Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Well, I sure didn't see that coming.
Yesterday morning, the Cubs actually made a move that actively improved the roster, inking slugging outfielder, Joc Pederson, to a one-year, $7 million deal. The longtime Dodger and World Series hero had not been previously connected to Chicago in any rumor mill rumblings and, of course, the team seemed to spend most of the winter tearing down their roster rather than reinforcing it. Thus, I guess it's appropriate that the six-year veteran was brought in to be an (more or less) every day corner outfielder, seeing as this acquisition came from WAY out of leftfield. Honestly, did anyone see this coming?
My tone might come across as ungrateful, but I'm just a bit blindsided. This is a great move to round out the offense, as Pederson fills the same role that Kyle Schwarber had for year priors but also brings much better defense and comes with a price tag a few million dollars cheaper. So, I guess you could call this a great compromise move for the penny-pinching ownership and the front office who's still trying to field a competitive club in a supremely weak division.
Correspondingly, once I read about the news, I quickly made a financial transaction of my own. As soon as I could secure some spare time, I ran out to my local card shop and picked up a Joc Pederson card for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection. I guess you could say that I was enthused about the team finally signing a position player to a contract worth more than Daniel Descalso and did so with a guy who carried the 2020 World Series Champions on his back throughout the postseason. Can you blame me?
I settled on the 2019 Topps Series One single that you see above for my most treasured tome, at least, for the time being. It's not a particularly exciting piece on it's own, however the prominence of red and blue in it's design help it blend into a Cubs-centric collection a little more smoothly. Joc will certainly show up in a Cubs uniform in at least one 2021 baseball card product, but this pasteboard can keep his spot warm in the interim. That future card will definitely feature a different number on his uniform though, as good ol' 31 is retired twice over in Wrigleyville.
|An artists rendering of Joc having traded his Dodger Blue for the Cubbie shade. Image courtesy of Clutchpoints.|
Moreover, with reports coming out that the Ricketts have recently expanded the budget for on-field talent, Joc might not be the only name added to my CATRC prior to Spring Training. There's rumors that the team is interested in Kolten Wong for their second base opening; adding him to the lineup would go a long way towards rounding out the offense. Furthermore, the Cubs have been directly connected to several reclamation pitchers, i.e. Carlos Rodon, Chris Archer, and Mike Foltynewicz, with intent to stock their rotation. They're scouts have also attended the workouts of old friends Jeff Samardzija and Jake Arrieta; of course, if the Cubs should choose to reunite, a matching CATRC move will not be necessary.
With the addition of Joc to the starting lineup and those potential follow-up moves on the horizon, I can now cross my eyes, squint and see a team with playoff potential. They're still a bit wishy-washy, but at least they're not planning to start Phillip Ervin anymore.... no offense, Phil! Plus, they'd actually have to ink Wong and at least two of those rehabbing pitchers with pedigrees for me to actually buy in. We shall see what develops over the next few days. However, after weeks of jettisoning Major League talent, it was refreshing to see some come through door instead.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Oh, come on!
I know I've been making jokes about the cheapskate Cubs using Kohl's cash to facilitate offseason transactions, but this is plain ridiculous. Just a little too on the nose.
In case you haven't heard already, yesterday afternoon, the Cubs signed free-agent hurler, Kohl Stewart to a $700,000 Major League contract, every dollar of which is now quite literally Kohl's cash.
Formerly a top prospect in the Twins organization since his drafting in 2013, Kohl has yet to put it all together in an extended run at the Big League level. After a couple cups of coffee in 2018 and 2019, Kohl sat out the COVID-riddled 2020 season because of the elevated risk associated with his Type 1 diabetes. Can't say I blame the guy. Although, I guess with the vaccine now in play, Mr. Stewart feels a little more comfortable getting back in the ring. Thus, the Cubs will see if they can throw Stewart in their (very sterile) pitch lab and tinker until they can make something work.
In all honesty, this is actually a move that makes quite a bit of sense and the first one the Cubs have made this offseason that I am in favor of. Stewart is still young (26), comes with a primo pedigree, there are plenty of openings on the pitching staff, and the franchise has actually been pretty good with reclamation moundsmen over the past few years. So, unlike the real deal, this Kohl's Cash may actually come in handy and not just because it doesn't require you to spend it in the next 12 hours on children's ties or some other ridiculous qualifier.
If you've never shopped at Kohl's, you must think I'm a loon. Trust me, "free money" has never been more annoying to use.
Anyway, back to baseball:
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Who's this shadowy-faced fella? This crow-marked, wily veteran is clearly a San Diego Padre, but that's all you can tell from the front side of this oddball baseball card. So, since this card is lacking in information, please allow me to pick up the slack.
Bud Hardin had a lengthy 13-year career in minor league baseball, including a long run as a starting infielder in the old, open classification Pacific Coast League in the early 50's. This circuit almost rivaled the Majors in terms of popularity on the west coast and William Edgar Hardin starred for the Los Angeles Angels throughout the early 50's. Beyond that, he also appeared up and down the baseball chain for the Giants, Cardinals, Cubs, and Indians organizations in various remote locales from 1942-57. Of course, there was a nice, lengthy absence from the professional ranks from 1943-45 due to serving his country during a skirmish most of the world was involved with. From what I understand, a few ballplayers careers were put on pause at this time.
To close out his time in organized baseball, Bud started the 1957 season with the original San Diego Padres, returning to the PCL in a stint which is commemorated by the pasteboard which kicks off this post. However, old glory was not recaptured, as he only got into 17 games before his contract was transferred to the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association. Both clubs were affiliated with the Indians franchise at the time. After 21 more contests, Hardin hung up his cleats for good, closing the books on a long and prosperous MiLB career.
|Hardin during his brief trial with the '52 Cubs. Image courtesy of Baseball Birthdays.|
In contrast to his time in the bushes, Mr. Hardin had a rather brief career in the Majors, appearing in just three games with the 1952 Chicago Cubs, after he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft out of the Cardinals organization. In those three contests, Hardin made seven plate appearances - rapping out a single hit (appropriately, a single) - and played a combined, error-less fourteen innings at shortstop and second base. Shortly after the calendar turned to May, he was sent back down to the minors (the Cubs-affiliated Angels) and that was all she wrote for his MLB career.
While Bud Hardin's Major League career was brief and his stat-line revealed nothing particularly notable, his inclusion is still required for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection. Like many cameo Cubs of this era and earlier, this was problematic due to a lack of cardboard representation. After all, the bulk of his playing career dated before the emergence of Topps and, as we've already established, his MLB stats would not have made him a likely subject anyway. Thankfully, in this department, obscure oddball and regional minor league issues often rescue my most treasured collection and it was no different in this situation. Although, it should be noted that this particular oddity comes with a bit of notoriety and significance within our hobby.
No stats, no write-up, all we get is Bud's name, team affiliation, and the set information, all of which is type-written and surrounded in a vast white space. Based on the info presented, one can thus be forgiven for thinking that this oddball hails from 1957 and being distributed with bags of popcorn. After all, cards of this very size and "design" were handed out in that very manner by teams across the Pacific Coast League in the mid-50's. This is not one of those food premiums though, as it hails from a couple of decades later. Although, it clearly draws *ahem* inspiration from those popcorn pasteboards. However, this sit has it's own interesting lineage.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
This summer, my wife and I welcome our first child into this world. What a time to be born, right?
Hopefully, this kid has no memory of the pandemic, political and societal unrest, and tension which has surrounded his birth and early months of existence. But, needless to say, there was a lot going on and a lot on all of our minds throughout the summer months of 2020. Trying to navigate the birth of your first child during all of that chaos truly added a whole other dimension to the stressors of the last year and a half. What was I getting this poor kid into?
As a result, throughout the late stages of my wife's pregnancy and the immediate aftermath, this blog went dark because there was just too much else going on - my mind was in other places and baseball was far from a priority. However, there was one brief moment of clarity and, ironically, it occurred during the most stressful twenty-four hours of the whole process: labor. Sure, my blood was pumping and my whole brain was crying once we realized the process had began; but, after we finished our Mario Andretti-like hustle to the hospital, there wasn't much else to do but wait. Due to this brief snippet of time caught in the waiting room of life, I will always associate the following player with the rush of emotions that I felt that day.
Therefore, even though I've since been able to replace the visiting Brewer placeholder with a proper Cubs card from this season's Heritage High Numbers release, I will not be offloading the original. Now, I'm not about to start super-collecting Hernan Perez or anything; but, the memories associated with that player and that card in particular are far too strong to simply discard. It will hold a special, nostalgic place in my heart for the rest of my life.
Like I was caught off guard with his call-up, I was also surprised when Hernan was included in HHN. After all, his tenure was "blink and you missed it" brief and he didn't do anything even approaching notable in a Cubs uniform. However, with the pandemic effing up the schedule and printing deadlines being a thing, I guess I should have seen it coming that any player in Big League Summer Camp with an MLB resume was going to be fair game for both HHN and Update. I'm not complaining either since Mr. Perez and his sweet arm tats look better in Cubbie Blue than Brewer Blue in my CATRC binder anyway.
In conclusion, I hear Hernan just signed with the Nationals on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Here's hoping he can reestablish himself and join his former teammates in Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber on the active roster. Despite his lack of staying power, I wish Mr. Perez well. I'll always think of him when I reminisce about the experience of bringing Rowan into this world. And now I sit here banging out this post with my son sitting cheerfully on my lap.
Life comes at you fast.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
The Cubs actually did it! They signed a free agent instead of letting one walk!! Signed one to an actual Major League deal!!! The rebuild is cancelled - huzzah!!!
Okay, I'm done with the sarcasm... for now.
Yesterday morning, it was announced that the Cubs signed an established catcher to a one-year, Major League contract worth $1.5 million. Prior to this deal, it's been an offseason that's been filled with nothing but non-tenders, "why not?" waiver claims, minor league reclamation signings, infuriating trades, and watching key free agents sign with other clubs - all coming off the back of a season in which they won their damn division. Just this week, the greatest free agent signed in Chicago sports, Jon Lester, took his talents to the nation's capital after the Cubs refused to match the Nat's modest offer. Then, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood took off for greener pastures in successive days. Honestly, when I read that the Cubs had signed an actual big league player instead of waving goodbye, I thought that maybe Jed Hoyer snuck the guy in without telling the Ricketts.
"Hey Tom, can you sign this? What is it?? Oh... ummmm... it's your Door Dash receipt. Definitely not a free agent contract or anything like that."
Anyway, who was this free agent that Jed snuck into Wrigley Field hidden under a table cloth in a dinner cart?
|Image courtesy of Con Las Bases LLenas|
With Austin signing a real Major League contract, that of course necessitated a concurrent move in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection. So, after a long day at work, I made a quick stop at my LCS to dig through their team stacks in search of a good Romine card for my most treasured tome. This place has always had stacks of common singles and inserts for each and every Big League club set out on their counters, making it perhaps the most fertile source for new CATRC additions since I started this project.
They've been my number on, go-to source for damn near 20 years now and have always treated me and my eclectic collecting habits exceptionally well. If you're ever around the south suburbs of Chicago, you should definitely pop-in to Baseball Dreams and Memories and tell 'em Tony sent ya!
Anyway, despite having a fair amount of Yankee cardboard to sift through, I could only find one Romine card to bring home - the 2017 Honus Bonus Partners oddball that sits near the top of this post. For those that may not remember, Honus Bonus was a very short-lived product that attempted to blend baseball cards with fantasy sports, a blend that several manufacturers have tried but no one has seemed to be able to perfect. Playing off of the then-recently launched Topps Bunt digital cards, HBP even debuted their maiden offering with a virtual card-trader app of their own - gotta give them credit for being ambitious, after all.
The Cubs' 2021 catching staff in Honus Bonus form.
The unlicensed product only lasted for one year, due to a decided lack of interest. Honestly, I can't say I'm surprised as the cards themselves are not particularly appealing to the eye with their grayscale players, random colored borders that have no connections to the team depicted, and - of course - the lack of logos. I mean, who doesn't think of purple when they think of the Yankees, right? Nevertheless, seeing as I am absolutely entranced by off-the-wall oddballs, I purchased a Cubs team set at the time. For a deeper review of Honus Bonus cards, I suggest that you give those timely ramblings of mine a read.
In short, as ugly as the cards are, HBP sure did try to make their product unique looking. I must admit, I wouldn't confuse their cards with anything made by Topps or Panini - so, they had that going for them! Honestly, I wish they could have stuck around. Who knows, perhaps they would have been able to evolve their design to more aesthetically pleasing places? Plus, it would be nice to have another baseball card-maker in the market. Heck, in today's baseball card bubble and the nationwide legality of sports betting, maybe their fantasy blend would have even find some sustained success. The world may never know.
Here's hoping that Mr. Romine fairs better in Cubbie Blue pinstripes than Honus Bonus faired in the baseball card market. I guess that's not a very high hurdle to clear though.
Now that the team has finally inked a back-up catcher, all they need is a second baseman, a couple outfielders and two or three more starting pitchers... with just about a month left until spring training is set to begin. Yikes - better start scraping the bottom of that bargain bin, Jed. Although, maybe Austin can pitch in to help plug that hole on the pitching staff. After all, believe it or not, he actually has experience taking the bump in the playoffs! *Sigh*
Anywho, welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC, Austin Romine!
Monday, January 18, 2021
Thursday, January 14, 2021
While Wrigley Roster Jenga was on extended holiday, I was grieved to discover that Mr. Carl Aldana had passed away. Apparently, he had ventured on into the next realm early in 2019; however, I did not hear about his death until a year and a half later, in the middle of my blogging hiatus. Thus, quite unfortunately, I have never had the chance to post a proper tribute to the artist, being that I am both slow on the uptake and prone to long disappearances. Now, almost two years later, please allow me to rectify this grave injustice.
For those who are not familiar with the name Carl Aldana, he was born in Guatemala in 1938 and, as a child, immigrated to the United States his family shortly thereafter. Carl eventually picked up a watercolor brush as a freelance designer in the mid-60's and went on to become renowned throughout his adoptive home state of California for his portrait, landscape and cityscape painting. Furthermore, his artistic endeavors were not limited to still frames, as he also worked in the art department for over thirty big-budget Hollywood films, including serving as the art director for Air Force One. Some other movies that you might have seen his work in include Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Pleasantville, among several others choice moving pictures. All in all, I'd say that's not a bad resume for a working artist.
|Image of Aldana's artwork courtesy of SABR's Baseball Cards Research Committee|
But what does any of this have to do with Wrigley Roster Jenga's topic of interest, baseball cards? Well, you see, when Carl wasn't cleaning his brushes or going Hollywood, the avid creator was also designing his own baseball cards.
In fact, it's rather likely that you have read about his vintage, broder-adjacent sets in your Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards or seen them at a vender booth at a card show. In 1970, he made his pasteboard debut by producing a 12-card checklist paying tribute to the Baltimore Orioles and he followed that up with a 16-card offering featuring a smattering of players from across baseball. Both of these products are listed in the aforementioned Standard Catalog; that said, those guys neglect to mention his 1972 love-letter to the Pacific Coast League's San Francisco Seals of the early 50's, an 18-card set that cast the spotlight on a league and team that he saw plenty of as a Cali kid of the time.
I'm not quite sure how this baseball artiste distributed his handiwork. Perhaps he made use of mail order in early trade publications, a la Renato Galasso? Maybe he sold them at some of the hobby's first card shows? Heck, it could be possible that these were just a passion project that ended up on the second hand market. Does anyone out there know anything information that could help fill in this gap?
Questions about distribution aside, no matter what, we know that Mr. Aldana was a fan of the game and of the PCL, as both showed up in his work on canvas and cardboard. However, after the three outsider art card offerings that we detailed above, Mr. Aldana disappeared from the trading card scene for the next 40+ years, no doubt focused on his much more lucrative film and artwork projects throughout the ensuing decades.
Apparently, the itch never completely went away though, as a few years ago, Mr. Aldana burst back onto the hobby scene. He went back to the well again and came back with a series of sets paying tribute to his beloved Pacific Coast League. These art cards mimicked the style of the old Mother's Cookies sets of the mid-20th century, but featured a wider swath of players and made use of new colorizations performed by the artist in question. It's hard to get a full, documented scope of these releases, as they are quite prodigious in number and were released rather haphazardly (via single listings on the Ebay, I'm pretty sure) throughout the years - just search "Aldana PCL" on the 'Bay and you'll find a couple hundred different listings. Obviously, Carl was back with a vengeance and making up for a lot of lost time!
Back in 2017, I first came across these Aldana revival cards while perusing my saved Ebay searches. With such a diverse checklist of obscure and fringe minor league baseball players, this discovery got my blood pumping. As I had expected, digging into these oddities uncovered a new, fertile source for War Era randos that I still needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection - the most cherished collation of my baseball card collection. So, of course, I added a selection of these beauties to my cart and crossed a few names off of my "needs" list that I was beginning to think would never be acquired.
In posting about the Jim Adair (briefly with the Cubs in 1931) single you see above, I received quite the unexpected thrill when Carl Aldana himself commented on my humble little blog, reaching out to talk turkey about baseball cards. Granted, he was no Cy Berger, but this accomplished artist, film maker, and baseball card creator was putting his digital signature on my web space and wanted to talk to me about his work? As if that wasn't enough of a thrill, after our conversation, he also sent me the Steve Bilko beauty that you see above as a "thanks for your great blog on my cards."
|The man was important enough to receive a tribute from the Oscars and he still took the time to talk to this amateurish writer.|
Saturday, January 9, 2021
As Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson once boldly stated, one should "never trust a man with two first names." Apparently, David Ross has never seen that episode of the cult classic television program because one of his top relievers in 2020 was a man with multiple monikers generally considered as firsts.