Tuesday, June 12, 2018

All About the Bass

The Cubs are back in first place!

After last night's thrilling, come-from-behind victory over the Brewers, Chicago has leapt back in front of Milwaukee in the tightly-contested National League Central Division.  Like last year's edition of the Cubbies, this year's bunch misfired at the starting line and fell back behind both the Brew Crew and the Red Birds.  However, unlike last season's World Series hangover which carried into the All-Star Break, this brief daze seems to have only momentarily stunned the club.  At this point, the baby bears' record sits at 38-25, a season high 13 games over .500, with the rest of the division in their rear-view mirror.  Hopefully, they stay there.

Just looking at the final score, 7-2, yesterday's contest did not appear to be so tightly contested.  However, the Cubs were forced to come back on the Crew twice, tying the game at two before heading into extras.  It was in the 11th inning that Anthony Rizzo lead-off with a bomb to steal the lead and then the rest of the roster staged a two-out rally for four insurance runs to break it open.



Enter Anthony Bass.

Manager, Joe Maddon, is known for his desire to provide soft landing spots for new additions to the roster.  Since the offense suddenly exploded in the top of the 11th in an epic game of f**k the closer, Anthony Bass was given the relatively easy assignment of protecting a five run lead.  Having just had his contract purchased from Iowa that afternoon, this appearance marked Bass' Cubs debut.  The newest Chicago hurler retired the side with ease, allowing only one bloop hit before sealing the W.

So far in 2018, the last few spots in the Cubs bullpen have been something of a taxi squad and an effective one at that.  Randy Rosario, Luke Farrell, Justin Hancock, and Cory Mazzoni have been riding the shuttle back-and-forth from Des Moines to Chicago, providing a fresh arm when the pen tires out.  To facilitate this swap, it was Mazzoni who was given the bus ticket; I guarantee he'll blow back into the Windy City at some point this summer.

 


As for Bass, the Cubs reeled in the right handed reliever during the Cold Stove Season last December.  The unheralded minor league signing earned some press for some light recruiting of his former teammates, Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani, and very nearly made the Cubs roster out of spring camp.  So far at AAA, Anthony has been nothing short of stellar, with a 2.28 ERA in 23.2 innings, to go along with 20 K's against just six walks.  That'll get the job done.

Anthony has been kicking around the Majors since 2011 and his fastball has always been a plus.  However, his secondary pitches can be inconsistent (slider, cut fastball), which has kept him from consistently holding down a spot in the Bigs.  So far, Bass has plied his talents with the Padres, Astros, Rangers, the Nippon Ham Fighters, and again with the Rangers during his professional journey.  Perhaps Bass will finally harness his secondary pitches and carve out a niche in Chicago?  We shall see.

For now, we can expect the righty to serve as a fungible arm on the taxi squad, going up and down as fresh arms are needed.  However, if he continues pitch as well as he did last night in Milwaukee, Mr. Bass might just be able to reel in an MLB job. 



 Bass pitching for the Cubs in Mesa, AZ.  Image courtesy of Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports



Luckily for me, I just so happened to have a 2012 Topps Flagship card of the newest Cub laying around in wait.  Shortly after he inked his minor league deal with an invitation to spring training a couple days before Christmas, I came across the single while flipping through my Padres trade bait.  Seeing as Major League teams go through so many relievers these days, I felt like there was a pretty good chance that the depth signing would eventually end up in the Second City, so I immediately set it aside for future considerations.  Looks like my hunch was right.

The chances of Bass ever appearing in Cubbie blue on a baseball card are slim, owing to his status as a reliever and the current hobby monopoly, so this lucky find may serve as his representation in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection for the foreseeable future.  Although, maybe he'll surprise us all and become a crucial part of the Cubs' roster that Topps simply cannot ignore; or, perhaps he'll at least do something on the field worthy of being immortalized on a Now instant card.  Only time will tell.

At any rate, welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC binder, Anthony Bass - this post is all about you!







Monday, June 11, 2018

The Spice of Life



 
It's fairly safe to assume that you've heard the old saying, "variety is the spice of life" before.  The ancient turn of phrase has been used to (correctly) point out that new and exciting experiences make life more interesting and actually worth living.  It's a proverb that I've oft-repeated and considered when making decisions on where to dine, what bands and music to listen to, what beer to try, what movies to see, etc.  After all, life just gets darn boring if you're going to same places, doing the same stuff, and listening to Stairway to Heaven on repeat.

You might say that, at this point, "variety is the spice of life" is my own particular... ummmm.... (sigh)





Although the main focus of my cardboard collection is my documentary Cubs All-Time Roster Collection - the goal of which is to obtain at least one card of every player to suit up in Cubbie Blue - trading cards would quickly get dull.  That's why I've also added roster collections for the Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks to occupy my time.  Not to mention, I have several other collecting offshoots, including minor league cards, miscellaneous oddballs, runners, and motorsports-related cardboard.  When I get bored with one binder, I can easily scoot over to another focus.

When it comes to applying this thought process, it appears as though I am not the only one in the card-blogging community.  Dime Box Nick recently dropped a surprise package into my mailbox and this brick of cardboard was as varied as a jar of potpourri:





Nick is always good for a varied trade package and this one was certainly no exception.  The man is always coming across interesting and different oddities as part of his famous dime box digs - Nick is the king of Dimeboxdonia for good reason, after all.  Likely unearthed during one of these excavations was the Kellogg's 3D oddball of Cubs third baseman, Bill Madlock, which tops this post.  It's cracked and weathered surface may have seen better days, but you better believe that it nestles nicely into my oddball binder regardless. 

And there was plenty more where that came from!  Sorting through this exceptionally "spicy" selection of cardboard was the perfect way to unwind after a long day at the office.  Please allow me to further showcase just how much this generous offering lived up to Nick and I's shared idiom:




Keeping with the oddball theme was this assortment off-the-beaten-path pasteboard.  Short-termer, Benito Santiago, seemingly played for every team in baseball as his career wound down; however, his single year in Chicago wasn't met with a lot of cardboard documentation.  Luckily, MLB Showdown was on the ball!

Additionally, we have a triage of Cubs greats in Sammy Sosa, Ron Santo, and a beaming Ernie Banks, via UD Power Deck, a late-90's team issue set, and a glossy '85 Topps Home Run Kings single.  In regards to the Slammin' Sammy, is there anything more "different" than a mini-CD, "futuristic" baseball card?




Furthermore, Nick also included an assortment of minor league baseball cards, a cardboard genre that has held my fascination since I pulled a 1994 Action Packed Matt Franco single out of a repack as a little kid and was baffled by the IOWA Cubs team designation.

Sean Cheetham and Luis Flores never made the ultimate ascent to the Majors; however they will make it into my minor league Cubs collection.  Although, the latter is still active in 2018, plying his trade in the Mexican League; so, there is still a small chance Luis could make it to the show someday.




Changing gears once again - remember, this gift was all about variety - we have a fair selection of vintage cards to gaze upon.  How often do cards from the fifties and sixties end up in a surprise mailing like this?  And vintage O-Pee-Chee??  That Nick is one kind fellow!



Jumping forward a few decades, Nick tossed another curveball with a gathering of super shiny parallels, including what might be my very first "dufex" card in Jayson Peterson's '95 Pinnacle release.  My eyes are burning with pure delight!




Next up was a grouping of relatively recent products that remain nearly non-existent in my collection.  I try to rip at least one pack of every new product that hits store shelves; that said, last season's Allen & Ginter and Fire brands, as well as 2018 Donruss, have only rolled in via trade packages.

That doesn't mean I have anything against these products - I just never got around to sampling them.  Good thing I have Nick to keep me up to date.




Speaking of which, these are definitely the maiden 2018 Bowman Chrome singles to slip into Wrigley Roster Jenga headquarters, including my very first card of the Cubs highest draft pick in 2017, Thomas Hatch.  Now, should either of these men earn the call-ups they've both been inching towards, I'll be ready to throw them into my CATRC binder immediately afterwards.




WABAM!  Nick's next change of pace was a doosy - a pair of hits in the form of an Addison Russell A&G relic from last year and a 2015 Mark Prior  Topps Tek autograph.  Hot damn!

This marks the second Prior signature to enter into my collection and had you told me in 2003 that I'd have such a pair in the future, I'd assume that I was a wealthy man.  While he may have fizzled out, Mark was always a favorite of mine and I'll gladly scoop up all of the Prior ink that I can.  Meanwhile, the gray jersey swatch is easily my best Russell card and will promptly take his place in my CATRC tome.

In any other package, these two hits would easily have taken the cake as the best of the bunch.  However, a Nick mailer is never predictable.  This cardboard potpourri still had one more surprise hidden inside:



As an exclamation point on an already excellent and varied bubble mailer, Nick also included a partially completed set of a rarely-seen in the wild, team issued set.  This Fox Sports Net sponsored checklist was issued in 2000 and documented the roster of that year's club.  The 29-card set was given away at a certain home game... but, no one seems to remember which contest that was.  There's simply not a lot of information out there about these SGA's.

The dismal 2000 Cubs were built with aging veterans and obscure, cameo Cubs and this surprisingly robust set provides several cards of guys who are rarely associated with Cubbie Blue.  This fact had already put the FSN set on my collecting radar and I audibly gasped when I saw these in Nick's stack:




This pair of Jeff's were of particular interest to me.

The well-traveled Jeff Huson's Cubs career was limited to the 2000 season - those 70 games marked the finish line for his Big League career.  Thus, the SGA above is the only Cubs card to have been printed of the longtime MLB utilityman.  In addition, like Huson, Jeff Reed also completed his Big League tenure in the Windy City, serving as a backup backstop from 1999-00.  As far as I can tell, this SGA single and a game card in '00 MLB Showdown are the only cards that commemorate his final MLB stint. 

Both of these rarities were much-needed and long-targeted "Cubgrades" for my CATRC three-ring.




Finally, unlike mainstream releases, this stadium giveaway set made sure to cover not just the active players, but the coaching staff as well.  As a result, guys like batting coach, Jeff Pentland, and pitching coach, Oscar Acosta - neither of whom ever received much cardboard love - get their only known Cubs cards.  Hot diggity.

I make much more of a hubbub about the player section of my CATRC; however, I also have sections dedicated to managers and the coaching staff.  It's rare that I get to make additions to the "coach's corner," seeing as how rarely coaches appear on baseball cards these days.  Therefore, whenever I get a chance to do so, it's certainly an occasion worth celebrating.

With that, we've finally reached the end of Nick's extremely generous and diverse platter of cardboard.  To summarize, within that array, Nick managed to include a healthy mix of intriguing oddballs, minor league singles, beautiful vintage, shiny parallels, catch-up current products, eye-popping hits, and major additions to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  To put it simply, the man is just a legendary trader! Thanks, Nick - I'll be sure to whip up a proper and varied trade package in return, as soon as I possibly can.


Collecting cards wouldn't be nearly as fun if there was only one way to do so, would it?  That's why this trade package is one of my favorites of 2018, so far - variety is the spice of life!







Friday, June 8, 2018

Baseball Brethren

Baseball is a family sport.  America's pastime has subsisted on a passion that has been passed on from father to son, mother to daughter across the planes of time, throughout generations of cheering and jeering cranks.  As Chicago-based comedian, Tom Dreesen, once illustrated this concept using his beloved Wrigley Field as a backdrop, "...you walk up those stairs and you're going to sit in a seat that your great-great-grandfather sat in, your great-grandfather sat in, your grandfather sat in, your father sat in, that you sat in, that your son will sit in, that your son's son will sit in... and you're all going to watch the same game in the same place."

Accordingly, this unbridled passion for the game creates family ties in the stands and on the field.  The long history of the professional game can be traced through many familiar surnames.  Father and son combinations like the Griffey's, the Bond's, and the Boone's have produced some of the greatest talents that sports have ever known.  The Alou's, the DiMaggio's, and the Seagers's have produced brothers in arms and in bats.  In short, family lineage can be traced either by trees or by baselines.

You may have heard of the Hairston's, Niekro's, and the Alomar's, among countless other baseball brethren.  However, there's one surname in the game's great tapestry that has produced more Major League alumni than any of those familial branches:  the Delahanty's.




The eldest of the Delahanty clan, Ed, is the most well-remembered of the bunch, owing to his Hall of Fame selection and mysterious death.  Meanwhile, Frank, Joe, Tom and Jim (above) also populated several Big League rosters across the National, American, and Federal Leagues throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries - that makes for FIVE brothers that ascended all the way to the Major Leagues.  Just for good measure, a sixth brother - Willie - played in the minors for seven seasons without earning a call-up.  Since 1876, no other clan has produced more than three kin from the same generation.

Eat your heart out, Boyer bros!

I picked up the above card of Jim Delahanty because, though he's depicted with Detroit, he actually came up with the Chicago National League Ballclub - with five of them bouncing around, one was bound to blow into the Windy City.  This genuine tobacco card didn't set me back much, likely due to the fact that it's damaged.  The perforated, super-vintage piece is actually a separated panel from an original Hassan Triple Folder collectible.  Here's how the antique would look altogether:



Like I said, my purchase only included the one panel, so this image was lifted from an Ebay auction.

As you can see, these over-sized, fold-able pieces feature a black and white action shot bordered by two colorized players in individual panels - Delahanty was originally paired with his Tigers teammate (and definitely not a pirate), Davy Jones.  Moreover, these panels strongly resembled the iconic design of the T205 tobacco premiums.  The cards, cataloged as T202's, were folded and included in packs of Hassan Cork Tipped Cigarettes in 1912 and, in whole, measure in at 2.25" by 5.5".

I imagine many a contemporary kid separated these bad boys as such, seeing as otherwise, they present a massive storage issue.  Not to mention the fact that, when separated, these player panels are almost the same size as your average cigarette card, as well (but, they are a touch smaller).



If cut up, you basically got three cards for one too, seeing as the information on the back also lined up with each panel.  As illustrated by my new Delahanty, the players each got a brief biographical write-up, while the action shot featured a caption describing the scene on the other side.  Also, Hassan had to get their name out there, as well, lest we forget about their corky fire sticks.

All told, I ended up forking over six bucks (plus shipping) for this 106-year old piece of cardboard.  As it now stands, this card is now one of oldest pieces in my collection and I only had to pay (roughly) the going rate for a retail pack of last year's Stadium Club.   That's a deal that I'll make any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

Anyway, that's enough bragging about financials, let's take a look into the background of the latest player to be added to my Cubs All Time Roster Collection:



The 1901 Chicago Orphans - that's Jim Delahanty, fourth from the right, next to the immortal Frank Chance.
Image courtesy of the Debunking Christianity blog, run by a descendant of the team's skipper.



Like his brothers Ed and Tom before him, Jim Delahanty made a name for himself on the sandlots of Cleveland.  After a few years of playing semi-pro ball and some grooming with minor league clubs (including a stint in Allentown where their infield was 3/4 Delahanty), a bidding war erupted for the second-youngest brother's services.  The infielder signed his first Major League contract in 1901 with the Chicago Orphans, who would assume the much more familiar nickname of "Cubs" a few years later.

Although the "Yellow Kid" would go on to have a nearly two-decade long career in the Bigs as a lauded defender and above-average batsman, to say that his initiation into Major League life went poorly would be a massive understatement.  During that 1901 season, Jim would go on to post a measly .190 batting average in 70 PA's across just 17 games, plus seven errors at third base.  As if that wasn't bad enough, Jim's season came to a premature end after suffering a broken kneecap AND coming down with a nasty case of malaria.  Egad!

That off-season, Chicago "orphaned" Delahanty.  He appeared with the New York Giants that next season for a brief, 7-game cuppacoffee before being demoted back to the minors for a couple more years of seasoning.  Re-emerging with Boston Braves in '04, things got much better for the brother, establishing himself as - according to legendary sports scribe Alfred Spink - "a most graceful fielder and a congenial sort of a fellow both on and off the field."  All told, his MLB career would extend through the 1915 season with a career .283 batting mark for eight clubs - easily the second most accomplished member of his family.  Not bad for a guy who started out with a slash line almost as sickly as his bill of health!



Left to right:  MLB brothers Ed, Tom, Joe, Jim, & Frank Delahanty.


None of the rest of the Delahanty's played for Chicago, so Jim will be the only one of the crew to appear in my CATRC binder, despite the family name showing up in boxscores all over the country near the turn of the century.

Perhaps no other family in the game's lengthy and rich history better exemplifies it's familial nature better than the Delahanty brothers... although the Hairston's (whose ranks include three Cubbies) could certainly make a compelling case, as well.  When I realized that one of the famous Delahanty brothers had been briefly a member of my favorite club, Jim immediately attracted particular interest and I set out to track down a corresponding card for my CATRC.  It took a few years, but I'm ecstatic to finally find one comfortably in my price range... and I didn't even have to settle for a reprint either!  Even if it's just really just a piece of a card, this T202 single might be one of my absolute favorite additions to the Cubs "family."

Welcome to the collection, Jim!




Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Best of the Best - Everything's Jake




Last night, was one of my best friend's birthday celebration and, because he's a rabid, crazy Cubs fan like I am, we and our significant others spent the night at Wrigley Field, in his honor.  Although the weather was unusually cool for a June evening (heck, there were hot chocolate vendors in the stands) and the Cubs were twisted into knots by opposing starter, Zac Eflin, it was a positively pleasant double date.  My wife was especially thrilled, as the native east-coaster grew up just outside of Philadelphia and she got to see her hometown Phillies lay a beat down upon Kyle Hendricks and crew.  At least one of us four was happy with the result of the contest!

Of course, with the Phillies being in town, that meant that former Chicago ace and "Cub for life," Jake Arrieta, was back for his first visit to the Friendly Confines since leaving town as a free agent this past off-season.  With that in mind, the park was abuzz with anticipation, as fans and players alike were excited to see an old friend again - I suppose two no-hitters, a Wild Card complete game shutout, a mindbogglingly great 2015 season, and a World Series title will build that sort of attachment!

As has become something of a tradition since the giant, new video board went up in left field a couple of years ago, the Cubs media crew paid tribute to a franchise favorite with a video montage on the big screen, in between halves of the first inning:






The man of the hour himself stood just outside of the visiting dugout, taking in the scene and spectacle.  Once the minute-long montage came to a conclusion, the crowd erupted into thunderous applause as Jake stepped out into full view, tipping his weird, red cap to every corner of Wrigley Field in a show of gratitude.  It was really quite the scene.

This was a good time to be sitting in the best seats that I've ever had at a Cubs game, as our party was just about ten rows back of the visitors.  Thus, we got a perfectly centered view of the video board and were close enough to Arrieta that we could see his face holding back the flow of emotion:




Thankfully, my wife was able to snap some pictures to commemorate the touching moment - she's always quick and dependable with the lens.  Of course, the rest of the contest was nothing to remember, as the Phightin' Phils beat up on the home team by a score of 6-1, this quick little ceremony made the entire night worthy of recollection and a perfect birthday festivity.

In fact, as I was herded into a crowded Red Line car after the game had ended, I felt inspired to draft a tribute of my own to the 2016 World Series Champion.  It was there, wedged between the wall of the train car and my loving wife, that I began to mentally draft the list of my favorite Jake Arrieta baseball cards as one does when one is a pasteboard blogger wanting to commemorate a favorite player.

Jake has had some good ones over the years, so it was kind of tough to narrow the list down.  Case in point, I originally intended to bang out a quick five-card bulletin, but found it far too difficult to leave so many cards on the outside looking in.  Even still, the wonderful Diamond Kings mini which leads off this post just missed cracking the countdown.  In short, there's a lot of nice cards to cover - so, without any further ado, let's take a look at the ten best cards in my collection of one of the premier Cubs hurlers of all-time:





#10 - 2010 Topps Update #US251


We start with where it all began. with his very first Major League card - I have Jake's 2010 rookie single coming in at number ten. Look how bizarre baby-faced Jake looks in Orioles colors!

I may not chase particularly hard after big time cards, but it's hard not to have some sort of attachment to rookie card of a favorite player, even if he is sporting the wrong jersey.





#9 - 2014 Topps Cubs Factory Team Set #CHC-??


From his first Major League card to his first Cubs card - this factory team set single represents Jake Arrieta's very first, official card in Cubbie blue, beating his Series 2 single to the shelves by a few months in 2014.  It was this card that motivated me to buy the whole nine dollar set from, in a bizarre twist of fate, Citizens Banks Ballpark in Philadelphia.  My wife and I took in a Cubs v. Phillies tilt that summer as part of a larger vacation.   Funny how that worked out, huh?

Who knew what he would go on to accomplish as a Cub after this printing?  Who knew that he would eventually go on to play for the same city I bought this card in?




#8 - 2017 Topps Series 1 #270


The only parallel to make the cut, the gold version of Jake's League Leaders card from last year makes the cut at number eight.

While not as historically dominant as he was in 2015, Jake's 2016 season was nothing to sneeze at. His 18 wins tied him for third best in the National League, earning him a spot in the League Leaders subset.  I love cards that commemorate specific events or achievements (more on that later), making it a shoe-in for inclusion on this countdown.  I opted for the gold parallel over the base, as the shininess adds some flare to the overall lackluster design of 2017 Flagship.




#7 (tie) - 2016 Topps Bunt #200 and 2017 Topps Bunt #119


Much like I am lamenting the end of Jake Arrieta's stellar Chicago Cubs career, allow me to take a moment to mourn the loss of the physical Topps Bunt set.  

This low-end collectors' product had the potential to be the entry-level, no-frills set that we collectors have clamored for throughout the year.  As cheap as Opening Day, but with original and interesting designs, fun and creative inserts, and emphasizing collecting the base set over the chasing of hits, Bunt was a product filled with so much potential.  However, like Jake re-upping with the Cubs, the return of Bunt just wasn't in the cards for 2018.  That's a shame because just look at these bad boys - the 2016 set was especially easy on the eyes!




#6 - 2007 TRISTAR Prospects Plus #96


Here we have another early Jake Arrieta issue, this one a pre-rookie, minor league release which actually showcases him in his collegiate uniform.

Since I first began collecting cards in the mid-90's, I've always had a special affinity for minor league cards of Major League stars.  In fact, to this day, I still have an entire binder filled with such cards for future Cubs; collegiate and high school cards are even more fascinating to me.  Simply put, I'm drawn to cards which show Major Leaguers back when they were just another face in the crowd.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a pre-rook Arrieta should hop into this list, like a TCU Horned Frog.




#5 - 2017 Topps 1987 30th Anniversary #87-49


Okay, so let's just address the elephant in the room here - Topps has overdone the 1987 nostalgia over the last few years... so much so that we collectors have started to roll our eyes every time the familiar, wood grain borders are trotted out.  Nevertheless, as a collector who got his start with grab bags stuffed full of discounted junk wax singles, this set is a key part of my childhood.   With that being known, it's hard for me to pass up a card of one of my all-time favorite athletes on one of my favorite card designs.  I'm simple like that.

On the other hand, the curious decision to lop of Jake's powerful pitching arm above the elbow keeps this insert from ranking much closer to the top.  Zoom out!!




#4 - 2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day #CC-2


Pairing one of the top moundsmen in the game today with the best holiday on the calendar - that's a match made in heaven!  

I've not been so fortunate as to pull a Cub since the holiday was rebooted by Topps in 2016; however, thankfully I have great buddies like Nick, of Dime Boxes fame, ready to step in and play the hero.  Even cooler, this card wasn't even available in the free packs given away by stores last summer... one had to attend the home game on August to obtain Jake the Snake and a few other supplementary pieces.  SGA sets are the bee's knees.




 #3 - 2016 Topps World Series Champions Box Set #WS-4


Remember how I said I enjoy cards the commemorate specific moments?  I present to you exhibit #2, which checks in at number three on this list.

Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and think to myself, "gosh, I cannot believe the Cubs actually won the World Series!"  It may have been more than a year and half ago, but after generations of futility and gnashing of teeth, it's still hard to believe that the Lovable Losers finally got over the hump.  Thus, these special World Series cards (and any '16 WS associated cards) were a quick buy for me.  Now I have physical proof that it actually happened and that Jake Arrieta nearly tossed a third no-hitter in the process!




#2 - 2011-Now Sports Illustrated for Kids  #536


One of the first baseball card trades that I ever consummated was for an SI for Kids oddball and, ever since, I've made a point of tracking down all the Cubs who've appeared in this long-running series of perforated panels.  Although, there haven't been all that many over the years.

Of course, after the Cubs broke the 108-year streak, that changed quite quickly, with Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta appearing in consecutive issues of the periodical.  I was just as excited when I opened the pages of that magazine and saw Jake staring back at me as I was when I traded my 1990 Score Bo Jackson for Gracie's 1995 SI for Kids entry.  Oddballs are always a draw for me.

And now it's all come down to this - we've covered spots ten through two, which Jake Arrieta card ranks as number one in my collection?  Drum roll please:




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Guess I overplayed that gag - sorry about that, Mr. Griswold!  Anyway, my favorite Jake Arrieta card is the following:




#1 - 2016 Topps Now #30


This particular card has popped up on Wrigley Roster Jenga several times now, so longtime readers of the blog might not be surprised to see it resting on top of the pile.  Clearly I wasn't kidding when I said that I adore cards that commemorate specific events or achievements.

The thrill of watching of a seemingly superhuman Jake twirl his second no-hitter in a span of just months was one of the greatest things I've experienced while watching television.  Though his historic run of dominance was nearly over when this occurred, I've come to look at this card as symbolic representation of peak Jake Arrieta.  For a while, he was truly the greatest pitcher to ever don the Cubs uniform, perhaps one of the best in our game's vast history and I feel privileged to have seen him at his peak.  All told, this was the very first Now card I felt compelled to acquire and there has only been one further Now addition to my collection - that should say something about important it is to me.

So, there you have it - a comprehensive list of the best Jake Arrieta cards in my collection and my tribute to one of the team's all-time greats.  Although he will never look right in red or maroon, here's hoping that he continues to have success in Philadelphia; so far, it looks like 2018 has been treating him rather well.  I'll be rooting for him and the rest of his team, seeing as the Phils are my better half's favorite team.  Happy wife = happy life and all that jazz.

That is, as long as they aren't playing the Cubs.  Thanks for the memories, Jake - we'll always have Chicago.






Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Find of a Lifetime?




This baseball has been sitting on my dresser for more than a year now, with the rest of my miscellaneous diamond memorabilia.  Before that, it rested on my computer desk for several years, serving as something of a paper weight and decoration, something to bring a little bit of flare to my workspace.  Honestly, I've never really known what to do with my autographed baseballs.  I do not have a lot of them, but (as you can tell) figuring out a proper way to display them has eluded me for quite a long time.

This particular signed hardball came into my possession through my now sister-in-law, who generously bought it for me as a birthday gift a few years back.  As I recall, she came across this bit of ephemera while browsing through a local thrift store one day.  While she had no idea who had inked their name on the sweet spot, for a couple of bucks, she correctly surmised that it might make a fun birthday surprise for the biggest baseball fanatic in her social circle.  She's always taken good care of me when it comes to gifting.

The John Hancock was a mystery to me as well, perhaps a "Steve" or  "Stan" someone who once played minor league baseball or something.  With not much else to go on, I placed the ball on my desk, intending to come back and do some more in-depth research later.  Finally, after kicking the can way down the road, this past weekend, I got an answer as to who might have scribbled on it.  However, we'll come back to that in a little bit.






Before I reveal the ID of the mystery signer, I should note that this wasn't the first time that a graphed baseball had gone from a thrift store shelf to my apartment.  Actually, just months before that gift from my sister, the local Savers provided the piece that you see above.  While he wasn't a star player, Craig Grebeck was a utility man for the White Sox, Marlins, Angels, Blue Jays, and Red Sox  and had a lengthy 12 year career in the Bigs - not a bad autograph to find for the price of a meal off of the McDonald's Dollar Menu.  Plus, the guy played for one of my hometown teams, which is always a major plus in my book (even if it's the wrong team).

Of course, the thrift shop signature search doesn't stop there either:






A couple of Christmases ago (note the tree in the background of these pictures), I was doing some shopping at the nearest Goodwill... not for seasonal gifts, mind you, but as a mental respite from the chaos and mayhem that is department store shopping during the holidays.  Anyway, finding this game-used, minor league baseball uniform signed by long-time Major Leaguer, Mike Marshall, certainly qualified as a welcome respite.  The former Dodger All-Star came back seven seasons after his last pro action to play 33 games for his hometown Schaumburg Flyers of the old Northern League in 1999.

As an aside, my wife has also noted that - besides signed memorabilia - I also have a knack for coming across minor league dressings in the local thrift stores.  But, that's a story for another day....

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I found these imprisoned in a Ziploc bag on a rack at Savers in Orland Park:



 

A couple of team-issued photo cards and a glossy 5"x7" featuring Blackhawk Sharpie marks!  Steve Dubinsky, Ethan Moreau and Chad Kilger were once chased down by someone named Dana and then unceremoniously jettisoned into the secondhand market.  Seeing as Kilger only played for one campaign in the Windy City, 1998-99, we can probably say with confidence that those cards were released by the team in 1998.  As for the origin of the photo print out, who the heck knows?

All in all, these aren't scrubs - between the three of them, that's 38 years of combined NHL experience and a couple of big names from the dark period of the Blackhawks franchise.  There was no way I wasn't going to rescue these from the store rack and proudly display them in my Blackhawks binder!

All in all, this is starting to sound braggadocios; that said, as you can see above, I've had some pretty good luck when it comes to acquiring signed memorabilia from the local Goodwill, Savers, Unique, etc.




With that in mind, let's get back to the autographed baseball which led off this post.  After serving as decoration for several years, I finally got back around to identifying the handwriting.  At first, I thought it might say "Steve Carlton" and my heart skipped a beat at the thought of finding a 300 game winner's endorsement at such an establishment.  Of course, rationality set in after I discovered that Carlton's signature looks nothing like the one above.  I mean, surely no one would so foolish as to dispose of something so significant so carelessly, right?

I was not having much luck myself - I'm not much of an autograph seeker and I don't have the knowledge nor am I aware of the proper outlets for such research.  Therefore, I took to Twitter to do a little bit of crowdsourcing - surely someone out there might be able to give me a lead, even if it was just a minor league scrub.





I legitimately laughed out loud when I read that initial response.  I honestly thought that everyone's favorite Durham Bulls fanatic was being a bit of a smart ass... okay, pal, I'm sure it is....

Then, just to be 100% sure, I took to Google... then my jaw nearly hit the damn floor:




These authenticated examples of Hammerin' Hanks Hancock sure do look the same to my untrained eyes.  Hold the phone - could it actually be possible that my sister-in-law and I had stumbled upon a baseball signed by Major League Baseball's all-time home run king on a dusty thrift shop shelf for pennies on the dollar??!! 

Craig Grebeck, Mike Marshall, Ethan Moreau, etc. were cool and all, but this sounds way too good to be true!

Some further elaboration by Snorting Bull informed me that although Hank's signature has gotten shakier as he has aged, the examples above and my baseball are consistent with how Mr. Aaron signed his name in the 1990's.  That explains why the signature in question bares little resemblance to the 2004 Topps Retired auto that I recently acquired in a mega trade with Gavin at Baseball Card Breakdown:




At this point, several other Twitter users were chiming in backing up Snorting Bulls' initial assessment.  Here is an actual short video of me, recorded as I was taking in all of this incredible information:





Now, I'm going to rain on my own parade here - while it certainly looks like a signature from the hand one of the top five greatest players to ever take to the diamond, there could easily be more than meets the eye.  The cynic in me is more inclined to believe that this disposed of ball is more likely the product of someone practicing their forgery than the real McCoy.  As the old saying goes, "if it's too good to be true, then it probably is."  

In the end, I'm certainly going to have to get this thing authenticated - the potential is far too great to leave it open to question.  But, like I said, I don't deal with a whole lot of autographs or high end memorabilia - can anyone here on the blogosphere enlighten me as to the proper channels? 

Either way, this still ranks as one of the most exciting finds of my life.  My sister knew she was giving me a generous gift.... however, who knew just how exceptionally generous this gift could possibly be?!

A Hank Aaron autograph found buried on a thrift shop shelf... eat your heart out, Macklemore!