"Strange things are afoot in the Circle-K..."
Name that movie!
In the meantime, while strange things might have been afoot at that particular retail storefront, there was a full-fledged Showdown going on at my local K-Mart.
An MLB Showdown that is.
During my first trip to a K-Mart in maybe 10 years on a quest to find Sodastream accessories, I couldn't help but stop and peruse their card selection. After all, the last time I was in K-Mart, Sammy Sosa was still the most beloved Cub of all-time.
How appropriate it was then that I should find a surprisingly robust selection of clearance cardboard from that era.
There were several "starter sets" of the Wizards of the Coast-produced MLB Showdown sitting on the bottom shelf, sitting there forgotten for more than a decade.
Several of these cards have filtered through my collection in recent years, but I have no recollection of it's existence at the time. I was probably too focused on my Pokemon card collection at that time; another Wizard of the Coast card game at that.
So, a never before seen box of oddball product + a $1.99 price tag = leaving the store with two of these puppies.
Two of these puppies and some Sodastream Redbull knockoff. However, that's none of your concern.
Like I said, I had never heard of this product when it was released. I know that new series of cards ran from 2000 - 2005 and that the cards were used to play a sort of baseball-Pokemon hybrid card game. But, that's the extent of my knowledge.
Each starter set came with what you see above: a game mat, a rule book and card, a 20-sided die, a pack of strategy cards and most importantly, a set of 9 cards for both the AL and NL to get you going.
How does one play MLB Showdown? Let's ask Wikipedia:
"MLB Showdown simulates baseball through a card game, with heavy randomness. It involves a 20-sided die and cards made specifically for the game. These cards were available in booster packs, a staple of collectible card games, as well as starter games and draft packs. There are two types of cards: player cards (current and former Major League players) and strategy cards (actions that can add to or subtract from die rolls, change results, draw extra cards, etc.)
The outcome of an at-bat largely depends on the player cards. The player whose pitcher is pitching that turn rolls a die to determine whether the batting player rolls on the pitcher's chart or the batter's chart. Each of the two charts has a list of possible results from the at-bat."
Now, maybe someday I'll actually learn to play this, in fact, there is supposed to be some heavy rain over the next few days that'll likely keep me indoors and bored. However, seeing as I'll never have anyone to play it with, I'm really only interested in the cards.
That said, I'm hanging on to this stuff, just in case.
But, let's take a look at what players I was given to start off with.
It says right on the back of the boxes that each starter kit comes with a special shiny Greg Maddux and David Cone.
A shiny new Mad Dog might get me to drop $1.99 by itself. As for the "Conehead," it's readily available for trade if anyone would like it.
Let's see what else came out of these boxes for addition to my Cubs player collections:
First up, a couple of key complimentary pieces for the 2003 NL Central Division champs. Y'know, the team that broke our Chicago hearts by collapsing 6 outs away from the World Series...
Goodwin hit .287 off the bench that season and had a key 2 RBI double against the Braves in the Division series while Remlinger was a key piece of the bullpen.
That season provided many good memories and really sealed my allegiance to the Cubs. So, I look back at names like Goodwin and Remlinger with fondness, even though they stayed in Chicago past their expiration dates.
Next up, we have a couple of guys who transitioned to the booth after their respective careers.
Coomer spent one lone season in Chicago as a stop-gap replacement for Mark Grace in 2001. That club nearly made the playoffs, before a very Cub-like collapse in the second half. Coomer, for his part, hit .261 with 8 HR in 111 games before ceding to "Crime Dog" McGriff after the trade deadline.
Plesac spent two seasons coming out of the Cub bullpen in 1993-94. A 3x Allstar in Milwaukee, Dan disappointingly posted mediocre-at-best numbers (4.68 ERA in 117.1 IP) and was allowed to walk after the '94 season.
Now you can find Coomer on WGN (well, WBBM starting next season) radio calling Cubs games with Pat Hughes. Plesac covered the pre and post-game shows for Comcast Sports Net here in Chicago from 2005-08 before moving on to the MLB Network.
Here are a couple of Athletics with Cubbie ties.
Traded by Oakland to Chicago for a failed prospect, Matt Stairs was Ron Coomer's teammate with the 2001 Cubs. He split time at first with Coomer and saw some time in the outfield. The journeyman posted a .250 BA with 17 HRs over 128 games that season before packing his suitcase and heading for Milwaukee.
All told, he played for 13 teams in 19 seasons. The man was a tumbleweed!
Grieve, the 2002 AL ROY, came to the Cubs as an extra outfielder for the ill-fated pennant race of 2004. His star had fallen by that point and he was purely a bench player; but he did sear himself in my memory.
While chasing a fly ball in rightfield, he crashed into the ivy-covered brick wall - likely very unfamiliar with his new homefield. The impact shattered his sunglasses, resulting in:
Ouch. I'm a touch squeamish, so I probably will never forget this incident.
Meanwhile, happy thoughts, here are a couple of Cubs from different playoff squads.
Jose manned third base for the Cubs after uber-prospect Kevin Orie busted during the 1998 Wild Card/Sammy Sosa season. He previously had been their utility infielder since 1994.
He later came back for a second tour of duty in 2003 to play third base, but he was quickly flipped to Pittsburgh in the Aramis Ramirez deal.
Henry Blanco, or "Hank White" as he was affectionately dubbed by Bob Brenly was signed by the Cubs going into the 2005 season. As the backup backstop (say that 5x fast) he stuck around through 2008 and was part of back-to-back Central Division titles in 2007-08.
He must have liked Chicago because his batting average here (.255) was over 30 points better than for his career (.223).
The last Cub to fall out of the boxes was this guy.
Franco was the first in a series of supposed successors to Mark Grace's throne. Thought to be a hitter of the same mold (good average, lots of hits, low power), he debuted in 1995 for the Cubs.
In 16 games, he performed decently, hitting .294 in 17 at-bats, though with only 1 XBH. Concerned, the Cubs traded him to the Mets in the offseason for no one of significance. He played fairly regularly for New York over the next few seasons before wrapping up his career on the Atlanta bench. In fact, his last MLB swings came against the Cubs in the '02 NLDS.
However, the most interesting tidbit about Franco has nothing to do with his baseball career and everything to do with his bloodline. See, his uncle is former minor leaguer and B-movie god Kurt Russell.
Kurt played 2nd base in the minors and Snake Plissken in post-apocalyptic New York
Thus concludes my PC additions. Not too bad for a last-minute purchase of some thoroughly dated product at little used store for less than I'd spend on a sandwich.
MLB Showdown proves one thing to me: people never really care about card games associated with baseball cards. It seems inevitable that they are soon treated as standard baseball cards and their games are easily forgotten.
Classic, MLB Showdown, various playing card decks and even the old Milton Bradley releases.
I guess we just want our baseball cards. If we want a game, we'll play/watch the National Pastime instead.
Am I wrong?