Sunday, January 31, 2016

Beaten By a Cow - the 1871 "Cubs"

Being a fan of a franchise that was formed way, way, wayyyyyyyy back in 1869 in a sport that almost fetishizes the past has given me a healthy appreciation for history.  After all, when I first went to college, my initial major was History combined with a Secondary Eucation.  Of course, I then discovered that me and kids don't really get along, so that went out the window.  however, that did not dull my passion for the past.

Upon deciding that I needed to change course in my studies, I decided upon Mass Communication, essentially the study of media - newspaper, TV & radio broadcasting, public relations, graphic design, etc.  This, I discovered satiated my creative edge and my minor talent for writing.

In combining my passion for history and my training in graphic design, I've recently gone back to playing around in Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, mostly the latter.  This has no doubt been evidenced by my "Vogel-monster" post from yesterday, other various visual gags found on the blog and some custom cards that I've allowed to see the light of day.

However, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to get a little more serious in my creative endeavors.  Instead of goofing around for an hour or so making a silly cards like Kyle Farnsworth playing football or a Jake Arrieta playing card, why not sit down a hammer out a full set of cards with a central theme.

Since my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection is the absolute centerpiece of my card collecting ways, filling a natural gap in that collection that would otherwise be damn near impossible seemed to be the most natural way for me to go.  The earliest days of the franchise are not particularly well documented at all, let alone in cardboard form.  Why not whip up a set that paid tribute to some of these long-forgotten men?

The Chicago White Stockings, as the team was originally nicknamed, began play in the old National Association in 1870, winning the pennant in their first go-round.  However, the next season, an unpredictable and terrifying event occurred that made sure the Chicago's would be unable to defend their championship.

In October of 1871, legend has it that a cow in the O'Leary family barn kicked over a lantern in the wee hours, causing much of the drought-riddled Chicago to go up in flames.  Amongst the casualties in the catastrophe were the White Stocking's ballpark, equipment, money and official records.  Additionally, pretty much every single player on the team had lived in the burnt district and had thus lost nearly all of their personal belongings and were left homeless.

That's right, my team is so old that they had their history interrupted by the Great Chicago Fire.

Even so, the gutted team played out their remaining handful of games in borrowed uniforms in forced road contests; however, with bigger problems on their minds, the distracted men lost out and thus lost their grips on back-to-back pennants.  Upon the conclusion of play, the franchise went into hibernation while the Garden City rebuilt itself.

In the meantime, the team remained an active business entity, using their time to build funds for a new ballpark on the southside of Chicago, building said park and renting it out to east coast clubs for exhibitions.  Through this effort, enough capital was eventually raised to hire out a new nine to take the field for the 1874 season.

Although Major League Baseball delineates the pre-Fire White Stockings from the 1874 and beyond edition, the only change in the downtime was a restructuring of the front office - no different than what occurred when the Theo regime took over in 2012.  The "Chicago Baseball Club" operated under the same legal entity even as there was no active team on the field.

With that being the case, both Baseball-Reference and myself consider this gap a hiatus, rather than the folding and re-establishment of a new franchise.  The 1870-71 club that was hamstrung by the Great Chicago Fire is the same club that plays in Wrigley Field in 2016.  As such, I needed cards of these men to be added to my Cubs All-Time Record Collection.

Seeing as photographs of these men are even a chore to come across, the two or three that actually had baseball cards printed with their likeness are amongst the rarest and most valuable cards ever printed.  Even in the craziest of pipe dreams, these will never, ever find their way into my grubby paws.

So, I took it upon myself to create a set of trading cards that paid honor to the 1871 squad who had their title hopes and personal lives upended by the infamous Great Chicago Fire.

In several instances, I was forced to cobble together a couple of photographs of the same person in order to create one image in decent resolution; choices were limited, after all.  I'd find a decent headshot of a player and a full-body photograph in which their face was indistinguishable from any old Joe.  Combine the two together though and a passable image was to be had.

At this point, I've completed the front of each card and the title card that heads up this post.  I'm still working on the biographical information for the card backs; these players have some interesting histories and lived some fascinating lives, so I've got to put in the proper effort to document them.  For instance, Jimmy Wood, the very first man ever inked to a contract by the Chicago club (thus, the first Cub) eventually ended up losing a leg and becoming the first non-active field manager in baseball history.

Once I complete the backs, I'll explore methods of getting them properly printed so that I can slot them into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder and, perhaps, distribute them to anyone who would be interested.

The deign itself was based on a retrospective book published on the Fire from 1881 that I happened upon while researching prospective ideas.  Additionally, I took some cues from the Tristar Obak cards of a few years ago, on top of that.   I'm fairly happy with the way these have turned out; please let me know what you think about them, good or bad, in the comments selection below.  I have thick skin.

I should also notate that one who has read up on their baseball history could argue that this set is not at all complete.  For one, a young man by the name of Mike Brannock, who at 19 appeared in 3 games as an injury substitute (and would again later show up for a brief cameo in 1874) is one of the few Major Leaguers who has no known photograph.  That makes it somewhat difficult to put his likeness on a card.

Additionally, a substitute pitcher by the name of E.P. Atwater and a man called Joseph Carroll show up in some team lithographs of the time; however, I can find no recorded mention of them having ever taken the field.  Either the records kept are incomplete (seems likely) or the hopped teams before they could record an appearance (also very common for the day).

Also on my to-do list is a set that properly pays tribute to the very first "Cubs" squad, that of 1870. Though the roster is very similar to that of the 1871 edition, there are a few players who did not return.  In light of what happened shortly thereafter, they were probably extra glad they made that decision.

But, I've still got to finish the backs of this set; one project at a time.  Unfortunately, I've got things like a job and wedding planning that take up a good chunk of my time.

Anyway, I hope you got some enjoyment out of these "cards" if you managed to read all the way to the bottom of this post.  I know I sure did enjoy making them!

History nerd and amateur graphic designer out.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Vogel-Monster at the End of This Post

It's Saturday afternoon story time, kiddies!  Let's all gather round and cozy up with a good book.

I think most of us had a nice little stash of Little Golden Books when we were children; so, let's pull from that stash.  Here's one of my personal favorites:

What?  You don't remember that one?  Surely you can't be serious.

Monsters are quite scary, I guess I can't blame this Cubby prospect for being so scared of such things.  Here comes page three:

Hmmm, the story-art style has changed quite a bit here.  Perhaps the illustrator suffered a fatal heart attack at this very moment?

Monty Python reference, in case that was lost on you.

However, between Vogel-monsters and Vogel-bombs, it sure sounds like this story is getting pretty perilous.  Let's proceed to the next page with due caution:

A Cubs coozie that was obtained from the most recent Cubs Convention?  Why that's not so dangerous at all - that is, unless I consume too many Budweisers while using it.  You darn well better believe that I'll be using this as I watch the Cubs destroy all-comers this summer.

What else does this Little Golden Book have in store for us?

Ooooooh - a couple of excellent Geovany Soto cards that are new to my collection.  I'm starting to think that all of the trouble hinted towards in the beginning of this story was a red herring.  A card that commemorates Geo's surprise winning of the 2008 NL ROY award and a cartoonish Triple Play single (I love these way more than a grown man should) don't seem all that intimidating to me.

Bring it on book, I can handle the rest of this story - no problemo...

Uh oh...

There's not just one...

or two...

There are THREE Vogel-monsters hiding within these pages!!!  Egad - I encourage all National League pitchers to just go ahead and run for the hills now; save yourselves and your ERA's!!

However, the terrors aren't over yet...

It's raining down Vogel-bombs!  This sort of bombing hasn't been seen since the days of the Blitzkrieg.  As we speak, pitchers from opposing teams' home run rates are increasing exponentially due to the incessant Vogel-bombing being suffered in this story.

The shock!  The awe!  The terror!

However, since I'm a Cubs fan, this doesn't really scare me at all - Dan Vogelbach is one of our own, after all.  Hopefully the first baseman gets the call to the Major Leagues this year, without any sort of injury to Rizzo of course; perhaps he could serve as a DH in interleague games, a la Kyle Schwarber last season.

Story time this week was brought to you by Little Golden Books, the letter P and P-Town Tom - courtesy of his Vogel-bomb package.  He read on a earlier post of mine that I had only just obtained my first card of the Cubs' first-base prospect and quickly saw to it that that was corrected.

Thanks Tom!

Now, I'm all primed and ready (and then some) to add him to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, if and when he finally gets that call.

I hope you all enjoyed story time and beware of monsters, wherever you might go.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The First Baseball Cards

Yesterday afternoon, I posted a long rant about how I'd had a card stuck in shipping purgatory for way longer than it should have.  Thankfully, (potentially) due to a helpful nudge from the USPS help desk, the much-anticipated cardboard rectangle showed up in my mailbox, unharmed, in my mailbox by the time that I returned from work.

Now, I know what you're thinking?  What was this card and why was it worth all of this extra trouble?  Well, sit down, pull up a chair and let me word vomit all over you... ok, maybe I should work on my phrasing...

What we have here is a Ars Longa art card of one Herm Doscher, from their Pioneer Portaits series.  For those who don't know, Ars Longa is a group that creates original, handmade baseball cards of players from ancient baseball history, based on classic designs of the time.  Think about it like a crazy super-duper vintage version of Topps Heritage/Archives, with an infinitely deeper player pool.

Hermie here played in a whole three games for the then-Chicago White Stockings in 1879; thus, necessitating his acquisition for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Yes, that's how deep into this thing I am - I'm tracking down guys who had cups of coffee in the Reconstruction Era.

Prior to that, Doscher broke into professional baseball 3 years before the establishment of the NL, in 1872 for the Brooklyn Atlantics of the old National Association, the first "major league," a fact which this card notates.

As beautifully designed and colorized the front of this card is, just as much work goes into the backs as well.  Ars Longa goes a long way to recreate the feel of old school tobacco/lithographic cards by including original, artistic "advertisements," much like the backs of the original pieces did (they were advertising vehicles, after all).

I'd say they do a pretty stellar job replicating the feel of an old-timey baseball card - what say you?

Specifically, the old-timey kind of card they're paying tribute to dates back to the year of 1871 and is bigger than Mr. Herm Doscher.  In fact, the set in question has been the subject of a hotly-contested debate about the value and origin of baseball cards.  My interest is piqued; let's delve right into this, shall we?


Just about a month or so ago, a collection of Boston Red Stockings cards that look like the Ars Longa one above were brought into Antiques Roadshow.  The lady who brought them in really had no idea what she was dealing with, she only knew that they were an old family heirloom.  Come to find out, these cards were designed by a man known as Mort Rogers and were actually trimmed down scorecards that featured embedded photographs of pro baseball players from across the National Association, not just Boston.

Seeing as how they feature the essentially relocated Cincinnati Red Stockings team, the very first openly professional baseball club, the appraiser skyrocketed the value of the set to a million bucks. Adding to the value was the supposed scarcity of a set of cards from just after the Civil War. Add those two factors and you get big money, big money, no whammy.

Renowned baseball historian John Thorn caught wind of this discovery and did some spelunking of his own.  In the process, he discovered that this set of scorecards might very well have been the first set of baseball cards ever produced.  While they might have technically been scorecards, they featured embedded photos of baseballists from across the National Association, were individually numbered and were even marketed as “Baseball Photographic Card(s)” to be collected in a series.

 Here's an up-close look at an original

While individual, lithographic "trade cards" (that is, cards to promote a business or "trade") had been been produced to commemorate specific events, players or teams before, Thorn concluded that this was the first set of cards to be issued in a series and then unleashed on the public.

Of course, this monumental appraisal generated some waves within the baseball and card collecting community.  Was it truly valid?  ESPN's Keith Olbermann, the very same man behind the bios on the back of early TCMA releases, certainly didn't think so when he explored the topic on his segment "World's Worst:"

Whether or not there as many of these cards floating around the market and whether or not he owns as many as Olbermann claims seems to be a bit foggy.  However, the consensus seems to be that, while still inherently valuable and important to the history of the hobby, the cards are not quite worth the bounty that Antiques Roadshow proudly proclaimed.

What Keith didn't directly address was whether or not Mort Rogers should be considered the father of the modern baseball card - a claim which I tend to agree with.

More research by John Thorn indicates that Rogers was an enterprising printer from Boston who saw a fantastic opportunity to capitalize on the engulfing and ever-growing popularity of our nation's pastime.  Inspired by the collectible potential seen in the early lithographic trade cards mentioned earlier, Rogers set to work curating photographs of as many baseballers that he could procure, sometimes taking them himself and sometimes pirating them from other sources.

An original advertisement mentioning Mort's cards
Image courtesy of Hauls of Shame

In the end, Rogers & Fitts, his printing company, stuck them to the ornately designed scorecards, which our Ars Longa beauty apes, and Mort began to hawk them outside of baseball grounds across the country priced from five to ten cents; advertisements from the era place his cards in locations from Boston to Cleveland to Cincinatti to Brooklyn, et al.  Additionally, businesses that had accounts through his printing firm began to sell them in their stores, as well.  I do not believe they came in blaster or rack pack form though.

*If you want to read a more detailed account about this historic birth, I highly recommend that you cruise on over to Hauls of Shame and take a gander at their long-form account of Rogers and his cards.*

Thusly, the first set of baseball cards as we know them today was born; the world would never be the same again.


I'd say the odds of me owning an authentic Rogers & Fitts baseball card are about as long as the river Nile; so, the Ars Longa oddball that inspired all of this research will be a more than welcome addition to my binders.

It both provided me a chance to add another obscure name to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection and a learning opportunity about the earliest days of my favorite sport and hobby.  To think, it was very nearly lost forever in the mail.  What a tragedy that would have been!

I've sung the praises of Ars Longa (here, here and here) many time before and I'll continue to stick by my word.  In a time where Topps has a near-total monopoly on the baseball card market, Ars Longa is a refreshing breath of fresh air and creativity when it comes to the hobby.  Not only do they create wonderful individual cards; but, they also shine the spotlight on long-forgotten people and events from our favorite sport's history, creating new chances to learn and grow as fans, as you can see from this here post.

Other Ars Longa cards, from different sets, that have found their way into my grubby hands

I'd take that over seeing the same Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron photo recycled for the thousandth time on the same, tired sets year after year - no contest.  Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a lot of the stuff that Topps produces today; that said, variety is the spice of life, is it not?

Though they might be a little bit pricey ($5-$7 for the low end), I'd whole-heartedly encourage everyone who collects to add at least one of this pieces of art to your collection.

At that, I think I've taken up enough of your time.  I hope you enjoyed consuming my word vomit.... there's those phrasing issues again.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

As collectors of small, fragile squares of paper whose value is almost entirely based on good condition, I'm sure we all have out horror stories when it comes to building our collections - especially when we order cards through the mail.  Some mail carrier shoves an envelope into a box, a sorting machine rips through a PWE like a cheetah into a gazelle, a sudden and violent rain shower dumps puddles of water into a slightly cracked mailbox... it happens to the best of us.

The worst of all card-shipping sob-stories, at least in my humble opinion, is when the card(s) in question never show up at all.  What in the hell happened to them?  Does some fellow collector without a shred of a moral compass work at the post office and is pocketing our loot?  Did that same "lost forever" sinkhole that steals half of my socks suddenly open up at my mailbox too?  I understand that this is the risk you take when you order cards on the internet; I'd just like some closure, y'know?

So, after pulling the trigger on a card I was rather excited to find and spending a little bit more money than I normally do on such a purchase (doesn't it always happen this way?), the expected arrival date came and went... and then another week passed.  The tracking history did nothing to lift my spirits:

As you can see in the screenshot above, as of yesterday, the card I'd ordered on the 14th of January had been sitting in the same facility for 11 days... that's generally a bad sign.

After taking to the interwebs to do some research on CHICAGO 2CMETRO, I can't say that I was feeling any better about my little predicament.  According to the Ebay forums, this particular office has a list of complaints regarding lost parcels more than a hundred deep... as of last fall!  In the immortal words of Scoobert Doo:  "ruh roh."

However, in the course of my panicked search, I also read that the USPS has a rather stellar reputation when it comes to customer service on Twitter, @USPSHelp.  I'm generally skeptical of such services and was really just expecting to hear that my package had been evaporated; but, desperate times call for desperate measures.

By the way, this seems like an opportune time to mention that I've recently started a Twitter account to cross promote Wrigley Roster Jenga on social media; so, ummmm,  follow me?

Anyway, after waiting for a day, I didn't get a response from them.  Of course, I wasn't at all expecting to hear back so quickly; I'm sure they have hundreds upon hundreds of complaints come in daily.  Patience is a virtue after all.

Even so, I did make sure to check the tracking information again this morning:

Well imagine my surprise - that's quite the sudden turnaround, now isn't it?  Of course, this could all have easily been a fortuitous coincidence; that said, I'd like to believe that somebody from help called CHICAGO 2CMETRO in a huff, J. Jonah Jameson style, demanding answers and threatening punishment to save my precious cargo.

Yea, right.  But, does anyone out there in the blogosphere have any experience with USPS Help? How'd that go for you?

Anyway, I am once again a happy camper and the U.S. Postal Service seems to have an exceptional customer service department (if they truly had a hand in it).  Of course, I haven't been home yet to actually check my mail - so, this could all be some cruel joke and my card might still be MIA.  I highly doubt that's the case, but then you never truly know.

In summation, the moral of the story - don't be afraid to ask for help.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lunchtime with Fairfield

What do you do when your done eating, but still have time to kill on your lunch break?  Also, when you're lacking inspiration for your blog?  Well, obviously, you go and buy yourself a $5 repack from the local Walgreen's and open it in your truck while simultaneously live blogging it's contents.  Duh.

Let's do this:

The parameters - 100 cards and a bonus pack.  Additionally, 1:4 boxes has a hit; in all of my years of collecting cards, I've bought way more than four of these and I've never pulled a hit.  Harumph.  Don't mind the cameo by my thigh and dirty work pants.

Rather than show off every bit of junk wax from this repack, I'm going to stick with the highlights.  By the way, anybody need a 2015 Cueto?

A smattering of 2008 Topps was to be found underneath the newest SF Giant.  We've got one of the best photo selections in recent memory, courtesy of a lurking mascot and two Cubs connections.

It's jarring to see Michael Barrett in a Padres uniform.

Here we have a card of a guy that I could possibly be a distant relative of; my family's original name was Burba, before they left Lithuania for the US in the beginning of the last century.  When they came through Ellis island, it was changed to sound more American.  I wonder...

Meanwhile, there's also an oddball of a blogosphere favorite.

A couple of nice looking sets came up next - unfortunately, I really have no use for these in my collection.  I really do enjoy the ticket stub/baseball card hybrids that seemed to pop up a lot in the previous decade.

A then-future Cub and a bonafide, actual Cub (and a vintage one at that) - neat!

Orlando was brought in for the stretch drive as an extra outfielder for the Wild Card winning 1998 Cubs squad.  Fitting that this card uses a photo from Wrigley Field; Upper Deck getting awfully prescient there.

Speaking of Cubs playoff teams' spare parts, Mark Guthrie was a member of the bullpen for the heart-wrenching 2003 NL Central champs.  He was well passed his prime though, which you might have guessed seeing as this card dates from 12 years before that.

Some more oddballs shuffled up next.  Is that the infamous Marla Collins in the background of the Darryl Strawberry card?

Harry Caray was a wildcard in the booth, wasn't he?  He'd never survive in today's broadcasting climate.

It's just as bizarre to see JoBo in an Indians uni as it was to see Michael Barrett as a Pad.  However, this card will slot nicely into my Cubs of a Different Color collection.

That's a pretty 90's looking card of Matt Williams there.

Hey there's my bonus pack - 1992 Upper Deck.  Notice the banner on the front that encourages the buyer to find the Williams.  Hey, I already found the Williams; Matt's right up above you, Mr. pack of cards!

OK - I've just been informed that is neither the right card, nor the right Williams.  Let's save this for the end and see if I found TED Williams.

Next up, a thus-far disappointing current White Sox and a franchise all-time great who has since moved on, both from last year's edition of Heritage.  Any official word yet on whether or not Buehrle is going to hang up his spikes?  I sure wouldn't mind having him around for the back end of the other Chicago rotation.

Luis Gonzalez in Dodgers duds - that's strange-looking... I'm sensing a theme to this box.

An MLB Showdown strategy card, eh?  Well, that's the first time I've ever gotten one of these in a repack... too bad it's not a player card.  I guess the super shiny Finest Pagnozzi makes up for the uselessness of an umpire card.

It's inclusion was... wait for it... a bad call! Ba dum tis.

More junk wax with Cubs connections.  Bosley, Wynne and Johnson were also both member of Cubs teams who made it to the postseason (1984, '89 and '98, respectively); unfortunately for Krukow, he's the odd man out here.  His six years spent on the Northside of Chicago amounted to exactly zero playoff trips and just one season above .500 (1976-81).

The White Sox sure did have some awesome uniforms in the 80's!

A checklist for the Collect-A-Books?  I didn't realize there was such a thing.  I know there are a handful of checklist accumulators on the interwebs, does any of them want to lay a claim?

Boy oh boy, Derek Lee in a Padres uniform is a weird.... oh you know the drill by now.

We close the loose cards with a short-term Cub in Paul Maholm and an all-time legend in Tony Gwynn.  The Maholm is new to my collection, as I had previously only had the factory sealed, team set version before, which has an egregiously worse Photoshop job.

Going out on a Gwynn is not a bad way to go out.  I know I had this particular card in my childhood collection, but it was lost to the sands of time.  It's like seeing the face of an old, forgotten friend suddenly resurface in your life.  Welcome back, Mr. Padre!

Now, we still have to take a look at that Upper Deck pack; did I land one of those coveted Ted Williams cards?

Hardly.  But, I did walk away with a Cubs bench coach (Trammel), a floating bat (Hrbek), two Hall of Famers without the surname of Williams (Ripken, Biggio) and a family portrait (the Alomar brothers), as well as some assorted junk not worth the trouble of taking a picture.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a lunch break.  Of course, I'm pretty sure I got some strange looks from Walgreen's patrons as I sat there in the parking lot for 30 minutes opening stuff and taking pictures of what probably looked like my crotch.  So goes life.

Also, still no hits in a Fairfield repack for me.  1 in 4 my @$$.