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...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Happy Adbert AlzoDAY!

What a roller coaster.

Early this week, Kyle Hendricks went on the 10-Day IL due to shoulder soreness.  With "the Professor" being an incredibly reliable and consistent presence out of the starting rotation over the past half decade, this murky injury made Cubs fans quite nervous.  This, of course, did not get better when it was revealed that this soreness was actually an impingement that may very well keep the ace out of action until the All-Star break.  We North Side rooters have our fingers crossed that this injury does not blossom into something even worse over the next few weeks, as Hendricks' health could have major ramifications on the team's chances in 2019.

As foreboding as this development was, there was one positive side effect that we Cubs faithful could distract ourselves with:  it was Adbert Alzolay time!

The Venezuelan native is the first bonafide starting pitching prospect to rise out of the Cubs system since the days of Jeff Samardzijia and Andrew Cashner.  In fact, as of this writing, Rob Zastryszny remains the only Chicago-raised farmhand to start a game at the MLB-level for the Theo Epstein regime (*Edit* I forgot about Jen Ho-Tseng in 2017, not that he's any more significant).  As storied as their World Series-winning rebuild has become, this team was assembled almost entirely on developing bats and then buying pitching.  It's become something of a running joke over the last few years that Epstein and crew simply cannot groom moundsmen and Adbert is their best shot at re-writing this narrative.

It just so happened that the former top-100 prospect's last turn through the AAA Iowa Cubs rotation fell on the same day as Hendrick's most recent start.  Additionally, it had already been made public knowledge that the front office was hoping to get Adbert some time in the majors soon, both to serve as welcome respite for a very veteran starting rotation and as an audition for the stretch run.  Though he missed the second half of last seasons and some time early this year, the young hurler has been carving up the Pacific Coast League.  After all, he has 1.93 ERA in his last five starts with 40 strikeouts and three walks in 28 innings, good enough to earn him the PCL Pitcher of the Week award.

With these factors in mind, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to add Adbert to the 25-man roster and those of us who bleed Cubbie Blue were starting to dream on how Alzolay's three plus-pitch repertoire might play against the Mets.

Welp, instead of getting pumped up, we were forced to pump the breaks instead.

As it turned out, although Adbert was very much in play for the rotation spot, it was decided that the revitalized Tyler Chatwood should get first dibs on the vacancy.  After all, Chatty has turned things around, out of the bullpen, so far in 2019 and has already delivered an impressive spot start once this year.  There was worry that skipping over the righty would disrupt the team chemistry and I, for one, can see how Tyler might feel slighted.  So, I understood why Chatwood would end up getting the call against the Mets today instead of Alzolay, but the wind was definitely gone from my sails.

Then - late last night - the situation changed, yet again.

With Chatwood getting the start, there would be no trustworthy long reliever in the bullpen.  Seeing as Tyler isn't completely stretched out, the Cubs definitely needed somebody available to "piggy back," seeing as one cannot reasonably expect a deep start out of a guy who hasn't pitched more than two frames in a month.  With that in mind, a roster move needed to be made in order to properly staff the bullpen and it probably would have made the most sense to call upon the scheduled starter for Iowa... wait a minute...

It's Adbert time, after all!

Now, we Cubs faithful get to have our cake and eat it too - Chatty gets the starting chance that he's earned and Alozlay still gets to make his Major League debut.  With a struggling Mets team limping into town, tonight's contest has the potential to be quite lucrative for both men.  Here's hoping that both Tyler and Adbert come through and make the most of their opportunities.  And speaking of opportunities, as for who will take the next turn in the starting rotation, we'll see.  Perhaps it will be whichever of the two moudsmen pitches better tonight?  All the more intrigue to tonight's tilt.

Anyway, with last night's somewhat surprising announcement, I now have the chance to add Adbert to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, my most treasured tome.  Being that Alzolay has been a top prospect for several years now and owing to the fact that I've now toured and bought card sets from a pair of Cubs minor league facilities (Myrtle Beach and Tennessee) where Adbert had made stops, I'm lucky enough to have a handful of options to serve as his cardboard representation.  This is not always the case when the Cubbies call upon a hurler from the bushes; so for that, I am thankful.

However, all three of my options are technically minor league cards - two from Cubs affiliates and one from the Arizona Fall League.  The former two are treasured souvenirs from a pair of lovingly-remembered vacations while the latter is a cheap single that I picked up from my LCS on the same day as my Steve Cishek "Cubgrade."  Now, I have to decide which one will hold down the fort until Adbert earns his inevitable rookie card from the old bubblegum company, at which point all three will slide over to my "Nothing Major" binder.

Despite the more personal connections to the Pelicans and Smokies cards, I'm leaning towards the card which heads up this post - the 2018 Bowman AZL Fall Stars insert.  I tend this way mostly because the Fall League uniforms are almost identical to true Cubs jerseys (excepting the hats) and... well... it's shiny and I like shiny.  However, I haven't made a decision with great conviction yet; so, please feel free to weigh-in on the matter in the comment section below.

It should also be noted that in order to make room for Adbert's ascension, the Tim Collins era was forced to come to an end on the North Side.  The LOOGY was designated for assignment and - since he still had minor league options - this is indicative that his time in Cubbie Blue has more than likely come to an end.  Acquired at the end of Spring Training and spending most of his time at AAA, the fairly diminutive hurler gave up 3 runs in 7.2 innings (8 games).  This works out for both parties:  Collins will now have the chance to latch onto another club with a less crowded pen and the Cubs have freed a 25-man roster spot for Alzolay and a 40-man spot for Tony Barnette, who's rehab assignment is just about complete.

Goodbye, Mr. Collins (we hardly knew ye) and hello, Mr. Alzolay.  Welcome to the Major Leagues and to my CATRC.  Here's hoping that Adbert joins in the yearlong tradition of making the Mets look hapless and proves he's Major League ready.  His emergence would go a long way towards easing the loss of Kyle Hendricks and take some of the heat off of Theo Epstein for not being able to develop pitchers.

Go have yourself an AlzoDAY, kid!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Another Off The List

Quick post today - much like your average Steve Cishek relief appearance.

With summer break having officially begun, this school district IT professional is now working a part-time schedule; as such, I have some extra free time on my hands.  While most of that time is spent on household chores and "honey-do's," I do still find myself with an unoccupied hour here and there in the middle of the work week.  It's kind of nice not to always be running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, like I have been for the whole last quarter of the school year.

This afternoon, after purchasing a rear windshield wiper blade from the auto parts store, buying the city sticker for my car, and scheduling a vet appointment for my cat, I ended up with one of those free spaces in my daily schedule.  So, being the man child that I am, I immediately wheeled that newly registered car to my local card shop just to browse away the hour.  Honestly, I think I can speak for most of us here on the blogosphere when I say that this is the best way to kill some time.

I wasn't looking for anything specific, but I sure didn't leave disappointed.

Poetically, I was able to check a box off of my cardboard to-get list while taking a break from my to-do list.

Steve Cishek has been one of the most reliable arms coming out of the Cubs bullpen since he was signed in the off-season before 2018.  Over the past season and a half, the side-armer has posted a 2.53 ERA in 99.2 innings, largely as a set-up man, but also contributing 10 saves.  While the pen has been largely inconsistent during the past few seasons, "Speedpass" has been an exceptionally welcome, steadying presence.

Having been a consequential Cub for a year and a half, it felt criminal that Cishek was represented in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection by a damn Cardinals card:

Thankfully, this injustice has finally been corrected, thanks to my impulse trip to the LCS.  While non-closing relievers don't often get spotlighted by Topps and Co. in their checklists, Cishek has made a few cameo appearances since the end of his first year in Chicago.  So far, Steve has true, Cubbie Blue cards in both 2019 (as seen above) and 2018 Heritage, last year's Update, and - somewhat surprisingly - in this year's Series 2.  With a fair amount of mainstream options, it felt even more inappropriate that I should force Cishek to wear those Cardinal rags for so long. 

Sorry Steve!

In addition to my long awaited "Cubgrade," I made a couple of other additional, "odds and ends" purchases; however, I'll been keeping those cards in the holster for now, in case I need them for future posts.  In the meantime, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read all about my purchase of a inexpensive base card of a reliever.

Speaking of busy, I should probably get back to that "to-do" list.  Those carpets aren't going to shampoo themselves!

Monday, June 10, 2019

R.I.P. Frank Lucchesi

Yesterday, word began to leak to the press that longtime former manager and coach, Frank Lucchesi, had passed away.  On Saturday, the 92-year old baseball lifer died from unspecified causes in the Dallas area.

Mr. Lucchesi began his career in professional baseball way back in 1945 when he first suited up for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League at a spy 18 years old.  He would spend the next 13 seasons plying his trade in the bushes, but he would never reach the ultimate peak as a player.  After he officially hung up his cleats in 1957, Frank grabbed a clipboard and took to coaching.  For thirty-one years, the wry veteran would pass on his knowledge and lead baseball clubs up and down the professional baseball ladder.

On the Major League side, Frank Lucchesi is best remembered for his stint as skipper for the Philadelphia Phillies and his tumultuous time at the helm for the Texas Rangers.  For the former, he is most notable for leading the team in their last contest at old Connie Mack Stadium and their first at Veterans Stadium.  Otherwise, this team in transition didn't provide many highlights for his resume.

On the other hand, for the latter, Frank succeeded the embattled and controversial Billy Martin only to get punched out by his own second baseman, Lenny Randle, in a dispute about playing time in 1977.  Randle was upset with losing time at the keystone to rookie, Bump Wills, and his anger eventually boiled over.  The strike wasn't a glancing blow either, as the punch caused a fractured cheekbone, a concussion, and a busted lip.  Afterwards, Frank would soon find himself demoted back to a coaching role and embroiled in a lawsuit against his former middle infielder, who was immediately suspended and then sent packing.

All in all, Frank Lucchesi managed for seven years in the Majors, with a career record of 316-399 for three different clubs.

 Both Lenny and Bump would eventually end up with the Cubs, though - thankfully - not at the same time.

That's right, three.  It's easy to forget (and maybe you never even knew), but Frank once again donned an MLB uniform in 1987, a full decade after his last managerial job.  After the future Yankees General Manager and dynasty architect, Gene Michael, voluntarily stepped aside as manager in the waning days of the 1987 season, the Cubs found themselves needing an experienced fill-in on short notice.  You see, there were several candidates on the coaching staff who were raring to go, but GM Dallas Green did not want to throw any of them into the fire.  After all, the Cubs had already entered a death spiral after looking competitive in the early summer - no one was going to look good at the front of that train wreck.  It was best to put off the search until the off-season.

Green turned to his friend Lucchesi, who Dallas had know since working in the Phillie front office in the early 70's.  Frank had been serving the Cubs as a scout, but Dallas needed someone he could trust to steer his team through a rough transition. The expectations were nil - basically just get through the end of the calendar and evaluate the state of the roster.  In this interim role, Frank led the club to a 8-17 record before going on his merry way (without fisticuffs) at the end of the campaign. As for the future, Lucchesi himself told the press that he would not seek and was not a candidate for the regular job.

For 1988, out of a pool of hopefuls which included Billy Williams, John Vukovich, and Johnny Oates, Don Zimmer was promoted from third base coach to take over the young roster, planting the seeds for the "Boys of Zimmer."  Perhaps Lucchesi's evaluations at the tail end of the '87 season helped shaped the club that would surprise everyone by winning the National League East crown in 1989?

Despite the acknowledged temporary nature of his role, which lasted for just 25 games at the end of a lost season, Frank Lucchesi managed to sneak into the checklist of 1988 Topps in a Cubs uniform.  The announcement of Popeye's succession into the manager's chair must have been made too late to include him in the set and Topps needed a face for the front of the Lovable Losers' checklist.  At any rate, I'm thrilled about that development, seeing as it's a minor miracle that Frank Lucchesi has a true, Cubbie Blue card for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection with his brief and unremarkable Chicago tenure.

Brevity aside, a Cub is a Cub no mater how long they called Wrigley Field home.  With that in mind, on behalf of Cubs fans everywhere, I say thank you, Mr. Lucchesi, for stepping up when the North Siders needed you in 1987 and thank you for dedicating your life to America's pastime.

RIP Frank Lucchesi.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

What Wood You Do?

There's more lumber in this Cubs card than a Lowe's home improvement store.

This single from the most recent release of Topps Heritage has been a target since the product first hit store shelves this spring.  I have to believe somebody with some pull in creating the checklist purposely paired these rookie hurlers due to their wooden surnames.  It's not as funny as the classic "Bong Puffer" rookie card of 2003; that being said, I can certainly appreciate the attention to detail.

Of course, the wry humor behind this timber twosome is just a bonus.  In all actuality , the reason why I've been tracking this card like a lost lumberjack is because it represents James Norwood's true Major League rookie card.  To this point and to my knowledge, the relief prospect had never appeared in a set that wasn't a minor league team issue.  Thus, I soon found myself "pine-ing" for his Heritage debut, wanting to include it in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

It was in hopes of landing that cedar single that I purchased this particular pack of Heritage.  Although, I must admit, I had a rather strong inkling that I wouldn't be leaving my Target disappointed.  As you can see in the image above, the thin wrapping cannot mask the Cubbie Blue showing through - I knew for certain that I'd be adding this card to my CATRC binder as soon as I picked it off the rack.

Did I bend the rules of collecting?  Maybe a little.  I can't help the fact that I have eyes and I can see the dark cards through the thin, light wrapper, even without the glasses that I broke a month ago and still haven't replaced.

At any rate, I now find myself the proud owner of a brand new Norwood for my favorite three-ring.  James made his Major League debut in 2018, getting into eleven games during the summer months and posting a 4.09 ERA in eleven frames.  So far  2019, the 25-year old has made one additional appearance, but he's mostly been biding his time in AAA.  With a power arm, he figures to be seen in Wrigley Field again before long.

While I certainly needed a copy of his first true Cubs card, the young reliever hadn't been completely absent from my collection.  Back in October of 2017, I spent a weekend in the Myrtle Beach area, during which I visited the local ballpark of the Cubs affiliated Pelicans and picked up one of those aforementioned MiLB team sets.

As much I love the memories attached to this souvenir, a true Cubs card is going to beat out a minor league single (even from a Chicago affiliate) any day of the week.  The only characteristic that gives me pause is the fact that the Pelicans card is a solo piece, while the Heritage is shared with Duane Underwood (who himself has an individual pasteboard already in my binder) and I prefer to have my players not have to share pockets with a roommate.  Nevertheless, Heritage wins this battle... for now anyway.

In the process of drafting this post, I discovered that Panini Prizm came out in the middle of last month and James got his own, dedicated rookie card in that super shiny, foil-based product.  With that. while I though it was over, the chase continues...

At any rate, I've rambled on and on about Norwood quite long enough.  I'm sure you're wondering about the rest of my fat pack of Heritage.  Well, please allow me to show off the rest of the goodies that came packaged with the "wood brothers."  I'm sure the NASCAR fans who wandered over here will appreciate that pun.

A current Cubs outfielder and a former one, both with a beautiful blue sky back drop.  Both welcome additions to my collections.

Also, I miss Dexter Fowler.  He just doesn't look right in Cardinal Red.  😢

*ahem*  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here's what the back of 2019 Heritage looks like; though, I'm sure you've seen every detail of this set covered on the blogosphere already, seeing as it's already been out for a few months:

A very fair approximation of the originals, although the required legal-ese always ruins the illusion when it comes to these nostalgic recreations.  Oh well, nothing that can be done about that, I suppose.

Additionally, I like that the cartoon on the back spotlights Kyle's supremely unlikely performance in the 2016 World Series, which remains the high point of his still young and promising Cubs tenure.  His performance on the field since that time has been extremely up and down, due to his issues with plate discipline; however, if he ever puts it all together - with that prodigious power - the National League better watch out!

That did it for the Cubs content in the packet.  Of course, there were still some other cards that managed to catch my eye, for one reason or another.

This pair of pitchers represent a formidable, folicular duo.  Daniel Mengden would look right at home on an Allen and Ginter or Gypsy Queen single, with that silent movie villain mustache.  It's certainly the best I've seen since former Cub, Carlos Villanueva, sported a similar look a few seasons ago.  Meanwhile, Mikolas' stache isn't nearly as stylish, but the stormy skies in the background of his photograph make for an interesting contrast from the rest of the largely sunny set.

A pair of players from other teams who I find it difficult to root against.  A Nippon League veteran who came stateside with Diamondbacks just prior to the 2018 season and a late-blooming, former prospect who finally worked his way into the Major League picture.  Foreign imports and minor league journeymen are stories that I pretty much always find to be intriguing and neither Yoshihisa nor Nicky are exceptions.

Unfortunately, neither player is having a pleasant 2019, as Hirano's ERA sits comfortably over five and Nicky recently went down for the rest of the campaign due to a shoulder injury.  Here's hoping both of these guys can turns things around, just not when they face the Cubs.

Stephen Strasburg may be an intimidating presence on the mound; but, he certainly isn't imposing in this photograph.  In fact, his smile is proving to be quite infectious - check out those pearly whites!

That about does it for the non-Cubs that caught my eye.  Nevertheless, in the interest of completion, here's a quick compilation of the rest of the cards found within my purchased jumbo pack of 2019 Topps Heritage:

And there you have it.  Unless any of these guys end up playing for the Cubs someday, I don't have much use for these.  Into the trade boxes they go.

Overall, it was a pretty decent rip.  Two bonafide Cubs cards and one featuring a former Second City favorite in a jersey of a different color.  One of those Cubs cards also happened to be a particle board... errrm... pasteboard that I had been actively chasing, although I knew for certain that it was in the packet because I could see it through the wrapper.  While I didn't feel up every pack, pressing the wrap up against the cover card to get a better look, I did glance at a few of them before I made my final decision and it was fairly easy to tell what was first in line on many of them without staring.

On that note, I have to ask, do you think it's problematic to be picking your packs based on cards that can be somewhat seen through the wrappings?  Is this akin to pack-searching and cheating the system put in place to keep things fair?  Or, is this more like the old cello rack packs, where were able to actively choose your purchase based on the cards purposely showcased in the front?  Please feel free to make your thoughts on this moral gray area known in the comment section below and I apologize if we are re-litigating an issue that I hadn't noticed covered elsewhere.

In this situation, what "wood" you do?