Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mysteries of the Three Sisters

Sounds like the title of an old mystery novel, doesn't it?

Three Sisters is the name of a popular antique mall in my new locale, one which I just discovered yesterday afternoon, courtesy of a random Google search.  You see, I have Monday's off in the summer months and oftentimes end up with way too much free time on my hands.  Seeing as my second favorite pastime (first is baseball, duh) is secondhand shopping, I decided to see if there were any good spots in the area for me to explore on my day off.  Good thing my whole afternoon was free too because I found myself wandering around the Blue Island, IL storefront for several hours, located on the community's main drag.

Not all who wander are lost (granted, I usually am) - there was enough tchotchkes, Americana, curiosities, and, of course, antiques to keep me entertained and pique my interest for about three hours.  You see, I've come to discover that this joint is quite the local hot-spot, garnering interest from several counties over and earning inclusion in the local antiquities network (which is more lucrative than you'd think) and it's been voted the Best of Chicago's Southland for antiques for twenty years running in the Daily Southtown.

Aisles upon aisle of vendors were filled with glass cases and numerous shelving units and bins filled with all kinds of wonders.  In fact, one floor wasn't even enough to contain everything; there was a second, bonus floor in the basement for all of the overflow.  Simply put, this charming place is a resale junkie's dream come true.

Of course, when I hit the antique shops, thrift stores, garage sales, etc., there's usually only one, main thing on my mind - baseball cards!  While my mind was captivated by the century's worth of accumulated treasures; I was surprised by the lack of trading cards.  Usually there's at least a few shoe boxes filled with 1991 Donruss or 1989 Topps or some other junk wax staples.  However, in this case, the only baseball cards that I bumped into came from one, sole vendor.  That said, this vendor had no lack of stock to chose from.

I wish I thought to snap a picture of his area, as this seller had one big, glass case each for the Bears, Bulls, White Sox, Cubs, and even some wrasslin' and comic book cards and novelties.  It truly was a sight to behold - so much sports memorabilia!

It was almost a certainty that I was going to pick up SOMETHING for my troubles, with that much to choose from.  Among the goodies was a large amount of vintage Topps, reprints, flashy modern product, and oddballs.  Being the lover of the weird that I am, I decided to grab a set of cards from that latter category - a set which I had never seen nor heard of before:

Perhaps I would have seen this set before if I had some Acuvue contact lenses at my disposal!

This shrink-wrapped set of over-sized (4" x 3") trading cards was tough to pick out of the over-crowded case; but, once I saw it, my curious mind absolutely had to have it.  Information on the cards is pretty much non-existent online, excepting a few Ebay listings with no helpful descriptions.  I believe this is either a SGA set or a premium issued with Acuvue contact lenses, a former sponsor of your Chicago Cubs; however, I can't find any info to actually verify either theory.

'Tis a mystery.

The only thing I can say for certain about these bad boys is that they hail from the year 2008 - a year in which Chicago baseball reached a fever pitch, as both Windy City clubs found themselves in the thick of the pennant race and, ultimately, champions in their respective divisions.  This detail is made evident by the copyright line found on the back of each card in the small set; but, the player selection in the plastic-wrapped pack absolutely screams 2008, as well.

It doesn't get much bigger than D-Lee, A-Ram, Big Z, or Demp when it comes to the Chicago Cubs of that time period - it doesn't take contact lenses to be able to see that.

For promos, these oddball cards sure do have an intricate design, at least on the front.  The torso for each Second City star is cut out and placed over what can only be described as a baseball diamond blueprint (perhaps defensive chart?), which is in turn layered on top of a crowd shot.  This whole scene is enclosed by a white border.  As an added bonus, in addition to the listing of the player name, team affiliation, and position played in the top left corner for each athlete, we also get their uniform number on the opposite side.  I think we can all agree that adding the uniform number is always a welcome treat when it comes to baseball cards.

The backside is a little less noisy - we get the player name, team name, and a brief rundown of each Cub's career highlights, all between a Cubs logo and the logo of the Acuvue brand, which encourages us to visit acuvueoffer.com.  Why would we want to do that?

The contest card which was packaged on the bottom explains:

A chance to win SPECTACULAR PRIZES!  All one had to do was open their web browser to acuvueoffer.com, peel the back off of this special card, and hold the green oval up their monitor screen to reveal a special code, which, in this case, is "Good Eye" - I can see it without doing anything else (I guess I don't need their product).  Prizes up for grabs included a MacBook Air, a Best Buy gift card applicable to a Nintendo Wii, or a Flip Video camera.

Unfortunately, I think I'm a little two thousand and late to win these VERY 2008 prizes.  Don't think I didn't try though - that web address now forwards any stragglers straight to the main Acuvue website.  No Wii for Mii.

No prizes for me at all, actually

All in all, finding a set of oddball Cubs cards that were heretofore undiscovered makes for a successful antique dig every time out, in my humble opinion.  However, the fun and mystery weren't quite over with yet.  You see, in the aforementioned basement, I noticed a bin of old photographs from the early 20th century peeking out from the bottom shelf of the last unit in the building.  Something told me I should have a look, with the pie in sky idea that I might uncover a lost cabinet photo card from the Deadball Era (there were several of regular folk).  While those hopes were quickly dashed, I was surprised to find this photograph stuck between the wedding photos and elementary school head shots of an era long gone by:

Ah ha - a Kodak printed photograph of an unidentified Pittsburgh Pirate, cut down to be the size of your standard baseball card; color me intrigued.

In hopes that it might be some roster-hopper from the middle of the previous century who spent time with the Chicago Cubs and thus far eluded my CATRC binder, I added this second oddball find to my purchase pile.  In case your curious, the total cost of this purchase ended up being a scant $1.50 as the shop was having a store-wide 50% off sale!  I'll take that.

Anyway - back to the unidentified Pirate - I immediately took to Twitter for some help in the identification of our mystery ball player.  Luckily, everyone's favorite Durham Bulls fanatic, The Snorting Bull, was up to the task:

Right on the nose - our John Doe turns out to be Nick Strincevich, who played in the Big Leagues from 1940-48 with the Braves (then Bees), Pirates, and Phillies.  We can say for certain that the photograph, the same one used for his Baseball-Reference profile, dates from 1941.  The uniform top that "Jumbo" is wearing here, with the disembodied Pirate head over the heart, was only briefly in use from 1940-41.  Meanwhile, Strincevich was acquired by the Buccos in a mid-season trade with the Bravos for Lloyd Waner in that latter campaign.  With this information, Mr. Bull was thus able to identify our mystery swashbuckler.  Thanks buddy!

For his career, the swingman posted a 46-49 record with an ERA of 4.05 across 889.2 frames.

Here's a fun fact about the pitcher - apparently, he was selected to represent the National League in the 1945 All-Star game. Of course, due to war-time travel restrictions, the game was cancelled and Nick never officially received said honor.  What a bummer.

As random as it might seem, it actually makes sense that a photo print of this Pittsburgh hurler should show up in an antique shop on the south side of Chicago.  Why, you ask?  Well, as it turns out, Nick is a local guy - he was born and raised in Gary, IN (just barely over the border) and returned to the area after hanging up his cleats to work at the Budd Plant in Gary, retiring in 1980 as Safety Supervisor.  He passed away in 2011, at the tough old age of 96, and was buried in nearby Merrillville, IN.  Before his death, he was the third oldest living Major Leaguer.

For fifty cents, it was well-worth the minuscule expenditure to learn about this forgotten local hero.

Back in 2009, "Jumbo" was honored by the White Sox, his hometown club

All in all, a combination of several, carefree hours spent in secondhand shopping bliss and these two mysterious finds made for a swell experience.  I truly couldn't have asked for a better way to while away my Monday afternoon - it sure beat work, that's for sure!  I think I can safely say that I'll be making my way back to Three Sisters again, sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Also, if anyone has any further information on that Acuvue set, please feel free to enlighten me, as I still haven't been able to track down anything helpful.  Furthermore, I can't help but wonder as to what the purpose of the Strincevich photo was - perhaps a family member trying to remember/honor their ancestor?  It's a pretty high quality print, so I don't think it was simply lifted from the internet, and it's intentionally cut down to traditional trading card dimensions.  Hmmmmmmm...

As you can see, some mystery still remains... mysteries of the Three Sisters.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


I seriously doubt that I'm the only baseball card blogger who has a litany of saved searches attached to their Ebay account.  Names of obscure and long-since-irrelevant former Cubs max out my "following" section, in hopes of tracking down a new name for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Oftentimes, I scroll through longingly, hoping to find a diamond in the rough, or even just something within my price range.  I mean, many of the men I have left to search for played in the time of tobacco and gum cards and those aren't exactly junk wax material.

Just the other day, something finally clicked and a name that I'd had on the "following" list for longer than I can remember showed a new listing, one that featured a card older than Topps baseball and yet was still cheaper than most modern retail packs.  Let me tell you, I couldn't click "Buy It Now" fast enough on this beauty, lest someone sweep in and snipe me.

$2.65 for this ultra-vintage oddball?  Yes, yes, and more yes!

Eureka Sportstamps were originally released in five, 40-stamp, uncut sheets way back in 1949.  In total, the checklist contained 198 active players, including the biggest stars in the game, but only from the National League.  The final two cards... erm... stamps in the set were dedicated to Commissioner Happy Chandler and NL President Ford Frick.  Furthermore, there was an album available for the compilation of these 1.5" x 2" stamps.  Although, calling this issue "Sportstamps" is almost misleading, seeing as the only sport included in the set was baseball - I guess "Baseball Stamps" lacked the appropriate alliteration?

At any rate, this set is notable for a couple of reasons.  To begin with, the set makes use of full-color, Kodachrome photography, something no other contemporary baseball cards were yet doing.  Furthermore, they were actually printed up and designed by by a company known as National Poster Stamp Society, which marketed the sets through the "Poster Stamp Bulletin," making it just the second set marketed directly to the collector.  Yet, all of these things considered, you rarely ever hear of these oddballs - I guess in trying to appeal to both philatelists or baseball card-ists, they ended up appealing to none.

The "Official Sportsamp 1949 Baseball Album," for housing Herman and all his little friends

By the way, at the time, the entire set of stamps and the corresponding binder cost a whopping total of $1 - nearly 3x what I paid for the single stamp above.  Boy was I born in the wrong era.

Furthermore, if you couldn't get your grubby hands on the "Poster Stamp Bulletin" back then, you could also visit one of the approximately two dozen Calso (a division of the ubiquitous Standard Oil Co.) gas stations operated by Kirschner Brothers in Philadelphia.  Nowadays, I can find them on Ebay without having to even get in my automobile, let alone visit a gas station, or locate some off-beat trade periodical.  So, maybe I was born in the right era, after all.

Of course, while they featured the traditional "lick and stick" adhesive on their blank backs, these would not actually get your mail anywhere; they were for collecting and admiring only.  Similarly, the only other baseball stamp I have in my Cubs collection is also another decoration piece, a George Burke stamp - featuring Roy Henshaw - from 14 years previous.  They may not exactly be baseball cards, per se, but when your trying to collect obscure guys who only got to sip a cuppacoffee in the Bigs, you have to take what you can get.  After all, this little stamp is the only "card" known to Beckett which features forgotten Cubs first baseman, Herman Reich.

The envelope the stamps came w/ at Calso stations, courtesy of Bob Lemke's Blog (RIP)

Herman Reich's name may not be remembered today, but his brief career is notable for one, strange quirk - during his single year in the Majors, he was swapped to three, different teams.  Then, the one-year wonder was sent back to the bushes, never to be seen on an MLB diamond again.  It was like everybody wanted him and then, suddenly, nobody wanted him.

Reich's one year in the spotlight was, of course, 1949.  The first baseman/corner outfielder began the season with the Cleveland Indians, after having been selected from the PCL Portland Beavers in the Rule 5 Draft - the longtime bush leaguer had been toiling in the minors since 1936.  After making the team out of camp, Herm got into one game for Chief Wahoo's tribe, cranking out a hit and drawing a walk in 3 trips to the plate before being selected off of waivers by the Washington Senators.  With the Sens, Reich made two pinch-hitting appearances (0-for-2) before being returned to the Indians, just ten days later.  Then, the Cubbies came-a-calling in need of a first-sacker, as their longtime star, Phil Cavaretta, was nearing the end of his road.  And so, he was again claimed off waivers and with his third team already in the young season, which had yet to reach mid-May.

Someone caught Reich in an Indians uni - they were on the ball!

In Chicago, Herman Reich managed to stick around for the rest of the campaign, getting into 108 games, mostly at first base but also spending time in right field.  Of course, the Cubs of the late-40's (and throughout much of the next two decades) were the laughing stock of the National League and it was largely in this time period that their image as "lovable losers" was formed.  As such, under the stewardship of disinterested owner PK Wrigley, many unassuming players who probably didn't belong in the Big Leagues nevertheless suited up for the once powerhouse franchise.

Characterizing Herman as one of those dismal baseballers might be a bit harsh; however, he was definitely no star.  During his time in the Second City, he posted a decent batting average of .280, but he didn't walk (.305 OBP) and possessed no power (3 HR and an anemic .360 SLG), despite manning a premium power position.  That said, he must have played well enough to impress the crosstown rivals, as he was sold to the White Sox during the next off-season, though he'd never actually suit up for the Pale Hose.

The opportunity to catch Reich in a Cubs uni was slightly longer

Though he was done with the Majors, Herman was far from done with baseball and returned to the PCL, where he would play for the better part of the next decade before hanging up his spikes for good after the 1957 season.  Additionally, he also spent one year at the manager of the 1961 Idaho Falls Russets of the Pioneer League.  I've seen sources which also state that Herman spent some time as a scout after his playing career concluded; however, I cannot verify with whom he might've have been employed.  At any rate, that did it for time in pro ball.

As you can see, it's rather fortunate for my CATRC binder that Herman had even the Eureka printed up in his name, as his Cubs career was both short and in-distinctive.  Although, with his expansive minor league career, it does seem quite possible that he appears in some uncatalogued, regional issue somewhere; but, I'll take this stamp and will do so enthusiastically.

Post-baseball, Herman spent the rest of his adult life as, get this, an avocado rancher - how interesting is that?  Fellow millennials - think of all the avocado toast he could have made!  Besides growing "cheese pears" (as the Taiwanese call them), Reich also passed on his skills by coaching youth sports and his love of of our nation's pastime carried him to many Padres games (he was a California native, after all), old-timer reunions and storytelling sessions with old teammates and friends.  Reich passed away, at the age of 91, in 2009.

 I think my wife and Herman would have gotten along just fine.

Now, even with this find, I'm still not quite done with the Eureka set of stamps.  You see, there's another Cub in this oddball set that has the Wrigley Roster Jenga cross-hairs set firmly upon it's sights - Rube Novotney.  In this particular case, the "cuppacoffee" backup catcher, who (like Reich) only saw the Bigs in '49, does have a couple of other cards; however, those cards are a pair of rare, team-issued, minor league cards from his time with the L.A. Angels.  These aren't exactly common releases and, for that matter, do not show Rube in his spiffy Cubs jersey.  Therefore, the Eureka is the preferred ticket to my binder.

I'm coming for you, Rube!

As of now, the only listing found on "the Bay" is a graded copy which costs more than six times what his set-mate ran me (plus shipping).  While this isn't an irrational price for a well-graded, off-kilter vintage piece, it's still more than my modest budget (or inherent cheapness) will allow for.  Plus, I just don't care for graded cards and I don't want to go through the trouble of breaking that flimsy, easily tear-able stamp out of it's casing.  I suppose I'll just have to cross my fingers and wait.

With that, I now welcome Herman Reich to my Cubs All-Time Roster collection; an inclusion made possible only by Eureka Sportstamps and a bargain-basement set break on Ebay.  I'm supremely charmed that I wandered across that auction listing, as I do not think I should expect to run across sixty year old, regional oddballs (of an obscure player, no less) that cost less than the average McDonald's bill AND include free shipping.  These are the the kind of deals that I dream about.

You might even say that this transaction earned my "stamp" of approval.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Participation Trophies

A hot topic in the sports and parenting world for the past few years has been the participation trophy and how it is the cause of ruination for millennials (a favorite punching bag for all of America's problems) and the young, aspiring littler leaguers and flag-footballers of today.  When I was a young, gangly, wannabe athlete, who looked better doing cartwheels in the outfield than at the plate, I got participation trophies every year from my t-ball league and I proudly displayed them on my mantle.  When I was awkward elementary school kid, I got a participation ribbon every year for my science fair projects, that only proved that I enjoyed making a mess, and I proudly pinned them on my wall every time.  As an adult who finally found his niche in sporting world, I've competed in several road races which handed out medals to all participants and I've kept every single one in my memory box.  In short, I know a thing or two about participation "awards."

That's how I know that the package that I received from everyone's favorite Andrew McCutchen super-collector, Mr. Stryker (Collecting Cutch), was more than just a participation gift.  You see, a little while back, this Cutch-obsessed blogger issued a challenge to the blogosphere - for everyone to name their absolute favorite player and show off their favorite card of said athlete, as well.  I jumped at the chance, as I love blog "bat arounds" and challenges - their fantastic writing prompts!

As a child and Cubs fan of the 90's, Mark Grace holds a slight edge over Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa in that department for me; so, I immediately whipped up a show-and-tell post all about my most treasured Gracies and threw my name into the contest hat.  Sadly, I did not win - however, Mr. Stryker was so appreciative of everyone taking their time to participate, that he crafted a package for all those involved.  What a generous fellow, right?

My participation award came in the mail yesterday and I quickly discovered that this was no mere placation - this bubble mailer was more than the cheesy trophies, flimsy ribbons, or "turn your chest green" medals that I usually associate with such awards.  Far... very far... like lightyears away from that.  See that wonderful, hearty Anthony Rizzo Jackie Robinson Day Commemorative Patch card (though it's really more like a coin), from this year's edition of Flagship, at the top of this post?  THAT wasn't even the best card in the package!

Crazy right?  But, I kid you not.  Allow me to show you the rest of the contents of this "participation" award:

First, we kick things off with, of course, an Andrew McCutchen card.  However, this isn't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill Cutch here - no way, this is some sort of oddball card put out by one or both of Pirates Charities and/or the Pittsburgh Police Department.  As you can see, both logos appear on this very white, "less is more" oddity.

"Think first - because for every choice, there is a consequence."  Seems like a slogan right out of the DARE playbook or some other after school program.  Mr. Stryker - is this a reboot of the beloved police cards, which were so ubiquitous in the 1980's?  I may not collect Pirates cards, but I love it!

Now into my collecting wheelhouse we go, again courtesy of Anthony Rizzo.  I don't purchase much in the way of Gypsy Queen; so, any time I get a single or two from those sets, I'm always quite contented.

Meanwhile, the insert on the right may be intended to spotlight special jerseys (in this case, Spring Training duds... where the home pinstripes are exactly the same...); that said, the first thing that I notice is Rizz's Justin Timberlake-esque ramen noodle hairstyle.  Anthony and I are about the same age and this was very much the style when we were in junior high; but, seeing those bleached blonde locks on a baseball card in fifteen years later seems out of place.

 Who wore it better?

See?  They're like twins - what a pair they would make.  JT is obviously a immensely accomplished singer and songwriter and Anthony Rizzo isn't so bad on the piano.... how about a ramen-flavored collaboration, guys?

Speaking of dynamic duos - The Bryzzo Souvenir Company!

The muscle of the Chicago Cubs lineup look great both at the plate and in brushstrokes, as evidenced by this pair of 2016 Diamond Kings symbols.  Also, it's a shame that Rizzo card didn't show up on my doorstep a few days earlier, as he is clearly sporting a Chicago Federals throwback jersey and would have worked perfectly for my post about the Windy City Federal League baseball club.

But, make no mistakes, I'm no less happy to see it now!

Next up, we have some more Gypsy Queen - this time, in the form of the coveted minis.  The penny sleeve which contained this tiny Geovany Soto card from the 2011 edition was clearly marked with black sharpie, "black."  Good thing Stryker took the time to make this little note, as overly anxious Tony Burbs was eagerly and quickly flipping through my new haul and would have missed this backside variation.  Sometimes, the small things can mean everything.

What you see above is a Red Back Gypsy Queen (so THAT's what she looks like!) Mini, which had an insertion ratio of 1:6 in both retail and hobby.  While they aren't uber rare, I'd never seen one before and it's always exciting to make a new discovery as part of a blogger mailing.

Everyone seems to love the First Pitch inserts that Topps started up as part of last season's Update release and I am no different.  Of course, the one that was included in this mailing has since taken on a somber tone, as Craig Sager, the famed sports reporter, recently and tragically succumbed to leukemia, after long and tough battle with the disease.  A little more than a year ago, the cubs honored the Northwestern alum and so I'll always have this insert to remember him by.

Meanwhile, "Sweet Swingin'" Billy Williams shows up too, courtesy of Panini's Cooperstown product (2012).  I think we can all agree that this line would be a welcome sight, should it ever return to store shelves.  Furthermore, Panini and their necessitated logo scrubbing look much better with retro-themed products with golden age players.

Okay - so, that was all pretty nice stuff, right?  Then, of course, there was the Anthony Rizzo commemorative patch card, which would have made the perfect mic drop on this bubble mailer.  However, Mr. Stryker was not content to just astound me with this participation award - he was going to knock me to ground and finish me, Mortal Kombat style:

I'm pretty sure the wind was actually knocked out of me when I got a glimpse of this bad boy:

Ooooooooh doctor!  That right there is a beauty of an on-card autograph from the one and only Jason Heyward, numbered to /45, and from an uber high end product that I can say with certainty that I'll never, ever open myself.  This is a truly stunning development!

As a low end collector, autographs are few and far between in my collection and when they turn up, they're usually roster-filler, pseudo-star types.  Jason Heyward is certainly a notch or two above that status.  It might date from his time with the Bravos, but I absolutely adore this card and, as an added bonus, I'm drawn to the fact that the "Tribute" logo is done in a similar art style to the famed Wrigley marquee.  In short, everything about this hit is superb.

In fact, both the Rizz and the J-Hey Kid are too fantastic to keep hidden in a binder:

These are going to be the first cards displayed on my new workspace, which is a project still in development after my most recent move.  For now, they'll rest up against my lava lamp and pencil cup so that I can gaze at them whenever I please.

As you can see, this participation award was so amazing that I actually shudder to imagine what the winner of Stryker's contest went home with.  Perhaps said blogger had his actual favorite player mailed straight to him?  That's about the only way this package could be topped.  A million thanks go out to Mr. Stryker, both for holding this clever contest and for being so abundantly gracious to those who have participated.  This padded mailer was truly a joy to sort through and contained some of my favorite cards to ever come through the mail.

In summation, many people across America think that giving out participation awards screwed up millennials, like me, and is messing up the next generation of young kids.  At the same time, this participation award definitely screwed me up too; however, that's only because I wasn't expecting so much concentrated awesome in such a gifting.  I could barely handle it!

Now, about that avocado toast though...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Racing Through the Woods

What better way is there to spend a lovely, sunny, temperate, summer day than to take a nice long, casual hike in the forest preserve?  My wife and I feel the very same way; so, when we woke up yesterday morning and saw that there was nary a cloud in the sky and the temperature was going to stay below 80 degrees, we decided to lace up our walking shoes and hit the trail.  However, our normal haunts (Starved Rock State Park and the local preserves) are a little tired at this point; thus, we decided to try out a new location this time.

After a little bit of cursory Googling, I came across a forest preserve in nearby Carpentersville, IL - Raceway Woods.  Obviously, as a noted Indianapolis 500 nut and NASCAR fan, this name caught my eye right away.  After reading up on the place, I knew this was going to be our new destination, as it combined my love of Motorsport with our mutual dedication to physical fitness.

After a little over an hour on the expressway, we pulled up to the gate of what used to be known as Meadowdale International Raceway:

The iconic silo, which actually predates the track, as it appears today

Opened in 1958, Meadowdale was a road course circuit which operated through the 1970 season, hosting a variety of races in several different categories and series throughout it's short history.  During it's 12 year run, the circuit played host to SCCA, USAC, ARCA, AMA, NHRA et al, while sports cars, stock cars, go-karts, motorcycles, dragsters, and even snowmobiles revved their engines in front of legions of fans.

Originally brought to life as an added attraction to a recently built housing subdivision in the Chicago suburb, Meadowdale and it's landmark Pure Gasoline silo was inspired by the famed Formula One circuits across Europe - Monzo, Monaco, Nurburing, etc.  In fact, it even had it's own, smaller version of the Monza Wall as part of it's course.  However, seeing as the track played host to mostly amateur and lower levels, as well as local automobile club events, the skill sets of the competing drivers were rarely up to par.  Furthermore, with it's hurried, almost secondhand though construction, it lacked many basic safety measures, including emergency run-offs, rough and tumble paving, and extremely tight turns.

The Pure silo during Meadowdale's heyday

In fact, the very first day of operation saw a fatality on the track in an SCCA event and the track earned a reputation as a killer, nearly dooming the effort from the start.  Furthermore, the speedway never did gain much of a financial foothold and lacked the cash needed to make the major alterations to make the track safer.  While the few and far between national touring events served as money makers, the major series eventually turned their backs on the track when the requested alterations were not made.  After all, no major series is going to put their assets... I mean athletes... at risk, right?

If money problems weren't enough to sound the death knell, the relatively close geographical presence of Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI and Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit, IL provided ready and safer alternatives to the Chicagoland market.  As the old saying goes, adapt or die; Meadowdale International Speedway failed to adapt, leading to an early and abrupt demise in 1970.

What's left of the main straightaway and grandstand area in 2017

The main straightway on race day, sometime in the mid-60's.

For years and years, the track sat vacated and unattended, while nature slowly reclaimed "Little Monza" and the rest of the facility.  Thankfully, in the mid-1990's, a non-profit group was formed to save the "ghost track," rehab the silo, and turn the track into a forest preserve and walking path.  Fifty years ago, racers used to push the limits of nerve and speed on hot asphalt - today, soccer moms push strollers on their way to shedding baby weight on the very same surface.

I must say, turning the old race course into a nature preserve was a phenomenal idea and a great way to add to the community and maintain the history of the area, all at once.  Much like the Rails to Trails program, it's shame that more famous road courses aren't rehabbed in this manner.  How amazing would it be to be able to go for a jog around Riverside International Raceway instead of having the historic facility turned into a character-less shopping mall?

2009 Press Pass - FreezeFrame #FF 18

Despite it's struggles and limited use, Meadowdale International Raceway still managed to attract a large amount of national racing talent - names that are still recognized and revered today.  "Fast Freddy" Lorenzen, of nearby Elmhurst, IL and NASCAR fame, took home the trophy in the first stock car race held at the track, which was co-sanctioned by the ARCA and USAC tours in 1959.

NASCAR never did come to town, but their two main rivals continued to make use of Meadowdale throughout it's existence.  Along the way, this paved the way for stock car luminaries such as Curtis Turner, Marshall Teague, Elmer Musgrave (father of Ted) and "Tiger Tom" Pistone to come to town and raise a little hell.

1991 TG Racing - The Masters of Racing #209

In addition, while they never held a champ car/indy car race (though one was tentatively scheduled for 1970, before the gates were closed for good), many big names from the open wheel circuit made their way through Carpentersville through the SCCA US Road Racing Championships, regulars on the race calendars from 1958-64.  Unfortunately, while you don't see it nearly as much today, racers from the era were versatile and so addicted to speed that they would hop behind the wheel of whatever vehicle they could get their hands on.

With that in mind, Indy 500 champions Roger Ward, Jimmy Bryan, Bobby and Al Unser once turned laps at Meadowdale - 1972 winner Mark Donohue even saw victory lane at the old track in their final big-ticket event (1968 SCCA Trans Am - a one off affair). Similarly, his car owner in that Indy win (and 16x total Indy 500 victor), Roger Penske, took home the checkered flag in a 1961 event, back when he was still in the driver's seat.  Furthermore, longtime Brickyard competitors Lloyd Ruby, Peter Revson, and Dan Gurney (who was also one of the greatest sports car racers of all-time) liked to pop in from time to time.

The track may have only existed for 12 years, but it sure did see it's fair share of racing royalty take to it's banks.

Therefore, I can now say with confidence that Al Unser, Fred Lorenzen, and I have traveled on the very same race track.  It may be a lie of omission, but how cool is that?

I will say that while I'm certain it was much more difficult to navigate travelling over 100mph in a Scarab, walking the pathway was no stroll in the park either.  The 3.27 mile circuit features some tight hairpin turns, and some hefty elevation changes.  On that latter point, my calves definitely got a work out trying to scale the long straight, which can be seen in the pictures below

Today, with my wife in the foreground

During the track's prime

All in all, it was no walk in the park... it was better because it was a walk on a bonafide race track!  A good portion of the original track surface still exists as part of the path, while retaining walls, bridges, track markings, and the silo remain, keeping the spirit of Meadowdale International Raceway there with you as you navigate your way through Raceway Woods.  I want to go again and do some "off track" exploration on my own time and see what I can find... perhaps during the winter when the vegetation isn't quite so thick.  At any rate, if you enjoy automobile racing and you live in the Chicagoland area, I highly recommend that you make the trek to Meadowdale.

I was so enthused (like a little kid) after the experience, that I immediately pulled out my cards and old race results to see how I could tie this adventure into a card-based blog post.  In the process, I found that quite a bit of footage from Meadowdale's halycon days.  So,I'm going to leave you with some fairly high quality footage of the "Twenty Grand" Steinbeck Memorial ARCA race, held July 18/19, 1964 so you can really get an idea of what the speedway looked like in action. 

Meadowdale International Speedway may be long gone, bit it's spirit lives on in Raceway Woods.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Crosstown Blockbuster

Last night, it was reported that Cubs' top pitching prospect Dylan Cease was scratched from his start in low-A South Bend, without a specific reason listed.  Normally, this wouldn't raise too much suspicion - A) Dylan has been pitching lights out and is worthy of a promotion to the next rung and B) he's dealt with a leg injury already this season and the Cubs like to play precautious.  However, at about the same time, news got out that Eloy Jimenez, their top pre-rookie on the other side of the ball, was being held out of the lineup in high-A Myrtle Beach.  Combine these occurrences with the time of year and the curiosity of Chicago baseball fans everywhere was piqued.

Of course, I don't think anyone saw these scratches affecting both sides of Chicago.

This morning, the Cubs and the White Sox came together and shocked the entire city of Chicago (and perhaps all of baseball) by pulling off their first trade in more than ten years and, boy oh boy, was it a doozy.   As it turns out, both Cease and Jimenez were in fact pulled for a pending trade (along with a pair of lesser-name minor leaguers) and left-handed starter Jose Quintana is now a Chicago Cub.  Holy moly!

Within the last year, it's been reported several times that the White Sox did not want to do business with the Cubs, lest they accidentally boost their crosstown rivals that already hog the spotlight.  However, in this case, I think it's Northsiders who should be worried about doing just that.

First of all, Quintana absolutely fits a need and makes perfect sense as a trade target.  With a rotation in shambles, giving starts to guys like Eddie Butler, Brett Anderson, and Mike Montgomery, Quintana fills a slot as a quality number two starter.  Furthermore, he comes to the other side of town on an affordable contract ($8.85MM guarantee for 2018 and successive options, $10.5MM and $11MM, respectively, for the ensuing two years) and under control through 2020.  This is no Aroldis Chapman-style rental, which is an obvious plus for a team primed to loose Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency after 2017.

Of course, in order to get such quality, you have to give up quality... and a lot of it; top of the line pitching doesn't come without cost.  As such, Theo and Crew were forced to part with their top prospects on both sides of the ball.  Cease carries a 2.79 ERA with 12.9 K/9 against 4.5 BB/9 at the Class A level and front-line starter potential; however, he does come with injury-risk, with his aforementioned leg issue and his missing the entire 2015 campaign due to Tommy John surgery.  Meanwhile the 20-year old Jimenez is a consensus top-10, MLB prospect with light-tower power and .271/.351/.490 batting line with eight home runs over 174 plate appearances at high-A.

Like I said, to get quality, you have to give quality.  Here's hoping that Jose Quintana helps to solidify the team's starting five and Dylan and Eloy don't make the Cubs look silly in the next few years.

Also, funny fact - I just bought that 2016 Bowman single of Cease from a card show on Saturday.  Last year, at the same show, I purchased my very first single of another Cubs prospect, Billy McKinney.  Just days after that buy, McKinney wound up traded to the Yankees in the Chapman deal.  This time, just days after that show, Cease winds up traded to the White Sox.  As someone who typically doesn't buy many pre-rookie cards, clearly I'm some sort of prospect jinx.

Now - like I said - part of the reason that this blockbuster swap was so shocking is that the Sox and Cubs just don't trade very often.  The last time these two Windy City teams got together on a deal was 11 years ago, in 2006, when they exchanged a pair of relievers.  Neither Neal Cotts (to Cubs) nor David Aardsma (to Sox) did much in their new digs nor did their tenure extend for very long, though both went on to have productive careers elsewhere.

That was a pretty minor deal - in order to find the last trade these two teams made at the same magnitude as this Quintana shocker, we have to time travel all the way back to 1992, when George Bell and Sammy Sosa swapped hands.  Before that, 1973, when beloved franchise icon Ron Santo switched sides with Steve Stone and a few friends.  Like I said, the Cubs and the Sox prefer not to meddle in each other's business.

Man - that just doesn't look right.

We'll have to wait and see a few years to find out who wins this trade overall; however, the transaction certainly improves the Cubs roster, in the near term.  The rebuilding White Sox got a pair of significant new jewels for their ever growing treasure trove of prospects, but who knows how Eloy and Dylan will eventually turn out.  Meanwhile, there's no doubt in my mind that fifteen-ish starts out of Jose Quintana will greatly improve the starting staff (he has 45 K's and a stellar 2.70 ERA over his last 40 frames) and he'll still be around for another two and a half years.  The fact of the matter is that the Cubs are in the middle of their window of contention and need to do everything they can to fortify their near-term assets.

With all of that in my mind, I definitely THINK I am in favor of this trade.  However, I must admit, that I'm still in a state of shock and awe that this even happened.  Maybe I'll change my mind when the dust settles a little bit, but I don't think so.

At any rate, welcome to the North Side and to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder, Jose.  Here's to a few more years of steady, stable, under-the-radar production from the starting rotation!  Also, best of luck on the South Side, Eloy and Dylan - don't make us look TOO foolish, though, okay?

What a day to be a Chicago baseball fan!