Monday, March 31, 2014

Old as Moses Monday: Bobby Lowe

*I bet you can figure out the concept of this feature;  it shines the spotlight on the Cubs in my collection that time forgot a long time ago.  We're talking pre-WWI here!*

We're all familiar with the story of Wally Pipp, right?  In case you're not, Wally was the regular first baseman for the Yankees from 1915 until about halfway through the '25 season.  He had a bit of a headache one afternoon and needed a little bit of rest.  A young rook by the name of Lou Gehrig took over and the rest is history.

I hear what you're saying; this is a Cub-centric blog, why in the world am I recounting a Yankee story?  Well today's subject kinda got Pipp'ed before Wally Pipp.  

 I pulled this card of Bobby Lowe from a package of Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco reprints.  Even the most common of the originals will fetch a few hundred dollars; my 1986 reprint cost me pennies on the dollar.  

Hooray for card collecting on a budget!

Lowe was one of baseballs' star players during the turn of the century.  Playing for the Boston NL club, Lowe starred at (mostly) second base from 1890 through 1901.

I say mostly because he was one of the most versatile players of all-time, playing at every position on the diamond in the Bigs, except catcher (which he did in the minors).  He was like Jose Macias, except he could actually hit a baseball.

Jose Macias - ye of little use

In May of 1894, Lowe was the first player in MLB history to hit 4 homers in a gameIn addition, he tied or set records with 17 total bases in a single game and six hits in a single game.  

With his career .273 batting average (deadball) and .953 fielding percentage (highest all-time at his retirement), this quiet and unassuming man was a complete player.  Of course, by the time the Cubs acquired him, he was completely washed up.

In the 1902, the Orphans (as they were known at the time) were in a transition period, not too much unlike the Cubs of today.  Franchise cornerstones Cap Anson and Jimmy Ryan had only recently departed, hence the nickname; Anson to retirement and Ryan to Washington.  Frank Chance was still just an unproven outfielder.

 As Simon & Garfunkel once sang, "Where have you gone, Anson & Ryan..." Wait,that ain't right...

Looking to stabilize their infield corps, they bought the reliable Bobby Lowe from Boston and manager Frank Selee promptly named him Captain.  He had been coming off of a down year in Boston, hitting under .270 for the first time since 1892.  Chicago thought they were buying low; in reality, they were buying junk.

Injuries piled up and his batting average tumbled down to .248 in '02.  After just a few games in 1903, the struggling former star was given a break and the Cubs inserted a hot prospect into the lineup in his absence.  That prospect?  None other than Johnny Evers.
 Johnny Evers - relegating Bobby to a new Lowe

Lowe was relegated to back up duty permanently while the Cubs dynasty of the early 20th century was taking shape.  He was sold to Pittsburgh just before the 1903 season who, in turn, sold him to Detroit after just 1 game.

After hanging on for a few more seasons, mostly as a reserve, he finally called it a career in 1907.  Fittingly, just after Evers and the Cubs won their first World Series over Lowe's Tigers, a series in which Lowe did not appear.

If anything, Bobby Lowe's uninspiring Cubs tenure represents a time of transition.  A time which we Cubs fans today can certainly relate to.  Re-tread, washed up veterans and unpolished rookies populated the roster then and now.  

Here's hoping TheoJed and crew can weather their period of transition as well as the Cubs of the early aughts did.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Short Stay Sunday: Len Church

The man's name made him a shoe-in candidate to be profiled on my weekly Sunday feature.  Does this count as visiting church?  Well, if you're Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham or if collecting baseball cards is your religion too, then absolutely!

Now, let us begin today's sermon:

This piece from Larry Fritsch's One Year Winners collection pictures Len Church.  As mentioned in previous Sunday's, this set focused exclusively on players who spent 1 year or less in the major leagues.  Many of these players had no other cards issued in their lifetime; big points for originality.

Pictured in the uniform he spent most of his baseball career, Tacoma, Church was a local boy who graduated from Lane Tech High School.  Lane Tech, of course, is the baseball powerhouse that also produced Chicago royale Phil Cavaretta.  Phil was somewhat more successful, however.

Signed in 1963, in the days before the amateur draft, he made the big league team for the first time in for the infamous 1966 Cubs as a reliever.

Why is that team significant?  Well, it's the only roster in MLB history that has included 5 HOF players and lost 100 games.

Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Robin Roberts couldn't save that club and neither could Len Church.

Of course, the 4 games that he appeared in that summer wouldn't have made a difference anyway.

Church's statistics from that stint are exceptionally ugly:  0-1 while giving up 5 earned runs in 6 innings, with two blown saves and surrendering two leads in the 9th inning.  The Cubs lost every game he appeared in.

He was sent down in September, never again to see his name listed on a big league roster.  He kept on trying though, playing mostly in AAA-Tacoma through the 1971 season before finally calling it quits.

Prospect to organizational filler in 4 games flat.

So, despite his last name being Church, Len was completely incapable of "saving" anything.  Hey-yo!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bleed It Out

I'm doing my best to absolutely bleed my local card shops out of every Cub player they might have.

This recent splurge of purchases hasn't been expensive, as I've paid no more than $1 per card and most are well below that.  But, it may be the last run for a while since I'll be moving into a new place in the middle of April.  I'll have more important things to focus on or something...

It's a pretty gray and gloomy day, so let's kick things off with a black and white card:

Johnny Schulte was a middling back up catcher in the 1920's and 30's that spent a singular season with the Cubs in 1929.  He picked a good year to be in Chicago though, as the Cubs won the pennant that season, however he did not make an appearance during the Fall Classic.

It was his stint in Chicago, however, that would set him up with his next career.  He became close with manage Joe McCarthy that season and when his playing career came to a close, he joined the Cubs coaching staff under McCarthy's invitation.

When Joe was forced out of the Windy City in 1934, Schulte followed him to New York to stay on his staff, a stint that this card commemorates.  He ended up spending 15 full seasons as a mentor in the Bronx.

Most notable, though, were some of the kids he helped scout out for Bronx Bombers.  He convinced a failing first base prospect to test out his pitching arm.  That man prospect turned out to be Whitey Ford.  Not to mention, he also signed HOFer Phil Rizzuto to his first contract as well.

The man had a good eye!

Keeping things in the same era, we have Babe Dahlgren.  Pictured here on an Upper Deck reprint based off of the 1941 Play Ball set, Babe was a slick fielding first-sacker with some pop.  But he was a fine fielder and his career .261 batting average was more than passable.  He is best known for his time with the Yankees and the Dodgers.  But, in between those stints, he was briefly a Cub.

The Cubs bought him midway through the '41 season to try and ignite a sputtering roster.  He hit .281 with 16 long balls but the Cubs went nowhere.  Thinking they'd found a keeper though, they brought him back for '42 where he went off of a cliff, Gary Gaetti-style.

Babe bounced around the league for a while as he became eligible for the draft and no one wanted to take that liability.  However, he was rejected for service in '43 and he strung his career along until '46.

The most fascinating this about his career came off of the field; he was the first player in MLB history to take a drug test in 1943.  Not for steroids obviously, but for for marijuana.  Someone (who is lost to history) had started a nasty rumor about him and he took the test to prove his innocence.

Also of note, he was the man that came in to replace Lou Gehrig when the Iron Man decided to end his consecutive games played streak.  Interestingly, Babe had a nice 621 consecutive games played streak during his time in the PCL himself.

How's that for some fun, odd facts?  Speaking of odd, let's have some fun with an oddball:

Rick Bladt was briefly a member of the still-beloved, near-miss 1969 Cubs.  Signed out of college in the days before the draft, Rick got his first taste of big league action in June of '69 when he pinch ran for Billy Williams.

However, he was merely one in a series of disappointments in center field that year.  He got into 9 more games posting a batting average under the Mendoza Line and little else to offer before being sent back down.

If that '69 Cubs team had just had a decent center fielder, they might have actually gone all the way.

He was traded to the Yankees for Jimmie Hall the next season where he became organizational filler.  They gave him a second cup of coffee in 1975, his prospect status long since vanished, that amounted to nothing and he was done in big league baseball.

As for this unique little card itself (it is little, 3x2), it comes from a promotional series of cards honoring Yankees of the '70s, issued by Wiz Home Entertainment Centers in 1992.  It originally came on a perforated sheet, but I only found this single.  I wonder who else made it into the set?

Speaking of the '70's, we have time for one more card:

Fernandez was the Yankees back up catcher from 1968-69 until Thurman Munson came along and staked his claim to home plate.  That Munson guy had a decent career I think.

No longer needed, he was traded to the A's just before the '70 season.  Then, during the '71 season things got crazy.  The A's traded Frank to Washington and only a little more than a month later, they reacquired him.  Did they keep him this time?  No they sent him packing to the Cubs before the season was over.

The A's should have called him Duncan because they were yo-yo'ing him all over the place!

He wrapped up his career by getting into 20 total games for the Cubs from 1971-72, spending most of his time with the franchise at AAA Wichita.

I love the 1971 Topps set, I truly do.  I've always felt that that black borders encapsulate a good photograph much better than white one and the simple design keeps it nice and classy.  This card gets bonus points too for showcasing one of those painfully awesome (painful on the eyes because they're so bright) A's jerseys of the '70s.

I can now cross four more names off of the to-get list for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Although, I'm really starting to wonder how many more I can possibly dig up from my local card shops at this point.  I guess there's only one way to find out right?

Friday, March 28, 2014

In the Nick of Time

If I get nothing out of this blog other than the package I was mailed from Nick at, it's still worth it.  Nick's budget friendly collecting method certainly resonates with me and it's always fascinating to see what he pulls out of endless dime boxes.  If you haven't already, check it out!

He kindly provided a "welcome to the blogosphere" package and it was absolutely filled with cool stuff!

First up, we have two from Mr. Cub himself.  A couple new Ernie Banks are always welcome to my binders.  It was, in fact, a Banks card that my grandfather bought for me when I was really young that inspired my to collect baseball cards in the first place.

Next, we have some minor-leaguers.  Now, I absolutely love minor league cards because they shine the spotlight on teams and players that otherwise wouldn't get it.  There's character to them.

Ben Christensen is one of the many prospects that the Cubs swung and missed on in the late 90s/early 00s, but he doesn't know it yet on this card.  The first round draft pick from 1999 never even made the bigs.

Shawn Boskie was another first rounder (from '86) and had 4+ mediocre seasons as a swingman for the Cubs.  You'd certainly expect more out of such a high pick, but hey, at least he made it.

Laddie Renfroe is a guy who the first time I heard his name, I assumed that he played in the days of Ty Cobb; it just sounds like an old name.  A 24th round draft choice, he made a cameo in the majors in 1991 and was never heard from again.

Moving on, we have a couple of guys from one of my favorite teams of all time:  the 1989 Cubs.  The Boys of Zimmer seemingly came out of nowhere with a bunch of rookies and no-names to win the NL East.  Don't bring up the postseason though...

Seeing that I was born that year, my grandfather thought that grandchildren were a good omen.  Then, my brother was born in 1994 and baseball went on strike; that ended that thought.  Although, my sister was born in 1998 and we all know about how fun that year was.

Seen here are two of those BOZ rookies; in fact, they finished one-two in the ROY voting that year.  The lovely pastel rainbow oddball for Smith is unique and something I've not seen before.  It looks like it was part of a card-based baseball game.  I'll have to do some actual research.

The Walton comes from Panini's recent Hometown Heroes set, one that I've wanted a piece of for sometime.  I can now check that off of my to-do list!  The lack of logos don't bother me as much as a lot of people and I love the throwback design.

Some nice SSPCs were thrown in there too!  I love these sets because they appear to be so much more thorough than Topps was when it comes to featuring the entire roster of a team.  However, they did pick some rather unflattering photos of these guys.

All I need from this set now is Ron Dunn, so if anyone has seen him, please kindly point me in his direction.

Now, although this fine stack of cardboard did not feature any new names for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, but it did provide some assets.

On the left, Matt Szczur hasn't made the Cubs yet, but chances are he'll make the parent club before 2014 is up.  The athletic outfielder had a fine spring and will wait at AAA until injuries or trades happen.  At that point, this sharp Bowman will slide nicely into my binder.

To the right, Ryan Sweeney may already be in my CATRC, but it is with his Iowa Cubs team issue card from last season.  Seeing as I prefer issues in an official Chicago Cubs uniform for this collection, his 2014 flagship release presents an update.  

And then there's this Guy...

I was just dying to make that pun!

This was just a sampling of the jam-packed package that I received from Nick; if I featured every card he graciously sent over, I'd probably break the internet.  So, thank you very much Nick and trust that a nice pile of cards is coming your way ASAP.

See ya around the blogosphere!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kalish is a Kub

As I posited yesterday, Mike Olt is a part of my All-Time Roster Collection now.  Jed Hoyer officially confirmed that Olt has made the team today; but, he wasn't the only one who made it.

Ryan Kalish has climbed back into the major leagues!

Just like he climbed this wall.  He was once a top prospect with the Red Sox under Theo, but neck injuries really stunted his career.  Ryan went under the knife to have a cervical fusion surgery, performed by the same doctor who fixed up Peyton Manning, but 2013 was a completely lost season.  He wasn't able to get into any minor league games and the Sawx decided to cut ties with him in October.  

The Cubs picked him up as an NRI this offseason and he did nothing but impress in spring training.  In 15 games, he's batted .275 with a .370 OBP, stole 6 bases and showed that he's a fine fielder in all 3 outfield positions.  He'll make a fine 5th outfielder for now, but he could turn out to be much more than that.

Welcome to the binder Ryan!

But, by taking Ryan and Mike, that meant that the Cubs were leaving some people behind.

Chris Coghlan, also fighting for that 5th outfielder spot will go to Iowa, where he'll be ready in case of an injury to the parent club.  A former NL ROY, he'd make a decent substitute and could very well end up in my collection at some point.

Ryan Roberts though, will not.  Since the Cubs are taking Olt and Emilio Bonifacio, the Cubs have no need for the utility man.  Rather than sit around and wait in the minors, he decided to opt out of his NRI contract and try his hand at finding a major league deal somewhere else.  With his versatility, he'll likely find one soon. Good luck to you Ryan!

This time of year is always crazy for my collection.  But, the craziness isn't over yet; the Cubs have yet to announce who will fill in the back of their bullpen.  However, no new faces are expected to be in the running. That said, you just never know for sure!

Cut, Copy, (Re) Print 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold

Sequels are almost always terrible.  It's hard to write one really good movie, let alone two, and lightning almost never strikes twice.  However, my second trip to the re-print section of my LCS was much better than Hot Shots Part Deux or Blues Brothers 2000.

Here's hoping that my post about it doesn't put you to sleep either.

We'll start out with what would be the oldest card if these were actually the real deal (If they were, I wouldn't be blogging about cards, I'd be cruising around in a Ferrari right now).

Lone Jack Cigarette Co. originally printed this run of cards that focused exclusively on the St. Louis Browns (today's Cardinals, then of the American Association) in 1886.  They leeched off of Old Judge for the pictures, but I guess no one called them out on that back then.  The set is among the rarest of the old tobacco cards, but after all, they're all pretty rare 130 years later.

I can't locate the year from which my reprint dates, but it's pretty safe to assume that it's from the junk wax era.  Everyone was trying to cash in on the boom in anyway they could.

The set included one new Cub for my All-Time Roster Collection:  Hugh Nicol.  The Scotsman began his MLB career with the White Stockings (Cubs) in 1881 as a sub-outfielder, a terrible one at that.  Through 1882, he hit .201 in 73 games during a high offense era.

When the American Association was formed to challenge the NL's monopoly, he jumped to the Browns to play everyday in 1883.  He wrapped up his career in Cincinnati in 1890.

Speed was his calling card though.  In 1887, he stole 138 bases for Cincy, which is actually still the all-time record.  But, it should be noted that prior to 1898 a stolen base was credited to a baserunner who reached an extra base on a hit from another player.  Still, he was a quick, little (5'4") dude.

Let's keep moving along "chronologically."

Here we have some tributes to Tom Barker's game cards, originally printed in 1913.  The cards were used to play a variation of baseball, as you can see from the designations on the card borders.  Think of them as the MLB Showdown or Topps Attax of their day.

Like the Lone Jack card previously, I cannot find the year from which these reprints date.  But, I'm going to mark them as junk wax era again.

This set provided a multiple new Cubbies for my collection.  Here we have Nixey Callahan, who spent all but 9 games of his 13 year career in Chicago (1897-1900 with the Cubs).

His biggest claim to fame is that he pitched the first no-hitter in American League history on September 20th, 1902 against the Tigers.  An otherwise mediocre at-best pitcher, he also pulled a Rick Ankiel and moved to the outfield for the last 6 years of his career.

To your left, we have Larry McLean, who was a capable catcher for 13 years in the early 1900's.  His Cubs career was really bad, but it only lasted 1 game, where he went 0-4 and committed an error.
He was, however, part of the trade package that landed Mordecai Brown from St. Louis.  So, he contributed something to the franchise in the long run.

The tallest catcher in MLB history (6'5") was a bit of a trouble-maker though.  His career ended in 1915 with the Giants after a brawl with John McGraw and coach Dick Kinsella.  Then, his life ended in 1921 when he was shot during a barroom brawl in Boston.

The last pull from this set was Bill Sweeney, who book-ended his successful career as a Brave with 2 short Cubs stints.  He was drafted out of the minors by the Cubs in 1906 and came up in '07 for all of 3 games before he was traded to Boston.  There he blossomed as high-average (for his time) second baseman who garnered MVP votes from 1911-13.

Seeing that, the Cubs changed their mind and decided that they wanted him back.  So much so, they gave up Johnny Evers to do so.

The cruel irony?  Johnny Evers won the MVP with the Miracle Braves of 1914 and Bill Sweeney was out of baseball the next year.  So goes Cubs history....

This card also shows how shoddy this reprinting job was.  As you can see, the cards are supposed to have rounded corners.  Sweeney's card still has one pointy one though.  Gotta pump out those cards!  Still, for about a buck, I really can't complain.

Finally, we have a re-print from a much more modern set:

I present to you Ben Wade from Topp's 1953 flagship release.  This re-print was from Topps themselves in celebration of their 40th anniversary producing cards in 1991.  They did a really nice job and added just the right amount of gloss to touch them up.  That said, I'd still much rather own the original!

Wade's career was nothing significant.  He came up with the Cubs in 1948 for 2 games in 1948 before being buried back into the minors.  He didn't re-emerge until 1952 with Brooklyn, whereupon he pitched out of their bullpen for a few seasons.  

Though his MLB career was short, he did spend 16 years in the minors and pitched over 2,000 innings. 


Thus, I'd say my second trip to the re-print bin was much more successful than your typical sequel.  eat your heart out Batman & Robin!

A lot of people might look down on reprints as stupid and pointless, heck, I'd absolutely always rather own the original.  However, since I don't have the resources to drop a couple hundred bucks (heck, even double digits) they allow me greater flexibility with my collection.

Now, if this week would just hurry up and end already so that we could enjoy some real baseball, that'd be great.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Been a Cub

Today the Cubs cut ties with their projected back up catcher, George Kottaras.  They had acquired from Milwaukee in a cash deal this past January.

Even though he had a rough spring, he was thought to have a secure roster spot.  Its even more of a surprise since there was also some speculated trade interest from Texas.

Since he was released before he could make a regular season appearance, he does not appear on the official Cubs All-Time Roster and thus has been released from my collection as well.  Sorry George, you almost made it. Now he joins my discard pile, along with Daniel Bard, Omar Infante, Garrett Wolfe and all the other near misses.

It's assumed that the Cubs will use his roster spot to call up his replacement, NRI John Baker.  So, I get to add him to my binder at least!

In other news, Donnie Murphy's Cubs career is officially over; he was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers earlier today.  But, since he obviously appeared as a Cub during the 2013 season, his spot in my collection is safe forever.

What this likely means though is that Mike Olt will go north with the team as the starting third baseman and that Emilio Bonifacio will be added to the roster as a super sub.  Welcome to my binder guys!

So, in summation, I was forced to remove George Kottaras from my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, but I also likely get to add John Baker, Emilio Bonifacio and Mike Olt.

Welcome to the T-C-M-A!

I'm sure I'm not the first person to draw that parallel, but I almost felt obligated.  Though TCMA might not actually include any construction workers, they certainly have helped a ton with building my collection up!

One of my favorite sets from the nostalgic-heavy company is their Star of the 50's compilation, which was released in 1982.  I picked one of Gene Baker up from a web auction a few years ago and I was pulled in by the excellent full-color and full-frame photography that the set provided.  It almost made these people, who seem like distant figures from the past, more human and real to me.

However, I hadn't come across any since then. That is, until yesterday.  In a box stuffed with re-prints at one of my local shops (more on those re-prints in a later post), I found within a smaller box a near-complete set in pristine condition. Score! Or rather, TCMA!

Since my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection starts to get relatively thin before 1960, this find proved to be particularly fruitful.  Plus, since it wasn't a complete set, I was allowed to cherry pick what I wanted.  I got 6 singles for about a buck each, a pretty good deal.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the newest additions to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection:

Let's start out with the Evil Empire.  

On the left, we have Mark Freeman and including him in a set titled "Stars of the 50's" is a stretch on multiple levels.  First, he only pitched in 4 games pre-1960 (all of them in 1959.  Second, he was never mistaken as a star player.  The Cubs gave him his only significant time in the majors in 1960, where he went 3-3 with 5.63 ERA in 30 games, mostly out of the bullpen.

Art Schult wasn't much of a star either, but at least he spent most of his career in the 50's.  "Dutch" was a journeyman outfielder and first baseman who first came up in 1953.  By the time he got to the Cubs in 1959, he had developed into a decent pinch-hitter and bench player.  In his two years in Chicago, he batted .256/.306/.351 over 54 games with just 2 homers.  Needless to say, he was spent.

Bonus points on this card  for using a excellent shot of a leaping grab (posed though it may be).

Now for the team that has developed into the new Evil Empire, dem bums. 

The lefty-swinging Carmen Mauro is featured on the left.  A local boy (Cicero, IL), Carmen was signed by the Cubs at 17 in 1944.  He made his big league debut in 1948 about as late as you possibly can in the regular season, October 1st.  As a spare outfielder for the next few years, he slashed  .219/.285/.297 with 2 long balls, earning his way out of Chicago in '51.

However, he was a much better musician than he was a baseball player.  As an accomplished pianist, organist and accordionist, he was honored with the establishment of a Carmen Mauro Music Scholarship in 1990.  Eat your heart out Carmen Fanzone!

To your right, you'll see Jim Hughes.  Another local boy, Jim was your prototypical reliever and closer.  There were good years and bad years and he towed the rubber for multiple teams, including the Cubs for part of 1956.  

However, the most notable thing about his career only tangentially involves Jim.  His older brother William P. Hughes, Jr., was stabbed to death during game five of the 1953 World Series, a game in which Jim was pitching. William was watching the game on television at his home in Chicago and in a state of drunkenness got in a fight with his wife, who fatally stabbed him with a kitchen knife.


This cardboard rectangle features a phenomenal horizontal shot of Hersh Freeman fielding his position.  A reliever for much of the decade with the Red Sox and the Reds, he thrived when used excessively.  

When Cincinnati claimed him off waivers Freeman told his new manager that Boston had not given him the pitching workload he needed to be effective. "Brother," he responded, "you've come to the right place."  Over the next three seasons, Hersh pitched in no less than 83 innings.

The workload eventually took it's toll.  The Reds traded him to the Cubs in '58 for Turk Lown, but his arm was toast.  After just 9 games, with an ERA very near 9 itself, he called it a career.

Finally, we have Bob Porterfield.  He garnered MVP votes in '52 & '53 and earned an All-Star nod in '54 as a member of Washington's rotation, but his career was pretty mediocre after that.  Bouncing around the NL, he eventually found his way to the Cubs in '59. 

Sandwiched between stints with the Pirates, Bob got into 4 games and posted an 11.37 ERA in 6.1 innings and the Cubs pulled the plug.  

However, bonus points to this card for featuring a long ago defunct franchise.  I've had a soft spot in my heart for cards that feature the Senators since I pulled a Walter Johnson as a young lad and was entirely confused as to what I was holding.

The Walter Johnson card that perplexed young Tony

Thus concludes my finds in the box of TCMA's "Stars of the 50's."  It was a surprising and fulfilling find that brought some warmth to the unseasonably freezing evening; so goes life in Chicago.  Thank you TCMA, for this and all your interesting and varied nostalgic/retrospective sets, they really help fill the holes in my collection.

Alas, that box within a box wasn't the only stash of goodies that I came across; but, I'm saving that post for another day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's a Givin' Thing

I'm very self-conscious when it comes to collecting baseball cards.

Should I be? No.  But, no one in my circle of friends holds more than a passing interest in America's pastime, let alone collecting cardboard squares of grown men - half of whom are younger than they are.

I feel like a bit of an overgrown child and tend to hide my hobby from people until I get really close to them.  My girlfriend made it 6 months before I let her in on my secret time-passer.

So, when her roommate dropped a bin full of his old baseball cards on me this weekend, I was both stunned and giddy.  I wasn't aware that he was aware, after all.

Not only did he give them to me, but when his mother came to visit from North Carolina, he specifically requested that she bring them with so that he could pass them on to me.  Now, I feel all special and stuff!

Although, I wasn't able to add any new names to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, I did find some pretty cool stuff (cool to me, anyway) that I'd like to show off at this time:

Ben Grieve's time as a Cub was brief; he was brought in via trade with Milwaukee in Septemeber of 2004 as reinforcement for the playoff push (that year still stings).  The former AL Rookie of the Year didn't do much though and the lasting memory that I have of him is his crashing into the wall at Wrigley to make a catch.  The thing is, his face bounced off the brick, causing his sunglasses to shatter.  Blood ran down from his eye and I tried not to faint.

Bleeding Cubbie... red, we bleed red.

The card is a lovely, chrome, blue-bordered parallel (almost predicting his Cub tenure) came from the 2000 release of UD's Victory series.  I love the photography and the layout of this set, so this was a fine pull.

Though a little beat up, this is fantastic shot of Kevin Foster in his 1906 throwback digs.  During the first Cub vs. White Sox regular season series, the clubs played like it was '06 in honor of the last all-Chicago World Series.  So, thank you Upper Deck, for including this fun snapshot in your 1998 set.

Foster wasn't the best of pitchers, but he was a mainstay in the Cubs rotation during the mid-90's.  Sadly, renal cancer took him from this world much too soon in 2008.  RIP Kevin.

Another chrome card!  As you can plainly see, I like shiny things.  But, I also am a big Ted Lilly fan.  He was a big part of the Cubs back-to-back division titles in 2007-08 and a colorful character who played the game with an almost reckless abandon.  Who didn't leap up and cheer the night he bowled over Yadier Molina at the plate?

Mess with the Bull, you get the Lilly

He's back with the Cubs in a front office capacity and no one is disappointed about that.  The card is no disappointment either.  Bowman Chrome released this one in 2000 and the colors of the Montreal uniform play well into that year's design.

Finally, we have this little number:

This might just be my favorite of the bunch.  I thoroughly love minor league baseball cards for the fact that they feature players and teams who rarely ever get spotlight attention.  Bonus points for it being a Durham Bulls card, as Bull Durham might just be my favorite baseball movie of all time (The Rookie is pretty high on that list too).

As for Lowery, he is better remembered for his time on the hardwood than the diamond.  At Loyola Marymount, he made it to the Elite 8 in 1990.  As a Cub, he hit .241 in 33 games from 1997-98.

Lowery and his teammates celebrate their upset over Michigan

And these were just some highlights of what I was gifted.  All in all, I added about 40 new cards to my collection.  Needless to say, it was quite the gift indeed.

It almost felt like validation too; that a peer and a good friend confirmed that it was okay for me to collect baseball cards into adulthood and that I wouldn't be a social pariah for it.  

Not to mention, there's no better way to spend a quite weekend evening than sorting through a big bin of FREE baseball cards, right?  Well....

Monday, March 24, 2014

Old as Moses Monday: Ned Williamson

*I bet you can figure out the concept here;  it shines the spotlight on the Cubs in my collection that time forgot a long time ago.  We're talking pre-WWI here!*

There is no more hallowed record in major league sports than the single season home run record.  Ever since the immortal Babe Ruth slugged a mind-boggling 60 dingers in 1927 while residing on Murderer's Row, any attempt to surpass the mark has been met with extreme controversy.

Hank Greenberg being intentionally walked due to his religious beliefs as he breached 50, Roger Maris' asterisk for schedule length and not being "Yankee" enough, Sosa/McGwire/Bonds and their pharmaceutical regimen, etc...

Enter Ned Williamson:

Ned Williamson played for the Cubs (then known as the White Stockings) from 1879 through 1889.  As a member of Cap Anson's core, Ned manned third base with exceptional skill - leading the league (at his position) in both fielding percentage and double plays five times, and assists six times.

Going into the 1884 season, his glove was his main draw; with his batting average only twice surpassing .280 and his power minimal (3 homers was his best season total), no one would contest this notion.

Then Ned went all Brady Anderson on the league.

He belted an astounding 27 home runs that season in 112 games, 9x more than he had ever slugged and more than doubling Harry Stovey's previous mark of 14.  He also became the first man in MLB history to hit 3 round trippers in 1 game.  What caused this sudden explosion of power?

Surely today we would automatically assume steroids.  But, seeing as though performance enhancing drugs were limited to alcohol, tobacco and maybe opium back then, this was obviously not the root.

We can also rule out a possible boost caused by magnificent mustaches; otherwise, we would have Carlos Villanueva batting cleanup right now.

 Best mustache since Rollie Fingers?

The key piece of evidence in this case is one stat:  25 of his 27 homeruns were hit at home.

Lakefront Park, the Cubs home field from 1878 to 1884, was an unusually shaped field.  Situated in what is now Millennium Park, the dimensions were severely limited by the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and Lake Michigan just beyond right field.  Thus, right field was only 200 ft. from home plate.

200 ft?  I know what you're thinking, even Tony Campana could park one over that short porch!  

At this time, the home club determined the ground rules for their stadium.  Previously, a ball hit over that fence was considered a ground rule double.  But, going into 1884, Cap Anson decided that any ball hit over the fence should be a round-tripper.

Now it's all starting to make sense, isn't it?  Ned Williamson was hitting Little League caliber homeruns.

Lakefront Park, courtesy of

He wasn't alone either, 3 other Cubs hit over 20 long balls and the team hit 142 all together.  For reference, second place was Buffalo at 39!  Surely this farce could not be allowed to continue.

Well, it didn't and it wasn't because the League stepped in either.  Chicago reclaimed the land that Lakefront Park stood on and kicked the Cubs to the curb.  Spending much of 1885 as a road-only team, they then moved into the West Side Grounds - where they would remain until Wrigley Field was made available.

What affect did the West Side Grounds have on Ned Williamson?  He never hit more than 9 homers again.  By 1890, he was out of Major League Baseball as a result of a nagging leg injury he suffered while touring the world on Albert Spalding's baseball exhibition in 1888.

So, what have we learned here?  That no record is legitimate?  That baseball is made up of a series of idiosyncratic rules?  Maybe.

I'd say that it's important to remember that all marks set are products of their time and will rarely be universally comparable.

As for this beautiful piece of cardboard itself, it comes from the 2012 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions release.  The lack of an MLB license is hardly a factor when it comes to players as ancient as Ned because no one personally remembers what these uniforms looked like.  The portrait style is also a nice touch.

But, show of hands; back when Slammin' Sammy Sosa was trying to power his way past Maris and the Great Bambino, how many of you knew that he wouldn't be the first Cub to hold the homerun crown?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Short Stay Sunday: Billy Petrick

Imagine yourself as a young, 23 year old rookie, getting called up to the major leagues for the first time for your hometown team (and the team you grew up rooting for) in the thick of a pennant race.  Sounds pretty exhilarating right?  That's what happened to one Billy Petrick in the summer of 2007.

The Morris, IL native was a third round draft choice by the Cubs in 2002 (talk about a weak drafting class, ugh).  A large man (6'7" and 245 lbs.) with a power arm, he drew comparisons to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.  I think you can figure out where this is going.

But, he struggled coming out of the rotation and had to undergo shoulder surgery mid-2005.  After that, he floundered in the system for a few more years, never advancing above A-ball.

It wasn't until he was switched to the bullpen that Petrick regained prospect status.  At that point, he rocketed up in the ladder, going from Daytona to the Major Leagues in just half of a season! He jumped from AA to the majors after going 1-1 with two saves and a 2.37 ERA in 18 relief appearances for Tennessee. He struck out 33 and walked eight.  The Cubs liked what they saw.

Enough to give him a shot in the bullpen in their chase for the division crown.  Upon being called up, he debuted against the Rockies, giving up a 2 run home run.  But, he set down 6 of the 7 batters he faced.  Five more scoreless appearances seemed to indicate that Petrick was up for good.

But that wasn't to be.  His velocity was ticking downward with each appearance.  His 98mph fastball upon his callup had dwindled to 87mph in just a few weeks.  Bats started to catch up and Petrick tried to pitch through.  After giving up 4 runs in just 1 inning in late July against the Cardinals, the Cubs had seen enough.

He was sent down to AAA.  Then AA.  By the end of 2008, he was all the way back in A-ball with no velocity returning.  The Cubs cut ties with Billy after that 2008 season and his career in affiliated baseball was over.

He wouldn't give up though.  Billy signed with my local minor league baseball team, the Windy City Thunderbolts based out of Crestwood, IL of the Frontier League, for the 2009 season to be their closer.  After 11 appearances for the 'Bolts with an impressive 2.13 earned run average, three saves, 15 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings, something popped in his elbow.

He tore a tendon and needed Tommy John surgery. It could have been the end for Billy, but he rehabbed and kept trying to regain that velocity that had brought him to the Majors.  

He was traded to my adopted hometown's minor league team in 2009, the Joliet Slammers, and came back to pitch 2 seasons more seasons for them.  After spending the 2012 season in the NABL with 2 teams, Billy finally packed it in, calling it a career after 10 years in the minors with just 8 big league appearances to his name.

Seeing as he pitched for my two favorite minor league teams and my favorite big league team, Billy Petrick will always be remembered fondly by me, even if he was just another name in the terrible 2002 draft by the Cubs.  Luke Hagerty, Bobby Brownlie, Chadd Blasko, Brian Dopirak... the only names with any success were Randy Wells and Rich Hill.  Yikes.

His rookie card in the 2007 edition of Topps Heritage would be his only Major League issue.  However, if anyone has one of his team-issued Thunderbolts or Slammers cards, I'll gladly organize a trade!  Unfortunately, I missed both of those days at the ballpark.