Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Mets For Sale

To say the 2017 season has been a disappointment for the New York Metropolitans might just be the understatement of the year.  A competitor in last year's exciting NL Wild Card  playoff round, the Mets currently sit in fourth place in the NL East, with a record of 54-69, lagging 20.5 games behind the surging Washington Nationals.  For a team that was widely expected to compete for the divisonal crown, I think it's safe to say that 2017 has not gone the way they drew it up in the Big Apple.

As such, the Mets have been big sellers throughout the summer trade season, with several veterans moving onto greener pastures.  At the non-waiver deadline, closer Addison Reed found himself, as the Dropkick Murphy's might say, "shipping up to Boston." Then, a flurry of August waiver-wire transactions were made, with Neil Walker going to Milwaukee, Jay Bruce moving to Cleveland and Curtis Granderson winning the baseball lottery by joining the juggernaut Dodgers.  In short, once trade season kicked in, baseball players were migrating out of "the city that never sleeps," en masse.

Of course, after all that was detailed above, there was yet one further transaction fulfilled by the Mets; this one was a straight up dump, as they received nothing in return, not even the mysterious PTBNL or Cash Considerations.  Longtime catcher, Rene Rivera, was claimed on waivers by a first-place club and was allowed to walk without any compensation.  This club had suddenly found itself in dire need of catching depth, after their starter went down with a hamstring injury, expecting to miss about a month of game action.  That starter was Willson Contreras and that first-place, claiming club was the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubbies had been connected to the Mets and Rivera since mid-July, before the non-waiver trading deadline.  After all, once Miggy Montero talked himself out of the city, it was a well-known fact that Theo and crew were on the hunt for a veteran to back up the emerging star that is Contreras.  All in all, the Cubs ultimately went in a different direction, opting to bring in Alex Avila from the Tigers as the deadline clock wound down to zero.  Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, Willson pulled a hammy, pushing Avila into the starter's position and top-prospect Victor Caratini into the backup role.

Luckily, I just so happened to have Rene's 2016 Topps Update single in my trade stacks, ready to be moved into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder. 

In order to make room for the 14-year veteran on the 40-man roster, Aaron Brooks was designated for assignment:

No... not that Aaron Brooks...

Dammit, wrong again....

YES - that's the Aaron Brooks was DFA'ed to make room on the roster for the claim of Rene Rivera.  Jeeze, the Wrigley Roster Jenga interns are really off their game this morning.

Brooks is a righty starter, who was acquired to be rotation depth from the A's, in exchange for Chris Coghlan, during spring training last season.  Unfortunately, injuries limited his time on the mound and his effectiveness when on it, missing most of 2016 and then posting an ERA over six in 24 AAA starts.  However, there's a good chance that Brooks will go unclaimed, be outrighted to the minors, and stay in Iowa; so, there's still hope for Aaron, yet.

 As for the 25-man roster spot, as expected, Victor Caratini was sent back to Iowa, so that he can continue to see regular playing time and refine his backstop skills.  While his bat is about as ready as can be for the Show, the converted infielder is still a work in progress in the defense department.

Rather than risk stunting Vic's development or thrust the "work in progress" into the middle of a tightly contested playoff race, Epstein and Co. scoured the waiver-wire for a competent, veteran presence and found Rene Rivera.

For what it's worth, Rivera used to watch the Cubs play with his grandfather when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. He said his grandfather loved broadcasters Harry Caray and Steve Stone and "It's an honor for me to be here (with) a team he loved so much and now I play for."  Here's hoping that Rene's pitch-framing skills and veteran leadership come in handy for the stretch run; he's not a complete slouch with the bat either - he hit .230 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 54 games with New York.

Thanks go out to the Mets for holding a veteran garage sale this summer, allowing several contenders to plug holes on their final rosters.  Also, welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC, Rene!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Soler Eclipse

I hope you remembered to purchase and don your extra special, super protective eclipse glasses....

.... because I hear that we're about to have our first total Soler eclipse in nearly 100 years! 

What's that?  It's a SOLAR eclipse???  Well, this is awkward....

Sunday, August 13, 2017

National Baseball Card Day

Last year, I missed the much-ballyhooed return of National Baseball Card Day due to the lovely exchanging of vows between a pair of close friends.  Priorities, right?

As such, this year, I resolved that there was no way in bloody hell that I would be missing what should be my favorite "holiday" of the year - free baseball cards, what more could I possibly want out of a day of celebration?  So, the night before, I mapped out my plan of attack; with three card shops within half an hour's drive from my base of operations and no other commitments until that evening, I was going to make the most of this glorious event.

But, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," to paraphrase the poet, Robert Burns.

As it turned out, I was only able to make it to two of the three local card shops that I had planned to hit up - the Oak Lawn branch of local chain, The Baseball Card King (top), and Baseball Dreams and Memories in Crestwood (bottom).  My intended third target was the New Lennox BBCK location; however, some foot dragging on my part caused me to run out of time and motivation.  The wife and I had tickets to catch Kings of Leon later on and there was no way I was going to miss out on that, free baseball cards or not.

Speaking of my wonderful wife, despite only hitting up two shops, I still ended up with three National Baseball Card Day cello packs.  Since her hairstylist cancelled her appointment in the eleventh hour, she decided to accompany me to the latter of my two stops.  While she does have a blossoming binder of Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages, baseball cards don't have the same gravitational pull on her - as such, I got two for the price of one.  She's definitely a keeper.

With that, above you see my National Baseball Card Day haul - well, at least the free pack portion (more on that in a bit).

By the time we got home, I was absolutely jonesing to open these gratis goodies.  Each of these three cellophane packets included five cards and the overall checklist for the special set included just one Cub - Kris Bryant - each franchise gets one representative.  The Angels' Mike Trout was the "chase card," as it was only available to those who spent at least ten bucks on Topps products in any given store.  Seeing as I care not about Los Angeles baseball and I'm a rabid Cubs fan, I didn't drop enough money for a Trout.  Pulling the Bryant out of my fifteen chances would be the definition of my success.  Let's see how I did, shall we?

Pack One - this one came from the Oak Lawn Baseball Card King.  No "Sparkles," but the baseball card gods decided to rub some salt in the wounds with a pair of former Cubs prospects (Archer and Donaldson) who went on to stardom after being traded away by the previous Chicago administration.  

Pack Two - this is the pack that I was awarded at Baseball Dreams & Memories in Crestwood.  For a while there, this past July, it looked like Justin Verlander just might become a Cub at the trading deadline.  Much like my pulling the Cubs' third baseman in this pack of cards, that ultimately did not come to pass.

Pack Three - this is the pack that my wife was given at Baseball Dreams and Memories.  We have a second appearance of Mr. Verlander and a card that would certainly fit into the collection of a blogger named Tony.  Unfortunately, on that latter point, it turned out to be the wrong Tony.  Tony L. (of Off Hiatus Baseball Cards and Collecting the 1980's) - if you would like to claim that Orlando Arcia, it's all yours.

Also, why'd your Brew Crew have to go and trade for Neil Walker?  That guy KILLS us.

Ultimately, out of the three packs, I did not end up walking away with the coveted Kris Bryant card.  Oh well  - them's the breaks, I suppose.  It was still quite the thrill rounding up and ripping free packs of baseball cards in the name of a "national holiday."  Also, while I didn't open up my wallet for ten bucks worth of Topps product to get the Mike Trout bonus, I did spend a little bit of actual dinero on one pack of cards at my latter stop.

Is it sacrilege to buy football cards on National BASEBALL Card Day?

After his debut performance in the Bears' first preseason game against the Broncos on Thursday night, quaterback of the future Mitchell Trubisky has been the talk of the town.  While his drafting has been thoroughly questioned throughout the summer, Mitch went out and completed 18 of 25 throws for 166 yards, with a touchdown pass on his first possession.  Whether or not this any that actually means anything, I am going to need a Trubisky card for my Bears All-Time Roster Collection and 2017 Donruss (where he surprisingly appears as the co-cover boy) represents my first chance to grab him in Bears garb.

Instead of Mitchell, the only card which fits my collecting sphere featured a former Monsters of the Midway quarterback.  Josh McCown was a Bear 2011-13, mostly backing up Jay Cutler, and appears here as a Cleveland Brown, listed as a New York Jet.  There's a lot going on there.

Another card of note featured the offspring of a former Chicago Cub.  Pat Mahomes was a journeyman reliever who blew through the Windy City for 16 games in 2002.  His son, Patrick Mahomes II, now represents the future for the Kansas City Chiefs, after being drafted in the first round last April.

For a while, I've toyed with the idea of a "Son of a Cub" collection, featuring cards of former Cubs' offspring who otherwise had nothing to do with the Northside franchise.  Perhaps I'll hang onto this "Rated Rookie" and look into finding a few similar cards - i.e., Marvell Wynne, Jr. and Keith Kessinger (Don's kid).

We shall see.

In the end, the main reason that I picked up the pack of Donruss is because I needed it to bring my purchase up over the five dollar mark (I really need to get better about carrying some cash).  While I was milling about the Crestwood shop, I came across a single card which I had no idea existed and desperately needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  For fifty cents, there was no way I was going home without this special surprise from the brief, 2009 reboot of O-Pee-Chee:

Luis Vizcaino was a Chicago Cub for all of 3.2 innings (over 4 games) during that dreadful 2009 campaign.  The former World Series Champion on the other side of town and veteran reliever was acquired solely so that the Cubs could dump the contract of Jason Marquis onto the Colorado Rockies.  GM Jim Hendry needed that money to continue his retool of the team, which was coming off of back-to-back NL Central titles.  Ever hear the phrase, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it?"  Hendry apparently hadn't.

At any rate, with such a brief Cubs tenure, I didn't think that Luis had ever appeared on a card as a Cub - after all, non-closing relievers hardly ever get any love from the card companies anyway.  Lo and behold, eight years later, I discovered that when you assume, you make an ASS of of U and ME.

Despite my ignorance, I was thrilled to make this Cubgrade - everybody just looks so much better in Cubbie Blue.

All in all, that was my full experience with National Baseball Card Day in 2017.  In the end, I was able to add a new Cubs card to my collection - however, I can't say that I expected that card to be a 2009 OPC single that I had no clue even existed.  Life is just chock full o' surprises, isn't it?

The day might not have gone as scripted, but I'm going to go ahead and declare it a rousing success anyway.  I mean, at least I actually got to participate this year!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Stickers 4 Less

You know the feeling - you open the refrigerator to answer the call of a growling stomach, hoping to prepare a turkey sandwich or maybe grab a quick snack (like a cheese stick or a tupperware full of last night's leftovers) only to find a chilly emptiness within your suddenly hollow appliance.  With a groan and a sudden realization that you're going to have to go grocery shopping eventually.  Your aching belly makes it clear that if you keep denying it gratification any longer, there are going to be severe gastric problems in the near future.  With all of that rattling among your frustrated thoughts, you sullenly lace up your sneakers, snatch your keys off of the hook, avoid the temptation of dozens of fast food options along the away, and make your way to a local grocer.  The deed must be done.

Perhaps I'm being a touch overly hyperbolic, but I truly detest grocery shopping.  If food could suddenly apparate (Harry Potter-style) into my fridge and pantry, I'd be a happy man - where's that technology, 21st century?  Huh?

It was the very situation that I described above that led me to the local Food 4 Less, endeavoring to pick up some odds and ends to replenish my neglected food stocks.  Groceries to be sought out included properly ripened bananas, pre-packaged lunch meat, Kraft singles (my wife's preferred "cheese"), and some turkey hot dogs.  Luckily for my perturbed digestive system, I found all of these items without much difficulty and fairly quickly.  However, there was one extra item that wasn't on my hastily scribbled shopping list, but still caught my attention; this item was going to keep my impatient belly waiting, despite it's increasingly aggressive growls becoming more like a roar.

I've habitually checked the ubiquitous quarter vending machines, located in the foyer of most chain stores, as I complete my trip to hell... I mean, the grocery store.  It's a tick that I developed many moons ago, likely the result of the beloved 50 cent machine which distributed 1996 Fleer baseball singles at the local ice cream shop, when I was a young lad.  Times are different now and the hobby is nowhere near as over-arching as it was in the mid-90's; however, I still glance over at the red, metal vendors on my way out, just in case.  Lo and behold, today was the "case."

Nestled among the Finding Dory and Trolls stickers, memes, and temporary tattoos, I was surprised to discover an apparent set of licensed NFL stickers.  Better yet, from the picture on the outside, the design of these bad boys appeared to simulate that of a traditional trading card.  Sorry stomach, this was an opportunity that I had to seize.

For fifty cents a pop, one could have their very own sticker of  Phillip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, etc.  I'd never seen nor heard of these oddballs before and my curiosity was piqued; so, I quickly dug around in my pocket and was relieved to discover that I had a dollar in quarters rattling around in my blue jeans.  In exchange for my four silver Washingtons, the "Stickerama" machine spat out a pair of plain, white, cardboard envelopes, which contained my goodies.  With that, I quickly made my way out of the Food 4 Less, lest someone see this full-grown adult messing with and taking pictures the kids novelty items.

Plus, by this point, I was hungry enough to unhinge my jaw and eat anyone who might have noticed.  That just wouldn't have been good for anyone.

After speeding home, I re-loaded my lonely fridge, made myself a wholesome snack (definitely wasn't half a box of fudge stripe cookies) and sat down to reveal the contents of my surprise, cardboard envelopes.

I didn't (and still don't) know if there were any Chicago Bears in this set; but, the fact that I came across these football stickers on the very same day as their first preseason tilt had to be a good omen, right?  Drum-roll, please:

Who's contained within envelope number one?:

Ahhhh, that's a touch "deflating."  Not that I actually have a problem with Tom Brady - I truly feel like he gets a lot more flack than he deserves and he has my respect as a once in a generation talent - he just doesn't really move the needle for me.

But, that's okay - that's why I purchased two stickers.  Fingers crossed that first is the worst and second is the best.  Cue those drums again, Giphy:

Who's hiding in sleeve number two??:

Well then.

Again, I guess I don't personally have any strong feelings about Tony Romo; however, being that my Delaware-born wife is a enthusiastic Eagles fan, she absolutely detests Mr. Romo and his Cowboys.  In the course of our time together, I seem to have developed some secondhand distaste, in a show of solidarity.  Of course, she also hates the Bears too - I suppose I should just be happy that my wife enjoys football.

While the player selection here turned out to be underwhelming, I'm still thrilled to have made this unexpected discovery at Food 4 Less.  Let's take a moment to examine these oddballs a little bit more in depth.

The "cards" are a little bit over-sized... I would guess they are about the size of your average index card, but I don't have a ruler handy to back that up.  The stickers themselves (the part which is actually removed) are a tad smaller and make use of rounded corners - perfect for lockers, trapper keepers, or notebook covers.  As for their design, they are very basic, with a team logo and color-coordinating "lower-third" name bar at the bottom.  For the most part, the pictures do the talking.  All in all, appropriately enough, it kind of reminds me of a Topps or Panini sticker release.

As for the backside:

While I honestly expected to find them blank on the back, we get a remind of the player name, the team logo, "card" number, and all of the respective legal information.  On that latter bit, we discover that the vending machine set was copyrighted in 2012; obviously, this is several years before the NFL went exclusive with Panini.  I can't imagine that the trading card company, which originally made it's mark with sports stickers, would be thrilled about these hitting the market today.  That said, at the time, these stickers were fully-licensed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association and were produced by Maryland-based A&A Global Industries, Inc.

Believe it or not, this isn't my first encounter with A&A, which is a giant in the vending machine industry:

Last fall, again while on a mission for food, I came across a machine stocked with MLB team stickers at the nearby Mr. Submarine location. Nowadays, A&A still partners with the NFL, but due to license exclusivity, they can only deal in team logo merchandise, including stickers, super balls, tiny stuffed animals, etc. Their reach goes far beyond the NFL and the MLB though, as they are "the premier distributor of toys, novelties, candy, plush and merchandiser kits for the bulk vending, amusement and family entertainment industries," according to their website. They've been at it since 1938, as well.

Basically, if you've ever dropped a quarter into one of these machines, A&A were probably responsible for the prize you received.

Oh boy - I need to find these vending machines for my rubber duck collecting wife!

At any rate, while they may not get to make them any more, I was thrilled to come across their player stickers and I wish they could still be a thing. I've said it many times on here, but stupid license exclusivity. Although, at least at this grocery store, the stickers don't appear to have been a huge hit, seeing as the machine still sat stocked a full five years after their release. Oh well, more joy for me.

If you collect the Patriots/Tom Brady/Cowboys/Tony Romo and would like to claim the oddballs above for your own collection, just let me know and they are all yours - they just don't really fit into my "ultra-focused on the Bears" football collection. There might be more of these coming too, as I have a feeling that I'm going to be "grocery shopping" a tad bit more often now, in search of Monsters of the Midway.

Thank you, A&A, for making my grocery shopping experience a lot more tolerable!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Don Baylor - Forgotten Trailblazer

This was not a good weekend to be a former Major League baseball player.

On Saturday night, word trickled out on social media that former Phillie All-Star catcher, Darren Daulton, passed away after a four-year battle with brain cancer. Daulton earned a Silver Slugger and MVP votes in two separate campaigns, while also leading Philadelphia to the World Series in 1993.  However, seeing as his career peak came well before I was cognizant of our nation's pastime, I was saddened by this news but not overly affected.  

On the other hand, when I heard about the tragic passing of Dan Baylor just yesterday afternoon, also after a long battle with cancer (at the age of 68), the loss hit a little closer to home.  I audibly gasped in the middle of a grueling 14-hour long drive home from our North Carolina vacation when I saw the news on my Twitter feed (don't worry - I was the passenger, at the time).  You see, Don Baylor was the first Cubs manager who I was truly aware of.

But, before he skippered my beloved Cubs, Baylor had himself a borderline Hall of Fame playing career himself.  In a 19-year Major League Baseball career, Baylor smashed 338 home runs, won the 1979 AL MVP award, and earned a 1987 World Series ring while playing for the Orioles, Athletics, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, and Twins.  Additionally, during the latter half of his career, Baylor helped to revolutionize the designated hitter position, which allowed him to extend his time in the Bigs by nearly a decade.  Needless to say, Mr. Baylor was a notable name.

Even more important, prior to the start of his professional career, Baylor was one of three African Americans to integrate Texas public schools when he was only in junior high school.   Furthermore, when he went on to star on the diamond and gridiron at Stephen F. Austin High School, where he was the first African American to play athletics.  It's important to remember that he was a trailblazer, as well.

All things considered, perhaps the most oft-cited aspect of Don's playing days was his proclivity to getting hit by pitches.  On eight, count 'em, EIGHT separate occasions, the lumbering slugger lead his circuit in "hit by pitches."  There's no doubt that this stung a little bit (it sure looks like it in the picture above); but, it most assuredly helped to buoy his career .332 on-base percentage.  This was not insignificant since his batting average rarely rose above the .260's, a minor flaw which has been cited as one main reason for his not being enshrined in Cooperstown.

In fact, until Craig Biggio came along, Don Baylor held the MLB record for HBP, with 267.  His "mark" still leads the American League ledger.  Hey, getting on base is getting on base, right? 

When he hung up his spikes after the 1988 campaign, Baylor soon transitioned into coaching, taking up spots on the coaching staffs of the Brewers and the Cardinals through the 1992 season.  Then, expansion struck with the addition of the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins to the National League.  Based on his stature as a prolific hitter and his rave reviews as a coach, the former  hired Baylor on as the first field manager in franchise history.  He would lead the expansion club through the 1998 season, beating the odds and navigating the newbie club into the playoffs just two years into their existence (via the Wild Card), earning him Manager of the Year honors for 1995.

Then, after a few more years coaching, Baylor was brought on by the Chicago Cubs to take over the reigns from longtime skipper, Jim Riggleman, starting in the year 2000.  Amusingly, Baylor's hiring was accidentally leaked onto the internet by the club before it was made official.

Unfortunately, the Cubs of this time were pretty much devoid of talent, outside of Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood.  Nevertheless, after a rough first season, Baylor had the Cubs exceeding expectations by 2001, as the Cubbies suddenly became major players in the NL Central.  Though they would eventually fade down the stretch, missing the playoffs, their 88-74 record was a 23 game improvement over the previous season.  As such, hopes were high going into 2002.

Then, the glass slipper broke and the Cubs went back to being the Slammin' Sammy show - blue chip prospects busted (Roosevelt Brown, Bobby Hill, Corey Patterson), aging veterans hit the wall (Jon Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, et al) and the magic was gone.  Not to mention, Baylor clashed with the mercurial superstar that was Sosa, once saying that he needed to be a more "complete" player and refusing to placate his antics.  "Sam-me" was not thrilled and fired back, saying that his manager had "no class" - and Sosa basically ran the show, in those days.  These factors combined to earn Baylor his walking papers midway through that 2002 campaign.

I vividly remember hearing the announcement of Baylor's dismissal on WGN radio (I assume later in that same day) and thinking to myself, "what the heck does that accomplish?  No one could win with this disarray.  You have to retool this roster!"  However, I don't think that team president, Andy MacPhail, concerned himself with the opinion of a 13 year old junior high student.

Thankfully, Baylor landed on his feat and, while he never did sit in the manager's office again, he served as a well-respected hitting coach in the Major Leagues for many years after.  As late as 2015, he provided batting tips with the Angels.

Also, remember how I noted earlier that Don Baylor was a trailblazer?  Here's something that I didn't realize until I began to draft this post - he was the first African American manager in Cubs history.  How about that?  It's a damn shame that his tenure was so brief, talent-deprived, unsupported by the front office, and nearly downright forgotten.

At any rate, rest in peace, Mr. Baylor - a trailblazer, borderline Hall of Fame player, beloved teammate, human bean (ball) bag, deeply respected coach, accomplished manager, and an esteemed human being.  He definitely deserved better from the Cubs!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

If I Ran the Zoo

I'm still on vacay here in scenic Wilmington, North Carolina.  With all the time we've spent throwing our friend's bridal shower, hanging out in nearby Myrtle Beach, boardwalk browsing, and just enjoying our brief vacation, there hasn't been much time for blogging.  As it should be.  However, these customs that I'm about to show off had already been completed before we headed south; so, this seems like the perfect time to unveil them on the blogosphere.

The Cubs, courtesy of a slate injuries and poor play in the first half, have gone through a large amount of roster turnover so far in 2017.  Having used 41 players at this point, there's no way that the Topps Flagship set is going to be able to cover everyone (not that they would anyway) - not even Topps Total would have done so.  Seeing as I have a 2017 template already built and ready to use, I figured I'd take the liberty to help the ol' bubblegum out.  I'm always happy to assist.

With that in mind, I whipped up a 2017 "Flagship" Cubs card of everyone who has appeared in at least one contest this year, but did not show up on the S1, S2, or Factory Team Set checklists.  Without any further adieu, here they are:

The Off-Season Additions:
(My apologies to Brett Anderson; I forgot him)

The Deadline Deal Makers:

 The Prospect Promotions:

"So, You Think You Can Dance?" Contestants:

 (So far, they've all been voted off)

That Cubs bullpen sure does love to dance, don't they?

Anyway, how do you think they turned out?  Feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.

Of those pictured above, I feel like the ones most likely to crop up in the Update series are blossoming rookie, Ian Happ and the blockbuster trade deadline acquisitions (Q, Avila, and Wilson).  Otherwise, most of these names don't register on Topps radar, especially the dime-a-dozen bullpen scraps.  Of course, I've been wrong before and sometimes some odd choices are made to fill out the team checklists - we shall see.  In a perfect world, every single one would appear on their own Cubs cards; however, I doubt anyone but me and my CATRC feels that way.

But,if I ran the zoo...