic was certainly not well-represented in the establishment.

At any rate, I definitely felt uncomfortable and, as soon as I found my needed materials, I was happy to get the heck out of Dodge,  That said, I couldn't help but make a quick trip to their "collector's aisle" in the back of the store before I made my retreat.  Filled with models cars, HO scale railroad set paraphernalia, stamp stuff, and card-collecting supplies.  While I was there to make a gift for someone else, I decided to grab a little treat for myself too.  Spoiler alert:  it wasn't from the card-collecting supply portion of the aisle, either:




Yea, I grabbed a starter kit for stamp collecting; I ventured a little bit off of the beaten path.

In my life, I've collected A LOT of thing - baseball cards, records, watches, rubber wristbands, band t-shirts (like the one I was wearing!), action figures, 1:64 scale die-cast, coins and so on and so forth.  Since I was a kid, I've basically collected everything, so it's bit strange that one of the few things that I've never really dabbled in is stamp collecting, one of the world's oldest collecting interests.  My mother has a book full of them and tried to pass them on to me, at one point, but they just never drew me in.

That's truly not about to change any time soon either.  I did't grab this "Famous American Men" starter pack in order to kick off a new collecting habit.  I grabbed this cellophane wrapped cardboard envelope in hopes of finding some baseball-related stamps for my baseball card collection.  After all, both feature pictures of famous people and hold collectible value - they're basically cousins.

For a couple of bucks, I shrugged my shoulders and figured, "why not?"  It's something different.





Lo and behold, I was not skunked.  Baseball immortals Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were featured front and center on the packaging, but the disclaimer of "stamps included may vary" had me doubting whether or not they'd be included.  Success!

As you can see, these stamps have already been mailed or cancelled, as evidenced by the markings inked over their pictures, so that's a bit of a drag. The "luckiest man in the world" appears on a 25 cent stamp, issued on June 10, 1989 from Cooperstown, as part of a set which honors athletes from the era of 1903-41. Meanwhile, the "Sultan of Swat" shows up on a 20 cent piece issued on July 6, 1983, released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of baseball's All-Star Game.

These two Yankees were the only baseball or sports-related personalities to fall out of the envelope (no Cubs - womp, womp), but there were still several other "famous men" who caught my attention.



Oh look, a controversial in his time musician - how appropriate for a purchase made during my Sex Pistols snafu.  Elvis the Pelvis shows his mug (but not his hips, heaven forbid!), in beautiful, bold colors, on this 29 cent stamp from 1993.

Presley was the only musician of the bunch, but this next fella sure knew how to drop some mad lyrics:



Edgar Allen Poe - god to every emo and goth kid from my age bracket.  This acclaimed poet shows up on a considerably older stamp, a 3 cent piece that dates from way back in 1949.  Ooooh, antiquey!

To make up the rest of the "stamp repack," we have a few presidents...





...and some other, miscellaneous and notable Americans.  All except the Bobby Kennedy example appear to date from the 1930's or 1940's.


With that, we've reached the end of this random pack of stamps.

Overall, nothing here was super rare, of high value (even in mint condition), or even particularly notable; however, like a baseball card repack, those aren't the goals for this starter kit.  What they are is fascinating little bits of American ephemera that make a great jumping off point for a blossoming collector.  I shan't be one of them, but I did get my baseball-tinged stamps; so, overall, I'm calling this a win.

Meanwhile, I should probably get off Blogger and wrap up this whole Easter Basket thing - I do have less than a day's worth of time left, after all. "Ironman Lou" and the "Colossus of Clout" will make for great additions to my random baseball oddballs accumulation.  In fact, while I've stated that I never collected stamps outright, they won't even be the first such pieces to enter into any of my collections.  Like I said, trading cards and postage stamps are basically cousins.

Also, the Sex Pistols are still scary to old people.






Friday, April 14, 2017

Getting Cross at Work

When I was a kid, I watched a ton of Thomas the Tank Engine.  This ongoing series of stories about talking locomotives was about as English of a show as you could have - the thickly-accented Ringo Starr was the narrator, the setting of the Island of Sodor was a fictional British Isle, and the dialogue used a ton of slang and terminology from land of Queen Elizabeth.  As a result, when I was in the single digits of age, I often referred to trucks as "lorries," railroads as "railways," trash as "rubbish," and anger as "getting cross."

I know - I was so cultured as a child.  What happened?

Speaking of such linguistics, yesterday I got cross while at work.  No, a student didn't give me attitude, a co-worker didn't leave my computer lab in a mess, nor did track practice go poorly.  In this situation, getting cross was actually a good thing.




I got Jeff Cross into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection by submitting a best offer of a couple bucks on a Ebay listing that kept getting re-listed.  Perhaps the seller was a bit "cross" that he couldn't move Cross?

One of middle infielder Jeff Cross' only baseball card appearances comes courtesy of oddball overlords TCMA, via a team-centric checklist, in the year 1975.  The no-frills set in which Mr. Cross appears is one that honors the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942-46.  Why that particular, seemingly randomly selected time  span, you ask?  Well, those dynastic Cards managed to make it to the World Series in four out of the five years, while winning three rings along the way -  not bad, eh?  Here's hoping the Cubs' current run extends to the point of rivaling those Redbirds!

Cross was a bit player on those deeply talented rosters.  While names such as Slaughter, Musial, and Schoendienst carried the club to the promised land, year in and year out, Cross only appeared in 50 total games:



And this is where I learned that Jeff was short for Joffre - I think I'd go by Jeff too, if I were him.

As you can see, most of Joffre's... errr, Jeff's.... inactivity in the Major Leagues during this time was due to the call of Uncle Sam.  After making his MLB debut with a single game cameo in '42, Jeff (like many a baseball player) was drafted into the business of killin' Nazis for three seasons.  Eventually, he made his return to baseball during the 1946 season, but failed to lock down a regular spot on the St. Louis roster.

As you can see in the stat-line above, the 27-year old utility man batted an anemic .217 in his return to baseball duty and things only got worse from there.  Cross crossed under the Mendoza line (waayyyyyy under), barely cracking .100 during in the next campaign.  Yikes.



Someone managed to snap a picture of Cross in a Cubs uni.
Image courtesy of BaseballBirthdays.com



Nevertheless, the Cubs came a-callin' in 1948, purchasing his contract from their National League rivals that May.  Chicago found themselves with a bit of black hole at second base, after having demoted their main starter for the decade, Don Johnson, to the minors.  The Cubs gave Cross one last shot in the Bigs, to claim a vacant role, as he, Hank Schenz and Emil Verban duked it out to man the keystone.  Unfortunately for him, Jeff did not seize his moment, again flailing to a .100 batting average in 20-at bats.

Spoiler alert - this star-crossed middle infielder didn't win the three-way race.  Schenz saw most of the action in '48, before giving way to Verban for '49.



Cross' competition up the middle with the Cubbies.


Meanwhile, Jeff Cross was promptly banished to the bushes after his brief, 16-game trial.  He was sent to the Texas League Shreveport Sports where he made his final 81 professional appearances.  At season's end, the now 29-year old officially bid the diamond adieu, never again taking the field in the Majors or the minors.

After retiring from baseball, the newly minted private citizen planted his roots in Texas, where he worked for forty years in the insurance business out of Houston. Cross retired in 1988 and passed away at the age of 78 on July 23, 1997.




Back to baseball cards, as you can see above, Cross isn't the first card from this set that I've obtained.  Apparently, the Cubs raided the Cardinals waste bin a few times in those days, as his teammates Coaker Triplett and Harry Walker will attest.  With crossing Cross off of my needed list, his card becomes the third from the 1975 TCMA 1942-1946 St. Louis Cardinals checklist to enter into my binder.  That seems like a lot for such a niche offering, to me anyway.

The cards themselves are, like most offerings from TCMA, quite basic.  By that, I do not mean that they wear UGG boots, yoga pants and sip from Starbucks cups in their free time; no, what I'm trying to say is that there isn't much to the design of the product.  Black and white picture, cream-colored border, name, position, and set title - the anti-Pacific, if you will.  The backs are especially sparse, featuring the player's full name and stats from the declared period in what appears to by typewritten text, with no bio or any other extra flare.  I can almost hear the cards saying, "just the facts, ma'am."




With that, the facts are that I was anything but cross about tracking down the Cross card for my CATRC binder.  After watching that listing come and go for several months, I finally submitted a best offer that I was comfortable with and now it will be mine.  Patience is a virtue, right?  When I receive my winnings and insert Jeff into my binder, I will have 1,484 out of 2,055 Chicago Cubs in my collection; that's good for a 72.21% completion rate.

My next goal is to "cross" the 75% mark.  Also, to use more international puns.  I apologize in advance - you can blame Thomas the Tank Engine.





Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RIP Coach Amaro

 
This post is incredibly late - darn near two weeks past due, at this point - but, better late than never, right?

On March 31, longtime Big League player, scout, coach and minor league skipper Ruben Amaro, Sr. passed away at the age of 81.  The former Gold Glove shortstop for the Cardinals, Phillies, Yankees, and Angels was your prototypical all glove, no bat middle infielder throughout the 1960's, with a career batting average of .234 and OPS of .545.  Nevertheless, he was so reliable up the middle that he even earned some down-ballot MVP votes in 1964.

His teammates were quite fond of him as well,  as Yankee teammate Jim Bouton mentioned in  Ball Four.  “He’s the kind of guy, well, there’s a dignity to him and everyone likes and respects him.”




 Ruben with the Phillies on his 1962 Topps card




 Although Ruben may be best remembered for his days as a regular in the "City of Brotherly Love" lineup or for his injury-plagued stint in the "City that Never Sleeps," Ruben also has a very strong connection to the "Windy City's" Northside nine, as well.  In fact, the senior Amaro was a member of the coaching staff for one of Wrigley's most beloved squads.

After injuries effectively ended his playing career after the 1969 season, Ruben Amaro turned to coaching in order to extend his tenure in professional baseball.  All in all, I think we safely say that Ruben proved his worth, as the baseball lifer spent over 50 years in dugouts and diamonds across the country and across the world (he was elected to the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986) before he was through.

Initially moving to the front office with the Phillies, in 1972, Amaro became a Phillies assistant to Dallas Green, who was then the team’s director of minor leagues and scouting. Ruben and his former teammate eventually helped to lead the Phightin' Phils to their first World Series title in 1980, with Green as the field manager and Amaro as the Latin America Coordinator.  Shortly thereafter, when Green moved to the Second City to try and break another championship drought, Amaro followed his colleague to Chicago, joining the on-field coaching staff in 1983.




Anyone have an extra copy of this 7-11 sponsored team issue?




While we Chicago baseball fanatics may wax poetic about such luminaries as Sandberg, Sutcliffe, Smith, and Eckersley, the men behind the scenes were just as important to that team's surprising success.  Working as the third base coach and infielder tutor, Amaro and the 1984 NL East Division Champions came oh-so-close to slaying that Billy Goat.  As it was, Ruben used that success as a springboard into managerial aspirations, first with the Detroit Tigers organization, then the Petroleros de Minatitl├ín of the Mexican League, before returning to helm the Williamsport and Rockford Cubbies from 1996-98.

Sadly, despite his baseball acumen, Ruben Amaro never got the call to lead a Major League ballclub; although, he received an interview as late as the year 2000.  “I was not only Latin, but my family was also a bit dark,” Amaro said in 2011. “My time came too early.”  He eventually returned to the Philly organization to work under his son and the franchise's GM, Ruben Amaro, Jr., in various capacities.  It was the Phillies who owned Ruben's heart, though he did hold a special fondness for a certain other MLB city:

“I never wanted to leave the Phillies – never,” Amaro once stated. “The times I left, they were the biggest boo-boos of my life. Not so much the first time, though, because I joined Dallas Green with the Cubs and he built something, which I don’t think he gets enough credit for.”




 Amaro and Green share an embrace in the midst of their World Series celebration.
 Image courtesy of The Desert Sun.



Clearly, he held a special place in his heart for the Cubs and a healthy respect for the General Manager that lead the "Lovable Losers" out of the doldrums and into Chicago's hearts.  In an odd twist of fate, Ruben lost his battle with cancer just over a week after his longtime compatriot Dallas Green passed away due to kidney failure and pneumonia.  These long-time, well-respected baseball lifers will forever be linked in life and in death.

 In addition to his son, Ruben Jr., Amaro Sr. is survived by his wife, Lilia, four other children and seven grandchildren.  While most might remember Ruben Amaro, Sr. as a Philadelphia Phillie, to me and the coaches section of my CATRC, he'll always be an affable coach for Dallas Green's Chicago Cubs. 

RIP Ruben- sorry it took so long for me to properly acknowledge you.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Popping a Blister

The weather in the Chicagoland area was absolutely B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L this past weekend.  Temperatures in the sixties and seventies, crisp sunshine all throughout the daytime hours, the rain finally went away after what felt like 40 days and 40 nights... one really couldn't ask for better in Chicago during the early spring time.  So, what'd I do to make the most of this wonderful outdoor situation?  Why, I went to the mall of course - duh!

Oh... you thought I'd have some story revolving around being outside, didn't you?  Whoopsy daisy.
There's always next weekend.

While I may not have made the most of this unicorn of Chicago weather, I definitely do not feel like my weekend was a waste.  This Sunday, while at the Orland Square Mall in south suburban Orland Park, I came across an item that I've been hunting feverishly for several weeks now.  Thank goodness the wife decided that she wanted Cheesecake Factory for lunch!

After downing a large bowl of gumbo and a massive slice of strawberry cheesecake, the wife and I decided that we should probably try to work off some of those calories.  Being the responsible, American consumers that we are, a lap or two around the attached shopping mall seemed like the most appropriate way to do so.





While she found entertainment in stores like Lush, Francesca's and Charlotte Russe, I was content to meander through the Square's not one, not two, not three, but FOUR sports memorabilia stores.  Seems like over-saturating the market to me, but what do I know?  Gotta capitalize on those Cubbies, I suppose.

After perusing the newly-christened Clark Street Sports location, Plaque's Plus, and Brewery Collectibles, taking note of all the new Cubs knick-knacks, I found nothing that truly caught my eye.  After all, I'm a card-carrying card collector - I don't have much use for memorabilia that's not shaped into a 2.5" x 3.5" rectangle.  I have my Sandberg Cubs jersey that I'll never have to update (always buy a legend, kiddies) and I've sported the same now-dirty blue, Cubs hat for over ten years now.  I don't particularly need anymore swag, nor do I have use for such novelties as Cubs lawn gnomes or wooden trains.

The final stop in my sports-themed retail tour was Lid's Chicago Locker Room - aka, their place to peddle all of their non-hat items.  It was here that I somewhat surprisingly came across the item that I'd been frustrated in trying to track down for a few weeks:





No, not the key-chain; the piece of baseball ephemera that I'd be tracking like a hunter in the Serengeti was the 2017 Topps Factory Team Set for the Chicago Cubs.  Walking around a lot in five year old shoes oftentimes leads to blisters, but blister packs of baseball cards?  Hot dog!

This collated set of 17 cards includes all of the major players from the defending World Series Champion powerhouse and comes packaged in blister pack form.  The fairly unassuming and unheralded, souvenir-type issue is one of my most anticipated releases, year in and year out, which is why I've been stalking all of the local big box chains (Target and Walmart) since they first started popping up, sometime last moth.

These are the one kind of blister that this runner doesn't mind popping up.

Why do I care so much about these cards - they're just the Cubs Flagship cards from Series One, right?  Well, yes that is what makes up the bulk of the plastic bubble:




The only thing different here is that the Topps logo lacks foil and, honestly, I think that is a much better look and easier to read.  Furthermore, if you flip these "repeats" from Series One over, you'll notice something different about them:





Much like Opening Day, the social media handles have been replaced by a generic Topps hashtag.  Also, in the upper right corner, a discerning eye will notice that these cards are numbered with their own system, in order to indicate that these cards have different origins.  As an added bonus, just below that, they actually remove all shadow of a doubt and tell you outright that these cards hail from the sealed team sets, rather than the Flagship packs.

In summation, Topps appeals to the "gotta collect 'em all" nature of our hobby by tweaking a few things on their already established product and re-release them into the wild.  Just like retail/hobby exclusive parallels, Opening Day, and the inevitable torrent of reprints, Topps can collect an extra 8 bucks per pop with very little work.  From marketing and profiting standpoints, it's really quite genius; from a collecting standpoint, it's annoying and OCD-triggering.

Obviously, that's not much reason to be excited about a product and, if that's all these blisters were, I'd welcome them with the same temperament that I do those puss-filled pustules on the bottom of my running-thrashed feet.  In order to fully entice collectors, Topps has to offer a little extra incentive:





If you can read this blurry scan of the back packaging, you'll see there's more to these packs than what initially meets the eyes.  The three names that I have circled in red did not appear in Series One of Flagship and, in fact, are making their Cubs baseball card debut*.  Therefore, I needed these puppies for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

With that, that's how these cards...





...ended up replacing these cards...





In my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder and my pages look infinitely better because of it.  Cubbie Blue just works so much more with this collection than Royal Blue, Oriole Orange, what should be Padres Brown.  Of course, I'm biased, but whatever.  The Photoshopping looks good too; not too unnatural.

So far in the young 2017 season, all three of these off-season additions have proven to be valuable  reinforcements.  Wade Davis has already racked up a pair of saves and Koji Uehara has yet to give up a run in three appearances setting the former up.  On the other side of the ball, platoon outfielder Jon Jay is batting a robust .364 thus far.  So far, so good.

While these Cubbie debuts were the main draw for me, that's not all that these factory-sealed packs uniquely provide to collectors.  Additionally, the consumer can find previews of what's to come in Series Two:





For instance, here's three key cogs who didn't make an appearance in the first series and now we now what their cards will most likely look like in the next wave.  As neat as that is, I think the most notable thing here though is that Getty managed to snap a picture of John Lackey on the mound where he doesn't look downright ornery.  Also, I love the follow-through picture chosen for the Javy Baez card, but I do wish that they zoomed out just a touch more - let us see the scene around him (and all of his hands)!




Here are four more guys who didn't make an appearance in Series One, at least not in the traditional sense.  All four of these men ranked with the league leaders in the categories of ERA (Lester, Hendricks), pitching wins (Lester, Arrieta) or RBI (Rizzo) and, thus, appeared on League Leader cards.  Since this is the first year that each of the top three for each stat has gotten their own, individual cards, one could be forgiven for thinking that these were their traditional base cards - I know I did, initially.

I imagine that this is the reason why Topps decided to save these heavy hitters for Series Two.

Lastly, one other thing that these blister packs oftentimes include is slightly different versions of the already released base cards, excepting the already discussed variations on the backsides.  Sometimes, they change up the front of the cards, as well:




As this Kris Bryant card exemplifies - card one in both Flagship and the Cubs set - it's not uncommon to find re-cropped images on the front.  In the spirit of Highlights Magazine, can you spot the difference here?



Okay, so that should have been pretty obvious - the layout has changed from horizontal in S1 to vertical in the factory pack.  As someone who has an unfair, inherent dislike for horizontally layed out cards, I am usually in favor of such a switch.  This case is no different, as the "lower third graphic" takes up much less space on the horizontally oriented piece.  Although, like the Baez card from earlier, it's still cropped way too tightly.

In conclusion, that's what these factory team set blister packs have to offer:  new card numbers for old cards, re-worked versions of previous cards, Series Two previews, and, most importantly, some franchise baseball card debuts.  On the latter point, without the cards of Davis, Uehara, and Jay, there's no way I'd be plopping down any money on this stuff - I'm a sucker for Cubs debuts and Cubgrading.

Anybody else plop down some dinero for a pack?  Who appears for the first time in their new duds for your favorite franchise?

I wish all blisters offered up new Cubs cards when popped.




_____________________________________________________________________________

* Wade Davis appears as a Cub in the concurrently released Gypsy Queen product.  If anyone has a copy of that card available for trade, I'd love to take it off of your hands!