Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trading Cards in Disguise

All Hallows' Eve, a night during which the world dons masks, face paint, and costumes for a night of candy, mischief, debauchery, and ghoulish fun, all in the name of Samhain.  It's a night filled with costume parties, trick or treating, pumpkin carving, pranks, haunted houses, and scary movie marathons.  All in all, Halloween has always been my favorite holiday - Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, and my birthday are all well and good; however, only one holiday taps into my creative side and allows me to craft and show off my own costumes.  Ever since I can remember, the art of creating a proper Halloween disguise has been my favorite holiday tradition, thus making October 31st my most favored annual celebration.  Well... unless MLB Opening Day counts as a holiday... but, I digress.

Over the years, I've put together some top-notch costumes - Speed Racer, the Green Power Ranger, and the Headless Horseman rank among my proudest.  Along with my wife, our craft has even won awards at local costume contests - Ash Ketchum and Pikachu, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, and, my personal favorite, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.  After all, these years, I still get a thrill out of spending a night in disguise.

However, I am certainly not alone in my love for Halloween dress-up; after all, those pop-up costume shops indicate that it is a million dollar industry.  But, it's not just people that like to get in on the act of costuming.  Trading cards, that's right, trading cards can often be found in disguise... and all year-round at that!

They come disguised as...




 ...phone cards...





...game pieces...



...greeting cards....

...Valentine cards....

...digital photographs....


...traditional photographs...

...mini books...

...and even business cards, credit cards, coins, rub downs, ticket stubs, tags, schedules, blankets, and paper fans.  Trading cards are like paper/plastic versions of Lon Chaney, "The Man of a Thousand Faces."

But, despite their clever disguises, these collectibles can't confuse use obsessive collectors - they're trading cards, at heart.  There ain't no "tricking" us on these "treats!"  We obsessive folks will collect them in whatever form they chose to hide out in.

Or maybe I'm the only one that "out of my gourd..." 

At any rate, Happy Halloween to everyone reading this overextended,  metaphorical excuse for a blog post.  I hope your night's festivities are "bewitching!"  In the meantime, if you happen to run into a Han Solo and Chewbacca combination in your neighborhood this evening, you might just be running into this fanatical trading card collector and his lovely wife.  Keep your eyes peeled!


**EDIT** - Due to popular demand, here's a selection of costumes for which I have easily accessible pictures (by that, I mean they were on Facebook):

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hankering For a Big Helping of Chili

In between the close of the NLCS and the start of the World Series, Theo Epstein told us Cubs fans that Joe Maddon would have all of the coaches that he wanted back for next season.  The implied lack of turnover wasn't too surprising, given the immense success the franchise has had under their tutelage in the last three years.  However, one might notice that there was a deliberate loophole left in that statement... the ones that Joe *wanted* back.

Since that time, much-heralded pitching coach, Chris Bosio has been handed his walking papers.  His success in reclamation projects has been unparalleled in recent years; but, his magic and his act seemed to wear thin in '17.  Furthermore, John Mallee (hitting) and toothpick-chompin' Gary Jones (third base) have been given their walking papers.  Furthermore, Eric Hinske, the assistant hitting coach, took a promotion with the Angels as their primary batting tutor.  Now, according to the front office, the turnover comes mostly as the result of a desire to bring in a new crop of voices and the availability of other coaches.

In summation, the coaching staff of the 2018 Chicago Cubs is going to have a very different configuration.

With that, allow me to introduce you to the newest member of the Cubs; welcome to the club, Chili Davis! Get it?  It's a "two of clubs" from the 1992 U.S. Playing Cards Baseball Aces deck!  ba-dum-tiss

Of course, Chili had a long and productive career as a Major League player for the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals, and Yankees, from 1981-99.  Seeing as his career spanned throughout the entirety of the "junk wax" collecting period, I had no shortage of Chili's to choose from in my trade box to move into my Cubs collection.

See?  And that was after just a cursory check.

Even though, in my years of hoarding trading cards, I never collected Chili Davis, the Angels, or the Twins, I have many Chili's to choose from for my Cubs coaches binder.  Since the slugger played in the 80's and 90's and was a semi-star, thanks to the overproduction so prevalent during his time patrolling the outfield, I am nearly overflowing with Chili!

Once he hung up his spikes, Davis' .360/.451/.811 slash line and 370 home runs landed him jobs as the hitting coach for the Athletics and the Red Sox.  He's been known for his patient approach and inclination to work the count, holdover traits from his playing days - he walked 12% of the time and struck out in just 17% of his AB's.  The Cubs, in need of a hitting coach and having the same, "make the pitcher work" philosophy, pounced and signed him to a contract yesterday, satiating their sudden hankerin' for chili.

Meanwhile, Davis wasn't the only addition to the coaching ranks to be added on Thursday.  Also signing on the dotted line was Andy Haines, earning a promotion from roving minor league hitting coordinator to assistant hitting coach, taking over for the aforementioned Hinske.  This will be Haines' first stint in a Major League dugout.

Normally, even the most fervent of baseball addicts doesn't even get excited about a new assistant hitting coach hire; yet, I'm pretty pumped up.  Why, you ask?

Well, back in 2007, Haines cut his teeth with our local independent, Frontier League baseball club - the Windy City Thunderbolts.  In fact, he helped lead the traditionally second-division band of rag tags from irrelevance to their first league championship in his only year at the helm.  Not bad for his first year as a skipper, eh?  That performance afforded him opportunity in affiliated ball and now he's risen all the way from Crestwood indy ball to the glitz and glamour of the Major Leagues.

I must admit, I'll feel a good bit of local pride when I see him don a Cubs uniform for the first time.

Seeing as I almost never miss the 'Bolts annual baseball card team-set giveaway night, I just so happened to have his '07 managerial pasteboard in my collection already.  A second copy would be ideal, however (for now, at least), he'll transition from my T-Bolt memorabilia collection to my Cubs All-Time Coaches binder, with Chili Davis.

An interview with the new asst. hitting coach, from my 2007 T-Bolts program

Also announced with the Davis and Haines signings was the addition of Brian Butterfield, taking over the third base coach's box from Gary Jones.  Butterfield is a longtime fixture in Major League instruction, having served in various roles for the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, and - most recently - the Red Sox.  He'll be defecting to Chicago along with his former Boston staff-mate and fellow subject of this post, Chili Davis.

Unfortunately, since Brian's playing days were brief, in the early 80's, he never rose above A-ball, and the big card companies rarely show love to coaches, he doesn't have much of a cardboard presence and, thus, will remain unrepresented in my collection until I can track down one of his Best or ProCard singles.

A pair of Butterfield examples, courtesy of COMC.

That about covers the Cubs early off-season coaching shuffle... at least for now.  As of yet, there has been no replacement named for Chris Bosio; although Jim Hickey is seen as the favorite, especially considering his long run as Maddon's PC in Tampa Bay and the Cardinals taking Mike Maddux off of the market (Edit - after drafting this post, it was reported that Hickey has indeed signed on with Chicago). Additionally, bench coach, Dave Martinez, appears to be a finalist for the vacated manager's chair in Washington and may yet also be lost.  Only time will tell what other changes might be in store this offseason, but - as you can plainly see - that early reassurance of coaching staff stability has been completely shattered.

Not that the coaching likely had much of an affect on the Cubs meek NLCS loss, but it'll be nice to see some new blood leading the way for next year's club.  I'm excited to see the approaches of Chili Davis, Andy Haines, and crew and what changes that they might implement to the still well-oiled machine that is the Chicago National League Ballclub.  Maybe the strikeouts will start to dwindle?

In any case, welcome to Chicago (and to my Cubs binders) guys!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Hail Mary Mailing

In trying to collect one card of every man to don the Cubs uniform, things get a little bit tricky for players who took the diamond prior to the 1960's.  Oftentimes, back when Topps was pretty much the only game in town, players with brief cuppacoffee-like careers were lost in the cracks as either the bubblegum company didn't think kids would care about or collect blips on the radar or because their tenures were so brief that they couldn't be caught.  At any rate, once we start dipping into the decade of Elvis, malt shops, "I Like Ike," and hula hoops, a lot of men who never appeared on a baseball card begin to mess up my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection hopes.

With that in mind, sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands.

For such players, I've recently taken to creating custom cards to fill the void, using designs which mimic actual sets that were released during their playing days.  I tried this once and succeeded with Tony Balsamo a year and a half ago, but I took the easy way out and didn't personally create the card.  In order to make my work feel more like a real collectible and not just some amateur print job, I've had the idea of mailing copies off for TTM.  At least in my mind, having the player add their John Hancock to my humble hack job makes it feel like there's actual collectible value and I'm not "cheating" to add cards to my collection.

Over the weekend, my first such TTM return made it's way back to my doorstep.  This one was a particularly welcome sight as it was a bit of a "hail mary" attempt... a "mail mary," if you will.  For this Cub, the mailing address that I tracked down on Sports Card Forum was listed as being from 2011.  Although it did have one successful attempt attached to it, six years ago is a long time and this athlete could have easily moved since then.  Plus, the man is 85 years young, so who knows what could be going on.  Therefore, let's just say I wasn't holding my breath on this one.

But, as you can plainly see, the pre-stamped envelope made it's way back to me, against all odds.  I'm not ashamed to say that I was giddy when I saw the tri-folded mailer nestled in my mailbox.

At this point, I'm sure you're wondering who my target was, right?

Dick "Footer" Johnson saw action in eight games with the Chicago Cubs in 1958.  During his cuppajoe, he served as a pinch-batter and pinch-runner, not playing a single inning in the field.  However, he also never made contact on a base hit, drew a walk, or stole a base during his summer trial and quickly found himself back down in the minor leagues.  Sadly, this was to be his only taste of the Majors.

Accordingly, Topps either never bothered or never knew to include them in any of their sets and, unfortunately, "Footer" never appeared on so much as a regional oddball.  Nothing. Nada.  Therefore, I decided to whip up my own take on a "Footer" card, using the 1960 Fleer set as my template.  

"Moose" Moryn has volunteered to model the originals.  They're not a perfect match, but I'm pretty happy with how my take turned out, overall.

Although his MLB career was over by 1960, Mr. Johnson was still kicking around the Cubs chain, playing in AA-San Antonio and A-Lancaster in what would be his last professional season.  Seeing as the only clear photo that I could find was black and white, I figured that the classy head shots set would be the perfect way to utilize it.

I didn't mail in my work either... well, I suppose *literally* I did mail my work in... but, what I'm trying to say is that I went the whole nine yards and created a backside for my creation, as well.  Again, it's not an absolute perfect match and I had some issues with justifying the alignment of the text in write-up; but, I'll deem it acceptable.

Although, if I'm being honest, all I really care about is the front and the autograph which graces it:

On the off-chance that Footer should actually be reading this blog post, I am incredibly grateful that he took the time to sign a copy of my custom card for me, filling a black hole in my CATRC binder.  Also, let's just take a moment to appreciate his penmanship and how legible his signature is - perhaps he should host a class for the athletes of today.  Their scribbles are nothing compared to Dick's green ink autograph.

Johnson also kept a second copy of the card for himself, as I offered.  To me, it's quite an honor to have my creation in the personal collection of a bonafide Major League Baseball player - it makes both of my inner child and my collegiate graphic designer self quite proud.

Hopefully the rest of my TTM customs are as easy and satisfying as this supposed "hail mary" attempt.  Welcome to the CATRC, "Footer!"

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sometimes Your Words Just Hypnotize Me

Ever since I began the daunting collecting endeavor that is my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, I've made sure to keep record of what has come in and out of the jam-packed binder that houses said cards.  I've always made sure to keep a computer-based spreadsheet up-to-date with the comings and goings of each player in the tome.  Did I acquire a new guy in a Cubs uniform?  Did I dig up a dude who played for the Cubs, but in a different jersey?  Did I trade away a card previously housed in the collection?  It was all there in the spreadsheet.  Furthermore, in case of emergency, I've always had a good, old fashioned paper list too, just in case disaster should occur with my hard drive and/or Google Drive.

In short, as someone who, as a kid, used to make up lists of random subjects just for fun, I've been meticulous about my CATRC record keeping - when you're trying to get one card of every player to suit up for a team that's existed for nearly a century and a half, it's kind of a necessity.

Nevertheless, sometimes the records get fouled... or, rather, "Faul-ed" up.

Meet Bill Faul - a guy who pitched for the Cubs from 1965-66, after being purchased from Motown.  For God knows how long, my records have indicated that I had this card in my binder and that Bill was properly represented in the CATRC.  In fact, according to my records, the only player with a plain, ol' Topps base card hitherto missing from those pages was Norm Gigon and his dreaded '67 high number - a special set of circumstances.  Of this fact, I was quite proud... and then Billy came and "Fauled" it all up.

While updating my lists after the acquisition of Loyd Christopher the other day, I noticed something peculiar.  I don't know why Faul was on my mind, but as I flipped past the "F" section in my binder, I noticed that Bill wasn't there.  How could this be?  For years, his name has been highlighted in blue... did I have this card at one time and forget to notate a trade?  Did I get cocky and assume I had the unassuming card and never bothered to check (you know what they say when you assume)?  Suddenly, my whole life was a lie!

Okay - so, that's a bit melodramatic, but I definitely was befuddled.

And how appropriate that it should be Bill Faul that did the befuddling.  During his playing career, he only made it on to one true Cubs card (cap-less and Tiger-tracked though it may be), seeing as his time was fairly brief and undistinguished... at least, as far as statistics go.  In 34 games (22 starts) for the Cubbies,  Bill posted a 7-10 record to go along with a 4.07 ERA - about as mediocre as you can get.  However, despite this "blah" stat line, you might recognize Mr. Faul's name for his exploits off of the diamond, as his name pops up in the "weird baseball" files quite a bit.

One need only flip his 1966 Topps card over to get a hint as to why:

According to the cartoon on the backside, "Bill practices self-hypnotism before pitching assignments."  That's no exaggeration or stretch either - as the hurler himself once told the Park City Daily News in 1965, "I hypnotize myself before the game and I'm then able to hypnotize the hitters... I was really concentrating in my subconscious state on the mound."  Well then... did we all just picture a pitcher on the mound, swinging a pocket watch back and forth before each pitch or was that only me?

"You're getting very sleepy... very swing-and-missy."

Furthermore, according to his teammate, Billy Williams, "...one time our team was staying at the Walforf Astoria Hotel in New York.  Faul was on the 19th floor and he told his roommate, Ken Rudolph,  that he was going to hypnotize him, turn him into a dog, and make him jump out of the window."  Apparently, after that odd encounter, Ken refused to room with him on the road; I can't say I blame him either.

 "arf, arf!"

If that's not bizarre enough for you, during his playing days, managerial maven, Jack McKeon, was teammates with Faul in the Royals chain and claimed that Faul would eat anything... and he meant ANYTHING.  According to Jack, he witnessed Faul eat a live frog in the bullpen on a bet and bite the head off of a live parakeet... for fun.  I've heard it said that the swallowed frog added a little hop to his fastball that day.

Lastly, the cherry on top of the weird sundae was that Faul wore the taboo number 13 on his back when he took the field.  In fact, he was the last Cub to don the digits until the similarly wacko Turk Wendell did nearly 30 years later.  I mean, what other number would a self-hypnotizing, frog and bird eating weirdo wear, right?

Bill during his Cubs days, courtesy of Topps' archives

As you can see, it feels totally appropriate that it should be one of the strangest men to don a Cubs uniform (or any uniform, for that matter) should mess up my intricate records, just like he (attempted to) mess up the minds of opposing batters.  Maybe I was hypnotized into thinking that I already had his card in my collection...  that's why I was so befuddled!

Mind. Blown.

At any rate, the situation has now been resolved in short order.  As the image which leads off this post would indicate, I was able to track down a copy of that 51-year old piece of cardboard for inclusion in my CATRC binder, without any trickery.  When I stopped by my LCS over the weekend to see if they had any singles from the recently-released Update set available for purchase (they did not), I made sure to dip into their vintage stock as well.  Luckily for me, among the '66 singles in the stack was that very good-conditioned Faul, which salvaged the trip for me.  Mere days after noticing my screw-up, I was able to correct it without any further issue.

Also, if anyone has extras of Jose Quintana's and Brian Duensing's first Cubs cards, which came in Update, please feel free to dump them on me.

I only wish that I noticed this error sooner, as this would have been a perfect post for Friday the thirteenth, which occured only a few days prior to my discovery.  Oh well - it all worked out in the end, after all.  Welcome to the CATRC, Bill Faul - you big weirdo!