Thursday, January 31, 2019

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Last winter, the Cubs signed Drew Smyly to a two-year, Major League contract.  The lefty starter was coming off a lost year due to Tommy John Surgery; although, by all accounts, his rehabilitation was right on schedule and maybe even progressing faster than expected.  In fact, it seemed quite likely that he would be able to make it back to the Big Leagues by late summer.  If not, his contract included a second year; so, even if 2018 was a setback and spent entirely on the disabled list, he would be a sure bet to back by the next spring.  Thus, I had no reason to doubt that Symly - being a lefty hurler with a significant amount of past success and still on the right side of 30 - would not eventually become an official Cub.

With those factors in mind and some Smyly singles dug up from my trade box, I made what I was thought was a safe decision to add Drew to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Now, I have the UltraPro pockets organized in alphabetical order and the letter "S" is the most common surname in that binder.  Thus, whenever I add a new card, I have to slide each card over to the next slot, one by one.  It's a labor of love, but it is still sort of tedious work.  That said, it's a small price to pay to add a new card to my favorite collection.

In retrospect, that was an impatient, "oopsy doodle" on my part.

Ultimately, while Drew Smyly was in the mix for a September call-up, as a LOOGY reliever, it was decided that he was not quite ready yet.  Then, instead of revving up for a Cubs debut in 2019, the would-be reinforcement for the Chicago starting rotation was swapped to the Texas Rangers in November as part of a transaction designed to help bankroll the team option exercised over Cole Hamels.  Now, Hamels vs. Smyly is an easy decision to make; that said, I was a little disappointed that I would have to remove the latter from my CATRC three-ringer.

Instead of my marquee binder, the zero-year Cubs printed of Smyly in 2018 Topps products will be filtered into my "Coulda Been a Cub" collation.  First world problem?  Absolutely.  Nevertheless, it was annoying having to re-sort my collection.

Fast forward to the Winter Meetings, that were held about a month after Drew was shipped down south, it was deja vu all over again:

While rumors were flying about meetings with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the Cubs stayed under the radar and inked Kendall Graveman to a two-year contract.  Graveman is a sub-30, starting pitcher with a track record of past success and is coming off of a year lost to Tommy John Surgery... stop me if you've heard this tale before.

Of course, the former Blue Jay and Athletic is a righty moundsman; but, otherwise, the similarities are striking.  Is this duplication all that strange?  Simply put, no - this is the kind of "buy low" forward-thinking depth move that all clubs seek out.  Plus, pitchers are fickle and pretty much always needed across the Major League landscape.  Thus, this move is completely understandable, especially when you consider that the aforementioned Hamels is due to become a free agent in 2020 and Jose Quintana will be entering a team option year.

However, in the words of 80's one-hit wonders, Great White, I'm "once bitten, twice shy."  Do I add Graveman to my CATRC?  Do I wait until he actually suits up and takes the mound at Wrigley Field?  Decisions, decisions...

I was able to kick this can down the road a little bit after the acquisition was made, seeing as I was unable to uncover a Graveman card in my trade stacks, in either my Jays or A's sections.  Although, that didn't stop me from looking for a potential inclusion.  Thus, when I came across his 2015 Topps rookie card on Ebay for chump change, I couldn't help but pull the trigger on the lucky find.  After all, while it's not the same shade, Jays blue blends a lot better into my pages than A's green and yellow.  Now, I'll have something ready to go if and when his rehab concludes and his return to the Bigs is officially made.

In the end, I've decided to hold off on immediately tossing Graveman into my CATRC book.  After Smyly left me frowny, I couldn't justify going through the procedure until it was a sure thing.  The Cubs signing of Kendall was made with an eye to the future, I guess it's appropriate that I bought his card with the same idea in mind.

If you were in my shoes, how would you handle this situation?  Would you throw caution to the wind for the sake of instant gratification and insert Kendall?  After all, lightning doesn't usually strike twice.  Or, would you play the long game, wait, and risk losing the card in the interim?  Organization isn't exactly my strongest quality.  Please feel free to weigh in on the matter in the comment section below.

At any rate, good luck in Texas, Drew Smyly, and hopefully we see you on North Side of Chicago sooner rather than later, Kendall Graveman!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jack Wallin and His Diamond Greats

You know it's cold outside when the US Postal Service cancels mail deliveries.  Rain, sleet, and snow can't stop these unsung heroes of communication; but, temperatures and wind chills bottoming out in the negative fifties is enough to freeze anybody in their tracks. 

Speaking of mail, I don't too much TTM collecting.  All in all, it seems like an awful lot of work - deciding what subjects to pursue, acquiring appropriate and worthwhile material to sign, hunting down addresses and locations with a fervor approaching that of stalker... or at least, that of a crazy ex.  That's not even to mention the fact that success in these endeavors can be frustratingly fleeting at times and, with postage pricing only continuing to rise in 2019, I am simply far to frugal to open my wallet to such pursuits.

Of course, I don't point this out to disparage the TTM collecting community -  far from it.  In fact, I greatly admire the work, passion, and dedication required to obtain autographs through the mail.  However, it's just generally not the way I prefer to collect... not my cup of tea, you might say.  That said, I have dabbled in the "signature by way of mailbox" hobby on a few separate occasions, seeking to add Sharpie marks to custom cards that I've created for forgotten baseball players from the days of yore who were never properly honored by one of the old bubblegum card companies.  For several past North Siders, this was the only way for me to add them to my Cubs All-Time Roster binder.

On that note, I am certainly not the only person to have gone that route to fill out their collection.  Far from it.  Since the dawn of the hobby, intrepid enthusiasts have whipped up their own creations in order to acquire the John Hancocks of their favorite diamond heroes   One such man was so passionate and successful in this cause, that he was able to parlay his hobby into a career most of us fans can ever approach in our wildest dreams.

Jack Wallin was fascinated by the history of America's pastime.  As a collector and dealer  in the 60's and 70's, he was seeking the signatures of baseballers from the previous generation.  However, seeing as Topps didn't even begin to dabble in the market until around 1948 and there was no industry standard during the 30's and 40's, there weren't a lot of cardboard options from that era for TTM pursuers like Wallin to stuff into envelopes.  Luckily for us, Wallin did not let this stop him from fulfilling his quests; he was made of stronger cardstock.. Instead of wallowing in his frustration, in 1979, Jack simply created his own, far-reaching set of baseball cards dedicated to the sports golden era.  That's ingenuity at it's finest!

Of course, being the late-70's, printing technologies were far more limited than what we have today, especially for amateurs.  It's not like Wallin could simply conjure up Adobe Creative Suite and work some Photoshop or Illustrator magic.  Thus, his creations, which he titled Diamond Greats, were far more basic than those being pumped out by Topps - however, they were at least on the same level as oddball purveyors such as TCMA.

Intended to be standard-sized, the cutting on these custom works was, as you might expect, imperfect.  This resulted in some under and over-sized dimensions.  Additionally, the slips of cardboard featured a no fills design with a simple black and white photograph on a white or cream cardstock.  The backs were entirely blank, so the player statistics included on the bottom of the front and, along with the player name and team designation, contained within a thin, black border box.

I imagine, the backs were left blank in order to provide a clean surface for players to jot their name.  If not, the basic and colorless design on the front made for an apt place to sign, as well.

While the design was simple and not particularly bold, Jack's ambition was just the opposite.  All told, his 1979 Diamond Greats release was made up of four series of 100 cards each, with each series focusing on historic players from a specific group of four teams, all of which were still alive at the time.  Remember, the driving purpose behind this whole set was filling in the Pre-War gap, so no expansion teams appear in Wallin's magnum opus.  After coming off of the presses, Wallin was left with 2,000 sets to distribute to TTM lovers across the United States.

I'm not sure how this cardboard visionary shared this set with other collectors, as I cannot find any primary sources which shed any light on this matter and I was negative eleven at the time.  Perhaps someone who was around and actively collecting at that time can fill me in?  Was it advertised in the hobby periodicals of the time, in the mold of TCMA?  Wallin was a dealer, after all.  All I know is that one did not find Diamond Greats packs on store shelves.

However Jack sold his pet project, it must have garnered a fair amount of attention.  After all, it appeared to have caught the attention of big-time trading card producer, Donruss, who hired Wallin as a photographer upon busting the Topps monopoly just a a year later.  From what I can tell, Jack was the man behind the lens of Donruss products throughout the 80's and 90's.  I have to believe his work with the Grand Slam set had to put Wallin on Donruss' radar - that has to look pretty good on the ol' resume to a baseball card challenger!

Anyway, Wallin's personal endeavor still stands as a popular oddball set, owing to it's varied player selection.  Personally, without his work, filling in the crevices of my CATRC would be even more impossible than it already is.  While I already had one of these bad boys in my favorite binder - the Voiselle you see above - this past Christmas, I was lucky enough to be gifted with a few more gap-fillers by my father.

Johnny Moore made his Big League debut with the Cubbies in 1928, sticking around long enough to see action in the 1932 World Series, although he went 0-for-7 while Ruth was busy calling his shot.  He was traded to the Reds that winter.  

Most interesting to me though, was his second stint with the Cubs, which came in 1945... a full eight years after his last MLB plate appearance.  The player shortage brought on by World War II was no joke.  the Cubs would again win the pennant that season (their last for a few years); however, Moore would not appear in that Fall Classic as his seven game stint that September began one day too late for postseason eligibility.  Would the 43-year old outfielder have turned the tide for the Cubs against the Tigers?  Doubtful, but you never know. 

Cliff is best remembered for no-hitting the Boston Braves in 1951 and some well-publicized labor issues in the early 50's while with the Pirates.  Before all of that, Chambers began his career as a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher with the Chicago National League Ballclub in 1948.  Auditioning as a swingman, the hurler appeared in 29 games (12 starts) and posted a record of 2-9 with a 4.43 ERA.  The Cubs of the late 40's were, simply put, absolutely embarrassing.

He was traded that December with Clyde McCullough to Pittsburgh for Frankie Gustine and Cal McLish and would hang around the National League through the 1953 season.

Clarence, aka "Footsie," Blair was an infielder who plied his trade exclusively with Chicago from 1929 through 1931.  He spent one year as a starter up the middle (1930), but mostly served as a utility infielder during his three-year Major League run.  Unfortunately, he didn't get much playing time as his competition for the second base job just so happened to be Hall of Famer, Rogers Hornsby.  To make matters even worse for Footsie, Rajah just so happened to be the manager, as well.  The only reason he ascended to the starter's role in 1930 was because Hornsby broke his ankle that May.

Thus, it wasn't long before poor Blair faded back into baseball obscurity.  While he earned the his moniker for his noted speed, that simply wasn't enough to lift him over the greatest right-handed batter of all-time.

After examining the three subjects of my Diamond Greats Christmas haul, it should come as no surprise to anyone that they did not leave much of a cardboard footprint.  After all, the scarce issues that were hitting the market during their playing days weren't going to bother with the bottoms of the rosters.  In fact, while he does appear in some team-issued photo packs, this product marks the only traditional baseball card appearance for Blair.  Without Jack Wallin, adding these guys to my CATRC would be a much taller task and he allowed be to do so in with Cubs uniforms no less.

Furthermore, this stream has not run completely dry with these additions - there are still a handful of Diamond Great Cubs left for me to chase down.  Vern Olsen highlights my wants, along with potential "Cubgrades" for forgotten favorites like "Dim Dom" Dallesandro, Hank Wyse, and Hy Vandenburg.  Thank goodness Jack Wallin took it upon himself to fill in some of the gaps left in the Pre-War era!

Now, I might not dabble much into the world of TTM'ing, but, as a custom card enthusiast, the career path of Jack Wallin is quite inspirational.  After researching this post, I know that tonight I will have dreams of using my Photoshop creations to launch a career in the trading card industry to keep me warm at night.  That's a good thing too, since apparently Chicago is officially the coldest location on the planet earth right now, even rivaling temperatures usually found on friggin' Mars.  I'll need all I can get to warm my cockles - a heated blanket only goes so far.

A tip of the cap to you, Mr. Wallin!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Team That Time Forgot

1938.  The world was teetering on the edge of another Great War and America was still mired in the Great Depression.  Escapism was welcomed... almost needed.  Thankfully, there was plenty going on in the world of entertainment.

This was the year that the funny papers introduced us to some guy in tights who leaped tall buildings in a single bound.  A cartoon rabbit first popped out of his hidey hole to torment animated hunters for the next seven decades.  Orson Welles accidentally pulled the greatest prank in the history of the world with a little radio drama he called "War of the Worlds."  In sports, Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral by four lengths in their famous match race at Pimlico and Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round of their rematch at Yankee Stadium.  As you can see, it was a big year for the art of distraction.

Speaking of Yankee Stadium, boxing wasn't the only professional sport hosting a championship within it's confines.  That year's fall classic featured the formidable New York Yankees (because it was the 30's, of course it did) and their challengers from the Midwest, the Chicago Cubs.  This too was a rematch - a grudge series that served as a follow up the "Called Shot"-lead beatdown served up by the Bronx Bombers on the pre-goat, clobberin' Cubs, six years previous - and involved the two most highly populated metropolitan areas in the United States.  It was truly a clash of the titans.

Or... at least, it should have been.  Again, just like they had in their domineering four-game sweep of 1932, the Yanks brushed the Cubbies under the rug without nary a peep from their toothless challengers.  Of course, that's just how it was for those who went up against Joe DiMaggio and the New Yorkers back then.

For loyal Cubs rooters, it was surely a stinging loss, but not a defeating blow.  After all, the club was a consistent threat for the NL pennant and had made a World Series appearance every three years since 1929.  It was only a matter of time before the North Siders finally broke through and donned the ultimate crown, right?

Well, we know how that story ended, 78 loooooong years later.

Anyway, those Cubs of 1938 have long been forgotten.  That fact is simply criminal, as that season featured the most furious comeback in the history of the Chicago franchise and maybe one of the greatest in all of baseball history.  On July 20th, with the Cubs mired six games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the front office shook things up and promoted catcher Gabby Hartnett to player-manager.  From there, Hartnett and mid-season acquisition, Dizzy Dean, lead the charge up the standings, closing to within a game and a half of the Burghers when they came to town with just one week left in the season.

History was made as the Cubs delivered a devastating three-game sweep of the would-be champs, punctuated by Hartnett's now legendary "Homer in the Gloamin'."  In the second game of the set, with darkness descending on the light-less Friendly Confines, the score was knotted at five runs all going into the ninth inning. It was getting to the point that the umpires could hardly see incoming pitches, so they ruled that the ninth inning would be the last to be played. According to the rules of the time, that meant the entire game would have to be replayed the following day if the score remained tied. With two outs and a dreadful 0-2 count, Hartnett surprisingly launched a Mace Brown pitch deep into the night and shadowy Wrigley Field instantly became, as the kids say today, lit.

From that point on, the North Siders never relinquished the peak.  Anyway, you might be wondering, why am I randomly rambling on about the 1938 Cubs today?  I thought that I should get my readers more acquainted with this forgotten Chicago squad, since my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection recently got a whole lot more familiar:

As a Christmas gift (I've been sitting on these a while) I received a healthy selection of singles from TCMA's 1976 release centered around the Cubbies who won in the gloamin'.  The kings of oddball cards were churning out several team-centric and retro sets likes this at the time and it's a good thing they did, seeing as these exceptionally specific, no frill sets created the only attainable (or only cards, period) of guys that I've long needed for my CATRC binder.

Of course, I already had the big names repped in the tome - i.e., Hartnett, Dean, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, etc.  These Hall of Famers and stars have a much larger cardboard footprint than the third-string catcher, Bob Garbark, or a bench-jockey like Red Corriden  For the record, Garbark appeared in parts of three season with the Cubs (1937-39) - never tallying more than 24 appearances.  Also, while Corriden was only a coach by 1938, he served as utility infielder for the club from 1913-15 - a relative dead period for baseball cards.

While both Garbark and Corriden were entirely new additions to my CATRC, these two gentleman you see above were technically already accounted for in said three-ring book.  However, these two cards serve as significant upgrades to what was already there.

Three has been the general theme with this particular batch of baseballers and Bobby Mattick is no exception.  He too spent a total of three seasons with the Chicago National League Ballclub, making his MLB debut in 1938 and sticking around the Second City until 1940.  After two years further with the Reds, Bobby would eventually pop up in the Big Leagues again nearly forty years later, as a skipper for the Blue Jays from 1980-81.  His 1981 Donruss single from that latter tenure had previously occupied Mattick's slot.  Obviously, I'm always going to take the opportunity to "Cubgrade" my cards!

Meanwhile, Epperly breaks our chain of threes as his Cubs career expanded no further than 1938.  In fact, he would not appear again in a Major League game until another brief cameo with Brooklyn in 1950.  As such, this TCMA oddball is one of a scant few official issues available for the coffee sipper.  Unofficially, Al had already been nestled in my UltraPro pages with a super vintage custom card that an intrepid youngster had whipped up back in the day - however, as cool as that antique is, I prefer my cards to be truly authentic, when possible.  Plus, the lad had confused Epperly with fellow Cubs hurler, Paul Derringer.  Of course, a couple of those unique pieces still reside in other pockets of my collection.

These were all of the TCMA 1938's to show up under my Christmas tree; that said, they weren't the only Cubs from that historic season to appear in that particular stack:

The Conlon Collection continues to be an invaluable source for my extremely niche collection.  TCMA and other oddball brands have contributed mightily to my collecting cause - however, the flow of Conlons into my binder has been a steady stream since the day I began my endeavor.  Every time I think I've acquired all I need from the four-year running brand of the early 90's, I find another unexpected need hiding within it's checklist.  This time, it was Joe Marty who was hiding in plain sight.

Marty was yet another three-year member of the Cubs during the late 30's, with his stint lasting from 1937-39 as an extra outfielder.  Notably, Joe was the first Cubs player to homer in a night game, which he did on July 1, 1938 while playing in Cincinnati. Also, he drove in 5 runs in a single game during that 1938 World Series (they, of course, still lost).  Furthermore, Marty had been minor league teammates with a rather notable member of his World Series opponent: he and Joe DiMaggio had played together with 1934-35 San Francisco Seals of the old Pacific Coast League.  Post-Cubs, Marty had another three-year stint, this time with the Phillies.

On that note, this Marty marked another "Cubgrade" addition, as I had previously acquired a modern reprint of his 1941 Play Ball issue in Philadelphia garb.  Easy call there!

With that, I was able to add two entirely new names from the 1938 squad to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, as well as three "Cubgrades" to go along with them.  That's not a bad haul and  it served as a great opportunity to remind myself of how awesome that '38 team was down the stretch, even if they were ultimately swept out of the World Series by the Yankee juggernauts.

Of course, the teams of 2016, 1908, 1984, and 1945 will forever be remembered better or far more widely discussed, we Cub fans should never forget about the "Homer in the Gloamin'" and the Cubs' furious late-summer charge to usurp the Pirates back in 1938.

It was a magical year for Chicago baseball and a significant one for the country as a whole.

Monday, January 28, 2019

An Arctic Blast of Cardboard


The snow is falling and, already a few inches in, it probably won't be stopping any time soon.  Then, as if trying to drive a two-wheel drive PT Cruiser through unplowed roads wasn't bad enough, the temperatures will also be decreasing steadily throughout the week.  By Wednesday, the daytime high is predicted to be... get this... negative 11 degrees.  Wind chill will bring that astonishingly bitter number all the way down to the negative 50's... Holy snowballs, Batman - it's getting so cold that Mr. Freeze might have to put on a sweater!

This arctic blast is going to be torturous for all of the upper Midwest, not just Chicago.  Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Milwaukee... Jack Frost is coming for us and he's pissed.  There's simply nothing we can do except bunker down and ride out the storm.  With that in mind, I have some time to blog and I just so happen to have recently received a card in the mail that I've been meaning to show.  Coincidentally, the player depicted is also suited up for one of us frigid, Midwestern municipalities, back in the day.


Newt Randall was a long-time star for the Cream City in the minors, but he was also a one-year wonder in the Major Leagues.  While his top-tier cameo was split between Chicago and Boston, Randall eventually became a fan-favorite and consistent contributor for Milwaukee's entry in the American Association.  All told, the outfielder spent eight years with the early Brew Crew, winning the AA pennant in 1913 and '14 with the club, while also knocking a league record 23-game hitting streak in 1911.

In short, during the years before Big League baseball in the cheese state, Randall was a marquee name. 

That said, while his greatest success came in "the good land" and his professional career spanned from 1902-23, the reason that Newt is on my collecting radar is due to that brief call-up with the Chicago National League Ballclub in 1907 - a mere sliver of his baseball life.  What can I say?  I'm a Cubs fanatic, after all.

Seeing as his time in the Bigs was so brief, it should come as no surprise that Newt has no Big League baseball cards on his ledger.  Luckily for me, his star burned brightly enough that he was included as a Brewer in the iconic T206 card set.  Even more fortunate, I was able to track down a copy of this rare slip, with a Piedmont back, in my relatively minuscule price range.  Sure, the top border is hacked off and there's what appears to be a nibble mark on the upper right corner; although, the surfaces look remarkably clear for a 110 year old slip of paper.  Sure, it cost me fifteen bucks, but it's easily the best conditioned tobacco card in my collection.

Now, since this is a Cubs-themed blog and I didn't track down this artifact based on his exploits in Milwaukee, let's take a deeper dive into his time spent 100 miles to the south.

In August of 1906, Cubs manager, Frank Selee, discovered Newt while the latter was playing in the Western League with Denver.  His contract was soon purchased from the club and, while he was not promoted in time for Chicago's run to the National League pennant, his services were secured for the next season.  While I'm sure the delay was frustrating to Randall, it's fortunate that Selee didn't venture out west sooner in the season; otherwise, he might never have reached the Majors at all.

As it turns out, the outfielder was a bit of a hot head.  Earlier in '06, after a dispute over a call, Newt grabbed and held an umpire while a teammate punched the ump in the face. That night, both Randall and his partner in crime were arrested and fined in police court and subsequently suspended for three days. The attacked umpire didn't pursue further disciplinary action for the assault because Randall threatened that if he were to do so, he would send him to the hospital.  Sure, baseball was much more rough and tumble in those days; that said, had the Cubs skipper stopped by the ballpark on that day, would he have been so willing to buy that contract?

The only pic I could find of Newt in Cubs duds.

Regardless, the promising minor leaguer was brought to Spring Training the following March, which was then held in New Orleans.  He impressed the brass enough to make the club as a starter in the outfield - impressively, he was the only rookie to break camp with the team that year.  However, the shine soon wore off, as even in the offensively-challenged Dead Ball Era a .205/.279/.308 slash line was not going to get the job done.  After 22 games of action, the World Series bound Cubbies decided to cut bait and quickly consumated what became known as “The Fastest Trade on Record.”

On June 20, the Cubs were scheduled to play the Boston Doves.  Right up until game time, Randall’s was slated to be the starting left fielder for the Cubs, while Boston listed Del Howard as their right fielder. However, just before the umpire could declare "play ball,"  the two managers began a dialogue.  Minutes later, Randall and a teammate, Bill Sweeney, were swapped to Boston for Howard.  In fact, the deal went down so quickly that Randall and Howard literally exchanged the uniforms off of their backs before taking their new places on the diamond.

Can you imagine that sort of trade happening today?  Talk about an impulse buy!

No word on where Sweeney got his Boston uniform from that day.

While Del and his new mates would go on to win their second pennant of three in a row and their first World Series of two consecutive, Randall was relegated to that would finish 47 games out of first place. Batting an anemic .213 along the way, Newt was stunted by injuries to his knee and head that kept him out of action for large chunks of the summer. Unimpressed, Boston sold Randall to Milwaukee that winter and, just like that, his time in the MLB spotlight came to an unceremonious end. Of course, that almost was not the case.

We know that Randall went on to star for nearly a decade with his team in "the good land." Although, he very nearly vacated Milwaukee for a return to the Windy City. In 1914, our hero missed jumping to the newly-formed Federal League by the slimmest of margins. Just one day after signing a contract extension with the Brew Crew, Newt was approached by former Cub, King Cole, with an offer to join the Chicago entry in the third Major League. However, tempting though the offer might have been, Randall stuck to his morals and refused the offer, even after a personal plea to jump from the club's manager, his former teammate, Joe Tinker.

He may of been a hothead, but Newt was certainly good for his word!

Randall could have made a "Whale" of a return to the Majors, like these former Cubs.

Ultimately, Randall kept on keeping on in the bushes and semipro ranks through 1923.  Once he finally stepped away from baseball, Newt returned to his hometown of Duluth, MN with his wife and worked as a watchman and driver with the Minnesota Steel Company until his death at the age of 75 in 1955. 

And that is the story on former Cub and Brewer, Newt Randall - hair temper, quick trader, near Whale, Steelman and true midwesterner, through and through.  I wonder if, with his Minnesotan roots and time spent in Chicago and Milwaukee, he would have been able to handle the Arctic-like temperatures we'll be experiencing this week?  We're used to some rough winters out here, especially in the "Land of 10,000 (frozen) Lakes;" but, fifty degrees below zero is an entirely different animal.

That animal, is a Wampa.  Heck, Hoth might actually be a comparatively warmer climate.

Anyway, welcome to the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, Newt Randall.  Hopefully the binder doesn't freeze over before I get the chance to add you to it's pages!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Brach's Cubby Bears

Within the Cubs universe, the gnashing of teeth has been louder than he ongoing construction at Wrigley Field throughout the winter months.  The Wild Card loss was painful, the offense has evaporated, the Ricketts are stingy, where are the big free-agent signings or trades?... Harper, Machado, a bullpen arm... please just sign someone!  Of course, I can't really lay blame on the mob... err... crowd - the franchise has been behaving in a less than wholesome manner this off-season (cough, cough, f*ck Addison Russell) and the only thing more frozen than Lake Michigan is the free agent market.  Naturally, the tensions have built during the lull.

Well, Theo and Jed have finally broken the ice and given us Cubs faithful a treat:

Brad Brach (not heir to the Brach's candy fortune) has been inked to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2020.  The former Padre and Orioles reliever will earn at least $4.35MM in guaranteed money this season, a relatively modest sum, especially when compared to the recently departed Jesse Chavez's two-year, eight million dollar deal.  It seems that the (artificially) tight budgeted Cubs were content to wait out the surprisingly deep relief market and seek a bargain as Spring Training inched ever closer.

Brach was an top notch, late-inning reliever for the O's during the 2015-16 seasons, before regressing to above average.  Although, after a mid-year trade to the playoff-bound Braves in 2018, Brach again found his stride, posting a 1.52 ERA over 23.2 innings, with a 21.2% K rate, an 8.7% BB rate.  That's a pretty sweet stat line.  Perhaps moving to a contending team was just the jolt Brad needed?

It's appropriate that Brach should share his surname with a confectioner, as he's expected to provide a nice "sugar rush" to a bullpen that wore down and needed an energy boost last season.  Brandon Morrow's November elbow surgery only made it more apparent that the club needed to add some extra support.  In fact, they may not be done yet, as the team has been connected to Ryan Madson and George Kontos have been connected to the Cubs, as well.

Brach during his brief Braves tenure in 2018.  Image courtesy of Adam Hagy - USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it's my inner fat kid, but when I first read that the Cubs had signed Brach, my mind immediately gravitated towards the candy company, rather than the pitcher.  Of course, they are a Chicago born and based company, have been since 1904, and they do produce the best selling candy corn in the United States, making them nearly ubiquitous in my neck of the woods.  Furthermore, you might also know them for their Conversation Hearts, Jelly Eggs, and - my personal favorite - Mellowcreme Pumpkins. As you can see, they have a stranglehold on the holiday treat market.

Anyway, while not as popular as Haribo, Brach's does also have their own line of Gummy Bears.  With that in mind, I think now is the perfect opportunity for the Second City's favorite confectionery to partner with Chicago's favorite baseball team (yeah, I said it) for a new, baseball-themed morsel:

I'd buy that for a dollar!

Speaking of which, luckily, I didn't have to drop so much as a dime to add Brach to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, as I happened to have the above 2016 Topps Flagship single hiding in my trade box.  That's certainly not a given with the lack of love shown towards non-closing relief pitchers by the old bubblegum company.

Anyway, here's hoping that Brad Brach performs well enough in a Cubs uniform for such a Brach/Brach's partnership to even be a twinkle in an executive's eye.  Furthermore, fingers crossed that Theo and Co. don't stop here when it comes to roster tweaks.  Now that they're off their hands for the first time since the Daniel Descalso signing, the team could use another relief option and/or bat.  Plus, it'd be nice to launch Addison Russell into the sun and pursue another starting shortstop option... *cough, cough* Manny Machado, anyone?  I guess we North Side rooters will have to just sit here and munch on our Brach's while we wait and see.  Hopefully this little treat of a move will assuage some of the angst.

At any rate, welcome to Chicago and to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, Brad Brach!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Be True To Your School

I don't mean to sound braggadocios, but I have had some pretty good luck when it comes to autograph hunting at my local thrift stores and other secondhand shopping locations.

Over the past few years, I've happened upon a signed, game-used jersey from a former World Series Champion, an inked hat from a hurler who manned the mound for both of Chicago's MLB clubs, and a postcard with the John Hancock of a beloved Chicago Blackhawks legend.  That's not even counting the baseball autographed by one of the greatest ballplayers to ever swing a bat that was unknowingly gifted to me by my sister-in-law from her nearby thrifter.  All in all, I've found some fascinating baseball ephemera that had been ingloriously and carelessly discarded like a stack of beer-stained t-shirts.

What's my secret?  I simply visit my local Goodwill, Savers, Unique, etc. locations more often than my wife would care to admit.  The turnover rate in those stores is high enough that each aisle is almost completely different from week to week.  I scour the toy shelves, hat bin, athletic wear rack, and picture frame props with an eagle eye, looking for anything that might have the hint of ink on it.  It's surprising to me how often this trait is undiscovered or ignored by store staff.

One other section of these retailers that I always make sure to check is the sporting goods - this has been a surprisingly steady source of fascinating memorabilia.  Employees see a football or a bat and pay no further attention, commonly missing a key, display-case worthy attribute.  A few days ago, at a suburban Goodwill, I happened upon such an item that clearly held more intrigue than the slightly bent golf clubs and under inflated basketballs that surrounded it:

That appears to be a game-used baseball from the minor Frontier League.  This foul ball that was likely fought over by over-zealous fanatics during a mid-summer night at the old ballpark was now forgotten, secondhand fodder.  It's not all the surprising that one should end up in such a location, as the independent league has two clubs stationed in nearby locales - the Windy City Thunderbolts and Joliet Slammers - and the league is very low on the baseball chain.  I have caught several of these bad boys myself over the years, so I can see someone deciding that this Wilson A1010FL wasn't worth the shelf space.

Priced at 99 cents, I thought, "meh, it's kinda neat, but I really don't need another one, let alone one I didn't grab from the action myself."  Then. I turned it around:

Oh hey - autographs.  Who knows, while the FL is at the near bottom of the pro baseball ranks, maybe one of these guys is a true diamond in the rough?  That roll of the dice is definitely worth a buck!  As I stated in the intro, I've won this lottery before.  So, although the writing is slightly faded and near illegible, I decided to plop down a George Washingon and take the chance.

Thankfully, databases like Baseball Reference exist, or I'd have no idea where to begin the research on this baseball.  Knowing that it's a Frontier League sphere and pieces of each name, I started by scanning the recent rosters of the aforementioned Thunderbolts and Slammers.  "Bobby L" and "Bradley" something or another seemed pretty clear, so I was looking for any roster that happened to have both names included in their ranks.  It took a couple days worth of on again, off again sleuthing - because I have other things to do in life besides hunt down obscure baseball trivia - but, I was able to circle the 2011 Joliet Slammers as persons of interest.

With a Brad Netzel, Bobby Leeper, and a Ben Hewett on the club, I thought it possible that all three of those monikers could be made out in the scribbles.  Thus, I decided to do a quick Google image search to see if I could happen upon known examples of any of their signatures... no dice.  However, I did stumble upon pictures of Joliet's Brad(ley) Netzel wearing jersey number eight... the same number associated with the bottom signature.  I was closing in!

The end to my hunt was near. I was able to track down Ben Hewitt, now the head coach of a local high school's softball program, on Twitter and took a shot, asking him if that was his mark:

While I had his attention, I figured I might as well ask if he recognized the other two - you never know unless you inquire, right?  At this point, all I could do was sit back, kick up my feet and wait to find out if Ben would answer.  Lo and behold, I barely had time to go and make a sandwich before Mr. Hewitt had already responded:

Voila - they mystery has officially been solved!  My riddle ball had been signed by three members of the 2011 Joliet Slammers - Ben Hewett, Bobby Leeper, and Brad Netzel.  Case closed.  Of course, now I have to shift my focus from identifying these men to learning more about their backstories.  What did they (and continue to) accomplish on the diamond?

Spoiler alert - none of the trio made the Major Leagues.  In fact, none of them made it into affiliated ball either.  But, I don't point that out to belittle them, just to illustrate that the significance of this find comes from another source.  I mean, first off, the Slammers are one of my favorite minor league clubs - you might know them from the national promotion they did in partnership with Cards Against Humanity last year, but they hold further significance to me.  After all, the city of Joliet became my adoptive hometown, as I attended college in the city and lived in the area for several additional years.  I've been to many games at Route 66 Stadium (formerly Silver Cross Field) in my life, so any memorabilia from this club is a-okay in my book.

Also of note, the 2011 Joliet Slammers won the Frontier League championship season, in their first year of existence, no less.  Thus, these guys were part of some significant local history.

Route 66 Stadium, as captured by my lens in 2013.

As for the players themselves, Bobby Leeper partook in two seasons of professional baseball.  A 2009 graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Bobby was a starter in the outfield for the Seahawks before making the "leep" into pro ball with the Slammers in 2011.  He sure did make it count, as he was named to the mid-season All Star team, batting .292/.358/.458 across 66 games.  His contract was bought by the ill-fated North American Baseball League's Abilene Prairie Dogs for the 2012 season, but the team collapsed under financial strain before completing their schedule, with the league closing up shop soon after.  Surprisingly, post-Abilene, it appears as though Leeper was not signed by any other team.

Bobby hasn't given up on his dreams though, as it appears he's been plying his skills in the high-level, amateur Connecticut Twilight League for the past couple of campaigns.  In 2018, he took home the circuit's MVP trophy while breaking the league's homerun record with 28 bombs as a member of the Chicago Sam's Orioles.  Although I thought that this might be a local club, they are actually based in in Portland, but are sponsored by a bar called Chicago Sam's, which caused my confusion.  Anyway, congratulations, Bobby!

I love that the league creates virtual baseball cards to announce their postseason award winners.  Maybe I'll print that bad boy up to display with my autographed baseball...

The other two players who graciously wrote their name for an apparently ungrateful fan back in 2011 both have connections that hit even closer to home for me.  As it turns out, both of these ballplayers are alumni of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, aka, the same place from which I earned my college degree.  The tiny, private university, tucked quietly into the Stone City's Cathedral District, has an excellent educational reputation and is highly competitive across most sports in the NAIA, yet is rarely heard of or from outside of Will County.  Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that both of Ben Hewett and Brad Netzel had been Fighting Saints, representing our shared alma mater on a larger stage!

Ben Hewett, the guy who responded to my Twitter inquiry, actually attended USF after his minor league career came to a close.  The catcher played three seasons worth of professional ball - all in the Frontier League with parts of all three coming with the Slammers - ending up with a career .258/.338/.301 slash line before going back to school and retiring to the dugout.  He spent the next several years at good ol' USF as a student and as a graduate assistant coach to the university's baseball program, which also plays their home games in Route 66 Stadium.  Today, Ben continues to share his knowledge of the game on as the varsity softball coach for nearby Plainfield North High School.

Here's a clip of Hewett playing the hero for the Slammers, courtesy of the team's YouTube account.

Finally, last but not least, Brad Netzel had the longest professional tenure of the triad. The shortstop logged time in five different minor league seasons (two spent in J-Town) and was the only one of his signature mates to play for the pennant flag of a league besides the Frontier. That said, those other two circuits - the Continental Baseball League and the Golden Baseball League - were also of the non-affiliated variety. Nevertheless, Netzel put together a few pretty good seasons and was even named the Frontier League Championship Series MVP in 2011, before retiring from the Slammers after the 2012 schedule. He's widely regarded as one of the most consistent batters in club history.

Of even greater interest to me is what Netzel did on the field prior to inking the dotted line on his first contract. As it turns out, he was already a Joliet baseball hero as an All-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference and an NAIA All-Region VII shortstop for the University of St. Francis Fighting Saints under legendary collegiate baseball coach, Gordie Gillespie.  Brad's 2007 batting average of .412 ranks him in the top ten all-time for the powerful program, which has eight College World Series appearances under it's belt and a national title in 1993.

Brad graduated in 2008, when I was a freshman, meaning we actually walked the halls of USF at the same time. It's a super small campus too, so I almost guarantee that we crossed paths at some point. Had he been around a couple of more years, I would have actually covered him for the school paper, as I eventually became the sports editor and unofficial beat writer for the baseball team. Small world, right?

 Netzel with the Saints in 2006 and celebrating the Slammers' championship in 2011. Images courtesy of USF.

And thus, we've reached the end of my research rabbit hole. What a journey it has been!

All told, while none of the three mystery signatures on my Goodwill baseball were able to ascend all the way to the Major Leagues, all three were legitimate professional players who played for the love of the game, two of which have strong connections to my alma mater, the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL.  All in all, it made for a entertaining and engaging research topic, plus I learned an awful lot about my fellow alumni's recent history in professional baseball.  

In summation, the purchase wasn't nearly as high profile as my Keith Magnuson postcard or my Bob Howry hat; but, what the item lakes in monetary value, it more than makes up for in sentimental gain.  I'd say that makes for a rather worthwhile purchase.

 In the words of Robocop's Bixby Snyder...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Get Back, Loretta

There has been much ado made about the glacial pace of the free agent market over the last two winters and the sandbagging Cubs have certainly been no exception to this new normal.  While there hasn't been much movement on the player movement front - so far, Daniel Descalso remains the only Big League acquisition made by Theo and crew - this off-season has seen a flurry of activity in another facet of it's roster structure.  While the 25-man currently looks almost exactly the same as it did through the bulk of 2018, the same thing cannot be said about the coaching staff.  In fact, that staff bears little resemblance to the World Series winning crew of 2016.  Of that crew, over the past two seasons, only two men remain employed by the franchise with several positions turning over multiple times in that short span.

In some regards, that's the price of success - the Cubs have been quite successful over the past half decade and, thus, other clubs want to get a piece of the action.  However, part of that is also reflective of some poor decision making (the Chili Davis experiment, for example) and the fact that Joe Maddon heads into the upcoming season as a lame-duck manager.  Much like any professional setting, stability is a key ingredient to a productive workplace.

Since the end of this year's World Series, hitting coach Davis was fired, pitching coach Jim Hickey stepped down, assistant hitting coach Andy Haines was promoted in Milwaukee, and bench coach Brandon Hyde was poached by Baltimore to become their latest skipper.  In short, the staff will almost be entirely new once Spring Training comes around.

The Cubs had gone about filling all of these newfound openings, except for one that is - the bench coach spot previously occupied by Hyde.  With Maddon seemingly on the hot seat, the dugout's second-in-command in Chicago is sure to be put an interesting, maybe desirable position.  Rumors swirled around perennial future management candidate, David Ross, and fellow former Cub, Mark DeRosa, but both seem to be perfectly content as broadcasters for now.  Yesterday afternoon, word dropped that the North Siders had finally found their man and it was a name that came totally out of right field:

Mark Loretta spent fifteen years in the Major Leagues playing all over the diamond for five different clubs, from 1995-2009.  Along the way, he was named to two All-Star squads, even earning some MVP votes during his 2004 campaign with San Diego.  Oft-mentioned as a future management candidate, after his retirement in 2009, he came back to the California club to begin a career in the front office, becoming special assistant to the baseball operations crew in 2010.  Now, the Northwestern educated man is blowing back into the Windy City for his first opportunity to join a Big League coaching staff.

That's right - Mark's very first chance comes in a major market with a lame-duck manager, following a debilitating early playoff exit and two consecutive seasons of major coaching turnover.  Talk about baptism by fire!

It should be said that Loretta spent the 2009 season with the Boston Red Sox, when Theo Epstein was running the ship and Jed Hoyer was one of his assistants.  Additionally, he began his FO career with the Pads when Hoyer was running that show.  As you can see, there's some connection there.  Also of note, while Mark has no formal experience as a Big League coach, he did manage the Israeli national team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying round.  So, that's something.

But, hey, if everything goes well for him in 2019, perhaps he can set himself up nicely as a successor to Joe Maddon, should either side decide it's time to part ways at the end of the season, or for further advancement in the front office if Theo and Jed value his communication skills.  No matter what, this is going to be a big season for the new Cubs bench coach.

Most importantly, after reading this announcement and immediately rummaging through my closet, I was pleased to discover that I had a few Loretta cards tucked away in my trade boxes.  One of these three contenders - clockwise from the top, 2000 Topps, 2004 Donruss, and 1999 Pacific - will be entered into the coaches section of my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Hey - for me, making sure every new Cubs is properly represented in my favorite binder is critical!  Which one of the three cards do you think would best do the job?  I'm leaning towards the Pacific, but this Cubs fan is a little leery of allowing more Brewers content into my CATRC.

In the meantime, along with announcing the final configuration of their 2019 coaching staff, the club also made the public aware that they'd found a new mental skills coordinator in the same press release:

The position had been previously held by the universally respected, Ken Ravizza, who tragically passed away after suffering a heart attack back in July.  Ken followed Joe Maddon from the Angels to the Rays to the Cubs and is credited by players across the league for fine tuning their skills.  As announced yesterday, former Cubs and Cardinals hurler, Bob Tewksbury, will get a shot at filling Ravizza's enormous shoes and has previously served the Giants and the Red Sox in a similar capacity over the last few seasons.

Of course, this isn't a position on the traditional coaching staff, necessitating no new inclusion in my CATRC - Bob will be staying in the player section of the binder.  However, it is an excuse to show more Cubs cardboard on this Cubs cardboard-themed blog!

With that, until the Cubs acquire a player of consequence, I am up to date on the current Cubs roster, with both coaching and active players.  Here's hoping there's not another round of turnover next winter; of course, that specter looms large with the lack of extension offers put towards Joe Maddon.  At a certain point, this constant change in voice and leadership has take a toll on the Cubs, right?  Maybe Tewks can help counteract that?

Anyway, welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC, Mark Loretta!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Switching the Laundry Over

The hamper in our household has been filling up quickly this season.  My wife and I lead pretty active lifestyles -  both of us usually work out at least once a day, be it running, yoga, weight lifting, or Country Heat (not my favorite).  My running is usually done outside because treadmills are the devil, necessitating multiple layers this time of year.  Additionally, the holidays have been jam-packed with outfit changes based on photograph opportunities, food spillage, and/or whether or not we'd be visiting the home of a smoker in our Christmas adventures.  Not to mention, we both like to get comfortable at the end of a long day by swapping out our jeans and button ups for some warm and fuzzy pajamas.

Therefore, it's no mystery why our laundry pile grows like a dense, smelly patch of weeds.  Luckily, my wife and I have both been on vacation for the past week and change, so we've been able to keep up with the mound more quickly than normal.  However, the end of winter break is fast approaching and I'll likely soon get reacquainted with the back of my closet.

Thus, in the waning days of my break from the school district IT life, I would like to take advantage and get through one last load of laundry while I have the time.

By that, I mean I want to show off the latest laundry switch-ups, or "Cubgrades," I've made in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  The real laundry can wait another couple of days... said the doomed procrastinator.

Back in the glory days of having multiple card companies with official licenses, not only was there more innovation in the trading card industry, there was more variety in player selection.  Between Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Pinnacle, Leaf, and Pacific, it seemed like most players who spent a significant amount of time on a 25-man roster would show up on cardboard in one of the potpourri of products hitting store shelves.  Nowadays, in the era of just Topps and a few logo-less "competitors," the stars, prospects, and rookies soak up all the attention, while the bullpen arms and bench players are lost and forgotten, like so many singular laundromat socks.  Today, it would be a small miracle if a guy like Manny Alexander showed up in anything other than maybe Update, if we were lucky

Thankfully, back in the 90's, sets like 1998 Pacific Collection were around to fill in the gaps.

This wonderful, ivy-backed shot of Manny came as part of a much larger stash of cards as a Christmas gift from my father, which has been the subject of several posts over the last week or so.  Prior to that holiday surprise, the only two Alexanders I had as options for my treasured CATRC were the two singles you see above.  While I do love minor league cards, I have a separate binder for those; furthermore, I hold no ill-will towards the Orioles, but I do believe that almost every ballplayer looks better in freshly-pressed Cubs duds!

On a related note, paired with Manny was another "Cubgrade" that came courtesy of the 1998 Pacific Collection checklist:

Miguel Batista stuck around Major League Baseball for what seemed like forever - first signed in 1988, he stayed on the diamond until a mid-season release in 2013.  His 18-year career saw him pop up in break Spring Training camp with 11 different clubs, making him one of the most well-traveled journeyman in the sport's history - sounds like he probably went through a lot of laundry too!  With all that in mind, it's easy to forget that Miggy was ever-so-briefly a Cub - for 11 games - in 1997.

There's basically no chance that Batista would end up with a Cubs card had his career centered around this decade - Topps would have paid his 0-5 record and 5.70 ERA  (yikes) no mind.  However, things were quite different in the diverse cardboard marketplace offered by the 1990's.

Like I said, the 90's were flooded by diverse player selection and cardboard innovation.  On that note, this next product epitomizes both of those characteristics perfectly:

Pack-issued, certified autograph cards might be commonplace these days - however, they were still quite the novelty when the Leaf Signature Series his LCS shelves in 1996.  The first set to offer an autograph in every pack is also known for it's wide-range of signature subjects - more than 250 players signed for the first series alone!  Luckily for me, one of the players Leaf tracked down for the ambitious project was Todd Haney and the resulting bit of baseball ephemera remains the utility player's lone card in Cubbie Blue.

To be completely honest, I'm kind of surprised that Haney doesn't have more Cubs pasteboards.  The previous year, Todd came up from Iowa for his first extended bit of MLB action and absolutely, positively raked.  Across 73 at-bats, he destroyed NL pitching, posting an eye-popping .411/.463/.603 slash line.  Had Haney's introduction happened today, as a rookie playing for a major market club, he'd have about fifty cards and parallels before the bottom dropped out.  Again, different times.

Speaking of different times, let's fast forward from the 90's to the aughts:

Exclusive monopolies were not yet a thing in the world of cardboard, though the competition was slowly beginning to die off.  Before they were able to secure complete comfort in the market, one of the best things Topps ever did was develop the Total brand.  From 2002-2004, this products sought to showcase more of the active roster than any checklist before; in fact, the inaugural edition and it's 990-card manifest was, by far, the most comprehensive baseball card set the old bubblegum company has ever released.  It was the only place a mediocre, non-closing reliever like Alan Benes had a chance to appear.

Appearing in only ten "Total" games from 2002-03, it's a minor miracle that Alan's Cubs tenure was documented at all.  But, that's why the Total banner still has a cult-like following today - bring it back, Topps!

Finally, our last "Cubgrade" of the day also hails from the same decade:

Did you know that Tarrik Brock is one of the few Cubs players to ever debut on foreign soil?  I'm not talking about in our neighbor's north of the border either - Tarrik's maiden Major League appearance came in the land of the rising sun, when the Cubbies and the Mets journeyed to Japan for MLB's special opening series in 2000.  Thanks to the Fleer Tradition release from that year, I too know this fun fact now.  All told, thirteen cumulative games that year would be the extent of Brock's big league experience.  Thus, he was forced to share his only MLB card with fellow rookie, Ruben Quevedo.

It's a funny coincidence that this light-hitting (.167) outfielder had made his debut in another country, seeing as, for the longest time, he was represented in my CATRC by a card from another land, as well:

Of course, that land was Venezuela, not Japan.  Tarrik's Major League career was over after 2000, but  he didn't give up on his professional dream.  In 2002, he was playing winter ball in the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional (LVBP), as this Line Up single will attest.  I must admit, I'm a little disappointed to boot this multi-cultural oddball from my main binder; but, it will still find a place in my binder of minor league/foreign league/Negro League cards.

With that, this load of laundry is finally done.  And I didn't even mess anything up!

That about covers all of the laundry switches found in my Dad's overly-generous Christmas gift; but, there's still plenty more content to cover from that yuletide haul.  I'm going to try and run through the rest of the goodies over the next couple days; although, at this rate, it's going to be next Christmas before I get through it all!

Thank you for joining me on the virtual laundromat known as Wrigley Roster Jenga today.  Now that I'm done with this 'load," maybe I should consider going to the actual laundromat with my heap of workout clothes and sweaters... Nah, I still have four more days before work starts back up - I'm sure I'll get it taken care of before then.  Suuuuuuurrrrrrrre.