Sunday, January 31, 2021

Plundering the Pirates


It seems somebody turned MLB's hot stove on within the last week, cranked it up to 11, and broke off the knob.


In yesterday's post about the startling Job Peterson signing, I theorized that it might not be long before the Cubs would add another player to their roster and to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection. As it turns out, I was even more correct than I thought I'd be - we didn't even make it 48 hours before making another addition. I must say, after nearly a whole off-season's worth of tearing down, I don't really know how to process this sudden spending spree.


Also as expected, the next transaction involved a reclamation project pitcher. In a minor twist, it wasn't any of the starters that the Cubs had been publicly connected too either. I guess you could say that Carlos Rodon was close, he just ended up back on the wrong side of the city. Meanwhile, we have yet to hear anything in the papers about the showcase workouts the team's scouts are confirmed to have attended for Jeff Samardzija, Jake Arrieta, or Mike Foltynewicz.  Although, any one of those three could still blow into the Windy City, as apparently today's signing is not expected to be the last starting rotation candidate to be brought into the fold before Spring Training.


Anyway, I've said an awful lot about guys who are NOT Cubs at this moment; maybe I should actually divulge the name of the guy who did put pen to paper with the Northsiders yesterday afternoon.






Trevor Williams has been with the divisional rival Pirates for the past five years, before the kings of roster teardown kicked him to the curb with every other useful player on their roster who might earn a buck.  Ironic that the Pirates are constantly allowing themselves to be plundered... do they know that they have it backwards?  Honestly, the Ricketts must be so jealous.





Williams was a good middle of the rotation arm for the Buccos from 2016-2018 and even seemed to breakout into a potential staff ace in that latter campaign, posting a 3.11 ERA in 170 frames. However, his Pirate ship sprung a leak in 2019 and sank to the bottom of the sea in 2020 as his walk rate and home run rate both increased to alarming levels. Obviously, those two are two stats that do not pair well together.


While the last couple years haven't been great, he still has a track record of prior success, is only 28, and is retainable through arbitration in '22 if the Cubs can turn him around. The franchise's pitch lab has been quite good at fostering turnarounds for hurlers over the past decade - I mean, they've built one of the most trustworthy bullpens in baseball out of guys whose names you could convince me were randomly generated. Thus, I believe if anyone can turn Trevor around and get him back to his 2018 form, it's the eggheads in the Cubs pitch lab.


It also bears mentioning that with the sharp innings jump from last year to this, overstocking on veteran arms is basically a necessity for any club that doesn't want to spend all their money on medical bills.





With Trevor now bringing his talents to the Windy City, I needed to pick out a corresponding baseball card for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Hopefully he pitches well enough 2021 that he gets a card in the proper blue uniform; however, for now, a Pirates pasteboard is still required to keep the seat warm.  Unfortunately, I couldn't make a quick run to my local card shop, as an inbound snowstorm caused them to close up shop a couple hours early yesterday evening.  I can't say I blame them either, seeing as it started snowing around 3pm and still hasn't stopped as of this morning.  It's a winter wonderland out there.


Furthermore, I couldn't flip through my Bucco trade stacks in search for a Williams because, well, I don't have those anymore.  Seeing as Baby Burbs and all of his accessories take up a lot of space, I jettisoned everything from my collection that wasn't super special to me or direly needed in order to make room for my new favorite person on the planet - my trade boxes did not make the cut.   So, I did what any sane and rational collector would do... I immediately got antsy and impatient and took to Ebay to pounce on the least offensive overpay that I could find.





That being said, I think I lucked out pretty well.  While a dollar shipped for any single base card on Ebay is usually the going rate, I was able to supersize my purchase with a 2020 Topps Chrome Xfractor for a dollar shipped.  Honestly, my LCS would have probably wanted five bucks for this same card (if they had it); so I guess this actually worked out pretty well in the end.  Who doesn't like shiny things and a good bargain?  Of course, that's all provided the card makes it to my Chicago-area home safely.  


Is it bad luck to blog about a card you don't yet have physically in your possession?  Am I tempting the vengeful cardboard gods?


Speaking of damage, as decent as Trevor's acquisition is, here's hoping that the Cubbies will bring in a few more new buddies to help him shoulder the workload that comes with such a massive innings jump.  Selfishly, I'm hoping for Mike Foltynewicz or Chris Archer - Folty is from the area and a guy my friend went to high school with while Archer already has a Cubs Bowman card since he was a prospect that was shortsightedly traded away before making the ultimate ascent.  While bringing back Jeff Samardzija or Jake Arrieta would bring some warm fuzzies too, I wouldn't get the satisfaction of adding new cards to my collection.  So, what's the point, right?


At any rate, welcome to the Chicago Cubs and to my CATRC binders, Trevor Williams.  I hope you're as excited about this change of scenery as your father is!






Saturday, January 30, 2021

Out of Left Field

 

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.

  

...then the Cardinals traded for Nolan Arenado and all those good feelings instantly evaporated.  That's life as a Cubs fan.


Welcome to the original Second City and to my CATRC, Joc Pederson!





Friday, January 29, 2021

Kohl's Cash


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.



Is anyone else having problems with embedding content with Blogger or is that just me?



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:





Seeing as Kohl was inked to a Major League deal (albeit a small one) and the team has a plethora of openings in both their starting rotation and bullpen, it's almost assured that Stewart will see some innings at Wrigley Field in 2021.  Especially so when you consider the innings bump teams will need to make up after last year's much-shortened schedule - everyone is going to need extra arms in order to avoid killing every arm on their staffs.  


With all that in mind, I went ahead and grabbed the cheapest Stewart card that I could find on Ebay.  Luckily for me, that pasteboard just so happened to be the 2015 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks & Prospects single that you see above, which - if you couldn't tell from the multi-colored sheen - worked out to be a glistening Refractor.  I'd say that worked out well - I'm a sucker for both good deals and shiny objects!


That said, here's hoping that Kohl finally bursts onto the Big League scene in 2021 the way that so many baseball soothsayers anticipated and earns himself a true, blue Cubs card in Update.  As much as I have a "shine" to reflective cardboard, I'd much prefer anything with a Cubbie uniform for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Well, that and I'd like it if he and my begrudgingly favorite team did well.


At any rate, welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC, Kohl Stewart!


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Broder Family Tree



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.


The 2"x 3", black and white oddity is printed on super thin cardstock, barely a notch above index card quality. Also, it's not hard to tell in this scan that it was printed as part of a sheet, seeing as remnants of the cards on either side were left behind when Bud was sliced out.  Overall, the simplistic card is extremely basic, letting the picture do all of the heavy lifting. The backside continues this minimalist theme:








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.


As it turns out, this card comes from a set produced by Ed Broder of the infamous Broder family.  If you were alive and collecting during the junk wax boom, the name Broder should ring all sorts of alarm bells, as Rob Broder became famous for his - shall we say - semi-legitimate outsider baseball card projects.  These off-brand curiosities were originally meant to pump up his sport photography business, but the cards ended up taking on a life of their own. They ended up spreading everywhere - you've definitely seen these cards kicking around the dime boxes and discount bins at card shows.  Nowadays, with everyone and their mother having access to photo editing software and a printer, "customs" and ACEO's have carved out their own niche; but, in the 80's and 90's the Broder works were looked down upon as fakes and phonies.  




Here's a pair of Broders from my collection that I am particularly fond of. Two of my favorite all-time players.




The notoriety rose to such heights during this time of cardboard investment that the family's last name became the catch-all term for counterfeit and collector-issued cards.  While Rob was the guy who accelerated the Broder boom, Rob's father Ed is the one who got the family business off the ground with passion projects such as the 1974 PCL Popcorn set.  Ed seemed to be particularly fond of the PCL, as he separated the wheat from the chaff with set of the league's All-Stars a year later, and Japanese baseball, the subject of several sets on his resume.  All of these products were similar in that they were decidedly not fancy - all picture with small splashes of text.  As evidenced by the cheap cardstock, the wishy-washy cutting, and the minimalistic design, these cards were probably produced with little more than some old programs/magazines, a typewriter, and a facsimile machine.


In the end, cards is cards to me.  Broders, customs, ACEOs, art cards, and anything put out by the major, "legitimate" manufacturers are all equally qualified for a home in my baseball binders.  I have Ars Longa cards displayed next to Topps pasteboards and Monarch Coronas pouched side by side with Upper Decks - a card is a card to me.  After all, where is the line between "legit" and "fake" when it comes to simple cardboard rectangles with pictures meant for children to play with anyway?  With that in mind, this is actually the third Border popcorn piece to find a spot in my CATRC.







Here we have Frank Ernaga and Ed Winceniak - another pair of ballplayers who, like Hardin, had brief runs with the Cubbies but much longer careers in the minor leagues.  Obviously, they also played in the PCL at some point, or they wouldn't appear in a set dedicated to the fan-favorite circuit.  For all three of these men, these ancestral Broders are pretty much the only baseball cards that I can find with their mugs on them.  Without such enterprising baseball fanatics, I wouldn't have been able to add this trio of players to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection - so, thanks a bunch, Ed!


How do you feel about Broders and other such collector-driven releases?  Now, we aren't talking about actual, straight-up counterfeits meant to deceive the na├»ve, even though the term Broder eventually came to include such nefarious copycats.  Eff that crap.  I'm asking if you have any of Ed of Robs work in your collections?  Perhaps, if we expand the parameters, you might have a Carl Aldana, Helmar, One Star, Gypsy Oak or any one of hundreds of expertly-crafted blogger customs in your binders or boxes?  After all, this stuff is all either descended from or on the same family tree as the work of the Broder clan.  Personally, I feel like these outsider cardboard options add color, variety, and a desperately needed alternative perspective in the baseball card hobby.  These works often cover players, eras, and events that the boys at Topps, Panini, and the like would never bother with.  But, that's just me - what do you think?


In the meantime, I suppose I'll make myself some popcorn and wait for the conversation to get poppin'!






Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Needed Distraction

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.





Hernan Perez was called up to the Chicago Cubs roster from the alternate training site during the evening hours of August 18.  At that very same time, my wife and I had arrived at the hospital, been checked in and were queued up and waiting for a bed and a birthing suite.  Due to COVID restrictions, we couldn't even leave the room we were being staged in unless using the bathroom.  Thus, to calm our nerves, my wife and I were able to passively follow their game against the Cardinals that night, via MLB At Bat, while we plowed through takeout and looked for anything else to distract our restless minds.  Better to obsess about the inconsequential prospects of a pro sports team than ponder all the things that can go wrong in birth, eh?






I remember being surprised that the Cubs had recalled the utilityman, but happy to add another name to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection hunt.  Rather than obsessively over analyze every sound we heard in the hallway or count scuffs in the paint of the cream-colored walls, I spent a few minutes hunting down a card of Hernan for my CATRC tome.  I don't think it will surprise anyone that the ivy backdrop found on Perez's 2017 Topps Flagship single was too perfect for me to pass up when securing a piece for Wrigley's newest resident.


I'm pretty sure the photo you see above was taken while sifting through Ebay search results


In the end, without getting into too many details, the birth was quite a long and hairy experience - the little guy didn't make his grand entrance until a full day after kicking labor into gear.  But, in the end, the process was ultimately successful - our little Rowan was born and still is a happy and healthy little guy, now five months on.  In stark contrast, Hernan Perez's Cubs tenure was brief and unsuccessful - he only made six PA's in three games, recorded just one hit (a single) with two strikeouts, and was designated for assignment before the end of the month.  








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

Add a Player? Are They Allowed to Do That??

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?  





The man of the hour was Austin Romine, formerly of the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers.


I know that Romine is not a mind-blowing acquisition or anything; but, he is at least an established, Major League caliber backup catcher with a track record of success.  Austin was the main backup to Gary Sanchez in the Bronx from 2016 through 2019, providing good defense (career 1.3 dWar) and a usable bat (.239 batting average in NY and even popped 10 homers in 2018) coming off the bench.  That's pretty much exactly what you're looking for in a guy who only starts once a week or so.  Now, the guy is no Victor Caratini, but that's a whole different kettle of fish...  


Of course, last season was his first year in the Motor City and a total a dumpster fire for Austin; but the conditions of the 2020 season were not exactly conducive for success, especially for veteran players.  Perhaps it was a fluke due to the shortened prep, long layoff, and sprint schedule.  Perhaps it was the start of a decline for a player in his early 30's?  We shall see.


As long as the Cubs don't trade Willson Contreras for a stack of wooden nickels and let Austin start because more players cost more dollars, this could actually be a good pick-up.  At any rate, it was definitely needed, as Contreras was the only guy on the 40-man roster with any Major League experience.  Top prospect, Miguel Amaya, has yet to play above A ball and is still a few years away while P.J. Higgins is going to spend 2021 at AAA auditioning to take Austin's spot in 2022.



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.



RIP HBP


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

Extraneous

 



Next up in my series of posts catching up on Cubs roster moves made while Wrigley Roster Jenga was mothballed, is a guy who briefly popped up during the most recent campaign, but figures to play a much more prominent role in 2021:  Tyson Miller.


Miller was the quintessential "next man up" for the Cubs in 2020.  Twice, the young pitching prospect was called up as the bonus player for a doubleheader and twice he was immediately sent back to the alternate training site after the completion of said twin bills.  As of this writing, these two cameos are the only tastes of Big League action that Tyson has experienced - he has yet to receive a call-up via "traditional" means.  However, as one of the only competent starting pitching prospects in the apparently rebuilding Cubs organization, Miller figures to get ample opportunity to take the mound in regular ol' nine-inning games quite often in 2021.  In fact, this rookie is almost emblematic of the current state of the club's pitching corps. 




Miller on the bump in his MLB debut.  Image courtesy of Matt Marton/AP & the Chicago Sun Times.




For reference, Tyson Miller was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fourth round of the amateur draft out of California Baptist University.  A franchise in dire need of pitching depth, Theo and crew selected an eye-popping 18 moundsmen in the first 20 rounds, obviously including Tyson.  Five years later, this franchise still features a dearth of mound talent, up and down the chain, and Mr. Miller is the ONLY one of those arms to have even tasted the Major League scene in Wrigleyville.  Well, except for Thomas Hatch, who was - of course - traded away for a random reliever in David Phelps and is now impressing in Toronto.  Ain't that a tale as old as time?


Scarier yet is the fact that only three men drafted in the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era have so much as started a game in blue pinstripes - Rob Zastryzny, Duane Underwood, and our friend Tyson Miller.  No offense to those guys, but how's that for talent development?




Not exactly a robust resume when it comes to drafting pitching for this front office.




Here's hoping that Tyson can change that absolutely dismal directory - after all, he showed some flashes of brilliance in his twin reinforcement auditions last season.  Jitters must have got the best of the righty in his maiden outing though, a start against the Cardinals in August, where he walked three in only two innings, allowed a homer and two earned runs along the way.  Furthermore, he tossed in a balk for good measure.  However, in a relief appearance in early September against the same club, Miller harnessed his command and gave no one a free pass and allowed only one hit, though one runner did come around to score, in three frames.  


Once again, it seems nerves may have played a role in his rough debut and one can hardly blame the rook - it was a hotly-contested game against a hated divisional rival in a fierce pennant race.  Talk about being tossed into the fire.  On the plus side, judging by the way things are looking a month out from Spring Training, I don't think Tyson is going to have to worry about a pennant race when he's on the hill in 2021...





Images from each teams' corresponding Twitter feed... *sigh*



At any rate, here's hoping that Tyson Miller bucks all trends and becomes the first Cubs draftee in years to secure a regular turn in the starting rotation.  Seeing as the team has only two proven arms currently slotted on the depth chart, Miller will have a great chance to be the hero that this town needs.  That said, no matter how things go from here, I say welcome to the Show and (most importantly) to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection!


When it came to picking out a card for my CATRC binder, it wasn't a particularly tough decision to fill Mr. Miller's slot.  Despite being a fairly well-touted prospect in a major market with a rabid fanbase, Tyson has only one unique card on the market - the 2016 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects single that leads off this post.  Of course, there are plenty of variations on that single pasteboard, because we're living in the new and improved overproduction era; so, there was still SOME hemming and hawing to be had.  In the end, I opted for the base Chrome card, both because I am a sucker for shiny things and the fact that it was the most readily available to me at the time of his call-up.  I'm a sucker for ease of access too.






And that about covers Tyson Miller, for now.  Next time up on Tony desperately tries to catch-up on roster additions before the 2021 season commences, we'll discuss a utility infielder who first showed up at a time where baseball was the absolute furthest thing from my mind.  Seriously, when this dude was added to the active roster, I basically forgot that America's pastime was even a concept at all!  


Let's just say that I was a tad bit distracted.  As to why my mind was so clouded, I leave that as a mystery for now.


'Til next time!



Thursday, January 14, 2021

Late Tribute to the Late Carl Aldana



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.  




Some examples of Carl's vintage output, culled from Ebay listings as I possess none of these oddballs.



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."


Three years later, this connection still ranks as one of the coolest moments of my time as a blogger. 


Unfortunately, we lost touch after that dialogue and I was grieved when I discovered that Carl had passed away not-so-long after we spoke.  At 81, he lived a creative life full of excitement, flashy colors, film sets, and glitz behind the lens and behind the canvas that I can only dream about.  At least he didn't have to see what the world has become just a couple years later.



The man was important enough to receive a tribute from the Oscars and he still took the time to talk to this amateurish writer.



At this point, we're several paragraphs deep and I have yet to explain how I came to find out about Carl's death or describe the significance of the card which leads off this post.  As you can tell from the central concept of this post, I have a recurring problem with tardiness.  Let me clarify.


I was on Ebay on day back in the throes of the early days of the pandemic, scrolling through listings in order to kill some time while isolating to "flatten the curve."  Despite my boredom, my attitude perked up when I came across a cache of Aldana PCL cards that I had not seen before - a whole set of cards patterned around the Los Angeles Angels of 1947.  This was especially exhilarating to me because the original LA Angels were the top affiliate of my beloved Chicago Cubs at that time, meaning that the checklist contained a healthy sampling of fringe guys who became well acquainted with the travel schedules between the City of Angels and the City of Wind, guys who did not have much of a cardboard footprint because of their decidedly non-star status in the pre-Topps era.

To put it succinctly, pay dirt for my CATRC binder!  This is evidenced by the set ledger found on the card backs:







Besides Marv Felderman, Bill Fleming, Cecil Garriott, Russ Bauers, Bukk Schuster, and Johnny Ostrowski would also make welcome new additions to my CATRC tome.  Like I said, this soil is fertile.


In the grand scheme of the game, Marv Felderman is not a significant figure.  Of course, that doesn't mean he wasn't notable in his own way.  "Coonie" was a catcher who suffered from chronic injuries, but still managed to work his way up the ladder, thanks to his skills behind the dish.  In 1942, he broke into the Bigs with the Cubs, but was only able to get into three games and take seven measly plate appearances.  This was mostly due to the fact that, upon breaking camp with the club, he flubbed a play in extra innings that choked away a potential win and was immediately sent down.  Back in the bushes, Felderman injured his finger and struggled, only earning his way back to Chicago late that season through the team's dismal performance and lack of other backstop options.


After the '42 season, Felderman joined a different kind of campaign and enlisted in the Navy, as there was a little skirmish going on at the time that you might have heard about.  Marv was stationed in Hawaii, at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, and regularly plied his talents on the diamond for their baseball team, eventually playing in the 1945 Navy World Series in Hawaii.




Felderman with the Cubs in 1942 (left) and with the US Navy's Kaneohe Klippers in 1944.




Not so long after that World Series, Felderman was discharged from the service and was able to watch a different World Series.  The Cubs were taking on the Tigers in that year's fall classic and the club invited their former catcher to take in the festivities from their box seats.  Upon the Series' conclusion (and you know how that went for Chicago), the players even voted Felderman a partial share of their pennant purse.


Come 1946, Marv was one of hundreds of pro ball players attempting to make a comeback upon the conclusion of World War II and found himself back in the PCL.  By 1947, he was back with the Cubs organization, laboring for a second trial in the National League with the Angels, as the Aldana card illustrates.  I've seen it reported that he was called up near the end of the season once again, but he did not appear in a boxscore and I cannot find any contemporary sources to confirm.  Either way, Felderman continued to chase his dream in the minor league and semi-pro ranks through at least 1951, without ever getting a second chance.


It was in conducting this research on Marv Felderman's baseball career that I discovered Carl Aldana's passing.  Ever the prodigious artist, thebaseballhobbyist (with whom Carl used to work directly) continues to list pieces of Carl's art card portfolio for sale to this day.  I'm definitely tempted to grab myself a few more and encourage you to do the same - these colorful oddballs would look great in anyone's baseball card collection!


At any rate, it's time to wrap this up.  Carl, sorry it took me so long to pay proper tribute, but thank you for your wonderful art and film work, for creating some of the most fun outsider baseball cards ever produced, and for being so generous and communicative with this random, blathering blogger.  Your creative output is something to behold and I am ever thankful to have some pieces of it nestled safely in my binders.

R.I.P. Carl Aldana.  To close, here's a short video showcasing some of his watercolor work, specifically impressions of a visit made to the home of the Cubs, Chicago:





Saturday, January 9, 2021

Never Trust a Man With Two First Names

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.




Jason Adam is something of a minor league vagabond, or at least he was before he finally made his way to Chicago.  As a post-hype reliever, who was never considered a blue chip prospect, with little in the way of  Major League credentials. it's no surprise that the hurler doesn't have much of a cardboard footprint.  In fact, unless you want to chase minor league, team-issue set singles, the only way to add a card of Adam to your collection is to dig through 2011 Leaf Metal or Valiant Draft, which are hardly mainstream products in their own right.


As you can see, I opted to chase the latter after Adam made his Cubs debut this past summer.  It's a wonderfully shiny card and has a background akin to the old Topps Crusades insets of decades past - a purposeful aping, as I understand it.  You'll also notice that I splurged on his certified auto rather than his base card.  Every now and then I decide that I deserve something nice... plus the auto was the only reasonably priced Adam card I could find on Ebay at the time.  I could have spent $12 with shipping for a basic minor league card or half as much on a certified autograph - he may be an obscure player, but that's not much of a dilemma.


At any rate, it's a beauty of a card.  Plus, with the blank, blue jersey (because, you know, Leaf has no license), you can kind of cross your eyes, squint, and see a Cubs card in your hands.  All in all, I'm pretty happy with this being the first modern Leaf revival card added to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.




Ooooooo - shiny!



Anyway, we've talked a fair amount about his baseball card; perhaps we should learn a little bit more about the player depicted on it's reflective surface?  Who is this man that, like Ricky Bobby, has two first names?


Adam has actually been around for a little while now, as he is now enduring his second decade of professional baseball.  Drafted by the Royals in the fifth round of the 2010 draft as a strikeout pitcher with plus velocity and movement, the hurler seemed poised to be part of Kansas City's elite, World Series cinching bullpen.  However, it wasn't mean to be, as he was instead traded away to bolster their offense in a straight up deal for Josh Willingham in August of 2014.  Since then, Adam has been unable to find a consistent groove, bouncing from the Twins to the Padres to the Royals again to the Blue Jays and missing the entirety of the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to a stress fracture in his pitching arm.  One can hardly blame him for being unable to settle in, right?


Although it was during that second stint with the Royals organization that Adam was able to finally make his MLB debut, making 31 appearances out of their bullpen long after the team had ceased to be a contender.  Still on the mend from his arm injury, he wasn't quite up to the task yet, posting an ERA well over six in those 32.1 innings pitched.  There was a glimmer of hope though, as illustrated by his 37  strikeouts over that same period.  A move to Toronto was apparently just what the doctor ordered, as after his contract was purchased by the Canadians, Adam started turning things around.  In a late season trial, Adam got into 23 games out of the pen, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.91 ERA in 21.2 IP.




Adam on the bump at Wrigley in 2020.  Image courtesy of Marquee Sports Network.




That revitalization caught the eyes of the Cubs, who were intrigued by his pitch movement - a characteristic they have often zeroed in one when scouting pitchers.  Buoyed by a new, shortened arm action (a la Lucas Giolito, Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer), Adam impressed in Summer Camp and eventually earned another call back to the Majors after Tyler Chatwood's season ended due to injury on August 16th.  He quickly earned David Ross' trust as he was used heavily down the September stretch to the playoffs, allowing only two earned runs the entire month (both of which came in his final appearance).  You might say that he put forth a "Valiant" effort.


Get it? Valiant... like the baseball card that I bought for his slot in the CATRC.  Look - I'm actually a father now, so I am basically contractually obligated to throw in terrible dad jokes whenever I see the opportunity.


Regardless, Adam was nails during the high-pressure pennant race.  With that performance, there's little doubt that he'll be leaned upon as a key contributor out of the pen once again in 2021; hopefully, Jason can pick up where he left off last September.  Perhaps, after all those years of drifting from franchise to franchise, he has finally found his home?  With that in mind, maybe he'll even finally get his first actual Major League baseball card out of Topps or Panini and, better yet, perhaps it will come in a Cubs uniform.


Dream big, right?


Regardless, welcome to Chicago, Jason Adam, and - more importantly - to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder!