My local Goodwill thrift stores keep throwing more and more surprises my way.
In previous trips, I have found such intriguing and out of place gems as a Yokohama Bay Stars t-shirt, some Taiwanese baseball cards and boxes of cards that weren't actually entirely made of junk wax. Throw in some rockin' 45's for my other big collecting mission and Goodwill is quickly becoming one of my favorite impulse trips.
So, I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised when I found out this cellophane wrapped bunch of cards, with Mr. Cub himself staring right through, was sitting on the sporting goods shelf:
My fiancee is a manager of one of the Goodwills - it's awesome getting the lowdown of what neat stuff comes through.
Based on the card on the top, you might be inclined to think that this is some sort of special Heritage or Archives collation. There's good reason for that; however, you'd be quite wrong. What we have here is a special set of team-issued cards from 2013.
After receiving tons of positive feedback on their inclusion of classic Topps designs on their ticket stubs the year before, Cubs brass decided to take things to another level. After an employee came across a sampling of Topps Archives (thus the resemblance) at a local Target, the idea for an actual card set featuring notable players from the past and present plastered on some of Topps most notable designs.
While I did make it to a few games in '12, my ticket stubs are in storage.
So, here's an image borrowed from the internet.
Believe or not, despite the fact that team-issued baseball cards are a staple older than Topps itself, this was the first time that a ball club actually approached the company with such an idea.
Thus, over the course of four special home dates in 2013, sets of approximately 20 of these bad boys were handed out at the gates. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to any of those contests, seeing as 2013 was a terrible, horrible, no-good year for me financially. However, now I have that at least partially rectified.
Of course, since I'm not an investor, I immediately tore open the cellophane and began leafing through the cards. They all feature the same back with the same comic and promotional info (somewhat disappointing, but not entirely unexpected).
Also, as you can see, this is card #1 (well, CUBS-1) in the set, meaning that the package I found was the first given away on Friday, May 3rd against the Reds. This was a heart-breaker of a game in which they lost 6-5 despite a 3-run rally in the bottom of the ninth. Well, at least there were baseball cards to lighten the mood.
Let's take a look at what cards patrons were leafing through as the Cubs struggled through a rebuild:
1954 is such a beautiful set - including the Banks at the top, we get three of these lookers with considerable Hall of Fame clout.
1956 was the next set in the timeline to make it into the set. Starlin Castro was one of the only Cubs players worth watching at the time (and apparently is the hottest hitter alive in NY right now), so of course it wasn't going to be long before he showed up.
Meanwhile, this is Slammin' Sammy's only appearance in any of the four giveaways. Sosa wasn't on good terms with the Ricketts (and still isn't); however, they realized that if the franchise's all-time home run leader wasn't included at all, that would be a gaping hole.
Speaking of leaders, here's a young and vibrant Gracie, the man who would lead all of baseball in hits during the 1990's, on the 1964 design.
Next are up are a strong defensive combo up the middle, featured on the 1967 layout.
Don Kessinger was a glove first player who could actually hit well enough to stay in the everyday lineup and was part of the equally beloved and maligned Cubs teams of the late 60's/early 70's. Darwin Barney was just coming off of a Gold Glove campaign in 2012 and so we thought would be a block to build with in the next few years. Unfortunately, his palatable bat quickly deteriorated and he soon found himself as a role player for other clubs.
Flash forward a few years and here we have 1971, in all of it's black-bordered beauty. I love black borders on my baseball cards, it's just a shame that they chip so easily. Both Dawson and Starlin are already making their second appearance; but, the "Shark" is showing up for the first time.
Like Darwin, he seemed destined to be part of the next great Cubs team at the time. However, it soon became apparent that he'd price himself out of the Cubs range in negotiating an extension and found himself traded away to Oakland. That was the very same deal that netted the Cubbies Addison Russell, so he did in fact make a very large contribution to the next Cubs team worth watching!
Here's Ernie again, this time on a card design from 1977.
This is the first time that my eyes have been distracted by a notable error in the reproduction of the design. The font on the "CUBS" is way off and the kerning is much more spaced out than it was on the original. Let's take a look at a side by side:
Like I said, that's a pretty noticeable discrepancy; the red text ain't so right either. I guess there were bound to be a few mistakes though.
Oh hey - it's Mr. Cub again, this time on a 1982 card. I guess being that he's the most popular and recognizable name in franchise history, it make sense that he would appear the most in a promotional campaign.
This picture shows up an awful lot in Topps products, doesn't it?
Here we have a couple of 1984's to gander at - corner infield greats of the past and present.
If Ernie Banks is the most recognizable and beloved Cub, than Ron Santo is a not so distant second. Interesting that they used a picture from later in his tenure for the main shot and one from his early days as the inset. I kind of like that - it makes for a nice "then and now" effect.
Here's hoping the Riz can approach the Hall of Fame legacy left by Santo. At this time, he was looking like somewhat of a disappointment, flailing at lefties while the man he was traded for (Andrew Cashner) was looking like an ace. Funny how the tides can turn so quickly, huh?
New Yankees darlin', Starlin shows up again in 1987, this time accompanied by the "Sweet Swingin'" Billy Williams.
Now we're starting to get into sets that I have some personal nostalgia attached to. I might not have been born for another two years, but I had oodles of wood-grain '87's in my childhood collection (y'know, junk wax and all).
This might be one of the best looking sets of the time; that said, I do find it interesting that they chose it and not the set it's based on (1962). Perhaps that design shows up in one of the later giveaways? I honestly have no clue.
The final set represented in this pack was 1996, the only difference here being that all of the gold foil has been replace with golden-colored text instead. This is a choice that I think does nothing but improve on the design and make ti easier to read.
Fergie makes his second appearance in this segment of the giveaway, unfortunately using the same image as found on the inset of his '54; however, it sure does look nice. We also get fan favorite Shawon Dunston sporting some serious bling as he chugs around the bases.
However, I was thoroughly caught off guard seeing Bobby Murcer make an appearance. As a Cub, he really only had one good half-season and was only in Chicago for one full year. Not to mention, he was the key piece coming our way in the infamous Bill Madlock trade that truly fostered the long time third base deficiency in town.
What a terrible deal that turned out to be.
Still, kudos to Topps and the Cubs for digging a little deeper into club history and getting past the usual subjects. That made for a nice surprise.
Speaking of surprises, this team-issued set doesn't show up all that often. Perhaps the fact that the portions ended up in the hands of a lot of non-collectors keeps it from showing up on the secondhand market? All I know is that I couldn't find any listings on Ebay nor have they popped up at any of the card shows I've attended.
Oh well, at least I'm a quarter of the way done now. Additionally, though there are some flaws to the set (some design flaws and the same back for all cards), I have to say, this was an excellent set of cards. The card stock wasn't thin and flimsy like the real Archives cards either; much more similar to regular Flagship, in that regard.
As far as I'm aware, there hasn't been any Cubs team-issued sets since then and that's a darn shame. Furthermore, I don't think Topps has done any further promos with a team similar to this - I guess it wasn't deemed successful. However, maybe now that the Cubs are made up of players we'd actually like to remember and it wouldn't have to rely so heavily on players of the past, we might at least get a more traditional team-issue set in the near future.