Monday, January 29, 2018

The Third Annual Obligatory Super Bowl Post

It's that time of year again - the "big game" is just around the corner and Minneapolis is now the focal point of the entire sports universe.  As is per annual tradition, the Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will make their eighth appearance in the championship game, taking on the underdog Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.  In the meantime, we sports fans all have to sit through insufferable amounts of articles, news segments, and fluff pieces about the game, as we have been since the conclusion of the AFC and NFC title bouts.

Also an annual tradition is the fact that I have absolutely no rooting interest in the match-up.  My Chicago Bears have been once in my lifetime (and that was a clunker) and it doesn't appear as though they'll be in the mix any time soon.  Also, while everyone loves to hate the Pats and their evil empire, I can't say that I lose sleep over Bill Belichik filling up his jewelry box.  However, I still like parties, copious amounts of junk food, halftime concerts, and commercials more akin to short, art films; thus, I will still be watching the tilt.  And, since I normally feel like I should find something to latch on with one of the competing clubs, for the past few years, I've used this annual exercise to figure out who to cheer for.

Since starting Wrigley Roster Jenga, I've reviewed the rosters for both, dueling franchises and thrown my support behind the team with the most ex-Bears on the sidelines:

The ways things stand, technically, the Patriots only have one former Monster of the Midway on their payroll and, barring total disaster, on the sidelines he will stay.  Brian Hoyer was signed, mid-season, to backup the juggernaut known as Tom Brady, after their much-ballyhooed trade of Jimmy Garrapolo to the 49'ers.  Funny enough, it was San Fran that released Hoyer to the open market to make room for the former Brady understudy.

Of course, before all of that drama, Hoyer was one of countless QB's that were chewed up and spit out by the Bears.  Brian appeared in six games (starting five) for the forgettable 2016 iteration of the team.

However, the Patriots do have two other former Bears among their ranks; that said, they will definitely not be appearing in the "big game," seeing as they are both parked with injuries. 

Tight end,  Marty Bennett, was brought in from the Packers, midseason, but only appeared in two games before a shoulder injury ended his season.  Meanwhile, linebacker, Shea McClellin, has missed the entire 2017 campaign due to concussion problems.  Both had tumultuous stints in the Windy City, Bennett from 2013-15 and McClellin from 2012-15; however, since both are inactive, they don't count towards this exercise.

That covers the New England roster; now, let's examine the lineup for Philadelphia:

There was one obvious connection - Alshon Jeffery.  The wide-receiver spent several years in the Second City as one of the only stars in the lackluster Marc Trestman/John Fox era and ranks among the best ball-catchers in club history (his 4,549 receiving yards ranks third, all-time).  However, the relationship eventually soured and after much hemming and hawing, Jeffery took his talents to the City of Brotherly Love this past off-season.

Betcha he doesn't regret that decision.

The Eagles also feature a second former Bear on their active roster; but, my Bears All-Time Roster Collection does not feature his man.  As you can see above, I had to pilfer a scan of Corey Graham's only Bears card on COMC.

The NFL journeyman began his career with the Bears in 2007 and made the Pro Bowl with the team in 2011.  More recently, the free safety stole the spotlight with his interception of Vikings quarterback, Case Keenum, in NFC championship game, last week.  I'll have to make a note to track down some sort of cardboard representation for the guy in the near future.

And so, excluding the inactives, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in the third annual obligatory Super Bowl post and, ordinarily, would thus earn my support for the big game on Sunday.  That being acknowledged, this year is a little bit different than the rest.

The Eagles won the exercise; however, they would still have my support over the Pats, regardless.  No, it's not because I hate Tom Brady (though his politics don't curry any favors with me), like most outside of the New England region.  The reason I will be rooting for the Eagles this weekend is because of my wife and in-laws.

You see, my wife and her family originally hail from Wilmington, Delaware -  a scant 32.5 miles away from our nation's first capitol.  As such, everyone in her clan is a rabid Eagles fan, including my wife herself.  Given that this is the first time that the team has made the Super Bowl since we've met, I'd have a damn hard time rooting against my own family (the holidays sure would be awkward) and the happiness of my better half (divorce is expensive).  So, with that in mind, the underdogs will have my full support come Super Bowl Sunday.

I guess this whole post was sort of pointless then... oh well.

In conclusion, I ask you loyal readers, who will you be rooting for in the 52nd edition of the Super Bowl?  Will you be cheering for continued greatness from the ageless wonder from Boston?  Will you be joining me and and my family in pulling for the scrappy underdog from Pennsylvania?  Will you be secretly hoping for a giant meteor to take out U.S. Bank Stadium?  Also, in the likely event that your team didn't make the final two, do you have some sort of special method to figure out who you will root for, like my ex-Bear factor exercise?  Or do you just sit back with a beer and a brat and take everything as it comes?  Inquiring minds want to know.

No matter what, the bottom line is that we're now just three more weeks away from baseball and spring training camps.  Personally, I think that's the best part about Super Bowl weekend!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Chicks Dig the Long Ball... and So Do I

I'm a pretty quiet guy and I don't like to stir the pot all that much.  Furthermore, I am a polite people pleaser and generally go out of my way not to offend those around me.  That being said, I do have one opinion that is, apparently, quite controversial.  Whenever I mention this thought, I am generally met with wrinkled, contorted faces and visceral disgust... sometimes even outright anger.  For the most part, no one seems to understand why I feel the way that I do and also consider immediately banning me from their social circle.  But, I am who I am and I'm not going to hide it from the blogosphere any longer...

I absolutely LOVE black licorice!!

Of course, I am using a dose of hyperbole to get my point across; but, nevertheless, I am often met with disgust and confusion when I mention this particular candy preference to those I encounter.  My family has always painted me a freak for hoarding black licorice jelly beans at Easter time, my friends give me the awkward side eye when I purchase bags of "that old lady candy" at the movie theater, and even shots of Jagermeister at the bar elicit nothing but groans from fellow patrons.  What is it about the slate-colored confection that creates such hostility?

Though that may be, nothing will sway my tongue and I from how we feel.  With that in mind, a couple of weeks ago, my mouth began to water as I scrolled through Twitter feed:

Andrew from Sports Card Info - one of our hobby's premier online voices - partnered with rookie candy-maker, Long Ball Licorice, to offer a free sample of their product to one lucky re-tweeter.  With my great affection for the dried root of the licorice plant, I couldn't help but click those rotating arrows.  Lo and behold, I just so happened to win the drawing - I was as giddy as a school girl!

Long Ball Licorice is a new product that was launched late last summer.  Andre Chiavelli worked for many years at Yankee Stadium as an official vendor of memorabilia and baseball cards at the ballpark.  As the years went by, he couldn't help but notice the ubiquity and importance of concessions at the stadium.  Furthermore, as bans and local ordinances against chewing tobacco worked their way up from the local ballparks and into the MLB limelight, he saw an opportunity to pursue an idea which had been kicking around in the back of his head for a long time:  plug-style licorice.

After two and a half years of development, the chaw substitute became a reality in 2017 and is now sitting on my kitchen table, courtesy of the generosity of Andrew and Andre:

As you can see from the business card that came along with my freebie, Chiavelli was able to secure the likeness of Babe Ruth as a sort of mascot for his new passion project.  It was during his tenure at the second iteration of "the house that Ruth built" that Andre made the acquaintance of and formed a lasting friendship with Linda Ruth Tosetti, the granddaughter of "Sultan of Swat."  Through this connection, he was able to secure the official license of the Babe Ruth Estate and the aptly named Long Ball Licorice had it's face - it was a perfect match.

Sidenote - this business card will likely be stashed in my oddball baseball card collection.  It's simply too cool to be ignored.

Here's a look at the bag which contains my prize - it has a lovely, ornate design, evocative of the rough and tumble days of early twentieth century baseball, along with George Herman Ruth's mug.  It's a good thing I was able to control myself long enough to take a picture of the package for posterity before I tore open the seal!

For the heck of it, you can take a gander at the back of the pouch, as well.  Along with a motivational quote from the baby-faced "Colossus of Clout" himself, you have the corresponding web address for Longball Licorice.  My favorite part of the whole package though is the fact that the government-mandated nutrition facts are labeled as "box score."  I got a nice chuckle out of that detail-oriented joke - it's the little things that make great things!

Now, while I may have been able to harness my hunger long enough to snap a quick pic of the pack before I tore into it, I can't say the same about the actual product itself...

Here's what remains of the 3.5 oz licorice bar, or plug as it is technically called.  Over the past handful of days, my lovely wife and I have been ripping hefty chunks out of the pliable brick and plopping them in our mouths.  I have been taking a piece and parking it in my cheek, a la smokeless tobacco, allowing the flavor to smoothly melt into my mouth.  Meanwhile, my wife has been attacking it head-on, taking a bite and chewing right into it for more immediate gratification.  Either method works, as the licorice is both soft and hearty, with a strong and pleasant flavor that leaves you wanting more.  Personally, I've had to fight myself from downing the whole thing in one sitting.

I know this sounds like some sort of sponsored endorsement, but I assure you that it is not; I just really, really, really enjoy black licorice!  However, if you're like most people that I've encountered (except my better half, who's one in a million) and dark licorice repels you in the manner of like-sided magnetic poles, there is another option:

Andre's creation also features a red raspberry variant, called Round Tripper Red, and red licorice seems to be almost universally loved.  I was offered my choice of either for my contest win, but there was little doubt that I was going to opt for the onyx-shaded stuff.  So, if you're one of those who scoffs at the notion of black licorice, I'm sure the crimson-colored version is quite tasty, probably even better than Red Vines or Super Ropes.  I know it's of high quality.

Right now, distribution of the candy appears to be limited to the Longball Licorice website and Amazon.  That said, it appears as though the plan is to expand to ballparks across America, in the coming year, so keep your eyes peeled when you hit your local stadium this spring.  Candy store distribution is also on the horizon.

If you're looking for a substitute for Red Man, or if you just simply enjoy candy, I cannot recommend this product enough.  I'll put it this way - Alexander the Great was known for supplying his troops with rations of liquorice root and, thus, I'm sure he would have been all over Long Ball (it's resealable pouch travels well, after all).  Here's hoping Mr. Chiavelli's variation takes over the world, Alex-style!

These licorice products are good, but Long Ball knocks them outta the park! (Good god, that was corny...)

As far as licorice goes, Long Ball is light years ahead of Good and Plenty, Black Jack chewing gum, Twizzlers, allsorts, Crows or any other incarnation of the stuff that you can think of - put that in your licorice pipe and smoke it!

To conclude, I have to ask, how do you feel about black licorice?  Are you one of those who would turn up their nose should I offer to share my bag of Snaps?  Or, does this review have you salivating, uncontrollably, all over your smart phone screen?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.  And, most importantly, thank you to Andrew, Sports Card Info, Andre Chiavelli and Long Ball Licorice for coming together to offer such a generous giveaway - it made my day, several times over!

With all that out of the way, I think I've sad all I can say... so, it's time to cram another piece of Long Ball in my yap.

Friday, January 26, 2018


After a few weeks of uninspired inactivity, I'm back here on the blogosphere and ready to ramble.  With the mostly frigid temperatures, freezing rain, and black ice here in Chicago, perhaps SAD (seasonal affective disorder) has been the reason why I haven't felt motivated to do much of anything.  Additionally, with the broken hot stove and nearly completely frozen free-agent market, I might also be suffering from a case of TAD (transactional affective disorder).  Either way, surrounded by constant, toothless rumors and rumblings about Yu Darvish and god awful weather conditions, I really haven't wanted to do much of anything, especially writing about sports.

Until yesterday, that is.  While the Brewers threw a few logs on into the fire (Yelich and Cain) and the temperatures in Chicago started to rise into the fifties, I - in turn - found a muse.  All it took was a long, leisurely walk.

After losing my car keys on Thursday morning, I was forced to cop a ride to work.  While the little buggers were eventually found, I still did not have access to my automobile when it came time to leave.  When I noticed the mercury rising to darn near spring-like temperatures, my frustration dissipated and a nice, long stroll home actually began to sound quite nice.  So, I set off on my two-mile trek, enjoying the weather and clearing my mind - free of distractions.

Then, about half a mile in to my trek, something shiny caught my eye:

Could that possibly be?  Is that a lonely, discarded trading card, sitting abandoned by the curb?  How sad!

Why, yes it is!  That's a 2017 Donruss Optic football card, featuring Washington tight-end, Jordan Reed.

 My mind began to wander, how did poor Mr. Reed end up in the proverbial gutter?  It's not like this is junk wax cardboard from thirty years ago either - Optic is a higher end, collectible product that seems fairly popular among football collectors.  Yet, here it is, left forgotten on the dead leaves and dirty ground along Cicero Avenue.  Even more surprising, despite being left to the elements, outside of some caked dirt, the card was in pretty good condition.

Of course, I put the disregarded pasteboard into my coat pocket and continued on my merry way with a smile on my face.  I didn't make it far though.  Not even ten feet down the sidewalk, another bit of glimmering refuse commanded my attention:

Could it be?  ANOTHER poor card, cast aside? 

Yes indeed - this one spotlighting the recently-retired Carson Palmer, longtime quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals.  Again, minus some mud, the card was also in fairly decent condition.  Wild.

Then - because I'm super good at pattern recognition - I paused and took in my surroundings.  It was then that I noticed that there were several more of these orphaned, chrome goodies, strewn up and down the side of the rush hour congested thoroughfare:

There were some big names in this haphazardly discarded field of football cards!

Unfortunately, as you might be able to tell, as I went further and further down the roadway, the cards' conditions increasingly worsened...

By the time I got to the last couple, the cards appeared to have been sheered in half, with only the photographic front resting in the grassy area:

Was this caused by natural degradation in a wet and unprotected environment?  After all, on the southside, we've had snow, fifty degree temps, rain, more freezing temperatures, and a subsequent warm-up in just the last week.  Lord knows that's going to reek havoc on paper products left exposed to the schizo elements of a Chicago winter!

With nine cards total discovered during my impromptu scavenger hunt, I ended up with two full packs (plus an extra single) of 2017 Donruss Optic football.   Well, that and a bunch of question:

  1. Did someone open some packs or a blaster of this product and immediately cast aside their non-hits as unwanted litter?  Base cards are an unwanted hinderence to the "sick hitz" crowd.
  2. Was some poor kid robbed of his newly-purchases cards due to a strong gust of Windy City breeze and an opened car window?
  3. Was some collector so uncontrollably excited by the announced return of the XFL (😒) that they immediately disposed of their NFL memorabilia on the side of the road?
  4. Did anyone notice the weird gangly guy walking up and down Cicero Ave., stopping and stooping to pick up random bits of garbage and then taking pictures of the junk?  What a weirdo!
 Overall, what do you think was the impetus behind this hasty disposal?

In the end, I had quite a bit of fun, running around and discovering free trading cards scattered all over the block - I felt like a kid in the middle of a surprise Easter egg hunt.  Even if most of the "eggs" were nearly completely thrashed and none of the discoveries were Bears players, it was still highly entertaining to this crazy card collector.  I must admit, afterwards, I was no longer frustrated about having lost my keys and being forced to walk home (the rest of the way decidedly card-less, though).

As an aside, this is actually the second time that I've come across cast-off cards in the wild, since I began this humble blog.  The first time occurred more than a year and a half ago and the circumstances surrounding that discovery were much scarier!

To conclude, I have to ask you loyal readers, what would you have done in this situation?  Would you have stopped and gathered up the dis-carded cards in full view of a busy, major thoroughfare/  Would you have kept right on walking, either due to insecurity or the fact that the cards were, erm, less than pristine?  Perhaps you would have picked them up just to assist mother earth out and clean up some litter?  An inquiring mind wishes to know.

Also, an inquiring mind wants to know what Yu Darvish's plans are...

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

California Dreamin'

As I look outside my window, all I can see is that the entire courtyard of my apartment complex is blanketed with several inches of snow.  To make matters worse, the foreboding gray skies threaten to coat another thick layer of the white stuff on the already harsh winter landscape.  As the thermostat plunges to temperatures under zero, I'm reminded that if I run my errands today, I'll have to start my 1997 Chevy Trailblazer at least ten minutes before I leave and blast the heat, lest my hands freeze to the cold, vinyl steering wheel.  Of course, that's if the antique automobile even starts at all, struggling to turn over in the Chiberian weather.

If you can't tell, I'm pretty much over winter.  Once the whimsy and magic of the holidays is over, the countdown to the days of being able to take my trash out without having to wrap up my face like a mummy, aka spring.  Like most of my mid-western brethren, I am longing for warmer days... days full of sunshine and baseball.

With that in mind, perhaps it was because of these subconscious desires that I pulled the trigger on my first addition to the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder in 2018:

California baseball, baby!  Doesn't that sound fantastic right about now?

This brightly-colored, vintage oddball hails from the 1952 edition of Mother's Cookies set revolving around the original iteration of the Pacific Coast League.  The west coast-based bakery distributed this regional premium with packages of their famous cookies; you might recognize their name from their SGA promos in the late 90's, but their ties with pro baseball go way, way back.  Speaking of going "back"...

Here's a look at the reverse of the '52 cards.  As you can see, the layout is very "bare bones," with just the previous years most basic stats and an advertisement for a grab bag of postage stamps.  But, we're not interested in stamps right now; so, let's get back to the cards.

In 1952-53, Mother's documented the players of the popular, west coast-based league.  In those days, the PCL was a classified as a AAA league, but it's standard of play was thought to nearly rival that of the Major Leagues, luring many players with Big League credentials to sunny California.  Many of these players made their only cardboard appearance on the 2-3/16" x 3-1/2" pasteboards, making the twice-issued set an important source for obscure future/former Cubs.  Richie Myers makes the fourth MC to make it into my marquee binder, with at least one more target left to acquire.

Next on the list - Bill Moisan!

These cards remain popular with collector's today, due to their fun colors and lasting nostalgia for the league which had Major League aspirations.  Combined with their age and relative scarcity, this can make singles from the checklists somewhat pricey.  Thus, when I came across this bad boy with a $& shipped price tag, I jumped at the chance to add Richie to my collection.  Some significant creases are what brought it down into my price range; that said, those "imperfections" don't bother me.  After all, I think I'll have a few more creases when I reach 66 years of age!

Anyway, that's the basic story behind the card itself; now, let's shift gears and focus on the player depicted on my newest CATRC inductee - Richie Myers.

Richie and his teammates with the 1954 Sacramento Solons.  Image courtesy of William B. Shubb

Richie Myers was born in Sacramento, California in 1930.  The boy dreamed of suiting up for his hometown club, as he starred on the sandlots, in school and recreation leagues, and playing American Legion ball.  Remember, this is well before the Dodgers and the Giants began Major League Baseball's much-ballyhooed westward expansion in the mid-1950's. The Cali kid grew up emulating his heroes from the local Sacramento Solons, of the original Pacific Coast League. Clubs like the Solons, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, and the San Francisco Seals drew massive crowds and cultivated loyal fan-bases - in fact, part of the reason that the MLB eventually went all manifest destiny was due to the popularity of it's west coast rivals.

Thus, barely a month after graduating from nearby Elk Grove High School, located in the Sacramento Valley, young Richie jumped at the chance to sign with his hometown heroes when they offered him a lucrative $1,000 signing bonus in the spring of 1948.

 Somewhere nearby, Myers watched as Edmonds Field burned to the ground in 1948.  Image courtesy of Rebecca Winter.

Although, his career did get off to an inauspicious start.  Just hours after playing in his third game, he stood with fans, dumbfounded, and watched as a huge fire leveled the wooden grandstands of his home park.  Nevertheless, after watching his career nearly go up in flames (literally) before it began, Myers would spend seven of the next nine seasons at shortstop with the Solons, living his childhood dream with great success.

Richie was, at best, average at the dish, as his career .261 batting average and .368 slugging percentage in the minors will attest.  However, it was his glove that kept him in the everyday lineup.  According to Solons historian, Alan O'Connor, his speed and a strong throwing arm made him "one of the top glovemen in the league."  It was the former of these two tools that facilitated Myers' ultimate ascent; while playing for Sacramento was a dream come true, I think it's safe to assume that all ballplayers endeavor to eventually reach the Majors

 The other two major pieces involved in this trade are already repped within my CATRC.

In September of 1955, the Cubs came-a-calling.  In making a trade with the Solons, their main target was live-armed pitching prospect, Johnny Briggs - to sweeten the pot, Sacramento also included their longtime shortstop, in exchange for Bubba Church and Joe Stanka.  Unfortunately for Richie, the Cubbies already had a young shortstop who had been tearing up the National League for two years, a guy by the name of Ernie Banks.  With his position on the diamond already comfortably filled going into 1956, it was going to be tough to crack the Opening Day roster in Chicago.

That said, the roster rules of the day were considerably different than they are today.  Prior to 1957, MLB clubs could carry as many as forty men during the first few weeks and last few weeks of the season, with the roster being pared down to 25 during the meat of the schedule.  It was these expanded regulations which allowed Richie Myers to make his Major League debut with the Lovable Losers in 1956, not as a shortstop, but as a pinch-runner.  In the end, Myers never donned a glove during his cuppacoffee, but he did make three appearances on the basepaths (one run scored) and took one at-bat (groundout to shortstop, appropriately enough) before the roster was trimmed down to it's normal length.

 The only photo I could find of Myers in Cubs garb.  Image courtesy of Kevin Baskin.

At just 26 years of age, that marked the beginning and end of Richie's Major League career.  Upon being cut, he returned to his roots - the Cubs sent him to their own PCL affiliate, the LA Angels, to man the middle of the infield.  The 1956 Angels were a legendary and popular squad, which would go on to win 107 games and the penultimate pennant of the original PCL.  Unfortunately, either injury or ineffectiveness limited Myers' AAA season to just 15 games with an anemic .111 batting average, which led to the hanging up of his spikes at the conclusion of the campaign.  At least he was able to to go out as a champion and as a bonafide Big Leaguer!

Following his retirement, Myers went back home and worked for the city of Sacramento as a street maintenance supervisor, never missing an opportunity to attend a ballgame.  "I still get goose bumps when I attend a professional game. And I still get an itch to play around spring training time," said Myers in one of his final interviews.  Always a generous and affable fellow,  Richie made sure to keep in touch with his old teammates and made many public appearances to sign autographs for fans, right up until his death, after complications suffered from a fall, in 2011.  He was 81 years old.

Thus concludes the tale of Richie Myers:  boyhood dream-liver, Sacramento star, cameo Cub, and PCL champion.

Richie's path to the Bigs was blocked by a "fairly decent" player.

After essentially crawling to work through a freezing rain-induced fog and very nearly ringing my bell due to a bout with black ice upon arrival, typing this California-centric blog post has me dreaming about warmer days.  A lengthy escape to the 31st state is sounding positively phenomenal right about now.  That said, I suppose that Richie Myers' Sacramento Solons baseball card, made by way of Oakland's Mother's Cookies, is as close as I can get to the sunshine and heat found in the Golden State.  Although, rumor has it that Illinois temps are going to be in the fifties by the end of the week, so that should help improve my Grinchy mood.

With that in mind, I'll accept this consolation prize... for now.  Welcome to the CATRC, Richie Myers!

Also - buzz off, Jack Frost!

Friday, January 5, 2018

What Coulda Been on Catalina

More than three years ago, during the earliest days of Wrigley Roster Jenga, I purchased a heavily discounted box of Conlon Collection from one of my local card shops.  For somewhere around ten bucks, I was able to gleefully tear through 36 packs of the 1992 edition of the black and white set and add several new-to-me, short-term Chicago players to Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  All in all, it was easily one of my favorite pack ripping experiences in my collecting life; in fact, it was only one of two occasions, that I can recall, where I did not immediately regret spending my hard earned money on a full box of cardboard.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Conlon might be my favorite baseball card set ever to come off of the presses.  As a wide-eyed student of our national pastime's history and accumulator of the obscure, it doesn't really get much better than the early-90's checklists based around the photography of Charles Conlon.

Anyway, a few nights ago, I spent a few minutes of downtime flipping through the remnants of that long-since rifled through box that still sits on the shelving unit underneath my computer desk.  It was during that idle reminiscing that I re-discovered a card which would prove to be a fine addition to one of my side-collections.  Hell, if history had played out a little differently, it would have been a fine addition to my MAIN collection.

Lefty O'Doul - one of the greatest stars in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame.

The live-armed southpaw came up to the Bigs in the early 20's and showed some promise on the mound with the Yankees and the Red Sox before blowing out his arm.  In those pre-TJ surgery days, Lefty did the only thing he could do to extend his career in the game - convert to the outfield.  After several years of proving himself to be a capable hitter in the bushes, O'Doul made his grand return to the Show in 1928, winning the National League batting title with an astounding .398 mark in his second year back.  For the next seven years, he starred for the Giants, Phillies, Dodgers, and the Giants again, posting the highest career batting average for someone without a plaque in Cooperstown .349).

Since he was already 31 by the time he re-emerged from the minors, the brevity of his second wind has kept him from enshrinement.  Even still, there's no doubt that this original Rick Ankiel was one of the greatest hitters of his generation.... and, had things shaken out a tad bit differently, he could have done it all with the Cubs.

That's right, the pre-Lovable Loser Era Cubs had every chance in the world to re-launch the career of the great Lefty O'Doul.  I had been previously unaware of this massive oversight and if it wasn't for the page-turning book, The Cubs on Catalina, by Jim Vitti, I may have never learned about it.  Actually, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing...

The Cubs and Catalina Island have a long and storied history together.  For about 30 years, the Chicago National League ballclub would pack up their bags, hop a train, grab a trolley, and float on a boat all the way to the tiny, rocky island off of the southwest coast of California, which just so happened to be owned by the Wrigley family.  While it might be better remembered today for it's infamous wine mixer, it's legacy comes as the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs, from the 1920's through the early 50's.  It was here that hope first sprung eternal.

In 2003, Sporting News and SABR Award-winning author, Jim Vitti, published the book you see above which to preserve this unique portion of baseball history by interviewing the local islanders and the surviving players who trained at the tiny island habitat, as well as compiling photographs.  Fourteen years later, I was gifted this same tome of knowledge by my father-in-law for Christmas and I've hardly been able to put it down since.

The capers recorded in these pages are certainly worthy of preservation - i.e., the time Ronald Reagan got into a bar fight with a bunch of Chicago sportswriters, the story behind "Snipe" Hansen earning his mocking nickname, or how rookies would lose hours of their life trying to find the bowling alley on a steamship... there's certainly no lack of material.  It was while reading one of these tales that I was surprised to see the name of Lefty O'Doul come up.  What in the world did this near-HOF'er have to do with my Cubs?

Before politics, before acting, he was a Cubs broadcaster.

As I mentioned, after lefty's arm had flamed out in 1923, the ballplayer returned to the minor leagues to convert himself into a full-time position player.  After two seasons of thrilling Pacific Coast League fans in Salt Lake City with batting averages approaching the hallowed .400 mark, William Wrigley was sufficiently impressed with O'Doul's rejuvenation to buy his contract from the Bees, at the hefty cost of $50,000.  Going into the 1926 season, the reclamation project was brought to camp on Wrigley's island with Wrigley's ballclub and given every opportunity to work his way onto the Opening Day roster.  Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.

No records exist of his performance in camp that spring, although we know the end result.  The new skipper, Joe McCarthy, was looking to put his stamp on the organization and was uninterested in the has-been.  As first baseman, Charlie Grimm, recounted years later, "Marse Joe, sad to relate, made a monumental mistake that spring" in cutting O'Doul.  Well, "Jolly Cholly" wasn't wrong.

Four Hall of Famers?  That's a pretty decent middle of the order...

After two more years of paying his dues in the PCL, Lefty came back up in 1928 and hit the ground running.  In 1929, the Cubs made their way to the World Series against the Athletics with a lineup that included Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, Kiki Cuyler, and more. Simultaneously, O'Doul was a Phillie with a .398/.465/.622 slash, winning a batting title and bashing 32 home runs along the way.  Can you imagine how much scarier that Cubs lineup would have looked with prime O'Doul in the outfield?  Forget "Murderer's Row!"  Maybe the North Siders wouldn't have choked away the World Series win that October had they hung onto the batting champion...

From there, all Lefty did was hit .300 for five straight years, win a second batting title in 1932 (.368), and  go to an All-Star game before age caught up to him.  Then, he returned to the PCL to win 2,000 games in the as a manager, and also served as an early ambassador for the game in Japan.  What a career!

According to Cubs historian, Warren Brown," Later on, when O'Doul broke back into the National League and either led it in hitting or caused damage to some Cubs pitching hopes, Wrigley would sigh:  'Oh, that O'Doul... my O'Doul!'"  The chewing gum magnate must have uttered that phrase a lot, as his "one that got away" smacked Cubs pitching around, to the tune of a .324 career batting average against.

Mr. Wrigley looks happier here than when Lefty would come to bat.

And so, that's the story of how one of the greatest hitters yet to be enshrined in Cooperstown almost became a Chicago Cub.  The sprawling history of the franchise once tagged as "Lovable Losers" is littered with such oversights and/or regrettable decisions - Lou Brock, Greg Maddux, Josh Donaldson, etc. come to mind.  Though, to be fair, any club as old as the Cubbies is going to make a lot of mistakes.  At least Brock and Maddux had the opportunity to showcase some of their talent in Chicago; meanwhile, the latter of which, like Lefty, never suited up in a Major League Cubs uniform.  It is around such situations that I've been building a small side-collection - my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder.

The "Coulda Been a Cub" collection is based around players who's rights were once owned by the Chicago Cubs and who eventually saw time in the Major Leagues.  The caveat is that none of their MLB service time was actually accrued with the club in question.  These men were simply a phone call away from the Wrigley roster - training camp cuts, minor league free-agents, trade flips, Rule 5 selections, etc. - but things just didn't work out.  It is in this three-ring holder that I'll be storing my re-discovered Lefty O'Doul Conlon card - he'll keep Donaldson, Scipio Spinks, Josh Hamilton, Ray Jablonski, Jon Garland, Jim Dwyer, and friends (like the ones below) company.

 Hideo Nomo started 3 games for the Iowa Cubs in '99 and Shingo Takatsu was invited to Spring Training in '08, long after the team left Catalina for Arizona.

Meanwhile, somewhere out there in the vast multiverse, is an alternate reality in which Joe McCarthy did not pre-judge the hero of this post and recognized the potential in the former moundsman.  In this dimension, Lefty broke camp with the Cubs in 1926 and led the squad to a World Series victory in 1929.  In this plane, this 1992 Conlon Collection baseball card doesn't look like this:

It looks like this:

And I bet that Lefty would have totally nailed the Catalina f*cking Wine Mixer too!