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!


  1. Great post. Sacramento Solons...great name

  2. Great post! Just reading and thinking about California baseball makes me feel a lot warmer right now. I'm about done with this winter as well.

  3. Very informative post, very cool to learn about old school west coast baseball.

    Sidenote, have sex in the snow if your partner somehow agrees, you'll be a changed person :P.

  4. My students were complaining about the cold and rainy weather this morning, so I reminded them of the mudslides in Southern California and the snow blanketing the East Coast. I truly hope you find a way to keep warm. I love the snow when it comes to snowboarding, but I always hated shoveling it and having to drive in it.

  5. Tremendous post, as usual! I never get tired of seeing PCL stuff on the blogs.