Wednesday, November 30, 2016

He's Got Two First Names

The Cubs have officially made their first big move of the off-season (excluding minor waiver claims and such) by signing a man with two first names.  Here's hoping that the signing of Jon Jay works out as well as the discovery of a certain NASCAR driver with two first names, as seen above.  I mean, I know he's not real and all, but anytime I can cram a reference to one of my favorite movies, I'm going to take the bait.

Getting back on track, luckily I had a card of this brand new Cub sitting in my trade stacks, queued up and ready to slide right into my CATRC binder.  Although, I was kind of surprised I only had one:

I normally have a penchant for pulling cards of Chicago's biggest rival.

The Cubs have inked Jon Jay to a one-year, eight million dollar deal, despite already dealing with a glut of outfielders:  Heyward, Schwarber, Zobrist, Almora, Soler, Szczur.  With that in mind, the centerfielder's acquisition all but rules out the return of spark plug Dexter Fowler, unless a few more big, unforeseen moves lie ahead.  That said, as we Cubs fans learned last spring, with Dex, anything can happen.

As for Jay himself, he's a lefty bat that's good for an above average batting average, decent OBP, few strikeouts and almost no power.  He's also widely considered to be one of the top defensive outfielders in the National League.  On the down side, he's coming off of a couple of down years; but this was mostly due to injuries to his wrist in 2015 with the Cards and a broken right forearm in his lone year for the Padres.

I really thought I had this one.

Prior to the plunking that took out his forearm last June, Jay had been putting together a solid campaign, leading the league in extra base hits and the Padres with 80 hits, all with a .299 batting mark.  

Jay provides a cheap, low-risk insurance policy and could either become a decent starter in center or a top-notch fourth outfielder.  Plus, with Jay, Albert Almora and Jason Heyward, the Cubs outfield defense as the potential to be phenomenal.   The biggest downside is that the move likely signals the end of the Dexter Fowler era; however, one must remember that Jay will not be a direct replacement.  Rather, he serves as an upgrade from Chris Coghlan, who is now a free agent.

Jay does everything that pseudo-starter Coghlan brought to the table, except that he also provides excellent defense at all three outfield positions (in fact, he's tied with Jacoby Ellsbury in fielding percentage, .995, by active players) and, specifically, is a capable center fielder.

Taking all of that into consideration, the motivation for the Cubs' signing of Jay appears to be as a contingency plan or platoon partner for would-be-centerfielder Albert Almora, something Coghlan would not have been able to handle.

The platoon naturally comes to mind for these two since they both bat from opposite sides of the plate.  With that stated, neither player shows significant platoon splits and each can seemingly handle opposite-handed hurlers.  However, if Theo and Co. don't feel as though Albert is quite ready to take on the role of a full-time starter at the Major League level (he's only played 47 games at AAA), the platoon could still be on the table.  Otherwise, should Albert stumble, Jon Jay will be right there to take over.

For his part, Mr. Almora doesn't appear to be miffed at all with this development:

Rather, Albert seems quite excited to have a fellow Miamian on the roster.  I mean, look at all the exclamation points and emojis.  Good to see.

Furthermore, "The Federalist" brings a strong nickname game to the Chicago Cubs roster and that is one intangible that simply cannot be ignored.  Jay earned this moniker due to the fact that he shares him name with one of our founding fathers, though it's spelled slightly different:

John Jay (with an "h") was a signatory of the Treaty of Paris, President of the Continental Congress, a Governor of New York and the first Chief Justice of the United States.  Additionally, he authored five of the Federalist Papers, which helped lead to the adoption of our Constitution and, correspondingly, served as a leader in the Federalist political party.

Quite the highbrow nickname, eh?

All things considered, I'm very much in favor of this move and think Jon Jay will perform rather well in a Cubs uniform, provided that he's able to stay healthy in 2017.  He's not exactly a marquee name, but he'll make for a useful spare part/part-time starter on a team that really doesn't need anything more than tinkering and tweaking.  After all, they did win the World Series last season!  😀😀😀

 Welcome to Chicago, Jon Jay!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A True Cyber Monday

In honor of America's second favorite shopping holiday, I present to you my latest custom "card" - a true Cyber Monday, if you will.

In recent years, the Monday immediately following Thanksgiving has become dedicated to Black Friday-esque sales from online retailers.  Thus, you get all of the crazy deals that drive people nuts on Black Friday; however, you lose all of the fun of camping out at midnight, fighting with rabid and frenzied customers, and parking lots filled with more cars than a NASCAR infield.  Actually, it's kind of hard not to see the appeal there.

Anywho, with that in mind, I decided to blend the ill-fated Topps Cybr Card football release, which was a series of CD-ROM "cards" put out from 1995-96 in an attempt to be on the cutting edge of technology.  These oddities were full-sized CD's chock full of video highlights and stats; thus, they weren't really anything like cards and thus failed to grasp the attention of the target audience,

Swiped off Ebay, for frame of reference

Copycatting Upper Deck perfected this idea a couple of years later (1999) with their multi-sport Power Deck release, which was built on the same concept, but used mini, card-sized CD-ROMs, which could be slid into a CD drive or a nine-pocket sheet with ease.  As Hannah Montana might say, you get the best of both worlds.

Please excuse the Hannah Montana reference, it's been a long day.

This image swiped from the Trading Card DB because, much to my consternation, I have none of these

In the end, the pun-tastic marriage of cyber trading cards and former A's/Cubs/Dodgers outfielder and part-time American flag rescuer seemed too good to pass up.  It's certainly not my best work, but I think it gets the message across - a true Cyber Monday.

If you partook in this particular retail holiday, I hope you found some steals of deals.  If you didn't, well... ummm.... happy Monday?  Hopefully your Thanksgiving holiday was full of good company, conversation, tasty food and plenty to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Barely Bearing Da Bears

 Do the Bears even still play in Chicago?

I mean, what with the continuing after glow of the Cubs World Series win, the continued excellent play of the Blackhawks and the surprisingly resurgent Bulls, the Bears are easily the redheaded step child of the Windy City sports family.  Of course, rampant injuries like that to much-maligned QB Jay Cutler, PED-induced suspensions to multiple key players and the stagnation of the John Fox/Ryan Pace led rebuild haven't exactly helped the franchise's relevancy.

The future isn't looking particularly bright either, with the development of key young guys like Kevin White and Kyle Fuller hitting stumbling blocks.  As such, one has to dig into the past to find anything remotely worth talking about when it comes to the Monster of the Midway.

With that being the case, it's appropriate that today's trip to the LCS in support of Small Business Saturday produced nothing but vintage additions to my Bears' All Time Roster Collection:

When it comes to baseball, I'm always gung-ho about cards that feature extra infielders, lefty specialist and other 25th man type players; thus, it's only appropriate that I be most excited about crossing a pair of vintage kickers off of my football needs list.

Roger LeClerc was a linebacker in addition to being Chicago's primary kicker in the early 60's.  Most notably, he kicked the winning field goal in the 1963 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants.  Meanwhile, Percival was acquired by the Bears to replace LeClerc in 1967 and stuck around through the '73 season. He is the last Bears kicker to make five field goals in a game and is known for his basketball career at Texas Tech, where he never played a down of football.

Here we move from special teams to the offensive squad with a guard and a center from the days of yore.

Jim Cadile stuck around the Windy City from his being drafted out of San Jose State in 1962 through the 1972 season - a full decade with the Monsters of the Midway, opening holes for names like Sayers and Piccolo.  With LeClerc, he was part of the Bears squad which won the pre-Super Bowl NFL title in 1963.  Rich Coady wasn't yet around at the time that occurred, but the hometown kid probably cheered from home.  The Second City native eventually suited up for his local heroes from 1970-74, playing in 67 games along the way.

Now, we flip to the other side of the ball, courtesy of one Dave Whitsell.

Sporting my favorite number, 23, and one that's done well in Chicago sports (Sandberg, Hester, Dye), Whitsell dressed as a defensive back from 1961-66, making him the third member of those '63 Champions to appear in this post.  Prior to the '67 season, Whitsell was lost in the expansion draft to the New Orleans Saints, a fact that you might have already caught if you looked closely at the above card.

That was all of the vintage football that I came away with from the LCS; however, I did make one more recent addition to my Bears All-Time Roster Collection a few days prior that I might as well showcase now:

A topical one too, since Orlando Pace was inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

I was lucky enough to pull this shiny, Pinnacle single of Pace from an impulse purchase of a Dollar Tree repack.  Of course, "The Pancake Man" is enshrined in Canton for his exploits with the St. Louis Rams; however, let's not forget that, in 2009, Pace finished up his storied career with a single season in Chicago, a stint which ended prematurely due to injuries.

Controversially, during the broadcast of Pace's acceptance speech, the NFL cut out the portion which thanked St. Louis fans, the city from which his Rams abandoned for LA this offseason.  The NFL seems to have fists permanently made of ham.

With that, we've seen the extent of my football additions so far during football season.  Like I said, it's kind of hard to get into the gridiron with the backyard tire fire that is the 2016 Chicago Bears. However, cheap vintage football cards are always going to catch my attention, regardless of the team's standing.  My Bears collection is severely lacking pre-1980.

As great as reminiscing with the 1963 NFL Champions was, here's hoping that the current iteration of the franchise can get this thing turned around in the next couple years.  In the meantime, I'll gladly keep my focus on the perennial Stanley Cup contenders that are the Blackhawks.

After all, Ryan Hartman and Co. are much more fun to watch.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Borders on Black Friday

I do not believe in going out and blowing money on material things the day after we celebrate family and being thankful for what we have in our lives; also, since I work for a school district, I have the day off as well - yay for long weekends!  As such, I have nothing better to do today than blog and since it's Black Friday and I have no intention of going out into the retail hellscape, no matter how good the deals are, why not celebrate by showing off my favorite black-bordered cards?

Now, that I can get behind!

First off, here's a couple of early 90's oddballs which came with magazines.  That perforated Dave Smith came from the official Cubs periodical, Vineline, and was part of a larger set which came with one of the monthly editions in 1991.  Whichever one that was, I have no idea.  I can't find a lot of info on this regional set and I only found the one in my LCS several years ago.

Meanwhile, Donovan Osborne is represented in my CATRC binder by this Investor's Journal. Like the Vineline set, this was part of a recurring set issued in panels within the magazine.  Is there anything more 90's than a card of a hot rookie contained within a magazine which touted baseball cards as investments?  Methinks not.

Next up, we have a pair of cards which shine the spotlight on players of yore.

The Ned Williamson black bordered beauty hails from the 2012 edition of UD's Goodwin Champions.  It's not too often that stars from pre-20th century baseball show up in modern products; thus, any time that they do I can't help but do a little happy dance.  Personally, I'd say it's an era that deserves a retrospective set of it's own - I'd buy that.

Also, we have Hy Cohen - short-term Cubs hurler of the 50's - courtesy of the Jewish Major Leaguers set, which was released in installments since 2003 (this one is from the first).  The concept behind this set is pretty obvious and was put onto the market through a partnership with Fleer.

Throughout it's long history in the baseball card market, Topps has had a thing for white borders, minus a couple of exceptions.

While black borders make for a sleek set which truly makes the colors of the picture pop, they are quite prone to chipping, as you can see with this 1971 Topps single of Bob Miller.  It's for this reason that I'd wager that Topps generally shies away from dark-colored borders.  Nevertheless, '71 is still one of my favorite vintage sets.

In modern times, Topps went "back in black" once, this time with their 2007 Flagship set, as modeled by "he was a Cub?" Craig Monroe.  While the Cubs were winning the NL Central, I was chasing these beauties down.  The only thing that bugs me about these cards is the foil text - with dark borders, these become nearly impossible to read.

In an attempt to be different and set themselves apart from the industry leader, other baseball card manufacturers have opted for black borders as well.

Here we have a couple examples of this phenomena from 1985 Donruss and 1993 Pinnacle.  In all honesty, I don't have too much to say about these particular releases.  Although, especially with the latter set, I will say again that the black borders make for a sleek design.

More modern oddballs featuring players from days long gone by - battery mates from the days of the last Cubs World Series Champions.

I've made it abundantly clear that Conlon Collection has been, hands down, the most helpful set when simply-designed beauts featuring the imagery of Charles Conlon which populate my binder.  Without this set, it would have been drastically more difficult to get as far with this collection as I have. Thus, I will always consider this product one of my favorites of all-time.

Next to Archer, we have a "Origins of Baseball" single from a highly under-appreciated 1994 set produced by American Archives Publishing.  This is my most preferred card of ol' "Three-Finger" since the inset photo shows off exactly why Mordecai was slapped with that moniker.  A very nice touch!

We're almost done here, but what would a discussion about black-bordered cards be without a Bowman dump?

So many Bowman sets, so little time.  Suffice it to say that pre-rookies from Bowman and it's product-defining black borders from 1997 through 2011 have proven to be most helpful in keeping up with obscure, roster jenga players the Cubs have employed over the years.  I mean, does anyone but me remember Brad Snyder or Jose Ascanio played on the Northside?

With that, I've exhausted my black baseball card supply, at least in terms of my CATRC binder.  You might say that I have none more black.

I hope you enjoyed this little color-coded exercise in honor of Black Friday.  After all, it's a much safer way of spending this retail holiday - no shoppers foaming at the mouth, no around the block lines, no NASCAR parking lot mayhem, and much less bloodshed.

Sounds good to me!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Call Heard Round the World

First of all, let me wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!  I truly hope your only reading this if there is a brief moment of downtime in your family's gathering or if you're trying to avoid awkward political discussions with your drunken uncle.  Been there - I totally get it.  I mean this sincerely, after all, I banged out this post last night so I'd be free to celebrate and I'm currently getting my butt handed to me in a game of football with good friends.

We have a great many things in life to be thankful for, including life itself.  We baseball fans have been reminded of that in the past couple days, with the passing of a Dodger heel who yet remained universally revered - hurler Ralph Branca.  You know - the guy who gave up the "Shot Heard Round the World."  Branca is a fantastic example for today's young athletes (and really people in general) in learning how to deal with defeat. He truly never let that "shot" get the best of him in his 90 years of life.  RIP Ralph.

While we have all heard of that famous home run, there was a notable event that occurred just a few days earlier that set up Bobby Thomson's heroics.  This incident involved then-future Cub outfielder, Bob Addis.

Just a few days ago, Mr. Addis (shown here on an Archives reprint) also passed away, at the age of 91.  Unfortunately, his passing didn't receive nearly the same press coverage because, well, name recognition.  That said, had his controversial play not occurred, we might not remember Mr. Branca's name.  On that note, this seems like the perfect time to pay our respects to Bob Addis.

But a week earlier, entering the final weekend of play, the Dodgers still held a slim, one game lead on the surging New York Giants, who had been as far back as 13.5 games that summer.  The Brooklyn ballclub found themselves in Boston and a single win would require them to "lose out" in order to complete drain their once-impressive lead.  It was in the bottom of the eight inning at Borchert Field on September 27th that Addis found himself on center stage.

In a closely-contested game, the score was knotted up at 3 apiece going into that half inning.  Addis found himself on third base with none out when Earl Torgeson smacked a sharply struck grounder to Jackie Robinson at 2nd, who then fired a strike to Roy Campanella, who was completely blocking the plate.  The throw easily beat Bob to the dish; however, when the dust cleared, umpire Frank Dascoli signaled the runner safe, claiming that Addis had somehow slid under the tag.  The go-ahead run scored and all hell broke loose on the field.

There's no video of the play in question; that said, there is this set of photographs.  Do you think he was safe?
Images courtesy of Tom Conmy on Photobucket

Campy immediately hopped up and began hootin' and hollerin', which lead to an immediate ejection from the agitated Dascoli.  Half of the Brooklyn bench took to the diamond to protest with Campanella and it took a few more ejections (eventually the entire Dodger bench was given the "heave ho") and several minutes to clear the field.  However, the damage had already been done and "Dem Bums" went on to lose the game 4-3.  The Giants, who were idle that day, found themselves just a 0.5 game back of the NL lead and you know the rest of that bedtime story.

With that, Addis' role in baseball history was sealed, though it's importance was gradually forgotten thanks to Thomson's infinitely more famous blow.  However, it's quite possible that "the shot" would never have happened without "the call."   The butterfly effect.

Without Addis, perhaps we would have forgotten this gentleman's name

For the large impact he left on baseball history, Bob Addis wasn't in the Major Leagues for very long:  1950-53.  Having been originally signed by the Yankees in 1943 and drafted away by the Dodgers four years later (where he was briefly teammates with Campanella in the minors), Bob didn't crack a Big League roster until he was traded to the Boston Braves.

The outfielder eventually found himself as a regular off the bench for Billy Southworth's Braves, though his decent batting average (.273) was belittled by his lack of extra base power and his inability to draw walks.  As nothing more than a scrappy, singles-hitter, Boston decided to move on from Addis and swapped him with Chicago for Jack Cusick.

Cusick is repped in my CATRC by this '52 Bowman

After another season with a adequate batting average (.295) and nothing else coming from the bench, Addis got off to a slow start in 1953 and found himself included in the massive and famed 9-player trade that brought Ralph Kiner to the Windy City from Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately for Bob, he only received four more hitless at-bats in the Majors for the Pirates before he was given his walking papers.

With his professional baseball career over after a few more seasons in the "bushes,"  Addis went back to school and finished his education.  He eventually earned his degree and became a history teacher, baseball coach and Athletic Director at Euclid High School, near his hometown in Ohio.  It's only appropriate that man with a key role in baseball history should go on to teach history himself!

Addis (at right, jacket) during his days as a Euclid Panther
Image courtesy of the Euclid Observer

So, there you have it, the story and significance of Mr. Bob Addis - eventual Cub, sneaky slider and respected educator.  I'd say that he certainly made the most of his 91 years!

Not to be forgotten, many thanks go out to Tom Conmy of Behind the Bag and N. Diunte of Baseball Happenings, whose writings proved to be invaluable resources when it came to properly telling the story of "The Call Heard Round the World."

Here's hoping all of you might be reading this are enjoying your Turkey Day and are celebrating properly among close friends, family and whole bunch of tasty, belt-bursting food.  Remember to give thanks for all that you have in this world, including life itself, which is ever so fragile.

R.I.P. Bob Addis and Ralph Branca, two major players in one of baseball's best yarns.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Replacements

For twenty-two years, baseball has operated in a fairly harmonious peace.  Well, we learned yesterday that relations between the Player's Union and Major League Baseball aren't too hot right now, as they try to hammer down a new labor agreement.  In fact, Ken Rosenthal reported that there's a chance we might see the owners' engage in a lockout should a compromise not be reached in time.

While there's little chance that such an occurrence would last long enough to have any affect on the actual season, once can't help but be reminded of the mid-90's strike and the ill-fated attempt to bring in replacement players that followed.  In fact, that really got my wheels spinning... who could we bring in to fill out the lineup card, should we reach that point.

One of my favorite sports movies of all-time is The Replacements.  On that note, for funsies, I decided to write out a starting lineup made up of non-baseball players.  The rules for this starting nine is that the person depicted must be known primarily for something other than baseball and be featured on an actual baseball card.  I know you're itching to see who I came up with, so without any further ado, I present to you the Replacements!

I should also note, I was forced to raid COMC for images, since I have almost none of these cards.

Starting on the mound for the Replacements is Jim Harbaugh, the former Bears quarterback and current Michigan head coach.  While the Tigers may have only brought him in to toss out the ceremonial first pitch, he showed dedication in showing up in full uniform.  Not to mention, as a for NFL QB, he must have a decent arm.  Let's see if the skills translate.

Callings the pitches for Harbaugh will be Kevin "Crash Davis" Costner.

Okay, so Costner may have only played a catcher on TV, the options for this position were exceptionally limited.  Also, let's not discount the fact that the well-known baseball fanatic played backstop quite convincingly in Bull Durham and he brings team leadership skills to the table.  Of course, who knows if his knees can handle this position today.

Our first baseman shall be the one and only Will Ferrell, he of spring training publicity stunt fame.

I could have plugged the king of comedy into any position, seeing as he literally played every position on the diamond over the course of his well-documented ST stint prior to the 2015 season and Topps produced a corresponding card for each.  However, this is a Cubs-themed blog after all, so I decided to opt for the position he played for the Chicago National League Ballclub.  Plus, he didn't look very good elsewhere in the field at the time.

Okay, so here we have a legitimate athlete - second base will be held down by Russell Wilson.

This theoretical work stoppage would occur at the beginning of the season, long after the Superbowl and well before the start of the next NFL calendar.  Thus, Seattle's signal caller might just be available to help this squad out.  Remember, he was drafted by the Rockies and was considered a legitimate prospect by the organization - getting him to join the team would be a major coup.

Here's another pro athlete; however Johnny Manziel should be much more available that Wilson.

The former Cleveland quarterback's self-destruction and subsequent "exile" from the NFL has been anything but a secret.  Perhaps he could work on getting his pro sports career back on track by playing a little baseball?  The San Diego Padres drafted him as shortstop back in 2014; but, he hasn't played baseball since high school.  Well, if Tim Tebow can try it....

At the hot corner, we have Philadelphia Flyers' hockey Hall of Famer Eric Lindros.

Honestly, the jumping off point for this whole experiment was an article about unique Lindros cards I read on Beckett in the wake the centre's HOF induction last week.  Naturally, the piece included a brief snippet about his 1990 Score baseball card, which was produced after Lindros took batting practice with the Blue Jays.  Think maybe he wants to give baseball another go?

Into the outfield we go, starting with musical left fielder Garth Brooks.

Okay - so, I cheated a little bit here.  The country music superstar never had a baseball card produced with his likeness, so I created one with the Rookies App - it's my blog, I can break the rules if I want to!  It's criminal that he doesn't have a card though, since long before Ferrell's antics, Brooks went to spring camp with the Padres, Mets and Royals and manned the corner outfield spots.  How has this never been immortalized on cardboard?

Fresh off of winning a Presidential Medal of Freedom, "His Airness" himself will man center field - put him in coach, he's ready to play.

Jordan's short-lived baseball career has been discussed ad naseum, so this should require no explanation.  He may be considerably older, but maybe the second time is the charm for "Air Jordan."  I mean, he can still dunk and he still thinks he can cut it in the NBA... who's to say he wouldn't still believe that he could make it on a baseball field too?  Here's his chance.

Rounding up the starting lineup, we have our fourth former NFL quarterback - John Elway - plopped in right field.

Like Russell Wilson, John Elway was seen as a legit baseball prospect and spent some time in the Yankees farm system while his NFL contract rights were being sorted out.  In some alternate universe, Elway might have be a part of the Torre-Era Yankees dynasty instead of guiding the Broncos to a Superbowl win.  Who knows?

Speaking of the Yankees, as a special bonus, I've included a designated hitter for an AL ballclub or a pinch-hitting specialist for a NL team:

This is the only card shown here today that I actually have - Billy Crystal swinging the bat for his absolute favorite team.

The lauded actor, of course, is a Yankees super fan and even directed the severely underrated baseball film 61* about the Maris/Mantle home run chase.  As a special favor to Crystal, the Yanks allowed him to lead off a 2008 ST game (as a DH) against the Pirates and future Cub Paul Maholm.  He even managed to foul a fastball up the first base line, but was eventually struck out on six pitches.  I'd say that's a more than respectable cameo; so, let's give Billy a shot at a full-time gig!

Well, at least he's got the majestic follow through down.

And there you have it, my very own version of the Replacements.  While it's highly improbable that any potential work stoppage would last into spring training, let alone the regular season schedule, these non-baseball players featured on actual baseball cards will be standing by, waiting in the wings.  Of course, they'd be absolutely terrible since most of them aren't athletes and a good portion of them are over the age of 50... that said, the team sure would be interesting to watch!

Here's hoping that MLB and the Player's Union can come together on an agreement in time for the December 1st deadline.  The main sticking points appear to revolve around an international draft, compensation for teams that lose free agents, the competitive-balance tax and the Joint Drug Agreement.

The last thing baseball needs is another work stoppage.