Monday, May 31, 2010

In Military Service

Today we celebrate Memorial Day and remember the sacrifices that so many made for us. Instead of focusing on the front of some cards, I'd like to show you the backs.

On each of the following cards is a phrase that you don't see any more: "In Military Service." Players during the '50's and '60's faced the prospect of the mandatory draft and it wasn't unusual for a player miss a couple of seasons due to military service. By the Viet Nam era, players were able to get deferrals or National Guard service, which didn't interrupt their career as much. And by the early '70's the draft was gone. I wonder which major leaguer was the last to serve in the military?

Check out the cartoon on the back of Frank Kellert's card: "Frank had a close call when a troopship he was on was torpedoed in World War II."

Tom Poholsky and Cal Neeman were in the military during the years of the Korean War. I wonder if they saw action over there or remained stateside?

George Altman and Cuno Barragan each served during the mid-fifties.

To these players, and to all of the men and women who are serving now or served in the past, THANK YOU!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Five Random Cubs Cards

I've got 7,150 Cubs cards from 31 different brands listed on a spreadsheet. A random number generator picked five cards, one each from the past several decades.

For the second time in a row, the random number generator picked a card that had already been selected. It picked a repeat card from the 1990, and I've got over 2,900 Cubs from the 1990s. If the odds of picking it once are 1:2,934, what are the odds of picking that same card a second time? I really need to buy some lottery tickets!

1950's / 1960's Bowman 1952 #32 Eddie Miksis I don't have the original Bowman cards; I've got the reprints...which explains why the card looks so good. Miksis came to the Cubs in June of 1951, part of an eight player swap. He spent the rest of the season as the Cubs starting second baseman. He slipped in 1952, playing in only 93 games and hitting .232.

1970's Kelloggs 1970 #42 Ron Santo
This card has a strange mix to it. Santo is shown in the home whites, something Topps did rarely during this era. Most of their cards featured the Cubs in their away greys. So +1 to Kelloggs for the pinstripes. However, Kelloggs is -1,000 because the stadium in the background is not Wrigley Field, it's Shea Stadium. In 1970, the last place I wanted to see on any card was the home of the Mets. And Kelloggs goes and puts it on a Cubs card. Boo!

1980's Upper Deck 1989 #776 Joe Girardi
We have a very young looking Girardi from Upper Deck's inaugural set. 1989 was Girardi's rookie season, and he ended up getting some significant playing time late in the season as the Cubs chased the NL East crown. Starter Damon Berryhill was injured and the Cubs relied on backups and rookies to fill in. Girardi did a decent job handling the staff and hit a respectable .248.

1990's Bowman 1993 #664 Turk Wendell
The Cubs acquired Wendell from the Braves at the tail end on the 1991 season. He spent all of 1992 in AAA and made it to the big leagues as a 26 year old rookie in 1993. I remember when he came to the team and all of the talk about his brushing his teeth between innings and jumping over the foul lines. But there wasn't much talk about his pitching. I wonder if his 1-2 record and 4.37 ERA had something to do with that?

2000's Topps 2008 #114 Mike Fontenot
Here's another card with Shea Stadium in the background. Fontenot had a good 2008 season as a utility infielder. He hit a career high .305 and added nine home runs. But it's still odd to see someone else in #17 instead of Mark Grace.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Time To Do Something About This Drought

In three of the four major professional American sports, the team with the longest championship drought has a Chicago connection.

Baseball....The Cubs, last won in 1908
Football...The Cardinals, last won in 1947 (as the Chicago Cardinals)
Hockey...The Blackhawks, last won in 1961

I was born in November, 1961, so in my lifetime the Blackhawks have never won the Stanley Cup. Tonight, it is time to start doing something about that!

Go Hawks!

A month ago Canadian and hockey fan Ryan Dempster organized a team outing to see the Hawks play at the United Center. On Wednesday this past week, with Dempster pitching against the Dodgers, the Hawks returned the favor, coming out to Wrigley.

Here's hoping that the Hawks snap one drought, and inspire the Cubs to snap another. And the football Cardinals, well, who cares!

Finally, here are a few cards from my very limited hockey card collection.

Bowman 1955

Two days ago I showed you the Bowman Cubs from 2010. Today, let's go backwards 55 years!

I was looking for another set to add to my collection, and I decided to go with a really old one, 1955 Bowman...the TV set. I have reprints of several of Bowman's older issues, but since I haven't seen a reprint of the '55's, I thought it would be fun to go after the real thing.

This is the first one I picked up, pitcher Jim Brosnan. The card was less that $3.00. My plan is to go slowly, and go after cards by auction only. There are seventeen Cubs in the set, so I've got a bunch more to chase.

The toughest (and most expensive) will be Ernie Banks. But overall, this should be a fun chase.

Friday, May 28, 2010

#23 - Jerry Kindall

This '59 card gives a small view of the back of his jersey and we can see the "2" from the "23."

This one has the same photo that was used as the insert picture on the 1960 card.

Jerry Kindall spent parts of five different season with the Cubs. For three of the seasons, 1956 - 1958, he wore #23. He played in 104 games during that time, and his average during the three years was .164, .160, and .167. The Curse of #23 lived on with Jerry Kindall.

Things go so bad that he spent the entire 1959 season in the minor leagues. When he returned to the Cubs in 1960, he wised up and switched his number to #16. And, guess what happened to his average. Yup, it went up, up 80 points to .240. That's still not very good, but its a whole let better that where he was at before the switch.

Kindall would be traded to the Indians after the 1961 season, and would also spend some time with the Twins before his career ended in 1965. According to Wikipedia, he had the lowest career average (.213) of any player with more than 2000 at bats. Can this be blamed on #23?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

...Another Man's Treasure

You've heard the saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Well, this past off-season, the Cubs and the Mariners traded trash. The Cubs sent Milton Bradley to the M's, while the Cubs got Carlos Silva in return.

Both had worn out their welcome. Bradley's trouble in Chicago was well-documented. And Silva was a high-priced ($48 million / four years), free agent bust. In two years with Seattle, Silva was 5-18 with a 6.81. The trade made sense for both teams.

So, how's that working out for you, Seattle? Bradley flipped out sooner in Seattle than he did with the Cubs. Trash.

And Silva? He is now 6-0. Treasure! He's won more games with the Cubs in two months than he did in two years with the Mariners. And the Mariners are picking up a good chunk of his salary, too. He's been doing so well that I decided he needed a Topps 2010 card.

The last time a Cubs pitcher started the season 6-0 was in 1967, 43 years ago! Ken Holtzman was 6-0, though he was pitching only on weekends when he could get a pass from his National Guard unit.

Will Silva be able to keep this up? I hope so, but I doubt it. We'll have to see what happens when he goes around the league for a second time. But for now, I'm just enjoying the run he's on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

2010 Bowman Cubs

My Bowman Cubs arrived a few days ago. I'm a little late to the party, so I don't feel the need to do much of a review of the overall product. Honestly, the Bowman stuff does nothing for me. I feel like I get them now more out of a sense of obligation than excitement. I just don't feel like stopping and having a hole in my collection.

The cards are black.....again. Ho hum. I'm a team collector, not a rookie prospector, so the prospects don't do much for me. Thanks to Bowman and the Cubs lousy scouting, I've got a binder full of dud prospects. A quick check of my binder shows that none of the prospects from 2007 to 2009 are in the majors (though one, Justin Berg, was just sent down by the Cubs).

Among the base cards, there are six Cubs. They are the usual suspects: Dempster, Fukudome, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, and Zambrano. All six were among the ten Cubs in the 2009 set.

There are eight Cubs prospects. The big name is Starlin Castro. The rest, well, we shall see.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gas Can Returns

I sure hope Jim Hendry knows what he's doing. Because he brought Bob "Gas Can" Howry back to the Cubs. He returns to the team after spending 2009 in San Francisco and 2010 in Arizona. While with the D-Backs, he allowed 17 runs in 14 innings. They saw fit to release him.

The party line is that the Cubs wanted a veteran presence in the bullpen. I hope that Howry is there for his presence and not his performance because I've got no confidence in him at all. Heck, I had little or no confidence in him during his first go-around with the Cubs in 2006 - 2008. And Howry didn't do anything to restore my confidence in his first Cubs appearance on Sunday. He gave up an RBI double and intentional walk to two of the three hitters he faced.

The only positive I can come up with is that Howry's acquisition gave me another chance to work on a 2010 Topps card. I've come up with at half-way decent way to make the names, and I think it looks ok.

Lou, please keep this veteran glued firmly to the bullpen bench!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Billy Williams?

All the cards are from a set the Cubs issued in 1993 to honor Billy Williams.

Last Friday, I wrote about Topps' repeated mention of Billy Williams' 1961 Rookie of the Year award.

Jim left this comment: As a kid in the 1960s (and not being from Chicago) I wondered why some people held Billy Williams in such high regard.
Sure, he played in 9999 straight games, but where was the skill in that? In the NL, you had Mays, Aaron, and Clemente as the top-notch outfielders, with Brock, Rose, Flood, and Pinson after them. Personally, I put Williams as a 3rd-level outfield star, along with Willie Stargell, Rico Carty, and Willie Davis. Even on the Cubs, it seemed he was overshadowed (at least nationally) by Banks and Santo. I guess you had to be a Cubs fan to fully appreciate Williams.

Jim's impression of Billy during his playing days was the way he was view by most fans (outside Chicago). That really got me thinking. Did we Cubs fans have an over-inflated opinion of him? Where did Billy Williams fit in the scheme of things in the 1960's and early '70's National League?

I did some research over at What I found surprised me, and maybe it will surprise you too.

Billy Williams career with the Cubs was from 1961 through 1974 (though he had a cup of coffee with the team in 1959 and 1960). I wanted to see where he ranked among the league during that 15 year span in several different categories.

Here is what I found:

NL Home Runs, 1961 - 1974
1. Hank Aaron, 514
2. Willie McCovey, 409
3. Billy Williams, 390

NL RBI's, 1961 - 1974

1. Hank Aaron, 1459
2. Billy Williams, 1344
3. Ron Santo, 1246

NL Runs Scored, 1961 - 1974
1. Hank Aaron, 1393
2. Lou Brock, 1303
3. Billy Williams, 1302

NL Hits, 1961 - 1974
1. Billy Williams, 2492
2. Lou Brock, 2388
3. Pete Rose, 2337

NL Doubles, 1961 - 1974
1. Billy Williams, 402
2. Pete Rose, 394
3. Lou Brock, 389

NL Games Played, 1961 - 1974
1. Billy Williams, 2183
2. Willie Davis, 2083
3. Hank Aaron, 2037

Billy Williams was my all-time favorite player (I wrote about that here), but even I was shocked to see him in the top three in every one of those categories. You would think with stats like those, he would be a perennial all star. Yet he made NL All-Star team only six times. So why didn't he get the praise? Why would Jim wonder about the high regard for Billy Williams?

Here is my take. First, Jim mentioned one reason: Billy was on a team that also included Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. Banks was a superstar when Billy joined the team and Williams was always in the shadow of Mr. Cub. Santo was loud and brash, the team captain; and he got lots of press.

Secondly, Billy Williams was a quiet, humble player. He never sought out the press. He didn't try to bring attention to himself. He just went about his business on the field and let his play do the talking. For almost eight seasons he was in the lineup for every single game. You just took for granted that he would get his hits, smash his homers, and knock in some runs.

And honestly, that is what I admired most about him. I am a quiet, shy person, and I could really relate to him. And a lot of fellow Cubs fans felt the same way. Ernie was Mr. Cub, but our true favorite was Billy Williams.

In some ways, Wrigley Wax is a Billy Williams type blog. I'm not loud or controversial. I don't seek the spotlight. Instead, I'm kind of quiet and unassuming, plodding along with my post a day. I hope I hit the occasional home run with what I've got here, but if I'm just a .300 hitter, I'm fine with that.

Jim's last line was, "
I guess you had to be a Cubs fan to fully appreciate Williams." I most definitely appreciated Billy Williams. I hope that some of you may come to appreciated him a little more, too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Cubs Fact: U2

No, Bono never played for the Cubs, though right now he is on the DL!

But, in the 134 year history of the Cubs, there have been only two players with a last name that begins with the letter U. That's a grand total of two out of 1,872 players that have played in at least one game for the Cubs.

John Upham: This is the only card from Upham's brief career. Upham was the second Canadian pitcher on the Cubs roster in 1967 and 1968, though he wasn't quite as good as the other, some guy named Jenkins.

Upham did have an interesting path to the mound at Wrigley. He was signed by the Phillies as an outfielder in 1959. By 1965 his career had stalled in the minor leagues and he was selected by the Cubs in the minor league draft. As a last-ditch effort to save his career, Upham switched to pitching, something he had done as an amateur. He did well enough to make the Cubs roster in 1967 and saw action as both a pitcher and an outfielder / pinch-hitter. In early June he was sent back to the minors and spent the rest of the season there. The next year he came back to the Cubs in August and September, spending most of his time as an outfielder (11 games) while making only two appearances on the mound.

Bob Usher: His time with the Cubs was about as short as possible; it was Moonlight Graham short. Usher played in one game for the Cubs, April 26, 1952. He had one plate appearance, and he walked. After that, it was back to the minors, where he would spent the next five seasons, before making back to the bigs with the Indians in 1957.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Topps 1964 Giant Set

In 1964 Topps released a 60 card set known as Topps Giant. The cards were postcard sized, 3 1/8" by 5 1/4". They featured a nice photo on the front and a faux newspaper article on the back. I like the newspaper idea, as it offers something different than the usual player stats and bio.

There were three Cubs among the 60 cards. In fact, at the time there were 20 major league teams, so there were three players from every teams, which equals the 60 cards in the set. The three Cubs were Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Dick Ellsworth. The first two names should not have been a surprise. It's the selection of Ellsworth over Ernie Banks that is the surprise.

Ellsworth was coming off a 22 win season in 1963, which was interesting because the year before he lost 20 games. He would have been the ace of the staff, and Topps may have wanted to feature a pitcher instead of three position players.

I picked up the set of three off of ebay for a mere $2.37 plus shipping. I think a got a great deal. When I pay less than a dollar a card for 46 year old cards, I'm happy!

Here are both the front and the back of the three Cubs. You can click on the pictures to get a larger look at the newspaper articles.

And guess what Topps found newsworthy for Billy Williams? This!!