Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Noble Topps Embiggens the Smallest Cards

(I'll take any opportunity I can to work a Simpsons' quote into a post!)

A few weeks ago I was rummaging around ebay and I stumbled on to a set of 18 Cubs and Sox cards from the 1981 Topps Giant Photo Cards set. I don't remember these at all (although I was in college in 1981 so that may have something to do with my memory lapse). The starting bid was $0.99. I kept an eye on it and when it was near the end and still had no bids, I thought, what the hey bid on them and won. They were 20 cents a piece back in 1981 and I got them for 24 cents each 28 years later. Not a bad deal.

The cards are 5 X 7 with a nice glossy finish. There were nine Cubs and nine Sox in the set.

Here are the Cubs in all their embiggeness.

Tim Blackwell - with his super long bushy mustache. I placed his regular Topps card on the Giant card so you can get an idea of just how giant the giant cards are.

Bill Buckner - the big cards give you details you miss with the regular cards, like Buckner's hairy neck.

Ivan DeJesus - he can look happy because this picture was taken in spring training, when the Cubs were in a six-way tie for first place.

Leon Durham - who was aqcuired from the Cardinals over the winter for Bruce Sutter. This is a giant air-brush job. It doesn't look too bad except for the C on the hat

Dave Kingman - showing us the nob of his bat, with only his uniform number on it (sorry Billy Ripken)

Mike Krukow - with either a serious zit on his cheek or some chew

Ken Reitz - also a part of the Bruce Sutter trade, with an airbrushed hat and a shxx-eating grin. Did they catch Ken after happy hour?

Rick Reuschel - smile Rick! He needs to go join Ken Reitz for a drink or two.

Mike Tyson - putting on his game face.

Topps Giant Photos from 1981 are a perfectly cromulent set of cards!

Friday, February 27, 2009

1981 Donruss: Steve Macko

Steve Macko is a name that would only be familiar to the most dedicated of Cubs fans. He played in a mere 25 games in 1979 and 1980 and had a very ordinary .250 batting average. There may have been more to his career if fate had not dealt Steve a cruel blow.

Steve Macko came from a baseball family. His father Joe spent years in the minor leagues. He was a "head coach" for a Cubs minor league team in 1964. He later spent years as the clubhouse manager for the Texas Rangers.

Joe Macko's bio from the Cubs 1964 Media Guide

Young Steve grew up around baseball. He spent some time as the Rangers batboy. The Cubs selected him in the 5th round of the 1977 draft. In a little more than two years, he was playing at Wrigley Field. He opened the 1980 season in AAA, but was recalled to the Cubs on July 22. He played in 6 games and was hitting .300 when he suffered a severe thigh bruise from a collision with Bill Madlock. That sidelined him for the rest of the season.

While being treated for his bruise, doctors made another, more serious discovery. Steve Macko had testicular cancer. Suddenly, a thigh bruise or even a baseball career didn't seem all that important. Treatment, recovery, and survival did.

Sadly, it was not to be. Just 14 months after the discovery of his cancer, Steve Macko was gone. He died on November 15, 1981 at the young age of 27.

While he was receiving treatment for his cancer, Macko was able to stay with the team during part of the 1981 season. This was one of the last of many generous moves by the Wrigley ownership. Remember, though, the team was sold during the 1981 season. His passing was hardly mentioned by the new regime. The 1982 Media Guide makes no mention of his death. The only place you find his name in the guide is in the transaction section, which shows him placed on the emergency 60 day disabled list in April and then being outrighted to AAA Iowa after the season in October, just 5 weeks before his death. Baseball can be a cold hearted business. The team did not wear any sort of arm band during the '82 season, either. It's like they just forgot about him and moved on.

The Steve Macko Scholarship Fund
was established in his memory. The scholarship site has other pictures of Steve. He doesn't look very happy in the Donruss card or the 1980 Topps rookie cards. Its like some weird foreshadowing of his fated future. But the pictures on the website show a much happier looking Macko, as does the 1981 Rookie card.

Topps 1980 card with the same sad look as on the Donruss card

In the Topps 1981 card he is almost smiling

The smiling Macko from the scholarship site is how I'd like to remember him, instead of the sad Donruss card. It was a life cut too short, but a life that touched many and still does today.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

1981 Donruss: Wrigley Field

Almost every National League card in the Donruss 1981 set used a picture taken at Wrigley Field. I thought it would be fun to use the cards to take a look at the park as it was in 1980 (when most of the pictures were taken) and see how it has changed.

Crowd: or more accurately, a lack of crowds. As you can see from these three cards, there were lots of empty seats at Wrigley Field in 1980. The total attendance for the season was 1,202,776. That comes to an average of about 16,000 per game. By 1980 standards that wasn't too bad, especially since the team finished in last place. But those numbers pale in comparison to the over 40,000 per game they average today.

Scoreboard: There have been a couple of changes to the scoreboard since 1980. If you look carefully you see some red lines in the middle of the board. These were used to set off the Cubs game (National League on the left) and the Sox game (American League on the right). Today those red lines have been moved to the bottom and used only for the Cubs game. The Sox game is on the bottom, too, but it is not separated by red lines. Also there is no message board underneath the scoreboard. That was installed in 1982.

Wagon Gates: The gates were a reddish brown color. Today, they are green, and ads have been placed on two of them. The gate behind Eddie Solomon is no longer there, having been replaced by a see-through fence which allows people outside the park to peak in on a game. This was installed in 2006 when the bleachers were expanded.

Foul Lines right at the wall: This hasn't changed over the years but these cards give you a good look at just how close the right field line (left field, too) is to the side wall. They are within inches of each other. When a ball gets out there, its pretty much fair if it lands on the field and if it is foul it ends up in the stands. It also is very tricky for an outfielder going after a ball. They can't give up on a ball that they think is too close to the wall because it could still end up fair - which is a good reason for the pads on the brick.

Brown Ivy: This is something you see every year until mid May, when the ivy finally greens up. They also say that in late October the ivy turns red. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any games at Wrigley in late October (maybe this year!)

Budwiser House: There is a house acoss Waveland Avenue (left field) that has a red Budwiser ad painted on the roof. But for years the house had a white roof with an ad for WGN radio and TV You can see the white roof in both of these cards.

Astroturf: The closed off center field bleachers were covered with astroturf to give the hitters a better background. In the mid 1980's the astroturf was removed and the area was painted dark green. A few years later juniper bushes were placed there. Today most of the area is taken up by the batters eye restaurant.

No Baskets: Baskets were placed along the top of the walls in 1970 to keep fans from throwing trash and themselves onto the field. But the original baskets were only in areas where there were fans. The spots in the corners that had no seats also had no baskets, as you can see in these two cards. There were also no baskets in center field. Today, with the expanded bleachers, the baskets run all the way from foul pole to foul pole.

Tomorrow I will have my final post on the 1981 Donruss set. It will feature the sad story of one on the Cubs players from the set.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

1981 Donruss: The Bad

The title of this post is actually kind of redundant, since Donruss 1981 and "Bad" mean the same thing.

Lousy pictures: Let's start with the most obvious, the faded and fuzzy pictures. I would imagine some at Donruss must have looked at these and said, "They look fine, lets print them." Then he said, "I need another beer, the first twelve I drank this afternoon just aren't enough." He would have to have been absolutely loaded to think these look like something anyone would want to buy.

Do not adjust your screen - this is what they really look like. Here are some of the most faded and fuzzy

Bonus Cubs: Donruss didn't believe in airbrushing. If a player got traded or changed teams via free agency, they just changed the team name on the card and were good to go.

The Cardinals signed free agent catcher Darrell Porter. His card show him in a Royals uniform but the team name list is the Cardinals

The Cubs must have been busy during the off-season because there are six cards with players in Cubs uniforms but listed on a different team. The oddest card is the Ray Burris, because he was traded by the Cubs in midseason, 1979. It had been a season and a half since he played with the Cubs, but Donruss has him wearing a Cubs uniform. The picture is also from 1977 (see black armband and old Cubbie bear logo on shoulder).

Inconsistent Team Names: As mentioned above, Donruss didn't airbrush; they just put the players new team on the card. But oddly, in many instances when players were traded, one had the new team while the other was listed with his old team.

Bruce Sutter was traded by the Cubs for Leon Durham, who is still listed with the Cardinals

Jerry Martin was traded for Joe Strain, both shown with the Giants

Butch Hobson was traded to the Angels for Carney Lansford, who is still shown with the Angels instead of the Red Sox.

Stats on the Back: or lack thereof. The Donruss cards had only stats from 1980 and career numbers. Topps hadn't done that since 1971 and I'm glad. In the pre-internet days, baseball card were the best place to go for player stats. They were my Having only one season of stats is a bad thing in my book. I want the whole career, plus minors when possible. Donruss fixed this with their 1982 set, list all of a players stats through the years.

Errors: I have found different lists of errors on the 1981 Donruss set. Here is a list of 31 different errors, most of which were corrected in later printings.

72 Rennie Stennett Breaking broke leg
82 Joe Charboneau
87 Larry Hisle '77 highlights& lineends with %
97 Tom Burgmeier Error Throws: Right
164 Del Unser No
240 Bob Lacey (sic) Lacy
261 Vern Ruhle Error Photo on front actually Ken Forsch
306 Gary Mathews (sic) Matthews
319 Dwane (sic) Duane Kuiper Error
326 Gorman Thomas 2nd line on back
330 Steve Rodgers (sic) Rogers
342 Paul Spittorff (sic) Splittorf
357 Bob (sic) Rob Picciolo
379 Luis Pujois Error Name misspelled
444 Buck Martinez Error Reverse negative
457 John Tudor Error
483 Ivan De Jesus Error Lifetime hits 702
490 Dave Roberts Career Highlights
516 Willie Norwood Career Highlights
524 Ray Burris Career Highlights: Went on ...~
532 Geoff Zahn Career Highlights: Was 2nd in
554 Mike Vail Career Highlights: After two ...
555 Jerry Martin Career Highlights: Overcame a...
556 Jesus Figueroa Career Highlights: Had an ...
563 Bob Owchinko Career Highlights: Traded to...
566 Glen (sic) Glenn Adams ERRName misspelled
595 Dave Edwards Career Highlights: Sidelined
601 Checklist 1-120 Error Unnumbered 51 Donahue
603 Checklist 241-360 Error Unnumbered 306 Mathews
604 Checklist 361-480 Error Unnumbered 379 Pujois
605 Checklist 481-600 Error Unnumbered 566 Glen

Wow!! I'm thinking that the person in charge of quality control must have had the same last name as Don and Russ.

Tomorrow I will look at Wrigley Field through the eyes of Donruss 1981.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

1981 Donruss: The Cubs

The only bright spot on the 1981 Cubs, Bill Buckner

I really don't know where to start. Do I begin with the lousy team or the lousy cards?

The Team: 1981 was not a very good year for the Cubs or for baseball. The bad news is that there was a strike mid season and the Cubs only played 103 games. The good news is that there was a strike and that the Cubs only played 103 games! They were bad, real bad, finishing with an overall record of 38-65, which is a .368 winning percentage. They finished last in the first half but rose to fifth (out of six) in the second half.

1981 also brought a change of ownership as the Wrigley family sold the Cubs to Tribune Corporation for $20 million. The team was sold mid season and the Tribune made no changes during the season. It was lousy baseball as usual.

The only real star the team had was Bill Buckner. He led the team in hitting (.310), home runs (10!) and RBI's (75). The leading pitcher was Mike Krukow, who could only manage a .500 record , 9-9. Bruce Sutter had been traded, so Dick Tidrow took over the closer role and led the team with a whopping 9 saves! Then again, you're not going to get many save opportunities when the team only wins 37% of its games.

The Cards: The set features cards of 22 Cubs, although there are several other players featured in Cubs uniforms (I'll have more on that tomorrow). Many of the cards have fuzzy photos (more on that tomorrow, too).

About the only good thing I can say is that all but one of the pictures on the cards was taken at Wrigley Field. The only non-Wrigley card was that of Mick Kelleher. His card has a picture taken at Veterans Stadium. The photo is also old, taken in 1977 or earlier since the Cubs road uniform in 1978 - 1981 had pinstripes. Another photo oddity is the Rick Reuschel card. It had a picture from 1977. You can tell its 1977 because Reuschel had a black armband on him left sleeve, which the Cubs wore after owner PK Wrigley died in April of 1977. He also had the old Cubbie bear on his shoulder, not the newer one you see on all of the other cards.

Mick Kelleher, at the Vet

Rick Reuschel, photo taken in 1977 - black armband, old Cubbie bear logo

This set could also be called the Mustache Set. Of the 22 players featured, 16 have mustaches.

But mostly, its a crappy set of cards of a crappy team. Here are the rest of the craptastic Donruss Cubs from 1981

Manager Joey Amalfitano, Larry Biittner - wearing Billy WIllams' number 26, mustache

Back up catcher Tim Blackwell, huge mustache, Doug Capilla, mustache

Bill Caudill and Ivan DeJesus, (who hit under .200) mustache

Steve Dillard, mustache; Barry Foote, mustache

Willie Hernandez and Dave Kingman, mustaches on each

Another double mustache, Dennis Lamp and Carlos Lezcano

Steve Macko, Lynn McGlothen, mustache

Lenny Randle, ready for action, mustache, and George (Heat) Riley, mustache

Scot Thompson and Dick Tidrow, Two Fu Manchus

Future Dodger and Pirate manager Jim Tracy