Thursday, July 18, 2019

Old Edition

Did you know that Johnny Gill played baseball?

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

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

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

Can you find the typo?

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the Conlon Collection.

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

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

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

 Surely these legends are worth more than a sacrifice bunt.

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

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

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

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