Monday, February 29, 2016

Leaping Right off the Cardboard

Happy Leap Day!

What are you doing with your extra day this year?  I'll tell you what I'm doing, preparing a blog post that contains nothing but pictures of baseball players leaping on baseball cards.  Really productive, right?

World hunger and peace on earth are covered by other people.

Anyway, Leap Day and baseball go together like peanut butter and jelly; after all, leaping can be found in all aspects of our nation's pastime:

For instance, if you're superstitious ol' Turk Wendell, you leap over the baseline as you make your way to the mound.  Don't ask how it helps anything, just go back to brushing your teeth between each inning.

Or, more conventionally...

Like a middle infielder having to leap over an opponent as they barrel into second base (be careful that you slide legally now, though).  Or...

Leaping to snare a line drive, robbing a sure base hit from an unwitting batsman.  Of course, one could also be leaping to...

...look good on your baseball card.  C'mon, posing like you're about to throw a ball is soooooo boring.  Just make sure you don't look like you're getting hit in the sunflower seed pouch next time, alright Mr. Gustine?

One could also be leaping in celebration of an unexpected and thrilling walk-off win...

...or leaping up to make a spectacular catch up against the wall.

But, my favorite leap in Cubs history was unfortunately never captured on a baseball card.  It comes courtesy of little Tony Campana, the fastest Cub north of Havana:

OK, we sure didn't have much to cheer for in those days; but, that was pretty freakin' cool, no matter what.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at baseball cards that feature current/future/former Chicago Cubs leaping right off of the cardboard.  Can you tell the blogging inspiration is lacking today?

Go do something fun with your bonus day!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lights, Camera, Transactions!

Well - it's been a busy couple of days in Chicago sports.  There have been so many transactions on the baseball, hockey and even football fronts since Thursday that I couldn't even keep up.  Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks were the main culprits; someone must've had a Redbull.

Let's see who's been added to my Blackhawks All-Time Roster binder:

Yesterday, in their first big move of the day, the 'Hawks sent the struggling Rob Scuderi back to the team with which he won a Stanley Cup with in 2012, the LA Kings, in exchange for the also-struggling defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.  Classic change-of-scenery trade.

Here's hoping Christian can regain his form and solidify the Chicago defense.

However, the buck didn't stop there:

No, no, no - rumor had it that Bowman was still intent on finding a winger for the Teuvo line.  Of course, I imagined that meant I should keep my ears open over the course of the next few days, not the next few hours.

Later that same day, the Blackhawks found their man in Tomas Fleischmann... and Dale Weiss too from the Canadiens.  The move cost them the young and potential-filled Philip Danault; but, you've got to give quality to get quality.

I don't have a card of Weiss yet; however, luckily, I did have that beautiful bird's-eye view from 2012-13 UD sitting around.  Hopefully he pulls a few of those off in a red and black sweater!

Still - those weren't the biggest moves made by the Chicago hockey squad...

The day before, right before the Blackhawks were due to take the ice at the UC against the hated Predators, Bowman & Co. pulled the trigger on a deal to bring Andrew Ladd back to Chicago, who was last on hand to help hoist the 2010 Stanley Cup.

The fan favorite winger returned in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets, at the cost of Marko Dano (who, despite struggling this season at the NHL level, is still filled with talent), a first-round pick in the 2016 draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 draft.  Again, you have to give quality to get quality.

After this firestorm of activity, the Blackhawks look to be unstoppable on paper.  These reinforcements will hopefully put the team over the edge as they look to defend their Stanley Cup Championship.

Of course, the transaction blitzkrieg was not only found on the ice; in fact, transactions were raining down on the diamond, as well:

Dependable fourth outfielder Chris Coghlan was surprisingly traded away to Oakland in exchange for bullpen pitching prospect Aaron Brooks, of whom I do not yet have a card.  No, this isn't the same Aaron Brooks who currently plays for the Bulls either; though, with the craziness that's been going on in Chicago sports player movement, I almost wouldn't be surprised.

This move made so much more sense when it's sister move was announced an hour later:

By now, we all have read about the drama that came with Dexter Fowler's surprise re-singing with the Cubs on Thursday.  To briefly review, it had been widely reported that Dex was signing a three-year deal with the Orioles.  That said, as we've repeatedly learned, any agreement with the Orioles should be taken with a grain of salt.

Everything reportedly broke down over the inclusion of an opt-out and Fowler ended up back in Cubbie blue (one-year deal, with mutual option), the result of a brief and clandestine negotiation.

Needless to say, this makes the Cubs outfield corps ridiculously insane deep.  A starting lineup of Schwarber in left, Fowler in center, Heyward in right with Jorge Soler as the next man up is exceptionally strong.  Thus, the next move the Cubs made left some scratching their heads...

Yes, the very next day, the cubs went out and inked the aging and recently-ineffective Shane Victorino to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League camp.

While, on the surfance, this seems like a very odd move to make - after all, look at that depth I was talking about.  However, it as reported that the parties had a deal in place before Fowler came back on the table and the Cubs went ahead and still honored the agreement once Dex was back in the fold.

As it stands, the former Phillie fly-chaser is going to have a hard time cracking the roster and he has expressed a desire to stay out of AAA; thus, I don't see him sticking around come April.

Meanwhile, while all of this craziness was going on, a significant gridiron move was lost in the shuffle:

While not a player acquisition and more of a roster move than a transaction, the Bears placed the franchise tag on their only proven wide reciever on Friday.  There had been rumblings about trying to trade the oft-injured star due to some supposed distaste for the city of Chicago on Alshon's part; but, thankfully wiser heads prevailed.

Really, he's one of their only proven talents anywhere on the field, offense or defense.  In short, the rebuild is going to be painful next season.

Phew! So much to cover, but I think I got it all in there. I think I could use a few days to recover from this roller coaster of emotions.

Here's hoping these moves all work out for the best!

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Penny Sleeve For Entrapment

The other day, Jon from A Penny Sleeve for Your Thoughts (one of my favorite blog titles; I adore a good pun) wrote about a disappointing experience he'd had with one of those 100 card Fairfield repacks.  It had apparently been dropped at some point because every card contained within featured a bent, bottom left corner.

To make matters even worse, it was the 1:4 that contained a hit as well.

You can kind of see it at the bottom there - not too bad, but enough to be annoyed, that's for sure.

He mentioned that maybe a Cubs fan would have wanted this if it hadn't been damage; however, I'm a Cubs fan who doesn't care too much about condition.  Not to mention, I don't think a Brendan Harris auto carries much value even if it's Gem Mint 10 anyway.

Generously, Jon mailed the roughed up signature my way, without any hesitation or request for compensation.  What a nice gesture, right?

WRONG!!  It was a trap!

It wasn't a generous gesture at all.  I've discovered the real reason why Jon was so willing to let this card go. and it has nothing to do with bent corners...

Did you read that? Starting at line three "And remember, never feed him after midnight!"

As a connoisseur of 80's films, I know what that cryptic sentence implies.  This isn't just a Brendan Harris baseball card from the 2004 Playoff Absolute Memorabilia brand... no, no, no... this, my friends, is a mogwai in disguise!

Anyone who has seen Gremlins will tell you, these cute, cuddly, Furby-like creatures are fun and playful at first; but, get them wet or allow them a midnight snack and things will change in a hurry.  When they transform into hideous and mischievous gremlins, fun is the last thing you'll be having.

I didn't ask for this responsibility!  I thought I was just being the beneficiary of someone's good nature, not the victim of a cruel "tag, you're it" situation.

Taking a closer look at the card, it should have been obvious to me what I was getting into.  If you zoom in a little bit on Harris' face...

EGAD!!  How did I not notice that when I inquired about the card?!

No, I am afraid to even remove the creature from it's protective top-loader.  I mean, if the mogwai has the temperament of the loving and altruistic Gizmo, then everything should be find.  However, if he's more rebellious and intent on changing forms, like the evil Stripe, chaos could be imminent.

In the meantime, I'll just have to keep an eye on it at all times - it'd be far too risky to insert the thing into my CATRC binder and leave it unattended.  Although, come to think of it, the door to my refrigerator was left slightly ajar this morning....


*Of course all of this is being very playful.  Jon, thank you very much for sending this dented beauty my way.  I'll make sure to find some stuff for your set collecting goals, ASAP.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - High School Never Ends

For the past few weeks, I've been using the popular social media phenomenon known as #ThrowbackThursday as an excuse to post a series of retrospectives on Cubs players younger days.  We kicked the series off by looking at their minor league cards, followed by a look back at cards from their time in in the collegiate ranks.  Thus, the natural progression leads us back even further, to the time many a burnout would declare their "glory days"

I, of course, am talking about their time spent in high school - the days of honors biology, awkward parties and attempting to bribe creepy old men to purchase alcohol for them.  Ahhhh, good times, good times.

That said, I'm sure none of these guys know anything about that... nothing at all...  Anyway, here are some cards that feature future Cubs in the uniform of their varsity nine:

I'm just going to go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room and state that Classic Four Sport is a brand that's going to make up a majority of this post.  After all, this sort of thing was kind of their specialty.

Here we have one in a long line of good Cubs first basemen in Derrek Lee, way back when he was swinging the stick for the El Camino Fundamental HS Eagles in California.  Nothing screams high school athletics quite like a chain link fence, some mulling about in windbreakers and a parking lot in the background.

You can see the powerstroke in that swing, even then.

Next up, we have a guy whose Cubs tenure was much shorter than D-Lee in Ben Grieve, who had a couple of brief stints in 2004-05.  Well before that, he was swinging a heavy stick with the James W. Martin HS Warriors in Texas.

That's quite the crowd for a high school baseball game.  Although, since he was drafted second overall in the 1994 draft by the Oakland Athletics, he must have been worth the price of admission for local sports fans.

I actually prefer the image used on the back of this card though:

It's a much clearer view of his jersey - a quality that I find very important in my pre-rookie baseball cards.

Moving on:

Pitcher at the plate alert!

The former Serra HS Padre (Cali, again) was drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Twins for his abilities on the mound, rather than his skills at the dish.  He never did fulfill that potential, bouncing around the league in brief spurts (with Cubs in 1999) until 2007, with a few stints in Japan and Mexico mixed in.  He must have played out of sheer love of the game though - he was still active in independent/foreign league as late as 2013.  

However, all I can think of when I see this card is "wow, that looks like a Seattle Pilots uniform."

Additionally, check out that very 90's serial number; one of 9,000+? Soooooo limited!

Here's the last high school image I was able to dig up and what a one to close out with; Tarrik Brock's glamour shot is a real winner, especially thanks to that lovely button-up!

I'm sure this image also graced his Hawthorne HS (Cali x3) yearbook, surely with some "clever" inspirational quote underneath.  Couldn't Topps have, at least, used a picture of his playing baseball with the Cougars?  For that matter, all of these SC cards would have looked much better with actual baseball photos.

Tarrik (no relation to Lou) played in the minors for many years (1991-2003), getting one cuppacoffee with the Cubbies for the opening of the 2000 season.  As such, he got to play in the first MLB game played in Japan, since Chicago opened their season against the Mets at the Tokyo Dome.

Opening ceremonies for the 2000 season opener

And that is the extent of my Cubs high school cards; unsurprisingly, I didn't have all that many to choose from, seeing as they went on to bigger and better things.

Maybe next week we'll take this concept back even further and see if I have any cards that depict Cubbies as little leaguers.  I know a few sets have been produced with that concept in mind; I may have a few of them too.

Thanks for throwin' it back, high school style, with me this week.  Although, I suspect most of us spent more time "throwin' 'em back" during those four years than building prospect status.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"Parra" Necesitan Profundidad en el Toril

Bilingual puns!  What's better than a bad joke with culture?

I know I've been away from the blog and the blogosphere for the past few days; but, I have a good excuse.  After several years of scrolling through Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, etc. job listings without much success, I've finally nailed down a new job with an actual career path.  Yay, me!

So, this newly-crowned school district Technology Assistant has been spending the past few days running around and getting acquainted with my new surroundings, as well as adapting to the chaos that can be computer systems in a school filled with tiny ones.

As a direct result, I initially missed the "bombshell" acquisition that my chosen team made yesterday, inking lefty reliever Manny Parra to a minor league deal with an invitation to MLB camp.

Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, Rex Brothers, Jack Leathersich and Edgar Olmos... those are the names of all the other lefties that are already in Mesa with the parent club.  As it stands, that would appear to be an awful lot of competition "Parra" Manny.

Looks can be deceiving though - Wood and Richard are competing for rotation spots too, not to mention they're both effective as multi-inning relievers (more valuable than a specialist), Leathersich is coming off of TJ surgery and won't be ready until mid-season and Brothers/Olmos are both new faces without much of a proven track record.

Luckily for Parra, since being moved from the Milwaukee starting rotation and into the bullpen in 2012, his overall numbers have improved.  That said, he allowed a .271/.302/.441 line against lefties as a Red in 2015 - not exactly ideal.

This deal was done purely for depth, in case any of the previously mentioned names is wildly ineffective or gets injured for an extended length of time.  If he's willing, I can easily envision the Cubs stashing his arm in Iowa, as a mid-season replacement for what will likely be a tired 'pen during dog days of summer.

Any seasoned baseball fan knows that pitching depth is an illusion.  Taking a flier on a guy with an MLB track record on a minors deal is always a good idea.

If he does make an appearance as injuries and ineffectiveness occur throughout 2016 or if he manages to stun me and make the team out of camp, I'm overly-ready to add his name to my CATRC binder.  As you can see, I somehow have managed to acquire several cards of this pedestrian reliever from just my random purchases of loose packs.  So "Manny" Parras...

Okay, okay - I'll knock it off with the lame puns based on the poor guy's name.

In the meantime, I'll be doing my best to keep on a regular posting schedule for Wrigley Roster Jenga; I wouldn't want to keep my adoring fan waiting (hi, Mom!), after all.  Once I get settled into the new office, I imagine it'll be much easier to find the time and the motivation to bang out at least a short post every couple of days.

"¡Parra" mis afficianados!

I really just can't help myself - I have a problem.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Great American Race

In my pre-teen through teen years, one could not get me to leave the house on a Sunday for anything - no trip to Six Flags, rock concert or house fire would be enough to convince me to ignore that week's NASCAR Winston Cup action.  However, a lot has changed since then - I've long-since picked baseball as my no. 1 sport and very little about stock car racing's top circuit bears a resemblance to those tobacco sponsorship days.

That said, there are still two auto racing events that are nonnegotiable, appointment television to me - the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, two of the biggest sporting events in this country.  

I might not watch week in and week out like I used to, but the pageantry and prestige of winning the 500 Mile Sweepstakes or the Great American Race still keeps me tuned in for each year's running.

Now, since it's clearly not May - although, the temperatures out here in Chicago this weekend would justify that confusion - we can thereby deduce that I'm bringing all of this up in preparation for the Daytona race, the 58th running of which will be held tomorrow.

On Thursday, the final starting grid for one of motorsport's most prestigious events was set, after the running of what use to be known as the Gatorade Duels.  But, the front row (pos. 1 and 2) were set a week before that in the traditional qualifying format:

Since, my fervent fandom died down long before pole-sitter Chase Elliot arrived on the scene, I don't have any cards of the guy.  Throughout the course of this exercise, this will be a persistent problem; so, many thanks to COMC for filling the gaps here.

I feel old though - when I started watching racing, I don't think Chase was even in the double digits of age and his father Bill was still one of the sport's biggest stars... plus, he's taking over for the recently retired Jeff Gordon, who I still think of as "The Boy Wonder."  Time marches on...

Meanwhile, sitting with Elliott on the front row is a guy I'm much more familiar with - Matt Kenseth.  In fact, I've had the privilege of meeting the guy twice, as evidenced by the John Hancock on that Upper Deck Sneak Peak single from 2000.

Row 2:

Here we have the perennial overall favorite of the NASCAR fan-base, back when he was just a young punk with his bleached hair and such.  Next to him is another guy who's still known for being a punk, despite being a grizzled veteran, in Kyle "Rowdy" Busch.

Row 3:

The defending champion of the race in Joey Logano.  Fun fact, Logano doesn't actually need to wear a helmet while speeding around the tri-oval at 200+ mph; his hair-helmet is more than capable of protecting his noggin.

Jamie McMurray won his first Cup race in only his second attempt (2002), a modern day record; but, has only won 6 more times in the 472 contests his competed in since then (one of which being the 2010 edition of the Daytona 500).

Row 4:

Darn horizontal cards... ruining my format and such...

Here we have another son of a guy I used to root for in Ryan Blaney, son of Dave.  Alongside side of him is Kyle's brother Kurt Busch, who is a fervent Cubs fan.  So, I find it hard to ever root against the guy.  Perhaps this will be the year he can add the Harley J. Earl trophy to his case, alongside his 2004 Nextel Cup title.

Row 5:

The guy who will forever be cursed by not being as good as the legendary Dale Earnhardt.  Despite recording 31 wins, a ROY title, a Sprint Cup Championship and a Daytona win, he'll never measure up in the eyes of many a stubborn fan, since he was the immediate successor when Earnhardt was killed in 2001.

There's a Carl Edwards on the Cubs and there's a Carl Edwards in NASCAR.  This one is most known his acrobatic antics whenever he wins a race, performing a back-flip off of the roof of his car whenever he's first across the line.  I can never root against seeing that.

Row 6:

Dangabbit horizontal cards... again...

That's Denny Hamlin, artistically signing autographs on the right.  Starting next to him will be ANOTHER guy whose dad was racing when I was an avid NASCAR fan.  Ty Dillon's father Mike was a competitor in NASCAR's second rung for several years.

Stop making me feel old today!

Row 7:

The Kasey Kahne oddball to the right might be my favorite racing card that didn't get purged when I was a shortsighted college student.  This pre-rookie Kahne (my second favorite "Kahne" in sports) was a give away at Great Clips back when they sponsored Kahne in NASCAR's equivalent of AAA.

Kyle Larson is a guy who I know nothing about and, obviously, has no cardboard presence in my collection.

Row 8:

I am honestly shocked that I didn't have a Greg Biffle in my collection - after all, he started competing right in the midst of my peak fandom years.  I have a sneaking suspicion that his cards didn't survive that purge I alluded to earlier - this card looks unsettlingly familiar.

Danica gets a lot of flack for her results not living up to her notoriety.  However, I've been following her career since she was a rookie at the Indy 500 in 2005 and, thus, have a bit of a soft spot for her.  Plus, it'd be awesome to see such a traditionally conservative sport upended by a triumphant woman.  Here's hoping that 2016 is the year she puts it all together.

Row 9:

Chris Buescher won the championship in the Xfinity Series last season and will make the full-time jump to NASCAR's premier circuit this year.  All that being known, he's most notable to me for maybe accidentally breaking the news that a card company has finally picked up the NASCAR license, which has been dormant since Press Pass bit the bullet.

Vickers, like Biffle, is another guy I should really have in my NASCAR binder already.  On the other hand, he probably wouldn't have even been in this race if Tony Stewart didn't severely injure his back in an ATV accident.  As such, my original favorite driver (namesake and all) will miss his last chance to win the sport's premiere race. seeing as he's already announced 2016 will be his last go-round.

Row 10:

Two more guys who I really know nothing about and, accordingly, have no cards of.  The Stenhouse card comes from COMC and the DiBenedetto was swiped from Ebay, since even COMC doesn't have any cardboard for the obviously Italinan-American dude.

Row 11:

Ty out-qualified his brother Austin by quite a bit, as you can see.  The only reason I'm previously familiar with Austin is because of the feathers that were ruffled when it was announced he'd be piloting the sacred #3 when he entered the series full-time.  That sacred number hadn't been used since Earnhardt's death and a large faction of the fan-base felt that it should stay retired.  The way I see it, a number is a number and who gives a crap?

Michael Annett... my brian says:  *Error 404 - file not found*  

Row 12:

Bayne is still the youngest man to win the Daytona 500 (20 years old in 2011) and one of a handful to win the contest in their first attempt.  I'll be rooting for him because he now pilots the #6 Advocare Ford Fusion and my fiance and I are big-time proponents of Advocare.  Their products have helped me personally lose 20 pounds gained during my post-college, running lethargic period.

Landon Cassill is another one of those names that I'm not familiar with; however, the team he's driving for is one that I am.  Front Row Motorsports was one of those independent, barely staying afloat and lucky to even qualify teams that was field-filling way back when.  The fact that they've managed to stick around and even gain major corporate sponsorship is pretty nifty to see.  

Row 13:

Brad Keselowski was just emerging as I was backing away from NASCAR.  I should probably have a card of the 2012 circuit champion... but, I don't.

Meanwhile, the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time (yeah, I said it) is sitting rather far back in the field.  One can never count this guy out, though.

Row 14:  

Here we find Regan Smith and Martin Truex, Jr.  Two guys who are liable to sneak up and bite at any time, but just aren't consistent enough to be real threats.

Sidenote - I've always had a thing for the blue and yellow NAPA cars.  Something about those two colors together really does it for me.

Row 15

Last time I checked in, David Ragan was actually getting parked by NASCAR for being the cause of so many wrecks - not that he was purposely crashing others, he just didn't seem to have completely grasped controlling a Sprint Cup car.  He must have turned things around though, since he's still around now.

Allmendinger has been back in NASCAR for a couple of years now since having been banished back to the open wheel ranks (where he got his start) after testing positive for amphetamines.  Seeing as I've been regularly attending Indy 500 festivities since 2003, I always root for the open-wheelers who make the jump.

Row 16:  

Gotta love that hasty Photoshop job to get the Jack Daniels imagery off of that Clint Bowyer card.  If NASCAR cards were being produced now, he wouldn't have that problem since he's now sponsored by 5 Hour Energy, even though those drinks are probably worse for your health than a shot of whiskey.

Back to guys with an open wheel background, my father used to work for the company that sponsored Casey's father Roger at the Indy 500 back in the day and uncle Rick was one of his favorite drivers as well.  As such, it was almost inevitable that I'd root for a Mears as well.  Sadly, it seems as though my Casey's didn't survive the purge...

Row 17

While initially reviewing the starting grid, I audibly exclaimed, "Bobby Labonte is still competing?"  I was genuinely surprised, as the 2000 series champion was on the downslope when I was first losing interest in the sport.  Looking at his results, "competing" might be a strong word for the 51-year old, since he hasn't entered victory lane since 2003 (!!).

Almirola is another name I vaguely recognize, but know nothing about.

Row 18:  

I'm being told that Brian Scott is indeed a NASCAR driver and not a fusion of AC/DC's legendary lead singers Bon Scott and Brian Johnson.  Coulda fooled me.

Michael Waltrip is another guy I was genuinely astounded to see is still racing in 2016.  He's one year older than Labonte and 2003 was also the last year he saw victory lane.  However, he's one of NASCAR's greatest underdog stories of all-time; so, maybe he has one more great surprise left in him.

Row 19:  

Paul Menard is a guy that I suspect only gets by because of his last name.  If he wasn't a member of the same family that owns hardware and home improvement giant Menards, I don't think he'd keep getting big-time rides and his built-in sponsorship would be non-existent.  He's been in the Cup series since 2007 and despite driving for such storied teams as Dale Earnhardt Inc., Yates Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, he's won a grand total of once.  For that matter, he won only one race while coming up in the development series(s).

Ok - rant over.

*Sigh*, like Labonte, Mears, Vickers, etc., "Flyin' Ryan" joins the list of big-names who didn't survive my NASCAR card extermination attempt.

Row 20:

Michael McDowell's most notable moment in my eyes was his eye-popping wreck during qualifying for the 2008 Texas Motorspeedway event:

Even though the wall buckled like a belt and the card basically disintegrated, all of that was actually a good thing, since that means all the energy from the impacts were dissipated.  McDowell walked away like nothing happened.

Oh - Robert Richardson... apparently he's a NASCAR driver too.

There you have it - the full starting grid for tomorrow's running for the Daytona 500.  I'm looking forward to what will hopefully be an exciting show of speed and competition on the highest level.

Do any NASCAR fans who are reading this have any predictions for what may happen?  Who do you think will take home the trophy this year?  I'm going to put my money on Dale Earnhardt, Jr., since he's always been a natural when it comes to restrictor plate racing.

After this, I'll likely tune out of motorsports again until the May running of the Indianapolis 500, in favor of Cubs baseball.  So, make this one count guys!