Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Little Marked Up

First of all, I think we can put that whole "Cubs offense disappears again" narrative to bed now, huh?  Hot damn!  With last night's 10-2 drubbing, the series is now even at two apiece and I'm feeling pretty good about tonight's Lester vs. Maeda match up.

Another win that got me feeling pretty good did not come on the field; rather, it came from a humble little blog known as Mark's Ephemera and came courtesy of the site's namesake operator.

You see, earlier this month, Mark pulled the trigger on a large box of vintage singles from his LCS and walked away with a good amount of nice cards for a touch more than ten cents a pop.  Not a bad deal, eh?  However, while cheap vintage is rarely in pristine condition, some of Mark's spoils were... shall we say... well-handled.  Rather than simply toss them in the waste basket (which is almost sacrilege to this card-collector), Mark decided to offer them up in a contest.  This perked my ears, for sure.

You see, condition isn't usually critical with this bargain-bin dweller and 40+ year old cards are always fun.  I tossed my name in the hat and away we went.  One week later, I read that I'd come out on top of the drawing - my FIRST blogging contest win ever!  So, please allow me to now show off my spoils:

Of all the cards included in the prize package, it was this one that I wanted the most.  This 1964 single is my very first vintage card of Lou Brock and period-authentic Cubs cards of the Hall of Fame base-stealer are few and normally out of my price range.  As you can see, a period-authentic child with copious record-keeping skills updated his card so that it reflected Brock's trade to the stupid Cardinals, but that's not enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

Also, the paper loss does not (totally) prevent one from seeing the sweet "Cub" sleeve patch either.

The other card in this lot that got me salivating was this 1969 card of the tall, lanky lefty known as Steve Hamilton.  Of course, though he is much better known for his time with the Yankees, the "floater" pitcher capped his career with the Cubs in 1972.

Also of note is the fact that Steve used his height (6'7") on both the pitcher's mound and on the hardwood as a forward for the Minneapolis Lakers.  He played for the 1958-59 team that lost to the Celtics during the NBA Finals.and over 2 seasons he averaged 4.5 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, and 0.5 assists per game.

His two-sport prowess is noted in cartoon form on the back of the card.  I think we can all agree that successful multi-sport athletes are super fascinating and cool (eat your heart out Tebow). Sadly, no basketball cards of Hamilton's time in the NBA exist and, in fact, I couldn't even locate a picture from his time as a Laker; thus, this cartoon is as close as it will get to being commemorated in my collection.

Furthermore, based on the state of this single, I have to wonder how well Mr. Hamilton played in the "crease."  Ba-dum-tiss

While the previous two shown off were my "chase cards," there was still an assortment of "well-loved" goodies left to sort through.

Hank Fischer doesn't appear to believe in borders and has shed the entirety of his right frame quite ungracefully.  Meanwhile, Mel McHaha seems to be suffering from a bizarre skin condition - perhaps that's what led to his notated exit from Cleveland?

By the way, congratulations to the Cleveland Indians for winning the AL pennant!  Let's get at least one drought broken this year.

Gil Garrido appears to have gotten his bottom right corner caught in the "gills" of some kind of thresher.  Otherwise, the rest of the card is pretty fair, considering how long this scrap of paper has been on this earth.

Finally, we have this dual rookie card from 1967 Topps featuring Angels who failed to capitalize on that billing.  

In the process of typing up this post, I discovered that this closing card also fits squarely into one of my various collections - my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder.  As it turns out, the Cubs were the final organization that Bill Kelso played with, as he was traded here from the Montreal Expos with Dan McGinn for Hal Breeden and Hector Torres in 1972.  But, he never got out of AAA Wichita.

Surprise bonus finds are the best finds!

All and all, this made for one heckuva prize package and many thanks go out to Mark for hosting this giveaway.  Mark's Ephemera has long been one of the pillars to our card-blogging community and it's readily apparent why.  He may not be posting that much in 2016; but, when he does, it's always informative and often chock full of fascinating oddballs and vintage.  I highly suggest following him on Twitter too (@mdaubrey), where he's veru much active and constantly sharing those card finds and interesting bits of baseball history/trivia.  In short, you rock, Mark!

Just like the Cubs are going to rock the Dodgers tonight... hopefully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

WRJ for Kids

Ugh... the last two NLCS games have not been good for my nerves or my mood.   The whole lack of offense narrative is getting tired and, well, terribly true.  I can take being shut out by Clayton Kershaw - he's going to be on a plaque in Cooperstown someday - but, Rich Hill?  C'mon guys...  At least the series is just 2-1 and there's time to turn this thing around.

At any rate, after a second consecutive shutout at the hands of the Dodgers, this Cubs fan needed a pick-me-up.  Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too terribly long to find it.

I discovered an e-mail in my inbox from the school librarian, letting staff know that the new periodicals had arrived and the old issues were free to a good home.  This perked up my ears - after all, though Highlights, Boy's Life and Zoobooks have no appeal to me, there is one child's magazine that would interest any card-collector:


Of course, I'm not into SI for Kids for their writing - I barely read the adult version, after all.  No, these magazines are all about the nine-card panels inserted in each issue, a continuous tradition since the publication's inception.  Luckily, there must not be any cardboard-obsessed kids in this school, seeing as the rags still had their free goods tucked safely inside.  Score!

...Also, is there such a thing as an SI for Kids cover curse?  Asking for a friend...


SI for Kids are known for their "Wide Wide World of Sports" approach to subjects for their cards.  As you can plainly see above, they go out of their way to get off of the beaten path and showcase athletes and sports that get little-to-no love from the likes of Topps, Panini, Leaf, etc.  I mean, where else are you going to get a card of a women's collegiate hockey forward or a cyclist?

By the way, Olympian Kristin Armstrong bears no relation to the infamous bicyclist by the name of Lance; curiosity already led me to check.


While sharing some of the spotlight with gymnasts and swimmers is noble and helps build interest and support in youths, the major sports are still the bread and butter of the vast card set.  These particular samples were heavy on the NFL quarterbacks (with an especially cool shadow shot on the Palmer single); however, the NBA, NHL and international football also get some love from the editors as well:

I'll tell you what, I'm not much for soccer/football, but that's a pretty swell goal celebration shot for Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez.  I don't think there's anything in sports quite like the pure, raw emotion found in such on-field jubilees. 

Meanwhile, of course there's also a healthy selection of cards from our nation's pastime included within the SI for Kids checklist:

Both collegiate and professional, at that.  Andrew Beckwith (now a senior) built up his draft stock by being named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player in 2016 - perhaps he'll end up drafted by the Cubs?  As for Oklahoma's Paige Parker, she represents the first softball card to enter into possession.

These other two players need no introduction - however, Jose Altuve does apparently need to stop making funny faces or his face will stick like that.  The David Ortiz card had already been set aside for Shoebox Heroes, as part of a trade package I've been slow on building.

All that saw above were fun to look through and all; but, none of them really fit into my collections.  It wasn't going to be much of a mood-booster if none of the cards were of particular use to me...

Thankfully, that was not the case.

Jamal Crawford may be with the Clippers now, but he started out his long career with the Chicago Bulls way back in 2000 - into the Bulls All-Tiime Roster Collection binder he goes.  Additionally, while I may already have Carl Edwards (not to be confused with the Cubs reliever of the same name) in my NASCAR binder, this amazing capture of his trademarked victory back-flip simply cannot be denied entry.    This instantly becomes one of my favorite racing cards.

Those gets were all well and good; that said, it was these last two cards that really brought a smile to my face.

Artemi Panarin, the reigning NHL Rookie of the Year doesn't have a huge presence in American cardboard as of yet; therefore, this "Bread Man" oddball makes for a super welcome sight!  Here's hoping he and the Blackhawks can put it all together this season and make another deep playoff run.

If things don't turn around soon for Jake and his Cubs, I might have to switch my focus to the ice much sooner than I'd hoped.  Though his star hasn't shined quite as brightly this season and I pulled his card after a clunker on the big stage, I can;t say no to a new oddball of Jake the Snake.  In fact, this is only my second Cubs-affiliated SI for Kids single ever and the last one depicted Mark Grace.  Needless to say, I don't come across them too often.

It's been a wile...

And so, there you have it.  After flipping through all of those cards, blogging about them and even finding a few that slotted nicely into my collections, I feel an awful lot better.  I'd say that his pick-me-up certainly worked like a charm.

Fingers crossed that the old publications will continue to be offered up to staff after their useful life has run it's course - I sure wouldn't mind having continued access to these oddball trading cards, after all.  I suppose working at a middle school does have it's privileges.

Here's hoping I don't need ANOTHER pick-me-up after tonight's game.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

It's Miller Time

With last night's thrilling and completely unexpected go-ahead grandslam by Miggy Montero, I'm sure the title of this post is a phrase that was uttered in exuberance in bars all across Wrigleyville.  I mean, after having blown their game-long lead on a series of poor relief appearances and very nearly squandering a lead-off double by Ben Zobrist in the very next inning, euphoria was felt all across the Chicagoland area.

That is - if people even still use that bit of advertising copy from the 80's anymore.  I suppose that reference is kind of dated, huh?

At any rate, the title is not an homage to the celebratory mood felt by Cubs fans after that win; rather, it relates to my nerves and restlessness-fueled trip to the LCS leading up to said contest. Being that it was a Saturday and I work for a school, I wasn't on the clock.  Furthermore, since my fiancee wasn't so lucky and we had already completed our laundry list of errands, I had nothing to do but sit around and anticipate game one of the NLCS.  Instead of sitting around and wallowing in my Cubs fan nerves, I decided to pay visit to the card shop.  Seems like a proper way to kill time on gameday, right?

After distractedly digging through the shop's quarter boxes for roughly an hour, it truly was "Miller time."

Ah-ha! Lame puns - the creative base around which this entire blog is built around!

Wade Miller was a scrap-heap flier picked up by the Cubs back in 2006.  The former Astros' rotation standout was coming off of an arm injury and the Cubs saw a "low risk/high reward" opportunity.  Notably he made the rotation over Mark Prior going into 2007; however, he was immediately smacked around, posting an ERA over ten in 3 starts - the last appearances of his MLB career.

His time with the club was brief; thus, there are only two cards that feature Wade in a Cubs uniform that I am aware of.  It wasn't until yesterday that I was finally able to track this 2007 UD single (with a "gripping" photo choice) down and add this "Cubgrade" to my CATRC binder.  Score!

However, this discount box was a generous one, as the Millers just kept on flowing:

Another Miller card that I needed, yay!

Zach Miller was another low cost/high reward signing, this time by the Chicago Bears rather than the Cubs.  Unlike Wade, Zach's story has a happier ending.  After all, he is currently the tight end and one of the few players worth watching on this lackluster squad.  Furthermore, he's succeeded against some extremely long odds, emerging as a star in 2015 after having been out of action since 2011.

Like Wade Miller, I'd already had a card of Zach in another team's uniform (the Jaguars).  Thankfully, he made his first appearance on cardboard in the orange and blue in this year's edition of Donruss - a set which I find strangely appealing, despite it's roots in one of the junk wax era's worst offenders.  Anywho, yay for upgrades!

The previous Miller representation.

However, it wasn't just upgrades that I was able to uncover in this particular trip to the card shop.  Additionally, I was lucky enough to find a couple of completely new additions to my Bears All-Time Roster Collection (none of them named Miller, by the way):

Both of these men are exemplary of a couple longstanding traditions in Chicago football - high profile draft busts and quarterbacks who just can't cut the mustard.

For Marcus, the tackle was drafted in the second round of the 1994 draft, but never started a single game in a Bears uniform.  In fact, he only ever appeared in 9 games for the franchise and those came two years after his selection.  Meanwhile, Virgil Carter is one of many potential-filled arms who tried to fill the QB black hole in between Sid Luckman and Jay Cutler.  He had much more success with team he's pictured on here - the Cincinatti Bengals.

That did it for cards that currently slot into binders in my collection; but, I did pick up one more card with an eye towards the future:

Ryan Williams is a finesse-pitching prospect on the cusp of a Major League call-up.  The tenth round draft choice in 2014 has glided through the Cubs system, being named the organization's Pitcher of the Year in '15, spending this spring in Major League camp and reaching AAA before all was said and done.  Injuries limited his time, but one has to figure that his name will be bandied about as one of the first arms up next year.  So, I figured I should have one of his cards in my queue, ready to be inserted in to the CATRC if and when Ryan should get the call.

The one thing that really struck me about this 2016 Bowman single (his first mass-produced card) is that Ryan's "ugly pitching face" strongly resembles a cartoon character from our collective youth...

The resemblance is uncanny, no?  If he ever gets in a tough spot on the mound, the pitching coach better run him out a can of spinach!

Speaking of spinach, it was at about this time that my own stomach started to speak up and it became clear to me that it was time to move onto a new distraction - dinner.  Foolhardy me - one should always make sure that they have a full stomach before taking in a bunch of Millers!  Nevertheless, all in all, I'd say it was a pretty successful trip.  Finding these needs sure did put me in a good mood.

That mood was only further improved by (most of) that night's game and Javy Baez, Dexter Fowler and Montero's heroics.  If the Cubs can steal game two away from a likely fatigued Clayton Kershaw, it will go through the roof.

I might have to celebrate with a few real Millers should that occur.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Digital Horror on Ice

Hockey season is officially underway - I'd be a heckuva lot more excited if the baseball playoffs weren't still ongoing and the Cubs weren't doing what they're doing.  Nevertheless, I still tuned in last night for the Blackhawks' season opener against the hated St. Louis Blues at the United Center, for the first two periods anyway.  After that, I flipped the channel to the latest episode of American Horror Story (what an episode that was, by the way) with the score knotted up at two a piece.

I certainly made the right choice, as the wheels fell off in the third, as the Hawks racked up penalties and allowed three goals to score in that final period.  Yikes.  That's even scarier than what I watched on AHS!

With hockey season ramping up, Topps officially released their latest digital card-trader app - SKATE.  While Upper Deck might have the exclusive license for physical hockey cards, much like their loophole with HUDDLE and the NFL, Topps has discovered that said license holds no power over digital cards and they've now cornered that market on the ice as well.  Tricky, tricky Topps.

Now, I know the collecting community is well-divided on the topic of digital cards (are they even truly cards?) and I rarely pay them any attention.  However, I'll try anything once and a ton of freebies are thrown at you once you download the app.  Thus, as I did with BUNT, I decided to give it a shot.

If you're at all familiar with the BUNT or HUDDLE apps, then you are also familiar with SKATE  - there's no new ground to cover with latest card-trader.  One using "coins" to buy digital "packs" of cards from the app's store.  One can accumulate coins through daily rewards and not spend an actual dime of real money; or, if one is so inclined, you can also plop down actual dinero and earn more coinage in a quicker manner.  I, for one, will never spend real money on fake cards, but that's just me.

There are various different packs available, based on inserts and chase cards.  That said, since this app is super duper new, there isn't a lot of variety yet.  Nevertheless, in order to help you get your collection started, each new user is automatically gifted with 25,000 coins and a whole bunch of free starter packs.

The silver packs are the starters and the red ones are the starters with rookie cards to chase.  All told, one gets a ten card, regular starter and the option to download five free, five-card rookie packs and two three-card rookie packs from the store.  No guarantees on there actually being any rookies included, however.

And so, while I wasn't lucky enough to pull an Auston Matthews (four goals in a debut?  holy crap!) rookie card, I did find a few Blackhawks players hiding in my starter packs:

The Toews you see at the top of this post and again here was the first Chicagoan to emerge and it's a green parallel (because of course there are parallels).  The base design is sharp and I love the crackled ice effect used for the nameplate.  The only complaint I have is that it's sort of difficult to read the player's first name.  Otherwise, I sure wouldn't mind seeing this design used on a physical release... stupid exclusive licenses...

The one big thing that digital cards have going for them (besides instant gratification) is the ability to include real-time statistics on the "flipside," as you see above.  Even if it just reminds me of the lopsided score I channel flipped to get away from.

I also came away with a couple of non-parallel, base cards and I definitely think that they work better with white in the nameplate than with garish green or whatever other parallel colors are available.

That's a pretty sweet image choice for Artem Anisimov, showing the pure joy and ecstasy of a goal-scoring celebration.  Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Niklas Hjalmarsson is bearing down on the puck with intensity in the photo used on his card.  Here's hoping these guys put together a couple of big seasons for the Blackhawks in 2016.

Finally, while that was the extent of Windy City skaters in my starters, this Hurricane will always first register as a Blackhawk in my mind, seeing as he was a member of the 2015 Stanley Cup Championship squad.  All in all, Joakim Nordstrom called the United Center home from 2013-15.

I truly wish that I was able to actually, physically hold this card in my hand, seeing as I need a Nordstrom for my Blackhawks All-Time Roster Collection... Curses.

The one insert that fell out of my starters was this Draft card of the Islanders' John Tavares.  That said, from what I've seen on Twitter so far, it seems that this card might have been included in everyone's starter packs.  Not that I care too much about a non-Hawk anyway.

And so ends my first dabbling experience with Topps SKATE.  While I'm not much for digital cards, it definitely wasn't a bad way to spend twenty minutes of my life.  Plus, I got a blog post out of it during a time of seemingly-unconquerable writer's block - so, that's pretty cool.  But, in the end, all digital cards do is make me want to flip through and play with my actual, real-world cards and remind me that exclusive trading card licenses really suck.  

At any rate, this probably the most I'll think about hockey for quite a while yet, seeing as the Cubs pulled off an amazing and improbable comeback over the Giants on Tuesday night to advance to the NLCS for the second consecutive year.  Sorry Blackhawks, but there's just not enough room in my heart for two teams right now!

Much like there really isn't enough room in my heart for physical and digital cards.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

He Saw the Sign and it Opened Up His Eyes

Ugh... last night's super-late, extra-inning marathon was quite the emotional roller-coaster... a roller-coaster which crashed into a wall at the end for us Cubs fans.  I'll tell you what, I can't take much more of the "even year magic" and elimination game mumbo jumbo.  Here's hoping that the Cubs can finish off those annoying and charmed Californians tonight and keep them from building on this momentum.

Speaking of magical Giants moments - this weekend, I picked up a "sweet" vintage oddball of a guy who, while he played with the Cubs for a few years, also suited up in the orange and black when they called New York home.  In fact, he played a rather significant role for the club in one of the most iconic moments in franchise history and, really, sports in general.

Get it? It's "sweet" because it's a both Mother's Cookies single (issued with their sweet treats) and because it's an off-the-beaten-path, super vintage oddball.  Aren't I a clever boy?

These cookie-paired, colorful beauties depicted the various players of the Pacific Coast League, were issued in two different sets by the California-based snack company in 1952 and '53 and distributed on the west coast.  Hank hails from the earlier edition, but the similarly-designed sets both featured the cropped players against a solid, brightly-colored background.  A simple, but attractive look.  Furthermore, both sets are standard height (3.5 in), but just a touch more narrow than your standard width (2 in).

 My Fred Richards from the '53 set - the only difference being the script

Thanks to their being a rather old, regional issue and the checklist's inclusion of several future/former MLB'ers, these cookie cards are kind of tough to come across and expensive when they do show up.  I've seen a few of these go in the range of $20-50, before shipping, based on condition - too much for one card to this cheapskate.  That said, as you can see, Hank here has seen some better days, with a good deal of wear along the edges and a few blemishes on the surface.

However, all that means to me is that it now falls into my ideal price range.  I was able to snag another short-term, obscure Cubs player (with just a handful of issues to his name) for my CATRC binder and score my second Mother's Cookies issue for just a little more than five bucks off of Ebay.  Works for me!

Meanwhile, back the ranch, what does Schenz have to do with the Giants?  To the history books!

Hank Schenz with the Cubs, circa 1948
Image courtesy of Just One Bad Century

Hank Schenz served as a backup infielder for the Cubs during the dark ages immediately after WWII, starting in 1946.  After winning 98 games and making the World Series in 1945, on the strength of a roster significantly less depleted than the rest of the MLB, the Cubs of the late forties through the fifties were the progenitors of the "Lovable Losers" moniker and never so much as sniffed the pennant race. Of course, one could say that the franchise has never recovered from this lackluster time period.

It wasn't until the '48 season that Hank earned a regular role with the Major League club, splitting time with Emil Verban as the starter at second base and batting a respectable .261 in 96 contests.  Perhaps seeking to capitalize on that modest production, the Cubs dealt the Hank to Brooklyn for fellow infielder Bob Ramazzotti early on in the next season.

 Ramazzotti stuck with the Cubs until 1953

However, Hank never suited up for "Dem Bums" and was purchased by the Pirates at the end of 1949.  After a season and a half of backing up the infield for the Buccos, Schenz was again claimed off of waivers, this time by the New York Giants as depth for the stretch drive in '51.

1951... Pirates... Giants... Yup, that was a fortuitous transaction for good ol' Hank.  He wasn't often used down the stretch by the Gothams; however, that doesn't mean he didn't play a key role for the team.  In the famous one-game playoff against Hank's former club, while Bobby Thomson was cracking the famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World," Hank was allegedly stealing signs with a telescope beyond the outfield and communicating them to the dugout.  Dastardly.

It might have been an incredible upset; that said, it seems as though Mr. Schenz could see it coming.

 The acknowledged hero of the day eventually made his way to the Cubs too.

After making just a single appearance in their World Series loss against the other New York ball club (as a pinch runner), Hank's contract was purchased by the Oakland Oaks of the old Pacific Coast League, with whom he's pictured on this Mother's Cookies oddball.  He wrapped up his career with five more seasons in the minors; this time was spent mostly with Oakland and the Sacramento Solons of the same league.

For whatever reason, the back of the 1952 release which provided the jumping off point for this brief bio only makes note of Hank's service with the Pirates in the previous season, ignoring his role on the team with which he "saw" more significant action for.

You'd think that with the events fresh in their mind, that the set's creative team would've included his Giant's statistics.  That said, it's not like they had at their disposal back then.

At any rate, even though the card now reminds me of Giants' heroics, being able to add this obscure oddball to my CATRC binder made for a nice weekend.  Now, here's hoping that the Cubs can flip the script on the Giants and send them packing in an elimination game tonight.  It's too bad that Hank isn't around anymore to lend his "eye" to the club who originally brought him to the Bigs.  Maybe his telescope is still lying around somewhere?

I jest, of course.  Mostly.