Thursday, November 30, 2017

Throwin' It Back

For those of you who are active on other forms social media, you might know that today is #ThrowbackThursday.  For those who do not engage on Twitter, Facebook, or the like, Thursday is the chosen day upon which people traditionally post old pictures of themselves, friends, places, etc. in a show of widespread nostalgia.  Why is this done on Thursdays?  Probably just because the alliterative #ThrowbackThursday makes for a perfectly hashtaggable and marketable saying to affix to said posts.  There's usually not a lot of depth to social media discourse, after all.

In honor of the weekly "holiday," today, I've decided to throw it back a bit on Wrigley Roster Jenga.  In fact, I'm going to throw it back about as far as is possible when it comes to Chicago Cubs baseball cards.  As evidenced by my earlier post about the curious case of Bug Holliday, I've been on an 18th century baseball kick.  With that in mind, let's take a look at the proverbial "baby pictures' of the Chicago Cubs franchise by examining the cards of the very first team to fill out a National League lineup, shall we?

Although the history of Major League Baseball and the Chicago franchise does extend beyond the founding of the NL in 1876, it was upon the league's start-up that baseball, as we know it today, began in earnest.  In fact, it was the Chicago owner, William Hulbert, who founded the league after the old National Association proved to be disorganized and susceptible to gambling.  Of course, Hulbert's Chicago White Stockings, as the Cubs were then known, were among the original eight teams to take the field.  The entry was managed by one Al Spalding:

You might know his name best for the sporting goods company he founded in Chicago that same year.  But, before he became a shrewd and successful businessman, Spalding was an inaugural Hall of Fame hurler for the old Boston Red Stockings and the White Stockings.

In addition to calling the shots, Spalding was the main man to step into the pitcher's box for the Chicagoans during the 1876 season, leading the circuit with 47 wins to go along with a 1.75 ERA in 528.2 innings pitched.... obviously, it was a different time!  Additionally, Spalding tossed the first shutout in National League history, against Louisville on 4/25.  Al is represented in my CATRC binder by this SSPC Baseball Immortals single (the set was continuously produced from 1980-87).

Spalding was not the only Hall of Fame, baseball pioneer on the roster that season - one of Albert's charges included...

Adrian "Cap" Anson manned third base for the first National League edition of the Chicago White Stockings.  Anson is often cited as one of baseball's first true superstars, becoming the first member of the 3,000 hit club.  He would eventually take over the reigns as a player-manager and held that duel role through the 1897 - his influence on the team being so great that they were rebranded as the Orphans after his retirement.  Anson is repped by this Old Style-sponsored team-issue from 1992.

Anyway, before all of that, Anson debuted with the Chicago team by batting .356, good for second best on the team, while also driving in 59 runs (tied for the team lead), and smashing two homers (again, tied for the team lead).  All in all, it was a great start to a beautiful, long-term relationship.

Filling out the rest of the infield were...

Ross Barnes at second base, Cal McVey at first base, and John Peters at shortstop.  Unfortunately, Peters does not appear to have a single baseball card to his name.  On the bright side, Barnes and McVey are not so unlucky and show up in my CATRC, courtesy of 2011 TriStar Obak and the over-sized 1976 Bob Parker More Baseball Cartoons. 

Both of these cards contain some fascinating trivia.  For example,, as the front of the Obak single notates, Barnes was the very first person to crack a home run in National League history.  This came in the Stockings' second game of the season (5/2), at Cincinnati, and was of the inside-the-park variety.  Ross was an offensive juggernaut in that first season, leading the league in batting average (.429), hits, extra base hits, and runs.  Sadly, Barnes would take ill in 1877 and would never again match that offensive production.

Artist Bob Parker's cartoonization of Cal McVey includes quite a bit of information on the front.  The versatile player would appear all over the diamond in his career, but stuck mostly to first in '76.  McVey was also good with the bat and would twice knock 18 hits in a four-game stretch that year.

John Peters had been the regular shortstop for Chicago since 1874, during their days in the old National Association.  Like most of the 1876 Cubs, be swung a potent stick, batting .351 in 66 games.  Unfortunately, like I mentioned earlier, his 11 year Major League Baseball career (5 spent with the White Stockings) was never commemorated on cardboard and his lot will remain vacant in my CATRC binder for the time being - such is the peril of building an all-time roster collection around such an ancient franchise.

However, most of the Chicago starting outfield were much more fortunate than Mr. Peters, at least in that regard:

We've already seen TriStar Obak represented in this #Throwback - which, this time, showcases Bob Addy, who is credited with having introduced the slide to our national pastime.  Back in 1866, while playing with the amateur Rockford Forest City Baseball Club, Addy evaded a tag by sliding and a key element of the game was born.  Ten years later, the Civil War veteran was still playing, this time as half of a right field platoon for another Illinois-based nine, the Chicago White Stockings.  The innovator posted a .282 batting average in 32 contests, which seems fair; but, in that high-scoring, poorly-defended era, Bob brought up the rear on the Chicago club.  After one more season of National League play (with Cincinatti), Addy would call it a career.

Splitting time in right with Addy that year was another veteran of both baseball and war, Oscar Bielaski.  Oscar learned the game from his time spent serving with the Union Army and he would eventually become the first Polish-American to record his name in baseball's record books.  However, by the time he brought his talents to Chicago in 1875, Oscar's playing career was nearly over.  During his final year of 1876, Oscar batted a paltry .209 while splitting time in right with Addy, before returning home to Washington, D.C., where a stable career as a clerk in the auditor's office at the Navy Yard awaited him.  Fun fact - his son, A. Bruce Bielaski, would go on to become the head of the FBI.

To my knowledge, the Polish sports hero has never been properly honored with a mainstream trading card; thankfully, Gary Cieradkowski - published author and proprietor of the Infinite Baseball Card Set - has filled the gap.  If you haven't acquired any of Gary's work or followed his blog, I highly recommend you do so - the cards are of high quality and I've learned quite a bit about the sport from his writing.

This is the first time that the Origins of Baseball boxset, produced by American Archives in 1994, has made an appearance in this post.  The antiquated-looking cards showcased baseball's pioneers and key moments in the development of the national game.  Luckily for me, Paul Hines - the regular centerfielder in the Windy City - made the checklist.

Hines had been in town since the '74 season, the club's first since re-organizing after the Great Chicago Fire.  The 21-year old batted .331 in that first NL season, tying with Anson for the team lead in homers (with two) and driving in 59 runs in 64 games.  During the first five NL seasons, from 1876 through 1880, Hines had more base hits than any other player.  He also believed that protective equipment signaled the end of the game, once stopping on the base paths to smash the opposing catcher's mask; he was a colorful character.

Missing from the outfield equation is John Glenn... no, not the guy that went to the moon and there is no relation.  The White Stockings' everyday left fielder, like the aforementioned John Peters, has never appeared on a baseball card... at least to Beckett's knowledge.  'Tis a shame.  Maybe I should just get a card of the astronaut and call it close enough?

For his part, Glenn contributed a .304 batting average and 12 walks (second on the club) - not "out of this world," but helpful.  He played in the Second City from 1874-77.

Finally, we've covered the pitcher's box, the infield, and the outfield... what about behind the dish?  The man who served as the catcher for the Stockings of White had a very appropriate name:

Deacon WHITE of the WHITE Stockings on a WHITE-bordered Old Judge reprint - that's just too perfect.

White was actually contracted to join the Cubs for the very first season, in 1870, but got cold feet and jumped before play began.  He eventually rectified this psych-out by coming back for the 1876 season, in what would be his only year in Chicago.  All he did was lead the circuit in RBI, with an eye-popping 60 throughout the 66-game schedule, before jumping to the Boston Red Stockings, who are better known today as the Atlanta Braves.

Finally, utility-man Fred Andrus cameo-ed in eight games with the team, as a catch-all.  Bizarrely, Andrus would only appear in two MLB seasons (both with the Stockings) - 1876 and 1884 - with almost no other pro baseball experience.  Seeing as Fred was employed by the Spalding Sporting Goods Co., it's thought that it was this connection that brought him to the diamond.

While I don't have a card of him, strangely enough, Andrus does have a baseball card to his name, despite the odd circumstances surrounding his career, while Peters and Glenn do not.  Of course, it's an incredibly rare CDV from the 1870's, of which only one is known to exist; so, I suppose that's essentially the same as not having one.  However, he does also make an appearance in the checklist of Ars Longa's Mort's Reserve series; so, there is one attainable option out there.  I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for it's next release.

With that, we've reviewed the entirety of the line-up for the 1876 Chicago White Stockings - the very first edition of the club to take the field in National League play.  This powerhouse of a team would go on to post a dominating 52-14 record and take the inaugural pennant flag by six games over second place Hartford.  That's right - Hartford, Connecticut once had a Major League Baseball team.  This kicked off a dynastic period for the Chicago team, as they would win six of the first eleven league championships - far off from the "Lovable Loser" image that would later be attached to the club.  Perhaps they should have stuck with the White Stockings name?

Of the 11 men who appeared on the diamond for the team, I have cards featuring eight of them - not bad, considering the team in question is 141 years old, as of this writing. 

I've long been fascinated by the early days of our national pastime and my favorite baseball team; thus, this is a post I've long been meaning to draft.  In the future, I would love to bang out a post or two about the team's pre-NL days; however, my cardboard stocks are pretty dry for that era of team history.  Maybe someday...  For now, this is as far as I can throw it back for #ThrowbackThursday.  At any rate, I hope you found at least some of this vanity project to be a tad bit interesting.

It's got to be a least somewhat more intriguing than your friend's old pictures from high school parties or your aunt's baby pictures, right?  Less embarrassing, anyway.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Something That's Bugging Me

Do you remember a few years back when the Royals' Raul Mondesi, Jr. made his Major League debut?  Do you remember what was significant about it, beyond a second-generation, blue-chip prospect making the ultimate ascent?  Raul's first MLB appearance came as a pinch-hitter... on October 30, 2015 a.k.a. Game Three of the 2015 World Series.  That's right, Mondesi's very first appearance in a Big League boxscore came on the absolute biggest stage that the game offers.  A few days later, he'd be hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy along with the rest of his new teammates.

This wasn't the first time that a Major Leaguer made his maiden appearance in a postseason series.  About a decade earlier, Mark Kiger cemented his place in the MLB history books by debuting for the Oakland Athletics, as a defensive replacement at second base, during the 2006 ALDS.  What makes Kiger's instance especially unique is that the middle infielder would never again make it back to the Majors, making him the only player in the game's long history to appear in the postseason and never in the regular schedule.

Both of these cases are unique, as it's incredibly rare that a team will throw an untested player into the most important games of the year.  To illustrate that point, before Mondesi and Kiger, it had been an astounding 121 years since the previous such occurrence.  So long, in fact, that the Chicago Cubs were still known as the Chicago White Stockings, Providence and Buffalo still had NL entries, and overhand pitching had only been legal for two years.

The 1885 Chicago White Stockings - Champions of the National League

Speaking of the White Stockings, it was Cap Anson's club that threw a local amateur player into the fire.  Although the American League was still more than a decade and a half away from existence, the American Association was the main challenger to the National League's authority and, from 1884 to 1890, the two leagues met in October to play an early version of the World Series to determine the overall champion of Major League Baseball.

The 1880's were a dynastic decade for the Stockings of White, as they won five Pennnat flags in that ten-year span.  One of those NL titles came in the year 1885, where they matched up against the AA's St. Louis Browns, who would eventually become the detested Cardinals, in the precursor to the modern World Series.

The Series was much more informal in those days, with the rules and length changing from year to year; thus, it didn't carry quite as much prestige or pageantry as it's modern-day equivalent does currently.  With that in mind, skipper Anson decided to rest some of his men, deciding that the tilt wasn't worth over-exerting or risking injury to his regulars.  Enter Bug Holliday.

James "Bug" Holliday (so nicknamed for his often forlorn expression) was born in St. Louis and made a name for himself on the sandlots of the "Gateway to the West" as a premier amateur player, both on the mound and in the field.  Word of his exploits reached the ears of Cap Anson and Bug was recruited to spell Chicago's regular right fielder, the legendary "King" Kelly, in Game Four of the seven game match-up.  Big shoes to fill AND a big stage - talk about an opportunity.

Two of the heaviest hitters in 18th century baseball were involved in Bug's case.

Game Four took place on October 17th and St. Louis edged out Chicago by a tight margin, 3-2.  Unfortunately, Holliday did not seize the day, going 0-for-4 with a fielding error, to boot.  To put it bluntly, the local periodical summed up the hometown hero's performance by printing, "Holliday, who played right for the Chicagos... did very poorly yesterday."  Holliday's services were not retained by the White Stockings, who would go on to disputably split the series, 3-3, kicking off the long and storied rivalry between the two clubs.

Despite his inauspicious beginnings, Holliday was still considered a top talent with a Major League future.  The next year, he jumped from the amateur ranks to the organized minor league circuits, then would eventually go on to have a ten-year MLB career, starring in the Reds outfield... and it all began with a spot start as a "Cub" in the 1885 World Series.  For more than a century, Bug was the only player to debut in the postseason.

 Then Kiger and Mondesi showed up to steal Bug's thunder.

Why do I bring up the curious case of Bug Holliday now?  Well, late last week, with work slowing down in anticipation of the looming Thanksgiving break, I found myself reviewing my copy of the Cubs' all-time roster.  Since I compiled my list over a decade ago, I figured it might be time to compile a review and make sure I wasn't missing any one; honestly, I can't believe that I hadn't done this sooner... much sooner.  Anyway, other than a few names not listed in correct ABC order and slightly misspelled surnames, everything appeared to be in order... outside of one exception:  Bug Holliday.

You see, when I originally copied my list from the Cubs' official website, the curious case of Bug Holliday was included on their all-time roster.  But, as I was looking over my spreadsheet, I noticed that my count was off by one when compared to the current website.  Apparently, sometime in the intervening years, hug's name was dropped off of the all-encompassing tome.  Why?  

As you see in the screen shot above, Holliday's name should appear in between Ed Holley and Jessie Hollins, yet he is nowhere to be found.

My mind instantly filled with questions:  Does postseason play not count towards the document?  Are the NL vs. AA title bouts not considered to be official?  Is this just some sort of oversight?  I had to know.

The first bit of research I did after I noticed this discrepancy was to see if the aforementioned Mark Kiger was claimed by the Athletics, seeing as his only time in Oakland was also during the postseason and would make for the best direct comparison (Mondesi has since seen significant regular-season playing time in KC).  Here's what I found on the A's official web page:

With the information compiled on the team websites coming from the official MLB record books, apparently Mark Kiger counts.

As far as whether or not those pre-World Series postseason contests are considered to be official Major League games, I can't say for sure.  Baseball Reference seems to classify them as such, as Holliday's Chicago stat-line appears under his player page; however, BR is obviously not the official mouthpiece of baseball's governing body.  It's quite possible that MLB views those "World Series" as exhibition contests, on the same level as Spring Training games.  Of course, it seems as though all of the articles written about Kiger and Mondesi reference Holliday as the first player to debut in the postseason, lending an air of officiality (I just made up a word) to the matter.  Can anyone with more knowledge on the subject enlighten me as to what the league's viewpoint is in this situation?

Courtesy of this murkiness, I'm left with no concrete ruling as to whether Bug is an official Cub - do I include him in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection or not?  In my humble opinion, he definitely counts, due to his continued reference as the first such player and those early "World Series" carrying significantly more weight than your standard exhibition.  However, I'm curious; if you were in my position, would you include Bug or would you leave him on the sidelines (like the Cubs appear to have done)?

Naturally, my next step after coming to this conclusion was to see what kind of cardboard was available for Mr. Holliday.  Unsurprisingly, despite his stature as one of the premier power hitters of his era (19 big flies in 1889) and relatively long career, as a pre-20th century player, there aren't many options, affordable or not.

Beckett officially recognizes only two appearances for James Holliday - his multiple poses in the legendary, original and legendary Old Judge tobacco issue (name misspelled as Halliday), N172, and something called Pepsin Gum Pins from 1898.  Neither one of these are going to fall into my low-end collecting budget and the latter isn't even actually a card.  Therefore, I think I'm going to have to go a different route to add the baseball oddball.  Perhaps it would have been easier to simply write him off!

 An original "Halliday" Old Judge and Clark Griffith's Pepsin pin.

Thankfully, there exists a reprint set which reproduces several cards from the original Goodwin checklist and Bug happens to be one of them.  The set is marketed by Larry Fritsch Cards, but I can definitively figure out whether or not they are also the manufacturer.  At any rate, this exists as the best and most likely option, even if they are not particularly attractive cards - they look as though someone layed the originals on a fax machine and sent the copies to a printer by wire.  Also, since these cards are traditionally sold as a set, singles tend to be tough to come by on the secondhand market and are often over-priced.

For instance, this reprint is currently available BIN on Ebay - however, at $2.12 for the card and $2.83 for shipping, it's not exactly a bargain.  One never likes to pay more for shipping than they do the actual item.

On the other hand, there is one other modern option that I can identify - Ars Longa Art Cards.  Similar to Helmar, whether or not these hand-distressed, mini pieces of folk-art should count as official baseball cards is a matter of some debate; what isn't up for argument though is that they are expertly crafted and quite beautiful, in hand.  In fact, longtime readers of the blog might recall that I've gone the Ars Longa route a few times in the past to fill vacant slots that would likely otherwise stay empty.  The real problem here is that these cards are only produced in microscopic print runs, ranging anywhere between two and ten, and are released in successive, inconsistent waves.

Holliday's Ars Longa card, featuring an image from his stint with the Des Moines Prohibitionists

So, do I wait for the next Beginnings:  1880's Holliday from Ars Longa (of which, seven are known to exist) or do I settle for the cheap facsimile of his original Old Judge?  Hmmmm.... It will probably be a matter of whichever one I encounter first, at a price I'm comfortable with.  If anyone has a good lead on either, I sure would appreciate the tip!

And so, that's the story of James "Bug" Holliday - the first Major League Baseball player to debut in the postseason, official/unofficial Chicago Cub, and dodger of my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  All of this came out of my being bored at work... see what happens when I have too much time on my hands?

Before I wrap this up, I will pose the question to you, the reader, once again:  all things considered, does Bug Holiday count as a Cub?  Would you include him in such an All-Time Roster Collection?  I've already arrived at my decision, but I sure would like to hear about how other collectors would handle this tricky situation.  Do tell in the comment section below.

Would it "bug" you as much as it's "bugging" me?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Temper Tantrum

Most of yesterday afternoon was spent at my sister-in-law's birthday party in Joliet, IL.  That sounds all well and good until you realize my sister-in-law is only eight years old and her festivities were hosted by my in-laws at the local Chuck E. Cheese, a.k.a. a giant pit of chaos, teeming with sugar and pizza-fueled demon spawn... errrrm... I mean beautiful bundles of joy.  Needless to say, there were plenty of tiny bodies to dodge as they ran around like madmen in hopes of high-fiving a high school kid being forced to wear a sweat-stained rat costume and dance for his meals.

In all actuality, my cynicism is a bit over-the-top; truthfully, the event went off without much of a hitch and everyone, especially the birthday girl, appeared to have oodles of fun with, surprisingly,  nary an outburst.  The star of the day was basically able to buy out half of Chuck's prize stock with the bundles of tickets she earned.  Plus, I basically had to pry my wife away from the skee-ball lanes so that we could move on with our day.  Fun was had by all.

Though I do enjoy a cheap, greasy pizza (truly, I do - that's not cynicism), most of my fun was had after the birthday party had ended.  You see, the rat-infested arcade is just a couple of miles down the road from a card shop and I was able to convince my wife to let me swing by the storefront, after all was said and done.  The discovery that her Doodle Jump game from Mr. Cheese's was also available as an iPhone app kept her entertained as I meandered about The Baseball Card King.


After having spent the entire afternoon with a bunch of over-stimulated kids, I fully expected to encounter at least one or two temper tantrums during the course of the day - it just comes with the turf.  What I did not expect was that said tantrum would occur in the card shop and NOT the mecca of free-reign children that is Chuck E. Cheese.

That is actual irony, Alanis Morissette. (sorry, I spent a lot of my weekend listening to 90's on 9 on XM radio)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while I flipping through the box of '55 Topps in search of Tony Jacobs' lone baseball card and the binder of random Cubs singles, there was another pair of individuals opening boxes of Archives Signature Series.  The store is made up of two levels and the objects of my search were located on the upper floor; as I browsed, I could hear the shouting from all the way upstairs.  In short, the gentlemen were none too happy with what they pulled from their purchases.

The quote that really caught my attention was "I feel like I'm getting bent over and f*****d in the a*****e," at a volume level that was far above a whisper - when is it ever okay to shout that in a store?  This was followed by a continuing shower of profanities and complaints about the low value of the cards he was pulling as he doubled and tripled-down by purchasing a couple of more disappointing Archives boxes.  I don't know what cards he ended up with, but they definitely weren't Mike Trouts.  Then, the focus of the customer's ire shifted to his friend and the shop-owner, slamming them for not buying back his "spoils" so that he might recoup some value and accusing them of shady dealings.  It was really quite awkward; I'm just glad that I was on a different floor while most of this was going on.

I am a decidedly low-end collector and I have a notably narrow collecting focus.  This is why I don't ever buy boxes of product, especially something as "bang or bust" as Archives Signature Edition.  The chances of one pulling something that makes the price point worth it are slim and the chances of it fitting into my collection are infinitely slimmer.  To me, baseball cards are a relaxing, joy-bringing hobby -  if I wanted to gamble, I would buy some scratch-off tickets or take a road trip to Las Vegas. Of course, people can collect however they so choose, but investing/gambling are not for me.

However, should I ever take the plunge, I would never take out my inevitable frustrations in public and on my fellow collectors or the vendor, especially is such a hostile and profane manner.  Just minutes before the "show," there has been a kid in the store with us... I mean, come on... have some dignity and/or class.  It was a sorry display and more befitting of one of those kids "all jacked up on Mountain Dew" at the prize counter in Chuck E. Cheese, a few tickets short of their desired stuffed animal, than a full-grown adult in a hobby shop.

Anyway, while all of this was going on, I struck out on my Jacobs quest; however, I did succeed in finding a pair of needed "Cubgrades" for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder... cards, I'm sure, that would have thrown our angry friend into a tizzy should they have fallen out of his boxes.

This beat-up '63 single is far from mint and lacks anything flashy.  It's rounded corners and slight wrinkles put it into my price range.  As it turns out, it is crew-cut Dick Lemay's only card as a Cub and was thusly required as an upgrade for his CATRC representation.  Previously, his card from the previous year had been slid into said pocket, as a placeholder:

Obviously, a Giants card is not as appropriate as a Cubs card in this Northside rooter's mind.  That said, while the former lists him as a member of the Wrigley natives, it obviously shows him in a Giants uni in the main photo, with a crude "C" super-imposed on his hat on the inset.  Nevertheless, it is the best option on the market, as the obscure reliever only received these two cards during his brief, three-season MLB career.

All of these "flaws" considered, I highly doubt that, had Dick signed this card for the Archives checklist, our non-FCC compliant friend would have been too thrilled.  Meanwhile, I was happy as a clam to come across this imperfect gem.

Accompanying LeMay in my purchase pile was another piece of well-loved vintage:

The front of this 1955 Bowman isn't too bad - though the corners are less than crisp and the edges are quite chipped.  Most of the damage that brought Brosnan down to my price range comes on the back-side:

Those are some pretty hefty gum stains over the player bio and pitching record... and these aren't super-short-printed, gimmicky, variations that'll sell for big bucks on the Bay either.  Nope, just regular, old-fashioned sugar marks left over from a long-since chewed stick of bubblegum.

Overall, the card is more than passable in my book and adds another "Cubgrade" to my premier binder.  Until yesterday, Jim Brosnan had been a *shudder* Cardinal in my book:

As much as I love the '59 set, as a whole, anytime I can replace a Cardinal card is a good time - Cubbie blue looks much better on the journeyman hurler (who came up with the Chicagoans) anyway.  Plus, who doesn't love the color television set?

All told, this pair of vintage discoveries that filled collecting needs cost me  a measly four bucks and I was more than content.  Meanwhile, Mr. Pottymouth downstairs was spending upwards of $100 in search of high-end autographs he could flip on the secondhand market and getting absolutely hosed.  Different strokes for different folks, but that is why I could never be a "sick hits" collector.  That said, no matter how one collects, this hobby (like anything in life) is fraught with it's own, unique frustrations.  But, as the old saying goes, a man's true character is revealed in defeat and the downstairs temper tantrum certainly peeled back the curtain on that collector's temperament.

I was more than happy to get out of that establishment, as the rant was still simmering while I was checking out.  The moral of the story is the behavior of a middle-aged adult should never be outshined by unsupervised children on the Chuck E. Cheese floor.

Act your age, not your shoe size, people!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Who's On First?

The Cubs have finally answered that age old question, posited by the eternally hilarious Lou Costello - "who's on first?"

Okay, in the Cubs situation, the question was more like, "who's coaching first?" but that doesn't flow nearly as well.

As part of the surprise cleansing and reshuffling of the coaching staff, former first base coach, Brandon Hyde, was shifted into the bench coach role in replacement of Davey Martinez, who finally got his chance at managing with the Nationals.  In the last few weeks, due to the lack of real hot stove season scoops, Cubs fans' minds have wandered, wondering just who might slot into that newly-opened first base vacancy.

Well, yesterday afternoon, we got our answer:

Former Padre, Ranger, and Dodger, Will Venable, officially hung up his spikes and joined the Chicago Cubs front office, as a special assistant to the GM, this past September.  It was a move that made a ton of sense, seeing as Will was drafted and developed under the Jed Hoyer regime and is thus quite familiar with the current FO.  Furthermore, as a Princeton graduate with a bachelor's degree in Anthropology, Venable added another brilliant mind to the highly analytical executive staff.  All in all, it was a match made in heaven.

Then, the Cubbie coaches started jumping ship.

Therefore, yesterday it was announced that the Cubs would be reshuffling their deck by moving Will out of the front office and back onto the field as Joe Maddon's first base coach.  Furthermore, the 1B coach is also expected to serve as the club's outfielders coach, which likely played into the decision to have the former fly-chaser and his career .988 fielding percentage move back down to the field.

Thankfully, I just so happened to have the above 2006 Bowman Originals single sitting in my trade stacks and I was able to immediately slide it into my Cubs' All-Time Coaches binder - an offshoot of my CATRC.  I must have acquired this card in some sort of repack, as I know I have never opened so much as a single pack of this one-and-done, semi-high end product.

It's not the most exciting card, but it gets the job done; plus, I appreciate the Spring Training/batting practice jersey appearance.  Additionally, courtesy of the back, I learned that Will was quite the all-around athlete - he has more hardwood highlights on the back of his baseball card than diamond credentials.  In fact, upon further research, he was recruited by Princeton as a basketball player exclusively and didn't even play baseball during his freshman year.  Maybe he could try to help out the disorganized mess known as the Chicago Bulls during the off-season?

Will Venable hoopin' with Princeton, image courtesy of Princeton Athletics

Now, the Cubs coaching staff is almost completely set - Venable at first, Brian Butterfield at third, Hyde on the bench, Lester Strode in the bullpen, Jim Hickey leads the pitchers while Chili Davis and Andy Haines handle the hitters.  At this point, the only vacant slot left is the quality control coach, as the aforementioned Martinez poached fan-favorite, Henry Blanco, and brought his to Washington.  I wonder who Joe Maddon and the Cubs might bring in to fill that position?

At any rate, welcome to Chicago, Will, and welcome to my crazy collection  as well!  Here's hoping that we don't hear your name too much during the 2018 campaign, as you seemingly only hear the base coaches names as the result of a bad send.

Fingers crossed that there's nothing but Good Will Sending!


P.S. - today's blog entry is something of a milestone; at least, it's a notable number anyway.  This writing is Wrigley Roster Jenga's 666th post... Zoinks - the number of the beast!  This post needs Jesus!

Good night, everybody!  I'll be here all week; don't forget to tip your waitresses.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

'Tis the Time to Argue

It's that time of year again - the leaves have fallen from the trees, there's a passing chill in the air, football is on the TV, and people everywhere are getting ready to gather around a table and aggressively argue over the family dinner.  I'm not talking about Thanksgiving though - of course, I'm talking about the fact that the BBWA released their annual Hall of Fame ballot yesterday afternoon.  Cooperstown membership credentials are America's second favorite thing to argue about, right behind politics, after all.

The disagreements should be exceptionally passionate this year, seeing as, by my count, there are at least 20 names on the list who deserve a serious discussion about induction.  All these years of gate-keeping are starting to catch up on the writers.

Among the names who will appear on the ballot are several with Cubs ties, with various levels of merit.  Last year, I examined those "Cubbie Connections" via the creation of some custom Conlon cards, using the brand's "Why Not in Hall of Fame?" subset.  Since tradition is also something lingering in the air during this time of year, I figured it would be fun to keep the line going in 2017.  With that, let's start by looking at the new additions to the roll, starting with the most serious:

It's almost hard to believe that the ageless Jamie Moyer has been retired for five years now - it seems like his much publicized comeback with the Rockies was only a few months back.  His astounding 25-year career (filled with many twists and turns) all got started with the Cubs from 1986-88.  Now, the oldest hurler to win a game at the Major League level and his gaudy 269 total wins are, nevertheless, auditioning for the class of 2018.

Sadly, I feel like Moyer plateaus at the "Hall of Very Good," as a classic stat-compiler.  Further working against the lefty is the fact that he never once lead a league in a meaningful stat, never garnered serious consideration for a Cy Young Award, and was only once an All-Star.  Seeing as Jamie is one of my all-time favorites, it pains me to say that he's not going to make it.

 Also appearing on the ballot for the first time are a pair of big names in Chicago from the aughts.  Maybe if things had gone a little differently for the duo, they'd merit some serious discussion.  But, as it stands, Kerry Wood was never able to stay healthy enough to build on the fame brought on by his 20 K game and Carlos Zambrano's hair-trigger temper probably shortened his career, as well.  In the end, while both were valuable, above average Big Leaugers (26.7 and 38.2 WAR, respectively) with some shining moments in the sun, there's little chance they'll earn the 5% of the vote required to stay on the ballot.

Although, if Hall of Fame induction was based solely on a player's final appearance, "Kid K" would make it on the first ballot (a still from which appears on my Conlon custom).  It's still one of the most touching and fitting occurrences that I've ever seen on a baseball diamond:


In addition to the new guys, there are also some holdovers from last year's voting who will once again appear on the ballot this winter.  In fact, this group of sluggers merit far more serious discussion about their potential inclusion than the newbies do:

"Slammin' Sammy" Sosa is, simply put, one of the greatest of great sluggers - his membership to the 600 homer club will attest to that.  Of course, as with his fellow participant in the great home run chase of '98, steroid suspicions have kept him from being a serious candidate.  Plus, he seriously pissed off a lot of sportswriters, with a HOF vote, in his time.  Fred McGriff was another great slugger, who, if he played in any other era, would make the Hall.  The Steroid Era overshadowed his 493 long balls (despite seemingly playing clean) and his lack of a strong team identity (he hopped around a lot) have left him somewhat forgotten.  If only he cracked seven more long balls...

 That does it for men who played with the Cubs; however, there is still one more guy with Windy City connections on the list:

Manny Ramirez was signed by Theo Epstein and crew in 2014 to serve as a player-coach for the AAA Iowa Cubs and he then served as hitting consutlant for the next two years before leaving to attempt another comeback as an active player in Japan.  His work with the young Cubs corps has been cited as pivotal in their development, especially that of Javier Baez.  but, despite getting a ring with the Cubs, it's obviously not here where he earned his fame.

The scandal-ridden slugger smashed 555 home runs, which would make him a sure-fire HOF'er if not for his double suspensions for performance enhancing drug use.  Also, like Sosa, his antics on and off the field ticked off a lot of the people now voting on the matter of his induction.  With that in mind, Manny is probably doomed to many years of purgatory on this ballot.

Despite their strong resumes, with the intense back-up on the current ballot, I highly doubt that any of these three break through this year.   Most importantly, the voters need to figure out how they want to handle the Steroid Era because ignoring it is what has caused this ballot constipation, making induction that much more difficult.

This might help...

That does it for former Cubs on the regular 2018 BBWA Hall of Fame ballot - sadly, it doesn't look as though a Cub from that group will be enshrined in Cooperstown next summer.  That said, the regular ballot isn't the only one being voted on this winter.

Earlier this month, the Eras Committee announced the ballot for the Modern Era voting - thus, players who made their name during the 1970's and 80's will get another chance at baseball immortality.  It is on this list that we can find one more name who spent time at Wrigley Field - it's this one that actually has the strongest chance of modeling for a bronze plaque in the near future:

We have the second coach on this roll-call; Alan Trammel was a lifetime Tiger, as a player, but he served as bench coach under Cubs skipper, Lou Piniella, from 2006-10.

The case of "Tram" (and his double play partner, Lou Whitaker) is one of the most discussed snubs of all time.  Despite winning four Gold Gloves, three-silver sluggers, the 1984 World Serives MVP, and being a six-time All-Star as one of the premier, two-way shortstops of his era, Alan fell off the regular ballot in 2016 to much chagrin.  Again, the glut of suspected steroid abusers clogging the ballot and dividing the votes injured his chances (to be fair, so did the last few seasons as an active player and his managerial career).

Will 2018 be the year that "Tram" finally sees justice?  Well, he makes a pretty good case, as do Marvin Miller, Tommy John, Ted Simmons and a handful of others.  It's going to be interesting to see who makes the cut.

And there you have it -  all of the Cubs that find themselves on the ballot for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2018.  Here's hoping that at least Alan Trammell is able to add his name to the list of baseball immortals found in upstate New York; he's, by far, their best hope.  Good luck, Tram!

Again, the writers really need to figure out how to handle the sluggers and power arms from the 1990's and the 2000's.  The congestion on the ballot is already worse than post-game traffic in Wrigleyville and it's only going to get worse in coming years.  Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sosa, and crew make for some hefty roadblocks!  Do we induct them or not?  What are your opinions on these issues?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my Conlon customs.  Also, might I recommend arguing about Cooperstown credentials over Thanksgiving dinner instead of politics this year?  Although, I'm sure your old, racist uncle who has had too much to drink will still find a way to ruin that conversation too.

'Tis the season!

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Hawk Returns to Roost

First things first, Andre Dawson as a Marlin never looked right... teal just wasn't his color.

I remember pulling this final tribute single out of a pack of 1997 Collector's Choice as a kid and being taken aback by it's oddity (of course, I can't find it now though - thanks for the scan, internet).  Sure, the 1987 NL MVP had been moved on from Chicago for a few years and had already finished his not-so-notable, two-year stint in Florida to complete his career, at this point; nevertheless, "Awesome Dawson" as a Marlin was an incongruous sight... and still is.... and forever will be.

Here's Andre in his proper Cubs dressings; this is a much more familiar and comforting sight, courtesy of the 2012 team-issue set that the team put together with Topps.

That being said, Dawson has actually been employed by the Marlins for far longer than he was with the Cubs or the Expos, the teams he is most often associated with.  After his retirement in 1996, the "Hawk" soon returned to the game with that Florida ball club as a special assistant, a position he held for two decades.  It must have been hard to work that position when he was actually trapped in the Wrigley ivy:

Then Derek Jeter happened.

It's a time of transition for the now Miami Marlins - with Jeffrey Loria gone, the new ownership group has begun to shape the organization in their mold.  Of course, one of their first moves seems like it was straight out of the haphazard Loria playbook.   In October, they clumsily fired Dawson and several other longtime front-office assistants, only to rescind those firings shortly after.  You might say that they were playing games with his heart, head, and paycheck.

Accordingly, here's a playing card oddball

Rumor has it, the assistants found out about their being jettisoned through the internet and Jeets and crew were trying to save face.  Despite this feeble attempt, Dawson still elected to move onto greener pastures.

Today, we found out that those greener pastures are the green, ivy-covered walls of the Friendly Confines; word has leaked that Dawson has been welcomed back into the Cubs family as a special ambassador for the team with which he truly belongs.

 The ivy may have trapped him for decades, but it sure looks good framing him.

He joins his former teammate and fellow Cooperstown resident, Ryne Sandberg, in the role.

The responsibilities of the special ambassador are not specifically laid out; however, one can easily assume that he will serve as a sort of mascot for the Chicago Cubs, making special appearances on behalf of the Cubs and generating goodwill in the fan-base.  I guess he's like Clark the Cub for adults, except Andre will be wearing pants when he tours the city... at least, I hope he wears pants.

Are either of these last-place MVPS wearing pants?  The world may never know for sure.

In celebration of the Hawk's return, I've elected to show off a few of my favorite Andre Dawson baseball cards because this is a baseball card blog, isn't it?  Being one of the major stars on the roster during the height of the junk wax period and go-to legends for modern products, Dawson has plenty of Cubs cardboard to choose from.  What you see in this post are my personal highlights.

This McDonald's oddball is the card that represents the Hall-of Famer in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  Unfortunately, by 1992 (the year which this card was issued), Baseball's Best no longer truly applied to the aging slugger as he entered into his final year on the Northside of Chicago.

Soon, it would be off to Boston and then to his long-term stay in Miami. 

Welcome back to Chicago, Mr. Dawson. The Windy City is happy to have our Hawk back in the nest.