Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Who's Been at Third Since Santo?

From my adolescence through today, the Cubs have been quite stable at the third base position.  This stability came courtesy of Aramis Ramirez for many years until his defection for Milwaukee and, lately, Kris Bryant.  By all accounts, it looks as though the hot corner is spoken for for the foreseeable future, seeing as Kris can pretty much do it all on the baseball field (he went deep again last night, tying him with Colorado's Nolan Arenado for the most in MLB).

However, that simply wasn't the case before A-Ram blew into the Windy City in a Trade Deadline deal that was really more like highway robbery from the Pirates in the summer of 2003, right in the thick of the playoff race.

A couple of stabilizing presences on the corner infield.

Before Aramis brought his 30+ homer power to the Northside of Chicago, the Cubs used over 100 different unfortunate souls to try and plug the hole vacated by Ron Santo.  The position was said to be "cursed" (we sure do love to blame our failings on voodoo magic 'round these parts) after the bitter trade which forced good, ol' number 10 to finish his career on the other side of town in 1974.

From that point on, countless has-beens. never-wases and busted prospects were rotated throughout the years in a futile effort to bring stability to the infield... Buechele, Fanzone, and *shudder* Gary Scott, for example.

Exhibit A in prospect over-evaluation

That said, they weren't all bad.  Bill Madlock was easily the cream of the crop and won a couple of batting titles at the beginning of his career while calling Wrigley home.  Unfortunately, the ownership family for which the field was named were notoriously cheap and a touch bigoted.   So, they refused to give the outspoken Madlock the raise he quite obviously deserved and instead went out and spent even more money on a decrepit Bobby Murcer.

Other former stars like Ron Cey, Gary Gaetti and Vance Law righted the ship for brief periods of time each; nevertheless, it felt like the Cubs were throwing a new third-sacker on the diamond each and every Opening Day for decades.

In 2006, when A-Ram had only been in town for a couple full seasons, WGN produced a music video to "honor" this futility.  Set to the tune of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," the great majority of also-rans were rattled of, rapid fire, as the Superstation's entertainment reporter, Dean Richards, did his best Billy Joel impersonation.  It was all in good fun and I remember it airing on Cubs rain delay coverage a few times during that lackluster season.

I guess there's a passing resemblance between the two.

Now, as an avid music nut with a special spot in his heart for cheesy parodies, this tune stuck with me throughout the years.  The only thing about the original piece that bothered me was the inconsistencies among the images of the players they used as their names were blared; some were baseball cards (poorly cropped, at that), others were publicity head-shots, still others were obviously the first hit to be found via a Google search.   These flaws always bugged me.

Since that time, I've since gone to and graduated from college with a degree that required an awful lot of video and audio editing work.  Furthermore, I've also established this humble blog centered around baseball cards.  What I'm trying to say, is that I now have the ability, the motive and the medium to recreate the "Who's Been at Third Since Santo?" video, using my CATRC to clean up the image selection.

The only downside is that I don't have the proper equipment for a job like this one.  While I'd much rather be using programs like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Audition for a project like this, I no longer have access to the computer lab of a private university.  Thus, I had to settle for bare-bones:  Windows Movie Maker and Audacity.  Even so, I'm still pretty happy with how it turned out (otherwise, I wouldn't be showing it).

Without further ado, I present to you my version of "Who's Been At Third Since Santo?"

Please let me know what you think, be it in the comment section below or on the video itself on YouTube.

Also, after watching that roll call of insignificance, if you're a Cubs fan, please join me in giving thanks for blue-eyed basher that we have firmly entrenched at that position today (and for the foreseeable future).  Woof.

Furthermore, while we're on the topic of "curses" and positional black-holes, now that third is filled, I think a new crater has opened up in right.  Like third, this one began with the bitter trade of a fan favorite (Sammy Sosa) and since 2005, only Kosuke Fukudome has stuck around longer than two seasons (and we all know how that ultimately turned out).  Names like Jeromy Burnitz, Nate Schierholtz, David DeJesus, Milton Bradley, Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones, etc. have been chewed up and spit out in that time.

Here'es hoping Jason Heyward gets his act together - we don't need another 30-year pit of quicksand!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cubs Representing Our Country

The Olympics officially concluded yesterday and I am a little late to the party with this tie-in.  Oh well - inspiration is a fickle mistress.

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of the Olympics and, outside of the a few track and field events (I am a former trackster myself), I don't really pay much attention (Usain Bolt isn't human).  After all, let's face it, it was exceptionally difficult to get truly amped up about them this time around as a result of the scandals and corruption associated with Rio's hosting selection and the Ryan Lochte kerfuffle.  

Furthermore, I'm still just a tiny bit perturbed that baseball was taken off of the schedule after the 2008 Olympiad.  How is baseball, a game with nationalistic roots throughout the western hemisphere, less of a sport than synchronized swimming and horse dancing?  Please tell me because I can't figure it out.

No matter, it's already been announced that this injustice has finally been righted and baseball will once again be on the calendar come 2020 (although, now what happens with the World Baseball Classic?).  Unfortunately, I can't remember who originally tweeted it, but the following picture from the last Olympic baseball tourney came across my Twitter feed in the wake of that announcement:

Along with Stephen Strasburg on the left, that's three current Cubs stars sporting the bronze medals that the USA took home that year:  Dexter Fowler, Trevor Cahill and Jake Arrieta.  Well, how about that?  Look at those baby faces!

A Cubs World Series ring would look quite nice to those Olympic medals on their mantles, just sayin'.

After my curiosity got the best of me and I spent a couple hours doing some research, I found out that there was quite a few Cubbie-connections taking the field in Beijing that year:

Making two starts that summer, Arrieta's best performance was a six inning, seven strike out gem in Team USA's 9–1 victory over China, a feat which this card I borrowed from COMC highlights.

Trevor Cahill was already a top prospect in the A's system when he was selected out of AA for the Team USA roster.  Cahill took the bump for two starts, giving up just two earned runs in eight innings along the way.  It appears as though Trevor never got any love from the Team USA set released by UD at the time.

Dexter Fowler sets the tone for the Cubs offense today (you go, we go); but, in 2008, he was setting the tone for our country.  Not quite the offensive threat he is today, the speedy outfielder batted .250 with two walks and nary a single stolen base attempt along the way.  

However, while these three big names were to eventually go on and reunite as key cogs in the machine that is the 2015-16 Cubs, they weren't the only guys who eventually blew into the Windy City on that bronze medal winning roster.  Also joining them on the podium were:

Former Cubs rebuild-era outfielder and current PED outcast Nate Schierholtz was a starter in the outfield...

Short-term bullpen acquisition Jeff Stevens served as an oft-used reliever in the course of the tournament.  Although, his team-leading four appearances were awfully rocky, leading to a 9.00 ERA.

Another busted PED user in Taylor Teagarden was the starting catcher on the squad, several years before becoming the emergency catcher for the 2015 Cubs.  For the record, he batted a horrid .185 in tournament play... maybe he should have gotten into those PED's a little bit earlier.

Additionally, if all that wasn't enough, the international nine was even managed by a former Cub:

The longtime MLB infielder with the Orioles finished up his 13-year career with a forgettable, 24 game stint on the Northside of Chicago in 1978.  Meanwhile, he would later go on to serve as a highly-successful manager with Team USA in various international competitions from 2005 through 2009.

All in all, that's quite the Cubs contingent for one team - 6 players and one manager.  Does this mean we'll eventually get Strasburg too??

At this point, already deep in the rabbit hole of internet researching, I decided to see just how strong the Cubs contingent was for every edition of the Olympics which featured baseball as a competition since it was re-introduced in 1988.  I mean, I had to find out if 2008 was aberration, right?

Here's what I uncovered:

1988 in Seoul - Gold Medal
(Four Future Cubs)

Bret Barberie was only a Cub for 15 games in 1996, which put a period on his MLB career; thus, he never received a true Cubs card.  However, this IP signed shot of him taking an at-bat at Wrigley Field will do just fine (even if it is a little smeared).

On the other hand, the rest of these guys were around long enough to get a Cubs card and, hey whaddayaknow, I even actually have a Team USA card of Tom Goodwin and didn't have to steal a scan from COMC!  Furthermore, all three of them appeared on Cubs playoff squads.

1992 in Barcelona - Fourth Place
(Four Future Cubs)

Nomar is obviously the big star here, but Phil Nevin in his prime was no slouch either.  However, neither one of those guys were in Chicago for very long.  Meanwhile, Murray and Tucker both stuck around the league for quite awhile as role players and, of course, each spent a brief amount of time in Wrigley Field.

Furthermore, this time I had two of the four in Team USA garb - look at me, batting .500!

1996 in Atlanta - Bronze Medal
(Two Future Cubs)

Jacque Jones was the starting center fielder of a Cubs playoff team (2007) and Augie "O" was a perennial fan favorite in the Second City (Chicago loves it's scrappy middle infielders).  As much as Chicago adored little Augie, apparently the makers of Team USA cards don't share that affection. Still, not a bad crop of future Cubbies here, though not nearly as strong as 2008 or 1988.  Plus, it's the smallest so far.

Even so, at this point, the Cubs representation falls off of a cliff.

2000 in Sydney - Gold Medal
(One Former Cub*)

Not a single player from this roster ever became a Chicago Cub - how very disappointing. However, a couple of guys, Mike Kinkade and Travis "Gookie" Dawkins did spend some time in the Cubs farm system.

Furthermore, the pitching coach for the first Team USA team to win the gold medal in their own National Pastime since 1988 was a bonfide, true blue former Cub - Phil Regan, aka "the Vulture." This was to be his only appearance on the USA coaching staff, serving under beloved Dodger icon Tommy Lasorda.

2004 in Athens - Did Not Qualify
(Nobody, future Cub or not)

The United States did not make it to Athens after losing a qualifying game to Mexico, 1-0 as part of the Americas Tournament.  Had they made it, we'd see another appearance by Taylor Teagarden, as well as his future Iowa Cubs teammate Chris Valaika, who made a cameo with Chicago as an injury replacement in 2014.

Sorry guys - tough break!

There you have it - a comprehensive look at everyone who has ever played for the Cubs and participated in the world's oldest sporting competition for Team USA.  Of course, many a future/former Cub has represented a different country throughout Olympic history, i.e. Erik Pappas for Greece, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kosuke Fukudome for Japan, Chang Yong-Lim for South Korea, et al.  However, that's enough content for a post in and of itself.  Maybe another time.

In the end, the roster of the 2008 edition of Team USA was the most dense in Cubs connections with 7, while 1988 and '92 were tied for second with 4 each.

Meanwhile, back in the present, the United States really kicked some major tail this particular Olympiad, winning 121 medals.  That's darn near double the amount of second place Great Britain. Maybe, just maybe, adding our National Pastime back into the competition will allow us to increase our dominance come 2020.

Also, if the past games are any indication, the Cubs are likely to be scouting those games hard, since it's quite apparent that we like to pick up international competitors here in Chicago.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Kingsley Ransom

As I've mentioned here and there on this here blog, I used to be a fanatical NASCAR follower in my younger years.  In fact, during that time, getting me to leave the house on Sunday was like trying to bathe a cat.

As such, being the trading card collecting nut that I am, I built myself a large collection of auto racing-themed cards.  Through that avenue (and many a book), I developed a healthy knowledge on the history of the sport.  Unfortunately, as my interest in the sport waned, many of those cards were lost to the sands of time.

While sifting through the closet under the basement stairs last summer in a boredom-infused fit of cleaning, I came across one of those old binders and soon lost an hour or two flipping through the pages and reciting long-forgotten names.  Nostalgia bit me hard.

Since that time, I've been slowly but surely rebuilding my NASCAR card collection and, this time, I am going the same route as I did with my Cubs collection - one card of every person to compete at NASCAR's highest level, or at least as many as I can find.  Seeing as only a tiny portion of the sport's history since 1949 is covered by trading card manufacturer's, the great majority of racers have not been honored with their own 2x3 rectangle.

On the blogosphere, when it comes to NASCAR cards, Billy Kingsley of Cardboard History certainly ranks on the pole position.  His collection of both cards and die-casts are without rival and, apparently, so too is his generosity.  After making contact, he soon agreed to send me a few of his doubles..."a few."

 All told, I ended up with a whole heckuva a lot of new wheel-men for my latest project, which covered a wide expanse of brands, eras and collecting niches:

He included a healthy selection of legendary names.  You might know Donnie Allison for his involvement in one of the greatest finishes of all time, the 1979 Daytona 500, which ended in a brawl after the leaders wrecked on the final lap during NASCAR's live network debut.  The Allisons are one of the most prominent families in auto racing and his nephew Davey was no slouch either; if not for his tragic death in a helicopter crash in 1992, he might be discussed as one of the best of the best.

This is both a wonderfully joyous and sobering shot of Davey with his son Robbie (who is now a racer himself) not long before the accident.  Treasure life while you have it.

Meanwhile, Daytona 500 champ Tiny Lund (car #55) is another all-time great who's life was cut short, this time on the track while racing at Talladega in 1975.  David Pearson has the second most wins in the history of the circuit with 105... which is still 95 short of Richard Petty's mind-boggling 200.

These well-respected names are more so known for their longevity than their performance on the track, but they were certainly no slouches either.  Bailey, Marcis and Farmer were the Jamie Moyers of their sport, with their careers spanning several decades:  Bailey - 1962-93, Marcis - 1968-2002 & Farmer 1953-today (!!!).  While Farmer hasn't taken the wheel of a Cup car since 1975 and well into his 80's, he still competes as a weekend warrior on dirt tracks like Eldora Speedway, as this 2010 Press Pass single documents.

It's really quite difficult to wrap my mind around that one.

Speaking of being around for forever, there's a family name that is synonymous with the sport and has been represented on the track (on and off) by at least one member since the mid-50's:  Earnhardt.

Even the most casual of sports fans are likely familiar with 7x series champion Dale, aka the Intimidator; however, it was his father Ralph who got the family going on the track, starting his first race in 1956.  This particular card from Racing Champions came along with a die-cast model of one of Ralph's Fords, a common method of distribution for racing memorabilia.

Kerry, one of my personal favorites from my youth, is the first born son of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr.'s half-brother.  While he has experienced a good amount of success in the developmental ranks, he never quite put it together in the upper echelons.  Meanwhile, his son Jeffrey has become the fourth generation Earnhardt to hit the track and is currently competing for Rookie of the Year honors in the Sprint Cup series with Go FAS Racing.  Apparently, he's also an MMA fighter, as if turning laps at 200mph wasn't enough thrills for him.

NASCAR has long been a family-oriented sport and as is the case with Kerry/Jeffrey, many a driver I grew up watching has now seen their offspring come up from behind and join them.  It's weird to feel old in my 20's, but watching the sons of drivers I grew up rooting for on the track certainly pushes that envelope.  

Jeb - son of Ward, Ryan - son of Dave and Chase - son of Bill are all currently competing at the Cup level, while Steve, son of Rusty, is a full-time competitor in the Truck series and has one Cup start to his credit.  

Time marches on.

Now, my love for auto racing was never just limited to stock car racing.  During that same time, I fostered a strong interest in the most recognizable race in the world, the Indianapolis 500.  This is an interest that never died, as I've made an annual pilgrimage to the qualifying sessions since 2003. True racers will compete in any vehicle that they can get behind and so, though their two entirely different forms of racing, there's quite a bit of overlap between NASCAR and Indy Car:

All of these men competed in each style of racing with various degrees of success.  A.J. Foyt is an all-time great in both series, while the rest definitely had their stronger suits.  Al Unser, Jr., a name synonymous with Indy, made a single, cameo appearance in the 1992 Daytona 500.  Dario Franchitti (this might be my favorite card in the entire package, with the Borg Warner trophy looking on in the background as he shows off his 3 victor's rings in Victory Lane at Indy) briefly forayed into the NASCAR world before turning back to the Brickyard.

Charlie Glotzbach, a four-time race winner in the Cup series, twice attempted to qualify at Indianapolis and twice failed (1969-70).

Meanwhile, both Steve Kinser and Scott Speed weren't particularly successful in either.  Though they both tried their hand at Indy and NASCAR, their greatest exploits came in other avenues of racing, Kinser in sprint cars and Speed in the old Champ Car circuit.  However, I think we can all agree that the latter has just about the best name ever for a race car driver, right?

LeeRoy Yarbrough is another guy who dipped his pen in both ink wells; however, the specific reason why I chose to highlight this card is because it is one that I had in my original, childhood collection.  Like the Ralph Earnhardt earlier, this too was distributed with a die-cast model of the car it depicts.  I remember wandering into Kaybee Toys in the Orland Park Mall way, way back when and excitedly picking out a stack of these Johnny Lightning "Stock Car Legends," a binge purchase funded by Christmas money and a clearance sale.

On that note, here are a couple of more cards that I know resided in that same childhood collection.  While the drivers were nothing of note (although, Hank Parker, Jr. is the son of Bass Master Hank Parker), I know that I don't have to tell you guys that thumbing through cards that instantly transport you back to those days of innocence is always a treasured experience.

Welcome back home LeeRoy, Buckshot and Hank!

Similarly, while I didn't have the following cards specifically in my collection, they still bring back those same warm-fuzzies because they show drivers which I was attached to at that time:

Johnny Sauter was a hot-shot prospect who won the very first automobile race that I ever attended, the 2001 ASA Late Model series race at the old Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, IL (which is now a Walmart... sad face).  As such, his name was immediately seared into my memory and, while he never ascended to his full potential in NASCAR, he was always a sentimental favorite.

As for Hermie Sadler, I always attached myself to the underdogs and independent drivers of the sport. Rooting for Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart was fine and dandy, but who doesn't love a good underdog story?  Thus, I often found myself pulling for guys like Hermie, with their small, once-car operations, lack of corporate sponsorship or manufacturer backing, odds longer than the race distance itself.

Now, I could easily stretch this post at least twice as long as it's already gone; but, I think I'll cap it here with a couple of cards that depict a local hero:

The Chicagoland area isn't exactly a hotbed of NASCAR talent - there have been very few Windy City residents to compete in the upper ranks of stock car racing, let alone succeed in it.  The man you see above, Tom Pistone is easily the cream of the crop when it comes to Chicagoans in NASCAR.  In a career that spanned from 1955-68, "Tiger Tom" won two races along the way to go along with 53 top 10 finishes and 5 pole positions.  Not too bad for a Yankee.

Amusingly, in 1960, he wore a life preserver and an oxygen tube in his car while racing at Daytona for fear of running into the lake in the middle of the speedway and drowning.  This has never happened, of course.  Also, his son Pete serves as the NASCAR analyst for many a local sports-talk station.

This card comes from the same set as the Tiny Lund we saw at the beginning of this post, the only set found in Billy's trade package that I wasn't, at least, somewhat aware of.  Apparently they're from a product called "Masters of Racing," put out by TG Racing, Inc. between 1991-92.  I might have to find myself a few more of these, both for their beautiful shots of super-vintage race cars and it's selection of more obscure subjects.  Thanks for turning me on to these, Billy!

The cover card for MoR, which was apparently distributed as a boxed set, courtesy of the Trading Card Database

Well, I mean, thank you for all of the awesome cards in general, Billy!  There was no way that I could show them all, but in the end, I ended up with an eye-popping 91 new drivers for my all-time NASCAR driver collection... ninety-freaking-one from a single trade package, which amounts to roughly 1/3 of my total accumulation thus far.  There's no doubt about it, this was the most productive trade I have ever made since I started this here blog.

Even still, Mr. Kingsley didn't stop there.  As you might know, his basketball collection is nothing to sneeze at either and, as a surprise, he also included a few new names for my Bulls All-Time Roster Collection, which I'll make sure to show off in the coming days.  

Billy, thank you for your overwhelming generosity and for keeping my stock car collection well-stocked.  I hope that my return package was at least half as intriguing as the one you sent my way.  To borrow a popular racing cliche, blew my doors off!

(I know this is F1, but it's a damn good song and still fits the mood!)