Thursday, December 31, 2020

Total Fliers

In case you missed it, I'm back and playing catch-up.

During my sabbatical, I missed out on covering quite a few new Cubs here on Wrigley Roster Jenga.  Thankfully for my OCD, while I was MIA on the blogosphere, I was still semi-actively collecting and kept my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection (CATRC) up-to-date.  So, since I'm quarantined with COVID, I have nothing better to do that get this cobweb infested webspace all caught up.  I'll be showing off these cards of 2020 roster additions in roughly chronological order, but I'll definitely be taking some creative liberties along the way.  After all, if we learned anything during this chaotic year, linear time is absolutely meaningless.

Today, I'll be featuring a pair of hurlers who were "technically" on the roster when I closed the shudders on this blog back in June.  However, seeing as the active roster had not yet been finalized at the time and these low-risk/high reward, bullpen fliers were far from locks to make the club, I never got around to covering them.  Plus, I didn't have any cards featuring their faces at that point either.  In the end, both guys ended up making the cut, largely thanks to the pandemic-inflated rosters; thus, today they will be getting their due from me.  Anyway, let's kick things off with the first of the pair to be acquired by the Cubs - Daniel Winkler.

Image courtesy of  AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Dan Winkler is an Illinois-boy, originally hailing from Effingham and attending Parkland College in Champaign, and was even drafted by his home-state club in the 43rd round of the 2010 amateur draft.  Of course, Effingham is located well south of Chicago and is far enough away that the territory is pretty much evenly split with the rival Cardinals.  Perhaps that's why he did not sign with the organization at that time? Maybe he was a fan of the Red Birds?  Doubtful, especially since he grew up listening to Cubs broadcasts with this blue-blooded grandmother on WGN.

Anyway, Dan ended up going to the Rockies in the next year's draft a few rounds earlier.  Eventually, the righty made his way to the Braves via the Rule 5 Draft, where he made his MLB debut in 2015.  After a few seasons yo-yoing back and forth between the Majors and the minors and rehabbing from a broken elbow, Winkler had solidified a spot in the Bravos bullpen by 2018, largely on the strength of his cutter and his fastball which ranks in the 90th percentile in spin.

Winkler doesn't miss a lot of bats and largely pitches to contact and thus got knocked around a bit in 2019, leading to his being traded away by Atlanta to San Francisco, who let him walk as a free agent after the season without appearing in an MLB contest with the team.  The Cubs then scooped him up that December, owing to their perpetually understaffed bullpen and artificially tight purse strings.

The Cubs have actually had a lot of success in identifying relievers who have glided under the radar but have one elite skill and then reshaping them in their "pitch lab."  As such, Winkler ended up as a perfectly useable bullpen arm for them in 2020, appearing in 18 games (18.1 innings) with an ERA under three.

As well as Winkler performed for the Cubbies in 2020, I thought finding a card of him for my CATRC would be a rougher go. After all, relievers hardly get any love from Topps and Panini and Winkler hasn't exactly been a steady presence over the years. However, I was surprised to find that he appeared as a Brave in a few recent Flagship sets and - even better - was an early inclusion in the 2020 edition of the rebooted Topps Total, as a Cub no less. 

To see that Winkler, of all people, already had a Cubs card to his name came as quite a surprise to me. These print-to-order cards are, as you know, quite a different animal from their pack-pulled brethren and finding singles is more of a challenge and harder on the wallet than those in traditional sets; however, I am so glad this set was brought back from the dead, even if the former bargain brand is now a premium. As you'll see in this series of posts catching up on the moves that I missed, Winkler is far from the only player who Total provided for my binder.

In fact, Winkler's card isn't even the sum total of Total cards featured in this blog entry. Let's shift our focus to another offseason flier who made the team out of spring training - Casey Sadler.

Image courtesy of Getty

Casey Sadler was a surprise, late-season contributor out of the bullpen for the powerful Dodgers in 2019.  In 24 games, the hurler claimed four wins, no losses, and posted a sterling 2.33 ERA.  But, since that World Series bound franchise was absolutely stacked going into this year, they traded him to Chicago for a minor leaguer.  Especially once COVID-expanded rosters became a thing, Sadler's spot in the Cubs bullpen was all but assured; however, I held off on talking about his acquisition at that the time, even though the blog was actually active at this point. *Shrug*

In the end, Sadler was unable to duplicate his Dodger days for the Cubs, seeing his ERA balloon to 5.73 in 10 games.  In a bullpen that had to shortage of otherwise useful options, the Cubs ended up designating him for assignment before the season was out.  Sadler was eventually claimed by the Mariners and added to their active roster on the same day as now current Cub waiver claim, Philip Ervin.  Whether or not Ervin remains a Cub through Opening Day 2021 and also joins Sadler in my CATRC remains to be seen.

While his bullpen mate, Daniel Winkler, was surprisingly easy to cross off of my "needs" list, Casey Sadler was quite the opposite.  Despite appearing in parts of five season as a Major League Baseball player, as of halfway through 2020, Sadler had literally NEVER appeared on an official baseball card.  Not even so much as a courtesy Bowman or Prizm Draft Picks single from his prospect days.  By the time he'd been DFA'ed off of the Cubs' roster, the only cardboard options for Sadler that existed were singles from MiLB team-issued sets.  While Winkler proved to be an exception to the rule, this is exactly the sort of hobby situation I expect with relatively unstable MLB relievers.

Then, once again, in stepped Topps Total to the rescue.

Sure, they were late to the party and Sadler was already a Mariner by the time Total's eighth wave made it to market, but I was both surprised and thrilled to see Casey finally get his time in the spotlight.  Someone else must have been too, as this particular single was confusingly difficult to find at a reasonable price on the secondhand market.  As Wrigley Wax theorized, perhaps a member of the Sadler family was just as excited to see Casey finally get a bubblegum card and bought them up with great enthusiasm?  

No offense to the hurler, but I doubt there's a Sadler super collector out there.  But, that's no matter - I finally tracked one down for a couple bucks out of Canada, so all is well in the land of Wrigley Roster Jenga.

It's here that we place in a pin in the great roster move catch-up series, as my infant son is not nearly as interested in blogging as I am at the moment.  Next time out, we'll talk about the non-roster invitees who made the team out of spring training in 2020.  Seeing as, due to the COVID protocols, the rosters were expanded to 30 men from jump, more guys than usual made this leap from the NRI ranks, I'll have plenty of players and cards to showcase.

In the meantime, happy New Year!  Thank goodness this perpetual dumpster fire of a calendar year is finally fucking off.  Let's all chug some Instacart-ordered, bargain brand bubbly and toast to 2021 being the first step back to relative normalcy.  

See ya'll on the other side!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Yu've Got to be Kidding Me

I know I said in my first post back that I'd be covering all the Cubs players who have been added to the roster since I've been away, but I've got to interrupt myself.  Somewhat.

Today's post will involve a guy who was added to the roster since that June sabbatical began; however, we're going to leapfrog seven months and rant... errrr... talk about a transaction that occurred just a couple of days ago.  I'm alluding, of course, to the "blockbuster" trade that occurred between the buckwild Padres and the club who is truly putting the "W" in white flag - the Cubs.  In case you somehow missed the news, GM Jed Hoyer announced his intentions to save the Ricketts family some debt by trading the ace of their already weakened pitching staff, Yu Darvish, to a club who actually seems interested in competing (understatement) in 2020, in exchange for a bunch of teenagers.  As if that wasn't a strong enough signal of their intentions, they also threw in Yu's personal catcher - Victor Caratini - AND paid off some of Darvish's contract, on top of that absolute gift.

All I can say is I'm mad at baseball again.

As a fan-base, we were promised at the onset of the last rebuild that we would never have to suffer through another stretch of baseball as bad as that was.  After all, Chicago is about as major of a market as you can get, the Ricketts had deep pockets, and the new television channel and Wrigleyville renovations were basically going to print money for the franchise.  Of course, now, even after saying at the end of the 2020 season that a total rebuild wasn't going to occur, Tommy Boy is crying poor and auctioning off stars at bargain bin prices.  I understand a change needed to happen, especially with the offense, after a couple of lackluster, but competitive seasons.  However, retooling the roster does not involve swapping your Cy Young caliber ace and high-quality back-up catcher for a bunch of players who might be good in four years.  And now there's rumors of trading Willson Contreras away... excuse me, what?

Now, your offense is exactly the same, the pitching staff is measurably worse, your actively gutting your catchers, and instead of getting young players who could help fill those black holes from one of the best farm systems in the league, you got a handful of lottery tickets that aren't redeemable until the middle of the decade.  All so you can save your "billionaire" owners some money... to which I say, sell the damn team!  But, what else can you expect from the same ownership group that worships at the altar of the ultimate fake billionaire, Donald Trump.  Fuck 'em.

Although, the Cubs did get ONE Major League piece back from the Pads - Zach Davies, aka store brand Kyle Hendricks.  Sure, Davies isn't a bad option to plug into the back of a starting rotation, but Yu Darvish he ain't.  Plus, with Hendricks and Alec Mills being your only other predictable rotation options, the starting staff is now almost exclusively populated by soft-tossers, as Davies' fastball barely averages in the high 80's these days.  Opposing offenses are going to be absolutely teeing up at Wrigley this summer.  maybe the Ricketts are counting on increased souvenirs in the bleachers to bring fans in the gates next year?

Anyway, in a division where the Reds and the Pirates are already tearing themselves down to the studs, the Cubs should be taking advantage at an almost guaranteed playoff spot.  Instead, they seem to be up to the challenge of racing to the bottom.  Jesus, I almost wish that I was a Brewers fan.  Maybe I'll follow Yu and Vic to San Diego?


*Sigh* Well, that was cathartic anyway... I feel a TOUCH better after that rant.  I still won't be spending any money on the Cubs this year.  No Marquee network (even if I could), no game tickets (if we ever get back to that point), no merch, no nada.  I'm sure they'll miss my pittance, but it's the principle of the thing.

That said, I am still a slave to my collection - I still begrudgingly love baseball and will continue to follow my favorite team.  It might be a toxic relationship until the Ricketts are ran out of town on a rail, but if I could jump off of the train, I would have already.  With that in mind, I guess I need to acquire a card of Zach Davies for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Again, he's somehow the only one I'll need after trading away the guy who finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2020.  Those prospects can wait until they've at least graduated A-ball.

In preparing for the arrival of my son - the only good thing to happen in 2020 - I offloaded a the majority of my collection on Nick from Dimeboxes, as you might have seen through his blog.  By collection, I really mean bloat, as it was all the cards that didn't really fit into my ultra-niche collections, including my stores of active players whose cards I held onto just in case they might end up as Cubs one day.  I'm sure there was a Davies in there, as he's a six-year veteran who has exclusively pitched as a regular starter.  However, as with any new addition to the active roster from here on out, I'll have to take it as it comes.  Maybe after I've recovered from COVID, I'll mask up and pop into my local card shop for a spell and calm my nerves. Maybe I'll get impatient during this quarantine and overpay for a single on EBay.  At any rate, Zach's got some options.

As far as Davies' base cards go, I think these are my favorite two options - I guess I'm in a GQ mood lately.

In the end, thanks for sticking with me through this therapeutic rant.  I felt like I had to cover this trade on the blog and that I had to do so before it faded from the spotlight - I've already neglected Wrigley Roster Jenga for long enough.

For the first time since this blog's infancy, here's to another season of rebuilding roster jenga.  I'm sure I'll be busy chasing down cards of random scrubs, AAAA filler, and waiver claims for the first time since this competitive streak began in 2015.  I guess the blog is - begrudgingly - back to living up to the inspiration behind it's name.

If you enjoyed this content - don't worry - I'm sure there'll be more unhinged rants when the team deals away Contreras and Kris Bryant for some Bed Bath & Beyond coupons.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Is This Thing Still On?

 Hey, remember me?

This place sure is dusty and covered in world wide cob webs... how long has been it been?  Jesus - my last post was in June... I missed a whole (ish) season of baseball.  Man, time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister.

Well, I'm left to ask myself, what might have caused such a long absence?  My answer is threefold.  First, a general dissatisfaction with the sport.  Between minor league baseball being nuked, labor strife wreaking havoc on baseball's future, and rooting for a directionless team seemingly ticketed for decline while stuck in a Groundhog Day-like state of mediocrity, it's been hard to feel enthused about my favored sport.  Although, I will say that despite some negative connotations, MLB's long-belated recognition of the Negro Leagues as being officially Major League caliber has perked my enthusiasm up a little bit.

Furthermore, there's the whole chaotic purgatory that is the year 2020.  Between the heated Presidential election, the coup attempt by the world's most sore loser that is somehow still ongoing, and - y'know - the raging pandemic that continues to spread like wildfire across the world, but even more powerfully in the only first world nation that thinks science is for wussies.  While we're on that note, I might as well mention that I just tested positive for COVID-19 and am now quarantined away from the world.  I've been as responsible as possible; however, having to work in four different buildings as part of my current employment has left me extremely exposed.  Thankfully, my symptoms are pretty mild - it mostly feels as though I just have a prolonged head cold.  Although, I have lost my senses of smell and taste, which figures because I have nothing better to do than eat my feelings.  

I suppose I'll have to settle for the next best way to spend my time - blogging about baseball cards.  After all, I've missed covering a bunch of new additions to the Cubs All-Time Roster while I was away, seeing as the 2020 season somehow ended up happening, despite the best efforts of the Marlins and Cardinals.  While I wasn't blogging, I was still passively collecting and I am pretty much up to date at this point.  The expanded rosters created a whole bunch of new Cubs, I might as well take this opportunity to document them.

I think I'll go one by one, in (approximately) the order the players were added to the active roster, starting... tomorrow.

Why drag my feet after all this time already taken off?  That brings me to the third reason Wrigley Roster Jenga has been dormant for so long - my wife and I welcome our first child into the world this summer and, unsurprisingly, he's been a bit of distraction.  Needless to say, 2020 was a stressful year to go through the whole childbirth process; but, at least I can say something wonderful did happen during this year of otherwise unrelenting frustration.  Both Rowan and his mother are doing quite well, though we are all three battling that damn virus, at the moment.

Also - sidebar - Rowan definitely wasn't name AFTER Cubs reliever Rowan Wick; although, I might have discovered that I liked the way the moniker sounded while listening to Cubs' broadcasts during the hurler's Wrigley tenure.  Don't tell mom.

Anyway, I'm going to use the last few minutes of the kid's nap to sort through my binders and get my upcoming posts ready.  See ya'll tomorrow!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Topsy Turvey

A few weeks back, I wrote and ranted about a case of mistaken identity.  The switcheroo was entirely on me, but nevertheless frustrating.  I mean, I thought I was getting an intriguing card which featured a Dead Ball player I needed for my marquee collection - the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection - and instead I sunk most of my monthly hobby budget on an expensive and superfluous minor leaguer who shared a surname.  I mean, no one died, but I think we all know that annoying feeling of self defeat pretty well.  It tends to get stuck in your gaw, so to speak.

Luckily for me, just a few days later I was able to consummate a trade that swapped the accidental acquisition for a super vintage card that was more my speed.  However, that trade is still pending, so it'll be a little while yet before I get to showcase that swap.  In the meantime, I continued to monitor the market for antique baseball cards and I managed to come across another needed card from the same era which fit snugly in what was left of my budget.  Although it wasn't Art Phelan, like I had been originally tracking, it was certifiably, undoubtedly, and undeniably a player who I actually needed for my CATRC binder and not some bush league impostor.  

Enter Frederick "Topsy" Hartsel:

As you can see, this 1911 T205 Piedmont tobacco card has seen better days; of course, it's those very creases, rough corners, and lost paper which put this super vintage beauty into a price range I can afford.  When trying to collect one card of every player for a franchise that's history stretches back to the Grant Administration, one has to try and limit the damage done to the wallet.  All in all, I'd say this piece still ain't too hard on the eyes.  It doesn't hurt that the AL portion of the T205 set is the most ornate and creative looking card design of the era either.

Speaking of standouts, you don't hear much about him now, but Topsy might have been the greatest leadoff hitter of his generation.  The diminutive (5'5") lefty led the American League in walks five times, on base percentage twice, and runs scored once while topping the order for Connie Mack's Athletics throughout the first decade of the 20th century.  The outfielder was also quick, stealing over 240 bases during his 14-year career, including a league-leading 47 in 1902.  All in all, Topsy was everything a manager could possibly want out of their table-setter.  

Of course, the Cubs are gonna Cub - Hartsel accomplished all of that after he left the Windy City for the City of Brotherly Love.

Boy they sure don't write 'em up like they used to... that bio truly does pack a "wallop."  That paragraph also alludes to the fact that Topsy first emerged onto the baseball scene by posting an excellent .339 batting average with the Cubs (or the Orphans, as they were known then) in 1901.  Now, Hartsel had made Big League cameos with the old Louisville club and Cincinnati from 1898 to 1900, but it wasn't until the Chicagoans acquired his contract that he received an extended audition.

In fact, Hartsel's contract was a matter of fiery debate at the time, as both Cincy and Chi-Town had claimed to sign Hartsel from the bushes going into 1900.  Though originally awarded to the Reds, the Cubs eventually won out after team president and soon-to-be owner, James Hart, campaigned to force his rival to forfeit all 18 games in which Topsy appeared that year.  Eventually the NL gave in and awarded his services to the squeaky wheel.

Topsy with his 1901 Orphans teammates.

In the end, it quickly became apparent why the two teams were fighting so hard for the then unproven outfielder's services.  To go along with his stout batting average (actually 335 according to BRef), Topsy also swiped 41 bases, smashed 25 doubles and walked 74 times in 1901.  Overall, an excellent season by any measure - truly, the Orphans/Cubs had found themselves a diamond in the rough.

Of course, after his excellent debut campaign, Topsy thanked the organization that gave him his big break by jumping ship and joining the upstart American League for the 1902 season.  Hartsel jumped from the Orphans to Mack's Athletics and the rest was history.  Topsy lead off for four A's pennant winners, including a World Series victory over his former organization in 1910. 

Perhaps President Hart should have fought for Topsy when he jumped to the AL as hard as he fought to pry the player back from Cincy?  It's been over 110 years and the Cubs still find themselves in need of a solid leadoff man.  Outside of a few standouts like Dexter Fowler and Bob Dernier, the first spot in the lineup continues to be a blackhole for the organization.  Are we sleeping on the curse of Topsy Hartsel?

That said, the Cubbies didn't end up missing Mr. Hartsel too badly, as the franchise's golden years just so happened to coincide with their former prized prospect's peak years.  I guess this situation worked out for everyone, much like the turn of events that landed me this Hartsel card.  While the initial purchase was a complete dud, I was still able use my mistake in a productive and mutually beneficial trade (again, more on that in a later post) and still uncover a super vintage, tobacco card that I could afford.  Again, everyone wins!

Welcome to the CATRC binder, Topsy Hartsel. Now if I could just track down Art Phelan...

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Swapping Boxes with the Dime Box King

A few weeks back, as part of a massive home reorganization project, I found myself in the awkward predicament of having to offload more than 75% of my trading card collection.  While this may sound like an absolute disaster to most of you who read baseball card blogs, I saw this as an opportunity.  In all honesty, outside of my various Chicago-based team roster collections, most of my "collection" could be more accurately described as "accumulation."  Boxes of doubles, trade bait, and stuff that I didn't know what to do with were piled up in my closet and simply had to go.  This "spring cleaning" simply provided the impetus I needed to finally get up off of my lazy butt and do something about it.

Of course, I didn't have the time or desire to go about trying to sell this stuff and I sure as hell wasn't going to trash the cards either.  Luckily, I knew someone local who would be more than happy to take all of this free cardboard off of my hands:  Dime Box Nick.

The proprietor of one of the blogosphere's foremost destinations, Nick and I live in suburbs adjacent to the Windy City and are only about an hour apart from each other.  I knew that he would provide a good home for my unappreciated and under-utilized cardboard receptacles, so I reached out and before the day was over, agreed to meet halfway.  Honestly, it was a huge relief to get those piles of boxes out of the house and know they were going to someone who would appreciate them.

Of course, anyone who has dealt with the Dime Box King knows that Nick is one of the nicest people on the internet.  While he was doing me a huge favor by taking this stock off of my hands, the guy couldn't help but give me more cards, despite my assurances that he didn't need to do any such thing.  What a gentleman!

The whole purpose of our meeting might have been for me to offload unwanted cards; however, I had no fear that the small box Nick gifted me with would disrupt my progress.  After all, Nick knows my interests and any trade package coming from his neck of the woods is perfectly tailored to the recipient's wants and needs.

In fact, you might say that this was a "whale" of a trade!

All in all, Nick's 200-count box was crammed with a variety of cards that I could never turn away.  The corrugated container housed a little bit of everything, just as one would expect from the king of Dime Boxes:


To begin with, there was a hefty sampling of recent products that both quarantining and frustrated disinterest in the sport of baseball had kept me from acquiring.

I suppose Topps has anointed blue-chipper Nico Hoerner as the designated Cubs rookie of 2020, as he seems to have appeared in just about every checklist.  Much better choice than last year's selection of some third-string catcher who's name I've already forgotten and never even made the club.  Although, you could at least change the picture selection up, guys!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, while the latest and greatest products were well-repped, there was also plenty of vintage goodies to be found, as well.

Including a handful of everyone's favorite Canadian oddballs: O-Pee-Chee!  You can't tell from the Manny Trillo above because I forgot to take a picture of the bilingual backs; but, trust me, this card and several more from the box hail from the Great White North.

Moving on from vintage to faux-vintage, reprints are a common staple of any Dime Box Nick mailing and even though this transaction was made in person, it was no exception.  That's fine by me since I love Dover reprints since they showcase cards of which I could never hope to acquire the real deal, like a Zimmerman Cracker Jack.  Cracker Jack cards might just be my favorite pre-war pasteboards.

On the other hand, I already have the full set of the Topps' 1994 re-release of their 1954 checklist (made under the Archives banner).  However, you may notice that this Jim Willis is actually a gold parallel - something that was definitely not part of the original release - of which I had absolutely none of before Nick fixed that for me.

Oddballs are always a welcome sight.  Nick must know that they are my favorite "genre" of baseball card because he included some damn good ones.  The TCMA tribute to the 1907 World Series Champion Cubs is my first acquisition from that set that is NOT permanently mounted to a kitschy frame, which is a plus.  Additionally, I must not have ever seen a 1993 Classic single, as that Alex Arias is completely new to me.  Love me a good blue-bordered set, for what should be obvious reasons.

Additionally, we have two pieces from the 2000 team-issued set and stadium giveaways always make for interesting oddities... especially for their checklist depth.  Where else would one find Cubs cards of middling reliever, Felix Heredia, or short-term stopper, Damon Buford, in blue pinstripes?  Rare sights, indeed!

Ooooooooo shiny!

I'm like a child playing with his parents car keys - I can't help but be mesmerized by shiny objects.  That Zeile, in specific, will definitely be taking Todd's spot in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Plus, there was some other popular Dime Box fodder in the form of  forgotten sets from the turn of the century.  Well, I guess Total is better remembered now that the product has been resuscitated as an online exclusive.  Nevertheless, I always get a little bit excited when I see my all-time favorite Topps' product pop up in trade packages.

Finally, there was one card that completely stole the show, even among all these exceptional inclusions:

This card made me audibly gasp when I first saw it fall out of the box.  Hot damn!

This TCMA oddball features a glorious staged, spring training shot with glorious vintage baseball socks, a pinstripe Cubs hat, and the rarely ever seen 1957 Chicago road uniforms, but that's not why I had such a visceral reaction.  That said, all those features certainly contribute major bonus points.  Anyway, the main reason that this single from the 1979 "The 1950's" set made my eyes pop out of my skull was that it is the first card I've acquired which features the player in question in a Cubs uniform.  Thus, I now get to make a "Cubgrade" in my cherished CATRC binder.

Chuck Tanner might be better remembered for his managerial exploits, especially with the "We Are Family" Pirates; however, before Sister Sledge had even recorded their famous hit record, Tanner spent two seasons as a Chicago Cub.  In 1957-58, Tanner came off the Wrigley bench as a spare outfielder, slashing a productive .280/.333/.420 across 168 contests.

Tanner appeared as a Cub in both corresponding Topps sets in Cubbie Blue.  That being stated, those relatively blase cards don't hold a candle to this photographic masterpiece.  Furthermore, the 1987 Topps managerial card which previously held Tanner's spot in my CATRC is more like kindling when compared to this beauty.

Thanks Nick, you really knocked it out of the park with the Chuck Tanner card and, truly, with the whole package.  I didn't even show off a third of the phenomenal ephemera that he passed on to me.  Honestly, I could have showcased every single card from the box, but then I'd end up with carpal tunnel from all the typing.  While the entire goal of this meet up was to offload cards, what Nick gifted me with was all high quality cardboard and exactly the kind of stuff I was creating more space for.

I hope that Nick has had (or is still) having fun sorting through all of the cards that I dumped on him because I certainly did going through his half of the exchange!

Also, before I go, in case you were curious, this is how much I had to get rid of:

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

5K Award Ceremony

For those who may have missed the initial announcement, my wife and I hosted a virtual 5K run in support of a local charity.  St. Coletta's of Illinois provides services for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults and children so that they can unlock their greatest potential.  When the COVID-19 outbreak peaked in March, they were forced to cancel all of their fundraisers - a disastrous development for a nonprofit that relies on donations to keep their doors open.  As such, my wife and I came up with the idea of turning their planned in-person charity walk into a virtual 5K run in order to drum up awareness and donations in a world where social distancing was mandatory.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, participants had one week to run five kilometers and report their time to us.  From there, we compiled the results and handed out awards to the top three men and women to cross the digital finish line.  Furthermore, t-shirts and finisher's certificates were made available to anyone who registered for them, in order to commemorate the event.  Basically, it's your normal charity road race, except you get to run at your own time and place.

All in all, the Digital Dash 5K exceeded all of our expectations and raised.  As of this moment, we are still calculating the totals; however, I can safely say that the money brought in exceeded all expectations that were set.  For that, I need to say thank you to three of you generous members of the blogosphere.

The Lost Collector, P-Town Tom, and Peter K Steinberg all took time out of their week to put their bodies through physical strain and help St. Coletta's out.  In fact, a special shout out is deserved for Mr. Steinberg, as he very nearly won the whole darn thing.  His time of 18:34 (5:59 per mile) lead for most of the week before another runner just squeaked by at the end.  Thankfully, Peter maintained second place and still gets to stand on the digital podium.  At any rate, overall, these three are a charitable bunch!

In order to generate a little extra buzz for my first event as a race director, I dangled a super vintage baseball card as a raffle prize, eligible to be won by any blogger who signed up for the Digital Dash.  Our three heroes answered the call and now it's time to see who wins this bad boy:

That is a Type I 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premium featuring star outfielder of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ethan Allen, giving batting tips to young baseball fan.  Mr. Allen had some speed back in his day, topping out with 21 stolen bases in a single season (1929) and finishing his 13-year career with 84 swiped bags.  I wonder how he would have done in a 5K road race back in his athletic prime?

In order to decide which of these three running bloggers gets the prize, I ran their names through the randomizer three times - three participants, three cycles seemed fair to me.  Anyway, enough stalling, let's see who gets this antique trophy:

Congratulations to The Lost Collector!  I'll try to have your prize in the mail tomorrow, definitely no longer than Friday.  Keep your eyes peeled!

As for our other two competitors, I'm still going to work up a prize package for both of you.  After all, you all made me look good in my first attempt at hosting and officiating a road race.  I've run a bunch in my life; but this was the maiden voyage as a race director.  It looks like I'm going to get the chance to do a few more thanks to charitable donors like you.

Thank you for taking time out of your lives to participate - it truly means more to me than you can possibly know.  The clients of St. Coletta's of Illinois think you are rock stars and I have to agree.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Old Frog and Even Older Players

One of the hot button issues in sports today involves the Confederate flag.  NASCAR, a traditionally southern sport, has tried to drag their organization into the 21st century by officially banning the rebel flag from all of their race tracks and events.  Without getting too far into the weeds, I just want to applaud the organization for finally acting on the matter, even though it's a decision that's been decades in the making.  Flying the flag of a hostile foreign power that stood for human bondage is not being proud of your heritage, it's anti-american.

Anyway, here we are in the third decade of the new millennium and yet we're still fighting a war that  ended when Betty White's GRANDPARENTS were young.  

With that in mind, it's time I make a sudden pivot to some lighter, but somewhat related content.  This flag controversy might date back to the shadow of the Civil War and just a few days ago, I acquired some cards which also were inspired by the same time period and they are far less controversial.

The very first "Cubs" squad in 1870.

The Chicago Cubs were founded as the Chicago Base Ball Club just five years after the bullets stopped flying, in 1870.  That's right, in case you didn't know, the Cubs can trace their roots back several years before the National League was even a thing, back to when professional baseball was still a new concept.

After a year of amateur play, the Chicagoans became one of the founding members of the first true Major League - the National Association - 1871.  Unfortunately for them, the White Stockings (as they came to be called for reasons you might guess) were only just barely able to finish one season because their ballpark, records, and uniforms were completely destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire.  Afterwards, the team went on hiatus for two years while they, along with the rest of the Windy City tended to their wounds.  Of course, they were back in time for the 1874 campaign and, after another league hop and some name changes, still play today at the corner of Clark & Addison.

This is a gross over-simplification of their evolution, but you get the gist.

As longtime readers of Wrigley Roster Jenga know, it is my goal to collect at least one card of every player to ever suit up for the Cubs franchise.  This includes everyone from every era, including those guys who were actually White Stockings and not technically Cubbies.  Pre-war cards are tough as is, but trying to track down realistically obtainable pasteboards for men who's playing careers predated the founding of the National League has proven to be quite the chore.  I had long since resigned myself to the fact that I'd probably never be able to complete my collection and this era of Chicago baseball has remained completely unrepresented in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection tome.

Until recently, that is.  A couple of weeks ago, a hero "hopped" into my life:

While randomly perusing Ebay late one night, I was haphazardly plugging the names of long-forgotten ballplayers of yore into the search bar.  It was during this process that I stumbled across a listing that almost made question my sanity.

A whole set of cards based around the old National Association?  Major League Baseball rarely even acknowledges that their history extends before the National League and, thus, it's rarely acknowledged by anyone but hardcore baseball history nerds.  Yet, here's an entire set of cards dedicated to the original MLB circuit?  You could say my interest was piqued, but that'd be putting it quite lightly.

While skimming through the details and featured images, I quickly deduced that the cards centered around the inaugural 1871 NA season and each founding club was represented by nine spots on the checklist.  The Fort Wayne Kekiongas were there, the Troy Haymakers were accounted for, the Cleveland Forest Citys were present, and - most importantly - my beloved Chicago White Stockings were no exception!

The only fact that tempered my excitement was that the complete set cost $120 and I didn't exactly have that much fun money lying around for baseball cards.  Furthermore, I had no idea what the story was on these oddballs nor was I at all familiar with the seller, who went by the name of Old Frog.  However, this listing had dug deep into my brain and was not going to let me go.  With that literally in mind, I fired off a quick message to this fellow, asking some questions about his product and sheepishly inquiring if he might be interested in selling team lots in addition to the full collation.

Luckily for me, the vendor was, in fact, feeling "froggy."

Mr. Old Frog explained to me that all of these cards are individually drawn, cut, distressed, and collated by hand to create a faux-vintage look.  Also, he was generously willing to offer me a team set for the Chicagos, going so far as to create a separate, private listing for little ol' me.  For fifteen bucks, the whole set of Stockings was mine, an extremely fair price, especially considering how much work goes into these ACEO's and how much card art sells for on the 'Bay.  I mean, just look how much a single Helmar card sells for these days.

Needless to say, I "hopped" on that deal.  In fact, I could have kissed that old frog.

Just a few days later, my eagerly anticipated gap-fillers arrived in the mail and they most certainly did not disappoint.  Let's take a look at the "Cubs" of 1871, shall we?

First up, we have the battery.  George Zettlein started all 28 games that season (which I think is a schedule that MLB would love to bring back this summer) and pitched all but 10.1 innings.  Different times, right?  Along the way, "the Charmer" earned 18 of the clubs 19 wins and posted a 2.73 ERA, which was tops in the circuit. George earned that moniker from his deceptive changes in speed and his ever-present smile. However, Zettlein is also noted for having given up the first home run and grand slam in NA - and thusly - MLB history.

Meanwhile, the man Zettlein was pitching to was Charlie Hodes, who contributed a .277 batting average.  Beyond that, I don't have much information on Mr. Hodes.

Into the infield now, we have Michael "Bub McAtee at first base and Jimmy Wood at second.

Bub batted .274 for the Stockings after joining the club from Troy.  McAtee had been playing with the Troy Haymakers for several years, but jumped to Chicago for '71.  Meanwhile, Wood holds a special significance to the franchise beyond starting at the keystone.  You see, Jimmy was the literal, very first Chicago Cub.  It was Wood who was tasked with putting together a "nine" to represent the city of Chicago, charged by a business man by the name of Tom Foley late in 1869.  Wood also served as the team's maiden manager.

Additionally, Wood lead the 1871 White Stockings in more ways than one.  Besides being the skipper, he was the key cog on offense, leading the way with a .378 batting average, one of only two men to cross the .300 threshold.


Hugh Duffy, the shortstop, was a controversial figure in the sporting world.  Duffy's name was infamous for having previously been banned from organized baseball following a gambling scandal in 1865.  However, he was welcomed back in 1870 with the Stockings and was still with them the next year.  Ultimately, it would officially be his first and last true professional season.

Ed Pinkham was both the club's first baseman and it's emergency pitcher.  Pinkham took the pitcher's box (no mound yet) when Zettlein was pounded for ten runs in just two frames by the Boston Red Stockings in a June contest.  Pinkham pitched the rest of the way and, though he allowed four runs of his own, ultimately earned the win as the Chicagoans stormed back to win 16-14.  He also swatted three doubles and scored four runs.  You've heard of the night the backup catcher got the win, but I bet this is the first you've heard of the day the third baseman got the win!

Pinkham's pitching heroics weren't completely out of the blue though, as he spent 1870 as Chicago's ace hurler before moving to third.  Baseball sure was different back then.  He was also a Civil War veteran, having served with 47th New York Volunteer Infantry.

As for the outfield, we only have two of the three regulars.  I'm not sure why Tom Foley - who is not the same business man that funded the team - didn't make the cut.  But, let's focus on who is actually here.  Joe Simmons was the weak link in the starting lineup, batting an anemic .217 was Treacey was second only to wood with his .339 mark.

Lastly, we have Marshall "Mart" King, who played as the team's roving utility player.  Injuries seemed to be a problem for King, as he missed more than a month of the season with a broken finger and, while subbing for Hodes at catcher in a game against the Red Stockings, suffered a “peculiarly painful and enervating injury.”  Curiously, whatever that injury was has been lost to time.

Missing from this set are the aforementioned Tom Foley and Mike Brannock.  The latter is not nearly as notable, having only appeared in three games as an emergency replacement for Ed Pinkham, who did not make the final road trip of the season.

And there you have it - the 1871 Chicago White Stockings, as illustrated by Old Frog.  Overall, while some portraits are better than others, overall the artwork is solid and feels very authentic to the era.  The artificial distressing also helps in creating an aura of antiquity about these decidedly modern cards.  My only complaint is that the cardstock is rather thin, but that's only if I'm feeling nitpicky.  All in all, I am quite content with my purchase.

As for the real '71 Stockings, they very nearly won the first National Association pennant.  Of course, the Great Chicago Fire decimated their home city just as the season began to wound down.  However, the team didn't let that tragedy stop them - they doggedly played the rest of the schedule on the road and in borrowed uniforms (the club literally lost everything in the blaze).  In the end, the Stockings lost to the Philadelphia Athletics in the very last game of the year which gave the pennant to the City of Brotherly Love.  The Chicago franchise was then temporarily disbanded (for what should be obvious reasons) after the campaign.

When the team reformed in 1874, Jimmy Wood once again lead the charge.  However, he was strictly a bench manager at this point, as he had a leg amputated due to terrible infection just prior to the season.  Also returning were Zettlein and Treacey, but the rest of the roster was made up of completely fresh faces.  Funnily enough, Pinkham was apparently the inspiration for Dwight Schrute, as he retired to a beat farm.  But, by the time the National League was formed in 1876, none of the original Stockings remained on the roster and were thus kicked to the dustbin of history by MLB.

Thanks to Old Frog, though, there are actually some baseball cards floating around out there that honor this era of baseball history.  Without him, the National Association would remain completely unrepresented in my CATRC binder.  For that, this guy is the exact opposite of a toad, in my book.

Further evidence of just how good of a frog this prince is comes from all of the extras he threw in with my team set.  That's right, not only did he make a special order of his hand drawn art at a rather modest price, he also included a bunch of bonus material for my enjoyment.

In our conversation, I mentioned that Clipper Flynn was one of my favorite pre-NL players.  When I first caught this player's name while skimming a dusty old tome as a young adult, I was struck by his name - it just flows so well and seems so apropos of an 19th century baseballist.  Flynn plied his trade with Troy in 1871 and therefore appears as a Haymaker in the Frog's NA set.  That being said, the first baseman was also an original Cub, as he was on their amateur roster in 1870, prior to the formation of the NA.

Thus, I nearly croaked when Old Frog mentioned that he would graciously include a Clipper card in my package, along with the White Stockings.  This amphibian is absolutely out of his lillipad!

Also, I should probably let ya'll see the back of these ACEO oddballs, as - unlike many of his peers - Frog does not ignore the reverse.  We get an illustration of our hero, very much in the vain of a trade card from the 1800's, along with the 1871 stat line for the player depicted.  As you can see, Clipper knocked out hits at an impressive "clip!"

And as if all this wasn't enough...

While I have been obsessing over Old Frog's National Association product, he reminded me that's not the only set that he has created.  Clearly a student of ancient baseball history, this polliwog uses his talents to shine a light upon another oft-forgotten Major League circuit:  the American Association.

The AA was the first league to rise and mount a sustained challenge against the Senior Circuit's reign.  In fact, from 1886-1890, the first proto-World Series were played between the champions of the two leagues, two of which involved the Chicago White Stockings after their transfer from the NA.  But, these first postseason championships are not included in the modern World Series' lineage.  Why not? The Stanley Cup doesn't pick favorites when it comes to which leagues contested the title.

Frog's set focuses on the 1882 season, which was the first season for the upstart league.  Charlie Householder here played for the original Baltimore Orioles and looked equally at home on diamond as he did at a Dick Dastardly look-a-like contest.  No Cubs connections here, sadly.  The design of this card and the action shot remind me very much of the legendary Goodwin tobacco cards of the same era.

Perusing the checklist, I see a bunch of painfully obscure guys who both played in the AA in 1882 and spent time with the Chicago Base Ball Club.  I might just have to snag a few packs of this product and see if I can pull a Ned Cuthbert, Charlie Waitt, or John Peters.  At only five bucks a pop, these packs are priced in-line with and are much more intriguing to me than a lot of the stuff Topps and Panini stock the shelves with.

Old Frog also has a 16-card set dedicated to Hall of Fame manager, John McGraw, which comes in a signed and numbered tin box and a 42-card checklist dedicated to the Giants of Early Black Baseball which focuses on African American heroes from before the Negro Leagues were even formalized. 

While I am extremely familiar with the career of  "Little Napoleon," Williams Clarence Mathews is a name that I have never heard of.  Apparently, Mathews lead the Harvard baseball team in batting average for three straight years (1903-05) and, upon graduation, joined a minor league club in Burlington, becoming the only black player in the white professional ranks.  There were even rumors that he'd break the unofficial color barrier in 1905 and join the struggling Boston Beaneaters as their starting second baseman, more than forty year before Jackie Robinson successfully did so.  However, this obviously never occurred.

Mathews joined the Bar Association in 1908 and went on to enjoy an immensely successful career in politics.  He eventually became one of the first African-American Assistant District Attorneys in the country and worked on the Calvin Coolidge campaign.  In the end, William rose all the way up to the U.S. Assistant Attorney General before he passed away in 1928.

As successful as he was in the world of politics, it's a damn shame he didn't get that rumored shot with the Bostonians.  I just barely skimmed his career, but I highly encourage you to do some research on this early trailblazer - his story is for more interesting that I can do justice in a brief blog summary.  I learned more from this freebie than I did from the rest of the entire purchase!

Lastly, to add an exclamation point to his package, Old Frog also tossed in some simulated ephemera from the mid-to-late 1800's, including a mock ticket stub, an advertisement for some sort of miracle elixir, and an advertisement for a locomotive assembly plant.  As much as I love baseball, I too am an avid fan of railroading history, so that was a fortuitous throw-in!

With that, we've finally covered all the goodies found in Old Frog's mailing.  All in all, thanks to his artwork, I've added ten names to my CATRC binder that I truly never thought I would be able to obtain, plus a handful of other fun bonus items - thank you, Old Frog!  I hope to do business with you again soon; after all, there are still several players in the rest of your National Association set who eventually spent time in Chicago, plus those American Association players I mentioned earlier in the post. 

If you would also like to sample the Frog's work, you can find his Ebay store right here.  His work is certainly at least worth perusing!

In the meantime, screw the Confederate flag.  If were going to continue reliving and re-litigating the Civil War and Reconstruction Era a century and a half later, let's focus on our national pastime instead of a flag that stands for a hostile foreign power, human bondage, and racial hatred.

Just sayin'.