Sunday, August 26, 2018

Well, I Tri'ed

Every year, the school district that I work for partners up with a local developmental needs services & support organisation in order to compete in the annual Chicago Triathlon.  Taking part in the Super Sprint, we get together to full out relay rosters so that these students can enrich themselves in a team-building, physical activity and have some fun outside in doing so.  In 2017, I was approached to join this program by a member of the school district staff because they knew I spent my high school and college years competing in cross country and track.  Knowing the motivation, I couldn't say no to this request.  However, the invitation came with a twist - instead of legging out the 1.5 mile portion of the triathlon relay, I would be taking to the water in a swim just under a quarter mile.

Here's the kicker, I can't swim.

Well, I can swim... but only enough to prevent myself from drowning.  While that seems like a recipe for disaster, I was assured that the course stayed close enough to the shoreline that Lake Michigan was barely up to my waist.  Therefore, I was able to swim/aqua jog for the duration of my leg so that our partners could compete in the biking and running portions.  Plus, it was a fun change of pace from my normal circuit of 5k's and road races with a fun group of people in a non-competitive atmosphere.  All in all, it was a positive experience.

This year, the program again found themselves in need of help and I was again asked to help out.  The event took place yesterday morning and, to put it succinctly, it did not go nearly as well.

This time, we had heavy rains all night leading up to the triathlon.  The tide was higher and the water, which had been waist deep the year previous, was no up to my ears.  While I could fake it the first time, I actually had to swim for it this go 'round since my toes barely scraped the sand.  As I was flailing wildly, all I could think about was how embarrassed I was going to feel after being fished out by the teenage lifeguards on watch.

Thankfully, it did not come to that and I was able to slowly (super slowly) make my way through all 0.23 miles of water.  It wasn't pretty and I was being passed by people leisurely doing the backstroke, but I made it.  But, this experience confirmed what I had been saying for years - I am simply not a swimmer.

Speaking of swimmers...

In order to calm myself as I slowly splashed my way through the course, I tried to think about anything else besides the distance ahead of me.  The first thought that flashed through my mind involved the NASCAR driver that you see above - Scott Wimmer.  Why did this random, not connected to triathlons in anway athlete pop into my panicked brain?  Well, all you have to do is look at Scott's last name and his first initial: S. Wimmer aka "Swimmer."

Scott Wimmer was an up-and-coming talent during the years I dove headfirst into the NASCAR scene.  The Wisconsin native made his name on the local short tracks and the old ASA late model series before signing with Bill Davis Racing (BDR) to compete in the second-tier Busch Series.  Both my father and I simply referred to this potential star of the future as "Swimmer" and this portmanteau amused us way more than it should have.

When I decided to reboot my NASCAR card collection a couple of years ago, I was happy to recover this neon Racing Champions "Swimmer" single from a little-used drawer, making it one of the few originals that survived the purge of racing cards from my binders.

Hailing from his "prospect day" in what is now the Xfinity Series, this mini card originally came paired with a 1:64 diecast model of his 2003 Stacker 2/BDR Chevrolet Monte Carlo.  During the halycon days of my race fan years, I spent tons of my allowance funds on a diecast collection, so my racing card collection was made up mostly of these premium pairings.  As you can tell from the scan of the card back, Racing Champions put far more effort into their cars than they did their cards.  That said, today, that toy car has long since been lost to the sands of time while the corresponding card still represents Scott Wimmer in my All-Time NASCAR driver binder.

Since I no longer have the diecast model, here's an image of the ride that I swiped from the internet:

Man - if you looked at that car without sunglasses, I'm pretty sure you could burn your retinas.  It definitely stood out on the track!

All in all, as I was bobbing up and down in Lake Michigan, I thought about how Scott's racing career was squashed by sponsorship problems.  Despite showing his capability in high-end NASCAR competition, by the time he was promoted the Cup series to replace Ward Burton in the famous Caterpillar car, the once powerful Bill Davis Racing squad was barely staying afloat.  A third place showing in his first Daytona 500 (2004) became his career highlight as the quality of his equipment diminished. "Swimmer" had the same problem when he moved on the Morgan McClure Motorsports, another former top-flight team that was scraping for cash and barely "treading water."  The once heralded prospect became a career journeyman, going back to the Busch ranks, and eventually moving from behind the wheel to the spotter's stand.

Anyway, this is what I was thinking about as I struggled to swim a quarter mile through the cold waters of Lake Michigan yesterday morning - Scott "Swimmer" Wimmer's NASCAR career.  This is how my brain operates.  I guess it worked though, as I was eventually able to make it back to the beach and hand off my timing chip to the biker on my team's roster.  No need to call in the teens!  However, I think it's time for me to officially retire from triathlons... or at least practice my swimming form.  Either way, I now have another full-year to decide on one of these two options.

Thanks for saving me, "Swimmer!"

Friday, August 24, 2018

Belated Buddy

Way back in October, The Lost Collector made contact with MLB agent Joshua Kusnick.  No, TLC isn't thinking of making the jump to the Major Leagues (don't go chasin' that waterfall) - rather, the topic of conversation centered around the 1988 retrospective set of stars from yesteryear, known as Pacific Legends.  You see, Joshua has completed the popular, junk wax-era set and gotten the cards signed by everyone who was alive when the set was released.That's an incredibly impressive feat and I would bet my bottom dollar that having industry connections helps with such an endeavor.

Even still, that's not to say that this collecting milestone was easy - it did still take Mr. Kusnick 29 years to acquire all 171 signed cards, after all.  That's literally as long as I've been alive!

Anyway, TLC conducted an enlightening interview with the collecting agent for his blog (read it here) and shared it that November.  In addition to the Q&A, Josh and TLC also graciously offered up one of the former's duplicate signature cards in a comment raffle.  The specific card being dangled was a tantalizing mystery, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring for good measure.

Then, radio silence.

The Lost Collector ran into some logistical problems that kept him from being able to give the prize away until July.  This is completely understandable, life happens and free baseball cards for strangers on the internet are hardly the first priority.  In that time, I'd almost immediately forgotten about entering this contest because I have the memory of a goldfish with Alzheimer's.  So, imagine my surprise when I saw my name announced last month as the winner of TLC's long-awaited drawing!  Confusion mixed with giddiness makes for quite the strange cocktail. 

Of course,  this summer has been a particularly busy one for me, as well.  Work has been chaotic and the impending start of the school year only makes that worse.  As such, my blog post count has been way down and I have been sitting on my winnings since they arrived in the mail, wrapped in the nightmare-inducing, Sports Illustrated cover above, for several weeks now.  But, I feel like things are finally starting to calm down a little bit and it's about time I get around to showcasing The Lost Collector's graciousness.

So, in summation, that's an interview conducted in October with a prize announced in November that wasn't given away until July or written about until the very end of August, nearly September... nearly a full calendar year.  But, you know what they say, good things are worth the wait!

Anyway, it's actually pretty appropriate that the scary mug of Slammin' Sammy should come with the Pacific Legends prize, as the picture used for that card is also a tad unsettling:

While Pacific would later garner a reputation for gaudy, drug-inspired card designs in the mid-to-late 90's, they were much more laid back and simplistic in their early days, as evidenced by the stately layout you see above.  Additionally, they covered a wide swathe of baseball history in compiling the player checklist, stretching back beyond the days of color photography.  With that in mind, Pacific opted to used colorized black and white photographs throughout, in order to liven up the cards, perhaps foreshadowing the explosions of color to be found on their products a decade later.

Unfortunately, the colorization on many of these pieces make Topps' airbrushers look like Michelangelo.  It looks like somebody used Microsoft Paint to turn poor Buddy Lewis into a comic book character who fell into a vat of acid.  

On the other hand, standing in stark contrast to the unsettling, inhuman image, we have a beautiful flowing, and most importantly, legible signature.  Penned in blue ink, it perfectly compliments the navy bunting which frames Buddy's unnaturally pasty complexion.  This autograph truly saves the card.

I should note that I don't mean to disparage Josh, TLC, or their generosity in my critiquing of this card.  It's a wonderful prize and I'm positively stoked to add it to my collection - however, I feel as though I have to address the oddly-colored elephant in the room.  Sorry if I am coming across as ungrateful!

On that note, speaking of TLC's generosity:


The legendary Yankee blogger was so kind as to enclose an unexpected bonus card as well.  What's better than bright, blue skies, a smiling Mr. Cub, an old school windbreaker, and a variation that I'd never otherwise get my hands on?  Numbered as #384 in the most recent editions of Topps Series 2, this beauty parallels another Cubs shortstop's base card, Addison Russell.  I'll take Ernie over Addy any day of the week, for a cornucopia of reasons!

Meanwhile, another pachyderm that I should probably address is the fact that I honestly had no idea who Buddy Lewis was before I won this card.  As a student our national pastime's history, I feel rather ashamed.  After spending only two seasons in the minor leagues, Lewis became the starting third baseman, at the age of 19, for the original incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1936.  He would go on to make the All-Star team in 1938 and twice earned MVP votes before going off to War in 1941, losing three prime years of his career.

He returned from duty as as a transport pilot in the Air Force to place another four years with the Sens, making another All-Star game in 1947.  Unfortunately a series of leg injuries hampered his effectiveness, cost him the entire 1948 season, and eventually caused him to walk away from the game at just 32 years of age.  Buddy is cited by Bill James as a player who likely lost their shot at the Hall of Fame due to their wartime service. 

 Lewis gets hit by a Yankee pitch  in 1949 (with a young Yogi Berra cameo).  Image courtesy of Getty Images.

After retiring from the game, Buddy shifted his focus to business, pursuing such interests as a bowling alley and a Ford dealership.  Plus, the former AL All-Star became area commissioner for the American Legion and spending his time as sponsor and coach of the Gastonia Post 23 team.  He was elected to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame before his eventual passing in 2011, having lived a full and exciting life, at the age of 94.  This left a 23 year window for Joshua Kusnick to acquire an IP Buddy Lewis John Hancock for his 1988 Pacific Legends autograph project.  I have to wonder, was it acquired in-person?  TTM?  Via trade?  The mind wanders...

What a fun (and laborious) project it would be to acquire a signature from every old-timey baseball player included in that set!  The stories associated, the research required, the connections across history... I love everything about this idea.  I truly am a tad envious of Mr. Kusnick and all of the hard work he put in to complete his daunting project.

Thanks to Josh for offering up this extra for raffle, to The Lost Collector for selflessly giving it away and hosting the contest.  It may have taken a while for all of us to wrap up this saga, but, in my eyes, this prize was truly worth the wait!...

...even if Buddy and Sammy's faces will now haunt my every dream.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wine, Women, and Song

This weekend, my wife and I celebrated our sixth year of being together; we don't ignore our dating anniversary despite having upgraded to marriage a year and a half ago.  We did so the only way we know how - with lots and lots and lots of wine.

Back in January, we joined a wine club through August Hill Winery in Utica, IL, in order to celebrate the other notable anniversary in our lives together.  Utica is a cute, little slice of small town America, located just down the road from Starved Rock State Park and it's "downtown" strip is chock full of places to get a drink.  Being behind several months in our club selections, we decided to make a day of it by picking up our bi-monthly bottles and then celebrating our big day with a few wine tastings, a couple of bonus glasses, AND buying even more bottles of adult grape juice.  By the end of the festivities, we were buzzed at 1:30 in the afternoon and had 10 new bottles of wine sitting in the backseat of our Kia.  Despite all signs to the contrary, I assure you that we are not alcoholics.

However, we did more than just imbibe to celebrate our half-dozen milestone.  Besides being full of wineries, wine-tasting rooms, and hole-in-the wall bars, Utica also has a charming secondhand shop called Clarks Run Antiques.  My wife and I always make sure to stop by this outpost when we blow through town, just as we did on our way to the altar and when we revisited the site to celebrate our one-year.  This trip would be no different.

Thankfully for our wallets, we decided to do the antiquing first because drunk-shopping rarely leads to good decisions.  The place is your standard fare for antique shops - a bunch of independent vendors that rent space within the building and hawk their unwanted, vintage wares.  Old train sets, stamp collections, records, books and magazines, and tchotchkes galore lined the shelves and display cabinets with nary a baseball card in sight.  I've found some good cardboard in this shop before; so, initially, I was a bit disappointed.

Then, something in my still-sober mind clicked - the postcards!

You see, Clarks Run has a huge bin that is stuffed to the gills with souvenir and photographic postcards.  Every time I venture inside, I take some time to flip through a few stacks of these collectible memos in the hopes that I might come across an oddball baseball card or two, maybe a TCMA oddball or something of the sort.

Back in January, during the same trip in which we signed up for the wine club at August Hill, I actually did come across a baseball-themed postcard in the Tupperware tub of missives.  Sadly, after a casual glance, I put it right back in the stack and went about my merry way because... I guess cheapskate me didn't feel like spending a buck.  Plus, on that particular trip, we did the wine tastings first and the shopping second, so.... like I said, bad decisions.  Ever since that day, I've regretted that frugal decision.

The odds were against me ever finding it again in the large and since-shuffled box, seven months further down the road; not to mention the fact that someone could have purchased the thing.  Nevertheless, I pulled up a chair and set about trying to locate the oddity from my fleeting memory.  In an amazing stroke of luck, it didn't even take me ten minutes of flipping to reclaim my lost treasure:

It's a little worse for ware, but this slip of paper looks pretty damn good for being over 100 years old.

I think you fellow card-collectors can see why his particular piece of ephemera has fascinated me from the moment that I laid eyes on it.  Is this an early bit of memorabilia featuring women's baseball?  Where or what is this mysterious "Elmwood" club?  What's the story on "Roth & Langley," printed in the bottom right corner?  Why is this young lady perched on a fence?  What the heck do those pencil markings actually say?  There are so many intriguing questions associated with this piece.

On that latter inquiry, we may never know for sure.  The send of this postcard had some rather sloppy handwriting:

From this chicken scratch, all that I can make out is that someone appears to have taken a trip somewhere and they "will go some where all day..." something, something, "...and baby."  Is there anyone out there on the blogosphere who can make heads or tails of the full message inscribed on the back of my antique market find?

While the meat of the writing might be mostly illegible, luckily, I can clearly make out the rubber stamp slapped over the top by the postal service - "Chicago June 29, 7:30PM 1910 ILL" - as well as the intended recipient's name and address (Mrs. R H Van Matre at 221 Douglas Ave. Freeport, IL).  Wow - this little bit of paper was sent by mail over 108 years ago!  While I can't find any records of the mysterious Mrs. Van Matre via a cursory Google search, I can pull up that address on Maps and see where this lady baseballer was headin':

Sadly, it looks as though the Van Matre residence has since been demolished in favor of public parking.  *Womp, womp*

I'm sure if I were to dive in head first into researching this project, combing local libraries and the public record with a fine toothed comb, I could dig up a little bit of information on the recipient and the plot of land on which they lived.  However, I am much more interested in the postcard itself and the fence-hopping, young woman in uniform showcased on it's front:

So, what's the story here?

In searching for the name Roth & Langley, which appears to be the name of the company which printed this exhibit over a century ago, I've discovered that they were the mastermind's behind several postcard issues during the early half of the 20th century.  Based in New York, it appears as though they printed up a full set of "risque" baseball postcards, circa 1910, which featured "pearl clutching" moments of women throwing themselves at baseball players or suiting up themselves and striking double entendre-ready poses.  Seemingly designated as PC798-10, I found several closed auction listings for lots of these "lewd" photographs via a site called

These screen captures from the 2015 listings appear to show additional, similar cards that sure look to be from the same set - it looks as though we found my long sought after oddball's siblings.

So, while I was hoping that I had found photographic evidence of perhaps an early women's baseball league, a local girls' collegiate or high school nine, or even a rag tag group of lady barnstormers, what I have here appears to be part of the long tradition of sexualizing women (however tame it may be to our eyes today) and sports for the expressed purpose of hawking merch.  Merp.

While I am disappointed that my research indicates that my find is much less exciting to this feminist mind, it is still a captivating piece of Americana.  Not to mention, it was a minor miracle that I was able to re-discover this specific slip of paper in a massive shopkeeper's bin after several months of shoppers likely flipped through later than I originally did.   Plus, no matter what the context of the image, I was still able to add another super vintage baseball card to my collection for the low, low price of a single dollar bill.  It's not everyday one gets the opportunity to do that!  Thus, I still confidently consider this antiquing find a massive success.

After my wife I checked out, in order to celebrate my purchase, I made sure to down plenty of spirits at the winery and the tasting room down the street.  Of course, we were already looking for any excuse to do that!

Anniversaries, antiquing, wine, more wine, and extremely old baseball cards.... God, I love Utica!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Daniel Murphy is a Cub and I Am Not Thrilled

Yesterday afternoon, the Cubs made a trade that I, ostensibly, should be giddy over.  In exchange for a non-ranked, A-ball prospect and a PTBNL, the Chicago National League Ballclub acquired second baseman, Daniel Murphy, from the dumpster fire that is the Washington Nationals, after claiming him on waivers.  Murphy has thrice been an All-Star for both the Nats and the Mets and finished as high as second in league MVP voting (2016), all while regularly making a challenge for the batting title.  Acquired for basically peanuts, due to some injury hiccups and a clubhouse in disarray, Murphy (the ballplayer) makes for stellar addition to any offense.  Especially that of the Cubs.

After all, in the last five (!!!) games, the Cubs have been limited to just a single run per game and all came via a solo home run.  The Northsiders' bats have been maddeningly inconsistent and injuries to infielders Kris Bryant and Addison Russell aren't helping matters.  Thus, on paper, the acquisition of Murphy makes perfect sense.  Yet, despite this seemingly perfect match, I am not thrilled.

Why is that, you ask?  Well, there is a goofy, irrational reason for my distaste for the deal and then there is a reason more grounded in reality.  Please allow me to elaborate, starting with the lighter, meatball thoughts.

In a time before the Cubbies won the World Series, after suffering through a painful rebuild, the young team surprised everyone in baseball by making a playoff run.  Then, the club doubled-down and astounded even the most arduous of doubters by offing the heavily-favored Cardinals in the NLDS and punching their ticket to the NL Championship Series.  Suddenly, they were within reach of a World Series berth for the first time since 1945 and the Windy City was whipped up into a fervor.  I, like many a Cubs rooter, thought that the team was actually going to make good on Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis' prediction in Back to the Future II.

Then, the New York Mets happened. More specifically, Daniel Murphy happened.

While the Cubs' bats did unexpectedly disappear, leading to their eventual four-game sweep at the hands of the Metropolitans, Mr. Murphy seemingly sealed their fate.  The then-unheralded infielder made mince meat of the Chicago pitching staff, posting a video game-esque slash line of .529/.556/1.294 on his way to NLCS MVP honors.  At the time, it seemed like he was swinging a tennis racket while our hurlers were lobbing beach balls... he was truly an unstoppable force and a symbol of our perpetual torment.

Cubs fans of a certain age might equate Murphy's performance to that of "f*cking Steve Garvey" in 1984, when the Padre pulled a similar trick in the NLCS.  Or maybe a comparison is more apt to "Will Clark must die" cries in 1989, when the Giant single-handedly crushed our dreams in the NLDS.   Or, even still, maybe the Diamondback's Stephen Drew and his 16 total bases in the 2007 division series is more equivocal.  At any rate, the point is that these taboo names are equivalent to cuss words throughout the Second City and Daniel Murphy became yet another "he who shall not be named."

Now, one of those Voldemorts is a Cub and that just feels weird.

Realistically, this isn't actually a big deal and I am well-aware of that fact, especially in today's age of player movement.  After all, the bedeviled Jim Edmonds became a Cub and we all got over it pretty quickly.  Had any one of Garvey, Clark, or Drew ended up in the home clubhouse of Wrigley Field later in their career, their narratives would have eventually changed, as well.  In a few weeks, Daniel Murphy in Cubbie Blue won't be such a strange sight.  Of course, the fact that the Cubs won the World Series just a year after the Murphy Show definitely makes that process easier.

Anyway, that's the irrational, sports meatball reason why trading for Murphy gives me pause.  With that out of the way, it's time to delve into the more serious apprehension:  his beliefs.  I warn you now, this is going to be a bit heavy for a baseball card blog.

For those who may not be aware, a few years ago, the then-Met was asked in an interview with NJ Advance Media about whether or not he'd be accepting of a gay teammate.  As part of his response, he stated that he “disagree[s] with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”  There was a little more to his statement and you can read the full piece here, but that quote is extremely troubling, no matter how it's rationalized.

First of all, by stating that he "disagrees," he is implying that being homosexuality is a choice, which is simply not the case.  Who would possibly choose the lifestyle of one of the most historically persecuted segments of the world population, one that faces extreme hate and violence from all over today?  Furthermore, does any heterosexual person remember the day or moment they chose to be straight?  No - you're born the way you are, you like who you like, and there's nothing wrong with consenting adult relationships.  Love is love, people!

Murphy's statement is akin to saying that he theoretically disagrees with a teammate physically being black.  It's daft and it's a thought process that injures the acceptance of gay people as a whole.  Even if Daniel isn't actively striking out against the gay community, it's downright demeaning, backwards and not the kind of thought process I want to associate with my favorite baseball team.  For those saying it's just his beliefs and he has a right to his opinion, these are homophobic beliefs and opinions that propagate hate.  Full stop.

Granted, this interview did take place three years ago and it's been reported elsewhere that Murphy has become somewhat more enlightened since that time after some work with MLB's Ambassador of Inclusion, Billy Bean.  Nevertheless, it's hard for me to believe that he's suddenly made a complete 180 degree turn.  I am going to have a much, much, much, much harder time getting over or around this than his being really good against the Cubs that one time.  Much like when Aroldis Chapman was added to team, to say that I am conflicted is an understatement - I don't think I'll miss Daniel when he becomes a free-agent this winter.

One of the cards you see in this post will dutifully represent Murphy in my Cub All-Time Roster Collection, alongside other problematic players of the past such as Chapman, Milton Bradley, Mel Hall and others.  I can't ignore the fact that he is a Cub, but I don't have to do anything more than that.  Which card will go into the CATRC binder has yet to be decided because I honestly do not care, at this point.  Feel free to offer your opinions, I guess.

To summarize, that is why, despite the fact that he is an excellent addition on paper, I am less than okay with Daniel Murphy moving from Washington, D.C. to Chicago.  I am certain that there are plenty out there reading this who think I am making a mountain out of a molehill or that I should only worry about the play on the field; however, I can't simply ignore this elephant in the room.  That elephant can be a damn destructive force, if left unchecked.

In short, Daniel Murphy is a Cub and I am not thrilled.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Busting Through the Block

So, in case you haven't already noticed, I've been in a bit of a blogging slump.  Inspiration has been running low, motivation has been fleeting, and time has been a bit of a constraint.  Even when I have gotten around to writing, the last few months have seen posts in the single digits.  Without delving too much into my personal life (because, honestly, who cares) my mind has just been elsewhere lately... well, several elsewheres, actually.  As a result, I guess you could say that Wrigley Roster Jenga has been on a bit of a unintended hiatus.

That's a damn shame too, as I have yet to get around to highlighting several generous mail days, including those from P-Town Tom, Korean Cardboard, The Lost Collector, et al.   These acts of kindness deserve their moment in the sun and I promise that I'll get around to showcasing them before the shine has completely worn off.  Sorry guys!

In the meantime, another thing that I've missed in the last few days is a roster move... a roster move that involves a brand new addition to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Seeing as that binder is the bread and butter of my blogging and collecting, I simply cannot let that go unrecognized, lest I anger the wax pack Gods.

Last Friday, in the early hours of the morning, the Cubs signed reliever, Jorge De La Rosa and placed him immediately onto their active roster.  The lefty had recently been designated for assignment and released by the Diamondbacks before winding up on the open market.  The veteran has been in the Majors since 2004, though you might best remember him from his days in the middle of the Colorado Rockies' starting rotation from 2008-16.

As you might expect from someone who has just earned their walking papers, Jorge has been struggling through a rough season.  All told, in 42 appearances out of the Arizona pen, De La Rosa has posted a 4.63 ERA with a 20% home run rate while averaging nearly five walks per nine innings.  With such disappointing results, why then would the Cubs be interested in the former D-Back? 

Well, honestly, it's mostly because he's a southpaw.  With Mike Montgomery spending most of the year in the starting rotation, that has left the Jekyll and Hyde-like Justin Wilson as the only "dependable" lefty in the pen.  Plus, Jorge comes with a Major League track record, little financial investment, and no waiver strings attached.  This is a pure depth move that should help fortify the oft-used bullpen as the Cubs plow through the dog days of summer.

In order to make room on the roster for the free-agent acquisition, the Cubs transferred Yu Darvish to the 60-Day DL (a procedural move - he's already been out that long) and demoted Randy Rosario to AAA.  Randy, aka "the GOAT," is another lefty who has been something of a social media darling and mostly effective when called upon; that said, the rookie has been vastly outperforming his peripherals.  Before the shoe could drop, Theo and Co. went out and grabbed another, more experienced option from the left side.  At any rate, it's all but assured that Rosario will be back by September anyway.

During Saturday night's blowout at the hands of the Washington Nationals, De La Rosa made his Cubs debut at Wrigley Field.  Things got off to a great start too, as he he struck out four men (and walked one) in his 1.1 innings of work.  That'll play - here's hoping that Jorge can keep that up!

Meanwhile, with De La Rosa has officially recording his name in the Cubs' record books, I needed to add him to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection book.  Luckily, with so many years spent near the top of the Colorado rotation, Jorge has been in a steady stream of Topps products in the last decade.  As such, I wasn't surprised to find a couple of his cards in my Rockies trade stacks:

Here we have the 2016 Topps Flagship single which kicked off today's post and Jorge's entry on the 2011 Topps Flagship checklist.   It's not exactly an embarrassment of riches, but at least I have options.  Which of these two cards would you select to represent Jorge De La Rosa in the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?

In the end, I opted for the pasteboard on the left.  While I might have a strong distaste for foil text, the green grass background contrasts nicely with the hurler's dark road uniform.  Plus, I prefer the overall design of 2011 compared to 2016 and the crop job on the photo of the latter leaves a lot to be desired... like, his pitching arm, for example.  Do you agree with my assessment or is my thought process as thick with fog as the corners of the 2016 card?   Please feel free to let me know in the comment section below!

Welcome to Chicago and to the CATRC, Jorge.  Here's hoping that you earn a permanent spot in the Cubs bullpen and thanks for providing me with some needed inspiration to blog on this dreary Monday morning.  Hopefully I can keep this momentum going!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Dealing With The Deadline

The MLB trade deadline is always a big day on my baseball card-collecting calendar.  Of course, since I'm  die-hard Cubs fans, I'm constantly trolling, refreshing Twitter, and listening to *shudder* sports radio, hoping that my club makes a move to bolster their roster and improve their chances at talking home another World Series trophy.  That being said, my fervent fandom isn't the only reason my ears are constantly perked, listening for any rumor that might be floating in the ether - remember, my marquee card collection is entirely roster related.  By the end of the day, the chances of the Cubbies adding another name to their line-up card, and thus another target for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection are rather high.

This year's deadline day was definitely not short on action - big names like Brian Dozier, Chris Archer, Jonathan Schoop, Wilson Ramos, and several others were shipped to contending clubs as the transaction market approached closing time.  Even though the Cubs had already made a pair of high-ish profile moves earlier in the run-up, trading for Jesse Chavez and Cole Hamels, it was generally assumed that they would swing another move to fortify their beleaguered pitching staff before sunset.

The final 12 hours of non-waiver trading saw Theo Epstein's name all over the trade rumor feed.  First, sources reported that the team had traded for Brad Ziegler... then, they didn't.  Next, it was whispered that the Cubs were apparently chasing the former Dark Knight of New York, Matt Harvey.  On top of all that, the persistent talks of the Cubs pulling a blockbuster for a cost-controlled, ace-caliber starter like Jacob DeGrom, Marcus Stroman, or Noah Syndergaard just would not die.  Through it all, I ran my phone battery dead persistently refreshing Twitter, trying to figure just who might blow into the Windy City.

When the dust finally settled, just minutes before the 4:00 pm eastern cut-off, the Cubs did end up making a trade.  Who was it?  Who was going to be added to my CATRC?

While Brandon Kintzler isn't exactly a blue-chip name, this was exactly the kind of move Cubs fans should have been expecting.  An established and reliable, late-inning bullpen arm who came at a minimal cost, with only an A-ball reliever, by the name of Jhon Romero, going the other way.

The former Milwaukee Brewer closer had been on the Cubs' radar last off-season, before eventually inking a one-year, $10 million deal with the Washington Nationals.  Why?  Because the stats say that the righty is an extreme ground ball specialist who doesn't walk many batters.  Considering the North Siders' outstanding infield defense their moundsmen's propensity to issue free passes, his addition makes perfect sense.  It's not a flashy move, but it's the right move.

2011 Topps - [Base] - Gold #574 - Brandon Kintzler /2011 - Courtesy of

Also of note, I learned from the back of his 2011 Topps Series Two card (although I forgot to scan it) is that Brandon was twice drafted in the 40th round, spent time in the independent leagues, and had to toil for seven years in the minors before he was finally afforded a Major League chance.  Since then, he's defied the odds to become a key cog in the bullpens of the Brewers, Twins, Nationals, and - now - the Cubs.  I always find such stories of strife and dedication to be quite endearing.

Unfortunately, I did not have the above 2011 Topps single set aside and ready to be added to my CATRC upon his acquisition... in fact, I didn't have any cardboard whatsoever featuring the hurler, seeing as relievers get so little love from Topps and friends.  Luckily though, since I am still on abbreviated summer work hours, I had time to immediately cruise on over to my LCS and rectify my little issue.  There, with some help from the exceptionally helpful owner, I was able to locate Brandon's rookie card in a stash of 2011 singles.

Of course, I would have felt like a jerk if that spare change purchase was the only thing I bought from Baseball Dreams & Memories, especially since the owner so kindly helped me track down my man.  With that in mind, I spied some loose packs of the recently-released Topps Big League and figured this was as good of an excuse as any to finally sample the old bubblegum company's newest product.

Of course, I grabbed a pack with Kris Bryant on the front - after all, I am a massive Cubs homer.  In case you didn't already know, this fun, low-end product (ostensibly aimed at kids) features different configurations of players on pack wrappers and blaster boxes.  I'd say it's a fun little quirk that adds some extra flare to the release.

As far as the contents go, I wasn't so fortunate as to walk away with any additional Cubs players.  However, I did find it funny that several of the players found in the pack had been names swirling about the rumor mill not an even an hour before:

I must say, I've seen several a blogger and Twitter user casually mention how they might actually prefer the base design of Big League have been applied to a Flagship release and I cannot disagree.  The borders, team color coordination, and KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) design would not feel out of place in such lineage!

The Pirates surprised everyone in baseball when they pulled off the blockbuster deal for former Cubs farmhand, Chris Archer, in the waning minutes of the trade deadline.  I don't think anyone expected them to be buyers at the onset of the season, but a double digit win streak has pushed them into the Wild Card picture.  Of course, giving up Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows was quite the steep price for a pitcher who's been little better than average over the past few seasons.

Ultimately, he didn't go anywhere, but Jose Abreu's name was mentioned more than a few times this July as a possible trade target.  After all, the White Sox are in full-on rebuild mode and the veteran first baseman could, in theory, fetch a hefty prospect haul.  Unfortunately for our south side neighbors, a massive slump in the month leading up to the deadline torpedoed his trade value.

This Player's Weekend card might look like an insert, but it's treated and numbered as a base card variation.  These variants cover the jerseys and the player nicknames that were at the forefront of last year's popular player's weekend promotion.  I had no idea that the Sox slugger's sobriquet was "Mal Tiempo," or "Bad Weather" in English - I guess it's fitting since Jose is known to drench opponents with a heavy shower of home runs!

The Mets have been almost comically bad after the first month of the season and I'm sure Yo's name would have come up in trade talks more often if he hadn't been hurt for most of the campaign.  While his ailing heels and hip have sidelined him for nearly all of 2018, keeping him from being a shiny trade target, he still glitters on this golden parallel that I pulled from my impulse purchase.

Cespedes has been anything but durable over the past few years, which reminds me, these Big League cards don't feel so sturdy themselves.  The cardstock is surprisingly thin - by touch, they feel almost like those annoying advertisements and promotional fliers that local companies stuff your mailbox with. I guess that's part of keeping the cost down on this product that's supposed to be marketed towards kids with little spending money.

Anyway, here's the rest of the contents of my first pack of 2018 Topps Big League:

Quite a bit of star power there, with Mike Trout and Cal Ripken, Jr.; that said, my favorite of the bunch has to be Bartolo Colon.  I, like many a baseball fan, love that "Big Sexy" is still out there getting the job done on a Major League mound after all these years.  Like Jamie Moyer before him, he's an age-less wonder that elicits the warm fuzzies of nostalgia every time he takes the field.

Nothing remarkable here, but Big League is fun, attractive-looking product that's not too hard on the wallet.  I whole-heartedly approve - even if it kind out Flagshipped, Flagship.

The star of this purchase remains the 2011 Brandon Kintzler card, which slotted perfectly into my marquee Cubs All-Time Roster Collection the moment I got it home.  After an afternoon filled with non-stop rumblings, ruminations, whispers, and rumors, while frantically trying to stay on top of the latest gossip, it was nice to unwind by flipping through my favorite binder and adding a new name to the all-time roster.  While it wasn't DeGrom or Stroman, it's always fun to welcome a new ballplayer to the club.

Welcome to Chicago, Mr. Kintzler!