Monday, August 31, 2009

1915 Cracker Jack Cards, The Originals

...well, actually, reprints of the originals

In this post I showed the Topps 2004 Cracker Jack cards that were based on cards originally produced in 1914 and 1915. Not to long ago, I found a Cubs set from the reprint of the 1915 cards. It was only a few bucks, so I grabbed it.

The reprints came in the original size of the cards, 2 ¼” x 3” while the Topps versions were in today’s standard 2 ½ x 3 ½. Otherwise, the two sets look pretty similar.

There were nine Cubs in the 1915 Cracker Jack set. Most are players you've probably never heard of. There is only one Hall of Famer in the bunch, and he was a marginal selection. This may surprise you, but just a few years earlier the Cubs were the premier team in baseball. In a five year period starting in 1906, they won four pennants and two world series. They were MLB’s first dynasty. There were four hall of famers on those teams, but by 1915 the stars were gone and the team was in serious decline. The 1915 team finished in fourth place, 73-80.

Catcher Jimmy Archer came to the Cubs in 1909 and would be their primary catcher for the next nine seasons. According to Wikipedia, he could remain squatting and still throw out runners attempting to steal second base due to his unique arm strength, which became his trademark, acquired from the healing of burns that shortened his muscles after an industrial accident in which Archer fell into a vat of boiling sap at the age of 19.

Manager Roger Bresnahan was the team’s player/manager, and he also did some catching. He was the Cubs’ fourth manager in four seasons, a sign of a struggling team. He lasted just one year and was replaced the next season. His most noted accomplishment is being the first catcher to wear shin guards.

Larry Chaney, pitcher, came to the Cubs in 1911. He won 20+ games from 1912-1914, but was on the outs in 1915, going 8-9.

Pitcher Jimmy Lavender has a name that sounds like a mob guy. He came to the Cubs in 1912 and was an innings eater, but never posted much of a record. His career mark was 63-76. Two items of note: he was a spitball pitcher, and he threw a no-hitter in 1915 against the Giants.

Tommy Leach was an outfielder who was released by the Cubs before the 1915 season began, despite playing in all but one game for the Cubs in 1914. He hooked up with the Reds for 1915.
I wonder if there was an Updates and Highlights Set??!!

Vic Saier was the team’s first baseman. He came to the Cubs as a 20-year-old rookie in 1911 and had the unenviable job of taking over for former player/manager/icon Frank Chance.

Frank Schulte was one of the few holdovers from the Cubs glory years. The outfielder was with the team from 1904 –1916 and was the leagues MVP in 1911. In that season, he became the first player to have at least 20 double, triples, home runs, and stolen bases in a season. The next player to do that was Willie Mays in 1957. In would be another 50 years before two more players, Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson, pulled it off.

Here is Schulte's card from the 1908 team set I made a few months ago:

Hippo Vaughn was the ace of the staff, going 20-12. He would be a 20 game winner five times in his career. His claim to fame is his participation in baseball’s only double no-hitter. On May 2, 1917, Vaughn and Reds pitcher Fred Toney each had a no hitter for nine innings. Vaughn lost his in the top of the tenths, giving up a couple hits and a run. Toney was able to hold the Cubs hitless in the tenth to get his no-hitter.

Heinie Zimmerman, the Cubs second baseman, was another holdover from the dynasty days, though he was a reserve then and didn’t become a regular until 1911. He led the NL in average and homers in 1912, and just missed the triple crown by finishing 3rd in RBIs.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Five Random Cubs Cards

I have 5,452 Cubs cards from 17 different brands. A random number generator picked five of them. Here they are in the order selected.

Topps 1967 #265 Bob Hendley He spent most of 1966 in the bullpen and was 4-5. He pitched only 7 games for the Cubs in 1967 before being traded to the Mets. He is most famous for his duel with Sandy Koufax in September 1965. You can read more about that special game here.

Allen and Ginter 2007 #45 Carlos Zambrano
Big Z with the goatee. By this time he was the Cubs ace, taking that role as Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were living on the disabled list.

Topps 1987 #250 Leon Durham
The Bull is taking a cut at Shea. 1987 would be his last good year in the majors, as he belted 27 home runs. He slumped badly in 1988 and was sent to the Reds in May. The Cubs also had a young first baseman named Mark Grace ready to take over.

Goudey 2009 #292 Derrek Lee
This is one of the newer cards in my collection. Goudey is very cruel as they mention Lee's role on the Marlins 2003 championship team, a championship that was supposed to belong to the Cubs!

Fleer 1985 #67 Lee Smith
Fleer gives us a headshot of the Cubs closer. In 1984 he had 33 saves, but a 3.65 ERA, which seems high for a closer (unless your name is Kevin Gregg). He equaled his '84 save total in 1985 and lowered his ERA by half a run. I know there are those who feel he should be in the Hall of Fame (he was at one time the all-time career saves leader) but his career win-loss record is 71-92. 21 games below .500 does not belong in Cooperstown.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wrigley Wax's 1980's Wax

Today we’ll look at 11 more wax packs, this time from 1980 – 1990. I have no real nostalgic feelings for these packs because I never bought any of them. I spent the early part of the ‘80’s in college and the rest of the decade starting a family and a career. My wax busting days were over. I still got the Topps complete set each year, but that was the extent of my baseball card collecting.

When you see all eleven years lined up, several things become obvious. First, the design remained virtually unchanged. The only real design changes took place in 1981.

1980 is on the left, 1981 is on the right

First, they changed the font of the word baseball. The next two changes were due to the introduction of competition, since 1981 was the first years for Fleer and Donruss. To make sure no one would get confused, the new Topps logo was placed at the top of the pack in very large letters. The Topps name was much more visible on these packs than on the 1980 and earlier packs. The third design change was the addition of the slogan “The Real One.” Topps wasn’t being very subtle, were they.

In 1982, the yellow stripe with the year was added, taken out in 1983, and added again up through 1990. The only major difference each year was the wrapper color, and even that had a pattern to it. Starting in 1980, the colors were on a three year cycle of blue, green, red.

I’m sure their reasoning for the consistent design was so buyers would know exactly what to look for. If you want Topps cards, “The Real Ones” you just find the big baseball on the wrapper.

Though the wrappers were the same, the prices were changing. For most of the decade, packs came with 15 cards. But the cost was going up, from 25¢ in 1980, to 30¢ from ’81-85, to 35¢ in ’85-86, to 40¢ in 1987 (though you got 17 cards), 40¢ again in 1988, but back to 15 cards in the pack, 45¢ in 1989, and 50¢ in 1990 for 16 cards.

The price per card went from 1.67¢ in 1980 to 3.13¢ in 1990, which is an 87% increase over the 11 years. I wonder what that was compared to inflation over the same time?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wrigley Wax's 1970's Wax

Thanks to the generosity of Matt, Ken, and Howard, I got the cards I needed to repack my wax wrappers. I now have a pack for each of the years I have a Topps complete set, 1969 through 2009.

Today I am showing the wax wrappers of the ‘70’s (plus 1969).

The first year I bought cards was 1969. The cards were 5¢ per pack, with 5 cards per pack, plus the gum. The gum was always an afterthought; it was the cards I was after.

It had been 40 years since I held one of these in my hands. A five card pack is very thin and light, feeling like you’ve got almost nothing in your hand. But holding it brings back a ton of memories. I would get the cards by riding my bike to the pet shop on 95th Street. For some reason, the pet shop had a huge candy counter in the front of the store. You could get all sorts of penny candy, wax lips, candy cigarettes, pixie sticks…and baseball cards. If we felt like riding in a different direction, the variety store at 103rd and Cicero had a candy section, too. Or, we would bug Mom to pick up a pack or two when she did her Saturday grocery shopping at National.

The price of the cards changed slightly in 1970, raised to 10¢ per pack, 10 cards per pack. It still works out to a penny a card, but with less gum. That was not a big deal. The ten card packs feel most comfortable in my hands; it’s the size and feel that I remember most.

After four years, the price went up in 1974 to 15¢ per pack, 10 cards per pack. This was the first time that Topps cards topped the penny a card price. Darn inflation! It would be four more years before another price hike. In 1978, the price went up to 20¢, but they also upped the number of cards in the pack to 12. By this time I was in high school and earning some money, so I opted to buy the complete set. No more wax, gum, or annoying doubles for me. It was all 726 cards at once!

When you look at all eleven packs together, you see that Topps changed the wrapper design for each year except for two. The 1974 and 1976 wrappers were almost identical.

All of the wrappers did share some common elements. They all included a small Topps logo and except for ’74 & ’76, they included a drawing of a baseball player. The uniforms were always generic, not any one particular team. The wrappers also made heavy use of red, yellow and blue. The only year missing those colors was 1972, which, ironically, was the year of Topp’s most colorful card design.

When I repacked the wrappers, I packed them the way I wish they were originally. First, there were no doubles. It made this little boy very mad to get two cards of the same guy, especially since you never got doubles of anybody good. It was usually some Indian or Pirate that I could care less about (apologies to Indians and Pirates fans!)

But the bigger packing change I made was something that I could only dream of as a boy: at least one Cub in every pack!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

196(9) At A Time - Page 34

#293 - Dick Dietz
The Giants back-up catcher played in 98 games in 1968 and another 79 in 1969. Like most back-up backstops, he wasn't much with the bat, hitting only .230, though he showed a little pop by hitting 11 home runs. By 1970 he was the Giants regular catcher and an All-Star, but by 1972 he was on waivers.

#294 - Jim Lemon
Poor Jim. He wasn't even the Senators manager any more, having been fired in January. But Topps kept the card in the set and changed the cartoon on the back. Ouch! His one year as the Senator's skipper (and a last place finish) was his only big league managerial experience.

#295 - Tony Perez
The Hall of Famer is taking a swing at Wrigley Field. Tony had a great year in 1969, hitting 37 homers with a .294 average, and was named to his third straight All-Star team.

#296 - Andy Messersmith
This is his rookie card, and his first full season in the majors was a good one. He went 16-11 for the Angels with a 2.52 ERA.

#297 - Deron Johnson
This is another card shot at Wrigley Field, as Johnson was a member of the Reds in 1967. You can see the upper deck to the left of his face. After leading the NL in RBI's in 1966, Johnson had tailed off and was now with his third team in three years. The Phillies had purchased him from the Braves in the off-season. He was able to resurrect his career in Philadelphia, starting with a 17 HR, 80 RBI season in 1969.

#298 - Dave Nicholson
After spending 1962 - 1967 in the majors with four different teams, Nicholson spent 1968 in AAA, leading the International League in home runs with 34. That got the attention of the expansion Royals who gave him another shot at the bigs. But he failed to earn a spot on the roster and never saw the majors again.

#299 - Mark Belanger
Belanger became the Orioles shortstop in 1968 when they traded Luis Aparacio back to the White Sox. Hit .208 average may have made them wish they kept Little Looie. But Belanger showed great improvement in 1969 by raising his average to .287. He would remain a fixture in Baltimore until 1981.

#300 - Felipe Alou
Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Mickey Mantle, and Tony Oliva were the other cards with hundred numbers in the 1969 set. Felipe Alou doesn't seem worthy of the honor, but that is who Topps went with. He had a decent average in 1968, but his power numbers were in decline. That slide continued in 1969 as he managed only 5 homers and 32 RBI's. The Braves traded him after the season and Alou began the journeyman phase of his career.

#301 - Darrell Brandon
The Pilots picked him off of the Red Sox roster. After going 5-11 for the pennant-winning Sox in 1967, he spent most of '68 in the minors. After eight appearance with the last place Pilots, he was sold to the first place Twins. Good move!

Overall Set Totals (player cards only)
Hall of Famers - 19
Hatless - 64
Airbrush - 67
Cubs (includes past, present, or future) - 45

August Has Been Awful

August has been an awful for the Cubs. A month that started with optimism and the team only a 1/2 game out of first place has seen them plummet to nine games back. Season over...this picture says it all..

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

1969 One Cub At A Time - #288 Ken Holtzman

The Topps Card, which uses a photo that Topps used a few other times.

My updated version, with Holtzman in the wind-up at Wrigley Field in 1969.

Lefty Ken Holtzman was the #3 starter for the Cubs of 1969. He had been in the rotation since 1966, when as a 20 year old rookie he posted an 11-16 record. He spent most of the next season away from the team, as military duty called. He did pitch occasionally and ended the season a perfect 9-0. He was a full-time ballplayer in 1968, and he again notched 11 wins, this time against 14 losses.

Now a veteran at the age of 23, Holtzman won 17 games in 1969. The high point of his season was a no-hitter he pitched against the eventual NL West champs, the Atlanta Braves. At Wrigley Field on August 19, a crowd of 37,514 witnessed his gem, in which he struck out not one Brave, a real oddity among no-hitters. The win left the Cubs an 8 game lead over the Mets with only 40 games to go. It was just one more sign that this was the Cubs year.

But in a mere three weeks the 8 game lead was gone and the Cubs were in second place. Holtzman didn't help matters by going 3-6 after the no-hitter. His September ERA was 4.56. I would guess that he just got worn out. His 1969 innings total was 40 innings higher than he had ever pitched and by September the tank was empty.

He followed up in 1970 with his best season as a Cub, going 17-11. But in 1971 he faltered (though he did pitch another no hitter, this time against the Big Red Machine) and was really down on the team and Leo. His request for a trade was granted and he went to Oakland for center fielder Rick Monday. In Oakland he was in three straight world series, the only 1969 Cub star to see the world series from the field instead of the stands.

After stints in Baltimore and New York, he ended his career back with the Cubs in 1978 and 1979. The prodigal returned home.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

196(9) At A Time - Page 33

We've got a pretty nice looking page today, with seven of the nine cards showing the players in the right uniform with the right hat!

#284 - Expos Rookies Robertson spent the entire season with the Expos, though he may have wished he didn't. He was a horrible 5-16. Wegener was just as bad, going 5-14. So between the two, you have a record of 10-30!! That has to be a record for the worst pair of rookies on a card.

#285 - Don Mincher He was one of the few bright spots on the really bad Pilots. He was an All-Star in 1969, leading his team in home runs with 27 and finishing second in RBIs, with 78. After the season, the Pilots decided to sell high and sent him to Oakland for four players.

#286 - Dock Ellis Dock must have had a good workout before this picture was taken, because look at the dirt on his right leg. 1969 would be his first complete season in the majors, after spending about half the '68 season with the Pirates. He spent most of the season as a starter, but was still a work in progress, as his 11-17 record shows.

#287 - Jose Tartabull He was at the end of his career, spending the early part of 1969 in the minor leagues before the Red Sox sold him to the A's. He hit .267 in a part-time role with Oakland.

#288 - Ken Holtzman The Cubs' lefty gets his own post tomorrow.

#289 - Bart Shirley... and don't call me Shirley...I love "Airplane!"

Originally a Dodger prospect, he was taken by the Mets in the Rule 5 draft in 1967 The Mets didn't like what they saw and sent him back to LA. He failed to clear the Mendoza line in 1968, with a .181 average and never made in to the big leagues again.

#290 - Jim Kaat He looks very young in this picture, but turned 30 in 1969. Must be an old photo. I also like the beef ad on the wall over his shoulder. He was an established star pitcher, winning 25 games in 1966. 1969 would be his second of three straight 14 win seasons and his eighth of twelve straight gold gloves.

#291 - Vern Fuller After a couple seasons as a utility infielder, Fuller became the Indians starting second baseman in 1969. But he couldn't take advantage of his opportunity, hitting only .236. He was out of baseball after 1970.

#292 - Al Downing The one-time Yankee ace was facing arm trouble, and spent part of 1968 in the minor leagues. The Yankees gave up on him after he was 7-5 in 1969, trading him to the A's.

Overall Set Totals (player cards only)
Hall of Famers - 18
Hatless - 62
Airbrush - 66
Cubs (includes past, present, or future) - 45

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cubs Error Card - 1990 Score Ryne Sandberg

Here is another error card featuring a Cubs player. This time, its the 1990 Score set.

This card is the original error card. It is a highlight card that talks about Ryne Sandberg setting the major league record for a second baseman's consecutive games without an error. Ryne ended the season with a streak of 90 games, breaking the record of Manny Trillo.

The error on the card is that is lists Ryno as a third baseman. The whole point of the card is the second baseman record, yet they list him as 3B. Oops!

If this was a card from 1982, then they would have had it right. When the Cubs acquired Sandberg from the Phillies, they weren't sure where he was going to play. He went to spring training as either the center fielder or third baseman. Bump Wills had also joined the team and he was slotted for second. Coming out of Mesa, Ryne won the third baseman job. He played 133 games there, but in September, was moved to second base. Ron Cey came to the Cubs the next year to play third, and Ryne became a Hall of Fame second baseman.

Later, Score corrected the card by removing the 3B and just listing the name. Why didn't they fix it by changing the 3B to 2B? That would make more sense to me, since again, they are highlighting a second baseman record. But who ever said the card companies had to do things that made sense!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Five Random Cubs Cards

I have 5,452 Cubs cards from 17 different brands. A random number generator picked five of them. Here they are in the order selected.

Topps 1978 #50 Rick Reuschel We've got Big Daddy posing at Candlestick Park. This photo was most definitely taken in 1977 because of the black band on his left sleeve, which was worn when owner P. K. Wrigley died. Reuschel was coming off of a great 1977 season, going 20-10 and had established himself as the ace of the staff. He slumped a bit in 1978, with a record of 14-15.

Leaf 1990 #45 Mike Bielecki
Here is another guy who was coming off of a banner season. In 1989 he tripled his previous best win total, going 18-7. On a staff that included Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe, the ace that year was Mike Bielecki. I remember feeling very sure the Cubs would win any time he took the mound that season. He must have sold his soul for one good year, because he never came close to repeating his '89 numbers. In 1990 he fell to 8-11 and by the end of 1991 he was traded to Atlanta

Fleer 1994 #401 Rick Wilkins
This is the third card in a row of a guy coming off a career year. In 1993 Wilkins took over the job as starting catcher and hit .303 with 30 home runs! But he too had a huge drop off the next season, hitting only .227 with 7 home runs. By 1995 he was no longer a Cub.

Bowman 2003 #272 Wes O'Brien
Finally a guy who didn't have a career year! In fact, this guy never had a major league career. In 2002 he was 3-3 in class A ball. How that earned him a card, I have no idea. His career stalled and he never advanced beyond class A, and by 2005 he was out of organized ball.

Topps 1986 #431 George Frazier
He came to the Cubs in 1984 from the Indians in the deal that brought Rick Sutcliffe (and the 1984 division title) to the north side. Frazier was a no-good middle innings bullpen guy. He was 7-8 with a 6.39 ERA in 1985 and was sent to the Twins in August, 1986.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Old Topps New Topps: Derrek Lee

Morphing DLee today.

Well, truthfully, this should be titled Old Topps New O-Pee-Chee, since the 2009 OPC card had a better head shot of Derrek Lee. But that doesn't have the same ring to it as Old Topps New Topps.

This is Derrek's first card with Topps, from 1996. Lee was a first round draft choice (14th overall) of the San Diego Padres. He hit .296 as a 17 year old in his first professional season. By 1995 he was with the Padre's high A team in the California League and hit 23 homers and drove in 95 runs. He was getting some attention, enough that he was placed on this Topps prospects card. He would have been only 19 years old on the card.

Thirteen years later, Lee has delivered on the promise of that 19 year old. He is one of the premier first basemen in the National League and is a fan favorite in Chicago. He is one of my favorite Cub players. Not loud or flashy, he plays the game hard, smart, and in a professional way. He got a ring with the Marlins in 2003 and it would be nice to see him lead the Cubs to a title, the sooner the better!