Unknown Legends

This series, which debuted in the March 2020 newsletter, takes a look at the legendary ballplayers that most fans forgot ever suited up with our local teams. Where possible we’ll present baseball card evidence of their Second City tenure. Have a favorite player who made a “short stop” in Chicago? Send your suggestion to Jason Schwartz.

November 2021

Our first unknown legend is a player who frequently surfaces as a strong candidate for Cooperstown among 19th century players. That said, in keeping with the spirit of this column, his case for enshrinement most definitely did not come from his time here in Chicago. His career with the Colts (Cubs) lasted only one game, good for three at-bats and no hits. (Lest you think you could have managed similar, I should add that he did draw a base on balls.)

Did young fans that day even know that Chicago’s nonce outfielder had previously put up two-way numbers that would make Shohei Ohtani blush? It’s true! In 1886, only seven years prior to his stint with our local nine, he won 30 games as a pitcher, posting a stingy 2.32 ERA, while leading the American Association in OBP, OPS, and OPS+. What’s more, this unknown legend twice won 40 (!) games to go with season highs of 14 triples, 49 stolen bases, and a .357 batting average.

With numbers like these, it’s no wonder Bob Caruthers was SABR’s 2017 “Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend” and amassed a career WAR of 59.5, matching modern era superstars Vlad Guerrero (Senior) and Mike Piazza. His brief time in Chicago did not warrant any hometown baseball cards, either during his career or afterward, but his two-way prowess is hinted at by multiple poses (with Brooklyn) in the 1887-90 Old Judge set. His exalted status in the game also made him one of only eight baseball players selected for the handsome 1888 Goodwin Champions multi-sport issue.

Keeping up our dual threat theme, our second unknown legend was a four-time 20-game winner on the hill who also held his own in the batter’s box, banging out 1946 career hits and twice swiping more than 40 bases. His 41.8 career WAR places him just a hair below Hughie Jennings and Don Mattingly. However, his numbers with Chicago were a bit more modest: only a single game in 1912 at the age of 45, though he did go one for two at the plate while trading in his coaching duties for a second baseman’s glove.

The South Side portion of this player’s career meets all the qualifications for total anonymity. Nonetheless, it’s our hometown White Sox with whom this pitcher-infielder will forever be associated. How could this be? Simple. Seven years after his one-game stint at second base, he took over as Sox manager, just in time for the 1919 season.

The ill-fated skipper has no baseball cards from his playing days–or should I say day–with the South Side squad. However, he has several cards as Sox manager, a role he held through 1923. Gleason’s 1919-21 W514 strip card is shown here with two of the more notable members of his 1919 pennant winning ballclub.

September 2021

Two years and over a thousand plate appearances with the Cubs tend to exclude one from “Unknown Legend” status, but a special case is made when ones entire career is best remembered, if not uniquely remembered, for a single at-bat. Aided by a telescope-and-buzzer cheating system, Bobby Thomson broke the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere with a dramatic walk-off home run to win the National League pennant in 1951.

Source: National Baseball Hall of Fame

The year following the fateful home run, Thomson would earn his third All-Star appearance with the Giants and lead the league in triples. His 1953 season with the Giants would boast fewer triples but ultimately match up nicely with 1952. Even still it would not be enough to keep Thomson in New York as he found himself traded to Milwaukee for pitching during the 1954 preseason. (Notably his Spring Training injury with the Braves cleared a roster spot for Henry Aaron, meaning Thomson had a connection to two of baseball’s most famous home runs.)

Whether injuries or age, Thomson never regained All-Star form in Milwaukee, batting .242 in his three and a half years as a Brave. Ostensibly nearing the end of his career, the Braves returned Thomson to the Giants in the middle of the the 1957 season where he once again hit .242. With stiff competition in the Giants outfield and only middling numbers, Thomson was once again the subject of a trade, and this is how the one-time hero found himself a Chicago Cub.

Thomson’s 1958 season marked something of a resurgence. In 547 at-bats, Thomson batted .283, and his wins above replacement were his highest since his 1952 All-Star season. He remained a Cub in 1959, batting .259 in 374 at-bats, before finishing his career in 1960 with the Red Sox and Orioles.

Cardboard proof of Thomson’s two years as a Cub come through his readily available 1958 and 1959 Topps cards as well as a much more elusive 1958 Hires Root Beer card.

Another three-time All-Star remembered best for his pennant-winning home run is one Russell Earl Dent, or as he’s known in Boston, Bucky F. Dent. The weak-hitting shortstop’s dramatic home run in game 163 of the 1978 season sent the Yankees to their third straight World Series and left Red Sox fans once again wondering if they might ever “reverse the curse.”

Of course before Dent ever donned Yankee pinstripes he spent four seasons on Chicago’s South Side, putting up what were then above average numbers for a shortstop. Dent batted .260 and “slugged” .305, finishing second to Mike Hargrove in the 1974 American League Rookie of the Year vote and earning a place on the All-Star team in 1975. In a trade that forever altered the course of Yankees and Red Sox history, Dent was traded to New York just before the start of the 1977 campaign. While Red Sox faithful rue the day the trade ever happened, it was one that worked out well for Chicago, netting the Sox not only South Side Hit Man (and fashion icon) Oscar Gamble but eventual Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt.

There is of course no shortage of cardboard proof of Dent’s time in the Windy City. Still, if you want a card of Bucky Dent before he became Bucky F. Dent, he has a nice Topps run from 1974-77 as well as several other Sox cards.

July 2021

In our May 2021 installment we looked at Baseball’s top batting marks and their connections to the Second City. As noted, the leaderboard had not yet integrated records from the Negro Leagues. However, this all changed on June 15 when Baseball-Reference made the most significant update in their site’s history. Recognizing that the Baseball-Reference record book is not the same as the MLB record book, which will also change but hasn’t yet and may differ in significant ways, you’ll recognize (or not yet recognize!) several new faces among the top (Baseball-Reference) single season batting averages of all-time.

All told, 31 new .400 averages have been added to the Baseball-Reference record book, and it bears emphasis that these came in officially recognized (as of December 2020) MLB seasons. I’ll focus on two of the players now joining Hornsby, Cobb, Sisler, et al., who are hardly unknown names to most SABR members but perhaps are not readily recognized as having played for our local teams.

Mule Suttles was a 5x All-Star and prodigious slugger who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a special committee on the Negro Leagues in 2006. This is the same committee who failed to elect Buck O’Neil by a single vote. Suttles is one of only 16 players to have amassed the requisite 3000 plate appearances to qualify for the Baseball-Reference leaderboard in various rate statistics. Among these players, Suttles has the highest career slugging average and now sits behind only Ruth, Williams, and Gehrig on the all-time list. Suttles also holds the single season Negro League records for home runs (32), RBI (130), and even triples (19)–all set in 1926 with the St. Louis Stars.

But what does any of this have to do with Chicago? Though Suttles may primarily be remembered as a Star or Newark Eagle, he also spent four seasons with Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants. His first season with our hometown squad came in 1929 when Suttles had the proverbial cup of coffee with the team, having played the bulk of the season with St. Louis. Suttles suited up with our American Giants only long enough to collect a single and two doubles in four games but would return four years to compile three straight all-star seasons from 1933-35. (Adding to the Chicago connection, all three of the All-Star Games were played at Comiskey Park.)

Mule’s second stint in the Second City featured strong but not otherworldly numbers: a .278 batting average with 20 home runs and 101 RBI in 506 plate appearances over three seasons, numbers that fell somewhere in the middle of contemporary counterparts Charlie Grimm (Cubs) and Zeke Bonura (White Sox). Having slashed .359/.426/.660 from 1924-32, Suttles as an American Giant might be compared to Albert Pujols as an Angel. Interestingly, his numbers rebounded considerably (Pujols as a Dodger?) after leaving Chicago, slashing .317/.394/.577 from 1936 through the end of his career in 1944.

As for cardboard proof of Mule Suttles in Chicago, check the cap logo on this 1974 Robert Laughlin “Old-Time Black Stars” card and read the back to learn about an exciting highlight he provided for the hometown crowd in 1935.

Our next “Unknown Legend” has been the subject of a campaign to make him VERY known, thanks to SABR member Ted Knorr among others. In response to a question from Hall of Fame expert Jay Jaffe, this player’s name was even mentioned by Larry Lester at the Baseball-Reference press conference as a player whose Hall of Fame credentials might get a boost from the recent site updates. And like Suttles, this player also joins the ranks of .400 hitters, thanks to a .415 mark in 1929 with the Baltimore Black Sox. (There is some irony to the name as these players were at least unofficially banned for life by Commissioner Landis.)

The player, if you haven’t already guessed, is Herbert Allen “Rap” Dixon, owner of a very healthy .336 lifetime batting average (non-qualifying) with moderate power and outstanding speed. A famous feat attached to Dixon is that he “rapped” out 14 straight hits in 1929. Also notable was his discovery of Hall of Fame pitcher Leon Day.

Dixon came to Chicago immediately following his career year in 1929 with Baltimore, and similar to Suttles his numbers with our Chicago American Giants dipped considerably. In his 32 league games for which box scores exist, Dixon batted .275 with 3 home runs and 25 RBI, the latter figures pro-rating to 15 HR and 127 RBI over 162 games. Unlike Suttles, there was no sustained post-Chicago bounce for Dixon as the remainder of his career (1932-1937 in officially recognized major leagues) saw him bat .276 with a small dip in power numbers.

As for cardboard proof of Rap Dixon’s time in Chicago, we may need to use our imagination a little. Dixon’s card from the aforementioned 1974 Laughlin set features a rather nondescript uniform bearing a “C” on the shoulder. The smart money here is on the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the team Dixon played for in 1934 and 1937, but we can always pretend it’s for Chicago.

May 2021

With the planned inclusion of Negro League records and statistics not yet finalized (see July 2021 installment), the record for highest single season batting average remains for at least a little longer with Hugh Duffy, whose .440 average with the Boston Beaneaters (National League) was one of five to top the .400 mark that season. (Amazingly, the other four were all from the Philadelphia Phillies outfield.) Duffy’s various ties to Chicago are well known among those who dabble in such things, so while he qualified for the batting record he does not qualify for Chicago Unknown Legend status.

And that brings us to the name in the record book just one below Duffy. Seven years earlier, James Edward “Tip” O’Neill of the St. Louis Browns led the American Association in virtually everything, among them runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, batting average, slugging average, on-base percentage, and total bases. With 225 hits in only 517 at bats, O’Neill paced the league with a .435 average, 33 points above his nearest competitor, Pete Browning.

While one might assume the Browns would have attempted to keep O’Neill with the club for life, it was only three years later that the Woodstock Wonder found himself plying his wares for the Pirates. “But what atop the I still call it the Sears Tower,” you wonder “does that have to do with the Windy City?” Everything, it turns out, as I’m talking about the Chicago Pirates of the Players’ League!

This one-and-done franchise from a one-and-done league finished fourth despite featuring a veritable who’s who of household 19th century baseball names, which I recognize is an oxymoron for just about anyone but our esteemed readership. Among O’Neill’s Chicago teammates were player-manager Charlie Comiskey, who had made the jump with O’Neill from the Browns, and the only man who would one day best O’Neill’s batting mark, the aforementioned Hugh Duffy. Imagine that, two teammates whose top batting averages (admittedly seven years apart) would add to .875!

With Chicago, O’Neill would not come close to his magical 1887 season, though he would bat a respectable .302 with 16 triples and 29 steals. Former batting title also-ran Pete Browning would top the circuit at .373 while record-breaker-in-waiting Duffy would bat .320 and lead the league in hits and runs.

While these days you can simply fact check all of this on Baseball Reference, baseball fans of the pre-internet era could verify Tip O’Neill’s Chicago tenure so long as they had one of his baseball cards from a later run of the 1887-90 Old Judge N172 set. While most O’Neill cards from the era place him with the St. Louis Browns, a single card variation (365a) from the set–too rare for me to include an image–has him reppin’ aargh great city as only a Pirate can.

Source: Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

With the two top spots on the single season batting list each having Chicago tie-ins, you might wonder about the man in third. Sure enough, he too has a Chicago connection! Purists would deny his Unknown Legend status in that he not only played for our White Stockings (now Cubs) two full seasons but even established his .429 batting mark in the ballclub’s inaugural season. Still, realizing the pickings are getting slim in this series and appreciating thematic unity, I’m going to count him.

Ross Barnes launched his professional career in 1871 with the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association, and a strong case can be made that he was the greatest player in history of the league, holding career marks in a multitude of offensive categories–even stolen bases–while leading his teams to four pennants in five years. His career batting average in the NA was an unbelievable .391 and before you roll your eyes at the touting of batting average in a SABR publication, rest assured that Barnes is also the National Association’s all-time leader in both walks and OBP.

While his stockings changed colors in 1876, little changed in terms of Barnes’ play. In the first ever season of the National League, he topped the leaderboards in runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, batting average, slugging average, and–yes!–on-base percentage and walks. Lest you imagine half the league hit .429 that year, the runner-up in the batting race, George Hall of the Philadelphia Athletics, came in a full 63 points behind Barnes at .366 in a year when six of the top eight averages were held by White Stockings.

Back in 1876, trading cards weren’t quite the thing they’d go on to become just over a decade later, but we can thank the 2011 TriStar Obak set for including Ross Barnes as a Chicago player. What’s more, the card, out of the set’s “Major League Firsts” subset, even reminds us that Barnes hit the very first home run in NL history.

March 2021

When baseball fans think of 1919 and Chicago, their minds likely go straight to the infamous Black Sox and the throwing of the World Series that, among other things, led to lifetime ban of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his fellow “Eight Men Out” teammates. Aside from Cubs die-hards (many of whom read this newsletter!) little thought was spent on the third-place North Siders whose offense ranked dead last in the Majors. Therefore I may confuse you for a second when I declare with great confidence that it was not the American League champion White Sox who boasted Chicago’s best all-around player in 1919. What’s more, he was not only Chicago’s best player but perhaps the best in all of Baseball, not just in 1919 but ever!

That’s right. More known for his time with the Indianapolis ABCs and Pittsburgh Crawfords, the great Oscar Charleston spent the majority of his 1919 season suited up for Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants. (He also saw limited time with the Detroit Stars that same year.) What’s more, the statistics compiled at seamheads.com suggest 1919 was the breakout year for this five-tool superstar. To go along with a .409 batting average, Charleston also belted 8 home runs in 41 contests en route to a .671 slugging average. Pro-rated to 154 games, Charleston’s Chicago totals would have also placed him in (if not established!) Baseball’s 30-30 Club with 30 HR and 49 SB.

No official baseball card releases depict Charleston as a member of Rube Foster’s squad. However, several cards such as this 1976 Shakey’s Pizza release, note his time in Chicago as part of the bio on the back.

While we’re on the subject of speedy Hall of Fame centerfielders, let’s fast-forward 23 years to James Thomas Bell, better known as “Cool Papa!” Known primarily for his time with the St. Louis Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Homestead Grays, Cool Papa dashed through Chicago in 1942 for a brief stint with the Chicago American Giants. In contrast with the young Charleston, Bell’s very best seasons were behind him and his age 39 season in Chicago appears to have been fairly ordinary. That said, the aging Bell went on to compile on-base averages of .420, .399, .389, and .452 (!) his next four seasons, so he was hardly out of gas.

For a cardboard record of Bell’s time in the Second City we can thank the 2001 Topps “What Could Have Been” subset, which surprisingly opted to include Bell as a Chicago American Giant. Though Bell’s time in Chicago is not mentioned, collectors should also check out the fantastic “Cool Papa Comments” baseball card set from 1976 in which Bell himself tells the story of his phenomenal career.

January 2021

What Chicago baseball fan schooled in the great teams of the past doesn’t hold the name Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in high regard? After all, 17 wins is nothing to shake a stick at. “What’s that you say? Didn’t he win nearly 200 with the Cubbies?” Ah, I’m afraid I was referring to Three Finger Brown the Chicago Whale!

Sure enough, Brown was one of two future Hall of Famers to play for Chicago’s Federal League nine, though Brown’s first stop in the rival league was with the St. Louis Terriers and he even put in a month with the Brooklyn Tip Tops before finding his way back to Chicago. Thanks in large part to Three Finger’s 17-8 record and stingy 2.09 ERA, good for third best in the league, the Whales beat out the second place Terriers by a single game to win the Federal League pennant in what would be the upstart league’s final season, meaning Whales fans hold bragging rights as defending champs even to this day. No rebuild needed here, thank you very much!

Brown’s most famous cardboard from his Federal League stint comes courtesy of the 1914-15 Cracker Jack sets. Unfortunately his cards both those years (left) portray him as a Terrier. Apart from the Conlon Collection card shown earlier in the article, your only other shot at a card of Miner’s days as a Whale comes from the 2019 Historic Autographs “Federal League” series (right), modeled after the look of the original Cracker Jack cards.

I mentioned that Brown was one of two future Hall of Famers to bolt to the Chicago Whales. The other likely owes his enshrinement to a poem more than to his bat and glove. After all, what Whales fan could not recite even after three beers the famous ballad of “Tinker to Farrell to Beck?” So pleasing to the ear, isn’t it!

Yes, Joe Tinker not only jumped to the Federal League in 1914 but wound up as the Whales first and only manager, amassing the most wins of any manager in Federal League history. The man was essentially the Connie Mack of the Federal League, only he could turn the double play in addition to filling out the lineup card.

Unlike his teammate Mordecai Brown, Joe Tinker did earn cards (above) as a Whale in the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets.

And lest you think his Cracker Jack Whale cards are a “fluke,” Tinker can also be found reppin’ the Federal League in some of the lesser known tobacco sets of the era, though his Coupon Cigarettes cards (left and middle above) kept his old Cubs uniform and simply updated the league name.

Whale, my time is up here so narwhal leave you alone to read the rest of our newsletter without anymore of my spouting off. Fin.

November 2020

Who among the White Sox faithful can forget that magical 1983 season when Ron Kittle, LaMarr Hoyt, and company led the South Siders to 99 wins and an American League West title under the tutelage of fifth year manager Tony La Russa? While the Sox were stopped short by the eventual World Champion Baltimore squad, the division title served as the first of twelve (!) for La Russa, who went on to win six pennants and three World Championships with other teams and ultimately earn a plaque in Cooperstown.

While Sox fans may take pride in rooting for La Russa well before he was one of baseball’s most successful managers, but North Siders up on their history can stake an even earlier claim. A full ten years before that 1983 division title, Mr. La Russa was a Cub!

A Cub? Yes, though not for long. Following the 1972 season, La Russa was traded by the Braves to the Cubs for Tom Phoebus, and he began the 1973 season on the club’s Opening Day roster, albeit not a starter. With the Cubs trailing the Expos 2-1 in their opener, La Russa entered the contest in the bottom of the ninth inning as a pinch-runner for Ron Santo. Five batters later, Rick Monday would draw a bases loaded walk to score La Russa and win the game.

Scoring the winning run on this walk-off walk by Monday that Friday would prove to be La Russa’s only appearance with the Cubs (or any MLB team!) that season and in fact La Russa’s last Big League game, though La Russa put in five somewhat solid seasons in AAA before calling it quits for good as a player.

While there are no official cardboard keepsakes for Cubs fans to cherish, they can take solace in the fact that there’s a custom card for everything! This 1973 Topps-style redo can be found on various websites and collector forums and may just win you a bar bet or two. (Also see this article by fellow chapter member John Racanelli on La Russa’s walk around the block with the Cubs.)

Of course none of this to say the White Sox didn’t have their own “cup of coffee” with a managerial legend. I’m speaking of course of South Side stalwart Frank Chance. Okay, so perhaps stalwart is too strong a term, seeing as he managed the Sox for only…[checks notes]…[checks notes again]…zero games!

After piloting the Red Sox to a last place finish in 1923 the Peerless Leader was hired by the second-to-last place White Sox to replace Kid Gleason. Due to poor health, Chance never did assume the reigns, the Sox instead putting Johnny Evers, Ed Walsh, and Eddie Collins at the helm at various points in the season. (Trivia: Has any other team ever had three Hall of Fame managers in a single season?)

Sadly, no cards from the era commemorate Chance’s exceedingly brief tenure with the White Sox, but this image of Chance clad in the South Sider garb ran in many papers in November 1923. And yes, Virginia, there really is a custom card for everything!

September 2020

What Chicago fan of yesteryear couldn’t regale friends and rivals alike with tales of Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers? More than likely they would even recite the famous Franklin Pierce Adams poem on cue. Suggest it was the poem that got old Crab to Cooperstown, and you’d better be ready to duck!

Now you might be scratching your head wondering how exactly this makes Evers an unknown legend. Right, but did I mention I mean South Side Johnny?

Following the end of the 1917 season it looked like Evers had played his last game. At 36 years old he’d been relegated to a part-time role for the past three years, barely crossing the Mendoza line as a hitter and no longer the double play machine of his heyday, at least not as a fielder.

Imagine then the shock of the baseball world when Evers suited up for a game five years later, for the White Sox no less, and went 4 for 4 with three dingers and a double! Yes, that would be fun to imagine. In fact Coach Evers went 0 for 3 with a pair of walks as an impromptu substitute for injured player-manager Eddie Collins.

As best I can tell there are no cards depicting Evers with the Sox, but you may be able to use your imagination on this 2013 Panini Golden Age card, whose logo-free artwork and generic “Chicago” team identifier keep the door at least slightly ajar.

Returning to Wrigley in earnest, who doesn’t remember that great Cubs offensive juggernaut of 1930? Okay, fine, every team was an offensive juggernaut in 1930! But still.

Custom card by John Racanelli

Now add the great Jimmie Foxx, and I’d bet my entire 1981 Donruss master set that a World Series title is assured. Just a sec…well this is awkward…I’m being told Double X didn’t actually arrive until a bit later. Hmm.

Foxx was no longer a Beast when the Cubbies snatched him off waivers in June 1942, though his .392 OBP and .460 SLG might have convinced manager Jimmie Wilson that Foxx might provide at least some upgrade over an anemic offense that would finish the year with a measly .654 OPS.

Unfortunately, Foxx’s production fell off a cliff in Chicago, and all he could swing was a .205 batting average with 3 home runs. His .570 OPS was the lowest of his career until…

…Foxx returned to the Cubs in 1944 and offered up the minuscule slash line .050/.136/.100 for a career-low OPS of .236. You’d be correct to assume the Cubs did not ask Foxx to return in 1945. While sabermetrics was a relatively new field at the time, most projections had Foxx posting an OPS somewhere between .033 and .128.

Far from it, Foxx upped his 1944 OPS by more than 500 points in 1945, slashing .268/.336/.420 for the Phillies in what would be his final season. To boot, Double X even took the mound for NINE games, going 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA.

Meanwhile, back at the Friendly Confines the Cubs had of course won the pennant but squandered a 3-1 World Series lead to the Tigers, surrendering 24 runs in the final three games. So as I was saying, Jimmie Foxx absolutely could have won the Cubs a Series, if only they’d kept him one more year…and put him on the hill!

In terms of cardboard, Foxx had only one playing era card with Chicago, this 1943 dazzler from carnival supplier MP & Company.

He can also be found reppin’ the Windy City in the 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats set.

July 2020

When fans remember Hall of Fame pitcher George Edward “Rube” Waddell, they are most apt to recall his dominant six-year run from 1902-1907 with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. During that six-year span, Rube led the junior circuit in strikeouts all six years, topping both circuits the last five of those years. His 349 punch-outs in 1904 remain the mark even today among AL southpaws.

Less memorable was the season that preceded this impressive run, the 1901 campaign that saw Waddell start 0-2 with the Pittsburgh Pirates before pacing the (not very good yet) Chicago Orphans (Cubs) with a 14-14 mark. As unimpressive as his record was with Chicago, it’s worth noting that the rest of the staff combined for an anemic 39-72 record. How bad was this Chicago squad, only five years removed from boasting the greatest win-loss record in Major League history and capturing four pennants in five years (1906-1908, 1910)? Only three position players had a higher OPS than Rube that year, and before you look it up, no, Rube wasn’t exactly a lights out hitter (career batting average: .161).

Following a brief stint with the Los Angeles Loo Loos (seriously!), Rube turned up in late June 1902 with the Mack Men and compiled a WAR of 10.0 despite being on the squad for only 87 games. (Prorated to 162 games this would be a remarkable 18.6!)

As great as the Cubs went on to become, one can only imagine what a team they might have had if Rube had stuck around. Rube’s time in Chicago was not captured on any baseball cards, but his pitching (or maybe his bat!) was solid enough that lone season to earn him a coveted spot on the team composite photo.

Another fixture of the loaded Philadelphia pitching staff was Charles Albert “Chief” Bender. From 1903-1914, the right-hander compiled a 193-102 win-loss record (.654)  to go along with a stingy 2.32 ERA. Bender’s time as an Athletic included five pennants and three World Championships, with Bender the pitching hero of the 1911 bout. Connie Mack’s squad was swept by the Miracle Braves in 1914, after which Bender made the jump to the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League, posting a forgettable 4-16 record.

By the next season, Bender was back in Philadelphia but as a National Leaguer. While he improved upon his miserable 1915 campaign, he was ultimately released following the 1917 season and would not return to major league action until 8 years later when former Athletics teammate-turned-White Sox manager Eddie Collins channeled Bill Veeck by sending the 42-year-old Bender, now a coach with the team, onto the mound for an inning of work against Boston.

Bender showed a bit of rust, walking the leadoff man and surrendering a two-run homer, but ultimately nabbed three outs, the result being that exactly one of Bender’s 3017 major league innings came with the Sox.

Owing to the brevity of his Chicago tenure, Bender has no cards as a White Sox pitcher but does have a couple cards as a Chicago coach thanks to the 1991 and 1993 Sporting News Conlon Collection sets.

May 2020

Hall of Fame arbiter and Chicago native Hank O’Day is best known for his 30 years as a National League umpire, a tenure that included 10 (!) World Series and one of the most infamous games in baseball history, one with a Chicago connection at that. O’Day had the distinction of being the home plate umpire on September 23, 1908, when the Cubs squared off against the Giants in the Merkle’s Boner game.

Less known was that he took two breaks from umpiring to manage, including a 1914 stint with the Chicago Cubs. None of O’Day’s vintage cardboard portrays him with Chicago (though he does have some 19th century tobacco cards with the Washington Nationals and New York Giants) but artist Jesse Loving of Ars Longa has kept the memory of the erstwhile Cubs skipper alive through an imagined 1915 Diamond Heads card.

Don’t worry, South Siders! You have a Hall of Fame umpire, too! Chicago native John Bertrand “Jocko” Conlan spent 25 years calling National League contests from 1941-1965. Among the famous games he worked were the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and the 1954 World Series that featured Willie Mays and his famous “Catch.”

Less remembered are the two years Conlan spent as a centerfielder and pinch-hitter for the Chicago White Sox in 1934 and 1935. Though he boasted little power, Conlan hit a respectable .263 in 365 at-bats over the two seasons. Conlan’s White Sox career was captured on cardboard in the 1935-36 Diamond Matchbooks set and more recently with an umpire card in the 1994 Sporting News Charles Conlon (no relation) set that ditched the customary suit and bowtie for Conlan’s playing days garb.

March 2020

Hall of Fame twirler Charles Herbert “Red” Ruffing is best remembered as a Yankee, thanks in large part to his six rings and four 20-win seasons with the franchise. As a Yankee, Ruffing boasted a 231-124 record and gaudy .651 winning percentage. His New York success stood in stark contrast with the highly forgettable 39-96 record he posted with the Red Sox in the 6+ seasons before becoming a Yankee.

What only the very rare fan or trivia buff will remember is the lone career-capping campaign Ruffing spent on the Chicago’s South Side. Fortunately the 1961 Fleer “Baseball Greats” set reminds us that Ruffing indeed graced the Comiskey mound, notching his last three victories against five defeats in 1947.

Another Yankee legend who spent time in Chicago was Hall of Fame infielder Tony Lazzeri. All but nine of Lazzeri’s 178 career home runs came in the Bronx, along with all five of his rings. New York was not just the venue for Lazzeri’s greatest career highlights but also his greatest lowlight, his strikeout at the hands of Grover Cleveland Alexander in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series. Lazzeri’s last hurrah as a Yankee, however, was a great one, tripling and scoring the go-ahead run in the deciding game of the 1937 World Series against the Giants while leading all batters with a .400 average. (The Yanks would release him five days later!)

Lazzeri would return to the Fall Classic the very next year, but this time it would be against his pinstriped former teammates. As a member of the 1938 Cubs (spoiler alert: we lost), Old “Poosh ‘Em Up Tony” went hitless in two plate appearances en route to the wrong end of a World Series sweep. Still, Lazzeri’s generally forgettable season in Chicago will be recorded for all posterity thanks to his “Retired Greats” card in the 1940 Play Ball set (and later 1961 Fleer).