A Summer Project Aiming to Yield a “C”

As a Cubs fan, I’ve maintained a small baseball-card collection of the team’s players. Some are from my and my brother’s childhood collection in the late 1960s and early 1970s, others are from store-bought packs in recent years, and still others are from card-dealer shops. Until this year, I just kept these cards laying around. One day last spring, however, I looked at the roundtable in my office and was inspired.

I realized that I could use the shape of the table to organize a display of cards and, with some cardholder sleeves, a scissors, and some extra-clear Scotch tape, make a huge Cubs “C” out of Cubs baseball cards. The first thing I did was get a bunch of standard 3 X 3 vinyl cardholder sheets. I then cut each vinyl sheet vertically into three separate columns, each holding three cards.

I then temporarily attached each column (already filled with cards) to the table, so that the straight edge of the outermost card fit as closely as possible with the curved edge of the table. I used masking tape to keep the first column (and every few columns thereafter) in place. I used small pieces of Scotch tape to connect adjacent columns to each other, so that all the columns would eventually form one single piece.

Note that the cards touching the outer edge of the table will be fully visible without being “eclipsed” by adjacent cards. The cards midway down in each column will be slightly eclipsed by the neighboring cards, and the cards nearest the center of the table will have nearly half of their surface eclipsed by neighboring cards. I therefore decided to reserve the outermost slots for the most prominent Cubs (Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Jake Arrieta, as shown above), with less well-known players generally confined to the innermost layer. Because so much of each innermost card was obscured, it was a real challenge making sure nobody’s face got cut off!

More exciting than creating the structure to hold the cards, of course, was acquiring the necessary cards themselves. Of the 120 cards (40 columns of three) needed to fill in the slots, I probably had only one-third that many at the start. A couple of trips to a local card store brought up my total somewhat, but to finish the project by the end of the summer, I also needed to shop online. I had two main guidelines for which players’ cards to obtain: (1) I wanted to have a card of every member of the 2016 World Series championship team (including manager Joe Maddon); and (2) I wanted to have cards for who would be considered every significant Cub of the last 50 years. Nearly all of the cards I purchased at the stores and over the Internet cost between 40-50 cents. Occasionally I had to splurge for cards worth $1 or so!

Most days during the summer, I put in 10-15 minutes of work on the project, although as things neared completion I put in longer stints. The circle began to grow, as illustrated in the near-complete design in the following picture. Most players appear only once in the “C,” but of those who appear multiple times, their cards are always from different years. Hence, there are no exact duplicates in the “C.” There are at least three Ron Santo cards in the mix.

One tricky issue is that, if I placed the tops of the baseball cards (i.e., where the players’ heads were) by the edge of the table all the way around, the cards at the bottom of the “C” would be upside-down. What I did, therefore, was change the orientation of the cards halfway through the “C” (after 20 columns). This is illustrated in the next two images, one a schematic of the process and the other, a close-up of the actual cards.

By switching after 20 columns from having the players’ heads toward the outer edge of the table to having their feet toward the outer edge, players at the top and bottom of the “C” came out rightside-up.

Once all the card slots were filled and the columns taped together, it was time to apply a red cardboard background to the design. I cut up a bunch of red rectangles and linked them together underneath the baseball cards. I used a lot of masking tape on the underside of the red cardboard to keep the pieces connected in a sturdy manner, and I used double-sided Scotch tape to affix the baseball-card part to the underlying cardboard.

Finally, it was time to place the “C” on one of the walls in my office, which I accomplished using red push-pin tacks at various points in the red outline.

I feel I largely accomplished my mission to include all of the significant Cubs of the past 50 years. Hall of Famers  Ernie Banks, Andre “Hawk” Dawson, Leo Durocher (manager), Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Bruce Sutter, and Billy Williams all appear in the “C.”

All-Star players and fan favorites of the different decades also appear. A non-comprehensive list of the players in the “C” includes:

  • Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and Don Kessinger, who bridged the 1960s and ’70s; along with their teammate Jim Hickman, a trivia-question answer as the player whose hit led to Pete Rose’s run-scoring collision with catcher Ray Fosse to end the 1970 All-Star Game.
  • 1970s favorites Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-1984) and Manny Trillo (1975-1978 and 1986-1988). They are among the Cubs whose names are referenced in the play “Bleacher Bums.”
  • Star 1980s pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Lee Smith, and catcher Jody Davis.
  • 1990s mainstay Mark Grace, and Kerry Wood, who came on spectacularly in 1998 and pitched all or parts of 12 seasons on the North Side.
  • Mark Prior, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee  of the 2000-aughts.
  • Joe Girardi, who came from Northwestern University to play two stints with the Cubs (1989-1992 and 2000-2002).

Sammy Sosa, though tainted by steroids, is included, as are three players who will probably best be remembered for defensive difficulties on particular plays: Moises Alou, involved in the Steve Bartman play vs. Florida in the 2003 NLCS; Leon “Bull” Durham, who let a key grounder go through his legs in the 1984 NLCS vs. San Diego; and Don Young, who failed to catch a couple of fly balls in a crucial 1969 series vs. the Mets. As bitter as some of the memories involving these players are, they are still very much a part of modern Cubs history. So is Keith Moreland, who is mentioned (not favorably) in the classic Steve Goodman song, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

A couple of cards exceeded the scope of the past 50 years: Joey Amalfitano (Cubs player 1964-1967, coach 1967–1971 and 1978–1979, and manager 1979-1981), and a reissued Frank Chance (1898-1912) of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame.

In reflecting on whether I missed some players I should have included, one that came to mind was Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock. His Cubs’ stint was brief (1974-1976), but it included two National League batting titles. My Texas Tech colleague and fellow Cubs fanatic Michael O’Boyle suggested I add Dave Kingman.

Also, if 2018 late-season acquisitions Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy keep up their hot play, I’ll have to add them (Yu Darvish remains an open question). The nice thing about the cardholder sleeves I used is that I should be able to change some of the players in the “C” without much problem.

I would think fans of other teams could create similar displays. However, logos featuring letters with diagonal components (such as “A” or “M”) would probably be harder to bring about.

Teachers can even use the story of the baseball-card “C” to illustrate the formula for the circumference of a circle (2 * pi * r). The table’s diameter is 46 inches (to the precision I could measure it), so its radius is 23 inches. The formula yields a circumference of 144.5 inches.  My “C” did not, of course, form a full circle, but I determined that it would take the widths of approximately 51 cards (compared to the 40 comprising the “C”) to complete the circle along the table’s edge. With each card having a width of approximately 2 3/4 inches, summing the card-widths around the table yields 140.25 inches. The difference between the actual circumference of the table (144.5) and the approximation by baseball cards (140.25) stems from the cards’ straight-edge widths being an imperfect fit for the table’s curved edge. A mathematical principle states that the match would improve as each baseball card (hypothetically) got narrower.

Topps “Now” Card Program

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As Mark wrote about in Entry 4 of his 10-part series on the Topps baseball-card monopoly, a breakthrough in card design – although not always executed well at first – was the introduction of action photography in 1971.

It took 45 years, but Topps found a way to enhance the experience of viewing action cards, by letting fans choose the specific plays they wanted to immortalize, and do so with quick turnaround from order to delivery.

In 2016, Topps began its “Now” program, allowing fans to order specially made cards capturing action images of noteworthy events on the diamond, generally no-hitters and important home-runs. The idea is that, once a significant (in some fans’ minds, at least) development occurs, customers have 24 hours to go online and purchase an action-shot card of the milestone (as long as Topps has decided to make one).

I first heard of the Now program via this article on the runaway demand for a Now card of Bartolo Colon hitting his first major-league homer on May 7. According to the article, Topps “sold 8,826 cards of the 42-year-old pitcher hitting a home run on Saturday. The card went on sale at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday and stopped production exactly 24 hours later.”

Before the Colon card, the biggest-selling card (Jake Arrieta’s second career no-hitter) had attracted 1,808 purchases.

In August 2016, the sales figure for the Colon homer card was eclipsed by the Now card for Ichiro’s 3,000th hit, which sold 11,550 copies.

As a Cubs fan, I decided to look into Now cards commemorating the team’s World Series victory. Topps made several individual cards and sets available, with a one-week ordering window instead of the usual 24 hours.

I zeroed in on a single card, showing the Cubs’ celebratory gathering in the infield, immediately following the final out, which carried a $9.99 price tag. I’m pretty frugal, so $10 for one baseball card seemed a lot. But then I asked myself, “How often do the Cubs win the World Series?” and the decision to purchase a card became obvious.

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The card took about two weeks to arrive and came enclosed in a clear plastic case, not a flat one, but one big enough to hold a deck of playing cards. The back of the card contained a paragraph-length summary of the series, with an emphasis on Game 7. I would have preferred a more data-laden back (like regular baseball cards), such as a listing of scores of all of the Cubs’ 2016 post-season games. I can’t complain, though.

The Now program seems like an excellent way for fans to celebrate their favorite players’ and teams’ accomplishments, including those on the quirkier side, such as when a certain aging, not-so-svelte pitcher goes deep.