When I'm bored, I have a tendency to casually scroll through my followed searches on Ebay, trolling for good deals on cards that would fill an empty slot in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection. Admittedly, oftentimes I am only doing so half-heartedly, without paying full attention, as I kill time during a slow period at work or during a commercial break while watching the Cubs game.
So, when I saw an auction stuck at a measly nine cents for a 1940 Play Ball single of Hy Vandenberg, I immediately pounced without giving it a second thought. It's quite surprising how often I see these ultra-vintage type cards show up with such low starting bids. Of course, they usually end up priced far out of my range, but I'll always give it a shot.
Oopsy daisy. As such, the auction ran it's course without another bid and I ended up with this Hy Vandenberg reprint. Still, just nine copper Lincolns for a new name to add to my CATRC binder - that's a pretty good deal. no matter what.
Well, that's when I noticed my second minor gaffe. I thought I had sorted my searches by "lowest price + shipping," thus presenting all of the items with free shipping first. Unfortunately, I noticed that this was not the case when I went to pay. Instead, I found that I had to pay $1.61 on shipping for this reprint card. Curses.
So it goes, I suppose. It really wasn't worth spending $1.70 on card that's truly dime box fodder; however, as far as financial screw ups go, this was hardly a blip on the radar. Not to mention the fact that I'm still one name closer to having one card for every player to ever suit up for the Cubbies.
Hy warming up as a Cub in 1945, image courtesy of TwinsDaily.com
As for the player pictured, after 8 years in the minors, Hy Vandenberg got his first taste of the Major Leagues in 1935 with the Boston Red Sox. In no uncertain terms, that initial taste was quite bitter - he posted a 20.25 ERA in 5 innings of relief work with the Sawx. After his particularly terrible debut, where he gave up four hits and walked a man without recording an out against the Yankees, he received some consolation from Lefty Grove, who assured him, "Don't feel bad, Son. We had a million dollars' worth of pitchers out there and we couldn't get them out."
So, back to the minors he went, though the BoSox decided that they'd seen all they needed to see in his brief trial. His contract was soon purchased by the New York Giants.
Words of wisdom from the Hall of Famer
He returned to the Majors in 1937 with the New Yorkers and spent some time with the Big League club each season through 1940. However, control problems plagued Hy and his powerful arm. Over that four season span, Vandenburg's ERA was 5.57 and he walked 40 men in 64.1 innings.
If not for World War II, that might very well have been where Hy's MLB career ended. However, after a brief trial with the Cardinals, he eventually found his way into the Chicago Cubs organization; it was there that he finally began to settle into the Major League life. Was it because the War had considerably thinned the talent found in the Bigs? Probably. Or, perhaps it was a positive influence provided by his Hall of Fame roommate in Chicago, the one and only Jimmie Foxx.
Bunking with greatness
From 1944-45, Hy became a valuable swingman for Charlie Grimm's Cubs, cumulatively providing a 14-7 record to go along with a 3.57 ERA coming out of the pen and rotation. He even came within inches of tossing a no-hitter on June 15, 1945, when the only knock was a first-inning double by Cincinnati's Ab Libke that barely eluded a shoestring catch by left-fielder Peanuts Lowrey.
In the Cubs final World Series appearance (to date), Vandenburg pitched in six innings of relief without giving up a run and only one single hit, including three frames of one-hit ball in relief of Hank Borowy and Paul Derringer in the deciding game seven. Maybe, just maybe, if Hy had gotten the start instead of the over-worked Borowy, history would be a little bit different. In fact, one sportswriter suggested that he had been the most impressive Cubs pitcher throughout the whole Series.
If only Grimm didn't try to throw Borowy three games in a row...
However, with World War II now over and with the boys returning home, the now 39 year old Hy soon found himself back in the minors. After training with the Cubs in Catalina for the spring, he was released unconditionally to the PCL and he never again took the mound in a Major League game... from a perfect World Series performance to the bushes - talk about "Hy's and lows!".
After just one campaign in the minors, Vandenburg left professional baseball; although, his love for the game must not have died, as he continued to pitch in the amateur leagues once he called it quits as a pro.
And so, the purchase itself might have been a bit of an accident; nevertheless, I can't be too disappointed when I get to add a new face my massive binder.
Have you ever bought accidentally bought something on Ebay (or any other service) as a result of casual or careless scrolling? Did it all work out in the end or was it a much bigger deal than what I presented above? Inquiring minds want to know.
At any rate, from now on, I'll have to make sure that I am on "Hy-alert" from now on, when perusing the virtual card aisles.