Sunday, May 31, 2020

You Know What They Say About Imitation...

Short post today because the world is burning and I live too close to an epicenter to relax.  I need to do something to shift my focus and save my mental health, so why not blog about a problem so minor that Major League Baseball is looking to contract it?

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.  With that old adage in mind, I guess I should be blushing right now:

That right there is a listing for an "ACEO Art Card," listings which often pop up in my saved Ebay searches for obscure Cubs players of the past.  For those who may not know, ACEO is shorthand for "Art Cards Editions and Originals" - basically, a blanket term for custom cards.  Much like "Broder" and it's relationship with counterfeit and unlicensed cards, ACEO has become a part of hobby lingo.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with people whipping up their own custom trading cards; after all, I create my own and share them online for the whole world to see.  In fact, I'd say that seeing other hobbyists creativity on the blogosphere and wherever else on the internet is the most fascinating part about collecting in the 21st century.  Also, while technically frowned upon due to copyright infringement and intellectual property when it comes to source photographs, mimicked designs, and intellectual property, I don't take issue with people selling their own creations either.  All in all, as long as your not marketing your custom creations as the genuine article or purposely aping Topps, Panini, Upper Deck, etc. with deceptive intent, I'd probably be more than happy to lay down a few bucks for a well-made ACEO custom.

Thus, on it's face, I shouldn't have a problem with this listing - the seller has made it abundantly clear that this card is not from the Topps printing presses.  However, the sticking point here is that I know this particular vendor didn't create this card.  And how I can be so sure that they didn't whip this up in Photoshop or InDesign?  Well.... uh...

...that's because I'm the wannabe artist.

I created this fantasy 1966 Topps pasteboard to fill in a gap in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  You see Bob Raudman appeared in 16 games for the North Siders from 1966-67.  With this cuppacoffee being his only MLB action, "Shorty" never appeared on a bubblegum card, be it in a Cubs uniform or any other colored laundry.  However, I was able to dig up a potential TTM address for the former player, so I whipped up a custom to mail off in hopes of creating a piece of memorabilia worthy of my CATRC tome, to fill an otherwise un-fillable slot.

As you can tell by the image above, my mailing attempt was unsuccessful; however, it appears as though someone saw my work, even if it wasn't my intended target.  Unless I have a split personality who happens to only sell baseball cards on Ebay (and how boring that would be), I don't think this guy is selling his own work.

I'm not going to name the seller, but I will say that he has a prodigious presence on the ol' auction site.  I'll also add that he has the same, unusually combative description for every item that he lists:

It's always in all caps too - that's not me editorializing.  Seems level-headed and rational.

Once again, I have no personal problems or vendetta against people selling their creations, even if it is technically against some rules.  However, this person is apparently taking images that he or she finds online, printing them out on photo paper, and selling them as their own.  THAT does rub me the wrong way.

I have to wonder just how many of these ACEO cards that they are selling are also pilfered from other corners of the internet.  Any of the above selections look familiar to anyone?

I should also note that there is a little bit of egg on this vendor's face.  As I detailed in my original post on the TTM failure, I made some critical errors on this card.  For one, Raudman's 16 games in a Cubs uniform came in the outfield, not on the mound.  In fact, I can find no record of Raudman having ever taken the mound in a professional setting.  Furthermore, the photo that I culled from the internet is actually of former Cubs catcher, Randy Bobb, not Bob Raudman. I got the wrong Bob. I have no idea what I was thinking when I created this comedy of errors.

It's quite doubtful that this person actually cares about the accuracy of the ACEO's that he's hawking, but it does make me feel a touch better that this particular piece is such a screw-up.

Bob Raudman, courtesy of the Duluth News Tribune.

Anyway, I realize that I have no legal claim to my Raudman "card' and that it was created from an image and design that I hold no intellectual property over.  Not to mention the fact that I openly shared it on the internet without so much as a watermark to stop such practices.  This situation just rubs me the wrong way and I felt compelled to rant about it just a little bit.  What better place to rant than on my baseball card blog, after all?  With everything that's going on right now, it feels good to complain about such an insignificant "problem" for a little bit.

Also, if you're in the market for true ACEO's, I recommend you stay away from listings that look like this and steer towards guys like Gary Cieradkowski and Gypsy Oak, among others.  There are plenty of talented artists out there, with a passion for baseball, who create some truly binder - nay - frame-worthy custom baseball cards that are much more worthy of your attention.

In fact, I'll have another post coming up that's dedicated to another creator whose work I recently discovered.  As a bit of a preview, I'll say that this card-tist's work covers an era of baseball that is all to often ignored by card companies and fans alike.  Keep an eye out for that Wrigley Roster Jenga post in the next few days.

In the meantime, stay safe out there.  Remember what is being protested and to mentally separate the protesters from the opportunistic agitators.  The system is rigged, brutal, and needs to be shocked - people live in daily fear, based on the color of their skin, fear that they might be killed while jogging, while entering their own home, for wearing "suspicious" clothing" and a further infuriatingly long list of other reasons. 

Hopefully, we emerge on the other side of this turmoil in a better place as a society. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Going to Wichita

Remember way back in the early aughts, when garage rock was king?  I can't blame you if you don't - the genre's reign was blink-and-you missed it brief.  Back when bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes, Jet, and the Hives were the choice of music taste-makers.   Back then, a throwaway line in a gibberish song based around Jack White's inability to say Salvation Army could make Wichita, Kansas seem like the most badass, rock and roll hive this side of New York.  Those were the days

Of course, the way the world is today, being able to travel anywhere, Wichita included, seems like an exotic adventure.

Anyway, a good 25 years before White boasted of travelling to the middle of nowhere, Cubs' minor leaguers also spent a lot of time there, as the Wichita Aeros were their AAA affiliate throughout most of the 1970's.  Thus, as a rabid Cubs collector and lover of minor league memorabilia, it should come as no surprise that the above 1973 J.B. Kelly Bank Wichita Aeros team set above piqued my interest when it showed up in my saved searches on Ebay earlier this month.

While the collation in incomplete - the nine above are missing 12 brethren - I was okay with that seeming black mark.  These over-sized cards (about the same dimensions as the 4x6 photographic prints you used to pick up from Walgreens) don't pop up very often.  The coyness is probably due to the fact that vintage MiLB cards are rare in and of themselves and the checklist contains a novelty card of Hall of Famer, Tony LaRussa (yup, he spent some time in the Cubs system).  That being said, I'm not chasing the future Cardinals manager; rather, I have long been chasing after a different card found in the set and it happened to be part of the lot:

I know, Pete LaCock is cool and all, but it was Jose Ortiz who captured my attention.  You might be asking yourself, why is that?  Who the heck is this guy?

You see, if you're familiar with Wrigley Roster Jenga, you know that my main collecting focus for nearly two decades now has been my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection (CATRC) - one card of every single player to suit up in Cubbie Blue pinstripes.  Ever.  Seeing as the franchise stretches back into the Reconstruction Era, you might expect that the early days of the team's sprawling history would present the most obstructions to my lofty collecting goals and you would be right.  That is, mostly right.

The first half of the 20th century and earlier contain, by far, the most gaps in my CATRC binder for reasons that should be obvious.  Thus, these black holes in my collection are not all that frustrating, I know obtaining tobacco cards of roster fodder from 100 years ago isn't a quick process.  However, the gaps aren't limited to those long bygone days of jazz, flappers, and Model T's.  In fact, the most frustrating missing pieces in my most treasured tome are from a much more modern era, when bubblegum card collecting was one of the most popular childhood hobbies and Topps was doing a pretty good job of documenting our nation's pastime on cardboard.

Until recently, with just two exceptions, I had at least one card of every single Wrigley inhabitant since 1970, making those two MIA's all the more annoying.  Now, thanks to this Aeros lot, it's just one.

Sidenote - if anyone know of a Wayne Tyrone card, please let me know.  As far as I can tell, the 1976 Cub has never appeared on a pasteboard product.  Or perhaps you know of a TTM address where I can send this custom creation?  Either way, any help would be greatly appreciated!

Like Wayne Tyrone, Jose Ortiz has never appeared on a single traditional baseball card.  Unlike Tyrone, he did at least showed up on a small handful of oddballs when he was still plying his trade.  According to the Trading Card Database, there's a 1971 Picture Pack set that was sold at Wrigley Field which includes him, though those oddities are closer to photo prints than baseball cards.  Also, there was spot for Ortiz in the 1972 Puerto Rican Winter League sticker set, but that release obviously has no connection to the Cubs.  Thus, I settled for chasing the '73 Aero card, seeing as it's the best of both worlds.

Even though Topps did a decent job of documenting baseball, as the only game in town, a few of the more obscure players did slip through the cracks.  It's not really a surprise that Jose Ortiz and his brief, three-year career was one of those unfortunate men.  Please allow me to properly shine the spotlight on the forgotten Cubs outfielder, in honor of my latest acquisition.

Jose Ortiz's other two cardboard options, courtesy of the Trading Card Database

In the winter of 1969, on the heels of one of the most infamous implosions in sports history, the Cubs were left licking their wounds.  Centerfield had been a primary weakness for the team which ever-so-politely yielded to the Miracle Mets, with scrubs such as Don Young, Jim Qualls, Adolfo Phillips, and an afro-less rookie by the name of Oscar Gamble cycling through the position without making much of an impression.  Obviously, the club was looking for answers as to why they wilted during the heat of the pennant race and centerfield was targeted as a prime area for improvement.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the remedy to their outfield woes was already on the roster.  The aforementioned Gamble would go on to star in the Majors throughout the next decade and a half; unfortunately, the most famous follicles in the game would be found under an assortment of non-Cubbie Blue caps during this time.

Looking for a shakeup, on November 30th, the talented newbie was swapped to the Phillies for Johnny Callison, who by then was decidedly on the other side of the proverbial hill.  Much bellyaching is heard in the Northside bars of Chicago about an assortment of egregious trades - Brock, Madlock, Maddux (although he technically left in free agency) - but the quick punt on Gamble is rarely heard during these bootleg therapy sessions.  However, we're not here to talk about Oscar and we've already devoted far too many lines to his tale.  Instead, let's shift our focus to the another outfield-related transaction made exactly one-year later.

With Callison having proved to be to old and injury prone to handle center, the Cubs found themselves leaning on a Rule 5 pick (Cleo James) to pick up the slack. This sad trombone left the team having to upgrade the position after a near postseason miss for the second year in a row.  Luckily, they had veteran, mid-season acquisition, Joe Pepitone, still in the fold; but, the club still lacked a long-term solution.  Thus, the Cubs sheepishly turned to their South Side neighbors for assistance.  In what was just the third trade between the ballclubs during their then nearly 70 year-long rivalry, the Cubs acquired a promising young centerfielder by the name of - you guessed it - Jose Ortiz.

All told, the summation of this transaction can be found listed in Webster's Dictionary under "obscure;" but, at the time, Ortiz was seen as a legitimate prospect.  The Puerto Rican stole a whopping 79 bases in the minor leagues in 1967 and rose to the Majors for the first time just as the Cubs were dropping down the standings in September of '69.  Ortiz was largely a singles hitter, as his 1969-70 slash of .314/.375/.381 suggested; however, those stats were accrued in just 25 at-bats.  Perhaps with a little more seasoning on the farm, the speedy youngster's bat would develop enough to allow the Cubs to fill that gap in the center of the diamond.

Come 1971, the future quickly became now.  Nearing the end of his MLB road, injuries forced Ernie Banks to start the '71 campaign on the disabled list and brought Pepitone in from center to cover first base duties.  Suddenly, Ortiz no longer had time to figure things out in the minors - rather, he was #1 on the depth chart, #20 on the roster, #8 on the scorecard and starting on Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

Sadly, it was all downhill from there - 1971 was to be his last season in the Majors.

Jose spent the month of April as the starter in centerfield, but was kicked back to the bench in favor of fellow prospect, Brock Davis, come May.  Ortiz maintained a spot as a regular pinch-hitter and extra outfield glove that month; however, playing time became sparce by June and he was back in the bushes by July.  All told, Jose posted a slash line of .295/.347/.398 seemingly stunted as a slappy, singles hitter and the team felt they could do better.

Alas, centerfield continued to be a problem for the Cubs throughout the rest of the 20th century and well into the next one.  Much was made of the team ineptitude at the hot corner before Aramis Ramirez came along, but sustained success in center has been every bit as rare.

While Jose was done in the Bigs before 1971 was out, he hung on the Cubs chain as a minor league journeyman through '76.  At first, he played with the Cubs' AAA affiliates in Tacoma and Wichita (as my baseball card attests) but was then further demoted to AA Midland before he was granted release.  After one more go-round in the Mexican League in '77, Ortiz finally hung up his spikes without clawing back up to the top.

And that's the story of Jose Ortiz.  He was an Aero longer than he was a Cub, so I guess the card I ended up with is quite appropriate.

While Jose represented my chase card - one of my most desired and longest sought after, at that - he was not the only intriguing pasteboard in the stack.  In fact, among the oddballs, there was a card of a guy who never appeared on another card, before or after, and also saw time with the Major League club:

Like Ortiz, Compton's time in Major League Baseball was already over with by the time he posed for this photograph, he just didn't know it.  The hurler pitched in a single game during the 1972 season and that was the end of his MLB tenure.  Clint drew mopup duty in an eventual 11-1 loss to Philadelphia on October 3rd, the second to last day of the season.  Two innings pitched, two earned runs allowed, and that's all she wrote.

The 3rd round of the 1968 MLB June amateur draft played one more season in Wichita and then abruptly retired at the age of 22.

Were he to have played today, the high draft choice would have had a million Bowman cards on his ledger before he even took the mound on that fateful October afternoon.  As it stands, being a one-game wonder in an era where baseball cards were still all about actual Major Leaguers, Mr. Compton never made it onto a Topps piece.  In fact, according to my sources, this Aeros single is the only card that Compton ever appeared on.  Thus, I should also need this one for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?  It's not like there's another option, right?  Well...

As it turns out, I already have Compton in my binder, as a Cub even.  How is that possible?

You may or may not be familiar with the Rookies App.  This iPhone program allows users to create custom baseball cards from pre-built templates, just add photos and text to the front and back and *bam* you have a brand new, unique to you baseball card.  Then, you have the option to order a bonafide wax pack filled with your creations, printed on quality cardstock all professional-like and everything.  You honestly wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a Rookies App card and your average Topps or Panini product unless you scientifically studied them.

The first pack I ordered through the Rookies App back in 2014

Also, unlike Topps' card creator, this one doesn't block you from using photos with MLB trademarks.  So, I created a few pasteboards of guys who didn't have any previously or only had realistically unattainable pieces to their name.  At the time, I though Compton fit that profile.  It appears as though I was quite wrong and now I am at a crossroads.

On one hand, cards which feature players in a Cubs uniform always receive priority in my collection and, though you can't truly tell from the photo I originally selected, Clint is in his Cubbie duds.  However, the Wichita Aeros card feels more like a "real" card, i.e. not a bootleg creation I whipped up to fill a gap that actually doesn't exist.  So, I don't know what to do.

Which card would you chose to represent Clint if you had a CATRC?  Please help me to decide!

All inner turmoil aside, the rest of the cards won from this Ebay lot feature a bunch of eventual or former Cubs already found in my CATRC, including the aforementioned LaCock:

These will slide nicely into my "Nothing Major" collection, made up of minor league cards of Major League Cubs.

Lastly, there was also a former MLB moundsman in Floyd Weaver.

Weaver spent time in the Bigs with the Indians, White Sox, and Brewers by never made the trip from Wichita to the North Side of Chicago.  Interestingly enough, Weaver made only one appearance with the '73 Aeros, which marked the end of his pro career.  Anyway, this card will be inserted into my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder, made up of players who were under contract with the Lovable Losers but never suited up with the MLB club, for one reason or another.

Do you have any favorite off the beaten path type-minor league cards like these '73 J.P. Kelly Bank Wichita Aeros in your collection?  If so, what makes them worthy of your collection?  Is it because they're just so obscure and/or peculiar?  Do they show a favorite player in a "before they were famous" bush league uniform?  Or, perhaps they depict a PC player who doesn't have much in the way of a cardboard footprint, like Mr. Jose Ortiz?  I highly encourage you to share your stories in the comment section below.

At any rate, the highlight of this purchase - far and away - was finally being able to cross Jose Ortiz off of my "needs" list.  Once I figure out a way to get a custom TTM out to Wayne Tyrone, I will have a card of every single player to suit up for the Cubs since 1970 and I can shift my entire focus on vintage and super-vintage targets.

And the best part was that I didn't even have to go all the way to Wichita to get that bad boy - I made Wichita come to me.  I didn't have to worry about Seven Nation Armies holdin' me back - take that, Jack White!

Monday, May 4, 2020

I've Gotten Corona... Monarch Corona, That is

Hey ya'll - I'm back.  Did I miss anything while I was gone?

I mean, besides the fact that we are now living in an entirely different world than when I last updated Wrigley Roster Jenga way, way, WAAAAYYYY back in February.  Honestly, while that was just a little less than three months ago, it feels as though it's been more like two years.  My blogging and collecting sabbatical started as a result of being discontent with the state of baseball and it's sign-stealing, minor league contracting, labor dispute looming drama (as well as the Cubs satisfaction with the status quo) and now I hardly remember any of that noise.  In fact, I'm now quite desperate for America's pastime to come back, going so far as to wake up at 5:30 in the morning so I can watch Twitter broadcasts of the recently rebooted Chinese Professional Baseball League.  When my alarm went off for that, I think my wife was ready to have me committed.

In my defense, I think life under quarantine has us going all a little nutty.

Needing a healthy outlet, my desire to delve back into the hobby has started to return, as well.  Thankfully, I have been able to mostly work from home, which has afforded me time to peruse Ebay during the afternoon lulls.  In fact, just last week, I made my first baseball card purchase since before Valentines Day.  It wasn't until I received the envelope in yesterday's mail and ripped it open that I realized what I had done... I accidentally contracted Corona...

...Monarch Corona that is!

Monarch Corona was a collector-issued and moderately popular, oddball brand that put out a few different series of cards in the late 2000's/early 2010's.  They, in fact, had nothing to do with the highly contagious and clandestinely dangerous virus that currently has the entire world on it's head.  I don't mean to make light of what is a deathly serious matter, but I couldn't help but laugh at the realization.  I honestly did not intend to make my hobby return in the Corona Virus era with a Corona card, despite my affinity for black humor and puns.

At any rate, this is not the first Monarch Corona card to enter into my collection.  These cards often focused on niche subjects within the rich tapestry that is the history of our national game.  Without Monarch Corona, I would likely have to plunder a museum for a 150+ year old cabinet card of Bob Ferguson, who only played one season for the franchise in what was their second year of existence (1878).

However, "Death to Flying Things" here (is that not the most bad-ass nickname in the history of the sport?) comes from Corona's "flagship" equivalent.  Meanwhile, the pasteboard that I most recently acquired hails from MC's 104-count Centennial Series checklist:

This set comes complete in a plastic protector and only 200 copies are known to exist. These two factors make finding singles from broken up sets quite difficult to come by.  Additionally, the dimensions on this 2011 product were shrunk from standard size to tobacco size, owing to their focus on ballplayers who were active during the 1911 season (hence the centennial branding).

As wonderful as this faux-back set looks, there is only one card that truly captivates me, thus making it the longtime object of a saved search on Ebay.  That card features "Long Tom" Hughes as seen in the beginning of this post and again below:

Although Mr. Hughes spent the 1910 season with the minor league Minneapolis Millers, he began the 20th century as the ace of the Chicago Orphans, better known as today's Chicago Cubs.  Unless you're new here, you had to have known there was some kind of Cubs connection to be made here, right?

"Long Tom" was exceptionally tall for his era (6'1"), thus earning him his over-sized nickname.  A Chicago native, Hughes began his Major League career with a three-game audition for his hometown squad in 1900 and then found himself leading the staff by 1901.  That season, he started 35 games for the would-be Cubs and completed all but three, posting a solid 3.24 ERA along the way.  Unfortunately, Tom's debut came during the beginning of the Deadball Era AND he pitched for a sixth-place club, which contributed to his abysmal 10-23 record.  Perhaps seeking greener pastures, our hero made the jump to the newly-christened American League for 1902.

Tom went on to win 20 games for the Boston Americans in 1903, who would go on to win the first modern World Series.  That's pretty nice feather to stick in the ol' cap, ain't it?  The inaugural World Champ would then spend most of the rest of his thirteen year career with the Washington Senators before hanging up his spikes in 1913.

"Long Tom" taking some cuts during his time as a Senator.

This card has sat in my watch-list for what seems like eons.  The price was good - one measly buck - but, I just never pulled the trigger.  Perhaps, I subconsciously felt like I needed a specific reason.  Perhaps this Corona pun was rattling around in the back of my head and the connection isn't so accidental... Either way, this glorious little oddball is finally all mine.

As far as I can tell, despite having a lengthy career in the Majors during a time which tobacco cards proliferated, this Monarch Corona card is one of but a small handful of baseball cards to have been printed with his likeness.  It's also by far the most affordable, as it's the only one that isn't 100 years old.  Complicating matters is that there have been two other hurlers of the same name, one of which was active during the same era and both also have a few cards to their name.  Thus, sorting through the wheat and the chaff has required extra attention, lest I add the wrong Tom Hughes to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Such snafus have occurred before.

All these factors considered, it was imperative that I finally pull the trigger on that watched listing before someone else took advantage.  MC singles don't pop up often, especially for this set, owing to the fact that it was sold as a complete package.  Luckily for me, despite my lengthy dawdling, no one beat me to the chase.

 Same name, same occupation, same position played, but neither are the Tom Hughes I'm looking for.

And there you have it - the card that brought me back to blogging.  Who knew it would take me "getting Corona" to come back while sheltered in place?   In all seriousness though, I hope everybody out there reading this is doing well, as well as being smart and safe.  If we all do out part to flatten the curve and curb the spread, maybe we'll actually get to watch some Major League Baseball by July. 

Being quarantined right now sucks - there's little debate about that - however, if we do what we're supposed to, it'll be relaxed sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, here's hoping that the only Corona you're exposed to is the kind that's actually baseball cards!