Saturday, December 31, 2016

Going Out With a Bang

The dreaded year 2016 is almost over and not a moment too soon.  Hurry up and flip the calendar before another beloved actor or musician passes over to the other side!

This year wasn't all bad though.  First of all, the Cubs won the World Series!  Plus, I was able to consistently blog throughout the entirety of the year without any months-at-a-time hiatus.  Furthermore, I was able to step up my trading game quite a bit.  On that note, P-Town Tom, of the newly rechristened Eamus Catuli! blog, managed to slip one more PWE into my mailbox before the ball drops in Times Square.  He made it count too.

I audibly gasped when I discovered that a card that I've long been chasing was nestled safely inside a top-loader, within this unexpected mailing.  This card features a super short-term Cub from the early days of the previous century, making him a coveted target for my CATRC.  Furthermore, the card upon which his mug is depicted hails from one of my favorite sets in the last fifteen years.  As far as retro-themed sets go, you can keep Gypsy Queen and Allen & Ginter, I'll take Tristar Obak any day.  They got so much deeper into the obscure with their subject matter.

No matter how short and insignificant his time at the West Side Grounds was, his inclusion was necessary for my CATRC binder.  This 2009 Tristar Obak single (and it's various parallels) are essentially the only options and I've long pined for this retro-inspired card.

Pictured here with the Mattoon Giants, the Illinois-native was a hot-shot prospect in the first decade of the 20th century.  Pitching mostly for Mattoon in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907, "Slim" set the professional single season record for strikeouts, fanning 465 men along the way.  Unfortunately, contemporaries agreed that his fastball was only rivaled by the immortal Walter Johnson, his control was more Rick Ankiel than "The Big Train."

Several teams were tantalized by his live arm, leading to several opportunities in the Bigs.  However, his career 0.79 K/BB ratio kept him from achieving his full potential.  Even still, Lowdermilk managed to have a nine year career in the Majors, taking the mound with the Cardinals, Cubs, Browns, Tigers, Indians and White Sox.

Ragan pitched 2 games for the '09 Cubs and 1 game for the '19 Sox

It should be noted that Lowdermilk was one of two former Cubs who played for the "Black Sox" of 1919, along with Pat Ragan (above).  In fact, Grover was the only one of the two who saw World Series action, getting mop up duty in Game One (1 IP, 1 ER).  That said, by all accounts, Mr. Lowdermilk was not involved in the infamous fix.

Meanwhile, Grover's stint with the Chicago NL club lasted all of two games during the 1912 season, but he was involved in a pair of notable deals featuring marquee names that Cubs fans should recognize.  First, he was traded to Cincinnati by Chicago, along with the poetic Joe Tinker.  Then, before ever taking the field with the Reds, he was dealt to Louisville (AA) for the fabeled "Three Finger" Brown.  Talk about brushes with greatness.

 These two storied Hall of Famers were both involved in deals for... Grover Lowdermilk?

Also of interest (at least to me), the Lowdermilk family line in North America extends back further in time than that of the United States.  The patriarch of his clan, Jacob Lautermilch (which means "clear milk" in German) immigrated to the colonies sometime before 1750 and was a decorated hero of the American Revolution.  Speaking of family, Grover's brother Lou was also a skilled moundsman, briefly appearing in the Bigs as a teammate with the 1911-12 Cardinals.

While I was instantly fascinated by and drawn to the Lowdermilk Obak card, I soon found out that it wasn't alone in that top-loader - it had a partner in it's journey across the great state of Illinois.  The other card that P-Town Tom included in his surprise gift was a "just in case" offering:

Mark Zagunis was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft out, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, as a catcher.  However, the polished college hitter was able to advance more quickly up the minor league ladder as an outfielder, making it all the way to AAA by mid-season, last year.  The corner outfielder has little home run pop, but does posses gap power and a keen eye.

In short, Zagunis could be one of the first names called upon should an injury arise and, at the very least, should be considered for a September call-up.  Tom, for one, is "...predicting (I'll) be in need of one (Zagunis card) come this summer..." for my CATRC binder.  If so, this Prizm Draft Picks single from 2014 will fill the slot capably.

All of this goodness came wrapped up in something that has become a bit of a signature touch for P-Town Tom:

A page from his National Baseball Hall of Fame desk calendar.  Apparently, Tuesday, May 17 of 2016 featured the pitching motion of Robin Roberts - himself a short term Cub.  Perhaps I should have taken this a sign of what was to come in Tom's envelope?

Speaking of calendars, with this being my last trade package and last new additions to my trading card collection for 2016, this seems like an apt opportunity to do a quick review on my progress with the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection for this year.  Including Grover above, I was able to add 58 new faces to said binder, throughout the calendar year.  Going into 2016, I stood with a completion percentage of 69.95%.  On the eve of 2017, my percentage has increased to 71.81%

Slow and steady growth is the name of the game.  At this point, it's getting difficult to track down new names.

The search continues...

Thank you P-Town Tom for allowing me to close out 2016 on such a positive note.  Besides the celebrity deaths, it's been a rough year politically and socially in this country and, personally, there's been plenty of stress as well.  But, it's surprise giftings such as this that keep a smile plastered on my face.  After all. what's better than finding a card you've been chasing for years just show up in your mailbox?

Happy almost 2017, everybody!  Or, as you might prefer it, happy 2016 is almost over, everybody!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Spoils of the Season

I hope that everyone reading this had themselves a Merry Christmas.  The weather in Chicago might have created a more spring-like atmosphere; however, personally, an entire day spent with family, board games and movies made for a jolly, festive holiday celebration.  That is what the season is all about, correct?

Of course, there are gifts too and those are alright in my book, as well.

Thanks to the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (still not tired of hearing/saying/writing that), all of my future in-laws knew exactly what to get me this year - one of the many unexpected benefits of this World Series title run:

So, so much better than socks and dress shirts - although, my fiancee might feel quite differently about that statement.  In fact, in her opinion, the only things with more holes in them than that statement might be my socks.

At any rate, I was exceptionally enthused to see these items under the tree at the fiancee's folks' house.  In fact, I don't know if I've taken that comfy, blue fleece off for longer than five minutes, since the moment I unwrapped it.  I suppose that I should mention that I also got some nice, non-Cubs gifts as well, including a Fitbit, cordless earphones for when I run and some therapeutic bath salts (what? I like to be pampered), among other things.

When people think of me, either Cubs baseball or running pop into their mind.  I'm not complaining, though,

However, that wasn't the last of the baseball-themed gifts.  It wasn't until yesterday that we exchanged presents on my side of the family, thanks to our busy and thoroughly uncoordinated work schedules.  In the end, the wait was certainly worth it, as two gifts, in particular, stole the show. Much has been made about card-based gifts on the blogosphere in the time leading up to the 25th of December and whether or not they end up being worth the effort. With that in mind, I'd say my sister, who did choose to go down that route, not only put in the effort, but crushed it:

First up, here we have Herb Hutson's lone baseball card - a 1973 Venezuelan League sticker.  The super short-term Cub pitched in 20 games during the very next season, mostly out of the bullpen, with a 3.45 ERA.  Despite that decent performance, Huston found himself back at AAA Wichita in '75 and out of baseball by '76.  The only evidence we have of his brief career on the diamond is this
Lara Cardenales sticker from his time in the winter league.

The thing that struck my about these standard-sized "cards" is how thin they are, almost paper-like.  These were produced by Digallo C.A. and were intended to be pasted into an album, just like your average Panini sticker book.  They were then redeemable for various prizes, like bikes and such.  With that in mind, these cards don't show up very often and, when they do, tend to be in poor condition.

Thankfully, my sister was able to get a killer deal from a vendor in Venezuela, who miraculously got it here before Christmas.  Bonus points on his packaging too, which appears to include a facsimile of the original "Album de Barajitas de Beisbol," or "Album of Baseball Cards."  I shan't be pasting my Hutson into one of these albums; but, it will look quite nice in my CATRC binder.

This set and it's various, yearly editions is much sought after for it's inclusion of several Stateside stars (Luis Aparicio, Frank White, etc.), some even before their "official" rookie cards (Jim Rice). Only I would be more excited to find a "Moonlight Graham" like Herb Huston than a Hall of Famer.

Anyway, had this been the only baseball card my sister gifted to me, she'd already be named the "Card Gifting MVP of 2016," at least in my humble opinion.  However, in what I can only assume was a lobby to become my favorite sibling, she also included one more vintage oddball that fit snugly into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection:

This well-loved, antique is 88 years young and features another "barely there" Cubs player in Gale Staley.  Mr. Staley is depicted during his days with the Los Angeles Angels of the old Pacific Coast League.  We know this because the above artifact is a super vintage Zeenut card, a series that documented the original incarnation of the PCL for over 25 years.

This particular Zeenut hails from the 1928 edition of the long-running series.  The look of this series is evocative of the Chicago Supply Co. Exhibit cards; but, they are considerably smaller than those Exhibits.  In fact, they're a bit tinier than standard size:  1-3/4 x 3-3/8.  After years of only admiring these from afar, in Ebay auctions, I did not realize that fact.

Staley was a late-season call-up as the 1925 season drew to a close.  That September, the second baseman managed to get into seven games, with a whopping .423 batting average in 26 AB's.  Despite that admirable performance for the listless Cubs, Staley found himself playing for the old Angels in 1926 (who, while not officially an affiliate, were owned by the Wrigleys).  After three years there and a one-year excursion in Portland, Staley called it a career without ever climbing back up to the top of the ladder.

A clearer image of Staley with the LA Angels, circa 1926.
Image courtesy of Gordon Brett Echols

Like Hutson, there's very little public information available on the internet for Staley, so that's about all I can tell you about the "cuppacoffee" Cub.  Well, that and the fact that his name always makes me think more of the Bears than the Cubs.  "Why's that?" you might ask.  First of all, his first name is shared with all-time great, Hall of Fame running back, Gale Sayers.  Second of all, his surname was the original nickname of the Chicago NFL franchise  - the Bears as we know them today were first conceived in 1919 by the A. E. Staley food starch company of Decatur, Illinois.  That company team was known as the Decatur Staleys (go figure) and launched the HOF careers of George Trafton and George "Papa Bear" Halas.

...and that's how my brain works.  As far as I can tell, Gale Staley has no connection to A.E. Staley or the early days of the Chicago Bears.

These guys have absolutely nothing to do with Gale Staley

To wrap things up, my little sister gifted me with two, obscure Cubs with very little cardboard presence.  Of the two, one was a rarely seen, foreign release from well-south of the border and the other was an 80+ year old, minor league oddball.  I'd say that she did fairly well here with here Christmas gift.  What say you?

Of course, I may have tipped her off on a few of the things I was hoping might land in my stocking this winter.  Nevertheless, she executed flawlessly.  I hope she enjoys the "Yellow Submarine" decorative lights we bought her as much as I love these cards.

Not gonna lie - I kinda wanted to keep those for myself.

In conclusion,when it comes to trading card Christmas gifts, it seems the returns on the blogosphere are somewhat mixed.  Did you receive any cards for Christmas?  Were these well-intentioned presents up to snuff or did you end up longing for a gift receipt?  Share your experience in the comments section below.

Personally, I couldn't be happier!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Last Minute Christmas Shopping

First of all, I hope everyone reading this had a Merry Christmas and that Santa Claus was nice to you. But, never again.

Never again am I waiting until the last minute to do ANY Christmas shopping. Between dealing with the crazy, blood-in-their-eyes shoppers, the demolition derby that was the main roads and the crummy weather, I wasn't feeling particularly cheery on the day before, the day before Christmas.

I'm usually pretty good about getting my seasonal shopping done.  This year, not so much and I have no excuse.

However, it wasn't all terrible.  I made a quick pit stop at the local Goodwill to browse, as I am want to do from time to time.  It was a fruitful endeavor, even though I didn't come across anything for anyone still on my list, as I walked away with a few gifts for myself:  a pair of playable LP's from their "well-loved" record bin - James Taylor's Sweet Baby James and John Denver's Greatest Hits.  Plus, I also scored a jersey from a former, nearby minor league team:

The Schaumburg Flyers were members of the Independent Northern League from 1999 through 2010, playing their games at Alexian Field, just a few miles away from O'Hare Airport (hence their name).  Fun fact - the land upon which this suburban team's home park was originally purchased with the intent of luring the Cubs, in the event that the franchise was unable to bring night baseball to Wrigley.
In the course of their history, the Flyers never won a title and were eventually folded after tax issues with the local government.  Later, they were replaced by a Frontier League club, the Schaumburg Boomers, in 2012.

Anyway, finding what I presume to be a game-used, minor league jersey of a familiar club for chump change at a thrift shop definitely brought a smile to my heretofore frustrated face.  That said, there was even more than what meets the eye:

As you can see, we have a name.  Not only do we have a name, we also have what appears to be an autograph.  Let's take a closer look at that, shall we?:

This made the purchase all the more intriguing.  I assumed that this was just some indy league, non-prospect who maybe got a brief taste of affiliated ball; but, otherwise, was not exceptionally notable.  After all, the Northern League is about even with Low A on the MiLB ladder; in other words, a long, long way away from Major League Baseball.

Researching exactly who this "Marshall" fellow was was made easy by the fact that this uniform top included a nifty patch on the right sleeve:

Presumably, this dude played for Schaumburg during the franchise's first year in the city's northwest suburbs.  Armed with that information, it was easy to look up the team's initial roster on Baseball Reference.  Making things even easier, was the fact that there was only one Marshall on that 1999 active roster... and that's where this purchase got even cooler.

Mike Marshall - as in 1988 World Series Champion Mike Marshall

Not to be confused with the pitcher of the same name (who also spent time with the Dodgers), Mike Marshall was drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 1978 draft out of close by Buffalo Grove HS in Libertyville, IL.  The local hero rose through the ranks, ascending to the Bigs in 1981 and staying there through the 1991 season.  Along the way, Mike became the (mostly) regular right fielder in LA and, as a key piece for the 1988 World Champs, paced the club with 82 RBI and was second with 20 home runs.

Unfortunately, Marshall also carried a reputation as a softy and missed a lot of time with general injuries throughout his career, leading to confrontation and consternation with his teammates and manager Tommy Lasorda.

Even still, finding the John Hancock of a World Series winner on the back of a game used uniform in Goodwill seemed too good to be true.  Let's examine that autograph, just to be sure:

On the left, we have an IP autograph of the Dodger semi-star (he has no certified autos, to my knowledge) and on the left we have my find.  They look pretty darn close to me and I don't know who has the time to forge signatures of Mike Marshall on the back of obscure, indy team jerseys.  I'm calling this one legit.

Now, you might be wondering, what brought this guy to the Schaumburg Flyers?  You see, his reputation for being unable to play through injuries eventually led to his ouster from affiliated baseball.  After a year spent in Japan (1992), Mike found himself on the outside looking in, estranged from the game he loved.

That is, until seven years later, when the Flyers made it known that they were looking for a player-coach to round out their roster.

Mike's profile in the 1999 Flyers' yearbook, swiped from Ebay

Marshall's status as a local product and a recognizable name likely played a role in his getting the position; gotta put butts in the seats, after all.  That said, as a 39-year old first baseman with a considerable layer of rust, Mike posted a respectable .307/.358/.423 slash line across 33 games in his last year as an active player.  From there, Marshall was able to parlay that success into coaching and management jobs all over the independent league map.

Unfortunately, to this day, Marshall still has not been able to break back into the organized ranks.  A call to the Dodgers lead to a request for his resume and an invitation to throw out the first pitch at a Dodger Stadium contest was rescinded due to a Latin-themed promotion.  Maybe someday.

Overall, I'd say this fascinating piece of baseball memorabilia was worth the six dollar price tag; easily one of my best thrift shop deals ever.  In contrast, I could have layed down ten bucks on a 660-count box full of junk wax.  I think I'm happy with my choice.  It'll look quite nice with my modest jersey collection, which includes a couple more indy league uni's:

My new, signed Schaumburg Flyers jersey will hang proudly with my game-used Cook County Cheetahs and Windy City Thunderbolts tops.  The Cheetahs and Thunderbolts represent both iterations of the hometown minor league team, which plays in the Frontier League.  The club originally went by the Cheetahs moniker, from 1997-03, before "modernizing" with the "edgy" Thunderbolts name, which is still in use today.

The Cheetahs jersey was actually another thrift shop find, while the T-Bolts top was a gift from a family friend.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what player sported either one, as neither has name on the back or a helpful, dated patch.

And so, with that find, I suddenly found myself in a much better mood, ready to plunge into the crazed-crowd at the local Target to get the last of my last minute, "white elephant" party gifts.  I'm happy to report that the person who ended up with the Bluetooth, disco-ball speaker and "A Country Christmas" CD is thrilled with their selection and i am just as giddy about this Mike Marshall jersey that's sticking with me.

Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Twas the Night Before (Cubbie) Christmas

'Twas the night before , when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; 

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that  Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds; 

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their s;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my ,

Had just settled our brains for a    winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, 

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. 

Away to the window I flew like a 

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,

When what to my wondering eyes did appear, 

But a miniature sleigh and  tiny rein-deer,

With a  old driver so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen! 

On, Comet! on, ! on, Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the ;

So up to the housetop the coursers they flew 

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I  in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his ,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; 

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, 

And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack. 

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a !

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the  on his chin was as as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his 

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, 

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he ;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—

“Happy  to all, and to all a good night!”