Monday, December 31, 2018

Remembering The Stars We Lost

Much like the annual Grammy Awards take a few minutes before the end of the show to pay tribute to those in the music industry who passed away in the preceding year, it's now time to take a few minutes to remember those who've passed on from in the realm of Windy City sports.  

In this blog post, I want to take some time and write a quick blurb about those who appear in my cardboard collections and who played for my favorite teams but did not survive the year 2018.  While I may have already honored a few of these Chicago athletes who spent time with the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks, or Bulls at the time of their deaths, I know that I missed several during my blogging hiatuses.  Thus, before the year is out, I want to properly shine the spotlight on these men who took to the diamond, gridiron, ice rink or hardwood throughout the years.

I've made these sorts of entries before, for both 2016 and 2015 - although, I did not complete one for 2017.  I must admit, it was The Angels, in Order and Billy from Cardboard History who inspired me to get back to it and to expand my horizons from just Cubs players to all of those in my collections.  Hopefully, I do them justice.

Without any further ado, please allow me to honor those who have recently gone on to play in that great stadium in the sky:

Billy Connors
11/2/41 - 6/17/18
Chicago Cubs

A member of the 1954 Little League World Series winning squad, Billy Connors had an 11-game cameo with the Cubs in 1966 and pitched briefly for the Mets over the next two seasons.  That said, it was as a pitching coach that Connors built a legacy in the 80's and 90's.  Billy held that position with the Cubs from 1982-86, including the beloved '84 squad, as well as the Royals, Mariners, and Yankees into the new millennium.

Lee Smith once credited Connors and former manager Lee Elia as “the two guys who turned my career around,” while Connors also got credit for helping Mariano Rivera develop the cut fastball that made him the all-time saves leader.  All told, those are some pretty good credits to have on the old resume!

Ray Emery
9/28/82 - 7/15/18 
Chicago Blackhawks

Ray had a lengthy 11-year career as a backup goalie across the NHL.  Both of the 2011-12 and the 2012-13 seasons were spent between the pipes with the Chicago Blackhawks,  Valued for his steady leadership, veteran presence, and ability to step in without missing a beat should Corey Crawford be unable to go, Emery quickly became a fan favorite in Chicago.

In his second (and final) season with the club, Emery and Crow split the William M. Jennings trophy - given to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against them.  Furthermore Ray earned himself a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, as the Blackhawks went on to win their second of three NHL titles during their dynastic period.

Tragically, Ray drowned after going for a swim in Lake Ontario this summer.  He was only 35.

Frank Ernaga
8/22/30 - 4/30/18
Chicago Cubs

Ernaga was one in a long line of Cubs wunderkinds who ultimately fizzled out during the doldrum between World War II and the near miracle of 1969.  

In May of 1957, Ernaga made an immediate impact by smacking a home run in very first at-bat, off Warren Spahn, no less.  As if that wasn't enough, he followed that memorable introduction with a triple off the Hall of Famer in his next trip to the plate.  Over the course of the next week, Frankie continued to scorch the ball, going 6-for-10 before his batting average plummeted back to earth.  Relegated back to the AAA-MLB shuttle, the young rookie's Major League tenure was over by the end of 1958.

Despite the abrupt end to his playing career, Ernaga had no regrets. During an interview with the Lassen County Times, he said, “Everything just fell into place for me. I always loved sports. I got to do everything in my life that was great.”  by all accounts, his bright and sunny disposition brought joy to all who had the fortune of encountering him.

Oscar Gamble
12/20/49 - 1/31/18
Chicago Cubs

I actually remember exactly where I was when I heard that Gamble had passed away, a victim of ameloblastic carcinoma at just 68 . I was on an airstrip in Dallas, TX, on my way to a business conference and it felt like my heart had sunk faster than the just-landed aircraft. Mr. Gamble was the embodiment of all that was fun in baseball, from his witty and humorous personality to his barely-contained, iconic Afro. The card you see above might be one of the most iconic pasteboards of all-time!

I wrote a more in-depth piece shortly after Oscar's untimely passing; so feel free to check that out.  I just want to take this opportunity to remind everyone reading that the fan-favorite got his MLB start with the Cubbies during the ill-fated 1969 campaign.  He might have made his name elsewhere, but he'll always be a Cub to me.

Chris Gedney
8/9/70 - 3/9/18
Chicago Bears

As a Syracuse senior, Gedney was a consensus first-team All-American in 1992, leading to his third-round selection by the Bears in the following year's NFL draft.  The tight end would go on to play three seasons for the Monsters of the Midway, though he was plagued by injury. A broken collarbone, heel problems, a broken leg, and a stress fracture in his foot limited his time on the turf at Soldier Field before he took his talents to the Arizona Cardinals for three more campaigns.

After hanging up his cleats, Gedney switched to the other side of the microphone, working color commentary for his beloved alma mater.  Tragically, Gedney committed suicide this spring, after battling depression and other behavior issues.  It seems as though Gedney suffered complications from CTE, like many a former football player.  

Is there a way to make this sport safe?

Bill Johnson
10/6/60 - 1/20/18
Chicago Cubs

Bill Johnson might not be well-remembered today, but he played a bit part on one of the most beloved Cubs teams in the history of Chicago baseball. Johnson pitched in four games for the eventual NL East Division Champions, breaking a 39 postseason drought in the process. During his 5.1 innings of bullpen duty, Johnson posted a sterling 1.69 ERA as a September call-up. Additionally, Bill made ten appearances in the year previous; although, that was the extent of his Major League career.

Once his career came to a close, the noted leader and family man turned to coaching American Legion Baseball, high school and college programs from his home in Wilmington, DE, the same hometown as my lovely wife. Records show that he died early this year at only 57 years of age; but, those same records make no indication of the cause.

Dick LeMay
8/28/38 - 3/19/18
Chicago Cubs

Dick LeMay came up through the Giants chain, and pitched for the San Franciscans from 1961-62, before blowing into the Windy City, via trade, for 1963.  The lefty only made it into nine games for the lackluster club, going 0-1 with a 5.28 ERA in 15.1 innings pitched, mostly out of the bullpen (one start).  Once that season had concluded, LeMay would never be rostered on an MLB roll call again, though he would return to the minors and became a consistent winner for the AAA affiliates of the St. Louis Cardinals, through 1970.

Upon the completion of his playing career, Dick took up coaching... though not in the sport you might expect.  In the mid-1980s, he was the head boys basketball coach at Cascia Hall High School - apparently, Mr. LeMay was quite the versatile athlete!  At that same time, the multi-tasker was getting his American pastime fix as scout for les Expos.

Stan Mikita
5/20/40 - 8/7/18
Chicago Blackhawks

In the land of Chicago, Stan Mikita is a man who needs no introduction.  On the Mount Rushmore of Second City sports, Stan the Man might just represent the Chicago Blackhawks, the team with which he spent the entirety of his lengthy, Hall of Fame hockey career (1958-80).  Without a doubt, Mikita is regarded as one of the best, if not the absolute best centres of the 1960's.  After all, he earned four scoring titles during that decade and was eight times an All-Star!  Honestly, I don't know what else can be said for the superlative superstar.

Besides his propensity for finding the back of the net, Mikita is also known for his innovative usage of stick curvature to find a competitive advantage and for being one of the first NHL skaters to wear a helmet.  And that's not even to mention his "famous donuts."

Bo Rather
10/7/50 - 4/2/18
Chicago Bears

Bookended by stints with the Miami Dolphins, David Elmer Rather- better known as "Bo" - played for the Bears as a wide receiver from 1974 to 1978. During this time, Rather appeared in 55 games and caught 91 passes for 1,428 yards and seven touchdowns in blue and orange.  Before making his way to Chicago via trade, Rather earned himself a big, shiny ring as a member of the Super Bowl VIII Champion Dolphins.  He played his college ball at the University of Michigan, where he set the Wolverine all-time record with 3,977 net rushing yards.

As a wide receiver, we know he was good with his hands.  What you might not know is that, after retirement, he developed a passion for gardening and writing poetry.  In fact, his flower gardens were recognized by the Battle Creek Garden Tour.  Additionally, Rather also specialized in audio recordings for various ministry programs.  What a well-rounded and artsy fellow!

Daryl Robertson
1/5/36 - 7/31/18
Chicago Cubs

Signed by the Giants out of Bingham Canyon HS (where he was part of multiple Utah state championship teams) in 1954, Daryl Robertson only spent one year in the Majors and it came with the Cubbies in 1962.  In nine games for the club, "Sonny" went 2-for-19 at the plate and spent time in the field at both shortstop and third base.  Unfortunately, this was not enough to impress the Cubs' brass and Robertson was sent back to the minors.  He would retire from professional baseball at the conclusion of the AAA season.

However, he hadn't completely left the diamond behind - Daryl was inducted into the Utah Fast Pitch Softball Hall of Fame in July of 1997. I wish I could find more information about his softball exploits, but Google isn't turning up much. Although, away from the field, Robertson worked for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department and retired as a Lieutenant after 30 years of service. How very admirable!

Luis Valbuena
11/30/85 - 12/6/18
Chicago Cubs

This truly tragic story is still fresh on our minds as I type.  Earlier this month, the slugging infielder was killed in an automobile crash, along with teammate and fellow former MLB'er Jose Castillo, on his way to a Venezuelan Winter League contest.  It was revealed that the wreck was no accident, as it had been set up by roadside robbers, who were later caught with items from the car in their possession.  All in all, it was a harrowing and sobering occurrence and highlights just how fleeting life can be.

In the wake of the event, I dedicated a full post to Luis, who was one of the few bright spots on some dismal, rebuilding Cubs teams in the first half of this decade.  He will forever be remembered for his enthusiasm on the field, his unapologetic sense of self, and the legendarily prodigious bat flips he would unleash for home runs and walks alike.

In addition to those you see above, there were also several Chicago athletes who passed away in 2018, but do not yet appear in any of my roster collection tomes.  Sans cards, I would like to take a minute to list their names below:

Michel Archambault
9/27/50 - 5/23/18
Chicago Blackhawks

Earl Balfour
1/4/33 - 4/27/18
Chicago Blackhawks

Bill Brown
6/29/38 - 11/4/18
Chicago Bears

Rasual Butler
5/23/79 - 1/31/18
Chicago Bulls

Len Chappell
1/31/41 - 7/12/18
Chicago Bulls

John "Kayo" Dottley
8/25/28 - 11/17/28
Chicago Bears

Dick Gamble
11/16/28 - 3/22/18
Chicago Blackhawks

John McKenzie
12/12/37 - 6/9/18
Chicago Blackhawks

Mark Merrill
5/5/55 - 4/12/18
Chicago Bears

Tom Roggeman
9/5/31 - 8/17/18
Chicago Bears

Greg Smyth
4/23/66 - 2/16/18
Chicago Blackhawks

Jim Wiste
2/18/46 - 1/2/18
Chicago Blackhawks


Sunday, December 30, 2018

1990 Target Dodgers - An Appreciation Post

In 1990, as I was celebrating my first birthday, the Dodgers franchise was turning the corner for their 100th lap around the National League circuit.  In fact, the club had actually been around since the 1884 season; however, the team emphasized their transferring from the failed American Association to the National League.  Of course, the century mark is an incredibly momentous milestone for any person, place, or thing, and a baseball franchise is no exception.  At the time, only a select handful of clubs had been able to stay functioning long enough to make it into the triple digits.  Thus, the Dodgers simply had to do something to mark this centenary.  With the height of baseball card investment and the junk wax era in full swing, it should come as no surprise that this 100-year celebration became the cardboard anniversary.

That summer, the Dodgers partnered with big box giants, Target, to release one of the most ambitious trading card sets to ever hit the market.  In order to properly pay tribute to 100 years of Dodger baseball, the powers that be created an expansive 1,095 card checklist which purported to include every single Dodger to ever take the field - be it in Brooklyn or LA - during their NL existence.  Every. Single. One.

Printed in perforated sheets of fifteen cards each, these treasures were distributed - typically in packs of multiple sheets - at Los Angeles area Target stores with a qualifying purchase, as well as at select Dodger home games as a giveaway.  The stock for the cards is cheap and thin... comparable to the sturdiness of your average index card - after all, this was a massive checklist printed in mass quantities.  As for the individual cards themselves, they were shrunk down from the standard size to 2"x 3", in order to cram as many on a sheet as possible.

Of course, with a project this ambitious, the 1990 Target Dodgers set is not perfect.  Many of the pictures are less than appealing, owing to the fact that many of these bygone ballplayers' careers pre-dated widely available flash photography.  Furthermore, the set was plagued with production issues, as player identities were screwed up, names were left off of the checklist, card numbers were confusingly repeated for multiple entries, etc.  That said, when you're trying to compile the all-time roster for a baseball team that's been around since the Benjamin Harrison administration, there's bound to be a mistake or two made.  I should know, seeing as I'm trying to compile a similar project for the even more ancient Chicago Cubs.

 Hell, some of these guys had to settle for drawings of their likenesses.

While I am not a Dodger fan, this set has long been of interest to me and my collecting habits.  After all, the set contains plenty of cards for men who had few or no other baseball card issued in their honor.  Additionally, since - like most of it's contemporary brethren - the set did not hold much investment value, it also provides an affordable opportunity to acquire cards of players who might only show up in the hallowed Goodwin Champions, T206's, or other pricey tobacco issues.  Most importantly, since the entire Dodgers timeline parallels that of the Cubs, there's a good amount of overlap in player usage for both historic franchises.

Add those factors all together and you can see why the 1990 Target Dodgers set has become a goldmine for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  As of December 23rd, 2018, I had 19 Target singles resting comfortably in said binder, making it one of the most well-represented single products in my pages.  Although, you might be asking yourself why I added such an oddly specific demarcation line to that statement.  Well, you see, this past Christmas, I very nearly doubled my Target Dodgers content.

Man - they just don't come up with nicknames like that anymore.

As I mentioned in my post about the great Roy Johnson mix-up yesterday morning, I was gifted with a hefty haul of cardboard by my deceptively generous father this Yuletide season.  It seems he came across my blog want-list and simply went down the line, buying up as many cards as he could in the $1-$3 range.  Seeing as the Target Dodger checklist made up a good chunk of my list of desired cardboard and it's singles rarely sell for more than a buck or two, I ended up with 18 new "Red Bulls-eye" faces for my CATRC binder (and then some, but that's a story for another time).

All told, this amazing gift made up the largest single-day addition to my most hallowed tome in years.... maybe ever!  After all, it gets awfully hard to add more than a card or two at a time when you're trying to track down utility infielders and mop-up pitchers who were old enough to serve in WWI.

All of the cards that you've seen in this post were part of this Target haul substantive enough to make my wife blush.  Man, the amount of money we, as a couple, would drop at Target if the Cubs were to do a similar promotion with the Cubs at Chicagoland area stores...  Target and baseball cards - two of our favorite things!

Of course as well as that theoretical set would line up with my collecting and personal interests, I don't know that I'd actually want such a thing to come about.  After all, while collecting one card of every person to have ever played for the Cub is, in fact, my ultimate goal, if a single set were to come out and achieve that goal in a single release, it would negate a decade and a half of work on my part.  Not to mention, it would kind of just ruin the fun for me and abruptly end the thrill of the chase.

Thankfully, the Cubs celebrated their 100th anniversary back in 1970 and their 100th anniversary of NL baseball in 1976, so a similarly branded marketing effort would have come about already.  Maybe for their 150th milestone...  Anyway, I am glad that the Dodgers were honored with this all encompassing product - I'm also thrilled that such a large amount of baseballers split their time between the Windy City and the Zoo/City of Angels.

Plus, if any other old school clubs want to pursue such a project, I'd be okay with that too.

While we're on the topic of the Cubs though, I would be remiss were I not to point out a couple of surprises that I came across in my Target stash.  While the sets purports to have one card of every National League Dodger, getting a photograph of said players in the proper rags was not a possibility for everyone.  Heck, in some cases (like the dapper Mr. Charlie Irwin, above), the only pictures available don't even show them in baseball attire at all.  With that in mind, sometimes those who created the 1990 Target Dodgers set had to settle for whatever imagery they could actually get their hands on.  At this point, we're not talking about Sandy Koufax or Jackie Robinson.

With the approach being take what you can get for the more "off the beaten path" type players, the checklist is riddled with cruddy photography, lithographs, drawings, and guys wearing the jerseys of other clubs.  If I'm a Dodger collector, this is a foreseeable problem that I would just have to accept were I to collect this set.  However, as an interloping Cubs fan, that latter problem isn't necessarily a problem; rather, it's an opportunity...

An opportunity to track down Cubs cards from an seemingly unlikely source!  Both Dick Scott and Greek George are clearly sporting Cubbie Blue and not Dodger Blue in these photographs - this is good enough for me to declare these as proper Cubs cards for my CATRC!  Mr. Scott was a cuppacoffee reliever who made brief cameos with the Dodgers (9 games) in 1963 and the Cubs (3 games) in '64.  His career was short and unproductive (8.27 ERA), so Topps never bothered to include him in their industry standard set.  In fact, this Target card is one of only two to have ever been produced with his likeness and, ironically, his Fritsch One Year Winner single shows him in proper Dodger duds.  Who knows why this set had to resort to a Cubs photo, but I am certainly not complaining!

Meanwhile, Charles "Greek" George was a longtime minor league catcher who was called upon to fill in at the Major League level in five different seasons.  The backup backstop snuck into seven games for Brooklyn in 1938 and 35 for Chicago in 1941 and also spent time with Cleveland and Philadelphia (A's).  In 1945, George punched an umpire and then, unsurprisingly, never stepped foot on an MLB diamond again.  Yea... that's a pretty big no-no, though it does sound like the ump was egging George on.

Unfortunately, "Greek's" entire career was played out in the cardboard black hole after Goudey's iconic bubblegum release and WWII, meaning his pasteboard presence is also extremely thin.  I'm just thankful that Target went with a posed action shot of "Greek" during Cubs' Spring Training at beautiful Catalina Island - look at that windbreaker under his jersey!

In the end, regardless of whether the players were shown in a Dodgers, Cubs, or any other teams' wardrobe, I was able to add 18 cards from the 1990 Target Dodgers release to my CATRC in one fell swoop and that's a supremely significant one day influx!  In fact, another major milestone was achieved by this set that is, itself, celebrating a major milestone:  a card from it's checklist pushed me over the 75% mark for all-time completion.  That means that I now have more than three quarters of the men to have suited up for the Chicago National League Ballclub over the last century and a half represented in my humble Cubs All-Time Roster Collection tome.

Hot damn - I never thought I would make it to this point.  Hell, I didn't even think it was possible!  Now, how far will I be able to continue pushing my way towards completion?  Stay tuned to Wrigley Roster Jenga to find out!

As of my drafting of this post, my completion percentage reads at a little higher than three quarters - 75.85% to be precise.  That's because my father, in all his magnanimous altruism, didn't only bestow these Target Dodgers upon me.  No, no - when he came across my want-list he took it as a personal challenge and vowed to whittle it down as much as possible by Christmas day.  In the next few days, I'll be posting at least a couple of further times about this holiday bounty, in case you're curious about what other goodies he came across.

For now, I'm just grateful for my dad's munificent endowment and for the panoptic 1990 Target Dodgers set!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Over the long course of Major League Baseball's existence, many players who have taken to the diamond have shared the surnames on the backs of their jerseys.  To make things even more confusing, many of those same players were also bestowed with the same given name on the front of their birth certificate.  Think of all the common names (i.e., Greg A. Harris and Greg W. Harris), the family legacies (like Ken Griffey, both Sr. and Jr.), and even these two prospects who have gained notoriety by having the same name tag AND face.   As you can see, there's plenty of opportunity for overlap in history's roll call.

Although, this name-sharing should certainly not come as a surprise; after all, the pages of the all-time MLB roster book are filled with the names of thousands upon thousands of young men from all across the globe and all throughout the past two centuries.  In short, there's bound to be a few people who share the same monikers - it would be impossible for this not to occur.

In the terms of my Cubs All-Time Roster Collecting, this commonality has sometimes caused a fair bit of confusion, as one might expect when a collection revolves entirely around the individual players from throughout nearly a century and a half of Windy City baseball.  This bewilderment is further exacerbated by same-named players who plied their trade during the same eras, as I was rudely reminded this Christmas season.

Roy Johnson had a cuppacoffee in the Majors way back in 1918 and spent a few more years twirling minor league innings across various small town locales.  More importantly (to me, anyway), he also had a cup of joe as a Major League manager for the Chicago Cubs in 1944.  In between those stints, "Hardrock" transformed from an intimidating moundsman to a tough as nails minor league skipper and eventually parlayed that reputation into a spot on the Cubbies' coaching staff in 1935.  This was the beginning of a lengthy relationship.

From 1935 through 1954 (excepting a few seasons in the middle due to WWII service), the rest of "Hardrock's" time in organized baseball was spent with the North Side club, either as a coach, farm system manager, and scout.  Oh - and, as previously mentioned, this Swiss Army Knife employee also spent one glorious day in the sun as a Big League manager.

Here's a cool vintage video featuring the Cubs during their last spring at Catalina Island, including Roy Johnson (#42)

In May of 1944, the Cubs were hitting the skids.  After having lost nine of their first ten games, bench jockey Jimmie Wilson was given the boot and Coach Johnson was first in line to inherit the reigns.  Things did not get better under Roy's interim command, as Chicago promptly lost their tenth in a row in an embarrassing 10-4  blowout at the hands of the Reds.  By the time they took the field again, their "on again, off again skip," Charlie Grimm, had taken over the home dugout for the rest of the season and Johnson returned to the coaches' box.

All told, Roy Johnson managed the Cubs for just a single game, but an official Cubs manager he will always be; thus, his representation in my CATRC binder is a requirement.

Sometime around the year 2006, the authentic Goudey card that you see above came into my possession as part of a larger Christmas gift from my father.  My dear ol' dad likes to surprise me with a stack of cardboard from my want-lists from time to time and, boy oh boy, was that acquisition a surprise!  At the time, it was the oldest card in my collection and, even today, it remains one of this cheapskate's few "super vintage" pieces.  I was thrilled to have Roy Johnson represented with a card from such an iconic baseball card set.  Unfortunately, there was a problem and it took more than a decade to come to light.

In a bizarre bit of symmetry, this year, my father again gifted me with a large stash of baseball cards from my want-list for my CATRC.  Seeing as how he knows that I prefer to have my Cubs represented as such in my collection, he tracked down the cyan-tinted, TCMA "The 1930's" single that you see above to serve as a "Cubgrade" for Mr. Johnson.  Though they're no Goudey, these oddballs from 1972 do not surface often and I was thrilled to have a true and literally blue Cubs card for such a short-term skipper.  After all, managers of any stature rarely get love from the baseball card manufacturers.

Released in a continuing series of 24 cards each set during the early days of TCMA, there's plenty of variation as one progresses through the checklist.  The majority of the cards are black and white and 2" x 2-3/4," but cards 337-384 measure in the standard dimensions. Furthermore, cards 409-456 were printed with blue ink and were, again, under-sized. Based on these specifications, you might have already guessed where in the checklist my Xmas gift falls.

As I usually do when tracking down new cards for my most hallowed tome, I didn't just research the trading card, I also took to the internet to learn about the player depicted.  It was then that I discovered an interesting factoid about the Cubs' Roy Johnson - he never took the field in Boston Red Sox uniform, the team he's depicted with on my Goudey goody.  His lone slice of MLB action came in the colors of the Philadelphia Athletics.  As I sat in a haze of befuddlement, it slowly hit me that not everything was as it seemed.

The Goudey Roy Johnson was an outfielder... not a pitcher.  This Roy Johnson had himself a nice a ten-season career (1929-38), batting .296 with 58 homers and 555 RBI in 1155 games for the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, and the Bees (nee Braves).  This Roy Johnson won a World Series with the Yanks in 1936.  This Roy Johnson never ventured into coaching, let alone management, once he hung up his spikes for good.  Simply put, this was the wrong Roy Johnson - this guy had absolutely no association with the Chicago franchise in any way, shape, or form.

Apparently, when I originally put this card on my want-list all those years ago, I'd just assumed it likely that a Roy Johnson who played professionally in 1933, when Goudey first hit store shelves, could have easily made the transition into coaching and management by the time 1944 had rolled around.  Well, you know what they say when you assume... For some reason, I never thought to verify whether or not there was more than one Roy Johnson.  Hell, now that I'm actually researching, there's actually three, as another Roy Johnson patrolled the outfield of Olympic Stadium for a few seasons in the mid-80's.

Oopsy doodles.

On the bright side, I was able to immediately correct my egregious error upon first noticing it by replacing the Goudey with my TCMA "Cubgrade."  Also, I now have an intriguing piece of trade bait newly available to the market.  So, in the immortal words of Carl Spackler, I have that going for me.

Like I said at the outset of this post, common names make for a common cause of confusion when it comes to MLB history.  In fact, this Roy Johnson swap isn't even the first time the name game has tripped me up - the whitewashing story of the two Ray Webster's will forever hold that honor - and I'll bet that I will probably fall victim to this sort of snafu yet again in the future.  Have any of you readers ever fallen victim to such a trap, thinking you were getting a card of a particular player only to have the rug pulled out from underneath you by some guy with the same designation?  I sure would like for you to share your experience in the comment section below so I don't feel like such a dunderhead.

In the meantime, welcome to the CATRC, Roy Johnson.  Sorry I didn't take the proper time to vet your previous, fraudulent placeholder!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Updating Cole's Colors

Way back in July, when the Cubs first acquired Cole Hamels from Texas, I ran a quick poll asking you, the readers, to determine which card should be entered into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  In this particular situation, I was having a tough time deciding exactly which card should be selected for inclusion in my most treasured tome; so, I asked for help.  Offered up was an assortment of seven pasteboards culled from the Phillies and Rangers sections of my trade boxes that I felt were more than adequate options.  However, surely one would prove itself to be the most popular among my fellow collectors.

As it turns out, this process only helped in muddying the waters even further.  By the time the activity died down, there was a five-way tie for first place in said poll... yikes.  As it turns out, the blogosphere had just as much trouble narrowing down the field as I did and I was left flapping in the wind.

Fast forward to exactly five months (to the day) later and the matter has finally been resolved:

This afternoon, I was finally able to track down a copy of Cole's first pack-issued Cubs card, from this season's Topps Update Checklist, which hit store shelves in October.  No matter how much hemming and hawing there was previously, Cubbie Blue is always a more appealing shade than Rangers Blue and is leaps and bounds more attractive than Phillies Red.

Of course, I knew back in July that whatever card I inserted into my CATRC binder would be a temporary placeholder - there's simply no way that Topps was going to leave a star like Hamels (especially moving to such a marketable franchise) out of it's annual Update release.  Furthermore, it wasn't long after the original transaction that Cole was honored with a Topps Now instant release which depicted him in a Chicago uniform.  That said, since I wasn't about to pony up for instant gratification, it was going to take a while to "Cubgrade" his spot. 

Now, after a quick, "because I'm in the area" trip to my LCS, the wait it finally over.

For one card?  Methinks not.

Although, I must admit, the Now card has a lot more going for it than the Update single that I purchased.  For one, the home pinstripes are always a more welcome sight than the road grays.  Additionally, the photograph on the instant card is much more intriguing, showing the wound up Hamels screaming with intensity immediately after delivering a pitch during a complete game victory - the extreme closeup on the Update card is no where near as memorable.  Lastly, I have a strong distaste for horizontal cards and my OCD tendencies lead me to prefer that my CATRC entries all be vertical whenever it is possible.  As such, in a perfect world and with all else being equal, I would take the Now over the Update.

That's okay though, it's not like the card I ended up with is bad.  Furthermore, since the North Siders exercised their team option on Hamels for the 2019 season, I'm 150% certain there will be plenty of cards produced with Hamels in Chicago Cubs duds over the next year or so.  Again, there's no way Topps will ignore a star player in a major market.

Maybe one of these 2019 cards will more closely meet my preferences or maybe not; but, either way, Cole Hamels is now officially represented, with the correct team colors, in my CATRC binder.

Thank you, 2009 Upper Deck SP Authentic Base (one of the five that drew a first place vote in the July poll) - you served my Cubs of a Different Color Collection well as a placeholder.

Speaking of my CATRC, I should also mention that Santa Claus was apparently supremely generous this Yuletide season.  I'm still working on the sorting, photographing, and filing, but I ended up with a significant amount of new additions to the roster collection on Christmas morning.  I'll have more to share about this massive haul later on, once I've finished the associated record keeping; however, for now, let's just say it's the single greatest one-day influx to my CATRC in the fourteen-year history of that  collection... by far.    Stay tuned for further details in the next week or so.

In short, Cole has plenty of company in the "to-file" stack of cards perched on my computer desk, a stack which is almost as tall as a Jenga tower, at this point!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Steve's Eve

Do I think it's odd that we, as a society, partake in an annual festival of lights and gifts in honor of a third-string, back up catcher from the mid-80's?  Sure I do... but who am I to judge?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Seeing Red

Much ado was made about the grindingly slow pace of last offseason's free agent/trade market.  Player movement across the board was slowed to a snail's pace for most of the break, initially being stunted by the high profile negotiations of Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, and then being further delayed by "totally not collusion-y" negotiating tactics of front offices across the league.  All in all, it made those already long winter months feel like an eternity as we rabid baseball fans constantly refreshed MLB Trade Rumors, desperate for any baseball news.

This winter has not been quite as sedate.  We've seen names like Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, Patrick Corbin, Josh Donaldson, etc. sign on the dotted line with new teams; although, we are still waiting for the big fish, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, to settle down.  There's also been a surprising amount of trade activity, with guys like Yonder Alonso, Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Paul Goldschmidt, et al swapping jerseys as part of this bizarre bazaar.  As such, there's been a good amount of activity on the old transaction tracker this holiday season, as clubs gift their fans with new heroes to cheer.

Well.... except for the Cubs.

At this point, the Cubs have made exactly one acquisition of significance (Ronald Torreyes) and then immediately non-tendered him away.  Last season - during the much-ballyhooed player movement drought - Theo and Jed had already added Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek, Brandon Morrow, and Drew Smyly to the fold.  Without commenting on whether or not these moves worked out, I just want to point out that this was the "measured" activity of  a "slow" winter.  Exacerbating the issue is that Cubs faithful are even more anxious to see adjustments after watching the offense fade away like a Marvel character when the going got tough last year.

Well, yesterday, they finally did something:

The Cubs agreed to terms with veteran infielder, Daniel Descalso, on a guaranteed two-year contract worth $5 million.  Additionally, the deal comes with a team option for the 2021 season should they decide to keep him around.  Here's hoping that that's a conversation worth having in three years!

Is this a sexy move? No.  Is this even an exiting move?  No.  But it is a move which supplements the current roster quite well and comes with a relatively small price tag. Daniel is capable of playing all over the diamond and swung a surprisingly resurgent bat last season.  It's quite likely that he'll see significant playing time at second base during Addison Russell's suspension (sidenote - f**k Russell) and then settle into a reserve role thereafter.  Essentially, as it stands now, Danny Boy replaces the recently traded Tommy LaStella and comes with much more positional flexibility; not to mention the club got a relatively intriguing taxi squad lefty in exchange for Tommy Boy.

Like I said, not sexy, but a positive move nonetheless.

Of course, whenever the Cubs make a move, I immediately dive into my trade boxes in search of a corresponding card.  Luckily, I just so happened to have two Descalso cards in my stash - the well framed, horizontal 2018 Topps single you see above and then extremely red (seriously, the man's uniform is blending into the outfield wall advert), 2014 Topps card which lead off the post.  When adding a new player to my beloved Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, it's always nice to have options.

Ordinarily, I would avoid a Cardinals card like the plague.  However, my OCD tendencies show that I prefer all of my cards to rest in my nine pocket pages in a vertical alignment.  Plus, I don't particularly care for the water slide design of last year's Flagship - it's distracting.  Therefore, I've gone ahead and selected the card that is so red that I could use it to stop traffic for displaying in my CATRC tome.  Hopefully, Daniel is around long enough to show up as a Cub in a forthcoming product or maybe do something heroic enough to earn a Cubbie Blue Topps Now card.  That immense pool of crimson is enough to singe your retinas!

With that, I've said all I can say about the Daniel Descalso signing.  It doesn't move the needle very much for those starving for a big ticket offensive boost; however, it does strengthen the bench and add a little depth for a team whose middle infield is somewhat in flux with the Russell crap and Ben Zobrist being another year older.  I'm just excited to be able to add a new name to my CATRC binder, even if the card is redder than Rudolph's snout!

We'll see what else this winter holds for Chicago.  Theo and Jed seem to be adamant that the lack of activity is due to financial constraints, as the deft moving around of money for Cole Hamels suggested. Is this all posturing?  My gut says yes and so does their continued rumored interest in Bryce Harper.  In the meantime, all we Cubs faithful can do is continue wait with bated breath.  If everybody who is currently on the roster plays up to their career norms, they should be pretty well set (they did win 90+ games again last year).  However, I think we'd all feel a little more comfortable with another bat and a bullpen arm or two.

Welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC, Daniel Descalso!  Hopefully another name or two will be joining you before the off-season concludes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Fifteen Percent Off

So, I got this tobacco card at fifteen percent off... quite literally!

This T206 Doc Marshall that you see above came to me at an extreme discount and, I'm sure (as long as you have eyes) you can probably guess why it was marked down.  However, it's not not too often that one can add an original card from this iconic set for less than the prices of a pack of Stadium Club.  Thus, when I saw this "SUPER LOW GRADE" Doc listed on Ebay with an auction hovering around a couple of bucks, I pounced.  When the dust settled, I ended up victorious and all it cost me was a crisp five dollar bill.  I mean, I've certainly spent more money on dumber things.

Even better, before I completed the transaction, Ebay provided a 15% off coupon for all of it's patrons.  That's when I knew that this purchase was kismet, as the original listing even mentioned, "I would say 15% of the card is missing so it is priced to sell."  Fifteen percent off on a card that was literally fifteen percent off... isn't that a bizarre bit of symmetry?

At any rate, $4.25 for a bonafide T206?  That's a hard deal to walk away from.

Just for yucks, here's what my T206 would have looked like before it was torn in two.  I wonder what ever happened to the other portion?  Also, why was it ripped apart it the first place?  The world may never know.

At any rate, besides the cushy price point, I felt comfortable enough to add Doc to my collection because enough of his face was visible to maintain his identity.  I suppose that had more of his face or his entire head had been taken with the other chunk that I would have walked away from the purchase.  As it stands, enough of the player and card left behind is recognizable enough for my cheap ass!

Speaking of recognizable, the back side of the card clearly identifies this piece as a Piedmont card.  Despite that, as rough as the card looks from the front, the back may actually be worse:

More .gif power!  I'm definitely getting some mileage out of the video editing software today.

It appears as though this card was pasted into an album of some sort, judging by the extra paper attached to the back as well as the paper loss sprinkled throughout the surface.  Perhaps that's how the card ended up being torn in the first place; a careless attempt to free Doc from his paper prison ended up ripping him to pieces instead of rescuing him.  That's what I would posit, anyway.

I guess turn of the century kiddies didn't have UltraPro pages to display their treasures, did they?

Anyway, there's not much more I can say about this card; so, how about we take this opportunity to delve deeper into the career of it's subject - William Riddle "Doc" Marshall:

Here's a clearer look at the face of today's hero.

William Marshall was a substitute catcher and outfielder for several teams during the early days of the 20th century.  The back up played his first games in the Majors for the Phillies in 1904, before being purchased by John McGraw's New York Giants mid-season.  His obituary claims that Marshall came to town in the same transaction that brought Christy Mathewson to his famed home; however, I don't see how that is possible, as Christy had already been in NY for four years, at that point.  Anyway, Doc was barely in New York long enough to unpack his bags, as he was loaned out to the Boston Beaneaters after just a single game for the Gothams.  From there, he continued to bounce around from town to town like a super ball.

From Boston, Marshall bounced back to New York, to Minneapolis, back to New York (yet again), to St. Louis, and then finally to the Cubs.  All of that in just four years, in the days long before free agency; they should have called his "Suitcase" Marshall!  He blew into the Windy City at just the right time, as he was purchased by the Chicago club, from the Red Birds, in May of 1908.  As such, the bench player was able to experience the team's last World Series win for 106 years firsthand.  Of course, he only got to watch that historic and infamous event from the bench.

Throughout his Major League career, Marshall never appeared in more than 84 games in a single campaign.  His playing time only decreased once he reached the West Side Grounds, as the juggernaut club was well on their way to infamy before he came to town.  Spelling the regular fly-chasers (plus one game at catcher), Marshall's name only appeared in 12 box scores after his acquisition.  For his part, he contributed six hits in 20 at-bats and three RBI during his Cubbie cameo.

I could be wrong, but I do believe that is Doc (circled) among his teammates and Clark the Cubs' terrifying ancestor.

It goes without saying that Marshall was not active in the World Series that October, though he was still a member of the club during that triumph over the Detroit Tigers.  Not for much longer though, as that next February, his contract was sold again - this time, to the Brooklyn Superbas.  It was in the "Borough of Churches" that Marshall played the final schedule of his Big League career, getting into 50 games from the Brooklyn bench.

That wasn't it for Doc' professional career - in fact, it might not have actually been the end of his MLB at all.  Marshall hung around in the minors for another few seasons before eventually taking up management.  I've seen it written that Mr. Marshall briefly took a turn as manager for the Chicago Whales of the upstart Federal League during their inaugural campaign in 1914; although, I cannot corroborate these claims at this time.  Fellow Cub, Joe Tinker, is listed as the only official manager for the franchise on Baseball Reference.

It was at that point, "Doc" officially began to live up to his nickname.  While playing ball, Marshall had been studying and working towards his medical degree, graduating from the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery in 1909.  There's little doubt that Marshall was making the most of his time on the Cubs' bench, cracking the books while his teammate cracked line drives.  After retiring from the game, Marshall opened up a medical practice in the same state he earned a World Series ring in, settling down in Clinton, IL.  He would spend the rest of his life in that cozy little town, serving as a respected physician until his death in 1959 at the age of 84.

Since his MLB career was relatively brief (six years) and was relegated entirely to sub work, it should come as no surprise that his cardboard footprint is rather tiny.  In fact, as best as I can tell, the T206 single that I just purchased is the only true Doc Marshall card on the market... well, that and it's various reprints.  Thus, even more reason to pull the trigger on such an affordable copy - I can always upgrade if the opportunity presents itself down the road.  No matter what, I officially get to cross another name off of the list and add another card to my marquee binder.  That's what I live for.

After adding Doc to my pages, I'm inching ever closer to my goal of one card of every person to ever play for the Cubs.  Plus, as a fun side quest, I'm also inching ever closer to one card of each member of the legendary 1908 World Series Champion Cubs.  As it stands today, I have 20 of the 26 men to suit up for the club that season - not bad for a bunch of guys from 106 years ago, I'd say.  Although, it doesn't look great for completing this side task.

Of the six remaining, only four have had baseball cards issued with their likenesses.  Bill Mack (2 games) and Carl Spongberg (1 game) were a pair of pitchers who briefly appeared on the active roster in 1908 and never again took a Major League mound afterwards.  So, unless I go the custom route or someone digs up an improbably rare and forgotten regional issue, it's quite impossible for me to get ALL of the '08 Cubbies.  That said, that's not going to stop me from trying to track down the other four:

 Clockwise - Vin Campbell, Jack Hayden, Chick Fraser, and Kid Durbin

As you can see above, these guys only appear in antique, relatively expensive checklists.  Thus, I will most likely have to settle for reprints or wait in the weeds for a good deal.  Heck, as you see with Doc Marshall, I'll make great allowances for condition if I can score super vintage on the cheap.   Much like the Cubs have been positing throughout the 2018-19 off-season, I have a supremely limited spending budget, for trinkets and cards anyway.

So, if you have these or any other superannuated cards which look as though they've been to battle with an angry dog or sticky-fingered toddler that you'd like to get rid off, I'm your mark... I mean... customer!

Anyway, in summation, for the low, low cost of $5.00 ($4.25 after that 15% discount), I was able to acquire an authentic, century-plus year old card of a long forgotten, short-term Cubs player needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  That's the kind of acquisition my collection and Wrigley Roster Jenga thrive on.  Although, I have to ask, would add a similarly damaged card to your collection?  Where do you draw the line on wear and tear for your binders?  Please feel free to share your opinions in the comment section below.

I'll take that deal any day of the week and twice on Sunday... even if 15% off applies to both the pricing and the card itself.