Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesdays with Morrie

Don't worry; you might be having flashbacks to high school reading assignments reading a post title like that, but this has nothing to do with literary masterpieces by Mitch Albom.

Rather, this post is intended to shine the spotlight on a former Cubs pitcher who had a masterpiece of a run in Chicago - or, at least a pretty nice go of it anyway.

Morrie Steevens (yes, that is how his name is spelled) is the latest addition to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.


To the best of my knowledge, this lovely portrait from TCMA's 1978 nostalgia-based set "The 1960's" is Morrie's only solo appearance on a baseball card.  He shares a space on a multi-player rookie card from 1965 with Dave Bennett, but I prefer cards with only one subject.

The picture was obviously taken at dusk, which makes for some lighting not usually seen on baseball cards - I'm in favor of that.  But, is the a temporary batting cage, backstop or Pirate ship sail in the background?

I know I picked this up from one of my LCS in the last few weeks, but I cannot remember which one (good problem to have, right?) or the circumstances surrounding it.  I'm going to be a blast when I get old.

But, much has been written about the simple beauty of TCMA's releases from the decade of disco, so I'm very happy to have come across it - wherever that might have been.

Steevens, though he's shown here as a Phillie, initially rose through the Cubs system after being signed out of Salem, IL in 1958.  I guess you could call him a local boy, if you consider a 3-hour drive south local.

Morrie as a bright-eyed rookie, wearing the "correct" uniform
image courtesy of tnfoto at ootpdevelopments.com

Morrie got his initial call to the Bigs in 1962 on the strength of his blazing fastball and he certainly made the most of it.  He made 12 appearances, mostly out of the bullpen, split between April and September and was only scored upon in one contest.

However, like many a flame-thrower, he was a little wild - 11 walks in 15 frames with one hit batsmen - and was thusly returned to the minors to refine his control.  

While there, he managed to limit his walks but then ceased missing bats (an ERA near 5 in AAA) and soon found himself shipped to Philly in exchange for another minor-leaguer (who didn't make it).

Steevens earned a couple of more brief cameos in Philadelphia, but they didn't go nearly as well as his brief stint in Chicago, bottoming out with an era over 16 in 1965.  Plus, he got the pleasure of experiencing one of the most infamous collapses in baseball history in 1964, as his Phillies infamously blew the pennant in the last week of the season.

Bullpen issues are often blamed for the choke job, but Morrie only made it into 4 games, so you can't lay much blame on him.

After all that fun, he hung around for a few more years in the bush leagues, but was out of baseball by '67.

 Morrie wasn't the only future/former Cub on that infamous Phillies team - there were 13 total players, plus 2 future coaches and a GM!  The ex-Cub factor strikes again.

Morrie's story is a common one, a really common one at that.  It's too bad that he was never able to capitalize on his initial promise, but there wasn't a lot of success to be had with the Cubs of the early to mid-60's after all.

With that, we close this chapter with his addition to my CATRC - which I'm sure is the absolute highlight of his time spent in professional baseball.  Thanks to TCMA, he gets a spot of his own.

Now, I hope you payed attention while reading this post - there will be a quiz later!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Changing Clothes

Well, the last few days have been a whirlwind of emotion.

Actually, I guess that statement isn't exactly accurate, as the whirlwind was really just a hurricane of horrible - the only emotion I felt was frustration.

Thankfully, it looks like that figurative storm has passed, along with the actual bad weather that has been plaguing Chicago.  Sun and temps in the 50's has certainly helped my mood.

So, I'm back behind the keyboard to talk cardboard.  In order to ease myself back in, today's post won't require much brain-power on my part.

When it comes to my CATRC, a "Cubgrade" is when I can add a Cubs card of a particular player to my binder who had previously been represented in a different uniform.

Y'know, changing clothes, like so:

Arodys wasn't a Cub for very long and did not live up to the hype that he generated upon his acquisition at the trade deadline 2012 in the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson deal with the Braves.  The then-top prospect was coming off of Tommy John surgery and represented huge upside should he return healthy.

Unfortunately, he had a few setbacks, was limited to the bullpen and was not able to make it back to the Bigs until September of last year and had been surpassed by several players on the depth chart.  Thus, he was dealt back to whence he came in return for Tommy LaSTELLLLLLAAAAAA!!!!!!

I was lucky enough to land this purple parallel on Listia for less than 100 points.  Score!

(well, uh, Bowman actually. *rimshot*)

Michael Tucker was a MLB journeyman who called Chicago home for one season - 2001.  Like Arodys, he was a mid-season reinforcement, coming in a July trade from the Reds.  However, this time around, the Cubs were actually in the thick of the pennant race.

The outfielder was actually fairly adequate.  He batted .263 in the course of 235 PA's and was worth 1.2 WAR; so, we won't blame the 2001 Cubbie Collapse on Tucker.  After the Cubs choked away the NL Central in the final half of the season, they jettisoned Michael to the Royals for no one of consequence.

Sidenote - I've always appreciated minor league cards for the unfamiliar uniforms, so cards that depict high school teams are even more fascinating!

Todd was a late-inning reliever who had one good year, 1975, where he posted a 2.29 ERA in 122 innings with 12 saves.  Unfortunately, it wasn't with the Cubs.

His Cubs career was much uglier, with an ERA above 9 in just over 30 frames in 1977.

So, maybe we can blame the Cubbie Collapse of 1977 on Todd?  Well, amongst others as well anyway.

Regardless, I'm happy to add him to my CATRC in the proper uniform, even if the sleeve on said uniform has seen better days.

Ah, another 2001 Cub.  Although, this guy was the original edition of Carlos Zambrano.  I mean, not even Big Z was suspended for starting a bench-clearing brawl in a Spring Training game against the Giants!  

Stemming from that, Tavarez attacked the people of San Francisco later that year after being booed enthusiastically. This earned him a nice fine from the Cubs and an order into sensitivity classes by Bud Selig.

It's no coincidence that he played through 11 teams during his 17-year, MLB career.  

Luckily, that '52 Topps design will make any player look good.

"Cool Breeze" blew Chicago pretty quickly back in 1978.  In fact, he blew through a lot of towns over the course of his MLB tenure, being involved in 5 trades in just 8 years.

One in a long, long, loooooong line of third basemen who tried to fill Ron Santo's shoes, Scott lasted only 78 games before being shipped on down the line.  This was likely due to his problems with manager Herman Franks, with whom there was allegedly physical altercation.

Between he and Mr. Tavarez, there's an awful lot of anger in this particular post.

I've always had an affinity for 1978 Topps - it's a no frills design with the old umbrella logo that goes really well the the Cubs color scheme.  Bonus points for the excellent Wrigley Field photo too!

Ah, speaking of anger, in the wake of Bryant, Baez and Russell being sent back to minor league camp, let's examine another top prospect from the Cubs organization in the days of yore.

Unlike the Gary Scotts or Felix Pies, Phil proved useful to the Cubs - as trade fodder.  He was packaged with Calvin Schiraldi and future Sox broadcaster Darrin Jackson in 1989 for playoff-run reinforcements Luis Salazar and Marvell Wynne.

Meanwhile, I really wish Topps would revisit a subset based on players who debuted in the Majors again.  It's be an excellent opportunity to see some fresh faces on cardboard.

I love cards that feature defunct teams and I love these 1974 Topps with the large "traded" stamp (so very 70's). What a dilemma!

Pina was a late-inning fire-baller who had a pretty good career, though, his time on the Cubs was brief.   

The transaction celebrated here brought him to the north side in exchange for Bob Locker; he was only around for 34 games and 47.1 innings before being forwarded to the Angels for local hero Rick Stelmaszek that July.

His best success came in the Mexican League after his time in Chicago. Pina threw a no-hitter in 1975, posted a 21–4 record with a 1.94 ERA and pitched a perfect game in 1978 and gained induction in their Hall of Fame in 1988.

And, saving the best for last....

The very first card issued of our savior Jon Lester in his proper robes!*

This hobby shop exclusive beat his Heritage card to the market by just a few weeks.  It's a beauty too - I love the Cactus League motif in the background and I'm a sucker for all things color coordinated and shiny.

Plus, the Photoshopping isn't even particularly noticeable.  Maybe it's because I've taken several courses on the program, but subtlety seems pretty rare these days.

I've always had a thing for the Spring Fever set, but this is the first one I've been able to add to my collection.

* - excluding his Topps Bunt "card;" call me old school, but if I can't hold it, it ain't a card!

The new golden boy literally changing his clothes
image courtesy of hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

On that note, I'm going to call it a day.  I could use a nice positive spot to end on.

Although, it does always make me happy to add new cards to my CATRC, especially when they depict the best uniform in baseball!

Here's hoping that Lester and Cubs find a way to bring happiness to all of Chicago this season.  If not, I might slip into another mini-blogging slump or two and I don't know if anyone could handle that!

Ok, by anyone, I really just mean myself... and maybe my cat.

Hey - that works two ways!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stroke the Furry Wall

Because that's what you do when life slips you a Jeffrey.

Quick - name that flick!

The Jeffrey that life (or rather Ebay) slipped me yesterday afternoon was of the Beliveau variety.

A Cubs relief-prospect who was on the shuttle between Des Moines and Chicago throughout 2012, thus keeping him from finding his niche (4.58 ERA in 17.2 frames) and burning up his options prematurely. This lead to his unecessary DFA that offseason.

That development proved to be unfortunate, as Jeffrey emerged as a strong component of the Tampa Bay bullpen last season, posting a 2.63 ERA in 30 games.

But we snapped Joe Maddon up from under their noses and the bullpen has actually been one of the strongest and most well-stocked aspects of this team lately - so, we win!

He's ours Tampa!

This mugshot of a baseball card comes from Jeffrey's minor league days, 2011 to be specific. You'll notice that the 18th rd. draft choice from 2008 is listed as a member of the High-A Daytona Cubs, but the uniform he is sporting clearly does not match up. He's actually wearing a Tennessee Smokies uni, AA affiliate of the Cubs.

I find this somewhat goofy, seeing as he never tossed another pitch in Daytona after his call up to the Volunteer State mid-way through 2011. That said, I can see why Daytona would have wanted to document his time spent there in their team-issued set of cards - 0.52 ERA in 17 innings with 2 saves. His performance continued right on up to AA, were he posted a 1.89 ERA in 57 innings. You can see why he became a prospect, despite his draft status.

You win some, you lose some

Courtesy of Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America

So, even though it wasn't for Chicago, it's nice to see that Jeff may have finally solidified his spot in the Major Leagues. What's not nice is my record keeping.

You see, I thought I still needed a Jeffrey card to place into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection. So, when I saw this card listed for about $1 with shipping included on Ebay, I pounced, seeing as minor league singles are generally tough to come by at a decent price.

Well, it turns out that I was wrong. In fact, not only did I have a card representing Beliveau in my CATRC, I had one that was graciously bestowed upon me by P-Town Tom of Waiting 'til Next Year fame.

This one even looks more like a baseball card than a mugshot. Doh!

C'iest la vie. There much, much, much bigger problems in the world that I could be having to deal with right now. So, I'll just add this to my greater Cubs card collection and smile.

Unlike Jeffrey - he looks like he's been too busy stroking furry walls to smile.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Congratulations - It's Tripletts!

Don't worry, I haven't become a parent.  Lord knows I can barely take care of myself and a cat at this point in my life.  Plus, children seem to have a natural distaste for me anyway.

Rather, the "Tripletts" alluded to in the title of this post are actually a reference that works two-fold.  First, I recently acquired a new to my collection, set of three oddball cards.  Second, one of the players featured in said set is one Coaker Triplett.

See?  It's all coming together now!

Yes, it's a Cardinals set.  No, this Cubs fan hasn't lost his mind - two of the subjects were also Cubs during their careers.  In fact, Coaker is actually another name I can now scratch off of the want list for my CATRC!

Yesterday, spotlighted a set of cards by one of the undisputed kings of pre-junk wax era oddballs, Larry Fritsch.  Today, that spotlights swivels over to another even more powerful force:  TCMA.

The no-frills set honors the Cards of 1942-46.  Why that particular span, you ask?  Well, they managed to make it to the World Series in 4 out of the 5 years, winning 3!  That's quite the run, isn't it?  Even this Cubs fan has to (begrudgingly) show respect.

Mr. Triplett was a spare outfielder from 1941-42 and 9 games of '43 for St. Louis and he did a pretty good job of that, batting .266 over across 149 games.  However, with names like Slaughter and Musial populating the outfield, he never got a lot of playing time or an appearance in the World Series.  

 It's hard to get reps when these guys are ahead of you on the depth chart!

He was traded to the Phillies in 1943 and hung around the league for another two seasons in the same sort of role.

But, more importantly, before all that he was part of another World Series bound team:  the 1938 Cubs.

He made the Opening Day roster as a starter during his lone year in Chicago and got off to a torrid start with 9 hits in his first 14 at-bats.  However, he soon cooled off and lost his starting role by May.  Before May was even half way through, he lost his roster spot entirely.

He went back to the minors and at some point was acquired by the Cardinals, though BBref doesn't know when.  It wasn't until the Cardinals run of dominance that he resurfaced in the Majors.

Now, obviously the card on the left in a '72 Topps and not a TCMA piece; it was Harry's prior representation in my CATRC binder.  Now, since this TCMA set provided a card depicting Harry's playing days, it has been replaced.

Nothing against that card, mind you - I love '72 acid dream-like design.  I just prefer to have players represented in my collection with player cards.  Blah, blah, OCD.

"Harry the Hat" was another reason that Triplett never saw much action.  The 2x All Star roamed the outfield for all of the Cardinals' World Series appearances in that span, except for 1944 when he was serving in the military.

Since it was the franchise's modus operandi of the day, the Cubs brought the veteran into their fold in 1949, after the years of playing and serving our country had rendered him a shell of his former self.  They traded another aging slugger, Swish Nicholson, for 42 games of his services.

It worked out alright though, before the year was up, the Cubs were able to flip "The Hat's"
.264 BA to Cincy for 2/3 of their starting outfield for almost the next decade:  Frankie Baumholtz and Hank "The Mayor of Wrigley Field" Sauer.

Theo Epstein would be proud.

The third card in this set is up for grabs since Terry Moore never had anything to do with the Cubs organization.  Is there a Cardinals collector who would like to claim this oddity?

This career Cardinal was another key component in the outfield for that juggernaut team.  The 4x All Star might have been destined for Cooperstown if not for his service in the Armed Forces.

Nothing against the man, I just don't have a use for this card in my collection and I would hate to see it gather dust as a result of my disinterest.

Speaking of disinterest, it's probably about time that I wrap this post up.

All in all, though the design is rather basic on these cards, I'm quite ok with it.  For one, the limits on printing technology at the time for a company like TCMA would have kept them from doing anything fancy.

For two, I feel as though retrospective sets featuring golden-era ball players should be minimalist in nature.  Flashy colors, chrome finishes and random geometric patterns wouldn't really go with the mood of the set.  Basic designs are more in-line with the times of the subjects.

But, that's just me and I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life.

Hopefully not about becoming a parent any time soon. Yikes!

Monday, March 23, 2015

You're All Winners to Me

Don't worry, this blog hasn't devolved into an annoying after-school special where every person is a unique little snowflake and there isn't anything negative thing in the world that can't be fixed with happiness and teamwork.

It's done plenty of devolving, but I haven't dropped to that point yet.

No, this post is about a set of cards that was published a few times over in the late 70's/early 80's that has proven to be extremely helpful towards my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection:  the late Larry Fritsch's "One-Year Winners."

They are fairly difficult to come across in brick and mortar stores, as is the case with most of such releases.  Therefore, I was ecstatic when I found a whole stack of them in my LCS not so long ago:

First put out in 1977, a set exemplified by the two cards you see above, a new set came out every 2 or 3 years through 1983.  Fritsch, who along with TCMA, was one of the undisputed kings of oddball cards in the pre-junk wax era.

His goal with this set was to shine the spotlight on players who only played in the bigs for a single season and were thus likely never to experience the joy of seeing their mug on a baseball card.

Without his noble cause, it would have been damn near impossible to cross Brinkopf and Thorpe off of my list.  For instance, Leon only got into 9 games way back in 1952 and the shortstop batted just .182 in 26 ABs.  Bowman wasn't rushing to get him in their set - no one was - as far as I can tell, this is the only baseball card that was ever produced with his likeness.  The Cubs were okay without him though; the next year, some fellow named Banks came up and did pretty well at short for the next few years.

Not to be confused with the player of the same name who made a three-year cameo in the majors a few years earlier, Thorpe's only big league action came in 1955 and lasted for a whopping 3 innings across 2 games.

It got ugly from there.  Bob was driven from the game by a sore arm and elbow surgery by the end of 1959.  Less than a year after his retirement from baseball, Thorpe was working as an apprentice electrician on power lines in his native city of San Diego, when he was accidentally electrocuted at the age of 24.

Just finding a picture of Bob in a MLB uniform had to be challenge, let alone a baseball card.

The next edition of Fritsch's "One-Year Winners" came out in 1979 and Mr. Eaddy here was the only example of which I was able to add to my collection.

In researching Don for this post, I know find that he almost could have been spotlighted along with Tim Stoddard, Kenny Lofton & co. in my post on Saturday about players who both starred on the hardwood in March Madness and played for the Cubs.

The versatile athlete was a three-sport star for the Michigan Wolverines - halfback in football, guard in basketball and third baseman in baseball.

His hoop skills were legitimate, having been selected as an All-Big Ten Conference player. Unfortunately, the Wolverines did not make the NCAA tournament during his college days.

Having ultimately decided to pursue his baseball career, he signed with the Cubs in 1955.  His reasoning for signing with Chicago?  "I thought I would have a better chance to reach the major leagues sooner with them, because they are not loaded with material."  Harsh, true, but harsh.

Unfortunately for him, he was soon drafted into the Air Force in 1956 and had to put his MLB dreams on hold until 1959.

When he finally ascended to the Majors that year, Eaddy was able to make it into 15 games.  The catch being that they were all as a pinch-runner except for a single at-bat, in which, he struck out.

Thus ended what could have a promising career.

Now, we fast-forward to 1983 to examine the third and final set.  As you can see, the design drew it's inspiration from the very set that this year's Heritage is aping:  1966 Topps.

Elder was in fact White's given name but it also proved fitting in that he was 28 years old by the time he reached the top rung in 1962.  It was easy to get lost in the shuffle with the Cubs and their ludicrous College of Coaches experiment that was going on at the time.  However, the middle infielder did not help his cause by batting .151 in 64 PA's.

His career in the minors was much more successful and 12x longer as well.

Lary actually managed to sneak onto an MLB roster in two separate year, but those two years were VERY separate.

The pitcher got into a single game during the 1955 season and turned in a quality start - going 6 innings with 2 ER.  Despite that, Al wouldn't get the call again until 1962, when he saw action in 15 games, mostly out of the bullpen.  The fact that he posted a 7.15 ERA in the span assured that he wouldn't get a third year in the bigs.

All told, having signed with the Cubs in 1951 and retiring from baseball in 1964, Lary spent 14 years in the organization and only played in 16 MLB games - talk about gutting it out!

Don Prince was really more of a frog - and that was really more-so for his exploits after baseball.

After all, he really didn't have time to do anything significant in the majors.  His career lasted but a single inning in 1962.  He walked a Met and hit the second man up before eventually settling down and retiring the side.

But many years later, in 1996, Prince was arrested by two undercover policemen in South Carolina.  The crime?  Murder for hire!  Turns out that sometime after he quit baseball, he decided that being a hitman was his true calling.  He got 17 years in the big-house, which means he was only just released a couple of years ago.  Watch your backs, folks!

Gregory is a far less interesting case.  the hurler made the big time in 1964 and managed to stick around for 11 games out of the bullpen.  He posted an ERA of 3.50 in 18 innings without factoring in a decision.  Not too bad, right?

The Cubs must have liked his bat too.  He was used as a pinch-hitter 13 times, but he only managed one hit.  He even played some outfield in the minors that year, likely as a means of extending his career and usefulness to the franchise.  Sadly, it wasn't enough and this Brooks Kieschnick prototype was out of baseball by 1965.

Perhaps Prince was the one who killed his career?

The last card that I added to my collection was that of George Gerberman.

In September of 1962, George was a promising young prospect in his second year, just drafted out of the Braves organization.  He was lucky enough to get that ever-elusive call to the show and was thrust into the spotlight.

He didn't do too badly either.  In his lone appearance, a start against the lowly Mets, George went 5.1 innings and only allowed three hits with one ER.  He was a little wild though, allowing five walks before being relieved by Freddie Burdette.

Even so, that was to be his only chance to shine on a Major League diamond.  Gerberman kept on trying though; pitching in the minors through the 1968 season with varying levels of success.

As you can plainly see, this set has already proven fruitful for my CATRC and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  There are several other players who have popped up in the various editions of this set that would cross off targets on my want-list who would otherwise be impossible.

So, thank you Larry Fritsch for your contributions to the baseball card world.  It is sets like your "One-Year Winners" and the like that break up the monotony of the Topps-dominated world.

Diverse subjects make for more interesting sets, in my opinion.  I'd rather find a card of Don Eaddy or Elder White than a millionth one of Ryne Sandberg any day.

That said, I still love my Sandbergs - I'm kind of a hypocrite too.

I know I said that this post wouldn't devolve into an after-school show where I gab on about how everyone is unique and special, but Fritsch and his cards were definitely so.

Good luck getting that out of your head; I've been trying for 20 years!


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday, (No) Fun Day

The man that I'm about to profile would certainly not approve of the "Sunday, Funday" drinking phenomon amongst today's youths.  In fact, he would not approve of drinking alcohol on any day of the week.

Who is this humbug, you ask?  Well, he shares his last name with this day of the week:

That's right, the famous evangelist, orator and prohibition-pusher was a Major League Baseball player in his youth.  He was a pretty decent one too.

The unique card you see above was made to honor Sunday by one Dave Stewart; no, not the current Arizona GM.  This Stewart was a disabled Vietnam Veteran who, in the 80's and early 90's, created a series of unique baseball card of obscure subjects like Sunday, Kurt Russell and even Abe Lincoln in their baseball-playing days.  He'd give these cards out in exchange for donations, presumptively to pay for living expenses and the cost of printing these professionally done, glossy cards.

Unfortunately, no one knows what became of Mr. Stewart.  All that remains are his fascinating, odd ball creations.

Nope, wrong Dave Stewart

As for the subject of his entry into my collection, we know exactly what became of him.

The Iowa native was born into poverty and even spent some years in an orphan's home before his blazing speed afforded him an opportunity with Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings in 1883.

Used as an extra outfielder for most of his career, he stole 246 bases (that we know of - records weren't kept before 1886) over the course of his 8 year career, including a whopping 84 in 1890.  It's a good thing he was so fast, because his bat was mediocre at best with a career .248 mark.

But, it was the wild and crazy lives of his teammates which eventually pushed him away from baseball and into the church, especially the exploits of King Kelly, who's spot in the outfield Billy would take when King caught.

 A couple of original Goodwin Sundays that I definitely do no own.

The Stockings played hard and drank harder and were known to basically live on Rush Street.  It was during one of these drunken escapades in 1886 or 87 when Billy and the boys were stopped by a gospel preaching team.  Inspired, Sunday soon adopted Christianity and denounced drinking, swearing & gambling.

It was soon thereafter that Billy was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenies (who's uniform he is sporting in the card you see above) in 1890.  Was it a result of his new-found sobriety and faith? That answer has been lost to time.

After a few successful seasons in Pittsburgh and one in Philadelphia, Sunday decided that his time devoted to baseball would be better spent devoted to God and he walked away from the game at the age of 27.

From that point forward, he became one of the most fiery and dramatic orators of his time, holding evangelical revivals all across the country, drawing audiences of thousands.  In particular, he held great power in Chicago - maybe a result of his time with Anson's NL ballclub?

One of his favorite causes was prohibition and he is often credited as being one of the main reasons that the infamous 18th amendment was  ratified in 1919.

We all know how that turned out, but it wasn't for lack of effort on Sunday's part.

Through all of this, Billy never lost his love for the American Pastime.  He often umpired minor league ball games in towns that he held revivals in, attended MLB contests whenever he could, including a game of the 1935 World Series just two months before he died and made appearances in old-timers games.

Which, despite how wonderful the Stewart oddball above is, it's a card that depicts Sunday at one of these old-fogey contests that represents his Cubs tenure in my CATRC:

The reason that this 2013 Panini Golden Age card (inspired by the DeLong Gum Co. set) supplanted the Stewart is because it officially lists him as a member of the Cubs - well, Chicago anyway.  A cubs card always trumps a Pirates card!

Also, let's take a moment to appreciate Panini.  Though they may lack an official license and their logo-less cards sometimes turn out awkward and weird, they sure do put forth some effort.

After all, do you really think Topps would bother to include subjects like Sunday in their sets?  No, they'd much rather play it safe and easy with several new Banks, Sandbergs, Williams, etc. every year.  This would require too much research and to actually go out on a limb for once.

That frustration aside, I felt that Sunday would be the perfect day to show off my two-card deep Sunday player collection - the fact that he played well more than a hundred years ago really limits the cardboard options for him. 

We'll close things out with a song - a song that name checks our subject and his effort to end drinking. It was the first time I ever heard his name, long before I realized he was a baseball player.

Ladies and gentlemen, here's Ol' Blue Eyes himself and his little ode to Chicago - the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's Madness, I Tell You!

So, the sports world is currently being consumed with Madness, March Madness that is.  The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is all anyone seems to want to talk about.

I've never been one to get into college sports, so this excitement is lost on me.  Maybe it's because I don't feel any loyalty for schools which I never went to and my alma mater competes in the NAIA.

But, that doesn't mean there isn't any aspect of the tournament and it's history that intrigues me.  I heard a snippet about this topic on the radio the other day and it drew me in quickly.

There have been only two players in history who have competed in the Final Four and also a World Series.  Plus, they just so happen to have played for the Cubs (not in the World Series though *sigh*)

Kenny Lofton was both a well-traveled MLB speedster AND a backup point guard on the University of Arizona Wildcats.

In fact, for his first two years in college, his primary sport was basketball - he didn't go out for baseball until his junior season.

In 1988, he backed up Craig McMillan and future Bulls star Steve Kerr as the Wildcats made it to the Final Four, before being bounced by Oklahoma in the semi-finals, 86-78.

So close - almost as painfully close as being the center fielder for a Cubs team that was 5 outs from the World Series...

*Happy thoughts, happy thoughts!*

But, who is this other man who was lucky enough to play in both national spotlights?

Ah, a member of another Cubs team that came painfully close to ending the most infamous streak in sports.

But, no matter, though he didn't make it to the World Series with the Cubs in 1984, he got his ring the year before with the World Champ Orioles.

Not only that, he was the starting point guard for the North Carolina State Wolfpack squad that went 30-1 on their way to winning the national title and breaking UCLA's seven-year run on top.

Thus, Tim Stoddard is the only man in sports history to both win a NCAA Division I basketball championship AND a World Series ring.

What a bad-ass athlete!

Now, both of these men are local boys and hail from East Chicago, IN.  So, to tie it all together with a nice big bow, both Tim Stoddard and Kenny Lofton attended and played basketball for East Chicago Washington High School.

There must be something in the water out there!  I mean, besides all the pollutants from the oil refineries and such.

While no other multi-sport star has been able to reach the championship level of both arenas, there have been several others who have competed in both March Madness and then later made it to the MLB.

By my count, two of them played for the Cubbies as well:

At Loyola Marymount, Terrell Lowery made it to the Elite 8 in 1990 as a guard.  As a Cub, he hit .241 in 33 games from 1997-98.  After brief stops with the Rays and Giants, he washed out of baseball by 2000.  I would say that his basketball experience was probably much more memorable.

More memorable both because of his team's success and because he was the person who fed the allyoop to Hank Gathers moments before his tragic death on the court that same year in the regular season WCC tournament.

I didn't say it had to be memorable for entirely good reasons, now did I?

Finally, we have Steve Hamilton.  He was both the forward for the Morehead State University Eagles when they competed in the 1956 & 57 NCAA tournaments and a long-time member of the Yankees pitching staff before wrapping up his career with the Cubs in 1972.

He later came back to Morehead after his baseball career ended to become their baseball coach and, later, their Athletic Director from 1987-97.

However, the picture that you see of Hamilton does not depict him in an Eagles uniform (I could not find that); no, it shows him in Lakers yellow!  You see, Hamilton was the second person to play in both professional basketball and in the MLB.

The first? ANOTHER Cub - The Rifleman himself, Mr. Chuck Connors, who played for the Boston Celtics in the old National Basketball League.

Baseball, Basketball, acting... was there anything this man couldn't do?

From 1958 to 1960, Hamilton was a power forward/center for the then Minneapolis Lakers.  Over 2 seasons he averaged 4.5 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, and 0.5 assists per game before he decided to pursue his baseball aspirations.

Seeing as he played for the team that lost to the Boston Celtics during the 1959 NBA Finals and he pitched for the Yankees in their 1963-64 World Series losses, Steve is (as far as I can tell) the only man to appear in the championships of both professional leagues, albeit in losing efforts.

 Eat your heart out MJ!
(I wish I hadn't lost this card - image courtesy of tradingcarddb.com)

So, though I might not give much of a damn who wins which school comes is crowned the NCAA champions this March, but that doesn't mean I can't find something interesting about the tournament.

Seeing as it takes a truly special athlete to reach the top levels of any sport, it's not all that surprising that there is some crossover at lower levels.  After all, there are several others who have competed in both the MLB and the NCAA tourney; however, they weren't Cubs so I don't care nearly as much!

That said, here's hoping that the end of March comes quickly and that baseball will soon reign supreme in sports conversation.

I can't take much more talk about Kentucky...