Thursday, July 18, 2019

Old Edition

Did you know that Johnny Gill played baseball?

The former member of 80's/90's R&B mainstays, New Edition, and accomplished singer, songwriter, and actor also suited up for the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and - most importantly - the Chicago Cubs.  He looks incredibly good for his age too, as his stint in the Major Leagues took place many decades ago, from 1927 through 1936.  Who knew that the vocalist traded in his baseball bat for a microphone and apparently discovered the fountain of youth along the way?  More like Old Edition, am I right?

*Muffled sounds coming from the Wrigley Roster Jenga research intern* What's that? *more muted voices coming from off-screen*  That's not the same Johnny Gill?  Hmmm... well, I suppose that makes sense.  I was having an awfully hard time trying to figure out why Wikipedia made no mention of Johnny's exploits on the diamond.  It's all starting to come together.

In all seriousness, Johnny Gill is an obscure baseball player from the golden years who may or may not have had a lovely singing voice, but definitely has not maid much of a footprint on the internet.  In the process of drafting this post, my Google searches turned up almost nothing but biographical information, discographies, and new articles about the New Edition performer of the same name.  There's no relation or any sort of connection between the two; so, this name sharing is not particularly helpful when it comes to learning about newest addition to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection:

Can you find the typo?

This super-vintage antique hails from the 1936 S and S Game baseball card set, one of the most readily available collations from that pre-war time period.  As the name implies, these pasteboards were used to play a card game based on America's pastime that simulated actual gameplay.  Along with the slips of cardboard, there were several pegs and a board that would keep track player movements based on the card drawn.  For example, the card in my possession is marked "sacrifice bunt," moving the runner - or, rather, peg - along while also making an out.

Seeing as these cards were seen more as game tokens than collectibles, little attention was paid to the bare bones design, with the game information printed on either side of a black and white picture that is simply slapped on the cream background.  You also get the briefest of the subject's vitals underneath the photo, which really only serves to make an already small snapshot smaller.  Furthermore, while the fronts are not particularly flashy, the backsides are completely plain and feature green or cream fills.  Finally, these game pieces are just slightly off from the standard trading card size, measuring in at 2.25 x 3.5 inches, and make use of rounded corners and thin cardstock to simulate an actual deck of playing cards. 

All in all, this set is just another in a long line of baseball card games - think of it as an ancestor to MLB Showdown.  They sure aren't exciting slips of cardboard, but they aren't meant to be either; they're simply a means to an end.

S&S' The National Game, as packaged.  Image courtesy Robert Edward Auctions.

The checklist is packed with Hall of Famers from the time, i.e. Jimmie Foxx, Carl Hubbell, the Waner brothers, etc. - and these are often the most affordable "playing day" singles available for these legends.  The reason for this relative ease is that a dealer found a large stash of near mint, complete 52-card decks in the 1960's; so many, in fact, that the guy was able to sell these old oddballs for more than a decade after his discovery.  However, I paid no mind to this information while trying to track down my desired S&S game card, as it was the forgotten outfielder - who definitely did not appear on the Billboard charts - that I was after.

Image courtesy of the Conlon Collection.

From what I can find, Johnny Gill served as a journeyman, extra outfielder throughout the late 20's and mid 30's.  Originally debuting with Cleveland in 1927, he never appeared in more than 71 games in one campaign, with his high-water mark coming in his swan song season (1936).  Most significantly, at least to this blue-blooded Cubs fanatic, Gill was a member of the 1935 pennant winners from the North Side of Chicago.  That said, his tenure was only a mere three games, though he did smack a double and drive in a run during that cuppacoffee; thus he did contribute to that World Series appearance, ever so slightly.

As far as relevant trivia about Mr. Gill, all I can find is that he was nicknamed "Patcheye," for reasons that are currently unclear.  Additionally, while playing for the Minneapolis Millers in 1935 lead the American Association with 43 home runs and 154 RBI, all while batting a potent .361. Meanwhile, his career slash line in the Majors (.245/.306/.398) wasn't nearly as impressive.  I guess he was your prototypical, quad-A type of player.

So then, why did S and S decide to include the role player on his way out of the circuit in their star-studded, 52-card playset?  After all, the 1936 Cubs didn't win anything, but they sure did have some recognizable names, like HOF'ers Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman and All Star Stan Hack.  S and S would know that too, as they were actually based in the Windy City.  Although, I guess you wouldn't want to insult those guys by putting their pictures on a "sac bunt" card, would you?

 Surely these legends are worth more than a sacrifice bunt.

At any rate, I'm glad that S and S went in the direction they did, as this card is by far the easiest specimen of Johnny's to obtain.  After all, I don't think I've ever seen a 1933 Worch Cigar or 1945 Centennial Flour baseball card in my entire life.  Meanwhile, I only had to drop a few bucks on this eighty-year old artifact (in surprisingly good condition) that was available only a few clicks of the mouse away on Ebay. Thank goodness that, back in the day, some vendor found all those decks in a warehouse or whatever.

So there ya have it, Johnny Gill, the baseball player - by way of an S and S "The National Game" playing card.  Not Johnny Gill, the twice Grammy Award nominated singer and the sixth member of New Edition.  They are not, in fact, the same person.  Although, with Gill, pitchers Phil Collins and Rick James, outfielder Davy Jones, and infielder Ron Dunn, it sure seems like the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection could form itself quite the prolific super group.  There's a blog post concept in there somewhere...

Anyway, does anyone else on the blogosphere have an S and S card in their collection?  What do you think of these super vintage oddballs?  Did you find that they are more readily available than a lot of their fellow pre-war counterparts, especially when it comes to the Hall of Famers included?  Does your franchise have a player that amusingly shares their name with a prolific singer or celebrity from another arena?  Are you a big fan of Johnny Gill and the rest of New Edition?  Please feel free to weigh in down in the comment section below.

In the meantime, I've got to log out and officially add Mr. Gill to my CATRC binder... and flesh out that blog idea about a harmonizing vocal group!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Monty Moves On, Maldy Moves In

This is the most important moment in Chicago Cubs history.  Bar none.  If you have even paid semi-attention to baseball over the past five years, I shouldn't have to tell you what is happening in the .gif above.  I also should not have to explain to you why this play is so very significant.

The man who tossed the single most significant pitch in the franchise's timeline was Mike Montgomery.  Acquired in a trade with Seattle just prior to the annual trade deadline of 2016 (in exchange for 2019 All-Star, Daniel Vogelbach), the former blue chip prospect was a change of scenery candidate who was brought in to provide depth in the bullpen and the starting rotation.  Of course, after Aroldis Chapman ran out of gas and Carl Edwards, Jr. lost the strike zone, it was left up to this reclamation swingman to close out the Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, with 108 years of futility weighing heavily on his left shoulder.  Just like Theo Epstein and crew scripted, I'm sure.

Thankfully, MiMo came through in the clutch and permanently intertwined his name with Chicago sports history.  For the next few seasons, he continued to provide a steady presence in either the pen or the starting rotation, depending on the needs of the club.  However, Mike always wanted to be a dedicated starter and did not make this desire a secret.  Without a open slot, his time in the Windy City seemed limited and, as of last night, it came to an official close.

Sent back to his original MLB organization - the Kansas City Royals - he'll finally have a true chance to make it as a starter.  Of course, while he wanted to start, Mike was always willing to fill whatever role was needed.  Thus, it's appropriate that in this case, he's filling the role of trade bait for a needed back-up catcher. 

Willson Contreras injured the arch of his foot in the first game back after the All-Star game.  It was initially expected that Willy would only require a few days of rest off of the bench, an MRI was eventually undergone and a IL stint was deemed necessary in order to properly heal the problem limb.  Losing the 2019 All-Star starter for any length of time longer than the minimum 10-days would be a disaster-caliber loss, especially in the midst of the dogfight that is the NL Central.  While Martin Maldonado is not anywhere near Contreras' caliber in terms of offensive production,

Martin Maldonado is a nine-year veteran who has plied his trade with the Brewers, Angels, Astros, and Royals.  He has only appeared in more than 100 games twice during his MLB tenure, largely due to his career .220/.289/.352 slash line.  However, he his often cited as having elite pitch-framing skills - attracting the attention of the Cubs FO this past offseason - and provides a steady, veteran presence in the middle tight pennant race.  With Victor Caratini having a breakout season with the bat, Martin need not be anything more than he's been in order to strengthen the roster.

Although, despite the optics and timing, this move might not just be a knee-jerk reaction to an injury... at least, not completely.

Theo Epstein went on the record as saying that while the trade was ultimately consummated as a direct result of losing Willson, the two teams had been discussing the framework of a deal for a some time, before Willy was even achy.  This seems to indicate that the trade was originally meant to be more than a straight one-for-one trade, perhaps filling some other gaps on the Cubs roster (i.e. second base and/or a LOOGY).  The timeline was accelerated because of the Contreras injury, perhaps the two clubs will continue negotiations and a guy like Whit Merrifield or Jake Diekman is a Cub before the end of the summer.  This iron might still be warm.

For what it's worth, the FO have indicated that Willy's IL stint is precautionary and that he shouldn't be out longer than the minimum stay... a sentiment echoed by the backstop himself.  On the flip-side, we've heard that company line before...

But, as it stands, Mike Montgomery is once again a Royal and Martin Maldonado is now a Cub.  Delightfully, I just so happened to have a pair of Martins in my Angels trade stacks, ready to be considered for inclusion in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Oddly enough, both Maldonado pasteboards hail from the same checklist - 2017 Topps Heritage.  Well, the one that shows Martin mid-swing is part of the High Numbers addendum - technically, a different product - but, they are essentially the same thing.  It's strange for a career-long backup catcher to get any love from the old bubblegum company, let alone this much adoration.  Heck, it's eyebrow-raising for anyone to show up in the same product twice in one go.  I wonder what happened in the process of reviewing the checklists that allowed for multiple Maldonados?

At any rate, I'm grateful to have not just one Marty, but two to choose from for my CATRC.  Though both are posed shots, the clear blue skies and "action" shot on the right definitely catch my fancy.  Thus, the High Numbered card # 662 will be holding down Maldonado's spot in my favorite binder, at least until/if the backstop appears on a slip of true Cubbie cardboard.

Coincidentally, Mike Montgomery's rep for my CATRC also hails from '17 Heritage.  I guess I have a thing for burlap.

While Montgomery was not effective in 2019 (5.67 ERA in 27 IP with two, separate IL stints) and was not particularly happy with his situation in Chi-Town, it's still sad to see the left-hander move on.  As 2016 gets smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror, more and more of the World Series roster are leaving town - Jake Arrieta is a Phillie, Hector Rondon is an Astro,  Jorge Soler is also a  Royal, David Ross is in the front office and John Lackey and Miguel Montero are retired.  That being stated, there's some added sting in seeing the guy who successfully executed the most important pitch in team history empty his Wrigley Field locker.  Time marches on and waits for no man.

In closing, I just want to say good luck in Kansas City, Mike Montgomery - here's hoping that you seize this long-deserved opportunity in the Barbeque Capital of the World.  Additionally, welcome to Chicago, Martin Maldonado - fingers crossed that he becomes the best back up receiver in the National League... emphasis on backup

Considering the state of the 2019 Cubs roster, I have a feeling that Martin won't be the only ballplayer we welcome to the Second City this July.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The New Italian Stallion

Last week, my parents took a well deserved vacation to Philadelphia, a trip my wife and I also took this past fall.  They had a lovely time exploring some of the most historic sites in our country - just in time for Independence Day - and scarfing down cheesesteaks.  Every time my mother sent me a picture, I got more and more jealous.

Of course, one of the destinations every tourist must visit when they travel to the City of Brotherly Love is the steps of the Philly Museum of Art.  However, it's not the frescoes and sculptures that lure visitors in - that staircase is the centerpiece in one of the most famous scenes in the history of recorded media.  Rocky Balboa - as played by Sylvester Stallone - concluded a jog across city by sprinting up those marble steps, triumphantly raising his arms to the sky, on the morning of his boxing match with Apollo Creed in 1976's Rocky.  My mother made sure to show me the video of her recreating this bit of "reel" history and I found myself wishing I was right back there myself.

As a runner, you better believe that this site was one of my favorite parts of our own trip last October.

Thankfully; I don't have to be envious of my parents anymore because, as of today, the Cubs are introducing baseball's own "Italian Stallion."  In an effort to shake up what has lately been a frighteningly listless club, Theo Epstein announced, this afternoon, that the North Siders are calling Robel Garcia up from AAA Iowa to make his Big League debut.

But, wait a second... you might be wondering why I would be referring to a player born and raised in the Dominican Republic with a nickname that is evocative of "Bel Paese."  Well, here's the deal, Robel is no ordinary prospect; he did not take the "normal" route in his long and winding climb to the Major Leagues.

Robel takes a powerful cut for Fortitudo Bologna of the Italian Baseball League - photo courtesy of

You see, Robel was originally signed, as a 17-year old, by the Cleveland Indians in 2010.  Unfortunately, after four uneven seasons with the organization, where he only rose as high a A ball, Garcia was released after spring training in 2014 and no MLB organizations came calling.  With few options at his disposal, the outfielder was forced to expand his horizons... REALLLLLLLY expand his horizons.  In an effort to extend his professional career, Robel took his talents to the Italian Baseball League.  Yup - he had to go all the way to Italy in order to continue on with America's pastime.

Did you even know that Italy has a baseball league?  Sure, you often here about a player turning to a foreign organization in an attempt to revitalize their career, but that's usually in Japan or Mexico, with independent teams in Canada, or through the winter leagues in Australia, Venezuela and Robel's native land of the Dominican.  Italy and, honestly, Europe as a whole, aren't exactly thought of as hotbeds for baseball activity.

As it turns out, the Italian Baseball League is considered the premier diamond organization on the European continent and has existed, in some form or another, since 1948.  While far off the beaten path, Robel Garcia was still able to grow his game in a fertile, competitive environment.

From there, Robel scorched opposing pitchers across the Repubblica Italiana.  While reliable stats are tough to come across (why Baseball Reference doesn't catalog them, I don't know), I did find that Garica posted the second-best (.571) slugging percentage and a third-best (.357) batting average in the league's championship series for Fortitudo Bologna last season, which culminated in a title for his club.

His play was impressive enough that he was elevated to the Italian national team, as well, which played an exhibition game as part of Arizona instructional league play that fall.  The middle infielder surprised a Cubs scout in attendance with his athletic ability and the franchise decided to take a flier on him welcoming him back to affiliated baseball.

Admittedly, his chances of sticking around were slim, at best.  I'm sure the team saw him as potential minor league depth, not as a potential blue chip prospect.  In fact, it was largely due to injuries that he made the bench for the Cubs' AA affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, coming out of spring camp this past March.  With the window open ever so slightly, Robel proceeded to bust through like the Kool-Aid man.

Since playing his way into the starting lineup, Garica has become a sensation.  In 72 games split between AA and AAA, Robel has mashed 21 homers while posting a .285/.364/.594 slash line from the second base position.  All the while, second base has been a black hole for the Cubs all season, as Daniel Descalso and the piece of human excrement known as Addison Russell have been unable to hit the broadside of a barn.  With Robel continuing to force the issue, it was only a matter of time before he got his chance.

 These guys simply ain't cutting it... and one is a terrible person, on top of that.

While the story behind this "Italian Stallion's" unlikely rise to baseball's highest stage is a heartwarming one, a silver lining to what has been a relatively disappointing season at Wrigley Field, it is not one without potential pitfalls.  As impressive as Garcia's power display has been, his swing is still fraught with holes, as exemplified by his 34.2% strikeout rate in Des Moines.  However, at age 26 on a club with a desperate need at the keystone, it's time to sink or swim for this MLB longshot.

For the record, he did strike out in his maiden at-bat during last night's gut-wrenching loss.  Make of that what you will.

Owing to his supremely under the radar status, even during his days with Cleveland,  I definitely do not have baseball cards queued up and ready to be "called up" into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  In fact, despite his pro career having lasted nearly a decade at this point, I can only find three baseball cards to have ever been printed with his likeness.  I guess it should come as no surprise the IBL isn't really on Topps' collective mind.

Spoiler alert - all three pasteboards date from his time previously spent stateside and are of the minor league team set variety.  Thus, they aren't exactly the kind of items that pop up in my Chicagoland area card shops.  If any Cleveland super collectors happen to have one of these lying around, I'd love to talk trade!  I am especially fond of that Scrappers single that apes the 1987 edition of Topps.  In the meantime, maybe he'll do something Topps Now worthy and earn himself a true Cubs card - that'd be ideal.

At any rate, I'm thrilled that Robel is getting the chance to prove himself in the limelight after taking such a winding road to get to this point.  Plus, lord knows we Cubs fans could use the uplifting an heartwarming story after the crap the franchise has put us through in the last year or so.  Blown division lead, blink and you miss it playoff exit, pretending not to have any money available to tune up an obviously flawed roster, racist e-mails, inappropriate hand gestures being made by fans towards broadcasters, ownership cozying up to the Trump admin, continually employing an abuser who isn't even good at baseball, uneven and uninspired play... ugh, it's been hard to support this team lately.  Thank goodness for the cookie that is Robel Garcia!

Maybe I need to take a break from Cubs baseball... take a vacation and get out of town or something...  revisit Philadelphia.  Then, I can celebrate the arrival of the new "Italian Stallion" in the shadow of the old one, with a cheesesteak in hand, of course.

At any rate, welcome to Chicago, Robel.  Here's hoping that your power translates to the Big Leagues!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Mysteries of the Three Sisters, Pt. II

Anyone who knows me quickly becomes aware of the fact that I enjoy secondhand shopping.

Ever since I was little and counted down the days to my community's annual village-wide garage sale day, I've been obsessed with tracking down trinkets and treasures at any thrift shop, estate sale, yard sale, and antique shop that I happen upon.  It's gotten to the point that I immediately Google what such retail establishments are nearest by when I am travelling, just because I'm curious as to what people in other communities and locales are willing to part with and that I may become the beneficiary.  What can I say?  The alluring adventure and the mystery of not knowing what I might find at a swap meet or flea market is absolutely intoxicating.

Of course, when I am bored and have some spare time, I have some local haunts that I stake out fairly regularly.  Besides the nearby Goodwill, Savers, and St. Vincent's, one of my favorite such locations is Three Sisters Antiques in suburban Blue Island, Illinois.  The working class neighborhood dates back to the mid-19th century and has a rich cultural heritage, which has stocked the shelves of this 20+ year old antique boutique quite well.  The two-floor building is always stuffed to the gills with fascinating knick-knacks from throughout the last two centuries for me to gawk at.

The last time I was there, I posted here on Wrigley Roster Jenga about a mystery that stemmed from a one such scrap of ephemera:

This here is a photograph of a 1940's journeyman pitcher by the name of Nick Strincevich.  Born in closeby Gary, IN and continually a resident of Northwest Indiana, he was a local hero who plied his trade in the Major Leagues from 1940-48 with the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies.  However, none of this information was made apparent by the card-sized picture in question.

At the time, I was completely unaware of who this man was; however, I couldn't help but grab this 2.5" x 3.5" portrait off of a shelf when I came across it.  The mystery Bucco caused my mind to wander and I needed answers.  Unable to find the identity myself, I took to crowd sourcing on Twitter to solve the riddle and, thankfully, was not disappointed.  The Snorting Bull, blogger and baseball sleuth extraordinaire, quickly directed me to Nick's Baseball Reference entry, which uses the very same headshot in his profile.

That's the basic outline of my last experience at Three Sisters.  If you would like a more detailed account, I encourage you to read the original post, especially because it ties into what I'm about to discuss today.  Without any further ado, let's dive into Mysteries of the Three Sisters, Pt. II.

One of my favorite things to look at in these antique malls are collections of antique photographs.  While it is depressing that so many family pictures have been discarded like last week's newspaper, I am fascinated by looking at the profiles and glamour shots of people, and getting glimpses into their lives, who have long since passed on.  I'll never tire of pouring over the facial details and expressions of Victorian and Great Depression men and women and silently pondering to myself, "I wonder what was going on in their lives and the flash went off... I wonder what they were like."  Maybe it's slightly twisted or morbid, but I like to think that it keeps these people from completely fading into the ages.

Furthermore, it's a pipe dream of mine to come across an honest to goodness cabinet card of a baseball player in these stacks and bins.  Sure, anyone who digs such a thing up from his or her crawlspace would probably try to hawk any such piece with a sports connection, but you simply never know.  Not to mention, I've stumbled upon plenty exemplary photographic portraitures of regular joes from the time period - maybe a ballplayer got lost in the stacks?

Anyway, a few days ago, while I was silently wandering through the aisles of the basement floor at Three Sisters, I happened upon a wicker basket absolutely overflowing with antique photographs of all shapes and sizes.  Lord knows there was no way I was moving onto the next booth without pouring over each and every print.

Here's a quick snapshot of the snapshots and you can even see one of those aged cabinet curiosities that I alluded to right up front.  All in all, I spent a good 45 minutes crouched on the floor, sifting through my newfound basket of goodies with all the eagle-eyed attention to detail of a miner forty-niner.  While most such photographic archaeological digs turn up nothing of true notability, it did not take long for this excavation to change the narrative:

"Hey - that's the same picture that I found elsewhere in the shop last time that I was here!"  What a strange coincidence.  That jived with my previous theory that someone had printed these baseball card-sized photos for an autograph appearance or a TTM attempt or other such endeavor.  However, after a few more minutes of flipping through Kodaks, I found something - or, rather, a pair of somethings - of much more interest than a duplicate of a previous treasure:

Hot damn - more trading card-sized prints!  At this point, my mind was spinning from the potent fumes of mystery that were emanating from these exposures. 

Of course, my first thought was, "who are these two hurlers?"  Heck, I couldn't even make it out of the store before I again took to Twitter to ask for assistance in identifying these ballplayers from an era so long ago.

Unfortunately, as of yet, no one has been able to definitively slap a name on these faces.  Admittedly, these "cards" are a much more difficult ask than the previous, due to their not being up close portraits - the details are somewhat hazy, especially in the instance of the shadowy-faced Pirates pitcher.  Not all hope is lost, as I have a theory, but I'll save that for the end of the post.  Before we get to that, I have a few more details to share.

First, considering the price point of these confusing artifacts was just a buck a pop and the vendor in question was having a 60% off sale, there was no way I was leaving these behind and potentially missing out on a good story.  Maybe these moundsmen were Cubs at other points in their careers and these prints could prove useful in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection endeavor?  Maybe pictures of them in these uniforms were not often seen, or maybe even just capturing these men on film was a rare treat?  The potential was certainly worth the pocket change.

On the other hand, it should be pointed out that while the pictures in question depict baseballists from the middle of the 20th century, there's little chance that these prints are even close to that old.  First of all, while the Kodak paper that they are printed on had yellowed slightly, the degradation does not seem consistent with such exposures of a similar age.  Maybe someone is more of an expert on photography can chime in here, but the watermark on the back which reads "This paper manufactured by Kodak" seems to indicate a much more modern origin.

Nevertheless, with as spotty as the coverage was for bubblegum baseball cards of the World War II time period, were these proven to show players who had also suited up on the North Side of Chicago, I would strongly consider them for inclusion in my CATRC.  If you have any ideas as to who these, as of yet, identified Braves and Pirates hurlers from the golden years of baseball, I encourage you to share your theories below.  Any assistance would be infinitely appreciated, as my searches have turned up no concrete information.

Although, as I stated earlier, this hasn't stopped me from coming up with a hypothesis.

I have a sneaking suspicion that our mystery friends are actually familiar faces... or, actually, one familiar face.  That is to say, I think that it's quite possible that all three pieces of my Three Sisters trio of trinkets depict Nick Strincevich.  Now, you might be wondering what has lead me to that conclusion, seeing as I can find no trace of these images online - please allow me to elaborate.

Firstly, I mentioned earlier that I thought the original piece may have been created as an autograph platform for the local hero.  It stands to reason that if one image was whipped up for such a task, perhaps the intrepid baseball enthusiast created a few more custom "cards" for which to be graced with Nick's John Hancock.  After all, don't many TTM seekers often send more than one pasteboard with their requests, for variety's sake?  To me, this seems parallel to that collecting method.

Secondly, I mentioned that Nick played for both the Braves and the Pirates (and Phillies, but that's not important right now) during his nearly decade-long stay in the Majors.  Correspondingly, the mystery moundsmen just so happen to be donning the laundry of those same two clubs.  Could that just be a coincidence?  Of course, but it's definitely a common feature worth noting for my theory.

Lastly, in the still on the left, you can get a glimpse of the uniform number being sported by this person, a number which ends in five.  As it turns out, the digits most commonly sported by Nick during his tenure with the Buccos just so happen to be 25.  While you cannot get a look at the jersey number adorned on the back of the Bravo pitcher, his face sure does look similar enough to Strincevich's portrait that it could be the same man.  Again, it would be foolish to say for certain without more identifying features, but the possibility that these people are all one and the same is there.

Anywho, that's all I got for this mystery right now.  Searches for these photos in online databases turn up nothing, though they do seem strikingly similar to those taken by the storied George Brace during the same time period.  If you have any information or thoughts that might prove helpful in solving this case, please, please, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.  I'll be able to sleep better tonight if I can put this question to bed.

In the end, though this currently unsolved mystery has proven somewhat frustrating, it is for this very same reason that I am absolutely enthralled with secondhand shopping.  Like I said, you just never know what you are going to find when venture into a thrift store, flea market, or antique shop and this trip to Blue Island's Three Sisters emphatically proved this point!  I'll definitely be going back there again someday soon.

You may very well see a Mysteries of the Three Sisters, Pt. III on Wrigley Roster Jenga.

Friday, June 28, 2019

My Wife Got Petty

The travelling circus that is NASCAR has just rolled into the Windy City.

Those who have been following this blog for a while might know that while the Cubs are my number one sports love, I also have a passionate crush on motorsports.  For nearly two decades, my family and I have made annual pilgrimages to Indianapolis in order to take in the festivities surrounding the Indy 500.  Additionally, in the early aughts, I was even more fanatical about NASCAR Winston Cup racing than I was about Chicago baseball.  The era of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Jr. and crew had me hook, line and sinker - seriously, I would not leave my house for anything on Sunday, unless maaaaaaybe if it was on fire.  While my passion has waned over the years as the cars changed and the stars retired, I still keep a passive interest in the goings on of stock car racing.  In short, I love our nation's pastime; but, I also have room in my heart for fast cars.

While at a family dinner, the topic of Funko POP! Figures came up because my little sister collects them with the intensity that I do baseball cards.  It was mentioned that Funko's never-ending line of mini, vinyl figures was soon expanding to include some of the most popular names in NASCAR's history.  Now, I do not collect these little statuettes myself, but when little sister mentioned that Richard Petty - my all-time favorite racer in any discipline - would be one of the pilots included, my ears perked up.  The conversation was quickly steered in another direction, but my wife must have noticed my eyes briefly light up, as this showed up in my mailbox the other day:

Have I ever mentioned that I am married to the best person on the planet?  She noticed a quickly passing fancy and pounced - apparently, as soon as there was a break in the conversation, unbeknownst to me she whipped out her IPhone and pre-ordered Petty for me.  Therefore, if I haven't mentioned it before, well, I totally am! 

For those who may not be aware, Richard Petty is the undisputed King of NASCAR.  He has set dozens of records that will never be broken, including his dizzying 200 career wins in the (insert sponsor name here) Cup series.  Although he retired when I was just three years old after the 1992 season, he was my first favorite professional athlete, largely thanks to the fact that my first "Hot Wheels" car was 1:64 scale model of his '92 Pontiac Grand Prix.  In fact, while it's certainly seen it's share of wear and tear, I still have that beat up hunk of plastic today:

For a while there, I was so enamored with Petty, that I automatically considered every racecar a "Richard Petty," much like one would generically use Kleenex in reference to any disposable tissue.  I quickly began to expand my "Petty" collection, including a fair amount of actual Richard racers.  Before long, my collection of NASCAR die-casts took up an entire corner of my childhood bedroom. Among these treasures was what I consider to be the second-coolest hot rod (here's the machine which holds the title) to ever take to the banks of any race track, a 1:24 scale model of the King's 1970 Plymouth Superbird:

Over the years, I've handed down, donated, or sold off most of my die-cast collection, but these two cars have stood the test of time.  As I said, I kneel at the altar of King Richard.  While he was arguably the greatest driver in stock car history, has served as a moderately successful team owner, and has stuck around as a recognizable ambassador for the sport, his most influential role in my eyes was serving as my introduction to the high-octane world of auto racing.

My wonderful wife knew all of this, knew that I secretly wanted a Petty Pop and she didn't wait for me to realize it.  All told, she's simply the best.

Neither one of us actually collects these things though, so she turned to a third-party vendor to reserve a copy of the then-unreleased Petty figurine.  Fumble Pop might be a familiar name to those of you out there in the blogosphere who dabble in this sphere of collecting; but, to me, they're just a nifty sticker:

Fumble Pop also had pre-sales available for the rest of the drivers in the line, which include Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Bill and Chase Elliott.  However, Petty was the only one of interest.  Maybe if I were to dive headfirst into the world of Pops, I would be more intrigued; that said, I'm not looking to complete the checklist at this point.

Anyway, I'm not one of those types who looks at toys as investments - Sheldon Cooper and I do not see eye-to-eye with the concept of "mint in box."  With that, I did what might make the skin of any Funko Funatic immediately begin to crawl, I opened the figure and tossed out the box.  Sorry, ya'll:

Just as his competition learned, you can't keep the King contained!

I'd say that Funko did a remarkable job of recreating Petty's likeness without sacrificing the unifying look of their Pop figures.  They made sure to include his trademark cowboy hat, ubiquitous shades, and his dapper mustache - it's as though they shrunk Richard Petty himself down to size.  For reference, here's a photograph that I captured of Mr. Petty during a radio broadcast in Indianapolis in 2008:

Nailed it!

This surprise gift made me want to marry my better half all over again - she truly knows me better than I know myself.  Although, as much as I love this little guy, I think it's safe to say that I won't be diving headfirst into the never-ending pool of Pops.  First of all, there's simply too much out there for me to truly be able to focus - I mean, name any intellectual property and there is probably already a line of Pops dedicated towards it.  Secondly, Pop figures themselves don't really move the needle for me on their own - I don't really desire to have a whole shelf full of these sorta creepy, black-eyed dolls.   Thirdly, my collecting focus remains steadfastly on my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection and lord knows that I don't any more side-collections diverting funds from my ultimate goal of obtaining one card of everyone to don a Cubs uniform. 

Of course, all of that being acknowledged, I wouldn't say no to the "Bryzzo" figures that I discovered in the process of drafting this post.  King Richard could use a buddy or two, I suppose...

Do you collect Pop figures?  Are you a certified Funko Funatic?  If so, please tell me about your collection and how you pursue your Pops.  Meanwhile, are these figures a fad in the mold of Beanie Babies?  Or, do they have the potential to be a collectible item for years to come, much like our beloved baseball cards?  Please feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment section below.

In the meantime, after writing this up, I suddenly feel the need to wrap my wife up in another bear hug.  Richard Petty might be the King, but my wife will always be my queen!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Enter Promo Code Here

Sometime last week, while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I was made aware of a special promo code that had been discovered for use on Ebay.  Although, judging by how many members of the card collecting community and the blogosphere were talking about it, this probably isn't news to you, but it did catch me off guard.  Of course, it's not as though that's particularly surprising. 

Naturally, being the bargain hunter - aka cheapskate - that I am, I immediately ceased what I was doing, switched apps and began to furiously scroll through the saved searches on that other account.  The deal that I was so furiously trying to take advantage of was that any purchase using the four-digit code at checkout would knock off three dollars from the transaction.  If one could find an item that was exactly $3.01 and included shipping, that's basically free cardboard baby!  Seeing as my saved items are mostly $2 to $5 cards that rarely pop up anywhere else, this was potentially a major development for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Of course, finding a card that totaled exactly three dollars and one cent (not a penny less), included free shipping, and fulfilled a need in my collection proved to be much more difficult than I initially expected.  Many cards that I wanted sat at three dollar mark, but shipping proved to be a major hurdle - many still wanted five bucks to mail any auction winnings, which is why I haven't pounced on these purchases previously.  Call me stubborn, but I don't want to pay more than the value of the card just on shipping alone - I'm not buying vintage tobacco cards here.  That kind of kills the fun of making a deal in the first place.

Luckily for me, after some diligent scavenging, I was able to come across a deal worth putting the promo code to use for:

I've sung the praises about TCMA and their nostalgic, team-based sets that focus on baseball's golden years so much that it would make a Bruce Springsteen set-list seem fleeting.  So, with that in mind, I'll try to tone it down for this particular post.  However, do keep in mind that without these ultra-focused and comprehensive oddball checklists, my CATRC binder would have more gaps than a kid who was never weened off of their pacifier.  Topps and the rest of the big boys only covered so much ground and, to make matters even more difficult, most of the pre-Topps era has spottier coverage than T-Mobile.

With that in mind, when I came across this Bob Logan card, a guy who only appeared in 18 total games with the North Siders waaaaaay back in 1937-38, I knew I had to pounce..  The only problem was that Bob alone would not be quite enough to fill my $3.01 quota.  Luckily for me, the seller had more stuffed in his coffers that called to me:

As it turned out, this particular seller was breaking up a full set of TCMA's 1976 release dedicated to the Cubs pennant winners of 1938.   Better still, there was still one other card available that would be quite useful to my most treasured three-ring.  Carl Reynolds was a semi-star player in the 1930's, but his three-year stint to end his playing career with the Cubs is often forgotten due to the more significant time he spent with that other Chicago club.  As such, cardboard options which show in Cubbie Blue (or Cubbie black and white, in this case) are few and far between.  This discovery paved the way for another welcome "Cubgrade" for my collection.

In fact, both of these cards served as "Cubgrades," which are Cubs cards that replace non-Cubs representatives in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection for the players in question.  While I hold no ill-will towards that South Side baseball team nor the Dodgers, I certainly prefer my cards to show Cubbies as Cubbies:

In case you were curious, my new TCMA's were replacing this pair of fellow oddities.

All told, the pair of "Cubgrades" did end up totaling a tad more than three bucks and a wheat back - $3.38, to be specific.  Plus, there were some shipping charges to be factored into the equation as well, although this vendor was only asking for a quarter to send both together.  Being completely unable to find an item or card that I wanted for $3.01, this was by far my best option to burn the promo code on.  I'm quite content with having only had to cough up 63 cents on a couple of cards that I needed for my CATRC.  That's the kind of deal that I'll take every day and twice on Sunday.

Did anyone else reading this catch this promo code in time to use it?  If so, what did you choose to apply your free, three dollars to?  Please feel free to share in the comment section below - lord knows that I'm curious to see how everyone else capitalized on the coupon.  I encourage you to take this opportunity to brag about your bargain hunting skills.

At any rate, I don't think it's much of a stretch to state that we card collectors can appreciate a good bargain.  These Ebay promos are always a welcome sight and here's hoping that word of another such code escapes to social media again sometime soon - I have plenty more openings to fill... on a budget!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Try Not To Suck

Joe Maddon wants to be the next celebrity coach in Chicago - the next Mike Ditka if you will.  In the last few months, the manager of the 2016 World Series Champions has opened a restaurant, released his own line of pasta sauce through Jewel-Osco, and turned out his own craft beer through a local brewery.  I'm not saying that the charismatic mastermind of the Cubs doesn't deserve to be the next Ditka-like folk hero in the Windy City (god knows he's not insufferable like "Da Coach"); however, it does seem to be a curious time to be pursuing such interests.  As of the end of the 2019 season, the way things currently stand, Maddon will be a free-agent.  That's right - Joe Maddon is currently a lame-duck skipper and could very well be suiting up with a different club come next spring.

While his bullpen management skills have been called into question, the team's performance has been inconsistent since '16, and his idiosyncratic style of leadership isn't everyone's cup of tea, I certainly would be sad to see him blow out of town.  He's brought so much to the Chicago National League Ballclub - most importantly a World Championship - and helped to instill a winning attitude in what was previously Lovable Loser territory.

Not to mention, he's pretty good with catchphrases - "never permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure" has become something of mantra here on the North Side, since he came to town.  Another one of Joe's most popular, t-shirt worthy slogans is "try not to suck."  It's a self-explanatory concept that applies to both the team's play on the field, and now (as I alluded to earlier), a specialty craft beer:

Binny's Beverage Depot has partnered with Joe's Respect90 Foundation (another slogan of his which has been applied to a brand) to release "Try Not To Suck" German style lager, available in Binny's and Jewel-Osco stores across the Chicagoland area.  A portion of the profits from each sale will go towards Respect 90's goal to provide children and families opportunities to develop championship attitudes through sports, academics, and community involvement.  Additionally, money from each purchase will also be divided with Rags of Honor, a charity which strives to assist homeless veterans across the United States.

Heck - I'll drink to that!

Joe's lager hit store shelves in early April and apparently it was big hit, seeing as I searched for weeks before I finally found some.  After striking out at all of my local Jewels - darn South Side residency - and finding both of the nearest Binny's to be out of stock, I was forced to wait.  I was getting concerned too, as the product is supposedly a limited release - brewed and bottled once, then it's gone forever.  However, luckily, another wave of shipments must have been made, as when I checked Binny's online databases last week, I discovered just about every single store in the franchise was now well-stocked with "Try Not To Suck."

When I made the trek out to the Orland Park location, not only did I discover my desired beer on the shelves, I also realized just how much promotion the Cubs do with the beverage depot.  I suppose that makes sense, seeing as not only is Binny's a Chicago-based company, the first location was opened less than a stone's throw away from Wrigley Field, at the corner of Clark and Sheffield, in 1948.  With as bad as the Cubs were for most of their existence, a large portion of their customer base was probably fans stopping by for beverages with which to drink away their sorrows while on their way home from yet another embarrassing loss.

Anyway, you didn't come here for snapshots of advertisements.  I wasn't distracted for too long before I was able to locate some "Try Not To Suck" in the wild:

Ten bucks for a six pack of craft beer - that's not too crazy, especially when considering some of that money is going towards a pair of charities.  That being said,  despite the previous shortages and the now healthy stock, I opted to just grab one set, just in case "Try Not To Suck" did, in fact, suck.  I don't need a fridge full of bad beer.

Luckily for me, Joe Maddon's brew lived up to it's billing.

"Try Not To Suck" comes in a rather nifty, artsy looking can, making appropriate use of the Cubs colors without stepping on their trademarks; this only a partnership with Maddon, after all, and not with the franchise itself.  The background line-art mosaic is made up of subtle baseball imagery, including a fielder's glove, home plate, a baseball, and Joe's familiar hipster glasses.  Offset by the silver can, I'd say the whole product is quite appealing aesthetically, but we're talking about a beer here.  Looks are not what's truly important.

 As Binny's website states, the drink itself is "medium in body, with a refreshingly crisp finish;" this description seems rather accurate, at least to my untrained palate.  The concoction is definitely a sipper, as it took me two full episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to down the entire can.  Although, as far as potency goes, the beverage is somewhat weak for a craft brewski, at only 4.8% alcohol by volume.

Overall, I'd say it's a decent batch of booze - not particularly notable, but an above average lager that would pair well with a ballpark brat.  That seems to be the majority opinion, as well - out of over 600 reviews on Untappd (the Yelp of craft beer) "Try Not To Suck" averages out at 3.5 out of 5 stars.  I've seen the flavor described there as "floral" and "grassy" but that's too cultured for me to confirm.  All I know is that it tastes like a lager and that Haymarket's latest release does not suck.

Oh yea, Haymarket is the brewery that actually whipped up the suds.  I probably should have mentioned them sooner.

Haymarket is a brewery that is based out of the North Side of Chicago and takes it's name from the city's Haymarket Square and the infamous "Haymarket Affair" of 1886.  Branded as beers for the working class, it only makes sense that they should take the moniker of a labor movement which led to the establishment of the 8-hour work day.  As you can see from the logo above, they've also expanded into Michigan, extending their reach a little further  through the Midwest.  

That's about all I can gather on Haymarket - I'll have to make a trip downtown and visit the actual pub.  Of course I mean the Chicago location: lord knows why I'd ever be in Bridgman, MI.  Perhaps "Try Not To Suck" is even less sucky on tap?  Has any local reader of Wrigley Roster Jenga ever had the pleasure of visiting Haymarket?

At any rate, being the obsessive Cubs fan and collector of sports ephemera that I am, you know very well that I'll be keeping a (finished off) can of "Try Not To Suck" to display with the rest of my baseball knick-knacks.  I suppose it makes the most sense to prop it up next to the other Cubbie-themed beer can in my possession, "Ron Santo 10 Ale," which was generously gifted to me by P-Town Tom of Waiting 'Til Next Year Fame.  If you're curious about the Santo Ale, I talk about the drink and the story behind it in detail here; but, I will say that I prefer a kolsch to a lager any day of the week and I was tempted to click my heels when I first tasted "10."

 Are there any other craft beers or beverages marketed around Chicago baseball personalities that I should be made aware of?  How the heck did Budweiser never slap Harry Caray's mug on a beer can?

Now that I think about it, not so long ago, there was yet another beverage company that got together with a Cubs icon:

Alright, so my now blossoming Cubs can collection includes two beers and a Kris Bryant Red Bull.  I guess I have to go all in now and find me some of those RC Cola cans with player pictures on them from the late 70's and a can of Fergie Jenkins' ill-fated energy drink.  *Sigh* I'm going to need more shelves...

Anyway, that's the story of my experience with Haymarket and Joe Maddon's "Try Not To Suck" German-style lager, distributed in partnership with Binny's Beverage Depot and Jewel-Osco.  All in all, it's a decent beer that lives up to it's billing and contributes funds to admirable causes; plus, it represents an appropriate endorsement deal for a guy who offered "two shots and a beer" to everyone who attended his introductory press conference.  Here's hoping that, unlike this limited release, Joe Maddon sticks around Chicago for a few more years yet.

Will I buy it again?  Honestly, probably not, seeing as I now already have a can for my trinket collection and the lager itself simply didn't distinguish itself enough from the competition in the crowded and confusing world of craft beer.  That said, I'm certainly not disappointed that I have five more of these sitting in my refrigerator right now.

*Pop* *Pssssssshhhhhhhh* Whoops, I mean four more...