Tuesday, January 31, 2017

SI Kids, for Me!

So, I'm reading through the posts on my blogroll the other day and I came across Wrigley Roster Jenga's post about Sports Illustrated Kids sports cards. Often times reading WRJ's material and Wrigley Wax's musing are my favorites, but sometimes they show Cubs cards I wish I could also have in my collection. I wouldn't say it makes me jealous as much as it makes me a little bit sad.

So yeah, I saw the above Ben Zobrist card I was a little bummed. It's not exactly a card I can go and pick up at my LCS or have fall out of a retail pack of cards. I really enjoy Ben Zobrist cards and who doesn't love a nice oddball baseball card?

Then a PWE from out east hit my mailbox, literally a day later. As it turns out, I apparently know people who can hook me up!
My mood cardboard collecting mood did a complete 180 in less than twenty-four hours!
 Not only do I now have the Zobrist, but I also have the Kris Bryant card from the month before. How cool is that?
 Yeah, I'm pretty excited about adding these to my collection. The numbers on the back are #581 and #588, which means they would really fit well in the back end of Cubs FrankenSet, because many of the cards over #500 are from the junk wax era. It's fairly rare when I get a star player with a number that high; so many of the players in those last pages have names like Paul Assenmacher, Hector Villanueva, Greg Hibbard and Chico Walker.

Yet, these two cards would also look good in the their respective player collections. Decisions, decisions. Real first world problems here.  😀

Thanks for thinking of me, AJ. I owe you big time!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

She's Baaaaaack!

The author of A Cracked Bat, Julie, re-emerged from her hiatus the other day and immediately invoked a No-Trade Clause with all bloggers. Sometimes life gets in the way of this great hobby of ours. I totally get it, because my baseball coaching season kicks off in just about a month. It can be a very overwhelming feeling when packages start piling up on your desk. Organizing and collating cards into your collection is one thing, but trying to blog about them all can be especially time consuming and somewhat stressful.

Julie, I hope you enjoy the cards I've sent you in 2016... don't feel the need to write up a trade post or anything. Hakuna Matata and all that jazz. Just enjoy the cards when you have the time!

Meanwhile, I have some loyal readers who want to see little cardboard rectangles with pictures of grown men dressed uniformly on them. So, here's the best of what Julie sent me earlier this week!

I'm all in on Carl Edwards. His stuff is filthy.  I really like the painted portrait look and the raised frame of the Diamond Kings cards.
 I almost added the Bowman Platinum Willson Contreras card to my Ebay cart yesterday to take advantage of the seller's combined shipping, but thankfully I opened up Julie's package before completing the purchase.

Shiny! Sometimes I'm surprised there aren't more cards of players taking batting practice. 

Jason Heyward has been retooling his swing this winter in an attempt to get back to more productive version of himself. I still don't like signing players to long and expensive contracts. This one right now looks like it will handcuff the Cubs' financial flexibility for quite some time.
 I Jason hope he turns things around, not just at the plate, but in the minds of all his doubters, like myself.  He works hard, plays excellent defense and is an excellent teammate, but that's not worth $184 million.

National Baseball Card Day!  I hope Topps continue going forward with this promotion.
That Rizzo photo is wonderful!  Look at those stirrups!

Dick Drott?  I had never heard of him, but luckily there was an excellent biography on the back of the card.  This card is from the 1960 Leaf set, and I believe it is my first card from this set. Cool!

 Here's another set which is brand new to me: 2006 Fleer Tradition.
 I like the design and all of the color.  Very nice cards of some very good Cubs players.

Vintage and high end cards in the same package? Wow!
 I don't have many Topps Museum or Topps Tribute cards in my collection.
 I think I prefer the design of the Topps Tribute card (Arrieta), because you know... shiny. I'm easy to please.

Minis!  Score!  I miss Dexter Fowler already. Hmph.
Hopefully Addison Russell takes another step forward in his development this year. 

I'm glad to see Jorge Soler finally get a shot at a full time starting job in Kansas City. I hope he takes it runs with it, because I am flush with Soler rookie cards!
Is it me, or does this Future Stars design take you back to the crazy designs of 90s?  

 Lastly, we come to a 2005 mini from the Helmar Brewing Company featuring Johnny Evers.
 This card is about as thick as they come, which is very different for a mini. I briefly thought about scratching the back side for my prize, and then remembered it's 2017.  Pretty neat card though!

Julie, thank you kindly for all of the wonderful Cubs cardboard you sent my way!  It was a great surprise!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Review: Ahead of the Curve

Title: Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution 
Author: Brian Kenny 
Genre: Nonfiction/Educational

Ease of Reading: I knocked out this 368 page book in a little over two weeks. Actually, it's closer to 310 pages once you ignore the glossary of sabermetric terms, the index, and references at the end of the book. The book is broken into quite a few chapters and each chapter is often broken into subsections, which makes the book very easy to pick and put down. I often found myself thinking, "Oh, I'll read just one more section." Sometimes one more section turned into entire chapters, but that may speak more to my interest in the material than the ease of reading. 

Synapse: Sabermetrics are finally taking the baseball world by storm. Kenny discusses the history behind statistics and their use in managing a baseball game or running a front office. He uses statistics to show why major league managers should never bunt a runner over to second base. He debates how baseball's year end awards are given out and specifically examines the 1941 MVP decision between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. One of the chapter looks at players who should be in the Hall of Fame and he makes a strong argument for Tim Raines, who was voted in a week ago. My favorite chapter has to with Kenny's idea of bullpenning, which is really similar to the way the usage of pitchers is managed in the All-Star game. 

Comments: I've been forcing my way through another book in my Kindle during the last seven months and it's been a really boring read so far. I'm very much a completest and I'm having trouble giving up on the book.
Enter my sister. She gave me Ahead of the Curve as a Christmas present and once I started it I kept thinking about it. As a baseball coach, I found some ideas I could potentially apply to my high school baseball team. As a fan of numbers and baseball, this book really captured my interest and challenged the way I think about the game I love.
I really enjoyed this book and it now has me thinking, "Life is too short to read boring books." Now I don't think I'll ever finish that other one.

Grade: Kenny's work earns an A+ from me, and I've already begun passing it around to some of my friends who either enjoy Kenny's work on the MLB Network or who think baseball with a numbers slant like myself. I'm also thinking about trying out bullpenning through an OOTP simulation. Good stuff!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Testing Out MLB's Authentication Program

I've kind of talked myself into picking up at least one autographed card or relic card of every member of the 2016 Cubs.  I don't really have any rules, but ideally I'd like all the cards to have the players wearing Cubs garb, but I'll take what I can get.

I like the little MLB Authentication sticker on the jersey swatch of this Jason Hammel card. I went to MLB's Authentication page and typed in the information on the sticker. I found this particular jersey swatch came from a 5-4 win over the Giants on August 6th of 2015. Hammel couldn't finish the fifth inning so he wasn't credited with the win, but it was a game the Cubs won!  It's nice to know the relic is actually from a jersey Hammel wore at some point.

I picked up the above 2015 Strata card of Jason Hammel the other day and it goes down as my first and only card purchase so far in 2017.  White jersey, auto, and numbered 11/50 for under ten bucks. That's a win in my book!

You may be thinking, "Four weeks in to the new year and only one card?"  Well, it is the slow season for sets to be released. Things will surely pick up down the road!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ben Zobist Night at the Rivermen

The Peoria Rivermen, a member of the Southern Professional Hockey League, honored Ben Zobrist this past Saturday night. For thirty dollars fans would get a ticket to the game, a food and drink voucher, and get to quickly meet Ben Zobrist and obtain an autograph. I hadn't been to a Rivermen game in the last decade, but this promotion got me through the door, along with 8,300+ other fans for their biggest crowd of the season.

Here's a picture of Ben signing autographs at his table just off the concourse.
As always, he was approachable, humble and kind.  He shook my hand and thanked me for coming out. I thanked him for coming to Chicago and making a lot of Cubs fans really happy.

He autographed the same 8" by 10" photo for everyone. After we bough the tickets to the game we learned that he would only be signing an 8" by 10" for everyone and I bummed because I wanted to get this card signed:
Yeah, I guess that seemed to work okay! LOL

Ben had many autographs to sign. I believe the number was 6,000, so I think he enjoyed giving his hand a rest in the middle to walk out onto the ice.
He was introduced by a city councilman and given a key to the city. Once the teams were introduced and the other preliminaries were held he then donned a Rivermen jersey and dropped the first puck.
 Afterward Ben returned to the concourse to sign more autographs and we were entertained by some good ole minor league hockey.

The Rivermen scored the first goal, but the Columbus Cottonmouths stormed back with four of their own. The crowd was pretty shocked, because just two days before the Cottonmouths bus turned over on the highway on its way to Peoria and the last place team was without much of its top talent.

The Rivermen fought back and eventually tied the game and won in overtime. Three-on-three hockey is fun to watch!

I also had fun watching one of my former students on the ice.

Alec was one of my freshmen baseball players back in the day. I also had him in my Algebra 1 class for a year. I thought he was going to be one of the top baseball talents in the area by the time he was a senior, but he chose hockey instead. It seems to be working out for him!

It was a fun night with my sister and my good friend, Jim!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Questions about 2017 Topps Series 1

I haven't had anything to do with Topps flagship product since 2011. Back then I enjoyed the design and the diamond giveaway promotion, which resulted in me building Series 1, Series 2 and Update from packs.

Since then the designs haven't really drawn me in. There was the surfboard design and that was followed by the sea turtle design. The file folder design of 2014 wasn't too bad, but I never pulled the trigger. I give Topps points for moving away from the white borders in 2015, but in my eyes it was a hot mess. The full bleed route was an interesting choice in 2016, but I was not a fan of the smokey corners.

The cards I've seen for the 2017 edition have intrigued me. Maybe I'll open my wallet and by a buy a box or two?

I always like to do a little research before I go all in on something, so when Topps released their checklist for Series 1 I took a long gander at the names.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who had done so:
Tony and Topps haven't always seen eye-to-eye and I can't say that I blame him. The Brewers have recently been grossly underrepresented in most (if not all) Topps releases. Of the 350 cards in Series 1 the Brew Crew received 11, which is just about right. So, good on Topps.

But why Will Middlebrooks? As Tony mentions in his Tweet, it's not like Middlebrooks was a main cog on the twenty-five man roster in 2016 for Milwaukee, his third team in the last three seasons. The man played in 10 games during the entire season, while only seeing action in the field at third base. Yet Topps' decision makers obviously felt he was more deserving than Hernan Perez who played 60 games at third and has five more years of control for the Brewers.

 Checking MLB.com's depth charts I find Travis Shaw is currently at the top of the third base position for the Brewers. Neither Shaw nor Perez is in Series 1, but instead we get Middlebrooks. I can't assume Topps is trying to go all 2002 Topps Total on us and include everyone who made the 40 man roster. So it must be a timing thing, right?

So, let's examine the timing of it all.

Will Middlebrooks, pictured as a Brewer on his 2017 card, was granted free agency on October 3rd and then signed with the Rangers on November 11th.  There has been plenty of MLB transactions since October 3rd and many involving players who were also awarded cards in Series 1.

Players who have changed teams via trade:
November 3 - Cameron Maybin (Tigers) traded to Angels
November 4 - Pat Neshek (Astros) traded to Phillies
November 7 - Carlos Ruiz (Dodgers) traded to Mariners
November 11 - Howie Kendrick (Dodgers) traded to Phillies
November 17 - Brian McCann (Yankees) traded to Astros 
December 1 - Jaime Garcia (Cardinals) was traded to Braves
December 6 - Yoan Moncada (Red Sox) was traded to White Sox
December 6 - Chris Sale (White Sox) was traded to Red Sox
December 7 - Wade Davis (Royals) was traded to Cubs
December 7 - Jorge Soler (Cubs) was traded to Royals
December 10 - Danny Espinosa (Nationals) was traded to Angels

I can't really fault Topps here... in most cases. I can't expect them to predict the volatility of the trade market. Some may argue that the writing was on the wall, as in Jorge Soler's or Chris Sale's case, and they shouldn't have been cards in Series 1. And maybe if there's enough smoke, then Topps holds off on including them in their product until Series 2. The inclusion of a top rookie on the checklist, like Yoan Moncada, is always a good play. Who could have predicted Moncada would be the key piece going back to the White Sox in the Sale trade? 

Let's dissect the Series 1 checklist a further. Below is a list of players in the set and the team they represent is in parentheses.

Players who have changed teams via free agency:
October 3 - Will Middlebrooks (Brewers) became free agent, now with Rangers
November 3 - Andrew Cashner (Marlins) became free agent, now with Rangers
November 3 - Colby Rasmus (Astros) became free agent, now with Rays
November 3 - Edison Volquez (Royals) became free agent, now with Marlins
November 3 - Geovany Soto (Angels) became free agent, now with White Sox
November 3 - Wilson Ramos (Nationals) became free agent, now with Rays
November 3 - Rajai Davis (Indians) became free agent, now with A's
December 2 - Tyson Ross (Padres) became free agent, now with Rangers 

Middlebooks asked for his walking papers on October 3rd, a month before the free agent filing date, because he didn't see a future in Milwaukee. Rather than going through the arbitration process with the injured Tyson Ross the Padres non-tendered him. One could argue it would be tough to predict if Middlebrooks and Ross would indeed become free agents. Although, anyone with internet access and a modicum of effort could unveil who was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. 

Topps got lucky when these free agents resigned with their former team:
November 3 - Ivan Nova (Pirates) became free agent, resigned with Pirates
November 3 - Jose Bautista (Blue Jays) resigned with Blue Jays

The jury is still out:
November 3 - Chase Utley (Dodgers) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Daniel Descalso (Rockies) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Doug Fister (Astros) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Michael Bourn (Orioles) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Pedro Alvarez (Orioles) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 6 - Jason Hammel (Cubs) became free agent (yet to sign) 

(For the record, the lists above are not comprehensive.)

There's plenty of players, who were granted free agency after the 2016 season, who were not issued cards in Series 1: Bartolo Colon, Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen, R.A. Dickey, Mike Napoli, Matt Wieters, Sergio Romo, Dexter Fowler, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Champan.

Here's where it gets interesting: Chris Carter (Astros), Mark Trumbo (Orioles) and Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays). Each of these three players were to be free agents at the end of the season and were not issued a regular card, but instead were given a League Leaders card. This makes me believe Topps wants to steer clear of players who may sign with different teams during the off season, but instead are forced by their own rules to feature them on a League Leaders card.  No?

Yet, by looking at the free agent names listed above, I don't think there's any rhyme or reason as to who's included on the checklist.

When does Topps decide their Series 1 checklist? You would think they wouldn't purposely place a player with their former team within the set. If that's true, then I think it is safe to assume they finalized their checklist before November 3rd, because Cameron Maybin was traded on November 3rd to the Angels from the Tigers, as the first action of the off season. Maybin is shown as a Tiger on his 2017 card and if Topps knew of this trade they would have photoshopped the card or replaced him on the checklist altogether, right?

The finalization date must be after September 15th, because that's the day the Yankees signed Billy Butler to a contract, and Butler has been given a card as a Yankee in Series 1. Doing some quick math and that's about a six week window between the Butler and Maybin transactions.

But wait, there are World Series highlight cards in the base set. The World Series ended on November 2nd or on November 3rd in some parts of the country! This can only mean Topps finalized its checklist and went to print sometime on November 3rd: after the World Series and before Maybin was traded to the Angels. Right?

Wouldn't the sole card producing company holding an MLB license want to give its customers the most up-to-date product available? A Brewers team collector doesn't want a Will Middlebrooks card. Actually, I don't think a Rangers team collector wants a Middlebrooks card. Why not wait awhile to finalize the checklist?

One may argue Topps needs to start printing on November 4th to be ready for a release on February 1st. Huh?  That's nearly three months! Any idea how long it took me to get the Cubs World Series box set? I received mine forty-one days after the last out was recorded. Obviously, the print runs for the World Series box set and 2017 Series 1 are completely different and more time would be needed. But if Topps started printing Series 1 on November 4th, then that would be eighty-eight days until the release date. That number seems way too large of a number to me.

Things aren't adding up. When does Topps finalize their checklist? How long does it take to print, package, and ship the cards to retail stores? Is Topps really making an effort to give collectors the best product possible? (e.g. - players in Series 1 are featured with their current team for the release date) Why are upcoming free agents given cards in Series 1 at all when they could be represented in Series 2 with their new team?

Questions. So many questions. I do have one answer though.

Will I be purchasing any packs of Topps Series 1 this year? Nope, and it's out of fear that the first pack I buy will contain only players representing a team for who they no longer play.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Slabbing My NLCS Game 6 Ticket

I couldn't find a ticket protector at my LCS so I turned to the internet. Oddly enough, Amazon had the best price, which is not my experience when I generally look for card supplies or cards. 

I've seen Sammy Sosa hit three homers in a game, I've seen walk-off homers, and I've even seen a no-hitter at a minor league game, but the Cubs' clinching a World Series appearance in Game 6 of the NLCS is my favorite "moment" at a live baseball game. Can an entire game be a moment?
 I don't figure I'll ever see anything like that again. I typically toss all my game tickets in a box and leave them be, but this one deserves a little more.

Unfortunately, I could only get three of the screws undone, but I managed to get the ticket centered between the two pieces of lucite.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with how the ticket looks and I'll now have to find a place to display the ticket in the man room.

Speaking of happy... When we get an Amazon package I'm not sure who enjoys it more.  Obviously, I like getting things I need/want, but the cats always seem to get something out of it as well. 😀

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

First Package of 2017

Tom, from The Angels, in Order, and I have been exchanging cards for nearly four years now. Not that I'm biased or anything, but I've found that all guys named Tom are really stand-up traders, and Tom has proved this multiple times over. I'll ship him out my unwanted Halos and I'll receive back players donning Cubs blue. It's a great relationship, it truly is.

Recently, I dumped some Angels on Tom during the Great Purge of 2016.  He responded back with what is my first new-to-me cards of 2017.

Tom sent back some beauties, including these nice Fukudome cards for my player collection.

 I love me some World Series Cubs and Zobrist is one definitely one of my favorites. Actually, I think the Topps Bunt design was my favorite of 2016 as well. We need more large team logos in the background!
Carl Edwards will be one of the livest arms in the bullpen this year and I'm looking forward to seeing how many of his opponents will chase that curveball of his. It's downright filthy. 
 Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek were two of my favorites on the 2003 playoff team. Grudzielanek actually received MVP votes that year. I bet you didn't know that!

 Four of the more recent familiar faces of the Cubs franchise are featured on the cardboard above. The Dunston cards looks to be a little grainy, so let's take a closer look.
 Nope, the picture is crystal clear, but the weather that day was not. Didn't you just love those black & gold parallels from Leaf back in the day?

This unused linen postcard is an absolute gem.
It's an older postcard for sure, but I can't figure out the year exactly. It was produced by The J.O. Stoll Co., and the back holds a place for a "one cent stamp" in the corner. Through a little bit of research I know this postcard must have been produced before 1952, when the price was upped to two cents. Maybe Wrigley Wax, who seems to be a historian on all things Cub, would have an idea of when Wrigley looked like that. My guess would be in the 1930s. No?

Regardless, the postcard is beautiful and will be on display in my man room.

Lastly, we have a 1983 food issue card from Post's Super Sugar Crisp.
 This is a scratch-off card from 1983 which gives you a chance to win a ColecoVision (old-school gaming system or an autographed baseball.
The contest states that children between the ages of 6 and 14 years of age as of Dcemebr 31, 1984 were eligible to win. I was seven back then, but MLB baseball wasn't yet on my radar.
The back sports a little team history, which needs to be updated: Hack Wilson has now been credited with 191 RBIs and the Cubs got lights in 1988. Plus... maybe we should add something about a World Series win in 2016? 

Tom, thanks for the cards!  My favorites were the postcard and the Super Sugar Crisp Cubs scratch-off. Great stuff!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Surprise Delivery from K3

My mom-in-law was born and raised in Kankakee, IL (aka K3) and earned a degree from Olivet Nazarene University in nearby Bourbonnais. After Ben Zobrist signed with the Cubs he partnered with ONU to put together an advertising campaign throughout Illinois for the liberal arts university. In fact, I've seen some of the adds on the digital billboards here in P-town.

As many of us do, my mom-in-law receives an alumni magazine from time-to-time. I usually flip through the one I get from Eureka College pretty quickly and then it finds the recycling bin, but she sent me hers! Yeah, she loves me!
Wow!  What a fantastic cover! Wouldn't a nice blue signature look beautiful on the infield dirt? I think I found a new goal!

There was a six page spread on the inside, which was heavy on the pictures and had a nice amount of biographical information sprinkled in.
 Ben spent three years at Olivet and was inducted into their athletic hall of fame in 2014.
 My mom-in-law sent me many newspaper articles and full newspapers about the Cubs during the playoffs. She knows what puts a smile on my face!  I'm very thankful she was willing to part with her ONU alumni magazine.

She also sent me a copy of the Chicago Tribune's 2016 Photos of the Year magazine. 
There were about a half dozen Cubs-centric photos inside and some other visually stimulating non-baseball shots as well. There were also quite a few photos with captions that described scenes after a homicide within the city. As much joy as the championship has brought the city, it has not cured its ills. Overall, the pictorial did a nice job capturing the ebb and flow of 2016 in Chicago from many different angles.

Baseball serves as a nice escape from the real world, so I'm glad the Chicago Tribune chose the cover photo they did.

Thanks for the gifts, Sarah!