Friday, September 29, 2017

That Awkward Moment When...

...the card show that you're attending is outdone by the friend that you're attending it with.

Last Sunday, I made my way to Orland Park, IL for the Sports Cards and More Show, which takes place every month at the community's Civic Center.  It's a show that I've been circling on my calendar on a fairly regular basis for a couple of years now and it has rarely failed me in terms of intrigue.  As an added bonus, Nick from Dime Boxes also makes his way down from the North Side to attend this show every now and then, as well.  On this particular occasion, we were able to meet up and take in the local cardboard cuisine together.  All in all, that was enough to make the trip worth the effort.

Thank goodness it was, since the show itself was kind of a disappointment for me this time around.  While Nick was finding vintage Jackie Robinsons and Stan Musials for bargain basement deals, I was striking out at almost every vendor that we patronized.  I suppose that shouldn't complain too much though, as I achieved the main objective that I had set before walking out the door - securing the '17 Heritage High Number singles that I needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection:

At the very first table I visited upon walking through the Civic Center doors, I came across a dime box of common singles from the newly-released set addendum.  Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson were honored with their first Cubs cards in this checklist and so they had been circled as my top targets as soon as the list was released to the public.  Brett was a short-lived and temperamental experiment who was already long gone by the time HHN hit shelves; so, I was pleasantly surprised he ended up with any card with the proper shade of blue.  Furthermore, while Mike has only been around for about a year and a half, the first North Side card for the guy who recorded the final out of their 2016 World Series title still felt long overdue.


So, I was extremely happy to knock those two needs right off of the bat, for a dime a pop, at that.  However, after that was a loooooooooooooooong stretch of nada.  Even after I finally tracked down Nick, his dime box mojo was, unfortunately, not rubbing off on me.  In the midst of our cardboard adventure, Nick mentioned that he had just put an envelope with my name on it in the mail.  This immediately piqued my interest, as a mailing from Nick is always a treasure trove of trading card gold.

I suppose that little nugget of information made it a little bit easier to call it a day on the card show without making anymore significant acquisitions.  Sometimes that's just how the cookie crumbles - at least I knew something cool was coming my way in the near future.

By Tuesday afternoon, Nick's yellow, padded mailer was already in my clutches and, boy oh boy, did it ever make up for the card show let down.  I mean, just look at the cardboard gems that he dug up for me:

According to the note that Nick included, a large chunk of the cards came from the mythical penny boxes and super cheap unopened packs/boxes that he had recently uncovered at his local flea market.  In that flea market haul, Nick obviously uncovered a ton of forgotten and off-kilter 90's releases, including Topps Laser, Pacific Online, and Pacific Omega.  Does it really get any more 90's than Laser or anything Pacific?
Turning back the clock a little further, there was also a stash of vintage cardstock to behold too:

That Dick Ellsworth, in particular, is a beauty - a sunny cloudless sky in spring training, where hope springs eternal, while Dick poses in pristine home pinstripes on the green outfield grass.  That card is definitely replacing whatever was sitting in Ellsworth's CATRC pocket before.

Also, it should be noted that the '75 George Mitterwald is a buyback, in case you didn't notice the silver foil stamp in the upper right corner.  Clearly George is also stunned by the beauty of the Ellsworth single, as he appears to be wiping a tear away from his eye.  I feel ya, Georgie.

The entirety of the mailing wasn't all retro though, as there was a smattering of current releases included, as well.  This past August, I made my way to two separate card shops (with my wife too) to pick up several packs of the special National Baseball Card Day cards.  Sadly, I did not end up with any of the Cubs from that set; thankfully, Nick stepped up and amended that disappointment, in much the same way he fixed my card show let-down.

Meanwhile, there were also a pair of Rob Zastryzny's to keep Jake the Snake company.  Rob Z seems to be Topps choice for designated Cubs rookie in 2017, as he has appeared in nearly every product to hit stores this season; last year, it was a then untested Carl Edwards.  I'm guessing that the lefty was Topps pick due to the fact that he was added to the NLCS roster last fall.  No matter the motivation, the Chrome rookie card and the 1987-style insert that you see above are still dueling over which will get the honor of repping Z in my CATRC binder.  As of now, the wood grains have the edge - what do you think?

 From there, the rest of the package was composed mostly of... oddballs...

....colorful parallels.... 

 ...forgotten brands (love the dichotomy of the Cubs uni on a Sox card, btw)...

...minor league cards (bonus points on the indy league Bullinger)... 

...and reprints.  However, those two Play Ball re-imaginings on the bottom aren't actually true reprints - they're really more of a fantasy issue.  You see, back in the early 80's TCMA produced a set of cards intended to fill in the gaps that the 1940 Play Balls didn't cover, including Lou "The Mad Russian" Novikoff and Phil Cavaretta.  The reason I know all of this is because I have encountered these cards before... actually... I've encountered these very same two cards before... hmmmm.  When I re-read Nick's note, I put two and two together.

Many of the cards tat didn't come from his penny box exploits came from his discount box digs at the National, an event that I too attended.  In fact, I saw these two singles in one of those discount boxes at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and nearly pulled the trigger, but was forced to put them back due to severely limited funds.  Is it possible that these two cards are the very same ones?  What a happy and strange coincidence that would be!

And that about covers Nick's ever-so-generous mailing - as you can see, it was like card show in a bubble mailer.

All told, this mailer included a bunch of off-the-wall fun stuff, several cards which supplanted previously occupied spots in my CATRC,  a card which I chased through a pair of card shops on Nat'l Basbeall Card Day, and, to top it all off, quite possibly the very same two cards that I had to leave behind at the National.  On the other hand, the Sports Cards and More Show provided me a pair of Heritage High Number needs.  I don't think I need to explain which one turned out to be the better haul.

My thanks go out to Nick for the amazing trade package which more than made up for the card show disappointment.  I can only hope that the cards I sent your way add up to at least a fraction of as much awesome as the one you sent mine. 

 Simply put, the man's trade stocks are better than the aisles of a vendor show.  Awks.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Not Clenching Over the Clinching

Last night, the Cubs did something that, prior to 9/27/17, they had only managed to accomplish six times since the beginning of divisional play in 1969.  If you limit the time period to the years that I've been alive and roaming planet earth, they had only been able to reach this achievement five times.  Yet, despite this significance, I almost didn't feel any sense of urgency or anticipation.  In fact, instead of watching the first half of the ballgame, I hopped on Netflix and watched a documentary about the Foo Fighters.  What was it that the "My Heroes" accomplished last night, you ask?  Well, it was the same objective that they accomplished in....






... and 2017.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, they officially clinched the 2017 National League Central Division title, their seventh division championship since 1984, with a 5-1 triumph over the Cardinals.  I don't want to speak for all Cubs fans, but in the wake of last year's magical World Series victory, winning a ticket to the dance no longer holds the same mystique that it once did.  I suppose we Northside rooters are becoming a tad spoiled.

After all, repeating as divisional champs coming off of a World Series triumph is no sure thing.  In fact, World Champion club has been able to accomplish that feat since the 2009 Phillies took home the NL East crown.  The World Series hangover is a very real and consuming pain - just ask the first half version of the 2017 Cubs, who were actually under .500 and rapidly losing ground to the surprising Brew Crew and the Red Birds going into the All Star break.  Plus, there was the added bonus of being able to clinch at our most storied rival's home turf.  With all of that in mind, I suppose I really should be more grateful that the "Lovable Winners" were able to turn things around and successfully defend that trophy.

Playoff berths are nothing to be sneezed at.  Even when you factor in the franchise's two Wild Card wins in...


...and 2015...

...playoff spots are still a relative rarity in team history.  Although, the ways things are trending, these ain't your granddaddy's Cubs.  In all actuality, they're more like your great granddaddy's Cubs.  By that, I mean that with having qualified for October baseball in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the club will be making their first back-to-back-to-back postseason trip since the 1906-1907-1908 edition of the Cubbies.  With that noted, it sure looks like the current crop is morphing back into the National League juggernaut that was Frank Chance's squad, well over 100 years ago.  

About damn time, right?

I'm sure that once October is here and the big series with our former friend Dusty Baker and his Nationals is upon our doorstep, my Cubbie Blue blood will start pumping a little faster.  In the meantime, congratulations to the 2017 National League Central Division Champions.  Regardless of last year's unprecedented success, winning that title is still a major accomplishment that deserves celebration, despite my initial disinterest.  

Now, if everyone could just stay healthy for this last week, that'd be great!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wrigley Roster Jenga's Most Wanted

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of taking in a card show with one of the blogosphere's premier personalities, Dimebox Nick.  The opportunity to meet up with a fellow blogger, dig through some boxes together, and talk cards is always a treat.  There will be a full wrap up of my experience at this monthly suburban show at some point in the next few days (in case you were worried); but, speaking of talking cards, there was something about the conversation that Nick and I had which has stuck with me over the last few days.

At some point in our pasteboard discussions, our topic of conversation turned to Nick's recent acquisition of his ultimate white whale card - Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm's rookie card, from Topps first Flagship release.  Spearing such a prodigious catch would make even Captain Ahab blush!  That's when Nick asked me, "If you could have any card in the world, what would it be?"  My answer was a blank stare and a slight stutter.  In other words - I had no freakin' clue.

This seems like something I should know - after all, there's no shortage of baseball cards that I desire.  But, as far as my ultimate chase, I could not put a pin in it.  Since that time, I've been mulling that question over in my head, almost non-stop.  If I could have any card in the world, what would it be?...  In the end,  I did what I always do when trying to work out a tricky prompt:  I made a list.

And now, since I could use some blogging fodder, I'm going to share "Wrigley Roster Jenga's Most Wanted" list with the blogging world.  Heck, maybe I'll get lucky and someone reading this exercise will have an extra of one or more of these bad boys laying around.  But, first, some parameters:

I limited the list to ten and tried to keep is focused on more "modern" product.  By that, what I really mean is cards from the "Topps-era" onward.  Otherwise, this list would be nothing but me daydreaming about tobacco cards and obscure regional issues from the first half of the 20th century and that would get to be quite dull.  With that in mind, I figured that 1952 through today made for a more reasonably attainable time period.

So, without any further ado, I present to you "Wrigley Roster Jenga's Most Wanted:"

#10 - 2003 Topps T205, #151 Dave Shean

Well, after all of that hullabaloo, I lead off the countdown with a reprint of a tobacco card anyway.  Ain't I a stinker?

In 2003, Topps re-imagined the iconic T205 set with modern players, in much the same way they continue to reuse old designs today (Archives, Heritage, etc.).  Also included in the product were a few, select reprints of original cards, one of which happened to be Dave Shean, who briefly appeared with the Cubs in 1911.  This card represents a relatively easy and affordable card of an obscure and antique player that I could use for my CATRC.

#9 TIE - Any Team-Issued Cards of Taylor Davis & Felix Pena

Felix Pena is a middle reliever who made his MLB debut last year and Taylor Davis is a fourth-string catcher who earned a September call-up last year.  Both appear to be little more than roster-filler, at this time, and do not have histories as big prospects.  As such, neither has any Bowman or other mainstream pre-rookie cards to their names - just team-issued oddballs.   Seeing as they don't figure to become big enough to break into the major sets, I'm guessing Iowa Cubs issues will be as close as it gets.

I'm not looking for a particular year for either, but any singles from the 2015-17 sets will do.  This duo represents the only players absent from my collection from the 1980's on; thus, they are a major black hole in my collection.

#8 - 1990 Target Dodgers, #714 Dick Scott

In all honesty, there's a great many cards that I am chasing from this (please feel free to help) set which encompasses the entire all-time roster of the Dodgers, through 1990.  There's been a lot of crossover between the Cubs and Dodgers rosters in their lengthy histories; therefore, this checklist makes for a great chance to fill in some obscure slots in my CATRC from the early days of baseball.  However, the card that stood out most from the pack, in my eyes, was Mr. Scott here.  Can you spot why?

Spoiler alert - it's because the photo that was chosen for this perforated beauty features Dick in a Cubs uniform and it's not hidden very well.  In fact, you can even see the corner of Wrigley's historic scoreboard in the background.  In my opinion, that actually makes this Dodgers card a Cubs card instead!

#7 - 1979 Diamond Greats, #112 Vern Olsen

In 1979, a collector by the name of Jack Wallin put together his own, retrospective set of baseball players from the past.  The cards appear to focus on men who played in the 1930-50's, without any further rules for inclusion.  While there many stars featured in this collector-issued set, the 400-count checklist left opportunities for plenty of obscure guys, like Vern Olsen above, to sneak in.

Olsen was a lefty hurler who who appeared in 112 Major League games for the Cubs (1939–1942; 1946).  Despite that fact, Vern never did appear on a baseball card, at least until Jack Wallin stepped in.  Thus, I have my target set on this oddball so that Mr. Olsen can take his rightful place in my CATRC binder.  Also, I'm not seeking out an autographed copy (like the image I pilfered), but I certainly wouldn't say no to one!

#6 - 1976 TCMA Chicago Cubs ('38), #12 Bob Garbark

TCMA were the among kings of oddball baseball cards in the 1970's, with ads for their specialized, mail-in sets populating the baseball card publications of the times.  Among the numerous special sets that they put out in their time was a collation which payed tribute the 1938 Chicago Cubs.  That team won the National League pennant, but was ultimately bested by the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  But, seeing as pennant winners are so rare in Chi-Town, an honorary set still feels quite appropriate.

As with most sets of their sets which shine the spotlight on specific teams, TCMA really went the distance with their research.  All of the players who got into so much as a single game appear in the checklist, as well as a few coaches.  Thanks to that, I have an affordable card of backup backstop, Bob Garbark, to chase down.

#5 TIE - One Year Winners #28 Jim Ellis & #61 John Flavin

Speaking of oddball kings of the 70's, that conversation isn't complete without mentioning Larry Fritsch.   While he was selling his hand-collated sets of Topps cards in the periodicals, he was also putting together his own special trading card releases.  One of those products was a set which paid tribute to players who only saw one year of action in the Big Leagues - it was called One Year Winners and it was put out in three different, continuous series, with three different designs.

Seeing as this is a set built around shining the spotlight on the obscure, I've had to chase several of these down.  The only two remaining on my want list are Jim Ellis (1979 design) and John Flavin (1983).  Quick nitpick though - Ellis actually appeared in two different seasons, one each for the Cards ('69) and Cubs ('67).  Also, while Flavin's career was limited to only one year, that came with the Cubs in 1967 - this picture dates from at least four years prior, when he was a member of the Reds org.

#4 - 1981 TCMA Go-Go White Sox, #5 Jim McAnany

And were back to TCMA and they're going to take us through the next couple of bullet points on the list.  As you can see, they have been and will continue to be a boon to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Like the 1938 Cubs, the company also put out a team-specific set for the Northsiders' crosstown rivals in 1981.  For the White Sox, TCMA chose to feature the 1959 pennant-winning "Go-Go White Sox" in a blue bordered, black & white photograph collation.  Jim McAnany was the club's de facto starting right fielder that year and stayed with the club through the 1961 season, after which he punctuated his MLB career with a Cubbie cameo in '62.  As far as I can tell, this is Jim's only baseball card and singles from this set don't turn up too often.  In fact, I've never even seen Jim's single in person and the only scan I could find on all of the internet was the signed copy above.  Anybody have any leads?

#3 - 1979 TCMA Syracuse Chiefs, #10 Mike Sember

While TCMA was paying tribute to Major League teams of the past, they were also showcasing minor league teams of the present - they were the first company to mass produce minor league sets.   Thank goodness they did because their Syracuse Chiefs team set includes one of only two baseball cards issued under Mike Sember's name.  This one, with it's full-color and standard dimensions, is much more desirable than the team-issued photocard that the team released that same year... at least in my opinion.

Mike's professional baseball career ended with the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliate that season, but not before he sipped a couple of cups of coffee with the Cubbies in 1977 and '78.  All told, his MLB stat line consists of just 12 games, two hits, and one walk; nevertheless, I want/need that glorious mustache in my binder!

#2 - 1978 SSPC, #251 Mike Gordon

The people behind SSPC were the same minds behind TCMA, Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein.  While their TCMA-branded products focused on the days of yore, SSPC challenged Topps by shifting to the present and providing a rare alternative to the leading gum company's industry standard product.  Their no frills design, quality photography, and backs written by Keith Olbermann prove popular to this day.  But, did you know that SSPC had a second wave, released in 1978?

Released in "All Star Gallery" booklets, which focused on particular teams, SSPC had a second wind with pretty much the same product, but with an updated checklist.   Each booklet contained "27 full color photo fact cards" for the respective franchise.  For example, here's what the Cubs booklet looked like:

Of those 27 "photo fact cards," one featured a little-known, back-up catcher by the name of Mike Gordon.  No - not the guy from Phish.  This Mike Gordon was a teammate of Mike Sember on the Cubs of 1977-78; like his fellow Mike, Gordon only saw brief snippets of game action (12 games total).  Despite that small amount of MLB time, he was still able to sneak in SSPC's swan song, gazing off into the distance during batting practice.  Like so many in this countdown, this is his only baseball card on the market.

Now we've reached the moment of truth.  I've finally determined the answer to that question which Nick asked me three days ago -  "if I could have any card in the world, what would it be?"

Drum roll, please:

Well... that's not exactly what I meant... but, I guess we'll roll with it.

Okay - terrible puns aside, the number one card on my to-get list, right now, is:

#1 - 1967 Topps, #576 Ramon Hernandez/Norm Gigon

Ahhhhh... the dreaded high numbers of 1967.... the scourge of many a vintage set collector.

The third and final series of 1967 Topps pushed the final checklist for Flagship up to a then-record number of 609 cards.  Unfortunately, that same third series was short-printed, quite drastically enough to the point that even common cards sell for a premium today.  For example, the cheapest copy rookie card above, which features a journeyman reliever and barely-there "whosit" currently on Ebay is a whopping $70 BIN.  To follow up, the cheapest (and only) copy on COMC right now is priced at $210.  Needless to say, collecting a full set of 67's could lead to a mortgage.

Why is it I want this scarce single so badly - again, while both men eventually ended up playing for the Cubbies, this marks Norm Gigon's one and only appearance on a baseball card, whatsoever... and it had to be on a '67 high number. ☹

My reaction if and when I ever track down a copy.

Gigon appeared in 34 contests with that 1967 Windy City ball club, batting an absolutely anemic .171 in 70 at bats.  Yet, his only baseball card will likely run me near triple digits - that's just not fair!  I just have my fingers crossed that I'll eventually come across one with a fatal flaw - creases, paper loss, tears, tape holding it together, what have you - that will lower Norm into my modest price range.  Until then, card #576 will remain the main objective in my great baseball card hunt.

Now, when fellow bloggers ask me at future card shows, I'll be prepared with a proper answer to the question.  Thank you, Nick, for making my brain do a little bit of work and for providing me with the jumping off point for a new blog post.  Here's where I challenge  you, the reader, to answer the same question and post what you come up with - "if I could have any card in the world, what would it be?"  You don't have to limit yourself in the way that I did or even do a full list.  Perhaps we could make this into a sort of blog bat-around, eh?  Personally, I'm curious to see what white whales are out there, just waiting to be speared.

Oh and if anyone has a lead on any of the cards that you see above, I know a guy who's interested!