Sunday, September 28, 2014

Short Stay Sunday - Raul Gonzalez

Everyone loves a good underdog story.

One of the most timeless tales in baseball is that of the career minor-leaguer who finally ascends to the top of the latter.

Everyone loves to see perseverance and hard work pay off in the end, to see someone achieve their lifelong dream.  I think we can all relate in some form.

One such story involves a forgotten Cub of the previous decade - one Raul Gonzalez:

Fleer basically plagiarized 1954 Topps to honor Raul and his ascent in their Tradition Series Update from 2000.  When he made his MLB debut that season, he had already been struggling for 10 years.

Drafted in the 17th round of the 1990 draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Puerto Rico, Raul spent 7 years in their organization producing solid (but unspectacular) offensive numbers with a respectable glove.

After a short stay in the Red Sox system, Raul was signed by the Cubs going into the 2000 season for organizational depth.  He picked the right team.

The 2000 Cubs were a terrible squad.  Their  65-97 record placed them in the cellar of the National League and their outfield of castoffs + Sammy Sosa was part of the problem.  Slammy could only do so much.

"Oh Henry" Rodriguez and Rondell White spent most of the season on the DL and with names like Damon Buford, Gary Matthews Jr., Brant Brown, an over-the-hill Glenallen Hill, etc. getting significant playing time, it's no wonder they weren't getting the job done.

 Oh Henry, why couldn't you and Rondell stay healthy?

Therefore, the Cubs started throwing crap at the wall, hoping something would stick; Raul got his chance that May.

Unfortunately, he did not seize the moment.  Although he only got 2 at-bats, he went 0-2 with 2 Ks.  In left field, he saw action in 3 innings over 3 games; however, he never had a ball hit to him.

The Cubs had much less patience with the minor-league lifer than they would a traditional prospect and demoted him back to AAA after about a month.  Then came Ross Gload, the undeveloped Corey Patterson and the dated Dave Martinez... things didn't get better.

 Ross Gload & Dave Martinez - AKA "crap on the wall"
Also, note the similar batting stances

Gonzo wasn't done in the Bigs though.  After finishing out the season in Iowa, Raul saw MLB time each season through 2004 with the Reds, Mets and Indians, including 107 games as a de-facto starter for the '03 New Yorkers.

After continuing to bounce around in the minors and independents through 2007, Raul saw his name in the big league press yet again in 2010; except this time, it wasn't for his on-field exploits.

Following the Februrary 2010 DUI arrest of Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers brought Raul into the fold as a "companion" in order to keep the young superstar in check.  He reportedly spent the entire year making sure that Miggy laid off the sauce and focused his talents.

Miggy owes a little thanks to Raul Gonzalez

It looks like it's worked out in the long-run for Cabrera.

As for Raul Gonzalez, all things considered, not too bad of a career for a 17th rounder who took 10 years to finally reach the top rung.

We should all be so lucky as to have such an interesting adventure through professional baseball.

 The intricacies of an underdog tale like Raul's is always compelling.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Re-Pack Wars

Impulses are jerks.

I just can't help but walk throw a re-pack in my cart as I walk through the local drug store.  Well, the other day I had to make two trips.

So, I of course ended up with 2 re-packs.  They were far too tempting:

That hit ratio is how the one on the right ended up in my possession.  Of course, my luck with hits is best exemplified by a Cody Ransom auto being my primo pull.

But, if I'm lucky, I'll be able to add some new cards to my Cubs player collections.  My Cubs PCs extend to everyone who's ever played for them.

As for the one on the left, Hanley parallels are of no interest to me (who wants it?) it was the backside that drew me in (that sounded pretty perverse, didn't it?)

That had to be a good omen, right?  Either that or good marketing on the Fairfield folks' part.

Yea, definitely the latter.

So, since I got them on the same day, it was only natural for me to stack them against each other.  In a no holds barred cage match, which repack offered the better bounty?  The tidy box or the plastic cage of frustration?

The plastic finger shredder is off to an early lead with two of my all-time favorites.  While I already have the '88 Donruss Maddux, that crazy looking Derrek Lee will fit nicely in my PC.

Cards on the right are from the box, cards on the left are from the hanger:

Both offered me a Mad Dog; clearly they're pandering to me.

Though he might be a brave on that fantastic '96 Ultra insert, the grip chart gives it a clear advantage.  As I mentioned earlier, I already had the '88 Donruss in my collection anyway.

Box -1  Hanger - 0

A couple of super short-term Cubs.

I don't have many cards of either guys; in fact, it's my third Jackson and only my second Cunnane.  Damian got a brief audition with the *shudders* infamous 2004 Cubs but was shipped off before the season came to a painful close.  Cunnane was stashed in the bullpen for 16 games in 2002.  Obviously, neither player was very significant to the club.

Cunnane gets the nod here though, mostly because it depicts him making his ML debut at Wrigley Field. 

Box -1  Hanger - 1

Next up, we have a HOFer and a player who put up some HOF numbers.

I don't need to describe the career arcs of either of these players; you certainly know all you need to know.

This Sandberg is new to my collection and Ryno was the first Cub that I declared to be my favorite.  that said, I have to give the edge to Sosa just for the novelty of seeing him in a White Sox uniform.

Plus, I have no love for the purple borders that Score utilized that year.

Box - 1  Hanger - 2

 Both re-packs offered something wonderfully garish as well.

The bright pink border on this '90 classic Alomar screams 90's. Sandy was on the coaching staff at  the beginning of the previous decade, so into the coaches binder it goes.

Bosley is sporting the so-ugly-they're-actually-awesome V-neck pullovers they wore in the late 70's.  It's too bad that the shorts that were briefly paired with them didn't last until 1980.  If they had, maybe Bosley would have been able to take down Sandy.

While, I don't care much for purple Score, I apparently get some enjoyment from Pink Classic.  I'm an enigma.

Box - 2  Hanger -2

Moving on, we have two pitchers who completely bombed on the North Side of Chicago.

Goose wasn't fooling many batters during his lone season in Cubbie Blue.  In 1988, he posted a 4.33 ERA as their closer in 46 games, with only 13 saves.

But, he has a Hall of Fame career to fall back on.  Plus, '85 Topps is one of my favorite sets of all-time (irrationally so, I know) and, like Bosley before, we get to see a awesomely ugly uniform.

Jose Guzman was one of the pitchers that GM Jim Frey signed with the money that should have been allocated to Greg Maddux.  Needless to say, he was no replacement.  He was out of baseball just 2 seasons later.

Goose gets the W here.

Box - 3  Hanger - 2

 These two were traded for each other straight-up in a change of scenery deal in January of 2012.

Though he was a major Crazy Train that finally went off the tracks at the end, he was still a part of 3 division championship teams, tossed the first Cubs no-hitter in 30+ years and was a steady workhorse for 10 seasons.

Volstad was the worst pitcher not named Edwin Jackson that I had ever seen.  In 21 starts, he posted a 6.31 ERA over 111 innings.  I don't think I really need to elaborate any more beyond that.

Thus, even though Big Z got ripped at some point, he still beats out Volstad.

Box - 4  Hanger - 2


There we have it - the victor is the box!

Cue the balloons, music, cake and clowns!

What? That wasn't in my budget?  Ah well, maybe if I'd gotten that 1-in-4 box with a "hit" in it, I'd have been able to pay for all that celebratory stuff.

But, that was about it for useful cards in the re-packs.  Although it wasn't very much and certainly nothing significant, it was still pretty fun to rip through them.

It always is.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Run with the Pack

I don't buy packs of cards very often.

After all, with my collection goal being what it is, the chances of me finding any cards that I need out of a solitary pack of modern product are slim to none.

I might find a card or two for my Cubs player collections, but I'd eat my hat if I found one for my CATRC - and I'm a pretty picky eater.

That said, I still enjoy opening packs and relish the wonder that takes over as you eagerly sift through the contents.  It's similar to scratching off a lottery ticket.

So, when I wandered into my LCS yesterday, I grabbed a couple packs of 2014 product to lighten my mid-week slump.

First up:

The most recent series to hit the streets.  From what I've seen of the checklist, there are no new names for my CATRC (yet), but I sure wouldn't mind pulling a Kris Bryant anything or a SP Addison Russell.

Sidenote - I can't wait 'til I can add Russell to my CATRC!

Plus, I'm not going to lie, I'd like to add a card of Manny Ramirez in Cubs garb to my collection, even if it's only Iowa.  He was surprisingly helpful to the prospects as a player-coach and seems to have turned his life around.

But, unsurprisingly, I wasn't that lucky.  Not a single Cub for that matter.

I was a huge NASCAR fan when I was in junior high and the first half of high school.  I still enjoy my fair share of auto racing, but my once-encyclopedic knowledge of the sport is no longer there (nor is my fairly large collection of racing cards, unfortunately).

But, I remember that Kannapolis honored their most famous son, Dale Earnhardt, by using his famous moniker as their team name after he purchased a share in their ownership.

I also remember that the very first race I sat and watched all the way through was the 2001 Daytona 500, the race in which Earnhardt died on the final lap.  That sticks with you.

There was also this neat insert of Rays prospect Mikie Mahtook, which documents the 2011 1st rounder's ascent to AAA.

Seems like he had a decent, but not mind blowing year - though apparently he went 5-5 in his debut, for what that's worth.

Plus, seeing that Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies of all-time, pulling a Bull is a welcome experience.

The best scene of a classic movie

The rest of the pack wasn't exciting for me at all.  If anyone wants these cards below (and above for that matter, I'm not really attached), just let me know!

Taillon was the only name I even recognized.  I admittedly don't pay much attention to prospects that aren't supposed to save our Cubbies.

Next up:

As I'm typing this, I'm realizing how hungry I am because a panini sounds absolutely delicious right now.

But, as for the cards, I decided to grab a pack of Golden Age because I adore that they include players from the ancient past of the game in their checklist.  Yea, you've got your Sandbergs and your Banks, but you also get guys like King Kelly.

Plus, the lack of logos doesn't hurt nearly as much with the super old-school uniforms either.

I want the King Kelly from this release because it lists him as a White Stocking/Cub and the Kelly in my collection depicts during his days in Boston.  When it comes to my CATRC, cards that list/depict the players as Cubs trump all.

Also, while I did mention that this set includes mainstay Ernie Banks, it adds an interesting wrinkle by showing him during his days with the Kansas City Monarchs.  

That's how you keep things fresh!

Unfortunately, there was only 1 card in the 6-pack that even caught my eye:

Dr. Pepper is my drink of choice, so it's pretty nifty that I found a card of it's creator nestled amongst the baseball cards.

But, while having a historical figure or athlete from a different sport thrown in here and there is more than ok with me, I'd still like for most of the pack to be baseball related.

Thus, this pack was greatly disappointing:

Four of the six were of the non-baseball variety.  

Also, this might be blasphemy, but I have no love for mini's.  Daresay, I might even just dislike them in general.  But, that's a separate post for another day.

As for the two "actual" baseball cards:

As I mentioned earlier, points to Panini for including oft-forgotten stars.  Unfortunately for me, they are players that hold no interest to me.

Like the Minor League Heritage cards, these are all readily available to anyone that wants them, including Dr. Pemberton.

All I need is an actual bottle of Dr. Pepper, but I guess those won't fit in packs of cards.
But, I did walk out of the shop with one Golden Age player for my collection:

I cheated though; Rabbit didn't come hopping out of the pack.  I threw this single in with my purchase at the last second for some loose change.

Rabbit was a Cub briefly in 1925 and even ascended to player-manager mid-season; however he was claimed on waivers during the offseason by Brooklyn.

All-told, he played an impressive 23 seasons in the bigs and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954.  It was on the strength of his glove, as his .258 batting average and 28 career HRs illustrate.

Maranville was already enshrined in my CATRC as well with a Conlon card; but, as much as I like that set, the basic design and black & white can get a bit monotonous.  I really like the color and layout of this set, so I swapped it in, seeing as I have so many other players represented by Conlon.

This rabbit was "bounced" out of my binder

And so, I was reminded of why I rarely buy individual packs of baseball cards.  It's simply not productive to my collection or a good deal.
I'll be damned if it ain't fun and a bit of a rush though.

That said, I don't think I'll be "running with the pack" again any time soon.

*P.S. - I caught these guys this summer on their joint tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd with low expectations and I pleasantly surprised, nay, shocked.  Paul Rodgers doesn't sound like he's aged a day since the 70's.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pop, Rock and Drop it

Yea, I've been gone for a few days.  I'm not going to lie, I haven't really felt like blogging.

Combine that with two concerts (Kongos and J. Roddy Walston... more on that later), craziness at work and rebooting a daily running routine and suddenly you realize you haven't posted in almost a week.

So, it took a little direct inspiration to get me to my keyboard today.  While sifting through my photos, I found some oddities.

Not a photo-bombing relative or anything like that; rather, I found a neat vintage oddball that I had yet to showcase and/or brag about on "Jenga."

Who doesn't love vintage?  Who doesn't love oddballs?  Together they make a winning combination:

I had never seen anything like this first one until it popped up on Ebay:

This bit of trivia was brought to you by Gad Fun Cards.

This multi-sport set was released in 1963 by an illustrator known as, you guessed it, Gad.  It appears to have been a regional release, originating from Minnesota.
The fronts all featured an illustration with a bit of trivia or an impressive statistic on the front.  Now you know that Chicago Colt/Cub catcher Pop Schriver thought 60ft, 6in was for pansies.

The backs either contained rules for an accompanying card game or something like this:

This baseball card is a mental exercise, both informing and teasing your brain!

How could I pass up this little rarity for $2, shipping included?

It now resides in my CATRC as the representative for Mr. Schriver, who's only other release comes from the Old Judge days.

As Wayne Campbell might say, "They will be mine. Oh yes.  They will be mine. (In my dreams)

One thing about this card though is that it shows cartoon Pop wearing a modern catcher's mitt.  

I'm sure the minute bits of historical accuracy weren't of great concern to Gad, but Pop (a Colt/Cub from 1890-94) played during the rough-and-tumble bare-handed days of baseball.  Mitts were for pansies.

No doubt, this left many a fielder with mangled hands - catchers especially, which I'm sure you can fathom why.

As a matter of fact, Schriver's hands were exceptionally repulsive.

In 1895, the New York Daily Herald's OP Caylor had the hands of several members of the New York Giants photographed.  Schriver - then a Giant - “takes first prize in a display of distorted joints His right hand... has lost much of its resemblance to the natural member.”

Well, if you're going to have mangled hands, you might as well have the most mangled.

The hand of Pop Schriver

Speaking of mangling things, let me take a minute to discuss part of the reason my posting schedule has been mangled recently:  rock and roll!

Last Thursday, courtesy of WKQX in Chicago, I won a couple of tickets to catch J. Roddy Walston & the Business at the Metro - just down the street from Wrigley.  

I'd only heard two songs by the group going into it, but it was a free show in Wrigleyville, so I wasn't about to turn that down.

Although their sound system was pretty crappy (at many points, it was more buzz and over-modulation than music), it was still a decent set.  I'd describe them as a more raw version of Kings of Leon - as if "Use Somebody" never happened.

Speaking of Kings of Leon, the opener on their current tour has been Kongos. This past Saturday, they broke away temporarily to headline their own show, also at the Metro.

I have raved about Kongos previously and they put on a lively, frenetic show.  After experiencing their blend of garage/hard rock with folk, reggae, rap and even electronic influences at Firefly Music Fest, I couldn't help but be drawn back for a second taste.

Anyone who says the rock is dead should attend one of their shows - they are so much more than their radio-smash "Come With Me Now," which I love as well.

So, in summation, rock and roll distracted me from posting and a super awesome vintage oddball made me come back.

While I might miss a day or two or six and my posting schedule may get mangled worse than Pop Schriver's hands, Wrigley Roster Jenga will never die - much like the rock and roll that served as my distraction.

I think I tied that all together pretty nicely there, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Minor Post

I haven't got much time to squeeze a post in today.  In fact, don't tell anybody, but I'm doing this on my office computer during work hours.

I'm a bad man.

So, I'm going to make this short and sweet so that I don't miss two days in a row and lapse into bad habits.

For this quick, minor post, here is a "minor" card that I picked up recently:

The Kurt Seibert era on the North Side of Chicago lasted for all of 7 games back in September of 1979.

The roster expansion call-up only saw 2 AB's in that time and went hitless in both of them with 1 K.  However, he did handle two chances at 2nd base flawlessly - so, he has that to hang his hat on.

Seibert was a 3rd round draft choice in 1976, continuing the long tradition of high-round busts for the Cubbies.  His minor league numbers were good, but not great and he was sent packing after that brief trial (likely given more as a thank you for being a good organizational guy than earned on merit).

Kurt enjoying his cuppacoffee, courtesy of

Minnesota gave him a shot on a minor league deal for the next two seasons, the stint from which this 1981 TCMA card dates from.  With the AAA Toledo Mud Hens, Kurt batted .256 and .237 in limited playing time before he decided to quit playing in the mud.

This card had been a high priority pick-up for me for a few of reasons:

  1. This is 1 of only 2 baseball cards for Mr. Seibert that I have discovered, both from TCMA. 
  2. The Toledo Mud Hens might be my favorite minor league team name of all-time.
  3. Singles from this release are pricey - usually around $9 w/o shipping on Ebay; Kurt is no exception.
So, when I saw this card pop up in a long-saved search for $1 with shipping included, I pounced with glee.  The chances of this card randomly showing up in a box at my LCS were slim to none and I wasn't about to pay the aforementioned prices listed on Ebay.

Patience is a virtue, I suppose. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Old as Moses Monday - "Death to Flying Things"

*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!*

That may very well be the greatest nickname ever bestowed upon a baseball player, nay, a professional athlete of all-time.

Who was the lucky SOB who earned that phenomenal alias?

Furthermore, how did he earn that phenomenal alias?  Was he a well-known threat to pigeons?

Well, it was none other than Bob Ferguson, a tough competitor from the earliest days of professional baseball.

The shortstop was so adept at snaring line drives at shortstop (in an era well-before gloves) that he was considered "Death to Flying Things" when he took the field.  It all makes sense now.

He begin his career in the old National Association and joined the National League upon it's founding in 1876.  He stayed through 1884.

With gambling lingering about as a constant temptation, Ferguson earned a reputation for being completely honest, with his passion for the game unrivaled.

But, he also had a bit of a temper.  Once, while serving as a temporary umpire in an NA game, he broke the arm of a player on the field with a bat during an argument.  Eat your heart out Jose Offerman.

Offerman going off his rocker

Bob spent one year, 1878, in Chicago as a player-manager - replacing Al Spalding as he ascended into the front office.  However, his tendency to scream and shout at his chargees on the field got him ran out of town after the mediocre 30-30, 4th place season.  Cap Anson seized that opportunity.

Obviously, Fergie here doesn't have many baseball cards issued today and the few that survive from his playing days would cost me my first born AND an arm to acquire.  So, what is this that you see before you?

Monarch Corona Printing is a company created by Allen Miller, Jr., a printer/designer and former sportswriter who produces small sets of baseball cards, often donated to benefits and fundraisers locally.

These sets usually have print runs of 200 or less.  There aren't a lot of these floating around.

His website states that he produces 2-10 cards every month, but it appears as though nothing new has come out since 2011.  Either that or he has a new URL that I am unaware of.

My new Ferguson comes from Miller's 2009 set of 16 cards, featuring mostly baseball players of yesteryear, plus Charley Pride & Johnny Unitas for some reason.

They all feature that wood-grain border, which evokes the designs of '62 and '87 Topps, type-written text, glossy finish and color photography.  Although, Bob's photo required some colorization and I'm not sure if Miller did that himself or not.

The original image used for the 2009 Monarch Corona card

The printing is top notch and the colors are vibrant.  Although, the aforementioned wood-grain borders make the Times New Roman font somewhat difficult to read.  

I personally would have chosen a different font, but that's just a minor complaint.

The back of this Monarch is also rather well-done:

As is true of all Monarch Corona cards, the player information is written in the present tense, as if the 1878 baseball season had just completed.  This is done to make the piece "more urgent and more interesting."

The layout is top notch and everything is easy to read.  Miller is obviously an ardent follower of KISS.

Not the band.  Well, he may be a soldier in the KISS army, I don't know; however, I was referring to the old graphic design refrain - Keep It Simple, Stupid!

KISS has an arena football team, why not baseball too?

In summation, I was happy to find this beauty for about a buck on Ebay.  A relatively rare oddball of a super old-school Cub without breaking the bank?  I'll take that any day.

Plus, after I discovered Bob's phenomenal nickname, I knew I had to have "Death to Flying Things" in my collection.

They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why Was That So Difficult?

Every one has that one card that they cannot find, try though they might.  Moby Dick, white whale and all that.

I have a few of these and I was delighted to finally see it show up in a box about a week ago at my LCS.  

The thing is, it really should not have been hard to locate at all.

This 1986 Donruss card of Johnny Abrego eluded me as if it were a numbered auto card of a superstar.

Why this is, I have no real explanation.

Yes, it is a rookie card.  But, I don't think prospectors of the late 80's even thought Abrego was worth hoarding.  The only reason he ever even appeared in the Majors was injuries.

When the entire starting pitching staff went on the DL that year (not an exaggeration, look it up if you don't believe me), Johnny went 1-1 with a 6.38 ERA in 6 appearances, 5 starts.  

Needless to say, his rookie card was not highly sought after.

It's not worth much now, but this would be an exciting pull at the time

Secondly, it's from a rather blah set.  I have yet to decide whether I like or hate the infinite parallel lines.  The broadcaster in me cringes as it was beat into my head to never, ever under any circumstances wear or use horizontal lines on a TV broadcast; it screws with the transmission.

But, my personal biases and irrelevant broadcast training aside, the set hails from the junk wax era and isn't the least bit hard to come across.  Complete sets sell for $25 these days.

Thirdly, it's not even a high-numbered card, not that it matters much with Donruss.  Abrego was given card #32 by Donruss, right near the beginning of the set.  What gives?

This is a high number (#549).  Johnny Abrego (#32) is not

To be fair, I found several listings for the individual card on Ebay, but all were priced over a dollar and none included free shipping.  All told, I'd be paying $3 or more for a common card from the junk wax era.  I can't justify that.

I might have saved myself a lot a trouble by making an order on Sportlots, but I could never find enough stuff I need from one seller to ship with Abrego in order to make it worth it.  Meanwhile, Just Commons never seems to have it in stock.  Poor me, right?


Anyway, I was finally able to track this one down at More Fun Sportscards, one of my LCS's.  Just a few days before I visited, the owner had made a large purchase of 1980's football and baseball cards from the various big-name brands.  

By large, I mean that there were boxes piled 3 or 4 feet high filled with binders and more boxes of cards spilling out.  I overheard him say to another long-time customer that he almost immediately regretted the purchase.

Well, selfish me was happy that he did, because there were several boxes of '86 Donruss ready to be picked through.  Abrego couldn't avoid me this time.

This place has been immeasurably helpful towards my CATRC
Check them out if you're in the area!

Sometimes you can't find a piece of junk wax that many people would just as soon use as a bookmark while you score an autographed card of Axl Rose in a random pack from the discount rack.

The card gods are funny beings.

I'm sure we all have this problem from time to time as well.  Anyone else care to share their "white whale" stories?

Just make them shorter than Moby Dick please.