Is there a better way to celebrate Opening Day than with a baseball card show? Okay - so, technically it wasn't the official big day since only a handful of teams got the assignment to play on Sunday. However, one of those teams just so happened to be my Cubs; therefore, to me, it was Opening Day and nothing you can say will change my mind. Although, I do kind of wish that all of the teams opened on the same day and the whole affair was declared a national holiday for our nation's pastime. I guess the logistics just don't work out anymore.
Anywho, about that card show. I'd been eyeing this VFW pop-up for a few weeks now, as it's located in the first major town next to my wife's upbringing: Morris, IL. In a serendipitous turn of events, it turned out that we just so happened to require a lunch date with her mother, to turn over some wedding pictures. Luckily, my wife is a saint and had no problem with leaving home early so that I could peruse the trading card pickings.
She's a gem.
She intended to meet her mother and take a trip to the local Walgreen's, in order to sort out the photography situation, while I kept myself occupied at the card show. It was a win-win situation. Since it was free admission, she decided to accompany me inside the cramped village hall while she waited for her kin and snapped the above photograph of me scanning through the first booth before hurriedly scurrying away.
This vendor, the first table in front of the entrance, had a fantastic selection of complete oddball and minor league team sets. If you notice, the box to the right of the frame is completely filled with clam-shell snap cases, except for one blank spot, where you see the brown bottom of the cardboard container. That's because just before my wife snapped this "action" photo, I snapped up a set that contained a gray whale that I'd been chasing like Ahab since before I started Wrigley Roster Jenga:
It was the full 1985 TCMA Iowa Cubs team set, significant because A) minor league team sets from the mid 80's and earlier weren't nearly as mass produced as latter day issues and, thus, show up much more infrequently and B) this set contains the only known baseball card of the inconspicuously named Bill Johnson. Seriously, imagine trying to hunt down an obscure card featuring someone named "Bill Johnson." It's a pain in the tush.
After being signed by the Phillies in 1980 and traded to Chicago in '83 for Willie Hernandez, Bill Johnson ordered up two brief cups of coffee with the Major League Cubs, in '84 and '85. Trotting in from the bullpen 14 times, Bill went on to post a record of 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA. Not bad at all; but, he never again sniffed an MLB roster, for whatever reason. In fact, 1985 would be his last year in the Cubs system and even that stint only lasted for two games. After a brief cameo on the Oakland farm in '86, he was completely out of professional baseball.
As to why he was never offered a full shot and why he quit so abruptly, more information is tough to come by. Again, the guy's name is about as generic as John Doe.
My other two options.
Nevertheless, the blink-and-you-missed-him Cub was a definite need for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection and (with the exception of a pair of pitchers from last year) is the only player who played from 1980 on who was absent from my binder. For the longest time, I resigned myself to the fact that Mr. Johnson simply never appeared on a baseball card, seeing as he was a "barely there" and just missed the junk wax boom. Bill was doomed to be an unfortunate black hole in my CATRC.
Fortunately, while researching minor league sets a few years ago, I came across this 1986 set. Also, it turns out he makes an appearance in a couple of other minor, TCMA sets. Still, I'd never seen these cards available for purchase online or in person... that is, until Sunday. I was absolutely ecstatic and I think I genuinely confused the vendor with my enthusiasm for such a nondescript set.
But, things got even better. Due to my laser-focus on the Johnson card during my researching and searching, I never noticed that there were a pair of key "Cubgrades" to be had from the clam-shell, clampdown:
Once a top prospect in the Royals chain, Derek Botelho was purely organizational filler by the time he got to Iowa. Then, 1985 happened. It seemed like every pitcher in the Cubs organization pulled up lame, with the entire starting rotation eventually spending significant amounts of time on the DL. In an all hands on deck situation. the righty got into 11 games (7 starts) and provided a 1-3 record with a 5.32 ERA. Once the Cubs starters got healthy in 1986, Botelho's MLB career was over.
As you can see from the card on the right, which had repped Botelho in my binder, he got into coaching after his playing career ended. This Winston-Salem Spirits card will slide over from my main CATRC binder into my minor league card binder. After all, Cubs cards (even of the Iowa variety) take precedence in my marquee collection.
The same decimation that allowed Derek Botelho to etch his name into Cubs history also afforded Jon Perlman that same chance. Seriously, that pitching staff took a worse beating than a cheap pinata at a bully's birthday party. Pitching out of the bullpen for six contests, Jon provided an egregious 11.42 ERA in 8.2 innings, earning his release in October. Unlike his Iowa teammate, Perlman stuck in the majors for another two years with San Francisco and Cleveland, but only for a total of 20 games.
The 1989 Topps single which had previously represented Perlman in my CATRC was actually the subject of just my third ever post on this blog; so, I'm almost sad to see it go. However, an actual Cubs card is just so much more appropriate for this collection.
In addition to the Johnson and the Cubgrades, this TCMA collation obviously provided a healthy assortment of minor league cards of eventual/former Cubs major leaguers, one of my favorite side collections; Jay Baller was just one of many. Additionally, my Cubs' coaches collection received a boost in the form of this Larry Rothschild card. Rothschild, currently with the Yankees, served as the Chicago pitching coach under Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella; oddly enough, I had no idea that Larry spent time with the Cubs during his active playing days, though he never made the varsity roster. No matter, this card will fit into my Coaches binder just perfectly.
Finally, it wouldn't be a minor league set if this case didn't contain some the quirks and oddities that only minor league baseball can provide:
Like a cheap sticker slapped haphazardly on poor Steve Roadcap's catcher's helmet. Minor league budgets are tight, you know.
Or, one of the many charms of MiLB sets is the apearance of front office and training room personnel who would otherwise fly under the radar:
Maybe some of them should stay under the radar...
Then, of course, there's every kid's favorite part of the ballpark experience, the mascot:
That is, if he doesn't eat your soul first. Seriously, that costume looks more at home in the "It" remake than at a baseball stadium. Anyone who wants to complain about pantless Clark the Cub running around Wrigley, I present to you just how much worse it could be.
Now, if that 1985 TCMA Iowa Cubs team set had been the only purchase I made that morning, I would have been quite satisfied. However, there were still plenty of more goodies to be had. A few tables down the row, there was a mass of quarter boxes, stuffed to the gills with Chicago Bears cards from a myriad of releases from the past thirty years. Even better, after a few minutes of shuffling, the proprietor informed me that anything that I picked up would actually be a dime AND he plopped down three further boxes of Bears content for my shuffling pleasure.
Needless to say, I absolutely went to town and knocked off a few dozen needs for my Bears All-Time Roster Collection:
This panel is just a small selection of the new Chicago footballers to make their way into my collection. Of those pictured, I think my favorite has to be the Keith Traylor NFL Showdown game card in the bottom left corner. As stated many times on this blog and as evidenced by yesterday's Hero Deck post, I have a thing for trading cards which double as playing/game cards.
That being said, the Wizards of the Coast produced Traylor was not my favorite new Bears card overall. That honor belonged to a triad of cards from regional set that dates from my teenage years:
These slightly under-sized, perforated oddballs originally came in sheets of nine, distributed in the Chicago Tribune during the 2006 football season. This set is significant to me in two, separate ways; A) The player selection on this set goes much deeper than any mainstream issue; when's the last time you saw a punter get a card? B) The 2006 Chicago Bears made the Superbowl and are, by far, the best and my favorite Bears team from my lifetime. In fact, that gridiron gang is the team that convinced me to pay attention to football in the first place. Thus, any set that shines the spotlight on these guys is a-ok in my book.
All told, from my Opening Day card show, I landed a major gray whale in Bill Johnson, which was a coveted new addition to my CATRC. Furthermore, I was also lucky enough to add a pair of "Cubsgrades," a coach's card, and several new minor league cards for my baseball side-collections. Then, if that wasn't enough, I was able to go to town on my Bears All-Time Roster needs for just pennies on the dollar. What more could I possibly ask for from one show?
After that, the family converged for a lovely lunch at a turtle-themed restaurant in town - not as far as the menu, just the decoration. It's an odd thematic choice, for sure; but, the food was quite tasty. All in all, with all things considered, it was pretty much a perfect day. Of course, that night's opening game for the Cubs didn't go nearly as well; but, the day was still exquisite. It's a darn good thing our schedules lined up so coincidentally and neatly.
Sometimes life throws you nothing but junk and left turns; other times, everything just seems to work itself out. Ain't it funny how that goes?