Monday, April 30, 2018

All We Need is Just a Little Patience

What's this Lou Brock autograph doing here?  You'll know in good time, young grasshopper.

A few turns of the calendar ago, during my first blogging year, I picked up a random pack of 2013 Archives from the discount bin of the local Target.  It was totally an impulse purchase (that's why the card section is always by the check out, isn't it?) made just to satisfy a sudden pack-ripping urge and all I was hoping for was a Cub or two for my troubles.  Little did I know, that scratched itch would lead to the greatest pull of my card collecting career, to date.

Nestled inside that clearanced Archives was a redemption card for a Heavy Metal Autographs insert... and not just any aging rock star either - it was the famously eccentric and reclusive, Axl Rose!  Luckily, the notable diva eventually got around to signing these bad boys and I received mine in the mail just a few months later.

As a former radio station intern, disc jockey, station manager, program director and music nut, this random and rare pull blended two of my biggest interests in life - baseball cards and classic rock.  Lord knows that Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City, November Rain, Used to Love Her, etc. were often blasted loud and proud from my college dormitory.  Furthermore, Sweet Child O'Mine was a key inclusion on my wife and I's wedding playlist and Slash is still one of my favorite concerts attended in my entire life.  Needless to say, it was quite the thrill to nonchalantly end up with the John Hancock of the Guns N' Roses front-man.

As the years rolled by, this card remained a pillar of my otherwise Cub-centric collection; I didn't think there was anyway that Axl would ever hope the Nightrain out of my collection.  Then, just last week, Gavin from Baseball Card Breakdown came at me with a trade offer that brought me to my shun-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-knees, knees!

Apparently, this is a card that Gavin has secretly admired from afar, biding his time and building his trade coffers.  It took three and a half years, but all he needed was just a little patience - the trade offer that came through was one that I simply could not live and let die!

The keystone of this enticing package was the EXTRA, un-circulated Hank Aaron autograph that Gavin had happened into:

Setting aside the fact that he just happened to have an extra Hammerin' Hank laying around, Gavin has long been working on the acquiring the full 2004 Topps Retired checklist; thus, it would make sense that he should have some doubles from the product.  While I'm not a Braves collector, there's no way I'm turning down the opportunity to own the signature of the game's greatest slugger... one of the top five or so greatest to ever don a uniform!

However, there was more to the package of enticement than just that shiny, jet-black, inscription.

Might as well toss in another un-circulated, Hall of Fame signature into the mix, this one of the Cubs variety, as first seen at the top of this post.  Lou Brock may have earned his fame in St. Louis, but he started out in the Windy City, as this 2005 Topps Retired hit will attest.  Unlike this trade with Gavin, that was a damn stupid, infamous transaction.

To be honest, I didn't realize that this upper echelon base thief even had a cert auto in Cubbie Blue - what a pleasant surprise!  I must admit, I'm tempted to bust this bad boy out of it's seal so that I can include Lou's ink in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection... but, I think I'll hold off and keep it encapsulated... for now.

From the Hall of Fame to the Hall of Very Good, we have yet ANOTHER notarized piece of cardboard, courtesy of Dave Kingman.  The prodigious slugger appeared in Panini's Notable Nicknames, part of their National Treasures brand, as a member of the "Chicago Baseball Club" and included his moniker of "Kong" in his ink.  That fact, combined with the gloriously hideous, powder blue, pajama top uniforms makes up for the fact that this bad boy (numbered /99) is unlicensed.

I tell you what though, when I first held this in my hand, I was surprised to see how thick these cards are... Kingman might even be able to blast a ball onto Kenmore with one of these in place of bat!

Instead of being slipped into my CATRC to represent "Kong," this piece will be displayed prominently on my computer desk... it's way too hefty for a traditional, nine-pocket page.

Gavin also tossed in a football signature as a surprise, something that my Bears All-Time Roster Collection is sorely lacking.  David Ball never played in a regular season game for the Monsters of the Midway, but that doesn't mean I will love this 2007 Donruss Classics hit any less.

That did it for the autographed quotient, but this "one in a million" trade package  still had plenty of more "fun and games" to play:

Gavin knew that Mark Grace was one of, if not, my favorite player from my childhood days.  Thus, he also knew that this double relic from 2005 Donruss Diamond Kings would pique my interest.  While I have a Gracie autograph, I do not have any relics of the hit leader of the 90's in my possession.  Numbered out of 25, this green and blue beauty with a jersey swatch and bat chip will also accompany "Kong" on my computer desk, for all to see!

Then, Gavin shifted his focus from mega mojo hits that would certainly catch my fancy to targeting specific inclusions on my want-list.  His "appetite for destruction" knocked out two names for my CATRC, including one that I'd been chasing for many moons:

Minor league singles are a pain in the butt to find and oftentimes egregiously over-priced on the secondhand market.  Thanks to that fact, this pair of short-term Cubbies have successfully dodged me for a while, but Gavin finally tracked them down for me!

Taylor Davis has an MLB card now (2018 Topps Heritage), but when this viral-video sensation got a September call-up last year, only MiLB team-issued cards existed for him.  However, since that Heritage single is shared with two other Cubs rookies, I think I still prefer this 2016 Iowa Cubs issue.  Gavin won this stare down!

Meanwhile, Mike Sember snuck into just 12 Major League games in 1977 and 78, posting a .375 OBP while playing all around the infield.  Unfortunately, the nearby Hammond, IN native never got an extended look in the Bigs and was released to the Blue Jays, where he played out his days as an active player in their farm system in '79.

Sember during his blink and you missed it Cubs tenure.

This 1979 TCMA single from that latter stint was the only time the infielder was immortalized on cardboard, making it a major need for my all-encompassing CATRC binder.  I've been chasing it since before I even began Wrigley Roster Jenga and I let out an audible gasp when Gavin dangled this pain in my butt in front of me.

Then, as if all of that wasn't enough, Gavin tossed in another pair of fun surprises to really seal the deal:

To wrap everything up, Gavin included a pair of Slammin' Sammy Sosas as a punctuation mark.  The 2004 Donruss Power Alley insert is numbered out of /2500 and the Power Deck CD-ROM immediately jumps to the top of my favorite oddballs of all-time list.  That said, it is entirely useless to me, as my home computer doesn't have a working disc drive - womp, womp.  Is there anything more late-90's that turning a baseball card into a mini CD?  Now, if I could just track down copies of Sammy's 1998 and 1999 "talking" Star Cards, issued by ProTalk and Fanatics...

No "lies" - it's obvious that Gavin wanted this Axl Rose autograph with the burning passion of a thousand suns and who was I to stand in the way of his acquiring a signature he so desperately desired?  With the compensation being more than fair, I quickly agreed to this mega-trade and I have no regrets about doing so.  The Axl Rose is a phenomenal card, but Gavin wanted it more and it fit in better with his collection anyway.  I am just as thrilled to have the bounty that Axl's new owner sent my way!

Thank you for the trade, Gavin - I hope you enjoy that card a lot more than I enjoyed Chinese Democracy!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Green With Envy

Working in the IT department of a school district has it's perks - the hours are consistent, I get to be a track coach, I can have summers off if I choose to, the kids think I'm some sort of technological wizard/superhero, etc.  I honestly love the environment that I work in and I'm quite happy with my employment situation.

Furthermore, another unexpected benefit to working with kids is that sometimes we bring in pretty cool guest speakers and special visitors from the sports world - y'know, because that's what the kids are into.  For instance, both X-Games star, Matt Wilhelm, and, Bears mascot, Staley the Bear, have been brought over to take part in anti-bullying assemblies.  Additionally, in the past, local hero Dwyane Wade came back to his old stomping grounds to say hello.  As a giant man child, I must admit, I'm not disappointed to be tasked with taking the photographs of these particular events.

Last week, another local icon from the sporting world made their way to our school district.  Unfortunately for me, this particular visit was scheduled for a different building and I was not able to take in the festivities... womp, womp.

The green, dinosaur-like creature known as Southpaw (or simply White Sox Mascot, according to Topps), reared his furry head.  The longtime mascot of the South Siders ventured down I-294 to visit one of our elementary schools as reward for a group of notably hardworking students.  While I may be a blue-blooded Cubs fan, I hold no ill-will towards our neighboring ball club and it's hard not to smile when seeing the faces of school children light up at the sight of such a creature.  Also, there's another reason why this appearance caught my attention.  If you notice in the above photograph, captured by a different member of our IT department, the mascot is holding something in his hand (paw?):

That something was packs of baseball cards!

Thankfully, while I do not work at that particular building, I have a few connections that do... one of which happens to be my secretarial mother.  She knows that I still fervently collect baseball cards and is always looking out for her first born son; thus, when she was gifted with a handful of cello packs from the visiting Southpaw, she pocketed them for me.  Ain't she great?

These packs contain a small sampling of cards from Topps Series One, although I know all we care about is Bowman and Ohtani right now.  I also found it rather amusing that we have the current face of the Cubs franchise, Anthony Rizzo, as the face card in one of these plastic pouches.  I wouldn't have been surprised if the White Sox mascot tossed that particular pack in the trash, given his allegiances!

Each packet contains four cards from Topps' Flagship product and one of the above advertisement cards.  In case you weren't already aware, there's something called Topps Now which serves as some sort of in-season, living set which documents what's going on in baseball as it happens.  This idea sounds like it has some potential, I wonder how it will do...  Additionally, it looks as though we already have a date announced for the now annual National Baseball Card Day - mark your calendars, folks!

I seem to recall that there's somebody on the blogosphere who collects these adverts and contest cards... if that person happens to be reading this, these may be of interest to you.

Anyway, on to the main attraction, the free cards:

The pitcher formerly known as Felipe Rivero (now Vazquez) leads off the first pack, followed by the anti-Ricky Bobby in Jackson Stephens (a man with two last names).  For good measure, I also found a fantastic action shot of Keon Broxton - just as the Cubbies were completing an exhilarating four-game sweep over his Brew Crew - and Dodger hurler, Alex Wood.

Nothing too exciting, but Keon is definitely a highlight with his circus catch.  On to pack two:

This packet also featured a Pirate on top in Gregory Polanco, followed by the second-best third baseman in the National League in Nolan Arenado, who lead the circuit in doubles in 2017.  Like the first package, we also get a phenomenal action shot of a divisional rival, this time in the form of Jedd Gyorko, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the view from second base.  Bonus points for the Cubbie cameos - I think that's Rene Rivera behind the dish, who will likely never have a proper Cubs card.  Rounding out pack two is another Cubs connection in former Chicago draft pick, Ricky Nolasco - perfect for my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder.

Again, nothing super special, but I did get a nice action shot out of the rip.  Finally, here's pack number three:

Of course, I saved the best for last with the Anthony Rizzo pack - I am a Cubs homer, after all.  And, stop me if you've heard this before, but the next two cards in the cello wrapper were a League Leader subset and an above-average action shot.  The Carlos Gonzalez could have been a true horizontal hero were we able to see this fly ball that he tracked headlong.  "Wrapping" up this South Paw experience was Royals hurler, Danny Duffy.

Overall, the rip was rather "meh."  However, free cards are free cards and it sure was fun to rip through these gifts.  Also, I can't help but chuckle at the fact that these promo packs were given away by the White Sox mascot and the only Chicago card to be found in the bunch was that of a Cub.  I guess that's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes, eh?

In the end, while I am a die-hard Cubs fan, I was a bit disappointed that South Paw didn't visit my students; but, the cardboard handout provided from the green guy, by way of my mother, sure did assuage the FOMO.  That being said, if Clark the Cub and his invisible pantaloons ever visit the district, he darn well better be making his way to my school... for the kiddies' sake of course...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Where Have You Gone, Gene Krug? An Update!

In case you haven't been following Wrigley Roster Jenga since the early days, please allow me to explain what I am rambling on about.  A little more than a month into my blogging career, I explored the topic of a relatively obscure Major Leaguer, who had briefly suited up with the Cubs in 1981, by the name of Gene Krug.  Early that spring, the prospect saw action in seven contests, exclusively as a pinch-hitter, getting two hits and walk in six trips to the plate.   Despite that .500 OBP, Krug was soon demoted back to the minors, permanently icing his proverbial cuppacoffee.  It's a tale as old as the game itself.

What I found odd about this whole situation was the lack of information about this player and, more in step with this blog, the lack of a cardboard footprint.  You see, by 1981, baseball cards were becoming a big business.  There were three companies producing Major League Baseball trading cards, while TCMA and friends were spitting sets out for minor league clubs up and down the ladder.  In short, there were plenty of cards being pumped into the market

Despite this foreshadowing of the junk wax era to come, Mr. Krug never appeared on a baseball card during his five-year professional career.  Not a single one.  Not a regional issue, not an obscure oddball, not a competitor trying to get a leg up on Topps... nothing whatsoever.  Heck, even his Baseball Reference profile features this image:

As a collector who has set out to try and acquire one card of every, single man to suit up for a franchise who's history dates back to the Reconstruction Era, this situation is a common occurrence in my pursuit.  However, I would expect this of a guy who had played in the silent movie era or during the World War II resource shortage, or during the time where Topps was literally the only game in town... not a guy who took the field in the 1980's.  Granted his Major League career was tragically short, but he is the only former Cub to lack ANY such representation since the decade of Reagan, the Brat Pack, and hair metal began.  What gives?

As you may have seen with my dogged determination to learn more about the mysterious Tom Walsh, I have a certain fascination with the unknown.  In a desperate plea, I took to the blogosphere, shouting out into the void, "where have you gone, Gene Krug?"  My long-shot hope was that I would either be able to find someone to politely correct and inform me that Krug did in fact appear on a card, or that they could forward me some information so that I might get his John Hancock on a signature card via TTM. After all, while not as appealing, the latter option would still be better than nothing.

But, seeing the blog was still in it's infancy, the post didn't generate many clicks and nothing came of it. Later that fall, I discovered that the Rookies App was a thing and, utilizing the only baseball image to appear when searching "Gene Krug" on Google, I whipped up a custom card of our hero on one of the application's pre-made templates.  Unfortunately, that image was black and white and showed Krug in his AAA Wichita Aeros threads instead of blue pinstripes.

Again, though not ideal, it was better than nothing.  And here is where the story or ended... or at least I thought it did.

Fast forward to last week, that long-forgotten post finally did what I hoped it would.  I received an out of the blue message from a young man who had the answer to my four-year old question!  The answer is, like America in the mid-19th century, Gene Krug headed west - Colorado, to be specific.

As it turns out, the person who contacted me, Brandon, is a high school baseball player in the Rocky Mountain State and his JV coach just so happens to be - you guessed it - Gene Krug!  I guess Brandon just happened to come across my ramblings while Googling his coach's name and took it upon himself to enlighten me.  Better still, he offered to put me in touch with his skipper and even ask him to sign a card for me.  It's a damn good thing that the guy who eventually found my post happened to be so generous!

However, there was one problem - I never purchased those signature cards and I only had one copy of that Rookies App custom.  Luckily, in the years since my initial foray into blogging, I've gained access to quality photo-editing and design software and my studies in college included graphic design.  Thus, I took it upon myself to whip up a card that never was, but should have been.

What you see here is Gene Krug via 1981 Topps, the year that he made the Show.  First, I re-created the fairly basic design and borrowed the cartoon hat and baseball logo from a high-res scan of an original.  Then, I set about the much more difficult task of colorizing that original Aeros photograph and converting those duds to the proper uniform... I mean, nothing against Wichita (Jack White seems pretty excited by going there), but a Major League card deserves Major League threads.  I ended up choosing the gloriously odd "pajama" uniforms because they just scream early 80's and I came across a usable sample.  After several hours, I ended up with the above custom and I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome.  It at least looks just as passable as any of your average airbrushing jobs of that time period!

Of course, with such an important task at hand, I did not half-ass this work; if a Major Leaguer is going to see my work, he's going to see my best work.  I made sure to whip up a proper back for the cards I would be sending Mr. Krug, as well:

However, when it came time to print this out, I had to ditch the faux-cardboard background.  While it fits the aesthetic, it's going to make printing and trimming an absolute nightmare.  Ideally, I would use a paper of similar coloring and tone, but my budget is quite limited.  Still, I'd day it apes the original quite effectively!

This truly was a joy to put together - how do you think it turned out?  Please feel free to make your opinion known in the comment section below.


As of this morning, my hot off the "presses" custom cards are in the mail, on their way to the land of the Stanley Hotel and legal weed, along with a letter introducing myself and explaining my project.  Fingers crossed that they cross the Rocky Mountains quickly and safely on their way to to my new pen pal.  Also, here's hoping that Mr. Krug gets a kick out of them and is willing to scribble his name on one of them for me and my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

If this exchange proves to be successful, this will be the fourth successful TTM in my history of collecting.  In the past, I'd never felt motivated to do the leg work required for TTM's; however, as my CATRC journey gets to the nitty gritty, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to fill that gap.  Krug is not the first person whom I took up the mantle of creating their "rookie" baseball card.  Although, the others all played in the majors many years before Krug, but I digress. 

These cameo Cubs from decades previous also lacked any presence on collectible cardboard, but were noted for their willingness to sign through the mail.  So, like with Gene, I took up the mantle and filled the vacuum with my creations* and sent them off.  The way I look at it, a custom card is one thing, but a custom card with a genuine signature adds some authenticity to the item.  Will Gene Krug be the next successful chapter in this slowly burgeoning project?  Only time will tell, but I feel quite confident with having Brandon on my side.

Like I said, the cards are in the mail and the gears are turning.  Be sure to stay tuned to Wrigley Roster Jenga for updates; I'm sure that you readers are sitting on the edge of your seat.

Well, the anticipation is killing me, anyway!


* In the case of Tony Balsamo, I took the lazy route and borrowed an already existing, card-like rendering off of the internet   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Monday, April 23, 2018

Cub Debuts Come in Pairs

The Cubs have been dinged up quite a bit this year - we're not reaching disaster levels, but let's just say that the trainer's room has been quite busy in the season's early going.  So far, Anthony Rizzo's back, has already landed him on the disabled list once, further hampering an already inconsistent club and necessitating the call-up of journeyman, Efren Navarro.  Furthermore, over the weekend, a couple of additional injuries resulted in another pair of roster moves - Ben Zobrist's back has been barking and apparently Eddie Butler's hamstring has been tight.  Going into a series in Colorado with a short pitching staff or bench is never a good idea, so both were immediately transferred to the DL, although all signs point to minor issues.

Although I have a large stockpile of cards featuring Cubs prospects and recent minor league signings - set aside and ready to move into the CATRC -  the roster moves of 2018 have thwarted my best efforts at being prepared.  As with the Navarro move, both names called up to the Major League Cubs this weekend are entirely unrepresented in my collection - womp, womp

However, as shown off in my post about Navarro, I recently created a fully customizable Topps Now template, which I fully intend to use to create "cards" of these players in order to temporarily fill these newly opened gaps.

Utilityman, David Bote, went from organizational filler (18th rd, 2012 draft) to bonafide Major League prospect in the span of two years.  When Zobrist went on the disabled list, the only infielder on the 40-man available was Bote, who came up and promptly doubled in his maiden MLB plate appearance.  If that wasn't storybook enough for you, the young man just so happens to hail from the Rocky Mountain state and much of his family was in attendance for his bang-up debut.  Unfortunately, that was about the only highlight in what was the Cubs' only loss in that series, but those good vibes were hard to shake.

Not only is Bote completely absent from my collection, outside of minor league team issues, he is entirely unrepresented in the baseball card world.  As I alluded to, much of his professional career has been spent as an org guy - it wasn't until a breakout 2016 and a outstanding Fall League last year that Bote caught the attention of prospectors.  Coincidentally, his mainstream cardboard debut will occur in the upcoming Bowman checklist - how timely!

Now, Bote wasn't the only player to make his Cubs debut over the weekend; in fact, he wasn't even the first to be called-up.  That honor goes to the son of former Red Sox manager, John Farrell:

Luke Farrell rode the waiver-wire roller coaster over the winter before eventually clearing and being assigned to the AAA Iowa Cubs to start 2018.  Seen as intriguing starting pitching depth by Theo and crew, Luke's presence was needed far earlier than anticipated when the heavily-used Eddie Butler's hammy started barking.  Going into a series at Coor's Field without a long reliever would be a fool's errand, so the Cubs called upon their farm club's freshest starter, who just so happened to be Farrell.

The pitcher also made his debut in the same tilt as Bote, twirling a perfect inning with two strikeouts in the loss.  Despite his excellent showing, Getty Images apparently turned off their cameras by the time Farrell made his way onto the field; so, I was forced to pilfer an image from Spring Training for this custom Now single.

Unlike Bote, Farrell had some hype after his drafting and came with a marketable and familiar family tree.  As such, the moundsman has snuck into a couple of mainstream products - 2013 Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks and 2013 Panini Elite Extra Edition (auto).  They're not particularly attractive cards, but they'll get the job done for now.

So, if anyone has one of these super-duper shiny Farrell cards sitting in their trade stacks, I'd love to take them off of your hands!  Furthermore, if anyone pulls a Bote when they bust their Bowman orders on Wednesday, again, I'd be happy to swap.  In the interim, I am glad that I have these Now customs on hand.  I suppose I will continue to pump these out as other players make their North Side debuts throughout 2018 - there's bound to be more, after all.

Welcome to Chicago, David Bote and Luke Farrell!

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Today, another top prospect is graduating to the major leagues - Gleyber Torres is set to make his debut today and take over the second base position.  Accordingly, Yankee fans everywhere are rejoicing.  However, out in some alternative universe, it is Cubs fans that are celebrating this long anticipated roster move.  After all, the twenty-one year old middle infielder initially signed with the Cubs as an international free agent in 2013, for a $1.7 million signing bonus out of Venezuela and spent the next two and half years as the club's top prospect.

Then, in the lead up to their historic World Series run in 2016, it became apparent that the curse-busting club was one closer short of a complete roster.  A deal with the Evil Empire and the devil himself was consummated, swapping the long-term piece for a short-term,     in Aroldis Chapman.  You know the rest of the story - the Cubs rode Chapman's arm hard throughout the playoffs and (despite his hiccup with Rajai Davis in Game 7) if not for his presence, we might be talking about a 111-year drought for the Lovable Losers.

Setting all of those extenuating factors aside, would I rather have Torres than Chapman?  Absolutely, 100x yes!  Setting aside the fact that Torres has never repeatedly fired a gun into his garage and  scarred his loved one for life, Gleyber will be an all-around talent for years to come, while Aroldis was a Cub for a scant three months.  However, life does not occur in a vacuum (for that, my cats are quite thankful).  I have to keep reminding myself that the 2016 World Series Championship was absolutely worth it and I wouldn't dare to meddle with anything that might affect it's happening.

Coincidentally, another Yankee prospect with Cubs ties recently made his Major League debut, as well.  In fact, he was another prospect that was sacrificed at the altar of Brian Cashman in the name of winning October baseball games - Billy McKinney also swapped unis in the Torres/Chapman trade that summer.  At least Billy got to play at Wrigley Field as part of the Under Armor All-American Game before he was sent off to the Big Apple.

Shortly after the season began, the outfielder was called up to replace the injured Aaron Hicks, then promptly hurt himself while crashing into a wall just two games into his MLB career. Currently, he resides on the disabled list.

Anyway, the reason that I bring all of this up is that I'm just a tad bit jealous that these former Cubs prospects are making the ultimate ascent for a different club.  I truly wish I could be adding these cards to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, as we Cubs fans dreamed on their future for years.  Instead, they'll be sliding into my Coulda Been a Cub binder, which is made up of players whose rights were owned by Chicago, by never played in an MLB game for the team.

Also, also joining this Yankee pair is Christian Villanueva, whose turning the city of San Diego upside down in the early going of 2018.

Acquired as the second half of the Kyle Hendricks/Ryan Dempster trade, Villanueva eventually came to be blocked by a guy named Kris Bryant.  A broken leg suffered in the spring of 2016 further hindered his chances and Christian was allowed to walk as a free agent at the end of the year.  Signed by the Padres, he found a much clearer path to the Bigs and has not looked back since debuting at the tail end of last year.  In just 30 games, the 27-year old has posted an eye-popping .344/.410/.733 slash line with 10 home runs for the Friars.  Wowzer!

Again, I'm a little bummed that Christian is doing this for the Cubs and doesn't qualify for my CATRC; however, this is a first world problem if I've ever seen one.  Good for Christian for seizing his long awaited opportunity.

The moral of this story, which is illustrated by these three recent ascensions, is that I just wish that every Cubs prospect could make the majors in a Cubs uniform and then be considered a Cub forever.  I am self-aware enough to realize that this is a completely irrational and impossible wish, but nevertheless, that latent desire is there.  I am far too attached to prospects for my own good.

With that being acknowledged, I wish nothing but the best for Torres, McKinney, Villanueva, etc.  I truly do hope that they play for twenty years and make a case for Cooperstown.  And, hey, if they want to return to Chicago at some point during their long careers, that would be okay with me too...

Happy Gleyber Day, Yankee fans!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Blog Bat Around: My All-Autograph Team

This morning I was straining my brain, trying to come up with something to write about on the blog.  It's been a couple of days since I've banged out a post because the creative juices just have not been flowing lately.  Inspiration is a fickle mistress.  Then, Zippy Zappy, of Torren' Up Cards fame, zipped into my reading list with his very first Blog Bat Around topic and - boy oh boy - was it a good one.  This prompt obviously could not have come at a better time for me and as soon as I finished reading his kick-off post, I immediately started drafting my take on the topic.

That topic, by the way, is creating a personal "all-autograph team."

For those that are familiar with Zippy Zappy's writings (and if you're not, you should be), this point of inspiration shouldn't come as much of a surprise.  After all, the Internet's preeminent Luis Torrens collector may very well be the TTM king of the blogosphere.  With that in mind, the starting lineup that Zip created from his immense stash of autographed baseball cards was deep and talented; but, I did my best to create one of my own that could compete.  Full disclosure - my take is entirely based around the Cubs because, y'know...

The parameters include starting eight position players and the starting pitcher, plus two relievers, a DH/PH and a closer.  Furthermore, this roster can be constructed only with players of whom the collector possesses a John Hancock, be it on a trading card or any other piece of memorabilia.  With the guidelines set, I'd like to introduce you to my personal "All-Autograph Team:"

C - Randy Hundley

Honorable Mention(s) - Joe Girardi, Jeff Reed, Josh Paul, Robert Machado, Danny Breeden

I still don't know much about this Northwest Herald/Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce oddball that I found at a collector's convention in Kankakee a couple of years back; however, I do know that I could never pass up a five-dollar auto from "Iron Man" Randy Hundley.  The Cubs' signal caller caught 149 games or more for four straight years in the late-60's and was an All-Star with the infamous 1969 Cubs squad.

1B - Mark Grace

Honorable Mention(s) - None

"Amazing Grace," the hit-king of the 1990's was also a whiz with the glove, earning him three Gold Glove and All-Star selections.  That's a pretty tough resume to beat by itself, adding in the fact that "Gracie" happened to have been my favorite player growing up.  Therefore, this 2016 Archives pull was making this lineup no matter what.

2B - Todd Walker

Honorable Mention(s) - Cy Block, Eric Patterson, Bret Barberie, Zeke DeVoss

Okay - second base was obviously a weak link.  Of the four second basemen to have signatures in my binders, Todd Walker was the clear standout, with only Bret Barberie having had a drink stronger than a cuppacoffee.  Walker served as an above average, offensive keystone-minder for a few seasons with the disappointing, Dusty Baker-led teams of the mid-00's.  Plus, the red and blue design of this repack-pull reminds me of the iconic Wrigley Marquee.  That'll do, even if his penmanship is lacking.

SS - Billy Jurges

Honorable Mention(s) - Cody Ransom, Darryl Robertson

Full disclaimer - I can't be 100% sure that this signature is authentic.  I found it stashed in a discount box at one of my LCS for that very reason, though I was more than willing to take the risk.  Billy Jurges was still alive when this set came out and the handwriting looks similar to other known copies of his mark, but it's not authenticated.  Anyway, the Cubs shortstop might be most famous for providing some of the inspiration for Roy Hobbs, after being shot by a jilted lover; but, he was also a key contributor to three pennant-winners for the Northsiders in the 1930's.

3B - Ron Santo

Honorable Mention(s) - Kevin Orie, Brendan Harris

The first Hall of Famer on this lineup card and my absolute favorite professional athlete of all-time.  I don't think that the most underrated third baseman of all-time really needs an introduction at this point, but Ronnie was the bleeding heart and soul of the franchise, on the field and in the booth, for decades.  My most treasured piece of baseball ephemera was a generous gift from my health teacher in high school, who had a connection in Arizona and knew I was a huge Cubs fan.  Favorite teacher forever!

OF - Rafael Palmerio
OF - Jason Heyward
OF - Bill Buckner

Honorable Mention(s) - Austin Jackson, Felix Pie, Brett Jackson, Paul Schramka

As you can see, I had to get a little creative with the outfield.  Mark Grace nudged out Bill Buckner at first, but there was no way I was leaving this surprise gift from Bob Walk the Plank on the bench.  Buck's days chasing fly balls might have been mostly over by the time he blew into the Windy City, but he did play 12 games in right field for the 1980 Cubs.  Good enough for me!

Meanwhile, Raffy Palmeiro might have spent the great majority of his career at first base and DH; but, when he was coming up in the Cubs chain, Grace's presence shunted him into left field.  Again, I'll take any excuse to get his 500 homer/3,000 hit bat into the starting nine.  Thanks again, Dennis!

Last, but not least, Jason Heyward might not have lived up to expectations in Chicago, but he's still a World Champion and, apparently, a phenomenal motivational speaker.  Not to mention, with Raffy and Buck manning the corners, J-Hey's vacuum of a glove will be desperately needed in center.  Would you believe this ink came as a consolation prize from Collecting Cutch?

DH/PH - Rock Shoulders

Honorable Mention(s) - None

I suppose I could have bumped one of my slow-footed outfielders to the DH spot, but the drop-off after those three was drastic.  Plus, I'll take any excuse to get one of the best names in minor league baseball history into the fold!  With a name like Rock Shoulders, it should come as no surprise that this former Cubs prospect thrice posted double-digit home run totals in the bushes  He may not have made the ultimate ascent; however, he did make it into my lineup and collection, courtesy of P-Town Tom.

And now, with the offense set, let's take a look at the pitching staff.  It's a good one, if I do say so myself:

SP - Fergie Jenkins

Honorable Mention(s) - Mark Prior, Guy Bush, Steve Trout, Rich Hill, Angel Guzman, Jerome Williams, Dave Swartzbaugh

I could patch together a quality starting rotation out of my autograph collection and Ferguson Jenkins would unquestionably be my ace.  The 300 game winner is the second Hall of Famer on my roster and is the first autograph on this list to have been obtained in person.  I had the incredible luck of running into the man himself at the local shopping mall, making an appearance (with a partner) to promote Cubs charities.

LHP - Mitch Williams
RHP - Carl Edwards, Jr.

Honorable Mention(s) - Bob Howry, Mike Remlinger, Paul Assenmacher, Matt Karchner, Larry Casian, Bob Patterson, Neil Ramirez, Corey Black, Newt Kimball, Tony Balsamo, Footer Johnson, John Pyecha, Dick Burwell, Seth Frankoff, Lendy Castillo, Kennie Steenstra,

As you can see, I basically have an entire side-collection relievers to choose from.  In the end, I decided to go with one lefty and one righty - Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams and the man formerly known as CJ Edwards.  Things could get a little dicey at the end of games due to their noted control problems; however, their power arms are just too tempting to pass over.  Also, in case you were wondering, Mitch was a Listia find while that Carls Jr. beauty was another five-buck purchase from the same convention as my Randy Hundley oddity.

Finally, closing out wins for my all-autograph team will be:

CL - Lee Smith

Honorable Mention(s) - Mike Montgomery

Lee Smith SHOULD BE the third Hall of Famer on my roster.  For many years, Lee was the premier closer in the National League and, for many years, held the all-time saves record.  How he continues to be passed up by Hall of Fame voters while Sutter, Fingers, Hoffman, etc. get the call is beyond me.  Anyway, this dominating closer was Fergie's partner at the Orland Park mall function I alluded to earlier.  For a generous donation to both charities, I received autographs from both legendary Cubs hurlers.  I'll take that opportunity every time!

As far as honorable mentions go, how could I not give a shout out to the man who closed out the Cubs' first World Series title in 108 years?  MiMo might not really be a closer, but he'll always be remembered as one in Chicago!

So, there you have it - my all-autograph team.  I feel pretty confident that my squad would make for some stiff competition, courtesy of it's offensive potential and pitching staff.  Of course, that outfield defense might be a bit problematic.  At any rate, I think I did surprisingly well for a decidedly low-budget collector who rarely seeks out autographs! 

What say you?  I cannot wait to see what lineups the rest of you can generate.  I highly encourage you all to participate in Zippy Zappy's excellent Blog Bat Around debut.  It made for quite the fun little creative exercise. 

In conclusion, I think it's time for me to "sign" off.  I mean obviously my brain is tired... I just made that stupid pun.  Play me out, aptly-named, 80's hair metal band...