Friday, November 30, 2018

Not So Magic Mike

The only thing uglier than Mike Paul's stat line in 1974 was his baseball card.

Coming in out of the bullpen twice in the early stages of that season, today's hero was tagged for four earned runs in just 1.1 combined innings of work, including a home run and a walk.  The thirty year old, journeyman lefty was released before the month of April was completed and his Major League career came to a close after seven years as a swingman for the Indians, Rangers, and Cubbies.  Although Mr. Paul posted a couple of decent seasons and had a career WAR in the green (4.2), I think we can all agree that the hurler did not go out on a high note.

Fittingly enough, the pasteboard that Topps pumped out for Mike that year was almost as atrocious as his eye-popping 27.00 ERA:

Wowza!  I know airbrushing isn't an exact science, but, boy oh boy, is that egregious.
First of all, you can see that this picture hails from Mike Paul's days with the Texas Rangers, as evidenced by the collar left behind by the artist whiting out the Rangers script on Paul's chest.  That's not all too horrendous - after all, the blue and red meshes well with a Cubs uniform, even if the North Siders never brandished such collars nor anything similar.  However, when combined with that glowing, neon blue "Cubs" hat... egad, that is extremely distracting.  Not to mention the fact that the "C" is so large that it's almost escaping from the poor man's head - clearly, it doesn't want to be associated with this monstrosity.  Even the shading looks more like wannabe comic book art than a professional photograph.

In summation...

What really makes this card a true affront to collectors is the fact that Mike Paul wasn't even new to the roster.  In fact, the reliever had been in the Windy City since the previous summer!  Paul had been acquired in a trade on August 31st, 1973, in a swap for Larry Gura.  There was plenty of time to secure a proper photo of the player in his true, non-neon Cubs uniform.  Instead, we're left with what looks like something a middle school student might create with Microsoft Paint and janky clip art.

Add everything up and you have what might be the ugliest card in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection and, despite it's aesthetic-offending appearance, it shan't be going anywhere.  His overall time in Chicago was relatively brief, therefore, this uggo is Mike's only Cubs baseball card, hence it's permanent stay in my most holy of binders.

Well, it's better than nothing, right?  Beggars can't be choosers and all that jazz.

Here's what the pitcher with two first names actually looked like in Cubs uniform.  Much less jarring, right?

Anyway, why am I bringing this up right now?  Why am I ranting and raving about a random 1974 baseball card in 2018 when there are infinitely bigger problems to worry about in the world today?  The answer lies with everyone's favorite Darryl Strawberry super collector, Peter, the mind behind the always entertaining blog, Baseball Every Night.  You see, the holiday season is now upon us and the eccentric collector has found himself in the giving spirit.  Thus, a contest with a holiday theme was quickly born - in a month filled with hideous Christmas sweaters, each blogger has been challenged to show off their favorite ugly baseball card.  After reading this, it didn't take me long to come up with my nomination.

You see, Christmas sweaters, while usually atrocious, still have some sort of inherent charm attached to them, as exemplified by the recent trend of ugly sweater themed Christmas parties.  I guess this feeling falls under the "so bad that they're good" label.  Meanwhile, although I've spent most of this post in a diatribe about how yucky Mike Paul's 1974 Topps single is, it has definitely grown on me over the years.  It's certainly unique!

Oh and speaking of ugly Christmas sweaters....

I think that such clothing could only improve Paul's lone Cubs card, don't you?  As long as it's a Cubs-themed sweater, of course, seeing as it covers up the obvious Rangers jersey found on the original.  If only I had time to do something about that DayGlo hat...

Oh well, I enthusiastically encourage everyone reading this to take up Peter on his challenge and nominate your favorite ugly baseball card - it's a fun little exercise that will get you thinking about your collection in a different light.  Perhaps you can find a worse (better/) example of bad airbrushing in your binders or boxes? Or, as Peter put it, "It can be the person depicted on the card, it can be the design or any other aesthetic thing about the card itself, or even the condition if it's fugly enough! There several different angles you can take with this writing prompt.

Thank you for coming up with such a  unique contest, Peter.  Do ya'll think you have an uglier card than this patchwork of garish grime?  Let's see it!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Prodigal Son Returns

'Twas two days before Christmas and all through Wrigley Field, not a creature was stirring.... except for Theo Epstein.

On December 23, 2011, just a few months after taking the gig as the Cubs GM, Theo Epstein swung the first trade of his regime's reign.  The "Boy Wonder" signaled the tear-down of a hapless and directionless franchise by swapping lights-out reliever, Sean Marshall, to the Cincinnati Reds for a reclamation project by the name of Travis Wood and a pair of minor-leaguers.  At the time, it was a much-maligned deal as Marshall was a strong fan-favorite, Wood had already bombed out of the Cincy rotation, and the prospect of a complete and total rebuild promised years of bad Cubs baseball to come.

Fast forward to today - Sean Marshall was out of baseball just two years later, Theo rebuilt a juggernaut of a franchise, and Travis Wood's relief arm and home run swing helped lead the "Lovable Losers" to their storybook 2016 World Series victory.  I'd say that it's worked out pretty well for Chicago.  Theo's first trade marks a seismic shift in Cubs history, with the spotlight shown brightly on the major pieces.  However, if you're like me, you might be wondering, "whatever happened to those minor leaguers that made the trip with Woody?

Dave Sappelt was an outfielder who popped up from Iowa a few times in the early stages of the rebuild as a spare part.  After two nondescript years as a fifth or sixth outfielder, his Major League career was done.  Nothing to see there.  On the other hand, the second player in question eventually rose through the ranks to become a regular presence up the middle and cherished by the fans.  Of course, I'm talking about Ronald Torreyes:

Unfortunately, the famously diminutive utilityman achieved that niche as a member of the Yankees.  After topping out at AA in the Cubs chain, Theo sold one of his first acquisitions to the Astros for international bonus pool money.  After a few more roster maneuvers, Ronald found a home in the Bronx as a defensively-inclined middle infielder with a slightly above average stick.  That said, as valuable as those skills are, that set is not what endeared him to Yankee rooters.

"Big Toe," as he came to be known, has a fantastic sense of humor and brought an infectious energy and enthusiasm to Yankee Stadium:

And I can't think of another way to put it, he's just so darn cute when compared to his lumbering, NBA-sized teammates:

Granted, most of us would look teeny-tiny when compared to giants like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton; but, standing at 5'8", Torreyes is one of the game's shortest players.  After looking at this picture, don't you just want to pick up Ronald and put him in your pocket?

Theo Epstein must feel that way, as he just went out and picked Brian Cashman's pocket (where I assume Torreyes resides during the offseason).  That's right, as of yesterday afternoon, Mr. Epstein has once again traded for Ronald Torreyes and returned him to the Chicago Cubs organization.  The Yanks had just designated the fun-sized and fun-loving infielder for assignment and, in exchange for cash of a player to be named later, the Cubs saw fit to bring him back to the org to bolster their depth on the dirt.

Luckily for me, I just so happened to pull one of  "Big Toe's" few mainstream baseball cards (bench players rarely get love from the old bubblegum company) in a pack of 2017 Heritage and set it aside for my Coulda Been a Cub Collection.  It looks like I can now remove it from that binder and place it within my true, blue Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, a new addition to which is always an exciting event (for me, at least).

In all honesty, it's a very minor move and it's quite possible that Ronald doesn't survive the roster machinations throughout the winter and spring training to make it into my CATRC.  That being acknowledged, the Cubbies do need a back-up infielder who can play shortstop, especially if they do the right thing a jettison the wife-beating Addison Russell before the tender deadline this weekend.  Perhaps this move is a sign of more significant things to come? In the meantime, I'm just going to leave this here:

On a less serious tone, it would also feel right to see Ronald's name officially etched into the roster tome, seeing the significance of his first tour of duty in the Chicago system.  Plus, he seems like a genuinely fun dude and we hear in the Second City still hold a special place in our heart for such personalities, i.e. Munenori Kawasaki.  I truly hopes that he sticks around, both for baseball and non-baseball reasons.

Maybe I'm just overly excited about this trade because of the dearth of movement across Major League Baseball so far this off-season.  Unless you're a fan of the Braves, this winter has been a very boring one in terms of player acquisitions.  Are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado negotiations holding everything back?  Is this a continuation of the trend, which began last year, brought on by the latest MLBPA negotiations?  Am I jonesing for the Cubs to make a big move and shore up their second base and/or catching situations?  At least one of these three questions is a definitive yes - I'll let you guess which one that is.

At any rate, welcome (back) to Chicago, Ronald Torreyes, and welcome (for now) into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Here's hoping your defensive skills, non-zero bat, small shoes, and large personality make it all the way to April on the Cubs' roster!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Who Disturbs My Slumber?

Oh man - how long has it been... what year is it?!

Well, it's still 2018; but, not for much longer.  Anyway, it's been about a month and a half since my last post here on Wrigley Roster Jenga - that's quite a long and fairly unintentional radio silence.  I could run down the list of reasons why and how this hiatus came to be... however, I'm sure you've all heard (and lived) this list of excuses before and don't really care.  Work got crazy, some personal issues, the holiday season sucking up all my time, a general feeling of apathy towards the hobby... you've heard it all before, so why bother wasting the character count?

But, all is well in the Burbs and it's time to shake off the rust, stretch out the blogging muscles, and get this blog back up in running.  Let's see if I can still do this - it's been a minute since I've done this, after all.

A trade package (relatively) recently came across my desk and this generous soul deserves some recognition - it is Trevor P who disturbs my long slumber.  Trevor is the creative force behind the gridiron-centric blog, Bump and Run Football Cards, a long-time favorite on my blog roll.  Being a pigskin guy, it should come as no surprise that the bulk of this package contained football cards.  What was surprising was the fact that so many of the pasteboards included within were needed for me Bears All-Time Roster Collection!

That said, Trev is a Packer backer, so he is most assuredly all too happy to dump as many Bears items on me as possible.

With the Bears being so un-bear-able the last half decade or so, I've kind of pushed my Monster of the Midway collection to the side.  However, under the leadership of new head coach Matt Nagy, things have changed here in the Windy City and, at 8-3, they look like real Superbowl contenders right now.  It's been a while since we Chicagoans could say that!

This pair of 2017 Score cards had been ignored by me during the dark times, but Trevor has brought them back to my attention.  Danny Trevathan has been played a key role in the revival of  Bears' defense and I'm happy to be able to finally add his name to my Bears tome.  Meanwhile, Kendall Wright spent just one season in the Windy City (2017) and is currently out of football.  Nevertheless, a Bear is a Bear, not matter how much of a bust.

Leonard Floyd had been already repped in my binder; however, it was with a card that pictured his days with the University of Georgia squad.  That's well and good, but a true blue and orange Bears card is better.... much like his Leonard's play as of late!

The Throwback-themed Panini Classics product isn't a bad-looking product either.  I always enjoy simply-designed sets that make heavy usage of corresponding team colors.  Speaking of Classics, from this point, Trevor has turned back the clock and shifted the focus to Bears legends of yore:

While I do have several cards of "Da Coach," believe it or not, this 2016 Classics single, from the Legends subset, represents my very first card depicting "Iron Mike's" playing career.  I'd much rather have a card showing the Hall of Famer reeling in a catch than skimming a clipboard or talking into a headset as his representation in my Bears All-Time Roster Collection, so this will be a nice upgrade. 

Meanwhile, this is my first card whatsoever of fellow Bears' Canton-resident, Stan Jones.  I know it's hard to believe that card collectors might still have needs from Pro Set, perhaps the most overproduced brand in the history of trading cards, but it's true.  Love the artwork though!

Additionally, Trevor also included this Bears card masquerading as a Dolphins card - I missed this fact, at first glance.  Cox signed with Chicago as a free agent during the 1996 off-season, after a decorated tenure in Miami, a fact that Donruss hurried to document in that year's Football flagship.  Of course, he was about to begin a major downswing and his Bears career wasn't much to document.  Though, he would eventually swap jerseys again and win the Superbowl with the Patriots afterwards.

Now, Trevor also included a large amount of other Bears cards that were quite welcome; however, I decided to limit this post to just the new additions to my main roster collection.  This is my first blog post since early October - I can't afford to pull a muscle trying to do too much to soon, after all!

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't show off the massive, unannounced boost to my Bulls collection that Trevor included with his football gifts:

Trevor may be a gridiron guy, but clearly he dabbles in the paint as well.  That's seven, count 'em, seven instant additions to my Bulls All-Time Roster Collection, a collection that hasn't seen much action in the last year or so.  Like with my Bears binder, with as bad as the Bulls have been since Derrick Rose fell apart, it's been hard to feel any enthusiasm towards this project.  Of course, collecting of any kind is all about the ebbs and flows.

As if all of that wasn't enough already, there was a whole section of Cubs cardboard stuffed in Trev's bubble mailer too.  However, I gotta come clean, it's been so long since I found this package in my mailbox, that I cannot remember what was included from that bunch.  That's what I get for not properly documenting and for letting myself fall headlong into a blogging rut.  My bad.

Thank you, Trevor, for bumping me out of the blogging doldrums.  Sorry it took so long for me to finally take the bait, but I am ever so grateful to you for providing the carrots.  With so much awesome new cardboard to add to my roster collections, it was only a matter of time before the inspiration finally dug it's claws into me.

Here's hoping I can keep this momentum rolling - it's nice to be back, pounding the keys!