Saturday, March 25, 2017

Well, That Takes Care of That

Twitter never used to be much of a draw to me.

Of course, then again, I've never been much for social media.  Okay, so Blogger is technically social media... stop splitting hairs on me.  Anyway, I was one of the last kids in my age bracket to hop aboard the MySpace train (back when that was cool) and once I finally caved in on that front, fought tooth and nail on having to migrate everything to Facebook when that suddenly became the industry standard.  Even still, I very rarely post anything myself to the "Book of Faces," using it mostly as a way to scroll through gossip and look at pictures when I'm bored.

As for any other form of social media, the Instagrams, the Vines (that's dead now, right?), the Tumblrs, et al., I've never actually engaged.  Although, probably about a year ago now, I decided to start a Twitter account to supplement this little blog here.  Also, to keep up on MLB trade rumors... priorities in life, right?

Well, throughout the relatively brief existence of @RosterJenga (feel free to follow), I've discovered a great community of online collectors and managed to make many new connections that I wouldn't have otherwise made unless I expanded my horizons a touch.  For example, just the other day, I made the acquaintance of a @JasonCFry on the Twittersphere.

Mr. Fry, discovered my blog through the Twitter and apparently found something about my discombobulated rantings and ravings entertaining.  One of the posts he found particularly notable was about my acquisition of Solly Drake's only Cubs card, which made mention of the fact that his brother Sammy never truly had one, despite also playing with the club.  While Sammy, a second baseman by trade, did spend two years on the Northside, his only Topps baseball card (1962) lists him as a member of the New York Mets, with whom he closed out his career.  However, the picture used for said piece of ephemera clearly pictures him in a Chicago uniform.  Thus, I noted that this left my in quite the dilemma, whether or not to consider it a Cubs card in my records.

As it turns out, Jason is quite the custom card creator and took it upon himself to render my quandary moot.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, Jason offered to send me his very own creation - a sort of "what if?" featuring the younger Drake, in full Cubs gear, on a 1961 Topps design.  As you can see above it is more than just a fair simulation.  If I were to come across this piece of work without any of that context, I would have just assumed that I didn't pay close enough attention to my vintage checklists.

For a frame of reference, let's take a look at Jason C. Fry's creation, side by side with an original '61 from Topps:

Absolutely nailed it - the design is mimicked flawlessly, with all of the dimensions of the boxes and bordered reflected perfectly.  Additionally, the colors are spot on (the slight variations you might notice are a direct result of my changing scanning methods between the two photos) and the fonts are perfect matches, which I know can be a terrible headache when trying to recreate a baseball card.  Heck, just the fact that Jason was able to track down a full-body, color photograph of the speedy middle infielder is impressive enough, as they aren't exactly plentiful.

If you need any further clarification, I'm exceptionally impressed.

Let's flip it around and take a look  - Jason didn't mail that in either:

Again, a perfect recreation - the only difference being the change from "Topps" to "Lost" above the card number.  This, I assume, may be part of a larger series of "cards that never were" from the artist.

It should also be mentioned that this is printed on sturdy cardstock and honestly feels like something that I might pull out of a pack Archives.  It's glossier than the printing methods of the time, but we can only do so much, right?  Gotta love the comic too - truly no detail was ignored in the creation of this wonderful card.

I think this generous donation to my collection is going to look awesome in my CATRC binder!

Yup - I was right. Also, if you're wondering why there' a football card in there, click here.

When I "Cubgraded" Sammy's brother Solly, I made sure to give some background on the forgotten Cub of decades pass, as I usually do when I make a new player addition.  Therefore, it's only fair that I hit the books on the younger Drake as well.  Let's take this opportunity to learn a little more about this little brother:

Sammy Drake was a star high school and collegiate baseball player in Little Rock, Arkansas, just like his older brother Solly.  Now, if the name Little Rock sounds familiar (and it should), that's because just a few years after Sammy signed his first professional contract, the Little Rock Nine made history by bravely enrolling at and attending the all-white Little Rock Central High School.  Needless to say, the Drake brothers faced their fare share of prejudice growing up and playing America's pastime in that area.

While the color line had officially been broken less than ten years earlier when Sammy signed his first professional contract in 1954, organized baseball was still hardly welcoming everyone with open arms.  Some organizations were slower to change than others (looking at you Boston) and players such as Solly Drake still faced their fare share of vitriol.  With that in mind, Solly recommended that his little brother head north for Canada to play ball, after the latter failed to impress at a tryout for the Negro League Monarchs, where racial tensions were not nearly as strained.

However, Major League dreams weren't able to be filled in Canada (at least, not for another decade), so Sammy pressed on Stateside, eventually catching the eyes of his sibling's former club:  the Chicago Cubs.  Former Cardinals great and then Cubs coach and minor league manager, Pepper Martin, liked what he saw from the young man in a spring training audition, leading to his first pro contract just before the 1955 season.

The man who recommended Sammy Drake

Of course, though I'm as big of a Cubs homer as you'll ever find, I must admit that the Northsiders were not among the most progressive of Major League franchises.  After all, it was one of their all-time greats (Cap Anson) who basically built the color barrier himself, the club didn't open their doors to players of color until several years after Jackie Robinson, and the Wrigley family was still fanning racial tensions with their treatment of Bill Madlock two decades later.  Nevertheless, a Major League opportunity doesn't come knocking very often, so Sammy signed on the dotted line.

The Cubs farmed their new infield prospect to the Macon Peaches of the class-A South Atlantic League.  Sammy and his fellow, newly-signed teammate, Ernie Johnson, were the first two black players to make their way through Macon, Georgia and faced the brunt of racism and Jim Crow laws  from their own, hometown fans. Neither Drake nor Johnson were able to sit, eat, or dwell in the same establishments as their white teammates, something that Sammy later claimed to motivate him even stronger to make it to the Bigs.  For a truly hair-raising account of the hell these two men faced, check out this retrospective article from Macon's own newspaper, The Telegraph.

Sammy's Macon teammate, Ernie Johnson

Despite the obstacles he faced off the field, on the diamond, Drake batted .251 in 105 games, while leading the league in stolen bases (as noted in the cartoon on the back of the card).  His bat was mediocre but adequate against minor league hurlers; it was his blazing speed which kept him on the prospect map and moving up the Cubs chain, despite an interruption for military service which cost him all of the 1957-58 seasons.  Even so, Sammy Drake eventually ran himself onto an MLB roster, making the Opening Day roster out of spring training in 1960.

Unfortunately, you can't steal first and, after getting just a single hit in 15 AB's, Drake was demoted before the summer heat rolled into the Windy City.    He briefly came up again in September; but, all told, his final line for 1960 was an anemic .067/.125/.067 without a single stolen base.  After a similarly weak, major/minor shuttle campaign in 1961, Drake was left unprotected in the expansion draft for 1962.

As you can see, he's listed with the Mets on this '62 Topps single

The New York Metropolitans were to begin their maiden voyage in National League waters for 1962 and, like any expansion club, looked to the cast-offs of the rest of baseball to fill out their roster.  The scrappy speedster still had some potential in the new franchise's eye (or at least plugged a hole, as a utility man) and selected him in the 24th round of that expansion draft.  On one of the worst Major League teams, all-time, Drake earned his most substantial MLB opportunity yet, receiving 59 PA's across 25 games.  On the bright side, his batting average shot up over 100 points that year.  On the other side, that still only left him with a .192 mark, without any power or chance to unleash his speed.  However, he'll always have his stake in baseball history for his tenure with that infamous team.

With that, even the lowly Mets decided they had no place for the one-dimensional player, banishing him to the bush leagues, where he played through the 1955 season, without ever again reaching the summit.

While his tenure might not be particularly distinguished, he still managed to reach the Major Leagues, despite hailing from and playing in some notably inhospitable environments.  For that alone, Drake deserves a tip of the cap.  After his baseball career came to close, became a career with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and also became a Sunday school teacher for his brother's church - truly noble causes.  Sadly, cancer claimed his life at the at the age of 75 in 2010.

Drake with the New Yorkers in 1962

My thanks go out to Mr. Fry, without whom I would forever be fighting with myself about and waffling on the decision to consider Sammy Drake a Cubs card in my collection.  Now there's no need - I have an expertly crafted custom to erase all questions.  He joins the esteemed ranks of Gypsy Oak, Stubby, and Gavin from Baseball Card Breakdown as having their personal work in my treasured tome.

And to think, if I'd never surrendered to Twitter, that almost certainly would not have happened otherwise.  In fact, that's also where I made my first connection with the aforementioned Gypsy Oak, as well.  What else am I missing out on social media?

So, you guys on MySpace?


  1. I dont do social media either (and no, I don't count Blogger) but reading posts like this makes me think I'm missing out. In my latest post I wrote about a 'wish list' of custom cards I'd like to add to my collection - and I've had no offers or leads, no comments from someone pointing me in the direction of someone like Jason. Probably because they're all hanging out on Twitter!

    Those are some really well done customs. A great way to officially add Sammy Drake to your CATRC collection. "Some organizations were slower to change than others (looking at you Boston)" Ugh, I know. That's the one thing I dislike about being a Red Sox fan. Frickin' Yawkey.

    Isn't it interesting that the first team to integrate in the NHL and the last team to integrate in MLB play in the same city?

  2. That is a phenomenal Sammy Drake custom. I doff my cap to @JasonCFry.

    I've been thinking I need to get on Twitter, I think you might be pushing me over the edge.

  3. I'm just getting this blog thing going full speed myself. I know there is stuff happening on Twitter, but I've always considered it blogging for short attention spans. That may be the only one I would consider joining, though to expand my readership and trading.
    I have no use for Facebook at all. People say it's for messaging. I say you get on a site and send a message - what's the difference between that and email? Nothing, really.