Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Color of Money

Don't worry - I haven't given up my collection of Cubs cards to go and pursue a career as a pool shark.  The only kind of "pool" I can handle involves water wings and a nose plug, after all.

Nor have I decided to start an accumulation of billiard trading cards; I'm pretty sure such things do not exist.  Although, there is a national billiards champion in my CATRC.  Can you guess who?  Scroll to the bottom of the post for the answer.

No no no.  Recently I came across a large cache of 1995 Conlon collection.  This set is significant for a few reasons:  A)  It was the last Conlon set released.  B)  It was intended to be released in two series; but, only one got out before the strike sounded the set's death bell.  C)  It has GREEN borders and gold foil!

Even Conlon was starting to fall victim to the 90's fad of random colors and unnecessary foil.  Though, I must admit, the forest green does mesh quite well with Charles Conlon's crisp black & white photography.

This set doesn't bubble up very often, in fact, this was the first time I had seen them in a brick & mortar store.  Even better, the binder in which I uncovered these forgotten beauties included several new Cubbies for my All-Time collection - such as the Raffensberger you see above.

The long-time starter spent a couple of years in Wrigley (1940-41) before moving on to "green"er pastures in Cincinnati.

A couple of outfielders were also added to my CATRC.  Tuck played for 13 seasons as a spare outfielder for 7 teams, one of which was the Cubs from 1934-37.  The two highlights of his time in Chicago were starting a benches-clearing brawl in the 1935 World Series by getting lippy with an umpire and being traded to the Cardinals for Dizzy Dean.

The Leiber (no relation to Jon) on the right belongs to one of the Collection's many subsets.  The 3x All-Star burst onto the scene in a big way with the Giants in the mid-30's.  But, after getting beaned in the noggin by the flame-throwing Bob Feller, he was never quite the same due to a damaged optic nerve.

However, he was able to come back to earn two of his All-Star selections after the incident before fading out completely, thus his inclusion in "Beating the Odds."

Mr. Wolter had been out of baseball for four years when he suddenly became a regular outfielder for the 1917 Cubs, batting .249 in 117 games.  What caused his absence and why did he randomly come back?  I wish I could tell you.

Interestingly, the picture used seems to depict his experimentation on the pitching mound.  He took the mound 15 times (9 starts) over the course of his career with a 3.75 ERA.  Remember, this is the Dead Ball era - that number was not acceptable then!

While that did it for entirely new players, I was still able to make a Cubgrade as well.

Rabbit was only with the Cubs for one season in 1925, but in that time he managed to become player-manager as well.  However, by all accounts, he had some problems with acting as an authority figure and often behaved as immaturely as the worst of his rambunctious players - which lead to his departure on the waiver-wire that November.  

As far as I'm aware, this lovely Conlon piece is the only card that documents his time in Chicago.  It also spotlights his service time in WWI, as the subset ribbon notates.

This one wasn't a Cubgrade, just a plain ol' upgrade in my personal opinion.  I detailed the story behind the Tom Barker game card reprints (left) that I found in the same LCS in a post a while back.  You can also find some background info on Nixey there, if you're so inclined.  

As novel as they are, I still feel like a reprint is not as authentic as a release that stands on it's own.  Is that just me?

In addition, I think I can safely say that the card on the right is the only one in my entire collection that lists the subject's position as "business manager;" that's pretty unique.

But, I've actually saved the best find for last:

That is not a facsimile - that's authentic ink pen right there!

Jurges is an interesting figure in the annals of baseball history.  He was a key cog in the Cubs World Series teams of the 1930's, he was the victim of a shooting very similar to that of the mythical Roy Hobbs and a bit of a troublemaker.  He once got into a fight on his own bench after making wisecracks about the Civil War and managed to get a full freight-car wheel into the birth of teammate Lon Warneke while on the road.

He was eventually traded to the Giants after the 1938 season for Hank Leiber.  Does that name sound familiar?  

All in all, a pretty cool guy to have an auto for.  Unfortunately, I can't be entirely sure that it's authentic, nor could the shop owner.

Conlon touted auto cards being inserted into their products; however, the examples I have seen lack the certification found on modern auto cards.  If it was in-person, well, there is even less certainty.

Luckily, I can confirm that Billy was alive at the time of the products release (he died in 1997) and other examples of his John Hancock prove to be quite similar:

Thanks Baseball Almanac!

Not a perfect match though - most notably in the "J" and the fact that the pen was lifted in between the "r" and the "g" on my card.  That said, I will pin my hopes on the fact that an 86 year old man's signature cannot be counted on to be smooth and/or consistent.

For $2, it was worth the gamble.

It made for a very nice way to close out an already bountiful shopping trip, that's for sure.  

I really wish that Conlon Collection had kept going beyond 1995, even if they started to stray from their original path.  Regardless, the strike ruined a lot of things about baseball, the least of which was the Conlon Collection.

There are plenty of retro and "Golden Age" inspired product on the shelves today, but none delve nearly as deep into the past as Conlon did on each release with names like Stainback, Callahan, Wolter, etc. 

There are over 140 years of professional baseball history to be mined and yet we usually just see the same recycled names from the days of yore:  Ruth, Banks, Aaron, Koufax, etc.  Let's mix it up a little bit, huh?

Until then, I hope I can find more binders filled with Conlon to tide me over!


Oh yea, I almost forgot!  The answer to my earlier trivia question:

Johnny Kling.  The catcher for the back-to-back World Series champions sat out the 1909 season after a salary dispute and pursued a career on the felt table in the interim.  He competed against and defeated Charles "Cowboy" Weston, thereby winning the world's championship of pool before being given a contract to his liking by the Cubs.

1 comment:

  1. In about seven to eight years of searching, I think I've found under a dozen singles from 1995 Conlon Collection. I can't seem to dig any up anywhere, so that was a terrific find on your part! The Jurges auto is a sweet, sweet bonus.