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.


  1. Nicely done! I really liked what TriStar Obak did during its short existence.
    Thanks for another great history lesson!

  2. I don't do much graphic art on a computer so I don't have any advice to offer, but the cards look awesome! I love the concept too, I've always wished some of those very early ballplayers got more recognition in the hobby. Looking forward to seeing how the backs turn out...

  3. Love the post, the cards and the history lesson.
    The design elements(classic overall "feel", colors, font, and running cowbell theme)hit on all cylinders.
    Well done, sir.

  4. Great post Tony. These look great and tell a great story.

  5. Way cool. The design work is good and the legwork that went in to making them is even more impressive.

    How in the world am I just finding out your blog exists today, by the way?