Ain't no "Hotline Bling" in this post.
Cheap vintage will always bring a smile to my face. Especially cheap Cubs vintage. Especially, especially, cheap Cubs vintage in today's market and my geographical location, where anything Northside baseball-related is priced like fine art. Anything with a red "C" on it has a tendency to be over-valued in these parts, especially if it's older than the "junk wax era."
But, sometimes gems slip through the cracks.
When I'm bored, I like to search "Cubs card" on Ebay and sort the listings by "lowest price + shipping," just to see what kind of deals are to be had. Usually, it's a bunch of 1990 Donruss or '89 Topps singles for spare change; but, every now and again, something actually catches my eye. In a slew of "overproduction era" kindling, a 1957 Topps single definitely stands out from the crowd:
However, with an opening bid of 69 cents (hehe), free shipping, and a couple of days left on the listing, I didn't truly expect this Solly Drake artifact to stay at such a bargain price. Nevertheless, I threw in the opening bid because, hey, you never know. That's the story of how I ended up with this lovely, 60-year old stadium shot for less than my LCS charges for 2017 base cards. I'll take that everytime.
Even better, this card was needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, seeing as it's Solly's only card in Cubbie Blue and he had been previously represented in that binder in a different shade of blue:
Dodger Blue is fine and dandy, but Cubbie Blue always takes priority in my collection. This miscut, off center, 1959 piece of vintage will shift nicely into my "Cubs of a Different Color" collection. That binder is made up of eventual Windy City ballplayers shown during stints with other clubs.
Drake didn't spend a lot of time with the Trolley Dodgers - just nine games during the '59 campaign, before being purchased by the Phillies and spending the rest of the year in Philadelphia. Getting an extended audition as an extra outfielder in the City of Brotherly Love, Drake batted an anemic .145 in 70 PA's, punching his ticket back to the minor leagues, where he toiled until 1961.
But, before all of that, he got his pro baseball career started with the Chicago Cubs organization.
Solly signing autographs during his brief stint playing in the LA Coliseum, image courtesy of History For Sale
Signed as an amateur free agent out of his native Little Rock, AR in March of 1951, Solly slowly rose through the ranks and, after two years of military service thrown in, reached the Bigs for the first time in 1957. That same year, his hometown was all over the news, as the Little Rock Nine made history by bravely enrolling at and attending the all-white Little Rock Central High School. It was a tumultuous time for Drake's hometown, and race relations in general; but, while he was away in Chicago, playing for a team that was notably slow to integrate, I have little doubt that the Cubs outfielder was paying attention.
As for his baseball acumen, after breaking camp with the Big League club, Solly saw action in 65 contests that season as the fifth outfielder, posting a decent .256 batting average in 215 AB's, with an additional 23 walks showing his keen eye at the dish. Furthermore, he only made one error in the field, making for an "above replacement level" debut (0.4 WAR). Not bad for his first trial.
The Cubs, however, were not all that impressed and Drake found himself sold to "Dem Bums" just in time for their first season in LA. Having to prove himself in a new organization, all over again, he spent the entire year back in the bush leagues and we already know what happened from there. Post-baseball, Drake attended Philander Smith College, back in Little Rock, graduating with a double major in psychology and physical education. Eventually, Solly returned to LA to serve as the Senior Pastor of the Greater Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, until his retirement last year.
Also, just one year after Solly completed his Major League career, his little brother Sammy debuted in the Bigs for the same club that gave the elder his first break. Fun fact - the Drake brothers were the very first pair of African-American brothers to play in the Major Leagues. It's just too bad that their careers just missed overlapping and they didn't get the chance to play each other.
Like Solly, Sammy's MLB time was brief - 28 games for the 1960-61 Cubs and 25 games for the infamous inaugural season of the Mets. Nevertheless, he was able to find his way onto a Topps card - the '62 single that you see above - in a Cubs uniform, which also resides in my CATRC. However, the expansion draft selection is listed as a Met. So, does this count as a (well-loved) Cubs card?? This is quite the quandary.
All in all, that's the story of how I ended up with a lovely 60 year old piece of cardboard for less than the price of a vending machine can of pop, which also served as a coveted "Cubgrade" for my main collection. Also, as an added bonus, you got the story of the player depicted and were clued into my dilemma associated with his brother's only contemporary baseball card. Consider this my St. Patrick's day gift to the cardsphere.
Cheap vintage is truly the gift that keeps on giving.