Monday, January 18, 2021



Next up in my series of posts catching up on Cubs roster moves made while Wrigley Roster Jenga was mothballed, is a guy who briefly popped up during the most recent campaign, but figures to play a much more prominent role in 2021:  Tyson Miller.

Miller was the quintessential "next man up" for the Cubs in 2020.  Twice, the young pitching prospect was called up as the bonus player for a doubleheader and twice he was immediately sent back to the alternate training site after the completion of said twin bills.  As of this writing, these two cameos are the only tastes of Big League action that Tyson has experienced - he has yet to receive a call-up via "traditional" means.  However, as one of the only competent starting pitching prospects in the apparently rebuilding Cubs organization, Miller figures to get ample opportunity to take the mound in regular ol' nine-inning games quite often in 2021.  In fact, this rookie is almost emblematic of the current state of the club's pitching corps. 

Miller on the bump in his MLB debut.  Image courtesy of Matt Marton/AP & the Chicago Sun Times.

For reference, Tyson Miller was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fourth round of the amateur draft out of California Baptist University.  A franchise in dire need of pitching depth, Theo and crew selected an eye-popping 18 moundsmen in the first 20 rounds, obviously including Tyson.  Five years later, this franchise still features a dearth of mound talent, up and down the chain, and Mr. Miller is the ONLY one of those arms to have even tasted the Major League scene in Wrigleyville.  Well, except for Thomas Hatch, who was - of course - traded away for a random reliever in David Phelps and is now impressing in Toronto.  Ain't that a tale as old as time?

Scarier yet is the fact that only three men drafted in the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era have so much as started a game in blue pinstripes - Rob Zastryzny, Duane Underwood, and our friend Tyson Miller.  No offense to those guys, but how's that for talent development?

Not exactly a robust resume when it comes to drafting pitching for this front office.

Here's hoping that Tyson can change that absolutely dismal directory - after all, he showed some flashes of brilliance in his twin reinforcement auditions last season.  Jitters must have got the best of the righty in his maiden outing though, a start against the Cardinals in August, where he walked three in only two innings, allowed a homer and two earned runs along the way.  Furthermore, he tossed in a balk for good measure.  However, in a relief appearance in early September against the same club, Miller harnessed his command and gave no one a free pass and allowed only one hit, though one runner did come around to score, in three frames.  

Once again, it seems nerves may have played a role in his rough debut and one can hardly blame the rook - it was a hotly-contested game against a hated divisional rival in a fierce pennant race.  Talk about being tossed into the fire.  On the plus side, judging by the way things are looking a month out from Spring Training, I don't think Tyson is going to have to worry about a pennant race when he's on the hill in 2021...

Images from each teams' corresponding Twitter feed... *sigh*

At any rate, here's hoping that Tyson Miller bucks all trends and becomes the first Cubs draftee in years to secure a regular turn in the starting rotation.  Seeing as the team has only two proven arms currently slotted on the depth chart, Miller will have a great chance to be the hero that this town needs.  That said, no matter how things go from here, I say welcome to the Show and (most importantly) to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection!

When it came to picking out a card for my CATRC binder, it wasn't a particularly tough decision to fill Mr. Miller's slot.  Despite being a fairly well-touted prospect in a major market with a rabid fanbase, Tyson has only one unique card on the market - the 2016 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects single that leads off this post.  Of course, there are plenty of variations on that single pasteboard, because we're living in the new and improved overproduction era; so, there was still SOME hemming and hawing to be had.  In the end, I opted for the base Chrome card, both because I am a sucker for shiny things and the fact that it was the most readily available to me at the time of his call-up.  I'm a sucker for ease of access too.

And that about covers Tyson Miller, for now.  Next time up on Tony desperately tries to catch-up on roster additions before the 2021 season commences, we'll discuss a utility infielder who first showed up at a time where baseball was the absolute furthest thing from my mind.  Seriously, when this dude was added to the active roster, I basically forgot that America's pastime was even a concept at all!  

Let's just say that I was a tad bit distracted.  As to why my mind was so clouded, I leave that as a mystery for now.

'Til next time!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Late Tribute to the Late Carl Aldana

While Wrigley Roster Jenga was on extended holiday, I was grieved to discover that Mr. Carl Aldana had passed away.  Apparently, he had ventured on into the next realm early in 2019; however, I did not hear about his death until a year and a half later, in the middle of my blogging hiatus.  Thus, quite unfortunately, I have never had the chance to post a proper tribute to the artist, being that I am both slow on the uptake and prone to long disappearances.  Now, almost two years later, please allow me to rectify this grave injustice.

For those who are not familiar with the name Carl Aldana, he was born in Guatemala in 1938 and, as a child, immigrated to the United States his family shortly thereafter.  Carl eventually picked up a watercolor brush as a freelance designer in the mid-60's and went on to become renowned throughout his adoptive home state of California for his portrait, landscape and cityscape painting.  Furthermore, his artistic endeavors were not limited to still frames, as he also worked in the art department for over thirty big-budget Hollywood films, including serving as the art director for Air Force One.  Some other movies that you might have seen his work in include Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Pleasantville, among several others choice moving pictures.  All in all, I'd say that's not a bad resume for a working artist.

Image of Aldana's artwork courtesy of SABR's Baseball Cards Research Committee

But what does any of this have to do with Wrigley Roster Jenga's topic of interest, baseball cards?  Well, you see, when Carl wasn't cleaning his brushes or going Hollywood, the avid creator was also designing his own baseball cards.  

In fact, it's rather likely that you have read about his vintage, broder-adjacent sets in your Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards or seen them at a vender booth at a card show.  In 1970, he made his pasteboard debut by producing a 12-card checklist paying tribute to the Baltimore Orioles and he followed that up with a 16-card offering featuring a smattering of players from across baseball.  Both of these products are listed in the aforementioned Standard Catalog; that said, those guys neglect to mention his 1972 love-letter to the Pacific Coast League's San Francisco Seals of the early 50's, an 18-card set that cast the spotlight on a league and team that he saw plenty of as a Cali kid of the time.  

Some examples of Carl's vintage output, culled from Ebay listings as I possess none of these oddballs.

I'm not quite sure how this baseball artiste distributed his handiwork.  Perhaps he made use of mail order in early trade publications, a la Renato Galasso?  Maybe he sold them at some of the hobby's first card shows?  Heck, it could be possible that these were just a passion project that ended up on the second hand market.  Does anyone out there know anything information that could help fill in this gap?

Questions about distribution aside, no matter what, we know that Mr. Aldana was a fan of the game and of the PCL, as both showed up in his work on canvas and cardboard.  However, after the three outsider art card offerings that we detailed above, Mr. Aldana disappeared from the trading card scene for the next 40+ years, no doubt focused on his much more lucrative film and artwork projects throughout the ensuing decades.

Apparently, the itch never completely went away though, as a few years ago, Mr. Aldana burst back onto the hobby scene.  He went back to the well again and came back with a series of sets paying tribute to his beloved Pacific Coast League.  These art cards mimicked the style of the old Mother's Cookies sets of the mid-20th century, but featured a wider swath of players and made use of new colorizations performed by the artist in question.  It's hard to get a full, documented scope of these releases, as they are quite prodigious in number and were released rather haphazardly (via single listings on the Ebay, I'm pretty sure) throughout the years - just search "Aldana PCL" on the 'Bay and you'll find a couple hundred different listings.  Obviously, Carl was back with a vengeance and making up for a lot of lost time!

Back in 2017, I first came across these Aldana revival cards while perusing my saved Ebay searches.  With such a diverse checklist of obscure and fringe minor league baseball players, this discovery got my blood pumping.  As I had expected, digging into these oddities uncovered a new, fertile source for War Era randos that I still needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection - the most cherished collation of my baseball card collection.  So, of course, I added a selection of these beauties to my cart and crossed a few names off of my "needs" list that I was beginning to think would never be acquired.

In posting about the Jim Adair (briefly with the Cubs in 1931) single you see above, I received quite the unexpected thrill when Carl Aldana himself commented on my humble little blog, reaching out to talk turkey about baseball cards.  Granted, he was no Cy Berger, but this accomplished artist, film maker, and baseball card creator was putting his digital signature on my web space and wanted to talk to me about his work?   As if that wasn't enough of a thrill, after our conversation, he also sent me the Steve Bilko beauty that you see above as a "thanks for your great blog on my cards."

Three years later, this connection still ranks as one of the coolest moments of my time as a blogger. 

Unfortunately, we lost touch after that dialogue and I was grieved when I discovered that Carl had passed away not-so-long after we spoke.  At 81, he lived a creative life full of excitement, flashy colors, film sets, and glitz behind the lens and behind the canvas that I can only dream about.  At least he didn't have to see what the world has become just a couple years later.

The man was important enough to receive a tribute from the Oscars and he still took the time to talk to this amateurish writer.

At this point, we're several paragraphs deep and I have yet to explain how I came to find out about Carl's death or describe the significance of the card which leads off this post.  As you can tell from the central concept of this post, I have a recurring problem with tardiness.  Let me clarify.

I was on Ebay on day back in the throes of the early days of the pandemic, scrolling through listings in order to kill some time while isolating to "flatten the curve."  Despite my boredom, my attitude perked up when I came across a cache of Aldana PCL cards that I had not seen before - a whole set of cards patterned around the Los Angeles Angels of 1947.  This was especially exhilarating to me because the original LA Angels were the top affiliate of my beloved Chicago Cubs at that time, meaning that the checklist contained a healthy sampling of fringe guys who became well acquainted with the travel schedules between the City of Angels and the City of Wind, guys who did not have much of a cardboard footprint because of their decidedly non-star status in the pre-Topps era.

To put it succinctly, pay dirt for my CATRC binder!  This is evidenced by the set ledger found on the card backs:

Besides Marv Felderman, Bill Fleming, Cecil Garriott, Russ Bauers, Bukk Schuster, and Johnny Ostrowski would also make welcome new additions to my CATRC tome.  Like I said, this soil is fertile.

In the grand scheme of the game, Marv Felderman is not a significant figure.  Of course, that doesn't mean he wasn't notable in his own way.  "Coonie" was a catcher who suffered from chronic injuries, but still managed to work his way up the ladder, thanks to his skills behind the dish.  In 1942, he broke into the Bigs with the Cubs, but was only able to get into three games and take seven measly plate appearances.  This was mostly due to the fact that, upon breaking camp with the club, he flubbed a play in extra innings that choked away a potential win and was immediately sent down.  Back in the bushes, Felderman injured his finger and struggled, only earning his way back to Chicago late that season through the team's dismal performance and lack of other backstop options.

After the '42 season, Felderman joined a different kind of campaign and enlisted in the Navy, as there was a little skirmish going on at the time that you might have heard about.  Marv was stationed in Hawaii, at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, and regularly plied his talents on the diamond for their baseball team, eventually playing in the 1945 Navy World Series in Hawaii.

Felderman with the Cubs in 1942 (left) and with the US Navy's Kaneohe Klippers in 1944.

Not so long after that World Series, Felderman was discharged from the service and was able to watch a different World Series.  The Cubs were taking on the Tigers in that year's fall classic and the club invited their former catcher to take in the festivities from their box seats.  Upon the Series' conclusion (and you know how that went for Chicago), the players even voted Felderman a partial share of their pennant purse.

Come 1946, Marv was one of hundreds of pro ball players attempting to make a comeback upon the conclusion of World War II and found himself back in the PCL.  By 1947, he was back with the Cubs organization, laboring for a second trial in the National League with the Angels, as the Aldana card illustrates.  I've seen it reported that he was called up near the end of the season once again, but he did not appear in a boxscore and I cannot find any contemporary sources to confirm.  Either way, Felderman continued to chase his dream in the minor league and semi-pro ranks through at least 1951, without ever getting a second chance.

It was in conducting this research on Marv Felderman's baseball career that I discovered Carl Aldana's passing.  Ever the prodigious artist, thebaseballhobbyist (with whom Carl used to work directly) continues to list pieces of Carl's art card portfolio for sale to this day.  I'm definitely tempted to grab myself a few more and encourage you to do the same - these colorful oddballs would look great in anyone's baseball card collection!

At any rate, it's time to wrap this up.  Carl, sorry it took me so long to pay proper tribute, but thank you for your wonderful art and film work, for creating some of the most fun outsider baseball cards ever produced, and for being so generous and communicative with this random, blathering blogger.  Your creative output is something to behold and I am ever thankful to have some pieces of it nestled safely in my binders.

R.I.P. Carl Aldana.  To close, here's a short video showcasing some of his watercolor work, specifically impressions of a visit made to the home of the Cubs, Chicago:

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Never Trust a Man With Two First Names

As Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson once boldly stated, one should "never trust a man with two first names."  Apparently, David Ross has never seen that episode of the cult classic television program because one of his top relievers in 2020 was a man with multiple monikers generally considered as firsts.

Jason Adam is something of a minor league vagabond, or at least he was before he finally made his way to Chicago.  As a post-hype reliever, who was never considered a blue chip prospect, with little in the way of  Major League credentials. it's no surprise that the hurler doesn't have much of a cardboard footprint.  In fact, unless you want to chase minor league, team-issue set singles, the only way to add a card of Adam to your collection is to dig through 2011 Leaf Metal or Valiant Draft, which are hardly mainstream products in their own right.

As you can see, I opted to chase the latter after Adam made his Cubs debut this past summer.  It's a wonderfully shiny card and has a background akin to the old Topps Crusades insets of decades past - a purposeful aping, as I understand it.  You'll also notice that I splurged on his certified auto rather than his base card.  Every now and then I decide that I deserve something nice... plus the auto was the only reasonably priced Adam card I could find on Ebay at the time.  I could have spent $12 with shipping for a basic minor league card or half as much on a certified autograph - he may be an obscure player, but that's not much of a dilemma.

At any rate, it's a beauty of a card.  Plus, with the blank, blue jersey (because, you know, Leaf has no license), you can kind of cross your eyes, squint, and see a Cubs card in your hands.  All in all, I'm pretty happy with this being the first modern Leaf revival card added to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Ooooooo - shiny!

Anyway, we've talked a fair amount about his baseball card; perhaps we should learn a little bit more about the player depicted on it's reflective surface?  Who is this man that, like Ricky Bobby, has two first names?

Adam has actually been around for a little while now, as he is now enduring his second decade of professional baseball.  Drafted by the Royals in the fifth round of the 2010 draft as a strikeout pitcher with plus velocity and movement, the hurler seemed poised to be part of Kansas City's elite, World Series cinching bullpen.  However, it wasn't mean to be, as he was instead traded away to bolster their offense in a straight up deal for Josh Willingham in August of 2014.  Since then, Adam has been unable to find a consistent groove, bouncing from the Twins to the Padres to the Royals again to the Blue Jays and missing the entirety of the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to a stress fracture in his pitching arm.  One can hardly blame him for being unable to settle in, right?

Although it was during that second stint with the Royals organization that Adam was able to finally make his MLB debut, making 31 appearances out of their bullpen long after the team had ceased to be a contender.  Still on the mend from his arm injury, he wasn't quite up to the task yet, posting an ERA well over six in those 32.1 innings pitched.  There was a glimmer of hope though, as illustrated by his 37  strikeouts over that same period.  A move to Toronto was apparently just what the doctor ordered, as after his contract was purchased by the Canadians, Adam started turning things around.  In a late season trial, Adam got into 23 games out of the pen, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.91 ERA in 21.2 IP.

Adam on the bump at Wrigley in 2020.  Image courtesy of Marquee Sports Network.

That revitalization caught the eyes of the Cubs, who were intrigued by his pitch movement - a characteristic they have often zeroed in one when scouting pitchers.  Buoyed by a new, shortened arm action (a la Lucas Giolito, Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer), Adam impressed in Summer Camp and eventually earned another call back to the Majors after Tyler Chatwood's season ended due to injury on August 16th.  He quickly earned David Ross' trust as he was used heavily down the September stretch to the playoffs, allowing only two earned runs the entire month (both of which came in his final appearance).  You might say that he put forth a "Valiant" effort.

Get it? Valiant... like the baseball card that I bought for his slot in the CATRC.  Look - I'm actually a father now, so I am basically contractually obligated to throw in terrible dad jokes whenever I see the opportunity.

Regardless, Adam was nails during the high-pressure pennant race.  With that performance, there's little doubt that he'll be leaned upon as a key contributor out of the pen once again in 2021; hopefully, Jason can pick up where he left off last September.  Perhaps, after all those years of drifting from franchise to franchise, he has finally found his home?  With that in mind, maybe he'll even finally get his first actual Major League baseball card out of Topps or Panini and, better yet, perhaps it will come in a Cubs uniform.

Dream big, right?

Regardless, welcome to Chicago, Jason Adam, and - more importantly - to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder!

Friday, January 8, 2021

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been


Early last summer, I came to the blog to vent about a case of mistaken identity.  In short, I thought that I had tracked down a great deal on a super vintage card of a random, long forgotten player for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  As it turned out, both the Ebay vendor and I were confused as to the true identity of the player depicted on this rare beauty, as it only featured the man's surname on the front and back sides of the pasteboard.  Unfortunately for me, the player on the card in question played around the same time as the guy that I was actually looking for and he shared the same last name (without relation).  As you can see, it was a pretty easy mistake for the pair of us to each make and I didn't blame the vendor at all for the mix-up; however, that didn't make plopping down some of my hard earned money in a splurge not often made by my cheap ass any less frustrating at the time. Granted, I only lost about $20 on the deal; but, like I said, major cheap ass.

Now, it wasn't the Pete Kilduff card that you see above... at least, it wasn't at the time.  Confused?  Why is this card leading off the post?  Please, allow me to explain.  There is a method behind my madness.

You see the card that I actually whiffed on was a 1912 Imperial Tobacco (C46) single and the player that it depicted was James, aka "Not Arthur," Pehlan:

John "Jimmy" Phelan was an outfielder who never made the ultimate ascent, but had a long playing career in the bush leagues, from 1905-14, with several different clubs.  Unfortunately, none of them were the Cubs.  Meanwhile, Art Phelan was an infielder with a five-year Big League tenure, playing at first for the Reds in 1910 and 1912, then with the Cubbies from 1913-15 in the near aftermath of their dynastic period.

At any rate, these guys were not the same person.  What a shame too, as I've always liked the look of the Imperials and was truly excited about finding one that fit into my budget and my most treasured collection.  That's the way the cookie crumbles I guess... or the cigarette rolls, perhaps?

However, I didn't let this confusion keep me down for long.  I took solace in the fact that such a card would definitely have some trade value, which I was truly counting on when I took to Wrigley Roster Jenga to discuss my switcheroo.  Additionally, I also shared my post on Twitter to maximize the exposure I could get in hopes of a trade offer.  Luckily, my hunch was correct and the immensely knowledgeable and respectful Mark Hoyle was more than happy to given Jimmy a good home.  In exchange, the SABR heavyweight offered me card that was a much better fit in my collection:

That's right, you're eyes do not deceive you - that's an authentic 1935 Goudey 4-in-1 and it's the first one I have ever held in person.  Plus, if you're keeping score at home, that's four Cubs in exchange (three of which reside in Cooperstown) for one non-Cub.  Hot damn, that's one helluva deal!  

You should totally give Mr. Hoyle a follow too - the Red Sox oddballs that he shares @Markhoyle4 are fascinating to baseball fans of any team.  I've learned about so many off-the-beaten path products from his Tweets that I've lost count.

Despite the card getting lost in the mail for about a month (hey, thanks orange goblin for ruining the post office on top of the laundry list of crap you've caused), the only thing on my mind was which player should this card be used to represent in my CATRC?  Which, if I'm being honest, is a pretty strong reason why I tend to avoid acquiring multiplayer cards for said binder unless absolutely necessary.  But, no matter what, a Pre-War Cubs card is something that I am absolutely never going to turn down, especially in exchange for something I didn't even really want!

But Tony, you might be saying to yourself, "what the heck does any of this trade have to do with the Kilduff card that you showed at the beginning of this blog entry?"  "You're rambling!"  To that I say, patience, young padawan, everything will make sense in the end and, yea, I have a strong tendency to be long-winded.

Anyway, like I said, I loved my new Goudey; but, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was while it did fit into my collection, it was an imperfect fit.  That being said, I was still perfectly happy to have it in my possession.  But, a few weeks later, another excellent Twitter account - @Grandcards - was doing the same thing I did with my impostor Phelan.  Here's the deal, this guy is always tweeting out great deals on pre-war stock and I had noticed a lot of caramel cards that was of particular interest.  Rather, I should say that the lot contained a single card that was of particular interest to me.  Can you guess what it was?

You guessed it, we've finally reached the branch of the trade tree that includes our ol' buddy Pete here, a 1921-23 E220 National Caramel treat.  While it's definitely trimmed, has a crease and some paper loss, this is not a card or a set that pops up very often in my price range.  In fact, I had never seen Kilduff's entry on the checklist.  Dig that awesome (albeit staged) fielding photograph!

Luckily for me, the Grand Man was interested in trades as well as sales, especially for other pre-war cards in return.  Generally, the Motor City fan generally prefers Tigers when it comes to exchanges; nevertheless, he was still interested in adding my newly acquired Goudey 4-in-1 to his stash, as he only had one other example from the set.

I realize that trading a card of my favorite team that featured three vintage Hall of Famers for this nobody seems like a terrible, Darvish for Davies level deal.  But, rest assured that it was absolutely worth it to me.  You see, Pete Kilduff doesn't have much of a cardboard footprint; in fact, it's so faint that it's barely there.  According to the Trading Card Database, the only cards he does have come from the 1921-23 time period and they are ALL rare, regional, food issues.  I guess that's what happens when your not a star or even a regular starter in an era post-tobacco cards and pre-Topps.  At any rate, this situation is not exactly conducive to my low budget collecting ways.  When such an opportunity knocks, I feel obliged to answer the door.

No matter what, I get more enjoyment out of my Kilduff card than I do the pasteboard that came before it, though I'm no less grateful for Mark Hoyle's initial rescue!

Kilduff during his tenure with the Cubs (Sporting News Collection Hologram/MEARS Photo LOA)

Anyway, we've done a lot of leading to and talking about the card itself, but said very little about the player which it pictures.  Pete Kilduff played in the Major Leagues from 1917 through 1921 for the Giants, Cubs, and Robins (aka the Dodgers), though he continued on in the minors until 1928.  The infielder usually came off of the bench, only twice topping 100 games during his time in the Bigs and was a fairly usable piece when he did, with a .270/.338/.364 career slash.  Of course he lacked power, but so did everyone back then.

Unfortunately, the two things this serviceable ballplayer are best remembered are not exactly great things.  First, while Pete did get to play in a World Series during his time with Brooklyn, he was one of the three men caught up in Bill Wambsganss' famed unassisted triple play.  Secondly, shortly after he permanently hung up his spikes as player, Pete was announced to manage one of his former clubs - the Shreveport Sports of the A-level Texas League - going into the 1930 season.  Tragically, the transition wasn't to be, as Kilduff died suddenly, before he even had the chance to hand in a lineup card.  He was only 36 years old when he passed.

In a bizarre bit of symmetry, the manager whom Kilduff was succeeding in Shreveport was none other than Art Phelan, the man who started this whole cardboard journey.  Huh....

What a tangled web we weave, eh?

Before I start thinking too hard about that odd coincidence, I want to ask you all, have you ever completed such a long, drawn out trade such as this one?  Was it worth the whole process in the end?  Furthermore, have you ever made a deal that - on it's surface - seemed like it was not beneficial towards your goals, like three vintage HOF Cubs for a scrub?  This hobby isn't truly about value after all, despite what all these new cardboard stock traders might make it seem, it's about enjoyment and finding things that bring you joy.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Once again, my eternal thanks go out to Mark Hoyle and Grand Cards for making these trades with me - I truly do appreciate your generosity and I hope that you enjoyed your ends of the deals as much as I did mine.  

Welcome to the CATRC, Pete Kilduff.  What a long, strange trip it's been.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Getting Wise

So... ummmmmmm.... yeaaaaaa.... baseball cards???

I must admit, I'm pretty well shocked and horrified by the world around us right now.  I guess while I always felt that yesterday's actual, bonafide, no two ways about it coup attempt was the logical conclusion for this presidency, it was no less painful and shocking to watch as it played out live.  Dear god, hopefully those in Washington finally got a taste of the hatred and misinformation they've been letting stew for the past four years and actually do something to make this a conclusion.  Invoking the 25th would be a wise move, as who knows how much more damage this bruised demagogue will try to cause before January 20th.  The man is an egomaniacal and the cult that he's built is bound and ready to act out his every self-serving plan.

Sorry for getting political here on Wrigley Roster Jenga... except, no I am not.  What's going on around us is not something that we can simply ignore or "stick to sports."  This affects every single one of us, whether we want to admit it or not.  Yesterday's coup was one of the darkest moments in this country's history and we cannot simply pretend it didn't happen and move on like nothing's different, like we seem to do with every impeachable offense perpetrated by the deluded reality show host in charge.  How our country handles this moment could very well define our generation and the future of democracy in the United States.

This rant has gone on a little longer than expected; but, I simply had to speak my piece.  With that out of the way I guess I can now throw in some baseball card content, even though such trivialities seem even more insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  However, perhaps some normalcy will do me and my mental health some good.  With that in mind, let's get to the post that I originally had in mind for today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Head East, Young Man

Colin Rea is packing his bags and heading east... waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy east.

Yesterday morning, it was announced that now former Cubs swingman, Colin Rea, had been released from his contract with the the franchise.  This came as a bit of a surprise for a couple of reasons.  First, there's the fact that the moundsman had just agreed to a new, pre-arbitration deal to say in Chicago for a second season.  Second, the Cubs have made it no secret that they aren't going to be shopping for brand names at the free-agent stop n' shop this offseason and they have a bunch of holes in both the starting rotation and the bullpen.  All in all, despite the frustration the front office and ownership have caused the Cubs faithful this winter, the North Side of Chicago seems like the optimal destination for a guy like Rea to try and make a ball club.

As it turns out, like most instances where such a release occurs, Colin will be taking his talents to Asia - specifically, Japan - where such thirty-year old, "tweeners" generally make a significant greater sum of money in the Nippon League than they would riding the shuttle between AAA and the Majors.  Not to mention, they're usually going to receive a much larger share of playing time, as well.  I mean, we've seen this time and time again, where a guy's career has somewhat stalled out, so they travel eastward to make some coin while they still can ; you can only play professional baseball for so long, after all.  Plus, there's the beneficial side effect where the player in question can  rebuild their stock for a later, potential stateside return, a la fellow former Cub, Rafael Dolis, Miles Mikolas, Merrill Kelly, etc.

All in all, you can't blame the guy for doing what's best for himself, his family, and his career.  However, I'm a little disappointed, as a selfish Cubs fan, to see a perfectly good pitching option - with a modest price tag - fly away to greener pastures. 

In my last post detailing roster moves made during the Wrigley Roster Jenga blackout, we talked about the first player added to the 30-man after the regular season began.  In a bit of kismet, it just so happens that the second person called up from the alternate training site is in the news.  *Pssst, that person was Colin Rea*  Yay - I'm accidentally being timely and relevant!

Colin Rea was actually brought in on a minor league deal with a NRI going into the 2019 season; however, he did not make the club.  At the time, I just so happened to pull the above 2017 Topps Flagship single from a random pack and properly stored in away, just in case Colin made the club.  Spoiler alert, he did not - instead, he went to AAA and pitched out of the Iowa Cubs rotation, where he had a heckuva career resuscitation twirling superballs in the Pacific Coast League.  In a video game-esque offensive environment, the former top prospect posted a sterling 14-4 record to go along with a 3.95 ERA.  Remember, this is a league where league batters popped an astounding 1,215 more homers than they had a year before.  That ball was JUICED!

For his admirable performance, Colin was named the PCL Pitcher of the Year and his career was once again trending upward.  I'm sure this was a great relief to the man; after all, it had been awhile since Rea's name was attached to a positive story.

Mr. Rea truly kicked but in Des Moines - image courtesy of the Iowa Cubs Facebook page.

Prior to his comeback in the PCL, Rea's name was last widely discussed in the baseball rags for his inclusion in a high profile trade deadline deal, made between the Marlins and the Padres back in 2016.  Does that wave any red flags for you?  Remember how the Pads were nailed for falsifying injury information about players in order to swing better trades for themselves that summer?  Well, Rea was the guy that they traded to Miami, watched him get hurt in his first and only appearance as a fish, and then the league forced them to bring back in a separate deal, owing to their dirty dealing.  Oof.

Before this attempted swindle, Rea had been a highly-regard prospect in the Padres chain, after having been selected in the 12th round of the 2011 draft and he had made 25 appearances from 2015-16 in his first taste of Major League action.  After the bad faith trade and his lone game with Miami, Rea became injured goods, missed the entirety of the 2017 season, and unable to make it back to the Bigs until last year.

Like I said, I'm sure he was over the moon about the trajectory change his career made after that Iowa Cubs performance.

Colin Rea pitching at Wrigley Field in 2020.  Image courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Rea came back to the Cubs organization that offseason and was rewarded with a ticket back to the Show.  On July 30th, after Dillon Maples once again proved that he had less control than a wireless marionette.  The once again Big Leaguer started out hot, striving to make good on his second chance; his velocity spiked pitching out of the bullpen without sacrificing the movement on his breaking pitches.  In relief duty, Rea only gave up two runs in 8.2 frames 7 K's - that's definitely a useable arm.  However, a pair of clunker emergency starts severely depressed his overall stat line, leading to an ERA over five in his 14 total IP.  

That being said, with the Cubs shedding salary like a shaggy dog, with Craig Kimbrel and Rowan Wick being the only two locks in the bullpen (for now), and with Rea being brought back via arbitration, it sure seemed like the dude was a good bet to soak up innings for the team in 2021.  Still, a guaranteed job and some stable money definitely trumps "a good bet."  

Once again, selfishly, I'm a bit sad that - with his sudden departure - Rea probably won't end up with a proper Cubs card now.  He did not show up in Update or Heritage High Numbers - he would have made a much better inclusion than Jharel Cotton, who will go down as a Cub that never was.  So, no true Cubs card, unless Topps decides to throw him in 2021 Series One for some reason and, honestly, that wouldn't be the weirdest thing they've ever done.  I guess that Padres pasteboard will just have to do, even though now all I can think of when I see brown and yellow Yu Darvish being sold up the river for some Kohl's Cash.  Still, it's better than nothing.  Or, I could chase after his team-issued Iowa Cubs single and call it close enough.  I'll have to keep an eye out.

Image courtesy of Go Sports Cards.

If anyone has a stash of broken down, Minor League team sets, just know that I'm ALWAYS looking for Iowa Cubs and other Chicago-affiliates.  Let's talk trade!

Here's hoping that Colin got himself a good deal and absolutely carves up the Nippon League!  There's been no official word on which team Colin will be signing with or what the details of his new contract will be.  Personally, I'm hoping that he'll be plying his trade with the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars, which has been my Japanese team of choice since I randomly found one of their t-shirts in a suburban Chicago Goodwill a few years back.  It would be poetic - me finding their merch in the Windy City and them finding a potential new ace in the Windy City.

Good luck in the land of the rising sun, Colin.  Thank you for your admirable performance in both an Iowa and Chicago Cubs uniform and an extremely belated welcome to the CATRC binder.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

You Know What They Say When You Assume...

Just before I disappeared from the blogosphere, I made a couple of purchases that might have - subconsciously - helped push me out of full-bore collecting and writing. You know that feeling? Where you mess up so frustratingly that you just have to step back and stay from whatever situation you're involved with for a period of time? Well, that's at least partially what happened with these card-related transactions. Now, there's a litany of other contributing factors that played a much larger role in my absence; but, these mess ups were non-zero de-motivators.

Now, you might be asking yourself, what monumental screw ups could this guy have made that were so heinous that he had to temporarily put one of his favorite hobbies on the backburner.  Well, I ignored one of life's most important guidelines - "if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is."  To make things even worse, I did it twice in a row, meaning I snookered myself and then, knowing what I'd done, willingly dove right back into a shallow pool.  What a dunce, right?

Anyway, on with the show.  Here's a couple of things that I bought that weren't at all what I was expecting.  First up:

What's this?  A stretched and pixelated picture of an old school pitcher that was clearly downloaded from the internet, blown up well-beyond the limits of the original file, and spat out on a ink-jet printer on some cheap photo paper?  

Bingo! You nailed it!

When I saw this image attached to a listing on Ebay, for some reason, I assumed that it was just a poorly scanned image of a vintage postcard.  You know, like one of those Brace and Burke photo postcards that I've often showcased on Wrigley Roster Jenga, several of which populate my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection because they are the best, most budget friendly source for cards ballplayers from the WWII era and earlier.  The seller wasn't being deceptive - I just made an assumption about what I saw based on absolutely zero evidence.  Well, you know what they say when you assume - you make an ASS out of U and Me.  Going back and looking at the listing, the vendor never made this claim, so I had no right or reason to make this leap and, yet, I jumped right in with both feet and no life preserver.  

Thankfully though, this transaction wasn't a total loss.  While I did think I that was getting a Brace/Burke postcard out of the deal, the photograph wasn't the main focus of the Ebay listing - I'd zeroed in on the wrong part of the advertised package.  In fact, in all honesty, the Kodak print was just used as a throw-in to spice up the package for the true center of attention:

Any purchase that comes with the autograph of a bonafide Major League Baseball player can't be a total wash, right?  Especially when the total purchase price is less than a measly five bucks, correct?  It's kinda hard to stay upset when looking at that silver lining.

At any rate, the photograph depicts and the autographed index card comes from former Cubs hurler, Ed Hanyzewski. Of course, with his sterling penmanship, you probably didn't need me to spell that out for you - worlds apart from today's certified autos of today.  Beyond practicing his cursive, Eddie pitched on the North Side of Chicago from 1942-46, taking the mound in 58 games (about half of which were starts) while posting an ERA 3.30 and a record of 11-12.  Overall, the highpoint of his career was definitely the 1943 campaign, when he appeared in 33 games (16 as a starter) and won eight of 15 decisions. This year, he contributed a 2.56 ERA in 130 frames to go along with three complete games.  That's one helluva swingman!

Unfortunately for Ed, he hurt his arm along the way in '43 and was never really the same afterwards.  Such a sad and common tale in the time before Tommy John.

Here's a clearer image of Ed, courtesy of SABR

Overall, getting an autograph from such a vintage player is always a victory, so I really shouldn't be too sad about this acquisition.  However, I am left with a minor quandary - should this count towards my CATRC binder?  After all, it's an index CARD, right?  Even though it's not a traditional baseball card, it would hardly be the first off-the-wall addition to said binder.  The only thing that gives me pause is the lack of an image to go along with his John Hancock.  Perhaps I should create my own cut-auto card to jazz it up, though that's a risky proposition with the signature of a guy who's been dead for thirty years now.

What do you think I should do about this dilemma?  How would you handle this sort of situation?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below; I would love to hear what you have to say!  As of now, I have this index card included in the tome, displayed in a postcard page along with the bum photo print.  I mean, I lay down my hard earned money for that picture after all, I might as well put it to good use, for the time being.

So, that's the story on frustrating purchase number one of two.  The Hanyzewski index card is definitely the less annoying of the two; although, to be upfront, both transactions do involve an autograph.  "What a complainer," you must be thinking.  How could getting two autographs of Cubs players for your favorite collection be such an annoying thing?  Well, please allow me to make my case.

This is an item, like with Ed, that I was under the falsely assumed presumption was an antique Brace or Rowe postcard that came with a proper autograph.  Unlike with Ed, this item came with the signature on the item itself, rather than on a separate index card.  All seems well here - a vintage postcard feature a non-mangled image and autograph of a rare, forgotten Cubs player that I still needed to fill an empty slot in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  This should be an absolutely perfect and celebrated acquisition, eh?

Sadly, all is not as it seems - there's a couple of black marks that go against this buy that are not readily obvious from the picture above nor from the original listing.  First of all, once again, rather than being an actual Brace or Rowe postcard, this is an image that someone printed on their own.  This time, it's not even on photo paper; rather, it's been printed on thin, though slightly matted, traditional paper.  While this is a negative, it's not a deal breaker on it's own.  While slightly disappointing, were these the only defects, I would still be perfectly happy in nestling this bit of ephemera into my CATRC binder.  After all, this is another case where I made an unjustified assumption about the item in question and it's still an autograph on a piece which properly features the actual player in question.

Or is it?

Here's the thing.  Roy "Pop" Joiner, besides being another athlete with excellent penmanship, had a couple of brief trials with the Cubbies in 1934 and 35, as well as a cameo with the Giants five years later.  As someone who played so long ago, you would be correct to assume that he also passed away some time ago - December of 1989 (the same year I was born).  If you're keeping score at home, we're now 31 years on.  The photograph in question is printed on some pristinely white paper that is in immaculately good condition... are you thinking what I'm thinking?

I feel like there should be at least some signs of aging on three-decade old, basic paper  Furthermore, there isn't a wrinkle or corner ding to be found on what is, once again, three-decade aged, regular ol' paper.  Maybe I'm overly skeptical and am looking for problems, but this seems rather suspicious to me.  What do you think about these red flags?  Once again, I'd really and truly appreciate it if you weighed-in in the comment section below.

On the plus side, the Ebay seller has overwhelming positive feedback and the few down votes they have are completely unrelated to forged autographs.  Plus, who would go to the trouble of faking the signature of such an obscure and uncollected athlete from a time before plastic had even been invented?  That would be like counterfeiting pennies.  Plus, I only spent six bucks on the piece, so even if it was a forgery, it's not like it really hurt my wallet all that much.  With that in mind, for now, I've also included this imperfect acquisition in my CATRC binder, as it very well could be the real McCoy.  However, if I come across a good deal on Joiner's 1940 Playball pasteboard, you darn well better believe that I'll be making a swap.

Have you seen this man?

Overall, I'm mostly just being a baby.  Maybe I got scammed, maybe I didn't.  Either way, in both cases, I made some stupid assumptions that I shouldn't have and, in neither case, did I spend much money.  I'd say these are premium examples of low risk, high reward purchases.  With that in mind, maybe they could pitch a few innings in the bullpen next year?  However, with all of the other malaise surrounding baseball at the time of these transactions, the annoyance caused was just another nail hammered into my hibernation coffin.

Now I ask you, have you ever made such presumptive purchases or am I alone in making such delusional deals?  Feel free to tell me what a dunce I am.

In the end, at least I was (maybe) able to check a couple of obscure names off of my want-list.  In 2021, my News Years resolution is going to be doing a better job of looking on the bright side - there's already far too much negativity in the world right now.