Monday, July 31, 2017

The NSCC - Post Haste

Alright - I know a pretty big trade went down last night, affecting the Cubs' roster in a major way. However, I'm still buzzing from the weekend and I want to keep showing off my haul from this past weekend's National Sports Collectors Conference, otherwise known colloquially as "The National," for short.  It was an amazing and overwhelming (in a good way) experience, despite my apparent concerns leading up to the Chicago-hosted event. I highly recommend that anyone who enjoys our nation's pastime or any of our major sports to circle this event on their calendar in the future.  It's simply amazing.

Anyway, I was able to add 13 new names to my Cubs All-Time Roster Convention while wandering around in awe at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.  At an event of this magnitude, a lot of the focus was on super vintage collectibles - i.e., crazy stuff like authentic Goodwin tobacco cards,  PSA 10 Ted Williams rookies, complete sets of 1952 Topps, and the like.  A good majority of my purchases were of the super vintage variety; however, they weren't quite THAT notable.  In fact, the finds that I'm about to show off weren't even baseball cards, in the traditional sense, anyway.

They were postcards:

When you're searching for obscure baseball players from the early-to-mid-20th century, you have to take what you can get.  There were no Bowman or Brandt minor league, team-issue sets issued every year to fill in the gaps for the cuppacoffee rookies or journeymen who never sniffed significance.  In fact, there was a certain dearth of baseball cards at all, except for the notable sets.

The photographic postcard that you see above spotlights one of those rare players, a hurler by the name of Ray Harrell.  Harrell pitched for five teams in six years of Major League action during the mid 30's and early 40's, with a career ERA of 5.70 - not too notable.  However, what is notable to me is the fact that one of those five teams was the Chicago Cubs, who employed his services for all of 4 games (2 starts) in 1939.  Even those his ERA ballooned to over 8 in that tenure, he was still a Cubs and thus necessitated representation in my CATRC binder.

I am a bad Cubs fan though because I definitely had no idea who this player was when I ran across it.  Thankfully, either the printer, manufacturer or previous owner recognized that the lack of identification on the front might become an issue, so they kindly inked Ray's name on the back for wide-eyed and curious ol' me:

Unsurprisingly, Ray never had a contemporary card issued; although, he did appear on the checklist of the Conlon Collection in 1993... as a Cardinal... that'd never do.  That's why I was thrilled when I came across this vintage photo postcard, even if there was no hint of a photographer or printer and it was priced at ten bucks.  Luckily, I discovered that I am capable of haggling when I am on a strict budget (I lost my debit card earlier in the week - couldn't get more cash) and was able to talk the generous-minded vendor down to five, a much more reasonable price.

After all, while I absolutely wanted to cross Ray's name off of my want list, I didn't want to forfeit a large chunk of my budget on my first significant purchase, not at a place like that National.  It's a damn good thing I didn't too because it wasn't long before I ran into more postcards that fit into my favorite and most hallowed binder.

Just a few aisles over, I found myself flipping through a full binder of old-timey postcards, one of which turned out to be a pressing need.

James "Jimmy" Johns(t)on was a much more significant player than Ray Harrell, serving as a regular in the Brooklyn Dodgers/Robins lineup, at various positions, for a decade.  That said, before that, you guessed it, he had himself a brief cameo with the Cubbies in 1914, with a fifty game audition that resulted in a weak .228/.264/.327 slash line and a ticket back to the bushes until Brooklyn came a-calling in '16.

Unlike the previous postcard, we can clearly determine the origins of this vintage oddball.  From the front, it's apparent that we have the design of one of the earliest sets of Exhibit cards (and the gloriously awful flannel Dodger uniform tops).  From the back, we see that it's the postcard back version and that it's not an original; rather, what we have is a TCMA reprint from 1973.  Hey - TCMA is one of the biggest names in oddball trading cards and enough time has passed for this single to be considered authentic vintage in it's own right now.  As an added bonus, I didn't even have to haggle for this one, as the vendor had it marked at a reasonable three dollars - considering I almost never come across Exhibits, reprint or not, I was happy to take Jimmy home at that price.

Later on in the afternoon, after I had my made way through the entire convention hall and was doubling back to follow up on some potential buys that I had to mull over, I came across a table that I must have missed entirely during my initial run through.  This seller's stock was made up almost entirely of postcards from the 1900's. His table was strewn with George Brace, JD McCarthy postcards, team issued oddities, and Exhibits from the 1930's through the 1970's.  Sensing a potential lucrative source for more obscure Cubs, I instantly put my previous mission on hold and began to flip through the first stack I saw, which just so happened to be made up entirely of Northsiders.

Like with the Harrell card which led off the post, these again were real photo postcards (printed with Kodak paper) of unknown origin.  Again, my ability to identify players by nothing but sight was challenged and, again, I was thrilled that the names of the subjects were scribbled on the reverse side.

The stern head shot appears to be Joe Stepehenson, while the warm-up "in action" photograph appears to depict Lester "Les" Sweetland.  Stephenson appeared in all of four games for the Cubbies, back in 1944, batting an anemic .125 as a backup catcher.  He also saw brief snippets of action with the White Sox and the Giants in the years immediately preceding and proceeding his Cubs tenure; but, that was the extent of his Major League Baseball career.

On the other hand, Les Sweetland was considerably more notable of a player; however, his notoriety was not for any reason that a pitcher would like to be remembered.  Throughout the long and storied history of MLB, no moundsman, qualifying for the ERA title, has posted a higher ERA than Sweetland's 7.71 with the 1930 Phillies.  Egad - all told, Les had a dismal 7-15 record in 34 appearances, 25 of which came from the starting rotation.

Lester during his time in the City of Brotherly Love.  Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Nevertheless, the Cubs thought they saw something in Sweetland, purchasing his contract coming off the heels of that disastrous campaign.  The good news was that "Sugar's" ERA dipped by more than 2.5 points and he managed a decent 8-7 record for his new club.  The bad news was that, even with that his improvement, a 5.05 ERA just wasn't going to cut it and he frequently clashed with the irascible manager, Rogers Hornsby.  In the end, his 26 games with the Cubs that season were his last on the game's grandest stage.

These buzzer-beating finds made fora perfect punctuation point on an already supremely successful day; however, they were priced at three-for-five bucks and there were only two that immediately appealed to me.  Seeing as I would probably never see anything like these postcards anywhere else (esp at that price), I decided that I wasn't leaving until I uncovered a third oddity.

Enter Jake Mooty, a "War Era" pitcher for the Chicago Cubs from 1940-43, who also cameo-ed with the Reds and the Tigers.  This one slipped past me on my initial run through of the postcards because the name seemed familiar - nevertheless, something rattling around in the back of my head told me that the point of checking was not "Mooty."  Bah-dum-tiss!

After a quick run through of my records (thank goodness for smart phones), I discovered that the reason Mooty's name was familiar was because he did, in fact, already reside in my CATRC binder.... with a catch:

The 1949 Bowman PCL reprint which occupied his spot obviously does not show him in a Cubs uniform... heck, it's not even a Cubs affiliate.  Thus, with my third postcard selection from this table, it was time to "Cubgrade!"

With that, we've now covered all of the vintage postcard purchases that I made at the 2017 National Sports Collector's Convention.  In re-purposing these mailers, I was able to add four entirely new names to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder, as well as one coveted "Cubgrade," as well.... and that's just from postcards.  Tomorrow, I'll cover the next major segment of my national haul - this one involves another major name from the oddball baseball card market - Renatta Galasso.

In the meantime, time to go back to monitoring the wire - it's deadline day and, despite the Cubs having already made two major deals this July, you just never know what's going to happen.  I might just go "postal" trying to keep up!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The NSCC - A National Concern

This is a weekend that has been circled on card collectors' and sports memorabilia hounds' calendars all year.  After all, it's the weekend of the annual National Sports Collectors Convention - our hobby's mecca, if you will.  While many a hobbyist and vendor is flying in from all across the United States, luckily for me, this phenomenal gathering is being held in the Chicagoland area.  Rosemont, IL and it's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center is only about 35 minutes away from my residence.  I's sure a great many of you would kill to have this event almost literally in your backyard, yet, it wasn't until Thursday night that I decided to actually attend the annual event known colloquially as "The National."

For frame of reference, despite the fact that I've been collecting baseball cards on and off since the mid-90's, I'd never been to a regular, ol' card show or swap until 2014 or 15, after I started this here blog.  I generally am not a big fan of large crowds, forced socialization, or wheeling and dealing, so these kind of events (especially on this scale) cause me great anxiety.  Furthermore, I'm a decidedly low-end collector with ultra-focused collecting interests.  Therefore, I didn't think a convention of this magnitude would appeal to my niche CATRC or my moth-balled wallet.

Boy, oh boy - was I ever wrong.

Thanks to a pep talk from my lovely wife - who, when I casually mentioned the National was being held in Chi-Town the other night, immediately assured me that it would be absurd for me to miss it - I did not let this opportunity go to waste.  Who knows when this heaven will be this close to me?  So, despite my concerns, I hopped in my Chevy Trailblazer and made my way down Route 45 early Friday morning.

I'm glad I left so early - A) there was a great deal of road construction that brought traffic to a crawl and B) I don't know what I expected, but that Stephens convention hall was absolutely massive and jam-packed with all sorts of sports goodies.  The picture above doesn't quite do it justice, but you at least get somewhat of an idea.

I was way to overwhelmed to remember to take pics - thanks to JunkWaxTwins for picking up the slack!

Let's just say I can understand why people block off their entire weekend for this thing, rather than try to squeeze it into one day.  In an attempt to at least make my way all the way through the mass of humanity and see a tad bit of everything, I know I missed of ton of great and fascinating stuff and I barely touched any of the countless discount boxes (Dime Box Nick would be so disappointed in me); however, I was so dazzled and distracted by the items I've never dreamed of even seeing in person before.  Everywhere I turned, there were authentic Goodwins and cabinet cards, Deadball era jerseys and equipment, and all sorts of the highest grade vintage.  But, like I said, I don't have much use or room in my budget for Aaron Rodger's autograph helmet or a Ted Williams rookie card.

For a while, I was a little worried that my concerns were verified - for the first hour or so, I didn't come across much of anything that fit into either my budget or my collections.  But, I tell you what, i did not leave that joint disappointed.

Look at all of that pure, concentrated awesome!  Stuff that would never show up in my LCS or online (at least at a price I'd be willing to pay).  Turns out that while I absolutely hate doing it, I'm not a terrible haggler.

After wandering about for more than six hours, I was able to secure plenty of Wrigley Roster Jenga-worthy goodies.  So much, in fact, that I'm going to have to break up my "show-and-tell" posts over the course of a few days, with this post serving as a preview.  I originally intended to do one, over-arching National extravaganza; but, then I realized that it would just not do the material justice.  Plus, I just don't have that kind of blogging stamina, if I'm being honest.

That said, I will give you a small taste, to keep your intrigue piqued.  Look at this amazing slabbed first-year card that I walked away with from the PSA booth - forget those Judge and Bellinger guys, I hear this is the rookie card to have in 2017:

All jokes aside, this was an amazing freebie, giveaway.  I don't really do the whole graded card thing; that said, if I do, I think PSA will have my business.  Plus, they'll be getting some free advertising on my work desk, that's for certain.

That's all I've got for today - stay tuned over the course of the next three or do days to see the rest of what may very well be my best single-day haul of my entire collecting life.  All in all, I was able to add 13 new names to my CATRC binder, bumping me up almost a full percentage point (from 72.48% to 73.11%).  That's like six months worth of progress in a quarter of a day - hot damn!  Plus, there were some other cool "party favors" to be found, as well.

The moral of the story here is don't let anxiety or concerns govern your life.  Step out of your comfort zone and take a chance - you may be surprised with what you find!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

...And So It Begins

Chicago Bears training camp has officially commenced in nearby Bourbannais, IL and excitement for Monsters of the Midway football is absolutely through the roof!!....  Okay, not exactly... not at all, actually.  After all the Cubs have marched their way back to the top of their division, proving that they are once again real contenders for the Postseason; they continue to dominate the Windy City sports section.  Heck, even the White Sox have made a ton of trades for an abundance of highly-touted, prospective talent, generating more excitement for that club than has been seen in nearly a decade.  Furthermore, we're currently in the throws of the Crosstown Classic series between the two Second City baseball clubs.  Football season is truly the last thing on minds right now.

Add in the fact that the Bears are in the midst of a lengthy rebuild of their own, one which has not been nearly as well-executed as the Cubs or the Sox, and look to be nothing more than an afterthought in the NFL standings.  So.... ummmm.... Bear Down?

Nevertheless, while it doesn't hold as high of importance on my to-do list as my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, I am still continuing to add cards to my Bears equivalent, every now and then.  Luckily (depending on how you look at it), with the blase attitude surrounding the Chicago football club, cards featuring the blue and orange are plentiful and uncontested.

One new name that I recently added to my Bears binder is Josh Sitton, one of the few bright spots on last year's ever-changing roster. A last minute cut by the Packers prior last year's regular season, the guard signed a three-year deal with the Bears to solidify their weak line and provide a veteran presence for the young team. There's no doubt in my mind that the Pro-Bowl season Josh put up in 2016 helped rookie RB, Jordan Howard, finish second in the league in rushing and assisted Bears QB's in passing for the third-most yards in team history. Although, that last stat might be more indicative of the franchise's never-ending problems with signal-caller development.

For his efforts, Sitton earned a spot in this year's edition of Panini's Score football product, which appears to function as their "flagship."  I don't know if it's more a function of Josh's stellar play or the lack of recognizable talent on the Bears, but this seems to be the guard's first base card... ever.  So, that's cool, right?

Next up, here's a 2014 Panini Prestige single featuring the Bears' big-ticket, off-season acquisition - the embattled Victor Cruz.  The oft-injured former standout has had problems staying on the field since this card was printed; but, when healthy, he's expected to shore up the wide-receiving corps, which lost Alshon Jeffrey to the Jets and will be leaning heavily on Kevin White, who has PUP list problems of his own.  Also, from a marketing standpoint, it probably doesn't hurt to have a recognizable name attached to your club to generate interest, even if his prime is probably behind him.

At any rate, here's hoping that Cruz can turn back the clock a few years and close out his NFL career with a bang; or, he at least plays well enough and sticks around long enough to appear on a Panini card in a Bears uniform.

Here's Victor in proper Bears garb.  Will he ever look this way on a card?  We shall see.
Image courtesy of

With that, we've reviewed all of my recent additions to the Bears All-Time Roster Collection... all both of them.  I'm sure it was as fun for you to read as it was for me to draft  -by that I mean, you soldiered on through the "blah."

It seems quite unlikely at this point, but fingers crossed that the Bears do something to move the needle once the season truly kicks into gear - you never know what's going to happen in this crazy thing we call life.  Although, no matter what, the "baby bears" will still have my full attention, first and foremost, especially now that they appear to have cured their own "blahs."

Chicago is definitely a baseball city, at this particular juncture.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

(Honus) Bonus Track Edition

One of the most common gripes that I see on the blogosphere is in regards to today's era of exclusive licenses in sports cards - MLB has Topps, the NFL and NBA have Panini, the NHL has Upper Deck and so on and so forth.  While this was no doubt done so that the leagues could get a bigger share of the pie and have more control over their image and product, markets with only one option aren't known for their creativity and innovation.  As a result, many products come across as uninspired, repetitive, and bland.  Furthermore, as we've seen especially so with Panini, these products are also ripe with production errors; is this carelessness due to there being no other options anyway?  With this in mind, many of us, including me, pine for the days when Topps, UD, Fleer, Donruss, Pacific, etc. dueled with each other, across sports, in a quest to separate their product from the crowd.

Of course, there are unlicensed options floating around out there as well.  A rebooted Leaf has been pumping out niche and prospect sets for the past several years, as has Tri City Sports.  Additionally, Panini has been tapping into the baseball market with their MLPA-licensed baseball products since 2011.  In short, there are SOME sources of competition, airbrushed thought they may be; so, not all hope is lost.  In fact, as of last March, a new face has pushed their way forward through the license-exclusivity wall:  Honus Bonus Partners.

Taking their moniker from one of the most revered names in baseball history and the hobby itself, Honus Bonus Partners certainly has lofty expectations. Again, in this current era of exclusive licenses, HBP was not able to secure official permissions from the MLB powers-that-be; however, like Panini America, they did manage to secure the player's union blessings.  Thus, like with Donruss, Diamond Kings, Optic, etc., we get another baseball card set on the market, sans any team logos.

Unlike previous exploits, HBP has a unique angle to their foray.  They seek to blend two sporting institutions in a way that I'm surprised has not been attempted before: fantasy sports and baseball cards.

Featuring a vast, 500-card checklist (with Career Milestone and Sketch Card inserts), Honus Bonus cards are available as a traditional, pack-based product.  That said, as a fresh face on the market, their list of physical vendors is non-existent; as such, the only way to get your hands on this product is through their online store. Unfortunately, your choices are limited to a 24-pack box or 20-box case - too much of an investment for this cheapskate to sample a product.

The cards feature scratch-off codes on the back which, when entered into their system, unlock that player and their digital card for use on a fantasy roster.  In a bit of a twist, your 30-man playing roster can only feature one player from each team - you can't Bryzzo your way through the league.  Through their official website, monthly challenges are held pitting card collector against card collector. Additionally, since we live in the 21st century, HBP also has digital cards available through their website, a feature which I explored in a blog post last spring.

Personally, I've never been much for fantasy sports - but, if it incorporates cards, it's going to attract my eyes.  Plus, it's something new and different and I'll try anything once.

That's why I was absolutely thrilled to come across a near-complete team set of Cubs... errrrr Chicago cards on Ebay, for the low, low price of $1.25 + free shipping.  The only catch was that the backs were scratched off (as you can see above) so that the original owner could participate in the reindeer games.  Hey, that's fine with me - I've never been much for fantasy sports and I'm really only after the cardboard.

All the big names are here - Rizzo, Bryant, Lester, Schwarber, etc. - and presented in a set design which reminds me of vintage, 20th Century Fox-like, movie theater marquee styling.  Seriously, can't you just picture this same design bordering a poster for the Wizard of Oz, King Kong, or It's a Wonderful Life?  They're quite unique.

Also, the movie borders are exceptionally bright and colorful, with the hue and shade changing from team-to-team and player-to-player, without any seeming rhyme or reason.  I can't say I have very many Cubs cards that make heavy use of the colors green, purple, or teal; but, thanks to Honus Bonus, I can now say that I have a few.

Furthermore, in order to really make them pop (I assume), the player depicted on each single has been gray-scaled, while the background remains in full-color, albeit blurred out.  

Overall, I have to say, the designed is somewhat disjointed and the colors clash.  If I ran the zoo, I would have made the movie theater borders (which I very much enjoy) color-coded by team - I think all blue for the Cubs, all red for the Cardinals, etc. would look much better in a nine-pocket page than random greens and oranges splashing about at random.  Plus, I would have grayed out the background of the photograph and left the player in full color - in other words, the exact opposite of what they've done here.

Still though, I'm being nit-picky and this is not a bad debut offering.  Not to mention that I'm still thrilled to have a new player in the baseball card market.  Here's hoping that they stick around a while and get to improve and build upon Year One.

On the positive side, one major thing that HBP has going for them is the size of their debut offering - 500 cards.  A checklist of this magnitude offers the chance for several players to be spotlighted who would otherwise be ignored by the fellows at Topps.  Relievers and extra outfielders, like Pedro Strop and Jon Jay, are lucky to ever pop up on baseball cards anymore; nevertheless, here they are in Honus Bonus.  I guess in order to accurately simulate our nation's pastime for the fantasy arena, one must have access to a full slate of players.  

As an added... wait for it... "bonus," the lot included a sampling of parallels, as well, because what trading card set doesn't have some kind of parallel to chase anymore?  The since departed Jason Hammel and Miguel Montero bear the special foil HBP badge in their upper corners, instead of the usual, unadorned company logo - these are the Silver Foil base parallels, which fall at 24 per box.  They're not exceptionally rare, they're not all that inspired, but I suppose they do add a little bit extra flair to the mix.

However, all things considered, I think my favorite feature of the Honus Bonus cards is actually found on the back of the cards.  Since the offering is completely unlicensed from the MLB, we know that they cannot feature any team logos or even utter their names (like Beetlejuice, if you say their name three times, a lawyer will immediately show up at your doorstep and demand payment).  Most products with these restrictions simply refer to the city, when it comes to team affiliation and, if there are more than one team per city, add the league as well.  For example, your typical unlicensed Addison Russell card would list him with Chicago (NL).  Not so when it comes to Honus Bonus:

As you can see above, Miguel Montero is notated as being the catcher for Chicago (North), a reference to the Cubs playing on the city's north side.  I can't say for certain, but I know I have never seen a listing like that before... can anyone else think of anything like this?  Now my mind is wandering... how are the New York teams listed in this set?

Overall, that's the only thing interesting about the back.  Otherwise, all we get is a single line of stats, a bar code and scratch off for fantasy use (hey, not all of them were scratched after all - neat), and a bunch of legalese.  None too exciting.

All in all, I ended up with 14 out of the 19 Chicago (North) base cards on the checklist, with the remaining 5 actually being the foil parallels.  Accordingly, while the lot technically might not have been a FULL team set, I think I did pretty well for my investment here.  Maybe I'll chase down the base versions of Hammel, Montero, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, maybe not - my only priority in this purchase was to see what Honus Bonus Partners were all about and to sample their brand new product.  Mission accomplished!

Has anyone else given these cards a whirl?  Or the fantasy league?  I don't think I've seen them pop up on the blogosphere yet.  Regardless, I'm left to wonder, what are your thoughts on HBP?  Do you think they'll stick around?  Personally, though their maiden voyage was a little underwhelming, I find myself rooting for their innovative brand, even if it's just so that there's at least one more option out there for baseball cards. 

I think we can all agree, license exclusivity sucks.  These cards make for an unexpected, but welcome, "Bonus."

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  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, 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.