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'.


  1. Nice job on all the froggy word play in this post.
    I checked out Old Frog's work on his Ebay store and I'm really impressed. If I were still looking for some cards of early HOFers I would totally go this route. I love the old weathered look of the cards!

  2. These are really cool! That "Giants of Early Black Baseball" set sounds especially interesting -- I don't know a lot about the turn-of-the-century guys like Matthews who came close to breaking the (modern) color barrier. Also I never even put it together that the MLB/NA's first season was the same year of the Great Chicago Fire. Imagine having your whole season wrecked by something like that...